The entire world reeks of feces and cat piss, right up until Dean’s nose takes one for the team and fucking kills itself. The corpse of his nose clings uselessly to his face, dragging down on his sinuses until his cheeks are a solid block of mucus and pain. His eyes itch. They water, mourning their fallen comrade. Even without direct contact with any of the animals in their cages and pens, his skin fights to spawn hives. He keeps sneezing, and the frankly demonic receptionist keeps laughing.
So, yeah: day one of court-mandated community service is going great.
Given his own choice, Dean would rather have gone with, oh, let’s see. Anything else. At all. Picking up litter on the highway, that would have been fine. Plus, cars speeding by on the highway are way too fast for people to scream epithets from. Perfect solution.
Except no, clearly an Omega offender would do better in an indoor, quiet, nurturing role. With kittens and puppies and all manner of stupid little shit-producers in a fucking animal shelter. All it’s making Dean want to do is go back and finish beating those knotheads to a bloody pulp. The sinus headache isn’t helping either.
He funnels his rage into litter boxes and pellet trays that are more rodent poop than pellet. He scrubs a completely filthy sink and then he scrubs an extremely disgusting sink and by the time he’s finished, it’s improved to just being gross. It’s the sink meant for gross stuff, not the sink the vet uses when he comes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but it is the sink Dean’s stuck using to wash his own hands. The other volunteers, the ones here freely and happily, don’t seem to mind it as much as Dean does. They’re all teenagers, peppy and happy and doing this out of the goodness of their animal-loving hearts.
He’s never going to understand pet people. Ever.
Another example of that pops up about three hours into Dean’s first five hour hell shift. He’s going to town on the bottom of a cage a dog had fucking diarrhea in, spraying it with lemon scented cleaner he can’t even smell anymore with his stuffed up nose and aching face, and the hair on the back of his neck rises.
Dean twists around. Instinctively, he pulls his ass lower, because if there’s one thing Dean ain’t, it’s stupid enough to bend over with his ass in the air while he can’t smell if it’s an Alpha creeping up on him.
This guy, though? Probably not an Alpha. It’s pretty disconcerting not to be able to tell. But somewhere between the baby blue veterinarian scrubs and the kinda confused, kinda blank staring, there’s a bunch of signs that point to Beta. Which are only confirmed by the guy’s reaction after Dean grunts a curt “Yeah?” at him.
The vet keeps staring at him with eyes just as blue as his scrubs. “I,” the vet says. And then: “Are you a new volunteer?”
“Nope,” Dean says. “I’m a new voluntold.”
“What?” says the vet, frowning.
“Look, I’m cleaning your shit for free, what else do you want?”
The guy keeps staring at him like someone built a life-sized Veterinarian Ken doll but forgot to stick in a brain before they brought it to life. He just stands there, breathing through his nose like they’re not stuck in the middle of Grand Central Allergy Station, and Dean kind of hates him, just for that.
Dean stares back harder.
Finally, the vet says, “Is that Oliver’s cage?” He points to the very same mess of plastic, metal and shit Dean’s currently attacking with soap and spite.
“You mean the mutt leaking liquid shit out its ass?” Dean asks.
“That would be Oliver, yes,” the vet says.
“Yeah, you might want to put him somewhere else until I’m done,” Dean says.
“I can see that,” says the vet.
They stare at each other some more. Dean drops his scrubbing sponge and stands up. Omega or not, Dean’s got about an inch on this guy. Sam’s not the only Winchester who’s a giant for his designation. Even with that extra inch, Dean prepares about three comebacks for whatever bullshit follows his innocuous question, and then asks the question.
“You need something?”
When Dean says it, he makes it a challenge. When Dean says it, he turns all trace of an offer into a threat. From those assholes at the bar to the animal shelter’s receptionist, Dean’s had more than his share of Alphas taking everything too far, lately.
“I need a place to put a dog leaking liquid shit out his ass,” the vet replies, deadpan in the face of Dean’s pent up aggression. He sighs the sigh of a man whose professional problems include canine diarrhea and runs his hand through his already ruffled hair. “Where have you cleaned already?”
Dean points. For way too long a moment, the vet stares at Dean’s hand instead of where Dean’s indicating.
“Someone hasn’t had his coffee yet,” Dean says, and then the vet’s back to staring at Dean’s face.
“I have,” says the vet. The staring goes into re-runs. Hell, it produces a fully remastered anniversary DVD. That’s how much staring there is. “I… didn’t finish the pot,” the vet adds, and he points back over his shoulder to where there might be some sort of break room or something, if Dean had ever bothered to check.
“You might want to do that, buddy,” Dean tells him.
“You could have some first,” the vet offers.
This confused, unthinking piece of kindness throws Dean harder than it should. Way harder. It’s been that kind of month.
“Uh,” Dean says, and he looks down at his yellow rubber scrubbing gloves and the suds and the bucket. “Kinda disgusting right now. But. Thanks.”
“Of course,” the vet says, and goes right back to staring. They’re too far apart to tell how dilated the guy’s pupils are, but Dean’s earlier assessment is rapidly shifting from awkward Beta to creepy Alpha.
“Don’t you have a leaking dog to get back to?” Dean prompts.
“Yes,” says the vet, the word a mere filler sound, and then he blinks. “Yes,” he repeats, actually meaning it that time. “I’ll... Excuse me.” He backs down just like that. Hell, he leaves Dean alone immediately. Definitely a Beta, and a whimpy one at that.
Another torturous hour passes before the vet wanders in again. Dean’s steadily working his way through yet more crap and shit when he hears the clink of a mug on a counter. Dean jerks around, dropping to his knees from a crouch to better pull his ass in. “Jesus, someone should put a bell on you.”
“It’s a fresh pot,” the vet says, ignoring Dean’s comment.
Dean frowns, standing to his full height. “What?”
“The coffee.” The vet pushes the mug forward all of an inch. He doesn’t come any closer himself, the majority of the room between them. There’s a chemical stab of cleaning products in Dean’s nose, more sensation than smell, but besides that, his sniffer is still down for the count. So there’s no scent coming off the vet, not as far as Dean can tell, and that means he has to rely on his eyes.
Shoulders tense. Mouth a little tight. Still fucking staring, but maybe that’s just this guy’s MO.
This guy is nervous, not prowling.
“What’s with it?” Dean makes himself ask.
The vet tilts his head.
“Why are you trying to caffeinate me?”
The vet’s face falls. “Oh. My apologies. I don’t think we have decaf, no one here drinks it.”
“What? No.” Screw Omega health standards. If Dean wants to be buzzed on caffeine or booze, he’s gonna do it. “Caffeine all the way, man. But why is the vet bringing the volunteers coffee?”
“I thought you were a ‘voluntold’,” the vet replies, so deadpan despite the finger-quotes that Dean can’t make heads or tails of him without his scent to help.
“Gesundheit. Why are you coming around with the drinks tray?” Dean keeps asking, hating how paranoid he must sound. His bartending gig has taught him a thing or two, and even if this is an unlikely location, this is still someone with access to sedatives. Again: it’s been a shitty month.
“We can’t afford to lose a hard worker from a bad first day,” Castiel says, almost like he means it. “Meg tells me you haven’t taken a break yet, either.”
“Yeah, you’re not getting rid of me.” It’s this, or the huge ass fine Dean can’t afford. Pulling off the rubber gloves, Dean crosses to the less-gross-but-still-gross sink and washes his hands for the thousandth time today.
“Oh,” says Castiel, sounding confused but pleased. “I’m glad. You’ve done much more than expected, even with Oliver’s diarrhea to contend with.”
Between the bar, the bar’s bathrooms, and the garage, Dean does a lot of cleaning. If it weren’t for the constant sinus migraine frying his brain, this would be just another bad night at the bar. Drying his hands, Dean just shrugs.
Castiel looks at the coffee again and so does Dean. Neither of them move.
“How come I got stuff to do but you don’t?” Dean challenges.
“Lunch break,” Castiel says, very much not eating lunch. He looks at Dean in an unrelenting way that’s like the opposite of fidgeting. He inhales deeply despite the shit and dander and cleaning products. “I’m making you uncomfortable. I’ll go.”
And then he just… does. Right out of the zoo of this room and down the hall past the exam rooms.
Dean stares after him dumbly, because this is not how this interaction goes.
Except apparently it is.
Feeling weird about it, he drinks the coffee. He might be fired from the bar, but he’s got a shift at the garage after this, headache and all.
The second day Dean comes in, it’s all very much the same. Meg the receptionist signs off on his community service log to state that Dean has indeed shown up. Dean again spends the time itchy and sneezing and miserable, cursing the fact that decongestants put him right to sleep. He’s started taking one of those over the counter allergy meds without the decongestant, but it’s doing jack shit so far.
