Dean really doesn’t have a lot of stuff. He watches this new potential roommate — Castiel, he’d said his name was, and what kind of name is that anyway? — wander around the apartment and tries not to feel judged. Castiel doesn’t look judgey. Just observant. He noses around the vacant second bedroom and counts outlets, ducks his head into the closet; he inspects the bathroom and the kitchen, both scrubbed down to the grout to look presentable.
“So,” Dean says finally. “You work around here?”
Castiel nods. “Downtown. I take the bus, so this location is a good one.”
There isn’t much Dean can say to that, so he just nods and swings his arms and tries not to feel awkward. Castiel had shown up in a suit and tie, so the news that he works downtown is not a surprise. The bus thing sort of is, but Dean supposes that explains the state of his hair. It looks ruffled. Like it’s been towel-dried. Not that Dean’s looking or anything.
“This is a nice place,” Castiel says, turning back to him. Damn those eyes are blue. Dean’s not usually the type to notice that kind of thing, but damn.
“Thanks,” he says. “You, um. Interested?”
Dean’s ready for a polite refusal or something noncommittal, but Castiel nods and steps closer. Close enough that Dean catches the edge of his scent. Cedar. Sage. He breathes in deeper. Sandalwood. Just an afterthought of dark citrus. Unmated alpha.
Of course he is.
And if Dean can scent him, then Castiel can definitely scent Dean. Or try to. Old nauseous anxiety swirls in Dean’s gut when he sees Castiel’s nostrils flare, trying to catch a scent that Dean knows he won’t find. Arms crossed and fists clenched, Dean waits.
“I hope you won’t take this the wrong way,” Castiel finally says, tentative, “but I’m having trouble pinpointing your secondary.”
Yep, there it is. Not phrased as a question, but at this point there’s no way Dean can dodge it. “Actually, I’m beta,” he says.
“Oh,” Castiel says. “Interesting.” Dean looks up. Over a decade of listening to this reaction has made Dean a connoisseur of ‘oh’s. This one isn’t in his repertoire.
Castiel doesn’t even look particularly surprised, and there is none of the flustered back-foot pity or confused ignorance Dean’s grown accustomed to. It’s like he means what he says — interesting — but also not like he wants to put Dean under a microscope and study him.
“That’s not gonna be a problem, is it?” Dean asks, and if he’s more brusque than necessary… well. Best for Castiel not to get any wrong ideas from the start.
“Not at all,” he says. “As long as you don’t mind living with an unmated alpha. It shouldn’t cause you any problems; I’m not territorial, and I have standing arrangements for my blockout days.”
Standing arrangements. Blockout days. Dean snorts. “No. I’ve lived with alphas all my life, it’s fine.”
Castiel smiles, an easy, closed-lipped smile. “I think we can make this work,” he says, and holds out his hand. Palm up.
Dean frowns down at his upturned palm, then reaches out to meet the handshake, keeping his wrist firm and his palm directly vertical.
“Alright,” Dean says, then clears his throat as he retrieves his hand. “Well, um. Castiel. Roommates then?”
Castiel nods. “Roommates. And please, call me Cas.”
Dean: Do you need me to air the place out any more? I’m sure it still kinda smells like my old roommate
Cas: It’s fine. I was going to move in this Saturday if that works for you.
Dean is on the couch with a half-finished beer when he hears the click of a brand new key turning the lock. He turns to find Cas shouldering a heavy-looking box against the wall and jiggering the door open with his other hand.
“Woah, hey,” Dean stands immediately and pulls the door open all the way; Cas catches the box before it falls.
“Thank you,” Cas says with heavy breaths, making a beeline for the second bedroom.
“You need a hand?” Dean calls after him.
Cas just grunts as the box lands heavily by the bedroom door. Dean peers down the hallway to where Cas is bent over the box. He’s ditched the suit for the day in favor of a pair of old, soft-looking jeans and a loose T-shirt. Dean can already smell the sandalwood sweat rising from him and tries not to breathe too deep. Not because it’s unpleasant. The opposite of that, actually.
“If you want,” Cas finally says, standing back up. “I don’t know why I decided to bring one of the heaviest boxes first.”
