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Little Blue Dragon

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The sun is only barely rising across the city walls as Dean Winchester fumbles with the shutter of his stall. Despite the misleading rose-dark shadows palling across grass and uneven cobblestones, it’s already growing warm – unusual, for the weather to remain so stubbornly hot this far into fall. Dean finds himself sweating just from wrestling open the shutters that board up his market stall overnight. He wipes his brow, swears under his breath, and kicks the shutter in frustration when it won’t fold flat against the wall of his small shop.

Dean is lucky in that he lives closer to the Northern half of the continent; usually the heat doesn’t stick around after summer like it does in the South, but it’s persisted this year, for reasons that not even their city’s best scholars can determine. It’s weird, and the persistence of the hot weather at a time when it should be growing cooler is putting Dean in a perpetually bad mood.

“Wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?”

The voice is familiar, wry, and far too chipper for the early hour. Dean leans his forearms on the shoulder-height wall dividing his stall from its neighbor and glares. “Not all of us like being up this goddamn early, Sam,” he grumbles, trying to stifle a yawn that will prove his point but also open himself up to further teasing.

Sam, already setting up his cauldron and arranging the items he’s planning to use or sell, simply shrugs. “Maybe you shouldn’t stay up so late working on stuff,” he points out, lighting a small fire beneath the cauldron with a flick of his wrist. Damn it, he knows Dean too well. He grins when he looks up and catches sight of Dean’s guilty expression. “I’m right, aren’t I? What was it this time?”

No amount of shuffling feet and attempts at a nonchalant expression can save Dean from Sam’s pointed look. After a few long seconds, Dean sighs and relents, crouching down beside the crate of new things he brought with him to display at the market. From its depths, he draws out a bundle of cloth and thin, protective paper. His deft craftsman’s hands unwrap it with speed and care, and soon enough he’s cradling a fist-sized creation. He holds it up so that Sam can see.

The early morning sunlight filtering through the gap between wall and roof glints off blue-tinted steel wire, shaped and coiled over and over again into the likeness of a small dragon. It sits upright, paws placed neatly under itself and neck arched in an elegant mess of fine metal strands. Its wings are half-folded against its back, the webbing created out of small pieces of transparent blue glass, and the tiny sapphire eyes seem to sparkle out at the world.

It looks curious. Inquisitive.

Sam whistles under his breath and leans forward to get a better look. “Wow, Dean. You’ll be rid of that one by the end of the day. You’re already popular; if you keep making things like that, you’ll have people tripping over themselves to buy your work.”

He’s right in his assessment; it has to be one of the most technical pieces Dean has attempted, and he’s really damn pleased with how it’s turned out.

This particular piece has been haunting Dean for a while, in little snippets; different flashes of ideas or impulses or images. They’ve been hard to wrestle into one complete idea, but it had only taken him a week or two to pin down every single clue or detail. As soon as he had, he’d known that he had to create it – perhaps then the incessant dreams and thoughts and flickers of the something he can’t quite determine would stop.

So as soon as he’d finished the commissioned pieces that he’d wanted to work on yesterday, he’d bought himself a quick dinner and retreated back to his workshop. The wire had taken hours to coil and shape, and he’d spent hour after hour making adjustments on it. It wasn’t until the early hours of the morning that he was completely happy with it.

And he really is. Dean may never have seen a dragon in the flesh before, but he’s seen paintings and heard stories, and he’d like to think that the tiny metal sculpture cradled between his palms would live up to the real thing.

Last night, he’d still dreamed of blue scales and a rumble like distant thunder.

It wasn’t very effective catharsis, seeing as it hadn’t stopped the dreams, but he doesn’t regret it. Especially not when he looks down at the beautiful little creation in his hands.

“Yeah,” he agrees, absent-mindedly running his thumb down the arch of the dragon’s neck and over delicate wings. Dean’s distracted now, lost in thoughts of building and shaping and creating, of his mind’s strange occupation with… whatever the hell is going on. Sam gives him a knowing sort of look, then shakes his head and leaves his brother be. Dean moves back away from the gap when Sam begins humming to himself and sets the dragon figure on his front table so that he can start setting up.

Dean keeps his stall meticulously clean – unlike his workshop, which is a mess of organized chaos – and even though he swept it out before closing up two days ago, he grabs his broom out of the back corner and gets to work. The slow, methodical back and forth helps him empty his mind of the little blue dragon that is still haunting him, even now that it’s been created. He shakes his head and ignores it. The sweep of the broom helps him centre and prepare for the undoubtedly busy day that is to come.

By the time the stall is cleaned to his liking, the sun is just beginning to crest the nearby buildings, warming the square and framing the trees that line its periphery. Some are still clinging persistently to their summer greenery, but most have conformed to the cycle of the seasons, radiant in hues of red and gold. The concrete proof that the weather is still tapering into winter, despite the unnatural warmth, is something that Dean finds inordinately comforting. People are beginning to pass back and forth beneath the trees now, browsing the stores before the heat sets in or work calls them elsewhere.

Still, despite the fact that some people are already opening for business, Dean is in no rush. He sets out the wares that are stored in boxes at the back of his stall first, arranging them on the table and on the shelves fixed to the walls. Next, the new items that he brought with him from his workshop are set out in any gaps that he can find. The dragon is given a place beside his right elbow, and he finds his gaze drawn to it as he finally sinks down into his chair.

Even though it’s facing out into the street, Dean swears that it’s watching him as he knuckles at his eyes and forces back a yawn. The lack of sleep was worth it for such a good result – but that doesn’t stop Dean from lamenting the fact that he can’t just doze off here in his comfortable chair. Materials are expensive, therefore his works are expensive, and he can’t risk some nimble-fingered pickpocket pinching the wares that are going to put food on his table.

He distracts himself by clearing a space on the table in front of him and using his spare supplies to occupy his hands. Without the heat of his forge, there’s a limit to what he can actually make, but twisting coloured pieces of wire together gives him something to do while the street slowly fills up with market-goers. By the time Dean’s first customers stop to peruse his stall, he has a small assortment of little wire charms sitting by the dragon.

A little girl accompanying her mother blinks up at Dean with wide eyes, full of wonder and curiosity as she raises herself up onto her toes to try and see everything arranged across his table. Dean can’t help but smile at her, and when he passes over a necklace that the woman purchases, he hands the little girl a small flower, made of thin copper wire and polished to a shine. The little girl’s eyes grow impossibly wider, and she gives Dean a toothy smile before skipping away with her mother.

The rest of the day follows a similar pattern. The wire he uses to fiddle with between customers is all from his waste pile, offcuts that weren’t good for use on a piece that he wanted to be flawless enough to sell, so he doesn’t mind giving away what is essentially the sculptor’s equivalent of an idle doodle. They seem to make people happy, anyway.