Castiel shows up again three hours into Dean’s shift. He stops in to nod at Dean but doesn’t stay and talk. He does come back in pretty soon after because someone has left a truly ridiculous number of rats at the shelter, and the animals need to be sorted. At least, that’s the term Dean prefers.
That is not the term Castiel uses.
“You want me to help you what?” Dean asks.
“Sex them,” Castiel repeats, not seeing any problem with this. “We need to sort them according to reproductive capabilities so we don’t end up with even more of them.”
“Oh,” Dean says. “So you want me to…?”
“Keep an eye on the main cage so none escape. I’ll take them out individually,” he says, indicating his gloves.
“I can do that.”
As it turns out, Dean very nearly can’t, because thirty rats is too many rats. They’re supposed to be babies themselves, or at least juveniles, but they’re all the size of adult mice or bigger. They’re less gross than Dean was expecting, but in an unasked for plot twist, the fuckers can climb like champions. They jump, too.
With each one Castiel takes out, he starts up a little dialogue with the squirming rodent. Sometimes, it’s a simple “Nearly done, hold still.” Others, it’s a dry yet compassionate “I know, I know.” But he talks to every single one of them as he inspects their tiny genitals or giant ratty balls.
“You’re kinda a weirdo, doc,” Dean can’t help saying.
“Thank you, Dean,” Castiel says, apparently sincere.
“You know my name?”
“Obviously,” Castiel says, depositing yet another rat into one of the smaller cages. Alpha male, which seems weird that it’s going with others of its sex with the vet worrying about fighting. They’re lumped in with the Beta males, too, which seems like a recipe for tiny rodent murder. “Open the cage again?”
“Raccoon face there’s going to escape,” Dean warns. He opens the door and the vet grabs that one up quickly. “So, uh. That a good idea? Sticking them all together like that?”
“Hm? Yes.” With firm but gentle hands, Castiel turns over a rat that looks to be on the Beta side of things. “Now this one needs to be kept separate from everyone until I can fix him.”
“What’s wrong with raccoon face?”
“Nothing,” Castiel says, quick to assure him. “But lumping all the Omega males together is as bad a mistake as lumping all the Alpha females together.” Castiel sighs with the pain of experience. “I can’t tell you the number of pet owners who come in here bewildered that their omega dogs impregnated each other.”
Squirming rat firmly in hand, Castiel looks at him. “What?”
“Uh,” says Dean. “How?”
Castiel stares back at him. “You’re an adult. You can’t need me to explain this.”
“Omega males impregnating each other?” Dean asks, because the fuck.
“Of course,” Castiel says, like there’s no other answer. “In most animal species, Omega males and Alpha females play every reproductive role.”
“In most species,” Dean says. “But not humans.”
Castiel just looks at him.
“...yes humans?” Dean asks. Holy shit. He’s always insisted on condoms all around, but he’d always thought it was just an STD precaution on his end. Or, to be precise, on his front. “I could knock someone up?”
Castiel rolls his eyes skyward and Dean’s newfound ease with him immediately vanishes, preemptively hiding from the mockery of his mistake. Jesus, of course that was a stupid thing to say.
“Barring a medical condition, of course you could,” Castiel says, sounding exasperated—but maybe not at Dean. “Most sexual education would tell you otherwise, of course. Ironically, veterinary school taught me more about human biology than traditional schooling ever did.”
“I could knock someone up,” Dean repeats. His mind feels like it’s exploding. The number of partners he’s had who have treated his dick like it’s something decorative, it’s, well. It’s the kind of number people typically give an Omega trouble over.
“Provided you had a partner capable of conceiving,” Castiel says, his tone gone jarringly professional. There’s a tightness to his jaw that wasn’t there before.
“I mean, I’m not gay,” Dean says, because apparently that’s going to be an issue here. Usually, people tend to get a bit more horny over the idea of an Omega fucking another Omega, but the uptight, offended thing happens too. Dean may not know from personal experience, but his friend Charlie has told him more than enough about it. “I’m just the usual bi, so, y’know. Thinking about the Beta ladies.”
Hearing that Dean likes Alphas and Betas doesn’t seem to help the situation any. Castiel’s jaw tightens a little more before he says, “I’m omni.”
So Castiel is definitely a Beta, then. It’s weird having to tell by context clues rather than by scent, but only Betas openly admit to liking all three options. Omegas who do are sluts and Alphas who admit to liking knots other than their own, well. Sometimes, it’s better to be a slut.
“Okay,” Dean says, nodding, but Cas keeps looking at him like he’s expecting Dean to say more. “So, uh. I mean, I knew about Alpha women being able to have kids. Don’t really hear about omega dads, though. Not that way, anyway.”
“It’s the kind of information you have to dig for,” Castiel says, still looking off.
Navigating awkward situations without scent is complete bullshit, but Dean presses on with a simple “Yeah?”
With that, Castiel starts complaining to Dean about common misconceptions rather than talking to each tiny rat. “That’s not how biology works” is his refrain, and his resigned disgust is hilarious. He has a fantastic rant on how no one actually dies from going into rut without a partner (“The only way you die from a rut is from a sex-induced heart attack”), and Dean can’t remember the last time he laughed so hard. His headache actually goes away as the endorphins come out to play.
They finish up with sorting the rats, but Dean honestly wants to keep talking to him, even if Cas seems to have run out of his biggest grievances.
“What about, shit, what else is ridiculous?” Dean asks, grinning. Castiel smiles faintly back at him, looking the way people get at the scent of happy Omega. Dean’s been reliably informed that he smells like warm pie crust when content, and hell if that doesn’t please him to no end. Oh, there’s a thought: “What about that instant scent-bonding bullshit? True Mates at first whiff, all that bodice ripper crap?”
“Dean,” Castiel says, abruptly serious. He’d looked offended before, but this is the first time he’s looked offended at Dean.
“Dean, that’s real,” Castiel says.
Dean doesn’t mean to laugh.
He really doesn’t. But an otherwise brilliant Beta just admitted he sincerely believes in, like, unicorns and shit. In Dean’s defense, he doesn’t laugh long, but Cas shuts down like Fort Knox.
“Thank you for your assistance,” Cas says, going as blank to Dean’s eyes as he is to Dean’s stuffed nose. Dean’s ears are still working perfectly well, though, and Cas is pissed. His voice is tight and clipped, like Dean’s just personally wronged him. Which, fine, which Dean did. But only a little.
Dean spreads his hands because, despite the situation, he’s actually starting to like Cas. The guy might be weird, but he also makes things suck less. “I shouldn’t have laughed,” Dean says like a functioning adult who does not need to go to therapy, no matter what Sam or the court says. He’ll be going anyway, because fines are expensive, but he doesn’t need it. “It’s just, the movies, right? Where the Alpha scents the Omega on the wind and they do that stupid running through the streets thing only for the Omega to get on a bus while still upwind or some crap?”
Cas doesn’t soften. At all. His mouth twists before he replies, “You’re right. It’s nothing like the movies.”
“So what is it like?” Dean asks. “If it’s real and all?”
Cas stares at him long and hard, as if waiting for Dean’s soul to wither up and blow away.
“What?” Dean asks.
“Thank you for your assistance,” Cas repeats with finality. He picks up one of the cages. “I’m going to have a very busy afternoon now, but I’m sure Meg will be able to give you your next assignment.” With that, Cas blows out of the room, back straight, shoulders tense.
Bewildered, Dean stares after him. He ends up going back to the task he was on before Cas popped in with all his talk of rat sexing, and that’s, yet again, scrubbing cages. Dean sprays and wipes and dries and wonders, his headache coming back to the fore.
His only conclusion is that Cas must have had an instant scent-bond in the past. The guy’s weird but pretty okay, so Dean’s betting on grief, not separation.
Which means Dean’s stepped in it big time.
He grits his teeth through the rest of his shift before bringing his community service sheet back to Meg. She looks up from her computer like she’s going to refuse to sign it on principle, and, okay, yes, Dean’s an ass.
He holds up his hands and opens with that. Except not with that wording, because if there’s one thing an Omega doesn’t say to an Alpha, it’s announcing that they’re an asshole, presumably waiting to be filled.
“So I’m an idiot,” Dean says instead. “I didn’t mean to shit on his feelings, but here we are.”
Meg lift her chin and, even seated, somehow manages to look down at Dean. “You apologize to him?” The way she says it, she clearly knows all the details already. Fuck, Cas must actually talk to her.
“I tried,” Dean says, and it’s even true. He hands her his sheet. “Now are you going to sign off on this, or do I have to come extra and upset him even more?”
With a sigh and clear misgivings, Meg signs both his copy and the one she keeps in the filing cabinet. “Now go away.”
Dean salutes and hightails it out of there. He has enough time to dump all his animal-infected clothes in the washing machine and shower before his actual job—the only one he has left—and getting to breathe again is basically the highlight of his entire shitty day.
