Chapter 1: Prologue
And good God, under starry skies we are lost
And into the breach we got tossed
And the water's coming in fast
And oh my love remind me, what was it that I said?
I can't help but pull the earth around me, to make my bed
And oh my love remind me, what was it that I did?
Did I drink too much?
Am I losing touch?
Did I build this ship to wreck?
-Florence and the Machine
Dean always entered every giveaway he saw. Even for stuff he didn’t want. A fake name and his phone number in a jar by the cash register, an online entry form, it didn’t matter. He liked the gamble, the possibility, even if the best thing he’d ever gotten was a set of kitchen knives, some of which had been repurposed into hunting weapons. Which is how he found himself here, begging his brother to be his plus-one on a holiday cruise that seemed too good to be true.
“You said you’d go with me!”
Sam looked up from his laptop, staring at Dean with mild annoyance from his position on the bed. He gestured to his foot, wrapped with an ice pack and propped up on pillows. “That was before my ankle fell through the floor of a building. Sorry if I don’t enjoy the idea of navigating a cruise ship hobbling around and in pain.”
“Christmas in the Caribbean, Sammy! What could be more restful than that?”
Dean felt desperation sinking in. “Ship leaves tomorrow, man.”
“So take Jack with you. I’m sure that would be a learning experience.”
“Absolutely not,” Dean said. “I’d look like some kind of creepy sugar daddy. And I’m not spending my vacation babysitting the kid.”
Sam sighed. “What about Cas?”
“Ha ha, very funny.”
“What’s funny?” asked Cas from the doorway.
Dean jumped. “What have I said about sneaking up like that?”
Cas rolled his eyes. “Good for vampires, bad for Winchesters.”
“Remember that cruise we told you about, Cas?” Sam said, a smug grin on his face as Dean's protest died on arrival. “Well, after what happened last night, I can’t really go. So Dean has an extra ticket. You interested?”
Cas nodded. “A cruise sounds enjoyable.”
Dean rubbed his forehead with exasperation. “It’s a couples cruise, buddy.”
“Then why did you want to take Sam?”
Dean didn’t really have a good answer to that. “I’d.... I’d hate to miss our trademark Winchester Christmas.”
“Beer and bad TV movies?” Sam laughed. “We can do that any time, Dean. Go on the cruise. Take pictures so I can live vicariously.”
He looked between Sam and Cas, helplessly outvoted. “I thought...Sam and I would just board the ship, pretending to be a couple, but I’d actually spend six days scoring with desperate housewives and cute activities directors.”
Cas squinted at him. “I’m not sure I enjoy the ethical implications of you inserting yourself into broken marriages, but there’s no reason the two of us couldn’t board together and then separate.”
Dean took a deep breath, then slowly nodded. “Sure. That could work.”
Chapter 2: Day 1
The last day of autumn was a mild one as they made the trek from Lebanon to the coast, even allowing for lowered windows as the air around them took on a salty breeze. Cas had remained silent for much of the drive, but had a lightness about him, casting frequent glances to Dean and smiling as the driver’s seat became the stage for a one-man karaoke show.
When they reached the embarkation point, Dean shut the Impala’s back door as he hoisted his duffel bag out. He’d dressed for the occasion in sunglasses and a button-down red Hawaiian shirt, even leaving his worn boots in the backseat and trading them for sandals. In contrast, Cas stood in his regular attire, trenchcoat and all.
Dean clapped Cas on the shoulder. “Think that’ll look a bit out of place on a tropical getaway?”
Cas looked down, opening the coat slightly with a furrowed brow. “It’s what I wear.”
“Not this week, it’s not. I packed you some shirts and shorts.”
They looked up at the gigantic vessel, tall enough to cast its shadow over the parking lot. The rolling sloshes of the waves made the base of a soundscape, layered with the voices of excited passengers and the calls of seagulls hoping to pilfer snacks from the crowd. After they made their way to the dock, Dean handed their boarding passes to a cheerful woman in a white visor to scan.
“Hope you and your partner enjoy your romantic getaway!”
Dean gave her an uneasy smile, his stomach squirming at the reminder of the cruise’s parameters. He tugged Cas behind him as they walked up the ramp onto the ship, where ropes of tinsel lined the handrail. They were greeted with a large wreath made of tropical flowers hanging from an archway placed over the entrance.
They stepped aboard, observing the crowds of people milling around. A few were already taking their shirts off and diving into a massive pool in the center of the deck.
“Ready for fun in the sun, Cas?”
Castiel lifted his own bag and nodded toward Dean’s luggage. “We should probably find the room first and unload these.”
As they stood shoulder to shoulder in the tiny room, staring at the one compact bed, Dean had only one thought: Of course.
Cas broke the silence first. “I don’t need to sleep. I’ll just stay in...the chair.”
The chair in question looked like the squeaky vinyl of hospital waiting rooms, and was in the corner, pointed toward the bed.
“And watch me all night? I don’t think so.”
“I’m sure there will be plenty to do on the boat overnight, then,” Cas suggested, unusually perceptive of Dean’s discomfort. “I’ll stay out of your way.”
