Sulking wasn’t a good look for Dean, but he needed his little brother to know that he was only tagging along under duress. Short of reminding Sam every five steps about how much Dean didn’t want to be here – which he did anyway – a nice, pointed sulk was the best bet.
“If you’re gonna be a dick about it then don’t come,” Sam said.
Dean sighed. “A bet’s a bet and I’m a man of my word, Sammy. You should’ve known this would happen.”
“I had no idea you’d be such a baby about it,” Sam told him. “And don’t call me Sammy.”
Sam was leading the way so it was impossible to see his expression. Dean guessed it was one of his more epic bitch-faces, all pinched in and granite-hard. It was way too easy to rile his brother up and Dean had more fun doing it than was probably appropriate for a guy his age. Whatever, though, he was the big brother. One man’s immature pastime was another man’s biological imperative.
The path they took through the student union was unfamiliar and Dean found himself passing rooms he’d never even heard of before. They were all offices as far as Dean could tell – one for a specific kind of academic advising, another for the non-heterosexual members of campus. Four years at Jackson University and Dean hadn’t so much as glanced twice at any of these windows and doors. He wasn’t sure if he should be ashamed or impressed.
They turned a corner and walked down a long staircase until all signs of natural light disappeared in favor of flickering fluorescents and the damp chill that accompanied being underground.
“Jesus, they stick us in the basement?” Dean asked, looking around for any signs of life.
There was one office at the foot of the stairs, it’s windows revealing a well-lit space. A girl Dean recognized from one of his classes sat behind the desk that dominated the room, fingers moving across the keyboard of a clunky-looking computer so fast they were practically a blur. It was otherwise empty of anyone and despite the attempts at cheerful decorations, the live plants, and the bookcases filled to capacity, it just looked kind of lonely.
“It was the only way people felt comfortable, I guess,” Sam said.
Dean scoffed and followed Sam past the office toward an open door at the end of a wide hallway. There was no signage to indicate this was the Violet Room, but Sam waved Dean forward and they stepped over the threshold.
A small group was gathered inside, all of the chatting and smiling and pulling chairs around into a circle. Dean fought the urge to groan out loud at the thought of doing some kind of hippie, sharing-and-caring crap with a bunch of strangers. Sam elbowed him in the side like he could read his brother’s thoughts and Dean made a face at him.
“Please don’t be an asshole,” Sam said.
“Who, me?” Dean asked, putting on his best innocent face.
Sam rolled his eyes so hard it had to hurt and then walked toward the others, all dimples and charm. Dean was content to hang back, finding a nice empty patch of wall to lean against while he waited for the meeting to start.
Most of the faces were recognizable from around campus and it was a pretty even split between guys and girls. They all seemed to know each other but Dean immediately noticed the way Sam gravitated toward two girls and lingered there. One was a pretty brunette, the other an obscenely tall blonde. They both had gorgeous smiles and eyes and ridiculous figures. Sam had made Dean promise he wouldn’t be gross and start hitting on any of the women but Dean could appreciate beauty when he saw it and they definitely qualified.
“Well, well, well. To what do we owe this surprise?”
Dean turned at the sound of the voice, grinning when he saw Lisa walking toward him with a smile on her face.
“Would you believe I got lost?”
“Mr. Keen Sense of Direction?” Lisa asked. “Never.”
“Man, you’re never gonna let me live that down, are you?”
Lisa just shook her head. “Nope. That was the worst Run of my life.”
“Liar,” Dean shot back. “That was the most fun you’ve ever had, admit it.”
She gave him an enigmatic smirk in response and leaned back against the wall next to him.
“Sam finally talk you into joining us?” she asked.
Dean sighed and thought about the events that had led to this moment. He’d been avoiding it for about as long as these meetings had been taking place. Not that Dean was anti-social, but he found it easier to keep to himself than engage in group activities that involved sitting in a circle and talking about relevant issues. This was more Sam’s thing than his. It wasn’t exactly a surprise to see Lisa here, either, all things considered.
“There was a lot of tequila and a bet involved,” Dean answered. “I lost.”
Lisa laughed and said, “Lucky us.”
They chatted a little back and forth, catching each other up on the little things they’d missed since their ill-advised and short-lived attempt at dating. While they talked, the room slowly filled with more and more students until the vibe of excitement and togetherness almost had Dean warmed up from the inside out. Every time he heard Sam laugh or looked over and saw Lisa’s smile, he was filled with a strange sense of satisfaction. It wasn’t rare, exactly – it was a part of who he was, wanting to see the people he cared about safe and happy – but it had been a while since Dean had felt it.
A few more people Dean knew wandered in and before long he found himself getting caught up in the whole thing, laughing and joking around with people like it was just a random encounter in a student lounge somewhere.
Everyone was still milling around, slowly getting settled for the start of the meeting, when three stragglers wandered inside.
The shorter of the trio entered first, a cocky smile splitting his face while his eyes danced around the room as if assessing everyone else. His blond hair was combed back from his forehead, his hands carelessly thrust in the pockets of his jeans. A taller guy walked in behind the first and if his friend looked like he might be a smarmy dick, this guy definitely was. Dean couldn’t decide what was more offensive – the I’m-too-good-for-all-of-you curl to his lip or the deep “V” of his t-shirt.
They were quiet as they walked in and Dean got the feeling they were as unsure of the group as he had been. There was something about them that was defensive and wary and Dean didn’t understand why until their friend followed them inside.
Everyone immediately sat up and paid attention even though there was nothing about the new arrival’s appearance that warranted the reaction. He was attractive, sure, hot in a way that was understated and all the more appealing because of it, but that wasn’t what drew everyone’s focus. It had nothing to do with his clothes – a plain t-shirt and jeans – or his dark, ruffled head of hair.
At first sight there was absolutely nothing that warranted the entire room’s awareness, but Dean could feel them all practically vibrating with it.
“Holy shit,” Dean muttered.
He managed to tear his eyes away from the stranger just long enough to find Sam across the room. His brother looked like someone had just taken a brick to his face, shocked and freaked out in a way Dean could relate to. Seeing that expression was enough to draw Dean back, though, give him something to focus on that wasn’t the sharp, tingling need churning away in his gut.
“Okay, everyone, let’s get this party started!”
The group leader, Dr. Barnes, was head of the Therianthropy department and well-known not just around campus, but nationally. Some people, naysayers and detractors as well as supporters, liked to downplay her importance because she was relatively young and hot as all hell. The biker boots and skin-tight jeans probably didn’t help her case, but there was nothing about her in person that made Dean comfortable making her into any kind of sex object.
The woman was stunning, yes, but she exuded strength and an unwillingness to take anyone’s bullshit. That wasn’t uncommon among their women in general, but in particular Dr. Barnes expected to be listened to, not crossed.
Her voice cut through the fog everyone had drifted into and she waited in the center of the circle until everyone got seated. Once they did, she smiled at them and clapped her hands together.
“I’m not gonna ask any of you to ignore the elephant in the room but I’m not going to put someone on the spot if they aren’t comfortable with it, either. I’ll just start by reminding you that this is a safe space. It might help some of you to think of it as sacred. We’re here to help each other and develop a sense of community. If any of you feel incapable of doing so today or any day, please leave.”
It was the exact kind of thing Dean would usually be rolling his eyes at, but something about Dr. Barnes and the tone she used felt less like a psychologist sitting them all down for a head-shrinking session and more like an elder reminding them of their responsibilities to themselves and each other.
It had been a while since Dean had been addressed like that. He was surprised by how much it settled him. Everyone else responded in kind, relaxing until the tension hadn’t so much slipped away as ebbed to the edges of the room. They were aware of it, but they could ignore it for now.
“Now that that’s taken care of,” Dr. Barnes said, “the floor’s open to questions, comments, whatever. Who wants to start?”
Dean held his breath but Sam didn’t geek out and embarrass him which was a relief. Instead someone else stood up, a round-cheeked girl named Ava, whose boyfriend was thinking of proposing even though their parents wanted them to consider other options.
“But they’re only thinking of the Pack,” she said. “I told them I don’t care about their stupid politics but they’re being stubborn. I dunno, does anyone else have that problem?”
This time Sam shifted in his seat but someone else spoke up first and it turned into a discussion of doing what’s best for the individual versus what’s best for the Pack. It was an age-old argument, one that Dean never really got involved in because he stood firmly for what was best for the Pack. Sam called him old-fashioned and got indignant and pouty whenever the subject came up. Usually it was Dad starting the argument, though, like rehashing the point would somehow get Sammy to come around. Dean had his opinions, sure, but he respected Sam’s, too. And if it came down to it, Dean trusted Sam to do the right thing.
It was weird, though, hearing how many people felt like Sam did. Most tended toward the more traditional view, but a good five or six agreed with Ava and that wasn’t even including Sam, who sat quietly between his friends.
“I think it’s all bullshit.”
It was the short newcomer, his voice as smarmy as his face, and everyone turned to look when he spoke.
“Interesting,” Dr. Barnes said. “And you are?”
“Name’s Gabriel,” he answered.
Dr. Barnes nodded. “Nice to meet you. Now, would you care to explain your position?”
“I get where everybody’s coming from,” he replied in a drawling voice. “I just think this whole black-and-white thing’s a little limiting, you know?”
“And where do you define the gray area?” Dr. Barnes asked.
Gabriel sighed and looked around at the others before standing up, like he was taking the podium at a speech meet or something. Dean wanted to be annoyed by it, but despite being so diminutive and irritating, he commanded everyone’s attention. Even Dean wanted to know if he could put his money where his mouth was and offer something interesting to the discussion.
“In the spaces where it all goes to shit,” he said. “We need Packs, sure, but they don’t always do what’s best for everybody. All it takes is one arrogant knothead to ruin a perfectly good family, you know?”
Sam’s earnest nod made Dean clench his fists against his thighs but he couldn’t disagree. They all knew it. They were so young that they weren’t allowed to talk much about it, still regarded as cubs when it came right down to it, but they weren’t idiots. Rumors floated up through the grapevine all the time about Packs that went wild or feral, that hunted their territories into barren lands or fell victim to reckless inbreeding. The worst were the Packs that made problems with the humans. It wasn’t just the whispers of elders that picked up on those stories, it was national news outlets and a suspicious, blood-hungry media.
“Which is why we shouldn’t have to do what they tell us,” Ava said.
Gabriel met her eyes and made a tsk’ing sound.
“See, usually I’d agree with you there. I’m the first one to tell you to cut loose and do your own damn thing. But there are consequences. And there are consequences with being reared by a bad Pack.”
No one said anything for a moment, everyone presumably turning his words over in their minds. Dean wasn’t sure how he felt about that. The way Gabriel made it sound, the bad outweighed the good in either situation. Dean knew that wasn’t true from his own experience; the Pack he’d grown up with had been good to him and his family for a long time and he would never shit all over that by doing the selfish thing and deciding he knew better than they did.
But there was something about what Gabriel said that struck Dean as true for reasons he didn’t want to examine too closely.
“So then what’s your solution?”
Sam’s voice was both curious and frustrated and he’d shot to his feet, too, meeting Gabriel head-on across the circle.
“Excuse me?” Gabriel asked, eyebrow raised and mouth twisted in a thin smirk.
“What you said is really provocative but it’s useless unless you have a point and a solution,” Sam answered. “Or do you just like hearing yourself talk?”
Gabriel held his hands out in front of his body. The please-don’t-hurt-me gesture might’ve been sarcastic if it weren’t for the subtle lowering of his eyes.
“My solution’s a stupid one,” he admitted, and there his eyes cut to his dark-haired companion so quick it was almost unnoticeable. “We cut the politics and the emo rebellion and we start acting like the community we pretend to be. I dunno, maybe a little empathy and fucking humanity wouldn’t kill us.”
“But we’re not human,” Dr. Barnes pointed out.
Gabriel grinned, toothy and wide. “Maybe not, but we’re damn good actors.”
“So,” Dean said, drawing the word out in the awkward silence that had settled between them. “It always that exciting at your little club meetings?”
Sam glowered at him and slouched in his seat. For a second Dean thought he wasn’t going to get an answer. When his little brother got into one of his moods it could take days before he went back to normal. Dean didn’t get it. Give him a beer, a porno mag, and an hour by himself and he’d be fine no matter what had happened.
But Sam sighed and shook his head which meant he wasn’t moody enough to go lock himself in his bedroom and listen to Fall Out Boy albums at ear-busting volume.
“Sometimes it gets a little intense,” Sam admitted. “But that was different.”
“Could just be because that Gabriel guy’s a douche,” Dean pointed out.
Sam huffed out a breath that was both amused and exasperated. “Yeah, maybe.”
They drifted back into silence as Dean pulled up to the curb in front of their house.
Living in the same college town where they went to school had its advantages - free washing machine and dryer, free food, a familiar place to crash after a rough week of midterms - but it could be rough living at home. Dean and Dad got along fine even if the guy wasn’t always as present as they needed him to be, but Sam and Dad were another story altogether.
The situation as it was couldn’t survive much longer. The constant fighting, the nights Sam spent with friends in their dorms and apartments . . . it was going to come to a head sooner or later. As Dean parked he thought about Gabriel and his half-assed entreaty for everyone to just get along. Like it could be that simple.
Sam was quiet as they grabbed their bags and headed inside. They were halfway up the stairs when Dad cleared his voice from behind them.
“We need to talk,” he said.
There were all kinds of tones John Winchester could use when he employed those four words. Dean had heard everything from fatherly disappointment to blind, spitting anger but the distant authority that laced through his voice meant business. Specifically Pack business.
Sam and Dean shared a look and then did an about-face and headed back downstairs. The three of them filed into the living room, a space that had once been cozy but now felt remote and cold. Dean didn’t like to think about why that was but he hated this room and knew that Sam did, too.
“If this is about that D in Philosophy, I’m doing this extra credit thing and-”
“Dean,” Dad interrupted. “Do yourself a favor and shut up.”
Dean snapped his jaw closed and blinked, the chastisement making the back of his neck heat up. Sam bristled next to him but didn’t say anything. Either he was biding his time or he wasn’t feeling particularly stupid today. Whichever it was, Dean was grateful that this wasn’t going to devolve into a shouting match over his own sensitive feelings.
“There’s an omega in town,” Dad said.
Both Dean and Sam looked at each other and then down at their feet. If they thought this would go unnoticed, they were wrong.
“You boys knew about this?” he asked.
“As of a couple hours ago, yeah,” Dean said. “He just kinda snuck up on us. We didn’t talk to him or anything.”
Gabriel had disappeared with his friends once the meeting was over, moving too quickly for anyone to find out who the other two were or make any kind of introduction. The relief once the omega had left the room had been palpable, but Dean had felt a weird sense of loss along with it. It had to be hormones but that didn’t mean Dean was okay with it.
Dad stared at him for a moment and then a pensive look fell across his face, the kind he got whenever he was planning something. Much as Dean loved his dad and would follow him to the ends of the earth and beyond, that expression never meant anything good.
“There’s been a lot of talk,” Dad said slowly. “Omegas are rare and having one of them around could cause a lot of trouble.”
An uneasy feeling settled in Dean’s gut and he shifted on the couch.
“We know, Dad,” Dean said. “Which is why we should stay away from him, right? Let him and whoever he’s with handle things themselves.”
It sounded like the wisest plan. Talk about omegas had died off when Dean was still a kid and the last one had been killed in some kind of accident. Deltas were a dime a dozen, alphas not as much, but omegas? Those things were so damn rare Dean had thought there was a better chance he’d see a unicorn before he died.
Dean remembered very little about them, really. They were at the very bottom of Pack order, below deltas and instinctively submissive in just about every way imaginable. The stories the elders had told about them had mostly revolved around how omegas were a precious commodity and any Pack would be lucky to have on amongst them. They were also, the tales warned, potentially a problem. Alphas could forget themselves completely in the presence of one and end up driven by the need to claim and mate and breed. There was usually a lot of competition and the only way to curtail it was for the omega to be claimed by someone else.
With things being as shaky as they already were between the lycans in town, having an omega in their midst was bound to make things worse. The Winchesters were black-marked as it was. Lying low and letting things play out however they were meant to was their only real option.
“Maybe,” Dad said. “I’ll keep my ears to the ground, find out from Bobby what some of the others are thinking.”
Sam opened his mouth to comment but Dad was already on his feet and halfway out of the room. They watched him go, exchanging bewildered looks. Dad paused just outside of the living room and turned to look at them with all the alpha superiority that came from leading a Pack for two decades.
“I’m heading down to The Roadhouse. You two stay away from that wolf, all right? I mean it. Until we know what to do with him, hands off.”
“Yes, sir,” Dean said while Sam gave a reluctant nod.
Dad didn’t acknowledge them with more than a brief jerk of his head and then he was gone, boots crunching on cement all the way down to his beat-up old truck.
“You think he’ll do something stupid?” Sam asked.
They listened as the truck started up with a gravelly hum and rolled out of the drive and down the street.
“Nah,” Dean said. “He’ll be fine.”
It was a testament to how badly Sam wanted to believe it that he didn’t call Dean on his lie.
The werewolf population in North America was the biggest it had ever been. Lycans had carved out a relatively quiet existence after escaping the hostile and superstitious climate being bred in Europe. The way the elders told it, their ancestors made their way to the North American colonies through a combination of subterfuge and bribery and, once here, had worked hard to form communities that didn’t rely on humans for anything, lest they be found out and persecuted.
Here they met others like them, communities of shape-shifters that already called the continent home. They found it easier to co-exist than the Native American and European humans did, and for a while it looked like all those wars and massacres were going to leave the Americas to be inherited by a superior species.
Of course, the humans experienced a population boom somewhere along the way and slowly trickled out of their small groups to expand and build and industrialize. Some Packs tried to chase them out of their territory, but they were often hunted down to the last newborn cub. The rest, trying hard to blend in, couldn’t do much other than open their doors to the newcomers and hope for the best.
That was the short story of how Jackson Springs, Colorado went from being a relatively unknown little mountain town to the educational hub it was today. The long story was more bloody than that and factored in attempts by werewolves and humans alike to completely wipe each other out until a truce had been reached sometime in the mid-twentieth century.
Now it was one of the few openly integrated communities in the country. That didn’t mean much, especially not on a warm day like this when the human protestors were out in full force on campus, waving their picket signs and shouting their catchy, hateful slogans.
“Think it’ll ever cross their minds that we were here first?” Dean asked as he and Sam drove past the self-righteous mass of humanity lining the sidewalks.
Sam shrugged. “Don’t think it matters,” he mumbled.
He’d been quiet all morning, picking at his breakfast and ignoring all of Dean’s attempts to draw him into a conversation. There was a chance he was upset about Dad stumbling in late, waking them both up with his drunken fumbling and ranting until he eventually passed out just before dawn. That wasn’t a rare occurrence, though, especially not with Gordon Walker supplying his specially brewed, lycan-proof rotgut at dirt-cheap prices. Usually Sam would get pissed, layering his concern under anger presumably for his own peace of mind.
It was annoying, but Dean wasn’t one to judge. Besides, he liked Sam in a snit way more than he liked Sam in a sullen pout.
Dean opened his mouth to ask what was going on when Sam beat him to it.
“Dean, what’s gonna happen to that omega?”
The question wasn’t casual, like Sam was just idly curious. That was actual distress and leave it to Dean’s little brother to care about the fate of a stranger.
“Dunno,” Dean answered honestly. “Guess we’ll have to wait and see.”
Sam frowned. “Someone could hurt him. And you know what the Pack’s like, right now. What if somebody does something stupid?”
The thought had crossed Dean’s mind, too. Last night he’d played out scenario after scenario in his mind. New werewolves turned up in town all the time, usually temporary implants to the university who already belonged to Packs elsewhere. That was nothing new. An omega was another story completely and there was a chance, a really good one, that this was going to have a long-lasting effect on the Jackson Springs Pack. Dean just didn’t have a clue what that effect would be.
Dean pulled into a parking spot and shut down the car.
He sighed and turned to see Sam looking at him like he used to when they were kids, like there wasn’t a problem in the world Dean couldn’t fix. For years Dean had mostly taken those problems to Dad and he’d been the one to set everything right, but it hadn’t been that way in a while. Even then, Sam had put all his faith in his big brother and none of it in his own father.
“Look,” Dean said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I can’t do anything. You heard Dad.”
A flush crept up Sam’s cheeks and his expression pulled into something angry and fierce. “You don’t have to listen to him. Look at how he acts! There’s a reason he’s not the-”
Sam clenched his jaw but didn’t say anything more.
“I can’t do anything but we’ll both keep our eyes and ears open, right? That’s what Winchesters do, we pay attention, we spot trouble, we take care of things.”
“That’s what you do,” Sam muttered. “And then everyone gives you shit for it even though-”
“Hey, look, it’s time to get to class.” Dean spoke loudly, covering up the end of Sam’s sentence even though he could probably finish it on his own.
Sam huffed out a sigh but followed Dean’s lead and got out of the car. It was a nice day, the last vestiges of summer still hanging in the air, turning the weather warm. The sun hung cheerful and bright in the sky and birds chirped in nearby trees. Students went to and fro, chattering to each other or on phones or listening to music, and it was like any other August day at JU for the average human.
For everyone else, it was all about the omega. They didn’t hear anything on their way to class and Dean parted with Sam in front of the Arts Center thinking maybe the day would improve despite its shitty start. He had about five minutes to be lulled into a false sense of security before he started to hear the talk. Some of it came in whispers but a lot of it was loud and giddy speculation from almost every werewolf he crossed paths with – brushing past on the way to the bathroom, sitting next to him in class, hanging out on the grassy knolls outside of the library.
A few were just finding out but by midday, most seemed to have heard enough to have started forming theories and opinions on what was going to happen next.
“He doesn’t have a Pack,” Dean overheard one guy telling his group of friends.
They were clustered together just outside of the Science Building, about five of them. The first speaker was tall, thin, and had hair the shade of dirty dishwater.
“Bullshit,” said another, about three times as wide as his friend and just as tall. “I heard his Alpha’s already talking to a Pack in New York about mating him off.”
“You’re all fuckin’ idiots,” another chimed in. This guy was smaller but held himself like he was just as big as his buddies. “He’s mated to his Alpha but apparently there are a few Packs lined up to borrow him for a while, you know? They need the new blood.”
There was a chorus of laughter, braying and loud, and Dean was two seconds away from running over there and knocking fucking skulls when a voice stopped him.
“And for the low, low price of forty acres and the deed to your daddy’s farm, we’ll throw in two pieces of silver and a cow.”
Gabriel was on the other side of the group and they all turned to look at him. His tone was light and sarcastic and his smirk could almost be called a smile, but his eyes fixed on each of the guys exchanging gossip with a sharp warning.
“Do we look like we’re talking to you, asshole?” the thin guy asked.
“Well,” Gabriel said, walking forward, “you were talking right out here where anybody could listen and you weren’t exactly using your inside voices. I kinda got the impression it was an open conversation and anyone could just walk right in.”
The larger, wider dude in the group looked even more imposing when he stepped closer to Gabriel, not that the smaller werewolf seemed to notice. He didn’t even blink.
“I’m gonna say this once. Fuck. Off.”
Gabriel’s smirk grew an edge and he shrugged his shoulders.
“Since that’s my brother you’re talking about like he’s a piece of meat, no can do, fellas. In fact, you should probably take your own advice and fuck right off before I decide to do something reckless like defend his honor.”
The other three glanced at each other, some of their bravado leaking away at Gabriel’s declaration. If Dean had to guess, they weren’t threatened by Gabriel himself as much as by his connection to the omega. Stories were varied but Dean knew there were some Packs that were fiercely protective of any omega they called their own and some families took that protectiveness and multiplied it tenfold. There was no telling what the situation was since everything was just hearsay and rumor, but Dean could see the three of them deciding it wasn’t worth the risk.
“You don’t look like you could do much,” one of them said, but it was a weak token of protest and Gabriel could sense it.
“Try me,” he said.
Dean watched as the three blustered a bit, squaring their shoulders and cracking their fists, but eventually they cast their eyes downward and walked away. If they’d been in their fur they would’ve had their bellies to the ground and their tails between their legs.
“Let me guess,” Gabriel said once they were out of earshot. “You like to watch.”
Dean rolled his eyes and moved from his spot near the building’s double-doors, bounding down a set of wide, stone steps and stopping in front of Gabriel.
