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The Very Core of My Heart

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On the morning of his twenty-ninth birthday, Dean Winchester woke up to the sound of rain. Considering that it was mid-May, this wasn't particularly surprising, but that didn't mean that Dean had to be happy about it. He didn’t feel any older than he had the night before, and would have been perfectly happy to let his birthday pass without celebration. It was, after all, just another reminder of how far he was from the life he wanted for himself.

It wasn’t so much his age that bothered him. It was more the fact that he was now twenty-nine, and still living in the family home with his mother, his aunt Ellen, and his cousin Jo. Even that would have been acceptable, if it had felt more like his choice.

Dean had hoped that he would be married by twenty-nine. Starting a life with someone he loved. Or that he had at least started down that path, even if it hadn’t worked out. He would never want to settle for a less-than-happy marriage. He could deal with being unmarried.

But to be unmarried because he was unwanted…

It didn’t encourage him to be enthusiastic about the passing of the years.

Dean sighed and got out of bed. There was no point trying to hide from the world. It would intrude on him like it always did. Aunt Ellen would come by shortly to knock on his door and make sure he was awake. He figured he would save her the trip.

He nearly crashed into his cousin Jo, who was standing outside his door, hand raised to knock. “Good morning,” Dean said. “Were you trying to sneak in and birthday attack me or what?”

Jo scowled at him. “Yes,” she said. “Way to ruin my fun. Happy birthday, by the way.”

“Thanks, Jo,” Dean said, pulling her in for a quick hug. His situation could be a lot worse. His family could be a lot worse. They were meddlesome and over-dramatic and there were far too many of them, but they cared about Dean. They wanted what was best for him. They just thought they were always the ones who knew what the best was.

The cousins made their way to the kitchen, where their mothers were busy preparing an elaborate birthday breakfast. Dean absent-mindedly rubbed at his chest. He had noticed these odd little twinges lately. Probably just getting older, he thought, and dismissed them from his mind.

Ellen Harvelle and Mary Winchester made a good team, moving around the kitchen in perfect sync with one another. Both had lost their husbands when their children were very young, so it had made sense for them to move into the old Campbell house they had grown up in and raise the kids together. Mary was taller and lighter-haired than her younger sister, but they shared a steely determination, a rowdy sense of humour, and a fiercely protective nature. Dean loved them both, but some days they could be a bit much, especially when combined with Jo’s snark.

“Happy birthday, Dean!” Mary said, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. There were smudges of flour on her face. “Breakfast is almost ready, why don’t you and Jo go sit down and we’ll bring everything in shortly.”

“Happy birthday, Dean,” Ellen echoed from the other side of the kitchen.

“Thanks,” Dean replied. “You didn’t have to make all this, though. It’s not a big deal.”

“Of course it is,” Mary said. “My baby’s turning twenty-nine today. We can’t let that go unnoticed.”

Dean really wished they would have. He knew exactly how the conversation at breakfast was going to go- the same way it did every year. And he was right. Once the four of them were seated at the dining room table, Mary launched into her usual line of questioning.

“So, Dean,” she said, helping herself to the bacon, “have you met anyone new recently?”

“We don’t get many new people around here, Mom,” Dean said wearily. “My dating options are pretty limited.”

“I just thought maybe someone had stopped by the garage. Out-of-towners get car trouble sometimes, you never know what could happen.”

“It would have to be an out-of-towner to take a chance on me, right?” Dean said bitterly.

“Don’t be like that, Dean,” Ellen scolded him. “It’s not your mother’s fault that the folk around here are so narrow-minded.”

“Screw ‘em,” Jo said around a mouthful of scrambled eggs. “You don’t need anyone.”

In some ways, Jo was right. Dean didn’t need anyone. But he wanted someone.

“Yeah, well,” he said, “Maybe romance just isn’t in the cards for me.”

“I don’t believe that for a second,” Mary said. “You’re a handsome, charming, capable young man. Any woman would be lucky to have you.”

Jo raised an eyebrow at Mary’s choice of words. “Not any woman. Anyone,” she corrected.

“Of course,” Mary said hastily. “Anyone.”

“Except that’s the problem. You’d think being open to dating people of varying genders would increase your options, not eliminate them entirely. Just not in Port Lawrence, I guess,” Dean said.

“So Bela broke up with you because she thought you would cheat on her with another man,” Jo said bluntly. “That doesn’t mean every other girl here thinks the same way.”

“Then why won’t any of them ever say yes when I ask them to dinner?” Dean challenged. “They all get the same look on their face, and they say sorry like they mean it. Like, sorry Dean, you’re a great guy, but you refuse to be ashamed of your bisexuality, and my small-town prejudices run deep, so I don’t think I can handle the whispers that would start up if we were together.”

“Is this really an appropriate breakfast conversation?” Ellen asked.

Dean rounded on her. “What, you got a problem with the word ‘bisexuality’ too, Aunt Ellen?”

“Don’t you take that tone with me, boy,” Ellen snapped. “You know I don’t give a damn who catches your eye. None of us here do, and we hate that other people can’t look past that enough to see how incredible you are. I just meant that maybe, seeing as it’s your birthday and all, we should talk about something a bit happier than how backwards most of the folks around here are.”

“Oh,” Dean said, embarrassed. “Sorry, Aunt Ellen. Got a bit carried away there.”

“It’s okay, honey,” Ellen said.

They ate in uncomfortable silence for a few moments after that, and as Dean was trying to come up with something to say, they were interrupted by his phone ringing. He glanced down and saw his brother’s name on the screen.

“It’s Sam,” he said.

“Go ahead and take it,” Mary said. “Say hello for me.”

Dean stood up from the table and went to the small parlour at the front of the house to answer to call without being overheard.

“Hey, Sammy,” he said.

“Happy birthday, Dean!” his brother said cheerfully. “Sorry, did I interrupt breakfast? I knew I probably would, but there’s a big case going down today, and I won’t get another chance to give you a call. Didn’t want to miss it.

“No worries,” Dean said. “It’s just good to hear from you. How’s Sarah?”

“She’s great,” Sam replied. “She’s got an auction on today as well, otherwise we both would have driven up for the day. Hopefully we can all get together soon, though. It’s been too long since we’ve all been in the same place.”

Dean knew that his brother meant well, but it was always a bit difficult to hear how busy and important his life was. Sam had just finished law school and was working with a prestigious firm in Bracebridge, about an hour away. His fiancee Sarah Blake was an art dealer, so it made sense for them to live in a bigger city. Sam was four years younger than Dean, and he made it all look so easy. He had the career, the long-term partner, the big house, the dog… and there would probably be kids soon enough, too. Dean loved his brother, he really did, and he was incredibly proud of him. It was hard not to resent him sometimes, though, when Sam had everything that Dean wanted and couldn’t seem to have for himself.

“So, got any big plans for the day?” Sam asked.

“Nah, Bobby told me to take the day off, so I’ll probably just go into town, maybe see if there’s anything new at the bookstore, the usual,” Dean said.

“Sounds nice,” Sam said wistfully. “I could use a day like that. Listen, Dean, I’m sorry I can’t talk longer, but they’re calling me in. I’ve gotta go. Happy birthday, again.”

“No problem, Sam. Thanks.”

Dean hung up the phone. He pressed his hand against his chest. It was kind of painful again. Maybe he should go to the doctor when he was in town. He took another minute to enjoy the quiet, then went back to finish his breakfast.

---------

The rain had slowed by the time Dean was ready to head into town. He climbed into his car, the 1967 Impala that had belonged to his father, and roared off towards the tiny downtown area, following the roads that were as familiar to him as the back of his hand. Dean had lived in Port Lawrence his whole life. It was home. He didn’t want to leave it behind, and that was part of the reason several of his previous relationships hadn’t worked out. His high-school girlfriend Robin had left to study music in Europe. Cassie, who he dated shortly after graduating, ended up going to college for journalism and probably lived somewhere with actual news to cover now. Aaron had wanted to live somewhere with a thriving nightlife, where his sexuality wouldn’t be an issue.

Dean could have left with any of them. It might not have lasted forever, but he could have taken that chance. Yet something always held him back. He didn’t want to leave. He had always figured that he wouldn’t have to choose, that he could find someone to be happy with without having to leave the town he loved. Recently, however, he was starting to wonder if he had been too optimistic. He still didn’t want to leave Port Lawrence, but maybe it would be for the best. He could always come back to visit.

He stopped by the doctor’s office first to see if they could squeeze him in despite the late notice. It turned out there had been a cancellation, so there was an opening in an hour. Dean confirmed that he would be back then, and made his way down the block to the small second-hand bookstore run by his good friend Charlie.

She was behind the counter organizing a display when Dean walked in, the bells above the door jangling to announce his entrance. “Hey Dean!” she exclaimed. “Happy birthday!”

“Thanks, kiddo,” he said, coming to lean on the counter across from her. “Did you happen to get in anything good I can buy myself as a present?”

“Sort of,” Charlie said mysteriously, rummaging around for something beside her. She came up with a thick hardcover and slid it across the counter to Dean. “It’s a present from me to you, though. No buying necessary.”

Dean looked at what she had picked out for him. “The Route of Flowers,” he read. “A nature book? Cool, but I’m usually more of a sci-fi kind of guy.”

Charlie gave him a look. “Sure you are,” she said. “I know all about that nature blog you’re obsessed with, Dean. What’s it called, something about bees? Anyways, this one came in and it sounded similar, so I put it aside for you.”

“Thanks, Charlie,” Dean said.

He didn’t have the heart to tell her that it wasn’t really the content of Following the Honeybees that kept him reading it. It was more the language and the emotion in every post. Dean had stumbled across the blog a few years ago and been a devoted reader ever since. He was pretty sure the author lived somewhere nearby, based on some of the photographs posted to the site. The posts were all anonymous, though, so Dean knew nothing about the blogger other than the fact that they were an incredibly skilled writer. Dean had never been interested in trees and insects and flowers until he found that blog. Still, maybe he would learn something from this book, and he could leave a comment on the next post, showing off what he had learned.

“So, what else have you got planned for the day? Not working, I see,” Charlie said.

“Nah, just killing some time, really,” Dean replied. “Mom and Aunt Ellen made a big breakfast this morning but it turned into the usual “when are you going to settle down” conversation, so I don’t really feel like being around for more of that.”

Charlie smiled at him sympathetically. “You know they just want you to be happy, right?”

“I know,” Dean said, “and that’s why it’s so frustrating. The more they nag me about it, the more I feel like a disappointment. Like I’ve made things harder for myself, and now I’m letting them down.”

“Don’t say that,” Charlie said sternly. “You’re not a disappointment for being honest about who you are, Dean. I know a thing or two about hiding yourself away, and it might be the safest thing in certain circumstances, but it’s not going to make you happy in the long-run.”

“Nobody’s been giving you any trouble lately, have they?” Dean asked, his protective nature kicking in. It was definitely a family thing, reinforced by his mother and his aunt. Charlie was like a younger sister to him, and the thought of anyone messing with her made Dean furious.

“Oh, no,” Charlie assured him. “It’s weird, isn’t it? I move here, put a little Pride sticker in my store’s window, and tell everyone I’m into girls when they try to set me up with their sons, and they just get a bit confused and apologetic and move on. And you spend your whole life here, and you date one dude like eight years ago, everyone finds out, you don't hesitate to call yourself bisexual, and all of a sudden no women here want to be in a relationship with you? If everyone was just flat-out hateful it would be easier to understand.”

“Right?” Dean said. “I don’t fucking get it. Nobody calls me names on the street. They don’t boycott the shop. They still invite me to their parties. But when I asked Jamie to dinner, she said she didn’t think it was a good idea, because it was just too much drama waiting to happen.”

Charlie shook her head. “I’m sorry, Dean,” she said.

“Yeah, me too,” he said. “Listen, thanks for the book, and the moral support. I gotta get going, though.”

“Okay. See you soon, I hope,” Charlie said, waving goodbye.

Dean left the bookstore and went back to the doctor’s office. He had been going to see Dr. Devereaux since he was a kid. The office hadn’t changed much in that time, just like the rest of the town. He only waited a few more minutes before the receptionist, Layla, told him the doctor was ready to see him.

“Dean,” Dr. Devereaux said, waving him into the examination room. “Wasn’t expecting to see you today. What’s the problem?”

Dean explained the chest pains he’d been feeling, and sat patiently while the doctor prodded at him and asked a number of questions, many of which didn’t seem related to his complaint at all. Dr. Devereaux made notes as he listened, and Dean tried to read over his shoulder, but didn’t have much luck.

“Well, there’s not much I can tell you today,” Dr. Devereaux said. “The office will call you when we have more conclusive results.”

“So what, just sit tight until then?” Dean asked.

“If it gets worse, come back. If not, wait until you hear from us,” the doctor said. “I don’t have all the answers, Dean. It’s never that easy.”

“I thought your job was to have the answers,” Dean grumbled.

Dr. Devereaux gave him an unimpressed look. “Goodbye, Dean,” he said, shooing him out the door.

Dean shook his head and left the room. He grabbed his coat from the waiting room and headed back to his car. He had hoped to get some kind of answer from the doctor that day, but apparently he would have to wait a bit longer. The doc hadn’t seemed too concerned, though, so it was probably nothing serious. Maybe he should ease back on the cheeseburgers in the meantime, though, just in case.

He considered just driving around aimlessly for awhile, but the weather still wasn’t great, so Dean made the short drive back to his house. It was quiet when he entered. Jo and Ellen were at work, he knew, but that didn’t explain where his mother was. Her car wasn’t in the driveway, so she must have gone out somewhere. Dean shrugged and went to make himself a cup of coffee. It was rare that he got to enjoy an empty house. Once his coffee was ready, he took it upstairs to his room, where he settled in with his computer to read over some of his favourite posts on Following the Honeybees.

Dean never would have guessed that he would be so obsessed with a nature blog. He liked reading, especially science fiction and fantasy, but he’d never had much interest in non-fiction. He always wanted the escape, the thrill of new places that you got from speculative fiction. But somehow, the writer behind this blog made nature feel like an escape of its own. Dean used to spend more time in the woods as a kid, but as he got older he’d found less and less time for it. Now he read about it, but still didn’t experience it much. That was something to work on. He lived in one of the most beautiful areas of the country, he knew. Lake Muskoka was iconic. Millionaires bought summer homes not far away from his tiny town, just to enjoy the forests and the lake.

Dean found the post he wanted, about the way the world changed every spring, and lost himself in the beauty of the writing. Here, there was no worry about when he would get married. No pressure to change or downplay any aspect of himself. Here, Dean was at peace.

Chapter Text

By the day after Dean’s birthday, his life had resumed its usual routine. Ellen knocked on his door at seven A.M. to wake him up, he ate breakfast with his family, and then he made the short drive across town to Singer Auto Repair. Bobby Singer wasn’t technically a relative, but he had been a good friend to both John Winchester and Bill Harvelle, and an important figure in Dean, Sam, and Jo’s lives since childhood. After Dean graduated from high school, he started working with Bobby at the shop, and had done so ever since.

He parked the Impala and entered the garage. Bobby was nowhere in sight, so Dean took a look around, checking out the patients they had to work with today. It was mostly cars, with a smattering of farm equipment, and one motorcycle. Dean frowned and went over to inspect the bike more closely. It looked awfully familiar. He had definitely admired it before. He found the copy of the paperwork attached to the back of the bike and smiled to himself. Of course, it was Castiel Novak’s motorcycle.

Castiel was a bit of a Muskoka legend. He had moved to the area about seven years before, and the residents of Port Lawrence still didn’t quite know what to make of him. He lived by himself on a small island on the lake, and he went everywhere on that motorcycle. He never came to any town events, though Ellen said he was perfectly polite, if not exactly chatty, when he stopped by The Roadhouse for a beer. Nobody knew what he did for a living, or where he had lived before moving to Port Lawrence. Even Charlie couldn’t charm any answers of out him, though he was a regular customer at her store.

Dean had never actually spoken to Castiel, though they saw each other around town or passed each other on the roads often enough. All Dean really knew was that he had a beautiful bike, and an equally beautiful face. The guy was dark-haired, with permanent stubble on his well-defined jaw, and he looked damn good in his motorcycle jacket. Dean couldn’t help feeling excited about having Castiel’s bike in the shop, though he was sorry he hadn’t been here when it was dropped off. Maybe he would be around when he came to pick it up.

“Hey, Dean,” Bobby said, coming into the garage through the side door and wiping his hands on an old rag. “You ready to work, or are you still dreaming?”

“I’m ready to work,” Dean said hastily. “Just reading up on the bike, here. It’s Novak’s?”

“Yep,” Bobby said, “dropped it off yesterday, said it’s been making some weird noises. He usually fixes it himself, I guess, but this was a new thing, so he wanted us to have a look.”

“Cool,” Dean said. “I’ll start here then.”

Bobby grunted at him and went over to one of the cars, a sporty-looking thing that Dean didn’t recognize. Probably belonged to someone renting a cottage on the lake. Dean knew all the local cars. There weren’t that many of them, after all. He sighed and started examining the bike in front of him. Time to get to work.

The day passed pretty quickly, Bobby and Dean working in companionable silence, taking turns handling the customers who came in to either pick up or drop off their vehicles. They should really get a front-desk person, Dean thought to himself for the thousandth time. Someone to deal with the people while he and Bobby did what they did best, dealing with the cars. Sam used to help out on weekends while still in high school, sometimes, before he got too busy with debate club and student government and all his other extracurriculars. Dean missed those days. He missed seeing his brother all the time. He missed being such a large part of his brother’s life, and vice versa.

But Sam had other things in his life now. Dean knew that his little brother still cared about him, he would never doubt that, but when so much of his identity felt wrapped up in being Sam’s brother, it hurt to know that Sam was carving out a life for himself that depended less and less on Dean.

“You heard from Sam lately?” he asked Bobby as they took their afternoon coffee break, uncharacteristically trying to have a personal conversation.

“Not really, why?” Bobby replied. “He got some big news he forgot to tell me or something?”

“Nah, just wondering,” Dean said. “Just thinking about when he used to run the desk for us on weekends. It was nice, all of us working together.”

“What’s got you feeling all sentimental?” Bobby said suspiciously. “Is this because you’re getting old or something?”

“Thanks, Bobby. Way to make a guy feel great about his age.”

“Just saying.”

“I talked to him yesterday, for all of five minutes,” Dean said quietly. “I’m so freaking proud of the kid, Bobby, he’s doing exactly what he always wanted. I just wish we saw him more often.”

“Or maybe you’re feeling a little unimpressive in comparison,” Bobby said shrewdly.

Damnit. How did he always do that? Dean gave Bobby a sour look. “You know me too well,” he complained.

“Look, son,” Bobby said carefully. “Your brother worked hard to get where he is.”

“I know that, Bobby!” Dean exclaimed. “It’s just sometimes I think of him, and wonder how our lives can look so different. Everybody I run into on the street or here at the shop, they all want to talk about Sam. How well his career is going. How tall and handsome he’s gotten. How lovely Sarah is. He’s the golden child, and I just can’t help feeling a little overlooked sometimes. Sue me.”

“Have you ever mentioned this to him?”

“And say what? Hey, Sam, you’re my brother and I love you, but could you maybe have some trauma in your life so I can feel better about myself for a minute? Fuck that.”

“It’s not a competition, Dean,” Bobby said.

Dean sighed. He shouldn’t have brought this up in the first place. Now Bobby was going to act weird around him, and would probably be on the phone to either Mary or Ellen (or both) as soon as Dean left for the day. Then they would smother him with concern and affection, trying to make him feel better and just making it worse.

“Forget it,” Dean mumbled. “I’m going back to work. I think that bike’s almost ready.”

“Dean,” Bobby said, but Dean was already gone.

----------

Dean was still on edge for the rest of the week. He said even less to Bobby at work than usual, but thankfully the older man didn’t push him to open up further. At least business was steady. Castiel Novak’s bike had been ready to go for a few days, and Dean was starting to wonder if the guy was ever going to come pick it up. He was looking forward to having a chance to speak to him for once.

But of course, because this was Dean, and Dean had terrible luck, Castiel dropped by for the motorcycle while he was out with the tow truck one afternoon. Dean had just finished bringing the broken-down car into the garage when he saw Castiel exit the small office and get back on his bike, clearly ready to leave. Dean sighed, but offered a polite smile and a wave. Just like always. Castiel nodded at him without saying anything, then rode off with a roar of the bike, leaving Dean staring wistfully after him. He couldn’t really explain why he was so fascinated by the guy. Other than the fact that he was incredibly attractive, of course. Maybe it was the air of mystery that hung over him, or the fact that he didn’t treat Dean any differently than he did anyone else in town. He was aloof towards everyone. It made Dean want to be the one to crack that shell and see what was underneath.

In further bad luck, his chest was still bothering him occasionally. It didn’t seem to be getting worse, but it had been awhile since his first visit to the doctor, so on his next day off, Dean called Dr. Devereaux’s office to check in with him.

“Dean, hi,” Layla said over the phone, sounding a little stressed. “I’ve been meaning to call you, it’s just been a bit chaotic over here.”

“What’s up?” Dean asked. “Everyone coming down with the flu?”

Layla sighed. “No, it’s a bit more complicated than that,” she said. “Dr. Devereaux took off yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon. Just walked out of the examination room, yelled something about the government, and no one’s seen him since.”

“How have I not heard about this?” Dean asked. “Why isn’t everyone out looking for him?”

“We tried to keep it quiet at first, thinking he’d be back soon. He’s been a bit unstable lately. But his car’s gone, and his bank account was drained. The police say he left of his own will, so there’s nothing we can do.”

“I feel selfish asking at a time like this, but do you know if he got any of those test results back?” Dean said.

“Let me check,” Layla replied. “It’s a bit of a mess in here….oh, here we go, D. Winchester. There’s some results and a note from the Doc here. I’ll be here for the rest of the day if you want to stop by.”

“Thanks, Layla,” Dean said. “See you soon.”

Dean grabbed his keys and headed to the car, not bothering to announce where he was going. He could tell his family about Dr. Devereaux’s weird disappearance when he got back. Unless they already knew, which wouldn’t surprise him either. Word travelled fast around here.

He found a parking spot just down the street from the doctor’s office and exited the car, feeling a bit nervous now that he was here. John Winchester had died of a heart attack. Dean had never had any health problems until now, but he knew his age was a factor in that. He took a deep breath and entered the office.

Layla had been right to call it a bit of a mess. There were papers scattered all over the front desk and even on the chairs in the waiting area. She was sitting on the floor, right in the middle of it, with her blonde hair twisted up and held in place with a pencil. She looked up when Dean entered and gave him a tight smile.

“Hey, Dean,” she said. “I had your file here just a minute ago...shit.”

Dean didn’t think he’d ever heard Layla swear before. This was obviously a stressful situation for her. She rummaged around through the piles of paper surrounding her and held up a standard file folder triumphantly.

“Here we go,” she said, passing it to Dean. “I saw a note from Dr. Devereaux in there but didn’t read it. I wouldn’t count on him to be back anytime soon, so I guess if you have any questions or need a follow-up, you’ll probably have to go out of town. Sorry, I know it’s inconvenient.”

“It’s okay,” Dean said. “I’ll get out of your hair. You should give my mom a call, though, maybe she can come help you sort through this stuff. She’s only part-time at the library, so she’ll have some time on her hands. And the woman knows how to organize, trust me.”

“Really?” Layla said, looking relieved. “That’s a great idea. Thanks, Dean.”

“No worries,” Dean said, heading for the door. “See you around, Layla.”

He clutched the file tightly as he made his way back to the car. He could have opened it right there, but for some reason, he wanted some peace and quiet to look it over. He drove just out of town to a secluded spot on the shores of the lake, where he knew there was a fallen log that made a great bench. He’d spent hours out here as a kid. It felt safe, somehow. He sat down on the log, and opened the file.

The first thing he saw was the test results, but predictably, they made zero sense to Dean. He had no idea how to read them, and he couldn’t tell if they were normal or not. He pulled out the note from Dr. Devereaux instead, hoping it would clarify things for him.

Dear Mr. Winchester, the note read, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Dean swallowed harshly. He shut his eyes tightly and counted down from ten, trying to calm himself. This was exactly what he had feared. He opened his eyes and continued to read.

Based on the results of your examination and subsequent tests, I have reached a diagnosis. You are suffering from late-stage angina pectoris, complicated by a coronary artery aneurysm. Your case is terminal. There is no treatment available to you, though I have prescribed medication to help the immediate effects of the angina. You should carry the pills with you at all times and take them when your chest pains trouble you. Avoid running, excitement, and anything that causes strain on the heart. Eat and drink in moderation. If you take care of yourself, you may have a year yet to live, though the end could come at any time. Regretfully, Dr. Devereaux.

Dean crumpled the letter in his fist, trying not to panic. He didn’t want to die. He was barely twenty-nine. If the doctor was correct, he probably wouldn’t live to see thirty. He re-read the letter, hoping maybe he had been mistaken the first time around. But no, there it was, with Dr. Devereaux’s trademark bluntness. A year yet to live.

A year. Three hundred and sixty-five days. Dean felt a tear slowly make its way down his cheek, and he was glad that he had chosen to open the letter somewhere private. He obviously couldn’t keep his emotions in check, and if anyone had seen him crying in his car, it would have caused all sorts of talk. And thank god he hadn’t gone home. His mother would have known something was wrong the minute he walked in the door.

Thinking about his mother made the tears fall faster. Mary Winchester had already lost her husband, and now she would have to lose her son? He remembered how sad she had been in those first few weeks after John died. But she had pulled through, for her children’s sake. It would be different when one of her children was the one who was gone.

And the others? Bobby and Ellen? Sam and Jo would be devastated. Sam would probably insist on doing some noble thing like moving home to spend more time with Dean, putting his whole life on hold. Dean couldn’t have that happen. He wouldn’t drag anyone else down with him.

He wouldn’t tell them, he decided. He wouldn’t tell them that he had been to the doctor’s at all. He had never mentioned the chest pains, so nobody would suspect anything had changed. It was better that way. The doctor’s letter made it sound like it would be quick, when it happened. No drawn-out visits to the hospital. His heart would just give out on him one day. Like his father’s had. Everyone would be surprised, and sad, of course, but they wouldn’t treat him any differently right up until it happened. If he only had one year left to live, Dean was going to spend it as himself, not as some shadow of himself, constantly on edge and surrounded by people expecting him to drop dead at any minute.

He looked at the letter again and remembered what Layla had said about further questions or follow-up. It looked pretty clear to Dean. He had a prescription to fill, but other than that, there was nothing else he could do. Dr. Devereaux had been his doctor all his life, and Dean didn’t feel the need to go get a second opinion from someone who knew nothing about him or his medical history. He wouldn’t let himself hope for a different answer. He would just have to do what he could with the time that was left to him.

Chapter Text

Dean sat by the water for a few more minutes, until his tears stopped and his breathing returned to normal. Once he felt a bit more calm, he got back in the car and drove the hour into Bracebridge to fill his prescription at a pharmacy where no one knew who he was. The pharmacist hardly glanced at him before taking the prescription, and handed over his pills without comment. They probably got a lot of people coming and going through here, with all the renters and seasonal residents. Dean barely registered. Just another guy and his medication. It felt strange, walking through the town. He was the only one who knew just how bad his condition was. Anyone looking at him would have assumed he was a perfectly healthy young man in the prime of his life.

Dean planned to use this to his best advantage. Family, friends, strangers on the street- none of them had to know that was practically a dead man walking. Though he had no intention of telling him why he was in town, he sent a quick message to his brother, asking if he was free to meet up. Any resentment he’d been feeling towards Sam in the past few weeks had drained away in face of his diagnosis. He loved his brother, and that was all that mattered. Hadn’t he just been thinking that they needed to spend more time together? He’d have to get it in fast, because time was running out for him.

Sam messaged him back, saying he was still at the office but could be home in an hour. Dean knew where the spare key was, he could let himself in to the house, and Sarah would be home shortly. Dean made the short drive over to their house and did exactly that.

He greeted their golden retriever, Bones, who was so excited to see Dean that he practically knocked him over. Dean smiled and buried his hands in the dog’s thick fur. He wasn’t a dog person the way Sam was, but Bones had grown on him. Dean settled onto the couch, and Bones came over to lay his head on Dean’s lap. He stroked the dog’s ears and tried to come up with a good excuse for being in Bracebridge. He could always just say he felt like taking a drive. Sam knew that when he was stressed, there was nothing that Dean liked more than going for a nice long ride in the Impala.

Dean’s careful planning was interrupted by the sound of a key turning in the lock. Bones was immediately off Dean’s lap and bolting for the front door. Dean stood up to greet Sarah as she came in.

“Oh, hi, Dean!” she said, stepping into the house and coming forward to give him a hug. Dean squeezed her maybe a bit tighter than usual, then let her go. “This is a nice surprise.”

“Yeah, well, I had the day off, and it’s the nicest it’s been in awhile, so I figured I’d go for a drive,” Dean said smoothly. That hadn’t been so hard.

“Does Sam know you’re here?” Sarah asked, kicking off her shoes and waving Dean back into the living room.

“Sent him a text,” Dean replied. “He said he’d be home within the hour, but to wait for you guys here.”

“I’m glad,” Sarah said with a warm smile. “I’m sorry we couldn’t be there for your birthday, so it’s awesome to see you now.”

“Yeah,” Dean chuckled weakly, “awesome.”

That really wasn’t the word he would use to describe anything about his day so far, but he was going to have to get used to smiling and laughing and playing happy. Sam and Sarah and everyone else deserved to have him at his best. They deserved to remember him fondly. Dean could do this, for them.

“So what’s new in the art world?” Dean asked, trying to keep the conversation light.

“Very little,” Sarah laughed. “We’re much more into old things, especially around here. None of that contemporary stuff for cottage country folks.”

“It would look a bit out of place among all the exposed beams and wood-panelled walls,” Dean agreed.

“I think it could be fun to get that contrast, but most people don’t agree with me on that.”

“Their loss.”

“They still pay me the big bucks, though, so I guess I can’t complain too much.”

Bones made a sudden run for the door, startling both Dean and Sarah. “Sam must be home,” she said, and a few seconds later, the door opened and Sam entered, immediately reaching down to pet Bones, who was the very picture of ultimate happiness. Dean stood up and went to give his brother a hug, gently nudging the dog out of the way in order to do so.

“Hey, Sammy,” he said. He would never admit it, but it was a nice change to be hugged by someone taller than him. It felt like he was the one being comforted for once, and even if Sam never knew why that mattered so much at this precise moment, Dean appreciated that feeling.

“Hey, Dean,” his brother said. “I snuck out a bit earlier than I planned. It’s good to see you, man.”

“Yeah, you too,” Dean replied.

“You in town for anything special? Got a hot date or what?” Sam winked at him.

“Yeah, she’s sitting on the couch over there,” Dean answered. Sam’s confused expression turned sour when he realized what Dean was implying.

“Gross,” he said.

“You started it,” Dean shrugged.

“You two can bicker all you want, but leave me out of it,” Sarah chimed in. “I’m going to go see if there’s anything edible in the fridge, or if it’s going to be a pizza party kind of night.”

“I vote pizza,” Sam said, dramatically flopping down onto the couch. “I could go for some grease right about now.”

“You seem stressed, little brother,” Dean said.

Sam exhaled loudly. “A bit, yeah. But not more than usual, really.”

“Maybe you two should take a vacation,” Dean suggested, looking up at Sarah, who was in the middle of calling the local pizza place.

“Can’t,” Sam replied. “Too busy. I gotta say, I’m really glad you showed up today, Dean. Otherwise I don’t know when we would have found the time for a visit.”

That didn’t bode well for Dean’s plan to spend as much time as possible with his brother in the near future. Unless Sam knew why Dean was so eager to see him so often…. But no. Dean had decided. He wasn’t going to tell anyone. He would just make sure that the time he did get with Sam was meaningful, even if it added up to less than he had hoped for.

“Pizza’s ordered,” Sarah said, shoving Sam’s legs out of the way so she could join him on the couch, then pulling them back over her lap. Dean smiled at the sight, but he also envied them that closeness. It had been so long since he’d had such easy physical intimacy with anyone. Well, other than his family, but that was a very different case.

“How’s everyone at home?” Sam asked.

“Same old, same old,” Dean said. “Mom’s still putting in some hours at the library, she seems to really like it. Ellen and Jo are grumbling about the summer people at The Roadhouse, but it’s early days yet. Just wait until summer really starts and they’ll really have something to complain about.”

“I miss Ellen’s burgers,” Sam said. “Is an hour’s drive too far to go just for a burger?”

“And the pleasure of your family’s company, of course,” Sarah said.

“That too.”

“Get her to freeze some patties for you or something,” Dean suggested. “Then next time one of us is heading this way we can drop ‘em off.”

“You’re a genius,” Sam said, his whole face lighting up with a grin.

“I take access to quality burgers very seriously.”

Their pizza arrived shortly, and they all dug in with enthusiasm. Dean found it hard to resist Bones’ pleading face, but Sam warned him to not give in and sneak the dog any pepperoni. Sam offered him a beer, and Dean accepted, but stopped after the one, remembering what Dr. Deveraux’s note had said about drinking in moderation. That was going to be a bit difficult, but Dean wasn’t about to take any chances with his precarious health.

By around eight o’clock, Dean was starting to feel anxious. It had been fun, hanging out with Sam and Sarah, and had even managed to distract him from his thoughts for awhile. But the longer he stayed, the more he found himself returning to the notion that this could be one of the last nights like this. It was getting harder to keep those intrusive thoughts from showing on his face, where Sam would see them. His brother was no idiot. He had a way of reading Dean that no one else did, coupled with a patented method of getting Dean to open up about his feelings. That spelled danger for Dean’s ability to keep his diagnosis a secret.

He stood up and stretched dramatically. “I think I’d better head out,” he said.

“It’s still early,” Sam protested.

“Yeah, well, I’ve got a bit of a drive, and I’m working tomorrow,” Dean said.

“Very responsible of you,” Sarah said, standing up to walk Dean to the door. She gave him a hug, and Dean pressed a fond kiss to her cheek. He was so glad Sam had her in his life.

Sam came over to join them and wrapped Dean up in one of his crushing hugs. “Bye, Dean,” he said.

“Bye, Sam,” Dean replied, trying to keep the emotion out of his voice. He was almost safe. “See you soon, I hope.”

“I hope so too,” Sam said, releasing him.

With a last smile and a wave goodbye, Dean was out the door. Once it had shut behind him, he let out a sigh of relief. He climbed into the car and headed for home, alone with his thoughts once more.

------------

The next day, Dean went to work as usual. He knew that sticking to his routine was going to be an important part of his plan to keep his illness a secret. Even last night’s visit to Sam had been risky. Too much out-of-character behaviour, and Dean wouldn’t be able to use “I’m getting old” as an excuse anymore.

The day started out just like any other, he and Bobby each taking a quick look around to see what needed to be done before splitting it up between them. Dean got in a few hours of work, losing himself in the procedures he’d done a thousand times before. Just as they were about to break for lunch, he heard a car pull into the lot, and looked up in time to see Cain Knight step out of his gorgeous, perfectly-maintained vintage pick-up truck.

“Dean,” Cain said, greeting him with a small nod. “Is Bobby here?”

“Yeah, I’ll let him know you’re here,” Dean said. Cain nodded again and stayed where he was, obviously content to wait.

Dean fetched Bobby, and tried not to look like he was eavesdropping on his conversation with Cain as he washed his hands at the small sink in the corner of the garage. He didn’t know Cain very well, but the older man had a bit of reputation around town. He lived on a small farmhouse about fifteen minutes out of town, just far enough to have some privacy while still being considered part of the local crowd. His wife Colette had died years ago, leaving him to raise their young son Alfie on his own. Alfie was a sweet kid, the same age as Sam. A little bit shy, but very smart, he’d gone away to the big city for school and come back a completely different person- nervous, withdrawn, and obviously ill. Cain had changed too: his quiet reserve became threatening, and people talked about him in hushed whispers, as if afraid to say his name out loud. No one had seen Alfie in ages, and Cain was only ever in town for necessary supplies. Dean wondered why he was here today, talking to Bobby.

After a few more minutes of conversation, Bobby turned and and went to rummage in the toolboxes scattered along the far walls of the garage. Cain must have noticed Dean loitering, because he turned his intense gaze on him where he was still standing by the sink. “Wondering why I’m here?” he asked. His tone was pleasant enough, but it still made Dean a bit nervous.

“A little bit,” he admitted. “Don’t see you around much anymore.”

“No, I suppose not,” Cain replied.

“So, uh, how’s Alfie?” Dean asked awkwardly. He wasn’t sure if he should mention Cain’s son at all, but he was curious.

Cain lifted an eyebrow at the question. “About the same,” he said. “I know everyone whispers about us, Dean. You can tell them you talked to me today, but I won’t be spreading information about my son around for the pleasure of the town gossips.”

“No, no,” Dean said, “I swear, that’s not why I asked. I just thought since you were here, I would ask, maybe get you to pass on a hello from me. He was always a good kid.”

“He was,” Cain said bitterly. “And he is, as much as one can be. But he’s lonely.”
“He’s got you, though, doesn’t he?”

Cain sighed. “Yes, but I can only do so much. I’m still spending most of the day working the farm, and family isn’t the same as friendship.”

“Nobody ever stops in to see you guys? And here I thought we were such a close-knit community.”

Maybe that was the wrong thing to say. Cain’s face took on a decidedly displeased cast. “They did at first. But Alfie didn’t want to see anyone at all then, and he either ignored them or asked me not to let them in. So they felt snubbed, and now they’re holding a grudge, or they just don’t care anymore. I suppose my attitude probably doesn’t help.”

“You shouldn’t have to play nice,” Dean told him. “Alfie never did anything wrong, as far as I know. I don’t believe he would know how. Why is he being punished for that, when it seems like he’s got it hard enough as it is?”

“You don’t know how grateful I am to hear you say that, Dean,” Cain replied, looking at him thoughtfully. “I wish more people shared your opinion. I’m trying to find someone to stay with Alfie, a sort of combination housekeeper-companion. But we aren’t exactly flush with job hunters in this town.”

“Maybe one of the summer people? They’ve usually got teenagers looking to make some money.”

“I considered that, but they would just leave again in a few months. I think in the end, that would hurt Alfie more than it helped him. I just want him to have some company before…” his voice trailed off.

Dean hadn’t realized it was that serious for Alfie. If he was being honest with himself, he hadn’t thought much about how sick the other man was at all. He berated himself for being just as bad as the rest of the town, forgetting about one of their own and only thinking about himself.

“What about me?” he asked, surprising even himself. He hadn’t planned to say that. It just sort of came out.

Cain looked at him strangely. “What about you?” he repeated.

Dean shrugged. “I can cook,” he said. “Nothing too fancy, but I’m open to learning more. You know my mom, she raised us to be clean and tidy, so housework’s no problem. I can help you out on the farm too if you need it. And I can keep Alfie company.”

“You work here,” Cain pointed out, as though Dean was unaware of his own employment situation.

“For now,” Dean said. “Look, you need help. I want to help. Say the word, and I’m there.”

Cain considered him for a moment, running his hand through his long greying hair. “I think Alfie would like that,” he said finally. “He always looked up to you.”

“Cool,” Dean said. “So when do I start?”

“Whenever Bobby lets you, I suppose,” Cain said, still looking a bit surprised at this turn of events. “If you’re comfortable with it, there’s more than enough room at the house for you. It might be easier if you were available in case of anything going wrong.”

“Sure,” Dean said. “It’s about time I moved out of my mom’s house, isn’t it?”

“Dean, I need to know that you’re serious about this,” Cain said. “It seems like an awfully spontaneous decision on your part, leaving your home and your job so suddenly.”

“I am serious,” Dean replied, and he meant it. “I love my family, and I love working here, but you said it yourself, you need help. And I can do that. Sometimes you have to do things for other people, you know? You gotta give back.”

This completely upended his plan to stick to his routine, of course. It was exactly the kind of move that would leave his family wondering if he was suffering some sort of quarter-life crisis. As long as they blamed it on his age and not on his impending death, it would probably work out.

But it was important. Dean had felt superfluous for a long time. He knew people cared about him, loved him, but he never felt truly needed. He never felt like his life had a direct impact on those around him, changing theirs for the better. If he only had a year left to live, this was a good way to spend it.

Bobby came back over, carrying an assortment of tools. “Here you go,” he said, handing them to Cain. Cain took them, and gave Dean a significant look.

“Oh, right,” Dean said. “Hey, Bobby. I know this is totally out of the blue, but, I quit.”

“That ain’t funny,” Bobby said.

“I’m serious,” Dean said. “Look, Cain here is looking for someone to hang out with Alfie and help out around the house. I can do that. I don’t want to leave you stranded, Bobby, but this is important.”

Bobby sighed. “Don’t seem like you’re going to change your mind anytime soon,” he said. “What, are you waiting for permission or something? You said it yourself, you quit. That’s your decision, not mine.”

“I just don’t want any hard feelings,” Dean said quietly.

“Now look here,” Bobby said, “you gotta do what’s best for you. And if that ain’t working with me anymore, then so be it. It doesn’t mean we’re gonna be enemies. You’re still family, Dean. Always will be.”

“Thanks, Bobby.”

Bobby turned to Cain. “We’re a little behind with our work,” he said, gesturing to the nearly-full garage. “Give Dean here three days to help me clear these guys out, then he’ll be all yours.”

Cain shrugged. “If that’s fine with Dean, that’s fine with me,” he replied.

Dean nodded. “Three days,” he said.

Cain shook both their hands, then headed back to his pick-up, tools in hand. Bobby watched him go, shaking his head.

“What on earth is your mother going to say?” he said to Dean.

“That is a very good question,” Dean said. “I’ll let you know when I find out.”

Chapter Text

Bobby elected to accompany Dean home, saying that he could use the support. Dean wasn’t about to argue with that. Bobby drove one of his own cars, though, instead of riding with Dean. Probably so he could make his escape whenever he needed.

The two men entered the house and followed the sound of conversation to the kitchen, where Mary was chatting on the phone while stirring a pot of soup. Dean waved to her and took a seat at the table, Bobby following suit. After a few more minutes, Mary ended her call and turned to face them.

“This is a nice surprise,” she said to Bobby. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“I’m just here for moral support,” Bobby said.

Mary raised her eyebrows. “Well that’s cryptic,” she said.

“I’ve got something to tell you, Mom,” Dean said nervously.

Mary’s eyes lit up. “What is it, honey?” she asked. She looked like she was expecting good news. Dean winced.

“I spoke to Cain today, and he was mentioning how he was looking for someone to come help out around the place and keep Alfie company, so I said I’d do it. I’m starting on Friday,” Dean said quickly. Like ripping off a Band-Aid.

Mary frowned. “That’s great, Dean, but you’re going to wear yourself out trying to do that on top of working with Bobby.”

Dean sighed. “No, Mom. I quit the garage. I’m going to be working for Cain full-time. I’ll actually be moving in there,” he explained.

Mary was obviously confused. She looked at Bobby, who just shrugged. “Boy’s gotta do what he’s gotta do,” he said.

“I know this is all very sudden,” Dean said as gently as he could. “But Cain looked so defeated, Mom, and he said nobody visits them anymore, and Alfie’s...well, he’s dying, Mom. I can’t let him die alone.”

Mary reached down and ran her hand through Dean’s hair. He leaned into the touch, comforted by the familiarity of it. “You’ve got a good heart,” she murmured.

Dean closed his eyes and willed himself not to cry. If only his mom knew exactly how untrue that statement was. His heart was in the right place, sure, but it wasn’t good. It was going kill him.

“Do you really have to move out, though?” she asked. “This is your home, Dean.”

“I know,” Dean said. “And it always will be. But for now, I think it’s more important that I’m close by, so I can be there for Alfie when he needs me.”

“Not like you can’t visit, or vice versa,” Bobby commented. “Cain’s place ain’t that far.”

“Exactly,” Dean said, trying to keep his tone cheerful. “It’s not like I’m leaving the province, or even the town.”

“But you’ve never left before,” Mary protested.

Dean knew his mother didn’t mean to hurt him with that statement, but it hurt just the same. It reinforced the feeling that he hadn’t truly experienced a life of his own yet, that he had coasted by, content without really being happy. But, as was becoming a trend, he couldn’t let that show.

“At least you’ll still have Jo,” he joked.

Bobby gave him a knowing look. “It’s about time the kid moved out anyways, Mary,” he said. “Did you think he was gonna stay here forever?”

“I suppose not,” Mary admitted. “But maybe part of me wished you would, Dean.”

“I know, Mom,” Dean said. “But this is important. And it’s the right thing to do.”

“Of course it is,” Mary said. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. For any of us.”

“Including me,” Bobby said. “Now I’ve gotta find someone else to hire at the garage.”

“Call up Rufus,” Dean said. “I bet he’d love to come work with you. It’ll give him more chances to be mean to you.”

“No way in hell I’m working with Rufus Turner again,” Bobby said, but Dean knew he would be on the phone to his old friend as soon as he left.

“I can’t wait to hear what Ellen has to say about all this,” Mary muttered, and Dean knew his mother had finally accepted his decision. It could have gone a lot worse, he thought to himself. Mary was right, though. Ellen would probably have some choice words on the subject.

“Bobby, you staying for dinner?” Dean asked.

“Sure. I never pass up Mary’s cooking.”

Mary smiled at him. “Well, you should come around more often, then,” she said.

“You can be the new me,” Dean joked, then regretted it when he saw his mother’s face fall. “Too soon?”

“Too soon,” Bobby agreed.

“Sorry.”

They sat down to eat shortly thereafter, keeping the conversation light, with no one mentioning Dean’s upcoming change of job and residence. It was almost like it never happened. Both Ellen and Jo would be at work at The Roadhouse until quite late, so Dean wouldn’t have to repeat the news until at least the next morning. Unless he called Sam to tell him. That would be the polite thing to do, but Dean knew that Sam would be even more confused than Mary, and probably not quite as understanding about it, or at least not as quickly. Maybe he would just wait and let Mary pass the news along, then let Sam yell at him.
----------

As predicted, Ellen used a few rude words when Dean explained the situation to her. Once she saw that Mary had accepted it, she calmed down somewhat, but Dean got the sense that she still wanted to try to talk him out of it. It was Jo who surprised him the most, though. She listened quietly as Dean and Ellen fought and Mary tried to soothe them both, then suddenly stood up and left the kitchen where they were all gathered for breakfast. A minute later, the sound of her bedroom door slamming shut echoed through the house, causing Ellen to stop mid-sentence.

“I should go talk to her,” Dean said. His mother and his aunt nodded. “Don’t listen at the door,” he warned them. They pretended to look offended, but Dean was speaking from experience. This family was too nosy for its own good.

He climbed the stairs to the second floor and knocked softly on Jo’s door. There was no answer, so he slowly pushed it open and entered the room. Jo was curled on her bed, clutching one of her pillows. She looked wrecked. Dean immediately felt guilty. Here he was trying to do something nice for someone, but he hadn’t stopped to consider how it might affect his family. He sat down on the bed beside Jo and tentatively placed a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t lean into his embrace, but she didn’t shrug him off either, which Dean counted as a win.

“Talk to me,” he said.

Jo glared at him. “First Sam left, now you?” she said angrily. “It’s nice to see how desperate you both are to get away from us. From me.”

“Hey, it’s not like that.”

“Really, Dean? Then tell me, what is it like?”

Dean almost told her the truth. If only to save her from thinking he was in any way leaving because of her. But he held his tongue, and he kept his secret.

“It’s complicated,” he said instead.

“Try me.”

Dean took a deep breath. “It’s not like I planned this,” he said. “Cain just dropped by the garage yesterday, and I asked about Alfie, and we got to talking. He looked so sad, Jo. You know him, he’s always so stoic and capable. But he was so crushed, thinking about how his kid was dying and they had no one else. I just couldn’t let that happen, not when I could do something about it. And easily enough.”

“You barely know Alfie, though,” Jo pointed out. Dean knew she wasn’t trying to be rude, she was just trying to understand, so he didn’t hold it against her.

“Not anymore, no,” he said. “But he used to hang out with Sam sometimes, do homework together or whatever. He was a good kid. And I don’t know what happened when he went away to school, but it clearly messed him up. And Cain said nobody comes to visit anymore. He’ll be glad of the company.”

“Is he really dying?” Jo asked.

“Sounds like it,” Dean said. And that’s why I have to do this, his brain shouted at him. Both of us are walking around with shortened life expectancies. This will be good for both of us.

Jo sniffled quietly. “I just wish you weren’t leaving,” she said. “Mom and Aunt Mary are going to be insufferable without you around.”

This time, she let Dean gather her close in a tight hug. “Don’t worry, Joanna Beth,” he said. “Everything’s gonna be just fine.”

“Everyone always says that right before something terrible happens,” Jo replied.

Dean couldn’t help laughing. Even when she was upset, Jo was all snark and sharpness.

“Besides,” he said, “maybe this is the year you fall madly in love with one of the summer people and run away with them.”

“Yeah right,” Jo said.

“Stranger things have happened.”

“Get out of here, Dean,” Jo said, pushing him away. “Don’t you have packing to do?”

“What, you’re not going to help?”

“Definitely not.”

Dean gave Jo one last hug, then left the room. Now that the part of his family that he lived with all knew about his plans, the only one left to tell was Sam. There was no sense trying to reach him now, he’d already be at the office or the courthouse. Dean was glad for the reprieve. He could tell Sam after work.

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Dean ended up staying later at the garage than he normally would, putting in some extra work so that Bobby wouldn’t be left with an overwhelming amount to do by himself. He felt a bit better when Bobby grudgingly confessed that he had in fact called Rufus, and that his old friend be helping him out, starting the next week. By six-thirty, Dean had to admit that he was stalling. He just didn’t want to go home and talk to Sam.

“Get out of here,” Bobby said to him. “I’m calling it a day, you should too.”

Dean sighed. “Bobby, do me a favour?”

“You can’t trick me like that. Tell me what it is before I say yes.”

“Call Sam and tell him I quit?”

Bobby laughed. “Yeah right,” he said. “You made your bed, now you gotta lie in it.”

“Urgh,” was Dean’s eloquent response.

“Go,” Bobby said sternly. Dean threw him a mocking salute and headed for his car.

Once he got home, Dean went straight to his room to call his brother, half-hoping that it would go straight to voicemail. But of course, Sam picked up on the third ring.

“Hey Dean,” Sam said over the line. “Surprised to hear from you again so soon.”

“Yeah, I know,” Dean said, trying to think of the best way to approach the subject. “I just had some news to share, I guess.”

“News?” Sam asked. “What kind of news?”

“Umn.”

“Are you dating someone?”

“Jesus, is that the only thing people think of? No, I’m not dating anyone.”

“Okay, then what?”

“I got a new job,” Dean announced.

“What, really? That’s unexpected. Are you going to work with Charlie?”

“No, Sam. You’re terrible at guessing, you know that?”

“I wouldn’t have to guess if you would just tell me your news properly instead of forcing it out in one-sentence bursts.”

“Fine,” Dean snapped. “Cain came by the garage yesterday and we got to talking. Starting Friday, I’m going to be staying at his place and taking care of Alfie.”

There was a brief moment of silence on the other end of the phone, then Sam exploded with questions. “You’re moving out? And going to live with Cain? Dude is scary, Dean. I mean it’s good that Alfie will have company, but why don’t they hire a real nurse? You’re not exactly a medical professional. And why now? They’ve been getting by okay with just the two of them, haven’t they?”

Dean pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head even though he knew Sam couldn’t see him. “They don’t want a real nurse because Alfie needs a friend more than anything else. A nurse would be professional, but not personal enough. And they’re doing this now because Alfie doesn’t have much time left. Cain doesn’t want him to be lonely anymore.”

“How much time?” Sam asked quietly. Dean could practically hear him realizing that it wasn’t some random person they were discussing, but someone who had once been a friend.

“I don’t know,” Dean admitted. “I’m gonna be there as long as he needs me, though.”

“And what, just put your whole life on hold in the meantime?”

Dean winced. Of course that was how Sam would see it, because Sam treated his life like a series of goals to accomplish. Tasks to be finished in order to move on to the next one. College, check. Law school, check. House, check. Get engaged, check. They were all stepping stones to the next stage. Not that Sam was blinded by ambition or anything. He genuinely wanted to make the world a better place, and had come up with a plan to do so, and he would stick to it no matter what.

Dean had always been a bit more laid-back. He had never known what he wanted in the same way that Sam had, so his plans were always less well-defined. The only goal he really had in his life was dream of being together with someone he loved more than anyone else in the world, but unlike a career, that one was a bit harder to plan in detail. And now that he was dying and all, it seemed pretty unlikely that he would accomplish that goal. So he might as well use his time to bring comfort to someone else too young to be leaving this world.

“It’s not putting my life on hold,” he explained. “It’s just taking a different direction.”

“That’s bullshit, Dean,” Sam said. “What are you running from?”

Damn kid was too smart. “I’m not running,” Dean protested. “I don’t know why everyone is making such a big deal out of this.”

“Maybe because it’s a big deal?” Sam suggested.

“Quit being such a smart-ass,” Dean said. “I just figured you should hear it from me before Mom called to complain about it.”

“She’s going to miss you, Dean,” Sam said. “Did you even think about that?”

“Of course I did! Did you?”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re the one who couldn’t wait to get out of here. You left long before I even thought about it. And because I stayed, what, it became my job to be the live-in son?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Sam said.

“No? Then what did you mean?”

“It just seems so sudden,” Sam said softly. “It’s not like you, Dean. You always worry about everyone else, you always take care of everyone else. Sometimes I think you do that too much. This kind of thing just isn’t like you.”

“It is, though, Sammy,” Dean insisted, trying to throw his brother off the trail of his sudden change in behaviour, because Sam thinking that one through could spell disaster. “You just said it, I try to take care of everyone else. I’m trying to take care of Alfie, and even of Cain, a little bit. As terrifying as that sounds. I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done, just for slightly different people.”

Sam sighed, and Dean could picture him running a hand through his hair as he did. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I guess that’s true.”

“I know it seems a bit strange, but I think it’s going to be good for everyone,” Dean said.

“I hope so,” Sam replied. “Isn’t Bobby going to miss you?”

“He’s got Rufus coming in starting next week,” Dean said, grateful for the slight change in topic. “He’ll bitch about it, but at least he’ll have someone competent to work with.”

“That should be fun for him,” Sam said dryly. “Right up until one of them kills the other.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“Look, Dean, I’m sorry I didn’t take this very well,” Sam said. “You just caught me off guard.”

“I know,” Dean said. “I was kinda trying to avoid telling you for that reason, but I’m glad it’s done now.”

“You’ll tell me how Alfie’s doing?”

“Of course.”

“Okay,” Sam said. “I should go.”

“Bye, Sam,” Dean said.

“Bye, Dean.”

Dean hung up the phone and dropped it onto his bedside table with a sigh of relief. Christ, that was even harder than he had expected. It had taken all his willpower not to blurt out “I’m dying” in answer to each of Sam’s questions. Maybe he should tell everyone about his diagnosis and turn this last year into one of those sentimental, bucket-list type of things. He could get away with all sorts of shit. But it wouldn’t be worth the look in his mother’s eyes when he told her that she was going to lose him. He could picture it perfectly, and he never wanted to see it in real life.

No, he was going to keep this a secret, just like he originally intended. He was making some changes, and even though everyone wanted an explanation, he wasn’t about to give them the real one.

Chapter Text

By Friday morning, Dean had the Impala all packed up with the things he would need during his stay with Cain and Alfie. He went down to breakfast, where his family was gathered, clearly waiting for him.

“Is this going to be awkward?” he joked, trying to lighten the mood. Ellen and Jo just glared at him, but Mary looked like she was holding back tears. Dean crossed the room to where she was sitting and gathered her into a hug.

“It’s okay,” he whispered into her ear. Mary clutched at him for a few seconds, then let him go.

“I know,” she said, wiping her eyes. “I’m just going to miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too,” Dean replied. “All of you.”

“Well, not enough to change your mind, apparently,” Ellen said. “So let’s just have one more breakfast together and enjoy it.”

“Good plan,” Dean agreed.

They managed to keep the conversation light as they ate, and Dean was grateful for it. He could have reassured his mom by telling her that his absence wouldn’t be a long one, but the truth of the matter was, he had no idea how long he would be away. He didn’t know how much longer Alfie was going to hold on, and theoretically, he could die before Alfie did. That was a grim line of thought, so Dean did his best to focus on the meal and the time with his family instead.

After they had finished eating, Dean pushed his chair back from the table and stood up, stretching his arms over his head. “I think it’s about time I head out,” he said.

Ellen was the first to stand up and give him a tight hug. “If you get tired of cooking, you come by The Roadhouse and bring some burgers back for that poor kid.”

“Your burgers are pretty magical, Aunt Ellen, but even they can’t fix him,” Dean said.

“I know that,” Ellen said gruffly. “You come visit me anyways, you hear?”

“Of course,” Dean said. “And Jo will be happy to get the beers, right Jo?”

“You’re still paying for them,” Jo said.

“With an extra-large tip for my favourite bartender,” Dean promised. He ruffled Jo’s hair, and it was proof that today was no ordinary day when she smiled and leaned into the touch rather than scowling at him.

“I’ll walk you out,” Mary said. Jo and Ellen stayed where they were to give mother and son a private moment.

When they reached the car, Dean turned and hugged his mom close. “I’m proud of you,” she said softly. “I’m sad that you’re moving out, I won’t pretend otherwise, but I’m really proud of you, honey.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Dean replied. “That means a lot to me.”

“If you ever need a hand, you call us, okay?”

“Okay.”

“I love you,” Mary said, pressing a kiss to Dean’s cheek. “Be good.”

“Love you too, Mom.”

Dean got in the car and slowly pulled out of the driveway, waving goodbye to Mary and to Ellen and Jo, who had come to join her on the porch. Then he was around the corner, and he could no longer see them.

It only took about fifteen minutes to drive to Cain’s farmhouse, but the distance had never seemed so great. Dean was a bit sad, of course, but he was also strangely excited. He felt purposeful, in a way he hadn’t in a very long time.

Dean turned off the main road onto the long driveway that led towards the farmhouse. He pulled the Impala into the flat, paved area to the right of the house, then exited the car. The house wasn’t large, but it was well-maintained, with cheerful yellow trim and small flower gardens in front of the porch. Dean took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

It was only a minute before Cain opened it, smiling. “Dean,” he said. “Good to see you.”

“Hey,” Dean said. “What, you thought I’d change my mind?”

“You’ll forgive me if I don’t always trust people that easily,” Cain commented, ushering Dean inside.

“That’s probably a good thing, in the long run.”

“Maybe,” Cain said. “Would you like a tour now, or would you prefer to say hello to Alfie first?”

“Let’s go say hi to Alfie. That’s who I’m really here for, right?”

Cain gave him an approving look and led him upstairs, heading for a room at the front of the house. He knocked lightly, then pushed the door open.

The room was large, and bright with the sunlight streaming in from the wall of windows. Dean didn’t notice much else, too busy staring at the young man on the bed, propped up with pillows. It had been years since he had seen Alfie, and he hardly recognized him. He looked simultaneously very young and very old. His skin was nearly translucent, but there was still a brightness in his eyes that Dean found reassuring. Alfie was very obviously ill, but he was fighting it with everything that he had.

“Dean,” Alfie said, smiling at him, “it’s so nice to see you.”

“You too,” Dean said, stepping into the room and sitting down in the armchair beside the bed. “Bet it was a bit of a surprise when your dad said I was coming to stay, huh?”

“Sort of,” Alfie laughed. It turned into a cough, but he steadied himself and kept talking. “I was expecting one of the town grannies, to be honest. But you’re much better.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Dean said. “Wouldn’t want you stuck with someone uncool.”

“Heaven forbid,” Alfie replied. “I should warn you, this is a pretty uncool household. We’re usually asleep by nine o’clock.”

“Perfect,” Dean said with a wink. “I’m getting old now, I’ll need the extra hours.”

Cain had been watching them quietly and fondly from the doorway, but he laughed at that remark. “If you’re old, that makes me ancient,” he said.

“And now you’re outnumbered by spry youths,” Alfie joked. “We’ll be causing all sorts of chaos and you’ll be yelling at us to turn the music down before you know it.”

“Should have brought my record player,” Dean said.

“Oh, we’re well-supplied,” Alfie said.

“Awesome.”

“I think I’ll borrow Dean for a few more minutes to show him around the rest of the house, then you boys can start building your party playlist,” Cain said.

“Okay,” Alfie said, trying to cover up a yawn.

Dean chuckled and stood up to follow Cain out of the room, giving Alfie a little wave as he left.

“He’s in better spirits than I imagined,” Dean said.

Cain shrugged sadly. “Some days are better than others. Some days he won’t talk to me at all.”

“That must be tough, wanting to help and not knowing how.”

“I think you’ll be very good for him,” Cain commented. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him that animated. Maybe when Castiel drops by, but even then, their discussions are more scholarly.”

“Castiel Novak?” Dean asked, incredulous. He had no idea that there was any connection between Novak and Cain and Alfie.

“Yes, I’m sure you’ll meet him soon enough,” Cain said. “He’s the only one who bothers to visit us. He’s been a good friend to both Alfie and myself.”

“I didn’t know he had friends.”

Cain laughed. “Maybe it’s because we’re all members of the Society of Scandalous Men of Port Lawrence. Shunned by everyone else, so we made our own little social circle.”

“I’m sorry,” Dean said guiltily. “I should have checked in with you guys way before this. I never knew how bad it was for Alfie, and for you by extension.”

“It’s alright, Dean,” Cain said. “You’re here now.”

Cain showed him around the rest of the house, including the guest room that would be Dean’s while he was staying there. Then he excused himself to go finish some tasks around the farm, leaving Dean to move his belongings into his new room. He hung his clothes up in the closet, put the few books he’d brought on the shelf, and arranged a few family photos on the nightstand.

Dean went back to check on Alfie, and realized that the younger man had fallen asleep. Based on what Cain had told him, this was fairly normal. He would be alert and active in bursts, and then get tired easily. There was a large bookcase in one corner of the room, so Dean went to examine it. He found a wide variety of options, many of which he didn’t even recognize. He picked one called The Shining Girls and settled into the armchair to read.

Forty-five minutes or so later, Dean glanced over at Alfie and saw that he was waking up.

“Hey,” Dean said gently. “Can I get you anything?”

Alfie turned towards him, his hair rumpled from sleep. “I’m okay,” he said. “I’d like to go outside for a bit, though. The sun’s nice out on the porch at this time of day.”

“Do you, umn, need a hand?” Dean asked awkwardly.

Fortunately, Alfie didn’t take offense. “No, I’m okay for now,” he said. “I think it’ll be easiest on both of us if I agree to ask for help when I need it, and you agree to wait until I ask you.”

“Sounds like a deal to me.”

“Good,” Alfie said, slowly standing up from the bed. “Come on, then.”

They went downstairs, Dean trying not to hover too protectively. It was indeed nice and sunny out on the front porch, and they both settled into the comfortable chairs arranged there, looking out towards the rest of the farm.

“This is a really nice place,” Dean commented.

Alfie hummed in agreement. “I’m glad to have grown up here,” he said. “I’ve got lots of good memories here. Especially of my mom.”

“You were pretty young when she died, huh?”

“Six,” Alfie replied. “You lost your dad around that age, didn’t you?”

“I was eight, Sam was four,” Dean said. “Kinda sucks that we’ve got dead parents in common, doesn’t it?”

“You could also say we’ve got great single parents in common, though,” Alfie pointed out.

“Glass half-full, huh.”

Alfie shrugged. “Sometimes.”

“That’s good, though. I have a hard time seeing it that way.”

“We all have our reasons for our outlooks on life, I guess,” Alfie said thoughtfully. “What got you so pessimistic, Dean?”

“Are we already at the sharing and caring stage?”

“We don’t have to be, but it’d be nice. If I wanted empty platitudes and impersonal kindness, I’d have told my dad to hire a nurse. I need a friend, Dean.”

Who could say no to a request like that? “You got it,” he said roughly.

“So,” Alfie said, looking over at him, “why does big bad Dean Winchester always see the worst in things?”

“I wouldn’t say always,” Dean protested. “It’s weird, I can get really enthusiastic and optimistic for other people, but not for myself.”

