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on the levee

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1.

There’s only one bar and restaurant in a twenty-mile radius of the motel. That’s the problem with some of these towns. No variety. Two guys walk into the same bar every night for a week and don’t interact with anyone but each other? People are bound to talk. Cas is immune to the whispering, but Dean feels the eyes on them their last night in town, careful not to walk too close to Cas. He puts a good distance between their bar stools, and refuses Cas’s offer to try one of his sliders—even though they smell fantastic.

He doesn’t need his ass handed to him before the drive home tomorrow. He’s wound up after a week in a motel with Cas and Sam, who’s back at the room sleeping, so he ruffles the front of his hair and swivels to face the room.

It’s not long before he catches a woman’s attention: thirties, glossy dark hair, dark eyes. He gives her a smile.

“Passing through?” She leans against the bar to his left.

“Last night.”

“You busy?” He doesn’t miss the way she glances knowingly to Cas, then back. She’s wondering about them as much as anyone else in the bar. Her tongue slips out to wet her lips, already shiny red with gloss. Dean fixates on the way she drags her lower lip between her teeth. Maybe her lip gloss is strawberry flavored. He turns his back to Cas.

“My friend here was getting tired; he’s about to head out. Can I buy you a drink?”

She orders a Bud Light. Cas gets up and offers her his seat.

“Will you be alright getting back to the motel?” he asks Dean quietly, buttoning his coat.

“Just fine, Cas,” Dean says with the same smile he gave the woman. It’s not the kind of smile he should be giving Cas, but he lays it on, thick and false as his arm behind this woman’s chair. “Tell Sam not to wait up.”

 

 

2.

Loath as he is to admit it, Cas and Sam are often better at interviews: empathetic, instinctively kind. Dean’s a pro at getting information, but sympathy isn’t an act to them. He’s left to study a set of prints on the outside of an eighth-floor dorm window while Cas and Sam console hysterical freshmen.

It’s late August, the still air stifling in the dorms, which only have windows to cool them. It’s easily past ninety degrees in the room even with a box fan blowing full-speed. Dean has his jacket off but has sweated through his shirt, woozy and greedy for the Impala’s air conditioning. He didn’t sleep enough last night. He’s going to fall. Dizzily, he grips the window frame and sways into the heat.

There’s a sudden hand on his back guiding him away from the window, a cold bottle of water being pressed into his hands, and Cas’s steady voice.

“Drink.”

He does, Cas’s hand never moving from his back despite how sweaty he is; he’s probably ripe, but Cas remains at his side until the bottle is empty and his throat is a column of ice.

“Thanks,” Dean pants, gulping. He wipes his mouth and notices the way Sam has relocated interviews to the hallway.

“Why don’t you wait in the car?”

“I’m fine.”

Sighing, Cas works Dean’s shirt between his fingers, untucking it just enough to press his fingertips to Dean’s skin. The heat nausea dissipates as quickly as it came on, though Dean’s left shaking. He’ll be able to feel Castiel’s grace inside him for hours.

He leans against the closet with a second bottle of water against his neck and watches Cas peer under the bed with a flashlight, the way his suit pants stretch over his muscles, staining Dean’s face pink—he can’t blame the heat this time.

“Wish my boyfriend was like that.”

Dean blinks, startled. One of the girls, still trembling, is standing at Dean’s shoulder with her arms wrapped tightly around her stomach.

“Huh? No. God, no, we’re just…” His tongue is heavy. His back tingles from Cas’s touch and he speaks much louder than he means to. “We just work together.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

When he looks at Cas again, Cas is frowning, though it could be due to the sun.

 

 

3.

“Can I get you anything else? Any dessert?”

“No thanks,” Sam says. “Just the check.”

“Actually,” Dean pipes up. He’s stuffed full of prime rib with an arm flung behind Cas’s shoulders, but he’s been eyeing the bakery case since they wandered into the diner. “I’ll take a slice of your cherry pie, extra whipped cream.”

He winks at the server for effect and sits forward, placing both hands on the table.

“Anything for you?” she asks Cas, who mutters that he wants coffee but doesn’t look up from a rendering of the Impala he’s sketching on the back of his placemat.

“Coffee for him,” Dean says, “and I’ll take a cup too, sweetheart.”

