“You didn't tell me it was going to smell like mothballs.”
Bela wrinkles her nose as she wafts the amber vial beneath it.
“I'm trying to persuade an old lady, not smell like one.”
Castiel leans across the sales counter, his forearms pressing cool against the glass. It's going to be a warm day, what his mother would have called an Indian summer. He can smell the humidity seeping in under the door.
“The camphor won't linger, I promise.”
Castiel lowers his eyes demurely, softly clearing his throat. This is always an inexplicably delicate subject.
“Besides, you'll be starting your mens-”
“God, enough.” Bela holds up her hand and shakes her head before Castiel can continue.
“I don't even want to know how you keep track of that.”
Castiel learned long ago that it's better to remain mysterious about his talents. He inhales, cataloguing a wealth of information about Bela Talbot. Her progesterone levels are teetering on the peak of a nose dive, she's wearing very expensive men's deodorant and she drank at least three glasses of mid-range champagne last night.
Bela sighs at his impassive expression and places the small vial on the counter with a pointed clink.
She pulls out a sleek black AmEx, her perfectly-manicured fingers skirting around the edges as she taps it against the counter.
“How much is this going to run me?”
Castiel quirks an eyebrow and gives her a level stare. That isn't Bela's name on her credit card any more than Bela's name is really Bela, and Castiel can't abide haggling.
“You're right, I don't want to know.” She rolls her eyes and hands over the card.
The four-figure amount Castiel runs through his credit-card machine will go a long way towards defraying the long-overdue utility bills piled up on his desk. He folds the receipt neatly and tucks it into a small shopping bag, nestling it in between four tissue-wrapped 10 mL light proof amber glass vials.
“Remember, don't let it sit in direct sunlight, and keep it away from high humidity.”
“Yes, yes, I know.” Bela dangles the shopping bag from her wrist. “I'm not worried about excessive sunlight in a half-ruined mansion in Maine.” She wrinkles her top lip at the state's name. Castiel knows Bela prefers warmer climes.
“Although I doubt the old bat has air-conditioning.”
There are some people who would balk at doing business with a professional swindler. Bela lies, steals and cheats her way through life, a fact Castiel would know by the scent of insincerity that curls out from her designer clothes with every move she makes. He's been masking that scent for years.
“You can put them in a ziploc bag with some rice to keep the salt air out.”
Bela tilts her head and gives him a small smile.
“You think of everything, don't you?”
Castiel thinks of the old widow tottering her way toward death in a dilapidated mansion in coastal Maine. Bela will appear to her like a guardian angel, the long-lost niece who came all the way from the Cotswalds to care for her dying aunt. Something about her will remind the old woman of the tousle-haired child she'd met when she could walk with dignity, when every stair in her home wasn't a treacherous minefield and every press of the doorbell wasn't the threat of some snooping social worker.
She will trust Bela instantly, clasping her smooth, subtly-scented hand in her own gnarled one, marveling that she used to look like this, young and beautiful, and perhaps she'll even see some of herself in Bela's open, sweet expression. She will close her eyes briefly, inhaling and knowing that this girl, this good girl who came all this way and hasn't forgotten her like the others, this girl deserves to inherit everything.
“We're all professionals here.” Castiel smiles and tucks his thin yellow copy of Bela's receipt into his drawer.
Bela will use his work to swindle an old woman. But an old woman will die feeling that she isn't alone, warmed by the small kernel of hope that there's still some love and kindness in the world. Some people would object to taking money from someone like Bela, but Castiel is pragmatic above all else and at the end of the day, it is his great burden and his gift that no one can truly lie to him.
Bela is a thief, yes, but she isn't cruel and in the off moments when she isn't trying to blind him with her wit and dazzling smile, he knows that she was given no other choice in life. Her grief smells like the hollow left behind when a stone is plucked from its place in a stream, the rough edges softening with time but the ache never truly filled.
She gives him two wispy faux-kisses on his cheeks and leaves with an air of hungry excitement, her usual surge of adrenaline right before she starts a new scheme. Castiel lets some of it seep into him, allowing his own excitement to rise in him. He can close the shop for the rest of the day and work on his own schemes.
Castiel's shop looks like any number of standard tourist attractions from the outside. A witch perches on a broomstick, the stars trailing behind her coalescing around a gaudy font that reads “Milton's Magical Emporium”. Castiel hadn't had a thing to do with the logo design, just like he couldn't care less about the bric-a-brac and tacky cat statues that lined the front shelves of the shop.
Magic shops are a dime a dozen in Salem. Castiel sells the same figurines and useless books and gemstones as the others, and as Gabe loves to remind him, it's this “crap” that pays their property taxes and keeps the lights on.
Castiel isn't immune to the need for money, of course. His supplies certainly aren't free, as anyone who has ever purchased an ounce of pure ambergris can attest. But Castiel still resents the time that running the shop takes away from his own work.
He passes by the packed shelf of potion jars and the laden rack of velvet capes, hooded and non, to turn the “Open” sign on the door over. He locks the door and smiles.
Castiel lives on the top floor of this building, but his true home is behind the shop. He grabs his jacket from the hook by the back door and turns his collar up. Fall is just rolling in, with the sweet, crisp scent of deciduous maturation in the air. Castiel will never understand why every coffeeshop, candle store and bakery in town conspire to ruin it with pumpkin-spice everything.
The afternoon light filters softly through the matched set of maples that shade their backyard, speckling the gravel walkway with shadows. Castiel has sold enough beauty potions to fill a swimming pool, and none of them will ever capture the everyday magic that Castiel feels when he pauses before his greenhouse.
It's nothing spectacular, really. There are spider-cracks running down some of the glass panes, and the rust that dapples the iron framework isn't the pretty, rustic kind of the decay that all the design magazines seem to love. Castiel built the attached wooden work shed himself, and it looks like it was built by someone who's better with his nose than with heavy tools. Castiel has no illusions about his design skills.
The door creaks softly as Castiel pulls it open. He should technically have a lock on it, considering the sheer volume of poisonous things flourishing inside, but Gabe swears the stench alone is better than a bank vault door. His brother is given to hyperbole at the best of times, but Castiel knows he isn't exaggerating.
Warm air greets him as he steps inside. Castiel stands still for a full minute, his body motionless while he basks in the riot of scent curling around him. It's a cacophony for him, each thread of flower and herb scent vying for his attention before they weave together into the healthy, vibrant hum of his greenhouse. Like a person is composed of thousands of subtle scents, his garden coalesces into one being and Castiel smiles. It is thriving.
He hangs his jacket on a peg and strips down to his ribbed undershirt, stretching his arms over his head. Being stuck at the counter all day makes him feel stiff. He twists from side to side, feeling his muscles warm up in the trapped heat. He turns his face up towards the sun, like so many of his plants.
Being sessile and silent, plants communicate through signaling molecules that closely resemble human hormones. These tiny tangles of elements tell them when their neighbors are thirsty, when insects are attacking and disease has infested. Auxins to bend toward the light and gibberellins to burst from seed to plant, a library of signals and signs that connect community to soil. It is a language of silence and scent, and Castiel was born with the mixed blessing of its fluency.
He opens the hose and waters anything that is thirsty, misting gently as he catalogues his plants. Valerian and wormwood, basil and bladderwrack all flourish in here. Castiel trims and prunes where he needs to, small sacrifices for the greater good of the plant. He begrudgingly sets aside the herbs that will be dried and bundled for the shop, common and pleasant-smelling things that teenagers will giggle at and buy for their sweethearts.
Humming softly to himself, Castiel bends at the waist and rests his nose an inch above a cluster of vibrant blue. His hyssop will be ready to harvest in another day or so.
The day fades away as Castiel repots a growing foxglove and rotates a tired-looking succulent. It's easy to lose track of time in here, alone with his thoughts and the familiar scents around him.
A small dinging noise pulls Castiel back to reality. The Peapod Grocery icon on his phone informs him that his grocery order is on the way, and Castiel has to double-check that it's really five o'clock. Keeping time has never been one of his strong suits.
This week's groceries will need to be refrigerated, so Castiel wipes his hands off on a towel and heads out to meet the delivery woman by the side door. She's the same woman who drops Castiel's groceries off every week and Castiel waves a hello.
“Here you are, Mr. Milton.” Jo sets down the last box and hands him the delivery slip to sign. “Having a barbecue this weekend?”
Castiel smiles noncommittally. He'd stocked up on ground beef because it was on sale, and he likes hamburgers. The few friends he has could barely fill his kitchen table, let alone a backyard cookout. Castiel knows Jo means well, and he likes her.
“How's school going, Jo?” Castiel deflects as he hands the paper back to her.
“Big anatomy test coming up.” Jo rolls her eyes and shrugs, one tattooed arm rising up. “And there's a big tattoo convention this weekend that I'm probably gonna miss because of it.”
Jo somehow managed to juggle nursing school, a full-time job and what Castiel had gleaned was some kind of tattoo apprenticeship. He's not positive that she sleeps very often. She also has type I diabetes mellitus, not that she's ever mentioned it and not that Castiel would mention that he can smell the absence of normal insulin levels and the glucose that her kidneys fail to reabsorb. He'd learned to keep his mouth shut about things like that a long time ago.
“It's like, does every single body part have to have some crazy name?” She sighs and shakes her head.
“Scientists are often purposefully obtuse,” Castiel commiserates, thinking of the Doctorate hanging on his wall. “I think it's a form of class warfare.”
Jo gives him a familiar look, somewhere between fond and puzzled. It's a common expression. Castiel has no illusions about his oddness.
“Good luck studying, Jo.” Castiel picks up the first box of groceries as Jo waves goodbye and walks briskly down the side alley.
The box is cool to the touch from the refrigerated truck and Castiel notices how hungry he is. There are some nice steaks in there, and maybe he could make a béarnaise...
Gabriel alights from the steps and crosses his arms over his chest, effectively blocking Castiel's way.
“I have to put my groceries away, Gabe.” Castiel hefts his box of meat and dairy pointedly.
“Not until we talk about the furnace.” Gabriel waggles his eyebrows in answer to Castiel's glare and grabs Castiel's box.
“What's for dinner?”
“Groupon, get it?” Gabriel chews noisily on his second helping of steak. “Like a group coupon.”
“I understand the portmanteau.” Castiel slides a chunk of rare meat through his excellent béarnaise, watching the red juice swirl into the white sauce. “I just don't see how giving things away at less than cost will help us make money.”
“Repeat business,” Gabriel exclaims, waving his fork for emphasis. “Kali's friend did it for her Piloxing studio and she got a bunch of new annual memberships.”
Gabriel pauses at Castiel's confused face.
“Pilates and boxing.”
Castiel nods and silently wonders why everything has to be a new word instead of two perfectly good words that already exist.
“See, if we give people some custom-made perfume for super cheap, they'll love it and then they'll come back and buy more.” Gabriel nods, satisfied with his logic. “Unless you have some better way to raise four grand.”
Castiel takes a contemplative bite. Their furnace has been limping by for the past few years.
“You know that thing's not gonna make it another season.” Gabriel pulls a serious face and leans forward. “Winter is coming, Castiel.”
“Of course winter is coming, it's fall. Winter is generally the next step.”
“It's from … nevermind.” Gabriel scrubs a hand over his face. “Just think about it, OK? I'll handle the listing and all that.”
Castiel sighs and clears the plates. He and Gabe had inherited the house when their mother had passed away ten years ago. Anna technically owns a third of it, but she's off teaching yoga in Berkeley with no sign of coming back. Castiel knows he is tremendously lucky to own his home outright, even if he shares it with Gabe, but heating a drafty New England townhouse and keeping the roof from caving in is no small feat.
“And since you'll be spending more time smelling BO or whatever it is you do,” Gabriel continues, ignoring Castiel's pointed glare. “I'll spend more time working the counter while the babes come running in.”
Maybe this is a better idea than Castiel thought.
“Fine.” Castiel sinks down into his chair, steepling his hands together. He runs the sides of his index fingers along his lip, considering the prospect of less time selling moon rocks and more time in his work shed. “I'll do it.”
“Maybe we'll get some cute guys for you, who knows.” Gabriel purses his lips into a kissy-face and narrowly dodges the napkin that Castiel throws at him.
“So you know, like, something with magnolia. And jasmine. And maybe orchid, yeah.” The lanky blonde takes a sip of her pumpkin spice latte and narrows her eyes. “But not, like, too floral, you know?”
Castiel's jaw tics as he smoothes out the crumpled print-out. He has processed a dozen Groupons for custom perfume and has mixed ten versions of “warm vanilla cinnamon sugar cupcake” and he isn't sure if he wants to strangle Gabe or drown him.
“Something fresh, perhaps?” Castiel eyes her floor-length dress and whimsical headband. She seems like the kind of person who wants people to describe her as fairy-like.
Her eyes light up at the magic “F” word.
“Yeah, exactly!” She smiles and nods.
“You can come pick it up in a week.”
Castiel waits until she leaves to jot down a formula that contains absolutely no magnolia, jasmine or orchid. This woman will need petitgrain and galbanum and a touch of aldehyde to achieve the free-spirit ideal she's crafted for herself.
To be fair, Gabriel has been keeping up his end of the bargain. This is Castiel's first day working the counter in a week. The Groupon orders had rolled in with a vengeance, and even mixing dull, unimaginative perfumes is better than watching tourists decide which crone statue their eccentric sister will like better. The money certainly puts a brighter glint on things.
What people think they want to smell like and what they are actually capable of smelling like are two vastly different things. Joshua had taught him early that the customer is almost always wrong. One woman's white musk can easily morph into another's old hamper smell. A perfume doesn't truly exist until it mingles with its owner's unique chemistry.
For half his life, Castiel had wondered why other people couldn't sense the things he could. The bitter tang of anxious sweat, the acrid pall of depression and the sharp, tannic bite of arousal – these and a million other things assaulted him on a daily basis, flooding his mind with an endless barrage of signals he had no language for. Crowded spaces overwhelmed him and close contact filled his mouth with the dry taste of panic.
The worst had been his mother. She'd tried, sending him to specialists and attending endless parent-teacher conferences.
It had been Joshua who had saved him, really.
Castiel looks down at the notes he'd scribbled. He's going to need more lemon verbena and another ounce of civet musk, not that most people can tell the difference between the synthetic stuff and the authentic oil. But Castiel can and even keeping the cheaper imitations around made him wrinkle his nose.
His face is still taut with mild disgust when the door chime rings. He's almost managed to smooth it into something that Gabe would deem welcoming as he looks up.
“Uh, hi there.”
Framed perfectly by a matched set of hanging broomsticks is the handsomest man Castiel has ever seen. He pauses at the door and looks around, a wry smile on his lips as he surveys the wares crammed onto the shelves. Castiel feels a sudden and tremendous embarrassment that he's associated with the plethora of wart-faced knick-knacks surrounding them.
“Hello.” Castiel straightens up on his stool, wishing he'd smoothed his hair down before this man had arrived. To do it now would make him look nervous, or absent-minded or something other than cool and composed and ruggedly attractive.
“Hey.” The man steps inside, letting the door close with the soft clink of several pentagram-shaped dreamcatchers of decidedly factory origin.
“So, I'm here about the Groupon?”
He pulls a neatly-folded sheet of paper from the inside of his leather jacket. The lining looks like it's been repaired several times and Castiel knows the leather will be wonderfully soft to the touch.
“Yes, of course.” Castiel slides off his stool, smoothing down the front of his shirt and clearing his throat.
“Are you looking for something for yourself?” Castiel turns his notepad to a new sheet of paper and carefully lays his pen next to it, trying not to fidget or fuss too much.
The man takes one last look around the store, and if he weren't so afraid of mockery Castiel would be lost in how utterly charming his chagrined smile is. He blinks a few times and smiles even wider as he approaches the counter.
“No, it's a gift.” His eyes linger on the small wolf statue atop the register before he looks down at Castiel, which doesn't do anything to keep Castiel from fidgeting. At six feet tall Castiel is used to being the giant of his family, a fact he mercilessly taunts his older brother with. It's a nice change to look up at someone, especially when he looks like GQ did a special issue on working-class hunks.
“For a girlfriend?” Castiel glances down at the man's hands and notes the simple band on his finger. “Or, excuse me, for your wife?”
“It's for my husband.” The man rolls the word off his tongue slowly, like a micro-challenge that he's used to fighting.
“I'm sure we can make something lovely for him.” Castiel's face fights a war between “welcome one and all and didn't you see the pride flag wedged in between the moon-phase tapestries” and “what exactly are your feelings on extra-marital affairs with eccentric tchotchke shop owners?”
“Cool.” The man's face relaxes and the corners of his eyes crinkle up as he smiles.
Castiel leans onto the counter, crossing his wrists and rocking up on his toes. He's allowed to fidget a little.
“So, uh, Sam, that's my husband,” the man continues, and Castiel is deeply ashamed of the envy that sweeps over him when the man's face lights up at just the mention of this Sam's name. “I'm Dean, by the way. Dean Smith.”
Dean narrows his eyes.
“Your parents religious types or something?”
Castiel tilts his head, drumming his fingers over the counter.
“My father was, yes.” He quirks an eyebrow. “My brother and I are named after angels.”
“And now you work in a magic, witch-stuff … place.” Dean waves his hand at the shop and snorts softly.
“It was my brother's idea.” Castiel has never been so happy to place the blame on Gabriel's shoulders. “Tourists come to Salem for the witches, right?”
“Right.” Dean's eyes look far away for a second before he blinks, the smile-crinkles returning to his eyes. Castiel would like to touch them.
“Anyway, Sam.” Dean leans an elbow against the counter. “He loves all this scented, girly stuff, you know? But half the time it gives him these horrible headaches or his skin gets all blotchy. I've probably bought the guy half a dozen things of cologne and I've had to get rid of all of them.”
“He's probably allergic to cyclomethicone.”
“Oh no, he loves roller coasters.” Dean's face is absolutely serious.
“No, cyclo...” Castiel blinks as Dean's face breaks into a grin.
“Ah.” Castiel feels slow for not getting the joke.
“Yeah, that's not true either, he doesn't really like roller coasters. But cyclometh-whatever, that sounds bad. And chemical.” Dean furrows his brow. “And like it has meth in the title, why would anyone use that?”
“Oh, it doesn't have anything in common with methamphetamine.” Castiel perks up.