“Why? You like knowing you had an audience?”
The once-over that Gabriel gave Dean was slow and assessing, the kind of look Dean was used to getting from people who needed to size him up for whatever reason. They wouldn’t do it with any other alpha, but Dean was different. He hated it most when another werewolf picked up on it as quickly as Gabriel had.
“You’re Winchester’s kid, right?” he asked.
It was a loaded question but Gabriel kept it relatively neutral, even if there was an unfriendly slant to his eyes once his gaze finally found Dean’s.
“Yeah. You’re the omega’s brother?”
“That’s none of your business. Unless your dad’s sending his bitch out to do his dirty work these days? I heard that might be the case.”
A growl built in Dean’s throat and he swallowed it down, blinked away the red film that slid over his eyes, and took in a deep, sharp breath. By the time he was sure he wasn’t going to go for Gabriel’s throat, he was all alone at the foot of the stairs.
The door to the Kum-‘n’-Go Convenience Store made an annoying, mechanical bell sound each time it opened. Back when Dean first got this job, his head would jerk up every time to see who was coming inside, a Pavlovian response that got really goddamn irritating really goddamn fast. After two years, Dean had finally broken the habit and he didn’t often tear his eyes away from whatever he was reading to look at the door. It was mostly regulars who came in here and Dean could identify most of them by scent, now.
When the familiar sound echoed through the otherwise empty store, Dean was absorbed in a back-issue of Busty Asian Beauties that someone had left hidden under a box of t-shirt bags. A familiar smell – amber body spray, coconut conditioner, and a very distinct musk – hit Dean’s nose seconds before an equally familiar voice grabbed his attention.
“Really, Winchester? You couldn’t even tuck that into an issue of GQ?”
Dean looked up with a grin and only barely kept himself from laughing at the pinched look on Jo Harvelle’s face, her expression caught somewhere between distasteful and amused.
“You want it when I’m done?”
Jo wrinkled her nose and leaned her elbows on the counter. “Your fetishization of an entire ethnic group is disgusting, you perv.”
“Hey, I’ve seen your browser history. Don’t you judge me.”
“But it’s so easy,” she shot back.
As a general rule, Dean really didn’t have friends. Acquaintances, fuck buddies, and a list of exes as long as his forearm, sure. Actual relationships were rare, though, and when it came right down to it he had Sam and Jo and no one else. The fact that one was his brother and the other was the little sister he’d never had probably spoke volumes. Sam and Jo certainly liked to bring it up often enough and pull their Junior Psychology bullshit on him.
Sometimes it was like the two of them were actually related and not just cub-mates from straight outta the womb. Especially when she looked at him like that, all quirked eyebrows and a distinct sense of being unimpressed.
“You hang out with my brother too much,” Dean told her, shoving the magazine back into its hiding spot. “You’re starting to look just like him.”
Jo rolled her eyes. “You’ve been saying that since I was twelve.”
Dean shrugged. “And yet you’re still attached at the hip.”
“Not lately,” Jo muttered, mouth twisting in distaste. “He’s usually with his study buddies these days. I’m surprised you’re not all moody and possessive like you usually get.”
She had a point. The three of them had been inseparable growing up and no matter how much they grew up – Dean almost four years older than the two of them but Sam and Jo always arguably more mature – they’d yet to grow apart. This happened sometimes, though. Sam would make a new friend or two, someone who shared the same anti-Pack ideas as he did, who talked about moving to New York or L.A. and doing some life-changing work, who read the same books and listened to the same shitty music. He’d be enamored for a while and then he’d get over it.
Usually Dean was the one who got jealous and snappish, afraid that this time he’d lose his brother to idealism and the shine of a stranger for good. Jo would get nervous, too, but she hid it better and often responded by going out and spending time with other people herself. It wasn’t like she had any trouble making new friends or reconnecting with old ones. Everyone loved Jo. They couldn’t help it.
“These ones are all right,” Dean said with a shrug.
Jo stared at him for a moment and then sighed. “You drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you?”
Dean laughed. “God, no. But they’re harmless nerds. Not like before.”
They didn’t talk about Before very often. Sometimes they’d get drunk and it would slip out, the kind of topic that always surfaced when they were too vulnerable to keep it locked away, but never when Sam was around. Dean wasn’t sure if it was because they didn’t want to start a fight or if they were both scared that mentioning it might get Sam thinking about it and wishing he’d made a different choice. Either way, it was something of a forbidden subject.
It was, maybe, one of the reasons Dean hadn’t wormed his way out of going to that meeting. Sam spent most of his time with those people and Dean needed to know what they were like. He wasn’t gonna make the same mistakes as last time.
Jo looked skeptical but she trusted Dean’s instincts.
“Maybe I should go to one of these meetings,” she mused.
“It wasn’t all bad,” Dean admitted. “A bunch of geeks talking about relevant issues and current events or whatever.”
He wasn’t about to tell her he’d found it kinda nice, like the den gatherings from the old days. If she went, she’d pick up on it but he didn’t want her making fun of him for getting all sentimental.
“Sounds boring,” Jo said, and then she brightened and leaned over the counter. “But you know what’s the opposite of boring?”
Dean raised his eyebrows. “Sex?”
“Not quite where I was going with this,” Jo said, “although I’m sure there’ll be plenty of that at Andy’s tonight. And you and Sam are coming with me.”
Dean’s shift didn’t even end until ten and he’d had a long week of classes and two frustrating days of useless recon on that omega. The plan when he’d woken up this morning had been to make it to the end of his shift so he could pass out and sleep until Sunday. But if Andy was having a party, there was no way Dean was gonna miss it. Of all the college clichés that Dean usually thumbed his nose at, a kegger in the woods was definitely not one of them.
“I’ll have to meet you there,” Dean said. “I’m here until late.”
Jo shrugged. “We can show up whenever, it’ll be fine. I’ll meet you guys at your place and we can head up together.”
“You just want to show up in the Impala,” Dean said.
Jo smiled at him and turned without a word.
“I’ll text you,” she said on her way out of the door.
Dean waited until she’d driven out of the lot before he went back to his magazine.
Andy’s parties were the stuff of legend. There were a whole lot of tragic circumstances surrounding his current situation – parentless and filthy rich – and he’d chosen to cope by hosting huge gatherings whenever the feeling struck. There were no official invitations, just Andy telling one person who would spread the word until everyone had made plans to show up. This had only been going on for two years but the system they had in place was already flawless.
If Andy ever decided to get his shit together and graduate, Dean wasn’t sure what everyone would do for fun on random weekends. Go back to boring frat parties and dance clubs, probably.
Jo was already waiting with Sam when Dean got home – Dad gone to who the fuck even knew where – the two of them locked in a debate about something that sounded too painfully intellectual to be allowed.
“If either of you gets stoned and starts waxing philosophical, you find your own way home,” Dean warned them on his way upstairs.
A quick shower and change of clothes later and they piled into the Impala. It was a decent drive up Temple Peak to Andy’s place, the kind of sprawling mansion that was well-hidden off the beaten path and tucked deep in the forest. They rode with the windows down even though the air already had a late-night nip to it, shooting the shit in the comfortable way of old friends.
“Oh!” Jo said. “That omega came into The Roadhouse the other day.”
Dean shared a quick glance with Sam in the rearview mirror and then looked over at Jo.
“Yeah? What’d you think?”
Jo shrugged. “I mean, I’m not like you two so I didn’t get all She-Hulk, me-Jo-you-mine about it. He’s kinda weird, though. Really quiet. His friend did most of the talking. I thought Mom was gonna smack him across the face at one point.”
“Yeah, Gabriel has that effect on people,” Dean muttered.
“Nah, not that one. This is was some other guy.”
“Tall? Looks like a smug asshole?” Dean asked.
“That’s the one,” Jo said.
“Did they say anything interesting?” Sam asked.
The two of them had pulled up exactly nothing in their little fact-gathering mission. There were plenty of rumors and information about Gabriel and his buddies was plentiful, but no one knew anything about the omega. Not his name, not where he’d come from, not why he’d shown up in Jackson Springs out of the blue.
What Dean knew about omegas was limited to the few things he could still remember learning from the Elders; he’d finally caved and decided to nerd it up and do some poking around on the internet, Sam laughing over his shoulder the whole time, but that turned up just as many bum leads.
The problem was, the werewolf community was split when it came to its views on omegas. Some still thought they were literally cursed and Dean had found a lot of websites with garish fonts in eye-melting colors all about the mystical mumbo-jumbo that claimed omegas were an abomination and not worthy of much more than being kept caged up or, in some cases, put down altogether.
That wasn’t how Dean had been raised to think. The Jackson Springs Pack had apparently fallen toward the more progressive end of the spectrum. The general idea was that omegas were just weres, like alphas and deltas. But they did still have a purpose to serve and Dean had seen a lot of disturbing forums that discussed, in lurid and misspelled detail, the kind of work an omega would be put to.
There wasn’t much else out there and in either case the ideas about omegas were . . . narrow to say the least. The talk on campus only corroborated that. Sam thought it was disgusting and Dean was inclined to agree, even if he didn’t quite say so out loud. He told himself he was waiting, holding off until he knew more about the omega and his Pack, but a small part of him knew that was a lie.
“Nope,” Jo answered. “Like I said, the omega barely spoke two words and his friend just kept hitting on me until Mom practically threw their burgers at them and told ‘em to get lost.” She paused and then added, “Your dad’s been asking around about him, though. Lots of weres have.”
Well, that explained how Dad was spending most of his evenings, anyway. He had to be serious about whatever his plan was if it had sent him back to The Roadhouse. If Ellen hadn’t chased him off, that meant maybe she was in on it, too.
They let the subject drop as they made the final turn and drove a ways up an unpaved path that would eventually give way to the packed earth and wide, front lawn of Andy’s property. Chances were there would already be enough cars around to turn the area into a makeshift lot, but Dean had done this enough times to know it was better to park at the bottom of the hill and off the beaten path. Plenty of dumb kids would try their hands at driving back drunk and there was no way Dean was going to risk someone sideswiping his baby.
“Oh, fun,” Jo said as they got out of the car. “A hike.”
“Bitch, bitch, bitch,” Dean shot back, laughing when she shoved his shoulder.
“Asshole,” she said.
Dean caught his balance and shoved her back, snorting when she careened sideways into Sam and nearly toppled them both over.
“Dean!” Sam yelled.
He shrugged and had about two seconds’ worth of warning before Jo launched herself at him with a playful growl. She was quick but Dean’s legs were longer and he took off up the hill, Jo’s shouts and Sam’s yells echoing through the forest around them. For the space of a minute that was the only sound echoing through the forest before noise from the party started to drift down the hill.
That was the great thing about having parties way out here – there wasn’t a neighbor to complain for miles. The closer they got, the louder it became until the air was overrun with the sounds of chattering partygoers and the not-so-faint strains and heavy, throbbing bass of whatever music was playing inside of Andy’s house.
They finally crested the top of the hill, lightly winded but no worse for wear. Jo gave Dean a kick in the ass once she got close enough, but she was pink-cheeked and smiling which got Dean grinning back.
All three of them twisted their heads around and spotted a cluster of people near the treeline. Dean recognized them all from the support group – Jess and Sarah, the tall blonde and adorable brunette respectively, along with Ava, Jake, Garth, and Tessa. Sarah waved them over, a red cup clutched in one hand and a wide smile curving her mouth.
“Hey!” she said as they got closer. “You guys are just in time.”
“For what?” Sam asked.
“To tear this mother up!” Garth said.
Dean raised his eyebrows and glanced over at Jo in time to see her lips twitch. Sam side-eyed both of them and they put on their best innocent faces, keeping any thoughts to themselves as the group started for the house and quick introductions were made.
When Garth grinned at Jo, kissed her hand, and said he was enchanted to meet her, Dean had to cough into his own shoulder to mask the laughter that bubbled up in his chest.
“Dean,” Jo muttered, falling back to walk next to him and glaring when he coughed again. “What just happened?”
“Harmless nerds,” he muttered back. “I told you.”
The front door was open, sound and people both lycan and human alike spilling out onto the porch and to the yard beyond. Inside the air was thick with the tang of human sweat, alcohol, and the bitter-sharp thickness of weed. It was summer-hot the further into the house they walked, pushing their way through throngs of people until they reached their first stop.
The kitchen was bigger than Dean’s living room, all shiny floors and surfaces that were kept spotless by the maids who showed up twice a week. Without them, this place would always be trashed since Andy wasn’t much for picking up after himself, let alone a hundred or so college students.
Jo led the way to the island that dominated the center of the room. It was lined with bottles of all sizes, shapes, and colors – alcohol along with juices and sodas for mixing – and she pretended to roll up her sleeves.
“Who wants what? Put your orders in while I’m still feeling generous and want to show off,” she said.
Technically, Jo probably shouldn’t have been as skilled a bartender as she was. For someone who wasn’t even legal to drink the stuff yet, though, she was a genius when it came to mixing up drinks and had been since sometime after her seventeenth birthday. Dean pretty much stuck to beer and straight liquor, but he’d drink anything Jo handed him no matter how girly it was and he’d only be a little embarrassed to admit he liked it.
She made everyone a drink while Garth and Sarah found enough shot glasses for the group and set to pouring. They handed them around after Jo’d finished up the last drink.
“Please drink responsibly,” Jo said with a grin.
They raised their shot glasses to her and knocked them back, Dean making a face at the harsh burn of spiced rum as it raced down his throat and exploded in his stomach like a tiny, liquid bomb.
“Okay,” he said, fighting back a cough. “You two aren’t allowed to pick the alcohol for the rest of the night.”
“Who doesn’t like rum? It’s pirate booze!” Garth said.
“I’m with Dean on this one,” Jake said, nose still wrinkled.
Garth and Tessa sighed but were quickly distracted when they sipped their drinks and made twin sounds of delight.
“Holy shit,” Tessa said. “This is yummy.”
“She’s pretty much a pro,” Sam said with pride.
And just like that, Jo was apparently one of the group. She still looked hesitant as Tessa looped an arm through hers and led the way toward the main living room, but Dean could tell she was enjoying the sense of camaraderie. They were a lot alike in so many ways and he understood better than most why she struggled to relate to others, how much she hated being made vulnerable by relationships, but they were social creatures. Even Dean, who wasn’t much for mingling with people unless it was to get laid, knew that he needed others.
Maybe if their Pack hadn’t deteriorated he and Jo would be more like Sam, open and friendly and willing to give everyone a chance. But they weren’t and it was a testament to this particular group of weres that they could break through both of their walls and get them to relax. Maybe Sam didn’t have the best history when it came to picking friends, but this time he seemed to have gotten it right.
They filed into the largest room on the first floor but didn’t make it very far past the threshold of the door.
The space was packed with bodies, all of them generating enough heat to make the air muggy and too hot to be comfortable. The furniture was shoved back so that there was a decent-sized dance floor flanked by what looked like an actual turntable. Some kid with over-sized headphones and a really dumb-looking haircut was spinning shitty pop music at an ear-splitting volume while couples and threesomes got their bump-and-grind on, most of them hilariously off-beat.
“I think I’m gonna try the den,” Dean said, shouting to be heard.
Sam opened his mouth to say something but the words were lost as Sarah and Jess dragged him out onto the makeshift dance floor. The others followed, Garth moving a little wildly even before they’d found enough space to accommodate their group.
“You sure you don’t wanna dance, Dean?” Jo asked. “I know how much you love to get your groove on.”
“Stuff it, shortstack,” Dean said. “You coming?”
Jo stared after the others and then shrugged and set off with Dean back the way they’d come.
It wasn’t anything personal, but that definitely wasn’t their scene. Unless he was getting laid for his efforts, Dean preferred the more laid-back atmosphere of Andy’s basement.
He and Jo made their way through the house, past various party-goers, to a door that stood slightly ajar. The strains of an unfamiliar guitar solo edged out into the hallway along with the thick scent of weed.
“After you,” Jo said, nudging the door open.
Dean rolled his eyes and started down the stairs, Jo close behind.
The first sign that something was wrong was the distinct lack of noise. Outside of the music, there wasn’t the usual rumble of chit-chat in the air. There was always the chance that everyone was too high to talk – Andy was generous when it came time to toke and it wouldn’t be the first time he’d gotten a room full of people Woodstock levels of fucked up – but Dean doubted it. The hairs on the back of his neck lifted and his muscles tightened even though there was no actual threat in the stairwell.
“Dean?” Jo asked.
He shook his head. “Something’s up,” he told her, relieved when she took the hint and stepped in close enough to protect or, more likely, have his back if need be.
They reached the bottom of the stairs and Dean’s nose was assailed with a dozen different smells, all of them thick and cloying in the body-generated heat of the basement. Behind him, Jo sneezed and cursed under her breath.
This far from the full moon, the enhancements to their senses were practically negligible. Some thought it was a disadvantage and others relished the opportunity to make it through the day without having their eyes, ears, and noses assaulted by too much stimuli. Environments like this, where the air was warm and muggy and there were this many bodies packed into a tight space, rendered that relief obsolete. Even practically human it was impossible to ignore the scent of this many sweat-damp weres in a room.
That wasn’t anything Jo and Dean didn’t expect. This was different.
On top of everyone’s smell and the usual low-level tang of arousal in the air, there was something else. It set Dean right on edge before he’d even figured out what it was, the alpha in him rearing up and preparing for a fight. Behind him, he could feel Jo’s body was just as tense, like she was prepared to go to battle right along with him.
He was about to suggest they just leave and let the others deal with whatever was going on – it was none of their business and Jo’s mom would kill Dean if he got her into trouble – when it hit him. The smell was too thick, at first, stinging Dean’s nose and sitting heavy on his tongue before he managed to swallow it back. It was vaguely familiar and it took Dean a split-second to place it from Sam’s meeting.
“He’s here,” Dean muttered.
“In the corner,” Jo said, nodding toward the back of the room.
The den was always low-lit, illuminated by the strands of Christmas lights that wove up the walls and hung across the ceiling in a sparkling canopy. As packed as it was down here, from their vantage point near the stairs it was easy to spot the omega and the trio of alphas that had him surrounded.
The sight made Dean’s hands clench into fists at his sides, the movement more reflex than anything, but he didn’t think it was his place to interfere. The omega’s face was blank, his eyes flitting from one face to the next. It was impossible to hear what any of the alphas were saying, but Dean could guess from the suggestive angle of their hips and the way they all leaned in closer than was strictly appropriate.
He was surprised they weren’t ripping each other apart, actually. Maybe that explained some of the strain in the room, everyone quiet and waiting to see what would happen. Or maybe it was something else. The presence of the omega had freaked out everyone in the support group except for Dr. Barnes and he’d been all anyone could talk about all week. He smelled so delicious Dean had to think even the deltas were interested and apparently he was unattached.
It was possible no one knew how to deal with the situation and they were all staying still just so they could keep themselves in check.
“I think we should go,” Jo said. “This isn’t gonna end well.”
Dean nodded, thinking about Dad’s order to stay away from the omega. Sam was the one always disobeying direct commands and engaging in little rebellions. It was Dean’s responsibility to do as he was told just to keep from upsetting the shaky balance in their family.
Jo tugged on the back of Dean’s shirt to get him moving, and he was going to turn and follow her out but something stopped him. It was a subtle shift in the air followed by movement from one of the alphas. He reached out to grip the omega’s chin in his hand and refused to let go when the other wolf fought him on it.
“What’s his name?” Dean asked without looking away.
“Dean,” Jo said. There was a warning in her voice but Dean ignored it.
“The omega’s name, Jo. Do you know it?”
“Something weird,” she said. “I don’t know. Casey, maybe?”
Maybe wasn’t good enough and Dean was about to tell her so when she leaned forward and put her lips to his ear.
“Oh! Castiel. It’s Castiel.”
Dean wrinkled his nose without thinking – that really was one fucking weird name – and then handed Jo his drink and took off across the room. Everyone’s eyes shifted from the scene in the corner to Dean and he thought he heard a soft murmur kick up from the others in the room.
“Jesus, Cas,” Dean said loudly. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
A pair of wide, blue eyes swung his way and the intensity of that gaze kicked up Dean’s pulse in a way that was unexpected and a little breathtaking. Dean hadn’t paid much attention to the omega during that first meeting even though every instinct had told him not to let the other were out of his sight. Ignoring his inner-wolf was something Dean had some practice with and he’d found it easier to fight than to give in.
Now he wished he’d indulged just a little. At least then maybe he wouldn’t feel so floored by seeing the omega up close and in glaring, HD detail for the first time.
Like before, he was dressed casually in a pair of jeans and a loose t-shirt. Someone had told him it would be a good idea to throw a suit jacket over the whole thing and while Dean normally would’ve scoffed at that, he found it strangely endearing. His hair was messy, like he’d just rolled out of bed after a few hours’ worth of marathon sex and his lips were a little chapped and parted on the quick, quiet breaths that made his chest heave beneath his shirt.
There was no denying that this Castiel guy was good-looking, but it was the eyes that sealed the whole thing. Too much eye-contact usually made Dean uncomfortable but he didn’t want to look away. He wouldn’t have, either, if it hadn’t been for the fingers still gripping the jut of the omega’s chin.
“You mind letting him go?” Dean asked, putting just enough growl into his voice to let it be known that he wasn’t making a request.
The alpha raised his eyebrows and crowded in closer to Castiel, thumb tapping at the swell of the other were’s lower lip.
“Why? I don’t see your mark on him.” The alpha tilted his head and pressed his nose to the nape of Castiel’s neck, inhaling deeply. “Don’t smell it, either.”
The omega squirmed and tried to pull away but the alpha just growled and nipped hard enough at his throat to draw a tiny sound of discomfort. Rage boiled in Dean’s belly, not just at the sight of one werewolf completely ignoring the fact that another just wasn’t interested, but because it was the omega being treated that way.
Dean got plenty of shit because he had a more active protective instinct than other male alphas. They’d respond to a threat, sure, but only ever for members of their family or Pack. Dean had this problem where he wanted to protect anyone who looked like they needed it and this was no exception. The only problem with it was that the pheromones leaking all over the place heightened that need to help and defend until Dean felt dangerously close to shifting right then and there.
“Let go of him,” Dean repeated, “or I’ll rip your throat out.”
The alpha straightened and shifted until his arm was tight around Castiel’s shoulders, locking them together from shoulder to hip.
“We’ll give you a turn if that’s what you’re worried about,” he said. “I’ve met some needy bitches in my day but I bet this one’ll put them all to shame, huh? We could even make a game out of it. Whoever makes him beg the loudest gets an extra ride.”
Dean moved without even thinking about it, anger whiting out the edges of his vision and propelling him forward. He reached out and gripped the alpha by the throat, squeezing hard enough that he let Castiel go in favor of reaching up to try and pull Dean off of him. The alpha was strong, but Dean was stronger and way more pissed off. Every attempt to shove him away was as feeble as the hovering of a fly in the face of that.
“Castiel is mine, marked or not, and I will chew your hands off if you ever lay another finger on him. You might want to warn your friends, too, because if I have to have this conversation again it won’t be pretty, I promise you that.”
The alpha wheezed in response and kept up his defiant glaring until the need for oxygen won out. A short nod was enough to get Dean to let go and the alpha slumped to the floor with a series of hacking coughs. The other alphas backed away when Dean narrowed his eyes at them, hands raised to indicate they didn’t want to start trouble.
That didn’t necessarily mean anything. If they’d been deltas then Dean would’ve been able to trust that their acquiescence, no matter how hard-earned, was permanent. Dealing with other alphas never guaranteed any kind of cooperation. It was enough to get them out of Andy’s, though, and it’d keep Castiel safe until his own Pack leader could step in and declare him off-limits or do whatever negotiations necessary to keep this from happening again.
Castiel wasn’t visibly shaken outside of the rapid breathing. It wasn’t Dean’s place to feel a sense of pride at the omega’s ability to remain stoic in the face of what had happened, but it happened anyway. When their eyes met, Dean expected fear and reluctance. Instead, when he held out his hand, Castiel took it without pause and allowed himself to be led through the den to where Jo was waiting by the stairs.
“Find Sam and meet us at the car,” he told her.
She glanced down at their linked hands and said, “yeah, okay. Try not to get into any trouble until we get out there.”
Dean just grinned and followed her up the stairs, Castiel one step behind.