“Two coffees and a cherry pie, coming right up.”

“Cas, you okay?” Sam asks. He folds his hands together the way he does on an interview.

“I’m fine,” Cas snaps, but there’s not time to ask what crawled up his ass and died, because the server is back with a damn nice piece of cherry pie and two steaming mugs of coffee.

“I brought an extra fork,” she says, with a suggestive nod in Cas’s direction, “in case you want to share. And the check. Pay up front.”

Dean stays quiet until she walks away, tapping his fork against the plate, dragging the tines through peaks of whipped cream. The extra fork lies inert on the table. He lets out a long breath through his nose and watches Cas in his peripheral vision, but he doesn’t reach for it.

“I’m not sharing the pie,” he says, because he feels obligated to say something. Cas’s pen goes scratch, scratch, scratch against the placemat.

“She thought we were a couple.”

“Well, we’re not, got it? You want pie, you get your own damn piece.”

Dean’s face is fury red. He drinks the coffee while it’s too hot and sets the cup rattling back into the saucer. Coffee sloshes on the table, soaking into Cas’s placemat and ruining the sketch.

Cas drags the tip of the pen through it anyway. The paper rips.

 

 

4.

It comes to a head in Montana. Reports of a hyena-like beast attacking livestock have them driving all night. Sam’s enthusiastic about possibly encountering a cryptid, but Dean is exhausted and his temper foul by the time they reach the motel around midnight. Cas hovers at his side.

Their reservation isn’t in the system, but the motel has two king rooms left. The clerk hands one key to Sam, the other to Cas and Dean, and tells them, “Breakfast starts at 7:30.” 

“See you guys bright and early,” Sam says. He doesn’t challenge the room assignments, just bounds off with his bag. Dean curses under his breath up the staircase and inside the motel room, where the king bed leers at him.

“Dean, what’s wrong?” Cas asks, touching Dean’s shoulder. It’s too much. He whips around, knocking Cas’s hand away.

“What’s wrong is I’m tired, and I don’t understand why everyone assumes we’re fucking.”

Cas takes a long, patient breath and blows it out slowly. He presses his lips together and lowers his head.

“I see.”

He storms out. Dean calls after him, texts to say he’s sorry, he’s a jackass, and calls Cas’s phone until after two, but he doesn’t receive a reply. Sam finally writes to say Cas is staying with him. Dean is sheepish the next morning, shuffling up with a “hey” to Cas in the breakfast line. They’re inches from one another while they wait for the coffee machine, but Cas doesn’t respond and doesn’t look at him.

 

 

5.

Tension in the bunker is at an all-time high since the incident at the motel, but they don’t talk about it. Cas studiously avoids Dean, so Dean does his damnedest to make it easy on him, eating dinner in his room and showering after midnight, once Sam and Cas are both in their rooms. The few times they’ve had to interact, conversation has been monosyllabic or channeled through Sam.

Sam suggests a guys’ night out, an evening at the pool hall—all three of them. Dean turns him down, but when Sam makes it clear to Dean that both people in his life will stop talking to him if he doesn’t get in the car, Dean goes in search of a clean shirt.

Sam drives. He challenges Cas to the first round of pool, so Dean sits at the bar to wait his turn. He watches the mirror behind the bar, reflecting an image of Cas, who is laughing at the pool table with Sam, his mouth a wide, gummy smile—the type he usually gives to Dean. He hasn’t smiled at Dean in weeks.

“Can I get you another?”

Dean jumps when he realizes the bartender is standing in front of him, watching him watch Cas in the mirror. She has a towel over her shoulder, a hand on her hip.

“Better make it three.”

She digs through the cooler and pulls out three bottles. He walks two over to Sam and Cas, who accepts the offering with a terse, “Thank you.”

“Sure you don’t want something else? They got a full bar.”

Cas shakes his head, but he does look Dean in the eye and smile faintly for the first time since Montana. Dean’ll take it. He touches Cas’s shoulder and smiles in return.

“Boyfriend?” the bartender asks a few minutes later when she catches Dean lingering on Cas’s reflection again. Sobering, he tightens his hands around the beer. In the mirror, Cas smiles at Sam and laughs and laughs.

