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White Winter Hymnal

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Christmas, Dean had long since decided, was the most obnoxious holiday of them all. It was repetitive, offensively and falsely chirpy and—the worst part—absolutely one-hundred percent inescapable.

Not only were the streets littered with bright lights and glowing snowmen and Santas that all seemed to give off sex offender vibes, the whole thing was physically brought to his door.

He'd politely excused himself from no less than fifteen sets of carol singers this week alone (and not so politely excused himself from three). Even to a man like him, a man who wasn't religious, didn't celebrate and made no excuses for it, people persisted with the plastic-happy smiley cheer like it was fooling anyone.

Dean could see the veiny stress and frustration tweezing away at those too-tight smiles, the corporate-spun fear in those wide, glazed eyes. Secretly, they hated this as much as he did. They were just better at hiding it.

Or maybe he was just bitter, but it was Christmas Eve and he'd seriously had about enough. Yeah, sure, it would be over in a day or so and he could look forward to getting absolutely spectacularly wasted over New Year's, but this crap started in October.

Tinsel and trinkets sprawling out over the pumpkins, shooing the ghosts and goblins off into some forgotten corner of a store while the Season to be Jolly took centre stage, like the bratty, spoilt child it was. Dean wasn't actually even all that cynical in all honesty—he didn't begrudge people their fun.

Really, he didn't.

They could all go hotbox themselves into an eternal winter wonderland of Yuletide cheer if they wanted; he just wished they'd leave him alone.

He'd tried to get into the 'holiday spirit' plenty; he'd sat down to dozens of Christmas dinners with his family, exchanged gifts with girlfriends. Hell, one year he'd even decorated his crappy, one-bedroom apartment—garlands and all—but no dice.

He just could not get into it. It was all false, a fantasy as fake as his plastic tree.

It felt empty.

The whole period, year after year made him feel uncomfortable and unsteady. So he just stopped. He didn't bother writing out cards or sending gifts to anyone that wasn't his parents or Sammy (because he did not want to have to deal with both his brother and his mom complaining at him over the phone). He didn't bother pretending to be happy and peppy and eager to please when in actuality he felt no different than usual. He just didn't bother with Christmas.

It would have been great, foolproof even, if everyone else would just get the memo already.

Dean Winchester did not do Christmas.

Which was why he'd skulked out of his home on Christmas Eve, blessedly cellphone-less and happy in the biting-cold air, through the sludge of slushy streets and into a quiet, Scrooge-friendly café.

It was the only one he'd found in the city that didn't have any decorations or Christmas songs playing. They weren't even serving 'nog. It was freaking awesome. It was paradise.

The place did, however, offer some of the best hot chocolate he'd ever tasted, and while he didn't like Christmas, Dean loved winter.

He loved the way the elements came together to make something so volatile and beautiful as a simple snow storm, loved how the nip of unfriendly wind made you wrap yourself up in lumpy sweaters and itchy scarves until you could barely breathe beneath their weight.

He loved how angry and destructible winter was, how honest.

Winter breathed around him, something to marvel at and detest and love, to flood your lungs with and burrow down into.

Winter was starkly, undeniably real.

Especially next to the brass fairytale of Christmas.

There was something distinctly winter-ish about the hot chocolate they served at this café too.

Dean put it down to the quick bite of cinnamon that blended into the rich cocoa like a liquid happy ending, and enough cream that Sam would have a fit.

It was hot and comforting and right now just what he was craving. Somewhere along the line he'd inadvertently swapped his usual glass of Jack for a mug of cocoa, like the old woman he was turning into, but Dean didn't mind, really. The stuff was fucking delicious.

Dean had been going to the cozy little café for a little over two weeks to indulge his new found addiction, absolutely besotted from the moment he'd tentatively opened the door and heard no carols snaking out from inside.

More often than not it was blissfully quiet, especially in the evening. He figured most people wanted an environment more friendly to their manufactured good spirits and left in favour of somewhere that didn't play a strange mix of Cash, Wham! and T-Pain.

That was something to get used to, at least.

The guy that worked there—owned the place, he supposed—was called Gabriel, as he'd discovered from the man’s brassy name tag.

He was short, forthright and a little annoying, but seemed to be a good guy. Or at least a tolerable guy. Dean found he didn't mind him chattering nonsense or putting whoopee cushions on his chair, as long as he kept the holiday out and the cocoa flowing.

It also helped that the guy knew his way around a pastry.

Dean walked briskly to the café—a fifteen-minute walk from his apartment in the cold, snow lightly falling above him, but it was so very worth it for the chance to breathe—lugging his laptop along with him, intending to get some writing done and, ha, that was a joke.

He'd been stuck halfway through the second chapter of his third novel for more than four months.

Something was just... jammed. He couldn't pull ideas from their hidey-holes in his entirely uncooperative brainbox and even when he could, it was unreasonably difficult to get them onto paper.

Or word processor.

Whatever.

Writing his first book had been challenging and difficult but he'd had so much fun, relished the catharsis of articulating his most private thoughts, twisting them into unrecognisable characters and watching them play out across the pages. It was exciting, invigorating and no small amount of comforting.

It had been successful too, in the cult sense. Enough so that Dean was glad he'd written it under a pseudonym, because he heard the conventions got more than a little rowdy.

He ducked the spotlight, never got recognised but that suited him just fine. He enjoyed his privacy and, coupled with the fact that people were enjoying his work in a way that paid the bills, well, he didn’t mind the anonymity.

The second novel... that was different. He barely knew what it was about, didn't quite remember the words he'd written.

It was after his brother had married Ruby, and two weeks later he met Adam—his dragged-out-of-a-soap-opera, illegitimate half-brother from an affair his dad had twenty years prior. His parents had gotten divorced, no surprises there, and Dean had watched, helpless, as his father, his hero, descended into heavy alcoholism.

Soon, Dean's life began to reek with the stench of liquor and piss, John refusing his help, responding with slurred threats and sluggish violence whenever Dean tried to intervene, and it was Dean alone.

His mom didn't have the strength to care, Sam was in California, and there was no way Dean was asking the kid for help. Adam had no idea what he was getting into when he showed up on his parents' doorstep, and that wasn't his fault.

Then there was the accident, and what happened, happened.

Dean had been lost. He could do nothing, but write.

And so, he wrote.

It was nothing like the first time.

He didn't strive for the best, didn't ponder over particular words or phrases or struggle with character development. Hell, he didn't even have a plot in mind. He would just move in front of the laptop and write.

The words would seem to flow out of him, no permission from his conscious mind. There was an ebb to them, a wave. It was... difficult. Intangible.

Even he had no real recollection of writing most of it, just the aftermath of the emotional deconstruction it entailed.

The whole thing was distant, dream-like, and the result had the same quality. He hadn't read over a large percentage of the novel, but what he'd gathered was that it was about a man—a good man—and the rode he drove on, desperate to complete his journey. For it to be over.

It read theoretically, abstract, but mostly it explored loss and decay and, in the end, reprieve. It was about losing a sizeable chuck of your soul and finding it again in another person. Or maybe not a person. Maybe just an idea.

Dean wasn't exactly clear on that part.

It was... trippy.

He never showed it to anyone: no publishers, no fans. Not even Sammy.

It was his.

Some part of him was embarrassed, other parts scared. Terrified, even, of what it contained, what secrets it whispered out over crisp pages, what corners of his mind had been scraped out into ink.

It was personal, more so than the pathetic anthology of his own weepy, mournful poetry gathering dust in his night stand. More so than the blog he totally didn't have, but updated every night before going to bed with thoughts and dreams and the occasional filth.

It wasn't intended for alien eyes—it wasn't intended for anything really—it just was.

It was his, his own little slice of perdition laying heavy on his hard drive.

He'd started work on this next novel, this slippery number three, to take his mind off it, to produce something for his fans because they'd been waiting six years and he was pretty positive that anonymity or not, they'd hunt him down with pitchforks and explicit threats of violence if he kept them waiting much longer.

No matter how much his fingers didn't want to type or his brain didn't want to think, Dean was determined to get this damn book written and out on bookshelves by December next year at the latest.

If the Christmas season was good for anything, it was selling crappy, filler literature en masse.

But hey, maybe tonight. Maybe Christmas Eve would work some of that magic everyone was always crooning about, and he'd actually finish the god damn chapter.

Maybe he'd grow gills.

Sighing, Dean trudged across the street, feeling calm relief prickle in his veins as he saw the warm glow of the café—open, as he knew it would be, when everywhere else was shut.

His shoes crunching the snow a little quicker, Dean pushed open the door and stepped into the coffee shop.

He shuddered as the warmth lapped and swelled around his body, dusting the frost from his bitten skin, sore and blue under damp cloth—and even after he'd buried himself among layers of wool and flannel and the coziest coat Walmart could offer too.

He exhaled.

No tinny music, no tinsel, no fairy lights.

Fuck, he loved this place.

Looking around, he also realised the café was entirely empty, which, alright, it was gone 10pm on Christmas Eve, but not even Gabriel was tinkering behind the counter. Frowning, Dean turned around to look at the door to verify that it was actually open, because yeah... awkward.

The closed sign was facing him though so he shrugged and made his way to the counter, wondering where the hell the little guy was.

He shucked his wet coat off, brushing snowflakes from the shoulders with gloved fingers and folded it over the back of a stool.

Peering behind himself, just double checking no-one was in there, he took a deep breath before clearing his throat.

“Hello?” Dean called out, looking over to the door that seemed to lead to the kitchen area.

He heard a thud followed by what sounded like someone running down a flight of stairs.

“Just a moment!”

Dean started at the unexpected and unfamiliar deep voice, eyebrows crawling together as he half-wondered whether he'd interrupted a burglary or something, because that was some serious force behind those pipes and if there was such thing as the perfect serial killer voice, that was probably it.

He narrowed his eyes at the door, all those endless nights of distractedly watching horror movies coming into play, because Dean knew how to handle this situation, damn it. It involved being prepared, not asking stupid questions and absolutely not tripping up.

Or running upstairs instead of bolting out the door. He had this shit memorised.

There was a chance, of course, that he might have been getting a little ahead of himself because people he was suspicious of rarely turned out to be serial killers. Or zombies. Or Mormons. But he was a writer. He had a naturally over-active imagination.

Just not when he actually, y'know, needed it.

The door slammed open, a man scrambling through it, panting for breath and... wow, okay, his mom always told him not to judge a book by its cover and he was trying to cling to his serial killer theory, but... Damn.

The guy was tall—maybe an inch or two shorter than Dean himself—his dark hair bed-messy and Dean couldn't help wonder if that's what he was doing when Dean came in.

If that was the case, he wasn't gonna lie, he was a little jealous of whoever was responsible for sliding fingers through those soft locks, or pushing him down and making his hair look like... that.

Jesus H Christ.

Dean was probably staring a little too long—gawking really—but he couldn't stop his eyes from raking over the guy's body, nothing subtle about it.

Being a writer meant Dean had an attention for detail and a knack for profiling people.

That was totally what he was going with, yes.

At first glance the other man appeared thin, just this side of scrawny but even through the chunky and honestly pretty ugly sweater he wore, Dean could see the suggestion of muscles, could see the sinewy, slender form of someone in good shape.

The guy moved with the form of a gymnast, all subtle strength and misleading slimness, looking like he could kick Dean’s ass if he wanted to. His chin was held up in a strong, defiant arch of pale skin, shoulders naturally squared, walking like someone with trouble at his heels.

Someone a little fierce, a little guarded, but looking at the man's face, the soft, apologetic clench of chapped pink lips, the earnest arches of his eyebrows—it was all contrast. All paradox.

A riddle spun in closed body language and deep worry lines in conflict with gentle slopes of an open expression, the wide honesty of his eyes.

They were wonderful, those eyes, and they knew Dean to bones just glancing at him, making stone of his blood. The hairs on the back of Dean's neck woke up, the air like fingertips walking over the knobs of his spine.

His gaze flickered up at Dean and everything was the colour of whip-sharp ice, soft fingers folding around time's shoulders, keeping the world from turning its head.

For a beat, the air choked itself dry but the man soon blinked and the illusion shattered.

He frowned, stuffing his hands inside his pockets to distract himself from the alien feeling needling at his thoughts, from the deep shiver spindling at his spine.

Dean watched the man move behind the counter, quickly yanking on a black apron over his loose clothes.

He inclined his head slightly towards Dean in what was possibly an apology; it was quite difficult to tell.

He didn't... move like most people.

“Sorry, I had to, uh, urinate,” he said, grave tone crisp and brutally frank.

Dean blinked, searching the guy's face for a hint of irony, humour—something—but he just stared right back at him, intense and unwavering, completely oblivious to the complete oddness of that as a first impression.

Dean felt the corner of his mouth twitch up despite his bewilderment at the guy's nonchalance. It was refreshing, the honesty, like the quiet snow making room for itself on the ground outside.

Bright with opportunity.

Dean huffed, bouncing his shoulders once.

“Don't worry about it dude. I mean nature calls, right?” he smiled.

The guy tilted his head to the side, eyebrows drawing together.

“Yes,” he said after a beat, the word drawn-out slightly. He pulled out a notepad.

“Nonetheless, I am sorry to have kept you waiting. What can I get you?”

“The, ah—” Dean braced himself, coughing, “—'Hot Chocolatey for Fatties'.”

Gabriel, Dean was sure, was absolutely a sadist. The douchebag practically squealed with glee whenever Dean gave in to his demands to 'say it properly', utterly relishing his humiliation. He always gave Dean extra whipped cream when he did though, and now it had apparently been conditioned into him. Awesome.

“Uh. Grande.” 

The new guy's lips twitched in a flicker of a smile at the words, blue eyes shining with mirth and if Dean's cheeks were heating up, it was one hundred percent because of the warm room. He ducked his head, steepling his fingers over the counter.

“Of course,” the man said, and yep, that was definitely amusement in that low voice, fuck Dean's life.

Dean's gaze followed him as he turned around, fiddling with the machines behind the counter, quick eyes scanning the controls and reaching for them cautiously, like he didn't quite trust them to work.

Or entirely know how to get them to.

For a moment, Dean was preparing to mourn the promise of sweet, chocolatey goodness before he heard the encouraging whirring of something electric coming to life.

It roared stark against the quiet of the empty café, the only sound Dean could hear beside the minute rustling coming from the strange man. Right then, it might have been a chainsaw for all of its delicateness.

The quietness closed in on them as the machine gurgled to a pause, the silence stifling, asphyxiating.

It wasn't entirely awkward, exactly. It was more... in the way. An obstruction.

Dean cleared his throat, compelled to fill the empty space with ambient babbling in some creepily ingrained sense of societal duty or something.

“So, uh... I haven't seen you around before,” he said and oh god, now it sounded like Dean was hitting on him, which he absolutely wasn't.

Mostly.

The guy didn't turn around to answer, busied with the task of preparing Dean's drink.

“No, I'm covering for Gabriel,” he said over his shoulder, raising his voice a note over the noise of the machine, now apparently easing into its second stage of beverage-making genius. Dean nodded.

“Right. Uh, so where is Gabe, anyway?” he asked, genuinely curious and no small amount of relieved to have found a suitable topic of conversation. “He doesn't come across as the, um, celebratory type.”

Dean's eyes flickered around the café again, drinking in the distinct lack of decorations, the somewhat reasonable glare of warm artificial lights that blessedly didn't come in green and red.

Nope, not the Christmas type. Not at all.

“Gabriel... likes to, um, party,” the guy said, removing the mug from the machine and adding what Dean figured was whatever made the cinnamony taste.

