Chapter 1: STEP RIGHT UP
Summer heat descended upon the sleepy town of Pontiac, Illinois as the time slowly crawled towards noon. Castiel undid the first two buttons of his shirt and rolled up his sleeves.
“Oh, your mother would kill you,” Meg commented, playfully nudging him in the arm.
Castiel’s lungs tightened as if on command. “Which is why it’s good that she’s not here now. Right?”
Meg giggled. She grabbed Castiel by the arm and made them cross the street. Neither of them looked before crossing; the traffic peaked during morning rush, which meant approximately five cars per hour. Almost everyone living in Pontiac had a job within walking distance and everyone else was considered either a wealthy high-end person or a salesman.
Having crossed, they turned right on the sidewalk, in the direction of the local diner.
“Ice cream. I know Anna is in today, she’s gonna give us one free.”
“I don’t like ice cream,” Castiel complained.
“Ugh, Clarence. Your mother doesn’t like ice cream. You do. C’mon, don’t be such a bore.”
Castiel followed Meg up the street. He wasn’t the biggest fan of ice cream, actually - he’d go for a milkshake instead any day - but he was feeling sweaty and giggly and adventurous and with a mother like Castiel’s, that sometimes did mean ice cream.
The month of June had jumped into its second half, and even though their school years had been over for many seasons now, they still felt like children after their last class ended and they could be free for two and a half months. The heat wave was hitting the US all across its states, and it felt like the last summer of their lives.
From up the street, Castiel heard Frank Sinatra. He squinted into the sun and noticed a vague silhouette on a bike, pedalling towards them.
“Don’t people know there’s no cycling on sidewalks?” Castiel complained.
Meg shrugged next to him.
They had been walking arm-in-arm, but they each took a step to the side to make way for the bicycle. It was an older prototype, Castiel saw as it approached, with an ugly-green transistor radio in the basket in the front. The man on the bike was sprinkling the street with sheets of paper.
When he got to Castiel and Meg, he stepped down on his brakes a few feet ahead of them and waited for them. They must have been the first people he had come across, everyone else hiding in restaurants or slaving at work or, in the case of housewives, at home.
The man was wearing brown pants that looked old and worn, with a loose white shirt and a grey flat cap. Even though it cast shadows down his cheeks, they were visibly freckled; the smile he was wearing seemed to underline them like a thick pink line.
“Hey,” he said with a smirk, speaking over Sinatra’s singing voice.
Castiel could feel Meg shift next to him. She was the femme fatale of this town. Curved lips darkened with a deep red lipstick, rouged cheeks, eyes like chocolate, locks of curled hair bouncing off her shoulders. She was a heartbreaker in a flowy skirt; a devil in a pink flower pattern.
She smiled. “Hey there, fella.”
He confidently handed her a flyer. “We’re stayin’ for the summer, you should come check us out.”
Castiel looked over Meg’s shoulder. The flyer was a sheet of thin cheap paper that danced in the hot summer breeze. Printed in blurry black and white, there was a picture of a big ferris wheel and fairy lights. In cursive going small-to-big left-to-right, it said THE WINCHESTER FAIR ! In smaller text at the bottom of the flyer, a longer paragraph sat, seemingly squished together in thick black lettering.
Get the best county fair experience of your life!
The perfect kiss on top of a ferris wheel, your fortune told,
trapeze artists, contortionists, shoot-to-wins, cotton candy,
and SO MUCH MORE! THE WINCHESTER FAIR
will be at your service until the end of August.
Pay us a visit!
Open 1pm-10pm Mon-Sat, entrance free/pay per attraction.
"You should come, too,” the man said.
Castiel caught himself and stood up straight. He felt uncomfortable under the glance of the stranger; judged in an odd way that he didn’t particularly like. He felt truly looked at , like when his mother inspected him for redness in his cheeks or a change in breathing. She’d find both, now. However, it wasn’t the asthma for the asthma boy this time around - it was the man with the flyers. Castiel wished he had somewhere to hide.
“We will, thanks,” Meg said with a drawl. She liked him and everyone present knew it. Castiel looked down before the stranger’s eyes jumped from him to her.
“Would love to see you both,” the man said. Castiel didn’t dare look up until he heard the screech of tires on the sidewalk, the music starting to fade away.
“Are you okay, Clarence?” Meg asked when they were alone on the street again. She sounded very adult whenever she was worried - and right now she was worried.
“Not if you keep calling me that,” he said petulantly. “It’s a stupid middle name. And you promised me ice cream.”
“It’s the best middle name,” she said. She started walking away and handed Castiel the flyer - he was, sometimes, her personal butler, whenever she wanted to dispose of something she no longer cared for.
That usually annoyed him, but this time, he was thankful.
His fingers were sweaty, threatening to smudge the ink as they clutched the paper, but he told himself it was just the heat. He could hear Sinatra in his head until the very second they entered the diner and the bell above it cut off the dreamy song.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Castiel and Meg had graduated high school together, four years ago - he didn’t have a job because he had grown from a sickly boy into a sickly man in his parents’ eyes, and Meg didn’t have a job simply because she didn’t need it.
They both came from wealthy families. It meant that Castiel could have gone on to university, which he had always wanted to do, and it meant that Meg didn’t have to.
He had always wanted to be a college graduate of any kind - she had always wanted to be a housewife.
“Not because I think I’m useless without a man,” Meg always said when she got worked up about the issue. “No, sir. I don’t need a man. I just don’t want to work, I want social and economic security. If I have to have children to achieve this, I will, and I will love them, and maybe I won’t hate my husband, but Clarence - honestly, I don’t need a man to feel validated, I just want one so I can not do anything my entire life.”
“Chores?” Castiel always supplied.
“We’ll have maids.”
“What will you do all day, then?”
“Keep you company, of course.”
It was true, and Castiel hated it sometimes.
Other times he loved it - during the summer, he loved it. The summers in Pontiac always felt years long. Illinois had the climate of what Castiel imagined Hell would be - extremely cold in the winter months, extremely hot in the summer months. There was always a blizzard; there was always a heat wave.
At the beginning of the summer of 1954, the heat wave was only starting to envelop the state in its warm embrace. Cas could feel it in the air already - the thunderstorms and the above-hundred degree temperatures - as it was threatening to come.
It was only just teasing them, though, around the time when the boy started cycling around their small town handing out flyers for a fair.
“Do you really want to go?” Castiel asked Meg a couple of days after they had been handed the flyer. She had been mentioning it on and off, not very subtly hinting that she’d like to.
They were sitting in the diner again, Anna behind the counter - leafing through a magazine, as they were the only customers there and she was forbidden from talking to friends while on a shift.
Meg licked her spoon clean of ice cream and smirked playfully. “And you don’t?”
“No, not particularly.”
“Why not, Cas?”
He looked down at his empty plate. Instead of ice cream, he had ordered a pancake this time. The chocolate on it melted way too fast and left dark smudges on the cheap ceramic. Sometimes he felt like that smudge. He shrugged.
Meg frowned. “Is it because of your parents? You’re twenty-two. You get to live your own life.”
Another shrug. “I don’t want to worry them. Especially Mom.”
They had been friends since elementary school. Cas had been a skinny boy with a dreamy look on his face, which made him the perfect target for all the other boys, who were burly and broad, with a much more realistic (or in other words, aggressive) attitude. He had kept to himself, especially after the scene one particular early April afternoon - while on a lazy stroll with his mother, he had had a very bad asthma attack and had to use a nebulizer. A big, ugly thing it had been - a mask with a big glass bulb to squeeze to get the medicine in so he could breathe.
A classmate of his, Raphael Something-or-other, had seen it. Even at such an early age, it had been a scandal. The boy had spread the rumor that Castiel was deathly sick, probably contagious, and they had to use foreign instruments on him. A freak of nature, Raphael had called him, using a phrase he must have gotten from his equally close-minded father. They had been too young and Raphael had been too dumb to come up with it on his own.
Meg, on the other hand, had seemed to float through everything. She had been able to hang out with the popular kids in the morning and the outcasts in the afternoon if she’d so pleased.
“I heard you use a freaky thing to breathe,” she’d told him a week or so after the bullying had started. “Are you an alien?”
Castiel hadn’t enjoyed being bullied, no, but he hadn’t made a fuss about it, either. It had seemed stupid to him, if anything. He’d regarded Meg with a certain kind of distance and disgust. “I wish,” he’d said.
“But you’re not.”
“No. I just have to use a squeeze bulb nebulizer if I have a bad asthma attack so I can breathe again,” he’d explained.
Meg had bit down on her lip and thought for a second. She’d joined her hands behind her back and swung on her heels a little. “Cool,” she’d decided in the end and sat down next to him, right there, in the middle of class, in broad daylight.
It had been a cool thing, then. Now it was a nuisance.
Or was that his parents? Cas wasn’t sure. The nebulizer had been tucked in his nightstand for quite a few months now. He’d been asthma-attack-free recently, but was scared to jinx it.
“Do you think they wouldn’t let you go?” Meg asked now.
Cas’ refusal had been quiet and flat. She was right to think that he would like to go but was afraid to try.
“Probably,” he replied.
Not particularly , he’d said when Meg asked him if he wanted to go see the fair, but the only thing holding him back was his health.
Truth was that he couldn’t stop thinking about the boy on the bicycle and the lively green of his eyes. Never had a color stuck with him as much as that shade when the boy looked at him and sized him up.
Meg sighed. “It’s not that I don’t get it.”
“But you think I should just go.”
“Yeah, I think you should just go. If you want to, I think you should just go.”
“I don’t think so, Meg.”
But it wasn’t that easy, was it? He wished that defying his parents and his own fear was the only thing. He wished he could just go.
The first step, though, was admitting that he actually wanted to.
The first step was admitting he had wants and needs. It was admitting that he dared to hope for something. It was admitting that he might seek more. It was admitting that maybe he was joyless, that maybe he was jealous, that maybe he wanted the life Meg had. They were both stay-at-home somethings, but she still felt like a person - she went out when she wanted, she met up with the people she wanted to meet up with, she laughed when she wanted to, she said no to her parents when she desired it. She was chastised and scolded, and she took it and made it a part of herself that made her Meg .
It was admitting that Castiel had made himself into a cardboard cutout of what his parents wanted him to be. It was admitting that he wanted to be more. It was admitting he was someone and not no one.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Lying on his bed, Castiel was slowly making his way through Henry James’ Daisy Miller . Albeit a short novella, the humid air in his room and the still too-hot weather peeking in through his window made turning the pages a chore, and he was taking ages.
Even his thumbs were sweaty.
He was just reading the line “ In such hours as this what have we to do with pain” for the third time, trying to make his probably fried brain understand it, when there was a tap-tapping noise against his windows.
And then it came again.
It took Cas a sweet second to realize someone was throwing rocks up against it.
He stumbled out of his bed, leaving the book on his crumpled bedsheets, and hurried to the window. He opened it and barely managed to jump back as another rock flew by, about an inch away from his face.
“Oops, sorry!” Meg hissed from down below.
Castiel, his heart beating hard, stepped into the window again and, leaning over the frame, looked down at Meg. Her silhouette was taking on dark edges as the sun started to set in the distance behind her. He noticed another silhouette - Meg was clutching Anna’s arm.
“What do you want?” Castiel hissed back.
“We’re going to the fair,” Meg replied. “Come with us!”
Castiel looked over his shoulder in paranoia that his mother might be lurking in the doorway. He was, of course, alone in his room.
“Are you crazy?” he asked accusingly.
Anna giggled. “I told you he would say that. Word for word. You owe me five bucks.”
“No, I don’t,” Meg said to Anna. “Cas. Don’t make me lose five bucks. Come with us. Please? I can whimper like a dog if it will make it easier for you. I would do puppy eyes, but I don’t think you could see them from up there in this light.”
Castiel’s insides seemed to shiver. As if he’d been expecting this - as if he’d ran to Mr. James just for a few minutes, as if he’d known it would be a drag and he would just be biding his time until it was the right moment to leave. But this was impossible. This could never happen.
“It’s late,” he reiterated sternly.
“Don’t be such a scaredy cat,” Anna joined Meg’s ranks. “We’ll deliver you back home safely, don’t worry.”
Meg nodded. “Yeah! Safe and sound. We’ll tuck you in. Kiss your forehead goodnight.”
Both girls started giggling, their whispers long forgotten. Castiel felt a pang of pain at their carelessness, but he heard footsteps downstairs and his mother’s voice - it took him out of the moment quite fully. His pain turned into anger and bitterness.
“Go. You’ll tell me about the fair later.” With that, he shut the window and prayed that there would be no more rocks banging against it.
When his mother came into the room, Castiel was back on his bed, still rereading the same line, the small rock that had barely missed his face clutched in his left hand.
“What was that noise?” Mrs. Novak asked and looked about the room as if she was expecting a burglar or a murderer to jump out at her from any or all corners.
“Nothing, Mother,” he assured her.
She left the room with an unsatisfied hum and Castiel was left alone with nothing but a rock, regret and a veil made out of shame.
🎡 🎡 🎡
He couldn’t sleep.
Castiel was tossing and turning for what felt like hours, and when he finally caved and checked the pocket watch on his nightstand, its chain hanging loose off it, he saw that it was well past two in the morning.
He got up from his bed and went to open his window. Wearing nothing but underwear and a thin white tank top, the night air coming in chilled him.
He leaned into it and rested his elbows on the windowsill.
It wasn’t at all possible, because the fair nested in the field between Pontiac and Chenoa - a hill and a valley and a lit-up magical place, Castiel could just imagine it - but he thought he saw lights in the distance. It seemed as though they were suspended in air, hanging from invisible strings.
They weren’t stars. Their light seemed warmer and more familiar, just floating in mid-air.
Castiel imagined a tent. He imagined the fairy lights, the stalls. Would there be a fireworks show at the end of the summer? he wondered. He imagined the smells - popcorn, cotton candy, fresh grass that had been walked on.
This wasn’t the first fair that ever came to the county. It wasn’t even the first one to send out a boy with flyers into Pontiac. Yet it was the first time Castiel wanted to go; the first time he felt like he was missing out on something if he didn’t see it. He was no longer a kid, he was a grown man, and he wanted to go.
He probably knew even back then that what he really didn’t want to miss out on seeing was the boy.
Castiel was fascinated by the lights because he wanted to see the boy in them. He wanted to see how they would cast a whiskey-orange undertone into his green eyes; he wanted to see if his freckles would seem faded in them. He desperately wanted to taste the cotton candy and the popcorn from his mouth.
This was not the wish of a child.
He didn’t know what it meant.
I’ll go, he decided suddenly, leaning out of the window, transfixed by the lights that he had probably made up because he’d simply wanted to see them. I’ll go.
🎡 🎡 🎡
"I'm going to see Meg,” Castiel said as he walked into the kitchen, finishing buttoning up his pale blue shirt and tucking it into his beige walking shorts.
His mother looked up from the book she was reading and stared him up and down. “Are you sure about those trousers?” she asked.
He’d felt self-conscious putting them on, but the weather was getting warmer still. “Yes.”
“Is there something wrong with your regular ones?” she continued. She clearly didn’t like the idea of him going out in something short, but she wasn’t worried enough to put her book down - at least not yet.
“I thought it would be better if my skin, therefore I, could breathe. The less hot I feel, the better for my lungs.”
She squinted at him, then changed her approach. “I hope you two are not going to the silly fair business that’s camped outside of town,” she said.
“No.” Cas worried he waited a beat too long, and she did look at him with suspicion written into the webs of wrinkles around her eyes.
The heat must have been getting to her brain, though, because she only sighed loudly and waved her hand. “Say hello to the Masters. Tell them to stop by some time.”
“Of course,” Castiel said and whisked out of the house like his life depended on it.
Coins rattled in his shorts pockets and his heart trembled in his throat like a panicked bird.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Getting to the fair wasn’t easy.
Castiel didn’t own a bike. His parents refused to get him one even when Meg got one. They simply didn’t see the point in it when they would prohibit him from using it. It would only collect dust in the garage.
The idea of walking all the way to the fair, which nested between Pontiac and Chenoa - about five to ten minutes by car - seemed daunting, especially in this heat, but he had no other choice.
By the time he finally got there, his lungs were working overtime and as much as he’d tried to look nice, he was a sweaty mess. His palms felt like they were burning at two hundred degrees - he was pretty sure someone could fry eggs on them, same as his feet. It had taken him over half an hour.
Many people had biked by him, but he wasn’t the only one walking. There were groups of people, mostly kids and teenagers much younger than him, scattered around him unevenly. When they finally got to the fair, they all seemed to vanish into the crowd, albeit it was a thin and not a busy one.
Castiel approached the entrance. There was a big metal construction that said THE WINCHESTER FAIR! in capitals. It was decorated with fairy lights that weren’t on at this time of the day. From there, Castiel could see a couple stalls, about ten tents, and several fenced areas, presumably for artists to perform in, given there were also chairs placed around in disarray for the audience. The stalls seemed to be open, as well as a couple of the tents - judging by people gathering by both - but the performers must have been waiting for dusk to come around to perform.
He took a reluctant step and then he was in.
His first fair.
The boy had to be around there somewhere. They were now, for the first time since the brief sidewalk encounter, sharing the same space.
Castiel took a deep breath and let himself be swallowed by it.
🎡 🎡 🎡
It had been a few days since the fair had opened its gates for spectators, but Castiel saw a group of men only just now constructing a big ferris wheel on the right as he stepped in. Despite the heat, they seemed to be cheery and happy to be working.
Castiel took the collar of his shirt in his fingers and quickly tugged at it a couple times to air it out. One reluctant step after another, he walked through and looked around.
The fair was exactly what the flyer had promised it would be.
The cotton candy stall was right next to the popcorn stall. People buzzed around them like bees around flowers in bloom. The big fenced area advertised trapeze performances every hour starting at 6pm on a big board next to the chairs. There was a big trailer truck filled to the brim with various goodies - paper flowers and fake popcorn boxes and plastic hearts - with a neatly-stacked pyramid made out of cones. TEST YOUR AIM & WIN A PRIZE! a paper flapping in the wind and hanging above the shooting area said. Another fenced area; another stall; more food and drink; in the very back, a small tent in a dark purple color with a board up front promising to tell your future.
Castiel walked around and walked around and walked around.
The crowd was starting to thicken as time ticked on. Despite all the busy feet stirring the sand underneath them and the amount of bodies pressed together like sardines around the stalls, Castiel felt like he had never been able to breathe better.
Fairs were supposed to be a magical place; a place where dreams come true. It was supposed to be a place that takes you in, holds you like a cradle, plants a seed of happiness in your chest, prompts you to laugh and be awed and fascinated.
He had thought it was a myth.
He’d just… he’d just never thought all of that could be real.
“Sir?” sounded a thin voice next to Cas. A dark-haired boy with a round face was staring up at him.
“Yes?” Castiel tried. He hadn’t liked being a child because he’d never known how to talk to his peers. Growing up had only taken him further and children were one huge question mark.
“Do you need something?” Castiel asked, puzzled.
“Sir, could you please maybe perhaps give me a penny?”
Castiel’s brow furrowed slightly. “What do you need it for?”
The boy looked down at his shuffling feet, hands held behind his back. “I would like to buy cotton candy, sir.”
“Why don’t you ask your mama, then? Or father,” Castiel suggested. His pockets were filled to the brim with smaller and bigger coins and they made a clink! sound every time he moved, but he figured that if children were advised to not take things from strangers, it would also probably be best if he didn’t… become the stranger in the phrase.
“My ma said not to get it,” the child replied. He looked downright depressed about it.
Castiel frowned. He’d known the parental rejection of something simple and how much it stung and he was tempted to fish out a penny or two and hand it to the boy.
“Ben!” someone called and it took Cas a second to realize it was directed at the kid. “Stop scamming people!”
The boy stuck his tongue out in the direction of the voice and took off running as fast as his short legs allowed.
Castiel looked around.
The boy from the sidewalk, the boy with the flyers, the boy who will always be associated with Frank Sinatra in Castiel’s mind, was walking up to him. He was wearing the same clothes - or their copies. His shoulders were loose as were his hips, and a smile decorated his freckled face like an expensive ornament.
“I’m sorry,” he was saying as if he remembered Cas - as if he hadn’t met dozens of other more interesting people since, as if Meg hadn’t overshadowed him. “Ben is Lisa’s kid - our contortionist - he just runs around when she’s getting ready because no babysitter can ever keep a good enough eye on him. He’s as slick as his mother. Anyway. I’m babbling. I saw your friend yesterday. You didn’t come with.” The freckles stood in a dark brown color on the background of a crimson-red blush.
Castiel shoved his hands in his pockets and started playing with the coins. He suddenly felt ridiculous in his casual shorts and a buttoned up shirt.
“Sadly, I had other things to attend to,” Castiel murmured. It was strangely flattering to know that the boy, man, this pretty person with freckles had noticed his absence. “Pre-arranged, that is. Not get-out-of things.”
Such as sitting in my bed and attempting to read a very, very, very boring book.
“Dunno if I can ever forgive you,” the boy said. If it was Meg saying that, Cas would have thought she was flirting .
“But you don’t even know me,” Cas said.
“Yeah, that’s true. Sorry. Inappropriate humor runs in the family.”
“Does it, now?”
The boy chuckled. “Yeah, you should hear my brother Sam when he starts telling stories about law that he thinks are funny. Damn outrageous.”
Castiel laughed. He didn’t know what to say and he quickly averted his eyes. He didn’t quite feel like himself - it felt as if he’d gotten very small and simply floated up and down inside his body, with a certain kind of anxiety that felt like small pinpricks against his skin.
He wondered if it was his lungs getting back at him for all this sand and sun and exercise, but he realized it was just two parts of him fighting: one wanted to blurt something out and impress, the other wanted to stay quiet so as not to embarrass himself. It was excitement mixed with fear, which made his heart flutter in spurts.
“I’ve got one,” Cas said in the end. “There was a man about a century ago who wanted to be transferred from prison to an asylum. Do you know what he did?”
Castiel laughed. “He tried to sue himself. Wanted a trial going and everything. Isn’t that funny?”
“No, it’s not,” the boy said, but he was laughing as he was saying it, and that made it all the funnier and better. “You’re as bad as my brother.”
“Do you hate your brother?”
“Sam? Nah.” The boy shook his head. “He’s my favorite person in the world.”
🎡 🎡 🎡
"So what do you do around here?” Castiel asked.
After circling the fair’s premises twice, their conversation was easier to handle, almost natural.
Castiel had found out that the boy’s name was Dean - which means valley in Old English, he had said - and that he is the son of the owner, so a Winchester. He had also heard numerous stories about all the people who ran with them by that point - permanently or short-time, legends and myths and tall tales, but he had yet to hear anything about the man himself. As much as Castiel had enjoyed hearing about the rest, he really wanted to hear about him .
Dean shrugged. “Just about anything.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know, man.” Dean shrugged again. They were walking past the arena for the acrobats, still empty, and he was staring in that direction as if his life depended on it. He took off his flat cap and ran his hand through his hair. It was a brown-gold color spiked with sweat. The flat cap remained off and Castiel was thankful. “I just do anything. I’m an errand boy.”
