Chapter 1: A Very Merry Detour
There is a tiny blue blip on the navigation screen.
Castiel stops the truck so that he can contemplate this properly. He wouldn’t go so far as to claim that detecting another vehicle in the area would be the last thing he needs right now, but for a handful of seconds Castiel considers calling it in to Victor so there’ll be someone else awake and more annoyed than him at this time of night.
It’s sand and rock as far as the eye can see, though at the moment that’s only some 20 to 30 yards ahead with the truck’s lights on. Not that the view’s all that more educational in the daytime; the Eliot Desert may have some awe-inspiring sand dunes and horizons, but awe is for new arrivals and poetic hearts.
Speaking of new arrivals.
“Pull up today’s arrival schedule.” The truck computer beeps an acknowledgement of Castiel’s command. “Pull up yesterday and tomorrow’s schedules as well.”
The only thing for miles is Base Camp #4-15, or The Oasis, as they’ve been told to call it. At this time of night most base activity is restricted to inside The Oasis’ environmental shields, and for good reason.
The monitor beeps. There’s a transport vehicle signed to a Winchester, D. that’s due to arrive tomorrow, approved by Singer, R. and stamped with Ion’s acknowledgement. A secondary window chimes in with a size estimate of the tiny blue blip of inconvenience, and it matches.
Castiel sighs, punches in the new coordinates, and puts the truck back into drive.
It’s not like Castiel wants to find flaws among the civilian personnel in the Expatriate program. A number of them are exemplary – Ellen Harvelle, for example, made a number of people sceptical when she won the perishable supplies contract, but she’s proven to be as efficient as any Officer. Same goes for many of them in R&D, and the new flight crew is startlingly quick and giving Company veterans a run for their money.
But then there are things like this: Winchester D. trying to make his journey ahead of schedule without notifying anyone, as though a road trip to The Oasis is something one does for the heck of it.
The vehicle that comes into view is – showy. It dwarfs Castiel’s truck, and would probably be impressive under daylight. It’s custom, though underneath the modifications it’s a classic all-terrain Chevy, all sharp angles and heavy musclework in the chassis, with a conventional downward-pointing cockpit at the front. It’s also painted black, which of course makes it easier to find in the dark of the desert. There’s no immediate damage that Castiel can see.
Castiel turns on the short-range mic clipped to his ear. “Unmarked vehicle, I’m from Base Camp #4-15, safety code Delta Tango Eight Eight Sierra. Please confirm.”
There’s a burst of sound through the ear piece – someone groaning. “Jesus.” A groggy cough. “Yeah, I read you, uh, give me a... Okay, here we go. Response code, Juliet Echo Zero Lima Sierra.”
Castiel gets off his chair and starts suiting up. “I acknowledge. Are you injured?”
“Not last I checked.”
“Is there anyone injured on board?”
“Nope. No one injured.”
“Explain the problem with your vehicle.”
“Bearing strain, port side. Something pinged me a couple dozen miles back, no alarms going off yet but I’m not feeling the rest of the journey without a look-see. Would’ve handled it myself but temperature’s dropping fast. I got the hardware to hang out here, so I was just gonna call it a night.”
“I’m here now, so you needn’t do that. How large is your crew?”
“Your on-board crew,” Castiel clarifies. “How many?”
“Uh. Just me.”
Castiel pauses, his glove halfway up his arm. “Please repeat.”
“I’m alone in here. Well, not anymore now you’ve dropped by, how about that.”
Wonderful. Winchester D. is a lone cowboy, riding in on his modified Chevy (Impala, the computer informs him helpfully) in the middle of the night, as though changing the tires to desert-suitable tracks was the limit of the man’s logical preparation for this journey.
“If you have power to spare, turn on your lights. I’m coming out to check your frame.” Castiel locks the helmet in place with a click and pulls the safety visor down.
“Dude, you don’t need to do—”
“I’m coming out now.”
Castiel’s boots land heavily on the dry earth, and the truck door slides shut behind him. He has to tilt his head up a little to view the Impala, and concedes that at the very least the driver had the sense to get the safety shields up.
“Direct me to the damage, or I’ll inspect it myself,” Castiel says.
There’s an oddly loud clank, and then one of the Impala’s side lights turns on. Castiel follows it, crouching down to observe newer dents in the metal. “Seems something’s caught in the frame. May I observe it?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, not with the temperature dropping this quick. You should be heading back in yourself.”
Castiel checks the screen on his sleeve; the suit will hold up for a while yet. “This will only take a moment.” He circles the problem area, gauging angle and force. “There have been other vehicles facing the same problem. It has to do with the high silica content of the sand. This shouldn’t be a problem.”
“I know it’s not a problem,” Winchester snaps. “This is my job, I can check her myself, I’m just choosing not to because I wanted to handle it with a clear head.”
Castiel looks up at the Impala’s nearest security camera. Winchester may not be able to see his expression through the safety visor, but his voice should be plain enough. “Then you should have been wise enough to not chart your own course off the road, or try to make it to The Oasis before you were expected.”
“I wanted to surprise—”
“And you should have brought a crew with you instead of coming alone. What if the damage were more severe? Or if you were incapacitated during your journey? Why haven’t you put out a distress call?”
“Because I’m not in fucking distress! I know what my baby can take, Jesus Christ what are you, the base camp’s nanny?”
Castiel tilts his head at the Impala. “It certainly looks like you need one.”
“Oh, you did not.”
As Castiel takes a deep breath of filtered air, he reflects on how this situation is emblematic of The Oasis’ mission statement. He could waste energy wondering why this civilian agreed to take a post on a Company training base if they weren’t willing to follow Company protocol, or he could just do his job as efficiently as he can and let the damn civilian do whatever he wants.
“I am an Officer of the Company.” Castiel tries his best not wonder if Winchester hasn’t done the sensible thing of checking the identification code on Castiel’s suit to confirm his position. “And I am going to help you.”
There’s a pause. “Did you just threaten to help me?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Castiel tries to recall those long hours listening to Joshua’s seminars on People Skills and Subjective Protocol. Being patient in a civilian setting uses up completely different muscles from, say, being patient while holding a reconnaissance position. “If you’re uncomfortable, I will leave this vehicle to your responsibility, but I can’t leave you alone here tonight.”
“Hey now, you need to buy me drinks first.”
“I said you need to... never mind.” Castiel thinks he can hear faint computerized beeps through the speakers. “You’re doing your job, fine, I get that. I’ll suit up and join you.”
“Someone should be monitoring the internal status of your vehicle,” Castiel reminds him. “And as you said, temperature is dropping fast.”
“All the more reason why you should head back in.”
Castiel glares uselessly at the camera. “Do you make it a personal challenge to be as stubborn as possible?”
