This is based (read stolen) off the movie 'Dan in real life' which is excellent. And somehow it made me want to write this.
Dean's been driving for four hours straight with the kids in the backseat either squeaking excitedly (Ben) asking why they aren't allowed to drive (Adam) and whining that they are old enough to have a boyfriend, and why can't he just get over himself and let her date? (Anna).
He can't help but think he's a little bit of a failure as a supposedly all knowing domestic columnist – single father problem solver that he is. He stares out of the windscreen at the sloping road, knowing that they are thirty minutes from his parents cabin and then he'll get some time off as the kid's reacquaint themselves with their winter haunt, with uncle Sam, Grandpa John and Grandma Mary, as well as Gwen, Christian, Samuel and all the other extended family members that had been summoned up for the long week of holiday.
Anna, kicks the back of his seat.
"Do that again and you're grounded." He says, without turning round.
"You already grounded me for sneaking out with Michael." She snaps back, "Which I wouldn't have had to do if you'd stop being such an ass."
"And with the language you're up to two months of being grounded." Dean says calmly. "Care to make it three?"
"I know, I know." Dean down shifts and looks up at the ominous clouds overhead. "You're sixteen, you're old enough, you're in love..." he looks at her via the rear view mirror. "But you're sixteen, you're my daughter...and this isn't love, it's...it's infatuation." He knows she won't believe it, at sixteen he hadn't either. Which is how he'd ended up with three kids in the first place.
Anna glares daggers at him. Dean concentrates on the road.
Adam nudges his sister.
"Michael isn't even that hot – and he's an asshole."
"Shut up." Anna twists one of his fingers back. Dean glares at them both.
"Don't swear in front of Ben...and stop fighting in the back or we will die in a fiery inferno."
"You're a good driver Dad, it runs in the family." Adam says pointedly.
"I will flip us on purpose." Dean vows. "So behave."
Ben spots a seal lolling on the cold, slate grey sand as they drive along the edge of the coast. He yips excitedly and waves his Barbie at the window.
Dean is going to have to talk to him about the Barbie.
They reach the cabin, thankfully unharmed and with little to no squabbling from the back seat. Dean lets them out and hands round the luggage, Adam and Anna disappear in their various huffs and sulks, while Ben trips up the stairs and get's swept up by John, who's been waiting on their arrival.
"Hey, car break down again?" He calls from the porch, watching Dean struggle with his suitcase.
"One minor choke on the way up." He clicks the trunk shut and pockets his keys. "Nothing to get worked up about."
John bounces Ben up in the air once, then chivvies him inside to find a cookie. The cabin is pretty much nirvana after hours trapped in the impala on the windswept roads. It's all honey coloured wood, homemade blankets and primitive mugs of coffee. It hasn't changed since his parents bought it, over twelve years ago. Thinking back that far gives him the funny feeling it always does, as if he's just woken up from a pleasant dream, fully aware that he's not living in it anymore.
John seems to catch the odd cast to his features.
"Oh no, no sad faces right now – it's the holidays, the kids look forward to this all year." He pokes Dean in the chest and takes his suitcase by the front door. "I'll show you to your room, you can unpack and cheer up a little."
"I know where my room is." Dean argues.
"We had to move you, making space for everyone was harder than last year."
It turns out that Dean has been relegated to the utility room on the folding bed. The dryer is alarmingly close to the bed itself and the long light pull of the bare bulb hangs down to about an inch off of the pillow.
He forces a placated expression until his Dad potters off to see to the kids, then he shoves his suitcase under the bed and flops down on it, feeling the legs tremble under him.
He loves his family, he loves being up here with them...but sometimes, he wishes he could just catch a break from it all. From them, from himself. From being someone's Dad, someone's son or cousin or uncle. It doesn't happen often but he's in no mood for socialising when it does.
Thankfully, when he doesn't reappear for dinner, people take the hint and he's left to get some sleep over the rumbling of the dryer and the creaking of the bed springs.
The next morning he's feeling a lot better. He goes into the kitchen, gets oatmeal with a honey smiley face (because his Mom thinks that he's still eleven) and sits with his kids to eat. His Dad moans about the cost of gas and Dean pitches in, because it cost him almost a month's pay check to fill the car (and get it road worthy – but he's not mentioning that).