“Good things can happen, but just not for you?”

“Pretty much.”

“That’s bullshit,” Alfie said bluntly. Dean was impressed. The kid looked too delicate for such strong language. “It’s a balance, for everyone. Some things happen to you, and others you make happen.”

“That’s a shockingly good way of looking at it.”

“I’m not here to be your inspiration, Dean, but I have had a lot of time to think about life, seeing as I am coming to the end of mine.”

“Oh, okay, we are going there,” Dean said under his breath. Alfie apparently had sharp hearing, because he laughed at Dean’s remark.

“There’s really no point avoiding the obvious,” he said. “We both know that’s why you’re here. You felt bad because I used to hang out with your kid brother and then you heard I was dying. You’ve got a huge thing about protecting people, Dean, you always have. I remember you telling off all the kids who used to bully people like Kevin Tran when we were in school.”

“Good old Kevin,” Dean chuckled. “He’s long gone, huh?”

“Yeah, off at grad school. You know him. He always did want to be the first Asian-Canadian Prime Minister.”

“I’d vote for him.”

“Me too. But we were talking about you.”

“Okay, noted. You aren’t easily distracted.”

Alfie grinned at him sharply. “No, I’m not.”

“Fine.”

“So. Why do you think good things don’t happen to you?”

“I know lots of good things do happen to me,” Dean said slowly. “There are plenty of bad things that could have happened to me that haven’t. And I don’t just mean random bad shit from the universe, but specific things.”

“We’re talking about you being bisexual, right?” Alfie said. “Just to clarify.”

Dean's jaw dropped. “You’re way too freaking insightful,” he said.

“Mnn, no, you’re just really obvious.”

“Fine. Yes. I’m talking about being bisexual. I know it could be a hell of a lot worse. But I still get kinda down when I think about how I haven’t been on a date in years, because apparently bisexuals aren’t to be trusted.”

“People are so dumb sometimes,” Alfie said, shaking his head. “It doesn’t make you a bad person to feel that way, Dean. You seem pretty aware of how lucky you are in most ways. So how come dating is the big thing that makes you feel unlucky?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it was something about my parents, or even my aunt Ellen and her husband Bill before he died. They loved each other a lot. And ever since I was a kid, I wanted that for myself. More than pretty much anything else. Because it seemed like it could make even the worst things bearable, you know?”

“I do know,” Alfie said. “My parents were like that too. It’s an amazing thing, and of course it makes us want it too. But honestly, Dean. You’re still young. Just because it hasn’t happened for you yet doesn’t mean it never will.”

“I guess so,” Dean said uncomfortably. Part of him wanted to open up to Alfie about his shortened life expectancy, but he didn’t want to make this about him. Was it disingenuous of him not to tell Alfie about his condition?

Alfie sighed. “Okay, Eeyore,” he said.

“Who does that make you, Tigger?” Dean joked.

“Most days, I think I’m Piglet, but apparently you need me to be Owl.”

“This is a ridiculous conversation.”

“Right? Isn’t it great? I can’t believe my dad is paying you for this.”

Dean had to laugh. Alfie definitely had a point. “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, Alfred,” he said.

“Alfie’s not short for Alfred,” Alfie replied. “Unless you were just making a joke about being Batman, in which case, okay, but I think I’m more of a Robin.”

“Oh,” Dean said, feeling slightly foolish. “It’s just Alfie, then? Kinda unusual.”

The younger man grimaced. “Not exactly,” he said. “It’s actually Samandriel.”

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah. It’s an angelic name. My mom picked it out.”

“So why aren’t you Sam? How does Samandriel become Alfie?”

“Because my parents are hippie farmers, I don’t know?”

Dean shook his head. “And the conversation gets weirder.”

“Yep. Your time here will be anything but boring, I promise you that.”

“I’ll hold you to that.”

Just then, Cain came around from the other side of the house, smiling at the sight of Dean and Alfie together on the porch. “You boys about ready for lunch?” he asked.

“I’m on it,” Dean said, standing up. “Look, I even got the chair all warmed up for you, Cain.”

“How nice of you,” Cain said, sliding into the spot Dean vacated. “I could get used to this.”

Dean left the pair on the porch and went into the kitchen to put together some sandwiches for the three of them. He hummed to himself as he bustled around the kitchen. He actually quite liked cooking, but he never did much of it at home because between his mom and his aunt, someone else was usually doing it by the time he got home from work. He was looking forward to getting back into it here. He found a pitcher of iced tea in the fridge, and poured three glasses, placing them on a tray along with the plate of sandwiches, then went back out to the porch.

“Lunch is served,” he said, setting the tray down on the small table between the two chairs.

“I think we’re going to need a third chair,” Alfie commented.

“You’re right,” Cain said.

“No worries,” Dean said, grabbing a sandwich and sitting down at the top of the steps. “This’ll do me just fine.”

“For now, yes. But you’re not a servant, Dean,” Cain said.

“Please don’t call me Cinderella,” Dean joked.

“I think that’s one too many pop-culture references for the day, thank you,” Alfie chimed in.

Cain raised his eyebrows at the two of them. “Do I want to know?”

“Probably not,” Dean replied, which made Alfie smile.

“Glad to see you two are getting along,” Cain said. “And Dean, thank you for lunch. It’s delicious.”

“It’s just a couple of sandwiches,” Dean said. “No big deal.”

“It’s a couple of sandwiches I didn’t have to put together myself,” Cain pointed out. “But don’t think you’re getting off that lightly. I’ve got some work for you to do out in the field with me this afternoon.”

“And here I thought I was going to be sitting on the porch all day,” Dean sighed.

“Almost,” Alfie said. “Like, 75% of the time. But I do sleep a lot. So that’s when you get to do the other fun stuff.”

“That’s not so bad,” Dean said.

“No it isn’t.”

They finished their lunch, and then Alfie went back upstairs with a wave. Dean watched him go, and then turned back to see Cain looking at him with a strange expression on his face.

“What?” Dean said. “Do I have something on my face?”

“No,” Cain chuckled. “I’m just amazed at how quickly you’ve taken to this.”

“Maybe it’s a big brother thing,” Dean shrugged. “He’s the same age as Sam, you know?”

“Whatever it is, I’m glad to have you here,” Cain said, clapping Dean on the back. “Now, let’s get you out in the field.”

Chapter Text

By the end of his first week with Cain and Alfie, Dean was feeling entirely settled in. His days had taken on a comforting pattern: he and Cain usually woke quite early and had a light breakfast, then Dean made something a bit more substantial for Alfie while Cain started his outdoors work. Then Dean would wake Alfie up and keep him company through breakfast and the rest of the morning. While Dean made lunch for the three of them, Alfie got some time to himself. After lunch, he almost always took a nap, and Dean helped Cain in whatever way was needed that particular day. Then they made dinner together, woke Alfie up, and enjoyed the meal. The evenings were spent relaxing, sometimes in conversation with one another, sometimes in companionable silence.

Dean loved it. He and Alfie were getting along wonderfully, and Cain was surprisingly easy to talk to once you got past being intimidated by him. And he was clearly devoted to his son. Their family was so small, but the bond between them was incredibly strong. Dean felt lucky to be a witness to it, and to be included in their lives.

And on the second Monday he was living with the Knights, lady luck was on his side again. Because that evening, when the three men had retired to the front porch with mugs of tea, they had a visitor.

Castiel Novak.

Dean heard the rumble of his motorcycle long before he saw it coming up the driveway. He raised his head at the noise, and looked inquiringly at Cain, who just smiled. “That’ll be Castiel,” he said.

“Right, you, uh, mentioned that he drops by sometimes,” Dean said. Was he blushing? He could feel his cheeks getting warm. He couldn’t be blushing already.

Alfie gave him a concerned look. “What, are you scared of him or something?” he asked. “You got past my dad being the most intimidating man ever. I think you’ll be okay with Castiel.”

“Yeah, I hope so,” Dean chuckled nervously.

The man in question was just pulling up to the house. He parked the bike out front, and removed his helmet, running his fingers through his disheveled hair as he approached. Dean was pretty sure he was staring, but he didn’t know how to stop.

Cas came up to the porch, but stopped when he saw Dean sitting on the steps. “I’m sorry,” he said in that gravelly voice, “I didn’t realize you already had company. Hello, Dean.”

“Hi,” Dean said. Smooth.

“He’s more of the permanent kind of company,” Alfie said. “Join us, Castiel. It’s good to see you.”

Castiel looked at Cain, and when the older man nodded, he sat down on the steps, right beside Dean. If he hadn’t been blushing before, he was pretty sure he was now.

“What do you mean, permanent?” Castiel asked.

“You know how we had been looking for some extra help around here? Well, that’s Dean,” Alfie said.

Castiel looked at Dean, his eyes slightly narrowed. “That’s very generous of you,” he said.

“Nah,” Dean said. “That’s not the word I would use.”

“Still, I’m glad to know that Alfie will have someone else to talk to,” Castiel said. “I can’t be here as often as I would like.”

“You’re here when it matters, and it matters that you’re here at all,” Cain said.

Castiel smiled. It lit up his whole face. “That’s quite the sentiment, and beautifully expressed,” he said.

“Dad’s quite the poet,” Alfie said proudly. “You should see some of the letters from him to my mom.”

Cain sighed. “Those were supposed to be private,” he said, though there was no edge to his voice.

“They sound beautiful,” Dean said.

“Do you enjoy poetry, Dean?” Castiel asked.

“Sometimes,” Dean replied, “but I prefer novels. I like to get really lost in something, so denser works are more my thing.”

“He’s been working his way through my bookcases,” Alfie said. “Then we have a mini book-club about them.”

“Do you participate as well, Cain?” Castiel asked, a hint of mischief in his voice.

“All those books are way too recent for my tastes,” Cain said. “If they ever go with something a bit more classic, then we could talk.”

“Such a hipster,” Dean said, shaking his head. “You should have seen him the other day, Alfie, we were out in the field and it was getting hot, so he put his hair up. In a man-bun.”

“They do say dads are the original hipsters,” Alfie said. “If he does it again, you should take a picture and post it online. Make us all famous.”

“Surely there are better things to be famous for than having good hair,” Castiel commented.

“I don’t know, seems like most people these days are famous for something like that. Or because of a sex tape,” Dean said, prompting an undignified snort from Alfie and a quizzical look from Cain.

“I think we ought to stick with the the man-buns, then,” Castiel said solemnly.

“Or we can all just remain happily anonymous here in our little town,” Cain said.

“I vote for that,” Dean said.

They chatted for awhile longer, and Dean gradually relaxed. He was still hyper-aware of Castiel sitting so close to him, but the longer they talked, the easier it became to see him as just another guy, no matter how attractive.

By about eight-thirty, Alfie was starting to yawn. “I think it’s time for me to retire,” he announced, getting up from his chair.

Castiel stood up as well. “I’ll walk you upstairs,” he said, and Dean was surprised to note that Alfie didn’t protest. They went into the house, leaving Cain and Dean alone on the porch.

“They seem close,” he commented.

Cain smirked at him. “Don’t worry, Dean, they’re just friends,” he said.

Dean was startled. “Why would you think I’d be worried about that?” he asked.

“Because you kept staring at Castiel like a love-struck teenager all night,” Cain said. “I wasn’t going to bring it up, but, well.”

“Shit,” Dean groaned. “Do you think he noticed?”

“No,” Cain replied. “For such an intelligent man, he misses a lot of social cues.”

“Oh thank god,” Dean breathed. “I would never want to make him or any of you uncomfortable.”

“Not to worry,” Cain said. “I doubt he would ever pick up on your interest, and if he did, I doubt even more that it would bother him.”

Was Cain implying what Dean thought he was? Was Castiel also interested in men? Dean opened his mouth to ask, but then the man in question stepped back out onto the porch, and Dean missed his opportunity.

“I should be heading out,” Castiel said. “Cain, a pleasure as always. Dean, I’m glad we got the chance to get to know one another. I imagine we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other in the future.”

“Seems to be the case,” Dean said, though part of him really wanted to blurt out something like “I sure hope so!”

“Goodnight,” Castiel said, then climbed back onto his motorcycle and roared away.

Dean let out a tiny sigh. Fortunately for him, it was lost in the rumble of the bike, sparing him from Cain’s commentary.

----------

The next two days passed uneventfully, but as soon as Dean went to wake Alfie on Thursday morning, he could tell that something wasn’t right. Alfie’s morning grogginess seemed worse than usual, and he didn’t respond to Dean’s attempts to engage him in conversation, just groaning and turning away from him, pulling the covers back over his head. Dean wasn’t quite sure what to do.

“Well, you don’t look like you’re going anywhere, so it’s probably okay if I leave you alone for a few minutes to go get your dad, right?” he said. Alfie didn’t reply.

Dean left the house, and went to find Cain, who was about to start cutting the grass. Before Dean had a chance to explain, Cain said, “He’s not getting out of bed, is he?”

“How’d you know?” Dean said, turning to head back to the house with Cain close behind him.

“For one thing, you’ve been perfectly capable of handling anything else on your own so far and haven’t come looking for help until now. And then there’s the fact that I was somewhat waiting for this,” Cain said sadly. “He’s had a string of good days, and your presence is so obviously a large factor in that. But he was about due for a bad one.”

“What can I do?” Dean asked.

“Not much, unfortunately.”

They reached Alfie’s room and entered together. Cain approached the bed and spoke to Alfie, so softly that Dean couldn’t hear what he was saying. Whatever it was, it was enough for Alfie to turn back over to face them and sit up slightly.

“Hey, kiddo,” Dean said. “Feeling up for breakfast?”

Alfie nodded, though he still wouldn’t look at Dean. Cain bent down and kissed his son on the forehead, then left the room, gesturing to Dean to follow him.

“He needs to eat, but other than that, I’d leave him alone today,” Cain said. “He’ll come down when he’s ready, if he is.”

“You sure he’s okay on his own? It wouldn’t help to have someone nearby?” Dean asked.

“Downstairs is near enough,” Cain replied. “We’re available if he needs us, and he knows that. He just wants to be alone with his thoughts, and he needs that too.”

“Okay,” Dean said, respectful of Alfie’s wishes. “You go back to what you were doing, then. I’ll make him some breakfast then hang out down here in case he wants to talk later.”

“Thank you, Dean,” Cain said.

“No thanks necessary.”

After making Alfie some pancakes and a small fruit salad, he brought the meal back upstairs on a tray. Alfie was still sitting up, but he had a distant look in his eyes, and barely seemed to notice when Dean placed the tray beside him.

“Breakfast is here when you’re ready for it,” Dean said softly. “And I’ll be downstairs if you need me, okay?’

Alfie finally looked at him. There was more pain in his eyes than Dean had ever seen. Still, he managed a small smile. “Thanks, Dean,” he said.

Dean wasn’t quite sure why people kept thanking him for doing his job today, but this wasn’t about him. Walking over to the bookcase, he pulled down a worn copy of The Princess Bride and left it on the bedside table.

“This is my favourite comfort read,” he said. “Judging by the state your copy is in, I’m gonna guess that you agree. So I’ll just leave it here for you, okay?”

“Okay,” Alfie said, picking up the tray and starting to eat.

Satisfied that he was at least taking care of himself, Dean left Alfie in peace and went back the main floor. He debated picking up his book, but instead grabbed his laptop and settled in to one of the comfortable chairs in the living room. He hadn’t checked to see if there was any new posts on Following the Honeybees for awhile.

There were no new text posts, but there was a gorgeous set of photos, so Dean spent some time clicking through the series. He checked news sites, sent a few e-mails to friends and family, and messaged back and forth with Charlie, who was at work but having a slow day.

A few hours later, he checked the time and decided he might as well start making lunch. He had just about finished the chicken caesar salad when he heard the creak of the floor behind him, and looked over to see Alfie entering the kitchen.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” Alfie replied, pulling a chair out from the table and sitting down. “Lunch looks good.”

“Yeah, I’m just about to go let your dad know it’s ready, so go ahead and start,” Dean said, placing the salad on the table.

He was glad to see Alfie take his suggestion as he went outside. Cain was just turning the corner with the lawnmower, so Dean waved to get his attention, then pointed back inside the house. Cain nodded and turned the machine off.

The two of them joined Alfie at the table, and taking his cue from Cain, Dean didn’t mentioned anything about Alfie’s behaviour that morning. They kept the conversation light, discussing the town’s annual Flower Festival, which would be taking place in a few weeks. Once they had finished eating, Cain returned outside, but when Dean made to join him so Alfie could take his nap, the younger man stopped him.

“I’d appreciate some company,” he said.

“Of course,” Dean said, and followed him back upstairs.

Alfie climbed back into bed, but this time he sat propped up by his pillows, and he indicated that Dean should take his usual chair.

“Not tired?” Dean asked.

Alfie shrugged. “Not at the moment, but that could change pretty quickly.”

“Want me to tell you a bedtime story?” Dean joked.

“No, thanks,” Alfie said. “Just didn’t feel like being alone anymore.”

“Whatever you need. Whatever I can do,” Dean said.

“Maybe you can tell me a story,” Alfie said. “But a real one, not a fairy-tale or whatever.”

“Okay, yeah, I can do that. Any particular requests?”

“Something happy.”

“Something happy….okay, how about this?” Dean began. “So you know my aunt Ellen runs The Roadhouse, right?”

“Of course,” Alfie said.

“So my cousin Jo had grown up at the place, basically, when she wasn’t at home with me and Sam and my mom. She was waitressing there by 16, and when she turned 18, she wanted to start bartending instead.”

“I’ve never understood the law that says you can bartend at 18, but can’t drink until 19,” Alfie commented.

“How did you know that was where this was going? So anyways. Sam’s 19 at this point, right, he’s a year older than Jo. So of course on her first night officially behind the bar, we go in and start demanding all these ridiculously complicated drinks, which is funny because we’re normally pretty boring whiskey-or-beer kind of guys. Jo shrugs, says it’s good practice, and makes each one perfectly. This goes on for awhile, and I guess it stopped being funny, or she got too busy handling everyone else’s orders, cause we’re not even that drunk, and she cuts us off.”

“Your own cousin cut you off?”

“Yep. And not because we were drunk, but because we were pissing her off. We thought we were being so smart, acting like we were the ones in charge, but she sure showed us.”

“That is a happy story,” Alfie smiled. “I wish I knew Jo better. She sounds great.”

“Yeah, she is. She’s basically my sister, you know, the way we all grew up together.”

“I wish I had siblings,” Alfie said wistfully. “It would have been nice to have someone like that.”

“You don’t really have an extended family, huh?”

“No,” Alfie said. “It was just me and my parents, then me and my dad.”

Dean shook his head. “I don’t know what that would be like,” he said. “My family isn’t that big if we go by blood alone, but you add in all the people who’ve been around since I was a kid, and the numbers start climbing.”

“Must get pretty rowdy around the holidays,” Alfie smiled. “That sounds nice.”

“Oh yeah. Tons of fun. Tons of booze. Way too much food. The usual.”

“Maybe I could come this year,” Alfie suggested, but the look on his face told Dean that he had no illusions about being around that long. It made Dean incredibly sad. Alfie was even younger than him, and he was such a great guy. He deserved all the holidays and all the love in the world, but that just wasn’t in the cards for him.

“Totally,” Dean said roughly. Alfie gave him a look that suggested he knew exactly what Dean was thinking, and smiled sadly.

“I can never decide which is my favourite season here,” he said. “I love this time of year, and then in the fall the trees are stunning, but the winter can be lovely too.”

“I like the fall,” Dean said. “You get the best of both worlds. September days when it’s still warm and sunny, and October nights when there’s a chill in the air.”

“And everywhere, all things taste of pumpkin spice.”

“Don’t knock it,” Dean said. “Pumpkin spice drinks are like liquid pie.”

Alfie snorted. “That doesn’t make me want to drink one.”

“Weirdo.”

Alfie smiled again, but it turned into a yawn. “I think that’s the signal for nap-time,” he said.

“Cool,” Dean replied, getting up out of the chair. “You need anything else?”

“If you don’t mind closing the blinds, then I’m good.”

“You got it,” Dean said, and did just that. “Sleep tight.”

“Okay,” Alfie mumbled, already curled back up with the covers pulled up to his chin. Dean looked down at him fondly. He was getting pretty attached to Alfie.

It made it that much harder for Dean to keep reminding himself that this situation was temporary. He had no idea how much longer his friend would be able to hold on. Though today had been a difficult day, so far he seemed to be doing okay physically. Dean wasn’t sure how long that would last. All he could do was try to bring him some small amount of happiness and comfort before the end.

Chapter Text

The next two weeks passed in a similar manner. Dean made sure to take a few evenings to go visit his family, either at home or at The Roadhouse. He did as Ellen suggested and brought back burgers for Cain and Alfie, which were very well-received. He hadn’t gotten a chance to visit with Sam, but Dean was pretty sure that had less to do with his current situation than it did with Sam’s hectic schedule. They texted as frequently as possible, though, so Dean didn’t feel any more disconnected from his brother than he would have if he were still living at home.

And to cap it all off, Dean got to spend several more evenings getting to know Castiel Novak.

Castiel’s visits were quite frequent, usually two to three evenings per week. He always brought something with him: a new book for Alfie, little trinkets he had picked up from local artisans, or something sweet for the four of them to enjoy together out on the porch. Two more chairs had been added, so there was room for all of them to relax together now. As much as Dean appreciated the feeling of inclusion that came from this change, he sort of missed sitting on the steps beside Castiel, the quiet thrill of being near him. The more time he spent with the other man, the stronger his attraction became.

On the last Friday in June, four weeks to the day after Dean had come to stay with Cain and Alfie, the town of Port Lawrence hosted its annual Flower Festival. Cain always had a stall set up with his honey for sale, along with some of the little wooden carvings he made on quiet evenings. In the days leading up to the festival, Dean and Alfie had planned to attend, at least for a little while, but that morning, Dean knew it wouldn’t be happening. Alfie woke up coughing and continued to do so all day. His spirits were good, but he was too weak to leave his bed, let alone the house.

Cain was understandably worried about leaving him. “Maybe I should just stay home,” he said. “Alfie’s more important than any festival. He shouldn’t be alone.”

“I don’t mind staying,” Dean said. “You go. People love your stuff, and I know you secretly enjoy all the people-watching. Besides, everyone needs to see how long your hair’s gotten so they can all whisper about it.”

“You’re sure?” Cain asked, still looking indecisive.

“Absolutely. The festival’s fun, sure, but it’s also exactly the same as it has been my whole life.”

“You’ll call me if anything happens?”

“Of course.”

Cain sighed. “Alright then. I’ll be back late this evening.”

He went upstairs to say goodbye to Alfie, and then headed into town for the day, leaving Dean and Alfie alone. Dean spent the morning reading quietly in Alfie’s room while the other man dozed, making sure to keep his water glass full. He made them soup for lunch, and then they played a few hands of cards before Alfie fell asleep again. Dean brought his computer over from his room and watched some nature documentary on Netflix with his headphones on, but as interesting as the material was, it didn’t capture his interest quite like Following the Honeybees did. Alfie woke up again in the early evening, and with Dean’s encouragement, ate some more soup before falling asleep again.

Dean was sitting in his chair beside the bed, absentmindedly clicking through an article about the summer forecast, when he heard a noise from the lower level. He closed his computer and listened carefully. That was definitely the sound of the door opening, but it was far too early for Cain to be back. Unless he had gotten worried about Alfie and decided to pack it in before the end of the day...the stairs creaked, and Dean got to his feet, bracing himself to take a swing if necessary.

It wasn’t Cain, but nor was it an intruder. It was Castiel.

Dean blinked at him. “You scared the shit out of me,” he said, his voice quiet but still scolding. “Jesus, man.”

“I apologize,” Castiel said, his voice also low. “I just came to check on you two.”

Dean nodded. “He’s fine,” he said. Alfie was curled up in bed, soundly asleep.

Castiel crossed the room and leaned down over the bed, gently smoothing the younger man’s hair back from his forehead. There was tenderness and affection in his touch that Dean could see even from across the room. It made him ache to be touched that way by Castiel.

“I don’t want to disturb him,” Castiel said. “We should go downstairs.”

Dean made sure Alfie had a full glass of water in case he woke up coughing, and then followed Castiel down the stair and out onto the porch, settling into their usual chairs.

“What were you thinking, sneaking in like that?” Dean said.

“I apologize,” Castiel replied. “I didn’t want to wake Alfie if he was sleeping, it didn’t occur to me that you might be startled by the noise.”

“Well, yeah. Whatever, you’re here now. Alfie’s sleeping and Cain’s in town for the festival though.”

“Yes, I know,” Castiel said. “I spoke with him there. I was actually looking for you and Alfie, since you had mentioned you planned to attend the last time I was here. But then Cain told me how Alfie wasn’t feeling well and you had elected to stay here with him, so I thought I would drop by to check in on you. It seemed to reassure Cain as well.”

“I’ve never seen you at the Flower Festival before.”

Castiel shrugged. “I don’t usually attend, no,” he said. “Too many people, too many tourists mostly. But I thought it would be nice if you and Alfie were there.”

“Sorry to let you down.”

“Not at all. Oh, before I forget,” Castiel said, then stood and disappeared into the house. After a few minutes, he came back out carrying a plate filled with baked goods, obviously purchased at the festival.

“Are those Mrs. Moseley’s butter tarts?” Dean asked.

“Yes,” Castiel smiled. “I asked your mother what your favourite festival treat was, and she directed me to Missouri’s booth. They both say hello, by the way.”

Dean paused with one of the tarts halfway to his mouth. “Wait, you talked to my mom? Do you even know my mom?”

“I know who she is, of course. We’ve spoken briefly at the library before, but this was our first real interaction. She seemed surprised that you knew me, in fact.”

“Small towns are weird,” Dean said, biting into the tart. “Oh my god, these are perfect. Thank you for bringing them, Castiel, that was really nice of you.”

“Do try to save some for Alfie,” Castiel said dryly. “I thought he might enjoy them as well.”

Dean sighed. “Okay, fine. But you should have one too.”

“If you insist.”

They sat companionably for a few minutes, enjoying the sweet treats. Dean realized that this was the first time he had actually been alone with Castiel. He had assumed that once the other man had seen that Cain was out and Alfie was sleeping, he would have left. But Castiel seemed quite content to sit on the porch with just Dean for company. It was a pleasant thought.

“I can see why these are your favourite,” Castiel commented, finishing his tart. “I’ve had many desserts in my life, but there’s something special about these.”

“Missouri says it’s because they’re made with tough love,” Dean said. “I believe her.”

“She does manage to be a unique combination of warm and yet terrifying,” Castiel said.

“That’s a pretty good description.”

“I wonder if I’ve been too cut off, living here,” Castiel said thoughtfully. Dean wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. The conversation was veering into personal territory that he wasn’t really equipped to handle.

“What do you mean?” he asked, keeping his tone neutral.

“I came here for solitude,” Castiel explained. “And I got exactly that. I love it. But tonight, it was nice to talk to so many different people, rather than just to my cats.”

That was an adorable image. Fighting back a grin, Dean asked, “You have cats?”

“Yes, two. Their names are Banjo and Good Luck.”

“Cute. But yeah, I mean, cats are great to talk to, but every once in awhile you want someone to talk back, no?”

“Yes, exactly,” Castiel said. “I have no urge to move into the centre of the town, mind you, but it was a pleasant reminder that people are here, should I want to be around them.”

“Well, you’ve got us too,” Dean said.

“And I’m very glad of that. Cain and Alfie’s friendship has been invaluable to me these past few years, and of course, now I have yours as well.”

Dean was glad that it was starting to get dark out, because he was pretty sure that he was blushing. Again. “How did you and Cain become friends?’

“It’s a bit embarrassing,” Castiel admitted.

“Oh, come on.”

“Fine then. This must have been, oh, three years ago? No, four. Alfie wasn’t back from school yet. My motorcycle broke down just up the road here. I was struggling with it when Cain came along and offered me a lift. I refused at first. Too stubborn to admit I couldn’t fix on the side of the road. But he just gave me one of those intense looks of his, and grabbed hold of the bike to haul it into the back of his truck. There didn’t seem to be much use in arguing further.”

“I know exactly the kind of look you’re talking about,” Dean said.

“And after that, well. I stopped by the next day to see if there was anything I could do in return, and he said no, but we got to talking, and we’ve been friends ever since.”

“And then Alfie came home, and two became three.”

Castiel’s face darkened. “Not at first, no. My visits stopped for almost a year. Alfie didn’t want to see anyone, and Cain was frantic trying to take care of him. I didn’t want to intrude, and they wouldn’t accept any help at the time.”

“So what changed?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” Castiel said slowly. “Maybe just time and distance. A period of adjustment. Cain reached out to me, actually, to ask if I wanted to come by. I was thrilled to hear from him, of course. And to my surprise, Alfie joined us without even being coaxed into doing so. And then, as you put it, two became three.”

Dean hesitated, but Castiel seemed to be in a sharing mood, so he went ahead and asked the question that had been running through his mind since he first saw Castiel and Alfie interact. “I don’t mean to pry, but...sometimes, I get the impression that there's more than friendship between you and Alfie.”

Castiel frowned at him, but he looked more confused than displeased, which was encouraging. “More than friendship? Oh, you mean a romantic connection. I’ve never understood that phrase, to be honest. It devalues friendship, which is an incredibly important aspect of human connection. Romance is different than friendship, of course, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s more inherently valuable or desirable.”

“Umn, yeah, I guess that makes sense,” Dean said. “Never really thought about it that way, but yeah.”

“That was a bit of a digression, though. To answer your question that was very carefully not a question, no, there has never been anything remotely romantic between Alfie and I. When we first met, he was still incredibly vulnerable, and as much as I’ve grown to admire him and to enjoy his company, he is, as they say, just a friend.”

“Oh, okay. Good,” Dean said. He hadn’t been expecting such an honest answer, so it caught him off-guard and he didn’t have a good response at the ready.

“Good?” Castiel asked. “Why is that good? Dean, you’re not harbouring romantic feelings towards Alfie yourself, are you?”

Dean choked back a laugh. Castiel was completely oblivious. He clearly had no idea that it was him and not Alfie that Dean was interested in. But Dean wasn’t about to bring that up right now either, so he had to think of some other reason he could have made that statement.

“I just mean, it would be really sad, for both of you,” he said.

“Yes, I suppose so,” Castiel said thoughtfully. “Though as we just discussed, losing a friend is difficult in its own way. We still say we’ve lost a loved one, no matter the particularities of that love.”

“You seem to have thought about this a lot,” Dean noted.

“I spend a lot of time alone with my thoughts,” Castiel smiled.

“And your cats.”

“And my cats, of course.”

“You should bring them over sometime. Get a little basket for the bike.”

Castiel chuckled. “That is an appealing image,” he said, “but I don’t think they would enjoy the ride very much. Maybe next time I’ll bring some pictures instead.”

“Close enough.”

The conversation halted for a moment there, but the silence wasn’t uncomfortable. It was quite the opposite. Dean was so happy that he had this night with Castiel, even if they never got to repeat it. He had always found the other man attractive, but now he knew that he was also thoughtful, and surprisingly funny, and obviously good-hearted. Dean’s feelings towards him were only increasing in intensity. It was a glorious thing, to feel this way about someone again. It had been years since he’d felt it, and Dean honestly hadn’t expected to experience it again before he died.

“Dean,” Castiel said, breaking the silence.

“Yeah, Castiel?” Dean said.

The other man paused, as if gathering his thoughts, and then continued. “I just wanted to tell you how much I admire you for what you’re doing here. With Alfie, and with Cain. It’s incredibly generous and kind of you.”

“You know Cain’s paying me, right?” Dean said. “It’s not like this is charity.”

“That doesn’t change the spirit of it,” Castiel replied. “They’ve been alone in this for so long, and to see the effect you’ve had on their lives, even in this one month, has been incredible. You’ve brightened this place up so much just by being here, Dean, and I hope you know how important that is, to all of us.”

Dean cleared his throat roughly, trying not to let his emotions overtake him. “Thanks,” he said quietly. “I’m uh, really happy to be here too. And this month has been incredible for me as well.”

They exchanged smiles, and then Castiel stood up. “It’s getting late,” he said. “I should be heading home.”

“Yeah, of course,” Dean said, standing as well. “Thanks for keeping me company tonight.”

“It was my pleasure,” Castiel said, and he sounded like he meant it. “Goodnight, Dean. And don’t even think about eating the last of those butter tarts. They’re for Alfie, remember?”

“Yes sir,” Dean said, throwing a mock salute. “Night, Castiel.”

He waited until he could no longer hear the rumble of the motorcycle, and then he turned off the porch light and went back inside.

He caught himself humming some sappy song that was always on the radio and shook his head at his own behaviour. This wasn’t a Nicholas Sparks novel, he told himself. Though enough people were dying to almost make it feel like one. They just needed some sort of vaguely spiritual message to round it out, but that seemed unlikely.

Dean went upstairs to check on Alfie, who was still soundly asleep. He gently rested his hand on the other’s man forehead, but it didn’t feel warm. Dean made sure he was well-covered with blankets, then quietly left the room. At this point, it seemed likely that Alfie would sleep through the night. Dean left the door slightly ajar so he could hear if Alfie called for him, then went down the hall to his own bedroom.

He changed into his pyjamas and climbed into bed, still with a goofy smile on his face. He kept replaying little snippets of his conversation with Castiel in his mind, trying to memorize his mannerisms, the way his voice sounded saying certain words, such as Dean’s name. Dean wondered what Castiel was doing at that moment, if he was still on his way home or if he was already there, snuggled up with his cats. The thought made Dean’s smile widen. He felt like a giddy teenager, but he welcomed the feeling.

It had been a perfect night. A night to remember. No one could take these memories away from Dean. They were his to keep, his to cherish until the end. His to remember on the rest of his lonely nights, when he would inevitably grow sad about his approaching death. He might not accomplish great things before he died. He might not travel around the world, or write an award-winning novel, or see another band in concert, or see Bobby retire, or get to watch Sam get married.

But he would always have this, the recollection of the night he fell in love for the last time.

Because that was the feeling swelling in his chest. His damaged heart, the thing that was going to be the death of him, was also the thing that that was giving meaning to the last days of his life. Dean was in love with Castiel Novak, and it didn’t even really matter if Castiel ever learned of it. It didn’t even really matter if his feelings were ever returned. They were beautiful, and real, and they were his.

And with that thought in mind, Dean fell asleep, still smiling.

Chapter Text

July was a difficult month.

Alfie’s condition was clearly worsening. He would still have the occasional good day, but they were becoming outnumbered by the bad ones, and the bad ones were getting worse. Understandably, this also increased the number of days where he might be fine physically, but wasn’t doing well emotionally.

Also understandably, this made Cain worried and anxious, which led to him getting very little sleep, which led to him being occasionally short-tempered with Dean. Dean refused to let it bother him, though. Cain was always apologetic afterwards, and Dean was there to lessen his burdens, not add to them. He took on more of the farm work so Cain could sit by Alfie’s bed on the bad days. There wasn’t anything either of them could for Alfie medically, so their presence and support and love were all they could offer.

Castiel came to visit frequently, usually around three times a week. If Alfie was feeling up to it, they would spend time together, sometimes by themselves, sometimes with Cain and Dean as well. If Castiel came on one of the days when Alfie was too sick or too melancholy to see anyone, he would still stay for awhile, making sure Cain had everything he needed, and taking some time to talk with Dean.

He also insisted on getting Dean out of the house on occasion.

“Dean, there’s nothing you can do right now,” he said one night, early in July. “Cain is with Alfie, and they need some time with just the two of them. The house is spotless, the fridge is full of food, all the chores are done. It’s not good for you to be here all the time.”

“So what, you want to distract me or something?” Dean asked.

“Essentially, yes. Let’s go for a ride.”

“When you say ride, you mean on your bike?”

Castiel nodded. “Yes, I brought an extra helmet. I thought you might enjoy the experience.”

Dean gulped nervously. The thought of riding on Castiel’s motorcycle was an exciting one, but probably not for the reasons Castiel would assume. He would be pressed up close behind Castiel, his arms wrapped around him...it would be a lot to handle.

Castiel was looking at him with a concerned expression on his face. “Did I misjudge you?” he asked. “Are you a strictly cars-only kind of guy?”

Dean laughed. “No, I just wasn’t expecting it,” he lied. “Alright, Castiel, let’s go for a ride.”

Castiel grinned at him, and Dean felt a little flutter in his chest. But not just metaphorically. He pressed his hand over his heart, and felt it again. Shit. This was probably the exact kind of thing he shouldn’t be doing. But looking at Castiel standing there in this leather jacket, holding out a helmet to him, Dean decided tonight was a night to be reckless.

But not too reckless.

“Gimme just a minute,” he said. “Gonna use the bathroom first.”

Dean quickly went up to his room and took his heart pills, then put the bottle in his pocket as well, just in case. He did pop into the bathroom quickly, but only to fix his hair. Then he laughed at himself. Castiel didn’t care what his hair looked like, and the helmet would just mess it up again anyways.

“Okay, let’s go,” he said, closing the front door behind him and accepting the helmet that Castiel offered.

“We’ll go slow,” he said.

“I trust you,” Dean replied.

They climbed onto the bike, Dean settling behind Castiel and wrapping his arms tightly around his waist. It was exhilarating, being this close to him.

And then they were off, and it got even better.

Dean had always loved going for drives along the backroads, and summer nights were a particularly good time for them. He would usually have the windows down and the stereo turned up. But this was completely different, and wonderful in its own way. He could feel the wind rushing past them, smell the summer wildflowers along the sides of the road. He could feel the warmth of Castiel’s back tight against his chest.

They rode in silence for almost an hour, Castiel making turns seemingly at random, with no particular destination in mind. After a few more turns, Dean realized they were on their way back to the farmhouse, and sure enough, they arrived there not much later. Castiel pulled up in front of the house and stopped. Dean climbed off and removed his helmet, turning to face the other man, who was looking at him expectantly. “Well?” Castiel asked.

“That was awesome,” Dean said earnestly. “Seriously, I’ve been up and down those roads a thousand times, but never quite like that.”

“Good,” Castiel said. “I’ve always found riding to be freeing. It’s a singular experience, and I’m glad I got to share it with you.”

“Me too,” Dean said, adrenaline still coursing through his veins. “I didn’t know how much I need that. Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” Castiel replied. “We’ll do it again sometime, alright?”

“Alright,” Dean agreed.

“I should be getting back,” Castiel said. “Goodnight, Dean.”

“Goodnight.”

Dean went back inside, stopping to check on Cain and Alfie. They were both fast asleep. Dean smiled sadly at the sight, and gently draped a light blanket over Cain where he was sitting in the armchair. It couldn’t be comfortable, but Dean knew from experience that he wouldn’t leave and go to sleep in his own room. There was nothing more Dean could do for them right now, though, so he left them where they were and returned to his bedroom, leaving both doors ajar in case of an emergency.

-----------

The next few weeks were more of the same, and by late July, Dean was waking up every morning, fearing the worst. Entering Alfie’s room and seeing his chest rise and fall was a relief. Dean would never admit to anyone, but he was exhausted. He knew this wasn’t going to be easy, knew that Alfie was dying when he offered to take the job, but he never imagined it would be quite this hard, somehow. Alfie was too young, too good. He deserved so much better than this.

One night, when Dean and Castiel had combined forces and persuaded Cain to go fishing with Castiel, leaving Dean and Alfie alone, the younger man finally told Dean his story. Alfie had been feeling stronger than usual that day, and the two of them had played a few rounds of cards after dinner when Alfie suddenly put down his hand and turned to face Dean with a serious expression.

“Dean, can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” Dean said, laying down his cards as well. “Anything.”

Alfie hesitated, then continued. “You’ve been here almost two months now,” he said. “And you’ve never once asked me to talk about why you need to be here in the first place.”

“It’s never mattered,” Dean said. “You needed someone, and I could be here. Anything else is none of my business.”

“I really appreciate that, you know. How respectful you’ve been.”

“Sure.”

“But I think I want to tell you,” Alfie said slowly. “I think I need to tell my story, before the end.”

“If you want to tell me, I’d be honoured to hear it,” Dean said. “But only as much as you’re comfortable with.”

Alfie nodded. “Okay,” he said, taking a deep breath.

“In some ways, it all started in my first year at university. I didn’t know a single person in the city, you know, and it’s such a change, going from here to there. My dorm was great, though, everyone was so friendly and from so many different places that it felt like we were all going through the same thing. It felt like it would all be okay, because we were together. But school was tough. Tougher than I imagined. I started getting really stressed, and I started smoking.”

“Are we talking cigarettes or something else?” Dean asked.

“Cigarettes. And a lot of them. Between classes, in the evenings, with my morning coffee. Everyone around me was smoking too, it seemed. It shouldn’t have been a big deal.”

“But it was,” Dean said softly.

“Yeah,” Alfie said. “Lung cancer. Diagnosed just at the end of my third year. Doctors said it was unusual in somebody so young, and who hadn’t been smoking all that long, even if it was intense.”

“They couldn’t do anything?”

“Nothing permanent. I got whatever treatment I could, and they said I had five years, probably. They were right, it looks like.”

“But you didn’t come back home then, I remember,” Dean said, confused.

“I wanted to finish my degree. I knew it wouldn’t matter in the end, but it mattered to me at the time. Dad was upset, he wanted me here, but I was stubborn. It was only one more year.”

“Good for you,” Dean said. He understood that decision perfectly. It was essentially the same thing he was doing right now.

“And that probably would have been fine, you know,” Alfie said thoughtfully. “If it was just my body betraying me. Or, you know, reacting the way the cigarette boxes warn you that it will.”

“But that wasn’t it,” Dean guessed.

“No.”

“You don’t have to tell me.”

“It’s okay, I want to get this out. My last year was...strange, in a lot of ways. I worked hard, because I wanted to make the most of it. But I was also a bit reckless. I partied more than I ever had before, did some stupid things, took a lot of chances. One night, in the spring, a group of us were at a friend’s house, and we were completely smashed. We were getting on the subway to go home, and we were messing around like idiots, jumping the barriers, sliding down the escalator rails, making rude comments to people passing by. It’s awful, thinking about it now, but at the time it felt weirdly liberating.”

“I get that.”

“So of course transit security shows up, and we all try to run for it. As we’re scrambling away, I hear my friend Naomi say something about how I should take the fall, since I can’t run that well now and they’ll catch me first anyways. And that even if they do, they’ll let me off easy if I tell them my sob story.”

“Your friend said that?” Dean asked, incredulous. “Some friend.”

“Exactly. They got all of us anyways, and they let us off with a warning, but I couldn’t look at Naomi after that. She was ready to throw me to the wolves like it was nothing. Like I was nothing. Like just because I was dying, I ceased to matter.”

“Fuck, that’s terrible.”

“It really messed me up,” Alfie said, pausing to cough. “I finished the year, threw myself completely into my schoolwork. Then as soon as I was done, I came back here. Didn’t even go to my convocation, even though I had been looking forward to it so much. I couldn’t bear the thought of running into any of my old friends there.”

“No wonder you didn’t want to see anyone that first year,” Dean said.

“Yeah, exactly. I didn’t trust anyone. I thought everyone was fake, more concerned with keeping up appearances than they were with me. I didn’t want to play nice anymore. They wanted me to be the nice boy they remembered, just a sicker, more tragic version. But I wasn’t at that point yet. I was too angry.”

“You had every right to be, you know that, right?”

Alfie nodded. “I do. And my dad was so patient with me. I snapped at him all the time, but he never got mad, never made me feel like I was being unreasonable.”

“He loves you a lot,” Dean said softly.

“I know,” Alfie replied. “I’m so scared for him. I don’t know what he’s going to do after I’m gone.”

“You know me and Castiel will look after him, as much as he’ll let us,” Dean said. “I promise, Alfie.”

“I know you will,” Alfie said, managing a weak smile. “That’s just who you are, Dean. You would never leave anyone alone and hurting.”

“Not if I can help it, no.”

“Keep an eye on Castiel, too,” Alfie said. “He’s been so good to me these past few years. I know he doesn’t really have other friends, and I don’t want him to be alone either.”

“You got it.”

“Thanks, Dean,” Alfie whispered, his eyes closing.

Dean reached out and took hold of the younger man’s hand. “You’re welcome,” he said.

------------

Dean thought back on that conversation a lot over the next few weeks. Every time he saw Cain close his eyes to try to hold back tears, or every time Castiel dropped by and looked so sad when Alfie was sleeping or too sick to talk to him. Dean reminded himself that all three of them were hurting, and did as much as he could to make things easier for them, but it was taking a toll on all of them. Too many nights tossing and turning, too many days watching over Alfie, anxiously tracking each movement of his chest.

After one particularly bad day, Dean approached Cain with a question that had been bothering him for awhile.

“Shouldn’t we take him to the hospital?” he asked. He could still hear Alfie coughing in the other room.

Cain shook his head. “They can’t do anything for him other than try to make him comfortable, as they say,” he said. “I’ve been on the phone with the doctors a lot, and there’s nothing they can do. Alfie wanted to stay here. He doesn’t want a hospital to be the last place he sees.”

“Okay,” Dean said. “I guess that makes sense. I just hate feeling so helpless.”

“Me too,” Cain said heavily. “Me too.”

“Want me to stay with him tonight?” Dean offered.

“No, I’ll stay,” Cain said. “You try to get some rest. Your mother would kill me if she saw you right now. You look terrible.”

“Oh, gee, thanks,” Dean said, trying for levity. “Very nice of you.”

“Go to bed, Dean,” Cain said. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

“Yes, sir,” Dean mumbled, and did as he was told.

The next morning dawned clear and bright. The humidity of the past few days had burned off, and there was a freshness in the air again. It was a beautiful August day.

Dean got out of bed, and as always, went immediately to Alfie’s room. Both he and Cain were still asleep, so Dean left them as they were and went down to the kitchen to make breakfast. Porridge would be quick, and easy to Alfie to swallow. Once it was ready, he carried a tray back upstairs, and shook Cain softly by the shoulder to wake him up.

“Good morning,” Dean said quietly. “I made you guys breakfast.”

“Good morning,” Cain said, his voice still scratchy from sleep. “That looks wonderful, thank you.”

He reached over and combed his fingers through Alfie’s hair. The slight movement was enough to wake him, and he opened his eyes, blinking in the sunlight.

“Good morning, son,” Cain said.

“Morning,” Alfie said. His voice was even raspier than usual.

“Do you feel up to eating something?” Dean asked. “It’s porridge, so it’ll be easy for you to handle.”

Alfie nodded, but when he reached for the bowl, his hands trembled. Cain looked at his son, his expression grave, and gently took the spoon and began to feed him. Dean felt like he was intruding on a private moment, so he quietly backed out of the room, and returned to the kitchen to tidy up.

Not long afterwards, Cain brought down the dirty dishes. “He’s asking for you,” he said.

“Okay,” Dean said. “Yeah, okay.”

“Dean,” Cain said, his voice full of sorrow.

“I know,” Dean said. “I know.”

They went back to Alfie’s room and took up chairs on either side of the bed. Alfie smiled through his coughs when he saw them, and stretched his hands out to both of them. Dean clasped his hand in both of his, feeling how fragile it was,

“It’s a beautiful day,” Alfie said, so quietly they could barely hear him.

“A perfect summer morning,” Cain agreed. There were tears running silently down his cheeks. Dean could see them glimmering on his skin in the bright morning light.

“The birds were singing so nicely this morning when they woke me up,” Dean said. “I heard a bluejay, but I couldn’t see it.”

“I thought I saw one earlier,” Cain said. “You used to love them, when you were a kid. Boojays, you called them.”

Alfie coughed again, his whole body moving with the intensity of it. Dean gripped his hand tighter, trying to steady him.

“Dad,” he said, turning his head slightly so he was looking at Cain. “Don’t cry, Dad.”

Cain tried to control himself, but the tears kept coming. He raised Alfie’s hand and pressed it against his tear-stained cheek.

“Love you, Dad,” Alfie said. “Love you so much.”

“I love you too, son,” Cain said, his voice breaking. “My little boy.”

Dean felt a trickle of wetness on his own cheek, and used his free hand to brush away his tears. He must have made some noise, though, because Alfie turned back to look at him.

“You’re gonna be okay, Dean,” he said. “Promise me.”

“I promise,” Dean said, not even trying to hide his tears anymore. It wasn’t worth the effort.

Another round of coughing hit Alfie, and even as it subsided, he still struggled to breathe, his eyes closed as he focused. Cain and Dean exchanged helpless glances over the bed.

Alfie’s breathing steadied, and he opened his eyes. “A beautiful August morning,” he said. “Almost enough to make me believe.”

A few minutes later, he was gone.

Chapter Text

Dean knew he should do something. Say something. But he couldn’t find the right actions or the right words. Alfie still looked like he was just sleeping. Dean looked over at Cain, whose head was bowed, still holding his son’s hand. Dean couldn’t imagine the grief Cain was feeling at that moment, and that was what spurred him into action.

He stood up and crossed the room, placing a gentle hand on Cain’s shoulder. “I’ll give you a moment,” he said quietly. Cain didn’t respond, but Dean couldn’t blame him.

Dean retreated to his bedroom and tried to determine what needed to be done. His first instinct was to alert the family, but Cain and Alfie didn’t have any extended family. The only person who really needed to be informed of Alfie’s passing was... Castiel. Dean took a deep breath and called Castiel from his cell, having exchanged numbers with him a while back. The phone rang and rang, but there was no answer. Dean had no idea when he would be able to get through to Castiel, so even though it felt slightly impersonal, he left him a voicemail.

“Hey, Castiel, it’s Dean,” he said, not bothering to hide the emotion in his voice. “I just thought you should know. Alfie passed this morning. It was peaceful, you know. But he’s gone. Anyways. Call me back.”

Dean ended the call and stared at his contact list, trying to see if there was anyone else he needed to tell immediately. His eyes landed on the number listed as “Home” and without even really thinking about it, he was dialling.

“Hello?” his mother said on the other end of the line.

“Mom?” Dean croaked, and suddenly he was crying again.

“Dean, honey, what is it?” Mary asked.

“Alfie’s gone, Mom,” Dean managed to say before his crying overwhelmed him again.

“Oh, sweetheart, oh I’m so sorry.”

“I’m trying to be strong for Cain, but…”

“It’s hard for you too, of course it is,” Mary said soothingly. “Listen, sweetheart, I’m going to drive over there right now. We’ll get whatever information we can from Cain, and we’ll take care of the funeral arrangements and everything together, okay?”

“Okay,” Dean replied, his tears finally subsiding. “Thanks, Mom.”

“I love you, Dean. See you soon.”

“Love you too, Mom.”

Dean put the phone down and gave himself a few minutes to calm down. Then he went downstairs to wait for his mother to arrive. He hoped that maybe Castiel would call him back in that time. It would be good to hear his voice. But his phone remained silent.

He sat alone with his thoughts until he heard a light knock on the door, and jumped up out of the chair to answer it. As soon as he opened the door, his mother swept him up in a tight embrace. Dean relaxed into it, overwhelmed both by his sadness and by his relief at having someone to share it with.

“Come in,” he said, stepping back to allow her into the house. “Do you want something to drink?”

“I’ve always been a big believer in a cup of tea,” Mary said.

“Yeah, I’m finally starting to see why,” Dean said, putting the kettle on to boil and grabbing two mugs from the cupboard. He hesitated, then took out a third one as well, in case Cain decided to join them.

“The first thing to do would normally be to inform the family, but the Knights don’t really have any other family, do they?” Mary asked.

Dean shook his head. “No,” he said, “it was really just the two of them. I left a message for Castiel, since they were so close, but I didn’t know who else to call after that. Other than you.”

“Alright,” Mary said, pulling a small pad of paper and a pen out of her purse. “Did either Cain or Alfie ever mention anything about funeral plans?”

“Not in detail. I know Alfie wanted to be buried beside his mom. In the United Church’s cemetery. But I don’t know about a service.”

“We can do the service there as well,” Cain said, stepping into the kitchen. Dean started to get up, but Cain gestured to him to stay seated, and pulled out a chair for himself. “We haven’t been churchgoers in quite some time, but I want Alfie to be laid to rest beside Colette.”

“Of course,” Mary said. “I’ll call the minister shortly. Do you want a notice placed in the paper?”

Cain snorted. “No, just tell one of the other ladies at the library and I’m sure they’ll spread the word,” he said.

Despite his sharp tone, Mary looked at him steadily, waiting to see if he was being serious.

“I’m sorry,” Cain said quietly, looking down at the table. “I know you’re here to help.”

“It’s alright,” Mary replied. “A notice?”

“Yes, that seems like a good idea.”

“Is there anything else that needs to be done?”

“We’ll need to arrange transport,” Dean said. “For, umn, the body.”

Mary nodded. “Yes, I can call the funeral home. Cain, do you want to arrange a visitation there as well?”

“No,” Cain replied, “I can’t bear listening to everyone’s sympathies more than once. Just the church service.”

“Alright. I can start making those calls now.”

“Thank you, Mary,” Cain said. “I can see where Dean gets his generous spirit from.”

Mary smiled softly at him. “I know you have reason not to believe it, but there are people here who are willing to help.”

“I know that now. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to,” Cain gestured vaguely towards the upper floor of the house, and both Mary and Dean nodded understandingly.

After he had left, Mary shook her head. “Poor man. To lose a child…”

Dean swallowed nervously. “Yeah,” he said. “Must be awful.”

“And it’s awful to lose a friend as well,” Mary said, reaching over to squeeze Dean’s hand. “I’ve got this, honey. You do what you need to do, and I’ll do what needs to be done.”

------------

The little church was packed to the brim for Alfie’s funeral. Dean stood with Cain to greet people as they entered, mostly so that Cain wouldn’t have to say much to the people who had ignored him and his son for years. Dean wasn’t quite sure how to feel about them all being there, either. On the one hand, it was good to see the community come together to mourn the loss of a young man taken before his time, but on the other, it felt a bit like too little too late.

Dean’s family were among some of the first to arrive, and Mary offered to stay with him and Cain, but Dean shook his head and told her to go sit with Jo and Ellen. She had been amazing, getting everything organized, but he could take it from here.

“Dean,” someone was saying. He looked up and was surprised to see Sam standing in front of him.

“Hey, Sam,” he said. “I gotta say, I wasn’t expecting you.”

Sam winced. “I know. Sarah couldn’t get out of her auction, but I did some calls on the drive over, and I’ll work overtime to make up for it. I needed to be here, though.”

“It’s good to see you,” Dean said roughly. His brother pulled him into a hug. “I’m sorry, Dean,” he said quietly.

“Thanks, Sammy.”

Sam pulled back and extended a hand to Cain. “I’m so sorry, sir,” he said.

Cain shook Sam’s hand and gave him the first genuine smile Dean had seen from him all morning. “Thank you for coming, Sam. I know it would have meant a lot to him. He was always so proud of you, and what you accomplished.”

“I wish I’d gotten a chance to say goodbye,” Sam said. “I should have made more of an effort.”

“You’re here now,” Cain said gently.

Sam nodded at him, then turned back to Dean. “Are Mom and Ellen and Jo already here?”

“Yeah, they’re up near the front.”

Sam squeezed Dean’s shoulder and headed for the rest of their family. Dean watched him go, then smoothed his face into a neutral expression to receive the next round of sympathies.

As more and more people arrived, Dean couldn’t help noticing that Castiel wasn’t among them. Neither he nor Cain had heard anything from him since Dean left him that message on the day Alfie died. Cain said not to worry, that Castiel had a habit of going off for a few days to areas without cell reception, but Dean worried anyways. He hoped that Castiel simply hadn’t received the message.

As the steady stream of arrivals started to slow, someone from the church approached and waved to get Dean’s attention. “We’re almost ready to begin,” he said, “if you and Mr. Knight would like to take your seats.”

Dean looked at Cain, who nodded, and they made their up to the front of the church where a pew was reserved for them. Dean felt a bit strange, sitting in the area reserved for family, but it also felt right. Though they had only been together for slightly more than two months, Dean had spent a great deal of time with Alfie, and with Cain. He was honoured to be sitting here as Alfie was laid to rest.

The service passed in a bit of a blur for Dean. He heard the usual words about Alfie being in a better place, about God welcoming him. The only part he liked was when the minister mentioned him being reunited with his mother, because Dean knew how much that would mean to Cain. Dean looked at the older man and saw that tears were running silently down his face. He brought his arm up around him, offering him what comfort he could.

After the service, they moved outside to the cemetery. The casket was lowered into the ground, and everyone looked to Cain to say something, but he seemed unable to find the words, so Dean stepped forward.

“Alfie was a wonderful man,” he began. “Kind, and warm-hearted, and fiercely intelligent. And too young. Much too young to die. I will see him in every sunny day, and feel him in every crisp breeze. I was lucky enough to spend the last few months with him, and he will be in my thoughts every day, for the rest of my days.”

He accepted the white rose that the minister handed to him, held it to his chest for a moment, then dropped it on top of the casket. He stepped back, and Cain pulled himself together enough to do the same. The crowd pressed in close to add to the pile of flowers in the grave, and Dean started feeling a bit overwhelmed. Fortunately, it was soon over, most people leaving immediately afterwards with small nods to Cain and Dean, neither of whom had anything left to say.

Mary and Sam were two of the last to leave. “Dean, sweetie, do you want to just come home with us?” Mary asked.

Dean shook his head. “I drove Cain over here, I’ve gotta take him home,” he said absently.

“But you’ll be home after, right?” Mary said. “I don’t mean to be insensitive, but Cain won’t need your help anymore.”

“Maybe not in the same way, but I’ve gotta make sure he’s okay. I’ll be home when we’re both ready, Mom.”

“Alright, Dean,” Mary said, but she looked troubled.

“Thanks for coming, Sam,” Dean said to his brother, hugging him again.

“Of course. Take care of yourself, Dean.”

Dean waved goodbye to them, then looked back to see Cain watching him. “You can go with them,” he said.

“No way,” Dean answered. “Come on, let’s get you home.”

Cain nodded and allowed Dean to led him to the Impala. They drove back to the farm in silence, Cain staring out the window the entire time. When they arrived at the house, he immediately went upstairs and shut himself in his room. Dean sighed, and went to his own room to drop off his suit jacket. After taking off his tie, he went to place it in the drawer, and caught sight of the note from Dr. Devereaux that he had hidden there. He took it with him, and went back outside.

Dean sat on the porch, looking at the three empty chairs beside him, occasionally reading over the note detailing his diagnosis. He felt incredibly alone. Maybe he should have told someone by now. Maybe he should have gone home with his mom and Sam, but he hadn’t wanted to be around anyone who wasn’t grieving in the same way that he was. He couldn’t blame Cain for needing the time to himself, but he wished he had someone there with him nevertheless. Dean put the note in his pocket and wrapped his arms around himself, but it just wasn’t the same as being embraced by someone else.

He had been sitting there for maybe half an hour when he heard a familiar rumble. He looked up and saw Castiel’s motorcycle coming up the driveway. Dean stood up, arms still wrapped tightly around himself, as Castiel dismounted, pulling off his helmet. He looked at Dean, and Dean saw his own sadness reflected in his eyes. They were dark with sorrow.

“Oh, Dean,” Castiel said softly. He climbed the steps up onto the porch and tentatively reached for Dean, and when he encountered no resistance, pulled him into a hug.

Dean relaxed into Castiel’s embrace, and for the first time that day, he let his tears flow freely. He couldn’t bring himself to care about how he looked. Castiel held him tightly, and Dean knew they were both giving and receiving comfort from the embrace. Castiel ran his hand up and down Dean’s back in a soothing motion, and Dean’s tears slowly turned to hiccups, and then stopped.

He pulled back enough to speak. “I’m so glad you’re here,” he said.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get here earlier,” Castiel said. “I was on a trip, way out in the woods, and I didn’t see your message. I missed the funeral, then?” he said, looking at Dean’s all-black outfit.

“We just got back,” Dean explained. “Cain’s upstairs. Hasn’t said anything in awhile.”

“I should go see him,” Castiel said, looking at the door to the house. “Will you be okay here for a few minutes?”

“Yeah,” Dean said, steadying himself. “Yeah, go on.”

Castiel nodded, and headed into the house. Dean dropped back into his chair and waited for him to return.

It was probably about twenty minutes before Castiel joined him on the porch again, settling into his usual chair. “How is he?” Dean asked, somewhat afraid of the answer.

Castiel sighed. “Heartbroken,” he said quietly. “The poor man. We all knew this was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier, does it?”

“It never is.”

“He said the funeral was beautiful, though. That you gave a very nice little speech when he couldn’t.”

“I did what I could,” Dean said, “but there aren’t enough words to do justice to who Alfie was.”

“There never will be,” Castiel agreed. “Cain’s leaving,” he continued. “He’s going to pack what he needs and go on an extended road trip. Says he can’t bear to be in this house right now. He wanted me to tell you. Said you can stay here, if you want.”

“Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me,” Dean replied. “I don’t think I could stay in this house either, though. It’s too full of memories. And being alone here…”

“So you’ll go back to your old life, then?” Castiel asked. “It might be good for you, a return to your usual routine.”

“I’ll feel bad, though. I promised Alfie to look out for his dad. I can’t do that if he’s off driving to god knows where.”

“There’s only so much you can do, Dean,” Castiel said gently. “You’re looking after Cain right now. And you can still call him when he’s on the road, check in on him. Drop by here to water the gardens, bring flowers to Alfie’s grave.”

“Yeah, I guess. But the thought of going back to my family’s house, I don’t know, somehow it doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.”

The more Dean thought about it, the less he wanted to return to his old house, to his old job, to his old routine. Even if he couldn’t look after Cain like Alfie had wanted, he knew he needed something more meaningful for himself.

Alfie had said he wasn’t there to be Dean’s inspiration, but in some ways, he had been. He had lived out his days on his own terms. He had stayed true to himself, and he had borne his suffering with both honesty and grace. Dean wanted to be better, for Alfie and for himself. He didn’t know how much time he had left, and he knew he had to make the most of it.

Going back to his comfortable old routine wasn’t going to make Dean happy. He would be content, but he would be unchallenged. So what could he do instead? What would make him truly happy? What would give the most meaning to the last few days or months of his life?

Dean looked at Castiel, sitting beside him in silence. He stared at the other man, thinking just how important he had become to him in such a relatively short amount of time. Dean didn’t want to lose these precious moments with him. He didn’t want Castiel to retreat to his solitary island, with just his cats for company.

The realization struck Dean like a lightning bolt.

He wanted Castiel beside him for the rest of his short life. He wanted to get to know him better, to make him smile that beautiful smile, to listen to him talk about all the places he’d travelled to, to read beside him at the end of the day.

As Dean was still processing this train of thought, Castiel looked over at him. “I know this is hard on you as well, Dean,” he said. “I want you to know, that if there’s anything you need, if there’s anything I can do for you, all you need to do is ask.”

If that wasn’t a sign from heaven, then Dean wasn’t sure what was. He took a deep breath and willed his hands to stop trembling.

“Actually, Castiel, there is something you can do for me,” he said shakily. “Will you marry me?”

Chapter Text

Dean’s heart was beating very fast. Castiel was silent, an unreadable expression on his face.

“I don’t know why you would joke at a time like this, but I have to assume that you’re joking,” Castiel said slowly.

“No,” Dean protested, fighting back his nerves. “I meant it.”

“Why on earth would you want to marry me?” Castiel asked. He didn’t appear to be disgusted by the thought of marrying another man, or by that man being Dean in particular, he just seemed confused by the whole situation. That was a relief. Dean still had no idea as to the specifics of Castiel’s sexuality, but it didn’t look like he was about to be punched in the face for his proposal.

“Well," Dean said, trying to find the best words, “there are two reasons. The first is, I- “ Dean trailed off for a second. He was about to say “I love you,” but realized it might be a bit much at the moment. “I’m crazy about you,” he said instead. “And the second reason is this.” He handed Castiel the letter from Dr. Devereaux that he had been keeping in his pocket.

Castiel accepted the letter, still looking bemused, and read over it quickly. Dean could see comprehension dawning on his face as he read. When he had finished reading, he looked up at Dean, and his expression showed compassion more than anything else.

“There’s nothing to be done for you?” he asked gently.

Dean shook his head. “It’s pretty straightforward,” he said bitterly. “I don’t know why, but I can’t stomach the thought of going home to die. I want to be happy, not just comfortable. And- you make me happy, Castiel.”

