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Wild

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Fire. That’s the first thing that registers, once anything registers at all. There’s fire all around him, flames climbing the proverbial walls and begging to eat him alive. With fire comes heat, and this is no exception. He thinks he might let out a groan, but the noises around him swallow it before it can be heard, even by his own ears. He wonders if the scratch in his throat and the sounds whirring and rushing like an ocean in his head mean he’s cried out, but it’s all blurry- it’s all colors and searing, furious heat, hungry flames licking up the side of his arm, licking at the skin under his thin jacket, so hot it’s almost cold.

And somehow, the other side of him is cold- a freezing, burning cold that’s sharp and piercing and unforgiving. It's overwhelming, both sensations trying to exist at once, warring to consume him, and the rest fading to blackness. Colors swim and disappear, exchanged for an impossibly dark, endless black. It feels bigger than just darkness, it’s a void that’s expanding, unhinging its jaw in its effort to swallow, to consume, to take Castiel whole and dissolve his very being into the nothingness from whence it came. The pain in his body becomes secondary to the fear, and then shortly after to the certainty, the absolute knowledge- that this is the end.

As he slips away, it’s not like how they show in the movies. There’s no clip show, no highlight reel featuring all of his defining life moments, no montage of “could have beens” and missed opportunities. 

There’s just… green.

And then nothing.

***

Eight hours earlier...

The hotel phone rang, shrill and disquieting in the pre-dawn stillness of the plush room. Castiel groans as he rolls over, refusing to open his eyes and instead feeling around blindly for the receiver. He slaps it off of the cradle and fumbles it to his ear with a bleary, “Hello?”

“Yes, Mr. Novak, this is the front desk with your requested wake up call.”

“Mmph,” Castiel replies.

“I have here that you requested a room service delivery this morning, that will be on its way up to you shortly. As a reminder, the shuttle to the train depot leaves at six-thirty from outside the front lobby, we’ll look forward to seeing you then. If you require assistance with your baggage, we’ll be happy to provide that as well.”

Castiel rubs a hand over his face, trying to grab hold of and organize the thoughts in his still half-asleep brain. “Yes, of course,” he stalls. “Umm… I’ll just need the items I placed in storage brought to the shuttle,” he says.

“Very good, sir, please let us know if there’s anything else we can assist you with.”

“Uhm… alright. I mean, thank you, thanks very much,” Castiel groans again as he places the receiver back in its cradle. Despite the copious amounts of rest and relaxation he’s gotten on this trip, he’s still the opposite of a morning person, and not for the first time he kicks himself for booking such an early flight home. He rolls onto his back, starfishing his arms and legs out on the crisp, cool sheets, savoring the luxury mattress. Definitely the right choice, he thinks to himself, reflecting on the past week as his body slowly wakes up.

When he thinks his eyes can handle it, Castiel grabs his smartphone off of the nightstand and powers it back on. There’s a week’s worth of messages from his mother, a handful from his boss, and a litany of texts from his friend Balthazar. Castiel ignores them all, except for the ones from his boss, and only listens to those because he’s relatively sure of their content.  As he suspected, his boss was surprised at his impulsive request for time off but still accommodating. She’d better be, Castiel thought to himself. He hadn’t taken a day off in over ten years prior to this tripit wasn’t like he didn’t deserve it. He shoots off a quick email to her, confirming his return-to-work date for tomorrow, and powers his phone off again, not ready to deal with anyone else.

And why should he? He’s an adult, a thirty-two-year-old one at that, and he’s entitled to take whatever time for himself that he sees fit, regardless of what anyone else thinks. As he makes his way through the room and into the shower, he does have to concede that the why of it all may not be what his family and Balthazar are worried about, but more so the how, at least, the how Castiel had left them thinking he was attempting. It was true that when he’d abandoned his original plan to disappear for a week into the Alaskan wilderness with nothing but some camping gear and a few books in favor of holing up at a luxury resort he hadn’t bothered to update anyone with his plans, but it really was none of their business. 

