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In the Weeds

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        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.

Chapter Text

        Sure enough, Castiel whisked them through the streets of Dublin so fast that even Dean got nervous on some of the turns. He missed his vintage Chevy back home, her wide turning radius and the fact that she couldn’t have squeezed into half the streets in Europe. In the darkness he oriented himself with difficulty, a quick corner enough to confuse his sense of direction beneath the tinted visor of his helmet. Castiel was a good driver, though, navigating the bike with confidence and practiced smoothness. Before Dean knew it, they were pulling up to a terraced house about fifteen minutes away from Chapter, on the other side of the Grand Canal. Castiel guided the bike through a narrow alley to the laneway of garages at the back, where he killed the engine and flipped the kickstand down.

        “Home sweet home,” he told Dean, dismounting and holding out a hand for the helmet. He carried it inside with them, Dean following a few steps behind, looking around himself to get a better sense of where Satan slept at night.

        Like many of the residences in the area, the place was modest from the outside, identical to its neighbours—but deceptively so, since Dean could tell by the cars on the street that they were in one of the richer neighbourhoods in South City Centre. Sure enough, on the inside it was impeccably renovated and modern. Dean had visited more than a few Irish dwellings that looked either like the interior of a wood cabin or a Laura Ashley explosion, and it was something of a relief Castiel’s home was neither.

        All that could be said was it looked rather ascetic and clean, more like a realtor’s property photo than somebody’s home. Still, he could see how a fire going in the grate would cosy things up, or that the presence of friends would add warm shadows to even the most brightly lit corners. The decoration adorning the whitewashed walls was minimal, a few abstract paintings here and there for colour, but the deep cherry-wood floors, tin ceilings and large windows gave the house understated character. That and the absolutely magnificent kitchen, to which Castiel led Dean from up two flights of stairs. Along with the grand dining room, it took up the whole floor and was centred before a massive picture window that overlooked the darkened garden out back, and beyond it the Grand Canal.

        “Nice place,” Dean admitted. Obviously Castiel didn’t give much thought to the rest of the house, but the kitchen bore every sign of his craft. “You live here alone?” Dean couldn’t even begin to guess what a house of this size had to cost in Dublin 2.

        “The house belonged to my parents,” Castiel explained shortly.

        He shrugged out of his jacket and offered to take Dean’s as well, disappearing a moment to shut them away in a nearby cupboard. Dean heard him clomping up the stairs and then back down. When he returned, he still looked ruffled and a bit flushed from the bike ride, but Dean could see him beginning to relax in his own space.

        “I recently moved back here after they passed, and it’ll soon be up for sale. So it doesn’t really look like it belongs to anyone.” He wrinkled his nose when Dean opened his mouth to apologize, holding up a hand like he knew what was coming. “Please don’t offer your condolences,” he said. “My parents weren’t terribly nice people and I hope to be rid of this place as soon as possible.”

        Unsurprised by the curtness of Castiel’s tone, Dean shrugged, but nevertheless wondered how badly you had to fuck up your kids for them to want not even the common courtesy of an ‘I’m sorry’ when you died. “You look pretty at home in that kitchen,” he replied instead.

        The chef smirked in acknowledgement. “It’s the one thing about this place I don’t completely hate,” he admitted. “My father was a politician, but knew his way around a kitchen. Despite everything else, I have fond memories of learning to cook here.”

        To hear that Castiel had actually grown up in this place was a bit more of a shock, albeit one Dean kept to himself. He did say, however, “You could always just, I don’t know… Create more fond memories.”

        “I think that ship has sailed.”

        At a bit of a loss, Dean wiped his hands on his jeans. It felt weird to be talking to Castiel almost like a friend, hearing him confess to regular human emotions like hatred or hope or, if Dean wanted to go that far, regret. “I don’t think you give the house enough credit,” he said wistfully, knowing he had next to no hope of ever living someplace like this.

        “I tend not to give a lot of things enough credit,” Castiel answered with a tiny smile. For a second neither of them said anything further, until Dean shifted a little with awkwardness and cleared his throat. “Right then,” announced Castiel. “I promised you recompense for the hospital incident. Are you still interested?”

        Without meaning to, Dean’s eyes dropped to the plumpness of the chef’s lips and thought, Yeah, I’m pretty interested. He barely had enough time to evade Castiel’s slow smirk as he remembered this was a question he was meant to answer. “Sure, okay, that Glenfiddich sounded good. Or whatever you’re having.”

        That perfect bottom lip was pulled between Castiel’s teeth for a brief second as he hid his smile. “Glenfiddich it is.”

        “Don’t feel the need to act like less of a wanker just ‘cause I’m in your house,” Dean told him casually, eyes on the line of Castiel’s back beneath his T-shirt as he turned and stretched to grab the bottle of thirty-year-old Scotch from the shelf. Like his slim black jeans, the fabric did a great job of hugging the lean planes of his body as a second skin, and Dean cursed himself out for his dick’s misguided interest. The reactions inspired by Castiel’s meanness were no less embarrassing, but at least that was less confusing than this unfamiliar chumminess.

        “I don’t,” Castiel said, as he set down the bottle alongside a couple tumblers atop the granite countertop. The glitter of Scotch pouring into the glass lured Dean closer to the kitchen island. “In fact, I’m constitutionally incapable of being nice to anyone, not even people I find attractive.”

        This made Dean laugh in spite of himself. He didn’t try too hard to interpret what that was supposed to mean. “You must not get laid too often, then,” he quipped.

        Castiel returned the smile. “Not for lack of opportunity.”

        “I bet,” said Dean, believing it. He had to admire Castiel’s self-assuredness. “So is that why you moved back here from Vegas?” he asked. “Your parents?”

        In response, Castiel just hummed to himself and threw back a healthy portion of his Scotch, after lifting the glass a little in Dean’s direction. “Sláinte.” A muscle jumped in his cheek as he swallowed. “Chef Lewis and I picked up the most magnificent scallops this morning,” he said abruptly. Dean blinked at the non sequitur, but got the hint. “I managed to smuggle some home with me before my shift at the restaurant. Does that appeal? Nice with a light saffron sauce.”

        “You’re the culinary genius,” answered Dean. “As long as there’s no wasabi anywhere in the recipe, that sounds great.”

        Castiel chuckled. Dean watched as he turned and began removing various items from the fridge—white wine and cream and butter—before gathering the rest of the dry ingredients together on the counter. Dean recognized shallots and the saffron and a large lemon, plus one or two other things he couldn’t identify. After selecting a sauté pan to heat upon the gas stove, Castiel washed his hands at the large sink embedded in the kitchen island, and started chopping.

        “Can I do anything?” Dean asked.

        Shaking his head, Castiel answered, “I may be a bastard, but even I know it’d be wrong to put you to work on your own conciliatory meal.” Besides, with his hands flying in a blur over the vegetables, chopping with true precision and lighting speed, Dean couldn’t really see how he’d be anything but a hindrance. “Tell me about yourself,” he suggested as an alternative.

        “What, and ruin the perfectly good animosity we have going?” retorted Dean. He watched Castiel throw the shallots into the pan and add a generous splash of wine. The smell, half-oniony and half-alcoholic, drifted past his nostrils as the shallots started to sweat. “I gotta warn you, I’m impossible to hate once you get to know me.”

        In spite of himself, he grinned when Castiel threw back his head and laughed, eyes and nose crinkling with pleasure. Even after weeks in the kitchen, he’d never seen the chef laugh like that, had never even seen his smile so wide. It was a rare, unguarded moment that Dean filed away, though for what he didn’t know. Still chuckling, Castiel said, “I’m sure that’s not true.”

        “Oh, make no mistake,” Dean answered. “There’s a reason my tips are always awesome.”

        “Your tips are ‘awesome’, no doubt, because you’re beautiful and an incorrigible flirt; anything female leaves your section with a smile on her face. I imagine some of the staff feel the same way.” Castiel flashed him a smirk that was gone so fast, Dean hardly knew what to make of the comment.

        Was that sheer observation, or a come-on? The way Castiel threw out lines like that, only to steamroll on, made him wonder, made him that much more determined to either figure the chef out or steal back the upper hand. Dean wasn’t sure he could bring himself to start hitting on what pretty much amounted to his boss, though. Sure, he could justify pissing Castiel off at work and calling him any number of unpleasant names, but the idea of laying it on thick without provocation made his stomach clench. There were more than enough servers willing to blow the boss for a better section or prime shifts or a spot behind the bar, but that had never been Dean’s style. He preferred to let his work speak for itself, as much as his talents in the bedroom. He didn’t need one to validate the other.

        Neither, apparently, did Castiel, because after a few short minutes of watching him at the stove, Dean could see why he’d made such a name for himself from an early age. Working without a recipe, Castiel whipped up a seductive yellow sauce that tickled Dean’s nose as it bubbled over the heat.

        “I grew up in Kansas,” he said suddenly. “I’ve got a little brother named Sam who’s a million feet tall and smarter than God.” Even watching Castiel cook, he began to feel a bit awkward in the silence. He knew next to nothing about Castiel, but felt inclined to share something after learning the chef’s parents had recently passed away. “The reason I moved here is ‘cause Sam’s on exchange at Oxford. But I think I might stick around, you know, for the long haul. I like it here a lot.” Provided he didn’t get deported first, or fired for doing something stupid, like sleeping with the boss. “Crowley and I have been planning to open a restaurant in Ranelagh, not too far from here actually.”

        “Crowley is a bastard, but extremely good at his job,” said Castiel with a hint of approval in his voice. Hell, that alone was practically as good as if he’d fallen to his knees in awe. “He’s like a good sous chef, in a way—knows how to run the show from behind the scenes while the man up front gets the credit.”

        “Yeah, except you’re a bastard, too,” said Dean wryly, only half-serious. Castiel acknowledged the dig with a hot look that assured Dean he took no offense, that he was slowly learning Dean’s sense of humour. “But Crowley wouldn’t mind a bit more credit,” Dean continued, seeing Castiel’s logic, “and my guess is, neither would you.”

        There was a quick lift of eyebrows. “As I said—he’s like a good sous chef. But whereas it’s entirely feasible for Crowley to start his own business now, with your help, I know another kitchen of my own is still a ways off yet. My first restaurant did well, but in retrospect it was a lot to handle at a young age; I couldn’t maintain such a pace and keep my sanity.”

        The sudden modesty seemed too apropos to be false. Dean wondered at that, because he’d never seen Castiel’s cockiness slip, not even for a second. That’s sort of how it had to be, though, in such a fierce industry. “You could always poison the competition with wasabi,” he suggested. Glaring playfully, Castiel flicked the wet end of the wooden spoon in Dean’s direction so he had to dodge to avoid being splattered with sauce.

        He didn’t quite manage, though, since a warm splatter of the yellow concoction nailed him in the cheek. The Scotch was kicking in just enough that he almost giggled at Castiel’s undignified snort, swiping at the sauce with a finger. This he popped into his mouth with a quiet groan of pleasure as he registered the explosion of flavour. His mouth watered at the thought of how the scallops would taste drenched in the stuff, and then promptly went dry when he saw Castiel’s eyes darken at the sight of his finger between his lips. Dean allowed their gazes to meet and linger for a second, experimentally, before an irreverent chirp from his mobile broke the moment.

        “Excuse me,” he mumbled, and dug around in the pocket of his jeans until he extracted the phone. The message was from Ruby, demanding to know where he’d gotten to, and he quickly punched out a reply. At hot Gordon Ramsay’s house. Testing your theory, maybe, he wrote, and flipped the phone shut.

        “Who was that?” Castiel asked casually. While Dean was busy with the phone, he’d pulled out the scallops and some fresh herbs, and was currently chopping a handful of parsley and oregano with another of his seemingly endless supplies of sharp, gleaming knives.

        Dean shrugged and watched him for a moment, more to gauge his investment in the information than to pick up cooking tips. “Ruby,” he answered with deliberate slowness. “She wanted to know where I was.”

        Castiel nodded, then said, “So you two are…”

        The forced nonchalance made Dean want to crow with laughter. Gotcha, he thought. Ruby’s prediction had been right after all: the chef did have more than just passing interest or disdain for Dean. Certainly the thought made him a bit power-drunk—a bit turned-on, too—but Dean couldn’t quite decide what to do with that information. Best to play it cool, at any rate.

        “Not really,” he answered, allowing himself that one white lie. Dean wouldn’t go near Ruby if his life depended on it, but Castiel didn’t need to know that. “You jealous, Cas?” he drawled lazily. The nickname slipped out, but seemed to have the desired effect. “Maybe you want to see for yourself why my tips are so generous.”

        Eyes flashing, Castiel glanced up at him and lingered for a second on Dean’s lips, which he helpfully moistened for the chef’s benefit. “In your dreams,” he told Dean. He looked away in favour of focusing on the food, mixing together a bit of flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish with the chopped herbs, as well as some zest from the lemon. “And it’s Castiel, not Cas.” God, he’s such a pompous dick, marvelled Dean. But it was starting to come together and make sense: the excessive attention, the competition, the hiding.

        “Sure thing, Cas.” Dean knew he was pushing it a little, but the flush of indignation that coloured Castiel’s cheeks made up his mind. Saying no more, he poured them both another couple fingers of Scotch, draining his own glass as he pushed himself away from the counter.

        He strolled around to the other side of the island as though intending to observe Castiel‘s work from a different vantage point. Admittedly, he was a pleasure to watch. Still moving quickly, the chef grabbed a larger sauté pan and heated up a drizzle of olive oil, brandishing both pan and oil with such flair that Dean wondered if Castiel wasn’t putting on a bit of a show. Ignorant to—or ignoring—Dean’s intense scrutiny, Castiel turned his attention back to the shellfish and flour on the counter, dipping the scallops into the mixture, coating each one evenly before setting them aside. There were quite a few to get through, perhaps a dozen or so, and the sight of them so perfect and delicate white made Dean’s mouth tingle with the desire to touch something.

        Castiel was right there, less than a foot away. It seemed entirely logical to sidle closer and dip his head until his lips connected with the side of the chef’s neck, just below his ear, while his hands settled upon Castiel’s hips. Dean murmured in satisfaction even as Castiel went stock-still. As he let them both register the length of his body pressed against Castiel’s back, beneath his lips Dean could feel the other man’s pulse throbbing through the soft skin of his throat, hammering fast. That was all it took to make the blood rush to Dean’s cock, the matter decided so quickly it practically left him light-headed. Well, that and the eminently tempting physique he could feel moulded against him, the wings of Castiel’s shoulder blades prominent through both their T-shirts. Beneath Dean’s hands, his hipbones were sharp as arrowheads.

        “Dean,” Castiel said in a low voice.

        He’d stopped with one hand poised above the bowl of flour, scallop still cradled in his fingers with such gentleness it might have been a live, precious thing. Dean knew already, from watching Cas around the kitchen, those hands were capable of surprising violence as well as precision, grace and painstaking care; despite the slender lines of his wrists, he could cleave a rack of beef ribs in two with a single strike, and in the next breath slice an apple so thinly it looked almost transparent. It made Dean weak in the knees to think what it’d be like to have those hands on him, if Castiel would know just how to handle the tenderest cuts on his body, too.

        “What are you doing?”

        The soft rumble of his voice, that delicious accent, made Dean emit something dangerously close to a whimper. “What does it look like?” he returned. Indulging himself, he swiped his tongue out to taste Castiel’s skin, finding the salt of sweat and, perhaps, traces of all he’d cooked that day.

        At the touch, Castiel gave a jerk that could have been surrender or resistance; he shifted anxiously in Dean’s grasp but his head tilted back like he wanted to grant Dean unfettered access to his neck, the firm line of his jaw. “It looks like you’re treading onto thin ice,” he gasped.

        “You’re the one who invited me out here with you,” reminded Dean, meaning both the house and the proverbial ice. “I didn’t think so at first—figured you really were just a prick who had it in for me.”

        He continued to glide his lips back and forth over Castiel’s pulse point, surprising himself with the lack of urgency he felt—maybe surprising them both, based on the shivers running through Castiel’s body. With the intent to soothe, he stroked his palms slowly up the beckoning angles of those hips, fingertips dragging at clothing and warm skin growing clammy.

        Still against Castiel’s throat, Dean caught the quiet mewl that emerged, almost swallowed up by the heightened sound of his breathing. He murmured, “It all makes sense now, Cas. You’ve just wanted me to make a move this whole time, huh?”

        Castiel made another sound that was neither disagreement nor assent, trailing off into a moan when Dean slid his hand beneath the chef’s T-shirt and flattened it against his stomach, tracing the silky skin and soft hair of Castiel’s belly as he moved the other hand up to his chest. The heartbeat he felt there was strong, racing, making Dean wonder if it was from excitement or nervousness. Since Castiel didn’t seem the type to demonstrate much by way of either emotion, it was difficult to tell.

        Still, it was unusual for Dean to be so unsure of a potential partner’s assent, and he wasn’t about to start making assumptions that Castiel welcomed these advances if, really, he didn’t. Not that he’d want to push too far with anyone, but it was doubly cringe-worthy to think of doing so with a superior from work. So he pulled back his mouth just enough to brush his lips against the rim of Castiel’s ear, murmuring, “Do you want me to stop?”

        “We shouldn’t be doing this,” said Castiel, but he pushed back into Dean’s body, letting the generous swell of his ass rub unspoken need into Dean’s hips and the erection insistently straining the fly of his jeans.

        Caught between a chuckle and a groan, Dean tightened his hands, bringing their bodies even closer together so he could feel every ridge of Castiel’s back pressing into his front. “Not what I asked. Do you want me to stop?”

        The prolonged silence that returned sent a flare of annoyance through Dean, and he pulled back to a small, anxious whine from Castiel. It was encouraging, but not enough. Dean grabbed Castiel by the arm and turned him around. The blue eyes that stared up at him were heavy-lidded, the slack mouth opening on a protest. Leave it to Castiel to start giving him lip now.

        “Listen,” he said, before the rebuke could come. “I’m not a ‘no means yes’ kinda guy, okay? So if this—” and here Dean gestured between them, “—is something you want, then you need to tell me. If it’s a no, I might take the piss outta you for being an unbelievable cocktease, but I’m not going any further until you say the words or give me some kind of sign.”

