“So, what’s this all about?”
Dean holds up his phone as he enters the room, even though Sam is too far away to read anything on the four-inch screen. “I just got a text from Charlie saying she’s sorry. So why is Charlie...” Dean reads from his phone, “‘totes sorry, dude?’ Is it about the hunt?”
Sam is stationed behind his computer at his usual table in the library, pamphlets and papers and books cluttering his workspace.
“Yeah, she just called. I was about to tell you about it, but I wanted to make sure I had everything in place before I ran it by you.”
“Before you ran what by me?”
“Crap. What’s the problem with Plan A?" Dean pulls out the chair beside Sam and sits. "I hate plan Bs.”
“Me too.” Sam folds down the screen of his laptop. “But unfortunately, we have no choice. Charlie broke her leg yesterday.”
“What happened? Is she okay?”
“She’s fine. She was LARPing. I think a horse was involved, and something about knights and jousting, maybe? I was afraid to ask for more details. She was pretty out of it, from her meds.”
Dean perks up. “She was jousting? That’s just...”
“Reckless?” Sam offers.
“Awesome!” Dean grins, leans back against the table and sends a return text to Charlie. “I hope she won. I’ve gotta find out if she won.”
“Anyway,” Sam continues while he gathers up the mess of documents strewn across the table into one heap. “I called Jody, and she’s not available until next week. Parent stuff. She suggested I try Donna.”
“Donna?” Dean bobs his head from side to side, considering. “That could work. I mean, we’d have to be careful, she’s not very experienced, but I think--”
“She can’t do it either. Deputy stuff. She’s been promoted, and can’t get the time off until next month, but she says she’d love to work with us whenever she can.”
“Promoted? Well whaddya know. Good for her.”
“Yeah. Good for her, not so good for us.”
“So, what now? We can’t just call the whole thing off.”
Sam fingers the stack in front of him. “No. I figure we have a few options. None of them are ideal. We can --”
“Ugh!” Dean moans, too dramatically. “Just skip to the least bad option.”
“Okay. We take Cas.”
Sam mumbles it so quickly that Dean’s not quite sure he heard him right. “What? What did you say?”
“I said we take Cas.”
“Huh?” Dean screws his face up, scratches his head. “I mean, I'm good with Cas coming along, the more the merrier, but how does that solve the problem?”
They’d been working with a couple who inherited a successful wedding planning business. It became even more successful when they added group destination weddings to their list of services over a year ago. Recently, however, the groups returned from two of the last three outings one couple short, the happy brides and grooms all leaving notes that they had “changed their minds and needed time to think” about their intended nuptials. Yet no one saw them go, and they disappeared, luggage and all, seemingly without a trace. Except, that is, for a trace of sulfur.
Sam sighs, looks up and away before he answers. “Cas takes Charlie’s place.”
Dean holds out both hands, palms up. “Charlie's place? Charlie's the bride-to-be. I'm not following, Sam. You want Cas to dress up as a woman?”
“No, Dean,” Sam says slowly, his patience forced. “Don't be ridiculous. A wedding can have two grooms. Cas can be the other groom. ”
“What? No! What else have you got?”
Sam sighs, frustrated. “Okay. Well the obvious one, of course, is we don’t do it. We reach out, see if we can find some other hunter – or hunters – who can handle it.”
Dean scowls. “No. We can’t dump this in someone else’s front yard now. We leave in two days.”
“True. Or, we postpone it all, wait until Charlie gets better, or Jody is available. Which is at least weeks, could be longer. And in the meantime—“
“More people go missing? No way. Next.” Dean and Sam had initially argued about whether or not this was a case at all. There was no indication of foul play; in fact, law enforcement considered neither situation to be suspicious, especially once the handwriting on the notes was confirmed to belong to the missing. The owners believed they were being haunted, but the sulfur left behind told Dean another story, and he convinced Sam that they should try to help. At the most, it was a demon hunt. At a minimum, it was a free vacation. To a beach. In Florida. Besides, anything was better than sitting in the bunker, waiting for the inevitable.
“That leaves us with Cas.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
“When you stop and think about it, though, it’s not a bad idea. It’s actually a pretty good one. He wants to hunt again, and he knows a lot of things, Dean, you can’t deny that. He’s smart, and quick, and you know he’ll have our backs. There’s no reason not to have him stand in for Charlie.”
Dean’s eyes widen. “No reason not to? It’s a wedding trip! I need a fiancée, not a fiance!”
"You do realize that those two words sound exactly the same?" Sam looks up and exhales slowly, as if gathering patience. “Dean, just listen.” Sam uses that tone he always pulls out when he thinks Dean is being unreasonable. “I already spoke to the owners. They said they have same sex couples as clients all the time. No one will suspect a thing. They're desperate. They need our help before another couple goes missing.”
Dean clicks his tongue. “And those are our only options? Those are all bad, Sam.”
“Maybe. But you asked me and I’m telling you. Cas is the least bad option.”
Dean kicks his chair out and stands, takes a few back and forth paces. He’s going to do it, he knows that he will, but he’s not going to make it easy. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable being engaged to Cas.”
Sam looks up at Dean and nods. “I figured as much. That’s why I’m going to do it.”
Dean wasn’t expecting that. “Wait. What?”
“I said I understand. Cas and I have already discussed it, and we’re going to be the engaged couple. You’re off the hook.”
“That doesn’t make sense.” Dean didn’t mean to say that out loud, but once he realizes that he did, he tries to cover. “I mean, come on. You’re way too tall for him.”
Sam raises his brows. His lips curl up, holding back a chuckle. “Right. Well I think we can fake make it work.”
Dean rubs his hand over his mouth. “So you’re saying that Cas is good with this?”
“Yes, he is.”
“Completely on board?”
“His idea, in fact.”
“Oh.” The word hangs off of Dean’s rounded mouth several moments longer than it should. “Okay. Good, then. I guess that makes me the best man.”
“About that.” Sam takes a long, deep breath before he goes on. “I know that the plan was for me to pose as the best man when it was you and Charlie getting married, but since things have changed, I understand if you’d rather stay here.”
Dean jerks his head back. “Why would you think that? I’m perfectly fine with you and Cas getting fake married. You know, other than the height thing, which is obviously a valid issue, why would I care? Why would that bother me at all? Why? Huh? Why?”
Sam narrows his eyes at his brother. Dean worries that he’s protested too much, made it all but impossible to give in and agree to play the groom.
“Uh, no reason?” Sam says. “I was actually referring to the fact that the location has changed.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’ve had a lot of cancellations. Not surprising, of course. So they had to cancel the Florida trip. Instead we’re going on another trip. It’s been planned for a while, and although several of their clients have backed out of that one, there are three other couples who are still willing to stick to their plans to marry at this particular exotic location.”
“And what location is that?”
“A private resort island on the Indian Ocean.”
“Are you talking about the Indian Ocean on the other side of the planet?”
“That would be the one.”
“As in there’s-no-way-to-get-there-other-than-by-plane Indian Ocean?”
“Yes,” Sam nods. “Airplane, then another airplane, then a seaplane.”
Now this is a real problem. Dean makes an unintelligible noise, something between a snort and a gulp. “I, uhm. How do we? If I can’t? Who will uhm, do the things?”
Dean doesn’t actually form sentences, but fortunately, he’s talking to Sam.
“I think Cas and I can probably handle it on our own. Like you've said, at most it's a demon. But there’s a small hunting community in Mumbai if we need help. I have a call in already.”
“Huh.” Dean grunts, hands on hips. “Okay. I guess you've got this all figured out.”
“Look, we’d love to have you there, Dean. According to the pictures, it’s really beautiful, and the weather is amazing. But we understand that with the whole flying thing…”
“Me and Cas, of course.”
“You and Cas.” Dean ponders the words as he says them aloud. So it's already begun. Sam and Castiel. Sastiel. Or was it Samstiel? “Sure. Of course.”
He hates shopping, always has, and Sam is quick to point that out when he insists on tagging along with him and Castiel while they pick up what they need for their pending fake wedding.
“Since I can’t come with you, helping you with this part is the least I can do,” he lies.
“Sure. Whatever,” Sam responds, and that’s how he ends up here, in the menswear section of a stupid department store, watching his brother and his best friend pick out their stupid, make-believe wedding clothes. Dean’s done a lot of unthinkable things over the years, but this is the thing - waiting outside of a dressing room, arms loaded with bags of purchased merchandise - that makes him question his life choices.
“You look great in that Cas,” Sam says when Castiel steps out of the dressing room wearing the tuxedo suit Sam picked out for him to try on.
Dean looks up at him from the chair he is slouched over in and does a double take. “Jesus Christ!”
Castiel looks down at himself, smoothes his hands along the lapels of the jacket. “What’s wrong, Dean?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Sam snorts. “Right, Dean?”
Dean straightens up in the chair, nods. Castiel wears a suit every day, but this, this is something else. “No. I mean yeah. Nothing’s wrong. But don’t you think it’s...too much? I mean, do you really need to play dress up? You’re gonna be on an island.”
“We’re getting married. That’s something that yes, generally requires dressing up.” Sam disagrees with him semi-adamantly. “Besides, Cas looks pretty incredible in that tux.”
He can’t argue with that. Dean’s not sure if it’s the bowtie, the perfect fit, or the glimpse of striped vest barely visible beneath the jacket that causes the strained groan that makes its way past Dean’s pinched lips.
Castiel looks at him, head canted like a curious pup, and Dean knows that he’s trying to figure out what it is that Dean is not saying. He thinks that after all of these years, Cas would be better at it than he actually is.
“Sam, I think I would prefer something less formal,” Castiel says. “Since it will be on the beach, I would like our wedding to be less traditional and more comfortable, if you don’t mind. I feel that we can make do with what we already have.”
“Cas is right,” Dean says quickly, holds up the bags hanging from his arms. “He has plenty of new clothes here. I think he’s set.”
Dean considers it a win. Sam glances over at him in time to catch the tail end of his smirk. “Whatever you want, Cas,” Sam says. “It’s your wedding too.”
Castiel nods, grateful.
“Fake wedding,” Dean reminds them. “And fair warning, Cas. Don’t fall in love with Sam for real,” Dean jokes. “Because then you’re dead meat.”
Sam frowns, crosses his arms. “Was that really necessary, Dean?”
It wasn’t, and Dean feels kind of badly about it. It didn’t come out as funny as it sounded in his head.
“I believe that would be a risk one would find worth taking,” Castiel says decisively. “Your brother has overcome much, and he is one of the finest men I know. Pretend or not, I will be proud to walk down the lane with him and call him my husband.”
Castiel’s defense of Sam makes his stomach knot up; the fact that he does it so staunchly and easily is comforting and unsettling at the same time. “That’s aisle," Dean corrects, more bitterly than necessary. "When you get married, you walk down the aisle."
“Oh,” Castiel says. "I stand corrected."
“Maybe you should work on your wedding lingo if you’re--”
“Close enough.” Sam interrupts Dean, glares at him before turning back to Castiel. “And thank you, Cas. I feel the same way.”
Dean clears his throat, wastes no time rising to his feet. “So I take it we’re done here now? Can we leave this soccer-mom hell hole once and for all?”
Sam shakes his head. “We still have one more purchase to make.”
“What’s that?” Dean asks, brows furrowed.
Sam smiles at Castiel, grabs his left hand and holds it up, points to their fingers.
So I have added this link to a video I've reblogged on my tumblr because...reasons. It's of something that just happened today (7/12/15) at SDCC Supernatural panel. Those of you who are reading/have read this fic will understand my delight.
Misha knows what's up and I am laughing so hard!
Find me on tumblr here!
8/30/16 - So I know it's been almost a year, but back when I completed this fic I spent an inordinate amount of time creating a graphic in an (unsuccessful) attempt to self-promote my story. I never linked it, though, so if you're interested, you can find lovely yet blatant self-promotion graphic here!
Dean’s blood pressure climbs the closer they get to the store located smack dab in the middle of the mall. It isn’t dumb luck that has kept him clear of jewelry stores most of his life. It was the result of deliberate, considered choices, and the not-for-real wedding of his baby brother to his best friend does not, he decides, warrant an exception.
He has no idea why they need to buy rings anyway. Do they really think they will have to take it that far? Do they actually plan to stand face to face on a beach at sunset and exchange bogus wedding vows? The two of them are enjoying this too much for Dean’s liking, and it’s starting to feel like a private party he wasn’t invited to.
His phone rings, an answer to his unsaid prayer. Charlie’s timing is impeccable. Her call is the excuse he needs to get the hell out of Dodge without looking petty. Bless her.
“Dude! I can’t believe I’m going to miss out on this!”
Dean signals to Sam and Castiel that he has to take the call, then loads several bags under one arm and heads toward the mall exit. “How’s your leg?”
“I’m so pissed at my leg right now,” Charlie booms from the other end of the line. “I refuse to speak to it. It’s fine though, thanks for asking. It’s all plastered up, and keeping me from what has to be the sexiest LARPing opportunity ever.”
“It’s not LARPing.”
“You and me preparing to spend the rest of our lives together in wedded bliss? That’s some unbelievably insane Here Comes the Bride role-playing if you ask me. No offense.”
“Anyway, Sam asked me to look into some stuff about the runaway-slash-missing couples, so he sent me the rest of the file on the case. Which included photos of the resort, and oh my god, Dean! The island… it’s like… wow!”
“There are pictures?” Dean has made it outside of the mall, and he stops for a moment on the sidewalk while he scans the crowded lot for Baby. She stands out among the other vehicles, and when he spots her tail end at the end of a long line of imports, he hikes toward it.
“You haven’t checked out the photos?”
It hadn’t even occurred to him. “It’s a hunt, not a vacation,” Dean says, but he recalls how when he convinced Sam that they should take the case, he was, at the time, thinking that it very well may be the closest thing they ever get to a little R and R. He’d figured they could set a trap, find the demon or demons, take care of business, and then hang out and enjoy a little sun, surf, and sand. Maybe they’d even go to Disney World. That was, of course, when they were going to Florida and Dean was an important of the plan.
“I know it’s a hunt, Dean, but it’s a hunt in freaking paradise!” Charlie shrieks. One of the many things Dean loves about Charlie is her inability to hide her enthusiasm. “The resort is absolutely gorgeous. You’re going to love it. It looks like the most romantic place on earth.”
Dean pulls his phone away from his ear and glares at it as if it has personally offended him. “Romantic? Why would I care about that?”
“I meant, uh, exotic and, and, tropical, and, you know, awesome and…” Dean recognizes backpedaling when he hears it. “Dreamy.”
“Not dreamy, dreamy, but like, from a dream dreamy. Or something that makes you dream about--’
“I’m not going.” Dean blurts it out, loud and fast, to save Charlie from further embarrassment. Or himself. One of the two.
“Oh no! But I thought Cas was taking my place and it was still on?”
“He is and it is. Cas and Sam are going to be the couple.”
“Sam and Cas? Oh, that’s sort of… odd?”
“I know. Because Sam’s so tall, right?”
There’s a slight pause before Charlie responds. “Uhm, yeah, sure. We’ll go with that,” she says. “So how do you feel about that? Cas and Sam acting like they’re boyfriends?”
A lot is wrong with this conversation, but it’s the sympathetic tone Charlie’s voice has suddenly taken on that bothers him the most. “What do you mean how do I feel about that? I don’t feel anything about that. Why would you think I have any sort of feelings about that, or anything else?”
There’s another pause, longer than the last one. Charlie clears her throat. “Well, I’ve only met Cas the one time,” she says carefully. “But I’ve read all of the Supernatural books, even the ones only found online, and--”
“Never mind!” He cuts her off again, this time solely for his own benefit. Even though he has lived - and died - through it all, he’s wondered more than once what is in those books that makes high school girls put on musical shows and Charlie use words like “dreamy.” Chuck must have taken some extreme liberties. He wonders about the books, but that’s as far as it goes because he’s not sure that he really wants to know.
Charlie is apparently still talking. “Anyway, I’m sorry, Dean.”
Dean arrives at the Impala, shoves the packages in the back seat, and looks back at the mall where he has left his brother and his best friend alone to pick out and purchase symbols of their endless and undying love.
“It’s not a problem,” he says. “I assure you.”
“Christ, what took you so long?” Dean gripes as Castiel climbs into the back seat and Sam slides into his usual spot.
Once Dean was through talking with Charlie, he’d let Sam know that he would wait for them in the car, then folded his arms behind his head, closed his eyes, and kept his mind busy by going over everything he knew about the missing men and women.
Sam frowns. “We didn’t take that long, Dean. It was fifteen minutes, tops. Do you want to see what we picked out?”
“Nope.” Dean starts the car, shoves a tape into the player. “I want to get a pizza, go home, and drink enough beer to make me forget the last three hours ever happened.”
Sam chuckles. “Pizza sounds good to me.” He twists sideways, turns himself toward the backseat. “Pizza sound good to you, Babe?”
Babe? Dean’s knuckles turn white as he tightens his grip on the steering wheel.
“Yes, Honey,” Castiel deadpans. “That sounds good.”
“So what should we get on it?” Sam asks Castiel, not Dean, then grins and adds “Darling.”
Dean remains silent, his teeth grinding together.
“Whatever you want is fine with me, Sweetheart,” Castiel replies, emphasizing the last word.
“You choose the toppings, Angel,” Sam says.
“Enough!” Dean bellows, louder than he means to, but it has to be said.
Sam finally turns back around. “We’re trying out pet names, seeing what feels natural.”
“Yes,” Castiel adds. “There was another couple in the store looking at rings. I observed their interactions, for our research, and one of the things I noticed was that she called him Muffin and he called her Cookie.”
"One, there wasn’t another couple in the store because you two,” Dean flaps his hand between them, “are not actually a couple. And B, those could have been their real names. You don’t know.”
Sam raises his brows. “Muffin and Cookie? You think those are their real names?”
“It’s possible. Anyway, point is, pet names are for the two people who use them, not everyone else. And since you are not really a couple, it’s a waste of time. We should concentrate on figuring out other things, like what do the two missing couples have in common and what the hell kind of demon are we dealing with.”
“Dean.” Sam closes his eyes for a moment, summoning patience. “Yes, those are questions we are going to need answers to. We’ve been working on it, Charlie’s been working on it. But if we want other people, and demons, or whatever the monster du jour ends up being, to believe that we’ve been together for years, then we have to act like we’ve been together for years.”
Whatever. Dean still doesn’t have to like it. “Well, you can’t call him Angel.” Dean refuses to concede this one point. “That’s just wrong. It’d be like him calling you Human.”
“In fact, Dean is correct.” Castiel speaks up from the back seat. “Perhaps we should not consider that one.”
“Perhaps we should not,” Dean mimics. “And we’re getting pepperoni and bacon on the pizza, capisce?”
Dean was full about five minutes ago, but that doesn’t stop him from shoving bite after bite of pizza into his mouth and washing it down with half a bottle of beer. It’s a good strategy. He can’t say anything if his mouth is always full.
“So you want to say that we met through my brother?” Sam asks Castiel, weeding through the papers on the table.
Castiel glances over at Dean before he answers. “That is how we met, isn’t it? It will be easier, I believe, if we stay as close to the truth as possible.”
Sam hesitates, then nods. “Okay, sure. I guess that makes sense.”
“It does.” Dean offers his unsolicited opinion. “Because Cas is a shit liar.”
“I can prevaricate,“ Castiel defends, as if Dean’s statement was intended as an insult. “I have lied in the past when it was necessary to save the world.” Castiel fumbles with his tie. “Or something equally important.”
He’s not lying now either. Cas has lied, deceived, and betrayed them like a champ, and Dean was blind to it, knocked for a loop by it because he didn’t see it coming. But that was a lifetime ago. A couple of lifetimes, technically.
“Don’t think of it as lying,” Dean advises. “Think of it as LARPing.”
“I’m afraid I am unfamiliar with that term,” Castiel says, puzzled.
“Live action role-play,” Sam explains. “And Dean’s right. That’s exactly what we’ll be doing. But you know what Cas? I think it’s great that it’s hard for you to lie.”
Dean smirks. “Then it’s a good thing I’m not the groom. Can you imagine what might come out of his mouth? He’d be telling everyone how I used to be the righteous man, and that we met when he pulled me out of Hell on orders from Heaven.”
Castiel shakes his head and covers his face with his hand.
“I guess we just found the upside to you staying behind,” Sam says. He pats Castiel on the shoulder, then leaves his hand there. “So when we’re on the island, you can leave the bulk of the lying to me. And I’m going to teach you how to fish.”
That gets Castiel's full attention. “All right.”
No. No. No. Fishing is Dean’s thing, not Sam’s. Dean’s supposed to be the one who teaches Castiel how to fish. At least that’s how he’s always pictured it in his head. Him and Cas, casting their lines off of a dock like the one in his dreams, sitting back and silently sipping beers until one of them gets a bite.
Sam stands up. “I’m beat. I’m going to hit the sack. Goodnight guys. I’ll see you bright and early.”
“Bright and early,” Castiel repeats. “You need to sleep. I’ll clean up here.”
Dean waves his hand once at Sam as he leaves the room. “Let me give you a hand,” Dean says to Cas, then picks up the last piece of pizza from the open box, folds it in half and bites off a chunk. “No leftovers to put away,” he says while he chews.
“Quite thoughtful of you.” Castiel stifles a grin as he begins to clear the table. “Thank you.”
“Anytime you have leftover issues, I’m your man.”
Castiel halts, pizza box in one hand, empty beer bottle in the other. His head tips to one side while he regards Dean. “You’re my man,” he says slowly.
“That’s right, I’m your...” Dean bites his lip, cuts himself off.
“Dean, you are still the righteous man.” Castiel catches Dean’s eyes with his. “Don’t believe otherwise,” he says quietly. “I never will.”
Dean gulps, struck dumb by his friend's sincerity. He nods once, not because he agrees with him, but because he needs to end this conversation immediately.
“I wish you were coming with us,” Castiel mutters as he turns away, and Dean’s not sure if he was supposed to hear that or not.
He doesn’t follow Castiel to the kitchen. Instead, he goes to his room and settles on his bed with his laptop. He opens the updated file Sam sent him on the case, and scrolls through the pictures Charlie told him about earlier. When he finishes, he grabs his phone, types out a message, and hits send before he can change his mind.
Can you get me get on that flight?
Charlie texts him back almost instantly.
Already working on it.
It’s a miracle that he’s here, in more ways than one.
For a while, it looked like Charlie wasn’t going to be able to pull off getting Dean on the same flight to the main island as the rest of the group, but Dean’s faith in her was not misplaced. He didn’t tell Sam and Castiel what he was trying to do, just in case it didn’t work out, but also because a part of him wanted it to be a surprise. By the time Charlie was able to confirm his itinerary, Sam and Castiel were long gone, already in the air and on their way to the first stop in Los Angeles.
He barely made it through the three and half hour flight to the West Coast intact, and the second leg of this journey involves another twenty-six plus hours in the air. At least he won’t be alone, though. He’ll have Castiel and Sam, and once he locates them in this behemoth of an airport, he can take Sam’s place as co-fiance and everything can go back to the way it was supposed to be.
On the way to the gate, he starts a text conversation with Castiel. He finds out where they are waiting out their long layover and heads in that direction, his duffel bag flung over his shoulder.
When he first sees the two men, they're less than thirty feet away from him, seated outside of a corner restaurant at a table that has been pushed together with other tables to make one long one. They're with a small group of people, other brides and grooms, he imagines, and besides Sam and Castiel, Dean recognizes only two of them - the couple that owns the wedding planning business, Richard and Caroline Hawthorne. He slips his bag off of his shoulder and secures it in one hand, sends Castiel another message with his other.
Nice shirt Buddy!
He watches Castiel read from his phone, then look down at the long sleeved t-shirt he is wearing before his head shoots up and his wide eyes scour his surroundings.
Castiel's awe when he spots Dean, every feature of his stoic face beaming, causes the hunter to drop his duffel bag to the ground. Sure, he’s seen his friend smile before, but not like this. Never has he seen Castiel look so… happy. He considers whether it was the possibility of this moment, of that look on Castiel's face, that made him get on a plane and come here, that made him choose to not call ahead. He immediately dismisses the absurd thought.
Castiel jumps up from his seat and taps Sam on the shoulder as he steps past him and toward Dean. Castiel is already halfway there before Sam realizes what is going on and gets up too, follows him.
"Dean," Castiel calls out when he’s almost to him. "What a wonderful surprise! Does this mean you’re joining us?"
"Yep. I realized I couldn't let you guys down. We're a team, the three of us. No man left behind, right?"
Castiel wraps his arms around Dean and it feels nice; like he's wanted, like it makes a difference that he's there.
When Castiel releases him, Sam steps in and hugs him too. "Dean, this is incredible. I'm so glad you changed your mind. How did you manage this?"
"Charlie,” Dean replies. “I called her, and she found a way to get me on the same trip as you guys from here on out."
"That's awesome." Sam looks back at the group they are traveling with. "Come on over. We'll introduce you."
"Yeah, about that.” Dean looks down briefly, shuffles one foot. “I've been thinking, and I’ve decided I'm gonna do it with Cas."
Castiel pushes his brows together, confused, while Sam does a double take. “You’re gonna what?”
Dean rolls his eyes. What about this is so damn hard to understand? Why does Sam have to make his concession more difficult than it already is? “I said, since I’m here, I can be the groom now, like we originally planned.”
“Oh!” Sam nods his head in exaggerated comprehension. “That’s not exactly what you said, though.”
Dean squints. “Huh?”
“You know what? Never mind.” Sam holds up his hand. “But it won’t make sense to switch now.”
“It makes perfect sense, Sam," Dean argues. "Better sense than you and Cas. Just look at us.” Dean moves next to Castiel, stands shoulder to shoulder with him while he waves a flattened palm back and forth over both of their heads. “We’re almost the same height.”
“Right. The height thing.” Sam snickers, then lays his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Look, Dean, I get it. And I know you flew all the way out here to do this, which for you is, well, a pretty huge deal. We're both really glad you're here, but we can’t switch now. Man, I wish you had called. If we had known that you were coming, then we could have handled things differently, but it’s too late now.”
“What do you mean it’s too late?”
