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There are three defining moments, in Dean Winchester’s childhood.


 


The first is when he’s four years and five months old, and his baby brother Sam is born.


 


The second is when he’s four years and nine months old, his house burns up in flame and his mom dies. His dad puts Sam in Dean’s arms and he tells him to run and save his brother, and Dean does. Dad tries to save Mom, but he barely manages to get out of the building alive.


 


The third is when he’s five years old, more or less, and he sees Mike Bossy scoring a goal on the television.


 


You’ll think that this is all very uneven and that you should get a proper explanation, and you’re probably right. You’ll probably be wondering about the third point, because what the heck has hockey to do with a traumatized child who just lost a parent?


 


Alright, you do deserve an explanation, so let’s go a short while back and cover this.


 


John Winchester married Mary Campbell in 1978. Her family hadn’t approved at all, since in their eyes the only worthwhile thing John ever did in his life was going to Vietnam, and co-owning a garage with his friend Bobby Singer was really not enough of a living. But they loved each other and married anyway, and Dean was born in 1979. John and Bobby’s garage was going great then, they had a nice two-storey house in Lawrence, Kansas, and they were both head over heels for their kid. And when John’s business started going even better than great, they decided that they really wanted another one, and then Sam was born. And damn, John had heard a lot of people complaining about how bad could it be with the second kid, because the first might be jealous and throw fits and drive a parent insane, but apparently he had gotten lucky. Because Dean was nothing if not smitten with his little brother, and seriously, he was such a great kid. He was talkative, he was active, he didn’t give a single problem when they enrolled him in kindergarten. On November 1st, 1982, John Winchester thought he really couldn’t ask for more from life; he had just tucked Dean in, Mary was already asleep in their bed and Sam was, too, in the crib they kept in their room (they had thought they should get a bigger house in a while, but if the garage kept on going so well, they might not even need a mortgage).


 


The night of November 2nd, a short circuit which caused an extensive fire in the house puts an end to all of that.


 


John has barely the time to mourn his wife and to feel at least grateful that he didn’t lost any of his boys, and to move temporarily into Bobby’s house. Because well, when Dean doesn’t say anything for the next couple of days, John figures it’s normal. He sent the kid running out of a burning house with a toddler in his arms, he can’t just expect a four-year old not to be shell-shocked.


 


Except that Dean doesn’t start talking again.


 


Not for a month, and not for two, and when after two months John follows everyone’s advice and sends him back to school, the principal calls him in a couple of times. Because, apart from the whole ‘he doesn’t say anything’ part of it, the kid has apparently shown ‘potentially violent behavior’. (Translating in: he tried to punch another kid who had apparently said something to him, but since Dean doesn’t talk and the other kid never says anything either, no one ever knows what Dean had heard. John has an idea, and when he puts Dean in another school it’s slightly better but he still doesn’t talk.)


 


John talks to counselors and social workers and everyone tells him that it’s just shock and it’ll take some time, but if and when Dean starts talking again he should just behave like nothing happened. Which, according to John, is completely crazy, but it doesn’t change the core of the issue.


 


Which is, that Dean doesn’t speak a single word for the five months after Mary dies. John is almost thankful that he has two kids to look after because it doesn’t make him crazy with grief, and Bobby tells him that he doesn’t want him back at work if he isn’t feeling up to it. But spending all day inside a house thinking about his beautiful, dead wife while trying to raise two children, one of which is traumatized, isn’t anything John is equipped for.


 


Well, he tries, at least.


 


And here we come to the last defining moment in Dean Winchester’s childhood.


 


It’s sometime in March and John and Bobby put the kids to bed, and Dean still hasn’t spoken a single word. Bobby had asked John if he felt like having a beer and watching a goddamn hockey match, for old times’ sake. It was one of their habits, before the fire: once each week, one of them went to the other’s house, they had a beer and they watched whatever match was on.


 


John decides it’d be nice and so they have a beer and turn the tv on. It’s Islanders versus Oilers, and while it’s a good game, John can’t bring himself to concentrate on it. It’s been so much time and he just can’t wrap his head around such a trivial and simple thing.


 


This, until Dean appears outside the door. John sighs, knowing it’s one of those nights during which Dean just can’t sleep, and he figures he knows the reasons well enough. So he asks if he wants to watch the game with them and Dean just walks over and sits next to him on Bobby’s couch.


 


Twenty seconds later, Mike Bossy scores a goal.


 


It’s a neat action, John thinks. Clean, classy, just a few movements, and he managed to ditch everyone else in his way without an effort, or so it seems. He glances down at Dean and he sees that the kid’s eyes are wide, in a way they haven’t been for months. His lips are slightly parted as he watches Bossy skate flawlessy on the ice, and he doesn’t seem to pay attention to anything else. Not even the fight in the background.


 


Bossy scores another two goals before the game is over, and there are another three fights in between, and John wonders what counselors would say if they knew he’s letting Dean watch it.


 


“Dad?” Dean asks then, and John has to keep himself from gasping. Behave like it’s normal, rings in his ears, and when he shares a look with Bobby, Bobby nods at him. His expression clearly says answer the kid, idjit.


 


“Yes, son?” John answers, and he tries to keep his voice steady.


 


“Do you think I could be like him?” Dean asks, earnestly, like he just wants John’s opinion. There’s no question about who him is.


 


Good question. John is a casual hockey watcher, but he’s never been to a game, he doesn’t care for a particular team, he doesn’t really know any team’s name if not for the original six and he doesn’t have an idea about how you become a hockey player. Or a scorer. Or like Mike Bossy.


 


But Dean seems genuinely interested and he hasn’t spoken a word or shown genuine interest in anything except Sam since his mother went up in flames. Who is John to answer, I don’t know?


 


So he reaches down and ruffles Dean’s hair, and he hopes he sounds convincing enough.


 


“Well, with some effort I think you can be anything you want. Sure, why not?”


 


Dean smiles up at him for the first time since November and John knows, right in that moment, that there isn’t something he won’t do to stop Dean, if he decides that he wants to spend the best years of his life skating on ice with a puck in his hand.


 


--


 


Turns out, he was convincing. Indeed.


 


--


 


It also turns out that if you want to play hockey in Lawrence, Kansas, the most that you can hope for is a single gym, and it’s good enough until Dean is seven. Hockey for kids in a gym in Lawrence, Kansas, is not exactly the junior league.


 


“John,” Bobby tells him at some point, “if your kid really wants to get into some junior league or to play seriously, you know he won’t ever do it from here, do you?”


 


John nods as he cleans his hands with a rag.


 


“I know. Fuck, I know.” And he thinks about this huge poster with Bossy and the rest of the Islanders that hangs over Dean’s bed in the apartment they’ve been living in since a couple of years. Sam, now four, keeps on saying that it’s hideous and Dean won’t take it down.


 


“Maybe you should send him to Detroit or somethin’ when he’s older. You know that there are programs. If he’s got talent someone will let him stay there.”


 


John sighs. He knows that, too. But he can’t just trust some strangers to take his kid in.


 


“I think we’ll just move, then,” John says, and Bobby raises an eyebrow and turns to get back to accounting.


 


“Fine enough. If you do, just know I’ll save you a job here. Oh, and I’ve got a cousin in Ontario. There’s a bunch of good teams ‘round there, if you ever decide to, well, move,” Bobby says, and John wonders how much time it’ll take before it happens. Bobby’s right. Either they move, or there’s no way Dean will ever get away from Lawrence’s gym. Fuck Kansas not having a hockey team.


 


--


 


Also, John has learned some things about hockey since Dean decided it was his life call.


 


One of which is, it’d be a lot easier for the kid to get into a junior league if he had already been playing from before. And Dean is almost ten, which means that there’s not much time. Dean spends his time talking about junior league, but he has never asked to go or move, and John knows his son enough to know why. First thing, he knows he’d have to go on his own, and John thinks that Dean would rather lose a hand than be away from his brother. And John gets it. They don’t have any other relatives and Mary’s side of the family hasn’t even shown up for the funeral. It always went unsaid, between them, that family comes first. But Dean also knows that they really don’t have the means to pack everything up and go to Boston. Or anywhere else where there’s a good team.


 


But still. Dean takes a couch three days each week to go to the nearest town where there’s a bigger gym. And as far as John knows, he has already skipped two levels in the hockey chain. Or well, there’s mites and squirts and pee-wees and stuff, and fuck they aren’t ridiculous names, but Dean is nine and he’ll be ten in a short while and he never played in minors until now. Either he starts now or it’ll be increasingly difficult, and well, if Bobby has relatives in Canada, maybe it wouldn’t be too hard.


 


Fuck if John feels any need to change his life around in such a radical way, but he isn’t going to be the one who clips Dean’s wings even before he has a chance to fly.


 


John talks with Bobby’s cousin, who assures him that he can find him a job in Oshawa without a problem. And Oshawa has a pretty great junior team, and John is pretty sure that they can’t find anything better than that for now.


 


The tears of joy coming out from Dean’s eyes when he breaks the news even out the first argument he ever has with Sam. Alright, maybe arguing with a five-year old sounds just ridiculous, but it turns out it’s the first in a long line. Because the kid, of course, doesn’t want to leave the only town he ever knew.


 


John rationalizes it. It’s not that he wants to favor one over the other. But Sam is five and he hasn’t even started going to school, and he doesn’t remember anything from before and he’s always been a bright, great, well-adjusted kid. Dean? Dean’s eyes might lit up when he watches hockey or when he plays it or when he’s talking to his brother or John or Bobby, but he hasn’t made a friend since Mary died. In school, he’s average, but all his teachers keep on wanting to talk to John because according to them he just doesn’t make an effort. And right, he talks, but most of the times he’s quiet, and fuck if John doesn’t remember that before the fire he was everything but. He knows that Dean needs change. Maybe it’s the city, maybe it’s a lot of other things, but the way John’s head rationalized it, if they move Sam will adapt because he knows the kid will, and Dean might just benefit from it.


 


He just doesn’t think that a five-year old might not rationalize it, but John is a human being and he has his faults, and maybe Mary would have picked on it but he doesn’t.


 


He’ll have time to regret it in the following years, but it doesn’t change that he takes the decision and moves them all to Canada.


 


--


 


There are a lot more than three defining moments in Dean Winchester’s post-childhood life, but he can safely say that one of them is the day they moved to Canada. Which was a lot colder than Kansas, and which Sam hated at the beginning. But when they’re there, he just goes to school and makes new friends and reads more books than ninety per cent of kids his age do, and Dean figures he’s alright. Or he’ll be.


 


Talking about him, though, it’s another whole story. The first three or four years after they move are the best of Dean’s life until that point. He goes to a school which is tied with a minor league which is tied with a bunch more associations and he enrolls to play hockey, and it’s a dream come true. He doesn’t need to ride for hours in order to get to a decent gym, he gets to play almost every day and everything is great until he’s fourteen and the new coach decides that it’s time to find out where everyone’s talent really lies. Until now, everyone just switched positions.


 


Now, Dean wants to be a scorer. He has wanted to score goals since the second he saw Mike Bossy on Bobby’s tv years ago, and he has scored pretty decently until now, when he played that role anyway. He knows he’s horrible at goalkeeping, and that he’s best at checking, but he really still hopes that he gets to play the role he wants. Also, because sometime next year there’ll be draftings, and the idea that he could end up in the junior league for real is enough to make him forget that he gets up at five to do homework and goes to bed at midnight (and in the midst of this, he brings Sam to school and picks him up from it, buys groceries and whatever’s needed because the money is low and Dad has to work more shifts). Except that when it’s his turn, the new coach, whose name is Alistair and is the creepiest person Dean has ever met, looks at him in the eyes and asks him something that Dean wasn’t expecting. At all.


 


“Dean Winchester?”


 


“Yes, sir?”


 


“I heard that yesterday afternoon something happened outside the school. Could you elaborate on it?”


 


Dean’s blood runs cold at that. Because yeah, yesterday he was waiting outside Sam’s school,, and then Sam had run out of the building and some four guys which are in Dean’s grade but not in any of his classes had started to follow them. Sam had just told Dean to ignore them, but then one of the idiots had shouted something about not wanting anything to do with losers like him. Dean had told the guy to shut up and the guy had tried to punch him. And well, Dean has been playing hockey for ages and he has been in his share of fights on ice, and he had punched back. The guy had stayed on the floor spitting blood and Dean had barely scraped his knuckles.


