Why don't you ask him if he's going to stay?
Why don't you ask him if he's going away?
Why don't you tell me what's going on?
Why don't you tell me who's on the phone?
Why don't you ask him what's going on?
Why don't you ask him who's the latest on his throne?
Don't say that you love me!
Just tell me that you want me!
TUSK - FLEETWOOD MAC
The street outside Tulsa Memorial is littered with flower petals, pastel pink and pungent, and with every step toward Castiel’s old Lincoln Dean crushes a few more under his boots.
He’s uneasy. Has been since Castiel called and asked for their help, as if Dean’s presence here could be anything but another obstacle to overcome. It’s only grown worse with time. There’s something restless and hungry in his chest, rolling in his stomach, through his every vein. The stench of decaying flowers is doing nothing to make it settle.
As he’s come to learn, though, nothing will.
Especially when he’s still got the memory of Cain’s words rattling around in his skull, reminding him that the mark on his arm is like a grenade launcher with a hair trigger. Fighting the urge to tap it has been getting harder.
Harder, but not impossible. Not yet.
Right now, he just needs a distraction. Something to keep his hands and his mind occupied until this particular wave of it’s influence has passed.
So he flexes his fingers. Curls them into his palms and releases on an exhale. Another step and another few flowers grind into the pavement. The smell rises again, cloying sweet.
Dean can’t help but think of a funeral home.
Somewhere not far off in the opposite direction, he can hear the purr of the Impala as Sam drives to Claire’s motel, and he glances back to see the tail lights gleaming. He watches it for a long time. Watches until a right turn carries it out of view and tries to figure out whether he’s safer here or there; following Castiel or looking for Claire.
It doesn’t really matter in the end.
Claire is afraid of him, so going after her was never an option. But he’s still on edge and just shy of unhinged, and a nervous part of him thinks that maybe Castiel should be scared, too.
If he’d been thinking straight before they left the hospital, he would have made Sam take Castiel with him. At least then he’d be on his own. He’d be able to focus on driving. He could crank the stereo as loud as possible, grip the wheel tight enough that his hands might be tricked into thinking they were clenched into fists.
Maybe he still can. Maybe Cas will let him drive.
Ahead, the angel in question is waiting at the intersection with his keyring hooked around his index finger. He’s swinging it, like a regular person might, and Dean is almost hypnotized by it as he approaches. The casual movement is so unlike who Castiel used to be. He’s changed countless times these past few years, but it’s only now that he seems to have settled into himself. His brief brush with mortality has made him inhabit his human form in a way he never did before. Less stiff, less straight-backed and serious.
Or, Dean thinks, maybe his shoulders are just sagging under the weight of all they’ve been through.
There are three keys hanging from the swinging keychain--the Continental, the bunker, and it’s garage--and when he catches up, Dean makes a grab for them. Castiel jerks his hand away.
The gesture makes the mark flare hot under Dean’s skin.
“C’mon, man,” he says, ignoring the way the mark tells him to fight. “I’m a better driver than you.”
He’s met with a raised eyebrow before Castiel makes his way across the street.
“Under no circumstances,” he calls back from the center line as he waits for a minivan to pass, “will I be a passenger in my own car.”
Dean pulls a face and half-jogs to follow.
“Never thought I’d miss flyin’ angel express.”
Looking over at him, Castiel frowns, and Dean winces when he realizes what he just said. Not his smoothest moment ever. Then again, at least he isn’t stabbing anyone. The bar is pretty damn low these days.
“Crap. I didn’t--you know what I mean.”
“Your lack of tact isn’t a new development, Dean,” Castiel tells him, and for the first time in what feels like days, Dean huffs out a low sound that might actually count as a laugh.
“Touche,” he says, and Castiel’s lips twitch up into the kind of almost-smile that never fails to make Dean’s heart thud like a bass drum. For a brief, blissful few seconds, that thud is all he feels.
It resonates through him, and it isn’t until they reach the Continental, it’s roof and the windscreen covered in a thick blanket of cherry blossoms, that it fades away to leave him with nothing but the uncomfortable simmer of the mark’s untempered rage.
The flowers fall from the trees above with every breath of wind. Dean lifts the wiper blades and leans down to blow them away, dusting a few stubborn petals onto the ground with his free hand. He tries not to breathe in their scent.
From where he’s still standing by the open driver’s side door, Castiel gives him an odd look.
“They clog up the wipers,” Dean says with a shrug, and when Castiel just keeps looking at him he rolls his eyes and climbs into the passenger seat. “We leaving sometime today?”
The radio clicks on when Castiel starts the car, and for the fifteen minute drive to Susie’s Bar they listen to REO Speedwagon and Fleetwood Mac sandwiched between a traffic report and an ad for security door installation.
Castiel, it turns out, is actually a pretty decent driver.
Dean watches him checking his mirrors and keeping his hands at ten and two with such precision that it’s like he’s trying to pass a test. He mutters something about the existence of turning signals when a guy in a Prius cuts them off, and Dean feels it again. The thud of his heart. The echo it sends out through his body to eclipse all other feeling.
For the first time, the mark’s influence doesn’t only fade, but stutters and dies out.
He doesn’t realize that a fond smile has crept onto his face until Castiel glances over at him with a furrowed brow.
“Nothin’,” Dean says, turning to look back at the road ahead. He clears his throat. Picks at a rough patch of denim on his left knee. Despite his best efforts, the feeling of Castiel’s eyes boring into him is impossible to ignore.
“Watch the road,” he all but grunts, and dutifully, Castiel does.
He's not sure what to say, after that. He has no idea where they stand. This is the first time that they’ve been together without Sam or Charlie or someone as a buffer in months, and it’s dawning on him now how distant he’s been.
He’s been so busy trying to deal with the death sentence stamped on his arm that he’s barely been doing anything but hunt and research and sleep. But he’s been doing that since forever, and suddenly he can’t even remember the last time Castiel called him.
Stopped at a traffic light a couple of blocks from their destination, he looks across the center console.
“We’re good, right?” he asks.
“What?” Castiel asks, a little furrow appearing between his brows as he meets Dean’s eyes. “Is there some reason we wouldn’t be?”
“I dunno,” Dean says, lifting his shoulder in a shrug. “Just… haven’t heard from you much lately, that’s all. And you called Sam this morning. Seems like you only call Sam these days. Y’know, since I got back.”
“I’m not…” he trails off, and Dean hears the rustle of his coat as shuffles in his seat. “I’m afraid that you’re going to ask me again.”
“Ask you--?” Dean starts, but no sooner than the words leave his mouth, he knows exactly what Castiel is talking about. Cas, I need you to promise me something. If I go dark side, you gotta take me out. He looks down at his near-permanently bruised knuckles and tries to relax his hands, spreading his fingers out over his knees. “Oh. That."
“I can’t do it, Dean."
“Look, I know it sucks, but it might be the only--”
“I said I can’t,” Castiel snaps, and there’s a hint of his old self there. It’s his smiting voice. Dean backs off.
After a long, tense few seconds, the light changes to green, and Castiel sighs heavily as they pull through the intersection. Dean’s stomach rolls and twists into knots. His arm prickles and burns, the mark surging back to life with a vengeance.
Castiel doesn’t speak again until he’s found a parking space on Overland Drive.
He shuts the engine off, but he doesn’t move. His hands still sit at ten and two. Dean waits in silence and wishes he’d never brought anything up. He’d been feeling good, and now--
“I’ve already killed you more times than I can bear,” Castiel says, cutting off Dean’s spiraling thoughts. “I can’t do it again, Dean. I will save you, or I’ll die trying, but I will not be the one to destroy you.”
“What are you talking about, you’ve killed me?”
Castiel lets out a pitiful huff as he shakes his head.
“I suppose I never told you.”
“Told me what, Cas?”
There’s a weighted pause, and Dean wonders if maybe Castiel will refuse to tell him. If there’s another terrible secret between them, another lie that they are going to have to try and crawl their way back from. He feels sick at the thought. When are we gonna catch a fucking break? he wonders.
“In the crypt,” Castiel says, his hands flexing where they still grip the steering wheel. “When I… when I hurt you. Naomi had essentially brainwashed me.”
“I know that, Cas. But you stopped. You didn’t--”
“No, Dean. She made me... practice. Killing you. There were thousands of them, and they were just copies, but... they were you. I still… I still see them sometimes. Here,” He taps his index finger against his temple. “I remember them looking at me, begging me to stop, and... I remember killing them. Every single one.”
“Jesus,” Dean breathes.
“I can’t do it,” he says again, and Dean reaches across to grip Castiel’s shoulder. He holds on until Castiel looks up. Squeezes once he does and lets his hand slide down over his arm, his elbow. He stops before he reaches his wrist. He wishes he had the guts to just catch the guy’s hand.
“I get it,” he says, ducking to force Castiel to look him in the eye. “I won’t ask you again. Okay?”
“I’m sorry,” Castiel says, and damn if that doesn’t break Dean’s heart. What’s left of it, anyway.
“No, hey, don’t-- seriously, Cas, you don’t have to apologize for that. I shouldn’t have asked you to do it in the first place.”
“You’re scared,” Castiel tells him. “I understand why you asked, but--”
“Look, if it were the other way around, if you were the one asking me to put you down for a dirt nap? I couldn’t do it either. So I get it. Honestly, I do.”
Castiel exhales, his shoulders sinking with the motion.
“So we’re good?” Dean asks.
“Yes,” Castiel tells him with a tiny nod. “We’re good.”
They find the entrance to Susie’s bar wedged between a sketchy-looking steam bath and a long-empty office building. Taped to the door, a sign informs them that the bar opens at half past seven on Wednesdays. Dean checks his watch. It’s barely half past two.
“Crap,” he says, giving the locked door an entirely pointless shove that makes something on the other side rattle. “I guess we’ll have to come back later.”
Castiel makes a sound of agreement, and Dean steps away from the door to call Sam.
He looks at Castiel as it rings, watching him inspect the area around the dumpster. He doesn’t seem to find anything.
“That was fast,” Sam says when he answers, and Dean steps out into the middle of the alleyway, checking for some sign of CCTV equipment on the neighboring buildings. There’s nothing.
“Bar doesn’t open until seven thirty,” he tells Sam. “Any sign of Claire?”
“Not yet. All her stuff is still here, though. She’ll turn up.”
“Alright, in that case I guess we’ll head over.”
