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It's the Getting Caught that Kills You

Chapter Text

Dean Winchester weaves through the crowd of people smoothly. He’s simultaneously trying to be as invisible as possible and to keep the ball of nerves in his stomach under control. Vomiting will definitely draw attention to him.

It’s not the first time he’s had to try to pick pockets to make ends meet, but it always makes him nervous. He’s only resorted to this a few times, when Bobby doesn’t have enough work at the tavern. The way Bobby looks destroyed when he has to send Dean away is enough to make Dean brush it off every time, make it seem like no big deal.

Bobby has been watching out for them for years. He’s an old Army buddy of John’s, probably the last one he still has, and Dean thinks he only lets John come around still because of he and Sam. The only reason Dean will take the help that Bobby offers is because Bobby knows. He knows what kind of position John has put Dean into, and while he doesn’t know exactly the lengths that Dean has gone to to take care of Sam, he probably suspects, and he doesn’t say a damn thing about it.

Like the hooking. Dean’s only done that a couple of times, too, and he’s only ever used his hand. Not because he thinks he’s better than the other kids his age who have to sell themselves, but because that always makes him plenty of cash to make sure Sam gets fed. There’s no need to do… More. Until it becomes necessary, anyway.

Stealing just intimidates him because… Well, what if he gets caught? Who the hell is gonna take care of Sammy? Sure, Bobby would step in, but that’s not his job, it’s Dean’s.

The circumstances rarely come together so he has to steal at all. Bobby can usually give him enough jobs around the tavern, as busboy or dishwasher or whatever, that he can make ends meet, make sure the rent gets paid and the table has at least enough food for Sam on it (and if it doesn’t have enough to feed both of them, Dean’s not above eating whatever other people leave on plates at the tavern). If that’s not an option, the street is usually a safe bet to make enough cash.

It’s just every once in a while, when the cops come sniffing around to make sure no underage people (read: one Dean Winchester) are working, Bobby has to lay low with helping Dean. He’d hit the corner, but on nice nights like they’ve had the last few days, there are way too many kids on the street for Dean to be sure that he would be chosen. Sure, he’s pretty, but there are less pretty boys who are willing to go further for less money.

So, stealing. Not his first option, but not his worst, either.

He moves along with the crowd, eyes scanning the people around him for a mark. Dean has no idea what the hell he’s doing, he’s bullshitting his way through this, but he knows how to read people.

It’s a skill he picked up (had drilled into him) from John, the ability to separate the gullible from the shrewd, the physically weak from the able, the smart from the not so much. It’s a product of John’s paranoia, which is one of the many, many reasons Dean lives his life the way he does, but it does help out in this one aspect, so Dean’s not really complaining.

It makes sure that Dean doesn’t take risks when it comes to stealing. He doesn’t, because Sam can’t take care of himself, twelve just isn’t old enough to do that (Dean doesn’t see the irony in this statement). He makes sure he stays as safe as possible, because God knows John Winchester, all around paranoid alcoholic who Dean only sees about once every three weeks, isn’t going to do it. He’s careful because he has someone else to look after. Dean’s life isn’t his own, it belongs to taking care of Sam.

As he walks and ruminates, he sees his mark.

Tall, taller than Dean, but probably not forever (Dean’s only sixteen, give him a break). He can only see him from the back, but he’s wearing a trench coat that’s nicer than pretty much everything Dean’s wearing, dark slacks, and good dress shoes. He’s got a mess of dark hair that hasn’t even come close to being tamed. When the mark turns to look across the street, Dean sees that he’s a knockout, damn, though he’s quite a bit older than Dean himself. He doesn’t have gray at his temples yet, but it’s coming. It doesn’t lessen the appeal at all.

The point is, though, that Dean can’t get a read on him. The man may as well be a blank slate when it comes to ticks or tells or anything. Which should send alarm bells going off in Dean’s head, but it intrigues him instead. The dude clearly has money, good money, if the cell phone he pulls out to check the time on is any indicator. He’s ridiculously attractive, aloof, and Dean can’t tell if he’s aware of all of his surroundings or none of them at all.

Even with all of that being the case, however, the problem is that there hasn’t been money coming in for about a week now. The cops, and Child Protective Services, have basically staked out Singer’s Tavern, watching for Dean, so he’s had to steer clear completely. Clear enough that he can’t even nab leftovers from the kitchen or the clientele.

John’s been gone for almost a solid month now, so nothing there. There very rarely is.

It’s warm out, the summer weather that drew the fair is also what’s screwing Dean over on the hooker front (heh). There are so many people, boys and girls alike, out on the corners that Dean would barely be able to find a place to stand.

What all of these things mean is that Dean hasn’t eaten in two and a half days. Sam had to skip breakfast this morning before school, which Dean despises doing. The rent that Dean doesn’t have the money for is almost due, too.

In short, Dean’s desperate.

He would normally give this guy a wide, wide berth, but he needs it. If he can get enough from this guy to not have to risk picking more pockets than strictly necessary, it just means he can get home that much sooner.

He walks casually until he’s closer, damn near on top of the dude. He appears to be kind of lost in his own thoughts, so Dean examines him further. Insanely blue eyes, incredibly handsome face, a mouth made for sinning and dirty talk. Something deep stirs in Dean, something he doesn’t let himself have because there’s no time for it. Not when he’s got to dodge cops, make sure John stays alive, and keep Sam fed and in school. He tries to tamp it down as much as possible, but it’s persistent this time, the wanting of this man that Dean’s about to rob.

In a different life, Dean would chat him up, flirt with him easily, find out if he’s gay. See if he’s willing to take Dean home and fuck him until it feels like his lungs are going to give out. If Dean really lets his mind wander, he’ll imagine making the guy breakfast the next morning, the guy taking him out to dinner. Watching movies on the guy’s couch, and maybe, maybe, maybe, building a life with this person, this man who looks capable enough to take care of Dean in a way that he’s really never been taken care of before.

Instead, Dean has this life. He’s not going to make anything with this man, he’s going to steal from him. He shakes the cobwebs from his head.

When the crowd moves, Dean moves with it. He waits a few minutes, trying to make sure the guy is thoroughly in his own head before casually reaching forward and slipping his hand into the guy’s coat pocket.

Before he can do much more, long, strong fingers wrap around his wrist. He’s been caught.


Castiel is done taking apprentices. It’s not that he doesn’t like the crew he has now. He’s just tired.

Benny is a good kid, charming and likeable. That accent is enough to make women and men alike fall all over themselves to appease him, making them easy targets. Castiel suspects he won’t be in the business for long, however. Benny is too… For lack of a better term, Benny’s too good. Benny is also sweet on a baker’s daughter down the street, Andrea, and has been spending most of his time with her. Castiel can see the writing on the wall, probably before even Benny can. Benny isn’t going to be a thief forever.

Garth is… Well, Garth is enthusiastic, if nothing else.

Garth gets caught more than any thief Castiel has ever seen in his life, but his face is so earnest that no one wants to accuse him in the end. Castiel almost dropped him after the second time he got caught, but something in his gut told him to keep the kid around. He shadowed Garth the next time he went out and just watched. He was absolutely flabbergasted when Garth chose a mark, clumsily tried to pull the man’s wallet out of his coat pocket, and was caught almost immediately. The man turned and snapped at Garth, but when confronted with Garth’s affable personality, ended up actually giving the boy a few dollars and walking away happy.

Castiel… Doesn’t know how that works, but it does, so he’s not going to argue with it. Garth will either be in the business for the rest of his life, or he’ll luck out and marry some sort of long-lost heiress. Castiel suspects there will be very little in between.

Kevin is good at it, very good. Almost as good as Castiel himself. He’s unobtrusive, unassuming, quiet, and quick. Kevin will be in the business forever, though he will probably leave Castiel’s crew and create his own someday. The thought makes Castiel sad, but very proud. Kevin has become an extremely talented thief, and has almost gotten to the point of being able to pull off rooftop jobs with Castiel.

So Castiel is fine. He doesn’t need more apprentices.

Which is why he’s confused as to why he’s here at the fair. He doesn’t like crowds, or fairs, or whatever it is the fair is celebrating (later, Castiel will find out that the most important moment of his life was at a cultural fair, and feel like a bit of a heel). He saw the event advertised in the local paper, and some part of him insisted that he attend.

Now he’s regretting giving into his gut. He could be enjoying a quiet, solitary, late breakfast at home, planning the way he’ll run the crew through their paces this afternoon. Instead, he’s here, a (admittedly unseen) part of this throng of people, where it’s loud and crowded and annoying. How incredibly irritating.

Just he’s deciding to go home, he feels a clumsy hand reach into his coat pocket.

For a moment, Castiel is genuinely, utterly shocked. Someone… Is trying… To steal from him?

The next moment, he’s incredibly amused. Someone is trying to steal from me, indeed.

He lets it go on for a beat, before he circles his fingers around the wrist (bony, probably young) in his pocket. The arm jerks and tries to pull away, but Castiel holds fast. “Oh, no, little one,” he tsks, “you’re coming with me.”

There’s no acknowledgement from the person behind him, but Castiel doesn’t need it. The person behind him is coming with him either way.

He leads the way, hand hard on the wrist in his pocket, to an alley. Once there, deep enough that few will be able to see them, he turns to see his assailant.

He’s young, an older teenager. Light brown hair, probably going to darken as he ages. Castiel notices in what he wishes was a detached manner that the boy is incredibly good looking, almost beautiful. Castiel guesses that he will become more rugged as he ages, but he will still be lovely. His green eyes are striking, though they’re wild and scared now.

“Calm down,” Castiel says serenely, addressing the panic first. “What is your name?”

“What? I’m not telling you that!”

Castiel smirks. “Of course you are.”

The boy shakes his head. “No way, dude!”

“Little one, you do not have a choice. You tried to rob me, and while I do not intend to bring the authorities here, if you do not tell me your name, I may be forced to.”