They’ll find out soon enough, he thinks, soaping his hair and enjoying the feel of the hot water pounding on his back. Or maybe they won’t, he mused, weighing his options. Perhaps he’ll go home and let them all think he’s a seasoned wilderness explorer now. That would probably shut his mother up a lot better than the truth, which is that he’d spent the majority of the last seven days reading on the deck of a resort that was a lot more “Disney” than it was “wild.” Soaks in the hot tub, luxury meals, long hours reading in comfortable chairs on the deck overlooking Denali National Park. Honestly, the closest he’s come to “the wilderness” was the narrated bus tour and the occasional hikes on cleared and well-marked trails. Even those he’d mostly shunned in favor of running on an indoor treadmill set up in front of floor-to-ceiling windows that provided stunning views of the scenery. Suffice it to say, the truth of this vacation wasn’t going to impress anyone.

Castiel shrugs as he dries off; he doesn’t have to decide what he’s going to tell them all now. He dresses quickly and shoves the last of his belongings into his travel bags, giving the room a once-over to ensure he doesn’t leave anything behind. When he’s satisfied, he shoulders his bags and takes the elevator to the lobby, settling up at the front desk and heading outside to catch his shuttle. When he steps out into the chilly Alaskan air, he can’t help but take a deep breath and savor the atmosphere. Luxury hotel or not, the location is gorgeous, and the atmosphere is somehow both stimulating and restful. Castiel thinks he’ll miss it, and considers making this an annual thing when he gets home.

His unused camping gear is waiting for him in a pile on the cement, some of it still with tags hanging off the zippers. Castiel side-eyes it, and despite his positive experience at the hotel, he can’t help but feel a little let down by his own lack of confidence and bravery. He sighs and pokes through the pile. The tent, the low-temperature sleeping bag and sleep mat, and the sack containing various necessities are all there, mocking him with their pristine condition. He briefly considers leaving it all right where it layssimply abandoning it, and with it all the proof of his abject failure, but in the end, he’s far too practical to do so. After all, this is hundreds of dollars of camping gear. He can at least sell it secondhand and try to make back some of what he’d stupidly spent. When the shuttle arrives, he directs the porter to load it up alongside his other bags and takes his seat inside. As the bus pulls away, the sun is starting to break through the morning darkness but Denali is firmly hidden behind a low cloud cover. Castiel finds himself disappointed he doesn’t get to see it one last time.

***

The train ride to Fairbanks more than makes up for the weather at Denali. Castiel had known when he’d taken the train out that no matter what else happened during the week, he’d be taking it back. It’s a double-decker train, the top level being completely enclosed in glass and providing a 360-degree view of the scenery. Castiel sits somewhere in the middle, happy to have gotten a window seat, and loses himself in the view. It’s a bit surreal, actuallythe train and its tracks are the only thing to break up the pure, unspoiled wilderness for miles. Parts of the track are even built directly into the side of the mountains, the drop off on the other side sheer and unforgiving. Castiel can’t help but wonder how the path was excavated and the tracks were laid, there are no roads to speak of, no way to bring machinery and people out here. He tries to google it on his phone but there’s no service when you’re this remote, and the train ride is more than halfway over, so he’s not about to shell out for the WiFi. He settles back against the window and watches the mountains, the rivers, the endless tundra, and the surprising variety of vegetation roll by.

***

Fairbanks International isn’t a giant airport, but it’s reasonably busy for its size and Castiel is suddenly glad he made the extra effort to arrive early. He’s got about three hours until his plane leaves, but he figures he can use the time to catch up on his work emails if he gets bored. He checks his bags- including all of his camping gear- and makes his way through the TSA checkpoint. There’s only one line open at this hour but it’s moving steadily until it suddenly isn’t. Castiel hadn’t been paying much attention to the passengers in front of him but his attention is caught when he hears them start to grumble and complain. He stands on his toes and rocks back and forth to look over the three or four heads preceding him in line, attempting to ascertain the issue. 