“You think that’s a good idea?” Sam asks. “I mean, if she walks in and finds all of us here she’s gonna hightail it, and three grown men chasing down a teenager isn’t going to look great.”
“Yeah, good point,” Dean sighs, rubbing his hand over his chin. “Is there anything there that might be a lead we can check out in the mean time?”
“Not really,” Sam admits. “I mean, she’s been doing some serious research, but it’s all pointing to the bar and this Ronnie guy.”
“Well there’s no cameras around the bar, and I doubt the neighbors witnessed anything,” he tells Sam. “The hell are we meant to do for five hours with no leads?”
“Well,” Sam starts, his tone suspiciously careful, like he’s walking on eggshells. “Maybe... “
He trails off, which is rarely a good sign.
“Maybe what?” Dean asks, glancing back at Castiel.
Now, having given up on the ground by the dumpster, he’s squinting up at the sign over the steam baths. Dean follows his line of sight. Over the blacked out windows, a neon sign reads Lucky Star Steam and Massage.
“Maybe you could just, y’know. Chill,” Sam says.
“Chill?” Dean repeats.
“Take the afternoon off. Relax. Hang out with Cas,” there’s the distinct sound of a fridge door opening through the phone, and Sam hums to himself. “Actually, how about you pick me up some lunch and drop it off first?”
“What am I, meals on wheels?”
“You wanted something to do,” Sam says pointedly, and Dean groans.
“Fine. What do you want?”
“Burrito?” Sam asks. Fat chance, Dean thinks.
“Never again. You’re getting a sandwich.”
He hangs up before Sam can finish his protest, and when he turns around, Castiel is still squinting up at the sign.
“Alright,” Dean says, walking over to him. “New plan.”
Castiel nods, never taking his eyes off the Lucky Star sign.
“Yes, I heard.”
Dean raises his brow. Right, he thinks. Angel hearing.
He waits, but Castiel doesn’t turn away from the sign, so he pointedly clears his throat. Castiel’s gaze finally drops to meet Dean’s own.
“You trying to set it on fire?” Dean asks him, and Castiel shakes his head as if that were a serious question.
“This business is… perplexing.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, the massage aspect makes sense. It’s certainly a pleasurable sensation, to have tense muscles loosened through sustained physical contact.”
“Uhuh,” Dean says, feeling his mouth run dry. How does he know how pleasurable it is? he wonders, and from there his thoughts take an abrupt and unscheduled detour into fantasyland. The mark flares with the increased tempo of Dean’s pulse, and he swallows hard. Tells himself to pull it together.
For all the inner turmoil, Castiel--thankfully--doesn’t seem to notice.
“Steam, on the other hand,” he goes on, “is… it’s uncomfortable. When I was human, I disliked the way made my clothes stick to my skin if I didn’t wait long enough for it to dissipate after showering.”
“Well the answers right there, Cas,” Dean says, and Castiel just frowns harder. “You don’t wear clothes in a steam bath.”
“And this is supposed to be enjoyable?”
“Well, uh… I guess it’s meant to be relaxing. Helps with muscle cramps, I think. And it, y’know, cleanses your pores or some shit,” Dean shrugs, rubbing the back of his neck and wondering why it’s always him that ends up having these kinds of conversations with Cas. “I don’t know, man.”
He’s lying, of course. He does know. He read a whole article about it in that women’s fitness magazine back when he was staking out the office of the drunk driver who killed Charlie’s parents. That’s the last thing on his mind, though. He’s still stuck on the mental image of Castiel getting a massage.
Well, that and every dirty movie set in a steam room.
Essentially, his mind has two tracks right now, and both of them are doing things to his body that they have no business doing in public at two o’clock in the afternoon. He tugs at the leg of his jeans and shuffles a little, glad that Castiel is still focused enough on the building for the motion to go unseen.
“Ready to go?” he asks.
Castiel just steps closer to the building, looking at a small sign in the window with interest.
“We should try it,” he says thoughtfully, and looks back at Dean with an entirely blank expression. Like he hasn’t just suggested something utterly ridiculous. Dean stares at him.
“We have five hours until the bar opens,” Castiel reminds him.
“That doesn’t mean we should spend them sitting around with our junk out.”
“We’ll just get massages, then,” Castiel says, his voice firm like he’s already decided. “You’re tense. It might help.”
Dean squeezes his hands into fists at his sides and tells himself that arguing about it will only make him seem more tense. With some effort, he relaxes them. He can’t win here.
“Alright, fine. After we’ve dropped lunch off for Sam,” he says, then pauses to point his finger at Castiel. “But we’re taking the Impala, and we’re not going here. We’re finding someplace else.”
“This is, uh… I’m pretty sure this isn’t just a regular steam bath, Cas.”
Slapping his shoulder twice, Dean moves past him, heading for the Continental and hoping that he’ll get away with that much of an explanation. No such luck. Castiel falls in step beside him.
“What do you mean?” he asks, and Dean slows to a stop. He can feel a traitorous blush rising up his neck, tinging his cheeks bright pink. He gestures vaguely, and Castiel just tilts his head when the motion fails to communicate what Dean would rather not say aloud.
“I mean, based on the skeevy location and the blacked out windows and the fact it’s called Lucky Star…” he says, pausing in the vain hope that Castiel will fill in the blanks. He doesn’t. Dean tilts his head to the sky, clicking his jaw as he tries to come up with the best way of putting it without giving some kind of sex talk to the guy. “I can pretty much guarantee you that the massages have happy endings.”
Castiel’s eyes grow ever more narrow. Dean throws his hands up in the air.
“The massage thing is a front, dude. The steam room is probably full of sweaty old dudes bangin’ masseurs, and probably each other.”
Castiel turns to look back toward the building, cocking his head. It takes a few seconds for Dean to realize that he’s listening. He feels his ears turning redder than before, and grabs hold of his shoulder, trying to pull him back toward the car.
“Jesus, Cas, don’t--”
“There is no sexual activity taking place in this building,” Castiel says, looking back at Dean. “Or if there is, those involved are being incredibly quiet about it.”
“Thanks for clearing that up,” Dean says.
Castiel just smiles and takes his keys out of his pocket, heading for the car.
“Are you coming?” he calls back.
With a deep, steadying breath, Dean follows.
Curtis’ Motor Court is attached to a minigolf course, and they park in the busy lot at the back so there’s no chance that Claire will see the car. The Impala is back there, too, parked dangerously close to a battered 90’s Volkswagen. Dean pauses on their way past, checking the side for scrapes or bumps from the minivan’s rusty passenger door. Luckily, there are none.
When they reach a picnic area in a small park between the motel and the golf course, he dumps the paper bag that holds Sam’s lunch on the cleanest patch of table and pulls his cell from his pocket to text his brother.
We’re outside. Bring the keys, we’re swapping cars.
Do you have my burrito?
Dean snorts and shoves his cell back in his pocket without answering. If the gassy giant thinks Dean is ever going to willingly supply him with a burrito after the last time, he’s lost his damn mind.
While they wait, Dean leans against the table beside Castiel. He’s jingling his keys in his hand as he looks toward the minigolf course, where there’s a billboard suspended on the tall wire fence. Mini Golf, Mega Fun! it reads in vibrant purple letters. Bring five or more friends for a birthday party, and we’ll bring the cake!
Castiel is staring at it as if it’s a personal insult. Dean nudges him with his elbow.
“What’s eating you?”
Castiel glares at him from the corner of his eye, but it last barely five seconds before he sighs and slumps his shoulders. Shoves his keys into his pocket.
“It’s Claire’s birthday today.”
“Damn, really?” Dean grimaces. “Poor kid. Waking up in hospital sucks hard enough on it’s own, but that's pretty fucking rough."
“She’s turning eighteen. That’s an important birthday, isn’t it?”
“I guess,” Dean says. “She can vote and buy a beer in Mexico, so...”
“Do you think I should get her a gift? If we… That is, if she...”
“If she comes back?” Dean supplies, and Castiel nods. “Sure, Cas. We can pick something up this afternoon.”
“You don’t mind?”
“We have a few hours to spare, remember?”
“I thought we were going to the steam baths.”
Dean coughs a little and scratches at his arm.
“Yeah, but that’ll only take up an hour,” he reasons. “Two, at the most. The bar doesn’t open until eight, and there’s no point turning up right on opening time because nobody’ll be there yet.”
Truthfully, he’s half hoping the search for a gift will take all four hours, because the more he thinks about it the more he feels as though getting a massage with Castiel will end up feeling like a weird parody of a couple’s spa day.
The other half of him is wishing Sam would hurry up and come outside, because--sue him--the idea of having a couples spa day with Cas (even if it’s only like that in the privacy of his own thoughts) actually sounds like a little slice of paradise in his increasingly shitty life, and now that he’s kind of resigned himself to doing it he’d like the R&R to start as soon as possible.
Right now, Cas is smiling gratefully at him, his arm warm where it’s pressed up against Dean’s, and it’s surprisingly easy to imagine another life where this is a normal thing for them. A life where they are regular people, who met like regular people do. A life where he doesn’t have a supernatural bomb strapped to his forearm; where this thing he feels when he looks at Castiel might actually be reciprocated.
A life where he would be able to let his hand move a few inches to the left and curl his fingers around Castiel’s without fear or consequence.
God, he wants that.
He wants it more than he’s wanted much of anything for years, and ever since he finally admitted as much to himself back in Purgatory it’s all he can do to keep himself in check, because sometimes… Well. Sometimes, Castiel looks at him with so much warmth that he can almost believe that he wants it, too.
He smiles back, and briefly it’s as though things are okay. The mark on his arm is quiet. Almost forgotten.
“It will be nice to spend some time with you,” Castiel tells him, turning his gaze back toward the mini golf course. “I’ve missed you these past months.”
Swallowing around the sudden lump in his throat, Dean nods and rubs at his forearm.
“Yeah,” he says, but even now he can’t bring himself to say me too. Maybe he’s being honest with himself, but he’s still afraid to admit even this small thing out loud.
The sound of feet on gravel makes them both turn, and they see Sam making his way toward them at a jog, glancing back toward the motel as he comes.
Suddenly self conscious, Dean pushes himself off the table and takes a step away from Castiel, breaking the contact between their arms as he holds out the paper bag.
“Burrito?” Sam asks hopefully when he stops in front of them. Dean grins.
Sam’s glare might make a lesser man flinch, but Dean doesn’t bat an eye.
“Hey, I’m doing you a favor,” he says as Sam reluctantly takes the bag and peers inside. “If I got you a burrito, Claire would know you were there before she even opened the door.”
