Chapter 1: Chapter 1
The e-mail came on a Thursday.
Castiel was getting dressed for work when his phone chimed. Thinking it was probably spam, he ignored it as he struggled with his tie. He could never get the damn things on straight without Dean’s help. He muttered a curse before giving up and digging in his closet for a tie with the knot still intact. Finally finding one he could slip on, Castiel finished getting dressed before grabbing his cell and his keys and heading off to work.
Traffic was horrendous and it didn’t help that his air conditioning had cut out several weeks ago. He refused to tell Dean because he knew how smug his husband would be and that he would insist on getting him a new car. Castiel liked his car. Sure, it was a bit old and maybe not the sexiest thing on the road, but he didn’t care. It got him from point A to point B and it was the first thing he bought with his own money after he left his parents’ house. If Dean could cling to his Impala, Castiel could keep his Continental. Besides, they were saving up for something much more important than a car.
He got to the office with five minutes to spare and had to go straight into his morning meeting.
Working as a tax accountant for Sandover Bridge and Iron was definitely not Castiel’s dream job, but he had good benefits and it paid the bills. At least that’s what he kept telling himself as he listened to his supervisor, Mr. Adler, drone on and on about finding new tax loopholes, exemptions, or incentives the company could take advantage of. His colleague and friend Balthazar didn’t seem to be faring much better. He was honestly starting to worry for the man’s health. Rolling your eyes that heavily would surely cause vision problems eventually.
After two hours and a final chorus of agreement from everyone in his department that they’d scour the tax code for ways to save the company some money, Castiel was at last free to get a much-needed cup of coffee.
He dawdled as much as he could, but eventually had to get back to work. The rest of his morning was spent sifting through sections of tax law he already knew in the vain attempt to earn the promised bonus he would be given if he found a new way to screw Uncle Sam out of company cash. Even if it was technically legal, he still felt a little uncomfortable doing it. Although earning a bit of extra money right now sure wouldn’t hurt.
It wasn’t until he sat down in the break room to eat his lunch that he was free to check his e-mail. Most of it was junk. Oh, there was the shipping confirmation for the birthday present he ordered for Gabriel. His brother was weirdly specific in his gift requests. Usually, they were for some sort of baking tool only manufactured by little European companies. At least it would get here in time.
He went through a few more e-mails before he came across one that stopped him in his tracks. His heart started pounding and he felt like he couldn’t catch his breath. Fingers slightly trembling, his clicked on the one that read, ‘Brazilian Council for Intercountry Adoption’.
The e-mail opened and Castiel actually had to put the phone down so he could read it because his hands were shaking so much.
To Mr. and Mr. Winchester; your adoption application has been approved. Attached are the profiles of the children we believe would work best for your family. Please review all files and contact our offices at your earliest convenience.
That was as far as he read. He could no longer see through the tears gathering in his eyes. He covered his face and his shoulders shook as he let out a small sob.
They’d started this process over eighteen months ago and it was finally happening. Dean was going to be thrilled. A touch on his arm caused him to drop his hands as he looked up at Meg. She had an expression of concern on her face and the look was so foreign on the normally snarky woman that Castiel let out a startled laugh.
Her eyebrows arched up a bit. “Clarence, are you ok?”
Castiel couldn’t answer her. His mouth froze in what felt like a manic grin before pointing at the phone. Meg lifted it and quickly scanned the e-mail. Castiel watched her brown eyes dart back and forth as she read. She looked up and smiled before pulling Castiel into a hug. “This is amazing, Clarence.” Her murmured voice actually sounded sincere for once. She pulled back and gripped his hand. “I’m so happy for you guys.”
“What’s this? Did Cassie finally agree to that threesome?” Balthazar’s accented voice called from the doorway. He had a mischievous smirk on his face as he walked towards the coffee pot. “Good for you! I once had a… what’s French for twelve?”
“Classy as ever Bal. And no, it doesn’t look I’ll be the filling in that hunk sandwich any time soon.”
“So, what’s going on?” Balthazar’s smile died a bit as he studied Castiel. He pulled out a chair and sat opposite Castiel at the table. “Are you alright?”
Castiel opened and closed his mouth a few times and let out several nonsensical sounds. His lip quivered as he fought back the overwhelming emotions flooding his system. He clapped his hands over his mouth as he took in a shuddering breath to calm himself. Meg met his eyes and tilted her head towards Balthazar in silent inquiry. He nodded slightly.
“Seems our little Clarence and his hubby have finally been approved for adoption.”
Balthazar smiled warmly. “That’s fantastic Cassie. You’ll make a wonderful father.”
At last managing to form words, Castiel whispered, “Thank you Bal.”
His colleague clapped his hands together. “Alright! It appears we have a lot to do. Meg darling, you must help me plan.”
Castiel narrowed his eyes in confusion. “Plan what?”
“Your celebration party!”
“Oh no! I know what kinds of parties you throw Bal. I’d like my home to still be standing so our child has a place to live.”
Balthazar waved a hand dismissively. “Psh! You’re no fun Cassie. And I promise, there will be no damage to your property… probably.”
“That’s very comforting, but no. We really need to focus on getting ready to go on this trip.”
“Trip? Don’t they just… ship them to you?”
Castiel sighed. “No. We’re not ordering them off of Amazon. We have to spend at least forty-five days in Brazil before we can bring them home.”
“Good Lord, why?”
“Fifteen of those days are for interviews and paperwork and thirty are for the child to live with us. It gives them a chance to get used to us and for us to learn a bit of their culture. There are also regular meetings with their caseworker.”
Meg made a noise of understanding. “I suppose that makes sense. Less stressful for the kid.”
“Oh Cassie, you simply must take a few days beforehand to party in Rio. Their nightlife scene is fabulous.” Balthazar got a faraway look in his eye.
“Dean and I aren’t really ’club’ people Bal. Besides, we’re adopting from an agency in Pernambuco, which is about fifteen hundred miles north of Rio.”
“Pity. At least let me throw you a small party here. I promise, it will be tame.”
Balthazar let out a loud sigh. “You know for a gay man, you really are boring.”
“Sorry to disappoint.”
Meg laid a hand on his arm. “Don’t worry Clarence, I’ll keep an eye on him. Hey! Why don’t we turn this into a baby shower?”
Balthazar threw his hands in the air. “Why are you doing this to me?!”
Castiel chuckled. “That’s a wonderful idea Meg. Thank you.”
“So, when are you leaving?”
Just then, Raphael walked into the break room. He and Castiel didn’t get along at all. The man was a huge homophobe and though he never said anything outright, his pinched expressions and thinly veiled looks of disgust were enough. They worked in the same department and even though Raphael had been with the company longer, Castiel was more well-liked and better at his job. He had quickly found himself Raphael’s enemy. The man moved stiffly to the refrigerator and pulled out some fancy water in a glass bottle that probably cost more by the case than it would to feed a family of four for the day.
Ignoring him, Castiel answered Meg. “I’m not sure when we’re leaving. I have to talk to Dean and call the agency back to see what else we need to do before we can go.”
“Going somewhere Castiel?” Raphael’s deep voice spoke from behind him.
Turning slightly to acknowledge the man, Castiel replied curtly, “Brazil.”
“Taking a vacation just before tax season? Zachariah won’t be very happy about that.”
Castiel resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Raphael always referred to their department head by his first name in what Castiel could only assume was his attempt to imply he outranked everyone, which he didn’t. Facing Raphael fully now, he fought to keep his tone somewhat cordial. “My husband and I have just been approved for adoption and will be going to get our new child. Mr. Adler is aware that we are going through this process and knows how long I will be required to be out of the office.”
Raphael’s expression barely changed (it rarely did and he always came off as robotic) but his dark eyes did seem to light up in predatory way. “I hope this new addition to your… family,” he bit out the word, “doesn’t affect your job performance. Don’t worry, I’ll be glad to pick up the slack while you’re gone.”
Balthazar cut in then. “Funny… wasn’t Castiel hired in the first place because you couldn’t handle everything on your own?”
Meg barked out a laugh which she tried to turn into a cough as Raphael glared between the two of them. “I don’t remember you being a part of this conversation Balthazar.”
Meg piped up, “Actually, you interrupted our conversation in the first place.”
Raphael clenched his jaw. “Don’t you all have something better to do than sit around chatting during work hours?” He straightened his shoulders and stormed out of the room.
Meg flipped her dark hair over her shoulder. “Well, he’s just a little ray of sunshine, isn’t he?”
“He needs to pull that stick out of his arse. Just ignore him Cassie.”
Castiel shrugged. “He doesn’t bother me. Especially not today.” He smiled again and clasped his hands in front of his mouth. “I still can’t believe it. Dean is going to be so excited.”
“Does he know yet?” Balthazar asked.
“No, I just saw the e-mail. He usually doesn’t check his until he gets home.”
“Oh Clarence! How are you going to tell him?”
“I’ll just call him when I get back to my office.”
Meg and Balthazar looked scandalized. “No, that won’t do. You don’t just tell someone something like that with a phone call.”
“For once I agree with the shrew, Cassie.”
He continued, ignoring her. “You need to make it special. Romantic. Oh, good Lord. If I’m not careful, all this sap will turn me gay.”
Meg looked at him quizzically. “Aren’t you Pan?”
“Yes, but I’d like to keep some macho points before I turn into a flaming queen.”
Castiel narrowed his eyes at the other man. “Once again Bal, your lack of tact astounds me.”
“Thank you darling. Now, let’s figure out how you’re going to tell your man the good news.”
They stayed in the break room for another twenty minutes coming up with ideas. Balthazar kept going to the extreme with everything from a strip-o-gram to a skywriter while Meg kept calling out ideas she found on her phone for pregnancy announcements (“It’s basically the same thing, Clarence.”). In the end, Castiel came up with a simple plan that the other two begrudgingly admitted was perfect.
Before leaving the office, Castiel did some research on what to get for Dean. He typically only had an hour and a half to himself before his husband got home during which he usually made dinner, but if he wanted the surprise to be ready, he’d have to do most of his shopping before actually going out.
After spending the last two hours of his workday reading online reviews and calling stores, he had his choices narrowed down and a to-do list made. He then called Ellen to order Dean’s favorite burgers since he wouldn’t be cooking, before calling Gabriel to ask his brother to drop off a pie at the Roadhouse.
Pulling into the parking lot of the strip mall, he sent up a silent prayer of thanks that both of the stores he needed to visit were in the same place and that they were on his way to the Roadhouse so he wouldn’t have to double back.
First, he ducked into the craft store and found the employee he had spoken with on the phone. With a bright smile, she took the envelope he handed her and promised to have his item ready quickly.
Next, he ran into the bookstore and went straight to the information desk. Here, he was faced with another grinning employee who handed him a stack of books that he’d requested over the phone. Castiel double checked his list to make sure everything was there while thanking the young man who then rang up Castiel’s purchases and gave him sincere congratulations along with his receipt.
Back at the craft store, he picked up the main gift. Several other staff members had gathered around the register and were giving him heart-eyed looks and adoring smiles. His item paid for, the employees clapped and called out encouraging remarks as he left. He blushed deeply and his cheeks hurt from smiling so much, but he didn’t care. His faith in humanity had been restored a little bit.
Thanks to his calling ahead, Castiel’s little shopping spree had barely taken twenty minutes. It left him more than enough time to grab their dinner and get everything boxed up. He still had to make a conscious effort not to speed and impatiently tapped his fingers on the steering wheel throughout the entire drive to Ellen's.
He grimaced when he noticed his brother’s car in the lot. He had hoped Gabriel would listen to him for once in his life and just let their cousin Alfie drop the pie off with Ellen. However, Gabriel was like a dog with a bone. He hadn’t believed Castiel’s story about just wanting to spoil Dean with a nice dinner and desert and Castiel knew his brother was waiting in there to ambush him. Groaning in frustration, he made his way inside.
It was still early, so the place was mostly empty. Castiel’s gaze swept the room before landing on the back of his brother’s head. He was sipping a soda at the end of the bar and nodding to something Ellen was saying. The woman who was like a mother to Dean, and who had become one to Castiel as well, looked up as he walked closer. Her face broke out in a wide grin and she tucked a lock of her light brown hair behind her ear as she came around the bar to pull him into a hug. “Cas, honey. It’s good to see you.” She pulled back to study his face, her brown eyes sparkling with affection. “It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen you boys. How are you?”
“It’s good to see you too, Ellen. I’ve been busy at work and wanted a break from cooking. Naturally, you were my first choice for dinner. You serve the best burgers after all.”
“Oh sweetheart, you don’t have to work so hard to get in my good graces.”
“It’s not work if it’s true.”
She chuckled and shook her head. “Dean sure has rubbed off on you. I’ll go see if Benny is done with your dinner.” She patted his cheek before disappearing into the kitchen.
His brother cleared his throat. Dammit. He was hoping Ellen would stick around as a buffer. Keeping his face set in an innocent smile, Castiel turned to his brother. “Hello Gabe. Surprised to see you. How’s Alfie? Thanks for meeting me here. I’m so beat, I don’t think I would have had enough energy to drive all the way to your shop. Adler has been on the warpath. That time of the year, you know. Wonder if Jo is here…” His rambling tapered off and he cast his eyes around the bar in feigned interest.
Golden eyes narrowed in suspicion. “You’re a shit liar Cassie. What’s going on? You and Dean fighting or something?”
“No Gabe. We’re not fighting. Everything is fine.”
“Castiel, while you know I would do anything for you, asking me to deliver a pie all the way across town on such short notice is a bit out of character. You’re also getting Dean’s favorite meal. Something is going on. Now if it’s not bad, then what is it? You get a promotion or something?”
“I wish. We could certainly use the extra money.”
“Yeah, those adoption fees are expensive.”
Castiel couldn’t help but fidget a little. His eyes flicked over to the door while he silently willed Ellen to hurry. Looking back at Gabriel, he noticed his brother studying him shrewdly. His eyes widened a bit before his mouth settled into a triumphant smirk. Shit. “Is that it Cassie? Did you guys get approved?”
Castiel chewed on his lip. There was no point in lying now. He sighed heavily. “Yes. I got the e-mail this morning. Happy now?”
His brother whooped before pulling him into a tight embrace. Castiel made a noise of protest as his brother lifted him off the ground and spun around. “I’m so happy for you little bro! I’m gonna be an uncle!”
Gabriel stopped as Ellen shouted from behind them. Castiel finally wiggled free of his brother’s grasp and turned to face the older woman. She stood slack-jawed, holding a large bag which he assumed contained their dinner. Her eyes teared up and she swallowed thickly before speaking. “Were you two finally approved?”
Castiel couldn’t help his goofy grin. “Yes,” he said softly.
“Oh my baby!” Ellen dropped the bag on the bar and threw her arms around Castiel. She let out a small sob and he couldn’t stop his own tears. She released him only to cup his face and wiped away a tear with her thumb. “I’m gonna be a grandma?”
“Yes. But Dean doesn’t know yet, so please don’t say anything. I’m surprising him tonight and I know he’ll be upset if everyone else knows first.”
Ellen nodded. “Of course. You better get outta here then. Oh, I’m so excited! You better call me later with more details.”
“Don’t ‘ma’am’ me. You make me feel old.”
“Well you are about to be a grandmother…” Gabriel smirked.
“Can it, Gabe. Help your brother take this food to the car and get back in here. We gotta talk about food for the baby shower.”
Castiel raised his hands. “You don’t need to-“
Ellen lifted a finger to cut him off. “Boy, don’t even start. You should know better by now. Hurry home before your dinner gets cold.”
He opened his mouth to speak but stopped when she arched a brow. Ducking his head, he grabbed the bag before walking quickly out the door with Gabriel on his heels.
He set the burgers and pie on the passenger seat before turning back to his brother. “Thanks again for the pie, Gabe.”
“You got it, bro. Hey, are you going to record his reaction?”
Why hadn’t he thought of that? “I wasn’t planning on it.”
“Hold on.” Gabriel ran to his car and pulled a bag out of the trunk. He came back and handed it over. “My camera is in there. You remember how to use it?” Castiel nodded. “It’s got a full battery and plenty of space on the memory card. Hide it somewhere to record when you tell him. It’ll be great to show the kid one day. Just… please shut it off before getting busy in front of it. Love me some porn but there’s some things I never want to see.”
Castiel wrinkled his face in disgust. “Charming.” He smiled and grabbed Gabriel’s arm. “The video is a wonderful idea. Thank you.”
“You’re gonna make me blush.”
“I didn’t think that was possible…”
“You make a good point. But in all seriousness Castiel, I’m so proud of you.” He reached up the squeeze Castiel’s hand before pulling back. “Now I better go before Ellen hunts me down.”
Castiel chuckled. “She would.” He walked around to the driver’s side and opened the door. “Oh, you might want to call Meg or Bal. They know too and were talking about planning the shower.”
“Did Bal mention strippers?”
“Don’t worry, Ellen will handle him. Leaves me free to talk to Meg.” He waggled his brows.
“I still can’t decide which is worse; the constant flirting or the undoubtedly disgusting amount of PDA that would occur if you two actually got together.”
“Why? Did she say something about me?” His brother gave him a comical leer, but Castiel knew he’d harbored a crush on Meg for a while.
“I really do need to go Gabe.”
“You’re no fun. Alright, go home to your gorgeous husband. I’ll just be here working on your party,” he said with feigned exasperation.
“That’s why you’re my favorite brother.” Castiel said in a singsong voice before sitting down and shutting the door.
He barely heard Gabriel shout, “I’m your only brother!” before starting the car. With a grin and a final wave, he backed out of his spot and headed for home.
The first thing Castiel did when he got home was turn the oven on to warm up their dinner. Glancing at the clock, he swore under his breath. He only had about fifteen minutes to get everything set up before Dean was expected home.
Heading out to the garage, he dug around through the spare boxes until he found one from Amazon that was the perfect size. He then pulled the most important item from the bag in the trunk. After carefully removing the packing paper, he gave it one more fond look before rewrapping it in bubble wrap. He gently laid it in the bottom of the box and proceeded to stack the books on top. He finally filled in the empty space with more packing paper before carrying the box back into the house.
Castiel set the box on the coffee table before going to retrieve Gabriel’s camera. If he hid it on the bookshelf, he should get the perfect angle to record Dean opening the box.
He checked his watch. Any minute now. He busied himself unpacking their dinner. Ellen had packed all the toppings separately so he could reheat everything properly. After a few minutes in the oven, he was assembling the first burger when he heard the sound of the Impala pulling into the garage. He raced back into the living room to turn the camera on before going back to the kitchen.
Dean came in the back door just as he started on the second burger. As always, seeing his husband after a day of work sent a flood of what felt like relief through his system. They’d been married almost five years and he didn’t think he’d ever stop feeling like a giddy teen with a crush at the sight of him. Their eyes met and Dean gave him a warm smile. “Hey babe.” He stepped up behind Castiel and wrapped his arms around his waist. He sighed before kissing the back of his neck. “Missed you.” He let go to stand at Castiel’s side who looked up at the slightly taller man. “Did you go to the Roadhouse?” His green eyes swept hungrily over the food on the counter and he subconsciously licked his lips.
“Yes. I wasn’t in the mood to cook.” He swatted Dean’s hand as he reached out to snag a piece of bacon. “No. Wait until we sit down at the table like civilized people.”
Dean lowered his head to murmur in his ear, “I thought you liked it when I acted uncivilized.”
Castiel barely suppressed a shiver. “Behave, or no dessert for you.”
“What’s for—” Dean stopped as he caught sight of the box from Gabriel’s bakery. “Is that pie?”
Dean looked excited for a few seconds before his expression shifted. He looked… nervous? “What’s going on Cas? Did I miss something? This wasn’t a date night, right?” His eyes raced back and forth as he wracked his brain.
Castiel wiped his hands on a towel before grabbing his husband’s hands. “No, sweetheart. I just wanted to spoil you a bit, that’s all. Everything’s fine.” His leaned in and kissed him softly. “I promise.”
Dean sighed in relief. “Ok then. I’m gonna go change before we eat.”
“Ok.” Castiel tilted his head as he watched his husband walk away. Even in grease-stained work pants, he found Dean sexy. Before they’d met, if someone had told him that one day the smell of motor oil would turn him on, he’d have called them crazy.
Dean worked at his uncle/surrogate father’s shop which specialized in classic cars. Bobby and Ellen had taken Dean and his younger brother Sam in when Dean was fourteen. Their mother had died ten years before that and their father didn’t stay around much. He had been a bounty hunter who sometimes left for days on end until finally, he disappeared for good. After two weeks on their own, Dean called Bobby and the brothers ended up staying with him permanently. The going theory was that their father had been killed while working a case, but since no body was ever found, they could never know for sure.
Castiel met Dean in their Junior year of college. He was working on his Accounting degree while Dean was getting his in Engineering. They had the same Greek Lit class as an elective. The minute Dean swaggered into that lecture hall for the first time with his leather jacket and his bowed legs, Castiel was lost. He pined over him for two weeks until Dean sat next to him in class one day. With a boyish grin he leaned over and said, “Hey, blue eyes. Wanna see a movie later?” Castiel froze and Dean chuckled and threw him a wink. Four years later, they were married.
Castiel was putting their plates on the dining table when he heard Dean call from the living room. “Hey Cas? What’s this box for?”
Castiel hurried into the living room to see Dean reaching towards it. “Oh, that. Just a few things I ordered. Kind of a late birthday present for you.”
“What things?” Dean looked at him over his shoulder with a cheeky grin. “Sexy things?”
Castiel rolled his eyes. “Open it and see.”
Dean sat in his usual spot on the couch and pulled the box closer. He removed the top layer of paper and frowned a bit. He pulled out the first book, a Brazil travel guide, and gave Castiel a confused smile. “Books… cool babe.”
“Look at the rest.” Castiel went over to sit next to him.
The next was an English to Portuguese dictionary, then a book titled ‘What to Expect When You’re Adopting’, ‘Be Prepared : A Practical Handbook for New Dads’, ‘The New Father’, ‘My Two Dads and Me’, ‘Daddy, Papa, and Me’, and finally ‘And Tango Makes Three’. With each book he pulled out, Dean’s frown deepened. Before pulling out the last thing, he looked up. “Cas, babe, we talked about this. We agreed not to do any shopping until we got approved. I don’t want to get our hopes up if…” he trailed off with a vague hand gesture.
Castiel put a hand on his shoulder. “I know, but I just started looking and got a bit carried away. There should be one more thing in there.”
Dean gave him a sad smile before pulling out the wrapped object. He removed the plastic and looked at the framed letter from the adoption agency. His brow scrunched in confusion as he read before his eyes shot wide. His mouth dropped open and his lip quivered as he looked up at Castiel. “I-is this for real? Are we gonna be daddies?”
Castiel could feel himself tearing up again. He gave his husband a wide smile while trying not to cry. “Yea Dean. We’re gonna be daddies.”
“Holy shit. Holy fucking shit!” Dean set the frame down and pulled Castiel into a crushing kiss. “I love you.” Kiss. “I love you so fucking much.” Kiss. “Oh my God.” Kiss. He pulled back and pressed their foreheads together. He had tears running down his face and his chest was heaving with the attempt to control the laughter and sobs that kept fighting their way out. “We’re gonna be daddies,” he whispered.
Castiel pulled Dean’s mouth back to his. Their kisses varied between heated and gentle and all the while both men simultaneously laughed and cried. They cuddled for a bit, whispering words of love to each other and bickering over what their baby would call them. Eventually, they started kissing again and Castiel completely forgot Gabriel’s earlier request to turn the camera off before doing anything inappropriate while it was still recording.
It was another hour before they finally got around to eating dinner. They agreed to wait until after they’d eaten to read the rest of the e-mail. Castiel was shocked when Dean finished in record time and then proceeded to say that the pie could wait.