 


The whole thing gained him an argument with Sam who absolutely loathes violence (and Dean has learned ages ago that his brother will never like hockey also because of the fights), and he hadn’t really wanted to even think about it.


 


“I didn’t start it,” Dean answers, but Alistair just shakes his head and smiles a smile which Dean doesn’t like at all.


 


“But you don’t look like you’ve been in a fight.”


 


“No, but… why is this?”


 


“Because I was thinking you’d do great if you were to do it on the ice, too.”


 


Dean nods and swallows and tries not to show anything on his face, but in that second, his entire world crashes over his shoulders.


 


Doing it on the ice isn’t what he has signed up for. Anything else he would have been happy with, but enforcing? It means that the coach thinks he can’t play for shit, that he’s going to be labeled a goon for the rest of his goddamn life and that if he scores, it’ll be just for his goddamn luck.


 


When he gets home, he has won two fights during practice and he’s still thinking about Alistair’s tiny nod and about what he said after.


 


I think it’s really the role for you.


 


Sam realizes that Dean is pissed as soon as he puts foot into the room and he doesn’t say anything. (Wisely.) Dad realizes that, too, and it’s not much after Dean slams the door of the room he shares with Sam when someone knocks.


 


“What happened?” Dad asks, and Dean shakes his head, feeling ridiculous. He raises his head and takes a look at his father. His beard is starting to become gray, there are new lines on his face and he looks tired, even if there’s a small smile on his lips. Dean feels like shit knowing that the only reason he isn’t in Lawrence doing what he’s good at in his own shop (and not at a garage where he’s underpaid) is that Dean wanted a chance at hockey.


 


“It’s just, the new coach decided ‘bout roles. And he heard about yesterday.”


 


John nods, and Dean thinks that he’s lucky, to have the only parent in the universe who hadn’t locked him in for a month for that goddamn fight.


 


“He figured that if I was good at it outside, I’d be good at it on ice. And. Well. That’s it.”


 


“So what?”


 


“He said winger, but the way he put things, all I’m gonna do until the drafts is beating people up,” he snorts, trying not to look like a goddamn girl.


 


He’s waiting for something along the lines of, well then I guess we could have stayed back where we started from, and then his dad sits next to him and looks down at his hands. There’s some grease on them still. Dean thinks it’s never going to get off.


 


“Well then, I guess that if you can’t be like that damn Bossy, you can just try to be the next Bobby Orr.”


 


Then he stands up and leaves, but he doesn’t look angry at all, and that’s the second defining moment of Dean Winchester’s life after his childhood.


 


Or, well, it was when he found out that things never go according to plan and that you can always try to see the good in any situation.


 


--


 


Dean understands soon that Alistair is never going to move him from his position. That’s also when he realizes, with dread, that if no one trains him in order to score when he’s becoming famous for being the only person playing hockey at his level in this city who hasn’t lost a fight once, if he ever gets hired, it’ll be for being good at punching. Which means that he won’t ever get a decent number of points, and he’ll never get drafted at all and he’ll probably spend his life in the junior league.


 


So, he tries to get good at assists and when no one tells him that he shouldn’t, he works his ass off on it. Enough that when junior leagues draft just before he turns sixteen, he comes home saying that he got drafted.


 


In Michigan. By the Saginaw Springs. Which isn’t bad at all but it isn’t the Generals, and it means that at least he has to move again. He tells Dad that he really should just be the only one leaving, he’s sure they can find him a place to stay; and at least here they know someone and they really shouldn’t turn their lives upside down because of him. But Dad is categorical and while Dean on one side is happy about it because if he had to stay away from them he’d feel like a limb was missing, on the other side? It means that they have to start from scratch and while he’ll have some facilitations, his brother most probably won’t.


 


Sam just shrugs and says fine, he did it once, he can do it twice, and he hated the school they were in anyways.


 


Dean isn’t sure that he’s too thrilled about it, but he also wants to be out of his current team and his current school and doesn’t press the issue any further.


 


--


 


The three years he spends in Michigan are hell.


 


While playing, he manages the assists, but he only scores once almost by mistake. For the rest, he gets three concussions, stitches in his side three times, he almost loses a couple of teeth and he still loses an amount of five fights total in that entire time.


 


Which makes his new coach so happy that he never tries to change his position once.


 


To add to the pile, he still has school to attend, and even if he gets a lot of leeway, but he still feels bad about not having horrible grades just because he plays hockey while Sam has to work his ass off to bring home all A-s. Which is why he tries to do something on his goddamn own whenever he gets back from games or practice, and the result is that his grades get from just below average to average. But this, coupled with the fact that he beats people up on an ice field, gives him the dumb jock reputation, and that’s exactly what he had feared.


 


Then it comes the next defining moment. Or, the moment in which Dean’s dream is fulfilled in the worst possible way.


 


He’s twenty-two when he’s told that the Penguins drafted him.


 


For a second, Dean feels like fainting. Because while it isn’t the Bruins or the Islanders, it still means NHL. And the NHL is everything he has dreamed about since he was five. And considering that he’s twenty-two and still not in a major league, he won’t get another chance anytime soon. So, he says yes.


 


Then he gets to speak with the coach before signing. Mr. Adler looks more like an insurance agent than a hockey coach, but it really isn’t Dean’s problem. Not until Mr. Adler starts speaking and tells him that yes, they did draft him. Because they need a good enforcer and he’s the best one out of the entire Ontario junior league. Clearly they suppose that Dean hasn’t got any plans of playing any other role, has he?


 


It’s playing in the NHL, and Dean just nods and feels like crying when the meeting is over and there’s his signature on his contract.


 


--


 


Then he goes home and it turns into the worst day of his life.


 


Turns out that Sam tried for Stanford and he got admitted with an almost full ride. Almost. (Dean would have had a full ride to some less shiny college, if he had tried, but he had realized he just couldn’t do it.)


 


And that’s when the worst argument between John and Sam Winchester happens. Because well, Sam and Dad usually did argue a lot, but Dean had just figured it was because arguing with your parents is something which is bound to happen. The fact that Dean never really argued with John doesn’t count. Dean doesn’t think he’ll ever do it, if only because the fact that he and Dad are the only ones who remember Mom gives them a sort of connection which Sam probably will never understand, and Dean never knows if he envies or pities him for it.


 


So he comes home to hear from outside the door the worst part of the argument. John is screaming at Sam that he just doesn’t have the goddamn money to cover the rest and that can’t he just try to get in college somewhere closer. Sam is screaming back and saying that when it was a question of moving everywhere so that Dean could play hockey money wasn’t an issue, and now that he lands his own dream he has to renounce it?


 


Then they both turn to the door, where he’s standing, unsure of what the hell he should do or say.


 


“I got drafted,” he says then, his voice thin. He had pictured an entirely different situation. Then he just shakes his head and leaves the room. He doesn’t hear screaming as he gets out of the house and on the road, which he figures is good, at least.


 


The fact that he hasn’t really made friends with anyone in his former team isn’t helping, and so he finds a phone cabin and calls Bobby because he doesn’t know who else he should fucking talk to.


 


--


 


The day after, he wakes up to find out that Dad has sold Bobby his share of the garage.


 


He had never done it, maybe figuring that he’d go back to Lawrence some day, but doing the math, he had realized it’d be more than enough to cover the college fees that still needed to be covered, and so well, it wasn’t like he was gaining much out of it.


 


Dean asks him what is he going to do now (because Dean is moving to Pittsburgh and Sam is going away, too), and Dad just smiles and tells him that he’ll just get back to Lawrence. He still has a job there, right? But not before he goes to see Dean’s first NHL game, anyway.


 


Dean says that he’ll find free tickets, and he does. And he doesn’t lose any of the two fights he ends in during the match, and he manages a bunch of assists, and for a first game it isn’t bad. He just really would have liked to score, instead of standing through a crowd shouting him to hit somebody.


 


Then again, it’s the reason he’s here, isn’t it?


 


--


 


Clearly, the fact that he doesn’t score and that Mr. Adler isn’t interested in seeing if he can, in fact, socre, means that he doesn’t earn that much. He’s not even slow, but clearly if he spends most of a match picking fights and the rest trying to get assists, he can’t be the fastest guy in the team. Anyway, along with what he saved from his time in junior league, it’s enough to get by decently, and for the first year everything is okay. Sam calls regularly and does great in college, Dean calls more than he does, Dad seems to be fine and he found a nice, small apartment near what-used-to-be-his garage and if Dean hates enforcing, well, he deals with it. Maybe one day he can hope to get traded and maybe he’ll find someone giving him a chance.


 


That’s when the next two defining moments happen. The first is his dad almost dying, and the second is meeting Cas. And they happened so closely to each other that Dean can almost never distinguish them, thinking back on it.


 


--


 


He gets a phone call from Bobby two days before he needs to go playing in Boston. Translating in, Very Important Game, and his dick of a coach has spent enough time saying it that Dean dreads the idea of losing. Not to mention that they’re not doing too well in the general chart, so they have to win or they’re not going to enjoy the next few weeks at all. Anyway, he answers and he’s told that his dad is in hospital. Heart stroke, of the mild-to-serious-but-more-serious-than-mild kind, and while he’ll survive, it’ll take him a month to get out. And he might have lost the use of his right hand.


 


“I’m coming,” Dean says before even thinking about it. He can make it to the game if he skips practice –


 


“He said not to let you.”


 


“What?”


 


“He follows the league, y’know. He knows what game you’re playing next and he told me to forbid you from skipping it.”



“He’s crazy. I’m not putting a stupid game before…”


 


“He also said he’ll be here after it and that I should kick your ass on his behalf if you even try to show up before then.”


 


“You called Sam, right?”


 


“Yeah. He says he’ll be here tomorrow.”


 


“Good. At least.”


 


“Dean, listen, your old man would kill me if I told you, but… he doesn’t have an insurance.”


 


Dean can feel his blood turn to ice.


 


“What the fuck? He had one! He always had one!”


 


“He stopped paying for it when you moved to Saginaw. Said he couldn’t afford it for both him and Sam. Also he thought nothin’ could get to him, the idjit. Anyway, when the bill comes I doubt he’ll manage to cover half of it.”


 


Dean swallows, taking the news in. And he realizes that he is the only one who can help, because Sam is a college student and he probably can barely afford to go to Lawrence at all. And while Dean doesn’t make much, for being in the NHL, he still is the only one who’s had a steady income for more than five years.


 


“How much?”


 


“I asked a doctor. I think he said that along with the prolonged stay, it’ll be some twenty grand. Or around that sum.”


 


Dean breathes into the phone, slow, and wonders where the hell he’s going to find all that money, but he’ll find some means to.


 


“Alright. I’ll… I’ll see ‘bout it. Thanks for letting me know. I guess I’ll see you as soon as I can get there after the game, okay?”



“Sure. Don’t get killed, son.”


 


Dean snorts and closes the call. Right. Eight months and he has gone through four rows of stitches in four different places, a sprained wrist which made him skip a week’s worth of games, a black eye and a stick aimed to his head, among the rest. And in Boston he’ll probably get roughed up enough.


 


He decides he needs to talk with Zachariah.


 


--


 


He goes after practice and he tries not to sound too much like a smartass. He actually tells most of the truth, summed in: dear coach, I know that enforcing is what I’m born to do, but I might have some family trouble coming my way and I could do with some more money, so would that really be bad to put me in a position to score once in a while?


 


“Son,” Zachariah answers, and Dean already knows it won’t work (also he hates it when anyone who isn’t Bobby or his dad calls him like that), “see, I’ve been doing this job for years. You’ll agree that I know how to do it. And see, if case was that you were the new Bobby Orr, that could be done. But you’ll realize that Bobby Orr isn’t a rule. He’s an exception.”


 


Right. Dean knows that Orr is the only enforcer on the face of this planet who scores a lot. He also knows that he doesn’t have a tenth of his skill. But it’s not like anyone even bothered to try it, since the second Alistair decided that he was good just at being a goon.


 


“And son, I hate to break it to you, but the new Bobby Orr? You aren’t that. You’re good at what you do, but sorry to say, making you score? I’d goddamn lose the game in the first ten minutes. So, sorry, but if you want any advice, just work on the assists.”