It seems to have something to do with the sandy-haired young man currently standing next to the conveyer belt, fumbling his belongings and struggling to take off his heavy boots. As Castiel watches, the other passengers move around him, tossing their bags and shoes onto the belt and striding through the X-ray machine with practiced ease. Their glares and pointed comments seem to upset the man further, and Castiel watches as he drops into a crouch, resting his head against the side of the conveyer belt and breathing for a moment. When he stands again, Castiel’s moved close enough to hear him apologizing to the TSA agent, something about never having traveled before and not knowing the procedure. The TSA agent is a lot kinder than the other passengers, smiling at the man and helping him through the standing X-ray machine.

Castiel finds himself feeling badly for the nervous stranger, and wishing he had been closer to him in line so that he could have helped, could have shielded him from the rude comments. He shakes his head as he unloads his own bags onto the moving belt. People are terrible, he thinks to himself. Everyone’s a first-time traveler at some point. As he moves to take his place in front of the scanner and waits for the agent’s all-clear to pass through, he sees the man hurrying to grab his things from the other end of the belt. When he turns, Castiel finally catches a real glimpse of him and finds himself struck dumb by the stunning, sea-foam green of his eyes and the beauty of his face, no less so for the obvious anxiety that’s written all over it. The man doesn’t even bother to put his boots back on before disappearing into the crowd, and out of Castiel’s line of sight.

“...hello, hello, Sir? SIR!” Castiel’s jolted back to reality by the voice of the now-annoyed TSA agent as he realizes he’s been standing unmoving in front of the X-ray machine for god knows how long. He probably looks like he’s afraid to pass through it, and is surprised when he’s not “randomly selected” for further screening.

“My apologies,” he mutters, finally passing through and gathering his belongings as quickly as possible. He puts his shoes back on at a nearby bench, scanning the crowd absently and hoping to catch another glimpse of the attractive, nervous stranger but he’s nowhere to be seen. Castiel pops into one of the stores and decides to forgo answering his emails for a bit longer in favor of buying a few trashy magazines. Call it a last vacation indulgence, but he’s just not ready to force himself back to reality when that means returning to a job that he hates, an overbearing mother and a lonely, terminally empty apartment. He grabs a few packs of nuts and a couple of bottles of water as well, stuffing it all down into his bag before making his way to his assigned gate. When he arrives, he checks the screen to make sure the flight info is correct;

Fairbanks, AK to San Jose, CA, departing 11:00 AM; ON-TIME.

After that seven-hour flight, he’d catch a connecting one to Chicago, and then he’d basically be home. He’d be in bed by midnight, with plenty of time to sleep and return to work the next morning. Castiel’s already exhausted just thinking about it.

He glances around the waiting area, noting that almost none of the hard, plastic seats are occupied. True, the plane isn’t scheduled to depart for another two hours, but it’s not looking like this is going to be a full flight. That’s great news in Castiel’s book, he isn’t keen on being crammed in next to a stranger for seven hours. Perhaps he’ll even get an entire row of seats to himself. He’s just about to sit down and make himself comfortable when some movement from across the terminal catches his eye. The iron cage securing the small airport bar is currently being rolled up, showing that they’re open for business. 

More importantly, standing outside the bar waiting is the attractive man from the security line! Castiel freezes halfway to dropping into his chair, watching with interest as the man dips inside and plants himself in front of the bar as soon as the door is open. Castiel chews his lip for a moment before gathering his courage and rising to stand upright. He’s never been one to engage with strangers, preferring his bubble of personal space and solitude, but something about this man makes him want to be bold.

It’s not like I’ll ever even see him again, he thinks to himself, honestly unsure whether that’s an argument to put in the “for” or “against” column. After another moment of awkward staring, he throws caution to the wind and heads over. After a week of repeatedly failing to step outside his comfort zone and regretting it at every turn, he can do this one thing. He can strike up a conversation with a handsome stranger, someone who- if his behavior is any kind of indication- could use a friendly face and a bit of distraction too. And anyway, if the man turns out to be a jerk, he’ll already be at the bar. Really a no-lose scenario, when you think about it.