When Dean comes in the next week, everything is even shittier than before. Literally. This isn’t a crapshoot, this is a crap-shot-all-over-everything. Meg smiles at him viciously as she directs him to it. She’s either a complete fuckwad, Cas’ best friend, or both. Dean’s leaning toward both.
All of the cushy stuff goes to the other volunteer that day, a younger guy Dean scents as a Beta before his nose completely closes up. Beta dude gets to feed the beasts and then the asshole proceeds to photograph cats and dogs for the shelter’s website while Dean is still stuck on poop duty.
Like clockwork, Cas comes in three hours into Dean’s shift once the headache has fully set in. The eyeball itching is getting a little better with the allergy meds, ditto the sneezing, but his sinuses are just as bad as ever.
Today, Cas doesn’t even look in on them. His footsteps come down the hall before picking up sharply in front of their door, only to slow back down to a normal gait after.
Dean maybe feels kind of bad about that, but only kind of.
When Dean’s shift is finally winding down, camera boy has wandered off. So too, Dean discovers, has Meg.
Bit of a problem.
“Anyone see where the receptionist went?” Dean asks the few people in the waiting area. Looking to adopt? Using the clinic part of the shelter? Dean never really knows.
“She’s helping the photographer update the website,” says a bored looking woman around Dean’s age. “Do you know when the vet’s going to be done with my cat?”
“I… will check,” Dean makes himself say. Even though he’s not supposed to, he grabs Meg’s copy of his time sheet out of the file cabinet. He’s gotta get out of here before his head splits open.
Down through the Staff Only doors, Dean heads to the only room Cas could be in. He makes sure to knock first, and all sounds of motions behind that door stop, like Cas already knows it’s him by scent. Except no one is that ridiculously attuned to someone after meeting only twice, not in this stink and through a door, so it’s gotta be Dean’s footsteps or something registering as Not Meg.
“Come in,” Cas calls, and Dean enters.
Cas is in blue scrubs today, same as always, and it strikes Dean’s mind as strange that Cas can be this pissed at him without looking any different. He’s not even sure why he cares, except maybe for the fact that Meg is awful and Cas makes things suck slightly less.
“Hey,” Dean says, leaving the door open, and Cas takes a deep breath like he’s steadying himself. He’s holding onto the leash of one of those ridiculous little cat walking vests, which is still not quite as ridiculous as the cat’s cone of shame. “Not to interrupt whatever this is, but-”
“Ask Meg,” Cas tells him.
“No idea where she is,” Dean says. “I just need someone who works here to sign this thing and then I can hit the road.”
“Can it wait?”
Jesus, tetchy much? “Kinda need to get to my real job, buddy.”
Either Cas flinches, or his eye twitches. A bad sign all around.
Dean holds out the papers with a pen and a hopeful expression anyway.
Rolling his eyes, Cas gestures him forward. “Put those down and hold the cat for me.”
Dean does as bid, though he definitely holds the very end of the cat’s leash. Leaning over the counter next to the examine room sink, Cas holds the pen over the paper but doesn’t sign. Dean waits, but Cas keeps not signing, rolling the pen between his latex-gloved fingers.
“Problem?” Dean asks.
“This is court-mandated community service,” Cas says.
Cas turns to look at him, a different kind of frown across his features. He’s like an entire buffet of disappointed looks, this guy.
“You didn’t know?” Dean asks, frowning right back. He would have bet money on Meg mentioning his record to Cas before even telling him Dean’s name.
Cas takes another one of those long, slow breaths. He closes his eyes like Dean is deliberately fucking with him and he just wants it to stop, but all Dean’s doing is standing there, restraining a cat.
“No,” Cas says after too long a pause. “Meg’s more discreet than she looks.”
“Okay,” Dean says.
Cas keeps staring at him.
“I still need you to sign that,” Dean says.
After one last pause, Cas checks his watch and signs. “Can I ask what it’s for?”
“I’m not going to steal stuff, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“It isn’t,” Cas says. “I mean, I’m not. Worried. I’m… Confused. By you. For obvious reasons.”
With the leash in one hand, Dean can only bury one hand in his jacket pocket, but it makes him feel a little better, a little more grounded. A little less like a spectacle, an Omega in trouble with the law. That Cas doesn’t seem to immediately assume prostitution is a small mercy. “Bar fight.”
Cas’ frown deepens and Dean gets ready for the usual questions and accusations. Cas goes the light route, only asking “Are you all right?” but Dean’s still tired of it all.
“Hey man, I beat the shit out of two Alphas. You don’t need to worry about little ol’ me.”
The frown escalates to previously unknown proportions. Dean’s ready for the what were you thinking or the did the bad Alphas try to touch you, but all Cas asks is, “Did they deserve it?”
“They roofied a kid, of course they deserved it.”
Cas’ visible reaction is limited to the widening of his eyes, the flare of his nostrils as he takes in the inevitable spike in Dean’s scent. “Did they…?”
Dean shakes his head. “Asshole made the mistake of drugging the designated driver. Made it pretty obvious that something was up. I had a couple seconds to wonder if I’d fucked up the drink orders, but then this guy and his buddy swooped in to ‘help her home’. Told them to tell me her name—I knew it, I’d carded her anyway, kid was twenty-two with a face like a fourteen year old—and when they couldn’t...” Dean shrugs.
“But you’re here instead of them.”
“Uh, yeah? Look, are you gonna sign that? I gotta get to work.” Honestly, he’s got a bit of a gap between his shift here and at the garage, but he needs that time to dump his clothes in the laundry and shower off the animal stink.
Cas takes a second longer before complying. “It’s a little early for a bar.”
“This is the other job.”
“You’re working two jobs and doing this?” Cas asks, more incredulous than concerned.
“Yeah, and I gotta go,” Dean says like the bar hadn’t tossed him out on his ass. Insistent, he holds out his hand for the sheets.
“Of course,” Cas says, and he hands them back over, swapping them for the cat’s leash. “Though the second one says it’s supposed to stay here.”
“Yeah, I’ll stick it back on Meg’s desk.”
Nodding, Cas looks like he’s about to say something else, but Dean hasn’t got the time.
“See you Thursday?” Dean preempts, the words a peace offering.
Very faintly, for the first time today, Cas smiles. “You will.”
“Cool,” Dean says, then gets the hell out of there.
“I’ve been doing research,” Cas says by way of hello. He sets down a mug of coffee while still holding one of his own. “Could I tell you about it?”
“Sure you don’t got something better to do?”
“My schedule is light today,” Cas says. “Mostly paperwork.”
“What, you ran out of rats to snip?”
Cas sighs. “We have to wait to make sure none of the females or Omegas are pregnant. So we’re taking a break. You could too.”
Straightening up, Dean cracks his back and stretches his arms. The way Cas stares at him turns more appreciative than creepy, which should really only make it creepier. Cas doesn’t encroach on his space or even try to touch him, though. He just looks, and he ain’t bad to look back at, either. Dean’s endured far worse advances from far worse people, and he doesn’t just mean appearance-wise.
Dean washes his hands before grabbing his coffee. He follows Cas into the little closet that serves as an office for the vet of the day. Cas sits behind the cramped desk with its regimented piles of papers and folders. Dean doesn’t close the door behind them and Cas doesn’t ask him to. Dean sits in the lightly padded chair and sips his coffee and, wow.
“Dude, you got the good stuff.” Even with his nose shot to hell, he can tell.
“It’s all right,” Cas says, noncommittal in the face of a truly amazing cup of coffee. He looks into his own mug with a tense sort of dread across his features. “That’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Research,” Dean says, having some idea where this is going.
“I know you find the subject laughable,” Cas says with more than a trace of hurt in his voice, “but I hope you’ll at least listen to the science behind the true mates phenomenon.”
Feeling like a jerk, Dean tries to take him seriously. “It’s supposed to be pheromones and shit, right?”
“That’s part of it. There are other factors behind scent. Diet. Immune systems.”
Diet, Dean can understand, but the immune system thing sends his eyebrows skyward. “Not sure I get it.”
“One of the reasons biological siblings smell unattractive to each other is immune system overlap,” Cas explains. “Simply put, the more overlap in the genes, the more limited the offspring’s immune system would be. People with little overlap are very attractive to each other. People with essentially no overlap are what are commonly referred to as true mates.”
“Are you saying we can smell immune systems?”
“Effectively, yes,” Cas says, nodding. “There’s more, but those are the basics, according to the most recent studies.” And he keeps looking at Dean like he’s expecting… something.
“That’s… interesting,” Dean says.
Cas keeps waiting.
Matching him stare for stare, Dean drinks more of his coffee.
“You still think it’s ‘bullshit,’” Cas surmises, doing the finger-quotes. He looks so disappointed that the coffee actually seems to sour in Dean’s mouth.
Swallowing, Dean leans forward, elbows on his knees. “Look, just because someone smells good doesn’t mean you have to act on it. That’s the kind of excuse knotheads use to jump an Omega the week before their heat.”
