The field trip was expensive as fuck, but Dean would have taken out a loan with the mafia to see his little girl smile. Right now, though, she was scowling at him.
“Dad, I’m seventeen.” Like he wouldn’t know that. He’d been there, thank you very much.
“And your point?” Dean wasn’t letting her go off to the rain forests of Brazil without a chaperone he could trust. A chaperone named Dean Winchester.
“You treat me like a child,” she shouted. “Mom would have let me go.” Dean hung his head and counted to ten. Yes, Cassie would have probably let her go, but Cassie wasn’t here. Cassie was never coming back. Their affair had burned bright and then faded when she finally understood that Dean wasn’t giving up his job as a deputy sheriff. She’d left and a few months later, she’d called and informed him he was going to be a dad.
For the next fifteen years, they’d co-parented their daughter. Cassie went on to marry someone more suited to her lifestyle and Dean, well, Dean had random hookups. Then the accident happened and Audrey lost her mom and Dean became a full-time parent of one of the smartest kids he knew.
“None of the other kids’ parents are coming,” she reverted to whining since the yelling wasn’t going to make a difference.
“I’m sorry, baby girl, but those are my terms. If you want to go to the wilds of Brazil to look at bugs, I’m coming with you.” The mere thought of it sent a shiver down Dean’s spine. He could handle snakes and rodents, but creepy-crawlies freaked him out.
She frowned and damned if she didn’t look just like her mother. Her café au lait skin and light brown curls came from Cassie, but those green eyes and that nasty temper came from Dean.
“Fine,” she snapped and ran down the hall. He winced as her bedroom door slammed.
“I’m going to work,” he called out and picked up his utility belt from its hook by the back door. He wasn’t expecting an answer and didn’t get one.
As he drove to the sheriff's department, he thought about Cassie. She’d be really proud of their daughter. It was no thanks to him that she was a freakin’ genius. She must have gotten her brains from her mother and her Uncle Sam. Thank God, the older Audrey, Cassie’s mother, was well off enough to pay for the private school his daughter attended. With her grades, she’d gotten into the entomology program at Kansas State. It was her report on the butterflies of Central America that won her a slot on this expedition.
The trip was a once in a lifetime adventure according to his daughter. Eight teens were chosen to go on this bug finding expedition to Brazil, led by some famous bug guy named Professor Novak. His kid was gaga over the dude and was stoked she’d been in several of his classes at the university.
Two months later, passports in hand, they found the designated meeting spot for the group. Dean stood by while all the other parents said their goodbyes and departed. There were eight teens, three girls and five boys. After looking over the boys, Dean was glad he’d decided to go on the trip despite the hefty price tag. It was going to take him months to pay off the credit card. Audrey’s grandmother had paid for his daughter’s portion as part of her birthday present.
The kids seemed to be hitting it off and were talking about six-legged things and Dean was firing off a few texts to friends and family to let them know it was almost wheels up, when one of the girls exclaimed, “Oh, my God, there he is.” Dean glanced up to see three men approaching them. All in cargo shorts. Dean wondered which one was the infamous Professor Novak. He dismissed the younger one and focused on the two remaining men. One was burly and looked like he could take on Mike Tyson, the other was kind of hot in a just rolled out of bed way.
“Good morning, everyone,” said Mr. Sex Hair. “I’m Professor Novak and this is my team. Benny Lafitte is our cameraman and Inias McMorran, my TA. You’ll be seeing him a lot around campus this fall.” The guy’s voice was made for those dial-in sex lines. “Is everyone ready?”
The eight teens and Dean all nodded. “Good, we will get to your introductions once we get checked in.” With a flash of pearly whites, he turned and made his way down the concourse, everyone falling in behind him. Dean was kind of bummed that Novak’s well-worn backpack covered his butt. By the way his legs looked, the man must have a killer ass.
“He’s so hot,” one of the girls behind Dean whispered and when his daughter agreed with her, he turned and shot her a I’m your dad and I’m watching you look. He frowned at the man’s back. He had to be in his early forties, why were these girls mooning over him, shouldn’t they be flipping through TigerBeat Magazine and squealing at that douche, Justin Bieber?
Once they’d all checked in and had their boarding passes in hand, Novak led them to a group of seats near their gate. Everyone sat down, but Novak remained standing. “Okay, you know me and these two, but I want to get to know who you are. I’ve read your essays and was very impressed by each and every one of you. Tell me your name, where you’re from, and why you want to become an entomologist. Let’s start with you,” he said, pointing to the boy wearing the leather jacket. The one that reminded Dean of himself at that age.
“I’m Ben Braedon. I’m from Battle Creek, Michigan and go to Battle Creek Central High School. I want to study entomology because I want to become a crime scene investigator for the FBI.” Dean pursed his lips and nodded. He was suitably impressed by the kid.
Novak thanked him and pointed to the next boy. “My name is Jesse Turner and I live in Alliance, Nebraska. I attend Aliance High School. I’ve always been fascinated by insects and want to write for National Geographic.” Dean rolled his eyes. He used to swipe that magazine from the library and stare at the pictures of naked tribal women.
“And you?” Novak asked, pointing to the girl with the long dark hair.
“The name’s Alex. I’m from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I want to do research into the use of pesticides versus introducing other insects to contain those that feed off our food supply.” Dean noticed her surly attitude, but hey, the kid had dreams. He couldn’t fault her with that.