        For a moment Cas didn’t do anything but continue to look at him, but then he gently pushed against Dean’s chest until he was forced to take a couple steps back. Dean supposed that was his answer. However, rather than make Dean leave, Castiel silently went to the stove and, pausing barely a second, turned off the gas flame and removed the saucepan from the heat. Next he replaced the scallops upon their plate and covered them with plastic film before returning them to the fridge, and repeated the process with the sauce. Although Dean watched the whole procedure without really knowing what the outcome might be, he couldn’t shake the feeling it would culminate in him getting kicked the hell out of his boss’s house and asked not to come back—not to his job, either.

        So it was to his great surprise that Castiel, once everything had been put away and the cooking halted, drained the last of his Scotch and pressed himself against Dean with the most enigmatic of expressions on his face, serious except for the promising heat in his eyes. Unable to help himself, Dean shivered at the long line of contact between their bodies and the lips that brushed against his ear. “Yes, I’m interested,” murmured Cas. “But if that’s how you want to play it—” his hand stroked deliberately down Dean’s side, fingers pressing just shy of too hard into his ribs, “—then perhaps you should take off your clothes and prove how serious you really are.”

        When had he ever disobeyed a direct order like that, ever? Dean stepped back with a grin, fingers playing along the hem of his T-shirt with every intention of making Castiel eat his words. He was sweating, nervous as hell, but the one thing Dean was good at was faking it. In this case, he could pretend like Cas didn’t scare the shit out of him, with his strong personality and needle-sharp gaze. People could surprise him every so often, hidden depths beneath an outwardly misleading appearance and all that, and yet Dean got the feeling that Cas, in bed, would conduct himself with the same intensity as he did everything else.

        “Like to watch, do you?” he taunted. “Had a feeling you were a kinky son of a bitch.”

        Castiel’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly. “And I had a feeling you’d be trouble—” he started to fire back, but then Dean whipped the T-shirt over his head and bit his lip at the stunned silence that answered. The look on Cas’s face was priceless, eyes widening with surprise and a blush staining his cheeks; seeming, for a moment, like Dean might not be the only one feeling utterly out of his depth.

        But Cas recovered quickly, Dean had to hand him that, and before he could blink that haughty mask was back in place, gaze raking down the tanned lines of Dean’s torso like a judge assessing a horse at fair. Dean was beginning to get the idea, however, that Cas wasn’t nearly so confident as he liked to project, and that thrilled him right down to the toes. All the same, Dean knew he was probably going to get the shit topped out of him tonight. What was more, Dean was going to let it happen.

        Holding eye contact, he unthreaded the tongue of his belt and pulled it free with a slap and snick of leather through the loops. The metallic clatter of the buckle upon the kitchen tiles seemed almost to dare Castiel to flinch, which he didn’t, and so Dean proceeded to unbutton and unzip his jeans with remarkable steadiness, considering how badly his fingers wanted to tremble. Shit, this needed crappy dance music. This needed a stripper pole and strobe lights and a dark corner that would make Dean feel less exposed than he currently did, taking off his clothes in front of a near-stranger—who happened to be his boss, goddamn—with nerves of steel and some crazy kind of X-ray vision. Dean had stripped in front of lovers before, had no problem showing off, but this was… different. This was goddamned terrifying and not about getting the upper hand at all. He suspected Castiel knew it, too, and that made it even worse.

        Jeans and underwear were pushed to mid-thigh and, before he slid them the rest of the way down, Dean kicked off his shoes. He paused to suck in a pained breath as his cock smacked against his stomach the moment it was released, giving away the last bit of composure he might have faked. He dallied about removing the rest of his clothes before he straightened back up. Cas was staring at him intently, not at Dean’s body or even his erection, but at his eyes. Bashful and hating himself for it, Dean glanced away. Tried to hide his discomfort by fluttering his eyes shut and giving his cock a few slow strokes that provided almost no relief except to make him want more.

        When he opened them again, Cas had advanced by a few steps. Dean jumped at the sudden proximity and how the other man had managed to move without making a sound. He was very, very close, each exhalation puffing alluringly against Dean’s mouth, his skin exuding subtle but palpable warmth. A finger lifted to slowly trace the outline of Dean’s lips. Dean shuddered and said, voice cracking, “Go on and kiss me, man,” more of a plea than an order. Castiel inclined his head ever so slightly. Then, he did just that.

        It wasn’t hard at first, not like Dean expected; Cas parted his lips and hovered there a few excruciating moments, mingling their breath before he leaned the last little bit in and let the voluptuous curve of his bottom lip catch against Dean’s, surprisingly dry but perfectly soft. Their skin caught against each other and then a tongue followed, tentative, and Dean had a picture of how Cas might sample a delicacy upon his plate, taking small bites so as to better appreciate the flavour. That he seemed to taste Dean that way made his knees go a little wobbly, and he blindly reached behind himself for the edge of the counter for balance. Instead Cas slipped an arm around Dean’s waist to support him. In the ensuing jostle their mouths connected for real. Cas sighed a little and drew Dean tighter to him as he pressed forward.

        The shock of cold, marble countertop against the small of his back made Dean gasp as he nudged against it; even the cupboard doors below were cool against his ass. It was an interesting sensation to have Castiel warm all down his front and various chilly materials against his back, but Dean found it amplified the contradictory softness of Castiel’s kiss and the occasional nip of sharp teeth, the scrape of his stubble rough like sandpaper. Releasing the countertop, Dean snaked an arm around Cas’s neck and gripped his hair with his free hand. He hooked a leg around the back of the chef’s thigh so he could better arch against him.

        This time he did moan, out loud, at the rub of denim against his erection, almost abrasive enough to be painful. “Fuck,” he hissed, and Cas gave a quiet chuckle in response, lips still pressed to Dean’s.

        “Something the matter?” he asked.

        “If you don’t mind the serious case of blue balls you’re giving me, dude, everything’s peachy.”

        “You started it,” answered Cas with a small roll of his hips.

        “Oh, come on.” Dean pulled away with a grunt. Somehow he both wanted to make Castiel moan and push him out an open window. “Are we gonna argue about fucking, or are you actually gonna fuck me?” he demanded.

        A smile twitched on Cas’s mouth. “Is that what you want?” Not waiting to see the reaction, he leaned in so he could begin nuzzling the underside of Dean’s throat, kissing and nibbling gently at the skin. Already flushed, Dean wavered at the heat that seemed to flash-flood through his system with renewed force.

        “No, I wanna to stand around a talk about it some more,” he quipped, “and maybe after that we can discuss tomorrow night’s specials.” A hand snaked around to slap ever-so-slightly too hard against his ass. Dean jumped and immediately cursed himself for doing so. “I want your cock in me,” he clarified with an impetuous, “Sir.” He saw how much Castiel liked order around the kitchen, and Dean was willing to bet the chef had a healthy appreciation for the chain of command, even in an unconventional setting like this.

        By the way Cas smirked up at him from beneath those inkblot lashes, Dean knew he was on the money. But then Castiel began kissing his way down Dean’s body, deliberately wiggling his hips a little on the way so Dean’s cock got the full broadside for the briefest of moments. Fingers found his nipples, followed by a swirl of tongue and the sting of teeth, just enough attention to the hardening points that Dean’s head dropped back with a groan, mentally urging him lower. Cas did, hands and kisses trailing over belly, navel, hipbones, the line of Dean’s pubic hair.

        Finally the stubbled chin brushed Dean’s over-sensitized cock, followed by a teasing caress of lips as Castiel settled on his knees. Dean gasped and tried to keep his hips from jerking again, buckling like this was his first freaking rodeo. He could have sworn his dick was trying to grow a few extra inches in the direction of Castiel’s teasingly out-of-reach mouth.

        “Or—or that would be great, too,” he told Cas, and collapsed onto his elbows against the countertop, widening his legs a bit.

        Though he enjoyed the unexpected power trip of Castiel being fully clothed while Dean was naked—or maybe it was the other way around?—he wanted skin, skin and more skin. Hands on Cas’s flesh, his mouth against his mouth, his cock, his asshole. Dean wanted to be everywhere at once. Growling a little in frustration, he reached down and brushed his hands through the dark, messy hair before tugging at the fabric of Castiel’s T-shirt. Cas quickly got the hint and let Dean strip it off. The sight of lean, lightly tanned shoulders and a firm chest made Dean’s mouth go dry and his cock jerk. Yeah, he wanted all of that against him. In him.

        As if sensing Dean’s thoughts as much as his gaze, Castiel looked up at him once again, letting his mouth play against the underside of Dean’s cock in a way that suggested thoughtfulness, an almost-kiss alighting upon the head. “Suck me?” Dean asked hopefully, hips tilting. Having the mighty Castiel MacCarthy on his knees was fucking with his mind a little bit, making Dean want to say shit he would have rolled his eyes over at the best of times. “I bet you’re—oh—so good at it, aren’t you? Pretty mouth like that.” People said that kind of shit to him all the damn time; it was nice to be able to say it to someone else and have it be true.

        “Flatterer.” Castiel chuckled, apparently doubting Dean’s sincerity, but the important thing was that he was smiling and didn’t seem inclined to deny Dean what he wanted.

        As it turned out, Cas gave one of the most unconventional blow-jobs Dean had ever received. He’d had men and women who made up for what they lacked in technique with enthusiasm, more than a few pros who made it clear oral sex was an art to them, and, of course, some that were just plain bad. Castiel seemed to fit firmly into the second category—thank God—though he didn’t move around quite as much as Dean expected or was accustomed to.

        Instead he screwed his mouth down as far as it would comfortably go—not all the way, but a respectable distance and enough to make Dean’s eyes water, at any rate—and applied himself to what Dean could only describe as an attempt to suck his brains out through his dick. The pressure was incredible, Castiel’s lovely cheeks hollowing out with the effort, and through it all his tongue drew swirls and shapes along the ridge and head of Dean’s dick, so his balls started drawing up and hips twitching before he knew what was happening. Though his mouth moved a little up and down, Cas was mostly still, eyes closed and expression so focused that Dean stopped trying to file away what was happening and just go with it. From the way his nervous system seemed to be short-circuiting without his permission, Cas knew exactly what was needed to drive Dean to the brink, all without lifting a finger—literally. His hands remained fitted to the cut of Dean’s hipbones, stroking occasionally against the skin, but mostly holding him still.

        The only time Castiel’s hand moved was to reach down and unfasten his jeans. Dean caught not the movement, but the sound of a belt buckle clacking, and looked down in time to see Castiel lower the fly and push the front of his underwear down to withdraw his cock and balls. Hearing the strangled gasp that escaped his own mouth was something Dean knew he’d regret later, but he couldn’t help it; if Cas was going to kneel there and beat off while that unbelievable mouth made him see stars, Dean would actually go into cardiac arrest and die. Unlike the anaphylactic shock, he’d go out happy, and a wry part of Dean thought that if Cas really wanted to kill him, he could have skipped the wasabi poisoning and gone straight to this.

        It was too much to watch, and yet he said, “Yeah, Cas. That’s it. Stroke yourself for me,” because apparently he had a death wish after all. But Cas only made a muffled moan around Dean’s cock and happily acquiesced, wrapping his fingers in a sure grip and jacking himself in firm, deliberate strokes. As though hypnotized, Dean watched the plummy cockhead disappear in and out of its foreskin and Castiel’s fist, filing away every detail about Cas he could. That the chef was uncircumcised surprised Dean, but that he was beautiful and generously endowed didn’t. However, the thought of that gorgeous cock swinging free beneath a Utilikilt all day—assuming Castiel wore it in the traditional way, despite its untraditional function in the kitchen—sent a bone-deep shudder through his whole body, cock seeming to grow impossibly harder inside Castiel’s mouth. He pictured how easy it would be to press Cas up against the nearest work surface at Chapter and flip the kilt up and out of the way, bend him over the stainless steel and rut against that bare flesh; Dean whined at the back of his throat and almost came on the spot. It occurred to him that, despite how things had started off that evening, the tables were looking pretty fucking turned by now.

        As it was, he was damned close already, and getting closer with every second Cas refused to let up on the freaking insane suction of that warm mouth. Scarcely ten minutes had passed, Dean knew—a generous estimate—but from the way his balls were starting to feel like someone had locked them in a vice grip, Dean would have to force that little animatronic Hoover off his cock before he blew his load.

        The loss was immediate and agonizing, like a punch to the gut; even Cas seemed nonplussed. “What the fuck was that?” Dean gasped, when Castiel finally pulled away and licked daintily at his lips.

        Though his eyes were heavy-lidded and his breath whooshing out in fast pants, Cas didn’t seem to have lost his knack for maintaining a sense of superiority under fire. Dean saw him, very deliberately, release the grip on his cock, brace his arms against the cupboard doors on either side of Dean’s hips as if to keep from touching himself. “Does it matter?” he shot back, sounding peeved. “You seemed to enjoy it well enough.”

        Dean knew the muscles still jumping in his legs were noticeable to both of them, and he was about thirty seconds from collapsing onto the tiles. “Understatement, man,” he said, rather than trying to argue the point. “If you’d kept up any longer, the evening would have been over pretty quick.”

        Cas straightened and then slowly rose to his feet, hemming Dean in against the counter. His chest was flushed in a gentle gradient from below the neck up, and when Cas pressed them together Dean wanted to moan at the warmth of his body. The part of his brain inclined to remind him that Castiel was his boss seemed to have given up for the time being, leaving Dean free to enjoy these little pleasures as they came. He wondered how much more there might yet be in store.

        Settling his hands at the waistband of Cas’s jeans, Dean slowly pushed the material down, giving Cas a bit of extra room to hold their bodies together, to let their cocks bump and rub in the faint slickness of drying saliva and pre-come. “Do you want me to…” he began, dipping his chin to indicate Castiel’s cock and the fact that their exchange had been pretty one-sided until this point. Dean didn’t ask because it was in any way a chore—in fact, he felt his mouth water a little at the thought of taking that straining girth onto his tongue—but because he was, for lack of a better term, happy to let Cas be the chef on this one. If the other man wanted him on his knees, so be it. If he wanted Dean on his back, post-haste, well, that worked just fine, too.

        In answer, Castiel shook his head and brushed a kiss over Dean’s mouth, then turned Dean’s body so his stomach was pressed against the countertop. He curved over it as if by instinct. Yep, that definitely worked, too.

        Slow, torturous kisses began landing across Dean’s nape and shoulders, firm pressure and gentle wetness that eventually moved down his back, Castiel’s lips trailing with intent but no apparent pattern. No one had ever really paid Dean’s back this kind of attention before, and he was floored by how it seemed to wake up all the nerves beneath the skin, sent a rush of renewed heat to his cock and even more to his face. His cheeks were burning and each brush of Castiel’s mouth just heated Dean’s blood even more. The effect of not being able to see Cas behind him, of only being able to feel, was overwhelming and most unspeakably erotic. Dean had nowhere to look except at his darkened reflection in the window over the sink, so he shut his eyes and swallowed, mouth gone bone-dry.

        “Do you still want me to fuck you?” Cas murmured, voice coming from somewhere beneath Dean’s left shoulder blade.

        Another swallow. His voice emerged with an embarrassing tremor. “Christ, yes,” Dean forced out, eyes still tightly closed. “I got—There’s stuff in my wallet, in the back pocket of my jeans. A couple condoms and some lube.” He realized how that probably made him sound, and added, “I didn’t come here thinking—”

        Castiel’s chuckle was palpable against Dean’s spine, followed by a gentle, reassuring brush of fingers. “I didn’t say you did.”

        Then the warmth withdrew briefly, and Dean turned his head to see Castiel stooping to fish Dean’s wallet out of the pile of clothing on the floor. Though Cas had to flip through it to find the spare condom and packet of lube Dean kept in case of emergencies (not just wishful thinking, as Sam sometimes liked to tease him), Dean noticed Cas didn’t linger over the contents of the wallet, snapped it shut again with polite indifference. As he did, Dean realized he’d half-expected a snarky comment about his unfortunate Kansas driver’s license photo, the one that drew plenty of “Blue Steel” comments from his little brother. That Cas respected his privacy was a pleasant surprise, made Dean want to invite Cas to poke through whatever of his private life he wanted.

        Just as quickly, the thought disappeared again when Castiel paused to shuck the rest of his clothes, and then Dean was mostly trying not to whimper at the sight of that gorgeous, lean body coming towards him, heavy cock bobbing with each step. Cas’s hand came down against Dean’s ass, firmly but not hard, and slid down his flank with a gentle squeeze. “I love touching you almost more than I love looking at you,” he said. “Ever since I first—”

        Dean cut him off, inexplicably embarrassed by what Cas seemed about to say. “Come on,” he grit out, feeling Castiel’s erection nestle in between the crease of his ass.

        Thankfully, Cas took the hint. A couple easy thrusts of his hips rubbed the stiff length tantalizingly against the sensitive skin of Dean’s crease, and both of them huffed a little at the sensation. Like they were startled by it, surprised it could feel so good. The nudge of that cockhead at Dean’s hole made him push back for more and sigh. He buried his face in the pillow of his arms. Right now all he wanted was that cock ramming into him, wanted so badly he felt light-headed with it. He didn’t care how much of a slut he was acting, nor how desperate.

        “You don’t need to make a big production of it, I’m ready. Just fuck me.” More quietly, he added, “Please, Cas. Make me feel you.”

        Despite the plea, he heard the rustle and tear of plastic from behind, the sound of latex being smoothed and rolled down over hard flesh. What followed was a couple of slick fingers that brushed against his entrance with more tenderness than was expected or required. Dean wiggled against them, hoping Castiel would get the picture and fuck him with something, anything—right now he wasn’t being too picky. He glanced up and saw, in the reflection of the window, Castiel’s blue eyes intently watching Dean’s face as one of the digits circled and then pushed inside, gentle enough so it didn’t burn, but firm enough that Dean sure as hell felt it. He gasped, a ragged sound like Cas’s name, and knew they each felt how easily the muscles gave way and sucked the finger in, how Dean was so turned-on his body couldn’t summon an ounce of resistance to what they both wanted to happen.

        “Fuck. Me,” he repeated, barking out the words, and saw Cas gave a tight nod in the window as the finger pulled out.

        “Don’t need to ask me a third time,” he agreed. The next pressure Dean felt was definitely of Castiel’s cock, a blunter, heavier weight than fingers, slippery plastic and mind-liquefying heat beneath that.

        However much his body wanted to pretend otherwise, it’d been a while since Dean had bottomed for someone. The first impression, however anticipated, was always of being speared open, cracked in two, overwhelmed. Pain, radiating briefly outwards from his ass as the head of Cas’s dick popped inside, was nothing compared to the feeling of fullness as Cas slowly began to ease his way home, pressing firmly forward but not so fast as to deliberately hurt him.

