Dean has a healthy respect for things that could kill him: Rotten food. An angry lover. Dragons.
Although if there’s one thing he’s not known for, it’s being respectful. Not when he’s in need.
So here he is, his eyes drawn to the towering...tower. “Well,” he mutters, wiping his hands on his simple pants. He has no armor, no magical powers, nothing except his wit, his sparkling personality, and a dagger.
He’s a dead man, for sure.
But he has to try. His brother is ill and in desperate need of medicine. He will surely die if Dean doesn’t find a way to get it.
He tried to steal it. Tried to steal the money for it, too. Neither worked, and the second almost left him handless, only the graciousness of the matron of the house and Sam’s good reputation saving them from being lopped off as punishment.
She didn’t give him any money, though, despite her tutting over “what a shame” it was that Sam’s sick. Her husband wouldn’t allow it, she explained. Horse’s ass.
It’s said that the dragon—called The Devil by the people of the kingdom—has vast wealth that he guards with his fire breath and flesh-tearing teeth. It’s also said that he has a mass of bones from the numerous challengers to his wealth.
Dean is hoping his bones will not be among them.
His first challenge is how to get to the beast. There have been lots of attempts—scaling the stone walls, tall ladders (never tall enough), and catapult, to name a few. Nothing worked. A few tried to get the dragon to come to them—pummeling the tower and pulling out the catapult again (for boulders instead of people this time). Those didn’t work, either.
Once he gets there, the next challenge is dealing with the dragon him/her/itself. Everyone says it’s a male, so that’s what he’s going with. Dean wonders how the hell they know that, but he isn’t going to do the research. He doesn’t need to get up close and personal. All he needs to do is get the money. And that means getting rid of the dragon.
His eyes travel to the turret.
The dragon’s eyes travel down to him.
The dragon tilts his head, like he’s curious.
Dean walks around the wide tower. There’s a castle attached, said to belong to Prince Castiel, tragically killed by the dragon in his prime. The country had mourned him greatly. Dean himself had heard the stories, but he was only a young, bread-stealing teen who cared nothing for royalty when the coming-of-age prince was killed. He’s now a strapping adult of nearly a quarter-century (though he still steals when necessary). He hopes his youth and strength will help him now, because as he completes the loop around the modest yet forlorn castle, he sees no simple way in.
“Others have managed it,” he mutters. “There must be a way.” He looks up at the dragon, who’s still watching him. “Don’t suppose you’d help?” he shouts as a joke.
He’s certain dragons can’t roll their eyes, yet he’d swear this one did.
“I’ll take that as a no,” he calls with a mock bow.
For most of the morning, he considers various ways of scaling the walls. At noon, when the sun is high in the sky, he sits and eats his lunch by the castle door that leads to the garden—or what was once the garden, before the garden became a tangle of weeds and home to whatever sort of vermin found it habitable. It must have been grand at one time, he muses. He can still see the stone paths and the spaces where luscious roses, now merely thorny branches without blooms, once grew. He stands and shuffles his legs through the overgrowth, imagining a young prince wandering these paths, perhaps courting a pretty young maiden under strict chaperone.
He spots a clump of hollyhocks as tall as him, still growing despite the poor conditions and neglect. He smiles, remembering how much his mother enjoyed those in her garden. Stepping over a small stone wall, he cups a fuchsia bloom in his calloused hand and sniffs it, inhaling its scent and recalling memories of a happier time. Feeling nostalgic for his mother (and maybe hoping for some good luck), he snips one off its stem and tucks it in his belt.
Dean feels prickles on the back of his neck. He turns his face up to see the dragon observing him. His insides turn to runny honey. “Uh, this all right?” he calls—too late, he knows, but still hoping against hope that the dragon won’t smite him on the spot for touching anything on his adopted property.
The Devil nods.
Like he understands him.
“Um, my thanks,” he says, just to see what will happen and whether he’s delirious from fear or the heat. The dragon nods again, and so while he may indeed be delirious, at least his delusions are consistent.
His eyes fall to the garden door. He hadn’t actually tried any of the doors. Could it be that easy? He wanders toward it and knocks, just to be cheeky. There’s no answer, of course. He turns the knob. To his utter surprise, it opens. He steps backwards until he sees the dragon again, who simply returns his gaze. “Uh, so, may I come in?” he asks, feeling utterly ridiculous. But the dragon nods once more, so he takes this as consent and enters.
It’s been neglected for years, but this was clearly once a charming and beloved place. Cross-stitched scenes hang from the walls next to oil landscapes. Long-dead flowers fill dried-out vases. A book lays open, face-down, on a dusty table in some sort of parlor. Dean imagines that the kindly prince (or so he was rumored to be) led a simple, happy life here.
Remembering where the tower is in relation to where he is currently, Dean walks through sunlit halls and dust motes until he finds what must be the entrance. There’s some sort of stain on the handle that he doesn’t want to look at too closely. Opening the door, he finds stairs, finding also that he was not the first to come this way, as the dust is disturbed here. There’s more staining on the stairs. Dean shudders. Cautiously, he climbs the stairs until he reaches another door, a heavy thing that has plenty more of those same stains.