The first offer on his wire-crafted dragon comes just before lunchtime. The man who approaches Dean’s stall is rather portly and followed by two servants. One is pulling a small but well-made cart, and the other cools the noble with a large fan – though it does little to help the sweat that beads on the man’s pallid brow.

The man doesn’t say hello to Dean, simply pores over the wares. Dean has to bite back a comment as he watches sweaty hands leave smudged fingerprints on his creations.

He can almost pinpoint the exact moment the man sees the blue dragon by Dean’s elbow. The noble’s small, dark eyes light up, and he jabs at it with a pudgy finger – thankfully, Dean’s table is too wide for him to actually be able to touch. “How much for the dragon?”

Dean glances between the man and the small dragon. How much should he ask for it? In comparison to other projects, creating the dragon was not overly costly or time consuming, so the price needn’t be as high as he has charged for some of his items in the past. With the way the man is eyeing it, however, compounded by the finery of his robes and the accompaniment of his servants… Dean could probably get away with asking a higher price. He’s definitely not above ripping off those who can afford to be ripped off, who swan around flaunting their money and dismissing those who they deem inferior. Dean could charge triple what he normally would, and the man likely wouldn’t bat an eye.

But just as Dean opens his mouth to name a price, a feeling of wrongness flares up behind his sternum. He frowns, and what comes out instead is –

“It’s not for sale.”

The man’s bushy eyebrows shoot up, and he scowls. Despite his (quite frankly, insulting) attempts to barter, Dean doesn’t budge, and the man eventually moves on. Even if Dean were selling it, he wouldn’t accept such a low offer.

Dick, Dean thinks – though, the man’s rudeness aside, he’s still not sure what prompted him to say no. He made the little dragon to be sold, after all. When he looks down at it, it stares back, sapphire eyes glinting in the sunlight. Weird.

Most of the day passes uneventfully. Several more people ask about the dragon. Perhaps he should begin making more – though if he struggles to part with them as he is struggling to part with this one, they won’t end up being sold at all. He turns down every person who enquires after it, without fail. He still sells a good portion of his other wares, though, and amasses himself a modest collection of earnings. By the time the sun begins to set over the city gates and the marketplace begins to empty, he is content with his day’s work, and ready to start packing up his store.

He resolves to twist his scraps into one final figure before he closes up, and starts refiguring small bits of gold and copper into the body of a bumblebee. He’s got the body done, and is working on the wings when a shadow falls across his table and draws his attention.

There’s a man standing in front of his stall, tall and tanned, with dark hair and the most piercing blue eyes Dean has ever seen.

He seems to be entranced by Dean’s wares, his gaze shifting from object to object as if mesmerized by the array of gleaming metal and sparkling glass. It gives Dean a chance to observe him in these few seconds; he takes in the loose but practical clothing that accentuates broad shoulders, and the silver band encircling his right forearm that gleams even in the fading sunlight. He touches Dean’s wares with reverent fingers, turning them this way and that until they catch the light. Dean is reluctant to pull him from his reverie, but he’s also completely captivated by this man.

“Can I help you?” he asks. He makes an effort to keep his voice soft, not wanting to startle his customer.

Blue eyes lift to Dean’s, and the weight of that gaze knocks the breath from his lungs and sends sparks racing down his spine.

He doesn’t even know the guy, has never seen him around, but he’s utterly, undoubtedly captivated. This man has to be one of the most beautiful people Dean has ever met – and that was before he even heard him speak.

“You have very green eyes,” the man says, his voice a deep rumble. He smiles, slow and soft, and even just the flash of white teeth is enough to make Dean dizzy. “Like peridot.”

Dean has had the pleasure of working with some beautiful gems in his profession, and certainly knows which have the best colour and shine. The comparison of his eyes to such a beautiful gem has him blushing at the tips of his ears – whoever this man is, he’s definitely chosen the right way to flatter Dean.

He can’t even figure out how to reply to that – was the guy flirting? It sounded so honest and genuine that he surely was, but Dean doesn’t get too much time to consider his reply.

“Are any of these items for sale?” the man asks in that same, rumbling tone, with the strength of mountains and earthquakes and the cool tranquility of a clear, still lake. It seems to reverberate through to Dean’s bones, though he doesn’t recall the man having spoken that loudly, and it takes him a second to reorient himself.

“I, uh – yeah,” he manages to reply – real smooth, Dean – and gives the guy what he hopes is a convincing smile. “They’re all for sale, just point out which ones you’re interested in and I’ll let you know their prices.”

The man hums quietly, not concerned about Dean’s awkwardness in the slightest, and diverts his attention back to the creations lining Dean’s table – though his gaze does dart back up to Dean’s face very few seconds.

If he didn’t know better, Dean would think that the man was an artist himself, with the critical way he examines each of Dean’s pieces, but the light and excitement in those crystal-blue eyes tells him differently. This man is a collector, he suspects, someone who enjoys and appreciates art. Not that Dean is saying that his art is worth being appreciated…

Except, well, it kinda is.

With the guy completely focused on Dean’s works, Dean has the chance to simply watch and appreciate the quiet excitement in the man’s expression, the reverence and care with which he handles each item he picks up and places back down. The man moves gracefully, sinuously, as though he’s aware of his body and every single small movement that it makes. If it’s this enthralling to simply watch him handle items, Dean would love to see what he’s like when he really moves.

And now his thoughts are taking a dangerous turn. He clears his throat and wills away the faint blush on his cheeks, instead smiling up at the guy as he shifts two particular items to the center of the table, making his intention to purchase them clear. One is a medium-sized paperweight, swirled through the middle with oranges and reds and yellows and tiny suspended bubbles, and the other is an intricately made dagger, razor-sharp and well-weighted. One beautiful, the other practical. Dean likes this man.

And then the stranger’s gaze falls on the small wire dragon beside Dean’s elbow, and his eyes go wide. For a few seconds, it’s as if he’s frozen, his hands hovering over the table as though he’s not sure if he can reach out and touch.

Dean sways back a little, giving the man room to pick it up, and watches as careful hands cradle the small, wire dragon. For a second, man and dragon seem to stare at each other, the stranger’s thumb carefully caressing the arch of a half-folded wing.

Blue eyes meet Dean’s, filled with awe and something else that Dean can’t quite decipher.

“How much for this one?” he asks. His voice seems a little shakier than it had before. “It’s… perfect.”

“It’s yours.”

Dean doesn’t plan on saying that, not at all, and especially not when he’s turned down so many customers throughout the day. ‘It’s not for sale’ had been right on the tip of his tongue, forced by habit – so the words take him completely by surprise.