“I’d have expected more from the owner’s son,” Castiel blurted out. Dean looked away from him and Castiel very quickly realized his mistake. He stopped walking and without thinking, he grabbed Dean’s arm, making him stop as well. “That came out so wrong. I’m so sorry. It’s just stupid preconceptions about what people should do when they’re someone’s child. That was rude of me. I apologize.”
Where Dean’s features had hardened, they now smoothed out again and his face softened. The red in his cheeks, Castiel decided for his own sake, was from the heat.
“That’s alright,” Dean said. “I used to be one of those.” He pointed at the empty arena, implying the trapeze artists that would be swinging around it in only a couple hours. “But not anymore. It’s not for me. I just help out where they need me.”
“I like that,” Castiel said and smiled. “Help out where they need you. That makes you very special.”
Yup, the red in Dean’s cheeks was definitely from the heat. Castiel could feel it in his cheeks, too. Nothing else to blame there. They were just looking at each other and the air here was very, very hot; no correlation between the two, obviously.
Dean cleared his throat. “What about you? What do you do?”
“Ah,” Castiel said. He suddenly felt ashamed and hesitant to share his health status, the same way he’d used to be before meeting Meg and finding friendship. “Nothing.”
“You see, I’m a full-time sick boy. I’ve had severe asthma since I was a child. I mean, it’s not so severe anymore, but my parents still take precautions.” He laughed. “I’d make for an excellent housewife, I think.”
Dean nudged him. “Hey, nothing wrong with that. And it ain’t ever too late to get into stuff. You look like the smart type.”
“Y’know, buried in books, goes alone and wears pressed short pants to a fair, smart type.”
“I hate you.”
Dean snorted. “You wish. You already love me. I have a certain charm.”
It was true, Castiel realized.
There was something about Dean that was very certain , very some type , very some kind of. Something that made him utterly special; something that made you want to cling to his side and ask him: And how old were you when you first helped out? And why are you not an acrobat anymore? And how far could you swing? And would you show me? And what other stories are there? And why does someone like you care to talk to someone like me? And you would just listen and listen and listen, and get drunk on every word. Dean simply seemed like the type. Not the smart type, just a certain type; a bad boy mixed with a devout family man; a contrast in human form.
If there was a charm, and Castiel had thought there was since the moment he’d heard the Sinatra melody and seen him on a bike, Castiel was enchanted by it.
“I have to go,” Castiel said suddenly. The familiar color of dusk was starting to trickle along the lines of the horizon and he was scared he might never leave if he didn’t now.
“Already?” Dean asked. “You haven’t bought anything. Gone anywhere.”
“Maybe next time.”
“Will you at least talk me into buying you cotton candy?”
But they were nearing the entrance-turned-exit, and Castiel was as desperate to leave as he was to stay. “I have to go.”
They stopped by the sandy path out, barely a few feet away from the big sign, and let the incoming crowd mull around them, loud and erasing intimacy.
“Will you come back?” Dean asked.
Castiel pretended not to hear him. He said goodbye, shoved his fingers in his pockets, where he started playing with the coins again immediately, and started walking away.
He chanced a glance back when he was a few feet along.
Dean was still standing there, his flat cap scrunched up in his hands, and maybe it was the sand in Castiel’s eyes that made him see things that weren’t there, but he looked disappointed, almost sad. It was the second before Castiel turned away again when the fairy lights and lamps in the fair clicked on and bathed Dean’s face in their happy, mellow light. He looked astonishingly beautiful.
Castiel tripped, stumbling over his feet.
He turned around. Don’t run , he told himself.
He barely managed.
Chapter 2: LIGHTS ON
The first time it happened, Castiel was in his room with Meg, braiding her hair while she read from a women’s magazine. It had crawled towards a hundred degrees during the day for the first time that summer. Her hair was still damp even though it had grown dark outside and the air had cooled down.
He was just about to put a pink hair tie at the end of the braid when a distant popping sound echoed outside.
Meg, who had spent her childhood stealing her father’s western paperbacks and dreaming of becoming a cowboy on the Great Western Trail, shut the magazine immediately.
She scurried over the bed and jumped off it.
Castiel, exasperated, let his hands fall to his thighs, useless hair tie in one of them. “Excuse me.”
Meg didn’t even look back at him. “What if there’s a shoot-out?”
Castiel rolled his eyes. “There’s not enough adults in Pontiac for there to be a shoot-out.”
“Oh, shut up.” She hurried over to the window, her braid slowly but surely getting loose, and leaned outside. The popping was still audible, and Castiel noticed she was looking up instead of down. “Fireworks!” she squealed.
“From the fair! There’s fireworks at the fair. Come look!”
Castiel didn’t want to seem eager, but he got out of the bed quickly and squeezed himself next to Meg over the window frame. He looked up. Pops of red and yellow circled the sky or launched into it like rocket ships.
He immediately thought of Dean, and whether he was the one making the fireworks show happen, and whether he ever thought of Cas. It had only been two days since Castiel had walked away, but it felt like eternities had passed. He was infatuated and he sometimes let himself think they were like two lovers separated by time and space and circumstances. There was something in Dean’s face that had told Cas this would be possible, but Cas couldn’t know if Dean didn’t look like that at everyone.
“I wonder what the occasion is,” he murmured.
“Maybe it’s just what they do on Saturdays. It’s a fair. They’re supposed to make people happy. Fireworks are a pretty happy thing, don’t you think?”
“I suppose so.”
Castiel stepped away from the window even though the pops were still ever-present. Taking the hair tie, he fingered Meg’s braid apart at the end and then tightened it again. He managed to secure it this time.
He didn’t care much for the days of the week. They could have all been a Saturday, or they could have been a Monday. Since finishing school, life had been a blur of days. His mother was home all of them, his father almost none of them, and Meg didn’t have a job either so Castiel couldn’t keep track of the work days and weekends based on when he could be with her.
During winter there were cold days and very cold days, snow days, stay in bed days. During summer there were windy days, or heat wave days, or stormy days. The worst ones were the nothing days - they passed in a blur, nothing to pin them down with, nothing to make them specific, nothing to make them more than a marathon of seconds that tumbled into minutes that fell into hours, exhausted.
Castiel couldn’t imagine that there could be something to make a day more . He couldn’t imagine his life could be a fireworks! Must mean it’s Saturday! life.
He felt a pang of jealousy. Quickly retreating back to his bed, he was thankful to hear the last pop as it was followed by silence after it faded into the night air.
“What’s wrong?” Meg asked when she turned back from the window.
Castiel shrugged. “Nothing.”
She rolled her eyes and flopped down on the bed next to him, bumping their ankles. “I’m not your mom.”
“Meaning I’m not the inquisition. What’s wrong?”
Castiel gave another shrug. He wished he had something to play with, or that he was still braiding Meg’s hair - just so he wouldn’t have to look at her. They had known each other since they were smaller than small - she teased him and made fun of him and didn’t take him seriously and told him to stop taking himself so seriously, too, but she could also read him better than anyone.
He could lie to her - living with his parents made him master the craft - but if there was something wrong, she always knew. She was annoying like that.
“I don’t know.”
“Castiel. Spill it.”
“Aren’t you sick of this?” he blurted out. He looked at her accusingly.
She frowned, her eyebrows coming together and creating a crease in the middle.
She would have a wrinkle there soon, and if she ever got a job, if she married, if she had children; they would all know her as Meg with a wrinkle between her brows. What a waste, Castiel thought, that she had lived so many years and not more people knew her without the wrinkle. If I ever get a job, if I ever live , he thought, what will they know me for that I don’t possess yet? Why don’t people know this version of me? Is it not a worthy version to know?
“I don’t know what you’re on about, Clarence.”
He looked around, motioned at his room, waved his hands - desperate. “Aren’t you sick of this life? Living trapped by four walls, nothing to do, no options, every day the same, just empty, aren’t you exhausted? Don’t you want more? Fuck! I’m exhausted.” He whispered the last two words.
“No,” Meg said resolutely. “I’m not.”
She seemed upset with him, offended. “I chose this life,” she said. “If I didn’t want it, I would up and leave. I would have thought that after all these years, you’d know me better than that.”
Even though she hadn’t moved, Castiel felt like she recoiled and sat away from him.
He wanted to ask why she would choose this, but he was suddenly aware that he had crossed a line.
Castiel suddenly realized, too, that they weren’t the same at all. Where he saw them as the opposite sides of the same coin, he now saw that they were completely different currencies. He didn’t know what to say. He really felt like an alien now. Maybe all his classmates and Meg were right - he belonged on a different planet; his placement on Earth must have been a mishap.
“You need to stop,” Meg suddenly said. “You need to stop being their perfect son. And their idea of a sick child. It’s not you. It’s killing you, Cas.”
He didn’t say anything.
Meg shuffled on the bed and even though Cas had barely finished her braid, she now tangled her fingers into her hair and, pulling off the hair tie, she loosened the strands. It soon fell over her shoulders in an uneven mess. Then she started playing with the hair tie, flexing it out and curling it around her pinkie until the flesh was a dark red color.
Cas himself was furiously biting on the soft dry skin around his thumb.
She had said this many times before, but this summer, it felt different - she felt different, too, and so did he. Everything felt final. Everything felt like this summer put them at the edge of the cliff and by the end of it, they would either fall over and stumble into a deep ravine or pull themselves back into safety.
Cas wasn’t ready for either. He was used to standing still.
Sometimes, though, you have to make decisions even when you’re not ready for them. Maybe that’s what being grown up is - it’s taking responsibility; not staying close to the nebulizer safely tucked away in his nightstand.
“Are you planning on going back to the fair?” he asked in a small, reluctant voice.
Meg was very careful not to show any kind of reaction, but her eyes glistened. “Of course.”
“Perhaps I could join you?”
“Yeah, you idiot. You can join me.” She looked at him and smirked. Everything seemed to be forgiven if not forgotten. She nudged his ankle with her fist this time.
“I’m sorry about what I said before,” Castiel said.
“It’s fine,” Meg replied. “I know how it is. I don’t blame you for it, as long as you can see it was an asshole thing to say.”
“Yeah, it was an asshole thing to say.”
“Cool. Don’t do it again.”
Castiel nodded solemnly.
They curled up on the bed like they used to do when they had been kids. They had folded each other up on Cas’ bed in a tight, safety-threaded hug, and pretended that the ceiling was the night sky. Even if it was four in the afternoon.
It was much later that that, now, and the sky outside was dark, but they still hugged each other. Meg’s head rested on Castiel’s shoulder and he pulled her close.
They were quiet for a short while.
“Cas, can you ever see planets in the night sky?” she asked softly.
“Are you serious?”
Castiel laughed. “Yes, I’m serious. It’s the five bright planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. You could say they’re actually brighter than your average twinkling star.”
Meg sighed. “That sounds impossible.”
“Meg, is everything alright?”
She shuffled in his arms, seemingly to burrow her face further in his chest. “I think I’ve fallen in love,” she whispered.
He was aware that his heart had picked up a quicker pace, and he was aware that she could hear it with her face pressed against him like that. Though he hated himself for it, barely a second after his initial surprise at Meg admitting to such a feeling, he thought: It’s Dean.
“You have?” he mumbled.
He didn’t want to hear it, but then he also didn’t want to not hear it. For some reason, Dean was the only viable option here - who else would Meg be falling in love with during such a perfect summer? The temperatures had been steadily climbing up, everything was bathed in an orange-yellow sunny haze, and Dean was a lean, young, beautiful man with eyes like dreams. You could only fall in love with someone like that, right?
“I think so,” she said. “He works at the fair.”
Castiel felt his heart sink. “Oh?”
“I know it’s stupid. It’s the complete opposite of waiting for the perfect filthy rich man to keep me safe and financially secured for the rest of my life. And I know it’s quick. I’ve only seen him a couple of times. But I think you just know with these things, you know?”
“It is a little quick,” Castiel admitted reluctantly. He felt like he was giving himself away with every word, even though he didn’t know what it was that he was giving away.
“And maybe it’ll all go to hell. Maybe we’ll just have the summer. But I’ll enjoy it as much as I can.” Castiel felt her smile against his chest. “I just wanted to tell you. Anna knows, but you’re my best friend. I really just wanted to tell you.”
Castiel involuntarily smiled too, as much as the image of Meg and Dean seemed to be hurting him. “Wouldn’t he mind? That we’re curled up here like this?”
She looked up. For a second, there was a certain look in her eyes - as if she knew something that not even Cas was aware of - and then she shook her head and let a smile spread wide across her lips.
“Nick? No, he wouldn’t,” she said dreamily. “He operates the ferris wheel, he can tell romantic love from a good southern lass taking pity on a sickly boy.”
Castiel laughed. He laughed at the name and Meg thought he was laughing at the playful joke, and she laughed too.
They laughed and laughed until their faces were flushed and Castiel’s eyes teared up, and it was difficult to say why.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Having told his mother that he was meeting up with Meg to help her organize some sort of a Southern Bell charity event (he had been vague in details and his mother never cared as long as it sounded boring and safe enough), Castiel left for the fair the following Monday.
He did meet up with Meg at the corner of his lovely suburban looking street, and together they went to pick up Anna, who was just wrapping up her shift at the diner.
Since Anna had started working there, they’d barely seen her out of working clothes. She looked beautiful in her summer dress the color of hay with a white daisy pattern. She even looked less tired than she usually did while working; she looked like she’d just woken up. She was probably another person who should think about change, but so far, only Meg out of the three of them seemed to be able to pursue it. It: the something big, the something inevitable, the something scary.
It was difficult for Anna, and pursuing change probably wasn’t an option. She found herself orphaned at the age of nineteen after her parents died in a tragic car accident coming home from their getaway weekend in Springfield.
The only thing she had left was a mortgage to pay, a house to take care of, and a broken heart. So she got a job and any kind of change was out of the equation.
Castiel barely had an excuse like that.
“You look lovely,” Cas told her truthfully.
Anna beamed. “Thank you!”
Anna hooked elbows with Meg and Castiel trailed once by their side, once behind them, once a step ahead.
They indulged in small-talk on their way to the fair. Castiel had often felt excluded from their conversation - he was always closer to Meg, even though Anna resembled him much more - but tonight, all three of them seemed to click perfectly. He thought it was the general happiness of going out, and going to the fair , which was still so incredibly special - to each of them for different reasons - that bound them.
The walk to the fair didn’t seem so bad or tiring this time around. They crossed the entrance shortly after five in the afternoon, sweating through their clothes and bee-lining for popcorn.
“I want sweet,” Anna decided.
“I want salty,” Meg said.
“I’m with you,” Castiel sided with Anna.
Meg could have bought a small salty popcorn just fine, but she didn’t want to break them up, and so, soon, Castiel was carrying sweet popcorn in a paper bowl the size of his head.
“This is delicious.” Anna’s words were slurred as she spoke over her mouth full of popcorn.
“Yeah, the caramel on top is amazing.”
“You are both a goddamn disgrace .”
“What, Nick says sweet popcorn is fake or something?” Anna said playfully. Meg’s eyes squinted as she glared at her.
“Don’t be like that,” Cas said, nudging Anna in her side. “You’ll make her blush.”
Meg glared at him, too, and Cas and Anna both laughed in unisono. Their voices practically harmonized. Whatever there was left of this weird awkwardness where they both felt as Meg’s friend but not each other’s dissipated.
Anna hooked elbows with him as well. They walked through the fair in the form of a small linked chain.
Although he was having fun, at the back of his mind, Castiel was well aware of how much his eyes kept searching for a certain someone. Whenever they took a turn, dodged an unexpectedly large group or came upon a different attraction, his ears perked up and his eyes darted around. As if his brain built its own radar, set up solely to look out for Dean’s voice, Dean’s eyes, Dean’s hair, Dean’s silhouette, Dean’s step.
Even though he had practically run away from him the last time, Cas was desperate to see him again, at least one more time.
That was as much his reason to come here again as hanging out with his friends.
Cas felt that as they walked on, his breathing was growing shallower, but he knew it was the excitement and nervousness he felt, and not his asthma knocking at the door.
“I know where we need to go!” Anna exclaimed at one point.
Dusk had started to settle down around them. Castiel was trying not to feel guilty for still being out. The day’s crazy temperatures reaching a hundred again had mellowed down as a soft northern breeze curled through the air.
Meg was giddy with excitement. Castiel had forgotten how much the two of them complemented and balanced each other.
Anna looked at Meg and then leaned towards her. She whispered something in her ear.
Meg’s eyes widened and she tried to stifle a laugh. “Yes! Yes. We did. He has to, too.”
“I have to do what?” Castiel asked, frowning. He usually hated being forced to do things unless he specifically wanted to, mostly because his parents had always done this to him, but he could see that it was about something silly and hilarious to the girls.
That made him like it even less.
Anna cleared her throat and put on a very serious face. She unlinked all their arms, then took Cas by the shoulder, and turned him around at a hundred-and-eighty degree angle.
Right opposite him was the stall that he had noticed during his first visit, but didn’t pay it much mind - or rather, ignored it because he didn’t believe in it. It was the dark purple stall promising to tell you your true future. In the dying daylight, the neon sign above it radiated a sickly glare that made him low-key anxious.
Cas shook his head. “I don’t believe in that stuff.”
“Ugh,” Meg rolled her eyes and tugged at his arm, already pulling him in the stall’s direction. “Who ever does? And who cares? It’s just supposed to be fun!”
They were now fully dragging him along. “Yeah,” Anna was nodding. “Listen, the woman told me I would become a nurse and move to New York. Meg is supposedly gonna be a belly dancer. Have you ever heard anything more ridiculous than that?”
“Yeah, the idea that I should go in,” he deadpanned.
Another roll of eyes from Meg.
Truth be told, he let them drag him there. It’s not that he wanted to go in, but he figured that since they wanted him to do it so much, he would: it will complete the full fair experience, maybe, since he didn’t see himself getting kissed on top of the ferris wheel.
Which would, of course, be the actual full fantasy daydream come true scenario.
Soon enough, he was pushed into the stall.
Cas fell through the dark purple curtains separating the real world from this nonsense. He could still hear the girls giggling behind him.
Shaking himself off, as if he was trying to shake off his anxiety, he took a tentative step forward. There was a small round table about five feet ahead, with a tablecloth the same dark purple color, with stars and constellations running across it in a chaotic pattern. He also noticed that it was eerily cold here, as if the outside temperatures hadn’t affected the space. It made it feel almost like a church - and he supposed that to some, it pretty much was.
He didn’t know if he believed in this. He didn’t know if he wanted to.
Simply, just like many other things in his life, he didn’t know.
Cas approached the table. Two wooden chairs sat opposite each other, and a mellow light hung above the table. Though he was alone here, and perhaps doubting that the fortune teller would actually appear, he thought it would be fitting to sit down.
He consciously picked the chair with his back towards where he’d come from. He straightened out his pants, fixed his hair. He looked around, the surroundings bare, and jiggled his leg impatiently.
A black middle-aged woman came out from the other side of the stall, bracelets jangling around her heavy wrists. Her lipstick matched the purple of the curtains. “Hello,” she said sweetly and sat down opposite Cas, smiling at him. “That will be three dollars, son, before we begin.”
Castiel fished for the small sum of money and handed it over. The woman hid it in a pouch tucked somewhere in her layered clothing.
“I’m Missouri,” she said. Black curls framed her face. She could have looked intimidating, but she looked motherly instead. “I find that it helps to break the ice with introductions.”
“Castiel,” he replied obediently. He had wanted to be clever and remark that as a fortune teller, she should have known his name, but he didn’t want to count himself amongst the assholes that did that.
Missouri looked him up and down. “What brings you to me?”
“Oh, um,” Castiel stuttered. He caught himself squeezing his palms between his thighs in a nervous tic. Did he actually believe in all this? “My friends saw you a couple days ago and they wanted me to do it, too.”
“So as not to break the pack?”
“I guess so,” Castiel said and smiled sheepishly. Her aura, if there was such a thing, seemed calming.
“Give me your hand.”
Castiel reluctantly reached out his arm and watched as his palm settled in Missouri’s. He braced himself for a fake palm reading full of nonsensical plot twists and unlikely meet cutes. Instead of looking, though, Missouri closed her eyes and frowned.
“What’s something that no one knows about you?” she asked.
Castiel felt like it would be appropriate to mimic her and he closed his eyes as well. He hummed and wondered what to say. Did she want to know some useless bit of trivia about him, something like admitting that he didn’t wash his hands after peeing until he was fifteen? Or did she want to know something serious; something that he held against his chest like a grenade about to explode; something that couldn’t be mishandled lest it kill him? Something like admitting that maybe, sometimes he took solace in the fact that he was taken care of by his parents unquestionably so long as he behaved, and a part of him didn’t want to break free?
“I don’t know,” he mumbled.
His eyes settled and the mild light barely got through his closed eyelids.
Missouri squeezed his hand. “It’s okay,” she said. “I want a piece of you to give you a piece of you in exchange.”
Castiel frowned. He wasn’t sure that he understood. He took a deep breath, though, and before he could really think about it or even realize what he was about to say and what the implications of it were, he blurted out:
“I don’t think I’ll ever marry.”
Momentarily horrified, he realized he actually meant: I don’t want to marry a woman. The brief second of horror passed and a strange calm descended over him, making his shoulders relax.
Missouri didn’t comment on it, but Castiel had a feeling that she understood what he’d meant.
Her thumb caressed the back of Castiel’s palm slowly and carefully, as if she was rubbing herself in to know him to a degree that even he didn’t.
“Is there anything you want to know or anything you don’t?”
Castiel wanted to know about happiness. He wanted to know what it was like and whether he would be able to tell it apart from everything else. He wanted to know if he had ever been happy but didn’t realize it; he wanted to know if he ever would be. He wanted to know if his future was bright or hazy or in black and grey undertones.
He also didn’t want to know any of that.
Like many times before, he was wishing he could simply just be.
“Your uncertainty could cost you much,” Missouri said. Even though it was a very logical assumption to make after Cas’ reluctant or non-existent answers, it sounded eerie and as final as life had recently.
“What do you mean?”
“You think you’re stuck in one spot, but you’re running. I think you’ve been running your entire life, whether you realize it or not. Not physical running with your lungs, of course,” she said and Castiel’s breath hitched at the back of his throat, “but emotional running.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Castiel repeated stubbornly.
“It means you need to take action,” Missouri said. “I can’t tell you what will happen.”
Castiel’s eyes shot open. Part of him had been expecting Missouri’s to be long open as well, but they were still closed, moving behind the lids, crowned with a frown.
“I thought you were a fortune teller,” Castiel accused her.
“Yes, I am,” she replied patiently. “But your life is like a treadmill. You’re running while your life stands still around you. This created an endless scale of possibilities. You’ve met the love of your life, but I can’t tell if you’ll be with them, for how long, or if not at all. You feel stuck, but I can’t tell you if it will remain that way or not, what your lifespan will be, whether you will be happy. You’ve created a paradox out of yourself. You’re the one inactive part of your own life.”
Castiel had to fight the urge to pull away from Missouri’s grip. She was holding his hand in both of hers and it felt like she could crush it like an eggshell.
Missouri opened her eyes. “Can I offer a piece of advice?”
“Will it mean I’m closer to the happy kind of life?”
She smiled. “I don’t know.”
“Say yes more, and for God’s sake, boy, stop running. You’re too young to be running away from so much.”
Castiel swallowed. “Can you tell me anything? About what will be? Anything at all?”