The introductions continued with a kid named Dimitri. Dean listened to him talk about his father, who owned a pest control company, and how he loved to go to work with him, but when he came out as trans, his dad disowned him. It broke Dean’s heart and he wished he could plant a fist in the assholes face.
The girl named Krissy was outspoken and obviously had a crush on Novak. Dean didn’t blame her. She wanted to teach like the professor. Go figure. The little suck up .
Alfie was a cute kid, kind of shy, and wanted to be an Urban Entomologist, whatever that was.
Audrey was last and Dean watched proudly as she met the professor’s gaze. “My name is Audrey Winchester, I’m from Lawrence, Kansas, and go to Bishop Seabury Academy. I want to be a researcher at the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion.” Wait... What? Dean looked at his little girl, stunned. He thought she wanted to write books about butterflies... in Lawrence... not fucking Philadelphia.
“And you, sir?” Dean knew he had the deer in the headlights thing going on because, shit , he just found out his kid wanted to leave him. Ridiculous blue eyes bored into his.
“Uh... Yeah, I’m Dean Winchester, Audrey’s dad... so yeah, I live in Lawrence too. I’m a deputy with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department. I’m not into bugs.” Audrey looked mortified as the rest of the teens laughed. Novak tilted his head and gave Dean a warm smile.
“I’m glad to have you along, Mr. Winchester.”
“Dean... it’s Dean,” Dean corrected him. Novak nodded and looked like he was going to say something else, but they called for boarding.
As they stood in line, boarding passes held aloft, Dean began to feel queasy. Flying wasn’t his favorite thing. He’d rather have a tooth pulled... without Novocain... than fly. They’d leave Manhattan Regional Airport, nonstop into Sao Paulo. From there, Dean just followed along like a lost dog. The kids were excited and seemed to be having a good time, but he was still nauseous from the flight and honestly, he just wanted to lie down.
Novak led their merry band through customs and across the terminal to a small area where he spent about ten minutes talking in rapid fire Portuguese to two swarthy looking men. At least, Dean thought it was Portuguese, he may have slept through that part of history or geography or whichever class taught you shit like that. Then he waved them over. “Our plane to Manaus is waiting, so let’s get our luggage and hop to it.” Dean glanced at his watch and then outside at the dark sky.
“Shouldn’t we be finding a hotel?” Dean tried to remember the itinerary folded somewhere in his backpack.
All heads turned his way, and Dean saw embarrassment on his daughter’s face.
“Our hotel is in Manaus. I know it’s late, but we need to get as far as we can today. Our guide will be meeting us tomorrow at ten. He should have all our supplies on board the boat and if everything goes according to plan, we should be on our way by noon at the latest.” Boat? Sweet baby Jesus, Dean had only given the paperwork a perfunctory glance since he was planning on chaperoning. He’d watched Anaconda, didn’t they use jeeps? Or was that The Mosquito Coast with his man Harrison Ford?
Once again, the sexy professor led the way out onto the tarmac. The oppressive heat, even with the onset of evening, was stifling. Ben, the boy with the leather jacket, was the first to whine about it. Novak paid no attention, but Dean saw the TA roll his eyes. Dean had a feeling it was going to get much worse. At least they didn’t have to worry about Malaria and Yellow Fever. Dean and Audrey had had to have a fuckton of vaccinations before the trip.
This plane was a two-engine prop job and Dean wasn’t impressed. Once everyone was on board, it felt claustrophobic even to him. Dean closed his eyes as the plane shuddered and coughed down the runway, his fingers gripped tight on the armrests. “Are you okay?” That deep voice brought him out of his barely reined in panic attack.
“Yeah, I’m just not good with planes, ya know?”
“Ah. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve traveled this route for about ten years now, and so far, nothing has ever gone wrong. Harrison Ford hasn’t had to swoop in and save me once.” Dean opened his eyes to a sheepish grin. “Damn it.”
Dean laughed. “I wouldn’t mind being saved by him either, but can it wait until we are on the ground?”
“Deal. Tell me, why did you decide to chaperone? I’ve never had a parent on one of these before, though this is the first time I’ve taken high school kids.”
Dean shrugged and looked at Audrey, who was sharing a pair of earbuds with Krissy, both lip-syncing to some song. “Since her mom died, I’ve tried to be more involved in the day to day stuff. Having a teenage girl is not for sissies, let me tell you. She’s a handful, but a good kid. Fucking smart... uh, sorry.”
“No need to apologize. You’ll hear worse once we are in the jungle. Benny has a mouth like a sailor.” There it was again, that sexy as fuck smile. “When did your wife die?”
“Oh, we never married. Her mom and I were a good thing for all of three months. She didn’t like my job and her parents... well, let’s just say, they didn’t think I could take care of their daughter. We did the co-parenting thing and it worked out pretty damn good until... until she was killed. Car accident,” Dean answered before the question arose.
“I’m sorry,” Novak whispered and looked over at Audrey. “She seems well adjusted and her paper on butterflies was better than some of my graduating students.”
“She’s definitely smart. Gets it from her mom’s side of the family.”
Novak gave him a look that Dean couldn’t figure out. “It will be nice having another adult on the trip, so thank you for signing up, Mr. Winchester.”
“Dean,” Dean corrected.
“Dean.” And fuck if his name on those fucking lips, in that fucking voice, didn’t make Dean’s heart beat just a bit faster.
Strangely enough, the short conversation with the professor calmed Dean enough that he dozed. The bumping of tires on a runway woke him. It was close to one in the morning and from the way the kids were quiet, everyone was feeling tired.