He knocks. The dragon knows he’s coming anyway, but it only seems polite. He hasn’t forgotten all of the manners his mother taught him.
There’s no answer, so he opens the door...and comes face-to-face—or rather, face-to-huge-eyeballs—with The Devil himself.
Sweat trickles down Dean’s face. He has no plan, no plan other than the woefully inadequate knife that would merely annoy the creature, and how the hell did he ever think he was going to do this?
“Um, hello,” he rasps.
The dragon blinks slowly. Bright blue eyes hold Dean to the spot, rendering him unable to move, unable to think, unable to breathe.
And then, all of a sudden, he’s doing all three, because a debilitating, high-pitched screech is assaulting him. He cries out, falling to his knees to distance himself as much as possible from the deafening sound but crawling to his left rather than back the way he came.
It ends as quickly as it started, but the aftereffects stay with Dean much longer. For several minutes he sits, dazed, his ears ringing in a poor imitation of the sound that pierced not only his ears, but surely his brain matter. Dean wonders if some people died from the sound alone...and he doesn’t even know what made the noise.
The dragon stares at him from the opposite wall, having distanced himself while Dean scuttled away like a fool.
Since it doesn’t look like it’s going to eat him immediately (perhaps the beast likes to play with his food first, Dean muses), he takes the time to look around. It’s open to the air, of course, but the expanse of floor is small—for a dragon, anyway. The poor creature looks like he doesn’t have much room to stretch his limbs. There are not many possessions up here, either—a few barrels of gold coins, Dean notices, but no heap of bones kept as trophies. A small pile of leaves, some new and some old and crunchy. A few weapons near the gold. A cape, tattered now but fine once. The space seems utterly sparse and lonely. It touches a place deep inside Dean, a place he’s tried to run away from with cobbled family and drink.
He fingers the blossom on his belt.
The Devil watches.
Dean sighs. “Listen, it seems like you might understand me, so I’m going to be honest with you. I need money. My brother, Sam, he’s sick, and I don’t know how to help him. There’s a medicine, I’m told, but it’s expensive. You’re my last hope. And I know you’re probably going to eat me or set me on fire or something, but I had to say I did everything I could.”
Another abrupt screech begins, and this time, Dean notices that it seems to be coming from the dragon’s mouth. Having never heard a dragon before, it’s shocking—and painful. He covers his ears and pleads for it to stop.
Dean stares at the dragon. “That hurt,” he complains.
If he believed that the beast had feelings, he’d say that The Devil looked chastised and even a bit regretful.
He really is delirious.
Sighing heavily, he glances at the barrels of gold, then at the dragon. “I don’t suppose you’d just give me the money I need for my brother’s medicine, would you?”
For a long moment, The Devil studies him. Then, he wraps his talons around one of the barrels and drags it forward. He nods at Dean.
Speechless, Dean’s eyes dart between the gold and the dragon. Is he...is he really…
The dragon opens his mouth and Dean shrinks back, covering his ears. He closes it and sits, cat-like. He nods again.
It has to be some sort of test. As soon as he puts his hand on the money, the dragon will burn him to ashes. But it’s his only chance, and hell, if the dragon wanted to kill him, he’s had a hundred opportunities already. He stands, slowly, and approaches the barrel. “I need twelve gold pieces,” he explains.
The dragon nods. Dean, watching the dragon shimmer as he breathes, dips his hand into the riches and scoops. The beast merely watches him in return. Dean looks down at his hand, at more gold coins than he’s ever held in his life. He pushes all but twelve coins back into the barrel, then shows them to The Devil, who nods once more.
“Thank you.” Dean’s voice and hand tremble, both grateful and waiting for the beast’s wrath. It doesn’t come.
It occurs to him then that maybe this creature won’t harm him. Maybe he will be able to save his brother. He’s so overwhelmed with relief and crashing nerves that he collapses to the stone floor, clutching the coins to his chest as he begins to sob.
A warm breeze brushes across his damp brow. He looks up. The dragon is before him, hunched down, his massive head resting on his front feet. His eyes are soft and glistening, almost watery. Dean huffs a chuckle. “I suppose I’m not very stoic. Don’t tell anyone.”
The Dev—no, the dragon raises what Dean assumes would be his eyebrows.
“Kind dragon, you don’t know what this means to me. He’s all the family I have left, blood-wise, and to lose him...anyway, my apologies. And thank you. Just...thank you. I’ll try to pay you back but it’ll take a long time, we’re barely getting by—”
The dragon shakes its mighty head.
Dean stands. “I’ll try,” he repeats, wishing he really could pay the dragon back for his mercy. He spots the blossom in his belt. Good luck, indeed. He removes it and places it on top of the barrel of gold that the dragon offered him. “For you. I’m sorry I don’t have more.”