“Christmas usually provides plenty of opportunity for that. Whipped cream?”

“What? Oh, uh, please,” Dean said, half-distracted by the guy's ass—which was really rather nice—the suggestion of whipped cream catching him dangerously off-guard.

“So, what? Did he bribe you into working Christmas Eve?”

The man huffed softly, just a wisp of air as he a swirled a sizeable mound of cream over the mug.

“It wouldn't be beyond my brother to bribe me, but no. I don't celebrate either,” he replied, twisting around a fraction.

His eyebrows quirked in a question.

“Chocolate sprinkles?”

Dean grinned.

“Hell yeah.”

That careful smile widened a little, curving a wonky line over pink lips as the man shook his head in an artifice of despair. The sprinkles still came though, generous and indulgent, the most perfect enabler.

He placed the sacred beverage in front of Dean, utterly bemused and only a little mocking.

“One, ah, Hot Chocolatey for Fatties,” he announced dryly, all lopsided grins and glinting eyes, bright with a fondness he must have picked up elsewhere.

Dean rolled his eyes, ignoring the warmth drowsily unfurling in his chest as he reached out and gripped the handle.

“Mock all you want, this drink is so worth the humiliation.”

He brought the mug to his mouth, breathing in the rich, aromatic mixture of chocolate and cinnamon, and sipped at the drink through the cream. Dean was unable to fight against the small moan that resonated from his throat, eyelids fluttering closed as heat seeped through his body, spreading down his torso and plucking a pleasant shudder from his spine, frissons of delight humming like livewires down to his toes.

God, it was good.

Swallowing happily, wonderfully numbed by lazy endorphins, he slowly opened his eyes to find the guy staring at him, the same amused half-smile on his face as he watched Dean's outright display of flagrant, hedonistic pleasure.

“Satisfactory?” he asked, head tipping to the side an inch. Dean snorted.

“Very.” He cradled the mug toward him like it was something precious. “Everyone needs to experience this at least once in their lives.”

It should probably have been law, actually.

“I haven't yet had the pleasure,” the guy said, his voice pitching down in confession and all that was missing was the screen between them.

Dean stopped right there, culling any potentially dirty thoughts before they had chance to germinate.

He noticed the stiff lines of the guy's shoulders had already relaxed somewhat since he'd first laid eyes on him then, each second sloughing the tension from his body like every word Dean spoke severed the invisible strings winding him so tight.

Oh, he still stood as straight as if he had a monumentally large pole up his ass, but there was an openness about him that hadn’t existed two minutes earlier. Maybe it was the cinnamon.

“See, that... that's just wrong,” Dean said after taking another sip, shaking his head in reflective mock-dismay. “I mean, c'mon, you gotta have some. It's totally the weather for it, too.”

His head jerked back towards the window behind him, a little over-eagerly. Something in him had grown tight with the desire to see the guy's eyes closed in reverence as he sipped at the warm drink, a pink glow illuminating pale cheeks. He'd be beautiful like that, Dean thought. Enjoying something so simple.

Dean glanced up through the fringe of his lashes, tilting his head to the side.

“I'll even spring for it?”

The man smiled at him, a little indulgently.

“Maybe later,” he said, a soft chuckle in his voice and Dean couldn't place where that flare of disappointment came from.

He wiped his hands off on a towel and slouched down slightly, leaning on the counter.

“I was always more of a tea person.”

Dean wrinkled his nose up, remembering all of the fruity brews Sam invested himself into. He'd tried the chamomile once. It tasted like ass.

“That's... tragic,” he said, trying and failing to disguise the full force of his disgust and earning himself a small, gentle breath of laughter in return.

Dean's eyes flickered to the guy's chest—because he really couldn't keep mentally referring to him as 'the guy'—in search of a name tag, frowning when he was met only with the sticky-looking black fabric of the apron.

Okay, a switch in tactics.

“I'm Dean,” he smiled, all charm, and stuck out his hand.

The other man peered at it questioningly for a heartbeat, as though sizing up the protocol, before he wrapped a firm, strong grip around the proffered hand, shaking it steadily.

“Castiel Novak,” he said, low voice rumbling pleasantly in the quiet.

At the confused little twitch of eyebrows wrinkling Dean's face, he ducked his head, obviously used to questions about his name. One of which was, admittedly, on the tip of Dean's tongue.

“Angel name,” he clarified, “the angel of Thursday, though he shares that title with Sachiel.”

He paused, giving a small shrug.

“Religious parents.”

Dean nodded, releasing the attractive hand he'd been holding a second or three too long.

“So, uh, it's a family thing, then?” he asked, “You guys all named after angels?”

Castiel's eyebrows furrowed slightly, the head-tilt coming out to play again.

“Yes,” he said slowly, “how did you know?”

If he was anything at all like Dean, he was probably sizing up the chance of him being a stalker.

Or, incidentally, a serial killer.

“You said Gabriel was your brother, right?” Dean said, eager to dispel wariness shadowing Castiel's face. He shrugged.

“Like the archangel. I just figured... ”

Castiel nodded, lips opening slightly in understanding.

“Gabe for a brother... that's gotta be interesting.”

Dean really hadn't known the shorter man all that long, but he was, after all, an excellent judge of character.

Having Gabriel for a sibling was not something he would be envious of. Ever.

“He is... a handful at times,” Castiel agreed, eyes fond. “But he is the closest friend I have, besides Anna, our sister.”

That Dean understood.

Sam annoyed the absolute crap out of him, but he'd die for the overgrown dork in a heartbeat and take anyone he needed to down with him.

He didn't shy away from the fact that Sam was the absolute most important thing in his life. Even with his brother living on the West Coast, Dean still felt the need to check in with him at least once a day, make sure he was alright, that Ruby hadn't eaten him alive yet.

He'd hated that chick at first, something about that crooked smirk and those shifty, unreadable eyes setting off all kinds of alarm bells in the Protect Sammy part of his brain, but eventually... he'd warmed to her.

Begrudgingly, of course, because she was made of bark and bite and sarcasm that sniped at Dean's nerves, but she could take care of herself as well as his brother and, most importantly, she loved Sam.

Watching them marry, that much had been evident. She looked at Sam the way their mom used to look at their dad.

Dean just hoped their marriage wouldn't crumble quite so easily.

“I get it,” he said after taking another sip, nodding his head in understanding. “I got a kid brother, Sammy.” He paused, backtracking. “And a half-brother, I guess. Um, Adam.”

His eyes quickly darted up to Castiel's, making sure he didn't notice the hesitation in his tone, because so he did not want to have that conversation with a stranger.

Castiel's face was as composed as ever though, showing no hint of recognition of the touchy subject as he nodded, happy to listen to Dean's story.

“Sammy, though,” Dean continued, satisfied his awkwardness had gone unnoticed, “him and me... we're close. Always have been. Even if he is a giant geek.”

Castiel snorted softly, dropping his head to study the grooves in the shiny counter. Dean found he liked pulling out those tiny smiles from the man, liked the crooked set of them, the softness that lidded his eyes.

“He's been nagging at me for weeks to come stay with him over Christmas, all puppy eyes and sympathy because you can't be alone at Christmas, Dean!”

Dean rolled his eyes, quite proud of his incredibly accurate Sammy impression.

It was true, though. The Sasquatch had been pestering him non-stop to come up there with their mom and stay the week, but Dean really wasn't in the mood to play happy families and act all smiley Brady Bunch over Ruby's shitty turkey, telling shitty anecdotes and giving shitty gifts he couldn't really afford anyway.

He'd rather be doing absolutely nothing at all but lounging around in his boxers and watching everything from The Wrath of Khan to reruns of Buffy.

He told Sam he was too busy.

“You're not a fan of Christmas either,” Castiel said. It wasn't a question.

He pulled over a stool from behind the counter and arranged himself opposite Dean.

“Sorry, I've been standing all day. I'm fairly certain my legs will have to be amputated.”

Dean let out a huffed laugh.

“Not used to it, huh?” he smiled, sipping appreciatively at his drink. “What do you do when you're not working your ass off so tiny slackers can go get their groove on?”

“I'm a librarian,” Castiel replied, nimble fingers fiddling with a little packet of sugar. “It's actually a lot more of an active occupation than you might think. There’s a lot to be said for the amount of energy it takes to devote your day to referencing and cataloguing. And researching.”

He let out a grunt of displeasure, muttering something that sounded like 'lazy Freshmen' under breath that softened to a sigh.

“Though I suppose I should be grateful I’m no long a Page”.

Dean knew Castiel was still talking, he could see that pink mouth shaped gracefully around fugitive words, but he'd kind of zoned out around 'librarian'.

He was quickly drifting far away from this conversation, his mind conjuring up images of Castiel in a fitted sweater vest, delicate glasses balanced on his nose, framing his eyes beautifully as he strode around a library somewhere, organising errant books, running strong, gentle fingers over the spines, gliding his fingertips over the pages, caressing the written words...

“What about you?”

The pleasant baritone of Castiel's voice canted in question snapped Dean out of the mental movie set of Sexy Librarians 4: Time to Pay Your Late Fees , jerking his head up to look back up at Castiel with wide, alarmed eyes.

A guilty flush spread over his cheeks as he tried to recall exactly what Castiel had asked, coming up blank since all his energy was focused on successfully preventing his dick from getting any harder at the barrage of dirtybadawesome thoughts.

It might have been easier to accomplish was Castiel not insisting on looking at him through the thickness of his dark lashes, speaking to Dean in a voice that really shouldn't be used in public.

Unless that's what he was into.

Fuck.

He shook his head adamantly, summoning a strained smile.

“Sorry, I was, ah, lost in thought. What did you say?”

Castiel gave him a measured look, caught in the crease between suspicious and amused.

“I asked what you do for a living,” Castiel said with patience, a skill Dean supposed he'd cultivated through living with Gabriel.

“Oh, uh, I'm a writer.”

Dean grimaced at how that sounded. Every hipster with a blog was a 'writer' these days, every pretentious douchebag with their oh-so-very insightful piece of recycled lyricism comprised of the thoughts and ideas and metaphors of someone else's brain. Someone else's life and experiences.

A shit-heap of post-modern existentialism coloured purple and gift wrapped in casual misogyny, following in the footsteps of forefathers who never paid their child support.

Dean didn't really blame them. They used it to score with the green boys and girls, to dress themselves as creative and relevant and hoax their way into the prestigious College Lit Group.

It was all milk teeth and baby steps and Dean could understand it, but he didn't want people thinking he was one of them.

Actually, no. That was a lie; he didn't give a crap what people thought about him or his line of work, hadn't paused to ask for Joe Schmoe's opinion in the past and he had no interest in starting any time soon.

It just, oddly, mattered right now. What this one stranger thought... it mattered.

He coughed.

“A novel-writer. I, uh, write novels.” He snorted. “Supposedly.”

Castiel's eyes visibly lit up, his whole posture straightening as he leaned forward as though he wanted to physically move deeper into the conversation, to crawl into the safety net tossed toward him.

“That’s wonderful. What genre?” he asked, speaking a little faster, just a tad more excitably than earlier.

Dean swallowed a mouthful of cocoa and pondered for a moment, debating how best to answer that.

His first book was a supernatural/science fantasy fluff piece set in the Old West, barely breaking any mould whatsoever but still somehow managing to achieve a core group of loyal followers, solidifying its cult status.

The second... Well, he didn't think “acid-trippy-journey-fantasy-thriller” was considered a genre.

The third had started out as SF but sometimes, when he finally got to writing, it felt like romance, like a love letter to the dystopian. Dean wasn't sure how to classify it because he wasn't sure what it was or where it was going yet.

He had no more idea where he would take that book than the numbers for next month's big lottery win.

“Um, Fantasy mostly,” was what he decided on, for the sake of ease.

Castiel looked appeased by the answer and glanced down at Dean's laptop bag.

“I suppose it makes sense to drag that thing around with you, then,” he said, voice clipped as his features curled up in something close to disdain, like he was utterly repulsed by the computer.

Dean snorted.

“Hey now, what's my poor laptop ever done to you?”

Castiel sniffed, looking away from the laptop like it had said something to offend him.

“Computers and I... have a frosty relationship,” he explained, much to Dean's amusement, picturing Castiel engaged in battle with his one great personal arch-nemesis: Microsoft.

“There is a lot of hate. It's very mutual.”

A laugh charged out of him, louder and clearer and with more heart than he could remember laughing in a long time.

“I'm glad you find it amusing,” Castiel dead-panned, tucking his arms in against his chest. “Those abominations have developed a taste for my documents as well as my misery. I've lost seven unique and important files to their jaws over the years. This is personal.”

Dean shook his head at the wounded tone, wiping his eye free of tears.

“That's your fault for not backing things up, man,” he said, still chuckling lightly. “You can't blame computers for your, ah, lack of foresight.”

When Dean thought about it later, it occurred to him that it was probably a little rude to be teasing a guy you'd met less than a half hour earlier, but he found he couldn't help himself.

He couldn't help the cheeky, lazy grin rising on his lips, couldn't stop the warm, familiar demeanor he'd adopted with this guy he had no business being familiar with at all. Castiel didn't seem to mind. He responded to Dean's jibes and remarks like he'd been winding himself around them for years, an easy rapport settling at their feet.

“I back up everything I write,” Dean continued, ignoring Castiel's rather petulant eye roll, but it was true. He did.

When he actually, y'know, wrote.

“I've got a drawer full of pen drives maxed-out with old drafts of my work. It would suck to write your magnum opus and then lose it to the evil robot overlords the rest of us regular folk know as computers”

He grinned at Castiel again, delighted with the snort of amused-offence he received for his efforts.

Castiel leaned forward, hooking the palm of his hand under his chin.

“What are you working on now?” he asked, eyes flickering to the laptop, but as Dean paused, he sat up straight, eyes widening almost comically.

“Oh, I'm sorry, that's personal, of course. I... Uh, sometimes I find myself making invasive enquiries without thinking. When I was younger, the therapist my mother made me see informed me I had trouble with personal boundaries. I suppose I haven't yet grown out of-”

“Cas!” Dean interrupted. “You're babbling, dude. Chill. It's fine.”

Castiel seemed frozen for a heartbeat, paused in mid-tirade, lips pursed in a pink 'O' of an unfinished sentence as his eyes roamed Dean's face, considering.

“Cas?” he asked after a few seconds, exhaling with that same head-tilt from before and oh, crap, Dean had called him that, hadn't he?

“I, uh... do you mind? Castiel is kind of a mouthful,” he said rather sheepishly, a coy smile on his lips. Castiel nodded after a moment.

“Of course. You just... caught me off-guard,” Castiel said by way of explanation, eyes darting to the left and squinting at something over Dean's shoulder.

“I can count the number of people who call me that on one hand. The rest of my family, friends and colleagues feel my full name is more... proper, I guess.” Something jagged hollowed his tone, a shard of regret digging into the smooth rumble of his voice.

There was history there, history Dean had no reason, no right to know or want to know, but he did. He could see a story behind those eyes, a past in the dark flecks speckling bright irises, something significant written in the conflict between the brilliant depth to them and the dark circles underneath.

Dean listened to the wavered lull of Cas’s voice and his mind was flooded by whispers demanding to know what had happened. What was this man's tale?

Castiel brought a fist up to his mouth and coughed politely into it, signalling his wish to change the subject.

“So... is it okay to ask what you're writing, then?” he asked, stammering a little over his words.

Dean, god help him, found it impossibly endearing. He didn't often talk about his work to anyone besides his frustrated publisher, but he found himself wanting to tell Cas.