“Right,” Dean said weakly. This was supposed to be a party boat, right? He’d find some chick and stay too busy to worry about spending time in close quarters with Cas.
“Dinner’s at 7:00 on the promenade deck,” Dean read from the pamphlet left on the bed. “They do the time slots by room, so we’ll have to dine together, but hey, all-you-can-eat crab legs!”
“I’m going to go explore the ship.” Cas told him, turning to leave. “I’ll meet you there if I don’t see you before.”
Dean caught him by the shoulder. “Nuh-uh. I told you, we’re getting you out of those clothes.”
Cas stared at him for a moment before taking his trenchcoat off. He held out his hands as if to ask Better?
Dean dug in his duffel bag and came out with a loose white linen shirt and khaki shorts, tossing them at Cas. “See how those fit.”
Cas brought them into the tiny bathroom, struggling to turn around and shut the door behind him. When he emerged, Dean was momentarily speechless. Cas had worn variations of the same outfit for all the years they’d known each other. Stripped of the trenchcoat and suit, he looked...great. Not relaxed, exactly, but like he’d taken off a layer of armor.
Castiel narrowed his eyes. “I’ll just...change back.”
“No!” Dean said, a little too forcefully. He cleared his throat. “Don’t. You look great.”
Cas still looked dubious as he plucked at his shirt. “I feel like I’m not wearing anything.”
Dean chuckled. “You’re still wearing more than most of the people on this ship. It’s still bikini season on the Gulf!”
Cas shrugged, a tiny smile emerging as he turned and left the cabin. Once he was alone, Dean exhaled. This week was going to be more difficult than he’d expected.
Of course he’d looked at Cas before, wondering what those deep stares toward him meant, even if his self-preservation prevented him from thinking too much about it. Realizing how much the angel had changed and done for them (well, him , if Dean was being honest), it was easy to imagine feelings beneath the surface that were more than brotherly. In the moments when one of them was in danger, these feelings came closer to the fore, but inevitably, they’d overcome whatever the life threatening situation of the week was, and settle back into their groove. Spending plenty of time apart made it easier to ignore the tugs in Dean’s navel like what he’d just felt when Cas came out of the bathroom. A trip like this, not knowing anyone else onboard, practically shoved together at every turn...he was a little worried.
“We’ve been working hard,” Dean said, melted butter dribbling out of the corner of his mouth as he stuffed himself with more crab meat. “We deserve this!”
Cas stared at him from across the small table, lit candle flickering between them and casting shadows on their faces in the dimly lit restaurant. At every turn, this cruise was reminding them that it was designed for couples in love.
“You deserve a vacation,” Cas agreed. “You deserve so much more than the world has given you.”
Dean’s chewing slowed as his smile faltered. Cas always had a knack for uncomfortable truths.
“Uh, thanks, Cas,” he said once he’d swallowed. He gestured at the remaining crab legs between them. “Why don’t you eat up?”
“You know I don’t need to—”
“Who cares? They’re delicious, and more importantly, they’re endless. Eat.”
Cas picked one up, holding the orange armor close to his face to observe, then sniffed it.
Dean rolled his eyes, taking Cas’ other hand and putting the metal cracker into it. He guided it around the crab leg, closing his own hand around Cas’ and squeezing until he heard the exterior armor snap . Dean removed his hand and found himself, worryingly, already missing the brief contact.
“Now dig the meat out. With a fork, if you’re feeling dainty.”
Castiel stuck his finger into the new leg hole, swirling it around and coming out with glistening white meat. He scooped it into his mouth, holding his lips around his finger as he slowly removed it, then licked the remaining juices off his lips.
Once dinner ended, they found themselves walking along the ship’s promenade deck, letting the cool night air dance around them. Dean stopped, looking out at the setting sun on the water’s horizon, reds and yellows reflecting and melting into the deep blue.
“Let’s take a picture,” he told Cas. “For Sam.”
“Of the sunset?”
“Of us in front of it,” Dean said, pulling out his phone and turning the camera to face them. Fitting two large men in a selfie was difficult enough without a sunset to consider, so he had little choice but to squeeze in quite close to Cas. He inhaled and could smell him, a sort of perpetually clean smell humans couldn’t achieve with mere showers.
“Want me to take that for you?” a voice cut in, and Dean nearly dropped his phone. He put some distance back between himself and Cas, out of reflex.
A woman and a man had stopped in front of them, the woman with her hand outstretched. Her deep red hair caught the last rays of the sun. “It’ll be easier to see the background from farther away.”
“Right,” Dean said, embarrassed by how much her presence had caught him off guard. He handed her his phone.
“Okay,” she laughed as she held it up. “Are you going to stand three feet apart, or act like you’re in love?”
Cas met his eyes with a silent apology and came shuffling back. Dean put a tentative arm around Cas, then pulled him close.
“Smile!” the woman chirped. Dean complied, squeezing Cas’ shoulder as he heard the shutter sound effect.
