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@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens Oh, he is brave! But with a different kind of bravery than it would first appear.
@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens Per custom, the week after John's burial is Dean's coronation. They build the King's Pyre in the square and burn John's robes in lieu of his body. He was a harsh man and king, born and died in war, but his sacrifice ended it, an so the people revere him, if not love him.
@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens (It's a sentiment his sons share.)
The kingdom mourns. Hunter-kings from other countries pay their respects, queens and empresses send gifts, and every flag flies at half-mast. The palace is draped in black, and remains that way until the last of the smoke from the Pyre clears.
@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens And now Dean faces the real question. He'll be King--for real, actual King--and he'll be expected to marry. Those foreign dignitaries aren't solely hear out of respect for John; they know Dean's reputation as a warrior, Sam's as a negotiator, the kingdom's wealth.
@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens He'll have a year, at most, where he can wave off the question with excuses about settling into the role. But he's been acting in John's place for so long now that people will see it for the lie it is.
@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens Lisa is kind and strong, and she inherited her late husband's land. He's almost certain Ben is his, and he loves her, sort of, but...
Cassie is married, of course she is, she's a once-in-a-lifetime woman. He should give her husband a title.
Anna. Anna is....
@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens Anna is the closest Dean will get to Castiel, in life. (They sought comfort in each other once, when it was clear he wasn't coming back, when it was clear she was the last of her siblings; maybe they could do it again. She has his intensity, his cleverness.)
@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens He doesn't want to. He wants Castiel. Yet it's the only possible match he can bear to consider, as he watches the smoke die day by day He'll put it to her at his coronation. But first he'll ask permission. Not from her father, who can't even pretend to care, but from Cas.
@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens On the third night, the Pyre has burned to nothing. The smoke is gone. The King is dead, long live the King. In the morning they'll sweep up the ashes, change the shrouds on the statues from black to white, and hoist the flags. And then the preparations will begin.
@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens Dean steals out of the palace, intending to visit Castiel's grave. But he's waylaid by a sudden, violent storm and has to spend the night in an old hunting cabin on the edge of the Woods.
@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens He's restless. Soaked to the skin and cold, he builds a fire with what little kindling is left in the hearth; strips to his underwear and lays his clothes out to dry. Falls asleep, somehow, under an old blanket, and dreams of Castiel's face....
@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens Dean wakes some time later from the creaking of the rafters. He makes his way to the window and peers into the shapeless dark. Then, a fork of lightning splits the sky, and the dark takes the shape of...Cas. Cas, there, at his window, looking at him with reproachful eyes.
@wildfierr @jsalowe @War_Kittens Just as quickly as it appeared, though, the vision of Cas vanishes. Dean can't breathe, can't think, can only run into the storm and call out. Nothing but the thunder answers him, and eventually he goes back inside and stares into the fire until morning.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens He rides to the graveyard at dawn. Sam and Bobby will look for him before long, and they'll know where to find him--but he can't bear to be found.
It's quiet, with the smell of clear cold water and damp earth. The crocuses are blooming (Cas always did like those.)
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Someone has laid a bouquet of rosemary tied with black ribbon on the gravestone. It could only be Anna; Castiel's father has withdrawn so far into his own mind he might as well not exist.
But Dean is alone, for now, and so he takes a breath and says: "Hi, Cas."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "I thought I went crazy when you d--" He falters. "Didn't come back. Now, I'm sure I have." He sits, resting his aching back against the headstone. It's easier if he can't see it. He picks up the rosemary, toying with it.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens He can't bring himself to ask the question he's come here to ask. Instead, he says, "I still think about the day we met, you know. I thought I was done for. Hell, I WAS done for! No one comes out of that pit alive." He shivered, and told himself it was the early-morning chill.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "But you did the impossible. Because you're you. And're a dumb son of a bitch who doesn't know when to quit." He laughs, or thinks he does "Anyway, sorry for trying to stab you. I was a little on edge."
This, this is easier. This is almost--it's almost enough.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens The morning grows late, but he continues to talk. He sets aside the memories of the battles they fought, side-by-side (though there are many) and instead reminisces on other things: meals shared over campfires, late-night conversations, fishing in the nearby river...
