Dean blinks down at the black satin panties folded innocently on top of the stack of clean clothes Cas has left neatly on the toilet seat while Dean was busy cleaning the last of the midnight-black, stubbornly-adherent selkie blood (fuck, that stuff burned) from underneath his fingernails.
What the -- ? Dean feels his brain stutter to a halt. A rivulet of water from his damp hair trails down between his eyebrows and along the side of his nose; he’s forgotten what to do with his hands mid-motion, movement arrested as he was lifting the thin hotel towel up to scrub his hair dry.
He notes, distantly, that his hands are shaking.
Though that could be a delayed adrenaline reaction rather than – well. It’s been one of those days.
The way his stomach has knotted instantly and completely in panic, though, that’s probably less to do with delayed shock than the fact that Cas bought him women’s underwear.
He closes his eyes and deliberately expands his chest in hopes this will jump-start his lungs into breathing.
And tries not to freak the fuck out like every muscle in his body so desperately wants him to.
You’re twenty-nine. He reminds himself. And Dad’s not here to shout or throw things or give you the fucking silent treatment. And the only other people in the hotel room are his boyfriend-the-fallen-angel and his brother the gayest straight boy that ever lived.
(“The term you're looking for is ‘metrosexual’ Dean,” he'd been told in Sam's best “I only left Stanford because I wanted to and I could waltz back in anytime” voice. Dean had been forced to walk away from the subsequent discussion between Sam and Cas before he'd punched one or both of them in the face).
It’s still a struggle – with even odds for a moment or two -- not to black out. He feels light-headed and a little nauseated. This is so not what he needed after taking down a couple of rabid seals, having his last clean pair of jeans soaked in tar-like blood that it was immediately obvious would never, ever come clean.
He should have known it was a bad idea to send Cas out on his own to buy Dean a replacement pair, but Cas had been the cleanest of the three of them and Sam needed his shoulder cleaned and bandaged. Dean had really wanted to get on that sooner rather than later, so he’d slapped a couple of credit cards into Cas’s palm and pointed the (former) angel in the direction of the Kohl’s across the highway.
“Dude -- it’s not that difficult. You’ve paid for shit, remember? The dinner we had at Denny’s on Monday? And when we went shopping for your jeans back in Ashtabula?” It’s part of Operation Enable Castiel, Angel of the Lord, to Pass For Human.
Some days they make more progress than others.
“I know how to pay for clothing, Dean,” Castiel tells him, slipping the plastic cards into the back pocket of his jeans in an obviously-conscious move. (He’s lately taken to mimicking the Winchester brothers’ physical movements, like a little kid trailing after his favorite uncles. It’s disturbing.)
Cas had returned twenty minutes later, while Dean was in the shower, and walked into the bathroom without bothering to knock. Three months ago, when Dean was still hiding behind a mask of indifference to the angel’s presence, he’d have reminded Cas about the personal space thing. But these days Cas is pretty much allowed into Dean’s personal space whenever he damn well pleases, however he pleases, so Dean hadn't wasted breath on a Miss Manners lesson.
“Thanks, Cas. Just leave ‘em on the toilet seat,” he’d called through the yellowing shower curtain, and as the angel moved to do just that Dean had gone back to rinsing the soap out of his hair without a second thought. Through the open door he'd heard Sam on the phone – probably ordering pizza or Chinese take-out. Otherwise Dean might have have suggested Cas join him under the warm spray.
He’s tired and not in the mood for anything energetic. But given their close quarters and Sam’s omnipresence, sometimes a shared shower is the only opportunity he has for the better part of a week to see and touch Cas naked. To run his hands uninterrupted from the nape of Cas’s neck to the crease where Cas’s ass meets the tight muscle along the back of his thigh.
“Sam says dinner will be here in fifteen minutes,” Cas had relayed, confirming Dean’s expectation regarding Sam’s priorities for the evening, and then he'd disappeared into the main room again, pulling the door gently shut behind him.
Dean fervently hopes his younger brother was too distracted by the prospect of food to notice what, exactly, Cas had purchased. Because he so doesn't want Sam's asking why Cas went out to buy Levis and came back with Victoria's Secret knock-offs.
Not tonight – not ever if he can help it.
Of course Cas would know, Dean realizes, putting out a hand to touch the smooth, black fabric. It’s slightly cool to the touch, feels good between his fingers and thumb. Of course Cas knows. Because Cas knows everything about him. In that creepy-yet-comforting “I’ve been inside your head” way that Dean tries hard not to think about most of the time.
