Most of the time, Dean liked his job. When he came into work and the restaurant was filled with beautiful people—he liked his job. When he got a cute girl’s number at the bar—he liked his job. When his tables tipped him out at forty or even fifty percent—he really liked his job. But when this conversation took place:
“Waiter, could you please find out where the Dungeness crab comes from?”
“I can absolutely get that information for you—but if you’re willing to take my word on it, I believe they’ve come to us from Dungeness.”
… he tended to like it a little less.
The appropriate term was ‘career waiter’ but, like most people who served tables long-term, it was the last thing Dean set out to be in his life. There was no real explanation for how it happened. He did okay in school when he put his mind to it, and somehow, by the grace of God, Wikipedia and his brother, managed not to flunk out of college before getting his business diploma, but a few years of waiting tables while he got the rest of his life in order had quickly become the rest of his life.
His, however, was an old story; Dean had heard the same from roughly thirty percent of people he’d worked with over the years, and as far as he knew, that’s just how it went. No one in the food service industry has ever said, Damn, but what I really want to be is a waiter. There were those who did it for a little while and were okay at it, and moved on to better things after they’d made a decent amount of cash or found a better job; and there were those who did it for a little while, realized they were so good at their jobs that they made more money than they could possibly hope to receive elsewhere, and never really found a good reason to stop. Dean was definitely in the latter category.
There had been several attempts to find more meaningful employment since he started waiting tables part-time at sixteen. One could only work at so many shitty chain restaurants, and Dean didn’t really enjoy announcing to potential sexual partners that he worked at T. G. I. Friday’s, so he experimented with other jobs on various occasions. First as a mechanic, then a construction worker, and once as a driver for what he was pretty sure was Russian mafia—a dark period he didn’t really like talking about. Dean wasn’t one of those people who liked to sell himself short, as far as his intelligence was concerned; he knew there were probably a million different things he was smart enough to be good at, or just good enough to be good at. The trouble was, they all required far more effort than waiting tables or tending bar, and paid far less.
Name one mechanic who pulls in $700, tax-free, on a Friday night.
After a few months and an honest try, he usually wound up crawling back—not with his tail between his legs, no, but with genuine excitement to get back in the business and resume scoring serious dough. Sure, the lack of health insurance often sucked, especially when Dean tended to pick up more random injuries than should be humanly possible in a six-month period, but the sight of cold, hard cash lining the safebox inside his bedroom kind of made up for that. As long as he didn’t lose a limb somewhere, it was okay. So instead of moaning about how he couldn’t afford to visit a dentist he’d ultimately avoid anyway, Dean cut his losses, strapped on the white apron, and took advantage of one of the few careers that let him travel the world without much hassle. At twenty-seven, there were wild oats enough to keep him sowing a while longer.
He could put up with a few stupid questions about Dungeness crabs for all that.
As long as no one called him garçon.
In the last year, Dean had been working at Chapter One in Dublin City after an impromptu vacation turned into a more permanent living situation. He’d been quite happy in Seattle at the time, enjoying the mountains and the ferryboats and how the rain was such a nice change from the schizophrenic weather of Kansas, where he was from. U-Dub was where he’d gone to school, having followed a journalist girlfriend there, and Washington was where he stayed long after they broke up. But then his co-worker, Meg, planted the seed about tripping across the pond for a visit, after reporting she’d gone on the Pill while living in Ireland.
“Does the climate make you break out or something?” Dean had asked apprehensively, touching a finger to his (thankfully) unblemished forehead. “The last thing I want is to go to Ireland and come back on Accutane.”
He tried to think of all the various reasons why people went on the Pill, besides the most obvious. Meg’s skin was pretty clear, but he knew a lot of girls who pumped themselves full of hormones just to avoid a few pimples; he probably would have been one of them, had he been born with a space between his legs. As one good-looking son of a gun, if Dean could say so himself, he couldn’t help but be a little vain, especially not in an industry where looks accounted for a lot of tips.
As it turned out, the most obvious explanation was also the correct one. “No, asshole,” said Meg. “I didn’t want to come back fucking pregnant. The men are so goddamned hot over there—I was lucky if whatever time I didn’t spend on my back was spent on my knees instead.”
Dean said, “Huh,” and bought a plane ticket shortly thereafter. He’d been in need of a vacation for a while, and the fact that his little brother, Sam, was currently on exchange at law school in England didn’t hurt. Ireland sounded absolutely charming.
After two weeks split between Eire and Oxford, Dean planned a permanent move on the plane ride home, partly because he needed a distraction from his horrible fear of flying, and partly because he knew it was only a matter of time. As a native of the rural Midwest, he couldn’t help but feel there was something kind of small-town feeling about Dublin, something a little bit country, and Dean was a country boy at heart. He’d also spent the majority of his trip with a perma-boner; the Irish were a beautiful people. On one side of the street there’d be an absolutely, heartbreakingly gorgeous girl—and then, if Dean managed to cross said street without being mowed down by a Fiat, he’d find a heartbreakingly gorgeous boy on the other side. Good news was, Dubliners seemed to find his Kansas drawl as intoxicating as he did the Irish brogue.
It was his kind of town.