@wildfierr @War_Kittens The first time they kissed, almost without meaning to; the second time, almost daring each other; the third, with complete purpose. How things changed after that; how Dean became more himself, like part of him had been in hiding until then.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "I need you to understand. You know I've been with a lot of people but you...You were different. I was happy, like I've never been. And I know what my dad would say: 'Your happiness for the good of all the people in the kingdom, no question.' But why? Why'd it have to be you?"
@wildfierr @War_Kittens And so he asks the question, stumbling, but he does. He promises to be gentle, and faithful, and reliable. In short: a good husband. The kind of husband a brother would want for a beloved sister.
"So, I...I need you to tell me if it's allowed. If it would make you happy."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens He waits. He knows how to read the signs: the flight paths of birds, the sound of thunder; a fox may bring tidings.
But today is still and cloudless. "Cas," he says after a while. "You once said I had no faith, but man, I'm praying now. I need you to hear me."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean needs to leave, but he feels, for once, that he's being ignored. He sighs and walks a little way down the path toward the river.
There. In the bare spring mud, where only a handful of snowdrops bloom, is a single yellow daffodil. He stops dead.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Daffodil, the national flower; meaning chivalry, meaning rebirth. But standing alone, it could also mean sorrow and lost love. For once, his training seems to fail him. If only Pamela were still alive; she could ask directly.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens But Pamela is dead, just like Cas, and John, and so many others. Dean will have to figure this out alone. He exhales sharply, nods once, and then leaves the graveyard without looking back.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Sam and Bobby intercept him halfway through the woods.
"Boy, don't you ever leave a note?" Bobby never was one to stand on ceremony.
"What's the point?" asks Dean. "You knew where I'd be."
"The point is, your Royal Idjit, that someone might kidnap you and we wouldn't know it."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Sam laughs at that, clearly imaging the ordeal a would-be kidnapper would have trying to overpower Dean, and the even greater ordeal of putting up with his personality in close quarters. Bobby glares at him, and he disguises the laugh as a cough.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Yeah, Dean, uh. Better safe than sorry."
Dean doesn't say that 'sorry' might as well be his middle name. "I'll try to bear that in mind," he says instead. "You got anything to eat? I'm starving."
Sam rolls his eyes, but produces a pastry wrapped in a cloth from his bag.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens The week preceding the Coronation passes in a blur. Dean is weighed and measured by an army of tailors, glovers, hosiers, cordwainers, and other people who make items of clothing he's never even heard of before.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens He writes to Anna's father personally, inviting him and his daughter to the Coronation. It's Anna who replies, of course. She sends her father's regrets and her own acceptance. "I have," her letter runs, "something of my brother's that may serve as a gift."
Dean wants to scream.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Now, in a seldom-visited corner of the kingdom, a place filled with streams and lakes, less touched by the War than other places, there lived a baker and his wife. They were famous for their magnificent cakes and delicious bread.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Indeed the pastries that grace the breakfast table each morning are from this very baker and his wife. They're Dean's favorite; they remind him of the pies his mother used to give him. Each box is plain, with a simple wax seal, bearing the letters EA. He unwraps them with glee.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Unfortunately, Charlie--who was, until that moment, his favorite person and adviser--reminds him that his Coronation clothes are very, very expensive and very, very closely tailored. She puts him on a strict no-pastry diet for the week leading up the Coronation.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "This..." Dean sputters, as Charlie steals his apple pastry and replaces it with an unpartried apple, "this is treason! I could have you banished, you know. Or worse! Revoke your library access."
"Dean," she chides, taking a bite of the pastry.
"It's just a week."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Did Sam put you up to this?" Dean asks, as the man in question walks in, and promptly walks out again.
"I'll never tell." She hugs him before heading to her office. "Besides, I may have ordered something from them for the big day."
She smiles. "Eat your apple!"