 


Like it isn’t what Dean has done his goddamn fucking entire life.


 


--


 


When he gets to Boston he’s in a foul mood and as the crew starts shouting at him to hit somebody, he wishes he could kill them just by fucking staring. He’s twenty-three and he’s already sick of this. He’s sick of everyone looking at him like everything he can do is throw a punch, he’s sick of everyone else talking down at him because since he’s a goon then he has to be an idiot, and it burns that he’s been here for months and he never even came close to scoring.


 


So, when his opponent practically throws himself at him because last time Dean roughed him up for good, Dean just can’t wait to let some steam loose and throws his gloves away. It’s the shortest fight of his career because he puts the guy down with a couple of well-thrown left hooks, but then someone in the team literally pounds him from behind and before Dean hits his head on the ice, he can only wonder how bad he’ll be concussed after.


 


When he opens his eyes, he’s on a stretcher in the stadium’s small infirmary and there are two huge, ridiculously intense blue eyes staring down at him.


 


He blinks and then focuses, and along with the eyes there’s a face. With regular features, pale skin, unruly black hair, two full lips and definitely, definitely male.


 


“Who… what…” he mumbles, and the guy puts pressure on the back of his head with what’s most definitely ice. Point is, Dean is so used to it that it barely stings.


 


“If with what you meant what happened, you hit your head possibly harder than usual. If with who you mean who am I, nice to meet you. My name is Castiel and I’m your new medic.”


 


Oh. So, this is the guy who’s going to stitch him up for the next five years or so. Dean can think of worse things, really.


 


“Oh. Well. Nice to meet you, too. I’m Dean, but I guess you knew that already, huh?”


 


“Yes, that, I did.”


 


“How’s it going out there?”


 


“It’s even. The person who knocked you from behind was suspended, but since you are not there anymore no one is covering your side of the rink and they are having… difficulties. Actually, your coach asked me if you could get back in.”


 


“Fuck. Well, I guess I’ll –” Dean starts, already getting off the coat, but Castiel grips his arm with a strength that is almost surprising and he pushes him back down.


 


“No you won’t. I do not know what was your former medic’s policy when it comes to injuries, but I will be clear with you. You aren’t in a coma but if you had hit your head two inches below, right now you’d be in a coma and in a hospital in the best of cases. And I am not going to allow you to get back there so that someone else can throw a punch in that area. Was that clear?”


 


As he says it, Castiel leans over Dean, so much that their faces are just inches apart, and this while still keeping the ice on the back of his head. Dean has to swallow, wondering why the heck is he feeling this hot all of a sudden.


 


“Extremely. But, uh, dude? Personal space? Some of it?”


 


Castiel suddenly takes a step back, shaking his head. “Excuse me. I tend to… get carried.”


 


“Hey, no problem. That’s cool. Listen, how much time I’ll have to be out?”


 


“Luckily for you, it will just hurt for a couple of days. You can play the next game, if you wish.”


 


“Thank fuck,” Dean mutters, and Castiel just raises an eyebrow and still keeps his hand there. The ice has to be melted, by this point.


 


“Can I ask you something?”


 


“Yeah. Sure.”


 


“Is there a reason you are so desperately wanting to play? If you ask me, you don’t look like you enjoy it much. Not that I would not agree with you.”


 


It’s kind of too much for Dean’s brain right now.


 


“Sorry, I just… what did you say in the end?”


 


“That you do not seem to enjoy it. Excuse me if it was…”


 


“Dude, you’re the first person I meet who isn’t related to me who understood it,” Dean says, his voice almost small, and when Castiel sits on the bed’s side, he doesn’t complain about a lack of personal space. “How did you even…”


 


“You go through the motions. And I can distinguish someone who enjoys playing from someone who doesn’t.”


 


“Yeah, and how would you agree with me?”


 


Castiel actually breaks eye contact from the first time since Dean opened his eyes. And it’s weird, because Dean hadn’t realized until now that they had been staring at each other for all that time.


 


It must be because he hit his head.


 


“Because, if you ask my sincere opinion, you are utterly wasted.”


 


Dean is sure that, since he has hit his head as stated, he’s hallucinating.


 


“I mean,” Castiel keeps on, “I have been watching hockey… for a very long while, and I have been doing this job for a few years, and I think I can safely say if someone has talent or not. And if you ask me, you do. You don’t get to show it because you are not put in a position to, and I am quite sure that no one ever thought to train you for something more than just skating around and throw a few punches. But I have never seen someone who is supposed just to beat people up doing as many assists as you do. And while you aren’t that fast, it doesn’t mean that you can’t skate. Exactly the contrary. The first time I saw you playing was in some game when you were with the Spirits. And I thought, that’s such a waste. I am just sorry to see that apparently it did not change.”


 


Castiel raises his head again, and fuck, there’s something kind in his eyes even if his face muscles haven’t moved an inch. And Dean feels like he needs to say something, because when you find someone who isn’t your dad or Bobby who thinks that you’re not a failure at hockey in general, you can’t just stay silent.


 


“Well, you’re also the first person who thinks I’m somewhat good at this. You know. I wanted to be like Bossy, when I was five.”


 


He probably could have avoided saying that. He probably managed to make a fool of himself, except that when he looks up again, Castiel is looking at him in utter seriousness, and Dean isn’t probably adjusted to people taking him seriously anymore. Or he wouldn’t be close to blushing right now.


 


“Who wouldn’t want to?” Castiel says, and damn, guy has a voice that is more fit for a porn star than for a medic. Shit, what is Dean even fucking thinking. “I don’t know if you’re cut for it or not because no one ever gave you the chance, but they could have given you a shot at trying to be the next Bobby Orr, in my very humble opinion.”


 


Dean thinks that he could cry, but if he does then his reputation will be shot to hell and his head still hurts too much. He wonders how the heck is he ever going to drive to Lawrence, if it still ends up hurting for a while.


 


“Christ, are you for real? Please tell me that you aren’t here just for today,” he says then, trying to make it sound like a joke. Castiel tilts his head a bit on the right before shaking it.


 


“My contract is for the next… seven years. Why wouldn’t I be real, anyway?”


 


“Nothing,” Dean manages, and then he brings a hand to his forehead. “Thank you. Really. It… it felt good to hear it. At least I know someone else besides my dad thinks I’m not utter crap at this.”


 


Except that his voice breaks when he mentions his dad, and he feels Castiel moving closer, still sitting on the bed, and still at a somewhat respectable distance.


 


“Dean…?” he asks, and he sounds concerned, and like he’d really like to know what the fuck is going on.


 


“Sorry,” he manages, even if his voice is choking, “it’s just… it’s been a bad couple of days and I had to go and mention my dad, and it also has to do with… sorry, I shouldn’t be doing this.”


 


“Do you want to talk about it?” Castiel asks, all seriousness, and Dean can’t help looking at him even if until now he has been staring at his jersey.


 


“Are you serious? You’ve known me for ten minutes!”


 


“I had to take a psychology class to get my degree, for your information. And strangers are usually better than people you know, for that kind of talk. If I was out of line excuse me, though. I realize that…”


 


“No. No, it’s okay. Maybe you’re right. It’s… oh, fuck, whatever. My dad, uh, he… he had a stroke last day. He’ll have to stay in for a month or so and he doesn’t have an insurance or as much money as he needs to pay for that. I asked Mr. Adler there if he could just take a chance on me doing something more because I’ll need some fucking money in the next months, and he said forget it and work on assists. And for last, I said I’d go to Lawrence tomorrow to visit but I can’t fucking drive with a hammer inside my head. And I also need to realize how much money I can afford to give him but I suck at that and I don’t even know what the fuck I should do. The end.” Dean is sure that if he had said a sentence more he’d have broken down, and he hasn’t managed to look at Castiel in the face once since he decided to spill it out.


 


A hand squeezes his shoulder and it’s just too surreal to be true.


 


“I… I’m sorry,” Castiel says, and at least it sounds like he isn’t saying it just because it’s what you should say. “I can believe you had a bad couple of days. But… math used to be my forte, before I decided I liked patching people up better.”


 


Dean raises his head slowly and meets Castiel’s stare, and fuck personal space, he doesn’t care.


 


“You mean that you would give me a hand with that?”


 


“I could. And… well, I live alone. And I really don’t speak much with my relatives. And I don’t have a plan for the next four days.”


 


Which is when they’re practicing again, because they’re on a break until then.


 


“I could drive you to Lawrence, if you wish.”


 


Dean has heard of the whole kindness of strangers myth, but he can’t believe that he stumbled into someone who just fucking incarnates it.


 


“Are you insane or did you read the whole good Samaritan story too many times?”


 


Castiel lets out a chuckle and shakes his head. “While you might have a point about the second part of that sentence… no. But if you told me all of that, it means that you don’t know anyone around here who would do it, and I can’t exactly not do anything after you trusted me when we didn’t even know each other, right?”


 


Which, in its twisted logic, makes some kind of sense.


 


“Are you really sure?”


 


“My alternative was spending the weekend re-watching the ’72 Stanley Cup final. I think I am sure, yes.”


 


“What, Bruins fan?”


 


Castiel’s lips curl up at the left corner in a hint of a smile as he gives Dean a short nod. “You found me out. I would presume you like the Islanders better.”


 


Dean lets out a short laugh, the first in a very fucking long time. “Well, you never forget your first love now, don’t you?”


 


“No, you do not.”


 


In the next twenty minutes, Dean has the confirm that Castiel is legitimately crazier about hockey than he ever was. The fucker can remember all the Bruins formations since fucking WWII. And well, if someone legit thinks that Dean isn’t a total failure, Dean figures that it’s worth taking it into consideration.


 


He wonders if they can be friends. From what has happened until now, he thinks that yes. It could happen.


 


--


 


The game is a tie, which is less bad than it could have been, and on the bus taking them back to the hotel Dean clearly notices Zachariah looking at Castiel like he’d skin him alive, if he could. Then again, medics don’t sign contracts with him, right? Before going inside his room, he talks with Castiel and they arrange to go to Dean’s place tomorrow after they get back to Pittsburgh. If Dean could, he’d go to Kansas as soon as possible, but Castiel had said that if he needs to know how much money he can spare, then maybe they should take care of it before.


 


It sounds sensible and Dean agrees.


 


The next day his head still hurts and there’s still a hammer pounding where he hit it, and he’s damn glad that he didn’t play the rest of that game. He needs to give Castiel some credit.


 


The ride back to Pittsburgh is hellish, because he can’t sleep but if he tries to read his vision blurs, and he sets on looking out of the window for too many hours. When they finally arrive, he follows Castiel into a nice, convenient Ford, and he gives direction for his place. His head is still hurting.


 


“Fuck,” he mutters when they’re halfway there.


 


“Does your head hurt?” Castiel asks as he drives, keeping himself strictly below the speed limit.


 


“Hell yes. I don’t know if I could have even tried to drive here, let alone to Kansas. I hope that idiot got a long suspension,” he mutters.


 


“I fear they gave him just two games, but I would agree with you. That was very low,” Castiel says seriously, and Dean can only nod in agreement. The rest of the ride passes in silence and Dean wishes he had known someone was coming by or he wouldn’t have left the apartment in the messy state it is. Castiel doesn’t run away though. Actually, instead of staring at the mess, he stares at the wall on Dean’s living room.


 


Where he still keeps that poster he used to have in his room in Lawrence. The one with the Islanders, 1984-85 team. Castiel looks at it with what seems like uttermost respect.


 


“Er. Well. It’s... that one is there for sentimental reasons,” Dean blurts when Castiel has stared at it for two minutes.



“That was such an amazing team,” Castiel says appreciatively, and he has to be the first person who hasn’t looked at him like he was a crazy nostalgic the second they spotted the poster.


 


“Told you. I wanted to be like number 22. Figures it just wasn’t destiny. I’ll, uh, go grab the papers if it’s okay?”


 


“Of course,” Castiel answers, and Dean goes to his bedroom where he keeps a couple of folders with all the bank receipts and money-related papers. It’s not like he reads them, but he had always figured that one day he might need them in relative order. When he gets back to the living room he clears his table, and then he notices Castiel taking a look at his bookshelf. Which isn’t really big or anything, but a lot of his things are still in a box which now is in his dad’s basement in Lawrence, and he never managed to bring it here. He hates how his house feels empty except for that poster.