They settled into bed with their laptop and pulled the e-mail back up. Castiel was a little nervous about the children they may have matched them with. Although it wasn’t said outright by the agency, he knew from his research that same sex couples were rarely matched with young, healthy children right away. Getting a little baby with no health issues was considered a pipe dream unless you wanted to wait several years. They were more likely to get matched with older children, groups of siblings, or children with health conditions. Castiel would be lying if he said he was completely fine with taking on a sick child. He knew he would love whatever child they took into their home, but he was a natural worrier. He felt like he’d drive himself crazy thinking about everything that could go wrong. However, he also knew that he was about to fall in love with each and every little face he was about to see.
Reading over the files, Castiel was a bit confused. The way the e-mail was worded, he had been under the impression that they had been matched with a few different children and they had to choose. Instead, what came up on the screen was a photo of a group of three siblings. While they had indicated on the application that they would be open to groups of siblings, they had not actually expected to matched with one. They were also a bit younger than Castiel had expected. The oldest girl, Patience, was only five. Then there was a set of twins, Max and Alicia, who would be turning three next month. They were beautiful. All three had light brown skin and dark hair. Patience and Alicia had chocolate brown eyes while Max’s appeared to be hazel. Castiel wanted nothing more than to board the first plane to go get them. He glanced over at Dean who was staring at the photos with watery eyes. His husband looked up at him and smiled. Castiel raised his brows in silent inquiry and Dean nodded in agreement. That was that. Both sets of eyes returned to the screen to read about their children.
It seems their mother, Rosine, was originally from the Congo and had immigrated to the north of Brazil and settled in the city of Belém nearly a decade before. Their father, Nicholas, was from French Guiana. He was killed in a car accident when the twins were babies. Their mother then moved to the city of Recife in the state of Pernambuco shortly before dying of cancer six months ago. The children spoke very little Portuguese and instead spoke French. It was in part why the siblings were matched with them, since Castiel was fluent in the language. The only hang up was Max. The poor boy had not spoken a word since his mother passed. Before the final approval to take the children home, they would have to make sure they had a child psychologist in the area willing to work with him. They sent the agency an e-mail saying they were willing to take the children and included a promise to follow up with the info of a therapist when they found one.
The rest of the night was spent researching everything they would need. Castiel read up on psychologists, tutors, and English teachers in the area while Dean was too busy shopping for the children’s bedrooms on his tablet. His husband wasn’t the least bit upset that his media room would now have to double as an office and they were both glad that they’d purchased a four-bedroom home even though they hadn’t even started the adoption process at the time.
The next two months were insane. The Saturday after the life-changing e-mail, Dean and Castiel hosted a cookout in their backyard. They invited their families and friends to the party and once everyone had eaten, they showed the reveal video through a projector aimed at a sheet stretched across the lawn. Gabriel had helped him edit it to cut out the naughty bits the day before, much to his disgust (which was made worse when Castiel requested a copy of the full video). At the end, they added a copy of the letter from the agency and the photo of the children. Naturally, Gabriel had wanted to record the larger reveal to post on social media and Castiel gladly agreed.
Sam cried while pulling Castiel and Dean in for tight hugs. Ellen’s daughter Jo was next and eagerly offered babysitting services whenever they needed them. Their friend Benny, who worked at the garage and part-time at the Roadhouse, and his wife Andrea were also there along with Dean’s other co-workers: Garth and Jesse and his husband Cesar. Several of Castiel’s cousins were able to attend. From his mother’s side there was Alfie, who worked with Gabriel when he wasn’t attending class, Hannah, and Anna. From his father’s side there was Michael and Lucifer.
Castiel was pleased so many of his cousins showed up. Growing up, his family had been deeply religious. When he came out in high school, his parents, Naomi and Chuck, were shocked. To their credit, they did try very hard to be supportive even if they struggled with it at times. His aunts, uncles, and several cousins were not so understanding. Many chose to cut ties when it became clear his parents were not going to cut him off. It caused a lot of strain and when his parents died in his freshman year of college, most of their siblings didn’t attend the funerals. Only a handful of cousins chose to stay in contact after that.
The next week was spent meeting with their caseworker from the local agency and their immigration lawyer to fill out forms with the children’s information to petition U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services to find them eligible to immigrate. They met with possible therapists for Max and with their local school board to see if they could provide services for Patience until she became more fluent in English or if they would have to find a private tutor in the interim.
Weekends were spent preparing rooms for their children. All furniture was removed and the walls painted with primer. The carpets were newer since they had been replaced when they moved in four years prior, but they had them professionally cleaned and treated with stain blocker. Dean was ready to hire someone to paint murals on the walls and order themed furniture before Castiel stepped in and insisted on simpler things. They had no idea what the children liked and argued that instead they wait and let the kids decorate how they wanted when they arrived. Dean pouted for a few days before finally admitting Castiel was right. It still didn’t stop him from noticing the princess and unicorn items along with racecar and rock-n-roll décor filling up their Amazon wishlist.
Reluctantly, Castiel agreed with Dean about getting a new car. Three children with car seats would just not fit in his Continental. They did their research and decided on a Town and Country. After being discontinued, they were much cheaper than their Pacifica replacements. Dean insisted on the ‘S’ model, “If I’m gonna drive a minivan, it’s gotta be a little sporty, Cas. Plus, the ‘S’ has better rims”. Castiel didn’t really care about rims, but he conceded that the ‘S’ was a bit flashier. It was a beautiful deep red color and came with leather-appointed seats, dual Blu-ray DVD players, a nav system, and doors that could be opened with the key fob. While Castiel would miss his old car, he couldn’t deny that he was a little excited by all the features.
There were a few more forms to sign, some final interviews, and a few vaccines they had to get, but they finally got the all clear and booked their flights.
The week before they left, they had their baby shower. At least that’s what Gabriel and Balthazar called it when they organized it. It was one of the strangest parties Castiel had ever been to. Even though the invitations were custom made, they used a template designed for infant triplets and simply crossed out each ‘Baby” and wrote the name and age of one of the children over each one. Every surface was decorated in obnoxious shades of baby blues and pinks. There were stork balloons and banners proclaiming ‘It’s a Boy!’ and ‘It’s a Girl!’. The food was different though. Gabriel and Ellen decided to do a ‘Children’s Menu’. Mini cheeseburgers and chicken fingers along with cut up fruits and veggies. Snack bowls contained animal crackers and goldfish. The games they played were also not typical for a baby shower. There was a contest to see how many toddler show characters each person could identify (which oddly enough, Sam won). Castiel and Dean’s patience was put to the test when Gabriel and Balthazar acted the part of bratty toddlers pitching a fit to see who cracked first (which Castiel lost when Gabriel screeched like a dying cat). Finally, Castiel and Dean were each asked to demonstrate their hairdressing skills with Meg and Jo as their subjects.
Then the gifts started. Many of Castiel’s cousins couldn’t make it but sent gift cards in the mail. Gabriel got the kids a large wooden play kitchen and an Easy Bake oven. Sam got them books, CDs, and DVDs, all with English and French versions. Bobby and Ellen got a jungle gym for the backyard and Jo got the matching sandbox. Benny and Andrea got them play food for the new kitchen. Garth brought a large pack of hot wheels and a racetrack. Jesse and Cesar gifted them an art station complete with supplies. Meg brought two big boxes of Legos. Alfie got a variety of costumes and props for playing dress-up.
Balthazar did end up booking a stripper. She came dressed as a naughty nanny and simply read a copy of ‘Go the Fuck to Sleep’ before adding it to the pile of gifts and leaving with all her clothing intact. He also got them ‘You Have to Fucking Eat’ and ‘Nobody Likes a Cockblocker’. Castiel wasn’t sure if he should be amused or annoyed.
It was a great party, but they were more than ready to bring their kids home.
In case you were wondering; I chose Brazil for several reasons, but mainly it's because it's one of the few countries that will adopt internationally to same-sex couples. I know a few families who have adopted domestically, but not internationally. I did a lot of research to sum up the process as accurately as possible. Apologies for any glaring inaccuracies.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Slightly NSFW art in this chapter.
After nearly an entire day of travel, Castiel and Dean finally arrived in Recife. They were both exhausted and as soon as the taxi driver dropped them off at the condo they were renting, they collapsed on their bed (“I don’t even care that this isn’t memory foam, Cas”) and passed out.
The next morning, Castiel woke up to the smell of coffee. After digging his toiletry kit out of his bag and taking care of his morning bathroom routine, he wandered through the house looking for Dean. He found his husband sitting in the small breakfast room off the kitchen clad only in his boxers while drinking coffee and looking through a large binder. “Good morning, sweetheart.”
Dean looked up and gave him a sleepy smile. “Mornin’, babe. How’d you sleep?”
Castiel grabbed the mug Dean left out for him and started to make his own coffee. “Like the dead. I am not looking forward to the flight back.” He opened the fridge to find the cream. He was glad they paid the extra fee to have some groceries delivered before their arrival. Trying to navigate the new city to find food while they recovered from their travels would have been a nightmare. Castiel joined Dean at the little table and leaned over to look at the laminated pages his husband was leafing through. “What are you looking at?”
“It was on the table when I came in. It’s a guide book the rental company put together. It’s got local shops, tours, beaches, family places, things like that. Somebody put a lot of work into this. Take a look.” He pushed the book over for Castiel to examine.
Just glancing at the section tabs, Castiel was impressed. There were the regular tourist attractions, but there was also information on local medical centers, emergency services, public transportation routes, and churches that held Mass in English. “This is very comprehensive.”
“I know right? When we review this place, we’re gonna have to mention this book.”
“I agree. Even with all of my research, I don’t think I’ve found half of this and I never even thought about looking for a doctor.”
“You forgot something as important as that in your eighty-five checklists?” Dean looked at him in mock horror. “I’m shocked.”
Castiel narrowed his eyes and glared at his husband for as long as he could before laughing. “Asshole.”
“Love you too, babe. So, what should we do today? Our first meeting isn’t until tomorrow afternoon.”
“I know we wanted to look around the city a bit, but I’m too tired. I think we should unpack and then relax for a little while. Maybe after a nap, we could go out?”
“Oh thank God. I’m tired too. We slept almost eleven hours but that is not our bed and my whole body feels stiff.”
Castiel gave his husband a slow once-over. “Your whole body, hmm?”
His husband’s expression changed to one of interest. “Yea. Too bad we have to unpack.” He pushed out his lips in a small pout.
Castiel hummed as he stroked Dean’s thigh under the table. “Yes, it’s too bad. Although, I am feeling a little dirty from our trip. I think a shower may be in order before we do anything else. Care to join me?”
Dean was breathing a little heavier now and his pupils were starting to dilate. “Hell yea babe.”
Castiel gently grabbed his husband behind his neck and pulled him closer. Dropping his voice, he rumbled in Dean’s ear, “Why don’t you be a good boy and go get the water started for me?” Dean sucked in a breath and nodded quickly. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Castiel released him and Dean stood to hurry out of the room. He smirked as he caught sight of the tent in the other man’s boxers.
Castiel stayed seated a few more minutes to finish his coffee before washing both of their mugs and cleaning out the coffee maker. Walking back into the bedroom, he heard the shower running and stripped out of his clothes. When he stepped into the bathroom, the steam was already quite heavy. He rifled through his toiletry bag before pulling out a tube of shower-safe lubricant.
Stepping in behind Dean, Castiel watched as the other man rinsed the shampoo from his hair. His husband moved slowly, obviously putting on a show that Castiel was all too happy to witness. He ran his fingers through his dirty blond hair before moving to the back of his neck and then down around to the front to circle his nipples. Castiel watched in a daze while lazily stroking his thickening cock. His eyes flicked up to find Dean watching him with a smug look on his face. “Like what you see babe?”
“Very much so.” Dean moved forward and pulled Castiel into a deep kiss that started off heated but turned more languid as Castiel pulled back. “Slow down, love. I really do need to wash up first.”
“Let me help you then.” Without releasing his hold, Dean moved Castiel under the spray and then reached over to grab the bottle of shampoo. He turned Castiel around and he soon felt his husband’s fingers massaging his scalp as he washed his hair. He groaned softly as he leaned his head back. “That feel good Cas?” Castiel could only grunt an acknowledgment which made Dean chuckle.
Dean helped to rinse out the shampoo before following with conditioner (“You and Sam are so high maintenance, Cas”). After finishing with his hair, Dean squeezed out some body wash and ran his hands over Castiel’s body. He gently massaged every place he touched and Castiel was soon leaning bonelessly against his husband. “Mmm. Dean, that feels wonderful.”
After he placed a kiss on Castiel’s neck, Dean nudged him back under the spray to wash the suds away. Castiel closed his eyes and just enjoyed the sensations of his husband’s fingers moving across his skin. The previous arousal that had flagged as he became more relaxed quickly started to come back at the first brush against his cock. Dean took hold of his dick and gave it a few gentle pumps. His eyes shot open and Castiel moaned as he leaned closer into Dean’s space. His cock continued to harden and he gripped Dean’s shoulder as one particular twist of the wrist sent a bolt of pleasure through his body. He tried to bring the other man closer, but Dean brushed him off and dropped to his knees before wrapping his lips around Castiel’s length.
He let out a choked gasp and bucked a little into Dean’s mouth. Castiel leaned against the shower wall and concentrated on keeping still while enjoying the wonderful feeling of his husband’s tongue running across the underside of his dick. One hand reached down to card his fingers through Dean’s hair while the other fruitlessly sought purchase on the tile. The other man reached up to grab Castiel’s hand and repositioned it to the side of his face. Understanding the unspoken permission, Castiel moved his remaining hand to the other side of Dean’s face and gently started thrusting. His husband hummed after a few seconds and gripped Castiel’s ass to pull him in deeper. “Unh! Dean!” He quickened his pace as he felt Dean relax his throat. The sight alone had his orgasm approaching quicker than he would like, but then his husband looked up at him with such a blissed-out expression that he had to pull back before he lost his tenuous hold on his control.
Castiel yanked Dean to his feet and pulled him into a bruising kiss. He felt his husband’s hard length against his thigh and rearranged them until their cocks slotted together. They rutted for a while as their hands roamed each other’s bodies and they traded frenzied kisses. Castiel’s hand moved over Dean’s ass and one of his fingers brushed over his entrance. He applied gentle pressure and was surprised when his finger slid in easily. Dean gasped and Castiel recognized the familiar feel of lubricant. He pulled back and arched a brow at his husband. “Dean? Did you get started without me?”
Dean stuttered out an answer as Castiel continued moving his finger. “J-just a l-little.”
Castiel lowered his voice. “You know I prefer to do that myself. You look so gorgeous when you come apart around my fingers”, he softly scolded.
His husband dropped his head back and moaned, his hips grinding down a bit in a silent plea for more. “S-sorry Cas. Just w-want you so bad.”
Castiel leaned forward and nipped Dean’s neck. “I should punish you.” Dean whimpered. “But perhaps I’ll save that for another time. I don’t have the patience right now to delay having you.”
“Yesss,” Dean breathed.
“Turn around love,” Castiel murmured as he removed his hand. The two men shuffled around until Dean was facing the wall with his hips cocked up. He wiggled his ass impatiently. “Brat.”
“Hurry, Cas. Please.”
“Don’t worry sweetheart, I’ll take care of you.” Cas reached for the lube and squeezed some onto his fingers. He wrapped one arm around his husband’s waist as he slipped a finger back inside. Dean groaned again as Castiel pumped in and out. He was soon able to add another and laid kisses and sucked bruises along Dean’s shoulder as his husband writhed underneath him.
“Another, please.” Dean all but whined as he arched his back seeking more.
Castiel quickly obliged. After a moment he crooked his fingers and pressed against Dean’s prostate and the bigger man cried out and bucked back. Castiel hit that spot a few more times until Dean was an incoherent mess. “Are you ready for me Dean?”
“God yes! Need you so bad Cas.”
After gently removing his fingers, Castiel lubed up his cock and lined himself up. He pushed into his husband slowly, relishing in his wet heat. By the time his hips met Dean’s ass, they were both panting. Castiel paused and placed more kisses on the man in front of him. “You feel so good Dean.”
Dean turned his head for a chaste kiss. “You too babe. I’m ready.” Castiel started moving slowly before Dean huffed. “Nuh uh. Fuck me harder Cas. Wanna feel you for days.”
Castiel kept up his leisurely thrusts. “Ask nicely,” he crooned.
“Please,” Dean pleaded.
“Of course, love.” Castiel then gripped his husband’s hips tightly and set a punishing pace.
“Fuck!” Dean canted his ass back even further trying to meet Castiel’s hips. His hands frantically scrambled over the wall in front of him as he tried to brace himself. His moans became louder and Castiel internally preened at how much of a mess he could turn his husband into.
Castiel could feel himself getting close. He snaked a hand around his husband’s chest, pulling him further upright. Dean nearly screamed as the angle caused Castiel to hit his husband’s prostate on nearly every pass. His other hand grabbed hold of Dean’s cock and met the speed of his thrusts. He leaned close to Dean’s ear and murmured, “Come for me Dean,” just before biting down hard on his shoulder.
Dean’s whole body tensed and he let out a series of curses followed by a deep groan as he came on the shower wall. Castiel followed soon after and they stayed still for a few minutes with Castiel’s arms wrapped around Dean and the taller man relaxed in his embrace. Finally, Castiel softened enough that a small shift of the hips caused him to slip out. Dean whined a small protest before twisting around and bringing their mouths together. They shared a few lazy kisses before rewashing and finishing their shower.
Three hours later, following a much-needed nap, Castiel and Dean had finished unpacking their things and were in one of the other bedrooms unpacking the children’s bags. The rental company often catered to those coming into the country to adopt and had a variety of furniture for use with young children. The bedroom for Patience had a guard attached to the bed so she couldn’t roll out and the room for the twins contained two toddler beds. There were also booster seats in the breakfast room, some play equipment in the small backyard, and a selection of DVDs in the living room. The house had cost a little more, but it was worth it for the convenience.
Folding a pair of Max’s shorts, Castiel gazed at the little beds and a sense of warmth spread through his chest. Dean looked up from his own pile of toddler clothes. “You ok babe?”
Rubbing the excess moisture from his eyes (when had that started?) Castiel nodded. “Just can’t believe we’re finally here.”
Dean gave him a fond smile. “I know. I can hardly believe it either.” He held up one of Max’s shirts that sported a Batman logo. “This crap is so cute. I can’t wait to spoil the shit outta them Cas.”
Castiel laughed before he tried and failed to give Dean a stern expression. “You’re going to have to watch your mouth around them you know?”
“I know. I am capable of responsible behavior.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it.” Dean responded by sticking out his tongue, which only reinforced Castiel’s original assessment.
Everything unpacked, the couple got dressed and ventured out to explore the neighborhood. There was a small bar and grill nearby where they enjoyed a few drinks and an early dinner. They then stopped at the market to stock their kitchen before heading back. Once the groceries were put away, the two men got ready for bed and snuggled up in their room to watch Netflix on their laptop before falling asleep.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
This chapter contains mentions of childhood trauma and minor character death.
When Castiel and Dean speak to the children, assume the dialogue is in French.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
By the time they had showered and dressed, there was an hour left until their appointment. It was only a twenty-minute walk but they left anyway to explore a bit. They moved slowly and Dean teased Castiel for taking so many pictures but would then point out a new thing for him to photograph. They were pleasantly surprised to find a park a block away from the house where the kids could play and discovered a few more little stores they agreed to check out later.
Castiel and Dean arrived fifteen minutes early and signed in before being directed to the waiting room. Castiel looked around at the artwork adorning the walls while Dean examined the collage of children and their families that the agency had brought together.
“Mr. and Mr. Winchester?” They both turned at the heavily accented voice to find a shorter woman with dark hair and chocolate eyes wearing a skirt and blazer, looking at them expectantly.
Castiel stepped forward. “Yes ma’am. I’m Castiel and this is my husband, Dean.”
She gave them a warm smile. “My name is Jaqueline Montes, your agency representative. Please follow me.”
The women led them down a short hallway into a meeting room. Another woman with a round face and a cheerful smile sat at the table along with an older man with glasses and a stern expression. “Please have a seat. This is Maria Aranda; she is our interpreter. And this is Phoenix Rocha; he is our psychologist. They are both going to be conducting your home visits.”
Everyone greeted each other and shook hands before settling in their seats. Jaqueline grabbed some paperwork and addressed the group. “Today we are going to be doing another routine interview and Mr. Rocha wanted to go over the visitation schedule and further discuss the issue with Max. After we are through here, it is time to meet your children.”
Castiel and Dean both let out a sharp gasp. Dean cleared his throat. “T-today?”
“Yes. Is that ok?”
“Yes!” Castiel nearly shouted.
Dean startled a bit and placed a hand over Castiel’s. “Sorry. We just thought it would be a few days. Yes, please. We’d like that very much.”
Jaqueline gave them an indulgent smile. “That’s ok. Today will be quick. Your visits here with them will get longer and less structured over the next two weeks until you take them home. Now, let’s begin.”
They spent the next forty-five minutes answering questions about their home life and providing details about the parenting classes they had taken. They then briefly went over the children’s routines and any personal preferences that their caregivers had marked in their files. As they were already informed, the children still mainly spoke French but were picking up Portuguese. Maria was fluent in French also and had spent a lot of time around them as well.
The original file on the children had contained some details on the kids’ birth parents, but Jaqueline had additional information for them. The father, Nicholas, had immigrated to the north of Brazil in his late teens. He then worked as a customs agent at the port in Belém. He had no siblings and his parents had never left French Guiana. All attempts to locate them had been unsuccessful. Their mother, Rosine, had been a nurse. She had immigrated to Brazil with her brother and when contacted, he had declined to take the children and informed the agency that they had no other relatives. At some point after Nicholas’s death, Rosine was diagnosed with cancer and moved to Recife for better treatment options. Unfortunately, her cancer was very aggressive and there was not much they could do for her.
Then it was Mr. Rocha’s turn to speak. With Maria’s help, he explained that he believed Max’s silence was a result of trauma. According to his older sister and family acquaintances, Max was normally an animated and talkative child. But ever since he had arrived at the group home, he hadn’t said a word. Max had been the one to find his mother’s body and it seems he had spent quite some time trying to wake her before the neighbors investigated his cries. The girls had spent the night with a friend for a birthday party and the coroner estimated their mother had been dead nearly fourteen hours before the woman next door found the little boy clinging to his mother’s corpse.
Both Castiel and Dean started crying as they listened to the older man speak. Jaqueline gave them an understanding nod as she suggested they take a small break. The other two agreed and left the room. Jaqueline offered them tissues and bottles of water before she left also.
Castiel sobbed in Dean’s arms as his husband rubbed his back. “My God, Dean. Our poor baby. He must have been so scared.” He shuddered and a fresh wave of tears ran down his cheeks.
Dean drew in a shaky breath and reached over to grab a tissue. “I know babe, I know. I can’t imagine.” Castiel felt Dean nudge him and pulled back. His husband handed him a bottle of water before cupping his face and wiping away his tears. “Drink, Cas. We need to pull it together. Max went through something horrible; they all did. We can’t change that but we’re gonna make damn sure to show them how loved they are and do our best to make them happy. We’re gonna help them in any way we can. Right?”
Castiel saw the pain reflected in his husband’s eyes. Dean may not have seen his mother die but he confessed, after waking up from a nightmare early on in their relationship, that he had heard some of her screams as their house burned. He’d had those terrible dreams ever since that night and John had never wanted him to talk about it. Instead, he bottled his pain which would come out in fits of rage until Bobby and Ellen had taken the brothers in and insisted Dean see a psychologist. The nightmares didn’t occur very often after that, but it was clear they deeply affected him when they did. His husband’s message was clear: he was going to do whatever he could to help their children heal in a way John Winchester never did. Castiel sniffed. “Yea.”