“Just another thirty minutes or so and we’ll be at the hotel.”
He wasn’t lying. An airport bus dropped them off in the front of a hotel that reminded Dean of a Motel Six back in the states. There were no fancy doormen and Novak took care of checking them in. They milled around the lobby until he returned.
“Okay.” He held up a key card. “Girls, all in one double room.” He handed it to them and with a stern face said, “Meet here at eight-thirty. Not a minute later. We will have a good breakfast, because that is the last nicely cooked meal you will have for the next five days. Got it?”
“Got it,” the girls said in unison and Alex grabbed the card.
“Now, boys, you will be in a double as well, and the hotel as furnished a cot. It is up to you to decide who sleeps where. Act like adults and please, don’t make me send Benny to referee. He will hurt you.” He handed the one called Jesse the card and they followed the girls toward the elevator. Cas called out to them, “And I suggest you get to sleep. Tomorrow will be a long day.”
Benny, you and Inias, will bunk together and, if you don’t mind, Dean, you and I can share a room.” Dean didn’t mind, not one damn bit.
The room wasn’t the Hilton, but it wasn’t a total dive. Dean set his backpack on the bed and stretched. “You can have the first shower,” Cas told him from where was setting up a laptop on the desk.
“Thanks.” He dug around until he found his shaving kit. The paperwork had told them to pack for the entire week in one bag. It wasn’t much of a chore for Dean, but Audrey had stressed over it for days. She even wanted to spend her allowance on a new one that was twice as big as the one she already had. Dean tried to talk her out of it, explaining that the added weight would be bad during hikes in the Amazon jungle, but in the end, she got her way. He knew he’d wind up carrying it.
He let the stench of eighteen hours in planes sluice off him with the hot water. Since they were heading into the jungle tomorrow... by boat... jeez, he probably wouldn’t have another shower until their return trip in five days. Maybe he’d get up early tomorrow so he could have another. Decision made, he shut off the water.
He pulled on his sleep pants, sans underwear because, hello , he was wearing sleep pants, and sauntered back in the room. Novak was tapping away on his keyboard and glanced up. His eyes widened and the quick look became a long stare. Dean watched the man’s gaze move up his body until it stopped to meet his own. He smiled and lifted a brow. He let his fingertip graze his happy trail before turning with a smirk. “The shower is all yours, professor.”
“Cas.” The word was said at a higher pitch than the man’s usual deep baritone, causing Dean to turn back, his hand on the flap of his backpack.
“It’s Cas. My name is Castiel, but my friends call me Cas.”
“Castiel.” Dean let it roll off his tongue. “Cas. Got it.” He went back to rummaging around for his phone charger. He was aware of Cas moving behind him toward the bathroom. The door clicked shut and Dean sat down heavily on the bed. There was no mistaking the interest in those baby blues. On one hand, Dean felt energized. Having a hot man think he was worth a second look was great for his sorely tested ego. Since he’d become a full-time dad, his sex life was non-existent. On the other hand, well, his sex life was non-existent for a reason. Audrey. His daughter. His teenage, still impressionable, daughter.
He stared at the wall and listened to the sound of the shower where a very naked Castiel Novak was naked . Shit. He let himself fall backward on the bed and sighed dramatically. Was he interested enough in Dean to play around? Just a one-time thing. No strings.
The water shut off and he bolted upright. He didn’t even have condoms or lube. It was a moot point then. Right? The door opened and Cas came out in a towel. Just a fucking towel. If there was a God, he hated Dean Winchester.
Cas sauntered, there was no other word for it, to his backpack and Dean’s brain went completely offline when he dropped his towel to bend over to put on a pair of orange boxer briefs. Holy shit . Did he just...
“I can’t believe this,” muttered Dean.
The other man faced him, obviously unashamed by his near-nakedness, and the underwear left nothing to the imagination. “I believe you started this flirtation, Dean.”
“Me?” The word came out as a squawk. Cas tilted his hard and raised a sardonic eyebrow, then the motherfucker ran a fingertip up and down his happy trail, mimicking Dean’s earlier show. “Oh, that.”
“Oh, that.” Cas moved to his bed and pulled back the covers. When he was comfortable, beautiful body covered by the ugly hotel comforter, Dean decided to go for broke.
“Look, I’m not looking for anything. I have a kid to get through six more months of high school and she is my main focus.”
“What are you trying to say?” Cas asked, eyes boring into Dean’s. God, they were a pretty blue.
“You going to make me spell it out?” Dean stood up, painfully aware that his half-hard cock was making itself known through the thin cotton of his sleep pants.
“You just stated, rather emphatically, I might add, that you were not looking for anything .”
“Anything being more than what goes on tonight, in this room.”
“Ah,” Cas pursed his lips and nodded in understanding. Dean didn’t know why they were having this conversation, with no supplies, nothing could happen anyway.
“Never mind. We should just get some sleep,” Dean said, drawing back his own covers.
“Oh, now that you’ve peaked my interest, you want to back out. Are you always a pricktease?”
Angry at being given that negative label, Dean spun around. “I’m not a cock tease,” he snapped. “I didn’t actually pack condoms and lube for a week in the Amazon jungle, so see, it’s not worth even talking about.”
Cas tossed back the comforter and stood up, moving into Dean’s personal space. “Is that what’s holding you back? Lack of protection and something to ease the way? Interesting. It’s a shame you don’t know how to have a good time without those.” Dean met his eyes, refusing to back away. They were mere inches apart.