He helps to clear away the breakfast things and then he watches his Dad attempt to get the kayaks from the garage into lake-worthy condition. His offers of help are brushed off after while, so he goes to find something else to occupy his time.
The other members of the family have yet to arrive and he's going a little stir crazy just watching Anna try to get phone signal while Ben dangles his Barbie by the hair on the porch. His Mom taps his on the shoulder and offers him a crumpled five dollar bill.
"Go get the papers, I'll watch them."
He knows it's just a way to get him out of the house and away from the memories of bringing Lisa up here, but he takes it gratefully and goes out to the car, muffled in a sweater and his jacket. The nearest store is out by the ferry port, a tiny building a couple of miles away. He gets the ignition going on his third try and finds his way out onto the main road. If a single lane of untrimmed asphalt could be called a main road.
The store itself is a bookstore come bait shack, owned by a struggling author friend of his Father's – Chuck Shirley, who Dean knows only because they did the same writing course at the community college one summer. Chuck did however recently acquire a wife, so the bait and book store now also provided muffins in three flavours, and Chuck's so busy on the phone with her that he barely notices Dean come in.
The newspapers are at the back of the store, he knows that from experience, and as he rounds a stack into the empty store he hears the bell on the door ring behind him. He turns to look over the spines of the books beside him, he's in no hurry to get back to the cabin, he's enjoying his freedom for a while, a few guilty minutes of being unattached and unknown, even if it's illusory.
"Hello, can you..." The stranger's voice filters through the silence. That peculiar silence that exists only in bookstores, a mixture of sacred quiet and the scent of paper and brown carpet.
Chuck must raise a finger, it's a gesture Dean has seen him use often, and he hears the words, "I'll be with you in a minute".
Dean hops up onto a stool, it's a mark of how Chuck organises things that means that even he can't reach the top shelf without help, exploring some paperback detective novels with interest.
A voice behind him makes him turn around.
"Can you help me?"
Dean turns around a finds that the polite, if slightly unpolished voice , belongs to a man slightly younger than him, blue eyed, messy haired and wearing a dark blue dress shirt and dark brown cords.
"I'm looking for a book." He says, then winces half self deprecatingly. "I mean, obviously I'm looking for a book..."
"What kind?" Dean asks, dropping down from the stool and trying to stop himself from raking his eyes over the man again. He did not need this, not right now.
"I don't know...something...funny?" The man frowns. "Something to make an awkward weekend a little less awkward...but not 'laugh out loud' funny...or making fun of other people." He catches Dean's eye and seems to realise that he's being ridiculous. "But also meaningful...perhaps, romantic, but not Hollywood...more real." He says, a joking light passing across his face. "And, uh, if it could uh, sneak up on you, surprise you, and at the same time make you think that what you thought wasn't only right, in a wrong kind of way, but when you're wrong, there's a certain rightness in your wrongness... And at the same time, not"
"Hmmm..." Dean pretends to consider, getting slightly caught up in this man's humour. "You're not going to get all that in one book."He walks around the shelves, pulling books down at random and then depositing the pile in front of the man, on a wheeled book cart.
"Ok...so you've got poetry...here's some Dickinson, some Plath...standard stuff. Then there's this," he picks up a paperback. "The life of Ghandi...who was a fairly awesome dude." The guy is smiling at him, which Dean takes as a good sign. "And...uhh...Anna Karenina..."
"Which is always hilarious." The guy says, dead pan.
"Actually for humour..." Dean holds up a picture book. "Can't go wrong with this."
The other man looks at the copy of 'Everybody Poops' and fights a smirk.
"I try." Dean smiles back.
"Ok." Chuck comes down from his counter and meanders through the stacks to find them. "You needed help?"
"I'm fine now, actually." The guy grins. "I'd like all of these and you..." he gestures at Dean, "Should get one hell of a commission."
Chuck takes the books and begins to wander back to the register, muttering "He doesn't actually work here."
The other man turns back to Dean.
"Busted." He scuffs his foot on the floor, aware of how ridiculous he's been. "You just looked kind of...helpless..." he looks up awkwardly. "I was just taking things at random."