“You hardly know me,” Castiel said. “I could be a murderer.”

“I don’t believe that for a second,” Dean said firmly. “I may not know everything about you, but I know that you’re a good person, and that you’re not nearly as scary as the leather jackets and the motorcycle and the lack of smiling lead people to believe.”

There was a faint hint of smile on Castiel’s face now. “If we are going to get married, I have a few conditions,” he said.

“Of course,” Dean said hastily. He was just happy to hear that Castiel was considering his offer at all.

“I need to maintain my privacy, in some aspects of my life,” Castiel said. “There may be certain things you want to ask, but if you do, I reserve the right not to answer.”

“Sure,” Dean agreed.

“And I don’t want any false pretenses between us.”

“Neither do I,” Dean said. “I fully accept that if you say yes, you’re marrying me out of pity. You don’t have to pretend that it’s anything more than that.”

“And I’m not giving up my house. You’ll have to come live with me on the island.”

“Sounds perfect.”

Castiel let out a little surprised laugh, like he hadn’t expected Dean to be so agreeable. “Well,” he said, “I can’t say I expected this today. But alright. Let’s get married.”

“Wait,” Dean said. “I know I have no right to make any demands of you, but- I don’t want you to refer to the fact that I’m dying, even if it is the whole reason we’re doing this. I want you to pretend I’m perfectly healthy. I don’t want to tell me to be careful, or to get overly protective. That’s the whole reason I haven’t told anyone else that I’m sick, after all.”

“No one else knows?” Castiel asked incredulously. “Dean, you didn’t tell your family? That’s an awful burden to bear alone.”

“I know,” Dean said, “but it would be an awful burden for them to bear too. I thought about telling them so many times, but I always stopped. I never even told Alfie, before he died. I didn’t want to make it about me.”

Castiel shook his head. “You are a very stubborn man, Dean Winchester,” he said, but it sounded like there was a trace of admiration in his voice. “Very well. After this conversation, I will never again refer to your impending demise.”

“Great,” Dean said.

“I suppose we’ll need a license,” Castiel said. “I assume you’d like to be married as soon as possible?”

“Yes, please.”

“Are you inviting your family?”

Dean hesitated. He honestly hadn’t thought that far ahead. The romantic side of him wanted to say yes, because he had always dreamed of a big wedding, celebrating with all of his family and friends as he made vows to the love of his life. But this wasn’t going to be that kind of wedding anyways, and seeing as they had no idea why Dean was doing this, they probably wouldn’t be too supportive.

“No,” he said. “They would try to stop me. Or demand answers that I don’t want to give them. Better to do it, and then tell them about it once it’s too late for them to change anything.”

“I admit I have some reservations about this,” Castiel replied. “I know how close you are to your family, Dean. Keeping all these secrets from them…”

“I know,” Dean sighed.”Trust me, I’m not happy about it either. And you’re right, I do love my family, very much. But they’re a bit overbearing sometimes, and I need to do something for me, and me alone, for once in my life. Maybe eventually they’ll understand why.”

“Alright,” Castiel said. “It’s your decision to make, of course. If there’s nothing else we need to discuss, I can go to the town hall now, get the license...we can be married tomorrow.”

“Perfect.”

“Two o’clock?”

“Good time for a wedding.”

“Okay,” Castiel said. “I will see you at the town hall at two o’clock tomorrow afternoon. I suggest you pack everything you need with you, and we’ll head straight home afterwards.”

“Okay,” Dean said. None of this seemed quite real to him yet.

Castiel smiled and turned to leave, but then he paused. “I never imagined myself as the type to get married,” he said, “at least not in a very long time. We promised not to pretend anything to each other, Dean, so I won’t lie and say that I love you, but… I have always been fond of you.”

And then he was gone.

---------

By just past noon the next day, Dean had packed up everything he had brought with him to Cain’s house into the Impala. He wasn’t sure if there was anything left at his family home that he would need, but he figured he could always go get it later if that turned out to be the case.

He still hadn’t seen Cain since they got home from Alfie’s funeral. As much as Dean wanted to respect his right to grieve in private, he also wanted to say goodbye. So he knocked softly on the door to Cain’s room, and heard him say “come in.”

Dean pushed the door open. Cain sat in a chair by the window, his clothes rumpled, and his hair messy like he had been running his hands through it all night. He looked awful.

“Hey,” he said. “Castiel told me that you’re leaving town soon.”

“Yes,” Cain said, his voice rough from disuse. “Maybe tomorrow.”

“Okay, well, I just figured I should let you know,” Dean said, and then stopped. Could he explain his upcoming wedding to Cain without explaining the reason behind it? Probably not. Best to leave out some details, then, he thought. “I’m going to go stay with Castiel for awhile. I think it’ll be good for both of us.”

Cain looked at Dean for the first time, and there was the barest hint of a smile on his face. “That is a good idea,” he said. “You boys look after each other. Alfie would want you to be happy.”

“I know,” Dean said softly. “And he would want the same for you.”

Cain nodded.

“Let us know how you’re doing sometimes, okay?” Dean said. “And if your wanderings take you back this way, even just to pass through, please let us know.”

“Alright,” Cain said. “Goodbye, Dean. I wish you all the best.”

“You too,” Dean replied, and then shut the door behind him.

There was nothing left to in preparation other than get dressed. It might not be the elaborate wedding of Dean’s romantic daydreams, but it was still his wedding day, and he wanted to look his best. He put on a white shirt and light grey suit, debated between his ties before deciding against wearing one altogether, then fixed his hair in the bathroom. He took a look at himself in the mirror, and thought he looked pretty good for a guy who was going to die soon. With that cheerful thought in mind, Dean got into the Impala and drove himself to the town hall, where his groom-to-be was waiting for him.

-----------

He found Castiel waiting for him on the steps to the town hall. He looked incredible, wearing a dark grey suit with a blue shirt underneath that almost perfectly matched his eyes. He wasn’t wearing a tie either, and for some reason, that little detail made Dean smile.

“You look nice,” he said.

Castiel smiled at him, a little shyly, and said, “So do you, Dean.”

“Shall we?” Dean said, gesturing to the doors. They entered together and found the small room where the ceremony was to take place. Dean kept sneaking glances at Castiel, hardly able to believe that this was happening. Castiel looked surprisingly calm, producing the marriage license when asked, as though this had been planned for some time.

The justice of the peace led them through the brief ceremony. Dean was surprised that he didn’t recognize her, the town being so small that he thought he knew everyone. It was probably for the best, though. There would be a lower chance of the story spreading through the rumour mill this way.

When prompted, Castiel produced a ring, which took Dean by surprise. He hadn’t even considered that. Castiel must have noticed his expression, because he smiled at Dean and winked. Dean was so goddamn lucky. This handsome, kind, generous man was marrying him out of the goodness of his heart and a whole lot of pity, and he even made sure he had a ring, so the experience would be as complete as possible for Dean. He willed himself not to cry. This was supposed to be a happy day.

The justice of the peace called forward two witnesses Dean didn’t know either, and after a few more words were spoken, he and Castiel were officially married.

“You may celebrate your union with a kiss,” she said, not looking particularly interested in whether they did or not.

Dean swallowed nervously. He and Castiel probably should have had a talk about the physical aspect of their relationship. Dean had no absolutely no expectations in that regard- he wanted Castiel’s company, not just his body. He didn’t want to make Castiel uncomfortable, so he just shrugged slightly, trying to signal his indifference. Castiel rolled his eyes and stepped forward, pressing his lips against Dean’s in the barest whisper of a kiss. It felt more like the closing of a business deal than it did an expression of affection, which was actually rather fitting.

Castiel stepped back, and the justice of the peace said handed them the papers to be signed. “Congratulations,” she said. And then it was over.

Dean looked down at the ring on his finger. It was a simple silver band, with light etchings on it that looked like vines. It fit him perfectly. He had no idea how Castiel had managed that. He didn’t feel any different. He didn’t feel married, if that was a thing. But he liked the look of the ring on his finger, and he definitely liked what it represented.

“Well, that was efficient,” Castiel said. “I always imagined a wedding being far more complicated.”

“Most of them are,” Dean said. “Most of them are also planned a lot further in advance, mind you.”

“Do you have everything you need with you?” Castiel asked.

“Yeah, the car’s all packed,” Dean replied.

“Alright, then. Let’s go.” Castiel led Dean back out of the building to where his motorcycle was parked just a few spots away from the Impala. “I suppose you’ll have to follow me,” he said.

“No problem,” Dean said, climbing into the car. It gave him a little bit of time to himself, which was nice. He was thrilled to see Castiel’s house for the very first time, but they would be spending a great deal of time together in the coming days, and it was good to get a bit of an adjustment period, even if it only took the form of a twenty minute drive.

Dean followed Castiel on the bike, across roads he’d driven countless times before, but it was different today. These were now the roads that would lead him home. To his husband. The thought brought a pleased smile to Dean’s face. He had a husband. And they were on their way to the home they would share together, for however long Dean lived past this point. This was the right choice. Dean knew it in his bones.

They were approaching the area where Castiel lived. Dean could occasionally see the lake glistening through the trees as he rounded a corner. Ahead of him, Castiel turned down a narrow road, more of a driveway than anything else, that led in the direction of the water. Dean followed, and a few minutes later, stopped the car at a small garage-like structure on the shore of the lake.

Castiel was pulling the motorcycle inside. Dean got out of the car, and inspected the garage.

“There should be room for your car here,” Castiel said. “I know how protective you are of her, Dean. This will keep the worst of the weather from getting to her.”

“Awesome,” Dean said. “We don’t have to swim to the island, do we?”

“No,” Castiel smiled, “I have both a rowboat and a larger motorboat. In fact, why don’t we load your things into the boat, then you can park the car, and then we’ll be off.”

They did just that, opting to take the motorboat as it had slightly more room to fit two passengers and the surprising amount of personal belongings Dean had brought with him. Once everything was out of the trunk and in the boat, Castiel waited while Dean parked the Impala in the garage. Then he joined him in the boat, and they made the short trip across the island.

Dean couldn’t see the house as they approached, as it faced out onto the lake. Then Castiel steered the boat to the right, rounding the corner of the island, and there it was. It was a small, one-storey structure in classic log cabin style, with a large front porch that practically hung over the lake, it was so close to the water. Dean could see that it had huge windows in the front that would let in a lot of light, and a small chimney rising from the roof indicated that it had a real fireplace inside. Dean loved it on sight. He could see himself being very happy living there.

Castiel pulled the boat up to the dock and cut the engine, then tied the boat up. He hopped gracefully out of the boat, and Dean started passing up bags to him. Once everything else was out of the boat, Castiel offered Dean his hand and helped pull him up onto the dock.

“Well,” he said, sounding almost nervous, “what do you think?”

Dean grinned at him. “It’s gorgeous,” he said. “It’s perfect. I can see why you never want to leave.”

“Oh, good,” Castiel said with a sigh of relief. “I love it here, but it has occurred to me that not everyone appreciates isolation as much as I do.”

“I think I’m going to like it just fine,” Dean said, picking up a few of the bags. “Come on, Castiel, give me the tour.”

Castiel led him into the house. “We’ll have to get you a set of keys made,” he said as he opened the door. “I don’t even have a spare set to lend you in the meantime.”

“That’s fine,” Dean said, stepping into the house for the first time.

The front door opened directly into a large, open living area. To the right of the door were two armchairs, a low coffee table, and the fireplace. The walls on that side were lined with bookshelves, overflowing with books. On the other side of the room was the dining area, with a round table big enough to seat four, though there was only one chair there at the moment. Behind this area was the kitchen, which was open to the rest of the room.

“It’s nice,” Dean said. “We’re gonna need another chair, though.”

“Yes, of course,” Castiel said. “I do have others, I’ll just have to rearrange things slightly.”

“Where should I put my stuff?” Dean asked, gesturing to the bags they’d unloaded from the boat.

“Oh, yes,” Castiel said, leading him down a short hallway past the living area. “Washroom is there,” he said, indicating the first door on the left. He paused in front of the next door, which was firmly shut. “This is one of the things I wish to remain private,” he said carefully. “I would ask that you don’t enter this room, Dean, for any reason.”

“Okay, got it. Bluebeard’s Chamber. I don’t even care how many dead spouses you’ve got in there, as long as they’re all dead.”

Castiel grinned at him. “Entirely dead,” he promised. “And this,” he said, pushing open the last door on the right side of the hall, “is my room. Well. Our room now, I suppose.”

Right. Because they were married. Somehow Dean hadn’t even considered sleeping arrangements. Maybe it was the privilege of growing up in a family that while no means rich, was certainly economically comfortable, but Dean had never considered that there would only be one bedroom in Castiel’s house. Even though he knew it was a fairly small house. Suddenly the ring on his finger felt a little heavier. Dean swallowed nervously and stepped inside.

It was a beautiful room. Because it was in the back corner of the house, there were windows on two sides that looked out into the forest. The large bed, covered in a multi-coloured quilt that looked handmade, took up almost the entire interior wall.

“I’ll let you put your things away,” Castiel said, gesturing to the closet and dresser. “I made room, but if you need more, please don’t hesitate to let me know.”

“Thanks, Castiel,” Dean said, his gaze still lingering on the bed. The bed he would be sleeping in beside Castiel, apparently.

“Dean,” his husband said. Husband. Partner. Sleeping companion. Dean looked at him, where he had paused on his way out of the room.

“Yeah?”

“I think, considering that we are married, and how...closely we’re going to be living together,” he said, sounding almost as awkward as Dean felt, “that you can probably just call me Cas.”

Chapter Text

Dean took the time to arrange his belongings to his liking rather than just throwing them into drawers wherever they would fit. It also gave him some time to think. But for Dean, moments of reflection usually turned sour, and this was no exception.

He hadn’t even considered what Castiel would be giving up by marrying him. It was temporary, sure, but still. The guy had emptied out drawers for him, literally and metaphorically making space for Dean in his home and his life. Both of which, up until now, had been completely his own. Shit, Dean thought, I’m so fucking selfish. He felt like he had taken advantage of Castiel’s kindness by asking him to marry him. He had even played the year-left-to-live card, for god’s sake.

Maybe this was a bad idea. Dean considered his options. He would feel foolish telling Castiel he had changed his mind, and the other man would want an explanation, and then he would try to tell Dean he really didn’t mind having him there (in his house, in his bed), and Dean would want to believe it so badly that he would end up staying. Dean sat down and on the bed and groaned, letting his head fall forward into his hands. What a mess. And it was completely his fault. He couldn’t blame anyone else for the situation.

A soft noise at the door made Dean look up, expecting to see Castiel, but there was no one there. A second later, Dean felt something brush against his leg, and looked down to see a large silver and grey striped cat twining around his ankles.

“Hey there,” Dean said softly. The cat looked up at him, meowing, so Dean reached down to pet it. “Are you Banjo, or are you Good Luck?”

“That would be Banjo,” Castiel said from the doorway, where he was observing them with a smile on his face. “I didn’t mean to bother you, Dean, I was just looking for him.”

“It’s fine, Cas,” Dean said, trying out the shortened version of Castiel’s name. He liked it. “Guess he wanted to come say hello, huh.”

“He’s very friendly,” Cas replied. “Good Luck is a bit more shy, but he’ll warm up to you. Especially if he sees how much Banjo here seems to like you.”

“Cool,” Dean said. Was he going to give the other cat a chance to warm up to him, or was he going to cut and run long before then? He hesitated, not sure whether to mention his concerns to Cas, or keep them to himself like he always did. But Cas was different. After all, he was the only one who knew about Dean’s diagnosis. And if nothing else, Dean owed him honesty.

“Cas,” he said hesitantly. The other man looked up from where he was watching the cat, taking in Dean’s expression, the way his hands were nervously clutching at the quilt. “Is something wrong?” he asked.

“I know it’s a bit late now, but, I just realized how selfish of me it was, getting married, coming here,” Dean explained. “I feel like I’m interrupting your whole life. I don’t want to be a burden on you, Cas, that’s the last thing that I want.”

Cas came fully into the room and sat down beside Dean on the bed. Banjo settled down across both of their feet and began to purr.

“I understand your concern,” Cas said. “I can’t say I’m surprised by it, either. I do live a very solitary life, or I have, up until now. But Dean, I knew what I was doing when I said yes to you. I’m the one who made the condition that you come live here, remember? If I wasn’t prepared to share my life and my home with you, I wouldn’t have said yes. It’s that simple.”

“What about sharing your bed?” Dean asked quietly, his cheeks turning pink.

Cas looked surprised by the question. “Oh,” he said. “Is that what’s really bothering you?”

Dean shrugged and wouldn’t meet his eyes.

“I was also aware of the number of beds in my own house when I said yes,” Cas said. “I’ve shared beds with people for many reasons before, Dean. It can be nice, having someone to fall asleep beside.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Dean said weakly. How did he bring up the thing he was really thinking about- the other thing most people used their beds for?

But Cas was clever, and intuitive, and he obviously sensed that Dean’s discomfort stemmed from more than the thought of sleeping beside him. “This is probably something else we should have discussed before getting married,” he said wryly, “but while we’re on the topic of beds, we might as well talk about it like adults. When you asked me to marry you, Dean, were you expecting it to be consummated?”

“Wasn’t expecting anything,” Dean mumbled. “Wasn’t even really expecting you to say yes.”

Cas chuckled. “Fine, since you are obviously incapable of handling this discussion, I’ll tell you what I think,” he said. “Am I correct in assuming in that you are attracted to me physically, on top of your emotional attachment?”

Dean didn’t trust himself to speak, so he just nodded. Attracted to him physically? That was putting it mildly.

“Well, if it helps to put you at ease, you should know that I find you very attractive as well, Dean,” Cas continued, like that was a normal thing people said to each other. “However, as we agreed not to pretend anything towards each other, I’m unwilling to act on that attraction, as my emotional investment is not as strong as yours.”

“Okay,” Dean said slowly. “So because we’re married, but we’re mostly going to act like friends who just live together and share a bed, the bed will only be for sleeping?”

“I think that would be for the best,” Cas said. “I personally don’t enjoy repeated sexual encounters outside of a romantic relationship. A one-night stand is very different than a no-strings-attached type of arrangement.”

“That makes sense,” Dean said, trying not to get distracted by the sound of the word ‘sexual’ in Castiel’s rumbling voice. “Basically, you don’t want to have sex, because sex complicates things, and we should keep this as straightforward as possible.”

“Basically.”

“I can live with that,” Dean said. “Like I said, I wasn’t expecting anything. I didn’t ask you to marry me just to get laid.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Cas said. “However, I feel I should also mention, as we do have a rather unconventional marriage, I can understand if you were to seek release elsewhere.”

“What is this, some kind of hall pass bullshit?” Dean said, offended.

“If that’s how you choose to think of it,” Cas shrugged.

“Unconventional or not, I’m not a cheater,” Dean said firmly.

“You realize you’re agreeing to spending the rest of your life without sex?” Castiel asked. Like he was actually concerned about this. About Dean having sex. Jesus.

“Hey, no talking about me dying,” Dean said sharply.

“You’re right, we did agree to that as well. I apologize.”

“But to answer your question, yes. Not gonna lie, it’s not like I was getting much action anyways. Most people around here are long paired off.”

“Alright,” Cas said, though he sounded unconvinced.

“Oh, wait. Was this supposed to be a both ways kind of thing? I don’t care if you hook up with someone. I wouldn’t ask you not to, not on top of everything else,” Dean said quickly. He was only somewhat telling the truth, though. As much as he didn’t want to stop Castiel from doing what he wanted, he would be hurt if he did go looking for sex elsewhere. Especially now that he had admitted that he found Dean attractive.

Cas looked just as offended as Dean had. “Of course not,” he said. “As you so charmingly put it, I’m not used to getting much action either. Not around here. It simply hasn’t been a priority, and most people seem to be a bit afraid of me, which isn’t exactly conducive to either a hook-up or something deeper and more long-lasting.”

“So basically, neither of us is getting any.”

“Yes.”

“I guess that’s fair,” Dean said.

“Marriage should be an equal partnership, after all,” Cas said solemnly, but there was mischief in his eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, we’re the very picture of wedded bliss,” Dean said, rolling his eyes.

“Now that that’s settled, I don’t want to hear anything else about you ruining my life, or whatever it is that you were thinking,” Cas said sternly.

“Okay,” Dean said as meekly as he could. He did feel better, actually. Their conversation had done a lot to assuage his fears about overturning Cas’ life. Maybe this whole scheme of his would actually turn out okay.

“Come on,” Cas said, getting up off the bed, “let’s go find Good Luck. Get the whole family together.”

Dean stood and followed him, Banjo making noises of complaint at being disturbed. He followed the two men out into the living area, though, and curled up in a patch of sunlight. Cas, meanwhile, had knelt down in front of one of the armchairs, and appeared to be talking to it. A few seconds later, he stood up, holding a smaller brown cat. “Come say hello,” he said to Dean.

Dean stepped forward, slowly reaching out a hand for Good Luck to sniff. The cat nosed at it, then gave it a little lick. Encouraged, Dean stroked his ears, and when he paused, Good Luck nudged his hand, demanding more.

Dean chuckled. “Bossy little guy, isn’t he,” he said.

“Yes,” Cas replied, looking fondly at the cat in his arms. “He’s the baby, and he’s spoiled rotten. And now it looks like he’s got you wrapped around his little paw as well.”

“Shut up,” Dean said, still petting the cat. “He’s really cute.”

“I’m glad you think so,” Cas said, gently depositing him on the ground. He immediately went and curled up beside Banjo, the two of them snoozing in the afternoon sun.

“So, what now?” Dean asked, looking around the room.

“That’s a good question,” Cas said. “Starting tomorrow, I plan to go back to my usual routines. Some days I’ll be out for hours, others I’ll spend in the spare room. I’m afraid you’ll mostly be on your own then, Dean. But we should have evenings together, at least.”

“If you’ve got stuff to do today,” Dean began, but Cas shook his head.

“No,” he said, “today is for us. A honeymoon, if you will.”

“Ain’t that sweet,” Dean said, fluttering his eyelashes. “Alright, Mr. Romantic, what do you have planned for me?”

“We could take the boat out,” Cas suggested. “It’s a lovely day.”

“That sounds awesome,” Dean said enthusiastically. “Other than the trip over here, it’s been way too long since I’ve been on the water.”

“Rowboat or motorboat?” Cas asked.

Dean thought about it for a minute. “Rowboat,” he decided. “Little bit more leisurely. Good for taking in the view.”

“Perfect,” Cas said.

Since they had used the motorboat to get to the island, they took it back to the shore, then switched over into the smaller boat. Instead of heading back towards the island, Cas directed them the other way, saying there were some lovely areas further along the shore.

They fell into a good rhythm with their paddles, and Dean felt both calm and content. There was something soothing about being on the water, the steady motion as they rowed, Castiel’s nearness.

“You’re better at this than I imagined,” Castiel said, nodding at Dean as they paddled.

“Just because I don’t live on an island doesn’t mean I haven’t spent time on the water,” Dean replied. “I’ve lived close to this lake my whole life. Been out on it a fair bit.”

“Good,” Cas said. “Nice to know you’re not some soft townie.”

“Hey, watch it,” Dean threatened. “I will tip us into this lake.”

“On purpose, or by accident?” Cas teased.

Dean leaned slightly over the edge of the boat, making sure not to overbalance. He scooped up some water in one hand, and splashed it right into Castiel’s face. The other man spluttered and stopped rowing, wiping his face with his hand while Dean laughed.

“That was uncalled for,” Castiel said, trying to recover his dignity. Dean was still laughing at him.

“Hey, you asked for it,” he shrugged. “Challenging my boat skills and all.”

“Boat skills,” Cas repeated. “Yes, that’s the correct terminology.”

“Whatever, you’re just mad because I splashed water on your face.”

“An incredibly juvenile thing to do,” Cas muttered. Then, moving so quickly that Dean was surprised the boat didn’t tip, he reached down and sent a much larger cascade of water in Dean’s direction.

“Who’s juvenile now?” Dean said, shaking drops of water off his hands and arms.

“You started it.”

“What are you, six?”

“Thirty-five, actually, and still not one to let anyone else get the last word,” Castiel said smugly.

“Dude, you’re thirty-five?”

“Yes. Is that a problem?”

“No, I’m just feeling a little proud of myself right now. Thirty-five and unmarried in a town like this is so far past the pity stage, it’s almost cool. You were like Clooney or something, but then you married me. That makes me special.”

“You are a very strange man,” Cas said, shaking his head. “Please refrain from comparing me to famous playboy actors in the future. Now, may we continue our pleasant boat trip, uninterrupted by childish behaviour?”

“I make no promises,” Dean said, but he picked his paddle back up and they started rowing again.

As they continued their outing, Castiel pointed out some of the spots he liked best: a particular tree, a small stream that flowed out from the forest to meet the lake, a large nest that likely belonged to a hawk. Dean liked the way he sounded when he talked about these things, like they were friends of his. Living out here all alone, that was probably exactly what they were to Castiel. In a strange way, this was Dean meeting the important people in his husband’s life.

They turned around not long after, making their way back to the garage and boat launch, then getting back in the motorboat to cross back to the island. “I don’t mean to insult you,” Cas said, looking warily at Dean, “but do you have your boating license?”

Dean scoffed. “Of course,” he said, gesturing at Cas to hand him the keys. “Come on, let me drive.”

Cas looked at him consideringly, then dropped the keys in Dean’s hand. “Don’t make me regret this,” he warned.

Dean made a point of guiding the boat towards the island with steady hands, keeping an indifferent expression on his face, as though the whole situation was beneath him. As he rounded the corner of the island and smoothly pulled up to the dock, he heard Castiel laughing behind him, and turned to face him with a smile of his own.

“Bravo,” Cas said, hopping out of the boat. “Big man Dean Winchester, driving us home.”

“That’s right,” Dean said, stepping up onto the dock. “Don’t ever doubt me again.”

They returned to the house, and were immediately greeted by the cats. Dean was pleased to note that they twined around his ankles almost as much as they did Castiel’s. It was nice, having them to come home to, and they seemed to have adopted him pretty quickly.

“Are you hungry?” Cas asked.

“Yeah, I could eat,” Dean said, patting his stomach. “All that fresh air and activity worked up a bit of an appetite.”

“I admit I don’t cook much for myself,” Cas said, looking into the refrigerator. “But I do have some leftover pizza in here.”

“Sounds perfect. And hey, I like cooking, so that works out fine,” Dean said.

Cas removed the pizza box from the fridge, then frowned when he realized there was still only one chair at the table. “Oh, yes,” he said to himself, then disappeared down the hall, leaving Dean to wonder if he was meant to follow. Castiel returned a minute later, carrying another chair, and placed it at the table. “There,” he said, sounding pleased. “That’s more like it.”

They finished the pizza between them, the cats begging for bits of pepperoni from under the table. “Don’t give in,” Castiel warned him. “It’ll just make them worse.”

“But they sound so sad,” Dean protested.

“It’s not like I’m starving them,” Cas said. “They’ve got plenty of food. You need to work on your resolve, Dean. You can’t give them everything just because they’re cute.”

“Shut up,” Dean said. “And they’re not just cute, they’re ridiculously cute. You could probably start a blog and make millions off them.”

“I would never pimp them out like that,” Castiel said, sounding genuinely horrified.

“Look at you, sticking to your principles.”

After the finished eating, they retired to the front porch, with a couple of beers from a local brewery on the other side of the lake. “Hey, you’ve got two chairs out here,” Dean commented.

“Yes,” Castiel said, “when I purchased the one, they were having a buy one, get the second half-price event. I tried to tell the lady that I only needed one, but she managed to persuade me to get the second one, even though I never have company.”

“Until now,” Dean said.

“You’re not company,” Cas said. “This is your home now, Dean, and I hope you’ll treat it as such.”

Dean looked at him, and his expression was serious. He clearly meant what he was saying. Dean smiled. The second chair was a nice indication that maybe Castiel had been waiting for someone to share his home with, even if he hadn’t admitted it to himself. Even if it wasn’t quite in the way he might have imagined. It was an unconventional marriage, as they had both called it, but that didn’t meant it was bad. In fact, Dean thought, taking another look at his husband, his profile bathed in the light of the setting sun, it might be a very good thing after all.

Chapter Text

Dean woke up the next morning feeling incredibly comfortable and relaxed. He turned over onto his side and snuggled deeper under the covers, rubbing his face into the pillow. The cotton felt wonderfully soft against his face. After a few more minutes, he slowly opened his eyes, and was greeted by the sight of Castiel Novak sleeping beside him.

What a thing to wake up to.

Dean smiled, observing the way Castiel’s dark eyelashes rested against his cheek as he slept. He looked softer like this, and younger. Dean felt privileged to see him this way.

Getting into bed together hadn’t been nearly as awkward as Dean had feared, probably thanks to their blunt conversation earlier in the day. Dean had brushed his teeth while Cas was saying goodnight to the cats, and he was already in bed by the time Cas came back, wearing a soft grey t-shirt and plaid pyjama bottoms. Cas smiled at him, turned out the light, and got into bed with a quiet goodnight, and that was that. Dean slept peacefully through the night.

He didn’t even wake up spooned against Cas or something ridiculous like that. No embarrassing morning wood, either. Dean let out a tiny sigh of relief. One night down. Who knew how many more to go. He slid carefully out of the bed, and smiled as Cas made a grumpy face and pulled the covers closer around himself. Maybe his husband wasn’t a morning person. That was cute.

Dean opened the bedroom door as quietly as he could, and went out into the kitchen area to put on a pot of coffee. The cats joined him soon afterwards, but since Dean couldn’t properly pet both of them from his seat at the table, he just got down on the floor with them. That was how Cas found them ten minutes later, Dean on the ground with both cats shamelessly begging for his attention as the coffee brewed, forgotten, on the counter.

“Good morning,” Cas said, his voice rough from sleep.

“Oh, hey,” Dean said, looking up at him. “Are they like this with you too, or is just because I’m new and they didn’t expect to see me again?”

“This is new,” he commented. “I’m pleased that they’ve taken to you, but also slightly jealous.”

“Just give them their food and they’ll be all yours again in no time,” Dean said.

Castiel gave him a suspicious look, but he as soon as he opened the bag of dry food, both cats abandoned Dean and ran for their bowls. Dean got up and poured two mugs of coffee, bringing them back to the table and reclaiming his seat. Cas joined him a minute later, wrapping both hands around the mug and closing his eyes to take the first sip.

“So you run on coffee too, then,” Dean said, pleased by this information. He was excited to learn everything there was to know about his new husband.

“Mmn,” Cas agreed. “In the morning, yes. I prefer tea throughout the day, but I’m useless without my morning coffee.”

“I never used to drink much tea, but Cain got me started on it.”

“It has many health benefits. I’ll make a convert of you yet.”

“Okay,” Dean said, somewhat skeptically. He wasn’t sure that he cared about any of these supposed health benefits, unless the tea could stop his heart from giving out. That would be worth any amount of leaf water.

“Did you have any thoughts about what you were going to do today, Dean?” Cas asked.

Actually, Dean hadn’t really thought about it at all. But now he was forced to.

“I should probably go get us some groceries,” he replied. “Maybe if I’m feeling brave, I’ll stop by and see my mom, tell her I got hitched without her knowing. Should be a blast.”

Cas frowned at him. “You do have to tell her eventually,” he said. “Or she’ll be knocking on Cain’s door looking for you, and then worrying when no one answers.”

“I know,” Dean sighed, “but can’t I just put a card in the mail or something?”

“No,” Cas said sternly. “Would it make it any easier if I accompanied you?”

“That’s a terrible idea. She would yell at you for sure.”

“She doesn’t seem like the yelling type. I thought she was very kind.”

“The two are not mutually exclusive, let me tell you.”

“Be that as it may, you have to tell her. And your brother, and the rest of your family. I know you’re keeping certain things secret from them, Dean, but I refuse to let this be one of them.”

“Fine,” Dean said. “I will be a responsible grown-up and inform my mother of our marriage.”

“Good,” Castiel said, with a bright grin.

“What about you?” Dean asked, then remembered the terms of their agreement. “Oh sorry, your days are your own business. My bad.”

“It’s alright, Dean. I was thinking perhaps we could take the motorboat back to shore, then I’ll take the rowboat for the day. I’ll leave the keys with you so you can have a second set made, then leave mine in the garage and I’ll pick them up later, since I’ll probably be out longer than you.”

“Sounds good to me,” Dean said, though he was bursting with curiosity about what Cas was going to be doing all day. “How do you feel about roast chicken for dinner?”

----------

Dean pulled up in front of his family home, and turned the engine off. The he sat in the car for at least ten minutes, gathering up the nerve to go inside and tell his mother that he wasn’t coming back to live there, because he was married, and living with his husband. He started to get out of the car three different times, then decided to wait a little longer each time.

Just as he was about to try again, there was a sharp knock on the passenger side window. Startled, Dean looked over to see Jo standing there with a bemused expression on her face. “Are you coming in, or what?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Dean said, pushing open his door and exiting the car. “Hey, Jo.”

She came over and gave him a hug. “I’m sorry about Alfie,” she murmured quietly. “That must have been really hard on you.”

“Thanks,” Dean said, holding her close. He had missed her. Of course he had.

“Need a hand bringing stuff in?” she asked, stepping back from the embrace.

Oh, right. Dean was supposed to have all his belongings with him. Because as far as everyone knew, he had just left Cain’s house today.

“Nah,” he said, “I’ll get ‘em after. Is Mom home?”

“Yeah,” Jo replied, leading the way inside. “My mom’s at work, but Mary’s here.”

So there would only be two women yelling at him, not three. That was somewhat encouraging.

“Dean!” his mother exclaimed as they entered the kitchen. “Oh, honey, I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve been so worried about you.”

“I’m fine, Mom,” Dean said, giving her a hug.

“You should have told us you were coming home today, I would have made something special,” Mary said.

Dean shrugged. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, trying to keep his tone casual. He poured himself a glass of water, half-wishing it was something stronger. But he needed to be sober for this conversation, otherwise his mother would really worry about his decision-making process.

“Umn,” he said, scratching the back of his head. How did people usually do this? Dean hated talking about himself. He was fine with answering direct questions, but volunteering personal information without being prompted had never been his strong suit.

“What’s going on, Dean? You’re being weird,” Jo said. Dean blessed her for her bluntness.

“Yeah, it’s just, some news,” he said haltingly.

Mary raised an eyebrow. “What kind of news?” she asked.

Dean looked down at his hands, and that was when he remembered that he was wearing his ring. Perfect. A way to tell them without actually using words, which was Dean’s preferred method of communication.

Dean swallowed nervously, and held up his left hand for his mom and Jo to see.

Jo swore. Mary’s mouth dropped open.

“Surprise?” Dean said weakly.

“You and Cain got married?” Jo screeched. Dean was about to say yes when he realized what Jo had said.

“Ye- wait, what? No. No, I am not married to Cain,” he said. Sure, there were worse people to be married to, but no. Definitely no.

“Then who the hell did you get married to?” Mary said, and there was not only confusion but a surprising amount of anger in her voice.

Dean flinched and looked back down at his hands, now safely hidden under the table again. “Castiel Novak,” he mumbled.

“What?” Jo said.

Dean looked up, and spoke firmly. “Castiel Novak.”

Now Jo just looked confused. “I didn’t know you two, umn, knew each other.”

“Not nearly well enough to be married,” Mary said. “Dean, what the hell is going on?”

“I fell in love,” he said, finally meeting his mother’s eyes. “It’s pretty simple, Mom. I fell in love, and I got married. Like people do.”

“Sure, but you know, usually over a much longer period of time,” Jo said. “Don’t get me wrong, Novak’s totally hot, so I get it. But Dean, doesn’t mean you have to marry the guy.”

“I wanted to,” Dean said. “We spent a lot of time together while I was living with the Knights. And we fell in love. And then, after Alfie passed, we just...decided we wanted to make things more permanent.”

“Dean, this is crazy,” Mary said flatly. “Even if you wanted to marry him, why would you just do it right away? Whatever happened to an engagement period? Didn’t you want us to be there with you?”

Dean sighed, running his hands over his face. “It was kind of a spur of the moment type of thing,” he said. “Look, Mom, I’m sorry, but I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

“Of course you do, I’m your mother.”

“And I’m an adult,” Dean snapped.

Mary reeled back, her hurt clear on her face. Dean had never spoken to her in that tone of voice before, and he immediately felt terrible about it.

“Shit,” he said. “I’m sorry, Mom.”

“No, you’re right,” Mary said, a little sadly. “I hate to admit it, but you’re right. You are an adult, Dean, and you can make your own choices. Even if they don’t make sense to the rest of us.”

“Like, zero sense,” Jo added.

“I just want you guys to be happy for me,” Dean pleaded.

Mary gathered herself together and smiled, though it still looked strained. “If you’re happy, then I am happy for you,” she said. “Of course I am, sweetheart.”

“Cas makes me happy,” Dean said. “He really, really does.”

“Did this all start when he brought you those butter tarts from the Flower Festival?” Mary asked. This was a good sign. If she wanted the details, she was begrudgingly opening herself up to accepting their romance.

“Sort of,” Dean said, smiling a little. “That was a big part of it, definitely. It was such a nice thing to do.”

“Way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” Jo said. “You’re such a cliche, Dean Winchester.”

Dean rolled his eyes at her. “Whatever,” he said.

“When do we get to meet him?” Jo asked, a mischievous gleam in her eyes. Dean did not like the look of it.

“Soon,” he said. “He’s kinda shy, though. Maybe I’ll give him a bit of time before throwing him to the wolves.”

“Hush, we’re not that bad,” Mary said. “He does seem like a rather serious young man, but then there’s that motorcycle…”

Dean grinned. If only his mother had seen Cas the day before, splashing water on Dean like a child. She wouldn’t call him serious then.

“You really do love him, huh,” Jo said, noting Dean’s expression. “It’s been a long time since I saw that goofy-ass smile on your face.”

“Yeah,” Dean said. “I do.”

“So, I assume you’re not coming home after all, then,” Mary said.

“No.”

“You’ve moved in with your- Castiel?”

“The word you’re looking for is husband, and yes,” Dean replied. “His place is on an island, it’s so cool though. And he has cats.”

“I didn’t think you liked cats,” Jo said.

Dean shrugged. “They’re cute.”

“It sounds lovely,” Mary said, her smile growing more genuine. “Maybe you can send us some pictures.”

“Okay, yeah,” Dean said. Anything to keep her from yelling again. Or asking more questions.

“Have you told Sam yet?” Jo asked.

“Uh, no, you guys are the first ones to hear the news,” Dean said.

“He’s going to be pissed he wasn’t your best man.”

“I know,” Dean winced. “And he didn’t get to throw me a stag night or anything. I’ll make it up to him. Somehow.”

“You’d better tell him soon,” Mary warned, “because I don’t think I’ll be able to stop myself from mentioning it the next time I talk to him.”

“Great,” Dean muttered.

“Just text him a picture of the ring,” Jo suggested. “Then record it when he calls you, all outraged and shrieking.”

“Not a bad idea.”

“Dean,” Mary said sternly, “you will do no such thing.”

“Yes, Mom,” Dean said, feeling like a child again despite his earlier statement about being an adult, capable of his own decisions. “I will tell him, and soon, I promise.”

“You’d better.”

Dean stood up and drained the last of his water. “Well, now that the cat’s out of the bag, I’ve got some grocery shopping to do,” he said.

“Oh, so you’re in charge of housework?” Jo teased.

“I am an excellent cook,” Dean informed her haughtily. “And I take pleasure in feeding people. So there.”

Mary stood up and hugged Dean tightly. “This is always your home too,” she whispered. “I’m happy for you, honey, I really am. But don’t forget about us, alright?”

“Of course not, Mom,” Dean said, giving her a squeeze. “Never.”

Jo gave him a quick hug as well. “Bring your hottie husband to the bar soon,” she said. “Mom and I will get him drunk, it’ll be hilarious.”

Dean had to admit, the idea was tempting. He had never seen Castiel drunk, and he was pretty sure it would be quite the sight. “I’ll think about it,” he said.

He waved goodbye to his mom and Jo as he climbed back into the car. He headed for the grocery store in the small downtown area, feeling relieved now that the secret was out. He cruised up and down the aisles, filling his cart with all sorts of things for dinner that night and the days beyond. He smiled at the cashier and wished her a good day in an unusually cheerful manner, making the poor teenager blush.

On the drive back to the lake, Dean even found himself whistling.

He was happy. It was a strange sort of happiness, because he could still feel the ache of Alfie’s loss, and he knew that that feeling wasn’t going to disappear anytime soon. But over top of that grief was something else, something that helped him make sense of it. He was happy to be going home to his new house on the island, to his new cat friends, to his new husband. He was happy to be going to make dinner for the two of them, to eat together while discussing their days. He was happy to know that when he went to bed tonight, there would be someone else in bed with him.

He had been telling his mom the truth in that, at least. Even if she didn’t get the full story, and even if Dean lied about his motivation for getting married so quickly, what really mattered, as she had said, was that Dean was happy. And Castiel did make him happy.

Chapter Text

Dean made it three days without telling Sam that he had gotten married. Every time he considered picking up the phone, he found something to distract himself with. Often it was one of the cats, who were Dean’s favourite thing about his new life. After Cas, of course.

And so, naturally, the cats were the reason Sam found out that Dean was married and living with his husband on an island on the lake.

It was mid-morning, and Castiel was long gone, off on another of his excursions. Dean was feeling lazy, and there was a chance of rain that afternoon, so he didn’t feel bad about staying indoors. He was reading in the living room, absorbed in his book, when he felt something scratching at his leg. He looked down and saw Banjo on the ground, clearly wanting attention, so he picked up him for some cuddles. Good Luck, who had been hiding under the other chair, immediately decided that this was an outrage, and came over, meowing plaintively. So of course, he had to be cuddled as well. Dean had an armful of adorable cats, so he grabbed his phone from his pocket and took a selfie to send to Cas, who admitted to missing the cats when he was gone all day. Dean hoped that maybe someday, Cas would miss him too.

Except that his arms were full of felines, so it was a bit hard to navigate his phone. So instead of going to Cas, the picture went to Sam. Dean didn’t even notice the error until his phone chimed back. He was a bit surprised, because it usually took longer for Cas to respond. Opening the message, he understood why the reply had come through so quickly- it wasn’t from Cas, but from Sam.

Cute! Whose are they? Sam had texted.

Oh, shit. Dean scrambled to think of a lie. Who could he pretend to be visiting who would suddenly have two new adult cats? He couldn’t come up with anyone plausible.

Wait, what the hell? Is that your hand in the photo? Why does your hand have a ring on it? Sam texted before Dean could come up with a good story. Dean checked the photo, and yep, his wedding band was clearly visible where his left hand rested on Banjo’s back. Obviously he hadn’t been trying to hide it, since the photo was intended for Castiel. Dean had no idea how to lie his way out of this one.

The phone rang. Dean sighed. He could ignore it, but he knew his brother, and he was nothing if not persistent.

“Hi, Sam,” he said, suddenly thankful that he had the cats on his lap for moral support and comfort, even if this whole situation was totally their fault.

“Dean. Explain.” Sam’s voice was clipped, business-like. He was probably calling from the office. A small, sad part of Dean was happy to know that his brother cared enough about his life to take time out of his busy day to interrogate him.

“It’s a long story,” Dean said.

“Start with why you’re wearing a wedding ring, Dean.”

“Because I got married, obviously.”

“Why? More importantly, who?” Sam’s voice was getting a bit high-pitched. Outraged and shrieking, just like Jo had predicted.

“Castiel Novak,” Dean said. Better to get as much information out as possible. He didn’t want to waste Sam’s time, but he also knew that his brother would keep him on the phone until he heard the whole story.

Sam muttered something that Dean couldn’t make out, but it didn’t sound encouraging. “Novak is a loner. How do you even know him?”

“We spent a lot of time together at the Knights’,” Dean explained, essentially repeating what he had said to his mother and Jo. “We fell in love. We got married.”

“And he has cats, apparently.”

“Yeah, aren’t they cute?”

“Yes, they are super cute, but don’t think that’s enough to distract me.”

Damn it. Dean had been hoping for exactly that. He exhaled noisily. “Look, Sam, it’s not that big of a deal-”

“Yes it is,” Sam interrupted. “You fell in love with him, fine. I get that. Even in such a short time, that’s kind of a you move. But Dean, Sarah and I have been together for years and we’re still not married. What the hell were you thinking?”

“I was thinking that I loved him, and that I wanted to be with him forever. Pretty simple.”

“And you couldn’t wait to have me there? Was anyone there? Mom, Ellen, Jo? Charlie? Even Cain?”

“No,” Dean admitted. “Just us, the justice of the peace, and two rental witnesses.”

“Right, because that’s the wedding you’ve been dreaming about since you were a kid. I know you, Dean. I know you wanted more than this. What does Castiel have on you? Is he blackmailing you? Threatening you? What aren’t you telling me?”

Of course Sam’s first thought was that Cas was the mastermind behind this whole thing. Dean almost wanted to laugh, it was so far from the truth. “No, it’s not like that,” he said. “If you really must know, I asked him.”

“Jesus, Dean,” Sam said wearily. “I know you’ve been a bit down lately, not having much luck on the dating scene, but this is just sad.”

That was it. The reason Dean hadn’t wanted to tell Sam, even less than he had wanted to tell his mom. Sam knew him so well that he thought he knew everything about him, and it just wasn’t true. Yes, Dean had been a bit upset about his uneventful love life. Yes, he was prone to making rash decisions when he was upset. But that wasn’t what his marriage to Castiel was, and he refused to let Sam think that it was.

“Screw you, Sam,” he said bitterly. “I’m happy. Really fucking happy, in fact. If that’s somehow sad to you, that my happiness came about in an untraditional way, then that’s your problem, not mine.”

“I didn’t mean it like that, Dean,” Sam said, backing off when he heard the anger in Dean’s voice. “You’ve just been so unpredictable lately. I don’t know how to handle it.”

“I’ve got a suggestion: trust me to make my own decisions.”

“Okay,” Sam said, though he still sounded doubtful. “Okay, Dean.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, but I was kinda enjoying the peace and quiet, you know?” Dean said.

“Yeah, I hear you,” Sam laughed. “How’d Mom take it?”

“Pretty much the same as you, but a little bit more Mom-like. Jo swore a bit. Haven’t heard from Ellen yet, she’s probably waiting until I see her in person so she can smack me.”

“That sounds about right,” Sam agreed. “So, uh, now that I know, do you mind if I mention it to Sarah?”

“I’m surprised you’re not recording this conversation to send to her later, to be honest.”

“Not a bad idea.”

“Listen, Sam, I’m glad you know. Glad it’s all out in the open now,” Dean said. It was true. He would have preferred to have had a bit more control over the process, but the end result was the same.

“Me too,” Sam said. “Crap, I gotta go. Congratulations, Dean. You got married before me after all.”

“Oh very funny,” Dean said. “Bye, Sam.”

Dean hung up the phone and dropped it onto the table beside him. He looked down at the cats, who were still sprawled on his lap. “This is all your fault,” he told them.

Then he picked the phone back up and sent the picture to Cas, as he had originally intended. Somebody should get a smile out of this situation.

------------

By the time Castiel got home that evening, Dean had finished his book and cleaned the bathroom, and was in the process of making dinner. He heard the front door open, followed by the pitter-patter of little cat feet on the hardwood floors as Banjo and Good Luck ran to greet Cas as he came through the door.

“Hi,” Dean called from the kitchen, stirring the pot of chili. It had been less than a week of them living together, but this had quickly become one of Dean’s favourite parts of the day. He really liked the way Cas smiled at him after a day apart, like he was surprised but pleased to see him there. He hoped that smile wouldn’t disappear as they got more accustomed to sharing the space.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas said, coming into the kitchen, the cats following closely behind him. “That smells wonderful.”

Dean smiled, thrilled that his cooking was appreciated. He liked being useful. Liked taking care of people. Feeding them was one of the best ways to show his affection, and he had learned from the best. Both his mother and his aunt most frequently showed their love through food, and they had passed on that trait to Dean. Along with their best recipes.

“Should be ready in about fifteen minutes,” he said. “If you want to go wash up.”

Cas nodded, lightly squeezing Dean’s shoulder in an appreciative gesture. Dean shivered at the contact, even through his shirt. Maybe it wasn’t the affectionate kiss on the cheek you always saw in movies when someone came home and greeted their partner, but it was still a way of expressing closeness. It was enough for Dean, who had no right to ask Cas for anything more.

Except maybe to set the table. Yeah, he could ask Cas to do that for him.

They sat down to eat a few minutes later. After praising Dean for his cooking, which made Dean blush, Castiel finally brought up the photo Dean had sent him earlier in the day.

“What did you get up today, other than taking selfies with the cats?” he asked, just a hint of gentle teasing in his voice.

Dean sighed. “Well, that kind of started the whole thing.”

“What whole thing?”

“I accidentally sent the picture to Sam instead of to you, at first,” Dean explained, toying with his spoon. “At first he was just like aw, cute cats, who do they belong to, but then, because he’s a sharp one, he noticed my ring.”

Castiel looked at him sharply, putting down his spoon. “You hadn’t told him yet?” he said reproachfully. “Dean, I don’t understand this. You made this decision, after hopefully giving it at least some thought. Surely you knew that it couldn’t be kept secret for long.”

“Of course I knew that.” Dean frowned at the table, trying to figure out how to explain himself to Cas. “It’s just hard sometimes, with my family.”

Castiel looked confused. “I got the impression that your family was nothing but loving and supportive,” he said. “Is that not the case?”

“Oh, no, they’re definitely both of those things,” Dean reassured him. “I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I just think that they care so much, they forget that it’s not always about them, but about me.”

“And me, of course,” Castiel said with a twisted grin.

“And you.”

“So Sam didn’t react well?”

“Not exactly,” Dean sighed. “The confusion, the feeling left out, pretty much the same as with my mom. Though he did accuse you of blackmailing me somehow. That was new.”

Castiel looked surprised, then slightly offended. “I would never,” he said vehemently.

Dean had to laugh. “I know, Cas,” he assured him. “But see what happens when you play the mysterious rebel in a sleepy small town? People jump to all sorts of wild conclusions.”

“I’m not some sort of criminal,” Castiel protested. “Just because I don’t do well with social gatherings and I ride a motorcycle…”

“Don’t worry, I set the record straight. Told Sam I was the one who proposed. He might still think you’re shady, but he knows you’re not holding something over me or whatever.”

“I thought you said your brother was highly intelligent,” Cas muttered. “Blackmail.”

Dean was fighting hard to keep his laughter in check. Cas looked so scandalized by the realization of his own reputation. If he were a cat, his tail would be twitching in outrage.

“He’ll settle down, eventually,” Dean said. “Always does. And hey, the important people all know, now. I’m sure we’ll be the talk of the town soon enough.”

“Is that really something to look forward to?”

“Maybe not,” Dean said. “I don’t really care what they say, though. Not anymore. I’ve already heard it all from my family, and they’re the only ones who matter.”

“It must be difficult, feeling accountable to them,” Castiel said thoughtfully.

“Well, yeah, but that’s family, you know?” Dean said. “Always up in your business.”

Cas shrugged. “I don’t know, no,” he said quietly.

Dean was unsure how to proceed. He realized at that moment that he knew absolutely nothing about Castiel’s family situation. He never talked about them. At all. Never mentioned parents, siblings, aunts or uncles or cousins or even grandparents. Shit. Had Dean accidentally hit on a sore spot for him? He really hoped not, but he also didn’t know how to broach the subject, since Castiel was so determined to keep certain aspects of his life private.

Cas must have picked up on Dean’s hesitation, because he gave him a sad smile and kept talking without being prompted. “I haven’t seen my family in a long time,” he said. “We were never particularly close. Nothing traumatic, nothing upsetting, just...distant. I can’t really imagine what they would say if I told them about our whirlwind courtship and marriage. They would probably just use some polite stock phrase and then we would go back to not speaking to each other.”

“That sucks,” Dean said, unable to come up with any other reply.

Castiel shrugged. “It is what it is,” he said simply. “I’d prefer not talk to discuss it in detail, though.”

“Okay,” Dean replied, focusing on his food again. “No problem.”

The conversation stopped for a few minutes, and Dean began to feel a bit uncomfortable. He had stopped talking about Castiel’s family as soon as he was asked, but he still felt like he had done something wrong in letting the conversation get to that point. The last thing he wanted was to force Castiel to talk about things he would rather keep private. The problem was that Dean wanted to know everything about his husband, but he had agreed not to ask. He had to respect that. He had to keep his promise.

“Dean,” Castiel said gently. “I can see you beating yourself up. Stop it.”

Dean looked over at him. “I don’t want to make you talk about anything you don’t want to,” he said. “I just get curious about you, sometimes. I know you’re not a criminal mastermind like my brother seems to think, but…”

“But you want to know how I ended up here,” Castiel finished. “It’s only natural. I don’t blame you for it, Dean, but I will ask you to try to find a balance between my intense desire for privacy and your avid curiosity. I think we can handle it. I am aware that I am more closed-off than I need to be. I trust you, Dean, I do. I’m simply not used to talking about myself. People generally aren’t interested in the truth. They prefer whatever scenario they’ve imagined for themselves.”

“I know how that goes,” Dean muttered. “So, how about this. I try not to ask you anything, and you try to occasionally volunteer things, whenever you feel comfortable doing so.”

“That sounds manageable,” Cas said.

“Cool.”

“Maybe we can start small,” Cas suggested.

“Okay,” Dean said. “What’s your favourite colour?”

Cas gave a surprised laugh. “That’s very small,” he said. “I appreciate it. I like all colours, really.”

“That is not an acceptable answer,” Dean said sternly. “If you absolutely had to choose.”

“If the fate of the world rested on my answer, I supposed I would say green.”

“Good choice,” Dean grinned.

“And yours?” Castiel asked.

Dean answered without even thinking. “Blue,” he said. “Favourite movie?”

Cas shrugged. “I don’t watch a lot of movies,” he said, gesturing to the living room, which contained no television.

Dean looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Okay, fine,” he said. “Favourite book? You definitely don’t have the same excuse there.”

“I hate this game,” Cas muttered. Dean grinned. “It’s so difficult to choose just one.”

“Nobody said this would be easy,” Dean commented. “Want me to go first?”

“Yes please.”

“Okay, fine. Favourite book, huh. Favourite author, I’d say Vonnegut for sure, but for a single book, that’s a bit trickier.”

“See,” Cas said smugly, “not so easy, is it?”

“Okay, okay, you have a point,” Dean sighed.

“But look, we still learned something,” Cas pointed out. “Neither of us is very good at playing favourites.”

“True,” Dean said. “That is interesting.”

“Which is probably a good thing,” Cas said thoughtfully. “Picking a favourite book is difficult enough. Imagine if you asked me which was my favourite cat.”

“I would never,” Dean said. “That’s like asking which is your favourite kid.”

“I’m glad we’re on the same page here,” Cas smiled. “I would be very uncomfortable with the idea of your preferring one of the cats over the other.”

“I’ve got enough newly-discovered love for cats to go around,” Dean replied. “Don’t you worry about it.”

They joked back and forth a bit longer, and Dean’s mood lifted considerably. He knew there would still be moments of awkwardness as they navigated their strange new relationship, but it seemed like both he and Castiel were committed to making things as easy as possible for both of them. They had rushed into this marriage, just like Dean’s family said, but that didn’t mean that it was a mistake. If they were both honest about what they wanted it to mean, and how they wanted it to proceed, then it could still become something spectacular.

Chapter Text

As August rolled into September, Dean and Castiel settled into a comfortable routine. It was strange for Dean not to be working, but he was happy to discover that he still found plenty of ways to occupy himself during the day. And if he got bored, well, he could always play with the cats.

Dean hadn’t been back to see his family since he had told them about his marriage. He wasn’t deliberately punishing them or anything, but he was so enchanted with his new home and his new life that he couldn’t be bothered to make the trip home. He talked to them on the phone, or by text, but that was it. He even e-mailed Sam sometimes, because he checked his messages most frequently there. Dean had been confused by the fact that Castiel had wifi but no television in his house. Cas had just shrugged mysteriously and made some comment about checking the weather online that Dean was pretty sure was bullshit.

But the easy rapport between them was still fragile, and Dean wasn’t about to go tearing it down just to satisfy his curiosity. He assumed Cas had the wifi set up because it was in some way useful to whatever the hell he did all day long, which meant he couldn’t ask about it. And that was okay. It also meant that Dean could still feel connected to the wider world despite living on an island.

Which would never stop being totally awesome, thank you very much.

So all in all, things were going pretty well. Dean’s heart only bothered him on occasion, and he was incredibly grateful that he had told Cas the truth about his condition so he didn’t have to worry about hiding his medication. Most days, Dean could almost pretend that he would get to keep this life forever.

And then the one-month anniversary of Alfie’s death arrived.

Dean hadn’t really realized that it was coming up so fast. It wasn’t until he woke up that morning and realized he was alone in the bed that he began to put the pieces together. Castiel never got up before him. Concerned, Dean rolled out of bed and went out into the kitchen. The living area was empty, but he could just see the back of Cas’ dark head through the window, so he pushed open the door and dropped into his usual chair on the porch.

“Hey,” he said softly. “You’re up early.”

Castiel looked over at him, and Dean could immediately tell that he had been crying. “It’s been a month,” Castiel said, so quietly that Dean could barely hear him.

Of course. They didn’t talk about Alfie often, but it was clear that Castiel missed him terribly. They had been friends for a lot longer than Dean had been around, and it made sense that the grief would come back on an anniversary like this.

Dean tentatively reached out his hand and laid it over Cas’ where it rested on the arm of his chair. Cas looked startled for a second, but then he relaxed, adjusting his grip to hold Dean’s hand loosely. “I miss him,” Cas admitted.

Dean missed Alfie as well. For all that they had only spent a short amount of time together, the younger man had been a good friend to him. Better than a lot of people Dean had known for a greater length of time. His grief was different than Castiel’s though, tempered by his awareness of his own mortality. Dean knew he didn’t have much life left to spend missing Alfie. Unlike Cas, who Dean hoped would live to a ridiculous old age, secure in this little house, with a constantly-rotating army of feline companions. Cas had only spent one month without Alfie, and was dealing with the knowledge that he would have to continue to do so for quite some time.

Which meant that it was Dean’s turn to be the strong one.

“I miss him too,” he said, giving Cas’ hand a squeeze. “I think he would have liked it here.”

Cas made a small noise of agreement. “Yes, I think so too. I wish I could have brought him to visit, but he was never well enough.”

“You brought him all sorts of other things, though,” Dean said. “And I’m not just talking about the books or the trinkets or the food. You brought him friendship, and company, and support, and happiness, Cas. You made him so happy.”

There were a few tears rolling down Cas’ cheek again. He used his free hand to brush them away. “Thank you, Dean,” he said.

“Of course,” Dean replied. “Want me to go put the coffee on?”

Cas smiled and nodded, so Dean reluctantly disentangled their hands and went back into the kitchen. He made a pot of coffee and fed the cats, both of whom appeared out of thin air as soon as they heard the food being poured into their bowls. Once the coffee was ready, Dean brought two mugs back out to the porch. Castiel took his without saying anything, looking out over the lake. Dean followed his lead and stayed quiet. He would talk if that was what Cas needed, but right now it looked like companionable silence would be best.

“You’ve lost people before,” Castiel said suddenly.

“Yeah,” Dean said, taking a sip of his coffee. “My dad. My uncle Bill. Both a long time ago, but yeah.”

“Does it get easier?” Cas asked in a small voice. It made Dean want to gather him up in his arms and hold him close, but he wasn’t sure that was within the boundaries of their relationship at this point.

“Yes and no,” Dean said. “You never stop missing them. But eventually, you look back with more fondness than regret, and it balances out. Some days will be awful without explanation. And anniversaries like this are always rough. But like they always say, life goes on.”

“I hope you’re right,” Castiel said. “I’ve never lost anyone I truly cared about until now. I’m finding it more difficult than I anticipated.”

“Well, like you said to me, if there’s anything I can do, please ask,” Dean said. He would do anything for Castiel, but he didn’t know what would help.

“You’re doing it right now,” Cas said, glancing over at him. “Just by being here.”

Dean was glad to hear that his presence helped, even if he didn’t feel like he was doing anything special. Cas’ comment did make him realize who was missing, though.

“I wish we could go see Cain,” he said. “He must be having a hard time today as well.”

“I can’t blame him for leaving when he did, but I do worry about him,” Cas said. “Dean, do you have your phone with you?”

“Yeah,” Dean said, digging it out of the pocket of his robe. “Wanna call him?”

Cas shrugged. “It’s a bit early still,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to wake him. I just wanted to send him a message.”

Dean thought about it for a second, then put down his coffee and gestured to Cas to stand up. Cas did so with a bemused expression on his face. Dean maneuvered them into position, standing beside each other with their backs to the water, then snapped a quick picture of the two of them. It actually turned out very well, the early morning sun dappling the surface of the water and illuminating their features. With Cas’ approval, he sent the photo to Cain with the simple message “thinking of you.”

“There,” he said with a smile. Cas gave him a small smile in return, and while it wasn’t as bright as it could have been, it looked genuine. Dean settled back into his chair and took another sip of his coffee.

“Business as usual today?” he asked.

Cas looked pensive. “I think so,” he said. “It will give me something to focus on.”

“Okay,” Dean said. Whatever Cas wanted.

“Will you be alright on your own today, Dean?” Cas asked, concern evident in his tone.

“I’ll be fine,” Dean said firmly. He wasn’t about to let Cas worry about him. Not today.

Cas gave him a searching look. “Perhaps, when I finish up this evening, we can do something different,” he suggested. “Take our minds off of things.”

“Sure, Cas,” Dean said agreeably. “What were you thinking?”

Cas drummed his fingertips lightly on the arm of the chair. “Let’s go out,” he said. “Nothing extravagant. I find myself craving some grease.”

“Well, if you want grease, we’d best be going to the Roadhouse,” Dean grinned. “Good plan. Nothing like one of Ellen’s burgers to cheer you up.”

“Excellent,” Cas said, draining the last of his coffee. “Then I will see you this evening.” He smiled at Dean again, a bit brighter this time, and went back into the house. Dean stayed on the porch a while longer, until his coffee was gone, and then retreated indoors as well.

-----------

It was just approaching five-thirty when Dean heard the door to Cas’ private room creak open. He was sprawled in one of the armchairs with his laptop, scrolling through various news sites and social media pages. Cas passed by him and got a glass of water in the kitchen, then came back and sat down in the other chair.

“What joys have you found on the internet today?” he asked with a smile.

“Nothing too exciting,” Dean shrugged. “There are a lot of cat videos online. I still enjoy them, but it kinda feels like I’m cheating on our guys, you know?”

“That’s one way of looking at it,” Cas said. “Do you still want to go out tonight?”

Dean looked over at him. Cas wasn’t visibly upset anymore, but the mere fact that he was suggesting going out was out of the ordinary. So even though Dean would have been quite content to stay home, he shrugged and said, “Sure. Let me go get changed.”

Dean retreated to the bedroom and changed into a t-shirt with fewer holes in it. His jeans were fine, so he just fixed his hair a bit in the bathroom while Cas changed. When they reconvened in the living room, Cas was wearing a fitted burgundy henley that contrasted beautifully with his dark hair. Dean drank in the sight of him, secretly pleased to be going out somewhere he could show off his smoking hot husband, even if nobody would know the truth about their depressingly platonic marriage. Oh well. At least Dean would have something nice to look at all night.

“Ready to go?” Cas asked. Dean nodded, grabbing his keys from the rack by the door.

“Hey, how does this work?” he asked as they sped across the lake in the motorboat. “Can’t exactly take a cab home if you have too many. Still gotta drive the boat no matter what.”

“Yes,” Cas said. “I typically limit myself to one drink when I’m out for that reason. It doesn’t bother me. Don’t worry, Dean, I’ll play designated driver tonight.”

Dean frowned at him. “You’re assuming I’m going to let you drive my car,” he said.

“I let you drive my boat,” Cas countered.

“So not the same,” Dean exclaimed. “Your boat doesn’t even have a name.”

“I fail to see what that has to do with anything.”