“It's a cyclic silicon solvent with ...” Castiel catches himself before Dean's eyes start to glaze over. “It's a base. Many people say it causes migraines.”
“So you don't use that?”
“Never.” Castiel straightens up, mildly offended at the suggestion. “I use a custom-blended oil base. I grow the meadowfoam myself.”
Dean blinks before a slow smile spreads across his face.
“Cool.” He lays a finger on the printed coupon, giving Castiel another opportunity to examine his wedding ring. It's plain to say the least, with only a small groove down the middle for embellishment, and there's a small dent near the edge that catches Castiel's eye. Perhaps Dean inherited it, or maybe it's an old keepsake from Sam's family.
“So it says here that you needed a, uh, personal item.”
Castiel manages to look up before Dean catches him staring at his ring. Dean's skin will be paler beneath it, guarded from the sun.
“Yes.” Castiel's smile is a little too professional but it distracts him from wondering what the unique tang of Dean's fingers would taste like if he traced his tongue over that ring. “Did you bring something of, what was it, Sam's?”
Dean reaches into his jacket, patting around in the inside pocket and Castiel feels that frisson of envy again. Dean probably didn't think anything of it, but Castiel has spent a lifetime teaching himself the elusive text of body language. Dean keeps everything of his husband's close to his heart.
“Ah, here it is.” He produces a small piece of leather, shaped like a tear-drop with a time-worn tear through the top loop. Crude stitching holds it together at the seams, the thread dark with age. Stamped slightly off-center and burnished with years of gently-traced fingertips are the letters SAM.
Dean leans closer as he offers it to Castiel, like a shared confidence. He is close enough that Castiel could lean over and brush his nose against the soft-looking spikes of Dean's hair, that his lips could trace against the stubbled curve of his jaw and soak up the silent testament of Dean's body.
This is Castiel's great secret, that he can eavesdrop on someone just by parting his lips and inhaling greedily. Nestled in the furrow of Dean's ear is his generic-brand shampoo, the assertive push of his hormones, androgens and cholesterols and the baseline cortisol of a deeply responsible man. Dean is luscious and Castiel has to swallow nervously as his mind tries to make sense of it all.
Castiel can hide one more breath in the guise of a thoughtful moment as he accepts the trinket from Dean. Threaded in with Dean's warm, morning-coffee-promise essence is the elusive counterpoint of Sam, sharp and blister-cool. It teases Castiel, hinting at something like a forgotten memory he can't place. Castiel traces his tongue over the back of his teeth, setting it aside for later.
On overabundance of saliva is one of the many features that accompany Castiel's hypersensitive nose. Castiel's mouth is wet as he carefully regards Dean's offering.
“This looks old,” Castiel remarks, handling it gently. The oil on human fingertips can erode marble given enough time, and this small piece of leather is soaked in years of absent touching. Castiel's fingers itch with the restraint it takes to hold it at arm's length. He wants to bury his face it in and soak up every molecule of Dean and Sam that has seeped into it.
“Yeah, I made it in this leather-working class in high school.” Dean shrugs and points to the old tear at the top. “It was supposed to be a keychain.”
“You were high school sweethearts?” Castiel isn't immune to romance, far from it. It isn't surprising to imagine Dean loving someone for so long, and it's surprisingly fun to imagine him spread out in the backseat of some car, getting to third base. Castiel shifts a little, biting on his lip.
Dean pauses, his mouth crooking in a half-smile. “You could say that.”
Dean looks far away again, and for all his clear “suck it up” stoicism he's an emotional broadcaster when Sam comes up. Is he thinking of the same backseat, of someone's body pressed against his and promising to love him forever? Castiel is, and he blinks away the old, soft melancholy of watching these things from the outside.
“He must be a very lucky man.” Castiel regrets it instantly, but Dean just gives him a curious look. Of course, people must flirt with Dean left and right.
“I am definitely the lucky one.” Dean's answer is heartfelt for all that it's rehearsed, and Castiel takes a moment to soak in the bare flush spreading under Dean's freckles and the slight dilation of Dean's pupils, the unique vanillin of Dean's ease. Dean isn't displeased with Castiel's understated attempt to flirt. Castiel smiles and gently places the old keychain on top of Dean's coupon.
“I have some ideas.” Castiel has too many ideas for his own good right now, half of which involve Astroglide. “Would you mind if I kept this?”
Dean frowns for a moment.
“It won't leave the store, don't worry.” Castiel smiles patiently. “Having it on hand will help me make something really special for Sam.”
“Yeah, of course.” Dean nods. Castiel doesn't miss the way his hand absently goes to the leather cord around his neck.
“This should take me a few days.” Castiel slides a receipt book over to Dean, showing him where to leave his phone number and promising to call when he has something ready.
Castiel's fingers dance over the counter as Dean bends down to scratch his number across the carbon paper. His jacket stretches over his back, and there's muscle there, bunched tight around the wings of his shoulder blades. Castiel wonders if Sam ever licks the sweat that pools there, or if he watches it run down to the curve of Dean's ass. He wonders if Dean has freckles on his back, if he has dimples where his ass starts to swell and maybe Sam's thumbs fit inside them perfectly.
Maybe the hint of Castiel's thoughts lingers on his face, or maybe Dean is just an inveterate flirt, but he gives Castiel a languid, knowing grin as he slides the receipt book back to him.
“I'll be waiting for your call.” Dean cocks an eyebrow and nods his farewell.
Castiel holds out for approximately two seconds after the door chime signals Dean's departure.
This is part of his job, really. Most people assume the “personal item” is a gimmick, a way for Castiel to get some romantic notion of his customer's personality, some indefinable quality they choose to share with him. Castiel picks up Sam's keychain, gently running his thumb along the soft edge. He wonders what shape Sam's hands are, if they're broad or fine-boned, if his fingers ever sink between Dean's lips or catch at the divot above his chin. Dean's smell is all over the little strip of leather, but Castiel quickly filters it out.
He closes his eyes, licking his lips both for the sheer pleasure of it and because it fixes a scent better. He clears everything from his mind, the lingering swirl of Dean and his leather sunbeam and the old ghosts of isolation. He breathes, an empty vessel ready to absorb the mystery of Sam.
For all that people love to wax poetic about the unknowable nature of the human soul and the winking secrets of true love, they are all, at the end of the day, functions of chemistry. Tiny, simple elements, passed from parents and ladder-wrung into bad tempers and an aversion to cilantro, all of these things can be parsed to their smallest essence. Like the letters of an alphabet, Castiel can seek out the macromolecules of human existence and read them as clearly as a sign.
Sam is like nothing Castiel has ever encountered.
Castiel blinks his eyes open, his mind stuttering as he drinks in the scent of Sam again. There are countless familiar signals there, the lightning rod of iron-willed virtue and the dopamine-driven bent towards addiction, the furl of self-doubt and phosphodiesterase comfort of caffeine. Sam eats a lot of vegetables and battles insomnia. He has shiny hair and sensitive skin.
Sam also smells like Hell.
One of the small comforts of being a strange, possibly-autistic child was that Castiel's few interests were wildly indulged. One of the few things that could pull him from the constant assault of the world was a good story. Shakespeare and Judy Bloom, everything from schlocky pulp to revered classics, Castiel devoured every book his mother could find him.
Entire worlds would unfold before him, a scent-scape vivid enough to give him some respite from the endless armpits and drugstore perfumes of school. Castiel's imagination was limitless, mingling the familiar essences of excitement and romance with the far-fetched metallum of dragon scales and dwarves.
Castiel has often wondered if some of his favorite writers didn't suffer from his affliction. He can remember his first whiff of Mordor as clearly as he can recall his first cup of coffee. These places were made as real to him as the halls he roamed every day, sometimes more real for all that they were his and his alone. Few things had captured his imagination like the frozen wasteland of Dante's ninth circle.
The deepest isolation is to suffer separation from the source of all light and life and warmth.
Cocytus, the lake of ice, the deepest pit of hell for the traitorous. It had terrified him, not with the horror-movie fear of monsters and gelatin-mold intestines, but the chilling despair of utter hopelessness. The sin-smeared, triplet mouths of Satan, rotten teeth chewing his treacherous kin as his wings flapped endlessly, the copper tang of blood freezing on his cage of ice – it had all been so real to Castiel.
Nestled in the heart of Sam like a pallid gem is the scent of Hell itself.
Castiel drops the keychain, chewing on his cheek as his mouth waters with acrid saliva. It's impossible. Castiel wouldn't be more stunned if a unicorn sauntered into the shop and bought a cape.
Coffee. He needs coffee.
Castiel barely remembers to flip the shop sign to closed before he heads out back, Sam's keychain tucked inside a folded piece of paper. He goes straight into his workshed, silently promising to give the adjacent greenhouse some attention soon.
Castiel can make coffee in his little french press with his eyes closed, which they may as well be as he brews a generous cup of Jamaican blue from rote. His mind is whirring faster than the coffee bean grinder, the names of rare illnesses and blood disorders swirling through his sense-memory. It's not the blue gasp of Thalassemia or the dry husk of asthma, or a dozen other unusual things that Castiel can put a name to. He sips his coffee, black and bitter-rich.
Coffee as an olfactory palate cleanser is largely a myth. While the nasal fatigue of smelling too many strong things in a row is very real, the effectiveness of sticking someone's nose into a tin of coffee beans to counteract it is less reliable. Castiel just likes the stuff. He brews it deep and strong, until he's breathing in the olfactory equivalent of a pair of earplugs. It reminds him of his mother, and Joshua, and after a quick cup Castiel feels a little silly for his reaction. He'd just have to focus and he'd figure out Sam's story.
He sets his cup down and unfolds Sam's keychain.
First of all is the overwhelming sense of Dean, which is curious now that Castiel is focusing so closely. Cohabitators usually leave their mark, but what is normally a thin thread of someone else is a tree trunk rooted at the base of Sam's smell.
Castiel furrows his brow. Sam keeps getting stranger and stranger.
“Who are you?” Castiel asks the empty room, shaking his head. It's quick work to mentally subtract the elements of Dean, but it still isn't right. To remove Dean leaves some pinnacle of Sam hanging empty, a glaring black hole in Sam's makeup that Castiel can't account for.
It's as though they're related.
Castiel presses two fingers against the side of his neck, pressing softly to see if his lymph nodes are swollen. Perhaps he's fighting an infection. He pinches the bridge of his nose but feels no signs of swelling or discomfort in his sinuses. He's fine.
Chewing his lip, Castiel rubs his finger along the rough-punched outline of Sam's name. Warming the leather will help release its scent better, and it helps Castiel center his mind. Maybe he's just projecting his own feelings onto Sam. The mind is a mutable thing and scent is our strongest connection to emotion. A favorite scent can become sickening when it's tempered with jealousy or betrayal.
Sam isn't sickening. Castiel would understand if he found his scent distasteful, if some lonesome and bitter part of his brain was casting an unappealing pall on Dean's partner. In truth, Castiel feels a hum of excitement as he brings the warmed leather to his nose.
Sam is intoxicating.
Beneath the inexplicable chant of Dean's name sidling along Sam's scent like a vein, it's still there. Frostbite and char, the sting of pride laid low and bestial lust laid bare. The steam of parts exposed to the winter air and the red smear of the hunt on a muzzle, the gruesome satisfaction of rending and ripping and nature red in tooth and claw. Blistering and baleful, it smolders in Sam's scent.
At the heart of all great scents is something hateful. The dripping glands of civet musk, the whale gut detritus of ambergris – things that no sane person would willingly experience make the foundation of fine perfume. Holding up Sam's goodness like an altar is this mystery, this chilling secret that makes Castiel's stomach turn and his chest tighten. What should be sickening is tantalizing, a world of sin and scent that Castiel has only imagined hidden at the heart of this man.
He has to meet Sam.
Castiel looks down at his white-knuckled grip on Sam's keychain. This is insane. There's a perfectly good explanation for all of it and Castiel just needs to come back to it in the morning.
It's worse in the morning.
Castiel had spent the night tossing in bed, dreaming of frost-covered lips and two inseparable bodies writhing in a lake of blood. He'd woken up with an aching hard-on and taken himself in hand, but it hadn't yielded any satisfaction.
He can taste Sam and Dean on his tongue.
He sleepwalks through his morning, watering plants and absently mixing three custom orders. Sam's keychain sits on his workbench, making Castiel's mouth go thick every time he looks at it.
He'd hoped that the morning would bring clarity and perspective, but one indulgent press of Sam's scent to his nose had only made things cloudier. That clarion note of Dante's hell stuck in his head like a bad pop song, repeating over and over again no matter how hard he tried to distract himself. He scoured planters and sterilized equipment, and in a desperate moment he even filed paperwork.
None of it had worked.
He holds out until four PM, when there is no busy work left to do and another cup of coffee will just make him jittery.
Mixing something for Sam is equal parts vexing and engrossing. His first few attempts to subtract Dean's inexplicable presence from Sam's scent are all wrong. Sam is strange with his hellfire scent but he's nothing without Dean. Castiel's mind drifts as he reaches for phials and flasks without looking, seeking out the right components by sheer instinct.
They must be so in love.
A slow pile of rejected vials forms at one end of his work surface. What should take minutes drags into hours, until Castiel's head starts to swim and his hair stands on end from his distracted combing. He shouldn't even be touching his hair and adulterating things with his own body oil.
He pushes back his tools with a frustrated grunt and goes to wash his hands. He makes the soap himself, a gentle formula that won't strip his hands. He slides the subtle lather over his skin, scrubbing at his fingers and wondering if Sam and Dean shower together, if they touch each other's skin when it's wet and slick like this. He presses his thumb against the opposite palm, massaging as he listens to the tinny splash of water into the old metal sink basin.
Tangled under Dean's scent and Sam's melancholy goodness lies the secret. Whatever is hidden in Sam is something he tries to wash away. Castiel watches the swirl of water dance around the drain and bites his lip.
He will make it sing. Castiel shoves a dozen costly jars aside and plucks new ingredients from his shelves with the surety of an orchestra conductor. Oakmoss and cistus, animalic aldehydes and sizzling cordite – Castiel reaches greedily for the rarest things in his library, assembling a tangle of notes that makes his mouth water.
He builds drop by drop, constructing a platform for Sam's frostbite enigma, supporting that wicked, concealed scent until it shines like a diamond. It clarifies, stinging slightly with radiant, defiant purpose. A light to drown out the shadows of shame and self-loathing that gather around Sam like a shroud.
Through it all is Dean, his loam and tannin rippling beneath Sam's skin, indifferent to anything hell bound, glorying in Sam's radiance no matter its source. Castiel weaves him in slowly, precious drops disappearing into Sam until Castiel can smell them together, almost perfect. His hand hovers over his work, fingers twitching as his mind searches for the missing element.
Not sweat, not saliva, not the risen bread of oxytocin. Castiel stills, arching an eyebrow as he settles on it. Of course.
He reaches into the depths of an old cabinet, dusty with disuse. There are some scents too strong, too strange for most work, and hidden at the back of these he finds it. The Callery pear, despised by prurient gardeners and xenophobic horticulturalists for its infamous semen scent. Castiel extracts a drop with a silver pin, letting the tiny bead slide into his mixture and smiling as it settles, amine-laden and volatile.
Castiel's body reacts to it before his mind, but his thoughts aren't on the swell of his cock or the dilation of his pupils. Like the dragon-dens and fiery pits of his childhood, Castiel has built a perfect scene in his mind.
This is Dean inside of Sam, inseparable and yearning still. The empty, unnamed place in Sam that burns with ice soothed, put to rest by Dean's irresistible earthiness. A profane to quench Sam's sacred, sweat and sex and the deeply human, simple joy of animal lust.
Castiel doesn't know what Sam looks like, how his smile must light up his face and how he must tuck his hair behind his ears when he's concentrating, how he must close his eyes when Dean comes behind him and kisses his neck. He can imagine, though, and that's dangerous enough.
Castiel sets aside his work, carefully capping the flask so the extracts can set up overnight. In the morning he will capture them in an oil base and bottle them for Dean.
And if he makes a little extra, no one needs to know.
“You want to work the counter?”
Gabriel squints at him.
“You're sure you're feeling alright? You look a little...” Gabriel gestures at Castiel's hair. “Peaked.”
Castiel is not fine.
Sleep had been elusive, and the few hours he'd managed had been foggy with dreams of Sam and Dean. Castiel had woken up to find that his mouth wasn't the only thing drooling on his sheets.
“I promised Meg I'd help her with something tomorrow,” Castiel lies, smoothing his hair down. “So I wanted to make sure you have no excuse to flake out tomorrow.”
“OK.” Gabriel shrugs with the conviction of someone who knows Castiel is full of shit, but doesn't really care as long as he benefits from it.
“Just don't burn the place down.”
Gabriel tousles his hair back into its prior mess before he leaves. Castiel is too tired to really glare at him but he makes a good effort.
The shop is quiet after Gabriel leaves. They don't get much sunlight, but one valiant patch is working its way across the worn floorboards. A few motes of dust dance in its wake and Castiel contemplates getting out the feather duster, but he'd only be putting off the inevitable.
He needs to call Dean.
His order sits on the counter, wrapped neatly in tissue and tucked into a small organza bag. Castiel's glad for the packaging today, if only because it keeps him from fussing with Sam's perfume.
He unfolds Dean's receipt for what feels like the hundredth time, studying Dean's careful, slanted handwriting. Dean seems like he's good with his hands.
Castiel's breath feels shaky as he punches in the numbers.
“Hello?” Dean answers after a pause.
The bitten-off first syllable and the slightly muffled quality of Dean's voice lead Castiel to imagine him with the phone tucked beneath his chin. Maybe he's working on something that requires both hands, or driving while he holds a paper cup of coffee. He doesn't sound rushed or displeased or-
Castiel takes a sharp breath through his nose.
“Hello, Dean.” His voice sounds raspy, so Castiel softly clears his throat. “It's Castiel. From Milton's.”
“Ca – oh, hi!” Dean's voice warms with recognition and Castiel feels his skin prickle with even the hint of Dean's remembrance.
“Your order is ready.” Castiel traces the edge of his pinky finger along the organza wrapping of Sam's fragrance. “You can come pick it up today.”
“Oh wow.” There's a soft rustle on the other end, like Dean's adjusting his phone. “That was fast.”
Castiel is on the verge of saying, “I stayed up all night to finish it,” before he thinks better of it.