The dragon bows his head and closes his eyes—a thank you, perhaps. Dean likes to think so. He then peers toward the sun. Dean does, too. The day is wearing on, and he needs to get the medicine as quickly as he can and get it to Sam. “Thank you,” he says once more, bowing deeply before fleeing the dragon and the castle.
Dean peers at the same tower he looked at in fear just a fortnight ago. He’s still fearful, of course—who wouldn't fear a dragon?—but he’s had many nights to think about the beast at the top of the tower. He doesn’t leave, it’s said. How does he gather sustenance? How does he take care of his dragon family? Do they miss him? Is he weary of the castle? Why doesn’t he leave?
The dragon peers back at him. He looks...delighted, almost, if dragons could feel such a thing.
“May I come in?” Dean shouts.
The dragon nods.
Dean uses the same garden door as before, making his way down the halls and up the stairs. When he reaches the top and swings the door open, the dragon greets him as before, with huge blue eyes.
“Hello,” Dean whispers, just in case they’re still on rocky terrain. But the dragon backs up to give him room to walk through.
He does, then sits on the ground to show the beast he means no harm. “I have something for you,” he explains. He takes something out of his satchel, then approaches him carefully and lays a bouquet of wildflowers and grasses he picked along the way at his feet. “It’s not payment, unfortunately. I’m still working on that,” he mumbles. “But I wanted to show you my gratitude. My brother made a complete recovery. I am the happiest I have been in a long time, thanks to you.”
The dragon looks at the flowers at his feet. Dean feels utterly ridiculous giving flowers to a dragon, but he seemed to like the hollyhock blossom last time. And indeed, he seems to like these. His tail swishes as he takes the bouquet in his mouth and places it gently on his pile of leaves.
Dean smiles. He kind of likes the dragon. He seems wary, yes, but gentle and sweet, nothing like what everyone who came here to battle him (or the people the challengers left behind) would have you believe. “Oh,” he says. He digs into his pocket. “I almost forgot. I haggled and got the medicine for only ten gold coins.” He returns two coins to the barrel.
The dragon’s head tilts again in that way that Dean finds endearing.
“What? I pay my debts when I can, which is not often but in this case, I could at least do this. Oh, here’s another thing.” He retrieves his lunch—a sack of biscuits and jam, one stolen and one gifted to him by his good friend Ellen, who made and preserved it herself—and offers some to the dragon. “I don’t know what you eat, but you can’t go wrong with jam spread on biscuits, right?”
At that, the dragon’s eyes light up. Dean, proud of himself for his idea, sits against the wall. He places his cloak on the stone floor, then divides the simple meal between them. “Oh, no knife,” he mutters when he realizes his mistake.
The dragon looks at the door leading back inside the castle, then at Dean, then back to the door and back at Dean again, until Dean gets the message. “Knives in there, you think?”
At the dragon’s certain nod, Dean makes his way to the kitchen, finding it after a couple of wrong turns. The knives could use polishing, but are otherwise fine. He brings one up, using it to spread thick layers of jam on every biscuit. It takes no time for Dean to gobble them, but the dragon seems to take his time, letting each one sit in his giant mouth for a while before he swallows.
“Like that? I can bring more soon, if you want.”
The dragon nods.
Dean visits the dragon at every opportunity, usually three times a week or so. Rumors of Dean courting a young lady fly about the town, and Dean lets them. The rumors about the dragon continue to fly, too, and Dean says nothing—not because he doesn’t want to, because he does want to refute the rumors that the dragon is a horrible devil, but because he doesn’t want harm to come to him. If people fear him, they will not take advantage of him. No one has tried to approach him since Dean did, as far as Dean knows.
Despite the dragon’s reputation and alleged crimes, Dean has found friendship with him. They have shared many meals, using the prince’s dishes and linens. Dean feels bad about that, especially if the dragon was the one that killed the prince, though he believes that less and less now. Instead, he chooses to believe that the dragon simply arrived and frightened the young prince into exile. And who could blame him, really? Dean does wish the prince would come back around, though. After the king died, the king’s dastardly brother took the throne, since the prince was no more. It has been miserable since. Or, if the prince truly did die at the hands of the dragon, maybe it’s because the prince struck out at him, and the dragon was simply defending himself. It’s what living things do when attacked. He can sympathize with that.
He doesn’t dare bring it up to the dragon, though. The subject of the prince who once lived here might be a tricky one, and he doesn’t want to fracture their friendship.
So, he brings up a different topic.
It’s a bright day, the first after several days of rain. The dragon was very pleased to see him, as Dean couldn’t make the trip before now, having to help secure the overflowing waters of the nearby river with the other townspeople. No help had come forth from the king, of course. It never did. They’re sitting against the wall looking up at the sky and the occasional bird that breaks up the blue, blue that reflects in the dragon’s eyes and makes them glow.
“Drago,” Dean says, having taken to calling him that since he had to call him something. He leans into his friend’s leg. “Why don’t you ever leave?”
The dragon’s eyes fill with sadness. He walks to the center of the turret and flaps his mighty, leathery wings, but nothing happens.