“Takes one to know one, right?”
“The damage is here, correct?” Castiel gestures at the suspected square foot of metal.
Castiel slides his hands into the grooves, moving his feet in brace position. Usually this is done with a clamp, but clamps are for people who aren’t Castiel. The earth under his feet shifts from the pressure of Castiel’s hefting the port side of the Impala off the ground, Winchester riding it and all, and there’s enough of a gap in the frame that he can push a hand inside to check the protective lining.
“Whoa! Are you... lifting my car?”
“Am I touching it?” Castiel asks. “I feel something.”
“Yeah, I think that’s it.”
Castiel carefully sets the vehicle down. “With your permission, I would like to go underneath to check the lining. I can sign a waiver, if you need one.”
Winchester falls quiet again, presumably processing this new information about Castiel. Honestly, if Winchester has a problem with augmented Officers then he’d… Well, he’d still find friends at The Oasis, but it’d be another tiring cliché and Castiel will live to be confused about civilians another day.
It helps that the lines are blurred now, and only getting blurrier. For decades augmentation tech had been tightly controlled by the corporations in power, who chose to restrict its advantages to its Officers and the occasional civilian willing to take on its mile-high price tag that they might as well have been an Officer in the first place. Civilians – Earthlings, as some of them like to call themselves – naturally developed an association between the two. To be augmented was to be one of them, and to be one of them was to think themselves better than the Earth they’d left behind for the stars.
Then the corporations went to war, the survivors limped back to mother Earth to lick their wounds, and out from the scattered ashes The Company was formed. Just The Company, which is hardly a distinctive name but is supposed to be symbolic of unity between the remaining corporation Officers, and they now invite Earthlings into their warm embrace with the hope of a mutually beneficial future.
Victor Henriksen, Head of Security at The Oasis, is Earthling through and through, and has had at least two augmentations under the new order. He’s able to command the respect of civilian and Company alike, and is probably a bigger trendsetter than he knows. Some people aren’t happy that he’s one of the frontrunners for Captain Sands’ second-in-command spot on the Executive, but that’s the way the world turns.
“You are one pushy son-of-a-bitch,” Winchester says. “All right, go for it. I’ll watch you from in here, and if you get so much as a scratch on my baby, someone’s gonna get it, and that’s gonna be you.”
That’s a long-winded yes, but still a yes. Castiel doesn’t hesitate in pulling the now-unlocked access panel open and getting between the tracks. Once he’s safely inside, helmet lamp illuminating the narrow, dark space under the Impala, he responds, “If you wanted to avoid getting your vehicle scratched then you shouldn’t have brought it with you.”
“And if you wanted to avoid wasting your time then you could’ve just left me a warning and gone on your way.”
Castiel frowns. “I’m not wasting my time.”
“Buddy, I can hear exactly how much you’re loving helping me out. FYI.”
“I don’t understand why you stopped. Why did you stop? You said you can manage, so why didn’t you—”
“Look at my car. Well, you’re underneath her now, but c’mon, just look. She’s been through hell of a lot more than a little cold, and I know she can hang here a couple of hours while I get some shut-eye. You know, sleep? I hear some people like to do it at night.”
Castiel opens his mouth, ready to point out the ludicrousness of that statement when Winchester is the one who’d decided it’d be a good idea to travel to a foreign place at night, but decides that it’s not worth it.
Civilians, Castiel thinks to himself. Out loud, he says, “I see the damage. I’m turning my camera on now, open frequency. I’m going to place a temporary seal. You’ll have the appropriate tools at base to recoat your car.”
It’s not as though Winchester knows that this is exactly what Castiel does. Castiel’s augmented arms are a gift from the Company, and he will use them wherever he’s able and at anyone’s behest, no matter how simple the task. He even has his own request form on-base that anyone can use to procure his services, so he’s done things from carrying equipment to fixing things to helping set up The Oasis in the first place.
Victor had even asked, at the start of the program, if Castiel would like to join his Security Team. “You’d be a great help,” Victor had said, but Castiel had declined, citing his desire for a more research-focused position. But Castiel still helps Victor every now and then, such as if one of his security staff is suddenly unavailable, or if there’s a safety incident that requires extra hands. Castiel’s experience does come in handy, and Victor likes that Castiel takes orders well.
It occurs to Castiel that Winchester is probably not the sort that takes orders well. If Bobby Singer is his boss then he’s probably in the Development Division, maybe under biomech with Virgil or soft tech with Ash. His voice reminds Castiel of Singer himself though, so he finds himself imagining Winchester in dark engineering overalls and cap, hunched over the Impala’s monitors as he stares intensely at every movement Castiel makes on his holy relic of a car.
“Heads up, winds coming in.”
Castiel turns off the flashlight and rolls into a corner between the ground and the Impala’s tracks. The blast of cold is familiar from the weeks of visiting the Satellite Stations, and the suit is sturdy in shielding him from sand and wind.
A metallic groan above Castiel’s head makes him start. “Winchester!” he barks.
“Whoa, I’m not turning the engine on! I’m just locking down the tracks, try to block you a little.”
“Oh.” A quick glance down confirms that the brakes are still on, so if Winchester wants to flatten him in some bid to protect his baby, Castiel will at least have some warning. “All right.”
“I did say that this was a bad idea.”
“It isn’t. Stop being dramatic.” Castiel loosens his hold when the wind eases down.
“How are you even breathing normal, man? Your helmet filters look pretty standard.”
“My breathing is augmented.”
“My respiratory system is augmented. My sinus lining and trachea, along with one and a half of my lungs, are artificial. I’ve been through more extreme conditions than this.”
Which is why he’d volunteered to take on the Satellite Stations, all five of them. Director Naomi had been skeptical but Castiel had pushed, accurately claiming that he could do the work of a team of three or four, and still handle the physical handiwork around base on top of that. The position was attractive to Castiel because it’s a straightforward job with a direct line of responsibility, and free of the politics that come from having to work in a team.
But the science is interesting, too. The Satellite Stations are lonely automated structures set up miles out from The Oasis, where they measure environmental conditions and crunch simulation numbers. The idea is that these Stations will someday be set up out in space, perhaps on asteroids or terrestrial planets, to independently gather as much information as they can. Each Station is of a different design and has different experimental tech; Castiel’s job in The Oasis’ R&D team is to monitor, maintain and evaluate all of them.
It’s definitely interesting enough for Castiel to make the long drives out every other night to visit them and see how they’re doing. One day, when the Executive finally takes off for her voyage, Castiel will be there to oversee their use across the galaxy.
That’s the idea, anyway.
“Aug arms and aug lungs?” Winchester scoffs. “What the hell kind of Officer needs both?”
“What kind of private engineer needs to bring their own vehicle for a short-term contract?”