“Yes,” she said. Her face glowed. “Fireworks are important.”
🎡 🎡 🎡
Castiel stumbled out of the stall and looked around. Anna and Meg were nowhere to be seen, the crowd sounded louder than life after the eerie silence within Missouri’s enclosed space, and the humid air hit his skin and licked at it impatiently. The northern breeze had died down while he was inside, or maybe the air swallowed it.
He wanted to be skeptical.
He wanted to imagine Meg as a belly dancer. He realized he could. He wanted to imagine Anna as a nurse in the business of far-away New York City. He realized he could. What did that mean?
And why were fireworks important?
With a sigh, he let his eyes wander around the darkened fair again. The stalls were radiating light like fireflies. It was nearing nighttime, but everything felt as warm and fresh as an early morning around here.
Castiel caught a glimpse of Anna’s red hair near the jugglers - Castiel could see bowling pins being thrown around above the crowd’s heads - and Meg, slightly shorter, right next to her. He realized he felt out of place again, and like he didn’t belong to them. Something was in the air - something that was making him anxious for a change, whatever that meant.
No , he thought to himself. That does not lead to any kind of a happy life.
With fervor, he started to walk in their direction.
He didn’t get very far before noticing another similar crown of hair in the crowd. He suddenly understood the whole thing about multiple possibilities - he could either go to Meg and Anna, or he could go to Dean. Or he could simply turn around and walk home, and continue running. He didn’t feel particularly confident about either of the first two, after all.
In the end, his legs seemed to make the decision for him. If anyone asked him why he chose the direction he did, he wouldn’t have been able to give an honest answer. He simply started walking, and kept walking, and then it felt stupid to change this decision, so he still kept walking, and then some more, and then his arms took over from his legs and decided for him, and he tapped Dean’s shoulder.
Cas’ smile must have been awkward and straight-up strange, but he did his best when Dean turned around. “Hi.”
Dean’s smile was far from awkward or strange. His face lit up. “Hey! You came back.”
This was a terrible plan , Cas thought to himself, even though he knew it hadn’t been much of a plan to begin with. Either way, he already didn’t know what to say. How do you convey that someone looks angelic in this light with the fairy lights around them without sounding like a complete creep?
“Well, hey, I’m glad,” Dean said. “Can I talk you into cotton candy this time?” Was Dean blushing ?
Castiel nodded again, then cleared his throat. “Yeah. Of course. If you want to.”
Dean said he definitely did want to and they started walking at a leisurely pace towards their cotton-candied destination. Castiel almost hooked their elbows, the same way Anna did with Meg.
They talked more about Sam and eventually Cas asked him what Dean did that day.
“Today? Today was pretty relaxed. I looked after Ben for a couple hours in the morning while Lisa did her morning stretching. Then I worked on this broken-up car we have that we picked up in Kansas and that I want to fix. And then I helped set up the place for the acrobats. Rest of the time I really just bummed around.”
Castiel hummed. “Do you ever get bored? When there’s not much to do?”
“I mean, yeah,” Dean said. They were nearing the cotton candy. “I thought about going into town for a beer, but it’s always awkward when you’re in a new area. People look at you like you’re an alien, even if you just want a glass.”
“People look at me like that all the time,” Castiel replied. “It feels gross. I’m sorry you feel like you can’t go.”
“Nah, don’t get me wrong, I love this crowd,” Dean said, motioning at their surroundings. “Just sometimes I’d like to get out, but it’d be more fun to do it with someone, not alone. I’m not much of a beatnik.”
He felt another rush of courage and remembered Missouri’s words about saying yes more. He thought: And what if I don’t wait to be asked? What if I go ahead and do the asking?
“Do you like movies, Dean?”
“I can enjoy a good flick, yeah.”
“They’re showing a film at our local place next Friday, something with Frank Sinatra,” Castiel said. Then he realized he’d only wanted to see it because Frank Sinatra now reminded him of Dean and there was no changing that. He rushed on with an explanation. “I go see everything they’re showing. I originally planned to go alone, but maybe it would be fun if we went together?”
Despite his best intentions, his voice curled the sentence into a question.
“That’d be great!” Dean exclaimed. “Let me seal the deal with the cotton candy.”
They patiently waited in the small line, and when it was their turn, Dean smiled at the man giving out the candy. “One, Aaron, thanks.”
He was handed a huge balloon-like cotton candy - size-up courtesy of being part of the whole shebang - and they walked off. Castiel nibbled, always nervous when he had to lean closer to Dean to get any. Or maybe he didn’t have to do that. Maybe he could have torn off pieces elsewhere. Maybe he wanted to lean closer.
They talked noncommittally while they walked around. The candy was half done by the time they circled around back to Meg and Anna. Castiel saw their backs by Lisa - the contortionist - and he turned to Dean to say goodbye to him.
“Rain check on the rest of the candy,” he said playfully. With a possible meeting in the near future, he had grown more courageous and relaxed over the last few minutes.
“Deal. I’ll see you Friday?”
“You’ll see me Friday,” Castiel confirmed. He bit on his bottom lip, gave Dean a brief nod and then turned around.
Walking towards Meg and Anna, Cas felt weightless, as if he wasn’t walking on grass, but down a cotton candy sidewalk made out of clouds.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Tuesday crawled on for eons, but Castiel was mostly okay, and keeping himself preoccupied.
Wednesday clicked into action with the strike of midnight, and that was the most exciting thing about it; the seconds themselves were made out of honey and no matter what Castiel tried to do, it wouldn’t drip off the spoon and slide over to -
Thursday - just one more day to go.
On Thursday, Castiel’s excitement morphed into anxiety. He questioned everything, decided against going anywhere on Friday, then deciding to do it, then deciding not to, and so on and so forth, until his stomach was in knots and he couldn’t stop thinking about Dean.
He was still awake when Thursday rolled over into Friday.
🎡 🎡 🎡
The movie was called From Here to Eternity . Castiel didn’t actually know anything about it - he really had only wanted to see it because of Frank Sinatra.
It turned out to be one of the bigger flicks, because even though you could probably count the entire population of Pontiac on one hand, everyone seemed to show up for it. Castiel stood in front of the local cinema swaying on his feet, waiting, and watched the people around him swarm inside.
He was especially noticing all the couples who walked in holding hands - women with smooth hairdos and brown-and-white summer dresses and short heels, men in their beige slacks and short-sleeved shirts the color of calm sea; he hated them.
Not that he could explain why.
It was only ten minutes before the movie was set to start - Castiel had caved and out of boredom and anxiety, he had bought the tickets already - when Dean finally showed up.
“Sorry,” he said, jumping off his bike. “My dad’s car’s brakes bailed on him today and he needed me to fix it, he has a meeting in town tomorrow. Finances. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright,” Castiel said, but he was secretly relieved. He had started to doubt that Dean would show.
He noticed that Dean had a stain just above his brow, a deep dark smudge that trailed across one side of his forehead.
“You, uh,” Castiel said and pointed to the spot, “I think it’s an oil stain.”
“Oh, shit.” Dean looked away sheepishly and rubbed at his forehead. His cheeks flushed. He got rid of the stain, but he didn’t know what to do with the residue oil on his fingers.
“Here.” Castiel took a lily-white hanky from his pocket and handed it over. “Should we head in?”
He was so aware of being incredibly awkward, but his entire insides felt like they were on fire and if they didn’t fade into the comforting dark of the theatre soon, his breathing would start getting shallow - he really didn’t need that right now.
If anything, Dean seemed thrilled to take the attention away from his oil stain accident, and he trailed after Cas into the theatre.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Pontiac’s movie theatre was small and compact. Back during World War II, it was mostly used to show ads and short documentaries capturing the - idealized - life on the front, and calling young boys to action, but recently, they’d had showings on both Fridays and Saturdays. They only ever played a film once.
Barely a few minutes into From Here to Eternity , Castiel realized that it was a war flick, and he felt Dean tense up next to him.
It made Castiel wonder.
He himself never joined the US Army - not that they would take him. He was too young, and his asthma was his safety guard, anyway. As much as he feared for his loved ones and the rest of the world, it was never an option.
It could have been different with Dean, though. There’s no law that protects fair and circus employees, is there?
Castiel looked at Dean out of the corner of his eye. Dean’s eyes were glued to the screen, but he was frowning and biting on the inside of his cheeks. He did look tense, at least a little, but he was very obviously trying not to let it show.
How old was Dean?
Castiel’s best guess was somewhere around twenty-five, so not that far off from him. At the same time, it could have been more - Dean’s freckles and the lazy charm around him could easily be making him seem younger. He could have easily been closer to thirty.
Did I mess up? Castiel ended up asking himself as he watched Dean more than the movie itself.
Dean, on the other hand, was completely engrossed in it.
Cas could have just as well gone alone.
I want to hold your hand , he thought as he watched Dean’s profile. He felt certain, for no good reason, that something bad happened to the boy next to him, and he just simply wanted to reach out and hold his hand.
And kiss the knuckles.
Press the palm against his cheek.
Feel the heat radiating off the lean fingers on his skin.
Never let the hand go.
Castiel turned his attention back to the screen. He spent the rest of the movie trying to focus and not think about Dean at war; or Dean in Castiel’s bed.
Castiel seemed to cross his own enemy lines.
🎡 🎡 🎡
They walked out of the theatre and it was still light outside - their showings always started at six in the afternoon and the summer was always generous with daylight. It had been a good movie, albeit not a happy one - a heavy atmosphere lingered outside the theatre as many of these men remembered their own time at war.
Dean asked to walk Cas home.
Even though Cas knew that he wouldn’t feel comfortable walking with him side by side to his very door - because of his parents - he agreed to be walked along with for at least a couple of the suburban streets. Dean grabbed his bike and followed Cas down the first of them.
The street lamps flickered to life when they were about half a street into their journey, the couples and people from the theatre behind them or ahead of them, radiating a faint kind of murmur and talk.
Castiel was kicking a small rock in front of him, sending it further ahead of him with every step.
He accidentally kicked it to the side and it disappeared into a drain. There was quiet between them.
“Dean?” Castiel piped up.
“Are you a veteran?”
Dean hummed and shrugged. “I feel too young to be a veteran.”
“Were you a soldier, then?”
“Yeah.” Dean was quiet for another moment. “I enlisted in 1943. Left the army after the War ended. I wasn’t really - I’m not really a soldier, and never really was, I just - yeah.”
“Okay,” Castiel answered carefully.
They fell quiet again.
“Thanks for inviting me to the movies. I owe you one,” Dean ended up saying after all. It made Cas cringe - he felt inappropriate for having done that, and he had to fight the urge to apologize.
“Was it okay? The movie, I mean.”
Without saying anything, Dean suddenly changed his direction and walked to the curb. He rested his bike on the ground and then plopped down, his knees popping slightly, down on the small perch of it. Castiel joined him. A couple of laughing girls walked past them at a brisk step.
“The movie was okay. Fake if anything. It’s not how it feels.”
“I never enlisted. I mean. I don’t think I ever really wanted to. But my lungs would’ve prevented me anyway.”
“Weren’t you too young, too? You look like I have a few years on you.”
“I wanted to go because of my family,” Dean said. “It was a rough couple of years during the war, the fair wasn’t making much. You can imagine. And the army pays somewhat decently, or at least did. And I guess a part of me wanted to help something . I was scared for my brother’s future, so…”
“Do you regret it?” Castiel asked.
Dean looked at him and seemed to inspect him for a second. Then he must have decided that Cas was trustworthy, because he said, “Yeah, a lot of the time I regret it.”
“I don’t judge you,” Cas said. “People did what they had to do, like you, but I think it’s okay to regret something like this. The war shouldn’t have - it’s naive to say, but the war shouldn’t have happened. I can’t believe a human being can hate a fellow human being so, so much.”
“To this day.”
“Yeah, to this day. People excel at hate.”
“You know,” Dean mused, “war actually shows you that people can excel at love just as much. Which is weird, I guess, but yeah.”
“How do you mean?” Castiel realized that he had been angling his body towards Dean more and more, and now he was mostly sitting down on the sidewalk itself, cross-legged, pretty much facing him. Good thing the car traffic was almost non-existent.
Dean ran his fingers through his hair. “You love the men in your platoon. You love them and you hate them, it’s literally like family. Except you rarely actually die for your family. I was…” Dean trailed off, as if he had caught himself doing something that he didn’t want to do, and held his breath. Then he exhaled. “I was with the medics even though I know shit all about it. I mostly helped carry the bodies. Some alive, some dead. Between that, and my own ammo and rifle and everything, there was love.”
Castiel himself was breathing, but it very much felt like he wasn’t. He could feel his heart hammering in his chest, but he wasn’t registering the moving of it, up and down, as his lungs worked.
“I saw men jump in the way of bullets. And yeah, man, maybe they thought it would whistle through their arm, but sometimes it got their lungs, or something else, and they died at the end of the day. But y’know what I think? Even if they knew, they would do it. They’d do it anyway.”
And Castiel still couldn’t make himself reach out.
“Have you ever…?”
“No. My mother said to me before I left that she would pray for angels to look over me and she must have done a really good job, cause I dodged every bullet and grenade, no matter how close or well-aimed it was.” There was a deeper sadness to this specific thing - and Castiel realized Dean hadn’t mentioned his mother before. Nine years and counting since the war is a long time - she could have passed away. Castiel’s heart squeezed painfully.
“I’m really sorry, Dean.”
Dean smiled. Castiel recognized it from the times he had talked to Meg and she expressed her empathy by saying sorry - sorry your lungs are crap, sorry your parents don’t treat you better.
Castiel’s grievances were nowhere near close to Dean’s, but he recognized them nonetheless.
“It’s why I don’t do trapeze anymore,” Dean said, very quietly, very all of a sudden. He also crossed his legs, and played with the weeds growing out between the road and the curb.
The street was empty now, and very quiet - the cricket season was not yet upon them.
Castiel wished he understood what Dean meant. He really wished he understood.
“I don’t know,” Dean shrugged. “The heights are too much, and it feels like an unnecessary risk. We have amazing trapeze artists and sometimes I go and watch them or help them set up, or stretch or whatever, but I just can’t. Walking a rope? Plunging down on it? Trusting myself enough to swing another person through the air? Yeah, no.”
Castiel nodded. He didn’t feel the need to say anything - in a way, it felt like Dean had never shared this with anyone before and all he needed was a listener, not a conversational partner.
“And the fireworks.”
Castiel perked up. Fireworks are important , Missouri had said. “What about the fireworks?”
“I did a show after I came back,” Dean started explaining, “and it was on a Saturday. I don’t know if you’ve been, but in our show, when both our artists swing from their respective sides of their arena and come together perfectly midway, the fireworks go off. That show I collided with Ruby - she’s still with us - and we went crashing down, because the fireworks just sounded like gunfire.” Dean looked even further away. “It’s stupid. I dunno why I’m telling you this.”
Castiel’s breath hitched. “No. That makes sense.”
Dean laughed and stood up. “No, it doesn’t. Not to me. Trapeze was my life. War took it away and I don’t know what my life is or who I am anymore.”
Castiel quickly got to his feet, too. Without thinking, he asked: “Dean, would it be okay if I hold your hand?”
Dean looked at him quizzically.
“As a friend, of course,” Castiel added quickly.
Dean flushed and quickly blinked; blinking the quizzical expression away with it. He nodded. “Yeah, sure.”
Castiel finally reached out and their fingers entwined. It was the only kind of support Cas could have given. Dean’s fingers were warm and tingly against Castiel’s skin.
He couldn’t help but squeeze them in a silent way of apologizing for everything Dean had been through, and Dean squeezed back to say his silent thank you.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Even though it wasn’t possible, Castiel was pretty sure he’d had heat stroke - he spent the following night tossing and turning and having one dream after another, slipping in and out of them, as well as slipping in and out of sleep.
In one dream, he saw Dean walking a rope stretching from the Eiffel Tower to the Statue of Liberty. In another, he saw Dean walking a rope and looking down at Cas. Another: Dean walking on a rope and falling.
Then there were fireworks. A lot of Castiel’s dreams were black and white like the movie they had gone to see, and packed with sharp, loud popping that threatened to burst his eardrums; the rest of them were bathed in a spectrum of color like the night sky almost a week ago and they were beautiful.
In full color: Dean’s face. Dean’s hands - nothing but his hands. Dean walking ahead of him, but not away from him. Dean laughing. Dean with his eyes full of tears. Dean screaming. Dean with an oil stain on his forehead that slowly spread, turned a dark red, deepened, cracked; Dean bloody and dying.
Dawn had crept through Castiel’s window by the time he finally fell asleep for real.
In this last dream, Dean was a trapeze artist. His face lit up as he swayed on his ropes, and then as he tied it around his waist and jumped, catching Ruby, the dark-haired trapeze artist, in an embrace mid-air.
The fireworks exploded. Dean looked happy. Everyone screamed and cheered, and most of the audience clapped. Dean and Ruby bowed.
Then, Dean backstage, his bright red outfit damp with sweat, his hair messy, his eyes alight.
“Did you see that?” he asked Cas with a voice that carried laughter and delight and happiness. It was infectious.
Castiel laughed as well. “Yes! It was incredible! You were incredible, Dean! Even better than last week - I don’t think a single soul was breathing when you guys jumped.”
Dean caught Castiel’s waist and pulled him close, planting a kiss on his lips, quick but deep and loving. It was so normal - it was the most normal gesture, the most normal thing that could have happened.
“I love you,” Dean laughed into Cas’ mouth.
Castiel woke up after that, panting. His lungs hurt like they hadn’t in quite a while.
At least he thought so, until he realized the real culprit was his heart - the bastard hurt and stung and pulsed because it knew, it knew the dream could never be true.
Chapter 3: TOP OF THE BILL
Castiel gathered his things and closed the door of his bedroom upon exiting it.
He was wearing the usual: short slacks, a loose shirt hanging over them (a light blue color today) and a simple hay hat that Lisa had given him a week or so ago.
“I’m leaving!” he yelled from the hallway and rushed out of the house before his mother could attempt to stop him and chat him up.
Currently, his parents thought that Cas got a part-time job earning a little money on the side at their local library. He had told them that Mrs. Mills had to let someone go due to an interstate move and needed a helping hand quickly. They had agreed on the condition that it was a sitting job and Cas would mostly do administration and not handle the “dusty books too much” to avoid making his asthma worse.
“Of course, I told Mrs. Mills exactly that,” he had told them calmly without the blink of an eye, completely overlooking the fact that his asthma was okay and not causing any problems.
So they had agreed.
In reality, Castiel got up each morning (except for Sundays), dressed, and walked to the fair. There, he either walked around some more (and the dusty roads were just as fine for his lungs, at least so far, thank you very much); talked to the people there because he had gotten quite acquainted with all of them, friendly even; hung out with Meg because she spent a lot of time there too, albeit mostly with Nick.
If luck had it, Castiel also got to spend a large chunk of the day with Dean from time to time. Maybe there was nothing to fix, no errands to run, and on a few blessed occasions, Dean actively took the day off to spend it with him.
Today was a pretty regular Thursday, the summer starting to roll over into August and therefore into its second half.
The heat wave had reached its peak a couple days prior, reaching 110 degrees around three in the afternoon, and now the 100-degree weather seemed nearly calming and cool.
It took Cas about half an hour to walk to the fair, his legs now accustomed to the routine.
He entertained himself with thought, as he had always done. His brain was well-trained at this.
That is, it was very well trained at thinking one thought after another for an extended period of time. Lately, though, that just meant thinking about Dean for about thirty minutes straight. It was Castiel’s favorite part of the day. Yeah, he loved hanging out with Dean, but getting to spend time just thinking about it, without the constant anxiety of saying too much or touching him inappropriately because he forgets himself?
In Castiel’s thoughts, there was nothing to be afraid of. It was just the two of them; picture perfect, kissing on a summer day, the world tumbling around them - and them, oblivious, in love.
Castiel’s cheeks were flushed by the time he got to the fair - from the walk, not the thoughts. The thoughts calmed him.
He wasn’t even ten feet into the fair’s grounds when Ben ran up to him, yelling his name.
“Hey, what’s up?” Castiel asked, ruffling the kid’s hair.
Ben had been forced to fake-apologize for trying to scam him and Castiel had fake-forgiven him and ever since then, Castiel officially became the little guy’s best friend.
“My mom wants to ask you something. She wants to know. Can I hang out with you?”
“Are you sure your mother asked this?” Castiel asked with an arched eyebrow.
Lisa was a very straightforward and opinionated woman and she usually didn’t send her kid to bargain with a relative stranger.
Ben shoved his fists in his pockets. “Ugh. Fine. She actually asked Nick, but like, Meg is already here and they’re hanging out, and they’re just always kissing.”
Castiel laughed. “Always?”
“Uh-huh. Always. ” Ben dragged out the words so it sounded like he pronounced each letter separately, just to emphasize how much suffering this had already caused him and his young, innocent heart.
“How about this,” said Castiel, who loved making fun of Meg and obeying Lisa’s wishes - she could bend her leg behind her head, he had no doubt she could strangle him with it just as well. “We’re gonna go hang out with them together and every time they kiss or do something gross, we’re gonna make ew noises.”
Ben seemed to consider this for a second, and ended up nodding, very seriously. “That sounds doable,” he decided.
Castiel laughed and took his hat off, just to plaster it onto Ben’s too-small head. The kid seemed to love it, though. “Lead the way,” he said, touching Ben’s shoulder lightly, and they went together as friends.
Castiel felt good. Castiel felt free. It seemed as if he had made a life here for himself, as much as he still wasn’t an official part of it. This is joy, he decided as Ben took his hand and tugged him forwards, and Cas let him.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Ben and Cas were just pulling another grossed out face and laughing, gathered together on the ground near the jugglers’ spot because it offered shade in the morning hours, when Dean came along.
Cas expected him to sit down and join them like he sometimes did, but he crouched next to Cas and tapped his shoulder gently. Electricity ran through the spot he had touched.
“Can you come with me for a second?”
Cas was still mid-laugh, feeling how flushed his cheeks were. He looked back at Dean with a smile. “I’m helping Ben destroy this young prosperous relationship,” he said, nodding his head towards Nick and Meg. Nick had tried to climb into Meg’s lap and Meg was now tickling him to get him off. They were just about to fall down, Nick flopping on top of her and probably killing her with how tall and muscular he was.
“Hey, Ben,” Dean said and tipped his head to the kid. “You can look after these two fools for a couple minutes, right?”
Ben, who had been made to feel adult and responsible, nodded after a second of hesitation. “I think so.”
“Well, what’s your excuse now?” Dean asked, turning his attention back to Cas.
Cas didn’t say anything. He stood up and feeling slightly embarrassed, he let Dean walk him away from the spot in the shade. They heard Meg and Nick laughing and Ben making a gagging sound.
“I’m surprised you didn’t have to give him money to make him stay with the two of them,” Cas commented dryly.
Dean laughed and rubbed the nape of his neck. They walked into the sun. It was a couple hours before noon, but the sunlight was already merciless. It was supposed to be nearly 110 degrees during the day again, the heat wave rushing back for one last hurrah.
“He can’t really resist a blooming romance, he just doesn’t know it yet,” Dean said.
Ever since they had gone to the movies and had become friends and Cas had had that stupid dream, everything Dean said seemed to be a double entrendre in some way. With this, Castiel immediately wished Dean had meant them , not Meg and Nick.