“Thanks,” Dean told her as she handed the phone back. He let his arm slowly fall from around Cas.
“No problem,” she said. “You guys are cute. I’m Kira Leigh. This is Andrew.”
Her partner, who’d stood by silently up to this point, gave a little smile and wave. His shoulder length wavy hair seemed made for life on a boat.
“I’m Dean, this is Cas.”
“Sweet!” Kira Leigh said, bubbly to an extent Dean could not fathom matching. “Are you guys married?”
Dean froze, looking at Cas to see if he would answer first. When Cas met him with a matching confused stare, Dean turned back to the couple and stammered “No, uh, not yet.”
Kira Leigh giggled, nodding at Cas. “Careful! You better lock this one down before someone else comes along.”
Castiel squinted at her. “I don’t—”
Dean moved in quickly before he could blow their cover. Cas looked down at Dean’s hand, which found itself affectionately placed on his chest. Dean cleared his throat. “Yes, he’s, uh. He’s gorgeous, isn’t he?”
Cas’ face lit up, giving Dean a not-unfamiliar swooping feeling in his stomach. People flirted with Cas even more often than they did with Dean, but he never reacted with more than an eyeroll. At least, until now.
“We were just headed to the casino,” Andrew spoke up, in a soft Irish lilt.
Kira Leigh’s eyes widened. “Y’all want to join us? Could always use some company while I lose at blackjack.”
Dean looked at Cas and shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
Far from the debauchery he was expecting (and somewhat hoping for), the onboard casino seemed tame. Just a bunch of polite pairs giggling behind hands of cards and shuffling between tables in their sandals. The four of them, led by Kira Leigh, settled at a blackjack table after exchanging their betting money for chips. Dean leaned over to Cas as they were dealt in, placing one chip in front of each of them as their bets.
“Don’t hit if you’re close to 21,” he muttered. “If you go over, you get nothing, but you only need to be high enough to beat the dealer.”
Cas’ brow furrowed, but as that was something of a default expression for him, it didn’t serve as a warning that he was about to turn and ask Dean a question.
Dean’s lips, already close from whispering instructions in his ear, brushed Cas’ cheek as he turned. Dean barely resisted jerking away in a panic, which wouldn’t look very couple-y of them. He slowly eased his face away, and thought he saw a new, warmer tint to Castiel’s cheeks.
“Apologies,” Cas mumbled. Dean waved him off, putting on a big smile for the others at the table.
He’d chosen to sit next to Cas, but not staring at him all night would prove especially challenging if he couldn’t stop remembering the tickle of stubble under his lips. Dean cast his gaze around the casino, looking anywhere else.
The couples that had seemed so innocent when they’d arrived appeared to be a bit less so upon closer inspection. At the craps table next to them, Dean could see a woman in a short dress nearly in the lap of her partner, whose hand was sneaking slowly into the gap between her slightly spread legs. Dean saw her eyes go wide, her mouth dropping open slightly. Dean wouldn’t have been surprised to see the hand get swatted away, but instead, she gave the man a sultry look that made even Dean go hot behind the ears.
He spun back around, his accidental foray into voyeurism doing nothing to help the tension he was already feeling.
The dealer turned to Dean, and he realized he hadn’t even looked at his cards. He gave a quick scan of them— a ten of clubs and a two of diamonds. He made sure Cas was watching, trying to gesture toward the numbers and hoped Cas understood, because Dean was suddenly terrified at leaning in to whisper to him again.
“Hit me,” Dean told the dealer. The dealer flipped another card his way, an eight of spades. With a total of twenty, Dean gestured to stay.
Now it was Cas’ turn. The dealer gave him a king of spades and a two of hearts.
“Whose hearts are those supposed to—?”
Dean interrupted him with an overexaggerated laugh. “Ha-ha, good one, honey! You’ve got twelve, so you probably want to hit.” Dean tapped the table for him. The dealer placed a nine in front of Cas. Twenty-one.
Kira Leigh clapped Cas on the shoulder. “Beginner’s luck!”
Once she and Andrew had played their hands (Kira busted with a twenty-three), the dealer flipped his remaining card, adding a ten to the eight already on the table. Dean and Cas received chips to match their bet, and Andrew, who had a hand of eighteen to match the dealer’s, was exactly where he’d begun.
“I think I’m gonna sit this hand out and get a drink,” Dean said. “Cas, you want anything?”
Cas shook his head, but Kira Leigh stood from her seat. “Can I join you?”
Dean shrugged, and they walked toward a small bar set up in the corner of the casino.
“Whiskey, neat, please. And whatever she wants.”
“Vodka cranberry, please,” Kira Leigh told the bartender as she started to pull money from her purse. “But you don’t have to pay for me.”
Dean shook his head, holding up his new chip. “I’m ten bucks richer than when I walked in here, I might as well spend it buying a drink for a pretty lady.”
She cocked an eyebrow. “Fair enough. Is Castiel okay with that?”
“Why wouldn’t he—” Dean began. “Oh. Yeah. Don’t worry, a drink is just a drink.”