To his surprise, the boy snorts. “Dude, if you were gonna call the cops, you already would have.” The look in his emerald eyes changes from frightened to shrewd. “I think you got some reason to not want the five-o on your ass, either.”

Castiel frowns. “‘Five-o?’”

“The cops, man.”

Castiel tilts his head and studies the young man in front of him again, taking in more detailed information in the space of seconds. Secondhand leather jacket, too big for him, probably his father’s. Secondhand clothes, but they fit him better, probably from a thrift store. Dark circles under his eyes, he’s tired. His hands look rough, probably calloused, works for a living. Thin, not emaciated, but certainly doesn’t eat enough.

Dammit. “Why were you trying to steal from me?”

The boy blinks. “What?” His eyes narrow in suspicion. “Why do you wanna know?”

“Answer the question.”

His eyes shift to the left. “Just wanted some cash, man, I dunno.”

“Stop calling me ‘man,’ or ‘dude.’ You will address me as sir, little one.” The spark of defiance in those lovely green eyes sets something ablaze in Castiel, but he ignores it for now and speaks before the boy has a chance to. “And do not lie to me again, I will not tolerate it. Tell me why you were trying to steal from me.”

The boy’s eyes meet his again, searching, evaluating, weighing Castiel on some scale only the boy understands or knows about. Castiel keeps his gaze calmly, confident he will be found worthy.

“My brother,” the boy says roughly. “He’s only twelve, thirteen in a few weeks. He’s gotta eat, and it’s my job to look after him.”

Castiel frowns. “Have you no parents?”

The boy snorts. “None that are gonna take care of us.”

“Why are you stealing? You could get a job.”

“Dude, I’m too young to get a job by six months. I already work at-” he cuts himself off, looking at Castiel, a bit shaken. “Uh, no, I can’t get a job.”

It only takes Castiel a moment to consider all of his options.

Option one, he could summon the authorities, let them take this boy away, and leave his brother to fend for himself in what appears to be an unpleasant home life.


Option two, he could let this boy go. He will probably to haphazardly steal his way to someone else, someone who will contact the authorities, with the same result as the first option.


Option three, Castiel takes them with him. His gut pulls him hard in this direction.

The thing is, Castiel always follows his instincts. They are what got him through a dirty, crowded childhood, a home with too many mouths to feed. It was easy for Castiel to fade into the background with his quiet demeanor there. He was never abused in any way, but he was quite frequently ignored.

His instincts are what led him through his beginnings in theft. Clumsy, ridiculous attempts at picking pockets in dirty alleys and in front of bars. They are what brought him to Cain, and they’re what told him to let Cain take him home. They were honed by Cain, a master at the craft, until they were good enough to surpass Castiel’s teacher himself.

They are what told him it was time to strike out on his own. He woke up one morning in the loft they shared and just knew. Cain was understanding but heartbroken, and offered to help him set up in a new city. Castiel refused, but he stays in touch with Cain, loves him dearly.

More importantly, they are what tell Castiel which prodigies to choose.

So, as annoying as they are, Castiel always follows his instincts.

He heaves a sigh, irritated at himself. “What is your name?”

“I already told you, man, I’m not-”

Castiel’s free hand whips toward the boy to wrap around the back of his neck and squeeze, just enough to get his attention. He knows that, at some point, this boy will be taller than him. He’s already almost there, for God’s sake. For now, however, Castiel has this advantage. Those delightfully green eyes widen and his breath catches as he cuts himself off mid-sentence.

Castiel lets his voice drop to a deep growl. “I believe you told you not to call me that, little one.”

That defiance is back, though the boy doesn’t try to break his hold. “Why do you get to call me ‘little one,’ then?”

“When you catch my hand in your coat pocket, attempting to steal from you, you are welcome to choose something else to refer to me as. Until then, I believe I asked for your name.”

The boy stares hard at him again, evaluating once more. Castiel lets this happen without comment. He senses that if he pushes again too hard, the boy will fight him, and will refuse Castiel’s offer.

“Dean,” the boy says softly. “It’s Dean, sir.”

Castiel smiles, becoming entranced by the way the boy’s face is open now, vulnerable. He looks much younger than he has in the few minutes that Castiel has known him.

“Thank you, Dean. And what is your brother’s name?”

“I can’t tell you that, ma-” Dean cuts himself off. “I mean, sir, I’d prefer not to tell you that.”

“Dean,” Castiel says patiently, “I’d like to help you and your brother.”


“You’re in a bad situation. I happen to be in a position in which I can help you get out of it. You must come with me, however, you and your brother. Is leaving your home going to be a problem?”

Dean does try to pull himself back a little bit, but Castiel holds him still. “I can’t just go with you, dude! I don’t even know you!”

Castiel thinks about chastising Dean for the slip-up in calling him “dude,” but decides, for now, to address the boy’s concerns.

“Dean, my name is Castiel. You haven’t heard of me, because if you had, you wouldn’t have tried to steal anything from me. I’d like to offer you an extremely valuable opportunity, but it will require that you and your brother come live with me. You will be somewhere safe, warm, and fed.” He examines Dean closely for a moment. “I will make sure you will be able to go to school, should you so desire, but I’m afraid I must insist that your brother continue to attend. You will no longer clumsily pickpocket your way through big crowds, hoping that you do not get caught, nor will you have to continue to do whatever else it is you feel you must do to make money.”

Because Castiel is not naive to the ways of the world, no, or the way the world uses young men who are as good-looking as Dean. This truth usually gives him a sort of absent-minded ache, but when he thinks of Dean giving up his mouth, or the rest of his body, it fills Castiel with a sort of… Painful, anger (possessiveness). He would like to be the only one using any part of Dean, but he resolutely pushes that thought down, down, down.

“I can help you become someone great, someone who not only has the ability to take care of himself, but to take care of those he cares about.”

There it is, the spark. Taking care of his brother is what speaks to Dean loudest. Castiel files that tidbit away.

“What do you want, Dean? We can part ways here, never again to see one another. Or you can come with me, and I can change your life. What do you want, Dean?”

Castiel waits for the answer he knows he will receive.

Chapter Text

As Dean enters the two bedroom apartment he shares with Sam (and sometimes John) he wonders what the hell he’s gotten himself into.

Once he said “yes” to Castiel, the older man told him to go home, pack up his shit, and that he’d meet Dean and Sam here in a few hours. Dean gave him the address, and with a final squeeze to the back of his neck, Castiel was gone, disappeared into the crowd like an illusion. Dean’s still not a hundred percent sure that he wasn’t, in fact, an illusion.

He starts in “his” bedroom.

One of the bedrooms is permanently Sam’s. When John is gone, which is eighty-five percent of the time, which is still almost not often enough, Dean sleeps in the other one. On the rare nights when their father is there, they keep an air mattress under Sam’s bed for Dean. He hates that, though, because he read a pamphlet once at Sam’s school about how important it is for kids to have their own space. So he keeps out of Sam’s room as much as possible and stores his clothes in an old duffel bag of John’s, trying to take up as little room as possible.

(Dean genuinely doesn’t see anything wrong with this scenario.)

Because of this, it’s easy for him to pack his own things up. He just grabs the bag he always keeps them in, checks to make sure it’s closed, and walks it out to set it next to the front door. He grabs another duffel bag out of the hall closet and goes into Sam’s room.

Dean knows Sam like the back of his hand, so he knows what Sam will want to take, and what he’ll be okay with leaving behind. Dean wants them to leave just enough stuff that John won’t notice that they’re gone immediately. Not that he thinks his father will report them missing, but it pays to be careful. Just because John Winchester has had nothing but disdain for his sons since his wife died doesn’t mean he won’t try to keep them from finding something better.

As he packs Sam’s clothes into the bag, he thinks that the kid is hitting another growth spurt, and he’s going to need to find a way to get him some bigger clothes. He wonders if Castiel will be able to teach him fast enough that he won’t have to hit the street corner this weekend. He sincerely doubts it.

Once he zips up the duffel, he fishes an old backpack of his out of the back of the closet and begins to fill it with Sam’s books. The kid reads like nobody’s business, and Dean has always had trouble keeping him in books and comics, even more trouble than keeping him in clothes that fit. He knows which ones are Sam’s favorites, so he packs them as neatly as possible, as long with a few comics and a couple of knick knacks that Sam keeps on the shelf.

Satisfied that that’s all they’re going to need, he takes the two bags of Sam’s and puts them next to his own, just inside the front door. He looks around the living room and the kitchen, but doesn’t see anything that really means something to either of them.

It’s still a couple of hours until Sam gets home from school, so Dean doesn’t have an excuse to avoid going down to the tavern to talk to Bobby. He locks the door behind him carefully before he goes. It would be just his luck that someone steal all of their stuff the day he’s taking them to live with a thief.

As he makes his way out of the apartment and toward the tavern, Dean thinks about the absolutely insane decision he made this morning.

Everything Dean has done since he was four years old has been for Sam. Since the moment he carried his little brother out of the fire that killed their mother, and still managed to somehow take both of their parents from them, Dean has done everything. He made his meals, a six-year-old standing on a chair in front of the stove to cook macaroni and cheese. He shopped for him, making sure that jeans and shirts and jackets fit. He forged permission slips, talked to teachers, gave Sam a curfew, took him to get haircuts, and made sure he did his homework. Dean has tried to be everything for Sam, including careful.

Not just about the stealing or the hooking, although he’s always most scared that he’s going to fuck up and get caught while doing those. Dean’s careful about keeping any friends he makes at arm’s length, so they don’t know what goes on at home. Hell, he’s careful about the friends that Sam has. Luckily, they don’t spend any time at the Winchester’s apartment, per Sam’s request. While Dean’s thinking of consequences when he keeps people away, Sam’s embarrassed by basically their whole life. (It’s something that Dean tries not to take personally. He never asks for clarification, either, because he needs to believe that it’s John that Sam’s ashamed of, not Dean himself. If he finds out that’s not the case, it might just kill him.)

Dean is careful about making sure no one is watching too closely as he comes or goes. He’s careful about making sure no one knows he’s not going to school. He’s careful about getting John cleaned up and in bed before Sam gets home as often as he can.