Naturally, Sammy didn’t approve, but Dean moved anyway. He stayed in hostels until he found a flat that didn’t appear to have any mould growing in the bathtub, made friends and interspersed his pub crawling with hunting for a job so he could secure a work permit. Dublin was awesome, if overpriced, and it was like the city, with its appreciation for beer, rough sports and its cool music scene, understood him as a person. Dean really felt he belonged there. It was active without being too fast-paced, rainy but not waterlogged, and offered just enough variety to keep him interested, all without losing its Dublin-ness. Determined to fit in, Dean found himself dressing more European and even using Irish turns of phrase, listening to music made after 1979 and slagging off Bono despite having never listened to a U2 song all the way through. He even took an interest in hurling and Irish football. Better still, most locals took one look at his green eyes and freckles, and assumed, at least before he opened his mouth, that he was native Irish himself. Dean was young, full of energy and living the dream. And he owed it all to waiting tables.
Somewhere along the way, Dean developed this rule that, if he was going to insist upon working in the service industry, he would limit himself to the bars and restaurants that charged more for a steak than he paid each week in rent. While this contradicted his personal M.O. and love of dive bars, Dublin was a damned expensive place to live. Plus there’d been mishaps along the way; his last employer blew up the restaurant where Dean worked in order to collect the insurance pay-out. From that time on, he made a point of avoiding the sketchier joints.
Enter Chapter One. Located in Parnell Square beneath the Dublin Writers Museum, the place was an understated affair of dark marble, exposed stone walls and lush, emerald-hued carpet that contrasted nicely with the white walls and crisp tablecloths. Its proprietors were Martin Corbett and Chef Ross Lewis, two food industry giants who shared a real passion for old-school Irish hospitality. Dean felt at home there right away, even after his first interview, loving both the food and the warm coziness of the place. Seeming to recognize as kindred spirit, Martin hired him on the spot.
As for the appeal of the fine dining circuit, that was a matter of simple math—charge enough for the food, and the tip would be respectable even if Dean only took home the minimum. That was rarely a concern, because Dean knew how to work a table and how to flirt with every female in the place between the ages of eight and eighty. But it was kind of nice to have the safety net there at the end of the day, as well as the knowledge he’d never catch the owners emptying the safe and laying down dynamite while the staff were given the weekend off. And with Chapter One amongst the few Michelin-rated restaurants in Ireland, Dean did more than okay for himself, health insurance or no.
They were a close-knit family, the Chapter staff. By the time he made head waiter, Dean had been around long enough to be considered royalty by the newbies on the floor and in the kitchen, and fancied himself a wise and gracious ruler. With a couple other Americans on staff, like Jo and Ruby, he didn’t even feel all that homesick; and they regularly went out as a group, along with some of the more easygoing cooks.
Despite there being enough stuck-up bitches who lunched to go around, Dean was more than happy to pass the time at Chapter while he figured out the particulars of opening his own restaurant. He’d been scoping properties in Ranelagh, a trendy area of town, on his days off. Between himself and his assistant-manager-cum-prospective partner, Fergus “Crowley” MacLeod, an English transplant with a sharp wit and intimidating stare, he thought he was pretty close to pinning something down. Dean didn’t entirely like Crowley, but he respected him and had no real money of his own to invest. They had no executive chef on board as of yet, but that would come once they had a definite location and a solid business plan. Between himself and Crowley, there was business acumen enough to run an organized, well-planned enterprise, and they both knew what could make or break restaurants these days. There was a long road ahead of them, to be sure, but Dean could picture himself sticking around for a while, sticking it out.
Or he did, until the new sous chef started.
It started with a first impression that went about as badly as these things could.
A week previous, the owners of Chapter had called a meeting to let everyone know they’d hired a new sous chef. Apparently he was a Dublin native with a James Beard award under his belt for his Las Vegas restaurant, Grace, and an impressive apprenticeship with Daniel Boulud before that. At the time, there was no word on when he’d be starting, but that was fine with Dean. He was pretty sure he’d get along with the new demi-god about as well as the others before him; he just didn’t expect the guy to turn up on a Friday night in the middle of service. How was he to know?
Much to everyone’s dismay, the night got off to a rough start when two servers called in sick with a bout of viral diarrhoea that had been making the rounds, leaving Dean alone with Ruby, Jo and a few others, plus Chuck on the bar. Two hours after opening, Dean felt his usual composure beginning to slip. It seemed every married couple in Ireland was celebrating their anniversary dinner at Chapter, and Dean had no less than four birthday parties in his section that night. Crowley, helping out where he could, seated customers, ran dishes and did quality checks, stalking around the restaurant with an expression Dean recognized as his Fuck-with-me-and-I’ll-kill-you look, which was impressive considering how bloody charming he was about it. But Dean was still swimming in orders and forced smiles and unnecessarily complicated requests, and it looked more and more likely he’d be in the weeds unless his section cleared or a reservation cancelled.
In the kitchen, things were the usual rush of motivated and efficient amidst the sweltering heat and clanging of pots and utensils, chefs working in perfect harmony for all they were outwardly harried and scrambling. Even though Chef Lewis ran one of the tightest ships in all Dublin, if Dean was honest, being in the kitchen stressed him the fuck out. It didn’t help that he was on both a private party in the Jameson Room and the chef’s table that night, seeing to some of the restaurant’s most distinguished guests even as he tried his best not to freak. A short temper at the best of times, these factors in combination might have contributed to Dean being on edge.