Dean brought their lips together before kissing each of Castiel’s cheeks. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
They were joined again ten minutes later by the agency reps and continued their meeting. Mr. Rocha explained the therapy they were doing with Max and gave them some pointers on how they should treat him until they could meet with the new therapist. Castiel didn’t like some of the things he was hearing and he knew his husband’s expressions well enough to know that he didn’t either. The man instructed them to not speak to Max until he made eye contact, to not include him in conversations with his siblings to try and force an interaction, and to ask him to respond verbally before resorting to nonverbal gestures. They weren’t about to argue and cause problems, so they agreed.
Following the meeting, Mr. Rocha excused himself while Jaqueline and Maria led them through the building to a play room where their children were waiting for them. Castiel gripped Dean’s hand as the door opened. He caught a brief glimpse of another woman sitting at a table in the corner and then got the first look at their children. All three were grouped around a kitchen set. Max held a baby doll and had a small smile on his face while Alicia offered the doll some play food. Patience stood at the little stove and Castiel heard her call out to her siblings that more food was coming up. Alicia responded but Castiel didn’t understand what she said as he was not used to hearing French in a toddler’s accent. He also suspected a few Portuguese words had been mixed in, but couldn’t be sure.
Max looked up at him and the smile slipped off his face as he averted his eyes. Alicia noticed the change and focused on the new adults in the room. She smiled at Maria before she ran over to the woman and hugged her around the knees. Maria sat in a little chair as Alicia chatted away. Castiel studied her as he tried to figure out what she was saying. She wore a pink dress with a unicorn on the front, white sandals, and her short curly hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She was definitely using a combination of French and Portuguese. He picked out Patience’s and Max’s names and he gathered she was describing their game near the kitchen.
Patience followed her sister. She regarded Castiel and Dean curiously before joining the conversation. She helped interpret when even Maria didn’t understand the toddler-speak. She seemed to be trying to speak Portuguese but would get frustrated and quickly slip back to French. Her hair hung loose about her shoulders and she wore a light green shirt, jean shorts, and blue sneakers.
Max stayed where he was and continued to play quietly with the doll. His eyes kept flicking up to watch his sisters and he looked like he wanted to join them but was too nervous. He wore black shorts and his shoulders were hunched under his orange shirt.
Jaqueline cleared her throat and addressed the children while Maria interpreted. “This is Mr. Dean and Mr. Castiel Winchester, the ones we told you about. They’d like to play with you for a few minutes if that’s ok.”
Patience nodded shyly and Alicia faced them and tilted her head as she studied them. Max just fidgeted but didn’t move otherwise. Jaqueline and Maria joined the other woman in the corner. Castiel and Dean knelt down on the carpet and smiled warmly. Dean spoke first with a small, “Bonjour.” His husband had spent all his free time over the last two months studying Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, and trying to practice with Castiel. He wasn’t very good at picking up languages and had barely passed his college Spanish courses. His pronunciation was poor (no matter how hard he tried, Dean could not roll his ‘r’s) and vocabulary limited, but Castiel was impressed with his determination.
Alicia’s responding grin made Castiel want to melt in a puddle on the floor. The little girl bounded toward them and threw herself into Dean’s arms. His husband’s eyes widened in shock before returning the hug. Patience moved at a more sedate pace to stand in front of Castiel. “B- Olá. Eu sou Patience.” She spoke in a halting voice in a clear attempt to remember the words.
“C’est bon. Je parle français.”
Patience’s face brightened considerably. “Je m'appelle Patience.”
“Je m’appelle Castiel. C’est Dean.”
The man in question turned at the sound of his name. “You need somethin babe?”
“I was just telling Patience your name.”
“Ah.” He turned his gaze to the older girl. “Hi sweetheart. I mean, Bonjour.” He lifted his hand in a small wave, which she returned.
Alicia pulled away from Dean and stepped in front of Castiel. “Salut!” she all but squealed as she leapt into his arms. He caught Dean’s smile before wrapping his arms around the little girl. This was it. This. Right here. A piece he wasn’t even aware was missing clicked into place as he breathed in the scent of the child in front of him. He felt like the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes all at once. He looked over at his husband who was listening to Patience’s chatter with a mix of delight and confusion on his face. When his eyes landed on Max, his heart sank almost as quickly.
The little boy was obviously longing for his sisters but made no indication he would move closer. Dean had looked over to Max almost as soon as Castiel had. Their eyes met and the near-decade of being together aided them in their silent conversation. Castiel released Alicia and addressed the two girls in French. “Your brother looks lonely. Let’s go sit with him.” Castiel repeated what he said in English for Dean’s benefit and to help the children get used to the language.
Alicia pulled Castiel to his feet and dragged him to the play area with Dean and Patience following behind. The two men lowered themselves back to the floor while the girls quickly started offering them ‘food’. Max appeared less tense with the return of his sisters but still kept his eyes down. While Dean ‘ate’ a plastic waffle Alicia had given him, Castiel addressed Patience. “Can you tell Max that I am Castiel and this is Dean? We are very excited to meet you all and would love to get to know him better when he is more comfortable.”
Patience tried to relay the message but kept forgetting everything she was supposed to say. Castiel gently reminded her when needed and he could tell from the little boy’s body language that he was listening to every word.
After a few minutes, Maria stood and told the children it was time to say goodbye. Max looked up with a panicked expression and reached forward to clutch Alicia’s dress and pull her closer. Alicia hugged her brother and placed kisses all over his face. Patience looked dejected and Castiel assured them they’d be back soon. The girls only spared them a glance and a wave before crowding around Max.
The two men watched as long as they could before Jaqueline ushered them into the hallway. “Is Max ok?” Dean asked.
“He does that every time I’m afraid. They only see each other every few weeks.”
Dean’s expression crumpled. “They’ve been separated?”
“Patience and Alicia are in the same home, but Max is in a separate place for boys.”
Castiel was in shock. “You separated the twins? And does anyone else in this home know French?”
“It’s policy to keep the boys and girls separated. And he sees Maria with Mr. Rocha several times a week. She interprets for their therapy sessions.”
“But- he must feel so alone…”
“I understand. It is not ideal. It was why we were so excited you agreed to take all of them. It is clear they are unhappy being away from each other.”
Dean smiled tightly as he tried to hide his displeasure. “Thank you so much for meeting us today Ms. Montes. We’ll see you soon.”
“It was nice meeting you, Mr. and Mr. Winchester. Have a wonderful day.”
Dean nearly stomped through the agency while Castiel moved in a daze. No wonder Max was so closed off. He was kept away from the only family he had left and the language barrier only exacerbated his isolation. Trauma was hard enough to deal with when you had support. Castiel couldn’t fathom how the little boy was expected to cope when he felt so alone.
Out on the sidewalk, his husband looked ready to snap. “How could they do that?” he hissed. “Take him away from his sisters? They’re all each other have left!”
Castiel knew how upset his husband must be. He’d heard stories of John Winchester. Dean practically raised his brother while John would disappear for days on end. Dean himself had considered telling someone what was happening but the fear of being separated from Sam had stopped him every time. That combined with the horror of what Max had gone through probably had Dean imagining himself in the little boy’s shoes and what could have been.
Castiel placed a gentle hand on his husband’s arm before murmuring lowly, “I know, Dean. Right now, I need you to calm down. We’ll discuss this at the house. Screaming in front of the agency won’t look good for us.”
Dean deflated somewhat. “Yea, ok.”
The walk back was quiet. The second the front door closed, Dean started yelling. He paced and snarled, all the while cursing whoever thought separating siblings was a good idea. Castiel knew his husband would run out of steam eventually. He waited on the couch until Dean slumped down beside him and laid his head on Castiel’s shoulder. “Sorry, Cas.”
Castiel reached up to stroke Dean’s hair. “It’s ok. I’m angry too. Just two more weeks and they’ll be here with us and they’ll never have to be separated again.”
“I know. Poor little Max. I don’t even care if he never talks again Cas. I just hated to see him so scared.”
They talked and cried and talked some more over the next few hours. Dinner was just a few sandwiches as they were both too exhausted to cook. The couple fell into bed early thinking about the next time they would see their children.
The methods suggested by the psychologist for helping Max are very outdated techniques and are now strongly discouraged. He was not being intentionally malicious, but was just misinformed. He truly wanted to help Max.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Whenever there is dialogue with the children, just assume it is in French.
Two weeks passed quickly. Castiel and Dean saw their children every other day. As Jaqueline promised, the visits got progressively longer. After a week they stopped being supervised, though Maria always remained outside the door in case they needed help communicating (which they never did).
Patience had become more comfortable and affectionate; always giving hello and goodbye hugs. Alicia remained cheerful and insisted on being near either of them at all times and enjoyed sitting in their laps when they read stories. Max… was not much better than their original meeting. His posture had relaxed somewhat but Castiel suspected it was mainly his sisters’ presence that soothed the boy. Dean and Castiel never pushed him. They made sure to spend their time with the girls close enough for Max to feel included, but not close enough to crowd him.
When the day came to pick up the children, they chose to take a taxi. Even though the agency was so close, Castiel and Dean weren’t yet comfortable enough in their abilities to navigate several blocks with three small children plus their belongings.
Jaqueline waited just inside the doors next to a small pile of garbage bags and boxes. “Good afternoon! The children are in the playroom. Would you like to take their things out first?” She pointed towards the sad little pile and Castiel’s stomach soured.
“Is this all? Do they have anything from their parents?”
“Yes. These boxes contain some photos and other personal items that have been kept in storage for them. The bags are for clothes and toys. There is not much. They grow so quickly and clothing is usually given to the smaller children when they outgrow things.”
A look at his husband showed Dean was dismayed as well. Castiel nodded and reached down to grab some things. Between the two of them, it only took one trip to pack the waiting taxi. All of their children’s worldly belongings fit into two boxes and three trash bags. Castiel wasn’t a materialistic person, but the pitiful sight was just another blow, a reminder of how much the children had lost.
Castiel brushed those thoughts away. They couldn’t change the past, but they could do whatever was in their power to make sure the children’s futures were happier. He felt Dean’s hand grip his own and met his husband’s eyes. The other man was smiling warmly and as usual, Dean knew exactly what Castiel needed to hear. “Let’s take our babies outta here, ok Cas?” Returning the smile, Castiel interlocked their fingers and they went back inside.
The children were tentative as they walked into the condo. Alicia, while very outgoing, was not used to new places and her confidence appeared to be shaken. Max clung tight to Alicia’s hand only casting brief, furtive glances around the living room. Patience seemed the least reserved for once. She had a better idea of what was going on than her younger siblings.
“Dean, let’s show them their rooms.” Dean nodded and bent to grab the bags containing the children’s clothes. Castiel switched over to French. “Patience, Alicia, Max; would you like to see your rooms?”
Patience nodded and the three children followed them down the short hall with Dean bringing up the rear. Castiel opened the first door. “This room is for Alicia and Max.” Alicia peered in and screeched when she caught sight of the toys in the corner. The little girl dragged Max to the corner and started pulling everything out of the small bin.
Dean chuckled. “Guess that means she likes them.”
“Apparently.” Castiel turned to Patience. He spoke in English, then repeated in French. “Let’s go see your room.”
Patience studied the new room as she walked in. She looked at her own selection of toys and books before exploring the dresser. The little girl gasped as she pulled out a sparkly pink skirt. “It’s so pretty!”
Dean grinned and moved to kneel next to her. As little of the language he understood, he responded as best he could. “You like?”
“Alicia has one too.”
Patience’s eyes grew wide. “This is for me? To keep?”
Dean looked back at Castiel and asked in English, “Did she just ask if that was for her?” Castiel nodded and Dean turned back to the beautiful brown eyes that were wide with hope. “Oui.”
Patience all but squealed as she threw herself into Dean’s arms. She pulled back and chattered in rapid French as she rifled through the other clothes and poor Dean was soon very confused. When she mentioned putting the skirt on, Castiel cleared his throat. “Patience, do you need help changing?” She shook her head. “Dean and I will go check on the twins.” Switching back to English he addressed Dean. “She wants to try on her clothes.”
Pink stained his husband’s cheeks and he stood quickly. “Oh! Right.” His eyes were intently studying the ceiling as Patience had already moved to pull off her shirt. He stumbled into the hall and Castiel snickered as he shut the door behind him. “Asshole.”
“Language. And what did you expect? We’re adopting two girls Dean. You’re going to see them nude quite often. They’re not old enough to be self-sufficient.”
“I know, I know. It just caught me by surprise.”
“We will have to have a conversation with her eventually about modesty and privacy. Since she’s been with all girls for eight months, I’m not sure how much those things were a priority.”
“Oh geez. Think the twins will skip that delightful little phase where they run around naked?”
“We can only hope. Speaking of, we should check on them.”
Dean made cheeseburgers and fries for their first dinner together. The children loved them; even Max devoured his quickly. It was the most animated they had ever seen the boy. As they sat around picking at the last remaining fries, Patience spoke. “Are we really going to live here with you?”
Castiel interpreted that for Dean before answering. “You are going to stay with us but not in this house. We live far away in America. We are going to fly in an airplane to get there. Would you like to live with us?”
“All of us?”
His heart sank at the hint of fear in her eyes. “Yes. We will never separate you again.”
Castiel noticed Max watching him intently in his peripheral vision, but didn’t want to risk startling him and kept his attention on Patience. She looked like she was trying to solve a difficult puzzle. “But- where’s the mommy?”
That hurt more than he thought it would. A glance at Dean told him his husband had understood enough and was nervously chewing his lip. “Well, instead of a mommy and a daddy, you get two daddies. We love each other very much and got married just like mommies and daddies do.”
“Oh.” Patience didn’t quite seem convinced but moved on. “You are our daddies now?”
“Is that ok?”
She stared at Castiel and then Dean. “Yes.”
Both men smiled widely at the affirmation and Alicia, who had been uncharacteristically quiet during the exchange, burst into giggles. “Two daddies!” More giggles. “That’s silly.”
Dean laughed and reached over to tickle her belly, bringing out more peals of laughter. Castiel turned to Max, who was watching the display with a smile. It was barely there, but it was a start.
The new family had visited many places around Recife in the last month; beaches, an amusement park, boat tours, museums, and even a church service. In learning more about their new additions, Dean and Castiel discovered that Rosine and Nicholas had been very serious about their Catholic faith and Rosine continued to take the children to mass whenever she was able after Nicholas’s death. Castiel hadn’t attended services regularly in years and Dean had only attended a few Christmas services after moving in with Bobby and Ellen. While Castiel had let his attendance slide, he still considered himself quite spiritual and said his prayers regularly. He and Dean agreed that they should never try to erase the memory of their children’s birth parents from their lives, so they should have the option of going to Mass if they wished.
The cathedral was old and didn’t have a toddler room or Sunday school like the churches back home. Their kids were generally well-behaved anyway but an hour and a half was asking a lot for three children under five. There was some wiggling and attempts to crawl under the pews, but the children seemed to enjoy the songs and none of them screamed or had a meltdown so Castiel considered it a success. He made a mental note to search for a new church when they got home.
While eating breakfast on the ninth day after the children came to live with them, Patience shyly asked how to say “dad” in English. Dean looked like he was ready to cry and Castiel had to refrain from bouncing in his seat. After testing out a few names they settled on “Daddy” for Dean, since it sounded like “Dad Dean”, and “Papa” for Castiel since that was the French version of daddy. Every time Patience or Alicia called them by their new titles, Castiel’s heart gave a little squeeze.
The three soon-to-be-Winchesters had changed a lot in the short time living with their new fathers. Patience had become far more outgoing. She was obsessed with anything sparkly and loved helping Dean make dinner every night. Her English was coming along well, even though most of her vocabulary was food related. She was also an amazing big sister. Whenever one of the twins needed anything or got upset, she slipped right into the role of caregiver and helped them out. Castiel was careful not to let her do too much on her own, but she got upset the first few times he tried to thwart her attempts at mother-henning. Dean told him to let her be. As an older sibling himself, he understood the need to help take care of the little ones. Tying their shoes or kissing a boo-boo was not the same as the responsibilities John had dumped on his eldest.
Alicia was a bit more rough and tumble than her sister. While she liked dresses and skirts, she once told Dean it was only because they made going to the bathroom easier and had no problem getting her clothes filthy right alongside Max. She preferred to play with the boys whenever they went to the park and loved kicking around a soccer ball or climbing trees. She also enjoyed the baby dolls and tea set she had in her room and had a particular fondness for any play jewelry she would find whenever the family visited a store or gift shop. Her and Max’s relationship had only grown stronger and she rarely left her brother’s side.
Max still had not spoken a word. His behavior had improved much, though. He no longer hunched in on himself or hid in the corner of the room. At first, he only went wherever Alicia went. Now he would lead nearly half the time. His communication was better as well. During story time, he would point out animals or shapes when asked. He would also answer yes or no questions with a nod or a shake and was increasingly making eye contact (however fleetingly) with his fathers. He was still quite wary of strangers and would seldom play at the park with other children, but he started spending more time facing forward than with his eyes cast down at the ground.
Bi-weekly visits with Mr. Rocha and Ms. Aranda turned into weekly visits midway through their stay. The visits were quick, just a simple check to make sure everyone was adjusting well. The fact that they’d recently had their last appointment with them was a relief. Whatever progress Max had made seemed to vanish the second the two walked through the door. He became nervous and clingy and didn’t recover for several hours after they left. Castiel was glad they never tried to separate the children for private interviews. Poor Max would probably have had a panic attack.
Castiel and Dean had changed as well. The first few days were quite stressful. Being woken by a child needing to pee or needing water (or the time Alicia had gotten lost in unfamiliar surroundings and had woken the whole house with her wailing), took some getting used to. Dean was even more stressed. He only understood half of what the children were saying. Their first fight while the children were in the house happened when Dean snapped at Castiel for taking so long after being called to interpret. Castiel had been helping Patience take a bath while Alicia was getting increasingly upset with Dean for not understanding her. A shouting match ensued and quickly broke off when Alicia ran away, looking scared. They found her snuggled with Max in their room and agreed to be more patient with each other from then on.
Their sex life also took a turn for the worse. Usually by the time the children went to sleep, they were too exhausted for anything more than the occasional hand job. The few times they had been able to get more intimate were rushed; at any moment they expected a knock on their door. They also had to suppress the sounds of their lovemaking. Dean was normally quite loud and having to stifle their noises was a new experience. Castiel was really starting to understand why someone wrote about childus interruptus in that book Balthazar had gifted them.
Despite the fatigue, Castiel and Dean could not be more thrilled. Getting a hug or earning a smile from one of their kids made up for everything else. The couple felt honored to have been chosen as parents for these precious tiny humans. Seeing the joy and wonder on their little faces was amazing and each new day was better than the last.
With only two days left until their flight home, Castiel and Dean took their children to the zoo. They had a great time. The kids had never been to a zoo before and were thrilled at the variety of animals they had only ever seen in books or on television. They particularly enjoyed the redfoot tortoise exhibit. Alicia could not stop laughing at the slow-moving animals and even Max cracked a few smiles. Castiel took photo after photo. He was now on his second memory card of the trip, but he didn’t care. He was determined to capture as much as he could.
After lunch and a break at the playground, they went on a guided tour of the rainforest surrounding the zoo. The mosquitos were terrible and there was only enough bug spray for the children, so Dean and Castiel spent a large portion of the trip swatting at the little vampires. The foliage was beautiful and they spied several species of tropical birds through the trees. Max fell asleep in Dean’s arms before the tour was over and Alicia was barely buckled into her car seat before she passed out as well. Patience only held out for another ten minutes before her exhaustion caught up with her. Castiel spent the rest of the drive staring at their relaxed faces. By this time tomorrow, they would legally be a family.
Castiel never wanted to fly on an airplane again. If someone were to ask him about the worst day of his life thus far, there was no doubt in his mind that the last twenty-four hours were it. A glance at his husband as they waited at the carousel for their bags showed he wasn’t faring much better. Dean was petrified of flying, but the need to stay alert for the children meant he hadn’t been able to take his relaxant. His eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep and he looked paler than usual.
Their kids were just fine and currently climbing on a nearby row of seats without a care in the world. Castiel and Dean had the forethought to get them tablets loaded with cartoons and games, plus coloring books and toys for the flights. But being small children, that only kept them occupied for so long. It was rare that all three were calm at a time. Usually, the moment one of them settled, another started acting out. Castiel was convinced they had worked out a system to drive their parents (and everyone else on the plane) crazy. Logically, he didn’t blame them. Children got bored easily and even trying to wear them out during layovers didn’t seem to help much. But that was hard to remember after the twentieth time Patience whined that she was bored. Or the thirty-fifth time Alicia yelled to be let out of her seat. Or the eighty-sixth time Max kicked the seat in front of him. After the glare the man leveled at him (somewhere around kick number fifty-two), Castiel was convinced the other passenger was secretly plotting revenge and would only be mildly surprised if the man ambushed him in a back alley someday.
Both men turned at the sound of Sam’s voice. The taller Winchester had agreed to pick them up since the airport was an hour from Lawrence and the lot fees to park their van for almost two months were insane.
Sam weaved through the crowd and pulled him and Dean into a hug. “It’s so good to see you! Where-” Sam cut off as he caught sight of the new additions to their family. “Is that them?” he whispered.
Dean grinned. “Yea. Aren’t they somethin?”
“You guys… They’re beautiful. Can- can I meet them?”
“Course you can Sammy! Cas, go ahead and introduce them babe. I’ll wait for our stuff.”
Castiel led Sam closer to where the children were playing. Max, who had been watching curiously, sat down and curled into himself when he noticed the larger man approaching. Patience studied him and then smiled. They’d seen pictures and had Skyped with some of their new family members a lot over the last month. “Hi, Uncle Sam. Merci- um, thank you pour DVDs et… Papa, comment tu dis livres?”
“You’re welcome sweetheart.”
Alicia finally seemed to recognize him and gave a little wave. “Bonjour Gunckle Sam.”
Sam bit his lip as he tried to keep a straight face. “Hi Alicia.” He side whispered to Castiel, “Oh my God that was too cute.”
Castiel chuckled. “I know. I thought I’d get used to it eventually but then one of them will say something like that.”
“Sammy! Little help?” Dean called from near the carousel.
Sam ran off to help Dean with their luggage. Castiel then made sure the kids had all their toys packed up before ushering them towards their father and uncle. Once all the bags were gathered up, with Sam carrying the bulk of the baggage, Dean picked up Max while Castiel lifted Alicia to one hip and grabbed Patience’s hand on the other side and the six of them headed to the parking lot.
Sam led them to their van and started loading the bags while Dean and Castiel tried to strap the children into their new seats. They’d been able to borrow some booster seats in Brazil and the airline provided harnesses for their flights. Here though, each of them had a five-point safety belt in their car seats. They were the convertible kind and could be changed as they grew until eventually becoming a booster to be used up to the age of twelve. Everyone finally settled in, Patience and Castiel in the last row, the twins in the middle, Dean and Sam in the front with Sam driving, they started the last leg of their journey. Castiel quickly nodded off after a few minutes and slept the whole trip. He was woken by Dean when they pulled into the driveway. He heaved a big sigh of relief after seeing their house again.
Like their first trip, Castiel and Dean were exhausted by the journey. Thankfully, in addition to watching their house during their stay in Brazil, Ellen had prepared several days’ worth of meals and stocked the kitchen with groceries. Sam had also agreed to stay the night and help them out while Castiel and Dean tried to catch up on sleep. After getting the bags in the door and feeding the kids, the husbands showed them their new rooms, bathed them, changed them for bed, and pawned them off on Sam.
Dean made it to the bed before Castiel. While he brushed his teeth, he heard his husband’s deep groan from the bedroom. He poked his head out the door. “You ok Dean?”
“I’m never leaving our bed again Cas,” came the muffled reply from the head smashed into the pillow.