Shame there wasn't actually anything to tell—no plot, no words, no ideas—because actually impressing the guy with a decent piece of writing was far too easy for Dean Winchester's life.

Naturally.

“Um, it's my next novel...” he began, frowning a little at his laptop as though it was to blame for his chronic writer's block, and well hey, maybe the whole disdain for technology thing was catching.

“It's... not going so well. I'm pretty sure my brain's all out of ideas. Or some alien asshole has sucked them up. Or maybe the government.”

All of which were completely feasible explanations. He was actually somewhat certain the CIA had been tracking him and his brilliance for years.

Castiel nodded in sympathetic understanding.

“Perhaps you just need some inspiration... Have you thought about a change of environment?”

“Uh, yeah, that's actually how I found this place to begin with,” Dean gestured vaguely to the coffee shop

“I was wandering the neighbourhood, looking for an escape from Saint Nick so I could fake writing in peace. There was a Christmas sale on up the street,” he snorted, watching the first tiny tendrils of understanding sprout over Castiel's expression.

“A pretty vicious-looking group of moms were heading right for me. I had to take cover somewhere.”

Dean shuddered, reliving the war zone. The experiences he'd had with gift-hunters out for a bargain in the past were not pleasant, to say the absolute least. Castiel huffed, a wry smile playing on his lips and Dean felt himself responding in kind.

“I guess I never really left.”

The pathetic part was even when Gabriel would finally kick him out or he decided he should probably go leave to shower or something, Dean's mind still lingered on the quiet little haven, still focused on when he'd next get to enjoy a cup of the most perfect hot chocolate in the world, awful name aside.

It was getting to be a problem.

Dean pulled the mug to his lips, gulping down a mouthful and cradling the warmth next to his chest.

He could stop whenever he wanted to.

“You said this was your next novel?” Castiel asked when the mug left Dean's mouth.

Castiel's cheeks prickled into a rosy flush, his words spilling out a little rushed. Curious.

“Does this mean you've written before? Have I read your work?”

Dean grimaced.

He could play the vague, “oh probably not, hey have you been watching Breaking Bad?” change-of-subject card and avoid the subject entirely, though not at all subtly.

Then Castiel would view him as closed-off and skittish and the rest of their conversation would be silted with awkwardness, when Dean had actually been enjoying talking to someone too.

That in itself was friggin' weird. Dean wasn't anti-social, per se, he just... didn't usually enjoy socialising.

Or people.

He just didn't exactly go out of his way to hang, and especially not with strangers in what was supposed to be the quiet solitude of his so-called writing time.

But speaking with Cas, listening to his stories, mutually meandering over fumbled words and fencing with mismatched banter that fell all too naturally from coy lips... it was nice.

He didn't want it to end yet.

On the other hand, he could confess his authorship of the somewhat popular Fantasy-Western Colt verse, thereby revealing himself as the unknown object of affection of the “Cult of Colt”, as his charming fans had dubbed themselves.

They occasionally got a little too Cathy Bates, if you asked him.

The way Dean saw it, that could go three ways;

A)- Castiel being unfamiliar with the book—kinda embarrassing due to the fact the guy was a librarian.

B) Castiel had read the novel and liked it, which lead to the sub-outcome b1) he was secretly one of those fans, which didn't really seem likely, looking at his calm demeanour and lack of Colt/Morse OTP merchandise anywhere on his person.

Or c) he'd read the book and didn't like it or was indifferent, which was... yeah.

“Uh... possibly,” Dean said finally, after several awkward seconds of staring. “I write under a pseudonym, though... so you wouldn't recognise my name.”

He crossed his toes, hoping that would be a satisfactory answer.

“What's your pseudonym?” Castiel asked, clearly intrigued, because that was just Dean's personal brand of luck.

Well, that was that.

“Uh, Ackles,” he coughed, eyes skipping to the left for a second. “Jensen Ackles.”

Castiel's eyes widened slightly, dark brows climbing up his forehead.

He sat up straighter, the perfect bow of his lips parting and closing several times before he made any attempt at sound.

“As in... the Colt Jensen Ackles?” he asked, spluttering around his words.

Well, we definitely had recognition at least.

Dean's nose wrinkled up, self-recriminations drawing his brows together in little worry-lines.

Castiel was a librarian.

Most likely deeply versed in the most well-crafted literature humanity has ever had to offer. There was a chance—a substantial one—that he'd kick Dean out of the café, pelting him with muffins and scones for his crimes against literature.

“... If I said yes, will there be pelting?” he asked, inching away just in case.

Castiel blinked, then frowned, the picture of confusion.

“... No,” he said slowly, the word inching out as though Dean needed extra time to decipher the complicated syllable.

Castiel exhaled a wide breath, gaze rolling upwards, like the words he was looking for had escaped to take refuge on the ceiling.

They hadn't.

Dean checked.

Castiel's eyes found his again, caught them and kept them.

“Dean, that novel is... frankly outstanding,” Castiel said, voice surprisingly grave for a compliment. “I'm not usually a fan of the genre... but my sister recommended it to me and I was pleasantly surprised. Very much so.”

Dean snorted. As happy as he was to hear from a fan, he wasn't naïve. He knew the book suited a purpose—to entertain the target audience, to hit expectations. It did fairly well with the critics, but it was by no means outstanding.

“Uh, I appreciate the compliment, man, but that book...” Dean paused for a moment to find the correct words. How did anyone honestly describe their own work?

“It was... expected. Functional. It did what it was supposed to do. Entertain for a couple hours. There's no real... substance.”

He shrugged, a quick drop of shoulders. Surviving in the industry relied on you knowing your boundaries, playing your role. Sticking to what you were good at.

His work was suitable for a Dungeons and Dragons-playing sci-fi nerd to pass the time while camping in front of a store for the latest “I need this” video game, but they wouldn't be teaching it in high school lit classes any time soon.

He was just fine with that.

“No,” Castiel replied simply, tone adamant, his hands flat on the counter as though shit was about to get real.

Oh crap. What if he was one of those fans?

“... No?” Dean arched a brow, “Dude, you can't just say 'no'. I wrote the damn thing. There's very freaking little in the way of thought behind it, trust me.”

Castiel shook his head, almost looking disappointed.

“Dean. There's a lot more depth to your work than you give yourself credit for,” he said, chewing on his lip for a moment. “...Perhaps it's testament to your own character that you didn't need to think about what you were writing. That it stems from impulse and emotion instead. Having read the book, I could believe that.”

The creases between Dean's eyes deepened, eyes darting the scope of Castiel's face. A kernel of discomfort unfurled in Dean's gut at Castiel's words—not because they were full of praise or even that they were verging on personal. It was the certainty in his tone that threw Dean off. The sincerity humming like a heartbeat, steady and constant under his observations, like Castiel believed what he was saying was nothing but the honest truth.

Like simple fact

“The plot itself,” Castiel continued breezily, “is intricate—fascinating, really. But it's the characters and personalities you've woven together that make this novel truly great.”

Dean swallowed thickly, fingers twitching around his cooling mug. The ripples of Castiel's voice scattered the quiet, wet the air and Dean could feel each syllable brushing against him, swelling around him, ebbing his breath. It was exhilarating.

“The volatility with which they feel, with which they need to save each other, to save everyone... to carry that weight on your shoulders and not break... is remarkable.”

Castiel sounded for all the world like he'd already reviewed Dean's work in the past, like he'd studied it in depth and Dean couldn't decide whether that was terrifying or humbling. He paused for a moment, looking off to the side in thought.

“Colt’s sole anchor is Morse—his only sense of balance drawn from camaraderie—from a family with no blood shared, but curiously symbiotic nonetheless. Without each other they are flawed, scarred human beings. But together, those flaws become strengths.”

Castiel's tongue curled over his lips in a quick flick of pink, spreading heat through Dean's chest.

“It's easy to see it as a tale of a man and his partner trapped in a world no one else sees because of a string of bad choices, saving innocent lives from forces they couldn't hope to understand, just because it's the ‘right thing to do’.” A huff of laughter parted his words, quiet fondness curling his mouth.

“The core of the story, the single thread stitched through the narrative is this idea of family. That we need each other to fight. That without family, without people, there is nothing to fight for.”

Dean's eyes flitted about in some murky shade of desperation, starved to understand Castiel's passion, to comprehend where the hell he got this... faith.

Faith in Dean's characters, in Dean's tragically flawed, selfish, hedonistic characters. Faith in Dean's ability to write, to a degree that warranted this kind of passionate observation. Faith that his unqualified, unmoving belief in a stranger was simple truth.

It was... unnerving.

Dean might have fallen into all of that blue, the water of them stripping him bare and clean, some pink, squalling thing wriggling to be free.

Vulnerability. That's what this was, stark and vivid at his throat.

When Dean didn't speak, Castiel wet his lips and carried on.

“I've always believed that Colt... was a reflection of his creator,” he said quietly, and Dean's eyebrows arched high over his forehead. That was almost an insult.

“He's a man with—pardon the pun—demons. He has a history, he has seen and done things that would make the average person recoil. But he's not average. Nobody takes great notice of him for all he does... but he is exceptional. Yes, he's heroic, yes he's just, but that is not his only saving grace.”

Dean's throat convulsed, the walls of his stomach aching with something corrosive. His cheeks flooded with warmth, a whisper of pleasure radiating through his body, but it was ridiculous; just a projection.

Castiel wasn't talking about Dean.

Not really.

Dean had lived an average life, had seen and done nothing extraordinary, had experienced nothing more troubling than the next faceless guy in this circus of human angst and perpetual loathing. He was plainly, obnoxiously mundane. He was just... Dean Winchester.

This wasn't him, but Castiel wasn't done yet.

“What makes Samuel Colt so impressive, so sympathetic is his devotion.”

Castiel's eyes were almost pleading now, ignited with his love for this piece of Dean's psyche, this tiny fragment of his imagination. Like he needed to believe in this man's righteousness, like he actually cared what it all meant.

“His devotion to his work, to his friend, to humanity, so strong that he will not give up. He persists and he persists with the impossible when everything is screaming at him that it's unachievable, that he will fail. He fights when all else has surrendered around him because he cannot give up. Until there’s absolution, he won't.”

Sounds like writing this god damn book, Dean thought bemusedly. He wondered how Samuel Colt would have felt to have the stifling heat of his fervent madness compared to an obnoxious author's struggles to put pen to paper.

He would have probably—certainly—shot him.

“What makes the book itself so very much more than simple 'entertainment' is that it is holds a mirror up to humanity.”

Castiel's left hand was clenching and unclenching expressively, clutching at intangible ideas, completely immersed in his task of explaining Dean's own novel to him.

“It's about this man, so full of compassion and unwavering love among the most consuming hatred. So righteously driven and selfless, but somehow so grotesquely violent and hedonistic. The universe you created is both hostile and welcoming. The characters charitable and consuming. The book is paradoxical, oxymoronic. It is human. It is... honest.”

Dean stopped thinking for a moment and blinked at Castiel as the man took a few deep breaths, some note of tension vibrating around them, fiddling like electricity around their bodies. Castiel's heavy, rich speech on Dean's work, Dean's life, lingered taut in the air, throbbing like life, an echo in his ears.

Dean felt invigorated, his flesh tingling, inspired by Castiel's passion, drawn in by how his face looked emboldened in argument—the wide, dewy eyes blinking slowly as he spoke animatedly, then narrowing, eyebrows tightened as he pressed his points down.

The way his body had shifted forward, leaning into Dean's space over the counter, the language of his gestures compelling and captivating.

The pink seconds of tongue coating over chapped lips in his excitement.

It both healed and ripped open something inside Dean, some gaping wound he didn't know existed was scabbing over, some netted mass of compunction pulled wide apart.

Under these plain words, he found himself so close, so simply close to believing.

Not in the plastic lullaby of religion or Christmas or even his own wavering talent, but in... something.

For the first time in years, watching this man, listening to his intensity, he... felt good.

Dean swallowed.

“Honest, huh?” he said, voice strained. Castiel smiled.

“As honest as winter.”

Dean couldn't have been expected to do anything but fall.

+

In all of his life, Dean had never had that experience of sinking completely into conversation with another person, drifting into their gravity and honestly focusing on just that moment. Of truly losing himself to spoken words that weren't accompanied by the lamenting moan of a guitar.

Once, he'd watched a documentary with his brother, some droning voice detailing how for smaller objects in the pull of larger objects, time slowed down.

(He'd started a debate about the possibility of time travel with Sam right after).

Talking to Castiel had to be down to that.

There was something compelling, something seasoned in his storytelling, the rounded edges of a husky voice dusting over perception far too sage of a man of, what? Thirty-four? Thirty-five?

Castiel was intelligent, that much was obvious, but there was nothing conceited, nothing pretentious about him. He didn't pretend to have all the answers, but he was forthright with his desire to understand as many as possible.

Dean had never been so genuinely excited just to talk.

They'd already disagreed on a range of topics, squabbled and bickered with the sort of kindred ease that to an onlooker would reveal nothing beyond familiarity, an apparent history reinforced by the shrinking inches between them, the casual contact as they leaned across the bar in debate, eager to stress their points.

Discussing other areas of literature outside of Dean's work it seemed had them particularly at odds. Castiel had declared that Vonnegut was over-rated, lacking in style and adept only at crafting characters just this side of Bella Swan in their blandness and of course that meant Dean had to retaliate with a quick-tongued snipe at Keroac's work for being outdated, unimpressive and rooted in the taboos of a nursing home.

Given that calling out someone's favourite author was tantamount to insulting them personally, the whole thing snowballed to a scalding clash of criticisms, neither of them backing down until they each received some kind of recognition in the name of the writers they each had elected to represent.

The Hunger Games were less intense.

Dean loved it.

Call him a recluse, if you must, but this was the most stimulating and wonderfully alive conversation he'd experienced in years.

He found himself happily captivated by Castiel, completely taken in by the way the words wove around his lips, by the stillness of his posture countered with his busy, birdlike hands.

By the stupid, quirky, nonsensical jokes he made mid-way through a tale that had nothing to do with the punchline but were accompanied by that awkward little smile lighting up his face in simple pleasure at making a reasonably successful funny, looking so base and content for a second or two that Dean had to laugh along.

He found himself relishing in the pleased self-satisfaction Cas radiated like he was just learning how to joke, so proud of himself that he'd gotten it right, which was probably a little too presumptive of the guy but whatever.

The point was Castiel—from what Dean had witnessed—was awesome and Dean might have been just a little smitten.

The drink he came for sat forgotten on the counter and long since having begun to congeal in his mug. The world crumbled away, the sticky film of life discarded carelessly on the floor behind them and like approaching something large and floating in space, time just... slowed. Stopped even.

It was only when he happened to glance up mid-laugh at Castiel's explanation of the karmic merits of proper referencing that Dean's eyes fell upon the plastic clock high up on the wall and angry, ticking hands gestured to the time.

Apparently, 1:13 am had sneaked up on them when they weren't looking.

“Shit,” he exhaled, scrambling into his coat pocket in search of the phone that was still on his bedside table, right where he left it. His lips parted around a dull groan, a spiteful, grey shade of guilt washing over him.

Sure, he'd wanted a break from the overbearing stench of mulled wine and candy canes for an hour or so but he hadn't planned on spending over three hours with a stranger, not when his mother was probably freaking out because he didn't answer her before-bed Christmas call.

Which was, granted, pretty ridiculous given that he was a grown man in his thirties and didn't actually have to check in with his mom before he went somewhere, but still. He didn't like knowing she'd be worrying on Christmas Eve. The occasion meant something to her at least and if anything, that was something he was protective over.