Sometime around eight o’clock and the peak of dinner service, Dean was at the plating station, helping with some finishing touches on his next round of dishes. By now the chefs trusted him enough to jump in when they were needed elsewhere down the line, and after wiping away a saucy fingerprint from the edge of a dish and adjusting the sprig of rosemary, Dean backed up with two full plates in his hands, right into someone’s elbow. It was particularly bony and seemed to find its way right up under his ribs. He cursed, more from shock than anything else, and would have dropped the food altogether if he hadn’t caught himself at the last second. As it was, some squash soup found its way over the edge of a bowl and sloshed onto his uniform.
While kitchen staff customarily gave a courtesy shout of “Behind!” whenever they were standing at someone’s rear, bumps and jostles weren’t generally a big deal unless you were in Chef Lewis’s way. Had he been in a better mood, Dean might have let it slide, but instead his temper picked that moment to go off. Livid, he turned to find a dude in civilian clothes staring back at him in apologetic surprise—some kind of service man, probably—and for a second he saw a flash of blue eyes so wide and vivid they didn’t seem totally human. Then all Dean could see was red.
“What the fuck, asshole?” he griped, pushing aside what the guy looked like and focusing on the fact that he was going to have to change his uniform. He’d be even farther behind on his tables by then. “Did you somehow miss the memo that it’s staff only back here? Get the fuck out!”
A couple of the other chefs glared at the stranger in commiseration with Dean, because now that people had stopped to look, the man really was in the way. Proud of himself for doing the kitchen a favour, Dean almost missed the slow face-palm action Chef Lewis made from across the kitchen, even while bent over a pan. A moment later, Dean noticed Martin was standing a few feet away from the supposed interloper. When he shot another glance at the man, Dean saw his face had gone from contrite to incensed. Dean bit the inside of his lip but returned his stare, standing there with two plates of rapidly cooling food like a complete jackass.
“Dean,” said Martin, coming over. In his amusement, Martin’s eyebrows had crawled halfway up his forehead and almost into his dark, slicked-back hair. Although Martin was famed for his easy-going attitude and knack for managing staff without raising his voice, Dean was unconvinced he hadn’t just fucked up in a big way. If he’d learned anything about the Irish in the last year, it was that they liked to deliver their smack-downs with a smile; he knew what was going happen before Martin even spoke. “Dean, this is Castiel MacCarthy. Our new sous chef. I thought he could benefit from seeing the kitchen at work before he jumps in with both feet.”
For a moment, Dean’s mouth just opened and closed again without any sound coming out. Then he said, “Ah, shite.” There seemed no word that better suited the situation.
Martin looked over at the new chef with a warm smile that seemed to indicate Dean meant well, even if he was one of the more learning-challenged children in the group. Castiel—and yeah, nice name, dude—was still glowering at Dean like he’d pissed in the proverbial soup. “This is Dean Winchester, our other hot-blooded Yank.” With a smirk in Dean’s direction, he added, “Luckily, Castiel has already met Ruby and Jo.”
“Well, they seemed pleasant enough, at least,” Castiel said, and Dean wasn’t sure whether to respond to the insult or marvel at the subtle, smoky lilt of the chef’s voice. It was the same sexy rasp you got after you’d just been sick, the kind that made you want to call up all your exes just to talk about the weather.
Even if Dean kind of wanted to punch him, he had to admit the combination of that voice and Castiel’s dark, chiseled features were a level of smokin’ hot not often seen in the Chapter kitchen—or anywhere, for that matter. He was tall for an Irishman, close to Dean’s 6’1” in height, slim and sleekly dressed in a pair of dark jeans and a black motorcycle jacket. Young: early thirties at most. A douchebag was a douchebag was a douchebag, though.
“Hey, man—I’m sorry,” Dean said eventually, and lifted his eyebrows in a way that robbed all pretence of regret from his tone. “I’m a lot more pleasant when I’m not about to dump eighty Euros’ worth of food on myself, too.”
“An honest mistake. Dean is our head waiter,” Martin explained to Castiel, and though his voice sounded reassuring, Dean couldn’t tell who it was intended for. He looked at Dean with a bit of an indecipherable glimmer in his eye. Regardless of who was in the wrong, there was no point standing up to Martin’s insistent charm. “Let’s get those orders re-plated and out to their tables,” he suggested.
Shrugging, Dean handed the plates off to a waiting cook and scrubbed at the stain on his vest with a fingernail. When it was pretty obvious nothing short of changing it for a new one would do, he sighed and began to undo the buttons. “I’m going to change out of this thing and offer complimentary dessert on account of the wait.” As he shrugged the vest off his shoulders, there was a cat-call from somewhere in the vicinity of the deep-fryer. Dean ignored it and glanced up at Martin. “That okay with you, boss?”
“You know best,” answered Martin, and favoured Dean with another smile before he quipped, “It’s a source of endless relief that you’re so much more polite with our customers, Dean—else I don’t know what we’d do with you.” Good to know his boss had his back, kind of. Martin clapped Castiel on the shoulder and gestured to another part of the kitchen for them to tour. “Let’s move on, shall we? Back to work, everyone!”
If they’d been in an episode of The Sopranos, Dean was pretty sure Castiel’s death-glare would have translated to, You’ll be in the Harbour by day’s end, me mate. Watch your back. He looked the scrappy type, so Dean didn’t doubt it; then again, so was Dean. He glared back, and it was only a matter of time before one of the cooks composed a limerick about this epic clash of wills.
“I’m sure workin’ together will be an absolute lark,” Castiel sneered at him, and Dean just smiled his most charming smile before he walked away.
“Count on it, chuckles.”
