Ivor chirruped, blinking his blue eyes, but Castiel resisted those feline charms. “Go on,” he insisted, giving an shooing gesture.
Ivor swished his dark, fringed tail and limped across the windowsill, setting one unsure foot on the perch set into the wall. Castiel observed as his cat climbed from one step to the next, trying hard not to put any weight on the front of his damaged paws.
“There,” Castiel said in relief, as Ivor reached the top perch and immediately sank his body into a tidy rectangle shape, paws tucked under his chest, tail dangling from the polished wood. The long fur of his tail fluttered in the draft from the heater, which blew a hot, rose-scented breeze upward and outward.
Satisfied that Ivor was comfortable and had a good vantage point, Castiel turned away, going to wash his hands. The sink was closest to the door of the therapy room, and Castiel pumped out some foamy soap onto his palm before turning on the faucet. He took a deep, calming breath as he washed under his fingernails. The fruity smell of the soap was mouth-watering.
Drying his hands on the ruby-red towel hanging by the sink, Castiel listened through the wall, hearing the glass doors of the massage parlour opening to let someone in. The person who entered brought with them a few seconds of winter traffic: roaring engines, gently-squeaking brakes, and the rough puff of exhaust as trucks started and stopped along the road outside. Then the front door clapped shut, and the serenity of Soft Touch Massage House once again enveloped Castiel’s ears.
Castiel heard the low voice of a man through the wall, speaking to the receptionist. Assuming that man was to be his new client, Castiel set the towel back tidily on its rail, then turned to the massage table in the centre of the room and began to prepare it for the session.
Castiel’s room was only small – nine by twelve, low-ceilinged – but it was warm and cosy, and the furnishings were comfortably sparse. Aside from the massage table, where clients lay to be pampered, the only other furniture was a rack for clothes, the sink caddy and the shelves above, which housed the little bottles of massage and incense oils. There was also the armchair over by the wall, but that rarely got used. It was built as an overlarge rocking chair: huge, deep, and winged at both sides – anyone could just sink back and lose themselves in its plush cloth covers and cushy padding. But when people came here, they came for treatment, not to sit in a chair.
Every other therapy room in Soft Touch Massage House was painted white, pale green, or lined in bamboo. Castiel had requested his room be painted differently, however: his was red. One might say it was blood-red, but that was only true when viewed in sunset light – which, as it happened, was precisely what streamed through the window over by Ivor’s wall perches. Bamboo blinds had been pulled halfway down, cutting the golden beams into stripes that angled over the walls, washing in flickers over Castiel’s shoulders as he spread a fresh maroon towel over the massage table.
The room was thick with heat – just as Ivor liked it. So long as Ivor was happy, Castiel didn’t mind losing a little sweat.
A confident knock sounded from the door, right on time. Castiel smiled and went to open it, holding it open. “Welcome,” he said to the man who stood outside. “Please, come in.”
The man wore an army-green utility jacket with a plain black t-shirt underneath, and blue jeans with a belt. Castiel immediately sensed a lot of stress in him, from the way he carried himself into the room, and the clothes he wore; his aura looked electric, which was fascinating, but Castiel saw it was a little compressed in the emotional department.
“My name is Castiel, and I’ll be your masseur today,” Castiel said, clicking the door closed. “I understand you’re one of Benny’s old clients?”
“Um. Yeah,” the man said, awkwardly standing to face Castiel. He rubbed at the back of his neck, eyes darting up to Castiel’s, then down again. He frowned. “No offence, but I was expecting someone a lot, uh...” He met Castiel’s eyes. “Older.”
Castiel felt a smile pulling at his lips. “I’m a fully qualified massage therapist, and I’ve had a good fourteen years experience. You’re in safe hands.”
“Safe...” the man repeated the word, eyebrows raised. He chewed his tongue, then paused to look around. “Um, can I ask— Why is this room red? I thought this place made a point of being calming.”
“This shade of red is highly conducive to blood flow,” Castiel said gently, stepping around his client and going to the massage table. He began fluffing up the folded towel at the head of the table, offering a subtle invitation. “Red can also trigger anger in some people, and yes, it does raise blood pressure, but healthy bodies need healthy blood flow...” He smiled at the man, who stood by, staring at Castiel. “May I ask your name?” Castiel prompted, watching the man tentatively peel off his jacket.
“Dean.” The man gripped his jacket in hand and threw it across the room, so it flopped on the armchair. Castiel raised his eyebrows, surprised at his sense of possession. This was clearly a man of a powerful nature.
“Well, Dean,” Castiel smiled, “I’ll leave the room for a few minutes and I’ll let you get undressed. Your robe is here.” He patted the white dressing gown that was slung over the massage table. “We can discuss what you need once you’re comfortable. Can I get you a drink of water?”
“Tap water’s fine,” Dean said, already taking hold of his t-shirt and pulling it over his head.
“I’ll be back with your water shortly, then,” Castiel said, and excused himself from the room, closing the door behind him. The foyer was cold in comparison, but it was somewhat relieving to escape the stuffiness. Castiel went down the hallway, smiling to Rachel and Hannah when he got to the small kitchen. The two women were seated at the staff table, chatting about moving companies as they sipped on tea together.
The blinds were half-drawn here, too, and the sunlight gleamed off the fridge magnets, flashing reflections across the kitchen when Castiel opened up the fridge.