Dean is just… So fucking careful.

One conversation with an incredibly handsome stranger and, on the outside, it certainly appears like he’s throwing it all out the window. It’s completely out of character for him, and he’s not really looking forward to explaining what’s going on in his head to Sam or Bobby. He knows he has to, he just doesn’t know how.

How can he explain how safe and secure Castiel made him feel, even if just for a few moments? How to explain the way he felt cared about when Castiel put his hand on Dean’s neck, how he wanted to bury his face in the man’s shoulder and let him tell Dean that everything would be okay in that silk over thunder voice? How is he supposed to make them understand that he is still being careful, that somehow he just knows that going with Castiel is the right thing to do?

That all just sounds like one long, drawn-out chick flick moment, and sorry, but no.

When he gets to Singer’s Tavern, he’s no closer to figuring out how he’s going to talk to Bobby about this, but it’s now or never. Especially since it’s a fucking ghost town in here (it’s too much for the universe to give him a few extra minutes to get his shit together, huh?) and Bobby has already seen him. He’s waving for Dean to join him in the kitchen. Dean goes obediently, his stomach still in knots.

Bobby’s the only person who knows. He knows almost all of the shit John pulls, the disappearing acts and the drinking and the occasional thrown fist. Bobby’s furious about all of it. His normally kind eyes cloud with anger when Dean comes in with a split lip, or a blackened eye or cheek. Bobby doesn’t know about every single thing, because that knowledge is for Dean and John alone, but Bobby knows most of it. He’s the only person that Dean will feel genuinely bad about leaving behind.

“Hey, kiddo,” Bobby says genially, washing his hands at the big kitchen sink. “Listen, they’re still keeping a real close eye on me, but I can give you some cash if you kids are runnin’ low.”


“Now, I know you ain’t a fan of handouts, but if it’s that big a bug up your ass, you can pay me back.”

Guilt clogs Dean’s chest as he looks at the only adult who gives a damn about him. Shit. “Bobby, no, it’s… Not about that. I mean, it kinda is, but I don’t need money.” He takes a deep breath. Like ripping off a Band-Aid. “I came to let you know that you won’t be seeing much of us for a while. I dunno how long.”

Bobby’s face is completely unreadable now as he stares at Dean. He tries not to fidget under the hard gaze.

“That so?” Bobby deadpans.

“Look, I got… An offer. For a job. Kinda.”

Bobby slowly crosses his arms and leans back against the sink. “Why don’t you go ahead and tell me about this job offer you got?”

Dean runs a hand through his hair, anxiety making his stomach roll. “I dunno how to say this, Bobby. You’re gonna think this is stupid.”

“Try me.”

So Dean spends a few quick minutes detailing what happened this morning. It’s kind of like in those cartoons where the main character is in a barrel and he knows he’s headed toward the waterfall, but there’s not a damn thing he can do about it. Dean’s that cartoon character, and for all of his desperate flailing and half-assed explanations, he’s going down that waterfall.

Bobby’s face has smoothed out completely, unreadable again as he listens. Dean finally gets himself to shut the hell up and just stares back, hoping against hope that Bobby’s not going to tear him a new one.

“And you don’t know this fella?”

“No, sir.”

“Never met him before.”

“No, sir.”

“Cas-tee-elle, huh?”

“Yes, sir.”

Bobby rubs his whiskery chin hard. “You tellin’ me the whole truth, boy?”

Dean feels his eyebrows go up in surprise. “What, this isn’t ridiculous enough for you?”

Bobby’s still looking him in the eye, looking for something that Dean doesn’t understand. “And you’re sure he don’t want anything from you for this… Charity of his?”

Realization dawns. “Oh, God! Bobby, no! No, he doesn’t… Want anything, Jesus. The hell kinda girl do you take me for?” Levity is his only defense, because Bobby’s not letting up on the laser eyes thing.

“I just know that you’d do some real stupid, dangerous shit to take care of Sam. I’m just makin’ sure someone’s lookin’ out for you, too.”

Dean can feel his face heat up as he blushes. As much as he wants to protest that he wouldn’t do that, that he wouldn’t sell himself to some dude to keep Sammy safe… That’s precisely what he does when he goes out onto the street, isn’t it? So, yeah, if that’s what Castiel was offering, Dean would agree in a heartbeat, and not just because Castiel stepped straight out of the wet dreams Dean used to have.

“That’s what I thought,” Bobby says grimly.

“Yeah, yeah, shut up,” Dean grouses.

“I want to meet this guy,” Bobby says suddenly.


“I want to meet him. Size him up for myself. Make sure he’s not takin’ you for a ride.”

“Aw, Bobby, you don’t-“

“This ain’t a negotiation, Dean,” Bobby says firmly, steel in his voice. “I’m meetin’ him, or I’m callin’ the cops the second I know he’s at your place.”

Dean glares, but there’s very little heat behind it. He barely wants to admit it, but he’s glad that someone else, someone he trusts, will meet Castiel, too. Dean knows he wasn’t taken in by good looks and blue eyes, but it will be nice to have some confirmation that Castiel has the right intentions, at least where Dean and Sam are concerned.

“Fine, I’ll ask.”

Sam Winchester knows exactly how lucky he is to have Dean.

He knows that not everyone gets a big brother like his. Sam goes to a pretty big high school, one that has its fair share of kids from bad home lives, so Sam sees daily how much Dean does for him. He knows how much Dean sacrifices for him, and he thinks that Dean probably hasn’t even told him everything that he does to make sure that Sam gets what he needs.

Unfortunately, Sam is also almost thirteen years old, and he’s just been told that Dean wants them to move in with a stranger he met in an alley this morning.

It takes Sam a few moments to process what Dean just said. “What?”

“I know it’s a little unusual,” Dean says, red-faced, a hand gripping the back of his neck, “I just think that this is probably the best thing for us-“

“Us?” Just like that, Sam is pissed. “Us? Were you even thinking about us? Dean, what the fuck is this?”

“Sam,” there’s a pleading note in Dean’s voice that Sam ignores. “Come on, man, you know I was thinking about-“

“So, what, you’re pulling me out of school so we can follow some guy you found on the street?” He makes sure to put enough of a sneer in his voice for Dean to catch his meaning. Not that Sam has a problem with Dean being gay. Hell, Dean’s never brought a guy over, nor had a guy meet Sam, so it hasn’t affected his life whatsoever, but fear and panic are making him want to hurt Dean as much as he himself is hurting.

It hits the mark. Dean winces. “Sam, look, it’s an opportunity-“

Sam snorts. “Yeah, an opportunity to think with your dick. I cannot believe you’re dragging me away from here just so you can get laid.”

Dean visibly pales, and Sam regrets the words immediately. He knows that Dean would never put his sex life ahead of Sam. Hell, Sam knows that there’s nothing Dean would put over his welfare. Dammit. “Dean, I-“

“No, no, I get it,” Dean says, the tiny tremble at the end of the words probably only noticeable if one knows Dean as well as Sam knows him. “Look, Sammy, I know I’m the stupid one. I know that you’re the smart one, and that you’re the one that’s going places, but I gotta make sure you get there. So I just need you to trust-“

Dean’s explanation, and Sam’s subsequent apology and protest that Dean is not “the stupid one” are both interrupted by a sharp knocking at the door. Somehow, Dean seems to tense up and completely relax at the same time. There’s pretty obvious relief shining in his eyes when he answers the door before Sam can say a word.

The man standing in their entryway is… Well, Sam was expecting a little more from someone who has captured Dean’s interest so thoroughly.

He’s taller than Sam, but Dean assures Sam that he’ll be taller than everybody, so that’s fine. The guy’s got dark, messy hair, what is probably perpetual stubble, and laser blue eyes that flick over Sam briefly before zeroing in on Dean.

“Dean,” the man says, his voice warm and gravelly and deep. “Is this your brother?”

Dean nods and steps back. “Yeah, ma-… Uh, sir. Yes, this is Sam.”

The eyes come back to land on Sam, and he’s officially just a little intimidated. “Sam,” the man says, “my name is Castiel. I’d like to help you and your brother, if you’d let me.”

Castiel immediately approves of the way Sam’s hazel eyes narrow in suspicion. The skinny (too skinny, they both are, they need to be fed before Dean goes out, and before I get my hands on- No, no, bad Castiel) teenager crosses his arms over his chest and glares at Castiel.


Castiel tilts his head to examine the boy further. It’s clear that Sam doesn’t trust him, which is smart. He can also feel the tension in the air, the boys were clearly arguing when he got here. He curses himself for not waiting outside the door and listening, but immediately moves on from the thought. What’s done is done.

There’s also nervous tension radiating from Dean, who’s practically vibrating at Castiel’s side, eyes flicking from him to Sam. Almost without thought, Castiel reaches up to place a gentle hand on the back of Dean’s neck, identical to the way he held on in the alley. He feels Dean relax beneath the touch, and files the information away for further use. (Not to be used in your spank bank, he scolds himself.)

“I have a sharp instinct about people,” Castiel says smoothly. “I believe that your brother is singularly suited toward my line of work, and I’d like to help him achieve his full potential. To do so, I would, of course, be more than happy to assist you in your studies, as well.”

The surprised tense of Dean’s neck beneath his palm and the way Sam’s eyebrows shoot to his hairline confirm Castiel’s suspicions. Dean is rarely made a priority. In his interactions with Dean earlier this morning, it was made clear to Castiel that Dean’s world revolves around Sam, which is admirable. Castiel, however, does not intend to make his relationship with Dean (a student-teacher relationship, for God’s sake, he’s sixteen!) revolve around anything but Dean himself. He knows now, based on their reactions, that this will be something new for the both of them.

“The work I do is extremely in-depth, and requires a particular setup to engage in. I happen to have everything we need to do so in my home, and there’s plenty of space for you to live there, as well.”

“Why can’t we stay here?”