“If you really cared about this boat the way I care about Baby, you’d have given it a name,” Dean explained.

“Fine. I’ll give it one now,” Cas said.

There was a pause.

“Can’t think of one, can you?” Dean said smugly.

“Boaty McBoatface,” Cas blurted out. “Yes. This is Boaty McBoatface, and he’s very precious to me.”

“You,” Dean said slowly, pointing at the other man, “are a giant dork.”

Cas looked mutinous, but he didn’t reply. Dean struggled not to laugh. He really was a dork. It was ridiculously endearing.

They arrived at the dock and secured the boat (sorry, Boaty), then got into the Impala. It felt good to get behind the wheel again. Driving Baby was one of the few things he missed about living on the mainland. It was a beautiful evening for a drive, so Dean rolled the windows as they cruised towards the Roadhouse. He kept sneaking glances at Cas, who sat in the passenger seat looking like he belonged there.

It was still fairly early, so they had no trouble getting a spot in the Roadhouse’s parking lot. Dean held the door open for Cas and was rewarded with a smile. Of course, the disadvantage of arriving at this time was that Jo wasn’t busy, so she spotted them as soon as they came through the doors.

“Dean!” she exclaimed happily, then froze when she saw who he was with. “Oh. Umn. Hi,” she said, fumbling for words. “Castiel. Nice to see you.”

“You as well, Jo,” Cas said, sounding about ten times more genuine than her.

“Uh, grab a seat wherever, Dean,” Jo said. “I’m guessing you don’t need menus.”

“Nah, we’re good,” Dean replied, steering Cas towards one of the booths in the back. “Thanks, Jo.”

As soon as they were seated, Dean turned back to see Jo making a beeline for the back of the bar where Ellen had her office. He chuckled. He knew she would be reporting their presence to her mother, and that they could expect a visit from Ellen herself in the next few minutes.

As predicted, Jo had barely left after dropping off their waters before Ellen turned up, casually sliding into the booth beside Dean. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming in?” she asked.

Dean shrugged, leaning over to give her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Wanted to surprise you,” he said.

“I had a craving for one of your burgers,” Cas said from across the table. He didn’t seem perturbed by Ellen’s presence, which was impressive.

“Hmn,” Ellen said, looking him over with a critical eye. “Well, you’ve got good taste, at least.”

“Of course I do,” Cas said smoothly. “I married your nephew, after all.”

Dean choked on his water. Ellen arched an eyebrow at him. “You alright there, son?” she asked.

“Yeah, fine,” Dean coughed. “Just went down the wrong way.” He hadn’t expected Cas to allude to their relationship so early in the conversation, or with such ease.

“Well, what can I get for you boys?” Ellen asked, still looking at Cas with suspicion. Maybe Sam had talked to her and she too thought Cas was blackmailing him somehow. Dean sighed.

“Bacon cheeseburger for me,” he said.

“I’ll have the same, thank you,” Cas said, smiling politely as though Ellen wasn’t glaring daggers at him across the table.

“Shouldn’t be long,” she said, getting up out of the booth. “Don’t you even think about leaving without saying goodbye, Dean.”

“Yes ma’am,” Dean said. She gave Cas one final stern look, then headed back to the office.

Dean winced. “Sorry about that,” he offered. “She means well, really.”

Cas shrugged. “I’m not bothered by her thinly-veiled hostility,” he said calmly. “She’s just looking out for you. It’s an admirable trait.”

Dean shook his head. “Alright,” he said. “She’ll warm up once she sees how much you enjoy her food, at least.”

“That won’t be a hardship,” Cas smiled.

A few minutes later, Jo brought over their dinner. She didn’t slide into the booth the way her mother had, but she did linger for a few minutes.

“Haven’t seen you guys out and about much,” she commented as they started eating. Dean put down his burger and looked up at her. “Honeymoon phase,” he said suggestively. Jo made a disgusted face, and Dean smirked. That would teach her her to ask nosy questions.

“Well, I’m glad you came here, anyways,” she said. “I miss you, Dean.”

“I miss you too,” Dean said guiltily. He knew he really should make more of an effort to visit with his family. “Mom and Ellen driving you up the walls?”

“Nah, they’re not so bad,” Jo said. “And we’ve been busy enough around here that it keeps me distracted. Speaking of,” she said, waving in acknowledgment of the group that had just come in, “back to it I go.”

“Bye, Jo,” Castiel offered. She looked surprised to be addressed directly, but smiled tentatively before turning to serve the new arrivals. Dean looked at Cas proudly. “You’re playing nice,” he said.

Cas blushed. “If we are to be around your family, I don’t want them to think badly of me,” he admitted.

God, he was cute. Trying to make a good impression, like their marriage wasn’t just some elaborate sham. Though, Dean supposed, his family wasn’t aware of the real situation, so it was probably a good thing that Cas was taking this seriously.

They both finished their meals quickly, and Dean signaled to Jo. She nodded, and Dean knew that she had correctly interpreted his request for dessert when she came back a few minutes later with two slices of pie, one pecan and one blueberry.

“Jo, you’re the best,” Dean said fervently. She just smacked him lightly on the shoulder and dashed off again.

Cas was inspecting the pie with a serious look on his face. “I’m not much of a dessert person,” he said, almost apologetically.

“Well, if you don’t eat it, I will,” Dean said. “But try it, at least. Ellen and my mom make the best pies. Here,” he said, slicing off the end of the slice of blueberry and offering it to Cas. “Try it.”

Cas obediently opened his mouth and permitted Dean to feed him the pie. Dean was captivated by the way Cas’ tongue darted out to catch a stray crumb on his upper lip. Watching Cas eat pie was almost as good as eating it himself.

“That is very good,” Cas said. Dean grinned and pushed the plate towards the middle of the table. “Perfect,” he said. “We can share.”

They finished off the last of the pie, and Dean sat back with a groan, feeling pleasantly full. He had had three beers over the course of the evening, which wasn’t enough to get him drunk but just enough to make him sleepy when combined with his full stomach.

“That was delicious,” Cas said, wiping his hands on a napkin. “Thank you for accompanying me, Dean.”

“Anytime, man,” Dean said lazily. “Is it weird that as nice as this was, I just want to go home and cuddle with the cats?”

Cas laughed softly. “Not weird at all,” he said. “I feel the same way. Shall we go, then?”

“Gotta say bye to Ellen first,” Dean reminded him. Despite Cas’ protests, Dean informed him that there was no chance in hell of his aunt letting them pay for their meals. Cas made a displeased face, but made up for it by leaving a large tip for Jo.

Dean knocked on the door to Ellen’s office, and she opened it with a scowl that quickly softened when she saw him. “Heading out?” she asked.

“Yeah, we’re about done in,” he said. “I’m not used to being around this many people anymore.”

“Dinner was excellent,” Castiel said earnestly. “As always.”

Ellen looked at him, and Dean thought he saw the faintest trace of a smile on her lips. “You come back soon, now,” she said.

“You bet,” Dean replied, giving her a hug. Cas waved goodbye, and they made their way back to the car. Dean paused as he started to open the driver’s side door. He knew he was good to drive, but he also knew that he trusted Cas more than pretty much anyone outside his family. He smiled, then tossed the keys to Cas, who caught them reflexively.

“Really?” Cas said. He sounded excited. As he should be. Driving Baby was a privilege not granted to many.

“Really,” Dean said. It was worth it for the grin on Cas’ face alone. He slid into the passenger seat, and watched fondly as Cas started the car and headed out towards the road. He looked good driving Dean’s car. Very good. Dean turned on the stereo, rolled down his window, and relaxed. It was the perfect way to end the night.

Chapter Text

It was another lazy evening towards the middle of September, Dean and Cas curled up in the armchairs with the cats playing at their feet. The wind was up that day, so they had chosen to stay indoors rather than sitting on the porch as usual. Dean was relaying some story about his childhood, something to do with one of Jo’s birthday parties. Then he was struck by a sudden thought.

“Hey, Cas,” he said, “when’s your birthday?”

Cas shrugged. “I don’t like to make a big deal out of it,” he answered.

Dean rolled his eyes. “I didn’t ask you if you liked to celebrate it, I asked when it was.”

Cas made an exasperated face at him. “September 18th.”

“Dude,” Dean exclaimed, “that’s in like three days!”

“Yes, which is why I hadn’t mentioned it until now,” Cas said.

Dean had never really believed people who said they didn’t like to celebrate birthdays. He was pretty sure they had just had one party where no one showed up, and were too traumatized to try again. But on the other hand, Cas was a pretty weird, solitary kind of guy. But a good one. He deserved nice things.

“I’m not going to be able to ignore it, now that I know when it is,” he warned. “So if you don’t tell me what you want to do, I’ll have to guess. And I’ll probably guess wrong.”

Cas sighed. “Dean, I really don’t think-”

“Can you even get strippers out here?” Dean interrupted, keeping his tone light like he was planning an actual celebration. “I mean, they’d have to have their own boat, right? That could be kinda fun. A nautical theme. Maybe some beachy drinks, the whole thing.”

“You’re very persistent,” Cas commented.

Dean grinned at him. “Come on, Cas. Tell me what you want for your birthday or it’s going to be strippers and daiquiris.”

“I suppose a quiet dinner at home would be acceptable,” Cas said begrudgingly.

“We do that every night.”

“Precisely.”

“You’re no fun.”

“I think you’re fun enough for the both of us,” Cas said wryly.

“Okay, fine,” Dean said. This was like pulling teeth. “What’s your favourite food?”

Cas looked suspicious, but he still answered. “Burgers. Or meatloaf.”

“See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Dean said encouragingly. “And I know you’re not a big dessert guy, but you liked Ellen’s blueberry pie, right?”

“Yes, it was very good,” Cas agreed.

“Okay. I can work with this.”

“You really don’t have to do anything,” Cas protested. “I’m turning thirty-six, not sixteen.”

“Thank God for that,” Dean shuddered. “Teenagers, urgh.”

Cas had a smile on his face, at least. Dean liked the way it looked on him. He knew Castiel had had a pretty lonely life up until this point, but even if he wasn’t going to be having a big party with the whole town, he still deserved to have his birthday acknowledged. Dean could do that for him. He liked making people smile, making them happy.

“Don’t you worry about a thing, Cas,” Dean said. “I’m going to make this your best birthday ever.”

-----------

Dean woke up early on the morning of Cas’ birthday, feeling very grateful for his reliable internal alarm. He rolled over and was pleased to note that Cas was still deeply asleep, his face soft and relaxed, mouth slightly parted as he breathed in and out.

If this were any other situation in which Dean found himself waking up beside someone on their birthday, his first present would be to wake them up with slow, teasing kisses. But this wasn’t that kind of bed-sharing. Unfortunately.

Shit, even thinking about kissing Cas was enough to get Dean hard. He tried to calm himself down, but his traitorous body was raring to go. Dean scowled and got out of bed, heading for the bathroom.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t jerked off since moving in with Cas or anything ridiculous like that. But Dean had been very, very careful not to let Cas star in any of his masturbatory fantasies until now. It seemed disrespectful, somehow. But this morning, he couldn’t seem to stop himself. He tried to keep his hands away from his dick as he showered, but even the act of washing himself seemed charged somehow. His hands brushed across his nipples, and Dean moaned quietly. Screw it, he thought to himself. He could live with the shame and the guilt. He ran his hands across his chest again, more deliberately this time, toying lightly with one nipple. Then he let his other hand drift lower, scratching lightly against his stomach before wrapping around his cock.

Dean let his head drop back against the shower wall, concentrating on the sensation of his wet hand slowly stroking over his cock. He wondered what it would feel like if Cas were in here with him. The shower was surprisingly roomy for a house that used to only have one inhabitant. Letting his imagination run wild, Dean pictured he and Cas in here together, both naked, water coursing over both of their bodies. He’d never even seen Cas shirtless yet, but he had a pretty good idea of how gorgeous his body would be under his clothes. It would feel really nice pressed against his, Dean was sure of it.

He increased his pace, the water helping to smooth his movements, wishing that it was Cas’ hands touching him instead of his own. Maybe standing behind him, his head over Dean’s shoulder, watching the way his dick slid through his fingers. Or maybe on his knees in front of him. That mental image was enough to tip Dean over the edge, and he shuddered through a quick and intense and orgasm, the shower washing away the evidence of his release.

Dean let the water pound over him for a few more minutes as his breathing steadied, then turned off the shower and towelled off. Looking in the mirror, he noticed that his cheeks were flushed, but he could blame that on the heat and the steam rather than on his extracurricular activities. He felt relaxed and cheerful in the way that only a good orgasm could bring. If he wasn’t so worried about waking Cas, he would probably start whistling.

He went out into the kitchen and put the coffee on, Banjo and Good Luck coming out from their hiding places to greet him. Or to demand their breakfast. Possibly both, Dean wasn’t completely fluent in their language yet. He gave them both scratches behind the ears as they ate. Then he whipped up some pancake batter, knowing that the scent of melting butter was the easiest way to wake Cas up and convince him to get out of bed.

Sure enough, Dean heard footsteps in the hall not five minutes later, and after a brief trip to the bathroom, Cas joined him in the kitchen. His hair was a disaster and his robe was wasn’t properly tied, but Dean thought he looked perfect.

“Here’s the birthday boy,” Dean said cheerfully. “Happy birthday, Cas.”

Cas smiled at him. Not the big, gummy grin, but the smaller smile, the one that made his eyes crinkle at the corners. Cas had an entire arsenal of smiles at his disposal, and each one was guaranteed to make Dean’s knees go weak.

“Something smells good,” Cas said, his voice still a bit rough from sleep. “Pancakes?”

“Pancakes indeed.” Dean bustled around, setting out a tray of fresh fruit and a jug of maple syrup, smacking Cas’ hand away when he tried to help. As soon as the first batch of pancakes were ready, he slid them onto Cas’ plate. “Eat up,” he said.

“Thank you, Dean,” Cas said. “This is lovely.”

“It’s just pancakes,” Dean mumbled, embarrassed. “I’ve made them for you before.”

“Yes, but it’s different today,” Cas said, chewing thoughtfully.

Dean shrugged. If Cas was happy, then Dean was happy. The point was to give him a good birthday, and so far Dean had been successful. He tried to give the next batch of pancakes to Cas as well, but was told to enjoy them himself, so he took his seat and dug in.

“Seems like it’ll be a nice day,” he commented between bites.

“Yes,” Cas replied, looking out towards the water. “I think I’ll be out for most of the day, but I should be back by early evening.”

“Cool,” Dean said. “The strippers aren’t coming till much later, so that should be fine.”

Cas glared at him, unimpressed. “I sincerely hope you’re joking.”

“Of course I’m joking,” Dean scoffed. “No big parties. No nudity. I got the memo.”

That brought a smile back to Cas’ face. “Good.”

“Now finish your breakfast,” Dean said sternly. Cas gave him a mock salute and did as he was told.

Once they had finished eating, Dean waved off Cas’ offers to help clean up. Cas grumbled a bit, unused to being spoiled this way, but eventually left Dean alone. He came back a few minutes later, dressed for the day, and packed up some supplies to take with him on his mysterious outing.

Dean paused, his hands still buried in the soapy water, as Cas brushed past him to grab an apple from the counter. “See you tonight,” Cas said, so close that Dean could feel his breath on the back of his neck.

“Yeah,” Dean said faintly. “See you tonight.”

Cas left, and Dean let out a breath of relief. He had no idea why he was having such a strong reaction to the other man today. Most of the time, he could keep his attraction to Cas at a low simmer, present but not intrusive. But today, it was threatening to boil over.

“Get a grip, Winchester,” he said to the empty room. He went back to scrubbing dishes, taking out his frustration on them.

Once the kitchen was tidy, he went and got dressed, then grabbed his keys and his wallet and left the house. He hadn’t been off the island in a few days, so he needed to go into town and grab some supplies.

He made a quick stop at the grocery store, checking items off his list as he went up and down the aisles. He cast a longing look over the pies in the bakery section, but reminded himself that it was Cas’ birthday, not his. Just to be cheeky, he also stopped in the small section of party supplies and grabbed some colorful candles, knowing he could convince Cas to blow them out and make a wish.

Once the groceries were done, Dean figured he had plenty of time before he had to get back and start on dinner, so he swung by to visit Charlie. There was one customer at the counter making a purchase, so he browsed casually while Charlie rang the older woman up. As soon as the door closed behind her, Dean spun around and held out his arms. Charlie grinned excitedly at him and hopped over the counter straight into a hug. Dean held her close, resting his head on top of hers.

“Hey, kiddo,” he said warmly. “How’s business?”

“Not too shabby,” Charlie replied, pulling back. “Slowing down now that the summer crowd has gone, but I’m pretty used to that. What are you doing here, Dean? Ever since you moved to your little lonely island, I never see you anymore.”

Dean winced. “Sorry I haven’t visited much.”

Charlie punched him lightly in the arm. “Whatever, Winchester. If I had a whirlwind romance and wedding with someone as certifiably hot as Castiel, I would be cozied up with them as much as possible too.”

Dean smiled. Charlie, unsurprisingly, had been the most supportive of Dean’s rapid marriage to Cas. Maybe it was her not-so-secret romantic streak, or her love of a good story, or just how much she knew Dean wanted that kind of commitment in his life, but for whatever reason, she just accepted it, and was completely happy for Dean. It meant an awful lot to him.

“It’s actually his birthday today,” Dean explained. “I was hoping you might be able to help me choose the perfect gift for him.”

Dean knew that Cas would protest, insisting that he didn’t need presents, but he also knew that Cas could never say no to a good book, so he figured this was a good strategy.

“Well, what does he like?” Charlie asked, slipping into bookseller mode.

“Everything?” Dean shrugged. “He’s so smart, and so passionate, and he has all sorts of weird interests. I just want to give him something cool, you know?”

Charlie pursed her lips, looking lost in thought. “You could go classic, and even if he already has a copy, he might like it as a collector?”

“It’s definitely an option, but I was kinda hoping for something he might not already have,” Dean said. “I have a fairly good mental image of what’s on his shelves. Maybe I should have taken pictures.”

He just wanted to give something special to Cas. He wasn’t fooling himself into thinking he could earn his husband’s love with thoughtful gifts, but he still wanted to show his appreciation and his affection.

“Hey, does he have any David Mitchell?” Charlie suggested.

Dean thought about it for a minute. “Just Cloud Atlas, as far as I can remember. I know he really liked that one.”

“Awesome,” Charlie said, darting off to the back wall and coming back with a beautiful blue hardcover. “If he liked Cloud Atlas, he’ll definitely like The Bone Clocks.”

Dean skimmed the back cover, and picked a page at random to get a sense of the author’s style. He liked what he saw. “Charlie, you are damn good at your job.”

Charlie grinned and curtsied at him. “I do what I can.”

They chatted for a few more minutes while Charlie rang up the book, and even wrapped it for Dean. He made a mental note to bring her a coffee as a thank-you the next time he dropped in. Then, with another hug goodbye, Dean left the store, very satisfied with his purchase.

Once he got back to the house, he put away the groceries and checked the time. It was 3 o’clock, which meant he still had three hours or so before Cas would be home. Dean found himself yawning, probably thanks to his slightly-earlier-than-usual start to the day. Screw it, he thought to himself. He deserved a nap. The cats seemed to agree, following him to the bedroom and curling up with him when he laid down. He set an alarm for an hour later, and was asleep almost immediately.

He woke up when he felt a warm weight settle over him. Blinking himself awake, he looked up and saw Cas, trying to sneak away quietly after covering Dean with one of their lightweight throws. “Cas?” Dean asked, confused.

Cas halted and turned back around. “I didn’t mean to wake you,” he said apologetically.

Dean sat up and scrubbed his hands over his face.”What time is it?”

Cas checked his watch. “Not quite four.”

Dean groaned. Of course Cas had come earlier than usual today, completely upending Dean’s careful schedule. “You weren’t supposed to be home until later,” he grumbled, getting out of bed, much to the displeasure of his feline companions.

“Oh dear,” Cas said. “I suppose I could leave again.”

“Of course you’re not leaving again.” Dean led Cas out to the living room and handed him his gift, which was sitting on the kitchen table. “Happy birthday, Cas.”

Cas took the wrapped gift with a small smile on his face, surprised but also pleased. He opened it carefully, and his smile grew wider when he saw the item inside. “Dean, this is wonderful,” he said. “I’ve been meaning to pick up more of Mitchell’s books. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Dean said, blushing faintly at the sincerity in Cas’ voice. “Now you relax. Start your book or cuddle the cats or whatever while I get dinner ready.”

“You’re not going to let me help, are you?”

“Absolutely not.”

Cas sighed, but he did pick up the book and start reading. Dean grinned triumphantly and got to work. He made meatloaf (using Ellen’s recipe, of course), mashed potatoes, and green beans, and then also got dessert ready so it could go in the oven at the same time.

Once everything was ready, Dean called Cas to the table. “That looks incredible,” Cas said appreciatively.

“You said burgers or meatloaf were your favourites, but I know I can’t beat my aunt’s burgers, so I made her meatloaf recipe instead,” Dean explained.

“You have certainly done her justice,” Cas commented after taking his first bite. Dean smiled and focused on his own food.

When they finished their dinner, they sat and chatted for awhile at the table before Dean got dessert ready. He put the kettle on to make tea, and then made Cas close his eyes while he got the presentation worked out.

“Okay, open your eyes,” Dean said, turning back around.

Cas removed his hands from over his face, and Dean laughed at the startled expression on his face when he saw what Dean was holding: a large serving platter heaped with blueberry muffins, each with a candle burning brightly in the centre. The two in the middle had the tacky number candles proudly displaying the number 36.

“Oh my goodness,” Cas said. “Do I have to blow them out?” He looked faintly alarmed at the prospect.

“Yep,” Dean said. “Come on, birthday boy. Make a wish.”

Cas closed his eyes, his eyebrows scrunched up in concentration. Then he opened them, and with a determined look on his face, blew out all the candles with one breath. Dean put the platter down and applauded. “Nice work,” he said.

Cas immediately reached for one of the muffins. “This is an unusual birthday dessert.”

“Well, you don’t really like sweets, but you did like that blueberry pie, so I figured can’t go wrong with blueberry muffins,” Dean shrugged. “Besides, these are a guaranteed people pleaser. Mom’s recipe, of course.”

Cas took a bite of the muffin and moaned in pleasure. “This is delicious,” he said.

“Right?” Dean grabbed one for himself. “These were always my favourite, growing up.”

“I can see why.” Cas took another bite. “Dean, I know I’ve already said it, but thank you. This has been a wonderful day from start to finish. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so appreciated.”

Dean got a thrill just hearing those words, though he didn’t like to think about the fact that Cas was unused to being showered with affection and good food. So he just reached out and squeezed Cas on the shoulder. “You’re a good man, Castiel Novak,” he said. “You deserve this.”

Chapter Text

September turned to October, and Dean found himself reaching heights of happiness he didn’t think possible for himself. He loved fall in the Muskokas, with all the leaves changing colours and the way the temperature would drop at night. He loved taking blankets out to the porch and sitting there for hours, wrapped up to stay warm, with a cup of tea and a good book, or just chatting with Castiel.

And then, just a few days into the month, Dean’s peaceful little bubble was shattered by a phone call from Sam.

It was the middle of the day, and Dean was home alone, Cas having left early that morning. He was startled to hear his phone ring, and as soon as he saw his brother’s name flash on the screen, he picked it up.

“What’s wrong?" he asked, skipping the greetings entirely.

“What? Nothing,” Sam said. “Hello to you too, Dean.”

“Why are you calling me in the middle of the day if nothing’s wrong?” Dean asked, relaxing slightly.

“Because it’s the only time I have?” Sam replied. “And even then I don’t have much of it. I just wanted to ask what your plans were for Thanksgiving.”

Oh, right. That was only about a week away. Dean made a face, even though Sam couldn’t see him. “Hadn’t really thought about it.”

“You are coming home for Thanksgiving, right?” Sam asked. It didn't sound like he would be taking no for an answer.

“Uhhh…”

“Dean!” Man, Sam could get shrieky when he was upset. Dean tried not to laugh, pulling the phone slightly further away from his ears to prevent injury.

“I kinda forgot,” he explained. "Time flies, you know."

“Okay, well consider this your reminder,” Sam said, exasperated. “Sarah and I are coming up midday on the Sunday. Mom says we’re doing turkey that night, so we can stay over and then leave around noon on the Monday. You should consider doing the same.”

“I’ll have to talk to Cas about it, I guess.” The topic of holidays had never really come up in any of their conversations. Dean had no idea how Cas felt about them.

“What, like you have to get his permission to see your family at Thanksgiving or something?”

“No, Sam. Jesus. He is not holding me hostage, give it up. I just meant we hadn’t talked about it all, and we’ll have to figure out what we’re doing with the cats, et cetera.” Dean looked around for the animals in question. They would probably be okay for one night on their own. He was pretty sure Cas had left them for that long before. But he still needed to check before making any confirmed plans.

“Okay, okay,” Sam sighed. “Just talk to him about it, and then let Mom know. She’s so excited to have us all together again. And it will be a perfect time for everyone to meet Castiel.”

Dean winced. Great. Cas meeting the whole family all at once. That sounded awful. “I’ll talk to him,” he promised, and hung up.

Dean set the phone down and sighed heavily. Good Luck, hearing the noise, crept out from his hiding place and rubbed his head against Dean’s shins, prompting Dean to pick him up for some cuddles. Of course Dean wanted to see his family. He loved their holiday gatherings. But he didn’t want to force Castiel into anything he didn’t want to do, and it would be pretty strange of him to show up alone, so Cas would have to come with him. Hopefully he wouldn’t be too displeased at the prospect.

As much as he would have liked to put it off, Dean brought up the subject at dinner that very night. Between spoonfuls of butternut squash soup, he casually mentioned that Sam had called him that afternoon.

“For any particular reason?” Cas asked mildly.

“He wanted to talk about Thanksgiving. About my- our- plans for the holiday.” Dean was nervous, but he he managed to keep his voice steady.

“Oh,” Cas said. He blew on his soup to cool it, looking thoughtful. “I suppose that is coming up rather soon, isn’t it?”

“Next week.”

“Does your family usually do something special?”

“Well, sort of. Just dinner at the house. But Sam and Sarah are coming in for it, and Bobby and Rufus will be there, and probably Charlie,” Dean said.

Cas nodded. “What should we bring?”

Dean paused, his spoon halfway to his mouth. “You’re….okay with going?” he asked tentatively.

Cas gave him an odd look. “Of course I am. I’m sorry, should I not have assumed that I would be invited?”

“No, no,” Dean said hurriedly. “I just thought you might be a little more resistant to the idea.”

“It’s your family, Dean. Just because I am generally anti-social doesn’t mean I don’t want to meet them. In fact, I’m quite looking forward to it.” Cas continued eating calmly.

“Okay,” Dean said. He had to gather his thoughts, since he had expected a bit more of a talk before the decision was made. “So dinner’s on the Sunday night. It would be nice to stay over, but we don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“I think we should plan to stay, and that way, if it goes terribly wrong and I need to self-medicate with copious amounts of alcohol, we don’t have to worry about getting home.” Cas’ face was completely straight as he said this. Dean wasn’t quite sure how to take it.

“Will the cats be okay by themselves overnight?” Focus on the practical things, Dean said to himself. Easier to handle that way.

“Oh, yes, they should be fine as long as we’re not back too late on Monday.”

“Great,” Dean said. “Awesome. Thanksgiving with the whole family.”

“Indeed. So, I repeat: what should we bring?”

----------

Dean fiddled with the buttons on his dark green shirt, then took a deep breath and got out of the car. Cas followed suit. Dean stole a glance at him, admiring the way his navy dress shirt highlighted the lines of his torso and the breadth of his shoulders. They grabbed their overnight bags from the trunk, and headed up the drive to Dean’s family home.

“I feel like we should have brought something,” Cas fretted. Dean looked over at him and smiled. He looked a bit nervous, which was endearing.

“No point,” Dean replied. “Mom and Ellen will have so much food, and as good of a cook as I am, they’re a million times better.”

Cas made a face at him, and hovered slightly behind Dean as he pushed open the door. “Happy Thanksgiving!” Dean shouted dramatically as he entered.

Sarah stuck her head out from the living room, a delighted smile on her face. “Dean!” she exclaimed. A few seconds later, Dean was nearly knocked over as Bones ran to greet him as well, Sam chasing after him. “Hey, boy,” Dean crooned, crouching down to rub Bones’ ears. “Oh, right. Introductions,” he said, straightening back up.

“Sam, Sarah, this is Cas. Cas, my brother Sam and his fiancee Sarah Blake.”

Cas held out his hand to Sarah, who shook it warmly, and then to Sam, who looked slightly more suspicious, but shook his hand firmly anyways. “And this slobber monster is Bones,” Dean concluded. Cas gave the dog a wary look. “I’m really more of a cat person,” he said apologetically.

“Come on in, guys,” Sarah said. “Ellen and Mary are in the kitchen, Jo’s gone to pick Charlie up, and Bobby and Rufus should be here soon.”

“We should probably say hi to mom first,” Dean said to Cas. The other man nodded. They left their bags in the hallway for the time being, and went to the kitchen, where Mary and Ellen were hard at work getting dinner ready.

“Dean!” Mary said, catching sight of him as he entered the room. He strode over and caught her up in a hug, heedless of the mess on her apron. “Happy Thanksgiving, Mom,” he whispered. Then he turned and hugged Ellen as well.

“Happy Thanksgiving to you both,” Cas said, still standing in the doorway looking slightly unsure of himself. Dean gestured at him to come closer, so he did. “It smells wonderful in here,” Cas offered. Dean gave him a discreet thumbs up. Compliments on their cooking always put his mother and his aunt in a good mood.

“I hope you brought your appetite,” Mary said, and the smile on her face as she addressed Cas seemed genuine.

“Dean wouldn’t allow me to bring anything else,” Cas said.

“Don’t you worry about that,” Ellen said, turning back to her potatoes, which were boiling away on the stove. “No sense in anyone else bringing food when we’ve got more than enough here.”

Dean gave Cas a smug look and mouthed the words “I told you so.” Cas just rolled his eyes. So far, so good.

“You boys go on and get settled in your room, Dean, and then go keep Sam and Sarah company,” Mary said. Dean started to offer to help, but the words died in his throat when she pointed her spoon at him menacingly. “Go on.”

Dean shrugged. They grabbed their bags from the hall and brought them upstairs to Dean’s old room. It had only been a few months since he had moved out, but it felt strange to be back here now. Cas was looking around with interest, taking in the prints on the walls and the few books Dean had left behind on his shelves. “I can see you growing up here,” he commented.

“It’ll be weird sleeping in here again, that’s for sure.” Dean glanced at the bed. “I wonder if my memory foam still remembers me.”

“We’ll find out later, I suppose. Come on. We can’t hide up here all evening.” Cas left the room, heading back downstairs, and Dean followed.

When they returned to the living room, Charlie and Jo were just arriving. Dean greeted them both with hugs, and they were both warm and friendly towards Castiel, which pleased Dean immensely. Sam and Sarah disappeared for a minute and returned with a variety of beers and ciders, and once everyone had a drink, they settled into their seats to get caught up.

“So work’s been steady?” Dean asked his brother.

Sam snorted. “That’s one word for it. You could also try hectic, or demanding.”

“Yikes,” Charlie commented, taking a sip of her cider. “That makes me glad to be a simple small-business owner and professional book-pusher.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I love my job,” Sam continued, “and I know it’s important. But it just sucks that I don’t get to spend as much time with you guys as I want to.”

Jo raised her eyebrows at him. “You’re here now. I think that counts.”

“It really gets in the way of wedding planning, too,” Sarah said. “I mean, we’ve got lots of time, we’re still young, but it would be nice to feel like we’re making progress sometimes.”

“Or you could just do what Dean and Castiel did and get married without all the fuss, or the guests,” Charlie joked.

A strained silence fell over the group. Dean glanced over at Cas, who had an unreadable expression on his face. Charlie made an apologetic face at Dean, and he gave her a weak smile in return. He knew she hadn’t meant to bring up a touchy subject, and that she had a habit of saying things without thinking them through sometimes.

“And deprive us all of the sight of Bones being the ring-bearer?” Jo said smoothly. Sarah snorted with laughter, and the awkward moment passed. Dean breathed a sigh of relief. Greatly daring, he reached out and placed his hand on Cas’ knee, squeezing slightly. To the rest of the room, it would look like a perfectly normal gesture between a married couple, but Dean didn’t usually touch Cas that way. Cas twitched slightly under his hand, but then brought his free hand up to cover Dean’s for a second, acknowledging the support. Dean smiled and dropped his hand. They would be okay.

“I would never do that,” Sarah shuddered. “No judgment to people who want to include their pets, but that’s not our style.”

“Maybe in a few pictures?” Sam said thoughtfully, like this was something that deserved serious consideration. “That could be cute. But yeah, no dogs as part of the ceremony.”

“You guys don’t have a date set, do you?” Dean asked. He didn’t want to think about how far away it could be. That would only lead to him wondering if he would be alive to see his little brother get married.

“Not yet,” Sarah said, a hint of frustration in her voice. “But enough about us! Isn’t it time we interrogated the new guy?” Her tone was teasing, but as everyone turned to look at Cas, he shrank back slightly in his chair.

“Oh, come on,” Dean protested, but it was too late.

“So, Cas,” Jo said, “you doing Thanksgiving with your family tomorrow?”

“No,” Cas replied. He sounded calm. “My family is distant, both geographically and emotionally. We don’t get together for the holidays.”

“Oh, shit, sorry,” Jo said.

Cas shrugged. “It’s alright.”

“Well, let me tell you, Winchester-Harvelle and Co. do not mess around,” Sarah said. “As someone who came from a tiny family, it’s great having all these people to celebrate with.”

“I can see that,” Cas smiled.

“So your family’s far away,” Charlie commented. “Mine too. What brought you to the neighbourhood?”

“It’s a lovely region, obviously. I wanted the peace and the quiet and the natural beauty.”

“Hence the whole island-in-the-middle-of-a-lake thing,” Dean laughed.

“About that,” Jo said. “What do you do out there all by yourself? Or, well, not by yourself anymore, but still.”

Cas fidgeted in his seat. Dean wracked his brain to find a way to answer Jo’s question on his behalf.

“I work from home,” Cas said. “It’s not particularly exciting, though. Not like your job, Jo.”

Perfect. Without even knowing it, Cas had found the best possible way to turn the attention away from himself. Jo loved to complain about her job. She loved it, really, but she always had stories about weird or rude customers, and once you got her going, she could talk for hours.

“Exciting?” Jo said. “Yeah, like Sam said, that’s one way of putting it. The other day this guy came in-”

Jo continued talking, but Dean mostly tuned her out. He was looking at Cas, who was listening intently to Jo’s story, but still seemed wary, as though the conversation could turn back to him and his work at any moment. Dean glanced up and saw Sam giving them a strange look from across the room. It wasn’t a look Dean saw on his brother’s face very often- unfriendly, distrustful. He frowned at Sam, but his brother didn’t notice, too busy glaring at Cas.

That look did not bode well for a bond developing between Sam and Cas. Dean made a mental note to have a talk with Sam later. Everyone else had come around to the idea of Dean being married, and had been very warm and welcoming towards Cas since they arrived. Dean re-focused his attention on the conversation, and realized that at some point they had switched subjects again and were now discussing the changing demographics of the summer people. Now that was something to truly bring year-round Muskoka residents together.

A few minutes later, they heard the door open, and Bones made a dash for the entranceway, barking loudly. Dean heard gruff voices in the hall, and smiled despite his worries. Bobby and Rufus were here. He stood up to greet them, and Castiel did the same.

“Hey, Bobby,” Dean said fondly. “Good to see you. And you too, Rufus.”

“You too, Dean,” Bobby said. Only someone who had known Bobby as long as Dean had would be able to detect the affection under the gruffness of his voice. It made Dean smile.

“And here’s the boy who forced me out of retirement to help this old grump out,” Rufus said, narrowing his eyes at Dean. “I know we don’t do gifts at Thanksgiving, so I’ll be expecting a bottle of Johnnie Walker with my name on it at Christmas.”

“Yes, sir,” Dean said. He probably would have gotten one for Rufus anyways.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Bobby,” Cas said from beside him. “Good to see you.”

“You too, Castiel. Welcome to the family,” Bobby replied. “I don’t think you’ve met Rufus yet. Old buddy of mine, working at the garage with me now that Dean’s gone all eat-pray-love on us.”

Dean made a face at Bobby’s summary of his adventures since leaving home, but it wasn’t totally inaccurate to the spirit of what he had done. He was still glad that Bobby was here, though. He’d always been supportive of Dean, and didn’t seem interested in questioning Cas, which was a bonus. And Rufus?

“Hello, nice to meet you, I’m just here for the food,” Rufus grumbled.

That was pretty much what Dean had been expecting.

“Well, you’re in luck then,” Ellen said, appearing in the hall behind them. “Dinner’s ready. Grab your seats, everyone.”

As they all filed into the dining room, chattering excitedly, Dean stopped Cas with a hand on his elbow. “How are you holding up?” he asked.

Cas grimaced slightly. “A bit rough there for a second, but better now,” he said. “I’ll be fine, Dean. I’ve sat through my share of awkward family dinners when I was younger. Don’t worry about me.”

“Alright,” Dean said, releasing him. “And hey, the food should be worth it.”

Chapter Text

Mary directed everyone to their seats as they entered the dining room. With both Cas and Rufus joining them this year, they were two people above their usual number, but they made it work. Cas was seated between Dean and Charlie, with Sarah directly across from him. Dean was pleased with the arrangement. Cas’ quick smile told him that he felt the same way. They took their seats, and Mary and Ellen stood up together to make a toast.

“We don’t say grace, per se,” Ellen began. “But we would like to take a minute to acknowledge how grateful we are to be here together, and how thankful we are to have such love and support in our lives.”

“We also remember those who are no longer with us,” Mary continued. She shut her eyes briefly, and Dean knew she was thinking about his dad. “We remember them, and we miss them, but we know that they would be happy to see us all here together today. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.”

Everyone at the table repeated the sentiment, and then Ellen announced, “Well then, go ahead. Start eating!”

As they all passed platters of food around and began filling their plates, Cas nudged Dean lightly. “I like the style of this gathering,” he said. “Respectful, but not stuffy.”

Dean shrugged. “I like to think we’ve got our priorities in order,” he replied. “Take a minute to remember why we’re here, and then enjoy the moment.”

“Good advice,” Charlie said, raising her glass to him.

“Is it advice that you follow in your daily life, Charlie?” Cas asked, turning towards her. It made Dean very happy to see them getting along. As different as they were, he truly thought they could be good friends if given a chance. Plus, they were both awesome.

Charlie laughed. “I’m more likely to enjoy the moments vicariously through reading or gaming,” she joked. “But yeah, I think it’s important.”

“Listen to these young folks, Bobby,” Rufus complained from the other side of the table. “Enjoying the moment, hah. Wait ‘till you’re as old as us.”

“Speak for yourself,” Bobby replied, calmly eating his turkey. “I enjoy every moment I don’t have to spend listening to you complain, for one thing.”

Sarah laughed. “You guys are better than most comedy duos,” she commented. “You should start a podcast or something.”

“The adventures of Bobby and Rufus, small-town mechanics,” Sam said. “Yeah, I like it.”

“Good lord, don’t encourage them,” Ellen said. “Next thing you know they’ll be trying have a reality-TV show.”

“Nobody wants that,” Dean shuddered. “Nobody.”

“I don’t really see Bobby being comfortable with fame and fortune anyways,” Mary said, giving him a teasing smile.

“Damn right I’m not,” Bobby grumbled. “Again, leave that to these young folks here.”

“Yeah, except none of us really have the talent it takes to get famous,” Sam said, with a dramatic sigh.

“Oh sweetie,” Sarah replied, giving him a pitying look, “what on earth makes you think you need talent to be famous?”

The whole table burst into laughter. Dean looked around at them fondly. As much as he enjoyed the peace and quiet of his life with Cas and the cats on their little island, it was good to be home. There was a lot of love in this family, in this house, and he was soaking it up like a sponge. He pushed away the little voice in his head that wondered whether this would be the last holiday he celebrated with his family. Like they said earlier, he had to live in the moment.

----------

So naturally, the shit hit the fan about two hours later.

They had had a great evening up until that point. Even with the large number of people, there was more than enough food, and the conversation flowed easily and comfortably. Once everyone had finished eating, and more than one belt buckle had been loosened, they retired to the living room. There weren’t quite enough chairs for everyone, so they improvised: Sarah sitting on Sam’s lap, Jo and Charlie fitting comfortably into one of the big armchairs, and Dean sitting on the floor, leaning back against Cas’ legs. It was surprisingly comfortable.

“I am so full,” Charlie said, rubbing her stomach. “You guys throw the best holiday parties, seriously.”

“Mmn-hmn,” Jo agreed. She sounded tired. Maybe the whole thing about turkey making you sleepy was true after all.

“I keep threatening to make one of the kids host,” Mary said, raising an eyebrow at her sons. “But then Sam gives me the puppy-dog eyes and insists it just wouldn’t be the same, and I cave.”

“Hey, Dean,” Jo said with a little bit more energy. “Now that you’ve moved out, maybe it’s your turn to host.”

Dean tipped his head back to look up at Cas, who forced a laugh. “Sadly, I’m not sure our house could accommodate all of you,” he said.

“That is unfortunate,” Mary said. “I would love to see it, though.”

Cas smiled politely at her. “Well, individual visits could certainly be arranged,” he said diplomatically.

“How long have you been living there, now?” Bobby asked.

“Seven years,” Cas replied. Dean cursed inwardly. And so it began. It was only natural that his family would be curious about Cas. Heck, he was too. They probably thought they were being supportive by attempting to get to know him. They had no idea how closely Cas guarded any information about his life.

“And before that?” Ellen prompted.

“Oh, all sorts of things,” Cas said evasively.

“Like what?” Sam asked. His tone was more hostile than curious, though. Dean tensed.

Cas shrugged, but Dean could feel the tension in him. “Travelled a lot,” he said. “Europe, mostly, but also Alaska and the northern territories.”

Sam let out a low whistle. “Lavish lifestyle,” he commented. “How exactly do you finance that kind of travel?”

“Sam-” Mary started to say, but he held up his hand to stop her. “No, Mom, let’s hear what Cas has to say,” he said. “I want to get know to my new brother-in-law.”

“If that were truly the case, I would be happy to discuss my life before moving here with you, Sam,” Cas said slowly. “But I’m sensing that that’s not the reason you’re asking, and so I’ll ask you, respectfully, to let the matter drop, so we can enjoy the evening.”

“What are you hiding?” Sam snapped. He slid Sarah off his lap and stood up. “Look, you seem nice enough, Castiel. And you’ve obviously got Dean so head over heels for you that he doesn’t care how messed up this whole situation is. But I do.”

“I don’t believe that it’s your place to care,” Cas said calmly. He stood up as well, but kept his posture neutral and stayed several steps back from Sam. The rest of the room had gone quiet, unsure how to handle the situation.

“Of course it is,” Sam seethed. “Dean’s my brother, and I think you’re using him for something, and I’m going to find out what it is.”

That was the last straw. Dean stood up, placing himself directly between his brother and his husband. “Sam, back off,” he ordered. Just because Sam was taller than him now didn’t mean Dean was intimidated by him.

“Sam, let it go,” Sarah said softly from her place on the couch. “This isn’t the time for this.”

“I don’t care,” Sam said tightly. “Dean, I have tried to be supportive. I know you keep saying you’re happy. But there is something weird going on here, and maybe you’re just too close to see it. I’m trying to protect you.”

“From what, Sam?” Dean asked, his frustration boiling over. He really didn’t want to make a scene, but it was a bit late for that. “It’s not your job to save me. I don’t need to be saved. You’ve got plenty of other people who need your help, so why don’t you focus on them, do your damn job, and keep your nose out of my personal life.”

“We don’t know anything about this man!” Sam exclaimed, pointing an accusatory finger at Cas. “And what’s worse, he won’t tell us anything. He’s going to be part of the family now, don’t we deserve to know more about him?”

“I was unaware that belonging to a family meant disclosing one’s entire life history,” Cas said. How was he so calm? “Dean always told me that he came from a very loving and supportive family. For the most part, that’s what I’ve seen tonight.”

“Yeah, we love and support Dean, and that’s why I don’t trust you,” Sam said darkly.

Dean had had enough. “Screw you, Sam,” he said, looking directly into his brother’s eyes. “Screw you if you don’t think I can be trusted to make my own decisions about my own life and my own happiness. Screw you if you think anything outside your white picket fence dreams is dangerous and untrustworthy. Screw you if you can’t see that your so-called support is going to make you lose me and my trust in you forever. I’m done.”

He heard at least three people call his name as he spun on his heels and walked out of the room, but he didn’t turn back around. He went straight up the stairs and into his room, slamming the door shut and blessing the fact that his mother had agreed to let him put on a lock on it when he was a teenager. He threw himself down on the bed, choking back tears of frustration.

Part of him couldn’t fault Sam for being suspicious. Dean knew it was a bit odd, how intensely private Castiel was. He had all sorts of questions, and if he hadn’t agreed not to ask them, he would be bombarding Cas with them on a daily basis. But even then, it would come from a genuine desire to know him better, not from the place of suspicion that Sam’s questioning stemmed from.

His tears were falling in earnest now. It was a mistake coming here. They should have just stayed on their island, where no one could ask prying questions, where no one could judge them for how they chose to spend their time, for how they defined their marriage, or for anything else. But Dean had wanted to be with his family, because he loved them too. And it had been going so well…

There was a knock on the door. Dean groaned. He should have known he wouldn’t be left alone for long. It was probably either his mom or Charlie. “Who is it,” he called out.

“Dean? It’s me. Castiel.” And that was definitely Cas’ voice. Even muffled by the door, there was no mistaking that low rumble. And yeah, he was the one person Dean was willing to open the door for right now. Mostly because he was worried about Cas as well. So he stood up and unlocked the door, but then crawled back into bed, facing away from Cas. He didn’t want him to see that he had been crying.

So of course Cas came right around the bed and tipped Dean’s face up towards him. Nosy bastard. Dean tried to hold back his tears, but they spilled over onto his cheeks anyways. Cas made a wounded noise, cupping Dean’s face gently with one hand while the other brushed the tears away.

“I am so, so sorry,” Cas said. He sounded awful. Dean sniffled. “What are you sorry for,” he mumbled. “Not your fault my brother is a prick.”

Cas sighed, letting go of Dean’s face and sitting down beside him on the bed. “Perhaps not,” he said quietly, “but I could have just answered him. Even if I lied. I didn’t need to cling to my privacy as though it was the only thing that mattered, not when doing so caused you so much distress.”

There was another knock at the door. Cas looked at it warily. “Should I open it?” he asked. Dean shrugged. Cas got up and went to the door, and Dean twisted around to watch.

It was Charlie this time. She was holding two plates of pie. Dean smiled in spite of himself. “We’re going to give you guys your privacy, I swear,” she said, unusually subdued. “But your mom didn’t want you to miss out on dessert.”

“Thank you, Charlie,” Cas said. She gave him a tight smile and turned away. Cas closed the door behind her, and at Dean’s nod, locked it again.

“Pie now, or later?” Cas asked gently.

“Pie now. Always,” Dean said. He inspected the two plates Charlie had brought. One was apple, and the other blueberry. “I bet that one’s for you,” he said, indicating the blueberry. “Ellen probably made it especially for you after you enjoyed it so much that night at the Roadhouse.”

“That’s very kind of her,” Cas said, taking a bite of his pie.

“That’s how I wanted tonight to be,” Dean admitted. “I thought it would be nice to have everyone together, but I guess I was wrong. We can leave, if you want.”

“I have an alternative suggestion,” Cas said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small bottle of whiskey. “I believe our original plan in the event of catastrophe was to imbibe copious amounts of alcohol. We have a reasonable amount of alcohol, and also pie. I think that’s close enough.”

Dean managed a smile at that. He still wasn’t convinced that he deserved this man, but god, he loved him. He took the bottle from Cas and took a large sip, then passed it back. He took a few bites of pie, and it really did make him feel better.

“I swear, pie has magical healing properties,” he said.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Cas said. He took a swig from the bottle of whiskey. “You should know that Sam apologized to me.”

“What?” Dean was not expecting that at all. “Already?” It usually took a lot longer than that for Sam to admit that he had been wrong. He always would, eventually, it just tended to take some time.

“Yes, between your dramatic storm-out and my following you,” Cas continued. “He caught up to me in the hall and said he was sorry. He sounded sincere. I think you shocked him with your outburst.”

Huh. That was pretty surprising. “Did he say anything else?”

Cas looked embarrassed. “No, Rufus and Bobby followed us out. I think they were expecting to have to tear us apart.”

“Jesus,” Dean muttered.

“It didn’t come to that, obviously. But I didn’t particularly care about what Sam had to say at that moment. I was worried about you.”

Dean swallowed roughly. “I’m okay,” he said, and he didn’t know who he was trying to convince, himself or Castiel. “Really.”

“You’re not, though,” Cas said gently. “I know this must be hard on you. You’re pretending so much already, Dean. Pretending to your family that we’re in a normal relationship. Pretending to them that you’re perfectly healthy. Pretending to me and to yourself that you’re not constantly thinking about whether each day will be your last.”

“Cas-” Dean said, trying to distract him, but it didn’t work.

“You don’t have to pretend to be okay with me, Dean. I’m so honoured that you trusted me with the truth, about everything. Let me help you. Let me be the one you don’t have to pretend for.”

“I don’t know how,” Dean said quietly, staring at his hands. “I’m not used to leaning on people, you know?”

Cas took the empty pie plate out of his hands. “Okay. I can help you with that too. Go put your pyjamas on, get ready for bed.”

“It’s not even ten o’clock,” Dean protested.

Cas gave him a flat look. “And you’re both emotionally and physically exhausted,” he said. “Go.”

Dean made a face, but did as he was told, brushing his teeth in the attached bathroom and changing into a pair of comfortable pyjamas. He came back to the bedroom, and Cas silently indicated that he should get into bed, so he did. Cas smiled down at him, then went into the bathroom, presumably to change and prepare for bed as well.

He came back out a few minutes later, and stacked their dirty dishes on top of the dresser. Then he turned out the lights and got into bed beside Dean. But instead of laying down with a few inches separating them, he rolled right into Dean’s space.

“Cas? What are you-” Dean’s question was cut off as Cas wrapped his arms firmly around him, pulling Dean’s back against his chest in a tight embrace. Dean stiffened in surprise, but then slowly relaxed. It felt really, really good to be held like this.

“Go to sleep, Dean,” Cas whispered from behind him. “It’ll be better in the morning, I promise.”

Dean wasn’t sure he believed that, but he did know that he could feel the tension seeping out of him as he lay there in Cas’ arms. He felt safe, and protected, and cared for. This was what Sam would never understand- it didn’t matter what Cas had done before, or where he had been. He was here now, with Dean. And Dean didn’t care if Cas never loved him in the same way that he did. This was enough for him. It was more than enough.

Dean snuggled deeper into Cas’ embrace, and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

As per usual, Dean woke up before Castiel the next morning. He was surprised to find that they had maintained their position from the night before, considering that neither of them was used to sleeping so closely entwined with someone else. It felt just as nice that morning as it had the night before. Castiel was warm behind him, and the arm draped over his waist was a comforting weight. Dean adjusted the angle of his legs just slightly, but it was enough to wake Cas, who let out a displeased grumble.

“Sorry,” Dean whispered.

“What time is it?” Cas’ question was spoken almost directly into Dean’s ear, thanks to their spooning. Dean shivered. He looked over at the small clock on the bedside table.

“Just after nine,” he said.

“Will the others be awake?” Cas asked, slowly disentangling himself from Dean and rolling over onto his back, his eyes still closed. Dean missed his proximity almost immediately.

“Yeah, probably,” he replied. “Might as well face the day. You take the first shower.”

Cas mumbled his assent and rolled out of bed, heading for the bathroom. Dean watched as he walked away. Then he let out a wistful little sigh and burrowed back under the covers. He really didn’t want to face the rest of his family again today. He supposed they could just sneak out without saying goodbye, but that would be unfair. And really, it wouldn’t solve anything. They would just keep bothering him until they worked things out. And most of them hadn’t done anything wrong. Just because Sam had gotten his panties in a twist didn’t mean they should all be punished for it.

The bathroom door opened, and Cas emerged, wearing only a towel wrapped dangerously low on his hips. Dean’s mouth went dry at the sight. It wasn’t like they deliberately avoided being unclothed around each other, but with the two of them getting up at different times and everything, somehow it had never happened until now. Dean had never even seen Cas go swimming, despite having a lake right outside the door. So the sight of him now, with a drop of water running down his toned chest, over his flat stomach and curving over the sharp cut of his hips, was about a million times more erotic than it should have been.

Fortunately, Cas didn’t seem to notice Dean ogling him like a piece of meat, or if he did, he was polite enough not to mention it. Instead he just gestured to the open door behind him. “Shower’s all yours.”

“Yeah,” Dean replied absently. He waited until Cas had turned his back to rummage in his overnight bag before getting up and making his escape to the bathroom. He really did not want Cas to catch a glimpse of the state of his pyjama pants, which did very little to conceal his hard-on. Once he was safely in the bathroom with the door locked, he breathed a sigh of relief. He stripped down for his shower, making sure to turn the water colder than he normally would. He wasn’t going to risk jerking off with Cas just outside the door. He got loud sometimes.

After his shower, Dean realized he probably should have brought his clothes into the bathroom with him. But if Cas was comfortable walking out in just a towel, he shouldn’t have an issue with Dean doing the same thing. So Dean took a deep breath and opened the bathroom door. Not that he thought his bare torso would suddenly break Cas’ resolve and lead to them making their relationship a physical one….but it was nice to dream.

His worries were for nothing. Cas wasn’t even in the room. Dean frowned at the empty bedroom and got dressed hurriedly. He didn’t hear yelling from downstairs, which was encouraging. Soft conversation, yes, but it didn’t sound like the prelude to a fight.

He entered the kitchen and found his mother making what appeared to be an enormous batch of waffles. “Hi, honey,” she said when she saw him come in. “You hungry?”

“A little bit.” Dean’s stomach rumbled on cue and they both laughed. “How are you doing?” Mary asked, her eyes searching Dean’s face for evidence of his mood.

“I’m okay,” he said. “Really.”

“Alright,” she said, though she still looked concerned. “You need to talk to your brother. He’s been up for hours. Already took the dog out for a run, then came home and woke me up with all his pacing.”

“I know.” Dean wasn’t happy about it, but he did need to talk to Sam. In private this time. “Hey, have you seen Cas?”

“He’s outside with Sam,” Mary replied, turning back to her waffles. “They’re being civil, I swear. I warned them what would happen if they weren’t.”

Dean smiled at the thought of his mom threatening Cas and Sam. Then he went in search of his brother and his husband. He found them on the porch, as Mary had said.

Cas had been in the middle of saying something, but he stopped when he saw Dean. “I think I’ll leave you two alone,” he said, getting up from his chair. Sam twisted around in his seat to look up at Dean. He looked awful. There were bags under his eyes, and his expression was so sad and guilty that Dean almost forgot how mad he was at him. Almost.

Cas gave Dean’s shoulder an encouraging squeeze as he passed by him on his way into the house. Instead of taking the empty seat, Dean remained where he was, standing in front of Sam, leaning back against the porch railing. He didn’t say anything. He waited to hear what Sam could possibly come up with to try to defend himself.

So he was a bit surprised when the first thing Sam did was draw in a deep breath and say, “I’m sorry.”

Dean raised his eyebrows. “For being judgmental, nosy, and overly suspicious? Or for causing a scene in front of the entire family? Or for treating me like a child who can’t take care of himself?”

“For all of it,” Sam said, looking down at his hands. “I know I messed up, Dean. Bad.”

“So what are you going to do about it?” Dean crossed his arms over his chest. He hated the look on Sam’s face, hated knowing how upset he was, but he wasn’t ready to forgive him quite yet. He was upset too, and his feelings mattered just as much as Sam’s.

Sam looked up. “I will apologize as many times as I need to. To both you and Castiel.”

Dean snorted. “You are so lucky you haven’t gotten punched yet. By either of us.”

“I know,” Sam grimaced. “I would deserve it. But, listen, Dean. I talked to Castiel this morning, right before you came out here.”

“About him? Answering your questions from last night?” A small part of Dean would be jealous if Sam suddenly knew more about Cas’ past than he did, but if it made the two of them get along better, it would be worth it.

Sam shook his head. “No. I backed off. He offered to answer anything I wanted to ask, but it didn’t seem right. We just talked about you, really.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, about how you guys spent so much time together when you were looking after Alfie, and how you got to know each other, and everything.”

“Right.” That was all true, at least. Their relationship wasn’t a complete lie. It just wasn’t as mutually loving as they made it out to be.

“I get it a bit better now,” Sam said with a small smile. “Cas seems really great, Dean. And he obviously cares about you a lot.”

“Is this you giving me your blessing? Because while I appreciate it, I also sure as shit don’t need it,” Dean stated.

“I know you don’t.” Sam stood up and joined Dean at the railing. “I’m just saying, I was wrong about him. Even if he is a bit intense about his privacy, it doesn’t make him a bad person.”

“Big of you to admit it,” Dean muttered.

Sam sighed. “And no matter what I thought about him, I shoudn’t have doubted you. I should have supported you, and your decisions, even if I didn’t understand them. I’m most sorry for that, Dean. You’re my brother, and I love you, and I picked the wrong way to try to show that.”

Dean looked at his brother. Sam’s regret seemed sincere, and his apology rang true. He understood what he was saying- sometimes it was hard to see that what you were doing was hurting a person when you were so convinced that you were helping them.

Dean sighed. “Okay, Sammy,” he said. “Okay.” He gave his brother a quick hug. “Let’s put this behind us, alright?”

“Yeah,” Sam said, finally relaxing. His shoulders dropped from where they had been pulled up almost to his ears. “Let’s do that.”

“Think they left us any waffles?” Dean asked, holding the door open for Sam to enter the house, and following after him.

“I hope so,” Sam said. “I’m starving.”

Entering the dining room, they discovered that everyone else was awake, steadily working their way through the mountain of waffles Mary had placed in the centre of the table. Bobby and Rufus were absent, and Dean figured they had left the night before, sometime after he had done his dramatic storm-out.

Dean slid into the empty seat beside Cas, stealing a strawberry off his plate. Cas gave him an unimpressed look, but when Dean grinned unrepentantly back at him, his lips twitched with amusement. “You and Sam are good?” he asked quietly.

“Yeah,” Dean said. “We’re good. You two?”

Cas glanced across the table. Following his gaze, he saw Sam looking at the two of them nervously. “We’re good,” Cas said, and smiled encouragingly at Sam, who smiled back.

“Awesome,” Dean said. “Pass me one of the waffles, then. All this drama has made me hungry.”

Sarah reached across the table and presented the plate of waffles to Dean. “Made with love,” she said warmly. “The way it should be, in this family.”

Cas smiled at her. “I can taste the difference.”

“I love having holidays here,” Sarah said, slowly chewing a bite of her waffle. “I’m not a bad cook, but I’ve got nothing on Mary and Ellen.”

“Gotta keep all our fiery personalities well nourished,” Jo said. “Gives us the energy we need to get through the day.”

“You sound like you’re talking about protein powder or something,” Charlie laughed. "Not waffles.”

“No additives in my food,” Mary said, joining them at the table.

“You mean Sam got so tall on genetics alone?” Cas asked. Dean snorted into his cup of coffee. If Cas was poking fun at Sam’s height, albeit gently, he knew they were going to be alright.

Sam sniffed disdainfully. “I ate my vegetables, unlike Dean.”

“Hey!” Dean protested. “I’m tall too.”

“I’m not,” Jo said. “But don’t let that fool you.”

“I would never underestimate your ferocity,” Cas told Jo, sounding completely sincere. She responded with a sharp smile.

Dean felt his spirits lift as he ate. This was more like it. Everyone was getting along, and there was a current of cheerfulness and laughter in the air that brought a smile to everyone’s face. It lasted all through breakfast, and while they all lounged at the table after they finished eating.

Eventually, Sam looked down at his phone and made a face. “I hate to be the one to break up the party, but we need to be on our way.”

“Boo,” Charlie said, making an exaggerated sad face.

“You can stay,” Jo told her. “We’ll put our pyjamas back on and have a movie marathon. Harry Potter?”

“You can’t watch Harry Potter without me!” Sam complained.

“Tough call,” Charlie said. Sam sighed. “I really do have to go,” he said sadly.

Sam and Sarah went to grab their bags while everyone else helped to clear the table. “Hey,” Dean said to Cas, getting his attention. “Wanna head out too?” Cas gave him a little shrug, which Dean interpreted as meaning they could stay if he wanted, but yes, Cas did want to leave. “No problem,” Dean said.

“I think we’d better be heading out as well,” he announced. “Can’t leave those cats alone for too long. They’ll destroy the place.”

Charlie laughed at that. “Fair enough,” she said, grabbing Dean and giving him a tight hug. “Say hi to the kitties from their Aunt Charlie, who hasn’t met them yet, but hopefully will someday.”

“Sure thing,” Dean replied. “Good to see you.”

They went around the room, saying their goodbyes. Dean watched out of the corner of his eye and was pleased to see that Cas exchanged hugs with Sarah, Jo, and Charlie without hesitating. He seemed slightly more wary when it came to Mary and Ellen, but when they drew him in close, he hugged them back, a pleased smile on his face.

“Thanks for hosting us again, Mom,” Dean said, kissing his mother on the cheek. “Excellent as always.”

“Maybe at Christmas we can skip the drama?” she suggested.

“I certainly hope so,” Dean replied. If he even made it to Christmas, it would almost certainly be his last, and he damn well wanted it to be perfect.

Sam dragged Bones out to the car despite his protests, then hovered for a second before getting in himself. He offered his hand to Castiel, who took it without hesitating.

“Safe drive home,” Cas said.

“Yeah, you too,” Sam replied. “See you at Christmas, I guess?”

Cas looked over at Dean, who nodded. “I look forward to it,” Cas said.

Dean came over and hugged his brother tightly. Sure, he was a bit self-righteous sometimes, and he was too stubborn for his own good, but he was still his little brother, and he still loved him.

“Bye, Sammy,” he said. “Don’t work too hard.”

“All I ever do is work too hard,” Sam said. “But I’ll try not to. Bye, Dean.”

They waved goodbye to Sarah, who was already in the car, trying to keep Bones under control. Then Sam got into the car, and they drove away.

“Let’s go home,” Dean said, loading their bags into the trunk of the Impala.

“Yes please,” Cas said. He sounded exhausted.

“Somebody needs kitty cuddles, huh,” Dean commented, sliding into the car.

“Desperately.” Cas got in as well, and they were off. “I did enjoy that, even with the drama,” Cas continued, “but never have I been so thankful that there’s such a large gap between our Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

“We don’t have to do Christmas with my family if you don’t want to,” Dean told him. “I mean it. We can stay at home, I’ll make something slightly less extravagant but still delicious. And lots of eggnog.”

“That does sound nice,” Cas said, “but I doubt your family will be pleased about it.”

“Well, as you said, we’ve got plenty of time to decide.” Dean tapped his fingers lightly against the steering wheel as he drove. He still didn’t even know for sure that he would be around for Christmas. But he didn’t want to talk about that, so he kept acting like it was something they actually needed to plan for.

“I think we should invite your mother to come visit,” Cas said, still looking thoughtfully out the window. “She expressed an interest in seeing our home, and I think I could enjoy having company, in small doses.”

Dean was surprised to hear that, but he couldn’t deny that he liked the idea of his mom coming to the island to visit them. “That would be nice,” he said carefully. “As long as it’s okay with you.”

“I like your mother. She has a very calming presence. She’s graceful, without being soft.”

That was a pretty accurate description of Mary, actually. Dean grinned. “Awesome. We’ll find a time for that then.”

“Not for a while, though,” Cas said, turning to look at Dean. “Some time to ourselves first to recover is in order, I think.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” They reached the shore of the lake, and Dean pulled the car into the garage. They transferred all their bags into the motorboat and set off across the lake. Dean let Cas drive the boat most of the time, now that he had proved he was capable of doing so if necessary.