She looked a little embarrassed as she was handed her cocktail. “Right. Of course.”
There was a moment of silence as they both took sips from their drinks. The whiskey offered a soothing warmth to Dean’s throat and made him feel a tiny bit better about, well, everything.
Kira Leigh cleared her throat. “It’s easy to see how much you two love each other.”
Dean coughed a little in surprise and had to fight to swallow another gulp of liquor. “Yeah?”
“We should all be so lucky.”
“Nah. It’s easy to be us.” Dean bit his lip around a smile despite the fib. “We’re just a couple of idiots.”
She raised her glass. “To idiots in love, then.”
He clinked glasses with her, and downed the remainder of his drink. He was too sober to examine that toast too closely.
After shifting positions for what felt like the hundredth time, Dean looked at the clock, which gave his eyes a break from the ceiling. 1:37 AM.
He’d long since left Cas at the slot machines with a pile of quarters, telling him he was welcome to come back to their cabin if he ran out of entertainment. So far, no dice. Dean wondered now if Cas had even heard him; he’d been focused so intently on the spinning symbols, the hokey flashing lights. Dean wasn’t sure why he was even awake. He should be using this alone time to get some rest. No use waiting up for Cas. Even if he showed, they would only be facing the awkward bed situation again.
Was he still at the machines? Or had he wandered off, observing other people and exploring every little facet of the ship? For all Dean knew, Cas could be in its belly, studying the machinery that was piloting it, marveling at the fruits of human ingenuity.
He rolled onto his side, facing the door. The minutes without him dragged by, and eventually Dean gave up on pretending that he didn’t want Cas to walk through.
Chapter 3: Day 2
Dean’s face broke the surface of the water as he propelled himself from the bottom of the pool. Other swimmers laughed and splashed around him as he ran his hands over his hair and flung the excess water off. He took a look around at the sunbathers, noting several bikini-clad women with no husbands in sight.
He began to swim to the edge of the pool nearest them when something else caught his eye. Laid out on a reclining pool chair with a paperback book was Cas, nearly unrecognizable in short blue swim trunks Dean had packed. The size was unintentional (they were the only pair Dean could dig up in the bunker that didn’t seem to belong to him or Sam), but they were doing Cas plenty of favors as the fabric gripped his thighs. Under the layers, Dean had always imagined Castiel as rather slender, pale, the Holy Tax Accountant. He found it hard not to stare once he realized that wasn’t the case. Cas was...fit. How was he tan when his legs never saw the sun?
The night before, Dean had eventually fallen asleep, only to wake this morning to a note from Cas on the bedside table. Stopped in to change. Didn’t want to wake you. Dean had tried to shake off the feeling he got thinking of Cas moving around him as he slept, maybe even undressing next to the bed. He hadn’t been particularly successful.
Castiel looked up from his book as two guys sat on the chair next to him, one striking up conversation. They were young and attractive, and one wore a speedo with a cutoff white shirt that showed off his midriff. He leaned closer to Cas and casually touched his arm, then said something that made him laugh, a rare sight that made irritation itch under Dean’s skin. He only realized he’d frozen in place this whole time when someone slammed into him while trying to catch a beach ball bouncing around the pool. Had they been on a hunt, getting so distracted ogling Cas could mean them ending up werewolf chow. Shaking off the embarrassing image, Dean pulled himself out of the pool and started walking toward them.
“Hey, uh, honey,” he said. “What’s going on?”
Half of the strange duo looked up, his blond hair pushed down under a backwards cap that irritated Dean further. Douche. “Is this the lucky guy?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Dean said, a small smile forming in spite of himself as he wondered what Cas had said about him. “I am.”
“Dean, your face is red. Are you wearing sunscreen?”
“No, I’m getting a tan.”
“You’re getting a burn,” Cas admonished. He reached under his chair and tossed a small bottle to Dean. “Put this on.”
Dean rolled his eyes but complied, smearing white lotion across his face and chest. “Better?”
Cas stood up. “Turn around, you need to get your shoulders.”
Dean paused for a moment once he realized what Cas meant. “Oh, uh, I can get it.”
Cas ignored him, gripping him by the arm and rotating him away. Dean tensed up as Cas’ lotioned hands gently rubbed into his shoulders, taking his time on what should have been a perfunctory task.
“There.” Cas waited for him to turn back to face him, then gestured to the other man. “Jeff was just telling me about an event the ship is putting on this afternoon.”
“Yeah,” the man who must be Jeff answered. “It’s kinda like that old game show, The Newlywed Game? But sudden death style. A bunch of couples start out, answering questions about each other. When you get a question wrong, you’re dropped from the game. Last couple standing wins.”
“Wins what?” Dean asked.
“Last night when Brian and I watched the first game, it was an excursion when we stop in Nassau,” Jeff said. “Swimming with dolphins or something. But it might be different today. We figure we have a shot at getting pretty far, but the more the merrier, right?”
“So, you guys signing up?” asked Speedo Brian.