There were enough people outside to make Dean uncomfortable until he’d hustled Castiel halfway to the Impala. They were silent as they walked and Dean didn’t release his grip until they’d cleared the rest of the partygoers.
“What I don’t get,” Dean said, breaking the silence, “is where your brother is. He seemed pretty protective of you the other day. Why the hell’d he leave you alone like that?
It was quiet behind him for a beat, long enough that Dean stopped and turned to make sure Castiel was still with him.
He was, albeit a few steps back. At least he didn’t look like he wanted to bolt which was a good thing. All Dean needed was for an omega wolf to run off on his own in the woods. Shit was already bad enough around here.
“My brother?” Castiel asked, head cocked to the side like the word was foreign to him.
“Yeah,” Dean said slowly. “Short dude, big mouth, bad attitude? That brother? Your brother Gabriel?”
“Oh,” Castiel said. “We were . . . separated.”
Jesus Christ, Castiel was a weird little dude. Less than two minutes of conversation and Dean had already come to that conclusion. It was a combination of that stare, somehow all-knowing and completely naïve at once, combined with his stilted and confused responses. Maybe Castiel was just shaken after what happened in the den and Dean definitely wouldn’t be able to blame him for that. Somehow, though, Dean didn’t think that’s all there was to it.
“Okay, well. Do you need to give him a call? He should probably know what happened.”
And Dean would really prefer it if he heard from Castiel. Maybe then he’d understand that Dean only had the best intentions and he could pass the message along to their Pack. It wasn’t something Dean wanted to worry about, not with the adrenaline still singing in his veins, but there was a good chance he’d fucked up bigger and better than he ever had before, here. Laying a claim on someone was a huge deal on its own. Laying a claim on an omega? Dean had no right.
“Yes,” Castiel said. “You’re right.”
“Course I am,” Dean muttered.
He turned around again, leading the way down the hill while Castiel made the call. The ringing was tinny, barely audible over the crunch of their shoes over fallen twigs and old pine needles. Eventually someone answered and Dean could just make out Gabriel’s voice asking Castiel where the fuck he was.
“I’m fine,” Castiel answered. “There was some trouble but-”
There was some indecipherable yelling that seemed to go on for five minutes before Castiel made a small, frustrated sound.
“I left. I’m safe, now.”
More yelling. Dean rolled his eyes and wondered if Gabriel was hysterical or just too damn lazy to find a quiet corner for this relatively one-sided conversation.
“Yes, he’s here with me,” Castiel said. “Yes, Gabriel, I know who he is. I know whose son he is. You weren’t there and he helped me, I’m fairly sure I can trust him.”
A branch came out of nowhere to trip Dean up and he coughed to hide his embarrassment, glad that his back was to Castiel so the other were couldn’t see the flush rising in his cheeks. The fact that Dean’s reputation preceded him, right along with his dad’s, wasn’t a surprise. That Castiel was still with him considering that, though, was and Dean didn’t know if he should be flattered or further convinced that the omega was a few fries and a hamburger patty short of a full meal.
Whatever Gabriel said in response was quiet enough that Dean couldn’t hear it, but he did catch the hitch of Castiel’s breathing followed by a murmur of assent and a quiet goodbye.
They walked quietly for a few more minutes, Dean’s curiosity threatening to burn a hole in his gut, before he finally spoke up.
“So is he meeting us at my car or . . . ?”
“He would prefer to enjoy the rest of his evening,” Castiel said. “And I don’t see why he shouldn’t be able to. He spends enough time looking out for me as it is.”
“That’s your Pack’s job, not just his,” Dean said.
“I suppose,” Castiel said.
He left it at that and Dean fought the urge to push the issue. Obviously Dean knew what it was like to love someone so much he’d do anything for them, up to and including taking on the bulk of responsibility of raising and looking after them. But there was a difference between Dean raising his little brother, another alpha in a long line of them, and Gabriel trying to look after his own omega sibling. Things could get really bad really fast if the Pack leader didn’t step in and there wouldn’t be a damn thing Gabriel could do about it.
It wasn’t Dean’s place to start preaching about proper Pack dynamics, though. Considering the state of his own, the advice wouldn’t hold much credibility anyway. That didn’t mean he didn’t have a weird feeling about all of this, weirder after what he’d just witnessed.
“They gonna be pissed about what I did?” Dean asked.
“Your Pack,” Dean said. “I know that was way outta line.”
“You were just trying to help,” Castiel said.
From the sound of his voice, lilting up in something curious and defensive, Dean got the feeling that Castiel didn’t understand the problem. They were almost to the Impala but Dean stopped in the middle of the path and turned to see Castiel staring at him, head cocked to the side and eyes narrowed.
“You did help,” he continued. “Those men-”
“Alphas,” Dean corrected, because by the time he’d stepped in there hadn’t been a whole lot of human instinct driving those Neanderthals.
“Alphas,” Castiel agreed. “They were going to make me do things I didn’t want to do and I don’t think I could have refused them.”
“It would’ve been tough,” Dean said as delicately as possible.
“Impossible,” Castiel said.
Dean looked away. “Maybe.”
“I appreciate what you did for me,” Castiel said. “And I’m sure if I had a Pack they would understand that you were only looking out for me.”
Something about Castiel’s earnestness made Dean’s stomach squirm uncomfortably, the way it did when Sam would try to corner him and make him talk about his feelings, but something else he said was more horrifying than any chick-flick moment.
“What do you mean “if you had a Pack”?” Dean demanded.
Castiel blinked. “I don’t belong to one.”
“You don’t . . . that’s not possible. What about Gabe? Or that other guy?”
“We’ve only known each other for a few months,” Castiel said.
Dean knew he was gaping at Castiel and had a feeling the expression on his face was an unattractive look of pure shock, but he couldn’t exactly help himself.
Sure some weres were loners and while there wasn’t anything technically wrong with that, those ones had a tendency to go bad fast. Packs were essential to any lycan’s well-being. They provided safety and order and comfort to creatures that were social by nature. Taking that away left someone vulnerable in every possible way.
There was only one thing that was arguably worse than a were with no Pack, and that was one with a shitty Pack leader.
Even barring all of that, though, an omega needed a Pack as much as a mate. Without someone there to dictate who could and couldn’t touch, everyone would want a piece. What Dean knew about omegas was limited to the details he’d picked up online over the weekend and the bits and pieces he remembered learning when he was a kid, but strong alphas could get an omega to do anything regardless of whether the latter wanted it or not. The omega would have to. It was some kind of biological imperative.
“Did I say something wrong?” Castiel asked.
Dean realized it had been a few minutes since he’d spoken and that he was still slack-jawed with surprise.
“You need a Pack,” Dean said. “Or a mate, I guess. But if you don’t have something, shit like what happened in there is just gonna get worse and I may not be around next time.”
Technically, it wasn’t even Dean’s place to have stepped in this time. It definitely wasn’t okay for him to already be thinking of ways he could take care of Castiel in the future. But . . . if Castiel really didn’t have a Pack to answer to, it wasn’t as if the usual rules applied.
“I’ll handle it,” Castiel said.
Dean rolled his eyes and started back down the path.
“Sure you will, tough guy,” he said.
Castiel lived in a house just a few blocks away from JU’s main campus. Dean recognized the neighborhood from a few news stories when he was a kid, back when some trouble with the fraternities and sororities had closed down Greek Row for good. It had been a controversial decision, not that Dean had ever given a rat’s ass about it. Human activists had gotten up in arms about it and eventually the Greek system had been reinstated, but they operated out of the other side of campus, now.
Dean tended to avoid the corner of fraternity and sorority housing like the plague, old and new, so he’d never been down this way before.
The houses they’d once occupied were a little worse for wear now that there wasn’t a steady stream of funds to dip into for repairs and upkeep. Most of the lawns were shaggy, some of them downright overgrown, and they all had chipped paint on their doors and trimming.
Castiel’s house was the last on the block with a backyard that spilled out into the nearby woods. Of all the houses, this one looked the most decrepit with crooked stairs that led up to a sagging porch and windows dark with dirt and lined with cobwebs so thick they were visible from the curb.
“Wow,” Sam said, leaning over Jo to peer up at the two-story building. “It’s, uh. It’s really something.”
“It’s a hovel,” Castiel said. “But it’s affordable. Balthazar likes it.”
“Well, if Balthazar likes it,” Dean muttered.
A sour feeling sat heavy in his gut. He didn’t want to leave Castiel here all by himself, his two roommates apparently still getting shitfaced and laid at Andy’s. Worse than that, Dean didn’t want to leave Castiel at all. Even if Gabriel and that Balthazar guy had been around, Dean wouldn’t have felt right just walking away after everything.
That kind of thinking was dangerous and Dean wasn’t going to do anything stupid. That didn’t make him hate what he had to do instead any less.
“Dean,” Sam said in a voice a little too dad-and-alpha-like for Dean’s liking.
Dean sighed and stopped the car.
“I’ll walk you up,” he told Castiel. “You two stay put.”
Jo made a non-committal noise from where she was slumped in the back and Sammy shrugged his acquiescence. Neither of them were pleased about the evening’s turn of events but they could deal with it as far as Dean was concerned. It wasn’t like he’d planned any of this.
He opened his door and waited for Castiel to do the same before climbing out. They made their way up the sidewalk together and Dean took note of the fact that someone needed to mow their front lawn before it overran the whole house.
“You sure you’ll be all right by yourself?” Dean asked once they reached the front door.
He figured if he kept his eyes on the tree-like weeds in the yard or the loose banister, it wouldn’t sound like too much like a question straight out of some romantic comedy.
“I’m sure,” Castiel said. “It’s not as unpleasant as you think.”
That was debatable, though Dean supposed it was probably a relief to get some time away from Gabriel.
“I’m more worried about you being able to take care of yourself,” Dean admitted, finally looking over and catching Castiel’s eye.
Castiel just stared at him, something too intense in his gaze to make looking back easy. But as much as Dean wanted to tear his eyes away, he couldn’t.
“We haven’t officially met,” Castiel said.
The words were so ridiculously unexpected that Dean laughed and the tense moment softened to something more tolerable.
“Dean Winchester,” he said, holding out his hand.
The other were’s grip was surprisingly strong. Dean didn’t know why he’d expected something limp and weak – maybe he was stereotyping a little because of the whole omega thing – but Castiel had a better handshake than most people Dean knew, his palm broad and warm against Dean’s.
“See you around?”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Dean wanted to slap himself upside the head. Could he have sounded more like a thirteen-year-old nerd after his first date? It was a good thing Castiel was the kind of guy to ignore that sort of thing – or miss it entirely.
He smiled and nodded. Dean grinned back, realized they were still holding hands, and decided there was no possible way this could get any more embarrassing.
“Right, so . . . bye, then,” Dean said, taking his hand back.
“Goodbye, Dean,” Castiel said.
The gravelly timbre of his voice, the way it practically caressed Dean’s name, was still echoing in his ears after he got back to the car.
Sam and Jo were suspiciously silent in the back and Dean had a feeling it was at his own expense.
“You two making out back there or what?” Dean asked, his own voice a little gruff.
“I will kill you and no one will find the body,” Jo said.
“You say that,” Dean shot back, “but you’d miss me too much.”
“Not that it isn’t cute when you two bicker like old ladies,” Sam said, “but really Dean?”
And there it was. Sam hadn’t said a word once he and Jo had caught up to Dean and Castiel back at Andy’s outside of a brief introduction. It had only been a matter of time; Dean had practically been able to feel all of Sam’s feelings, opinions, and questions simmering and he hadn’t been looking forward to them boiling over.
Ignoring all of this until it didn’t seem like such a big deal was Dean’s preference, but he was too damn tired and his brain was too fucking noisy for him to be able to deflect the question.
“He needed my help,” Dean shot back. “Ask Jo, she was there.”
“You could’ve left him,” Jo said. “I mean, Jesus, Dean, what’s his Pack gonna say? You barged in there, practically claimed him as your mate in front of everyone, and didn’t even stop to think once.”
“Okay, first of all I pretended to be his boyfriend. I didn’t act like we’re fuckin’ married or anything.”
Jo scoffed and Dean couldn’t blame her. There was a distinct difference between “that’s my boyfriend and you’re not allowed to touch” and “I will kill you if you so much as look at him”. For humans the line was blurry to the point of non-existence but for werewolves that was laying a claim to someone. There was nothing casual about it.
That was a bridge Dean would cross later, though. For now, he needed to get Jo and Sam on the same page.
“Second of all,” he continued, “Castiel doesn’t have a Pack.”
Silence descended in the back, as gobsmacked as Dean’s own had been.
“What?” Jo asked.
“But I’ve been hearing about all the deals his Alpha’s setting up with other Packs,” Sam said.
“Apparently whoever’s been saying any of that’s full of shit,” Dean said. “Still think I should’ve stayed out of it, Jo?”
He could practically feel her glaring at the back of his head, but she didn’t argue, either. Without a Pack or an Alpha to hold another were accountable, those assholes could’ve done whatever they wanted to Cas and gotten away with it.
“How does that even work?” Sam asked.
Dean shrugged. “No idea. He’s kinda weird, though. That might explain it.”
They were quiet for a few more miles, all of them presumably imagining a life without Pack. Eventually, Sam spoke up again, his voice soft and worried.
“What happens now? Dad’ll be pissed if he finds out.”
Honestly, Dean didn’t know. He had reasons to be concerned, sure, and a part of him was. The other part of him was too worried about Castiel, wondering who was keeping him safe, wishing they were together so Dean could keep an eye on him. That scared him more than anything their dad could possibly do.
He pasted on a grin and met Sam’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “It’ll be fine.”
Sam looked unconvinced. Dean couldn’t blame him.
With no reason to wake up early the next day, Dean didn’t blink himself awake until close to noon. There were a few blissful moments when he didn’t have a care in the world. Whatever he’d dreamed about had left him feeling calm and happy, the sun was out, the weather was supposed to be warm, and he didn’t even have a hangover to ruin it all.
That was about the time that Dean remembered why he wasn’t hung over and immediately his thoughts turned to Castiel. Dean fumbled for his phone on the bedside table before he remembered that he didn’t even have the other werewolf’s number.
“Fuck,” he muttered.
He was pretty sure that nothing had happened to Castiel since last night but the urge to make sure was overwhelming. A part of him wanted to ignore it completely and hope it went away, but Dean had a feeling that wasn’t going to work. There was probably no harm in just dropping by, right? Gabriel might give him shit or that weird dude might be there, but Dean could handle them.
Decision made, Dean rolled out of bed and forced himself into the shower. He didn’t have anybody to impress, but he didn’t want to show up at Castiel’s place looking and smelling like weed and the inside of a gas station, either.
It was half-past noon when he finally made it downstairs. Sam looked up from where he was sitting on the couch with a book on his lap, his eyes wide. Dean frowned, confused, and only got a small shake of the head in response.
“Would you look at that. It lives.”
The oily voice of the Pack’s stand-in Alpha crawled up Dean’s spine and left him feeling dirtier than he had before his shower.
Azazel sat in the chair across from Sam, forearms draped over the armrests, legs casually crossed. Despite being an alpha, in the presence of the Alpha, Dean was still expected to show deference. This asshole hadn’t even won the title, though, and Dean wasn’t about to lower his eyes for someone who hadn’t proven himself worthy of leading a Pack, especially one as fractured as their own.
“Long night, Dean?” Azazel asked.
Dean glanced over at Sam and then looked around until he finally found Dad leaning against the archway that led from the living room to the kitchen. His arms were folded over his chest, expression stern, and Dean knew right away that none of this boded well.
“Went to a party,” Dean said.
At least his attempt to sound casual was successful. Azazel nodded and matched Dean’s tone.
“I heard things got . . . interesting?”
“They always do.”
It wouldn’t have taken a genius to figure out that Dean wasn’t gonna give so much as an inch. Azazel’s expression pinched in and he clenched his jaw before visibly forcing himself to relax.
“For an alpha bitch, you certainly are mouthy,” Azazel said. “Most of the others know their place.”
Dean glared but didn’t rise to the bait. Eventually Azazel got to his feet and stepped in close enough for Dean to feel the heat of his body waft over every inch of bare skin.
“You might want to watch your step going forward,” he said. “And listen to your father, would you? I know he’s not much these days, but rumor has it he was a good Alpha once.”
A growl built in Dean’s throat, the sound of it low and rumbling in the space between them. Azazel just grinned, winked, and took a step back.
“I should be leaving now,” he said. “Isn’t it your job to see me to the door?”
Dean grit his teeth but there was no way he was going to make his dad or Sammy do it. He turned on his heel and led the way to the front door, jerked it open, and waited for Azazel to cross the threshold. The Alpha called out a pleasant goodbye as he did so, the words barely dying in the air before Dean had slammed the door shut.
He’d barely managed to get a grip on his anger when the world spun out around him and he found himself slammed against the wall.
“Jesus, Dad,” Dean gasped.
As much as he wanted to fight the grip his dad had on his throat, Dean knew better. It wasn’t an easy thing for an alpha to submit, but Dean had been doing it all his life. He relaxed into the hold and tipped his head back, eyes closed, waiting for his dad to respond.
“I told you to stay away from that boy,” Dad growled.
Dean swallowed hard, the bob of his throat restricted just slightly by the palm resting against his windpipe.
“I know, Dad. I’m sorry.”
“It wasn’t Dean’s fault!” Sam yelled from behind them.
“Quiet, Sammy,” Dad said.
For a second, Dean thought Sam was going to obey. It wouldn’t be the first time, but it was rare enough that he should’ve known that wasn’t the case.
“He was trying to help,” Sam continued. “If he hadn’t stepped in, they’d have taken Castiel and done whatever they wanted. And then where would you be, huh? Would Azazel even want him after that?”
Dad went still, his grip tightening until Dean couldn’t breathe. He reached up and grabbed at his dad’s wrists but he was too busy having a stare-off with Sam to pay attention. It wasn’t until Dean’s vision started to blur that Dad finally released him. Dean sagged against the wall and sucked in big gulps of air, fighting back the coughing fit that threatened to double him over.
“You have no right talking to me like that,” Dad said.
Sam just glared, every inch the defiant son he’d always been. Dean poked gingerly at his throat and winced. He’d heal up pretty fast, but at this point in the lunar cycle it would still take a couple of days for the tenderness to go away. The bruises were gonna be pretty impressive, too.
“Is he right, though?” Dean asked. “Is that your plan?”
It wasn’t anything Dean hadn’t already suspected, but he’d hoped that his dad wasn’t so heartless he was going to use another werewolf as leverage among his Pack. He could tell, though, from Azazel’s visit right down to the look Dad gave him in lieu of an answer that that had been the plan all along.
“This is our best chance at fixing things,” Dad said. “So long as the omega’s not tied to another alpha, he’s perfect for bartering.”
“He’s not a pawn, Dad,” Dean said. “You can’t use him like that.”
“And if it would put things right? If it could bring the Pack back together?” Dad asked.
For once, his eyes were bright with sobriety instead of clouded by alcohol or an ever-present
rage. He’d thought this through, had probably put the whole thing into action the second he’d heard about Castiel’s arrival. And he was right. If they could bring the omega into their Pack, possibly mate him to one of their alphas or to the Alpha, it might solve all of their problems. They were severely lacking in Pack unity these days, everyone splintered off and focused more on their immediate family groups than the community they’d been back before everything went to shit.
The Winchesters themselves were practically pariahs. But if Dad led the negotiations and if Castiel mated with him . . . that really would put everything back practically the way it was.
Logically Dean knew it was a good idea.
“Okay,” he said, folding under Dad’s gaze, giving in not to his father but to the Alpha he’d once been.
Sam made a strangled noise behind them.
“You’re both sick,” he said. “After what you did for him, Dean? Really? What’s wrong with you?”
So much, Sammy, he thought.
But instead of answering, he accepted his dad’s nod of approval and disappeared upstairs. The urge to go to Castiel was still there but Dean ignored it. He had to.
Sam stopped talking to him. It wasn’t the first time and Dean was sure it wouldn’t be the last, but it still sucked. He’d hoped, now that Sam was starting his second year of college, that maybe his little brother had grown out of his teen angst phase. Apparently that wasn’t quite the case and with Dad barely around, Dean wasn’t left with much to do other than wallow in self-pity and do homework.
The drive to school on Monday was tense. Sam may not have been speaking to him, but he made his displeasure known through the sheer force of his cranky expression and the way he’d turn to glare at Dean every few minutes.
By the time they got to the parking lot and found a space, Dean was fed up.
“Fuck’s sake, Sammy, what do you want me to do?” he demanded.
Sam twisted in his seat to face Dean, his expression too serious and mature for someone Dean still thought of as a kid most of the time.
“I want you to stop acting like his bitch,” Sam said. “He’s not right all the time, Dean. He’s our dad and we love him but-”
“Yeah? Do you?” Dean interrupted.
It was a low blow, he knew. Just because Sam had a mind of his own didn’t mean he loved their dad any less. But Dean didn’t want to hear how that sentence was going to end and he was tired of having this fight all the time. So what if everyone treated Dean like he was Dad’s wife instead of his alpha son? Dean had been more of a mother to Sam, more of a stable parent in their fucked up family, than Dad had ever been. And Mom . . . if she’d stayed everything would be different, but she hadn’t so Dean did what he had to, just like always.
Sam didn’t get that and Dean was glad. It meant he’d done something right. But he hated being punished for stepping up and fixing what his parents had broken when he’d never had a goddamn clue what he was doing in the first place.
“Fuck you,” Sam said, getting out of the car and slamming the door so hard Dean’s teeth rattled.
They didn’t see each other much after that. Sam arranged rides with his group buddies and knew Dean’s schedule well enough to be able to avoid him every day. Dean told himself maybe it was a good thing. He and Sam were way too co-dependent and a fight like this could be healthy. They’d get some time apart and then it would all blow over and they’d be better off.
It took more energy than Dean had to convince himself that was true and he was exhausted after two days of the silent treatment. It also took him about that long to figure out that Jo wasn’t talking to him either, though she went out of her way to let him know it wasn’t exactly by choice.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” she told him on Wednesday. “They never tell me anything. But I guess Azazel said you’re off-limits?”
“Since when does Ellen do what Azazel says?” Dean asked.
Jo glanced away. “Since it gives her a good excuse to keep me from hanging out with you guys, I guess.”
That made a sad kind of sense. Ellen liked Sam and Dean well enough but she hated Dad. If the three of them hadn’t grown up together she’d have done her best to keep Jo as far away from anyone named Winchester as possible. At least now she didn’t have to hurt anyone’s feelings.
“So that’s it, then. Your mom tells you you’re not allowed to talk to me and you don’t even ask why?” Dean asked, because maybe his feelings were hurt after all.
Not that he’d ever admit it to anyone.
“I did ask,” Jo said. “But I told you they wouldn’t tell me why. And I can’t just disobey my mom, Dean. Or the Alpha. I’m not like you.”
“You’re stubborn as hell, just like me,” Dean shot back.
“But I’m not an alpha,” Jo said.
There was no arguing that. As a delta it was in Jo’s nature to fall in line. An alpha’s acquiescence had to be earned, through coercion or force or proof of valor, but a delta didn’t need that kind of proof. It was half the reason Azazel’d managed to hold onto his position of power and it meant if he was the one calling the shots, Jo didn’t have any real choice but to obey. Especially if her mom supported the whole thing.
“I’ll see you around.”
Jo looked at him for a long moment, her expression a little sad and regretful, and then she was gone and Dean couldn’t do anything about it.
Their talk was enough to clue Dean in on the fact that she wasn’t the only one avoiding him; pretty much every other were on campus was giving him a wide berth. He tended to exude “fuck off” vibes even when he wasn’t trying so it wasn’t like he’d have noticed before, but suddenly it was obvious that this wasn’t a self-imposed social exile. Even the people he’d sometimes talk to in classes or pair up with for group projects didn’t want anything to do with him.
No matter how many times Dean tried to get an answer from someone, he was left standing by himself in a hallway or on a staircase watching their rapidly retreating back. The way it felt, the frustration and anger and something a lot like hurt, was surprising. Dean never would’ve pegged himself for a guy who couldn’t handle being a pariah. Then again, it wasn’t exactly in his nature to be alone.
So for whatever reason Azazel’d warned off every were Dean had come into contact with. Fine, that was his prerogative as the kind of piss-poor Alpha who’d earned his place in the Pack through manipulation and rumor-mongering. It wasn’t exactly a shock that instead of taking decisive action like a worthy Alpha would, he’d resorted to freezing Dean out. The question was why.