“I can show you a good time,” Dean whispered, calling the man’s bluff, lifting his hand to rest on one the man’s amazing hipbones. When Cas’ mouth came down on his, Dean was lost. It had been so long since someone made him feel . The kiss was soft... tentative.
Long fingers reached into the waistband of his pants and Dean moaned, pressing his hips forward. “You are so fucking beautiful,” Cas murmured against his lips. Then he felt the warm touch, the teasing trail up and down his rapidly hardening cock. “If... if I had the means, I’d lay you out on that bed and lick you open. I’d fuck you with my tongue until you begged...” Another soft kiss. “... for my cock.” Teeth took his lower lip and Dean shivered, despite the warmth of the room. “Is that what you really want, Dean? My hard dick pushing into your willing body? I’ll bet you’d wrap your legs around me and...” A thumb rubbed across his slit and Cas hummed. “Mmmmm, feel how wet... how turned on you are.”
“Cas...” Dean whimpered. How was this even happening. How had this gone from him playfully teasing the professor to this feeling of utter need?
“What do you want me to do, Dean? Do you want me on my knees worshiping your cock with my mouth? Or do you want my hand?” Christ Almighty, Dean would have agreed to anything at that moment. He’d have sold his soul to the devil himself.
“Mouth... knees...” Dean said softly and then whined when Cas’ lips left his face and moved slowly down his chest. He ran a tongue over one of Dean’s nipples, making it pebble up for attention. Then lower still to the narrow band of hair from his navel to his... oh... He looked down. There was a Greek god kneeling before him, blue eyes the color of the bluest ocean blinked lazily up at him. He gripped the base of his cock to keep from embarrassing himself by coming from that sight alone. A smile creased Cas’ mouth for an instant, as if the man knew how he affected Dean. The bastard .
Then that same mouth opened and took Dean inside. The wet heat engulfed him and he let his head lull back, eyes closed, savoring the exquisite feeling that was all Cas. The man was good... so damn good. Dean raised his hands to cradle Cas’ head, brushing his fingers through the still damp waves of dark hair. He held on, not for guidance, because Cas knew exactly what he was doing, but to keep Dean from floating away. “Cas, I...” He what? Wanted more? Wanted a lifetime of this? Wanted something other than one night in a cheap hotel. He shook his head. He couldn’t wish for something he could never have.
Cas’ mouth moved up and down his shaft, leaving it wet and throbbing. Dean’s brain finally registered that Cas’ hands were cupping his ass, spreading his cheeks, and the man’s words came back. Yes, Dean did want to be tongued open... he would beg for Cas’ cock.
He was panting now, close. A fine sheen of sweat covered his body and his skin felt hot. He reluctantly took a hand from Cas’ head to cup his balls. Tight... he gave them a gentle squeeze. The coil of heat swirled in his belly, clawing its way to the surface. He groaned and tried to pull away. He was going to come. Cas’ fingers dug into his ass, holding him steady. “Gonna come...” Dean gasped, tugging at Cas’ hair. Cas hollowed his cheeks and sucked, hard, then Dean felt an easy slide of his teeth right at the tip of his cock and he cried out, his words incoherent. He swallowed, trying to wet his suddenly arid mouth.
Cas released his now flaccid cock and sat back on his haunches, looking even more satisfied than Dean if that was possible. He stood up with all the grace of a dancer in the Royal Ballet. Dean’s eyes drifted down to the bulge straining against the orange material. Dean, his heart still pounding from that mind-blowing orgasm, pushed him backward until he was sprawled on the bed, legs slightly spread. Cas’ smile was wry, but his gaze was warm.
Dean didn’t want to keep him waiting. It had been a while. A long while since he’d been with a man, but wasn’t it like riding a bike? He knelt been Cas’ legs and nodded for him to scooch further onto the bed. Cas obliged and lifted his hips when Dean fisted his waistband with both hands.
The man was uncut, his foreskin allowing Dean to see the slick slit. He watched in fascination as his hand pumped up and down the shaft, the head appearing for Dean’s pleasure with each stroke. He squeezed and felt a flush of heat when a drop of precum beaded up. With a quick glance up at Cas, who was on his elbows staring at Dean, he bent to lap it up. The bitter, yet tantalizing, taste exploded in his mouth. “Tease.”
This time, the word was said without any heat behind it and Dean grinned up at him. He winked and then took Cas into his mouth.
“Fuck... I knew your mouth was perfect for this,” Cas drawled, his baritone even lower... sexier.
Dean gave it everything he had. He used every trick he could think of and from the noises Cas was making, he was doing a fine job at wrecking the professor. When he finally came, Dean took all of it. The thick cum flooding his mouth. He licked his lips after he swallowed and met Cas’ eyes. The professor reached out to cup Dean’s face. “I could get used to that.”
Unwanting and unwilling to think about that, Dean stood up. “Guess we should get some sleep. Don’t we have to hike into the jungle tomorrow?” He saw the flash of disappointment in Cas’ eyes, but turned away. If it made him look like a dick, so be it. It was a onetime thing, they’d agreed. Didn’t they?
He was lying awake long after Cas’ breathing evened out. Damn the man for making him want what he couldn’t have.
Cas was already gone when Dean woke with his alarm. He felt it like a punch in the gut. Great, he was horny and instead of tucking that shit away, he let himself have something. Now, look where it got him. Spending five days in the jungle with a bunch of teenagers and a man that probably hated him. “Just fucking peachy,” Dean muttered as he took a quick shower, shaved, and dressed.