“I was inspired.” Castiel winces, because that's not much better than staying up all night.
“Can't blame you.” He can hear the smile in Dean's voice, the warmth that suffuses every mention of Sam. It bleeds into Castiel and makes him feel bashful.
“We're open until 7. If you wanted to come today.” Castiel tries not to sound too hopeful.
Dean's voice hitches a little, like he's stifling a laugh.
“Nah, I can't make it today.” He sighs. “I'm having some car trouble. You gonna be around on Friday?”
Friday is two days away, which is three more days than Castiel wants to wait to see Dean again.
“Yes, of course.” Castiel's mind is still stuttering over the thought of Dean fixing his car, because he's so clearly the kind of person who fixes his own car and looks incredibly hot while doing so. Maybe he has a stripe of engine grease over his cheek right now.
“Great.” There's a clatter in the background and Dean curses under his breath. “Look, I gotta run. I'll see you Friday, OK Cas?”
God, maybe he's wearing one of those mechanic's jumpsuits.
“Alright, Dean.” Castiel smiles as Dean says goodbye and hangs up.
He likes it.
The Witchery is almost empty on any given late afternoon during the week, which makes it precisely Castiel's favorite time to visit Meg.
“Cassie!” Meg calls out as the old oak door closes behind him. The afternoon sunlight does almost nothing to penetrate the cool, dark interior of Meg's bar.
Castiel gives Meg a tight smile and slides into his usual bar seat, far to the left and partially obscured by a row of beer taps. People only sit there when the bar is packed, and Castiel is happy to have it to himself today.
“Whiskey it is, then.” Meg arches an eyebrow at him and grabs a lowball glass, barely paying attention to where her hands go. She could make a flaming mai tai with her eyes closed at this point.
Castiel sighs, resting his elbows on the worn bar. The secret to beautiful old wood like this is the countless years of hands and arms soaking their natural oil into it, polishing it smooth with each lean and reach for a drink or a flirtatious comment.
Two college students sit at the far end of the bar, hunched over their table and rapt in each other's attention. The faint glow of the hanging lanterns gives their faces a striking chiaroscuro effect. Castiel notes the Mystic Oatmeal Stout they're drinking and the reedy, thrumming scent of their deep intellectual attraction to one another.
Dean probably doesn't like stout beers. Maybe he favors pilsners. Sam probably likes wheat beers.
Castiel shakes his head as Meg settles his drink onto a coaster.
“Are you going to tell me about him or do I have to get you wasted first?”
Castiel scowls at her and takes a long, warm sip of his drink.
Meg, like much of the business-owning population, claims some tenuous ancestry with the famous Salem witches. She certainly looks the part, midnight waves of hair spilling over her shoulders and matching perfectly with the well-curated apothecary décor of her bar.
Castiel knows for a fact that her hair isn't naturally that black, and she lays the cryptic snark on extra-heavy for the weekend tourist crowd. It would be easy to assume that Meg's uncanny ability to read people is magic, but really she's just exceptionally observant and smarter than she lets on. She's also known Castiel for most of his life, so he's an easy read at this point.
“I can do wasted.” She shrugs and pours herself a matching drink, clinking the ice around in her glass as she fixes Castiel with a level stare. He toasts her and drains his drink, letting the smoky peat fill his nostrils and drown out the cacophony of bar smells for a moment. Good whiskey is often simple for all its depth, one long cello note silencing everything around it.
Castiel sucks an ice cube into his mouth and sighs.
Meg rolls her eyes and pours him another. She's used to his bouts of silence.
“If you don't feel like talking, you can at least eat.” She takes a quick sip of her own drink before disappearing into her small kitchen.
Meg makes most of her money slinging overly-sweet thematic cocktails to tourists and goth college students. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and Meg thrives on the hustle and bustle of a packed house and a captive audience. But her real genius is in the kitchen.
Meg's black-lacquered nails click against the bar as she sets down a small plate of cookies. They're small and round, something between a shortbread and a drop cookie, dotted with small clusters of something Castiel can't identify by sight. He smiles as he leans down, resting his nose just above the chipped image of a winking cat that circles the old plate.
Meg picks up a cookie and offers it to him, laying it on her palm as she points.
“And pretzels, chocolate chunks, and -”
“Fleur de sel,” Castiel finishes, accepting the cookie from Meg's hand.
Meg smells like kitchen spices, cinnamon and nutmeg and coriander, the kinds of things that can get someone high or make them sick but remain surprisingly wholesome for all their bite. She brushes the crumbs from her palm and takes one for herself.
The cookie is delicious, sweet and buttery and salty all at once. The chocolate is rich and dark, barely sweetened at all and a perfect, bitter contrast to the richness of the dough.
“These are marvelous.” Castiel takes another, rolling a bite around in his mouth and narrowing his eyes.
“The garam masala is a lovely touch.”
“Now you're just showing off.” Meg washes down her cookie with another sip of whiskey. Her stack of bangle bracelets jingle along her wrist, a match for the string of pendants hanging over her loose black t-shirt. Meg's penchant for jewelry is as good as belling a cat.
Castiel can still remember the glint of Meg's bangles the first time he'd met her, with her boots kicked up onto her desk and her black lipstick. Meg's standing as trailer-dwelling “white trash” and “school slut,” two phrases Castiel abhors to this day, had placed her somewhere slightly above Castiel's precarious position as “spazz” and “fag”. She'd punched Zach out when he'd tried to lock Castiel in the janitor's closet, and he'd been an awkward if willing prom date several years later when the popular girls at school had tried to keep Meg from going.
Meg had made high school a mere torture instead of hell on earth, and Castiel will always love her for that.
“His name is Dean.”
Castiel looks up guiltily, finishing his cookie.
“He's married.” Castiel attempts to mumble around his cookie, but Meg is having none of it.
“Pastels, blue cheese, and straight guys.” Meg counts off on her fingers and shakes her head. “Three things you should avoid.”
“He's married to a man.”
Meg grimaces and finishes her drink. For all her reprimanding she'd never judge him, and her hand is warm when she slides it over his.
“All the good ones are taken, huh?” She tops off his drink and pours a second for herself. Castiel would have to watch himself. Keeping pace with Meg usually meant waking up on Meg's couch with a migraine and her two scrappy rescue cats sleeping on his head.
“Deeeeaaaan.” She rolls it on her tongue, tilting her head from side to side. “Let me guess, you met him at the Home Depot or something butch like that.”
“No,” Castiel laughs, his cheeks burning with the image of Dean strutting confidently down the dizzying aisle of plumbing accessories, assured in the function of each mystifying piece and clad in nothing but a tool belt.
“He came into the shop.”
Castiel explains about Gabriel's Groupon and the influx of customers. He pauses at Sam, so indescribably puzzling.
“He got something for his husband, Sam.” Castiel looks down at his drink, tracing his finger through the condensation beading along the glass.
“Ah, you did the old 'let me smell your t-shirt' trick?” Meg is intimately familiar with Castiel's exceptional qualities, and she's always been one of the few people in his life simply content to accept them for what they are.
“I wish,” Castiel blurts, blushing slightly at the salacious grin Meg gives him. He'd probably pass out from sudden-erection-induced blood loss to the brain if he smelled something as intimate as Sam's t-shirt.
“There was something so strange about him, Meg.” Castiel gazes down at his whiskey, tilting it to watch the light catch against the amber liquid. “Something I've never … encountered before.”
“Let me guess, it smelled like this hot guy's dick.”
She's closer than she thinks, but Castiel just rolls his eyes tolerantly. Meg's crassness is a great part of her charm. She claims it makes them perfect best friends because Castiel is prude enough for two people, so someone has to compensate.
“That, too,” Castiel admits, ducking his head to look up at Meg's indulgent smirk. “But something more, I can't put my finger on it.”
“Like Ruby and the borderline personality disorder?” Meg shudders.
Castiel usually kept his inferences about other people to himself, but he'd felt compelled by friendship and a very real fear for Meg's life when he'd met her last girlfriend for the first time. Crazy comes in a wide array of scents, and Ruby's hadn't been the enticing, fun variety.
“Not quite.” Castiel's head feels heavy, and the slowness is a nice reprieve from his usual mile-a-minute analysis of his surroundings. He can see how people drink habitually when they're troubled. Sam and Dean are troubling, an incipient obsession that tickles at him even through his whiskey haze.
“He smells like Dante.”
Castiel giggles, and the sound alone should tell him that he's already getting a little wasted.
“Thank goodness, no.” Dante the cat and Castiel have a rough sort of truce, whereby Castiel acknowledges that the cat is the man of the house and Castiel is lucky to be allowed on the furniture.
“Inferno Dante.” Castiel shivers a little, a trickle of cold remembrance tracing up his spine. “Like the ninth circle.”
Meg pauses, her hand freezing over the rag she habitually wipes the bar with.
“The ninth circle of hell? Like, Hell hell?” Her voice is teasing, ringing up at the end but there's a vein of curiosity under it that raises Castiel's eyes to hers.
“Like everything good has been lost, like frostbite and loneliness and searing regret and all of it's wrong, you know, it's tangled up in this glowing goodness inside him and I can't place it, Meg, this guy and his perfect husband, like there's a secret hidden in the basement or something, it's maddening.”
Castiel swallows, his mouth wet and his cheeks flushed. He's had too much to drink. Meg's eyebrows crease together, a rare expression on her. She leans in, tucking a stray curl behind her ear.
Meg and Castiel both look up. Castiel's eyes widen as a familiar head of blonde hair marches confidently into the bar.
Jo pauses, looking back and forth between Meg and Castiel before she resumes her approach to the bar.
“Hey, Mr. Milton.” She slides onto the bar stool next to him and pushes up the sleeves of her flannel shirt. Castiel stares at the ornate, flower-circled dagger tattooed onto her forearm. His heart is still galloping ahead from Sam and Dean and hell and Meg's guarded sincerity.
“Hey, Jo.” Meg clears her throat, mirroring Castiel's off-kilter mien before she smiles pleasantly. “Here for your crack?”
“I didn't realize you'd expanded the menu,” Castiel jokes, forcing himself to socialize and jumping a little at Jo's bark of laughter.
“I didn't realize you were a regular,” Jo answers, turning to Castiel with a soft squeak of her seat.
“Meg makes the best sugar-free cookies I've ever tasted.” Jo rests her chin on her hand, arching an eyebrow over at Meg. “I keep telling her she should sell them.”
“Ah, but then I'd have to share my recipe, and then I'd have to kill everyone who saw it.” Meg sighs, folding her bar rag into a neat rectangle. “That just sounds messy, you know?”
“Come on, Meg.” Jo drums her fingers against the bar. “What's your secret?”
Meg shrugs, walking the few steps backwards toward the kitchen doors.
Jo chatters pleasantly about her school work and some new tattoo design she's working on. Her face is so expressive, wrinkling up in distaste and smoothing out into eagerness in short bursts of emotion. She couldn't be duplicitous if she tried and Castiel should drink with her more. She smells like copper and heliotrope.
“I'd love to stay, but I have to go stick needles in people.” Jo flashes a pageant-worthy smile and tucks her cookies into her messenger bag.
“I didn't realize you two were friendly.”
Meg shrugs, a familiar gesture of noncommittal acknowledgement.
“She comes to girl's night sometimes.”
Castiel is chief among Meg's friends but she has others. Sharp, toothsome women with dangerous boots and suspiciously shiny hair, Krissy and Cassie and Tessa and other sibilant names that slither right out of Castiel's inebriated memory. He was decidedly unwelcome on the nights Meg needed to cut loose with the girls and she'd assured him he wasn't missing anything he'd enjoy.
Raucous crowds of women make him nervous.
“Now,” Meg slides a miraculously-full glass to him, a rainbow-curve of condensation streaking the bar beneath it.
“Let's forget about hellboy and toast to being bitter single people forever.”
Castiel raises his glass.
It's not unheard of for Castiel to save some of his blends for future reference. He has a whole library of things for Bela and the select clients like her, mostly inherited from Joshua. Once in a while he'll make a custom blend that seems particularly suited to retail marketing. There are lots of good reasons for him to keep a small portion of a custom job for himself.
None of his reasons for keeping Sam's perfume for himself are particularly good.
His unexpected day is rolling by with excruciating slowness. No new Groupons had appeared to give him work, and even an ambitious repotting project in his greenhouse had only taken up the morning. He's still feeling the after-effects of Meg's generous pour and knows that the hair of the dog will only make him feel worse.
The overage of Sam's perfume sits unlabeled on his workbench, staunchly ignored as Castiel tries to get some dirt on his hands. His foot fidgets against the leg of his stool, the heel of his shoe catching against the metal. His usual focus on his plants is perpetually interrupted by the subtle, siren call of Sam and Dean.
Rarely is Castiel relieved when Gabriel pokes into the greenhouse, but he perks up when Gabriel's blonde head appears.
“Ugh, Cassie,” he gripes, rolling his eyes and extending the cordless phone towards Castiel. “This girl insists on speaking with you.”
Castiel's face falls a little at “girl” but he nods and accepts the phone.
“And it's hot as balls in here,” Gabriel adds, letting the door slam behind him.
“Doesn't your insolent infant of a brother know it's rude to call a grown woman a girl?”
Bela's voice is unmistakable, even with the poor reception.
“I didn't think I'd be hearing from you for a while.” Castiel cradles the phone against this shoulder so he can wash his hands. It's unlikely Bela's calling for a friendly chat.
“The Melcher family is devastated by the loss of their beloved Auntie Mildred.” Bela takes a dramatic pause, her voice quavering. “Her death was sudden and unexpected, if entirely natural.”
“I see.” Castiel exercises an aggressive “don't ask, don't tell policy” with Bela.
“I have a new project for you.”
Bela rails off a list of qualities she needs to embody as Castiel jots down notes. They sound like they'd be useful in either a bank heist or quick admission to a mental asylum, and frankly either one is possible with Bela.
“My plane leaves at six PM tomorrow.” Bela clicks her tongue. “And before you say anything, yes, I know, I'll pay extra for a rush job.”
Castiel murmurs in the affirmative and asks Bela a few more questions before hanging up. He's happy enough to have something to do, extra money or no.
“At least this one actually smells nice.”
Bela arches an eyebrow and tucks the vial of scent into her purse. It's ostrich today, dyed a fawn brown with gold hardware. An Hermes scarf hangs loosely from one handle, looped with careless elegance. Wherever Bela is going, she wants to make an impression.
“I always think it's ironic that the seductive ones smell like … well, you know.” She wrinkles her nose and Castiel nods.
“I suppose the chemically attractive quality of sebaceous anal glands could be considered ironic.”
Bela laughs, a short burst of sound that Castiel thinks is probably too rare.
“You're better at this than Joshua was, aren't you?”
It's an unexpected question and Castiel blinks, taken aback.
He's about to ask Bela what she means by that when the door chime startles him.
Castiel feels warmth suffuse through him at just the sight of Dean's face. Memory can put a shine on things that often disappoints when they're revisited, but Dean is even more handsome.
Castiel isn't the only one who notices it.
“Hello.” Bela's voice could undress a priest.
“Hi.” Dean raises his eyebrows, giving Bela a polite nod without conveying any more interest.
She leans back slightly, looking him up and down, which gives Castiel an excellent excuse to do the same. Dean's faded jeans and black t-shirt leave a lot to the imagination, although that's a faculty Castiel has never been lacking in. The leather cord around his neck is tucked out today, leading to a small copper charm that rests above his clavicle.
“This a bad time?” Dean shifts his weight after a marginally uncomfortable silence, and the floorboards make the barest sigh against his boots. Even the floor likes him.
“I was just heading out,” Bela supplies before Castiel has to. She regards Dean's necklace for another moment before shooting them both a dazzling smile. Her heels tap across the floor as she leaves. Castiel feels a moment of panic as the door closes behind her, as the onus is now on him to make small talk and his mind feels useless as Dean approaches him.
Dean leans over the counter, resting on his elbow as he draws his eyebrows together.
“Is she a witch?” He stage-whispers, darting his eyes around the shop.
It breaks Castiel's tension and he laughs, which feels easy around Dean. He must make Sam laugh all the time.
“She's a regular, but I think she's harmless.” It's a half-truth but it's better than “she's an international thief whose business I inherited from my dead mentor.” Bela is certainly a regular.
“Is your car alright?”
Dean looks pleased at the question.
“Aw, the old girl just needs some attention once in a while.” He grins fondly, like a parent about to pull out a picture of a chubby infant. “She's purring like a kitten now.”
“I'm glad to hear it.” It's pretty much the best Castiel has to offer. He doesn't know much about making cars purr, and the thought of Dean's hands making things growl with satisfaction is distracting to say the least.
“Yeah, I was stuck driving Sam's Prius to work.” Dean almost shudders at the word and no, that wouldn't suit Dean at all. “So, what did you come up with?”
Castiel places the package on the counter, pulling the slim tube out and unfolding the tissue paper. He carefully places the keychain next to it.
“Told you I wouldn't lose it.” Castiel smiles, surprised at his own insouciance. It's easy to pick up on Dean's habits.
Dean arches an eyebrow and picks up the keychain, tucking it back into his inside pocket.
“Good thing you were so fast.” He purses his lips. “I was getting worried he was gonna notice it missing and freak out on me.”
Dean shakes his head and picks up the perfume bottle. He uncaps it and takes a deep sniff, his eyes widening.
“That's...” Dean trails off, smelling it again. “Wow.”
“It won't properly develop until it's on the skin.” Castiel gently takes the tube from Dean. Dean's fingers are warm against Castiel's and Dean smells wonderful, like safety and clean laundry and he doesn't pull his hand away. Castiel rolls a swath of perfume along Dean's wrist, trailing the glass rollerball over his pulse.
It's rash and Castiel's heart flutters, but Dean's face is soft and not displeased.
“See?” Castiel raises his wrist, urging Dean to smell what is already overloading Castiel.
“It will smell different on Sam, of course.”
It will smell better, which is hard to imagine as Dean's skin warms against the oil. It blossoms open like a song, a thousand reactions taking place in pores and cells that waft up to Castiel like a warm chest pressed to his back. His mouth waters, and he traces the tip of his tongue along the back of his teeth before he swallows. He doesn't miss the way Dean's eyes dip down to the bob of Castiel's adam's apple before he looks back up.