@wildfierr @War_Kittens The preparations take on an increasingly frantic pace. Dean keeps his mother's ring, sapphire and emerald on a silver band, in his pocket, ready for his proposal. He finds himself clutching it like a good-luck charm as he stares out his window at the comings and goings.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Carts laden with every imaginable good stream into the city. Dean tries to forget that this is all for him. He's always hated being the center of attention, unless it was Cas' attention.
He tells himself to get over it.
Two days before the Coronation, Anna arrives.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens She curtsies, which he hates and tells her to stop. "Alright," she laughs, and kisses him chastely on the cheek. "A present for you," she says, pressing a silver medal into his hand. Castiel's amulet--the one Dean gave him. He wore it at every battle, except one.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Suddenly Dean can't ask her.
He thanks her, has her shown to her room; then he puts on his most battered clothes and steals out to walk along the town walls.
At sunset he sees it: a sturdy old cart, laden with flour sacks. On the back is painted a daffodil, and the letters EA.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean feels excitement rather than vague dread for the first time in days. He opts to follow them rather than head back for dinner, just to see where they might be staying.
At the inner gate the cart stops for inspection. Dean's close enough to see the moment the driver looks up.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens He once took an arrow to the shoulder. A lucky strike, it passed clean through, and only bothers him sometimes in winter. At the time though, it felt like he'd been pierced by the sun; every nerve went up in flame.
That pain pales to nothing compared to what his heart feels now.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Even in the failing light Dean knows those eyes, the curve of that cheek. For a long moment he stands frozen. "Cas," he says, his voice stolen. He tries again, louder this time, almost falling down the stairs in his haste.
But the cart moves on and the gate closes with a clang.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens By the time Dean gets to the guardhouse, he's shaking. The guard on duty jumps when he barges in, drawing his sword.
"Kevin," Dean says, too urgent to notice, "the baker's cart that came through. Where'd it go?"
"Dean? I mean, your Highness?" He tries to bow.
"Save it! Tell me."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "I don't know!" Kevin admits. "I just got on duty ten minutes ago. You'd have to find Jody. Why? Should I raise the alarm?"
"No. No just...let me see the book."
Kevin hands it over with wide eyes and watches Dean leaf through it. There.
Emanuel Allen.
And his wife, Daphne.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Dean, shouldn't you be, uh..." Kevin starts, but Dean just shakes his head numbly and walks out, finding his way back to the castle by muscle memory. Maybe he's wrong. Maybe it's not Cas, but a doppelganger. Cas would return to him. Right?
Maybe Dean's finally gone mad.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Sam's waiting for him in his room when Dean returns.
"Dean," he says, in the tone that means Dean's not going to have a choice. "As head adviser, I could place you under house arrest. As your brother, I just want you to talk to me."
Dean opts to look out the window. "It's Cas."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Sam's face is at war with itself as he looks at Dean. Confusion, worry, alarm...hope?
"I'm seeing him, Sam. First that night I got caught in the storm, at the window. Tonight at the town walls."
"That's...not possible. Right? You said yourself, you made it out and he didn't."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "But Sam we never found a body. What if..."
"If he's out there, I need to find him."
"Your vigil starts tomorrow at sunset. You won't be able to leave the chapel until morning."
"I know."
"And Anna..."
"Even if he doesn't...want me now, she deserves to see her brother."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Sam's never mentioned the tattered cloak Dean keeps--the only trace of Cas they found--but he looked at Dean with the same pity then as he does now. Dean looks away.
"Alright," Sam says at last. "You say he's in town? Tomorrow we'll go look for him. Until sunset."
"Until sunset."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens After dinner, where Anna sits five seats away, and Sam handles most of the small talk with visiting courtiers, and Bobby occasionally leans over to tell him to stop playing with his food, Dean retires to bed. Half an hour later, Sam appears. "I'll take the couch," he says.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "You don't need to..."
"Yes I do, Dean," Sam says. "Consider it compensation know."
They sometimes talk about Jessica, but they never talk about Ruby. Dean feels the weight in Sam's words even if he can't see his face.