It’s then, when Castiel shakes his head and covers his face with both of his hands, that Dean notices for the first time that Castiel is wearing a silver ring on his left hand, and it looks like Sam is wearing his ring as well. “Wait, what did I miss? You’re already wearing the rings?”
Before Sam has a chance to answer Dean, a woman from their table appears behind him.
“Hey guys,” she says to Sam and Castiel, then turns to Dean. “And what do we have here? You must be the handsome brother. Are you part of our group now?”
Dean smiles at her, offers his hand. “Dean Winchester. And you are?”
“Molly Michaels.” She slides her palm into Dean’s hand, but doesn’t shake it.
“Well it’s nice to meet you, Molly,” Dean says.
Molly holds onto Dean’s hand, dips her head to the side. “Likewise.”
Dean clears his throat. “And which one of those gentlemen at the table over there is your lucky groom?”
“None of them.” Molly glances over her shoulder back at the group still seated outside of the restaurant. “I’m here to stand up for my sister, Jenny. Like you’re doing for Sam.”
“Like I’m…?” Dean looks at Sam, questioning.
“My best man,” Sam fills in. “Cas and I have already told everyone how you were the best man, how bummed we were that you couldn’t make it. But this, this is great. We’re so happy that you’re here.” Sam twists his mouth. “That is, if you can still come with us. Can you still come with us, Dean?”
Dean pulls his hand away from the woman in front of him and looks over at Castiel, who is back at Sam’s side. He can't believe he let this happen. The two of them look ridiculous together. Castiel barely clears Sam’s shoulder.
“Oh don’t you dare leave us now.” Molly wags her finger at Dean. “You make us an even ten. It would be a shame to not have even numbers, especially when we’re going somewhere so… romantic.”
Dean frowns. There’s that word again. “Well we aren’t going there for romance, we’re going to get these two guys hitched.“ Dean nods toward Sam and Castiel.
Molly looks bemused before Sam reaches out and smacks Dean on the arm, forces a laugh. “You are such a kidder, Dean.”
“Wait. What’s funny?” Dean asks. Sam continues to laugh while Castiel remains characteristically unaware.
Molly starts to giggle, taps Dean on the chest with her index finger. “That was very funny! You’re a funny guy, Dean Winchester. I like funny guys.”
Dean shrugs. He doesn’t get whatever the joke is, but Molly does and she's pretty and seems to like it. When Molly turns around to Sam, Sam slides his arm around Castiel. “Yes. My brother is a regular comedian,” Sam says.
“You’re the best man,” Castiel says to Dean. “We need you there.”
Dean grins. Even though it’s not going to be exactly how he’d hoped, Castiel and Sam do need him. He’ll just have to keep reminding himself that this is a hunt. A business trip. Nothing else.
“I’ve come this far, I’m not turning back now,” Dean says, and this smiling thing Castiel’s face keeps doing may make the outrageously long plane trek ahead of him bearable.
“That’s great news.” Molly links her arm with Dean’s. “Since you don’t have a companion, you must sit next to me on the plane. That’ll give us plenty of time to get to know one another better before we get there.”
“Awesome,” Dean says with as much false enthusiasm as he can gather, but it falls flat. It’s good enough for Molly, though, and she pecks him on the cheek before she returns to their travel group at the table.
“What’s with the rings?” Dean asks as soon as Molly is out of earshot.
“They’re our engagement rings,” Sam says. “The ones we bought at the mall. Remember?”
“Those were engagement rings?”
“Of course they’re...wait,” Sam grins. “You didn’t think that these were wedding rings, did you? That Cas and I were actually going to get married on the beach at sunset?”
“Pfff,” Dean huffs. “Nope, no way. That'd be stupid. I definitely did not think that.”
What the ever-loving fuck was he thinking?
They aren’t even two hours into this flight, and already Dean’s head is spinning and his stomach is in an uproar. There’s an out and out insurgency happening inside his body, and he can do nothing but hold on tight and ride it out while he prays that he doesn’t get sick all over his seat-mate Molly.
“Are you sure you’re okay? You look a little pale.” This is the fourth or fifth time she’s stopped in the middle of some story that he’s not at all interested in to ask him that question. Dean wishes she’d just shut up entirely.
“I need a drink,” Dean tells her. The flying and incessant jabbering have got to be more tolerable if he’s not sober. He can hope, anyway. He’d been alone on the first flight, but thanks to exhaustion, he managed to sleep through it once he got through take-off and took the right pill. But this one is nearly eight times longer.
“Sure, okay,” Molly obliges, and signals to the flight attendant. “Whiskey?”
Dean nods. He doubts he can do this for another twenty-four hours. He was expecting that Castiel and Sam would be with him, helping him get through this, but instead they are seated together twelve rows behind him, with Molly’s sister, her fiance Doug, and the rest of the group. At least he doesn’t have a window seat.
“Here you go.” Molly hands the tumbler of liquor to Dean. His belly makes a loud noise, as if in protest, but he closes his eyes and brings the glass to his lips, while he tips his head back.
“That is not a good idea, Dean.” The whiskey is plucked from his hand, only a drop of it splashing out and finding its way down his throat.
It’s Castiel. Dean opens his eyes and sees him, concerned blue eyes boring down at him from the center aisle.
“Hey, Cas. I need that.” Dean reaches after it, but Castiel sets it onto the cart of another passing steward.
“No, that’s not going to help.” Castiel crouches down so he is face to face with Dean, then looks over at Molly. “Would you mind terribly if we switched seats? Dean has some issues with airplane travel, and he needs my assistance.”
“Uh, well, if it’s handholding he needs, I’m good at that.” Molly slides her hand under Dean’s, the one that had been clenching the divider between them. “You can tell me what to do, and I’ll take care of him."
“No!” Dean’s objection is a little harsh, but he’d probably do or say anything right now to not have to hear her voice for the rest of the flight. “I mean, Cas is the one, the only one who can…” Dean stops. What was he going to say?
“Who can what?” she asks.
“Who can hypnotize him,” Castiel clarifies for her. “I’ve had to do it before for this purpose. Sam understands, and if you sit back there, you can spend some time with your sister.”
“I guess so.” Molly reluctantly concedes, then vacates her seat and allows Castiel to take her place.
“Hey, Cas.” Dean grins at his friend, now seated beside him. “How did you know I needed help?”
“I heard your prayer.”
Oh right. Sometimes he forgets that Castiel is an angel. “You lied for me.”
"I did.” Castiel smiles back. “But only a little. I am the only one on this plane who can hypnotize you.”
“Can you hypnotize me into forgetting that we are thousands of feet up in the air in what amounts to a metal pipe with wings?”
Castiel shakes his head. “I will not engage in any sort of mind control, Dean. Now lay your head back on the cushion.”
“I need that drink first,” Dean whines.
“Alcohol will only make it worse. Close your eyes and think about something that makes you happy.”
Dean closes his eyes, tries to think about the Impala. Apple pie. Dr. Sexy M.D, but it’s not working. “I can’t,” he tells Castiel.
“You can. Try again.”
He closes his eyes once more, takes his mind in a different direction. This time he envisions the dock on the lake, the chair, and the fishing pole.
“Now control your breathing. Count to yourself each time - in and out. I’ll breathe with you if you’d like.” Castiel’s voice is deep and smooth, like a John Paul Jones bass guitar riff. Dean begins to feel the tension in his muscles ease.
“I’m not giving birth,” Dean jokes, but he does as he is told, and suddenly Castiel is there with him on the dock in his head, sitting cross-legged in a chair next to his, his own fishing pole in hand.
“Still queasy?” Castiel asks.
“A little,” Dean replies. Castiel leans over him, gently touches two fingers to his midsection, and the nausea is gone, his belly quiet and calm.
“Thanks, buddy.” Dean looks over at his friend after several minutes. “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
“Shh. Sleep for a while.” Castiel whispers. “We’ll go over the case later to keep your mind occupied, but for now, no talking.”
“No talking,” Dean echoes, then rolls his head back to the center of the cushion and finds his way back to the fishing dock, with Cas, and whatever it is about this image that seems to make him happy.
“We really do appreciate your help,” Caroline Hawthorne tells them. “And we’re delighted that you could join us as well, Dean. I’m so sorry we had to cancel the Florida trip, but we’ve had so many last minute cancellations due to the… recent events.”
Dean is relieved when he, Castiel, and Sam are offered a boat ride to the island they are staying on along with the business owners, Caroline and Richard. The remainder of the group take the seaplane. Dean is eternally grateful; he’s already logged a lifetime’s worth of in-air travel miles, and even a short stint in a bumpy seaplane could be enough to put him over the edge.
“We understand,” Sam says. “We’re happy to help.”
“We nearly cancelled this one as well, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. We’d rather take the financial loss than disappoint those three remaining couples. They want to to start their new lives together here, in heaven on earth. Who are we to refuse them?”
Caroline loves the family business and enjoys her work, Dean notes. He stands by the boat railing and looks out over seemingly endless, smooth, turquoise water. “Well, I wouldn’t miss this for anything. This case, I mean.”
“On the plus side, due to all of those cancellations, we were able to get you a room of your own, Dean,” she says.
“A private room? Awesome.” Dean joins them on the bench seating by sliding in next to Caroline and Richard and across from Castiel and Sam. Castiel pulls a pair of sunglasses from his shirt pocket and slips them over the bridge of his nose and Jesus Christ, when the hell did he get those? They’re wire-framed, aviator style, probably some cheap pair from the airport drugstore, but they instantly transform Castiel from nerdy little dude into something else completely, something that Dean would refuse to name even if he could.
“Yes,” Richard says. “Other than the main house where the employees stay, the resort is comprised entirely of individual, one-room villas.”
“Wait.” Dean mentally shakes out his Castiel-in-sunglasses thoughts and rejoins the conversation. “Did you say each person gets their own villa?”
Caroline grins, takes Richard’s hand. “Not quite. Every couple does. We’re not traditionalists here. Unless they request otherwise, the couples generally share a villa. So I put Sam and Castiel in one villa, and you in another.” She turns to Sam and Castiel. “I hope that’s all right.”
“No” Dean responds, at the same time that Sam says “yes.” Sam looks at him sideways.
“You shouldn’t be staying with the groom-to-be right before the wedding,” Dean says.
“And pray tell, why not?” Sam challenges.
“Yes. Why not?”
“It’s, it’s, it’s bad luck, isn’t it?” Dean sputters. "Like how you're not supposed to see the bride before the wedding? I'm pretty sure that's a rule."
“No.” Sam shakes his head. “Seeing the wedding dress before the wedding is bad luck, not seeing the bride. We don’t have any issues either way because no dress, and no bride.”
“Dean is actually correct as far as the origin of the superstition goes,” Castiel pipes in. “It originates from the days when arranged marriages were not only common, but standard. The groom was not allowed to see the bride until the moments before the vows, lest he change his mind. That eventually evolved into the modern tradition of the bride and groom not seeing one another dressed in their wedding attire until the ceremony.”
Dean is impressed. Castiel must have read up on weddings after the “down the lane” blunder.
“That’s interesting, Cas,” Sam says. “But we still don’t have a bride.”
“Metaphorically, one of us is the bride and the other the groom, as the words are merely gender-based terms used to describe two individuals who have chosen to enter into a lifetime bond with one another. As far as tradition, or even superstition is concerned, the labels are meaningless.”
Although he’s not exactly sure, it sounds like Castiel agrees with him, so Dean jumps on it. “What Cas said. And we don’t need any bad luck on top of what we’re already dealing with, so I think you should be otherwise requesting.”
“Luck? Since when do you worry about luck?”
“I’m just saying,” Dean says. “Having my own room is nice. I like having a place to entertain guests, if you know what I mean. But for the sake of the case, I’d be willing to bunk with Cas. You know, since you’re so--”
“Since I’m so what?” Sam interrupts, brows lifted. “Tall? Were you really going to say because I’m so tall?”
He was, but he’ll never admit that now. Hearing Sam say it out loud, it almost sounds silly.
“I will take the single." Castiel saves him. Again. “The best man and his brother should share a room, and I’ll stay by myself in the other. If we were truly a couple attempting to maintain some modicum of tradition, Sam, that’s what would be expected.”
“Is that what you want, Cas?” Sam asks.
Castiel nods. “Since I don’t sleep, it only makes sense. This way I won’t disturb either of you while I continue to work.”
“What do you mean you don’t sleep?” Caroline asks. “That’s not humanly possible.”
Sam interjects while Castiel nods. “He means he has insomnia, and doesn’t sleep much,” Sam clarifies with a lie, then pats Castiel on the back. “That makes sense, Cas. I’ll share with Dean.”
Dean can live with that. Once the accommodations are settled, the conversation shifts to the case.
“So the two missing couples. We couldn’t find any connections of the usual kinds,” Sam informs. “Not on paper anyway. Were there any similarities that you noticed from your dealings with each couple?”
Caroline and Richard look at each other before Caroline answers. “They seemed to argue,” she says. “We both felt that perhaps, in each case, they weren’t quite as… committed, I suppose would be the word, as the other couples.”
“And they fought?” Dean asks. “Publicly?”
“Yes.” Richard answers when Caroline hesitates. “In front of everyone. It was awkward at some points, particularly with Trish and Dave.”
“What happened with Trish and Dave?”
Caroline clears her throat. “Trish had confided in two of the other brides on the trip. She told them she had second thoughts about marrying Dave. That she loved him, but was not sure that she was in love with him. The ladies were very supportive of her. They advised her that whatever decision she made would be the right one.”
Castiel has been listening with rapt attention. “And did she call if off?”
Caroline shakes her head. “No. The next day at breakfast she told them that she had had too much to drink and it had just been a case of pre-wedding jitters. Later that night was the last time they were seen.”
The recollection upsets the woman, and Richard wraps his arm around her while she turns her face into his shoulder.
“If it is a de--” Sam stops himself from using the actual word. Dean and Sam discovered long ago that when working with people who are unaccustomed to the supernatural, the outright fear caused by premature use of that word was unnecessary, and more often than not, hindered the investigation. If they confirm a demon as the culprit in this case - that is, should said demon decide to travel across the globe and land smack dab on the equator along with them - they will explain everything to the Hawthornes. Until then, there are less threatening ways to communicate. “Whatever it is that is responsible, we’ll get to the bottom of it, Caroline. We promise.”
He thought he would go directly to bed once they got there, but all Dean wants to do is take off his shoes and dig his feet into the clean, white sand.
“Now that you each have your key, you’ll find the schedule of group and individual activities on your bedside table in your water villas,” Richard announces to the group who he has gathered on the beach pavilion. “How and what you participate in is entirely up to you, but we do encourage you to join in as much as you can. We have found that on these wedding excursions, the more you allow yourself to open up and enjoy one another as well as the amenities, the richer your experience will be.”
Dean watches Castiel and Sam nod along with the others.
“But that is all for tomorrow,” Richard continues. “It’s been a long trip, so tonight we ask you each to relax. Order room service. Enjoy the bar in the main dining area. Take a walk on the beach and dip your toes into the water, whatever helps you to unwind. You can leave your carry on bags here and the attendants will get them to your rooms with your other luggage. But please, do get plenty of sleep, and we hope to see you all bright and early tomorrow morning, right here under this gazebo, for sunrise yoga.”
“Sunrise yoga?” Castiel asks, interested.
“Yes, and I highly recommend it. You watch the sun rise over the ocean while performing yoga and meditation.” Richard indicates that he is done by stepping back and thanking everyone. The group begins to disperse.
“So, handsome, why don’t we go get that drink your future brother-in-law stole from you on the plane.” It’s Molly, sidling up to Dean a little too closely.
“Uhm, I don’t think I can… we have some things we have to....” Dean picks up his duffel bag and looks around for Castiel and Sam so they can head to their rooms and get settled. He sees them on the other side of the pavilion, engaged in conversation with Jenny and Doug. He raises his hand, tries to get their attention, but they don’t seem to see him. He is about to excuse himself from Molly and go grab them when they turn around and leave the pavilion with the other couple, Sam’s arm on the small of Castiel’s back, urging him forward.
“Looks like the intendeds already have plans,” Molly says.
“Yeah.” Dean drops his bag. He feels left out, slighted. If that’s how it is, this is going to be a long two weeks. “You know what Molly? What the hell. Let’s go check out the bar.”
Castiel wants him, is looking for him, is calling out his name. Dean can hear him, and he tries to respond, to tell him where he is, but he can’t because he’s asleep and this is just a dream.
His head hurts. He recognizes the pain, although it’s been a while since he drank himself stupid like this. He pries his dry eyes open. They scratch and burn, and he wonders for a moment if he is face down in the sand, but once his vision clears, he sees that he is in a room, on a comfortable, king-sized mattress, and he is not alone. The sun is not yet up, but he can make out a figure, someone standing just inside of the open, sliding glass doors.
“Sam?” Dean croaks. He vaguely remembers that he is sharing a room with his brother, although he has no idea if that's where he is now or how he got here.
“Guess again, hotshot,” the figure says.
“Fuck,” Dean moans and rolls over, focuses on recovering his memory so he knows why Molly is in this room with him. He pulls himself up, is relieved that he is fully dressed, and Molly is as well. He glances at his wristwatch. It’s five-forty-five in the morning.
“Nothing happened,” Molly offers, no doubt in response to his puzzled face. “Unfortunately. You got very drunk, very quickly. I brought you back here, to your room. You dropped onto the bed and passed out immediately. I was worried you’d get sick, drown in your own vomit, so I slept on the couch.”
“Thank you, I guess,” Dean says, wipes his hand over his face. “Where’s my brother?”
Molly shrugs. “Probably with his fiance, don’t you think? Although he did come by here a few minutes ago, and he was alone.”
“No, the fiance, Cas. I heard him outside, calling your name, so I got up and told him you were still in bed.”
“You told him what?” Dean throws his legs over the side of the bed and tries to stand, but fails.
“He said something about hoping you could go to yoga, so I told him that we had a late night and you were still in bed.”
“Jesus,” Dean squeezes his forehead, tries to pinch the pain away, but it doesn’t work.
“He seemed kind of sad about it, actually,” Molly adds. “Does he have a little crush on you? Because if he does, I totally get it.”
“Not a chance.” Dean shakes his head. “He’s engaged to Sam. He’s marrying my brother, the tall one. Remember?”
“Oh, I remember,” she says, and Dean’s not sure what to make of her tone as she gathers up her purse and shoes. “I’m gonna go now. I’m sure I’ll see you later.”
He’s still drunk, and he smells lousy, like sweat and booze, but he has to get to sunrise yoga.
It’s mind over matter that forces his body to move. He can barely see, between the lack of light and the slits of his mostly-closed eyes. The pounding in his head worsens when he stands, but it doesn’t matter because he has to go.
And where the hell is Sam, anyway?
Barefoot and still wearing yesterday’s clothes, he stumbles out of the sliding glass doors where he saw Molly disappear. He doesn’t know where he is or where he’s going, but the island is small, everything is within walking distance, and he was there once before. How hard could it be?
He finds his way to some stairs, holds onto the railing, and with a sudden drive he descends quickly, bounding down two at a time. He’s eager to get to Castiel so he can explain about Molly, to find out where his brother is, to feel the sand under his feet.
But when he takes the last step, it isn’t sand waiting for him. His loses all control of his dehydrated body when it plunges into water. He swallows a mouthful of saltwater and panics. He flails his arms and kicks his feet out in every direction until they find purchase on the soft lagoon floor. He pushes himself up to a standing position in the chest-deep water.
“Son of a bitch!” He growls, not out of anger but surprise. The water temperature is comfortable and soothing, like a cool bath. He lets himself take it in it for several moments before he wades back to the steps and climbs out.
Dean makes it to sunrise yoga well after the sunrise and at the tail end of the yoga. By the time he showered and dressed in yoga-friendly sweatpants and a t-shirt, it was sunny and bright outside.
His villa is one in a series of tiny thatch-roofed bungalows built on stilts over the shallow lagoon water. Each structure is connected by a series of boardwalks that lead to the sandy beach of the island. The view from every area of his room is like nothing he has ever seen before, even in the few photos he had forced himself to look at before the trip.
In the daylight, he easily locates the yoga pavilion, and Castiel, who is in the back row, curled into a crouched position like the rest of the class. Dean's entrance is less than subtle. It’s heavy-footed and loud, disturbs the entire class of ten, but the only one to look up is Castiel.
“Hey!” Dean whispers it, but Castiel does not respond. “I’ve gotta talk to you.”
Castiel shakes his head.
“Dean?” Sam says from the first of three rows, directly in front of a petit woman who is facing the class and Dean assumes is the teacher. She is very attractive, with dark skin and darker hair that is pulled back into a long ponytail. One look at her and Dean figures out why Sam is up there and not back here, with his fake fiance. It bothers him that his brother would treat Castiel that way.
“Would you care to join us in child’s pose?” The instructor asks, pointing to a pyramid of rolled up yoga mats. “We are nearing the end of this morning’s session, but you may find even a few minutes helpful.”
“Uh, sure. I’ll just stay here. With Cas.” Dean says the last part loudly, so Sam can hear, then he grabs a mat and lays it out beside his friend. He copies Castiel’s position by bowing over his folded knees, extending his arms out in front of him. He doesn’t think he’s ever been in this position before, at least not on purpose, but the pull in his back, thighs, and shoulders feels unexpectedly good.
“While you stretch gently in Balasana, close your eyes and breathe, all the way in, up and into your body, through your belly and into your back,” the instructor directs.
He turns his head to the side to look at Castiel but Castiel’s eyes are closed, so Dean does the same. They hold the posture for a few more minutes, until the teacher’s calming and controlled voice tells them that the final pose is Savansara, also known as corpse pose.
“This one’s my favorite,” Dean says too loudly. He lies flat on his back, arms splayed loosely to his side, palms up. He vaguely hears the instructor telling them to breathe, but he pays no attention because he already knows what to do. Years ago, when he lived with Lisa and Ben, Lisa convinced him to try this one. Under her guidance, he’d relaxed. Tension eased from his bones while his mind sorted through chaos and turmoil, uncovering the remnants of something buried so deep that Dean had forgotten it was ever there. But that was when he’d believed that his brother was trapped in a cage in hell, and even though he was doing exactly what Sam had asked him to, happiness felt like betrayal. He never did any yoga exercises again.
But everything's different now. Sam is safe. Castiel is here because he wants to be, and they’ve all been through so much since then. As he lies motionless on the ground, he thinks for the first time that maybe he can have this. One little yoga pose. A few minutes of inexplicable calm. Maybe he can have more than this.
He rolls his head to the side and opens his eyes. “Hey, Cas,” he doesn’t quite whisper, and he is shushed by two women in front of him. “Cas, I was alone last night.”
He pauses briefly for Castiel’s reaction, but there is none, so he goes on. “I wasn’t technically alone, not all night, but I was alone in bed. Where I passed out. By myself. Fully clothed.”
“Dude, stop talking,” someone else from the second row says.
Dean decides to try a different tact. “I mean, it’s not like she stayed in my room or anything. I think she came over early this morning, while I was sleeping. She told me you came by to get me, so I got here as soon as I could, to, you know, update you.”
It works. Castiel finally opens his eyes. “Is that true?”
It’s not, of course, according to Molly. But it could be, as far as Dean’s own lack of memory goes, and that's good enough for him.
“Yeah, man,” Dean lies. “Like I said, I was asleep.”
"All right.” Castiel says it with the familiar stoic countenance that normally drives Dean crazy, but not this time. Even though Castiel remains still, Dean's sure he catches the edge of a smile on his lips. It's not much, but it’s something, and Dean will take it.
After class, Sam tells them to eat without him, and he saunters off toward the beach along with the yoga teacher.
Dean and Castiel go to breakfast, which Sam is going to be really sorry he missed because of the fruit selection alone. He tells Castiel the story of falling off the steps and into the water, and it makes him laugh - a lot. It’s loud, and animated. His whole face screws up, like it did when Dean surprised them at the airport. He rocks back and forth, shakes his head and covers his mouth in surprise when the occasional snort comes out. It’s new, different, and Dean can’t take his eyes off of him.
“I guess it’s fortunate that your villa does not have a pool,” Castiel says as he winds down. “It’s not very deep and you might have hurt yourself.”
“Yes. My room is on the end of the pier, and it has a small pool on the deck.”
“You’re kidding me. An entire pool just for you?”
“So it would seem.” Castiel looks down at his plate. “Why don’t we take the rest of our food back so you can see it?”
Dean likes that idea more than he should. “Yeah. Why don’t we.”
“And then we can work on the case.”
Oh, right. There’s a case. That’s why they’re here. That had almost entirely slipped his mind.
Castiel’s laugh is like a drug and Dean’s hooked, can’t seem to get enough. Once one subsides, Dean's jonesing for another, and he finds himself saying things, doing things to coax one more snort from his friend.
“So the rabbit's foot was safely destroyed and we both learned what happens when you mess with sealed curse boxes.” Dean and Castiel both sit along the edge of the worn wood deck, facing the ocean, feet dipping into the cool water of the mini-pool. “And we had to buy Sam new shoes.”
“Even though you lost your lottery winnings, you still must have come out ahead with the gold watch Sam found,” Castiel says.
“Barely,” Dean nods. “And on the upside, I got to be Batman for five minutes.”
“Batman,” Castiel muses. “Is that your superhero of choice?”
“Cutting right through the crap and getting to the important questions. I’m impressed, Cas.”
Castiel grins, shakes his head.
“When Sam and I played around as kids, I’d go back and forth between Superman and Batman. But yeah, I've always related more to Batman.”
“Well he’s a normal human, first of all, which might seem like a disadvantage, but actually, it's the opposite. It gives him insight most of the others don’t have, and he fits in, isn’t seen unless he wants to be seen.”
“And I guess, I kind of understand his motivation.” Dean shrugs. “Bad guys killed his folks, so now he kills bad guys.”
Castiel lays his hand on Dean’s shoulder. “It’s honest, and pure.”
“Yeah.” Dean starts to feel uncomfortable. The last thing he wants to discuss right now is his mom burning on the ceiling of baby Sam's bedroom. He kicks his feet out and splashes Castiel. “Anyway, there can only be one Superman, and you’re the Superman on this team. The man not from this planet who has otherworldly powers.”