Dean raises his wrist to his nose, keeping his eyes on Castiel. There are a thousand little signs of his immense pleasure – dilated pupils, the minute tremble in his full lips, the flare of his nostrils and answering flutter of his eyelashes, but the indulgent moan of satisfaction is what makes Castiel bite his lip.
Olfactory perception is like any preference, a complex combination of genetics and social conditioning. While Castiel's sense of smell is one in a million, there are plenty of people on the opposite end of the spectrum who can barely discern the difference between two flowers or notice the subtle cues of incoming weather. Castiel feels bad for these people, who can't experience the pregnant excitement of a sky about to open or the lingering smell of a lover's head on the pillow.
Dean is not one of these people. The lidded, easy grace of a sensualist spreads over his face as he smells himself. Castiel catches a bare flash of his tongue between his teeth, Dean's mouth working unconsciously to better indulge himself.
It's a scent for Sam but that means that it's Dean's too, Castiel can tell that much. It's so easy, watching Dean's warm, whetted expression to imagine the hunger with which he must devour Sam, the worship of Dean's lush mouth over Sam's presumably-gorgeous body. Castiel's hips circle slightly before he clenches his hand over the counter, thinking of something to say because he must say something, before he follows his aching fingers to know what the catch of Dean's haloed stubble must feel like.
It's only been a moment but Castiel feels like time stands still as Dean exhales, a smile suffusing his face. His eyes gleam and Castiel wonders if the sheer force of his attention is enough to bring Sam to orgasm, if he could bury his face in Dean's neck and come off with a few canted thrusts of his hips.
“What does it smell like on you?”
Dean's eyebrows raise slightly, his lips parted and he looks wicked, full of promise and things that Castiel shouldn't want.
His fingers leave a trail of sparks on Castiel's skin as Dean gently takes his wrist, watching him like he might spook. Castiel couldn't pull away if he were on fire, which he might be. Dean presses the rollerball to Castiel's skin, with more pressure than necessary but it makes Castiel want to arch into it like a cat. He drags it slowly, finally breaking his gaze to look down at the subtle sheen of oil left behind.
“Oh,” and it's all Castiel can say, when Dean smears his thumb over the trail of perfume and rubs it in. His skin is softer than Castiel had expected.
“Let me,” Dean says, a bare mumble asking for permission as he raises Castiel's arm. God, his lips are so close they could brush against Castiel's skin. The in-draw of air Dean takes leaves a cool patch on Castiel's skin, making gooseflesh prickle up his arms.
“It's different.” Dean breathes out against him, warmth curling from his nostrils and his lips to tickle at Castiel's skin and Castiel's head swims. He can only imagine what that would feel like on his ear, on the curve of his jaw, trailing down his neck. He's getting hard.
“Yes,” Castiel offers softly, too breathless to even pretend he's in control any more. The slight tremble in his bottom lip feels like the only thing holding him in place.
“I like it.” Dean closes his eyes and breathes in again, deeper this time and Castiel wonders if Dean can feel the warmth of Castiel's blood rushing beneath his skin, the pound of his heart ticking tell-tale loud. Castiel isn't alone in that, at least.
Dean is aroused. Castiel wouldn't need to look at his face to know, although the hungry slant of his eyes when he slides them open to stare at Castiel is something Castiel could look at forever. Castiel knows that these feelings are just tiny molecules joining with his, enzymes working with misplaced efficiency to tell some lizard-instinct part of their brains to couple, but it doesn't make it any less magical. There is nothing but Dean, the whole world narrowed down to the press of Dean's fingers to his wrist, the hint of Dean's lips so close to his skin, the warmth of Dean wrapping around him like a fog. Castiel can't see, can't hear anything, can't listen to the useless protest of his rational mind that Castiel might be making a bad decision.
Breath held, Dean blinks, so slowly Castiel can imagine the trace of his eyelashes over Castiel's cheek, the flutter they'd make against Castiel's own when they kiss. The tilt of his head, the bare focus of his eyes as he licks his lips, so close to Castiel's wrist, God, he's going to kiss him, Dean, yes-
The door chime hits Castiel like a thousand nails on a chalkboard, making him wince. His eyes fly open as he snatches his hand back, heart pounding with delayed adrenaline and confusion.
Castiel is rarely unhappy to see Meg, but the look he shoots her is so mutinous Meg shrinks back. She shrugs apologetically, holding up the cardboard tray of coffees.
Dean's hand pulls back, still holding Sam's perfume. He shakes his head and lets out a soft huff, looking as dazed as Castiel feels. He straightens up and places the perfume carefully on the counter, turning to give Meg a forced smile.
“Uh, well, thanks.” Dean rubs a hand across the back of his neck.
Castiel clumsily rewraps Dean's order while Meg shoots him a litany of looks. They range from “holy shit” to “holy shit that's the guy” to “holy shit what were you doing?” in the space of the few seconds it takes Castiel to tie the small bag and hand it to Dean.
“I hope,” Castiel swallows, shame and anger creeping up his skin. God, he'd been seconds away from kissing a married man. “I hope Sam likes it.”
Dean's mouth works, opening a few times as his face crumples into concern and his own bashful grimace. He looks like he wants to say a lot of things but Castiel resolutely keeps his eyes fixed on the counter until Dean's shoulders fall.
“I-” Dean starts before sighing, darting a thin-lipped look at Meg. “Thanks.”
He tucks the perfume into his pocket, the inner one again, right next to Sam's keychain. That's where it belongs, after all. That's where Dean belongs, not here with Castiel.
Castiel clears his throat and stands up stiffly, reaching his full six feet and trying not to notice the visibly-deflated bend of Dean's head.
Dean pauses for a second, eyes sweeping up to search Castiel's face and it's almost painful to keep his stony expression. Castiel thinks of Sam, with his strange, secret scent and his good heart and he looks away.
Castiel doesn't watch him leave.
One of the hardest things about Castiel's gift is the fact that no one can keep secrets from him. Not really. Even highly-functioning sociopaths know when they're lying, and the body goes through a host of chemical flag-waving when it lies.
Dean hadn't been lying.
Castiel shifts on the couch, adjusting the pillow behind his back. His book sits neglected beside him, open and face-down against the cushion. Anna would chastise him for cracking the spine.
His brother is downstairs working the counter. Castiel had hovered near the entrance but had fled back upstairs when he'd heard the first bars of one of Gabe's painful “lady-killer” jokes. The plants have been tended within an inch of their life and his liver isn't ready to face another night at Meg's bar.
He rolls onto his side, letting his face rest against the worn arm of the couch. Like so much of his furniture, it had been his mother's. The coffee table and its matching side tables circle around him, a shabby-genteel hug that makes him feel restless.
The floor is cool underneath his feet. They were close to raising enough money for a new furnace but close didn't heat the floors. Castiel slips his feet into an old pair of slippers and shuffles over to one of his overstuffed bookshelves.
A messy bookshelf is a thing of beauty. Like plants and small children, it should be allowed to run wild as often as possible. Castiel brushes his fingers over dog-eared Vonnegut and spine-cracked Mercedes Lackey, a childhood indulgence. A tower of Anne Rice leans against a thick, unbent copy of War and Peace. Nothing catches his eye until he trails down to the bottom shelves.
Tucked neatly side-by-side, a dozen black leather journals stand sentry at the foot of his bookshelf. Joshua's journals.
Castiel gently pulls one from the shelf, trying to maintain the order in this small homage to his mentor. Joshua had found him as a melancholy college student with an inexplicable gift for laboratory work. He and Meg shared the joint honor of being the only people who had never once looked at him like he was crazy.
Joshua's neat, artful handwriting dances across the page in his signature sepia ink. Castiel smiles as he reads the title.
Adrenergic Mimicry and Manipulation.
Joshua always had a way with words.
Joshua had given Castiel a name to his talent and a new world of possibilities. He'd shown Castiel how his ability to conjure entire worlds in his head could be used to construct new personalities for those willing to pay. He'd given Castiel the confidence to turn down clients at his discretion, and the conviction to know the difference between the good ones and the bad ones.
No one had taught Castiel how to handle someone like Dean.
With a gentle sigh, Castiel replaces Joshua's journal and reaches for The Witching Hour. Between that and the pint of Haagen Dazs in his freezer, Castiel resolves to make the most of his low mood.
Castiel is scraping wax off a display case when Sam Winchester walks through the door.
Sam has occupied a looming, hungry space in Castiel's imagination for the past week. For all that Castiel can detect someone's blood sugar and propensity toward cilantro with his eyes closed, there are other, less palpable qualities that even his nose can't summon.
Sam's height is no surprise, but his habitual slouch and the softness of his smile makes something unfurl in Castiel's stomach.
“Uh, hi.” Sam smiles, pulling his hand from his pocket to wave quickly. Castiel blinks.
Sam could cross the floor in a half-dozen loping strides, but instead he shuffles to the counter, pausing and feigning interest in the packed bookshelves before approaching Castiel. He lays his hands on the counter, palm-down like Castiel might spook.
“You must be Castiel.”
Sam's eyes are remarkable, warm amber flecked with a jeweler's trove of blue and gold. They widen slightly as Castiel takes a breath. Sam is wearing Castiel's perfume.
“I … yes.” Castiel swallows, his mouth reflexively wet. Despite the cool day Sam's plaid shirt is open at the neck, revealing a white strip of undershirt and pink flush on his skin. He's nervous, or excited, or both, and it makes him smell irresistible.
His hair is longer than Castiel had expected, curling past Sam's chin from its habitual tuck behind his ears. Sam must touch it often.
“You, uh, made some cologne for me. Well, I mean, my husband bought it, but it's mine...” Sam tilts his head and tucks his chin slightly, and it's only then that Castiel realizes he has leaned over the counter. It's what Meg would call a personal space issue, a frequent infraction of Castiel's already clumsy social code.
Sam is close enough now that Castiel can read him, his body heat catalyzing the countless reactions that sing a strange and irresistible song to Castiel. The imaginary Sam of his nighttime yearning dissolves into the man before him, kinder somehow, soft despite all that hell-forged copper tang. Castiel's stomach flutters into knots, needing to touch, to smell, to unravel this slouching mystery standing in the middle of his shop. It makes Castiel's skin itch, this unplaceable scent that frightens him and makes him want to reach his hand into Sam's chest and fix him.
“I'm sure you remember Dean.”
And Dean is there, God, stronger even in his absence. Castiel has been around enough enamored couples to know that there's more to this than constant companionship. Perhaps they'd made love that morning. It seems a cruelty to even let himself imagine it.
“Yes, of course.” Castiel rights himself, his spine a rigid line as he resists the pull of Sam before him.
“I love the scent.” Sam's easiness is a different animal than Dean's, too big for its space and held back to some degree. He brings his wrist up to his nose and smiles as he inhales, which makes his eyes slant into pleasing angles and dimples spring up on his cheeks. “I have no idea what it smells like, but I love it.”
Castiel smiles, a practiced gesture with confused customers who can't tell opoponax from osmanthus. It's forced across his face, at war with his urge to apologize to Sam and smell his neck and ask him if he was ever the subject of genetic testing all at once. Has Sam read Dante? Most likely.
“Where did you learn how to do this?”
Sam is a good listener. He settles his long, lithe body against the small counter like it's a cozy chair and rests his chin on his hand as Castiel gives the outline of his apprenticeship with Joshua. Years of learning antiquated extraction techniques and advanced organic chemistry, that one mild explosion, Joshua's tabby cats and award-winning garden, story after story pours out of Castiel as Sam laughs and frowns and steeples his hands together.
“So you actually cook the petals in fat?” Sam smells his wrist again and shakes his head, disbelieving. Enfleurage did sound unpleasant when Sam put it that way.
“It's one of the oldest techniques on earth. And the results are extraordinary.” Just like Sam. Castiel brings himself back with a soft shakes of his head.
“So when Joshua passed away, I took over his business and moved it here. My brother already had the gift shop open, so it seemed logical to use the space.”
Sam should make him nervous. Sam smells like profane things and he's married to a man Castiel has vividly imagined fellating on every flat surface in his house.
“You have a brother.” Sam is so easy to talk to.
“Yes.” Castiel rolls his eyes before he even realizes it. Gabriel will do that to anyone.
Sam laughs, his face knowing.
“Do you have siblings?”
Sam pauses, just for a moment before he shakes his head.
“Uh, no.” He tucks his hair behind his ear.
“But it sounds nice.”
“He tortured me when we were young,” Castiel confides. He still has the scar on his knee from Gabriel's memorable fireworks-propelled Rocketeer outfit.
One of the strangest things about growing up had been realizing that his brother was more than a pudgy tyrant with a propensity for bad puns. Seeing Gabriel as a grown man who might have his own unresolved issues with an absentee father and dead mother had been startling.
“But we get along well now.” Castiel shrugs, raising one shoulder. “Depending on your definition of well.”
Sam gives him a sympathetic look and shrugs. He reaches into the breast pocket of his worn flannel shirt and pulls out the small vial of his fragrance.
“I still can't get over how amazing this smells.” Sam says. “And usually this stuff gives me headaches.”
“Dean mentioned your migraines.”
Sam's eyebrows draw together, the only sign of unease he's shown since setting foot in the shop.
“From cologne,” Castiel continues, gesturing too emphatically with his hands to camouflage his nerves. “I told him it's probably the cyclomethicone, it's nasty stuff, you can find it everywhere these days.”
Sam's eyebrows have returned to their easy slant and he smiles.
“He's always looking out for me.”
Oh, this is a moment. Castiel tenses, waiting for Sam to accuse him of being a Jezebel or a husband-stealer or just a plain asshole for flirting with Dean. Nothing had happened, not technically, but the devil is in the details with these things and Castiel's incipient guilt tumbles out of him.
“Dean loves you very much,” Castiel blurts, biting his lip as Sam's eyes widen slightly.
Sam gives him a knowing look and presses his lips together. They curl inward, momentarily thin before he purses them out again.
“Yeah,” Sam says softly, and Castiel wonders when the pit on the floor that he's willing into existence with sheer guilt will open up beneath him.
“Dean seemed to like you a lot, too.”
Here it is. Castiel steels himself, biting the inside of his cheek as he stares vehemently at the counter. He waits for Sam to chastise him, to curse him out and tell him to stay away from Dean. When there's nothing but silence Castiel looks up.
Wrapped in Sam like a gem is hell itself and right now his smile is brimming with wickedness.
“Look, Dean thinks he's slick but sometimes he can be a little ...” Sam clicks his teeth, “Awkward.”
“Especially around hot guys.”
Castiel's house is built on a solid, native bedrock foundation, the sort of thing realtors crow about and contractors praise like a holy grail. There is no natural reason for the floor to be tilting like this.
“He was a little too embarrassed to come back.” Sam's big shoulders curl down towards Castiel, a stray lock of hair loosing itself from behind his ear. “So I told him I'd swing by and ask you over for dinner.”
Sam has settled on his elbows, his forearms crossed over one another, left atop the right. A burnished gold ring sits on his finger, a bare sliver of pale skin showing beneath the metal. Sam's arms are tan, an even honey gold that must bring out every one of Dean's freckles when they're pressed together.
Castiel traces his finger over Sam's ring.
“You'd ... both be there?”
Sam looks down, sliding his index finger over to trace the side of Castiel's wrist.
“Yeah.” He looks up, his face sly and inviting.
“I understand if it's not your thing.” Something in Sam's voice tells him that he really would understand, that Castiel could gracefully bow out of this and Sam wouldn't be offended in the slightest.
“It was worth a try, right?”
Castiel is not bowing out. Castiel is worth a try.
“Should I bring dessert?”
Castiel likes sex.
He hasn't had an exceptional amount of it, but he's not a nun. Sex is also difficult for him.
The human body is a minefield of sensory overload for Castiel. It's hard enough to occupy an elevator with someone he finds attractive, let alone take in acres of heat-ripe skin and verdant fields of body hair.
Three large tupperware containers sit in his backseat. Sam hadn't said what sort of desserts he and Dean like, and Castiel hadn't thought to ask before Sam had loped out the door with a satisfied smile and his odd purchase of a moon-shaped tiara “for a friend.”
Meg had sworn that something chocolate was needed and had personally overseen the preparation of her famous Death by Chocolate Orgasm Torte, but Castiel's instincts had kept him up all night rolling out piecrust and shredding organic carrots. Now he has three desserts in his backseat and feels mildly ridiculous.
Sam and Dean live on a pretty, tree-lined street with ample shade. On either side of their small colonial are the sort of colorful porches and gnome-dotted lawns that toe the line between eccentric and white trash, a neighborhood for “creative types” or whatever euphemism the realtors are using for gay couples and college professors these days.
Castiel can sense Sam's handiwork in the understated shrubbery and linear flower beds, while touches of Dean echo in the silent, frequently-greased sway of a porch swing on chains and the custom planters that hang over the porch railing. It's almost painfully normal and Castiel snorts softly. He's going to a threesome at the most boring house on the block.
That is, if he can work up the balls to get out of his car.
Castiel hasn't had sex in over a year. Even Meg had taken pity and stopped teasing him about it after he'd passed the six-month mark.
The air is crisp outside and Castiel's willfully even breaths are starting to fog up his windows. If he doesn't get out soon he'll look like he's making out in his car and someone will call the cops. He has run through a dozen scenarios of how he can conceivably make out with two men at once, with fine-tuned focus on how they'll each kiss him differently.
Castiel's dick gives an intrigued twitch and it's time to get out of the car before things get really weird.
The tupperware taunts him from the backseat as he hovers over it, hand darting back and forth between chocolate cake and apple pie and carrot cupcakes.
Castiel jumps at Dean's voice, his shoulder colliding with the car door frame and Castiel's face bursting into blush.
“Are those all dessert?”
Dean seems oblivious to Castiel's embarrassment, a huge smile splitting his face as he rests a hand on Castiel's back.
“I knew I liked you for a reason.”
Castiel could toast the frosting on his cupcakes with the heat that spreads over him. Dean's hand lingers confidently before he shakes his head.
“Fuck, there's pie, too.” He grins as Castiel gingerly stacks tupperware and hands it to him.
“Let's get you inside.”
Sam and Dean's house is neat and clean with the ease of someone who likes making it that way. Castiel suspects Dean.
“Sammy's in the shower, he'll be right down.”
“Alright.” Castiel deposits his stack of baked goods on the kitchen counter and immediately regrets it. His hands are glaringly unoccupied.