“No. I, uh. I fucked it up.” Dean rubs his hand across his mouth, hiding the quiver in his chin. 

“I’ve been there,” she says with genuine empathy. She pulls out a bottle of Jack and pours them both a shot.

 

 

6.

Dean comes to in a room that smells like antiseptic. He hears soft beeping, a far-off alarm, the click and whoosh of medical equipment he can’t identify. His head and chest ache. Groaning, he tries to sit up, but his stomach muscles scream their protest and pain stabs his temples. The last thing he remembers is being pitched backwards into a wall that collapsed around him.

Bobby had it right; maybe Dean ought to consider retiring to a desk job.

He opens an eye, wincing at the too-harsh florescent light. The room is little bigger than a closet, just wide enough for his bed and a hard plastic chair to one side. Cas is sitting in it, clothes rumpled and his hair haphazard. He’s been sitting for a while. Cas leans forward earnestly.

“Dean.” He makes an aborted move for Dean’s hand, exposed above the sheet.

“Hey.” Dean’s voice is rough. “Where’s Sam?”

“At the motel. We’re taking shifts.”

“When can I get out of here?”

“I’ll check with the nurse. Will you be alright for a minute?”

Dean moves his head enough to nod, and Cas goes quietly into the hallway, closing the door behind him. It’s several minutes before he comes back with a woman in multicolored scrubs.

“Welcome back, Mr. Novak.”

Dean shoots a confused look to Cas, who fidgets with his tie and addresses the doctor.

“Can I take him home today?”

“I don’t see why not.” She scans Dean’s chart. “It’ll take a while to process your release, but we can have you out of here in a few hours.”

Cas thanks her. She leaves them alone, and he paces the length of Dean’s bed but doesn’t sit down.

“How come you didn’t use your mojo?” Dean asks.

“I tried. Your injuries...they were too severe. Sam wanted you to receive medical attention.”

“Oh.” Dean swipes his tongue over his chapped lips. “Novak?”

“Ah.” Cas stares at a mundane landscape on the far wall, displayed in a crooked frame. “They weren’t going to let me see you, so I said you were my husband. I know how you feel about that. I know it...disgusts you. To think of us involved that way. But I didn’t know what else to say.”

Perhaps it’s the pain medication, that he’s suffering from a head injury, that he’s in love, but Dean’s eyes well up. Dean’s a world-class asshole and he doesn’t deserve Cas. He doesn’t deserve him, but he wants him. He wants him so badly. 

Swiping at his eyes, he begs, “C’mere.” 

When Cas is close enough, Dean reaches for his hand. Cas grips Dean’s tightly, clasping it between both of his, which are warm and large and dry. He sits, scooting his chair close to Dean’s bed, and lets out an unsteady breath.

“I’m okay,” Dean whispers, squeezing Cas’s hand as much as he’s able, reassuring him in just about the only way he knows how. Cas brings their joined hands to his cheek and nods against them. His face is wet.

“Yes.”

“It doesn’t disgust me. It scares me. Cas, I’m worried about losing you. I’m worried about you gettin' killed because of me. Or gettin' tired of me. I’m scared you’re gonna leave.”

Turning Dean’s wrist, Cas shakes his head and kisses reassurance into the back of Dean's hand, over a bandage—they must’ve run an IV. He kisses Dean’s knuckles and the tip of each finger, parting his lips just enough around Dean’s thumb that Dean can feel the wet of his mouth. He gasps and tugs Cas forward by his coat.

Cas deserves first kisses over candlelit dinners and sunset vistas, but Dean gives him theirs in that hospital room, unable to sit up, his mouth soft and yielding. Cas leans over him. Dean’s free hand steals up to brush at the corner of Cas’s lips.

“You wanna break me outta here?”

Cas smiles against his mouth. He messages Sam and helps Dean out of bed, into his clothes, then checks the hallway to ensure it’s clear. They duck down a staircase and out of the emergency room. Sam waits outside with the car, and they climb into the back seat together.

“Drive,” Dean says.

Cas draws Dean against his side during the short ride back to the motel. Dean is stiff and sore and in moderate pain, but it’s comforting to rest his head on Cas’s shoulder, so he does. At a traffic light, he looks at Sam through the rear-view mirror and smiles, and lets his eyes slip closed.