Once they had the boat tied up, Dean held the bags while Cas unlocked the front door. He had to swoop down to catch Banjo, who tried to make a run for it. Dean laughed, pulling the door firmly shut behind him to prevent any cat escapes. “Little rascal,” Cas said fondly, holding Banjo in his arms. Dean dropped the bags in the bedroom, too lazy to bother unpacking at the moment. Instead, he went back to the living room, where Cas and Banjo were sitting in one of the armchairs, and coaxed Good Luck out from under the other.

Dean settled into the other chair, gently petting Good Luck, who promptly curled up in his lap and went to sleep. As much as he had enjoyed spending the holiday with his family, this was where he now felt most at peace: sitting beside his husband, with a cat in his arms, and a comfortable silence in their little house.

Chapter Text

The first real snowfall of the season came in mid-November. They’d had a few flurries before that, but nothing that stuck. This particular morning, however, Dean woke up to see an inch or of snow dusted across the trees, and when he went out to the kitchen, he could see it piled on the porch railing. A silly grin broke out on his face. He loved winter, at least for the first bit of it. There was always something so thrilling about the first snow of the year, the freshness and the crispness of it all.

Though it did interfere with his usual routine of taking his morning coffee out to the porch. Instead, he pulled one of the armchairs a bit closer to the window so he could still have a nice view. The cats didn’t seem particularly impressed by the snow, but they never went outside, so what did they know.

When Castiel shuffled in about half an hour later, Dean’s coffee was long gone, but he was still sitting by the window. He turned his head to greet Cas, who had a rather spectacular case of bedhead. “Good morning,” he said cheerily. “Look, snow!”

“Yes, it’s a common meteorological condition around here,” Cas said drily.

“Not a fan, then?” Dean couldn’t tell if it was the snow that Cas found so offensive, or if this was just his usual morning grumpiness.

Cas shrugged and yawned at the same time. “It probably won’t last this early in the year,” he said, preparing his coffee.

“Well aren’t you a little optimist,” Dean replied. Cas made a face at him, sitting down at the table with his coffee. Dean stood up and refilled his mug, then joined Cas at the table. “It’s pretty, though.”

“It is that,” Cas agreed. “I’ll be going out today, I think.”

“In this weather?” Dean put a hand to his chest in mock surprise. “It’s far too dangerous out there.”

Cas rolled his eyes, unimpressed with Dean’s performance. “I’ve been out in worse.”

“Yeah, I know, you’re a big tough wilderness expert. Hey, have you ever considered growing a mountain-man beard?” Dean was pretty sure Cas could pull off the look. He wasn’t convinced that there was any way Cas could look unattractive.

Cas snorted. “No, not until this very moment. And now I’ve considered it, and decided firmly against it.”

“Too bad.” Dean shook his head. “It would really add to your bad-boy image, you know. Or you could grow your hair out, like Cain’s.”

“I love Cain dearly. He’s a wonderful man, and I miss his company. But I have no desire to to follow his personal grooming examples.”

“You would stay warmer, though,” Dean pointed out. He didn’t even know why he was pushing this point. He wasn’t serious about it at all. But he found he enjoyed winding Cas up. The other man just got so adorably defensive.

“You grow the beard and the hair then,” Cas grumbled.

“Nah,” Dean winked. “I’m too pretty for that.”

“That you are,” Cas agreed, so easily that Dean blinked at him in confusion. Was Cas flirting with him? Sure, way back when they had first gotten married and moved in together, Cas had admitted that he found Dean attractive, but there had been absolutely zero mention of it since then. But Cas was just sitting there, calmly sipping his coffee, like he hadn’t just dropped a huge bomb on Dean. Which probably meant that in his mind, it was nothing. Just a casual remark. Dean’s good mood deflated with that realization.

“The snow has got me thinking, though,” Cas continued, oblivious to Dean’s inner turmoil. “The lake will freeze over soon enough, and then the boats will be of no use to us.”

Dean had never even thought about that until this moment. Maybe, subconsciously, he hadn’t thought he would live long enough to worry about it. But aside from the occasional twinge here and there, easily fended off with his pills, his heart was still going steady. So maybe it was time he learned exactly how one dealt with living on an island during the winter.

“So, what? Do we hole up here for the whole winter?” he asked.

“Not at all,” Cas said, smiling at him. “Do you know how to snowshoe?”

Dean made a face. “In theory, yeah,” he said. “But the only time I tried, I got stuck with a busted pair. The strap on one kept coming off, so it fell off my foot while my leg was lifted, meaning that side came down straight into three feet of snow. But only on the one side.”

Cas looked like he was trying not laugh. “That sounds awkward,” he said.

Dean rolled his eyes. “Yeah, so there I am, buried up to my waist in snow but only on one side of me. The only person around is Jo, and she’s tough, but it ain’t easy pulling a guy my size out of the snow like that. We finally got me out, then had to traipse back to the start of the trail just in my boots.”

“I assure you, my gear is in working order. It’s the easiest way to get across the lake once it freezes.”

Dean wasn’t entirely convinced, but it did make a certain amount of sense. “If you say so.”

“So that also got me thinking. We should probably invite your mother over to visit before the lake freezes. I don’t doubt her abilities, but it seems rude to make a guest snowshoe across a frozen lake just for a visit.”

That was very considerate. Dean’s heart melted a little, listening to Cas plan out the best way to ensure that Mary could come see their house without any excessive effort. “Yeah, sure,” he said. “Whenever you want.”

“Call her today,” Cas suggested. “It’s beautiful, with the snow, but we can still use the boats. I think she’d like it.”

“Okay,” Dean said happily. He was already planning what to make for dinner. Cas smiled fondly at him from across the table. Yes, today was going to be a good day.

---------

They took Boaty across the lake to the garage not long afterwards. Cas had his usual overstuffed backpack with him, and Dean knew not to ask any questions, so he just waved goodbye as Cas rode off on his motorcycle, then climbed into the Impala and headed for town. He had a few errands to run, mostly picking up groceries and other things they needed around the house. Then, since it was approaching noon, he swung by the house to ask his mom if she wanted to make an impromptu visit to the island.

The door to the house wasn’t locked, but it was unusually quiet inside. “Hello?” Dean called out as he entered, pulling the door shut behind him.

“Dean?” Mary said, sticking her head out from the living room. Dean suppressed a laugh. Her hair was all flat on one side, and she looked like she had just woken up. “Hey, sleeping beauty,” he joked.

“This is a nice surprise,” his mom replied, shaking herself awake. “What’s the occasion?”

“Well, you know how at Thanksgiving we talked about you coming to see the house?”

“I’ve tried to block out certain parts of that evening, but yes, I remember that conversation,” Mary said with a wry smile.

“Wanna come over today?” Dean asked. “Unless you’ve already got a hot date lined up.”

Mary made a face at him. “Don’t be absurd. Of course I’d love to see your house. And no, I have no other plans, though if you’d given me more notice I would have gotten something made to bring over with me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Dean said with a bright grin. “You can just make me lunch now, and then we’ll head over.”

“Fair enough.” They relocated to the kitchen, Dean grabbing a glass of water and taking a seat at the table while his mom made them both some sandwiches for lunch. “Jo and Ellen both at work?”

“I think Jo’s actually hanging out with Charlie right now, but yes, she’ll be joining Ellen later this afternoon.”

“No wonder it’s so quiet in here. Good for you, taking advantage of the silence with a nap.” Dean knew Mary didn’t get a lot of time to herself, though he imagined she probably had more of it now that he had moved out. He hoped she enjoyed having the house to herself sometimes, and that it didn’t feel too empty without its other inhabitants.

They ate their lunch leisurely, catching up on news. Dean was pleased to hear that Sam’s firm had won a big case, which would go a long way towards building his good reputation, but he also worried that it would lead to increased demand for his services and then even more work. Mary expressed a similar sentiment, but she assured Dean that whenever they spoke, Sam sounded cheerful, and excited about how well his career was taking off, so Dean decided to make pride his primary feeling about the news.

Once they finished eating, they headed for the car. Mary left a note for Ellen and Jo, and Dean teased her about being old-school, suggesting that she could just text them instead. But he also took comfort in the familiarity of it. They always used to leave each other notes on the kitchen table as a means of communication between family members.

As they made the short drive towards the lake, Mary looked out the window with interest, noting the route they were taking. “I wonder how many times I’ve gone past what’s now your house, out on the lake,” she mused. “Weird to think about it.”

“It is weird,” Dean agreed. “I know Cas didn’t build the place, but I don’t remember who he bought it from, either. It’s just our house now.”

Mary looked over at him and smiled. “That’s good,” she said. “That means you’ve made it your home.”

That was true. As much as he still felt comfortable walking into the house he’d grown up in, and spending time there felt right, it wasn’t home anymore. Home was a tiny house on an island, with two cats and one enigmatic but sexy as hell as husband. Dean was so glad that he had this chance to show it off to his mother. It felt like proving a point, somehow. Like he was finally able to show her, concretely, that he was happy and settled and domestic as fuck, which was pretty much all she had ever wanted for him.

They pulled up to the garage, and Mary looked suitably impressed. Dean loaded the groceries into the boat and drove them over to the island. “It’s nice to be out on the water,” Mary said, her long blonde hair whipping around her face. “It’s been awhile.”

“I love being out on the lake,” Dean said. “Oh, there we go. You can see the house now.” They turned the corner and the house came into view. It looked particularly stunning with the surrounding trees dusted with the light layer of snow. Mary let out a little gasp, and Dean smiled, pleased by her reaction. “Oh, honey, it’s beautiful,” she said reverently. “Yes it is,” Dean agreed.

Dean steered the boat into place at the dock and cut the engine. He helped his mom out, then grabbed the groceries. She was looking around with interest, taking in the view of the lake and the forested shores. Holding the grocery bags on one hip, Dean unlocked the door and held it open, ushering Mary inside, then closed it behind them.

Mary quickly removed her shoes and started looking around, taking in the large bookshelves, the view from the windows, and the comfortable-looking furniture. She turned to Dean with a satisfied expression on her face. “I like it,” she announced. “Oh! Hello!” She crouched down, and Dean looked over to see Banjo slink out from under the chair to greet her. She stroked his ears gently, and he purred loudly, so she repeated the motion.

“That’s Banjo,” Dean said from the kitchen, where he was putting away the purchases he had made in town. “He’s the more outgoing of the two.”

“Aren’t you a handsome fellow,” Mary cooed. Dean bit back a laugh. They hadn’t had pets around the house when he was growing up, but Mary seemed quite happy playing with the cat now. “Where is the other one hiding?”

“Probably under the chair.” Dean put away a bag of sugar and came over to where his mom and Banjo were seated on the ground. He crouched down, and sure enough, Good Luck stared back at him from under the chair. “Hey buddy, wanna come out and meet my mom?”

After a few seconds, Good Luck slunk out from under the chair and allowed Dean to pick him up. “And this is Good Luck,” he said. Mary reached out a hand to him, which he sniffed delicately, and allowed her to pet him. “Aren’t they the cutest?”

“Very cute,” Mary agreed. “You’ve taken to pet ownership very well.”

Dean shrugged. “Cats are pretty simple. You feed them, clean out their litter boxes, and give them lots of affection.”

“Sounds like good practice for taking care of babies,” Mary said slyly. Dean scowled at her. “I’m good with cats, thanks,” he said.

They passed the afternoon chatting comfortably over tea, and before long, they heard the front door opening, and looked up to see Castiel entering, a light dusting of snow in his hair. Dean had a sudden vision of Cas as an older man, with white flecks in his dark hair, and felt an immense wave of sadness pass over him at the realization that he would never see Cas grow old. But he shook it off, determined to continue being a good host.

“Hello, Mary,” Cas said, taking off his coat and boots. “I’m so glad you could join us.”

“I’m glad I made it out here today,” Mary replied. “Your house is lovely, Castiel, and the snow just gives everything that extra little touch of magic.”

Cas smiled at her. “I thought you would like it,” he said, dragging one of the kitchen chairs over to join them. “And I see you’ve met the boys.” He indicated the two cats sleeping at their feet.

“Yes, they’re very sweet.”

Dean stood up. “I’m going to get started on dinner,” he announced. “You two chat.”

“Do you need any help?” his mom asked.

“No, no,” Dean waved her off. “I’ve got this.” He was just making spaghetti and garlic bread, after all. Nothing too fancy. He hummed to himself as he cooked, watching Cas and his mom talk animatedly across the room. He didn’t try to listen in, but he did enjoy watching the two of them. It made him incredibly happy to see how well they got along. As much as he was still in the dark about Cas’ family situation, he could tell that Cas was responding well to having a maternal figure around. And Mary had always been the type to basically adopt any of her children’s friends, and their romantic partners even more so. He wanted them to have some time to get to know each other without his influence, and it seemed to be going very well indeed.

When the food was ready, they suddenly realized that they were short one chair at the table. “I’m so sorry,” Cas said, sounding embarrassed. “I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me until now.”

“No worries,” Dean said, running his hand down Cas’ arm soothingly. He took his plate and hopped up on the counter. With the kitchen being so small, he was only a few steps away from them anyways. “Problem solved.”

Cas smiled at him gratefully. “This is why I said we would have trouble hosting your entire family.”

“I can see why you wouldn’t want us all in here anyways,” Mary commented. “Your home is perfect for the two of you, but it would get very loud very fast if we were all in here at the same time.”

“So Christmas at your house, then?” Cas said.

Mary looked a bit surprised. “If you’re willing to come back, yes,” she said carefully. “I know the last gathering wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.”

Cas shrugged. “Sam and Dean and I have all decided to put that unpleasantness behind us,” he said calmly. “I would actually quite like the chance to make better memories, rather than letting the less-than-desirable ones be the dominant narrative.”

“Besides, I think Cas deserves to see Bobby in a Santa hat at least once in his life,” Dean joked.

Cas looked both intrigued and yet horrified at the thought. “As long as he doesn’t make me sit on his lap and ask me what I want for Christmas, then yes, I would like to see that.”

Mary was looking at the two of them, her expression soft and misty. Dean sighed. He knew what that face meant. She was about to say something remarkably sappy and yet frighteningly accurate.

“At the risk of sounding overly sentimental,” she began, and yep, Dean was right, “Castiel, I’m so glad that you’re part of this family now. Seeing this place, the life and the home that you and Dean have built together...it’s very moving. I haven’t seen my boy so happy in a long, long time.”

“Mom,” Dean muttered, flushing. “Stop it.”

“Not a chance, sweetheart,” she said. “I just want to say thank you, Castiel. For taking care of Dean.”

“It’s a mutual thing,” Cas said, reaching across the table to take Mary’s hand. “You’ve raised a wonderful son, and he takes wonderful care of me as well.”

“Okay, alright, quit it, you two,” Dean said. He was fairly certain that he was as red as the spaghetti sauce by now.

“Never,” Cas said serenely. “Though, if you prefer, I could ask your mother to tell me all the most embarrassing stories from your childhood instead.”

“Oh, like when he was ten and wanted to be Batman so badly, he would only answer to the name Bruce?” Mary said innocently.

Dean groaned, dropping his head into his hands. “This was a mistake,” he said. “I never should have brought you here.”

“Nonsense,” Mary replied. “It’s been a lovely day. Thank you both so much for having me over.”

Cas shot a triumphant look at Dean. “If you don’t like the conversation, you can always busy yourself with the dishes,” he suggested. “Meanwhile, your mother and I are going to continue this fascinating discussion of your childhood.”

Dean threw his hands up in surrender and started gathering the dirty plates. He was actually very happy about the way the night had turned out, despite his slight embarrassment. He loved seeing Castiel interact with his family, and it felt right to have his mom here, even if only for a short visit. He listened to two of the people he loved most in the world talking and laughing with one another, and it sounded like music to his ears.

Chapter Text

By mid-December, the lake had frozen over, and Dean had been forced to admit that snowshoeing wasn’t so bad after all.

It was actually kind of peaceful, passing lightly over the snow, knowing that below it was a thick sheet of ice, and below that, the water of the lake. The first time Dean tried on the snowshoes, under Cas’ careful supervision, he was unsteady at first. But he soon got used to it, and he got to pretend that he was Legolas in that one scene from the Lord of the Rings movies, where they’re stuck in the blizzard on the mountain. Cas watched him with a fond smile on his face, but when he challenged Dean to a race, Dean scoffed and declined. Cas had years of experience on him, and Dean would rather not suffer the certain indignity of losing.

They headed back inside once the lesson was done, leaving their gear on the porch. Dean went straight for the kitchen to make them some hot chocolate while Cas fed the cats. Dean hummed to himself, not really paying attention to the melody, until Cas looked over at him and frowned.

“What,” Dean asked, self-conscious. “Is my humming that bad? Good thing I’m not actually singing, then.”

“Not at all.” Cas grinned at him. “You were humming Silent Night. I love that song.”

Oh. Well, it was only about two more weeks until Christmas. At least Dean wasn’t like the stores, who started inflicting Christmas music on people earlier and earlier every year. Even Dean, who was a Christmas enthusiast, preferred to not be overloaded with the sights and sounds of the holidays for three entire months.

“So you dig classic Christmas music, huh,” Dean said. “That’s good. I don’t think I could handle it if you were a total Grinch.”

Cas shook his head vehemently, coming over to grab one of the steaming mugs of hot chocolate, then settling into his armchair with it. Dean did the same.

“I quite like Christmas,” Cas said. “Though I haven’t really celebrated it much the past few years.”

“You mean you don’t go out into the woods and cut down your own tree and drag it back here like a true lumberjack?” Dean was a tiny bit disappointed. He had sort of been hoping for a real Christmas cabin experience.

“No, the cats would probably just find a way to ruin it anyways.” Cas glanced over at them where they were calmly eating their food. “I love them dearly, but they are a tad destructive.”

“Fair point. Well, if you’re still up for it, it’s always a nice time at my family’s house.” Dean didn’t want to pressure Cas into going, but if he was even the tiniest bit of a Christmas person, he couldn’t miss out on the experience.

“Yes, I’m looking forward to it,” Cas said. “I had been meaning to discuss it with you, actually, so this is good timing.”

“Uh-oh.” Dean put down his mug and turned towards Cas, his face serious. “That sounds like a thinly-veiled version of ‘we need to talk,’ which everyone knows is bad news. What exactly do we need to discuss?”

“Nothing so serious,” Cas said reassuringly. “I just wanted to know how long we were going to be gone, et cetera.”

“Oh, phew.” Dean picked his hot chocolate back up and took another sip. “It’s up to you, I guess. The main meal is on Christmas day proper. We usually just do movie marathons and stuff the night before, so if you don’t want to leave the cats for too long, I would suggest we go over Christmas morning and come back at some point on Boxing Day.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Cas nodded. “If we stayed much longer, I fear we wouldn’t be able to transport all our luggage on top of the presents.”

“You don’t have to get anyone presents.” Dean was still unclear on exactly how much money Castiel had, and equally unclear on where it came from. He never seemed worried about it, and left cash for Dean to put towards household expenses in a jar on the bookshelf, but he also didn’t appear to have a regular job. He didn’t want Cas feeling obligated to buy gifts for Dean’s enormous family just because they would be spending the holiday together.

“Nonsense,” Cas said. “I usually only have the cats to buy for. Part of the fun of Christmas is giving to others. What do you want for Christmas, Dean?”

A blow job would be nice, Dean thought to himself, but managed to keep from saying it out loud. It was exactly the kind of thing he would say to someone he was married to, if their marriage actually meant something. But he wouldn’t make Cas feel uncomfortable by saying it, even if he tried to pass it off as a joke.

“I dunno, man,” he said instead, keeping his tone light. “Socks are always good.”

“Dean.” Cas gave him a stern look.

Dean shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know, something nice and completely impractical? Something I don’t need at all, but will make me smile?”

“I can work with that,” Cas said thoughtfully.

“What about you, what do you want?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh no, not fair, you made me tell you, so now you’ve gotta tell me.”

Cas made a face at him, but Dean just waited patiently for him to answer. He was struck by the sudden thought that Cas didn’t know what to ask for because he wasn’t used to having anyone to give him presents at Christmas, and that was way too sad of a thought for such a nice day. Dean resolved to make this Christmas a good one for Cas.

“Something permanent,” Cas said slowly. Dean couldn’t tell what he was thinking. “Not something you use and then it’s gone.”

“Okay, so like, no booze or food or shaving cream?” Dean asked.

“Yes, exactly,” Cas replied.

“I can work with that,” Dean said, echoing Cas’ earlier words. “I meant it, though. Don’t worry about getting stuff for my family. As sappy as it sounds, the real gift is spending time together.”

“That is sappy,” Cas commented. “I like it.”

Dean noted that Cas never actually addressed the issue of getting presents for anyone else, but he didn’t know how else to drive his point home, so he just let the matter slide. Cas would do what he wanted to do. It was one of the things Dean loved most about him, his absolute disregard for what was expected, or what was considered proper, or what he was told to do by others. All Dean could do was sit back and see what happened. And try to come up with something perfect to give to Cas.

----------

Dean spent the next two weeks planning and plotting in between decorating the house for the holidays. Though they would be going to his family’s house for the main part of the festivities, he still wanted to bring some Christmas cheer into their little house. He bought multi-coloured lights and strung them up in the doorways, making sure that the cats couldn’t get at them. He cut a few careful sprigs from some of the evergreens growing on the island and put them in little jars around the house, giving off faint whiffs of their scent every time someone passed by. He stopped by the tiny pet store when he was in in town one afternoon and came home with adorable red and green collars for Banjo and Good Luck. He was tempted by the cat-sized reindeer antlers, but he was pretty sure neither of the cats would put up with them for long.

The morning of December twenty-fourth, Dean woke up to light pressure on his chest, and then something soft brushing across his face. He raised his hand to wipe away whatever was tickling him, and came into contact with soft cat fur. Dean opened his eyes cautiously to see Banjo standing on the bed beside him, and an empty space on Cas’ side of the bed. “Morning, Banjo,” Dean said, petting him lightly. “Guess I slept in, huh.”

He got out of bed and headed for the living room after a quick stop to brush his teeth. Cas was already there, and Dean could smell the coffee in the air. “Hey, it’s Santa Claus!” Dean joked, tugging on the sleeve of Cas’ red robe.

Cas’ mouth curled up on one side. “Yes, all I need is the big white beard,” he said. “Good morning, Dean.”

“Morning, Cas. What are you doing up so early?” Dean searched the other man’s face for indications of his mood, hoping nothing was wrong, but Cas looked relaxed and happy.

“Just excited, I suppose,” Cas replied.

“Dude, it’s not even really Christmas yet.” Not that Dean was complaining, but if Cas was already up early on the day of Christmas Eve, exactly how early would he be awake tomorrow morning?

“Yes, Dean, I’m aware.” Cas rolled his eyes at him. “But I do have some work I need to get done today, as well.”

“Holiday starts tomorrow, huh.”

“More like today around five o’clock,” Cas said. “I promise.”

Dean shrugged. “You gotta do what you gotta do,” he said. “I’m making soup for dinner. Gotta save room for all the eating we’ll be doing tomorrow.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Cas said, draining the last of his coffee. “See you this afternoon, Dean.” And then, as he passed Dean on his way to the Chamber of Secrets (as Dean had taken to thinking of it), Cas did something he had never done before.

He kissed Dean on the cheek.

And then the little shit just walked away like it was nothing, leaving Dean standing there, jaw hanging open in surprise. Dean pinched himself, then hissed in pain. Okay, so this was real. It wasn’t some sort of weird hallucination brought on by too much eggnog over the past few days. But it didn’t make any sense.

Part of Dean had thought that maybe, after the whole cuddling thing at Thanksgiving, something would have shifted between he and Castiel with regard to the physical aspect of their relationship. But once they were back in their own house and in their own bed, they went back to sleeping without touching again. So Dean’s private dreams of physical intimacy had faded to the back of his mind. Until now.

Cas was probably just overcome with the spirit of the season or whatever. Not that people usually showed it with kisses. Dean hadn’t even tried to be sneaky by planting mistletoe around the house or anything like that. Cas had just...kissed him. And so casually, like it was something he did all the time. Which it was not.

Dean shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. Over-analyzing this one little gesture was not at all productive. He had other things to do, like make a giant pot of soup. He could concentrate on that instead, but it would be hard to focus when he could still feel the phantom pressure of Cas’ lips against his cheek.

------------

As promised, Cas wandered back out to the kitchen just after five o’clock. “Smells wonderful,” he said appreciatively.

Dean watched him carefully, but Cas made no sudden movements, and gave no indication that he planned to repeat his actions from earlier in the day. Part of Dean wanted to ask him about it, but he feared the answer he might get, so he shrugged and continued stirring the soup like nothing had changed. If Cas didn’t make a big deal out of it, then it obviously wasn’t a big deal, and Dean was just so starved for more-than-platonic affection that he had built a quick kiss on the cheek into something else entirely.

“Should be ready in about half an hour,” Dean said.

“Perfect,” Cas replied, turning the kettle on and taking down a mug for tea. “Tea?”

“Sure,” Dean said. He wouldn’t mind something a bit stronger, but that could wait until later.

A few minutes later, Cas passed him a steaming mug of tea that smelled exactly like Christmas should. Dean peered at it. “What is this?” he asked. He was getting better with all of Cas’ different teas, but he didn’t recognize this one.

“It’s called Santa’s Secret,” Cas explained, showing Dean the bag. “Look, it even has little candy canes in it!”

Dean wasn’t quite sure why you would put candy canes in tea, but he took a sip, and decided that he really didn’t care what was in this, because it was delicious. “This is awesome,” he announced.

“I buy it every year,” Cas said, taking a sip of his own. “Isn’t it festive?”

And see, this was going to be the problem. Now Dean wondered if it would be okay for him to kiss Cas, since he had done it first. Because he just looked so damn cute, talking about his candy cane tea, and Dean really, really wanted to kiss him. More so than usual. He took another sip of tea, savouring the taste of mint on his tongue, wishing he was tasting it off Cas’ lips instead.

He needed to think about something else before he went insane. “So, Cas,” he asked, striving to keep his tone casual. “What’s your favourite Christmas movie?”

“The Grinch,” Cas replied immediately. No hesitation whatsoever.

“Nice. I can dig that.” As long as they never mentioned the Jim Carrey version, they would be fine.

“And yours?” Cas asked.

“Hard call to make,” Dean said, “but probably either Home Alone or A Muppet Christmas Carol.”

Cas laughed at his answer. “Excellent choices as well.”

“Movie marathon after dinner?” Dean wiggled his eyebrows encouragingly. There was no TV in the house, but he had his laptop, and that would be good enough.

“Sounds perfect.”

“Awesome.” Dean stirred the soup a few more times, then dipped a spoon in for a taste test. He thought it could use a bit more pepper, but he wasn’t sure. He beckoned Cas over. “Come taste this for me.”

He held out the spoon and Cas obediently opened his mouth, placidly letting Dean feed him the soup. This was a terrible idea, Dean thought hysterically, mesmerized by the way Cas’ lips moved as he swallowed the spoonful of soup. “How’s it taste?” His voice was hoarse. Hopefully Cas wouldn’t notice.

“Just right,” Cas said. Dean swallowed nervously and backed away, busying himself getting the bowls out of the cupboard. He really needed to get himself under control. He had known since he first moved in with Cas that they wouldn’t have a sexual relationship, but his body didn’t seem to remember that. Or it would, for awhile, and then it would betray him, usually out of nowhere. At least this time he could blame Cas for that little kiss setting the whole thing off. Not that it really mattered how it started. Dean would just have to deal with it the same way he always did: avoidance and repression.

“Okay, we’re ready to eat,” he said, filling up their bowls. Cas took his wordlessly and sat down at the table, waiting for Dean to join him before he started eating. Dean gave him a tight smile and sat down as well. The soup was delicious, but Dean was still distracted.

“You’re quiet,” Cas commented. “Is everything alright?”

Did Dean dare bring up the reason he was uncharacteristically silent? No, of course not. That would mean talking about his feelings. “Yeah, of course,” he lied. “Just mentally going over stuff for tomorrow.”

Cas nodded. “Don’t worry about it,” he advised. “I think after Thanksgiving, everyone will be falling over themselves to make us feel welcome. It should be amusing.”

Dean laughed in spite of himself. “Is that so? You going to bask in that forever? Never let them forget it?”

“Oh, eventually,” Cas said airily. “But not quite yet.”

“You are an evil man,” Dean said admiringly. “I like it.”

Cas grinned sharply at him. “I have to keep myself amused somehow.”

Once they had both finished their soup, Dean retrieved his laptop from the bedroom and set it on the coffee table, positioned between the two armchairs. It was probably a good thing that they didn’t have a couch, because this set-up meant that there would be no contact between the two of them while they watched their movies. If they were sitting together on a couch, Dean knew he would be completely distracted by Cas’ proximity.

“So, what should we watch first?” he asked. Movies were good. They would give him something else to think about. And all of their choices were so family-friendly, it would keep the mood light and nostalgic, hopefully easing the sexual tension radiating off of him.

“Home Alone,” Cas said decisively. “Then The Grinch, then Muppet Christmas Carol.”

“You got it, boss,” Dean said, not bothering to ask why Cas had picked that particular sequence, though he did notice that Cas sandwiched his own favourite between the two Dean had selected. It was exactly the kind of egalitarian move that Dean had come to expect from Cas, who had a very strong sense of fairness in all things. Just one of the millions reasons Dean was head over heels for him.

Dean started up the movie, and soon after, felt a warm weight settle in his lap. He identified Good Luck by his purring, which was slightly softer than Banjo’s. Dean glanced over and saw the other cat sitting with Cas. Hopefully they wouldn’t get too freaked out by the noise when all the traps started going off towards the end of the movie. For now, though, everyone seemed content.

It would only be better if Dean were brave enough to reach over and take hold of Cas’ hand where it dangled loosely at the side of his chair. But he had used up all of his bravery in asking Castiel to marry him in the first place, and now he had none left to make any further moves.

Chapter Text

On Christmas morning, Dean woke to see Cas propped up on his elbow, apparently watching Dean sleep.

It was a bit weird. But Dean didn’t really mind.

“Hey,” he said sleepily. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Dean,” Cas replied, his eyes lighting up. “I was just wondering when it would be acceptable to wake you.”

That explained the staring, at least. “How long have you been up?”

“I’m not sure, maybe half an hour?” Cas shrugged. “But you’re awake now. Come on, sleepyhead, it’s Christmas.”

Dean rolled out of bed, caught up in Cas’ enthusiasm. He didn’t think he’d ever seen the other man quite so animated. It was a good look for him.

They went out to the living room, and Dean pulled up some Christmas music on his computer. He hummed along as he made the coffee, and Cas wandered over to look at the screen. “This is Hanson?” he asked incredulously. “I had no idea they made music other than that one song.”

Dean gave him a disgusted look. “Educate yourself, Cas. This is the greatest Christmas album of all time.”

“It is quite good,” Cas admitted. “But I’m not so sure about it being the greatest of all time. That’s quite the claim.”

“Well,” Dean sighed, “I was going to put the music on shuffle. But now you’ve forced my hand, and we’re going to have to listen to the whole album, start to finish.”

“That seems fair.” Cas grabbed a mug of coffee and sat down at the table. He appeared to be listening intently to the music. Dean chuckled lightly and joined him, letting the music wash over him.

They sat comfortably, just listening, while they both finished their coffee. “Dean?” Cas asked, breaking the silence after a few minutes.

“Yeah, Cas?”

“I thought perhaps we could exchange gifts this morning, before we went over to see the rest of your family.” Cas sounded hesitant, almost shy.

“Sure, we can do that,” Dean said. No big deal to him. “What, is my gift too naughty to open in front of the whole family?” Yeah, right. Only in his dreams.

“No, no.” Cas was blushing. “I just thought it might be nice. And it’s the type of thing a newly-married couple would do, right? Spend the morning together?”

“Yeah,” Dean replied absently. “I mean, Sam and Sarah do that sometimes. Depends on the year and the weather and stuff.” Not that his and Cas’ relationship was anything like Sam and Sarah’s.

“Wonderful,” Cas beamed. “Let me go get your gift.”

Dean sighed and stood up, heading for the bedroom to fetch his own present for Castiel. He picked up the large package, which he had cleverly hidden under the bed, knowing that Cas never cleaned under there. He brought it back out to the living room, where Cas was waiting with a nervous look on his face and a small, neatly-wrapped box in his hands.

Cas raised an eyebrow at the size of the present Dean was carrying. “Oh dear,” he murmured. “I feel slightly inadequate right now.” He held up the box. “But as they say, size isn’t everything.”

“Uh-huh,” Dean muttered. How was he supposed to play it cool when Cas said shit like that? Was he really that oblivious to the ways Dean could interpret those words? Or was he just intent on torturing him?

“You go first,” Cas said encouragingly. He handed the box to Dean with a shy smile. “I hope you like it. I haven’t shopped for anyone in awhile, and the experience was somewhat overwhelming.”

“It’s the thought that counts?” Dean offered cheekily. Cas scowled at him, and made a motion with his hands that Dean interpreted as get on with it. So he carefully peeled off the paper, rather than just tearing it open, to reveal a small black box embossed with the Hudson’s Bay logo. It looked like...jewellery?

Dean looked up at Cas, who was watching him nervously. Then he gently opened the box, and a soft gasp escaped him as he saw what it contained. Nestled against a soft white cloth lining was a simple but stunning black leather bracelet with a gold clasp, and behind that, a silver chain necklace with with a lightly-etched rectangular pendant. Dean’s eyes went wide with surprise and delight.

“I didn’t know if you preferred silver or gold,” Cas explained, “so I went with a bit of both.”

Dean lifted the necklace out of the box, admiring the simple but elegant design and the way the chain draped across his hands. “It’s beautiful,” he said quietly. He looked over at Cas, who still looked nervous. “I love it. Both of them, they’re incredible. I don’t know what to say, Cas. Thank you.”

“I’m glad you like them,” Cas said. “You said you didn’t want anything practical, so shiny things seemed like the best option.”

“I’ll have to keep them away from the cats,” Dean joked. “Especially the necklace.”

“Yes, that would be wise,” Cas agreed.

“Okay, your turn.” Dean carefully placed his gifts back inside the box and watched as Cas unwrapped the large, flat package that Dean had given him. It was probably a good thing they decided to open presents here, because it would have been a bitch getting that thing across the lake and into the car.

Cas tore off the last of the wrapping paper, and then there was a second of silence as he took in what Dean had given him: a large, framed painting of Banjo and Good Luck, curled up together in the sun on the floor in front of the bookshelf. Dean waited anxiously for his reaction.

“It’s extraordinary,” Cas breathed. “Dean, did you paint this yourself?"

“God no,” Dean said hurriedly. “I do not have that kind of talent. Got in touch with someone through Sarah, a local girl she knows who was willing to take on a last-minute project with just some photos for references.”

“She did a wonderful job,” Cas said, tracing his fingers lightly over the surface of the painting. “It looks just like them.”

“It’s not too weird, having a picture of them when they’re right here?” Dean asked. He had wondered about that, but he hadn’t known what else to get for Cas.

“Not at all.” Cas smiled at him. “I love it, Dean. Truly. Thank you.”

“Good,” Dean said, relieved. “Yeah, that’s good.”

Cas looked over at the clock on the wall. “We should probably get ready to go,” he said.

“Can’t we just go in our pyjamas?” Dean was comfortable. He didn’t particularly want to put on pants that had an actual zipper.

Cas gave him a stern look. “No. We are going to go get changed into some nice outfits, then we are going to pack up some things for our stay, feed the cats, and go see your family.”

“Fine,” Dean grumbled. At least he had some nice new accessories he could wear. He put on a slim-fitting black button-up shirt and his nice pair of dark jeans, then opened the box from Cas and admired his gifts again. Cas had done a really good job picking them out. He liked the look of the bracelet, but it was a bit more on the simple, everyday side, so he figured he might as well take advantage of the excuse to dress up and put on the necklace, which was significantly fancier. He threw a few more things into his overnight bag, then went back out to the kitchen, where Cas was tidying up the few dishes they had made that morning.

“You look nice,” Cas said, his eyes immediately drifting to the necklace.

“Thanks,” Dean said. “Now you go get on my level. I’ll get the boys their food. Go on.”

Cas did as he was told, leaving Dean to get the cats’ food for them. They came over as soon as they heard the bag opening, and as much as Dean wanted to cuddle them before leaving, he also didn’t want to get cat hair all over his nice clothes, so he just gave them some head scratches instead.

Cas returned just as Dean was standing up, and he had to restrain himself from letting out an obnoxious whistle at the sight of him. He was wearing tight black jeans and a charcoal grey dress shirt, and his hair looked like he had attempted to tame it before giving up and leaving it messier than usual.

“Ready when you are,” Cas announced.

“Yeah, alright, let’s do this.” Dean grabbed his bag, then looked over by the door and saw the stack of extra parcels there. “What the hell is all that?”

“Presents,” Cas said, as though it should have been obvious.

Damn it. “I told you not to get anyone anything.” Dean had really been hoping Cas wouldn’t spend any of his money on Dean’s family, but apparently that wasn’t the case.

Cas shrugged. “And I didn’t listen. Too late now.”

“Fine,” Dean said. “And how exactly are we going to get all of this over the car?” He didn’t particularly want to carry all of it on top of their overnight bags.

Cas grinned at him. “I have a sled,” he said. “We’ll just load it up and pull it behind us.”

“So you really are Santa Claus.”

“For today, yes.”

Dean threw his hands in the air. “Okay, whatever, Saint Nick, let’s get a move on.”

They dragged everything out onto the porch, and then while Dean locked up, Cas rummaged around underneath the porch and pulled out a small wooden sled. He piled all their bags and boxes onto it, then they strapped on their snowshoes and set off, Cas dragging the sled behind him. Dean was glad he was carrying his phone in his coat pocket rather than in one of the bags, because he got some really great photos of Cas traipsing across the frozen lake with a sled full of gifts behind him, a happy smile on his face. Dean couldn’t wait to show everyone just how much effort they had put into this holiday visit.

Their excitement lent them speed, and soon enough they arrived at the garage. After taking off their snowshoes and storing them away, they transferred everything from the sled into the trunk of the Impala, and then set off.

“No Christmas music in the car?” Cas asked as they drove.

“Figured I’d give us a few minutes of respite,” Dean said. “It’ll be playing non-stop once we get to the house.”

“As it should be,” Cas said firmly. “Though I imagine it may be hard to hear over all the rowdy conversation.”

“Oh, no, they just turn it up, then everyone talks louder, and it goes on and on.” Dean smiled fondly. “No such thing as a silent night in our house.”

Cas laughed. “Wonderful.”

They pulled up to Dean’s family home a few minutes later. The driveway was already full of cars, so they parked in front of the house, Dean muttering about holiday drivers and praying no one scratched up his baby. Then they gathered up all of their things and made their way to the front door. Dean had to shift all the bags he was holding just to get it open.

As soon as they entered, they were hit with a wave of delicious smells. Dean inhaled deeply, and a satisfied smile spread across his face. “Smells like Christmas.”

Sarah appeared in the doorway to the living room. “Oh, hey, I thought I heard the door!”

“Merry Christmas!” Dean said. “I’d give you a hug, but my arms are a bit full at the moment.”

“Yeah, no hard feelings,” Sarah laughed. She was wearing a deep red sweater dress that contrasted beautifully with her dark hair. “Come on, drop those under the tree and throw your stuff in your room, then you can say hi to everyone.”

Dean and Cas did as she suggested. They went up to Dean’s old room to drop off their coats and overnight bags, and Dean smiled when he saw the little candy canes sitting on top of their pillows. “Nice place they’re running here, huh,” he commented.

“Very nice,” Cas agreed. “So glad we decided to come back.”

“You might change your mind about that,” Dean warned. “Come on, Santa, let’s go make the rounds.”

They clattered noisily down the stairs, heading straight for the kitchen, because that was where Mary would be. And sure enough, she was busily peeling carrots, her blonde hair pulled up in haphazard bun. “Merry Christmas, Mom!” Dean called out as he entered.

She spun around to greet him, a wide smile on her face. She rushed over to hug him, and then did the same to Cas, who looked surprised but returned her embrace enthusiastically enough. “Merry Christmas, Mary,” he said.

“I’m so glad you boys are here,” she said. "It just didn’t feel like Christmas without you, sweetheart.”

“That’s sweet, Mom,” Dean said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “Where’s Ellen at?”

“Right here,” his aunt said from behind him, startling him. “Hey, Dean. Merry Christmas.”

“You are a scary woman,” he said to her, but he hugged her anyways. “Nice to see you, Aunt Ellen.”

“You too,” she said. “Both of you.” She went so far as to smile at Castiel, who returned the smile easily. “Now get out of here and let us cook. Go say hi to the other young folk.”

“Yes ma’am,” Dean said with a snappy salute. “You heard the woman, Cas, let’s leave ‘em be.”

They returned to the living room, where Sam, Sarah, Charlie and Jo were all gathered. “Alright, alright,” Dean said as he walked in. “For the sake of efficiency, I demand a group hug.”

Sam rolled his eyes but was the first to get up and embrace Dean. The others joined as well, but even from his position in the middle of the tangle of limbs, he could see Cas hanging back, looking uncertain.

“Cas, get in here,” Jo said, beckoning him forward. Dean hid his grin in someone’s shoulder. Cas’ face broke into a shy smile and he moved in closer, and was then tugged into the embrace. “Merry Christmas, everyone,” Dean said. They all echoed the sentiment, and then broke apart.

“Did we miss the memo to wear holiday colours or what?” Dean asked, looking around. Almost everyone was wearing red, green, or white.

“Sorta just happened,” Jo shrugged. “You guys look great, though, don’t worry about it. And we can always get you some reindeer antlers or something to wear if you want to get really festive.”

“Pass,” Dean said. “Though if anyone has a spare Santa hat lying around, Cas would love one.”

“I would not-” Cas started to say.

“I bet we could find one somewhere,” Charlie said enthusiastically. “Seems like the kind of thing Mary and Ellen would have. But why Cas?”

“So glad you asked,” Dean said, taking his phone out of his pocket and scrolling through to find the best pictures of Cas pulling the sled. He passed it to Charlie, who took one look at it and burst into uncontrollable giggles. She handed it off to Sam, who snorted and tried to turn it into a cough. Cas just sat there looking mutinous as the whole group passed the phone around.

“Don’t worry, you make a very handsome Santa,” Charlie said, reaching out to pat Cas on the cheek.

“It’s just efficient,” Cas said under his breath.

“Yeah, I guess the whole living on an island thing has some downsides over the winter, huh,” Sam said. Dean watched him carefully, but his brother’s voice was neutral, even friendly. Good. Dean wanted to believe that his brother had come around on the whole Cas-thing, but he was still cautious. He wasn’t going to let Christmas be a mess like Thanksgiving was.

“It’s not so bad,” Cas said, mischief in his eyes. “I got to teach Dean how to snowshoe.”

Jo groaned. “Did he tell you about the time he got stuck?”

“Oh yes,” Cas said. “He’s quite competent at it now, though. It probably helps that all my gear is in working order.”

“Sitting right here,” Dean muttered under his breath. He didn’t really mind, though. He liked listening to Cas interact with his family, even it meant bearing some of their teasing.

“I’ve never been snowshoeing,” Sam said thoughtfully. “We should try it sometime, Sarah.”

“Yeah, okay,” she laughed. “As long as you test it out with other people around. If you get stuck like Dean did, there’s no way I’d be able to pull your giant self out of the snow.”

“Bones would dig me out,” Sam shrugged.

“True,” Sarah agreed. “And that’s why we have a dog. No disrespect to your cats, guys, but you gotta admit, they’re not as useful.”

Dean and Cas traded glances. “I don’t know about that,” Cas said slowly. “After all, it depends on how you measure usefulness. They’re excellent companions, and very comforting, and they’re also fantastic muses.”

“Muses?” Sam asked, looking confused.

“Mmn-hmn,” Dean said. He passed his phone around again, this time showing off the picture of his gift to Cas. “Look at the excellent art they’ve inspired.”

“Oh, it turned out so well!” Sarah exclaimed. “Look how cute they are.”

“What exactly am I looking at?” Sam said, still confused.

“My Christmas present from Dean,” Cas explained proudly. “He had an artist paint our cats.”

“That is so sappy,” Jo said, but she was smiling as she said it.

“Gross,” Charlie agreed, biting back her grin and flashing Dean a covert thumbs up. “What did you get from Cas, Dean?” she asked.

“Oh, umn, this necklace,” Dean said, gesturing towards his upper chest. “And a really nice leather bracelet, but I left that one at home.”

“Good taste,” Sarah said approvingly. “You should ask Cas’ advice next time you’re buying something for me, Sam.”

“You always like the stuff I pick out for you,” Sam protested. “Or have you just been saying that you do this whole time?”

“Uh-oh,” Jo muttered. “Time for a drink, anyone?”

They all dissolved into laughter. “Not that we need it, but yeah, sounds great,” Sam said. “Come on Jo, let’s get everyone tipsy.”

“Is there eggnog?” Dean asked excitedly. He’d already had some this year, but that was the store-bought kind, and Ellen made her own from scratch, which was a million times better, of course.

“Obviously,” Jo replied. “Eggnog all around?”

There was a chorus of enthusiastic replies, so Dean wasn’t surprised when Jo and Sam came back a few minutes later carrying a punch bowl full of eggnog and a large stack of glasses. Jo served it out to all of them, and then lifted her glass in the air. “Merry Christmas!” she said.

“Merry Christmas indeed,” Dean said, taking his first sip. Oh yeah, this was the good stuff. He looked over at Cas, who was taking a tentative sip. “It’s good, right?”

“I can hardly believe that this is supposedly the same drink that you buy at the grocery store,” Cas said. “This is so much better.”

“Mom makes a ton of it for the bar,” Jo said, laughing. “And all the regulars go nuts for it, these big bearded guys who normally only drink beer or whiskey, neat. It’s hilarious.”

“Good,” Castiel said, taking another sip. “No one should be prevented from enjoying this due to outdated perceptions of what is and isn’t a proper drink for a particular person.”

“Hear hear!” Charlie said. “Screw propriety.”

“Uh-oh,” Dean said. “Next thing you know she’ll be starting in on the bullshit idea of the literary canon.”

“It is bullshit!” Charlie said heatedly.

“I agree,” Cas said calmly. “Perhaps I will drop by the store some time and we can have this conversation without everyone else rolling their eyes at us.”

“It’s a date,” Charlie grinned. “Umn, not a date-date, obviously, because you’re married to Dean and I’m not into dudes anyways, though you are very handsome, and yeah, okay, shutting up now.”

“This is great,” Sarah announced. “It’s like we’re taking turns getting made fun of. All in the spirit of Christmas.”

“You know you just opened yourself up for mockery, right, babe?” Sam said to her with a grin on his face.

“I don’t know what we could possibly make fun of Sarah for,” Jo said, tilting her head to the side as she considered. “Other than her crappy taste in guys, but even that’s more about you than it is about her.”

Sam spluttered with indignation. “That’s just mean,” he said, pouting.

Sarah looked impressed. “I don’t know what I did to escape being the target here, but I’m okay with it.”

“Target of what?” someone asked from the doorway. Dean twisted around to see Bobby and Rufus, both dressed in horrifically ugly Christmas sweaters.

“Oh, we’re just having a nice friendly Christmas mockery-fest,” Dean explained. “And I think we all know exactly how to include the two of you.”

“I don’t know,” Cas stage-whispered. “I think Rufus would flay us all if we gave him the chance. Maybe we should drop this in favour of something more restrained.”

“Damn right I would,” Rufus said, looking oddly proud of the fact. “At least this boy’s got the sense to recognize when you’re all about to be outmatched.”

“See,” Cas said smugly, turning to face the others. “I even managed to get a compliment out of him.”

“Well played,” Jo said admiringly.

“Nice going, Cas,” Dean said, clapping him on the back. “And hey, Merry Christmas to our new arrivals!”

“Get these guys some eggnog,” Charlie said. “Actually, I could use a refill, too.”

“Don’t fill up on booze now,” Dean advised her. “There’s still lots of eating to be done.”

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” Charlie said, waving her hand at him. “I always bring an extra stomach to Christmas at this house.”

“Me too,” Sam said.

“What, is it hidden in your hair or something?” Bobby chimed in. They all laughed as Sam’s hands went up to cover his hair protectively. “You’re all just jealous,” he said haughtily.

“A little bit, yeah,” Jo admitted. “You got the best hair genes out of all of us. And the height genes,” she said wistfully.

“You have great hair,” Sarah said comfortingly. “And you may be on the shorter side, but you have a very commanding presence.”

“It’s strange how quickly you all turn from mocking to complimentary,” Cas commented, shaking his head in bewilderment.

“All part of our charm,” Dean winked at him. “You’re doing pretty well with it so far.”

They continued chatting throughout the afternoon, with Mary and Ellen coming in to take quick breaks from their work in the kitchen. Dean only had two more glasses of eggnog. He could always have more with dessert, he reasoned. Eventually, it was time to eat.

They all took their places at the table, which was piled with even more food than there had been at Thanksgiving, if that was even possible. Before they could start eating, though, there were Christmas crackers to be opened. Dean pulled his apart eagerly, and jammed the red paper crown onto his head without a second thought. Cas was looking at his, which was blue, with a suspicious expression, so Dean simply took it out of his hands and placed it on his head on his behalf. “There,” he said. “Really finishes off your look.”

“Thank you, Dean,” Cas said, giving him a crooked little smile. “Yours looks very nice as well.”

Charlie coughed, but Dean was convinced he could hear words underneath it. Maybe something along the lines of get a room. They had a room, in fact. But sadly, it wouldn’t be used for anything other than sleeping.

Mary stood up at the head of table, smiling fondly at all of them with their silly little crowns on their heads. Hers was yellow, barely visible against her blonde hair. “I’m so glad we’re all here together again,” she said. “Love and family are what makes this time of year so special. Thank you for who you are, and for who we are to each other. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” they all said, raising their glasses in unison. Then it was complete chaos as dishes of food were passed around, until a contented quiet fell over the table as they all started to eat.

“Mary, Ellen, you’ve surpassed even the high standards you set the last time I was here,” Cas announced between bites of turkey.

‘Well, thank you, young man,” Ellen said. She looked very pleased with the compliment. Dean nudged Cas’ leg lightly under the table. “Suck-up,” he murmured to him.

Cas looked at him, wide-eyed, like he was the most innocent soul on the planet. “I’m just speaking the truth,” he said.

“I love Christmas dinner,” Sarah said, digging into a mound of mashed potatoes. “It’s a present all on its own.”

“We could just wrap up all the plates next year instead of getting gifts,” Sam said.

“But then there would be nothing under the tree,” Jo pointed out. “And that would be no fun.”

“True,” Sam admitted.

“You kids would complain if we did a single thing differently,” Mary said. “Not so great with change, any of you.”

‘It’s nice to have traditions. They provide a sense of stability, the feeling that certain things can be controlled even when others cannot,” Cas said. He had a strange expression on his face, and Dean was fairly certain he was thinking about past Christmases that hadn’t been as pleasant as this.

“To traditions,” Dean said softly, raising his glass in another toast. “Long may they endure.” And long may I be here to see them, he added silently. He wasn’t the praying type, didn’t really believe in any sort of deity, but maybe the universe itself was listening tonight. Let me have as many of these moments as I possibly can. Let me smile, and laugh, and make others do the same, so they’ll remember me fondly when I’m gone.

After they finished eating, they crammed themselves into the living room to open presents. Bobby got new tools from Ellen and Mary. Charlie gave everyone books, of course, and got some rare comics that made her squeal with delight. Mary gave Cas a hand-knitted scarf that matched his eyes perfectly, and the look on his face when she looped it around his neck almost made Dean cry, it was so full of wonder. Then Mary opened her gift from Castiel, a beautifully framed photo of Dean sitting on the porch at their house, and Dean did cry, though thankfully no one noticed.

He got himself under control in time to watch Sam open his gift from Cas, which turned out to be a very nice leather wallet. Sam thanked him earnestly, and even offered him a hug, which Cas returned without hesitation. Dean lost it again at the sight. He was overwhelmed by how well Cas was fitting in with his family this time. It made Dean ache, knowing that this was something lacking in Cas’ life, and that it would be taken away from him again after Dean was gone. Knowing Mary, she would probably reach out to Cas next year to invite him to spend the holidays with the family even without Dean, but would Cas accept? What would their first Christmas without Dean be like? He excused himself, patting his stomach, and fled to the bathroom.

He sat down on the bathroom floor, cradling his head in his hands. Fuck, he should have known this would happen. He’d been doing so well. Most days, the fact that he was dying didn’t even cross his mind. But today was such a perfect day that it only served to illustrate how few of those he would have left. The doctor had said a year, max, and that was in May. It was December now, so he had used up over half of his potential time already. How much longer did he have? The tears were falling faster down his cheeks. He couldn’t be bothered to brush them away. Better to get it all out now, so he could hopefully pull himself together and return to the festivities without arousing any suspicion.

There was a light knock on the door. Dean looked up, holding his breath. “Dean?” he heard through the door. It was Cas’ voice. “Dean, can I come in?”

Okay, well Cas probably already knew that Dean wasn’t in the bathroom for the regular reason if he was asking to come in. “Yeah,” he croaked. Cas pushed open the door, and his face fell when he caught sight of Dean sitting on the ground.

“I gotta stop crying at these things,” Dean joked weakly. Cas sank down to the ground beside him, sitting close enough that Dean could feel the heat radiating off his body. “What is it?” Cas asked gently.

Dean sighed and tipped his head back, leaning it against the wall. “Just seeing you with everyone, how well you’re getting along,” he said slowly. “It feels like this should be the beginning of something, you know? But for me, it’s an ending. Or heading that way, at least.”

“I understand,” Cas said.

“Do you, though,” Dean said bitterly. “Christ, Cas. You didn’t see your face when Mom gave you that scarf. Do you have any idea how happy you looked? Like you belonged here, with us. With them.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Cas asked tentatively.

“Not when I’ll be dead next Christmas, and you’ll be back in your house alone with the cats,” Dean said wearily. “I want you to be happy too, Cas. It’s all I want for you. And I know, I know you don’t feel the way about me that I do about you, but I also know that you like being here, and that when I’m gone, you’re going to lose that. And that breaks my heart, even more than it’s already broken.”

Cas looked stricken, and he was obviously unable to think of anything to say. They sat in silence for a few minutes, and then Dean sighed and climbed to his feet. “Come on,” he said. “We should get back out there.”

“Dean, wait,” Cas said, catching his wrist lightly. “You’re right, I do like being here. Your family is wonderful, and I’ve become very fond of them in the short time that we’ve known each other. But I’m not here for them, or for myself, even. I’m here for you. That’s what I agreed to, when we got married. For as long as you need me, I’ll be here for you. For as long as I have you, you’ll have me. Anything after that, it doesn’t matter.”

Cas had the most earnest expression on his face, and Dean willed himself not to start crying again. He had just gotten himself back under control. It wasn’t exactly a passionate declaration of love, but it was still an affirmation of their unique bond. It was enough to give Dean the strength he needed to make it through this day. “Okay,” he said roughly. “Okay, Cas. Let’s do this.”

They exited the bathroom together, and when they returned to the living room, Jo raised an eyebrow at them, and Sam gave them a knowing smirk. Oh, Dean thought to himself. They probably thought he and Cas had gone to fool around. Well, it would explain the flush in his cheeks, at least. They sat back down and watched as Jo unwrapped her gift from Dean, a beautiful new knife she could use for her recently-acquired woodcarving hobby.

Soon enough, all the gifts had been opened, and Dean’s mother and aunt went to get dessert ready. Dean offered to make the coffee, and surprisingly, they accepted his help. “Wow, that’s a change,” he commented as he measured out the coffee.

“You looked like you could use something to do,” Mary said. “And you make good coffee.”

This was true. “Is that blueberry pie?” he asked Ellen, who was taking several glass dishes out of the oven.

“Yep,” she said, lining them up on the counter. “We’ve got blueberry, pecan, and apple this year. Plus a batch of brownies, and whatever cookies we had left in the freezer from our baking earlier this month.”

Dean groaned, his mouth watering in anticipation. “Hurry up, coffee,” he said impatiently, prompting a laugh from Mary.

“The only place those pies are going is into our bellies, don’t you worry,” she reassured him.

“Yes, but when?” Dean replied. Bantering with his mom always brought a smile to his face. He was starting to feel a bit better, though his dark thoughts still lurked in the corners of his mind.

“Right about now,” Ellen said, carrying the pies into the dining room. “Bring that coffee in, Dean.”

Dean did as he was told, carrying the large pot of coffee into the dining room and filling cups around the table. A few people had requested tea, so he made sure the kettle on was on before taking his seat.

“We made blueberry cause we heard it’s your favourite, Cas,” Mary said, passing it down the table towards him.

“That was very thoughtful of you,” Cas said. “I admit, I do enjoy it.”

“I like it too,” Charlie said. “I like all of them, though.”

“Same,” Dean smiled. “I knew we got along for a reason, Bradbury.”

He piled his plate with a slice of each flavour of pie. No time to waste not eating the things he wanted to eat, he figured. He loved all kinds of pie, but if he had to pick, he would probably say the apple was his favourite. It tasted the most like home, like family, like comfort. Dean saved it for last, this time around. He wanted to savour it.

Bobby disappeared for a minute and came back in with a bottle of whiskey. “Nice,” Sam grinned, and stood up to grab some more glasses.

Sam poured a small amount for everyone at the table, and then, much to Dean’s surprise, Bobby stood to make a toast. Bobby was not generally a talkative person.

“I’m not the speech-making type,” Bobby stated, and Dean fought back a laugh. “But it’s been a good day, so what the hell. Thanks for putting up with an old grump like me for another year. It takes a certain kind of stubborn to do that, and maybe that’s why it all works for us. Merry Christmas, all of you.”

“Bobby, that was beautiful,” Mary said earnestly.

“Yeah, I’m gonna need a tissue,” Rufus joked, dramatically placing his hand over his heart.

“Shut up and drink your whiskey,” Bobby grumbled.

“Pretty good advice,” Sarah said, draining her glass in one long swallow. Dean was impressed, and knocked his back as well, enjoying the bite of it on his tongue.

He was still sad, of course. He didn’t think he would spend one day not being sad before he died. It would always be there, lingering behind whatever else he might be feeling at any given moment. But he could manage it. He could swallow it down, just like that whiskey. He could focus on everything else, for as long as he possibly could.

Dean looked over at Cas, who was chatting lightly with Jo, and even the sight of him was enough to strengthen Dean’s resolve. This man was here for him. This incredible, selfless, generous man was going to be by Dean’s side for the rest of his life, even if that wasn’t a very long time. Dean felt humbled by that knowledge. No matter how difficult it became, he had Cas. Maybe not in the way he really wanted, but in the way he needed the most: as a friend, as a strong shoulder to cry on (quite literally), and as a companion. It would be enough.

Chapter Text

Dean and Castiel spent the days between Christmas and New Year’s quietly at home. Jo tried to convince them to come to the Roadhouse for the New Year’s festivities there, but Dean refused. He had no desire to be around that many people. Spending holidays with his family and loved ones was one thing, but spending them with a group of old acquaintances and vaguely familiar faces was not high on his priority list.

They spent New Year’s at the house, with nothing marking it as any different than any other night. They just sat around, reading quietly. Hell, they were in bed long before midnight. And Dean wouldn’t have it any other way.

It had been a fairly mild winter up until that point, but January was always when the real cold set in. Dean started getting up later in the mornings just to avoid leaving the warmth and comfort of their nice big bed. Cas teased him about it, but loaned Dean some incredibly warm knitted sweaters that he wore around the house on the days when the chill seeped through the walls despite the fire roaring merrily in the living room.

“I hate this,” Dean complained on the coldest day so far, huddled up in front of the fire with one of those sweaters on and another blanket draped across him. “You didn’t tell me how cold it got out here.”

“My apologies,” Cas said, but he didn’t sound particularly sincere. In fact, he sounded like he was amused by Dean’s suffering. Rude. “I have quite a high tolerance for the cold, so it never occurred to me that you might be so affected by it.”

Dean gave him an unimpressed look. “Yeah, Cas, I know, you’ve been to Alaska. You’re a big tough wilderness man. Go ahead, make fun of me for never being much further north than here. My righteous indignation will warm me from the inside out.”

“Shall I make you some hot chocolate?” Cas asked condescendingly. “Extra marshmallows?”

Dean didn’t even care that Cas was being patronizing, that sounded amazing right about now. “Yes,” he said. “Please.”

He watched as Cas bustled around the kitchen, preparing the hot chocolate. A few minutes later, he brought a mug over to Dean, carrying one for himself as well. Dean scowled at him. “You just wanted it for yourself, didn’t you,” he accused.

Cas shrugged. “We both have some now, so does it really matter?”

Dean made a face at him, holding the mug between both hands. It was hot, but he didn’t care. He took a sip and sighed with satisfaction. “For all that you say you’re not much of a cook, you make really good hot chocolate.”

“It’s not exactly difficult,” Cas said. “But thank you.”

“I’ll even forgive you making fun of me, if this is what I get as a reward.”

“Very generous of you.”

Dean finished the last of the beverage. He really did feel a lot warmer. “Hey, maybe next time you should kick it up a notch,” he suggested. “Add some booze to it, that’ll really do the trick.”

Cas laughed. “Alright,” he said agreeably. “Sounds like a plan.”

Dean smiled, feeling content and cozy. Maybe the cold wasn’t so bad after all, if it could be the impetus for evenings like this.

------------

The cold weather continued through the month, and Dean did eventually get better at dealing with it. Sort of.

It was late in January, and Dean having a lazy day at home. He didn’t leave the house as often as he used to, between the cold and the hassle of snowshoeing across the frozen lake. He preferred to go out every few days and get lots of stuff done at once, then spend the next few days indoors where it was warm. Cas continued to make fun of him, but Cas was also the kind of weirdo who seemed happy to go tramping through the woods all day even in this weather.

He had done so just that morning, leaving around ten o’clock and saying he would be back around their usual dinner time. Dean thought he was way too committed to whatever it was that kept him going on these expeditions, but didn’t try to dissuade him. Cas had been living his life this way long before Dean had been in the picture. He knew what he was doing.

So Dean went about his day, and by late afternoon, he was in the kitchen putting together a pork and apple stew that Cas had really enjoyed the last time he made it. He had some music playing, so it wasn’t until there was a break between songs that he noticed the sound of the wind. He paused the music and went over to the window to look outside.

He could barely see beyond the front porch. It was snowing heavily, and the wind had whipped the flurries into swirling cyclones that reduced visibility to almost nothing. Dean chewed at his lower lip nervously. Cas would be home soon, he told himself. He probably noticed when the wind picked up and set out for home at that point, knowing not to stay out when a storm was brewing.

An hour later, Cas still wasn’t home. Dean tried calling him, but there was no answer. He didn’t always get reception even on clear days, so this was no surprise, but it failed to reassure Dean. He had been worrying about the cold, but never even thought about the dangers of an actual winter storm. They could get pretty vicious up here. Dean turned off the stove and sat down at the kitchen table, his head in his hands.

He felt something brush across his legs and looked down. Good Luck stared up at him inquisitively, so Dean picked him up, holding him in his laps. Good Luck started purring, and the sound helped soothe some of Dean’s anxiety. He stroked the cat’s silky fur, taking comfort in the repetitive motions. Cas would be home soon, he told himself. He had to be.

By nine o’clock, Dean was starting to panic.

He had tried calling Cas several more times, but had no luck getting through to him. He felt like he was going crazy, pacing up and down, waiting for the sound of the door opening. He thought about calling his mom, or Sam, just to have someone to talk to, but what could they possibly say that would make him feel better? The only thing that would reassure him was the sight of Cas, safe and unharmed, walking in through their front door.

He knew there was no way he could possibly fall asleep in this state of mind, so he made himself a large cup of tea, sipping from it slowly as he sat in the living room with his eyes fixed on the window. It was too dark to see anything moving, but surely if Cas were on his way, he would have a flashlight that Dean would see making its way towards the house. But there were no lights moving out on the lake. The wind was still howling, and the snow was still pouring down, and Dean was scared. More scared than he had ever been in his life.