“Oh. You can’t.” Dean peeks over the edge of the tower. It’s high enough that he might get injured or die if he simply jumped. “What if we found a way to get you down?”
Drago’s eyes widen, and he breathes fire into the sky—always toward the sky now, after one unfortunate incident when Dean’s cloak caught on fire. He seems happy about the idea.
“Okay, let’s figure this out.”
He can’t simply step down, of course, and he can’t get through the castle. Dean has no ladder that would support the giant’s weight. Catapults are made to fling things, and he doubts one could support his weight, either.
Finally, after days of thinking, he develops a solution that might work. “What if we built great steps of stone, at least enough for you to jump down safely?”
Drago furrows his scaly brows, eyes wide.
“I would have to ask for help, though, if we wanted to get this done before snow blankets the earth and makes it impossible.”
At that, his friend’s hopeful expression falls.
“Just people I trust,” he promises, holding one of Drago’s talons. “I promise. If I tell them not to harm you, they will not harm you.”
After a pause, he nods. Dean can tell he’s worried.
“Are you certain? I can attempt the task by myself, but it’s going to take—”
Drago shakes his head, then turns it toward the floor of the turret where he’s been captive for so many years.
“Are you afraid it won’t work?”
His friend’s head bounces side to side.
Dean can understand Drago’s fear. He’s the one taking the risk, after all. Then another thought occurs to Dean. “Do you want to leave, Drago? Because if you don’t, we don’t have to do anything. I’ll continue to visit you, we’ll eat and talk and do everything we’re doing now. Even in the winter, I’ll come. Perhaps, somehow, we could even reconstruct the castle to give you shelter. It’s up to you.”
To Dean’s surprise, Drago leans in and scoops him up. He’s scared, but only for a moment and only because he’s so high up, even higher than usual, which frightens him every time as it is. Fear gives way to comfort as Drago holds him close to his chest. From here, Dean can see the shimmer of his scales up close, these particular scales ones he’s never been close to before. He touches them, his hand placed over where he assumes the dragon’s heart is. Drago cradles him gently, gentler than he would’ve expected such a creature to be capable of. Joy and warmth fill Dean. He’s grown fond of Drago, his friend understanding him in ways others haven’t despite his limited capacity for communication. It’s strange, but the dragon is more human than many humans he’s encountered.
Drago finally places him down.
“So, steps to get you down”—Dean stretches out his right hand—“or stay here and we figure out how to make the castle work for you?”—he stretches his left hand.
Drago bumps his right hand with his nose.
And Dean gets to work.
His trusted friends’ wide-eyed amazement at Dean’s story of his improbable friendship with The Devil has yielded to acceptance and their own improbable friendships with Drago. Together over the last two months, they’ve built up enough stones from as far as they could gather them to make an acceptable step for the dragon, enough to hold him steady (they hope) as he leaps from the tower and then leaps again to the ground.
And now, they’re here for his moment.
“What do you think, Drago?” Dean asks, waving at their friends below. “Ready to leave this place?”
Drago nods, but his eyes are sad.
“What is it?”
His friend nuzzles his body with his head. Dean wraps his arms around Drago’s muzzle, hoping he doesn’t get burned.
“It’ll be okay,” Dean assures him. “If you don’t like it, you can climb back up, probably, and if you can’t, we’ll build it up better so you can. We won’t leave you. I won’t leave you.” His voice cracks on the last sentence, because they may not leave him, but Drago will very likely leave them. Him. He hugs his friend’s muzzle a little tighter, then gives him a quick peck. “For luck,” he grins.
Drago slowly blinks his eyes in that pleased way that tells Dean he’s smiling.
Dean hurries down the stairs and through the castle, which is a bit more lived-in now that they’ve stayed in it several times to rest or eat together when it rained. Dean, of course, always stayed with Drago when that happened, just so he wouldn’t be alone. Outside, Dean meets with Sam, Ellen, Robert, Joanna, Celeste, Benjamin, Asa, and several other friends to wait for their dear dragon to join them on the ground. He picks up the bouquet of flowers he gathered just for this occasion—mostly wildflowers from the roadside, with a few stragglers from Prince Castiel’s garden and a couple of rambling roses from a formal garden on the way that he pinched when no one was looking—and waits excitedly.
The perch holds.
Everyone cheers—Dean loudest of all.
But they’re not out of danger yet.
Drago looks at the ground, then at Dean. Dean nods. Smiles. Holds out the flowers he has for him.
The dragon jumps once more.
Dean watches until the very last second, then squeezes his eyes shut in fear, just in case the worst happens.
He opens his eyes to everyone’s gasps.
Drago is not there—but a dark-haired man is, seated on the grass. He stands, his clothing worn but recognizable as the casual dress of royalty. He heads straight for Dean, whose eyes are certainly as big as Drago’s ever were.
“Hello, Dean,” the man says, enveloping his hands in his. “I’m Drago. Or, as more commonly known, Castiel.”