Cas looked up at him, squinting against the sun before reaching under his pool chair and bringing out a bottle of water. A few drops of condensation flung off, making a trail from Cas’ chest as he brought it to his mouth, one finding its way into the dip in his clavicle. The corner of Dean’s mouth turned upward.
After stopping by their cabin to switch out of their swimsuits (where Dean resolutely did not look at the gap Castiel left in the bathroom door as he changed), they got to the auditorium. A small stage was already full of at least twenty people of various ages and genders, paired off into goofy-looking chairs with red heart-shaped backs. Some of them had carried their drinks in with them, unwilling to stop the party. A few pairs seemed unconcerned with the game being organized and were nearly in each other’s laps, despite the small audience presence. Dean and Cas approached the registration table in front of the stage.
“Hi!” chirped a staff member who was wearing an outfit that wouldn’t be out of place in a Village People performance. “I’m Eric, and I’m in charge of this game! I just need your names written here, and you need to decide which of you will write answers about themselves, and which of you will try to verbally match afterward.”
“I’ll do the matching,” Cas said, before Dean could consider it. Cas lowered his voice and muttered in Dean’s ear, “I can only imagine most of the questions wouldn’t apply to a—to someone like me.”
Dean shrugged. Eric flashed a larger-than-average smile at them and continued. “Alrighty then! Just get settled in one of the seats and wait for the show to begin.”
They climbed the few stairs to get onto the stage, then picked a pair of seats close to the end of the line. He saw Jeff and Brian wave at them from several seats away, and gave a half-assed head nod in return. A few other couples settled around them as Dean tapped his foot nervously. The audience wasn’t full, but they were still there, and this weird public test of a relationship that didn’t technically exist suddenly seemed like a bad idea. He wondered what would happen if they just left now.
“Cas, what do you say we—”
“Good afternoon everyone!” boomed a voice over the speaker. Dean looked up to see a man walk onto the stage in a shiny purple tuxedo, one of the more horrifying things Dean had seen in his considerably distressing life. His makeup-caked face seemed glued in place. There was no way a gig hosting game shows on a cruise ship warranted that.
“Welcome to our little contest, designed to put relationships to the test! My name is Lorne, and I will be your emcee!” the host continued, beaming. “Under each set of chairs, you will find a set of answer cards, markers, and a blindfold. One member of each team will write the answers to the questions found on each card. While you’re doing this, the other partner will be blindfolded so as to not see your answers. We will then ask the questions one by one and partners will answer them about their beloved, then we’ll turn your cards over and see if you’ve got a match! A wrong answer will eliminate you. We’ll keep asking until one couple is left standing! Does everyone understand?”
The small crowd of couples on stage mumbled and nodded in general agreement.
“Good. The prize you’re playing for today is unlimited alcohol added onto your cruise package! All you can drink for the rest of the trip— at the discretion of our bartenders, of course— we don’t want anyone going overboard! Heyo!”
There was a light smattering of laughter combined with a noticeable amount of groaning from the audience and the participants. Dean was too busy considering the prize to take note of the pun. That could certainly make things interesting.
“Now, everyone retrieve your blindfold and tie it around your partner’s eyes.”
Dean bent down, sweeping the items out from under their chairs. He stood up, carrying the blindfold, and stood behind Cas.
“Close your eyes, buddy,” he said softly. Cas obeyed, and Dean pulled the black cloth around his face. “Is that too tight?”
Dean began to tie the blindfold, trying not to focus on the texture of Cas’ hair under his fingertips. Once he’d finished, he circled back to his seat.
“Great!” Lorne announced. “Now, read the questions on each card and write your answers. Please print large and legibly. Time’s a-tickin’!”
Dean scanned the words on each card, smiling at some, wrinkling his brow at others. He wasted a few seconds looking up at Castiel, who sat silently under his blindfold, which was an image not great for Dean’s concentration. He’d barely finished writing on the last card when the host’s voice interrupted him.
“Alright, teams, markers down, blindfolds off. Let’s get started!”
Dean reached up to untie the blindfold at the same moment Cas himself did; the resulting brush of their fingers should not have sent a jolt up his arm, and yet. Dean dropped his hand and let Castiel finish. The little ruffle of his hair that the blindfold left behind made him look even more adorable, like when you slept in too late and the pillow had had its way with you. Dean took a deep breath; he’d really brought the image on himself of Cas on a pillow, tangled in sheets next to him.
“First question,” Lorne announced, shaking Dean from his reverie. “What is your partner’s favorite movie?”
He addressed the couple nearest to him, then moved down the line, cheers and groans moving in a wave toward Dean and Cas. By their turn, two other couples were already eliminated. Dean was fairly confident in this one; they’d watched it countless times together in the bunker. But there was still an inkling of worry when the host peered at Cas, prompting him for an answer.
“The Lost Boys,” Cas said. Dean smiled, and some tension left his shoulders as he turned the card around to display a matching answer. A small cheer came from the crowd. Dean looked up to see Kira Leigh, seated alone in the front row with a sign that read “TEAM IDIOTS”. God knew where she got the glitter paint.
The host moved on to the next pair, then the next question.
