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rolling down the river

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They pull into Moline at sunset, the sky a dull, hazy burn over the larger bulk of Davenport. The motel Cas picks is a few blocks from the river, close enough that Dean can smell it from the parking lot but too far away for him to see it, and the room they get has a nautical theme, a ship's wheel nailed to the bathroom door and pictures of sailboats hanging on the walls. Dean drops his duffel on the bed closest to the door, strips off his jacket and flannel like that will help him breathe. The First Blade is in the Impala's trunk, wrapped in several towels and locked inside a metal box, but Dean can still feel it this close, and it makes his skin crawl, works his blood into a slow boil.

"I should go," Sam says quietly, every line in his body an apology. He knows Dean doesn't want to do this, but he swears it will be easier for Dean to make his peace once they've exhausted this last option. "I'm the only one he can't sense or smell or -- whatever."

Dean shivers at that; he doesn't know why, if it's the Mark pinging a potential enemy or some leftover demon shit or both, but recently he can almost feel Cas' grace. It's nothing obvious, no bells or whistles shrieking in his head, just a subtle difference in the air that itches behind his teeth. It makes him uncomfortable, means that even if he gets a lid on the bloodlust, he'll never be completely human.

"Look, Sammy --"

"I'll be careful," Sam says, tucking his hair behind his ears.

Dean doesn't watch him leave.




An hour later Dean is nearly going out of his mind. The six miles between the motel and the house in Silvis Cas thinks is Cain's isn't enough space to dampen the sickly pull of the First Blade, and Dean can't keep himself distracted. There's nothing on tv but local news and teen dramas, and Cas hasn't said a word since Sam left, hasn't moved since he curled up on the crappy leather couch with a book.

Dean grabs a beer from the cooler, chugs it in on his way to the bathroom sink. He doesn't look in the mirror as he slaps cold water on his face, and he doesn't bother wiping it off, just lets it run down his cheeks and chin and throat. It soaks the neck of his t-shirt, but it feels good, almost eases the jittery, feverish feeling he's been drowning in since they left the bunker.

Cas is watching him when he comes out of the bathroom; his head is cocked to the side and the collar of his coat is crooked.

"What are you reading?" Dean asks.

"History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting," Cas says, glancing at the cover. "Did you know that George Washington kept bees? So did Thomas Jefferson. In fact, he speculates on the origins of honey bees in the Americans in Notes on the State of Virginia, but I'm not --"

Dean waves him off with a grunt. "Dude, no offense, but I don't care about bees."

"I know, but you seem like you could use a diversion."

Dean grunts again, shrugs.

"That telenovela you like should be on soon," Cas offers, the couch squeaking as he shifts against the sagging arm. "Mi Corazón es Tuyo."

"Yeah, all right," Dean mutters.

He walks over to the nightstand to get the remote, but he ends up pacing between the beds with it clenched in his hands. He stares down at his feet until his vision starts to blur, his boots bleeding into the mottled blue of the carpet.




"Come on," Cas says. He rescues the remote, hands Dean his flannel and jacket. It's a little after eight; outside the dirty motel window, Moline is mostly dark. "Let's get some air."

"I don't want air," Dean snaps. He feels bad once the words are out, guilted by the bruised look on Cas' face, but he hates being coddled, hates that Cas and Sam think he needs it.

"I could use some," Cas says, which is somehow worse, but he just stands there until Dean gets dressed, too close and expectant, and he cradles Dean's elbow in his hand as they move toward the door, so Dean swallows the anger rising in his throat and lets himself be led.

They cut across the parking lot, past the boxy shape of the Continental, bleached beige by the flickering sodium lights, then turn down a narrow walkway where a handful of vending machines are crouched beside the manager's office. The vacancy sign flashes over their heads, humming as it washes everything in a livid orange-red; the air outside is incredibly cold, probably just a few degrees above freezing, and Dean flips up the collar of his jacket, watches as his breath puffs and curls in front of his face.

About two blocks away Dean realizes they're headed for the waterfront; the buildings get smaller and shabbier the longer they walk, and the mud-thick smell of the river gets stronger, crowding in until Dean can taste it in the back of his mouth. They pass a restaurant and a couple of bars and a motel so drab and dark it probably rents rooms by the hour. Cas' hand bumps Dean's every few steps, and their fingers almost tangle -- almost, but not quite.