Castiel startled at Dean's sudden movement, following Dean's line of vision over his shoulder and up to the clock.

His eyebrows shot up all but into his hairline, a hand sliding into his pants to pull out a pocket watch (and Dean took an incredulous moment to note that the dude carried around a freaking pocket watch because there was no way he wasn't bringing up that little tidbit at a later date), to double-check it.

Castiel moaned, looking as exasperated as Dean felt, two fingers gravitating to rub at his brow.

“Dean, I am so sorry... I didn't realise the time,” he said, pulling his apron off and fiddling with the register. “I was supposed to close up shop at half-past eleven. I guess I got carried away with our um... conversation.”

He was all pleading apologies and puppy-dog eyes, like he didn't realise Dean had been just as strung up, just as unawares as he was.

He wondered if Castiel felt the faint bite of disappointment gnawing in his chest as well.

“Cas, dude, don't sweat it,” Dean smiled, slipping his arms through his coat and shrugging it on, “I had no idea it was this late either.”

Castiel seemed to linger on this for a moment before deciding Dean was genuine and his frown relaxed to a simple pout.

“Gabriel will no doubt whine at me for losing money or something,” he grumbled, half bitch-facing at his absent brother as he thumped at the machine, trying to get it to open and obviously failing.

“Just tell him it counts as overtime for working over Christmas,” Dean said distractedly, watching Castiel's struggle long enough to get frustrated himself with the dude's utter inability to work with technology.

Castiel let out a snort of incredulity and Dean's lips quirked into a grin.

If they'd learned anything about each other in their time together, it was that neither of them gave a furry rat's ass about Christmas.

Castiel's amusement quickly cut off with a short growl of annoyance, followed by the rattling of metal, like beating the damn thing into submission was going to do any good.

He hadn't even tried sweet talking it yet.

Huffing, Dean succumbed to his urge to bat Castiel's hand out of the way and lazily pressed a few buttons, opening the register with a high-pitched sound and a smug look on his face.

He looked up and was met with a narrowed-eyed glare.

Dean shrugged.

“I worked in a convenience store for a while. Same kind of register.”

He laughed quietly at Castiel's soft, put-upon huffs and eye-rolling, and it struck him that Castiel would probably be just as grumpy in the mornings.

Not that Dean was thinking about that. That would have been creepy.

Slipping his fingers into his pocket, Dean yanked out his wallet.

“So how much do I owe you?”

Castiel waved his hand.

“On the house,” he said without looking up from sorting the takings. Dean raised an eyebrow.

“Dude, you can't just give m—”

“Dean, I should probably be paying you,” Castiel said, holding up a finger to silence Dean's protests.

He sighed.

“I would have been excruciatingly bored and very... alone if it hadn't been for you. Instead, I had the pleasure of meeting a remarkable young man with some very thought-provoking ideas about the world.” He smiled coyly. “That's more than worth a mug of hot chocolate.”

Dean ducked his head, ignoring the rapid reddening of his cheeks under Castiel's kind scrutiny.

He imagined he could have known this man for forty years, not four hours, and he would still not have been used to his unabashed honesty. It was like the guy didn't know to keep his comments—good or bad—back.

“Just call it a Christmas gift,” Castiel said, eyes all bright and warm and so fucking blue.

Dean shook his head, smiling lightly.

Apparently they had a running joke now and, well, damn.

“You sure?” he asked, waiting for Cas' nod before putting away his half-pulled-out wallet, a softness in his eyes. “Thanks, man.”

He stretched his arms above his head to shake out the stiffness in his shoulders before pulling on his gloves, readying himself to face the unrepentant cold once more.

It was still fairly warm in the café, the calming golden lights dotting the ceiling much more welcoming than the harsh, cheap light bulbs in his own apartment, and the company far more preferable than the distant static of infomercials or the drawl of late-night telenovelas.

It was normal to not want to exit from soothing warmth and stride into harsh winter wind, but he couldn't help but feel a large part of him didn't want to leave Castiel, didn't want this to be over in the next few minutes.

He hadn't felt so relaxed in years, hadn't felt the urge to know someone this strongly since Jo saved him from a cockroach in kindergarten. He'd never met this guy before. What were the odds of him walking out the door and never coming across him again? Whatever they were, they were way too high for Dean's liking.

He could use a friend and by the looks of things, so could Castiel.

“Listen, uh... we should do this again sometime,” he said on impulse, cringing as soon as the words left his mouth because yep, that sounded like another pick-up line and that was not where he was going with this at all. Or at least, not necessarily.

“I mean rant about books and things,” Dean said quickly, scrambling over the syllables, “It was cool.”

It was incredibly unfair and somewhat pathetic that a professional writer was so severely inept at wielding the spoken word, but he kept his back tall and his expression kind and, if there was any justice in the world he wouldn't look the awkward, fumbling bag of social clumsiness that he felt.

“Yes,” Castiel said, amazingly, stilling his hands in the register, attention focused solely on Dean. "I would very much like that."

His gaze was unwavering and when Dean realised he wasn't going to look away, he found himself feeling less and less like he wanted to move his own eyes. Damn, he didn't even know if he could. He swallowed thickly.

“I'll be covering for Gabriel over the next few days while he sleeps off his new-found holiday spirit,” Castiel groused, finally breaking the stand-off as he looked down at the register drawer, the snark in his voice plucking a chuckle from Dean.

“So I will be here if you, I don't know... feel the need to discuss whether Brett Easton Ellis' sexism is ironic or a true reflection of his own beliefs. For example.”

Dean felt that irritating, lofty twisting in the pit of his stomach again, and he shouldn't have, he really shouldn't have. He had no real desire to talk about that asshole—he hadn't even finished American Psycho.

It was Castiel.

Just Cas.

Just the idea of talking to him again, experiencing the casual, comfortable atmosphere, watching all the tiny expressions he'd get to catalogue.

Then there was the fact that the guy was already planning it, wanted to spend time with him as well and, oh yeah, Dean already had it bad.

That might have been something he should have been panicking about because Jesus, this wasn't a Zooey Deschanel movie, but at is was, it just felt strangely... inconsequential.

Natural.

“That sounds awesome, dude.” Dean said with an earnest smile, pushing his stool closer to the counter in preparation to leave. He looked at Castiel, really looked at him, one last time and let out a breath.

“It was good meeting you, Cas.”

He extended his hand, relishing when one of Castiel's own wrapped his in a strong handshake mirroring the one they shared a few hours earlier.

“You as well,” Castiel said kindly, fingers lightly brushing against Dean's roughened skin as withdrew. The flesh tingling with phantom touch, a shiver rattling up Dean's spine to chase the feeling away.

“Even if I did distract you from your writing.” Castiel nodded his head towards the apparent evil laptop of doom and oh, crap, Dean had actually forgotten about that.

Another day, another chapter not written, but for once he couldn't summon even a slither of regret. The weight of those illusory words had lifted and he couldn't feel the grazing of a serrated deadline held to his throat right now. It'd catch up to him but Dean only breathed and knew that it'd get done. It was just a matter of time.

“Eh, don't sweat it,” he said with a slanted grin, lugging the laptop bag over his shoulder, “If not for you, I'd have spent the past few hours reading Wikipedia articles about adhesives and glaring at my monitor, and I still wouldn't have written anything.”

It was true. He'd done exactly that at least twice before.

“You'll finish it, Dean,” Castiel said with so much certainty, so much faith that Dean felt something in his chest tighten. “Inspiration, I find, has a tendency to sneak up on you.”

“Yeah, well, it's been doing a pretty good job of keeping hidden so far,” Dean grumbled without any ardour, no heart in his words and too much in his eyes.

He quirked his lips at Castiel, taking in the sight of him for a couple of seconds, knowing he'd inevitably turn up here tomorrow looking for him and he couldn't even dredge up the will to be embarrassed by his eagerness.

Instead, he let his smile widen.

“I'll see you around, Cas,” Dean said, watching as Castiel gave a short, quick nod and a quiet agreement but his words were cut short and his eyes rounded almost wildly as they flickered over to the door.

“Oh,” Castiel breathed, the sudden worry in his tone quickly infecting Dean, setting light to his nerves as he whipped around. He jolted when he saw what had Cas so concerned.

“Fuck!”

Dean clambered his way over the door for a closer look, hands pressing to the glass.

Somehow, in the time they'd been talking the light snow had turned heavy, neither of them noticing as inch after inch of freezing, powdery flakes built up on the filthy ground outside.

He squinted out into the night, barely able to see through the sheet of white, the near-blizzard rabbling around them, so thick that the other side of the street was hardly visible. It was damn near Arctic and he hadn't even noticed, hadn't felt it get colder, hadn't heard the wind pick up, hadn't seen the outside disappear behind a white shroud. What the dick?

Dean narrowed his eyes, squinting out into the darkness, panicking slightly. How the hell was he going to get home in that?

“We...ah, appear to be snowed in,” Castiel's gravelly voice said from somewhere behind him, breath hot on Dean's neck.

Dean's shoulders seized against the ensuing shudder, teeth biting back a breathy moan. Did this man have no concept of personal space at all?

He was right though; the snow had piled up, climbing nearly three feet up the door. There was no way either or them could leave right now.

“Yeah,” he said stupidly, but what else could he say? It wasn't like he had any bright suggestions for how they could dig their way out of there.

Dean sighed and turned his back to the door, coming almost face to face with Castiel, a scant few inches between them.

He hoped the other man didn't notice the way his eyes flickered to his lips, hoped he couldn't hear the rapid-fire of his pulse.

Dean swallowed down and summoned a lazy smirk as though he wasn't this close to all but swooning.

“Guess we're welcoming in Christmas day together, huh?” he said, and actually... taking a second to think about it, he was strangely, perfectly okay with the idea.

Sure, it was a little annoying he couldn't get home, couldn't get to his cell to call his mom, but he could think of worse things than hanging out with Cas for a few more hours.

Castiel looked down, the slope of his brows almost a little embarrassed.

“I'm sorry to have kept you so long, Dean,” he said, eyes openly apologetic. “If you had left earlier, this wouldn't have happened.”

“Cas, seriously, don't sweat it,” Dean said, placing a hand on Castiel's shoulder before he could think better of it.

It wasn’t like he could just pull it away again either. That would have been worse. He had to keep it there, cupped around the swell of his joints, acutely aware of Castiel's strong muscles under his heavy hand, the heat of his body so close to his own.

“You didn't know it was getting that bad. I'll just... order another drink or something and we can wait it out.”

Castiel frowned.

“Dean... I really do have to close up the café,” he said, looking decidedly uncomfortable, “Gabriel is annoyingly particular about the utility costs.”

Dean felt his eyebrows knit together slightly because, what? Were they supposed to sit here in the dark and wait for the storm to pass? Surely Gabriel wouldn't begrudge his brother a little electricity, right?

“But... well, I'm staying in the apartment upstairs and you're... welcome to join me, if you wish?” Castiel fumbled over the words, fingers fiddling idly at his sides, but his gaze didn't waver from Dean's, and Christ, the poor guy was nervous.

“I don't want to put you out—”

“Dean, it's really no trouble,” Castiel cut in. “Honestly, I would be glad of the company.”

Dean nodded to himself. He understood that much. His silent apartment paled in comparison to what Castiel was offering.

Inhaling a long breath, Dean looked Castiel carefully up and down.

Safety first.

“You're not a serial killer, are you?”

Castiel's head cocked to the side, brows knitting together as the sides of his mouth pulled up in a baffled line to match.

“...Don't you think asking a person whether or not they're a serial killer is a little unwise?” he asked, eyes roaming Dean's face like he was wondering what the hell he'd gotten himself into. “It's not as though they'd confirm it, like 'why yes I do dabble in the occasional homicide, how did you know?'”

Snarky fucker.

“That kind of attitude is how people get murdered,” Dean said sagely and withdrew his hand from Castiel's shoulder.

Yeah... that really had been there too long, if the faint blush on Castiel's cheeks was anything to go by.

“If you're sure...” Dean asked, waiting for Castiel’s nod before continuing, “C'mon then.”

He side-stepped Castiel, removing himself from the heated scrutiny of his stare and proximity, and gestured a hand towards the door at the back of the room.

“Lead the way.”

+

Castiel's apartment was small—unsurprising since it was perched on top of the little café—and plain, nothing remarkable aside from the fact there was no television, which, whoa, what?

There were several dark stains on the red carpet, a messy pile of books on the coffee table, dishes in the sink, and dust on a few surfaces. It was comfortable and lived-in.

Honest.

Of course.

“I'm sorry about the mess,” Castiel said hurriedly, batting at a couple of cushions on the couch in an effort to straighten them up—an admirable but futile attempt.

He gestured for Dean to sit.

“Please have a seat. Can I get you anything?” He frowned, squinting at the kitchen. “I possibly have some leftover lasagne. Possibly.”

“No thanks, man, I'm good.”

Dean sat down obediently, unable to suppress a spidery shiver. The apartment was a lot cooler than the café, like no-one had ever turned on a heater up there, the frost outside creeping in.

Castiel winced.

“The boiler's broken,” he said, sitting down beside Dean. “I can fetch you a blanket or something?”

Dean shook his head.

“It's cool, I'm alright.” He wrapped his arms casually around himself. He had his pride; he wasn't going to sit there bundled up in a blanket like a child.

Castiel sighed and leaned back into the sofa, resting his head against a cushion.

“You make it very difficult to be accommodating,” he muttered into the cotton.

Dean rolled his eyes, resting his head on his hand.

“Seriously, I'm fine. I'd be bitching at you in a heartbeat if I wasn't.”

Castiel snorted and murmured something that sounded like agreement. Dean would have pretended to be offended if his body wasn't humming with delight at the casual teasing, the simplicity filling him with lazy, sprawling joy.

Castiel looked up at him through soft, relaxed eyes, studying his features like Dean was something important.

“I hope I haven't kept you from anything urgent tonight,” he said quietly, the same taint of guilt marring his expression.

“Cas, you worry too much, dude,” Dean sighed, turning his body slightly around so he was facing Castiel fully. “The only thing I had to do was call my mom... wish her a merry Christmas and stuff."

He snorted, exhausted by that word now.

“I always call her on Christmas Eve. She's probably sent out a search party already.”

Castiel frowned, all concern and remorse.

“My phone line's not connected, I'm afraid... ” he said, and Dean half-suspected this guy had a full-blown guilt complex from the way he was taking blame so readily— snatching at it—like all the problems in Dean's life were his fault.

“Cas, relax, it's all right,” Dean said in what he hoped was a soothing tone, but with a firmness pressing it home. He didn't want Castiel worrying about this, not at all.

“I'll just call her in the morning, let her know I got snowed-in. I mean, it's not like I'm big on Christmas. She probably figured I went to sleep early or something.”

“Why aren't you?” Castiel asked, head turning to the side against the sofa, “Big on Christmas, I mean.”

Dean froze, caught off guard by the too-sudden question, innocent as it might've seemed.

Half of him protested furiously, raging with alarm bells because he didn't talk about that. Not with his mom or with Sam or anyone. He just didn't even know how to talk about it, didn't know if he had the capacity to, and to spill his heart out to a stranger...

The other half wanted to tell Castiel everything about himself, to learn everything there was to know about Cas in return, to submerge himself in Castiel, learn his language until it was his mother tongue.

It clawed at him, yanking his feet from underneath him, dragging him into the grey waters of his defects.

He'd never been asked that question. Nobody cared to know, besides Cas.