“What is.... their favorite meal?”
The question lost a few more teams, some losing out from only one part of the answer being wrong. Dean was mentally preparing himself to rise and exit the stage, but Castiel turned over his card to reveal an eerily detailed and perfectly correct answer: A burger, medium rare, with a beer to drink and pie for dessert.
The next round came and went. “Most prized possession?”
That one was a gimme. The Impala.
“Though Dean often thinks of her as an extension of himself rather than an object,” Cas added, after revealing his answer. Dean shook his head in disbelief, since the exact same thought had run through his brain when answering, but he was grinning. They might actually have a shot at winning this.
The more questions that passed, the more Dean started to wonder how closely he’d been watched all these years. From inane details like shoe size to things they almost lost out on because Dean barely knew how to answer (what Disney character was he most like?), Castiel knew everything. Couples around them dropped off until they were one of only two pairs, their opponents being Frat Boy Jeff and Speedo Brian. Dean narrowed his eyes at them, determined to beat them more than he was determined to win the prize.
The host’s voice boomed. “It’s time for our final question. All participants will write their answers on the cards in front of them, and we will reveal all four cards at once. If both teams answer correctly, we will need to move into a lightning round.” He looked up at the two pairs, who nodded their understanding. “Now then: Who said ‘I love you’ first?”
Dean thought carefully about how to answer this one. Given the circumstances, neither of them really had, at least not in the way the question intended. But Dean remembered Cas, bleeding out on the ground in that barn, looking at him when he said “I love you,” before looking at Sam and Mom and continuing with “I love all of you.” Dean had wondered, then, at being singled out, but had shoved it down like he did everything that wasn’t easy to address. But now, it was their only chance. He wrote down his answer and turned the card over. Castiel had already done the same.
“Both teams are ready?” the host asked. “Reveal your answers!”
Dean turned his card over, trying to quickly read Cas’ and the other team’s at the same time. Castiel’s said “Me” while Dean’s said “Cas”. Jeff and Brian...had each other’s names on the cards. A celebratory music cue started ringing out from the speakers above them. They’d won.
Dean threw his arms around Cas, squeezing him tightly and lifting him slightly off the ground as he shouted in victory. As their chests pressed together, it was hard to tell whether his heart or Cas’ was the one hammering between them. Maybe they were echoes, reverberating off one another before Dean loosened his arms and let Cas slip to the ground, now flush with even more of his body. They couldn’t have stayed like that for more than a second or two, but several conflicting instincts managed to root Dean to the spot during that time. Part of him stared at Cas’ lips, fighting an instinct to close the gap between their faces. The other part panicked with the instinct of how their embrace looked to everyone else. When he remembered they were supposed to be acting like this, it was too much for his brain to process and Dean awkwardly stumbled back from Cas, tearing his eyes away and smiling at the romper-clad activities director who was coming to get their information.
“Just give them your room number at any of the bars or restaurants, and the drinks will be free!” he told them, perky in the kind of way only a man wearing a fake sailor outfit could be expected to be.
Dean arched his back a little more, inching his way under the limbo bar with millimeters between it and the skin of his nose. Cheers erupted around him as he cleared it and straightened himself on the other side. A gorgeous blonde he’d never seen before put a lei around his neck after he rose. He flashed her a smile, the kind he knew from experience could be described as ‘knee-weakening’.
The Lido deck had become one big party, with loud music, party games, and a plethora of drunk, half-naked people both in and out of the pool. He looked back to the table he’d left Cas at, only to see that Cas wasn’t even watching his considerable limbo achievement, but instead stirring his drink and staring into the middle distance rather morosely.
Dean approached the table, then clapped Cas on the shoulder. “Dude, you’re missing out! Check it out, I got lei’d!”
Cas narrowed his eyes at the flowers. “Why?”
“I dunno, I just won limbo and we’re on vacation?”
“We’re in the Caribbean. Leis are customary in the Pacific islands, like Hawaii.”
Dean rolled his eyes. “You’re no fun.”
Cas sighed. “No, I don’t suppose I am.”
“Well, liven up a little,” he said, grabbing two shotglasses off of a passing tray and sliding one over. “We’re on vacation, baby!”
“I don’t appreciate being compared to an infant.”
Dean groaned. “Cas. You know it’s a term of endea—” He stopped short when Cas’ eyes crinkled at the corners. “Hang on, was that a joke?”
“Always the tone of surprise.”
The addition of free alcohol to their cruise package still seemed like a great idea, three or four drinks ago. The table was littered with empty bowl-shaped glasses, their little paper umbrellas cast aside. As someone who usually drank beer and whiskey and little else, Dean wasn’t prepared for the amount of liquor that could be hidden in the fruity, sweet concoctions they’d been ordering all evening. Cas had humored him by drinking along, but of course booze didn’t affect him at nearly the rate it affected humans. Dean was starting to feel out of control, which was terrifying, but also liberating in a way. They were in a place without monsters or research or anything he needed to manage. Why shouldn’t he let go?