“Hey, you mind helping me?”
Dean lays a neat bunch of parsley on the large butcher block, setting a well-loved chef's knife down beside it.
“Of course.” Castiel smiles, glad to have a task and thrilled to watch Dean's deft, sure fingers as he whisks around the kitchen.
“I always like a little parsley on my steak, you know?” Dean inspects a pot of heavenly-smelling mashed potatoes.
“You do eat meat, don't you?”
“Oh, yes,” Castiel answers, hoping he doesn't sound too enthusiastic.
“Oh thank God.” Dean heaves a sigh of relief and grins, pointing the tip of his wooden spoon at Castiel.
“See, knew I liked you.”
It shouldn't feel so good, these off-handed compliments that Dean probably gives out to everyone. Castiel minces his parsley and clears his throat.
“I was surprised to see Sam in the shop.”
Castiel scrapes his herbs into a neat pile, running the edge of his knife along the green-stained grooves in the old block.
“Pleasantly surprised,” Castiel clarifies after a moment of silence.
Dean's fork swishes against a bowl of fragrant marinade, whisking for a few moments before he sets it down.
“Hey, I'm sorry if things got weird.” Dean's elbows rest on the counter, putting his face level with Castiel's and pursing his lips.
“You're just really fucking hot and,” Dean shrugs, leaning the side of his neck into his hand. “They don't exactly make business cards that say, 'Hey, I'm in an open relationship, want to come home and meet my super-hot husband,' you know?”
Castiel wants to know what the short hairs at the base of Dean's skull feel like.
“I was a little … perturbed.” Castiel considers the clean, cozy kitchen around him. “I would never be a party to infidelity.”
“Me neither,” Dean answers with a solemnity that shouldn't make Castiel so weak in the knees.
“I have to admit, I really wanted to kiss you.” Dean's forearms, muscled and sun-kissed, press into the counter, his hand inching closer to Castiel's.
“But your friend kind of spooked me.”
“She has that effect on people,” Castiel rejoins weakly, acutely aware suddenly of the smell of Dean all around him, of Sam's hands on every inch of this house. He lets his fingertips brush against Dean's and everything feels warm.
“He put you to work already?”
Dean looks up with a wry smile as Sam passes through the doorway. He doesn't move his hand.
“I'm happy to help.” Castiel suddenly yearns for more parsley as his empty hands curl with indecision. He hadn't gone over proper pre menage a trois greeting etiquette and his mind cartwheels through imaginary secret handshakes.
“And I'm happy you're here.” Sam wraps him in a hug that should be marketed as a pharmaceutical. His skin is still damp and warm from his shower and Sam's scent wraps around him, the bright vervain burst of his excitement and the rosemary tang of his appetite making Castiel's skin prickle.
Sam and Dean have the kind of easy back and forth of fond couples, and the rest of dinner prep passes pleasantly with a good bottle of wine and far less awkwardness than Castiel had anticipated. Dean's food is absolutely delicious, and Sam has a surprisingly hilarious bitchy streak as he shares stories about his coworkers. Castiel learns that Dean does something called LARP, which seems to be some combination of amateur theatre and shared group hallucinations, and Sam volunteers at an animal shelter once a month. It's the nicest dinner Castiel has had in a long time.
“That was wonderful, Dean.” Castiel wipes the corner of his mouth with a soft, bleached-out napkin. The fire Dean has banked in the fireplace pops softly, adding to the warmth suffusing over Castiel. The glass of red wine probably isn't hurting either.
“Well, I hope you saved some room.” Dean pushes his plate aside and stretches. “I'm dying for dessert.”
Castiel starts to gather the plates before Sam shoos him away.
“That's my job.” He stacks them one by one, grinning at Castiel. “You're our guest.”
Dean regards them both and gives Sam a knowing look.
“Why don't you bring out dessert while Cas and I get comfortable by the fire.”
“Yes, dear.” Sam purses his lips and gives Castiel a small wink.
Sam and Dean have the kind of overstuffed couches made for snuggling, arranged around a glass-topped coffee table. Their rug is worn out in uneven patches and soft under Castiel's feet. The fire settles, a log softly falling in half as Castiel tucks himself onto the couch.
Dean tops off their wine glasses and settles next to him, leaving space for Sam at the other end of the couch. The tannins and lingering histamines in his Cabernet make Castiel's cheeks flush, the pleasant warmth of enough wine to make him relaxed without being drunk.
“Do you do this very often?”
Maybe he's a little too relaxed.
Dean looks like he wants to play coy as he swirls his wine around his glass, tilting it to Castiel.
“My doctor told me a glass of wine and some down time is good for my heart.”
Castiel rolls his eyes, understanding Sam's frequent use of the gesture.
“Do you take strange men into your bed very often?”
Castiel tries his best to match Dean's coy look. Meg would be proud of him.
“You do seem a little strange.” Dean takes a sip of his wine, smacking his lips together. “And I like it.”
He sets his wine down on the coffee table, the glass singing as it hits the top.
“But no, we don't take men, strange or otherwise, into our bed very often.” Dean leans towards him, his arm braced over the back of the couch. “You seemed special.”
Castiel is searching for a good rejoinder when Sam appears, carrying two enormous platters laden with dessert. Castiel really did make too much.
“Charlie is going to be thrilled that we finally used these.” Sam sets the platters down and Castiel peers curiously at the heraldic symbols painted around the rims.
Sam returns with small plates and forks before settling next to Dean. Castiel notes with secret pride that Sam goes straight for the carrot cupcakes while Dean cuts himself a huge wedge of apple pie. His instincts are rarely wrong. He serves himself a slice of Meg's chocolate cake and leans back against the arm of the couch.
“Cas, this is delicious,” Dean enthuses, his eyes rolling back as he chews a mouthful of flaky piecrust.
“Dude, you haven't even tried the cupcakes.” Sam takes another one, peeling the wrapper halfway off before taking a comically huge bite. “Seriously,” he mumbles, or at least that's what it sounds like.
Dean laughs and leans back against him. Sam wolfs down the rest of his cupcake and tosses the crumpled wrapper onto the coffee table. A dab of frosting lingers on his finger and Dean gets to it before Sam, pulling Sam's thumb into his mouth and keeping it there for far longer than any decent person ought to. He stretches one leg out, bending the other at the knee to brace against the couch, Sam's thumb between his lips and Castiel squirms.
It's not a secret why he's there. Someone should write a book about this. He can't be the only person who's sat across from a couple and wondered how he's supposed to get the show on the road. Is there a password? Eureka? Accio three dick sandwich?
Dean pulls off Sam's finger with a wet sound that doesn't help Castiel's squirming at all. He leans back against Sam's chest, tilting his head to the side as he spreads his legs wide and they're both staring at him.
Castiel is rarely beckoned by people other than his customers. It's a nice change. He sets his plate down, softly, not wanting to clink too loudly against the quiet, heavy moment before him. Sam and Dean look so inviting, tilted open as he crawls the minute distance between them.
“I want to kiss you,” Dean husks, his voice soft as his hand runs gently along Castiel's hair.
He can feel Dean's breath against him, can smell the sweet scent of dessert and wine, the soft tangle of Dean's arousal and Sam's beneath it. It's so curious, how intertwined they are, so similar as Castiel inhales deeply and nods his assent.
Dean's lips are just as plush as Castiel had imagined, but rougher, catching against Castiel's as he leans into it. Warmth floods over him as Dean presses back up, a hint of his tongue testing out the bitten swell of Castiel's lip. It's gentle, a slow opening inch by inch with soft sweeps of his tongue until Castiel realizes he's licking back eagerly and grinding his hips into empty air.
“Don't be greedy.” Sam's voice rumbles out like a scratch behind the ear. Castiel steals one last taste of Dean before he looks up. It's seems unfair that even Sam's eyebrows are sexy, but the way they're drawn up looks like a promise for things Castiel can barely imagine.
Best of all Dean's hand is still on him, guiding him to Sam's mouth even as the taste of Dean lingers on his tongue. Castiel forgets the awkward crouch of his body as Dean lolls his head to the side and Sam arches his neck.
Dean's fingers trail down to his neck as Sam's tongue licks into Castiel, bold where Dean was soft and it makes Castiel quake. Sam traces a hungry line over Castiel's teeth, his lips chasing hot after it. He pulls back, sucking Castiel's lower lip between his teeth and scraping before he releases him.
There are enough chemicals in human saliva to dissolve a penny given enough time. They all swirl before Castiel, the faint trace of plaque despite Sam's clearly excellent oral hygiene, the tang of amylase lingering from Dean's salivary glands, the glycan-seeking fizz of lysozymes and the heavy alpha chains of Dean's immunoglobulin. Immunity is overwhelmingly familial, obtained and sustained in the same environment, micro-crises in the thymus matured for later use and stored in the arsenal of B cells, the story of a shared lifetime saved for future attack. He closes his eyes, seeking out the twin threads of histocompatability and how could Castiel not know.
Laughter bubbles up inside him. It's as obvious as it is absolutely insane.
They're both watching him when he opens his eyes and Castiel can't help but search their faces, seeking out visual confirmation of something he already knows. But do they?
His mind races. He's seen plenty of Dateline episodes about siblings separated at birth, about men with secret families dotted across the country like thumbtacks on a map. Maybe it would ruin their lives if he said something.
Maybe it would ruin his.
Castiel hangs his head, his shoulders flexing together and he can't tell if his stalling for time has taken a second or five minutes. He races through every conversation he's had with them, Sam's evasive answers about siblings and Dean's off-hand comments about high school sweethearts. Of course they know.
Dean fucks his brother and fuck if that doesn't make Castiel's cock throb.
“You ok, Cas?” Sam reaches a tentative hand for his shoulder and Castiel arches into it, his body searching out their warmth and loose-limbed comfort before his mind can catch up.
Dean lets out a sweet huff of surprise as Castiel kisses him, sliding down to mold their bodies together until Castiel can feel the hard line of his dick pressing against Dean's. He must be crushing Sam with both their weight but Sam's hand on his neck tells him Sam isn't objecting.
Each grind of his hips sets Castiel's teeth on edge, stoking the hysteria competing for space inside him. Dean's body is a wonder beneath him, strong and warm and Castiel could smell his neck for the rest of his life. He licks a stripe along Dean's jaw, brushing his lips past Dean's warm pulse to bury his nose in what he presumes is Sam's stomach. Sam's stomach could double as a countertop and it has far too many shirts on top of it.
Greedy for skin, Castiel pushes Sam's layers up until he can press his nose to the pulsing, blister-cool scent of Sam. Castiel opens his mouth, dragging his lips against smooth skin as Dean groans beneath him. There is something wrong with Sam, there's something wrong with both of them and Castiel's hips rut into Dean, unaware of the faint whine in his throat as he ferrets out every strand of fraternal accord between them. He wants to drown in it, this dirty skin-prickle thrill of incest writhing beneath him.
Castiel knows things he shouldn't about plenty of people. He can keep this one secret for himself.
Sam's scent lingers on Castiel's lips as he turns back to Dean, dragging open-mouthed along the hot skin of Dean's neck. His breath condenses against Dean's skin, mingling with the faint sheen of sweat gliding on his neck and Castiel wants all of it, hips rolling and his cock grinding hard into Dean, his breath catching in his throat as Sam groans beneath them.
“Hey, Cas, whoa.” Dean presses a soft hand to his shoulder. “You keep going like that I'm gonna cross the finish line before we even start the race.”
Castiel looks up, red sweeping up from his neck. Sam's eyes are wide with the sort of kindness Castiel doesn't want in bed. He glances down at his hard-on tenting his pants and groans. They must think he's some kind of sexually incompetent moron. Castiel pushes himself up, envying animals that can camouflage with their surroundings in times of stress.
“No, hey.” Dean follows him, hiking himself up on one arm and reaching for Castiel.
“Don't get me wrong, that's hot as fuck.” Dean trails his eyes down to Castiel's throbbing dick.
“But when you come,” Dean's eyebrow rises as his hand snakes along Castiel's thigh. “It's going in someone's mouth, not your pants.”
“I don't know how this works.” It's one of the more awkward admissions Castiel has ever made with another person's hand over his hard-on, but the truth of it lifts a weight from him. It cuts through the tension in the room and Dean's sympathetic laugh rings out.
“It's ok, Cas.” Dean's hand is still on Castiel's dick and apparently Castiel's dick needs to rut against Dean's hand every time Dean says his name.
“We can show you.”
They pull him off the couch, Dean's sure hands on his waist and a predatory gleam in Sam's eyes that makes Castiel shiver. Sam leads the way up the stairs. Castiel follows, giddy and light-headed above the heavy weight of his dick.
It's all hazy and hot as they tumble towards the bedroom, clothes falling to the side and skin rubbing sweaty and slick. Sam and Dean trade kisses and trace the bare curves of his body, slotting fingers over his waist and dragging teeth down the sharp wings of his hipbones. They press to his sides, the hot lines of their cocks digging into either side of him as they take turns teasing his nipples and sucking hot, greedy marks onto his collarbone.
If Castiel had to pluck one word from the heady air around him it would be safe. As Sam and Dean bend and ply him, mapping his skin with their lips and trailing a thousand secrets between them, Castiel can let go of his body and let the smell of sex wash over him. The hands holding him up are good ones.
Sam's hands are cooler than Dean's but they're firmer when they pull Castiel back, cradling him against Sam's chest as Dean spreads himself out against the headboard. One arm flung over his head, kiss-bitten lips parted, legs spread wide and a lazy hand around his cock, Dean is in his element.
“Look at him.” Sam's lips pull up into a fond smile, tongue darting out quickly as Dean gives a long stroke of his cock.
“He's gorgeous.” Castiel's mouth waters as a clear drop of precome beads up on the head of Dean's cock.
“What do you want to do to him?”
Sam's breath tickles over his ear, his chest rising and falling against Castiel's back. Sam is so easy to follow, the undulations of his body moving Castiel along for the ride.
“God, look at his cock.” Sam's palm skates over Castiel's hipbone, fingers wrapping around his cock and Castiel sucks a breath in through his teeth at the contact.
Dean wears the attention like a tailored suit, licking his lips and pulling on his cock while Castiel bucks up into Sam's hand. Another pearl of precome glistens out before Dean's thumb swipes over it, spreading it shiny around the crown before sucking it into his mouth.
“Fuck.” Castiel moans as Sam releases his grip and palms Castiel's balls, rolling them softly before his long fingers pad out the tender skin behind them.
“You want him to fuck you, Cas?”
Sam presses softly, a hairsbreadth from Castiel's hole and God, Castiel wants, wants impossible things like both of them inside him, wants to feel them bare and beg them to come inside him. He bites his lip, warring to trust himself to know his limits and facing a losing battle.
“I … I'm not ready.”
Sam's hand immediately pulls back to rest softly at Castiel's waist.
“Not yet. Is … is that ok?”
Before he can even teeter over the edge of doubt, Dean crouches in front of him while Sam presses a kiss to his neck.
“Of course it's fine, Cas.” Dean cradles his cheek and kisses him, long and sweet with all the time in the world. Sam's heart beats steady behind him and Castiel sighs, safe.
“Whatever you want.”
Castiel takes a deep breath, drawing in the sweat-tang and lecithin sweetness of their sincerity. He licks his lips, inching back towards the edge of the bed.
“I want to taste you.”
It's satisfying to get that punched-out look from Dean as Castiel sinks to his knees on the floor. Dean's probably used to being on the receiving end of the sloe-eyed lust look but God does he wear it well. Castiel lets his fingers wrap around Dean's hips, digging in as he pulls Dean down to sit on the edge of the bed. Dean's legs fall open in invitation as he leans back on his hands.
Dean's cock is beautiful, throbbing hot and pearled at the tip. Glancing to the side, Castiel sees Sam wrap a hand around himself and stroke up, pushing out a matching bead of precome and Castiel's breath hitches. Brothers. It makes him dizzy, glad he's on the floor already as he drinks in the shared scent of their arousal. They know one another best and Castiel wants to know everything.
Castiel glances up at Sam, blinking slowly and pressing his lips together. He wraps his hand around Sam's free wrist and tugs, pulling Sam down until he's on his knees next to Castiel.
With his eyes on Dean, Castiel folds Sam's hand into his own and guides it to the back of his neck.
“Show me what he likes, Sam.”
Castiel doesn't wait for the end of Sam's long groan or the deep, lush string of curses that Dean mumbles. He wets his lips and snakes his tongue out, greedy for the taste of Dean and rewarded tenfold when Sam's hand squeezes gently around his neck.
Sam presses up behind him, his hair falling forward and tickling Castiel's ear and it's hard to smile around a cock in his mouth but Castiel still tries. He flicks his tongue into the slit of Dean's cock before he lets the warm, steady pressure of Sam's hand guide him down.
“Get it wet.” Sam's fingers tangle into his hair, urging him back up as Castiel drags his tongue along the throbbing vein on the base. He meets Dean's eyes as he purses his lips, letting a pool of saliva form in his mouth. Dean's hands curl into the sheets and he looks transfixed, eyes flitting back and forth between Sam, between his brother and Castiel before him.
Castiel parts his lips and lets a slick line of spit trail down to Dean's cock, chasing after it with Sam's steadfast encouragement. He builds up a steady rhythm, up and down with the spit-wet sounds of his own mouth and Sam whispering praise behind him.
“Jesus Christ, Cas,” Dean moans, his hand gripping over Sam's and pulling Castiel down. Castiel lets his body go pliant, relishing the gag in his throat before he relaxes, his cock slapping up against his stomach as Dean fucks his face and Sam's cock presses hot and insistent against his thigh.
“So fucking good.” Dean pulls him down, growling so loud Castiel can feel it where his nose is buried in the curled thatch of Dean's pubic hair. He can't breathe, floating in the moment and he almost convulses when Sam closes a hand around his dick.
“You're gonna make him come if you keep swallowing his dick like that, Cas.” Sam strokes his cock and gently pulls Castiel back. A wet string of spit and precome trails from Castiel's swollen lips to the crown of Dean's cock and Sam chases after it, kissing it back into Castiel's mouth.
“Fuck, Sammy.” Dean's hand flies over his dick as they kiss. “I'm fucking close.”
Sam pulls off of Castiel's mouth, his head shaking no at Dean as they share a look. Dean cocks an eyebrow and clamps his hand around the base of his cock, nodding his head.