Castiel takes a look around the dingy apartment, making sure to keep any judgement or negative emotions off of his face. “I can certainly make sure you’re able to stay here, if you prefer, but I live in a stellar school district, and would be able to care for the two of you much more easily if you came with me.” He shrugs. “Either way, the choice is yours.”

From the corner of his eye, he sees Dean look at Sam. From there, he’s able to witness a silent conversation happen between brothers. It’s over in a matter of seconds, and it’s conducted exclusively with facial expressions and body language. It’s fascinating.

“Well, you’re not going without me,” Sam insists, and Castiel is fascinated again when Dean’s face blushes bright red. How charming, he thinks, a bit dazedly, to himself.

“God dammit, Sam, of course I’m not,” Dean mutters, face glowing in embarrassment. Castiel fights not to imagine that blush travelling down his neck, his chest, to his-

No, he tells himself firmly. He’s usually much better controlled than this. The boy might actually be making him crazy.

“Well, then,” he’s grateful that his voice is as steady as ever, “that’s settled. Have you packed your things?”

Now Dean’s green eyes are on Castiel again, and he reminds himself firmly that this boy is a minor, and the things that he’s thinking are very illegal. “Uh, yeah,” Dean says, his blush still prominent. “I just, uh… Do you mind if we make a stop?”

After they drop the bags off at his car, Castiel is both intrigued and irritated as he enters Singer’s Tavern behind Sam and Dean.

He’s intrigued because he’s never had someone care enough about the people he takes in to meet him. Kevin and Garth are both orphans, and Benny’s mother was more interested in where her next hit of whatever narcotic she was hooked on then was coming from than where her only son was going. This will be new territory for Castiel.

He’s irritated at himself because there is a part of him that wants to stand up straight, address this Mr. Singer as “sir,” and generally act like he’s meeting the parent of a romantic prospect, which is ridiculous. He is an adult, he will conduct himself as such, and he will get this wanting of Dean under control as soon as possible. For God’s sake, he just met the boy this morning and he’s already obsessing over him.

He pushes his thoughts aside when he meets the eyes of a gruff older man over the heads of the patrons scattered throughout the building. He knows immediately that this is the person he’s here to meet.

Older, looks tired, probably gets here early and stays late. Looks angry, probably protective of the boys, already doesn’t like me.

The man gestures for the three of them to follow him to the kitchen, so Sam takes the lead and they obey. Castiel brings up the rear and tries very hard not to watch the way Dean moves in front of him.

When they get to the kitchen, Bobby turns to face them. “So you’re the guy who wants to… ‘Teach’ Dean.”

The implication behind the words makes Castiel raise an eyebrow even as Dean sputters. “Jesus, Bobby, what the hell? He’s not-“

“It’s quite all right, Dean,” Castiel interrupts. He turns to Bobby. “I appreciate that someone is keeping such a close eye on Sam and Dean. I want nothing but the best for them, truly.”

Bobby doesn’t soften. “And what, exactly, are you intendin’ to ‘teach’ him?”

The implication again. “I intend to teach him the ways of my profession.”

“Uh-huh. ‘Profession.’”

Castiel smirks. Bobby Singer is a smart man. “Indeed.”

Sam is frowning. “What profession?”

“I will not speak of it here,” Castiel says simply. “There are too many people who could overhear. When we get to my home, we can discuss it in depth, if you like.”

“Oh, yeah, we’re definitely discussing,” Sam grumbles under his breath.

Castiel ignores him to focus again on Bobby. “I was told you wanted to meet so you could put your stamp of approval on the move. Do we have it?”

Bobby doesn’t answer, just keeps his weighty gaze on Castiel. He returns it evenly, not giving a thing away. Although, he can see how Bobby would be a good parent. If Castiel were a much lesser man, and if he had not had to stare Cain down like this many a time, he would feel the urge to break under that look, to reveal his secrets in hopes that confessing would lessen his punishment.

Now, however, he’s much more used to doling out punishments than receiving them, so he is mostly unaffected.

A small eternity later, Bobby sighs. “Where you takin’ them?”

Castiel deliberates for just a moment. There is no harm in giving this man this information. “I live on the South Side. The apartment complex on Angel Boulevard.”

Now, here is a bit of vulnerability in the older man’s eyes. “Can I see ‘em?”

Castiel’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “Of course.”

Dean’s head whips around. “Really?”

Castiel frowns. “Why would I ask you to avoid people who care about you?” He never intended for them to be cut off from family. He never intends any of his charges to be cut off from their families, it just so happens that most of them don’t have anyone they want to stay in contact with, anyway. Castiel’s crew has become its own family, but he has no reason to keep Dean and his brother from this man who clearly cares deeply for them.

Dean blushes again. “I dunno… I guess I just assumed-“

“Dean watches too many spy movies,” Sam says frankly.

Dean smacks his brother upside the back of his head. “Shut up, bitch.”

“Make me, jerk!”

Castiel smiles, listening to them argue in hissed whispers. It doesn’t remind him of his own siblings, since he was never this close to any of them, but it’s still pleasant to witness.

He looks over at Bobby, and sees that he’s being measured again, and he seems to have been found sufficient.

“All right,” Bobby says gruffly. “But keep your cells on you, boys. I want to keep in touch.”

“Sure, Bobby, no problem,” Dean says easily.

Castiel looks outside, where the early spring still makes the days end too soon. “You are more than welcome to come back, gentlemen,” he says evenly, looking back to Sam and Dean, “but I’d prefer to introduce you to the rest of the crew and show you where you’ll be staying before the day ends.”

Sam sighs. “This is all so crazy,” he says ruefully, but he turns to lead the way out of the restaurant.

Castiel smiles. Sam is a flexible child, it seems, if it has only taken about an hour for him to go from fighting with his brother to resigning himself to his fate. Castiel thinks he’ll get along well with Kevin.

Dean shoots Castiel a shy smile as he follows Sam out, which damn near kills Castiel. He’s still having a hard time bringing his mind out of the gutter when Bobby clears his throat.

It’s only years of practice that keeps Castiel from flushing guiltily. He looks back at the man who’s essentially the father of the boy he was just undressing with his eyes. Bobby is just staring at him again, there’s no heat or anger there.

“I’m trustin’ you to keep those boys safe,” the man says gruffly. “Closest thing I got to kids, and I might not know what this ‘profession’ is, but I can tell you that I don’t mind trackin’ you down and kickin’ your ass, should something happen to them.”

Castiel smiles. I’m getting threatened by the boy’s father after all, romantic intentions or no. “I expected nothing less,” he says smoothly.

Chapter Text

Dean cannot believe how well that went. He’s not even ashamed of the way he’s kind of staring Cas in awe as the man leads back them to his car a few blocks away.

He doesn’t know what he thought would happen, but it wasn’t this easy transition. Beside him, Sam’s walk is loose-limbed and easy. Sam’s always been a laid-back kid, but his quick acceptance of the situation before him thrills Dean. It signifies trust, it means that Sam has faith in Dean to make these decisions for them. Oh, sure, the reminder that Sam’s the smart one, the important one, it stung a little, but it’s not like Dean’s never been reminded before. And as long as he’s taking care of his little brother like he’s supposed to, Dean’s all right with coming up in second place.

It was… Weird, to say the least, when Cas implied that the reason he wants Dean and Sam around was because of… Well, because of Dean. That… Doesn’t make any sense. In his head, he understands that Cas would have had no way to know about Sam, or how smart Sam is, or how much better Sam is, since the only one of them they saw was Dean himself. It’s just… It’s just that, even after Cas saw Sam, he still made it sound like Dean was the reason he’s doing any of this. He even put his hand on the back of Dean’s neck again, like he wanted to comfort Dean.

And, okay, it’s not like Dean’s never received reassurance or comfort before. Bobby’s been great, and ever since Dean and Sam were little, he was the one they’d seek out when they needed an adult. As he got older, Dean’s gotten comfort from partners, one-night stands and flings. Not long-term comfort, and definitely not meaningful, but it’s not like Dean has been without any sort of kind touch.

It’s just that… It’s that when Cas touches him, just that big, warm palm on Dean’s neck, thumb running absentmindedly through the hair at his nape, it feels like it’s because Cas thinks that Dean’s worth something, like maybe he could care about Dean. It’s silly, and not something that Dean’s holding out for. He knows his place in the world, and it’s to get Sammy off to bigger and better things. Maybe once Sam is settled in whatever big-time career he wants, Dean can worry about himself. Until then, it’s a no-go, and God knows Cas isn’t gonna wait around that long.

Dean’s okay with that. It’s just a little fantasy he has, that Cas might care about him, or take care of him, or maybe make it so Dean doesn’t feel so tired and weighed down and a little bit scared all the time. He knows it’s not realistic, so he doesn’t put stock into it. It’s just nice to think about.

He’s thinking so hard about these things that he almost runs straight into Cas when the man stops on the sidewalk. Internally shaking the cobwebs from his mind, he looks up to see that Cas’ body language has changed, subtly but absolutely. He’s shifted so that he’s shielding the Winchesters, keeping them behind him. Dean’s first instinct, which he follows, is to grab Sam and shove him behind himself. His second instinct, which he also follows, is to assess the threat, and the only way to do that is to peek over Cas’ shoulder.

A curvaceous woman stands in front of them, one hand on her hip, the other twirling a lock of her fiery red hair around a finger. She’s smirking, but there’s no friendliness in the gesture. Her eyes are cold and almost lifeless, and they’d be completely blank without the sort of unstable anger they seem to be radiating at Castiel.

Cas, for his part, has stilled, but shows no outward signs of hostility. “Abaddon,” he says smoothly.

“Castiel,” she purrs. “It’s been so long, darling.”

“Oh, I don’t know, it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been long enough.” It’s the first sign at all that Cas isn’t happy to see this woman.

She pouts. “Aw, is someone still sore over Boston?”

Cas doesn’t react at all. “What do you want?”

“What makes you think I want anything?”

“Because you’re a sociopath who does nothing if she does not have a reason.”