Dean had his suspicions, all of them revolving around Castiel and what had happened at Andy’s party, but he needed to know for sure. Luckily, an opportunity presented itself near the end of the week.
Garth was by himself at a corner table in the student union and he jumped when Dean sat down across from him. The look on his face went from shock to happy welcome to something trying too hard to be blank.
“Oh, uh. Hey, Dean,” Garth said, glancing around like he was worried someone might be looking.
“Garth,” Dean greeted. “I need a favor and then I promise I’ll fuck off so you don’t have to worry about being seen with me.”
Garth winced. “No, you don’t have to-”
“Can it. What the fuck’s going on? Because nobody’ll talk to me which wouldn’t usually bother me, but apparently my asshole of a Pack leader’s keeping my best friend away from me, too. You look like a guy who has details so spill.”
The whole thing was worse than Dean wanted to admit. This kind of isolation was usually engineered to drive a were from his or her Pack. Unless they left willingly, one of their kind could go mad from being abandoned and cut off and while Dean didn’t see that happening any time soon, he was all too aware of how and why it could. Better to handle it now than let it get any worse.
“Look,” Garth said with a sigh. “I don’t know if I should tell you this. I mean, it’s between you and your Alpha. But he told everyone what you did to that omega.”
“I saved him from a couple of handsy alphas,” Dean said.
Garth looked over his shoulder and then leaned close and lowered his voice.
“That’s not what he told all of our Pack leaders,” he said. “Everyone thinks you grabbed him and, you know. Had your way with him. Your Alpha said you were trying to usurp him or something but you knew you couldn’t take him in a fair fight so you thought claiming the omega would do the job for you.”
Anger flooded Dean’s body, starting as a ball of heat in his stomach that spread out to his fingers and toes until he wanted nothing more than the crunch of bones between his teeth. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt a rage like this, wasn’t sure it had ever been this strong.
“Please don’t shoot the messenger, man,” Garth said, eyes wide and terrified.
Dean blinked and forced the fury down until it was manageable.
“He’s not my Alpha,” Dean said, voice flat. “And you shouldn’t believe everything you hear.”
He pushed away from the table and stalked off, wondering how everything could’ve gotten so fucked up so fast. Dad had to have heard. Why hadn’t he said anything? He could’ve warned Dean, at least. Same went for Sam who presumably spent plenty of time with Garth and other weres who’d been warned off. There wasn’t any way Dean could set the record straight, not if Azazel was claiming authority all over the place and no one wanted Dean’s side of the story.
As bad as it was for him – and it was shit levels of bad – Dean immediately started worrying about Castiel. That tug of awareness that he’d been forcing himself to ignore flared up at the thought of the omega getting caught up in all of this.
It made sense that no one wanted to associate with Dean. Azazel’s lies had painted him as a coward and an upstart alpha who would do something as horrible as rape an omega just for a position of power. People had to think Dean was a sick fucking bastard and he couldn’t blame them. Azazel’d hit the other werewolves right in the sweet spot – targeting Dean’s honor and integrity. It was a wonder they weren’t all calling for him to commit ritual suicide.
Dean would deal with it. But what about Castiel? This made him look like a victim, weak and easily taken advantage of. There was no telling what would happen but Dean had a horrible feeling in his gut that Azazel’s plan wasn’t just to deal with John Winchester’s oldest boy. He was a slimy, sneaky bastard but he wasn’t an idiot.
There was a plan for Castiel in this somewhere and the knowledge made every protective instinct in Dean’s body rear up and ready itself for a hunt.
Business at the Kum’n’Go was never exactly bustling. At the height of tourist season and during some peak hours they could get a decent amount of traffic through the convenience store, though most of the patrons stuck to paying at the pump. Weekends were just going to get slower and slower, though, and weeknights tended to be dead.
Ordinarily Dean didn’t mind. Gordon was a hardass and a dick, but he wasn’t usually around. That meant Dean was free to pull up a stool behind the counter and finish up homework assignments or do a little pleasure reading. Contrary to what Jo thought, it wasn’t all Busty Asian Beauties, either.
After a day plagued by concerns about Castiel peppered with Dean’s constant reminders to himself that he couldn’t check up on the omega without causing trouble, all he wanted was to stop thinking so goddamn much. Without a job capable of taking his mind off of things, he resorted to something only Sammy would do – he grabbed a novel out of the Impala’s trunk and settled in behind the counter to read.
He kept the book hidden behind an old copy of GQ just in case anyone got curious – he did have an image to uphold after all – and ended up so engrossed he didn’t even look up when the electronic bell sounded.
“1984? You realize that one doesn’t have any pictures, right?”
The accented sarcasm set Dean’s teeth on edge and he looked up to see Castiel and Gabriel’s other friend, that Balthazar guy, peering over the edge of the magazine. Dean hadn’t realized he’d let it slip but it didn’t matter now. He set both aside and raised his eyebrows.
“Can I help you?”
“Oh, I think you’ve helped quite enough,” he said.
Dean glared. “You picked a bad day to start shit with me, I don’t care whose friend you are.”
That got a smirk in response and Balthazar tapped his fingers against the countertop.
“You know, when Cassy said you were a good guy I wasn’t sure I believed him. And then I started to hear all these rumors. You know what your Alpha’s telling people, Dean? Because it’s not pretty.”
God, Dean was getting tired of people calling Azazel that. Dean had only had one Alpha in his whole life and it definitely wasn’t that asshole.
“I didn’t hurt Cas,” Dean said. “I don’t expect you to know or care, but I’m not that kind of guy. Hell, I’d be begging you to rip out my throat if I was.”
“Doubtful,” Balthazar said, but he studied Dean closely for a moment before he spoke again. “Look, Cassy needs a Pack.”
Dean waited for Balthazar to continue, but he didn’t. “And?”
Balthazar just raised his eyebrows and all of a sudden Dean realized what the other guy was getting at.
“You know as well as I do, it doesn’t work like that,” Dean said.
“Then change it,” Balthazar said. “Gabriel and I, we’re just deltas. Exiled ones at that. We can keep an eye on him, give him a home, help him out, but we can’t make the big decisions. If it comes down to it, we can’t even protect him.”
That was all true and Dean knew it. Even secondary alphas had enough authority to make calls that could save – or end – a lower ranking were’s life. A trio of Packless weres, two deltas and an omega, had little control over anything. They could make the ultimate decision on which Pack to join with, maybe, but they definitely couldn’t give anyone else any orders.
The limits to what Gabriel and Balthazar could do to look after Castiel were numerous and unsettling, but they were asking way too much of Dean. His dad would never go for it, not if he couldn’t get Castiel under his own terms. And if Dean did that, if he took steps toward making Castiel family, there was no way he’d ever be able to step back and let Dad do what needed to be done.
“Not my problem,” Dean said, the words harsh and bitter as ash in his mouth. “Anything else?”
Balthazar scoffed. “Oh, you are a brave one, aren’t you?”
Dean didn’t have anything to say to that and Balthazar shook his head at the lack of response before he turned on his heel and stalked off. The electronic bell rang when he yanked the door open but he paused long enough to look over his shoulder.
“Why’d you even bother helping him in the first place if you’re just going to sit back and let him go through this alone?”
“He has you, doesn’t he?” Dean asked.
But it wasn’t the same thing and they both knew it. Balthazar’s derisive snort was all the answer Dean got before he was alone again, just an empty shop and his thoughts for company.
It took another two days of radio silence and being the Jackson Springs pariah before Dean couldn’t take it anymore. It was one thing to have his dad virtually ignoring him despite Dean doing exactly as he’d been told. Things hadn’t been quite right in their family since Mom had left, fleeing on the tails of the Elders’ refusal to grant her a divorce. Maybe they hadn’t been right before that, either. Dean had been so young and when he thought back on it, he never wanted to remember anything but the good.
Whatever it’d been like back then, Dean was used to how it was now. It had taken time but this was just how Dad did things. So long as Dean listened and obeyed orders and didn’t put up a fuss, there weren’t any problems. There weren’t any heart-to-hearts or weekend trips or casual conversations, either. Dad drank and fought with Sam and only really acknowledged Dean if he’d fucked up. It was the new John Winchester M.O.
It was frustrating that Dad could still treat him like this after years of obedience and trying to be just like his old man, but Dean told himself he was okay with it. Sammy didn’t get it, probably because he just didn’t want to, but he was Dad’s favorite, not Dean. There was a reason Dean had found himself filling Mom’s role after she took off. There were two alpha sons but only one of them could be the Alpha. Sam was that son and everyone knew it.
The way Dad was acting wasn’t out of the ordinary but it did pile on to the rest of the shit Dean had to deal with. And maybe even all of the rest of it would’ve been fine but Dean hated the fact that Sam was pulling this silent treatment crap.
The longest they’d ever gone without really speaking had been two weeks, back when it looked like Sam was gonna run away to California with Ruby and Brady. Those two had been bad news but no amount of telling Sam that had gotten through to him. He’d made the right choice in the end, sure, but those two weeks had taken a toll.
Dean really didn’t think he could do that again, not without their relationship suffering some serious, insurmountable damage in the process.
So he had no family to turn to and no friends to have his back. Dean had felt lonely before but never quite like this. So finally, sick of sitting in a quiet house by himself, Dean hopped in the Impala and started driving.
Downtown Jackson Springs was always picturesque on a Saturday afternoon – people walking around, holding hands, window shopping or bar crawling. Dean tended to avoid it but the quickest way to his destination was to snake his way through the hub of town instead of trying to bypass it completely.
He’d nearly made it to the other side when he spotted Sam. It wasn’t like they hadn’t seen each other all week, but each time had been brief and awkward. Dean wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting – that maybe Sam would look at least half as miserable as he felt? – but it definitely wasn’t his little brother laughing and looking happier than Dean had ever seen him.
Jessica and Sarah were with him, Sarah looking adorably small between the other two. They were talking and grinning, walking closer together than was strictly necessary. Dean wasn’t entirely sure what the deal was with the three of them. There were plenty of jokes and off-color insinuations to be made but Dean didn’t have anyone to make them to and that was a pretty shitty feeling. Almost as shitty as the feeling of knowing that Sam honestly didn’t care, that he could flourish with or without Dean in his life.
The thought that he might be better off this way was like a knife to the gut.
The Impala had a distinctive rumble that could be heard from blocks away so Dean knew Sam was aware he was there, driving the speed limit up the boulevard like maybe that would force his brother to acknowledge him.
It didn’t. Dean drove past and Sam didn’t look up even once. It didn’t look like his smile so much as faltered.
Dean gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white and his fingertips tingled from lack of circulation. The rest of the drive felt like an eternity, Dean keeping his mind carefully blank until he made the second-to-last turn down a set of streets he’d only driven once.
This was just a one-time sort of thing. He wasn’t even gonna get out of the car, certainly wasn’t gonna start trouble, but he thought maybe just doing this much would make himself feel better. Ever since his chat with Balthazar, Dean’d felt off-kilter and hadn’t been able to stop worrying. If he could at least take care of that problem, he could find a way to deal with the rest.
It was obvious something was wrong once Dean made the final turn onto Castiel’s street, but it took a second for the whole scene to register. The flashing lights on the cop cars were distracting, as were all of the rubberneckers clogging the sidewalks. Dean had to park at the end of the block and only after he’d killed the engine and stepped outside did he realize something bad had happened at Castiel’s house.
“You can’t possibly be serious. Didn’t you swear an oath to serve and protect? I may’ve been raised in England but I think I’ve been in America long enough to know that’s the case.”
Balthazar’s voice carried past the lazy-looking officers and campus security cops who were making a half-hearted attempt to question neighbors while simultaneously keeping them off Castiel’s lawn. Dean knew it wasn’t his place, but, without his permission, his feet took him up the sidewalk to where Balthazar and Gabriel were glaring at a man in uniform.
“Look,” the officer said, “this is werewolf business. Legally, we can’t do much more than report what happened and let someone your kind have sanctioned handle it.”
“Oh, so it’s “our kind” now, is it?” Balthazar asked before addressing Gabriel. “Well, fantastic. I certainly feel safer, don’t you?”
Gabriel just narrowed his eyes, seemingly too furious to speak.
“What the hell’s going on?” Dean asked.
His voice was embarrassingly bark-like, but the bite of authority to it got everyone’s attention. The officer turned with a startled look while Balthazar and Gabriel raised their eyebrows in eerily similar expressions.
“There was a break-in-”
“Attempted assault,” Gabriel interrupted. “Some assholes busted down our front door looking for Castiel. They grabbed him but took off after Balthazar and I ran in.”
Dean swallowed back a growl and clenched his jaw.
“Is he okay?”
Gabriel looked at him, eyes narrowed like he was trying to see inside of Dean to something that was really none of his business.
“A little bruised and freaked the fuck out,” he finally answered. “But he’ll be fine.”
“And what are the police doing?”
“I already explained,” the officer said, “that this isn’t our jurisdiction. Even if we wanted to help – which, frankly, I’d rather stay out of your territorial, animalistic bullshit – we can’t.”
The man had gone from looking vaguely intimidated by Dean to well-aware of how much power he held all because of that badge. While werewolves were expected to follow laws just like anyone else, the law wasn’t as kind to them. They operated on a policy of If It’s Not Human Business, We Don’t Want To Deal With It. It was a huge problem but the government didn’t care and the city and state always said that law enforcement had its hands plenty full with regular crime. Adding to the burden wouldn’t help anyone.
“Well that’s just awesome,” Dean bit out.
“What are you gonna report?” Gabriel demanded. “If you call it a break-in when it obviously wasn’t-”
“B&E, assault, what’s the difference?” the officer asked. “I will have to report that this kid doesn’t have a Pack, though. I got that detail right, didn’t I? And that means trouble for you, doesn’t it?”
Gabriel and Balthazar shared a quick look. That wasn’t common knowledge. Of everything Dean had heard, all the rumors and hearsay, everyone still assumed that Castiel had a Pack somewhere, some leader who called the shots but seemed content to wait to take any decisive action. People were idiots, but that was better than the alternative. Werewolves without Packs were treated differently, especially in a town like Jackson Springs were there were so many different weres from across the country gathered in one place. Lone weres weren’t allowed on campus and they had to register with the state if they wanted to relocate.
If Castiel was reported, everyone would know he wasn’t just lacking a mate. He was completely devoid of anyone who could hold another were accountable for whatever happened to him. He’d be little more than chum in the water around here.
“You should really check your sources,” Dean said, opening his mouth before he could think to stop himself. “Castiel and I are . . . involved. For all intents and purposes that makes him a member of my Pack.”
The officer narrowed his eyes.
“It’s how our kind do things,” Balthazar interjected.
The officer’s face suffused with angry color but he could join the goddamn club. If he hadn’t been wearing that uniform, Dean might’ve been tempted to knock him out on principle alone. He doubted Gabriel and Balthazar would do more than hold the bastard still while Dean did it, too.
“Funny, he didn’t mention it to me,” the officer said.
“I did, actually,” Castiel said from the doorway.
How long he’d been listening in, Dean didn’t know, but he really hated that they kept meeting this way. If Castiel was offended by the fact that Dean kept swooping in to rescue him like he was some kind of damsel in distress, it didn’t show. His face was implacable beneath a black eye and swollen lip. The sight of him, evidence of someone else’s hands beaten into Castiel’s face, made Dean’s stomach churn with fury.
The officer’s tone bordered on belligerent, but his expression, when Dean forced himself to glance away from Castiel, looked vaguely hunted. Trust this douchebag to get caught trying to lie to their faces.
“I told you when you asked. Nothing’s official but I have . . . allies.” Here he glanced at Dean like he was seeking confirmation. Maybe Dean’d been a piss-poor ally so far, but he was here now, wasn’t he? So he nodded and some of the tension seeped from Castiel’s shoulders.
“That’s not the same thing as a Pack,” the officer said. “And he seems to think you’re more than allies.”
“We’re in a transitional period,” Castiel said, voice stony. “It’s complicated, you probably wouldn’t understand.”
“It is a werewolf thing,” Dean said. “And apparently that’s not your jurisdiction.”
The officer swung his gaze from one face to the next and some fight-or-flight response kicked in because he backed up a couple steps, apparently realizing for the first time he was surrounded by pissed off and threatened predators.
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll make sure they get the revised report. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get lost on the way to the station.”
“Honestly, if this is the best the Jackson Springs P.D. can do, it won’t matter if it does,” Balthazar said.
The officer glared but turned on his heel and stalked off, outnumbered and defeated. While he started to round his colleagues and the campus security stooges up, Castiel caught Dean’s eye.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
Gone was the guy silently asking if they were allies. In his place was a wall of solid, unwelcoming anger and a voice like steel. Dean blinked, thrown off by the change in demeanor.
“Uh, I was out for a drive and I saw the police cars,” he answered.
Not entirely the truth, but they didn’t need to know that.
“You made it clear you don’t want anything to do with us,” Castiel said, his voice dipping dangerously low. “We don’t need you here.”
“Yeah? Apparently you do,” Dean shot back.
Castiel stared at him until Dean caved and looked away, backing down from a damn omega of all fucking people. He’d have been more embarrassed about it if he wasn’t so ashamed of how he’d acted the last week. Letting Castiel deal with all of this alone, practically rolling over so his dad, Azazel, and whoever else could do whatever they wanted.
Dean was a lot of things, but he’d never considered himself a coward until that moment.
“How about we take this lover’s spat inside?” Gabriel suggested.
“Do what you want,” Castiel said.
He turned on his heel and stalked inside, leaving Gabriel, Balthazar, and Dean to follow. He’d already disappeared somewhere in the house by the time they got the door closed behind them, and Gabriel sighed.
“He’ll get over it. Probably. You don’t deserve it, but he likes you for whatever reason,” he said, leading the way down a short hall.
“I think it’s the cheekbones,” Balthazar said with a smirk. “Or the lips, maybe?”
He and Gabriel looked over their shoulders at Dean, ignoring his glare in favor of giving him a lewd up-down.
“Yeah, definitely the lips,” Gabriel agreed.
If it wouldn’t have pissed Castiel off more, Dean would’ve punched the both of them.
The interior of the old frat house was deceptively nice considering the general state of disrepair the building itself was in. The hallway opened up to the kitchen, a surprisingly bright and clean space. A huge window overlooked the backyard which, while wild, was made appealing by the lushness of the treeline and the blooming wildflowers that turned the space into something like a meadow.
Sunlight spilled across dark, hardwood floors and lit up the whole room without any artificial help. The appliances were nothing fancy and cupboard doors looked like they’d seen better days, but the dining table was relatively new and there was even a bench seat beneath the window, turning it into something like a breakfast nook.
“Nice,” Dean said.
“You expected squalor?” Balthazar asked.
Dean raised his eyebrows. “Have you seen your front yard? I was expecting wild turkeys in the living room and poison ivy on the stairs.”
“I told you,” Gabriel said.
Balthazar just shrugged. “I don’t mow lawns and Cassy’d probably chop all his fingers off if he tried.” He turned to Dean. “He’s a bit technologically inept. It took him two weeks to figure out how to do a proper Google search and he still can’t work the coffee maker.”
Dean added that little tidbit of information to things he knew about Castiel. The list was depressingly short. For all that he already felt intrinsically connected to the other were, Dean knew fuck all about him.
“Was he raised in a cult?” Dean asked, trying to figure out how someone could make it to college without knowing how to surf the ‘net or make his own coffee.
Balthazar and Gabriel shared a look.
“Something like that,” Gabriel said. “Anyway, what does everyone want for dinner? And by everyone I mean somebody’d better go ask Castiel what he’s in the mood for because obviously he gets to choose. That person might also want to make sure Castiel’s handling everything okay.”
He shot Dean a pointed look.
“Dude, he’s pissed at me. Why do I have to go?”
Gabriel rolled his eyes and pointed. “The stairs are through there. First door on the right. We’ll send a search party if we don’t hear from you in two hours.”
As much as Dean wanted to argue, it was obvious Balthazar and Gabriel weren’t gonna budge. He could always pull authority, but a part of him wanted the excuse to see Castiel. So he made a face but went in the direction Gabriel had pointed him toward, finding himself at a set of stairs just past another doorway into the kitchen.
They were narrow, broken up by a small landing with a tiny window that overlooked the woods, and creaked with almost every step. There wasn’t a hallway at the top of the stairs so much as another landing that opened to three doors. Dean paused and then told himself to stop being such a chickenshit and knocked on the door to his right.
“Castiel?” he called.
There was silence, enough of one that Dean was fairly sure he was being ignored, before the door edged up with a solemn creak.
“What do you want?” Castiel asked.
Only his head was visible; he was so pale that his untidy shock of hair seemed darker than usual and Dean noticed that in addition to the black-and-blue ring around his right eye, the left was ringed in what looked like the results of sleeplessness and stress. This was Dean’s fault, he was sure. And even if it wasn’t, there was no convincing his inner wolf of that.
“You look like shit,” Dean said, ever tactful and never the first to apologize.
Castiel stared at him and then went to shut the door.
“No, hey, wait,” Dean said, reaching out to stop him. “I didn’t mean it like that. Just . . . are you okay?”
“What do you think?”
I think you’re pretty friggin’ feisty for an omega, Dean thought, surprised at the fact that tendrils of pride accompanied the realization.
“Look, I know we don’t know each other. And I was a dick, okay, I get that. I just . . . my Dad told me I couldn’t see you and Azazel’s a fucking asshole and I thought I could stay away.”
There was a pause and then Castiel pulled the door open all the way. He didn’t invite Dean inside, but he did step forward and close some of the distance between them.
“Why didn’t you?” Castiel asked.
Dean shrugged. “I wish I could say I wised up but I dunno, man. I think part of it might just be instinct.”
“Because of what I am.” The words weren’t a question and Castiel’s mouth twisted in distaste like he was disgusted by them.
In all honesty, Dean would’ve given anything to be able to tell Castiel that had nothing to do with it. The whole thing skeeved him out as it was, the idea that Dean’s inner wolf was somehow responding to Castiel’s in a way that wanted to claim and protect. He was used to his animal instinct responding in different, more abnormal ways. Everyone thought of him as the family’s alpha bitch for a reason.
This was nothing like that and Dean didn’t know what to do with it.
“Maybe,” Dean admitted. “Probably. But come on, you can’t tell me you don’t feel some kind of . . . biological drive, or whatever.”
“Around you?” Castiel asked, sounding curious in spite of himself.
Dean coughed and glanced away. “Or in general. Mostly in general.”
Castiel actually started to fidget, rubbing the back of his neck and shifting his weight from one foot to another.
“It’s weird,” he finally burst out. “Gabriel and Balthazar have been trying to help me but I was never exactly allowed to explore these kinds of feelings and I don’t know what any of it means.”
There was a lot there that Dean wanted to stop and examine and he definitely needed some clarification. Who’d never allowed Castiel to explore his feelings and what feelings was he talking about, mainly. There was also a story behind how he, Gabriel, and Balthazar had ended up together and Dean had questions about Gabriel’s real relationship with Castiel. He still remembered the weird response he’d gotten when he asked Castiel about his brother at Andy’s.
All of that could wait, though. For the first time since opening the door, Castiel looked like he wasn’t about to tell Dean to fuck off for good. Now that he was here, Dean was glad no one was asking him to leave and he didn’t want to push his luck.
“So I’ll help,” Dean said, treating it like it was a foregone conclusion.
Castiel’s eyebrows knit together in confusion. “What?”
“We practically just met and I get that this is a really fucking weird situation but I can help. I can answer questions, watch your back, whatever you want.” He paused and then added, “I wasn’t just in the neighborhood, Cas.”
Castiel caught his gaze, his expression smoothing out into something that was almost warm with awe. Dean felt uncomfortable being stared at like that, but he couldn’t bring himself to look away.
“You gave me a nickname,” he said eventually.
Dean frowned. “Is that not okay? It’s a habit, I can’t really-”
“It’s fine,” Castiel said. “It’s much better than “Cassy”.”
“Yeah,” Dean snorted. “What’s up with that, anyway?”
Castiel shrugged, a slight hesitation before the movement making Dean think it was a newly acquired habit.
“Does this mean we’re cool?” Dean asked when Castiel didn’t say anything more.
The tiniest upward quirk of Castiel’s mouth was about as close to a smile as Dean thought he was gonna get.