Before he started at Chapter, Dean had decided to grow a beard that was definitely on the sexy side of respectable-looking by the end of the second week. Half dare, half attempt to fit in with the idea of Irishness he’d picked up watching Boondock Saints one time too many, Dean had felt suitably roguish whenever he took to the streets wearing the tweed cap Sam had bought him as a joke, reddish scruff proudly on display. Since he’d showed up to the interview with Crowley and Martin with it already grown, his look didn’t get him a hard time; Chuck had a full beard and had been behind the bar for ages, so the precedent was already set. As for Sammy, it was easy to ignore his jibes that the beard kept Dean from looking too feminine, what with his long eyelashes and full mouth; being brothers, he could happily pay Sam back for the comment with some itching powder in his boxers later.
A few weeks had passed since the meeting with Castiel, and Dean had more or less forgotten about the whole thing. The chef was unflinchingly cold towards him, but a lot of chefs were like that, and it wasn’t like Castiel was super chummy with anyone else, either. Dean didn’t immediately chalk it up to the fact that he’d called Castiel an asshole and embarrassed him in front of the staff on his first day, not really. Most of their interactions came down to the occasional pass in the hallway or locker room, or at weekly staff meetings. No big deal.
He wasn’t prepared for the other shoe to drop in the form of freaking image sabotage. The first sign something was up should have been the meeting at which Castiel was conspicuously absent.
That evening’s whole serving staff was seated around the dining table in the Jameson Room, the private party space in which meetings were held. Dean’d always liked the JR, as they called it, with its wide mahogany table and dark, panelled walls, the whole space designed to make him feel like he ought to be wearing a smoking jacket and a pair of velvet slippers. Meetings typically took place about an hour before meal service started so that the chefs could cover menu changes, wine pairings and the occasional extra tidbit, like introducing a new waiter or announcing a staff get-together. They’d already covered all that for the night, so there were murmurs of surprise when Martin indicated the meeting was not yet done. Trying not to cough, he laid his hands down upon the dining room table and addressed the group with a serious face.
“There’s one last item we’ve left to discuss,” he said, “and that is the matter of the Chapter image. This is a classy operation, as you well know, so myself and the other executives have decided that, effective immediately, all service staff are to be clean-shaven. Ladies, whether or not you wish to comply in your own way is up to you.”
This last bit earned a titter from the girls and an eye-roll from Jo, but when it died, Chuck cleared his voice in his usual, nervous way. “All service staff?” he asked, hands fluttering around his facial hair like an overprotective pet owner.
“All table staff,” Martin clarified, and skilfully dodged meeting Dean’s eyes. “Effective immediately, so please ensure you adjust your grooming routines accordingly before the start of your next shift.” With that, he adjourned the meeting for dinner service to begin. Chuck breathed a sigh of relief at that one, because he was technically just the bartender and his beard helped disguise his weak chin.
Dean folded his arms and said nothing; he was the only other guy with facial hair.
Later that night, Crowley, who, however much he liked to remind Dean of his status of landlord, but was more of a glorified flatmate than anything, confided that Castiel was behind the whole thing. Apparently he’d incited the new grooming standard by mentioning how he’d never worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant with scruffy waiters. Chef Lewis took the bait.
“The second he described how clean-cut Chef Guilbaud’s staff are, Ross got this look on his face like he couldn’t fucking stand it,” said Crowley, shrugging. He poured Dean another few fingers of Scotch as Jo tried to make the buzzing of the electric razor as inconspicuous as possible. “That little shit hit exactly the right nerve—Ross’s hatred of Patrick is legendary. I knew your whiskers were cooked then, mate.”
Dean scowled and submitted to each flick of the razor that left him feeling a little more naked.
“You’re, like, embarrassingly pretty without that beard,” Ruby observed unhelpfully. Lifting his chin so Jo could access his neck, Dean attempted to glare at her from the awkward angle. They’d started drinking that evening at Dean’s behest, immediately after getting cut. Ruby was the biggest lightweight among them, but prone to tactlessness at the best of times. “I’m just saying.”
“Well, you’ve got some competition now, bitch,” Dean snarked back. Ignoring the brunette’s dark laugh, because frankly the only person Ruby seemed to have eyes for was Dean’s goddamned brother, Dean glanced over at where Chuck was sitting in the corner by the fireplace, nursing his own drink and saying very little. “How come you made off with your beard still intact?” he complained.
“What?” Chuck blinked over at him like he was part owl. He seemed surprised to find the other four people in the room staring at him. “Oh, Castiel likes me just fine, I suppose,” he mumbled, his thick Cork accent sounding even more country after a few whiskeys. “He’s actually a good guy, like. We collaborate a lot on the new drink menus.”
“Don’t be a prat,” Crowley warned Chuck, pointing a threatening finger. To Dean he said, “I tried to state your case, darling, I did. Maybe Ross thought your beard was the only thing standing between Chapter and a second Star, I honestly don’t know. In any case, MacCarthy knew exactly what he was doing.”
For some reason this made Ruby laugh, head thrown so far back her long hair almost reached the floor where it tumbled over the back of the chair. “Maybe he just wants to fuck you,” she suggested. “He definitely got your attention, if so.”
“He probably won’t want to now,” said Jo, as she finished up with the last bit of beard and began tidying Dean’s sideburns. Leave it to the quiet one to make the most cutting remark, he thought bitterly. “Dean’s street cred is officially gone.”