“Perhaps,” Castiel says. “Although I can no longer fly, and my powers are severely compromised, I do have my kryptonite, so to speak.”
“You mean the angel blade?”
Castiel doesn’t answer him. Instead he pulls his feet out of the water and folds them in front of him. “We should work on the case now,” he says. “Sam and I have a couples thing later on.”
Dean rolls his eyes. “Speaking of Sam, where the hell is he? And where was he last night?”
“He’s looking for our Sri-Lankan contact, a hunter named Dev,” Castiel explains. “He hasn’t spoken to him other than over the computer, and he doesn’t know what he looks like, but he received a text from him last night stating that he was on the island and would see him today.”
“Would’ve been nice to be in that loop.”
“You were. Sam texted you the information, but you never responded.”
Oh. Dean feels around for his phone, remembers that he left it on the night stand by the bed.
“We spent the evening with Molly’s sister Jenny and her fiance Doug," Castiel says. "They’re nice people, don’t appear to have anything in common with our missing couples, so I believe they are out of danger. ”
“Okay. So why did Sam have to stay here?”
“He went to your room, then he came back and asked if he could stay here.”
Dean squeezes his mouth shut, thinks about what he wants to say next. If Sam saw Molly at the villa, clearly he didn’t tell Castiel. “Did he say why he came back?”
“No. But I assume, now, that he didn’t want to disturb you. You had a very long trip.”
“I wouldn’t have made it without your help,” Dean admits to Castiel.
Castiel blinks a few times, then nods. “You are always so modest. But what you did, Dean, coming all this way on the plane, it was very…” Castiel considers for a moment, then completes his thought. “Brave.”
Brave. Castiel thinks he’s brave, and the irony of it makes him want to stick his head in the sand.
“Look, Cas, I have to tell you something,” Dean begins. “About last night.”
“Hey guys, look who I found!” Sam’s voice booms from behind them. Both men turn around and see that Sam is not alone. He's brought this morning’s yoga instructor with him.
“Hello gentlemen. It’s nice to see you both again.” Her eyes are dark but bright and her teeth are shiny white and Dean can tell already by the way that Sam looks at her that he is smitten. “I’ve brought you all some presents.”
“What kind of presents?” Dean wants to know. He hates surprises.
So Dev is not only a woman, she's a yoga instructor - slash - hunter. And Dev didn’t just bring weapons, she brought a fully loaded trunk of supplies that will enable them to deal with nearly all of the anticipated supernatural evils. Besides firearms and an array of knives, she also brought stakes, rock salt, iron, holy water, oils, paint, and various other sundries generally called upon while hunting.
Sam had brought along the demon knife in his checked luggage, and Castiel already had his blade with him as well. He’d been able to use some angel mumbo jumbo to blur the scans and get past TSA and customs. But now, with a full arsenal at their disposal, Dean feels more at home and ready to kick some demon ass.
“So Caroline thinks it’s a ghost, specifically, the ghost of Richard’s Aunt Bess, the one who worked for years at the business by her brother Harold’s side and everyone expected would inherit the business upon his death.” Sam commences the discussion once the four of them settle at the table in Dev’s assigned room in the main house on the beach.
“Everyone, including Aunt Bess, apparently,” Dev adds. “Even Richard was shocked to have been named sole owner in the will. He’d never shown any interest in it, and didn’t even get along with his uncle.”
“But it’s a demon,” Dean says. “That’s the only explanation for the sulfur.”
“Perhaps it’s both,” Castiel suggests.
“A demon and a ghost working together? Like in some post-mortem crossroads deal?” Dean shakes his head. “Doesn’t make sense.”
Sam shuffles the pages of handwritten notes on the table in front of him. “Yet Caroline insists she saw Aunt Bess, who died about a year ago. What’s interesting, though, is that after Harold’s death, Aunt Bess never stepped foot in the business again.”
“Bad blood? Bitterness?” Dev asks. “Because that does sound extremely ghostly.”
“None of that,” Sam says. “It was a condition of Harold’s will. He left his sister Bess everything else he had, which was a ton of money, and a few houses and cars. The business had been very profitable in the decade before his death, and his investments were uncommonly successful. Seemed to have a magic touch when it came to finances.”
“Huh. So Uncle Harold made himself a demon deal,” Dean concludes. “But he died over five years ago. If he’s the demon, why would he want to harm the business he sold his soul for?”
“Regret?” Castiel suggests.
“Then why now?” Dev questions. “And if it’s regret, which means this demon has a conscience, then why harm innocents?”
They’re stuck. It makes sense, from what they know, that Uncle Harold was the recipient of a crossroads deal, but there is much more to piece together before they know for sure.
“Back to the couples.” Sam flips his laptop open, turns to Dean with one of his judgmental looks. “While you were, uhm, busy last night, Cas and I hung out for a while with Jenny and Doug.”
“I wasn’t busy,” Dean defends. “I was sleeping.”
Sam frowns, shakes his head a little before he continues. “Anyway, they’re nice people, and they seem to be in love, totally committed to one another.”
“So it’s not likely they’re the next targets, since both sets of missing couples were experiencing some pre-marital discord.” Cas fills Dev in. “Tonight we will spend time with Laura and Jim and Heather and Brad. If neither of the two remaining couples have any conflicts within their relationships, then the demon, ghost, or whatever we are hunting, will likely not make an appearance.”
“Laura’s pregnant,” Dev tells them. “I met her last night when she came back to the main house for a late night snack. She’s delighted about it, and from what I could tell, very excited to be getting married.”
Sam sighs. “Then that leaves Heather and Brad.”
“Well let’s hope everyone is peachy keen,” Dean smirks. “Because if that’s the case, then all we’ll have to deal with in this tropical wonderland will be surf, sand, and sun. I’m good with that.”
“When was the last time we were that lucky?” Sam asks his brother.
Dean’s face falls. “Never.”
Dean is not supposed to go to the “Sweet and Greet” with Sam and Castiel, since it's for the couples only, but he insists. After choosing dessert from a nearby table of pastries, cakes, and fruits, they all gather in a circle on the beach to eat and share.
Dean grabs a couple sugar-coated things that look like donuts and tries to squeeze between Sam and Castiel, but Sam won’t allow it. He has no choice but to sit across from them and next to Jenny and Doug. Caroline has each couple re-introduce themselves and tell the others how they met. Richard and Caroline get things rolling with the story of their online romance. Laura was Jim's boss at the insurance company they both work for. Heather met Brad when he sideswiped her car, and Jenny and Doug were introduced to one another by Jenny’s sister Molly.
“Sam and I also met through Sam's brother, Dean,” Castiel offers. Both Dean and Sam watch Castiel, cautiously concerned about what he might say next.
“There’s another thing you and my beautiful single sister have in common.” Jenny jabs Dean a few times with her elbow. “I heard you two had a good time last night.”
“What do you mean?” It comes out almost automatically, and Dean has a feeling, as soon as he says it, that he should have kept his mouth shut.
“I don’t mean anything at all,” Jenny teases. “Molly mentioned that she enjoyed your company at the bar, that’s all.”
“Oh,” Dean gulps.
“And that you wake up just as sweetly as you fall to sleep.”
Shit. Castiel’s head shoots up at Jenny's last remark.
“I think Dean and Molly look cute together,” Heather says casually, between bites of a chocolate cupcake, and it’s all Dean can do not to tell her to shut her goddamned cakehole.
He vigorously shakes his head instead. “Nah. She’s, uhm, way out of my league."
“You should call her,” Laura tells Jenny. “Have her come join us. Then we’ll all be couples and Dean won’t have to be odd man out.”
“I don’t mind being odd,” Dean says. "I mean, you guys are all couples. Me and Molly, we'd just be two people who happen to be in the same spot, on the same island, at the same time, not being a couple."
"Alright then, potential couple,” Laura amends. “Which is even more exciting, don't you think? God, your babies would be adorable!"
Babies? Dean shakes his head again. This conversation has gotten way out of hand. Why do women in relationships always try to force everyone else into relationships?
Castiel narrows his eyes. “Why not, Dean?”
“You know why not,” Dean says to Castiel. “Because I’m not interested in her.”
“No need to sugar coat it,” Jenny mumbles, offended on her sister's behalf.
Castiel crosses his arms. “She’s attractive, available, and more than willing. She fits the parameters of your usual liaisons.”
“I guess you haven’t noticed then, Cas, since you’ve been so busy with your boyfriend lately, but it’s been a long time since I’ve liaisoned with anyone.”
“Why is that?” Castiel demands.
“Why? I don’t, I don’t…” Dean stumbles, searches for an answer. “I’ve been busy. We’ve all been busy.”
“Never stopped you before.”
Dean gets up on his knees and scoots closer to Castiel. “Yeah, well maybe things are different now. Maybe my parameters have changed, did you ever consider that?”
Sam clears his throat. “Uh, guys?”
Castiel leans in and crawls forward across the sand, meets Dean in the middle. “We’d have to be in the same room for more than thirty minutes before I could consider anything.”
Dean forgets where he is and that anyone else is there other than Castiel. “If you didn’t run off every time Heaven called, then maybe you would be.”
“Heaven?” Heather asks no one in particular. “Did he say Heaven?”
“Must be some sort of code word,” Laura tells her, and Heather nods in agreement.
“And I thought your family was dysfunctional,” Brad says to his soon-to-be wife. “Honey, I promise I will never complain again.”
“Guys!” Sam stands and wedges himself between them, pushes each one back by the shoulder and raises his voice. “You two, stop it! Right now!”
A sudden, unnatural silence follows Sam’s outburst. No one speaks a word for what seems like a very long time, until Caroline lets loose a bloodcurdling scream and points toward the hotel.
“It’s her,” she pants, clearly terrified. “It’s Aunt Bess!”
Dean is close behind Sam and Castiel as all three men race to the main pool, the direction Caroline indicated she saw the ghost, but nothing looks or feels out of the ordinary. Dev comes out of the hotel building and sprints toward them, a backpack flung over one shoulder.
“I heard the scream.” Dev drops the backpack to the ground and bends down on one knee over it. “I’ve got salt, iron, and holy water. What do we need, Sam?”
“None of it.” Sam looks back and forth between the beach and the house. “I don’t know what she saw, but there’s nothing here.”
“Not even a coldspot,” Dean adds.
Dev unzips the front pocket of her pack and retrieves an EMF meter. She holds it out in front of her with one hand as she pushes upright. “Something was here,” she reports, revolving slowly.
The device beeps. It’s much smaller than the one Dean made himself from an old Walkman, and he makes a mental note to see that it accidentally ends up in his luggage when they head home.
“But not anymore.” She slips the handheld meter into her pocket, nods toward Caroline and Richard, who are fast approaching. “You guys take Caroline and Richard?”
Dean nods. “Why don’t you go chat with the Significants and their Others. See what, if anything, they heard or saw.”
“Shall we meet back up in twenty minutes?” Dev suggests, and they all agree before Dev snatches her backpack and jogs over to the rest of the group from the Sweet and Greet.
Caroline is out of breath when she reaches them with Richard in tow. She glances all around, still trembling, then shakes her head in disbelief. Richard guides her to a nearby lounge chair and they both sit. “I swear I saw her,” she says. “She was right where you are standing now, Dean.”
Dean jumps aside instinctually. “How did she look?”
Caroline shrugs. “Like Aunt Bess.”
“He means, did she appear to be in any way threatening? Or angry?” Sam says.
“Not really.” She seems to visibly relax while she recalls Aunt Bess’s appearance. “It almost looked like she was smiling, actually. She was gesturing to me with two fingers, like she used to do on those rare occasions when we saw one another after Richard and I took over the business.”
“It meant she wanted to tell you something,” Richard explains. “She’s done that ever since I can remember.”
“I believe she did the same thing last time, also. What does she want? Richard, what could she possibly want from us?”
Richard wraps his arms around his wife to comfort her.
“Did you talk to her last time?” Dean asks.
“No, I didn’t. I was too afraid. I just screamed, and then Richard came, and she was gone. Should I have?”
Dean shrugs. “Well, generally, it’s the easiest way to find out what they want.”
Caroline is perturbed by Dean’s flippancy, and Castiel steps in. “What Dean is trying to say is, that we do understand that this is quite frightening for you, but do you think it would be possible if next time, as long as one of us is with you and the spirit appears non-malevolent, you try to engage her?”
“You mean just speak to her? Like I would if she was alive?”
“Yes,” Castiel says. “You can ask her why she hasn’t moved on to her heaven, perhaps find out what it is that is keeping her soul bound to the earthly plane.”
“If that’s the highway she’s on,” Dean huffs. “Or you can just ask her why the hell she’s haunting you.”
Castiel scowls at him briefly, then returns his focus to Caroline. “You can offer her our help, if that’s what she needs to move on peacefully.”
Caroline takes a deep breath and nods. “Yes, all right. I’ll do it. Next time I see her.”
“Only if one of us is around,” Sam reminds her.
“She won’t hurt her,” Richard says. “Aunt Bess would never hurt Caroline.”
“You can’t let your guard down,” Sam warns.
The shake of Dean’s head while Sam speaks is subtle, barely perceptible, but Castiel catches it, and nods once in agreement. It’s a demon. Dean knows it is, he can feel it. But Aunt Bess may very well know something, and Caroline may be the only one she’s willing to talk to.
“Aunt Bess ain’t the one eighty-sixing your clients.” Dean says it firmly, without any doubt, and Sam glares at him but says nothing, unwilling to argue about the case in front of the people who are relying on their united assistance.
“Dean may be right,” Sam appeases, and Dean grins smugly. “But there is still a very real possibility that Aunt Bess is involved the the disappearances.”
“It’s hard to believe that any of this is very real,” Richard grumbles.
The response is immediate, and comes from both Sam and Dean at the same time.
“Are you awake? I don’t know how the time thing works between here and there.” Dean walks as he talks into the phone pressed against his ear. He’s stepped away from the others in order to make a quick call to his friend.
“I’m nine hours behind you,” Charlie tells him. “I’m awake, I’m bored, and this cast is itchier than a mofo. I’d rather wear burlap jeggings.”
“What are jeggings?”
“Believe me, it’s better that you don’t know. Talk to me, give me something to keep me from thinking about the hair growth happening under this plaster prison. By the time they cut it off, I’ll look like a Yeti.’
Dean chuckles. No matter the circumstance, Charlie always manages to make him smile.
“So, Dean, tell me what I’m missing. The island - on a scale of paradise to nirvana, how magnificent is it?”
“I don’t know. I guess it’s nice.”
“Nice? Wow. Try not to oversell it.”
Dean can’t see Charlie’s eyes roll, but he knows it’s happening. “It’s very nice.” He attempts to placate. “Listen, I need your advice.”
“Advice? Oooh yes! Now we’re getting somewhere. Hit me up.”
Dean clears his throat so he can speak clearly but keep his voice down at the same time. “There’s this girl here, the sister of one of the brides. She’s attractive, and the only other unattached member of the group.”
“Ugh, really?” Charlie blows a raspberry into the phone. “You’re asking me about picking up women? Snoozefest. Wake me up when it gets interesting.”
“No, no no. I don’t need help picking up women. If you’d let me finish, you’ll see that what I need your help with is getting rid of one.”
“Aaaand I’m awake.”
“Her name is Molly. And apparently Molly, along with the rest of the women in this group of Stepford wannabes, wants us to hook up. She doesn’t seem to be getting the message that I’m not here for that.”
“So she’s been whammied by the Winchester good looks and charm? That’s easy enough. Just keep your distance. Stay away from her, don’t even smile at her if you can avoid it. If you never interact with her, she and everyone else will figure out quickly that you’re not into it.”
“Yeah. About that.” Dean sighs, looks around, wonders how it became nighttime without him even noticing. “It may be a little too late for that.”
“Everyone already thinks we slept together.”
“I’m afraid to ask,” Charlie ventures. “Why would they think that, Dean?”
“Probably because she, well, last night… she sort of spent the night in my room.”
Charlie moans his name. “Deeaaannn.”
“Nothing happened. I didn’t even know she was there until I woke up. Long story short, Cas comes over while I’m still sleeping, and now he thinks I slept with her too.”
“And finally, the real problem.”
“What’s the real problem?”
“Cas thinking you slept with her. And this is a problem because…” She trails off intentionally, encouraging Dean to finish the sentence.
“Because I didn’t?”
She tries to lead him further. “And you don’t want Cas to think that you did because…”
“Because I didn’t?”
A frustrated grunt comes from the other end of the line. “Are you totally incapable of working this out on your own?”
“Working what out?”
“Oh sweet Baby Jesus! Fine, Captain Oblivious. Just tell her you’re gay.”
“Tell her what?”
“You want a sure-fire way to dump her? Tell her you’re gay. Tell her she’s beautiful and perfect, yadda, yadda, yadda, and you would be all over it if it wasn’t for the pesky little fact that you’re into penises. Works ninety-nine percent of the time.”
Dean protests. “But I’m not gay.”
Dean can’t describe the exact sound Charlie makes, but it’s something between a snort and a growl. “You know what Dean? You just do you,” she says. “You’ll figure it all out someday. I just hope that when you finally do, it’s not too late.”
After they end the call, Dean doesn’t have time to contemplate Charlie’s last remarks. Dev is hastily coming toward him from the left, Sam and Castiel from the right.
“Dean Winchester, you are every bit the genius your brother described,” Dev calls out to him.
Sam told the hot hunter that Dean was a genius. He can’t help but swell a little with pride. “Oh yeah?”
“Yes, you are.” Dev waits until she is standing right in front of him before she continues, her voice lower. “What you did earlier, it was absolutely brilliant. And since it wasn’t part of the original plan, I’m assuming you came up with it in the moment. You saw the opportunity, and you seized it.”
Dean doesn’t know what she’s talking about. “Yeah, I do that sometimes. Now what did I do again?”
“Very funny.” She punches him softly on the shoulder. “You’ve got them all abuzz. They can’t stop speculating about it. Their tongues are wagging already, and it will be all over the island in no time.”
“It will?” Dean’s still got nothing.
Dev nods, then grabs onto Sam’s arm when he and Castiel arrive and everyone moves further away from the well-lit main hotel and the wandering guests. They are in shadow now. They’re not exactly hiding, but they don’t want to be seen together too often. “Sam, I was just telling your brother how clever it was to create the appearance of relationship problems between you and Castiel.”
He did what? Dean squeezes his brows together while Sam raises his.
“And to do it by arguing with your brother’s fiance in front of the others… well done.”
“Yeah, well, I’m a pistol.”
“That you are.” Dev turns to Castiel. “Whatever you two did, it must have been incredibly realistic, so well-nuanced that the tension seemed real. So much so that they all described it to me as a lovers' quarrel. It was the perfect act.”
“I’m not so sure it was an act,” Sam says lowly.
“Of course it was.” Dean finally catches on, and he waves his brother off. “All of the couples here are happy together, so we figured we’d toss a little trouble into Sam and Cas’s fake relationship. Try to draw the demon out, if it’s here.”
“Is that so?” Sam asks Castiel.
“Tell him, Cas,” Dean butts in. “Sounds like we nuanced the shit out of our fake fight, didn’t we?”
Castiel cants his head at Dean, appraises him for several seconds. “Dean is correct,” he finally says. “It was nothing more than a ploy.”
Sam doesn’t believe them. He can tell by the way he bites his lip and shakes his head, but he let’s it go. “Well, it’s probably what caused Aunt Bess’s ghost to make an appearance,” he concedes.
Dev agrees. “The rumors have already taken root, but now you have to keep it up,” she tells all three of them. “Dean, you must make them all believe that you’re in love with your brother’s fiance. Can you do that? Will you have any trouble with that?”
Dean can’t find the answer. He’s too busy watching Castiel’s reactions to what is being said, trying to interpret the stifled grin on Castiel’s face that Dean can only see when beams of faint moonlight hit it just so. The signals from his brain to his mouth are all mixed up and paralyze him.
“Yes, he can,” Sam answers for him. “In fact, I don’t imagine he’ll have any trouble at all."
Dean is not a morning person.
He’s still sleeping when Sam returns to the room after sunrise yoga, at least he is until Sam plops down on the end of the pull-out bed Dean’s coiled up on. He’d let Sam use the ginormous bed, for obvious, over-sized reasons, even though Sam didn’t see any reason why they shouldn’t share it. It made him wonder where Sam slept when he spent the night in Cas’s villa, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask.
“We’re not actually on vacation, Dean.” Sam sounds like he’s griping, but like everything else on this job, it’s fake. “When was the last time you slept for nine hours?”
Dean springs up. “Nine hours? Really?”
Sam grins. “In a row, no less.”
“Huh.” He leans back on his elbows and takes in the view in front of him. Past the manmade deck, there is nothing but water and sky. It doesn’t seem possible that anything demonic could exist here. He didn’t wake up at all during the night, and there wasn’t even a hint of a nightmare, which, truth be told, is the real reason he didn’t want to share the bed. He and Sam each have their own brand of nocturnal horrors, and their own way of dealing with them. “I guess my body can’t tell the difference between a real and a pretend vacation.”
“Well, you needed it.” Sam pats Dean on the leg, then gets up and begins pulling off his workout clothes. “So, last night. The argument you had with Cas. It seemed very… unplanned.”
“That’s because you weren’t expecting it.” Dean responds without looking, his eyes still fixed on the endless expanse of blue on blue. He wonders what Castiel is doing right now.
“No, no, I wasn’t expecting it. But it wasn’t exactly a surprise either.”
Dean shakes his head. Sam is behind him now, changing and talking at the same time. “Look, I know that you and Cas have some unresolved issues, but you have to be careful about mentioning certain things in front of other people. Things like Heaven.”
“I just got a little carried away,” Dean offers, even though Sam has been skirting around an out and out accusation of truth. It’s only half a lie anyway. “It wasn’t real. It was acting.”
“It felt real.”
“It was good acting,” Dean insists, as if insisting somehow makes it more plausible. “And I don’t know what you’re talking about with me and Cas. Everything’s peachy keen. There’s not nothing unresolved.”
“Right.” Sam’s back in front of him, all dressed up in shorts, t-shirt, and sandals, blocking his view and looking at him with his “whatever you say, Dean” face. Uncharacteristically, he ignores Dean’s use of the triple negative. “For what it’s worth, I don’t think Cas is going to be leaving anytime soon.”
“Maybe.” Dean shrugs feigned indifference. “He’s a free angel. He can leave whenever he wants.”
“That’s my point,” Sam says. “I don’t think he wants to leave.”
“Did he say that? Did he say he’s not going to leave?” Dean asks, then regrets how goddamned needy it sounds once it’s out of his mouth.
Sam must think so too, because his entire demeanor softens. This is the part Dean hates - the point when Sam dips into his bottomless well of compassion and pulls out a bucket of pity. “Well, not in those exact words.”
Dean makes a face, angry at himself for almost letting his brother trick him into talking about feelings. Before he can end the conversation with some on point, biting wit, his cell phone rings.
Dean sees Castiel's name light up his screen. “Well speak of the angel,” he says, then answers the call.
Castiel is getting a tattoo. Not an actual tattoo, but a temporary one, with a natural dye called henna, and Dev is doing it.
They’re in Castiel's hut, and Sam and Dean have clearly missed something, a disagreement of some sort, because when they arrive, Castiel is on the couch pouting, his arms crossed over his midsection, while Dev sits silently across from him. The inking supplies are neatly laid out on the coffee table.
“Cas asked if I would help ward him against possession,” Dev begins. “And then he drew this.” She holds up a paper with four symbols on it.
“And?” Dean asks.
“I’ve done extensive research in this area, and I’ve applied many anti-possession tattoos,” Dev says. “But I am unfamiliar with this. I’ve never seen one quite like it, and I wanted to check with you two before we started here. If there is a demon lurking out there somewhere, waiting to collect Sam and Castiel, I want to be certain this tattoo will work.”
“It will,” Castiel says, frustrated. “As I have already advised you.”
Sam nods, while Dean gestures toward Castiel. “If Cas says it will work, it will work.”
“All right,” she concedes. “I suppose it’s just the Enochian references throwing me off.”
“You know Enochian?” Sam asks.
“The mythical language of the Angels?” Dev shakes her head, laughs softly. “No. I only recognized the similarities, but I surely cannot read or speak it. No one can.”
“I can,” Castiel says.
Sam sighs, then glances at Dean, who nods once in unspoken agreement. “And Dean and I are gradually learning to read it, with Cas’s help.”
Dev looks at each of them, one at a time. “I don’t understand.”
“Cas is an angel.” Sam’s the one who says it. He waits for Dev’s reaction to the revelation, which is disappointing. She remains composed as she takes it in, then calmly questions further.
“Do you mean he’s a lovely man? Or are you saying--”
“He’s an angel angel. As in Of the Lord. As in Heavenly Being. As in Warrior of God,” Dean tells her with pride and a tinge of unintended possessiveness. “At least when God was around to warrior for, anyway.”
“I see,” Dev says simply. “That explains quite a lot, actually, besides the beautiful name.”
“Explains what?” Sam and Dean question at the same time.
She responds to Castiel, even though he’s not the one who asked. “It explains what I was picking up from you,” she says, then clarifies further, prompted by the furrow of Castiel’s brows. “I have some empathic ability, limited but distinct. When I touched you, I felt loss, immeasurable sadness, and a longing for something out of reach. I was conflicted about who I am. Yet I was infused with hope, overwhelmed by a warmth that you question and do not name, but I recognized it. I knew right away what it was.”
Castiel blinks several times, then shakes his head. “I’m an angel,“ he reiterates evenly, eyes lowered. “I feel no such things. Those are human things.”
“Oh. I must have been mistaken.” Dev carefully corrects herself. “As I said, I’m not full empath, my gift is minimal. I apologize, Castiel.”
Dean watches Castiel shift uncomfortably on the couch, wishes he could see inside that dark, gorgeous head of his. He catches Castiel’s eyes when he looks up, holds them until Sam breaks the silence in the room with a nervous stutter.
“So, you, you, you can read, uhm, you can detect, uhm, feelings?” Sam asks. Dean wants to laugh. No special powers are required to see that Sam’s got it bad for the Indian hunter.