“I’m not saying you have to act on it.” Cas’ voice takes on the tone of someone way too involved in a debate, the way Sam used to let himself get caught up before law school smoothed him out. “I’m aware that two strangers have no real claim on each other nowadays, not on compatibility alone, but the reaction itself is legitimate and medically documented.”
“Look,” Dean says, actually trying to be reasonable, “I get this is important to you, but it’s really not my thing. At all. It’s basically the opposite of my thing.” Dean’s not a biology guy. He is, at most, a mechanical engineering guy. Ever since biology betrayed him when he was thirteen, Dean’s had a grudge against the subject.
Again, Cas looks so unreasonably disappointed that it’s kind of ridiculous. Dean has no idea where the guy got the idea that Dean was going to be his new science buddy. “You’re very matter of fact,” Cas says, visibly trying to put on a more professional face.
“I’m not actually here to start fights, okay? I just gotta put in my hours, and then I can stop stinking up this joint. I can knock it all out in two months if I keep going at this rate.”
Cas inhales slowly through his mouth. He exhales just as slowly, something chaotic going on behind his eyes. Dean can either wait for a potential explosion, or he can get the fuck out of there.
For once, he goes with option two. Sam would be proud.
He stands up slowly, mug in hand. “Thanks for the break. But, uh. That shit won’t scrub itself.”
“Dean,” Cas says. Just that, like he’s stalling for time to find a better argument.
“Dude, I am literally here for beating a guy who thought ‘but she smelled good’ was a valid defense in court. And, y’know what? It was. So the magical gooey romance of getting high on someone else’s sweat? Maybe not my favorite topic right now.” He backs up rather than turn tail, but he’s had enough practice at it to make the move look casual. It’s all a matter of gesturing as he talks and holding the coffee in front of him.
Cas face closes off. All the whirling gears behind those eyes definitely don’t stop, but now Dean can’t see them. That’s somehow worse, especially without being able to scent the air. “I’m sorry,” Cas says, which is a surprise. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s an Omega kind of problem, isn’t it?” Dean says with a shrug, now successfully in the doorway. “Anyway, thanks for the coffee, seeya.” He ducks out, all without showing his back. Sam keeps telling him he’s hypervigilant since the fight, but screw that. Maybe Dean just likes making stage turns.
Dean likes the cleaning way less, but he’s getting used to it. Time drags on and he keeps listening for Cas’ footsteps, but he doesn’t hear anything. If Cas does look in while Dean’s back is turned, Dean doesn’t see him and he definitely doesn’t scent him.
When his shift ends, Meg glares at him hard, but as long as she signs the damn papers, that doesn’t matter. Twenty hours down, forty more to go.
“What’s crawled up your ass?” Dean asks like the polite and civil person he always is. He keeps his voice down in the reception room, considering they’re not alone, and that’s more than anyone should be able to expect out of him.
“He’s a good person, you know,” she says, like that’s been the subject of debate.
“Never said he wasn’t.” Dean folds up his copy before sticking it back in his jacket pocket. “I’m just done with people.”
“We’re all done with people,” she shoots back. “Why do you think we work with animals?”
“Fine, then let’s all ignore each other.” It’s a bit too far between the reception counter and the front door to do his walking backward thing, but Meg is behind that counter and there are a couple families looking through the display windows at the dogs and cats—and maybe Dean is a little paranoid after all.
Meg gives him a look like she can read his mind—yep, make that definitely paranoid—but she waves him away so the next person can step up. One of the happier, younger volunteers will get to show cats to this family, and best of luck to her, because Dean is gone.
He’s back the next week, because he has to be, and Cas doesn’t bring him coffee again. When he talks to Dean, it’s always quick and professional, always the bare minimum of communication. Having had to sit through one of his court-mandated sessions of therapy over the weekend, Dean’s feeling a little bad about last week, but that’s not important. Cas isn’t his problem.
He spends two hours waiting for Cas to make himself Dean’s problem, but it’s almost like the guy is ignoring him instead. Which stings a little. It shouldn’t, but it does.
It’s not like Dean actually wanted Cas to leave him alone. Just to stop being weird and start doing his hilarious complaining again. Dean could use something to laugh about, and the need is only growing by the day.
His Tuesday shift ends uneventfully and Thursday tries to go much the same way. The hiccup comes when Dean decides it’s time for quick mug of coffee and heads into the break room. He opens the door and there’s Cas, pot in hand, pouring.
Cas stares at him. His impression of a deer in headlights would be flawless, provided there are deer that pour scalding coffee on their hands.
Cursing, Cas sets down both coffee pot and overflowing mug. Coffee spills on his scrubs and the floor before he can stick his hand under the tap.
“You okay?” Dean asks, rushing forward to help. There’s nothing he can do, but the instinct is there. Rather than fuss over the guy directly, Dean settles for slotting the coffee pot back into the machine and pulling out some paper towels.
“More surprised than hurt,” Cas answers, sounding annoyed.
Dean drops a couple paper towels to the floor before stepping on them and dragging them over the spill with his foot. Cas keeps running his hand under the tap, and he keeps sneaking glances at Dean like he’s not supposed to look or something.
Frowning, Cas says, “You just asked me that.”
“Not your hand. Your, uh.” Dean makes a vague gesture at all of him. “You.”
The staring resumes. It probably shouldn’t feel as normal as it does. Especially not with Cas as unreadable as he is. “I’ll be fine,” Cas says after too long a moment. Another big pause goes by before he adds, “Thank you.”
Not knowing what to say, Dean settles for nodding back. When he ducks down to pick up the coffee-sodden paper towels, he pulls them back first to a respectful distance. Putting his head at crotch height is always a bad idea, Beta audience or not. Dean straightens up again as quickly as possible
Despite clearly noticing the distance, Cas doesn’t comment on it. He looks sad about it, like Dean’s some goddamn bird with a broken wing Cas wants to fix, but he doesn’t say anything besides, “There should still be some coffee left in the pot.” He pulls a few paper towels off the roll, drying his hands and wiping around his mug.
Dean grabs one of the mugs out of the crowded drying rack next to the sink. It means getting close to Cas, reaching past him near enough to touch. Cas’ eyes dilate. His nostrils flare. His cheeks pinken to match his lips, a hilariously juvenile reaction on a grown Beta. But hey, Dean’s an attractive piece of ass and he knows it.
Dropping his gaze like he’s the Omega, Cas rocks back on his feet before taking a full step away. He doesn’t call Dean on challenging him either, invading his space by reaching through it.
“You are safe here, Dean,” Cas tells him instead, which is the last thing Dean expects to hear.
“Okay,” Dean says slowly, not following.
“I know it’s inappropriate to mention, but you always smell uncomfortable. For the part I’ve played in that-”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Dude, it’s fine,” Dean insists, because he is not fragile. He has a piercing sinus headache, but he’s learning to live with it. Evidently not very well, if Cas can smell the pain on him, but that’s Dean’s problem. Until he finds some allergy meds that work, he should probably wear stronger scent blockers, but what’s the point when he’s just going to go home and shower them off? He doesn’t have that kind of money to waste. In any case: still Dean’s problem.
“You’re on edge,” Cas says like he’s some sort of expert on Dean’s emotions. Not even Dean is an expert on Dean’s emotions. Two sessions of court-mandated therapy have forced that little lesson in. “I know you have good cause to be,” Cas continues.
“What, Meg’s still gonna beat my ass for hurting your feelings?”
Dean means it as a jibe—not that he means it, it’s a reflexive thing—but the corner of Cas’ mouth twitches. “You could take her,” Cas says. “I’ve… Maybe this is also inappropriate, but I googled. About the bar fight.”
With that, Dean’s back goes stiff and straight. His scent must do something truly awful, because Cas actually wrinkles his nose.
“I shouldn’t have brought it up,” Cas begins, but Dean interrupts.
“Which side of the outrage did you get? The family flipping their shit over the ‘mysteriously untraceable roofie’? Or everybody else pissed at the psycho Omega who beat a pair of Good Samaritan Alphas who were just trying to escort a drugged kid home? ‘Cause they only thought she was drunk and all.”
Before Dean even finishes speaking, Cas’ jaw is well and truly clenched. Dean doesn’t need his nose to detect the waves of anger rolling off him. It says a lot about Cas that his clear agitation doesn’t have Dean putting his dukes up either.
“That anyone is claiming to believe such blatant falsehoods is ridiculous.”
“Yeah, well.” Dean shrugs as if he can throw the whole thing off his shoulders like the embrace of an unwanted arm. “They don’t have to believe it, they just have to say they do.”
His back to the sink, Cas glares down into his coffee. His profile is stern but pleasing, like a statue judging lesser beings from its plinth. “For what it’s worth,” Cas says, not looking up, “I’m glad you were there. You’re a good Omega, Dean.”
Dean snorts so hard it feels like something just snapped inside his sinuses. “Dude, I’m unmated and childless at thirty-five. I’m a shitty-ass Omega.”