She sighs. “Oh, Castiel, always the flair for the dramatic.”

“Yes. I’ve always been told that I’m too flamboyant,” Cas deadpans.

A brilliant smile blossoms on her face. It would warm her up if it looked like she meant it at all. “Oh, Cassie, dear, it’s so good to see you again. I’m so very glad I ran into you. I’ve moved into town, and I’m delighted that you’re the first to know!”

“Abaddon,” Cas says severely, ignoring her sarcasm. “Do not do anything stupid while you are here.”

Her happy, simpering demeanor drops in an instant, and Dean realizes that this woman is a barracuda, a wolf among sheep, a goddamn shark. She’s crazy.

She takes a step forward, and Dean tenses when she gets up in Cas’ face. He wants to step in, to intervene, but before he can do any such thing, he feels Cas’ fingers brush against his own. It’s a simple touch, and just for a moment, but it gets the message across perfectly. Dean stays where he is, fuming.

Abaddon’s pretty face is marred with a sneer. “I will do whatever I goddamn please, Castiel. Your precious Cain isn’t here to protect you anymore.”

“He was just as important to you as he was to me. And I seem to recall being able to take care of myself quite effectively.”

The sneer becomes more pronounced. “Oh, I don’t think any of us were as close with him as you were, Cassie.”

Cas takes a deep breath, but it seems like he’s just gathering his patience instead of being alarmed. “What do you want, you vile woman?”

She smiles again, and again, it doesn’t soften her face at all. “Oh, I want so many things. But the first thing I’m going to do is to take this town from you. And then,” her eyes shift to meet Dean’s, and he takes a moment to be so, so glad that Sam’s hidden behind him, “I’m going to take all of your little ‘charity cases’ away from you.”

Cas doesn’t even bat an eye. “I’m sure that’s what you think will happen, Abbie.” The condescension in his voice, and his words, shouldn’t be such a turn on. Dean has a problem. “What is actually going to happen is this.” He leans forward, so he’s almost whispering in her ear, but Dean can hear every word. “You may come here, and you may work here. This city is plenty big enough for both of us. However, and I’d like you to pay attention here, Abbie, if you lay a finger on one of my charges, you will never stop regretting it. Our work isn’t the only thing I learned from Cain. Have I made myself crystal clear?”

Satisfaction, fear, and rage flash in Abbadon’s eyes in turn as Cas talks. When he’s done, she leans back and beams a smile at him. “It was just so lovely to speak with you again, Castiel. We simply must catch up the very moment we have a chance.”

Castiel just stares her down. “I would rather lay siege to hell than speak with you again, Abaddon. You have your warning. I would heed it, were I you.”

She sneers again before turning to sashay away. Dean can feel that his eyes are wide and that he’s pale as he stares after her.

“Cas,” he croaks, barely stopping himself from saying something less formal in time. “What the fuck was that?”

“Language, Dean,” Cas sighs, but it’s pretty obvious that his heart’s not in it. He doesn’t start forward again, but he glances over to where Dean has moved to stand next to him. Sam stands on the other side, and they watch her walk away together.

“The man who taught me the craft, our craft,” he says, eyes sliding to Dean for a beat before returning to the retreating figure. “He had several students. Cain was normally a… Very good judge of character, but he made a mistake when he took Abaddon on. Her story was tragic, and she needed someone to help her, but make no mistake, boys. Sometimes, when someone’s life has been hard, it… Warps them, makes it difficult for them to think like others do. It may not be their fault, but remember that just because someone’s past has been difficult doesn’t mean that they deserve sympathy in our present.”

Dean whistles low. “Damn, Cas. What’d she do?”

A beat of hesitation. “A story for another time, perhaps.” Cas straightens a little bit, which makes Dean realize that he was crouched, just a little bit, in defense of he and Sam. “Make sure to avoid her, boys. If you see her or she approaches you, leave immediately and come to find me. Understand?”

Dean ignores the little thrill of heat that goes up his spine at the steel in Cas’ voice. “Yes, sir.”

When they get to the apartment building that Cas and his crew live in, it’s taking all of Dean’s willpower to not fidget in the passenger seat of the pimp-mobile that Cas calls a car. He tried to give the seat to Sam, both because he would prefer Sam be the first priority here and to hide his own nervousness, but Cas would have none of it (“Get in the front, Sammy.” “Actually, Sam, I would appreciate it if you sat in the back. Dean, get in the passenger seat.”). Which would be fine, except that it made the whole ride awkward as hell for Dean. The restraint it required to keep himself from reaching over and touching Cas was monumental. The result is that he’s a little jumpy when they pull into the parking garage.

“Do you have a car?” Cas asks, his deep, rolling voice carrying easily in the quiet garage.

Dean shakes his head. “Nope.” At Cas’ raised eyebrow, Dean feels himself blush a little. “Sir,” he adds hastily.

Sam frowns as he pulls the bags out of the trunk. “What about the Impala?”

“That’s Dad’s, Sammy.”

“Don’t call me that,” his little brother replies immediately, then he frowns again. “And it’s more yours than his.”

Dean sighs. Another fight they’ve had so often that their lines are practically scripted, rehearsed, set in stone. A fight he doesn’t particularly want to have in front of Cas. “No, it’s not, and we’re not doing this again right now, hear me?” When Sam opens his mouth to argue, Dean frowns and points a finger at him. “I’m serious, Sam, not right now.”

The stubborn scowl on his brother’s face makes Dean worry that he’s not going to drop it for a moment, but Sam finally just grabs his bags with a huff and turns to Cas, clearly ready to go. Dean’s relieved, but he’s also kind of embarrassed that it happened in front of Cas. To cover, he grabs his bag and turns to meet the older man’s gaze head on, trying to control his blush.

“Lead on, sir.”

As he leads them through the garage, Castiel can’t help but file quickly through everything he’s learned about the Winchesters in the last few minutes.

For one, their father is a sore spot, but Mr. Singer is not. Interesting.

Second, his first assumption was correct. Sam is the golden child, at least in Dean’s eyes. Sam seems to be a bit more reluctant about that particular train of thought, but Dean clearly lives by making sure Sam comes first. Infuriating, but also interesting. Because, again, Castiel has no intention of putting Sam first. Oh, yes, he’s sure that the younger man is bright, and his instincts tell him that he could grow to be quite the thief someday, but Sam is not who Castiel is interested at all. Quick as Sam might be, both intellectually and with his fingers, Castiel’s focus is solely on Dean.

Something about Dean tells Castiel that he could not only be good, but he could be spectacular. He could rival the greats, should he get the proper training and care. His name could be whispered amidst names like Asa Fox, Daniel Elkins, and Cain himself, when the few people who know those particular names whisper them at all. There will come a time when Dean can flash those beautiful green eyes, curve his lips into that shy smile, and the world will eat out of the palm of his hand.

This is why Castiel can’t let himself fall prey to those charms. Because not only will Dean be good, probably better than Castiel, even, but Dean deserves it. His good heart and pure soul shine from him like a beacon. It’s so painfully obvious that Dean is a good, selfless person. That kind of light, Castiel knows, can attract darkness, both from those who covet it and from those who seek to corrupt it. Castiel doesn’t know which category he falls into (oh, oh, you lie, oh Castiel, do not lie to yourself, you covet the boy so badly you can hardly breathe around it, he’s beautiful and you’re terrible, leave him be, do not think about how he will look on your bed or taste on your tongue), but he is determined to protect Dean from those who would do him harm.

Only, of course, because of what a good thief Dean will be someday.

(Oh, Castiel, do not lie to yourself.)

He shakes his thoughts away as they get to the elevator, irritated with his lack of focus. He pushes the button for the top floor when the doors close. He examines the boys in the reflection, and is not surprised at all to find both of them staring right back at him.

“I own all of the apartments on the top floor,” he says in response to their gazes. “You will be granted one to share. There are three other boys in the crew. They each have their own apartments.” Cas nods to the younger Winchester. “You’ll be granted your own when you come of age, should you choose to stay with us. Until then, I must insist that you live with Dean.”

Dean’s eyes are wide. “Like… A whole apartment?”

“Indeed. You’ll have the one across the hall from my own, as our side of the building has two-bedroom layouts as opposed to the one-bedrooms the rest of the crew require.” And so it will be easier for me to lure you to my own bed and- No! No! Get a hold of yourself!

Luckily, Sam’s excited hazel eyes are enough to distract Castiel from his own treacherous thoughts. “Two bedrooms?!” He smacks Dean on the arm. “Dude!”

“Shut up, Sam,” Dean says hastily, but he softens and smiles at Sam’s raised eyebrows. “Yeah, yeah, it’ll be all right, just don’t piss yourself, princess.”

Sam grins at his big brother, and Castiel feels a strange warmth in his chest as he watches them interact. He tells himself it’s just budding fondness, and that no part of it is envy. Because that would be ridiculous. Because that would mean that he’s envious of Sam and his interactions with Dean, and Castiel doesn’t want any more interactions with Dean.

Lying to yourself.


Castiel clears his throat as the elevator reaches their floor. “The apartment at the very end of our hall is one that we all use. I’ll get you the keys to your apartment now, and keys to the communal space by tomorrow, as they must be made.” He walks into the hall, confident the boys will follow. Hurried footsteps behind him reward his surety.

He goes to the big shared apartment first, unlocking it and sweeping inside ahead of Sam and Dean. The first thing he sees is Benny standing in the big, open kitchen, in front of a pot full of something that smells incredible. The boy turns around and grins, his ice blue eyes crinkling at the corners, his already ridiculously full beard bunching up.

“Heya, boss.”

Castiel nods. “Benny.” He steps in to let Dean and Sam come in behind him. “This is Dean and Sam Winchester.”

Unless one knows Benny very well, one wouldn’t see the way his shoulders tighten infinitesimally, but Castiel does know Benny very well, and it’s obvious to him.

“They joinin’ the crew?”

“Dean will be. It remains to be seen if Sam will do the same. Until then, he will be attending school.”