The last to arrive, Dean joined the group in the lobby. Benny winked at him and Inias gave him a dirty look. Did they know? Surely to God, Cas didn’t tell them they shared blowjobs over coffee? He avoided eye contact with Cas until after they’d finished breakfast at this small restaurant across the street. His eyes widened at the hickey on Cas’ throat, right by his Adam’s apple. No wonder he’d gotten the looks. His gaze went to Audrey’s and his daughter seemed oblivious. He was in the clear with the teens anyway.
When they got off the bus at the marina, Dean brought up the rear, and he overheard two of the boys talking.
“The professor must have sneaked out and got him some last night,” said Ben, leering comically.
“What?” Alfie asked, a look of confusion on his face. Dean figured he was definitely a virgin. He wanted to nix the conversation in the bud and tell the boys that it was none of their business, but he wanted intel too. He waited.
“The hickey, man. Didn’t you see it? I’m not into dudes, but even I know he’s hot. Have you seen how the girls are drooling all over him?”
“But I read...” Alfie stopped talking and looked around. Dean pretended to be absorbed on his phone. Voice lowered, Alfie continued, “He’s gay.”
“Gay? No, man. Look at him. He’s a man’s man. He goes into the jungle like Indiana Jones. There’s no way he’s like that.” Dean was amused by the gay stereotype Ben must have in his head, but glad he didn’t appear homophobic, just out of touch with gay culture.
“I saw a picture of him though... he was kissing some man.”
“Like kissing him, or kissing him?”
“Like there was tongue... maybe,” Alfie said. Dean almost stumbled over the cleat on the dock.
“That’s weird. He sure doesn’t look gay.” Then Ben laughed. “Boy, those girls are going to be really disappointed.” Then he sobered and his eyes met Dean’s. Dean blinked. Ben stared. Dean smiled crookedly.
“We should hurry it up. Don’t want them to leave us, huh?” He passed the two boys and tried to look macho enough with his swagger that Ben would assume he was arrow straight too.
At the boat, Cas gathered everyone around. “This is my friend, Henrique. He will be our guide. He knows the Amazon better than anyone I know, so listen to him and give him all the respect you’d give me. Got it?” All heads nodded in understanding.
“From here on, until we return to the docks, your cell phones probably will not work. I carry an emergency sat phone in case we run into any problems. The ride into our base camp will take about three hours. Relax, enjoy the view, and take lots of pictures for your friends and parents. Don’t worry, Facebook will still be there when you get back.” They laughed and got comfortable on the benches nailed to the deck of the boat that Dean swore came out of the movie set of The African Queen .
As the boat cleared the dock and started chugging down the river, Dean rose to explore. In the aft section, there were several canvas bags and tart covered boxes. “Our Hilton for the next few days,” Benny said from beside him, toeing a crate with his boot. Dean looked up and smiled.
“You mean we won’t have a masseuse and Jacuzzis?”
Benny grinned. “Ever been camping?”
“Yeah, when I was younger.”
“It’s like that, only bigger spiders and snakes.”
“Great,” Dean said sarcastically. “Snakes I can do, but spiders... all those freakin’ eyes.”
The man laughed and for a few seconds, they were quiet looking out at the dark water of the river. “I’ve been traveling with Professor Novak for almost ten years.”
Dean didn’t comment, knowing this was leading somewhere. Somewhere he probably didn’t want to go.
“He’s a good man. I’ve never known him to get involved...”
“There’s no involvement,” Dean said quietly.
Benny faced him. “The mark on his neck tells me otherwise.”
“Like I said, no involvement.”
“If you say so, brotha’.” Benny stepped away and made his way back to the helm, where a dark-skinned man was steering them further and further away from civilization.
Dean heard a burst of excited chatter and looked back to where the teens were sitting. All looked like they were having fun by Audrey. She met his eyes and glared. Uh oh. Ben must be running his mouth and nothing good would come from that. She stood up and strode toward him. She was angry and he’d seen Cassie that way enough times to know he’d better think before he spoke.
“Did you hook up with Professor Novak?”
“Wow, straight to the point, baby girl.”
“Don’t call me that.” Dean felt a stab to his chest. She would always be his baby girl, even when she walked down the aisle one day or bore him a grandchild. “Did you?”
“I’m not talking about this subject with you, Audrey. What I do or don’t do with my love life is none of your business.”
“Oh, my God, you did.” Her voice was shrill and he saw tears gathering and he reached for her. She backed away. “You just ruined my life. Thanks, Dad. Thanks a lot.” She stomped away, but didn’t rejoin the group. She went to the bow of the boat and sat down alone. Dean hung his head. Once again, he’d fucked everything up.
“She’ll get over it,” Cas said. Dean shook his head in denial. When had Cas snuck up on him. He was a cop, he should be more aware of his surroundings.
“How much did you hear?”
“Enough to know she, and probably everyone else, knows we slept together.” Dean laughed coldly at the choice of words.
“We didn’t sleep together. We traded fucking blowjobs.”
“I wasn’t the one to leave the evidence, so don’t take it out on me. It was a mutual decision last I remember,” Cas said coolly.
“Yeah, I got that loud and clear,” Dean snapped back. He was spoiling for a fight, but Cas put both his hands on the rail and stared out at the bank. “P latemys p. Melanonota ,” he said, pointing. Dean followed his finger to a basking turtle.
“I thought you were a bug guy.”
“I’m interested in all animals, but insects are my passion.”