Castiel chuckled and finished rinsing his teeth. He slipped on a pair of sleep pants (which had been odd to get used to after nearly a decade of sleeping nude) and climbed into bed. Dean immediately shifted closer and put his head on Castiel’s chest. “So glad we’re home” he whispered.
Castiel wrapped his arms around him and inhaled deeply, taking in the scent of Dean’s hair. “Me too.” He felt his husband’s breath even out and followed him to sleep soon after.
Three days later, their welcome home party was in full swing. Ellen and Bobby had arrived early to help cook. Ellen cooed over her new grandchildren and was delighted when Patience asked to help. Castiel stood in the corner snapping photos. While adorable, the image wasn’t nearly as memorable as Dean’s face when he came in from warming up the grill. His eyes almost bugged out of his head when he saw Bobby sitting in a little pink chair having a tea party with the twins.
The rest of the guests showed up in quick succession. Sam came next and Dean put him to work helping set up the projector to show photos and videos from their trip. Balthazar called to cancel due to what he said was food poisoning (but everyone knew that was code for a hangover or a weekend hookup he wasn’t done with yet). Benny took over grill duty while Andrea joined Jo and Meg in conversation. Garth carpooled with Cesar and Jesse and had brought an obnoxious bunch of balloons. Gabriel and Alfie arrived with a large cake and a few dozen cupcakes. Castiel’s cousins, Hannah and Anna, were able to make it as well.
Castiel greeted everyone with a tired smile. The last few days had been draining with getting the children settled and trying to establish a routine. He woke up still exhausted and could feel a headache coming on. Today was important as their family members were eager to meet the new additions, so he took some ibuprofen and resolved to power through it.
Max, of course, was very apprehensive around all the new people and spent the entire time in either Castiel or Dean’s arms with his face buried in their chests. Alicia was quieter than usual but quickly got used to everyone and was soon roping a variety of her new relatives into playing with her. Patience was very outgoing and it was obvious she was doing her best to make a good impression. Unfortunately, the more people she met and the harder she tried, the more her English slipped back into French, which then caused her to become irritated with herself.
With a word to Dean to watch Alicia, Castiel took Max from his husband and brought him and Patience into the twins’ room. Max relaxed and started playing with some of his toys while Castiel sat on the edge of Alicia’s bed. Patience huffed and her shoulders slumped. Not even bothering with English, she turned to Castiel with tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry Papa. I’m trying very hard to talk right.”
Castiel made a noise of distress and held his arms open to his eldest. She accepted the hug and tucked her head under his chin. “It’s alright sweetheart. Daddy and I aren’t mad at you. Nobody else is either. They know you’re learning. You’re doing so well meeting all these new people. Just try your best and if you don’t feel like using English, that’s ok. Papa understands you and Daddy is getting better. Even uncle Sam is learning and uncle Gabe speaks some too remember?”
Patience sniffed and pulled back with a watery smile. “Ok Papa. Thank you.”
Castiel thumbed away a tear. “You’re welcome baby. Do you want to stay here with me and Max for a while? I think your brother needs a break.”
“I’m ok now. I’m hungry.”
Castiel chuckled. “You’re just like your Daddy. Go find him and he’ll get you something to eat. I’ll be here keeping Max company.”
The girl grinned at him and left the room. Castiel slid to the floor and looked at Max. Still speaking in French, he addressed the boy. “Hey baby. Do you want me to play with you or maybe I can read you a book?”
Max stopped moving as he considered the question. He glanced up at Castiel’s face and stood to go to the bookshelf. He pulled out one of his favorites and shyly handed it over before curling up in Castiel’s lap. “Oh, this is a good one.” Castiel adjusted his son to a better position, wincing as his dull headache spiked painfully. He did his best to ignore it and started reading.
He was on his third read through of the story when he noticed Max had fallen asleep. He picked the boy up and laid him in his bed. The change in position made the pain in his head rear back up. He rubbed his temples as he finally registered how terrible he felt. He was exhausted and his lower back ached - probably from carrying Max around for several hours. Lying in bed to join his son for a nap was a very appealing thought, so he did.
Castiel wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep but he was woken by Dean shaking his shoulder. “Babe, you ok?”
Castiel looked down to see Max snuggled close to his chest. He was freezing and the heat coming from the little boy was wonderful. He pulled him closer before his husband lifted his chin with a finger. “Cas?”
“You want some medicine?”
He felt a hand on his forehead. “You feel a little warm.”
Castiel grunted in disagreement. “Cold.”
“You’re probably comin down with something. Not surprising with all those people around on the flights back.”
“Anything else hurt babe?”
“Everything… my back hurts a lot.” Castiel could tell he was slurring his words but he couldn’t muster the energy to speak any clearer.
“That sounds fluey. Come on, Cas. If you feel that bad, you should be in our bed. Don’t wanna get Max sick.”
That managed to get through to him. He struggled to get up with Dean’s help. By the time they made it to their room, Dean was practically carrying him. He collapsed on the bed and spaced out again until he felt Dean lift him and press a glass of water to his mouth. “Drink, babe.”
He drank what he could and then dropped back on the bed. His body shivered as he tried to burrow under the blankets. The tremors hurt his already aching muscles and he let out a few involuntary whimpers. He fell into another fitful sleep.
Another indeterminable amount of time later, Dean was shaking him awake again. “Cas, wake up.”
Castiel groaned and turned over. “Come on babe. We gotta get you to a doctor.”
“Yes. You need to get you checked out.”
“Sam, Ellen, and Bobby are going to stay.” Dean removed the covers despite Castiel’s weak protests. His husband lifted him to a sitting position and he felt his shoes being slipped on. Dean then lifted him up and he felt another body on the other side.
He turned his head, surprised to see his brother there. “Gabe… wh-where did you come from?”
Gabriel looked at his strangely. “I’ve been here for a few minutes Cassie.” He looked at Dean. “Let’s go Dean-o.”
Castiel didn’t remember moving until he registered the faces of his family and friends in the living room. He tried to focus as he searched through the small crowd for his children. Sam held Max while Ellen had Alicia. Patience stood near Jo. “Papa!”
He tried to smile. “Papa’s ok baby.” From the looks he was getting, he knew he wasn’t understood.
Dean spoke up in broken French. “Papa will be ok. The doctor will make him better.”
The next time Castiel came to, he was leaning on his husband in the back of the Impala. “Dean?”
“I’m here baby.” Dean’s fingers felt nice against his scalp.
“Gabe?! Am I dying?” Dean would never let Gabriel drive his car.
“Course not.” Castiel missed the worried look he shared with Gabriel in the rearview mirror. “It’s probably just the flu. Docs will get some fluids in you and you’ll be good as new.”
He suddenly found himself in the waiting room of their favored urgent care center. He was leaning against Gabriel as Dean filled out paperwork. A nurse opened the door to the exam rooms. “Cas- Casteel Novak?”
Castiel grunted at the mispronunciation of his name. His husband helped him stand up and led him back. “I’ll be right out here.” He heard his brother call.
After a quick weight check, Castiel collapsed on the bed in the exam room. He heard his husband talking to the nurse and mumbled out a few answers to her questions. All he wanted to do was sleep. His head and back were killing him. It hurt to move anything, especially his neck, and the room was far too bright.
A new voice came into the room asking the same questions. He felt a hand touch his arm and registered an IV being placed. He shivered and his husband asked for a blanket. The shivering became more violent and soon the table itself was vibrating. Dean was shouting and he felt several sets of hands on his body. Was there an earthquake? Why was everything so loud? He felt the pull of unconsciousness and let go.
Time passed strangely for Castiel. There were flashing lights and urgent voices. He could feel the bed below him moving and thought he may have been in a car at one point, but that didn’t make sense.
He knew Dean was always nearby; sometimes talking to him, sometimes to other people. Where were his kids? Where was he? He didn’t recognize this room.
There was a new person in his face telling him to stay still as he felt a sharp pain in his back. He tried to flinch away but was held down. “Dean?” The stranger shushed him and said something he didn’t understand.
Where was Dean? Fingers moved through his hair. Oh, there he was.
Why did everything hurt so much? He wanted to go home. Why wasn’t he home?
Who was crying? “Please wake up, baby.” That was Dean. Why is he crying? Please don’t cry…
Castiel opened his eyes and quickly closed them. The room wasn’t overly bright, but the low light still hurt his head. While it wasn’t as painful as before, there was still a dull throbbing against his temples. He eased his eyes open slower this time and looked around the room. It was obvious he was in the hospital. He noticed Dean asleep in a nearby chair with his head on the bed near Castiel’s hand. His husband looked terrible. He had a few days’ worth of stubble on his face and dark circles under his eyes. How long had he been here? Castiel raised his hand to stroke his cheek. Dean’s eyes fluttered open and he jumped when he registered the touch on his skin. He looked up with wide eyes. “Cas?”
Dean jumped up and practically climbed on top of him before he started crying. “Oh my God. Oh baby I was so scared. Are you ok?” His hands fluttered nervously over Castiel before settling on either side of his face while he kissed him softly. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too. What happened?”
Dean pulled back and tried to get off the bed. “I should get the doctor…”
“No. Please don’t leave. Tell me what happened.”
Dean shifted to his side and pulled Castiel into his arms while being careful of the IV. He sniffed and grabbed a tissue from the table near the bed. “You uh, what do you remember?”
Castiel tried to recall the past few days. “We had the party and I wasn’t feeling well… Dean! Where are the kids?”
“They’re at home with Gabe and Ellen.”
“Are they ok?”
“They’re a little freaked. Max is the worst. I think this reminded him of his mom.”
“Oh no. He was doing so well. I hope this doesn’t cause a setback. Have you been home to check on them? How long have I been here?”
“He’ll be alright. They’re all fine, I promise. I’ve been going back twice a day and Gabe would sit with you while I was gone. You’ve been here three days, babe.”
“Three-“ How was that possible? “What happened, Dean?”
“You fell asleep at the party. You kept getting worse, so Gabe and I took you to urgent care. You weren’t making a lot of sense. You kept saying your head and back hurt. They started an IV and then you had a seizure in the exam room.” Castiel gasped and stared wide-eyed at his husband. “They thought you had meningitis with the way you were acting. An ambulance brought you here. They ugh, they did a bunch of tests… your brain was swelling. You had encephalitis baby. They weren’t sure if you were gonna wake up.” Dean’s breath shuttered and his eyes filled with tears again. He pulled Castiel closer to his chest and sobs wracked his body.
Castiel gripped him back just as tight; his hands rubbing soothingly along Dean’s back. “I’m so sorry I scared you sweetheart. Do they know how that happened?”
Dean sniffled and wiped his hands on his cheeks as he tried to collect himself. Castiel used the edge of the blanket to finish drying his face. “They think you got West Nile Virus in Brazil. Remember all the mosquitos at the zoo?”
“How could I forget?”
“Yea, well. They’re not a hundred percent sure though. Apparently, the virus takes a few days to show up so they can test for it. Most people don’t get this sick, but with all the traveling we were doing and the stress, your immune system may have been too compromised to fight it off.”
“So… extra bug repellant from now on?”
Dean snorted and nudged him. “Ass. I need to go tell them you’re awake.” They shared another kiss and Dean left to find a nurse.
Castiel was released the next day. They did another test that confirmed it was indeed West Nile that made him sick. His doctor also performed some neurological tests. While Castiel’s reactions were a little slow, that was to be expected. The doctor explained that he was very lucky. The encephalitis had been mild and there did not appear to be lasting damage. He was told to follow up in a week or come back if he got worse. He was also warned that the virus often took several months if not years to leave the body and that flare-ups could happen.
Castiel was thrilled to be back home. Dean insisted he stay in bed, though he didn’t mind much. The second he was tucked in, Dean and all three of their kids climbed in and joined him and they spent the whole day cuddled together watching cartoons. When it came time to go to sleep, the children refused to leave and Castiel sent up a silent prayer of thanks that they’d chosen a king-sized bed.
Ellen and Gabriel were frequent guests over the next week. Even though Castiel was feeling much better, he was still weak and was grateful for the help, especially since Dean had gone back to work. Castiel would have to go back soon as well. He hadn’t exactly loved his job before, but now it would be torture having to leave his children all day long. It helped that Ellen and Jo had agreed to help watch the children during the day. Jo didn’t have classes during the summer and the Roadhouse didn’t open until four so they’d found a schedule that worked for everyone. Castiel and Dean were grateful they had family to watch their children.
He was given a clean bill of health at his follow-up appointment and the whole family quickly put the horrible health scare behind them.
The Winchester household soon fell into a comfortable routine. Patience was getting better at English by the day and was constantly spending time at the art station. She was quite talented and her creations found their way onto open wall spaces all over the house, Bobby’s garage, and Castiel’s office. She’d also expressed an interest in dance and Dean had vetted every ballet school in the area before he signed her up for classes.
Alicia’s English was improving also, though she blended the two languages in odd ways which made it difficult for even Castiel to understand her at times. Their daughter could throw some impressive (and loud) fits and it wasn’t always clear if that was because of the language barrier or if she was simply being a toddler who didn’t get her way. When she wasn’t screeching, she was an affectionate and adventurous child. The little girl loved playing outside and made good use of their large yard. Her favorite place was the sandbox and every night they had to take extra care at bath time to clean away the grains from her scalp and under her nails.
Max was making progress of his own. He started opening up to the rest of their family and smiling more, thanks to a stable home life and his new therapist, Charlie. She had come highly recommended by Dean’s former therapist, Missouri Mosley. The older woman had retired nearly a decade prior, but still kept in touch with a few of her “favorites”- Dean among them.
Charlie had been appalled at the treatment plan that had been used with Max in Brazil. For their first appointment, she had them in for a family session so she could see how they interacted with Max. She said they were doing everything exactly right. They included him, but didn’t push and she applauded them for it. She still wanted to see him more, but not one on one. She preferred they alternate between Castiel and Dean for smaller group sessions. She even had Alicia join on occasion.
Her one big suggestion had been to introduce American Sign Language. Charlie provided several studies debunking the myth that learning a non-verbal language hindered the ability to learn a spoken language. She then explained that it had a similar syntax to French so it would be easier for Max to learn. Also, since there was no way to tell when Max may want to speak, ASL would help him feel confident enough to express himself. Charlie herself was fluent in ASL and started using it immediately whenever she spoke around Max. She provided them with a list of books, videos, and online instructors since she didn’t think Max could handle in-person lessons yet.
Dean was a bit nervous about learning yet another language as he was still very self-conscious over his French-speaking skills, but he felt better about the fact that the whole family would be learning together. Castiel was excited. He was willing to do anything to help Max and unlike the recommendations they’d gotten in Brazil, Charlie’s suggestions didn’t leave a bad taste in his mouth.
Thankfully, the children were settling in so well that it made getting back to work easier for both Castiel and his husband. Naturally, Bobby would let Dean go home if anything happened, but Castiel’s bosses would not be nearly as understanding. He’d used practically all the vacation days he’d saved up over the years on their trip and Mr. Adler expected him to stay focused now that he was back. Of course, his workload was much smaller than it had been earlier in the year - for which Castiel was grateful. He was finding it difficult to concentrate when he kept thinking about what his kids were doing and wishing he was with them. Balthazar was a big help. Since they were in the same department, he would nudge Castiel back on track whenever he needed it and kept Raphael from noticing the new father’s distractedness.
Four months after returning from Brazil, it was early October. Castiel, Dean and the children had spent their Saturday at the costume store picking out the kids’ Halloween costumes. Patience chose a fairy, Alicia wanted to be a witch, and Max picked one of the characters from his favorite show: PJ Masks.
The whole family was getting better at sign language. Castiel, Dean, Sam, and Jo had enrolled in a once-a-week class at the local deaf center and would then go home and teach the children what they’d learned. Their instructor, Eileen, understood the situation and was very helpful. Sam was quite enamored with the young woman right from the start but tried to play it off, insisting that it was pointless if she would struggle to understand his attempts at conversation.
Max was still painfully shy, but in the two months since they had started learning to sign, he’d gotten better. The first time he signed that he was thirsty, Castiel had to bite his lip to keep from crying. Max didn’t sign often, but Castiel could see the improvement to his confidence.
After the costume shop, Dean drove them to a pumpkin patch. There was a corn maze attached that the kids were excited to explore. Near the exit was a small petting zoo and Patience squealed when she saw a pony dressed as a unicorn. Castiel and Dean shared an exasperated eye roll at the shameless ploy to get parents to spend their money, but naturally paid for Patience and Alicia to ride. Max shied away from the large animal and Dean took him to pet the goats. Rides over and ridiculously overpriced pictures paid for, the hunt for a few good carving pumpkins began.
Max found his first. He chose a small pumpkin he could carry around from the table near the register and refused to part with it. Alicia found hers next. It was large, white, covered in bumps, and very misshapen. She loved it. Castiel maneuvered the sad-looking pumpkin into their wagon and hurried to catch up with Dean and Patience. The two had stopped near a pile of pumpkins and were comparing different ones. Dean was going for size and Patience was going for conformity. She rejected any pumpkin with a blemish and wasn’t satisfied until she found the “perfect” one. Castiel grabbed his own once Dean found his and after everything was paid for, they loaded the car and headed home.
The twins fell asleep on the way and Castiel and Dean tucked them into their beds for a nap once they got to the house. Dean dragged the boxes of Halloween decorations from the garage and set them on the front porch before seeking out Castiel and Patience in the backyard. “Hey Cas, I put the decorations on the porch. Wanna get started?”
“Hmm. I don’t want the twins to miss anything. We need to rake the yard first anyway.”
“True. Wanna get started while I make us a snack?”
“Sure. Where are those pumpkin leaf bags?”
“I left them in the garage next to the black ones.”
“Ok.” Castiel pulled Dean into a kiss before his husband went back into the house. “Patience? Wanna help Papa in the front yard?”
“Ok!” His daughter climbed off the jungle gym and ran up to him.
Castiel took her hand and walked towards the garage. “We’re going to rake leaves.”
“What does that mean?”
“I’ll show you.” He grabbed the box of bags and handed it to her before getting two rakes.
Once in the front yard, Castiel pulled out one of the bags. Patience giggled when she saw the silly pumpkin face and watched him open it up. He raked some surrounding leaves into a small pile and then scooped then into the bag. “You see? When it’s filled up, it will look like this.” He turned the box to show her the picture on the front.
“Can I try?!”
Castiel smiled at her enthusiasm. “Of course you can.” He handed her the other rake and they got to work.
Twenty minutes later, only one third of the yard was done. Patience had fun with the rake for a little while but quickly switched to throwing handfuls of leaves into the bag. Dean came out with sandwiches and after taking a break to eat, they finished most of the yard. One large pile remained in the middle and Dean showed Patience how to jump into the leaves.
Castiel joined the fun for a few minutes, burying each other and throwing handfuls of leaves, before he moved to the side of the house to finish cleaning up. Just as he stood up with some sticks in hand, he was hit with a head rush. The world tilted on its axis and he wobbled where he stood. He shuffled to lean on the side of the house and waited for the spell to pass. After a minute, the spinning hadn’t stopped, so he shouted for Dean.
His husband came into view. “Yea?” Dean’s eyes widened as he caught sight of him. What must he have looked like, that Dean reacted that way? “Geez Cas, you ok?”
“Dizzy. Almost feel drunk. Think I stood up too fast.”
“Maybe you’re dehydrated. You never drink enough water.”
“Probably. I think I should lie down. I feel nauseated too.”
Dean supported Castiel as they walked towards the front of the house. He shouted for Patience to follow them inside. “Couch or bed babe?”
“Couch. I think I just need to rest a minute.”
Dean deposited Castiel on the sofa. He lay on his side but the dizziness didn’t stop. It felt like his head had been replaced with a fishbowl and the water was sloshing back and forth. His stomach churned but thankfully not enough that he feared actually getting sick. It was then that he registered the low ringing and the pressure in his ears. They felt like they needed to pop. Before he could examine the feeling more, his husband reappeared with a glass of water. “Drink up, Cas.”
Castiel really was thirsty and downed half the glass in one go. “Thanks.”
“You ok? Need an aspirin?” His husband rubbed a hand over his back while he studied Castiel’s face.
“I don’t think so. I’m not in any pain, just… dizzy. Like I just got off a tilt-a-whirl or something.”
Dean’s hand moved to his forehead. “Hmm, well you don’t have a fever. Maybe you just needed water. Could it be your anemia? You’ve been taking your iron pills, right?”
“Yes, and my levels were fine at my last appointment.”
“Ok, well drink the rest of this and rest for a bit.”
Castiel drained the glass and stretched back out. The spinning sensation had died down somewhat so he closed his eyes and tried to relax. Dean was probably right; he was just dehydrated.
West Nile is no fun. I'd like to thank my husband for contracting it six years ago and winding up in the hospital. He's provided me with such valuable fic fodder. (He's ok now, I promise)
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Some medical gaslighting in this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Castiel wasn’t so sure Dean was right anymore. Three weeks later and the dizzy spells kept happening. There was no rhyme or reason to them. Some days he wouldn’t have any and some days he had several. They lasted anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. They would occur while standing, sitting, and one time he woke from a dead sleep to the sensation that he was in danger of falling out of the bed. Sometimes there was pressure and ringing and sometimes there wasn’t. His speech would slur if the attack was particularly strong and he had issues keeping his thoughts together. The episodes did seem to occur slightly more often when he was tired, but not reliably enough that he could consider it a pattern. Castiel made sure to drink enough water, eat a more balanced diet, even tried meditating - all with zero success.
At first, they reasoned Castiel was getting a cold or the flu, but he never got any other symptoms, so that was ruled out. There was a possibility it was his West Nile flaring up, but that seemed unlikely. Bobby even brought over his blood pressure monitor to check him during an attack, but other than a slight elevation of his heart rate, there wasn’t much change.
The children were starting to notice something was wrong and Castiel was nearly caught at work with his head on his desk during a spell. He’d worked out a system with Balthazar; he’d text him when an episode started so his friend could play interference. He had come to Castiel’s rescue again to distract Mr. Adler just as his boss was about to walk in without knocking. It was getting ridiculous.
So that was how he found himself sitting in his primary doctor’s office. He’d stopped by a few days earlier for bloodwork and was here now for the results and an exam. His doctor, Tessa Reap, knocked on the door before entering. “Hello, Castiel. Haven’t seen you in a while. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
Castiel went over the last few weeks while Dr. Reap did an exam. He pulled his phone out and showed her the notes he’d started taking about a week after the attacks began. “Mmm hmm. Any nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, headaches?”
“Some nausea, no vomiting, and only get out of breath if the attack is particularly bad. No headaches.”
“Well, your labs looked good; your iron levels are normal. Have you been under extreme stress or feeling anxious about anything?”
“Just what’s causing this.”
“Of course. Let’s do a quick neurological exam.”
She asked a few more questions while checking out his motor functions and reflexes. “Ok Castiel, I’m not seeing anything obvious here. I’d like to send you to a neurologist and possibly a cardiologist. It could be migraines, a blood pressure issue, any number of things. There are a few disorders that mimic each other and it’s best to have a specialist clear you. Come back after you’ve seen them, or sooner if you feel worse. In the meantime, I’d like you to take something for anxiety. Stress can manifest in lots of different ways.” She scribbled something on her notepad and handed it to him.
“I’m really not stressed.” Castiel looked at the name of the medication. “Will this make me drowsy? I have work and my kids…”
“Oh yes, you just adopted. This whole thing is probably just stress-related then.” She waved him off and started gathering her notes back into his chart.
“We adopted five months ago. Things have only gotten easier.”
“The mind is a tricky thing. You may be more overwhelmed than you realize.”
“How would I not know if I was stressed?”
The doctor huffed. “Most people don’t. I’ve seen this plenty of times.”
Understanding he wasn’t going to change her mind on this, Castiel repeated his other question. “What side effects should I look for? Will this make me tired?”