Cas looks up at that. “That’s not what I…” His hands tighten around his mug. “I meant, you’re a good person.”
Dean shrugs again. It’s his turn to look down at his coffee.
“And,” Cas starts to say. He shifts a little, and when Dean looks up, Cas has this tiny, forced smile on his face. “It’s all right. If you don’t want a mate or children, that’s your prerogative.”
Dean would snort again, but he already hurt his face enough the first time. “We should get you one of those This Is What An Omeganist Looks Like shirts, man.” Cas looked like he was pulling teeth with every word and probably smelled like it too, but he gets a point or two for the lip service. It’s more than a lot of people give.
“I mean it,” Cas says, the smile slipping away to something more serious. Too serious. “I’m forty, unmated and childless, and it’s only a problem because those are things I want.”
“Yeah,” Dean says, because, okay, that was a weird burst of vulnerability there. Cas’ past scent-bonding thing must have fucked him up hard. “I, uh.” Something crowds up behind Dean’s teeth, something he hasn’t told Sam or even Bobby. It’s something he only ever tells doctors, typically when arguing with them. “I want kids, but I don’t wanna have kids, y’know?” He gestures over his belly with one hand.
Bizarrely, Cas just nods back at him, still looking so immensely serious.
“This is the part where you say there’s no need for an Omega of my age to resort to adoption,” Dean needles, unnerved by Cas’ silence. Then again, Cas spends his days fixing animals, not talking Omegas out of getting fixed themselves. It’s still fucking weird, the lack of judgment.
Cas actually rolls his eyes. It’s a full-body motion, his head and upper body brought along for the ride. “Dean, I work at an animal shelter. I am literally pro pro-adoption.”
Dean blinks. “So, what, you’d adopt?”
Cas nods without hesitation. The smile that accompanies the motion is a little more tentative. “I’d want to foster, first.” Something must change in Dean’s scent, hearing that, because Cas narrows his eyes. “Dean?”
“We, uh.” It’s hard to say. Cas already knows he’s a fuck-up, but it’s still hard. He takes a swig of his coffee. “We were foster kids. Me and my brother.” The care home with Sonny had been good—probably the best thing that could have happened, in hindsight—but Bobby coming for them had been piling the miracles on.
When Dean dares to look, there’s a thousand and one questions on Cas’ face, but the one that comes out of his mouth is “You have a brother?”
Dean stares at him. It takes his brain a second to catch up with the real situation, to drop the imagined one that makes more sense. “Uh. Yeah.”
“And you were fostered together?” Cas asks, actually sounding concerned.
“Yeah,” Dean says, taking another second to rally. He clears his throat. “Yeah. Bobby grabbed us both.”
The concern across Cas’ face abates, but the tension in Dean’s chest doesn’t know whether to tighten or ease. This is a pretty weird set-up for a heart-to-heart, even weirder with Dean not meaning to have it in the first place. It’s not normally the kind of thing that falls out of him. Jesus, is the therapy working? Is this what therapy does to people?
“I hadn’t thought about fostering siblings, but it does make sense,” Cas says. Apparently, he’s enough of a weirdo that is conversation looks normal to him. Go figure.
“Hard to swing as a single parent, though,” Dean says, thinking of Bobby. He still has no idea how the guy did it. Bobby’s said more than once that Dean was stubborn enough to raise himself, and Sam too, but they all know that’s a load of bullshit.
Cas’ face falls like he’s only just thought of the logistics. “Oh,” he says. “That’s.”
“Why I haven’t gone and done it already?” He can claim that’s the reason. It sounds nice and responsible and doesn’t involve admitting he’s terrified of screwing up the lives of some kids.
“Are you waiting for a mate?” Cas asks his coffee. He looks up at Dean after, head bowed, eyes searching. If he were a dog, his ears would be pricked forward, listening, because he doesn’t know Dean well enough to know that’s a stupid question. Dean’s not mate material. He’s fucked up and stubborn. He’s never going to let anyone breed him. He’s angry and restless and just self-aware enough for it to hurt.
So no, he’s not waiting for someone who won’t come. He’s already learned that lesson well enough with John Winchester.
Mug in hand, Dean pushes off the counter. “This is shaping up to be a pretty long coffee break, don’t you think?”
“I’ve had longer,” Cas says, not moving. The Beta stays right where he is, with none of that Alpha instinct to chase. “It’s a slow day.”
“Unless all of the little shitters have stopped shitting, it’s not a slow day for me. I gotta...” He gestures vaguely out the door.
“Of course.” Cas presses himself back against the counter, still motionless, still watching. Probably wondering why Dean’s running away from a simple question like a coward.
“Seeya later,” Dean says before turning his back and exiting at a totally normal pace.
He doesn’t actually see Cas later, not for the rest of his shift. He’s thirty hours down, thirty to go, and then he won’t have to deal with obnoxious Alpha receptionists or confusing Beta vets ever again.
On Tuesday, there’s a new volunteer, and Dean hates him the second he smells him. He’s a cocky Alpha in his late twenties, and Dean finds himself eagerly awaiting the moment his nose clogs up. His name might be Derrick or something, but Dean doesn’t fucking care. Just being around the guy’s pungent scent makes Dean want to button his shirt up all the way to the collar and hide his unmarked neck.
Despite Dean being in his fourth week there and the guy being on his second day, little Hotshot McAlpha decides he’s going to show Dean the ropes. Unfortunately for the condescending little knothead, Dean isn’t as stupid as he looks.
“Can you show me again?” Dean asks, and the idiot shows him again, scrubbing this and that while Dean stands there and pretends to watch.
“Man, this is really heavy,” Dean says, and the idiot takes the bucket out of his hands despite Dean having four inches on him.
“That’s gross, you gotta wash your hands,” Dean says, and the idiot stops trying to touch him on his back or arms every time he gets close enough.
It’s a contest of pettiness and oblivious digs, and Dean makes sure never to bend over or kneel down with the guy anywhere near him, in front or behind. So Dean complains about his back while they’re doing the low cages and refers to possibly-Derrick as “a young thing like you” and that takes care of that. It’s still fucking annoying, and the guy is constantly in Dean’s way, constantly trying to get Dean to listen to him, and constantly in need of a fist to the face.
When Cas finally comes in for his shift, he stops by, and it’s like a breath of fresh air.
“Morning, Doctor Novak,” possibly-Derrick says with an unexpected amount of deference from an Alpha like him to a Beta. It’s probably Cas’ position of authority, plus the age and height.
“Hello, Derrick,” Cas says, his eyes flicking past Derrick almost immediately. He smiles faintly. “Hello, Dean.”
Dean can’t help smiling back. “Hey, Cas.”
The way Derrick bristles at that makes Dean doubly glad his nose has died for the day. Derrick stands up taller, chest puffing out like Cas is horning in on his claim. “You two already know each other?”
Cas frowns. “Dean’s been here all month. And he’s usually done with two-thirds of this room by the time I come in.” He looks back to Dean. “Has there been another Oliver incident?”
“Diarrhea dog? Nah, just supervising.” The betrayed look on Derrick’s face would be tragic if it weren’t so fucking funny. “Kid’s slow but thorough.”
“Good. If you’ve finished training Derrick, would you mind moving on to the small mammals room?” Cas asks. His nostrils flare, clearly scenting the upset that’s got to be wafting off the knothead, but his expression never wavers. “Some of the dogs do need walking, but you’ve the best track record not letting rodents escape.”
“Sure thing, doc. Seeya, kiddo.”
He has no doubt there’s going to be some equally petty payback the next time he’s alone with the kid, but after the three hours he just had, he doesn’t give a shit. It’s one thing when Bobby has Dean train new hires at the garage. Dean’s a not-so-secret test that Bobby’s been using to suss out idiots for years; it’s reached the point where any mechanic with an ear to the ground knows to listen to Dean or end up out on their ass. But that’s with Bobby. It’s a hell of a different thing without anyone to back him up.
The next two hours pass in a tense drag Dean hates. It’s not like anything’s gonna happen, but he’s still jumpy. A tension headache joins forces with the sinus pain, but Dean keeps at it. He changes litter and pellets. He removes wilted pieces of vegetables. He scrubs. Rats hang out on the sides of their cages to watch him while the guinea pigs hide and the ferrets refuse to give a shit. It’s small, beady eyes all around.
He finishes the scrubbing and moves on to feeding the little things. He carefully gets a cage door closed without letting any rats escape, and the door to the room opens. Cas knocks on the door frame, but Dean’s already looking.
“What’s up, doc?” Dean asks, and no, he doesn’t do the voice, only the joke.
“I thought I’d check in,” Cas says, entering. He closes the door behind him, standard protocol for any of the rooms with animals in them. As to be expected, Cas has a mug in hand. As isn’t to be expected, he crosses to Dean and holds it out. “Fresh pot.”