The night passes in silence. Neither sleeps much.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens In the morning the attendants lay out the Coronation robes with much ceremony. Dean has to admit, they're beautiful, the work of many skilled hands: rippling white silk shot with silver, deep blue studded with pearls, a collar of crystal and diamond. He's almost afraid to touch.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "How are you spending your last day as a Prince?" Charlie asks, throwing the ermine stole over her shoulder and posing in front of the mirror.
"Uh. Sam and I are going to do some brotherly bonding."
"You can't get DRUNK before your Coronation!"
"No! We're...gonna. Play chess."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Sam and Charlie both turn to stare at him simultaneously, and Dean feels his entire face go hot. He studies a spot on the rug with great interest.
"What?" he asks. "Maybe I want to learn!"
"Yeah," Sam says, not quite hiding the note of panic. "We're gonna, chess."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens After the door is bolted, and Charlie swears, with raised brows, that she'll inform the household not to disturb them, Sam rounds on him. "CHESS, Dean?"
"I panicked!" He grabs his drabbest cloak, and tosses another to Sam. "Look, let's just go. It's already getting late."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Cas' cloak and amulet are folded neatly together in Dean's bag, which he hoists over his shoulder. Sam pulls the wall sconce forward at the same time that Dean presses on the pentagram in the hearth, and the stone rolls aside to reveal a secret passage.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens The passage spits them out in a street behind the chapel, beside a broken stone angel. ("I really should have that repaired," Dean thinks.) Then they turn the corner and Sam swears in a dead language, for it seems that the entire known world has made the city its temporary home.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Dean, how're we ever gonna FIND him in this?"
"We'll find him," Dean said grimly. Then he grinned, and gripped Sam's cloak. Just like when they were younger, and didn't want to get separated. "Lead the way, Crowdbreaker."
Sam laughs. "Okay. Let's start near the lake."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens The crowds press in on all sides, and they're both cross and sweaty by lunchtime. Dean's stomach roils with hunger and anxiety, and he longs for an apple pastry. He wants it so bad he can practically smell it.
Wait. He CAN smell it.
"Sam, let's take a break and get some food."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens The scent of warm spices and sugar leads them not to the of expensive bakers on the front street, but to the communal ovens where the poorer families bake their bread. This late in the day it's mostly empty, save for one figure, wearing a tan hood and watching the flames closely.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean looks for the cart with the painted daffodil, but it's nowhere to be seen. There's only a reed basket that the man has filled with his wares. The disappointment stings, but the hunger is more acute, and Dean unthinkingly reaches into the basket to grab a fresh currant bun.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Three things happen at once: Sam shouts for him to wait; the man turns, lightning-quick to grab his arm; and Dean promptly stops breathing.
"I don't take kindly to stealing, boy," says a familiar voice, rolling through him like thunder. "If you're hungry, just ask."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "I..." Dean starts, but can't finish.
"Oh my god," Sam says, breathlessly.
"Emmanuel, is everything alright?" The voice that asks is sweet and clear, a woman's voice.
Cas let's go of Dean's arm, but Dean feels the ghost of his touch linger. "Everything's fine, darling."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean's head turns of its own volition. He sees her: reddish hair, and a delicate face with wide green eyes. Her concerned look melts to a smile, and Dean wants to die.
"Are you hungry? My husband's the best baker in the Kingdom."
"Yes, ma'am." Sam says, because Dean can't speak.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Daphne is too modest," Cas--or whatever his name is now--says. "She taught me everything I know." Daphne blushes and ducks back into the building where they seem to be lodging.
"We. Have money," Sam says, eyeing Dean like he might randomly start screaming. Which he might.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Cas looks at him in evident concern. "Are you alright?"
Dean nods, tries to speak, but his tongue feels too big for his mouth.
"My brother," Sam says, mercifully, "isn't much of a talker."
"Oh," Cas says gravely. He hands the currant bun back to Dean, and gives another to Sam.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "No need to pay me," Cas says, waving off the coin that Sam offers. "Consider it a gift." He watches them as they eat. "You two look familiar," he says. "What are your names?"
"UH." Dean says.
Sam blinks. "We're...Johns...sons. The Johnson brothers."
"Hunters," adds Dean.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "You're...both named Hunter Johnson?"