“I’d rather not go with a company,” Rachel said disapprovingly. “I’ve heard too many stories about stolen or damaged property, boxes going missing...”
“Oh, now you sound like Castiel,” Hannah replied, rolling her eyes. “You have to learn to trust people, Rach! How do you expect to get things done if you won’t even accept the teeniest bit of help from someone?”
Castiel took a pitcher of water from the fridge and fetched a tall glass tumbler, pouring a drink for himself. He grabbed another glass for Dean, filling it straight from the faucet.
“Castiel, you tell her,” Hannah said behind him. “Tell her she needs to hire a moving van and some movers, or she’ll end up putting herself in the hospital.”
Castiel raised his eyebrows, watching his drink swirling around his glass. “I don’t see why she needs to hire people. I can help her move if she needs manual labour.”
Though Castiel wasn’t looking, he knew Hannah threw her hands up in exasperation, rolling her eyes the way Castiel often did. He took a sip of cold water, turning around to lean against the counter to see the others. Hannah was still shaking her head, and now she’d pulled out her phone to scroll down a page.
“Here, look.” She showed Rachel the screen. “This company gets plenty of good reviews.”
“If Castiel will help, then I don’t need them, Hannah,” Rachel replied, pushing the phone away. “If he throws his back out, we know you’re on hand to fix it, don’t we?”
Hannah huffed through her nose, pressing her lips together. She looked up at Castiel, and her dark, wavy hair crumpled against her shoulders. “Aren’t you meant to be with a client?”
“He’s undressing,” Castiel replied. But he straightened up, guzzling down the rest of his water in big gulps, then he turned away, leaving the glass in the sink.
“Don’t forget the movie later,” Rachel said, standing up. “Six o’clock, Castiel. Six. I want to get there before all the good seats are gone. Hannah, where’s your spare hair tie?” Hannah held up her wrist, and Rachel took it off her to use. With her other hand, she waved at Castiel, who was on his way out.
With Dean’s glass chilling his hand, Castiel carried it back to his room. He waited outside, listening. When he heard silence, he knocked on the door.
“I’m decent,” Dean called.
Castiel entered. Inside Dean was now dressed in nothing but his gown, sitting at the edge of the massage table, where the towel-covered leather padding dipped around him.
“Thanks,” Dean said, taking the water Castiel handed him. He took a sip, then nodded upward to Ivor. “I’m allergic to cats.”
“As am I,” Castiel said. “But Ivor’s a Balinese cat. He’s been bred with fewer of those proteins that you and I react to. So long as you’re not deathly allergic, his presence shouldn’t make any difference to you.”
Dean drew his face back by an inch, apparently bewildered. “Your cat’s gonna sit in on the whole session?”
“Is that a problem?” Castiel watched Dean for any signs of anxiety, but thankfully only saw confusion.
“Nah,” Dean said eventually. He sipped on his water again, eyeing the cat. “Just,” he rested the glass down on his muscular thigh, “Benny never had a cat in his room.”
“Benny never did a lot of things I do,” Castiel said, lifting Dean’s jacket off the armchair and resting it over the back, then sitting himself down at the edge of the cushion. “He and I had very different training, with decades between his graduation and mine. We use different techniques, but I aim to achieve a result I’m hoping you’ll be equally satisfied with.”
Dean nodded, head down. “Okay. I dunno,” he muttered. “I just find it weird. Benny’s been doing my massages for God knows how long. I didn’t even have to tell him what I needed, he just knew.”
“You trusted him,” Castiel said understandingly. “If you’re willing, Dean, you and I can find a way to progress to that level of comfort before today’s session is up. You booked a one-hour appointment, is that correct?”
“Yeah.” Dean screwed his hands around the glass, smearing the condensation. Despite his earlier shows of confidence, he was nervous – that much was obvious.
Castiel leaned forward, attentive eyes on Dean. “Can you explain to me what you’re hoping to achieve today?”
Dean shrugged a shoulder. “Just been feelin’ a little tense recently. Office work, you know. Hunching at computers and wheeling around between filing cabinets. I get to the gym once a week, maybe twice, but that never usually helps me chill out.”
“You just want to relax.”
“I guess.” Dean tipped his glass back and drank half of what was left, swallowing and swallowing. He exhaled, resting the glass back down on his knee.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Castiel said, “undo the robe and lie face-down on the table. We can go head-to-toe, if you like. Does that sound good?”
For the first time Dean looked glad of something. “Yeah,” he smiled. He wriggled the glass in his hand, sloshing the leftover water about. “What do I do with this?”
“I’ll take that.” Castiel set the glass beside the sink in case Dean wanted more later. He kept his back turned while Dean disrobed. “Is the temperature okay in here?”
“What? Oh, yeah. It’s fine.” Dean hesitated, then said, “Can— Can you just do my back today? Maybe, uh, leave my front for some other time...?”
“That’s absolutely something we can do,” Castiel agreed. He was no stranger to people being uncomfortable baring their front. Given Dean’s anxiety, it wasn’t surprising.
Castiel turned around, seeing Dean flat on the table, robe crumpled up to cover his buttocks. Castiel went and straightened it, then moved towards the window, to the end of the table where Dean rested his head. There, he pulled out a stool from under the table. He tugged up his creased white pants from the knee and sat down, getting comfortable.