“Hilarious,” Sam says flatly, pushing his hair back from his face, windswept from his jog. “What are y’all going to do until the bar opens?”
“We’re--” Castiel starts, and Dean talks over him before he says anything incriminating about massages.
“We’re going to the mall.”
“How suburban of you,” Sam grins.
“You’re suburban,” Dean says. Sam rolls his eyes.
“It’s Claire’s birthday,” Castiel explains, oblivious to Dean’s poor attempt at a comeback. “I want to get her something.”
At that, the mocking expression fades from Sam’s face.
“Oh,” he says, and makes that face he makes when they’re interviewing grieving families. He looks back toward the motel. “Well I guess I’d better get back in there.”
He turns to leave, and only stops when Dean calls him back, holding out his hand.
With a pointed look at the meatball sub he didn’t ask for, Sam digs his free hand into his pocket and pulls them out, holding them aloft.
“You know, I should refuse on principle,” he says, but he hands them over all the same, and accepts Castiel’s keys in exchange, just in case.
An instant later he’s off, heading back to wait for Claire’s eventual return.
Clapping Castiel firmly on the shoulder, Dean starts back toward the parking lot.
“C’mon, Cas,” he says. “Think I saw a sign for the mall a couple of blocks back.”
As soon as they walk into the mall, Dean remembers why he hasn’t set foot in one in years.
It’s noisy, and crowded, and there are teenagers everywhere. Loitering near the fountain and clumsily flirting with each other. Dean pulls a face in their general direction until it occurs to him that grumbling about youths is step one on a slippery slope to becoming a grumpy old man, and promptly wipes the expression off his face.
“First things first,” he says, looking around until his eyes land on a sign for the food court. “I’m getting a soft pretzel. You want one?"
"No," Castiel says, though his expression says otherwise. "I wouldn't be able to enjoy it. I'll just wait here."
When Dean returns from the pretzel stand a few minutes later, he finds Castiel crouching by the window of a pet store, making intense eye contact with a French Bulldog.
“No,” Dean says around a mouthful of cinnamon pretzel, and Castiel looks up at him in confusion.
“Don’t bond with it.”
“Trust me, Cas. I’ve seen Sam do exactly what you're doing a million times, and then I have to put up with the moping for days. Just keep moving, pretend it isn’t there.”
Castiel turns back to the dog, his hand pressed to the glass.
“But she has such kind eyes.”
“I’m just looking,” Castiel says, straightening up and walking toward the door.
“If you’re just looking why are you walking into the--”
Castiel is already gone, headed for the cat enclosure on the opposite side of the store. With a groan, Dean flops down on a bench outside and waits, popping the last bite of pretzel into his mouth. It’s barely been thirty seconds when Castiel appears again, looking at him from the doorway.
“What are you doing?”
Dean shrugs. Castiel narrows his eyes.
“Don’t give me that look,” Dean says, dusting cinnamon sugar from his fingers. “I go in there, I’m gonna get a face full of cat fur, and then I’ll be a sneezing, mucousy mess for the rest of the day.”
“You have allergies,” Castiel surmises.
“Yeah, I have allergies, Cas. How did you not know that?”
“I don’t know,” Castiel says, crossing the tiled floor to stand directly in front of him. “You’ve never mentioned it.”
Without explanation, he lifts his hand to the side of Dean’s face, resting his thumb on the rise of Dean’s cheekbone. His palm is warm against Dean’s skin, his fingers soft where they curl around his jaw, and Dean has no idea what’s happening. His heart skips and starts like a scratched record.
“What are you doing?” he manages to ask.
“Healing you,” Castiel says, and that makes even less sense, because they’re in a mall, for God’s sake. He’s not injured. And yet--he shivers at the tingle of grace passing through his skin. Castiel takes his hand away. Dean just barely catches himself before he can lean forward to follow it.
“There,” Castiel says with a small, pleased smile. “Now you can look at the cats.”
“Dude. Did you just cure my allergies?”
“If you’d told me sooner, I would have done it years ago.”
Dean blinks up at him. He’s pretty sure he should be saying thanks, but this is bizarre, even for them. He remembers when healing was an impersonal two-fingered touch to the forehead. He isn’t sure when it turned into a caress.
In the back of his mind, a little voice wonders whether or not Cas holds Sam’s face like that when he heals him. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t. He ignores the thought as much as he can.
“Sounds like some grade-A bullshit to trick me into following you into the pet store,” he says, but he can’t stop from smiling, and from the look on Castiel’s face he knows it’s not unnoticed.
When they walk inside, Dean waits for the usual tickle in his nose, the itch in his eyes, the burn in his sinuses. It never comes.
Awesome, he thinks.
Considering the fact that they have no need to be there, they spend an absurd amount of time in the pet store. Castiel talks to the animals as though they can understand him, serious and quiet, and the whole thing is so endearing that Dean is struggling to maintain his anti-mall philosophy.
Still, he manages. Right up until a little kid decides to walk over to Castiel and inform him with all the confidence of a five year old that the rats don’t speak human.
“That doesn’t mean they can’t listen,” Castiel replies, looking down at the boy, who wrinkles his nose.
“That’s weird,” he says.
“I suppose it is,” Castiel says with a shrug, and turns back to the rats. “But in my experience, weird isn’t necessarily bad.”
“My dad says rats is germ inf- infes- they has germs,” the boy all but shouts, and rubs his runny nose on his sleeve. Irony, it seems, is as yet beyond his grasp.
“Everything has germs,” Castiel tells him. The boy widens his eyes.
“Even so,” Castiel goes on, “rats are quite clean.” He points at the one nearest to the glass. It’s pink nose twitches as it rubs it’s face with it’s paws, flattening it’s ears over and over. “This one in particular is cleaning his face right now, see?”
“Whoa,” the kid says, pressing his grubby fingers on the glass as he tries to look closer, trailing smudges of what appears to be melted icecream over the surface. Castiel smiles at him; a full smile, teeth and all. Dean’s chest aches at the sight.
It’s not until the boy’s mom calls him and he goes running that Dean realizes he was thinking about how good Castiel is with kids. How he could have been a great parent someday, had he stayed human. His heart aches.
Quietly, he slips away while Castiel is still looking at the rats, heading over to the cat enclosure where a tortoiseshell kitten stares up at him and meows.
“Meow yourself,” he says, trying to bluster his way out of dealing with his feelings, but the kitten sticks her paw against a gap in the wire, and he can’t help but prod her pink toe beans with his index finger. She headbutts the cage and purrs when he caves in and rubs at her soft ears.
He only stops when he notices Castiel approaching from the corner of his eye.
He sticks his hands in his pockets. Gruffly clears his throat.
“You done with the petting zoo?” he asks, and Castiel looks pointedly between Dean and the kitten, who is now meowing loudly as if to ask why Dean stopped.
“Shut up,” Dean tells him, ducking his head to hide his smile as they walk to the exit. “Do you know what you want to get for Claire?”
Castiel makes a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat.
“Not yet. I was hoping it would come to me.”
“Well, you know her better than I do. What does she like?”
“Texting,” he says after a some thought, “and a game that involves slicing animated fruits to win points.”
“Fruit Ninja?” Dean asks. Castiel shrugs.
“She also likes cats,” he adds as they walk. “She sent me a picture of one, once.”
“She meant to send it to someone else,” he explains, then pauses to look back at the pet store with a frown. “A cat would probably be a bad choice, though. Given her transient lifestyle.”
“Yeah, good call. Anything else?”
Castiel’s perpetual frown gets turned up to eleven while he tries to come up with something, and as usual, the expression makes something in Dean’s stomach flip wildly. He might look like an adult, but when it comes to the way this guy makes him feel, he’s no better than those teenagers near the fountain.
“She likes ketchup,” Castiel says eventually, and scrunches up his nose before Dean can even begin to tell him how useless that information is. “I don’t know. She doesn’t exactly talk to me, Dean.”
“Alright, then scratch what she wants,” he says, and looks around the nearby storefronts for inspiration. “What does she need?”
At the question, Castiel squints into the middle distance, lips pursed in thought.
“She's always wearing jeans that have holes in the knees. Perhaps she needs a new pair?”
Dean laughs, and Castiel turns to glare at him.
“I’m trying, Dean,” he says.
“Sorry, I know. But I’m pretty sure the ripped jeans are a fashion statement. It’s a start, though.”
“Because now we know she’s a little punk,” Dean says with a grin, and claps him on the shoulder. “C’mon. I know where we need to go.”
The last time Dean was at a mall was when he took Ben shopping for a mother’s day present for Lisa. After they’d found the perfect gift, Ben had wanted to buy himself a new hoodie, and Dean had been dragged into what can only be described as Hell Lite.
Hot Topic doesn’t look all that different now, though he can’t remember there being quite so much stuff with cartoon characters or internet memes back in 2011. Still, he figures it’s their best bet.
“It’s very loud in here,” Castiel tells him when they walk through the door, and Dean nods in agreement. It's a wonder that the industrial metal slash rap atrocity blaring through the overhead speakers isn't making his ears bleed.
“It probably seems louder because it’s awful.”
They’re still loitering in the doorway, utterly out of their element, when a lanky assistant with an equality slogan on his t-shirt saunters over and asks if they need any help. The guy has a silver bar shoved through his septum. Dean tries not to remember a torture device in Hell that had a similar attachment.
“Uh, thanks--” he looks at the guy’s name tag, “Jamie. We’re fine.”
“Actually,” Castiel pipes up, and Dean inwardly groans. “We’re looking for a gift.”
“Okay,” Jamie says, looking between them. “Who’s it for?”
“She’s… well, she’s not technically my daughter,” Castiel starts, glancing over at Dean. “But… her father and I--”
“Cas,” Dean cuts in, tapping his arm. “I don’t think he needs the full story.”
Castiel’s shoulders slump a little.
“I just… I need her to… it’s very important that she likes the gift.”
“I know it is, Cas.”
“I want her to like me.”
With a gentle squeeze of Castiel’s forearm, he smiles.
“We’ll find something.”
The sound of Jamie clearing his throat reminds Dean that the clerk is still standing there, and he looks over, dropping his hand from Castiel’s arm.
“So is it her birthday?” Jamie asks, glancing between them. “Or is it more of a new step-dad kind of thing?
“She’s turning eighteen,” Dean answers before Castiel can go off on another tangent.