“Fuck all of you,” he growled. Dean pulled off his t-shirt, now covered in shavings, so that Jo batted at the air and had to spit out the little hairs that flew into her face. Smirking, Dean downed the last of his Scotch and stalked off for a shower. He knew he’d get it something fierce at work the next day, and felt like sulking while the opportunity was still available to him.
“The beard was the source of his power,” Chuck said philosophically.
“This is going be an utter disaster,” agreed Crowley.
There was a brief scuffle in the living room as Ruby jumped up to follow Dean down the hall. She let herself into the toilet as he was sliding his jeans down his legs and starting the shower. The sudden addition in the room made him jump.
“Uh… excuse me?” said Dean. He froze, unsure whether to pull his jeans back up or just let her speak her peace with him wearing just boxers.
The door shut behind Ruby, and she said, “Excused,” while jumping up to sit on the counter. “Nothin’ I haven’t seen before, tiger.” With a mischievous wink, she pulled a little baggie of coke from the front pocket of her jeans and wiggled it in front of Dean, smiling broadly. “Bump before you bathe, my dear?”
She said it with some arch kind of accent, maybe her best imitation of Queen Liz, and Dean belatedly realized Ruby had probably been ballin’ since they left the restaurant. Drugs were hardly a foreign concept to the service industry, especially not in Dublin; you couldn’t throw a rock without knocking over a handful of stoners. Ruby was just one of several severs at Chapter who didn’t mind powdering her nose every so often, and as far as Dean could tell, none of them were addicts. There was no mistaking Ruby was a party girl, but she knew better than to do that shit around Crowley. She even avoided flaunting it in front of Jo, who liked to drink but had a rather prudish stance on drugs. Dean suspected the younger waitress would probably give him her best disappointed look if she found out. While coke wasn’t his favourite thing in the world, and he’d never stoop to paying for it—Dean recognized a problem with anything that immediately made you crave more, even before the first high had worn off—he wasn’t averse to accepting a line or two at a party if it was on offer, or when Ruby was being particularly persuasive.
Tonight wasn’t one of those times, though. “I’ll pass,” he said, and with a shrug of her slim shoulders, the white powder disappeared up Ruby’s nose. She blinked to clear the initial rush, rubbing at her nostrils.
Unable to help himself, Dean rolled his eyes at an unexpected rush of exhaustion, feeling suddenly old, and shimmied out of his underwear. He hit the switch for the hot water in the shower, stepping beneath the spray before Ruby got the idea to try and tempt him with more.
As the hot water buoyed his spirits and settled over his senses like a comforting buffer between himself the rest of the world, Dean’s missing beard and cunty sous-chef immediately seemed like less of a big deal. Castiel could go fuck himself, he thought. A pair of big blue eyes wasn’t going to stop him from living the dream.
From behind the curtain, he heard Ruby sniff up another couple quick hits, then crumple the baggie back into her pocket. Dean was relieved she was calling it an early night, even if the chances of her falling asleep before dawn were slim. With any luck she’d keep him up talking until then. Luckily he didn’t work the next day, but it wouldn’t be the first time he showed up running on zero sleep.
“So you really think Castiel just wants a piece of me?” he asked as he started to shampoo his hair, scrubbing the day’s worth of grease and sweat and city residue from his scalp. His inner arm brushed against his chin, making him hyper-aware of his suddenly smooth face. Castiel was pretty scruffy by comparison, he remembered, but it wasn’t as though there was anyone telling him to shave. Asshole. “Seems like a pretty stupid way to pick someone up, considering he could just, I dunno… ask.”
“Who knows?” answered Ruby. “Maybe he’s just socially retarded or something. Some people never progress past the stage where they think the way to get a guy’s attention is to throw rocks at them. Unless he’s been schtupping restaurant staff since culinary school, he probably doesn’t get out that much, either. I hear he had a tough apprenticeship and slept most nights at his own restaurant in Vegas.”
Dean snorted. “A few rocks, I could handle. Fucking with someone’s facial hair is just crossing a line—I don’t care if they’re Daniel Boulud himself.”
Ruby chuckled and must have jumped down from the bathroom counter, since her voice was suddenly much closer. “You look better without it,” she told him seriously. “D’you think you’d fuck him?”
The question made Dean frown, though he realized a second later that Ruby couldn’t see him. “Who, Daniel Boulud?” For a second he considered inviting her into the shower so they could have this conversation face-to-face, then remembered some things were too much to be blamed on alcohol. He had no intention of trying to explain to Sam why he’d accidentally fucked his maybe-love interest against a shower wall. Although Ruby would gain herself a serious nemesis if Dean ever heard about her bringing the powder out around his baby brother. Dean also liked to pretend they had no drugs in Oxford.
There was a laugh. Ruby smacked the shower curtain in derision. “No, you asshole. Castiel. You gotta admit he’s pretty hot, even if he’s a douchebag. It’s like the Gordon Ramsay ‘tude wrapped up in a much hotter package and a Utilikilt.”
“Sounds like you’re the one who wants to fuck him,” Dean pointed out. He rinsed his hair and started to soap the rest of himself down, liking the fleeting charge of arousal that accompanied the touch of his hand, though it produced no real desire to have sex one way or another. Ironically, coke was one thing that made him less horny than usual, though he knew from experience it tended to have the opposite effect on Ruby. She was definitely staying on the other side of the curtain.
Ruby ‘hmm-ed’ in agreement. “I wouldn’t say no,” she answered, “though he’s more your type than mine. But you didn’t answer the question. What would you do if the great Castiel MacCarthy asked you to fuck him senseless right now?”