“Rest your face in the gap in the table, arms by your sides.”
Dean slid his arms out from under his face, stretching them down alongside his naked torso, then stuck his face in the table’s gap, so he now gazed at the dark brown carpet. Castiel noticed his fingers were clenched up, and one thumb rubbed back and forth along the side of his hand.
“Are you nervous?” Castiel asked, despite already knowing the answer.
“I’m fine,” Dean lied. His hands relaxed, though, so Castiel knew Dean was now aware of his own anxiety and was working to control it.
Castiel set his fingers gently on Dean’s skull. The tips of his index fingers pressed at the top of Dean’s spine, while his thumbs rested on the crown of Dean’s head, and his other fingers splayed over the skin behind Dean’s ears, pinkie fingers towards his temples. Already Castiel could sense and see parts of Dean’s spine were micrometers out of alignment, which was totally throwing off a multitude of his bodily functions.
“Have you been getting headaches recently?” Castiel asked, thumbing out the ridge of muscle below Dean’s skull with circular movements, feather-light.
“Yeah, actually,” Dean said, surprise in his voice. “How did you know?”
“Magic,” Castiel joked. “No,” he said after, more seriously, “you’re holding a lot of tension here. See, I barely needed to touch this knot and already you’re letting go.”
Dean sighed, slowly. With his exhaled breath went a grip he’d been holding on himself. Whether he’d been trying not to let his belly fat squash out, or trying not to release a silent fart, the effort was expelled and he finally began to relax.
Castiel smirked. Just like that, Dean had allowed a trust to form between them. People were such simple creatures, really. If someone could figure out how to get a cat to trust them, getting a human to do the same was barely a step up.
Castiel spent a few quiet minutes massaging Dean’s head, running fingers through his short, tufty hair every time he changed the position of his hands. Castiel liked Dean’s smell. It wasn’t the smell of antiperspirant or shampoo – Dean was blank of all that – but he had a very natural, somewhat earthy ‘person’ scent to him.
As Castiel loosened up the clenched muscles around Dean’s skull and neck, he began to see a difference in the glow of Dean’s aura. A bright red glow of vitality spread like a slow-motion firework over his head, settling an otherworldly dust on the backs of Castiel’s hands. Castiel smiled, watching it sparkle. It was only a small change, but it was nonetheless splendid.
“What have you been up to since your last visit here?” Castiel asked, stroking gently between Dean’s shoulders and skull. “Do anything interesting?”
Dean huffed. “Nah.” His voice was muffled by the padding around his cheeks, but Castiel could hear him.
“See any friends?” Castiel asked. He tilted his head, looking at Dean’s aura in what remained of the sunlight through the blinds. He saw a lot of muddy green and blue, but it refused to mix, like oil and water. The colours did not make a healthy, loving turquoise: they made an anxious blur of insecurity and fear.
“Um,” Dean said. “I saw my brother a couple times...”
“Do you and him get along?”
“Oh, yeah,” Dean laughed. “Yeah, I practically raised him.”
“So you’re the older one. That must’ve been difficult, raising a sibling.”
“Yeah... I guess.”
Castiel stood up and went across to the sink, searching for a massage oil. “Do you have a favourite oil you liked Benny to use?”
“He always used the standard scentless one,” Dean said.
Castiel’s expression flattened. “No wonder you keep coming back every two weeks.”
“Aromatherapy is a huge part of the relaxation process,” Castiel explained, pulling out oils one by one, looking at the bottles and wondering which one was best suited to counteract Dean’s tension. “You smell something calming and it helps the massage become more effective. The more effective the treatment is, the less often you need it.”
When Castiel returned to the massage table, Dean was propped up on his elbows, peering at Castiel.
“Why would you want me to come back less often?” Dean asked. “I thought you’re here to make money.”
Castiel sat on his stool and shook his head, unscrewing the caps of three bottles in turn, tipping some into the tiny bowl he had on his lap. “I’m a healer, Dean. If I was going to take your money and not do the best I possibly can to heal you, I’d be as bad as conventional doctors. Pharmaceutical companies’ products have their roles to play in the healing process, but their morals, not so much.”
He took the bowl and swirled it around, watching the oils mix. “You’re not allergic to anything, are you? Other than cats, I mean.”
Dean watched the oil swish about, his lips slightly parted. “Oh... No.”
“Good. This is a mixture with almond oil as a base, and I’ve added chamomile for its calming properties, lavender for its healing properties, and some plain old rose oil, just – well, because it smells nice.”
Dean smiled, and it was a fantastic smile. Shy, but beautiful. His eyes lifted to Castiel’s, and for the first time Castiel properly saw his face through the buzzing haze of his aura.
Castiel almost dropped the bowl. Dean was gorgeous.
As he blinked, Dean’s green eyes vanished and reappeared from behind his eyelids, and he started to frown. “What? What’s up?”
“Nothing,” Castiel said, lowering his head. “I just don’t often see people as beautiful as you. I was startled.”
Dean’s breath seemed to hitch. He made the first wispy shapes of words with his mouth, but didn’t complete a reply.
Castiel smiled when he looked up. “Apologies. I didn’t mean to... uhm...”