“Take them at night.”
“I’d really prefer something that won’t impair me. I have three small children and they don’t always sleep through the night.”
He noticed a tick in her jaw and a barely suppressed eye roll. She all but snatched the prescription from him and wrote a new one. “This won’t be nearly as effective but if you insist…” She ripped off the page and handed it to him. “My nurse will be back in with those other referrals.” She grabbed her paperwork and brusquely left the room.
Castiel sat stunned. What the hell was that? He was normally very healthy and didn’t have to visit his doctor very often, but she had always been nothing but polite. Was this because he questioned her? No. That couldn’t be it. Why would she react that way to basic questions? Perhaps she was just having an off day. Doctors could have those too, right? He went over the conversation a few more times trying to find out what had caused her behavior change before he realized it had been a while since she left.
He glanced down at his watch. It had been almost ten minutes. That seemed like a long time. She may be stuck with another patient. Castiel went through his phone while he waited but grew more agitated by the minute. Now that he was aware how long he’d been waiting, it was hard to ignore. Ten more minutes passed until the nurse returned. “Here is the information the doctor wanted to pass along to you. Call if you need anything.” She handed him a stack of papers and pamphlets and left.
Castiel looked through the paperwork. There were two printed articles and three pamphlets on the effects of stress and anxiety with only one sheet containing the other specialists’ information. Was this what took so long? Did she print this up especially for him? And why did she keep insisting stress was the problem? Now irritated for an entirely different reason, he left the office as quickly as he could.
When Dean got home, Castiel told him what happened.
“It just frustrates me how she kept blowing me off.”
Castiel watched his husband as he formed the patties for their burgers. The kids were in the living room playing. “Yea that’s weird. You get a little obsessive when you’re worried, but you don’t really let things bottle up.”
“No, I leave that for you.”
Dean smirked. “Yea, yea. Shuddup. Any chance she’s right?”
“No. These last few months have been wonderful. If there was ever a time to get stressed, it was before the adoption. That process was not fun, but I handled that just fine. I feel like she said that just so she didn’t have to admit she had no idea what was wrong.”
“Hmm. You could always ask Charlie about it.”
“Good idea. I’ll ask her after our session tomorrow.”
Dean leaned over to kiss him. “I’m sure everything will be fine babe. Did you call those specialists?”
“Yes. The cardiologist couldn’t see me until next month but the neurologist has a spot open next week. I’m glad it’s during lunch. Adler was irritated enough I had to leave early for the appointment today.”
“Bal still helping you out?”
Castiel grimaced. “He is. I hate putting him out like this.”
“Cas, for all his crap, he cares about you. He’s a good friend and would probably get upset if you didn’t ask him. Right?”
“Get him a thank you gift if you’re that worried about it.”
“It’s what I do babe,” Dean said with a cheeky grin. “I’m gonna go throw these on the grill.”
Just after Dean left the room, Patience came in. “Hey baby. Want to help me set the table?”
Castiel smiled as he watched his daughter concentrate on the placement of the napkins.
Max sat in the corner of the room playing with legos. Castiel and Charlie sat watching him on the couch; he’d just finished telling her about his doctor’s appointment. Castiel spoke lowly. “It was weird how she kept insisting I need to take something for anxiety. Could she be right? Could I be stressed and not know it?”
“It’s possible, but I doubt it. Most people who deny being stressed do so because they don’t want to acknowledge that they’re not in control. I’ve gotten to know you over the past few months and your behavior doesn’t match that of someone in denial. You face every issue with Max head on and have voiced it when you’re concerned. I think you’d admit it if you were feeling stressed.”
Charlie leaned closer. “Let me tell you something. I’ve seen this a lot and so have my colleagues. Some doctors don’t like mysteries. They want to be right and if the patient’s illness is too vague or unclear, they jump to a logical and easy conclusion. There’s a saying, ‘When you hear hoofbeats, don’t think zebras’. It means that the most logical conclusion is usually the right one, but some doctors take it too far. They assume everyone is ok or has something simple and they dismiss the idea of zebras entirely.”
“Look Castiel, I’m not saying to ignore the advice of your doctor. I’m saying that sometimes you need to be your own advocate. Go to the specialists and see what they say. If you think stress may be the problem, talk to a mental health professional. General practitioners only have a surface knowledge of mental disorders. If you like, I could suggest a few people.”
“Thanks, Charlie. I’ll think about it.”
“Anytime, Cas. Let me know if you need anything and I’ll see you guys next week.”
Castiel’s visit with the neurologist was terrible. He waited for two hours and had to call work to let them know. Mr. Adler was not happy and Balthazar texted him soon after that Raphael had overheard and was strutting around the office like the cat that got the canary.
When he was finally called back, he barely got his story through to the distracted doctor before the man started doing the same neurological exam his primary had done. He asked questions that Castiel had already voiced the answers to, which proved he hadn’t been listening in the first place. He was told to return in a few days for some tests and sent on his way. The whole meeting took less than ten minutes.
The test turned out to be an EEG to check for seizures. Other than the one he had when he fell ill several months ago, Castiel had never had seizures before. The tech explained that some people could have seizure activity in the brain without the stereotypical body convulsions everyone related to seizures. While interesting to learn, that was not the problem as his EEG was normal. He was sent on his way with a clean bill of health.
For the next month, the spells kept happening. His cardiologist was more attentive than his neurologist had been. She examined his heart, did stress testing, a tilt table test, and had him wear a heart rate and blood pressure monitor for twenty-four hours. She declared him free of any heart issues. Based on his symptoms, she suggested he find another neurologist for more extensive testing and an ENT. He followed her advice, but it was another two month wait for the new neurologist and several more weeks for the ENT. For now, he just had to live with it.
Castiel was getting fed up. He started to avoid leaving the house for fear he’d get dizzy in public, which he noticed was happening more frequently. Meanwhile, there was an almost constant ringing in his ears and they felt full, like he had a head cold. Dean was nothing but supportive. He kept encouraging Cas to do things and accompanied him if he was feeling anxious.
The children definitely knew something was going on now. Max still became a little afraid if Cas got wobbly but Patience and Alicia started to accept it was normal. “Papa’s just dizzy” became a common phrase and it broke his heart the day that Patience brought him a glass of water and told him not to worry; she would look after the twins until he was better.
Dean found him crying in their bedroom. His husband pulled him into his chest and kissed the top of his head. “What’s wrong, Cas?”
Castiel told him what happened. “She shouldn’t have to think like that Dean. She’s only five. She shouldn’t be responsible for the twins. That’s supposed to be my job and I can’t do it.” He shuddered and sobbed louder.
“Shh. It’s ok. First of all, she’s the oldest. She’s going to think like that anyway, especially after what they went through. Second, it doesn’t make you a bad father to accept help if she wants to give it.”
“Dean, I know what your father did to you. It’s too much to put on a child.”
“This is nowhere near the same thing, babe. My dad would disappear and we had nobody else. You’re still here even if you’re not feeling well. Don’t forget that I’m here too and we have siblings, grandparents, cousins, and friends we can always call on. Patience helping out does not mean she’s raising Alicia and Max.”
“I know, but-”
“No babe. Listen to me. I know how much you love our kids. You’re doing the best you can and you’re an amazing father. You’re not neglecting them. They love you and they worry about you and want to help. I know all this has been frustrating and scary. You’re not failing and you’re never gonna be alone and neither will they. We’re gonna figure this out. Ok?”
Castiel sniffled and sat up. Dean wiped his cheeks and kissed him softly. “Ok. Thank you, Dean.”
“Anytime, babe. I love you.”
“Love you too.”
Medical gaslighting is a common occurrence. It happens when health-care professionals downplay or blow off symptoms you know you're feeling, refuse to order appropriate tests, or try to convince you that your issues are caused by something else.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
Patience’s birthday was the day before Thanksgiving. Everyone agreed when Castiel and Dean announced that they would be holding a separate party on Saturday instead of at Thanksgiving dinner. Castiel’s birthday was three days before Christmas and he hated it as a child when family members tried to skimp and get him one gift for both days. His parents and Gabriel never did. They always made sure to celebrate each separately and Castiel was determined to do the same for Patience.
Thanksgiving was an intimate affair. The kids weren’t entirely sure what was going on, even though their fathers had tried to explain, but they understood food and were excited. Dean made four pies with Patience’s help. Though, the little girl needed to have her hair shampooed twice by the time they finished. Ellen, Bobby, Sam, and Gabriel joined them for dinner and the girls decided that it would be an excellent idea to give their uncles a makeover after the last plate was cleared. Everyone had a laugh at Sam and Gabriel’s expense and more than a few photos were taken (“Christmas card material, Sammy!”). All in all, their first Thanksgiving together was a success.
Gabriel and Sam spent the night so they could wake up early and accompany Castiel for some Black Friday sales. With three children to shop for, Castiel needed all the deals he could find. Bleary-eyed and with travel mugs of coffee in hand, the three men hit half a dozen stores before nine o’clock rolled around. There was a twenty-minute delay in Walmart when Castiel had an attack, but Gabriel sat with him while Sam stood guard. Thankfully, most people were too focused on their shopping to notice and the few that did were scared away by Sam’s scowl.
Even with that incident, Castiel was pleased with his haul. He got gifts for their friends and extended family, some things for Dean, and of course plenty for the children. He would leave the rest of their gifts to Dean. His husband preferred shopping online over fighting crowds and loved cyber Monday. Castiel just hoped he could control himself. The wishlist Dean had started before they’d even left for Brazil was constantly growing.
In contrast to their Thanksgiving, Patience’s party was chaotic. Since Patience wasn’t in school yet (they’d made the decision to homeschool until her English was better) there weren’t many children to invite. She didn’t have many friends in her ballet class (even though her English was much better, most children were confused by the accent and random language changes) but she had some. Although with the holiday, only two of them, Claire and Kevin, were able to come. There was also a four-year-old boy who lived next door who showed up.
Jack was a quiet child and he got along well with Max. His mother Kelly had moved them in with her parents a few months ago. Her parents were older and Castiel and Dean had started helping them out several years back. They took turns cutting the grass or shoveling snow if needed. They’d gotten to know the couple pretty well and that came to include Kelly and Jack. Castiel wasn’t sure, but he suspected she came from a bad relationship. She didn’t talk much and acted nervous around him and Dean the first few times they met. She’d warmed up some but still tended to shrink in on herself if she was alone with either of them. Since Jo or Ellen were there every day, she’d gotten closer to them as well and it was plain to see how much more confident she felt around the other women.
Naturally, most of their family and friends came to celebrate Patience’s first birthday as part of the family. Gabriel brought another monstrously-sized cake while Benny volunteered for grill duty again with Jesse’s help. Garth showed up with another bunch of balloons and his sock puppet, Mr. Fizzles. The puppet critiqued the elaborate pictures Cesar was drawing on the patio in chalk while the children watched on; laughing whenever Cesar snapped at Mr. Fizzles. Jo was simultaneously flirting with and scaring Alfie with info from her criminal justice classes. Sam and Andrea sat near the firepit, deep in conversation. Apparently, someone tried to pass off a pet as a service dog and there was damage in one of the rooms of the hotel she managed. The woman was threatening to sue since the hotel demanded she pay for the repairs and Sam was throwing in his legal opinion. Meg was chatting with Balthazar and Castiel noticed her checking out his brother more than once while he bent over the table arranging the deserts. He wished those two would stop dancing around each other. Claire and Kevin’s parents were chatting with Ellen and Kelly while Bobby was stuck between Hannah and Anna. Bobby had let it slip how much he cared for Tori Spelling and now there was no escape as his cousins were also fans. Castiel smiled as he watched everyone’s interactions. He was used to their familiar gatherings and thrilled that their children fit into them so seamlessly.
Food consumed and candles on the cake blown out, it was time for presents. Of course, everyone got Patience way too many gifts and Castiel was worried this trend would continue. A little spoiling was good, but he didn’t want his children to turn greedy. He’d have to try to reign them in. But after seeing how happy Patience was, he figured that chat could wait until after Christmas. A quick glance at the twins and the small toys Ellen had included for them made him consider waiting until after their birthday. Family was supposed to spoil the kids a little, right?
About half way through the mountain of gifts, Castiel ducked inside for another trash bag. Just as he turned to head back outside, a wave of dizziness slammed into him and before he realized what had happened, he found himself on the floor next to the counter staring up at the ceiling. Then the nausea hit and he turned just in time to vomit on the tile. He felt fuzzy and confused and as he stared at the mess on the floor trying to figure out what happened, he felt something drip off his forehead. He reached up to wipe the moisture away and his hand came back covered in blood. Why was there blood? How did he get on the floor? Castiel tried to sit up, but quickly slumped back against the cabinets. He felt so weak and uncoordinated. The room was still spinning and his limbs didn’t want to work properly.
“Clarence, where-” Castiel slowly moved his eyes up to the face of his friend. Meg stood in the doorway with a look of horror on her face. Castiel groaned and closed his eyes. The light coming in from behind her was too bright. “Oh my God! What- holy crap. Are you ok?”
Castiel heard the water running and felt a wet cloth press to his head. “M’ fine Meg. Gotta clean this mess up. Don’t wanna scare the kids.” He tried to move, but the smaller woman pressed firmly down on his shoulder.
“No you don’t. What happened?”
“Don’t know. Got dizzy.”
“Shit. Did you throw up before or after you hit your head?”
“Uhh… After I think.”
“That’s not good Cas. You could have a concussion.”
“You called me Cas.”
“Don’t get used to it. It’s just ‘cause you’re hurt. Now, I’m going to get Dean. Hold this rag and don’t. move. Understand?”
“Ok.” He grabbed the cloth and felt Meg stand. “Wait! Don’t scare the kids. Please.”
“I won’t. It’ll be ok, Clarence.”
After a few minutes, he heard Dean’s voice. “Jesus, babe. What happened?”
Castiel slowly opened his eyes. Dean was crouched next to him while Meg and Gabriel stood nearby. “Got dizzy. Fell, I think.”
“Lemme see.” His husband gently pulled the rag away and hissed. “Crap, Cas. That’s gonna need stitches and you need to get checked out. Vomiting after a head injury means you may have a concussion.”
“But the party-”
“Don’t worry. It’s almost over anyway and there’s enough people here to stay with the kids.”
“But it’s her first birthday with us…”
“I know babe, but we want plenty more with you, so let’s get you fixed up ok?”
“Ok.” Castiel knew that Dean made sense but it wasn’t really sinking in. He had to stay for the party. His little girl turned six. Her last birthday was spent at the group home. They needed this one to be special…
At some point, Dean must have left because Meg was suddenly at his side replacing the blood-soaked cloth. His brother had on rubber gloves and was cleaning up the mess on the floor with a pinched expression. “Where’s Dean?”
“He went to talk to the kids and get someone to stay with them. How’re you holding up Clarence?”
“Feel weird. Wanna sleep.”
Gabriel looked up. “Oh, no you don’t Cassie. Stay awake for me bro. You owe me after cleaning this up.”
“Sorry, Gabe. I didn’t mean to.”
Gabriel looked up and gave him a pitying look. “I know, Cas. I was just teasing.”
“Stop it. You’re mean.” Castiel pouted.
“That’s what big brothers are for.” Gabriel gave the floor one last pass with the cleaner and stood to take the bag outside.
Dean returned with Sam and the two of them helped Cas out to the car and loaded him in the back. Gabriel joined them with a pair of Cas’s shoes, a bucket, and extra rags for Castiel’s head and climbed in the back with his brother before they left for the ER.
They didn’t have to wait long before Castiel was pulled back to an exam room. Castiel’s doctor (a beautiful woman of Indian descent) insisted they call her by her first name, Kali. Castiel told her what he could remember and Dean filled her in on what had been going on for the last few months and what his other doctors had said. She listened while she stitched up the gash on Castiel’s head. Dean held his hand but stared intently at the wall. His husband had an extreme fear of needles but he refused to leave, even though he was pale and sweating. Gabriel tried to act serious but couldn’t seem to help cracking inappropriate jokes and flirting shamelessly with Dr. Kali. Dean and Castiel glared but the doctor found him hilarious and it only encouraged him to keep going.
Finished with the bandages, the doctor pulled her gloves off. “Well Castiel, you do appear to be exhibiting signs of a concussion. But at the moment, I’m more concerned with your other symptoms. What you’re describing could be a lot of things, MS, migraines, a tumor, Meniere’s disease. While you’re here, I’d like to get an MRI. We can get a better look at your head injury and see if there’s something neurological that’s causing this vertigo. Is that ok?”
“A tumor… I could have a tumor?”
“It’s possible. Don’t panic. Contrary to popular belief, most growths are benign but can still cause issues depending on where they are. Do you want the MRI?”
“If you think you can help me with these attacks, I’m all for it.”
“Alright. Someone will come by to get you soon.” With one last look at Gabriel, Dr. Kali left the room.
He smirked and turned to Castiel as the door closed. “Ok bro, sounds like you’re gonna be here for a while. I’m going to head back to your place and help with the cleanup.”
“You don’t have to do that…”
“Can it, Cassie. Dean-o, call me if you hear anything.”
Gabriel bounced out of the room, pulling a sucker out of his pocket as he did so. The second the door closed, Castiel slumped back. “I love my brother, but sometimes he’s exhausting.”
Dean chuckled. “That’s one way of putting it.” His expression sobered and he ran his thumb on the back of the hand he still held. “How you doin’, Cas?”
“Ok.” Dean raised his eyebrows. Castiel huffed out a breath. “I’m nervous. What if there’s something really wrong with me?”
“I doubt that Cas. You’re not sick all the time. If it was serious, I think it would be affecting you in other ways.”
“Dean, people discover late stage cancer all the time-”
“True, but she didn’t say anything about cancer.”
“She said tumor, Dean!” Castiel yanked his hand away and covered his eyes.
“Cas, look at me.” Castiel peeked through his fingers. “Even if it is the worst case, it’s better to know. And they come out with new treatments for cancer all the time. It’s not a death sentence anymore. Now, you’re getting all worked up without knowing anything. Let’s just get the test and go from there.”
Castiel deflated a little. “Ok.”
Dean’s phone chimed and he pulled it out before snorting. “Oh my God.” He typed out a response and put the phone back in his pocket. “Gabe said your doctor slipped him her number on his way out.”
“That doesn’t seem terribly professional. He wouldn’t call her, would he?”
“I gave up trying to figure out your brother.”
“Meg would be so upset.”
Dean’s eyes widened. “Meg likes Gabe?”
“You couldn’t tell?”
“I know they flirt, but I thought it was always one sided and she was just humoring him.”
“I don’t think so. She mentions him at work sometimes. Bal has a good time teasing her about it.”
“Well damn. Huh… not sure if the world is ready for that pairing.”
“Agreed. I-” Castiel was interrupted by a knock at the door before a nurse poked her head in.
“Mr. Winchester? I’m Tara and I’ll be taking you down for your MRI.”
The test was loud and made his already sore head hurt even more despite the provided earplugs. Tara brought him back to his room where Dean sat playing on his phone. “Ok, Mr. Winchester, your doctor will be back after she gets the results from our neurologist. It’s late, so it may take a while for the doctor on call to get to them.”
They’d already been there for several hours and with the news that it would be longer, Castiel desperately wanted a nap. However, he couldn’t sleep with his concussion so Dean crawled into bed with him and they talked.
Two hours later and Dr. Kali returned with another woman holding a file. “Castiel, this is Dr. Barnes. She’s the neurologist who looked over your MRI.”
Dr. Barnes had tanned skin, curly dark hair, and a friendly smile. “Hello Castiel.” She opened the file and looked over her notes. “Well, I have good news. There was no evidence of structural abnormalities, tumors, or lesions. That excludes a lot of things that could cause the symptoms you’re describing. Would you mind going over everything again with me?”
Castiel went back over the last two months. He showed her the notes he’d started taking and told her which doctors he’d already been to and the tests they did. He was getting tired of telling this same story over and over again.
“Sounds like you’ve been through a lot. I’d like to do a quick exam and check on that concussion, but then you’re free to go. I would like you to make an appointment with my office when you’re feeling better. It doesn’t sound like your previous neurologist was very thorough, but I can’t do a more detailed exam while you’re concussed.”
After a quick check and instructions on concussion aftercare, Dr. Barnes gave them her information with a reminder to follow up. Dr. Kali gave him his discharge papers while Dean called Gabriel to pick them up.
Gabriel was more subdued than usual but Castiel chalked it up to the day’s events. When they got home, Sam was asleep on the couch but Ellen was acting odd as well. The older woman would barely meet his eyes while she provided a brief run through of what the kids had done before going to sleep. She seemed to be in a hurry to leave, but promised to return the next day to help with the kids while Castiel recovered. Dean walked her out while Castiel changed into pajamas. The doctor said he could sleep, but had to be woken every two hours which was why Sam was staying.
Castiel brushed his teeth,crawled into bed, and was dozing off by the time Dean came back. Cas could tell he was pissed. To anyone else, he may have looked normal, but Castiel could feel the waves of anger rolling off his husband. “Is everything ok?”
Dean looked startled to have been caught even though he should know better by now. “Yea. Just tired.” Castiel narrowed his eyes and arched a brow. “Shit. Ok, I’m a little upset but I don’t want to talk about it now. We’re both tired and we need to sleep.”
“I promise it’s nothing serious and has absolutely nothing to do with the two of us, ok?”
Castiel studied his husband’s face. Dean never kept secrets if he could help it and he must have had a good reason to now. “Ok, but we’re talking about this tomorrow.”
Dean slumped in relief. “Absolutely. Thanks, Cas.”
Aside from being woken up throughout the night, Castiel slept pretty well. Around mid-morning, Dean let Patience, Alicia, and Max into the room and they did another puppy pile around their Papa. When Ellen came to grab the kids for lunch, Castiel called Dean back before he could escape along with them.
“Ok, spill. What’s going on?”
Dean stared at the floor and rubbed the back of his neck. “Something kinda happened after we left yesterday…”
Castiel’s eyes widened. “The kids?”
“No! No Cas, they’re ok. Uh- well…” Dean floundered but Castiel just waited patiently. His husband dropped his face into his hands and shook his head. He took a fortifying breath and sat up. “So, after we left, Hannah started complaining to Anna about how you’re always getting sick and that you’re just doing it for attention.”
Castiel’s blood ran cold and an ugly feeling he couldn’t identify settled in the pit of his stomach. “She said that?” he choked out.
“Yea. Anna disagreed with her though and they started bickering and then…”
“Alfie stepped in. Said he agreed with Hannah. And then Jo started in on him and Ellen came in too. Sam said they got pretty loud. Jo was about to punch your cousins and Meg wasn’t far behind.”
“I can’t- why would they- how could they think that? They didn’t shout in front of the kids, did they?”
“Cesar, Andrea, and the other parents shooed them into the house. Sam and Benny got everyone settled down.”
“Oh good. Anything else?”
“Well, the other kids left after that and so did Hannah. Jo had to bring Anna home since Hannah ditched her. Garth, Jesse, and Cesar left too. Benny and Andrea stuck around to clean the grill and get the food put away. Gabriel came back after they left and Alfie was still here since they came together. I think Meg told him what happened and Gabe kinda lost it. He tried to punch Alfie and Sam pulled him back. Then he used some colorful language and fired him.”
“He fired Alfie?” Castiel couldn’t believe it. Gabriel cared deeply for Alfie and had been thrilled when their younger cousin had asked to work with him.
“Yep. He had to call a cab too because nobody would give him a ride.”
Castiel sat stunned. He would have never guessed his cousins would turn on him like this. He wasn’t as close to Hannah as he used to be, but they had always gotten along. And Alfie? They were very close. They saw each other all the time and talked frequently. He was upset enough that his doctors weren’t taking him seriously, but his own family? If someone as close as Alfie could think that, what about everyone else? Who would turn on him next? Meg? Ellen? Sam? …Dean?