Rolling his eyes, Dean didn’t immediately answer—Ruby sometimes said the stupidest shit while high. But the image of his imperious, sort-of boss on his knees, looking up at Dean with that shock of dark hair and lightning-bolt eyes, sent a shiver down Dean’s spine that did manage to make his cock twitch in interest. “I’d probably do it,” he admitted after a second. “But I’d want to punch him first.”
“Kinky,” laughed Ruby. The smell of smoke let Dean know she’d chosen that moment to light a cigarette, and for once Dean was too tired to bust her ass about it. “Well, there’s nothing that says you can’t teach him a lesson and find out what kind of face he makes when he creams all over himself.” Considering that, Dean had to concede the point, and started thinking about exactly how that might look, as well as inventive ways to get back at the chef.
Two days later, Castiel’s knives were found frozen in a bucket of ice inside the walk-in. Crowley had said not a word when he caught Dean at it in the fridge. Instead he’d lingered by the partly open door under the pretense of going over ledgers, ready to deliver a quick warning in case anyone was headed their way.
Discovering the bucket for himself some forty minutes later, Castiel, to his credit, didn’t even flinch as he hauled the block of ice over to an empty worktop and dropped it down onto the stainless-steel surface. The abrupt, noisy bang! startled a few of the cooks working nearby, and Chef Lewis raised an eyebrow that seemed to speak volumes, but Cas didn’t acknowledge any of it as he calmly got to work melting the ice with a blowtorch. Water ran in messy rivulets down the side of the bucket and onto the floor, and one of the kitchen aides quickly went to fetch a mop before the tiles could become flooded. Still Castiel’s facial expression didn’t change, his forehead uncreased and his jaw relaxed. From an unseen corner of the kitchen, someone whispered, “Is he a Cylon?”
Castiel’s santoku knife was just about freed when he met Dean’s eyes smirking at him from across the kitchen. Neither of them said anything, but it was clearly on.
A little-known fact about Dean was that he had an allergy to wasabi. It would have been less convenient if he liked sushi—he didn’t—but nevertheless it appeared as a note in his file at work under “Things That Might Make Dean Asphyxiate and Die”. He’d discovered it by accident on Sam’s seventeenth birthday, the summer Lawrence’s lone sushi joint opened up downtown and his brother discovered the wonders of Japanese cuisine. Mysteriously, however, no one at the restaurant besides Martin or Crowley was aware of it, and that’s probably how Dean almost wound up in the Emergency Room over a stupid prank.
Of what the Chapter staff did know about Dean was his tendency to pick at the dessert tray at the end of each shift, when there was an inevitable assortment of cakes or pastries left over from the evening’s service. Most of the kitchen staff didn’t mind, since the food just wound up in the trash anyway, but Chef Lewis loved to rib him about it, jeering about the upcoming bikini season and Dean’s nonexistent pooch.
Though Castiel never directly objected to Dean helping himself, he tried his best to dispose of the food before Dean could get to it. He wasn’t cute about it, either; more often than not, he waited until Dean wandered into the kitchen before making a deliberate show of tipping the desserts into the rubbish pile, staring Dean down in the most exultant, self-satisfied way possible as he wiped his hands off on his Utilikilt. When Dean pointed it out to Ruby, she observed that Castiel’s expression barely changed.
“It’s all in the fucking eyes,” Dean argued, knowing how ridiculous and paranoid he sounded. “That man is going to murder me in my sleep.”
“You’d first have to invite him into your bed for that to happen,” she replied before flouncing off to check on her last remaining table. Although she couldn’t see, Dean made a subtle gagging noise that was sure not to escape Castiel’s notice as he flung the last of the honey Madelines into the bin.
Dean had every reason to be suspicious and stop thinking so much with his stomach. Indeed, as with the sushi, it’d proven itself to be a source of trouble many, many times in the past. But one night Dean snuck into the kitchen—Castiel nowhere in sight—and found a plate of neatly arranged lemon macaroons on the counter.
There were not words enough to express how much Dean loved dessert, not even in a land of story and song like Ireland, and even fewer still that could describe the perfection of Chapter’s lemon macaroons. Typically they were served with homemade blueberry marmalade, jelly and cheesecake for €12.50, but Dean liked them well enough all on their own, flaky coconut and tart hits of lemon that reminded him of summer and maybe drinking piña coladas on the beach, even though Dean had never been on a beach and wouldn’t be caught dead sipping anything with an umbrella in it. The macaroons practically had his name written all over them. For some reason he didn’t stop to consider why this was odd. None of the pastry chefs were around to ask, and when Dean indicated the macaroons to another line cook, the guy just shrugged and continued with his station clean-up.
Satisfied, Dean hopped up on the stainless steel counter with the plate on his lap and made a mental note to bring a couple home with him. Crowley too rarely got to savour the fruits of the kitchen he spent so much time and hard work managing. It was around this time Dean saw Castiel enter the kitchen from the far end, jewel-bright eyes immediately flicking over to see Dean comfortably settled in and about to enjoy the spoils.
Dean lifted the macaroon in a blatantly mocking toast. “Die in a fire, asshole,” he muttered under his breath, and dug in. Castiel smirked. The first bite of macaroon was every bit as heavenly as Dean could have imagined.
Several hours later, he woke up in hospital being pumped full of Diphenhydramine through an IV.
“What the fuck happened?” demanded Jo. Her face was pinched and her arms folded across her chest in the way Dean knew was to compensate for her worry with aggression. “The doctor said you went into anaphylactic shock! I thought you said the only things in the world you react to are wasabi and long-haired cats?”