He tries, for example, not to think when they’re in bed together whether – when Cas is touching him in this way or that – if he's just that good at reading Dean's body language or whether he knows what feels good to Dean because he's seen Dean with other people.
This is not something he's found the courage to ask Cas about yet.
But the panties? He has a feeling they might be an answer to that question. And he's really not sure how he feels about that.
This thing with Cas is still new, terrifyingly fragile and spun from titanium at the same time. Dean knows -- knows -- that what they have together is permanent, is forever in an angel sort of way (never mind the impending apocalypse, never mind Cas’s on-again, off-again mortality). And the knowledge of that, which he carries deep in his bones -- along with the sigils Cas carved there; can feel Cas’s name twined ‘round his heart -- is about as fucking terrifying as it gets.
Because what do you do with that, when you’re also sure you’re gonna fuck it up, somehow, get it wrong, disappoint the person – angelic being – whatever – the one person who knows you. Who's seen your soul and (miraculously) not found it wanting.
He looks down and realizes he’s fisted his hand in the panties without realizing it, knuckles a mottled white between the angry scrapes and bruises from his tumble on the gravel by the river (the second homicidal selkie hadn't given in easy).
He realizes Cas has cut out the tags, smoothed and folded the fabric. Thinks about how they've been left here, unannounced, a gift-giving in the time-honored Winchester style (read: don't get caught doing it).
He takes another deep breath, lets it out.
For a heartbeat Dean actually considers wearing the damn things. But that brings back the vertigo and he knows he just – can't. Not right then. So he drops the panties to one side. He slips into the crisp new jeans (Cas had remembered his size, he notes, which probably bodes well -- God help him -- for the panties) sans underwear, the denim feeling slightly scratchy but not altogether unpleasant between his thighs, and yanks the clean t-shirt Cas had unearthed for him over his head.
Tossing his towel into the damp pile in the corner of the bathroom, he bends over and picks up the underwear, shoving them into his pocket before sidling out of the bathroom with a, “Hey, did I hear the words 'pizza' and 'onion rings'? Did either of you losers think to grab some beer?”
Later that night, when Sam's fallen asleep during a re-run of Megashark vs. Crocosaurus on the SyFy channel, Dean slides off the bed where he and Cas have been dozing on each others' shoulders, and slips the black silk into one of the inner pockets of his duffle. He looks up in the act of zipping the duffle closed and sees Cas watching him.
“Want the bathroom first dude?” He asks softly, “Or are you gonna crash without brushing your teeth?”
“Dean --” Cas begins, then sees the shuttered look on Dean's face and wisely changes course, “-- why don't you join me in the bathroom and we can prepare for bed -- together?”
As Cas's attempts at flirtation go, that's actually not half bad: at once tentative and leering. And Dean is really grateful Castiel has taken the hint and let the panties issue drop (for now), so he hauls Cas to his feet so they can spend ten minutes in the bathroom alternating teeth-brushing with groping and kissing. Which turns into a good half hour of the sort of reverent touching that Cas never seems to get enough of and Dean could totally get hooked on – before realizing they've practically dozed off again in each others' arms on the pea-green shag rug that smells faintly of toilet bowl cleaner.
“Bed, Cas,” Dean murmurs, putting a hand on Cas's roving fingers, holding him still, but not pulling away. He loves this about Cas, loves how unashamedly tactile he is: hands and mouth on every inch of Dean's skin as if this, itself, is sex – is better than sex – even when (like tonight) both of them are too exhausted to even think about getting it up. “You got all night to hold me, remember?”
“Will you sleep without your shirt?” Cas asks, hopefully, and Dean huffs a laugh into Cas's collarbone.
“Sure, man. Sure. Whatever you'd like.”
Which is how he ends up on his back with Cas plastered to his side limpet-style, scrawny thigh a solid weight across Dean's pelvis, and Cas's arm like a vise across his chest, hand glued to Dean's upper arm where scar tissue tingles in response to the vestiges of Cas's grace.
Cas still doesn't sleep quite like a human, but when he crashes he crashes, and less than five minutes after they've settled under the covers he's no longer cognizant.
Dean, though, finds himself awake and staring at the patterns the lights from the parking lot leave on the stucco ceiling of their room, thinking about the panties hidden away in his bag, and the fact that the man wrapped heavy and slightly over-heated around him, had bought them – deliberately; Dean imagines Cas puzzling over the choices in the Intimate Apparel section and has to seal his lips against laughter – specifically for Dean. As a gift.