At this point, Dean’s left thumb had been hit by the hammer more than any of the nails and he was regretting every single choice he ever made that led him to this exact moment.
Why the fuck did he think he was cut out for restoring an inn? Not just any inn– the inn. The one John ran before he got too old and retired, eventually– well let’s just say Dean isn’t here out of any sort of living guilt.
Dean’s not sure why he’s here.
If he breaks it down, it’s because he received a letter in the mail exactly two months after the passing of his father detailing how Lawrence would have no choice but to tear down the old inn unless someone from his family claimed it.
Sam’s not going to leave his law practice and the life he built for Jess and the twins, out in California.
Dean’s the only one left.
So, taking things extremely literally, he’s here because a bunch of lawyers told him he needed to be.
Another slam into his thumb jolts his train of thought off its tracks and convinces him to pack it up for the night. He snaps the tools back into his massive toolkit and stands back to look at the old built-in shelves he decided would probably be the easiest to tackle on his own. Nodding at the good-enough outcome, he turns to scan the rest of the main floor.
Maybe the built-ins are the only thing he’s going to be able to do alone.
Dean doesn’t like the thought of teamwork– especially not with the grumpy prick who lives next door. His neighbor stopped by the day Dean arrived because apparently it was John’s dying wish that their neighbor offer his services when his estranged son eventually showed up to fix the inn. (Leave it to his father to leave Dean feeling inadequate from the great beyond.)
“No, thank you.”
“You offered, I’m declining. Debt, paid.”
"As you wish, Winchester.”
Even wrapped in the neighbor’s deep lumbering voice, Dean winces at his last name– it feels just as constricting as it did when he thought he’d be stuck in this town forever, “Dean.”
Dean thought that’d be the last he’d see of the guy until he marched away and slammed the door just across the small garden. That house used to be for whatever innkeeper his parents had hired, but when the inn closed they rented it out to whichever soul felt like a one bedroom one bathroom home was enough to live in.
Apparently that was this asshole.
They’ve seen each other three more times since then, but never long enough to even exchange names. Dean isn’t sure why he’s keeping track– each time just as unpleasant as the first. Sure, Dean could’ve been friendlier, but warning bells rattled through him every time the neighbor’s stormy eyes met his. Dean may have sworn off unnecessary human interaction for the foreseeable future, but he’s not blind and his neighbor isn’t hard to look at.
But his life has no room for attractive neighbors with an attitude problem.
Convincing himself there must be someone else in this town who knows their way around a fixer upper, Dean heads to the Roadhouse for dinner and hopefully the name of someone else to help him get the inn fixed up enough to sell.
Walking through the front door of the restaurant-meets-dive-bar, the familiar smell hits him like a breath of fresh air. He can’t believe he held out for almost a week before eating here. The Roadhouse is one of the few places left in the town left untouched by rotten memories and painful nostalgia. Nothing but good ever happens once he crosses this threshold and it’s that fact that allows him to relax for the first time since moving back to Lawrence.
He starts to order his usual and Jo winks signaling she remembers even after all these years– Dean can’t believe she runs this on her own now. Jo always swore she’d get out of this town, break the chains of her mother’s legacy, but nevertheless here she is– here they both are.
Jo looks happy, maybe even at home– Dean? Not so much.
The plate drops in front of him and Dean catches his old friend lingering a bit. He looks up and says thank you and that was all it took to spark some small town gossip from Jo. While he didn’t come back to rekindle any old relationships– friendly or otherwise– Dean doesn’t mind her company and before he knows it he’s laughing and taking his last bite of burger. The conversation starts to die and Dean remembers why he came to town in the first place, “Oh! Jo, I meant to ask. I’m fixing up the old inn and I need help. Do you have the number of someone who–”
“Of course, Dean! Chuck retired, but Castiel took over, after Gabriel ran off to Thailand.” Dean raises his eyebrow and Jo laughs, “ That’s a story for another meal. Here,” she hands over a napkin with a number scrawled across it, “Castiel is the best in town and will fix up that inn in no time.”
Dean racks his brain for any recollection of someone named Castiel from their childhood but the name doesn’t ring a bell— and a name like that definitely would ring a bell. He supposes people must move to Lawrence, just like any town, and resigns it to someone new since he left.
He can’t expect everything to stay the same while he spent the last 15 years trying to change in every way imaginable.