What if he never got better? Would Dean leave him? He wasn’t even thirty yet. Dean was too young to be saddled with a sick husband. What about his kids? They’d already lost two parents; they didn’t deserve another sick one. Maybe they were right. His doctor suggested it was all in his head. What if he was just crazy? He should probably-
“Cas!” his husband’s voice broke through his mental spiral.
“I said your name like three times. Where did you go?”
“What if they’re right? What if my doctor was right? Maybe it’s all in my head. Or what if I’ve got some horrible disease and I die and leave you all alone? Or what if I’m like this forever and you get sick of me?!”
Dean stared at him in shock. “Babe, stop. Your cousins are assholes and so is your doctor. Charlie said she didn’t believe that right?”
“And last night, they didn’t find signs of anything serious right?”
“I know, but what if-”
“Stop, Cas! You’re getting all worked out over maybes and what ifs. This may be nothing or it may be something, but no matter what, I’m not going anywhere. I love you more than anything and I never want to be without you.” Dean gave him a sad smile and cupped his cheek. “Are you hearing me sweetheart?”
Castiel nodded as tears formed in his eyes. He collapsed into his husband’s chest and cried. “I’m sorry. I’m just so sick of feeling like this. And now Alfie and Hannah… How many more people am I going to have to fight?”
Dean rubbed Castiel’s back and made gentle shushing noises. “I know babe. You have nothing to be sorry for. And I’m going to be with you every step of the way. If you want me to start coming to appointments with you, I will. Anything you need, Cas, ok?”
Castiel nodded with his face still buried in his husband’s shirt. “Ok.”
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
More gaslighting at the beginning of chapter.
The next week, Castiel had his appointment with the ENT. The older man came in and didn’t even introduce himself. He was dismissive and only asked a few questions.
“Well, son. I don’t know how much I can help you. There are only a few things that I can treat that cause those symptoms. But I don’t suspect any of them. The spells aren’t caused by position changes, so you don’t have BPPV. You’re not vomiting during spells and there’s no hearing loss so that leaves out Meniere’s disease. An MRI would have shown a defect in your ears.”
“My other doctors told me to see you. What about the ringing I’m having?”
“Tinnitus has many causes.”
“So, you can’t do anything?”
“I can do a hearing test. Would that make you feel better?”
Castiel blinked. Why was this guy being so rude? “Um, I don’t know. Would that help diagnose anything?”
“Maybe.” He sighed and stood. “Someone will come get you.”
After the door closed, Castiel huffed. What the hell? Why were so many of his doctors treating him this way? He should have accepted Dean’s offer to come with him. He pulled out his phone and texted the other man a brief explanation of what was going on. As he was reading his husband’s incensed reply, the nurse came in to take him back for his hearing test.
The audiologist was just as rude as the doctor and he almost felt like he was inconveniencing her just by being there. She went through the instructions for the test, telling him to press a button whenever he heard a beep. The low tone in his ears that was now always present only became more noticeable as the noise cancelling headphones were put on. Sometimes he couldn’t tell if he actually heard anything or if it was just the ringing. The doctor snapped at him a few times to remember to press the button and by the time he left the booth, he somehow felt like he had failed, which was an odd reaction to have for a medical test.
His other doctor came back to tell him his results. He said he had mild hearing loss in the low tones which was unusual because hearing loss starts with the high tones first. He also said his wife (who was apparently the audiologist) reported that he seemed to be missing things on purpose. He scolded him for trying to fake a hearing loss, told him to stop being so dramatic, and said he should probably see a psychiatrist. Castiel left the office mortified and cried for twenty minutes in his car.
He should have brought Dean with him. As soon as he thought that, he got angry. He was a grown man. He shouldn’t have to take a chaperone to the doctor’s office with him. Fuming, he pulled out his phone and wrote a scathing Google review of the clinic. Feeling mildly better, he vowed to never let someone speak to him that way again and went back to work.
An hour after getting back to his office, Mr. Adler called him in for a meeting. Castiel walked into the office to see Raphael sitting there as well. The man had a slimy grin on his face that immediately set Castiel on edge. Mr. Adler just looked annoyed, but that was his default so Castiel wasn’t sure what to think.
“Ah, Castiel. Sit.”
He sat next to Raphael and looked between the two men expectantly.
“Do you have any idea why I called you in here?”
The older man handed him some papers and Castiel looked them over. “Do you recognize these?”
“Yes. I filled these out for one of our accounts last week.”
“Go ahead and check those numbers for me.”
Castiel frowned and read over the form. He sucked in a breath as he caught the mistake. An errant decimal point had lowered the total of one of their accounts by almost thirty-two million dollars. “I am so sorry sir. These aren’t due just yet. I’ll go over everything again to confirm this is the only error.”
“Castiel, you had marked this form as completed. Whether it was due or not, you’d already given it a final check and deemed it correct. If Raphael hadn’t looked at these, this would have been a very serious problem.”
“Mr. Adler, I’ve never made a mistake like this before and it will never happen again.”
“I know. I’m sorry Castiel, but it’s not just this. You’ve been missing a lot of work lately and Raphael and some other colleagues have noticed you’ve been increasingly distracted ever since you came back from Brazil. And now with this error… I’m afraid we can’t ignore something like this.”
“We’re going to have to let you go. Of course, you’ll be getting a severance package. Please make sure to wrap up any assignments you have by the end of today for Raphael and Balthazar to take over.” Mr. Adler stood and held out his hand. “Best of luck to you.”
Castiel rose and shook it numbly. He turned and left the office on autopilot. Before he reached the end of the hall, Raphael caught up to him. “Castiel. I hope there are no hard feelings. I was just looking out for the best of the company.”
“My, my Castiel. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth? Oh I forgot, she’s dead. She probably wouldn’t want you to anyway since you spend all your free time sucking c—”
Raphael didn’t finish his sentence. A fist came flying out from the doorway of the office they’d stopped in front of and slammed into the other man’s jaw. He hit the floor like a sack of bricks and groaned. Balthazar stepped out rubbing his knuckles.
“Bal! The hell did you do?!”
“I shut him up. Come on, let’s go talk.”
Balthazar simply stepped over the dazed man on the floor and dragged Castiel to his office. The door closed and Castiel dropped into his chair and thunked his head against the desk. Balthazar poked him in the head. “Spill.”
“I got fired.”
“I made a pretty serious error in some paperwork. Raphael caught it and brought it to Adler. Him and some others have also been telling him that I’ve been slacking off for months.”
Balthazar scoffed. “Probably some of those little followers of his from advertising.”
“What am I gonna do, Bal?”
“We are going to go drink. Let’s grab Meg too. She’ll kill us if we go without her.”
“You two have work.”
“Pretty sure I just quit, Cassie.”
“Please don’t do that for me.”
Balthazar leaned forward and covered one of Castiel’s hands with his own. “Don’t you worry that pretty little head. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. You know your friend Benny?”
“Well, we got to talking about that restaurant he’s been saving up to open. He wants to get started but he’s not comfortable with the business aspect and he’s been looking for a partner.”
“You’re going to run a restaurant with Benny?”
“That was the plan. Cajun and French cuisine. I used to dream of opening a club, but a restaurant and bar is close enough. Don’t fret my dear.”
“One question.” Castiel put on his most serious expression.
“Will I get discounted meals there since I’m unemployed now?”
Balthazar threw his head back and laughed. “Anything for you, my friend. Now, let’s go day drinking!”
After they snuck past security while Meg provided a distraction, they hit up one of their favorite bars and had a few too many margaritas. None of them were in any condition to drive and were discussing calling a cab when Gabriel pulled up. The two men looked at Meg who shrugged innocently before getting in the front seat and scooting a little too close to Castiel’s brother. Gabriel was pleasantly surprised and was too distracted by Meg’s low cut top to bother asking why they were smashed at three o’clock on a Tuesday.
Balthazar was dropped off first and then Castiel. Meg insisted on him being next even though she lived closer to Balthazar’s place than his. As Castiel stumbled out of the car, she whispered something in Gabriel’s ear which made the older man blush. Castiel was so shocked by the sight that he stood frozen as Gabriel said a quick goodbye before speeding away. Shaking himself out of his stupor, he walked up to his door and struggled with his keys before Ellen pulled the door open.
“Cas? What’re you doing here so early?”
Ellen pushed him out on the porch and shut the door behind her. “Boy, are you drunk? Did you drive here?!”
Castiel grunted. “Yes I am and no I didn’t. Gabe brought me. Now, let me in.”
“No. What happened?”
“Made a mistake on some forms. Could have cost millions. Been sick a lot too.”
Ellen made a sympathetic noise and pulled him into a hug. “I’m sorry, honey.” She pulled back. “It’ll be alright. I never liked you workin’ there anyway. It didn’t make you happy.”
“Did you tell Dean?”
“No. Was going to tell him when he got home.”
“Alright. Well I don’t want the kids seeing you like this. Go straight up and get in bed. I’ll bring you some water.”
She gave him a crooked smile and squeezed his shoulder. Castiel followed her into the house and headed to his room. He could hear the children playing in the twins’ room and grimaced. He shouldn’t have come home like this. What was he thinking?
Castiel kicked off his shoes and lay on his back in the middle of the bed. He stared at the ceiling as he felt the familiar spinning sensation. Whether that was from the alcohol or whatever mystery illness he had, he wasn’t sure. He fought the urge to cry. This thing, whatever it was, was ruining his life. He never would have made that kind of mistake before. He swore he had double checked that paperwork, but he may have been mistaken. That was happening a lot lately. Little things slipping his mind; falling through the cracks. He had chalked it up to new parent brain or distraction from the frustration of this illness. But what if it was a symptom? Didn’t dementia start this way? Wasn’t he too young for dementia?
Ellen came in with aspirin and water. He thanked her and took the pills before putting his head back on the pillow. This was ridiculous. He didn’t have dementia. Remembering his husband’s advice to not panic until he knew anything for sure, Castiel did his best to relax and try to sleep. He and Dean were going to have a long talk when he got home.
The five days since Castiel lost his job were interesting. Dean was distraught over Castiel’s job but more at the situation than the fact that they were down to one income. Bobby’s garage was doing well and now that all the adoption fees were settled and their mortgage had already been paid off, they only had utilities and groceries as regular expenses.
However, Dean was furious over the treatment Castiel had received at the ENT’s office. He had even called Sam to see if he could sue them but Castiel finally convinced him it wasn’t worth it.
Meg had saved both his and Balthazar’s belongings from Sandover and gleefully reported that Raphael was not pleased over having to take over for both of them. In just a few days, the man had completely lost his composure and was snapping at everyone. He also still had a wonderful bruise that was taking its time healing up.
While Meg was very chatty about all things work, she refused to give an explanation for her behavior with Gabriel. She simply stated that he had dropped her off and that was all, but quickly changed the subject whenever it came up. Gabriel was oddly tight-lipped about the incident as well.
Since Castiel was all healed up from his concussion, he went to his appointment with Dr. Barnes. Dean insisted on accompanying him this time and Castiel didn’t argue. He didn’t think Dr. Barnes would treat him poorly, but he was tired of being bullied.
The woman was just as cheerful as he remembered. She performed a few more balance and nerve tests that the other doctors hadn’t and spent a good thirty minutes going over his medical history and his new symptoms. When he told her what happened at the ENT, she was shocked but also… pleased?
“Wait, he said you had hearing loss in the low tones?”
“Yes. It was mild and the higher tones were better.”
“And he told you that those higher ones always go first?”
She chuckled and shook her head. “Castiel that sounds like Meniere’s disease. That even explains your drop attack a few weeks ago.”
“A sudden fall to the ground. It can happen with Meniere’s patients.”
Dean spoke up. “I think I read about Men- Menye- that one when Cas first got sick. It said the vertigo is usually pretty violent with throwing up and stuff.”
“Men-yeah-erz. And it usually does present that way, but sometimes it can creep up slower and the symptoms are more subtle. It seems to happen that way more often with younger people.”
Meniere’s disease. There was finally a name for what he had. He wasn’t crazy. He was so flooded with relief he nearly forgot the most important question. “Is there a cure?”
Dr. Barnes turned pitying eyes on him. “I’m afraid not. Some people go into remission and it never comes back, but it probably wasn’t true Meniere’s in that case. It can come and go for a few years but is eventually permanent. The vertigo spells usually become less severe.”
Castiel shoulders slumped. Dean took over. “What causes this?”
“Keep in mind this isn’t my area of expertise, but from my understanding it’s caused by fluid retention in a sac in the cochlea. This sac plays an integral role in balance and when it’s damaged it throws your balance off.”
“How can that get damaged?”
“Injury, infection, illness, pregnancy. Sometimes nothing.”
“Castiel got West Nile a few months ago. Caused encephalitis.”
Her eyes widened. “That’s rare. And a definite possibility. Like I said, this isn’t my specialty.” She pulled out a card from her desk and handed it over. “This is a friend of mine. He’s a neurotologist. His specialty is working with neurological disorders of the inner ear and he would definitely have more answers for you.”
Castiel studied the card. When he saw the clinic logo, anger flared in his gut. “You’re joking. This is the same ENT I saw before.”
Pamela furrowed her brows before understanding lit her eyes. “Was he older? Grey hair? Walked with a limp?”
“Yea, this is his son. He’s nothing like his dad. He joined the practice after med school and was supposed to get it when his father retired. The man refuses to quit and lost his bedside manner years ago. They usually schedule him for simple stuff now. Did you ask for that particular doctor by name?”
“I think so. Whoever was on the card I got.”
“If you had told them your symptoms, they would not have scheduled you with him. Ask for his son next time. I promise, he’s completely different.”
Castiel pocketed the card. “Ok, I’ll give it a shot.”
“Just to cover all our bases, I’d like you to try this migraine medication for the next two months. Sometimes, you can have a migraine without the pain, but still have the other symptoms. I don’t think that’s what wrong since the symptoms you have fit migraines less than Meniere’s, but you may have an atypical presentation. Is that ok?”
He was almost afraid to ask, “Um, will this impair me in any way?”
“There may be mild side effects like any medication, but none that should make you drowsy or anything. If you do notice any odd side effects, call the office and we’ll try and find you something else.”
Well that was simple. Why did so many other doctors have trouble with this? “Alright.”
“Good. Now, barring any problems with your meds, I would like to see you for a follow-up in two months, ok?”
She wrote out a prescription and stood to shake his hand. “It was nice seeing you Castiel. I hope Dr. Adamson can give you some answers.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much.”
She smiled warmly before shaking Dean’s hand and leaving the room.
Castiel didn’t move. He just sat there, staring at the wall. All these months and he finally had an answer. He was relieved but also upset. This didn’t sound like it would kill him, but there was also no fixing it. He didn’t want to be like this forever. His lip trembled and he felt Dean’s hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, it’s ok babe. We have an answer now right? You’re going to be ok.”
“But there’s no cure. I’m always going to be like this.” Castiel angrily swiped at the tear that escaped down his cheek. “And I’m so fucking sick of crying!”
“I know Cas, but I think you have the right to under the circumstances. She said some people go into remission and she admitted that she wasn’t sure since this is not her area. Let’s see what this new doc says. One step at a time, right?”
“I know. Ugh, when did I turn into such a waterpot?” He sniffled and Dean handed him a tissue.
“Well, I still think you’re manly and sexy as hell.”
Castiel turned exasperated eyes on him. He could feel how puffy his face was but Dean just waggled his eyebrows. That startled a chuckle out of him and he couldn’t stay upset in the face of Dean’s antics. “You’re ridiculous.”
“Only for you babe.”
Castiel tried to look intimidating, but wasn’t sure if he pulled it off. He dropped his voice, “I should teach you a lesson.”
Dean’s eyes darkened. “Mmm, yes please. But let’s get outta here first. Really don’t wanna pop a boner in the doctor’s office.”
Castiel chuckled again and smacked Dean’s ass when he bent over to pick up their paperwork. Opening the door before his husband could retaliate, Castiel escaped the room and moved quickly down the hall. A look back showed Dean holding his jacket in front of his pants with a scowl on his face. Castiel grinned wickedly and shot him a wink.
Castiel’s birthday was lovely. Dean and the children woke him up with breakfast in bed and they spent the whole day together. They played board games, watched movies, had a snowball fight, and drank cocoa. The kids gave Castiel homemade presents and Dean got him some new headphones because he’d lost yet another pair. Ellen came by in the evening to watch the kids and Dean took Castiel out for dinner. They were able to take the Impala and Castiel relished being able to ride in her again. After they ate, they stopped at the Roadhouse for a few drinks and were met by Gabriel, Sam, and Jo. Castiel didn’t have a single attack the entire day.
Christmas Eve found everyone at Bobby and Ellen’s for their annual party. They’d agreed weeks ago that Gabriel was going to dress as Santa and the kids were very excited to hear that he was visiting them and wanted to look their best. The children each had gotten a new outfit. The girls looked adorable in their sparkly dresses and Max sported the cutest sweater vest with gingerbread men on it. After greeting all the adults, the kids disappeared into the room that had been set aside for them months ago to play with their toys.
Dean brought Castiel a spiked eggnog and they stood chatting with Jesse and Cesar when Sam walked in with a beautiful woman on his arm. Castiel nearly choked when he recognized that woman as Eileen. He nudged Dean and his husband looked shocked before a smirk settled on his face. He made his way to his brother and pulled him in for a hug. When he pulled back, he gave Eileen an obvious once-over. He signed as best he could as he spoke. “Alright Sammy! Dating the teach. If I wasn’t a married man…”
Eileen giggled and signed fluidly as she replied. “You couldn’t handle me, Dean Winchester.”
Dean laughed. “You’re probably right. So, when did this start?”
Sam blushed while Eileen tried to hold back her own laugh. “When Sam started coming in for private signing lessons.”
“Really?” He elbowed Sam, who scowled. “Thought you weren’t interested.”
Sam also lifted his hands to sign and Castiel noticed his movements were much more fluid than theirs. “If you remember, I said I didn’t want to if she was at a disadvantage when we communicated.”
Eileen was glowing and looking at Sam like he hung the moon. “He learned to sign for me so we could be on equal footing. Which is only fair, since he’s so tall.”
The whole room burst into laughter at that. Introductions were made and more guests arrived. Garth brought a lovely young woman named Bess whom he met at church. The reminder made Castiel feel guilty. With getting the children settled in and then him getting sick, he’d never gotten around to finding a church. The children might appreciate the connection to their parents. Dean and Castiel had made sure to frame several portraits of them and had them scattered throughout the house, but Castiel wanted them to have something more tangible.
Not too long after that, Gabriel walked in, followed closely by Meg. She slipped her arm through his and Gabriel looked like he would burst with happiness. Castiel caught Meg’s eye and she froze before raising her chin defiantly and leaning further into his brother. Castiel grinned and gave her a nod of approval before going back into the kitchen for more food.
The party was wonderful. The new couples were of great interest as was Benny and Balthazar’s announcement that they were opening a restaurant together. Everyone was sad to see Benny leave the Roadhouse, but excited to visit him at his new place. Gabriel disappeared at some point and came back as Santa; clumping down the stairs and ringing a large bell. The girls screeched and all three children ran into the room. Gabriel slowed his walk so he wouldn’t trip over Alicia (who clung to his leg like a monkey) and made his way to a special chair that Bobby had set up for him to sit in.
All three tried to fit onto his lap at once before Dean stepped in and made them take turns. Alicia listed about a dozen things in rapid succession and Castiel was happy they’d gotten some of the things she asked for. Max was nervous with everyone watching and shyly signed that he wanted a turtle. Castiel shot a panicked look to Dean. This was the first they’d heard of that and Castiel wondered if they should consider getting them a pet. Turtles were low maintenance after all. Patience asked for more coloring books and crayons. Gabriel promised them all that he’d do his best and then passed out little gifts from a bag and promised more would be delivered overnight. After reading The Night Before Christmas, he bid the children goodnight and went back upstairs.
Soon the party died down. There were quiet conversations and Garth sat in the corner playing gentle Christmas carols on the piano. Castiel snuggled up to Dean on the couch and dozed while his husband chatted with Benny. Their family started saying their goodbyes and the guests trickled out slowly. Max came to curl up in Dean’s lap and Ellen came in a few minutes later to show them the picture she’d taken of Alicia. The little girl was curled up in a pile of stuffed animals, fast asleep. They figured that was their cue and the tired men loaded their kids in the car and went home.
Christmas day was a lazy affair. Dean made everyone hot chocolate while the kids tore into their presents. After a quick discussion late last night, Castiel and Dean agreed to get Max his turtle. They wrote him a note from Santa saying that the turtle couldn’t fit safely with the rest of the presents and he could pick it up in a few days. Max smiled widely and jumped up and down in excitement. Castiel asked what kind of turtle he wanted and he kept signing “zoo”. They were confused until Max grabbed their Brazil album. He flipped to the back and pointed at the redfooted tortoises they’d had there. Castiel said they’d tell Santa while Dean quickly looked them up to see if they could even be kept as pets.
It turned out that they could and Dean was even able to find a local breeder who had some. Dean sent him a quick email explaining the situation and rejoined the family. The kids got a few more Disney movies so they popped one in and snuggled on the couch with fluffy blankets and popcorn.
Lunch was leftovers from the party while Castiel and Dean got dinner started. They’d splurged on a honey-baked ham and only had to make sides. Dean baked all the pieces for a giant gingerbread house for dessert. The children loved putting it together even though in the end there was more icing on them than the house.
Bobby, Ellen, Jo, Sam, and Gabriel showed up around five. They brought the kids more presents and everyone chuckled as they ripped them open. Dinner was wonderful and smashing up the gingerbread house to share for desert was the most exciting part of the meal.
After cleanup, they took out Risk. Usually, they played with teams and Gabriel was always paired with Alfie. They’d forgotten that fact for a moment and an uncomfortable silence settled over the room. Gabriel cracked a crude joke about threesomes and the tension dissipated. They shouldn’t have worried. Gabriel nearly beat them all by himself and only lost after Sam and Jo made a brilliant play. Their guests left after that and they got the kids cleaned up and into bed.
Castiel spent extra time taking his husband apart that night and later they would agree it was one of the best Christmases they’d ever had.
The next few days were spent researching tortoise care. Things were a lot more complicated than Castiel thought. You couldn’t simply put them in a tank, they needed opaque walls. They also needed more space then they’d originally thought. Plus, there was special lighting, humidity requirements, dietary needs…
The breeder had messaged Dean back. He had plenty of babies and juveniles. He recommended one that was a year old since they’d never owned one and the older ones were hardier. He had six to choose from and they could pick one up at any time. He understood he was holding them for “Santa” and didn’t seem phased by the odd request.
Dean, Benny, and Jesse put their heads together and had a “tortoise table” put together in an afternoon. It was slightly elevated off the ground and had locking wheels so they could move it to clean. It had multiple levels, a water feature, and built in lighting with timers. Dean had also added a second level for Castiel to grow veggies inside for the tortoise to eat. The corner of the living room was cleared for the new creation and it was ready to go the day before New Year’s Eve.
The girls were left with Ellen when they went to pick up the tortoise. Castiel and Dean didn’t want them running around in a stranger’s home or pressuring Max into getting the tortoise they liked. Max was bouncing in his seat as they pulled up to the house. He ran up to the door and rang the bell before Dean or Castiel could catch up. The door opened to reveal a smiling guy sporting an honest-to-God mullet. He bent down and stuck his hand out. “Hey! You must be Max!”
Their son’s momentary braveness fled and he shrank back into Castiel’s leg. “Sorry. He doesn’t talk.”
“That’s ok man. Talkin’ is overrated. Name’s Ash.” He held his hand out for the other two men to shake.
“I’m Castiel, this is Dean.”
“Nice to meetcha. Come on in.”