“One that thinks the Company has fucking lousy taste in wheels.”
“I’m sure it has nothing to do with you having enough space in there to bring your personal effects to base.” A one-passenger Impala is practically a caravan, and Winchester’s going to have a fun time getting through the base’s security checks. “The Oasis isn’t a bunch of tents set up in the sand. It’s state-of-the-art. Well-stocked. There’s a civilian bar and eatery in which the food is excellent.”
“The Roadhouse, run by Ellen Harvelle. Yes, I know.”
“Oh, so that, you know.” Castiel shakes his head. The wind’s died down, so he resumes his work while Winchesters chatters on. “Why am I not surprised?”
“Can’t say there’s much else interesting in the brochure… Uh, I didn’t catch your name?”
“Castiel,” he says. “And you’re David Winchester. I obtained your details off the roster before I hailed you.”
A snicker. “Dean. It’s Dean Winchester.”
“Calculated guess.” Castiel leans back and studies his handiwork. “That should be it. Check the circulation.”
There’s a soft hum as the car inspects itself. “Looks good. All systems are ready to make like a tree and leave.”
“Excellent.” Winchester unlocks the tracks and Castiel crawls back out, stretching his arms in the suit’s limited range of movement. The sensors beep at him helpfully, a reminder that there are other things to do. “We should make our move.”
“Yeah, yeah, no more detours. You goin’ front or back?”
Castiel steps into his truck, locking the door behind him. “I have work to do at a Satellite Station. I will notify Security to expect you.”
There’s a sharp sound that Castiel takes a moment to recognize as not Winchester falling over and hitting his head, but of him laughing. “You’re going out by yourself? Isn’t it dangerous to travel alone? What if you get incapacitated during your journey?”
Castiel resists rolling his eyes. “Welcome to Eliot, Dean Winchester.”
“Nice to meet you, too, Superman.” A pause. “That does not make me Lois Lane, by the way.”
“Do you always talk so much?”
“Yes,” he says, but of course. “Winchester out, see ya on the other side.”
“Acknowledged.” Castiel keeps his eyes on the screen as he takes off his suit, just to make sure that the Impala is rumbling off in the right direction.
Chapter 2: Home Sweet Home
Everyone’s expected to share quarters in The Oasis. Each residential cabin is a self-contained unit, two or more bedrooms with a shared bathroom, along with a common area and open-concept mini-kitchen. A cabin can house anywhere from two to six people, but as The Oasis’ current population is well below capacity, Castiel only has to share space with a single other person.
“Do you play wall hockey?” Kevin asks.
Castiel looks up from the nutrition shake he’d been drinking. His roommate’s standing across from him in the narrow space of their cabin’s kitchenette, body language relaxed. “No,” Castiel answers.
“Because you’re just not interested, or you never…” Kevin’s smile is small and hopeful.
The idea behind the Expat program’s bases – besides the training courses and development of new shared tech to take skywards – is to see if Officers and civilians can live together. That had been one of Naomi’s stipulations: if none of the program’s four bases metaphorically self-destruct under the social weight, the Executive will launch on time.
Following that, Castiel was of course to be assigned a civilian roommate. They should’ve been someone closer to his own status, but as Castiel was of the first few to arrive on site and set up The Oasis at all – which had involved the literal unpacking and setting up of cabins and buildings that now make up the facility – he’d been allowed to pick his own quarters. His choice hadn’t been defined by space, but by easy access to the laundry, commissary and eastern parking lot (for the truck), so his roommate is a cadet.
Kevin Tran is ideal. He’s passionate about the program, respectful of Castiel’s space, and keeps odd enough hours that he has no problems with Castiel’s own.
He also doesn’t waste time on idle chit-chat, so when he asks about a sport, it’s not because he wants to know Castiel’s opinion about whatever team or whatever competition must be going on elsewhere.
“Both,” Castiel says. “I knew people who played, but it never piqued my interest.”
“So here’s the thing.” Kevin pulls out his tablet, fingers skimming the surface. “There’s a game today, since the gear just came in with the new shipment. Meg’s going to referee but she needs help, and I told her I’d ask if you could help man one of the lines. Since you… you know.”
“If you’d informed me earlier, I could’ve set aside the time for it.”
Kevin frowns. Castiel doesn’t protest when Kevin takes his tablet and scrutinizes Castiel’s schedule. The rest of Castiel’s day is perfectly outlined on the screen: laundry, truck maintenance, vacuum the cabin, and read up on the latest journal releases. The usual.
“Really?” Kevin says.
That’s an odd thing to hear coming from a cadet Castiel had once seen spend five hours straight at his computer working on flight simulation coding. That had been an interesting experience, and Castiel had been compelled to do his reading in the cabin’s common area, near where Kevin had set up his work station, so Castiel could keep an eye on him and occasionally put an MRE bar or nutrition shake near his keyboard to make sure he’d get something to eat.
So Castiel gives Kevin a long look, unblinking until Kevin starts squirming and eventually yelps, “Fine! Fine, you get experience points if you participate. You know, displaying teamwork and leadership and, and, physical activity. All that.”
Castiel nods. “Send me the rules.” His tablet beeps, a window popping open with a presumably full list of rules and regulations. Kevin tends to be prepared. “Inform Meg.”
“Thanks. If my team wins, I’ll totally share the—”
“Stop right there,” Castiel says. “If I’m to be a game official, that’s considered bribery.”
“Oh.” Kevin’s still smiling. “My bad. But still, thanks.”
The Expatriate program marks the longest that Castiel’s spent an extended amount of time in mixed company, and he’s not just talking about having a young civilian as a roommate.
The program is an extravagant venture, the first of its kind since the end of the Merger Wars and, frankly, just about the last thing the Company can do to prevent its collapse. Independent civilians outnumber Officers almost 7 to 2 now, which means that while the Company still has a hold on the advanced tech it’s developed over the years, it’s Earth that has the greatest resource: people.
Once upon a time, a training base as advanced as The Oasis would’ve been staffed solely with Officers, i.e. professionals like Castiel who’ve spent more time in artificial gravity than not. The paradigm shift has meant opening up the doors to civilians like Victor, Ellen and Bobby.
Space! So the sales pitch goes. Brand new A-class Alliance ship! (Non-Military) Exploration and Discovery of the Undiscovered! Now ANYONE can go!
Well, anyone willing to undergo the application process, provide down payment for a seat on the Executive, and spend a couple of months at one of the four training bases. The novelty of the Expat program is that even Officers aren’t guaranteed a place. Castiel, a quadruple augment with some three decades worth of space-faring experience, and who would be more useful than half-a-dozen Earthlings, isn’t guaranteed a seat.
In that way, it is exciting.