“Okay, what kind of stuff does she like?”
“She’s into cat videos and Fruit Ninja and those jeans with the holes already in them,” Dean tells him, and when Jamie immediately starts to gesture toward a rack of torn-up jeans, he hastily adds; “But we’re not getting her more of those.”
“Um,” Jamie chews on the inside of his cheek, looking around the store until he seems to think of something. “Oh! Okay, over here.”
He darts away, and they both follow, coming to a stop in front of the counter where a display of plush toys has been set up to the side. Jamie picks up an ugly blue-eyed cat and holds it out.
Castiel takes it.
“Seriously?” Dean says, looking doubtfully at the plushie before returning his unimpressed gaze to Jamie. “This is your suggestion? She’s eighteen, not eight.”
“It’s Tardar Sauce.”
“Y’know. Grumpy Cat,” Jamie says, as if that means anything at all to Dean. Dean’s about to say as much when he looks back at Castiel to find him beaming down at the scowling toy.
“This is it,” Castiel says.
“Awesome,” Jamie says, heading around to the other side of the counter.
Dean stares at the hideous cat.
“Cas, are you kidding me?”
“It’s the cat from the picture she sent me,” Castiel says. “It’s perfect.”
Helplessly, Dean shakes his head and sighs, wondering how exactly this is his life. One week he’s hallucinating Purgatory; the next he’s at a mall in Tulsa, using a stolen credit card to buy a plushie for the daughter-by-proxy of a quasi-fallen angel.
“Alright,” he says, looking at Jamie as he pulls his wallet out of his pocket. “How much?”
Before the assistant can reply, Castiel pushes Dean’s hand back down.
“Dean, I’ll pay for it,” he says. Dean lifts his brow.
“Our money comes from the same place, Cas,” Dean points out.
“It’s the principle,” Castiel says.
Dean raises his hands.
He waits while Jamie swipes Castiel’s phony card--given to him by Dean last time they’d been tracking down Claire--and watches Castiel awkwardly sign Robert Plant along the dotted line.
“Hope she likes it,” Jamie says, handing over a bag, and Castiel beams at him.
“So do I,” he says.
“Well hey, her dad seems to like you plenty,” he says with a wink. “Maybe he’ll put in a good word for you.”
In a split second, Dean feels his cheeks turn redder than Charlie’s hair. He kind of wants to claw his face off. Or maybe Jamie’s face. He forces out a stiff thanks, grabs Castiel by the elbow, and steers him out of the store before he can say anything else.
“I think he thought you were Claire’s father,” Castiel announces at full volume, glancing back into the store as they step outside.
“Yep,” Dean agrees.
“And he thought I was her stepfather.”
Dean’s stomach flutters. He clears his throat and wills his face to lose the flush he can feel spreading over it.
“Uhuh,” he says.
Dean doesn’t want to touch that hmm with a ten foot pole. He aims for the Hallmark store in an incredibly ironic display of feelings avoidance and stops in front of the gift bags.
“Choose one,” he says gruffly, and waits by the door with his hands shoved in his pockets. There’s a tingling feeling in all his extremities, something warm and hopeful and happy, and he hates how good it feels. Hates how he knows it’s a temporary state.
The more he thinks about it, the harder it is to hold on to it, and soon the mark starts buzzing under the skin of his forearm like a nest of hornets waiting to bust out and attack the first thing that moves.
He really hopes they find the guy who hurt Claire. He could do with a little tension relief in the form of beating the everloving crap out of someone who deserves it.
“Real healthy, Dean,” he mutters to himself.
It’s close to seven when they finally leave the mall, Castiel carrying Claire’s birthday present in a garishly colored gift bag. Dean watches him place it carefully in the footwell of the Impala.
He’s just started up the car when Castiel points across the street.
“Look,” he says.
In the window of a brick building opposite the parking lot, a blue sign flickers. Lotus Massage.
“We still have an hour until the bar opens,” Castiel tells him. Dean flexes his hands on the wheel and stares at the flickering sign.
From the outside, Lotus Massage is only slightly less sketchy looking than the place in the alley by Susie’s, and when he says as much Castiel just tilts his ear toward the building to listen.
“There’s a woman inside telling her massage therapist about her upcoming trip to Orlando, and a man is about to tell three people a joke,” he says, pausing to listen further. His lips quirk upwards. He looks at Dean. “Only one of them laughed. The others groaned.”
“What was the joke?”
“Why do chicken coops have two doors?”
“Because if they had four, they’d be chicken sedans.”
Just like that, the mark’s influence fades a little. Dean snorts and shakes his head.
“Wow,” he says.
“It’s a wordplay,” Castiel tells him seriously, climbing back out of the car and meeting his eyes over the roof as Dean locks up.
“Yeah, Cas,” Dean says with a grin. “I got it.”
The interior of Lotus Massage is lit with soft orange light, and the faint scent of something subtly citrus hangs in the air. The music that plays has all the pan flutes of Jethro Tull, but in Dean’s opinion, holds none of the appeal.
On the wall behind the counter, a small plaque relates the management’s request that no guests of the steam baths engage in inappropriate conduct on the premises.
Castiel raises a hand to point toward it.
“Look,” he says, far too loud for the quiet room. “Engaging in sex acts is not allowed.”
The receptionist, a middle-aged woman whose name tag reads Rada, arches one perfectly sculpted eyebrow, looking between the two of them slowly.
“I can direct you to a place off Overland if that’s what you’re looking for,” she offers, and Dean momentarily forgets how to speak.
“No, that’s-- just-- he doesn’t-- we don’t-- what he means--”
“That won’t be necessary,” Castiel supplies coolly, and Dean would almost buy the act of nonchalance if he couldn’t see the slightest tinge of pink to his cheeks. At least he embarrassed himself, too, he thinks.
“My mistake,” she says with a smile. “How can I help you?”
“We were hoping to get massages,” Castiel tells her, and she nods, tapping her computer keyboard.
“When did you have in mind?”
“We can’t go in now?” Dean asks, and shaking her head, Rada points toward the small clock on the wall.
“We’re closing in half an hour, and the therapists are all with clients. We’re wide open tomorrow afternoon, though.”
“We’ll probably be gone by then,” Castiel says with a sigh.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” she says with a frown, and plucks a business card from the desk. She hands it to Castiel with a smile. “Just in case your plans change.”
As soon as they’re back outside, Dean jabs him in the shoulder.
“Hey, you hear that back there? A place off Overland? I told you Lucky Star was the sexy kind of steam bath.”
Castiel doesn’t dignify his comment with a response.
The whole drive back to Susie’s Bar, Castiel holds the gift bag on his knee, restlessly fiddling with the cord handle. Dean watches him out of the corner of his eye, waiting for the inevitable question. It doesn’t come until he’s pulled into a parking space at twenty to eight.
“Do you think she’ll like it?”
The radio cuts out when Dean shuts off the engine, and he turns in his seat to see Castiel staring down at the bag in his lap with a wrinkle in his brow.
“What are you looking for here, Cas? Honesty or comfort?”
Blinking, Castiel just looks at him, and Dean sighs. He leans his head against the seatback.
“She’s pretty pissed at you, man. I doubt she’ll even want to take it out of the bag.”
Castiel’s face falls, and Dean feels like the worlds biggest prick.
“I hope I’m wrong,” he adds.
“But Cas, look,” he says, reaching out to squeeze his forearm. “If she shoots you down, don’t take it to heart, okay? You can’t make everyone happy all the time.”
Castiel thumbs the edge of the bag, letting out a sound that settles somewhere between a sigh and a hopeless laugh.
“Just once would be enough,” he says, eyes downcast. “Just one person would be enough.”
“Well, hey, you make me happy,” Dean blurts out before he can stop himself, and feels his cheeks warming immediately. He’d be more embarrassed if Castiel weren’t suddenly looking at him like he’s a White Castle cheeseburger when Famine’s in town.
“Thank you,” he says, eyes fixed on Dean, voice heavy with sincerity, and there’s that damn hope again, burning away in his chest. It’s almost enough to make Dean reckless.
“Yeah,” he says, patting Castiel roughly on the arm before he opens the door. “C’mon, let’s find this douchebag.”
The late hour means parking is a bitch, so they’re two blocks away from the bar. Dean lets Castiel walk ahead of him and tries to stop his heart from hammering so hard before they get there. That little glimmer of hope is insistent, though. Every thundering pulse sends it rushing through his body.
He feels good. Has been feeling good most of the day, really. The mark doesn’t like it. He can feel it straining for attention.
So when they finally get to the bar and find Ronnie Cartwright running his mouth, Dean loosens the reins a little.
Smashing the skeevy bastard’s face into the table takes the edge off.
It’s almost worth it, too. Or it would be, if it didn’t make Castiel look at him like he’s two wrong moves away from black eyes and sulphur.
The weight of his disapproval presses down on Dean as they head back out to the car. It only lessens when Dean checks his cell to find a message from Sam, received while they were inside.
Claire’s here. I convinced her to stick around.
He hands the phone to Castiel like it’s a peace offering, and is relieved when he actually takes it.
“That’s a good sign, right?” Castiel asks. Dean shrugs and starts the car.
“Can’t be a bad one.”
Across the center console, Castiel looks at him and smiles.
They’ve been in the motel room for barely five minutes when Sam tells them that Ronnie Cartwright didn’t make it any further than the alley outside Susie’s, and an hour later Dean finds himself driving Castiel and Claire back from the crime scene.
Despite her insistence that she’d be fine, Claire hasn’t spoken since they left the alleyway, and Castiel keeps casting baleful looks at her in the rearview.
Part of Dean is glad they’re both so preoccupied. It means neither of them can see that he’s having a minor crisis over his ridiculous bring your daughter to work day comment.
They’re almost back to the motel, stuck behind a slow-moving minivan whose driver seems to think braking needs to occur every three seconds without fail, when all his hopes are dashed.
“Those cops thought you were my dad,” Claire mutters, and Dean wishes he’d had the foresight to put the radio on. He clears his throat and attempts to meet her eye in the rearview.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Dean says. “Had to think on my toes, y’know.”
“That’s twice today,” Castiel pipes up, and Dean sees Claire’s eyes widen in the mirror.
“Jesus, Cas,” he mutters.
“In the Hot Topical,” Castiel explains, twisting in his seat to look at Claire. “The sales associate was under the impression that Dean and I--”
“Hey, we’re here,” Dean cuts him off, pulling in to the motel parking lot and parking hastily. “Storytime’s over. C’mon, out.”