A prince. The one he came to fight, the one who generously gave him the money for Sam’s medicine, the one he, a peasant, has become close friends with, is a prince.
“Cas,” he murmurs, completely disrespectfully for the man’s title and standing, but Dean is too stunned to notice his faux pas.
“Dean,” he repeats, then releases him and falls into a deep bow. “My life I owe to you.”
“I—I—I didn’t do—we just built a step,” he babbles.
“A step to freedom,” Castiel counters, straightening. “But even before that, you saved my life. You befriended me, despite my fearsome form, and that saved me even more than that step did. I know you have an idea of what loneliness is like.”
He does. They talked about that, one of their many talks about the matter.
“Prince Castiel, how your people have missed you!” Ellen cries. She remembered the prince fondly, and had been reluctant to hear Dean’s argument that maybe Drago didn’t eat him after all.
“And I you, good lady, and all of the people of the kingdom,” he smiles, taking her hand and bowing gallantly.
“What the bloody hell happened?” Robert, always one for plain language, asks the question that is surely on everyone’s minds.
The prince straightens. “My uncle, your current king, had a curse placed on me by a very powerful witch,” he explains. “He knew that I was to take over the throne for my ailing father—we had discussed it thoroughly. Unfortunately, my uncle’s greed and ambition were too great, and he had to stop me.”
“But why a dragon?”
He turns his sapphire eyes to Dean, stunning even in a human face. “I believe to frighten the good people of the lands into submission. But now, I shall remove him and bring joy to the kingdom once again.”
Those gathered cheer loudly. Everyone would be very pleased to have the tyrant removed.
“But wait, so, how did the curse break?”
Castiel shrugs. “Well, I was a dragon, but the witch rendered me ineffectual by clipping my wings, as it were. The only way I could defeat my uncle was if I could reach him, but by trapping me at the top of the tower, he was able to use me to create fear while still keeping himself perfectly safe. It was foolish and humiliating—of all the curses to thrust upon me, it was so strikingly simple to cure. I just needed to get down. Embarrassing, really.”
The prince chuckles ruefully, giving permission to the others to laugh as well. But as amusing as it is, Dean is more worried than amused.
“Dra—uh, Cas—um, Prince Castiel,” Dean stammers, trying to correct himself now that the shock is wearing off. His dragon-turned-human friend stops him.
“I like Cas.” He smiles softly, placing a hand on his shoulder, then looks at the flowers. “Do you still want me to have these?”
It’s a simple question, on the surface, but Dean knows it runs deeper. “Yes, of course. If you still want to accept them. I know they’re not a lot for a prince—”
“They are more than enough. Just like you.”
Dean presses them into Cas’ chest, his heart beating erratically when Cas’ hands wrap around his to accept them. He already adored his dragon friend, but now, looking at his very human friend...Dean gulps. “Um, if it pleases you, may we defeat your uncle tomorrow? I believe we could all use the rest, and dare I say, you might want to sleep in a bed, Cas?”
“I believe that would be a glorious treat,” he agrees. “And speaking of glorious treats, I wonder if maybe anyone has biscuits and some of Ellen’s jam? I didn’t need to eat under the curse, but I find myself ravenous now.”
“Oh, Your Majesty, of course,” Ellen answers, practically falling over herself.
“Dear Ellen, please don’t stand on ceremony,” he chuckles, eyes sparkling in the late afternoon sun. “As Dean tells it, you stand on ceremony only with strangers, and I should not consider us strangers, but friends.”
“Well, then,” she recovers, smoothing her dress and hiding her flush. “Go wash, then, everyone, and we’ll all eat.”
By nightfall, bellies are full and friends have split off into rooms for the night. Dean is well-aware that he is expected to share with his brother, but frankly, he doesn’t want to. Drago—Cas—is free, and he wants to spend the night with him, as they’ve done on more than one occasion, Dean curled up against Drago’s belly. He’s pleased to see that Cas perhaps has the same idea, given his hesitation to part in the hall.
“We should sleep,” Cas remarks.
“Yes, we should,” Dean agrees.
“I understand that my home is lacking, given the years of neglect—”
“Cas, your home is fine. It’s grand, if a bit dusty.”
They snicker and look at each other shyly.
“Dean, would it be indecorous of me to ask you to share my bedchamber? Forgive me, I know it would, but still, I wondered if—”
“Now who is the one standing on ceremony, Prince Castiel?” Dean teases.
“My apologies. I do wish to court you properly, Dean, if you would have me, but I find myself struggling mightily to release you to your rest. Forgive me, I—”
“Cas. As well as you know me, you should know that I do not stand on ceremony, and that I would be most pleased to share your bedchamber...specifically, your bed, Your Majesty.”
“Stop, you rascal,” Castiel says, his expressive eyes betraying his amusement just as well in human form. He holds out his hand. “Join me, then.”
Dean wakes slowly, warmed by sunshine and the fire in the hearth but not by the man he’d talked with long into the night, sharing stories and dreams before they fell asleep, Dean on Castiel’s considerably smaller and fleshier but no less comforting torso.