"I know." The man looks at him with mild humor and a sliver of appreciation. "But it worked...come on, I'll buy you a muffin."
"You don't have to..."
"Never say no to free food." He advises, already following after Chuck. Dean trails after him, newspapers entirely forgotten.
How he ends up with Cas, the name the guy gives him just as easily as he hands over the muffin, in the ferry waiting room, talking about Lisa, he'll never know.
But somehow, Cas, all silence and eyes, manages to get the deeper parts of his mind exposed without even trying. Dean tells him about meeting Lisa, finding out he'd gotten her pregnant, marrying her and raising Anna, having Adam and Ben as they went. How he'd once written a fiction novel that no one had read, and that now he was a columnist making ends meet with three kids to look after.
He talks about Lisa getting sick when Ben was two, how they'd found the cancer just a little too late to do anything but make her comfortable. How somewhere in between Lisa starting to throw up all the time and lose weight and her finally dying, he'd discovered he was gay - that he'd always somehow known, but that it was one hell of a time for it all to come to a head.
Cas nods sagely, splits his muffin with him and touches his fingers gently when Dean falters on the night he'd found out exactly who he was – the night he'd gotten drunk trying to forget that Lisa was dying, that his kids were suffering at their grandparent's while he tried to pull everything together. He'd gotten royally, shamefully drunk, and groped a stranger, a man he'd never met before and never seen since. But he'd found something there, in the heat of the moment and sodden with alcohol and unshed misery, that he'd never found with Lisa.
He blinks out of the confessional trance to find Cas's, fingers still lightly caressing his hand as he looks up at him.
"I'm so sorry, you shouldn't have let me get into that." He mutters, embarrassedly looking down into the remaining crumbs of his muffin. Cas wordlessly gets up from the booth and comes to sit beside him, pressing their shoulders and thighs together in an odd display of comfort, which threatens to send Dean over the edge into open tears. Cas's hand falls into his and they sit there for an age of silence, which ends when Cas squeezes his hand.
"You're a good man you know." He says softly, conversationally. "I've known you for two hours and I already know that."
"You don't just get to say things like that." Dean points out.
"You don't get to tell me what to do." Cas murmurs, twisting a little to face him, bringing their faces into close enough proximity that Dean can smell the blueberries on his breath and see the slight twist of uncertainty to his mouth. He thinks 'I'm going to kiss you' just as the other man moves away.
"I'm sorry...but I really need to go." He looks at him apologetically, truly upset by this interruption. "I'm expected."
"Which I'dve known if I hadn't done all the talking." Dean says.
"You needed to talk." Cas says simply. "But I...I have a thing to get to." He says, looking fairly miserable at the prospect.
"Well...thanks for sticking around, I never bare my soul without an audience." Dean attempts to joke, but Cas looks at him with a slight head tilt, a look of concern on his face.
"If you need to talk to someone...well..." he grimaces, half laughing awkwardly. "This is awkward because I'm with someone." He looks up at Dean shyly. "but... if I gave you my number? And you called? We'd just be two people...finishing a conversation."
"Can't argue with that." Dean says quietly, though all the saliva just left his mouth in a combination of nerves and the sudden realisation that maybe, just maybe, this guy was interested.
Cas smiles in the kind of twisty 'I have a secret hehe' way that was popular with Anna when she was ten. He fishes a scrap of paper and a pen out of his pocket and scrawls down his number.
"I'll see you around." Dean says, watching Cas climb into his car and then drive away.
He feels...better. Just like that, a little better than he's felt for a while. He's had his moment of not being somebody's anything – son, father, brother, husband. He's sat in a tiny room overlooking the ocean and eaten a muffin with a stranger...and he feels better.
He can barely keep himself from speeding home, he feels lighter, freer, all the clichés about getting a load taken off your mind? He feels them all.
And if his mind periodically strays back to the scrap of paper in his pocket, and the amazing eyes he's been staring into for the past hour or so. Well, that's no bad thing. It's been four years since Lisa passed away, long enough for him to muddle through his big-gay-widower crisis and come out the other side more sure of himself, if a little scarred and battered. He's ok with himself, and so, thankfully, are his parents.
Smaller mercies seem to be his lot.