Sam's breath tickles against his ear.
“I want him to fuck me while I suck your cock, Cas.”
“Ok,” is perhaps Castiel's most underwhelming answer to date but it's all he has left in him. He clambers onto the bed, Sam and Dean pushing him onto his back and up against the headboard. Sam spreads his legs apart and noses down his stomach, stopping to scrape his teeth over Castiel's hipbones and Dean kisses him as goosebumps spring up on his skin.
“Don't worry, I'll come in your mouth next time,” Dean whispers in his ear as Sam closes his mouth around Castiel's dick and they're going to kill him. Castiel's heart isn't built to pound in his throat like this, not as he watches Sam 's back arch into a sinuous, skyward curve, Dean grinning wolfishly at the sluttish cant of his hips.
Sam sucks cock with his eyes open and Castiel isn't surprised but he's thrilled to watch the hungry slant of Sam's eyes as Dean fingers him open.
“Pull his hair.” Dean grins, cocky and three-fingers deep and full of good ideas. Sam's hair is shampoo-commercial soft and just the right length to knot around Castiel's knuckles. A gentle tug is rewarded with a deep, ball-tingling groan and Castiel pulls harder, gasping as Sam swallows him to the base and snaps his hips, fucking back onto Dean's hand.
“Yeah, that's what he likes.”
Dean slicks his cock up and Castiel's not entirely sure who wants to see Sam get fucked more. He feels like he could crawl out of his skin with it, the air so heavy with hormones he could float on it. When Dean sinks himself into his brother Castiel's eyes roll back in his head and his hips move of their own accord.
“Like getting fucked even more, don't you Sammy?”
Watching Dean snap his hips into Sam makes Castiel question his decision to take his ass out of the equation. Dean can fuck, sinking deep and rolling his hips and Castiel doesn't need Sam's cock-garbled moans to know it feels amazing. The view from behind must be fantastic with the way Dean flexes into Sam, but watching Dean's face is a thousand times better. He's radiant, skin glowing warm and his freckles standing out, hands gripped surely into Sam's hips.
Castiel mirrors it, tightening his grip in Sam's hair and they're both so gorgeous, moving together in perfect unison with their eyes on Castiel, and more than Sam's hot, wet mouth tight around his cock or the grunt-wet slaps of Dean's cock it's the perfect fold of their attention that pushes Castiel over the edge.
He tries to warn Sam, who seems completely appalled at Castiel's ham-handed attempts to pull him off. Castiel comes on Sam's eager tongue and he's still shaking with it when Dean folds himself over Sam's back.
“Don't swallow it.”
Sam and Castiel both make a noise somewhere between guh and shamelessly taking the lord's name in vain.
Dean grins, wicked and he knows how good he looks, sinking deep into Sam before he pulls out.
“Get on your back, Sammy.”
Sam lifts his head up, tilting his chin to keep the white pool of Castiel's come in his mouth and the look he gives Castiel before he rolls over should be illegal. He splays out next to Cas, longs legs falling open and he smells like heaven.
“Want to see it,” Dean husks, pressing Sam's legs up to his chest and folding over him. Sam looks half-way to wrecked already, lips swollen red and his mouth parted open. Dean licks a stray drop from the corner of his mouth.
“Think you should keep it in there till I make you come.”
“Fuck.” Castiel surprises himself, but fuck. Dean looks over at him, eyes glinting.
“Yeah, Sammy,” Dean nods as he lines his cock up.
“Gonna come on my cock?”
Dean sinks in, slick and slow and Sam's eyes flutter, beautiful.
“That's it.” Dean grinds his hips, curling his back until there's barely any space between them, buried deep and Castiel groans as a slick line of precome leaks from Sam's cock. It slaps against their bellies as Dean speeds his pace, starting slow and deep before slamming into Sam hard enough to make a fat line of Castiel's come leak from the side of Sam's mouth.
“So fucking hot.” Dean pounds into him, the bed shaking beneath them. Sam groans, the sound bubbling wet out of his mouth and it's almost disgusting, disgusting enough to make Castiel's dick twitch painfully back to attention.
“See that, Cas?” Dean pants, voice thick as he drills into Sam. “Fucking hot, right? Mouthful of come and a cock in his ass and he couldn't be happier.”
There is such adoration in Dean's voice it makes Castiel's chest tight. With streaks of come on his face and his body shaking, Sam tenses, his hands bracing against the headboard.
“Come for me, Sammy.”
Castiel has watched as much porn as any healthy guy. It's not like he's never seen a guy come without a hand on his dick, but it had always had the whiff of urban legend, like there was some porn-magic editing involved.
As Sam's cock twitches and spurts all over his chest, his hands stretched far above his head, Castiel wonders how he'll ever get off to porn again.
“God, fuck, Sam.” Dean folds over him, hips twitching as his lips close over Sam's. He licks greedily into Sam's mouth, tongue snaking in and Castiel can see the shiny streaks of his come traded between them.
He is ruined for pornography and it is wonderful.
The room stinks like sex and Castiel can taste it. It almost hurts to get hard again so soon but he likes it.
“Shit, Cas.” Dean's voice is shaky as he slips out of Sam, a fat line of come leaking out after him. “Hard already?”
Castiel squeezes his aching dick in answer, pulling Dean in for a kiss and moaning at the taste.
“Knew I liked you for a reason.”
Later, Dean makes good on his promise to come in Castiel's mouth, a man of his word to the last drop. He returns the favor to Sam and Castiel both, at the same time, which is an experience Castiel will never forget. He'll never forget any of it, and he sinks into Sam and Dean's bed, warm between them and the sheets ripe with sex.
“Hey, Cas?” Dean slings an arm over his chest, settling his nose in the curve of Castiel's neck.
“No pressure or anything, but,” Dean's hand intertwines with Sam's, their fingers laddering together over his heart.
“You want to spend the night?”
Castiel closes his eyes and hums in answer.
“Your bacon is rancid.” Castiel readjusts the sash on his borrowed robe before accepting Sam's offered cup of coffee.
“What?” Dean turns around, illuminated from behind by the refrigerator light. “I just bought this.”
He places his stack of eggs and butter and bacon on the kitchen island and frowns.
“Trust me,” Castiel warns, bringing his coffee cup up to his nose as Dean peels the plastic packaging apart. Dean gives it a tentative sniff and makes a face. Gabriel had shown Castiel a video montage of babies trying lemons for the first time, and Dean's affronted disgust is so similar Castiel smiles into his mug.
Sam doesn't even try to hide it, bursting into a laugh and failing to stifle it when Dean glares at him.
“Well I can't make a bacon omelet without bacon,” Dean huffs, holding up his palms like a martyr.
“You could just makes eggs,” Sam suggests, to the disdain of both Castiel and Dean.
“Or I could go to the store and get you more.”
This amendment satisfies Dean, who gives Sam a kiss on the temple and pulls out a cheese grater from a drawer. They bicker like brothers, but they make up like an old married couple.
“Wanna come?” Sam lines up next to him, knocking Castiel with his hip. “He'll be in his own little world until those eggs are on the plate.”
“I can still hear you.” Dean doesn't look up from his cheese-grating. It's gruyere, and it smells potent and wonderful on Dean's hands.
“Well maybe I'd just like some company.” Sam takes Castiel's empty mug and puts it in the sink. “You can borrow some clothes.
Dean's clothes fit him alright, although Castiel has to will his hard-on away at the smell of Dean all over him. Sam isn't helping as he slides behind Castiel while he's buttoning up an old denim shirt.
“How do you do that?”
Sam rests his head on Castiel's shoulder, palms splaying over Castiel's hipbones and this would be so easy to get used to. Sam's easy affection is contagious and Castiel finds himself leaning back into it.
“Like, with the bacon. It was sealed.”
Castiel is usually better about hiding his abilities from strangers. But Sam and Dean are hiding things, too, and while their secret would send most people running out the door, it makes Castiel's chest expand and his hand curl over Sam's.
Castiel isn't the only one with secrets.
“I have a heightened sense of smell. It's called hyperosmia, although I understand mine is more severe than most cases.”
“What else can you smell?” Sam's breath is warm against his ear.
“Dean's laundry in that closet.” He points to a thin slatted door. “Cedar shelves.”
He looks over at the nightstand. “Lubricated condoms. Unlubricated condoms.” He sniffs.
“They came in a gift basket,” Sam mumbles.
“They're expired.” Castiel wrinkles his nose.
“I can smell the dead skin in your mattress.”
“Oh, that's gross.” Sam sticks his tongue out.
“Don't worry, it's normal.” Castiel shrugs. He closes his eyes and turns his head up, his lips grazing past Sam's jaw.
“I can smell Dean's semen inside of you.” I can smell the Devil inside you.
Castiel isn't the only one willing away an erection. Sam circles his hips and groans.
“I want to suck your dick again.” He sighs against Castiel's shoulder, his breath blowing warm and damp through Dean's shirt. “After omelets.”
Castiel's stomach rumbles obligingly.
“Besides, I think Dean would kill me if he didn't go first.”
Castiel has never liked grocery stores, with their anxious maternal crowds and underlying stench of old blood. It's easier to bear with Sam, as if the strength of his orbit eclipses the stale cigarette breath and soiled diapers and dandruff of the ordinary people around him. They find their bacon, a nitrate-free brand that Castiel also favors, and get some more milk while they're at it.
The checkout lines are dotted with the motley crew of Sunday morning shoppers, jittery jazzercise moms in sherbet-hued tracksuits and a miserable father toting his equally miserable daughter behind him, a handsome lesbian couple buying an inordinate amount of kale, and a young man so stoned Castiel knows he will consume that entire box of Twinkies even if it takes him all day. Wound through all of them, their white wine sweat and their astringent heart medication and buzzing acetylcholine depression, is Sam's steady, icy scent, a breath of cool air against Castiel's neck.
The parking lot is a vast expanse of cars, the sun glinting crystal sharp in Castiel's eyes and it's almost beautiful.
It makes it that much more jarring when someone throws a bag over his head and shoves him into a van.
“Who the fuck is this?”
A supernova explodes in Castiel's face. Pain rips through his head like the pull of a hellish tide, swirling around his temples before settling somewhere deep inside his brain. It throbs in time with the star, push-pulse, push-pulse, push-pulse.
He squeezes his eyes shut, watching the star flare a vellum yellow behind his eyelids. It's a long moment before he identifies the copper mist in the air as the smell of his own blood.
“That is not Dean Winchester!”
He's moving, suddenly, stiff and oddly weightless until he lands with a thud. The star is fading now, feeding its energy to the galaxy, dead eons before it reached Castiel's eyes. We are all going to fade back to stars, one day.
Stars don't smell like dust and grit and men in close quarters. They don't smell like blood and nylon web rope.
“Gordon, I'm telling you, they were together at the goddamn grocery store-”
His body jerks wildly as his brain calmly informs him that he's tied to a chair. Well-tied, apparently.
Faces swim before him, all narrowed eyes and a smattering of bright, white teeth.
“You fucking idiots.” A familiar voice rings out against the rafters, crisp and dripping with slurred contempt. “I told you he wasn't-”
“Do you ever shut the fuck up?”
There's a distressed noise and a lot of thumping and none of this makes any sense.
Castiel blinks again, willing his vision to clear. He must be hallucinating.
“Look who's awake.” A man leans down to peer at Castiel, disgust dripping from his face. He has a set of teeth that would put a shark to shame and the sharp, predatory eyes to match. His skin gleams black in the fluorescent beam of light fighting its way down from the rafters. He'd be handsome if he wasn't so marred by hatred.
Castiel isn't a coward but he's not a fool, either. This man is terrifying.
“So.” The man claps his hands together, making Castiel wince at the loud noise. “Here are some things I know. One, you're not Dean. Two, this asshole,” he jerks his thumb at a shifty-eyed man standing to his left. His eyes are rimmed with red and the skin beneath is pouched and sallow, the face of a habitual poor sleeper.
“Picked you up along with his freak brother.”
The fear that creeps up Castiel's spine does more to wake him up than a bucket of ice water to the face. He starts, body straining against his restraints as he turns his head. He can just make out a figure slumped in a chair against the wall, hair hanging in his face. Castiel freezes.
“So, following that logic, I'm guessing you know where Dean is.”
Turning his head brings on a new surge of pain. His eyes have adjusted to the light and he feels a thread of relief that Sam is at least breathing, even if he is unconscious.
Gordon. This man's name is Gordon and Castiel hates him.
Gordon crouches down in front of him, grabbing Castiel's chin roughly and turning it to face him.
“These two are like ghosts, you know that? No records, not even a fucking parking ticket.”
His fingers squeeze against Castiel's jaw, hard enough to bruise as they turn his head to the side.
“Old Sam here wasn't terribly cooperative.” He shakes Castiel's head, making him wince and his vision swim. “He's a tough motherfucker, I'll give him that.”
Gordon clicks his teeth, the sound echoing sharply.
“I wonder if your little girlfriend over here is that tough.”
Gordon pushes his head to the other side, so fast Castiel lets out an involuntary bark of pain before his doubled vision settles onto one small figure, her hands held behind her back by Gordon's accomplice.
“My girl-” Castiel slurs, his head racing to catch up with the sight of Bela struggling. Her skirt is ripped up the side and her hair is all tangled and she looks absolutely furious.
“I admire a strong work ethic, I really do.” Gordon grins, like he could suck the light out of the room.
“But this little bitch tried to sell some information to the wrong people.” He tsks at Bela, shaking his head. She looks like she wants to pull his teeth out with her bare hands.
“You don't just throw around the name Winchester and expect nothing to happen.”
Gordon looks at him closely, waiting for a reaction.
“You don't know, do you?” Gordon makes a comical face, his eyes wide in a cruel parody of empathy.
“Oh man, this is good.” He pats Castiel on the shoulder.
“The Winchester boys. They were always kind of funny, you know? Their dad, well,” Gordon raises his eyebrows and twirls his finger next to his temple, whistling viciously.
“Nutbag. Met him a few times back in the day, always gave me the creeps.”
Gordon leans in conspiratorially.
“Crazy eyes, you know what I mean?” He winks.
“Can't say I was surprised when I heard they were fucking each other. I mean, brothers? Can you believe that?”
Castiel feels a bitter glimmer of satisfaction. He can believe a lot of things, and while his face may be throbbing he can still smell the man in front of him.
“I don't know, though.” Gordon strokes his chin, impossibly more hateful for his obvious enjoyment of a captive audience. Psychopaths thrive on attention and someone clearly didn't give him enough as a child.
“Maybe it's not so surprising. You see, there's something wrong with Sammy over here. Always has been.” Gordon pauses, building up to his denouement.
“He's got demon blood in him.”
Castiel feels sick.
“Maybe that kind of evil just infects everything around it. Starts spreading like a disease. Maybe Dean wasn't so bad to start with. He just got corrupted with that filth.” He spits the last word, his mouth curling up in disgust.
“Guess I'll have to ask him before I kill him.”
“You're going to die.” Castiel's voice is calm for all its roughness.
Gordon snorts, shaking his head at the other man.
“You gonna kill me, tough guy?”
Castiel draws up all his courage, shored up with Bela's taut dignity and the flecks of blood spattering Sam's face.
“You might not die today, or tomorrow, or even next week.” Castiel's lip hurts as he speaks.
“Your cancer will eat you from the inside. It doesn't care how many people you kill.”
“What the fuck did you just say?” Gordon growls.
“Do you think stopping these men will save you?”
Beneath Gordon's unstable aura of testosterone and self-delusion, he is ripe with anxiety and the sugar-sweet decay of metastatic tumor growth.
“What's he talking about, Gordon?”
“Shut up, Kubrick,” Gordon snaps, the whites of his eyes showing.
“Did they give you six weeks?” Castiel doesn't have any pity for Gordon but he feigns it, mocking.
“You're good at hiding the pain. Your cruelty gives you strength and you think it makes you righteous.”
“Fuck you,” Gordon barks. He's taut and furious, wounded the way only truth can. He is perfectly capable of killing Castiel and all Castiel can do is try to buy more time.
“Your friend is insane.” Castiel looks past Gordon to see Kubrick frozen in place, still holding Bela tight but his eyes darting around. “You know it, don't you?”
“He's a lying sack of shit, Kubrick.” Gordon snarls.
“Besides, I'm not the one who worked with the fucking freak, am I?”
Kubrick flinches, an old wound probed.
“I don't know about this, Gordon. He's-”
Kubrick starts with surprise, yelping in pain as Bela brings her heel down onto the bridge of his foot with a vicious jab. She donkey-kicks him square in the knee and sprints forward, tilting at an angle where her hands are still tied behind her back.
“Oh no you don't.”
Bela is fast but Gordon is faster, springing into action with an agility that belies his size and condition. Bela's shriek is a painful thing to hear as he snatches her arm and gives her a brutally efficient right hook. She slumps in his arms. He shoots a beaming smile at Castiel as he pulls a wicked-looking knife from his belt.
“Let's see how fast she is when I start cutting pieces off.”
Gordon traces the tip of his blade along Bela's jaw, stopping at the juncture of her earlobe.
“Now tell me where I'm gonna find brotherfucker number two, or I start taking trophies from Princess Di.”
“Hey asshole,” Meg's voice rings out like a bell. Castiel jerks his head around as hysterical laughter bubbles up inside him. Meg is either here to save him or he's suffering from a spectacularly creative concussion.
Meg taps her foot, her boots thudding against the floor.
Gordon's eyes are white to the edges as he pulls his knife back from Bela's neck. His arms tremble as he turns the knife on himself, his teeth bared as he presses it to his own throat.
“What the-” Gordon hisses through clenched teeth, a wild fight for control between his face and the blade kissing his neck.
Meg turns to Kubrick just as he dashes towards her, reaching into the air in front of her and twisting her wrist.
“You both had eggs for breakfast,” she grunts, grabbing at something invisible and tugging. Kubrick yelps in pain and collapses while Gordon falls haltingly to his knees. “How boring, right Jo?”
“I like your knife.” Jo's voice is light but she's straining as she walks forward, her hands shaking by her sides.
“I like yours, too.”
Kubrick collapses onto his side as a small switchblade shoots out of his pocket, hovering in the air before darting straight to Castiel. The blade slides out with a soft snick before slicing deftly through the ropes at his wrists and ankles. It lands on the floor with a clatter.
