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Sense Memory

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"I never see you take that thing off."

It took Castiel a good minute to notice that Dean was talking to him. His head came up, bright eyes narrowing to slits as he examined Dean's guileless expression. "What thing?" he asked.

"The coat," Dean said. He reached out, rubbed the fabric between his fingers. It felt... like a coat, which he found somehow disappointing. "You never take it off. But it's always clean."

"Why shouldn't it be?" Cas demanded, staring down at the sleeve. Dean took another long swig of beer. It was his fourth of the night, not enough to make him drunk, but more than enough to loosen his tongue.

"Because," Dean explained patiently, "you never take it off."

"There's no reason for me to take it off," Cas said. There was a certain finality about the statement, like it explained everything. Dean wasn't satisfied.

"But it doesn't get dirty," Dean insisted.

"Of course not." Castiel's brows drew down.

"Is that some kind of weird angel magic or something?"

"No." Castiel eyed him warily, hunching his shoulders up. He got that look sometimes, when he finally cottoned to the fact that Dean was teasing him. A slow grin teased the corners of Dean's mouth.

"Can I see it?"

"My coat?" Cas closed protective fingers around the lapels of the coat. Dean leaned across the table, tugged at the sleeve.

"Yep. Take it off."

"No!" Surprisingly vehement. Dean laughed softly and tugged harder.

"Come on, I'll give it right back," he wheedled. Cas stared at him stonily. "Please?"

"Very well," Cas said abruptly, shrugging off the coat. He passed it across the table to Dean, who took it with no small amount of surprise. It wasn't warm, the way clothing just divested should be, and it was more than clean, it was spotless. He turned it over and over in his hands, searching for a speck of mud, a thread that was out of place.

"You do this on purpose, don't you?" he asked. "Make it perfect."

"I maintain it," Cas corrected. "All things have their place, including threads and dirt." Dean lifted the coat to his face, sniffed the collar. He was searching for a hint of detergent, the warm scent of hair, anything that would indicate that the coat belonged to someone.

The smell that flooded his nostrils was dizzying, clean and sharp and wonderful in a way that he couldn't define. It had power and movement, almost like the tang in the air before snow falls, hectic with purpose, but something lay under it, a thickness. Dean held the coat to his face and breathed in slowly, searching for the scent, trying to separate it out, and it hit him like a truck. Paper and tape, coffee and pine sap, Dad's aftershave and Mom's face cream, and the colors burst behind his eyes, red and green and gold and silver, and for a second as he breathed in, he was three and it was Christmas and everything was perfect again.

He threw the coat down and stared at Cas, who sat motionless across the table from him, blue eyes steady. "Did you do that?" he demanded, fury warring with deep sorrow. "Why the hell would you do that, Cas?"

"I did nothing," the angel said.

"The smell..."

"Is whatever you want it to be." Dean pieced it together in his mind, making out of it some semblance of sense.

"You smell however I want you to," he said, still not quite believing.

"Whatever you associate me with," Cas clarified.

"So I associate you with Christmas?" Dean's lips thinned. "What, because you're an angel?" Cas was quiet for a long time, his eyes brimming with something that wasn't tears, like if he blinked light would spill down his cheeks, scintillating and brilliant.

"It isn't the time," he said finally, "it's the emotion."

"Oh." And Dean thought of that Christmas, let the warmth well up inside him. That memory was one he'd clung to, though it was ragged and fuzzy and more a collection of impressions than an actual memory. It was love, though, and safety, and stability.

"Oh," he said again, quiet. Cas stared at him, eyes soft and half-lidded. "Right. I get it."

He stood then, went around the table, knelt in front of Cas. The angel looked puzzled, seeing the intent in Dean's eyes but not understanding it. Still, he closed his eyes and tipped his head back when Dean reached up to loosen his tie.