They had grown close over the last few weeks, to the point where Cas knew everything about Dean and vice versa - or at least it felt that way.
Cas could tell the story of how Dean fell out of a tree when he was ten and broke his ankle just as well as Dean could tell the story of Cas’ asthma attack when he was a kid and how it all started there.
Yet there remained a cold distance between them filled with nothing but electricity.
They were both too aware of the fact that pushing your fingers straight into the plug would potentially kill you.
So they were walking shoulder to shoulder, but there could have been an entire ocean between them. Or lava. Lava sounded more like it.
“So, what’s up?” Cas asked, to silence his thoughts. There was no point in thinking about whether or not this feeling of imminent death, should they touch, was mutual. There was no point in thinking Cas wasn’t the only one craving that touch.
They were crossing the fair grounds. Continuing in the same direction, they would soon step out of it and enter the car zone - the caravans, the vans, the automobiles the fair always took with them to drive and sleep in.
Castiel wondered what it must be like to be able to pack up your entire life and drive away, far away from everything you’ve known, far away from everything you don’t want to know anymore. He felt a pang of jealousy for it, and for not being able to go with them, and for the realization that once the summer was over, the cars would rev their engines and Cas would be left standing in their cloud of dust, gasping for breath; gasping for Dean.
He knew this, but it was a knowledge rooted at the back of his mind, something primal and unchangeable. He didn’t need to talk about it - most of the time, he tried not to not feel it, either.
“I was wondering if you’d be up for coming over this Saturday,” Dean asked, sheepish.
“I was planning on it,” Cas nodded.
They walked out of the fair grounds like Cas had expected and Dean led them towards a patch of grass between two cars casting a shade. He sat down and tapped the spot next to him, which Cas took. The sun had already dried up the dew from the morning and the ground was warm, like the walls of a house after a long winter of fire burning in the fireplace. Their knees accidentally bumped as both Dean and Cas went to cross their legs at the same time.
Dean laughed nervously. “No, I mean, like - Sam’s coming over and we’re having dinner and everything.”
Castiel blinked. “You want me to meet your brother?”
Dean often spoke about Sam. Dean actually only ever spoke about Sam at length - he talked about himself seldomly, Cas usually had to squeeze it out of him, and even that was often in relation to his little brother, the lawyer-to-be, the prodigy, the darling of the family. Sam meant the world to Dean.
Dean rubbed the tops of his thighs. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I don’t always invite everyone I meet during the summer to the family dinner, but. I dunno. Figured we were friends.”
“I’d love to come,” Cas said quickly. “I’m just - honored, I guess, that you’d want me there.”
Dean’s face lit up. “Yeah, of course, man. I’d love it if you could come.”
Castiel smiled. “I’ll be there. Saturday when?”
“Oh, um, sevenish is fine.”
They exchanged one more awkward smile before falling silent. Cas was wondering if this was the only thing Dean had wanted to talk to him about and the longer the silence crawled on, the more certain he was that the answer to that question was yes.
Cas didn’t necessarily know what it meant , but for some reason he couldn’t really explain, it made him feel very, very warm and loved. He decided he could let himself live in that feeling for at least another moment.
When the feeling dragged on too much, Dean playing with weeds growing at his feet and Cas staring at him as the sun ascended across the sky just beyond the arch of his shoulder, Cas fake-startled.
“Wait,” he said, dramatically placing his palm on Dean’s knee. “Does that mean John is gonna be there?”
“Yeah, ‘course Dad’s gonna be there,” Dean said.
“You know he hates how much I hang out around here,” Cas moaned, with fake-concern, too.
John was the intimidating figure of the place, and rightfully so - as the owner, he had everyone under his thumb. Jo, the girl who ran one of the shoot-to-wins with her mother Ellen, had tried to convince Cas at first that John had a gangster past. She’d told him that he had been a hitman once upon a time, though he would only take jobs hunting the bad guys and putting bullets in their heads - which, of course, freaked Cas out to the point where he just didn’t want to meet him at all.
It happened, of course, a few days later. Cas had been hanging out at the fair every day at that point and John Winchester couldn’t have not noticed him.
Cas almost pissed his pants, but John just ended up shaking his hand and apologizing that he couldn’t currently pay Cas for any extra jobs he’d done for them - even if it was just the occasional looking after Ben or holding a box of screws while someone smarter fixed something broken. He had then jokingly said that if Cas minds, “‘course, no one says you have to come here, in fact, maybe you shouldn’t, huh, what do your parents think of that anyway, that you don’t have a real job” but given his reputation, Cas had been on the fence about him ever since.
“Cas,” Dean moaned now. “You know he said it as a joke.”
“It hurt my feelings.”
“My God. He has a travelling fair and specializes in hiring outcasts and fools like you. Why on Earth would he judge you or care about your parents?”
Castiel nudged Dean’s shoulder. “I know. I was joking. You’re clearly the fool.”
Dean rolled his eyes, his cheeks turning a pinkish red, kind of like the horizon after a windy day as the sun sets with the promise of a clear sky tomorrow.
“I’m gonna poison your food for that.”
“You sure you wouldn’t mistake cyanide for vodka or some such thing?” Cas inquired innocently.
Dean glared at him and then attacked. They had had a couple fights like this before, but this one felt special - they were in a secluded spot and when Dean started tickling him, much like Meg had tickled Nick, they fell over, much like Meg and Nick had, and Castiel laughed until he was out of breath and had to push Dean’s arms away.
“You can pray it’ll be vodka,” Dean exclaimed, out of breath.
“Aww,” Dean said. He threw his arm around Cas’ shoulder after they sat back up, and pulled him closer. “It’s so nice that you’re still gonna come even though I just threatened you with poison.”
“The things I would for you,” Castiel replied.
If only Dean knew how much truth there was in those words.
🎡 🎡 🎡
"Don’t you think you’re spending too much time with that girl?”
It was Saturday and Cas was going to be late.
He was standing in the kitchen while his parents remained sitting, looking up at him from their dinner plates, mistrust and discontent on their faces. Her mother’s, especially, read as deeply concerned and, well, completely pissed off.
Why, Cas didn’t know.
“They invited me for dinner,” Castiel repeated with forced patience.
He had been using Meg as an excuse for far too long, but this was really the last moment he needed that bubble to pop. Not now , he begged his parents. Don’t start this conversation right now.
“Still,” his mother said. “I’d rather you stay home with us and have dinner here for once.”
“I already promised.”
“Phone them that you’re feeling unwell.” His mother said it as a command - not a possibility, or something he could decline.
Castiel felt small in his old graduation suit and his mother’s tone was making him shrink all that much by the second, but he pursed his lips and straightened his shoulders. He’d told Dean he would be at the fair for seven. And so he would be, whatever the cost. He would not let him down.
He would not let himself down.
“No,” he said resolutely.
“Excuse me?” His mother was looking at him with raised eyebrows.
“I won’t phone them,” Cas repeated. “I am feeling well. I am feeling perfect, actually, Mother, so I’m going to go and have dinner with the Masters, like I promised I would.” It was taking everything in him not to break eye contact. He had always taken her for an over-concerned mother, but the look on her face and her unmoving features finally revealed that she was simply controlling and made out of ice. “You brought me up to be polite, and that is what I am going to do. Have a good evening.”
“You too, son,” Castiel’s father said. He had a bemused smirk on his face, as if he was appreciative of this sudden resilience.
“Chuck!” his mother hissed angrily.
Castiel smiled at his father. The man hadn’t been home much in recent years, having become a travelling salesman like many others, and Cas sometimes wondered why it was. Was it his mother that alienated him? Was it Cas, who let her control him? Maybe it was nice to finally see his son put up a fight - for both reasons. He wasn’t father of the year and Cas had felt abandoned by him, had lost faith in him multiple times, but in this moment, he felt like they were acquaintances, or they at least had a mutual enemy.
They exchanged a brief nod.
Cas turned on his heel and walked out of the house. He tried, but he couldn’t find it in him to feel sorry for lying, or for defending that lie, or for choosing it over his parents completely.
🎡 🎡 🎡
They were sitting around a makeshift table while the fair continued its business only a hundred or so feet behind them. In John’s absence, Ellen was in charge of keeping an eye on things.
John himself sat at the head of the table. To his right was Dean; to his left Sam. Cas was seated next to Dean and next to Sam sat Jess, his long-term girlfriend that he had met at Stanford.
Cas had gotten to the fair only about ten minutes late, but he’d apologized over and over again as if he had been keepng them waiting at least an hour. Dean laughed it off and told him repeatedly that it was okay; Cas had been taken by nerves, though, and by the fact that Dean himself was wearing trousers and a neat deep-brown blazer and looked absolutely dapper in it.
Dean had led him out of the fair grounds again. They passed the spot they had sat in a couple days prior and continued on, until they arrived at the table, lit by fairy lights and a couple lanterns placed around it evenly, everything bathed in a deep yellow glow.
It looked like something out of a movie. Castiel was in love despite the fact that Dean had brought him into the middle of an ongoing conversation between three people out of which he knew only one.
“Hey, guys,” Dean had said to grab their attention. “This is Cas. The guy I’ve been telling you about.”
Now, fifteen or so minutes later, those words were still ringing around Cas’ head, making hm unable to focus. The conversation was going on all around him, but he couldn’t seem to take part in it, however hard he or the others tried to change that.
Sam, especially, had been trying to chat him up.
He was nothing like Dean, which also meant that he was a lot more like Cas. He was book-smart and his humor was dry and straight-forward, his questions often technical - how does a nebulizer work instead of wow, so were there any freak accidents? - which, contrary to what one might expect, actually made Cas feel more welcome.
Yet, despite that, he couldn’t relax.
“ Do you actually do anything for a living right now, Cas?” John asked him suddenly.
Castiel blinked back into focus. “Oh, I’m, uh…” he trailed off, fork with a piece of beef in one hand, staring at Jess blankly.
“Cas wants to go to college,” Dean intercepted.
Cas had shared this daydream with him once - they’d been sitting on a bench by the ferris wheel, babbling, and Cas had admitted that college still sounded like a dream come true. That didn’t mean he would go , though.
“Awesome!” Sam exclaimed. He smiled at Cas encouragingly, longish brown hair underlining the dimples in his cheeks. “What’s your field? Or would be?”
“He’s not a law freak, thankfully,” Dean said jokingly.
Cas laughed. “Yeah, I’m more into history, art, art history, that kind of stuff.”
“That’s cool,” Sam said. “Stanford has a really good history department, right, Jess?”
“Oh, yeah, I know a few girls who are in history, actually,” she answered. All eyes were on Cas and amazingly, it didn’t feel like pressure or the inquisition. It just felt like a group of people interested in who he was and in helping him be that person. “I think you’d love it.”
“Maybe I’ll look into it,” Cas murmured.
He felt Dean nudge him in the side.
“I think you’d be awesome at that stuff,” Dean told him quietly so no one else would hear. “Hell, I can imagine you as a professor or somethin’ like that.”
Castiel smiled bashfully. “You’re too kind, Dean.”
Dean shrugged. “Just telling you the truth. Hey, if you don’t want the rest of that steak, I’ll steal it.”
Castiel gave him permission and as the conversation went on, he felt himself finally relaxing. He wasn’t exactly joking with everyone as if he was part of the family, but he tried to contribute as much as he could and sometimes, he even felt like it was somewhat working.
Funnily enough, the best and most terrifying moment at the same time came when Jess leaned over to him across the table and commented on the fact that it was always weird to be the non-family part of the family. It put her and Cas in the same spot, which was confusing - what did Dean even tell them? Or did they see something Cas couldn’t see, or was too afraid to see? - and exhilarating. He agreed with her quietly, deciding to play the part, and gave her a shy laugh.
After they all finished their food, they got up from the table. John turned off the lights, plunging them all into darkness.
They followed the fair lights in a slowly scattering group. John left their little gathering as he took a right towards his caravan. He said goodnight and to tell Ellen he owes her a bottle of good whiskey if she takes over for the rest of the night too, and retreated.
Dean and Cas walked behind Jess and Sam.
Cas stared at them with a certain jealousy as he watched them hold hands. He practically bore holes into their joint palms, wishing he could do the same with Dean. His hand literally felt like there were ants marching all over it, he was itching so much to reach out and touch.
As they neared the fair, Dean joined Jess and Sam fell back to Cas. They walked in companionable silence for a bit before Sam spoke.
“I hear you’re essentially spending every day here,” he said. They just stepped into the fair, letting themselves be enveloped by light once again.
“I don’t know,” Castiel responded and shrugged. He was staring at Dean’s back in front of him. “It makes me happy.”
“It always made me miserable,” Sam said. “It’s not for me, this kind of nomad life. That’s why I packed my things and went on to college. I need more structure.”
“You guys went to high school, right?”
“Yeah. There was a period when we weren’t a travelling circus. We had a permanent spot just outside of Lawrence, but both Dean and I knew it was only so we could get an education. Our dad can’t stay in one place, which - that’s the exact opposite of what I want.” Sam sighed. “The second we were out of high school, we went on. Especially after Mom passed.”
“Dean never talks about that,” Castiel told Sam quietly.
“She was his everything,” Sam said. “After he got back from the - from the war, she kept him sane, but then she got sick and it was pretty fast, so…”
Castiel winced. “I’m sorry. For bringing it up.”
“No, it’s okay.” Sam touched Cas’ shoulder briefly as they walked. “You care about him, don’t you?”
Another wince. If there was something Castiel didn’t want, it was to be so painstakingly obvious. He had no experience with this kind of thing, even with this kind of feeling , though, so he wasn’t necessarily surprised that Sam caught on so quickly. He was at a loss for words anyway. He wanted to answer, but he couldn’t find the right words, so he remained silent.
Sam spoke again. “It’s okay. We’re not like that here. You love who you love, which we celebrate, because love sometimes feels like a miracle. If you have it, why waste it? Nah.”
Castiel was still quiet.
“He cares about you, too.”
Now Castiel looked up at Sam’s profile. He bit the inside of his cheek and, feeling a flush coming on, he said: “You think?”
It was obvious that Sam was trying very hard to bite back a smile. “My brother is friendly with everyone everywhere, but I ain’t ever seen him bring anyone around for our annual family dinner,” he said. “Besides, we didn’t even need those lights. You came along and he lit up like a lightbulb.”
Castiel let out a jerky, surprised laugh. “Wow.”
“I will kill you if you hurt him,” Sam said suddenly. “I may be a serious lawyer in the making, but I know how to throw a punch.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
Sam patted his shoulder twice. “Good talk.” With that, he left Castiel’s side without another word and went on to join Jess again. As if they had made a deal, Dean now fell back to Cas’ side and they walked in silence.
Cas didn’t mind.
This was the evening he had been wishing for before he even knew it could exist. It carried a faint scent of freedom and companionship, and he felt his chest filling up inch by inch, exactly like when the first snowfall hits the ground and even during the night, there is a distinct glow as the moon reflects upon the ice gathered below. He had been empty for a long time, but he felt himself getting fuller and fuller. The snowy glow would soon melt into a sunny spring warmth. He came closer and closer to it each time he shared a glance with Dean, or their fingers brushed, or he caught a whiff of Dean’s cologne. Sometimes, all it took was Dean in a certain angle, with the sun in his face; shade falling over his head, his freckles a loud exclamation mark; the blink of an eye; a wink; a smirk.
There was something happening in Castiel’s winter-shaped heart.
Eventually, Sam and Jess went in a different direction: the ferris wheel. Dean and Cas walked alone, side by side.
“Hey,” Dean said suddenly, “has anyone ever won a stuffed animal at a fair for you?”
“I mean, guys usually do that. You know what I mean. For girls. I dunno.”
Dean rolled his eyes. “I’ll take that as a no. Come on.”
Dean pulled at Castiel’s sleeve. It felt a little ridiculous as they fought their way through the crowd to be here in suits, all dressed up and proper - it felt funny at the same time. Castiel followed and let himself be pulled towards the shoot-to-win stall.
A couple guys were trying to impress their girlfriends or hopefully-soon-to-be-girlfriends and missing each shot.
They stood in line for about two minutes before it was Dean’s turn. Ellen was the one operating the stall tonight, but her hawk eyes were probably everywhere.
She gave Dean a knowing smirk and handed him the rifle.
“Watch,” Dean said as he stood in position and aimed.
Castiel was amused at first, but this amusement soon turned into awe as he watched Dean shoot his round smoothly, quickly and with deadly precision. He wondered if Dean was capable of this thanks to - or rather because of - his experiences as a soldier, but in these bright lights, in this atmosphere, with the image of being handed a stupid stuffed animal afterwards, he didn’t really care.
Dean hit the bull’s eye with every shot. The knowing smirk never left Ellen’s face.
“How amazing am I?” Dean asked afterwards, smirking, too.
“Pretty amazing,” Castiel told him honestly.
“So, which one?” Ellen asked. She was a hard woman with a soft core - she didn’t buy anyone’s bullshit but she wished the best to everyone.
Soon enough, they were walking side by side again, except this time, Cas was clutching a soft stuffed rabbit with crooked ears and a little heart on the vest he was wearing. It was the cutest thing Cas had ever seen and his heart just could not stop beating like crazy about the fact that Dean gave it to him. It took everything in him not to hop around like a child.
“Don’t be mistaken,” Dean was saying, “I actually learned way before I enlisted. I was ‘round fifteen when I trained with Ellen until I perfected it. Like, perfected it.”
Castiel sniggered. “Why?”
Dean looked at him from the side. “To impress, dude. I developed crushes early.”
Castiel felt the heat in his face and he squeezed the stuffed animal to his chest. He cast his eyes down, embarrassed and not knowing to say. They walked, but they walked a little closer together, shoulders brushing, and it didn’t feel as distant anymore.
Cas’ legs were starting to hurt, though. They had been walking around for what felt like hours and when he saw a big crowd gathered around the trapeze area, he couldn’t stop himself from wanting to go sit and watch.
“Can we go see the show?” he asked hopefully.
With zero resistance from Dean’s side, Castiel led the way. They found two empty spots next to each other at the back of the rows of chairs and plopped down.
“Oh, my legs are so happy,” Castiel exclaimed.
“Your lungs, too?” Dean asked.
Castiel realized that throughout this entire evening, he hadn’t thought about his asthma once - never even considered that it could cause a problem. His breathing was normal, as it had been for a long time, and his lungs were perfectly okay despite working somewhat overtime in the recent weeks.
“Yeah, my lungs are pretty happy, too.”
Dean smiled. There was something about the way this boy smiled: you could put him on the stage of Royal Albert Hall and the entire audience would sigh audibly just upon seeing his lips stretch like that.
Or maybe that was just Cas.
They sat and chatted for a couple minutes before the small arena went dark. When the lights came back on, two trapeze artists stood in the middle of it, ready to start their performance. Cas knew both of them by now: he had met Ruby a couple of times (she was low-key terrifying and high-key intimidating) and he regularly small-talked with Garth, who joined the fair after Dean had stepped down from the position.
The two of them looked at each other, shook hands, and then their performance started.
They kicked off the show with lighter acrobatics - a few saltos, a few hand-stands and such - before they both climbed the ladders by the sides of the arena. When they got to the top, they walked to the edge of the small bridge that had been put there, and jumped. Two metal bars hung from a metal construction at the centre of the arena, spotlights aimed at them.
Castiel watched breathlessly as they caught the bars with their hands and swung on them back and forth with what seemed like minimal effort. Their limbs seemed to move on their own as they stretched, went against gravity, curled and uncurled.
He had never seen the performance before - he had always left the fair early to go back home. Not tonight, though.
Tonight, Cas watched as Ruby and Garth swung from one bar to the other and he listened as the audience gasped when they barely missed each other in the air. This continued for long minutes, but Castiel felt like only seconds had passed - their movements were so fluid and easy and perfect, like liquid flowing from one end of a bottle to the other, that he could watch them forever.
Pieces of fabric rope were let down from above the arena, then - and Cas knew what this meant.
If he remembered correctly, from what Dean had told him, this meant they would both get entangled in the ropes while on their bars, and then they would jump to each other, collide, and descend to the ground in a twirly spiral. Cas’ insides clenched, muscles tense.
He watched, mesmerized.
Ruby and Garth collided in the air, catching each other in an embrace. As they started their descent, the fireworks exploded over their heads.
It looked incredible, when he saw it unfurl in person. The fireworks lit up the night sky, overshadowing the hundreds, the thousands of stars, each explosion brighter than the last. It transcended everything.
Then, a touch at his shoulder. A squeeze. “Cas.”
He looked to the side and saw Dean. He wasn’t looking at him, only blindly reaching for him with his hand and clutching.
“Are you okay?” Cas asked. His brain switched from happy to panicky within seconds.
“I need to leave,” Dean was saying. He finally looked up and into Cas’ face, eyes wide and frightened, lips parted. His breathing was frantic and it grew faster with each word. “I need to leave, please, can we leave?”
“Yes, of course.”
Cas got up to leave and get out of there - anything Dean asked - but Dean remained sitting, unmoving like a piece of stone, staring in front of himself. His eyes blinked forcibly and he jerked each time another firework went off with a loud pop. Their colors fell upon his face and reflected on it, but Cas saw the red as blood, the yellow as fire; not as a spectrum but as a palette of war.
“C’mon,” Castiel said when he realized Dean was caught in the sound again and needed to get out of it as soon as possible. “Dean.”
Standing up, Castiel gripped Dean’s shoulders tight until Dean looked at him and his eyes seemed to focus. Castiel tugged. Dean’s body finally gave and he got up. Castiel’s palm fell down Dean’s arm to his palm, which he held and squeezed tightly.
“Come with me. Please, Dean, let’s go. I can get you out of here.”
Dean didn’t say anything, but he followed obediently like a little boy. He was still breathing heavily and when Cas looked back at him, he saw tears in his eyes. Dean had trouble walking and stumbled a couple of times, but seemed to stabilize once they were out of the crowded arena. It was trickier, escaping the fireworks.
The best Cas could do was lead Dean out the same way they came, and even though he stopped every now and then to look and make sure Dean was still with him and not doing any worse, he got them out of the fair grounds as quickly as he humanly could.
Once they were in the dark, Castiel gently made Dean sit down on the grass and then sat down opposite him. He took hold of both of Dean’s hands and squeezed them. The fireworks in the distance finally quieted down, only the hoots of the people remained.
“You’re going to breathe with me, okay?” Cas said gently.
Dean was still taking uneven, jerky, gaspy breaths, his windpipe closed up and not letting in enough air.
“Breathe in. Hold it, hold it, yeah, just a second more - breathe out. Keep going, just breathe out, slowly, you can do it. Now back in, just one breath at a time, exactly, good, and now out - one, two, three, four, just simple math, you see? Inhale, slowly, okay -”
He kept going like this for a couple of minutes before Dean’s breathing stabilized itself and he seemed to calm down a little. First it was every other breath that seemed to gasp for air, then every fifth, and then there was one last wheeze and everything was calm again.
They sat in silence then, Dean’s hands still firmly in Cas’.
“Better?” Cas dared to ask after a while. Since the fireworks had stopped a while ago, people were slowly leaving the fair to go home. It was closing time soon.
“Better,” Dean said. “Thank you.”