Dean licked his lips, shaking his head. “Nah, it’s cool. People don’t usually say shit like that. It’s kinda nice to hear.” He cleared his throat. “Thanks,” he whispered.
“There’s no need to thank me, Dean, I’m only speaking the truth,” Castiel said, taking the back of Dean’s head in his hand and easing him back down to the massage table. “Your aura is equally radiant.”
Dean’s skin felt hot to the touch when Castiel dragged oil between his shoulder blades. He was most likely blushing.
Another few minutes went by in silence; Castiel trickled oil all the way down Dean’s back, spreading it with his hands, mapping out the muscles, finding the ones that needed the most healing energy to be set right. Castiel moved to sit at right Dean’s hip, leaning over him to press into his shoulders, pulling his ache down.
Castiel moved his hands in a rhythm, working it in, over and over, until Dean mirrored the rhythm with his breathing. That helped: Castiel could now shift in pulses, thrusting his hands along either side of Dean’s spine. He found the stiff spots and massaged around them until they slowly melted away, and Dean would sigh every time, like one more demon was exorcised from him.
Describing them as demons wasn’t such a stretch – with every sigh, Dean’s aura brightened. The darkness was leaving him.
“So much of your mental burdens are tied into your physical form,” Castiel said, watching a sparkling golden part of Dean’s aura drift up towards the ceiling light, where it disappeared into the glow. “The more of this I work out, the better you’ll be feeling.”
“Mm,” Dean said.
As the ceiling light was switched on, glowing dimly, it was several more minutes before Castiel realised that most of the light he saw in the room was no longer from the sunset through the blinds, but Dean’s aura. It glowed brighter than nearly any aura Castiel had seen on his table.
“I’m curious,” Castiel said, stroking his thumbs between each of Dean’s ribs, sliding outward, “what kind of person would you describe yourself as?”
“Me?” Dean shifted in position. “Um, I don’t know. Tall. Determined. How do you mean?”
“Tall and determined. What else?” Castiel didn’t want to lead him. The way Dean answered was as fascinating to him as anything else.
Dean swallowed, moving his legs an inch, stretching out his toes. “Uh. I guess I’m hard-working? I mean, I slack off every now and then... Why are you asking?”
“Because I want to know,” Castiel said simply. “How do you spend your time?”
“Work,” Dean breathed. Castiel instantly noticed a cloudy tension jump through his system, but Dean was already moving on, “Reading. Watching movies. Netflix is totally the best thing since satellite TV, by the way—” He broke off to chuckle. “I see my brother a couple times a week, and his friends.”
“What about your own friends?”
Dean paused, and Castiel learned a lot from his silence.
Head bowed, Castiel decided to move on. “What makes you happiest?”
Dean shrugged, inadvertently pushing his shoulder into Castiel’s hand. “Netflix.”
Castiel nodded. “I can understand that. A relaxing evening for me would mean curling up in front of the TV with Ivor there.” He smiled up at his cat, who peered back from on high, blinking slowly.
“It—” Dean started, but hesitated.
“Go on,” Castiel said gently, kneading at Dean’s lower back. Dean grunted, but after another run of Castiel’s hand, he relaxed.
“I like being alone,” Dean said. “But honestly? I find it kinda boring. Watching shows end-to-end on Netflix would suck a lot less if I had someone there with me. Ugh, I sound like Sammy now. Sammy’s my little brother. He goes on and on about meeting people and dating sites, and I end up rolling my eyes and telling him to get lost and come back when he hasn’t come prepared with a printout of friggin’ matchmaking agencies around the goddamn city.”
Castiel raised his eyebrows. “Seems like he’ll go to some length to find you someone.”
Dean scoffed. “Yeah.”
“Does that bother you?”
Dean grunted, but not out of pain or discomfort, just agitation. “Yeah,” he said grumpily. “I just wanna be left alone.” He thought about that for a moment, then sighed. “God,” he breathed. “I want someone, I don’t want someone. It’s like I hate everyone but then when I’m alone I hate being alone.”
“Maybe you simply aren’t—”
“Aren’t looking in the right place; haven’t found the right person – yeah, I know,” Dean grouched. “That’s what Sammy says, that’s what his friend Charlie says, that’s what that old coot in the copy shop told me the other week. Everyone and their mother thinks I should be dating. I’m thirty-five, man. Everyone my age – everyone I know – is either married or has kids already. Some people my brother brings around are divorced, remarried and have kids. And I’m still sitting around at home eating popcorn on Friday nights.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Castiel assured him. He squeezed Dean’s shoulders, drawing out a quiet squawk of pain. “I’m thirty-seven and I’ve never dated.”
“I am being serious. Just because it’s usual practice to find someone, doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.”
Dean thought about that for a bit. Then he harrumphed. “I think I’m just stubborn.”
“Yeah.” Dean winced when Castiel teased at a muscular knot, but the knot came undone and Dean relaxed again. “I want what Sam’s trying to offer me, you know? But I say no ‘cause I don’t wanna give anyone else the satisfaction of setting me up with someone I actually like. I’ve been to a half-dozen weddings in the last couple years, and I’m like, I want that. But beyond the sex, these girls don’t want anything to do with me, so hey, there’s no love lost there. I’d go out and try again with someone else, but nearly all the women my age are either married or not interested in something long-term.”