"Uh." Dean says again, shoving the remainder of the currant bun in his mouth.
"Dad...wasn't very creative," Sam says weakly.
"Mm," Cas says. "Would you like another?"
"How'd you meet your wife?" Dean blurts.
"De-Hunter!" Sam says, glaring.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Cas blinks in surprise, then smiles. Dean can't tell if the smile's for him, or for the memory, but he'll take it. "Strange story. She was getting water from the river when she found me. I had no memory and, uh, no clothes."
"She," Dean says, "took in an amnesiac naked man?"
@wildfierr @War_Kittens (Then again, Dean's seen the nakedness in question, so maybe Daphne's choice makes some sense.)
Cas looks embarrassed. "She's kind," he says. Then: "And she felt it was God's will."
"Didn't you ever try to figure out where you came from? In case someone...might be missing you?"
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Missing me?" Cas asks, like he's never considered it before. He returns to his baking. "I...wondered, yes. But I had nothing. No clothes, no memory, not even a name. There was nowhere to go back to. And no one came looking."
"That's..." Dean begins. He shakes his head.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens How can he explain that they had looked for years, even after they gave up the search for John? That Dean had been high up enough to see the moment that the water rose and swallowed up everything before it? That they'd searched, but never thought to look for a living person?
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean swallows tightly. "It's good you've, you know. Found something. Someone. And that you feel, um, nothing's missing."
Cas looked at him. "I didn't say that."
"Anyway, gentlemen, I have work to do."
'No,' Dean thinks. 'This can't be it. This can't be how this ends.'
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Do you..." Dean doesn't know what to ask.
Cas looks at him again.
"Do you have any apple pastries?"
Cas looks rueful. "No. Our supply spoiled on the way here. They're the Prince's favorite, I hear. I'm not sure what I'll do tomorrow. He doesn't seem the beheading kind, but..."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "He's not!" Dean says quickly. "Uh. And...we have apples!"
"What?" Sam and Cas say, simultaneously.
"In the Orchard."
"The Royal Orchard?" Sam asks, carefully.
"Yeah," Dean says. " at the Palace. We can, uh, accompany you. After all, it'd make the Prince happy, right?"
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Cas is skeptical.
"Look," Dean says, pulling aside his shirt collar. "We have tattoos of the Royal Seal." He looks at pointedly at Sam, who frowns but follows suit, revealing a pentagram ringed by flames. "It's illegal to get one unless you're connected with the Palace, right?"
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Cas considers. He's still shrewd and careful. Dean's afraid he'll say no.
But then, he's also the man who married a random woman who found him in a river
"Alright," he says. "Give me a few moments to get ready."
Dean and Sam grin, broad, relieved smiles.
"Great!" Dean says.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Dean!" Sam hisses at him, once Cas goes inside. "What exactly is your plan here?"
"I don't know!" Dean admits. "I just...need more time."
Dean pulls at his own hair in frustration. "He's got to remember. He's GOT to."
"Doesn't seem that way," Sam says, sounding sad.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean keeps the impending tears at bay. The sun's already getting low; he has no time to cry. "Maybe. But you heard him. He thinks no one looked for him. I have to at least try."
"If Anna sees..."
"Who's Anna?" Cas asks, stepping out.
"The Prince's fiancee," Sam says, then winces.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Ah," says Cas, as he shoulders his basket.
"It's not official," Dean says sharply.
"Still," Cas says, "I wish him happiness."
'Same' Dean thinks, feeling anything but. He pulls Sam aside to whisper. "Go on ahead. Alert the groundskeeper we're coming. Tell him to stay inside."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Sam nods once, sharply. Dean can tell he thinks it's a stupid idea, but going along with each other's stupid ideas is something they've done since boyhood.
"Sa-My brother's just going to tell, uh, his boss that we'll have a guest, so I'll walk with you. Stick close. Please."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Cas does, walking so close to Dean as they navigate through the crowds that their hands brush occasionally.The urge to lace their fingers together is agonizing, but after years of talking to Cas' grave, he can't find words the actual man.
"Not long," he manages, eventually.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens 'For God's sake,' he chides himself, 'TALK to him.'