“Humph,” Dean snorted. “Yet, you know the fancy name for a turtle.”
“They use their camouflage to keep from being preyed upon.” Was there supposed to be some hidden meaning there? Dean watched the turtle until they turned a bend in the river.
“I wasn’t good enough for her mom... looks like she feels the same,” Dean whispered. Why was it so easy to spill his guts to the man?
“She’s a teenager, Dean.” Dean rolled his eyes. “Did you read her essay?”
“The one about the butterflies?”
“I skimmed over it.” God, he sounded like a shit father. That essay got her picked for this trip. That fucking essay got her into the program she’d dreamed about since she was a little girl.
“At the end, she mentioned you.” Dean’s head swiveled to stare at the other man. Cas nodded. “She said that you always encouraged her and that despite your ‘hatred’ for insects, you allowed her to keep jars and aquariums in her room. She said you were her hero.”
“You’re making that up to make me feel better. Audrey thinks I’m stupid.”
“I wouldn’t lie about something like that, Dean. In the phone interview...” Dean remembered how excited Audrey was to be able to talk to her idol. “...she said she couldn’t understand how her mother walked away from you. She is proud of the fact you put on a badge every day and keep the world a better place.”
Dean didn’t know what to say. He looked back at the foam churned up by the boat’s motor. “She’s a teenager, Dean. Try to remember that.” He was left alone and his eyes drifted to the front where Audrey was sitting. She wasn’t by herself anymore. Dimitri was with her and they were talking quietly.
The boat slowed and moved toward the bank. Dean could see a trail leading into the dense undergrowth. “Okay, everyone. We need to get everything unloaded as quickly as possible. We are going to set up camp and I’ll need everyone to pull their own weight,” Cas called out from the helm.
It took them about thirty minutes to get everything off the boat and carried the hundred yards or so to the clearing. Tents were set up and cots were unfolded. Dean helped Benny gather firewood and soon, their ride departed. They were alone. Dean had flashes of the horror movies where giant snakes ate humans one by one. Or the one with the huge crocodile... He slapped at his arm. More likely a mutant mosquito.
“Bug spray everyone,” Benny said, tossing out cans of repellent. Dean grinned in acknowledgement and sprayed himself down. Cas seemed to be busy with Audrey and Dimitri setting up a work station. Audrey was smiling and that, in itself, made Dean’s grin widen.
Cas assigned tasks to everyone and soon the camp was ready. They ate MREs, and while Dean thought they were kind of disgusting, the kids acted like it was an adventure. He found his stash of gummy bears and snuck a few. This would be like an episode of Survivor and maybe he’d lose the few pounds around his middle.
He wouldn’t admit to being disappointed when he was put in the tent with Benny. Cas was sharing with Inias and Dean caught the smug look the younger man gave him. Inside, getting ready for bed, Dean whispered, “So, does Cas’ TA have a crush on the man or what?”
“You don’t have anything to be worried about. Cas wouldn’t touch that with someone else’s ten-foot pole.”
“Hey, I’m not worried. I was just curious. That’s all.” He refused to look at the big Cajun, because he knew he’d see disbelief written all over that face.
Dean didn’t think he’d fall asleep with all the weird jungle sounds and the knowledge that something large could slither in and eat him, but he fell into a dreamless sleep easily. Benny nudged him and he opened his eyes to daylight. “Time to rise and shine, brotha’.” Dean groaned and threw his legs over the edge of the cot.
Henrique was grilling something over the fire and it smelled amazing. Dean followed his nose. “Hey, what’s for breakfast?”
“Pacu,” Henrique said with a flash of white teeth. “And eggs.” It looked like some sort of fish and Dean wondered where he got the eggs.
“Awesome.” Dean made himself useful and got out the stack of metal plates and forks. Henrique was now scrambling eggs in a cast iron frying pan.
The teens were coming out of their tents, stretching and yawning now. Everyone had on cargo shorts or loose-fitting pants with elastic round the ankles. Dean was wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
Cas looking gorgeous as usual in his shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Were those flamingos? “Everyone dig in,” he said, taking his plate from Dean. He sat down on the ground and Dean lowered himself next to him.
He shoved a mouthful of eggs into his mouth and then tore off a bite of flaky fish. “This is awesome. How did the eggs make the trip, man?”
With a twitch of his lips, Cas leaned over. “Those are turtle eggs. The Charapa turtle to be exact. Henrique was up early to find them.” Dean frowned and his chewing slowed. Cas laughed and dug into his own food.
After they ate, Cas began lecturing the teens on what to expect and what they were looking for. “Feel free to take pictures, but do not take any specimens until clearing it with me first. Audrey, be on the lookout for the Rhetus Periander. If you find one, please collect one for your collection.” Audrey beamed at Cas. Was it Dean’s imagination, or was the professor paying more attention to his daughter than the others?
“Dean, feel free to hang out at camp or come with us,” Cas said to him a few minutes later, when everyone was preparing for their expedition into the jungle.
“Yeah, thanks, I might tag along.” He filled his water bottles from the large purification tank and tucked them inside his much smaller pack.
Cas and Henrique led the way through the dense jungle. He’d stop and point out different insects, small snakes, and plants along the way. Dean thought he’d be bored, but he found himself interested in what was around him. They stopped midday and ate protein bars. The kids were comparing stories and talking excitedly about the things they’d seen. Apparently, Cas’ hickey was a thing of the past.