Thanking his friend for the help, Dean pays and heads home for the night. Finally having the name of someone to help has lifted a huge weight off his chest. He sighs as he crawls onto the old mattress in the first floor suite, thankful it’s dark enough that he can’t nitpick all that needs to be done. The sooner he can get the inn fixed up, the sooner he can sell it and go back to Sioux Falls and the life he chose rather than the one his parents forced on him.
Maybe it was the comfort of the Roadhouse or the knowledge that this process will move twice as fast with a little help, but Dean sleeps better that night than he has in years. When he wakes with the sun, he feels energized and ready to continue his work on his family’s property.
He decides to start with disassembling the kitchen cabinets and it doesn’t take long for him to find a rhythm in his work— four screws and a trip to the pile, four screws, trip to the pile. Lost in the easy monotony, Dean forgets his decision to call for help until late into the morning. Hoping to catch the contractor before lunch, he brushes the dust from his hands and digs in his pocket for the napkin Jo had written on last night.
He’s not sure why he feels so anxious as he waits for the man on the other end of the line to pick up, but he supposes it rests on the fact that this man only knows Dean by the reputation he left town with— John’s other son.
Sam was always the golden child— pretty blonde cheerleaders and a full-ride to Stanford are not even an exaggeration when it comes to his younger brother.
Dean, on the other hand, was always rough around the edges, emotional, and different — let’s just say he’d go for the cheerleader or the quarterback.
As soon as Dean was shoved out of the closet— his dad walking in on him and Benny not leaving very much up for debate— John shut him out completely. Dean brushed it off as his dad’s way of fighting every piece of homophobia he was raised with, but the fact is: it was more likely he was disgusted by his own son.
But that was ages ago and, from what Sam’s told him, John died swearing his love for both his boys.
Not that Sam would tell Dean otherwise.
“Hello?” A gruff voice breaks him out of his daze and he’s startled back to the present day.
“Uh, hi. Yeah, uh, is this Castiel?” It’s the first time Dean’s said the name aloud and he can’t help but notice how easily it rolls off his tongue.
“This is. How can I help you?” The man is all business, clearly not as affected by Dean’s use of his name as Dean was.
“Oh yeah, uh, I got your name from Jo at the Roadhouse? My name is Dean Winchester and I’m fixing up the old Winchester Inn and I’m realizing the job may be too massive to handle on my own.” Dean winces at his blatant request for help, never one to ask outright for assistance, but as he looks at the pile of kitchen cabinets which need to be sanded, painted, and rehung, he knows he can’t do this alone. He realizes the man on the other end of the line hasn’t said anything when he continues, “Uh, that is if you have the bandwidth for that…”
Another pause before the man, Castiel, speaks again, “I can be right over.”
Dean didn’t really know how to respond, he was expecting to bargain for payment or at least for a delay in starting the project. He’s not used to this immediate willingness to help a complete stranger. He’s about to stumble through a response when he realizes Castiel is no longer on the other end of the phone. He shrugs, and sets it on the counter as there’s a knock on the door.
Shit. The only way Castiel could’ve gotten here that fast is if he’s...
Dean opens the door to the man he’s now seen a mere four times despite his permanent residence on Dean’s property. His neighbor— Castiel— looks different today. The usual softness that accompanies the man overtaken by strong arms, an AC/DC t-shirt, and a tool belt placed perfectly on his hips.
“Uh, hi?” Dean isn’t sure how one goes about re-introducing themselves to apparently the only help in town after being an ass before. But he’s here and Dean introduced himself on the phone and he still came.
“Hello.” The man– Castiel– greets Dean so matter of factly as he glances around Dean quizzically, presumably taking in the whole of the inn. Dean is a little taken aback by this whole interaction and the way it’s entirely different than any they’ve shared previously. Castiel’s eyes meet Dean’s and Dean can’t help but notice a hint of playfulness before Castiel speaks again, “So you do need help?”
Dean rolls his eyes and Castiel laughs sending a shockwave through Dean he hasn’t felt in ages. He promptly ignores it before motioning towards the foyer and inviting his new contractor inside. They don’t exchange any pleasantries, but rather head right to work. Castiel asks questions about everything from the crown molding and stair railing to Dean’s plan for the half shattered French doors.
The man is thorough and he knows his stuff.
Maybe teamwork with him won’t be so bad.
They finish their walk through and Dean is relieved to hear that Castiel agrees the upstairs mostly needs some fresh paint. John left some money to fix up the inn, but not enough for a total overhaul. After working through the budget, they decide it’ll be more cost effective if it retains its original charm.