Nearby, a gang of children run shrieking, after an exuberant dog. One of them knocks Dean square against Cas' chest. "Oof!"
"Gracious," Cas says, and those are...those are his hands gripping Dean's waist. "Are you alright"?
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean's not sure. It's been 6 years since he's seen this face from this close up. A kiss is a matter of inches. Less. Cas smells like the smoke from the ovens and the cinnamon from the dough, and it's--none of it--fair.
'Just get him somewhere quiet,' Dean thinks, and pulls away.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Fine," he says.
"Your eyes..."
"Kid stepped on my foot. It's nothing. Come on, it's getting late."
Finally, they arrive. Not at the front gate, with its flags and sentries, but at the orchard gate, with its humble stone wall. Dean's heart pounds, but there's Sam, waving at them.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean doesn't have time to wonder about the vaguely wild look in his eye as he shoos them through the gate and shuts it behind them. The din of the city dies away at once, like diving into a cool, green pool. Dean takes a deep breath for what feels like the first time in months.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens He turns to watch Cas' face, hoping for a flicker of recognition.
"It's beautiful," Cas says softly, and his look of soft awe is almost enough. "Some of these trees must be a hundred years old."
"Yeah," Dean says. "But that one's my favorite. It was a gift from a...good friend."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "A Royal Russet? Those are very rare."
"Yes," says Dean. "Tart on the outside, sweet on the inside. He said, uh. It reminded him of me."
"You must be..." Cas frowns, like he's working something out . "Very good friends."
"Yeah," says Dean. "Cas and I, we were very good friends."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens They walk to the back, where the late season apples are ready for picking, and Cas smiles at the sight of them. "Thank you," he says. "I was so worried about tomorrow."
"Yeah, I get that."
Sam's nowhere in sight, and Dean should wonder about that, but he's too busy watching Cas.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens For a few moments the world is perfect: the rising green scent of spring, and apple blossoms, the wind in the trees, and Cas. But every paradise is temporary, and this is no different.
"Well, well," says a slow, serpentine voice. "Truly these are the days of miracle and wonder."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean's blood ices over. "Meg."
"Hi there, lover boy."
Cas looks between them. "You two are..."
"No!" Dean says. "No. Meg works in the kitchen. Working off a debt." The T was honed to a point. "She was making a joke."
"Ah." Cas nods. "Colleagues."
"Sure," laughs Meg. "Colleagues."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Why are you here, Meg?" Dean asks. "Shouldn't you be helping get ready for the Coronation?"
The arch of her brow alerts him to his mistake. "I could ask you the same thing."
"Excuse us, Emmanuel," Dean says darkly, and drags Meg away by the arm.
"Really?" she sighs, but follows.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Meg." Dean's voice is threatening, but there's also a fine line of panic running through it. "Your term can be extended."
"Legally, only by a year," she fires back. "Besides. I took care of him the first time he went nuts. Or did you forget?"
"No," Dean snaps, scowling.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens He doesn't like to remember it, least of all the part that involved Cas kissing Meg instead of him. Still at least Cas knew who Dean was--who he was--who time.
"It's the reason you've still got a head on your shoulders," Dean says.
"Hmm," Meg says. "You should tell him."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Tell him? TELL HIM?" Dean barely keeps his volume in check.
"Tell him."
"We don't know how he'll react. What it might do to him. You were there the first time. You know."
"I was," Meg says, inspecting her nails. "And who was it that snapped him back? Oh wait, that's right. You."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "I need time."
"That's the one thing you don't have, Your Highness." As ever, the title drips with sarcasm from her mouth. "So tell him, and..."
"Excuse me," says a voice behind them, making them jump.
"I...overhead." He frowns, looking lost. "I. Am I...are we... friends?"
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean's mind goes so blank, it screams. He opens his mouth to say something, anything, but--
"Just a dollop," says Meg.
"Bestest friends, actually," Meg continues, smiling and merciless. "Fought side by side for years. Did a lot of other things, too."
Dean closes his eyes.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens When he opens them again, Cas is staring at him, the way only Cas can. Even when he's someone else, he's still himself.