"You've got to be kidding me," Dean says, the dock under his feet creaking with the wind.

Cas turns to face him with a smile at the corner of his mouth; behind him looms an antebellum-style paddle steamer, a crazy puzzle of white-washed latticework with a huge stern-wheel that looks maroon in the gleam of the moon. The smoke-stacks must be painted black or dark gray; Dean can barely make them out against the heavy night sky.

"I'm not kidding," Cas says. "Come on."

Dean doesn't trust himself to gamble when he's this keyed up; the Mark is a steady ache on the inside of his arm, and his temper is so razor-thin that a bad hand could send him off the rails. He grabs a stool at the bar stretched along the casino's back wall, asks for a few ice cubes in his Jim Beam so he can chew them when it's gone, slow himself down. The holdem table Cas picks skirts the edge of the casino floor, close enough to the bar that Dean can watch him play if he swivels halfway around.

Cas wins more than he loses -- quite a bit more -- but he plays like he doesn't care what happens, is sometimes reckless in a way that makes Dean want to snatch the cards out of his hands. He doesn't try to small-talk the dealer, and he mostly ignores the other guys at the table. On his sixth hand he bets heavy on nothing but a pair of sevens, wins because everyone else is holding garbage.

"Are you cheating?" Dean asks him, when he comes over to give Dean his coat. His face his flushed, a bright burn over his cheeks, and his shirt is unbuttoned at the neck, exposing the long line of his throat.

"No," he replies, blinking like the thought never occured to him, like it wouldn't be the easiest thing in the world for him to count the cards or read the dealer's mind. "That would be pointless."


"It wouldn't really be winning. Half the fun is the risk involved."

His next hand is a full house, but he loses because the stiff on his left gets lucky on the river; after that he wins five hands in a row, all with nothing better than three of a kind. His gestures are incredibly human -- the way he leans his elbow on the table, the way he thumbs the corner of his mouth when he's thinking, the way he sighs quietly the few time he folds. Each time he glances over at Dean, his eyes are too bright, too blue.




"Come on," Cas says, his fingers twisting in Dean's sleeve. "We should go."


Cas frowns at the glass Dean is holding, which is still half full. "Yes."

It's only Dean's third, which is hardly anything these days -- enough to dull the Mark's teeth but not enough to make a dent in his sobriety.

Cas tugs the drink out of his hand and downs what's left in a long swallow that's distracting to watch, pulls a face as he sets the glass on the bar.

"Bad?" Dean asks.

"It tastes like corn and barley and rye," Cas says, wrinkling his nose, "and the limestone in the water, and --"

"All right, all right."

Cas reaches for his coat, leaning in close to Dean's shoulder; his mouth is red and wet and Dean wants to kiss him. Dean always wants to kiss him, but tonight -- tonight, it's restless, living thing. Tonight, it almost feels like a risk he's willing to take.




The john is one deck up and down a series of winding hallways; it takes Dean longer to find it than it does for him to piss and slap more water on his face. He stays hunched over the sink for a few minutes, trying to talk himself out of doing something stupid. There are plenty of reasons why it would be a terrible idea -- Cas is an angel, he'll probably go back to heaven for good one day, the Mark has turned Dean into a kill-crazy, semi-demon timebomb -- but Cas is also Dean's best friend in the world besides Sam, and he knows that's not something he should gamble with.

Cas is waiting for him when he comes out, leaning against the wall with his head tipped back. All Dean can see is his throat, the cord of his neck as it shifts and pulls under his skin; Dean wants to put his mouth there, taste it, bite slow kisses all the way up to Cas' jaw.

"Hey," Dean says, clearing his throat, and he shouldn't touch, he shouldn't, but he grabs the front of Cas' shirt, fumbles with the open buttons. "It's cold outside. You gotta cover up."

"I don't get cold."

"I know you don't, but people might --" Dean's thumb brushes the hollow of Cas' throat " -- people will think it's weird if you walk around like this when it's so cold outside. You're always talking about how you need to blend in."

Cas catches Dean's hands, holds them. The next moment feels claustrophobic, like the hallway walls are closing in, and Dean leans closer, shuts his eyes when he feels Cas breathing against his cheek. He noses at Cas' jaw, nudges in until he finds Cas' mouth.