He swayed a bit in his seat, surprised when he nearly bumped skulls with Cas; they’d inched steadily closer for the last hour, but his depth perception was a little off at the moment.
“Sorry,” he slurred. “Didn’ see you there.”
“It’s alright,” Cas answered, steadying Dean with a hand on his bicep. Dean was electrified by the touch, staring at Cas’ fingers on his bare arm as his mouth fell open slightly. A haze seemed to have taken residence in his brain, making it difficult to form words. When he looked back up, Cas’ eyes were trained on his own.
Moments like this, that fell just short of romantic, always made Dean’s heart pick up speed. Usually it was rooted in anxiety, uncertainty if Cas was experiencing the same tension, if he was even capable of pathetic human feelings like Dean’s. Now, though...the looseness courtesy of his last piña colada steered his heartbeat toward excitement and anticipation rather than panic.
“I’m glad you came with me instead of Sam,” Dean said slowly, every word thick in his throat.
Cas smiled. “Of course. It’s been a relaxing few days.”
“Not just relaxin’. Fun. I like spending time with you. Like this.”
“I thought you said I wasn’t any fun?” Cas was smirking, honestly smirking, and it was almost too endearing to stand.
“I guess I did.” Dean gave a nervous laugh. “But hey, when have I ever been right, right?”
Castiel’s eyebrows grew ever so slightly closer together as he studied Dean, but his smile didn’t fall. Sometimes it made him feel like a zoo animal, but right now it felt like something close to affection.
Cas leaned in. As their knees brushed, Dean gave in to the urge to put his hand on Cas’ thigh. To Castiel’s credit, he didn’t flinch. It wasn’t as if they had to act like they were in love all the time. He doubted the cruise employees would throw them overboard if they found out Dean and Cas weren’t actually a couple. But a part of Dean was enjoying having an excuse to touch him, look at him like this with a layer of protection removed. He could feel his nerve endings alight, prickling with possibility.
A high-pitched squeal caught Cas’ attention; he looked behind himself just in time to see a drunken woman falling into the pool, causing a large splash and much laughter from the lookers-on.
Cas stood up. “Is she okay?”
“Huh?” asked Dean blearily. He’d been preoccupied with studying Cas’ stubbled jawline from behind. “Oh, jeez.”
Castiel had appeared at the side of the pool, reaching in and helping pull the woman out. Mascara ran down her face, but otherwise she seemed no worse for wear, if rather wet.
As he watched Cas tend to her, fetching a towel and making sure she was okay, Dean was faced again with a troublesome notion. Cas had often made him question things about himself, about their friendship, but the only conclusion he came to time and time again was the uncomfortable truth that he couldn’t voice, even to himself. The thing that resurfaced every time he saw Cas smile, or saw his eyes widen with concern, or every time he touched him...
In the years they’d known each other, it had become easy with Cas, a casual camaraderie unburdened by other feelings. But now Dean had made it so difficult, hard to coexist without overanalyzing their every move. Truthfully, this had probably happened years ago, forced into dormancy by Dean’s refusal to let himself entertain the notion, to let himself feel. Every touch shared between them now brought turmoil, because he couldn’t tell Cas to stop, couldn’t take that from either of them, but it was particularly unfair when Dean wanted his hands all over, and never to pull apart. He’d looked at other men before, had flickers of attraction he’d snuffle out and quickly bury, but his feelings for Cas were far more, and getting impossible to ignore.
The unspeakable fact snuck through his defenses, his mental blocks loosened by alcohol, and he could almost feel it make contact and send him spinning. He was in love with his best friend.
He rubbed his eyes and massaged his temples, as if he could erase Cas from his thoughts, make this easy again. When he looked up again, the angel had reappeared at Dean’s side, his heroism quota apparently filled for the night.
“It’s getting a bit late,” Cas said. The voices and faces around them seemed to fade; dark hair, blue eyes, a voice low and close to Dean’s ear were all that filled his senses. “Don’t you think we should head back?”
Dean’s breath hitched against his will. They hadn’t spent the previous night together in the cabin, but it sounded like Cas was joining him now. He stood up, wobbling slightly, and Cas reached out to steady him again.
“Go on,” Cas said. “I’ll make sure you don’t fall.”
The trouble with cruise ships was, with so much to do on board at all hours of the night, the television offerings were very sparse. After watching an unspeakably long infomercial for a stain remover, Dean gave up and clicked the power button on the remote.
He heard the sink shut off in the bathroom, followed by Cas emerging in a t-shirt and sweatpants. Dean must have gotten through to him on the unnaturalness of wearing the same outfit all the time; if he hadn’t, he was sure Cas would have put his trenchcoat back on the moment he was off the ship’s deck.
Cas sat lightly on the bed for a moment, only inches of his backside touching it as he bent over and replaced things in his luggage. He seemed to be giving Dean a wide berth, which was interesting since the two of them had practically walked back to the cabin arm in arm, even if by necessity.
“Didn’t you want to change?”