“Lemme just, uh.” Dean sticks down the ziplock bag of veggies somewhere no tiny teeth or claws can get at it through cage bars. “Thanks.” In accepting the hot mug, their hands touch only a little. Cas does have some pretty nice hands. “Now what’re you buttering me up for?”
“There’s been a complaint,” Cas says, looking like Dean’s caught him out. “But I’d like to hear your side of it first.”
“This about the kid?”
Cas nods. “How would you classify your interactions?”
“He’s a condescending knothead who decided I needed to be shown the ropes. So I let him. Let me guess, he’s complaining that I made him do all the work?”
“Essentially,” Cas says. “I think a fair solution would be having you work in different rooms from now on. He’ll only be in on Tuesdays, so you won’t have to see him again this week.”
Dean shrugs like he doesn’t care, like it doesn’t bother him that Cas has to step in to separate them like children. “Works for me. But shouldn’t Meg be the one micromanaging us?” It’d be better if she were; Dean doesn’t give a crap what she thinks of him.
Cas gets that guilty set to his shoulders. “Derrick complained to me, and I didn’t want to risk Meg taking his side.”
Dean snorts. “Look at you, suckered in by a pretty face.”
Cas doesn’t look half so amused. “You’re more than a pretty face.”
“Right, can’t forget my ass.”
Cas rolls his eyes. “Your pretty everything aside, I enjoy talking to you, Dean.”
With no idea what to say, Dean drinks his coffee. He settles for a skeptical “Uh-huh.”
“If there are any other problems, tell me.”
It’s Dean’s turn to roll his eyes. “Dude, I don’t need you fighting my battles for me.”
“No,” Cas says, “but the shelter does need me to enforce the anti-harassment policy. And I think you’d benefit from not punching more Alphas for at least a little while.”
Dean shrugs. “My knuckles healed up, I’m good for more.”
Cracking a smile, Cas turns away to hide it, but Dean sees it anyway. He surprises himself by grinning back.
“We good?” Dean asks. “I mean, with. With the thing. The complaint thing.”
Cas nods. “I’ll leave you to finish up. Unless there was something else you wanted to talk about. I don’t know if you’ve taken any breaks today.”
Another shrug. “Who needs breaks?”
“Everyone,” Cas says without hesitation. “I’d be a hypocrite to tell you to take one, but I will say it would gain you the moral high ground.”
“Only if I was telling you to take one, too.”
“There is that.”
Cas stares at him too long again, but the dude must be contagious because now he’s got Dean doing it too.
“Thanks for the coffee,” Dean makes himself say.
Cas nods, clearly accepting that as the dismissal it is. “Of course. I’ll just...” He gestures over his shoulder toward the door. He takes a few steps back.
“Not take that break?”
“Exactly.” His eyes are very blue and only focused on Dean. He bumps into the counter beside the door and finally looks away, startled. It’s kind of stupidly adorable, in an awkward way. Cas turns to open the door and takes a deep breath of the hallway air, like maybe the stink of cleaner is getting to him. “I’ll see you Thursday?”
“Uh, yeah,” Dean says. “Kinda have to be here and all.”
“...Right,” Cas says. He shakes his head like he’s fighting to clear it. Dean must have had too heavy of a hand with the cleaner, not being able to smell it. “Sorry.”
“Maybe you should take that break,” Dean says, watching him with equal parts amusement and concern. “Just, y’know. Not in here.”
“Sorry,” Cas says again, ducking out and closing the door behind him. His footsteps quickly move down the hall, leaving Dean in a strange relative silence.
Jesus, what a weirdo.
Grinning to himself, Dean finishes the coffee and gets back to work.
In Thursday, the volunteer force is back down to Dean and an elderly Beta whose apparent job is to brush all of the cats. They each do their thing, keeping well out of the other’s way, and the time passes. Dean’s counting down the hours, but his brain must be playing tricks on him or something, because the countdown is only until Cas gets there.
Then it’s two more hours to go. Two hours waiting but not tense.
The full two hours pass without Cas stopping by. Must be a busy day or something.
On Tuesday, Dean is a rational human being who doesn’t need to punch anyone. He is steadfastly a rational human being, even if the need to punch does become an issue. It’s one thing to be punished for doing the right thing; it’s another to have it continually shoved in his face.
Dean’s dealt with worse than a snot-nosed idiot child pretending to be an adult, but it fucking rankles today. His nose is full of Derrick’s awful Alpha stink. Even Meg’s scent is bothering him today, but eventually Dean’s nose clogs up to make him deal with a more literal kind of pain.
Aggravatingly, it’s not just Derrick and Meg who have been offending Dean’s nose like sun-baked roadkill. It’s been happening at the garage too. Bobby and Jo are still have that inoffensive Beta scent, but Rufus and Benny? Damn, it’s getting bad. Their scents haven’t actually changed, but they’re just annoying now. Incessant. Like some kind of olfactory pop-up ad he keeps having to click through to get on with his day. Sam, at least, still smells like home, but literally every other Alpha is putting Dean’s back up.
Needless to say, it made their Saturday night poker game suck. For Dean, at least. For Jo the table shark, not so much.
The point is, something’s up with Dean’s nose, something’s that making even Dean-approved Alphas smell like shit. (Not that Benny and Rufus aren’t pieces of shit—it’s why they’re friends.) Wondering about the change, Dean’s already inspected the only other change in his life and found the culprit that way.
It’s his goddamn allergy meds. Side effects may include drowsiness, dry mouth, and fucking scent distortion. If they didn’t stop the hives and the infernal itchiness of his eyes, he’d stop taking them, because this is annoying as hell. How much worse could his sinus headaches be?
...Better not risk it.
He grits his teeth through the day until he hits the three hour mark, and then he’s out of the small mammals room and into the break room. Some asshole finished off the coffee without making a fresh pot, one guess who. After washing his hands, Dean sets about making a new one. It’s not difficult in the slightest, something Dean’s done a thousand times in Bobby’s kitchen or his own, but when Dean looks up, Cas is stopped in the doorway, trench coat still on over his scrubs, looking at Dean like Dean’s performing miracles.
“Damn, you’ve got it bad,” Dean says, already reaching for the cabinet with the mugs. He pulls out a pair, making sure to grab the stupidly cutesy one for Cas. It’s got pictures of fluffy bunnies frolicking under rainbows and shit. It’s hideous. Grinning at the awful sight, Dean glances back over to Cas only to find the guy looking pale and uncomfortable. “Caffeine addiction?” Dean prompts, because Cas has clearly grabbed hold of the wrong end of some groggy, sleep-deprived stick.
“Oh,” Cas says, still not moving.
Dean pours for the hideous mug first, for his own blue one second. He carries both mugs to the doorway and pointedly offers Cas the hideous one.
Cas takes it like no one’s ever passed him a drink before. “Thank you.” The way he’s looking at Dean now, it’s gone beyond miracles. The cutesy mug might as well be the Holy Grail, that’s how reverently Cas takes it from Dean’s hands.
“Looks like you need it.”
“Yes,” Cas says, still staring at Dean. His gaze lowers for only an instant while he drinks, a cursory check to make sure the mug’s lip is meeting his own. When he drinks, his eyes finally close and it’s Dean’s turn to stare like a weirdo. When in Rome.
After Cas swallows, he exhales a blissful sigh. He’s kind of stupidly beautiful, like someone hired an amateur actor for a coffee commercial and completely fucked up on the wardrobe. His eyes open again, even bluer than today’s faded scrubs, and then they’re staring at each other.
Dean wonders what he smells like.
“Thank you,” Cas says again, like he needed this, like he’s had the worst week of his life.
Dean shrugs. “It’s just coffee, man.”
“Even so,” Cas says, and Dean can’t help but remember his first day. Resentful and itchy and so damn surprised that someone would offer him anything.
So, no, it’s not just coffee.
Dean looks down at his mug before clearing his throat. “I should get back to it,” he says at the same time Cas says, “Dean.”
“Yeah,” Dean says.
“Next week is your last week.”
“There supposed to be a question in there?”
“You don’t need to answer this right away,” Cas says, like he’s about to lay down an essay question or a full survey or something.
“After next week,” Cas says, expression carefully neutral, his large hands clasped tight around his mug, “can I expect to see you again?”
“No.” Dean doesn’t even need time to think it over. He’s got a little less than seventeen hours left to suffer through, and then he can return to a pet-free existence without splitting headaches and weird medication side effects. Cas is the only silver lining to this place, but one Beta does not sufficient incentive make. “No offense,” Dean’s quick to add. “I mean, you’re cool and all, but, uh. All this? Not shaping up to be a long-term thing with me.”
“Oh,” Cas says like Dean just kicked one of the many puppies. He recovers well, but it blows Dean’s mind that Cas has to recover at all. Yeah, sure, the guy’s at least moderately attracted to Dean—and who can blame him—but wanting someone sure as hell isn’t the same as liking them.