        Dean cried out, a garbled, “Shitshitshitshit,” as he gasped for air and prayed his heart wasn’t about to go into tachycardia from the way it was hammering inside his chest. Sucking in a deep breath, he let himself surrender to the need for more that somehow surfaced in the midst of feeling too much. He wasn’t thinking right now. More often than not that was what got him into trouble, but mostly Dean trusted that his body knew what he needed. He braced himself and slowly, slowly shifted his weight back.

        This time it was Cas who cried out and clutched at Dean’s hips as he sat back the rest of the way onto Castiel’s length. Perhaps he leaned forward with the intent to kiss or lick the skin of Dean’s shoulders and neck, but wound up stalling to pant into his ear instead, arms coming around to bracket Dean’s. Neither of them had even moved yet, really, and Dean could feel sweat beneath his palms on the countertop, moisture beading on his forehead, sticking at the small of his back where he was pressed against Castiel’s stomach. God, Dean needed to come. He needed to come like yesterday.

        Reading his mind, or seeming to, Castiel’s voice hitched in something incomprehensible and he pulled his hips back, letting Dean feel his length slide out nearly the all the way. “You okay?” he whispered, and Dean barely nodded before Cas adjusted the angle and slammed back in.

        No burn whatsoever this time: Dean just arched his back as the dick inside him jammed head-on against his prostate, making him actually yell in a voice he didn’t recognize as his own. When had he ever been so hot for it, ever? Having Cas fucking into him from behind took the rush of fantasy-fulfilment to a whole other level, even though Dean hadn’t realized he wanted this so bad. When Cas helped him haul a knee up onto the countertop, spreading him impossibly wider, Dean knew for sure this night would achieve permanent spank-bank status if he didn’t pass out first.

        Traditionally speaking, Dean was not the most vocal in bed, but here he was, moaning and grunting like a champ, jerking into the cock riding his prostate and searching for more, more, more. It felt like a million years before his motor skills got with the program and he was able to reach a hand underneath to grasp his own erection—or tried to. One of Castiel’s hands intercepted him and brought it to rest on Dean’s lower back, then groped around for the other so Dean’s arms were totally immobilized. Dean whined in frustration. The angle bowed his spine and arched him against Castiel in such a way that they were almost upright, though all that was keeping Dean stable was the countertop in front of him and the subtle pressure Cas exerted upon his restrained forearms, locking their bodies together even as his pelvis continued to jostle against Dean’s ass. The lack of control made him dizzy and unable to concentrate on anything but the dick inside him. Feeling the hard points of Castiel’s nipples rubbing against his shoulder blades, Dean shivered so profoundly his teeth almost chattered.

        He caught a glimpse of his face in the window, and oh, yeah, he was a goner. The sharp, nearly stinging sensation of his prostate being relentlessly massaged robbed him of the ability to maintain any coherency of thought or speech; he heard sounds tumbling from his lips that were dazed and incoherent, barely more than animal noises, and his facial expression looked drunk, stupid, mouth slack and eyes starting to roll back in his head. It was the kind of captive retard look he normally reserved for an incredible piece of pie and, well, a good fuck, though admittedly it’d been a while since a dick in his ass had made him start to lose his grip on reality like this.

        Cas and his smooth, rolling thrusts, his perfect aim, his unbelievably intuitive rhythm that let him know exactly when Dean wanted slow and deep or hard and fast; it was all getting to be way too much, too fast. Hearing the pitchy moans in Castiel’s deep voice didn’t help, either, nor seeing his face broken and uninhibitedly transported in the windowpane. There wasn’t a single thing Dean could remember about himself that didn’t come down to the spiking pleasure that went straight from his ass to his dick, turning him inside out, and nothing else he wanted to know besides Cas being the one to do that to him.

        “I want you to come just like this,” Cas panted into his ear, slowing his thrusts to a pace that made Dean’s vision begin to waver and spark like he was about to faint. The sound of his voice made Dean clench around him involuntarily, and Cas groaned in response. “Just my cock inside you, nothing else. Can you do that, Dean?”

        Dredging up the words as if from the bottom of a well, Dean struggled to get his mouth to work and at first worried he wouldn’t succeed. Then: “I… I don’t know.”

        Being honest with himself, he didn’t think he could handle it, not if the current intensity of the feelings inside him were anything to go by. It was pleasure almost like pain, so white-hot and urgent he thought it might strip him bare, leave nothing but a husk behind like the dragonfly shells he and Sammy used to collect in the summer. The more he thought about it, the more Dean realized it actually scared him a little. For all his bravado, he never really let go like that with anyone. There was no doubt Cas would stop if he asked, and yet Dean didn’t know how he felt about being entirely at the other man’s mercy; the hold on his wrists wasn’t unbreakable, but Dean couldn’t say for sure he’d be able to pull away, even if he wanted to.

        “I don’t think I—”

        “Yes, you can.”

        Maybe Castiel didn’t mean to snap the words, but they came out harsher than Dean expected. Along with the way the thrusts picked up in speed, cock once again bumping Dean’s prostate with blunt, insistent jabs, it was clear Cas wasn’t prepared to take no for an answer, was going to pull Dean over the brink with him whether he liked it or not. The pressure got bigger, more intense, and tears stung at the corners of Dean’s eyes with the force of it, the sheer, overwhelming complexity of the feelings twisting around in his gut.

        Some of the consistency began to eke out of Castiel’s rhythm; his heartbeat was powerful and fast even against Dean’s back, and Dean realized he wasn’t the only one about to come. “That’s it,” Cas was muttering, hands tightening around Dean’s wrists. “That’s it, that’s it, so good, so close.” His voice was wrecked. “Goddamnit, Dean, you make me so crazy. I could fuck you until I die.”

        The likelihood Cas knew what he was saying or that Dean would remember half of it later was practically zilch. Right now, however, it was enough to nudge him that last little bit over, his orgasm taking off from that razor-sharp burn and exploding out of him. He made a little sound of, “Oof,” lacking even the capacity to moan, and for the first few moments he seemed to be experiencing zero-gravity, a weird feeling of total suspension, before that almost-pain kicked back in.

        It snapped so quickly to pleasure it nearly gave Dean whiplash. He did cry out then, bellowed actually, and if the window had rattled with the force of it he couldn’t have been more surprised. Dimly, he could feel Castiel’s dick jerking inside him, the other man muffling his own shouts into Dean’s hair. Stream after stream of come pumped out of him, onto his stomach, chest and the countertop as well, each shot taking a bit more of his cognitive functions with it until Dean felt hollowed-out, empty, though Cas continued to fuck him through both their orgasms. It went on so long that Dean found himself unable to do anything but pass out on the spot.

        No one had ever fucked him unconscious before. Maybe after he came to he could decide whether it lived up to the hype.

Chapter Text

        Wiry though he might be, Castiel must have somehow found a way to move Dean out of the kitchen after he blacked out, since he woke up nestled comfortably on a bed with the sheets and duvet thrown over him. Also, it was morning.

        Dean immediately sat up and rubbed at his eyes, in case they deceived him, but all that did was make his vision more blurry, giving the orange sunrise beyond the bedroom curtains an impressionistic quality. Looking around, a glance at a clock he found on the bedside table confirmed the time was 8:12 AM. If anything, the one thing Dean didn’t question was whether or not last night had actually happened; the only person he could think of whose bedroom could be this nice was Castiel, and there was an ache in his ass that definitely didn’t come from too much time spent on the stationary bike. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal, but neither of those things made Dean feel good about having passed out and, apparently, stayed that way for almost six hours.

        Much like the rest of the house, the bedroom was inviting and pristinely kept, if a little on the Spartan side. The walls were a relaxing shade of dark grey that complimented the white trim and voluminous drapes on the windows, the large bed with its ample headboard padded in dark velvet. The décor felt more like the inside of hotel than a real person’s home, but then Dean remembered what Castiel had said about wanting to sell the house. He supposed the anonymous look was a lot more attractive to prospective buyers than a bedroom that still looked like it belonged to someone else, a bed where an outsider could still picture the current residents making love.

        He was in the process deliberating whether to get up and go downstairs—or was it upstairs? He hadn’t gotten the tour—when Castiel pushed open the bedroom door and carried in a wooden breakfast tray laden with food. His eyes immediately sought out Dean and a quiet smile graced his features. His hair was so violently ruffled it gave him the appearance of being fully clothed, though Dean belatedly realized Cas hadn’t bothered to dress himself in more than a pair of olive-green boxer briefs. He looked young and vulnerable and charming, not at all the imposing deity who stalked the Chapter kitchens; Dean had no problem remembering why he’d wanted to seduce the guy in the first place. Rather, it seemed more difficult to forget this fact. The scrap Castiel was trying to pass off as underwear clung so effectively to his hips and legs and ass that Dean’s cock made an insistent bid for attention. He shifted around to hide it when a hard twitch made the sheet jump.

        Castiel generously let it escape mention, though his lips curled with what Dean could only qualify as sly delight. “Oh, good, you’re up,” he said wryly, and padded across the room to set the tray down on the upholstered bench at the foot of the bed. Still smiling that enigmatic smile—Christ, Dean thought, was Cas being shy?—he added, “I was beginning to grow worried I might have left you with some form of permanent brain damage.”

        Although he blushed, Dean attempted to mask his embarrassment with a cough, shimmying a bit further up out of the bedclothes so he could sit against the headboard. He was pretty naked under there and already feeling exposed, and Castiel’s weird sense of humour, however unintentionally, was ill-timed. “Uh, yeah. Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to…” He trailed off.

        “Fall unconscious in the middle of my kitchen?” Cas waved it off like it happened all the time. He walked over to sit on the edge of the bed, next to Dean. A moment later he reached out and brushed his knuckles over Dean’s cheek. “Not at all,” he murmured. “I decided it could be interpreted as a compliment. It’s never happened to me before.”

        “That makes two of us,” Dean grunted, still feeling how hot his face was. God, he wanted to bury himself back under the covers, and was immediately annoyed with himself all over again. It might have made him more gruff than normal. “How the hell did you even get me up here?”

        “Don’t you remember?” A quiet chuckle huffed out from Castiel’s nose. “You were fairly out of it, but I was able to coax you up the stairs and into bed. After that you woke up a couple times in the night, but mostly slept.”

        No, Dean didn’t remember any of that at all. More than just being mortified at having passed out, Dean was cursing himself for putting Castiel in a position to put him up for the night. As a rule, Dean hooked up and got the hell out of Dodge after; he didn’t stick around for post-coital cuddling, and certainly not breakfast the next day. He wondered how long Cas had spent hoping Dean would wake up and hit the road like a normal person, before he finally gave up and went to make breakfast. “Well, thanks for not just leaving me there,” Dean eventually muttered.

        Cas gave him a funny look. “Why on Earth would I just leave you there?” he fired back, head tilted in that way he had. Dean shrugged, looking down at his hands. Apparently that was enough to get Castiel off the subject and onto something else. “I fixed some breakfast. Thought you might be hungry.”

        “How come you’re not at work?” asked Dean. He knew the executive chefs all got to the restaurant before dawn so they could hit the markets and select produce for the coming day. Chef Lewis often said nothing quite woke him up in the morning like haggling over a crate of shrimp with a fishmonger who spoke more Polish than English, accounting for reason #5,830,582 Dean would never become a chef. He preferred to deal with the annoying folks on the other side of the kitchen, thanks. Supposedly these exchanges with the various vendors were always good-natured, but Dean didn’t think he ever had it in him to be an effective negotiator before the sun was up. That wasn’t even the hard part. The chefs then got to work starting soups or whatever else needed to be prepared ahead of time and designing that day’s specials, and often didn’t make it home until the restaurant closed some fourteen hours later. When he put it that way, Dean wouldn’t have been surprised to find out Castiel was hiding from his duties, since that’s what Dean would have done. He lazily wondered if he could call in sick today, too.

        “Day off,” Cas answered, dashing Dean’s hopes for the camaraderie of a day spent playing hooky. He absolutely hadn’t gotten to the part where he and Cas did nothing except stay under the covers and sleep and talk and fuck. “Lucky for you, I suppose, or else I would have had to dump your unconscious body in the street.” At Dean’s blink, he added, “That was a joke.”

        Castiel got to his feet and retrieved the tray from the foot of the bed, settling it next to Dean on the mattress before stretching out on the other side to watch, which was kind of creepy but oddly enough not uncomfortable. Dean looked down at the tray. There was a plate heaped with a generous serving of eggs, scrambled with heavy cream from the looks of it, fried peameal bacon and tomatoes, new potatoes tossed with rosemary and sage, and toasted baguette. There was also orange juice Dean was pretty sure was fresh-squeezed, and a ceramic pot of steaming coffee.

        At first he hesitated, inexplicably torn despite the rumbling in his stomach, but when Castiel’s gaze turned confused, clearly wondering what Dean was waiting for, Dean reached for the plate. It was then he realized there wasn’t another one on the tray.

        “Where’s yours?” he asked dumbly. He’d heard of some pretty kinky stuff in his day, and it wouldn’t really surprise him to find out the chef had some weird kind of fetish where he liked to watch sexual partners eat, but Dean hoped this wasn’t that. Whatever it was, the idea of stuffing his face while Castiel just lay there weirded him out more than a little. Ruby’s words about social awkwardness came swimming back to him.

        “Ah. I don’t typically eat much in the mornings,” Cas answered. As if sensing the direction of Dean’s thoughts, he turned his shoulders so he was leaning back against the headboard in a mirror of Dean’s position, body long and beautiful and relaxed. “It’s remarkably easy to forget to eat when you’re busy, even in the middle of a kitchen. By this hour I’m usually elbow-deep in a chicken carcass.”

        Despite the pleasant mental image, that made a bit more sense. “Still, you didn’t have to do this,” Dean told him. He picked up a piece of toast and nibbled at it with far more daintiness than he could remember ever having applied to a meal. Most of the time he ate like a horse that’d been starved for a few days, much to the chagrin of Jo, Ruby and of course Sam, at least when he was actually around to watch Dean’s appetite in action. It was a thing to behold. Truth be told, Dean was kind of expecting the feast before him to be snatched away at any second, like Oliver in the workhouse instead of a guest in his own boss’s house. Another, smaller part of him wondered how quickly Cas would kick him out once he stopped eating.

        And there was still the whole thing where Castiel was his boss and Dean had potentially screwed the pooch. Though he hadn’t really forgotten, Dean’s brain supplied a renewed sense of urgency over the matter that seemed to have escaped him while he was having the good sense fucked out of him. And Christ, how Castiel had fucked him. The shiver of arousal almost edged out the dread growing in his stomach. He was Dean Winchester, goddamn it. He didn’t do nervous, he didn’t do bashful. He’d come to Ireland to get his fuck on, and suddenly he was acting like a blushing virgin? Nuts to that. Dean set the toast down and reached for the coffee instead. Maybe he just needed wake up some more.

        The coffee was so good that Dean made a sound of pleasure. He was willing to bet that had been ground fresh, too. “No way am I worth this much trouble,” he muttered, feeling so inexplicably uncomfortable by the gesture that he half-wanted to crawl out of his own skin, which suddenly felt too small for his body. If he didn’t think Dean was a psycho already, Cas definitely would now. Dean swallowed and tried to get himself under control by taking a couple deep breaths.

        Unfortunately, Cas noticed his skittishness. A frown split his features in a manner that, Dean was fair to say, gave him far less pleasure than seeing Castiel smile. “Why do you keep saying that? I invited you here.” Cas hesitated, a brief, uncertain pause that shone through in the sudden glassiness of those huge seawater eyes. He met Dean’s gaze for a moment only before his own skittered away. “I wanted you here.” His hand came down to press against the bedspread, and his voice was ragged when he clarified, “Right here.”

        Fuck it, thought Dean, refusing to pussy out to the unexpected clench in his gut. Time to get this goat rodeo back on track, back onto safer ground that didn’t leave Dean feeling so totally out of his depth, so totally like last night. He grabbed the handles on either side of the breakfast tray and hauled the whole thing down onto the floor with only a slight wobble of the glass of orange juice and the coffee cup. When it was safely out of jostling distance, he kicked the sheet back and flung himself at Cas, reaching blindly for the other man’s shoulders so he could settle himself astride Castiel’s lap.

        “Right here?” Dean echoed smartly. “That where you want me?”

        Suppressing not even a gasp of his own when he ground his hips down, he felt Castiel’s hands go to his waist, fingers tickling unconsciously up his ribs as Cas started to harden beneath him. At least Dean knew the little bastard wasn’t feeding him a line about wanting this. But then, that had never really been the problem, feeling wanted. The problem was everything that came after, or lack thereof—what happened when Dean saw Castiel at work and the chef barely acknowledged his existence, or some pretty new server managed to turn his head just like Dean had. Maybe they wouldn’t even have to go through the same song and dance of pretending to hate each other for weeks before they fell into bed together, before they woke up to world-class breakfast smells from the kitchen. With a growl, Dean pushed his fingers into that dark explosion of hair a bit more roughly than he knew was necessary, jerked the face up for a hard crush of lips. This he could do. This Dean knew just how to handle.

        Hands slid up his back, digging into naked shoulder blade, and Cas returned the kiss with a surprised but uninhibited moan; Dean readily opened his mouth for the slick tongue that fucked inside to slither against his teeth and lick at his lips. Pressing down on his back to bring Dean closer, Cas arched his pelvis, lining up chests, bellies, cocks just perfect for skin to slide against skin, for Dean to hump into the cloth-covered mound of Castiel’s erection until they both were panting and starting to sweat.

        “Fuck, you’re hot,” Dean hissed against his mouth, a sentiment Castiel returned with a greedy bite at his lips. “I can’t believe how hot.”

        He thought about how good it felt to have the chef’s attention, to coax out his smiles and quiet admissions of weakness; to see him ruffled and wanting like this, unselfconsciously sexy but still weirdly reticent like this wasn’t a part of his regular repertoire. The breakfast, a gesture which Dean himself had attempted for none but his little brother, for whom he’d do anything, and a couple romantic prospects he’d really liked. But Dean knew better than that, since it was exactly like Ruby said—hot chef, hot career, Cas got his pick of the various subordinates in whichever restaurant he happened to work, probably made himself a tidy side career in fucking whomever he wanted with no regrets. Something sharp churned in Dean’s stomach at that, made him want to remind Cas what he was here for as much as he needed to remind himself.