So he makes his way over, selecting a seat at the c-shaped bar that’s perpendicular to the one the green-eyed man is inhabiting. Castiel makes sure to leave several chairs in-between them as a buffer, just in case. By the time Castiel arrives, the man’s obtained three shot glasses, each filled with a dark amber liquid and lined up in front of him. But instead of drinking, he’s just staring at them; his long, slender fingers sliding across the smooth rim of the middle glass as his eyes probe its depth like it might contain the secrets to the universe.

“What can I get for you? ...Sir? Can I get you something?” For the second time since laying eyes on the man, Castiel’s so enthralled by him that he doesn’t hear himself being addressed. His mouth snaps closed and he clears his throat awkwardly, quickly shifting his eyes away and onto to the bartender where they belong, but not in time to avoid being caught by the green-eyed man. In his peripheral vision, Castiel can see the corner of the man’s mouth twitch at Castiel’s obvious embarrassment, and a slight flush colors his freckled face when he seems to realize that he was the source of Castiel’s distraction.

“Um, yes,” Castiel replies, trying to act natural but suddenly unable to think of any kind of alcohol at all, never mind remember what he likes. “I’ll have a… a Shirley Temple, please.”

The green-eyed man snorts, “What is this, junior high?”

Castiel’s head whips around, his eyebrows raised in surprise. He should have known, the man was far too pretty not to be a jerk. He tries to control his tone as he replies, “Excuse me?”

The man’s head pops up, his eyes wide as if he hadn’t realized he was speaking out loud, and then his cheeks really flush. “Oh shit, man I’m sorry. Really, dude. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m a fucking wreck right now, I haven’t flown on a plane since I was a kid and I’m…” the man hesitates then, looking down and ripping at the paper napkin in his hands, “I’m afraid,” he mumbles eventually, not looking back up.

Castiel hesitates for a moment and then takes the opening for what it isafter all, this is what he came over here for. He picks up his belongings and moves over to the chair next to the green-eyed man. He’s sitting at the corner of the bar, so Castiel’s actually sort of across and next to him at the same time, but it’s a good angle for conversation. The man looks a bit surprised to see him there and he’s definitely embarrassed, but he gives him a smile and holds out his hand. “Anyway, I’m Dean,” he says, and when Castiel takes his offered hand he squeezes warmly and firmly and Castiel swallows hard. He doesn’t miss how the man’s eyes track that movement, either. Interesting, he thinks. There’s a part of his brain that wishes he were the type to go for random hook-ups in dirty airport bathrooms, but he’s not, doesn’t think he could go through with it even under ideal circumstances. Circumstances like a willing, interested, drop-dead gorgeous, green-eyed man looking for a convenient distraction. Castiel licks his lips unconsciously, and the man’s eyes drop again.

“I’m Castiel,” he replies, his voice a touch rougher than it had been a few moments ago. He clears his throat again, and the green-eyed man is smiling at him now. “You can just call me Cas,” he offers, knowing his name is, according to some people, obnoxious.

“Cas,” Dean agrees with a nod, and he’s sipping a beer nowwhen did he get that?his plush lips wrapping around the opening and taking a long pull. “I like it,” he says after he’s set the beer down. “It’s different. Suits you.”

“Does it?” Castiel can’t help but be skeptical, his name has been a sore spot for essentially his entire life. He toys with the cocktail straw sitting in the drink that’s appeared in front of him and shrugs, letting Dean know that he doesn’t have to answer. “I suppose so.”

“So… Cas, what brings you to Fairbanks International Airport Bar at 9 in the morning?” Dean’s tone is casual but genuine. Castiel likes him a little more every time he speaks, and the corner of his lips tug up, just a little.

“Just killing some time before my flight,” he replies, and then, on an impulsive whim, he decides to come clean. “I saw you,” he admits, his eyes focused on his drink as he pushes it around the countertop. “In the security line and then waiting for the bar to open. You looked…” He chances a glance up as he trails off, prepared for Dean to look disgusted or at the very least, weirded out. Instead, he finds an amused smirk and eye crinkles.

“Like a hot mess?” Dean suggests, his smirk widening.

“Like you could use a friend,” Castiel corrects lamely, wondering why he ever thought this was a good idea. Dean must think he’s insane.