Dev smiles shyly. “Sometimes,” she says. “But generally, only when those feelings are out of control, or when someone wants me to read them.”
“Okay then.” Sam gulps. “Let’s get this tattoo on Cas.”
Lunch is another group activity, so Dev returns to her room in the main building to work on the case while Sam, Castiel, and Dean go to the open air dining room with ocean views on three sides.
One long table for ten has been set up on one side of the room, and Richard squeezes in two more chairs when he sees that both Dean and Molly are there as well. Caroline encourages the couples to “mix it up,” and somehow Dean ends up on the opposite end of the table from Sam and Castiel, but next to Molly.
“Hey stranger,” Molly says while they all take their seats. “Come here often?”
Dean tries to smile, but he’s worried about Castiel. Although Sam is closer to him than Dean is, he’s not seated beside him. There’s no one to help Castiel appear normal by surreptitiously eating his food. There’s no one to monitor his conversation, make sure that he doesn’t spill too much truth. Castiel enjoys hunting, but he has never been fond of the parts that involve talking to people.
Molly continues to talk at him throughout the meal. Dean’s not listening, although he catches some things here and there, manages to get by with the occasional “oh yeah?” and “uh-huh” while he keeps his eyes glued on Castiel. Castiel solves the food problem by eating everything on his plate, even though it was neither pizza nor peanut butter, the two things Castiel will sometimes eat along with them when he visits the bunker. As far as conversation goes, Castiel is reserved, but not rude, responding but not initiating, and Dean hasn’t heard anyone gasp or seen anyone’s face go pale, so Castiel must be doing an okay job of keeping things to himself.
Once the table is cleared of the lunch plates, Carolyn stands and gets everyone’s attention.
“While we wait for dessert, I’d like each one of you to stand and share with the rest of the group the one word or phrase that best defines your significant other. Who would like to start?”
“I will!” Jenny’s hand shoots up as she stands. “Soulmate,” she announces, and there is a murmur of approval, while Doug mouths the words “I love you.”
“Gag me,” Molly mutters under her breath. Dean can relate to her bitter sarcasm; he thinks maybe Molly isn't all that bad.
“I thought you introduced them,” Dean says.
“I did.” Molly leans into Dean so no one else can hear them. “He was my best friend at the time. Then he started dating my sister and… now he’s not.”
“So?” Dean asks. It’s the first thing Molly’s said that he actually finds interesting.
“So I miss him.” Molly shrugs. “How did it work with you and Cas? What exactly was your relationship with Cas before the two of them hit it off? Were you best friends, or...”
“Touchstone,” Brad declares proudly about his bride-to-be Heather, and she clasps her hands against her heart in response.
“We were and we still are,” Dean tells Molly. “Sam’s a great guy, but there’s only one me.”
“That’s what I thought about me and Doug,” Molly huffs.
“It’s different with me and Cas,” Dean defends. “We’ve been through a lot of stuff together. It’s taught us that no matter what happens, he’ll always be my best friend, and I’ll always be his. There’s nothing my big baby brother can do to change that.” It’s all true, and Dean feels a little sad for Molly and her circumstances.
“Tarzan.” Laura points to her fiance Jim. “He knows why. But it’s much too naughty to share with the class!”
“Me Tarzan, you Jane.” Jim does his best imitation as he pounds his chest with his fists. The couples all seem to find this game very amusing.
“Holy crap,” Molly whines to Dean. “We should just get the hell out of here and let the lovers play without the cool kids.”
Dean considers it, until Caroline turns to Castiel and says “Why don’t you go next, Cas? Tell us all the word or phrase that comes to mind when you think of Sam.”
Dean rolls his eyes as Castiel slowly rises to his feet. This oughta be good. Secretly, he wants Castiel to say “abomination,” but he knows he won’t. Not because Castiel knows better, but because he doesn't feel that way about Sam. Not anymore. Not for a long time now.
Castiel looks at Sam and smiles. “Best friend.”
It’s fake. It’s not real, none of it is, and Dean can’t figure out why he feels like he’s just been gutted.
Dean swivels in his seat to face Molly. “Yeah, let’s get the hell out of here,” he says, but she shakes her head and stands up instead.
“And what about Dean?” She’s not exactly yelling at Castiel, but her tone is challenging, and louder than usual. “You fall for his too tall brother and what? You just dump Dean for your new bestie?”
Castiel looks confused and hurt and angry at the same time. “Of course not. Sam and I are to be wed. Dean and I, we’re.... we have…we’ve always--”
Dean jumps up, throws his hands out toward Castiel in an attempt to stop him from finishing his thought, but it’s too late.
“Dean and I share a bond that is profound.”
Sam covers his face with his hands and shrinks down in his chair.
“Then what’s the word for Dean?” Molly asks. “If Sam's your best friend, what's left for Dean?”
Castiel opens and closes his mouth, as if the word is hanging off the tip of his tongue, just waiting for Castiel to let go of it.
“Cas, don’t.” Dean clenches his jaw, shakes his head slowly. He wants to hear it, he wants to know what it is, but with Castiel, it could easily be something blunt and true like “monster hunter” or “angel vessel,” and how on earth would they explain that to everyone?
“Just say it, Cas,” Heather coaxes. “You’ll feel better once it’s out.”
“The first word you think of,” Jenny adds. “The word that describes Dean.”
“What is it, Cas?” Laura finally pipes in. “What one word best defines what Dean is to you?”
The relentless, goading voices suddenly stop. All eyes are on Castiel, except for Sam’s. He’s still covering his face and trying to make himself as small as possible in the bamboo dining chair. Castiel looks at Dean, and Dean knows he’s going to answer, that there's nothing Dean can do to stop him. They’ll have to troubleshoot later, if necessary.
Castiel’s voice is low and rough when he says it, and once it’s done, the silence at the table lingers. No one moves, until Castiel mumbles “excuse me” and walks away. He moves swiftly. Dean had forgotten how fast Castiel is when he wants to be.
Sam jumps up and follows Castiel, almost as an afterthought, and Dean wants to go too, but Richard grabs him by his shirt sleeve and pulls him away from the others.
“I've received a text from home,” he whispers. "Do you have time to talk?"
Dean looks back over his shoulder, but Castiel and Sam are already out of sight. He has a lot of things he wants to ask Castiel, to tell Castiel, but they’re on a job, and it will all have to wait. He nods at Richard, who is the only one here who appears unaffected by what just happened.
“They just found Trish and Dave.”
The sun’s not even up yet back in the States, but Charlie answers the phone immediately when Dean calls her and asks her to find out everything she can about the reappearance of Trish and Dave. The only information business-owner Richard had was that they were now happily married, having done some intense soul searching at an unnamed couples retreat, and they are very sorry that to have caused any worry.
“Is it possible we were wrong? That perhaps nothing paranormal is involved?”
Sam has joined Dean and the Hawthornes in a small meeting room in the main hotel. He and Dean answer Caroline’s question with an almost simultaneous “nope.” They don’t always agree on the what, why, and how, but after all these years, the brothers remain fundamentally in sync when it comes to hunting.
“I’m not buying it,” Dean announces.
Sam agrees from across the table. “It’s much too neat to be credible, and the other couple is still missing. And then there’s Aunt Bess.”
“It’s not Aunt Bess.” Dean states his position once again. The mysterious reappearance of Trish and Dave only convinces him further that it’s a demon they’re looking for. “And we can’t be sure yet that Trish and Dave are still Trish and Dave.”
Richard and Caroline share a bewildered look, the same one that Dean has seen more times than he can count from those not in the know. “What do you mean?” Richard asks.
“It’s not time to panic, but they could be… something else,” Sam says. “Something not human.”
“How would you know?” Caroline gasps while her husband lowers his head. “How do we find out?”
“There are ways,” Sam assures her. “Although it’s more difficult from where we are now, unable to have any contact with them.”
“But it might be something that Aunt Bess can help us with,” Dean suggests.
“So I should to talk to her?” Caroline’s fear of the ghost of Aunt Bess seems to have waned significantly. “Is there a way I can summon her? Should we have a seance or something?”
Dean shakes his head. “We’d need some kind of psychic medium for that. I doubt there’s one on this island.”
Sam taps his fingers on the table. “Tonight’s the bachelor and bachelorette parties, right?”
“The what?” No one told Dean about any bachelor party, and he’s the best man.
“It’s all on the activities schedule,” Richard informs him. “The men go to one side of the island for drinks, food, and cigars if they’re so inclined, while the ladies enjoy cocktails, tapas, and whatever treatments they select at the spa.”
Dean claps his hands together in approval. “Cigars and liquor. Count me in.”
“Not so fast.” Sam's lips are pinched into a taut line, and already Dean is pretty sure that he’s not going to like whatever it is Sam has in mind. “I may have a plan for conjuring Aunt Bess.”
Dean jiggles the tumbler in his hand, watches the three fingers of whiskey inside swirl within the confines of the glass. He’s going to drink it, all of it, but he’s not yet decided whether he will sip and savor it, or throw his head back and pour it down without bothering to taste it. Either way will likely serve its purpose.
He hasn’t spoken to Castiel, hasn’t seen him since lunch, but Sam told him that he was fine and busy looking into a “hunch” that Castiel would not elaborate on further. It bothers Dean that he’s not as happy to hear that as he should be. Of course, Castiel is fine, there’s no reason for him not to be. It’s not as if the lunch table scene was genuine, it’s not like it meant anything. Castiel was playing a role, just as he and Sam were; it was all part of the job. So why is it that he can't stop thinking about one, stupid word?
It didn’t mean anything, Dean knows that, but he’s afraid there might be some part of him that wishes that it did.
“Thought I might find you here.” Molly pulls out the barstool beside Dean. She’s interrupted his thoughts and for once, Dean is glad to see her. “May i?”
Dean nods to acknowledge her, but doesn’t turn his head. “Yeah, well there aren’t that many drinking establishments on this island that a guy can choose from.”
Molly slides onto the seat sideways, facing Dean. She orders a cocktail before she speaks to Dean again. “I want to apologize for what happened earlier,” she says. “I didn’t really think it would end up like that. I was trying to send Doug a message, and I got carried away.”
Dean shrugs. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Would you tell Cas I’m sorry?”
“Sure. When I see him.”
Dean leans into the bar, elbows flat on the top of it, his drink in both hands now. Molly watches him play with his glass. “Are you going to drink that, or is it merely a psychological prop?“
“Haven’t decided yet.”
She sighs. “If it’s any consolation, what I did at lunch? It worked.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean with Doug,” she says. “Jenny’s still oblivious to the whole situation, but Doug got it. We had a nice talk, and he misses me too. He wants to work things out, to find a way to be best friends and in-laws. It won’t be exactly the same as it was before Jenny, but the three of us are going to have dinner tonight and talk it out.”
“That’s good.” It surprises Dean how much he means it. “I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks.” Molly takes a sip of her drink. “So what about you?”
Dean cocks a brow. “What about me?”
“What are you going to do? About Cas. And Sam.”
Dean looks down at his untouched whiskey. “I’m not going to do anything.”
“I do suppose your situation is somewhat different.”
“Is that so?” Dean smirks. She can’t begin to have any idea just how different their situations are since his has all been made up for the sole purpose of hunting a supernatural creature, but he’s willing to hear her take on it. “And how is that, Dr. Laura?”
“Well, for starters, Doug’s not in love with me."
“And I’m not in love with Doug.”
“I’m not…" Dean shakes his head. “Cas is not…”
"Dean you can't just sit back and do nothing.” Molly’s hand moves to his arm, her head dips in a failed attempt to catch Dean’s eye. “Maybe you and Cas don’t care about yourselves or your own happiness, but from what I can tell, Sam is a great guy. Don’t you at least owe it to your brother to tell him how you both feel?”
Dean tips his head back and downs his drink in one gulp, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.
“You’ve got it all wrong, sweetheart.” He’s supposed to be pretending to be in love with Castiel, not denying it, but it's too hard. This is another bar, in another town, on another hunt, and Molly is the hottest number in the joint. The scenario is familiar, and there’s comfort in that. He knows what to say and do here, who he’s supposed to be here. "So why don’t you and me head back to your room and I’ll show you just how wrong you are.”
Molly’s lips fall open before they curl into a teasing smile. She picks up her drink, swallows it and pushes her empty glass away as she hops off of the barstool. She’s a touchy little thing, Dean has come to learn, so he’s not at all thrown off when she slides her hand into his hair, then down the side of his face to rest on his cheek. “I’ve been waiting for that offer since the moment I met you.”
Dean grins, smug and knowing.
“And I’m so going to regret this in the morning,” she purrs.
Dean slides his room keycard off of the bar and slips it into his shirt pocket.
“But no, Dean.”
Dean’s eyes go wide. Surely he has misheard her. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I’m always up for a good time,” she says. “But I do have my lines in the sand. Maybe it’s time that you draw some of your own.”
“No, no, and no!” Dean paces back and forth inside their one-room hut. “You can’t seriously be asking me to do this, Sam. While you’re eating chicken wings and puffing on a Cuban, you want me to what? Get my nails done?”
“I mean, yeah, if that’s what you want to do.” Sam bites his lip to keep from laughing as he reads through the spa services menu. “Look, there are other things you can do. You’d probably enjoy the ‘lavender and sea salt infused ultra skin-softening aromatherapy facial.’”
“Shut your face right now.”
“Dean, all kidding aside, just get one of those stone massages or something. Flirt with Cas, maybe do something inappropriate in front of everyone. Then when it gets back to me, which should take all of two minutes, I’ll act like I’m ticked off and make sure everyone knows that I’m calling the wedding off.”
“Are you sure Cas is okay with this?”
“Yes, Cas is okay with this. Are you?”
“I’m, yes,” Dean sputters, then adds some exaggerated head nods to emphasize just how yes he is. “And if that doesn’t work?”
“Then we’re on the wrong track with Aunt Bess and we’ll have to do a salt and burn.”
This robe thing isn’t all bad. He thought that he would feel uncomfortable having nothing but a glorified towel between his and everyone else’s naked parts, but the terry cloth and the the nudity is not the cause of the all around awkward vibe in the room.
“I wonder what the guys are up to,” Heather ponders out loud from her reclined position on the sofa across from Dean.
They’re set up in a private, three-walled room that, like everything else here, opens onto the beach. Drinks and hors d'oeuvres are a-plenty as Molly and the brides come and go for their chosen spa services. He and Castiel have yet to indulge.
“I’m gonna go with smoking stogies and checking sports scores,” Dean replies wistfully, then looks over toward Castiel. He’s been seated in a deep chair across the room, as far from Dean as he could possibly be. They’ve barely said more than two words to each other since this bachelorette event - Dean refuses to call it a party - began two hours ago. Even though Sam told him that Castiel was willing to go along with Sam’s plan for the night, Dean gets the distinct impression that Castiel is actually avoiding him. “So, uh, Cas. Are you going to do any of those spa thingies?”
Castiel has been reading and rereading the list of treatments and their descriptions for no less than forty-five minutes. Each of the ladies has already had something they call “mani-pedis,” and four or five rounds of alcohol. Dean’s been sipping on the same drink for the last hour. When Castiel does finally talk, it does nothing to ease the unease. “I’m undecided. The assortment of facials is intriguing, but I believe I’m most interested in some type of massage. When I was human, I developed an understanding of the need and desire for touch.”
“When you were human?” Laura’s head pops up from somewhere behind the food.
“It’s a joke.” Dean covers quickly. “He’s just kidding.”
“Oh.” Laura forces a polite laugh as she picks at a plate of skewered shrimp and pineapple. She’s not consuming any liquor due to the bun in her oven and has instead set up shop at the tapas table. She’s the only sober bride here if you don't count Castiel.
Castiel presses his finger to his lips. “I am perplexed as to the role of seaweed in several of these options, though I have to admit that I am curious about this one. It’s called ‘Himalayan crystal salt and Moroccan oil energizing seaweed body renewal treatment.’”
Dean whistles. “Whew, that’s a mouthful. It’s like ordering one of those fancy coffees, am I right ladies?” Not his best attempt at humor, but it gets the proper reaction from the women in the room.
Castiel exhales heavily, as if the fate of the world once more rests on his decision. “Free will is overwhelming at times.”
Laura's head jerks up again. “Just how much has he had to drink?”
Dean ignores her, as well as the phone vibrating in his robe pocket. It’s Sam, who has been texting him for the last thirty minutes, asking him what’s going on since none of the bachelors have received any gossip texts from their brides-to-be. He promised Sam he'd flirt with Castiel, stir up some more fake pre-marital trouble, but he's not going to. He can't pinpoint why, but it feels off, wrong, and he doesn't want to do it anymore. It's pretty obvious to him that Castiel doesn’t either.
“Cas, can I talk to you for a sec?”
“Certainly Dean.” Castiel puts down the spa menu and follows Dean out of the room and onto the beach.
“We’re not doing this,” Dean states. “We’re not going to fake fight in front of everyone again.”
Castiel furrows his brows. “Again? The one we already had was hardly fictitious.”
“Of course it was,” Dean lies. “I just said those things to get you going. Antagonizing you because I knew you’d argue back.”
“Are you telling me that you didn’t mean it?”
“Of course I didn’t mean it, buddy." Dean pats Castiel on the shoulder. "I mean, come on, we're all adults, right? I don’t care one way or another if you’re at the bunker or not. As long as you’ve got a cell phone, we can call you if we need your help. It's all good.”
It takes a full thirty seconds for Castiel to say something, and when he does it’s a short and sharp “all right” before he walks away and returns to the not-party. Dean goes back to his place on the couch, prepares to make his exit and call Sam to let him know about the change in plans, when Jenny staggers her way to the seat beside him, martini glass in hand.
“Why are you over here when he is all the way over there?” She points to Castiel. She seems to think that she's whispering, but she’s not. Not even close. “Molly said he’s your best friend. If he’s your best friend then you should be over there best friending with him.”
Dean shrugs. He’s not sure how to talk to a drunk woman who doesn’t, on some level, want to sleep with him.
“It’s okay,” she slurs. “If he’s just your best friend, like Molly and Doug, it’s okay. You don’t have to hide it.”
Dean makes a face and shifts away from her, looks around for Molly to help him out, but she’s not there. Instead he sees Castiel, who it looks like is being counseled by both Heather and Laura. They have him helplessly sandwiched between them, each of them seated on one of the cushioned arms of his chair. Castiel’s head is bowed as they rub his arm and talk to him.
“But after today, we all know how Cas feels.”
Dean resents that. They’ve only known Castiel for a few days. Castiel is not your average Joe. He’s a complex, otherworldly being who has experienced things both unimaginable and divine. Dean’s known him for years and has never presumed to know what or if he feels about anything.
“Sam’s your brother, and what you’re doing to him is not right.” She wags her finger at him. “It’s not fair, it's not--”
“Come on, sis.” Molly tugs at her sister’s arm, cutting her off as she guides her to her feet and away from Dean.
“You should just leave,” Jenny tries to yell back at him, but she fails at that too. “You should stay out of the way.”
Molly shushes Jenny as she hands her off to an attendant for another spa treatment. Once Jenny is safely in the hands and out of the room, she goes back to Dean.
“I’m sorry. We talked a little about you and Cas at dinner.”
Dean rolls his eyes. “That’s just great. I take it she’s on Sam’s side.”
“There are no sides,” Molly says. “You’ll resolve nothing as long as you believe there are.”
“Well that works out just fine, seeing as there’s nothing to resolve.” He’s tempted to tell her. About the ghost, and the probable demon, the truth about the three of them and why they are there, the game they are playing for the sake of the job.
“It was the plane,” she declares, as if in answer to a question Dean sure as hell didn't ask. “I figured it out on the plane, that Cas is in love with you. But I wasn't sure, I wasn't certain until today.”
Dean closes his eyes and shakes his head. The plane? No, that’s not possible, because they didn’t come up with the love triangle plan to bait the supernatural culprit until yesterday. Not until after Dean started the dumb fight at the Sweet and Greet and accidentally mentioned Heaven because he was mad that Castiel always took off, he was pissed that Castiel was never around long enough to notice that Dean had changed, to see that he was--
Dean doesn’t realize that his face has flushed red, or that his breathing has sped up to an erratic, fucked up pace until Molly shakes him and asks him if he’s okay. He nods quickly, then looks for Castiel, but he's gone. He must have left in the last few minutes without saying goodbye to Dean, without saying anything to Dean at all.
He doesn’t bother to get his clothes. He goes straight onto the beach, and when he is far enough away from the lights of the main hotel and spa area, he pulls out his phone and makes a call.
“Did you mean Cas?’ he pants into the phone.
“Dean?” Charlie asks. “Dude, are you okay?”
“When you said I’d figure it out someday, were you talking about Cas?”
“Oh." There's a slight pause, then, "yes.”
“So you knew?”
“Christ, I’m a fucking idiot.”
Charlie sighs gently on the other end of the line. “Yeah, I knew that too.”
Trish and Dave, AKA Mr. and Mrs. Gregory, were, by all accounts, human. Charlie had contacted a hunter located near the newlyweds who managed to conduct the preliminary tests while he posed as a reporter from a popular lifestyle magazine. They refused to do an interview, however, claiming that the retreat they attended maintains strict confidentiality requirements, or something like that. Dean's not sure he heard everything that Charlie was telling him about the case, because, holy shit, Castiel loves him. No, Castiel is in love with him, and what the fuck is he going to do with that?
He doesn’t get a chance to think about it. As soon as he ends his call with Charlie, Sam’s on the line.
“Is Cas with you?”
“No. He left the she-devil shindig before I did.”
He expects to hear a chuckle, maybe a sympathetic "that bad, huh," but Sam is all business. “Where is he?”
“I don’t know. I figured he’d be with you.”
“He’s not answering his phone, and Aunt Bess just made another appearance. Dev’s with Caroline now. She’s a little shaken up.”
Caroline had skipped the bachelorette party in case the feigned public arguing was enough to bring Aunt Bess back. No one else had seen the ghost last time, and the Hawthornes wanted to keep it that way if at all possible.
“But we didn’t do it. There was no fight. Me and Cas, we decided not to and--”
Sam interrupts. “Aunt Bess has been trying to warn Caroline. She told Caroline that she expects another couple will be taken soon.” He’s talking fast, and higher than normal, which is never a good sign. “Dev is rounding up the other couples, making sure everyone’s safe. I’m headed over to Cas’s room. We need to find him and let him know.”
Dean hastens his pace as he reaches the main pier connecting the over-water huts. “I’m just about there. You shouldn’t be alone. Stay with Dev. I'll call you back in a few minutes.” He tucks the phone into his pocket, and sprints down the wooden dock. His bare feet thump loudly with each stride, but he reaches the end, and Castiel’s room, quickly.
The front door is already ajar, so he pushes through it, calling out Castiel’s name as he makes his way through the empty villa. He checks the back deck. Nothing. He checks the bathroom, the closet, even the dresser drawers, and he discovers that not only is Castiel gone, but so is his clothing and suitcase.
He stands still for a second, trying not to panic. As his eyes scan the room in a more controlled manner, he spots something on the desk by the bed.
It's a note, scrawled in the blue ink of the pen lying beside it. And even though he’s only seen it a handful of times before, Dean recognizes the handwriting immediately.
Due to recent events, we have questions about our relationship and must contemplate our commitment to one another. We both agree that we are not prepared at this time to enter into the blessed sanctity of marriage, so we are leaving the resort as we arrived - together. Thank you for everything you have done for us.
A noise from behind startles him and he drops the paper.
The skin on the back of his neck prickles and he spins around, hoping against hope to see the Angel, although he knows that he won’t. Something is there, but it’s not something he can see. He wasn’t thinking straight, after his phone call with Charlie. He didn’t stop at his room to arm himself with the demon knife, and now he is weaponless, alone, and a towel away from stark-naked. He is screwed.
He can't stop whatever’s going to happen next. He has no control over this thing or this situation, so he does the only thing that he can do. He pretends that he does.
He shores himself up by straightening his back, tries to look as imposing as he possibly can while wearing a white, plush bathrobe. He balls his hands into fists, keeps them tight and ready by his side while he confidently delivers his demand.
“Take me to Castiel."
He smells salt air, feels sunlight on his face, sand between his toes. His eyes open slowly, despite his eagerness to wake. He has no idea where he is or how he got here. He’s on a beach of some sort, but there’s no resort here, no villas over the lagoon, no pavillion for sunrise yoga. It’s an island, but it’s different than the one he should be on. It’s not only desolate, but also greener, the water is bluer, the terrain less flat.
He’s surprised to find that his phone is still in his pocket; not surprised to learn that there's no signal. He’s angry with himself, for being distracted enough to make a rookie mistake. As a result, Sam, the other half of the unhappy couple, is likely gone now too, a phony sayonara note left in his place. His only solace is that Sam's probably with Castiel. And so far, there seems to be a fifty-fifty chance that Sam and Castiel will eventually walk away from this, which, in his experience, ain’t half-bad odds.
Dean stands in place, considering whether to search for signs of life or to sort through the brush and foliage past the dunes for materials he can use to make a weapon.
“Son of a bitch!” Dean throws up his hands and shouts as loud as he can while scouring his surroundings. "I told you to take me to Cas!”
It’s Castiel. He turns to his left and sees his friend, who is still wearing the same spa attire that he is. Dean grabs Castiel as soon as he gets close, hugs him for longer than he ordinarily would because, he tells himself, he is so relieved to find him safe and sound. The contact is not returned. Castiel’s arms lie limply at his sides, and for the first time since he has known him, Dean’s pretty sure Castiel is disappointed that he’s not Sam.
Even if Dean were willing to, they don’t get time to talk about it because as soon as Dean lets go of Castiel, someone steps out of the brush and onto the beach, several feet away from them.
“It appears we are off to a promising start!”
It looks like a man. A bald, chubby, couldn’t-hurt-a-fly type of a man with a voice not unlike a young Jimmy Stewart, and Dean has little doubt that even unarmed and undressed, he can take him. He starts toward him, but Castiel grabs his shoulder and stops him with a tiny shake of his head.
“Gentlemen, welcome to your island.”