Even so, he knows that he means it.

“There’s no charge for that. It, uh…” How does Dean say this without sounding like a crazy person? There’s no real explanation for it – just something he feels deep in his gut, like an idea for an item or a weapon.

Like the idea for the little blue dragon had come to him.

“It just seems to suit you,” he finishes lamely.

The corners of the man’s lips quirk up into a tiny smile, and Dean finds himself mirroring it. It’s impossible not to, really – the stranger is hypnotizing.

“Thank you for your generosity,” says that deep, rumbling voice. Dean could drown in piercing blue eyes and the soft crinkles at their corners, and can barely look away as the man hands over some coins for the other two items. His fingers, when they touch just briefly, are warm and calloused, and Dean hears his breath hitch as though it’s happening to someone else, not him.

The touch is gone too soon, and while the man’s gaze lingers on Dean for a second or two longer than it rightfully should, it’s clear that he’s about to leave. The sun is setting, the market emptying quickly now as people return to their homes, their families. This man is only following the flow of the crowd, the pull of home, but Dean desperately doesn’t want him to leave.

He can’t explain it.

“My name is Dean,” he blurts out. The stranger freezes in his tracks, then slowly turns back to Dean. The smile has widened now, chapped lips just parted to show a flash of white teeth. He’s caught the man’s interest.

“Dean,” he says, as though trying out the name. It sounds perfect, with the way it rolls of his tongue, in his strange not-quite-accent that’s not quite the common tongue either. “It is nice to meet you, Dean. I am Castiel.”

Cas-tee-el. It resonates with power.

It’s simultaneously fitting, and not. There’s something about Castiel that crackles, like the air before a storm, or the lingering thread of magic Dean can sometimes feel in Sam’s house, but different. And yet, the intense focus and wide-eyed enrapture that Dean had seen in the man’s eyes as he was surveying the created intricacies of metal and glass had been almost childlike with wonder.

This man is no normal man, though Dean can’t put his finger on what sets him apart from the rest of the milling crowd that occupies the city. Curiosity pricks at him, but he won’t pry. They’re only strangers, after all. There’s no guarantee that Castiel will even come back to his stall.

Gods, Dean hopes the strange man comes back to his stall.

“Nice to meet you too, Cas,” he replies with a grin – and the nickname rolls so easily off his tongue, despite how powerful the man's full name sounds. Dean loves it. His fingers twitch with the urge to reach across and shake Castiel’s hand, to feel his touch properly, but the man’s hands are currently occupied with his purchases, so he resists. Perhaps next time.

“I’m afraid that it is getting late,” Castiel says, and Dean feels his heart sink a little. “I must be going.” He pauses, though, as though he knows he must leave but still doesn’t want to. Dean knows the feeling – his heart beats a double-thud against his ribcage at the twinkle in Castiel’s eye, and the widening of his smile.

“Tell your brother that his hearing charms are very well-cast,” he says.

And then he’s gone, holding himself straight and tall as he strides across the marketplace. The trees ripple in the breeze as he passes by, greens and reds and oranges bowing down towards him before he disappears into the growing shadows at the edge of the square.

Dean stares after him, eyes wide and mind still reeling, trying to figure out what the hell just happened.

And then he turns to the wall separating his stall from Sam’s.

“Sammy,” he snaps, his eyes narrowed, arms folded across his chest even though Sam can’t see him. He doesn’t think. Fucking spying brother. “Were you eavesdropping on me?” The walls aren’t very thick, but they generally can’t hear conversations going on in the neighbouring stall unless its occupants are shouting, which he and Castiel certainly hadn’t been.

A shaggy head pops around the edge of the wall separating his stall from Sam’s. His little brother looks decidedly guilty, and Dean scowls. “Really? Listening in on my conversations?”

“I was curious, okay?” Sam gives up all pretense of staying on his own side, and the rest of his lanky body appears along with his head. “I’m Gifted, I can feel… whatever the hell that was. I was just wondering what he’d say, is all.” Sam’s expression turns sly, the corner of his mouth lifting in a cheeky smile. “I wasn’t expecting to overhear you get all bumbling and embarrassed, though. What’d he look like? I may be an eavesdropper, but I draw the line at actually scrying for the next stall over.”

Sam is unabashed about his curiosity, but Dean can feel his cheeks turning pink. His scowl becomes more pronounced, and he swipes a hand across his face. “He was, uh, tall… dark hair, blue eyes…”

So blue. Bluer than any stone Dean has ever worked with. He doubts that even the most expensive gem would be able to match that shade. And the way his teeth had flashed in the evening light, the crows’ feet beside his eyes, the faint hint of stubble lining his jaw…

Sam clears his throat, the fucker, and Dean snaps back to reality. His little brother looks far too smug.

“I don’t see why that matters,” he snaps defensively. “He bought some stuff, and he left again. It’s not like he’s going to come back. It’s not like I want him to come back.”

“Mmhm,” is all that Sam says, and there’s a knowing twinkle to his eye that Dean hates, because he is not infatuated with a guy he met for all of a few minutes – and a decidedly odd one, at that. No… he’s just intrigued.

“Did you manage to figure out anything about him?” Dean asks, grasping at Sam’s mention of his Gift. Anything to pull him out of the conversational hole he seems to have dug himself into. “You said you felt something, right? Is he Gifted? He knew you’d cast a hearing charm, that’s gotta count for something.”

Annoyingly enough, his brother just shakes his head. “Not that I could tell. It was weird… there was something about him, but I couldn’t tell you what it was. I’ve never encountered anything like it before. Usually normal people don’t pick up on magic unless it directly affects them, like the cooling charms.”

And isn’t that interesting. Dean starts to pack up, his hands busy with loading his leftover wares into the storage crates at the back of his stall while his mind picks away at the puzzle that is Castiel.

Sam, the bastard, just stays where he is and watches Dean work – though it’s clear that he’s doing some thinking of his own. “If he comes back and you find out more, will you let me know?” Sam asks eventually. Dean just grunts, though he turns to fix a glare on Sam as his younger brother continues on, his smirk evident in his voice.

“Don’t let me know anything else you find out, though. I don’t want to know if your awkward flirting will actually get you anywhere. Too much information.”

And with that, he disappears back behind the dividing wall to finish packing up his own stall, while Dean tries to glare a hole through the wood. “I was not flirting!” he calls, a few beats too late for it to be even slightly interpreted as the truth. Sam’s cackling response is just audible from behind the wall.

Ugh.

He wasn’t, though. Just making normal conversation. Totally normal conversation…

“It just seems to suit you.”

Fuck, okay. Maybe he’d been flirting.