But Dean surprises him by throwing his head back and laughing, the kind of laugh that makes people drop to their knees in supplication, to offer up their hands and hearts and sanity on a silver platter, and Castiel is only human. He laughs too. Dean contemplates him for a moment, his eyes still full of mirth, before sliding one of his shots over and in front of Castiel.

“I’m glad you did, Cas,” he says simply.

***

By the time Castiel’s flight is called for boarding, he and Dean are sitting so close together their knees are brushing. There’s an array of empty glasses in front of them, but neither are drunk. Sure, they’d shared a few drinks, but for the most part, they’d talked. Small talk at first, and then something deeper. Castiel’s actually hard-pressed to remember a time when he’d connected so quickly and easily with another person, and he finds himself reluctant to get on the plane. Surprisingly, Dean had been serious when he asked about Cas’ story, and he’d listened intently while Cas described his dead-end job, his boring life, and the restlessness that led him to take off spontaneously on an Alaskan adventure. He laughs long and hard when Castiel gets to the part about chickening out on the actual adventure part in favor of luxury accommodations, but Castiel doesn’t feel mocked or made fun of. He smiles back and Dean replies that he wishes he’d encountered Castiel a week ago. He says he would have gladly taken Cas camping and shown him around his Alaska, but then amends that his Alaska would probably have had Castiel running for the hills before the week was up.

That leads into Dean explaining how he’s actually leaving the state for good, after essentially never traveling more than 20 miles from the town he was born in. He says the move is long overdue, his dad having passed away a few months ago and his little brother gone off to college in another state, but his tone is tinged with bitterness. Regardless, he was left behind in a one-horse town with a string of exes who were definitely not going anywhere anytime soon and an uncle who, despite apparently being the only thing in his hometown Dean has anything positive to say about, has told him in no uncertain terms that he deserves better than the life his dad led. And so here Dean is, ready to conquer his fear of flying in the name of starting his life over.

He expresses regret at leaving his uncle “Bobby,” behind, but seems resigned that this whole thing was inevitable. “It’s just that there’s nothing left for me there, you know? It was easier to ignore what a dead-end place it was when I had Sammy to look out for, but I guess that’s my own fault for thinkin’ he’d stick around forever.” Dean shrugs. “Anyway… sorry to talk your ear off.”

But he doesn’t really look sorry, and so Castiel doesn’t reply, just holds eye contact with Dean for a moment too long to be misconstrued for anything other than what it is. He’s lost track of time and he’s just tipsy enough to be reconsidering that whole “bathroom hook-up” idea he’d touched on earlier when the overhead system crackles to life.

“Alaskan Airlines Flight 918, service from Fairbanks to San Jose, is now pre-boarding.”

“That’s me,” Castiel and Dean say simultaneously, heads snapping up to look at each other in shock.

“You’re kidding,” Castiel says, and Dean shakes his head no.

“Nope. San Jose, that’s less than an hour from Sammy. He’s at Stanford. Figure I’ll try and settle in the city, leave him his space but be close enough to see him when he’s able. Plus, more opportunities and all that.” Dean looks rueful as he collects his belongings, making Castiel wonder if he doesn’t think his brother will want to see him much at all. Castiel feels a pang of anger at the thought- Dean is clearly kind, and lonely, and trying his best. His brother is a fool if he doesn’t value someone like that.

As he shoulders his bags, Castiel almost doesn’t want to clarify his traveling plans to Dean, as if the reminder that this is all temporary might change anything. But this is all temporary, Castiel thinks. It’s just solidarity in an airport bar, nothing more. Castiel swallows and has to look away from Dean’s beautiful, sweet face when he replies, “San Jose is just a stopover for me… I’ve got a connecting flight out at 7.” He wonders if he’s imagining just how much Dean’s face seems to fall at his words and rushes to add, “Perhaps we’ll get held up and I’ll miss it. An hour is a very short window to make a connecting flight.” Just as he’s wondering what possessed him to say something so silly, Dean visibly perks up a little.

“Promise you’ll let me keep you company at the bar if that happens?”