He showed them to a tote containing the tortoises. Max was enthralled and Castiel helped him look while Dean talked to the breeder a bit more about their setup and showed him some pictures of it on his phone.
“Dang dude. This is the Taj Mahal for torts. That looks great! Now, in about five years, he’s gonna need something bigger. I keep mine outside till it hits about 55 degrees. Then they stay in a heated shed out back.”
“Cool. Good to know.”
Max tugged on Castiel’s sleeve and pointed to one of the tortoises. Its shell looked a little odd and Castiel tried to point out a few others thinking there may be something wrong with the first one, but Max was adamant.
Castiel interrupted whatever Dean was about to say. “Excuse me, Ash. This one’s shell looks different than the others…”
“Oh yea. He’s got a split scute. It happens sometimes. It won’t affect him health wise but some people want them more for looks so I usually discount those.”
Dean crouched down next to their son. “Is that the one you want buddy?” He nodded. “Alright then, we’ll take him.”
“Great! Santa’s already paid for him, so y’all are good to go. You got a box in your car?”
Dean led him outside where Castiel suspected he was also paying the man. It was nice of him to play along. They returned shortly and Ash put their new tortoise into the box.
“Oh, is it male or female?”
“Well you can’t really tell until they’re bigger. Hit me up in a few years and I might be able to tell ya.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Y’all are very welcome.” He knelt down next to Max. “Now, Santa told me that you were a very good boy and you were gonna take very good care of that tortoise. Is that right?” Max nodded. “Good. I knew he had to have a good reason for pickin’ you. Can I have a high five?” Max shied away from the hand before reaching forward to pat it softly. “Alright! You take care now Max.”
The man waved cheerfully before ducking back into his house. Castiel placed the box on the seat next to Max and the boy stared at the little creature all the way home.
The New Year came and passed and life went on. Castiel stayed at home with the kids and put off job hunting until they had a better grasp of his health situation. He spent his days helping Patience with her schoolwork and playing with the twins. Ellen and Jo still came by nearly every day because they missed the kids after spending the last six months caring for them.
January passed in a blur and at the end of the month they celebrated Dean’s thirtieth birthday. Ellen closed down the Roadhouse for the party and Dean blushed and acted all embarrassed, but Castiel knew he secretly loved all the attention. A karaoke machine appeared at some point and the highlight of the evening was Dean and Sam singing some songs Patience had picked from the Frozen soundtrack. They didn’t even need to look at the screen to remember the lyrics.
Castiel was still getting dizzy on a regular basis. He kept taking the medication from Dr. Barnes and there was no change so he was starting to think she was right about the Meniere’s disease diagnosis. It was finally time for his appointment with the neurotologist at the beginning of February and Castiel entered the ENT’s office again, this time with Dean at his side.
When they called him back, he was taken to a different side of the clinic than the first time he came. He filled out another set of forms and settled in to wait. Amazingly, the doctor came in after only a few minutes. He was about Dean’s height with salt and pepper hair and beard. “Hello, Castiel. I’m Dr. Cain Adamson. I understand you’re having some dizzy spells. Tell me what’s going on.”
Castiel started his tale again while Dean interjected with any details he forgot. He was kind and attentive. How was this guy related to the last ENT he saw?
“Well, I think Dr. Barnes may be right. This does sound like Meniere’s disease. However, it may be a different condition called secondary hydrops.”
“Similar to Meniere’s in that it’s the same organ being affected. I’ll show you.” The doctor reached over and pulled out a small box. From it, he retrieved a slide. “Ok. This is from the inner ear—”
Dean perked up. “Like an actual ear?”
“Yes. A cadaver. Now, you see this small structure here?” He pointed to a small spiral that was only a portion of the size of his pinky nail.
“Now see this little bulge in the side here?” It was only a millimeter long, if that.
“This is the endolymphatic sac. It’s filled with fluid and a delicate balance of sodium and potassium. There’s a valve that controls how much fluid is in here. The amount changes when you move or due to environmental factors like storms or altitude changes. This sac is a huge portion of your balance control system.” He put the slide away and pulled out a book. “Now here is an enhanced image. Here is a normal sac and here is one in a patient with MD. You see? The sac is almost five times the size. Over time, the constant pressure of the sac is what causes damage to the cochlea. It can cause patients to have permanent balance issues and hearing loss. We think all this happens when that valve is damaged. Too much sodium is retained and what does sodium do?”
“Exactly. That may be the pressure you feel in your ears. Also, since this valve isn’t working right, it’s prone to fill and empty randomly and sometimes violently. It tells your brain you’re moving when you’re not; that’s what’s causing the spinning sensation. Now secondary hydrops is due to accident, injury, infection. It’s usually more subdued than primary hydrops; which is Meniere’s disease. The spells you’re describing don’t sound as violent as the ones I typically see in my MD patients. There’s a chance we can fix it or mitigate the symptoms depending on what type it is and what’s causing it.”
“Really. It won’t be easy though. We’ll need to do several tests and the differences between these disorders are subtle. Are you up for it?”
“Yes. I’ll try anything.”
“Ok then. Let’s get started.”
For the next hour, Dr. Adamson performed a large variety of tests. He checked everything. Nose and throat were normal. Heart and lungs were good too. He also checked his reflexes to confirm his nervous system was working correctly. The eye exam revealed some abnormalities. His vision didn’t track smoothly; especially when the doctor had Castiel shake his head and then try to track an item. Not only did the head shake make him wobbly and nearly fall over, the doctor noted something called nystagmus in his eyes. When he shook his head, his balance system struggled to compensate. This caused his eyes to jerk back and forth in an attempt to re-orient himself in space.
“I don’t understand. Wouldn’t that make my vision blurry?”
“They’re only slight movements and usually only happen when your balance is off or during an attack. At that point, you probably wouldn’t notice them. They’re also hard to see unless you’re looking for them. Dean, come here.”
Dean stood up and crouched down next to the doctor in front of Castiel. “Now, you see… he still has a slight tick…”
Castiel sat nervously while the two men stared at him. Dean’s eyes widened a bit. “Oh, there it is! Damn, Cas. That is freaky.”
“I appreciate that Dean.”
Dean chuckled and kissed the top of his head before sitting back down.
“Ok Castiel, now we know for sure that something is going on. Nystagmus isn’t something you can fake and there are only a handful of causes for it. Now, let’s check your ears out.”
Dr. Adamson did a standard ear exam and then broke out honest-to-God tuning forks. He spoke out loud as he did each and every test; voicing what he was ruling out. He confirmed that Castiel seemed to have some hearing loss in the lower tones, but wanted another hearing test to be certain.
Then came the balance testing. The doctor had Castiel stand up and do a few things. At first, it felt like a field sobriety test and Dean chuckled until Castiel almost fell over once he closed his eyes. Dean caught him and looked up at Dr. Adamson. “What the hell?”
“I told you; the sac that is causing these issues is one of the mechanisms responsible for balance. The body has three systems; the ears and its balance organs, the eyes, and the input from your nerves from where your body touches the ground. You need at least two of those functioning properly to keep your balance. Since the sac in the cochlea is damaged, Castiel’s body is relying on sight and the contact of his feet on the ground. When he closes his eyes, the body only has one system left.”
“Is that permanent?”
“That’s what I’m trying to determine. Now Castiel, close your eyes and march in place.”
Castiel did and he was startled when he ran into Dean. He opened his eyes to find himself several feet from where he started. “How--?”
“That means one ear is more affected than the other.” Dr. Adamson typed some things into his computer. Castiel looked confusedly at Dean and sat down. He was a little scared; he hadn’t even felt himself move. It was an unsettling feeling to know he wasn’t entirely in control of his own body.
The doctor looked up again. “Alright, I’m pretty confident in my diagnosis of hydrops. We still have to determine whether it’s primary or secondary. I’m going to set you up for more testing. This process may take a while, so I don’t want you getting discouraged. Even if this is MD, it can be managed. While certainly disruptive to your day-to-day activities, your symptoms are not too severe compared to other patients I’ve seen and not life-threatening. You could still get injured though like how you were a few months ago, so some lifestyle changes may need to be made if this progresses.”
“Ok. So, what do we do in the meantime?” Dean asked. Castiel stayed silent. He was still trying to wrap his brain around the fact that he might always be like this.
“Well, we can do a few more tests today if you can stay a bit longer. Others will have to be scheduled. I’ve got some literature here you can read. I want you to start eating a restricted sodium diet. Try to keep it under fifteen hundred milligrams a day. I’m also going to write some prescriptions. One is a diuretic to try and flush out any excess sodium and the other is for Valium.”
Castiel started to panic. This doctor thought he needed psychotics too. “Valium? Isn’t that a sedative? I have kids, I can’t—”
“This is only two milligrams. Very mild. You could probably give it to a chihuahua with no issue. It’s only to take during an attack; it calms the brain down and should stop the spinning.”
“My nurse will be right back to get you. Don’t worry, Castiel. We’re on the right track.”
Castiel jumped up and grabbed the doctor’s hand. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Dr. Adamson smiled warmly. “My pleasure Castiel. My wife, Colette has Meniere’s. I know how frustrating it can be to find answers. You’re not alone in this. Here…” he pulled out a flyer and handed it over. “This is a support group my wife helped start. They have a Facebook page and meet up sometimes. Check it out if you feel up to it.”
Dean looked at the paper over his shoulder. “Thanks, Doc.”
The doctor nodded and left the room. Castiel and Dean looked over the paperwork Dr. Adamson had given them and Dean found some websites on his phone. They talked about what they’d learned for a few minutes before the nurse came back.
“Hi Castiel. Dr. Adamson wanted a few more tests done. You ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
Meniere's disease and hydrops are not very well understood by most doctors and there are many theories on the exact mechanics of these illnesses. Dr. Adamson's description is exactly how it was explained to me by my neurotologist.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
The testing took two weeks. Before leaving the office that first day, Castiel had another hearing test and something called an electrocochleography, or ECoG. The purpose of the second test was to measure the pressure of Castiel’s inner ears. The nurse informed them that Dr. Adamson would call them with the results and scheduled Castiel for further testing.
Now that Benny was busy trying to open his restaurant, Dean was not able to take time off from the shop for each of Castiel’s appointments. While Castiel had been initially nervous about seeing Dr. Adamson after his other experiences, he was now quite comfortable with the man and didn’t mind going alone. Unfortunately, that wasn’t really an option either. Many of the tests they were doing really screwed with his balance. After the second appointment, he was so dizzy that it was nearly an hour before he felt steady enough to drive. It was embarrassing enough asking Balthazar to drive him to the doctor for the next test, but his friend’s shameful flirting with everyone in the building was far worse. From then on, he asked Ellen.
The new diet wasn’t hard to follow. With five people to feed, they hardly ate out to begin with and much to Dean’s chagrin, Castiel had always preferred non-processed foods. There were some changes of course. Once they got to looking through their pantry, they were shocked at the amount of sodium in canned soups, sauces, and even vegetables. The new diet, along with the medication, did seem to make a difference. Castiel was still having dizzy spells, but the pressure and ringing in his ears had reduced a bit.
Once all of the testing was done, Dean was able to accompany Castiel to his follow-up appointment with Dr. Adamson. Dean parked the Impala and Castiel shot an anxious glance at the door of the clinic. They were going over his results today and he was very nervous.
Dean reached over and grabbed his hand. “It’ll be ok, babe.”
Castiel stared at their tangled fingers. “What if it’s not? What if it’s worse than he thought?” he said miserably.
“Then we’ll deal with it. Remember when they thought you could have a tumor?”
“Whatever your doc says today won’t be nearly as scary.”
Castiel’s eyes flicked up to meet Dean’s before dropping back to their hands. “I know.” He took a deep breath and lifted his head back up to glare out the window at nothing in particular. “I know I’m not going to die, but finding out I’m never going to get better is almost as bad.” He clenched his free hand and concentrated on the sting of his nails against his palm to ground himself.
“At least you’re finally getting answers. That’s what you’ve been fighting for right? Answers?”
Castiel bit back a snort. What good were answers if he would never get better? He just wanted to get better! He turned to snap at Dean before he caught sight of his husband’s face.
His beautiful green eyes were so full of hope. Dean had put up with a lot these past few months and he had never once complained. Never got upset if Castiel didn’t have to energy to cook or do laundry. He didn’t get irritated at having to take over more than his share of the parenting duties or if Castiel was too ill to take advantage of their already limited opportunities for sex. Dean had been taking care of everyone, but who had been taking care of Dean? The last thing he deserved was to be yelled at.
Feeling his anger drain out of him only to be replaced by shame at what he’d almost done, Castiel clenched his jaw before managing a small smile. He could feel how fake it was and only hoped Dean would continue to think he was just nervous. “You’re right. It’s better to know.”
Dean’s answering smile looked relieved. He gave Castiel’s hand a soft squeeze before letting go to unbuckle his seatbelt. “Let’s go. Don’t wanna be late.”
Dr. Adamson was behind his desk when they walked in. The older man looked up with a welcoming smile and stood to shake their hands. “Good to see you both again. Please sit.” Once they were comfortable, the doctor opened the file on his desk and grabbed a pen. “How have you been, Castiel?”
“Alright I suppose. Still having vertigo spells, but there doesn’t seem to be as much pressure and the tinnitus isn’t as loud.”
“Well that’s good! You haven’t been on the diet long, so that may improve in the coming weeks. Now let’s go over all these test results, shall we?”
Castiel and Dean listened intently as the doctor went over the results of each test and asked questions when needed. A lot of it was technical and involved aspects of the balance system they didn’t even know existed. Dr. Adamson was patient and provided thorough explanations in a way that made sense.
“Castiel, based on all this, I'm confident in my diagnosis of secondary hydrops. I suspect that when you had that encephalitis, it damaged your inner ear and triggered this condition. Your tests show reduced function in your inner ear and that’s probably permanent. The good news is that even though you’re having episodic vertigo, I believe the initial damage has caused you to skip over the severe spells that most people with Meniere’s have.”
Dean spoke up. “So, it’s good he has damage? I’m confused.”
“So, the technical name for Meniere’s disease is Primary Endolymphatic Hydrops with an idiopathic process. It’s the same illness with a different trigger. In secondary hydrops, the disease is triggered by an outside source; illness, injury, infection. The damage to the endolymphatic sac is done and it results in the vertigo and other symptoms you’ve been having. With primary hydrops, or Meniere’s disease, an otherwise healthy ear is damaged due to unknown reasons. Although, research is leaning towards an autoimmune disorder. Anyway, the damage happens slowly over months or years. Many people with Meniere’s have violent attacks that come with vomiting, sweating, shaking, even incontinence in some. Over time as more damage is done and function in the inner ear is reduced, those symptoms lesson to a general unsteadiness and milder vertigo spells.”
Castiel tried to wrap his mind around what he was hearing. “So, secondary hydrops symptoms are a result of outside forces causing damage and Meniere’s causes damage which then leads to the symptoms?”
“Generally, yes. It’s like hearing loss. Some people lose their hearing from loud noise and some because of a degenerative condition. Different causes with similar outcomes. Of course, with both forms of hydrops, inner ear function will continue to decline if the pressure keeps increasing. Meniere’s patients sometimes need more intervention in the form of steroid shots to the inner ear or sac decompression surgery. The sac can even be removed, but we only do that in extreme circumstances as it causes deafness and permanent imbalance. Secondary hydrops usually doesn’t require such invasive treatments.”
“So what do I do now?”
“Exactly what you’ve been doing. You can probably do without the diuretic long-term if you watch your diet. I’d like you to start vestibular rehab as soon as possible. It’s like physical therapy for your balance system. You’re not too unsteady right now, but that could change and the VR will help you manage that. I also want you to come in monthly for the next few months so we can see how your ear pressure is doing. We’ll redo your hearing test in six months. You do have mild hearing loss, but I don’t think hearing aids would be beneficial yet.”
Castiel had listened with a growing detachment until that last part. “Hearing aids? I might need hearing aids? And what about the spinning? Will it ever stop?”
Dr. Adamson’s eyes clouded over in what Castiel recognized as pity. He’d been getting that look a lot lately and it was really starting to wear on him. “I wish I could give you definite answers Castiel. The truth is, everyone progresses differently with hydrops. I’m not going to lie to you; some people do go deaf, some don’t. The vertigo may stop one day and never come back or it might stay the same. I’ve specialized in this field for almost thirty years and I can honestly say that no two patients are alike.”
Castiel sagged in his seat and covered his face with his hands. He felt his husband’s touch on his shoulder as he gave a gentle squeeze. “Is there anything else you can tell us, doc?”
“I’m afraid not. This disease is tricky. Have you checked out any of those support groups?”
Castiel refused to look up and Dean answered for him. “Not yet. Wanted to know for sure.”
“I really think it would help. Many people in those groups have had a form of hydrops for years. They give good advice on how to cope and it’s a place to vent frustrations too. There are also some associated spouse and family member groups for you, Dean.”
“Thanks doc. We’ll check those out.” Dean gave Castiel’s shoulder a little shake. “You got any questions, babe?”
Castiel lifted his head and glanced at the other men. Pity. They both looked at him with pity. He wanted to scream. He wanted to rage. He didn’t want or need their pity! But he was so tired. So tired of fighting. Even now, he could feel it. It wasn’t an attack, but his head felt slightly foggy, like he’d just had a few shots and was starting to feel the alcohol hit his system. He just wanted to go home, ignore the world, shut down his muddled head, and sleep. “No.”
Dr. Adamson gave him a sad smile. “I know it seems bleak now, but this can be managed. And advances in treatments are made all the time. We know much more now than we did when I first started practicing.”
Anger flared deep in Castiel’s core. He was just told he might never get better and now this guy was dangling false hope in front of him? He didn’t need platitudes. He didn’t need the tease of a possible cure just after being told there wasn’t one. He couldn’t exactly shout at his doctor though. Castiel bit the inside of his cheek and gave himself a mental shake. “Thank you, Dr. Adamson. I appreciate all you’ve done for me.”
“I’m glad I was able to get you some answers. Call my office any time if you have questions and we’ll see you back next month, ok?”
Dean stood and shook the doctor’s hand. “Thanks again, doc.”
Castiel rose from his seat and walked to the door. “I’ll see you next month.” He turned and left without waiting for a reply.
Dean caught up with him as he spoke with the scheduling nurse about his therapy and other follow-up appointments. “You ok?”
Castiel didn’t look up. “Fine.”
Dean lowered his voice. “You sure? You kinda ran out of there.”
Castiel clenched his jaw. “I’m sure. Just ready to get home.”
“Alright, babe.” He could tell that Dean wasn’t buying the excuse, but his husband didn’t push. “I’ll go pull the car up, ok?”
“Ok.” He didn’t watch Dean leave. He knew he was being an ass, but he didn’t really care right now. He just got some really shitty news and it was taking everything in him not to snap at anyone who tried to talk to him.
The nurse looked back up from her computer. “Alrighty Mr. Winchester. I’ve got you booked next Tuesday for your V.R. and another ECoG on March twenty-first.”
He took the card without saying a word and went to find Dean.
Castiel returned to the waiting room with a scowl on his face. He was still a little unsteady from his first rehab session and just wanted to get back home. He looked around the room until he found Balthazar by the reception desk flirting with another nurse. Jo had classes that day, so Ellen had to stay with the kids. He rolled his eyes and walked over to his friend.
“Becky, hmm? What a charming name.” Balthazar cooed.
The woman giggled and gave him a wide smile. “I just love your accent.”
“What else do you love, beautiful Becky?”
Castiel huffed in annoyance. “Bal. I’m ready to go.”
His friend turned and lit up like he hadn’t just seen him forty minutes ago. “Cassie! How did it go? Have you met this lovely creature?” He gestured towards Becky who let out another giggle and blushed.
“Unfortunately, I’ve gotten familiar with most of the staff here over the last few weeks.” Becky’s face fell before Castiel realized how his words might have been construed. Balthazar stared at him incredulously. “I—I just meant… you know… I wish I didn’t have to be here. That I wasn’t sick...” He shifted his weight nervously.
Becky smiled in understanding. “Of course, Mr. Winchester. Nobody really likes going to the doctor. Well, you’re all set up for next week!” Her eyes cut to Balthazar and her smile widened. “Guess I’ll see you around…?” her sentence trailed off suggestively while she twirled a strand of her hair.
Balthazar cut another disbelieving glance at him before looking at Becky and turning on the charm. He reached for her hand and kissed the back of it. “I should hope so, beautiful Becky.”
Castiel couldn’t watch any more. He was already in a bad mood and now he was embarrassed at how his comment had sounded. He stalked out into the parking lot and stood by Balthazar’s car. He friend appeared a minute later and unlocked the doors in silence.
At a red light a few blocks from the clinic, he spoke. “Bad day?”
Castiel refused to look at him. “You could say that.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“Becky seems like a nice girl.”
“The nice ones are always animals in the sack. They’re sweet by day, but once you get them alone—”
Castiel cut him off and turned to glare at his friend. “I really don’t need to hear this. In fact, could you not sleep with anyone in that office? I still have to show my face there every week for the foreseeable future.”
“My, my. Someone’s panties are in a twist. Oh wait, it’s Dean who wears the panties right?”
“Shut the fuck up Balthazar.”
Balthazar lifted a hand in surrender. “Calm down, Cassie. Just trying to lighten the mood.” Castiel looked away.
They were almost home before Balthazar spoke again. “I know this has been a rough couple of months, Castiel. Just… try to remember you have family and friends who care about you. Don’t push us away.”
Castiel’s shoulders sagged. “I know, Bal.”
Balthazar pulled into his driveway. “Call me if you need anything. Or if you need to…” he struggled to continue, “talk or some shit. Can’t say I’ll be good at it, but I’ll give it a go.”
Castiel snorted at his friend’s floundering and climbed out of the car. He leaned in before shutting the door. “Thanks, Bal.”
“Don’t mention it. Really. Tell no one. I have an image to uphold, you know.”
“I’ll take it to my grave. See you later.”
Castiel noticed Max next to the tortoise table, which had been dubbed “Tort Mahal”, when he got inside. The little boy spent a large portion of his time staring at his new pet which had been named George. “Hey, Max.”
His son ran up and hugged him tight around his legs before reaching his arms up in a request to be held. Castiel picked him up and walked over to stand next to the tortoise. “Have you been playing with George?” Max nodded. “Did he do anything cool?”
Max nodded and shyly signed, “He ate.”
“Oh wow! Did Gamma help you feed him?” Another nod. “What did he eat?”
Max furrowed his brow in concentration. “Lettuce, carrot, and egg.”
“An egg?! I don’t think George has ever had egg before.” He looked down worriedly at the tortoise. He wasn’t sure if he could eat it.
“It’s fine Cas.” Ellen appeared on his other side. “It was on one of those info sheets the breeder gave y’all. Boiled eggs are good for them every now and then.”
“I must have missed that.” He mused. “Where are the girls?”
“Patience is painting and I just put Alicia down for a nap. Speaking of, Max should be taking one too.” She reached for him, but Max clung tightly to Castiel.
“I’ll put him down.”
Ellen left soon after he got Max settled to get to the Roadhouse. Castiel found Patience at her art station. He watched her paint for a while and gave her advice on mixing colors. By the time her new creation was set out to dry, the twins had woken up.
Spending time with his children always helped center Castiel. It was hard to focus on how poorly he was feeling when he watched their little faces fill with joy. Laughter was the music of the day as they played together. By the time Dean got home, the living room had been transformed into a giant blanket fort. His husband lit up like the children and climbed right in. Diner ended up being sandwiches and cut up fruits and vegetables in an impromptu picnic. With a few adjustments, the TV was able to fit in the fort and with nearly every pillow and blanket in the house, everyone snuggled together to watch Tangled.
Castiel was brushing his teeth when Dean came in. “Finally got Alicia to sleep. How was your appointment today?”