“Our island? Do you mean our island?” Dean questions, waving a hand between himself and Castiel.
“Yes,” the male figure responds. “This entire island is yours. Created by you, for you. You will do as you please here.”
“I please to go back to where we came from,” Dean snarls. "So let's do that."
“How long you are here is entirely in your hands. Days, weeks, forever.”
“Right,” Dean says. “And why do I have a feeling there’s some kind of catch?”
The man smiles, shakes his head. “No catch. I offer you opportunity. A gift, if you will.”
“Aw, geez, thanks,” Dean bites back. “And I didn’t get you anything. Did you hear that Cas? He kidnapped us so he can give us a gift.” Castiel acknowledges Dean with a quick look, but says nothing and goes back to staring at their captor, his eyes narrowing as he assesses. “What is it you want from us?” Dean says.
“From you? Nothing. For you? A union that transcends the earthly plane.”
Dean could not have heard that correctly. “A what now?”
The man looks up at the sky, then takes a few steps closer to them so he can lower his voice. “Love is beautiful and pure. A gift from God, that he has given only to you. Only to his favored ones, who have, in my experience, proven to be undeserving. There is nothing else like the gift, nothing man-created that compares to it. Yet humans choose to love things more than one another. It’s depraved. It’s not what Father intended. You and he plan to wed, but you do not appreciate what you’ve been given.”
Dean unconsciously moves closer to Castiel when the man’s animosity becomes evident. “Wait, you think that me and Cas are--”
“Who are you?” Castiel breaks his silence to cut off the rest of Dean’s words.
“It’s not important, but you can call me… Bob. I will leave you now with some guidance,” he points to a book that has appeared on the ground, on top of a folded blanket, “and these notable words from our Maker: ‘Love is real, real is love.’”
Dean knows the quote, and the recognition confuses him further. “John Lennon said that.”
Bob clasps his hands together in front of him and grins. “So he did.”
They watch as Bob retreats back into the brush. After a few seconds of hesitation, Dean follows, but Bob has already gone back to wherever it was he came from. Dean grabs the book Bob left on his way back to Castiel, who has taken a seat in the sand, facing the water. Dean sits down beside him.
“Did you see this?” Dean reads the book title out loud. “Rekindle the Flame, Reignite the Fire: A Lovers' Guide to Finding Their Way Back Home.” Dean sniggers, then tosses the book aside. “Cas, I think he, or it, or whatever it is we’ve got on our hands here, thinks we’re the couple.”
“And that - that Bob - it wasn’t a demon,” Dean states.
“No, it was not.”
“If I didn’t know any better, from the way he was talking with all the God and Maker mumbo jumbo, I’d guess he was an angel. Maybe he’s some kind of shapeshifter that thinks he’s an angel, or a--”
“He’s an angel,” Castiel affirms. “A cupid, to be exact.”
“An angel? But he seemed to think that you were human, he didn’t recognize you at all.”
“Angels can sense the grace of another angel. He was unable to sense mine because of this.” Castiel holds out his right arm, pushes up the sleeve of his robe so Dean can see the symbol drawn in red-brown ink on the inside of his wrist.
“What is that?”
“A grace-constraining rune. I suspected the involvement of a cupid, and asked Dev to tattoo it on me yesterday after lunch.”
“That’s a thing?” Dean raises his brows. “If that’s the case, why didn’t you do this a long time ago? I mean seriously, Cas, it could’ve saved us some trouble whenever we were trying to dodge angels.”
“Because it constrains my grace, Dean.” Castiel sounds annoyed at having to state the obvious. “I have no powers while I wear this ward.”
"So you’re basically human right now?”
“Yes. And without a weapon, as my angel blade is under my mattress.”
“Me too. The demon knife is hidden in my suitcase. Hey, wait. maybe we’re in luck.” Dean leans forward and looks up and down the beach again. “When I went to your room, which is where I was when this Bob nabbed me, all your stuff, including your suitcase, was gone.”
“Perhaps we’ll find it on the island, then.”
Dean tightens the belt on his robe. “I hope so. This robe is just not gonna cut it as this year’s resort wear. But we can probably use this fabric for other things, once we find our clothes.”
“We should look for your suitcase. We'll need a knife.” Castiel seems completely unconcerned about the issue of clothing. “And it is highly unlikely that Bob is the one who captured us, Dean. We - I mean angels - are still unable to fly.”
Dean hadn’t thought about that. “So Bob’s not working alone. Well, whaddya know. Think he’s got some demon partner? It would have to be a mid to high level demon to be able to come and go like that.”
“I can’t be certain.”
“A rogue cupid, huh? I gotta say, Cas, your brothers and sisters are chock full of shitty-ass surprises.”
“More like misguided than rogue. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a cupid lose its way,” Castiel explains, frowning. “Angels are susceptible to the corruption of man’s wants and needs. Cupids, by their nature and duty, have more human contact than any other order of angel, so it has happened before that one or more has been tainted by their own work. Although they are indeed dangerous, malice is rarely a factor.”
“Well, this one sure as hell ain’t no rocket scientist, am I right?” Dean pokes Castiel in the arm. “He couldn’t even tell who the real couple was, unless he just mistook me for Sam.”
“I don’t see how that’s possible, considering Sam’s extraordinary height,” Castiel deadpans, and it takes several moments for Dean to realize that he’s making a joke.
“Hey, good one, Cas. Either way, angel dude messed up.”
“Yes.” Castiel sighs, bites his lip and drops his chin. “I suppose he did.”
Dean wants to make weapons, but Castiel insists that the first thing they do is find fresh water, so they compromise. Not even Castiel can predict what they will come across on this unknown, possibly imaginary island, and he agrees that they should be prepared to defend themselves, if necessary. They carve a couple of tree limbs into spears using a rock and the sharp edges of broken shells. It reminds Dean of an oversized vamp stake, and he makes a mental note to make a couple of these for the Impala's trunk when they get back to the bunker.
With weapons in hand, they venture off of the beach and into the dense foliage. They don’t locate fresh water, or the luggage Dean is desperate to find, but they come across several fruit trees, so they load as many bananas and mangoes as they each can carry in their arms and bring them back to the beach where they will set up camp for the night.
“What are we going to do about water, Cas?” Dean’s convinced that the lack of drinkable water is the only reason that he is so thirsty.
“After we eat, we can lay out some half shells and large leaves to catch any rainfall.” Castiel bites into a mango and chews, skin and all, then points to the tall palms dotted along the coastline. “There are coconuts on the those trees. We can drink the water in those. It’s rich in electrolytes, much like your sports drinks.”
Dean carefully peels a banana. “Oh yeah? How do we get to them?”
Castiel shrugs. “I suppose one way would be to climb the tree.”
“Climb the… yeah, okay. Good luck with that.”
“We will find water,” Castiel assures him. “The Cupid has brought us here for a specific reason. I don’t believe his objective is to watch us expire slowly and painfully from dehydration.”
“Who knows what he really wants?” Dean argues. Castiel’s experience with angels has undoubtedly been different from his. “Zachariah gave me stomach cancer, remember that? Naomi thought it'd be a laugh and a half to train you to kill me. Some of you guys have very sick, very twisted minds, and we don’t have the whole story here yet. There’s no telling what he’s willing to do to us.”
Castiel huffs lowly and concentrates on finishing his mango. He probably doesn't appreciate being lumped in with the likes of Zachariah and Naomi, and Dean realizes that he may have offended him. “But I guess we have an idea of what Bob wants us to do.” Dean glances over at the Cupid’s book, still lying where it landed in the sand. “Maybe we should just, uhm, go ahead and humor him. So we don’t end up having to drink our own piss or anything.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve read some stories about people lost at sea who survived by--”
“No, Dean, not that. What do you mean by ‘humor him?’”
“Oh.” Dean helps himself to another banana, thinks about how happy Sam would be to see him eagerly consuming fruit. “I mean let’s take a look at the book he left for us. Maybe figure out exactly what it is he wants us to do and then, you know, maybe do it.”
“Maybe do it?”
“Pretend to do it. Fake it. Like at the resort.”
“Like at the resort,” Castiel repeats slowly, unsurely.
“Yes. Well no.” Dean’s going to have to spell it out for him. “We’ll have to act like we’re the couple instead of you and Sam. Your angel friend got that all screwed up, but I don’t think schooling him on it now is gonna help us out of this mess.”
“The Cupid has taken us without consent, therefore he is not my ‘angel friend.’” Castiel makes air quotes with his fingers to emphasize the last two words, and that never fails to amuse Dean. “As to your second point, I agree.”
Dean shoves the rest of his banana into his mouth, then recovers the book he had tossed away earlier. “Whatever. Let’s see what we’ve got.” He wedges his bottom into the sand, crosses his legs in front of him. “Ready?” he asks Castiel, who is using his forearm to wipe mango juice and pulp from his face.
Dean waits for Castiel's go-ahead nod, then opens the book, reads to himself, and laughs. “It’s couples therapy. Aw fuck. Forget it. These are called ‘intimacy building exercises.’”
“I don’t do intimacy.” The word itself makes Dean anxious, and he spits it out of his mouth as if it's some kind of toxin. “Actually, I can’t.”
“Turns out it’s not my thing.”
Castiel rubs his chin. “I don’t understand,” he says. Dean notes that he sounds genuinely perplexed. “You are a sexually active adult male who has fornicated--”
“Don’t call it that.”
“Don’t call it that, either.”
“Engaged in sexual intercourse…” Castiel says carefully, waits for Dean’s approval, which comes in the form of a glib "that works," before he continues. “You have engaged in sexual intercourse regularly, and without much particularity, yet you claim you are unable to be intimate?”
“That’s different,” Dean offers. “I like to touch and feel, as long as there’s nothing touchy-feely about it.”
Castiel tips his head to one side. “You’re saying that you are not opposed to physical intimacy, only emotional intimacy.”
“Now you’re catching on.”
“What about Lisa Braeden? You lived with her for--”
Dean doesn’t let Castiel finish. “There’s a reason that didn’t work.”
“I believe that you underestimate your own capabilities, Dean.”
There was a time when Dean wished that Castiel's assessment was true, but that time has long passed. “Not this time, Cas.”
“Perhaps you would feel differently if you were able to recall the day that I held the remnants of your downtrodden soul after raising you from Hell.” Castiel lowers his eyes as soon as he says it, and Dean wonders what he is thinking about, what he is remembering about the ordered-by-Heaven rescue mission that makes him look so damn sad.
“Well I don’t,” Dean says after several seconds tick by. “And what happens in Hell, stays in Hell, right?”
“That is untrue,” Castiel responds, brows creased with concern. “The repercussions of what happens in Hell are far-reaching and ubiquitous.”
“No, Cas, it’s just a… .” Dean stops, clears his throat. “You’re right.” He claps his hands together and looks back down at the book on his lap. “So let’s do this, before the sun goes down. It says we have to sit facing one another, and…” Dean clicks his tongue. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“What’s wrong, Dean?”
“Nothing. Forget it.” Dean shakes his head. “It’s fine. It says we have to look into each other’s eyes for four minutes without talking.”
“All right.” Castiel adjusts his position in order to be face to face with Dean. They’re no more than three feet apart now, with Castiel’s hands resting on his own bent knees. Dean sets the timer on his phone.
“No talking,” Dean repeats, then drops the phone onto his lap. “Starting now.”
It’s weird, awkward, and initially, Dean can’t keep himself from giggling nervously. Castiel grins back at him when he does, but after a minute or so, the discomfort lessens and Dean settles down. Castiel is much better at this, as Dean expected he would be. Castiel could win a staring contest with a wall. Besides, this won’t be the first time those angelic eyes have invaded his personal space by boring into Dean, trying to see inside, hoping to comprehend the incomprehensible.
But that's not what's happening this time. This time, Castiel’s gaze, fixed on Dean’s eyes as directed, is more admiring than probing. To Dean, that's much worse, almost unbearable, and he struggles not to turn away. He licks his dry lips, notices when Castiel unconsciously mimics the motion. He has to concentrate to keep from being distracted by that - Castiel's lips are interesting in their own right - but Dean reminds himself that the eyes are the main focus here.
He’s never been able to look at, or into Castiel’s eyes like this before. Not so blatantly and openly. Never so freely. It would be a good time to memorize them, but he knows that he already has. The hooded slant, the long, straight lashes, the shade of blue that has no name, these are all as familiar to him as his own hand. There’s more there though, beyond color and shape. There’s passion, and purpose. Castiel's eyes make Dean think things that he shouldn’t, feel things that he has no right to.
Dean startles when the buzzer goes off, but Castiel ignores it, steals another few seconds until Dean closes the book and looks away. “That was dumb,” Dean mumbles without any real conviction behind it. “I hope Bob the big bag-of-dicks is happy now.”
After one more futile search for water, they painstakingly start a fire, then relieve themselves and call it a night. They lie in the sand on opposite sides of the flame, Castiel on his back, Dean on his side facing him.
“Hey, Cas, can I ask you something?”
“Of course, Dean.”
“Was I grateful? When you pulled me out of Hell, did I want to go?”
“Your will had been overcome, and you did resist at first. I feared that we were too late, that we had failed.” Castiel sighs. “But once my wings wrapped around you like a sheath and you felt safe, you begged for forgiveness. I held your weary soul in my arms while you wept, Dean. So yes. I believe that you were grateful.”
“Good,” Dean manages around the sudden tightness in his throat. “Cas?”
“I’m glad it was you.”
Castiel rolls onto his side and smiles weakly. “So am I.”
When Dean wakes up, Castiel isn’t there. The fire is out, the sun is up, and Castiel’s bathrobe lies in a bundle on the sand on the other side of the remains of their makeshift campfire.
His body aches, but in a satisfying way. The sand is a far cry from the luxury bed waiting for him back at the villa, but Dean’s slept on countless floors, in cars, and on motel mattresses with histories he’d rather not think about. This was, oddly enough, the first time he’d ever slept on a beach. It was soft and hard, lumpy and smooth, but he wasn’t alone and he didn’t mind it at all.
He sits up, looks out toward the ocean. He’s using his hand as a visor, shielding his eyes from the early morning sunshine when he sees him. Castiel. Knee deep in the water, spear in hand. Naked.
Dean glances over again at the white cloth balled up beside him, then back at Castiel. It looks like he’s fishing, moving through the water slowly and calmly, the handmade spear poised over his shoulder. He strikes, misses, tries again. It’s graceful, almost like a dance, and Dean’s fascinated by how naturally it comes to Castiel, how unaffected he is by his own nudity. It’s as if he’s never worn clothing a day in his life, and Dean thinks it would be best if he looked away, that perhaps he should give Castiel some privacy, but he can't do it.
It's not long before the spear comes out of the water with a thrashing fish impaled on the end of it. Castiel jumps up and down in celebration, looks, for the first time, back at the beach and Dean.
Dean’s embarrassed to be caught gawking at his friend, even more embarrassed that his body is reacting in a way that it ought not be, but Castiel either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. He waves at Dean, proudly points to the fish-on-a-stick as he makes his way back toward their mini camp. It’s not the first time Dean’s enjoyed looking at the male form in all its glory, nor is it the first time it’s made him feel this way. When he saw Castiel after Purgatory, clean and sane and looking in every way like the Angel he was so sure he had lost for good, he’d felt the same familiar tug in his groin that he's feeling now. He shifts his legs in an attempt to make it go away.
“Look, Dean!” Castiel calls out to him mid stride. “It worked! We can eat fish for breakfast!”
“That’s awesome, Cas.” Dean covers his eyes with one hand and shakes his other one at Castiel as he reaches him. “But do you think you could, uhm, put that away?”
“Put what...oh." Castiel looks down at himself. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause you any discomfort. The robe is the only clothing I have, and I didn’t want to get it wet. I’ll be more aware, now that I know you are offended by it. Here hold this."
No, no, and no. He doesn’t want Castiel to think that he’s offended by his unclothed body. Not when nothing could be farther from the truth. Dean uncovers his eyes and grabs hold of the fish while Castiel slides into his robe. “It’s not that I don’t… I mean, I like nakedness as much as the next guy, it’s just…” What the hell is he trying to say? “I’m not used to it, that’s all. This ain’t The Blue Lagoon.”
“You’re mistaken, Dean. The lagoon is very blue.” Castiel takes the fish, begins to scrape the scales off with a shell, and Dean doesn’t have the heart to correct him.
This island is big, much larger than the one they were staying on, and the terrain is less flat, more rocky. There’s a hill not far from the shore they’ve been sticking to, and they decide to work their way up it in search of water. The shells are still laid out on the beach, along with everything else they could find that might hold water, but the sky is clear and there is no sign of any rain in the immediate future.
Dean needs water now. Although Castiel doesn't complain, he does too, if the mark on his wrist is truly making him human. And it is. They are a little more than halfway through their climb when Castiel excuses himself from Dean to urinate, and Dean is grateful for Castiel’s token modesty.
Dean continues on, slowly though, so Castiel can catch up easily, but when he hears the sound of running water, he hurries toward it. It’s a stream, running over the rocks and down the hill, no doubt pooling somewhere on the other side. Dean is ecstatic, and as he yells excitedly for Castiel to come quickly, he catches a glimpse of black canvas on the edge of an overhanging rock. His suitcase. He steps carefully over to it, eager at first to reach it. The demon knife, which they surely need, and enough shirts and pants to cover them both up, to keep them fully clothed for the rest of their stay on this island, are, in all probability, packed inside of that bag.
As he nears it, he hears Castiel call out from somewhere behind the rustling foliage. “Dean. Did you find something? Dean? Are you all right?”
Dean takes the last step to the piece of heavy Winchester baggage, and with one swift jerk of his leg, kicks it over the side of the ledge.
Castiel pushes his way through the large leaves of some overgrown tropical bush. "What was that? I thought I heard a noise."
“I'm fine.” Dean tells him. “And it was nothing. There's nothing here but clear, fresh water.”
Once they get their fill of water, they spend the remaining daylight hours creating a shelter from rain that has yet to come and animals they’ve yet to see. While gathering palm fronds for the outside of the lean-to Castiel has framed out against the thick trunk of a tree, Dean finds a fallen coconut. They save it for after dinner.
“This is pretty damn good.” Dean takes one more sip from the small hole on the end of the coconut and hands it to Castiel. “A bitch to get to, but tasty.”
To access the water inside, Dean had to slam the whole football-sized fruit up against a tree until the husk cracked open in several places and he and Castiel could rip it off and get to the nut. He didn’t know what to do after that, and regret over the loss of the knife in his suitcase began to creep in, until Castiel took over and showed Dean how to find the soft eye spot on the end that they were able to drive a sharpened stick through.
“If we crack it open carefully, once we scrape out the meat and eat it, we can use the shells as cups for our water.” Castiel sorts through a stack of rocks he has been gathering throughout the day until he finds the one he deems appropriate for the job.
“Damn Cas, you’re sure working hard for that wilderness badge.”
Unsurprisingly, Castiel doesn’t get his Boy Scout reference. Not that Dean was ever a Boy Scout; even if he’d wanted to be, their lifestyle would never have allowed it. Sometimes it looked fun though, when the other boys were in their uniforms, planning their next father-son campout. John would never take him camping, but Dean’s ten-year-old mind rationalized that it was foolish to want to learn how to pitch a tent or shoot a bow and arrow when he had his very own handgun. Besides, his father would teach him everything he needed to know to become the hunter he was meant to be.
Dean watches Castiel tap along the center of the coconut with a flat stone until it cracks open into two equal halves. He hands one to Dean, and they go to work using shells to scoop out the white pulp inside.
“So what’s the verdict on this place?” Dean asks Castiel once they arrive back at the beach to sleep for the night. Dean prefers the soft sand to leaves and dirt. “Real or no?”
Castiel begins to lay out dried branches in a criss-cross pattern. “I’m fairly certain the answer is no. We’ve seen no wildlife to speak of, only a few birds, and despite the fact that we’ve been sleeping on sand and hiking through jungle, we are both free of insect bites.”
That’s not what Dean wants to hear, even though he had a feeling they weren’t on just any tropical isle. “True. But my face feels sunburned already, so the sun part is real. And this fire sure as hell is real.” Dean holds out the makeshift torch he has carried down the hill with him from the fire they had going while they built the shelter.
“As is the ocean,” Castiel adds. “Still, I believe we're in some sort of controlled environment for purposes specific to our captors’ agenda.”
“Yeah. A strictly confidential couples retreat. That’s how Trish and Dave described it. So the coconut husks make good kindling. Nothing goes to waste, does it?”
“In a perfect world, no.” Castiel arranges the broken pieces of the coconut’s outer shell between the branches. “It’s improbable that Trish and Dave’s experience was the same as ours, since their wedding trip had been to a Colorado ski resort. Each retreat was likely catered based on the couple’s chosen wedding destination.”
“Bob did say the island was created by us, for us. I didn’t know a cupid could do this kind of thing. Now?”
When Castiel nods, Dean uses the torch to light the tinder, then drops it into the flames.
“They can’t.” Castiel answers Dean’s first question. “Not under normal circumstances. That’s why I’m certain that he's not working alone.”
“Then who? Or what? And for godsakes, why?”
“Why? From the Cupid’s standpoint, it’s his mission. It’s all he knows how to do. Being cut off and unable to receive orders from Heaven, it appears he has taken it upon himself to repair existing unions that he perceives to be in peril.”
“Well his union radar is apparently out of whack. Let’s just hope he doesn’t figure out he made a mistake,” Dean scoffs. “So you’re sure he’s just trying to help? By kidnapping people?”
“As I said, he’s been tainted, so we should remain guarded. And I still believe our best guess is a demon accomplice, although I doubt a demon would share the Cupid’s motives. And we still don’t know the fate of the other couple.”
Dean pokes at the now-blazing fire with a twig. “A demon and an angel working together. That’s just craptastic. That never ends well, now does it.”
Castiel lowers his eyes and doesn’t respond, but it wasn’t really a question anyway. Dean didn’t mean to go there, but there are times when he’s with Castiel that there is so much stuff churning inside of him that he can’t keep some of it from finding its way to the surface.
“But hey, on the bright side, we have this.” Dean picks up the Cupid’s book, shuffles through the pages with his thumb. “The key to our freedom. It says right here on the cover that it’s the way back home. So first thing in the morning, you and me are gonna fast track our way through these bullshit couples’ exercises like nobody’s business. Easy peasy, am I right?”
Castiel looks skeptical. “I certainly hope so Dean.”
Castiel is out on the beach again. Naked, again. This time he’s setting rocks out in the sand, creating some sort of v-shaped dam. Dean watches from the dunes as Castiel hunkers down and checks out his structure, adds a rock here, moves another one there until he is satisfied with the final result.
“Hey, whatcha doing?”
Dean comes up behind Castiel, and Castiel turns his head around, squints up at him and smiles. “I’ve made a fish trap,” he stands and announces, smacking his hands together to knock off the wet sand. "The tide is low now, so I’ve built a--” He stops abruptly and looks down at himself, suddenly aware of his lack of clothing. Dean can’t help but look too. “I’m sorry Dean. You were still asleep, so I thought it would be all right if I--”
“It’s okay, Cas.” Dean whips his head up, makes a conscious effort to level his eyes on Castiel’s face. The safest place is somewhere between the eyes and the lips. “I’ll find a way to make it work. What’s a little nudity between friends?”
“You are clearly quite uncomfortable. So I made this.” From the cloth pile that was once his bathrobe, Castiel grabs a piece off of the top and wraps it around his waist, knotting it at one hip.
It’s a loincloth. A fucking loincloth. Castiel is wearing a motherfucking loincloth.
“Better?” Castiel holds his arms out to the side, waits for Dean’s approval.
Dean’s eyes drag down, up, then back down the length of Castiel’s body. He opens his mouth, wants to say “no, oh hell no,” but he doesn’t seem to be able to make those words. He forces his gaze back up to his friend’s nose.
“As it was, the garment was so large and unwieldy. It wasn’t designed for active or prolonged use,” Castiel points out. “I found it interfered with my ability to do even simple tasks. This way I am clothed, but unencumbered. Does this, as you say, make it work for you, Dean?”
“Unencumbered,” Dean repeats, finding only most of his voice. “Yep, I think that's gonna work for me.”
Dean’s never really noticed Castiel’s skin before, but now he can’t stop noticing. It’s darker than he remembered, has darkened even more since they’ve been here, and for the most part, it appears unblemished and smooth. It’s strange how Castiel’s the one running around with nothing more than a small piece of fabric covering his private bits, yet it's Dean who feels more exposed than ever.
“This one is called the partner role-play game.” Dean holds the book up and shows Castiel the page he's reading from. “Oh, I think I might actually enjoy this one.”
Castiel grins from his seat in the sand, facing Dean. "That’s good to hear, Dean. What do we do?”
“I get to play you,” Dean points at Castiel, “and you get to play me. And then we just… “ Dean reads directly from the book, “‘communicate with each other from your partner’s perspective.’ So we just talk, I guess.”
“I don’t know.” Dean closes the book and sets it aside. “Anything, Let’s just try it. You go first.”
“All right.” Castiel clears his throat. “Hello, Castiel. It’s me, Dean.”
“Come on, when do I ever call you Castiel?” Dean gripes. “And I know who you are, especially since you’re me. Let’s start over.”
Castiel clears his throat again. “Hello, Cas,” he corrects.
“Hello, Dean.” Dean deepens his voice, attempts to mimic Castiel’s. “Where’s my best friend Sam?”
“Are we in the bunker?” Castiel looks up then away, his mouth squeezed shut.
“I would like to know our location for this role-playing exercise. Because clearly, Sam is not on this island, so I would certainly not ask you where he is when--”
“Okay, yes.” This is already less fun than Dean had anticipated. He’d forgotten what a detail-oriented pain-in-the-ass Castiel can be. “We’re in the bunker. And you - no, I - just got there.”
“I understand now.” Castiel nods. “My brother Sam is in his room doing research on his computer and brooding.”
Dean snickers. “Good one, Cas.”
“I’m Dean,” Castiel tells him, then proceeds. “And I called you here, Castiel--”
“Nope.” Dean interrupts, shakes his head.
Castiel sighs, loudly and put out, then starts over. “I called you, Cas, to come here to the bunker, because you are an angel and I’m in need of your power and assistance.”