Dean slams the lid of the last crate down a little harder than necessary, scowling down at the wood as though it’s offended him. If only he’d been a little less tongue-tied by the man’s beauty and innate strangeness, if only it hadn’t been so late in the day, if only, if only, if only.

It’s not like Dean can be sure that Castiel will come back.

(He really hopes he does.)

By the time Dean is completely done with packing up, he’s worked himself into a sullen mood. Sam, wisely, doesn’t press the matter any further than he already has. They grew up together, they know the lines that they shouldn’t cross if they want to keep the peace. Sam may be Gifted, but Dean is a damn good fighter, and any altercation between them isn’t going to end well. It’s always best to leave it, in these situations, and Dean can’t help the small spark of gratitude he feels as he locks up his stall, then lets Sam cast a protective spell over it like he did his own, just in case. The market is guarded, even at night, but one can’t be too careful.

Moonlight is just beginning to wash over the cobblestones as Dean finally reaches his house, a silvered counterpoint to the flickering yellow lamps that line the twisting warren of city streets. He still finds it too claustrophobic here, and even though he knows that the move was necessary, he still hopes that one day he’ll be able to return to the openness of the country to live. One day.

At least he still has his workshop here, attached to the rest of his house (which is, in fact, smaller than the space he has specifically allocated for work). He’s not in the mood to make anything new tonight, though. Tomorrow he’ll work on some custom orders, but right now all he wants to do is eat and go to bed.

A quick meal of bread, cheese, and an apple is enough to tide him over, since he bought a pastry or two earlier in the afternoon when the mood struck him, so it’s not long before he’s throwing open his windows to admit the cool night air into his bedroom. In the summer, it doesn’t do to let his house get too hot, and in the warm weather that still lingers around the edges of fall, Dean would rather err on the side of caution and not overheat his house. Besides, Sammy will definitely bitch at him if he has to come over and redo the cooling charms so soon because Dean wore them out with his laziness.

The cool breeze feels magnificent over his bare skin, and the sheets on his bed feel even better as he slips between them, melting into his mattress. He wouldn’t have thought it possible that a full day of manning his stall would be so much more exhausting than a day at the forge, but it’s a different type of exhaustion.

Dean sleeps easily that night. It feels cooler than it rightfully should, like one of Sam’s cooling charms without the faint, underlying buzz of the Gift.

When Dean dreams, he dreams of blue eyes and rumbling voice and warmth.

~

Dean has to spend the next couple of days in his workshop, creating and delivering custom orders and other things to sell at his stall, but once all his wealthy and demanding customers are satisfied, he’s able to make it back to the marketplace to reopen. There’s nothing different about the routine that he’s slowly settling into: get Sam to lift the spell, unlock the shutters, wrestle them open, clean out his stall, set up. But for some reason, he feels off. There’s a sense of anticipation lying just under his skin like the electric current carried on the air before a storm.

Nothing unusual happens that day. No strange, blue-eyed men make a sudden appearance.

Dean lingers by his window that night. He likes to think that he could look out past the city walls to the forest and mountains beyond – he can’t, of course, he’s too central and the walls are too high, but he likes to imagine. The buzz under his skin settles and lingers, and soon he’s accustomed to it. It’s simply normal, a part of his life.

Still, some things are unexplainable. Inexplicable. Dean’s hands are restless, his mind wanders. One day, while he’s manning his stall, he looks down at the pile of coloured wire scraps he’s been idly toying with to find that he’s separated all the different shades of blue and has been twisting them into a small sphere.

Another time, he’s in his workshop carving the handle of a new shortsword when, out the window, he sees a young servant being berated by his mistress. He watches as she strikes the boy, and protectiveness surges up in his gut – but a passerby on the street intervenes before he can do more than drop his work, let alone figure out how to help. The woman looks reasonably chastised when she moves on, the stress of the situation fades from Dean’s chest, and he finally looks away from his window to return to his work. When he makes to pick up the half-made hilt he had previously dropped onto the table, he sees that the surface of the wood has been charred, black smudges marring his handiwork.

He blames himself for that one, figures he was too tired to notice the imperfections in the wood when he selected it, and goes to bed.

He just can’t seem to sleep as well, these days. It’s been a week since the first (only) time Cas visited his stall, but he can’t stop thinking about him. The dreams are near-constant, fleeting glimpses of maybe-memories, flashes of sound or colour or feeling that Dean can barely remember when he wakes up.

The exhaustion permeates his life to the point where he’s sure he must be seeing things; the flowers on his kitchen table that never seem to wilt; the now-intact window in his workshop that he’s sure was cracked yesterday; the way that a deep, rough voice draws his attention in the marketplace, until he realizes it’s not… who he thought it was.

When Dean confesses some of these happenings to Sam, his brother orders him to rest, to stay at home and work on replenishing his stocks. He goes, and he sleeps better, but while he doesn’t always feel so exhausted, the dreams stay. His thoughts of Cas stay.

Every day that he’s at his stall, he’s constantly hoping that Castiel will turn up, with his piercing blue eyes and his warm touch and his dark hair against tanned skin. Every day that he’s not at his stall, he can’t help but fret; what if Cas turns up and Dean isn’t there?

Or, even worse, because Sam opens his stall every day: what if Dean isn’t there, but Sam is? Dean doesn’t trust his brother not to say something monumentally stupid or embarrassing. Like telling Castiel that Dean was flirting with him, or that he’s been watching the crowds every day, hoping for a glimpse of dark bedhead. Because he’s not. He’s just a little curious about the guy, is all. That’s it.

Dean Winchester does not pine.

But maybe, just maybe, he misses his strange, mysterious visitor.

~

Dean has almost given up. Usually, he’s all smiles, talking happily to his customers as he fiddles with whatever piece is holding his attention at the moment. Of late, it’s often been teeth, claws, creations in blue and bronze-orange hues, scaled patterns and swords with delicate but razor-sharp blades.

Today, he sits behind the table of his small stall, idly fashioning his offcut wires into the skeletal shape of a wing. There’s really no reason for his melancholy mood  – but there’s also no doubting that he’s been selling less and less items. He hasn’t wanted to create as much, hasn’t had people want to approach him. And if he can’t get a handle on this situation soon, he’ll be in trouble.

Dean lifts his mug of coffee to his lips and takes a long pull, until it’s nearly down to the dregs, then returns his attention to the wing. He’s still distracted, though, thoughts circling round and round in his mind, and the wire warps when Dean grips it too hard. He sighs, straightens it out, and sets it aside. There’s no point in damaging the things he’s trying to create, after all. Maybe if only he weren’t so damn tired…

He reaches for his mug, wrapping his fingers around it and lifting and—

It’s heavy.