He doesn't expect the noise Cas makes, soft and surprised and pleased all at once, and he doesn't expect the way Cas kisses back, sweet but also kind of dirty, his tongue pushing right it, his teeth catching Dean's lip, tugging a little when Dean moans. He wraps his arm around Dean's waist, bringing Dean close, and he slides his other hand up Dean's throat, over Dean's jaw. When Dean pulls back to breathe, Cas chases Dean's mouth, rubs his thumb over Dean's cheek.

Dean kisses him again, easy and slow, but someone comes down the hallway, and older dude in an expensive suit who clears his throat when he sees them, shakes his head as he ducks into the john.

"We should go," Cas murmurs.

"Yeah." It'll be a cold walk to the motel, and Dean's phone has buzzed twice, which means Sam is back from checking out Cain's place. "We -- yeah."

Cas hesitates before pushing away from the wall. Then he smiles and catches Dean's arm, urges him further down the hallway -- past the johns, toward the curved bow of the ship.




The door Cas opens leads to a supply room; it's stocked with toilet paper and jugs of liquid soap, and the space inside the horseshoe of shelves is just large enough for both of them.

"Cas, you --"

Cas cuts him off with a kiss; he crowds Dean back against the shelves, fisting one hand in the front of Dean's jacket, sliding the other down Dean's chest, his fingers skimming the hem of Dean's t-shirt, just brushing over skin. They're wearing too many clothes, and something sharp is digging into Dean's left shoulder. He's always pictured this happening at the bunker or in a cheap motel, maybe in the back of the Impala, so he almost laughs when a pack of paper towels falls off the shelf, but Cas starts kissing his throat, all warm lips and hints of tongue, and then Cas presses a leg between Deans, shifting until Dean's dick nudges against his hip.

Dean has a split-second of panic then -- the Mark gets angry when he jacks off, surging up, throbbing until his whole arm is on fire, and he'd forgotten that, too caught up in how badly he wants this -- but when he pauses to breathe the Mark is calm, quieter than it's been in weeks.

"What's wrong?" Cas asks, his mouth brushing Dean's ear.

"Nothing." Dean hooks his fingers in the waist of Cas' slacks, pops the button with his thumb.

"Wait, wait -- Dean," Cas says, his hand warm as it slides over Dean's wrist. "I want this. I -- I think I have always wanted this."

Dean clears his throat, grits his teeth against the sick lurch in his gut. "But?"

"There is no but. I just want to know that this is you, and not --" Cas carefully touches Dean's sleeve "-- not this."

"It's me," Dean says honestly. "It's me."

Cas mouths at the skin below Dean's ear, bites a little, smiles at the desperate, breathless, noise Dean makes. He rolls his hips, grinding himself against Dean's thigh; Dean tugs on his slacks again, gets his dick out, and it looks gorgeous in his hand, long and thick and flushed. Cas moans, his mouth falling open, and he pulls Dean closer, fumbles with the fly of Dean's jeans.

Dean strokes them together, hissing when Cas' hand joins his, making everything hotter, tighter. His dick rubs against Cas', and Cas mumbles Dean's name into the corner of Dean's jaw, and then they're kissing again, filthy and wet. Dean can't keep his other hand out of Cas' hair, and Cas' thumb keeps stroking over the head of Dean's dick, just teasing against the slit, too much, too much.

"You're beautiful," Cas says, his voice low. "Your soul, your face -- Dean."

Dean comes, shaking, his hand sliding from Cas' hair to clutch at the collar of Cas' coat, his fingers twisting in the fabric until his knuckles blanch white. Cas follows almost immediately, and that's what's beautiful -- the soft look on his face, his half-closed eyes, the perfect curve of his mouth.




Dean's phone buzzes again as he's cracking open a pack of paper towels. He pulls it out of his pocket once he's cleaned himself off; it's a message from Sam, the sixth one he's sent. Dean reads all of them in order, snorting at how they gradually get more impatient and irritated. Another one comes through right as he finishes; that one just says "nvm i don't want to know what yr doing."

"Is that your brother?" Cas asks.

"Yeah. He seems to think we've been gone a long time."

"What are you going to tell him."

"I'm not gonna tell him anything," Dean says, sliding his hand over Cas' hip. "I'm gonna send him one of those smiley-faces you like so much."