        While Castiel’s lips dragged down the side of Dean’s neck to suck at the pulse point in his throat, Dean swallowed his gasp and squeezed his eyes shut tight, forced his tone into something approaching the right shade of cocky. He didn’t even know why the fuck he was talking, would have been better to just shut up and let things happen, but the words came tumbling up out of him like a geyser. “You give this kind of treatment to all the restaurant staff you bring home with you, huh?” he asked, voice husky. “Must be a nice perk to have so many people dying to get you into bed like this. Give them something to remember.”

        With an abruptness that seemed to leave the impression of an audible ‘pop’, Castiel pulled away to stare at Dean. He was breathing hard, lips swollen red to even more impossible plumpness. “What did you say?”

        Dean wavered at the tone of alarm but plastered a careless look across his face, dipping his head to try and kiss Castiel again and move the fuck on from this topic. He got it; he’d never should have piped up. If Cas wasn’t a kiss-and-tell kind of guy, Dean could happily go back to their grinding. The attempt was unsuccessful. “Jesus, what?”

        “You think I routinely do... this?” Castiel asked, voice taking on an edge. He made to push Dean away a little, and when Dean didn’t budge, he shoved hard enough that Dean bodily tumbled back against the bed.

        “What the fuck?”

        Though it might currently be up for debate, Dean wasn’t stupid; obviously Cas was none too impressed with whatever it was Dean had implied—more than implied—in a brief moment of insecurity, insensitivity or, fuck, insanity. Whatever the hell had come over him thirty seconds ago. Dean was not that guy. He didn’t confuse sex with emotion and had wanted to make sure everyone present remembered that. But his cheeks still burned, awareness that he’d misspoke making him defensive and angry and ashamed.

        “Oh, come on,” he scoffed at Cas, gesturing at nothing. “It’s the same in every other goddamned restaurant, with every other goddamned chef worth his weight in salt. You’re honestly trying to tell me you don’t take advantage of all the men and women who fucking throw themselves at you on a regular basis? What the fuck ever.” Dean made an ugly noise he assumed was the sound of his own bullshit trying to force itself back down the way it’d come. “I’m just surprised you give them the royal treatment afterwards instead of booting them to the curb.” Instead of booting me to the curb, he corrected silently. He suspected that was about to change.

        “Dean, I—” A high, prominent flush stained Castiel’s cheeks, and he looked somewhat comical with his mouth opening and closing for a few seconds like a fish. Dean couldn’t begin to guess what kind of tirade he was about to launch into, no doubt some stupid lecture about how he should know better than to talk about what went on behind the curtain at work, because yeah—Cas wasn’t the first chef Dean’d met who liked to pretend he didn’t reap the benefits of success and growing fame. Just give him a Food Network series and it would be out of control, baby Bobby Flay in the making. None of that came, though. Castiel just swallowed and blinked at him for a moment before his expression shut down like a metal gate slamming shut. “Get out.”

        Dean started. “What?”

        “I hardly think I need to repeat myself,” Cas said, his deep baritone starting to approach the range of truly fucking scary, but an arm lifted so he could point in the direction of the bedroom door. It was like something out of a shitty daytime drama or Coronation Street, but the message was clear enough and probably couldn’t be expressed any other way, not unless he decided to throw Dean out the window.

        “Cas, give me a break—” Dean started to say, but he was cut off by Cas rolling up off the bed and striding over to the door of the ensuite bathroom, fingers driving through his hair and working it into an even bigger frenzy. For a frantic second Dean searched his face for something more betraying than the sharp gaze and those lips pressed into a thin, bloodless line, but there was nothing there but hardness and ice. Exactly the same as the Castiel had met that first day at Chapter.

        “I told you not to fucking call me that,” he snapped, then pointed again to the exit as he started to withdraw into the darkened lavatory. “Get out of my fucking sight, I mean it—I want you gone now. Take your shite with you.” Once again Castiel looked like he wanted to say something else, his brow furrowed as if turning something over and over in his head. “This was such a bloody mistake,” he said eventually. His mouth twisted unpleasantly before the bathroom door slammed shut enough to rattle the frame.

        Several long minutes ticked by as Dean stared at the door, stared and stared and stared despite the silence from within. It was clear Castiel had no intention of coming out until he was sure Dean was gone. Swallowing, Dean crawled off the bed, careful not to knock over the breakfast tray of food that had gone cold by now, and silently gathered up the clothing he saw Castiel had thoughtfully folded and placed on a chair in the room. He allowed himself one moment—just one—as he sat back down to slide his jeans up his legs, burying his face in his hands and repressing the urge to scream.

        He was so fucking canned.

 

+

 

        “Are you freaking insane?”

        Sometimes, when Sam was agitated enough, Dean swore to God his voice could reach a register and decibel level audible only to dogs. It’d been the same ever since they were kids. In addition to the face Dean knew Sam was making—nose crinkled, mouth downturned like he’d just eaten something unpleasant—he imagined every canine in Oxford perking up to howl in mournful commiseration with Sam’s outrage. The mental image made him smile, and apparently Sam was not only a genius, but psychic, since the next thing out of his mouth was, “Dean, this isn’t funny! You could get deported!”

        Unable to help himself, and knowing Sam could probably sense him doing it, too, Dean rolled his eyes. “Come on, Sammy,” he sighed. “Don’t be so dramatic. Even if I do end up getting shit-canned over this misunderstanding, which I might not—” even saying so, Dean knew this was a big if, “—I won’t have a hard time finding other work in Dublin. That’s the beauty of the restaurant industry: there’s always someone out there looking for experienced servers.”

        To prove his point, Dean flipped to the next page in the classified section of The Irish Times, noisily, so that Sam would be sure to hear, and used his red marker to circle yet another help-wanted advertisement with deliberate slowness. The paper was riddled with them, and Dean had spent most of his day off preparing for the inevitable confrontation that would happen the next time he and Castiel were at work together. After getting kicked out of Cas’s house the previous day, Dean had gone to work without incident; there’d been no phone calls this morning or any frantic texts from Crowley, either, so he figured Castiel had yet to apply the thumbscrews on Martin and Chef Lewis to get rid of him immediately. That didn’t mean they wouldn’t still spring it on him tomorrow when he showed up to work, though. Dean felt better being prepared to bail out at a moment’s notice if necessary. The rest of it he was doing a much better job of not thinking about, since he suspected lingering too long on the betrayal he’d seen on Castiel’s face would take him down a far more unpleasant road.

        On the other end of the line, Sam made a slightly strangled sound Dean knew would precede a lecture. It was the same every time. Dean fucked up and ran his mouth off, and Sammy was there to not-so-politely relieve him of his misconceptions and call Dean an idiot after. “That isn’t how it works, Dean,” he explained, sounding harried and on edge even though he wasn’t the one facing possible termination of employment. “One of the conditions of your work permit is you can’t legally change jobs within the first year, not unless you’re made redundant or the business goes under. Obviously that doesn’t apply in this case. If you quit or get fired, you’re toast. They’ll find out and send your ass home before you can say sláinte.”

        Dean’s snarky retort was prevented by the sound of someone coming up the stairs of the house, footsteps a bit too quick and light to be Crowley—he turned his head and saw Jo enter the living room with a small wave and a smile when she saw the mobile phone pressed to his ear. He nodded at her in greeting and then said to Sam, “Jo’s here.”

        “Oh, good,” Sam answered wryly.

        He and Jo got along too well sometimes, and Dean had to admit that, most days, he wished she was the one Sam was interested in instead of Ruby. Jo was the kind of girl Sam could bring home to meet the family without wondering whether she’d get drunk with Uncle Bobby after the pie was served. Belatedly, Dean admitted that, while his father probably would have immediately distrusted Castiel just by virtue of being foreign and in a “frou-frou” niche like the culinary industry, Uncle Bobby would have liked the chef’s no-bullshit approach to life, and Sam Castiel’s skill and expertise in his chosen field. But that was so totally not the fucking point.

        “Maybe she can talk some sense into that thick skull of yours,” suggested Sam, who had already gone so far as to imply that Castiel was perfectly in the right to kick Dean out on the grounds that Dean was a moron. “That is, if she doesn’t already think you’re a Class-A retard for pissing where you eat.”

        Ignoring him, Dean said to Jo, “Sam says hi.”

        “I did not say that!” Then, “Hi, Jo.”

        “Hi, Sam,” Jo returned, then flopped onto the opposite sofa to wait for Dean’s conversation to end. Their days off frequently coincided, and it was nothing new for her to show up at the house like this. She knew where Crowley hid the spare key. The living room was pristinely decorated—Crowley’s influence, of course—and outfitted with leather couches that were absolutely the best for sleeping on. Dean didn’t blame his friends for preferring to spend their days off here instead their own homes, though Crowley less so.

        “What if they never found out?” he asked Sam, hoping to hurry things along before Jo could glean what they were talking about. Of one thing he was certain: there was no fucking way he would escape with his balls intact if she found out about Castiel. Ruby was a different story—she would probably give Dean a high-five and ask how the sex was before she started calling him names. He’d already spent most of the previous day avoiding her questions about what happened the night before. But Jo was sharp; at the question alone he saw her gaze narrow from the corner of his eye, and knew she had perked up to try and figure out what was going on.

        “What if who didn’t find out?” asked Sam.

        Dean almost punched the arm of his chair in frustration. “Y’know.” He lowered his voice slightly, knowing it was moot. “The government.” Jo sat up very straight in her seat and Dean groaned inwardly.

        There was a pause so Sam could roll his eyes this time. “I’m not even gonna dignify that with an answer, Dean. A better solution for everyone involved would be to just not get fired.”

        “Oh, is that your professional legal opinion, Your Honour?”

        “Dean—”

        Dean snorted. “And how do you suggest I do that, huh? Erase his memory? Go back in time and convince him I’m not an asshole?”

         “Maybe you could try being nice to him. And apologize while you’re at it, if you’re feeling really adventurous.”

        The kid had a point. Dean was loathe to admit it, but Sammy was right—if he got himself fired for something as tacky and clichéd as fucking the boss, there was no way either of the proprietors of Chapter One would do him the favour of failing to report it to the Ministry of Labour. Had it just been Crowley, it would be a different story, but even then Dean knew his flatmate would have a shit fit when he found out. Much as he liked to think otherwise, the outcome of this hullaballoo didn’t just affect Dean—it would affect Crowley, too, if Dean were deported and they were never able to go about opening their restaurant. Jo and Sam wouldn’t be the only ones giving him shit after that.

        It was looking more and more likely that Dean was going to have to tone down his anger and tread very carefully around Castiel tomorrow, if not resort to flat-out ass-kissing. He knew the chef wouldn’t make it easy, but when had he ever? Until things had gone tits-up, Dean had begun to think that’s what he liked most about Cas.

        “Yeah, well,” he muttered to Sam, “I guess I’ll have to figure out something. He may be a dick with tongs, but I don’t really want to have to leave, either.”

        Sam sighed. “How the hell do you always manage to get yourself into these kinds of situations, Dean?” he wondered. “Can’t you ever just meet someone nice and, I dunno… not be a dick to them?”

        “He started it!” spluttered Dean.

        “Yeah, and you obviously made things a hell of a lot better by responding in kind.” Sam hesitated. “When you first started talking about him, it actually sounded like you kind of liked the guy.”

        Bewildered, Dean shot up out of his chair and was all too happy to ignore the surprised expression that flitted across Jo’s face, who by now was surely baffled at the entire conversation. “Bullshit!” he exploded. “He’s been nothing but an arrogant, stuck-up, manipulative, twisted douchebag who probably fucks and forgets half his staff!” Spluttering, he added, “Do you not remember the freaking wasabi poisoning?”

        Tolerantly, Sam sighed. “Obviously that was a misunderstanding,” he said, voice even but spacing out his words as though Dean was new to the language. “And Dean, let’s face it. You do this. All the time. The only reason you get this worked up over anyone is when you’re trying to act like you don’t secretly want to get in their pants or hold their hand in public. And since you’ve already done one of those things already, I rest my case.”

        “You’re talking about Chef MacCarthy?!” Jo demanded, face scrunched up. “What the hell, Dean—what’s going on?”

        Barely hearing her, Dean couldn’t hold back his outraged gasp in response to Sam’s implication, like Dean was little more than a teenaged girl with a crush. “Fuck you, Sammy. Keep talking, and I’ll tell Jo here why you got your hair cut every week the summer you turned fifteen!” He would, too—Dean took great joy retelling that particular story, since the only reason Sam went back to the salon so often was because of the hairdresser’s huge rack; the kid practically died and went to heaven every time she leaned over him to wash his hair. From Sam’s muttered curse, he knew perfectly well it was no idle threat that Dean would spill the beans.

        “Don’t expect to sleep on my couch when you get kicked out of the country,” Sam said with dignity, then hung up the phone.

        “Sam!” Dean snapped into the receiver, but it was too late; all he heard was dial tone. Sighing, he flipped the mobile shut and then turned to face Jo.

        The look on her face told him that, while he might have just won the battle of words with Sam, he was going to lose the fucking war with Joanna Beth Harvelle. She stood up from the couch and folded her arms across her chest. In her blue jeans, T-shirt and ponytail she looked small and unthreatening and sweet, but the glimmer in her eye was pure ire. “Dean,” she repeated, hip cocked out to one side. “What. The hell. Did you do.”

        Dean backed up with his hands held at chest height, expression placating like he was preparing himself to verbally defuse a bomb. “Jo, dude, it is totally not what it sounds like. Cas and I just had a… misunderstanding.”

        “Cas?” she repeated, eyebrows arching in the direction of her hairline. “Holy shit.” She whistled. “You slept with him, didn’t you? You totally did.”

        “What? No way,” he started, and then, off a particularly sharp glower from Jo, said, “Okay, fine, yes. I slept with him. But it was totally, totally unplanned.” Except for the part where Dean had consciously decided to swagger over to Cas like the John fucking Wayne of sex and start kissing his neck and talking about how much he knew Cas wanted him. When really, what Dean had meant was, Please want this as much as I do.

        For a moment Jo’s gaze simply tracked over Dean’s face, and he got more nervous with every second that passed. There was a simple reason Dean didn’t divulge as much about his lifestyle to Jo as he did Ruby—for one thing, Jo was still at an age Dean considered young and impressionable, and knew the kid looked up to him with a weird and totally undeserved form of hero-worship. He had no desire to influence her negatively because, frankly, she was a hell of a lot better than he was—better, in fact, than most people Dean knew, with her smarts and kindness and freaky perceptiveness. This last didn’t always work so well in his favour, however, since a lot of the time the reason Dean didn’t tell Jo anything was because she figured it all out on her own, before he even opened his mouth.

        “So you slept with the dude you’ve declared your mortal enemy,” she said bluntly, mouth twisting. “That’s kind of messed up. But how the hell did you go from that to being on the outs with the whole restaurant? Either there’s something I’m missing, or you’ve left something out.”

        Dean shifted guiltily. “I may have… said something to upset him.”

        “Wait, back up. How did this even start?”

        Dean sighed. “He just… Cas attempted to apologize for the wasabi thing, I guess, and we wound up back at his place. And then one thing led to another and before I knew it I was getting my ass—”

        Jo’s hands flew up to cover her ears and her eyes scrunched shut. “Okay, okay, I get it. Just… how did you manage to make him hate you even more after having sex with him?” A cruel smile came over her face. “Unless all the rumours about your skills in bed have been greatly exaggerated…”

        Dean pointed a finger. “Don’t even go there.” When Jo just fixed him with an expectant—and very unimpressed—look, his shoulders slumped. “Alright, look. You’re no stranger to how things are in the high-profile kitchens either, and Cas, is a young, hot, single dude with a fuckin’ JB under his belt and a very promising career ahead of him.”

        Considering this for a moment, Jo eventually pursed her lips and shrugged. “So he probably has a lot of ready and willing staff throwing themselves at him. I see it in the locker room all the time.”

        Dean bristled. “You do? Since when?”

        Jo lifted her eyebrows. “You mean you haven’t? Exactly how far up your own ass are you?” Though he started to object, Jo waved her hands. “It doesn’t matter. He turns ’em all down, anyway.” Dean must have blanched in a very visible way, because Jo fixed him with that look again. “Did he say something to the contrary? When you were with him? What did he do after you had sex with him? Did he politely kick you out?”

        Hesitating, Dean shuffled his feet. “He… let me sleep over.”

        Jo’s face darkened. “Why do I feel like that’s not everything?”

        “And he might have made me breakfast in bed.”

        “So what’s the problem?” Folding her arms once again, Jo regarded Dean with a funny look on her face. “It actually kinda sounds like he’s into you. Ruby was right all along,” she added with a smile.

        Oh, fuck. Although Dean very rarely rehearsed what he wanted to say before he said it, on the rare occasion that happened—like now—he sometimes thought he sounded like the stupidest man alive. His face heated. “I… may have jumped to the conclusion that it was standard operating procedure for any of Cas’s flings. And then accused him of sleeping with the rest of the restaurant staff.”

        At first Jo did naught but stare at him in dumbfounded silence; for a moment the only sound was of the television in the background and then a burst of laughter that sounded from the street outside as someone walked past. Then, very deliberately, Jo asked, “How is it possible you’re this retarded?” Dean frowned, but that wasn’t enough to deter her. “No, I’m serious. Because, like, if anyone else went and followed up an awesome night of sex with a hot, intelligent, successful individual, not to mention a subsequent morning of breakfast in bed, with something as completely irrational and absurd as suggesting they might really just be a slut, I would honestly begin to worry for that person’s health.”

        Scowling, Dean said, “It’s not irrational or absurd to think someone might only be in it for the sex if they’re fucking you against a counter within thirty minutes of your first real conversation.”

        “Real nice, Dean. But not everyone is as allergic to relationships as you, regardless of how they start off.” Having momentarily given up on her crusade to make Dean feel as shitty about himself as possible, Jo plunked herself down on the couch and leaned forward for wrap her arms about her knees as she gazed up at him. “So did you, y’know… want it to only be that? A one-off?”

        That was the question, wasn’t it? Although Dean didn’t really have to stop and think too hard about the answer, he pretended to, using the pause to stuff down the memory of how badly he’d wanted to let himself let go and relax, enjoy the company and the quiet morning the way he knows Castiel genuinely seemed to want him to. “I don’t know,” he mumbled instead.

        Jo’s eyes went soft. “Oh, Dean,” she said. The pity in her tone made Dean bristle something fierce, because, no that was not the kind of ‘support’ he needed right now, being treated like a little girl who’d gone and flubbed her first crush due to a serious case of being tongue-tied. And the last person he needed it from was Jo, who he knew would not only be right, but smug as hell about it. Fuck that noise.