The sun is high in the sky, so it is well into the morning hours. Dean walks through the quiet halls. No one seems to be around, though breakfast has been left for him on the table. He knows he cannot be completely alone, so he eats and waits for someone to show.
Within a few minutes, Castiel arrives, dirty and scratched and happy as can be.
“In the garden, were you?” Dean asks fondly.
“Yes,” he grins. A true smile is not something he could show him as Drago; Dean adores it already and vows to keep it on his face as long as he can. “It is late in the season now, but next year, I shall restore it to its glory.”
“Won’t you be in the palace?”
Castiel frowns. “I suppose,” he says slowly. “Well, it shall be worked out later. For now, I am happy with you and the garden.” He pauses, a delightful pink blush rising in his cheeks.
“You want to court me. It is not a secret that you are happy with me,” Dean grins. “And I am happy with you and want to court you, as well.”
“Is that done? Two people courting each other? I always believed that one pursued the other.”
“You do not need to pursue one that wishes to be caught,” Dean teases, then sobers a bit. “Seems it would be necessary to court you, though, to get someone like you to truly engage with someone like me.”
Castiel scowls. “Hogwash. I should hope you know that I’m already taken by you, no courtship needed.”
“That is also true for me. Shall we dispense with the formalities, then?” He raises his brows and pouts his lips.
“Absolutely not. I will spare no expense of time, thoughtfulness, or money to show you what you mean to me, and you will allow yourself such luxuries that I know you would otherwise refuse based on some foolish notion that you are unworthy of them. You are worthy of attention and gifts and respect, and I will not deny you that, though you’d attempt to deny yourself.”
Dean shakes his head. He knows me too well. With coy eyes and tone, Dean says, “Then you best turn your copulatory gaze to the floor, because I cannot be expected to resist such a thing.”
His eyes sparkling even with the dirt around them, Castiel smirks. “No.”
“But my virtue!” Dean cries, barely keeping himself from bursting into laughter.
“What virtue? You told me your stories, you cad.”
Dean’s face flushes hot, his indiscretions of the past catching up with him at last. If he’d known he might have a chance at this sort of thing…
“And I don’t care about your stories,” Castiel says softly, taking his hand. “Dean, you are virtuous to me. Please do not trouble yourself. You are worthy and you are already in my heart.”
Nodding, Dean squeezes his hand. “As are you, Cas.”
“Even though I lack virtue myself?”
“You do not. The challengers you had...you gave them the chance to go. You had to defend yourself. Their behavior led to their demise.” Cas had told him that, though he didn’t have a pile of bones, there were some that he’d had to kill. He’d regretted them, but he surely would have died if he’d not defended himself.
“Well, then, I suppose we are two invirtuous souls. We sound perfect for each other.”
Grinning, Dean slips his arms around Castiel’s waist. “We do.”
Castiel cups his cheek, caressing it with his thumb. “I shall enjoy kissing you once we have defeated the king, restored order, and had a proper courtship.”
Dean groans. “That is a long time.”
“And well worth the wait for such a treasure.”
Dean groans again, resting his head against Castiel’s shoulder. Castiel laughs, squeezing him tightly. Dean breathes in his sweat, his dirt, his musty clothes. Yes. His Castiel will be worth waiting for.
Castiel’s idea is brilliant but dangerous.
Of course, the alternatives they came up with are dangerous, too.
So back to a dragon it is.
“Word hasn’t spread. You have the element of surprise on your side,” Rowena, the witch they summoned, remarked. She was the witch who cast the spell, but soon after was betrayed by the new king and went into hiding.
“Can we trust her?” Robert asks gruffly. Dean has the same question.
“She knows what will happen if she betrays me,” Castiel answers, directing his gaze toward Rowena.
“Aye,” she answers. Another witch, Asa’s son Maxwell, is there to ensure that she does the new spell correctly, one that will allow Castiel to transform to dragon and back at will.
“I wish we didn’t have to do it this way,” Dean grumbles.
“It is best to use her magic, Dean. Her magic woven through the spell will ensure no one at the palace suspects I was released from the curse.”
“I know.” Castiel had explained this to him many times. It’s logical, but he still doesn’t like it.
“I have experienced a sort of curse myself since placing that curse on Prince Castiel,” Rowena says. “Loneliness, exile, a price on my head—I know what I did was wrong, and it will not be repeated.”
“You redeem yourself soon,” Castiel assures her with an understanding nod.
And redeem she does, for Castiel’s plan works magnificently. Dean, those who’ve become family to him, and their trusted allies wait at a distance as Castiel storms the palace early in the morning, before anyone but the guards are awake. The guards don’t even attempt to do their jobs, running frantically from The Devil as soon as they see him flying above them. Panic rises as people flee the palace like ants. Castiel doesn’t bother with them. He is after one man and one man only.
That one man emerges on horseback, attempting to flee from the back of the palace.