“You did? I mean, I was pretty sure you asked me to come to the bunker just to hang out and maybe get a pizza, have a few beers.”
“No, I’m sure of it,” Castiel says, one eyebrow cocked. “I asked you to drive across three states immediately because I am in urgent need of help on a case, or perhaps because Sam and I have had a fight, but in all likelihood, both.”
Dean was wrong. He's not enjoying this game at all. “Yeah? Well even though you already know, I’m gonna say it for the umpteenth time because your tiny human brain can’t seem to comprehend that I’m an angel, and I can’t stay very long. So don’t get your panties in a wad. In fact, look, it’s been five minutes. I have to go. I’ve got Heaven crap to take care of that is way more important than you.”
Castiel frowns. “Dean--”
“I’m Castiel. You’re Dean,” Dean huffs.
“All right then, yes. Fine.” Castiel narrows his eyes. “If I’m Dean, I’m sure I need a drink right about now. Where’s the whiskey? Oh wait, I drank it all. I’ve no choice but to go to the nearest bar and seek out the attention of an acceptable female for purposes of sexual gratification.”
Dean slams his hand down on his thigh. “Dude, I do not talk that way.”
“And I will be intimate with her physically but not emotionally--”
“I don’t do that anymore,” Dean snorts, prepared to defend his own honor, until he remembers what just happened in the bar with Molly. “I mean, I don’t want to do that anymore.”
Castiel goes on, undeterred. “And I will tell myself that I am simply incapable of emotional bonds, when in reality it just makes it easier for me to--”
“To get rid of her when I’m done.“
“Shut the fuck up, Cas.”
“Because I push away anyone who makes me feel good about myself, anyone who makes me feel anything good at all, even my own brother--"
“Oh yeah?” Dean leans forward to yell into Castiel’s face. “Well I’m a fucking angel of the Lord, did I mention that? And my special powers include running away, trusting bad guys, and making apocalyptic-level shit decisions.”
It’s a hard hit; low and right on target, judging by the painful way Castiel says his name. But somehow it’s not enough. He wants Castiel to react, to do something, although he doesn’t know what. “It’s all peachy keen though, because I’m a goddamned wavelength of celestial intent, and I have no need for human emotions and feelings.”
Castiel drops his chin. “That’s not true, Dean.” He says it quietly, between ragged, broken breaths, and Dean can barely hear him. “And I’ve never, until this very moment, wished that it was.”
The sky is dark, a storm is coming, and Dean is alone.
Castiel left after their failed therapy session, and Dean let him. He ate, tried to sleep but couldn’t, and after several hours, he looked for him, then returned to their campsite on the beach. When the wind kicked up and the black clouds began to whirl overhead, he packed up and made his way to the shelter he and Castiel built together only yesterday.
Dean shuts his eyes when the rain begins to fall. If Castiel didn’t have that rune on his wrist, he’d pray to him, ask him to please come back, to let Dean know that he is safe.
“Dean, you’re here. Good.”
He sounds hoarse, as if he’s been yelling for hours on end, but the relief Dean feels when he hears his friend’s voice is so immediate and profound that it takes him by surprise. He reaches out to him, and Castiel takes his hand, allows Dean to pull him inside of the lean-to.
It’s cramped; both men barely fit beside one another, but at least it’s dry. Castiel is soaked to the bone. He shudders as he lies on his side, facing away from Dean. His back is bare and wet, his dark hair still dripping, and Dean knows he has to dry him off and warm him up. He scoots closer to Castiel and opens his robe. The terry cloth fabric is absorbent, the stuff bath towels are made of, so he pulls Castiel into him and wraps him up in it, then covers them both with the blanket that the Cupid left for them on the first day.
“Thank you,” Castiel croaks, with much effort. “I’m sorry I--”
“Shhh,” Dean soothes into the back of Castiel’s neck. His hair brushes against Dean's lips as he speaks. “I know, buddy. Me too.”
Castiel sleeps. Dean doesn’t.
He can’t. He’s never been this close to Castiel before, and it’s unnerving. He’s caught up in the rise and fall of Castiel’s chest as he breathes, the smell of ocean on his skin and rain in his hair. He’s distracted by thoughts of how the back of his neck, between his hunched shoulders, would taste. If Dean tipped his head forward and let his tongue do what it wants to do, then he would know. But he doesn’t.
And then there’s the boner.
It’s purely science. Biology, of course. And physics, maybe, if he remembers correctly. It’s a natural and completely involuntary reaction that has nothing to do with anything other than friction. And maybe a little bit with the fact that Dean wants nothing more right now than to reach over, latch onto Castiel’s bare hipbone, and yank his body into his. But he doesn’t.
Instead, Dean hopes that Castiel hasn’t felt the hard bulge jab at his back, and he pushes his lower half away from the Angel. Castiel stirs at the sudden movement. It’s not quite daylight yet, but Castiel rolls away from Dean, straightens his body in an attempt to stretch his muscles within the cramped space, then crawls out of their shelter. Dean hears his bare feet pad away, and he goes after him, but not right away. He lets Castiel get a head start before he follows him down to the beach.
Dean stops at the edge of the dunes and watches while Castiel unties the knot at his hip, drops his token covering onto the sand and wades chest-deep into the water. He ducks beneath the surface, and Dean holds his breath until Castiel emerges and swims back toward the shore.
As Castiel steps out of the water on strong, lean legs, he spots Dean, gestures at him to join him. Dean pounces down the loose, damp sand, his robe flapping behind him. Castiel wraps his loincloth around himself and sits just above the shoreline. Dean gets down on the beach beside him, looks out over the water as the horizon begins to brighten.
“You were right, Dean. I left you, just as you told me I do,” Castiel admits. His voice still raspy from being caught in yesterday's storm.
“Yeah, you left,” Dean says. “After I pushed you away, like you said I do.”
Castiel drops his head, sifts through the sand between them. “So what do we do now?”
Dean kicks his feet out, knees bent in front of him. He gathers his robe up and out of the way. “How about we watch this sun come up?”
Castiel’s smile is close-mouthed, tentative, but he returns his focus to the sky over the ocean. “All right.”
It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. Dean’s seen the sun rise before. He must have, at some point in his life, though he can’t remember where, or when he ever took the time to, but that doesn’t matter anyway. As far as he’s concerned, this one is his first.
He places his hand on top of Castiel’s, and the long, slender fingers digging in the sand stop moving, frozen in place. Dean thinks he can tell him now. He can tell him that it’s all been a sham; that he’s been pretending, then pretending to be pretending, and he was so good at it that he didn’t fully realize, until now, that he was doing it. “Is this okay, Cas?”
Castiel stares down at their hands in the sand, blinks wordlessly several times. He rolls his hand over, curls his fingers around Dean’s palm, clutching it securely while he looks up at Dean. “What changed?”
“The Cupid didn’t make a mistake, did he?”
Castiel chuckles, almost to himself, as if enjoying some private, angelic joke. “They never do, Dean.”
Kissing Castiel is wonderful and effortless and possibly the best thing that Dean has ever done. He’s always thought of Castiel as an angel of the Lord, always expected him to be chaste and pure, until his friend kisses him back, nipping at his lips, teasing the underside of Dean’s tongue with his own. It’s then that he remembers.
“I forgot that you’ve done this before,” he tells Castiel when they stop to take a breath. “It should have been me.”
“That night with the prostitute, and Raphael, I thought about it. For a minute, after we were chased out of there, I did. I could’ve done it. And in Purgatory too, maybe if Benny hadn’t been around every damn minute. Or when you were...” Dean’s eyes widen, suddenly horrified, as the deluge hits and it all comes to him at once. “...when you were human. Fuck, Cas, the things that happened to you when you were human. It’s all my fault. If I hadn’t been so stupid, if I hadn’t--”
“Stop.” Castiel’s voice is firm, but gentle. “Our pasts are our pasts. We can’t change any of it.”
Dean shakes his head in disagreement. “Can’t you see that I’m responsible? For all of it. Everything bad that has happened to you since you dragged my condemned ass out of hell…”
“You’re wrong, Dean.”
“...it’s all on me.”
“You’re wrong. I chose free will. The mistakes I’ve made, and there have been many, they’re my own, and I won’t allow you to have them,” Castiel shakes his head and lowers his voice. “I would give you anything I have to give, Dean, you need only ask me, but you cannot take my burden, you cannot take my blame because in doing so, you also take my free will.”
Dean doesn’t know what to say to that. Damn Castiel, for being all wise and shit. Then again, he is thousands of years older than Dean, one of the perks of being not human.
Castiel takes Dean’s hand and folds it in his. “I do, however, hold you responsible for everything good that has happened to me.”
Fuck. Dean turns his head away and swipes his free hand over his eyes. “Shut up.”
“I will not.”
“I should’ve been your first kiss, Cas. No one else.”
Castiel slides his hand along Dean’s jaw, makes him face him. “In every way that matters, you were.”
Castiel doesn’t need a lot of words, which works out just fine because Dean doesn’t really like to use them. Even so, Dean doesn’t mind spilling his guts when he’s rewarded by Castiel’s lips. It’s not all that hard to talk about his fucked up childhood when Castiel’s arms are there to ease him through it. Something about this island, about being here with Castiel, has made it possible for Dean to reject a lifetime of conditioning and indoctrination, to finally recognize the cracks and flaws in how he was trained to be a hunter, how he was taught to be a man. It’s a relief to break free of it. With each forgiving kiss, with every touch from the angel who accepts him unconditionally, Dean Winchester comes closer to believing that he deserves to be happy.
Touching Castiel is even better than kissing him. Dean learns this later, at the end of the day, after they’ve used saltwater and a small piece of terry cloth from Castiel’s torn up robe to scrub their teeth and clean their mouths. It’s become part of their evening ritual.
They leave the fire going outside of the lean-to and crawl inside for the night. Castiel rolls onto his stomach, uses his folded arms as a pillow for his head, while Dean lies flat on his back next to him.
“It’s kind of warm in here.” Dean mutters, mostly under his breath since it isn’t really any warmer than it has been any other night since they’ve been trapped here. He slips his arms out of the bathrobe, rolls it up and places it under his head. “That’s better.”
He’s naked now, beside Castiel, and he doesn’t want to sleep. He couldn’t, even if he wanted to, his entire body still thrumming from today’s emotional purge, but it looks like Castiel can.
Dean fumbles around for the book. When he finds it, he opens it up and flips through the pages as loudly as possible, to get Castiel’s attention. “Let’s see what we have left in here.”
Castiel sighs sluggishly. “I believe we’ve already accomplished a great deal for one day, Dean.”
Dean shouldn’t disagree, but he does. “Yeah, Cas, we did. But none of it was from Cupid Bob’s guide to getting your ass back home.”
“True,” Castiel yawns. He’s exhausted, thanks primarily to the rune on his wrist which so far shows no signs of fading. “The sooner we complete the tasks, the sooner we can leave this island.”
“Here’s one that looks pretty easy. In fact, if you’re too tired, you don’t have to do anything. You can just lay there, and I’ll do it.”
“No, Dean. I’d like to participate. What kind of task is it?”
Dean holds the book up above his so he can read it by the light coming in from their campfire. “It’s called ‘ten tender minutes.’”
Castiel perks up at that. “Are there further directions?”
Dean already knows them, because he’s already read them. In fact, after their fight, while Castiel was gone, he read the entire manual. Twice. He puts the book down and shifts onto his side, facing Castiel.
“We take turns touching each other tenderly, like it says.”
“Well, it suggests stuff like a foot massage or brushing your partner’s hair. We don’t have a brush, but maybe I can just...” The words trail off as Dean sinks his fingers into Castiel’s thick, unkempt head of hair, combs slowly through it. It’s much softer than it looks, and despite the grains of sand that have embedded themselves throughout, it’s smoothe. Dean scoots closer, buries his nose in it, breathes in the salty sea and fresh rain scent one more time in a conscious effort to commit it to memory.
Castiel’s eyes have closed, but he’s not asleep. When Dean uses his fingers to massage Castiel’s scalp and down along the back of his neck, he moans.
“Feels good, eh?” Dean asks, and Castiel replies with a lazy “mhm-hmm.”
After several minutes, Dean orders Castiel to turn over, and Castiel obliges without question. Dean slides his fingers through his hair again, then drags them down the side of his face and neck to his chest. He keeps his touch light, nothing more than the graze of his fingertips as he brushes over Castiel’s nipple and down his body in long, barely-there strokes that leave bumpy trails in their wake.
Dean reaches the knot on Castiel’s hip, and tugs playfully. It doesn’t loosen, but that’s not a problem because, as Castiel explained to him, he is “unencumbered” underneath the cloth skirt. Dean’s fingers glide over Castiel’s bare hip, slip under the edge of the fabric and stop there. “Are we okay, buddy?” Dean asks.
Castiel’s eyes are wide open now, flitting back and forth between Dean’s face and hand. “I don’t believe it’s been ten minutes yet, Dean.”
“No, it hasn’t.” Dean agrees, although he’s not keeping time and he'd bet the Impala that Castiel isn't either.
He continues slowly across Castiel’s belly, and Dean takes in every tremble beneath his hand, awed that he’s able to do this, that he’s allowed to do this. When he finds Castiel’s length, it’s more than half-hard already. Dean is too, but he doesn’t care because this is about Castiel, this is Castiel’s ten tender minutes.
He closes his hand around his friend, moves his fist gently, slowly, up and down. Castiel’s eyes are closed again, but his mouth is open and he’s breathing fast and heavy. Dean speeds up, tries to match Castiel’s breaths, but he doesn’t want it to get rough, doesn’t want to hurt him, so he stops.
Castiel opens his eyes, stares up at Dean. His lips try to form words, but Dean shushes him and pushes himself down, then between Castiel’s legs so he can see his face.
“Dean,” Castiel manages.
Dean’s never done this before, but he wants to, now, more than he ever would have imagined possible. He slides an arm under one of Castiel’s thighs, looks up at him and winks as he pushes the loincloth aside.
The sound Castiel makes when Dean takes him in his mouth is new and incredible, and Dean already knows that he will spend the rest of his life thinking about that sound, that he will do whatever it takes to coax that sound from Castiel’s lips again and again.
Almost immediately it becomes clear that Castiel has never done this before either. He jerks wildly, and Dean holds his hips in place until he finds a rhythm. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands, and they flail aimlessly until Dean guides one to the top of his head, clasps tightly onto the other. It doesn’t take long after that. Castiel seems to be more surprised than Dean when he comes, so Dean helps him through it, swallows without hesitation, continues to suck softly until Castiel calls out his name and wriggles away from him.
Dean kisses his way back up Castiel’s body, stops when they lie side-by-side, face-to-face. “Now you,” Castiel offers, more courteous than he is awake. He's smiling, his eyes not even half-open, but he reaches for Dean, caresses his cheek and his jaw, runs his thumb over his lips and whispers “so beautiful.”
Dean takes Castiel’s hand, kisses it, draws it into his chest. Nothing feels urgent anymore. “Tomorrow, buddy. Sleep now, and we can pick up where we left off tomorrow.”
Castiel nods, nestles his head into Dean’s shoulder. “Tomorrow,” he mumbles.
“Or the next day,” Dean amends. He looks at the fire burning brightly outside of their shelter, then at the Angel asleep and at peace, snoring lightly in his arms. With the hand not holding onto Castiel, he calmly picks up the Cupid's book and chucks it into the flames. “We have all the time in the world.”
Dean spreads his hand across the bony edge of Castiel’s hip, digs in with his fingertips and anchors himself to the man sleeping beside him. The early morning sky is still dark; the only light comes from the smoldering campfire. It’s in these few quiet moments before his best friend wakes, before they go down to the beach together to dip in the water and watch the sunrise, that Dean realizes what has happened.
He has found paradise.
Not that he was looking for it. A few days ago, had anyone bothered to ask him, Dean's tongue-in-cheek version of paradise would have included fast cars, classic rock, and a buttload of pie. He’d have rolled his eyes first, mocked the question before answering it, because a few days ago, Dean didn’t believe in crap like paradise.
He does now. And he’s learned that paradise is not miles of pristine beach or endless ocean, as the brochures for the resort all suggested. Paradise is a mouthful of messy hair and an armful of nearly naked angel. It’s blue eyes and tan, salty skin that tastes as good as it looks. He wasn't looking for it, but somehow he found it, and Dean’s not afraid to admit that he’d been wrong about paradise. He’s not afraid of a lot of things these days.
Except for leaving this island.
The knowledge that this will end, that once they successfully complete the DIY couples counseling they will be ripped from this clothing-optional existence and dumped back into the middle of the shitstorm that is their real lives, scares the bejeezus out of Dean.
Destroying the book last night wasn’t an act of defiance, but one of control, although he’s not so sure that their captors will see it the same way. It had him worried, as he’d tried to sleep, whether he’d gone too far, wondering if he had crossed some imaginary line and pissed off the cupid and his mystery cohort. But here in the morning hours, when he looks at Castiel, the trade-off seems more than worth it. Dean wouldn’t change a thing, even if he could.
Castiel stirs against him, and Dean kisses the back of his head. He drags the hand on Castiel’s hip up along his flank, across his chest and neck until he is able to grip Castiel’s stubbled chin, turn his face toward him for a kiss.
“Morning, Angel,” Dean coos into Castiel’s ear.
Castiel grins, doesn’t bother to open his eyes. “Good morning, Human.”
Dean snickers. “Okay. I deserve that,” he admits. “But joke’s on you ‘cause I actually kinda like it.”
Castiel flips over to his other side so he is facing Dean. “I believe I owe you ten tender minutes.”
“Yeah, you do.” Dean drapes his arm over Castiel. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t been dreaming about that very thing. But for reasons that neither of Dean’s brains can fully comprehend, he wants to be careful, take things more slowly than he ever has before. “And I’m gonna hold you to that, but maybe we oughta hit the beach first, make sure the sun also rises.”
“Hemingway puns first thing in the morning? I’m impressed Dean.” Castiel pushes Dean over onto his back and climbs on top of him, his loincloth bunching up to one side. The skin on skin contact is almost too much for Dean. “I’ll be quick,” Castiel promises. “Although my knowledge of human sexual behavior is limited, I understand that it’s only fair that I, in some way, reciprocate last night’s interaction.”
It's hard to resist Castiel’s guns-blazing approach. It reminds him of his post-Purgatory attempts at hunting alongside the brothers, how ready and eager he was to help them, to be part of their team. Dean gulps, stutters out his next words. “Th-there’s really no, uhm, no, hur-hurry.”
Castiel moves his pelvis just so, lines himself up with Dean. “Well, I don’t believe that the task will be deemed completed until I do my part, so there is, actually, a need to hurry.”
“I mean that we don’t… we don’t have… we don’t have to…” Dean forgets whatever words were meant to end that sentence once Castiel begins to move up and down, rubbing his length alongside Dean’s. It’s unexpected, and hot, and feels damn good, yet it's not quite enough. He needs more, but when Dean reaches down to help things along, Castiel swats his hand away.
“Let me.” Castiel pushes himself up on one arm to look Dean in the face. “I need to… I want to do this, to learn how to be with you this way.”
Dean couldn’t argue with that even if he was capable of forming sentences right now. He brings Castiel’s free hand to his mouth, sucks on two of his fingers long enough to fill his mouth with spit, then wets the palm of Castiel’s hand with his tongue and guides it down and between their bodies. Dean locks eyes with his friend, and neither man says a word as Castiel closes his fist around both of them.
“What’s next, Dean?” Castiel asks him once again about the manual's assignments, as he has every morning after their swim. He uses the remains of his bathrobe as a towel to dry the excess water from his hair, then shakes his head and plops down on the sand next to Dean.
Dean shrugs, grinning as his mind sorts through new ways to divert Castiel’s attention, to make him forget what he asked and keep his mind and body busy until he remembers to ask again.
“How about we play a little game of Simon Says?”
“Is that one of our tasks?”
Uhm, nope. But Castiel doesn’t know that. “Yeah, sure.” Why the hell not? He gets to tell Castiel what to do and then Castiel has to do it. And there are so many things he wants Castiel to do to him. “I mean yes. Yes it is.”
“Simon Says? As in the child’s game?”
“Yep. We each take turns being Simon, and the other one has to--”
“I’m familiar with the premise,” Castiel interrupts. “But it makes no sense that it would be an exercise for a couple, as the game requires a minimum of three players.”
Oh, damn. That’s true.
Castiel continues. “I don’t understand how one partner ordering the other one to do things simply by using the term ‘Simon Says’ would in any way aid in advancing a healthy and equal partnership between two people. It doesn’t sound at all constructive as a means of improving communication.”
“Yeah, me neither.” Dean nods so Castiel thinks he agrees with him. He didn’t think this one through. He’d only intended it as a means to fool around, but Castiel is right. The absence of a third player makes it more a game of master and slave, which, come to think of it, Dean is not adverse to either, but apparently Castiel is. And when the hell did Castiel become some kind of relationship expert? “Hey, I don’t write the stuff,” Dean falsely defends. “That one wasn’t mandatory anyway. I think it was extra credit, so we can skip it.”
“Then what required tasks are left for us in the cupid’s manual?”
Dean wipes his hand over his mouth, thinking. “Just a bunch of dumb stuff, really.”
“All right. We still have to do them, regardless. How many are left?”
One. There’s only one more exercise that they have to do. In the last three days since ten tender minutes, they’ve practiced active listening, worked as a team, communicated with positive language, and made appreciation lists that got very dirty, very quickly. “I don’t know, maybe, uhm, three--” No, that’s not enough. Castiel would want to do those in one day. “--teen.”
“‘Threeteen?’” Castiel looks at Dean sideways as he repeats the word slowly. “Do you mean thirteen?”
“Or so." Dean remains noncommittal. “Whatever the number, it’s probably going to take us a while. A few more days, at least.”
“Are you sure over a dozen remain?” Castiel cants his head, thinking, and Dean can tell by the way he is not looking at him that he is starting to question Dean’s information. “We’ve already been here a week.”
“Well, Bob did say it was up to us how long we stayed here. He said it could be days or weeks or even...” Dean shrugs.
Castiel’s eyes grow wide and his mouth drops open as Dean speaks. “Forever,” Castiel finishes for him.
“Well, I doubt it will take that long, but, you know, Trish and Dave were gone for weeks. Even though we have no idea where they were or exactly what they were doing, we might want to prepare ourselves, you know, in case--”
“We can’t stay here forever Dean,” Castiel quietly interjects.
“No. Of course not.” Dean wrinkles his nose and flaps his hand as if it’s the most absurd thing he has ever heard. “We’ve got nothing here but some lame-ass house made of sticks and leaves. The food sucks, we don’t have clothes, and it’s boring as hell. Who would be stupid enough to want to stay here a minute longer than they have to?”
“I would.” Castiel combs his damp hair with his fingers. “As long as you were here, I would.”
Dean drops his head, kicks at the sand under his feet. “Yeah.”
“But we're still on a case. And it’s been much too easy for us to forget that beneath all of this, something bad is afoot.”
“The wedding trip will be over soon, and everyone will be returning to the States in a couple days. Sam must be beside himself.”
Dean rolls his eyes. “Are you seriously upset over missing your wedding?”
“We were never going to… Dean, you do remember that Sam and I were not a real couple, don’t you?”
Of course he does. Mostly. “I’m not an idiot, Cas. You’re the one still wearing Sam’s ring, not me.”
Castiel holds out his hand and laughs. “I’d forgotten it was there. It never even occurred to me to...” his voice trails off as he jerks the ring off of his finger and hurls it toward the water. “It’s clear that Sam and I were doomed from the start.”
“Well, he’s much too tall for me. Perhaps you’ve noticed?”
“Yes!” Dean slaps his hand on his thigh. “That’s what I've been... Wait, was that a joke? Cas, did you just make a joke?"
Castiel laughs, the same laugh Dean fell for back at the resort. He should have figured out then what was going on, how he really felt.
“But that’s not the only reason.”
“I’ll bite,” Dean says, leans back on his hands. “Is it the hair? It’s the hair, isn’t it? It’s gotta be the hair.”
Castiel raises one eyebrow. “Sam has lovely hair.”
“That’s exactly my point. A man’s hair shouldn’t be lovely.“
“Nevermind,” Dean gives up. “If it’s not the hair, then what is it?”
“It’s quite simple,” Castiel states in that way he says what he deems to be unquestionable truth. “I am, have been, and always will be, in love with his brother.”
“Cas.” It comes out a whisper, and Dean drops his eyes, shakes his head. “I… you’ve gotta know that I…” He cuts himself off just in time. He almost said it. For the first time since he was a boy, he wants to say it, and he can feel Castiel watching him, waiting for it, wanting it as much as Dean does. Maybe even more. But he’s not ready for all of this to end yet, and that’s what will happen once Dean says the words, because then their final task will be completed. “I need more time.”
“Oh,” Castiel says after several long, silent moments, his voice deep and low. “I see.”
“No, you don’t see,” Dean says. “I need to explain.”
Castiel rises to his feet, hastily covers himself with his loincloth, knots it tightly at the hip. “It’s all right, Dean. You don’t have to explain anything. Now if you’ll excuse me, I should check the trap.”
Dean springs up after him, throws on his robe and follows Castiel. “Yes, I do.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Shut up and listen, Cas.”
Dean grabs Castiel’s arm and stops him, turns him around. “You want to do the couples crap so badly, then we will. This next exercise is called shut up and listen.”
"That seems like an unnecessarily rude name for a task. Where is the book? I'd like to see the book."
"The book is gone. Now please shut up and listen to me."
"What do you mean the book is gone?"
Dean shakes his head, lowers his voice. “Something’s happening to me here, Cas. Something good. I feel different, I don’t know, stripped down I guess, and I don’t just mean in the no-clothes way." Castiel fights a grin. “I know it’s pretty fucking weird, but I think that being kidnapped and held here against my will might be the best thing to happen to me in a long fucking time, and I'm scared. This you and me stuff, I don’t want it to end.”
“Dean,” Castiel soothes. “It doesn’t have to end.”