        “Don’t freaking give me that,” he snapped, then collapsed back in his own chair to rub a tired hand over his face. “Just tell me how to fix it.”

        “I think it’s probably past fixing by now,” Jo answered, voice flat. “Not unless you’re really, really lucky. But, knowing Chef MacCarthy? You’ll probably just be lucky to escape with your balls intact.”

        “Not helping!”

        Eyes rolling in the most dramatic fashion possible, Jo arched exactly the kind of eyebrow Dean had been dreading. “Right now Castiel is like the most opinionated, pissed-off, entitled customer you’ve ever had the misfortune of having seated in your section,” she said. “So you’re going to have to be sweet, Dean, and kiss ass like you’ve never kissed ass before.”

Chapter Text

        The first glimpse of Castiel from across the kitchen was enough to make Dean forget he made his living off sweet-talking people and making them like him. In his years as a server, Dean’d dealt with everything from old women complaining about the temperature of the soup, to watching a high-powered asshole treat a female colleague like her twat was included in the price of the pork roast. He was good at defusing high tempers—other than his own—and something of a genius at making people forget what they’d been angry about in the first place; Dean knew how to make an entire table fall in love with him for the sixty minutes of their meal with nothing more than a smile and a well-timed joke.

        But when he got to work that Thursday morning and recognized the slender line of Castiel’s back bent over a worktop from several feet away, Dean had trouble remembering he was anything but a fraud with no social skills whatsoever, except for the power to turn a successful night of great sex and burgeoning friendship into an utter disaster. One that would likely get him shipped back overseas, no less. Even though he and Cas hadn’t said a single word to each other since Tuesday—Dean would never, ever admit to anyone that he’d contemplated stealing his number out of Crowley’s phone and making a desperate call to beg forgiveness—with each moment that passed it was looking less and less likely Dean would get a handle on the situation and prevent himself from getting fired. As Jo had said, it would require a lot of delicacy and making sure Dean was on his best behaviour, like Obama had popped in for a surprise lunch with Kim Jong Il and it was Dean’s job to make sure no one got murdered over dessert. She had faith that if anyone could do it, that person was Dean.

        As such, his first move was to make himself as scarce from the kitchen as possible.

        Crowley picked up on it almost immediately, taking notice when Dean refused to linger by the plating station or asked after his orders with a voice barely louder than a whisper. It might not have been his imagination that Castiel was staying firmly at the other end of the kitchen, too, which was hidden from sight by high shelves and kitchen equipment scattered between the walk-in freezer at the back and the order window. When Crowley, watching Dean with a shrewd eye, casually asked Dean if he might take over the chef’s table, which afforded diners a full view of the kitchen at work, Dean’s blunt rejection of the idea had the manager pulling him aside into an alcove before he could blink.

        “What the bloody hell is going on?” hissed Crowley. “You’ve been acting like you’re touched in the head since you walked in the front door.” At Dean’s flush, Crowley’s face darkened even more. “Would you mind filling me in so I can get back to running the damned restaurant?”

        “There’s nothing to fill in,” Dean said quickly. “I’m just… not feeling so great after last night.”

        Crowley’s eyes narrowed. “You weren’t drinking last night.”

        “I know. Must’ve had some bad shrimp or something.” Dean plowed on before his guilty face could give him away even more. He was a good liar—exceptional even—but for some reason that never seemed to work on Crowley, who was so perceptive it was almost like he’d been a MI5 operative in a past life. Dean didn’t dismiss the possibility. “It’s okay, man, I’m on top of it,” Dean assured him. “I’ll try to be more on my game from now on, so don’t worry about it. Just give the chef’s table to someone else tonight, all right? I think Jo said she was a little short on tips the other night, and she’ll clean up there for sure. I don’t mind.”

        “You’re bullshitting me about something,” growled Crowley, poking Dean in the middle of the chest with one finger, “but I don’t have time to waste on you right now. Just get your act together and start pulling your weight. The middle of lunch service is not the time for you to decide you no longer want to do your job, because Martin won’t hesitate to give it to someone else. Especially not with all this hogwash that’s been going on lately between you and MacCarthy.”

        Before Dean could fire something back, Crowley stalked away and barked an order at one of the other servers to take over the chef’s table; whether or not it was Jo who would do the honours was unclear, but Dean knew no one else would balk at covering what was typically the highest-paying table in the restaurant. That Dean had refused looked plenty hinky, and he knew that, but he also knew it’d be worse if he fucked up trying to work under the watchful eye of Castiel, who for all he knew was busy stabbing a voodoo doll out back.

        Dean sighed and tried to get back to his other tables without worrying too much. Of course, thinking about the chef’s eyes wasn’t a huge help, since Dean more than remembered the way Castiel had stared him down the other night as Dean stripped for him, bent over for him; and then the next morning, albeit in a very different way, when he yelled at Dean to get the fuck out of his house.

        Yeah, he was screwed.

        Luckily, he had more than enough to keep him occupied as the afternoon wore on and the tables in his section filled up. The majority of them were easy, if busy, groups of older men out for a business luncheon, a few regulars interspersed with tourists fresh from visiting the Writers Museum—no sweat. The only immediate problem Dean could identify were the six middle-aged women who showed up at half one without a reservation, and expected to be seated right away. Lunch service ended at two.

        “Watch out for that lot,” warned Crowley in an undertone as he handed them off to Dean. “I’ve a feeling they’ll be a handful.”

        Sure enough, within three minutes of getting them settled and taking the drink order, Dean was forcing a smile so hard his cheeks felt ready to burst. The women seemed immune to his charm as well as his attempts at buttering them up, and after a quick inquiry into the nature of their outing that day, he knew why: they were members of a Catholic women’s league out to talk shop, and as one of them dismissively informed Dean, “Save the flirting for your other table, dear; we’d prefer to be left to our business and simply enjoy our meal without being fussed over.” With a shrug, Dean did just that, though a heavy feeling in his gut warned him he’d be lucky if they left him alone without a fuss.

        He should have been in the clear once their orders were in, but the beckoning flicker of one manicured hand in his direction let Dean know this was very much not the case. “What can I do for you?” he asked brightly, wiping his hands on his apron.

        “Could you please tell me what’s in the ceviche?” asked the woman, who seemed to be going for the nun look in her suit of powder-blue wool and calf-length skirt. Her shirt was fastened right to the very top button; all that was missing was the headpiece. It didn’t matter that Dean had already offered to answer any questions they might have about the menu prior to ordering—people ignored that part of the spiel all the time, only to realize they had no idea what they’d actually asked for. Dean was accustomed to such inquiries and the change of mind that usually followed. The only problem was he had no fucking idea what was in ceviche, except for raw fish, and that it was something of an unusual addition to Chapter’s more traditionally-themed fare.

        Having memorized the menu, Dean could rattle off exactly what it said, and with no better ideas that immediately came to him, that’s precisely what he did. “Our chefs prepare the sea bass with oil infused with lime, vanilla and Korean chilli,” he supplied but, perhaps owing to the uncertainty he could hear in his own voice, the woman made an impatient clucking sound with her tongue.

        “Could you please go ask someone a bit better informed?” she sighed. “I’d like to know what I’m eating before I pay for it.”

        That didn’t seem to matter when you wasted my time ordering it, Dean thought peevishly, but plastered his smile back on and said, “Certainly. I’ll be right back.”

        Passing by Ruby on his way to the kitchen, he grabbed her elbow and pulled her aside. “The ceviche,” he said quickly. “What’s in it?”

        Ruby wrinkled her nose and looked at Dean like he’d lost his mind. “Fish,” she answered. “And lime and vanilla and shit. We were both at the meeting.”

        Dean rolled his eyes. “Yeah, smartass, I got that. But what else? I’ve got some witch at my table who isn’t satisfied with the menu description.”

        “How the hell would I know?” Ruby shot back. “I’m a freaking vegetarian.”

        Making a strangled sound, Dean released her arm and let her get on with her service. Pushing his way closer to the kitchen, the next person he encountered was Crowley. Dean almost laughed with relief. “Dude,” he muttered, sidling up to him, “what the fuck is in ceviche?”

        “Oh, for the love of—” Crowley gave Dean a look not much different than the one he’d received from Ruby. “Dean, the kitchen is right bloody there,” he snapped. “Go ask one of the cooks.” He was about to go on his way, then glanced out across the dining room and stopped when his gaze hit Dean’s problem table. “It’s those women, isn’t it?” he asked. “They giving you trouble about the menu?”

        “Yes,” sighed Dean. “Apparently I’m not ‘informed’ enough.”

        “Christ.” Crowley shook his head, but nevertheless shrugged. “You’d still better go ask in the kitchen,” he said. “I suspect nothing but an exact quote from a chef will do.”

        “Fuck.” This was exactly what Dean had been afraid of, though he tried to keep the annoyed look off his face. He just hoped he’d stumble across a line cook who wasn’t too busy to talk to him, hopefully without laughing Dean out of the kitchen. It was out of the question to ask Chef Lewis such a mundane thing, but even that seemed preferable to flagging down Castiel for the answer. Under normal circumstances he was the first person Dean should have gone to, Cas no doubt having suggested the item for the menu, but there was no way in hell that would happen.

        Crowley caught his indecision the second it flickered over Dean’s face. “Dean,” he said sharply, trying to force down the worst of his impatience, “get a fucking grip and go do your job. But we’re talking about his later.” With that he strode off, leaving Dean to wrestle with the rest of his anxiety alone. Crowley kind of had a point, though; Dean needed to man the fuck up.

        Edging warily into the kitchen, Dean glanced around for any of the chefs that looked like they might have a moment to spare. It wasn’t promising, however. They were all rushing around and shouting orders back and forth—same as any day during the height of meal service—and Dean didn’t risk interrupting anyone for fear of getting an earful. Much as he knew he could take it, the kitchen staff were a funny bunch and didn’t take kindly to disruptions. If one chef found something to go apeshit over, the rest of them took up the call like a flock of unsettled seagulls, a single cry quickly elevating to a chorus of outraged shouts. Dean did not want to be the guy they decided to turn on, not ever, but today in particular he really wanted to escape the notice of one chef in particular.

        But because the gods, apparently, had decided to shit on him, this was not to be.

        “Is there a reason you’re hovering back here, Dean?” asked a clipped voice from over his shoulder, and Dean jumped guiltily before turning around to find Castiel standing there with the bitchface in full effect, wiping his hands on a dishtowel in short, angry movements. Dean had been so busy scanning the kitchen for any sign the coast was clear of Castiel, he’d failed to notice the chef come up behind him.

        “Uh, shit,” he blurted, hand immediately working through his hair in a nervous gesture. Cas, seeming to notice how unsettled his mere presence made Dean, only looked more pissed off.

        Since Dean neither managed to provide a reason for his presence nor made any move to leave, Castiel bit out, “You’re in the way,” even though Dean was not actually, at this moment, obstructing anything but his own will to live.

        The sharpness of his tone immediately put Dean on the defensive, face flushing with embarrassment and displeasure that Cas was acting as all-out hostile as Dean feared he might. Normally he would have made a joke to try and dispel the tension, but couldn’t see that going over any better. So as he frequently did when he was out of better options, Dean got pissed. “Yeah, I got that, thanks,” he snapped back. “I’m just trying to answer a damn question for a customer.”

        Castiel glared and looked about to say something else, but then he just sighed. “What’s the question?”

        Dean swallowed, bracing himself for the other shoe that would drop as soon as it was out of his mouth. He knew he should know this—it didn’t matter that no one else seemed to, because Dean was head waiter and supposedly better at this job than anyone. There was no doubt in his mind it would be just another strike against him in Cas’s book, just one more reason for the sous chef to take his apron away and make sure he never worked in Ireland again. “There’s a woman who wants to know what’s in the ceviche,” he said reluctantly, forcing out every word with extreme displeasure. “Whatever was listed on the menu isn’t good enough for her.”

        Even though Dean had been preparing himself for a derisive response, he found he still had the capacity to be surprised when Cas’s mouth tightened and his breath snorted out of his nostrils in a way that could mean nothing good. “Are you for fucking serious?” he asked after a second.

        Refusing to rise to the bait, Dean set his jaw and said, “No, I’m back here because the one thing that was missing from my day was dealing with your crap as well.”

        “For fuck’s sake.” Cas’s voice was hard and cold enough that a couple other chefs actually turned to watch the exchange, faces wary as though a bomb might go off at any second. “Well, let’s see,” he began. “Ceviche. It’s cured fish. So, there’s fish.”

        Dean clenched his fists and made a strangled sound. “And?”

        A muscle twitching in his cheek, Castiel held up a hand and began ticking off a list of items on his fingers. “Salt, chilli, citrus juice, and oil. Because it’s actually the easiest fucking thing to make in the world. Do you require a diagram? I know you Arkansas lads aren’t always so quick on the uptake.”

        With every word out of Castiel’s mouth, Dean could feel his cheeks growing even warmer, if that was possible. He thought there might even be some vapour beginning to rise from his skin like in cartoons. Though he wanted to shout, Kansas, asshole! all that came out was a belated, “Dick,” finding himself at a loss for anything more articulate. With a flustered glance at the rest of the kitchen, which was still staring at him in mild shock, Dean turned on his heel and went back to the dining room to pass on the answer to his customer, who was waiting impatiently for him back at the table.

        “Did you have to swim the length and breadth of the Shannon to come by this information?” she asked curtly. When Dean just frowned and apologized for the wait, she waved him off and said, “I think I’ll have the tuna carpaccio instead.”

        Resisting the urge to ask whether she needed the full list of ingredients and cooking method for that dish as well, Dean smiled—more faintly this time, and unable to do more with Castiel’s angry tone still ringing in his ears—and said instead, “Great. Coming right up.”

        Dean finished out the rest of the lunch service in an absolutely foul mood, made all the worse by the knowledge that he was on a double and had the whole rest of the evening to survive, hopefully without getting yelled at or fired. Despite Crowley’s threat of a chat there’d been nothing intimidating from Chef Lewis or Martin, who seemed to be responding to Dean as pleasantly as ever.

        “Staff meeting upstairs in five, Deano,” said Martin with a cheerful smile, right as Crowley was coming down the hallway to corner Dean about this morning’s unusual behaviour. Just before Dean could begin to fret that five minutes was all Crowley would need to rip him a new one—or get to the bottom of his weird demeanour—Martin added, “Mind rounding up the rest of the servers so we can begin? Chefs Lewis and MacCarthy have a few changes to the menu they’d like to go over with everyone before the pre-theatre crowd arrives this evening.”

        Mention of Castiel’s name made Dean’s stomach flop like he might vomit, but he pushed the anxiety aside as irrational and nodded so that Martin wouldn’t think he was a total space cadet. “Right away, sir,” said Dean, and shot an apologetic look at Crowley before hurrying off.

        Finding the rest of the servers scheduled for dinner service took about thirty seconds, since they were mostly all out back smoking or putting on their uniforms inside the staff locker room. Unlike some of the restaurants where Dean had worked over the years, the staff room at Chapter was actually a place where most people didn’t mind spending time. In place of the typical grubby lockers and worn-down benches were tidy cubbyholes and a set of comfortable leather chairs arranged to look more like a small den than a break room.

        Ruby and Jo both hung back a little as the other servers filed out, leaving them alone with Dean before they headed upstairs to the party space for the meeting. “Heard about the scene in the kitchen,” cackled Ruby without preamble. Jo, who was only just beginning her shift, looked from Dean to Ruby in surprise, and Ruby quickly explained, “MacCarthy threw a shit fit at Dean earlier when he asked a question about something on the menu.”

        “What did you ask?” said Jo, brow furrowed.

        Just how many fucking times was he going to be forced to remember this story? “A customer asked what was in the ceviche,” Dean answered patiently. “No one seemed to know, so I wound up having to find out from Cas.”

        “Who practically ripped his balls off and ate them in front of everyone,” added Ruby, still unhelpful as ever. Dean severely regretted telling her any of what took place between him and Cas, up to and including their fight.

        “How do you not know what’s in ceviche?” Jo said. “There’s, like... five things in it.”

        Dean rolled his eyes. “That is not the fucking point. Ruby and Crowley didn’t know, either.”

        “Well, Ruby’s a vegetarian,” Jo pointed out. Before Dean could grow more indignant, she asked, “But that’s good, right? If he just got pissed at you and you haven’t been fired by now, you probably don’t need to worry about losing your job.”

        “Yeah,” answered Dean.

        Ruby flashed an evil grin. “The night’s still young.”

        Together they headed to the Jameson Room, Chapter’s private dining area, Dean lagging behind and feeling like every step down the hall brought him that much closer to the possible unceremonious death of his work visa. The other servers were already seated around the table with Chef Lewis and Martin at its head, but after a quick glance around Dean saw that Castiel had yet to join the group.

        “Is Chef MacCarthy not behind you?” asked Martin in confusion. As if in answer to the question, Castiel came storming into the Jameson Room carrying a large, dog-eared food dictionary bound in red cloth. Dean recognized it right away from where it sat in Chef Lewis’s office.

        Since Dean was the last one in the room, he was in the perfect spot at the end of the table for Castiel to slam the book down in front of him, the tome cracking thunderously open to the page Castiel had bookmarked with a finger. A couple of the servers around them, including Jo, Ruby and Chuck, recoiled at the dramatic entrance. They backed away, having all heard about the animosity between Dean and Castiel that had all but reached its head.

        Looking up at Castiel with his mouth half-open, about to speak, Dean flinched back when Cas’s index finger came jabbing down onto the open page. “You want to know what’s in the fucking ceviche?” he demanded, voice darker than Dean had ever heard it. “There’s your fucking ceviche. Maybe in future you’ll find a better way to address these petty concerns of yours, Dean, before you bother to waste more of my time. Because I see now that’s what it was: a waste. But while we’re on the subject, is there anything else you need to get out of your system before the rest of us can carry on with our business as normal?”

        The sudden awareness of fifteen sets of eyes on him—and burning most brightly, those belonging to Crowley—made an uncomfortable pressure against Dean’s chest grow and grow until he thought he might have to sit down, were he not already doing so. At first he was struck by a wave of regret at having not sought Castiel out earlier to apologize for Tuesday’s misunderstanding, to swallow the whole bitter pill like Sam and Jo both suggested so Dean and Cas could get on with their lives. But the feeling was quickly replaced by anger that most strongly resembled the reaction Dean had had upon first meeting Castiel all those weeks ago—utterly blinding rage that knew neither reason nor rhyme.