It would’ve been impossible just a handful of years ago. When Castiel first heard about the Expat program – a brain child of the Company’s Board of Directors and the Earth Government – through Hester, he’d thought it some kind of joke that would never make it off the ground.
“It’s worse than most people think it is,” Hester had explained. “The masses have no idea what went on up there, how bad it got. They’re relieved, and they think the tide’s turning to their favor.”
“The tide is turning to their favor,” Castiel had replied. “We destroyed ourselves. I can see Director Crowley supporting the idea. Director Eve would be more of a stretch, but Naomi? She’d never trust the others.”
“That’s why one of them is going to Captain the ship, not us. It’d be neutral.”
“A civilian taking charge of the most advanced vessel ever to be built?”
“That’s how badly we need it, Castiel.”
So off the ground it is, The Oasis and its three sister bases are up and running, and Castiel finally has a job outside the metropolis cities. It’d been hard to be grounded, the corporation’s fleets and space stations destroyed or put to rest after the Wars, and Earth had changed so much. The Oasis is a small high-tech town a half-mile wide, its various low, flat buildings arranged in a rough grid around the command center, and is more than enough to accommodate a couple hundred personnel within its perimeter fence. Castiel is Goldilocks and The Oasis is just right.
That’s perhaps a strange way to think about it, because the four training bases are deliberately isolated. Space is just another desert, after all, and the enclosed nature of The Oasis supports mental preparation for the Executive’s voyage.
Mental preparation also involves social activities – team-building activities – almost all of which Castiel doesn’t need to be involved with because his department is a team of one.
The occasional wall hockey game can’t hurt, and as it turns out Kevin is nervous as hell about the prospect of playing. Castiel isn’t effective at pep talks – that had usually been Anna or Uriel’s job, back in his garrison – but he can listen to Kevin blather anxiously under his breath when they make their way to the sports hall together.
“I know it’s not about winning,” Kevin’s saying under his breath. “But it’s not fair that they won’t even let us practice together first. I heard Krissy used to play forward at her old school.”
“Maybe that’s the point,” Castiel suggests. “Best way to break in the gear is with a game.”
Kevin isn’t comforted when they learn that it’s not even just cadets who are going to play. Apparently word got out and some of the slightly more senior staff edged in on the action. Meg doesn’t seem to mind. In fact she seems positively gleeful as she watches Casey and Gordon argue over who gets to captain their team, while around them the sports hall fills up with volunteers and spectators alike.
The sports hall isn’t very large, but it’s designed to be modified for most games and group activities. Today there’s a cage rink fitted in the center, the curved see-through surfaces of the cage designed for the new magnetic skates that just arrived on-base. Castiel’d seen a few games on television before and thought that the playing strategies would be far more interesting if they weren’t so obscured by the violence.
Just like the players, assistant referees need to wear all sorts of safety padding, and Castiel accepts the small pile that Meg hands him. “Wouldn’t have thought this to be your scene, Murphy,” she says.
“That’s still not my name,” Castiel replies. “Regardless, this should be educational.”
“Do you even know how to play?” Meg asks.
“I memorized the rule book.”
Meg blinks at him once, startled, and then shrugs. “Works for me.” She turns to the other assistants suiting up. “Inias! Don’t make me come over there and strap you up myself.”
It’s less surreal now than it was when The Oasis first opened up for business, but sometimes, like now, Castiel still has to double-take at the sight before him. Mixed teams covering each other’s back; Castiel exchanging casual conversation with Meg, someone he might have conspired against just a few years ago; intelligent cadets like Kevin and Samandiriel working together following the lead of hot-heads like Benny Lafitte in the arena.
Balthazar and Anna would’ve loved this. They’d both yearned for Earth in a way Castiel hadn’t fully understood, and he thinks – not for the first time and definitely not the last – that it’s just more evidence of the unfairness of the universe that he is the one standing here participating in a casual game of wall hockey when Balthazar and Anna, who’d have appreciated it more, are not.
Balthazar would even know how to deal with the heckling. Castiel knows that refereeing isn’t a controversy-free job, but some people have the most creative ways of expressing their displeasure.
“What, are you blind?” Katie yells, and some of the spectators echo their agreement. Gordon, her captain, skates by behind her, grinning. “That was not a foul, ref, come on!”
“It was a foul.” Castiel doesn’t move when Katie comes up in his face threateningly. She’s smaller than him but obviously doesn’t care, though there’s also the fact that Castiel isn’t like Jody, who’s minding the other corner and can be bargained with. “Return to position, cadet.”
“Wonderful!” Katie skates off, grumbling under her breath. “Brilliant!”
“Why’re you picking on a girl, ref?” someone shouts from the sidelines, just out of Castiel’s line of sight. “Not very gentlemanly of you!” Castiel nods at Meg, who blows her whistle to restart the game, and the helpful spectator adds, “Go get ‘em, Kate!”
It takes a little more unconstructive criticism from that particular audience member for the switch of recognition to click in Castiel’s brain. Winchester, Castiel thinks with a feverish sort of acknowledgement, because of course a wall hockey game would be right up the cowboy’s alley. It’s been how many days now since the event that was his arrival, and Castiel hadn’t thought about him beyond the vague hope that he had fun getting his Impala through security at the gate.
“Yeah, that’s the shit, Benny!”
And of course he’d be friends with Benny as well. Castiel finds his eyes drawn to Benny as he skates past in an unnecessarily showy maneuver, the hockey stick more dangerous in his hands than anyone else in the cage. He taps his helmet at Castiel, his smile sharp. “Don’t go fallin’ over now.”
“Mind your own, Lafitte,” Castiel replies.
He and Benny are aware of each other in a way Castiel suspects they’re not of anyone else. It’s one thing to have been one of Roman’s, or Lucilla’s, or Michael’s, and for those old loyalties to make adjusting to this new era challenging. But the Military Officers were the guns, the knives, the teeth – they’d fought at the front, and are near extinct today. There’s no point thinking about corporation loyalty when it might be personal.
Benny is former military, a Corporal in one of Dick Roman’s garrisons. Castiel’s never asked Benny where he was stationed and which battles he fought in; Benny’s been thoughtful enough to return the favor. Castiel can work with him, which should be enough.
That’s no cause for Benny to crash into him, though.
Castiel sees the pile up before it happens. Gordon, Kevin and Krissy head for the puck at the same time, Benny comes out of nowhere with a defensive tackle, and then there’s four bodies heading straight Castiel’s way. Castiel could take evasive maneuvers but it’s easier to brace his feet for impact. There’s a slam of weight, and then he opens his eyes to two bodies crumpled at his feet and two more skidding away.
“Holy shit!” Kevin bleats, feet kicking in the air helplessly. “Wall of death!”
“Now that has to be illegal!” the familiar voice – Dean – exclaims.