Benny gives the Winchesters a long, searching look. It’s insolent, but Castiel lets it slide. The crew is less like a band of thieves and more like a family, at least for the boys, despite the fact that it wasn’t necessarily what Castiel intended to do. They are important to him, of course, but the connections they’ve all formed to one another are entirely their own. They are very close knit.

Which is why Benny is sizing them up this way. It’s unusual for Castiel to bring someone back without speaking to his crew first, much less two people.

Sam, as smart as he is, doesn’t seem to have noticed the other boy’s appraisal. He’s looking around the apartment, eyes wide with wonder, drinking in every detail.

Each apartment, even this shared one, is fully furnished with sturdy but high quality furniture. His boys will be less likely to wander, or do something stupid, if they have something nice to come home to, Castiel has found.

He also suspects that young Sam is looking for clues as to what Castiel’s profession is. He won’t find any, but Castiel is glad to see him trying to protect his brother like this, probably the only way he can. Even more probably, the only way Dean will let him. So Sam hasn’t yet noticed Benny’s scrutiny.

Dean, on the other hand, is meeting it head on. He’s looking back coolly, like he has nothing to prove at all. There’s quiet strength and defiance in the way Dean stands there, his one duffel (compared to Sam’s two, don’t think Castiel didn’t notice) over his shoulder. Here, with Sam to protect, be it from physical danger or simple derision, Dean is in his element. There’s no trace of the vulnerability that Castiel knows is beneath on his young (lovely) face.

It’s a few moments before the tension on Benny’s features relaxes into a much more genuine smile. “Well, the more the merrier. Come on in, dinner’s ready.”

Castiel finds himself relaxing, too. He is… Strangely invested in the crew’s acceptance of the Winchesters, and if Benny approves it will smooth much of the way for them. Castiel finds himself wanting this to be as simple a transition as possible for them.

He’s starting to get truly angry with his own inability to be impartial when it comes to these boys (just one boy, really just the one). It’s ridiculous, and if he doesn’t get it under control, it’s going to become problematic. He ruthlessly reins himself in, turning his attention back to the room.

As he does so, he realizes that the silence has gone on just a beat too long. He straightens. “Will the others be home for dinner?” He ignores the quizzical look on Dean’s face, the calculating one on Sam’s, and the damnably knowing twinkle in Benny’s eye.

Mercifully, the Cajun says nothing. “Yessir. Garth’s probably already home, and Kev’s due back from the library any second.”

Dean is sure that what he’s experiencing is culture shock. Because not only is he sitting down at a huge table with a very well home cooked meal in his very full belly, the people sitting at the table with him seem… Happy?

Family dinners at the Winchester household are nothing like this.

Despite the initial visual shakedown, Benny’s good people. There’s kindness in his eyes and in his booming laugh. He seems to be the oldest of the crew, besides Cas, and he’s one hell of a cook. Plus, anyone who feeds Sammy full to bursting like Benny just did is definitely on Dean’s good side. He’s sitting across from Dean, arms crossed and laughing at something that Garth’s said.

Garth is… Well, Garth’s something else. He’s a real happy dude, but it doesn’t seem out of place. Garth’s optimism is a nice complement to Benny’s big, steadying presence and Kevin’s soft-spoken brilliance.

Kevin really is a genius. As soon as introductions were made, he asked Sam what he’d like to study for, and the two of them were off to nerdville. Dean is fiercely glad that there’s someone here who puts Sam at ease.

Then there’s Cas.

Dean is discovering more and more that he has no fucking idea what to make of Castiel. Oh, he’s not regretting his decision at all. He’s just had a few moments to really think, and he has no idea what Cas’ endgame is. What does he actually want with Dean? Sure, as long as he takes care of Sam, it doesn’t really matter what happens to Dean, he’d just like to know what’s in store.

He also isn’t sure if there’s any significance to where he’s sitting, which is directly to Cas’ right. He wouldn’t think anything of it, honestly, but there was a moment when they were sitting down. Benny pointed out the places he wanted Dean and Sam to sit. Dean caught Cas giving Benny an unreadable look, to which Benny just grinned cheekily. Cas sat down stiffly, and though Kevin looked surprised when he came in, he didn’t seem upset at being moved down the table.

Even as the thoughts are circling in his mind, he sees Sam yawn for the third time in ten minutes out of the corner of his eye. When he turns, his little brother is rubbing one of his eyes hard. It makes him look a lot younger than his almost thirteen years.

Dean turns back to Cas to ask about their room, but the older man is already pushing his chair out to stand. “I’m going to show Sam and Dean to their apartment so they can get settled in.”

Garth’s face contorts almost comically. “Oh, man! Y’all should have said something! Y’all must be exhausted!”

Dean smiles at the genuine nature that makes up Garth. “Yeah, I’m a little beat. Sam?”

Sam nods. “I’m pretty tired.”

Castiel is standing and nodding to Benny. “Thank you for cooking.”

Benny nods back, his eyes still twinkling with a shared secret. “No problem, boss.”

Cas scowls, but motions for Dean and Sam to follow him. “If you’ll gather your things and meet me at the front door, I’ll get the keys to your apartment.”

They grab their bags obediently and wait at the front door for Cas. When he joins them, he has two keys in hand, dangling off of simple rings. He hands one to each of them. “These are to your apartment. If you lose them, it’s all right, I’ll just need to know absolutely as soon as possible.”

They nod and follow him out. Dean’s still feeling a little dazed by the whole thing as Cas leads them down the hall. This morning, he woke up thinking about how they were out of eggs and out of money. Now he’s following someone who’s possibly the most attractive human being he’s ever seen to the home that same guy is bankrolling for them so that Dean can work for him and Sam can go to school. He’s also just eaten the first, even abundant, meal that he can remember having in quite a while, maybe years. They’re somewhere that’s presumably safe, warm, and away from their father.

What the everloving fuck?

Cas stops in front of a door and unlocks it with a third set of keys from his pocket. “I’m the only other person who will have a key, which is for safety reasons, nothing else.” He meets each of their gazes individually before he opens the door. “I will, for no reason, enter your domain without your express permission. This space is yours, both of you, and can be utilized however you see fit. Is that clear?”

Dean nods, and Cas opens the door.

The apartment is similar to the one they ate dinner in, but it’s a little bigger. There’s a big living room area, a decent-sized kitchen, the front hall that they’re all currently gathered in, and three doors off of the main rooms.

Cas points to each door in turn. “There’s a bedroom there, the bathroom in the middle, and another bedroom there. There are some dry groceries in the cabinets, but we’ll go to the market tomorrow to get whatever else you need. There are towels for the bathroom and sheets for the beds in the linen closet.” He smiles at each of them. “I will leave you to get settled. Please don’t hesitate to come get me if you need anything.”

Despite his words, he stands next to Dean and watches as Sam excitedly looks around the apartment, his earlier weariness apparently forgotten. He turns back and grins, his hazel eyes shining. “Dude! This is awesome!”

Dean’s heart thuds in his chest as it lifts. It isn’t often he gets to see Sam this uncaringly happy. The kid is zooming around, opening doors, practically bouncing, and something in Dean aches at the sight.

“Cas,” he says softly, still watching his brother. “Can I, uh, see you outside for a second?”

Cas’ eyebrows go up in surprise. “Of course, Dean.”

This is it. He’s going to ask you how you can be such a pervert, of course he’s seen the way you’ve been looking at him, you’re damn near a stalker, he’s going to ask what the hell you-

The door clicking shut behind them interrupts his thoughts, and he gathers himself to look over at the young man standing next to him.

Dean’s chewing on his lip (dear God in heaven, lend me strength), looking down at the ground so Castiel can’t see his eyes. His hands are held behind his back, a bit awkwardly around the duffle bag still slung over his shoulder. He looks, for all intents and purposes, like he’s about to apologize.

There’s a tense silence, then Dean lets out a sharp exhale and rubs the back of his neck. His eyes flick up to Castiel’s. “Sorry, I’m not good at this kinda thing.”

Castiel tilts his head. “What kind of thing is that, exactly?”

Dean takes another deep breath and finally meets Castiel’s eyes head on. “Thank you,” he says, and the only sign of vulnerability is the way his voice wobbles, just a little bit, at the end of the last word.

“Dean, I-“

“No, no, I’m serious, Cas.” Dean casts a fond look at the door. “I can’t… I wouldn’t be able to do this without you, ma- uh, sir.  It’s, uh… I guess I just… It means a lot to me, to look out for Sammy.” Dean’s sweating a little bit (you are not going to lick any part of him), but his eyes are steady as they hold Castiel’s. “I really don’t know how to repay you.”

Castiel’s mind is working a mile a minute, and none of it is virtuous. He has a myriad of things he can think of that Dean can do to pay him back. Any number of positions, of depraved acts, of filthy activities he wants to do with him.

Fortunately (unfortunately), the shadows in Dean’s eyes put a damper on his libido. Dean is experiencing pain over this, over his inability to get a decent apartment and furnish it completely, which is ridiculous. No matter what kinds of things Castiel wants to do with him (all kinds of things), Dean is only sixteen. This shouldn’t be his responsibility.

Quite without his permission, he finds himself laying a hand on the back of Dean’s neck again. It’s tense when he first touches, but he feels the boy relax beneath his touch and has to fight the wave of porn-worthy images before he can speak again.

“Dean,” he puts a bit of force behind his words and squeezes, just a bit. “You don’t have to worry about Sam anymore. I know you will, regardless of what I say, but please understand that I meant it when I told you that I would be taking care of the two of you from now on. The only thing either of you should concern yourselves with going forward is Sam’s studies and your training.”

They gaze at each other for a long few moments, and Castiel has no trouble imagining keeping himself locked onto those green eyes for much, much longer before Dean speaks.

“My training,” he says slowly, “to become a thief.”

Castiel smirks. “No, Dean. Your training to become an excellent thief."

Chapter Text

Waking up the next morning is… Disorienting, to say the least.