 


Then he realizes that Castiel is looking at the only two pictures he keeps on the bookshelf. One is the only picture of his mother that survived the fire (because Bobby had a copy): there are his parents, each of them with an arm around the other’s waist. John is holding Dean up on his hip with his free arm and his mother has Sam in the crook of hers. The other picture is one of Sam’s graduation. It’s just him, Sam and Dad, who looks thirty years older than how he is in the first pic even if eighteen years passed between them.


 


Castiel startles when he hears him and shakes his head, looking ashamed.


 


“I… I really wasn’t meaning to pry. I am…”


 


“Dude, knock it off. They were there and I was gone for like five minutes, it’s not like I can expect you to stare at the Islanders all that time. Anyway, uh, that’s the whole thing. It’s not like I don’t even know how much money is on there. It’s just that whenever I signed a contract I never really looked at the small print because I was already lucky enough that someone wanted me in at all. And I just wouldn’t want to, uh, do something stupid. And I never got a serious agent, I mean, someone asked me in juniors but they already had a bunch of other people and so… well, it’s not like they took care of that for me.”


 


Castiel nods at that, then sits down and opens the folder. Dean sits down on the next side of the table and shakes his head, wishing for that goddamn headache to stop. All those people who just wait for him to drop the gloves won’t ever get how not glamorous this whole crap is.


 


Castiel goes through all the papers in silence; he reads each twice, then he starts dividing them (Dean doesn’t question that; he’s sure that Castiel has an idea of what he’s doing and hell, Dean just has stashed everything together without caring much), then he asks for a pen and a piece of paper and starts taking short, neat notes.


 


One hour later, Dean has drunk three cups of coffee and Castiel has stood up and asked for one.


 


Dean brings it to him and then he sits down again. Castiel’s face doesn’t give a fucking thing away and Dean wonders how exactly screwed he is.


 


“There are good news and bad news,” Castiel finally says. “Which ones would you rather hear first?”


 


“The bad ones,” Dean answers without really thinking about it.


 


“Very well. The first would be, that contract you signed makes me want to denounce Zachariah and the rest of the management.”


 


“What? You mean because it says that I can’t play in any other role than the one I was assigned?” Dean snorts. He knew that one alright.


 


“Yes, but it also says that in case you decide to leave the team or if you want to get sold, or if you really, really would want to upgrade your position, you have to pay a fine. Which is also quite high.”


 


“Where the fuck was that written?” Dean almost shouts, barely restraining himself from throwing a punch against the table.


 


“In the very small print in the eleventh page, I fear.”


 


“Christ, I’m such an idiot,” Dean sighs, wondering how much this will make him pass for… well, for a dumb goon who never managed to read the entirety of the contract.


 


“You would not be the first not to notice the small print,” Castiel says, obviously trying to be nice.


 


“Yeah, but… fuck, I signed it just because no one else was going to draft me from juniors at twenty-two. And I just wanted to play in the NHL by then. It doesn’t fucking excuse me from not reading it all.”


 


“But you still would have signed, wouldn’t you?”


 


Fucker reads his mind, apparently.


 


“Anyway, that’s the bad news. What are the good ones?”


 


“Well, you have to be one of the most responsible persons I ever met, at least with their money.”


 


“Why’s that?”


 


“Because for having played just in juniors and for less than a year in a major team, and considering that you probably had your number of expenses, that’s a remarkable amount of money you have here. Counting the taxes and the interest ratio.”


 


Dean almost lets out a breath of relief, but he can’t do it just now. “Yeah, but my dad needs to cover for at least twenty grand. Do I have that? Or, can I spare that?”


 


Castiel bites his lip and takes the sheet where he was writing on before.


 


“You could, but I would not do it if I were you. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t cover the costs of the hospital though. I mean that it would be highly advisable if you did not give away a sum higher than eighteen-thousand dollars.”


 


“Okay,” Dean says, wanting to get to the bottom of this, “and why’s that? I’m not sayin’ no, I just want to know why.”


 


“Well, in order to keep this account open you need to pay an annual fee, which the club isn’t covering. But this is a high-maintenance account,” Castiel starts, and Dean wonders why the fuck did he ever let the team’s expert manage the whole thing when it was time to move his savings. “They will probably withdraw the money from it at the beginning of the year, and now it’s October. Right now, not counting the interest ratio, the fees and all the expenses, you have roughly twenty-five thousand dollars that you can access without a problem. But if you keep in mind that your salary isn’t as high as a scorer’s and that it won’t likely raise before the year’s over, if you give away… let’s say twenty-thousand dollars or more, at the beginning of the next year you will find yourself with no more than three thousand dollars on this. Four at best. Which is ridiculous, for someone who plays in a major team, but I am not even sure that they would let you get away with it. The bank, I mean.”


 


Dean wants to crawl into his bed and never get out from it. He isn’t such an idiot. He knows he can’t afford to keep just three thousand dollars on a high-maintenance account.


 


“What do you suggest?” he sighs then, feeling completely useless.


 


“Withdraw a maximum of eighteen-thousand dollars. It would give you enough leeway to keep the account without the bank starting to worry that you will end up bankrupt, and if in the second half of the season you manage to… well, improve your assist record, even if it’s already remarkable, you should be back on your feet in a couple of years at most.”


 


Dean nods at that, figuring that it’s good enough. Maybe if the situation is really disastrous Bobby could lend the remaining two thousand, or whatever ends up being the rest. And fuck, he regrets always refusing interviews with hockey magazines. He always feared that it would just seal in everyone’s heads the fact that he’s only good at kicking ass on ice, but right now the extra money would have come handy.


 


“Thank you,” he says then, “you really didn’t have to but you don’t know how… how much I appreciate it.” He just wishes he didn’t feel ashamed of looking at Castiel right this moment.



“It was nothing. And that said, if you still need someone to drive you, the offer stands.”


 


“Are you a fucking godsend or you just don’t have anything planned for this Monday night?” Dean asks, shaking his head, not really getting why the hell would someone do all this for him when they met one day ago.


 


“I can assure you I did not have a plan for tonight. Or tomorrow. The only problem is that… you have seen my car.”


 


“I did. And I don’t think it’d survive the trip. Whatever, man, I think I can make an exception for you.”


 


“An exception?”


 


“Yeah. Just let me pack a bag and you’ll see.”


 


Castiel just nods and Dean first puts the papers back in place and then goes to pack a duffel with the necessary for a couple of days. Then he grabs his baby’s keys from the nightstand and motions for Castiel to follow him inside the garage that came with the apartment. There’s just one reason he settled for this place, even if the rent is unbearable. Said reason would be the garage, where he keeps the ’67 Chevy Impala that used to belong to his dad. They did all their moves in that car, and riding in it is Dean’s first goddamn memory. His dad handed him the keys the day he moved back to Lawrence and Dean takes care to keep it in pristine condition; after all, he’s the son of a goddamn mechanic, he knows how to fix a car.


 


He also doesn’t let anyone else drive it, but for some reason he thinks he can make an exception this time. Also, because Castiel hasn’t broken a speed limit once and he looks like a careful driver.


 


“Well, that’s my car. And I can assure you that she can totally stand a trip to Kansas,” Dean says, placing his fingers on a door’s handle, almost caressing it before shaking his head and throwing the duffel in the trunk.


 


“It’s impressive,” Castiel mutters appreciatively.


 


She’s impressive,” Dean corrects. “But I’ll forgive you this time. So, well, you can just drive to your place, pick some stuff and then, uh…”


 


“I had packed for more than two days when we went to the match,” Castiel says, shrugging. “I have more than enough clothes with me,” he keeps on as he eyes the suitcase he brought with him from upstairs.


 


“Alright then.”


 


A part of Dean still thinks that he must have hit his head hard, to let an almost complete stranger drive his baby.


 


Another part just doesn’t care.


 


--


 


Turns out it wasn’t a bad idea at all. It takes a day to get there, but Castiel drives responsibly, he doesn’t dent the car, he doesn’t start a wreck and he doesn’t complain when Dean puts in some Zeppelin and starts complaining about this whole nu metal shit that is apparently the big thing these days. Castiel answers that he likes opera but Zeppelin are great, and Dean figures that opera isn’t as bad as nu metal could ever be anyway. He also learns that Castiel has a crazy name because he had insane uber-religious parents who named their eight children after angels and that he hasn’t spoken to any of them since he decided to go to med school instead of a seminary. Now he gets why Castiel might have read the Bible one time too many.


 


(They had kind of told me that I should have gone there since I can remember, but I had other plans, Castiel had commented, and Dean feels lucky that at least what was left of his own family always supported him.)


 


He also finds out that Castiel is Canadian, he’s from Toronto, and he’s actually the hockey geek he is because it was forbidden in the house.


 


“Seriously?” he asks when Castiel says that they weren’t allowed to watch any games.


 


“My parents were of the opinion that it was too violent. My brother Gabriel was of the opinion that keeping a small radio under his pillow wasn’t that bad of an idea. And I shared my room with him.”


 


“And how the heck did you end up being a Bruins fan when you’re from Toronto?”


 


“I liked the colors,” Castiel replies very seriously.


 


“Seriously? The colors?”


 


“Well, given that no one else had a team in the house, it was a good reason as any.”


 


Dean figures that it does make some kind of logical sense. Maybe there doesn’t have to be some deep reason behind everything now, does it?


 


--


 


Then when they’re somewhere around Topeka they stop in a diner where Dean orders his usual cheeseburger with extra onions which always makes Sam recoil in disgust. Castiel doesn’t bat an eyelid and orders one with extra mayo, and Dean thinks that they really could be friends.


 


Then he gets apple pie and Castiel gets lemon meringue and they spend five minutes arguing on whichever is better, and then Dean proclaims that all pie is good anyway and steals some from Castiel’s plate. Castiel doesn’t blink and does the same.


 


He doesn’t know why the fuck he’s being so open around an almost-stranger, especially when he has never really managed to click with anyone and when the person bringing friends home for sleepovers was Sam, not him. But Castiel is just… easy to be with, he figures. Mostly, he doesn’t talk to him like he’s an idiot, which is what most people do lately, and it makes Dean feel relieved. And well, he’s doing Dean a huge favor without being obliged, and Dean can just appreciate it.


 


One hour away from Lawrence, Dean has ended up talking about the fact that he’d really like to fucking score.


 


“It’s just, it’s a question of principle. I started playing hockey because I wanted to score and as things are, I’ll stay in this team forever without playing a game where I don’t get in a fight with someone. I’d just like to score once, for fuck’s sake.”


 


Castiel doesn’t say anything and he keeps his eyes on the road, but then his hand reaches forward and squeezes Dean’s knee before he speeds up a bit.


 


Dean doesn’t protest.


 


--


 


They park outside the hospital and when Dean gets inside, Castiel in tow, there’s Bobby waiting for him in the entrance. He can barely say hi before he’s hugged to almost death, and then Bobby looks at him like he’d want to kill him on the spot.


 


“What the fuck were you doing during the last game? We watched it and it almost gave me a heart attack. And your old man a second. And how the fuck did you even drive here after banging your head like that?”


 


“I didn’t drive,” Dean mutters, “he did.”


 


He turns and nods towards Castiel, who is just watching the scene and looking more amused than anything else.


 


“And who is he?” Bobby asks.


 


“He’s the one who patches me up,” Dean mutters, and Castiel just takes a couple of steps forward.


 


“I am the team’s medic,” he says. “We were talking while I was fixing that hit and he told me that he had to come here, and I offered to drive him.”


 


“Huh. Outta the goodness of your heart?”


 


“I did not have a plan for this evening,” Castiel answers without missing a beat. “Castiel Milton, pleased to meet you,” he says then, holding out his hand.


 


“Bobby Singer,” Bobby answers shaking it and giving Castiel a look-over. “And that wasn’t a bad answer. Whatever, visiting hours are over but you can come in, since you’re family. Sam’s catching some sleep at my place but he should be back in the morning. And our friend here can come too, it’s not like anyone’s gonna notice,” Bobby mutters before leading the way.


 


“Am I wrong if I have the impression that he would take care of it if anyone had a problem with my presence?” Castiel whispers, and Dean almost laughs genuinely even if laughing is not what’s on his mind right now.