Surprised, he pulls it closer to his face. It’s still hot and almost full, minus the liquid that he drained with his last (first?) sip. He’s sure he remembers drinking more than that.

It’s probably his tired brain playing tricks on him. Dean rubs at his eyes and takes another sip, turning his gaze outwards.

The crowds milling around in the marketplace square are colourful and lively, such a contrast to Dean’s mood. Out of habit more than anything, Dean scans through the people there, his gaze idly flicking from face to face.

It’s not like he expects to find what he’s looking for, after all. It’s been too long.

And then Dean sees him.

He’s just as tall and beautiful as he had been the first time. The fall afternoon sunlight glints off the jewelry that he wears around his throat and on his hands and arms, dazzling gleams of gold and bronze—but not even the highly polished shine can compare to the bright blue of Castiel’s eyes.

Dean’s pretty sure his mouth has fallen open in shock in the handful of moments it takes Cas to reach his stall, and he has to force it closed again to reciprocate the warm smile Cas gives him.

“Hello, Dean.”

~

It takes a few minutes for Dean to get over his shock and get Cas situated in his stall beside him – sitting on Dean’s stool, while Dean makes do with an overturned box. He can’t help the huge smile he knows is on his face, or the way that every one of Cas’s touches, accidental or not, feels like fire racing through his veins.

It’s like being a teenager again, fumbling his way shyly through a conversation. Dean shows Cas the things that he’s been making, and Castiel plays idly with the wire wing as he listens intently to Dean’s explanations. When he gets it back, the angles of the wing’s bones are a little different, having been tweaked into a position that they weren’t before. Dean runs his fingers along the wire and smiles to himself, then sets it aside.

When he looks back at Cas, he sees the man fidgeting in his seat. It doesn’t take a genius to notice the way Castiel’s gaze keeps darting down to the satchel sitting by his feet, a soft blush colouring his cheeks. 

“Whatcha got in there, Cas?” Dean asks with false casualness, leaning his back against the side of his stall and watching as Cas starts. His expression goes shy, and he reaches for the satchel, pulling it up into his lap.

“It’s, um. A gift,” Cas says, fiddling with the straps holding the satchel closed. “It took longer than I had anticipated. I apologize for my lengthy absence.”

He says it with such raw sincerity that Dean can’t help but smile and shake his head. “It’s fine, Cas. Really.” He didn’t notice the length of time at all. Not one bit.

Yeah, Dean’s gotten pretty good at squashing down the little voice of truth and reason at the back of his mind.

“Regardless of whether it is ‘fine’, Dean,” Castiel says with a raise of his eyebrow, “I still regret that I had to spend time away. I hope my gifts make up for it.”

Wait. “Gifts?” Dean asks, frowning over at Cas. “I thought there was one gift?”

Castiel looks like a guilty child, caught stealing sweets from the cupboard. He swallows, and won’t meet Dean’s gaze. “I… perhaps… brought more than one thing. You won’t receive them all today, however. It’s a… process.” He clears his throat awkwardly, and Dean wants to ask what the hell he’s talking about with this ‘process’, but the questions fall away when Cas reaches into the satchel and withdraws his hand.

In his palm is a single, large, green garnet, still rough-hewn from the stone it was created in, but undoubtedly one of the best quality stones Dean has ever seen, even in its unpolished and uncut stage.

He sucks in a sharp breath, forgetting the weight of Cas’s intent gaze for a second as he reaches out to take it. It feels warm beneath his palm, and catches the light when it rocks to the side.

“Cas,” he breathes in shock, and his eyes are wide with shock when he lifts his gaze again. “This is beautiful.”

Castiel’s ensuing smile feels brighter and warmer than the sun.

~

The gifts don’t stop, after that. They don’t come all the time, but they certainly don’t stop. Cas comes to his store almost every day that Dean is there, and they spend their time talking or sitting in comfortable silence.

Sometimes, Dean will look over and see Castiel mesmerized by something – a shiny piece of glass, an intricately carved wooden trinket, the blade of a dagger that spills a rainbow of colours across the ground when held to the sun at a particular angle. It’s incredibly endearing – almost as much as the shy expression on his face whenever he presents Dean with a new gift.

Dean asks where – how – Cas gets these items every time, but he’s never given a satisfying answer, if he’s given any answer at all. After a while, Dean gives up, and just asks that Cas is safe when he travels with money or expensive gifts. He knows the types of people who roam the forest, after all.

Cas always promises that he’s safe, and he must be, because he turns up at Dean’s store almost every day without fail for the next few weeks.

Despite the gifts (ingots of precious metals, a beautifully crafted dagger, a tarnished relic of jewelry from a civilization long forgotten) and the ease of regular conversation, Dean is unable to glean any information from Castiel about his past. No matter how hard or how often he pushes, Cas just thins his lips and shakes his head, quickly redirecting the conversation. Sometimes, it looks like there’s a trace of some unreadable emotion (regret? fear?) in his eyes, but even then, he stays silent.

But there’s something about Castiel that draws Dean in, despite his mystery. Perhaps because of his mystery.

And, while Castiel may not be forthcoming with information about his life and his past, there are a few things that Dean can figure out for himself. Cas is from down south, judging by his tan, his way of dressing, and the semi-distinguishable accent. He blushes when Dean teases him about having brought the warm weather with him to the north, which seems to be intent on staving off the cold creep of winter, but doesn’t deny his heritage, which Dean marks as a small victory. He must travel a lot, since he occasionally lets slip quick anecdotes or facts about other places, and from his historical knowledge, he must be at least somewhat educated or well-read. And then there’s his undeniable wealth, as evidenced by the gifts he brings Dean, that he is never allowed to decline however hard he tries – not that he could ever deny Cas anything, especially not with how amazing the gifts themselves are.

Dean knows Castiel – at least, somewhat. There’s only so much he can figure out without Cas’s aid, but he’ll get to the bottom of whatever Cas is keeping from him, he’s sure of it.

He’s determined to figure Cas out, no matter how long it takes.

~

Dean looks at the garnet on his workbench, and he reaches for his pen and paper.

He takes the gem and the sketch to one of the best jewelers in the city, and the next day picks up a beautifully cut, polished garnet, so similar and yet so different to the one he had left. It’s elegant and beautiful, almost glowing in the sunlight, and yet still retains some of the raw beauty that had drawn Dean to it the first time Castiel had settled it gently in his hands.

It’s exactly what Dean wanted. That day, he doesn’t see Cas, but spends all his time in his workshop, bent over his forge and sweating with exertion until finally, with the moon pooled on his workbench, he’s finished. His project had taken less effort and struggle than he’d anticipated, the metal always hot enough, always taking the right shape on the first try.