Instead of in his dingy apartment, in a room that’s not quite his own, Dean wakes up burrowed in soft sheets, beneath a heavy blanket. His alarm wasn’t set, but habit has him waking up as the sun starts to spill through the window in his bedroom.

His bedroom.

Dean takes a few minutes to wallow in it, wiggling deeper into the covers and thinking about the differences between this morning and the one yesterday. The difference between worrying how he’s going to feed Sam and wondering about what to feed Sam, since they have so much at their disposal. The difference between wondering what he’ll have to do today and wondering what he’ll get to do today. Amazing.

It all comes down to one dark-haired, blue-eyed, totally off-limits thief.

Down boy, he tells his morning wood, which twitches and perks up at the thought of Castiel. As sexy as his savior is (and sweet Jesus), Dean can’t ruin this good thing by thinking with his dick. He can’t trash the chances that Cas has given Sam just because he wants the older man to fuck him until his vision is blurry and his mind is blank. Living up to the accusations that Sam hurled at him before Cas got here yesterday just isn’t an option.

Not that Dean is under the impression that Cas would want him, anyway. Dean’s aware that he’s only sixteen, and that he has nothing to offer Cas, but it’s a nice little fantasy to indulge while he’s still mostly asleep and as comfortable as he can ever remember being.

When his bladder finally takes precedence over laziness, he rolls out of bed and throws on a pair of sleep pants that are so old they’re almost transparent in places and hang low off of his hips. On his way to the bathroom, he bangs his fist on Sam’s bedroom door. “Rise and shine, Sammy!”

There’s an indistinct groan on the other side of the wood. It’s just the first of at least three times Dean will have to try to rouse Sam, so the lack of response doesn’t bother him. He goes to the bathroom, takes care of business, and brushes his teeth quickly. Once done, he goes into the kitchen to start breakfast.

Cas was right on the money when he said yesterday that there are only dry groceries in the apartment so far. But there’s coffee, which is essential, and there’s a box of muffins from a local bakery that are about the size of Dean’s head, so at least Sam will be fed.

He starts the coffee brewing in the coffee maker (which is loads nicer and about ten years newer than the one they have at the old place), making it strong enough so the smell wafts through the apartment. He also sticks a couple of the muffins in the microwave for a few seconds to warm them up before going to bang on Sam’s door again. “Sam!”


“Right.” Satisfied that Sam is slowly pulling himself from the depths of sleep, Dean moves into the living room. There’s a little loveseat and a couple of chairs in here, as well as a low coffee table in the middle, on which rest a couple of remotes. Dean turns the TV on and switches the channel to a news station. It’s something he vaguely remembers his mother doing before she died, watching the news while she got ready to greet the day. Dean started doing it around the time John checked out as a father, and now it’s as deeply ingrained in his morning routine as the coffee is.

So he keeps an idle ear on the TV, listening to the newscaster’s drone while he pours himself a cup of coffee and pulls the muffins out to put them on plates. He brings everything back to the living room, arranges it all on the coffee table, then goes to bang on Sam’s door again.

“Sam! Last time! Ass outta bed, kid!”

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Sam grumbles, and Dean grins.

The younger man comes out in a t-shirt that’s too small and pants that are too short, another reminder that he needs new clothes soon. His hair seems to be sticking straight up from his head, making Dean laugh as he pours Sam a cup of coffee and dumps a few spoonfuls of sugar into it. “Lookin’ good, kiddo,” he chuckles as he hands over the mug.

Sam squint-glares at him. “Shut up, jerk.”

“Bitch,” Dean returns automatically as they both move to the living room. Sam’s eyes light up at the sight of the muffins, and he begins to devour it as soon as his butt hits the couch.

Dean waits to see if Sam will want another one before he eats his, purely so he won’t have to get up again before he’s ready. It’s for naught, because as soon as Sam starts eyeing the second muffin predatorily, there’s soft knock on the front door.

Dean pulls himself to his feet, leaving his coffee cup on the table with a sigh. He stretches as he walks to the door, reveling in the feeling of having gotten a good night’s sleep. It’s not something that happens very often in Dean’s world.

He takes a look through the peephole before unlocking the door, because he’s not an idiot.  When he sees wild black hair and a white dress shirt, he doesn’t hesitate to pull the chain and open the door eagerly.

As soon as Cas’ eyes land on him, Dean remembers that he’s shirtless, his own hair is still a mess, and the pants he’s wearing are only staying up by the grace of God.

Smooth, Winchester.

Dean Winchester is trying to kill him. It’s the only explanation Castiel can come up with on the spot, and he’s rather impressed with himself for coming up with even that much in the face of a very rumpled, very shirtless (read: half-naked, dear God he’s half-naked) Dean. He had hoped, in what he now knows was in vain, that sleep would lessen the effect that the teenager has on him.

This is not the case.

The expanse of flesh available to Castiel’s eyes should be more illegal than anything he’s ever done in his life. Dean’s chest is all tan skin, trim waist, broad shoulders, pink nipples, and smooth. He’s going to be devastating once he fills out, as if he’s not bad enough for Castiel’s peace of mind now. There’s a pair of threadbare sweats hanging off of those lovely hips, and Castiel wants to mark the skin up there, leave dark marks along the boy’s waist, lay claim to him visibly.

He takes all of this in in the space of just a moment before he looks into Dean’s eyes. Once his gaze is settled on the younger man’s face, Castiel feels a bit more like he has control of himself.

Until he sees the lovely blush that blooms high on Dean’s cheeks, slowly travelling down his neck.

“Uh… Mornin’, Cas,” Dean says shyly, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Good morning, Dean.” Dear God, when did his voice get that low? Is it always like that? The way Dean’s eyes widen fractionally indicate that it is not. “I hope you and Sam have settled in satisfactorily.”

“Oh, uh, yeah. The place is real nice. Thank you. Again.” Though Dean is stuttering a bit, earnest sincerity is shining in his eyes.

Yes, the only explanation is that Dean is trying to kill him.

Castiel clears his throat. “You’re very welcome, Dean. I was wondering when the two of you will be ready to go grocery shopping?” Thinking of how thin the pants that Dean has on are, “We’ll get the both of you clothes, too, if you don’t mind doing it all in one day.”

Dean frowns. “Clothes?”

Ah. Castiel tries to be delicate here. “One of the reasons we’re able to live here and do our work uninhibited is because we blend in. Which means that we have to dress a certain way, at a certain… Level of quality, if you will, so that we don’t stick out. I’ll need you and Sam to do the same.”

The frown is deepening on Dean’s face. “Uh, I mean, you’ll have to give me a few days to come up with the money for new duds. It looks like it might rain today, I can hit the stre-“ A deeper red blush stains Dean’s face. “I mean, I can come up with the cash if you give me some time.”

Something hot and angry twists in Castiel’s stomach, though he’s careful to make sure nothing of the sort shows on his face. He knows that Dean is planning on prostituting himself for money, and he knows it’s none of his business, but it infuriates him, though for a different reason than it did yesterday.

Yesterday, it was possessiveness, plain and simple. Castiel wants to be the only one who has access to Dean’s body, the only one Dean is writhing in pleasure under. He wants him moaning Castiel’s name and begging for any number of delicious activities while Castiel and Castiel alone teases him.

It has been, however, one hell of a few hours.

Now, standing here looking at Dean, who’s still sleep rumpled and warm, it’s protectiveness that makes Castiel burn in fury. How dare their father leave Dean to this? What person in their right mind could look at Dean and not see someone who needs to be protected, someone who needs to be cherished? It is so incredibly obvious to Castiel that Dean is special, it baffles him that anyone could treat him so callously.

He reaches out to hold the back of Dean’s neck again (this is becoming a habit stop it right now), his fingers brushing the tips of Dean’s as the boy puts his own hand down at his side. He aches to press his forehead to Dean’s, to get up in his space, to breathe the same air the boy is, but he holds himself back. Inappropriate, uncalled for, you shouldn’t be touching him at all, you pervert.

“Little one,” he says firmly, and he does take one small step closer to Dean, a compromise between what is right and the urge to sweep Dean into his arms. “I cannot tell you what to do with the time you are not training with me. If that… Profession is something you’d like to continue to pursue, I will not stand in your way. However, you and your brother are my charges now, and it is my responsibility alone to provide the two of you with whatever you may need. If you feel that you must, for whatever reason, seek out money on your own, I won’t lift a finger to stop you.” He smiles a bit, watches Dean’s green eyes go wider and wider. “However, today you start training for a much more lucrative profession, and I hope it will make it unnecessary to continue the other.” Castiel has to force the next words out, because he is so uncharacteristically uncertain that he will be able to keep his emotions hidden. “Please,” he says softly. “Let me take care of you, Dean.”

The silence stretches between them for a few incredibly long moments. Dean’s eyes are flashing with emotion, making no attempt to hide the way he’s feeling. Surprise, suspicion, awe, and gratitude shine in those green eyes, and it makes Castiel want to fall to his knees and beg Dean to let him touch him, to let Castiel take him, have him.

The boy is driving me insane.

When Dean speaks, it’s soft, almost like a secret, and the words hit Castiel square in the heart.

“Okay… I mean, yeah. Uh…” Dean takes a deep breath. “Yes, sir.”

Dear God.

Okay, Cas is trying to kill him. Dean doesn’t know why, but it’s the only thing that makes sense.

First, it was that… Moment they had at Dean’s front door, which will still turn his insides into mush if he thinks about the way Cas looked at him, the feel of Cas’ fingers against his own.

Then there was clothes shopping. During which, Dean followed Sam around to make sure everything fit, even made sure that everything was a little too bit so that Sam has room to grow into them. While Dean was doing that, Cas was following him, making sure that, piece for piece, Dean got just as many clothes as Sam did. It was… Unnerving. Dean’s used to just wearing whatever he can get his hands on. He’s never had to worry about color or fabric or fit, not for himself, anyway.