 


“Hell, no.”


 


--


 


Castiel insists on staying outside the door of the room because he thinks he shouldn’t be there when Dean goes in, and Bobby comments that for once Dean managed to get acquainted with someone smart. Dean shakes his head and gets inside.


 


“Dad?” he asks, his voice low, and then John turns on his side on the bed and flashes him a tired smile. And Christ, he really looks fifteen years older than he really is.


 


“Dean? Well, color me surprised. I was sure you’d never make it here, after that goddamn blow you took.”


 


“Yeah, a friend drove me,” Dean mutters taking a chair and sitting next to the bed. John raises an eyebrow but doesn’t ask to elaborate, and Dean is thankful for it.


 


“Sorry ‘bout getting here just now though. You know I’d have skipped the game if…”


 


“Dean, shut the fuck up. You worked your ass off to get there, I wouldn’t have wanted you to miss it. Especially considering the son of a bitch coaching you,” John snorts, and even if his left hand isn’t moving at all Dean tries to just ignore it.


 


“Yeah, I worked my ass off just to pick fights. But whatever. I’d have come anyway.”


 


“Will you ever stop thinking that you’re a failure just ‘cause you don’t score? If that idiot coaching you can’t see it, it’s his problem.”


 


“Yeah, sure. And by the way, what the hell are you gonna do now?”


 


John sighs and shakes his head. “Bobby said I could move in there when I get out. Considering that when the check from here comes I’ll need the money I use for the rent, I guess I’ll say yes. He’s putting it like he needs company anyway, but… whatever. I can’t afford otherwise.”


 


“Shit, I’m…”


 


“Dean, shut the fuck up again. And stop feeling sorry for yourself. No one could have helped it. And hell, I’m still alive, right?”


 


“Yeah. Figures you are. It won’t be a stroke killing you, I guess.”


 


“Yes, and who’s that friend who drove you, by the way? Last time we talked, you didn’t have that much of a circle.”


 


Dean sighs and figures it isn’t time to lie. “He’s the new medic. It’s not like we knew each other before I hit my head. He just, I don’t know, we were talking and he was holding a pack of ice where I took the hit, I said I needed to be here and I didn’t know how the fuck I was gonna drive and he said he could do it.”


 


John raises both eyebrows. “Seriously? Who even does that?”


 


“I dunno. But apparently he also thinks I’m the worst waste of potential in hockey history.”


 


“Really?” John asks, and Dean could swear that he sounded almost amused. “Is he here?”


 


“Yeah,” Dean mutters.


 


“Then let him in.”


 


Dean isn’t really sure that this is wise, but he goes to fetch Castiel anyway and Christ, it feels like introducing your dad to your bff in high school, ten years after high school. Fucking awkward.


 


Except that Castiel doesn’t apparently care about it, and his dad doesn’t either.


 


“So, you’re the one who patches him up?”


 


“Since last week, yes,” Castiel answers, not looking outside of his element in the slightest. “Mr. Winchester, I am sorry for…”


 


John waves his right hand in the air and shakes his head. “Quit it, half of this goddamn town came to visit saying that they’re sorry. You’re excused. By the way, Dean, you know, you introduce people, when they don’t know each other. I’m John,” he says extending said right hand. “Don’t call me Mr. Winchester ever again, for fuck’s sake.”


 


His dad looks way too lively for having been on the brink of death four days ago.


 


“Very well. I am Castiel, pleased to meet you,” Castiel says, and they shake hands.


 


“So, Dean there says that you might be the only person on this planet other than me who thinks he can do his job?”


 


“Oh, I am sure he could. Since I saw Spirits versus Firebirds sometimes around ‘97.”


 


The fuck, Dean thinks. That game was ages ago.


 


“Well then,” John says, “I think that if you’re of that opinion, we might just get along.”


 


Castiel smirks back and Dean is still of the idea that this scene should have happened ten years ago.


 


--


 


Overall, it goes a lot better than he had feared and Castiel doesn’t blink when they end up spending the night. At some point Bobby sends them off saying that they can have the guest room upstairs also because they both look like crap, and Dean figures it’s not that bad of an idea. He tells Castiel to go to the car, he’ll come after going to the bathroom one moment, and when he gets out of it, he almost bumps into Sam as he gets out of the ward.


 


His brother looks… somehow guilty, but Dean doesn’t point that out. He introduces him and Castiel instead and it goes over well enough, and he knows that they’ll have to talk about the elephant in the room named bills at some point, but he honestly can’t do it now, so he doesn’t even try to mention it.


 


--


 


They leave the next day because Dean can’t avoid practice (and he told Bobby to just call him when the hospital check arrives and to warn Sam he’s worrying about it), and the ride is almost non-eventful until they pull up in the garage.


 


“Well,” Dean says then, “just… thanks for everything.”


 


“It was no hardship,” Castiel replies seriously, like it really wasn’t, and Dean almost wants to laugh.


 


“Yeah, whatever you say. I owe you one, okay?”


 


“Alright. I’ll see to cash that check sometime. I will see you at practice.”


 


“Great,” Dean manages, and then Castiel goes to his respectable, almost dead car and Dean feels like it was the most anticlimactic goodbye ever.


 


--


 


They do see each other at practice. They do see each other practically every day. And Castiel sees a lot of Dean, since in the next two months he has to stitch his cheek, fix an almost broken nose, a sprained ankle and a cut on Dean’s chest because some crazy idiotic other goon decided it was a good idea to try to slash his stomach with the goddamn puck.


 


Point is, Dean has realized that… he kind of likes it.


 


Not in the sense that he likes getting beaten. Fuck no. But while Rachel, the previous medic, was all business while patching people up, Castiel is… well, he’s different. He always touches carefully where there’s an injury, he has hands with very long and very elegant and very warm fingers which wrap gauze and bandages in a way that makes you feel cared for, and there’s something about the way they linger a bit on the injury whenever Castiel is done which makes Dean’s stomach flutter. Not to mention that Castiel is still easy to be with. He talks about random things just to distract you whenever he’s doing something painful, and that’s when once they get through a row of seven stitches on Dean’s leg while discussing whether 1984 is better than Slaughterhouse Five (Castiel is for the former, Dean is for the latter). Clearly that’s when that dick Monroe who is a goddamn reserve anyway passes by and says what, can goons even read now?, and Dean can’t even stand up because Castiel is fucking stitching his leg.


 


“He’s an idiot,” Castiel says then, deadpan.


 


“He’s just prejudiced,” Dean sighs. It’s not like people don’t ask him stuff among those lines most of the time anyway.


 


“Maybe. He still should know better,” Castiel says, and then he’s done with the last stitch.


 


Something warm appears all of a sudden in Dean’s stomach and Dean figures that at least not being able to change teams has its positive sides.


 


Then his dad’s check arrives. It’s twenty-one thousand dollars, and when Dean explains the situation Bobby says that of course between him and whatever savings John still has they’ll manage the three thousand Dean can’t cover. He’s already an idjit for offering that much. So Dean goes to his bank and does everything to the book (he has had it planned, anyway), and then he realizes that it’s early evening and he’s tired and he just wants to maybe chill and watch a movie or two to forget about it completely.


 


He goes home and as he sits he hears the phone ringing. He answers and it’s some Crowley guy calling from a magazine, saying that Hockey News wants to interview him in their next number and that the team is okay with it as long as he doesn’t spit in the plate he’s eating from. Dean asks what’d be the topic of the interview. He can imagine Crowley rolling his eyes on the other side of the phone.


 


“How awesome it is to be the most bloody feared enforcer in the entire league, what else? Winchester, come on, don’t be a moron and just give me an answer before tomorrow, yes?”


 


Then Crowley closes the call and Dean can only think that if he does it there’ll be no way out of it for his entire life. Then he thinks about the money which he could totally use, but still. He doesn’t want to endorse his role on print. Like there isn’t enough talking about how he’s the only reason his team doesn’t get destroyed in half of the games on the sports page in regular newspapers.


 


He ends up driving to Castiel’s place and knocking at the door. He has never shown up so randomly, but he knows that Castiel is inside and that he wouldn’t mind. Hell, he said once that if he ever felt like visiting, he was home most times.


 


“Hey,” he says when Castiel opens the door, and then he barely manages to refrain from gasping. Castiel always has a white lab coat on and he insists on wearing that stupid suit whenever he’s out. Seeing him in jeans and an oversized Bruins t-shirt is kind of a shock.


 


“Hello yourself,” he answers, not looking particularly pissed that Dean just showed up without warning. Which is good.


 


“I, uh, was just passing by and… well, I did the transaction half an hour ago and I just…”


 


“Come in,” Castiel just says, and Dean swallows and does.


 


He wishes he could say he doesn’t know why he’s here. Point is, he does. It’s not just that he’d like to talk to someone and there’s no one else available who isn’t family. It’s that it’s been a year since he got into the NHL and it’s just… not what he had dreamed about. No one in any team he has played for has ever seen him as a player because if you enforce then either you’re Bobby Orr or you don’t even know how to play, he hasn’t had a steady girlfriend once in his life and he can barely remember the names of all his high school one night stands. Right this moment he doesn’t even have a tenth of the money a regular NHL player has, and while it’s not like he minds, he’s just feeling like he has done it all wrong. And he knows that Cas is the only person on this planet who isn’t related to him who’d likely tell him that he hasn’t, and he sort of really needs to hear it.


 


Not to mention that he’s apparently the only friend he ever managed to make in almost twenty-five years, and he isn’t sure that it says anything good.


 


“They asked me if I’ll do an interview for fucking Hockey News,” he says as soon as he’s sitting on Castiel’s blue sofa in his small and neat living room.


 


Castiel just stares at him, waiting for the rest.


 


“I mean, I could use the money, but if I go there and say that what I do is awesome I’ll just… alright, there isn’t a chance in hell I’ll ever play in another role, but if I go and talk about it, it means I need to pretend I like it.”


 


“I wish I could tell you that maybe it isn’t such a… definitive thing.”


 


“But you can’t, right?”


 


“I fear not,” Castiel sighs, and that’s another reason Dean likes him. He never lies. Alright, he’s also crap at it, but he still doesn’t lie, even for your benefit. “But, I think I might know something that would make you feel better,” he adds, sounds kind of mischievous, and Dean just looks at him and shrugs.


 


Castiel then stands up and he reaches for a small cupboard which he keeps in the corner of the living room. In which there is an inhuman quantity of vhs tapes. Full of taped hockey games.


 


Yes, Castiel is more of a geek than Dean will ever be, and he is the one who plays.


 


“What about Islanders versus Oilers, 1983?”


 


The date should tell him something, but right now he just can’t figure it out, and hell. It’s the Islanders in the early eighties, of course it’s going to be awesome.


 


“Go right ahead,” Dean says, and that’s how he ends up on Castiel’s comfortable, small sofa, the two of them sitting next to each other, watching a game with the graniest definition ever.


 


Now.


 


It’s not like Dean doesn’t remember that first time he saw Bossy score. But he was five and fucking traumatized, and he hadn’t cared about the opponent. And he can barely remember the date.


 


Except that at some point he recognizes the action, fuck he does, and there he is, Bossy gliding and dribbling and moving like he owns the fucking ice rink and scoring that fucking goal that he remembers in every single detail. Dean swallows and stares at the screen and he doesn’t realize that his hand holding a beer is shaking, hard, until Castiel’s fingers close around his wrist and he stops the game.


 


“Dean?” he asks, sounding concerned, and Dean wonders why is it. Why should he be concerned?


 


“You’re crying,” Castiel says, his voice low and still concerned and then Dean brings his free hand up to his cheek. Fuck.


 


He is.


 


He really is. And just because when he saw this game first he had just envisioned himself, twenty years later, skating gracefully along the ice and scoring goal after goal, and it had been the first thing he had really wanted since his mom went up in flames. Now… now he’s in a so-so team, picking fights right and left without wanting to, having to scrape assists in order to get a decent paycheck and while he is where he wanted, it’s the how that is just all wrong.


 


“It’s… sorry, I realized that… I decided I wanted to do that while watching this game.”


 


This particular one?”


 


“Yeah. I just, I didn’t even realize that I was… shit, thank fuck that no one from the team can see me right now or I’d lose all my fucking credit,” he trails, wondering how exactly ridiculous he sounds, and then there’s a hand on his cheek and lips pressing over his own.