Castiel squinted, trying to find Dean’s point in the midst of all his worries. “Clearly,” he said, “this is weighing on you, this topic.”
“Chh,” Dean tutted. “I’m gonna be a dried up old prune before I find someone. I hold back for so long and then I find someone I’m into and I kinda... fling myself at them. Sexually. Emotionally. And they freak out because they can’t deal with my emotional baggage.”
Castiel smiled. “At least that way you can determine they’re not the right person.”
“Well. I guess.”
“I’m going to move to your buttocks now,” Castiel said. “Is that all right?”
“Yeah,” Dean mumbled.
Castiel got up and took his stool, putting it beside the massage table, aligned with Dean’s rear. He sat and reached across, pulling down the robe. Dean had plump, round buttocks, dotted with the same freckles that adorned his back.
Castiel put a little more oil in his hands, then – this part always amused him – he set each hand on Dean’s ass, pressing down.
Dean kicked his feet and yelped, feeling the push. “Owowow, hurts, hurts!”
“Sorry,” Castiel chuckled, easing up on the pressure. “You’ve been doing too much sitting and not enough standing.”
“I know,” Dean muttered, moving his hands up to tuck under his chin, so his face was no longer dipped into the massage table. “Nine hours a day, five days a week, working at a desk, then I get up and go out for lunch, come back... It’s no life. Like, if they didn’t pay me ninety dollars an hour to draw up electrical blueprints, would I bother? Not a friggin’ chance.”
Castiel breathed out a laugh. “At least you make more than I do for the same hours.”
Dean grinned, scratching at his forehead. “Your job’s probably a heck of a lot more fun than mine, though.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Castiel smiled. He dragged his thumbs down Dean’s ass cheeks, watching the pudgy skin dent around him. He then moved his hands to Dean’s hips, standing up and setting one knee on the edge of the mattress, craning over Dean to get both sides.
Dean gasped as Castiel worked at his hip muscles, fingers grinding into the soft flesh, drawing out an internal anger Dean hadn’t realised was building up there. Dean whined and gasped and punched the massage table, knees dragging the towel under him, but then it was over, and Castiel patted his ass as Dean flopped back down.
“Better,” Castiel said, draping the robe back over Dean’s reddened cheeks. “Sorry I had to do that.”
“It’s fine,” Dean panted. “Feels all right now. Hurts. But it’s okay.”
Castiel reached up and took Dean’s shoulders, guiding his arms back to his sides. From there, he began to massage his biceps, making him laugh when he got close to his underarms.
Dean groaned when Castiel got to his hands. “Oh,” Dean moaned, sinking into the table, face down. “Oh, holy crap...”
Castiel grinned, spinning his thumbs in circles against Dean’s right hand. “How is that?”
“So good,” Dean shuddered. “Benny never did my hands...”
“Your hands are strong,” Castiel said. “At the moment you’re lacking muscle tone – typing at a computer or drawing up blueprints... obviously that wouldn’t result in muscular hands. But your bone structure, and the way your calluses would form... your hands would be better suited to physical labour, I think. Something active, where your brain becomes a tool for your hands, not the other way around.”
Dean lifted his head, looking back over his shoulder at Castiel. “What d’you mean?”
“Take – uhm – construction work, for instance. It largely requires moving things around, putting items like bricks or wood where they’re supposed to be. Creating something. But your hands are doing most of the work, you brain is just what directs you. You have to be smart about it. Whereas your current job...”
“I design computer chips,” Dean said. “I don’t test them or process them, I just design them. Over and over and over, according to someone’s specifications, until that person calls me up and says I did something right. Drives me crazy sometimes. I can deal with the monotony and I can deal with the chips, it’s just dealing with people I can’t stand. They want stuff that hasn’t been invented yet, and they never believe I don’t have the resources to get it done.”
Castiel nodded understandingly, getting up and carrying his stool to the other side of the table. Dean’s head followed him, and he was still staring when Castiel sat down and took his left hand to massage.
“Your current job,” Castiel went on, “comes brain-first. Your hands just follow orders.”
Dean adjusted his weight on his elbow, angling himself closer to Castiel. “So... wait, you’re telling me I should do a job that uses less brain?”
Castiel grinned. “Not at all. I’m saying that both your mental and physical talents are utterly wasted on a job that limits your creative ability to producing what someone else wants.”
“That’s not what you said,” Dean accused. “You just backtracked ‘cause you accidentally called me stupid.”
Castiel smiled at Dean’s hand, squeezing on the tips of his fingers. “I’m not sure what I said,” he admitted. “I try very hard to act like an all-knowing guru, but really I’m just an opinionated snob who doesn’t like when people sit in offices. It’s like putting people in cages for hours. The idea that the human race has evolved for millennia just so people can type numbers into a spreadsheet for most of their lives is so hugely flawed, I don’t even know where to start.”
“I think you said it all,” Dean smiled. “Rat race. But rats have a better time of it, because they get cheese.”
Castiel chuckled, “Ninety dollars an hour isn’t enough cheese for you?”
“Hey, come on, I didn’t say I don’t appreciate where I am,” Dean muttered. “Being grateful I can earn that kind of money is one thing, but I can’t pretend to enjoy my job. I do what I gotta do, you know? Bills to pay. More than ten years on and my college debt is still pending.” He paused, then smirked. “But seriously, when it comes to cheese, I’m a big fan of putting extra mozzarella on a pizza.”