Castiel rubbed the backs of Dean’s hands with his fingers. “It’s okay, you’re okay.”
They didn’t speak. They both knew it could have been avoided but wasn’t, and they both knew better than to blame the other for it. The silence that engulfed them was a bridge connecting them rather than an ocean separating them.
Dean calmed down, and so did Cas.
They kept holding hands.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Later, when the last of the fair-goers trailed out and there was nothing but fairy lights and fair employees mulling about, Dean and Cas made their way back. As if by accident, something they’d omitted, they were still holding hands.
“Come with me,” Dean said softly.
The panic attack he had suffered made him softer somehow. It was as if a wall had broken down and now there was nothing separating the two of them. Beyond Dean’s harder edges lay a meadow of soft, welcoming, humane tenderness.
Castiel followed without a word.
At the back of his mind, he worried about not being at home; worried what his parents might think, worried they were losing their minds. However many thoughts ran toward them, though, most of them still remained planted here, with Dean. He knew he should have gone home a long time ago, but he couldn’t bring himself to consider doing so even now. He never wanted to leave.
Whatever dreamscape they were trapped it, he didn’t want to escape.
Tired at the late hour, exhausted by the evening and everything that had happened, he felt heavy in a content, happy way.
They walked slowly.
Eventually, they got to the ferris wheel.
“Hey,” Cas said when he saw Meg sitting by a small fold-out table next to the operating booth, Nick opposite her. They were playing cards.
She looked up from her spreads and her eyes widened when her brain registered she was looking at Cas. “What are you still doing here?” she asked in a hiss. As much as she loved him and wanted him to break free, she probably didn’t want his parents to kill him in the process.
“I’m here with Dean,” Cas replied with a shrug. He untangled their hands, though, suddenly not wanting Meg or Nick to see.
“Do your folks know?”
Cas shook his head.
“Hey, dude, would you mind running one more round?” Dean asked, nodding his head towards the ferris wheel.
“Yeah, sure.” Nick put down his cards and got up from his stool. On his way to the operating booth, he ruffled Meg’s hair and she smacked his hand away playfully.
Dean and Cas walked up a couple of stairs and then stepped into a small carriage, sitting opposite each other on small leather-covered benches. The carriage was painted white and the ever-present fairy lights lined its glassless windows for better view. The usual fair music was turned off and jazz tunes echoed faintly through the night air from Nick’s radio.
Other than that, there was nothing to hear - only the music, the soft creaking of the carriage and as Nick put the wheel in motion and they started ascending, the persistent melody of countless cicadas. It was almost August, after all - the mosquito season had slipped into cicada season.
Sitting in silence, Castiel looked out of the windows until his eyes found Pontiac.
The small town lay there in darkness, only a few neon lights from the diner and a couple houses whose inhabitants had yet to go to sleep shouting out like headlights. Castiel could still see the streets and know where they led - he knew Pontiac better than the back of his hand, its main street ran through him more prominently than the life line in the valley of his palm.
“I hate it here,” he heard himself saying. He didn’t know where it had come from, and surprised, he leaned back into the carriage.
“Then leave,” Dean said simply.
Castiel brought up a finger to his mouth and bit at the soft skin by his nail. “It’s not that easy,” he said.
Another beat of silence.
“How do you know those breathing exercises?” Dean enquired.
Castiel smiled and focused on Dean, their eyes meeting. “A nanny taught me them when I was a kid, because of asthma.”
“Do they work for you?”
“I don’t know,” Cas shrugged, “I haven’t had any trouble for years. I don’t really remember.”
“There was this guy, once,” Dean suddenly said. They were beginning their first descent down on the ferris wheel. “Name’s Benny. He ran with us for a couple of years. He had pretty bad asthma as a kid, but it mellowed out a lot over the years. He did get winded from time to time and all the dust made his lungs worse, which is why he eventually left us, but he was out there, doing whatever the hell he wanted to do. Would bet all the money I have to my name he’s still out there. Just living.”
Castiel felt tense. “Okay.”
“I’m just saying,” Dean murmured. He looked to the side, out of the carriage, as if taking in the night around them. “I know it’s not the case for everyone, but sometimes, it fades. It gets mild. Do you think…” Dean started and then trailed off, as if uncertain of whether he should continue or not. “Do you think that, I dunno, it’s just your parents being paranoid and all, trying to keep you ‘round and stuff?”
Castiel looked out of the carriage, too.
That is exactly what he thought.
“I don’t know,” he murmured.
They got to the bottom of the wheel.
“One more?” Nick asked.
Dean nodded. “One more.”
They began their ascent again, and again in silence. There was something being left unsaid and Castiel felt it enveloping him the same way the summer heat did during the days. He stole a look at Dean and the feeling shifted into a wild untamed animal curling up at the pit of his stomach as if trying to protect itself.
“Would you mind if I sat with you?” Dean asked as they were nearing the highest point of the ferris wheel.
Cas gulped and shook his head no.
Dean stood up and quickly changed seats, squeezing in next to Cas. The carriage swayed slightly and Cas caught the security railing with his hand to keep his balance and give himself a false sense of safety.
He looked back at Dean.
The only sources of light were the fairy lights and Dean’s face looked haunting in them. Cas knew that from this point on, whenever he closed his eyes - now or in fifteen years or as an old man with barely any memories left to cling on to - he would see this image. Dean burned into his retinas and made an imprint that would never leave - constellations of dark freckles scattered across his face, peach-pink full lips, eyelashes casting long shadows down his cheeks. Thank God he would never forget this.
“Are you going to kiss me?” Cas asked. He realized he had been staring at Dean’s lips for a while now, mesmerized.
“Yes,” Dean replied.
Yet, for a moment they simply sat there, letting the ferris wheel carry them down slowly, just staring at each other.
Then Dean cupped Cas’ cheek and after a second of consideration, during which his eyes seemed to take in Cas’ face, he leaned in. Their lips brushed slightly, soft skin on soft skin, Dean’s salivated and Cas’ painfully dry.
Cas surprised himself when he pressed in, joining their mouths fully.
He had never kissed anyone. Aside from cheek kisses and happy birthday and the occasional kiss with Meg, his lips had never touched another human being. Sometimes he kissed his forearm, pretending it was the mouth of someone he loved, but over time as he got older, he stopped. It had made him feel more alone.
Now, though. This , though.
Awkward at first, Cas’ lips soon found their way around the shape of Dean’s and pressed against them eagerly. He felt his breath hitching at the back of his throat. Palms curled into fists, Cas pressed them against Dean’s thigh and leaned on them, pushing himself closer, closer, as close as he could be to Dean.
Dean’s thumb rubbed Cas’ cheek soothingly. “Cas,” he breathed hot against Cas’ parted lips.
“Kiss,” Cas said equally breathlessly, already leaning in for more.
Their lips met again and again, soft kisses, mouths moving, parting for one another, opening for one another; finding ways to fit like puzzle pieces; face to the side; brushing noses.
“One more,” Cas yelled without turning around when they got to the bottom again, his hands still against Dean’s leg.
Nick obliged without a word.
🎡 🎡 🎡
"Stay,” Dean whispered.
They were lying on a pile of blankets underneath the summer sky, tangled in a tight embrace, kissing and kissing and kissing. Castiel could barely feel his lips.
He didn’t want to say that that was impossible. He didn’t want to say that he had to leave. He didn’t want to say that that’s not how reality works.
So he didn’t say it.
“Okay,” he said instead.
They fell asleep with the cicadas in crescendo all around them, the stars looking over them like guardians, the moon for a duvet.
Chapter 4: BULL'S EYE
The first thing Cas realized upon waking up was that his clothes were damp with dew.
The second thing he realized was that his chest felt tight at the centre where his ribs met. The first conscious breath he took was only achieved with some strain, but it calmed down within seconds. Rubbing his chest, he opened his eyes.
Then the third thing hit him.
He was still outside, Dean curled up next to him, their bodies touching, legs entwined.
“Fuck,” he whispered. He sat up abruptly and forgetting all gentleness, he reached for Dean’s shoulder and shook it roughly. “Dean.”
Dean Winchester is a thing of beauty in the morning and Cas wished he was less panicked to really appreciate it. He didn’t even have the time to vow to himself that next time, if there is a next time, he will take however long it takes to remember the sleepy droopiness of Dean’s eyelids, the way he licked his lips to wetten them, the blanket creases pressed into his cheek.
“Hey,” Dean murmured. He was lying on his side, hands pulled to his chest.
“I have to go,” Castiel said.
“Stay,” Dean repeated. He used the same tone he had used the night before, but Castiel was too awake and too aware of the situation to let it get to him and persuade him.
“I’m in trouble,” he said. “I’m in real, real, real trouble.”
Dean opened his eyes and frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Cas was already putting on his shoes, which he had shaken off the evening before, and then proceeded to put on his blazer. He didn’t even notice the tie as it lay a foot or so away from their makeshift blanket bed.
“I didn’t go home,” Cas explained frantically. “I never came home. Oh God, they’re gonna kill me.”
“Hey,” Dean said. He looked concerned. He sat up and tried to catch Cas’ hand. He eventually managed to cup his cheek instead and force him to look at him. “Hey. Calm down. I can take you, on my bike.”
Cas shook his head. The animal curled at the pit of his stomach was unfurling. Cas was swept off his feet by it - it turned into a warm feeling of panic and sadness spreading across his body. He hated it. “No.”
“They would kill you, too.”
Dean shrugged one shoulder. “They can try.”
“Dean,” Castiel said flatly. He finished tying his black oxford shoes and he jumped up onto his feet. He was out of breath by then but barely noticed that there was anything wrong with how his lungs seemed to be working today.
Dean stood up, too. “Okay. Sorry.”
“No, don’t, I-” Castiel breathed out and forced himself into taking a second more. What’s a second more when your world has turned apocalyptic, anyway? He walked up to Dean and looked up at him. “I’m sorry. I just have to go right now. But I’ll be back. I promise.”
Dean seemed to relax a little. “Are you going to be okay?”
Cas wasn’t so sure. “Yes, I am going to be okay.”
He caught Dean’s palm and squeezed it gently. Time seemed to freeze for a second, giving Cas the opportunity to lean in and kiss the boy in front of him goodbye. He wanted to, he really did. The image of his mother and his father both worrying, and yelling, and blaming - it stopped him even though it shouldn’t have.
Cas pursed his lips and nodded briefly. Another squeeze around Dean’s palm and then he turned around, rushing. He had to talk himself out of running, really. Dead man walking , he thought to himself as he sped up the dusty road into Pontiac.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Getting home turned out to be exhausting. Even though it was still relatively early, the sun was out and already poking with its rays.
It felt like years before he finally took the turn toward his street.
It was a straight-forward, flat suburban street with neat rows of houses on each side, the true picket fence dream of 1950s America. That’s why he could see right away that something was wrong, and that he was in a lot more trouble than he’d originally anticipated. Nearing the house, he could see the police vehicle parked out front.
Everything in him wanted to slow down. He desperately wanted it to be an option to simply come to a halt in the middle of the street and not move again, ever. Anything not to have to face this.
Cas’ legs did their job well, though, and carried him forward. Part of him knew he had to face it.
By the time he got to their house and walked up their neat driveway, his heart was hammering and his breathing was shallow - a direct result of all the rushing and nerves, no doubt.
“Okay, c’mon,” he told himself. He could do this.
He caught the doorknob and turned it, entering the house. He heard voices coming from the left where the living room was.
“So, ma’am, please, tell me what happened again,” he heard. He recognized Donna Hanscum’s voice. She was the unanimously beloved sheriff of Pontiac. And she sounded sleepy. She probably didn’t expect her Sunday morning to go like this. Either way - she was always loud, enthusiastic, and bright. The fact that she was sounding like the opposite said a lot.
“My son left last night for dinner at his friend’s house, but he never showed there. And he never came back home. My son is missing .” Castiel’s mother sounded borderline hysterical, but he knew it was probably just impatience. He realized he couldn’t imagine her genuinely worried - only dissatisfied that things weren’t going exactly her way.
Donna cleared her throat. “Your twenty-two-year-old son,” she said.
“Yes,” Castiel’s mother said angrily. “My twenty-two-year-old son is missing.”
“Ma’am, I think I’m missing something here. Far as I know, boys his age often-”
“He’s not just any boy!” Castiel’s mother yelled. “He’s sick! He has asthma!”
“Woo, okay,” he heard Donna say. He could just imagine her holding her hands up, her face scrunched up in a can-you-calm-down expression. He could relate.
Cas braced himself and walked into the living room before the scene would turn into a soap opera moment and his mother started throwing food at the poor sheriff. “Good morning,” he said, surprised to hear himself sound so confident. He didn’t feel confident at all.
Donna, the blonde sheriff at the peak of her beauty in her thirties, was sitting on the sofa, dressed in her police uniform, a plate with unfinished pie his mother made for Sunday dessert in her lap. She perked up when she saw Cas, and she put down her fork.
“A-ha!” she exclaimed. “Well, Mrs. Novak, like I said, boys his age often stay out for the night. I knew nothing could have happened to him here in Pontiac. This is an extremely safe town we have here, as you well know…” As she was talking, Donna put the plate down on their living room table and got up, subtly moving across the living room towards Naomi Novak.
Naomi herself looked like she was about to punch her, or Cas, or both.
“It was my pleasure. I’m very glad your son is okay.”
She shook Castiel’s mother’s hand, which was an extremely one-sided gesture, and saw herself out of the house.
“Hey,” Cas said again, once they were left alone. It was only now that Cas noticed his father sitting in the armchair, suspiciously calm. Then again, that was probably his only option, given what his wife was like.
His mother just stared at him. Her look bore through Cas like a dagger, almost killing him on the spot.
“How dare you,” she spat out in the end.
They were like chess figures, standing - or sitting - around the living room in positions that could easily equal a merciless checkmate. All it would have taken was for the queen to strike.
“How dare you,” she repeated. Her voice sounded like poison. “How dare you put us in this position? We had to call the police!”
“I mean, technically, no one forced your hand-”
“You didn’t come back home! What were we supposed to think? You could’ve had an attack, you could have fainted, anything could have happened. We called the Masters first and imagine our shock when they said you didn’t show up at all and their daughter was out somewhere until some ungodly hour as well! Tell him, Chuck.”
Castiel’s father was a very calm man. He had once been a very nervous man, but ever since his salesman career started, he had grown calmer. Phlegmatic, almost.
He looked up at Cas from his armchair. “That really wasn’t nice, son.”
Castiel almost laughed, but he also had to fight with everything in him not to withdraw and make himself smaller and smaller, so he could find even the tiniest hole in the wall and vanish through it like smoke.
“You know,” he said, willing his voice not to tremble, “Sheriff Hanscum was right. Boys my age go out. They stay out. It’s only normal.”
His mother’s nostrils flared. “Young man,” she said. “You are not like those boys.”
“But I am. I am exactly like those boys. Please. I haven’t had an attack in years. I’m healthy and an adult. I am exactly like them.”
“No, you’re not .” Naomi looked like she wanted to add something else, as if to convince Cas, but changed her mind. Or did she want to convince herself ? She crossed her arms over her chest and inhaled sharply. “You’re going to quit that nonsensical library job you got. You’re going to report to me with what you’re doing and you are not to leave the house. You crossed the line here.”
Castiel’s eyes widened at the same time as his chest tightened in horror.
It really took him until this very point to realize what his parents, especially his mother, had been doing. It really took him this long to see how unhealthy it was, how restricting, how far from normal. It really, really took him this long to finally figure out he had to break away.
“Stop treating me like this,” he said bluntly.
“I am your mother,” Naomi announced.
“And I am an adult. I…”
He suddenly saw and understood that they weren’t even listening. His father never cared enough and his mother never listened to anyone but herself. He could practically hear the noise as a huge burden fell off his shoulders. No matter what he did, his mother would never be happy; and she would never let him go. Not as long as he stayed here. Defiance was pointless. Rebellion, too.
“Actually,” he said, feeling very calm all of a sudden, “I am leaving. I’ll be at the fair, should y’all want to see me, at least till the summer’s over. Goodbye.”
“What on Earth -”
But Cas didn’t wait. He turned his back on his mother and on the family that had tried to keep him alive by forbidding him to live, and walked away.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Castiel was well aware that he was rushing, but he didn’t know how to stop himself.
Adrenaline pumped through his veins and even though it was hot as hell outside by the time he got back on the dusty road leading to the fair, he didn’t seem to be able to slow down his pace.
He had done it. He had stood up to his mother, he had left the house, he had left home.
He felt like an idiot for laughing, but it bubbled up his throat as he was walking anyway and he let out a jerky, hysterical laugh. He had done it. He had cut the ties. Burned all the bridges - the ones that needed to be burned. He’d crossed the ocean. Landed on the fucking moon. Mars. The sun , whatever. Everything was possible.
Castiel barely felt the sun as it shone on top of his head and burned the nape of his neck. He could tell that he smelled a little, what with still wearing the same suit he had gone to dinner in last night, but he didn’t care.
He was free. Free as a bird. Freer than he had ever felt in his life.
Dean would be proud of me , he thought to himself. Meg would be proud of me. I am proud of me .
The last one was new and felt incredible.
The only problem was that, halfway down the path, Castiel realized he was out of breath.
For a second, he tried telling himself that it was the constant rushing and the adrenaline and the fight: anything but his lungs. With each step, though, his breaths came in shorter and shorter, and when he wheezed with a sharp inhale, he stopped dead in his tracks.
Remembering how tight his chest had felt in the morning, the dewy dampness of his clothes, the stress and the dry heat with not a drop to drink since last night - he knew.
It was almost funny, the way he had told his mother that he hadn’t had an attack in years. As his breath hitched and in a moment of panic his lungs closed up like a gate, he could feel it coming on. All these years, he had thought he no longer remembered this sensation - helplessness combined with a sudden dizzy spell of no air! no air! no air! mantra - but it was as familiar as always.
Slowly, he sat down.
There was no shade anywhere around him and the fair was too far away. He did the math - if he were to walk on, his breathing would continue shortening, his lungs would clench up like an iron fist, and he would faint. With no one to help and the nebulizer all the way back at the house, he would even die, maybe. Sitting down, albeit in the sun and still without anything to drink, was still the better option.
Focus , he told himself. Breathe. Relax.
He did the same breathing exercises he had tried with Dean.
They didn’t work - he was still low-key gasping for air.
Focus on your breathing. In and out. It’s easy. You’ve got this. Just breathe. You’re gonna get your breathing back to normal. You’re gonna get up. You’re gonna walk to the fair. It’s okay. Focus. Focus. Focus. Focus. Breathe. In. And. Out.
He realized that the voice he heard in his head belonged to Dean. Somehow, Cas had magicked him up in his brain, and it was helping.
Cas didn’t notice when a car stopped by him, but he jerked when the door opened with a creak and then slammed back closed. His breathing had evened out by large by then, but it still wasn’t optimal. Cas was sitting on the ground, legs crossed, his head hung between his knees.
He looked up and saw Sam. He ran around the car and within seconds, he was crouching by Castiel, touching his shoulder with concern.
“What’s wrong? What happened?”
Castiel breathed out. “Almost had an asthma attack.”
“Whoa, okay.” Sam stood up and looked around, gravel turning underneath his shoes. It was as if he was looking for help because his lawyer brain didn’t know what to do with a medical problem. “I’m not in medical law,” he murmured to himself, as if to confirm this.
“They teach about -” another inhale “- asthma in medical law?” Exhale.
Sam looked at him with a poker face. “I wouldn’t know, I’m not in it,” he deadpanned.
Castiel tried his best not to laugh. “Anyway,” inhale, “I’m okay,” exhale, “it’s better now.”
“Should I drive you to a doctor or something? Or home?”
Sharp inhale, completely unrelated to the almost-asthma-attack. “God, no.” Exhale. “Could you. I don’t know. Drive me,” inhale, “to the fair?”
“Oh, yeah, of course.”
Sam was very clearly confused about where Cas was going, whether he had gone home, and what was going on in general - which wasn’t surprising. Too polite to ask, though, he simply helped Cas to his feet and then hauled him inside his older model Ford.
In the car, Castiel sat in silence and tried to get his breathing completely back to normal - successfully. In the meantime, Sam talked. He probably felt awkward and still a little clueless, so he wanted to fill the air with babble.
He mostly just talked about their annual family dinners.
Ever since leaving for Stanford, Sam felt slightly disconnected - long distance phone calls were expensive and letters were tedious and slow. At first, John had a problem forgiving his youngest for leaving and not continuing the family legacy, but he had come around eventually. They established their own tradition outside of the fair and the family business - every year, wherever the fair found a spot to camp for the summer, Sam took a road trip to visit them for a couple of days.
“I work part-time as an assistant in a law firm,” he was explaining as they neared the fair, “mostly just making coffee, but it’ll look good on my CV, you know. And it gets me the money I need for this.”
“That sounds nice,” Cas said. The drive, albeit short, made him feel tired.
Sam drove up the gravel road up to the fair and then took a turn, going around the fair grounds and to the camp area.
The same way he had helped Cas in the car, he helped him out of it now and then remained supporting his weight until they got to a black caravan.
“You know, I’m fine now.”
“No, you’re not,” Sam said. He knocked on the caravan’s door but got zero response. He tried the door and when it opened, he helped Cas in and sat him on the bed. “I’m gonna fetch Dean. Wait here, okay?”
Cas nodded absent-mindedly.
Sam left and closed the door. All Cas really wanted to do was lie down on the small bed, but he fought against it. One thing he had forgotten: how draining even a half-attack is once it fades. As much as he wanted to get up and explore - this was Dean’s space, this space was Dean - he couldn’t muster up the energy.
The only thing he could see from where he was sitting was a framed picture on the nightstand - it captured younger versions of Dean and Sam, arms against the other’s shoulders, laughing at something. It looked like a polaroid. He fell in love with it right away and wished he could have been there to take the picture, or at least see it be taken.
In reality, he just wished to see Dean that happy.
There was a knock at the door, but Cas felt too out of place to yell for the person to come in. He was barely a visitor.
Eventually, a couple seconds later, the door creaked open an inch and Dean’s green eyes peeked into the caravan. “Cas?” he asked.
“Yeah, in here.”
Dean opened the door fully and hopped into the room. He left it open for the breeze to run through it at least occasionally.
“Are you okay? Sam told me you had an asthma attack and he found you sitting by the road.”
Castiel smirked. “I’m fine now, just tired. And it was only almost an asthma attack. I managed to stop it. Probably just the heat and everything, honestly.”
Dean handed him a bottle of water, the glass misted over by the cold drink inside, and sat down on the bed next to him. “Do you need anything?”
Cas took the water gratefully. “The water’s great.”
“How did it go? With your parents?”
“Yeah, uh, that.” Castiel brought the bottle to his lips and chugged almost all of it in one go before stopping himself and putting it back down. “Long story short, I left. As in, left home. I am now officially homeless.”
“Shit indeed,” Castiel mused.
Dean gently placed his palm on Cas’ leg. “You have a place here, you know that. I gotta talk to my old man about it, but I don’t see no reason he should have a problem with it. He’s gonna let you earn your keep, if nothing else.”
“You would have me?” Cas asked in a small voice.
Dean reached out and this time, he ran his hand down Cas’ hair and rubbed at the back of his neck. He brought Cas in until their foreheads touched. “Don’t you doubt it for a second.”