 


It’s barely a peck, enough for him to classify those lips as dry but soft, and then they’re gone and Castiel has literally jerked away from him.


 


“I’m… I’m sorry, I did not mean to… to do that,” Castiel blurts out, even if his face says an entirely different thing, and Dean has grabbed his wrist before his head even realized it.


 


There’s a second during which they look at each other. Dean is pretty sure that he must look ridiculous, considering that he was crying until three seconds ago and that he hasn’t slept much lately, and Castiel is looking at him like he’s half-hoping that Dean will forget it and half-hoping that he doesn’t.


 


Dean doesn’t allow himself to analyze the whole thing, or he’ll have a nervous breakdown. Point is, Castiel just fucking kissed him, and for the second it lasted, Dean hadn’t even thought to push him away. Not to mention that Dean has spent months liking the way Castiel touches him whenever he patches him up. And not to mention that he’s the only goddamn person Dean has ever really connected with since his mom died, because if you don’t count family and Bobby then it’s the truth. And right, fine, Dean has never looked at a man that way, but he hasn’t even had a girlfriend who lasted more than a month and he has better things to do than judging people based on what they like in bed.


 


“Cas, you’re a fucking awful liar,” Dean whispers. “You can tell me how it really is, you know?”


 


Cas doesn’t stop being tense, but he shrugs in defeat. “I am still sorry, but… yes, I meant it –”


 


The next thing Dean knows is that he has yanked Castiel forward and that they’re kissing again.


 


For real. With Castiel literally straddling him and Dean falling back against the sofa, and… and. And kissing a guy isn’t really that different from a girl. Except for the stubble. But Castiel’s lips are soft against his, and it’s still just that, no tongue or anything. Castiel’s hands are on his face, cupping it almost entirely, and the touch is as careful and soft and considerate as it is in the locker room, and fuck, Dean can’t really stay chaste. Not now. So he presses back stronger, and Castiel parts his lips almost on cue, like he was fucking waiting for it, and damn he’s a good kisser. It’s not too harsh but not too gentle either, and when their tongues meet Dean has to swallow back a moan. Castiel kisses as thoroughly as he stitches (and he’s good at that: it’s always neat, small rows, all the stitches the same exact size) and he kisses him like he has been wanting to for months, and who says the contrary?


 


Actually, who says that Dean would have said no, if it had happened before?


 


When it’s over and he opens his eyes, he meets Castiel’s stare and fuck, he doesn’t know if he can hold the staring contest this time. Not when this is the most intense look Castiel has ever thrown his way, and the guy fucking communicates by intense looks.


 


Not to mention that he has still his hands around Dean’s face while Dean is holding him at the hips.


 


“Okay,” he breathes, Castiel’s mouth still too close and tempting and red as ripe straberries, “wow. Please tell me you didn’t do it just to make me feel better.”


 


Castiel looks for a second like he’s debating internally how much he should say.


 


“Cas, just spill. All of it.”


 


“Well, I did do it to make you feel better, but I… I also did it because I had been wanting to for months.”


 


Jesus. Castiel has to be an awesome actor, because Dean had no-fucking-idea.


 


“Oh. Woah. That’s… that’s…” Dean doesn’t even know what to say because it’s not like he can come up with anything smart when he’s just been told that it’s not a spur of the moment thing.


 


“Dean, if… if it makes you uncomfortable we can just forget that –” Cas starts, and he never finishes it because as soon as he says forget Dean’s brain stops processing and he has kissed him again.


 


Forget means that this hasn’t happened, that the warm weight above him will be gone and Dean already knows he’d feel cold without it, that they stay friends and nothing more and that he’ll never be kissed like this again. Like the person he’s with actually really wants this, and isn’t in just for some fun. And fuck, he might not exactly have sorted his feelings, but he knows that it isn’t normal to fantasize about someone touching you just because you really like their hands.


 


“No,” he blurts when the second kiss is over. “Fuck, fine, you kinda caught me by surprise and everything, I might be having half an inside freak-out and please don’t ask me what the heck I’m thinking right now, but I don’t want to forget anything.”


 


Castiel lets out a half-breath of relief and doesn’t move. Which is cool, because Dean totally doesn’t want him to move. Except that he can’t just leave things as they are. You don’t make out with your best friend twice and then not talk about it, especially when he apparently has had a thing for you for ages and you just realized what kind of thing you have for him now.


 


“Dean,” Castiel starts, probably reading his freaking mind, “this doesn’t… have to be something you do under pressure. Or anything you don’t want it to be. But if you think that it’s not… not convenient to move things from here, maybe we really should forget it.”


 


Right. Because for a second Dean had completely forgotten that he isn’t the first random guy passing down the road. And that he plays hockey, instead of dancing in the motherfucking ballet. Or diving. Or whatever. If he decides that he actually wants to get into a freaking relationship with a guy, there’s no way they could not do it in secret. Which is complicated, and ridiculous since they’re in the fucking twenty-first century, and still, he needs his job.


 


Except that Cas’s hands still haven’t left his face and he hasn’t felt this good in such a long while that he can’t even remember it. He can feel Cas’s heartbeat somewhere against his own frame, and it’s so fast that for a second Dean wonders if it’s going to stop; not like his own isn’t quickly becoming frantic as well. He wonders about how it would feel to take Cas’s shirt off, or to feel those hands touching him everywhere and not because he needs stitches. He wonders how would it feel to wake up in a warm bed once in a while instead of calling up a hooker whenever he just needs to get laid because between practice and games and trying to visit his family he just doesn’t meet anyone who isn’t in the hockey business. And if he says no now, he knows that things between them won’t be the same anymore. Whatever Cas says, they won’t be easy and there’ll always be an elephant in the room along with them, and he doesn’t know if he can do it.


 


Hell, he doesn’t even know if this is going to be another failure or not, but Cas has proved himself pretty resilient, and maybe that’s what Dean needs. Among the rest.


 


In conclusion, he’s thinking about this too fucking much.


 


“I think we should just pay a lot of attention,” he says, and he swallows Cas’s answer down as he kisses him again.


 


This is the second-to-last defining moment of Dean Winchester’s life, until this point.


 


--


 


He accepts the interview. He answers a lot of question he doesn’t like, he pretends to like his job and he doesn’t pretend to ignore grammar as the guy interviewing him obviously thinks from the way he words the first question. The sum he gets for it is the equivalent to what he’s paid for three full games where he gets his average number of assists. He almost feels bad for accepting it, like he just threw away his integrity, but when you need something, integrity doesn’t count.


 


His dad calls ten minutes after the interview is done. First he calls Dean all possible names because he covered almost all of the hospital bill, and then thanks him as his voice breaks and Dean can barely manage to hold it together as he stands in the newspaper’s bathroom.


 


That evening he has a game and he spends three minutes trying to deal with the new Red Wings enforcer, who has decided that he wants to cold-cock him at all costs. In the end Dean cold-cocks him, but the fucker manages to tug on his arm at some point before, and when Dean gets to the stadium’s infirmary, his wrist is swollen and the skin’s color verges towards bourdeaux.


 


“How bad’s that?” he asks as Cas carefully, slowly tapes his wrist up after applying some kind of cream on it.


 


“If I were you, I would not play for the next two weeks.”


 


“Shit, Zachariah is going to kill me. Or the idiot who put me here.”


 


“That was a dirty move,” Cas answers deadpan. “If you need help bringing groceries up or driving, just call me.”


 


There are some of the reserves outside, and Dean knows that they heard, and then he meets Cas’s eyes, intense and focused and telling an entirely different story, and he nods once. After all, everyone knows that they’re close. Hell, Cas might be Dean’s only friend, but it’s not like he has this great social life himself. And if the rookies know that Cas is going to give a hand, no one will suspect that in truth he’ll be coming over at Dean’s place not only for groceries.


 


For the next two weeks, he just stays at home and tries to do the bare minimum of physical activity so that he doesn’t end up out of shape. Considering that the old lady next door keeps on bringing him peach cobbler, that’s an entirely real risk. Cas drops by after games or in the mornings, and he really brings groceries, but then he usually doesn’t go back home.


 


And even if they don’t do anything, it’s nice to always wake up with someone next to you.


 


Also, well, he had figured he knew Cas pretty well, but knowing someone and living with them are two entirely different things. After a week of Cas being around, his apartment is slightly neater than usual, and there’s something with nutritional value in the fridge. He has learned that Cas likes his coffee with too much sugar for Dean’s tastes and that he really needs a schooling on blues music, which Dean is happy to provide. He likes cleaning (which Dean hates) and he’s crap at doing the laundry (which Dean likes), which means that for once he’s living with someone who complements his shortcomings and the contrary. In short, if they just could move in together right this moment, Dean would do it. But they can’t, and when Cas gets back to his nice, small apartment after the two weeks are over, they haven’t gone farther than handjobs and Dean wonders if he should just say screw it and not take it slow anymore.


 


It’s mostly because he is the one who should sort his feelings out, but considering that when the door closes behind Cas he feels like he’s missing a limb, maybe he has sorted them out.


 


--


 


Dean skips a game in order to get to Sam’s graduation in California. Zachariah isn’t happy about it at all, but considering that in the previous game he had almost ended up with his opponent’s finger in one eye, he can’t complain. Especially because Dean hasn’t ever skipped one game for reasons that weren’t related to how many beatings he took on the ice.


 


Cas stays back and it’s not like they could have done otherwise, but Dean figures that maybe the trip will be an occasion to clear his head, in the sense of maybe putting a goddamn name to this whole thing between them.


 


When he gets to Palo Alto he calls Bobby, who has driven him and his dad here, and then he gets to their hotel where he has booked a room, too. The graduation isn’t until the next day and they have plans to see Sam in the evening, so he texts Cas saying that he got there, takes a shower and goes to Bobby’s room. He tries not to think about the fact that his dad hugs him with just his left arm (though he has a mean hold, which is good), and then he says he needs a beer.


 


“Is there a reason you’re giving so many interviews lately? You know, I can’t afford to buy Hockey News every goddamn day,” John says, and Dean just snorts and shakes his head.


 


“I just realized that since I won’t ever get upgraded to real player salary I might start looking elsewhere. And no, I’m okay, but it’s a question of principle. I guess I can’t fight it anymore, huh?”


 


John shakes his head and Bobby does, too. “Well, that beating you gave that Red Wings asshole last time was a work of art,” Bobby says, and Dean snorts again, not really wanting to talk about it.


 


“You look good,” John says then, and Dean startles.


 


“What?”


 


“You look good. I mean, after that whole deal with your hand and all I figured you’d be pretty beat down or something, and I was kind of expecting you to be in a black mood.”


 


“Why?”


 


“Because the first time I saw you answering questions after a game you looked like you wanted to kill everyone. And you just gave an interview saying that what you do is awesome when I know you hate it. And it’s not a question of you being happy ‘cause your little brother is getting a piece of paper. Spill.”


 


Dean figures he can’t hide anymore. It’s not like he’s worried about the reaction, but… maybe he just wanted to keep it for himself for a little while longer.


 


Well, he might as just start talking. “I might be seeing someone.”


 


Bobby and John share a look and then look at him again. “You’re seein’ someone,” Bobby repeats. “When you spent years saying you’re too busy for anything that wasn’t a hooker.”


 


“Ew, don’t.”


 


“Is it serious?” his dad asks then, straight to the point, and that was when Dean should have started freaking out.


 


“Yeah, I think so,” he answers instead, and his voice is pretty calm and not wavering, and he hadn’t even known until he said it. But yeah. He thinks it is.


 


“Alright, and who’s she?” Bobby keeps on, and Dean thinks that this might be tricky. “And mostly, how the heck did you meet her if you stay within your precious hockey circle? Is she a journalist?”


 


“No. Uh. You… you kinda met this person already,” Dean blurts, and damn, now both of them are staring. Why is he surrounded by people who stare all the goddamn time? “And, well, it’s… it’s kind of complicated, and I’d really appreciate it if we could just not make a big deal out of it, especially ‘cause well, we’re still…”


 


“Oh, Dean,” John interrupts him, “just stop beating around the fucking bush and answer yes or no. It’s Cas, isn’t it?”


 


Dean doesn’t say yes, but the way his eyes widen probably gives him out.