“Yes, Dean. We’re cool.”
Castiel gave Dean a tour of the rest of the house which was bigger than it first seemed. The upstairs bedrooms and bathroom, for instance, were pretty roomy – Castiel’s being immaculately kept which somehow didn’t surprise Dean in the slightest.
Aside from the kitchen, there was a half bathroom, a living room, and another bedroom on the first floor. They stayed out of the bedroom, Castiel wrinkling his nose and promising Dean he didn’t really want to see inside, and Dean had already seen the kitchen so they went straight to the living room.
It was about the same size as Dean’s own, but where his had stopped looking and feeling lived in not long after Mom left, this one was probably the warmest and most welcoming space in the house, including the sun drenched kitchen. The furniture, all apparently picked out by Gabriel, matched in an eclectic sort of way and every single seat in the room was sinfully comfortable. A huge television was mounted on the far wall and there were at least three game consoles beneath it, along with a leaning tower of DVDs that was probably gonna come down at any moment.
“That’s a pretty awesome setup,” Dean said, nodding at the TV. “Is one of you secretly rich or something?”
Castiel looked at the television like he wasn’t sure what Dean meant.
“Gabriel assured me that everyone has one,” he said.
Dean laughed and nudged Castiel’s shoulder with his own.
“Yeah,” he said, “most people do. Just not one like that.”
The longer they hung out, the clearer things got. Castiel had a tendency to reveal a lot about himself without realizing he was doing it. Like when he took Dean down to their fully furnished basement where the trappings were decidedly more elegant and extravagant.
“Balthazar helped Gabriel with this room,” Castiel explained when Dean mentioned it. “They spend a lot of time down here.”
“It’s nice,” Dean said, though it was all a bit too rich for his blood. “You don’t like it?”
“I prefer windows,” Castiel said. “I grew up in a room like this so I suppose I still consider them a novelty.”
When they wandered back into the kitchen, he commented on the fact that he’d never learned to cook because he wasn’t trusted around things like the stove or knives. While Gabriel cooked spaghetti, which was apparently a favorite of Castiel’s, the omega explained that they’d gotten into the habit of eating together because he’d hated having his meals alone when he was a kid.
None of it added up to a pretty picture. Dean catalogued everything – the vague side-stepping Balthazar’d done when Dean had made the comment about the cult combined with every tidbit of information Castiel had handed over like it was nothing. The conclusions he found himself jumping to made him sick.
It only got worse when they all finally sat down together to talk about what had happened earlier.
“We were out,” Gabriel said around a mouthful of noodles.
For a guy who could apparently out-cook Bobby Flay, he had really shitty table manners. Dean had to avoid looking at him just to get his food down. And, goddammit, it was all delicious.
“I was studying,” Castiel said. “And then I heard a noise downstairs and went to look. There were two of them, an alpha and a delta.”
“They were both fuckin’ huge, too,” Gabriel said.
Dean was pretty sure he’d seen all the entrances to the house and he didn’t remember there being a busted door or window in the place.
“How’d they get in?” he asked.
“We make sure to lock all the doors and keep the windows latched,” Balthazar said. “There was an . . . incident our first week here. We learned our lesson.”
“But it didn’t look like they had to break in,” Dean pointed out. “And how many average assholes do you know who can pick a lock?”
“Yes, well, that’s not the only strange thing about this situation,” Balthazar said. “They went after Castiel but he was able to hold them off until we got here.”
“And they didn’t put up much of a fight once they saw us,” Gabriel added.
Dean frowned. “How long did it take you to get back?”
“It was five minutes,” Castiel said. “Maybe ten. I went downstairs, saw two strangers in the living room, and tried to run. They grabbed me and roughed me up a little and then Gabriel and Balthazar came in and they ran off.”
Even three minutes would’ve been enough time for the average, hormone-pumped alpha to grab Cas and run. With an accomplice and being as large as the others were saying they were, there was no real reason they weren’t combing Jackson Springs right now looking for a missing omega. That they’d let themselves be run off by two deltas with no real authority even in their own home was even weirder.
“Not that I don’t love a good conspiracy,” Balthazar said, “but it could just have been the New Moon.”
Dean shook his head. True at this point in the cycle they were all going to be feeling decidedly human, but that wouldn’t stop an alpha who really wanted something from wolfing out, as Bobby would say. Maybe it would explain the delta being useless, but Cas probably could’ve handled him seven days out of ten leading up to the full moon.
“Nah, something still doesn’t feel right,” Dean said.
Gabriel hummed in agreement and swallowed down a huge bite of garlic bread.
“I’m with Winchester on this one,” he said. “Think about it. Even a pair of humans who wanted to kidnap someone, for rape or ransom or both, could’ve done a better job. Chloroform or a brick to the head. Anything. They’re inferior creatures, but they’re pretty damn resourceful.”
He had a point, one that made Dean’s stomach roil with a combination of anger and retroactive fear for Castiel.
“What do you think is going on?” Castiel asked.
No one had an answer for him but it didn’t matter since he was looking to Dean for one.
“No idea,” Dean said. “But it definitely ain’t good.”
Balthazar rolled his eyes. “Well, if you come up with any theories, feel free to share them with the class. In the meantime, we think you should stay with us for a few days. Loathe as both of us are to admit it, having an actual alpha around would be helpful.”
“And it would corroborate that bullshit story from earlier,” Gabriel added. “Just in case.”
They had a point, but Dean wasn’t convinced it was a good idea. There was no way Dad and Azazel wouldn’t get wind of what Dean and Cas had told that officer earlier about being involved. When they did, Dean was gonna be even further up shit creek than he already was.
On the other hand, there was something niggling at him about the day’s events, something that he needed to figure out. Until then, he’d feel better if he could be sure Castiel was safe.
There was nothing waiting for him at home, just more silence from Sammy.
“What do you think?” he finally asked Cas.
Castiel looked at him for a long moment and then nodded. “I think you should stay.”
“Okay,” Dean said, addressing the table without looking away from Cas, “I can do that.”
They set Dean up in the room across from Castiel’s, the space more lavishly furnished than any spare Dean had ever seen.
“It was Balthazar’s,” Castiel admitted.
“So where does he sleep now?” Dean asked.
Castiel stared, didn’t even bother to raise his eyebrows, and Dean suddenly understood.
Things were strangely comfortable between the four of them. They were all tense, trying to unravel the mystery of what had happened on Saturday, but they got along well enough. Dean didn’t think he’d ever come around to actually liking Balthazar, something about how possessive he could be of Castiel combined with his smarmy fucking face, but Gabriel was cool when he wasn’t being an asshole.
It was no surprise to anyone, though, that Dean got along with Castiel the best.
They spent most of Sunday together - Dean playing video games while Castiel did homework in the living room and offered increasingly distracting suggestions about how to kill a particularly nasty zombie.
“Don’t you have assignments due?” Castiel asked at one point.
Dean shrugged. “Probably, but I’ll have to go home to grab ‘em. I’ll just stop by tomorrow when nobody’ll be there.”
“I don’t mean to keep you from your family,” Castiel said.
Dean smiled carelessly at the other were and shrugged. “None of ‘em are really talking to me anyway. This is way better.”
And it was. The house, while sometimes quiet, was never completely silent. There was always someone around to talk to or the pleasant sounds of his hosts talking to each other; Gabriel and Balthazar were noisy and affectionate with each other in a way that should’ve been obnoxious and just made Dean think of Pack. It was a far cry from his tomb of a house, only ever really loud with Dad’s drunkenness or Sam’s absences.
As nice as it was, Dean still spent half the day preoccupied with what was missing. Not having Sam or Jo around, knowing Dad would disapprove, were difficult things to ignore. Dean did his damnedest, but that didn’t actually change anything.
On Monday, Dean had to time his morning carefully and he wasn’t proud to say he mostly did it by waking up early enough to stake out the situation back home from down the block.
Dad’s truck hadn’t been in the driveway when Dean had driven by so he knew it was all clear as soon as he saw Sarah’s compact car heading north down the main thoroughfare in their neighborhood with Sam in the passenger seat. No telling for how long, though, so Dean hustled home and didn’t linger over unnecessary items. He packed some clothes, the iPod Jo and Sam had browbeaten him into buying last year, his laptop, and his schoolbag.
He was in and out in under five minute but he hated every minute of it; sneaking around and avoiding his family might’ve been necessary but it felt wrong and he was in a shitty mood by the time he made it to campus.
The sight of Cas waiting for him on a bench across the street from his usual parking lot made him feel a little bit better. Dean really wasn’t in the mood to examine that.
“Is it cool for you to be hanging out by yourself?” Dean asked as he approached.
Cas looked up from whatever nerdy piece of non-fiction he’d been reading. “I’m not completely helpless,” he said with a frown.
Dean let his skepticism show on his face even though right now Cas was probably in pretty good shape. While the New Moon had left Dean feeling decidedly human, his senses dampened and most preternatural advantages dormant, it didn’t seem to have as strong a pull on the omega. The bruising over his eye, though still visible, was faint and fading fast. For any other werewolf at this point in the lunar cycle, they’d be stuck healing at a mere mortal’s pace for the better part of the week. Clearly that wasn’t the case with Cas.
If push came to shove, Dean didn’t doubt that Castiel would have a physical advantage over most weres right now. But he was still an omega which put him at the bottom of the social ladder and there was no getting around the biological need to fall in line. Dean worried and he hated that he worried, though probably not half as much as Castiel did judging by the other were’s expression.
“I’m not,” Castiel insisted.
“Okay, I believe you,” Dean lied.
Castiel stared at him, clearly disbelieving, but he didn’t argue. Instead he packed his things up, got to his feet, and started off in the direction of the north campus. Dean fell into step beside him, walking a little closer than was strictly necessary. Word needed to travel quickly if Dean wanted to make sure Cas was off-limits and while he wasn’t insensitive enough to think pinning the omega down and marking him up in public was a good idea, there needed to be some kind of demonstration.
This was easiest. They walked to their first classes together and Dean made sure to do his best impression of a dominant loom the whole time. Castiel kept glancing sideways at him, but if he was annoyed it didn’t show. If anything, he played along, sticking close to Dean’s side and letting him take the lead.
“This is pretty weird,” Dean muttered.
“I’ve gotten used to being walked to all of my classes,” Cas said.
Dean snorted and shook his head. “Not that. I’m just not used to being the dominant one.”
Cas looked at him, eyebrows pinched in confusion. “But you’re an alpha,” he said.
“Sure,” Dean said with a shrug. “An alpha in a family of alphas and one of them used to be the Alpha. Something had to give somewhere. I was the something.”
It wasn’t something he’d ever really admitted out loud and he wanted to take the words back as soon as they hit the air. But Castiel didn’t look at him in shock or disgust. He didn’t laugh or make the obvious jokes. He just nudged his shoulder against Dean’s in a gesture that felt so awkward it was obvious it didn’t come naturally.
“You’re very good at it,” Castiel said.
Dean fought the urge to duck his head at the casual praise and nudged Cas back instead.
By midday, Dean noticed a distinct change in the way the other werewolves responded to him. Most still avoided him, but there was grudging respect in their gazes when they looked at him instead of the haunted eyes of those who had been warned off. So the word was out, then. It’d get back to Dad and Azazel soon enough but Dean had a hard time caring if it meant Cas would be that much safer in the meantime.
When Cas reported back that he hadn’t had to fend off any assholes trying to stick a proverbial flag in him, Dean actually felt pretty damn accomplished.
“Stop looking so smug,” Castiel told him over thin, greasy slices of pizza during their lunch break.
Dean tried his hand at looking innocent instead. “What?”
Castiel sighed and looked down at his plate. “I really appreciate this but I don’t want you to think I’m . . . worthless or weak or cursed.”
There was something in the way Cas spoke, the words almost too steady, that made Dean think he’d heard them before. Maybe a lot. A knot of anger expanded to take up so much room in Dean’s stomach that he had to push his own food away.
“That’s not what I think,” Dean said. “Not even fucking close.”
“Why not?” Cas asked, half genuine-curiosity and half something more desperate than that.
And Dean couldn’t explain it. Everything in him balked at the idea that Cas was any of those things. They barely knew each other and while Dean had swooped in and gotten the other were out of a couple of scrapes so far, it wasn’t like any of it was Cas’ fault. He hadn’t chosen to be an omega and the type of werewolf he was didn’t give anyone else the right to be a dick about it.
Sure, Dean had something of a complex when it came to looking after others and he liked to save people. It was one of those quirks he had that Gordon and others like him would mention snidely in passing right before calling him an alpha bitch. This wasn’t that, though. This was . . . Dean didn’t even know. Something on a completely different level, one that he was scared to explore.
What he did know was that in no way did he want to help Cas and keep him close and protect him because he thought that the omega was weak. Dean kind of got the feeling that if he really got to know Castiel, he’d find out he was dealing with one of the strongest werewolves he’d ever known.
“Because I don’t believe any of that shit’s true and neither should you,” Dean finally said.
Cas blinked at him, eyes impossibly blue and fixed intensely on Dean’s own, and then he reached over and slid Dean’s pizza back in front of him.
“You’re very strange, Dean Winchester,” Castiel said.
“Look who’s talkin’,” Dean shot right back.
They didn’t see each other at the end of the day. Dean’s class got out later than Castiel’s so he got a ride back with Gabriel and Balthazar. It was kind of weird how much Dean missed having him around after hanging out with him for one day. Then again, so much of this situation was weird that Dean was having a hard time giving a shit anymore.
He might’ve been the only one, though, given the way Jo intercepted him on his way to the Impala.
“So you’re dating the omega, now?” she demanded in greeting.
Dean rolled his eyes. “Why, is that what everyone’s saying this week?”
She glared at him. “Don’t give me that. Sam says Azazel’s gonna be pissed. He told me what your dad said. Are you trying to get yourself exiled?”
That stopped Dean in his tracks. “He can’t do it, Jo,” he said, fighting to keep his voice from climbing to a yell. “When is everyone else gonna remember that Azazel’s just some jackass who showed up in the right place at the right time and he has no power here?”
Jo looked away and didn’t answer. That was fine. Not many people were willing to speak out against Azazel which was half of the reason they were in this position in the first place – their Pack scattered across Jackson Springs, all of them disconnected, some of the best of them dead.
Dean knew his dad was equally at fault and some days the anger he felt about it all was almost too much to contain. But he did it anyway because he was a loyal son and because everyone had turned their backs on him and his family as soon as it was convenient. Maybe John Winchester had deserved it, but Sammy’d just been a kid and Dean had never done anything wrong.
So fuck Jo and Ellen and Uncle Bobby and all of them. And fuck Azazel most of all.
“And tell Sam if he has something to say, he can come tell me or keep his damn mouth shut,” Dean added.
He turned on his heel and stomped off, half expecting Jo to follow and only a little disappointed that she didn’t.
Castiel was an enigma. Dean hadn’t expected anything less, but he was still amused by it. The guy talked like he’d been raised in Amish country, understood absolutely none of Dean’s pop culture references, and read a book a day.
Compared to him, Gabriel and Balthazar were open books.
For instance, Gabriel was pretty straightforward when it came to what made him happy: food, sex, and comfort. It was why basically every plush surface in the house, right down to the seat covers on the breakfast nook bench, was a delight to recline on. He cooked all of their meals not because he’d drawn the short straw, but because he loved it and had a ridiculous talent. He also had a porno collection that was like dying and waking up in Casa Erotica heaven.
Balthazar wasn’t entirely dissimilar. Comfort and sex seemed to be things that put a smile on his face along with ridiculous extravagance. He got all of his money from dealing contraband, apparently, which Dean did not need to know. There was a guy named Crowley who lived in Denver that Balthazar was always on the phone with and nobody seemed to see anything wrong with it.
Considering Gabriel’s complete lack of morals and Castiel’s lack of a frame of reference, that made more sense than Dean was okay with.
Dean still didn’t know much about any of them other than what he’d managed to cobble together. Gabriel and Balthazar were true Epsilon wolves, having abandoned their Pack in favor of coming to Jackson Springs with Castiel. Dean knew how tough that could be since his dad had been one for over a decade, now. They seemed perfectly happy with it, though, which made him wonder what their Pack situation had looked like before now.
Other than that, their knowledge of each other was strictly superficial. Dean was at a disadvantage because Gabriel and Balthazar had been snooping for a while and knew a basic history of the Jackson Springs Pack and the Winchester family in particular. But Dean wasn’t comfortable opening up to them so he let them believe what they wanted and shared things that didn’t matter much in the long run, like his love of pie, Tarantino flicks, and violent video games. The feeling seemed to be mutual.
Dean was perfectly fine keeping his relationship with Gabriel and Balthazar casual, but he wanted to know everything about Cas. It wasn’t even an alpha-omega thing. It was almost a . . . friend thing. And that was rare enough to give Dean plenty of pause.
Castiel seemed just as curious about him but didn’t have any of the hang-ups Dean did about being open about it.
“Why haven’t you graduated yet?” he asked on Monday night.
“Kind of a long story,” Dean said.
Castiel pointedly closed his textbook and if the widening of his eyes was purposeful, it was a pretty nice touch.
Dean snorted but he was past due for a break and this was as good an excuse as any.
“I didn’t even want to do the college thing,” Dean said. “I’m not really into sitting in cramped classrooms all day learning shit that doesn’t seem relevant. But Sam needed a good example, you know? There was a college fund my parents had set up, I applied for student aid, and it all worked out. I hated it. Still do, actually.”
“But you didn’t drop out,” Castiel said.
Dean shrugged and fiddled with the pencil in his hands. “Almost did. Things got pretty bad Sam’s senior year, he fell in with a nasty crowd, all but ran away to join the fuckin’ circus . . . it was a lot to deal with and a good excuse to stop trying. But then Sammy came around and there I was, failed one semester and dropped out of the other, and I knew I couldn’t quit. Not after fighting so hard not to let him do the same thing.”
Castiel hummed quietly to acknowledge he was listening, but he didn’t say anything or start looking at Dean with pity in his eyes. That was good. Better than Dean might’ve expected.
“What about you?” he asked.
Castiel pinned his stare to the cover of his book, hiding his eyes the way he always did when Dean asked about his past.
“I was homeschooled,” he said, halting a little over the last word. “It took me a while to get away and after I did, school wasn’t a priority. But Gabriel wanted to go back and he thought I’d enjoy it so we came here.”
He didn’t elaborate and Dean bit back the urge to ask how, exactly, they’d ended up here. Or why Cas talked about leaving home like he’d made an escape instead of simply moving out. Or how they could afford to live on their own as a trio of epsilon wolves, cast out and unclaimed.
Cas had to be able to sense the unasked questions and tension settled on his shoulders and tightened his body until Dean thought it wouldn’t take much work with a chisel to crack him right down the middle. Not that Dean would’ve asked anyway, but he bit his tongue and went back to his work just so he could sense Castiel relax on the other side of the room.
The next day they started exchanging text messages back and forth. Castiel’s were predictably formal and so grammatically perfect that Dean put in the extra effort required to spell out whole words and use appropriate punctuation.
They didn’t even have anything interesting to say to each other, just silly anecdotes or random observations of things like aggressive squirrels (Dean) or confusing pop culture references (Cas). Between that and the fact that they still managed to walk to most of their classes together, it felt like they spent the entire day together. It wasn’t a surprise, then, when Cas decided to make the trek to the gas station on Wednesday night just to keep Dean company. It was the most Dean had voluntarily been around anyone who wasn’t family, or close enough to it to count, in years.
All of this and Dean didn’t feel the usual urge to run screaming from anything that looked remotely like serious commitment. It helped that they weren’t actually dating or mated or anything like that, but there was a part of Dean that wondered what it would be like if they were. Castiel wasn’t ready to make that kind of leap – Dean didn’t need all the facts to know that – and, honestly, Dean was worried that his interest was purely instinctive but that didn’t keep him from thinking about it.
“I am a horrible person,” Dean mused out loud on Thursday morning.
“If you’re talking about the fact that you want to have loud, athletic, kinky sex with my little brother then yes, yes you are,” Gabriel said.
“Oh, are we allowed to mention Dean’s crush, now?” Balthazar asked.
If Castiel hadn’t been busy in the shower, Dean would’ve expected to turn around and see him standing in the doorway, listening to every word. As it was, the omega’s senses were already more heightened than anyone else’s – one of the perks of being an omega – and there was still a chance he could hear this conversation.
“I was thinking more about the fact that I’m finishing the paper due in my first class as we speak,” he said without looking away from his laptop.
“You really weren’t,” Gabriel said. “You get this look when you’re imagining Cassy naked. It’s adorable.”
“It actually looks like you’re constipated,” Balthazar said. “But whatever.”
Dean flipped them both off and tried to focus on the task at hand. Yes, thoughts of Cas had distracted him for a few seconds there but he wasn’t about to admit that to anyone.
“What’s up with the brother thing, anyway?” Dean asked. “Are you even actually related?”
Silence answered him and looked up to see Gabriel frowning down at the omelet he was in the process of making.
“Uh . . . forget I said anything?”
Gabriel shook his head and used a spatula to ease the omelet from the skillet.
“I met him for the first time about six months ago,” he said. “I didn’t even know I had a brother.”
Balthazar gets up from his seat and walks over to Gabriel, lending him strength through proximity. Dean glanced down at his computer screen, uncomfortable with the display even though he’d seen them do way more intimate and embarrassing things over the last few days.
“I think we’re both still getting used to the idea,” Gabriel added.
Dean nodded and expected that would be the last of it, especially when Gabriel sent Balthazar back to his seat with a plate of food and started making two more omelets. Usually Gabriel didn’t like talking and cooking at the same time. He said it interrupted his zen. But he surprised Dean by speaking up a few moments later.
“What about you? What’s with your family?”
That startled a laugh out of Dean, the sound of it sharp and unamused. “Man, how long do you have?”
“That bad, huh?” Gabriel said.
Dean shrugged. “It’s fucked up. Whose family isn’t?”
Gordon was a bigger dick than usual at work that night and Dean’s classes earlier had been impossible to concentrate on. By the time he got home he felt frazzled and the kind of punchy that he usually worked through by finding someone willing to fuck until neither of them could see straight.
He realized when he got parked and smelled something familiar and comforting on the air that his own preternatural senses were starting to kick in which explained a lot of the restlessness. Just yesterday he wouldn’t have been able to recognize Sammy’s scent from the sidewalk, the traces of it faint but welcome.
His kid brother was on the couch next to Gabriel, an apparently reluctant participant in a Mario Kart marathon.
“Long time no see, Sammy,” Dean said in greeting.
Sam whipped his head around and his car, Yoshi by the looks of it, went careening off the edges of the track and into a watery abyss. Apparently his little brother’s senses were still somewhere in the New Moon’s dead zone.
“Hey, Dean,” he said, making a surprisingly quick recovery.
Balthazar paused the game and set his controller aside.
“So, I think I’m just going to go fuck Gabriel through the mattress while you two talk. We’ll keep it down if you do.”
He grabbed Gabriel by the wrist and tugged him up.
“Is Cas upstairs?” Dean asked.
“We read him a bedtime story and everything,” Balthazar answered.
Dean rolled his eyes and turned back to Sam, bursting into laughter at the offended look on his brother’s face.
“You want something to drink, Samantha?” Dean asked, making his way to the kitchen.
“Shut up,” Sam muttered behind him.
He flipped on a light and went to the fridge, rummaging around for something to make for dinner and grabbing a bottle of beer along the way. Sam stayed silent the whole time, watching while Dean piled some leftover fried chicken and mashed potatoes onto a plate and put it into the microwave.
“You hungry?” he asked.
Sam shook his head. When he still didn’t say anything, Dean sighed and pulled out a chair.
“Okay, what’s up?” he asked, straddling it and resting his arms over the back.
“I’m sorry, Dean,” Sam blurted out.
Of course his little brother would come all the way over here and act all awkward and nervous just so he could apologize. It was exactly the sort of touchy-feely thing Dean secretly loved about him.
“Yeah, well. You aren’t the only one who should be saying that,” Dean told him.
Sam nodded and looked down at the table. There was more and Dean waited, listening to the hum of the microwave behind them and thanking whoever’d built this house for thick walls. This much silence would’ve been way worse if he’d been able to hear whatever it was Gabriel and Balthazar were getting up to on the other side of the house.