“That motherfucker,” Dean hissed after a moment’s consideration. “It was totally Castiel. I’m going to kill him if he doesn’t go to jail for the rest of his life.”
“Castiel dosed you with wasabi?” Jo said in confusion. “That’s… Don’t you think you’re being a little melodramatic?”
“You’re not the one currently covered in hives!” Dean shouted back. “I look like the fucking Michelin Man, and not the one who gives out Stars to all the good little chef girls and boys!”
Logic suggested there was no way MacCarthy could have known about the wasabi allergy—hardly anyone else did, and it’s not like Dean could picture the guy reading up on him so as to better plan the next attack. Except, fuck logic, Dean thought; that was probably precisely what had happened, Castiel unearthing whatever little bit of dirt he could find on Dean in order to take him out of the picture for good. Chefs were killers, and it was no coincidence they liked their knives so much, all the better to stab someone in the back with one. Maybe Dean wasn’t the competition, but he’d certainly embarrassed Castiel enough times for the chef to start thinking of him as the enemy. Castiel was, as far as Dean could figure it, the male equivalent of a femme fatale—gorgeous and clever and very, very good at his job, but ultimately dangerous as fuck to be around. Something had to change.
Obligated to have a confrontation, he had no choice but to corner Castiel at the restaurant the next time he was well enough to come in. After a week of missed work, Dean was embarrassed, poor and as incensed as a demon, having had many days over which to plan his revenge. From the minute he’d laid eyes on Castiel MacCarthy, he’d known the day would come that he would have to kidnap the sous chef and dump the body in the darkest, dirtiest crack den in Ireland. Given that it was Dublin City, it wouldn’t be hard to find one.
Predictably, Castiel avoided him that whole night, even in spite of Dean’s pointed stares and his habit of discussing his recent hospital stay and subsequent medical bill—loudly—with the other staff members. It’d gotten him some pretty nice hugs and sympathetic noises from a few of the prettier waitresses on staff, so that was good, but for once that was rather secondary to Dean’s desire for Castiel’s head on a plate. Martin had found the tray of lemon macaroons, wasabi meticulously piped into the middle of each one, but no one had the faintest idea where they’d come from. At least not until Jo suggested, “I thought I saw Castiel whipping up an emergency batch of macaroons sometime last week. Maybe he knows?”
Like a scene from a TV sitcom, the whole kitchen paused in its food preparation to slowly turn and look at Castiel. Dean folded his arms victoriously, prepared for retribution that would hopefully come in the form of Martin’s snakebite wit and subsequent canning of Chef MacCarthy: Douchebag, Attempted Murderer and All-Around Life-Ruiner.
Looking up from the rack of lamb he was carving, Castiel was visibly startled to find a kitchen full of grim faces staring back at him. A spoon clattered against a countertop in the near-silence. Much to Dean’s satisfaction, the chef looked haggard and unshaven and like he hadn’t slept for a few days—basically, like normal. Even his chef’s hat was slightly askew, and Dean had heard him yelling orders around the kitchen more aggressively than normal. Good. He hoped the guilt was eating him up inside.
“What’s the problem?” Castiel asked slowly, gaze lingering for a moment upon Dean.
Martin cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Uh, Castiel—you wouldn’t happen to know anything about a plate of macaroons that mysteriously had wasabi piped into them, now would you?” For once, the proprietor’s face looked stricken, and Dean felt kind of bad for having to watch him play bad cop in front of everyone. Whatever—the Garda were pussies anyway.
Much to Dean’s surprise, the question shocked Castiel not at all. “Of course,” he said, voice a delicious rumble that sent a shiver up Dean’s spine in spite of himself. “The cleaning staff have been poaching leftover dessert off the countertops at every available opportunity. I thought to teach them a lesson so they wouldn’t be so bold next time.”
“This is true,” came the murmur of agreement from Chef Lewis. It was a small comfort—very small—that even he wilted visibly under Dean’s baleful glare.
Nose twitching in what could have been amusement or frustration, Martin glanced once at Dean, who at this point probably had smoke coming out of his ears. To Castiel, Martin said, “You, ah… you realize that this nearly caused a staff member to die, yes?”
The only sign of emotion apparent in Castiel’s response was the faintest crack of his voice upon the first syllable. “Clearly it wasn’t meant for a staff member, Martin,” said the chef. He very deliberately didn’t look at Dean. “But perhaps someone’s fingers ventured where they shouldn’t’ve.”
Enough was enough. Dean made a noise of disgust and stalked out of the kitchen. “He’s fucking dead,” he said to Ruby and Jo on his way past.
The first opportunity he had to approach Castiel alone was at the end of the night, after they’d been cut, when most people were wandering home or to someplace that served alcohol after hours. Dean sent Crowley and the others on to the flat ahead of him and found Castiel mounting his vintage Triumph in the alley behind the restaurant. It was such a beautiful piece of machinery that Dean almost said Nice bike before he remembered a sweet ride did not less of an asshole make.
A stone skittering off the toe of Dean’s boot made Castiel glance up. Through the open visor of his helmet, Dean saw Castiel’s eyes widen slightly when he noticed Dean standing there in his leather jacket and his best game face. All that was missing was the crowbar for him to smack menacingly against his hand. His skin still felt stretched and sore from the week’s previous swelling, but Dean still thought he pulled off the intimidating look effectively enough, especially with a good few pounds and inches on Castiel.