Castiel watched Dean grow silent and closed his eyes, squeezing them shut as he let out a groan of annoyance, a hand coming up to pinch at his brow bone.

“I'm sorry, I've done it again, haven't I?” he sighed, clearly irritated with himself. “What's a socially acceptable way to gag yourself?”

He looked miserable; big blue eyes so open and sad Dean couldn't help his breathy laugh.

Castiel wasn't being nosy, wasn't being rude; the dude just didn't have any idea about how to censor his own tongue.

It was beyond adorable at this point.

“Maybe you could bite on your fist?” he suggested helpfully, Castiel squeaking out a whimper and burying his face into the cushions in response.

“But, uh, honestly I just... I don't have it in me to believe any more bullcrap. I guess I just can't buy into another fairytale, all happy candy-coated on the outside when the inside went bad a long time ago.” His lips pursed against a sigh.

“I guess I just... don't have the energy.”

He frowned, feeling a knot form in his throat as though the words were caught there, desperate to come out, only the fraying bonds of his own insecurities holding them down.

Castiel sat quietly, his face carefully neutral, slipping effortlessly into listener mode like he knew something in Dean had just snapped, yearning now to find words, to be able to finally speak. Dean found himself wanting, needing to try. To try to be as honest as Castiel's monologue on his work, as the crunchy snow on the ground, the quick, frank wind. This was something he had to do.

He took a breath.

“I... I'm not good with talking about it... I never have been.”

Dean looked down, rubbing his fingers self-consciously together and avoiding Castiel's eyes like the blue truth in them would make him think twice.

“...This whole season reminds me of home. And not in a good way.” He breathed a humourless laugh, screwing up his nose. “When I was a kid... fuck, most of my adult life was as shiny happy as a bunch of fairy lights, y'know? All gingerbread houses and pretty bows. I mean, there were bad days, sure, but it was all so... solid, I guess.” He huffed.

“'Bout as solid as Jenga.”

Dean licked his lips briefly, pausing in memory, the words almost sticking in his throat they were so thick.

“My mom and dad were... unbreakable. Like a force. John and Mary: Together. Unstoppable. The one thing I knew for sure in this word was that my parents would be this forever thing. A given.”

He snorted, wondering how much of a petty child of divorce he sounded like right now, how insignificant these problems really were. He wasn't an idiot, he knew he was grown enough to handle them on his own, knew people made mistakes, grew apart; tough shit. That was a fact of life and there was no use whining about it, but god dammit, he couldn't stop the words from falling now that he'd pushed them over.

He swiped over his face, too aware of Castiel's gentle eyes on him, and continued.

“But it was all bullshit. Of course it was,” he murmured, the words tasting sour on his tongue, “My dad had another son—Adam—had a whole different life away from us, and my parents divorced. My dad... he always seemed so together, but I guess I must have missed something 'cause without my mom he... I don't know, man, he just fell apart.”

The lingering odour of whiskey and urine flitted in and out of his memory, a stain as deep as the patches on Castiel's carpet.

“He started drinking. A lot. Got heavy into gambling, then into debt. Practically ate his cornflakes swimmin' in Jack.” Dean sniffed, feeling the angry, bitter resentment, the still-raw sadness and guilt curdling like bile in the hollowed pit of his stomach.

“And I couldn't help him. I tried. Fuck knows I did... but the money I threw at him to get help went on alcohol, the times I tried to drag him to hospital in case the dumb fuck puked out his liver always ended in a black eye or a split lip.”

A hand moved towards him, sliding over the rough material of the sofa and when he spoke again, breath somehow came a little easier.

“One night, y'know, he just went on this tirade about what a fucking failure I was. The way I didn't take on the "family business" like he'd wanted. That I had no real job, no wife, no kids. Nothing but a shitty novel and a couple of bucks to my name.”

Dean grit his teeth, ignoring the way Castiel fiddled at his side like the guy was debating whether or not to touch him.

“And it shouldn't have bothered me, it really shouldn't have, but... I had spent my life trying to please that asshole, trying to be the perfect son. I was there cleaning up his puke and the drunken bastard was slurring abuse at me, telling me how disappointing I was and I just... I flipped. Screamed at him, threw things, told him what a piece of shit he was acting like. And you know all he said?”

Dean looked up to Castiel, those wise eyes shining with anger, the refreshing lack of feigned sympathy beautiful on his face. Dean shook his head, a bitter smile marring his cheeks.

“He told me to make myself useful and go get him another six pack from the store.”

He laughed loudly and brokenly, rubbing his hand over his chin.

“I just fucking left. Saw red and left, telling myself I'd come back in the morning to make sure he hadn't choked on his own puke. But..”

His voice wavered, a broken sob caught in his gullet, wedging into him with blinding remorse, but he couldn't even think of stopping, couldn't let go of this now. He wouldn't.

“But he went out anyway. Old fucker climbed into his truck and drove to the store,” he paused, breathing heavily as he closed his eyes, feeling them brim with defiant tears.

“He... there was an accident. A girl—Layla—she...”

He felt Castiel's hand on his forearm, a thumb stroking over the skin of his wrist and he realised he was trembling, shaking heavily under the pressure of letting out these memories so tightly wound to him for so long, of clawing into his chest, carving them out and spreading them for Castiel to do with them what he would.

He heard a hollow, mangled sound, only realising it crawled from his own throat when he felt Castiel grip him tighter.

“Dean, what happened that night was not your fault. Not even close,” Castiel said, voice stern and powerful, like he wanted to snap Dean out of it with nothing more than his voice, but god dammit, Dean had heard this before.

He didn't want excuses. Not for his father and not for himself. Not when that woman was rotting in the ground, so needlessly, so avoidably.

If he'd just stuck it out...

He scraped restless fingers over his eyes and shook his head furiously against the ache swelling in the cage of his chest, churning up livid memories and scalping him of denial.

“Dean.” Castiel took his face into two steady hands, pulling him away from the current.

“Your father was—is a... an asshole for treating you like he did. He took advantage of your goodness and unloaded undue responsibility onto you. He was an adult who fell apart because of a broken heart. But he was an adult. He had no right to pull you down with him. No. Right.”

Castiel's teeth were gritted, eyes burning with ire and fury like John was the scum of the Earth, and even now some part of Dean still wanted to jump to his defence, but people had been doing that this whole time.

Lawyers, Sam—hell, even his mom.

Spinning half-truths about how John didn't deserve the life sentence, how he was a decent man who'd crashed into alcoholism, bleating out the same old excuses over and over until they soaked themselves in the lie, so saturated in its acid that reality eroded and peeled and there was nothing left to do but believe.

Like Christmas all over again.

That thought, coupled with the burning intensity of Castiel's stare, was enough to snap Dean out of his stupor, anchoring him in the present.

With Castiel, the stranger who looked at him like he was important, who wasn't afraid to ask, who sat and listened and actually gave a damn.

People didn't give a damn. Not about Dean Winchester.

Not in this universe.

Dean was hit by the sudden weight of crippling shame as he realised he'd just unloaded his baggage and bled out his emotions all over Castiel's coffee table like this was some therapist's couch, like he had a right to pinch away at the rest of Castiel's night with his soap-opera dramatics.

He couldn't believe he'd just done that.

Why had he just done that?

Dean swiped at his eyes hurriedly, his face blotchy and tear-strained, red with too much truth.

He drew back with a weak smile, dislodging Castiel's hands from his cheeks. They rested near Dean's knees, pale knuckles barely grazing them.

“It's... it's in the past,” Dean whispered, dropping his head almost to his chest. “That woman is dead, I have some amount of blame. I'm... I'm dealing.”

Castiel looked thoroughly unconvinced, seeing straight through him just to keep in pattern, calling silent bullshit with the harsh lines of his doubting expression.

“Dean... ”

“Really, Cas. Let's drop it,” he said, inching away. “I'm sorry for going there. That... that doesn't usually happen. I don't know what came over me.”

He really didn't.

It was though he'd been hoisted up on a platform and marionette strings had coiled around his arms and forced him to dance to a tune where it was acceptable to share his dirty underwear with other people, like it wasn't the most uncomfortable, obnoxious thing he'd ever done.

He kind of wanted to wander outside into the blindness and have the snow avalanche on him but Castiel... Castiel didn't have an ounce of anything that hinted at discomfort or awkwardness on his face.

If anything he looked ready to shovel more of Dean's past right out of him, soak it all up and patch him right back up again, like he had the ability to mend Dean's body and soul and seal over the maw of his wounds with the broiling, cauterising honesty of his words .

Like he just wanted to take care of Dean.

Dean wasn't done being poked at by his own guilt, not by a long shot. It raged and rampaged like a forest flame, but there was a whisper of catharsis unfurling inside him now. Tiny and vulnerable, but there.

A quite hope that he could make it.

That it was possible.

He wouldn't lean on Castiel, wouldn't cry on his shoulder again, but just knowing he could...

“You can talk to me as much and whenever you choose to, Dean. About any topic.” Castiel exhaled, the trodden gravel of his voice softening over the syllables. “Especially this one.”

Dean nodded, swollen and muted with gratitude, and wiped at his eyes with the back of his hands.

“I... I know we haven't known each other long at all...” Castiel said hesitantly. “But... sometimes it's easier to talk to a stranger. Especially a stranger you have an affinity with.”

He met Dean's eyes again, a little more uncertainly. Dean licked his bottom lip unconsciously, a breath catching in his throat.

“...I don't want to be strangers, Dean. And I want you to know that I have ears that I intend to use. So please, make use of them.”

Dean snorted weakly, sitting up taller as he composed himself, still quietly bristling with himself for his outburst.

“Thanks, man,” he said sincerely, clapping Castiel twice, lightly and quickly on the shoulder, “I... appreciate it.”

He honestly did and while he wasn't about to go taking him up on it any time soon, Dean could see that Castiel was earnest in his offer, those eyes genuine and warming, the air laden with something that felt like safety.

There was just something about the guy... something alien and familiar all at once, like he could just slide right into an empty slot in Dean's life and fit there readily, contentedly, like it had been cut out for him to slip into the whole time.

Dean didn't believe in any of that destiny crap, but he figured that whatever it was supposed to feel like had its basis in nights like these. Maybe he should have thanked the Norns or the Fates or whatever.

“You totally owe me your anti-Christmas story now, though,” he joked with a bleary smile, eager to turn the attention away from himself..

“I... it's not very interesting,” Castiel said with a frown and, oh crap, what was with them and breaching personal boundaries?

It was like a disease, like he couldn't resist poking around in Castiel's life, wanted to discover it all, like he was starved for it. Like verbal diarrhoea had gotten hitched to word vomit and he was best man.

He groaned, rushing to correct himself.

“You don't have t—”

“No, I'm just considering how to properly phrase it,” Castiel said, worrying his bottom lip slightly, a pink tongue smoothing over the bite marks.

In spite of himself, Dean felt his mouth dry out just a touch, a sleazy heat spreading through him. He was getting sick of the betrayals of his body around this man.

Normally it was very well-behaved—composed, functioning, steady—but around Castiel he was all out of sync, so far removed from the norm that it left him confused and stripped terrifyingly bare, as though he'd escaped some shell-skin he barely knew was there.

“It's nothing too alarming...” Castiel began, folding his hands in his lap. “I suppose it's just a case of um... overkill.” He lifted his head up and let his gaze float around the room, resting somewhere to the right of Dean's head.

“My upbringing was very religious. Very oppressive.” His eyes glazed over a little, squinting into his past.

“Christmas was a time for praying and thinking about what sinners we were. It was a time of fasting and of... corrective, loving punishment.”

Dean sucked in a breath through his nostrils, a spike of protective anger slicing into him, flaring and bursting like blisters at the suggestion.

“We would be punished for expressing interest in that which wasn't the Lord or Uncle Raphael's warped vision of Christianity.” Castiel scrunched his nose up in distaste. “You should have seen the reaction when one day in my early teens, I found my way into a library and discovered my favourite book was Wuthering Heights, not the holy word.” He snorted wistfully, his opinion of extremists clear in the incredulous arch of his brow.

“Music was, of course, 'the path to the devil'. And I don't think I need to tell you decorations and presents were absolutely forbidden. That wasn't what Christmas was about. And now...” He shrugged. “When I think of Christmas I remember solitude, anger, and sadness.”

Dean's insides twisted horribly, absolutely hateful of whomever had made Castiel, someone so obviously, overwhelmingly good as Castiel, feel that way.

“Even if we put aside consumerism and say that Christmas is for family...” Castiel sighed, resting his head against the sofa again, “The only family I've spoken to since I was seventeen is Anna and Gabriel.”

There was a flash of weary sadness behind Castiel's eyes but mostly he just looked... resigned, and that was something Dean understood. To settle. To accept your lot in life like you couldn't do anything about it but stew in the shit.

Staring at him, watching the shadows of memories pass over clenched features, it made Dean realise that he—that they—could have something better.

That Castiel deserved better, that he shouldn't have to settle.

That he should have exactly whatever he wanted and no less.

It wasn't Dean's place—he barely knew the guy and he had to keep reminding himself of that, otherwise it would slip his mind—but he wanted to change things for Castiel, wanted to take away that too-wrong sadness in his eyes.

Fuck, part of Dean wanted to give Castiel the whole damn world if it brought that smile back.

“Anna celebrates less than I do,” Castiel continued. “ And Gabriel... well, I don't much enjoy his, ah, brand of celebration.”

Dean let out a quiet snort at the image of Castiel getting wrecked and snorting special blends of various narcotics off the bellies of strippers while shaking his actually rather awesome behind on the dance floor and passing out in a puke-covered pile of post-orgy bodies.

Because those were apparently the activities Dean's imagination supplied for what Gabriel was up to. Gross.

“So... basically our families fucked up the holiday that's supposed to be all about celebrating family?” Castiel nodded.

“Well, you gotta appreciate the irony.”

They sat in comfortable silence for a few seconds, the quiet ticking of a clock and the howl of the icy wind the only things cushioning the quiet, before Dean got an idea.

He brightened his expression exaggeratedly, sitting up straighter and turning his body more towards Castiel

“We should start our own holiday,” he said, catching Castiel's attention with his enthusiasm. “I dunno... Bitch-About-Festivities-with-a-Stranger-and-Get-Snowed-In Day.”

Castiel huffed a laugh and propped his head up on his hand.

“It does have a ring to it,” he said with a smirk, sarcasm lazy on his lips. Dean shoved at his knee.

“C'mon, it'll be fun,” he insisted. “We can start an annual tradition of drinking unfortunately-named beverages, debating random literature and having spontaneous heart-to-hearts.”

“Well...” Castiel looked upward, a smile still lingering on his cheeks as he pretended to consider it. “I think I could be persuaded.”

Dean met his gaze and there was that god damn thrumming in his chest again, the tiny ribbons of Castiel's own happiness skittering into Dean, lacing around his ribs to cradle his heart, to capture each beat in infectious joy.

Each bloom of momentary contentedness hiding its face in Castiel's coy smile plucked at the same in him, feet falling into step, pulses ticking in time. The missing cog.

Castiel deserved these little slices of peace. Dean wanted to be the one to give them to him, to take in everything about the guy and find room for it in his life.

It was crazy. It was.

He didn't do this. Didn't move this fast in anything. Not in friendships or relationships or in hey you're my new neighbour, can I borrow some sugar-ships. He sailed along slowly, when he wasn't dragging his feet. He definitely didn't jump right into “I want you in my life” a few hours after meeting a person, but here they were.

It was unavoidable, the feeling of it clenching right into the very core of him, and he couldn't let Castiel go. He wanted to learn him, all of him.