“Wait — Did you haul that thing up the stairs?”
Castiel blinks at him. “Um. Yes?”
“You know we have an elevator, right?”
Castiel just stares blankly for another moment before breaking into laughter. “Clearly I didn’t,” he says.
Dean rolls his eyes. “You dork. C’mon.”
Cas doesn’t have a whole lot either, just the smallest size of U-haul van not-quite full of boxes and bags, a couple of small furnishings, and a bed without a frame. The elevator turns out to be too small to manage Cas’s queen box spring and mattress, so those they have to maneuver up the three flights of narrow stairs. “Dude,” Dean pants as he shoves the mattress up onto the last landing. “How did you expect to get all this up the stairs by yourself?”
Cas stands up straight and leans against the end of the mattress, flopping lazily against the wall. “I have no idea,” he says, wiping some sweat out of his eye. “I had a friend who was supposed to lend a hand, but she cancelled this morning.”
Dean shrugs and bends down to heft the mattress again. “Her loss, I guess,” he says.
“Is it?” Cas pants as he scrambles backward up the stairs, awkwardly clutching at the mattress. “I think she made the right call.”
Dean’s too busy grunting under the weight of his load to reply to that right away. “I dunno,” he says as they get to the top of the stairs. “She’s missing out on some killer pizza you’re buying me later.”
Cas’s whole face crinkles up and he almost drops the mattress in a fit of giggles. Dean feels himself grinning too, uncontrollably, at having made this near-perfect stranger laugh. “Deal,” Cas says eventually.
Things go quickly after that, and in a couple of hours the van is empty and the second bedroom is a forest of boxes and out-of-place furniture. Cas leaves to return the van, and Dean flops down on the sofa, content to vegetate for a while. Maybe he’ll have a shower. Maybe he’ll take a nap. Either way, Cas is buying pizza when he gets back, and Dean’s got the other half of his rent taken care of, so for now life is good.
He’s about thirty seconds into becoming one with the couch when he notices the woody, herbal scents drifting on the air. It tingles in his nose, and he breathes in deeper. He can’t help it. He’s gonna have to get used to it because Cas lives here now; he won’t be able to help that the whole apartment is going to smell like him. Dean inhales again. Cas smells good.
It hadn’t been like this with Benny. Benny had smelled fine, all southern spices and soft leather, but basically neutral to Dean’s nose. Cas, though. The more Dean smells him, the more he wants to drown in that scent. This scent is something complex, warm, comforting. Alluring. With every breath it goes down to his belly, thick and sultry. Like he’s sitting in a steam bath, and the scent of Castiel is the vapor clinging to his skin, sinking into his pores. Dean can’t stop breathing in deeper and deeper, and soon he’s just laying there on the sofa luxuriating with every breath as deep as he can get it, one hand idly cupping his half-hard dick through his jeans. Just from the scent of the guy.
Dean’s eyes snap open and he bolts upright. “Fuck,” he mutters, running a hand through his hair. He shakes his head to clear it, scrubs at his eyes. Ok. That was weird. And completely inappropriate. Dean grabs his warm, flat beer off the coffee table and downs most of it with a grimace.
He’s just tired, that’s all. It’s been a long day. Long week. This sort of thing isn’t even supposed to affect him like that.
Fuck, he can’t even be a beta right.
Dean’s heart has barely calmed down when he hears the door open behind him again. “I brought beer too,” Castiel says. “To go with the pizza. What do you like on yours?”
Dean sucks in a tremulous breath and turns to face Cas. “Um. Whatever. Just no anchovies.”
Cas grimaces. “I think we can agree on that.” He tucks a few beers in the fridge to chill, leaves the rest of the case on the counter, and ambles into the living room area. “May I?” he asks, gesturing at the far end of the sofa.
“Sure,” Dean says before he thinks twice about it. Castiel settles into the sofa, and Dean has no polite way to escape the fresh wave of sweet cedar and herbal-spice. It’s maddening. He sucks in air and tries not to be too obvious about holding it.
Just breathe, Dean. Take it easy. It’s just new. You’ll get used to it.