"It's true," Dean says. His voice breaks over the word. "We were friends."
"Wait. Am I Cas?"
Dean nods, wordless.
"I...don't remember you. I'm sorry."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean's heart squeezes itself into an agonizing, unnatural shape and he briefly wonders if he's been struck by a curse.
"We met...a long time ago. You, uh, you rode at the head of the vanguard."
"Why wouldn't you tell me? That sounds pleasant."
Meg laughs.
"It's not," Dean says.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "It was bloody and brutal, and you were good at it."
"I'm just a baker," Cas says, sounding desperate.
"You saved my life."
"You used to dream of falling off a cliff like your brother."
"I...have nightmares of falling off a cliff. Someone always catches me."
"It's me."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "She called you..." Cas says, and Dean almost forgot how quick and calculating those eyes could be. "Your name's not Hunter Johnson, is it?"
"Hunt--" Meg begins, then makes a strange sound. "I should go." And then they're alone.
"No," Dean says, wretched. "I'm Dean Winchester."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Cas' face undergoes a rapid series of changes, and Dean sees what's coming. He grabs Cas by the shoulder just as he starts to move.
"If you bow to me I'll throw myself in the river. Please don't."
"Alright. But tell me..."
Sam's arrival cuts Cas' request short.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Sam is breathless and wild-eyed. "Dean! I mean..."
"He knows, Sam."
If Sam's surprised he doesn't show it. "Great. But you need to go NOW."
"Look! Look at the sky, Dean."
Somehow it had grown dark when he wasn't watching. One by one, the torches spring up along the walls.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Sam siezes his cloak, maybe expecting him to run, or throw a punch. (It's happened before, god knows.) But his face is full of worry, and he's not the Prince's head advisor, he's just Dean's little brother.
"Go, before they see you're gone. I'll handle this Dean. I promise."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean is less than 24 hours from being the most powerful man in the country--a title he knows he'll never wear comfortably--but he's powerless here, now. But after the war, after Ruby, after tears, and fights, he still trusts Sam. For once, he lets himself be led.
"Okay, Sammy."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens He grants himself one last look back at Cas, who watches him in silence, a familiar sight, now newly strange. As he hurries away, he hears Sam:
"Listen, uh. Cas. Emmanuel. You're not under arrest, but..."
Dean shakes his head and sprints with hunt-won speed toward the palace.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens He throws himself through the hidden passage, landing on his hands and knees, and kicks it closed. He can hear the jangle and murmur of the guards outside his door. He strips off his old walking clothes with frantic hands and shoves them under the bed, along with Cas' things.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "Coming!" Dean yells, just as the knocking on the door grows impolite. He turns the lock and greets Bobby's startled face.
Bobby takes it in: the sweat on Dean's brow, the breathing he can't quite keep even, his mad eyes. His nakedness.
"Chess, huh," Bobby says, after a pause.
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean shifts on his feet. "It got...heated. Sam's, uh. Sam's horse was trying to...climb my tower." He coughs delicately, looking away.
"Uh huh." Bobby says, frowning behind his beard. Then: "You need a bath, son. No way they're letting you in the chapel covered in...chess dirt."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens Dean nods, suddenly aware of the honor guards in the shadows behind Bobby and...oh god, that's Victor. The last living son of a neighboring king, an old war ally. And the finest officer in the police force. Dean's only just gotten the guy to like him.
Dean covers himself. "Yep!"
@wildfierr @War_Kittens He grabs a towel from the hook. As he tries to shuffle through the crowd to the bath chamber, Bobby blocks his way. "Uh," Dean says.
"I'll go with you," Bobby says.
"I know how to bathe on my own, Bobby. I'm not a kid."
"Ain't that. Gotta make sure you don' chess again."
@wildfierr @War_Kittens "But Bobby..."
Bobby leans in close so the others can't hear. "I may've been born at night, Dean, but it wasn't last night."
Dean nods again, this time in defeat. "Alright but can it be...someone else?"
Victor's eyes widen.
"No, thank you," Dean wheezes.
"Then who?"
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