“It’s a date.” They’re grinning stupidly at each other now as they stand in front of the gate, but the mood dissolves when Dean’s seat row is called. A quick glance at his ticket tells Cas Dean’s seated a good twenty rows away from him, and they both seem to realize that this is probably it for them. Dean looks Castiel up and down once, his eyes lingering on Cas’ lips before he edges backward toward the gangway.

“So um, thanks. For hanging out. It really did help,” he says, absently licking his own lips. “I’ll… see you around, Cas,” he adds reluctantly, and Castiel nods. “Maybe we’ll catch each other in the line for the bathroom.” Castiel laughs awkwardly at Dean’s attempt to lighten the mood and watches as he hands his ticket to the stewardess before heading down the long tunnel leading to the plane. Before he turns and disappears from sight, he looks back and gives Castiel a little half wave. Castiel’s no expert on human emotions, but he thinks Dean looks sad.

What did you think was going to happen? The voice in his head chastises him for being melodramatic over a man he had no idea existed when he’d woken up that morning. You knew you’d never see him again when you decided to say hello. Kicking himself for bothering to step outside his comfort zone if this is what the outcome feels like, Castiel waits for his row to be called and boards the plane quickly. He can’t help but let his eyes scan the seats for Dean when he steps into the cabin, but he doesn’t see him. The plane isn’t even half full though, and on the bright side, it looks like his wish of getting an entire row of seats to himself may come true. At least I have that going for me, he thinks. Tons of space to be alone and miserable, just like at home.

Castiel settles in as boarding concludes, happily noting that his view out the window isn’t obstructed by a wing. He’ll be glad to see the mountains one last time as they take off. He’s still looking out the window trying to identify the distant mountain range as he hears the stewardess request for everyone to please finish stowing their baggage and take their seats so that the plane can push back from the gate. As the announcement finishes, Castiel feels a tap on his shoulder. When he looks up, he can’t help but break out into a grin. It’s Dean, hovering over Cas’ row of seats with his bags haphazardly slung over his shoulder. He looks equal parts sheepish and hopeful as he says, “Is this seat taken?”

By way of an answer, Castiel reaches up to grab his bags and pull them down to the middle seat. “Hello, Dean,” he says, smile still ridiculously wide. He’s truly amazed at the effect this man has on him and strangely enough, from the look on Dean’s face it seems like it might be mutual. “What made you change your mind?”

Dean shrugs and scratches at the back of his neck as he sidles into the aisle seat. “Just seemed kinda silly, you know? Sitting alone for this whole ride when it seems like maybe we’d have a better time… sitting together.” At that, he looks up and meets Castiel’s eyes, quickly flitting them away again as he continues, “I mean, it’s cool if you want your space though, no worries. Don’t feel like you have to

Following an impulse he’s never had and not stopping to question why Dean makes it so easy to be someone he’s always wished he could, Castiel leans across the empty seat separating them and kisses Dean square on the mouth. It’s nothing explicit, just a firm, lingering press that makes Dean’s eyes slip and stay closed as Castiel pulls back, but there’s an unbelievable spark. Oh, Castiel thinks, This is what poets write about. Staring at Dean’s still-closed eyelids, he waits for rejection, for admonishment, for anything but what comes next, which is Dean’s eyes fluttering open, emerald-dark and pupils dilated, his lips stretching into a big smile.

“Awesome,” he says, settling back into his seat and looking over at Castiel with an impish grin still plastered on his face. Castiel blushes and settles back too.

Maybe this won’t be it after all.

***

Dean lasts the time it takes for the plane to pull back from the gate, taxi, and ascend most of the way to cruising altitude in the aisle seat. To Castiel’s delight, as soon as the flight attendant isn’t looking he unbuckles his seatbelt and slides over, pushing the pack he’d left on the middle seat over into his previously occupied aisle one. He buckles up again but positions himself so that he’s tipped onto his left hip and facing Castiel. Castiel mirrors his position, and they both lean in before dropping their heads onto the seat backs, leaving them scant inches apart. It’s far too intimate to be comfortable for two people who are essentially strangers, and yet. Castiel notices Dean’s hand is resting on the seat between them, and he takes a chance, reaching forward to interlace their fingers.