“But what if it does? I mean, what if the whole reason this has finally worked after all these years is because of something on this island? Some angel voodoo, or magic, or, or, some kind of spell?”
“I don’t believe we’re under a spell.”
“But you don’t know. Can you say for certain that there’s no spell?"
Castiel frowns, lowers his eyes and says nothing.
“I didn’t think so. So what if we leave here, and I don’t feel it anymore? What if I go back to being the same dickwad hunter who’s so obsessed with doing his job and taking care of his larger-than-life little brother that he can’t even see what’s right in front of him?"
“Then this wasn’t our truth, Dean, and we go on as we were before.”
“And you’re okay with that? 'Cause I'm not, and I can’t take that chance, Cas. I don’t want to.”
“We have no choice.”
“We do,” Dean counters. He knows that he’s not being rational, that what he wants might be selfish, but he doesn’t care. “The cupid told us we do. If we don’t do the last one, if we don't finish it, then we can just...stay here.”
“No. We can’t.”
“A few more days then. Three. Or two.”
“What’s the last exercise?”
“We don’t have to--”
“Tell me. Dean, please, tell me.”
"One day. Just one more..." Dean sighs, frustrated. "A declaration of love. Tell your partner in clear and absolute terms that you love him.” He recites the instructions from memory with his arms crossed. “But I’m not gonna do it, Cas, and you can’t make me.”
Dean shakes his head. His mind is made up, and even Castiel’s soul-piercing squinty-eyed glare is not going to change it.
“Ah! There you are!”
Dean startles, jumps back a little when Cupid Bob steps over the dunes and toward them. “I believe congratulations are in order. Almost excellent work, both of you.”
Dean drops his hands to his hips. “What do you mean by ‘congratulations?’”
“You’ve completed all of the tasks set forth for you in the book.”
“No. We didn’t,” Dean insists. “Not the last one. I didn’t say it. I never made a declaration.”
“Haven’t you?” The cupid chuckles, almost fondly. “Your steadfast refusal to declare your love was one of the most genuine declarations of love I have yet to encounter, and I’ve seen my share, believe me.”
Dean blinks a few times. “Jesus Christ, you’ve got to be kidding me.”
The cupid scratches his head, confused. “No. I am Bob.”
Bob is definitely an angel.
“Whatever,” Dean huffs. “Okay then, so you're saying we win?”
“Win? This wasn’t a game,” Bob says. “But if it had been, you certainly would not have won."
Castiel has been silent, letting Dean do the talking while he observes, until now. He steps forward, closer to the cupid and beside Dean. “But as you've said, we've completed all of the tasks.”
"First, you refused my gift.” Bob points to Dean’s suitcase, dented and damaged from its tumble over the rocky cliff, which seems to have appeared out of nowhere and lies open in the sand by his feet. His clothes are disheveled, crumpled up inside of it. He peeks down at it, hoping to spot the demon knife.
Castiel turns to Dean. “Is that your suitcase?"
Dean rocks his head back and forth. “Maybe.”
“And then there is the not insignificant matter of the intentional and malicious destruction of my book.” The cupid’s unthreatening demeanor changes suddenly, his jaw twitches.
“Fuck,” Dean mumbles.
“And since you have not earned your release, I must now turn you over to my associate.” Bob raises his hand and moves toward Dean.
“Brother, no!” Castiel leaps in front of Dean, places himself between Dean and the angry angel.
“I am not your brother,” Bob says, as if offended by the thought of it.
“I know what you are.” Castiel speaks slowly, calmly. “You’re an angel, a cherub. You’ve lost your wings, as we all have. You’ve been cast from your home, forced to roam the earth, without orders, without instruction from Heaven, without a true mission.”
“How do you know this?”
“I, too, am an angel. And I can help you. I can help you get back to Heaven.”
Dean sees the flash of silver before he recognizes what it is. Bob brandishes his angel blade and takes a defensive stance. “You are not an angel. I would know if you were an angel.”
Dean lurches slightly forward, ready to go after Bob, but Castiel shakes his head and pushes Dean back in place behind him.
“I am.” Castiel extends his arm, exposes the underside of his wrist to the other angel for inspection. “My grace is bound by this rune. If you slice through it with your weapon, you will see that I am what I say I am.”
“It can't be. I can see your heart. You’re fraught with human emotion. And that one,” Bob gestures toward Dean,“is a mortal man, yet you love him in the way only humans love. How can it be possible that you're an angel?”
“He’s not any man.” Castiel says. “He is The Righteous Man.”
“And he’s not just any angel.” Dean moves to Castiel’s side. Dean has only met a couple of cupids before this one, but he knows that they are unlike other angels, that they love love. "Thanks to him, your Heaven’s back in business.”
“The Righteous Man?” Bob gawks at Dean. “I thought that was myth, nothing more than archangel propaganda.”
Dean smirks. “Yeah, well, you and me both, pal.”
Bob squeezes his eyes shut as he rubs at his forehead. “I must… I can’t… my associate…”
“No one minds if I go ahead and put on some pants now, do you?” Dean grabs a pair of jeans from the suitcase by his feet, discards his robe and pulls them on while Bob continues to murmur to himself. He hunkers down, pretends to sort through the clothes while searching with both hands for the demon knife.
“I will send you back,” Bob finally announces, and the blade disappears back to where it came from. “Come now. Quickly. Before he sees.”
“How can you do that?” Castiel asks. “We are no longer able to fly.”
“Synergy,” he says, and when Castiel pulls his brows together in question, he shakes his head. “There is no time for answers now, my brother.”
“Come with us.” Castiel places his hand on Bob’s arm. “I promise I will get you home.”
“Yes, I think I would like--” Bob stops and closes his eyes again. He brings both hands to his head while his entire body spasms, as if seizing up, but it ends as suddenly as it started, and when the cherub opens his eyes, they are red.
“Looking for this?” He holds up the demon knife, a sneer on his round, fat face. “You didn’t honestly think I would leave something like this in your luggage?”
“The angel’s a demon?” Dean stands slowly, and Castiel bends over quickly, then straightens himself up and moves even closer to Dean, the back of his shoulder touching the front of Dean’s. Dean knew from the get-go that a demon was involved, but he never suspected anything like this. “Cupid’s a motherfucking demon?”
“Now, back to business,” demon Bob says.
While the demon tucks the knife inside of his jacket, Dean glances down at Castiel’s hands, both of them moving behind his back. He’s trying to slice through his ward with a shell, but it's too dull, the edges smooth and unchipped, and it's not working.
“It's my understanding that you have rejected my friend’s attempts to unify you. That means it's my turn to offer you opportunity, door number two, if you will. So, gentlemen," Bob claps his hands together. “Let’s make a deal!”
It's as if the demon is unaware of the conversation they just had with the cupid, and this has all become too familiar to Dean. He recalls when he allowed the angel Gadreel to trick Sam into letting him inside, and Crowley helping to banish him by possessing Sam at the same time.
“What terms do you have in mind?” Castiel asks, feigning interest in order to engage him, to buy some time while he saws and jabs at the flesh of his wrist. “We are talking about a crossroads deal, are we not?”
When Dean sees blood start to drip into Castiel’s hands, he weighs his options. Even with his mojo, Castiel won't be able to take on this doubly possessed, angel - demon hybrid. Bob already informed them that the combined power within the short, bald man is greater than the sum of the two. Synergy. But that won’t stop Castiel. Dean’s only chance is to get to the angel blade and take Bob out before Castiel’s wrist-hacking successfully breaks the ward.
“Is there any other kind?”
The demon laughs at his own joke, until he notices that Castiel is up to something, and Dean uses his distraction to rush at him. He knocks him down on the ground, hears Castiel yelling his name behind him, but that doesn’t stop him. He punches demon Bob in the face, once, twice, three times before Bob gets with the program. He grabs both of Dean’s shoulders and fuck, he is strong. Too strong. The demon squeezes and twists, and Dean hears his bones cracking at the same time the pain washes over him. He yelps, feels Castiel behind him and sees a burst of bright blue-white-light before everything goes black.
“Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus…”
He’s on a beach.
“...omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio infernalis adversarii, omnis legio…”
He can smell it, feel it beneath him.
“...omnis congregatio et secta diabolica.”
He hears a voice - Castiel’s - and he opens his eyes to find him, but the sun is blinding.
“Ergo draco maledicte et omnis legio diabolica adjuramus te.”
He tries to cover his eyes, but a sharp, deep pain from the attempt to move his arm makes him cry out before he loses the light once again.
It’s comfortable, wherever he is now. Warm and cushy. He rolls onto his side, burrows under the soft quilt covering him.
Dean moans, not wanting to move. “Gimme a few more minutes, Cas.”
“Dean? Are you okay?”
Wait. There’s a hand on his shoulder, shaking gently, but there’s no pain. And that’s not Castiel asking him if he’s okay. It’s Sam.
Dean’s eyes fly open, still it takes him nearly half a minute to register where he is. Sam sits in a chair pulled up beside the bed in Dean’s villa, his hands folded together and elbows propped up on his knees. There’s a plate with half of a sandwich on the side table, an almost empty bottle of beer next to it. It looks like Sam’s been here for a little while.
“Where’s Cas?” Dean lurches upright and jerks the covers off of him.
Sam holds out his hand to slow him down. “He’s fine, Dean. How are you doing?”
Dean clamps onto his shoulder with one hand and swings his arm. “Apparently I’m fine, but I was messed up. Both of my shoulders were--”
“Cas fixed it.”
Of course he did. Dean scans the room. “And where is he?”
“With the other angel.”
“No!” Dean swings his legs over the side of the bed and leans forward. “That angel’s a demon, Sam. We have to find Cas. I can’t let anything happen to him.”
“The demon’s gone. It’s just an angel now, and Dev’s with them. Besides, I’m pretty sure Cas can take care of himself.”
That's right. There was an exorcism on the beach; he heard it himself. Dean reaches for the leftover sandwich, peeks between the bread. The sight of real food has his mouth watering, even if it is sliced turkey. He takes a bite. “So the demon’s back in hell?”
Sam clears his throat. “Not exactly.”
“What do you mean ‘not exactly?’ I heard Cas expelling the shit out of that demon.”
“It wasn’t just some rank and file demon, Dean. It was a crossroads demon.”
“And Cas isn’t just some rank and file angel." Dean’s offended by any inference to the contrary. “He cut through his tattoo with a fricking clam shell, Sam. He’s the Chuck Norris of angels.”
“That’s an interesting… okay.” Sam leans back in his chair, wipes his hands down his thighs. “Anyway, I think he got, uhm, distracted, and it managed to smoke out before the exorcism was completed.”
“Distracted? That doesn’t sound like Cas.”
Sam nods and shrugs his response.
“Son of a bitch. And where is it now?”
“We don’t know. That’s what Cas and…” Sam makes a face, says the next word as if it tastes bad coming out. “Bob, are trying to figure out.” Sam stands up, grabs something off of the dresser and tosses it at Dean. “Put this on and meet us at Dev’s room in the main hotel in ten minutes.”
Dean looks at the black, v-neck cotton shirt and shakes his head at it. Not exactly his style. “Come on!”
“Beggars can’t be choosers, Dean. That one’s mine, and you’re welcome. Dev was able to pick up some stuff for Cas from the gift shop. Neither one of you came back with any luggage, but at least you have pants. Cas was basically… well, I suppose you already know.”
Dean smirks at the mental image of Castiel and his loincloth. “Wasn’t my idea to come back at all,” he grumbles under his breath as he pulls the shirt over his head. And he was right about that, too, because so far, not so good.
“What was that?” Sam asks. “I didn’t hear you.”
Dean shakes his head. “Nothing.”
“There are some sandals over there for you.” Sam points to to the floor by the foot of the bed.
Sandals? Is he fucking kidding? Dean looks at the shoes, then back at Sam, lips pursed.
Sam chews his bottom lip, trying not to laugh. “Sorry, Dean. They don’t carry lug boots at the gift shop. I’ll see you in a few minutes.” Sam heads towards the front door of the villa, turns back to Dean as he opens it. “It’s good to have you back, Dean. I was--” He stops, looks away for a moment. “It’s just good to have you back.”
When Dean gets to the room Castiel is already there, sorting through Dev’s portable equivalent of the Impala trunk, his back to the door. Poor guy must be wearing Sam’s sweatpants, Dean decides, based on the fit of them, how they’re bunched up around his ankles and bare feet. His t-shirt is white, with some loud, touristy, tropical design and the name of the resort emblazoned across the back of it.
“Dean!” Dev jumps up and runs over to him, grabs him around the waist and squeezes. He hugs her back, but his eyes are on Castiel. “I’m so glad that you and Cas are okay.”
Castiel turns around when he hears Dean’s name, smiles at him from across the room. “Hello, Dean.”
“Cas.” Dean starts toward him, then stops. He doesn’t know what to do. He wants to run over to Castiel and close him in his arms. He wants to kiss him and thank him for once again saving him. But they’re not on fantasy island anymore, and Dean doesn’t get to do things just because he wants to. He’s a hunter on a case, along with the others, and they have a problem to solve. People’s lives are at stake, and now is not the time. Here is not the place. He keeps himself in check, clears his throat and gestures a thumbs up. “Thanks for the medical miracle, buddy.”
“Oh.” Castiel shuffles his feet, twists his mouth to one side. “Of course, Dean. It is, after all, what I’m here for, is it not?”
Dean rests his hands on his hips, sighs and shakes his head. “You know that’s not… I mean, I can’t now…”
“I’m going to get Bob,” Castiel announces, then makes his way toward the door. He stops next to Dean on his way out. “It’s all right.” He says the words sincerely. “I understand, and it’s all right, Dean.”
“No, it’s not.” Dean’s eyes dart around the room. “Can we talk about this later?”
Castiel nods, and Sam and Dean both watch him leave the room. “Dean?” Sam asks when it looks like Castiel is gone. “Did something happen on the island? I mean, I know we haven’t had a chance to talk yet, but you should fill us in if something important happened there.”
“Huh?” Dean’s barely listening to his brother.
“I said if something important happened on the island, we should know about it. It might matter.”
Dean doesn’t want to talk about it with Sam, or Dev, or anyone other than Castiel. What happened on the island, real or not, belongs to him and Castiel. “Nothing happened,” Dean snorts. “Nothing that matters happened on the island.”
Dean hears a sharply drawn breath from the doorway, and he turns toward it. He knows before he even looks that it's Castiel. “I forgot the key to Bob’s handcuffs,” Castiel explains hastily.
“Oh, right.” Sam reaches into his shirt pocket and digs out a key, tosses it to him. “Here ya go.”
Castiel disappears again, and Dean considers going after him, but he doesn’t. He sucks at this, in real life, he always has, and he’s only going to make it worse if he even tries. He needs to sort this out in his head before he can sort it out with Castiel, and although he thinks that he should, he’s not sure he can wait until after they’ve disposed of the demon and everyone is safe.
“Sam, give me your phone,” Dean demands. His own phone was yet another casualty of the island.
Sam pulls his cell phone from his back pocket. “The battery needs charging. Is it a quick call? Who do you need to contact?”
Dean snatches the device from Sam’s hand. “Mind your own damn business,” Dean warns, then takes the phone outside and calls Charlie.
“Don’t tell me you actually believe that you were magicked into falling in love with Cas.”
“I’m not… I, I, I don’t know,” Dean stammers. “It’s possible. It was a cupid, Charlie, that’s what they do. They whammy people with some sort of heavenly love potion.”
“I think if you’d been whammied, you wouldn’t be trying to figure out whether you’d been whammied. Besides, isn’t the cupid cut off from Heaven?”
As always, Charlie makes very valid points.
“I knew this would happen,” Dean whines. “I knew that once we were back here, it would change things. That’s why I didn’t want to leave.”
“Wow, you really have it in for yourself, Winchester. It’s like two steps forward and ten steps back with you.”
Charlie doesn’t pull punches, and Dean appreciates that. Usually. “What do you mean?”
She makes a clicking sound into the phone. “You’re a giant, walking, talking, self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“You’re implying that I’m doing this to myself?”
“Don’t be absurd,” Charlie snaps back at him in frustration. “I’m not implying anything. I’m telling you, with words from my mouth, that you’re doing this to yourself.”
“I don’t want to. It’s just that, on the island--”
“You're right. You didn’t really fall in love with Cas on that island, Dean.”
“You may have learned some shit about yourself there, finally removed that hard head of yours from your nicely-shaped buttocks and engaged in a little one-on-one with your bestie, which - sidebar - must’ve been awesome. Deets later, my friend. But you didn’t fall in love with him there, and he didn’t--”
The phone goes dead mid-sentence, and Dean throws it down in the sand. “Son of a bitch!”
They started without him. The cherub hasn’t resisted in any way since he brought them all back here to the resort, and the demon is no longer inside him, but they’ve bound him to a chair using properly warded handcuffs, just in case, while they question him about everything and anything he knows about the demon-at-large.
“You sure you don’t know his name?” Sam asks, his disbelief more than evident.
“I know you don’t believe me, but I never asked,” Bob says. “I only wanted to help people. I could see their hearts, their pain when their love was challenged. But no one would listen to me. No one wanted to save the precious gift they'd been given. It takes effort, work, and they couldn’t be bothered to even try. All I did was give them an opportunity to try.”
“You mean you forced them to,” Sam says. “And the ones that failed? What happened then?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” Bob says. “We kept to ourselves as much as possible while inside this vessel. I didn't question his motives because he had something I no longer had, and I admit that I was drawn to that. I kept silent because I wanted to feel as though I could fly again. It wasn't the same, but it was as close as I've come since we were cast down here. You understand?" He directs his question to Castiel. "You know the feeling, don’t you brother?”
Castiel hesitates, and at first it seems like he is going to answer him, but instead he gets angry, clenches his jaw and glares at the other angel. “Why these people?”
Bob pulls back and away from Castiel, as much as he can within his restraints. “He told me he could provide an endless supply of couples in need, and he was right. I used what was left of my gift to choose each couple. We created their opportunity and then, for the most part, stayed out of the way.”
Dean moves in front of Bob. “So you kidnapped them, and what, mojo’d them into having feelings? Tricked them into thinking they’d get a happily ever after?”
The bound cherub's mouth drops open, appalled at what Dean has accused him of. “Is that what you think? Is that what you believe I did to --”
Dean cuts Bob off to shut him up before he reveals too much. “Shut up. This isn't about me.”
“I agree that my methods were unorthodox, but I’d never…” Bob drops his chin, shakes his head slowly. “Love is a gift from my Father. I love love. I would never…”
Castiel squats down in front of the distraught angel, speaks to him gently. “Is there anything else you can tell us about the demon, brother?”
“No, that's about it.”
Sam turns to the group. “Well if we don't even know for sure who it is, or what its motivation is, I'm not sure how…”
“He did it for his sister,” Bob pipes in. “That much I do know. He said he had to do this for...what was her name? … Beth.”
Sam quirks a brow. “Bess?”
“Yes, that's it. Bess. He was quite fond of her.”
“So it's definitely Uncle Harold.” Dev says aloud what they're all thinking. “Now what?”
Sam casually puts his arm around Dev and pulls her into him as if it is an ordinary thing, as if it’s something normal between them, and Dean realizes, suddenly, that it is. A whole lot can happen in a week. A whole lot has.
“Now we summon Uncle Harold,” Sam says.
Dev looks up at Sam, and it’s not only affection Dean sees all over her face, but also reverence and awe, appreciation for who Sam is. It catches him off guard, because he’s seen this look, hell, he’s given this look, many, many times before. Before he understood.
“Cas?” He looks around the room for Castiel, to let him know that he gets it now, that he's figured out what Charlie meant on the phone, but Castiel is already gone.
“Go ahead.” Sam nods toward the food laid out on the small table between them. “Eat. You must be chomping at the bit for something that doesn’t grow on a tree.”
Dean looks down at the plates Sam has filled and brought to the table for both of them and considers his options. “I probably should find Cas and check on him. I think this angel-demon tag-team vesseling has him a little, uhm…” He wants to talk to Castiel, he needs to talk to him, but there’s a pissed off demon on the loose and a rogue - no, misguided - angel cuffed up in Dev’s hotel room. The last thing they need is Dean chick flicking everything up.
“Rattled?” Sam finishes the thought for him when it’s clear that he’s not going to. “Yeah, there’s definitely something bothering him. Dev just texted me that after they go check on Bob he wants to go for a swim, mentioned needing to clear his head.”
“Yeah, he really likes to swim. Every morning, before the sun even came up he would--” Dean cuts himself off when he realizes that whatever his face is doing has Sam much too amused. “Nevermind,” he mumbles.
“Anyway, Cas and Dev checked out everyone they could find who’s still here, to make sure Uncle Harold hasn’t hopped onboard someone else. But I’m guessing that he probably took off after Cas tried to exorcise him. No couples, no contracts.”
“Probably right.” Dean skims the nearly empty patio. “So everyone else from the group is…?”
“Gone. They left yesterday, except Molly. Not enough seats left in the last minute flight, so she left this morning.”
Sam nods. “Everyone was successfully wed, then we had to send them back stateside a couple days early. Made up some story about one of the staff being sick and a mandatory quarantine if they stayed. We were kind of at a loss, had no clues as to where you and Cas had been taken, and being two hunters down, we were spending all of our time protecting everyone when we needed to be working on finding you guys.”
“Makes sense, I guess.”
“We’re supposed to meet Dev and Cas when they’re done, probably in about thirty minutes. Then we can update Caroline and Richard. In the meantime, thought you might want some of your usual hunter grub.”
“Cas told us that you guys survived by eating fruit and fish. I know that must’ve been torture for you, Dean.”
There are french fries directly in front of him, set out on a plate beside something that might pass as a burger to the untrained eye, but Dean is skeptical. “What’s this?”
Sam removes the top of the bun and points to what’s underneath. “It’s a hamburger. That’s arugula there, with melted Manchego on a brioche bun.”
Dean frowns. “Yeah, I don’t know those words.” He plucks a fry from the pile, inspects it before shoving it into his mouth.
“It’s a burger, Dean. Maybe not exactly what you’re used to, but it’s a burger and you love burgers. Try it.”
Whatever it is, it smells good. In the past week, he ate more fruit than he would have thought was humanly possible. Some fancy bread and funky lettuce won’t hurt him now. Dean picks the thing up with both hands and takes a bite. He doesn’t wait until he’s finished chewing to speak. “What else did Cas tell you?”
“Not much. He’s been busy with Bob, since he healed you and put you to sleep. Something about his healing power not being one hundred percent right now and your body needing rest to allow your cells to complete the repair process.”
“That sounds like Cas,” Dean chuckles.
“True. Anyway, Bob told Cas that the demon told him that Trish and Dave made some sort of arrangement with him, that they were going to be very happy and they’re due for a big lottery win as soon as the interest in their disappearance dies down. And the other couple are still somewhere that they believe is a luxury penthouse hotel room in Vegas, working through some kind of personalized relationship recovery plan, whatever that means.”
“Any idea what that means?”
He doesn’t answer. Instead he takes another bite of the fancy burger, which isn’t bad afterall, and changes the subject. “So Trish and Dave traded an eternity of hellfire for ten years of champagne wishes and caviar dreams. As many times as we’ve seen it happen, I’ll never understand it.” It’s not the selling of their own souls that Dean finds so offensive - he’s done it himself - but the material value they place on them. “Is that everything?”
“Everything Cas told me, yes.” Sam taps his fingers on the table, like he does when he’s trying to decide whether or not to say something. Dean wishes that he’ll decide to keep whatever it is to himself, but no such luck. “I’m guessing there’s more that happened there.”
“And I’m guessing there’s more that happened here.” Dean deflects, adds a hand gesture for emphasis.
“Yes, there is.” Sam leans forward, hands folded on the table in front of him. The creases in his forehead and slight upward curve of his mouth signals that he’s in brother-to-brother meaningful talk mode. He doesn’t say anything else, doesn’t prod Dean in any way. He’s allowing him to take the lead, and Dean appreciates that.
“So you and the hot huntress,” Dean says through another mouthful of burger. “Awesome score, little bro. Proud of you.”
“Dean.” Sam forces a frown, shakes his head once in clear disapproval. “That’s not--”
Dean holds up a hand in apology. “You’re right, that was sexist. We’re all equals here. I meant hot hunter.”
“It’s more than that.”
“You mean she’s bendy, too,” Dean says, one side of his mouth twisting up. “I know.”
“I mean she’s incredibly bright, Dean. Her father’s a hunter, and so are her uncles. She’s the first female hunter in her family. Did you know that she went to Oxford on a full scholarship? And she’s got a black belt in Aikido. She can kick ass, but still she’s kind, and compassionate, and all that empath stuff, I thought it would be weird, but it’s not. It’s nice, actually, because I don’t even have to say anything, she just knows when I need…” Sam stops suddenly, smiles. “I’m sorry. TMI, right? It’s been a rough week. She helped me through it.”
“So this isn’t just a thing,” Dean concludes. It's not a surprise, after seeing the way Dev looked at him. “It’s actually more of a… thing.”
Sam is fluent in Dean, so there’s no need for clarification. “Yes. I think so.”
Dean leans back in his chair, assesses his brother. It’s nice, and, in a way, satisfying, to see him so goddamned happy. “Well that’s great Sam. She’s great, and it’s all, you know, great.”
“Of course really.”
Sam cocks his head. “You do know that I’m a lot taller than she is.”
“Yes I know. I have eyes, Sam.”
“And that’s it? You’ve got nothing to say about that?”
Dean’s not sure what he’s getting at. “Uh, what do you mean, like you want advice? I suppose I’d recommend you get yourself the Kama Sutra. You can always find something that works for you in there.”
“No that’s not--” Sam drops his head, grins to himself. “So how about you?”
“Yes you. And Cas. Taken by a possessed angel, dropped off on a deserted tropical island, forced to live on fish and fruit, and to wear mini-skirts,” Sam teases.
“Hey, hey, hey, that was a loincloth, which happens to be perfectly legitimate deserted island attire, by the way. But I didn’t need one.” Dean stops short of disclosing that in those last few days, more often than not, he wore nothing at all. “Cas sure as hell pulled it off though, didn’t he?”
Both of Sam’s brows shoot up. “You mean the loincloth? I, uh, didn’t really notice, Dean.”