The blood rushing into his extremities burns, pins and needles fighting for his attention as he staggers to his feet. The chair topples behind him as he surges towards Bela.
“Witches,” Gordon hisses, his body tense as he fights the blade.
“Castiel,” Bela mumbles as he tugs the filthy handkerchief from her mouth, her eyes dazed as she regains consciousness. Castiel helps her to her feet before she shrugs him off.
“Go get Sam,” she hisses, shoving him aside.
Castiel looks around frantically, Bela trembling at his side. Meg's face is twisted into a grimace, her hands shaking as Kubrick tries to stagger to his feet. Jo's face is beet-red, with sweat beading on her forehead and streaking down her neck.
“You can't keep this up forever, little girl,” Gordon snarls, the knife wobbling against his neck. His muscles strain as he pulls harder.
“Meg!” Castiel screams as Kubrick launches himself at her.
A shot rings out and Kubrick crumples to the floor, screaming and clutching what's left of his right knee.
“I'd show the ladies a little more respect, Gordon.”
Dean has Sam's arm slung over his shoulder and a gun in his hand and he is magnificent.
“Go to hell.” With one last heaving effort Gordon regains control of the knife, turning to Sam and Dean before a blur of movement cuts in front of them.
“You first,” Bela snarls, sinking the switchblade into his throat with deadly precision. Gordon's face is shocked as the first spray of blood issues forth, an arc of red that sweeps the air and spatters at his feet.
Gordon's last words are lost in a fountain of his own blood, and no one mourns them.
Meg and Jo lean into each other, panting for breath and shaking. Bela stares at Gordon's body, her arms crossed rigidly over herself.
“I'm so sorry, Cas.” Sam hobbles alongside him, most of his weight borne on Dean's shoulders. Dean's still holding his gun.
“Please,” Kubrick moans, his hands soaked with his own blood as he clutches his ruined knee. “Please don't kill me.”
“Give me one reason not to.” Dean is steeled, everything in him tense and ready.
“I promise you, you will never hear from me again. Gordon got inside my head, I swear, I never wanted it to go this far.”
“He's telling the truth.”
Everyone looks at Castiel. Dean sighs, keeping his gun trained on Kubrick.
“You stay here until we clear out.” Dean looks at Meg and Jo, motioning for them to head to the door. Bela staggers behind them, her steps jerky.
“Wait another fifteen minutes and then call whoever gives enough of a shit to come help you.”
Dean pulls Sam along until they're next to Cas.
“Cas, help me get him out of here.”
He slides his shoulder under Sam's arm, shoring him up and letting out a sigh of relief he didn't know he'd been holding. The sunlight is blinding when they get outside.
Dean carefully deposits Sam in the front seat, leaving Castiel in the back with three ragged women. Meg shrugs and sits in his lap.
“I think we all have some explaining to do.”
“You're a witch?”
Castiel stares at Meg for the tenth time in as many minutes. They'd all straggled back to Sam and Dean's for the sole reason that it was closest. Sam and Dean still haven't emerged from their bedroom, leaving Castiel with three bristling, exhausted women.
Some of whom are apparently also witches.
“She's a good witch,” Jo chimes in. She shrugs and goes back to tugging her fingers through her snarled hair.
“I prefer to think of myself as a morally neutral agent of entropy, but whatever.” Meg shrugs and purses her lips, the snark draining out of her eyes as she looks up at Castiel.
“I'll excuse myself before this gets any more Hallmark moment.” Bela rises from the loveseat, the stiffness in her gait passing for gravitas as she disappears into the bathroom. Jo's eyes follow her, like she wants to get up but knows better.
Castiel sighs as Meg quickly pats a hand over his knee.
“I never meant to lie to you.” She fiddles with a fresh hole in her jeans, chipped black fingernails picking at loose black thread.
“I suppose it was a lie of omission,” Castiel offers, raising his head as high as he can from his sprawl across Sam and Dean's couch.
“I've known since I was a kid.” A distant smile softens her face. “I wanted Fiona Newcomb to barf when she got the last rice krispie ball at our school Halloween party, and the next thing I know she's projectile vomiting all over Mr. Weigert.”
She shakes her head.
“So when you say your cookies are magic...” Castiel trails off.
“I'm a strega,” she explains, shushing the s and lengthening the e.
“Kitchen witch,” Jo stage-whispers.
“I can control food. And alcohol,” she adds, arching an eyebrow.
“I knew some of those cocktails were too good to be true.” Castiel wouldn't mind one of Meg's blindingly-strong drinks right about now. The tastefully faux Tiffany lights that line Sam and Dean's living room slide in and out of a kaleidoscope of primary colors and Castiel blinks back the swirl.
“That's how she found you.” Jo peels back the wrapper on one of Castiel's carrot-cake cupcakes and takes a huge bite. No one comments on her inadvisable sugar intake, and surely saving someone from homicidal maniacs warrants indulgence.
“With food?” Castiel's head still hurts. He tries to raise it and decides that it's a horrible idea.
“I enchanted your cake.” She shrugs, looking absolutely unapologetic and so utterly like his best friend Castiel wants to hug her. As soon as his head stops pounding.
“I wasn't gonna let you trot off to bang two random dudes without any backup.”
“That's fair,” Castiel muses, incapable of feeling any indignation that Meg would essentially spy on him.
“I was just keeping track to make sure you weren't, you know, having your skin flayed off to make a person-suit in a basement or something.”
Castiel risks the headache to raise his head and mirror Jo's sardonic look.
“Well good thing I was. You just, poof!” Meg shoots her fingers out. “Disappeared.”
She tilts a shoulder up at Castiel's puzzled expression.
“It's not like I track you all the time or anything, but the few entirely-warranted times I have, it's like...” She presses her lips together. “When you fall asleep, you're gone but you're not gone-gone. This time it was like you just... blacked out.”
She frowns, her eyebrows drawing together.
“I knew something was wrong.”
The hole in her jeans continues to grow as she stares down at the floor, her fingers tugging at a loose thread. She looks small on Sam and Dean's overstuffed couch.
“She was terrified,” Jo confides between bites.
Meg looks up sharply.
“Fuck yeah I was.”
She shakes her head, waves of hair snaking around her as she composes herself.
“You'd said something about Sam, about how he smelled.” She wrinkles her nose slightly, the bare tips of her teeth flashing beneath her lip. Her eyes cloud over for a moment.
“There are bad things out there, Castiel. I was afraid Sam was one of them.”
She smoothes her hand over her knee and shakes her head.
“By the time I got to the house the slightly shorter Ken doll was pacing the front porch like a Civil War widow. He realized what I was about as fast as I guessed who he was, you hear stories, you know.”
She leans in to Castiel, glancing at the stairs before she whispers.
“They're, like, fucking famous.” Her eyes widen as she looks to Jo.
“Seriously.” Jo licks a nip of frosting off her index finger. She'll need to dose herself soon. Castiel tries to clear his mind of Jo's blood sugar and the dried blood on Meg's shirt and the bitter, hoary trauma hanging in the room.
“They come from this really old hunting family, like, stuff of legend.” Jo nods.
“My mom used to tell me stories about their dad, he wasn't exactly a big fan of witchcraft.” She raises a pointed eyebrow.
Hunters. Castiel adds it to the list of explanations he needs but might not want.
“There were always weird rumors about them, how they sort of dropped off the map.” Meg keeps her voice lowered, her eyes darting to the small bathroom where Bela remains staunchly cloistered.
“Anyway, I realized I was dealing with Dean fucking Winchester, and let me tell you, he is not the biggest fan of the witch-minded either, but he got over it pretty fucking fast when I said I could find you.”
She snorts and twists a lock of hair around her finger.
“So I did a spell and traced your cake, and thank God you ate some of it.”
“And got me for backup, ahem,” Jo adds, jutting out her chin.
“Of course.” Meg rolls her eyes at Castiel.
“Jo's a ferrokinetic.”
Castiel's forehead hurts enough without more confused wrinkling.
“I can manipulate metal.” Jo grins, the apples of her cheeks bursting with far too much enthusiasm. “Especially knives.”
She says the word with the same sing-song enthusiasm of little girls gushing over ponies.
“You're good backup, I'll give you that.” Meg narrows her eyes at Jo's gloating expression.
“Anyway, I tracked you down.” She bites her lip. “I'm glad Sam was with you. I don't think Dean would have been able to keep his shit together.”
She glances up the stairs again and clears her throat.
“And then, you know, I totally saved your ass.” She beams at him like Dante the cat with a mouthful of cream.
“And my stomach,” Castiel jokes, feeling hysteria and magic cake bubble up as his shock starts to ebb.
“Oh, the cake wasn't really in your stomach anymore, more like-”
“TMI,” Jo grumbles around a walnut-flecked mouthful.
“I think we get the idea, Meg.”
Castiel's stomach feels like it's full of lead. The couch where Dean had kissed him looms behind Jo's slim shoulders, the arm-worn microsuede blurring fuzzy as he stares at it.
Jo's phone buzzes and skitters across the coffee table, startling all three of them. Meg's hand hovers in front of her like she was about to stab it, or possibly extract some kind of food-grade component from it. Castiel really needs to get a handle on how all this works.
“Ash is here.” Jo heaves off the floor with a muffled groan that Meg echoes.
“I wish I could just teleport to my bed and sleep for the next two weeks.” Meg favors one leg as she comes to stand.
“Is that possible?” There are a million questions Castiel never even knew he had.
Meg and Jo look thoughtful.
“Don't think so, but you hear some crazy stories out of Australia.”
Jo twists from side to side, her back cracking as she grimaces. She frowns at the bathroom door before giving Meg and Castiel a weak smile.
“Meet you outside?”
Meg watches her leave before turning to face Castiel.
“You sure you're gonna be ok?” She plants a hand on her hip.
“I can turn those cupcakes into bombs, you know.”
Castiel leans forward, wincing at the ache as he looks up at his best friend.
“I don't know.” He shakes his head before Meg can say anything else or detonate any nearby baked goods.
“I mean, I don't know if it's going to be ok. But I have to stay.” He glances down, marveling at the bruises on his wrists.
“You deserve some answers, I'll give you that.”
Meg gives him a fond kiss on the cheek.
“You know where to find me when you're done.”
As is usually the case, the house feels emptier without Meg's presence. The floorboards creak above him and Castiel looks up, wondering what Sam and Dean are saying, if they're speaking at all or just holding each other. He wouldn't mind being held.
He's startled to see Bela standing in front of him when he looks down.
She's remarkably pulled together for someone who was abducted, rendered unconscious and rescued in the past 24 hours. She smoothes down her blouse, her hands only shaking slightly as she glides past the damp patches where she's washed off her own blood.
“An apology seems rather useless now, doesn't it?” She sinks down onto a chair, her lips tight.
“Can I still have one?”
She looks up at him, all of the usual cool irreverence drained from her face. It takes Castiel a moment to place such an unfamiliar expression. Bela is achingly sad.
“You've always been good to me.” She tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. “I remember Joshua telling me about you. He always said that he didn't have a tenth your natural ability.”
She looks him dead in the eyes, unflinching.
“I am so sorry.”
Castiel looks back at her.
“You know I'm not lying.” She looks down. “Not this time.”
“Why?” It's such a useless question, empty and loaded at the same time, but he knows he'll regret never asking it.
“Was it for money?”
“Money,” Bela snorts, looking away and shaking her head.
“I have so much money.” She smiles, bitter but still beautiful. “I have more money than I know what to do with.”
The smile drains from her face.
“There are things worth more than money, Castiel.” She spreads her hands out across her knees, fingers stretching before she curls them into fists. “And I lost them a long time ago.”
Beneath an iron grip of self-control that would put an olympic athlete to shame, Bela smells like the wan ketoacid of fear.
“I thought I could trade Sam and Dean for something I've been trying to get back for a very long time.” Her lip curls slightly. “I was double crossed, and no, the irony is not lost on me.”
There's a soft hum before Bela blinks and pulls a phone from the pocket of her pants.
“Excellent. I'll be right out.”
She takes a deep breath and stands up, tossing the phone onto the chair. It bounces against the cushion as a smiling picture of Sam and Dean flashes across the screen.
“Tell Dean he needs a new phone.”
Castiel doesn't even want to know how Bela got Dean's phone in the first place. He forces himself to stand.
“And tell him Gordon's body has already been taken care of.” Bela rests her hand on his shoulder, her head tilting to one side. “Don't bother telling them I'm sorry. They won't believe you.”
Her hug is surprising, firmer than Castiel's bruised ribs would like but it wouldn't be like her to be gentle now.
“I don't think I'll see you again, Castiel.” Beneath the scent of blood and grime, Bela is wearing Chanel No. 5. Castiel smiles over his sadness.
She pauses for a moment, glancing up the stairs. The change in her face is Oscar-worthy, icy cool frosting over all the raw edges as she stares up at Dean.
“You need to leave now.” His voice has the atonal restraint of a clenched fist.
Bela squares her shoulders.
“You would have done the same.”
Dean stands impassive, arms folded over his chest and Castiel doesn't need any acute senses to smell the rage pouring off him. It's hard to blame him and Castiel's heart twists.
“Be good to him.” She spares one last look for Castiel before wrapping herself in a cloak of gravitas and stiff upper lip. Dean watches her leave and stares at the door.
“She's right, you know.”
The stairs creak under Dean's feet.
“I'd do anything to keep Sam safe.” He runs his hand through his hair, leaving it at odd angles that shouldn't be so rakish and handsome.
“He's finally asleep.” Dean drums his fingers against the railing, a breath blowing out through his lips. He looks exhausted.
“You want some coffee?”
Castiel just nods.
Under the rich bitterness of Dean's blindingly strong coffee, the couch still smells like sex. Castiel traces his finger over the soft microfiber, wondering what other secrets are trapped in the cross-stitches of its fabric.
“So.” Dean wraps both hands around his mug, staring down into inky blackness. Small curls of steam rise up.
“What Gordon said back there, about me and Sam...” Dean exhales, dissipating the steam from his coffee and steeling himself.
“Sam is your brother.” Castiel feels good saying it. He lets it linger in the air, with the xanthine bite of coffee under his nose for courage.
“Guess you did hear that part.” Dean grimaces, his eyebrows drawing together.
“Cas, I'm so-”
“I already knew.” There's a point when honesty is all-or-nothing, and it seems unfair to ask Dean to share his deepest secrets if Castiel keeps some of his own.
“You what?” Dean goes still for a moment, and Castiel can see the shadow of Jo's legendary, witchburning hunter flicker across his face. “Who told-”
“I can smell it.” Castiel bites his lip, catching at a tag of rough skin. “I can smell a lot more than expired bacon, Dean.”
Dean relaxes a fraction, his shoulders sloping down softly.
“You knew and you still wanted to sleep with us?” Deans asks, guarded.
“I wasn't positive until I … until we kissed. Then it was very clear.” Castiel's face flushes at the sense memory. “I knew there was something unusual about you both, especially Sam.”
Dean's face clouds over again. Castiel inches closer to him, wanting to reach out to him but staying his hand as he finally says it.
“What's wrong with Sam?”
“Nothing,” Dean snaps, his hand tightening around his coffee mug.
“I didn't mean-”
“No, I'm sorry.” Dean sighs and rubs a hand over the back of his neck. He presses his eyes closed and he looks sad when he opens them.
“My mom died when I was a kid.”
Castiel hums in sympathy.
“She was killed. By a demon.”
Castiel thinks of his own mother and the burst-fruit sweetness of her cancer. The world is full of demons who can take the people we love.
“Sam was only six months old.” Dean's eyes are far away. “He burned her on the ceiling. The demon, I mean. My dad saw it.”
Dean blinks, and Castiel hopes fervently that Dean didn't have to witness it, too.
“There were a bunch of kids, all over the country. Azazel, that was the demon's name, he, uh, he went after all of them, said they were special. He marked them.”
Dean looks up, his mouth set in a hard line.
“He fed them his blood.”
Castiel nods in understanding, Sam's scent welling up in his memory. Demon blood. It made the same perfect, horrid sense as the rest of Castiel's day.
“I didn't know all this till later. My dad, he got a little obsessed, you know? I spent my whole childhood chasing after Azazel.”
“That must have been awful.” Castiel can't reconcile Dean's confident domesticity with an itinerant life.
“It was worse for Sam.” Dean looks around the room, a small smile tugging up the corner of his mouth. “He never liked life on the road.”
“I was just happy being wherever Sammy was.”
Castiel smiles, feeling the warm truth of it. Dean could make a home of anything if Sam were at the heart of it.
“We were hunters. And we were good.” Dean smiles, wistful.
“There's a lot more than just demons out there, Cas.”
“So I'm gathering.” Castiel takes a wry slug of coffee.
Dean snorts, his chest rising and falling as he looks at Castiel.
“And I killed a lot of those things.” It's a challenge, and Castiel dares a hand on Dean's knee, squeezing softly, reassuring. There is a darkness in Dean and Castiel can only offer himself to fill it.
“Did you ever find him? The demon?”
“We did.” Dean's face looks like bitter victory. “We lost our dad, but we stopped Azazel.”
“I'm so sorry.” Castiel's hand hovers before it closes over Dean's.
Dean's face is a wreck.
“You're sorry?” He closes his hand over Castiel's. “Cas, I almost got you killed. I can't...”
“But you didn't.” Castiel stares until Dean meets his eye. “You are brave and good and none of this is your fault.”
Dean wears his guilt all over his face, and Castiel knows it will take more than a simple reassurance to rid him of it. Dean looks away, frowning.
“How long have you been hiding?” Castiel isn't going to let Dean close in on himself.
“Sammy and I, we were always a little too close.” Dean sucks his lip into his mouth, redolent with memories Castiel would like to hear about one day.
“Once Dad was gone, it was like we could start over, just the two of us. We moved around for a while, found a place we wanted to settle. Sam likes the snow.” He shrugs.
“That was, shit, eight years ago. Easy to pretend we can get away from it.” Dean draws his hand back and rubs it over his face, pinching above the bridge of his nose.
“Maybe we could start over.” Castiel says it softly and waits for Dean to look at him.
“Cas, I can't do that again. I can't keep running.”
“No, I mean,” Castiel shakes his head. “You and Sam. And Me. We could start our date over.”
“Our date.” Dean's eyebrows rise. “Cas, our date ended with you tied to a chair by a psycho. Not to mention the witches. And the dead body.”