The Impala is barely even in the parking space. Dean drums his knuckles on the roof as he waits for Claire and Castiel to get out, and locks the door before following them inside.
It’s not exactly shocking when Sam and Castiel refuse to let him continue the hunt, even if he does think they’re overreacting a little, but it still leaves a bad taste in his mouth. It feels like the kind of thing that can only be washed away by copious amounts of alcohol, and if he were alone that’s probably exactly what he’d do.
As luck would have it, though, he’s been saddled with babysitting Claire. She’s sitting there snarking at him from across the room, trying to get him to share his beer. If he were a little more like his dad he’d probably give her one just to shut her up.
That’s how he knows it’s a terrible idea.
Minigolf, on the other hand, is always a good one.
Despite her initial reluctance to play, Claire ends up beating him. It’s impressive, even if it’s annoying, and by the end of the game he’s distanced enough from the case they’re working that the answer to the question of how Ronnie Cartwright was killed is suddenly obvious.
“Cas really trusts you, you know,” Claire tells him a little later, as they drive toward Peter Holloway’s hideout. Dean looks across to see her cradling the gun in her lap. She glances up at him. “Doesn’t seem to matter what you do.”
“Yeah, well,” Dean says, clearing his throat uncomfortably as they approach the turnoff. “I guess the guy has a skewed sense of judgement.”
“I don’t know,” Claire says. “Maybe he’s right. You screw crap up a lot, but… you’re trying. That’s gotta count for something.”
There’s a lump in Dean’s throat.
“Thanks,” he says.
“I still think you’re a jackass.”
With a snort, Dean shakes his head and looks across to see Claire smirking out the window.
“Don’t make me turn this car around,” he says, and it actually pulls a laugh from her. He’s oddly proud.
But as the farmhouse comes into view, Dean can feel the last shreds of calm falling away. In the passenger seat, Claire is taking slow, measured breaths and jiggling her knee.
“You sure you want to come with?” he asks, and she gulps before she nods.
“That’s my mom in there,” she says.
It’s explanation enough, and soon they’ve left the Impala behind to creep up to the barn on foot. It isn’t long after that things go pear-shaped.
Barely twenty minutes after they find Amelia Novak, she’s laying limp in Claire’s lap. It’s not even midnight and Claire has her mother’s blood soaked into her jeans.
“Fix her,” she says, staring up at Castiel, and Dean feels his stomach drop when Castiel winces.
The sob that falls from Claire is a violent thing, too loud and harsh in the quiet barn, and she pulls Amelia closer to her chest. Buries her face in her mother’s hair.
“Please,” she mumbles.
“Claire, I’m so sorry.”
For a long time, they all stand in silence as Claire cries. The air in the barn is thick with the smell of blood and straw and dust, the combination almost enough to make Dean gag. He crosses the room to crouch by Claire.
“Claire,” he says, quietly, and gets no reaction beyond her arms tightening around her mother. “Hey. Look at me.”
After a few ragged breaths, she lifts her head. Her eyes are unfocused. Her face splotchy, wet with tears.
“I know you don’t want to think about this right now, but we need to get moving before anyone turns up,” he tells her, and she gulps, blinking a few times as she tries to focus. “Do you want to stick around while we take care of your mom?”
“What will you do with her?”
“If it’s alright with you, we’ll give her a hunter’s funeral.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know what a pyre is?” he asks, and Claire lets out another loud sob as she nods. “It means she won’t become a restless spirit.”
“Okay,” she says after a long pause.
“Do you want to stay?” Dean asks.
Uncertainty flickers over Claire’s face, and she pushes Amelia’s hair back from her forehead. She takes a deep breath. Visibly fights against more tears.
“I don’t think… I don’t think I can. I don’t-- I--”
Her voice catches, and Dean puts a hand on her shoulder.
“Hey, it’s alright,” he says. “One of us will drive you back, okay?”
Nodding weakly, Claire breathes deep for a moment.
“Can I just… a few more minutes. I… she’s…”
“Of course,” Dean tells her, and stands. “You just let us know when you’re ready, okay?”
When he turns back to Sam and Castiel, they’re talking in low tones about the other victims, still barely clinging to life in the back room.
“What he did to them… They’re beyond help. But we should take them to the hospital,” Castiel casts a glance toward Claire, and the corners of his mouth twitch down, just for a second. “I’m sure there are people looking for them.”
“I’ll take them,” Sam offers.
“Alright,” Dean says, rubbing his chin roughly. “I’ll get started setting up a pyre so it’s ready when you get back. Cas, you want to take Claire back to the motel?”
The others nod, and a moment later they hear Claire shuffling toward them, her arms wrapped tight around her middle.
“I’m ready,” she says.
At quarter-past five in the morning, out in the woods beyond the field, Dean taps down the last of the soil on Amelia’s grave and leans heavily on his shovel. The smell of burnt hair, of ash and smoke, still lingers in the air. He tries not to breathe too deeply.
Not too far away, he hears the sound of Sam shoveling dirt over Peter Holloway and reminds himself that the man whose body they’re burying is not the angel who did this. Just another poor soul who was tricked into letting the fox in the henhouse.
With a sigh, he hefts his shovel up onto his shoulder and heads through the trees. Sam looks up and pushes long hair back from his eyes.
“Nearly done,” he says.
“I’ll meet you at the car,” Dean tells him. With heavy feet he crosses the field toward the barn, it’s shape a dark shadow among darker ones.
The sky is just barely getting light around the edges as the sun flirts with the idea of day.
Dean wedges the shovel into the trunk of the Impala and looks down at his dirt-caked hands. Flexes them. Takes a deep breath before pulling out his cell and typing up a message to Castiel while he waits for Sam.
It’s done. How is she?
Asleep. Are you coming back to the motel?
Yeah. Sam got a room. We’re in 107.
I’ll wait outside.
True to his word, Castiel is leaning against the wall beside their door when they pull into the parking lot just before dawn. His hands are in his pockets, one knee bent to rest the heel of his shoe against the wall. Dean has the sudden, sleep deprived thought that he looks like an old-time detective. All that’s missing is the glow of a cigarette.
He pushes away when Sam shuts off the engine and greets them with a nod.
“Thank you for taking care of Amelia,” he says as soon as they step into the room.
“It’s fine,” Sam tells him. “You had to get Claire out of there.”
With a hum of agreement, Castiel nods and looks at the floor, and Sam claps him on the shoulder before he grabs his bag and disappears into the bathroom. A moment passes in silence before the sound of groaning pipes and running water filters out through the gap under the door, and Dean sinks down into one of the chairs by the window.
Castiel remains standing, staring down at the carpet.
“Don’t start beating yourself up over this,” Dean tells him.
“No. I can see exactly what you’re thinking. Amelia was good as dead before tonight. You said yourself she couldn’t be healed. None of them could.”
With a shake of his head, Castiel sits down on the edge of the nearest bed and rests his elbows on his knees. He’s slouching. He looks tired.
In the bathroom, the water shuts off with a clunk.
“Claire just lost her mother, Dean,” he says after a moment. “I would think you would understand how difficult that is going to be for her.”
“She lost her mother a long time ago, Cas,” Dean points out, but it only makes Castiel look more distressed.
“And that was my fault, too.”
“Look, it sucks, alright? I’m not saying it doesn’t. But Cas, man… Claire’s gonna be okay. She’s a tough kid.”
“That’s just it, Dean. She’s--”
The bathroom door creaks open, and Sam emerges in trackpants and a t-shirt, scrubbing at his damp hair with a towel. He looks between them with raised brows, and Castiel lets out a defeated breath before he continues.
“She might be an adult in some respect, but she’s young, she’s troubled, and she’s alone.”
“She’s not completely alone,” Dean points out. Castiel shakes his head.
“She won’t come with me, and I don’t blame her. She’s homeless. She has nobody.”
“Actually,” Sam pipes up from where he’s settled down onto one of the beds to thumb through his cell phone. “I might have an answer for that.”
Dean raises his brow.
“When I was walking back to the car I sent Jody a message,” he says, and holds up his cell. “She just texted me back.”
“Long story short, if Claire’s interested, there’s a room in Sioux Falls with her name on it.”
Dean is still half-asleep when Castiel knocks on their door around midday, and even though Sam is already wide awake and dressed he makes Dean get up to open it.
On the step outside, Castiel and Claire are waiting. They both look about as tired as Dean feels.
“Morning,” he says, blinking into the sunlight as he shuffles out of their way. Castiel brushes against him as he passes.
“Hello,” Castiel says with a tense little smile. “I spoke to Claire about what we discussed last night. She has some questions.”
“Is she normal?” Claire asks bluntly, dropping into one of the chairs at their tiny table.
“The hell is normal?” Dean counters, and Claire narrows her eyes. They’re still a little red around the edges. Dean winces internally. Don’t snap at the recent orphan, he tells himself, and clears his throat as he closes the door. “Jody’s awesome.”
“How do you know her?”
“It’s a long story.”
Dean puffs out his cheeks.
“She’s sheriff in a town up in South Dakota,” he starts, and Claire raises her brow. “We met her… hell, four years ago?”
“Five,” Sam says.
“Really?” Dean asks, and his brother nods. “Time flies when you’re in constant peril.”
“Anyway,” Dean goes on, sitting down opposite Claire. “It was in the lead up to, uh…”
“How’d you guess that?”
“Possessed by an angel, remember?” Claire tells him. Castiel shifts his weight uncomfortably. “Don’t sugar coat it.”
“Alright, fine. So the apocalypse was gearing up, and Sioux Falls got overrun with zombies. People were crawling out of their graves left right and center, and one of them… one of them was Jody’s son.”
Claire’s face pales a little, but she doesn’t comment, so Dean goes on.
“He was only a kid when he’d died, so when he came back… well. Crap got real messy, real fast, and… well. He wasn’t really her kid anymore. He killed his own dad in their house, and Jody found them… it was--”
“It sucked,” Sam cuts in, a hard edge to his voice, “but she pulled through, and she helped us save the town.”
“Damn right,” Dean agrees. “And she’s been kicking ass ever since.”
Claire looks at them both, chewing on the inside of her cheek.
“Cas says she took in some other girl,” she says.
“Yeah, um… that’s Alex. She got abducted as a kid,” Dean explains. “Some pretty messed up crap happened to her.”
“Messed up how?”
“That’s for her to tell you. If she decides to.”
Nodding, Claire wraps her arms around her middle.