Which turns out to be the last straw, so Castiel turns and snaps, “It’s only illegal if I play professionally.”
It’s easy to spot Dean Winchester despite never having seen him before. He’s in the front row, wedged between Jo and Ash, the latter of whom is recording the game on a handheld device. All three are clearly invested in the proceedings, and Jo whispers a low, “Yeah, that’s Castiel” while Dean looks at him in surprise.
Castiel is suddenly, irrationally, annoyed at the fact that Dean is handsome. He’d quite settled on the idea of Dean being of similar make and model as Bobby Singer, but instead he has to take in the sight of a strong jaw, bright eyes, and a slow grin that now settles in the warmth of a face used to smiling.
“Seems to me that,” Dean drawls loud enough for the comment to travel, “the only choice is to play unprofessionally, then.”
Castiel turns back to the arena and raises his hand. “Penalty shot to Red Team.”
“The fuck!” Benny exclaims.
Sometimes real life is just like fiction, because a fight breaks out ten minutes before the end of the game. Castiel misses the cause because it sparks on the other side of the cage, but he runs the moment he realizes what’s happening. Meg hits her whistle with enthusiasm but they’re beyond that.
Jody and Castiel have to wade into the mass of bodies. The players in the penalty box have also spilled out onto the cage to take up arms against those who have offended their honor. Or maybe it’s the game’s honor that’s at stake, it’s somewhat unclear.
Someone tries to rush Castiel but he’s no more easily-toppled over now than he was earlier in the game. Castiel grabs the person by the collar and lifts them up – it’s Samandiriel, who’d been so caught up in adrenaline that he’d forgotten himself, and now gapes at Castiel in embarrassed bewilderment. Castiel shakes him firmly before setting him back on his skates and pushing him away from the fracas.
Jody’s method is to bark orders at people and maybe smack them a little. Castiel’s is to pick his way through and untangle them one person at a time. Castiel’s method even works, at least until he gets to the epicenter where Gordon and Benny appear to be going at it for real, gloves and helmets tossed aside because they’d been in the way of good old-fashioned fisticuffs.
While Castiel is still deciding when and how to interfere, Dean arrives at his side, out of nowhere and gasping for breath. “I’ll take Benny, you take Gordon,” he says, and before Castiel can even agree, Dean’s jumped in.
Of course. Castiel gets a hold on Gordon easily enough, pulling him away and ignoring his attempts to flail. “Get the tin man off me!” Gordon yells.
“This ain’t no gentleman…” Benny’s threat is cut off when Dean hisses something at him in a low voice. Benny settles for glowering, and visibly relaxes when Jody comes round to pay them her full attention.
“Stand down, both of you!” Jody orders. “Stand down and cool off! Gordon, take a walk!”
“Wait.” Castiel relaxes his hold on Gordon and comes around to face him, ignoring his angry protest. “He needs to go to infirmary, he might have a concussion.”
“You hear that, buddy?” Dean’s whisper to Benny isn’t as quiet as he thinks it is. “He might have a concussion.”
“Freaking boss,” Benny mutters.
“You are aware that this is just a game, right?” Jody snaps. “Did you understand that, when you got the invitation? Benny, Casey, Isaac, to me. Inias, make sure Gordon and Krissy get to the infirmary. Dean – just get out of here, would you please?”
Meg and Castiel help clear out the rest of the rink, Meg chortling to herself that that went far better than she’d hoped. Kevin is disheveled but pleased, and dazedly wanders off with Samandiriel and Kate on either arm, hopefully to do nothing more exciting than compare battle scars.
Dean has to pick his way slowly across the cage, his boots inappropriate footwear for the rink. “You have to admit that was entertaining.”
“Not as entertaining as your navigation skills.” Castiel pulls off his helmet and gloves. He appreciates the muscle burn from the mild workout, but the unfamiliar equipment is stifling.
“What? Oh.” Dean snickers. “So that was you that night. Thought there might’ve been another Castiel around here.”
“You’re not how I pictured you. Thought you’d be taller.”
Castiel gives him a look. “I apologize for not meeting your arbitrary standards.”
“Oh hey now, don’t think—” Dean’s retort is cut off when he loses his balance, arms flailing wildly and, really, he’s just lucky Castiel’s there to catch the back of his shirt and haul him onto his feet. The flash of stunned disbelief on Dean’s face is gratifying. “Uh, thanks.”
“That’s why you’re supposed to wear the right footwear before stepping in the rink.” From the corner of his eye he can see Dean frown and work up a defensive response, so Castiel gives in to his petty side and kicks his skates, sailing away and across the last few yards to the edge of the cage.
Hester is standing just outside the rink, watching Castiel as he steps out and onto the floor. Unlike almost everyone else who’d dressed casually for the event, she’s in one of her suits. Her arms are crossed when Castiel approaches. “Hooligans,” she says by way of greeting.
“It’s either this or another drunken brawl at the Roadhouse.” Castiel pulls off his arm pads. “I think Ellen would prefer this. How did I perform?”
“Exemplary, except for the part where you stopped the fight. Couldn’t you have waited for Security to get here?” Hester takes Castiel’s equipment from him, backing up so he can take off the magnetic skates. “I didn’t know you could skate.”
“I learned today,” Castiel says. “It’s not that difficult, apparently.”
“Apparently.” Hester is nonplussed. “Well, it’d look good on your evaluation report.”
Chapter 3: Teleportation Hasn’t Been Invented Yet (So Why is Dean Everywhere?)
Castiel’s primary job may take him to the Satellite Stations, but his secondary job takes him all over the base itself. Augmented arms mean that Castiel gets to do a lot of literal heavy lifting, along with the occasional roof climbing and people lifting (such as when Garth asked to be raised onto Castiel’s shoulders so he could replace the bulbs of the laundry building).
Hester thinks it’s beneath Castiel, but Hester has to sit at the same desk at the same workstation day in and day out, and Castiel does not. Castiel gets to assist, and has the privilege of quietly observing the slow-build inertia of the program as they head towards the eventual launch date.
It’s a spectator sport, and is just as satisfying as, say, visiting the shipyard and watching the construction of the Executive herself – it’s just appropriate that the vessel’s organs are put together on the ground before being sent up into orbit.
The requisition of Castiel’s services takes him into various departments, and he’s booked for every other Tuesday to unload shipments to the Roadhouse. Travel between The Oasis and civilization is restricted, so every new hovercraft arrival is a small celebration in itself.
“Did I get the dartboard I requested?” Jo asks, almost but not quite bounding around Castiel as he carries the latest crates from the transport truck to the back of the Roadhouse. “How many non-perishables this time?”
“You know I don’t know, Jo,” Castiel says. “Why don’t you ask your mother?”