“Oh. Uh,” Dean looked down at his linen shirt and shorts. “This is pretty comfortable. I don’t really trust myself not to fall over in the bathroom if I try to swap into something else.” He chuckled. “That would be an embarrassing rescue to need, huh?”
Castiel smiled. “I’ve rescued you from worse.”
“I’ll give it to you, you got me there.”
Cas glanced at the pillow next to Dean. “Can I…?”
Dean moved to pull the covers down on that side, a bit too quickly to pass off as nonchalant, but he tried to salvage it with a shrug and “Be my guest.”
Cas scooted himself up gingerly, as if he was afraid to disturb a sleeping partner. When he was finally settled, Dean could feel the warmth from his body join his own under the covers. A quick glance at Cas, so close, next to him in bed, left him lightheaded. He’d had way too much to drink.
Dean had spent years exercising some level of restraint with Cas. He hardly had to think about it anymore— holding himself back was automatic. Here and now, though, it was torture. Until lately, every impulse he’d had toward anything more than friendship had been easily brushed away, ignored in favor of their current hunt or the latest apocalypse. Now, with literally nothing between them, tension had given way to urgent want, a deep yearning for Cas to kiss him, hold him, undress him.
Deep down, Dean was fairly confident that he wouldn’t be judged for thoughts like these, because he’d already gotten away with an astonishing number of bad decisions where Cas was involved. Still, he should be thankful for the relationship they already had, not be greedy for more. His remaining friendships were increasingly limited, and he couldn’t risk screwing one up just because he couldn’t keep his feelings in check.
“Enjoying your cruise so far, Dean?” Cas’ head was on the pillow, turned toward him with such genuine contentment. If Dean had been standing, his knees might have collapsed.
“Yeah,” Dean replied, in barely more than a whisper. He cleared his throat. “Yeah. We kicked ass today, didn’t we?”
“I suppose we did. The questions weren’t particularly difficult.”
“Are you kidding me?” Dean scoffed. “Your powers of observation are like a superpower.”
“Well, I am more than human,” Castiel said with a wink.
It took everything in Dean’s power not to let out a whine. It was downright embarrassing to want someone so badly, to have so little control over how he felt.
He forced himself to change the subject. “The ship is supposed to dock tomorrow. Did you want to spend a few hours on land?”
Cas shrugged. “Or we could stay in. Up to you.”
Those words sent Dean’s mind on a runaway spiral, a tangle of nerves squirming in his stomach. What did he mean, stay in? Stay here, in the cabin? Stay here doing what?
Cas frowned, and Dean felt himself blush when he realized he’d spoken the last thought aloud.
“Um. Whatever you want to do, like I said.”
Whatever he wanted to do.
He forced himself to meet Castiel’s gaze and hold it. “You mean that?”
Cas cocked his head, which had the adorable side effect of looking like he was nuzzling into the pillow. Dean could have sworn Cas’ body inched closer to him as he did. “I mean everything I say, Dean.”
They were so close together, Dean was certain his heartbeat was audible.
“I want…” A balloon inflated somewhere around his navel. “This.”
He leaned in, closing his eyes as he pressed his lips to Cas’. A euphoric rush went through his body at the contact that felt years in the making.
Cas tensed underneath him, then gripped Dean’s shoulder as he pulled himself away. “Dean.”
“Oh god.” The balloon inside Dean didn’t deflate so much as pop, causing a visible flinch. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I did that.”
“It’s...okay.” Cas gave him a pitying look, and he hated it more than he could bear. A hot surge of shame filled his stomach. Vomiting was not out of the realm of possibility. The brief ecstasy he’d felt was quickly giving way to pain, all twisted together in his chest. Of course he’d misread things. Of course Cas didn’t want him like that. He was stupid, so stupid.
“Dean? I’m sorry.”
“I just don’t think we should be doing this right now. You’re not...thinking straight.”
He hadn’t been thinking at all. No, this wreck in progress had been steered by feelings alone, those damned, senseless things.
“I didn’t mean anything,” Dean lied through his teeth. “I’ve just had too much to drink.”
“That’s what I me—”
“Forget it. It doesn't matter.” Dean turned to the lamp and switched it off. He flopped back down without turning back to face Cas. He couldn’t bear to look at him right now; he didn’t need Cas’ sympathy to make him feel even more pathetic. He wouldn’t get up and leave, as much as he wanted to put as much distance between them as possible, short of jumping overboard. It would only serve to show how upset he really was.
Silence stretched between them for what felt like an eternity. The alcohol finally weighed on Dean’s eyelids, and he started to fade in and out of consciousness. Eventually Cas sighed and swung his legs out of bed. Dean could hear him rummaging in his luggage in the dark, then crossing to the door.
Say something. Dean told himself. Apologize. Or don’t. Just, something. Anything.
The door into the hallway opened a crack and cast a sliver of light on the bed. Dean could hear Cas mumble something, but it didn’t completely register to him in his semi-conscious state.
The door shut behind Cas, and Dean felt himself rouse a bit at the noise. He spent his last moments before sleep took him wondering how much of the last few minutes he’d hallucinated. How much he could force himself to forget.