This wasn’t what was supposed to happen. Dean wasn’t supposed to lose Cas.

He tried reading, but he couldn’t focus on the words on the page. He tried to watch a movie, but his eyes kept drifting to the window instead of the screen. He let the cats clamber all over him, and it made him smile for a moment- but only for a moment.

He scrubbed his hands over his face and checked the clock. It was three in the morning. Dean was exhausted, both physically and emotionally, but he still couldn’t bring himself to go to bed. A not-insignificant part of him wanted to put on all his layers, grab a flashlight and the other pair of snowshoes, and head out looking for Cas.

He knew it was a bad idea, though. He had no clue where Cas had been during the day, no clue where to start looking for him. He wasn’t all that great with the snowshoes to begin with, and with the storm still raging, it would be a monumentally stupid idea to go rushing out there. But Dean hated sitting here with nothing to do but wait. He much preferred action to inaction, especially when someone he loved was at risk. He just wished there was something, anything that he could do.

He hated feeling this helpless. Maybe in the morning, once it was light out, he could do something productive. But for now, he just had to wait.

The storm finally died down around five o’clock in the morning. Dean noticed the way it grew quieter, and when he looked outside, he didn’t see snow falling any longer. It was still dark, though. He would have to be patient a little while longer.

By just around seven in the morning, Dean was completely worn out with worry and lack of sleep, but the sun was starting to come up. He fed the cats, then went to put on his warmest clothes. He didn’t care that he had no idea where to start looking. He had to at least try to find Cas. He would make his way to the garage on the shore and start from there. He was just pulling one of Cas’ thick sweaters over his head when he heard a noise from the living room.

Dean froze for a second, then barreled out of the bedroom and into the living room.

He was just in time to see Cas pushing open the front door, his face weary, but otherwise seemingly unhurt.

Dean wanted to rush to him, but his legs wouldn’t cooperate. He had the strangest feeling in his chest, and he could hear his heart pounding. But it didn’t hurt. It was a different sensation altogether, one Dean was unfamiliar with. It felt, somehow, like coming back to life.

“Cas,” he croaked out, and the other man’s gaze snapped towards him. “You’re okay.”

“Dean,” Cas said, with a shuddery exhale. There was relief, and fondness, and maybe a bit of surprise in his voice. Whatever the combination was, it was enough to propel Dean into motion.

He strode across the room and pulled Cas into a close embrace, holding him tightly. Cas’ arms came up around him, and at the feeling of them, strong and secure, Dean crumpled, his sleepless night finally catching up to him. “I thought you were dead,” he whispered into Cas’ shoulder. “Cas, I was so worried about you.”

Cas pulled him over by the fire and guided him into the armchair, then perched beside him, gently running his hand through Dean’s hair. Dean closed his eyes and fought the urge to cry from the combination of happiness and sheer relief that he felt.

“I am so, so sorry, Dean,” Cas said softly.

“What happened?” Dean asked. He wasn’t angry, or demanding an explanation. He was too overwhelmed with gratitude to bother with petty feelings like that. He just needed to know that Cas was okay.

Cas sighed deeply. “The storm caught me off guard,” he explained. “I should have known better, but for whatever reason, I had already wandered quite far when it snuck up on me. I could barely see. It was only dumb luck that I stumbled my way out to the main road, and that I was only a few minutes away from the Smith’s bed and breakfast.”

“Wait,” Dean said, twisting his head around to look up at Cas, “are you saying you spent the night all tucked up cozy in a freaking bed and breakfast? And you couldn’t even have called me to let me know that you were okay?”

So maybe he was angry, after all.

“My phone broke,” Cas said nervously. “I know, it’s a terrible excuse. It fell out of my pocket, then I accidentally stepped on it, which meant not only could I not use it to call you, I couldn’t even access your number to call from the landline. I’ve always known it’s dangerous to rely on the phone instead of memorizing important numbers, and yet…”

Dean sighed, his anger dissipating. It didn’t matter, really. Cas was safe. That was the only thing he really cared about. Circumstances had conspired against them, that was all.

“I tried to persuade people to drive me back closer to here,” Cas continued. “But no one was willing to go out in that weather, and I can’t say I blamed them. As soon as it was light enough to see and I realized the storm had stopped, I was on my way back here.”

“Well, good timing,” Dean said weakly. “I was just about to go out there looking for you.”

Cas looked surprised by this information. “Dean, that would have been a terrible idea,” he chided. “You had no idea where I was.”

“Yeah well, after staying up all night freaking myself out, I had to do something,” Dean muttered.

Cas’ face fell. “You were up all night?” he asked. Dean nodded. “Worrying about me?” Dean nodded again.

Now Cas looked really upset. “God, Dean, I’m sorry,” he said again. “Truly. That must have been awful for you.”

“Yeah, it wasn’t great,” Dean admitted. “I think I might have worn a hole in the floor with all my pacing.”

“You must be exhausted,” Cas said. He stood up, prodding at Dean until he stood as well. Dean complained, but Cas herded him down the hall and into the bedroom. “Get your pyjamas on,” he instructed. “I’m just going to wash up quickly, then I’ll join you.”

Dean opened his mouth to protest, but his words quickly morphed into a yawn. Cas gave him a stern look. “You need to sleep.”

Dean scowled at him, but he changed into his most comfortable pyjamas and got under the covers. Cas returned a few minutes later, wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, and closed the curtains against the morning sunlight. Then he slid into bed beside Dean. “Sleep, Dean,” he said.

Dean did his best. He should have been able to drop into slumber immediately, now that he knew that Cas was safe. But for some reason, he couldn’t seem to drift off.

He kept looking over at Cas’ still form beside him, checking to make sure that he was still there. He never wanted to feel that doubt or worry for his safety again. Cas was the one who was supposed to survive this. He was the one who was supposed to live a long and happy life. Even though he was right there beside him now, Dean kept thinking about all the ways things could have gone a lot worse.

Rationally, he knew that his anxiety was only being worsened by his lack of sleep, but that didn’t help him turn his thoughts off. Just seeing Cas there obviously wasn’t enough to calm him down. Dean was pretty sure he knew what would help. If he dared to ask for it. He bit his lip nervously, gathering up his courage.

“Cas?” he whispered. He couldn’t tell if the other man was awake or not.

Cas made some noise of assent. “Yes, Dean?”

“Can I-” Dean asked nervously, hating how shaky his voice sounded. What was he even supposed to say? Hey man, glad you’re alive, can we cuddle now so I can stop freaking out about you almost dying on me? Yeah, right. Dean had never been very good with words.

So instead, he just scooted closer, until he could feel the warmth of Cas’ body beside his. Then, greatly daring, he laid his head on Cas’ chest, right over his heart. “Is this okay?” he asked, praying that Cas wouldn’t push him away. They had only slept this close to each other the night of Thanksgiving, but Dean needed that physical intimacy right now. He needed to be wrapped up in Cas, to know that he wasn’t going anywhere.

“Of course it’s okay,” Cas said, and Dean could feel the rumble of his voice in his chest. Cas adjusted his position slightly, bringing his arms up around Dean, who curled in closer, chasing the comfort of his embrace.

“Go to sleep, Dean,” Cas repeated. “It’ll be alright.”

“Okay, Cas,” Dean said, yawning. Being held like this was already working its magic on him. He could feel sleep overtaking him. “Love you,” he mumbled into Cas’ shoulder.

Just as Dean fell asleep, he thought he felt a light pressure on the top of his head. Almost like a kiss.

Chapter Text

Things shifted between them after that night.

Dean might not have noticed the changes if he weren’t so hyper-aware of Castiel’s usual behaviour. He was probably only conscious of the difference because he was looking for it. To anyone else, it would have been imperceptible.

But Dean had made a study of Cas, using the information he gleaned from experience, and he knew, he just knew, that something had changed.

What he didn’t know was what it meant.

It wasn’t anything big. Dean was under no illusions: he knew Castiel hadn’t suddenly fallen in love with him, or anything like that. Why would he? But he stood a bit closer to Dean when they were making breakfast in the morning. He smiled at him more softly when they said goodnight. He made sure to text Dean when he was on his way home if he was out of the house during the day, and he never went out without checking the weather forecast. If there was a chance of a storm, he would stay in that day.

The most likely explanation was that Cas had finally realized just how fragile Dean’s emotional state was, as though his breakdowns at Thanksgiving and Christmas hadn’t been enough. Or rather, he had realized just how much of an effect he himself had on Dean’s emotional state, and was doing his best to keep it steady. Just like he always did, Cas was taking care of him.

Dean appreciated it, truly. He had trouble sleeping for the first few nights after Cas’ overnight adventure, and he was just now, in mid-February, starting to feel like things had gotten back to normal.

Dean was scrolling through the news over his coffee one morning when he noticed the advertisement for a Valentine’s Day special on roses at one of the large grocery chains. He frowned, then checked the date. It was February 14th.

He had never been particularly attached to the idea of Valentine’s Day. Probably because he had never spent it with anyone he truly cared about. For a minute, he entertained a daydream about Cas coming home with a bouquet of red roses in his arms, then shook away such ridiculous thoughts. Things might have been a bit more affectionate between them lately, but their relationship was still well within the bounds of a close friendship, and red roses were definitely not.

Dean purposely shoved aside thoughts of Valentines and chocolates and roses, and lost himself in an in-depth examination of the latest season of Game of Thrones instead. It was a much better use of his time.

-----------

When Cas got home that evening, he was carrying a pizza box and a six-pack of Dean’s favourite beer. Dean looked up from his spot in the armchair and frowned at him. “Is it that time already? Good thing you brought pizza, I hadn’t even started thinking about dinner.”

“I’m a bit earlier than usual, perhaps,” Cas said, unwinding his scarf from around his neck. It was the one Dean’s mom had given him at Christmas, and Dean always got a thrill of delight seeing him wearing it. Not just because it looked so good on him, but because it made Dean happy to think about Cas and his family being on good terms.

“Just felt like pizza?” Dean asked. Not that he minded, of course, but Cas was usually such a fan of anything that Dean cooked that they almost never bothered with anything else, unless it was Ellen’s burgers on the rare night they paid a visit to the Roadhouse.

Cas shrugged. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Dean,” he said.

“Yeah, you too.” Well, that was a pretty clear statement right there. No candlelit dinners and red roses for Dean Winchester and Castiel Novak, recently married couple. No, it was pizza and beer and probably a cheesy sci-fi movie. And yeah, those were three of Dean’s favourite things, but they were also the textbook definition of a night in between two dudes whose relationship was more bromance than it was romance.

Dean sighed. He wished he hadn’t seen that ad earlier in the morning. If he hadn’t been reminded of what Valentine’s Day meant to most people, he would have been quite happy with what Cas had brought home. But it was still a kind gesture, and he could definitely use the beer.

“The pizza will need to be reheated,” Cas said with a laugh. “But at least the beer is cold.” He opened two bottles and passed one to Dean, then clinked them together in a quick toast.

Dean took a long swallow of his beer. It tasted perfect, just the right balance of bitter and refreshing. “So,” he said, forcing himself to keep the conversation light, “run into anyone interesting while you were in town?”

Cas’ lips twitched in a smile. “Yes, actually. I wasn’t sure whether to mention it or not, but I ran into someone you used to know.”

Dean waited, but Cas didn’t elaborate, just sipped calmly from his bottle of beer. “Okay, fine, I’ll play along,” Dean said impatiently. “Who did you run into, Cas?”

“She said her name was Cassie, and that she was an old girlfriend of yours,” Cas said. “She’s just back in town for awhile, spending time with her mother before being transferred to another paper somewhere out west. Edmonton, maybe? I can’t remember. I was much more interested in what she had to say about you.”

“What did she have to say about me?” Dean asked warily. His split with Cassie had been mostly amicable, but you never really knew what another person felt about a breakup, especially with a distance of almost ten years factored in.

“Nothing I didn’t already know,” Cas replied. “That you’re a good man. That you love this town, and you love your family, and you fight fiercely for the ones you care about.”

“That’s...shockingly nice of her,” Dean said, surprised. “Wait, Cassie left before you even moved here. How the hell did she even know who you are?”

Cas laughed and pulled the pizza out of the oven, setting it on the table. Dean dropped into his chair and reached for a slice. Cas did the same, taking a bite of pizza before continuing his story.

“Apparently we’re quite the topic of conversation among the middle-aged ladies of Port Lawrence,” he explained. “Cassie’s mom mentioned to her that you were married, and I suppose gave her a description of me, from the dark hair to the motorcycle.”

‘You’d think they’d have found someone else to talk about by now,” Dean said, rolling his eyes. “Aren’t we old news?”

“Not to someone who has just come back to town, I suppose,” Cas said, contemplatively chewing his pizza. “Anyways, that’s far from the end of the saga.”

What, had another one Dean’s exes shown up as well? He hoped not. “Go on,” he said, slightly fearful of what he would hear.

“So we were having quite a nice chat, Cassie and I. She’s a lovely young woman. It’s too bad she left you to pursue her career,” Cas said bluntly.

“Gee, thanks,” Dean said. “Good thing it was like ten years ago or you might have hurt my feelings.”

Cas kept talking as though Dean had never spoken. “But then we were interrupted by another woman. Cassie referred to her Mrs. Case, I believe?”

Dean groaned. Mrs. Case, or Gertrude, as she insisted on being called, had worked at the library with Mary before retiring a few years ago. She had always taken an interest in the Winchester boys- too much of an interest, in Dean’s opinion. “Yeah, I know her,” he said. “She likes Sam better than me.”

“Yes, that did come up.” Cas looked at Dean with a crooked smile on his face. “But first she told me how happy she was for us, and that she was so glad to see that you had finally settled down.”

Huh. That wasn’t too bad. She could have said a lot worse. “Nice of her,” he commented.

“But then she went on to tell Cassie she was lucky to have gotten out when she did, or she would have found herself with a gay boyfriend.” Cas’ mouth pursed up as he recounted the conversation.

Yeah, that was more along the lines of what Dean had been expecting. He sighed heavily and drained the last of his beer, then got another one out of the fridge, and one for Cas as well. “Cassie wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, and nor was I, to be honest. She was trying to defend you, I think, but as it turned out, she didn’t need to.”

“Because you did it instead, right?” Dean asked. He wasn’t surprised to learn that the people who had always been confused by his bisexuality were now treating his marriage to Cas as evidence that they had been right about him all along. They weren’t even being particularly hateful about it, from the sounds of things, but they were still as limited in their understanding of human sexuality as ever. Dean didn’t really think there was much he could do about it at this point. Some people just never learned.

Cas chuckled. “No, actually. Your white knight wasn’t me. Another older lady. She said her name was Mildred.”

“Mildred?” Dean asked, slightly puzzled. “Yeah, I know her. Kinda. She used to sing at the Roadhouse sometimes. Went on a few tours, but she always came back home.”

“Yes, well, apparently you made quite an impression on her, because she jumped right into our conversation and told Mrs. Case off for being disrespectful. Said you were a very nice young man who had obviously followed his heart and found himself happy, and that it could have been anyone of any gender who you married and it wouldn’t matter so long as they treated you right. Riled Mrs. Case right up. I thought they might have a physical altercation in the middle of the liquor store, it was quite thrilling.”

Two little old ladies fighting over his honour. While his ex-girlfriend and his husband looked on. What a strange thing it was to live in a small town like this. Dean was almost sorry he hadn’t been there to witness it himself. “Did you have to pull them apart?” he asked, starting to find the humour in the situation.

“No, thank goodness,” Cas said, reaching for the beer Dean had brought him. “Cassie was laughing so hard I thought she might fall over. Then Mrs. Case stormed off without even buying her sherry.”

“How did you manage to have such an eventful trip into town?” Dean shook his head wonderingly. “All this to get some beer.”

Cas shrugged. “It was an amusing situation, really. And I quite enjoyed talking to Cassie, even for those few minutes.”

“Yeah, it would have been nice to run into her,” Dean said wistfully. “Even if things didn’t work out between us, I always smiled when I saw her articles in the paper.”

“You’ve never mentioned her before,” Cas said cautiously.

Dean frowned at him. “Well, yeah, we dated like ten years ago,” he said. “And it’s not exactly like you and I have ever had a conversation about our romantic histories.” Out of all the things he wanted to know about Cas, that was probably the aspect of his life Dean was the least interested in hearing about, honestly.

Cas fiddled with the label on his beer bottle. “I suppose that’s true.”

“I mean, nobody really likes talking about their exes, but if you want to ask me anything, go for it,” Dean said.

Cas shook his head. “It’s not that, exactly. It’s more the way these three women seemed to know so much about you, and about our relationship. I forget, sometimes, that being physically isolated by virtue of living on an island doesn’t guarantee complete privacy.”

Dean could see how that would be strange. Cas was certainly used to people speculating about him, but it was always just that- speculation. Since marrying Dean, though, people had found something verifiable to grasp onto, something to flesh out the pictures they’d already painted of him in their heads.

“Yeah, this town’s always been weird about gossip,” he said. “Trust me, they’ve been talking about me for years.”

“Not in a negative light, I hope?” Cas asked, frowning. He looked about ready to march back into town and lay into anyone who dared say anything bad about Dean, like some sort of avenging angel.

“You never really heard what they said about me?” Dean asked, incredulous. He thought everyone had heard the whispers, the rumours about him.

Cs gave him a flat look. “I didn’t talk to anyone for more than a few seconds other than Cain and Alfie,” he said. “No one was exactly inviting me over for a cup of tea and the latest gossip.”

He made a fair point. “Well, no, I wouldn’t say it was negative so much as it was just straight up untrue,” he explained. “A lot of people around here don’t really understand the concept of being attracted to people of various genders. Charlie and I used to complain about it, sometimes, how they all seemed cool with her being into other girls but seemed to need me to pick a team and stick with it, which is ridiculous.”

“What business of theirs would it be anyways?” Cas said. “Is that why Mrs. Case said what she did to Cassie?”

“Probably, yeah,” Dean sighed. “Plenty of people thought I was just too scared to admit that I liked guys exclusively. And others assumed it meant I would get bored with one partner. Which did wonders for my dating life, as you can imagine.”

“I never realized,” Cas said slowly. “How difficult it was for you.”

“Hey, I don’t need your pity,” Dean said, more sharply than he intended. “I mean, yeah, it sucks that people are still so confused by the concept, but I did okay. I’m lucky I had a family that supported me no matter what, you know? And it’s all in the past now anyways. I don’t care what they say or think about me anymore.” Knowing that you only had a year left to live did tend to put things like the rumour mill into perspective, after all.

“Well, at least you have Mildred on your team,” Cas said slyly. “She seemed quite ready to go to bat for you if necessary.”

Dean laughed. “Yeah, I should send her some flowers. Or maybe a fruit basket.”

“Only if you deliver them in person,” Cas said solemnly, but his eyes were dancing. Dean groaned. He was never going to live this down.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up,” he muttered darkly. “I bet she’s a big fan of yours after today as well, so you’re one to talk.”

“She is, actually. She told me so herself. She said she was so happy to see that you had settled down with an equally handsome young man.” Cas fluttered his eyelashes dramatically.

Dean couldn’t help but laugh. “Maybe you should have invited her to spend Valentine’s Day with us,” he joked.

Cas’ eyes widened. “I think that would have been a very, very bad idea,” he said. “She probably would have said yes.”

“Yikes,” Dean muttered under his breath. Thinking about that made his whole bro-tastic evening with Cas seem a heck of a lot better in comparison.

“So, that was my day,” Cas said. “How about you? Did you do anything exciting?”

“Nothing like that, that’s for sure.”

“Too bad,” Cas said mildly. “Well, how can we possibly close out this day on a high note?”

Dean raised an eyebrow at him. “Well,” he said thoughtfully, “we could watch a cheesy action movie. Or we could watch a cheesy rom-com, in the spirit of Saint Valentine and all.”

“That’s not really what Saint Valentine was about, but I take your point,” Cas replied. “And I think I have the perfect movie for us to watch.”

Dean piled their dishes in the sink and put the last of the pizza in the fridge while Cas set up the laptop in the living room. He opened the last two beers and brought them over just as Cas hit play. He grinned as he saw what Cas had selected for them to watch. “The Princess Bride?” he said. “Nice choice.”

“It has everything,” Cas said with a laugh, accepting the beer from Dean. Their fingers brushed lightly against each other, and Dean felt a tingle run all the way up his arm at even that brief moment of contact. It’s not like that, he reminded himself. Just two guys, hanging out on Valentine’s Day, watching one of the greatest love stories in cinematic history.

Well, the best thing about this movie was that it never failed to put Dean in a good mood. He settled into his chair and took a sip of his beer. So what if people continued to gossip about things that were none of their business? So what if they thought they knew anything about him? They didn’t. They had absolutely no idea what his relationship with Cas was actually like, and that was probably for the best. Dean fought back a laugh, imaging what the town gossips would say if they ever caught wind of how exactly he and Cas had ended up married.

What mattered to Dean was what was in this room with him right now. Or rather, who was in this room. He looked over at his husband, who was watching the movie with a delighted smile on his face, occasionally mouthing along with the dialogue. If this was what it was like to spend Valentine’s Day with someone you loved- pizza, beer, recounting adventures with the town gossips, and frank discussion of that gossip, followed by a movie night- then maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to celebrate after all.

Chapter Text

The lake thawed by the middle of March, as the cold weather eased and the snow turned to rain. Dean was grateful for the change in temperature not only because he hated the cold, but because he was much more likely to go out and actually do things when it wasn’t freezing outside. They got the boats back in the water, and Dean spent a few days just cruising around, reacquainting himself with their neighbourhood after a long winter spent mostly inside.

He often persuaded Cas to join him on some of his wanderings, or just to go into town and have a coffee, or to pay a visit to Charlie’s store. It wasn’t exactly that he was tired of their isolation on the island, but more that he knew it would still be there waiting for them when they got home. Cas indulged him on these nights, even if all they did was cross over to the garage and then take the Impala out for a long drive along the myriad backroads that criss-crossed the region. Sometimes he even let Cas drive. But not often.

On a particularly warm Wednesday evening towards the end of the month, Dean had convinced Castiel that they absolutely needed to go into town, because there was a new collection of short stories out by one of Dean’s favourite writers, and no, he could not wait until tomorrow, thank you very much. And also no, he could not go alone, because that would be no fun. Dean didn’t even have to try very hard to get Cas to go with him, though. As a fellow book-lover, he understood the need to have a new release as soon as it was available.

So they made the trip into Port Lawrence and arrived at Charlie’s store just after seven. The place was quiet when they entered, and there was no sign of Charlie anywhere. “Hey, Charlie, you here?” Dean called out, his voice echoing in the silence of the store.

A few seconds later, he heard a muffled thump from the back corner of the store, and then Charlie appeared, brushing dust off her hands. “Oh, hey guys!” she said enthusiastically. “It’s been a bit slow tonight, so I was reorganizing. People have left all my series completely out of order.”

“Well, we won’t bother you for long then,” Dean said. “I’m just here for the new Kelly Link.”

Charlie’s eyes lit up and she practically ran to the front of the store to grab a slim volume off one of the shelves there. “I thought about starting it today since it was so quiet, but I didn’t want to take the risk that I would be interrupted.” She looked at the book wistfully before passing it over to Dean.

Cas had wandered away to look at some other displays, so Charlie leaned in close to Dean, conspiratorially. “It’s nice to see you two have dragged yourselves off your little island of love for once,” she said, winking at him.

Dean made a face at her. Island of love sounded so tacky. And it wasn’t even accurate. “Yeah, well, you can only fit so many books in our tiny house.”

“Which I still haven’t seen,” Charlie reminded him. Dean winced. It was true. They hadn’t had any visitors since his mom came to see the place way back in November. And now that the lake had thawed, the inconvenience was no longer a valid excuse.

“I know, I’m an awful host,” Dean said. “But enough about me! How’s life for you these days, kiddo?”

Charlie gave him a look that was both fond and exasperated. “Nice change of subject, real smooth,” she said. “But, actually, since you asked, I’ll spill. I’m seeing someone.”

Dean broke out into a huge grin. That was awesome news. “Charlie, that’s great! Who is she? Do I know her?”

Charlie blushed. “No, she lives over in Huntsville. Her name’s Dorothy. We’ve been talking online for awhile, but we’ve met up twice now, and it’s going really well so far.”

“Well, how about this then,” Dean offered. “When you’re ready to introduce her to people, let me know, and the two of you can come over for dinner.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Charlie said, bumping her fist against his.

Cas re-joined them. “Ready to go?” Dean asked him.

“Sure,” Cas replied. “Charlie, a pleasure, as always.”

“You too,” Charlie responded. Dean quickly paid for his book, and gave Charlie a hug goodbye, then they headed back to the car.

It was a beautiful night, and Dean didn’t quite feel like going home yet. “Wanna take a walk?” he suggested.

“That sounds nice,” Cas said with a smile. So they dropped Dean’s purchase off in the car and strolled down the main street, and within a few minutes they were on the outskirts of town.

“Do you miss living in town?” Cas asked. He sounded genuinely curious.

Dean shrugged, though Cas probably couldn’t even see the movement. “Not really. We’re still close enough if we need anything, and it’s nice to get away from the same old things, you know? I appreciate it more, now that I’m a bit more removed from it.”

“That seems like a reasonable attitude to have,” Cas commented. “It’s just, watching you with Charlie tonight, I wondered if you missed being able to go see her whenever you felt like it.”

Dean wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. On the one hand, yeah, it would be awesome to not have to take the boat and then the car just to drop by and chat with a friend. But now that he didn’t need to use the snowshoes anymore, it wasn’t that big of a deal. And he loved their house on their island way too much to give it up. “I’m good,” he said. “I’ve got you, and the cats, and it’s not so hard to see others when I need to. Plus, all that modern technology like e-mail and cell phones really comes in handy.”

Cas’ lips quirked up in a smile, barely visible as they walked further away from the town lights. They had reached the old train station at the edge of town, which was really only used in the peak tourist season between June and September. Dean thought maybe he heard something in the distance, but he couldn’t be sure if it was a train or just the call of some bird. They had plenty of time to cross safely.

Cas was walking slightly ahead of Dean, and he crossed the tracks without hurrying. Dean followed, and he was about two-thirds of the way across when he felt something tug at his shoe. Frowning, he looked down and saw that one of his laces had somehow gotten stuck beneath the track. He heaved a sigh and bent down to free it.

“Dean?” Cas said, pausing on the other side and turning back to face him. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, fine, just got my shoelace caught on something.” It was really stuck in there. Every time he tugged at it, he only seemed to make it worse. He heard the noise again, and his breath caught in his throat. It was closer now, and that was no bird.

It was an approaching train.

Cas heard it too, obviously, because he made a sudden move towards Dean. “Dean, come on,” he said, anxiety threading through his voice.

“A little stuck, here,” Dean said through gritted teeth. Screw it, he thought. He would just take the shoe off and leave it. But all that pulling on the laces had tightened it so much on his foot that it wouldn’t slip off.

Cas swore and crossed back over to where Dean was standing, crouching down beside him. “Cas, what are you doing, get back off the tracks,” Dean said, frantically trying to push the other man away. No sense in both of them being hit by a train.

He could see the light on the front of the engine now, coming towards them.

“Cas, please, leave me, just go,” he begged. He would not let Cas endanger himself. He wouldn’t.

“I am not leaving you.” Cas’ tone was fierce, but his hands were gentle, one steadying Dean by the shoulder, the other on his foot, trying desperately to pull him free. Cas pulled a pocketknife out of his jacket and began determinedly sawing at the lace that was caught in the track. But it was taking too long.

The train was almost on top of them.

Cas’ face was pale, glowing in the approaching light of the train. Dean’s breath was quick and panicked. This was not how it was supposed to end.

He knew his death would be sudden, at least. It probably wouldn’t hurt. Hopefully. Dean closed his eyes, bracing himself for the impact.

Suddenly, the shoelace parted beneath Cas’ blade, and Dean’s foot was free. Cas grabbed him around the shoulders and hauled him bodily on to the other side, just in time. They could feel the air whistling past them as the train sped by, scant inches from where they stood. A few seconds longer, and they would have both been hit.

For a moment they just stared at each other, both incredibly aware of how close they had come to losing their lives. Then Cas drew in a shaky breath and stumbled over to the bench outside the small station, dropping onto it and burying his face in his hands. Dean sat down slowly beside him, but his own eyes were fixed off in the distance, unfocused.

The words of Dr. Devereaux’s letter concerning his heart condition had been running through his mind for nearly a year now. He had them memorized. The doctor had warned him to avoid running, excitement, or anything that caused strain for the heart. If nearly being struck by a train didn’t count as something that put strain on the heart, then Dean didn’t know what did. He and Cas had just experienced more excitement in the last few minutes than most people did in their entire lifetimes. Not in the positive sense of the word, sure, but still. It hadn’t had the predicted effect. Dean was still alive. His heart was pounding, yes, but it was still beating.

An awful thought crept into Dean’s mind- what if Dr. Devereaux had been wrong about Dean’s condition?

Now that Dean thought about it, his heart hadn’t bothered him for some time. Maybe it was never as serious as the doctor had said. Dean looked over at Cas, who still hadn’t said a word. Maybe he was coming to the same conclusion that Dean had. Wondering how he was supposed to react to knowing that Dean might not be dying after all, that he had been tricked into marrying him. Trying to determine just how long he would have to put up with him now.

It couldn’t be a mistake. That would be too cruel. Dr. Devereaux was a good doctor, with years of experience behind him. Surely he couldn’t have made such a huge mistake. What were the chances?

Beside him, Cas finally looked up. He turned his gaze towards Dean, and Dean shrank from it, fearing that Cas would ask him the question he himself wasn’t sure he wanted answered- how are you still alive? But Cas just said, “We should probably be getting back.”

“Okay,” Dean replied, his voice small. They both stood up, and crossed back over the tracks without incident this time, though Dean still held his breath as walked across them. It would be a long time before he would be able to cross railroad tracks without fear.

They walked back to the car in silence, and Dean drove them back to the garage, then Cas took over, piloting the boat back over to their island. Neither of them said a word the entire time.

They entered the house, and Dean immediately dropped into his armchair, suddenly exhausted from the evening’s events. He heard Cas moving around the room, hanging up his coat, but it all seemed very far away. Dean was wondering how much longer he would get to keep this, if Dr. Devereaux’s diagnosis had been incorrect.

He was still in a bit of a daze when he sensed Castiel’s presence beside his chair. Not too close, though. He was keeping his distance. Dean swallowed back his tears.

“How are you feeling?” Cas asked him, and though Dean could hear concern in his voice, there was another note in it as well, one that Dean didn’t recognize. He didn’t think it could be anything good.

“Fine,” Dean said shortly. He would have given anything to have been able to say otherwise, to say that his heart was leaping erratically in his chest, that he was suffering any physical effects whatsoever from their experience. But he wasn’t. He felt perfectly fine, and that was the problem.

Cas bit his lip, looking unsure of himself. “I’ll let you rest, then,” he murmured. He looked as though he might reach out to touch Dean, but then changed his mind and walked away. A few seconds later, Dean heard a door close down the hall. He craned his neck to see, and noticed that the door to their bedroom was still open. So Cas had shut himself up in his private room. No doubt to think over how to get out of this marriage.

Dean groaned and slumped over, resting his head in his hands. He could feel the cats prowling around at his feet, but he couldn’t bring himself to pick them up for cuddles. If he was going to lose Cas, he would lose them too.

Dean stood up and went to the bedroom, shutting off the lights in the living room as he went. He pulled the letter from Dr. Devereaux out of his dresser and read it again, even though he knew exactly what it said. The paper was soft from being handled so often.

The words were just as harsh and honest as they had been when he first read them, about ten months ago now. Dr. Devereaux would probably be impressed with how long Dean had survived. Dean scanned the page, looking for anything that could explain why his heart hadn’t given out on him when he was standing on those tracks with the train barreling down on him. Based on everything that the doctor had detailed in his letter, an experience like that should have proven too much for Dean’s heart to handle.

So was the doctor wrong about Dean’s diagnosis, or was it just some strange twist of fate that had kept his heart from faltering at that moment?

Dean wished he had someone to talk to. He knew he would crumple under the weight of these questions if he didn’t get some answers, and soon. He would have liked to talk things over with Cas, to explain the situation and hear his insights, but he wouldn’t disturb him when he had made it clear that he wanted to be left alone. Dean was already uncertain about the future of their relationship. He wouldn’t endanger it further by breaking one of Castiel’s most important rules.

Though his mind was still whirring away, Dean could feel tiredness settling into his body. He put the letter back in his dresser and changed into his pyjamas. When he went out to the bathroom to brush his teeth, he stopped in front of the other door for a moment, just watching the sliver of light that showed underneath it. It sounded like Cas was pacing back and forth behind the closed door. Every inch of Dean wanted to push the door open and fall into his arms, but he resisted. Not until he knew for sure what was going on with him. Dean sighed and turned away.

After he brushed his teeth and washed his face, Dean returned to the bedroom. He climbed into bed and turned out the light. It felt strange going to bed without Cas there. They’d only spent that one terrible night apart in the whole time they had been married. Dean tossed and turned, finding it difficult to get comfortable without Cas’ presence, soothing and steadying, beside him.

He lay there for what seemed like hours, hoping that Cas might join him. Even if they didn’t talk about it quite yet, Dean needed to know what it was going to be okay between them. Cas had promised to be there for him until the very end. Was he reneging on that promise, now that there was a chance that the end was quite a lot further away than either of them had anticipated? Dean couldn’t exactly blame him. This night had changed a lot for the two of them. No matter what happened, Dean would never forget those minutes of being trapped on the tracks, or the desperate look on Cas’ face as he tried to cut Dean’s lace free. Dean replayed those memories in his mind and shuddered. Cas could have been killed. The train had been so close.

He shifted positions again, turning to lie flat on his back, staring up into the darkness. His eyes closed slowly, finally giving in to the temptation of sleep.

Cas never came to bed.

Chapter Text

Dean couldn’t remember falling asleep, and when he woke up the next morning, he felt like he had barely gotten any rest at all. He pulled himself out of bed with a weary groan. As he headed down the hallway to the bathroom, he paused in front of the other door and listened for a minute, but he couldn’t tell if Castiel was still locked away in there or not. When he went out to the kitchen after brushing his teeth, he noticed an empty mug, one of Cas’ favourites, sitting in the sink. While he waited for his own coffee to brew, Dean went out to the porch and saw that the motorboat was gone. So Cas had left sometime this morning.

The important question, though, was if he was planning to come back.

Dean couldn’t answer that question. But he had others, just as important in their own ways, that needed to be dealt with as well. So after he drank his coffee and ate a quick breakfast and gave the cats a few cuddles, he got into the rowboat and headed for the shore.

He didn’t even know who had taken over Dr. Devereaux’s practice. He hadn’t exactly been worried about getting a check-up once he knew he was dying. But surely someone would have moved in to fill the space in the office. The town needed a doctor. And he would wait there as long as necessary, until that doctor finally agreed to squeeze him in. He needed answers today. The uncertainty would be too much, otherwise.

He found a parking spot on the main street in town and left the Impala there. He glanced down towards Charlie’s store and hoped she wouldn’t notice the car. She would get curious and want to talk, and Dean just didn’t have it in him, not today. He walked over to the clinic, and sure enough, the sign on the door now stated that it was the practice of one Dr. Pamela Barnes. The name didn’t sound familiar, so she wasn’t a local. She must have moved here for the job. It didn’t matter, really, as long as she could tell Dean what was going on.

At least Layla was still behind the desk. It was reassuring to see a familiar face. “Hey,” Dean said, approaching the counter. “Got any time to squeeze me in today?”

Layla looked up in surprise, which quickly turned to pleased recognition. “Hi, Dean,” she said warmly. “Let me take a look. Doc’s back there with someone now, but then she’s got a bit of time open, she should be able to fit you in. I’ll put in a good word for you.”

“Thanks,” Dean said. Good. The sooner he saw the doctor, the sooner he would know the truth.

“Haven’t seen you in awhile,” Layla commented, giving him an appraising look. “Congratulations, by the way. Heard you got married.”

Dean forced a laugh and held up his left hand. “Yep, I’m officially off the market,” he said.

“I’m happy for you.” Layla’s smile was genuine. “Go on and have a seat, and the doctor will be with you shortly. Dr. Barnes is great, trust me.”

Dean sat down in one of the plastic chairs, drumming his fingers nervously against his leg. He glanced briefly at the stack of magazines on the table, but he knew nothing would be able to hold his attention anyways. He did his best to stay calm, absentmindedly watching Layla as she puttered around behind the desk, answering phone calls and filling out forms.

After about twenty minutes, an elderly man who looked vaguely familiar to Dean stepped out of one of the examination rooms and went over to talk to Layla. Dean sat up, waiting to catch a glimpse of the doctor. He waited a few more minutes, and was just starting to slump back down in his seat when a striking dark-haired woman in a white coat stuck her head into the waiting room and grinned at him.

“You must be Dean,” she said. She had a great voice. To be fair, she had a great everything. It was a bit distracting, but pleasantly so. Dean pulled himself together and said, “Yeah, that’s me.”

“I’m Dr. Barnes. Come on back.” She gestured him into the examination room. “So, Dean, what brings you here today? You don’t look sick.”

Dean took a deep breath. “Yeah,” he said weakly. “I’m starting to wonder if I am.”

Dr. Barnes frowned at him. “You’re going to have to give me a bit more than that.”

Dean wasn’t quite sure how to describe his situation, but he did his best. “So, last May, I came to see Dr. Devereaux about some chest pains,” he said. “He ran some tests, but it was right around the time that he did his vanishing act, which I’m sure you heard about.”

Dr. Barnes snorted indelicately. “Many times,” she said.

“So I guess he had left the results here for me before he took off, which was nice, I guess,” Dean continued. He reached into his bag and withdrew the letter and tests results from Dr. Devereaux, which he had been smart enough to bring with him. He passed them over to Dr. Barnes. “He said I wouldn’t live more than a year, and could basically drop dead at any time. But it’s been ten months, and I feel fine.”

Dr. Barnes looked over the letter first, and then the test results, her face gradually getting more confused. “Dean, something is definitely wrong here,” she said. “Dr. Devereaux’s diagnosis matches these test results, but there’s almost no way that these results came from somebody your age.”

Dean didn’t know how to process that information. “So, what, re-do the tests?”

Dr. Barnes tapped her finger against her lips. “Winchester,” she said thoughtfully. “That name sounds familiar…” She turned and pressed the buzzer on the wall, and Layla appeared a few minutes later. “What can I do for you, Doc?” she asked.

“Hey, can you grab us the files for Winchester? D. Winchester. Thanks.”

Layla nodded and left the room, returning a few minutes later with a stack of files. “Here you go,” she said, looking curiously at Dean. “Let me know if you need anything else.”

“What’s going on, Doc?” Dean asked, confused by this turn of events.

“One of the first patients I saw when I transferred here was an elderly gentleman, named David Winchester, who was renting a place with his family for the summer,” Dr. Barnes explained as she went through the files. “He was having chest pains as well, and Dr. Devereaux had run his tests, but he wanted to get the results. Oh, here we go,” she said, taking one of the papers. She read it over, and her face paled.

“What? What is it?” Dean asked, frantic.

“I think I know what happened,” the doctor said softly. “Look at the file, Dean. They’re both labelled D. Winchester. No first names.”

“You think our results got mixed up?” Dean asked skeptically. “That seems a little far-fetched, Doc, no offense.”

“Under ordinary circumstances, I’d agree with you,” she said with a wry smile. “But this place was a disaster when I took over. I had to go through boxes of stuff every time a patient came in, it was a nightmare. Even with Layla’s help.”

Dean thought back to the day he had come to pick up his test results. The office had been a mess. And the file did just have him identified by his first initial. It was possible, he supposed. Not likely, but possible. “So what diagnosis did the other guy get?” he asked.

Dr. Barnes checked the files. “Pseudo-angina,” she said. “Uncomfortable, but not fatal.”

“So is that what I have, then?”

The doctor listened to his heartbeat, took his blood pressure, and did a few other routine examinations. Then she sat back and shook her head. “You seem perfectly healthy,” she said. “It would make sense. The medication you’re on would have helped, and weirdly enough, pseudo-angina can be completely cured in moments of intense emotion, like a shock of joy. Can you think of something that fits that description that happened to you recently?”

Dean was about to say no, and then he remembered the night Castiel was out in the storm. The strange feeling in his chest when he saw him come in the door the next morning. And Dean hadn’t felt any pain in his chest since that night. It definitely fit the description. He remembered the way he had felt in that moment, like he had come back to life- was that his heart fixing itself? It seemed incredible, and yet...

“Yeah,” he said weakly. “Yeah, that would make sense.”

Sensing that for whatever reason, this wasn’t totally good news, Dr. Barnes patted his knee sympathetically. “Look, we’ll run those tests again just to be sure, but Dean, I’m pretty confident that you’re going to be just fine. I’m sorry that you thought otherwise.”

“Me too,” Dean said. He was going to be okay. A large part of him was relieved, of course. He wanted to live, and it seemed that he would. That was a good thing. But his entire relationship with Cas was based around the idea that he wasn’t going to live much longer. So now that he (presumably) had years left in front of him, where did that leave the two of them?

He said a quick goodbye to Layla and left the doctor’s office, heading back to his car in a bit of a daze. He sat behind the wheel for a few minutes until he felt a bit more in control. He wanted to call Cas, but he knew it would be better to have this discussion in person. He would go home and wait for him there, and then he could explain everything.

---------

There was an unfamiliar car parked by the garage, and an equally unfamiliar man standing beside it, looking out over the lake. Dean frowned and pulled the Impala into her usual spot. He got out of the car and approached the man, who had turned to examine him, a curious but not unfriendly look on his face.

“Can I help you?” Dean asked warily. They didn’t get many people stopping around here. The road led to a few other houses, but those people just drove past on their way home.

“I’m looking for someone, maybe you know him- I don’t know what name exactly he’s going by, but- James Novak,” the man babbled nervously.

Dean tensed up. The first name was unfamiliar, but this man knew Cas’ last name. He didn’t look like a threat- he was old enough to be Dean’s father, and rather short, and his mannerisms were anxious rather than aggressive. Nevertheless, Dean folded his arms across his chest and glowered at the man. “Who’s asking?” he said.

“Oh, pardon me,” the man laughed, “I’m his father. Chuck.”

Dean drew back in surprise. That was not at all what he had been expecting. He examined the other man carefully. There didn’t appear to be any physical resemblance between he and Cas at first, but when he met the other man’s eyes, he noticed that they were a striking shade of blue. Not quite as intense as Castiel’s, but pretty close. Maybe he was Cas’ dad after all.

“I don’t know a James Novak, but this property belongs to Castiel Novak,” Dean said.

Chuck nodded enthusiastically. “Going by his middle name, of course,” he said. “Are you a friend of his?”

Dean snorted. “I’m his husband. Dean.” Or at least he was for now.

Chuck looked surprised, but recovered quickly. “That’s nice,” he said, managing a smile. “Yes, very nice to meet you, Dean. Would you be so kind as to tell me how to reach my son?”

Dean looked at the other man and thought about it for a minute. On the one hand, Cas valued his privacy above nearly all else, and might not appreciate Dean bringing his dad over unannounced. On the other hand, Dean knew how lonely Cas had been without his family for so long, and if Chuck was trying to see him now, who was Dean to stand in the way of that?

“Okay,” he said slowly, and his tone wasn’t exactly friendly. “I’ll take you over to the house. But if Cas doesn’t want to see you, I will personally escort you off our island, and you will not come back unless invited.”

Chuck paled at Dean’s tone. “Yes, yes, of course,” he said. “Whatever James wants.”

Dean gestured to the boat. “Alright, then. Let’s go.”

They were silent on the way over to the island, but as the house came into view, he saw a smile on the other man’s face. It looked proud. Maybe this reunion would be a good thing.

As they pulled up to the house, though, Dean noticed that the other boat still wasn’t there. So Cas wasn’t even at home. He sighed. He would have to play host to Chuck for now.

“So, this is the house,” Dean said, unlocking the door and gesturing for Chuck to enter. Cas’ father stepped inside, examining everything with interest. The cats came over to greet Dean and inspected Chuck curiously. He knelt down to pet them, and Dean’s suspicions lessened slightly. The cats were good judges of character. “Doesn't look like Cas is home at the moment, sorry. Can I get you anything? Tea, coffee?”

“Tea would be good,” Chuck said, and at Dean’s wave, took a seat in one of the armchairs. “It’s a lovely house. I can see why my son likes it so much.’

“Yeah, it’s something special,” Dean agreed. Just like Cas.

“How long have you been married to James? Sorry, Castiel,” Chuck said curiously.

“About seven months,” Dean said, preparing two mugs of tea and bringing them over to the living area. “But I’m much more interested in talking about you.” He took the other seat and looked at Chuck over the top of his mug. “Tell me this: why are you here now?”

Chuck’s face fell, and he sipped at his tea for a moment before replying. “Just getting old, I guess,” he shrugged. “And I miss my son.”

“Cas never talks about you,” Dean said pointedly. A flash of hurt passed over Chuck’s features, and Dean regretted being so blunt with his phrasing. “I mean, I’m just surprised, you know?”

“I am too,” Chuck said sadly. “And to find out that he got married without even telling me….”

Well, it wasn’t much of a marriage, and probably wouldn’t last much longer anyways, but Dean refrained from mentioning that. “What happened between you guys?” he asked. He finally had a chance to get to hear Cas’ personal history, and while a small part of him felt bad for learning it from someone else, it was Chuck’s story too. And if he wanted to tell Dean, then Dean would definitely be willing to listen.

“Where to begin,” Chuck said with a nervous laugh. “Well, since you’re my son-in-law now, you might as well know. My name is Chuck Shurley, but you might know me better by my pen name, Carver Edlund.”

Dean’s jaw dropped. Carver Edlund was the author of a long-running book series, Supernatural, about two brothers who hunted monsters and saved the world over and over again. It had been adapted into a television series as well. Dean and Sam had loved those books as teenagers. If Chuck was Carver Edlund...well, that explained why Cas never seemed to have to worry about money. Chuck was a millionaire, no doubt.

“Yeah, I know that name,” Dean managed. “But what does that have to do with Cas?”

“It can be hard, growing up in the shadow of a famous father,” Chuck said morosely. “My son tried to avoid the attention as much as possible, and me using a pen name helped, but people always found out. I think that’s why he was always such a private child. But still, we were close. My first wife left me when James was just a baby, but then I remarried and had a daughter, Anna. The four of us weren’t perfect, but we were a family. Or at least we were, until April.”

“April like the month, or April like a girl named April?” Dean asked. He didn’t think he liked where this story was going, but now that it had started, he needed to know the rest. And Chuck didn’t seem to have any issues telling it to Dean in significant detail.

“April Kelly,” Chuck said with a little sigh. “Oh, James loved her. They were together all through their university years. Got engaged not long after graduating. I was so proud. And then, one day, he comes home and tells me that the engagement is off, and he’s leaving town. Going to go see the world and try to nurse his broken heart. Got a few letters at first, and then nothing. Haven’t seen him since. Becky and Anna and I miss him very much.”

“He’s been here for awhile now, though,” Dean said slowly, fighting back the crushing sorrow he felt at the news of Cas’ heartbreak. “Why did you just come looking for him now?”

“Well, to tell you truth, I ran into April not long ago, and she’s divorced now, and I got to thinking how nice it would be if they could reunite,” Chuck said. “It really gave me the push I needed to try to find James. But of course, he has you now, so I see that that won’t be necessary. I just want my boy to be happy.”

Dean’s mind was racing. Chuck did seem to have Cas’ best interests at heart, even if he was trying to play puppet-master in his son’s life. No wonder Cas had always been so solitary. He was still dealing with the fallout from a relationship over ten years old. It didn’t surprise Dean to learn that Cas loved so deeply. He wondered what April was like. She must have been someone special, to leave such an impression on Cas’ life.

And Cas had a family who loved him, and missed him, and wanted to see him. He had a father, a step-mother, and a younger sister. Dean had always known that Cas had family out there somewhere, but knowing their names made them seem so much more real. They deserved to have a chance to see Cas again, if that was what he wanted.

“Yes,” Dean said absently, returning to the conversation at hand. “Of course, that’s what I want as well. I don’t know when Cas will be back, though. He spends a lot of time out in the woods. Obviously, he wasn’t expecting a visit from you.”

“Always did like traipsing around outdoors,” Chuck said fondly.

“I would invite you to stay, but-” Dean gestured at the house. “We don’t really have much space.”

“Not to worry,” Chuck said. “I saw a charming bed and breakfast on my way in. I’ll get a room there. Leave my number for my son, and please, try to convince him to call me. It’s been too long since I saw him.”

“Of course,” Dean said. They finished their tea, chatting lightly about inconsequential things like the weather and the town, and then Dean dropped Chuck off at the garage, where he climbed into his car with a cheerful wave goodbye. Dean watched him drive away, his mind still occupied with what he had learned about Cas.

Cas was rich. Or he came from a rich family, at least. And that family missed him. He had bought this house to shut himself off from the world after experiencing a terrible breakup. No wonder he was still so closed-off, why he never expressed much interest in relationships. His heart couldn’t handle it. But if April was available again, and the conditions of Dean and Cas’ marriage were no longer valid, who was Dean to stand in the way of them rekindling their romance? It would make a beautiful story. Sweethearts reunited after years apart. Dean hadn’t been lying when he told Chuck that he wanted Cas to be happy. He deserved that. So Dean knew what he had to do.

He had to let Cas go.

Chapter Text

It was a letter that had begun their marriage, in a way, since Dr. Devereaux’s explanation of his (incorrect) diagnosis had been such a key factor in Dean’s proposal. So it was only fitting that it should end with a letter as well.

Or so Dean told himself. Really, he was too much of a coward to wait around for Cas to come home and tell him to his face that their relationship was built on a lie. But he also cared too deeply to break things off with a text or a phone call. There was something old-fashioned about a letter. A Dear John-type of nostalgia that appealed to Dean.

The only problem was, he couldn’t find anything larger than a Post-It note to write on. He scoured the kitchen, the living room, and the bedroom, and came up empty-handed.

He didn’t even realize what he had done until he was standing in the other room. Cas’ secret room. He had been so focused on composing the letter to Cas in his head that he had opened the door and stepped inside without even thinking about it. He immediately felt guilty for breaking one of Cas’ rules, but their marriage was ending anyways. What did it matter now? And one of the first things that Dean saw was a pad of writing paper on the corner of the desk.

He reached to take a sheet of paper, and froze at what he saw scattered on the desk. An assortment of gorgeous photographs, all of which looked like they had been taken in the surrounding area. And pages upon pages of notes stacked in a file folder that was labelled Following the Honeybees.

Dean was stunned. He flipped open the folder, and scanned one of the pages. The writing was familiar. He had read this post on his favourite blog, a few months ago now. Cas was the author of Following the Honeybees? It made a certain amount of sense. Dean had always suspected that the person behind the blog lived somewhere close to him. And Cas spent most of his time wandering around the woods near their house. So the days he was out, he was exploring and taking pictures. And the days he spent locked in this room, he was writing and editing and posting to the blog.

Dean passed a trembling hand over the folder again, then turned away. The surprises just kept coming today. Cas had been changing his life for years, and Dean had never known it until now. That blog had been a source of comfort to him when he felt like he had few others. To know that it was Cas’ work, his images and his words and his love for the region displayed for the whole world to see- it was overwhelming. Amidst his surprise, Dean felt incredibly proud of Cas.

But it didn’t change the fact that he had to leave.

He took the piece of paper and a pen back out to the kitchen and sat down at the table. He hesitated for a moment, and then began to write.

Cas-

I went to the doctor’s this morning. New one, Dr. Barnes. She gave me a check-up, and- well, it’s a long story, but the point is, I’m not dying. I never was. I’m going to be just fine.

I never meant to trick you. Please believe that.

I know you only married me out of pity, and now there’s no reason for that, so I’m letting you go. Deal’s off. Oh, by the way, I went into your room to find this paper. Sorry. I love your blog, did you know that?

Anyways. It shouldn’t be too hard to arrange a divorce. Irreconcilable differences. The difference being that I’m not a dead man walking like we both thought.

I can’t thank you enough for your kindness these past few months. I’ll always think well of you.

-Dean

P.S your dad was here today. He seems lonely. He says your family misses you. Here’s his number. I think you should call him.

Dean copied down the number that Chuck had left with him, and then re-read the note. It would do. He could never find the right words to express everything he felt for Cas anyways. It wasn’t even worth trying.

He left it on the kitchen table, stark white against the wood. There was no way Cas would miss it when he came in. Dean went back to the bedroom and packed his things. He had come here with all his belongings in just a few bags, he could leave the same way.

He hesitated before picking up the box containing his Christmas presents from Cas. Should he leave them? No, they had been gifts, and Cas was generous enough that Dean knew he would insist on Dean keeping them. And he wanted them as a reminder, anyways. He was selfish in that way.

Once he had everything gathered, he grabbed a few cat treats and lured Banjo and Good Luck into the kitchen. They twined around his ankles, purring loudly, and Dean swallowed back his tears. He would miss them so much. He stroked them both down their silky backs several times, then tore himself away.

He was almost out the door when he stopped, looking at the ring on his left hand. That he shouldn’t keep. Couldn’t keep. The Christmas presents were a token of affection, of the friendship that had developed between he and Cas, and Dean never wanted to forget that. He felt justified in keeping those. But the ring was a symbol of a marriage that should never have happened. A marriage whose foundation had now crumbled. Before he could change his mind, he slipped the ring off his finger and left it on the table beside his note to Cas. Then he was out the door.

He left the boat tied up by the garage once he reached the shore, and transferred all his bags into the trunk of the Impala. He turned and looked back towards the island, but he couldn’t see the house from this angle. He would never see it again.

Dean got in the car and drove away.

He considered going straight to his mom, since he would end up back there anyways, moving back into his old room, begging Bobby to take him back at the garage… but for some reason, he couldn’t handle making that transition quite yet. And he knew that if he didn’t spill his problems out to someone soon, they would consume him. And as supportive as Mary would be, it wasn’t her he wanted to confess to.

So he turned onto the highway and headed towards Bracebridge. Towards Sam.

----------

Sarah’s car was in the driveway when Dean arrived, but not Sam’s. Dean took a deep breath and exited the car, grabbing the bag he had packed with his essentials, and knocked on the front door. He heard Bones barking, and a few seconds later, Sarah opened the door. She looked startled to see him, and a smile grew across her face before she took in his messy hair and red-rimmed eyes. Then it was replaced by a look of concern. “Dean, what’s wrong?” she asked worriedly. “Come in.”

Dean let Sarah lead him into the house. He sat down in the living room, and Bones came to lay at his feet, quietly offering comfort. Sarah seemed to sense that Dean wasn’t quite ready to talk, so she just squeezed him lightly on the shoulder and made him a cup of tea. “I called Sam,” she said, offering the mug to Dean, who took it automatically. “He’s on his way.”

“Thanks,” Dean whispered. He couldn’t meet her eyes. He felt awful for burdening her like this, but he didn’t know where else to go.

“Of course,” she said softly. “You don’t have to tell me what’s going on, Dean. But if you’re here, that means you know you need to tell someone. So let Sam help you, okay? Can you do that for me?”

“Yeah,” Dean replied. He could do that. It was hard to lean on people, but it was even harder to bear everything on your own.

They heard the sound of Sam’s car pulling into the driveway just a few minutes later. Bones’ ears perked up, but he didn’t move from his spot, sensing that Dean needed him more at the moment. Dean smiled weakly and leaned down to pet the dog.

The front door opened and Sam came barreling in, letting out a sigh of relief when he saw Dean and Sarah sitting quietly in the other room, obviously unharmed. “What’s going on?” he asked.

Sarah stood up and kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll leave you two alone,” she said, leaving the room.

“Dean?” Sam came into the room and sat down beside his brother. “Dean, you’re scaring me. Talk to me, please.”

Dean let out a bitter laugh. Where to begin? At the beginning, he supposed. He sighed, and started talking.

“Last May, just around my birthday, I went to the doctor’s about some chest pain I’d been having. He did some tests, but we had to wait a bit for the results. When I got them back-” Dean reached into his pocket and took out the letter from Dr. Devereaux. He handed it to Sam, whose face paled as he read it.

“Dean-” he said, but Dean cut him off. “I’m fine. I promise. Just let me finish, okay?”

Sam nodded shakily, and motioned for Dean to continue. “So that was a bummer, obviously. And it was right around then that I ran into Cain at Bobby’s shop, and I offered to go look after Alfie. I wanted to do something important with the time I had left, you know?”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Sam asked. “We thought you were acting strangely, but we never suspected this.”

“I didn’t want you to suspect,” Dean said with a sigh. “I didn’t want everyone to treat me differently, I wanted to live normally for as long as possible.”

“Wait,” Sam said, and Dean could practically see the gears turning in his head. “Is this why you and Cas got married so quickly? Because you were dying?”

“Yeah,” Dean admitted. “Cas is the only one who knows. I told him, when I asked him to marry me. He needed to know what he was getting into. We’ve never been really together, Sam. I love him, sure, but he married me because he felt bad that I was dying. Not because he loved me back.”

Sam looked even more confused than ever. “So you’ve just been faking your whole relationship this entire time?”

“Kind of. I didn’t want to go back home, I wanted to pretend I could have the life I always dreamed of, you know? The kind of life you and Sarah have. Even if the feelings only went one way. And it worked, for awhile.”

“So what changed?” Sam asked softly, like he was afraid of the answer.

Dean gestured towards the letter that Sam was still holding. “That part, about not putting any strain on my heart? Yeah. Last night, me and Cas were out for a walk in town. We were crossing the train tracks, and my shoelace got caught. There was a train coming, and I was stuck there. I told Cas to leave me, but the stupid bastard wouldn’t go. He was trying to get me out, and the train was almost on top of us before we got me free. We both almost got killed.”

“But you didn’t. Not from the train, and not from your heart,” Sam said, understanding dawning on his face.

Dean nodded. “Exactly. One of those two things should have killed me, according to that letter. So I went to see the new doctor in town today. And she said I’m fine. We think my files got mixed up with another patient’s, also a D. Winchester. It was chaos in there after Dr. Devereaux left.”

“So you’re going to be okay,” Sam said, and now he looked confused again. “This is good news, Dean. Why do you still look so upset?”

“Because it means Cas and I are done,” Dean snapped. “He married me because I was dying, and now I know that isn’t true, so I can’t keep him. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me, Sam, and I can’t keep him.”

Saying it out loud for the first time made it feel more real, somehow. Dean felt a tear slide down his cheek, and then another. Sam made a concerned noise and reached out for him, and Dean crumbled. He let Sam gather him up in an embrace, burying his face in his brother’s broad shoulder. Sam didn’t say anything, but he gripped Dean tightly, and it was enough.

After a few minutes, Dean’s tears slowed to a trickle, and he pulled back. He wiped his face with the back of one hand, and drew in a shaky breath.

“So what are you going to do?” Sam asked, leaving one hand on Dean’s shoulder to steady him.

Dean shrugged. “Get divorced. Move back into Mom’s. Go back to my old life, I guess.”

“Have you talked to Cas about this?”

“He hasn’t been home,” Dean said. “I think he realized it last night too, that something wasn’t adding up. Probably trying to figure out the nicest way to ask me to leave. So I just did it.”

Sam frowned. “Shouldn’t he get a say in when and how his marriage ends?”

“No,” Dean said firmly. “Because it was never a real marriage anyways. I’ve been a burden on him from day one, and he’s been putting up with me because that’s the kind of incredible, generous person that he is. I’m setting him free. It’s my decision, not his.”

“Dean,” Sam said, then hesitated. “I know I don’t know him very well. And I know I gave him a hard time about you. I feel terrible about that, still, especially now that I know the real story. But seeing the two of you together...I wouldn’t describe it as him putting up with you. It looked like much more than that, to me.”

“Yeah, well, trust me, it isn’t. Wasn’t. Whatever. We weren’t together, Sam. Not really. We didn’t kiss. We shared a bed cause the house is tiny, but we never had sex. We cuddled like, twice.”

“Those things don’t define a relationship, Dean,” Sam said, and there was a trace of exasperation in his voice. “Physical intimacy is only one way of expressing an emotional connection.”

“I know that,” Dean said, frustrated. “Of course I know that, Sam. But I’m telling you, Cas is better off without me. He never needed me. Never wanted me.”

“And what about what you need? Or what you want?”

Dean shrugged. “I got seven months of it, and I should be grateful for that. I can’t ask him for anything more. We’re done.”

Sam threw his hands up in surrender. “If you say so. You know you can stay here as long as you need.”

“Thanks, Sammy.”

“Are you gonna tell Mom?” Sam asked, looking pensive. “I mean, obviously she’s gonna know that you and Cas aren’t together anymore, but are you going to tell her the whole thing?”

Dean thought about it for a moment. “I don’t think so,” he said slowly. “I think it would freak her out too much, thinking about me dying. That was why I didn’t tell her when I thought it was true. I thought it would be too hard on her. I think she’s better off not knowing.”

“I’m generally in favour of disclosing things,” Sam said, “but in this case, I think you’re right. Thank you for telling me, though. I know that couldn’t have been easy for you.”

“Yeah, well,” Dean said, managing a small smile. “I actually do feel better. So maybe this whole sharing-and-caring thing isn’t such bullshit after all.”

Sam rolled his eyes at him. “Come on,” he said, standing up. “Let’s go find Sarah and bicker over pizza toppings. You need grease.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Dean said. “Sam, seriously. Thank you.”

Sam turned and hugged him again, clasping him tightly before letting go. “You’re my brother, Dean. You don’t need to thank me. I’m just glad you’re going to be okay. A little bit shocked about this whole situation, to be honest, but it doesn’t matter now. All that matters to me is that you’re going to be okay.”

Dean nodded, and followed Sam into the kitchen. Sure, he was going to be okay physically. Barring any accidents like the one that had almost occurred the night before, Dean would probably live for many years to come. But emotionally speaking, well, that was something else entirely.

It was incredible how quickly things could change. Dean glanced at the clock above the stove, and calculated that approximately twenty-four hours ago, he and Cas had been crossing the train tracks. Since then, his entire life had been affected in ways both positive and negative. He had gained years of life expectancy, but lost the person he would most want to share them with. In time, it would probably feel like more of an even trade.

But for now, Dean just ached with the knowledge that when he went to bed tonight, he would be sleeping alone. And even if someday he did find someone else to share a home and a life with, it would never be Cas.

Chapter Text

Dean woke up the next morning feeling slightly disoriented. It took him a few minutes before he remembered he was in Sam and Sarah’s guest room, and then he remembered why. He let out a groan and buried his head back in the pillow. He tried to go back to sleep, to slip away from his troubled thoughts, but his brain wouldn’t cooperate. So he got up, not bothering to change out of his pyjamas, and went downstairs in search of coffee.

“Hi,” Sarah said softly, turning around from her place at the counter when Dean entered the kitchen. “How are you holding up?”

Dean shrugged, unsure how much to say. Sarah was smart, and she obviously knew that something was seriously wrong, but Dean wasn’t clear on how much Sam had told her. Not that he minded. In a partnership like theirs, there were no secrets between them. “I’ll be better once I’ve got some coffee in me,” he joked weakly.

“I can do that,” Sarah said, pouring him a mug. “I’ve got to head out soon. You know where everything is. Sam already left for the office, but he thinks he can drop by on his lunch.”

“I don’t need a babysitter,” Dean protested.

Sarah gave him an uncharacteristically stern look. “It’s not babysitting. It’s being supportive. And yes, there is a difference. A big one. It doesn’t make you weak, needing people sometimes.”

Dean wilted under her glare. “Okay,” he said, almost too quietly to be heard.

“Good.” Sarah patted him lightly on the cheek. “See you this evening, Dean. If you get bored, take Bones for a walk. I promise, doggie time is always a mood-booster.”

“Bye,” Dean called after her as she left the room. She was probably right about Bones being good for him, but Dean didn’t want a dog, he wanted his cats. He sighed and finished his coffee. He didn’t have much of an appetite, but he forced himself to eat a slice of toast and a yogurt. Then he sat at the table, staring blankly at the walls.

He had no idea what to do with himself.