Dean sees him snatch the king from the horse, allowing it to escape. The king hacks at Castiel with a sword, which will do nothing to him but still has Dean seething. Castiel releases the little man from his talons. His uncle continues to attack Castiel. It’s laughable and utterly foolish. Moments later, a flame shoots toward the ground. Dean’s guessing that’s the end of the king.
By the time the sun reaches its apex in the sky, word begins to spread of the wretched king’s death, and an announcement is sent to all that Prince Castiel has returned, the dragon is gone, and there will be peace and prosperity once again.
“It has been a quarter of a year.”
Dean knows he’s being petulant, but he is absolutely mad with want. They have spent the last quarter of a year traveling the lands, overseeing the renovation of the country castle where Dean found him, and courting. They’ve shared meals, walks, rides in the countryside, and even a nighttime flight in the dark, Dean upon Castiel’s back in his dragon form (the spell possibly coming in handy again and causing him no harm, Castiel declined to have it removed). They even live together. Castiel’s heart is his, Dean knows, and he has given Castiel his heart in return.
But though they’ve held hands, slept in the same bed, and shared a great number of copulatory gazes in the last three months, they have not kissed.
“It has,” Castiel agrees, infuriatingly calm.
“I yearn for you, darling.”
“And I for you, beloved.”
“So please, please press your lips upon mine.”
Castiel jumps down from his steed as Dean leaps from his. Handing off the reins to the stableman, he takes Dean’s hand in his and leads them to wander the private gardens of the palace.
“Do you have doubts about me?” Dean asks after an extended, uneasy silence.
“Doubts?” Castiel stops so suddenly that Dean must step back to meet his eyes. “My love, I have not a single doubt.”
“Is it because we are both male?”
“Of course not.” Castiel had announced his courtship of Dean to his people almost immediately and explained that those who would create violence or discontent about their relationship were welcome to live in another land who would take them. As the people loved their new king, no one left that Dean knew of.
Castiel sighs. “May I be honest, beloved?”
“I would expect nothing less.”
Dean leans into the gentle caress of Castiel’s fingers on his jaw. “I fear that if I touch your lips, I will curse myself to a lonely existence if you choose another, for I would never be able to touch another again.”
“Choose another? Why on God’s great earth would I choose another?”
“I fear that I am inadequate. I cannot match your beauty, your generosity, your spirit—”
“Do not speak ill of my darling,” Dean scolds him with soft humor, resting his hands on his chest. “I am yours, forever.”
“And I am yours, forever.”
Chuckling, Dean says, “I do believe we just married, Your Highness.”
A slow, gentle smile breaks across Castiel’s face. With dewy eyes, his darling gazes at him until he shivers with anticipation. “Cas?”
“Would you have me, Dean?”
Have him? Nervously, Dean drops his hands and attempts a salacious joke, in the event that he is misunderstanding him. “A courtee on the streets and a courtesan in the sheets, you mean?” He wiggles his brows.
Castiel shakes his head fondly, a gesture with which Dean is very familiar, having had it directed at him multiple times. He cups his elbow. “My consort, in public and private,” Castiel says quietly.
His consort. His spouse. The spouse of the monarch. When they’d agreed to court, Dean never thought he would actually be able to marry his love. Overwhelmed with joy and panic all at once, Dean steps back. Though he was the one who asked Castiel if he had doubts about him, it’s really Dean who has doubts about himself. “We are men. It is not done.”
“It is not commonly done, and not openly. But I am the king, and I shall do as I want.”
Dean has to smile briefly at that. Cas so rarely invokes his authority for his own benefit. His frown returns as he reminds him, “I cannot grant you children—”
“I care not—”
“—and I could not bear to have you take another besides me.”
“I would never. You are and will always be my one and only, beloved.”
Dean begins to tremble—not from the chill in the air, but from the moment. “But Cas, you will have no heirs to the throne—”
“I care not. We have succession laws for a reason. And if there are no good candidates, we will groom someone to take my place. Perhaps Sam’s future children may be interested. My interest is only in you, and in spending my years with you by my side. Please, Dean. Marrying for love is rare indeed, and I love you. Will you have me?”
“But I am far beneath you in social standing—”
“Then I shall abdicate the throne and burn my riches to ashes. You know I can,” he adds with a twinkle in his eyes.
“You stubborn man, will you have me or not?”
“Yes, I’ll have you, of course I’ll have you!”
“Will you kindly stop talking so I may kiss you now?”
“Yes, fine, go ahead!”
“You’ve not stopped talking!”
“Neither have you!”
Realizing their foolishness at the same time, they burst into merry laughter. When they quiet, Castiel takes his hands. “I shall like to make it official. Dean, I pledge to you, I am yours, forever.”
Dean licks his lips, then smiles, happy as he’s ever been in his entire existence. “Castiel, I pledge to you, I am yours, forever.”
The new husbands close the small space between them, finally pressing their lips together. The hesitant touch quickly turns fervent, and reservations and propriety are thrown aside in favor of passion and abandon. Castiel kisses like the dragon he once was (and still can be, when he chooses)—fiery, fierce, and all-consuming. It dizzies Dean in all the best ways.