Cas closed his eyes. “Your father said he couldn’t afford any extra people.”
He felt as Dean shook his head against his forehead. “We’ll figure something out. If nothin’ else, there’s enough food for you, and a place to sleep. It’s gonna be okay, Cas.”
Despite everything, Castiel smiled. In this summer heat, with his lungs working overtime and no parents to look up to or consider - he still felt happier than he had ever been.
🎡 🎡 🎡
The next day in the evening, Castiel ventured out of Dean’s caravan for a little walk.
Strangely, he felt like an interloper. He had no official job, or a specifically set task, but he still didn’t feel like he fit the role of a guest or a visitor of the fair anymore. Walking slowly through the vendors and attractions, he knew he would feel dumb stopping to buy cotton candy or even to watch the jugglers for a couple minutes’ time.
They had talked to John. It had been decided that Cas could help around with as much as he could, and they would give him clothes, food, and a bed to sleep on, at least until the summer was over. Just like Dean said. So now he felt like a part of this and not a part of it at all at the same time. He now belonged here, but he felt like an alien.
It wasn’t enough to remember that he’d always felt like this everywhere and all he really needed to do was let go of that stupid idea. You make a place for yourself in this world. It doesn’t get made for you.
Cas slowly navigated through the fair towards the ferris wheel, knowing that he would find Meg there.
She was, indeed, squeezed inside Nick’s booth while he operated the wheel, snacking on popcorn.
“You got a minute?” he asked when he walked up to the vendor. Meg hopped off Nick’s lap and walked out, joining Cas outside.
“You want some?” she asked, handing her box of popcorn his way.
He took a couple and threw them in his mouth. “Salty,” he said.
“What did ya expect?”
They both avoided the elephant in the room. Meg knew something had happened, of course - firstly, she’d seen him here so late, and secondly, she had been his excuse. It was her house that Castiel’s parents called when he’d failed to show up at home.
“I’m sorry,” he said finally as they slowly walked down one of the pathways. He realized they were walking the same way they had when they’d come here together for the first time - inevitably, it would lead them to Missouri.
Meg nudged his shoulder. “It’s okay, friendo. How bad was it?”
He stole another fistful of popcorn. “I ended up leaving.”
Meg stopped dead in her tracks and touched his shoulder to stop him as well. “You’re shitting me. You’re telling me you just straight up went Mom, Dad, bye.”
“Not as far from how it actually went as you might think,” he replied casually. He had spent most of the past two days lost in thought and resting so as not to strain his lungs even more, but even though he had been doing nothing but thinking about it, he didn’t regret his decision for a single second.
“So what are you gonna do now?”
“I’m staying here. Meg, Dean and I -”
“Yeah, I have eyes,” she interrupted him. “You do realize you two were making out on the ferris wheel for at least fifteen minutes and I was like, right there, yeah?”
Castiel felt himself blushing, heat gathering in his cheeks. “Yeah.”
“It’s okay. I’m happy for you.”
They got to the fortune teller. The fireworks are important , Missouri had told him - and oh, was she right. Interpreted in whichever way - the fireworks that had been set off in Cas’ heart, the fireworks he saw, the fireworks that brought Dean to tears, the fireworks that brought them together. All of them were important. A source of light in an otherwise dark sky.
“Thanks, Megs. How bad was it for you?”
“I mean, pretty bad. But it’s okay, actually. I think I wanted it to happen.”
She stopped and sat down on a bench that was positioned a few feet away from Missouri’s little tent of mysteries and wonders. The skirt of her floral dress splayed around her sides like a royal gown. Cas sat down next to her, feeling lucky to even be in her company.
She hummed. “I want to leave.”
“How do you mean?”
“I want to leave with the fair at the end of summer.” She placed the popcorn on the bench next to her and then sighed. She put her hands in her lap, which almost made her look modest, like the southern heroine of a riveting story. “I know I was convinced I was just waiting for a wealthy man to want me and want to secure me, but it turns out I was just waiting for Nick. I was biding my time, just… not in the way I’d expected.”
“But all your dreams about being the perfect housewife,” Castiel exclaimed, almost distressed. He had built their entire futures around this: Castiel the recluse visiting his beautiful best friend in a suburban neighborhood where her husband owned the biggest villa and always bought her the most expensive dresses and stylish sunglasses and gloves and - and her baking sometimes, but usually not, mostly just having fun, and the two of them - Oh, life was really not something you could plan at all. It was like driving blindfolded, taking a right turn where the road clearly curled to the left and you just couldn’t see it.
Meg laughed merrily. “I know!”
“Not to repeat myself, but I know.”
They looked at each other from the side and exchanged small, almost mischievous smiles. They were only interrupted by a pair of girls emerging from Missouri’s tent, giggling and holding each other by the elbow.
“Look at us,” Cas said. “Are you serious about leaving?”
“Yeah, actually. I really want to. I love Nick, I think, and that’s enough for me.”
It was Castiel’s turn to nudge her shoulder. “I hope it works out, Meg.”
“I hope it works out for you, too, whatever it is you’re doing, Clarence.”
🎡 🎡 🎡
Later in the night, Castiel retreated back into the caravan. He had spent the previous night here alone. Dean had gallantly offered to sleep on the floor of John’s caravan and even though Cas had tried to resist, he wasn’t successful.
Tonight, though, there was another knock at the door. With slightly more confidence, Castiel actually went and opened it for whoever was coming over.
It was Dean, two beer bottles in his hand, holding them by the necks. He swayed them around slightly to pull Cas’ attention towards them, and then he raised his eyebrows. “Can I come in?”
“It’s your caravan,” Cas said as he stepped to the side to let Dean in.
Dean, exuding a lot more confidence than Cas could ever manage, crossed the small space and plopped down on the bed. He put one of the beer bottles on the nightstand and brought the other up to his lips to take a sip.
Reluctantly, Cas went to join him and sit on the bed with him.
The past two days had been weird - even though they had kissed and there was clearly something between them that went beyond a stupid, meaningless fling, ever since the fiasco of Cas’ almost-attack and sudden move, they had been awkward around each other again. Cas was well aware that this was a step neither of them wanted to take so hastily and he hated that he had had to ask for it.
“I’m sorry for hoarding your space,” he said quietly.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Dean replied and he burped slightly from the beer. “Jeez, gross, sorry.”
For a second, he really didn’t understand why he was so incapable of going for it - why it seemed to be such a problem to simply turn to Dean and kiss him, and kiss him again, and kiss him again.
“I like you,” he said instead. It was an explanation, really. Cas liked him so much that it felt impossible to do anything about it; and at the same time, he liked him so much that nothing seemed to be impossible.
Cas was surprised to see a rose-colored blush come out on Dean’s cheeks. “Likewise, Cas.”
Cas took a deep breath. “Do you think two people could fit on this bed?”
It wasn’t that late and Castiel wasn’t even that sleepy, but the idea of curling up with Dean’s warm body next to his was too enthralling.
When he was younger, a kid really, he had asked his mother for an explanation on why grown ups sleep together. Isn’t there too little space? Don’t you get too warm? And what if they snore? His mother never replied, but maybe she couldn’t have because she didn’t understand it either. Cas had zero experience but still, the idea of sleeping next to Dean set his chest aflutter. He wanted it so badly: to have this body next to his throughout the night, guarding it; guarding him. They could have the space of a pinprick and Cas would still share it. The heat wave could be even worse and he would still want Dean’s arms around him. Dean could snore and Cas would listen to it without complaint.
Love is love is love is love, but Cas couldn’t entertain such foolish thoughts.
He simply wanted to sleep side by side, and that was all.
“I reckon they would,” Dean replied. He put his bottle on the nightstand as well. “Do you want to try?”
Instead of answering, Cas shuffled and then lied down, his back to the wall of the caravan. Dean scooted and lied down as well, facing Cas. Their legs automatically tangled and they embraced each other slightly, looking the other in the eyes.
You’re so beautiful , Cas wanted to say, but he was happy enough just thinking it. He was sure, too, that his face was giving him away. Dean soon looked down and bit on his lips.
“So,” he said and cleared his throat, “what do you want to do once summer is over?”
Castiel hummed. He moved his leg so it would fit in between Dean’s better and he was subconsciously running his hand up and down Dean’s side. He was afraid to say it, but he took a deep breath and went for it. “I think I’m going to try to apply for college,” he said.
A smile tugged at Dean’s mouth. He looked pleased - downright chuffed. “Knew it.”
“Shut up,” Castiel said, kicking his feet slightly just to jiggle Dean’s body a little.
“Make me,” Dean said confidently.
Castiel scooted closer and pressed his lips against Dean’s. Like everything else, even this suddenly felt final. It was like they were sealing a very important deal - without words, they just told each other: I don’t know how long this is going to last, but you are my person and I will take care of you.
Chapter 5: SHOW MUST GO ON
It was a brisk August morning.
After the last of the returning heat wave had faded ten days or so ago, the weather had grown milder. While the days were still hot and crawling above ninety degrees, the nights and mornings had become chilly and fresh. There had been storms, too, and often the air smelled like rain.
Cas was lying spread-eagle on a dark brown mat in the middle of a meadow just outside of the fair. He was breathing heavily.
Suddenly, Dean’s face appeared right next to him.
“You weirdo,” Cas said.
Dean was doing a handstand, balancing from one hand to the other right next to him. His face was starting to look a little red and the necklace he always wore tucked behind the hem of his shirt - a golden amulet given to him by Sam when they were kids - had slipped out and hung over his chin.
“You just gave up too fast,” he said grumbly. His voice sounded weird when he was upside down.
“It’s not natural,” Cas said.
He had attempted the hand stand - after forced stretching and preparing - time after time, but his ass seemed to be in a monogamous relationship with gravity and unwilling to budge.
Dean jumped back to his feet and then leaned over Cas, supporting himself on his arms, each placed by the side of Cas’ head. “Boo,” he said.
“Indeed,” Cas agreed. He reached out and placed his hand on Dean’s shoulder blade, pulling him in. They kissed slowly. Cas loved these kisses - the brushing of lips, the warmth of Dean’s mouth radiating on to his, the tip of Dean’s tongue as they pulled apart as if it wanted to say goodbye.
Dean flopped down next to Cas. After a couple seconds, he seemed to reach for something and when he turned back, he was holding a sad-looking dandelion in his hand. He tickled Cas’ nose with it and then let it lie there, falling back down onto his back.
“Weird,” Cas said, taking the flower off his face. “They’re usually done or fluffed up by now.”
“That one was waiting for you,” Dean explained very seriously. On the mat, their hands found each other and their fingers entwined with ease.
“So I’m not the next trapeze prodigy, huh?” Cas asked.
“I don’t think you mind.”
Castiel laughed and shook his head. He did not mind at all. As much as he loved watching Ruby and Garth every chance he got, and as much as he loved to fantasize about seeing Dean entangled in those ropes, he couldn’t bend his body in the right ways. Trapeze was a true art form to him, but he was okay appreciating it and not creating it.
“Were you good?” he asked instead. “Objectively speaking.”
Dean hummed. “Dunno.”
“Come on. Don’t be modest.”
They looked at each other and Dean shrugged. “Yeah, I guess I was one of the better ones. Suffice to say Ruby and I were pretty much equal and when I take myself out of the equation and just look at her, I know she’s damn great at it.”
Cas slowly massaged the back of Dean’s hand with his thumb.
“Have you considered going back to it?” he inquired softly. He was aware that it was a sensitive topic and no, he wasn’t sure how to approach it properly without digging up any unwanted or negative feelings. He wanted to, anyway - it felt, for some reason, like they needed to talk about it at some point.
Some point might as well translate into right now.
“I did go back to it,” Dean replied. He already sounded defensive.
“I mean,” Cas said carefully, “after that. I know you tried right after you got back, but I’ve been thinking about it and maybe you rushed into it. I mean, do you still love it?”
Dean hummed again, not giving any other response. Cas decided to take that as a reluctant yes, possibly to both, but definitely the latter.
He took a deep breath and quickly talked himself into continuing. “Maybe it would be worth looking into. Just practicing? And eventually talking to John about joining the trapeze artists again? Even if just for a small number. Not the whole act. I don’t know.”
Another hum. Castiel guessed that Dean was unhappy at the idea of having a small number when he used to be the leader of the entire act. People waited to see him and now they would watch him with bored expressions on their faces and wait impatiently for the actual highlight. At least, that’s what Cas imagined it sounded like to Dean’s ears. As far as he was concerned, he was sure people would still watch Dean with awe.
“People would still love you,” Cas said quietly.
“I don’t know, Cas,” Dean said. Something in his tone was two-sided: it sounded like I’ll think about it and I don’t want to talk about it anymore at the same time. Both were fair - Cas wasn’t expecting to get Dean back into trapeze performances, practices, and getting over his trauma with the snap of his fingers. Still, he felt like this was a start.
The thing was, Cas knew Dean did still love it.
They both watched the acrobats with the same fascination. They shouldn’t have been: Cas was a newcomer, someone outside of it, but Dean had used to be a part of it. He knew the tricks, knew the movements, probably designed half of the choreography. His body seemed to be pulled towards it as if the iron bars and silk ropes were magnets. It was the other side of obsession: the one where you desperately want to do something, your body and heart both screaming for it, but you tell yourself that you can’t.
“Since we’re on the topic of uncomfortable things we don’t want to talk about,” Dean said jokingly, “have you thought about college yet?”
Castiel groaned and turned onto his side, burying his face in Dean’s neck. “Can’t hear you,” he mumbled into the skin there, his own breath coming back to him in hot waves.
Dean shook him off. “Have you?”
“I guess so,” Castiel admitted with a sigh. He pulled away and propped himself on his elbow, looking down at Dean. He rested his free hand on Dean’s chest, nestled in between his ribs. “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“I mean, I know I want to go to college, but I don’t have the money or - just - you know.”
“Sam’s riding it on a scholarship,” Dean reminded him. Sam himself had mentioned it in the few days they had gotten to spend together before he had to get on the road again and drive back to California. “You’re just as smart.”
“Cas,” Dean cut him off. “I know. But you’re scared. That’s all. That’s all there is, that’s the only thing stopping you.”
Castiel himself was incapable of facing his own troubles and admitting this to himself. He turned onto his back and laid down, one arm underneath his head. He sighed and closed his eyes.
College was a terrifying topic. College meant leaving all this behind. It meant leaving behind his parents, but it also meant leaving everything else. It meant leaving Pontiac. It meant leaving the little boy who was scared to talk to anyone; the little boy who collected books instead of friends; the little boy who desperately still needed a companion. He couldn’t possibly just abandon him, but he didn’t know how to take him along. That little boy would cry and kick one foot out of Illinois. That little boy had no place in the real world.
“Let’s make a deal,” Dean said. “I’ll think about trapeze and you think about where you want to apply. Okay?”
Cas wanted that. Cas wanted Dean to be happy. And if he was certain about anything, it was that performing again would do it.
Before he could change his mind, with his eyes still closed, Cas breathed out: “Okay. Deal.”
🎡 🎡 🎡
As a kid, Castiel loved Christmas as much as anyone his age.
Where other kids were excited and stayed up just to hear Santa come down the chimney with presents, though, Cas couldn’t fall asleep even when he wanted to. It troubled him, the idea of a stranger in their supposedly safe house.
If Santa could come down a chimney with a big sack full of gifts, what was stopping burglars, and worse, murderers from doing the same? Santa was the good guy, of course, but what would ever stop the bad ones from following his lead?
So on Christmas Eve, Castel always lay in his bed awake, his ears pricked. He was ready to jump out at the smallest of sounds.
He didn’t know why he was like this.
He wanted to be excited. He followed all the rules: before bed, he prepared cookies and a glass of milk and positioned them neatly on the living room table. Then he let his mother kiss him goodnight and turn off the light. He pretended to fall asleep.
Once or twice, he did hear strange noises downstairs. Sometimes, the ringing of the jingle bells hanging off their richly decorated Christmas tree. When this happened, he wished to be brave. Desperately he wanted to have the courage to crawl out of his bed and walk down the stairs to see. Deep in his little heart, and in his frantically pumping lungs, he wanted to see an old man dressed in red putting neatly wrapped presents underneath the tree. He wanted to see for himself that the fantasy was real and nothing bad could happen to him.
Unfortunately, Castiel never dared do that. He never dared to walk down the stairs.
Now, getting up the stairs to the Pontiac library, he thought to himself: It would have felt like this.
It was exhilarating. It was terrifying.
The little boy in the fantasy kicked off the sheets and, barefoot, walked to the staircase, heart hammering. He started his descent down to see that the good existed, not the bad.
Castiel, at twenty-two, entered the library to look at which college he wanted to go to, get their respective flyers, and work on the applications and required essays. Heart hammering. He started his ascent up to see that the good existed, not the bad.
🎡 🎡 🎡
They jumped off Dean’s bike and onto the concrete sidewalk leading up to the Pontiac Post Office.
“Don’t forget to ask if you can put the post office address as the return address,” Dean was saying.
They were too shy to kiss or hold hands in public, but Dean gave Cas an encouraging smile and leaned against his bike. With a sigh, Cas turned towards the low, rectangle-shaped building.
He had written three letters and three essays. One would be on its way to UCLA, the next one to Stanford, and the last one to NYU. He had written his essays to the best of his ability while trying not to stress about it too much, and poured his heart out while at it. It had only been during this process that Cas realized how much he cared and how much he wanted to go. It didn’t escape him, either, that all the universities he’d picked were far, far away from here.
In each letter, he mentioned that he was aware of the missed deadline, but in light of recent changes in his life, he was asking about a vacant spot and, essentially, a lot of mercy. In each letter, there was an inquiry about scholarships as well.
He didn’t have a lot of hope. He wasn’t pinning all his dreams on this. The letters felt like they weighed a ton as he walked inside the post office.
“Good day,” he said shyly as he approached one of the three windows inside.
Mrs. Tran, Cas’ neighbor from three houses down, smiled at him.
“What can I help you with today?” she asked kindly.
With a certain amount of embarrassment and unreasonable humiliation, he asked her to send the letters. Then he inquired about using the post office’s address as the return address for potential replies or returns.
She looked up at him from behind the window with a raised eyebrow. Cas knew that she herself had a son, only slightly younger than Castiel, who had always been kept on a short leash. If she disapproved of Cas going behind his parents’ backs, or if she knew anything of his current situation, she managed not to let it show. He appreciated that.
It turned out that it was an option. “We can hold your mail for you,” she told him reassuringly.
He asked about when to come check, how often, thanked her politely. Nearly backed out of the post office, he felt so awkward and exposed.
Cas took a deep breath when he finally got out. Granted, the day was pretty damn hot, so his lungs mostly got an intake of humid warmth, but he felt lighter anyway. He smiled at Dean, who was waiting for him by his bicycle. He nodded as if he couldn’t wait to tell him that their mission was successful.
“I’m proud of you,” Dean said, his tone genuine, as Cas walked back up to him.
Cas shoved his hands into his pockets sheepishly and looked down at his feet. “Let’s walk around a little.”
They started down the sidewalk, Dean pushing the bike by his side. Dean was wearing his usual, and Cas had stolen his clothing from him as well - he was wearing loose jeans secured with a belt and a deep green shirt tucked into it. The top two buttons were undone.
Catching their reflection in a shop’s window, it seemed to Castiel like the two of them had come from the same world. He liked it.
“I’m not hopeful,” he said a couple minutes into their walk.
“Yeah, that’s fair.”
Castiel looked at Dean from the corner of his eye. Dean didn’t seem bothered and concerned. “You think?”
“I don’t think anything in life is a given. But damn,” he said, and looked at Cas, “you tried, and I reckon that counts way more most of the time.”
Castiel bumped Dean’s shoulder softly as if to say thank you and they exchanged a brief smile. He would kiss him for this later, Cas decided. He would kiss him anyway, but he will kiss him extra for this.
Cas was just about to ask if Dean maybe fancied some ice cream since they were just passing the diner in which Anna worked when he noticed a familiar figure approaching from the opposite direction. Everything in him froze as he recognized his mother. He saw her first, but her glance quickly followed.
“My mother,” Castiel told Dean through gritted teeth.
“What?” Dean had stopped, holding his bike still.
Naomi Novak walked up to them with the confidence of true royalty. Her highness loomed over Cas as if she was a giant and not a human being. But then he felt, or rather imagined, Dean’s warmth next to him, and he felt himself grow into her equal.
“So this is the crowd you’re with now?” she asked, her tone bitter and sharp as the edge of a knife. A really big, really sharp knife.
Despite not wanting to explain himself to her, Castiel motioned towards Dean. “This is Dean Winchester, the son of the fair’s owner.”
“Ma’am,” Dean tipped his flat cap like he must have seen men do in movies.
She looked him up and down as if he was a piece of furniture she didn’t want to own anymore, lips pursed, and then she looked back to Cas.
“These people are homeless,” she said. “You’re coming home with me.”
Dean’s brow furrowed. “Excuse me, ma’am, but we certainly ain’t -”
“Speak when you’re spoken to, young man,” she told Dean bluntly. “Did your mother not teach you manners or she didn’t have any herself?” She pointed at Cas. “You, with me. You need an actual bed to sleep in and dry walls and healthy food. You didn’t even take your nebulizer!” she hissed like a goose.
Cas stared at her for a second, letting it dawn on him once more how little it mattered - what he wanted and didn’t want. His mother would always want to have the last word, unforgiving and oftentimes cruel. His mother would always want something to care for, whether it be Cas, or animal, or even a plant.
He turned to Dean. “Can we go?”
Dean pinned his attention on him, still frowning. “Huh?”
Cas pointed to the bike. “Can we go?” he repeated patiently. He hoped that Dean would hear the plea in his voice, and he hoped the whole scene wouldn’t make Dean see him in a different light.
“Oh,” Dean exclaimed. He was now very actively avoiding looking at Castiel’s mother. “Yeah, of course.”
Dean got on the bike and Cas immediately sat down on the carrier and wrapped his arms around Dean’s waist. He turned his head away so he wouldn’t have to look at his mother either.
The first few metres were shaky as Dean tried to regain his balance, but they turned the corner soon enough. They weren’t going fast, so Cas took the chance to press a kiss into Dean’s back in way of apology.
I’m not hoping , he had said, but the truth was - of course there was hope.
No, he didn’t and couldn’t leave the little boy he had been behind in Pontiac, but there were things that deserved reckless abandonment. He would have to find the middle ground - take the boy with and carry him inside him, but shed him of all the rest that threatened to poison him like long expired food.
It thundered and droplets of rain began to fall on them as Dean cycled to the fair.
Like any other storm, this one would pass, too.
🎡 🎡 🎡
They were sitting on the floor of Dean’s caravan, eating skewers off of plastic plates. They would be enjoying the calm dinner - it was Sunday and the fair was closed - except they were eerily quiet. Cas knew it was largely because he was biting back an apology.
He didn’t manage to hold it in the end. Halfway done, he put his skewer back on the plate and looked down at his lap. He rubbed his thighs nervously.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly.
Dean bit off a piece of beef and frowned. “What did you do, get sauce on my jeans or something?”
Cas sighed. “I’m sorry for Friday.”