“Dean,” he said in surprise. He sat back against the seat of the motorcycle as he killed the engine and pulled the helmet off his head, skin pale against the shiny black fibreglass and the dark leather of his fingerless bike gloves. Removing the helmet caused his hair to stick up in a way that was neither sex-kittenish nor hot, and Dean scowled in response.
“Yeah, fucker, now you suddenly remember my name, huh?” He stalked up to Castiel until he was close enough that he could have shoved the smaller man backwards off the bike, if he so desired. “I get that you hate my guts, and the feeling’s mutual, but that wasabi shit was seriously uncool. Things have gotten a little out of hand when someone ends up with a goddamn breathing tube in their throat.”
Holding up his hands in surrender, one still gripping the helmet, Castiel ducked his head and clenched his jaw until Dean saw a muscle jump nervously in his cheek. “In no way did I intend for you to wind up in hospital, Dean,” Castiel ground out. “I thought to get you back for the knives and cause you a bit of a cough, and that’d be the end of it. The most I hoped for was a laugh. Not grievous bodily harm.” He looked up to meet Dean’s eyes, and against Dean’s better judgement, he could see the guilt swimming there even in the dim alleyway. “Please accept my apologies. I can’t rightly offer any more than that, unless you want me to get down on my knees right now.”
Normally Dean would have made a snarky comment in response, but Castiel looked too distraught, and he still wanted to punch him too much, anyway. “That excuse about the cleaners was fucking bullshit.”
“Too right it was,” Castiel answered right away, shameless. His lip twitched and absolutely did not make Dean want to smile back. “But in all fairness, they have been going through the fridge at night and drinking Chuck’s leftover mix. I’d have spiked that with wasabi, too, if I could. I still might, but I solemnly swear to warn you first.”
Dean sniffed. “I don’t really plan to talk to you again, if I can help it. Not unless you plan to pay my medical bills. Seeing as how my brother’s a lawyer, I’m pretty sure I could make a case against you.” Almost a lawyer, he amended silently, and ignored the part where he sounded worse than Maddie fucking Ross haggling over the price of a grey pony.
“Let me buy you a drink instead,” suggested Castiel. For a minute he sounded almost civil, friendly. Dean didn’t trust it. “Only fair. Or at least it’s a start.”
“It’s one in the morning,” Dean reminded him. “Last call was almost two hours ago.”
Considering this a moment, Castiel hitched his shoulder in a half-shrug before he patted the motorcycle seat behind him. “Then let me fix you a drink instead. I don’t live far. Unless it’s past your bedtime…”
“No fucking way,” Dean griped and took a couple steps back. First the guy almost kills him, and then wants him to ride bitch? Yeah, right. But it sounded like he was protesting the bedtime comment, not the fact that Castiel was apparently a sociopath or had borderline personality disorder or something. “Not only do I not trust you enough to drive me anywhere, I have absolutely no proof you won’t just try to poison me or shove me down an elevator shaft.”
“My house hasn’t got a lift,” deadpanned Castiel. “But suit yourself.”
As he started to replace the helmet, Dean hesitated and eventually gave an angry sigh. “Why you gotta be such a dick, man?”
“I’m trying to be less of one.”
Fail. The fact that Castiel was gorgeous and a James Beard winner and a sous chef and drove a stupid Triumph automatically made him a dick for life. “Can’t you just freaking apologize and be done with it?”
Castiel snorted. “I’m trying to do that, too.” With the hint of a smile on his face and the leather jacket zippered to his chin, Dean looked at Cas and started to think about why he’d come to Ireland in the first place. But no. These were not fucking acceptable thoughts to be having about the Antichrist, who happened to exist in the form of one deadly hot sous chef with a mean vindictive streak. “Do you not appreciate the concept of a peace offering?” Castiel challenged, a hint of impatience in his voice. “Are you coming, or not?”
Don’t talk about coming, Dean begged silently. “Do you not appreciate that you almost killed me?” he asked with as much manly petulance as he could muster.
“I have thirty-year-old Glenfiddich back at the flat,” Castiel told him simply. “And I’m fucking starved. Either get on the bike and accept my deepest apologies in the form of some expensive Scotch and the best midnight snack of your life, or don’t. I’ll be quite happy to oblige you by pretending this conversation never happened.”
“You’re a dick,” Dean said again, feeling his resolve slowly crumble. Like there’d been much of it in the first place. He should have gone for Castiel’s kneecaps before the bastard ever opened his mouth. “I should have you fired.”
“I’d like to see you try,” Castiel murmured saucily, then held the helmet out to Dean. “This is the only one I’ve got on me. So I’ll ask you again—coming?”
Dean grumbled something unintelligible and immature, but accepted. At a quiet word from Castiel he buttoned his leather jacket—Castiel’s was zippered right up beneath the chin for safety—and got on the bike without fixating on how much of a freaking douchebag he looked on the back of this thing. There no way was he putting his arms around this asshole, even if he drove as fast as every other motorist in County Dublin.
Since it couldn’t hurt, he asked, “Why don’t you let me drive this thing instead? You don’t seem like the type who knows how to treat a lady.”
Castiel smirked. He turned his body to flip the visor of Dean’s helmet closed as he revved the bike’s engine with the other hand. “Not a chance,” said Castiel brightly. “Stuff it and hold on, Wasabi Boy.” The flash of humour surprised Dean enough to prevent his outraged splutter from escaping.