“Is this okay?” Dean’s voice is quiet, vulnerable, and Castiel wants to kiss the uncertainty off of his face. In the short time they’ve known each other, he’s already learned quite a bit about Dean but he wants more, he wants it all. Wants to know Dean, inside and out. Wants them to trust each other, to have common experiences and memories and history, and it’s way, way too soon to be thinking like this but Castiel’s been alone for so long. He’s been alone, and he’s failed to connect on a meaningful level with anyone he’s come across in years, though not for a lack of trying on his part. 

And then here comes Dean, stumbling across his path all nerves and anxiety, welcoming Castiel’s interest in comforting him and saying he wants to know him too. Dean, with his sharp green eyes that crinkle at the edges when he really smiles, with his plush pink lips that he licks when he’s nervous, with the cheekbones of a 1990’s supermodel. Dean with his obviously fit body hidden carefully under layers of flannel and self-deprecating humor, the softness of him resting just underneath the hyper-masculine surface image he presents to the world. Castiel’s already taken by the empathy Dean clearly has for others, especially his brother, and most of allhis obvious longing for someone to understand him, to care about him, to love him. How Castiel can be sure his assessment of Dean is accurate in such a short time he has no idea, but the fact remains that he is. He’s sure. He wants Dean, and if Dean’s actions are any clue- Dean wants him too.

***

The trouble starts about twenty minutes into the flight. At first, the bumps seem like regular turbulence, and Castiel writes them off as a bit of weather. He’s understandably preoccupied, what with Dean smiling at him, and telling him jokes, and stroking his palm with his thumb, but even still- he can’t help but realize that the fasten seatbelt sign is still on. There was never an announcement about the plane reaching it’s cruising altitude, something that definitely should have happened by now. Something must show on his face, and Dean’s smile fades slightly as he asks Castiel what’s up. Castiel fills him in but demurs that he’s probably worrying over nothing. Perhaps the PA system isn’t working properly, or the pilots are just waiting for the turbulence to clear before bothering to update the passengers. Castiel sits up and glances around the cabin; no one else seems concerned, least of all the flight attendants. He shrugs and slides back down, prepared to resume his conversation with Dean, but Dean’s face is wrinkled with thoughtful concern. He leans first over Castiel to look out his window, and Castiel’s breath comes up a little short at having Dean so close. But Dean leans back again, and then to the right, out over the aisle and into the row across from them so that he can peer out the opposite side window.

When he plops back into his seat a moment later, his brow is still furrowed and he’s chewing his thumbnail. He glances sideways at Castiel, who waits patiently to hear whatever it is he’s thinking. “Something’s wrong,” he says quietly, tipping his head back and looking around, presumably to ensure no one is listening. “Cas, listen. I’m no seasoned world-traveler, heck, you know what I said about the last time I was on a plane. But if there’s one thing I know about, it’s using landmarks to navigate.” He reaches into the seatback pocket in front of them and pulls out a map, his finger tracing the path from Fairbanks to San Jose. He looks up at Castiel and jabs his finger at the map. “What do you see?”

Castiel isn’t sure what he’s getting at, so he peers closer, tilting his head and squinting as he tries to figure out what Dean is getting at. “Um… water?”

“Water! Exactly,” Dean exclaims, smacking the map with the back of his hand. “From where we were inland, and the height we should have climbed by now, we should be able to see the ocean from the right side of the plane. But what do you see?”

Castiel unbuckles his belt and leans over Dean, just far enough to catch a glimpse out the window. There’s no ocean visible, just mountains and uneven terrain, as far as the eye can see. “Land,” he says to Dean after sitting back down. “What do you think that means?”

Dean shrugs. “Maybe they’re just taking a little detour. Avoiding some other planes or weather. Alaskan weather can get pretty crazy, s’not out of the realm of possibility.” He hesitates. “But you’d think they’d at least update us about it.”