Despite Sarah’s suggestion, he didn’t really feel like taking Bones out for a walk. The damn dog would want to sniff everyone they encountered, and then those people would want to talk to Dean, and he just wasn’t in the mood for polite chit-chat with strangers. Instead, he browsed through Sam’s bookshelf until he found his battered old copy of The Hobbit and curled up on the couch with it. Bones came to lay at his feet, content to be lazy as long as he was near Dean.

Dean lost himself in the familiar words of the book, and he didn’t realize how much time had passed until he heard the door creaking open, and Bones took off to greet Sam as he came inside. “Hey,” Sam said, coming to sit beside him. “Good choice.”

“Yeah, can’t go wrong with Tolkien,” Dean said. “You didn’t have to come check on me, Sam. I’m okay.”

Sam made a face at him. “Technically, yeah, but you’re still in your pyjamas, and your hair’s a mess, and you’re reading a comfort classic.”

Dean scowled at him. “Not really making me feel any better, Sammy.”

“Then how about this?” Sam reached down and produced a take-out bag containing two bacon cheeseburgers, fries, and onion rings. “Full of grease.”

Dean grabbed the bag from his brother. “That might do the trick.”

They ate in comfortable silence, though Sam kept sneaking these little glances at Dean, like he was just waiting for him to break down in tears at any moment. Which, okay, Dean probably should have expected that, considering that it was exactly what he had done the night before, but it was still a bit unsettling.

“Want me to drop you off anywhere in town?” Sam offered after they had finished eating.

“Like where?” Dean asked. He really didn’t want to go anywhere.

“I don’t know. Just thought I’d check.”

“Thanks, Sam, but no. Unless you’re kicking me out….” Dean trailed off.

Sam shook his head vehemently. “No, of course not, Dean. You can stay here as long as you need. I just don’t know what to do, man. I want to help, but…”

“You’re already doing it,” Dean said, nudging him lightly. “Seriously.”

“Okay.” Sam stood up and stretched. “I’ve gotta head back. You sure you’ll be okay?”

“Yes. Quit worrying. Maybe I should have just gone to Mom’s, she would probably fuss over me less.”

Sam looked like he was about to make some smart-ass reply, but he was interrupted by a frantic knocking at the door. He frowned and went to open it. Dean remained where he was in the living room, unable to see the front door. But he was still within hearing distance.

And he would know that voice anywhere.

“I don’t know if you should be here right now,” Sam was saying, low and threatening.

“I saw the car. I know he’s here. Sam, I’m begging you. I need to see Dean.”

Cas. Cas was here. Looking for Dean.

“Please. Just ask him if we can talk.” Cas’ voice sounded terrible. Desperate and pleading, filled with more emotion than Dean had ever heard from him. Sam turned and caught Dean’s eye as he stood up, moving towards them without even thinking about it. He nodded briefly, and Sam held his gaze for a second.

“Alright,” Sam said slowly. “I have to get back to work anyways. But I swear, Cas-”

“I know,” Cas said, his voice steadying. “If I hurt him, you’ll kill me. I know.”

Sam nodded again, and then he was out the door.

As soon as they were alone, Cas rushed over to Dean. “What were you thinking, leaving like that? I didn’t get home until almost midnight last night, and when I read your note, I thought I was going mad. But it was too late to go after you. And then this morning, I went to your mother’s house, but you weren’t there, and she wouldn’t give me Sam’s address, I had to track down his firm and then find his home address. And my dad was waiting at the garage again, it took forever to get away from him. I’m sorry it took me so long to get to you, Dean, truly. What were you thinking? Divorce-”

Dean wasn’t sure he had ever heard Cas use so many words all at once, but it didn’t matter. “I know you only married me out of pity,” he said, turning away. “You don’t deserve to be trapped with me anymore. I know you don’t love me, and it’s okay, I’ve always known that.”

“Love you!” Cas exclaimed, reaching out to take hold of Dean’s shoulder. “Dean, when we were standing there, with that train coming down on us, I knew whether I loved you or not!”

Dean brushed him aside. “Cas, it’s okay. You don’t have to lie to me to try to make me feel better. Your dad told me about April. He told me everything.”

Cas took a step back, studying Dean’s expression. Dean stood perfectly still as Cas took in his messy hair, his pyjamas, the pallor of his skin. Dean knew he must look terrible.

“Dean,” Cas said, softer this time. “My father couldn’t have possibly told you everything, because he doesn’t know everything. Will you let me tell you? Please.”

Dean didn’t know why hearing it again would change anything, even if it was in Cas’ own words. He should have known that Cas would try to convince him to stay, out of some misguided sense of obligation. Dean wasn’t his duty anymore. But he nodded and sat down on the couch. Cas sat down beside him, and took a deep breath before beginning his story.

“So you know who my father is,” he said. “You can probably fill in a lot of blanks about my childhood based on that. We had plenty of money, and even though Dad was away a lot, on tour or in meetings, or locked away in his study writing, we were a fairly close family. I never knew my birth mother, but Becky was always kind to me, and I loved my younger sister Anna. It was an easy life, a comfortable one. But as I got a bit older, and Dad’s books started getting more and more popular, well, being associated with him started to become a bad thing. He used a pen name, yes, but everyone in the neighbourhood knew who he was, and who I was in relation to him. The other kids would joke that my mother had died in some horrible fire like the characters’ mother had, or worse, that she had left because I was a demon. You know how children are. How cruel and creative they can be in the same breath.”

Dean nodded. He wasn’t clear on why this was important, but he would never turn down an opportunity to learn more about Cas.

“It was annoying, and it became difficult to make friends after that, but when I started university, it got a bit easier. The pond was a lot larger, all of a sudden, and I was far less noticeable. And then, I met April.”

Dean bit his lip nervously. He tried to control his breathing, not wanting to let Cas see his distress.

Cas smiled, though it was more like a grimace. “I thought she was one of the kindest people I had ever met. She was so friendly, so easy to talk to. For someone as lonely as I had been, she seemed like a miracle. I fell in love with her, in the way foolish young people always do. Both eyes wide open and yet seeing nothing. I asked her to marry me not long after we graduated, and I was so happy when she said yes.”

“So what happened?” Dean asked quietly. This was the part that Chuck had been unable to tell him. The reason that Cas and April had broken up. Dean had run through a thousand different possibilities in his mind, but now he would finally know the truth.

Cas sighed. “I accidentally overheard her talking to a friend of hers at a social event. They were talking about me. Her friend made some comment about my awkwardness, and April agreed. And then she said the words I’ll never forget- that my father’s characters were far more impressive and attractive than his son, and that it was a shame they didn’t exist in real life, but at least my father’s money would be enough to make marrying me worth it.”

“Oh, Cas,” Dean murmured, his heart filled with pity. What an awful thing for someone to say. How could April possibly have thought that about Cas? He was the most wonderful man Dean had ever known. And to take advantage of him in that way, out of selfish desire for something as basic as money...Dean was filled with disgust for this woman he didn’t even know.

“So, as you can imagine, that had quite an effect on the way I viewed myself,” Cas continued, a definite note of bitterness in his voice. “I couldn’t bear the thought of only ever being seen as Carver Edlund’s son for the rest of my life. So I left. I told my dad only the barest details, and I dropped out of their lives. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone, after finding out how April had been using me. I wandered around for years, picking up odd jobs, trying not to use my father’s money unless necessary. And then eventually I ended up here, and I fell in love with it. I’d seen plenty of dramatic beauty in my travels, but this, the quiet calm loveliness of Muskoka, it was exactly what I needed. So I bought the island and the house, and I started the blog. But everything stayed private. So many blogs depend on the author’s identity, but I wanted the pictures and the posts to speak for themselves. I was too afraid to let anyone know me. So people made up their own stories about me, and I let them. Better that than telling them the truth.”

Cas paused for a second, looking over at Dean. “And then you came along. I had made friends with Cain and Alfie, yes, but that was a slow process. You were so friendly, so open, right from the beginning, and I didn’t know how to react to that. I won’t lie to you, Dean, when you asked me to marry you I said yes because I felt sorry for you. But then you came to stay with me, and everything changed. You were the best friend I had ever had- caring, considerate, funny, kind. You made me believe in friendship and affection again. You didn’t know my past, you didn’t know anything about me, really, but you liked what you did know. I had to believe that your feelings were genuine. You made my house a home. I used to get back at the end of the day without any particular feeling about it, but I found myself looking forward to coming home, to a real meal, to companionship- to you.”

Dean couldn’t bear to look at him. Cas was saying everything he had always wanted to hear, but Dean couldn’t believe him. All he could do was listen.

“But I didn’t realize just what it all meant until we were on those tracks,” Cas said, a slight tremble in his voice. “It was like a switch flipped on in my mind. I knew I couldn’t lose you. That if I couldn’t get you free in time, I would have to die with you. I’m sorry I acted so cold about it. I’ll never forgive myself for that. I was just so surprised. I had never expected to feel that way about someone ever again. Never expected that I could trust anyone in that way. But it also hit me, that night, that you were going to die. I had thought there was nothing we could do about it, so I had tried to pretend everything was fine, but when I was faced with the immediate possibility of losing you, I wouldn’t stand for it. The thought of it made me run, because it overwhelming, and I’m so sorry that I wasn’t there for you yesterday. I had made up my mind, by the time I got home, that we would go to every specialist in the country until someone told us what we could do to save you. But then I got home, and you weren’t there. I read your note, and at first I was so deliriously happy to learn that you were going to be okay that the rest of it barely registered. I understand why you thought that you had to leave, but you don’t think that anymore, do you, sweetheart?”

Was Cas calling him sweetheart? Dean could hardly believe what he was hearing. It was all too much.

“I know you don’t really care about me,” Dean said, keeping his eyes downcast. “Sure, maybe we’ve become friends, and I’m glad that after all you’ve been through, you trust me enough with that. But I know you don’t love me, Cas.” He raised his head and gestured at himself, his disheveled appearance and weary face.

Cas made an incredulous noise and swung around so that he was facing Dean directly. “Love you,” he repeated. “Dean, you’re in the very core of my heart. I hold you there like a jewel. I promised you I would never tell you a lie. I love you with all there is of me to love. Heart, soul, brain. Every fibre of body and spirit thrilling to the sweetness of you. There’s nobody in the world for me but you, Dean.”

It was an impressive speech, Dean had to admit. Too impressive to be believed. Who could possibly think and feel those things about him?

“You’re a good actor, Cas,” he said, looking away.

Cas’ face fell. “So you don’t believe me,” he said softly.

“I can’t.” Dean closed his eyes.

“Damn it,” Cas said, his voice going low and dark. Dean opened his eyes and looked at him in surprise. He had never seen that expression on Cas’ face before- twisted, angry, hopeless.

“You don’t want to believe me,” Cas said bitterly. “You’re tired of me. You’ve found out the truth and now I’m no longer the mysterious enigma with the island and the motorcycle, I’m just a man with a famous father and intimacy issues. You liked the adventure while it lasted, when you thought you wouldn’t live long enough for it to matter. But now the charm has worn off and you can’t bear to be to stuck with me any longer. I understand. I shouldn’t have expected anything different. I thought you were different, Dean, but I see now, I was wrong.”

Dean stared at him for a second, the defeat in his posture and the despair on his face. It looked genuine. He couldn’t help himself. He laughed.

“You do mean it,” he said wonderingly. “You really do. You do love me. You wouldn’t be so outraged if you didn’t.”

Cas’ head snapped up, and he stared back at Dean. Dean felt a giddy smile growing across his face, and watched as Cas’ expression changed to mirror his own. Tentatively, like he still wasn’t sure what was allowed, Cas reached out and placed one hand against the side of Dean’s face.

“Dean,” he whispered, his eyes full of a bright and beautiful hope. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Cas,” Dean replied, bringing his hand up to rest on Cas’ face in response. They looked at each other for a moment longer, and then-

Cas’ lips were on his, gentle at first, but quickly growing more insistent. Dean surrendered to the kiss with a happy little groan. He raised his other hand and tangled it in Cas’ dark hair, bringing their lips into better alignment. Cas’ tongue traced delicately over the seam of his lips and Dean opened his mouth, allowing him entry. God, it had been a long time since he had kissed anyone, and he was pretty sure he had never kissed anyone quite like this before. His whole body was tingling with the sensation.

After a few minutes, Dean pulled away, breathless. He smoothed Cas’ hair back from his forehead and smiled when the other man leaned into his touch, just like one of the cats would. Dean couldn’t contain his happiness. It was threatening to break free of him in the form of hysterical laughter, so he leaned forward and buried his head in Cas’s shoulder, feeling the steady beat of his heart in his chest. Cas seemed to understand, wrapping his arms tightly around Dean and pressing a kiss to the top of his head. “I’m so happy to be here with you, Dean Winchester,” he whispered.

Dean raised his head and beamed at him. “Me too,” he said. “But I would be even happier to be with you, in our own house.”

Cas raised an eyebrow at him. “In our own bed?” he asked slyly.

Dean’s throat went dry at the suggestion. He nodded weakly, unable to find the words to express his enthusiastic agreement.

“Good,” Cas replied, brushing his lips over Dean’s once more. “Pack your things up. Leave a note for Sam and Sarah. I’ll wait here.”

Dean scrambled to do as he was told, and he returned a few minutes later to find Cas still sitting calmly on the couch, waiting for him. He stood up and stretched out his hand to Dean.

“Let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

They left Cas’ motorcycle parked in Sam’s driveway and took the Impala home. Cas didn’t seem too bothered about leaving his beloved bike behind. Dean was pretty sure it was just because they had other, more interesting things to think about.

Like how frustrating it was that they had an hour’s drive ahead of them before they could be as close as they both wanted to be.

Dean glanced over at Cas as he drove, and saw that the other man was blatantly staring at him. Dean chuckled. “Can I help you?”

“I would ask you to drive faster, but I refuse to put either of us in danger,” Cas replied. “I want you alive and well for many years to come.”

Dean didn’t think he would ever get tired of Cas saying things like that. “Good plan,” he agreed. “I’ll drive carefully, I promise. But just so you know, it’s taking all my concentration to do so, because you are incredibly distracting.”

Cas gave him a blank look. “I’m not doing anything.”

Dean let out a rude noise. “Thank god for that, otherwise I probably would crash the car. You’re distractingly sexy just sitting there.”

Cas laughed at that. “Should I apologize?”

“Definitely not.” Dean was enjoying this flirtatious banter. There was no use in denying the sexual tension, but since they couldn’t really do anything about it unless he wanted to pull the car over on a deserted side road, they might as well get a good laugh out of it.

“Hey, can I ask you something?” Dean still had a few questions about what Cas had told him, and now that they had the important things figured out and a bit of time to kill, he figured he might as well get the details.

“Of course,” Cas said. “You can ask me anything, Dean. I want you to know me.”

Dean felt his heart swell at Cas’ choice of words. That was what he had always wanted- to know Cas. And now that he understood why that was such a difficult thing for Cas to allow, he felt privileged and honoured to be able to ask him things freely.

“So, remember when we were talking about our families and expectations and stuff that one time?”

Cas nodded.

“You said your family wasn’t close geographically or emotionally. And that they probably wouldn’t be that interested if you told them that you were married. But from what your dad told me, and then what you said earlier, that doesn’t really sound like the case.”

Cas’ expression turned slightly guilty. “I may have stretched the truth somewhat,” he said sheepishly. “I couldn’t think of how to explain the situation without explaining why it had gotten that way. And it wasn’t technically a lie- they weren’t close to me, at that particular time. We had been, but not in years. Due to my own selfish actions, but still.”

“So, are you gonna go see them?” Dean asked curiously.

Cas shrugged. “I think so,” he said thoughtfully. “I convinced my father that now wasn’t a very good time for catching up because I was too busy worrying about you. But I did promise him I would call soon, and we would arrange a visit. With Becky and Anna too, of course. Anna’s married as well, apparently. And she has a daughter.” There was a soft smile on Cas’ face as he spoke about his family that Dean had never seen before. He liked it.

“I’d like to meet them,” Dean said tentatively. “Both to be there as moral support for you, and just to get to know them. If that’s something you’d be okay with.”

“I would like that very much,” Cas said. “There are so many things I want to share with you, Dean. So many places I want to take you. I want to give you everything, the way you have for me.”

Dean could feel himself blushing. They were almost home, and it was a good thing, because he was about ready to lunge across the seat and kiss Cas stupid. “You say the sweetest things,” he joked instead.

“You deserve to hear them,” Cas replied. “And I never, ever plan to stop telling you how wonderful you are.”

“Jesus Christ,” Dean muttered under his breath. “Is it too soon to make a ‘you’re gonna kill me’ joke?”

“Yes, but the sentiment is noted.”

It was only a few minutes later that they arrived at the garage. Dean parked the car and they quickly loaded his bags into the boat, Cas taking his turn to drive. He gave Dean a mischievous look and sped up, cutting across the water faster than they normally would. Dean laughed, watching the way the spray shimmered in the sun. It was nice to feel wanted, to feel desired, and to witness this playful side of Cas.

They arrived at the island, and Cas smoothly guided the boat into place at the dock. Dean leapt out and began unloading his bags. They split them between themselves and carried them up to the house. A comfortable silence had fallen between them, filled with anticipation. They both knew what was going to happen once they were inside.

If this were a movie, Dean thought to himself as he stepped through the door, Cas would be on him the instant they got inside, and they would end up having sex right there on the living room floor.

But because this was real life, Dean was attacked not by a horny husband, but by two needy cats who had apparently missed him greatly.

Cas was laughing at him from the doorway as Dean sank to the floor to pet Banjo and Good Luck, who were crowding around him, purring louder than he had ever heard them. “Shut up,” he said to Cas, who was still laughing. “I missed them, okay?”

“I’m very moved by your reunion,” Cas said, regaining control of himself.

Dean stood up, ignoring the protests from the cats. He had given them their cuddles, now he had other things to focus on. He was about to launch himself at Cas when he glanced down and saw that his shirt was covered in cat hair. And then he remembered that he was still in his pyjamas, and he hadn’t even showered yet.

Dean sighed. “I hate to say this,” he said, “but I think I need a shower before anything else.”

Cas raised an eyebrow at him. “I could join you,” he suggested, letting his gaze roam over Dean appreciatively.

It was a tempting offer. Very tempting. But Dean knew that if they were both in the shower together, naked and wet, it would get steamy very quickly, and he really wanted to take things almost painfully slowly the first time. And preferably in a bed. So he shook his head. “I won’t be long,” he said, winking at Cas. “Why don’t you go ahead and wait for me in the bedroom?”

Cas nodded and moved to head that way, but as he brushed past Dean, he grabbed him around the hips and kissed him deeply before letting him go. “Just a little something to tide you over,” he said, sauntering down the hallway.

Dean watched him go, very much enjoying the view, and then headed for the bathroom. He brushed his teeth and took a very fast but still thorough shower. He figured there was no point getting dressed when he was about to be naked again, hopefully soon, so he just wrapped a towel around his waist and went to find Cas.

His husband was sitting on the edge of the bed, his expression calm and serene. Dean paused in the doorway to look at him, marvelling that after all these months, this was where they had ended up. He never could have predicted it, but he was damn pleased about it anyways.

Cas looked up and saw him standing there, and his formerly calm expression turned hungry. Dean grinned at him. “Hey, handsome,” he drawled, walking into the room and pulling the door shut behind him to keep out any curious felines.

Cas stood up quickly, his eyes roaming over Dean’s exposed chest, shoulders, and torso. He reached out one hand and traced it gently across Dean’s collarbones. “You are stunning,” he said quietly. Then he drew Dean against him and kissed him fiercely.

Dean kissed him back with equal intensity. He would never get tired of the feeling of Cas’ lips against his. There was so much tenderness and passion in his kiss that it nearly overwhelmed him. It was probably a good thing that Cas was holding him to tightly, or he might have fallen over.

Cas shuffled backwards until his knees hit the edge of the bed, and he sat down, Dean standing in front of him. He reached down and tugged at Cas’ t-shirt. Taking the hint, Cas stretched his arms above his head and Dean pulled the shirt off, leaving Cas’ chest bare to his gaze. He drank in the sight of him, his skin tanned and smooth with only a light dusting of hair on his chest. Dean trailed a hand lightly across Cas’ chest, passing over one nipple, and Cas made a strangled noise that Dean found he quite liked the sound of. So he repeated the motion on the other side, and it had the same effect. Dean smirked down at him. “Sensitive, huh,” he said.

Cas fake-pouted up at him, and then grabbed Dean’s hips and pulled him down onto the bed beside him. Dean landed, not particularly gracefully, in a pile of limbs, his whole body shaking with laughter. He scooted further up on the bed, and Cas followed, a predatory look in his eyes. He swung one leg over so that he was straddling Dean’s waist, and then, keeping his eyes locked on Dean’s, slowly untied the knot that was keeping Dean’s towel in place.

Dean’s laughter died in his throat. Cas was barely touching him, but the intensity in his gaze turned the mood from something playful into something far deeper. He lifted his hips, allowing the towel to fall completely free, and Cas tossed it somewhere into the corner of the room, leaving Dean completely naked under him.

Still perched above him, Cas let his eyes roam over Dean’s body, moving slowly from his eyes, down his torso, lingering over his groin, and all the way down his limbs. Then he leaned forward and kissed Dean directly over his heart. Dean shuddered. “You are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, Dean Winchester,” Cas said, raising his head to look Dean in the eyes. “I am filled with awe in your presence.”

Dean couldn’t find the words to reply to a statement like that, so he just reached up and drew Cas down into a kiss. This had the pleasant side effect of bringing their groins into closer contact, and Dean moaned as Cas shifted slightly, feeling the press of his erection against his thigh. Cas deliberately rocked forward again, and Dean’s hands went to his hips, unsure whether to encourage him to continue moving or to hold him in place. Either way, it was incredibly satisfying.

“Want to see you,” Dean murmured, slipping his fingers beneath the waistband of Cas’ jeans. “Take these off, Cas, please.”

Cas sat back slightly, and Dean whined at the loss of contact, but it was worth it to be able to watch as Cas quickly removed his jeans and his boxers, tossing them aside carelessly. Then he was naked, and on top of Dean again, and little else mattered anymore.

Objectively speaking, it had been a long time since Dean had been in this situation with anyone, but he knew that wasn’t the only reason for the way he felt at this moment. It wasn’t just about the prospect of sex, it was the prospect of sex with Cas. With his husband. Who, against all odds, was here with him today, both of them healthy, and happy, and in love with one another. It was everything Dean had ever wanted.

Cas seemed to feel the same way, because he looked down at Dean, his expression soft and full of wonder. “I love you so much,” he whispered, tracing the line of Dean’s jaw. “I’m so sorry that it took me so long to realize it. If I hadn’t been so stupid, we could have been here much sooner.”

Dean shook his head firmly. “Don’t say that. We’re here now. That’s all that matters, okay?”

“Okay,” Cas agreed. “But I’m still going to make love to you as though we’re making up for lost time.”

Any response Dean would have made to that was swallowed by Cas’ kiss, deep and insistent. Dean surrendered to it happily. After a few minutes, Cas pulled away, kissing his way along Dean’s jaw and trailing his lips down Dean’s neck, which made him shiver with delight. Then Cas paused and sucked a dark mark onto the side of Dean’s neck, just above his shoulder, and Dean groaned with the pleasure of the sensation. “So lovely,” Cas breathed, taking in his handiwork. Then he continued his path, dropping kisses across Dean’s shoulders, his chest, the slight softness of his stomach. He stopped there, and Dean whined, lifting his hips in invitation.

Cas chuckled, but he took pity on Dean, reaching out with one finger to stroke along his hard length. Dean bucked into the touch, craving more, and after a few more teasing passes, Cas wrapped his fist loosely around Dean’s cock, stroking him almost unbearably slowly.

“I want to make you feel good, Dean,” he said, twisting his wrist slightly, prompting another moan from Dean. “You deserve to have everything that you want. Tell me what you want, Dean.”

That would take more time than Dean was willing to spare at the moment. He had far too many fantasies involving he and Cas to list them all, but there was one thing that he wanted with absolute certainty. “I want you inside me,” he gasped. “Cas, please. I need you.”

Cas threw back his head and groaned at Dean’s words. “You’re perfect,” he said, punctuating his statement with a particularly clever twist of his hand around Dean’s cock. He reached over and fumbled in the bedside table, coming up with a bottle of lube and a box of condoms. He kissed Dean again, then sat back slightly, squeezing a generous amount of lube onto his hand and rubbing it between his fingers to warm it. Dean watched him, desire pooling in his gut, entranced by the sight of Cas’ clever, capable hands. Hands that would soon be on his most intimate places, and inside them.

Cas reached down, gently pushing Dean’s legs apart to make more room for himself, and settling between them. Then he moved his hand lower, just lightly brushing over Dean’s hole with one lube-slicked fingertip. Dean bit back a whimper at the feeling. It had been so long since he had been touched like this. He needed it, badly.

“Inside me,” he said, too strung out to care about how desperate he sounded. Cas must have picked up on his urgency, because he gently pushed with that finger until Dean’s body accepted the intrusion. Dean made a contented noise at the feeling, but it wasn’t enough. He nodded, and Cas withdrew his finger and then pushed it back inside, establishing a rhythm that had Dean rocking back against him in time with his movements. After a few minutes of this, Cas added a second finger, and Dean groaned, relishing the slight stretch. Cas was looking down at him with a wonderstruck expression on his face, and Dean reached up to pull him into a kiss, craving more of him. Always, always more. As much as there was of him to have.

By the time Cas had three fingers inside of him, Dean was shaking with need, not far away from an orgasm but holding back until he had Cas’ cock inside of him. “Now, Cas,” he begged, groping around beside him until he found the condoms and holding one out to him. Cas slid his fingers out of Dean in order to tear open the condom and roll it on. Dean watched him do it, mouth watering at the sight of Cas’ cock, hard and thick, suddenly realizing that he hadn’t even gotten his hands on it yet. Which was a damn shame, in Dean’s opinion. He distracted Cas with a kiss, then reached down between them to take his cock in his hand, familiarizing himself with its shape and weight. Cas moaned into his mouth, rocking forward into Dean’s grasp. Dean smirked and let him go, falling back against the pillows with a pleased expression on his face. “Thought you might be feeling a bit neglected,” he said.

Cas smiled down at him fondly. “Not at all,” he said, arranging Dean’s legs again so that he could fit between them. He lined himself up, and then pushed forward, slowly easing into Dean’s body until he bottomed out. Dean sucked in a breath, and then released it on a long exhale. Cas felt incredible inside him, filling him up so perfectly. Cas was trembling with the effort of holding himself still, so Dean grabbed him by those perfect hips and pulled him closer. “Move,” he said.

And Cas did. He snapped his hips forward, and Dean moaned as he brushed against his prostate. Cas drew back and repeated his movement, lighting Dean up from the inside. He thrust forward, fucking into Dean both slow and deep. “You feel amazing,” Cas whispered. His face was sweaty, and his hair was a mess, but Dean thought he had never looked more beautiful. There was a vulnerability about him, a nakedness that went beyond the unclothed state of their bodies. “You feel like home,” Cas said, and Dean shuddered.

This wasn’t going to last long. It was too intense for that. It had been building for too long between them. But Dean didn’t care. They had the rest of their long lives to do it again, and again, and again. “God, Cas,” he breathed. “So good. So good inside of me.” He reached down and stroked himself, and Cas’ eyes immediately locked onto the sight. “Yes,” he said, with a particularly deep roll of his hips. “Touch yourself for me, Dean. I want to see you come.”

Dean increased his pace, his hips rising off the bed as Cas drilled into him with growing urgency. “Yeah, baby, just like that,” he whispered. “Fuck, Cas, I’m close.”

“Let go,” Cas ordered, locking eyes with Dean. “Dean, let go.”

The rawness of his voice and the intensity of his gaze, combined with the feeling of his cock inside him, tipped Dean over the edge. His orgasm hit him hard, stealing the breath from his lungs as he spilled over his hand and his stomach, Cas’ name on his lips. Cas watched his face as it was lost in pleasure, and only then looked down to see the evidence of his release, white against Dean’s stomach. He made a wounded noise, and his thrusts grew erratic. Dean lazily looped his arms around Cas’ neck, nosing into the sweaty curls behind his ear. “Your turn,” he said, and as his tongue darted out to lick at the delicate curve of Cas’ ear, Cas shuddered, and then went still.

They lay there in silence for a few minutes, exchanging light kisses and touches, before Cas gently pulled away and out of Dean’s body. He dropped a kiss on his forehead and then left the room briefly, coming back with a washcloth, which he used to clean them both up. Dean watched him, enjoying the sight of his naked body moving around the room. The afternoon sunlight was streaming through the windows, bathing the room in a gentle warmth that settled over Dean like a blessing.

Cas came back to bed and drew Dean towards him. Dean snuggled in close, laying his head on Cas’ chest, listening to the steady beat of his heart. Cas pressed a kiss into his hair and sighed. “Tired?” he asked gently.

“Mmn-hmn,” Dean agreed. “Haven’t slept very well the past few nights. Obviously.”

“Me neither,” Cas said, wrapping his arm around Dean’s shoulders. “I think we deserve a nap.”

Dean yawned. “As long as you’re here when I wake up,” he said, his eyes already falling shut.

“I’m never going to leave you again,” Cas whispered. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

It was still bright out when Dean woke up, so their nap hadn’t lasted the entire afternoon. He considered rolling over to check the clock on the bedside table, but that would require him to move, and therefore risk waking Cas. Raising his head just slightly, Dean could see that his husband’s eyes were still closed, his mouth parted as he breathed steadily, in and out. Dean smiled at the sight. Then he dropped his head back onto Cas’ chest and snuggled in closer. He didn’t think he would fall back asleep, but he was enjoying this closeness too much to get up.

A few minutes later, he felt the hand that had been resting on his shoulders move lower down his back. Cas was shifting in his sleep, and Dean felt bad for waking him. But then his hand moved even lower, grabbing at Dean’s ass and squeezing it, and Dean laughed, startled. “You’re awake, aren’t you,” he said. “Or are you just having good dreams about me?”

“Mmmn,” Cas said, yawning, his hand now stroking lazily down Dean’s back. “I don’t need the dreams. I have the real thing right here.”

Dean laughed again, propping himself up on one elbow so that he could look into Cas’ face. “Hey,” he said. “I would say good morning, but I think it’s still afternoon.”

“How slothful of us, sleeping away the day,” Cas commented.

Dean shrugged. “I think we deserve it. And besides, it’s not like sleep is the only thing we did. Or will be doing.”

Cas smirked at him. “Is that so?”

Dean was about to lean down and kiss him, ready to get round two started, when his stomach rumbled loudly. Cas blinked at him in surprise, and then chuckled. “We need to keep our energy up,” he said. “Come on. Let’s go find something to eat.”

“Does that require putting on clothes?” Dean pouted. He was shamelessly watching as Cas stood up and stretched, the long lines of his body on full display for Dean’s viewing pleasure. Cas turned and let his own eyes wander over Dean’s body, still tangled up with the sheets, flashes of skin peeking through here and there.

“Unfortunately, I think naked cooking is more hazardous than it’s worth,” Cas said ruefully.

Dean sighed dramatically, but got out of bed and put on some clean clothes. He waited until Cas had pulled a t-shirt over his own head, and then grabbed his hips from behind, pulling his back tight to his chest. He kissed his way along Cas’ neck, feeling every shudder that ran through the other man’s body as he did. Then he spun him around and kissed him on the mouth until Cas was limp and gasping in his arms. Only then did Dean pull back. “Sneak preview,” he said casually. “Now, you mentioned something about food?”

Cas shook his head, following Dean out to the kitchen. “You are a very difficult man to resist,” he said.

“That’s funny, considering how long you managed to do exactly that,” Dean said. He intended it to be a joke, but as soon as he saw the stricken look on Cas’ face, he regretted saying it at all. “Shit,” he said. "Cas, I didn’t mean-”

“It’s alright,” Cas said softly. “It’s a fair point.”

“No, it isn’t,” Dean said, wishing he had never brought it up in the first place. “What’s past is past, right?”

Cas shook his head. “Yes, but it’s our past. And I don’t think we’ll have much of a future if we pretend it never happened.”

Dean scowled at him. Why did he have to be so damn reasonable? “Cas, really, it’s fine.”

Cas came and stood beside him at the counter, reaching down to take Dean’s hand. “No,” he said, his voice firm. “I won’t have you worrying about this. Do you remember, when you first moved in here, what I told you about not liking to have repeated sexual encounters with someone unless we were in a relationship?”

“Yeah, kinda hard to forget that,” Dean muttered.

“So, now in light of what you know about my considerable trust issues, does that help clarify my position?”

Dean thought about it for a minute, and yeah, he could see where Cas was coming from. Being betrayed by April had left him unable to trust anyone enough for a romantic relationship, and sex always required a certain level of trust. He nodded.

“So, I knew you were attractive. How could anyone not know that?” Cas smiled at him. “But I was barely allowing myself to consider you a friend, to believe that you cared about me for exactly who I was, not who my father was. There’s a vulnerability in sexual encounters, and the more they occur between the same people, the more you get to know one another. I wasn’t ready to let myself be known. And as I said, it didn’t seem fair to introduce sex to that relationship when you had told me right from the start that your feelings towards me were deeper than that. It’s not that I didn’t want you, Dean. Believe me, I did.”

“I believe you,” Dean said.

“You know the night of the storm, when you were up all night worrying about me?”

Dean nodded, unclear as to what that night had to do with their current conversation.

“I think I must have known, then, that things had changed between us. Holding you that morning as we slept was the comfort that you needed at the moment, but part of me wanted to offer you comfort in another way. But I didn’t want to take advantage of your emotional state. I felt a desire to be closer to you, even if I told myself it was purely in a physical way.”

“I knew things were different between us after that night,” Dean said triumphantly.

Cas laughed. “Yes, but I was so cautious, still. And then everything just spun out of control so quickly, with the train and then my father’s arrival, and then I finally realized just how much you meant to me.”

“And now?” Dean asked, looking down at their joined hands.

“Now,” Cas said, a gleam in his eyes, “well, now that we’ve established that I’m madly in love with you, I see no reason we shouldn’t have sex on every surface in this house.”

Dean bit back a grin. “It’s not a very big house,” he complained. “That won’t take us very long at all.”

Cas considered this. “Well, it’s a start. We can always expand our ambitions later.”

Dean laughed, and Cas drew him in for a quick kiss. “Thank you for being patient with me,” he murmured.

“Worth waiting for,” Dean said emphatically.

Important conversation out of the way, they moved on to making themselves a snack. Since their schedule had been so upended anyways, Dean made toast and eggs while Cas made them a pot of tea. You could never go wrong with breakfast food, no matter the time of day.

As they ate, Dean looked up and noticed that Cas was staring at him over the top of his mug. Dean raised an inquisitive eyebrow, and Cas looked away guiltily. “Sorry,” he said.

“No worries,” Dean said. “It’s cute when you stare.”

“I’m just so glad that you’re here,” Cas said quietly.

“Me too.” They still had a lot of things they would need to figure out. Now that Dean wasn’t expecting to die at any moment, he had to decide what to do with all of the time that he had before him. He knew he could go back to work at Bobby’s, but he could also do something else. His options were endless. They also needed to arrange that reunion with Cas’ family, and maybe remind Sam and Sarah to get to work on their wedding planning, and convince Charlie to bring her new girlfriend over to meet them…

Dean had a lot to look forward to.

Once they finished eating, they brought their refilled mugs and a few blankets out to the porch. It was a beautiful spring evening, and the sun was just starti, the striking colours reflected in the surface of the lake.

“You are happy in this house, aren’t you?” Cas asked suddenly. “Now that you’ll be living here for longer than you originally anticipated. I know it’s small, and a bit inconvenient at times… if you wanted to live somewhere else, we could, Dean.”

Dean turned to look at him, incredulous. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “I love this house. It’s our home. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Cas looked relieved. “Oh, good,” he said. “I don’t want to leave either. I just worried that you might.”

“No way.” Dean gestured to the scene before them. “Look at this. It’s the perfect view.”

Cas’ look turned mischievous. Dean sat up a little straighter. He had only seen that look in Cas’ eyes once, earlier today, when they were naked and in bed together. If he had that expression on his face now...it boded well for Dean.

“Perfect, eh?” Cas said, putting down his tea and throwing off the blanket he had wrapped around himself. He got up out of his chair, and in one graceful movement, lowered himself to kneel in front of Dean. “I don’t know about that. I think there’s always room for improvement.”

Dean’s head thunked against the back of the chair as Cas slowly unbuttoned his pants, rubbing at Dean’s cock through the thin material of his boxers. “Jesus Christ, Cas,” he said, his voice already hoarse with desire.

Cas winked at him, and then pushed Dean’s boxers down, freeing his rapidly hardening cock. He looked up at Dean, his impossibly blue eyes shining, and then lowered his mouth to Dean’s length. He worked Dean over with his lips and his tongue, skilled and enthusiastic.

Dean groaned and brought his hands to rest in Cas’ dark hair, tightening slightly as Cas swirled his tongue around the head of his dick. Kinky bastard, sucking him off out in the open like this. Granted, they were too far away from any of the neighbouring islands for anyone to see them. Someone passing by on a boat might be able to catch a glimpse, but it was early in the spring still, so the lake was quiet. There was little chance of them being seen.

The design of the chairs put Dean too far back from where Cas knelt, so he scooted forward to sit at the edge, changing the angle. Cas moaned in approval, pulling back slightly, and then redoubled his efforts. His hand crept up to wrap around the base of Dean’s cock, sliding over the smooth skin as he licked his way along the shaft. He stopped for a second, taking his mouth away, and Dean whined in disappointment.

“How’s the view now?” Cas asked. His tone was innocent, but his voice was wrecked. Dean glared at him.

“It’s fucking perfect,” he said. And it was. Cas on his knees in front of him, the sun setting behind him- Dean didn’t think he would ever forget the sight.

“Good,” Cas said, still stroking him. “Then I won’t deprive you of it any longer.” He took Dean back in his mouth. Dean’s hips were moving off the chair in small thrusts at this point. He could feel himself getting close. “Cas,” he warned, tugging lightly at the dark hair wound around his fingertips. “Gonna come.”

Cas’ eyes darted up to meet his, but he didn’t pull away. He held Dean’s gaze, and it was that sight, the trust and affection in his eyes, that tipped Dean over the edge. He came with a loud groan, spilling into Cas’ mouth, watching as Cas swallowed it down smoothly.

Dean slid back in the chair, trying to catch his breath. “Jesus,” he repeated. “Give me a minute to recover, and let me return the favour.”

Cas stood up and stretched, blatantly showing his body off for Dean to admire. “Tempting,” he said. “But I was thinking, now that I’ve taken the edge off for you, that we should go back to bed. And this time, I want you inside me.”

How the hell did Dean get so lucky? His unbelievably hot husband had just blown him on their porch and was now asking Dean to fuck him. How could Dean possibly say no to a suggestion like that?

He stood up, still a little shaky from the after-effects of his orgasm. Cas must have noticed, because a small frown crossed his features, but then it turned into a grin. He bent down and swept Dean up in his arms, carrying him across the porch and back into the house.

Dean was too startled to protest. He just laughed as Cas strode down the hall and deposited Dean on the bed. “That was fun,” he said, sprawling back on the sheets, feeling pampered and well-cared for.

Cas looked down at him and smiled. “I never carried you over the threshold on our wedding day,” he explained. “So it seemed like a good time to do so.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Dean said. “But I do take offense at the fact that you’re still wearing clothes.”

“So are you,” Cas pointed out.

“Let’s change that, then, huh,” Dean said, pulling his shirt over his head. He stripped everything off, and then looked back at Cas, who was in the process of pulling his boxers off, but had halted and was looking at Dean instead. “Hey. Not fair. Get on my level.”

Cas rolled his eyes, but he pulled his underwear off and kicked them aside, joining Dean on the bed. He rolled onto his side and pulled Dean’s face towards him for a kiss that seemed to go on for hours. Their limbs twined around each other naturally, seeking as many points of contact as possible.

Dean ended up mostly on top of Cas, and discovered that he quite liked being there. He gently pulled his lips away, chuckling at the disappointed face that Cas made as they separated. “Don’t worry, baby,” he said, smoothing Cas’ hair back from his forehead. “I’m not going far.”

“You’d better not be,” Cas grumbled, tracking Dean’s movements as he fetched the condoms and lube, placing them within reaching distance on the bed. Dean kissed the frown off Cas’ face, then turned his attention to his neck, remembering the way Cas had trembled under his kisses there earlier in the day. He kissed his way down the long column of his neck until he reached his shoulder, and pressed a kiss there as well.

Dean sat back for a second, admiring the sight before him. Cas was spread out across their bed, his lips swollen from Dean’s kisses, his hair a disaster, and a slight flush evident even on his tanned skin. He looked incredible. “So damn gorgeous,” he whispered. “Do you even know how long you’ve been driving me crazy?”

Cas looked puzzled, so Dean took it upon himself to explain. “Always thought you were a good-looking guy, even before I knew you. Saw you riding around on that motorcycle of yours, used to wonder all sorts of things about you. Then we met for real, and I realized just how handsome you really are.” Dean was tracing his hands up and down Cas’ sides as he spoke, and the combination of his words and his movements had Cas trembling beneath him.

“You remember at Thanksgiving, at my mom’s place?”

Cas nodded, his eyes dark, seemingly unable to use his words properly. Pleased to be having such an effect on him, Dean kissed him again, then continued talking. “You came out of the shower with just that towel on, and I thought that was the end for me. Never seen so much of your body before.”

“It’s just a body,” Cas gasped out. Dean shook his head firmly.

“Now that’s just not true,” he said. “Your shoulders are so strong. Nice and wide. Make me feel safe. Your eyes are the brightest blue I’ve ever seen. And your hips--” he brought his hands up to grip the body parts in question. “Ought to be considered one of the wonders of the world.” Dean lowered his mouth and sucked a bruised onto Cas’ right hip, loving the way it highlighted the cut of his muscles. “Perfect,” he murmured.

“Oh,” Dean added, almost as an afterthought, “and your cock’s real nice too.” He wrapped his hand around Cas’ erection, stroking him slowly but firmly, feeling him harden even further in his grip. Cas’ eyes were closed, and he was biting his lip, his hips moving involuntarily as Dean continued to stroke him. “You still want me inside you, Cas?” he asked. Cas nodded frantically. “Alright,” Dean said, keeping his hand wrapped loosely around Cas as he fumbled for the lube. “Alright.”

He got the bottle opened, and slicked up his hand. Cas opened his eyes, watching as Dean slowly pressed a finger inside him. He was so tight. Dean wondered how long it had been since Cas had done this with anyone. His concern must have shown on his face, because Cas reached up and stroked his face gently. “Keep going,” he said. “Feels good.”

Dean trusted Cas to know his own body, so he slid another finger inside him, kissing him all the while. Cas let out a small gasp as he did, and Dean paused, but it was a sound of pleasure, not pain. God, he felt so amazing. Dean was hard again, and he wanted so badly to be buried in Cas’ tight heat, but not quite yet. Shallowly thrusting his fingers in and out, he crooked them slightly, and he knew he found Cas’ sweet spot when the other man cried out, gripping Dean tightly by the arm. “More, Dean, please,” Cas begged, so Dean repeated the motion as he eased a third finger inside. He looked down at the place where his fingers were disappearing inside of Cas and shuddered with desire at the sight.

“You look so amazing right now,” Dean whispered. “God, Cas. Feel so good too.”

Cas looked up at him and smiled, then reached around on the bed and passed Dean a condom. Dean slid his fingers out of Cas to roll it on, and Cas took advantage of his momentary distraction to flip them over so that he was on top of Dean. Dean blinked up at him in surprise, though he wasn’t displeased with the change in position. “Hey,” he said.

“Hey yourself,” Cas said, reaching down to grasp Dean’s cock and position it right where he needed it. Then he sank down, slowly and deliberately, until Dean was fully sheathed inside of him. Dean moaned as his cock was enveloped in Cas’ tight warmth. He wasn’t picky when it came to who was giving and who was receiving, preferring to think of sex as something more mutual than that no matter the arrangement of body parts. It appeared that Cas shared a similar philosophy, which was very promising.

Dean reached up and took hold of Cas’ hips, running his thumb lightly over the mark he had left there. He pulled Cas down against him, and Cas responded in kind, lifting himself up slightly and then back down. Dean could see the gorgeous muscles in his thighs working as Cas rode him, his head thrown back in pleasure. “Take what you need, Cas,” Dean said, moving his hips in time with Cas. “Wanna make you feel so good.”

“So good,” Cas echoed, a faint flush spreading over his body. “Dean, please, touch me.”

Dean didn’t hesitate to obey, moving one hand to Cas’ thigh and the other to his cock, stroking him ruthlessly as he continued to drive up into him. “You look beautiful like this,” he told him. Cas shuddered again, losing his rhythm for a second. “Gonna come for me, baby?”

“Yes,” Cas gasped out, grinding himself down against Dean. “Yes, Dean, I’m gonna come.”

“Do it,” Dean encouraged, moving his hand even faster now. “I want to see you.” He twisted his wrist as he said it, and Cas cried out, his dick pulsing in Dean’s hand, spilling hot and white over him. Dean moaned at the sight and snapped his hips upwards, chasing his own orgasm. “You too,” Cas said. “Come for me, Dean.” The sound of his name in Cas’ voice, even more rough than usual from their activities, was all the encouragement that Dean needed. He thrust up one last time, and was lost in the throes of a powerful orgasm, head falling back onto the pillows as he came.

Cas slumped forward, leaning heavily on Dean’s chest. Dean chuckled and ran his hand through Cas’ sweaty hair. “Wore yourself out, old man?” he teased.

Cas raised his head just enough for Dean to see his glare. “Next time you’re doing all the work,” he said. “You’re young and strong and, thank god, healthy.”

“Thank god indeed,” Dean said softly. He kissed Cas on the forehead, and reluctantly slid out from under him to go dispose of the condom and get them something to clean up with. He came back to find Cas sprawled across the whole bed, still gloriously naked. Oh, Dean could definitely get used to that sight. He dropped the damp washcloth on Cas’ chest just to make him complain, but then kissed him sweetly to apologize. “Such a brat,” Cas muttered.

“Yeah, but you love me,” Dean said, fluttering his eyelashes at him.

“I do,” Cas said seriously. “I hope you don’t ever get sick of hearing it, because I’m going to say it a lot. I love you, Dean.”

“I love you, too, Cas,” Dean said. “If we weren’t already married, I’d propose to you all over again.”

Cas looked thoughtful. “Would you want to have another ceremony? A renewal of vows? So we could invite family and friends this time?”

Dean considered this for a second, then shook his head. “Nah,” he said. “They’d all want to know why we felt we had to do it, and I’m good with them never knowing all the details of our strange but wonderful relationship.”

“Alright,” Cas said. “I do wish I could remember a wedding with a little more feeling to it, on my end, at least.”

Dean hated the sad look on Cas’ face, wondering how to make it disappear. Then he was struck by a sudden idea. “Tell me now,” he said eagerly.

Cas looked confused. “What?”

“Tell me now,” Dean repeated. “What you would have said, if we got married again, with all our messy history between us.” So what if they didn’t have a ring, or an officiant, or witnesses, or tuxes. Or clothes of any sort. They had each other.

A slow smile crept across Cas’ face, and he reached out to take Dean’s hand as he spoke. “Dean,” he said, beaming at him. “You’ve changed my life in every possible way. Your kindness and your bravery, your dedication and your intelligence, all of these things together make you the most incredible man I’ve ever known. I’m so glad that you made the choice to follow your heart, and so incredibly honoured that it led you to me. I will love and cherish you every day, for the rest of our lives.”

Dean sniffled, feeling the tears gathering in his eyes. “Oh, no” Cas said, reaching up to wipe them away. “No more tears.”

“It’s okay,” Dean said. “They’re happy tears. Those are allowed. Cas, you are the most selfless person I have ever met. I still can’t believe I asked you to marry me, but even more than that, I can’t believe how lucky I am that you said yes. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you, and that hasn’t changed. I am going to keep loving you for a very long time. I am honoured to call you my husband, my partner, my lover, my friend. My everything.”

Cas had tears of his own running down his face, and Dean wiped them away as well. “Look at us,” he said fondly. “What a bunch of saps.”

“Not such a bad thing after all,” Cas said.

“No, it isn’t,” Dean agreed. He slid down and wrapped Cas up in his arms, pulling him back tightly against his chest. Cas let out a contented little sigh, keeping their hands joined, and bringing them to rest over his heart. Dean nuzzled into his neck, breathing in the scent of him, feeling the solid weight of him in his arms. He pressed his hands closer to Cas’ chest, seeking out the comforting rhythm of his heartbeat, reminding him that they were alive, and here together.

Chapter Text

Epilogue: May

Castiel wakes up with a pleasant ache in his muscles, a reminder of the many athletic and rewarding things he and his husband had gotten up to the night before. Speaking of his husband-- Cas opens his eyes, letting them sweep over Dean’s bare back where it’s pressed close to his chest. He doesn’t want to wake him, but he can’t resist leaning forward to kiss the back of one freckled shoulder, already starting to tan from the springtime sun.

Dean stirs slightly, and the movement puts his ass directly into contact with Cas’ rapidly-hardening cock. Cas stifles a moan and manages to keep still. But then Dean moves again, too deliberately to still be asleep. So Cas presses forward to meet him, and is rewarded with a low groan from Dean. “Good morning,” Cas whispers, his mouth close against Dean’s skin, right where his shoulder meets his neck.

“So far, yes,” Dean replies, only a hint of sleepiness in his voice. He continues to rock backwards against Cas, increasing his pace. Cas peers over his shoulder and sees Dean’s neglected erection straining towards his stomach, so he wraps his arm around him and begins to stroke him in time with their thrusts. Deans mumbles something that might be a curse or might be Castiel’s name, looking down at where his cock is sliding through Cas’ grip.

Cas can feel his orgasm approaching, so he speeds up his movements, wanting Dean to get off first. Dean whines, heavy and warm in Cas’ hand, and when Cas presses forward and holds himself flush against Dean’s backside as he twists his wrist around Dean’s shaft, Dean comes undone. He spills over his stomach and Cas’ hand, and Cas shudders and follows him into bliss.

They’re sweaty, and sticky, but Cas doesn’t want to get up quite yet. He rolls onto his back, and Dean does the same, so they’re lying beside each other, but still pressed close to maintain contact. Cas turns his head and smiles fondly at Dean. “Happy birthday,” he says.

Dean laughs, his eyes lighting up with delight. He’s lovely like this, happy and relaxed. “It is indeed,” he says.

“We should probably shower,” Cas says, trying to convince himself as much as Dean.

Dean narrows his eyes at him playfully. “Together?” he asks.

How can Cas possibly refuse a request like that? He nods, and Dean grins, sliding out of the bed and extending a hand to him. Cas goes willingly. He’ll go anywhere Dean asks.

They share a long shower, keeping their touches above the waist, but Cas is always greedy for the feeling of Dean’s flesh under his hands, so he washes him down, massages his back and shoulders as the water pours over them both. Dean scoffs at him, but he unfolds so beautifully under Cas’ hands, all tension leaving his body, until he sags back against him, letting out a contented little sigh. “It should be my birthday more often, if this is the treatment I get,” he says as they towel themselves off and get dressed.

“Perhaps we can celebrate half-birthdays as well,” Cas suggests. Dean laughs and kisses him, fond and affectionate. It’s these touches that Cas craves the most. The sex is phenomenal, of course-- in the two months since all their misunderstandings and misinformation had been cleared up, they’ve come to know each other’s bodies very well. But the small gestures, the brief touches that speak volumes, are the ones that truly render Cas speechless when he considers how fortunate he is to have Dean in his life.

Cas watches as Dean moves around the kitchen, humming to himself as he gets the coffee ready. Sometimes he can hardly believe that this is his life now. That this is his husband. That he gets to keep this.

He never really understood how lonely he was before Dean came bursting into his life. Or at least, he never understood how badly he wanted to put an end to that loneliness. Being alone meant being safe, or so he thought. It meant not risking another heartbreak. And it seemed worth it. Even when he and Dean first started living together, he tried to maintain a certain emotional distance, especially since neither of them expected Dean to live longer than a year.

But he could only keep his walls up and cling to his denial for so long. Cas thinks back to that night on the tracks on a regular basis. If Dean hadn’t gotten caught, if they hadn’t both nearly died, Cas might never have realized how much he loved him. He isn’t proud of the fact that it took nearly losing Dean for him to finally see how much he needed him, but it’s the truth. And Dean would have taken a lot longer to go see another doctor and have his diagnosis corrected. Cas never would have thought he would be thankful to a speeding train, but he is, every single day.

“Hey,” Dean says, interrupting his thoughts. “Coffee’s ready.”

Cas joins him at the table, smiling as he feels one of the cats brush past his legs on its quest for food. “You looked a little lost in thought there,” Dean comments, taking a sip of his coffee.

“Just thinking about how much I love you,” Cas says easily.

Dean blushes faintly. “Christ, you’re sappy,” he mutters.

“You love it,” Cas replies.

Dean sighs, but he nods. “I really do,” he admits.

Cas grins at him, pleased with his answer. He takes any opportunity he can find to lavish Dean with praise and affection. As much as Dean assures him that he’s secure in their relationship, that he doesn’t doubt the depth of Cas’ feelings for him, Cas still worries that part of Dean needs the reassurance. The romantic aspect of their marriage had been one-sided for months, and so Cas feels he ought to heap a lot of love on Dean in order to tip the scales. Besides, it’s fun to make him blush.

“Are you excited for your party tonight?” Despite Dean insisting that he didn’t need a big celebration, Cas, Sam, and Mary had conspired against him to plan an extravagant 30th birthday party at the Roadhouse that evening.

Dean looks down at the table, tracing its lines with the tip of one finger. He looks thoughtful. “It’s funny,” he says. “If you asked me two years ago if I was excited about turning thirty, I would have said hell no. Getting old? Urgh. But this time last year, I didn’t think I would live to see thirty.”

Cas reaches out and takes Dean’s hand in his own, offering comfort. For the most part, Dean is cheerful and positive, but every once in awhile, he turns introspective, a lingering effect of the incorrect diagnosis that led to him contemplating his own approaching demise for nearly an entire year.

“So, you know what? I am excited about tonight,” Dean says. “It’s something to celebrate. Even if most of the people there won’t understand why, I am damn happy to be another year older, and yeah, I want to share that with them.”

Cas didn’t think it was possible to love Dean more than he already does, but apparently it is. He feels a burst of affection for him, for his generosity, his tenacity, his basic goodness. He shakes his head slowly. “You are a marvel, Dean Winchester,” he says.

Dean’s blush returns. Cas wonders idly how many romantic statements and gestures it would take to make it permanent.

“Still got a lot of time between now and then, though,” Dean says, switching back to the subject of the party. “Wanna go for a ride?”

Now that Cas’ life is no longer a secret to Dean, they’ve started working together on Following the Honeybees. They’ll go out on excursions to take photographs together. Dean has a natural eye and a sense of both curiosity and wonder that lends itself well to finding the best shots, but he has little interest in the technical aspects, so he leaves the actual photography to Cas. Though the blog has always been popular, they’ve seen an increase in traffic since Dean started collaborating, a fact of which he’s quite proud. Castiel isn’t quite ready to announce any more details of their lives to their readers, though. It’s one thing to share himself with Dean, quite another to do so with the rest of the world.

The revenue from the blog, and from the photos Castiel sells to other outlets, is more than enough for them to live on, but Dean’s been toying with the idea of going back to work, more for his own sake than for the financial benefit. He still hasn’t decided whether to go back to Bobby’s garage or give something else a try, but Cas knows he’ll make the right decision when he needs to. For now, they’re both enjoying what they’re doing, especially because it allows them to spend all of their time together. Maybe someday the honeymoon phase will wear off and they’ll want some time apart, but not yet.

So Cas smiles at Dean’s suggestion, and says, “Sure.” He has plans of his own, involving Dean’s birthday present, that will work quite well somewhere out in the woods.

They get dressed and pack their bags with water and snacks and Cas’ camera, then spend a few minutes playing with Banjo and Good Luck, since they won’t be home that evening either, and the cats get a bit disgruntled when they aren’t given the appropriate number of cuddles in a given day. Then they lock up behind them, and head across the lake.

Dean will never let anything take precedence over the Impala, but he admits that he’s become quite fond of Cas’ motorcycle as well. Cas loves riding with him, the feeling of him pressed up close behind him, the exhilaration on Dean’s face when they come to a halt. So Cas isn’t surprised at the grin on Dean’s face when he tosses him a helmet before climbing onto the bike. Cas waits until Dean’s arms are wrapped securely around his middle, and then they’re off.

Cas has lived in the Muskoka area for close to eight years now, and it’s never felt more like home. He knows that it’s all thanks to Dean, who was born and raised here, and who makes every tree and every rock and every ripple of the lake seem even more beautiful just by his own enjoyment of them.

They speed down the road, passing only a few other vehicles. Cas doesn’t have a particular destination in mind, but as they travel further from the house, he finds himself making a few specific turns, heading for a little stream that travels through the woods a few kilometres away. There’s a small rest stop ahead that makes a perfect place to leave the bike, so Cas pulls in and they dismount.

Dean stretches and looks around them curiously. “Don’t think I’ve ever been here before,” he comments.

Cas is pleased to hear that. He likes taking Dean new places, watching the wonder on his face as he takes them in. “Come on,” he says, gently pushing aside a branch. “This way.”

They traipse through the quiet woods, pausing occasionally to take a few photos, or to sip from the water bottles in their backpacks. It’s cool among the trees, the sunlight filtering down through the leaves, but they take their time, in no particular hurry to reach their destination. They reach the stream after about twenty minutes, and then walk along its banks for a few minutes more.

“Water’s moving faster,” Dean says, looking down at the stream.

Cas grins, pleased with his perceptiveness. “Yes,” he says. “We’re almost there.”

“I didn’t know we were going somewhere specific,” Dean says, raising an eyebrow.

Cas shrugs innocently. “Neither did I, until we were almost here.”

“Alright, whatever,” Dean says fondly. “I know you like playing tour guide even though I’m the one who grew up here. So lead the way.”

They continue on their path for a few more minutes, and then they reach the small waterfall. The water burbles pleasantly as it drops away, and there are a few rocks just at the edge of the stream that are perfect to sit on. Cas drops his bag beside him and sits down, gesturing to Dean to do the same.

“This is nice,” Dean says, looking around.

“Mmn-hmn,” Cas agrees absentmindedly, fiddling with his camera. Before Dean can protest, he raises it and snaps a picture of him, sitting by the water with the sunlight turning his hair to gold. That one won’t end up on the blog, but it’s a good memory to capture regardless.

Dean sticks out his tongue at him, so of course Cas take a picture of that as well. “I thought we came out here for, you know, work-related reasons,” Dean grumbles. He can be surprisingly shy about his own looks, Cas has noticed. It only makes Cas want to compliment him more, to capture his face from every angle, to make him see that his outer beauty is only matched by the beauty of his soul.

Cas gives him a flat look. “It’s your birthday. We’re not working on your birthday.”

Dean sighs dramatically. “Fine,” he says. “I suppose we can just relax and enjoy the natural beauty.”

Cas chuckles at that. “Well, I do have something for you,” he says, reaching into his bag and withdrawing a thick cream-coloured envelope. He passes it to Dean, who reaches for it excitedly.

“A present?” he asks, his voice pleased.

“They usually do go hand-in-hand with birthdays.”

Dean opens the envelope carefully, and pulls out several sheets of paper. He looks them over for a few seconds before a huge smile breaks out on his face. “A cross-Canada train trip? Cas, that’s amazing.”

Cas smiles, glad that his gift has been well-received. “I told you I wanted to take you everywhere. However, your fear of flying does limit us somewhat. I thought the train was a good compromise.”

“It’s perfect,” Dean says, sincerity evident in in his voice. “Thank you, Cas. I love it.” He leans over and kisses him, his lips dry but soft. Cas deepens the kiss, cradling Dean’s jaw in one hand, keeping the other braced beside him so he doesn’t slip and fall into the stream.

Dean pulls away after a moment, tucking the itinerary back into the envelope and placing it carefully in his bag. He fiddles with something Cas can’t see, and then turns back to face him, uncharacteristically hesitant.

Cas notes the look on his face and swallows nervously. “Is something wrong?” he asks, fearing the answer.

Dean shakes his head quickly. “No,” he says. “I, uh, have something for you too, actually.”

“But it’s not my birthday, it’s yours,” Cas points out, confused.

Dean smiles. “I know, silly. But yours is too far away, and I didn’t want to wait that long. So,” he holds out a small black box, and opens it to reveal a ring, the perfect match of the one Cas gave him at their wedding ceremony the year before. Cas gasps.

“Since we decided not to do another ceremony, I didn’t know when to give this to you,” Dean explains. “I guess we could have talked about it, and gone to pick something out together, but I don’t know, I guess I wanted to surprise you. It would make me really happy if you would wear this ring, Cas.”

Cas reaches for it, his hands trembling slightly. Dean grabs them, steadying him, and slides the ring onto his finger. He looks down at it and smiles. “There,” he says. “Now we match.”

“Now we match,” Cas repeats, admiring the way the ring looks on his hand. It looks complete. He didn’t know how empty it looked without a ring until now. He grabs his camera, and snaps a few pictures of their joined hands, both rings glinting in the sunlight.

“Do you like it?” Dean asks, a trace of nervousness still lingering in his question.

“I love it,” Cas says honestly, kissing him lightly on the cheek. “It’s perfect. I wasn’t expecting it, especially not on your special day, but it’s a wonderful surprise.”

“Good,” Dean says. “It looks good on you.”

Cas rolls his eyes. “You’re biased,” he points out. “You think everything looks good on me.”

Dean lifts his shoulders, conceding the point. “True,” he says. “Because you always look good. It’s just a fact of life. The sun is hot, and so is Castiel Novak.”

“Good thing Dean Winchester is equally hot, then.” Cas slides off his perch on the rock and moves to sit on the grass, gesturing to Dean to join him. Dean does, settling into the V of Cas’ spread legs, tipping his head back to rest on Cas’ shoulder. Cas wraps his arms around him and presses his cheek into his hair. “I love you so much,” he whispers.

“I love you, too,” Dean replies, nuzzling in closer.

They hold each other in silence, watching the water as it runs over the rocks and falls to rejoin the stream at the base of the hill. The breeze blows gently around them, and they can hear the birds chirping in the trees. Soon, they’ll have to get up, head home, and get ready for a raucous evening with their family and friends. Charlie is bringing Dorothy to meet everyone, Sam and Sarah promised they would be there no matter their work schedules, and Mary and Ellen have been hard at work getting all the food ready. There are a lot of people ready to shower Dean with love and affection.

But for now, it’s just the two of them, under the bright blue sky, the world stretching before them. The air feels ripe with possibilities. Cas looks down at his husband, his partner, his friend, and wonders again at the circumstances that led them to this point. He wouldn’t change a minute of it.

“Hey, Cas?” Dean says, twisting to look up at him.

“Yes, my love?” Cas says, smiling down at him.

“Thanks for a great birthday,” Dean says.

Cas smoothes a hand over his cheek and kisses him gently. “And here’s to many more,” he says.

The End

Chapter Text

The morning sunlight wakes Castiel from a deep sleep. He stirs in the wide bed, reaching out for his husband, but finds only empty space beside him. He rolls over, and just as he opens his eyes, he hears Dean’s amused chuckle from above him.

“Mornin’, sunshine,” Dean says fondly. He’s holding two steaming cups of coffee, and after blinking at him a few times, Cas smiles and sits up, the sheets pooling at his waist.

Dean joins him on the bed, both of them sitting with their backs propped against the headboard, and passes over one of the mugs. “How are you feeling?” Dean asks, his eyes sweeping over Cas’ face.

Cas takes a sip of his coffee while considering his answer. “I’m nervous,” he admits.

It’s the Friday of the Canada Day long weekend, and within a few hours, Cas will be face to face with his family for the first time in years.

Other than that brief visit with his father during the most stressful days of his and Dean’s relationship, Castiel hasn’t seen them since he left home all those years ago following the whole disaster with April. He’s spoken to his father on the phone, and exchanged a few e-mails with his sister and his step-mother, but seeing them in person is completely different.