“Okay,” she says.
“Okay?” Dean repeats. “As in, okay, you’ll go?”
“I want to talk to her first.”
“Yeah, of course,” Sam says, getting to his feet to pick up his cell from the side table by his bed. “I’ll call her now, and you guys can talk. Sound good?”
Sam doesn’t waste any time calling Jody, and once he’s handed his cell off to Claire the three men step outside. They can see her through the window, pulling the sleeves of her hoodie down over her hands and doodling absently on Sam’s notepad. She laughs at something Jody says.
“Looks promising,” Sam says.
“She didn’t tell us all to get lost,” Dean says. “It’s a start.”
“She needs breakfast,” Castiel says.
“You guys go,” Sam says, sitting down on the rickety bench outside their room. “Get me a danish?”
Across the street, Dean holds the coffee house door open as Cas walks through ahead of him. With his eyes firmly trained on the menu over the counter, he clears his throat.
“So,” he says. Castiel looks over at him, waiting, and Dean clicks his teeth. “What are your plans once Claire’s gone?“
“I don’t have any,” Castiel says.
“Free agent, huh?”
“I suppose you could say that,” Castiel agrees with a slight smile, directed toward his shoes. “What about you? Are you going home?”
“Until the next thing comes up,” Dean says.
They fall silent, and Dean wants to kick himself. Why it’s so damn difficult to just ask the guy to come home is beyond him. The barista asks for his order before he can work himself up to it, and he’s surprised to hear Castiel ask for a coffee himself.
“Thought you kicked that habit when you got your groove back,” Dean says once they’ve stepped aside to wait, and Castiel lifts one shoulder.
“There are some things I miss about being human,” he admits.
“You can’t taste it, though, right?”
“I can taste everything,” Castiel tells him. “That’s what is so unpleasant now, having known how things felt and tasted on a base human level, to return to tasting everything is… it’s sensory overload, I suppose. It’s overwhelming.”
He sighs, and Dean watches how his eyes track the movements of the barista on the other side of the counter. How his thumb taps absently against the side of his hand.
“To put it in human terms, I would liken it to the time I accidentally drank from Nora’s cup while we were having lunch together,” Castiel goes on. “My drink was orange juice, and hers was orange soda. I was expecting one taste, and got another, and the expectation meant that for a few moments it tasted revolting. As though my brain were convinced that it was still orange juice, but that it had spoiled somehow. Has that ever happened to you?”
“Yeah,” Dean says, stepping forward to retrieve their order. “Was expecting my chocolate shake, got a mouthful of rootbeer float. Almost threw up.”
Castiel huffs out a quiet laugh and picks up his own coffee, inhaling the smell of it.
“I enjoyed coffee before I fell,” he says, glancing up at Dean as they head back outside. “I’m interested to find out if it will be as unpleasant as other foods and drinks are now, or if I will be able to enjoy it in the same manner as before I knew taste as a human.”
“Here’s hoping,” Dean says.
They pause on the pavement outside the coffee shop, and Dean watches as Castiel takes a small, hopeful sip. His nose crinkles. Dean’s heart sinks.
“I’m not sure,” Castiel says, wrinkling his nose at the paper cup. “Perhaps it might… grow on me.”
“Maybe,” Dean says.
Castiel takes another sip, and another, and he’s almost finished the whole thing by the time they get back to the motel. Sam is still sitting outside, but now he’s on the phone. He gives them a thumbs up and eagerly accepts his breakfast.
She’s inside, he mouths.
“That Jody?” Dean asks, and Sam shakes his head.
“Yeah, just a single passenger,” he says into the phone. “Sure, an hour would be great.”
Inside, Claire is scribbling something into a notebook. She looks up when they enter.
“Jody pass the test?” Dean asks her, putting the tray that holds his coffee and Claire’s mocha down on the table.
“I guess,” Claire shrugs, and takes the croissant Castiel offers to her. “I spoke to Alex, too. She seems cool.”
Unwrapping the croissant, Claire picks at the pastry a little before putting it down.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Castiel asks her, and she shakes her head.
“Kinda queasy,” she admits. “I’m gonna go get my stuff together, okay?”
“Sure,” Dean says, and opens the door. She zips her hoodie up to her chin before she steps outside, heading for her room and disappearing inside.
For a long time after Claire leaves, Dean and Sam wait while Castiel stands out in front of the motel, watching as the dust kicked up by the taxi slowly settles back onto the road. Sam looks at his watch.
“If we leave now, we should be back at the bunker by five,” he says.
Dean nods, but he’s still looking at Castiel. The way his shoulders droop. How his mouth is turned down at the sides. He looks stressed. Worried.
“Actually,” Dean says, “I think--I think I’ll get a ride back with Cas.”
“Oh, okay,” Sam says, and Dean can tell he wants to ask why?
He hands Sam the keys before he can.
“Drive safe,” he says.
Castiel doesn’t turn around until the Impala rumbles to life, and for a split second Dean catches a look on his face that he could only describe as resigned. It’s gone as soon as he realizes that Dean isn’t behind the wheel.
“Alright, see you guys at home,” Sam calls out through the open window.
Dean gives him a little wave. Castiel lifts his own hand tentatively, like he’s unsure of the gesture, and then Sam is pulling out of the parking lot, kicking up dust. Castiel stares after him before finally turning to Dean, a look of genuine confusion on his face that makes Dean wonder if Cas even realizes that Dean is his friend.
“Why didn’t you go with Sam?”
“Figured you could use the company,” Dean says with a shrug. “And, y’know. It’s been good. Hanging out. Like you said yesterday, these past few months, it’s um…”
Getting the words out is like pulling teeth.
“It’s sucked,” Castiel supplies, and Dean lets out a pitiful little laugh, rubbing at the back of his neck.
“Yeah,” he agrees, and forces himself to admit what he couldn’t yesterday. “I’ve missed you.”
For a moment, Castiel just looks at him and smiles, and it makes Dean feel hot all over. Exposed. Like he’s said too much. He tries his best to ignore it.
“I’ve missed you, too,” Castiel tells him. Dean can’t help returning the smile as his heart all but overflows, the feeling washing through him in a rush as he follows Castiel to his car. He doesn’t even think about getting into the passenger seat. Just slides in easily, watching with unguarded interest as Castiel pauses outside to take off his overcoat and leave it in the back before sitting behind the wheel.
He looks over at Dean.
“Is it... imperative that we follow Sam immediately?”
With a smile Dean can only describe as conspiratorial, Castiel starts up the car and shifts into gear.
“There’s something I’d like to do.”
As soon as Dean makes out the shape of the mall coming up ahead, he looks over at Castiel in the driver’s seat and contemplates jumping right the hell out of the moving car and making a run for it.
“Cas,” he says slowly, “are you taking us where I think you’re taking us?”
“It’s been a stressful night,” Castiel says instead of properly answering, and pulls into the parking lot opposite the mall. He doesn’t wait for Dean. Just gets out of the car and walks briskly toward Lotus Massage.
By the time Dean catches up with him, he’s already speaking with Rada at the reception desk. As Dean closes the door, she spins a folder toward Castiel to point out the options with her glossy fingernails.
“Would you like the basic shoulder massage for two, or the deluxe full body massage and steam package?”
“The deluxe package,” Castiel says, pointing, and then he’s handing over his phony credit card before Dean has a chance to say a damn thing. Dean gulps.
“Excellent,” Rada says, swiping Castiel’s card and handing him the receipt to sign.
Dean is still trying to process what’s happening when Rada hands back Castiel’s card and points them toward a long hallway beside her desk.
“The men’s change room is the first on the left,” she says. “Just head into room three when you’re ready, make yourselves comfortable, and your massage therapists will be with you soon.”
The change room is warm and open, and they’re the only people inside. Along one wall is a series of lockers with keys hanging from the open doors.
It’s nice. Serene. Dean figures that’s probably the point.
“What now?” Castiel asks, looking around. Dean claps his palms on his thighs and glances up at the sign directing them to the showers, and beyond them, the steam baths.
“We, um… there’s… we strip down, put on the robes,” he gestures toward the pile of plush white towels and robes sitting on a shelf by the doorway, “and, y’know. Go to room three.”
Castiel looks over at the robes in question, nods, and takes off his suit jacket, hanging it in one of the open lockers. Next, he pulls his tie free and winds it around his hand. He tucks it into the jacket pocket before toeing off his shoes and turning back around, hands settling at his belt.
The buckle clinks as he pulls it open.
Holy shit, Dean thinks, watching his fingers working the leather free. They’re nimble. Graceful.
Dean’s neck cricks painfully when he looks up, startled. Castiel is giving him a curious frown.
“Aren’t you going to undress?”
“Um… I’m gonna…” he points vaguely in the direction of a toilet stall, grabbing a robe from the pile. “I’ll just be in there.”
In the privacy of the stall, Dean leans his forehead against the door and asks himself why he let himself get talked into this. By the time he’s pulled himself together and changed into the robe, Castiel has been jingling a locker key for about five minutes.
He slips it into the pocket of the robe when Dean emerges, and the motion makes it pull slightly open at the throat. His skin looks more tan in the white cloth. Dean can see the smooth line of his collarbone. He feels his mouth go dry, and averts his eyes as he shoves all his things in another locker, pocketing the key.
Without a word, he grabs a towel and makes his way out of the change room and into room three.
Inside, he hurriedly shucks off his robe and lays face down on the nearest massage table under the sheet before Castiel can ask him any questions. Thankfully, he seems to take the hint, and follows Dean’s example in silence. Dean pointedly doesn’t look.
When a knock comes at the door, Dean is so tense that he nearly flinches his way right off the table.
“Are you ready?” a female voice calls out.
Castiel, thankfully, replies that they are. Dean isn’t sure he’s capable of speech right now. All his brain power is going toward not thinking about the fact that he and Castiel are both very naked under thin sheets and within six feet of one another.
Dean barely registers the two massage therapists that enter. He thinks they might be named Jane and Paul. Maybe Joan and Pete? Jill and Pat? He’s not entirely sure. He leaves his eyes closed, his head pillowed on his arms, and communicates in monosyllabic words whenever Jane asks him a direct question.
“You’re very tense,” she tells him when she starts on his shoulders.
“Yep,” he agrees.
“Let me know if the pressure is too much.”
On the other side of the room, he can hear Castiel chatting away easily with his own massage therapist.
“You can press harder if you like,” he says at one point. “I’m not particularly sensitive.”