Castiel cackled, feeling his eyes crinkle up. Now Dean’s aura was bright as a fire – and like fire, it was catching. Since the beginning of the session Dean’s energy had turned from a sludgy, sad colour to one filled with great verve. A bright springtime green emerged from his heart, red from his stomach to his groin, and a soft, soft blue drifted up to his head. Castiel knew his massages could improve someone’s wellbeing exponentially, but he couldn’t help but wonder...
“Dean,” Castiel asked with a smile, holding Dean’s hand still. “When was the last time you talked to somebody?”
Dean smiled back, shrugging. “Talked to my neighbour this morning. He told me my trash got ripped by racoons and would I please go and clean it up before the trash guys come by.”
“No, I mean really talked. Sat down, shared a meal—”
“I told you, I’m not dating.”
“Not a date.” Castiel’s smile faded slightly, and he leaned closer, resting his elbows on his knees as he gazed ahead at Dean. “Your muscles were stiff, but that was only half of what I fixed. I’ve never seen an aura as dark as yours clear up so quickly. You’re an extrovert, Dean. You need human contact, you need people around you. I’m just worried that as soon as you leave you’re going to sneak back into your shut-off world and ignore the things your soul is urging you to do.”
Dean looked down, mouth slowly closing so he could lick his lips. He seemed guilty.
“Promise me, Dean,” Castiel said. “Promise me you’ll go and find a friend who wants some company, and just enjoy being with them for a while. Your brother Sammy. Any of his friends. Go and find someone new, even. I hear dating sites are decent places to find friends...?”
“Yeah, if you want your apartment looted,” Dean scoffed. But his disdain was not without admittance: he nodded right after, lips pressed together. “All right. I’ll, uh... call someone over. Share a beer or something.”
“Good,” Castiel said. He reached and touched Dean’s shoulder; a warm, oily hand on warm skin. “I’m going to massage your legs now, so lie down again.”
Dean got comfortable, and Castiel went to move his stool towards Dean’s knees.
This was the easy part, Castiel thought. Dean was already satisfied emotionally, and now he could just lie there and relax while Castiel slid his hands up and down Dean’s thick, muscular thighs. He had robust thighs, built firm, like his hips and his back. He was all-round an attractive fellow, and Castiel felt honoured to have brought him some peace.
Castiel was halfway through loosening Dean’s tense calf muscles when he heard Dean snore.
Castiel’s body flooded with a strange heat. First of all he wondered if Dean’s fiery aura had somehow infiltrated him like a ghost, but no, that was not the case.
He heard Dean snore again, and that heat rushed through him once more.
He quickly realised what the feeling was. It was arousal.
“Damn it,” Castiel sighed, slumping in his seat. He shook his head, determined to carry on until Dean’s feet were tingling with delight.
But one more snore...
Castiel squirmed in discomfort, hating that he felt that foreign pulse between his legs. He gritted his teeth, gnawing at his own jaw as he circled his thumbs against Dean’s calf, moving down, down to his ankles. Such beautiful ankles.
Castiel spent five minutes massaging Dean’s feet. He shut his eyes for the most part, hoping that if he couldn’t see Dean asleep, the sight couldn’t tease him. Alas, Dean snored, and he snored, and he snored. The sound alone was enough to make Castiel want to kneel next to his face, blocking out the world just to observe him as he napped.
Of course, he didn’t do anything of the sort. He carried on massaging Dean’s heels and toes, like any professional ought to.
Dean snuffled a few times. On each occasion, Castiel smiled and peeked open his eyes, unable to resist. He smiled wider when he saw Dean’s lips twitch, or his eyelids flutter, or his eyes shift behind closed lids. Those little details were Castiel’s favourite to see.
Dean had lost himself to Castiel’s touches. He was completely vulnerable now.
Castiel hated that the knowledge made him hard. He just wanted the tight, achy feeling to stop. As the minutes wore on, and Dean’s feet became supple under Castiel’s thumbs, Castiel’s groin actually started to hurt. He ignored the pain, instead focusing on his breaths. In.... out. In... out. He synchronised his breaths with Dean’s snores.
Dean murmured in his sleep, his foot spasming. Castiel stroked it calm, running the heel of his hand against the arch of Dean’s foot. At once, Dean snorted awake, tickled by the touch. Castiel breathed a sigh of relief, looking down to check his arousal wasn’t visible. No. Good.
Freak, he heard in his head. He muffled his own internal voice and put on a smile, looking up to see Dean staring back.
“Did I just doze off?” Dean asked, rough-voiced.
“Don’t worry about it,” Castiel said placatingly. “It happens five times a day in here. Someone falls asleep and I know I’ve done a decent job.”
Dean laughed softly. “It’s not that, it doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s just, after years of coming here, every two weeks, give or take... I never fell asleep before.”
Castiel gave Dean’s feet one last squeeze. “Perhaps you were tired today.”
“That’s the thing, I wasn’t.” Dean seemed so full of wonder. His eyes tracked Castiel’s movement as he carried the stool back to its place under the head of the table, and then followed him again as Castiel went to the sink to wash his hands. “Must’ve been the heat in here. Or the oils. Smelled amazing. Still smells amazing.”