“Well, Dean, I like what we’ve got here and I think we can make something out of this.” Castiel slouches into one of the bar stools near the kitchen island as he surveys the room one more time. Dean does his best not to notice the sweat slowly making its way down Castiel’s collar bone and beneath the collar of his t-shirt, and the way he says Dean, and his implication that this is theirs . Dean hasn’t shared anything for most of his adult life– mostly because he hasn’t had anyone worth sharing something with.
But this inn feels like it’s meant to be shared, and Dean can’t seem to find any reason not to do so with Castiel.
“I’m glad you think so. I suppose we should discuss payment…” Dean trails off as Castiel’s gaze becomes confused.
“I don’t intend on charging you a dime, Dean.” Castiel’s matter of fact smile returns and Dean can’t ignore the way his gut flutters.
He’s not a nun, Dean’s been attracted to people for as long as he can remember being alive. From Lucy Jones in kindergarten to a myriad of characters in his adult life, he’s always been a people person loaded with an innate attraction for the kind of itches you scratch and forget ever existed.
Castiel is beginning to feel like an itch he’d like to scratch.
But that’d ruin everything, especially Dean’s plan to sell the inn for as much as humanly possible and then get the hell outta dodge.
“I appreciate that, but I have to give you something…” Castiel waves Dean off and he realizes arguing would be useless. “Thanks.”
Castiel nods before taking time to study Dean until it almost feels awkward. Dean is typically the one doing the studying, and he feels naked under this man’s gaze. They remain in a silence delicately balanced between comfortable and awkward until Castiel speaks again, “Well, best I get back to my place. I will see you tomorrow morning, Dean.”
As Castiel stands, he adjusts the toolbelt around his waist and Dean forces himself to look away, not willing to tempt himself with the flash of skin exposed during the adjustment. The contractor must notice because he smirks slightly before nodding his head in goodbye. If he didn’t know better, Dean would swear Castiel walks a bit closer to him than is necessary. He shakes it off before heading to the bathroom to shower off the grime of the day before checking in with Sam, Jess, and the kids.
. . .
They work surprisingly well together.
His new partner is a quiet but sturdy presence throughout the day– rarely chatting about more than the weather or whatever task needs to be done– but on occasion Dean will learn a bit more about him. He’s started to compile a list of Cas’s likes and dislikes– for example, Cas likes that Dean gave him a nickname.
“Hey, Cas, can you hand me the socket wrench?”
“Uh, yeah, short for Castiel. You got too many syllables, man.”
Cas nodded and moved on with the task, but Dean can’t help but notice the small smirk everytime he has to call Cas by name. Cas also smiles whenever a screw goes in without a fight and when the first raindrop of an impending storm hits his forehead.
Dean likes it when Cas smiles. (Apparently Dean’s compiled a list for that, too.)
He’s tried to largely ignore the growing attraction for the man he’s working with for more than eight hours a day, but it gets more difficult with each glance to make sure the other is still in one piece and every accidental touch of hands when they pass off a tool.
At least Dean tells himself it’s accidental.
He hadn’t gotten enough out of Cas to even know if he “plays for that team,” as Sam likes to say. Dean is almost positive John wouldn’t have encouraged the two work together if Cas is gay, but there are moments that give him more hope that he deserves.
“Dean!” Cas’s steady voice startles him from the monotony of painting kitchen cabinets and his overflowing thoughts.
He puts down the paintbrush and walks over to the fireplace where Cas is supposed to be sanding down the mantle, “Yeah, Cas, what is it?” There’s that smile– sometimes Dean wonders if he uses his nickname for Cas just to get a glimpse of it.
“I’m hungry and I’m out of sand paper.” Cas looks up from the stool he’s been sitting on for hours with a hint of puppy dog eyes. Dean isn’t exactly paying Cas so he could definitely come and go as he pleases, but they tend to stick to a similar schedule everyday. Checking his watch, Dean sees it is lunchtime and agrees to head into town for a sandwich.
“I should probably get cleaned up a bit…” Cas trails off as he surveys his dusty jeans and sweat drenched t-shirt. Without trying to, Dean gets lost in the unfairly attractive mess of it all for a moment too long. He looks up to speak again and Cas is smirking almost knowingly.