Dean’s chewing slowed down. They never talked about what had happened in town with Cas’ mother. Cas didn’t want to bring it up because it hurt him; Dean probably didn’t bring it up because he felt offended and most likely insulted. As much as Cas judged his mother for her behavior, especially towards Dean, he felt partially responsible. He was of his mother, after all.
“Cas, it’s not your fault,” Dean said softly. He scratched Cas’ knee with his greasy fingers. “I’m sorry too, if anything. That she’s like that.”
“She had no right,” Cas added. “It felt dirty. Wrong. And I do want to apologize for her.”
“I understand,” Dean replied.
It only took those two short words for Cas to relax. His shoulders slouched and he picked his food up again.
The rest of their dinner passed in a lot friendlier talk as Cas managed to unwind. They ate, talked with their mouths full and joked around. They wiped their hands on their jeans because at the end of the day, they were just two young boys who cared more about having fun more than clean clothes.
Cas knew that he had always been meant to be having this kind of fun and feeling this light and free.
After dinner, they moved to Dean’s small bed without discussing it. Their bellies full, they started kissing slowly and almost lazily.
As they did it more often, Cas’ hands had become experienced explorers. At first, he hadn’t known what to do with them - he was too shy to touch Dean, caress his cheek, or run his hand down Dean’s arms, back, sides. With each kiss, he’d become braver and more familiar with the sensation that touching Dean always brought on.
It could be likened to electricity again, but a different kind - every touch sent a bolt of something all across his body. Even if it was just the innocent brush of fingers or a hand lightly held, as long as they were kissing - and sometimes not even that - it turned Cas on. At first, he avoided this, scared of how far it would take him, but he was getting bolder and bolder.
Deep down, he knew the only thing he really wanted was to feel Dean’s skin on his, and his fear of such desire faded bit by bit.
Tonight, his fingers toyed with the hem of Dean’s shirt and then slid underneath. Cas’ palm was soon flat against Dean’s stomach and running up carefully and slowly. The change in Dean’s breathing sent pangs of thrill down to Cas’ crotch and reassured him that what he was doing was right.
This was where his hands belonged. This was what they were supposed to be doing.
Cas knelt on the bed and, breaking up their kiss, he tugged at Dean’s shirt to make him sit up. With some difficulty, he pulled the shirt over his head and threw it to the side.
His eyes ran down Dean’s torso. Was it okay to say to your partner, your lover, that they were beautiful to you? Castiel didn’t know. He drank Dean up inch by inch, his fingers following the same trail. Dean’s chest was rising and falling under the strain of his quickened breaths, and his breathing hitched audibly after all when Cas caught his nipples with his forefingers.
Cas took off his own shirt quickly, ruffling his hair and not caring about it.
Lying back down, their chests pressed together, their bodies moving. He had never had sex; he had never fucked; he had never made love to anyone. He wasn’t sure which category this fell under, but even the simple chest to chest while slipping his tongue into Dean’s mouth made his body jerk. His hips jutted forward and thrust against Dean’s crotch. He moved, one leg over Dean’s, halfway on top of him, halfway between his legs, halfway to heaven, halfway to hell.
Another jerk of hips as Dean’s tongue touched his.
He realized that even if he could, he wouldn’t want to control it.
How many lovers have you had? Castiel wanted to ask. He couldn’t imagine such a body being left untouched and such sounds unheard up until this point. The man lying underneath him deserved to be loved, and touched, and lovingly touched.
“How many times have you been in love?” Cas asked instead, the words barely a breath settling over the flushed pink of Dean’s lips.
“Never,” Dean breathed out, pulling Cas closer to himself. “Once.”
“Me too,” Cas said.
Renewing their kiss, he blindly tried to unbuckle Dean’s belt and failed miserably. At first he smiled and then he laughed into Dean’s mouth at his own foolishness. He had to break the kiss again and, giggling, he leaned his forehead against Dean’s.
“I’m a useless lover,” he murmured jokingly.
Dean kissed his nose and shuffled on the bed. Then he unbuckled the belt Cas had so struggled with and unzipped his pants, pulling them down. “Watch,” he said and moved Cas onto his back. He unbuckled his belt as well without any problems and tugged the pants down, tug-tug-tug, off.
Cas had his answer as to the number of lovers - many - and he also had a wet stain at the front of his boxers - dark and sticky.
Dean stared for a second and Cas blushed under it.
Then a kiss, on the mouth.
Slight movement to the right, tongue sliding down Castiel’s neck, making him shiver and forcing him to bite back a moan. He has always been such a quiet child, boy, man - this one thing made him want to scream.
Then lips, running down his collarbones ever so slightly they almost felt like ghosts. Or a little feather caressing his skin.
A wet trail running down in a zig-zag down Cas’ chest.
Dean’s hot breath against his belly button.
A mouth pressed against his cock, tongue against the fabric of his underwear.
“Dean,” Castiel exhaled, and it was the only word existing in the English language. There had been poems written about this, people had been in jail for this, there had been love stories and odes and sonnets. Cas had devoured them but he realized now that they were inaccurate and poor. There were no words to describe it. No means to bring it to life. You had to live it, if you wanted to know what it was like.
Dean stuck his fingers behind the hem of Cas’ underwear and pulled at it gently. The same process: tug-tug-tug; sudden nakedness.
“I’mma do you a solid,” Dean whispered and took his own boxers off.
Castiel threw a hand over his face and laughed again, half embarrassed and half pleased, quietly thankful for Dean’s thoughtfulness.
They kissed again. Their breathing had now grown shallow and their bodies moved together. The first time their crotches met, Castiel gasped. His body immediately thrust out, desperately searching to reconnect and have the sensation overwhelm it again.
Dean pulled away and his hand slid down Castiel’s side. It went around his ass and then circled to the front, stopping inches from Cas’ cock. Dean looked at him questioningly, and Cas nodded.
Yes, he thought. This is okay. This is more than okay. This is what I want.
He was happy.
Dean’s fingers wrapped around Cas’ cock and gave it a slight squeeze, barely a tug. Cas’ hips buckled.
“This okay?” Dean asked, his voice somewhere between melody and whisper.
Castiel nodded, eyes squeezed shut. “It feels so nice,” he said in an exhale. “I don’t know how long - if you’re gonna continue doing that.”
Dean peppered Cas’ cheek in kisses. “We don’t have to do anything else, baby.”
Castiel grabbed at Dean’s shoulder and opened his eyes. “I want to,” he said. He licked his lips, rough from all the kissing. “I want to so badly. I want you .”
“I want you too,” Dean whispered. His hand was still tight around Cas’ dick, albeit unmoving. “God knows I wanted you the second I laid eyes on you in Pontiac. You seemed so disinterested. Just took the flyer. So dismissive. Thought I had no chance.”
“You’re the one person I’ve loved,” Cas said quietly.
Dean’s body moved against his. “You’re mine.”
Castiel shivered. He knew how Dean meant it and it sent chills down his spine. His body reacted to the innuendo in it, too - you’re mine. Cas didn’t believe that people could belong to people, but if there was anyone in the world he wanted to belong to, it was Dean. Hearing those words was like confirming that it was possible.
He suddenly remembered feeling so cold at the start of this summer. Despite the oncoming heat wave, he had been frozen to the bone, icicles for fingers, snow for a heart. Everything felt so different now - so warm, so right.
The summer had felt final, but with Dean on top of him, Cas realized it was just build up, no finalities yet. He had reached the finish line. After a very long run, he could breathe.
They made love, or had sex, or fucked - whatever either of them wanted to call it. The same way they had never discussed what they were - partners? Boyfriends? Friends with feelings for each other? Nothing at all? - they didn’t feel the need to discuss it either.
It was awkward at first, but comfortable. Cas could laugh about it.
It didn’t last long.
Castiel tried to apologize, but Dean shut him up with an onslaught of kisses.
“Can I at least…” Castiel trailed off, his palm running down Dean’s chest. His fingers stopped when they reached the wet tip of Dean’s cock.
Dean nodded and guided Cas’ hand to where he liked it. Faster , he said later. Tighter. Eventually, Just like that. Please keep going. Please keep going. Please keep going. Please-
By the end of it, Dean’s bed was messy and their skin was damp with sweat. Castiel felt come drying on his abdomen and his fingers were sticky with Dean’s. They scoured for a tissue until they found one and tried to clean themselves up as well as they could.
They cuddled up naked afterwards as if they had always been supposed to do this. Neither of them considered putting their clothes back on or pretending that there was any need for them. There wasn’t. Perhaps there never had been; Castiel mourned the loss of all the nights he could have spent with his naked body pressed against Dean’s. All those unexplored parts of his skin - little corners and valleys in which sweat pooled like little mountain lakes. All the creases, the birth marks like stars, the freckles he wasn’t able to see because they were tucked away underneath Dean’s clothes.
There were scars, Cas had discovered - a bullet scraping by Dean’s shoulder leaving behind an angry bolt; a dent below his left knee from where he had fallen to the ground as a teenager and rusty wire peeking out from the ground nearly ran right through the delicate flesh. He could have been touching those scars and getting to know them; he could have been lost in those valleys; drinking from those lakes.
Such a waste.
But no more. He pressed himself as close as he could manage, a tight embrace as a band-aid for long-gone nights of unnecessary separation.
“What are we going to do?” Cas asked after they had calmed down. They were lying face to face, their noses only inches apart.
“What do you mean?”
“Summer will be over soon,” Cas said.
“But what do you mean?”
“Well,” Cas mused. He ran his thumb in circles over Dean’s shoulder. “What are we going to do when it happens? What happens to us then, once summer is over?”
“The fair packs up and leaves,” Dean said simply, “and you will go to college.”
A part of Cas wanted to argue this. A part of him wanted to dismiss it. A much larger part of him, though, knew that it was true. They had met, but they hadn’t met to stay together forever. That had never been part of the plan. It hurt, and in a way, that hurt had been there all this time.
Castiel knew. Dean would go with the fair, and Castiel wouldn’t come with him. He couldn’t see himself doing it, the same way he couldn’t see Dean staying behind.
They were like two straight lines running in different directions that happened to cross paths at a singular point. Imagine this: two bullets fly through the air at high speed. Unstoppable. They clash and bounce off of each other. They have met. They have had contact. They have impacted each other irreversibly. Then it’s over and off they fly, their trajectories altered. Unstoppable still.
“Yeah. You’re probably right.” Castiel caught Dean’s hand in his. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Dean whispered and bringing their joined hands to his mouth, he kissed Cas’ tenderly.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Castiel took to walking into town every day, the same way he had walked to the fair every day before. He’d realized it was actually good on his lungs: it wasn’t so hot outside anymore and the walking helped him work on his breathing and keep it stabilized.
Besides, he really freaking needed to go to the post office and ask for any mail. He was hungry for it.
It took until the second to last week of August for anything to arrive - but then it was all three responses at once and not just one. Trying to be responsible, Castiel did his best not to rush back. Some days, he took Dean’s bike, but today’s morning had been sunny but chilly and he’d wanted to walk. He’d kill for that bicycle now.
He got to the fair as fast as he could. It was a few minutes past ten in the morning and Cas rushed straight towards the trapeze area.
On the way there, he ran into Ruby. “Are you guys done practicing?” Cas asked. The three letters were burning a hole in the backpocket of his - Dean’s - jeans, but he didn’t want to open them on his own.
Ruby barely stopped to talk to him. “Dude, no, I just really need coffee. And sunglasses.”
There had been a birthday celebration the night before and Ruby had been singing La Marseillaise at three in the morning on the roof of her caravan. John had actually had to yell at her to get her to come down and go to sleep. Looking at her now, he probably should’ve done it a bit earlier.
“Don’t,” she groaned as if she knew what he was thinking.
Castiel snorted. Ruby was a “mean bitch,” as she liked to call herself, and Cas was still a little intimidated by her. However, he was starting to learn that most of her jabs were just that and not mockery, which actually made her kind of adorable, like a cactus you love to take care of but you wouldn’t dare hug.
“I wouldn’t dare,” Cas said and made to bow a little. She smirked at him and they both continued on with their respective missions.
Even though Cas had been rushing, when he got to the fair and saw Dean practicing with Garth, he stopped to look.
Dean had picked up more practice reluctantly and only very recently. He officially didn’t tell anyone that he wanted to maybe be part of the act again - though he and Cas had talked about it at length, and about the fireworks - but he got up each morning and went to work with Ruby and Garth.
Castiel often watched. He liked looking as Dean stretched his body out. That’s all he did at first, just simple stretches and a handstand or two to make Cas laugh and roll his eyes.
By now, though, he was trying saltos and somersaults as well as some throws with Ruby, and Cas got excited to see that he was twirling in rope this morning as he arrived.
Dean’s body was muscular yet slender. The rope was tied around his foot, then up and tied again around his thigh in a double spiral and he was standing on it, one hand holding on to it, the other outreached. He was moving in slow, deliberate circles.
Cas thought: You’re beautiful. He thought: How do you look so graceful? He thought: I want you right now, exactly like this. He thought: I’m proud of you, I love you.
When they made eye contact, Dean smiled and Cas pulled out the letters, waving them in the air. Dean almost stumbled over the rope and fell on his face, he rushed so hard.
“Hi, did you get in, what’s going on?” Dean was asking.
Castiel laughed and pulled Dean in for a hello kiss. “I haven’t looked yet. I wanted to wait and do it with you.”
They grabbed each other’s hands and sneaked around until they got to Missouri’s little tent. They used it sometimes if they wanted to escape from everyone and make out for a while without people snickering and poking fun at them.
They sat down. Dean took Missouri’s usual seat and Cas took the one he had taken when he spoke to her. Missouri was one of the few members of the fair he hadn’t gotten to know at all, even though she was very motherly with some people. There was just something about her that unsettled Cas - perhaps the fact that she could see right through him.
“You know,” Cas said, “When I was here the first time, I had my fortune told, but all Missouri said was essentially just that fireworks are important.”
Dean gave him an amused smile. “What a wise woman she is.”
The letters were on the table where Cas had put them. He was squeezing his hands between his thighs now, incredibly nervous. This is where his future was decided. Whatever it is , he told himself, you’re sharing it with one of the most important people in your life. That’s what matters here.
“Open them,” Dean said, poking the letters and shuffling them towards Cas.
A deep sigh. “Okay.”
The first one he opened was from UCLA - the one he wanted to go to the most. He didn’t exactly know why. When he looked through the brochures, the grainy pictures of their campus and the tone of their promotional texts sounded right to him. He tore the envelope open and pulled out a sheet of paper folded in three. He noticed his hands were trembling slightly as he held it up to read it.
Dear Mr. Castiel Novak,
We regret to inform you that based on your late application and insufficient funding, you have not been accepted into our scholarship program and we currently cannot offer you a place in any of our departments. We would love to reconsider your application the following year. In the circumstance that you should wish to reapply, please send your application as per the schedule and guidelines attached below. Thank you for--
Castiel stopped reading.
“There’s two more,” Dean said quickly as Cas put the letter down.
He only nodded.
The response from NYU said essentially the same thing. No funding; no scholarship; no vacant spots. You have applied too late, Mr. Novak. In which fucking universe do you think we operate? We’re not waiting up on you up here in good ole New York! Get your shit together, Mr. Novak. Get money and education somewhere else.
They’d agreed not to pin all his hopes on this, but in reality, Cas had never planned a different path for after the fair moved on and he was left here, actually really homeless.
He opened the letter from Stanford with mild disinterest. He knew it was his brain trying to protect him.
Dear Mr. Castiel Novak,
We are pleased to inform you that thanks to an applicant who has revoked his application, we can offer you a spot in our History Department. Thank you for your application and your moving essay. Down below you will find attached the--
Cas stopped reading again.
“I got in,” he said, bewildered. “I got into Stanford.”
Dean whooped loudly and jumped up. He leaned over the table, nudging it with his hips, and pressed a kiss onto Cas’ mouth. “I knew it! And you’re gonna be there with my brother!”
Castiel scoffed and then he laughed, and he laughed and he laughed. It was really happening. He really did get in.
There was only a moment of discomfort when he realized: Yeah, I’ll be there with your brother, but I won’t be there with you.
Chapter 6: CURTAIN CALL
“What are we even doing?” Castiel was asking as Meg dragged him all across Pontiac.
This Saturday was supposed to be their last day together. It was the very last week of August and the fair was set out to leave the following Wednesday. He’d naively thought that they would maybe go to the diner, have ice cream, and then take a walk down memory lane across the spots they used to hang out the most.
Instead, he had never been to this part of town and his legs were starting to hurt.
“You’re such a dumbass sometimes,” Meg replied.
“Gee, thanks. I love you too, Megs.”
“You’re not leaving for another week. Were you planning on sleeping under the stars for that time?”
Cas had considered it, actually. It seemed better than the other option that he had, which was to go back to his parents and survive a few days before leaving for college. He decided, though, that that wouldn’t be good for him - the past weeks had really shown him how unhealthy his house always had been and how much it had kept him from being his own person. He didn’t want to go back to it unless he absoltely had to. Yeah, he would rather sleep under the stars.
“I’ll probably contact them,” he’d told Dean when they had talked about it. “But I don’t feel like I have to make amends. At least not right now. Not until I’m ready.”
Dean had understood.
Meg took a turn to a neat driveway with colorful flowers lining it on both sides. Needless to say, Cas was even more confused than before. He got antsy when Meg rang the bell.
“Calm down, Clarence,” she murmured.
He did, but only when he saw that it was Anna who came to open the door. He must have still looked like a deer caught in headlights, though, because she smirked and shook her head.
“You didn’t tell him, huh?”
“I mean,” Meg said and pointed at him, “Look at his face. This poor innocent child really did not consider he has more than one friend.”
“Shut up,” Castiel mumbled. He looked at Anna. “Considering she was talking my ear off about not having anywhere to stay, I’m assuming that’s why we’re here? And if that’s the case, I just - I don’t want to impose. Not at all.”
Anna rolled her eyes and looked at Meg. “Yeah, you’re right. He’s hopeless.” Then she pointed at Cas. “Come, I’ll show you a room where you can stay. And it’s not imposing. Seriously.”
Reluctantly, he followed Anna into the house. He had really never been here before, and he didn’t even know that the house she had to pay so much for and sacrifice so much for was actually so nice and well-kept. It didn’t look modern, per-say, because Anna hardly made that kind of money at the diner, but it was clean and neat. Everything had its place and flowers were everywhere. They lined any given surface from the shelves in the hallway to the mantelpiece in the living room.
Even in the small guest room that she showed him, there were triplets of sunflowers stuck in a ceramic vase, as a warm welcome. (He would only later discover that the backyard of the house was a half self-sustained flower garden with wild grass reaching halfway up your calves.)
“Are you sure it’s not a problem?” he asked one more time. The room seemed too good, and he knew he didn’t deserve Anna’s hospitality. He should have treated her more like a friend.
She shrugged her shoulders. “Nah, as long as you keep me company for the few evenings and play a game of chess with me or something.”
He smiled. “I think I can do that.”
“Sweet,” Meg exclaimed. “Now I’d like a hug and a huge warm thank you. Then we can finally go stuff our faces with ice cream. Chop chop.”
🎡 🎡 🎡
Castiel sat in the crowd, next to Meg. He remembered sitting in one of these spots a few weeks ago, waiting for the trapeze artists to come out for the first time. He was shivering with the same kind of anticipation, except the stakes were higher this time around.
Dean would be out there.
Waiting and waiting, Castiel realized that his chest was feeling tight again. The feeling was similar to what he had felt a couple weeks back after waking up outside under the clear sky, but it was also different. It only occurred to him what the tightness was when John Winchester actually addressed the audience.
“Folks, boys, girls, everyone, it has been our pleasure and we hope you enjoy our very last show before we pack our things and finally leave you alone. Thank you for the great summer, Illinois!”
He babbled on about the surrounding towns, but Cas had stopped listening.
This was final. This was the last time, the last everything, nothing would come after this. Next Saturday, he would walk down the gravel road and find nothing here but dust.
And wasn’t that poetic.
He didn’t have the time to really feel how tight his chest was because of it, because the lights finally came on and the trapeze artists came out. The crowd was used to two and they yelled and shrieked when they saw that the number had grown into three.
Castiel himself only had eyes for Dean. He was wearing a matching outfit with Ruby and Garth, but he looked less confident than them.
He knew he would. When they had talked about this, late one night, Dean had said: I know it ain’t gonna be the same, not at first at least. And he was right. They made a deal, then - he would have a short well-practiced routine at the start on the iron bars, and then he would leave the fair grounds before the fireworks started. He would start slow.
After a few seconds, Ruby and Garth left Dean in the small arena alone.
Frank Sinatra’s voice echoed around it. Cas didn’t recognize the song, but he would recognize the voice anywhere.
His eyes were glued to Dean.
And Dean was just not moving. Cas was certain he was supposed to have been moving. Instead, his eyes were searching the crowd, scared and insecure.
He’s looking for me , Cas realized.
Not half a minute later did their eyes meet. Castiel smiled. I love you , he mouthed, hoping Dean would be able to read the words.
Dean moved. He read them.
It was incredible to watch him. He became someone else once he allowed his body to become one with the music. He walked to the ladder on his hands. He climbed it, walked the bridge confidently, and threw himself at the iron bar without a second’s hesitation. The net underneath him wavered in the August breeze.
There was no doubt in Cas’ mind - or anyone else’s - that Dean used to be the star, the actual prodigy, the one everyone’s eyes went to.
He moved with the grace Cas had seen at practice, but his movements were even more pronounced and perfect now. He enticed with twirl and mesmerized with every movement. He let himself hang from the bar by his knees for long seconds, and he looked like the king of the world doing it. His lips moved with the lyrics of the song.
He was alive.
Castiel had never seen him just so alive.
When Dean’s act ended, Cas quickly turned to Meg. “Megs, I have to go. I love you. Please, for the love of everything, phone me or write to me.”
She kissed him on both cheeks. “You know I will.”
“Good luck,” he told her and he pulled her in for a tight hug, in which he hoped to tell her that his life would never be the same without her in it. She seemed to understand. She squeezed him until his ribs hurt and then kissed him on the cheek again.
“Go,” she told him.
So he went.
🎡 🎡 🎡
“You were brilliant,” Castiel was saying in between frantic kisses. “Absolutely brilliant.”
Dean’s hands were everywhere. “Wouldn’t have done it without you.”
“Just touch me.”
The urgency with which they kissed and touched each other bordered on animalistic. It was as if they were trying to make love to each other for all the years they weren’t and wouldn’t be together. This was their last night.
Tighter , they told each other, harder.
Fuck me, touch me, love me, remember me.
🎡 🎡 🎡
They didn’t speak much in the morning. Rather, they dressed in silence, occasionally stopping to kiss the other or exchange brief touches. They had agreed before: Dean would drop Cas off at Anna’s and that would be it.
The fair wasn’t leaving until Wednesday, but seeing each other as the constructions slowly came apart and Dean was packing would be harder on them than saying goodbye a couple of days early.
So that’s what they did that morning.
Castiel didn’t own much - he stole a couple of shirts and pairs of jeans from Dean, he had his ID and he had the letters, but other than that, he had nothing to his name. Without scholarship money, he would be lost. And he would still have to look for a part time job, starting approximately five seconds upon arriving in California.
Dean gave him a raggedy backpack to store the clothes and the letters in.