Late afternoon found them at the river’s edge. “Watch where you step, kids,” Cas warned as he carefully stepped on the spongy shore. “I don’t want to explain to anyone’s parents that they got ate by a school of piranha.” His words were met with silence and he laughed. “It was a joke.” Tentative laughter rippled through the teens. “Not really, there are piranha in these waters.” The laughter died. He grinned and kept walking. Dean noticed all of them eying the water for any sign of snapping jaws.
Cas suddenly stopped and held up his hand. All talking ceased. “Look.” He pointed to a branch next to him. “ Titanus giganteus . The Titan Beetle. See these?” Cas poked a thin blade of grass at the huge bug and its huge mandibles snapped closed. “They can snap a pencil in half. Gather around, take pictures, but be careful.” He stepped back so the teens could get closer.
That night, at camp, Dean took his plate of processed macaroni and cheese over to where Cas and Inias sat, their backs to one of the empty crates. “Mind if I join you?” The TA scowled, but Cas scooted over a few inches.
“Please,” he said with a smile. “Did you enjoy the hike?”
“Yeah, surprisingly enough, I did.” They talked companionably while they ate. Inias remained quiet, but Dean noticed how he stared at Cas like he hung the moon. The poor kid had it bad.
When the fire died down and the kids made their way into their tents, Dean stayed outside with the men. Henrique told them he’d bring fruit back for breakfast in the morning and then he disappeared into the jungle. “Is he... will he be safe out there?”
“He was born around here. He knows this river and the surrounding rainforest like the back of his hand,” Cas said.
Benny stood up and stretched. “Guess I’m gonna hit the hay. Night, y’all.”
Cas traded a look with Inias and the younger man narrowed his eyes, but he stood up. Without a word, he disappeared into the tent he shared with Cas. Dean waited for a beat before saying, “Someone has a crush on the teacher.”
“I’ve tried to discourage it, but he won’t take my ‘I’m not interested’ seriously.” Dean smirked at the finger quotes.
“Is it a teacher student thing? Because I thought he had a paid position?”
“Technically, there isn’t any ramifications if I chose to date him, but he isn’t my type. I don’t rob the cradle.” Cas was looking at him, eyes intense in the glowing embers.
“Heck, you’re what? Forty? It’s not like you’re old. If it were a younger woman, nobody would think twice.”
“I wouldn’t date a younger woman either. I want someone in my own generation. And I’m forty-four.” Dean nodded. So, the professor was only three years older than him. “He’s jealous of you.”
Dean’s soft bark of laughter startled something small in the underbrush and it skittled away. “Why?”
“Because of this,” Cas said, running a fingertip over the bruise on his throat. “And because he knows I find you attractive.”
“Oh.” Well, what did you say to something like that, Dean wondered. He poked at the embers with a stick. Time to change the subject. “So, someone like you... I’ll bet you have your own fan club. I know Audrey sure talks about you all the time. She quotes articles you’ve written.
“I think young people who love insects tend to be outcasts, so they latch on to others that share that interest. Look at these kids here. They come from different walks of life, different demographics, and male or female, they have bonded over this trip. It’s no different than you bonding with your fellow law enforcement officers.”
“I guess. I’m just glad she was picked for this trip. I never thanked you. She was over the moon when she got the email, man.”
“No need to thank me. Audrey earned her spot on her own merit. She’s going to excel in college, Dean. Don’t worry about her.”
“It’s hard when you’re a parent. You’re afraid of everything. Shit, especially when you wear a badge. I’ve seen shit that makes me wonder where this world is heading. I’m terrified for her to get out in the real world. I know Manhattan is only eighty or so miles from Lawrence, college is a whole different ballgame. There are parties, drinking, drugs... boys.”
“And you’ve raised an intelligent young woman. She’ll be fine. Besides, you know one of her professors and I’m just a phone call away.”
In his cot that night, Dean’s thoughts were on Cas. He’d gotten under Dean’s skin. How was he still single? He thought back to the conversation between Alfie and Ben. There was a picture floating around with Cas kissing, with tongue, another guy. Did he have someone back home? No, Dean knew Cas wasn’t a cheater. He could read people and Cas was a lot of things, but a douche wasn’t one of them.
The next morning, after eating a mixture of fruits and protein bars, they set out again. It was pretty much the same for Dean. He watched the kids and listened to Cas. They were on their way back to camp when Cas stopped again. “Audrey, quickly.”
His daughter moved to stand with Cas and followed his pointed finger. She grinned and retrieved a folded net from her pack. Dean couldn’t see what they were looking at, but he enjoyed the fact that his girl looked like a kid in a candy store. Together, the two of them moved off the trail. She swooped out the net and squealed in delight. Dean figured she’d caught was she was aiming for. “Class, this is a Eunica Purplewing. While not rare, this is a beautiful specimen.” All the teens gathered around as Cas helped Audrey transfer the butterfly to a specimen jar.
She brought it over to Dean. “Look, Daddy.”
“It’s beautiful, baby girl.” He wasn’t looking at the butterfly. He was gazing adoringly at Audrey. She’d called him ‘daddy’. She hadn’t called him that in... well, since her mother died.
Dean avoided being alone with Cas that night. He was having thoughts he didn’t need to be having.
On the third day, Cas wasn’t as animated, but he still was great with the teens. Inias had the professor all to himself the night before, and the TA had been giving Dean sneering looks the whole day. He was tired. He wanted a shower. And, he wanted to sleep in a real bed.