        It wasn’t, Dean dimly realized, because he felt embarrassed in front of a group of his peers, or even that Cas, in a matter of weeks, had come to pose a threat to what Dean considered a pretty damn decent way of life, one he wanted to hang on to. Rather it was that he made Dean question how worthwhile his life even was. No, it wasn’t glamorous or special or meaningful in any particular way, but it was his, and Dean had always figured that was enough. Somehow Castiel had made him question the rightness of that, made Dean frustrated that he couldn’t stand up to the chef with more. Topping it all off was the worry that, if he got fired and sent back to America, the choice might be taken from him altogether.

        Faced with the possibility of having all that snatched away, along with the respect of some people he’d come to like very much, he responded the way pretty much anyone would—like a badger that’d been poked one too many times with a spoon. That he’d lost whatever tentative respect he might have gained from Castiel himself shouldn’t have stung so much, a shame that compounded his anxiety even more. Dean didn’t like shame; it was a useless emotion. He’d much rather go out in a blaze of glory than the guy everyone remembered as having no balls.

        “Why do you have to be such a goddamned cock, huh?” he blurted out, mouth running off while Dean’s brain was still huffing to catch up. Whatever resolve he’d fostered throughout the day to be sensitive to Castiel flew out the window. “Does it ever occur to you your first restaurant failed because no one can fucking stand to work with you?”

        Had their roles been reversed, Dean probably would have responded not in words, but with a solid punch to the nose. He found himself tilting his head towards Castiel in case the chef wanted to do just that, but the hit never came. Cas just stared at him in bewildered silence, not another soul in the room even seeming to breathe, then with a dark flush staining his cheeks Castiel closed the food dictionary with considerably more gentleness than he’d set it down, and walked out of the room. Dean stared after his departure for a few seconds before turning back to face his colleagues. Not surprisingly, all eyes were on him, with the small exception of Jo and Crowley, who had buried their faces in their hands in unwitting parody of one another. It was Martin who eventually broke the quiet.

        “Dean,” he said, voice more serious than Dean had ever before heard it, “I think we need to go have a talk in my office.”

 

+

 

        Dean knew he was in the shit when not only Martin and Crowley joined him in the manager’s office ten minutes later, but Chef Lewis as well, shutting the door behind him with a soft click and an unreadable glance in Dean’s direction. He supposed they’d wrapped up the meeting pretty quickly, or else gotten Castiel to take over running through the rest of the changes to that evening’s menu. Either way, he got the impression there was no shortage of time in which to discuss the little scene that had just gone down in the Jameson Room. Replaying it all in his mind, Dean was at a total loss. Here he’d been so worried Castiel would be the one to get him fired, only for Dean to go and do it himself.

        As though he could sense the direction of Dean’s thoughts, Martin sighed and spread his hands out across the surface of the desk, letting the resignation in the sound do the talking for him before he actually spoke out loud. “This is quite the situation we have here on our hands, Dean,” he said, foregoing any and all preamble. “Truly quite the situation.”

        No one said anything in the few minutes that followed, the statement unacknowledged except for Dean’s solemn nod, eyes fixed on the carpet, and the sound of Crowley fiddling with his cufflinks. Although Martin and Chef Lewis were probably wondering who would break the silence next, Dean knew all too well Crowley’s fidgeting was a precursor to the explosion he was currently trying to articulate in his head. Whatever his suave demeanour, Crowley had a frightening mean streak mitigated only by his cultured upbringing; he very rarely expressed anger at anything that couldn’t be dismissed with an acerbic comment. But when he let loose the flood, Dean had to admit it was an impressive display of intelligence, venom and cutting, calculated intimidation. His entire bearing changed, voice taking on a throaty, animalistic growl that made Crowley seem to grow a hell of a lot larger than his five feet ten inches. That Dean’d never before been on the receiving end made him no less uneasy, since he fully knew what to expect. He was going to find himself with a new asshole any second now, there was no doubt about it.

        It was an outburst Chef Lewis seemed to anticipate, too, glancing at the Englishman quickly enough that Dean saw a glimmer of worry there. Apparently he wasn’t the only one aware of Crowley’s temper, and Dean wondered how many times in the past Martin and Chef Lewis had been around to witness it in action. “Is there something you want to say, Fergus?”

        “You had bloody well believe there is,” Crowley ground out, hazel eyes gone dark and beady-looking with outrage. They were fixed upon Dean without so much of a waver; the man barely blinked. “I’d like to know what the fucking hell is going on between yourself and Chef MacCarthy, and just what the fuck you were thinking!” His voice reached a sharp, startling crescendo in the middle of the sentence, making Dean have to fight hard against his instinctive need to flinch, but by the time he’d reached the last syllable, he was back to speaking normally except for the ugly twist of his mouth that remained.

        “That is the question of the hour, isn’t it?” Martin murmured. He was watching Dean carefully. To make it easier, he turned and met Martin’s gaze with a lot more confidence than he felt. “I think we’d all like to know how things got to this point, Dean.”

        Chef Lewis broke in with a quiet chuckle. “You’ll get no argument from me there,” he said, “but Martin, I do wonder what good knowing will do at this stage.” Glancing apologetically at Dean, he explained, “I am sorry, Dean, but surely you know the exchange we witnessed just now is unacceptable. That we’re giving you the benefit of this meeting at all is, frankly, beyond me. Because there is only one outcome here, and that is that your employment with us is terminated.”

        Hearing the words aloud was a greater shock than Dean had anticipated, which he supposed came through clearly enough in his jerk of surprise. Martin tightened his mouth sympathetically but didn’t contradict. A kitchen was not very unlike the army in that way—there was a strict chain of command and the explicit understanding it was not to be challenged. It was the reason why the Gordon Ramsays of the culinary world frequently remained unchecked in terms of ire and nasty behaviour. They were very fortunate at Chapter that Ross Lewis was one of the more easygoing chefs around, but Dean held no illusions this would in any way impact the outcome of this conversation. What Dean had said to Castiel in front of their entire team was the equivalent of telling a commander-in-chief of a military force to go fuck himself with a banana. On national television.

        “The purpose of this meeting shouldn’t be undermined, Ross,” said Martin gently. He rose from his chair and came around the other side of the desk to place a hand on Dean’s shoulder. If anyone was unnerved that Dean had yet to say a single word, the sentiment wasn’t expressed—or maybe they were in universal agreement that Dean had said more than enough already. “Dean has been a dedicated and reliable employee of Chapter One for almost a year now, whereas Chef MacCarthy, for all his promise and talent, is still something of an unknown to us. There has been a rash of incidents since he arrived, and if there are concerns about his behaviour or disposition, by all rights we should hear them before any serious decisions are made. It wouldn’t do to let the wrong person go and find ourselves back here again in a month.”

        At this, Dean did have a reason to speak up. He may have fantasized about knocking Castiel the fuck out a few times—amongst other things he probably shouldn’t start thinking about in the company of his soon-to-be-ex-bosses—but that didn’t mean he’d been raised as the kind of man who would go and rat someone else out for personal gain. “That isn’t it,” he interjected, startling himself when he realized he was not only not going to sell Castiel down the river, but was about to come to his defence. “Cas didn’t—there’s nothing wrong with anything he’s done, nothing wrong with his ‘disposition’. He’s a good chef and seems to fit in here well enough. What I said was just...” He faltered. “It just wasn’t workin’ out with him and me around here. I fucked up.”

        A breath hissed out from between Crowley’s teeth, and all three men turned to look at him. “Cas,” he repeated with an edge to his voice Dean definitely didn’t like; he should have figured out not to go using that name when it had tipped Jo off just the day before. “Oh, Christ above—”

        The sound of the door clicking open drew everyone’s attention away from Crowley and Dean’s subsequent look of desperation before the sentence was finished. Dean caught the expression of disbelief on his friend’s face at the realization that Dean and Castiel’s lovers’ spat was just what it looked like, more or less, and then Castiel was slipping into the office with a repentant but firm set to his features. Dean’s back immediately went up and he stared the chef down as though he hadn’t just finished having Castiel’s back.

        Cas met and held Dean’s eyes as he closed the door behind him, not looking away until Martin said, “Chef MacCarthy. Perhaps you could come back in a few minutes? I’m afraid we’re in the middle of a private discussion at the moment, if you can forgive us.”

        Instead of bowing out of the room the way he was clearly expected to do, Castiel folded his arms across his chest and made it clear he had no intention of leaving. “That’s why I’m here,” he said solemnly. “I know you’re about to let Dean go, and I’m here to ask you not to.”

        The room, with the obvious exception of Castiel, seemed to collectively blink in confusion. “Why on Earth would you ask a thing like that?” Crowley finally spluttered. Dean turned to glare at him for the lack of support, and Crowley shrugged. “I’m sorry, but you’re the last person who should be in here asking us to show mercy, considering the Springer-worthy spat we just witnessed.”

        With a nod, Cas approached the desk, eyes trained on Crowley and the owners as though he didn’t trust himself to look at Dean now that he’d begun talking. “That’s precisely it,” he answered. “The fault is mine that the exchange took place at all—for various personal reasons, I’ve not been having a good day, and I unfairly decided to take my frustrations out on Dean. Anyone in the kitchen would be able to tell you he was not the instigator. Dean was just doing his job, which I think you’ll all agree he performs admirably on a regular basis, and I had no right to jeopardize his ability to do so. Had our roles been reversed, I might have said a great deal worse after the food dictionary stunt.”

        Dean’s mouth all but fell open in shock. “Are you for real?” he blurted. Cas shot him an annoyed, challenging look, which only served to compound Dean’s confusion about what the fuck he was doing. He was getting pretty tired of being at a loss all the time where Castiel was concerned. It made him tetchy as hell.

        Ever the diplomat, Martin jumped in to try and mediate, rightly predicting what further repartees might result if Dean and Cas were allowed to be drawn back into their confrontation. “Everyone here appreciates your saying that,” he promised, “no doubt Dean least of all. But you must understand this is more than a simple difference of opinion—when an executive chef has such a public, aggressive disagreement with a member of the wait staff, we then have not just a matter of decorum on our hands, but one of reputation and morale as well. Could you imagine what would become of a kitchen with no sense of order or hierarchy? It would simply fall apart.”

        “I understand this,” Castiel responded. Considering how angry he’d been before Dean had publicly called him a cock, his tone of voice was pretty damn calm. Obviously knowing how to defuse a situation was an area in which he excelled far more than Dean, and he deliriously thought that if Cas hadn’t been the one he was fighting with in the first place, Dean probably could have gone to him for a few pointers. “Disagreements happen in the kitchen all the time, but we let them go and walk away. I’m not saying it should be encouraged or commended, but clearly in this case it is not worth someone losing their job over.” Castiel paused and then, looking briefly at Dean for confirmation, added, “And in Dean’s case, I imagine it would result in a great deal more than that, since he has his work permit to consider.”

        Crowley was still being curiously silent in his corner of the office, like he was unsure whether he understood what was taking place, or perhaps was caught between deciding whether to leap to Dean’s defence or throw him to the wolves. Martin and Lewis weren’t letting on how much of the whole situation they’d figured out, but Dean knew Crowley was sharp enough to have determined that not only had Dean and Castiel fucked, but probably which positions they’d used as well. It was a theory he wasn’t in the mood to test, however. Luckily, next it was Chef Lewis who spoke up.

        “So what happens then?” he wondered aloud. “You say all is forgiven and perhaps we force you both to swear nothing of this sort will happen again, but what of the rest of the staff? No one will simply forget they saw what they saw, which is a subordinate staff member directly undermining the sous chef. Martin is right; at the risk of overstating our own already-overblown sense of importance, that kind of anarchy has no place in a kitchen.”

        “I don’t think you need to worry about Chef MacCarthy’s ability to defend his authority.” This came from Crowley, who lifted and eyebrow and gave a shrug. “We’ve all seen what becomes of staff members who contradict him.”

        In spite of himself, Dean snorted. “You’re not helping, dude, unless you want both Chef MacCarthy and I to get canned.”

        “I have no intention of getting fired,” Castiel said wryly. A tiny smile turned up the corners of his mouth. “But Fergus has a point. Meanwhile I would be willing to defend Dean to anyone who questions why he still has employment here, though I doubt this is a matter that will come up. Far more of our staff would be sad to see him go than they would be to see him stay.”

        Dean was so baffled, staring Cas down in disbelief, he almost missed the look Martin and Chef Lewis exchanged between them, then way the head chef eventually sighed and gave a resigned shrug. “This is unprecedented,” he said to no one in particular. “Not only that, the two of you have been at odds since the day you met. You’re both valued parts of the team, make no mistake about that, and please don’t think I would take the decision to terminate employment lightly. But who’s to say another such falling out won’t happen again next week, or next month?”

        That was a damn good question, and Dean was glad Chef Lewis’s asking it saved him the trouble. “You know what,” he burst out, “I think it would be a good idea of Chef MacCarthy and I had a minute alone to talk.” This whole conversation had taken on such a weird twist that he hardly knew what to make of it. Castiel’s intervention, aside from being totally unexpected and a bit more random than Dean thought he could handle, was almost casting Dean in the role of victim in the grand scheme of things, and that was not only inaccurate but uncomfortable.

        He would have preferred to explain to his bosses exactly how things had degenerated from relatively harmless kitchen pranks to this point, which apparently involved not just people losing their jobs, but Cas all but implying bodily harm to anyone who questioned Dean’s continued tenure at Chapter. But Dean didn’t really want to come out and tell everyone they’d slept together, if that wasn’t obvious enough by now, because then he’d have to admit to being a bigger idiot than they probably suspected already. Not to mention it wouldn’t do Castiel’s credibility any favours. He thought of Jo’s reaction to learning Cas had made Dean breakfast the morning after and wanted to groan, since this most recent championing of Dean’s virtue was of a similar level of kindness that both reminded him how badly he’d fucked up and still scared the shit out of him. If he didn’t deserve breakfast in bed, he certainly didn’t fucking deserve Cas laying his own reputation on the line for him. Dean hadn’t even gone down on the guy.

        “I think that’s a grand idea,” agreed Martin, and looked between Dean and Castiel with a smile. “We’ll let you sort it out between yourselves, and you can tell us after how it went, hmm?” He was a touch more serious when he added, to Dean, “I think it’d be best if you took the rest of the evening off, lad. Give things a chance to calm down. We’ll manage better without you than we will with a kitchen full of staff gossiping like old women.”

        Knowing this to be the truth, Dean nodded and made to get up. A hand on his shoulder prevented him; it belonged to none other than Crowley. “A word first,” he growled.

        As Dean glanced at Chef Lewis and Martin, who looked sympathetic but quietly excused themselves from the room, he sighed and nodded. “Fine.” To Castiel he said, “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll come find you in a bit.”

        Naturally Castiel’s face was impassive as Crowley made a point of showing him out of the office and shut the door behind him. Although Dean wasn’t particularly looking forward to either confrontation, he stared at the door for several seconds, finding himself rather envious that Castiel got to excuse himself from the lecture Dean was surely in for. Following Dean’s gaze, the smirk that ghosted over Crowley’s face indicated he understood.

        “Oh, I shan’t keep you long,” he promised, smiling darkly. The expression on his face unnerved Dean to so great an extent that he spared a moment to wonder why he’d ever contemplated going into business with someone who was, on occasion, so goddamned scary as Fergus McLeod. “I’ve just one simple question for you, Winchester: have you lost your bleedin’ mind?”

        Since Dean had had almost a full year to get used to dealing with Crowley, he definitely knew the best way to avoid inciting the situation further was to not roll his eyes. “Give me a break, man,” he said, keeping the insolence mostly out of his voice. “You don’t honestly think any of this was done on purpose, do you? It was just—you know things have been rough going with Chef MacCarthy since the beginning. All this was just a matter of time.”

        Crowley folded his arms across his chest and smirked, dark eyebrows lifting in what looked like amusement but screamed, Fuck me around and I’ll bloody kill you. “Before what?” he challenged. “Before you took the little bastard home and shagged his brains out?” Dean grunted, but before he could protest Crowley said, “If you even think about denying it, I’ll fucking slap you. Maybe you had Martin and Ross fooled that there was nothing else going on besides some old-fashioned professional animosity between you and Cas, but they don’t live with you. I admit this is a little more twisted than I normally expect from you, Dean, as your tastes have always been charmingly amateur in this regard, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the dumb look you get on your face when you’ve been schtupping someone you shouldn’t. And MacCarthy, well—he’s even more off-limits than most.”

        Knowing that it looked stand-offish even for him, Dean resisted the urge to fold his arms back at Crowley, settling instead upon a scowl. “I don’t see why that’s in any way your business, dude.”

        “My business?!” Dean imagined lampshades rattling and people outside turning to look at one another in confusion at the shout that burst from Crowley’s throat. “It’s my bloody business,” he bit out, “because not only does your fucking around affect how I run this damned restaurant, but also, if you’d forgotten, has something of an impact on what I’d like to be doing in the next three to five years!” Chest heaving, Crowley jabbed at finger at Dean and visibly fought to get his voice down to a more reasonable, socially-acceptable volume. “Did it perhaps escape your recollection that we’ve discussed starting a business together?”

        Teeth grinding, Dean growled, “No, it didn’t. I don’t see—”

        Crowley cut him off with a furious wave of his hand. “How the fuck did you expect that plan to go forward if you were sent back to America?”

        This wasn’t anything Dean hadn’t already spent two very long, very sleepless nights asking himself, but there was no way he wanted to get into that with Crowley right now, not when he knew the other man was sure to win the argument. Dean’s defence didn’t have a leg to stand on and they both knew it. Even less appealing was having to acknowledge that Castiel was the only thing that had stopped that from happening. “I don’t know,” he snapped. “We would have figured it out. But it doesn’t matter, does it? Apparently everything’s just peachy.”

        “Right, because your goddamned boyfriend decided to step in at the last moment.” Expression going grim, Crowley stared at Dean hard for a moment and then looked at the ground. “I don’t know that’s the kind of person I want to be in business with, Dean. It’s irresponsible.”

        “It was a fucking mistake,” Dean lamented, throwing up his arms. “Okay? A simple goddamned mistake that anyone could have made.”

        “But ‘anyone’ didn’t make it—you made it,” Crowley reminded him.

        For fuck’s sake, Dean raged internally, feeling himself begin to lose his grip on the argument for real. Sometime in the last seventy-two hours, everyone and their dog had started to know better than him. It made him feel about five years old and roughly as intelligent, and Dean hated that a part of him secretly wondered whether they might not be right. “So that’s really enough to make you want to walk away from the plan, huh? Dean fucks up once, and suddenly he’s no longer trustworthy.”