 


There’s a second of silence and then John slaps his left hand on his forehead.


 


“Dean. You do realize that if it ever leaks you’re going to retire well before the given time?” he asks, sounding more surprised than anything else.


 


“That was an issue we discussed, yeah,” he finds himself muttering, and damn, he really wishes he could not look at his dad right now.


 


“And you’re still goin’ through with that?”


 


“It’s… it’s worth it,” he says, almost inaudible, and then John just shrugs and gives him a pat on the back that almost sends him coughing.


 


“The fuck?” Dean manages, and John shakes his head.


 


“At least you’re with someone who gets that you’re not a failure better than you do,” he comments, and Dean can’t believe that it’s all John has to say.


 


“And you’re just... that’s it? Nothin’ else?”


 


John stares at him again the same way he did when he told them they were moving to Canada all those years ago and then he shakes his head. “God, son, you can be thick at times. Alright, I might be wondering what the fuck is up with you and all those girls you brought home when you were seventeen, but… okay. I’ll say this once and never again, got it?”


 


“… got it.”


 


“After that fire, if anyone looked at you in the face, you seemed dead inside. Which for a four-year old is fucking scary, and you stopped being dead inside when you saw that goddamn game. And if I spent ten years of my life moving around, it was because like hell I was gonna risk seeing that look in your face again. Then I did see it again when you found me and Sam arguing, and then whenever I watched some game you just went through the goddamn motions. I swear you had more fun when I went to watch your games in fucking junior high. Then I almost died and the guy drove you and when he told me he actually thought you had talent, you looked at him and you seemed pretty much alright. Back then I’d have done any-fucking-thing in order to see you happy and right now I won’t go and disown you. I went through too fucking much to care about you not giving me grandchildren, and at least you picked someone with some sense. Are we clear?”


 


“Yes sir,” Dean answers, almost on automatic, because that’s way too much for him to handle right this fucking moment.


 


“Idjit,” Bobby comments, but he doesn’t look that surprised either. “And hell, at least you got someone with good taste in hockey.”


 


Right, because Dean had forgotten that Bobby likes the Bruins, too, and that he and Cas had spent a lot of time outside John’s room that time when Cas drove him to Lawrence.


 


Ten seconds later, there’s a knock on the door and Sam gets in, and the moment he sees Dean he runs straight and gives him a hug that makes Dean think the kid could crush someone’s bones, if he ever decided to play hockey in his life.


 


Then Sam raises an eyebrow.


 


“Huh. You look good. What, did they give you a promotion and you’ll stop advocating violence in sports?”


 


“No, he’s gettin’ laid,” Bobby says with all the calm in the world, and then Sam raises the other eyebrow.


 


“Aha. Well, I guess it figures. It’s the guy you came with last time, isn’t it?”


 


The room suddenly falls silent and if Dean had been drinking something, he’d have totally made a mess of the bed’s comforter.


 


How in hell did you…”


 


“Dean. You let him drive your car and you met him twelve hours before. Who the fuck else could be?”


 


“… huh,” John says, sounding as if he’s just realized something that must have been fucking obvious, “you’re right. I should have guessed as soon as he said it was serious.”


 


“Point taken. It was kinda easy to figure out,” Bobby agrees, and Dean wonders if it’s real or the weirdest dream he ever had.


 


“Am I that obvious?”


 


“Yes,” the three of them answer at the same time, and then Bobby adds another idjit and everything is kind of alright.


 


--


 


He drives back to Pittsburgh the night after graduation, because clearly they lost the game he hasn’t played in and Zachariah will have his head if he doesn’t show up at practice in two days. When he’s one hour outside the city he sends Cas a text and says that he’s back.


 


He parks the car and then goes upstairs, and when he opens the door the light is on. And Cas is sitting at the kitchen table with a take-out bag.


 


“I figured you didn’t eat much during the trip because you wanted to be back as fast as possible. I bought breakfast,” Cas explains just like that, and Dean hadn’t even told him to come. Hell, he’d have driven to Cas’s place but lately a bunch of journalists decided to stalk him at random and he can’t risk going there. But it’s not like Cas has a recognizable face, which is why he’s the one coming and going most times.


 


“Dean? Is everything –” Cas starts, and then Dean just drops his bag and hugs him maybe as tight as Sam did before, and he knows he doesn’t really say things out loud but he needs Cas to know that he’s in this for the long haul.


 


“Yeah,” he answers, “it is. It really is.”


 


They can talk about the rest later.


 


--


 


They do talk about it, and it translates in Cas calling Lawrence every day after a game for in-depth discussion with his dad, which Dean finds creepy, but it feels good to be out in the open.


 


At least on that side.


 


Because it’s already becoming hard to ditch all the questions he gets over his lack of a girlfriend in the showers after a game, and Dean doesn’t know for how much the ‘I don’t have time for one’ excuse is going to work. And it kind of hurts. Fine, it’s not like they’ll go to Canada and marry, but he doesn’t want to be watching his back every time. Damn, before that interview he was a known face only between die hard hockey fans, but now he’s a known face also between the casual fans, and he doubts that coming out would do much for his resume. And heck, he doesn’t even like men. He likes Cas. Maybe it makes him bi, but it doesn’t change the fact that he thinks he isn’t the one person who will take the first step in the history of the game. Not to mention that from the kind of insults Zachariah uses during practice, he’s sure he’d get fired as soon as he knew.


 


Still, it sucks that he doesn’t hang out at Cas’s place much anymore, and injuries aren’t that great of an excuse for Cas to come over often. They have to sneak around and Dean hates that. Not to mention that he misses Cas’s place. It’s smaller, but comfier and it feels like a home, not like a place he has to live in because he has to live in a city he doesn’t even like that much.


 


So they manage another six months of stolen kisses and handjobs and lies before Dean almost has a shot on goal during a game.


 


It’s just a chance of a split-second. The position is perfect, and if only someone was taking care of the asshole behind him who’s been trying to have a go at him since the beginning of the game, Dean could have totally just swung the puck and place the goddamn disk inside the net, but he knows that it’s either trying or getting punched from behind by the son of a bitch. So instead he sends it backwards (at least he got the assist, he thinks), and then he barely has the time to see his teammate scoring before the other enforcer is on him.


 


And then he goes and throws Dean against the fucking glass on the side of the rink and Dean manages to hit him back square on the face and Christ, the guy lands down, but Dean has been smashed against the glass from behind. There’s blood where his nose hit it, and it fucking hurts. All of his face hurts, actually, and his head spins and he barely manages to skate towards the bench before someone is leading him inside. He hears infirmary, but it’s confused and he doesn’t just get it. He knows people are fussing around him, but he just can’t focus. Then he feels a needle grasping his skin and there’s just darkness.


 


When he opens his eyes again, he feels slightly more focused even if still slightly confused, and someone is holding an ice pack over his nose. He lets out a breath of relief when he realizes it’s Cas – damn, the guy must know his body more than Dean himself. There really isn’t a single part that he hasn’t patched up or seen, by now.


 


“How are you feeling?” Cas asks, and Dean can barely bring himself to shake his head.


 


“Like someone just threw me against the glass. Christ, if I hadn’t thought about scoring for that one second, maybe…”


 


“What?”


 


“Nothin’. I just, if I had ignored that motherfucker and sent the puck forward I think I might’ve scored. It distracted me, but I still knew there was the idiot behind me, so.”


 


The hand not holding the ice pack moves behind Dean’s neck, almost cradling his head, and fuck, say whatever, it feels nice. So really nice.


 


“What did you give me, by the way?”


 


“Just a mild sedative. You were pretty shaken up. And I am sorry about the goal,” Cas says, still holding the ice bag up.


 


“Whatever. I guess it just ain’t destiny,” Dean scoffs. By now he’s pretty sure he won’t ever get to score.


 


“It’s your dream,” Cas says then, low, quiet. “I can’t see why you should feel guilty because you don’t want to give up on it.”


 


Dean will blame it on the sedative, later. As mild as it was. Because there’s no way he’ll admit to anyone’s face that when he heard it felt tears burning on his eyelids and he doesn’t have crappy excuses about hockey games that changed his life now. He tries to keep them in, but he makes a poor job of it and it’s just a proof of how awesome Cas is that he doesn’t comment on it and keeps on holding his head up.


 


“If I asked you to lock that door and kiss me, would you?” Dean blurts, his voice sounding so tiny he can barely hear it himself, and he knows it’s crazy because it’s the infirmary and they’re in the middle of a game and they could get caught any time. Not to mention that it’s unprofessional, and –


 


Cas puts the ice on the cot Dean is lying on and goes to lock the door.


 


“What, are you actually doing –”


 


Cas kisses him and effectively shuts him up. And it’s a long kiss. With tongue involved. Which leaves Dean short of breath when they part, and Cas just merely looks at the watch.


 


“We have another thirty minutes before the game is over,” he says, as calm as someone who’s reading the weather forecast on a newspaper.


 


“You aren’t suggesting what I think you are suggesting.”


 


“Say no and I won’t do anything inappropriate,” Cas answers, serious, like he gets that what he just proposed is crazy and dangerous and all kinds of not advisable.


 


Except that as Cas just pointed out, Dean was just trying to still run after his stupid dream, and tonight he realized that it really isn’t ever going to happen. Which means that he’s stuck breaking his own bones and other people’s until he retires, and then what the fuck else he has left?


 


Fuck advisable. He grabs the back of Cas’s neck and drags him down and kisses him as hard as he can manage.


 


“Alright. Half an hour. Let’s just do this,” he breathes when they’re done, and Cas just nods and pulls Dean’s jersey up.


 


--


 


No one finds them out.


 


--


 


The next three years go by, and Dean finds himself just wanting to quit. While his bank account recovers from the blow he inflicted on it and things between him and Cas couldn’t go better (well, as much as things can go well when you’re trying to hide that you’re in a relationship), the rest isn’t just what he wants. He gives interviews, his face is sporting a black eye or split lip or bruise every other day, and by now all of his team’s supporters come to the game hoping that they don’t lose and that Dean provides a couple of nice fights, instead of cheering for them to win.


 


If he thinks about what he has done on the ice, all he can think of is pucks aimed to his head, broken bones, Cas’s long, elegant fingers sewing small, neat row of stitches everywhere and pain. Pain everywhere. And assists. And nothing else. And well, okay, Dean is probably one of the few people who ever played for the NHL who never lost a single fight on ice, but he still can’t make himself think of it as an accomplishment. Sam is a successful lawyer now, he’s thinking about marrying that Jessica girl Dean met at his graduation who went to law school with him, his dad managed to find a way to do all the accounting for Bobby and so he makes a living and they still live together (Dean figures they’re pretty much like Lemmon and Matthau in The Old Couple by now), and Dean hasn’t even managed to score a goal once.


 


Not to mention that most of the times when he looks at the mirror he feels like he should look like the Frankenstein monster. He feels like he’s some kind of patchwork made of his own flesh, and after the tenth time he thinks that, he ends up asking Cas the question he always dreaded to ask.


 


“How much time will I able to carry on with this?”


 


Cas, who is bandaging Dean’s knee right this moment, shakes his head and looks up.


 


“Do you want my sincere answer?”


 


“Yeah.”


 


“Then you should quit when this year is over. Until now you’ve been quite resilient, but it’s beginning to take a toll and I think that if you keep on for more than that… well, the time you lose a fight will come, and it will not be nice.”


 


Dean takes a breath.


 


Cas knows what the heck he’s talking about. And if you ask him, he’s tired. He doesn’t want this anymore. He hasn’t felt happy playing in fuck knows how long, and if you ask him, the idea of quitting, waiting six months and then moving into Cas’s hobbit hole for the hockey fan sounds a lot nicer than keeping on taking punches for a team where no one cares about him either way.


 


He says fine, and the next day he searches for Crowley and tells him that after this season he’s done. Health reasons. Crowley just nods and books him more interviews. Because at least, in that crappy contract, no one made him sign anything saying he couldn’t leave for good when he felt like it, if he didn’t go to any other team.


 


--


 


For his final night, they’re playing the Red Wings again. He got tickets for both Dad and Bobby, who said that they were going to come if Hell froze over. Then Sam calls and says that fuck, he hates hockey, always had, always will, but it’s Dean’s last game and he wants to be there, too. And he buys tickets for Jess as well. Dean feels warmed over when he thinks that everyone he cares about will be there, but he also feels like crap because it’s not like he’ll offer them much except for another fight. All things considered.