Between the two of them they settle on a pizza delivery place and two pizzas: Hawaiian for Cas and sausage and mushroom for Dean. Cas drops his phone on the table and settles back, one leg cocked up on the sofa cushion. Dean hunches forward, elbows on his knees.
“Thank you for your help earlier,” Cas says.
“Oh, sure. No problem.”
God, is this guy throwing his scent out on purpose? Because Dean can barely draw breath without bathing in it. His blood is going to boil right out of his veins at this rate, and he’s not even sure he’d mind. What the fuck is wrong with him?
“Do you play?”
Dean looks up sharply, then follows Cas’s eye line over to the acoustic guitar resting on its stand next to the TV. He swallows.
“A little. Sometimes.”
“Hmmm. I don’t think that’s true,” Cas says.
“Most people who have guitars in their living rooms don't play, and their guitars are covered in dust. I see no dust on that instrument.”
“You don’t know when I last dusted,” Dean mutters, but he knows that the bookshelves and television and everything else in the room will give him away on that front.
Cas squints at him for a moment, then grins. “I’ll bet you play every day and are secretly a genius.”
Dean rolls his eyes. “Well, you’re half right.”
“You don’t play every day?”
“No, I do,” Dean admits. “But I’m sure as hell not a genius.”
“Prove it. Prove to me how bad you are,” Cas says with delighted expectation, settling back on the couch.
Dean hesitates, a nervous chuckle and refusal ready on his lips. But he feels a sudden reckless rush, an urge to try and impress this beautiful blue-eyed man who smells so good and smiles at him like that. Besides, he’s bound to hear it eventually. May as well get it over with. So Dean picks up his guitar, pulls the pick from the strings. Gives a slow strum to make sure it’s close enough to tuned — it’s not, so he twists a peg or two.
“Are you going to stall until pizza gets here, or are you going to play something?” Cas asks with a teasing grin.
Dean glares at him. “Screw you,” he says. Cas cackles silently, but thankfully keeps further commentary to himself.
Finally, Dean’s fingers land on the opening chords of the most recent song he’s been working on. He strums over the scales and can tell the exact moment when Cas recognizes the tune by the way he draws in breath.
“There is a house in New Orleans
They called — wait, shit.
They called the Rising Sun .
And it’s been the ruin of — of many — of many a poor boy
God, you know — Sorry, I swear this goes better when I don’t have an audience.”
“You’re fine,” Cas says, all low and soft. Dean glances up, and the smile on Cas’s face is far too genuine. “Just keep going.”
So Dean takes a deep breath — still laden with cedar and sage — and relaxes around the curve of his guitar. He starts again, filling the silence with slow sounds, letting his hands speak for him.
He makes it through with minimal stumbling, though he skips some of the more ambitious flourishes and mostly just strums through the solo. When he finishes, the last chord lingering in the air, he looks up to see Cas grinning at him, small but bright. The thought crosses his mind that he wants to do whatever he can to put that smile on Cas’s face as often as possible.
Thankfully Cas doesn’t do anything patronizing like applaud. “That was beautiful,” he says, quiet in the silence after the music.
Dean looks down to hide his smiling blush. “Thanks.”
“I mean, you’re no Eric Clapton, but —”
Dean scoffs. “Shut up,” he says, and Cas giggles behind his hand as Dean moves his guitar back to its stand.
He’s only just rested it on the forks when the doorbell buzzes.
“That was fast,” Cas says, getting to his feet to buzz in the pizza man.
“Yeah, they’re not far from here,” Dean says, standing and stretching his spine. He watches Cas pay for the pizzas, watches him fumble his way around Dean’s kitchen, watches him dig into his single box of kitchen supplies for a couple of plates.
“I’ve got plates, you know,” Dean says.
“I’m sure you do, but I bought the pizza. So. My plates.” Cas pushes one at Dean’s chest.
Dean takes the plate — cheap plastic, blue with a big white swirl pattern — and listens to the sudden rush of his heart and knows that he is doomed. Completely and utterly fucked.
He doesn’t know how long he and Cas will live together, but he has the sinking feeling that he will spend the entire time fending off this stupid, hopeless crush.