He was already absolutely fascinated by every facet of what made him Castiel; The silly little things he said, the adorable quirks of his head, everything.

He'd accepted he was in serious trouble a few hours ago, but the harder part was that he wanted to show himself to Castiel too. Wanted the guy to see him like no-one else did, not even Sammy, because for some reason he knew in the glass shards of his blood that Castiel could take it.

He could take Dean for what he was and still want to know more.

He could understand.

The decision made for him by rampant, foreign spontaneity, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a flash drive, staring at it in silent deliberation for a moment before thrusting it towards Castiel.

Castiel only stared at it, eyes unblinking, suspicion darkening the irises.

From the way he glowered down at the thing, you'd have thought he'd never seen anything like it in his life, as though he expected it to explain itself and its purpose on the spot.

“Here,” Dean said, waggling it out at Castiel before he changed his mind, “it's your 'Bitch-About-Festivities-with-a-Stranger-and-Get-Snowed-In Day' present.”

Castiel reached out and cautiously took hold of the USB device, glaring at it like it was about to explode.

“What... what is it?” he asked Dean slowly.

“It's a pen drive.” Castiel rolled his eyes.

“Yes, thank you, Dean, I'm not so technologically stunted that I don't know what a pen drive is,” he huffed indignantly. “I mean does it contain anything, or are you gifting me with an empty flash drive?”

Dean lowered his chin, tapping nervousness bursting over the scope of his shoulders, riotous questions howling after what he'd literally shoved into the palm of Castiel's hand.

Cupped like a feather, Castiel was unknowingly holding the most muddied, crooked secrets plucked from the waning edges of Dean's mind, conveniently delivered in the form of a half-finished, barely legible .doc file.

Dean didn't even know what was written on there for certain, couldn't force his way through the thick sludge of the haze to remember well enough, and he'd just readily passed it over to a semi-stranger without a second thought.

Shit.

“It's, uh... it's my second novel,” he muttered, holding the words hostage as long as possible on his tongue.

His eyes stumbled over the red floor, fleeing Castiel's searching gaze.

“I... never released it. Nobody has ever read it. Hell, I've never even read it. It could be absolute shit, but...” He shrugged. He didn't have an ending to that sentence.

He barely knew why he wanted Castiel to have it and had absolutely no idea why he'd actually surrendered to that desire and given it to him.

The apartment crumbled into wet silence once more, long stretches of nothing between them for meandering seconds, minutes maybe, prickling like white noise at his ears. Finally, when the static climbed and hissed and stung its way to a crescendo, Dean caved, forcing his line of vision back up to meet Castiel's face.

Castiel stared at him with wide eyes, plump lips slightly parted around forgotten words, fingers curled gently around the pen drive like it was something unbearably fragile.

Dean squirmed and opened his mouth to say something—what, he didn't know, anything was better than the ruthless quiet soaking up the air—but his voice was soon stolen before it even sprouted.

“Dean...” Castiel breathed, breaking free of his trance, “I... I can't accept this.”

He looked back down at the drive, thumb gliding over the smooth plastic with absurd gentleness, with velvet wonder.

“It... it's obviously very personal to you,” he said, whispered, not looking at Dean, “I can't steal a piece of your soul like this.”

Dean swallowed, a gnarled, bitter part of him sinking in defeat, ready to take back his offering and retreat into the protection of his nettled privacy, but a greater part couldn't let go now.

Not after coming so far.

He swallowed and summoned the last few shavings of bravery he had left.

“Just... please?” he said quietly, cheeks pinking over, burning.

It was probably ludicrous that he was begging Castiel to accept this, and if he had a shred of self-respect still snagged anywhere in him, he would have snatched it back out of those hands and shrug it off, but he just... couldn't.

He wanted someone to know him.

Wanted Cas to know him.

“I know it's not much... but I'd feel better if you had it.”

Castiel's ethereal, dragonfly-blue eyes climbed back up to his face, raking over him with such vivid intensity it was all Dean could do not to flinch under its force.

It was like Castiel was deciphering him inch by inch, like there were clues written in the maps of his flesh, the curves of his face, like there were answers hidden there.

He stretched more seconds into sluggish minutes of just staring in this broken wonderment at Dean, unmoving, barely breathing.

When Dean was about to sigh and give up, Castiel placed the pen drive softly down on the coffee table, edged closer and wrapped his arms around Dean's neck.

Stunned, Dean stared out behind him, blinking slowly as the man's long limbs squeezed him tight against his body, head ducked into the hollow of his shoulder, the solid heat of his form reminding Dean that he should, yeah... probably move.

Slowly, he brought his own arms up, tentatively returning the embrace, fingers wrapping into Castiel's sweater, twisting tighter into the scratchy fabric.

Dean shifted to bury his face slightly into Castiel's neck and just breathed, soaking up the lightly spiced scent of the man, the press of their bodies, the rhythm of easy human rituals.

Dean hardly knew the last time he'd held and been held by another person, and he didn't miss it. Never had. But somehow, right now, he couldn't imagine how he'd been without it. The reassurance, the hard lines of another's body telling him he wasn't alone.

He closed his eyes and melted into Castiel's grip, hands digging down harder into his clothes.

“Thank you,” Castiel whispered into his neck, rubbing Dean's back gently, stroking over his tense muscles like someone devout in his reverence. As though Dean had accidentally granted him absolution.

His breath was warm and heavy on Dean's chilled skin, the biting whip of the prowling draft having long since swallowed the majority of his body heat, teasing out a shiver from him spine. Goosebumps jumped out at Castiel's heat, pebbling his flesh as the comfort of his body eased through him, so close, so perfect against Dean's chest.

For a moment, his breath forgot to come.

Castiel pulled away a few scant inches, his nose almost touching Dean's. Their eyes met and Dean was helpless to stop the uprising inside of him, his breast rattled by the tattoo of Castiel's heartbeat, overwhelmed in the nearness of him, cutely aware of every minute movement between them.

He could catalogue the slow expanding of Castiel's chest where his had ceased, vulnerable air snagged in Dean's throat, the rare flutters of thick eyelashes, like he was fighting off blinking, like he didn't want a reason to stop staring and Dean was right there with him.

Castiel's pink tongue swiped out, wetting his lips over, and Dean couldn't avoid tracing it with his eyes, following the path it left, pupils blown wide as his heart panicked in his chest.

There were probably a million different reasons why this was a bad idea, but he was racking his brain for a single one and came up empty-handed.

To say the promise of pressing his lips to Castiel's was tantalising was a gross understatement. Dean's veins throbbed with urgency, pulsating instinct breaking free in a tiny, needful sound, a want splitting open at his lips to just have this, just for a moment.

This was far past appropriate platonic acquaintance-like behaviour at this point, the tension thick and palpable between them. To attempt to brush it off like they weren't seconds away from something was laughable.

They couldn't go back to a few moments prior, they couldn't lather on another layer of illusion without the ensuing awkwardness, but they could go forward.

Dean didn't want to try to run, not now, didn't want to pull away, not when Castiel was so incredibly close, so real next to him.

Castiel's eyes were open and soft and deep, unblinking, hesitancy and nervousness written into the lines of his face, and Dean realised this was on him, that Castiel was there and waiting and all he had to do was take.

He paused for a moment, eyes boring into Castiel's to double and triple check he was seeing what he thought he was seeing, and the cottony sweeps of the other man's features, the calmness gentling his expression were confirmation enough.

Dean pushed away the lingering voices of sniping doubt, filing them away for later, and then he was shifting forward, the inch between them blissfully crushed, lost in the helix they became.

It was light, barely a brush of flesh at first, just two men falling into each other with some kind of inevitability curling in the air.

Dean could feel the cold weather on Castiel's lips, rough and chapped and so fucking perfect, so impossibly gentle against his, moulding to his empty spaces like he'd been there all along.

He felt Castiel's hand on his cheek, a thumb brushing over him with care, as though Dean was something precious, something delicate, and he knew he should have probably protested— he wasn't some dainty petal, he didn't intend on breaking—but there was sweetness in it, a wonder.

Dean melted, ruined, pressing closer, aching for more.

He moved his lips carefully and reverently, memorising the curve of Castiel's bottom lip, the fullness of the upper bow, the corners pulled into the tiniest of smiles, every square inch of his body urging him to press forward and possess everything about the man in front of him and give himself in return.

He gasped quietly as Castiel's tongue licked at the opening of his mouth, the seam parting instinctively and losing himself in all Castiel had to offer, not even bothering to put up a fight as the gentle hand cupping his jaw tilted his head to an angle, pulling Dean closer in.

Castiel kissed the same way he looked at Dean, like he was something to study and figure out, the eager explorations of wet muscle licking over his tongue, stroking over the roof of his mouth.

Kiss-swollen lips sucked at the curve of his own, fingers moving up to card through his hair and all Dean could think about, smell, breathe was Cas.

He tasted faintly of mint and Dean's tongue chased it around his mouth, in love with the roughness of stubble against his jaw, the solid form, strong and firm around him and against him.

His senses were flooded, all his levies breaking one by one, so alight, so ignited by the briefest of touches, desperate and hungry.

His arms slid around Castiel, the pads of his fingers digging into his back, clinging on like he couldn't possibly get too close, like opening him up and crawling inside wouldn't be enough.

Dean moaned softly, drenched and sodden in how perfect this was, all his dams trembling and parting with relieved sighs at the alluvion took him, like he'd been pining for this for years, not hours.

It was all he could to not to rush this, to fracture under the tender dismantling of Castiel's kiss.

A shiver wound through the knobs of his vertebrae, peeling him to something raw, but whether it was from the dizzy eruption of swollen emotion or the tapping of winter at the window, Dean didn't know.

He couldn't find the drive to care, couldn't hope to pay attention to anything that wasn't this absurd, infectious man. He didn't want to.

Dean was breaking apart, so close to snapping in two under the barrage of sensation, more than he knew what to do with, but Castiel kissed him and kissed him and didn't even think to stop, and maybe those lips were all that was holding him together.

Lust struggled for its rebellion in Dean, the fever slitting open and clutching at its chains, snapping its jaws free. He bit down, all teeth and tongue and grabby hands and Castiel just took it, leaned into it and gave him and equal measure of urgent want, challenging him in the hard press of his lips, a needy groan stretched tight over a guttural voice.

Dean met him head on.

His teeth nipped at Castiel's full pout, licking at his tongue and taking and taking with stammered greed and mangled impulses he didn't even know he possessed, communicating in the tales of their bodies, in every press of their lips, the twist of his fingers in his hair, the half-moans where on anyone else there would have been words, but words, spoken words at least, weren't Dean's thing.

They were choked out in awkward fumbles, breaking on his lips before he had chance to taste them and he didn't even know how to tell Castiel how much he wanted this, how fucking happy he was to be able to reach out and just hold and have and take, but he didn't have to.

He wrote it into his cotton-covered back with eager fingertips, showed him in the jolting arch of his body, raising up to the call of something animal.

Castiel just absorbed it in, open and wanton and shoving right back and how the hell did Dean ever do without this?

Cas pulled back slightly, panting and staring at Dean with huge, darkened eyes—any traces of story blue eclipsed in the black of his pupils. His lips were reddened and swollen, hair sticking up in crazy tufts like some wild creature, half-tamed and ready for the hunt, the carnage.

He looked fucking beautiful.

Those eyes flickered over Dean's mouth, those lips wet around a low, desperate moan, like pulling away from Dean was the worst idea he'd ever had and he wanted nothing more than to dive back in and Dean completely agreed

This, whatever it was, should never stop.

He had never felt so ruined, so intoxicated by just a kiss, and he wanted more.

Fuck, he wanted so much more.

Castiel let out a shaky breath, looking half-hesitant and questioning, fingers still gripping into Dean's clothes, their heads resting pressed together, warm breath fanning out over Dean's lips.

“Do... do you want...?”

Dean could taste the words against his mouth, sought after them with a swipe of a zealous tongue and Christ, he needed, he just had to...

“Yes.”

He had no real idea was he was agreeing to, no clue what Castiel was offering, but he wanted it, wanted everything the other man could give him.

He barely knew it was possible to feel so much desire for one person, couldn't get a firm grasp on how quickly he'd fallen under.

He wrote sci-fi for Christ's sakehe half-suspected that Cas was succubus or some kind of siren or whatever but right then, for once, he couldn't summon the will to give a fuck.

He couldn't do anything but breathe the man in and wait for whatever it was he was willing to give.

Castiel nodded and joined their mouths back together, drawing out an embarrassing whimper from Dean as he sucked at his tongue, deft fingers stroking over the nape of his neck.

Castiel's hands found their way to Dean's hips, sliding up the back of his shirt and gliding along his skin. Dean gasped into his lips, the warmth of Castiel's hands on his freezing skin sending him spiraling.

His hand curled over the swell of Castiel's bicep, gripping and grabbing and pulling, half ready to climb onto the other man's lap but then the bliss of those lips was torn away again.

Dean shook his head, a stuttered whine falling from his lips, and he'd have probably flushed if he had the presence of mind to, but nothing was more important right now than just touch.

“Bedroom,” Castiel panted against his lips, voice slim, crouched, tined to a hiss .

Dean's heart picked up speed, hammering against his chest and okay, yes, he could definitely get on board with that.

As soon as Dean let out his breathy agreement, Castiel stood up and lead him backwards towards the bedroom, their hands tearing at each other's clothing, shoes kicked off haphazardly around the apartment.

Weird thing was, Dean didn't actually do this often, rarely went home with anyone. Hell, he couldn't even remember the last time he actually took someone back to his place.

When he was younger, sure, anonymous sex was pretty commonplace, but he'd grown sick of the brevity of the false comfort and kind of just... stopped.

This was different though.

This now, with Castiel so hungry and firm under him as they toppled onto the other man's unmade, slightly crumpled bed, hands grabbing at clothes, slipping against slick skin... Dean felt no guilt, no sleazy prickles of shame needling at his nape.

This was good, necessary.

Right.

He needed this, needed Castiel like he hadn't needed anyone in a long time, and it should have been scary, should have intimidated the hell out of him because, hello? He'd met the dude only a few hours ago, there was no way he should have been feeling these things and definitely not this intensely.

He should have been scrambling away but he was pulling Castiel closer, not trying to escape. Groaning into his plush lips as the smaller man writhed up against him, losing all free space between them, and when the hell did he peel himself out of his sweater exactly?

Dean shrugged it off, too busy, too far drifted as his hands pushed Castiel down into the sheets, demanding and forthright like the idea of leaving was terrifying, the stretches of his fingers clawed in protest.

Dean moaned, this weird low rumbling sound he'd never heard himself make before, his body surging and rolling with a fresh wave of want. The noise tapered to a growl and he bucked forward, seizing Castiel's wrists with gentle fingertips, thumbs rubbing soft circles into the pulse points as he pinned them to the pillows above Castiel's head.

He wasn't trying to hold him down, not really, didn't want this to be just him taking from Castiel. Didn't want to make it about restraint—and holy hell he hoped it wasn't about restraint, because he was kind of running low on that right now. He couldn't deny having Castiel like this appealed to the baser part of himself though.

Dean parted their lips and peeled heavy eyes to stare down at the man beneath him, lids shut, cheeks pink, body squirming out of his clothes, and Dean felt the breath dry up in his lungs.

Curling a tongue over kiss-bitten lips, he stopped and looked and thought that he maybe kind of wanted to test Castiel, to see how far he could bend, to find his boundaries, to study his wants and desires, his needs and impulses. He wanted to be a connoisseur of Castiel, the expert on his body, his pleasure spots, the only one who knew them. Wanted to find each any every little bump of sensitive flesh on him, wanted to discover what got his heart racing and his dick wet and hard.