“Harder,” Castiel says, and then he fucking grunts. “Yes, that’s much better.”
Dean wonders if it would be wrong to bail halfway through a massage. It probably is. He’s sorely tempted, anyway.
Almost half an hour into the forty-five minute massage, Dean stupidly opens his eyes and turns his head to the side. He’s not sure why he does it. He wishes he hadn’t.
Only a few feet away, Castiel has his arms folded under his face, and his skin is slick with the same scented oil that Dean can feel being worked into his own aching limbs. The muscles of his back are far more defined than Dean would have expected. A surge of want rolls through him, colored by petty jealousy at the sight of another man’s hands kneading Castiel’s thighs. He feels shame, then. Ogling his best friend like this isn’t exactly classy.
He lets out a long, unsteady breath and shuts his eyes again.
Fifteen more minutes, he tells himself. You can get through this.
But when Paul and Jane finally leave, Dean feels all the tension he’d managed to shed creeping back into his bones. Every rustle of Castiel’s towel makes him feel like he’s losing his mind.
“We go to the steam room now, right?” Castiel asks him, and he’s forced to look over. He’s standing there in dim golden light, his towel slung low around his hips and his robe hanging over his forearm. The tattoo on his hipbone is like a magnet for Dean’s eyes, and trying to drag his gaze away only leads to him looking at the fine trail of dark hair leading down from his navel. Dean blinks a few times and nods.
He pulls his own towel more tightly around his waist.
It seems easier to let Castiel go ahead of him so he won’t notice that Dean is a little wobbly on his feet. The downside, of course, is that doing so means he has the view of Castiel’s flushed skin in front of him for the whole forty seconds it takes to walk to the steam room. He’s beautiful. It’s agony.
When they get inside, Dean sits down on the right, and instead of sitting opposite him like a normal person, Castiel takes the right corner, close enough that their legs are almost touching. There are barely five inches between them. At least this means he’s not in Dean’s direct line of sight. It’s a small blessing, but one Dean is grateful for all the same.
“That wasn’t as enjoyable as I’d hoped,” Castiel says after a few minutes, his voice cutting through the quiet.
Dean turns his head to look at him and feels his stomach swoop dangerously.
There’s a bead of sweat running down Castiel’s collarbone, heading straight for his right nipple. Involuntarily, he imagines working over it with his tongue, teasing it to hardness. He attempts to shift his gaze away and notices a freckle just above it, and something about that little detail only makes him feel more desperate. His throat clicks when he swallows.
“What, uh…” Dean forces himself to look at Castiel’s face. His eyes, thankfully, are closed. “Why not? Is it a mojo thing? Like with food?”
“No…” Castiel trails off, a frustrated expression marring his features as he opens his eyes and looks down at his knees where they stick out from under the white towel. He swallows. Dean tracks the movement and closes his own eyes, tilting his head back against the wall and desperately trying to conjure a mental image of something awful. Shifter remains. Kale smoothies. The smell of kale smoothies.
Anything horrible enough to stop his downstairs brain from taking over when he has no chance of hiding it.
“I think it was the lack of intimacy,” Castiel finally admits.
Fuck, Dean thinks, and redoubles his efforts. Fish tongue parasites. That fuzzy green cup of abandoned coffee he’d found in the bunker’s kitchen when they first moved in. A 2015 Impala.
Castiel shifts beside him, bumping his knee against Dean’s. Their damp skin slides together. Dean exhales as steadily as he can. His dick twitches against his thigh.
Coming here was a terrible idea.
“I just can’t help but think that it would be better,” Castiel goes on, and there’s a kind of hesitance in his voice that makes Dean open his eyes, “to be touched by someone with whom I shared a… deep connection.”
With his gaze trained down, Dean sees where their knees are still pressed lightly together, warm and flushed and damp.
I should move my leg, Dean thinks. He thinks it again. Again. His leg doesn’t move. I should move. He really doesn’t want to.
In his periphery, he can see Castiel’s chest rising and falling in a slow and steady rhythm, but his arms are rigid, shoulders tense, muscles locked in place.
“It is,” he finally manages to reply. “Better, I mean. It’s a lot better.”
“I don’t have that kind of connection with many people,” Castiel says.
The increase in pressure against his knee is barely noticeable, but it’s there. Dean sucks in a sharp breath through his nose. It can’t be on purpose, he tells himself. Even if he did want me, he’s too oblivious for that to be deliberate.
“I basically just have you and Sam,” Castiel goes on. “And I’m not all that close with Sam.”
And alright--Castiel is pretty clueless. But Dean doesn’t think he’s that clueless. He was one of Heaven’t best strategists for who knows how long. Dean looks at him side on and wonders if this is strategy. If all those little moments he’s written off as Cas being awkward might actually have meant what he’s wanted them to.
Dean exhales long and slow before he speaks, staring down at the place where their legs touch.
“You tryin’ to ask for something here, Cas?” he asks, heart pounding so hard he can feel it in his throat, making his voice a little hoarse. The pause before Castiel replies is weighted. Charged.
“Would you indulge me if I did?”
“Only one way to find out.”
The moment the words have left his mouth, blurted out without him really thinking about how reckless they were, Dean feels a wave of dizzy panic. It doesn’t have the chance to take root. He sees Castiel turn a little toward him in his periphery, lifting his hand like he’s going to rest it on Dean’s thigh before settling it on his own instead.
His voice is quiet.
“Would you touch me?”
It’s tempting to take the words at face value. To give in to the desperate need and surge forward, drag his tongue and his teeth along the tendons of Castiel’s throat, down to his nipple, the sharp line of his hip.
Instead, he moves slow. Raises one hand to knead lightly at his left shoulder blade until Castiel swivels to allow Dean to smooth both palms down over his back. Carefully, he kneads the tight muscles of his shoulders and presses his knuckles as hard as it takes to make him drop his head forward and groan.
The sound is better than anything he could have hoped for.
Dean wants to lean forward and press his lips to the bump of his spine. He doesn’t. He won’t, not yet. Not until he’s asked. Not until he knows for certain that that’s what this is.
For now, he lightens his touch and traces his fingertips from neck to waist and back again, and thrills at the way Castiel shivers. Dean is losing his mind. Every fibre of his being is aching, begging, longing to get closer. It’s overwhelming.
“I’m already here, Dean,” Castiel says, barely more than a whisper, and Dean stills his hands, thumbs resting against the wings of Castiel’s shoulders.
“You’re praying for me.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Not with words,” Castiel says.
Dean’s heart thunders in his chest.
“How else could I be praying?”
“I can feel it,” Castiel murmurs. “When you want me.”
Dean’s head spins a little at the thought of all the times he’s ached for Castiel to be closer, and he’s so embarrassed that he nearly misses what Castiel says next.
“You’re longing for me right now. So I’m telling you; I’m here. I’m right here,” Castiel pauses. He takes an unsteady breath as he turns to face Dean and finally rests his hand on Dean’s bare knee, hot against his skin. “You already have me.”
His wide eyes bore into Dean’s, and any doubt about his meaning is lost. Dean’s tongue darts out to the corner of his mouth.
“How long have you known?” he finds himself asking, and Castiel drops his gaze to his hand, still resting on Dean’s leg.
“Since I fell,” he says. “I’d felt it before, but it wasn’t until I was human that I knew what it was.”
“Why-- why didn’t--”
“Why didn’t I say anything until now?”
“When would I have?” Castiel asks, his hand sliding slowly back and forth over Dean’s knee. “When you found me with April? In Rexford? When Sam was possessed or when you first took on the mark or when you were a demon?” He huffs out a pitiful laugh, and Dean finally lets himself settle his hand over Castiel’s. “Dean, there hasn’t been time. And even now, there barely is. We’ve still got battles to fight, but right now we have no immediate leads and I’m... tired. Tired of ignoring this. Aren’t you tired?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I am.”
“Then we should make the most of this moment of respite, don’t you think?”
Dean sucks in a surprised breath when he feels Castiel’s hand inching up his sweat-damp thigh, fingers dipping under the towel. Castiel freezes. His eyes wide. Scared. Like he’s worried that he’s crossed a line.
“It’s okay,” Dean manages to say, though his voice comes out strange and strangled. “Keep-- you can keep going.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, Cas. I’m sure.”
Castiel’s hand slides higher, finally disappearing under the towel. His knuckles graze over Dean’s cock, once, twice, before Castiel seems to gain confidence and turns his hand to hold him in a loose grip.
A pitiful moan, something close to a whimper, tumbles out of Dean at the feeling of those long fingers touching him. Gliding over his heated skin, squeezing and releasing. His head falls forward, forehead bumping against Castiel’s, noses brushing.
“I haven’t done this before,” Castiel tells him, a tremor in his voice. Dean feels his breath against his lips as the words form. “Am I--is this alright? Does this feel good?”
“Yeah,” Dean breathes.
Castiel’s tongue darts out to dampen his lower lip and he tightens his grip a little. Sweeps his thumb up over the head, the soft pad of it pressing down against the tip.
“Jesus, Cas,” he groans, watching the towel that shifts over his lap with every move of Castiel’s hand. “Pretty sure this is what the no inappropriate conduct sign was talking about.”
Castiel’s hand stills, and he pulls away to look up at Dean with a concerned wrinkle in his brow.
“Should I stop?”
“Do you want to?”
“Then fuck no.”
Castiel’s eyes are fixed on his, his face close but not enough, and Dean realizes that they still haven’t kissed. Castiel’s hand is on his cock and they haven’t kissed. It’s stupid that they haven’t kissed.
Dean slides his hand into his hair to pull him forward.
Castiel’s lips are salty with sweat. Sweet and bitter from the coffee he’d insisted on drinking this morning. Dean swipes his tongue past them, groaning into Castiel’s mouth when he feels his hand instinctively tighten. He can’t stop his hips from lifting, pushing himself through Castiel’s fist.
He already feels too close. Like nothing but a kiss or two more and the loose grip of Castiel’s fingers will send him tumbling over the edge.
“This is--” Castiel starts and stops, breathing heavily. “This is all wrong.”
Dean feels a chill run through his body, but Castiel’s grip doesn’t loosen.
“We shouldn’t do this here.”
“Oh,” Dean breathes, relief rushing through him as he nods. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right.”
“I don’t want to stop.”
“Me--ahh,” Dean gasps when Castiel’s hand slides all the way to the base, his fingers brushing the sensitive skin of his perineum. “Me neither.”