And there went his good mood. “Honestly? It sucked. They have to make me dizzy on purpose for the exercises and it’s awful. I really don’t want to go back.”
Dean leaned against the counter and crossed his arms. “Come on, Cas. You gotta go back. The doctor said it would help.”
Castiel rinsed the remaining toothpaste out of his mouth. “He also said my balance wasn’t bad. I felt fine and that therapy just made me feel like crap.” He mirrored Dean’s pose on the other side of the sink.
“So, you’re just gonna quit after one appointment?”
“I didn’t say I was going to quit, just not sure it’s for me. I’ll give it a couple more weeks.”
“Have you talked to your doctor about that?”
Castiel fought the urge to roll his eyes. “No. Just said I would keep trying. I’m seeing him again in a few weeks remember? I’ll talk to him then if I have to.”
“So why are you already talking about quitting?” Dean furrowed his brows.
“Look, you asked how it went and I’m being honest. I didn’t like it.” Castiel’s irritation was rising by the second.
“Nobody likes physical therapy, Cas.” His husband rolled his eyes. “It usually sucks, but it helps.”
“Yea ok, Dean.” He pushed past the other man and stalked into the bedroom to change.
Dean followed. “What’s up with you?”
Castiel huffed. “Can we not talk about this right now?”
“I think we should. The doc said this is what you had to do and you’re thinking about not doing it.”
“For the last time: I said I wasn’t sure. I just need to vent, Dean!” His voice had risen to nearly a shout and he lowered it so he wouldn’t wake the kids. “This whole situation sucks. I’m just trying to deal with the fact that I’m always going to have this stupid, fucking…thing!” His arms jerked as he gestured wildly.
“I know babe,” Dean said softly. “That’s why it’s important you listen to your doctor. He said—”
“HE SAID THIS IS PERMANENT!” he exploded. “The damage is permanent. There is no fixing this! The therapy is just a band-aid for one symptom. It’s not going to stop me from getting dizzy. It’s just so I can learn to live around it. I’m still going to be broken.” He raked his fingers through his hair and gripped tightly, using the slight pain to try and ground himself.
Dean’s eyes widened at his outburst. He held his hands up in a placating manner at looked at Castiel like he was a wild animal trapped in a corner (which wasn’t far off from how he felt). “I know you didn’t get the answer you were hoping for. But it’s better than before when you didn’t know why this was happening. And honestly babe, it could have been so much worse—”
“STOP IT! Stop trying to fix it. Stop trying to remind me of how much worse it could be. I know all of that!”
Dean sagged and sat on the edge of the bed staring at his hands. “Then tell me what to do. I don’t know what to do for you Cas. I’ve been trying to hold us together. Trying to stay positive for you. These last few months have been hell.” His husband looked up at him, eyes shining with tears. “I love you so much, and I can’t… I see you suffering and I can’t fix it. I can’t make it better. I just want you to be happy, baby. What am I supposed to do?”
Castiel’s heart broke seeing Dean so lost. He collapsed next to him and rested his head on his husband’s shoulder. He felt Dean’s arm snake around his waist. “Exactly what you’ve been doing. You’ve been so wonderful about all this. Just… I just need you to listen sometimes. That’s it. Just let me be mad every now and then. You’re right, you can’t fix it. I don’t need you to. Just help me up after I fall.”
“Like, when you literally fall?”
Castiel snorted and pinched Dean’s thigh. “Asshole. Yea, then too I guess.”
“I can do that.” He felt a kiss on the top of his head. They sat in silence for a few minutes. “Hey, Cas?”
“Have you looked into those support groups?”
“Might help. I mean, you can still talk to me but… maybe talking to people who have already gone through this?”
“I—it’s just… the thought of joining feels so… final. Makes it real.” He sat up and looked at Dean with pleading eyes filled with tears. “I don’t want this to be real.” He whispered.
Dean made a noise of distress before pulling him into a hug. Castiel felt hands rubbing over his back and let out a sob. “I know you don’t, baby. I know.”
Castiel let go. He cried and cursed the universe for his shitty luck. He cursed encephalitis-causing mosquitoes and his broken ears and every crappy doctor who didn’t take him seriously. He cried for the life that was stolen from him and for everything he’d already lost: his job, his cousins, time with his family.
He let himself break and Dean was there to help put him back together when he was done.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you, Castiel!” Colette pulled him into a one-armed hug, her other hand holding on to her cane. The older woman pulled back and smiled at him. His new friend wore a light blue dress covered with little yellow rose buds and the cane she leaned on was nearly the same shade of blue. She brushed a lock of her greying brown hair behind her ears and Castiel caught a glimpse of her hearing aid.
“You too. Though we’ve spoken so much over the last month, I feel like I know you already.”
Colette chuckled. “I know what you mean. Where’s that husband of yours?”
“He’s parking the car.” Castiel looked around the room. There was a table laden with food and drinks off to the side and about twenty chairs set in a circle in the middle of the room. There were around thirty people present, most of them older, and he idly wondered if there were enough seats.
“Well we usually mill about with the snacks for a bit before we split up. Family members have their own get together down the hall.”
“I see. Oh, here’s Dean now.” He waved his husband over and introduced him to Colette.
“It’s nice to meet you. Cas talks about you a lot. I’m glad I have a face to go with the name. Hey, Dr. Adamson, it’s good to see you.”
The older man had come up next to his wife and handed her a bottle of water. “You too, Dean, Castiel. And please call me Cain. I’m not a doctor here.”
“You got it.”
“I’m going to have to steal your husband, Castiel. We’re about to start.” He kissed the side of his wife’s head. “I’ll see you in a bit.”
She smiled serenely at him. “Ok, dear.”
Dean also gave Castiel a parting kiss and followed Cain down the hall.
Colette leaned in. “He’s very sweet, Castiel.”
He ducked his head in acknowledgment. “He really is.”
“Come on. Grab a snack and sit next to me.”
Castiel wandered over to the table and picked some finger sandwiches and vegetables for his plate. He was turning around when another woman walked in. She looked to be around his age with bright blue streaks in her dark hair and her arms were covered in tattoos. He barely noticed any of that however. His attention was pulled to the horse at her side. An honest-to-God horse. Or was it a pony? It was tiny: he’d seen bigger dogs before. It was solid black with white feet and a single splash of white on its forehead. It was wearing a sparkly purple vest covered in patches and the woman was holding onto a rigid leather harness on its back. A look around the room showed a few people greeting her in acknowledgement, but nobody seems perturbed by the horse standing at her side. Castiel walked back over to Colette in confusion.
“Is that—Why does she have a horse?”
Colette smirked in amusement. “That’s Katie. And the horse is Falcon, her service animal.”
“Horses can be service animals? I thought it was only dogs.”
“Horses are the only other animal approved by the ADA. They’re better for mobility work.” Castiel was slightly startled by the voice on his other side. He turned to see Katie sitting next to him smiling politely. She was quite pretty. She had full, pink lips; bright, sea-foam green eyes; and she sported a small nose piercing.
Colette spoke up, “Katie, this is Castiel.”
Katie held out a hand. “Nice to meet ya.”
“You too. I’m sorry, not to be rude, but he helps you with your Meniere’s?”
“Among other things.”
“That is a much longer conversation than we have time for now. We can talk later if you like?”
Castiel noticed everyone was almost seated so they could start. He turned back to Katie, “Sure.”
The meeting lasted about an hour. Castiel was introduced to everyone and he told his diagnosis story. Some people commented on how their experiences were similar. Then a few people talked about how their treatments were going. One woman was recovering from a decompression surgery and there was a man who’d just gotten a cochlear implant and this was his first meeting since it had been turned on. Topics then ranged from new treatments being tried in other countries to diet and supplement options.
Towards the end of the meeting, the other group started to trickle back in. Castiel watched Dean’s eyes widen when he saw the horse and his husband made his way over. He bent over and kissed the top of Castiel’s head before pulling up another chair. “Hey, babe. How was it?”
“Good. Dean, I’d like you to meet someone. This is Katie. Katie, this is my husband, Dean.”
“Nice to meetcha, Dean.”
“Likewise. So… horse…?” he trailed off with a vague gesture.
Katie giggled. “Eloquent, isn’t he?” she stage-whispered to Castiel.
Dean pulled back in mock-offense. “Hey!”
“Yes, this is my service horse. His name is Falcon.”
“If you mock Star Wars, I can’t be friends with you guys,” she said sternly.
Dean perked up. “You like Star Wars?” He nudged Castiel. “I approve.”
“What a relief,” Castiel drawled.
Colette tapped his shoulder and he turned to her. “We’re going to be going now. It was so nice meeting you in person Castiel. I hope to see you at the next meeting, but I’m sure we’ll talk again soon.”
“I’m sure we will. It was lovely meeting you as well. I’ll see you next time.” She pulled him into a brief hug before Cain helped her stand. “Goodnight Colette, D-- Cain.”
The older couple bid them goodnight before saying their farewells to a few others.
Castiel turned back to Katie. “Is Cain your doctor too?” he asked her.
“Yes. He’s been wonderful. He coordinates with my other doctors to help figure out the best treatment plan.” Katie smiled softly and turned to pet Falcon.
Dean cleared his throat. “So, he’s really a service animal?”
“He sure is. This guy helps me be independent. We can’t all have cute husbands.” She gave them a sly grin along with a brow waggle and Castiel was suddenly reminded of Meg. He had a feeling those two would get along.
“How does he help you? Does he go everywhere with you?” Dean seemed fascinated.
“He does. And Falcon is trained to do several things. Mobility work, picking up dropped items, and he monitors my heart rate.”
“He can do that? Cool. Why the heart rate?”
“Well, I have a few other things going on with me. One of them is POTS.” At his confused look, she explained. “Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. Normally, when you stand up from a seated position, your body compensates so your blood doesn’t pool in your legs. That little system is kinda screwed up for me. If I stand too quickly or for too long, the blood pools in my legs and not enough gets to my brain. My body tries to fix it by raising my heart rate. Causes me to almost pass out. Falcon here can tell when my heart rate climbs too high. He alerts me and helps keep me upright if I feel faint.”
Dean looked genuinely concerned. His husband had such a big heart and tended to try to share other people’s burdens. “Oh, that sounds rough. I’m glad you have him. Is there any treatment for POTS?”
She got a mischievous gleam in her eye. “There is one major thing recommended for POTS patients.” She looked at Castiel and he gestured for her to continue. “Raising your sodium intake.” She giggled.
“But… and you have Meniere’s as well?” Castiel asked.
“Yep,” she popped her p.
“So… that is difficult.”
She huffed another laugh. “Tell me about it. Tried to find a medium between the two, but the fainting from the POTS was getting ridiculous. I don’t have a very bad case. If I stay well hydrated and try to stay between twenty-five hundred to three thousand milligrams of sodium daily, I can keep it pretty well under control. Thankfully, I’m mostly past the bad vertigo spells with my Meniere’s. I still get drop attacks and my hearing has gotten pretty bad, but I suppose it could be worse.”
Castiel listened with a growing sense of what felt like shame. What he was going through was nothing compared to what Katie was dealing with. “I guess I have no right to complain then,” he said quietly.
Katie and Dean stopped their continued conversation about hearing aids. Castiel hadn’t even noticed she’d removed one and was showing it to Dean. It was black and purple, had a beaded tube, and had what looked like a dragon wing attached to the piece that went behind her ear. She slipped the hearing aid back in and tilted her head. “What was that?”
“I said, I shouldn’t be complaining. You’ve got a lot more to deal with than I do and you’re handling way better than I am.” He huffed and stared at the floor.
“Cas—” Dean started.
“I got this Dean,” Katie cut in. “Look at me Castiel.” He lifted his eyes to meet hers. “What makes you think I’m handling things better than you? What makes you think you don’t have the right to be upset about your own health?”
“Well, I’ve just got the one thing…”
“It could be so much worse—”
“So?” she stared at him expectantly.
“I shouldn’t be—”
Katie held up a hand. “Stop. Do me a favor Castiel, and stop comparing your health to other people’s. I’m going to let you in on a secret. There’s always going to be someone who is sicker than you. The more you hang around other disabled people the more you’re going to realize that. You’ve got a chronic illness. You’re allowed to be upset. You’re allowed to not be upset. Someone else’s life experiences do not invalidate yours. And please don’t assume you know how I feel. I’m cutting you slack this time, but don’t do it again. I’ve had eight years to get used to being sick. I still break down sometimes. I cry and beat the crap out of my punching bag. Being happy is a conscious choice I have to make all the time. But that’s how I choose to deal. I’m not some inspiration or example because I choose to smile when I want to cry. You hearing me?”
“Yea,” he whispered.
“Your illness doesn’t have to define you, but it is still a major part of who you are now. Nobody else has the right to tell you how to feel about yourself. Not me, not Dean, nobody. You’re the only one in that body of yours and how you choose to deal is your own business. Things could always get worse, true, but this isn’t an end. So, get mad. Be upset. Acknowledge your feelings: honor them. Repressing the negative emotions will only delay the pain.”
Castiel felt a weight lift off his chest he hadn’t even realized was there. Katie somehow said exactly what he needed to hear. There was no “wrong” way to cope with this major change. It was alright to be upset; to get angry. It was alright to be happy; to try and be normal. He could feel however he wanted. For the first time since he got sick, he felt truly hopeful. He was going to be ok.
Yes, mini horses can be service animals. No, I don't have one... yet.
And Katie. I love her. I've used her in a few other fics and she's a fun character to write. The original inspiration for her in this fic is thanks to a dear friend who also suffers from these two disorders.
Chapter 14: Epilogue
References to domestic violence and minor character death
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Castiel winced as a loud scream was amplified through his hearing aids. He set the twins’ tenth birthday cake down on the patio table before reaching up to change the preset on the devices behind his ears. He felt a nudge against his leg and looked down to see his service dog, an Australian Shepherd named Storm, watching the children chase each other around the yard. Castiel sat down and watched his family and friends milling around while scratching his dog behind the ears. He thought about how much had changed over the last six years.
Garth was currently in the middle of the children, playing right along with them. Three of them were his and his wife Bess sat in a nearby chair laughing at her husband’s antics. She was heavily pregnant with their fourth and was due in a few weeks.
Jesse and Cesar had gone on their own trip to Brazil a few months prior. They adopted a two-year-old little boy who was completely deaf. The couple had been around the Winchesters long enough that they’d learned up a fair amount of sign language and their new son was picking up the language quickly. They currently stood chatting with Sam and Eileen while Sam’s youngest (also deaf) tried to sign with the little boy.
Sam and Eileen got married five years prior and had two children together. The older girl, Mary, was four years old and was hearing. Their second daughter, Maura, was only two. Sam had been promoted to junior partner at his law firm and Eileen was still teaching and was also assistant director at the deaf center.
Benny was manning the grill while his daughter Elizabeth played with the rest of the kids. A pang of sadness washed through Castiel as he watched his friend. Andrea had passed in childbirth five years ago and it nearly broke Benny. Like when Castiel first got sick, the family banded together to help Benny raise his daughter and keep his new restaurant from going under. Elizabeth was a delightful little girl and Benny doted on her constantly. His restaurant was a huge success and Castiel and Dean had a date night there at least twice a month.
A familiar laugh drew his eyes over to Katie and Balthazar. That pairing had surprised him, but they worked well together and loved each other dearly. Castiel was shocked when Balthazar had first shown an interest in Katie as he was very protective of his new friend. Balthazar was a notorious playboy who rarely took life seriously and he didn’t want to see Katie get hurt. He didn’t want to admit it at the time, but he didn’t think Balthazar would want to “deal” with something as serious as a partner with chronic health conditions. Dean finally convinced him that Katie was a big girl who could take care of herself and that his meddling may cost him a friend. He’s glad he listened. They had been together for more than five years, married for three, and Balthazar was completely devoted to her. He currently stood behind her chair massaging her shoulders and relaying any words she missed while they talked to Castiel’s cousins. Falcon stood nearby surrounded by a few of the kids and seemed to be enjoying the attention.
Michael and his girlfriend, Lucifer and his wife, Hannah and her husband, and Anna and her girlfriend sat in a large circle around the firepit talking with Katie and Balthazar. Hannah had apologized for her behavior when Castiel first got sick and they made up years ago. Seeing his cousins made him think of Alfie. Their relationship had never truly recovered and Alfie had never actually apologized. He moved to New York after he finished his arts degree and they rarely heard from him.
Jo, Ellen, Bobby, Gabriel, and Meg were hanging around the snack table. Jo had finished her degree in criminal justice before going to the police academy. She’d originally planned on working for the department in a clerical sense until the events of four years ago. After the loss of her friend, she figured actually catching the bad guys was a better use of her time. She’d officially been an officer for three years and loved her job.
Ellen still ran the Roadhouse, but left most of the day-to-day operations to her staff. She loved being a grandmother and wouldn’t hear of the kids going to daycare when she was more than happy to watch them. Bobby had cut back on his working hours as well. He said it was good for Dean to have more responsibility, but everyone knew he was enjoying being a grandparent as much as Ellen was.
Gabriel and Meg were still going strong. They had a three-year-old son named Loki. Although the boy was gentle and sweet, he was already incredibly sneaky and could put up some pretty logical arguments for a toddler. Castiel remembered Gabriel acting the same way when they were younger and constantly wondered how his parents had put up with it. Apparently, good teeth were also genetic because logically the boy shouldn’t have any left after all the sugar Gabriel let him have. He and Meg spoiled him rotten, but had already declared one child was enough for them. They also swore they would never get married. Castiel knew it wasn’t because they were unsure of their relationship, they just preferred not conforming. He was a little sad that he’d never stand up at his brother’s wedding, but they had asked him to be Loki’s Godfather to make up for it.
Another scream had him turning back towards the children. Patience sat under the shade of a tree with Claire and Kevin. The girls each had a sketchbook out while Kevin watched them draw. The three had grown very close over the years and they could almost always be found together. Patience was doing very well in school. She was on the honor roll and had joined the student council. She had also joined the student orchestra with Kevin several years prior. Patience had chosen the clarinet and Kevin went with the cello. Claire decided she’d rather join the choir and it was always a treat to listen when the three decided to rehearse together.
Alicia screamed again as she ran from Jack. The boy had several water balloons in his arms and was chasing her around the yard. Alicia was soaked and Castiel could see the mud covering her dress from his spot on the patio. Her braids whipped around her head as she ran before she changed course and tackled Jack to the ground. Alicia was still as wild as ever. His daughter had an insatiable thirst for life and was always on the move. She’d been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia but she didn’t let any of that stop her. The determined little girl worked very hard to keep her grades up in school and grew to love reading. She was still a social butterfly and nearly twenty of her classmates had shown up to the party and she was close to every one of them. Alicia had also grown fascinated with engines and loved to visit the shop with Dean to learn about cars.
Max said his first words just before the one-year anniversary of their adoption. He still didn’t talk much and usually preferred to sign: generally only speaking at school or when around someone who couldn’t sign. Nobody minded. Most of the family had become fluent anyway since so many members were deaf or hard of hearing. If Max chose not to speak, no one was going to make him. He was also doing well in school: he had good grades and had joined the soccer team. Max even had a small group of friends who were learning to sign as well. He and Jack had grown thick as thieves over the years and the two would stay up late into the night signing with each other.
And then there was Jack. Jack’s adoption was finalized last year. Dean and Castiel never planned on adopting any more children, but when Helen had tearfully pleaded with them two years ago, they couldn’t refuse. As Jack started spending more time with their children, the Winchesters and the Klines grew very close. Kelly really came out of her shell and was much more comfortable with them. She and Jo got on particularly well and became the best of friends. Then one day, four years ago, Kelly’s ex contacted her. He spun some story about how he’d changed and wanted to meet up to discuss child support and possible visits with Jack. She agreed to meet him at his hotel. Kelly was found dead by the maid the next morning. Her ex was found the next week on the other side of the state and arrested for her murder.
Kelly’s parents, Helen and Jack, were awarded full custody of her son. Then a year later, the stress of the trial caused Jack to suffer a stroke. After another year of struggling to care for her grandson and her husband, Helen asked if the Winchesters would take him. The poor woman was terrified of something happening to her and having his father’s family getting custody of Jack. At least this way, she could still see Jack as often as she wanted.
Jack was much happier since the adoption. The death of his mother and the stress of his grandfather’s health had taken their toll on the boy. Once he was settled, and after several months of therapy with Charlie, he was able to relax and be a child again. He still saw his grandparents almost daily and had three new siblings to play with. Castiel and Dean didn’t ask him to call them by anything other than their first names, but he had slipped and called them Dad and Pop a few times. It was just as exciting as when the others had started calling them that and it warmed Castiel’s heart every time.
Dean stepped out of the house behind him. His husband held a covered plate filled with raw burger patties for the grill. He dropped a kiss on Castiel’s head as he passed and spared a pat for Storm. His husband hadn’t changed much. He was a bit softer around the middle and constantly grumbled about it (though he would never give up the pie that Castiel suspected was the culprit). Castiel didn’t care about the extra pounds. Dean still lit up like a kid whenever Castiel baked and he preferred Dean’s excitement over a slightly flatter stomach.
Castiel could never ask for a better father for their kids than Dean. He was attentive, involved, and never hesitated to volunteer for school activities or extracurriculars. Dean always made himself available to their kids in a way his father never did for him and Sam.
Their marriage was stronger than ever. Dean never got annoyed at Castiel for being too sick to do things and was infinitely patient with him. They’d just had a second honeymoon a few months prior. It was a two-week Alaskan cruise. The rocking of the boat threatened to be hell on Castiel’s balance, but Dr. Adamson had given him some stronger medication and they ended up having a wonderful time.
Castiel’s health was still iffy, though his illness had calmed somewhat. The vertigo spells were now few and far between. His balance, however, was terrible. It was as if he were perpetually drunk. He couldn’t stand still for long without swaying and he constantly stumbled around. He had caved and gone back to vestibular rehab, but it didn’t help much. Storm helped balance him when he felt unsteady. Dean and Katie had conspired five years ago to get the dog before surprising Castiel with the young puppy. Katie helped with the training and Castiel didn’t know where he’d be today without his dog.
Castiel had also lost a great deal of his hearing. He had seventy percent loss on one side and fifty percent on the other. The hearing aids helped, but he still missed a lot. He was grateful they’d already been signing for a few years before his hearing worsened.
It was less than seven years ago that they were having a party in this very yard celebrating their approval to adopt. Less than a year after that, he was cursing the heavens for his bad luck. He knew better now. So much had happened. So much had changed. Looking at his family, happy and smiling, his heart was filled with so much gratitude. He wouldn’t change a thing.
Dean ambled over and settled in the chair next to him. His husband’s smile still made his heart race. “Hey babe. You good?”
Castiel reached for his hand and intertwined their fingers. “I am.”
And that's a wrap! I've been wanting to write this story for a long time and I'm so happy to finally have it finished. In case it wasn't crazy obvious, I have Meniere's disease. This story was meant to be cathartic. When I first signed up for the bang, my health was ok. That changed over the summer and I very nearly quit a few times. Major thanks to my husband who wouldn't let me give up on this.
One more thanks to lotrspnfangirl . Her artwork was amazing!
And Katie. I had always planned to add her in at the end and I'd always planned for her to have those two illnesses. I've had MD for eight years now and only met a handful of people with these two competing health problems. I kept musing how awful that would be and vowed to honor them with Katie. I wasn't counting on getting diagnosed with POTS also this summer. So, I unintentionally pulled a Vonnegut and wrote myself into the story. Fabulous.
The point of this story was to bring to light the struggles of those with invisible illnesses. I know people who have lost family and friends who couldn't "deal" with a sick person. I know firsthand what it's like to have a doctor tell you to your face that they don't believe you. I also know that getting diagnosed with invisible illness doesn't have to define who you are.
Be kind to each other. You never know what a person may be struggling with. Stay wonderful AO3 peeps! <3