He was hungry, determined to know everything.

He found himself promising mentally that if they ever got to do this again, he'd take his time, learn Castiel like a devout man learning his scripture, but right now he could barely see past the mist in his skull, the buzz of energy thrumming beneath his skin, demanding that there be more, now.

Castiel was apparently working in tandem with Dean's id, because he'd had more than enough of waiting around, if the way he was kicking his own pants down past the cut of his hips was anything to go by, sharp teeth fixing themselves to the tender hollow of Dean's neck with a softened, needy growl.

Dean nodded, breathing out whispers of his compliance, ghosting careful words out over the delicate shell of Castiel's ear, soaking up the shudder he earned greedily.

He kissed the lovely arc of a lobe and then he was leaning back, sympathetic to Castiel's whine of discontent, but his hands were unsteadily working into the cloth of his shirt, pulling it up, up over his head, slipping out of his own, his cock giving a more than interested twitch when Castiel kept his arms firmly where Dean had placed them, not evening thinking about moving.

Dean bit his lip on a whimper.

It was that very image the stupidly beautiful man made that had Dean rearing back down, claiming those wonderful lips in a knotted mass of brute desire that shocked the hell out of them both, but he couldn't stop, couldn't let go.

He wouldn't.

Castiel moaned softly, bucking up against him, winding his narrow hips and grinding his erection into Dean's pants, thrashing with open, undisguised want.

There was nothing hidden about Castiel, no attempt to deceive or duck behind the selected artifice of modesty or seduction. His wants were written into each of his responses, loud and stark and decoded.

Dean could read them in the rocking of his body, all insistent and wanting and obscene, unabashedly eager, in the cries falling from lips that didn't bother to stifle the mewls or the groans playing in his throat.

Nothing was hidden.

For all the mystery the man seemed to weave around himself outside, in here, in the shallow inches separating them, it was as though every thought, every feeling was tattooed across the parchment of his body.

This was just minutes into it too, the ground so unfamiliar, so foreign. Dean didn't know if he was treading this earth right, if these signals were what he thought but his bones told him how to move, how to sink into this like impossible muscle memory held the reigns and Dean was happy to let it lead him.

There was familiarity in Castiel's touches, safety in the silky, red sounds of his moans, hell, in the guy’s scent. It was all sandalwood and mint and ocean air and nothing betraying his occupations—be it the dusty smell of old books or the rich, aromatic air of the café. It was like his body, like he transcended the dull monotony of everyday life, like he existed both outside and comfortably inside the bland, haunting the space in between.

He wasn't the guy from the coffee place, wasn't the dull librarian or the repressed Christian boy. Not here. Here, with Dean, he was just Castiel.

There was something new here, an event horizon peeking over mauve skies, tiptoeing towards them both. The two of them had tread in silt of the banal for too long, stuck like quicksand, the weight crushing their chests. Castiel was new air for Dean, and that was what was important.

Those other things were just facets, small parts of him that Dean could love—kind of already did, stupidly—but he could feel it, feel Castiel, like everything he could possibly want to know about the man was just bubbling just under the surface, waiting him to reach out and take and say I want to keep you, and he did.

He would, given half the chance.

God, he would.

It wouldn't have been fair to suggest that Castiel's deep groan vibrating hard and needy against his lips moved him out of his revelry, really. He was still there, still in this odd sense of awe about what he had underneath him, what he'd been given.

The rawness of it definitely pressed the matter that they needed clothes off  home though, that they needed to be naked and touching now, and Dean wanted to collect those noises, every last one of them, all for himself.

They were his to listen to and know and answer with his own, for as long as Cas allowed it.

Fumbling clumsily for a few seconds with his stupid fucking cock-blocking belt buckle, he pushed his pants down, knees almost shaking with want as Castiel took the opportunity to arc up in a beautiful, feline curve.

Dean bit out a curse, breath tangling against his tonsils because enough was enough, he couldn't take the clamour of this heat, this toothy need, didn't think for a second Castiel could either.

His hands started moving of their own accord, their boxers suddenly pooled around their ankles and finally, finally, he could feel the hardness, the warmth in the dark spaces between Castiel's legs open and naked against his own.

Gasping softly, Dean spat into his palm, dirty and human in his want as he took them into his hand, blinking his eyes open to watch the deep pink flush blooming over Castiel's cheeks and forehead as the other man fucked up into his palm, coerced by the primal, visceral need to have.

Those pretty, plush lips had fallen open, staggering silently like Castiel was clutching for words from the air, searching for pleas or demands, his body stiffening to something taut and firm, fingertips digging into the cool pillow.

God, he was breathtaking.

Dean couldn't find his way out of the labyrinth of endorphins and roaring chemicals to tell Castiel how perfect, how beautiful he looked right then, how incredible the hard length of his cock felt in Dean's hand, the wet slide of him amazing against Dean's arousal.

Words weren't important right now though, overruled by the collision of their bodies, the nice, sloppy rhythm they had going on and the rapidly debasing restraint eroding at his core mirroring the similar need he found strained over Castiel's face.

It was embarrassing how close to coming Dean already was, how damp and swollen his cock was getting, how urgent and red his moans came, but Castiel was there with him.

He all but howled beneath him, lurching forward, sucking at Dean's neck around desperate, throaty little noises, hands finally slipping free of their invisible restraints to paw at Dean's back, nails scraping rivulets down his spine as he rolled his hips up and up, slipping hard and fast into Dean's hand and holy fuck.

This was too good, too hot to sustain itself and Dean could have pulled out every trick he knew to keep it from ending so soon—squeezing his eyes shut, counting to ten, picturing Bobby in small, freakishly bright, yellow speedos, but there's no way he could last.

Not with this man, moving like this.

He was powerless.

Dean was about to slow down, to make his concerns known, to do something, because this couldn't be over yet, no fucking way would he let this be lost to him so soon.It meant more, felt like so much more to him than just a quick screw.

He wanted to take Castiel in his hands, in his arms and burrow down, wanted to sink into his body and soul—fuck into his life, if he could—wanted to imprint himself there like he needed to claim this man.

It was weird and intense like nothing else had been, but he wouldn't risk fucking up, wouldn't let himself lose it, not now.

The muscles in his thighs were jolting as they struggled to stop, but then Castiel's hands were brushing down the dip of Dean's ropey spine, cupping over the globes of his ass and squeezing, lips slipping over the pulse point of his neck, curling his moan around Dean's at the friction.

He whispered out words Dean couldn't quite make out, hardly more than hot gasps of wispy air. There was a strained whine that couldn't have possibly come from Dean, and he'd deny the noise to his deathbed, drowning them out.

Dean leant backwards, biting his lip to mask his moans and give Castiel room to speak, unwilling to let any of those sounds get lost between the breathy pants and sweaty slapping noises of their bodies.

Swallowing once, five times against the swarming sting of his pulse, he summoned air enough to attempt a note of coherency.

“What d'you say?” Dean asked over a gasp, the slurred sounds barely recognisable as English at this point, but Castiel understood.

Those wide blue eyes were slits now, peering up at him black and muddled and wanting. Burning.

Castiel's head flopped against the pillow, his mouth slack and panting, and Dean almost missed what Castiel was saying again, so caught up in the other man's appearance, but there was no missing those words, not this time.

“Dean... Dean. I want, I want you to be inside me,” Castiel gasped, begged, his hands clenching around invisible life lines, the tendons jumping in his forearms.

Dean was pretty certain his eyes were bulging out, knew his heart rate sky-rocketed at those words, a curse falling from his lips, but Castiel wasn't finished.

A nimble, shaking hand found its way between them, fingers curving around Dean's shaft, Castiel ignoring the hiss of pleasure that perforated the air as he let his legs fall open, spreading them wide and unashamedly filthy.

He canted his hips, tilting the sharp arc of his pelvis and guiding Dean's cock down between his legs, sliding the thick, wet head against the divot of his ass cheeks.

“Can you be inside me, Dean?” he said, breathed, hot and open and too damn honest, always so honest, squirming against the weight held so near to where he wanted it.

It was all Dean could do to avoid coming right there, a muscle in his jaw clenching and flexing, his entire being devoted to not coming like a teenager all over this guy.

He found himself nodding dumbly, eyes wide and disbelieving.

He hadn't expected this, didn't even let his mind wander enough to consider it, to consider that Castiel might trust him like that so soon.

That they could fall into this so easily, without over-thinking it, without trying too hard.

Dean over-thought everything, but not this. This was like second nature.

Like something between them had just clicked.

It was odd and no small amount of confusing, but he couldn't help notice that same sense of familiarity in the hot, hot press of Castiel's words against his lips, the deep, gravelly tone silky with want. If he had believed in past lives, he'd have bet they'd done this before.

“Yeah,” he said against the the valley of Castiel's collarbone, raising to his knees and pressing a fleeting kiss to Castiel's chin.

Dean cupped that strong jaw, trying to regain some semblance of control over his ragged breathing, hands sweeping over the hard lines and planes of Castiel's torso to distract himself, focusing like he was trying to learn the braille of his body.

His fingertips read the gooseflesh at Castiel's name and he smiled, exhaled, hopelessly gave in.

“Yeah, Cas, I got you.”

The seam of his lips quavering into a strained smile shaded with wet relief. He pushed himself up onto his elbows to meet Dean's mouth in a gentle kiss, the patient, careful quiet of their lips clashing with the rest of the clamour of their bodies, the frantic pumping and pushing and tearing, desperate yawning maws scrambling for their fill.

They lingered for a few moments, kissing lazily, sucking languidly on each other's tongues, their heavy pulses suspended in the face of what they were about to do.

Castiel breathed out over Dean's lips and pulled away with a final kiss, the cold seeping into the new space between their bodies, much to Dean's distaste, as Castiel leaned over to the bedside cabinet.

Dean's eyes shrank to half mast, squinting over at Castiel to find him jostling around inside what looked like a large, porcelain, cat-shaped container.

He eventually pulled out a small bottle of lube and a condom and Dean's eyebrows twitched and tugged their way towards accusation.

Castiel must have seen the incredulity scrawled over his face if the faint blush heating his cheeks when he turned back around was anything to go by.

“Gabriel,” he said simply and Dean snorted. No further explanation necessary.

Castiel shifted back into place as his teeth ripped open the condom packet in a way that shouldn't have been sexy at all, the tempered tear of white teeth on the blue packet, those earnest eyes bleary with urgency, it was just matter-of-fact, simply for the purposes of practicality, natural responses. Totally not sexy.

Tell that to Dean's dick.

He groaned long and low, still slowly thrusting against Castiel's thigh, smearing sticky fluids over the cleft of milky thighs, and that should have been gross—it was gross—but Castiel's breath was hitching and his tongue peeked out, mouthing at forgotten words, and Dean knew this wasn't just him.

He wasn't alone here.

He watched as Castiel sat up, taking the edges of the readily-lubed condom between delicate, nimble fingers and pushing it slowly over the reddened head of Dean's cock.

Castiel's eyes sloped up his face like he was savouring the sight of him until he met Dean's gaze, open and watching him right back, soaking up Dean's reaction to the single deliberate, teasing pump of his clever fist.

The little fucker.

Dean choked around a dry sound, a strangled shock of pleasure pirouetting to the centre of his spine, twisting upwards until it exploded like tiny spiders under his skin.

This man was actually going to kill him, wasn't he?

Biting around a muffled growl, Dean pressed forward, grabbing Castiel's hands once more, keeping them pinned at his side. He really couldn't last like that, and if Castiel wanted this as badly as he did, the torment of exploratory touches would have to take the bench for now because Dean just couldn't wait. It might not have even been physically possible to at this point. Dean had never felt this fervently before, had never needed this acutely.

He had no point of reference. They were freewheeling here.

Castiel didn't seem to mind; he stared up at Dean with eyes that were half begging, half challenging and Dean wanted nothing more than to rise to the occasion.

He leant up, shooing doubt away with soft kisses and sweeping brushes of lips, stating clear and outright that this was happening, that nothing could have him backing away now.

His hands searched around for the lube, heart popularising his ribs when he finally found his prize. Without disturbing their kiss, he uncapped the lid, squirting a generous amount of the stuff onto his fingers, slicking them over in the cold fluid and rubbing them with his other hand.

Cold lube, he knew from many a masturbatory session, was a sure-fire way to kill a boner, which he really, really wanted to avoid right now. His wet fingers trod the the steps of Castiel's ribs, striding over his thighs, the muscles spasming, waking under the path they walked.

Castiel took the hint, his breath torn over a the thorny barbs of a moan as he opened himself wide for Dean's viewing, wiry legs spreading like the sweetest invitation.

Dean's eyes were stinging, unwilling to blink as his hand slipped between the V of Castiel's body, a religious man contorted over an altar, the miles of smooth flesh a chantry embellished with sweat and swelter.

He found his way quickly, the flats of his fingers catching on the swollen, pink rim of Castiel's opening, circling the entrance lightly just to hear Castiel's breathy sigh, kissing it from his lips haphazardly.

Castiel gasped against his lips, the sound cutting off into the clatter of a whine-moan when Dean's slick finger breached him slowly, his other hand settling on the artistry of his hips, pushing down slightly to counteract the pressure.

Dean wasn't ashamed to admit he'd dabbled in a little... self-indulgent practice in terms of fingering, and if Castiel was built anything like him, he had an idea where to touch, how to move while he was adjusting, pumping gently for a moment to allow Castiel to grow used to the intrusion before curling around and up, searching for the slight raise of that silky muscle.

There was a moment of awkwardness where Dean’s fingers prodded away, horribly sloppy in his lack of expertise, and he kind of thought that maybe Castiel wasn’t as sensitive as him, maybe he was doing this completely wrong.

Concerned murmurs were about to fall from his lips, but then Castiel arched up, a shockingly graphic curse tumbling from his tongue, a severed cry making a pyre of his worry.

Castiel's splayed his legs shamelessly, tipping his pelvis to find the right angle, indelicate and indulgent, mewling breathlessly as he tripped and fell into bliss. Paying careful attention that space inside Castiel on each thrust, Dean curled his finger against the muscle and slowly withdrew, slipping in a second on the next press in, a little extra lube slicking the way.

Castiel's body just snapped and rolled with the intrusion, no pain distorting his cries, his ass swallowing Dean's fingers like it was made to, hips fucking back down instinctively, deliriously.

He was babbling jagged, nonsense words into the charged air, this calm, reserved man a picture of wild lust and vicious pleasure beneath him, reduced to the mass of nerves and receptors his body was made of, alive and beautiful.

Groaning softly, Dean's hips began swaying, grinding, ending up humping the bed like some kind of animal. He was stripped to the wires, emancipated to the primal state of mating and claiming and having, and Castiel's hands were urging him on, clawing over his back and shoulders, his head thrown back in mottled, open ecstasy.

Dean's name and barely English sounds tangled together and poured from his lips, an ethereal thing trapped by the songs of his own body, called to the rocks by the choppy tales of human biology.

His hips were jackhammering onto Dean's fingers, impaling himself as they stretched him open, a third finger slipping in easily, his greedy hole clamping down and squeezing tight, so needy for more of this. He wanted this just as much as Dean, just as desperately, and god, he looked fucking radiant, that was really the only word left.

Castiel's thighs were trembling, one hand buried deep in Dean's hair, twisting into his locks and pulling, the other palming his ass, scraping the flesh red, urging him closer with a grunted “Dean”, a demand and a plea in one syllable.