He falls into bed, exhausted and smiling, and he dreams in flashes of blue and green.

The next morning, despite his late night, he wakes early and with excitement buzzing through his veins. For the first time, he arrives at the marketplace before Sam, and turns his gaze up to the trees lining the square as he waits.

One green-brown leaf detaches from its branch and spirals lazily downwards to land at Dean’s feet.

Sam arrives not much later, and removes the protective warding on Dean’s stall with only a little bit of teasing and a few incredulous looks. It doesn’t take long at all for him to set up, his movements jerky and rushed, and then he’s sitting down on his stool, his bag tucked carefully away. Beside him sits Castiel’s stool, waiting.

It’s not until lunchtime that Cas makes an appearance. When Dean glimpses him from across the square, making his way through the crowd, it hits him just how tired Cas looks. Even from a distance, Dean can see the slump to Cas’s shoulders, the bags under his eyes.

He lights up when he sees Dean, and most of the exhaustion dissipates, but it’s still there. Dean just hadn’t seen it properly until now, had only caught glimpses over the past few days.

“Are you okay?” he asks when Cas slides in behind the table and takes a seat on his stool. The precious cargo in his bag goes forgotten. “You look… tired.”

Castiel gives him a smile, only a little dimmer than it usually is. “Yes, Dean, I’m okay. Just… didn’t sleep well. I’m sorry I was late.” The conversation turns away from there, as Cas starts talking about the street performer who had captured his attention, but the non-answer niggles at the back of Dean’s mind until, slowly, it fades.

They talk as grey-black thunder rumbles overhead, and Castiel watches the idle movement of Dean’s hands with a single-minded intensity as Dean polishes some of his jewelry items. They only break off their conversation when Dean has to talk to a customer, and even then, Dean can still feel the weight of Cas’s gaze on him.

Eventually, most of the crowd has dispersed, the clouds overhead have mostly cleared, and the burnished rays of sunset streak the marketplace in russet gold. “Where did the time go?” Dean asks on a laugh, and a panicked look crosses Castiel’s expression, as though he hadn’t realized until now. His throat bobs as he swallows, and for a second, he looks pale beneath the tan.

It’s there and gone so quickly that Dean must have imagined it.

Still, Cas seems a little quiet and introspective as he helps Dean pack up, his gaze downcast and his eyes a little unfocused. Dean tries to coax him out of whatever mood he’s fallen into, but it doesn’t work until he grabs his bag and straightens up. “Hey, Cas,” he says with a grin. “I’ve got something for you.”

Suddenly, those blue eyes are laser-focused, and he has all of Castiel’s attention.

Dean’s heart feels as though it’s in his throat as he takes a step closer to Cas and reaches into his bag. Fuck, he really hopes Cas likes this, and doesn’t take offense at how Dean used his gifts.

From the depths of his bag, he withdraws a silver and gold armband, the metal carefully woven and intertwined in strands, with the perfectly cut and polished garnet sitting in the centre. Cas draws in a sharp breath, his gaze flicking between Dean’s face and the piece of jewelry cupped in Dean’s only-slightly-trembling hands.

“Is this for me?” he asks, his voice tinged with awe, and Dean offers him a shy smile. “Yeah,” he says softly, and watches as Cas reaches out a tentative hand to trace the metalwork and the edge of the gem.

“It’s beautiful,” he whispers, then turns his hand palm up. He waits like that, perfectly still, his eyes on Dean until he realizes what Cas wants.

It feels more intimate than it should when Dean takes a half-step closer and slides the armband over Cas’s hand, up his forearm, until it settles on the curve of his bicep. It fits perfectly, and Dean meets Cas’s eyes again, their breaths mingling in the space between them.

The silence stretches out, gossamer thin and strung tight, and then… “I have something for you too, Dean,” Cas murmurs. The distance between them grows impossibly smaller as Cas reaches into the pocket of his tunic.

This time, it’s Dean’s turn to be wide-eyed and speechless. Dangling from Cas’s fingers is a necklace; a thin leather cord with a pendant attached to it. And the pendant is unlike anything that Dean has ever seen. It almost looks like…

“Is that a dragon scale? From a… a real live dragon?” It’s deep blue and shimmers iridescently in the sunset light, mounted and protected by a silver backing that holds the scale in place with tiny brackets.

The corner of Castiel’s mouth lifts in a smile. He nods, and though his gaze is earnest, it seems a little nervous, too. “It is. I’ve been told they are quite hard to come by. Do you… do you like it?”

Does he like it? Is that even a real question? “Yeah, Cas,” he breathes, reaching out to cup the scale in his hand. It’s about half the width of his palm, and it almost feels warm as he strokes his thumb over it. “It’s… it’s amazing.”

Castiel’s smile is bright and genuine and breathtaking, and Dean can’t pull his eyes away as Cas lifts his hands and loops the leather cord of the necklace over Dean’s head. The scale settles just below Dean’s clavicle.

It feels right.

They’re so close, Dean’s hands hovering awkwardly in the space between them. Castiel seems transfixed by the sight of the scale pendant against Dean’s skin, but his gaze lifts to Dean’s eyes when the man clears his throat.

His tongue darts out to wet his lips, and Dean swallows; he wonders if he’s imagining the tension between them or if Cas feels it to. From the look in Cas’s eyes, he’s not the only one.

Dean sways forward a little, biting down on his bottom lip, and then—

“Dean!”

Sam’s face appears directly to the right of Dean’s, hovering in the air and shimmering with magic. Dean balks, rearing back in shock. The fucker looks between him and Cas, a smug grin on his face as he takes in the situation and their surprised faces and pink cheeks. “Sorry, was I interrupting something?”

“Not at all, Sam,” Dean grits out. “Now, if you could kindly fuck off.” He swipes irritably at the image, and it disappears. Having a brother who can scry is a real pain in the ass sometimes, and when he hears Sam cackle from the other side of the wall, he certainly somewhat regrets that he busted his ass in order to put Sam through his Gift education. Ungrateful little shit.

Castiel’s eyes are still focused on the air where Sam’s face was, his brows creased in a tiny little frown.

“I’m sorry about that,” Dean apologizes. “Sam’s an ass sometimes.”

The corner of Cas’s mouth ticks up in a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “He can be,” he agrees, “but you love him nonetheless. I never had siblings, so you should count yourself lucky, practical jokes and all.”

The mood has shifted; the moment is gone. Dean leans back, out of Cas’s space, and clears his throat. There’s an unreadable look in Castiel’s eyes as he comes up to rub his bicep. His fingers trace the edge of the armband. “I’m sorry,” he says, before Dean can figure out what, if anything, he could say to restore the situation – or at least make it a little less awkward. “I have to go. I’m… very tired, and it will be cold soon.”