He pulls up at the cabin, belatedly realising that he's forgotten the papers and that he's been gone for long enough for them to worry. He's surprisingly mellow at the prospect of being chewed out by his parents. Opening the door he finds that his Uncle Bobby, Aunt Ellen and Jo have arrived, as in fact have most of the family. Samuel, Gwen and Christian as sitting opposite the Singers in the living room.
"Hey." Ellen greets him comfortably. "You're mom said you left hours ago - what's with the wait?"
Bobby's perpetual frown smoothes out a little. "She's getting all kinds of pissy without her crossword."
Ellen elbows him in the side.
Jo shoots him a 'parents are so humiliating' look, the same one she's had since she was a teenager, though now she's twenty four she really should know better than to expect any different.
"I...uh..." Dean can't stop the stupid smile from unrolling on his face. Sometimes he wishes he was sneakier. "I met someone."
Jo claps excitedly. Bobby remains unenthused and the Cambells look up with polite interest, their silent nods of greeting having been their only input so far.
"A boy?" Jo squeaks. Dean catches Christian's frown. Figures. He's always kind of hated his mom's side of the family. But then his dad's 'family' consists of Bobby, Rufus and Pastor Jim – neither of whom are related to him by blood. Trust fate to stick him between Christians and his Father's poker buddies.
"Yes a boy." Dean says, as gruffly as possibly, he does after all need to retain some man points here. Though Jo has always been too interested in his love life, it's sort of spiralled since he came out. She'd even tried to set him up with her friend Ash, who it turned out was not gay, just overly friendly.
"Tell us everything." Jo jumps up and grabs his arm.
"Was he cute?" God bless Gwen for being somewhat decent. Dean turns to her and smiles gratefully.
"Yes, obviously." He grins. "Someone in the family has to have standards."
Gwen pulls a face.
"I have standards." The familiar voice comes from behind him and Dean turns, he's never going to get used to Sam being bigger than him, and yet still moving so silently. "They're low...but I have 'em." Sam hugs him before Dean can dodge out of the way, backing off after a few seconds to mock glare at him.
"So, is there going to be a gentleman caller? because we already spent your dowry."
Dean punches him on the arm.
"Or you know, you could use your words." Sam quips.
"Shut up Sam?" Dean tries.
"Never gonna happen." Sam claps him on the back and steers him out of the living room, much to Jo's disappointment. "Come on, Mom and Dad are in the kitchen."
"And? Anything special about that?" Dean allows himself to be steered, to a point, but then pulls free of Sam and makes it to the kitchen under his own steam.
"Dean met a hot boy." Sam announces to the kitchen at large, causing his Dad to choke on his coffee and Mary to raise an eyebrow.
"Nice, Sam." Dean grumbles, just as John recovers enough to say, "I don't think I can take much more of this."
Dean has time to wonder what the hell that means, just as Sam bounds back into the centre of the room, this time towing another unsuspecting victim by the hand.
"So, come on – spill. Who's the hottie?" Sam says, in that way that suggests he's fighting to remain casual because he wants Dean to squirm in his own curiosity.
And Dean is squirming, to be fair.
Though, if anything, Cas is squirming more.
Sam finally lets his excitement overthrow his desire to keep Dean hanging, mainly because his brother is just standing there in surprised silence.
"Dean, this is Castiel." Sam announces, "He's from my gym." He grins broadly. "I...uh...kind of ambushed him with the whole 'family retreat' thing." He twists to look at Castiel sweetly. "You forgive me right?"
Castiel smiles tightly.
"So, Dean, Castiel – Castiel, Dean." Sam gestures between them. "Someone else can talk now."
Cas, Castiel – raises his hand for Dean to shake, an apology easy to read in his eyes.
"Almost everyone calls me Cas." He says, Dean reads it as, 'I wasn't lying to you. I had no idea this was going to happen. I'm sorry.'
"So...tell us about this guy." His Mom presses.
Dean winces internally. Castiel casts his eyes down to the floor, a slight flush creeping up to his cheek bones.
"Actually...I'm going to take Ben for a drive." Dean says, realising that he's still kind of holding Castiel's hand. He gives it one more decisive shake and lets it fall back out of his grip.
"It was nice meeting you." He says, already walking out the door.