“Yeah, sure. You can use the shower here if you want but no promise there’s any hot water.” Dean scratches behind his ear nervously. This wasn’t any sort of purposeful invitation, but he can’t help but feel a wad of want fall into his stomach. Cas simply nods his thanks before heading into the main floor bathroom with a change of clothes he brought “just in case”. Dean laughed when Cas told him that he’s always that prepared and cited the fact that Cas only lives thirty steps away from the inn. He simply shrugged and said “You never know” and that was the end of that. Dean supposes Cas was right and the change of clothes had come in handy.
Though, not exactly how Dean thought they would.
As he hears the shower turn on, Dean goes back to painting kitchen cabinets in hopes of distracting himself from the very attractive, very naked man that is showering in the next room. It works for a while but eventually the knowledge feels stifling and Dean decides to clean up quickly and wait for Cas on the porch.
“What’re you waiting out here for?” Cas walks outside, resting his arm on the doorframe to only accentuate his bicep muscles. Dean knows if he looks at what is probably disheveled and wet hair from the shower it’ll take every piece of willpower he has not to jump the guy right then and there.
“Let’s go.” He leads Cas to his car without looking in his direction or answering his question. As Dean walks around the back of the impala he sees Cas smirk again.
They take the short drive into town before stopping at the hardware store. Dean needs to pick up some new screws so he can finish the cabinets and Cas needs some more sand paper so they decide to split up and grab what they need. Cas cuts right, beelining for the aisle like he lives here– now that Dean thinks about it, Cas probably does come here a lot– and Dean wanders to the left looking for the screw aisle.
He ends up finding them along with a confused pre-teen boy comparing screw sizes to an outlet cover. Dean laughs to himself before offering his help, “Anything I can help with?”
The boy turns to Dean, startled at first, but then relaxing when he doesn’t sense any immediate threat, “Yeah, that’d be great. My mom sent me in here twenty minutes ago, but I don’t know anything about this stuff.”
Dean laughs, “Well, your Dad should’ve taught you screw shopping at the very least.”
“How could he do that when he doesn’t know I exist?” The kid says it so matter of factly, Dean isn’t even sure he heard him correctly. He scans him for signs of distress, but whatever therapy he’s getting must’ve worked because the kid goes back to comparing screws without missing a beat.
“Fair enough. Here, you’ll want these ones,” Dean grabs a four pack of the screws the kid is looking for and hands it to him. “Then you’ll have extras in case you need to replace another one.”
“Awesome, thanks! My names–”
“Ben? What’s taking you–” Dean winces, he’d know that voice anywhere and the fact she paused means… “Dean?! What are you doing talking to… what’s going on here?”
Ben (apparently) and Dean speak at the same time, both turning towards the woman Dean hasn’t thought about in years. They were something– more than something– for about a year, but John’s pressure pushed Dean out of town and Lisa refused to leave Lawrence... so now they're here, awkwardly looking at each other in a hardware store.
“Lisa, look, I can explain–”
“Dean, I found the sandpaper and I also grabbed some extra paint for that wall in the living–” Dean’s cut off as Cas rounds the corner looking down at the sandpaper packaging and clearly missing all the fun in aisle nine, “Oh. Hi!”
Then Cas waves , an adorable wave that if Dean wasn’t so goddamn turned around probably would’ve sent him spiraling. Dean facepalms to hide his smile and proceeds to rub his calloused hands through his hair trying to decide what to say next. But Ben must be oblivious to the absolute shit storm happening a foot above his current height because he chooses this moment to chime in, “I was confused about which screws to get and Dean offered to help, Mom. That’s all. And look,” Ben holds up the package Dean handed him what feels like an eternity ago, “Got ‘em!”
That kid just saved Dean’s ass.
Lisa still looks a little stunned to see Dean– his return had seemingly not reached the far ends of the town gossip chain quite yet– but then she glances back towards Cas… and then back to Dean.
He’s about to correct her when she surprises him with a hug.
They didn’t exactly end on bad terms, but he probably could’ve been nicer when he told her he was leaving.
Hence why the hug catches him off guard, as does what she quietly whispers in his ear, “I’m glad you found someone that makes you smile like that again.”
Dean can't even formulate a correction before Lisa’s telling Ben to thank Dean for his help and the pair is heading down the other end of the aisle. He turns towards Cas who is staring intensely at a speck on the floor by his feet, but seems to be smiling all the same.
Maybe Dean isn’t wrong about him.
They check out and head back to the Impala in silence. It isn’t until they get home after swinging through the drive thru that Dean even realizes he forgot to grab the screws.