“Dad’s gonna kill you,” Sam finally said. “And it’s my fault. I mean, I told you that you shouldn’t listen to him and now he’s madder than I’ve ever seen him.”
Dean swallowed hard. If Sam was this worried then it had to be bad, but he wasn’t gonna let on that the news bothered him. It was his job to reassure Sam, after all. Always had been, always would be.
“It’ll be fine,” Dean said. “Besides, you were right. Don’t let it go to your head or anything but you were.”
That earned him a small smile.
“Some people are talking,” Sam said. “They think you’re trying to make your own Pack.”
Dean snorted. “Oh, yeah. A five-year college student, two oversexed deltas, and an omega who may or may not have been raised by pod people. That’s real Pack material right there.”
“You’d have me, too,” Sam said softly, still staring down at his hands. “And Jo. Maybe Sarah and Jess, too.”
“You guys getting that serious?” Dean asked, latching onto anything that would allow him to change the subject.
Sam’s cheeks suffused with color and he ducked his head, making a valiant attempt to hide behind his hair.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s complicated and weird.”
“Yeah, well, you would get two superhot delta chicks to fall for you,” Dean said.
“And each other,” Sam added.
Dean raised his eyebrows and whistled long and low. “That’s my boy.”
Sam rolled his eyes and kicked at his chair. “I’m serious, Dean. If you were branching out or, I dunno. Trying to fix our Pack? I’d go with you.”
“That’d make you a Beta,” Dean pointed out.
Sam shrugged. “Never really wanted to be an Alpha anyway.”
What Sam was implying was terrifying. When he was a kid, Dean had assumed he’d take over the Pack someday. His dad was Alpha and he had two sons who could fulfill that role. Sam had still been a baby when Dean had been the assumed heir and eventually everyone, Dean included, went on to assume that if either Winchester son ended up with a Pack of his own, it’d be Sam.
Dean wasn’t cut out for being a leader. Sam was smart and wise, open-minded, kind-hearted, and pragmatic. He’d do whatever needed to be done to keep his Pack safe, he’d make his members feel welcomed and loved . . . he’d be the best damn Pack leader anyone’d ever seen. Dean was gruff and anti-social by werewolf standards. He was plenty street smart but that would make him a great Beta to Sam someday and he’d been planning for that since he’d made the decision to step back and assume a subordinate alpha position in the home.
He didn’t want to lead and that was part of the reason he’d been so willing to be his dad’s alpha bitch. Sam had to know that. Dean had never made a point of hiding it.
“You know Alphas have to shed blood before they can lead a Pack,” Dean said. “I’d have to fight Dad.”
“Yeah, I know,” Sam said.
“And what about all that stuff about hating Pack politics and wanting to move out to California to be a free lovin’ hippy?”
Sam sighed and nodded over Dean’s shoulder at the microwave. “Food’s done,” he said, seconds before it started beeping.
If that was where Sam drew the line in the conversation that was fine by Dean. He didn’t want to talk anymore about it, either. So he grabbed his plate and another beer for Sam, sat down at the table, and asked all about Sarah and Jessica and just what their intentions were.
Dean didn’t want to risk driving Sam home so he set him up on the couch and wandered upstairs to get ready for bed. The edginess that accompanied the approach of the full moon still prickled just under his skin, though, and the second he hit the top of the stairs he was assailed by a scent that kicked it back up into high gear. It was a combination of the musk of aging books with soft, yellowed pages, the clean, heavy spice that came before a thunderstorm and something clean and heady and indefinable.
The smell had been fainter downstairs, muddied by sweet traces that had to be Gabriel’s, a more aromatic musk that had to be Balthazar’s, and the familiar mown-lawn-and-warm-vanilla that was all Sam. Up here, Castiel’s scent was irresistible and shoved at Dean until he was hovering awkwardly in front of Castiel’s door, unsure if he should knock or just lock himself in his own room.
Castiel made the decision for him, swinging the door open and staring at him with parted lips and wide eyes.
“Hey,” Dean said, voice quiet.
“Would you like to come in?” Castiel asked.
Dean nodded and stepped past Cas when the other were held the door open for him. The scent Dean had found nearly overpowering outside was intoxicating in here; he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply without meaning to and felt himself flush when he realized what he was doing. It was dark in the room but if Dean could see everything relatively clearly then there was no way Cas missed the blush; he was nice enough not to mention it, though.
“Is your brother all right?” Castiel asked.
“Yeah, he’s fine,” Dean said.
“Good,” Castiel said, and it sounded like he actually meant it.
An awkward silence fell over the room while Castiel took a seat on his bed, the comforter and sheets mussed in a way that was seriously distracting. Dean hovered near the door and grappled with the realization that this was the first time in his entire life that he’d ever felt this off-center and nervous in someone else’s bedroom.
“You can sit here,” Castiel eventually said, patting the bed next to him.
That was not the best idea but that didn’t stop Dean from accepting the offer, leaving a few inches of space between himself and Castiel when he perched on the edge of the bed. Castiel’s scent was about ten times more delicious wafting warm and fresh off of his skin and Dean fought the urge to lean into him and bury his nose in the crook of the other were’s neck.
“Sammy says people think I’m trying to build a Pack with you,” Dean said after another lengthy but slightly more comfortable silence.
“Can you even do that?” Castiel asked.
Dean shrugged and leaned back on his hands, gaze on the blank expanse of the ceiling.
“No idea. I’ve never heard of it being done before. Packs just . . . are. They almost always have been, going way back.”
Castiel made a small sound of agreement, vague enough that Dean remembered he might not know that to be fact the same way other werewolves did.
“What’s it like?” Castiel asked. “Having a Pack?”
He sounded so wistful and genuinely curious that it made Dean’s heart lurch in his chest.
“It’s . . . family,” Dean answered. “There are always people around, you’re never really alone. And everyone cares for each other. If something happens, anything, the rest of the Pack’s there to support you. They’ll take care of you if they need to. You grow up with your parents and aunts and uncles. You’re raised with their kids.”
Castiel shifted closer and stopped just shy of pressing his shoulder to Dean’s.
“That sounds nice,” he said, even though Dean’s description had been inadequate at best.
“It was,” Dean said.
“What happened to yours?”
It was all common knowledge to the local werewolves and Dean hadn’t ever had to talk about it with anyone. Well, that wasn’t true. Sammy’d been young so he’d always had questions that Dean hadn’t been as patient about answering as he should’ve been. For a few years he’d had to explain it all over and over again, hoping that would be the time his little brother finally understood.
Eventually Sammy did and Dean didn’t know if that was actually any better.
“Mom didn’t want to be Dad’s mate anymore,” Dean said, the same story he’d told Sam slipping out like he’d been waiting all these years to share it one more time. “I was still pretty young. She made breakfast for me and Sammy one morning, told us she would always love us but she couldn’t stay, and then she was gone.”
“But people get divorced all the time,” Castiel pointed out.
Dean shrugged. “Sure, but not our kind. They were both alphas, they claimed each other as mates, and when my dad won his fight to become Pack leader they were in charge of every werewolf in Jackson Springs. Maybe if they’d been deltas it would’ve been okay, I dunno.”
“Oh,” Castiel said.
“Yeah.” Dean swallowed and then continued. “My dad . . . he sorta lost it for a while there. Stopped looking after the Pack. Barely paid attention to me and Sammy. Things got really bad. A lone wolf wandered onto our territory and some of the others took him on alone, no guidance or anything. Not all of ‘em made it back. People lost a lot of faith in their Alpha. He couldn’t keep his mate, couldn’t look after his Pack . . . they were angry at him. I can’t even blame them for it.”
As pissed off as Dean got about it, as much as he wished they’d tried harder or done more, he understood. He hated himself for it, but his loyalty as a son couldn’t be completely blind. It never had been and maybe Dad had picked up on it. Maybe that was why their relationship was so fucked.
“Anyway,” Dean said, trying to wrap the story up before he could get all emotional over it, “Azazel stepped in. A bunch of Pack members backed him up, started treating him like the leader, and now he thinks he’s an Alpha. But as long as Dad’s alive, he can never be what everyone tries to tell him he is.”
It was a small vindication but Dean would take it.
Castiel was silent next to him and Dean looked over, worried that he’d somehow offended the other were or bored him to death or something. Instead, Castiel was staring at him with those stupid, intense eyes shining with too much empathy for Dean to stand, even in the dark.
One of them was bound to say something cheesy and ridiculous any second, so Dean pre-empted it by nudging Castiel’s shoulder.
“Lie down,” he said.
Castiel’s expression tightened up in confusion and he asked, “Why?”
Dean rolled his eyes and said, “I’m not gonna bite.”
For a few seconds neither of them moved, Castiel clearly remaining skeptical. And then, like he’d decided Dean could be trusted, Castiel eased back onto the bed. He was stiff as a freakin’ board, arms at his sides and legs straightened out with his toes practically pointed. A wave of fondness urged a smile to Dean’s face and he laid down next to Cas before he could talk himself out of it.
“You need to relax,” he said, reaching for the blankets and getting them both covered.
“What are we doing?” Castiel asked.
His voice had a hushed quality that Dean mimicked when he answered.
“If anyone else ever says this to you, you start punching them and you don’t stop,” Dean warned, “but it’s kind of a Pack thing and I figure you’ve never gotten to experience anything like that, right?”
Dean took in a deep breath and then inched forward, sliding his hands carefully over Castiel’s rigid body until the other were relaxed and let himself be manhandled onto his side. He was still tense when Dean spooned up behind him, but he held Dean’s hands in place where they rested against his belly and let out the tiniest sigh of something like relief.
“Me, Sammy, and Jo used to do this when we were cubs,” Dean said, breath stirring the soft hair that framed the shell of Cas’ ear. “I think Mom used to do it with me and Sammy, too. I don’t do it much these days.”
He told the girls he slept with that it was because he’d outgrown it, but a wolf never outgrew the need for closeness, comfort, and affection. Dean just hadn’t been interested in sharing this kind of intimacy with anyone outside of his Pack. Hell, he couldn’t remember ever being all that okay with doing it unless a person was family or as close to blood as they could get.
It felt right, holding Cas close and breathing in the smell of him until Dean felt like it was a part of himself. He nuzzled the line of Castiel’s throat, pressed his cheek to the skin there in the hopes that he might leave something of his own behind.
“Hey, Cas?” he asked.
He felt drowsy and a little drugged from their proximity. That was the only excuse he really had for speaking.
“The way you grew up . . . it was really bad, right?”
He felt it when Castiel sucked in a sharp breath.
“Did they hurt you?”
A pause and then, “Sometimes.”
Dean tightened his grip on Cas and tried not to think about it or focus on how much he wanted to find whoever’d treated Castiel like that and rip them all apart. He had to be able to sense Dean’s response, but instead of getting scared or asking if he was all right, Cas just threaded his fingers through Dean’s and held on.
“I’ll tell you about it,” he promised. “Not tonight, but someday.”
“Okay,” Dean said.
Dean gave Castiel’s hands a squeeze and got one in return. He wondered as he started to drift off if they both fell asleep smiling or if it was only him.
Dean woke up hard from pleasant dreams he couldn’t remember. Ordinarily that was just to be expected after sharing a bed with someone who smelled as amazing as Cas did, but Dean thought that in this case it was seriously inappropriate. He didn’t know how far Cas’ naiveté extended – though he had to have at least a basic grasp of biology – but this was still bound to be awkward, especially since Dean’s hips were snugged up against his ass like he belonged there.
Easing out of a bed with someone still in it was a trick Dean had picked up years ago, but he wasn’t used to how much he wanted to stay. Reluctance to leave kept Dean pinned to the spot, arms still tight around Castiel’s body. Eventually he managed to talk himself into moving and started to ease both his hips and his arms from their current position.
Cas made a small, almost whiny sound and reached behind himself to grab at Dean’s hip with one hand and try to pull him back in. Dean froze which earned him another of those noises, but then Cas slid backward into Dean’s space. If he’d somehow missed Dean’s hard-on before, there was no way he’d missed it this time and that was probably why he sucked in a tight breath and went completely still.
“Sorry,” Dean murmured, “but it’s the morning and you smell really good and I should probably go take care of this.”
He made to move again and this time Castiel rolled over and hooked an arm around Dean’s back to keep him in place.
“I don’t mind,” he said, finding Dean’s gaze and holding it.
Cas in the mornings was always rumpled and soft and slow to wake. Dean had found it adorable the couple of times he’d stumbled across Cas like that in the hall or the kitchen, but up close it was damn near irresistible. His eyes were too sleepy to be intense, his hair even more soft-looking and messy than usual. Dean wanted to roll him onto his back and slot the two of them together just so he could watch those eyes go from sleep-dazed to bright and passion-heavy.
The arousal he’d felt waking up was natural and relatively benign but Dean felt it spike, could smell it on the air and knew that Cas could, too.
“You should probably mind,” Dean said.
“Why?” Cas asked, tilting his head as much as the pillow would allow. “I trust you.”
The words were spoken simply and without any kind of hesitation or shyness. It was like Cas didn’t know that you couldn’t just say things like that, not when they seemed to mean so much. The fight-or-flight response Dean had been waiting for finally kicked in, ratcheting up his heartbeat and making his palms sweat. This moment, Cas’ quiet declaration, was enough to remind Dean that he really wasn’t cut out for long-term relationships and actual commitments.
But instead of making his excuses, Dean stayed right where he was and didn’t even flinch when Castiel leaned in. The tip of his nose was warm against the skin of Dean’s neck. Just that small graze sparked a sensation that zapped its way down Dean’s spine and made his breath quicken for a reason other than discomfort, fear, and his own emotional immaturity.
Castiel followed the line of Dean’s throat right to the crook where neck met shoulder. The sound of Castiel’s inhale, slow and deep like he was savoring Dean’s smell, made Dean harden even more. Cas had to feel it, belly pressed to Dean’s erection like it was, but he didn’t move away.
“You smell good, too,” Cas said. “Like apples and pine.”
Dean laughed in spite of himself, the sound soft and fond in the stillness of the room.
“Sounds like a weird combination when you put it like that,” he said.
“It’s lovely,” Castiel said.
For some reason, that made Dean want to blush. He was familiar with his own scent, of course, but no one had ever commented on it. A were’s smell was personal, an intimate thing that they couldn’t help but share but that was a bit taboo to just bring up. Some of the deltas Dean had slept with weren’t shy about telling him he smelled good, but that was the extent of the compliment. It never made him feel warmed from the inside out like this. It had certainly never made him want to leave that scent all over another body so that were could carry it around with him all day and everyone else would know just who he belonged to.
“Cas,” Dean said.
His voice sounded low and suggestive even to his own ears and he’d meant to say something, really, but the rest of it got lost somewhere between one breath and the next.
“I like it when you call me that,” Castiel said.
“Fuck’s sake,/i> Cas,” Dean groaned, giving in to the temptation to roll his hips forward.
Cas was hard, now, too, the length of his cock hot against Dean’s thigh. It would be so easy to take this where Dean wanted it to go, where his inner wolf was howling for it to go. There was no way Cas didn’t want it, too, and Dean would make it so goddamn good for him he’d never even look at another human or lycan again.
The words were muffled by Dean’s throat but he caught the way Cas cut himself off like he had no idea what he was asking. And he didn’t. And Dean didn’t know what he was offering, here, either. He knew that an alpha and omega responded to each other on a level that went beyond simple human attraction and what if that was all this was? Dean had been with a few guys before, didn’t have a problem with it, but this felt different. And Cas . . . Cas probably hadn’t ever been with anyone, let alone an alpha who could make him do anything whether he wanted it or not.
The lines felt too blurry and Dean wanted this too much.
“I can’t, Cas,” Dean said.
Castiel finally pulled away from Dean’s neck and stared at him, all blown pupils and flushed skin.
“Why?” Cas asked.
Dean shook his head. “Just trust me, okay?”
“Of course,” Cas answered, and there was that uncomfortable sense of being in way over his head.
This time Dean allowed that fight-or-flight instinct to get him out of the bed, but he wanted nothing more than to crawl right back in. The air outside of their little nest was chilly, the wooden floorboards cold beneath Dean’s feet. The change of temperature shocked some sense into him, but walking away from Cas who was all loose-limbed and wide-eyed in the tangle of blankets still took every bit of willpower Dean had.
He closed the door behind himself and had to lean against it just to get his bearings.
“Fuck,” he muttered, running a hand through his hair.
No amount of ice-cold water in the shower was going to help this situation, but Dean was gonna give it a shot, anyway.
Balthazar had already gone to his early class so it was just Gabriel in the kitchen with Sam when Dean wandered in. From the looks of it, Gabriel was explaining the fine art of pancake making while Sam sat on the counter and watched, rapt.
“Don’t you get enough of school Monday through Thursday?” Dean asked.
“His mind is a sponge, Dean,” Gabriel said. “If he isn’t learning, it’ll shrivel up and die.”
Dean rolled his eyes but Sam shot him a superior look, all see, he gets it and Dean had really fucking missed his little brother.
“I have class at one,” Dean said. “If you don’t think Dad’ll be home I can drop you before. Or I guess your girlfriends can come pick you up.”
Sam sighed. “They aren’t my girlfriends,” he said.
“Right,” Dean said.
Sam narrowed his eyes, waiting for Dean to say something else, but he didn’t. He could already see where that was heading and it wasn’t as rare or taboo as Sam’s more human-like sensibilities probably thought. Plenty of weres were mated to more than one other wolf. Some relationships were a little sketchy and cult-like, sure, like the Pack Azazel had been born into in Indiana. But Sam wasn’t collecting brides or anything and from what he’d said, Sarah and Jess were just as into each other as they were into him and he was twitterpated over the both of them.
In a few more years they’d probably be living together, Running together, and Dean would be the busiest uncle in Jackson Springs. He was actually kinda looking forward to it.
“I want to hear about this,” Gabriel said over his shoulder. “No keeping secrets. We’re all family, now.”
“Oh, here we go,” Dean muttered.
“What?” Gabriel asked. “If you’re trying to deny that you spent the night with Cassy, I can smell him all over you so don’t bother.”
“We just slept,” Dean said. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
Gabriel made a small tutting noise. “Everything to do with Castiel’s my business, Dean-o. You break his heart, I break your face, et cetera, et cetera.”
Sam snorted and hid a grin behind his freakishly large hand. Dean slapped at his knee as he walked past and straight for the fridge.
“Hey! Defend my honor or something.”
“I’m sure you were perfectly honorable,” Sam said, but the laugh in his voice ruined it.
Dean opened his mouth, ready to defend himself and also make fun of Sam’s apparent man-crush on Gabriel, but there was a loud knock on the door before he could say anything. All three of them looked at each other and then Gabriel and Sam lifted their fingers to their noses.
“You’re both children,” Dean said, pointing at each of them.
They grinned at him and Gabriel made a shoo-ing motion just as the knocking picked up again. Dean sighed and grumbled his way to the front door. He swung it open, ready to give the impatient bastard on the other side a verbal smackdown, but said impatient bastard was Uncle Bobby. Seeing him here was already bad enough – there was no reason for him to have tracked Dean or Sam all the way here so something had to be wrong – but he was pale and looked horrible, expression drawn and trucker cap askew.
Dean’s stomach gave a painful twist.
“What’s wrong?” Dean asked.
“Your dad. There was an accident. You need to come with me right now.”
Dean nodded, his whole body going numb.
“It ain’t good,” Bobby interrupted.
It felt like the world had tilted out from underneath him and Dean wanted to reach out and grab hold of something just to keep himself upright. His immediate thought was that there were only two people who could do that for him in that moment and he was stupidly, wildly glad that they were both within shouting distance.
“I’ll get Sammy,” Dean said.
There was a ringing in his ears as he ran into the house to grab his brother and he must’ve looked as awful as he felt because both Sam and Gabriel only had to take one look at him before the smiles dropped right off their faces.
“We gotta go,” Dean said. “Something happened to Dad.”
“Is he okay?” Sam asked.
Emotion bled into the question but he looked calm, like he was keeping it together either for appearances’ sake or to help Dean. Knowing his kid brother, it was the latter.
“I don’t know,” Dean said. “Uncle Bobby said it’s pretty bad. But it’s Dad, right? He’ll be okay. He’s always okay.”
Sam jerked his head up and down in a nod and Dean looked over at Gabriel. There was an expression on the delta’s face that looked almost out of place – not quite pity, but sympathetic nonetheless.
“Let us know if we can do anything to help,” Gabriel said. “I’ll tell Castiel what happened.”
Dean nodded, grateful and unable, or maybe just unwilling, to express how much. It was a little thing, maybe, but it meant a lot. Sam and Dean made their way out of the house after that, quick and quiet and tense. Bobby was waiting in his jeep, eyes fixed on the road ahead like he was somewhere else entirely. They climbed in the back and Sam grabbed Dean’s hand without comment.
They held onto each other the entire drive through town.
Dad wasn’t in the hospital. Uncle Bobby took them up to Missouri Moseley’s. She was one of the Pack elders and a healer, the best east or west of the Rocky Mountains. Werewolves’ bodies were different from human ones. The closer they got to a full moon, the more rapidly they healed. They could withstand more trauma than humans could, couldn’t get drunk as easily, had to eat way more. Human doctors were only just starting to understand how it all worked so weres like Missouri were the ones who usually stepped in and took care of their kind.
Her house was further up Temple Peak than Andy’s, a huge building with a well-manicured lawn and a large porch that Dean remembered playing on when he was a kid. They’d had most of their den gatherings here back then. Sometimes those Pack members who still wanted to Run together would gather here on the full moon. This place was familiar but Dean took no comfort in that as he and Sam made their way inside.
Dean smelled the blood the second they walked in. He did his best not to gag on the stench, but Sammy choked a little next to him. Uncle Bobby gave them both a sympathetic look and then led the way to the back of the house which Missouri’d converted to a small clinic.
There was a door standing slightly ajar at the end of the hall and the closer they got, the heavier Dean’s legs felt until he just wanted to collapse where he was and pretend none of this was happening. But he couldn’t. He had to see his dad and he had to be strong for Sammy. So he straightened his spine and walked the rest of the way with his head high and his heart in his throat.
The room itself was thick with the smell of blood and anti-septic. It was clean, all white and chrome, almost like a real doctor’s office. There was even a bed up against the far wall. Missouri was bent over the head of it, obscuring the top half of their dad’s body. All they could see were his legs, jeans cut off above the knee so that they could see where one was a livid, dark purple from thigh to ankle and the other was a bloody mess except for the sharp, length of bone that had broken through the skin.
“Dad?” Dean said, hating how weak his voice sounding.
Missouri didn’t startle so she must’ve heard them coming somehow. She definitely couldn’t have smelled them, not through this.
“You boys want to come talk to him?” she asked without turning.
Sam walked forward, his whole body trembling like leaves in a hurricane, but Dean couldn’t get himself to move.
“What happened?” he asked.
Missouri finally straightened and turned, letting Sam take her spot next to the bed.
“Car accident,” she said.
“Bobby told me,” Dean said. “I mean . . . what’s wrong with him? Does he need a hospital? Can we call someone? What-”
“When injuries are this bad there’s nothing I can do,” Missouri said.
“But he can heal himself, right?” Sam asked over his shoulder.
Missouri looked at him and then at Dean and he saw the answer in her sad gaze.
“He’s trying, honey, but the full moon’s still a week away and he’s not as young as he used to be. The strain’s hurting him, not helping.”
Sam made a small sound of distress, one that reminded Dean of when Mom had left and he’d been the one who’d had to explain to his little brother what it meant. He was dimly aware of the fact that his world was falling apart around him but he couldn’t dredge up the urgency that should’ve come with that knowledge. Everything was fuzzy around the edges, dull and gray, and he felt like he was wading through mud and listening to everyone speak through water.
“How long?” Dean asked.
“A few hours, maybe,” Missouri said.
And then she stepped close and rested her hands on Dean’s shoulders. He stared past her at Sam’s bent head and his dad’s bruised and broken legs.
“I’m so sorry, baby,” she told him.
Dean nodded but couldn’t bring himself to reply. She sighed and said something about stepping just outside if they needed her. Dean didn’t pay much attention, just walked over until he was next to Sam and staring down at his dad.
The injuries to his torso were so much worse than his legs. Missouri had dressed the wounds, wrapping thick bandages around his midsection and chest, but they were bright red and the stain kept growing the longer Dean stared at it. One half of Dad’s face was swollen almost beyond recognition, the other lined with cuts and scrapes. Sam choked out something that registered as a sob and Dean reached out without even thinking about it, pulling his brother against his chest and holding on tight.