“I mean,” Dean begins with no idea where he’s going, but Cas cuts him off.
“I understand.” Lowering his voice, Cas adds, “There’s always an undercurrent of discomfort in your scent. I only asked because it’s been decreasing somewhat.”
The kicker is, Cas actually looks disappointed. Like he actually gets something out of their brief, infrequent chats. Worse still, Cas looks disappointed and trying to hide it. The sight nudges a little something in Dean’s chest, the bit that brings up going out for coffee or drinks, the bit that decides whether to give an Alpha his number or ask a Beta for theirs.
“Well, uh,” Dean says.
“I should get to work,” Cas interrupts and, okay, sure, he’s still wearing his coat. Dean intercepted him right off the bat.
“Right, yeah,” Dean says, and that’s Cas scurrying away. Dean doesn’t see over the rest of his shift, but when Dean gets signed out by Meg a couple hours later, she’s still complaining about Cas’ late start throwing them off. Not being a dumbass, Dean refrains from confessing his involvement.
On Thursday, Dean actually thinks about giving Cas his phone number. He thinks about it on his drive there. He thinks about it while scrubbing shit and urine, while washing his hands, while grabbing a coffee. He overthinks it.
Because it’s not like it’s a big deal or anything. Cas is just this weird, awkward Beta who is surprisingly hilarious when he complains about people being wrong about biology. He’s kind of hot. He knows at least of piece of how fucked up Dean is, and he still wants Dean to keep volunteering.
But he’s also had some kind of major scent-bonding thing in the past. Maybe he’s over it, maybe he isn’t, but that’s a large amount of baggage to carry and Dean’s no bellhop.
The deciding factor ends up being Cas himself. Whatever’s going on with the guy today, there’s some sort of stick up his ass, and it’s in there deep. He no longer smiles when he says hello, and Dean’s the one who had to track him down just to get the greeting out of him. After that terse exchange, Cas hightails it away with the weak excuse of paperwork.
Watching Cas walk away is… annoying. Mixed signals typically are, but this is worse than usual for some reason.
Screw it. It’s not like it would have worked out anyway.
Dean’s nose continues to be off all weekend. It’s driving him nuts, and it’s pretty much spread to everyone. Even Sam’s scent is off, less like home and more like a musty, unused room no one lives in anymore.
It’s kind of freaking Dean out. A lot. Not enough to stop taking his allergy meds just yet, but close. He’s only got ten hours left to put in, and he can’t be finished with it quickly enough.
Tuesday rolls around and Dean is rewarded for all his pain and suffering with a pleasant surprise: Derrick isn’t here today. Or at least he’s going to be late, which means there’s one fewer truly obnoxious Alpha stink Dean has to suffer through before his nose clogs up.
Dean gets through with the small mammals room in no time at all and is back to cleaning out the larger cages in the main holding room. They’re stacked cages for the most part, and while the top ones are okay enough, the ones on the bottom require that he get on his hands and knees for the scrubbing. He saves those for last, or rather, Meg does. She abandons the front desk to shift the animals around to let Dean get in there and clean without getting clawed. She does it with the same annoyed set to her jaw and general eye-rolling she always treats Dean with, but at least she does it for him. Dean’s no cat-wrangler.
She comes back in to switch them around again, and Dean waits for her to leave the room before starting on the bottom row. He can deal with wisecracks about him being face-down, ass up, but that doesn’t mean he has to literally present for them. Maybe Meg isn’t the kind of Alpha to grind her crotch against an Omega’s raised ass or “jokingly” mime it, but Dean’s had enough of that bullshit from high school alone to last him a lifetime. There’s a reason he dropped out. He still avoids water fountains.
Once the door is securely closed, Dean turns the radio back on and gets down to it. Ducking his head down, he’s half inside the deeper-lower cages for the bigger dogs as he cleans them. All the while, the countdown in his head has finally arrived at three hours down, two to go.
Time for Cas to show. And a backache is a good reason for a coffee break. He’ll give it a little while, maybe fifteen more minutes of drudgery. Then again, if he doesn’t catch Cas on the way in, Cas might do his avoiding thing again today and…
And that’s why Dean shouldn’t go chasing after him like a dumbass. Dean had been so certain that Cas was into him—subtlety was not the guy’s strong suit—but by virtue of being Dean Winchester, he must have fucked it up somewhere. Probably with the not volunteering anymore thing. Pet people really love the damn things; Dean shouldn’t be surprised Cas has written them off as incompatible over that.
Not that Dean cares. Much. It was just a thought. A little one. That is slowly and inexplicably driving him nuts.
Dean shuffles over on his knees to start on the next cage. Naturally, it’s only once he has his upper body inside that he hears the door crack open. With the radio playing, he doesn’t hear much else, but he doesn’t hear the door close again either.
Cas is in the doorway, staring at his ass. Or maybe just staring at him, the way he’s always staring at Dean. Dean doesn’t turn to look, doesn’t risk startling him away, not when Cas is finally approaching him again. Or at least thinking about it. Cas is definitely thinking about it, standing there and not going anywhere.
Dean helps him along with the decision, just a little. He does an in-and-out scrubbing motion on the cage floor, reaching in far before pulling back out. It’s probably the stupidest way he’s ever seduced someone, but he’s been told what he looks like in these jeans, even when it’s something he’d rather not hear. And it’s not like he’s flexing his ass or anything. He’s just doing exactly what he’d be doing anyway, except this time, he’s not going to stop just because he has an audience.
“Get out,” Cas snaps, a low growl of an order that has Dean smacking his head on the roof of the cage.
“C’mon, I was joking,” says an entirely different voice, and Dean’s blood runs cold. Because Cas’ voice was from the hall, not the doorway.
Dean drags himself out of the cage, turns on one knee, and it’s Derrick in the room with him instead. But Derrick’s not looking at him anymore, no, not when he’s got Cas to contend with.
“I don’t find it amusing,” Cas shoots back, shouldering past Derrick to get into the room between them. “Get out.”
“Are you serious? I can’t open a door if there’s an Omega in the room?”
“You gestured me over to leer at him with you,” Cas says flatly.
“Yeah, as a joke, ” Derrick protests.
“That kind of behavior isn’t tolerated here.”
“The Omega here wasn’t protesting.” Derrick points at him without even looking. Dean plants his feet and doesn’t fucking move, because the last thing he needs is to go back on trial for assault.
“Dude, I can’t smell shit in here,” Dean says, fighting down a fresh batch of shame as well as the anger. He hadn’t even thought to check in case it wasn’t Cas. “Allergies like mine, the entire break room could be on fire and I wouldn’t know.”
“Oh come on,” Derrick says, but Cas cuts him off with a raised hand, a quiet but firm signal to shut the fuck up as he resumes his staring routine right at Dean.
“What did you say?” Cas asks, eyes wide, brow furrowed.
“I couldn’t smell him,” Dean repeats. Then, covering his own ass, he lies, “Didn’t know there was anyone there, with the radio on.” He shrugs, because as much as he’d enjoy watching Derrick get his ass reamed out for being a creep, it’s honestly not that big of a deal. Dean’s had worse in high school. Hell, in middle school.
“Thank you, Dean,” Cas says, still sounding distracted despite the obvious anger in his face. He tries to turn his gaze on Derrick but keeps glancing back to Dean. It’s weird, almost a little comedic, and makes no sense whatsoever. “Dean, please resume your work. I’ll handle the situation.”
With that, Cas steers a still-protesting Derrick out of the room. Dean closes the door firmly behind them before shutting off the music. He stands there a minute more, not sure what to do.
If Cas wants to blow the whole thing out of proportion, Dean’s not about to stop him. But when he thinks about getting back to the task at hand, his hackles go up like the world’s angriest helium balloons. No, he’s not getting back on his hands and knees any time soon.
Despite leaving the job half-done on the bottom row, Dean switches down the hall for the small mammal room. He catches an angry murmur from the other direction, through the door to Cas’ office. Making himself shrug it off, Dean gets back down to business.
Slowly. Stupidly slowly. He’s not trying to overhear—he can’t overhear, not with two closed doors and a hall in the way—but he’s still listening as hard as he can over the chatter of rodents and the noises he makes cleaning out their cages. He can’t seem to make himself stop, and it’s ridiculous.
No Alpha actually gets in trouble just for staring at an Omega’s ass. Whatever Cas is trying to pull here is a goddamn mystery to Dean. If it weren’t so absurdly over-the-top, Dean would be fucking annoyed Cas thinks that little of Dean’s ability to handle things himself—but then, Dean’s ability to handle things himself is what landed him here in the first place.
So Dean scrubs and he stews. He wonders and he waits. Finally, maybe five, maybe ten minutes later, he hears angry footsteps stomping down the hall and past his door, towards the lobby of a waiting room. He keeps his motions quiet and his eyes on the door, and it’s completely moronic, the way he jumps when someone knocks on it.