Of all places for this to happen, finally, it had to be at a goddamn steam bath. They should really just go check back in at the motel, but Dean thinks about stopping now, and getting dressed, and driving the twenty minutes back to Curtis’ Motor Court, and he thinks he might actually die.
Here, though, there’s a row of showers between the steam room and the change room. It’s not exactly ideal, but at least the stalls have doors.
Dean catches hold of Castiel’s wrist to still his movements.
“Wait,” he says, and takes a deep breath when he feels his body tensing. The need to come surges through him, and he pushes it down, staves it off with every ounce of self control he still has left. “Shower stalls.”
Castiel doesn’t seem to get it at first, but as soon as he does Dean finds himself being hauled to his feet.
The nearest stall is just barely big enough for the two of them, and once the door is closed Dean leans back against it. It’s cool to the touch.
Pulling his lower lip between his teeth, Dean tries for a cocky grin. It all but vanishes when he feels warm hands on his stomach, teasing at the edge of his towel before it gets pulled free and falls to the floor. Castiel’s isn’t far behind it.
They’re pressed together before he can get a good look, but he can feel the hot swell of Castiel’s cock sliding against his own, nudging between his thighs, and it’s enough to make his mouth water. The thought embarrasses him. It’s been a long time since he figured out that he’s just as into men as he is into women, but until now it’s all been theory. Suddenly he’s actually got someone else’s dick pressed against him and he’s fucking salivating.
It’s not just someone, though, he reminds himself. It’s Cas. How is this real? he asks himself, and finds he doesn’t care. All that matters is that it is, and he’s here, and Castiel is here, and--
With his lips dragging over Castiel’s shoulder, his hands gripping Castiel’s ass as he grinds his hips forward in a desperate search for friction, he throws out the lingering shame.
“Cas,” he breathes out, pausing to bite the sweat-damp skin at his neck. “I want to show you how good it can be.”
Castiel pulls his chin up with two fingers, speaking against his lips before delivering another bruising kiss.
Dean doesn’t break the kiss as he walks Castiel backwards; just fumbles blindly along the wall until he locates the tap and turns the water on. The spray is cold when it hits them, a shock to their fevered skin, and Dean gasps into Castiel’s mouth. It only makes Castiel drag Dean closer, rocking against him, one foot slotted between Dean’s.
Sliding a hand between them, Dean grips him for the first time, and the touch reduces Castiel to a flurry of whimpers and moans, stuttered breaths as he arches into Dean’s palm.
There’s something about the sounds that has Dean feeling oddly powerful. Like he could take this being of light to pieces, slowly, slowly, until he’s begging for release, and then shatter him into a kaleidoscope of color, make him cry out and collapse under the weight of pleasure. The thought makes Dean’s legs weak.
It’s only logical, then, that he drop to the floor.
His knees ache when they hit the tile, but Castiel’s thighs are there in front of him, flushed pink from the shower. He mouths at them, sucking, biting, licking the skin, getting closer and closer to his target before switching to the other side.
Above him, Castiel is breathing heavily, leaning back against the shower wall. He grunts when Dean finally wraps his lips around the tip of his cock, an entirely undignified sound that he recreates when Dean sinks lower, and Dean lets it urge him on.
The salty-bitter taste of him is overwhelming, but Dean wants more. He hollows his cheeks as he pulls back, dragging his tongue over the ridged head, pressing hard against the tip before sinking back down.
“This--” Castiel pants, eyes squeezing shut as Dean slips one hand between his thighs and back, stroking his fingers over Castiel’s rim, just barely, before gripping his ass and pulling his hips forward, encouraging him to sink deeper into Dean’s mouth. “Dean, I didn’t--ah. I didn’t know it would be like this.”
“Neither did I,” Dean says, voice rough as he pulls off.
Staring up at Castiel’s slack jaw, he drags his cheek along his stomach as he skims his fingertips up over his twitching cock, catching another pulse of slick fluid as it leaks from the head and rubbing it back down along the shaft. Castiel’s whole body shudders, and Dean can’t help but smile, pressing his lips to the sharp line of his hip and biting, just a little.
“God, Cas,” he says, his hands moving to grip Castiel’s hips as his kisses climb the ladder of his ribs, pausing to whisper praise against his skin. “You’re amazing. You’re so--”
Hands are in his hair, then, pulling gently, and he follows them until he’s standing again, being kissed desperately, held close and turned until it’s his back against the wall with Castiel’s hands roaming over his back, down to his ass and scratching lightly at his skin.
All at once, at his core, he feels a kind of aching need for Castiel to be closer. As though he’s starving for it, and the touch of Castiel’s hands is doing nothing to sate the hunger he feels. God, Dean wants him. All of him, closer, as close as possible. Pressed deep and rocking deeper.
“Please,” he hears himself gasping, his hand dragging down from where he’s been clutching Castiel’s shoulder to his forearm, his wrist. Castiel squeezes his ass firmly before sliding his hands back up to Dean’s hips, and Dean lets out a wrecked moan. “Please, Cas.”
“Ask me,” Castiel sighs against his mouth. “Whatever it is you’re longing for, just ask me. I’ll give you anything.”
Dean’s heart swells at the words, blood pounding through his body and making his cock thicken more, almost painfully hard now where it presses against Castiel’s thigh.
“I-- I want--” Dean starts, and finds he can’t get the words out. Moving his hand back over Castiel’s, he guides it down, until he’s sliding an index finger down the cleft of his ass to press at his rim. Dean pushes back against it, overwhelmed by the way it seems to pulse with need.
Castiel experimentally drags his finger over the puckered flesh a few times, circling, pressing a little firmer, and meets Dean’s eyes as he does, concern in his own expression warring with undisguised want.
“Are you sure?” he asks, and Dean nods, leaning forward to kiss him.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” he says, pulling back a little and feeling his face burn red at the words he suddenly can’t help but say. “I’ve wanted you like this. I’ve thought about it. About letting you insi--ahh.”
The feeling of Castiel’s fingertip pressing into him startles him into silence, and nothing but breathless sighs escape him as Castiel carefully drags it back out. He does it again before Dean has a chance to recover, and again, going a little deeper each time until suddenly there are two fingers gliding in and out with ease, slickened by water and goddamn angel magic for all Dean knows.
When he finally brushes over Dean’s prostate, Dean just barely manages to keep standing. He’s tried to find it before, every now and then when he’s had the luxury of a motel room to himself or an uninterrupted night at the bunker, but he’s never quite managed to get the angle right. He’d honestly started to suspect that he just wasn’t sensitive enough. But now, as Castiel’s fingertip catches on the tight bundle of nerves inside him, something bright and heady unfurls low in Dean’s stomach, radiating out through his whole body and making him clamp down on Castiel’s fingers.
His hands scramble for purchase on Castiel’s chest, sliding up to his neck and into his hair.
“Jesus fucking--” he manages to say before Castiel does it again, and the words get cut off with a whine he’d embarrassed by if he didn’t feel like he was flying.
When he comes back to himself, Castiel is kissing him, murmuring his name in between each press of his lips, and Dean hears him saying words that he’d never associate with himself. Stunning and beautiful and perfect. He presses the words back into Castiel’s mouth, back where such praise belongs, and lets out a helpless gasp when he feels his fingers slip free completely.
At once he feels empty and desperate to be filled, and without a word between them he turns to face the tile, leaning his head against his forearm as he spreads his feet apart.
Along his back, the water runs a steady trail over his fevered skin, and he can’t help but sigh when he feels the press of Castiel’s body lining up with his own, his cock teasing along the cleft of Dean’s ass. Dean presses restlessly back against it, but before he can say please, Castiel’s mouth is hot at Dean’s nape, making him feel like he might burst into flame. He has the brief and absurd thought that if he does, it’s a good thing they’re in the shower.
Castiel’s lips are wet, teeth pressing down just hard enough to leave a mark as he finally guides himself inside. The initial stretch is just on the right side of painful, and Dean can feel him holding back, his thighs tense against the back of Dean’s when he finally bottoms out.
He moves achingly slow, slow enough to make Dean want to shove back against him, but he doesn’t. Next time, he thinks, they can be fast. Next time, they can be rough and frantic. But today isn’t about fucking.
He won’t name it, what they’re doing, but he knows what this is. Knows the words Castiel is mouthing against his skin. Knows because they’re the same words he’s thinking.
At his hips, Castiel’s fingers press against his skin, slipping a little with the water that still runs warm and constant over them, and Dean slides his own fingers between them, dragging Castiel’s right hand down over his own stomach.
It doesn’t take long for Castiel to understand what he’s asking for, and then his palm is skimming over Dean’s straining cock, once, twice, before he grips him fully and pumps his hand in time with his own thrusts.
Vaguely, Dean is aware of himself making choked little noises. Helpless, keening sounds that echo off the tile, mingling with the steady stream of water and the slap and slide of skin on skin.
“Dean,” Castiel says against the back of his ear, sinking his teeth into the lobe before repeating his name again, wrecked and urgent. “Dean.”
Without warning, Dean’s toes curl into the tile, and he comes hard, painting the blue tile with his release. Castiel works him through it, the sound slick and obscene as he milks him of every last drop, rocking into him in a relentless rhythm as he does, the ridged head of his cock dragging over Dean’s prostate on every second thrust and leaving Dean gasping in an ecstatic haze.
It’s only a little longer before he feels Castiel tensing, his hands pulling Dean flush against him as he spills, and the sound of his fractured moan makes Dean clench around him, holding him inside.
The silence that follows is broken only by the running water, raining down, and when Castiel slowly pulls out, Dean catches his breath. He only turns when he feels a gentle hand at his waist, and before he can overthink anything he’s being pulled into a kiss that is somehow better than anything they’ve done yet.
Deeper, somehow. More intimate even than having Castiel pressed inside him.
“How are you feeling?” Castiel asks when he pulls back, and Dean can’t help but grin.
“You fishing for compliments?”
“I wouldn’t shy from compliments,” Castiel tells him with a smile that makes Dean’s stomach flip wildly before dropping his hand to Dean’s wrist, sliding it up over the mark on his forearm. “But I was talking about this.”
Looking down at his arm, Dean huffs out a laugh.
“Honestly?” he asks, meeting Castiel’s eyes in the warm light. “I forgot all about it.”
[The two songs on the radio as they drive from the hospital to the bar are Tusk by Fleetwood Mac, and I Wish You Were There by REO Speedwagon. Because lyrics.]