        “If MacCarthy hadn’t intervened, once would have been enough.” Sighing in a long, rough, dragged-out exhalation of breath, Crowley rubbed his hands over his face, then gazed at Dean with eyes gone suddenly bleary and tired. “Look, Dean, I need to have a think about this. You’re certainly not the first or the last person to have fucked the boss in an overwhelming display of lack of judgement, and perhaps you’re right in that it shouldn’t be as large a mark against your character as I’m making it out to be.” He paused to let that sink in. “But this is my money and potentially my arse on the line, and I’m not one for making bets I’m not certain to have a return on. I’ll need some time to decide whether this is acting in my best interests.”

        Dean all but felt his stomach drop out. “That’s not good enough, man.”

        Crowley’s gaze didn’t flinch as he stared back. “You should have thought about that before, Winchester,” he answered. “So for now, it’ll bloody well have to be.”

Chapter Text

        Judging by the way Castiel pulled Dean into a nearby storeroom the second he opened his mouth, but before he could actually say anything, it was a good bet the chef was either bracing for a fight or had come to figure a few things out about Dean over the past few weeks of their acquaintance; namely, that Dean’s tendency to fly off the handle was best managed in private. Maybe Dean was overestimating Castiel’s perceptiveness, but pulling them out of sight of curious eyes was a good move on his part, Dean begrudgingly acknowledged, because if there was anything he hated more than having to talk about his feelings, it was talking about them in public.

        The room in which he found himself was dark and somewhat dusty until Castiel hit the light switch on the wall, and then Dean could see his surroundings even if the room didn’t smell any different. He recognized the restaurant’s dry storage/root cellar from the tour he’d gotten on his first day at Chapter, a room roughly eight by ten feet. Built-in shelving lined the walls and divided the room in half, stacked with various sealed containers of grains, spices, herbs, and baskets of vegetables safely stored in the dry, temperature-controlled conditions. Everything was neatly organized and labelled by date in accordance with Lewis’s mean OCD streak. Castiel closed the door behind them, locked it.

        “What if someone needs to get in here?” asked Dean, arching an eyebrow.

        “At this stage in the evening? Not likely,” answered Cas. “We prepared everything we’ll need earlier, and I’d much rather we have the chance to talk undisturbed.” Dipping his head, he took a couple steps closer and his eyes ran restlessly over the curves and shadows of Dean’s face. He’d undone the top few buttons of his chef’s jacket, and Dean could see the bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed. “And we do need to talk, don’t we?”

        Dean huffed out a fast breath through his nose. Castiel’s proximity was doing funny things to him, making his anger spike as well as his body’s awareness of the other man. His nose was picking up faint traces of smells he remembered from the other night, food and Castiel’s cologne and hints of sweat from working in the sweltering kitchen environment. It made him want to lash out in a number of confusing but not entirely contradictory ways.

        With a shiver, Dean grimaced and looked away, hiding his discomfort with a bark of laughter and by folding his arms. Classic defensive posture, but he didn’t give a fuck if Cas thought he was being transparent or stroppy. The more he thought about it, the more Dean felt like that would be letting the chef off easy—even if, deep down, he knew thinking too much about any part of this situation would leave his anger feeling pretty impotent.

        Not having any better ideas for how to begin, Dean figured it couldn’t possibly make things worse to start at ‘belligerent’ and work his way back from there. Ignoring the slim possibility he was being wildly hypocritical, he snapped, “You mean you got something to say about the fact you almost got me shit-canned?”

        Castiel’s jaw tightened like he’d just been slapped, and in a flash whatever calm demeanour he’d had upon walking into the storage room with Dean dissipated. It seemed Dean had that effect on a lot of people. “Me?” he spluttered. “I’m the one who just got you un-fired! What the hell would you have done if I’d not walked in there to speak up on your behalf?”

        “Taken a baseball bat to that fucking bike of yours,” retorted Dean. Then, remembering, he added, “Oh, I’m sorry, a cricket bat, since you Micks wouldn’t know a decent national pastime if it sat on your goddamned face.”

        Rolling his eyes, Castiel planted his hands on his hips. “Cricket is not the Irish national pastime, you knob.”

        Dean huffed impatiently at that. “Listen, man, there’s no fucking way I would have wound up in the hot seat if you hadn’t pulled that stunt of yours with the goddamned dictionary. The fact that you crashed the meeting wasn’t out of the goodness of your heart, it was because you acted like a freaking crazy person and you know it. Savin’ my sorry ass was just a fortunate by-product of trying to save face in front of Martin and Chef Lewis—admit it. So I look like the asshole and you the merciful angel, huh? But I didn’t ask for your damn help—you shoulda just stayed the fuck out of it and let me take care of things myself. I would have made do just fine.”

        “Feck off,” scoffed Castiel. An edge of wonderment came through in his voice as he shook his head. “You do talk some shite, don’t you? Like you’re altogether blameless. That I was upset at all is because you’re an insolent, loud-mouthed, presumptuous, self-righteous bastard. I tried go back so we could get off on the proper foot, but—” He trailed off, and Dean didn’t miss the way Castiel’s nostrils flared. “You seemed intent on throwing that all back in my face. Still very much seem that way, even now.”

        Doing his very best not to flinch, Dean lifted his chin. “And you’re an arrogant, self-important, manipulative, stuck-up son of a bitch who didn’t seem to mind how loud I got the other night.” Who gives the best head this side of the Atlantic, he silently amended, because there was no way in hell he was going to inflate Castiel’s ego any more or give him reason to think he deserved anything less than Dean’s wrath.

        And Dean was wrathful, all right. He was wrathful and indignant and armed with not a single one of his prior convictions, so wrathful his hands clenched and his heart rate sped up when Castiel wet his lips and glared back. Then Dean was balling his fists in the front of Castiel’s chef’s jacket and slamming the other man up against the nearest row of shelves, making the containers of rice and grain shudder with a sound like cicadas from the summers of Dean’s youth.

        For once there was something he and Cas could agree on. They met halfway, lips crashing together where their words couldn’t, like waves against a sea wall, unstoppable force and immovable object. Though Cas let himself be slammed back against the shelving behind him, the fight didn’t end there.

        With a grunt he jammed long fingers into Dean’s hair so he could hold their faces together. His mouth opened and he capitulated in a way that was almost sweet, everything Dean didn’t know how to let Cas be, lips soft and yielding even as retaliation crept through in a painful bite and a violently possessive tongue. Dean whimpered at that and his hands went to Castiel’s shoulders, holding him immobile, trapped, like he was keeping an animal at bay for its protection as much as his own. When Cas pulled back with a glint of dark blue eyes and not a trace of amusement therein, Dean thought the comparison wasn’t far off. He was pissed, raring for a scrap, but Dean could feel where Castiel’s cock had started to harden, pressing urgency and need between their bodies.

        They kissed again, teeth clacking; Dean moaned at how bruised his lips already felt but didn’t withdraw, savouring the dull ache like a prize. Fingers still digging into the chef’s jacket, he jerked and gasped Castiel’s name when that mouth slid down across his cheek and proceeded to suck and nip at the bolt of his jaw, tongue smoothing against traces of stubble before slipping lower and kissing the fine skin of Dean’s neck.

        Belatedly he realized the buttons of his uniform vest were being worked open one by one, his green tie tugged loose a moment later, and in response he just pushed himself closer, let his knee find its way between Castiel’s legs like an exclamation point and hitch up against the hem of the chef’s black Utilikilt. No amount of animosity had stopped Dean fantasizing about the muscular, tanned calves that spanned the distance between the hem of Cas’s kilt and his kitchen workboots, hadn’t stopped him imagining what he’d find beneath if he pushed his hands up under there like a schoolboy getting his first opportunity at a grope. His anger, still yet to fade, made his blood hot, but the illicitness of having Cas here up against the wall got him past the point of ‘hard’ and well into ‘desperate’.

        Nor did Castiel seem terribly interested in dragging things out as he forced Dean’s fingers to the fastenings of his chef’s jacket and rubbed his crotch against Dean’s proffered thigh, riding it wantonly as anything. There was heat there, more urgency, a language they could both understand. Next he began fumbling open the belt, button and zip of Dean’s trousers so he could get a large, hot hand inside and wrapped around his cock.

        “Fuck,” gasped Dean, thrusting helplessly into Castiel’s grip. He went a little cross-eyed at the touch that licked up the shaft and caressed the head, playing around the slit until Dean’s knees wobbled.

        Unable to stop himself, he abandoned all hope of getting Cas’s jacket or undershirt off in one piece and simply buried his hands in the heavy fabric of the Utilikilt, rucking it up Castiel’s hard thighs to discover that, yes, even the most unconventional of kilts could still be worn traditionally; his knuckles grazed nothing but bare flesh and he hissed appreciatively. At the low, needy sound that emerged from Cas’s mouth, Dean moved his hands around to clench in the flesh of Castiel’s ass and got their pelvises lined up just so, fabric bunched between them but not enough to get in the way. He felt Castiel’s shiver—more of a shudder, really—and the hand on his flesh withdrew so Cas could steady himself. Dean gave an experimental jerk of hips to feel the press of their meat together. It was a snap of electricity, cocks side-by-side and neat as anything, a slip of foreskin and velvet and so much heat Dean almost couldn’t bear it. He thought of the plates he carried out to the dining room on busy nights, porcelain fresh from the dishwasher a scalding weight against his palm he had to test himself not to drop.

        He was busy trying to get a handle on the kind of sounds his mouth wanted to make, perhaps in compensation for the other night, and thinking, This is perfect, right there, just like that, until Cas made a noise of frustration. Dean’s name emerged from his lips in one plaintive syllable as Cas attempted to hook one leg over Dean’s hip, inner thigh hot and damp even through the fabric of Dean’s trousers. At first it only succeeded in pushing the article further down his legs, a flush of skin-to-skin contact that nearly made his eyes roll back and his hand immediately slide behind the curve of Castiel’s ass, fingers anchored in the warm crease.

        But then Cas said, “Dean,” again in that insistent tone almost halfway gone to a whine, and Dean was forced to shake himself out of his pleasure-stunned state and look at Castiel’s face. It wasn’t until he did that he saw the way Castiel had furrowed his brow in frustration and was bouncing slightly on the ball of the other foot, pushing against Dean’s biceps and trying to hoist himself up like Dean was nothing more than a tree he wanted to climb.

        Happy to oblige, Dean bent his knees slightly and lifted, finding Castiel heavier than he looked. He dragged Cas further up his body until legs wrapped around his waist and arms went about his shoulders, and Dean was caught between the scrape of Castiel’s boots against the skin of his upper thighs and the bite of nails into the back of his neck. The suddenness of the new position—the rightness of it—made breath huff out of Dean like a solar-plexus punch. Castiel, eyes slitted so just a sliver of white and darker blue gleamed in the low light of the storage room, mewled and swallowed, looked down at Dean with his lips parted and his tongue emerging to wet them slowly.

        Dean tightened his grip around the backs of Castiel’s legs and leaned in to bump his lips against the pronounced curve of Cas’s cheekbone, smiled when he felt the hitch of a gasp in response. Everything felt new, from having to lean up to kiss someone to the unpredictable role-reversal. He was a taken aback at this abruptly unfamiliar Castiel, who seemed accepting, if not content, to let Dean be in the driver’s seat, a sharp departure from the man who the other night had owned Dean so spectacularly. There was need there in his eyes but not resignation, gaze too bright to indicated he’d merely resigned himself to the surrender of control. A not-unpleasant thought struck Dean that perhaps Castiel got off on the challenge but wasn’t in fact afraid to yield; that being taken was an unexpected enough thrill to make him butter in Dean’s hands. A long shot as far as armchair psychology went, sure, but Dean knew he was on the money there, having felt the same spark of arousal every time he went toe to toe with Castiel and the man refused to back down.

        “You want this?” Dean murmured, sliding their lips together soft and easy like he’d never really done before, tongue nudging Cas’s mouth open, licking, tasting, stalling. It was too gentle for the buzzing of his nerves, desire shaking him mercilessly down, but it felt good, felt necessary, just like it had when he’d first ever put his lips upon Castiel’s skin and found himself snared.

        Even the question, something silly and uttered purely as a heat-of-the-moment thing, reminded him of that night and how Cas had melted against him, as weak-kneed in Dean’s arms as he was brash out of them. Dean couldn’t help that he wanted it all, wanted to be greedy and careless and take what Castiel was offering him right here, even if it scared and exhilarated him in equal measure. The other man’s mouth opening to him so readily was addictive, made Dean want endlessly more and to hitch their pelvises together until he begged soundlessly from deep in his throat. A harder pressure of his mouth and Castiel was digging the fingers of one hand in deep and moaning, writhing against him, inviting the slow thrust of hips that had them rutting together, skin slick and growing slicker, staining the edges of Dean’s shirt and Castiel’s chef jacket where the fabric teased and brushed and enticed. Teeth sank down into his own lip as Cas reached between them and cradled their cocks in his hand, for one reverent second almost too much of not enough before the grip tightened and Dean groaned. The shelves creaked behind Castiel’s back and the grain rustled with each jolt, prolonged whispers and scrapes of sound in counterpoint to their rutting.

        Pulling back to watch Cas’s face as they fucked in tandem up into his fist, he saw eyes still at half-mast and a jaw jutted proudly forward as Castiel held on to the last of his plummeting control. Eager to break him the last little bit apart, Dean sucked hard on Castiel’s bee-stung lower lip until he squirmed and wrenched away with a cry. As he buried his face against Dean’s neck and proceeded to bite at the pulse point there, he tried to muffle his harsh pants and quiet moans that seemed a thousand times amplified in the quiet of the storage room. They mixed with Dean’s equally heavy breathing, his repeated growls of Cas and fuck and c’mon, yeah as his climax drew near, an enveloping cacophony in which he wanted to wrap himself and drift away.

        The undulations of Castiel’s body against him looked and felt so much like he might be fucking him this way, could be taking him against the wall and thrusting up and into that ready heat. Dean could imagine perfectly how hot Castiel would look like that, how hot he’d feel, all twisting limbs and opened-mouth cries and perfect, grasping, unbearable pressure around Dean’s cock as they thrust and rode each other to that bright far-off point. Cas would throw himself into that pleasure with the same intensity with which he threw himself into everything else.

        With a jolt Dean felt down to his bones Dean realized he didn’t want this to be his last opportunity to do so. Shouting or shagging, he was struck by how much of a waste it’d be to dust themselves off after this and simply walk away, stalking different paths and different directions away from each other without a backwards glance. Dean hated waste almost as much as missed opportunities. He needed another chance, god damn it, needed to take Cas home and prove he could lay him out on that big bed with its pristine sheets and velvet headboard and make him scream. Then Dean would to do it all over again, roll over with legs spread and let Cas make him come like a runaway train. That was what he wanted. He didn’t care if they had to spend the rest of their lives calling each other names for it to happen just once more. Maybe he’d even make Cas breakfast after and not be a dick about it. Stranger things had happened and, judging by the fact they were back here at all, Dean had all the proof he needed that miracles existed.

        “I’m going to fuck you,” he said out loud, like saying the wish aloud made it somehow true or less impossible. Dean let the fantasy carry him higher with the sound of Castiel’s grunts and whimpers until he was so near the brink every intake of breath felt raw, tickling his nerve endings, singing his body from the inside out. “You’re going to come and after this I’m going to take you home and fuck you. Open you on my fingers and then fuck you until you’ll think you’ve died—”

        Muscles shaking in his legs, Cas slammed his head back against the shelf and made a strangled noise, all the tendons standing out in his neck. “What makes you think I’ll let you?”

        “Oh, you’ll let me.”

        Nestled beside his own cock, Dean could feel Castiel’s balls drawing up tight just before he was about to come. It was close, real close, and Dean thrust against him harder, rattling the shelf supports, willing it to happen. He mashed their mouths back together inelegantly, anticipation of release making him desperate and uncaring if it was pretty or sweet or the dirtiest fucking thing ever. Then Cas keened, tensing up as though with seizure. Hard, gasping shudders wracked him that Dean felt through his whole body, clutching Castiel to him protectively as he spent his orgasm between them. Giving a bitten-off cry of his own, Dean tipped over the edge along with him.

        His breaths took on a pitchy note as he came down, wheezing out after what felt like endless seconds of shock and release, shock and release. It might not have been as intense as the orgasm he’d had with Cas fucking him, but Dean was altogether glad to be conscious this time, especially since he was still holding Castiel up and in danger of collapsing. The chef’s legs were already slipping down, boneless, and until Dean registered Castiel’s hands still attempting to hang on he had a moment to wonder if their roles hadn’t been reversed this time.

        Just in case, he asked, “You alright, chef?” and the words came out mumbled against Cas’s cheek.

        “Good Lord.” At that, Dean attempted something resembling a chuckle, and slowly began to lower them to the floor so they could sit with their backs propped against the shelf. Castiel promptly slumped against his shoulder, legs sprawled out in front of him like he’d forgotten how to work them. Proof positive of his current state was how he didn’t even bother to re-adjust the kilt to cover himself up. “I’m far too old for this,” he said in amazement.

        “Seemed pretty spry to me,” Dean answered with a glimmer of what could have been humour but was closer to respect. He looked down at the mess they’d made of the front of his trousers and the hem of his work shirt, and could only imagine the underside of Cas’s kilt was no better; flecks of come like the whites of an egg were slowly drying on the inside of his thighs. The sight sent a little shiver of pleasure and accomplishment through Dean. But they’d already been gone for close to fifteen minutes, and if Cas was missing any longer than that, someone was bound to come looking for him. So Dean’s hands stayed where they were this time. “That was…”

        Eyes sliding at him sidelong, Cas grunted. “Unexpected and ill-advised?” For a moment he glanced around restlessly and patted at the pockets of his chef’s jacket as if looking around for a cigarette, even though Dean’d never seen him smoke and had certainly never tasted it on Castiel’s skin. His mouth twitched at Dean’s shrug, but then a hand crept out to ghost across Dean’s knee and surprised a lost little sound out of him with its gentleness. “Perhaps very ill-advised. But...” Cas trailed off momentarily before those blue, blue eyes ticked up to meet Dean’s gaze and then skittered away again. It was, Dean realized, the same shyness as from the other morning, and he knew about as much what to do with it now as then. “Altogether pretty damn amazing.”

        Unable to help himself, Dean smiled, warmed by a hell of a lot more than just the residual heat left behind from their physical exertion, even though the muscles in his arms and legs were properly starting to ache. “Yeah?”