“Yes, I’m sure it was the oils.” Castiel nodded, watching his hands scrub up a soapy lather. “You’ll sleep well tonight, I think.”
When Castiel turned around, drying his hands, he saw Dean had flipped over to lie on his back, one knee propped up, hands behind his head. He looked genuinely confident, and Castiel was pleased to see it.
“There’s still a few minutes until your appointment is up,” Castiel said, glancing at the clock, then back to Dean. “I won’t charge you for the full hour.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Dean grinned. “Whatever you did, it was worth the eighty dollars.”
Castiel folded up the hand towel and hung it over the rail. “I’ll wait outside for you to get dressed.”
“‘Kay,” Dean said, sitting up. He was smiling to himself. A pleasure burned inside his aura, bright and youthful. Castel was so glad to see him glow that way.
Castiel waited outside his massage room, one hand on the door handle. He watched cars go by outside in the dark, headlights gleaming on the black, slightly icy tar.
The receptionist, Becky Rosen, peered across the carpeted foyer in interest, leaning out from behind her computer screen. “How did the appointment go?” she asked.
“Very well,” Castiel answered. “I don’t think he resents Benny’s retirement any more. But that’s more for him to say.”
“Benny was pretty much born in the eighteen-hundreds, it was about time he retired,” Becky uttered, rolling her eyes. “Dean requested a replacement masseuse with experience – I think he was a bit disappointed when I put him with you.”
“You could’ve put him with Rachel, she’s been doing this for ten years longer than I have,” Castiel said in confusion.
“Yeah,” Becky said, “but Rachel’s not single and hot.”
Castiel flushed. “Becky!” he complained. “I told you—” He took a gulp of air, struggling to turn it into words. “I’m not here as your plaything. I’m not here to be set up and put down by every man and woman you send my way. I’m not doing that! And I don’t want to argue with you about it again!”
He was about to slam his way back into his room, but paused to collect himself, remembering that he needed to knock. The pause lent him another retort, and he spun around to glare across the room to the woman behind the front desk. “And Rachel is a beautiful person! The fact you not only can’t see that, but would say such a thing out loud is exactly why you’re a receptionist and not a masseuse! Everyone is beautiful. Everyone.”
With that, he turned and rapped hard on the door.
“Come in?” Dean called. He sounded curious.
Castiel came in, trying his best to shake off the coat of fury he’d so hastily donned. He let out a slow breath, slumping back against the closed door.
“I heard all that,” Dean said. He was perched at the foot of the massage table, hands resting on the towel behind him, legs stretched out to the carpet. He was just pulling on his shirt the rest of the way, and he wasn’t wearing his boots.
Castiel swallowed, forcing a smile. “Apparently you’re not the only one who has been ushered into relationships you’re not comfortable maintaining,” he said quietly.
Dean gave Castiel a reassuring smirk. “You ‘n me together make this a club. We should get t-shirts.”
Castiel scoffed under his breath, tugging at the collar of his white polo shirt as he wandered further into the room. “Perhaps we ought to make those t-shirts suits of armour,” he said. “Under all that, nobody would look twice at us for physical attraction.”
“Yeah. What is it about attractive people and finding mates?” Dean uttered. “It’s not like there aren’t a hundred thousand other hot people out there, eager to add something to the gene pool.”
Castiel raised his eyebrows. “Did you just call me attractive?”
Dean raised his eyebrows too. “Are you surprised?”
“Um.” Castiel smiled lopsidedly. “I’m just... I’m very used to telling people they look stunning. I haven’t heard it said back in a long time.”
Dean pushed his lips together. “Well, buddy, it’s a point of fact: if you were the centerfold, you’d sell out.”
Castiel chuckled. He knew right away that this went beyond a friendly compliment: he saw the sparkle of attraction in Dean’s eyes, and all Castiel could think was Oh, crap.
Castiel cleared his throat. “I think your hour is up, now.”
Dean exhaled, shoulders sinking a nigh-imperceptible amount. “Cas... Your name is Cas, right?”
“Castiel,” Castiel replied. “But Cas is fine.”
Dean held his eye. “You know that thing... when you sleep with someone, and it’s amazing, and you talk all night and you just... let go when you’re with them...”
Castiel went over to the window, eyes down as he closed the blinds. “No, I can’t say I do.”
Dean paused, turning at the waist to look back at Castiel. “Wait, that never happened to you? But you’re hot, why wouldn’t someone wanna bang you?”
Castiel stalled on his reply. Instead he went to Ivor’s perch, reaching up to tickle the cat’s head. Ivor meowed, and Castiel meowed back. He then lowered his hand, eyes on Dean again. “I told you I never dated,” Castiel said at last, “but I’ve also never been... sexually intimate with someone.” He shrugged. “By choice. Not because of anything else.”
He hoped Dean couldn’t spot a lie when he heard one.
Dean’s expression showed a mixture of sympathy, interest and surprise, but the meaning of Castiel’s words soon sank in, and Dean then merely looked fascinated.
“But,” Dean said, “you can sort of guess what it would feel like, right? To be intimate? Emotionally, at least.”
“Yes,” Castiel nodded.
Dean turned back around, facing the door again. Castiel saw his throat tighten, and when Castiel approached, he saw Dean was stroking his hands with his thumbs.