When a grand total of nothing happens, Dean clears his throat and calls, “Yeah?”
The door cracks open just enough to let Cas poke his head through. Literally just enough. It’s like Cas’ head and his arm are at odds, his upper body trying to make it through the door, his arm attempting to close the door on himself. All told, just as awkward and weird as Dean’s grown to expect from the guy.
“Derrick has left the building and knows he isn’t welcome back,” Cas tells him.
Dean snorts, a motion his sinuses immediately regret. “And people call me over-sensitive.”
Cas’ already hard face turns stonier. “He invited me to leer at you with him,” Cas says like he finds this excruciatingly offensive instead of just the way of the world. “When I took him aside, he referred to you and your entire designation in a crude and derogatory manner. If disliking that makes me over-sensitive, then I will be over-sensitive.”
Dean shrugs back at him, for once not sure what to say. “All right, well. If that’s everything…”
It’s everything. It’s not like they’re going to be filling out incident reports to the police for some twenty-something Alpha being a creep and a jerk.
“I,” Cas says, and he kinda freezes there. “I was, um.”
“You’re breaking policy, is what you’re doing.”
Cas blinks, owlish, right down to the tilt of his head. “I am?”
“Small mammal room?” Dean points out.
Still trying to cut himself in half with the door, Cas looks around like he has no idea what’s going on.
“Dude, it’s in or out. The door stays shut.”
“Oh,” Cas says. Very slowly, like he’s expecting Dean to startle or something, Cas edges inside the room. He closes the door behind him but then stands to the side of it, practically pressing against the wall. If Dean could smell him right now, he’d probably be sour with distress, maybe sharp and metallic with anger.
“You okay?” Dean asks despite the answer being a very obvious no.
Another blink, just as owlish as the first. “Me?”
Dean rolls his eyes. “You see anyone else in here?”
“Yes,” Cas says. “Are you all right?”
“Uh, yeah? Dude, that was barely middle school levels of Alpha bullshit.” They’d had half-lockers. Dean’s had been a bottom one, and the grab-and-grind had been a popular prank once everyone started presenting. Even beforehand, depending on the kid.
Cas nods like he doesn’t believe Dean, but then, Dean never did finish up with the dog cages after that interruption. “I’m sorry,” Cas says, and he sounds like he means it for a lot of things. “I have one question, but then I’ll leave you alone.”
“Okay,” Dean says slowly, waiting for the are you sure you didn’t know he was there or the if you didn’t want the interest, why were you presenting?
“You really can’t smell anything?” Cas asks instead, which is a weird thing to sound hopeful about.
Dean’s brain takes a hard left turn, threats of oncoming traffic be damned. “What?”
With a growing frown, Cas continues, “Before. You said you couldn’t smell anything in here. Your allergies are that bad?”
“Uh, yeah,” Dean says, still at a loss as to where this is going. “Anything with decongestant in it knocks me right out, so I’m stuck with this over the counter crap that doesn’t do shit. Kinda why the volunteering gig can’t be a long-term thing.”
Cas isn’t frowning anymore, but his eyes have gone very round.
“What?” Dean asks.
“Are you… experiencing any other symptoms?” Cas asks, piecing his question together with obvious care. “Anything olfactory-related.”
“Yeah, actually,” Dean says, blinking. “Everybody’s been smelling weird to me for a couple weeks. That’s, uh, scent distortion, right? I get the rare side effects, lucky me.”
Cas’ eyes have gone even rounder. Like he’s simultaneously trying to hold his breath and get the words out, he asks, “Do I smell ‘weird’ to you?”
Dean shrugs, but there’s no shrugging his way out of this personal question. “You’re probably fine? It’s only really bad with Alphas, Betas aren’t so warped.”
Cas’ face does this thing. This rapid series of expressions, none of them able to fully form before the next one pops up. It’s probably best described as a contortion of disbelief, and without a scent to guide him, Dean can’t get a better read on the guy than that.
“Dean,” Cas says, his tone careful but firm, not at all tentative. “Do you think I’m a Beta?”
Dean stares at him. “...yes…?”
Cas stares right on back.
“No…?” Dean tries again.
“No,” Cas agrees.
For one bizarre, fleeting moment, Dean wonders if Cas is an Omega too. Taking Dean’s side on all the bullshit, believing him, getting pissed on his behalf. The pro-adoption stuff. Not being a knothead.
But then the rest of the pieces reassert themselves. A job in an Alpha-dominated field. Derrick giving in to Cas’ authority. Cas’ unquestioning confidence that he would. That was Alpha through and through.
“Okay,” Dean says, only really fucking embarrassed, “in my defense, I can’t smell shit, and you’re not a douchebag.”
Cas keeps staring at him like… like Dean doesn’t even know what. Like it’s the funniest thing Cas has ever heard or something, maybe. Because that definitely makes more sense than Cas being, Dean doesn’t know, relieved or something. It’s a pile of signals Dean can’t hope to follow.
“Look, if you’re gonna laugh or whatever-”
“You’ve always smelled so uncomfortable,” Cas interrupts. “I thought you knew.”
“What, you’ve never heard of a sinus headache?” Dean asks right back.
The staring ramps up even higher, and for Cas, that’s saying something. “I don’t make you uncomfortable?”
Dean actually laughs. When the staring only continues, Dean adds, “Uh, no?”
“Oh,” Cas says, and he looks like there’s this massive paradigm shift going on inside his head.
Then he smiles at Dean, bright and wide, better than Dean’s ever seen him. He is so suddenly, so devastatingly attractive that Dean almost says something stupid like you’re the only good thing about this place or I thought it was you staring at my ass and I kinda liked it.
Fortunately, though Dean might be stupid, he’s not that stupid.
Instead of any of that, he settles for clearing his throat and saying, “If I get you behind schedule again, you know Meg’s gonna come at me with a shovel, right?”
“She’ll have to go after Derrick today,” Cas says, but he does reach for the doorknob.
Dean grabs the trash bag and the bag of fresh litter before realizing that Cas isn’t actually heading out just yet. “Something else?”
Looking at him intently, Cas nods. “Thursday is your last day, isn’t it?”
“Aww, you remembered.” Dean lets the sealed litter bag topple over to better press a hand over his heart, a mocking image of the stereotypical swooning Omega. Then the obvious implication of that question sets in: “Wait, are you bringing in food? Is there gonna be food?”
The face Cas makes is surprised and amused and, so quickly Dean probably imagined it, shockingly fond. “I hadn’t planned on it, but there can be. More to the point...” Cas’ smile fades into a line of determination. “Would you mind staying after for… fifteen minutes? For a debriefing.” It’s like he somehow knows how desperate Dean is to get out of this place and never come back or something.
“Will those fifteen minutes have food?” Dean asks, already planning on staying anyway.
“There will be food,” Cas promises seriously.
Dean grins. “Yeah, I’ll stick around.”
“Thank you,” Cas says, and Dean has to wonder if he smells as relieved as he sounds. Relief is a good scent on most people, like clean sheets fresh from the dryer. Maybe Cas smells like that and maybe he doesn’t; it’s a mystery Dean will have to endure going unsolved.
“Yeah, no problem, doc,” Dean says. “Should probably get back to this.” He shrugs at the room in general. “Earn my keep.”
“Dean, you’re already more efficient than most of our volunteers. Including the ones who want to be here. If you wanted to take a break after everything-”
“I’m good.” Busy is better. And the sooner Cas stops treating it like a big deal, the sooner Dean can too. Dean gets back to work with Cas still there, in the hopes that a demonstration might sink through. It doesn’t seem to, Cas still standing there and watching him like Dean’s gonna change his mind any second now. “What is this, Alpha Staring Day?”
Cas jerks to attention, going pale and clearly reading too far into the joke. “I apologize, I-”
“Dude,” Dean interrupts. “I was kidding.”
“Oh,” says Cas, not looking terribly reassured. He inhales deeply, far more more of a monitoring scenting than a creeper’s savoring sniff. Because Dean probably still smells distressed and shit.
“Headache, remember?” Dean says. “C’mon, man, either help or get out.”
“Meg really would come after you if I did,” Cas says, looking only a little steadier.
Dean rolls his eyes. With Cas acting like this, Dean’s less and less embarrassed about mistaking Cas for a Beta. What kind of Alpha tiptoes around this awkwardly? “Coffee break in an hour?” he offers entirely for Cas’ benefit. Otherwise, the guy’s going to be trying to check in on him for the rest of Dean’s shift, no doubt about it. Might as well set a time for it.
“Yes,” Cas says, then checks his watch. “Yes. I’ll...” He gestures to the door.
“Yep,” Dean says.
They each watch each other watch the other, staring way too long. Cas clears his throat and gestures again. Then he’s gone, and Dean’s staring at the door instead. Even once Dean kicks himself into gear, he’s still moving on automatic for a long while.