        The spell broken as surely as if Dean had farted to break the silence, Castiel rolled his eyes. “As if you weren’t perfectly aware already, you mug.”

        A grin broke out. “Okay, I was pretty aware.”

        Dean felt the moment the evening’s previous solemnity began to descend again, a quiet seriousness that settled back over Castiel’s features, and he knew then they were in for the talk they’d put off when hormones and pheromones and whatever the fuck else had gotten a hold of them and waylaid the conversation. Surprisingly, however, all Cas said was, “I’m sorry about earlier. I meant what I said in the office—it was unfair of me to take my frustrations out on you, especially not in front of everyone.” He swallowed, Adam’s apple bobbing. “That was unprofessional and I know better.”

        “I deserved it a little,” admitted Dean. Because it seemed likely Castiel would bust his balls on that one, there bound to be a limit on how generous he could be, Dean quickly added, “Maybe more than a little. I’m sorry I called you a cock, too.”

        Cas acknowledged this with a slight nod and a tiny grimace. A muscle twitched in his cheek that screamed tension, and Castiel’s voice was no less terse when he spoke, the words emerging clipped and controlled like he was trying to keep a lid on his frustration. He only partially succeeded, but for Dean the effort was enough. “You must understand, Dean, I don’t... do this kind of thing.” He gestured between them in a way that might have been more appropriate for a parent giving his kid their first crack at the birds-and-bees talk; he half-expected air quotes. Oblivious to how earnest he looked, Cas continued, though he picked that moment to notice he was rather exposed sitting there, and smoothed the kilt back down like a prim schoolgirl. “Not ever.”

        Confused by the sudden change in Castiel’s demeanour and not really sure how to respond to it, Dean couldn’t help but go for the obvious joke. “What, you mean fuck up against a wall?”

        “No—sleep around.” The chef breezed on by the sarcasm without blinking. “And I don’t typically mix work and pleasure. The last time I had any desire to sleep with a colleague I was little more than a line cook myself.”

        Quirking a smile, Dean asked, “Daniel Boulud?”

        “Have you seen Daniel Boulud?” Cas asked incredulously. Dean chuckled because, ew, but his laugh died at the same time that the playful expression on Castiel’s face did. “It’s been an eternity since I even last brought someone home with me like I did the other night, much less subordinate at work; hell, there wasn’t a single condom to be found in my entire house—still isn’t. Nevermind that I can’t even remember the last time I bought a bottle of lube.” Dean looked at him with his eyebrows raised until Cas flushed and ducked his head, muttering an indignant, “You can stop judging me.”

        How the hell was Dean supposed to do that? He couldn’t decide who he felt worse for—Cas, or the many dozens of people out there who would have undoubtedly bent over backwards at the opportunity to worm their way into Castiel’s pants, Dean included. He had bent forward for the privilege, but that was pretty much beside the point. No wonder the guy was so uptight. “I wasn’t judgin’ no one,” he said instead, lifting his hands in surrender. “Honest.”

        Still bristling, Castiel insisted, “It’s bloody difficult to sustain a love life when all your time is spent in a kitchen!”

        “I didn’t say anything!” Backpedalling just in case Cas got it in his head to start getting uppity and defensive again, Dean offered his most innocent look and cleared his throat, meeting Castiel’s eye. “Besides, I never would have guessed. You suck cock like a goddamned porn star.”

        “Yes. Well. I worked in Vegas—one is bound to learn a few things.” At this, Castiel blushed, and fuck it all but the sight was damned endearing enough to make Dean’s smile threaten to run away from him again.

        Sighing, Cas tried to elaborate even though Dean was pretty sure he understand the picture with perfect clarity. Either Cas was one of those uptight Irish-Catholic types or he was operating under far less self-confidence than he liked to pretend, and that was pretty much Dean’s M.O. in a nutshell. The difference between them was Dean used sex to compensate for most everything in his professional and private life, whereas Cas did the opposite. “It felt good to want someone so badly again,” he said softly. “Even if you did drive me half up the wall every time you so much as looked at me.”

        “You’ll get no argument there.”

        With a shrug, Cas added, “I didn’t think you were remotely interested, so I might have overcompensated a bit.”

        “A bit?”

        Castiel looked annoyed and Dean decided to shut up. “Even after you first kissed me I had no idea what you were interested in. I’m sorry if I made you feel pressured. I was embarrassed and overreacted, but I had no right to assume you might want anything past that one night.”

        Dean swallowed, finding the words suddenly sobering. His first impulse, as always, was to deny, deny, deny. He was all for women’s empowerment and shit, but something about admitting his feelings to another person still felt inexplicably girly and taboo somehow, and not in the good way. With great deliberateness he could’ve sworn sent his pulse racing, he said, “I did.”

        “I’m sorry?”

        Fuck. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I did kind of want something past that one night, but…” He trailed off and flushed a deep red with embarrassment, but as Dean continued to talk he could hear the defensiveness creeping into his own voice. “There’s about a million miles separating me and you, okay? Guys like you don’t tend to want anything more than a quick fuck with guys like me, and for good reason. I feel about this big—” he held out his thumb and forefinger pinched very close together, “—next to you, because there’s no doubt you’re gonna go on and do great things. Whereas I’m basically just a worthless drifter who’ll probably still be wearin’ this apron in ten years and flirting for tips.”

        “How do you have such a low opinion of yourself? You have dreams; you’re seeing the world,” Castiel said kindly, though his tone was gently chastising. “You said yourself you have plans to open your own restaurant. Nothing worthless about that, not at all.”

        Feeling Castiel’s eyes on him, watching his face in silence and simply taking in Dean’s words, made the shame seem to burn even hotter. “Crowley probably won’t want to go into business with me now,” he mumbled. “But it doesn’t matter. Either way, I felt like an idiot for thinkin’, even for a second, that I might wanna close the gap, actually get you to look at me with respect or tell me stuff about yourself you didn’t tell anyone else. That didn’t seem possible, so in my mind it was a hell of a lot more reasonable to make sure we both walked away without being disappointed. I just told you how it was before you could figure it out for yourself.”

        Cas tipped his head to consider this. “Is that all?”

        Dean grunted. “No. Plus I honestly couldn’t see how you weren’t getting more ass than anyone in Ireland.”

        In response to that Dean had maybe expected for there to be some kind of back-and-forth about how much of an idiot he was, or better yet an opportunity for Cas to tell him once and for all that, yes, Dean was perfectly right about not being good enough. Then they could each go on their merry way. But Cas didn’t seem any more disconcerted than before; if anything, his face took on a softness Dean hadn’t seen before except for that morning in bed when Castiel had touched his cheek and, with nothing more than a tray full of breakfast, made a very definitive point about how Dean’s assumptions were just fucking stupid.

        “And is that truly what you expected of me, or just what you’d have expected of yourself?”

        Though he flinched, Dean knew when he’d been caught and honestly saw no reason to try and bullshit his way out of that one, not when they each of them knew better. “I think we both know the answer to that.”

        Cas nodded grudgingly, but grumbled. “Well, you could have just asked.”

        “Do I seem like the kind of guy who likes to talk about that stuff to you?”

        A prolonged pause crept by wherein Dean had to forcibly hold his leg still to prevent any restless fidgeting while he waited for Cas to decide what he wanted to say next. He might’ve sprouted a few grey hairs during that time, too, but when Cas finally spoke it was a world of relief.

        “Then we were both wrong,” he said, confirming it with far more gentleness than Dean thought he deserved. “That morning as I was fixing breakfast I kept thinking about how I’d have preferred if no distance or hierarchy separated us at the restaurant. If I’d been but a server or line cook myself I’d have asked you out on the spot—no question. You seem so confident in what you want and everyone seems to look up to you. Being a chef at a fancy restaurant in no way seemed enough to guarantee your admiration or respect. Instead I had to settle for trying to get your attention in a different way.”

        Blushing furiously now, Dean said, “The wasabi poisoning was a bit extreme.”

        “Effective, though.” With a surprised grunt that petered off into a laugh caught somewhere between grateful and relieved, Dean shoved at Castiel, who smirked. Quietly, and with a bit more uncertainty than Dean had heard from him up until this point, he said, “I might have told you whatever you wanted to know, in time. There’s plenty more I’d like to know about you as well, if you still want to tell me.”

        Dean spared the matter approximately thirty nanoseconds of thought before he said, “Come here.”

        Castiel seemed confused about how to comply with the request until Dean reached out and caught his chin to draw their faces closer. He pressed their lips together and felt the tiny sigh that seemed to melt out of Castiel’s whole body at the touch. That sigh took any remaining tension Dean might have been feeling with it, and as their mouths lingered and clung together he decided, fuck it, they had nowhere else to be right this second. There was no rush and no reason to go any deeper than the continuous brush of lips and undemanding touches of tongue.

        A quiet sound of contentment rumbled out of him, or maybe it was Cas, and Dean drew away with a small smile curling his lips. So very much against his better judgement, since it was something Sam would never let him hear the end of, Dean took Castiel’s hand and held it. But there was no one watching and Dean told himself this didn’t qualify as any chick-flick stuff yet. With the other hand he straightened the chef’s jacket and found himself smiling at the idea there was something as simple as asking a dude out that Castiel was not only not good at, but downright awful. It made ceviche look kind of like an art form by comparison.

        “Cas?”

        “Yes?” It showed great promise he didn’t bother to correct Dean.

        “What are you doing right now?”

        Tilting his head as if to consider, Castiel watched Dean’s face carefully for a clue as to how he was doing before he said, “Nothing, I don’t think.” He had a kitchen to help run, but Dean couldn’t help but praise him silently for a perfect answer. A quick study, was Cas. No surprise he’d risen through the ranks of the culinary industry like a rocket flare in the dark.

        “That’s good to hear,” Dean said, and gave the hand a squeeze. Cas looked back at him and chewed idly on his lip as he wanted to elaborate. He looked both expectant and lost and Dean decided to throw him a bone. “There anything you wanna ask me?” he prompted. “Maybe what I’m doing later tonight?”

        Considering that a second, Cas asked, “Would... you like to go have more sex?”

        Half-choking, since, yeah, the thought certainly appealed a lot more than what Dean had been thinking, Dean had to force himself to dial it back a few notches and stick with what was probably the better plan, given the circumstances and how things went the last time. He was attempting to be a better person here, though why that meant he should turn down sex, he couldn’t be sure. That just seemed to be how it worked for some people, and he figured it couldn’t hurt since his own methods had proven somewhat lacking. “I was thinking more along the lines that we should keep it simple,” he suggested instead. “Maybe hit the reset button and do things properly this time.”

        Following a quick duck of his head, the grin that split Castiel’s face was so wide and bright that Dean at first could only blink before he bit his lip and then gave up entirely on trying to hide his answering smile. He felt like he was looking at something he might have pictured in a couple moments of weakness one morning, like part of another world. Another country, one not Dean’s own. Except, it was. There Cas was, his hand in Dean’s hand, and Dean didn’t have to look or imagine any further than that to know what it might be like; he just had to live in it.

        “Very well,” said Castiel, and though his grin became more subdued it didn’t fade from his face completely. The effect was approximately as giddy as Dean could remember feeling when he’d been plotting to dump Cas in the canal, but this was so much more euphoric, so giddy, tied his stomach up in knots in far more satisfying a manner than anger ever did. “In that case, Dean, would you like to join me for a drink?”

        “You buyin’?” At Castiel’s shrug and knowing smirk, Dean didn’t even pretend to have to consider. “Then hell yeah, I would. But—” he added, because he was and would always be Dean Winchester, added, “Let’s make it snappy, huh? Afterwards there’s this hot chef I’d kind of like to get naked with, and I don’t wanna blow my chances.”

        Cas snorted. “Keep talking and you won’t have to bother, garçon.”

        Hearing the term that once would have sent a shudder down his spine, Dean cut off whatever he might have normally said and let it go with nothing more than a wink and a smile. He’d committed to the job a long time ago and had no intention of stopping now; Castiel wasn’t, after all, the first or the last chef who would call him names and boss him around a little bit, even if he was the first who could make it equally worth Dean’s while. If that was just one more thing he’d have to deal with, well, Dean was adaptable and happy to make an exception under the proper circumstances. That was a sign of a good waiter. In fact, he thought he might even come to like it just fine.

 

+

 

        Six months later, Dean managed to find himself staring up at the huge limestone facade of the Bank of Ireland on Westmoreland Street, a landmark he walked past almost every day and had never once set foot inside. He’d never before had reason to—Dean kept his personal savings locked away in the safe in his room, and it wasn’t like he was big on investing. Quite frankly, his primary source of knowledge about the Bank of Ireland was from a news story he’d seen back home a few years ago; a bank official’s family had been kidnapped and held hostage. After that, apparently, they’d starting moving senior managers around from place to place, often providing them with residences away from their families, to ensure no one else could be kidnapped and used for ransom. At the time it had all sounded pretty badass, but not enough to make Dean start trusting a financial institution with his hard-earned cash. All that was about to change, though.

        “You ready?”

        If possible, Cas was staring up at the bank’s white pillars and columns with even more apprehension than Dean. Why was beyond him, because Castiel had been through this song and dance at least a couple times before, but Dean sensed there was something different about this situation that required him to shut up, stop being insensitive and just make Cas feel better. With nothing better to do, he stepped forward into Castiel’s line of sight, blocking his view of the bank, and set to work straightening his lover’s tie, which was a fetching shade of blue and had been getting Dean good and distracted for most of the morning.

        “What if they don’t accept our proposal?” Cas murmured, brow furrowed. “With the economy the way it is, I’ve heard of people being turned down left, right and centre.”

        “Hey, hey,” said Dean. He reached out to grip Cas by the shoulders. “We have a kick-ass business plan courtesy of yours truly, not to mention the endorsement of Martin and Chef Lewis. You’re one of the best damn chefs in Europe, nevermind Ireland; no way are they gonna come back with a, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ Plus we have just about the coolest name ever.”

        All Castiel did was frown, looking at Dean dubiously despite the many, many times they had been over the plan in the last couple weeks, but as Dean opened his mouth to offer more words of encouragement he was interrupted by a taxicab squealing to a halt a few feet away from where they stood. The door opened and Crowley stepped out carrying a briefcase that likely cost more than Dean’s whole wardrobe—even his green tie was on permanent loan from Chapter One. It had to be said that Crowley looked the part, however, and he paid his driver and strode forward with the air of someone who knew exactly what they were getting into, and then some. He’d said the day before it was the bank that wouldn’t know what hit ’em.

        “Greetings, partners,” he said as he approached, and Dean returned his proud smile with one only slightly less confident. “Are we ready to go in and dazzle them out of their trousers?”

        Dean looked expectantly at Castiel, who seemed to finally pull himself together and offer a nod and a quiet sigh. “Yes, I’m ready,” he confirmed, glancing over at Crowley. “Let’s get it over with.”

        Crowley chuckled and clapped Castiel on the back hard enough to send him stumbling half a foot forward into Dean. Ever since the three of them had come to the unplanned but inevitable solution—inevitable, Dean thought, because Crowley had all but salivated at the possibility he might entice someone like Chef Castiel MacCarthy onto the staff of his new restaurant with Dean—Crowley had taken up a fond, weirdly flirtatious rapport with Cas that left Dean more baffled than threatened, especially since they all knew whose name Castiel hollered at night. “Nonsense, angel,” Crowley assured him. “All you have to do is stand there looking your gorgeous self, and let Dean and I do the talking. They’ll be signing the credit paperwork within the hour, take my word for it.”

        That was laying it on a bit thick, but the words seemed to have their desired effect as Castiel’s tense shoulders relaxed marginally. Dean rubbed his back soothingly and said, “See? Piece of cake.”

        Satisfied that Cas wasn’t going to bolt at any minute—take his pots and pans away from him, and he could sometimes act like a skittish colt—Crowley turned to Dean. “You sure you can’t be persuaded to change the name back to the original idea?”

        Dean grunted. “No way.” In the first round of discussion, the three of them had liked the name Seven Deadly for the restaurant, at Crowley’s suggestion; but a recent trip, along with Sam, to visit Dean’s family in Kansas for Thanksgiving had inspired Castiel with a moniker Dean liked far more: Impala. Its origin was a mystery to absolutely no one, but Cas had made the argument that if word ever got out about the accidental wasabi poisoning from the previous year, people were bound to wonder whether Seven Deadly might not be literal. Dean didn’t care how they sold Crowley on the idea, as long as he could turn up to work each day at a restaurant named in tribute to his baby. “Besides,” he added, “the paperwork is already typed up. No changing it now.”

        With a roll of his eyes, Crowley nodded toward the front entrance. “Fine, fine. We shouldn’t keep them waiting.”

        Taking Castiel’s hand, Dean gave the long fingers a little squeeze and started off in that direction. At the gentle tug that half-pulled him back, he glanced at Castiel in confusion. “You okay, Cas?”

        “Kiss me,” Cas said quickly. “For luck.”

        Crowley snorted rudely as he strode past them. “What the hell for? You’re bloody Irish already, not to mention that you’re investing half the income from your parents’ house in this damned restaurant. They’ll sign, Cas.”

        Though he shrugged to concede the point, for it was a good one, Castiel shook his head and looked up at Dean hopefully and with a small twinkle in his eye. “Kiss me anyway,” he murmured.

        “Gladly,” answered Dean, laughing. He did just that, a gentle brush of lips Castiel allowed him to deepen a moment longer than necessary, slow and with a hint of teeth just the way he liked. There was an anonymous catcall from somewhere off in the distance, and Dean grinned and caught a group of teenaged girls clapping and wolf-whistling at them like they were there purely for entertainment purposes.

        As it turned out, it was just the little push Cas needed to chuckle and snap himself out of it, and Dean saw him straighten his shoulders in that way he had when Castiel was going into BAMF mode. Between the three of them and a kitchen, Dean thought, they were capable of creating an impossible number of things to make people happy, food that delighted as much as it awed and mystified. Considering what they’d gone through to get here, the few months where Dean had braced himself to accept defeat and go back to America empty-handed, he found himself with a real future and not one partner, but two. For the most part he still sometimes waffled between slapping Cas silly or kissing him stupid, and wouldn’t have it any other way. This? They had this in the bag. Now it was time to go make a little luck of their own.

        Palm a reassuringly steady presence on Castiel’s back, Dean kissed him just once more before they smiled at each other and began to make their way toward the bank, hand warmly in hand. “Let’s go get ’em, chef.”

 

Fin