Sam was taller than Dean, had been for almost two years now, but he folded down like he was still a five-year-old kid and held on like Dean was the only thing keeping him alive. He was a quiet crier and always had been, but Dean could feel tears soaking the neck of his t-shirt. It was good for Sam to cry right now but Dean didn’t have that luxury.
They held each other for an unknowable amount of time, no clocks around to stare at and Missouri doing little more than poking her head in every few minutes to make sure they were all okay.
It felt like hours, a whole fucking lifetime worth of them, had passed when Dad stirred with a groan. Dean and Sam sprang apart and leaned over the bed.
“Dad?” Sam said.
There was another groan and then Dad answered, “Sammy?”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “Yeah, it’s me. Dean, too.”
Dad coughed, the sound wet and terrifying, and blinked his eyes open. They were cloudy and barely present, one of them swollen nearly shut, but he managed to focus on Sam and Dean and offer them a weak smile.
“Hey, boys,” he said.
“Hey,” Dean answered.
Sam was crying again but he smiled back, small and trembling. Dad reached up with his good arm and patted Sam on the cheek.
“None of that,” he said. “You knew this would happen someday.”
“Not now,” Sam said.
“It’s okay, Sammy,” he said.
Sam shook his head but he couldn’t answer, just looked away at the wall and let the tears stream down his face. Dean couldn’t even swallow around the lump in his throat and when he felt Dad’s hand on his cheek, calloused fingers gentle and reassuring, his whole body tightened with the effort it took to keep from sobbing.
“I’m sorry,” Dad said. “I’m so goddamn sorry for everything. But you turned out all right, didn’t you?”
“Sure we did, Dad,” Dean answered.
“Mostly due to you,” Dad said, and his smile was crooked but a little stronger this time. “I’m so proud of you, Dean. Take care of Sam for me. And look after your Pack. You were born for it.”
Dean nodded, unable to speak. Dad patted his cheek and then his hand fell to the bed.
“And Sam? You’ll take care of Dean, right? He needs it even if he says otherwise.”
Sam looked back at Dad and gave a nod of his own.
“Good boys,” Dad said.
His eyes fluttered shut and Dean held his breath but the unsteady rise and fall of Dad’s chest hadn’t stopped just yet. Dean wasn’t sure if it was a blessing or a curse that he could put off saying goodbye for a little while longer.
Missouri wandered back in a bit later and looked over Dad. Whatever she’d given him before they’d come in seemed to be keeping the pain at bay, but she gave him another dose just in case. Dean didn’t know how to say thank you so he just nodded at her and accepted the chairs she nudged in his direction. For a while, Dean and Sam just sat with their dad, watching and waiting. He thought it might go on forever, all of them stuck in a painful limbo.
A commotion from the front of the house broke the quiet. He couldn’t tell what was going on at first, just a lot of yelling from Uncle Bobby punctuated by Missouri’s calm, firm voice. They got louder as they drew close and then the door swung open to reveal Azazel, eyes scanning the room and lighting up when they landed on the bed.
Dean was on his feet in an instant, moving directly in front of Azazel’s line of sight in an attempt to keep that grossly triumphant gaze from lingering on his father even a second longer.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
Azazel raised his eyebrows. “Word travels fast. I had to come see for myself.”
Dean narrowed his eyes. Something about that rang false. Uncle Bobby would never have run to this scumbag with the news of an impending apocalypse, let alone something like this, and Missouri valued discretion more than any other Pack member Dean had ever known. Azazel wasn’t even trying to build a believable lie but Dean couldn’t be sure the conclusions he wanted to jump to were the right ones.
“John’s resting right now,” Missouri said from the hall. “I’ll need you to take this conversation elsewhere or shelve it until a more appropriate time.”
Azazel raised his eyebrows at Dean, leaving the decision up to him. As much as Dean would have loved for Azazel to fuck off, he wasn’t willing to let him slither off just yet.
“Kitchen,” Dean said.
“Fine,” Azazel replied.
Sam reached out to grab Dean’s wrist and Dean looked at him with a reassuring nod.
“We’re just gonna talk, Sammy,” he said. “You keep an eye on Dad. I’ll be right back.”
Uncle Bobby and Missouri didn’t look all that pleased but Dean waved them both into the room and then walked into the hall, following Azazel all the way to Missouri’s immaculately kept kitchen.
“I’m glad you’re willing to chat. I know this is a difficult time for you but there are a few things we need to get straight between us,” Azazel said, leaning his hip against the edge of one marble counter. “Things are going to change around here and I’ll need you on board.”
Dean crossed his arms and pulled himself up to his full height. Maybe it wasn’t as impressive as Sam’s, but he was plenty tall and he wasn’t gonna give Azazel so much as an inch on him.
“On board with what?” Dean demanded.
“I’m going to be taking a more . . . proactive role as this Pack’s Alpha. We’ve been in shambles for too long, you know that. But I think we can fix that. We’ll be greater than ever. More powerful, more organized. Every were will know his place. The first step is obvious. I’ll need to claim that omega you seem so fond of.”
Fury simmered in Dean’s veins, dipping the edges of his vision in lurid red and forcing his hands into clenched fists.
“You can’t,” he said, surprised at how even his voice was.
Azazel laughed. “Oh, I think I can. As this Pack’s leader, the right is mine.”
“You’re no leader,” Dean growled back. “You didn’t earn the name of Alpha in blood or honor. You snuck in when no one was looking and convinced enough scared, confused members of our Pack to let it slide but by our laws you’re no one’s Alpha.”
The smile on Azazel’s face twisted. “With your father dead-”
“He’s not dead yet,” Dean bit out.
“I like to think optimistically,” Azazel said. “And it is only a matter of time, isn’t it?”
Red flirted with the edges of Dean’s vision and he felt an ache in his bones and teeth, everything in him screaming to leap forward and tear Azazel limb from arrogant, cowardly limb. Dean sucked in a breath through his nose and held the feeling at bay.
“You’ll have to fight every eligible alpha in the Pack for his position,” he said.
Azazel stared at him, a blank look sliding across his features, rendering him expressionless and his thoughts unreadable.
“How’d you know, anyway?” Dean asked.
“I heard there’d been an accident,” Azazel said.
Dean raised his eyebrows. “Yeah? From who? Bobby’s the one who found him. He brought Dad straight here. So unless a little birdy told you, I don’t see how you found out.”
Azazel kept his blank façade for a moment longer and then snorted. “Oh, Dean. You really want to make me say it?”
As much as Dean wanted the confirmation that Azazel knew about the accident because he’d had some hand in it, he didn’t want it here in an empty kitchen with no one else around to hear it. Because God knew his grief was a physically palpable thing, a creature pacing back and forth in his chest. There were four people in the world who’d believe Dean if he told them the truth; everyone else would just think he was mad with mourning.
“You know your dad made a lot of enemies and anyone who’s ever seen a movie and has access to a computer can figure out how to cut a brake line,” Azazel said. “But that’s a bit dramatic, isn’t it? And anyone who wanted to kill John Winchester could’ve done it a million times over by now. I say we call it a tragedy and move on. That’s certainly my plan. And with no one to stand in my way, I expect everyone else will fall in line.”
Azazel pushed away from the counter and made a show of straightening his jacket.
“No one’s going to want to fight me,” he said. “They’re all – how did you put it? Scared and confused? So do as I say and leave the omega to me, or I’ll see to it that John’s not the only Winchester to meet a painful end.”
Dean growled, the sound loud and threatening in the kitchen, but Azazel just smiled and patted him on the head as he walked past.
“I’ll let myself out. Give your brother my condolences.”
The sound of his footsteps echoed in Dean’s ears long after he’d gone. Despite the fear and the grief pounding at his ribcage, Dean found something else to cling to.
There was no way he was going to let Azazel have what he wanted. He’d die first.
It took Dean a few minutes to pull himself together, shoving the anger away to be dealt with when he was alone and not lingering by his dad’s deathbed. He took two steps down the hall and nearly ran into Sam.
“What is it?” he asked.
Sam just shook his head, fresh tears retracing the tracks the old ones had already made.
“He’s gone,” he said, voice choked and thin.
The breath punched out of Dean on a ragged exhale and the whole world seemed to drop away.
“Hey,” he heard himself saying. “Hey, come here.”
And then he had his arms wrapped around Sam, the two of them clinging to each other in Missouri’s dark hallway, Dean’s nose stinging from the stench of blood and tears.
It was nearly two in the morning when Uncle Bobby took them back to the old frat house. He’d offered to let them stay with him, but Dean wasn’t comfortable leaving Castiel alone and Sam refused to leave his side.
The house was quiet when they let themselves in, the lights off and everyone presumably already down for the night.
“You can sleep with me,” Dean said.
Dean felt like it was okay for him to be a little selfish in this and he didn’t want to be by himself. It wasn’t often Dean was so desperate for comfort that he’d take anything he could get, but there wasn’t anything about tonight that was normal. Sam just nodded and looked at Dean in something like relief. Apparently the feeling was mutual.
They were halfway up the stairs when someone cleared their throat behind them.
“How bad is it?” Gabriel asked.
Dean stopped and turned. “Bad,” he answered.
“You smell like a blood bank,” Gabriel said, but the words sounded as sympathetic as Dean had ever heard him.
“We’ll shower,” Sam said.
Gabriel nodded and watched them make their way up the stairs.
Dean let Sam get cleaned up first and pretended he couldn’t hear his brother sobbing under the rush of water. When Sam came out, his eyes were red but dry and he looked ridiculous in the biggest t-shirt and pair of boxers Dean had been able to scrounge up.
“You next,” Sam said, practically an order.
Dean didn’t bother arguing, just let himself into the bathroom and soaked up what little comfort he could from the smell of Sam that lingered in the muggy air. He didn’t take his time getting washed up, too worried that if he was alone for much longer he’d shatter into a million pieces that all the king’s horses and men wouldn’t be able to put back together. He took a few deep breaths before walking back to his room but froze just inside the doorway.
Sam was curled up in the middle of the bed with his head on Gabriel’s lap. Balthazar was on Gabriel’s other side and Castiel was perched on the edge of the bed, leaving just enough room for Dean to squeeze in next to his brother.
“The last thing you two need is to be alone,” Balthazar said.
Somehow, his matter-of-fact, slightly sardonic voice was what got Dean moving. He crossed the room and crawled up onto the bed, sliding in next to Sam and exhaling a shaky breath when Cas slotted in next to him. The smell that had left him so turned on earlier was comforting now. It intermingled with the scents of the others and soothed Dean with every inhale until some of the tension had seeped out of his body and he was able to relax.
Sam rolled over and curled into Dean, making himself small enough to tuck his head under Dean’s chin. It was a little bit of a cramped fit, but that made it even better. There was no space for anything but warmth, here, and Dean wrapped himself around his little brother and tried to sleep.
Eventually, with Castiel’s hand in his hair and the steady, rhythmic pounding of everyone’s hearts, he managed it.
They had Dad’s funeral pyre over the weekend. More people turned up than Dean expected, Ellen and Jo included. Azazel made an appearance and said some words about the good of the Pack and how he hoped that Dean and Sam would come to him for absolutely anything. Dean didn’t even bother with a token show of respect, just ignored the bastard and kept Castiel close to his side.
Cas had insisted on going, along with Gabriel and Balthazar. Sarah and Jess turned up, too, flanking Sam the moment they saw him and refusing to budge for even a second. There were other weres who’d come to pay their respects. Dr. Barnes lingered in the back, eyes flitting from Dean to Sam and back for most of the ceremony.
Everyone trickled off after the flames had started to die out. They were supposed to meet at The Roadhouse for a reception, though Dean didn’t know if that would actually happen or not. This was the first time this many Pack members had come together in years but that didn’t mean anyone was comfortable with it.
Sam and Dean stuck around, their friends hanging back and waiting until they were ready.
“This is a tough break, kiddos.”
Dean looked over at Dr. Barnes.
“You are the master of the understatement,” he said.
She huffed out an amused breath and tucked her hands into her pockets. She wasn’t dolled up like some of the others had been, opting for an old concert t-shirt and a tight pair of jeans. Someone else might’ve been offended, but the sight actually made Dean smile. Dad would’ve liked it.
“Not that it’s any of my business, but you got any plans for the next full moon?” she asked.
Dean shrugged. “I’m not cut out to lead a Pack,” he said.
Sam scoffed on his other side. “You’d be better than Azazel. And you’d have help, Dean. Ellen and Uncle Bobby wouldn’t make you do it alone. The elders all like you, they’d support you.”
“The elders didn’t do shit for us when we needed them most,” Dean shot back.
“So you’re just gonna let Azazel take over?” Sam asked. “I know it’s shitty, okay? Everything’s fucked but you can’t just sit back and let him do this.”
“And why is it my responsibility, huh?” Dean realized he was yelling, that Dr. Barnes and Cas and everyone could hear, but he didn’t care. “After everything I’ve already done for our family, now I have to take care of a goddamn Pack when they wouldn’t do the same for us?”
“For Dad,” Sam said, his voice cracking over the word. “They wouldn’t do it for him. You can change it. Be better. Do what he couldn’t.”
Dean was determined not to cry but in place of the tears he felt a noise rising in his throat, something primal and pained that he had to clench his teeth around.
“If you decide to do it,” Dr. Barnes said, “I’d be willing to help.”
“You’re not part of our Pack,” Dean pointed out, his voice embarrassingly strained.
“Nope,” Dr. Barnes answered, “but I like you.”
“And?” Dean prompted.
Dr. Barnes smiled at him, shrewd and just a little impressed. “And,” she said, “I’m invested. I’ve been transitioning from my old Pack for a while and if I don’t commit to a new one soon, I lose my job. I may not know you well, but I know Sam and he believes in you. So much that he mentioned it might come to this.”
Dean swung his gaze to Sam who shrugged and scuffed his toes against the grass like the big kid he was.
“Not like this,” he said. “But come on. You couldn’t be a secondary alpha forever.”
Dean closed his eyes and thought of what his dad would want. Probably for Sammy to be the one making the call, in all honesty. So Dean thought, instead, of what he wanted for the future.
College had just been something he’d done just to give his brother a good example, thinking that Sam would eventually find a mate become the Pack leader and Dean would be left figuring out what to do on his own. He loved engineering and had a real talent for it, but he’d also been dicking around for almost five years already, focused more on Sam and his family than anything else.
When he thought of the future, Dean couldn’t see past Jackson Springs. He didn’t know if that made him feel trapped but it was home. He could leave and do fuck knew what anywhere else in the world, but he’d always be thinking about this stupid town, worried about his brother and his friends, checking in with Uncle Bobby and Ellen.
This was it for him and he’d known it his whole life.
Being the Alpha hadn’t ever been in the cards. Dean had thought, sometimes, he might end up Sam’s Beta and they’d take care of the Pack together. In a lot of ways that was still on the table. It was just the role-reversal that Dean hadn’t anticipated.
“What happens if I decide to take my brother’s stupid advice?” Dean asked.
“First you’ll have to issue a formal challenge and then you’ll have to beat Azazel in a fair fight on the full moon. If that happens, you’re the Alpha and everything changes,” Dr. Barnes said.
“But you’ve got me,” Sam told him.
“We’re all still here, too,” Balthazar yelled. “And much as we also think it’s stupid advice, we’re in.”
“Stop eavesdropping,” Dr. Barnes shouted back.
And Dean, in spite of everything, couldn’t help but shake his head and grin.
Dr. Call-Me-Pamela Barnes’ vested interest in Sam, Dean, and the Jackson Springs Pack was convenient for a few reasons. As the foremost authority on Therianthropy in the entire country, she had a better idea of how things worked than anyone other than Bobby, Ellen, and the Elders. She also knew more about inter-Pack politics than the others did.
“My parents held this Pack together,” Dean explained. “They fell apart, so did the Pack. And I’m sure Sam’s told you what it’s like now.”
Sam, Dean had discovered, was all loose lips when it came to Dr. Barnes. There’d probably be a time and a place where it would be appropriate for Dean to tease his little brother about it, but for now he was forcing himself to focus on the task at hand. Namely taking his Pack back from Azazel.
They’d given themselves some time to think about everything after Dad’s funeral. Dean had told Jo and Ellen about the plan during the reception.
“You sure you want to do that?” Ellen had asked.
“I think have to,” Dean said. “It’s my Pack, Ellen. I can’t leave it to Azazel.”
She’d sighed and then poured them both a drink.
“Well, you know you can count on us. Whatever you need,” she said.
Dean had nodded his thanks and looked over at Jo.
“I always thought you’d make a great Alpha,” she’d said, nothing but sincerity.
Bobby hadn’t been at all enthusiastic about it when Dean broke the news to him; he’d rolled his eyes a lot and muttered about how he shouldn’t have been surprised along with a few unsavory things about dumb, noble Winchesters. But there’d been pride there, too, and he’d promised he would support Dean in whatever he chose to do.
“What if I want to leave it alone?” Dean had asked, because he had to know what would happen if he did.
Bobby’d looked down into his whiskey glass. “Well,” he’d said, “You won’t, I can already tell. But if you did, we’d move forward same as always.”
And Dean was tempted. Toying with the idea of being the Alpha made him want to start running and not stop until he’d crossed at least three or four state lines. There was a part of him, innate and animalistic, that liked the thought of being in charge. It was something that hadn’t reared its head much in Dean’s life, not until that first night it had pushed him to protect a strange omega. All his life Dean had denied that part of himself and now he had to wonder if it’d be enough to help him do what he wasn’t sure he could manage on his own.
Because realistically, Dean knew what he was going to do. As shit-scared as this whole thing made him, as much as he’d never actually planned for this, there was no way he could let Azazel have Cas and his Pack. Bobby’d been right; Dean wasn’t going to leave it alone.
So the next day he’d called up Pamela and they’d agreed to meet at the Roadhouse. Sam was back at the frat house with Cas, Gabriel, and Balthazar. Jess and Sarah had just pulled up when Dean was leaving so at least he knew his brother was in good hands, not lonely and letting their recent loss overwhelm him.
“Sam mentioned that,” Pamela said, confirming Dean’s earlier suspicions. “So you’re a more emotionally connected Pack.”
Dean shrugged. “We might’ve been once. Not so much now.”
Pamela shrugged and dragged a French Fry through a puddle of ketchup. “But that’s the makeup of your Pack. That’s the core. Azazel obviously wants to change that. His first move if he wins will be to claim Castiel, just like he told you.
And then he’ll use him as leverage. He might barter him off to another Pack for an easy alliance or just to earn some favors. Either way, it’ll set a tone. He’ll probably reinforce it by exiling Sam. Or worse. Just to make sure no Winchester loyalists stick around.”
The thought of Azazel treating Cas like that, of him hurting Sam, made the burger Dean had been chewing on taste like ash in his mouth.
“You have to know what the consequences are if you lose,” Pamela said, though she sounded apologetic. “I’m only guessing, obviously, but this has happened before. Alphas like Azazel are bad on their own, but you give them something like an omega to work with and things go downhill very fast.”
Dean swallowed hard and said, “So I can’t lose.”
“Exactly,” Pamela said.
They talked a bit more about what Dean’s expectations would be if, when he won. Dean had grown up hearing stories handed down from his parents and Uncle Bobby and Ellen so he had a decent idea of how Packs worked, his own in particular, but Pamela was full of details that Dean never would’ve been able to get his hands on otherwise.
Well, not without reading a book anyway, and like that was gonna happen. He’d leave the boring research to Sammy.
“What about Cas?” Dean finally asked.
Pamela looked at him for a long moment like she was trying to see inside his brain. Dean fought the urge to squirm in his seat.
“You can protect him,” she said. “You could claim him as your mate. He’d fall under your protection and no one would be allowed to lay a hand on him. Or you could make him a member of your Pack. You’d have to specify he isn’t to be harmed and he wouldn’t be completely invulnerable, but he’d be safe.”
“I’m not gonna make him do something he doesn’t want to do,” Dean said, even though the idea of making Castiel his mate satisfied some deep, dark part of himself. “But I won’t let anything happen to him, either.”
Pamela smiled and pushed her plate toward Dean so he could finish off her fries.
The week leading up to the full moon went by almost too quickly. Dean wanted to savor his last few days with no responsibility since he’d either come out on the other side with a Pack to call his own or dead.
“That’s not funny,” Castiel said with a pinched frown the first time Dean mentioned it in passing.
They’d been practically inseparable the last few days, not so much by design but by pure instinct. They were drawn to each other, the pull so strong that Dean didn’t even bother fighting it. He’d just follow the tug in his tug to wherever Castiel happened to be and sit as close to him as possible, inhaling the omega’s scent and taking a basic, primal comfort in his nearness.
A couple of times Dean was tempted to call Pamela and ask if this was normal, but he wasn’t sure he wanted the answer. Besides, it worked for them so far. Why worry about fixing something that wasn’t broken when there was so much other shit to think about?
“I’m not kidding,” Dean told him. “Whatever happens on Saturday, my life’s never gonna be the same.”
“Face it,” Gabriel said from his seat on the other side of the room, “Your life hasn’t been the same since you first met us.”
“He has a point,” Sam said.
Dean rolled his eyes but grinned when Castiel leaned their shoulders together.
While a part of him thought maybe he deserved some kind of full-scale blowout to celebrate his last days of irresponsibility, Dean was pretty content to spend the nights just like that. Sam had decided to stay until after the full moon and Jessica and Sarah turned up on Monday night and didn’t seem all that inclined to leave.
“Seriously,” Dean said when he discovered two sleeping bags in the basement, “I’m being so good by not making the obvious joke here, Sammy, I hope you appreciate me.”
“They’re my best friends, Dean,” Sam said but his ears were turning pinkish at the tips.
“Uh-huh,” Dean muttered.
Then again, he really had no room to talk since he hadn’t spent a single night alone since before Dad had died. He’d tried but nightmares woke him up that first night and a few minutes later Cas had crept into his room, crawled into bed without a word, and Dean had finally been able to sleep peacefully.
It quickly became a full house and Dean didn’t mind. It felt completely natural to have them all around all the time and it was as satisfying to watch everyone interact as it was to be involved.
Weird as it was, that was kind of all Dean needed. They kept each other sane as the weekend approached, calming each other’s nerves and soothing that wild, restless under-the-skin itch that always accompanied the approach of the moon. On Friday night, with a Western playing on the television set and Dean’s makeshift, non-Pack around him, he thought it was kind of the perfect send-off.
On the morning of the full moon, he drove to Missouri’s place. She didn’t look surprised to see Dean on the other side of the door when she pulled it open.
“What can I do for you, Dean?” she asked.
His mouth was dry and he wasn’t entirely sure he could get the words out, but he opened his mouth to try anyway.
“Tonight, during the Run, I’d like to challenge Azazel for the position of Alpha.”
Missouri nodded. “So be it. We’ll make the arrangements.”
When she closed the door, Dean could have sworn he saw her smiling.
One of the disadvantages of a place like Jackson Springs was that there were so many werewolves to organize on a full moon. Dean always Ran with Sam, Jo, and the occasional friend. Uncle Bobby and Rufus had always stayed close to Dad, while everyone else in their Pack found a group and kept to it. The weres that weren’t members of the Jackson Springs Pack all had to sort out their own Runs, usually with the help of Pamela.
She’d put out the word earlier in the week to warn them that there was an Alpha Challenge and to stay away from Temple Peak and the surrounding woods. Weres who weren’t members of the Jackson Springs Pack usually did that anyway; they were guests in Jackson Springs and had delegated woodlands for their own Runs. Still, some got stupid or adventurous and tonight was definitely not the time for it. A strange wolf stumbling onto something as intimate as a Challenge probably wouldn’t end very well.
The plan was for Castiel and the others to Run together somewhere remote and safe, but Dean should’ve known they wouldn’t follow through with it.
“Obviously we’re coming,” Gabriel said.
“Us, too,” Sarah added.
They’d gathered in the old frat house living room to see each other off. Even Jo had driven down, opting to head up to Temple’s Peak with Dean in solidarity. He appreciated it; she was the Pack member he was closest to outside of Sam and having them both at his side helped settle his nerves a little.
Now Castiel, Gabriel, Balthazar, Jessica, and Sarah were doing their damnedest to set them right on edge again.