Dean wants him to stay so badly, but it is getting late. Nightfall is rapidly encroaching on the dusk light, and his lack of sleep is catching up with him almost as much as it seems to be with Cas.

They have tomorrow to talk about the almost that wasn’t quite resolved. Otherwise, he wouldn’t let Cas go without saying, doing something. But as it is, he smiles, and nods. “Sure, Cas.”

Castiel’s eyes are soft, and he half-lifts his hand, as though he wants to touch Dean, but stops himself. His hand falls back to his side. “I’ll see you again, Dean,” he says – then, quieter, as though almost to himself…

“I will.”

And then he slips out of the stall and, with one final look over his shoulder at Dean, makes his way across the darkening and empty marketplace and disappears.

Dean has the distinct feeling that something has slipped through his fingers.

“You’re an asshole, Sam,” he says wearily as he shoulders his bag and watches Sam put up the wardings on their stalls. Sam just laughs, expecting more teasing or indignant anger, but when none is forthcoming, he turns fully towards Dean, and his expression falls. “I’m sorry, man, I really didn’t realize you guys were that… close. I thought it’d be funny.” He gives Dean a mildly unimpressed look. “You’ve definitely done worse to me.”

He has, that’s for sure, but this felt… different. Dean just shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair. “It’s alright, Sammy. Let’s go.”

There’s always tomorrow.

~

The next day, the leaves fall from the trees, and Castiel doesn’t show.

At first, Dean just thinks it’s a one-off. When he closes up his stall at the end of the day with no sign of Cas, he tells himself that he’ll turn up tomorrow. He’d said he’d be back, after all.

Dean tells himself that the next day, and the next, and the next. Eventually Sam tells him to go home and rest, his lips downturned in the guilty, kicked-puppy expression that Dean knows means he feels bad about interrupting the two of them on that last day. It’s not Sam’s fault – he hadn’t known that Cas wouldn’t be back, and neither had Dean – but he’s also not ready to forgive his brother, so he doesn’t say that aloud and continues to sulk.

He thinks about the moment over and over, the not quite, the what if. They’d been so close.

Sam promises to let Dean know if Cas shows while Dean is holed up in his workshop, but there’s never any good news. It’s like Castiel has completely disappeared, and it twists like a knife in Dean’s heart. He could’ve said something, told Dean that he was leaving, and why.

He even asks Sam to scry for Cas, after two weeks have passed and there’s been no sign of him. He sits beside his brother as Sam presses his hands to the side of his cauldron and closes his eyes, knowing that he’s picturing the dark hair and tanned skin and blue eyes that Dean is so intimately familiar with.

But it turns up nothing. Sam frowns as he pulls his hands away, his eyes troubled, and Dean wonders if it has something to do with the weird aura, the not-quite-Gift, that Sam senses around Cas.

It’s just another mystery to add to the ever-growing list.

If he could have just one question answered, though, he knows what it would be.

Why hasn’t Cas returned?

~

Dean usually doesn’t mind the winter, but this year it replaces the strange summer-fall with dizzying speed and intensity. It feels too dark and too cold this year, especially without the heat that Cas almost constantly exudes, or the glimmers of light that sparkle in his eyes whenever he smiles. Sitting with Cas by the warmth of the fire and talking, or just being in each other’s company, would have been an amazing way to pass the short, cold days. But now it’s just him and the cold glass, cold metal, cold everything. Not even Sam’s Gift can warm him properly.

He’s miserable.

And to make matters worse, he’s stuck at Sam’s house. One of the upsides to having a Gifted brother is getting charms and spellwork done for free, but now that the first heavy snow has hit the area without warning, Sam, like all his contemporaries, is flat out trying to complete all the requests for more heating spells, more fire-starters, amulets, anything people can get their hands on. Winter has hit with a vengeance this year, so the few Gifted in the city are flooded with work.

Which is good for Sam’s pockets. But it means that Dean’s own house and workshop are absolutely freezing. Sam promised he’d be able to get around to apply some heating spells tomorrow morning, but right now Dean’s only option of not freezing is to bundle himself up in furs and blankets at home, or to camp out in Sam’s warm living room while his brother is out working.

He’s begrudgingly chosen the second option – while he’s been living in seclusion for a while, he can’t really get any work done if he’s so swamped by furs that he can’t lift his arms. He could always steal a heating amulet, but they’re extremely expensive to make and he doesn’t want Sam to be down one if any of his wealthy customers ask for a personal charm. Besides, he likes to think that the necklace Cas gave him has the same effect. Sometimes it definitely feels warm, and he attributes that to the scale’s origin.

So that’s how he ended up sitting on the floor of Sam’s living room with a whetstone in one hand and a pile of different swords and daggers beside him, slowly sharpening each blade into a razor-sharp edge. It’s dull work, but it’s all he can do without his workshop.

It also lets his mind wander, which is really not something Dean wants right now. Somehow, no matter how hard he tries, his thoughts always redirect themselves.

Jewel-blue eyes.

Gravel-deep voice.

A laugh like embers, warm and soft and rich.

Heat and warmth and fire.

The whetstone slips, and Dean curses as he realizes he’s damaged the dagger’s edge by gouging it into the blade.

He grits his teeth and shakes his head, trying to dislodge the constantly creeping thoughts that have not subsided with Castiel’s absence. Sometimes he can deal with them, force them down, but they always return, creeping back into the edges of his consciousness. There’s not much he can do about them. He’s tried.

He’s about to check the extent of the damage done by his mistake when the front door bursts open, admitting both Sam and a small avalanche. The snow melts away into nothing as it crosses the threshold, and Sam spares Dean a quick glance as he shucks off his gloves and hat and makes his way over to his work table.

“Are you up to anything important right now?” he asks as he rifles through his drawers, coming up with a handful of small drawstring pouches. Dean raises an eyebrow as he watches his little brother pull open another drawer and scowl down at it  – never a good sign.

“Not really?” It sounds like more of a question than the statement that it is, but it sounds suspiciously like Dean is going to get roped into to doing something for Sam. He’s not particularly keen on going outside right now. He checks the dagger he’s been working on one last time, winces at its new blemish, and sets it aside. “Why do you ask?”

Sam is already halfway to the door, blowing back out as quickly as he came in. He must really be swamped by customers – though that’s not a surprise, judging by how high the snowdrifts are already. At least he pauses in his hurtling trajectory to give Dean an answer, shoving his hat back down over his ears and pulling on his gloves.

“I’m almost out of supplies – do you think you could go up the mountain a little way and find some more firestone for me? I know there’s still some left in that vein. You remember where it is, right?”