“Let us retreat indoors,” Castiel rasps between kisses. “I desire to bed my husband.”
Dean moans. “You do not wish to wait for the formal proceedings?” he asks reluctantly, mouthing at his husband’s jaw.
Castiel pulls back, amusement alight in his features. “Do you wish to wait?”
“Not one more moment,” he growls, gripping Castiel’s hips tightly.
“Good. I have already prepared our bedchamber with the goods for passion.”
At that, Dean bursts. “The ‘goods for passion,’ Cas?” he guffaws.
“Hush, or I shall use them on myself with the bundling board between us.”
Dean rolls his eyes.
Castiel lovingly combs his fingers through his hair. “I saw that. We are truly spouses,” he chuckles.
Dean snatches his hand and tugs him toward their home. “Let us make good use of our goods,” he grins, making his husband laugh again.
Years later, the king and his consort receive a request:
“Will you tell us about the dragon again?”
Dean flicks his eyes to his husband and winks, then grants their nephews an indulgent smile. “You’d like to hear about the fearsome dragon, would you?”
“Yes!” they cry.
“Well, one day there was a man—”
“A very handsome, gallant man,” Castiel interjects.
Dean flushes under his love’s compliments. “Some say so. Anyway, the man needed medicine for his sick brother, so he went to face off against...The Devil.”
The children clutch their blankets to their chests.
“He didn’t know how he would get the money, but he knew he had to try. So he went to the castle where the dragon lived, and he asked politely for entrance.”
“Politely,” Castiel murmurs with amusement.
Dean swats him. “Yes, politely, and with silver tongue.”
Castiel rolls his eyes.
“And the dragon let the man in. The man expected the dragon to be a very mean, nasty creature, since his name was The Devil, but when he got there, he found the dragon was very kind.”
“But lonely,” Castiel adds.
“Yes, because he’s been up there for such a long time without a friend. And the man did not endeavor to be his friend, either. His only thought was to somehow get money for the medicine, though he had no idea how he would do that. But do you know what happened?”
“What happened, Uncle Dean?” his namesake nephew asks.
“He simply asked the dragon for the money, and the dragon gave it to him, without question.”
The children smile at this, though they’ve heard the story countless times.
“The man was so grateful, and he was impressed and touched by the dragon’s kindness and generosity. When the man’s brother recovered, the man went back to the dragon to thank him in person.”
“The dragon was pleased beyond measure to see him,” Castiel interjects.
“Indeed he was. And the man was just as pleased, for you see, he was lonely, too. The man and the dragon became the very best of friends after that.”
“Tell us the part about the bad king!” their nephew Charles insists.
“And Uncle Cas!” nephew Dean chimes in.
“Well,” Dean continues, “one day the dragon and the man talked about how the dragon could get down from the castle turret, for a spell had trapped him there. The man and his friends built a great stone perch—”
“The one at the country house!”
“Yes, Charles, that is correct. So they built the perch, and the dragon leapt to freedom. Once he touched the ground, the spell was broken, and he could fly once again.
“So the dragon and the man went to find the bad, cruel king. The dragon used his power for good, sparing everyone in the castle but the king, whose life he would have spared but for the fact that the king tried to kill him. So he—”
“Burned him to bits!” the boys cry out in delight.
“Yes,” Castiel confirms, continuing the story. “When the spell on the dragon was broken, so was the same spell that kept me trapped in the castle. I flew to the palace as quickly as possible to make certain that everyone was well. By the time I arrived, the dragon and the man were gone, and so was the king. My friends and I set about rebuilding the kingdom and restoring peace.”
“We were all so very fortunate to have our prince return to us as our new king,” Dean smiles, taking Castiel’s hand. “And I, of course, making King Castiel’s acquaintance and quickly becoming besotted with him, was the most fortunate of all.”
“Eww,” the boys groan as Dean kisses his husband’s hand.
“Not quite as fortunate as I, beloved,” Castiel whispers, gazing at Dean with those blue eyes that have never lost their power over him.
“Do you think the man and the dragon stayed friends?” Charles asks.
“Most certainly,” Castiel answers, still gazing at Dean.
“Of course,” Dean agrees, breaking their gaze but not his hold of his darling’s hand. “They remained the closest of souls, and are still together to this day, having grand adventures.”
“They saved the kingdom,” Dean the smaller murmurs as their uncles tuck them into their beds.
Castiel nods. “Yes, and they saved each other. Good night, boys.”
They close the door softly behind them and inform the governess that the boys are in bed, then walk out to the private garden and sit. When the hour is late and the streets are dark and quiet, Dean turns to his husband. “Ready, darling?”
A spark of magic lights Castiel’s eyes a cerulean blue. “Ready, beloved.”
In a blink, Castiel becomes Drago. Dean lets himself be scooped into his love’s hold, safe and secure.
Together, free and joyful in each other, they fly into the night for a grand adventure.