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.
"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."
Dean wants to scream.
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.
At the inner gate the cart stops for inspection. Dean's close enough to see the moment the driver looks up.
That pain pales to nothing compared to what his heart feels now.
But the cart moves on and the gate closes with a clang.
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"Even if he doesn't...want me now, she deserves to see her brother."
"Alright," Sam says at last. "You say he's in town? Tomorrow we'll go look for him. Until sunset."
"Yes I do, Dean," Sam says. "Consider it compensation for...you 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.
"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."
Wait. He CAN smell it.
"Sam, let's take a break and get some food."
"Are you hungry? My husband's the best baker in the Kingdom."
"Yes, ma'am." Sam says, because Dean can't speak.
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.
"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.
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?"
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..."
"What?" Sam and Cas say, simultaneously.
"In the Orchard."
"The Royal Orchard?" Sam asks, carefully.
"Yeah," Dean says. "We...work at the Palace. We can, uh, accompany you. After all, it'd make the Prince happy, right?"
"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?"
"If Anna sees..."
"Who's Anna?" Cas asks, stepping out.
"The Prince's fiancee," Sam says, then winces.
"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."
'Just get him somewhere quiet,' Dean thinks, and pulls away.
"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.
"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."
"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."
"Yeah, I get that."
Sam's nowhere in sight, and Dean should wonder about that, but he's too busy watching Cas.
"Well, well," says a slow, serpentine voice. "Truly these are the days of miracle and wonder."
"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."
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.
"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."
"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?"
"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.
"It's true," Dean says. His voice breaks over the word. "We were friends."
"Wait. Am I...am I Cas?"
Dean nods, wordless.
"I...don't remember you. I'm sorry."
"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."
"It's not," Dean says.
"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."
"Hunt--" Meg begins, then makes a strange sound. "I should go." And then they're alone.
"No," Dean says, wretched. "I'm Dean Winchester."
"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.
"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.
"Listen, uh. Cas. Emmanuel. You're not under arrest, but..."
Dean shakes his head and sprints with hunt-won speed toward the palace.
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.
"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."
Dean covers himself. "Yep!"
"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't...play chess again."
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.