“You know she won’t tell me, Cas,” Jo replies, just as easily. “I suppose it’s too much to ask that we got the dart board and the pool table, huh?”
“I’m sure Ellen will send out the notices soon enough.” It hadn’t occurred to Castiel that it’s unusual for people with direct familial relations to be accepted into the same program, let alone the same training base. Kevin had brought up the Harvelles, out of curiosity, and Castiel had wondered if it’s really all that different from how almost his entire garrison had consisted of (technically) family members.
On this particular day, Ash is absent from the proceedings, his role fulfilled by Dean instead. Dean is standing a polite distance away so Castiel can work, though Jo has no such inhibitions and tries to decipher the codes printed on the sides of the crates. Castiel thinks that the fact that Dean and Jo and Bobby and Ash are all apparently established cohorts from the outside world is far more impressive than mere family members making it into the program.
“Are you going to see the race?” Jo’s asking Dean. “God, it’s gonna be fun. Perfect chance to kick butt where the Captain herself can see.”
“Captain Sands is coming here?” Dean says. “Well, finally.”
“She does have to spread her time between the coops, you know,” Jo says, referring to The Oasis’ three sister bases. She drops her voice to a stage whisper: “I hear The Reef had a pressure malfunction and a whole section got flooded.”
“I don’t know, man,” Dean says, making a show of looking around, “being in Jaws might be more interesting than Lawrence of Arabia.” He’s acclimatized to the place, and his look now matches Jo’s – they’re both in casual shirts and jeans, their personalized boots scuffed from the sand and rock. It’s a contrast to Castiel’s own pressed fatigues, he knows.
“Have you been to the other bases, Cas?” Jo asks.
“No,” Castiel replies. He can feel Dean’s gaze on him as he lifts another half-ton pallet with his bare hands, and when he turns, Dean’s barely able to clamp down his curious gawking into a more polite expression. “I can bench press your car. If you’re wondering about my load capacity. Your Impala is at the upper end of my range, but well within safety limits.”
“Oh.” Dean stays quiet, until curiosity finally wins out and he blurts, “Why aren’t you in construction?”
Ah. Dean’s in the biomech department, so he knows the full extent of Castiel’s physical capabilities. “I’m not qualified.”
“Cas is a scientist, Dean,” Jo says. “He just likes helping out with these things. Hey, you should get him to sort out the warehouse, weren’t you just complaining about that?”
“Bobby just signed for the clamps,” Dean says.
“I’ll be faster.” Castiel places the last crate on Ellen’s trolley and wipes his brow. “I’ll have to check when I’m available, but I should be able to assist you.”
“But no party tricks, Dean,” Jo adds. “Cas is too classy for that.”
Castiel inclines his head at her. “Thank you.”
Dean does end up making a requisition, because as it turns out even Company stereotypes can be inaccurate. Virgil always had been a more hands-on Officer, ill-suited to management, and when he hands over the management of the engineering warehouse, Dean discovered that he’d in fact inherited a huge catalogue of unsorted parts and equipment. How Bobby tolerated it for so many weeks, Castiel doesn’t understand.
“Now I know why Bobby was pushing so hard to get me here,” Dean mutters. He and Castiel stand together in the doorway of the warehouse, sharing a moment of silence for the crates and boxes in heartbreaking disarray within. “Hope Virgil’s getting his ass kicked wherever he is.”
Castiel flexes his fingers. “Tell me where to start.”
It’s a huge enough endeavor that Castiel estimates that it’ll take a few days to complete the lot. It’s no more difficult than anything else Castiel has done, and it’s easy enough to ignore Dean’s awkward hovering around between telling him what to do. Castiel even finds other ways to assist – suggesting that he clean the walls and sweep the floors, because goodness knows there won’t be another chance for it once everything’s arranged.
“How do you even…” Dean squints down at his tablet. “Do I have to make a new request, or do I edit the old one or what?”
“Here.” Castiel takes Dean’s tablet from his hands, calling up the relevant files from the server and showing them to him. “This is where the common inventory is kept. Services here, hardware here, utilities here. You may make requests here, and check what and how much you’re entitled to here.”
“Oh,” Dean says. “Thanks.”
“Do you want me to install the shortcuts for you?” Castiel asks. “It’ll be easier, at least until you get used to the system.”
“Um.” Dean shrugs. “Okay, go for it.”
“Is there anything else you need?” Castiel asks. He’s used to being looked at with slow speculation, though the speculator’s eyes are normally drawn to his hands more than they are to his face. Dean seems to be measuring him up and, judging by the frown that hasn’t gone away, still finding the results lacking. Or perplexing.
“Nah, it’s good,” Dean says instead. “Bobby should be leaping for joy anyway.”
That might’ve been that, Castiel content to leave it unaddressed and none of his business.
But then the very next day, when Castiel’s done moving all the crates outside and has started vacuuming the warehouse floor, Dean walks in on him and says, “Jesus.”
“What?” Castiel turns off the vacuum and stands at ease. “I’m cleaning.”
Dean’s mouth opens and closes a little. “Okay, you said you would, but I didn’t know you would.”
That makes no sense. Castiel says so out loud.
“Oh come on, you’re no scientist!” Dean exclaims, the callback to a previous conversation sudden and unexpected. “I know what scientists are like – Ellie and Aaron and Visyak, they spend all their time trying to, to, to invent shit that’ll change the world – you’re not a scientist, you’re military.”
“Former military,” Castiel corrects him. “This isn’t a secret.”
“Military dudes go into Security, or Operations. Or Intelligence. That’s, like… that’s what you guys do.”
“No, that’s not what I do.” Castiel sets the vacuum aside properly, so he can fully take in the tension that now guides Dean’s expression and body language. “You’re nervous.”
Dean’s eyes slide sideways briefly, as though searching for a hidden audience. “I’m not nervous.”
“It’s all right, I make a lot of people nervous, it’s why I stay out of the way.” Back in the garrison Castiel’s installations were typical, almost pedestrian. Balthazar had been all about experimental tech, Uriel single-handledly revolutionized communications implants into the brain, and Rachel voluntarily traded in her arms early on for a set with interchangeable heads.
But here, the only person with as many installations as Castiel is Hester, with Inias following as the distant third. Personnel of The Oasis may not know the extent of the metal and wiring in Castiel’s bones, but he does go around behaving like a Swiss Army hydraulic system for hire, and impressions take root. This is manageable, so Castiel manages it.
That said, Dean’s response is an irritated, “You don’t make Jo nervous.”
“Jo’s a pilot with a chip on her shoulder,” Castiel points out. “She aggressively refuses to be nervous.”
Dean considers this. “Okay, yeah, that’s true.”