Dean snorts, a deprecating sound that Castiel instantly dislikes. Dean doesn't deserve unkindness, especially from himself.
“You shouldn't have anything to do with us, Cas.”
“That's not your choice, Dean.” Castiel sits up straighter.
“Yes, I got abducted and I can barely feel half my face. I saw someone die. And it was horrible.”
Dean flinches. Castiel cuts him off before he can speak.
“And if you don't want to see me again, I'll respect your decision. But I don't want to go through all of that, and never get to see you and Sam again.”
Castiel grips Dean's knee, and he doesn't want to let go.
“That's the worst thing I can think of.”
Dean's kiss is unexpected and it makes his sore lip flare up in pain and it's perfect.
“I don't want you to leave.” Dean kisses him again before he glances up the stairs. “We don't want you to leave.”
“Good.” Castiel rests his forehead on Dean's shoulder, breathing in every molecule of Dean's offering. “Think there's room for me in bed? I'm exhausted.”
“Yeah.” Dean smiles and pulls Castiel to his feet, stealing another kiss.
There has to be a name for this.
It's the sort of thing Meg would have a clever phrase for, like the Roving Pinwheel or the Dutch Doughriser. Castiel's legs ache and sweat trickles into the dimples over his ass, and he's not feeling particularly clever right now.
Not with Sam's tongue half-way up his ass and Dean feasting on the curve of his neck.
That Dean is vocal in bed had hardly been a surprise, but Castiel still feels a flushed, heady thrill that he can make so much noise even when his teeth are working at the sensitive juncture of his earlobe and his throat.
It's warm in Sam and Dean's bedroom, or maybe it's just the friction of Dean's chest pressed against his, their knees splayed on either side of Sam's marvel of a chest. Keeping track of so many hands is far too much accounting for Castiel at this point, but he's fairly sure Sam's big hands are palming his ass open, thumbs digging in to lift him apart where he's riding Sam's face. Or maybe one of Dean's is doing half the work, and it's Sam's warm hand drawing up the divot of Castiel's spine. Castiel's fingers dig into Dean's hair, partially for support but mostly for encouragement.
There's one hand that Castiel can account for, and that's Dean's wrapped surely around both their dicks.
“Get him nice and open, Sammy.” Dean's voice is low and husky, thick in his throat from the good half hour he'd spent deepthroating Sam to completion and then Castiel to delightful frustration and driving them both halfway out of their minds. Dean's the sort of giver that makes his presents feel like torture, a natural tease with his hand clamped suddenly around the base of Castiel's dick.
“You want to come while I fuck you, Cas.” It's not a question, the answer is obviously written all over Castiel's face as Dean nods slowly, knowingly. Sam groans, the pads of his thumbs digging into the meat of Castiel's ass as he pulls him down onto the wet thrust of his tongue.
“Yeah,” Castiel slurs, his breath catching in his throat as Dean gives them both one long stroke upwards. His grip is firm enough to squeeze a fat drop of precome out of Castiel's aching cockhead, and Castiel looks down, his vision just clear enough to see it trickle down to mingle with Dean's own. He can smell it, alkaline and mouthwatering, threading through the sweet acid of Sam's saliva painting his cheeks and Dean's musky, skin-warm sweat. Castiel's lips part as his nose seeks out the rich, blood-hot throb of Dean's pulsing jugular, greedy for everything spread out before him.
Dean huffs, head tilting invitingly and his hand working a slow burn on their cocks.
“What do I smell like, Cas?”
Dean's smile is molasses-slow and wicked for all its sincerity. Castiel rolls his hips and leans his head back slightly, watching Dean's eyes widen as Castiel fucks himself onto Sam's tongue. Dean's not the only one who can tease.
“You smell like testosterone, and frustration.” Castiel groans as Sam does something inhuman with his tongue. When Castiel's eyes flutter back in place he reaches down, swiping his thumb over the wet head of Dean's cock and bringing it to his nose.
“You want to come, and your body is flooding you with signals to fuck something, hard.” Castiel sucks his thumb into his mouth, tracking Dean's eyes and the sharp intake of breath he takes. Lacking the wherewithal to move quickly, Castiel grabs the stubbled curve of Dean's jaw and holds him there until he can lean in to kiss him, licking Dean's precome into his mouth before he runs his nose gently along the plush swell of Dean's lower lip.
“You smell like you just went down on your brother.”
The noise Dean makes is feral, a growl that goes straight to Castiel's dick. Dean clamps his hand around the back of Castiel's neck, pulling him in to kiss him, teeth hitting lips and the bright, ferric tang of subdermal capillaries bursting blossoms in Castiel's nose.
“You like it, don't you?”
Dean releases his hold on Castiel's cock, the sudden lack of pressure making it ache. Dean's fingers dance over the sharp curve of Castiel's hip, tracing back and forth as they snake behind him.
“That we're brothers? That it's wrong?” Dean draws out the last word, his eyes heavy and dark as he rests his forehead against Castiel's.
“God, yes,” Castiel moans, unable and unwilling to deny it, cock aching and his skin on fire as Dean slides his hand down the swell of Castiel's ass.
“Tell you a secret,” Dean whispers, his skin catching sharp against Castiel's face as his mouth seeks out Castiel's ear.
“Gets me hot, too.”
Dean licks his lips, the tip of his tongue grazing Castiel's ear as his index finger slides down the crack of Castiel's ass. The pad his finger catches against the warm, furled skin of Castiel's hole, wet with Sam's spit and Castiel makes an inhuman noise of his own as Dean crooks it and sinks it in right alongside Sam's tongue.
“Gets me hot that my brother and I are gonna take turns fucking you until you can't come anymore.”
“Christ.” Castiel throws his head back, arching his back to sink down onto both of them before he draws up. He crashes into Dean, scrambling with the carefree awkwardness of excellent sex as he crawls down Sam's body and pushes Dean back to sit against the headboard.
“I want to feel you inside me.”
As Sam rears up behind him, Castiel smiles, leaning back against the sweat-damp warmth of Sam's chest as he looks down at Dean's gorgeous cock.
Dean looks frozen for a moment, eyes flitting between his brother's face and Castiel's before his mouth splits into a huge grin.
“Fuck, Cas.” Dean rolls onto his side and reaches for the bedside table, jerking the drawer open and fumbling for what has to be lube or Castiel is going to kill something.
“I want Dean to go first.” Sam's hands slide down his stomach, pulling Castiel close to him. His cock presses hot against Castiel's leg, Sam's hips circling tightly as he closes a hand around Castiel's dick.
“I want to see what you look like when he makes you come.”
Castiel is fairly sure that Dean's groan is louder than his. Sam dips his head down to give Castiel a long, deep kiss, his chest rising and falling against Castiel's back in a moment of stillness Castiel didn't know he needed. He takes a breath, pressing his lips to the fading bruises that darken Sam's cheek. Sam is a fast healer and a week has done much to improve his injuries. Castiel is still tender and Sam kisses him carefully, skirting around the bruise at his temple.
Sam waits for Castiel's breathless nod before he reaches for the lube, pushing aside the charmingly generous pile of condoms Dean has dumped on the bed. One of them dangles between Dean's teeth, seemingly forgotten as he strokes his cock and watches Sam get his fingers wet.
Castiel bends over, legs spread wide and wanton and it's so easy to give himself up between the two of them, to brace his hands on either side of Dean's hips and close his eyes. He finds Dean's cock by scent alone, letting his lips part just as Sam's finger slips inside him, wet and open and wrapped in the warm, secret scent of both of them. Laid bare after so many secrets, Castiel arches his back and rolls his tongue and takes them, Sam's fingers stretching him wide while Castiel takes Dean in his mouth and lets his body hum to readiness.
He lays on his back for Dean, Sam beside him as one of his hands slots perfectly beneath Castiel's knee. Dean curls over him, thrusting deep and slow, trading kisses between the three of them until Castiel feels dizzy, teeth clenching with the electric need to come.
They can read him perfectly, Dean drawing up to cradle Castiel's thighs against his sides as Sam's hand closes over his dick. His orgasm crashes over him, lucid and sweet as the colors of Sam's secret blood and Dean's overwhelming capacity for joy and his own place between them merge into white light behind his eyes. Dean trips after him, teeth clenched on Castiel's shoulder and Sam's nose in his hair.
Castiel rolls to his side, his muscles sore and his skin too small and all of it lights up again when he sees the bright need in Sam's eyes. Castiel's come streaks down Sam's fist and Castiel smiles, pushing up until he's on all fours, legs wide and he feels mad with it, his hole twitching around the unwelcome emptiness as Dean blindly throws a condom at his brother.
Castiel looks back over his shoulder to watch Sam catch it, noting the careful way Sam cradles his other hand, shiny-wet with ropes of Castiel's come. He catches Sam's eye, nodding and canting his hips up in permission as Sam's eyes slant up.
His fingers slide dirty-slick along Castiel's fucked out hole, painting throbbing skin with his own come and in the brief, quiescent moment it takes Sam to rip open the condom and slide it down his cock, Castiel knows that he is ruined for anyone else. Dean is spread out beneath him, skin flush and his freckles standing out like constellations for Castiel to wonder at.
“Do it, Sam.”
Sam slides into him, the slick stretch making Castiel's skin prickle and his fingers curl into the ruined sheets. Sam arches over him, his hair falling forward to tickle at Castiel's neck as he slowly grinds into him, sliding out an inch just to bury himself deep, breath hitching.
It's good, Sam's cock stretching him full and making his spent dick throb in delighted protest, Dean's arms stretched over his head as Castiel shamelessly seeks out the heady scent of him, but beneath it Castiel can sense the hesitant trickle of Sam's unease. He's holding back.
Castiel rears up, startling Sam and making Dean's eyes go wide and wary. Sam's cock slips free and Castiel could swim through the tension in the air.
“Sam, I want you to fuck me.”
Sam is holding his breath, his lip trembling as Castiel forces him to make eye contact.
“I want you to fuck me as hard as you need. I can take it.”
Sam makes a noise in the back of his throat, reedy and so close to the brink he's almost trembling. Castiel reaches behind himself, sliding his hand down the rubber-slick length of Sam's cock and squeezing around the base, hard.
“I'm not scared of you, Sam.”
Sam's face breaks open, his mouth going slack and his eyes slanting up as he nods.
Castiel's face hits the mattress and Sam slams into him, buried to the hilt just to pull back out and do it again. Dean starts up a steady stream of encouraging cursing that's quickly drowned out by the creak of the bedframe and the wet slap of Sam's hips. Castiel floats on it, letting his body go slack and blissful as Sam and Dean shore him up and bare themselves, Sam grunting and sweating and pounding into him while Dean kisses his back and praises them both. Long after Castiel's legs fall beneath him and Sam fucks him down onto his belly, after Dean mumbles their names and kisses the sounds from Castiel's mouth, Sam comes, arched tightly over them, his hand twined into Dean's and his mouth at Castiel's neck.
When Castiel drifts off to sleep, he's tender in a dozen new places. He lets them throb like heartbeats as he breathes in all the things he wants.
Castiel wakes up alone. It's disorienting, blinking to consciousness in this sun-flooded bedroom that isn't his own. It stinks like sex and Castiel's stomach falls, wondering if they've left him.
He rolls over, steeling himself for the worst as he sees a small scrap of paper tucked under a glass of water on the bedside table.
Didn't want to wake you. Come downstairs when you're up :)
Castiel smiles, wondering which one of them would put a smiley face on a note, and knowing that Meg will be hysterical when he tells her about it. There's a pair of pajama pants and a soft, old t-shirt on top of the dresser, and Castiel can't help but smell them before he slips them on.
The stairs creak softly as he pads down them, his mouth watering as he smells strong coffee and fluffy buttermilk pancakes. Sam's face lights up as he sees Castiel, an oversize mug of coffee already in his hand. Dean peers behind him, a grin on his face and a spatula in his hand. It would be so easy to love them both.
Castiel takes a deep breath and heads into the kitchen.
“I don't know.” Castiel wrings his hands, looking at Sam in the rear view mirror. “It just feels weird to do it with other people.”
Sam gives him a patient look, reaching out to lay his big hand on Castiel's shoulder.
“I know, it was weird for me, too.” He leans back and gestures at his chest. “I mean, look at what I'm wearing.”
Castiel looks down at his own costume and grimaces.
“But it makes Dean so happy.” Sam glances at the empty driver's seat and shakes his head. “I mean, he could barely stay in the car.”
“I know.” Castiel shifts, tugging nervously at what passes for his shirt. “I'm just self-conscious.”
“It's always a little awkward the first time.” Sam ducks his head into the front seat and gives Castiel a quick kiss on the cheek, nuzzling his nose against his ear.
“They'll all love you, Cas.” Sam kisses him once more before getting out of the car. He opens the passenger-side door, sweeping his arm out dramatically.
“Or should I say, your Royal Elven Highness?”
Castiel had told his brother with unwavering confidence that he is in love with two people and very happy that way. He will die before Gabriel knows he dresses up like an elf on the weekends.
Castiel takes Sam's arm and lets himself be led to the campgrounds, or rather, as Castiel reminds himself, the Moondoor Commons. People mill around in small groups, dressed in everything from elaborate, heavy orc suits to what he can only guess is a skimpy mermaid-pirate-bellydancer outfit.
Sam smoothes back his hair and smiles. If nothing else, participating in Dean's monthly LARP weekend meant the chance to see Sam in his rarely-indulged ponytail. Castiel tugs down the hem of his cobalt tunic, inhaling the scent of excited crowd and a lingering aura of fried dough.
They wander over to the field, stopping and saying hello to the brightly-colored denizens of Moondoor. Everyone seems to know Sam, and they get a handful of sidelong looks as Sam keeps his arm around Castiel's shoulder and warmly introduces him. Mostly they're greeted with bright smiles and anachronistic phrases of welcome.
Charlie and Kevin sit easily on their thrones, Charlie upright and graceful while Kevin sprawls out, his crown at an angle. Castiel has caught Charlie cheating during their RPG nights, but she makes delicious cookies shaped like 20-sided die and ribs Dean like no one else can. She descends, leaving Kevin to flirt with a curly-haired girl who smells like clove cigarettes and crazy.
“Your Grace.” Castiel bows deeply and presses a kiss to Charlie's hand. She's been drinking decidedly modern Pepsi within the last hour, but Castiel keeps his peace.
“Welcome to Moondoor, good sir elf.” She inclines her head graciously before dropping her regency.
“Seriously, Cas, you look great.” She grins and taps one of his pointed ears. He has to admit that the prosthetics Charlie's girlfriend had made are sturdy. “You are one hot elf.”
“Yeah, tell Gilda good call on the leggings,” Sam adds, tacking on a “Your Grace” with a bow of his head.
“They're trousers,” Castiel and Charlie say in unison, Castiel to defend his sartorial honor and Charlie to defend her lady's costuming skills.
“Whatever they are, they make your ass look great.”
After two years Castiel still thrills at the sound of Dean's voice. Sam perks up, too, sliding his arm off Castiel's shoulders and keeping it, big and warm, at the small of his back as Dean kisses them each in turn. They're usually more careful than this, but according to Dean the LARP group is “poly quiltbag wolf pack friendly.” It sounds like the name of an unfortunate fabric blend but it is lovely to kiss Dean in public, to feel Sam's hand on him while Sam kisses Dean.
“Your Grace,” Dean intones, folding his arms behind his back. “May I introduce Lady Tamara and Lord Isaac.”
A handsome couple step forward, both robed in beautiful, matching tartans. They sink to one knee and pay Charlie their respects. Charlie greets the newcomers and chats pleasantly with them for a while, noting their accents and asking about LARP in England.
“An actual castle,” Charlie muses, her eyes sparkling. She's about to continue when a pair of gossamer wings bobs into view.
“Merry meet, Sir elf.” Gilda gives him a wink and looks at her handiwork. Castiel stands up a little taller, letting his ass stick out for an appreciative pair of Winchesters.
“My consort calls.” Charlie gives an imperial flip of her faux-ermine robe and sweeps Gilda into a chivalrous kiss. “Shall I see you at the battle?”
They all swear their allegiance and watch Gilda's glittering wings flutter away. Castiel could swear a hint of envy crosses Dean's face, but it's quickly erased as he introduces Tamara and Isaac.
“Lady Tamara, Lord Isaac, this is...” Dean stops, looking back and forth between Sam and Castiel. “These are my partners, Sam and Castiel.”
Isaac's eyes widen slightly and Tamara's eyebrow arches, a fine pencil line of tickled curiosity. She curtseys gracefully and offers her hand to Castiel while Isaac and Sam exchange bows.
“A pleasure, my lady.” Castiel gives a smart bow, falling easily into the courtly language of Moondoor. He presses a genteel kiss to the top of her hand, pausing for a moment before he rights himself.
“My lord elf.” She flicks her eyes over his costume before glancing over his shoulder, where Dean and Isaac are animatedly discussing “boffing.” Castiel is fairly certain it's not a sex thing.
Tamara is sharp and funny, and Castiel warms to her as they commiserate about LARP-obsessed partners.
“Don't you ever get jealous?” Tamara leans in, tilting her head at Dean's easy grip on Sam's waist. “I mean no disrespect, I just … I can't imagine Isaac sharing me.”
“Love isn't a finite resource,” Castiel muses, smiling as Dean brandishes his newly-crafted shield at an impressed Isaac and an infinitely tolerant Sam.
“It isn't always easy, I'll give you that.” Castiel adjusts the hem of his tunic and feels a faint flush creep across his cheeks. “But there are, uh, many benefits to be had.”
“I'll bet.” She gives him a knowing look. “You and I are going to share a pint of mead and some stories later.”
“Isaac and I are going to go do some drills before the battle.” Dean claps them both on the shoulder and nonchalantly tosses a few tresses of his wig. Castiel silently reminds himself to wash it when they get home. It will only smell worse after they all have sex.
Tamara strolls off to the “forbidden tent” to check her cell-phone. Sam sidles up next to him, playfully flicking the tip of his ear.
“What are you smiling about?” Sam knocks into his hip, the sun glinting off his hair.
Castiel nods towards Tamara's disappearing back.
“She's pregnant.” He leans into Sam's side, Sam's arm circling around his waist. “And she's very happy about it.”
“I'm happy you're here.”
The day smells like fresh-cut grass and family, and Castiel smiles.