“I’m going to look again, if that’s alright,” Castiel says, “Perhaps the ocean is just hard to discern from this high up.”

“Be my guest,” Dean replies, palms up and leaning back against his seat to give Castiel room. He leans farther over this time, essentially almost crawling into Dean’s lap out of necessity, and that’s when it happens. The plane bucks and slams against what feels like a giant air pocket, the loud BOOM of the impact closely followed by the fuselage groaning and creaking in protest and the lights flickering. The plane sways side to side as Castiel is thrown out of his seat and across the aisle. He slams face-first into one of the armrests belonging to a seat on the other side of the row and feels pain explode across his face. “Cas!” He hears Dean distantly calling his name as he struggles to not succumb to the black fuzz creeping into the edges of his vision. He blinks a few times, forcing himself upright with the unexpected assistance of a pair of strong arms. “Cas,” Dean’s voice says urgently as Dean’s face swims slowly into focus in front of him. “Cas, you’ve gotta get up. We’ve got to get buckled, okay?” Castiel shakes his head in an attempt to clear it and realizes the dark fuzziness still invading his right eye is actually wetness dripping down from his forehead. He gingerly touches his fingers to his face, they come away wet and red. “Cas, come on,” Dean says again, tugging under his arm. Castiel forces himself to listen, to comply, letting Dean help him up and leaning on him heavily as they stumble back to their row.

Dean does up Cas’ buckle, then his own, and it’s only after that when Castiel realizes the plane hasn’t stopped shaking. He’s still half-expecting a flight attendant to show up with an emergency medical kit, or an ice pack, or hell, a whiskey, but a dizzied glance to the front of the cabin reveals them all to be strapped into their jump seats, oxygen masks on their faces. No one is coming. He turns back to Dean, wanting to ask why they don’t have masks, but when he does he sees Dean’s now wearing one and holding out another for Castiel. Castiel lets him place it over his face and adjust the straps, leaning back in his seat and taking a few deep breaths before trying to make sense of the whole event any further.

After a minute or so, some of the fog does start to clear from his brain with the help of the supplemental oxygen. Unfortunately, it’s just in time for him to notice the lights flicker one last time and go out for good.

Castiel turns his head to look at Dean and sees him already looking back. He turns on his hip, the way he and Dean had been before and pushes up the armrest between them so he can scoot closer. Dean’s eyes are still beautiful, but they’re sporting a glassy sheen that wasn’t there earlier. When Dean blinks slowly, a single teardrop spills over and slides down his face. Castiel puts his hand on Dean’s cheek, and Dean returns the gesture, pulling them in tight so that their foreheads touch. It’s hot, it smells like burning rubber, and the plane is loud around them; Castiel thinks it sounds as if they’re being fed through a giant shredder, and for all he knowsthey are. The Captain’s voice can finally be heard over the intercom, but it’s distant and in danger of being swallowed up completely by all of the other noise. Castiel catches only pieces of what is said.

“...DOWN…RACE FOR… GOING…-MPACT….BRACE… BRACE… BRACE…BRACE...”

Castiel and Dean duck down together in their row, still holding each other tight. Their heads are on each other’s shoulders and Dean's hands are gripping the fabric covering Castiel's back. Castiel's hand comes up to rest on Dean's left shoulder, squeezing tight so he can pull him in and splay his other hand in the middle of Dean's back in what he hopes is a comforting gesture. The plane shakes so hard Castiel is sure it’ll vibrate apart at any moment. The roar gets impossibly louder, the air ferociously hotter, and Castiel’s neck is wet from Dean’s tears. 

His head hurts.

He thinks about his old life, the one he’d been preparing to step so easily back into just hours ago. It all seems so far away, so untouchable now. He thinks of his boring routines and his empty apartment, his judgmental, overbearing mother and his shitty job. It’s wrong, it’s so wrong that he’d do it all againmake the same choices, go on the same trip, get on the same planeall for these precious few hours with Dean.

He tightens his arms around the terrified man next to him, watches through the window as the ground rushes towards them far, far too quickly, and waits resignedly for whatever comes next. He blacks out before the plane hits the ground.

***