Dean couldn't refuse any longer, couldn't let this stretch any further because they were both pushing limits, both too close to teetering over the edge to draw this out.

Maybe next time.

There would definitely be a next time.

Withdrawing his fingers carefully, Dean grasped at his cock, the thudding of pumping blood loud and brash in his ears. He hissed as his fingers closed around his erection, a taunting imitation of the relief he craved.

He shifted forward, guiding his cock to press against Castiel's tight hole, puffy and red from the languid finger-fucking, lining himself up and circling of his hips, watching rapt as Castiel's body parted for him.

Castiel groaned, the cadence of the noise plummeting as he clenched against the intrusion, buckling in a line of slippery limbs and wet whispers, an open wound to pleasure. He dropped his legs wider, winding his ankles around Dean's waist and hooking them in the divots of his thighs.

He was gasping, gaping, yanking Dean closer with a clench of his muscles, his hips rolling violently downwards, forcing the thick head of Dean's cock past his rim in a single thrust.

They shared the taste of shock, stammering over startled breaths.

In.

Inininin.

Dean's eyes were round and glazed, boring down at Castiel like he couldn't believe they were here, now, doing this, as he thrust his hips, slipping and sliding forward into that furnace heat, barely holding back from slamming himself to the root.

Castiel was hot and slick and welcoming around him, body widening inch by lewd inch, clenching and flexing experimentally and it was so goodgoodgood, Dean might have wept.

Those wild blue eyes were staring up at him, seeing him to the marrow, and this couldn't be anything but real.

Gradually, Dean pressed into Castiel, shifting forward to lean on his elbows, his eyes frittering around Castiel's face like he wanted to get lost in it.

Castiel's eyebrows drew close, shadowed pain speckled with red-hot pleasure and rupturing into arrant, blistering joy as Dean shifted just so inside of him.

Dean slipped an arm under the crescent of Castiel's back, splaying his fingers along his dewy spine as he finally bottomed out, balls nestled against Castiel's ass.

His mouth fell open around a cry then, the tight, so fucking tight, heat of Castiel's hole hot and open around him, tricky fingers slipping over him with lover's familiarity, mapping out his sweat-slicked flesh with worshipful fingers, little galvanised thrills like footprints traipsing quickly behind.

Castiel squirmed and wriggled and grunted, climbing, wrangling himself in sensation, his whole body a set of lungs, breathing Dean in. Dean rested his forehead against Castiel's, the tickle of messy tufts of dark hair against his skin tweezing shudders out of him as they paused to catch their breath, neither remembering where they left it.

He brushed his lips over the sharp angle of Castiel's cheekbone, letting him grow used to the thick stretch, the pressure of being so full, fingertips tracing patterns into skin that shouldn't have been so hot in this frost.

Dean was entranced, just watching, feeling, listening the thump-thump of Castiel's heart.

“You taste like winter,” he whispered, soft lips hitching up breathlessly at his chin.

Then Castiel was nodding small and almost unnoticeable in silent permission, and Dean was slipping out again, not giving them a chance to mourn the loss of contact before he was snapping back into place, and that's it, fuck, that's it.

Castiel howled, strong legs tightening their vice grip around Dean's waist, calves linking together tightly, clinging on for dear life as his body juddered with Dean's ragged thrusts.

He veered backwards, clay in Dean's hands, squeezing and clamping down on his cock like he existed for this, like there was nothing he wanted more than this moment here with Dean, sharing something... well.

Sharing something.

It was hard to put into words. What this was.

More than Dean could describe in simple terms, hell, more than he could describe in flourished terms.

This... this just was.

No one had invented a word for the feeling of being buried inside Castiel's body, stitched and threaded consummately, linking into him like he was the only thing on this red earth that could fill the spaces. The cracks that had long started to flake, to rot. Brought to new life.

The room was cold, fucking freezing in the absence of any central heating, but it was so hard to notice with the slapping of their flesh and the grasping of their hands, so vital and fervid, and Dean was sweltering in it.

His hips were pumping steadily now, beginning to pound into the man held apart like a sacrifice under his chest, basal urges hissing and snarling at him, not permitting him to go any slower, but Castiel didn't mind, wanted it, begged for it.

“Dean. I need... harder. Harder!”

Dean hushed him softly, lips nuzzling and biting gently along Castiel's stubble stippled jaw, tongue lapping at scratchy skin that tingled over his taste buds as he happily complied.

He pitched forward, whirring, sharpening, made deaf and blind in whittled ecstasy, seizing Castiel by his slender hips and yanking him down, his cock spearing into him, clutching so hard he'd leave hazy purples and pretty blues behind like trophies.

Part of him preened at the thought, another tilting its head in humility, in awe. The man too melded with the beast to tell one from the other.

Castiel tremored over crumpled sheets, ripping and tearing at them as Dean drove in deep, wailing at the increase in pace, the saccharine agony he'd asked for and there was no way they were going to last now.

Not this time.

Castiel's fingers wrapped around his bicep, squeezing over the muscle like he wanted to claim Dean, nails gouging little crescents into the skin, mauling tiny ribbons from his flesh.

Their bodies were jolting, jerking, writhing like half-deranged things, nails and teeth and moans reducing them to the skin they were in. Stupid, animal skin and bone, seeking comfort, chasing pleasure.

There were no words shared between them beyond the litany of curses and half-slurred, jabbered obscenities thrown into the air, but they found common communication in scratches and kisses and the jerking of their hips, flesh trapped so warm and alive and honest between the two of them.

Dean knew, he knew, nothing would ever be this good.

Dean lifted his head, wanting to look, to see what he was doing to the man underneath him, wanting to watch him fall apart, just as Dean was.

He swallowed audibly, heady eyes eagerly taking in the picture of Castiel twisting and contorting, any stoicism he might have held earlier long since degenerated, stripped down bare to a peeled aggregation of nerves and need, coaxed wide, body pliant and accepting.

Dean's hips were aching, tired from exertion, but he only pounded faster, furiously, some instinct telling him to push Castiel further, harder, to bury himself in the man's mind as well as his body, to imprint his mark on him because there was no way he'd let Castiel forget this.

He was rewarded for his trouble with a choked cry that spread seconds upon seconds as Castiel's hips stuttered, his cock wet with pre-come, hard, purpling and rigid against his belly, and his face. Striking in his handsomeness in conversation, Castiel was fucking beautiful in pleasure.

Moonlight, white and brilliant from the raging snowstorm outside, raised its head and peeked through the thin glass of the windows, spilling over their bodies, painting Castiel in its delicate, pale pallet. It was an optical illusion, Dean knew this, but right then? Castiel was glowing.

He looked so far gone, so mentally and physically overtaken by this, the narrow lines and sweat spangled ridges of his face screwed up helplessly, brushed in pretty pink hues deepening to vivid reds, sanity lost to the fervour, to the clambering of their hips.

That it was Dean doing this to him, that he'd let him into his memories and then his body, that he had chosen him, had Dean tumbling down right there with him.

The tension built, layered and lapped itself, fermenting into desperation but his pistoning hips didn't waver, his head angling to mutter an inky touch yourself into Castiel's ear, needing him just as close as he was.

Judging by Castiel's quick obedience and the barely comprehensible, pleading torrent of “yes, yes, Dean!” he received in return, that wasn't an impossible want.

Castiel's hand moved fast on his cock, pumping furiously—clumsy, no finesse, perfect—his other still gripping strong and unmoving at Dean's shoulder, eyes tightened in pleasure.

Dean threaded his hand over Castiel's, holding the man's fingers against his skin, his other sliding around Castiel's neck, cupping the back of it gently, sharing breath, gasps bleeding into sobs.

“C'mon, Cas,” he managed to murmur, shaky and breathless, “let go for me, baby, I got you. Come for me.”

And, just like that, he did.

As soon as the words tumbled from Dean's mouth, Castiel was obeying again, hips slapping up into his own hand, abused hole trembling around Dean's dick, suspended on the cusp for a silent second.

He shattered and keened and mewed beneath Dean, coming wet between their bodies, back curving up with a dangerous snap as he painted himself in inelegant, stunning release, Dean's name livid and jubilant on his lips. He didn't look real, seemed like he should have been made of watercolours or stone.

No one could have guessed something like Castiel existed.

Dean clenched his jaw, working overtime, trying to distract himself from the convulsing around him long enough to embed the image of Cas like this deep into his mind, for fear it might be the only chance he would get to do so.

Then everything became rapid and distorted, burned too hot, too tight and he could only manage a few more thrusts before the static came for him and he was hurtling right along with Castiel, hewed open and wrenched apart, letting loose a sob into the pulse of Castiel's neck as he came hard and filthy.

It was messy, savage, their orgasms raking through them like sward, rhythm faltering, forms buried together under the soil of pleasure.

Dean was acutely aware of every square inch of his skin where he was pressed against Castiel, where he wasn't, where he was buried, where he was held.

The skinned surface of his flesh buzzed, hairs standing up, and everything in him was stretching out, grabbing at that feeling, chasing it and keeping it safe inside his chest.

Home.

When the world began to look like the world again, less misty, more white, the tremors passing through him with gentle shocks and ripples of after-pleasure, he lifted his head.

He found himself spayed out atop Castiel, a limp pile of uselessness, flushed face buried in some corner of sticky skin—he wasn't quite sure where exactly—panting and ravaged and completely and utterly sated.

His mind was working sluggishly to form words, pathetic-sounding little whimpers the only noises escaping him, and he would've tried to feel embarrassment but there was a gentle hand petting his hair down, the rapid thud of a heartbeat beneath his ear and it just... didn't matter.

He found himself drifting after a few moments, for once uncaring of the world outside, left alone by his family dramas, by the weight of his books, by Christmas.

None of it had any meaning here.

Dean was okay with that.

+

Dean didn't remember going to sleep exactly, he didn't have any idea how long he'd been out, but waking up freezing and pressed against a solid, breathing mass of bare skin and drying jizz definitely wasn't something he experienced often.

It wasn't something he regretted either.

They were nestled close together, spun impossibly tight, the awkward positions of Castiel's bony elbows and sharp knees digging little dints and grooves into Dean's rubs.

Their bodies didn't seem to mind, given how closely they were wound, fingers clinging onto flesh to conserve whatever warmth they could in the cold, tiny apartment.

Dean must have slipped out of Castiel in the time they'd been asleep, but the shrinking distance between them made up for it.

He found he liked the clunky angles of Castiel's arms, the joints prodding into him, the insistent locking of their legs. It felt nice.

Weirdly, inordinately nice.

Castiel shivered in his arms and Dean gave a nod of his head, grunted a soft grumble in response, totally in agreement.

He reached behind himself, hands searching for the corner of Castiel's comforter and tugged it over their lax, frozen bodies.

Wrapping himself up in the blanket and Castiel, he felt too good, too comfortable to do anything but curl up, lazy and open, and somewhere alarm bells were going off because there was no way it could just be this easy.

It wasn't supposed to be as simple as finding a guy—a pretty damn amazing guy—falling hard and quick, taking him to bed and then just...being. But it was.

It was.

Some innate Winchester-bred suspicion in the corners of his skull was yelling at him to make this complicated, to over-think it and dissect it into little useless fragments but he was done with that bullshit. He was done trying to provide excuses, trying to give reasons.

For once he was content to just stop and feel.

Castiel stirred at his side, head nuzzling into Dean's shoulder. Dean grinned at the little mumbling, angry noises the man made at being woken up. He found himself needing to know what Castiel was like in the mornings for certain.

He had guessed earlier that the other man wasn't much of an early bird, and the information he'd cultivated since then only supported his theories.

It'd be all right, though. Dean would bring him coffee and do something ridiculously sappy like kiss the complaints away from his mouth, kiss his shoulders, his chest, his cold toes as Castiel frowned at the intrusive sunlight peeking in through the curtains, ducking back under the quilt for another five more minutes.

He quelled those thought for now, feeling slightly like a creeper, but there was no real heart behind it.

He felt happy.

Content.

Two bleary, tired eyes peeled slowly open and stared up at him, confused and dazed for a moment, like he couldn't quite place what was going on, before the sharp awareness filled them once more.

“Hello.”

Dean smiled.

Castiel's gruff, thick voice was heavier after sex, jagged corners doused with a healthy helping of fluidity, drawing on the way the man had melted against him, moulding effortlessly around the shape of his body like they were made to fit.

“Hey,” Dean said softly, eyes hooding over.

The tips of his fingers traced inane patterns into Castiel's hips, arms looped loosely around the man's lower back.

Castiel hummed, light and thoughtful, and nestled his head against Dean's chest, apparently too relaxed to be questioning things right now.

“Not thinking too hard, are you?” Castiel asked, his lips feather-light over Dean's collarbone.

“No.” It was an easy syllable, real and truthful on his tongue, and Dean was relieved by it.

“No. This is good.”

He felt Castiel smile, small and secretive against his skin, and he was compelled to pull the other man closer, tangling their legs tighter, holding him like he was something fleeting.

For a second, Dean felt like maybe he had one of those fancy Christmas miracles he'd heard so much about, right there, naked and sleepy in his tired arms. Then the second passed and what Dean had was so much better.

They were quiet for a while after that, the soft sounds of breath against his neck carefully cupped around his slow, meandering thoughts, and he was almost positive Castiel was sleeping again, until muffled words were kissed into his skin and Dean had to pull back slightly to hear them.

“What?”

“It's better. Christmas,” Castiel said sleepily. “It's better like this. It feels...”

“Better?” Dean teased with a grin, nose buried in Castiel's dark hair, listening to his feigned, put-out huff.

“Much better.”

Dean smiled, pressing his lips to Castiel's head.

“I know.”

He felt like he wanted to say more, like this whole thing needed words, needed explaining, but then, his editor was always telling him that was his problem—trailing off into reams and reams of run-on sentences, losing himself (and naturally, the reader) in the progress.

He figured maybe this time he'd just shut up, just let things happen.

There'd be time to talk about things later, time to understand Castiel as wholly as possible, to speak and read and write in him.

Images played behind his eyelids. Himself grinning and watching Castiel eat cold, vegan Chinese food—because that just suited Castiel—for “Christmas dinner” tomorrow, talking about inanities and telling awkward jokes.

Dean didn't know which of them was the worse comedian, actually, but they'd learn.

He could see them piling into the Impala, Dean complaining all the way to IKEA, because Castiel thought they needed a new clock for their bedside table when Dean insisted the old one was just fine.

They'd bicker about trivial little things like they were getting paid for it, and Castiel would hog the blankets and his feet would be cold every night, just like they were right now.

But it would be okay, because Dean would like the pointless arguments, he'd like the way he'd have to curl right in close to Cas to get warm, even when his stupid, freezing feet weren't helping.

He'd like Cas. He'd like that life, and he wanted it.

He wanted it for them.

It wasn't rational, but laying there with Castiel, this stranger he should have never met, Dean knew they'd get it, just as surely as he knew Sammy would be a great daddy one day, or that Adam was going to be a doctor and make him proud.

He thought maybe this didn't need explaining.

Maybe it should just be allowed to be, after all.

Snuggling down, he got comfortable against the pillow, a hand splaying itself out on the staircase of Castiel's spine, feeling him settled down as well, quiet breaths deepening once more.

The snow continued to fall outside, locking them in that little apartment above that little café, forcing them closer and tighter in their pursuit of warmth, keeping them there, together.

Dean's last, tapered thought before sleep swept him off was that the snow fell from the sky for this, for them, that the cold was made to chill their bones, to guide them to find the heat of each others skin.

That the rest of the world could keep Christmas. 

Winter was theirs.

-fin-