This is an odd conversation to have. Castiel thinks back on Dean’s hesitation and strange waffling around the warehouse while Castiel worked. He’d even asked, on the first day he’d had Castiel carrying things around, if there was something besides giving orders that he could do, and Castiel had logically pointed out that unless he spontaneously developed a fortified spine, any attempt to participate would be useless.
“Are you uncomfortable because of my rank?” Castiel hedges. “You do know this is my job. Literally.”
“I don’t get you,” Dean says in frustration. “You’re – you have a military background but you’re doing mundane shit like this. You’re bossy as fuck, yet you let me and other people order you around to do this goddamned mundane shit. I don’t even know why this is bugging me, but it does, and you do, because I don’t trust you guys as far as I can throw you.”
Castiel gives him a look. “Your best friend is an Officer as well.”
“Benny didn’t want to be,” Dean snaps. “He was signed under duress, one of Roman’s bagged and tagged him before he could blink. Isn’t that how you guys work?”
“You don’t have to trust me to work with me, Dean.”
“Yeah, I know that,” Dean says sarcastically. “But you’re the one who’s wandering around my warehouse and I feel like I got to keep an eye on you in case you, I don’t know, steal pencils or something.”
“Why would I steal—”
“Now you stop that right there,” Dean says, pointing a warning finger at him. “I know you know what I meant. Hell, just look at you!”
Castiel looks down at himself. He’s holding himself at parade rest, arms relaxed at his sides and synthetic hands visible where Dean can see them. He’s not a short man but Dean’s one of the few people he actually is shorter than, and the fatigues that make up his daily wardrobe are deliberately a size larger so as to be loose along his frame and make himself appear as non-threatening as possible.
“I don’t understand,” Castiel confesses.
“That’s great ‘cause neither do I,” Dean almost laughs. He’s perturbed by what he sees, and although this isn’t something new for Castiel either, the flavor with which it has manifested is – odd. Dean doesn’t seem unhappy with the quality of Castiel’s work, or offended by something Castiel has done; rather, he is thrown by something Castiel has not done.
Yet there’s something quietly thrilling about being seen, for surely that’s what’s happening here – Dean has noticed Castiel, a cog in the machine that groans differently from its brothers and sisters. There’s a strange sort of compliment wrapped up inside all of this, similar but not the same as Hester’s jibes that Castiel’s choices are odd ones.
“This work is simple,” Castiel hears himself say. “Straightforward, and free of cloak and dagger. I like that.”
“You… like that?” Dean echoes.
“The fighting’s over.” Castiel shrugs. “I have a choice now.”
Dean tilts his head a little, as though Castiel would be more comprehensible at a ten degree angle. Eventually he offers a non-committal, “Huh,” which is as unhelpful as the way he abruptly turns and leaves.
And people call Castiel odd.
The rest of the task goes by without event over the next few days, and by the time Castiel’s done, Dean’s warehouse is in conditions that would bring a tear even to Uriel’s eye. Castiel stands back to admire his handiwork, and then sends a message to Dean that he may come to make his inspection.
When Dean gets there, his conclusion is kind. “Not bad,” he declares, and they go around together one more time to check the labeling system they’d come up with to, hopefully, prevent a lapse to its previous state.
A job well done is still a job well done, though Castiel doesn’t expect Dean to thrust a small bag at him and say, “This is for you. You know. Thanks.”
“Job, I know. Still.” Dean shrugs, uncomfortable yet persistent. “You like coffee, right? You bring that big-ass thermos of yours every time you come here. My brother sent me some beans, so I’ve been giving ‘em out like candy.”
“I don’t have a coffee machine,” Castiel says unthinkingly.
“Oh. Really? I would’ve thought…” Dean shakes it off. “Get one. Seriously, Ellen has a bunch in storage, never used. Bet that kid of yours would appreciate it, too.”
“Kevin?” Castiel scowls. “That would only encourage him.”
Dean’s snorted laugh is loud and echoes off the walls of the warehouse. “Take it anyway. He’ll just send me more, and his care packages are fucking nuts. Just ‘cause he’s on the Command track he thinks he can abuse his privileges.”
“Oh, your brother’s in the program as well?”
“Something like that, yeah.” Dean waits until Castiel accepts the token, and the responding smile is tentative but genuine. “Sometimes you need a Wolverine without the claws, I guess.”
Castiel makes a face. “It’s confusing enough when Meg calls me Murphy.”
“Meg calls you Murphy?” Dean thinks a little, then smiles. “Ah, Robocop. It’s an old movie about – wait for the twist – a robo cop.”
Castiel tries to parse this. “I’m neither a robot nor a cop.”
“Well, yeah, if you want to be literal, but it’s like, Murphy’s this normal organic cop, right, who gets injured in the line of duty, and they install like a fuckton of hardware on him and he becomes Justice and The Law and all that shit, and is just plain bad-ass like a motherfucker. So if she’s calling you that it’s totally a compliment... though with Meg you can’t be 100% sure.”
“So… is that like a Wolverine without the claws?”
“Uh, kinda, I guess? Didn’t they have movies where you were stationed?”
“Entertainment media had to be approved by committee.” Castiel smiles at the memory of Balthazar working the contraband in their garrison. He liked to say that restrictions were made to be challenged. “Whatever we were allowed to watch was usually chosen for its propaganda.”
“Yeah.” Dean turns away, nodding at nothing in particular. “Yeah, that make sense.”
“So I didn’t get to see many movies with robots, old or new.” Castiel continues. “Now that you’ve brought it to my attention, that was probably on purpose.”
“The Executive’s going to have a huge library, right? That’ll be something to look into when you go up,” Dean suggests. “Why’re you going up, anyway?”
Why are You Going into Space? is the most common question on base, asked by interviewers and participants and everyone else in between. Not everyone who’s participating in the program is going, of course, since some are there to learn or make money or provide support, but it’s a safe, even expected, topic.
Kevin’s answer had been: “I’ve been thinking about it for forever, it seems like. Space was a – a dream, a concept, but now it’s something I can almost touch with my own two hands. Not literally, you know what I mean.” It’s about exploration and discovery and bettering oneself, and hopefully to bring new resources back to enrich mother Earth.
Castiel has his own staple answer, which he now tells Dean: “The salary is generous.” He moves his arms, flexing them a little to draw Dean’s attention to them. “I have these to pay off.”
“Ah.” Dean’s mouth thins. “Yeah, that’ll do it. Well, good luck with your whatever, I know how to get a hold of you if I need your help again.”
Castiel tucks the bag of beans into his overalls. “Yes, of course.”
It’s the strangest thing.
The Oasis may be an enclosed community of a few hundred people, but it’s not that small. Castiel knows what it’s like to be living in other people’s pockets, privacy a privilege to be earned and hoarded.