“I, uh...” Dean swallowed. “I opened up a lot to you today. Benny—” Dean shut his eyes, eyebrows up. “Benny was never chatty. He got the job done and we got along, but it wasn’t like this. I wanna get up and put my boots on and get the hell out of here, but I’m sorta...” He trailed off, eyes fluttering open, his gaze drifting up to meet Castiel’s. “I think I need a hug or somethin’, I dunno.” He laughed the laugh of a man hopelessly insecure, head down, a frown between his eyebrows.
“Come here, then,” Castiel smiled. He opened his arms, beckoning with a hand. “Hugs come free of charge.”
Dean grinned, and he got to his feet, shyly making up the distance between the massage table and Castiel’s arms. Castiel stepped in and wrapped his arms around Dean’s shoulders, sighing when Dean wrapped his own arms around Castiel’s waist.
Dean sank into him. He was as vulnerable as he’d been when he fell asleep. God, Castiel was a sucker for moments like these.
Their embrace went on for a good ten seconds, and Castiel dared not be the one to pull away first. It wasn’t his hug, it was Dean’s. When Dean was ready, he’d pull away.
But he didn’t. He clung to Castiel, face buried against his shoulder. Standing. Squeezing.
“Dean?” Castiel touched the back of Dean’s head, scrunching up a handful of hair. “Dean, are you okay?”
Dean trembled. “Y-Yeah,” he said bravely, but both of them heard the lie. “I-I’m just...”
“Let’s get to the chair,” Castiel said. “Come on. We can sit down.”
Dean let go for a moment and Castiel took his hand, leading him to the armchair. He sat first, and his weight made the body of the chair rock on its frame.
Castiel held out his arms for Dean, and Dean – horribly embarrassed, of course – sat down beside him, and allowed Castiel to scoop him close and squish him tight.
“Do you know,” Castiel said softly, “that if cats aren’t touched when they’re craving touch – if they’re not petted, stroked, or licked by other cats – they can die? They die of sadness.”
“Hm,” Dean said. He snuggled closer, trying his best to hide his shamed face from Castiel’s view.
“I’m not sure if it’s true,” Castiel admitted. “I heard it when I was young, and the idea stuck with me. But it is true of people, I’m absolutely certain,” he said. He turned his head, looking at Dean’s screwed-up face and hands which clenched into Castiel’s polo shirt. “I became a masseur so I could help people through touch. But massage is only one way to do that. Any positive touch can heal. This is what I’m here for, Dean. Don’t be embarrassed for needing this. You’re only human.” He brought Dean close to his heart, and rested his chin on Dean’s shoulder. “You’re only human.”
Castiel felt Dean’s fingers slowly creep to the back of his neck, and there they clutched tight, seeking stability. Castiel felt Dean’s aura merging with his own; their energies collided, and all in a rush, Castiel felt the sting of Dean’s empty feelings, his loneliness, his longing – and Castiel poured forth his love and his compassion, trying to fill that dark gap in Dean’s soul with a bright and cheerful light.
Dean’s toes shuffled across the carpet, socks bunching up. Castiel smiled as he felt Dean’s toes nudging his bare feet. He stroked back Dean’s hair, and rested his forehead down against Dean’s neck. Oh, Dean was warm. Warm like Christmas.
The colour of the room had performed its magic: Dean’s blood was ignited with positive energy now, and it flowed to every part of his skin as easily as it was meant to. Tips of his fingers, tips of his toes. Castiel was sure he could even hear his heartbeat.
After what had to be three, perhaps four minutes, Dean swallowed and sat up. Castiel saw the redness around his eyes but said nothing, knowing some men didn’t like to admit they wept. Dean swiped at his cheeks and sat forward, making the heavy armchair rock forward a bit.
“Ah,” Dean sighed, a thick breath bursting from his mouth. “Sorry.”
“No,” Castiel said, reaching across to take Dean’s hand. “It was an honour. You’re shining like a star now. I love knowing I helped that come to be.”
Dean gave a flattered smile, though it wobbled. He gulped, eyes rising in blinks to the ceiling.
“How do you feel?” Castiel asked, giving Dean’s hand another squeeze.
Dean nodded. “...Kind of amazing?” A grin of surprise burst out of him. “Freakin’ awesome, actually.”
“Well worth that eighty dollars,” Castiel nodded. “Excellent.” He stood up, stretching his arms back. He then fetched Dean’s jacket from the back of the armchair and handed it to Dean. Unable to help himself, he touched Dean’s cheek in an affectionate gesture. Dean grinned, blushing again.
“I’ll see you in a month, perhaps more,” Castiel said. “Remember what you promised me.”
“See friends more often, got it,” Dean said. He put his jacket on as he stood up. The armchair rocked back into place, once again looking as lumpy and overlarge without a person in it to make it look full.
Dean put on his boots without doing up the laces, and he went over to the door. Castiel hung back, rolling up the used towels with the robe Dean had worn.
“See ya, Cas,” Dean said.
Castiel looked up, smiling. “Goodbye, Dean.”
Dean smiled once more. He took a deep, cleansing breath of hot scented air, then he turned to leave.
Castiel let out a breath once he was gone. Selfishly, he thought to himself that he’d rather like it if Dean had a bit of an ache in a week, maybe two. Perhaps he might come back sooner.
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