“Huh.” For a moment, Dean gets lost in the memory of his scantily-clad friend, contemplating whether Jimmy Novak had been a runner or a skier. Either way, he’d kept himself in damn good shape under that ill-fitting suit and over-sized trench coat. “Well, he did.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Sam says, smirking fondly. “Listen, if you want to talk about what happened while you were--”
“You already know,” Dean interrupts, shrugs it off. “Fish, fruit, loincloth.”
“I mean between you and Cas.”
“Nothing happened between--” Dean abandons his attempt to dispute it when he sees Sam’s face, how damn sad he looks when Dean begins to lie to him. Sam knows. Just like Charlie, he knows, probably knew long before Dean did. Dean grabs a banana from his brother’s plate, peels it with practiced efficiency and eagerly takes a bite. “I thought Bad Cupid had screwed up by taking me instead of you,” Dean offers. “It took me a couple days to figure out that he didn’t.”
Although it’s not much, Sam’s gets it. He stifles a grin while he tips his head, content with Dean’s revelation. “Cupids don’t make those kinds of mistakes,” he tells him.
Dean rolls his eyes and slaps his hand on the table in feigned anger. “Does everyone know this but me?”
Dean excuses himself to get something from his room, but really to look for Castiel. He goes by Dev’s hotel room, uses the key he swiped from Sam to open the locked door.
The only one there is Bob, still handcuffed to the chair, not at all bothered by the restraints.
“He’s not here,” Bob says when Dean peeks inside the room.
Denial is so ingrained in him, so automatic that he starts to ask the Cupid who he’s referring to before he realizes how senseless that would be. Bob could see things inside Dean that had been buried there for years.
He steps inside the room and closes the door behind him. “Where is he?’
“Good question,” the Angel muses. “I’d say he’s caught somewhere between what is and what was; what will and what never will be.”
He’s in no mood for cryptic angel bullshit. “Okie doke,” Dean says as he turns sharply on his heel, his hand still on the door handle.
“You’re angry that I brought you back. I’m sorry about that, but it was the right thing to do.”
Dean jerks his head around. “So you want a fucking medal?”
“What would I do with a med--” Bob stops mid-word when he catches Dean’s warning glare. “I don’t think you realize that Castiel is one-of-a-kind. He’s not wholly angel, at least not anymore. He carries the burden of emotions - the chaos of humanity - yet he’s not entirely human. It’s extraordinary, really. I don’t know whether I envy him or weep for him.”
“Get to the point,” Dean barks, tries to sound outraged, but he can’t seem to muster up the necessary venom. His anger is tempered by gratitude he can’t help but feel for the time he had with Castiel, for the discoveries he made on the island.
“I am going to ask Castiel to return to Heaven with me.”
Son-of-a-bitch. Dean’s jaw clamps shut, tightens. He’d hoped that now that Hannah was taking care of things in Heaven, Castiel would finally let go of his misplaced responsibility, even distance himself from his dysfunctional celestial family. As far as Dean is concerned, any debt Castiel had to the angels has been paid in full. Castiel doesn’t feel the same way, and Dean doubts that he ever will.
“You want him here, but you know deep down that this is no place for angels,” Bob observes. “When left alone here we are aimless, adrift, easily led astray by things that were never meant for us. Human things. But in Heaven, all angels can benefit from his experience. His dual nature will be a breath of fresh air and help to facilitate some much-needed change.” He pauses, takes a deep breath and presses his lips together, as if he is reluctant to say what he’s going to say next. “I feel your love for him. It’s strong, goes deep. But even you can see that my brother was meant for bigger things, greater things. We need him to come home.”
Dean doesn’t respond, mostly because there’s nothing he can say to counter any of the Cupid’s ramblings. He turns away from him, hides his face while he opens and closes his fist a few times, mulling over whether or not he wants to use it on Bob's face. He decides not to and pulls the door open. “Well you're wasting your breath telling me,” he says, not quite as firmly as he’d intended. "What Cas does is entirely up to him."
“No,” Bob states plainly. “I don’t believe it is.”
Without looking back, Dean leaves the room, slamming the door behind him.
Dean plops onto his bed and kicks his sandals off with enough force that they fly across the room in different directions. He doesn’t care. He likes being barefoot. He’s sick of those fucking sandals, and all of these goddamned clothes come to think of it, and he’s overcome with a sudden urge to get rid of it all. He begins to strip, pulls his t-shirt over his head, flings it away in disgust and goes straight for his pants. He pops the button on the waistband of his jeans, abruptly halts when he realizes that he is not alone in his room.
“Feeling a little nostalgic, are we?”
Dean freezes when he hears Molly’s voice, sees her standing by the open sliding glass doors. The bright sun behind her keeps her mostly in shadow as she leans against the door. “By all means, proceed. Don’t let me stop you.”
“I was going for a swim.” He says it slowly, to give himself time. “Sam told me that you left this morning.”
“Did he? Well as you can see, my departure didn’t go quite as planned. But then again, when do things ever really go as planned?”
“Any specific plan you’re referring to?” Dean’s eyes sweep the room, scanning it for a weapon. He knows that Sam must have recovered the demon knife from Bob, and he more than likely has it with him since they didn’t know Uncle Harold’s whereabouts. Until now. “Because it seems to me that you got exactly what you bargained for.”
Even without a backup plan, he’s almost relieved that he can’t find the knife. He likes Molly, respects her for rejecting his panic-fueled come on, and the last thing he wants is to have to kill her.
Molly steps further inside, one arm folded behind her. “I truly hope that you are correct.”
“Why don’t you drop the meatsuit and let the girl go.”
“And how do you propose I do that?” Molly’s hand comes out from behind her back, revealing an angel blade in her fist. She points it toward Dean as she steps closer. “Oh, look what I found under your boyfriend’s bed.”
Dean gives the room another once-over, searching in vain for anything he can use to defend himself. “You don’t need a ride. If you just hightail your smoky ass back to Hell and tear up Trish and Dave’s contract, I think we can let bygones be bygones.”
“What a generous offer from the unarmed man,” Molly taunts. “The contract is non-negotiable. I wouldn’t even be in this predicament if not for the embarrassing wardrobe malfunction your angel caused me this morning, although I suppose I should thank you for interrupting him. Now there’s something we have in common. Trouble with angels.” The demon shakes Molly’s head. “They’re such unpredictable creatures.”
That almost makes Dean laugh. Castiel is anything but unpredictable. He's steady, definitive, constant; the fixed point that Dean so badly needs - no, wants - in his life.
When Castiel appears standing on the deck outside of the open glass doors, his skin dotted with drops of seawater that glisten in the sunlight, Dean thinks it is a mirage. For a split-second he forgets that there's a demon between them, and he smiles. But Castiel isn’t smiling. He’s raking his hand through his hair and looking at Dean as if he has just kicked a puppy.
“I was swimming, and I thought you… I was certain that I sensed your...” Castiel’s eyes dart between Dean and Molly’s back. “It didn’t occur to me that you would not be alone.”
“Get rid of him,” Molly whispers to Dean, moving closer to him and tightening her grip on the blade.
“I’m kind of busy right now, Castiel.” Dean emphasizes the full name as a tip-off that all is not well. So far, the demon has been smart enough to never look back, keeping it’s true face hidden from the Angel.
Castiel’s nose wrinkles when he catches the scent of the sulfur in the air around him. He stands in place for a moment, his eyes narrowing as he puts it all together. He starts toward the room, but Dean signals to him with a tiny shake of his head. By the time the demon swings around to take a look, Castiel is no longer there.
“He’s gone, like you wanted,“ Dean says. “Now let’s you and me work this thing out. What do you want?”
Molly’s shoulders shrug. “You took him from me, I want him back.”
That wasn’t the response Dean expected. “Now that he knows what you’re up to, what you really are, I don’t think he wants you back.”
The demon nods toward where Castiel had been standing. “It looks like you have the same problem I do.”
He knows that it’s just demon-talk, designed to provoke him, still he can't help but think that there could be some truth to it. Maybe Dean is foolish to believe that a few miraculous days can change so much. “Why do you want him?”
“I have things to do, obligations. I need a proper meatsuit, and pretty as it is, this one won’t do. Bob was the best ride a demon could wish for. We worked well together. Maybe it’s the grace, or simply the sharing of one body that belongs to neither of us, but whatever it is, angels are the Rolls Royce of vessels.”
“Now who’s the nostalgic one?” It sounds to Dean like Uncle Harold actually misses Bob. He continues to engage the demon, to stall until Castiel returns with Sam. “But seriously, a Rolls?”
“They’re the finest vehicles ever made.”
“Whatever you say.” Dean huffs, makes a face. “I mean, it’s not an Impala.”
Dean nods emphatically, tries to sell it. “I’m just wondering why you would want to drive something as pretentious as a Rolls when you could have the reliability and street smarts of a sixty-seven Chevy Impala.”
“An Impala?” Molly snickers, and Dean can’t help but take offense at her incredulous tone. “You do understand that I’m not actually speaking about automobiles?”
Dean rolls his eyes and taps his chest. “I mean me. I’m the Impala. If you let go of Molly, we can scratch through my ink and you can hop into the driver’s seat. You leave the girl and the angel out of this. So whaddya say? You feel the need for speed?”
“Are you quoting Top Gun?” The demon lowers its weapon and steps back and away from Dean. “How did you know?"
Dean racks his brain, but he doesn't know whatever it is Uncle Harold thinks he knows. "Oh yeah. You'd be surprised what I know."
"Bess’s favorite movie. Did she tell you that? Do you know her?”
“Yes,” Dean lies. “It was her favorite movie. But I don’t think it’s her appreciation for awesome Tom Cruise flicks that’s got her ghost stuck here, Harold.”
“You know my name… “ Molly’s face contorts into such an agonized look that Dean almost feels sorry for the demon. “Her ghost? Bess is dead? No, you’re lying. Bess can’t be dead.”
Sam shouts his name while he bursts through the front door. Castiel rushes in through the rear patio doors at the same time. Wielding the demon knife, Sam positions himself next to Dean. With Castiel behind him, the demon is surrounded, but not trapped. It could disappear or smoke out at any time, but it doesn’t.
The three men exchange glances, unsure of what to make of it, until Castiel begins the exorcism ritual.
“No, wait. Please.” The demon looks up, tears welling up in Molly’s eyes. “She’s not in hell. I didn’t know. Please, tell me what happened.”
“Of course she’s not in hell,” Sam says. “You’re the one who made the crossroads deal.”
“We both did,” Harold discloses. “Bess did it first. She did it for me, for the business, my success. I didn’t find out about it until a year before her time was up. I was furious at first, but then it occurred to me that I could make my own deal, a deal to save her soul.”
Dean already knows the next part of Harold’s story. “So you traded your soul for hers.”
Harold nods. “And I only had a short time, a year before I was taken. I told no one, but I altered my will. I grew to hate the business, for what it represented, but I couldn’t sell it because I couldn’t raise any suspicion. I didn’t want Bess to learn what I had done. So I left the business to my nephew, who I was certain would get rid of the cursed thing one way or another. But it seems I was wrong about that.”
“So you hate the business and you wanted to destroy it? Is that what this was all about?”
“It was more of a two birds situation. My deal was not a simple soul for soul exchange. I was too desperate and they knew it. My contract was for my soul and my business acumen. I was to become a salesman for Hell. I resisted for a long time, hundreds of years, until I was advised that should I renege, Bess’ contract would be reinstated. I worked my way up through the ranks then, until I became what I am now.”
“Harold, I didn’t know.”
All heads turn toward the voice. Dean didn’t see or hear them come in; he has no idea how long they’ve been there, but Dev and Caroline are standing next to Sam. Dev holds onto Caroline’s arm, but allows her to pull away and go to Harold when she realizes that Caroline isn’t really Caroline. “My brother. Harry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. But you have to stop.”
“You’re not in Hell, but… have I failed you, Bess?”
“No, you haven’t. It’s I who have failed you. When my spirit leaves this plane, I will not go to Hell.” Caroline reaches for Harold, takes hold of Molly’s hand. “You must stop collecting innocent souls, Harry, and release the young people from their contract. This is not what you are. It’s over now, my life and yours. Even with the best intentions, we've hurt each other. There’s no reason to hurt anyone else.”
“It is done.” Molly wipes the tears from Caroline’s eyes. “Go, now. I want to see it. Go to Heaven. For both of us.”
Caroline nods, and Molly leads her outside and onto the open deck over the lagoon. Caroline kisses Molly’s cheek, then stumbles backwards and falls to the ground as Bess’s soul leaves her body and spirals upward into the clear blue sky.
Dean clenches his jaw and looks at his brother beside him. He knows that he, too, is thinking about the questionable things they've done for one another, the deal Dean once made to save him and how differently that all could have ended if it hadn’t been for Castiel.
Castiel stands alone by the patio door, watching Molly. As Dean heads across the room to join him, his friend’s low, deep voice begins to chant once more.
“Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus, omnis satanica potestas...”
“Stop!” Harold shakes Molly’s head and brings the angel blade up, holding it in both hands. “I won’t go back! I can’t go back there! They’ll never let me go. I’d rather--”
Dean panics. He runs toward the demon, expecting it to lunge at Castiel with the blade but instead, it turns it on itself - on Molly.
“No!” Dean leaps at Molly, grabs her with both hands and holds onto her as they go over the side of the deck and into the water below.
There’s a sharp sting as they hit the water, and Dean lets go of Molly. The demon writhes in the saltwater, but it has lost the blade and Molly appears to be unharmed. The water is less than six feet deep, yet it’s a struggle for Dean to get to the surface, to get to Molly, and when he sees red clouds billowing around him, he understands why. He presses his hand to the bleeding wound on his chest, feels it pulsing under his fingers and gasps. Water fills his throat and the muscles there contract and close off. He can’t breathe.
He is warm, wrapped in something soft and downy. For the first time in forty years, he feels comfort. He reaches up, wants to see who, or what it is that is caring for him, healing him from the inside out, but he can’t.
“Why me?” he chokes out through his tears. “I've done terrible things. I am nothing.”
“You are everything.” Dean does not recognize the sounds his protector makes but he is soothed by them, able, somehow, to understand them. “You are The Righteous Man, and for as long as I am, you will always be saved.”
He hears his name and relaxes. He shuts his eyes and allows himself to slip away under the water as a strong, steady hand grabs him by his shoulder and pulls him, once again, from the abyss.
There are some pretty awesome things Dean gets to do when he is alone in the bunker. Like set up tiny toy armies on the map table in the war room. Or practice his Clint Eastwood impersonation by spouting off Dirty Harry monologues in the shooting range. And talk to Charlie on speakerphone while he experiments in the kitchen.
“So it’s not that you haven’t heard from him, you just haven’t spoken to him.” Charlie sums up their conversation so far while Dean struggles to select the proper measuring implement from the ones laid out on the table.
“How the hell are you supposed to measure this crap?” Dean growls at the mess he’s making by trying to shove peanut butter into a stainless steel cup, but Castiel likes peanut butter, and he’s going to learn how to make these cookies if it’s the last thing he does. “Yeah, he doesn’t have a phone anymore. We didn’t have them on us when Bob used the demon’s power to vote us off the island.”
“They weren’t in your pockets?”
“Uhm…” Dean’s told Charlie about what happened when he and Castiel were held captive. He told her about the angel-demon hybrid, about Bob’s book and the compelled couple’s counseling, even about his personal breakthrough and changing relationship with Castiel. But he didn’t tell her about all of the, well, nakedness. Some things were meant just for him and his Angel. “No.”
Castiel had called the day after Dean got home, before Dean’s brand new phone was fully charged, and while Dean was passed out from exhaustion; fast asleep and still recovering from the trauma of the return trip. After healing Dean, Castiel left the resort with Bob before Dean gained consciousness. To return Bob’s vessel to Europe, Sam explained, where he resided before allowing the cherub in. Then, when Sam announced that he was going back to Mumbai with Dev to meet her family, Molly and the Hawthornes stepped in and helped him through the incessantly long flight to Los Angeles. Even though she was still shaken herself from the ordeal, Dean was grateful to have Molly there. He had to go stag the final leg of the trip, and although it wasn’t as bad as it has been in the past, he was drained by the time he finally got back to the bunker.
Thanks to an awful connection from god-only-knows where, the message Castiel left was garbled and Dean couldn’t make out a word of it, other than his own name.
“We used to watch the sunrise together every morning, and now I don’t know where the hell he is, or when I’ll see him again. The weird thing is, I don’t remember ever doing that before, taking time out to watch the sun come up. It never seemed important, but on the island, when it was just me and him, it was the most, I mean, it was our… “ Dean doesn’t finish. She gets the point and if he keeps going he’ll end up either breaking things or bawling. “Whatever. I miss it, that’s all.”
Nope. He can’t deal with the sympathy on top of the loss. Not even in its sincerest form. “Look, it doesn’t matter. No big deal. I’m sure he’s busy taking care of Heaven business with his newest angel amigo, Bob.”
“So you’re stuck there by yourself while Sam gets his groove on in India and Cas is somewhere over the rainbow? I wish I could come hang, Dean, but Doc hasn’t given me my walking papers.”
“I’m fine. I’m good. Really. But if you need some help with your leg, I could come to you?” The suggestion is for Charlie’s sake, not his. He prefers to do his wallowing solo.
Charlie, intuitive to a fault, gets it. “Nah. I’m all set up here for a hardcore marathon gaming session, which is scheduled to start in t-minus whenever I get off of the phone. Besides, you should be there when Cas comes home.”
When Cas comes home. He likes the sound of that. Maybe he likes it too much. “If he comes home.”
“He will.” Charlie says it without a speck of doubt. “And Dean, just so you know. Wherever you are, the sun comes up there every morning, too.”
It’s nearly five in the morning when Sam calls him to tell him that Castiel is on his way. “He wanted to make sure it was okay for him to go to the bunker.”
“Why the hell didn’t he call me?” Dean scratches his head, puts the phone on speaker so he can get up and get ready while he talks to Sam.
“I’m pretty sure he didn’t want to wake you up.”
“But he’s okay with waking you up?”
“It’s the middle of the afternoon here, Dean.”
With all of his moping about Castiel, he’d all but forgotten that his brother was still on the other side of the world. “Right. Did you meet the Fockers?”
Sam laughs. “I did. And unlike the movie, we get along great. I like them, they like me. At least I think they do. Anyway, should be leaving here in a couple of days.”
There’s a short pause on the other end of the line. “I was hoping to talk to you about that.”
“Nothing to talk about Sam. You may be bigger than me, but if you come back here without her, I will personally kick your skinny ass to kingdom come.”
“Thanks Dean. You’re an incredible brother, you know that?”
“Yes. Yes I do.”
“And Cas is lucky to have--”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, shut up. I’ve gotta go.”
Dean’s on the roof of the old power plant over the bunker. The tall, concrete structure may be abandoned, but somehow it still provides the bunker with electricity, and Dean’s never going to question it. Despite not knowing how long he would have to wait - days, weeks, months, maybe even years - he began preparing for his friend’s return as soon as he got home himself. He left a note for Castiel, directions to the lift that will get him up here, then settled in to wait for him.
It doesn’t take long. He hears the creak of the door, then Castiel’s wary voice. “Dean?”
“Over here.” Dean calls to him from the east side of the rooftop.
When Castiel turns the corner, he is on alert, angel blade in hand, ready to battle whatever threat might await him. Dean holds up both hands to show him that he is safe, and Castiel halts in place.
Dean watches Castiel as he takes in the unexpected scene before him. There is a layer of sand spread out over a ten square foot area, a few shells Dean collected himself as souvenirs from the beach thrown in for good measure. A basket with coconuts, mangoes, and bananas sits on the sand beside a small, coconut husk-fueled fire. Castiel’s weapon falls from his hands, hits the floor with a clang. His jaw drops open, and he blinks a few times, swallows hard.
“What is all this?” His voice cracks on the words, and Dean’s stomach twists with the possibility that Castiel is upset, that he blew his chance with the Angel and now Heaven gets him back.
Dean clears his throat. “A nosy, yet wise-beyond-her-years nerd friend of mine reminded me that the island was only a place.”
“Yep, Charlie.” He takes a couple small steps toward Castiel. “And so I figured, why not make an island here. Our own little patch of sand. At the bunker. Home.”
Castiel’s eyes drop down to watch his own hands while they fidget with the hem of his overshirt. Castiel is nervous, and Dean finds some confidence in that. He moves even closer, stops when he is just short of an arm’s length away. “Maybe some of the island was imaginary, but what I feel isn’t. What’s in my heart, isn’t. And it could never have been a spell because the thing is, it was there all along. I buried it by renaming it, called it friendship, comradery, family - everything but what it was. What it is. Cas, you’ve been the realest thing in my life for a long fucking time, and I love you, man. Plain and simple.”
Castiel sighs, his exhale shaky. “Dean. When did you… ?”
“At the resort. I wanted to tell you. I looked for you to tell you. But then…”
“I had to accompany Bob back to Heaven.” Castiel’s eyes are shiny now, wet. “I couldn’t let him go alone. You do understand, don't you? It was my duty.”
Dean looks away, rubs the back of his neck. “Right. Heaven. I know, buddy. I get it.”
“They want me to come back for a while. They tell me they need me, to help them get things in order.”
He was prepared for this, thanks to Bob’s unsolicited rant in Dev’s hotel room, and he’s already made his peace with it. Sort of. At least as much peace as he’s capable of making with it. Regardless, he’ll accept it and learn to live with it, because it’s all part and parcel of being in love with an angel of the Lord. Besides, the alternative is untenable. “How long?”
Castiel’s head tilts slightly. “What do you mean?”
His shoulders instinctively slump, but he pushes them back up to hide his disappointment. Dean presses his lips into a straight line. He doesn’t want Castiel to feel badly about any decision he has made, and if the only reason he came back is to tell Dean he’s leaving, he’d rather he just rip off the bandage, get it over with quickly and painfully. “How long will you be gone? Just so I have an idea when--”
“I’m not going back to Heaven.”
“No. Our experience on the island has had a profound effect on me as well. I’m tired of trying to always go where I’m needed. For once, and possibly for the first time in my existence, I am choosing to be where I am wanted.”
Dean closes the gap between them, grabs Castiel’s face with both of his hands and kisses him once, hard on the mouth, then stops. “Wait. You do mean here, right?”
“I mean with you, Dean. Wherever that takes us.”
The relief is almost too much for Dean. His knees nearly buckle when the tension leaves him. He holds onto Castiel and steadies himself, then takes his friend’s hand, leads him over to the sand so they can sit. Castiel hesitates for a moment, looks around the fire-lit faux beach. “I don’t know what to say. This is so thoughtful, and so lovely.”
“Well you know me. Thoughtful and lovely.”
Castiel’s eyes scrunch up, considering for a moment before he breaks into hearty laughter.
“It wasn’t that funny,” Dean grumbles, not to himself, but Castiel’s laughter is contagious, and he can’t help but join him. They’re both still laughing when Dean pulls Castiel down onto the sand with him.
“So what do we do now?” Castiel sinks his fingers into the blanket of sand beneath him.
He slides his hand over Castiel’s. “How about we watch this sun come up?”
Castiel grins, focuses on the brightening line of their rooftop horizon. “All right.”
Sitting side by side, both men kick off their shoes and dig their toes into the sand. “I'm not sure I know how to do this, you know, with our clothes on. But I think we should.”
Castiel smiles. “Are you sure? Because we can remedy that fairly easily.”
“I’m sure. But…” Dean tips his head at Castiel. “I did bring the loincloth home. In case you’re ever feeling... encumbered.”
“Once again, very thoughtful of you.” Castiel is not laughing this time, and the sparkle in his eyes is a promise that makes Dean’s skin tingle. “It is warm, though. You don’t mind if I remove my jacket, do you?”
“Not at all.” Dean helps Castiel out of the corduroy overshirt he recognizes to be one of Sam’s, revealing a much too bright t-shirt under it. Dean laughs to himself at first, because it is obviously one of the gift-shop shirts Dev purchased for him, but when he gets a second look, it hits him like a falling anvil, and his faith in nearly every-fucking-thing is renewed.
Above the colorful depiction of the sun rising over a palm tree studded beach, one word is printed in large, clear letters and splayed across Castiel’s chest like a neon sign; a cosmic reminder that in this moment, everything is exactly as it should be.
Dean hands out sandwiches while Sam and Dev compare research notes on their laptops. Castiel sits across from them in the library with an oversized, leather-bound manual open in front of him. He taps the empty seat beside him, a signal for Dean to sit down and join them in their hunt preparation, and Dean does.
“Just so you know, after this case, Cas and I are going on a little fishing trip, so you two crazy kids will have the entire bunker to yourselves for a few days.” Dean winks and nods his head suggestively at the couple across from him. “You can run around naked all you want.”
“Why would we run around the bunker naked?” Sam asks.
“Not me, no,” Dean responds quickly, then corrects himself. “I mean, no reason. Right Cas? No wait - don’t answer that.”
Castiel side-eyes Dean before he speaks. “Dean wants to teach me to fish with a pole and a small hook,” he says, much to Dean’s relief. “He says it’s more relaxing than spearing or trapping, although invariably less productive.”
“I think that’s the point,” Sam grins.
“So what have we got, Sam?” Dean grabs a sandwich for himself and bites off a chunk.
“Should I go ahead and start with the least bad option? That's what we usually do,” Sam tells Dev as he taps his pencil on his notepad.
“Do you mean the best option?” Dev asks.
Sam’s brows hike up while Dean stops chewing.
Dev looks back and forth between all three men. “They’re one in the same, aren’t they? It seems to be merely a matter of semantics.”
Sam’s smile grows with his comprehension, while Dean gulps down the food in his mouth.
“What do you think, Dean?” Sam grins affectionately at his brother. “In your experience, is the least bad option really the best option?”
Dean leans into Castiel, picks up his hand and folds their fingers together. “You bet your ass it is, Sammy.”
Shout out to angelswatchingover, who also had a vision of Sam and Castiel as pretend boyfriends, and thanks to those who encouraged me to write it when I was on the brink of abandoning it before I ever even posted any of it. *hugs*