Dean does, though that fact is not encouraging him to want to help his brother. Walking up the mountain and back will take up over an hour, if not two, and the knee-deep in snow isn’t going to be granting him any favors. Still, he’ll go. For Sam. Story of his life, really. Sam has never turned his back on Dean when he needed him, so Dean isn’t about to do the same, even if he’s not looking forward to the trek.

He means to deliver some kind of witty retort or at least complain about how Sam is treating him as a damn apprentice, but –

“Thanks Dean, you’re a life saver, I owe you one!”

The door slams closed behind Sam before Dean’s words can even reach the tip of his tongue.

Damn it. He didn’t even get to say yes, let alone deliver his witty rejoinder. Sam’s assumption that he’d just do it, without sticking around to confirm, only worsens Dean’s already foul mood. He grumbles to himself as he puts the weapons away, and the muttering turns to cursing as he slices his finger on the blade of the dagger.

The dagger that, he’s sure, he had blunted and damaged with the whetstone.

But surely that can’t be true, because here it is, completely intact and sharper than ever.

Dean stares at it for a few more long moments, then shakes his head and packs the dagger away with the rest of his materials. His knees crack as he rises and reaches for his pack, shoving a small pickaxe and some other basic supplies into it.

Stupid brothers and their stupid errands in the stupid snow, Dean thinks to himself as he fastens his cloak around his shoulders, and takes a moment to pull on a hat and gloves. He doesn’t mind the cold, not like he hates the sweltering heat, but he’s been indoors in the warmth all day and the idea of venturing outside of Sam’s heated house is not an appealing one.

Still, he’s nothing if not a great brother. As soon as he steps outside of the house, the cold grips him with icy fangs, and his heavy boots crunch in the ice and snow deposited on the doorstep. It takes every shred of his will to keep walking, and not just turn around and head back inside to wallow in his own misery some more, but somehow he manages it. Finding Sam’s firestone will give him some kind of purpose, at least, even if the long walk does leave him a lot of time to think. He tries to distract himself with thoughts of work, what he can get done at Sam’s and the projects he wants to undertake, rather than…

Rather than thinking about Cas.

He grits his teeth and pushes that thought to the back of his mind.

The shallow cave where they’d found the vein is halfway up the mountain, very secluded and nearly invisible to anyone who didn’t know it was there. The two of them had stumbled upon it completely by accident last Spring, the entrance hidden from the outside by an outcrop of rock. Sam had mined what resources he needed back then, and they hadn’t been back since. Luckily, Dean knows his way around the surrounding countryside, even if he hasn’t been there for a good nine months. Even if everything is covered in a couple of feet of snow.

Or so he thought.

An hour later, he’s halfway up the mountain, furs wrapped tight around his shoulders as the wind picks up particles of ice and snow and flicks them into his face. It’s not the worst he’s ever been out in, by far, but it’s still not enjoyable, and it’s really not making it easy for him to figure out where the cave is. He swears he’s traipsed across half the face of the mountain so far looking for this damn cave, and so far, he’s had no luck. The sun is getting lower in the sky and the wind is picking up – soon, he’ll have to turn back.

But if there’s one thing that’s going to put him in an even worse mood, it’s suffering through all this and returning empty-handed to Sam, highlighting his complete failure to complete even the simplest of tasks.

Dean scowls and kicks at a pile of ice. Stupid fucking snow. It makes any kind of landmarks trickier to distinguish.

He resolves to keep looking for the cave for a little while longer, determined to stick it out for as long as he possibly can before he has to return to Sam in defeat. He’s too damn stubborn for that.

And that’s how Dean ends up caught in the middle of a blizzard.

Too intent on finding the cave, he hadn’t noticed how much the wind was picking up. He hadn’t noticed the light sprinkle of snow that had gradually grown heavier and heavier until it was falling in thick flakes all around him, picked up by the wind and whipped into a frenzy. The ice bites into his exposed skin, and Dean hisses with pain until he’s too cold to feel it, his face numb. Pulling his furs higher to cover the bottom half of his face doesn’t help, the cold too deeply sunk into him to be easily reversed by something so simple.

For a second, if he really concentrates, he can feel a flicker of warmth, but the freezing wind buffets him again. His head swims, and he staggers on his feet. The warmth is lost.

The blizzard reduces his vision to only a few feet in any direction, and the howling wind is the only thing that he can hear, so Dean has to rely more on feel than any of his other senses to navigate his way down the mountain. He keeps one gloved hand pressed against the side of the mountain as he tries to navigate his way down, the soft snow giving easily beneath his boots. Several times, he loses his footing, and when his foot sinks deeper than expected and sends him sliding down the hill, gnarled branches tearing at his clothes, the realization begins to sink in that he may really be in trouble here.

If he’d just taken one of Sam’s amulets, he would have been fine, instead of chilled to the bone and shivering enough to hear his teeth rattle. The blizzard is showing no signs of easing up, though, and Dean can’t just sit here and wallow in his own self-pity. If he does, he’ll die. There’s no-one coming to save him.

His limbs feel cold and leaden, and it would be so much easier to just stay where he is, sprawled in the snow, but he can’t. He can’t . Sam would never forgive himself, and Cas…

Dean isn’t sure that he’ll ever see Cas again anyway, but he still holds a spark of that vain, foolish hope in his chest.

He can’t die here.

As much of a mammoth effort as it is, Dean forces up out of the snow to a standing position. It feels as though it takes forever, the buffeting wind trying to force him back into submission, but Dean won’t give in. He pushes on, setting one foot in front of the other, as carefully as he possibly can to avoid ending up face-down in the snow.

The blizzard is tearing at his clothes now, buffeting him until he has no idea which way is forward, his world nothing but a dizzying, deadly swirl of white. His best bet of getting off the mountain is to keep edging his way downwards, setting one frozen foot in front of the other and trying to follow the slope of the mountain.

It’s so tempting to stop, to crumple into the snowdrifts that are up to his knees now and let the cold take him. He must have barely made it fifty yards down the mountain before his leaden feet just can’t lift any more, and he trips on a hidden tree root, barely able to lift his hands to catch himself.

It’s of no use, anyway. The snowbank collapses under Dean, and he slides with it, his gloved fingers scrabbling weakly against tree branches that bend and snap under his weight.

It’s not enough snow to bury him, but his limbs are so weak, so tired, that he has no chance of getting upright. The sliding snow carries him a few more feet, but just as he should be coming to a stop, Dean feels the ground disappear beneath his leg. He claws at the snow, but can’t find a handhold, and his bodyweight drags him down further until there’s nothing he can do but give in.

He’s falling, falling, falling.

The rocky floor below makes for an unforgiving landing.