 


Then, ten minutes before they’re due on the ice, Cas takes his elbow and stops him behind in the locker room.


 


“Dean,” he says, serious, “this won’t take much, but I need to ask you something.”


 


“Okay,” Dean answers.


 


“I think I can safely say I know you by this point. And I know that if there’s something you want, is score once before you retire. And it’s just human. Dean, this is your last game. I know about the contract and everything, and it’s not even likely that you would get an occasion to score. But if you do get that occasion, just take it. If it goes through and Zachariah decides he wants to fine you, I am paying for it and I will personally kill you if you don’t take it. And even if it does not happen, just know you deserved it, alright?”


 


Dean would like to do a lot of things now. Like grabbing Cas’s shoulders and kiss him until either of them can’t breathe anymore.


 


Instead he just nods and heads out.


 


--


 


Since it’s his last game, he’s determined to stay in as much as he can.


 


And if that asshole Dick Roman doesn’t get that Dean is better at this enforcing shit than him when Dean has thrown him down twice in one game, well, he’s the idiot.


 


Point is, it’s thirty seconds from the end of the game and Dean hasn’t had a single chance in hell to score, and they’re 0-0, which means that his last game will end up being a stupid tie like most of the goddamn games he played.


 


Until damned Nick Munroe tries to score, gets surrounded by a couple of defenders from the other team and sends the pucket blindly to his left, while Roman is skating towards Dean probably trying to see if he can save his face at the third try.


 


In Dean’s head, it all plays out. He’s in a perfect position. Everyone in the other team except for his personal enemy is worried about not letting Munroe score and it’s practically free from Dean to the goalkeeper, who isn’t even looking his way. The second the puck is near enough, and if Dean can shoot it right, it’s in.


 


Except that there’s Roman who has already pegged him, and either Dean ignores him and tries to score, or he has to let it go.


 


Last year, he’d have let it go.


 


But now.


 


Now he knows Cas is at the bench looking at him, and his dad and Sam and Bobby are here, and that’s the only goddamn occasion he will ever get in his entire career, and. And.


 


And so he turns his back to Roman, waits for the puck which arrives at his feet on cue. He pulls it a bit forward, skates to his left, looks at the empty space in between him and the fucking net and then he puts fucking twenty years of waiting into his shot.


 


The puck seems to be almost flying on the ice for the three seconds it takes it to get inside the net.


 


And then there’s a hand on his shoulder and a fist hitting the side of Dean’s face (the fight, he had completely forgotten about it) and Roman cold-cocks him on his follow through, and there’s no question of how it’s going to end.


 


There’s silence in the stadium as Dean crumbles down and falls to the ground, his hand letting the stick fall as well, and then Dean sees a red light and he wonders if it’s an hallucination or not.


 


--


 


“You stupid, reckless, insouciant son of a bitch!” is the first thing he hears when he opens his eyes again, and there’s Cas standing over him in what looks like a hospital bed and he’s looking scared out of his mind. Also, he’s swearing. If Cas is swearing, then it means things are bad. “What were you thinking? I told you to try to score, not to get yourself killed! Do you know how worried out of my mind you had me?” Cas starts again, and Dean then hears someone he’s pretty sure must be Bobby.


 


“He’s right, you know. I was plannin’ on tellin’ you pretty much the same thing, but since he’s been so eloquent, I’ll just say that you’re an idjit. You knew that guy was out for you!”


 


“What… what did I…” Dean starts, and Cas shakes his head, even if now he looks also half relieved.


 


“That was the concussion to end all concussions. You were unconscious for six hours and it was a miracle you didn’t end up in a coma straight away,” he answers, his voice a bit more collected, and Dean shivers.


 


“Did I really score?” he asks instead, and Cas groans like he would kill Dean himself if he could.


 


And then he hears laughter and turns to his left, where John is trying to contain it and Sam has the exactly same bitchface Cas pulled a second ago.


 


“You didn’t just score,” John answers. “Now everyone’s talking about you.”


 


Dean’s brain can barely process it. “What?”


 


“Dean, did you actually see your own goal?” Cas asks then, and Dean has to shake his head.


 


“Not really. I mean, guy cold-cocked me as soon as I was done, I barely had time to shoot anyway. What?”


 


Everyone else in the room sighs, and then Cas looks at Sam.


 


“Do you have the NY Times?”


 


Sam nods and hands it over, and then Cas hangs the opening of the hockey section in front of Dean’s eyes.


 


Winchester scores, and it’s out of this world, it reads.


 


Dean blinks. Then he reads it again. The line doesn’t change.


 


“What the fuck?”


 


“Dean,” Bobby starts, “that wasn’t one goal. That was a hell of a goal, if you get the difference.”


 


“Cas,” Sam says, “read him what’s inside.”


 


Cas nods and opens the paper, then starts reading. “Why such a waste? That’s probably the question most hockey fans (and Penguins fans) have been asking themselves since yesterday evening. It’s a given that Dean Winchester has always been the only redeeming factor in the team, since while they haven’t provided much when it comes to actually playing well in the last years, at least he provided enough entertainment, but no one would have imagined that, on his last day he’d bring the team to victory. Or that he would do it scoring a clean, flawless, spotless goal; the kind that demands skill. For the first time, in the press room, everyone agreed on how much skill it must have taken to pull it off, and I can assure you that it almost never happens. Now, one has to think, if Winchester managed to score such a goal on what’s (regrettably) the last game of his career, what he could have done if he hadn’t played as an enforcer the entire time?


 


“Wait. Waitwaitwait,” Dean interrupts him. “Who’s writing?”


 


“John Saunders.”


 


“The fuck? It was a lucky shot! He can’t have said that!”


 


“No, it was not,” Cas says, and John comes to his side and nods as well.


 


“I’ll agree with your girlfriend here,” he says, not noticing apparent the glare Cas sends him. “That wasn’t a lucky shot. If you had tried to score one second earlier or one later, it wouldn’t have worked. And since the puck was sent your way and it arriving in front of you… how much was that? Two seconds? Three? It meant thinking quick and acting even quicker, and someone without skill would have completely missed it. Also… you haven’t seen it. Dean, I’m not being partial here. It was a fucking beautiful shot.”


 


“Now, can I go on? That wasn’t the best part yet,” Cas says, and Dean nods, dumbfounded. “Now, whose fault is this? Winchester’s various coaches for having never noticed that he had potential? Zachariah Adler, who hasn’t noticed it either even if Winchester has been playing for the Penguins since forever? Winchester himself, even if we would have a doubt about it? It surely is a pity that he didn’t get to see the aftermath of his last second stunt. And then he says that it was a really unfortunate thing, that everyone never saw it.”


 


“I can’t believe that,” Dean says shaking his head, and then Sam rolls his eyes.


 


“You should. Hey Cas, when’s that sports news on? I think he needs to see what everyone has been talking about for the last day.”


 


“Now, I think.”


 


Sam turns the TV on and yeah, there’s a newscast alright, and there are journalists discussing.


 


“Really, why hasn’t anyone ever realized it?”


 


“I think that Winchester himself had. I mean, he has been talking to newspapers and magazines for years, but has he ever looked happy while talking about his playing?”


 


“I think we should watch the action again.”


 


Dean hears without realizing it fully, and then they air the goal again.


 


And fuck it, well, it’s a pretty damn fine goal indeed, seen from the outside. It definitely didn’t look like he got lucky.


 


“Shit,” he comments, “and this just when I decide I’m done.” But after all it isn’t that bad. At least he went out with honor. And he had the last word, when it came to what his coaches thought of him.


 


“Actually,” Sam says, “there’s more.”


 


“More?”


 


“Four or five teams called asking whether you would think twice about retiring. And since you were out, everyone talked to me and I didn’t have an idea of what to say, so I let Cas speak with them.”


 


“They what?” Dean almost shouts. “I’m done with fighting, I thought it was…”


 


“They don’t want you fighting, Dean,” Cas adds, sounding almost smug. “They want you scoring. The general consensus was that even if you will not end up being the new Cam Neely or Bobby Orr, there’s still some hope to put your potential to practice. And well, when I told you that you should have quit, I meant it if it was about fighting. If you did not strain yourself that much, I think that you still have another two or three years, at least.”


 


“Oh shit, this is too much for having just woken up,” Dean says, wondering if it’s not the drugs he was probably given that are making him dream all this. “And well, I’m not… I mean, it’s be different, but… I just wanted to chill the fuck out now. I’m tired of…”


 


“Dean, the Islanders called, as well,” Cas interrupts him, and silence falls in the room.


 


What?” Dean barely manages, and Cas nods at him, his eyes warm again.


 


“I spoke with the manager and the coach. Both of them said that they were absolutely impressed and the coach says that if you do some extra practice not involving beating people up, you could score next season.”


 


“But why would they even want me? They could just go and draft someone talented from the juniors. It doesn’t make any sense!”


 


Bobby snorts and he throws him the last special issue of Hockey News. There’s Dean’s face all over the front page, and then when he opens the magazine he sees an interview with that Alastair prick who decided that he wasn’t good for much first. Headline: I never realized his true potential.


 


“This is a joke,” Dean breathes, but alright, Alistair just went and admitted that Dean had asked him to score and he had said no. Then there’s another interview with his former coach at the Spirits, who says the same thing. Zachariah isn’t apparently commenting on anything.


 


Then there’s a reprint of the first interview Dean ever gave and well, fuck, he had forgotten that he had got asked which used to be his favorite team growing up.


 


“You aren’t telling me that…”


 


“The coach said that by scoring that goal you did an admirable thing, not to mention the fact that you showed quite the force of will,” Cas supplies, “and he said that it would really be a waste if you didn’t get to do the real thing. Also, they would only pay for your contract, since you aren’t technically with the Penguins anymore as of last day, and considering your current paycheck, it wouldn’t really be that much of a pricey investment. They can still recruit you and draft from the juniors.”


 


“Then, since I am the lawyer, I asked him which conditions would they give you if you said yes,” Sam chimes in, “and by the way, I could have told you that the contract you signed was a joke back in my fucking freshman year.”


 


“And what did they do?”


 


“They faxed a list of conditions to the hospital. And it’s good.”


 


“Is it?”


 


“Well, your paycheck would be twice the one you have now, and it could improve, in theory. They would sign you for just three years and you could leave any time you wanted. Also, they’d pay for your rent wherever you chose to stay.”


 


Dean turns to Cas, and he looks nothing but supportive.


 


But they had plans, dammit.


 


“What about… I mean, I don’t want to…”


 


“Dean. I didn’t renew my contract.”


 


“You what?”


 


“The seven years I signed for are up. And I do not look forward to renewing it if you aren’t there. Also, I am pretty sure that there is an apartment building in New York with two houses available for renting in the same place,” he adds, and Dean doesn’t need to hear the rest. If they moved in the same building (and it’s not like anyone would keep track of Cas’s movements) they wouldn’t have to worry about a lot of the things they have been worrying about. Three more years of hiding their relationships aren’t ideal, but if they lived in the same building


 


Fuck this.


 


Really, fuck this.


 


“Well,” he says, “I’d be a fucking idiot if I said no now, wouldn’t I?”


 


“Absolutely,” Bobby says.


 


“Most probably,” Sam agrees.


 


“If you don’t do it I’m not talking to you anymore,” John says, and shit, he sounds like he means it.


 


“Maybe,” Cas says, grinning. “I mean, you’d be if you didn’t sign. But if you ever try something like that again, I’m ending you.”


 


“I shouldn’t need it anymore though, should I?”


 


Shit. Playing with other people watching his back.


 


Sounds like a fucking dream.


 


--


 


When Dean Winchester signs his contract with the Islanders, the next week, it’s most probably the next defining moment of his life. The one when he signs a contract to rent a small apartment on the same floor as another empty one in a nice building in the West Side in New York, right while his boyfriend is signing the lease for the aforementioned empty second apartment, is maybe the last one for now.


 


He’s planning to make the last defining moment of his life the one when he comes out after finishing his three years, during which he hopes he’ll get to fucking score without risking his neck and no one dares to shout at him to hit somebody, but no one has to know that just yet.


 


 


End.


 


 

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