But there was Cas, making sure that Dean’s clothes hugged him the right way, or commenting that a dark green Henley brought out the green in his eyes, or suggesting that Dean look at getting himself a new leather jacket. Dean protested a lot of the purchases Cas made, especially the jacket, but Cas just ignored his objections and decked Dean out like a king. As uncomfortable as it made him, there’s a pit of warmth in Dean’s stomach that won’t go away no matter how much he tells himself that Cas does this for all of his “charges.”

After they hauled all of the clothes back to Cas’ car (and the amount of bags that are his simultaneously boggle Dean’s mind and make him blush profusely), the older man suggested they go to lunch before they grocery shop. Dean was worried, because Sam is a damn garbage disposal these days, and Cas took them to a mid-range restaurant, which usually translates to “completely out of Dean’s range.” Cas didn’t bat an eye, though, when Sam basically inhaled twice as much food as he or Dean did, he just slipped a credit card into the little leather folder that the waitress left on the table, and from what Dean managed to peek at, left her with a generous tip.

Now they’re in a farmer’s market, which is like Sam’s wet dream. Cas gave Sam a wad of cash and said, in that serious voice of his, “I trust your judgment, Sam.” Which, in Cas speak (which Dean is quickly becoming fluent in) means, “Go crazy, kid.” So Sam’s darting from booth to booth, trying to look discerning as he selects fruits and vegetables to buy. Dean thinks the kid’s probably mostly full of shit, but he looks so happy that Dean just shoves his hands into the pockets of his new leather coat and walks next to Cas as they follow at a much more leisurely pace.

“He seems… Excited.”

Dean chuckles. “Yeah, he probably is. He’s kind of a health freak. They made him take this nutrition class last year and he started in on me about ‘we don’t eat enough vegetables, Dean’ and ‘we should go for runs, Dean.’” Dean drops his voice down from the falsetto he was using to imitate Sam and scoffs. “Like I had time to go for runs even if I did I want to, which I didn’t, because I love myself. And the eating better thing…” He shrugs. “Dunno, that shit’s expensive. I mean, I did what I could when I had the money, but I just… Couldn’t always get the stuff Sam wanted.”

He sees Cas stiffen up subtly out of the corner of his eye, and Dean immediately begins to berate himself. Dammit. He doesn’t want Cas to pity he and Sam. Yeah, it was bad, but Dean’s kind of proud of the way he got them through it. Maybe he did some shady things, but Sam never had to do a damn thing, and the kid was always fed and clothed, even if he wasn’t eating “farm fresh vegetables” or wearing name brand clothes.

Before he can work himself up into indignation, however, Cas speaks.

“Dean,” he says, his rumbly voice low so it doesn’t carry, “I haven’t said it yet, but what you have done for your brother is exceptionally admirable. There are not many people in the world who would so thoroughly put their own interests aside to care for another. It’s remarkable.”

He just knows that his face is glowing bright red. “It’s nothing,” he says softly.

Cas just hums. “It’s clearly not.”

And while they follow Sam around as he becomes more and more weighed down with bags and packages, if maybe Dean walks a little closer to Cas so that their shoulders brush and bump against each other… Well, maybe Dean’s all right with that.

Castiel knows that he’s going to hell for the way he thinks of Dean, and after just twenty-four hours of knowing the boy, he also knows that he’s all right with that.

He knows, he knows that he acted inappropriately at the clothing store. Maybe Dean didn’t notice, being as flustered as the teenager was at having any attention at all directed at him, but Castiel knew he was going overboard, and from the knowing looks the shop assistant was shooting him, he was being transparent. Luckily, Sam and Dean were too distracted to see anything amiss.

It is impossible, though, to ignore the way clothes look on Dean. It would have taken a stronger man than Castiel is to not want to drape Dean in good fabrics in shades that show off Dean’s own glorious coloring. He never stood a chance.

Now, as he strides to the shared apartment to join the crew for Dean’s first day of training, he wonders if he will ever stand a chance against Dean.

When he gets to the apartment and opens the door, Dean is already there in the kitchen with Benny. Castiel can’t help but notice that Dean is wearing clothes he got today, a dark pair of jeans and a black Henley. The sleeves are pushed up, where his arms are crossed against his chest, and he’s laughing at something that Benny’s said. It speaks to the long practice Castiel has had making sure his emotions don’t dictate his actions that he doesn’t stumble and fall flat on his face at the sight.

Garth is sitting on the couch in the living room, his nose buried in a comic book. Upon Castiel’s arrival, he looks up and grins. “Heya, boss,” he says easily.

“Hello, Garth.” At the sound of his voice, Benny and Dean turn to look at him. Castiel gives them a perfunctory nod. “Dean. Benny.”

“What’s up?” Benny asks.

“I believe it’s time to begin Dean’s training.”

Garth hops to his feet. “I’ll start up Jeff.”

Benny heads toward the door. “I’ll go get Kevin.”

Dean is frowning as the other boys flee the room. “Who the hell is Jeff?”

Castiel chuckles. “You’ll see.”

They watch in silence as Garth goes to each room of the shared apartment and pulls what looks like random pieces of abstract art from the walls and into the living room. Once he has all of the pieces there, he begins to assemble them, clicking them into place next to one another. After a few minutes, and after Kevin and Benny have joined them and are also watching Garth work, a mannequin with a blank face, about as tall as Castiel himself, is standing in the living room, facing them.

“Holy shit,” Dean says softly, eyebrows raised.

Kevin has a bundle of clothes in his arms, and with Garth’s help, they dress the mannequin quickly in boxers, a pair of slacks, a button-up shirt, and a zip-up hoodie. He also has a hat on, which does nothing for Castiel’s purposes, but it seems to amuse Garth and Benny, so he lets it slide.

“Dean,” Kevin says proudly. “This is Jeff.”

“And Jeff is the mark,” Garth says, holding his hand out to Castiel.

From his pocket, Castiel produces a long strand of string with bells tied on at seemingly random intervals. He hands it to Garth, who begins winding the string around Jeff strategically, the way Castiel showed him months and months ago.

Once he’s wrapped, Jeff looks like a normal mannequin, who happens to also be covered in string.

Dean’s green eyes are sharp with interest, and there’s a subtle tension in his spine that Castiel knows well. It’s hunger.

Oh, yes, you will be amazing.

“Jeff has a wallet in his front right pocket, one in his back pocket, and one in the left pocket of his hoodie,” Castiel says seriously. “Your job is to take one of these. Any of them, for now, it’s your choice. There’s only one caveat, which I’m sure you can guess.”

“Gonna go out on a limb and say it’s ‘don’t ring the bell,’” Dean says dryly.

“Very good.” Castiel nods to Kevin. “A demonstration, please.”

Kevin nods and starts at the other end of the room. He meanders forward, pulling his phone out of his pocket, looking for all the world like a normal teenager, and not one of the most gifted pickpockets Castiel has ever had the pleasure of watching work. He comes to stand next to Jeff, eyes still on his phone. There’s seemingly no action, then Kevin walks away, as if he was waiting at a crosswalk and just got the signal that he could go.

Now, of course, he drops character, grins smugly, and waves the wallet he took from Jeff’s pocket.

Castiel smiles back. “Well done, Kevin.”

“Holy shit,” Dean says again, suitably impressed.

“Indeed.” Castiel waves his hand. “Now, Dean, I’d like you to attempt to do the same.”

There is no declaration of surprise, or protest that he doesn’t want to train in front of the rest of the boys. Dean just nods, that glint in his eyes, and takes his position where Kevin started.

It’s clear from the beginning that he’s tense, too wired to be successful. There’s a sort of nervous energy floating around him, but he’s also determined, steady in his desire to prove himself. He stands next to Jeff, one hand casually in his pocket, the other tapping his thigh in a random staccato. Castile sees his hand move toward the mannequin’s pocket, but Dean is fast as he takes the wallet. Unbelievably fast. How the hell did Castiel feel him in his own coat pocket before Dean got away yesterday? You’re going to be better than I am, even. Regardless of how fast he is, four bells ring.

Four bells.

Only four bells.

The reason the mannequin, the clothes, the string, and the bells are set up the way they are is deliberate and well thought out. It’s Castiel’s own design, built to let the bells ring at the slightest movement, the slightest provocation. It builds skill, it makes the practice tense enough to pay attention, but the sound is light enough that it doesn’t induce panic. It took him a year to perfect it, and when he showed it to Cain, he was well rewarded.

So the fact that Dean set only four bells off on his first try is making Castiel’s head spin with possibilities. Dear Christ, he isn’t going to be good, he’s going to be great. Castiel knew, of course, he has these instincts for a reason, but for the first time, he thinks that maybe he won’t be the best person to train Dean.

“Dammit.” The spat word brings him from his reverie enough to see Dean frowning down at the wallet in his hand.

“That was amazing,” Benny says with feeling.

Dean looks up and frowns at the Cajun. “But… I mean, the bells rang.”

“Only four,” Garth is ever cheerful. “That’s still less than I ring when I practice with Jeff.”

Kevin is nodding. “That’s true. That was really impressive, Dean.”

Dean turns a calculating eye onto the mannequin. “Yeah,” he says, clearly distracted. “Yeah.”

And here, here is why Castiel should be training Dean. Dean needs reassurance. Dean does not believe he is good enough, or that he will be good enough. Dean needs someone he trusts to say the words.

“It was well done,” he says simply.

Green eyes snap up to his own, and a genuine smile graces Dean’s lovely face, and Castiel is doomed.

“Thanks, sir.”

The same abstract art that makes up Jeff is featured in each apartment on the floor that Castiel owns. Once Garth shows him how to disassemble and reassemble the mannequin, Dean seems to settle into his own thoughts. He listens to the rule about the mannequin not being assembled after he goes to bed (if the only incriminating evidence is art on the walls, the police can’t claim anything untoward is happening), then quietly helps Benny with dinner for the team. When Sam gets back from school, he and Kevin go to the end of the table and start talking about something that Castiel cannot for the life of him follow.

Dean is soft-spoken all through dinner.

That night, Castiel goes to sleep to the faint sound of bells ringing over and over again, late into the night.