It was that evening that Dean took his plate of, what the package said was, Savory Stroganoff, and took a seat away from the others. The teens were laughing and they didn’t want an old man interrupting. Benny was fiddling with his cameras, and Henrique had eaten quickly before leaving the camp to roam like he did most nights. Cas was eating and writing notes on a clipboard, while Inias sat near the teens, but still apart.
Cas rolled his shoulders and brought his water bottle up to drink. Dean watched his throat move as he swallowed and thought about that night in the hotel. His lips moving over that same skin, sucking and kissing and grazing his teeth over Cas’ pulse. He blinked away the thought when Cas took a step toward him. “Dean, please do not move. Not an inch.” Dean froze.
The entire camp was suddenly looking at him. “Yo, Cas, what’s going on? Is a giant man-eating anaconda behind me?” He tried to smile, but the look on Cas’ face made it freeze to a grimace.
“Be very still,” Cas whispered, coming closer, taking small careful steps.
“Cas, you’re freaking me out, man.” His eyes shot to Audrey. She was standing now, her eyes wide and scared.
That’s when he felt it. Something was crawling on his arm. He looked down and screamed. Flailing his arms. The spider was sent airborne, landing near Benny, who scrambled away like a crab. Cas raced forward and plopped a specimen jar over the things. It was fucking huge.
The heebie jeebies set in. That thing was on him. That eight-legged freak was on his arm. He screamed again and did the icky dance, not caring how he looked. Cas was staring at him, eyes holding a gentle fondness and a touch of humor. “Dean... Dean... it’s okay. I’ve got him.”
“That was scary,” Dean whispered.
Excited chatter broke out as all the kids swarmed toward Cas to see the monster. “This is a Brazilian Wandering Spider or the Phoneutria fera.”
“I can’t believe your dad. That was so funny. He screamed like a girl,” Ben said between ruckus laugher.
Audrey was laughing too. Laughing at him. Dean was suddenly ashamed. He hung his head and picked up his plate from where it landed, his meal covered in dirt and leaves.
Cas’ sharp voice rang out. “That spider is one of the most venomous in the entire world. I would have acted the same had it been on me. Ridiculing someone for being scared of a real threat is reprehensible. This man serves the public. He is one of the men and women who keep your homes safe from those that wish you harm. How dare you...”
The silence was deafening. Audrey’s lip trembled and Ben looked like he wanted to crawl in a hole. A pissed off Cas was a formidable sight. “No, it’s alright. I was stupid. It was just a spider,” Dean mumbled, trying to play it down.
“That spider’s venom is highly toxic, Dean,” Cas said softly. He was holding the jar out from his body and Dean could see the thing. It had a leg span of at least four inches. To the rest of them, he said, “We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow, we will be hiking to a subsidiary of the Amazon. It will take us about two hours to get there. I suggest you all get some sleep.”
Quietly, they scuttled into their tents, subdued after facing the wrath of Castiel Novak. Audrey hung back and approached him. “I’m sorry for embarrassing you in front of your friends,” he said, tucking strand of her curls behind her ear. “I seem to do that a lot lately.”
Before he could say anything else, she wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug. He smiled and embraced her, his face against her hair. “Daddy, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize... I shouldn’t have laughed.”
“It’s okay, sweetheart.”
“No. No, it’s not. You’ve been so good... so patient. I’ve treated you like shit...”
“You’re the best. None of the other parents even cared that their kids were coming here. You cared. You came to make sure that I was okay.” She was crying into his shoulder now, and he looked up to see Cas watching them. Benny and Inias were missing, probably inside their tents. “I love you, Daddy.”
“God, baby, I love you too,” he whispered, feeling his own tears sting the corners of his eyes. She pulled back to look at him. Her smile was so much like Cassie’s. “Your mother would have been so proud of the woman you’ve become."
She shook her head. “Mom said that I couldn’t study entomology. She said I had to pick something that would pay the bills.”
Dean frowned. “What? No, hon, that’s not true. Your mom...” He stopped, remembering a late night phone call about Dean’s Christmas present. He’d gotten Audrey a fly fossilized in amber. Cassie told him he shouldn’t encourage Audrey’s fascination with bugs. He wasn’t going there. Cassie was gone. Despite everything, he knew she loved their daughter. “You know what, none of that matters. You keep doing what you’re doing. Professor Novak thinks you have potential.”
Her smile was still watery, but she hugged him tight again. “Thank you, Daddy... for everything.” She let him go and jogged into the tent shared by the other two girls.
“Are you okay?” Cas asked, taking a tentative step toward him.
“I will be once you put that hairy monster somewhere far away from me,” Dean said, pointing to the jar. He knew all eight eyes on that thing were staring at him. Cas grinned and opened a hinged box. He carefully set the jar inside. “Please tell me you aren’t bringing him back to the States with us.”
“Of course, I have a friend who studies arachnids. He will be delighted with the gift.”
“Remind me to never open a present from you.” Cas tilted his head and licked his lips. Dean tracked the movement and shortened the distance between them. “Not that I expect presents... or anything...”
“Of course not...” Cas murmured, settling his hand on Dean’s hip.
Cas gave him a quizzical look. “Eighty-five miles?”
“Yeah, that’s the distance between my house and yours.”
“Actually, I live in Topeka. So, it’s only about thirty.”
“Really. Imagine that...” Dean pulled him close and kissed him. “With tongue,” he murmured against Cas’ mouth.
“Hmmm?” Cas’ hands moved up and down his back, holding him tight.
“Nothing... just kiss me.”