“Not happening,” Dean said.
“Try and stop us,” Jessica said, chin raised in challenge.
Dean bared his teeth at her and she lowered her head a little but was clearly still defiant. All of them were, standing in a semi-circle with their arms crossed or hands planted on their hips. Dean looked around at them and then sighed.
“Okay, fine,” he said. “Everybody wants to come. You really think that’s a good idea?”
“Azazel might fight dirty,” Jo pointed out. “The more of us you know you can trust, the better.”
“You’re all gonna get me in so much trouble,” Dean muttered, but whatever. If he won tonight, and didn’t plan on failing in that, it wasn’t like he could punish himself. And fuck the elders if they tried to stir up shit with him because he was not having it, not even from Missouri. “Okay, fine. We’re all going. But if there’s any trouble or if I don’t-” Dean cut himself off and shook his head. “If anything happens you run. Nobody plays the hero, got it?”
They each gave a solemn nod and when Dean caught Gabriel’s eyes he saw a promise there. If this didn’t go the way it needed to, he’d look after Sam and Cas. That was really all Dean could hope for.
While they prepared to leave there was a sense of excitement among the group, but Dean just felt sick and nervous. Azazel wasn’t a fighter, that much was clear. If he had been, he’d have taken on Dad way back when this all started and they wouldn’t even be in this position right now. Dean was fast, strong, and had some idea of how to handle himself in a fight both in and out of his fur. That didn’t mean he was prepared to kill someone and he definitely wasn’t looking forward to doing it.
Before they left, Dean shut himself up in Castiel’s bedroom and took a few deep, long breaths. He still felt jittery, the haunting call of the moon and stress over the impending fight rattling around in his body like marbles in a hollow tin. That was how Cas found him, pacing back and forth in his bedroom trying to keep from flying apart at the seams.
Dean sucked in another breath and forced himself to stop and face Cas.
“Hey,” he said.
Castiel stared at him for a long moment and then took a slow step forward. Despite their closeness this last week, neither of them really knew where the boundaries were between them. They needed them, Dean knew, because he couldn’t take advantage of Cas by letting this get out of control. But all of the times he should have pulled away he hadn’t and as much as he kicked himself for it, he couldn’t really regret that.
Dean stood still and waited, a silent answer to the question in Cas’ eyes. The other were took the cue and closed the distance between them, slotting himself up against Dean’s body and nuzzling in under his chin. For someone who’d never gotten the chance to do this before, who maybe hadn’t even had a mother or father to teach him as a cub, Cas was a quick learner.
“Thank you,” Cas said.
“Aw, jeez, don’t go getting all sappy on me,” Dean muttered, scratching a hand through Castiel’s hair.
“I’m serious, Dean. I haven’t said it yet but I owe you for everything you’ve done.”
“You really don’t,” Dean told him.
Castiel shook his head and leaned up into Dean’s touch. “You can’t boss me around yet,” he said.
Dean snickered because they both knew he could, he just refused to. And that, Dean supposed, was probably pretty important in the scheme of things.
“Come on, we should get going,” he said.
The Pack gathered several miles up Temple Peak in a small clearing far removed from anything remotely resembling civilization. Dean and his group of loveable misfits – Balthazar’s words, not Dean’s – arrived last. Walking though the treeline to see the entirety of the Jackson Springs Pack gathered in one place made Dean’s heart lurch in his chest.
The sun was still barely clinging to the sky but Dean could feel the pull of the moon, already heavy and full and ready for them. His skin tingled in anticipation of the shift and a similar energy was palpable from the surrounding werewolves.
The last time Dean could remember going through the shift with this many Pack members, he’d still been young. He could remember being a kid, barely more than a cub, bouncing with excitement and ready to Run. He missed it, he realized, and he wanted to be able to give that experience to others, to give it back to everyone who’d lost out on it for so long.
“I was beginning to think you might not show up,” Azazel said.
He was stripped down to a pair of jeans that hung low on his hips and his eyes glinted yellow in the dying daylight, already starting to give in to the change.
“You mean you were hoping I wouldn’t,” Dean shot back.
When all else failed, false bravado would go a long way. Azazel smirked and glanced over Dean’s shoulder.
“How cute. You brought cheerleaders.”
He could feel the others bristle at the condescending tone, but Dean just nodded at Meg, Gordon, and the rest of Azazel’s cronies.
“Didn’t want yours to get lonely,” he said.
“Oh, he’s feisty today,” Azazel said.
“That’s enough,” Elder Ballard called. “A word with you both, please?”
Azazel smirked at Dean and then turned and walked toward the elders. They were gathered in a loose circle, their expressions implacable. Dean approached with his heart in his throat but made sure to keep his emotions from showing on his face. They might be able to smell his nervousness but with so many weres around it would be impossible to tell it was him. That was what he told himself, anyway.
“Dean Winchester, on what grounds do you Challenge Azazel?” Elder Ballard asked.
Dean blinked at her. “How about the grounds that he never earned his place as our Pack leader?” Dean asked. “And he’s an asshole. Just look at him.”
“Is it really fair for you to accept this Challenge?” Azazel asked. “Clearly he’s still just a pup.”
The Elders’ expressions were pinched but Missouri spoke up.
“Dean has a point,” she said. “You can be born an alpha but the position of Alpha, of Pack leader, is earned in blood. And you never spilled a drop. We accept the Challenge. Dean and Azazel, you will fight to the death or until one of you yields to the other. Should you yield, you are pledging your obedience and allegiance to your new Pack leader and the matter shall be considered resolved. Do you accept these terms?”
Dean and Azazel both nodded.
“And will anyone else join in the Challenge?” Missouri asked.
Some of the other weres shifted but no one stepped forward. Dean wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed.
“So be it,” Elder Ballard said.
The sun was almost fully set. Dean started toward to the far side of the clearing where Sam, Cas, and the others had stripped down to nothing in preparation for the shift but was stopped by a hand to his shoulder.
“Just so you know,” Azazel whispered, pitching his voice so that Dean could barely hear it and the wind would carry the words away from anyone else’s prying ears, “after I kill you, I’m going to rip your brother apart. Just to be safe, you understand. And then I’m going to have your pretty little omega bitch. I’ll make him scream. And anyone else who wants a chance to breed him will get one.”
Dean snapped his head to the side, teeth bared at Azazel and a growl in his throat.
Azazel backed away, laughing.
“Best of luck, Winchester,” he said. “I hope you have better luck in these woods than your dad did.”
And then he winked and retreated to his side of the clearing. It took every bit of willpower Dean had for him to finish walking over to the others. They fixed him with concerned looks but he waved them off and tore his clothes from his body with a viciousness he’d regret when he needed them again later.
“I’m gonna win this, Sammy,” he said.
Sam nodded but Dean caught his eye and said, “No, I mean it. For you and for Cas.”
“I know you will,” Sam said.
That made one of them, at least. But Dean knew there was no other choice here. It was all in his hands and if he didn’t win this, Sammy would die and Cas would . . .
Just the thought boiled Dean’s blood. For a second he thought he was literally steaming mad and then he realized the burning sensation was the sun making its full descent. In the few seconds they had before giving in to the shift, Ellen looked over at him.
“Kick it in the ass, Dean,” she said.
Dean nodded and then all thought fled as his body gave in to the change. It was as excruciatingly painful as always, his bones cracking and reforming, elongating and reshaping. Fur sprouted all along his body and his senses went into preternatural overdrive, picking up distant sounds and scents that he could never sense in his skin no matter how close to the full moon it was. It ended as quickly as it had started and Dean found himself on all fours, the mass of his body different, the weight and balance changed, and all of it still intimately familiar.
One of the elders released a howl and Dean joined in, raising his voice with the others until the sound echoed all through the woods. When it cut off, Dean ran to the open space of the clearing and looked around for Azazel. The wolf was nowhere to be seen and Dean turned in a circle, barking a challenge.
The blow came from out of nowhere, Azazel’s massive body colliding with Dean’s and sending them both skidding across the dirt. The unexpected tackle rattled Dean and pain bloomed in his shoulder but faded quickly. It gave Azazel enough time to get Dean pinned, though, and he went straight for Dean’s neck. Dean countered with a snap of his teeth at Azazel’s muzzle and threw the other wolf off when he recoiled.
Around them, Dean was dimly aware of the others barking and yipping in response to the fight but he couldn’t spare them more than a passing thought. He kept his eyes trained on Azazel, the two of them circling each other with their hackles up and their teeth bared. Dean tracked Azazel’s movement carefully and saw his weight shift just before he attacked again.
This time, Dean was ready and met Azazel in mid-air. They collided with a chorus of growls and snapping teeth, shoving with their paws to try and get the other unbalanced. Dean felt Azazel’s teeth close around his front leg and give it a vicious shake, drawing blood and snapping the bone. Dean yelped and then growled, going right for one of Azazel’s ears and tearing a huge chunk out of it.
Azazel made a high-pitched sound of pain and backed away, but Dean could sense his opening and he wasn’t gonna let it go. He advanced quickly, ignoring the pain in his leg, and leapt at Azazel. They rolled across the ground and Dean took a few more bites and scratches, but Azazel hadn’t recovered from the wound to his ear yet and Dean did more damage. A sharp bite to a leg forced Azazel to fold under him and a blow to his chest with both of Dean’s front paws knocked him onto his back.
Dean darted forward and got his mouth around Azazel’s neck, teeth pressing up against the tender flesh buried beneath the fur. He held there for the span of a heartbeat, ready to kill but unwilling to do so without offering the other wolf the chance to yield.
For a second there was no movement and then Azazel went limp, pinned his ears back, and rolled over to display his belly. Dean paused and then released Azazel, grabbing the other wolf’s muzzle between his teeth in one last show of dominance before he backed away.
Elder Ballard gave a low howl to mark the end of the battle and Dean started to limp over to where Sam and Cas were waiting.
It was the first time Dean got a really good look at Cas in his fur and he was struck by how beautiful the other wolf was. His fur was jet black and sleek, his body smaller than any werewolf Dean had ever seen but still powerfully built. His eyes were the same bright shade of blue and they sparkled at Dean as he drew closer.
The thrill of victory suffused Dean’s body and he gave a loud yip, his injured leg already starting to heal. They yipped back, both of them giving Dean huge, wolf-y smiles.
He’d almost reached them when Cas’ eyes widened and Dean felt a horrible pain in his left hind leg. There was a powerful yank and Dean hit the dirt so hard the impact drove the breath from his lungs.
Behind him, Azazel released Dean’s leg so he could crawl up Dean’s body. The pain was more intense than any Dean had ever felt before and he could smell his own blood thick and sweet in the air. He lifted his front paws to try and fend Azazel off, but the other wolf had the advantage and got Dean by the throat.
For a split second, Dean thought he was going to die. He felt Azazel’s teeth dig into this flesh but instead of ripping his throat out, the other wolf shook him and then darted away like they were playing. He barked at Dean, eyes glinting with sadistic glee in the moonlight.
Dean tried to push to get his paws under him but his hind leg was useless and his front leg hadn’t healed enough to hold his weight. He collapsed and could do nothing more than growl at Azazel with his ears pinned back, more afraid than angry, now. Azazel ran in and grabbed Dean by the ear, gave it a shake and then bit down and ripped it down to a nub. Dean howled in pain and bared his teeth but Azazel just looked even more amused.
A buzzing rose in the air and for a second Dean thought it was all in his own ears and then he realized it was the Pack. They were all growling at Azazel, ears erect and teeth bared in anger. Sam and Jo looked ready to rip something apart, their bodies tense and quivering, and next to them Castiel’s eyes had gone almost black with anger.
If Azazel thought no one would mind him making a joke out of a sacred ceremony, he was dead wrong. And the idiot, in his arrogance, hadn’t even picked up on just how displeased the Pack he wanted to call his own was.
He darted in again, snapped his teeth at Dean’s throat but not enough to get a good grip. He’d tire of playing soon, but Dean could see he was still enjoying the moment.
Blood loss and pain made Dean weak and he couldn’t move far, but he was determined not to die here. Not like this.
Azazel pranced on his paws and Dean paid close attention to the movement – side to side, side to side and there. The other wolf darted in one last time. Dean summoned all the strength he had and rolled onto his side, just far enough to give himself enough leverage to get his paws up under Azazel’s chest and use the wolf’s momentum to throw him several feet. He landed on the ground with a thud and Dean forced himself up onto the three legs that could hold his weight.
His weak leg trembled but it didn’t buckle and Dean stood, panting and forcing himself to stay upright. Azazel growled and rolled up onto his feet. He tackled Dean and they went down hard. The weight of Azazel’s body on Dean’s mangled leg forced a pained sound from his throat but he couldn’t think about that. They rolled across the ground, trying to find an opening. Dean knew he didn’t have much time before exhaustion kicked in and when that happened it would be over, all of it, so he fought like he had nothing to lose, clawing at Azazel’s face and belly, biting down hard on any part of him he could get his teeth into.
Azazel’s blood was thick in Dean’s mouth and all around them the Pack still growled, the sound resonating in Dean’s bones until he felt like it was one of the only things keeping him alive. A gash opened up across Dean’s muzzle, another over his chest. There was a bite on his shoulder that stung and bled but Dean fought through it, thinking of Sam and Cas and Uncle Bobby and Ellen and his Dad, the best and worst Alpha this Pack had ever known. There was no proof Azazel had killed him, but Dean didn’t need it.
The other wolf wanted Sam dead and Cas used as a thing for breeding and trading. That alone was enough to drive Dean forward, seeking an opening in spite of the increasing sluggishness of his mind and body.
Azazel got Dean by the scruff of his neck but Dean ducked and rolled out of the other wolf’s teeth. He didn’t get far, but it wasn’t necessary for him to. He was too tired and if this was gonna end, it had to be now. When Azazel ran in, Dean summoned up all of the strength he had left and surged up, mouth wide enough to fit around Azazel’s thick neck. Dean bit down without thinking and wrenched his head sideways. There was a spray of blood, the gush of it spattering his face and flooding his mouth. Azazel slumped sideways and his body twitched once before going still.
They all watched as it shifted back, the huge body becoming small and human again – pale and bloodstained in death.
Dean flopped sideways and stared into Azazel’s sightless, yellow eyes. Somehow, the regret he’d expected to feel was brief and a bone-deep, exhausted relief took its place. He’d done it. He’d won.
All of Dean’s injuries made themselves known in an instant and he bit back the whimpers building in his throat. When he heard high-pitched sounds of distress he thought maybe he hadn’t been quite as successful at being strong as he’d thought. Then he realized they were coming from his brother’s enormous, tawny body.
Dean blinked up at Sam and his brother leaned down and licked carefully at his muzzle before nuzzling gently at his throat as if to make sure it was still whole. Dean was too tired to do much more than let Sam check him over. Ellen, Uncle Bobby, and Jo came next and gave him the same treatment.
By the time they were done, Dean felt well enough to lift his head and that was when Castiel edged close and softly butted his head up under Dean’s chin. Dean nuzzled him back and ducked his head to push their cheeks together. Cas made a small sound and turned to lick over Dean’s nose and the patch on his muzzle that Sam had missed. Dean just licked him right back, relishing the clean taste of Cas’ fur in his mouth, masking some of the blood.
He was going to have to move eventually, but for the moment Dean was content to sit with Sam and Cas nearby while the rest of the Pack approached, all of them with their heads bowed and their bodies low to the ground. They each licked Dean’s face and retreated until every one of them had accepted him as their Alpha.
When the last of the Pack had greeted him, Dean forced himself to stand, tipped his head back, and howled. The sound tore out of his throat, joy and sorrow intermingling and Dean knew if he’d been in his human skin, he would’ve been crying.
Sam was the first to join in Dean’s cry and then Cas. One by one Dean’s Pack lifted their voices until they were one, the sound of it echoing down the whole mountain.
One Month Later
Dean woke to an empty bed. The patch next to him was still warm which meant Cas hadn’t been gone for too long. Chances were it was still way too early to be awake, but Dean could smell buttery-sweet French Toast and bacon frying downstairs. Alpha or not, if he was late to the kitchen then he’d definitely miss out on breakfast.
Although Dean and Sam still lived in their childhood home, they spent most of their time with Castiel and the others. Gabriel and Sam got along really well – go fucking figure – and Balthazar was a little less annoying now that they knew him better.
They weren’t the only common fixtures. Jess and Sarah spent about as much time here as they did in their own dorm and Garth, Tessa, and some of the others had been known to wander in and out on occasion. Most of them had their own Packs back home, but apparently they all had a soft spot for Dean’s. He pretended to mind it, but it was nice not to be the Pack everyone whispered about like all of its members had some kind of disease.
Besides, they could use all the new blood they could get, especially with Meg and Gordon taking the last of Azazel’s loyalists and fucking off to join up with some freak named Lucifer out East. If someone like Garth was ever considering a Pack transfer, Dean would rather it be to his than anyone else’s.
Castiel’s scent was still the easiest for Dean to pick up on outside of Sam’s, and it would always be the most intoxicating, but now there was always a mélange of other scents. Sweet and spicy, clean and musky, all of them increasingly familiar the more time everyone spent together.
There was an actual puppy pile in the living room. The DVD menu for some nerd show Dean didn’t recognize was on the TV screen and Sam, Sarah, and Jessica were all wrapped around each other on the floor in a nest of blankets and pillows. Dean rolled his eyes as he walked past. They were so adorable he could puke.
“When those three finally figure their shit out,” Dean said as he walked into the kitchen, “remind me to leave them the entire house to themselves for at least a weekend.”
“Exactly what I’ve been telling Gabriel ever since you and Castiel met,” Balthazar said without looking up from his phone.
Castiel blushed on the other side of the table but kicked at Balthazar’s ankle and said, “Fuck off.”
Dean grinned and ruffled Cas’ hair as he slid into the chair next to his.
“Big Run tonight,” Dean said, as if they hadn’t all been talking about it for the last week.
“Are you sure it’s all right for us to come?” Castiel asked.
“Of course. I already talked to the elders about making you official Pack members and I think it’s a good idea for you to Run with us while we work it out. It’s all political bullshit anyway.” Dean met Castiel’s eyes and added, “You’re already as good as Pack to me.”
“Awwwww,” Gabriel cooed from his place at the stove. “That’s sickening.”
“You were included in that, you know,” Dean said.
“Even worse,” Castiel said.
Dean snickered. Cas was still well behind the curve, but he’d gotten in the habit of attempting to joke. Sometimes it was more the thought that counted, but he almost never failed to leave Dean amused in some way.
“Anyway, Pamela’s bringing Charlie, too.”
They still had yet to meet Pamela’s mysterious mate, even after all the time they’d started to spend with her in group meetings and outside of campus. Dean was intrigued, he couldn’t lie, and a little nervous about what happened if the elders didn’t think they’d be a good fit.
That was all the kind of thing that Dean was willing to leave up to Uncle Bobby and Ellen to worry about for now, though. He’d made them his Betas right away, at least until Sam and Jo had finished school and could start to take over their duties. For now it was better this way. Bobby and Ellen knew way more about Pack business and already had a rapport with the elders. They’d listen to Dean’s final word on an issue but they were the ones he turned to for advice.
So far it was working out pretty well.
Dean, Cas, Gabriel and Balthazar had just finished up breakfast when Sam finally wandered in with Sarah in tow.
“Jess still out?” Dean asked.
The answer was always yes; that girl could win a gold medal in sleeping in. While Sam attempted to cajole Gabriel into making extras, Dean wandered back upstairs. He’d just walked into Cas’ room when he heard the omega’s footfalls on the stairs. A moment later he walked in and closed the door.
“I don’t have anywhere to be until the Run tonight,” Dean said. “Lazy day?”
Cas smiled and nodded.
They crawled into bed together and curled into each other, not all that different from how he’d found Sam and the girls earlier. Cas nuzzled the line of Dean’s throat and breathed in.
“You really like that pine and apple smell, huh?” Dean muttered.
Cas just hummed. By now his room smelled like a heady mix of the two of them, but every time they did this in the week leading up to the full moon, Cas inhaled Dean’s scent like it was still shiny and new. Dean liked to tease him for it but he had a habit of doing it, too. It wasn’t just an omega thing, Dean knew now. It was more of a mate thing, the way Cas’ scent never seemed to get old and could have a dozen different effects on Dean, all of them amazing.
He hadn’t mentioned that to anyone, yet. He wasn’t even sure how he felt about it himself. Despite everything, Dean still kept Cas at a safe distance. Oh, they did this all the time and shared a bed more often than not, but that was as far as it went. At some point Cas had become Dean’s best friend and Dean didn’t want to ruin that. He didn’t want to force Cas into anything, either.
The agreement was that when Cas joined Dean’s Pack, he’d have their protection and would be free to live his life however he wanted. No one would use him as a bargaining chip or mate him to someone he didn’t want. Dean didn’t think it would be fair for him to attempt to claim Castiel when the omega was finally going to have a real sense of stability, safety, and freedom.
Besides, Dean had already become an Alpha. A mate was just too much to seriously consider about just yet.
That didn’t stop him from thinking about it sometimes, usually when they were close like this and wanted nothing more than to sink into Cas and never leave.
Cas pressed a soft kiss to Deans throat and Dean sighed, that light touch sparking up and down his spine.
“Cas,” he said, making to put a little space between them.
“Dean,” Cas retorted, his voice exasperated. “When are you going to top treating me like I don’t know what I want?”
Dean frowned and looked away. “I should go.”
Cas made a small sound of frustration and rolled them until he was braced above Dean, arms bracketing his head. Dean blinked up at him.
“I won’t break,” Cas said.
And then he leaned down and nuzzled at the underside of Dean’s jaw. Another soft kiss and Dean gave in with a sigh, tipping his head back and giving Cas free access to his throat. Castiel took advantage, dragging his lips over the length of skin and climbing his way back up with hot, damp, open-mouthed kisses. Dean’s hands found Cas’ hips and gripped them just this side of too tight, drawing a low sound from Castiel’s throat.
“You’re going to be my Alpha,” Cas said, his low, gravelly voice reverberating all through Dean’s body.
“I am,” Dean agreed.
“You can have me if you want,” Cas said.
Dean groaned and shook his head but Cas nipped lightly at his neck in retaliation.
“I want,” he said. “Dean, I want you to have me.”
And that . . . that was just too much. It was Dean’s turn to roll them over and when he braced himself above Castiel’s body, he felt suddenly like he was exactly where he was supposed to be. Cas stared up at him, pupils wide and mouth parted in an open invitation. Dean wanted to lean down and take, but that wasn’t how he planned on doing things.
If Dean was going to have Castiel, he was going to make the rules and set the pace.
Everything in Dean screamed for him to kiss Castiel hard and rough, until he was panting and needy. So Dean did the opposite. He needed to prove to both of them that he had control here. Over himself and the situation.
Castiel’s lips were softer than they looked and he tasted like the sweetness of syrup and the salty bite of bacon. Dean traced the shape of them with the tip of his tongue, lapped up the taste, and pulled back when Castiel strained forward for more. Cas fell back against the pillows and Dean smiled, leaning in to do it again. This time he dipped his tongue into Castiel’s mouth just briefly, a butterfly tease of a lick.
Cas made a small sound but Dean ignored it in favor of sucking Cas’ plush, bottom lip into his mouth. That earned an entirely different noise, something low and strained. Dean released Cas’ lip with a pop and gave the upper on the same treatment. He used his teeth on the next pass, grazing each of Castiel’s lips with them and then adding a gentle nip.
By the time he pulled back, Cas was breathless and his eyes were heavy-lidded and dark.
“I want,” Dean said, brushing his thumb over Castiel’s lips, slick and swollen and delicious. “We’ll talk again after the full moon.”
Cas hummed in agreement and then turned his head and sucked the digit into his mouth. Dean’s breath caught and he watched, his dick hard in his boxers, as Castiel’s cheeks hollowed.
“You’re evil,” Dean declared.
Cas grinned and let Dean’s thumb fall from his mouth.
“You’re a tease,” he shot back.
“For now,” Dean admitted. “You’ll thank me later.”
Cas looked doubtful, but Dean just flopped down onto him and nestled into the crook of the other were’s neck. He could feel Cas hard, too, but they had plenty of time to deal with that later. All the time in the world once Cas was officially part of his Pack.
For now, the Alpha Dean Winchester wanted a little puppy pile of his own and his omega Cas was only too happy to oblige.