“Are you ready to go?” Dean asked eventually. It was one of the first things he said all morning and his voice still sounded like sleep.
Castiel tried not to focus on its honey tone and nodded. “Yeah.”
They walked out of Dean’s caravan and their hands automatically found each other. Dean squeezed Cas’ palm so hard the knuckles of his fingers popped and it made him want to cry. Who else would ever want to hold his hand like this? It didn’t seem possible that there would or could be anyone.
Cas realized he had never said a proper goodbye to the fair as they walked across the camp. They rushed too much. He never looked around; he never gave himself the chance to burn it all into his memory.
He would soon forget which vendor stood next to Aaron’s cotton candy. He would forget which pathway led to the ferris wheel. The details would fade and he would only have himself to blame. He wished he had looked.
Even the camp seemed empty, as if someone pressed the off switch and everything and everyone simply went to sleep, like when you turn the lights off in your kid’s room before bed and forget to leave the door slightly ajar. Knowing that the fair wouldn’t be what it had been if he looked back, Castiel focused on walking and getting to Dean’s bicycle.
It was only then that Cas realized Dean was wearing the same clothes as the first time he had seen him. His flat cap, his trousers, his shirt.
“Are you going to play us Frank Sinatra on the way?” Cas joked weakly.
“Would it make you happy?” Dean asked.
They got on the bicycle. There was no excitement, no sense of adventure. It wasn’t an escape either, like when they had driven away from Castiel’s mom.
Their drive felt like a funeral march.
Far too soon, they got to Anna’s house. It was early enough that they could safely assume she and her neighbors were still asleep - it was Sunday, after all, the day of rest. Yet, there was nothing but unrest going on in Castiel’s heart.
They got off the bicycle and stood in the driveaway, facing each other. Castiel fixed the strap of his backpack. Neither of them knew what to say.
“Thank you,” said Cas in the end.
Dean gently took his hand. “Thank you, Cas.”
“There will never be a summer like this one.”
“I wouldn’t want there to be,” Dean replied.
They fell silent again, as if talking was impossible. And perhaps it was - Cas could feel what seemed to be a cotton ball at the back of his throat, ready to roll out. He was scared it would transform itself into a sob or a scream. Something about this was incredibly wrong, but he knew there was no way of making it better. It hurt, to know that neither of them was ready for the other.
They had met each other at the perfect time; yet they had met a year or two too early.
It felt stupid to say I’m going to miss you . It felt stupid to say I will never stop loving you as long as my stupid heart is beating.
“Will I…” Cas started, but he couldn’t finish. He looked down at his feet; at their joined hands.
With his free palm, Dean touched Cas’ chin and brought it back up. He seemed to search Castiel’s face for what he had been about to say.
“Will I ever see you again?” Castiel managed to ask.
Dean smiled. “You never know. We never planned it the first time, either.”
“Sometimes I wish you would lie.”
“No, you don’t.”
Castiel closed his eyes. Their fingers were brushing and when Cas breathed in, he could feel Dean’s cologne. He hoped it would cling on to his clothes for days, weeks, months, years. He hoped he would live to be ninety years old and able to bring this shirt to his face and say: It smells like Dean Winchester.
“Kiss me,” he said quietly.
Dean moved his fingers from Cas’ chin to his cheek. If Cas focused hard enough, he could see them on the ferris wheel, he could hear the cicadas, he could see Dean’s face in the mild fairy lights. One more! he wanted to scream. One more day, one more summer, one more life like this. But the operating booth was empty.
Their lips met.
At least remember this , Cas told himself. Remember how these lips taste and how they feel against yours, and never let yourself forget, no matter how many other lips ever land on yours. These are special. The first ones; the most important ones; the loved ones.
There was no tongue. Just lips against lips, pressing, trying to leave an imprint on the other.
Dean eventually pulled away. Cas kept his eyes closed.
“Goodbye,” Dean whispered.
Eyes closed, eyes closed. Don’t open them. “Goodbye, my love.”
He kept them shut until he heard the sound of bicycle tires on the street and the click-click of the wheels as Dean pedalled away. Then he finally opened them.
He couldn’t see anything through the curtain of tears.
🎡 🎡 🎡
On Wednesday, Castiel dragged his feet out of Anna’s house.
The only thing driving him out was the knowledge that the fair was leaving that day. If he were to stay inside, he would go stir crazy within seconds. He didn’t plan a big journey, anyway - the only thing he wanted was to get to the diner, because Anna was working, and sit with her.
It had been strange, that it was only the two of them. Beyond Castiel’s grief regarding Dean, missing Meg was a physical ache as well. She was a part of him, and even though he had gained Anna’s friendship, it wasn’t the same. They both felt it. And they never walked with their elbows linked.
When Castiel passed the post office, he went in out of habit. He had gotten so used to doing it a couple of weeks back that when he saw the building, he subconsciously went in.
“Long time no see!” Mrs. Tran greeted him. “I’ve something for you.”
Castiel blinked. As far as he knew, he hadn’t applied to any other colleges nor was he expecting any other kind of correspondence. He walked up to the window and waited while Mrs. Tran searched her desk.
“It’s been lying around for a bit, I almost sent it back the other day. Glad I held on to it for you,” she said as she handed him a lily-white envelope. It bore the stamp of UCLA.
As if in a daze, Castiel tore the envelope open on the spot.
Dear Mr. Castiel Novak,
We are reaching out to you given you are on our list of applicants. We are looking to fill a vacant spot formerly occupied by another student in your department of choice. If you do not wish to attend, please send us a telegram or phone us at the phone number listed below. Otherwise we will be happy to welcome you on our enrollment day on September 3rd. Please consult our school policies, guidelines, and other information in materials attached to this letter.
UCLA Board of Directors, 1954
🎡 🎡 🎡
He sat at the diner and stared out of the window. Anna had tried to talk to him, but Castiel felt like he had been hypnotized. Nothing made sense. A series of sentences kept running through his head like a mantra.
Meg is gone. Dean left. I can go to UCLA.
None of it was making any sense, still. Maybe that’s why he kept repeating it to himself over and over and over again.
Meg? Meg was his twin, even though she wasn’t. Meg was his best friend. Meg was his crutch. Meg was a woman who showed Castiel how to be human. Meg was vulnerable. Meg was strong. Meg was there for him. Meg was his world. Except now Meg wasn’t.
There is nothing else to it. There is only empty space; only liminal space in which memories haunt and roam.
UCLA was a dream. But if this past summer had showed Cas anything, it was that dreams can come true at any given moment. Usually, you have to look for them and seize them; usually, they don’t come knocking at your door.
UCLA came knocking. Cas would be stupid not to go. The only thing keeping him from taking the leap of faith was the fact that Stanford meant Sam, and Sam meant Dean. But that was wrong, wasn’t it? To hold on to that? Dean said it too: they never planned it. There was no telling if they would ever collide again.
“Cas,” Anna called him softly. She walked from behind the counter and touched his shoulder. “You might want to see it.”
He sighed, but he turned around towards the windows. There was a parade marching through Pontiac, Illinois; except it wasn’t a parade, it was just the fair finally leaving in a row of cars and caravans.
“Oh, God,” Cas said.
“Are you okay?”
Castiel grabbed the second letter from UCLA and without saying a word, he sprinted out of the diner. His eyes skimmed over the parade, looking for a boy with freckles peppered over his cheeks like fairy dust. He searched and searched for a black caravan and couldn’t spot it. They weren’t even going that fast, but he couldn’t spot it.
Come on , he was saying in his head. He was biting his lips furiously, looking around like a lost child. Just get me back to safety , his body language seemed to scream.
Suddenly, a window rolled down in the car passing by him. Meg’s head poked out. “Cas!” she shrieked.
He looked at her, empty.
He just needed to see him. He just needed one last look at Dean, and to tell him that he wouldn’t be at Stanford. He needed to tell him that dreams come true. He needed to say: It was stupid to feel stupid about saying I love you.
He needed Dean to know.
Meg’s face fell. “He’s not here,” she called to him. “He left on Monday, early. He said he couldn’t stay, what with... I’m sorry, Cas. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he told her. He didn’t know if she could hear him.
Castiel let the fair pass him. He lost count of the vehicles and of the people - both in the street and leaning out of the cars.
Eventually, he was left out there alone, with a crumpled envelope containing his future in one hand; the other hanging loose and empty by his side.
It was unusually hot when Cas stepped out of the building he’d had his last class of the semester in. Campus was buzzing with people, pairs and groups walking across sidewalks zig-zagging between patches of grass. Their UCLA sweaters were thrown over their shoulders because of the heat.
Cas took a deep breath.
The second year of college had been more exhausting than the first and he was happy to be done with it, even though he’d had a couple exams still coming up. He had nothing planned for the summer except for a brief visit home, but freedom and endless possibility were already catching up to him, licking at his heels.
One final lap - the remaining exams - and then freedom.
Gabriel caught up to him and threw his hand over Cas’ shoulder.
“Where are you off to?” he asked. “I heard the football team is throwing a party with the alpha-beta-zeta-whatever girls.”
They’d shared Renaissance Art and Eastern European History classes together and even though they were complete opposites as people, they found to be good company for one another. They often studied in the library together and Gabriel was the one to drag Cas out of his dorm if he had one of his solitude spells, which still came about every now and then.
He felt a lot less unwelcome and not fit for the people around him these days, though, so it happened less often.
“I thought I’d go grab some ice cream,” Cas replied, “to celebrate the end of the semester.”
“You have strange ways of celebrating, my man,” Gabriel said.
Castiel didn’t share much of his upbringing or his struggles with his parents. Even though they’d agreed to support him financially with whatever the scholarship didn’t cover, they had yet to completely come around. He shook Gabriel’s comment off easily.
“We all know I’m weird, that’s why you like me.”
“Only if you invite me along,” Gabriel said. He’d matched his pace with Castiel’s and they were walking towards the exit together. “I mean, just one scoop. I do plan on getting absolutely smashed later today and I don’t know how well that would go with ice cream, you know?”
Castiel laughed. “Sure. One scoop.”
There was something about Gabriel that reminded Castiel of Dean.
He was not a big family man, not in the way that Dean Winchester had been. He wasn’t as caring nor considerate. Yet he had the same kind of spark . Castiel never fell in love with him - as he hadn’t with anyone, not since that summer - but he clung to Gabriel. There were many reasons for it, and the charm so like Dean’s was one of them. It was like carrying a piece of Dean with him at all times - it was like carrying a piece of that summer.
🎡 🎡 🎡
Castiel was lost in thought.
When he and Gabriel got to the ice cream vendor four blocks from campus, he let Gabriel take the money and go purchase said scoops.
Castiel himself leaned against the vendor from the side where it offered shade, and he loosened the tie around his neck until it hung there like a noose.
This had happened the summer before as well.
His classes had ended, his exams had almost finished, and Castiel had been just lost in thought.
He’d told himself it was because of the season, and the fact that it had been just about a year since Pontiac, since the fair, since Dean. All of those things had still been bittersweet in his memory and he’d been preoccupied playing that entire summer on a loop in his brain more and more as the temperatures had climbed. Everything had reminded him of everything: the heat worst of all.
He’d recalled the heat wave, the storms; he’d recalled what it was like to make love in such heat, how skin was glued to skin, how salty the sweat tasted. He was still living it, Castiel had decided as the first summer without Dean slowly passed, but it would be different the next year.
Here he was, leaning against the ice cream vendor, one summer later, and the green skirt a girl that passed him was wearing still reminded him of Dean’s eyes.
Was he still living in it? Had he never let Pontiac go?
There was an impatient nudge at his shoulder. “Cas?”
Castiel blinked and his eyes focused on Gabriel standing in front of him with two ice cream cones, one a chocolate brown and the other a vanilla beige.
Gabriel shoved the vanilla one in Castiel’s hand. “I spent the rest of your money on a pistachio ice cream scoop, but if you saw the girl, you wouldn’t blame me for it. She was absolutely beautiful. Like, angelic.”
Cas took the cone and sighed. He tried to shake off his constant daydreams. He didn’t want to spend another summer with them. It was time to let go, and he knew that very, very well.
“Did she at least give you her number?” he asked.
Gabriel shrugged and licked at his ice cream. “No. I didn’t even ask. She was just beautiful and I wanted to buy her ice cream, so.”
“So you did, with my money.”
“You love me.” Gabriel leaned against the vendor next to Castiel and continued lapping at his ice cream like an impatient puppy. It was picture perfect - the top of his hair was longer than the current trends and it created a mane-ish halo around his face.
Castiel sighed again and leaned against the vendor with his back so he wouldn’t have to bear witness to Gabriel’s barbaric ways of destroying a perfectly good ice cream. He licked his own quietly and slowly, enjoying the taste and the summer breeze in his hair. He even closed his eyes and successfully ignored the kids’ chatter as they bought ice cream at the vendor.
“Hey, are you here this summer?”
Cas opened his eyes. “Yeah, mostly. You know I am. Why?”
“Thought we could hang out.”
“I mean, that was the plan already,” Castiel said.
“Yeah, true.” Gabriel was already down to the cone and he bit into it eagerly. With a full mouth, he continued: “Fancy going to Manhattan Beach some time?”
Castiel didn’t really care.
He was up to do just about anything. Summer was a gap - it was just a matter of filling time as much as it was about endless possibilities. One seemed to complement the other.
“’Cause this sounds kind of cool,” Gabriel said.
Cas looked where Gabriel had jabbed the finger of his free hand against a yellow piece of paper. Cas noticed it was a flyer as he skimmed it and saw the black letters squeezed tight one next to another. Then he read it.
His lungs seemed to collapse and he didn’t notice when his ice cream melted over the edge of the cone and slid onto his fingers.
Get the best fair experience of your life!
The perfect kiss on top of a ferris wheel, your fortune told,
trapeze artists, contortionists, shoot-to-wins, cotton candy,
and SO MUCH MORE! THE WINCHESTER FAIR
will be at your service until the end of August on Manhattan Beach.
Pay us a visit!
Open 1pm-10pm Mon-Sat, entrance free/pay per attraction.
“You okay, Cas?” Gabriel asked, one eyebrow raised at Castiel’s melting ice cream. “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
Castiel turned around and leaned against the flyer with his back.
He saw Dean the same he had seen him in Pontiac, on a bicycle, blasting Frank Sinatra, giving out his flyers. His stupid, stupid flyers with his stupid, stupid hands wearing that stupid, stupid smile. He must have been here. He must have held this flyer. Castiel was leaning against something Dean had touched. After two years, this was a possibility again.
“I’m perfect,” Cas said, happiness fluttering in his chest like a baby butterfly.
🎡 🎡 🎡
The ferris wheel looked like it was always supposed to be here, or on a beach in general.
Castiel noticed it as he walked shoulder to shoulder with Gabriel and they were still at least a hundred feet away from it. There was no official entrance as it had been when they were in Illinois - Cas saw people entering and exiting from all places, shimmying in and out through the gaps between stalls.
Despite the fact that the evenings and nights were still cold - or at least coldish - and he was only wearing a loose white shirt, untucked, over the hem of thin light pants, he was starting to feel sweaty.
Like a little boy, Castiel had to fight not to hold Gabriel’s hand. He was terrified and excited - terrified because what if neither Meg or Dean are there and what if they are, excited for the same reasons. Looking at the lights that were so familiar in color, Castiel felt like he was glancing upon a brightly lit Christmas tree.
Gabriel had stopped talking a bit ago when all his attempts at small talk failed. He’d probably figured Cas was distracted by his own thoughts - which he often was - and left him to it, at least for the time being.
Ten more steps.
Cas could hear the buzz and noise of all the people inside. He could see people on the ferris wheel.
Five more steps.
The way they were going, they would enter between Missouri’s fortune teller stall and Aaron’s cotton candy booth.
They were so close to the fair that lights must have been reflecting on his face. He remembered Dean’s face in them and his heart started beating out of his chest even more, as if it wanted to outrun Cas, as if it knew the way, as if it wanted to gallop until it found the chest it truly belonged in; which, of course, had been Dean’s for a long time, and always would be.
Someone brushed against Castiel’s shoulder and he jumped. It was a small boy with a black crown of hair and for a second, he thought it was Ben. Then he realized that Ben was now two years older and probably much taller.
He really needed to get his breathing back on track. It wasn’t good for his lungs and he knew that.
They were inside.
“Ooh, I wanna go there,” Gabriel said approximately two seconds upon entering, and Castiel followed his forefinger and it pointed right ahead of them. Dazed, he his eyes fell on a sign that read KISSING BOOTH in bright red letters and was decorated by a neat red heart. It was empty.
“Gabe, there’s no one in there,” Castiel said and rolled his eyes.
“Oh,” Gabriel sighed. “I just saw it and wanted to go in. You know me. C’mon, let’s walk around and circle back.”
Castiel realized that he was trying to hide a couple minutes into their walk around the fair. He walked on the crowded side, keeping his profile away from the stalls and vendors, on purpose. He avoided looking at people and making eye contact in fear that it would be someone he knew. He didn’t know how to stop this and he didn’t really want to, either. For some reason, he couldn’t bear the fact that he had once called these people his family and friends, and now he was terrified that he wouldn’t recognize them, or that they wouldn’t recognize him.
He tried to talk to Gabe to not feel and seem suspicious.
Eventually, they made their way back to the kissing booth. Castiel had successfully avoided everyone, successfully talked Gabriel out of buying cotton candy, and successfully managed to veer them off the path that seemed to be leading them to the trapeze artists’ arena. He’d made all the right turns to get back here without any hitches or problems.
“Oh, this was worth it,” Gabriel exclaimed when they got back to the kissing booth. “That’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen and I am going to kiss her.”
Castiel watched him rummage for money and then he looked up.
Admittedly, he wasn’t even that surprised when he saw Meg in the booth, giving a smoochy kiss to some balding guy seemingly in his forties and laughing like it was the best moment of her life.
“Give me the money,” Castiel commanded and stole the pennies from Gabriel’s hand.
Without another word, he walked up to the booth - there was no line, it must have been empty up until now - and threw his money in the copper bowl at the edge of the booth. Then he stood in front of Meg.
She reached to kiss him. She barely noticed in time.
“Oh my God,” she yelled and covered her mouth. “Oh my God! ”
She jumped up from her seat and out of the booth within seconds, throwing her arms around Cas and kissing him on both cheeks frantically.
“What are you doing here ?”
Castiel was laughing, holding Meg and pulling her in for a tight hug. “How dare you think I wouldn’t come see you when I heard you were in town,” he said to her shoulder. He pulled away and looked at her. He was pretty sure it wasn’t just the lights - she was just glowing, happy and healthy and really, like Gabriel had said, the most beautiful girl in the world.
“I am so happy, so so so happy to see you,” she said and laughed again, catching his palms in hers.
“Why didn’t you tell me you’d be here this summer when we last called?” Cas asked, a hint of accusation in his voice.
She laughed, delighted. “I didn’t know, silly. Last time we called, it was December and I had Christmas on my mind, not summer.”
Even though her tone was far from accusing, Cas felt the jab of her words. Despite how much they had wanted to call and keep in touch, they’d scarcely managed to find the time or the money. It was the same with Anna - for all he knew, she could be in New York, studying to really become a nurse.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Meg shook her head. “It’s all okay. We’re gonna hang out again! I’ve missed you so much. How have you been? Oh my God , have you seen Dean yet?”
“I’ve been good, Megs. What about you?”
“I’ve been great. Amazing. Nick is amazing, this life is amazing. I’ve just missed you so much.”
She looked at him now. He was aware that even though they’d spent the past two years apart, she still knew him better than anyone. She didn’t say anything about it, but Cas knew she’d noticed him blatantly ignored her question about Dean.
Gabriel took the opportunity since they both fell momentarily silent and swooped in between them.
“So, hey, listen,” he was saying, “this weirdo here stole my money to pay for the kiss and you seem to know each other for some freakish reason anyway so it’s not like he should be paying, can I get the kiss he paid for or...?”
“Do you guys know each other?” Meg asked, looking from Cas to Gabriel and back. She looked like she was regretting not becoming the foretold belly dancer after all.
“It’s a long story,” Castiel said. “I can vouch that it’s safe to kiss him, though.”
Meg smiled and caressed Cas’ cheek. “I should get back to work anyway. Go see Dean, okay?”
Castiel nodded, even though he wasn’t sure he would.
“He’s with Ruby and the rest of them. He does the trapeze shows every day now. He talks about you all the time. I’ve been trying this whole time to get him to contact you, but you’re both stubborn like mules. He wouldn’t even listen to me when I wanted to tell him which college you ended up going to.” She shook her head. “Do us all a favor. Go see him.”
Castiel’s heart pumped with every sentence Meg said.
“Yeah,” he murmured.
He hadn’t tried to find Dean once, either.
Dean had always been the braver one out of the two of them, in everything, whether he believed it or not - and yet, he hadn’t tried. He avoided it, if anything, and maybe Cas did, too. In a way. He wondered whether they both had the same reason - whether, as time passed, they both grew tired of longing and instead ran to the idea that they should meet by chance. If they both started to believe, at some point down the road, that they were fated. And you can’t nudge fate. Can you?
Maybe you can.
Maybe you need to be brave, too. Braver than anticipated.
Castiel walked away from the booth, leaving Gabriel and Meg together to do their kissing business.
He remembered how it was the first time he approached Dean on his own - he had let his legs carry him on their own. So he cleared his throat and, ignoring the crowd around him, he simply tried to walk. He did his best to let his legs do the job for him. He knew that if he thought about it too much, he would talk himself out of doing this, and talk himself into leaving the fair and walking away.
His legs carried him the same path he had walked with Gabriel, but instead of turning left like they had done, he took a turn to the right this time. He saw the trapeze area, with the bars and the ropes, only a minute later.
Cas had expected to approach it and stand there for a little while in vain hope and then leave, but then he saw Ruby.
She was standing by the entrance as people flowed in, in casual conversation. She was wearing a tight bright red jumpsuit with glittery sparkles cascading down her shoulders and arms. Over the people’s heads, she caught Cas’ eye and ruined his potential escape. She froze mid-sentence, Cas could see it, and then she straight up punched the man she was talking to in the shoulder. Cas couldn’t hear it, but he could see her mouth shape around holy shit .
The man turned around, and, of course, it was Dean.
He looked the same. He looked exactly the same. And he looked as beautiful in his trapeze performance outfit as ever.
Dean seemed confused, rubbing at his chest where Ruby had punched him, but then he noticed Castiel in the crowd. Their eyes met and Castiel could almost hear the click as something very important righted itself.
They felt the same. I love you , Dean’s eyes still said. Cas’ said the same, he knew.
For a second, they let people pass between them, talking and laughing, casual and unassuming that Cas had found Dean, and Dean had found Cas, after two years. They looked at each other across the distance that felt a foot long and oceans apart.
Dean’s face cracked and split into a smile.
They walked to each other; and then they ran.
As they collided, their arms finally meeting, their bodies falling into each other, their mouths reaching for the other’s, Castiel knew this:
There was a moment when they had stood still and time ran against them; now they ran, full of life,
and time ran along by their side.
Life takes us to unexpected places sometimes.
The future is never set in stone,
Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus
Thank you so much for reading! If you enjoyed this, kudos and/or comments are, as always, deeply appreciated. Or if you want to chat, I'm at @d_claiborne over on Tumblr as well.
See you next year!