“It’s going to be great,” Dean tells him. “Your parents love you, your sister seems cool. And hey, you get to meet your niece. That alone will be worth it.”

Castiel nods. “True,” he concedes. He’s seen pictures of five-year old Sophia, who has inherited her mother’s bright red hair, and Castiel already loves her fiercely.

But thinking about her doesn’t calm his nerves as Dean intended. What if she doesn’t like him? What if, after all these years, he and Anna have nothing to say to one another? Castiel slips out of the bed and goes to stand by the window, looking out over their little island. Their little piece of paradise.

He and Dean have built something beautiful here. Castiel tells himself that he doesn’t need anything more than this: their island, their boat, their house, their cats. Each other. He spent so long alone, and then Dean came into his life and turned it all upside down in the best possible way. And now Castiel has a chance to repair the damaged relationships that led to his solitary existence here in the first place.

It was, he thinks with a sigh, much easier when he only had to worry about himself and his cats.

He startles at the touch of Dean’s hand on his bare shoulder. “Cas,” his husband murmurs. “We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

Cas shakes his head but doesn’t turn around. “I do want to.” And it’s the truth. But he’s still afraid.

Dean’s hand drops from his shoulder. “Is it because of me?” he asks, his voice barely above a whisper. “You’re afraid of what they’ll think of me?”

Shocked, Castiel turns. Dean’s gaze is lowered, his arms wrapped protectively around himself. He looks young and vulnerable in a way Castiel hasn’t seen him look in months, and Castiel curses himself. He had vowed to never let Dean doubt their relationship again, and yet that’s exactly what is happening here.

“No,” Castiel says firmly. He reaches out and tilts Dean’s chin up, forcing him to meet his eyes. “Dean, no. I love you. You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me. And I would never have the strength to do this without you by my side.”

“Then what are you so worried about?” Dean asks, a hint of frustration creeping into his voice. “I’m just trying to understand, Cas. Do you think they’ll have a problem with you being married to another man?”

Castiel actually hadn’t considered that until now, but as soon as he does, he dismisses the possibility. “My father was perfectly cordial to you, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Dean shrugs.

“I never dated anyone seriously before April, but Anna and I used to talk about our crushes as teenagers. She never batted an eye about mine being of various genders. And Becky…” Cas trails off with a slight grimace. “Becky is incredibly invested in the same-sex romantic relationships of several fictional characters, and she’s also one of the kindest people I know.”

Dean waits patiently while Cas struggles to find the right words to express his concerns.

“I’m just worried that they won’t like who I am now,” he finally says.

Dean lets out an undignified snort, and Castiel arches an eyebrow at him. “That’s amusing to you, is it?”

“Idiot,” Dean says, sweeping Cas up in his arms before he can protest.

Bewildered, Cas returns the embrace. Dean’s hold is strong and secure, and Castiel rests his head on his shoulder and lets the steady beating of his heart calm him.

“You’re wonderful, Castiel Novak,” Dean whispers into his hair. “Your family is going to be so happy to see you again, to get to know you all over again. And I’m going to be right there with you the whole time. Just like you have been for me.”

And that is enough to make Castiel feel better. He nuzzles against Dean’s chest for a moment, then steps back and presses a kiss to his mouth. Dean kisses him back, softly but sweetly.

“Better?” he asks.

“Much better,” Castiel declares.

“Good, because we should probably get dressed,” Dean says, looking down at their bare chests. “First impressions are important, you know.”

“Mmn-hmn,” Castiel agrees. He’s not really listening. He’s busy ogling his husband’s firm shoulders, wondering if they have enough time to go back to bed before…

Dean snaps his fingers in front of Cas’ face. “I appreciate the attention, believe me, but we’ll have time for that later.”

“Promise?” Castiel says, pleading.

Dean laughs. “I promise.”

They went back and forth on how and where to meet up with Castiel’s family for months. Castiel didn’t want to invite them to stay at the house, mostly because there wasn’t enough room, but also because it would give them nowhere to escape to if things didn’t go well. But they also didn’t want to drive into Toronto to stay with Anna and her husband Michael, or with Chuck and Becky.

So, in the end, Anna and Michael rent a cottage about half an hour’s drive away from Dean and Cas’ island, and invite Chuck and Becky to join them there. That way Cas and Dean can come and go as they please, and if all goes well, they can show Castiel’s family around the area with all their combined expertise.

Once they’ve both showered and changed, Cas and Dean take the motorboat across the lake and leave it at the garage, switching over to the Impala for the drive over to the rented cottage. Dean drives with the windows down and his sunglasses on, content to let Cas enjoy the last bit of quiet before all the excitement begins. Cas watches him with great fondness as he mouths along to the stereo, once again thanking his lucky stars for bringing this man into his life.

It isn’t long before they pull up to the address Anna gave them, a cheerful little cottage painted white with bright yellow shutters. It’s on a sheltered part of the lake, with its own private beach area, and they can hear indistinct conversations floating up from the water’s edge as they park the car.

Dean rests his arms on the roof of the car and looks over at Castiel. “Ready?”

Cas takes a deep breath and summons a smile onto his face. “Ready.”

They walk down to the beach hand-in-hand. The first person Castiel sees is his step-mother, and though she knew he was coming, Becky’s jaw still drops when she sees him.

“James,” she says, a wide grin spreading across her face.

“Castiel,” he corrects her softly. “Cas.”

Becky nods, accepting the use of his middle name without further questions. “Oh, Cas, it’s so good to see you.”

Cas feels an answering smile on his own face and steps forward to sweep her up in a hug. She hugs him back, just as tightly as he remembers, and the familiar scent of her perfume brings him a feeling of peace he never realized he was missing until then.

And then Anna is there, and she looks so lovely, her hair as bright as ever, and she’s hugging him too, and Becky is saying something to Chuck, who’s watching the scene with suspiciously shining eyes.

Dean has been politely hanging back, but Cas turns to him now and beckons him forward.

“This is Dean,” he says proudly. “My husband.”

Dean smiles and offers his hand, but both Becky and Anna ignore it in favour of hugging him instead, and Dean just laughs and hugs them back. “Aren’t you a handsome one,” Becky says admiringly.

Dean grins at her. “That’s very kind of you.”

“Yeah, good work, Cas,” Anna says mischievously, winking at him. Castiel shakes his head, amused. It’s almost like they were never apart.

“Should I be worried?” a deep voice asks from behind them.

Cas turns to see a handsome dark-haired man walking towards him, a little red-headed girl in tow. Anna's husband Michael and their daughter, clearly.

“No, from what Dad has told me, there would be no separating these two even if I tried,” Anna replies, pretending to pout.

Michael laughs and extends his hand for Castiel to shake. “Nice to finally meet you,” he says. “And you, Dean.”

“I’m sorry I never had the chance to play the protective older brother with you,” Castiel replies. “I could try to now, but I think it’s a bit late for that.”

“And on that note…” Anna says. She crouches down to speak to her daughter. “Hey, Sophia. This is your uncle Cas and his husband Dean. Wanna come say hi?”

Sophia looks at them, her eyes narrowed in suspicion. Dean reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small shiny flower sticker and offers it to her. Castiel has no idea where he got it from, but his heart swells with tenderness at the sight of Dean interacting with his niece.

Sophia takes the sticker from him and promptly sticks it to her cheek. “Very nice,” Dean tells her solemnly, and she giggles, all hesitance gone.

“I’m afraid I don’t have a sticker for you,” Castiel says to her regretfully.

She shrugs, her expression oddly philosophical for such a young child. “Next time,” she says.

Michael chuckles. “Demanding, isn’t she.”

“I don’t mind,” Castiel says quietly. And he doesn’t. Sophia already has him wrapped around her little finger, and it looks like Dean is in the same boat, if the way he’s nodding along to her detailed account of their time at the cottage so far is any indication.

“I like him already,” Anna admits, slipping her arm through Castiel’s and resting her head on his shoulder. “It’s good to see you, big brother. But it’s even better to see you happy.”

“You too,” Castiel tells her. “I’m happy that you’re happy, Anna.”

He looks over at his father and Becky, who are showing Dean the boat that came with the rental. Michael is trying to dissuade Sophia from charging into the lake fully dressed, though it looks like he’s losing that battle.

“This was a good idea,” Anna continues. “Maybe we can make it a yearly thing. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, Cas.”

“We do,” Castiel agrees. And now that the initial reunion has passed and his fears have been assuaged, he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family. Hearing what they’ve been up to these past years, and telling them of his life in turn. Maybe eventually they’ll do a bigger event with Dean’s family as well.

As if he can hear Castiel’s thoughts, Dean looks up and winks at him. Castiel smiles at him and mouths the words I love you. Dean grins, brilliant and beautiful, and blows Castiel a kiss.

Castiel has his family around him for the first time in years. It’s a beautiful sunny day on Lake Muskoka. And he has the most wonderful partner he could ever imagine, charming that same family with ease.

“Come on,” he says to Anna. “Let’s go see what all the fuss is about.”

Chapter Text

It rains for almost an entire week at the beginning of August, and Dean’s starting to think that it might never stop.

He sits on the porch that evening anyways, enjoying the way the raindrops ping against the roof and the ripples they create when they hit the surface of the lake. It’s unusually quiet for this time of year, no boats roaring past, likely due to the inclement weather.

The door creaks open behind him, and Dean feels the light brush of Cas’ hand against his shoulder as he passes him a fresh cup of tea. “Thanks,” he murmurs, and receives a kiss to his cheek in response. Cas settles into the other chair with his own mug, his eyes thoughtful.

Dean watches him for a few moments, taking in the fine lines around those eyes, the hint of stubble along his jaw. He knows Castiel has something on his mind-- he can read him quite well by now. But he also knows that Cas will talk when he’s ready, and not before then.

So Dean just sips his tea and waits.

His mug is almost empty before Cas speaks. “Do you know what tomorrow is?” His voice is thick with emotion.

“Yeah,” Dean replies. “I know, Cas.”

Tomorrow is August 16th. The one year anniversary of Alfie’s death.

Dean’s been thinking about it for awhile. How could he not? He misses Alfie every single day, and he doesn’t think that’s likely to change any time soon. He hasn’t talked about him with Cas in a long time, though. Hasn’t known what to say. They were friends long before Dean was in the picture.

“I miss him, Dean.”

Dean swallows roughly. “Me too.”

In a lot of ways, they have Alfie to thank for their relationship. If Dean hadn’t gone to stay with him and Cain, he would never have gotten to know Castiel, never fallen in love with him, never made that split-second decision to ask Castiel to marry him.

But it’s more than that, much more. Alfie brought so much happiness into both of their lives when they needed it the most. And he was so young-- too young to have died.

“Have you heard from Cain?” Dean asks.

Cas shakes his head. “Not yet.”

They check in on the house frequently, pulling weeds in the garden and dusting down the furniture. Cain left them a set of keys for exactly that purpose. But they haven’t seen Cain since he left after Alfie’s funeral, haven’t spoken to him for more than a few minutes.

There’s sorrow in that as well. Cain has lost so much-- first his wife, and then his son. Dean wishes there was more he and Cas could do for him. More that they could give him. But all they can do is be ready when Cain does need them.

“He’ll come back,” Dean says with more confidence than he feels. “He has to.”

Cas makes a face, but doesn’t immediately reply. He finishes his own tea, then collects the empty mugs. “I think I’m going to go to bed.”

It’s barely nine o’clock, but Dean doesn’t question him. He lets Cas walk away, giving him the time to collect himself. The time alone with his thoughts and his grief.

Dean gives him half an hour, and then he goes in search of his husband.

He finds him curled up in bed, one lamp still on. Banjo and Good Luck are sprawled on the other side of the bed, but they leap down to greet Dean when he enters, and he gives them a few head scratches before gently shooing them out of the bedroom and closing the door. He’s glad they were there to keep Cas company, but he’s here now.

“Cas,” he says softly. “Do you want to be alone?”

Dean doesn’t want to be alone, honestly. But if that’s what Cas needs right now, he’ll respect that. Dean remembers the one-month anniversary of Alfie’s death, how much it affected Cas, and how hesitant Dean was to offer comfort. Things are very different between the two of them now, though.

“No,” Cas says, his voice muffled by the blankets pulled up around him.

“Okay.” Dean pulls off his clothes, leaving them in a crumpled pile on the floor. Wearing just his boxers, he climbs into bed beside Cas and flicks off the light.

There’s a brief pause, and then Cas is pressing his face against Dean’s chest, one arm stretched across his torso. Dean lets out a sigh of relief and wraps his arms tightly around the other man. “It’s okay, Cas,” he murmurs. “It’s okay. Let it all out, sweetheart.”

He can feel Cas trembling against him. “It’s not just about Alfie,” he says quietly.

Dean twists his neck so he has a better view of Cas’ face. “Hmn?”

Cas lifts his head slightly. “I miss him, of course, and this time of year makes it worse, knowing it’s already been a year since we lost him. But thinking about his death, about mortality, about how short our lives truly are-- god, Dean, I’m so relieved that you’re okay.”

Dean isn’t quite sure how to respond to that. It makes sense, in a strange sort of way. He’s more conscious of his own mortality after the mix-up with his diagnosis, more aware of how lucky he is to still be alive. But he never spends much time considering how it affects Cas.

“I was sitting there beside you, earlier, thinking about how much I miss Alfie. And it struck me, again, that I almost lost you. Or I thought I would. We both did. If I had….if I had lost you, Dean, I don’t know--”

Dean kisses him.

He can’t think of a better way to prove to Cas that he’s still here, that he doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon. That he’s alive, and healthy, and that he loves him with everything that he has.

Cas kisses him back just as fiercely. Dean hadn’t planned on taking it further, but Cas is rolling over so that Dean is on top of him, his hands digging tightly into Dean’s sides. There’s a desperation to it that Dean feels in his own bones, but--

“Cas,” he says, pulling his lips away. “Baby, are you sure? You’re not in the best state right now.”

Cas looks up at him, and even in the dim light, Dean can see that his eyes are clear. “I’m okay, Dean. I just need to feel you. Please.”

His voice is steady, and his touch is less urgent, though no less electrifying. “Yeah, okay,” Dean says. “Whatever you need, Cas.”

“Kiss me,” Cas practically begs, and Dean is happy to oblige. He leans down and covers Cas’ mouth with his own.

Cas’ hands are all over him-- his back, his sides, his ass. Dean moans and rocks forward, bringing their lower bodies into contact. Cas sighs into his mouth and Dean pulls away, trailing his lips across Cas’ jaw and down his neck.

He needs to ground Cas in this moment. The two of them together, in their bed, in their house, their own private paradise. Dean knows his husband’s body so well, knows how to make him fall apart. He flicks his tongue lightly against Cas’ nipple, loving the way it makes him shiver, makes him gasp.

He moves his head lower, running his lips across Cas’ stomach, the muscles trembling under his touch. Dean traces the sharp lines of Cas’ hips with his tongue, and then bites down gently. Cas cries out in pleasure and winds his hands in Dean’s hair, tugging slightly.

“I got you, babe,” Dean says, his voice dark and low. “Shh.”

He brings one hand down and strokes Cas’ cock slowly, loving the weight of it in his hand. Cas is thrusting his hips off the bed, desperate. Dean takes pity on him and takes him into his mouth.

Cas’ hands are still in his hair, and Dean loves it, loves that point of contact between them. He worships Cas with his mouth-- taking him in as deep as he can, then drawing back, keeping one hand wrapped around him, steadying. Cas is making gorgeous noises, and Dean can just barely make out the sound of his name amidst the sighs and moans.

He’s shifting his own hips against the mattress, needing some relief for his own aching cock, but he’s focused on Cas and his pleasure right now. He’s getting close, Dean can tell.

“Dean,” Cas says, more clearly than before. And yeah, Dean knows that tone. He doesn’t pull away, though. Cas cries out once more and spills into Dean’s mouth. Dean swallows it down, keeping Cas in his mouth until it’s too much for him, and he pulls Dean off.

Cas kisses him then, heedless of the taste of himself on Dean’s lips, and it only takes a few minutes of this, Cas running his hands over Dean’s sweaty back and Dean grinding down on Cas’ thigh, before Dean is coming as well.

He slumps forward, his body relaxed and sated, accepting the affectionate kiss Cas presses to his forehead. He rests for a minute, then rolls over to grab some tissue to clean them up. Once they’re somewhat tidy, he yawns and gathers Cas back into his arms.

“Better?” he asks tiredly.

“Much,” Cas replies, rubbing his face against Dean’s shoulder. “Thank you.”

Dean smiles to himself. “Don’t need to thank me.”

“Still.”

“You’re a sap,” Dean tells him. “Now get some sleep, alright?”

“Alright,” Cas agrees, his eyes fluttering closed.

It isn’t long before his breathing evens out, and once he’s assured that Cas is sleeping soundly, Dean closes his eyes and joins him.

***

The next morning dawns surprisingly clear. When Dean wakes, he’s alone in bed, but he finds Cas in the kitchen, looking more rested than he has in days.

“Good morning,” Cas says, reeling him in for a quick kiss.

“Good morning, handsome,” Dean replies, thrilled to see how much better he looks today.

“The sun is out,” Cas continues, a smile playing around his lips. “I think it’s a sign.”

“Yeah,” Dean agrees. “Breakfast, then we can head over to the cemetery?”

Cas nods. “Sounds like a plan.”

They eat quickly, then Dean does the dishes while Cas sets out food for the cats. They’re not sure how long they’ll be gone, so it’s best to be prepared. They take the motorboat across the lake and then Dean drives the Impala into town with the windows down. Everything looks crisp and fresh after the rain, and the sun is bright and warm even in the car.

The church is small, but the grounds are carefully maintained, and the cemetery always looks calm and peaceful. There are several arrangements of flowers on Alfie’s grave, and it warms Dean’s heart to see them, to see that others have been thinking of him as well.

Cas lays down the mixed bouquet that they brought with them, wildflowers that they gathered themselves on one of their hikes. He presses his hand to the tombstone, his expression serious. Dean watches him carefully, but while his face is sad, it remains composed.

“Hello, Alfie,” Cas says after a moment. “Dean and I both miss you very much. It’s another beautiful August day, just like the day you left us.”

“We hope you’re at peace,” Dean adds, crouching down to arrange the flowers so that they don’t cover any of the other bouquets. “We hope you’re happy.”

Before he can say anything else, Dean glimpses something out of the corner of his eye, and turns to see Cain standing behind them. His hair is longer than it was when he left, but his beard is neatly trimmed, and though he looks sad, there’s a calmness about him that Dean finds reassuring.

“Cain,” Castiel says softly. “We weren’t sure you would come.”

“Of course I did,” Cain replies, coming to join them. “It’s good to see you boys.”

“You too,” Dean replies.

“Now don’t think I’m done with you yet, but may I have a moment alone with my son?”

Dean and Cas both nod. Cas slips his hand into Dean’s, and they move further down the row of graves to give Cain some privacy.

“He looks good, all things considered,” Dean says, risking a glance over at where Cain stands. “I was worried about him.”

“He’s a very strong man,” Castiel replies. “But you’re right. It’s good to see him, and to see him looking well.”

“Think he’ll come back? For good, I mean.”

Cas shrugs. “Maybe.”

They stand in comfortable silence for a few more minutes, and then Cain clears his throat to get their attention.

“Have a nice chat?” Dean asks as they approach.

“Yes,” Cain says, looking down at the grave with a small smile. “Some much needed closure, I think.”

“Good,” Castiel says. He reaches out and grips the older man’s shoulder comfortingly.

Cain catches his hand, looking down at his ring. Then he glances over at Dean, and his eyebrows climb nearly into his hairline as he takes in the matching ring on Dean’s left hand.

“I think,” Cain says slowly, “that there’s a story here that I would very much like to know.”

They take separate cars back to Cain’s house, and as soon as they arrive, it becomes clear that Cain is planning to stay. There’s food in the cupboards, and there’s laundry drying on the clothesline outside.

They sit down in the kitchen, and Cain looks at them steadily. “Explain,” he says.

Dean fights back a laugh at the panicked look Castiel sends him. It’s clear that Cas has no idea how much Dean wants to tell Cain.

But Dean thinks that if anyone knows how to mind his own business, it’s Cain. So he tells him everything: his visit to the doctor’s last year, his incorrect diagnosis, how he thought he only had one year left to live and how it prompted him to come live with Cain and Alfie in the first place. How he asked Castiel to marry him shortly after Alfie’s death, and how they’ve been living together ever since, but have only really been together since the spring.

Cain’s face remains impassive throughout the entire tale, and he doesn’t interrupt once. But when Dean finally finishes, he shakes his head slowly back and forth, a broad grin spreading across his face.

“Now that is quite the story,” he says with a whistle. “Castiel, son, is this true? Dean’s not playing a trick on an old man, is he?”

Castiel flushes slightly. “No, it’s all true, as unbelievable as it sounds.”

“I’m happy for you. Both of you,” Cain says, looking between the two of them. “And I know Alfie would be too.”

Dean nods, his throat suddenly tight. “Thank you,” he manages to say. Cas reaches out and takes hold of his hand where it rests on the table. No sense hiding now.

“He was so fond of both of you,” Cain continues. “I believe he’s watching out for the two of you, wherever he is.”

“I believe that too,” Cas replies, and Dean nods his agreement.

“Does this mean I’ll finally get an invite to that island of yours, now that you’re sharing it with someone else?” Cain asks, raising an eyebrow at Cas.

“Of course,” Cas replies hastily. “We’d be delighted to have you.”

“Anytime,” Dean adds.

“Good,” Cain says firmly. “I’ve had my time away, but I’m back now. And I know my son wouldn’t want me to be alone all the time.”

“We won’t let that happen,” Dean says. He means it. Cain is family, and he has been for awhile. They won’t let him live out the rest of his life in solitude.

“So,” Cain says, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, “tell me again how you were the one to propose, Dean.”

Dean groans, burying his head in his arms dramatically while Cas laughs and launches into a detailed explanation of his flattered surprise when Dean asked him to marry him. But he’ll take the mild embarrassment, because Cas and Cain are smiling again, and that makes it all worthwhile to Dean.

Chapter Text

They’ve talked about it, of course. In a vague sort of way. But the discussions never really led anywhere, and now it’s the night before his and Dean’s first wedding anniversary, and Cas still has no idea what their plans are for the day.

They’re settling in for the night, the cats already curled up at the foot of the bed, when Dean turns to looks at him, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Big day tomorrow, huh.”

“Is it?” Castiel says, frowning. Dean’s moods are infectious. He picks his phone up off the nightstand and flicks through it. “I don’t have anything in my calendar.”

His husband stares at him for a second, his mouth dropping open in shock. He looks so absolutely outraged that Castiel can’t keep a straight face, and his shoulders begin to shake with laughter.

“You asshole,” Dean says, pointing an accusing finger at him. “You really had me going for a minute there. Jesus, Cas, I thought you forgot.”

“I’m not that old yet,” Cas tells him.

“Oh yeah?” Dean’s expression has gone challenging in a way Castiel is intimately familiar with. It usually promises good things.

He raises an eyebrow, intrigued. “You look like you have a particularly delicious idea in that pretty head of yours.”

Dean nods, biting his lip and patting the covers invitingly. “It starts with you getting over here, and then us getting naked.”

Cas is already pulling his shirt off before Dean even finishes speaking. “I can multi-task.”

Conveniently, Dean is already down to just his boxers. Castiel pulls those off of him and pushes at Dean’s shoulder until he’s lying on his back, bare to Castiel’s heated gaze.

“So gorgeous,” he murmurs, tracing a hand down Dean’s chest, lingering over his nipples until Dean squirms beneath him.

He leans down to kiss him, their mouths sliding together smoothly. They’ve had a lot of practice at this, but Castiel will never get tired of it. Dean’s lips are warm and soft against his, and he can feel the calluses on those big hands as they wrap around his hips and draw their bodies closer together.

Then Castiel finds himself on his back with Dean perched above him, looking supremely pleased with himself. “Stay there,” Dean tells him.

How could Castiel do anything other than obey?

Dean rummages around in the nightstand for a second and Castiel feels an anticipatory grin creep onto his face. Dean comes back a few seconds later and kisses him deeply, one hand braced on Castiel’s hip as the other reaches behind to begin opening himself up.

“You look so good like this,” Castiel says, finding it difficult to get the words out. “God, Dean.”

Dean’s eyes flutter closed as he adds a second finger, and then he moans. It’s a very particular sound-- the one he makes when his prostate is stimulated. Castiel keeps a mental catalogue of the noises Dean makes in bed, and this is one of his favourites.

He tries to slide one hand up, thinking he’ll help Dean along, but Dean practically growls at him and pushes him away. “Nuh-uh,” he says emphatically. “You just lie back and look handsome. Don’t want to put too much strain on that old but surprisingly well-preserved body of yours.”

Lord help him, Castiel feels his cock twitch at Dean’s words, even if he is being mocked. Lovingly, but mocked nevertheless. “You are a cruel, cruel man,” he gasps out.

“I know,” Dean says, and his own voice is strained. “I promise it’ll be worth it in the end.”

Castiel can’t take the ache any longer, and wraps a hand around his own cock, stroking himself roughly. This, Dean allows. His eyes roam down to observe the movements of Castiel’s hand as he continues to rock back onto his own fingers, the only sound in the room their laboured breathing and the slide of skin on skin.

“Please, Dean.” He isn’t ashamed to admit that he’s begging. He needs more.

Dean takes pity on him and ceases his motions, then moves forward until he’s properly aligned with Castiel’s cock, holding him steady as he sinks down ever so slowly. His mouth parts on a silent sigh as he does, and a look of pure satisfaction crosses his face as he’s filled entirely.

Castiel’s head thumps back against the pillows as he feels himself enveloped by Dean’s body. Not long after their relationship became a physical one, they both made appointments to have themselves tested so that they could forego the use of condoms. Dean, understandably, had himself tested twice. He has his reasons for distrusting doctors.

There’s nothing quite like being buried inside Dean without any barriers between them. Castiel has always enjoyed sex, but this is something else entirely.

It’s everything. Dean is everything.

Speaking of...Dean’s chest is flushed pink from his neck down across his stomach, his scattered freckles standing out against his rose-tinged skin. His head is thrown back in sheer pleasure as he lifts himself up and slams back down, his thighs working furiously as he rides Castiel.

“Feel so good inside me,” Dean practically purrs. “Love the way you fill me up.”

Castiel squeezes his eyes shut and wills himself not to lose it completely at Dean’s words. His hands twitch against the sheets, desperately seeking some measure of control.

Dean chuckles, a dark, delicious sound, and reaches down to take Castiel’s hands, placing them on his hips. Castiel grips him tightly and Dean promptly uses the new leverage to work himself up and down with even more force than before.

“Mmnn, yeah. Love your hands on me, Cas. Gonna leave a mark there? Where no one can see it but us? Think about this every time my shirt rides up?”

They’ve left marks on each other before, of course, and Dean’s always been vocal in bed, but it’s like something in him has snapped and he’s letting loose completely. Castiel has zero complaints.

“Told you you were getting old,” Dean murmurs. “Just lying there, letting me do all the work. It’s a good thing I love you.”

Is that what this is all about? Is Dean testing him? Judging by the way he’s smirking down at Castiel, it’s definitely a challenge.

In that case…

Before Dean has a chance to protest, Castiel lifts him off and settles him back on the bed, though he does miss the feeling of being inside Dean for the few seconds they’re apart. He turns Dean over onto his stomach, then coaxes him to raise his hips so he’s on his hands and knees.

Dean laughs, triumphant. “Knew I could get you to break.”

Castiel mouths at the back of his neck as he slides back into Dean’s body, covering it with his own. “You are incorrigible.”

“Yeah, but you love me.”

“I do,” Castiel agrees, drawing back and then thrusting deeply inside him. “Even when you’re being a little shit.”

Whatever smart reply Dean is about to make is interrupted by his loud moan. He pushes his own hips back, shameless. Castiel keeps his thrusts slow and deep, knowing it makes Dean impatient and relishing it.

“Harder,” Dean mumbles, his face pressed into the pillow. “Come on, Cas. Show me what you’ve got.”

If Castiel thought for one second that he was in control here, he was wrong. He’s entirely unable to resist Dean when he’s like this.

“You want me to fuck you harder?” he asks, bending forward to whisper it into Dean’s ear.

“Yes, Cas, god.” Dean’s trembling beneath him, one hand stroking himself in time with Castiel’s movements.

Castiel can feel his own orgasm building. It causes his rhythm to falter, and he drives forward on instinct alone, making Dean whimper. He won’t last much longer, but it’s a point of pride now to make Dean come before him.

“Come on, sweetheart,” he says, trailing his lips down the side of Dean’s neck. “Want to feel you come.”

“Cas,” Dean says brokenly. “Cas, oh god.” He lets out a noise somewhere between a moan and a sob and goes limp in Castiel’s hold, clenching around him with the force of his orgasm.

Castiel thrusts into him a few more times, his hands at Dean’s waist the only things keeping the other man upright. “Let go, Cas,” Dean whispers, and it’s the pure bliss in his voice that pushes Castiel over the edge, spilling deep inside Dean’s body.

He collapses, practically smothering Dean with his weight, until his husband grumbles and pushes him off so that they’re lying beside each other, Castiel’s cock slipping free as he shifts. Rationally, he knows that he should get up and get something to clean them up with, but he needs a moment to regain control of basic motor functions.

Dean’s shoulders are shaking, and Castiel looks over at him, alarmed. “Dean?” he asks, placing a cautious hand on his side. “Are you alright?”

Dean rolls over onto his back so Castiel can see the mirth evident on his face. Affronted, Castiel asks, “Are you laughing?”

“That was incredible,” Dean manages between giggles. “God, Cas. I knew it was easy to wind you up, but that was even better than I expected.”

Part of Castiel is offended that Dean played him like a fiddle, but the other part is proud to have satisfied his lover so well. “The enjoyment was mutual, I assure you.”

“Because you did so good, I’ll even be the one to go get us a washcloth,” Dean says, dropping an affectionate kiss on Castiel’s forehead. He swings his legs over the side of the bed and heads for the bathroom. The primal part of Castiel’s brain is pleased to note the slight hitch in his steps as he walks.

Once they’re both cleaned up and the cats have been coaxed back into the room, having fled once the bed started thumping against the wall, Dean burrows in close and wraps Castiel in his arms. “Is it after midnight?” he asks sleepily.

Castiel turns his head and looks at the clock on the wall. “12:37,” he replies. “Happy anniversary, sweetheart.”

“Happy anniversary, Cas.” Dean’s eyes are shining as he kisses him once, softly but full of tenderness, and then draws back.

Castiel sighs in contentment and allows his eyes to drift closed. He’ll never admit it to Dean, but their enthusiastic lovemaking has left him rather tired.

It was worth it, though.

***

He sleeps in the next morning, unsurprisingly. He only wakes when Dean sits on the bed beside him, smoothing a gentle hand through his hair. “Wake up, babe,” Dean coaxes. “I made breakfast.”

“Breakfast in bed?” Castiel asks, opening his eyes. “What’s the occasion?”

“I am not falling for that again,” Dean tells him, pouting. “But just for trying, I’m stealing a piece of your bacon.”

“Fair enough.” Castiel sits up and takes the tray Dean passes to him, holding it steady while Dean arranges himself against the headboard, their hips and shoulders pressed closely together.

They eat in comfortable silence until Dean’s phone starts chirping at him in quick succession. He sighs and reaches over to grab it, smiling as he reads through the various texts.

“My whole family is sending us best wishes on our anniversary,” he says. “Is it weird that I’m proud of them for knowing to text instead of calling?”

Castiel snorts into his cup of coffee. “I don’t want to think about your family thinking about our sex life, Dean.”

“What, you don’t want me to tell them how good you were last night?” Dean rolls over slightly and lifts the hem of his t-shirt, showing the faint bruises on his hips left by Castiel’s fingers.

Castiel’s breath catches in his throat at the sight. “Dean,” he murmurs, tracing over the mark on the side closest to him with a gentle fingertip. “Does it hurt?”

“No, you big softie,” Dean says, catching his hand and bringing it to his lips. “I’m fine. It’s not the first time, and if I have anything to say about it, it won’t be the last.”

“If you insist on provoking me like that, it certainly won’t be,” Castiel informs him.

“Noted.” Dean grins at him. “So, what do you want to do after breakfast?”

Castiel looks away for a second, thoughtful. They could take the boat out, or go on a hike through the woods. The sun is shining, and they’ve been enjoying a bit of a break from the usual August heat.

“Honestly?” he says, looking back into Dean’s smiling face. “I want to stay in bed with you all day.”

Technically, they've been married for an entire year. But after the rollercoaster ride of those early months, Castiel thinks that such markers of time passing are rather arbitrary. Privately, they could consider their anniversary to be the day he went to find Dean at Sam's house and they finally came clean about everything between them. This is really just another day. But it's a day that they're together, and that makes it priceless.

They have hours ahead of them, and that's just in this day alone. Hours to spread Dean out over their wide white bed and make love with him again and again and again, in all manner of styles and positions. Hours to talk about nothing and everything at once. Hours to be together, in preparation for the rest of their lives.

Dean kisses him again. “Sounds good to me.”

Chapter Text

Dean has glitter in his hair, he lost his tie about an hour ago, and he’s starting to think they might have gone a bit overboard with the alcohol.

But it’s not every day your baby brother announces he and his fiancée of two years are finally getting married. And, oh, due to a last-minute opening at the venue they’ve wanted this whole time, the wedding is in two weeks.

Which is how Dean ended up throwing this last-minute bachelor party at the Roadhouse. The glitter was Jo’s idea. He’s going to have to plan some sort of elaborate revenge, because he’s pretty sure he’s going to be finding the stuff on his clothes for weeks.

Cas sidles up beside him, wrapping arm around his waist and nuzzling into his neck. Looks like Dean isn’t the only one who’s had quite a bit to drink. “You’re cuddly tonight,” he comments, pressing a kiss to Cas’ cheek.

“You’re warm,” Cas replies.

The nights have started to get colder as September passes them by, and sometimes Dean wonders how Cas survived all those years living on his own. The way he wraps himself around Dean at night, you’d think he was incapable of producing his own body heat.

“Alright, then,” Dean says, content to sway slightly to the music as he tries to keep the two of them on their feet. “Where’s Sam?”

Cas shrugs loosely. “Haven’t seen him in awhile.”

Dean doesn’t really want to let go of him, but he should probably try to find his brother. “Come on, clingy,” he says, but he keeps hold of Cas’ hand as they pick their way around the tables, looking for Sam.

They find Bobby and Rufus in the back corner booth, both of them looking unimpressed with the antics of the younger crowd, but Dean knows they’re proud to be here. “Have you seen Sam?” he asks.

Bobby points over his shoulder to the patio. “He and Jo went out there a little while back.”

Frowning, Dean and Cas head outside to investigate. There was no question that Jo would be at the party tonight, traditional gender segregation be damned. She and Sam have always been close, but what are the two of them doing sneaking off when there’s a damn good party going on inside?

Sam and Jo are sitting at one of the few tables left on the patio, huddled together against the brisk breeze. Cas shivers and presses himself closer to Dean’s side as they approach.

“Hey,” Dean says. “You running away from your own stag party or what, Sam?”

Sam looks up, his eyes suspiciously bright. “Jo wanted to give me this without anyone else around,” he replies, holding up a thick photo album.

“Yes, so that people like Dean wouldn’t make fun of me for going soft,” Jo scowls.

Dean moves closer to get a better look at what Sam’s holding. The album is full of photos of them from when they were younger, running around the house or the yard or playing by the lake. Dean smiles as he flicks through the pages, taking a seat beside his brother and his cousin, and pulls Cas down to sit next to him.

“This is pretty cute,” Dean comments, looking slyly at Jo. “Awfully sentimental of you, though.”

“Shut up,” Jo mutters. “You went and got married without telling anybody, or you would have gotten one too.”

“We can share,” Sam says earnestly, and Dean resists the urge to reach out and ruffle his hair.

“It is very sweet,” Cas chimes in. “You must have been a handful, the three of you.” He lightly traces a picture of them standing in their backyard with mud all over the faces. “Your poor parents.”

“I think we turned out okay,” Sam laughs.

“Yeah,” Dean says softly. “I think we did too.”

They sit there a while longer, quietly looking through the album and occasionally providing commentary for Cas’ benefit, until Dean glances down at his watch and realizes they’ve been outside for half an hour already.

“Come on,” he says, rising to his feet. “You can look at this later, Sam. You’ve still got a room full of people in there who need to take this chance to humiliate you somehow.”

Sam scoffs, but he allows himself to be pulled back inside, where he’s greeted with cheers and numerous alcoholic beverages. It isn’t long before he has just as much glitter in his hair as Dean does, but it sort of works for him.

Dean can’t believe Sam is actually getting married. He and Sarah have been together so long, and marriage always felt inevitable for them, but to have it finally be happening...okay, so Jo’s not the only one getting sentimental tonight.

“You look happy,” Cas says, handing Dean a glass of water and taking a sip of his own.

“I am.” Dean smiles at him. “My little brother is getting married.”

“Not so little,” Cas comments wryly, watching as Sam clambers around on the tables like he’s re-enacting the Gaston sequence from Beauty and the Beast.

“Still. I just want everything to go right for them, you know? They’ve waited a long time for this.”

“Everything will be fine,” Cas assures him. “They’ve got the best best man ever, don’t they?”

Dean snorts, remembering the mug with that phrase on it that Sarah had eagerly pressed into his hands a few weeks before. “We’ll see about that.”

“Well, they’ll definitely have the most handsome best man ever,” Cas whispers. “And I, for one, am very much looking forward to seeing you in your suit.”

A faint flush crawls up Dean’s cheeks, and he can’t even blame it on the alcohol. “Stop it,” he hisses. “I refuse to drag you into the bathroom stall like a teenager, and if you keep that up, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”

Cas gives him a considering look. “I wouldn’t be opposed.”

He can’t. Dean has responsibilities. The downside of being the best man. So he just steals a quick and dirty kiss, with maybe the tiniest squeeze of Cas’ ass as a bonus. “Later,” he promises.

Cas sighs, but extends his hand to Dean, and soon enough, they’re swept up in the festivities. Sam is doing karaoke to some god-awful eighties song, and Cas is dancing with Jo, both of them laughing, and it’s all pretty much perfect.

***

Early October is always a bit of a gamble with the weather, but they get incredibly lucky. The day of the wedding is all blue skies and sunshine, just enough of a breeze to keep the air cool without being overwhelming.

Dean is relieved that the weather is cooperating with them, because he’s pretty sure Sam would have a total meltdown if things didn’t go exactly as planned.

They’re in the small room the resort provided for the groom to wait in, and Sam’s pacing nervously back and forth. He’s making Dean anxious just watching him.

“Sam, just breathe,” he instructs. “Everything’s fine.”

Sam barely glances up at him. “Fine so far,” he mutters under his breath.

Dean barely holds back from rolling his eyes. When did his brother become so dramatic? “Dude. You’re here, you look great, I’m sure Sarah looks amazing, and in like twenty minutes, you two are finally going to be married. What’s there to worry about?”

“Weren’t you nervous at your wedding?” Sam asks, then realizes his mistake “Oh. I guess it wasn’t exactly a traditional thing, was it.”

“No, not really,” Dean says with a laugh. “I was nervous because I thought Cas was going to change his mind.”

It’s nice, being able to refer to his complicated history with Cas in conversation with his brother. Dean still doesn’t plan on telling the rest of their family all the things he hid from them for over a year, but at least he can confide in Sam if he needs to.

“But you don’t need to worry about that with Sarah,” he assures Sam. “She’s stuck around this long, she’s in it for the long-haul.”

They’re interrupted by a light knock at the door, and one of the resort staff informs them that it’s time.

Sam takes a deep breath and squares his shoulders, glancing in the mirror for one last check of his appearance. Dean adjusts his tie slightly, then grips him tightly by the shoulder, not wanting to hug him and mess up his handiwork.

“Go get her, Sammy,” he says with a grin.

The room is tastefully decorated for the ceremony, Sarah’s simple but elegant style obvious in the choices of colours and flowers. Nodding at the guests who are already seated, Dean catches a glimpse of Cas sitting with his mother and winks at the two of them. Cas smiles back, looking unfairly gorgeous in his suit and tie, and keeps his eyes on Dean as he makes his way to the front of the room to stand beside Sam.

They only wait a few more minutes before the music changes and the bridesmaids walk slowly down the aisle. Sarah follows them, and Dean hears Sam’s breath catch in his throat at the sight of her. She looks absolutely beautiful, and her smile is more radiant than the diamond sparkling on her finger.

The ceremony itself is a bit of blur, but Dean remembers to pass Sam the rings at the right moment, so he considers it a job well done. He only gets slightly teary during their vows, but he hears several people sniffling in the crowd. Sam and Sarah are looking at each other with such love and devotion in their eyes, it’s almost hard to watch.

The officiant pronounces them man and wife, and Sam sweeps Sarah up into a passionate kiss, twirling her around in his arms. Dean’s clapping and cheering along, grinning so wide his cheeks hurt.

The next few hours pass in a flurry of photos and delicious food, and then it’s time for Dean to make his speech. He practiced it on the cats, and they didn’t seem impressed, but he’s pretty sure that’s due to their general disdain rather than a problem with his speech.

“Good evening,” he says, stepping up to the microphone. It’s strange, feeling everyone’s eyes on him, but he knows and loves most of the people in this room, and that gives him confidence. “I hope you’re all having a good time so far.”

There’s a smattering of applause and a few cheers, but the room quiets again quickly.

“As I’m sure you all know, I’m older than Sam by four years,” Dean continues. He glances over at his brother, whose expression is somewhere between affectionate and terrified, and grins. “It’s not that long in the grand scheme of things, but as kids, sometimes it felt like decades.”

He takes a sip of water before going on. “It’s been an honour, watching Sam grow up into the awesome guy he is today. And when he met Sarah, we all knew she was the one for him. Sam was so flustered when he came home from their first date, asking me for all sorts of advice. And you know, I thought about teasing him, giving him deliberately bad tips, typical big brother stuff, but the way he talked about her-- I knew this was special, and I couldn’t mess it up.”

He looks out into the crowd and sees Cas watching him, the crinkles around his eyes visible even at this distance as he beams proudly at Dean. Dean throws him a wink before going on. “Pretty vain of me to think I could have messed this up for them, though. What Sam and Sarah have together is rare and precious, and it’s beautiful to see. They’re two of my favourite people in the world, and I’m so happy that they’ve found each other, and to be here with them today.”

“Sam,” he says, turning to look at his brother, “thank you for letting me come up here and have a moment in the spotlight on your big day. You’ve always been there for me when I needed you the most.” He takes a second, thinking of how much support and strength Sam has given him, especially in the past year, and swallows thickly before continuing. “If you ever need advice again, married man to married man, you know where to find me. I can't guarantee it will be good advice, but it's the thought that counts, right?”

There’s a ripple of laughter from the crowd. “Sarah,” he says with a smile, “I’m so happy to be able to call you my sister from this day forward. You’ve been a good sport all these years, putting up with our family, and guess what? Now you’re officially one of us.”

Sarah makes a face at him, and he laughs. “I won’t take up any more of your time, because I know you all can’t wait to see these two make total fools of themselves on the dance floor. So please join me in a toast to the happy couple.”

He holds up his glass of wine. “To Sam and Sarah!”

The guests repeat his last words, raising their glasses in a toast, as Sarah leans over to kiss Sam, sliding her hands into his hair. Dean chuckles and gives them both a hug before returning to his seat, glad that he made it through without crying.

Soon after, the newlyweds take the floor for their first dance. This time, Dean can’t hold back the tears that spill from his eyes. He’s just so happy for them.

As the song comes to an end, he feels a light hand on his shoulder and looks up to see Cas smiling at him. “May I have the next dance?” he asks.

“Who else am I gonna dance with?” Dean teases, allowing himself to be led onto the floor. Cas reaches up and wipes away the drying tears on his cheek, then leaves a light kiss there instead.

Sarah gives them a wink as they join her and Sam, and Dean smiles back at her. It’s pretty amazing, he thinks, that he and Sam have both found such incredible people to spend the rest of their lives with.

“Do you regret not having a wedding like this?” Cas asks as they sway back and forth, his hands running soothingly over Dean’s back.

“Not really,” Dean tells him. It’s the truth. “It would be nice, of course, but when I think about our wedding, Cas, it’s not regret that I feel.”

Cas’ eyes are so soft and so blue as he looks at Dean. “I’m glad,” he murmurs.

The dance floor is slowly filling with couples, and as they rotate, Dean catches sight of his mother dancing with-- Cain? Dean didn’t even know he was here.

He nods discreetly in their direction, drawing Cas’ attention. “I don’t know how to feel about that,” he says with a little laugh.

Cas’ eyes go wide as he takes in the sight, then he smiles. “They look happy,” he comments.

Dean looks back at his mom and Cain. They’re a polite distance apart, but they both have wide smiles on their faces, and as much as it’s weird to think about it, there is something charming about it.

His family is all here together to celebrate, and as long as everyone else is happy, then so is Dean. He’ll definitely have some questions for his mom later, but for now, he just wants to enjoy the moment.

He rests his head on Cas’ chest, feeling his arms tighten around him. The music plays on, changing to something faster, but they continue to move together slowly. The slow and steady beating of Cas’ heart beneath his ear is all the rhythm Dean needs.

Chapter Text

Castiel’s alarm sounds at eight o’clock, and he reaches out to turn it off, then hurriedly brings his hand back under the blanket. The early November air blowing in through the bedroom window is beginning to get chilly, a sign that winter isn’t far away. He wouldn’t be surprised to wake up to snow sometime in the next few weeks.

Dean’s side of the bed is still warm, so he burrows into it, wishing it wasn’t a work day so Dean wouldn’t already be awake and out of bed. But then he catches the scent of coffee drifting down the hall from the kitchen, and thinks maybe this isn’t so bad after all.

He must doze back off, because the next thing he knows, Banjo is pawing delicately at his face, making plaintive little noises as he tries to rouse him. Castiel reaches out without opening his eyes and Banjo arches into his touch, purring enthusiastically.

He hears the sound of a picture being taken and opens his bleary eyes to see Dean smiling at him from the doorway, already dressed for work and carrying a steaming cup of coffee.

“Good morning, sunshine,” his husband drawls.

“Are you taking pictures of me again?” Castiel mumbles, stretching out his arms and disrupting Banjo, who gives him a scornful look and leaps to the ground.

Dean’s eyes track the movement of his arms, the covers slipping back to reveal his bare shoulders, and Castiel grins at the heat in his gaze.

“I was taking pictures of the cat,” Dean says. “You just happened to be nearby.”

“Mmn-hmn.” Castiel is far from convinced. “And now you happen to be nearby. With coffee.”

Dean chuckles and moves further into the room, perching on the edge of the bed and dropping an affectionate kiss on Castiel’s cheek before handing him the coffee.

“You’re lucky I love you,” he says.

“I am,” Castiel replies solemnly. “The cats aren’t very good at room service.”

They both break into easy laughter, and Castiel marvels at how perfect these little moments are. How every day feels like something special.

“Going out today?” Dean asks, tracing lazy circles over Castiel’s leg through the blankets.

Castiel nods. “I think so. Shouldn’t need long, though. We might get a storm later this afternoon.”

“Promise me you’ll pay attention and get home before it hits, alright?”

Castiel has years of experience dealing with inclement weather, but he hates making Dean worry, so he nods again. “I will.”

“Mom texted me earlier to say she’s got some stuff for me to pick up, so I’ll do that on my way home from work,” Dean continues. “If she gets to talking, I might be slightly delayed.”

“Please send my regards,” Castiel says.

Dean rolls his eyes at him. “I think she knows you’re a nice boy by now, Cas.”

Castiel swats at him, but Dean just grabs his hand and presses a kiss to his palm, his eyes soft and fond. Castiel melts under that look, just like he’s sure Dean knew he would.

“Is it so terrible that I try to be polite to your family,” he mutters under his breath.

“No,” Dean laughs, “it’s very sweet. But you’re family now too, Cas, you don’t have to stand on ceremony anymore. You haven’t for a long time.”

Castiel knows this, but it’s been a difficult thing for him to accept. Dean’s family is so large and so vibrant, and while they’ve all welcomed him with open arms-- well, after that initial distrust on Sam’s part-- Castiel held himself somewhat aloof for the first few months, back when he was unsure of his and Dean’s relationship. Now that things have been clearly defined between the two of them, he’s slowly adjusting to all the other people Dean has brought into his life.

And on top of that, his recent reconnection with his own family has greatly increased the number of people he keeps in touch with. It’s a wonderful feeling, being so loved and so supported, but he spent so many years alone with just the cats for company and his occasional visits to Cain and Alfie. Maybe someday he’ll get used to being part of a family again, but it’s a slow process.

“You okay?” Dean murmurs, still holding tightly to Castiel’s hand.

Summoning a smile, Castiel says, “Yes. I was just thinking.”

“About how much you love me?”

“Always,” Castiel assures him, and is delighted by the blush that rises to Dean’s cheeks at his words.

“I gotta go,” Dean sighs, looking at the time on his phone. “And you should get out of bed if you want to get anything done today.”

“So bossy,” Castiel complains, but he drains the last of his coffee and sets the empty mug down on the bedside table. He swings his legs out from under the covers and stands, shamelessly stretching again just to watch the way Dean’s eyes darken at the sight of him in just his boxers, lit by the morning sunlight.

“Sometimes I wish I hadn’t gone back to work,” Dean says with a regretful laugh. “We could have stayed in bed together all day. I miss those days.”

It’s only been a few months since Dean started working at Bobby’s garage again, and he’s right-- they used to be far, far worse about getting out of bed in the morning. Now that Dean has to get up and get into town for nine o’clock, there’s a lot less time for indulgent morning sex.

Not that they don’t make up for it in other ways, at other times of day.

“Later,” Castiel promises him, and smiles at the way Dean’s eyes light up.

“Later,” he agrees.

As Dean stands and brushes past him on his way out of the bedroom, Castiel grabs him by the shoulder and reels him in for a proper good morning kiss. Dean takes a second to adjust and then kisses him back just as fiercely, heedless of the taste of coffee on Castiel’s tongue.

“Have a good day at work,” Castiel says smugly when he pulls back.

Dean blinks at him, a little bit breathless, and nods. “You too. See you tonight.”

Castiel gives him one last wave, and then Dean is out the door.

“Well,” he says to Good Luck, who has appeared from some secret hiding place to twine around his feet, “I suppose I should get dressed.”

***

November is one of Castiel’s favourite months, which always takes people by surprise when he mentions it. Muskoka is beautiful in the true winter, in the spring, in the fall, and even on nice days in the summer, but November is often dreary and damp, the leaves already fallen from the trees. Castiel likes the challenge, though. He likes having to work a bit harder to find the beauty in the woods that surround their home, to find the small secretive things that he can share with the world through his blog.

There’s an abandoned barn tucked away into the woods not far from the main road between their dock and town, and Castiel has been meaning to photograph it for some time. Its once-red walls have faded, but even the November sunlight gives them a warm glow that contrasts beautifully with the starkly bare branches of the trees around it. He finds old nests from various wild creatures inside the barn, and spends nearly an hour taking picture after picture of those as well.

Then, to his delight, he startles a fox out of hiding when he emerges from the barn. It darts away into the dry grass but then turns back and watches him, a wary look on its pointed face. Slowly, he lowers himself into a crouch, and manages to get several shots before it tires of him and runs off again.

Satisfied, he climbs back onto his motorcycle and heads back to the main road. It’s still early, so he decides to head into town even though there’s really nothing they need.

He parks the bike outside of Charlie’s bookstore and pushes open the door, the bell jingling merrily above him. She’s occupied with a customer at the cash, but she sends him a quick smile as he wanders over the look at the newest releases.

“Looking for anything in particular?” Charlie asks as she comes to join him.

Castiel shakes his head. “Not really. Just had some time, thought I’d drop by.”

“That’s perfect timing, actually,” she says, standing on her toes to try to reach a box on top of the shelf. “I’ve got something for Dean here, you can play delivery boy.”

“That will be a new one for us,” Castiel muses, and isn’t surprised when Charlie makes a face and smacks him in the arm.

“Gross,” she says. “I do not need to know that.”

Castiel laughs and easily lifts the box down from the shelf. “I hope this feat of physical strength will serve as an apology, then.”

“Hmmn,” Charlie says, digging through the box until she triumphantly holds up a slim volume. “Okay, put it back up there and I’ll graciously forget you ever told me about the kinky things you and my best friend get up to on your little island.”

“Fair enough.” Castiel accepts the book from Charlie, looking curiously at the front cover. “Peter S. Beagle? I didn’t know he was still writing.”

“Brand new,” Charlie informs him. “We were selling out pretty quick, so I put that one aside for Dean. And hid it in an extra-special spot, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Castiel says with a smile. “I think this will be it for today, then.”

Charlie leads him back over to the counter to pay for the book. She insists on giving him the family and friends discount, which always warms his heart.

“You should come for dinner sometime soon,” he says as he leaves. “Before the weather gets bad.”

“Sounds good,” she replies breezily. “Tell Dean to text me and pick a day.”

With a wave, Castiel leaves the store and heads for home, the book secure in his small backpack along with his camera.

Both boats are still at the dock, so he knows Dean isn’t home yet. He’s probably still at his mother’s, being fed and fussed over. Castiel takes the rowboat across to their island, enjoying the last of the sunshine as it sets over the lake. He pauses to take a few photos, more for his own use than for the blog, and then continues on.

He greets the cats and then puts the kettle on for tea, curling up in one of the armchairs with the book he purchased from Charlie. He knows it was meant for Dean, but he’s intrigued by the description, and Dean isn’t here at the moment anyway. He’s almost halfway through when he hears the distinctive rumble of the motorboat’s engine approaching.

Dean enters a few moments later, pausing to give Banjo and Good Luck their due attention before kicking off his heavy boots and coming into the living room to say hello to Castiel.

“How was your day?” Castiel asks, tilting his head up for a kiss. Dean obliges, then drops heavily into the chair beside him.

“Long,” he says. He sounds tired, and there’s a smudge of oil across one of his cheekbones. “I missed you.”

It still takes Castiel by surprise, the ease with which Dean makes such statements. He reaches out and takes hold of his hand. “I missed you too.”

“Mom sent me home with dinner, at least,” Dean says around a yawn. “So we don’t have to cook.”

“Perfect. Do you want to eat now?”

“I should probably shower,” Dean says, but doesn’t move from his chair.

“You go do that, and I’ll get everything ready,” Castiel tells him, helping pull him to his feet. Dean drops forward into Castiel’s arms, rubbing his face into the crook of his shoulder. Castiel laughs softly and holds him for a few moments, rubbing his back soothingly.

“Dean?” he says after a minute.

“Mmn?”

“You stink.”

Dean breaks into laughter, his entire body shaking in Castiel’s hold. “Okay, fair enough.”

“Go shower,” Castiel says, pushing him in the direction of the bathroom. “We can cuddle later.”

“You promised me more than cuddles this morning,” Dean calls out as he saunters down the hall. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten.”

“Oh, I remember.” Castiel has been thinking about it all day, honestly.

He hears the water start up a few seconds later, and considers going to join Dean, but decides it will be more productive to get food ready now and take his time with Dean later.

Mary sent over a ridiculous amount of food: roast beef, potatoes, gravy, carrots, and of course, what looks to be a freshly-baked pie. Castiel laughs to himself, imagining Dean’s delight when he saw it and how hard he must have struggled not to eat a piece on the way home.

He puts everything in the oven to warm up and finds a bottle of wine in one of the cupboards, left over from Sam and Sarah’s wedding. Dean had been surprisingly fond of it, his cheeks flushed a charming shade of pink by the end of the night, and Sarah had insisted they take the extra bottles home with them.

Dean comes out of the shower ten minutes later, wearing a pair of old jeans and a faded t-shirt, his hair still damp. His eyes widen in surprise when he takes in the wine glasses and the candle flickering in the centre of the table.

“Shit,” he says, “did I forget something today?”

“No, no,” Castiel assures him. “I just thought it might be nice. Since you had such a long day.”

“You spoil me,” Dean says, giving him a soft kiss.

“You deserve it,” Castiel replies, returning the kiss. “You deserve the world, Dean.”

He’s still not tired of telling Dean how much he cares about him, how much he’s changed his life for the better. Sometimes he still marvels at the circumstances that brought the two of them together, how much chance and fortune played a role in their story.

“I don’t need the world. I’ve got everything I need right here on our island.” Dean’s tone is serious, but his lip twitches as he says it.

“That was a terrible line,” Castiel informs him, but he’s smiling as well. He knows Dean meant every word, even if the phrasing was rather heavy-handed.

“Shut up. You’re the only one allowed to make sweeping romantic statements around here?”

“Not at all. You just need more practice, clearly.”

Dean huffs and shoos Castiel out of the way so he can check on the food. The kitchen is definitely still more Dean’s domain, though he’s gradually allowing Castiel to do more of the cooking now that he’s gone back to work.

Castiel makes himself useful and pours the wine, passing a glass to Dean and raising his own in a toast. “Here’s to us,” he says.

“To us,” Dean echoes, making an appreciative noise as the wine passes his lips.

They sit down to eat only a few minutes later, and Dean tells Castiel all about the crappy customers he had to put up with over the course of his day. Castiel listens attentively and makes outraged noises at all the appropriate times, but he secretly enjoys listening to Dean rant, the way his voice gets progressively more animated and his eyes light up with passion.

He’s captivating like this.

Dean pauses in the middle of a complaint about another customer and gives Castiel a suspicious look. “Why are you staring at me like that?”

Castiel shrugs loosely. “Because you’re wonderful.”

Dean flushes, and Castiel is fairly certain it isn’t just thanks to the wine. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

“Then we make a good pair.”

“Yes we do,” Dean says with satisfaction, draining the last of his wine. Castiel silently refills his glass, and Dean winks at him, then launches into another story.

After they finish eating, Dean clears away the dishes and instructs Castiel to build a fire. The cats pace around the living room anxiously, eager to curl up in front of the fireplace. Once the logs are crackling merrily and the kitchen is clean, Dean brings the last of the wine into the other room and curls up in his chair.

“This is perfect,” he says, his eyes closing in contentment.

“Don’t fall asleep now,” Castiel warns. Dean’s mouth and eyes have gone soft with tiredness, but the lines of stress on his face have smoothed out over the past few hours, just as Castiel hoped they would.

“Not falling asleep,” Dean murmurs. “Just relaxing.”

“Relaxing into sleep?”

Dean opens one eye and scowls at him. “Not if you keep making all that noise.”

“Oh, my apologies,” Castiel says, pressing a dramatic hand to his chest. “What would you prefer I do?”

“Get over here and kiss me,” Dean replies easily.

Castiel is pretty sure Dean was just trying to be funny, but there’s no way he’s going to refuse an invitation like that. He puts down his glass and slides out of his chair, perching on the edge of Dean’s and taking his glass away from him as well.

Dean blinks up at him, a smile curling the corners of his lips. “Finally,” he mutters under his breath.

Castiel rolls his eyes and leans over to kiss him.

Dean meets his lips eagerly, like he really has been waiting for this moment all day. Their enthusiasm for each other never ceases to amaze Castiel. He slides one hand into Dean’s hair and draws him closer, ignoring the awkward angle of his own body.

The firewood crackles and pops behind them, but it can’t quite cover the soft moans and gasps Dean makes when Castiel trails kisses across his cheek and down the elegant line of his neck. He knows exactly where to suck a dark mark so it will be covered by the jumpsuit Dean wears at work, and he takes full advantage of that knowledge.

Dean breathes out his name on a deep sigh, and Castiel feels a wave of satisfaction wash over him. He chuckles and lightly scrapes his teeth over the soft skin beneath Dean’s ear, loving the way it makes him tremble.

He can’t quite get the angle he wants, so he gracefully maneuvers himself off the arm of the chair and into Dean’s lap.

Dean makes a startled noise, but recovers quickly, winding his arms around Castiel’s waist and pulling him in closer as he brings their lips back together. Castiel keeps his own hands busy, sliding up underneath Dean’s shirt to trace over the soft skin of his chest and stomach, feeling his muscles shift under his touch.

He can also feel Dean’s growing erection straining against the worn denim of his jeans, and he rolls his hips forward, pressing his own hard length against Dean’s thigh. Dean lets out a shaky groan, his head falling back against the chair, and Castiel smiles to himself at the way he unravels so beautifully.

“Cas,” Dean says, “need you.”

“Shh,” Castiel soothes, sliding his hand between them and rubbing gently over Dean’s cock. “I’ve got you, sweetheart.”

He draws back and drops to the ground on his knees, ignoring the strangled sound Dean makes as he realizes his intent. Castiel looks up to check for his permission, and Dean nods frantically, undoing his fly with unsteady hands.

He takes a moment to admire the sight Dean makes: his shirt pushed up to his chest, hair wild and tangled from Castiel’s fingers, eyes wide and dark with arousal, the firelight flickering over his face and lending his skin a soft golden glow. He looks beautiful, like a hero or demi-god from classical myth.

What else can Castiel do but pay him appropriate tribute?

He runs the tip of a finger over the bulge in Dean’s underwear, delighting in the way it makes him shudder, then draws out his hard cock, stroking him lightly at first but gradually gaining speed. Dean whimpers and bites his lip, but Castiel wants to hear him.

“Don’t hold back for me,” he says, his voice low. “Let me hear you.”

He holds Dean’s gaze as he lowers his head and takes him in his mouth, the taste and weight of him familiar on his tongue. He steadies himself with his hands on Dean’s thigh, the muscles flexing under his skin as he takes him further into his mouth.

“So good, Cas,” Dean whispers. “God, that’s so good.”

It brings Castiel great pleasure to bring pleasure to Dean, so he increases his efforts, using all the tricks he’s learned over the months. He wraps one hand around him at the base of his cock and strokes him slowly while lavishing attention on the head, letting it drag slightly over his parted lips, then taking it back into his mouth.

Dean’s hips are moving in little restless thrusts, his breathing ragged, and he stares down at Castiel with equal parts desire and tenderness, stroking one calloused hand through his hair and then across his cheek. Castiel moans at the touch, which has the benefit of producing vibrations that add to the sensations he’s surrounding Dean with.

“Touch yourself,” Dean says, practically begging. “Let me see you, Cas.”

Grateful for the relief on his own aching cock, Castiel manages to unbutton his own pants and slip one hand inside, wrapping it around himself with a shaky breath. He continues to stroke himself as he works at Dean with his lips and tongue, knowing it won’t be much longer now until Dean falls apart completely.

A few minutes later and Dean comes chanting Castiel’s name like a prayer. Castiel swallows his release and slowly pulls away, still moving his hand rapidly over his own cock. He looks up at Dean, the perfect symmetry of his face in the firelight, and follows him into bliss.

He slumps forward, resting his forehead against Dean’s thigh, waiting until his heartbeat steadies before trying to rise to his feet. He only stumbles slightly and then collapses back onto the chair beside Dean, who obligingly shifts over so they can both fit, their limbs draped carelessly over one another.

Dean nuzzles into his cheek and presses a kiss to his sweaty forehead. “Worth the wait,” he murmurs.

Castiel lets out a breathless laugh and kisses him again. “I’m glad.”

They rest for a few more minutes, and Dean goes quiet once more. Castiel glances down and sees that his eyes are closed. “Come on,” he says quietly. “Let’s go to bed.”

Dean protests, but allows himself to be gently prodded into the bathroom to brush his teeth while Castiel cleans himself up and then goes to douse the fire. He pauses to say goodnight to the cats, who are still curled in front of the fireplace, and then shuts off all the lights before returning to the bedroom.

Dean is waiting for him with the covers pulled back, a soft smile on his lips. Castiel strips down to his boxers and closes the window slightly. The air is chilly once again, but it will be warm and comforting in their bed.

He turns off the lamps and crawls in beside Dean, wrapping him up in his arms. “Goodnight, Dean,” he murmurs.

“Night, Cas,” Dean replies sleepily, adjusting himself slightly in Castiel’s hold. “Today was a good day.”

“It was,” Castiel says softly. Every day with Dean is a good one, in his admittedly biased opinion, but this one was particularly so.

And tomorrow might be even better. Castiel can’t wait to find out.