This isn’t that, and The Oasis is definitely not small enough for Dean to seem to be, well, everywhere. Arguing with Garth at the laundry station about the poor performance of the drying machines, chatting with and helping Charlie perform an experiment with a kite out in the courtyard, testing the new hoverbikes with Ellie in the gravel pit, et cetera.
Castiel is the one who goes everywhere in performing his daily tasks, but his modus operandi is to be unobtrusive. Perhaps Dean is fulfilling some kind of mission of his own, allying himself to anyone who will allow it and burning off what seems to be an unending internal energy source. Castiel doesn’t hear any grumbling from any quarters that Dean’s falling behind in the actual work he’d been hired for, so this must be simply the way he is.
It could just be Castiel’s perception, an inadvertent side effect to accepting an unexpected token (that Kevin appreciated a great deal, for one thing).
Regardless, this observed behavior is so much the norm that when Castiel finally does, one day, see Dean sitting still and unaccompanied, his immediate reaction is to stop dead in his tracks.
Castiel is slightly grimy and carrying a damp bucket when this happens, as he is on the way back to his cabin from a thorough cleaning of his truck. It’s been a cool couple of days, the environmental shields recalibrated to a setting that reminds Castiel of a pleasing autumn. The early evening is an agreeable time to be out and about, yet Dean is alone, sitting on an empty box and slightly hidden by storage pallets next to the laundry station. An open tablet is in his hands.
Dean’s head comes up when he notices Castiel watching him. “I have been sexiled.” After a beat he adds, “Benny exiled me from our cabin ‘cause he’s having sex.”
“I would’ve guessed the meaning eventually,” Castiel says.
“Hey, just helping out.”
There is something – not wrong, exactly, but disconcerting about seeing Dean Winchester at rest. The boisterousness typical of him is absent or banked, leaving behind a calmness that Castiel wouldn’t have associated with him. It’s a little like seeing Naomi out of her pantsuits, except less frightening.
“Don’t you have your own room?” Castiel asks. “Can’t you just… stay there and listen to music?”
“Thin walls.” Dean raises a fist, miming the knocking of an invisible surface. “He’d get the whole place shakin’, just to mess with me. It’s not a big deal, I’ll head back in a while.”
Dean could be in the Roadhouse. He could be in the recreation yard. He could even be in the library, where Hester’s been reporting some illicit gaming activity Castiel doesn’t completely understand. Yet he’s out here, stealing a little bit of privacy under the gold-red sky as night approaches.
There are no streetlights in The Oasis, though most buildings are designed to have light sources along their awnings or frames. As it’s not too dark out these public lights are not on yet, so Castiel types in the necessary commands on his tablet, switching on the nearest two lights of the laundry station.
Dean jerks his head to the lit up bulbs. “That you?”
“You’ll strain your eyes.” Castiel slips his tablet back into his jacket. “In time you’ll need new ones, and they’re difficult to maintain.”
Dean snorts. “Hah, I knew it.”
“Your eyes,” Dean says. “Knew they were augmented.”
“No, they’re not,” Castiel says. “Kevin Tran has installed eyes. He won them in a scholarship in high school.”
“Kevin?” Dean frowns. “Oh but of course, he’s a cadet, right? All of ‘em got signed on with something extra in their Company gift boxes.”
“You disapprove,” Castiel says slowly.
“If you call me an organic hipster, I will hurt you,” Dean says, though Castiel doubts his ability to follow through on such a threat. “Did he have a condition before he plugged them in? What was wrong with the pair he already had?”
“Nothing, I believe.”
“Then it’s a fucking waste.” Dean glares at Castiel, clearly expecting a challenge. “You know how many people would pay their life savings to get a working pair of eyes? Do you, huh?” Dean is a common vendor in jeans and dusty shirt, but right then and there he starts listing statistics, costs and payments and Company interest rates as one would the day’s mail.
The information isn’t new to Castiel, but the mode of delivery is. He stands there to lisen, and when Dean’s done, his face flushed a little with what looks like embarrassment, Castiel says, “You have strong feelings about this.”
“Don’t know. Maybe.” Dean pointedly glares back at his tablet.
“Is that what you did? Outside?” It takes Castiel a moment to realize why Dean’s head snaps up, his eyes narrowed. “Illegal augmentations—”
“Sometimes people have no choice,” Dean says.
Castiel nods. “Yes. If that’s what you did – not that I’m saying that you did it – then you were performing a service the Company should’ve opened its doors to a long time ago. Sometimes we need to find… creative options.”
There’s that same uncertainty in the way Dean’s watching him now, confusion and discomfort and other things that have become common whenever Castiel happens to catch Dean observing him. Castiel doesn’t think it’s malicious, but it makes him think of unnavigable asteroid fields and black holes.
“What are you?” Dean blurts out.
“Human. Like you.” Castiel’s proud of himself for not flinching.
“No shit, Sherlock.” Dean rolls his eyes. “See what I mean? If I’d said that to Virgil he’d have punched me in the face.”
Castiel blinks. “Do you want me to punch you in the face?”
The corners of Dean’s mouth lift, the reaction changing the shape of his eyes. “Pull up a crate. I feel tired just looking at you.”
Castiel accepts the invitation, putting his things down and sitting while Dean watches. He does need to have a shower but there’s no point turning down a breather, especially when there’s the crawling sunset overhead to appreciate. The occasional chatter and noise of personnel feels far away like this. “I can see why you picked this spot.”
Dean shrugs a little. “Yeah, the tumble dryers are quite the band.”
“Yes.” Castiel rubs his hands together. “Kevin is a… conscientious young man. I don’t think he would’ve thrown away his eyes. More likely he’d put them in cryo, as a back-up plan in case this career doesn’t pan out.”
“C’mon, Cas,” Dean huffs, “Officers don’t quit. That’s something us normal people get to do.”
“One, Kevin may be a cadet, but he hasn’t signed the dotted line yet,” Castiel says, “and two, Officers can certainly quit, even if the hurdle is a challenging one. My sister did.”
“Sister?” Dean starts.
“Perhaps that’s the wrong word,” Castiel concedes. “We grew up together from childhood, so we considered the garrison family. Anna didn’t have that many augmentations made on her, so she mostly had to pay off the cost of the Company’s raising her. I assure you, it can be done.”
“Where’s she now?”
“Fell, during one of the battles.” Castiel tilts his head up, imagining seeing the richness of Anna’s hair in the dimming red of the sky. “She was a soldier to the end, though she had the freedom to fight for her own cause by that time. I never saw her after she received her release papers, but I like to think she was happy.”
“Orphans taken in by the Michael corp.” Dean nods. “I wondered how that worked for you guys. Alfie mentioned he was a ward, but I didn’t really know what that meant.”
Dean grins. “Samandiriel. He’s calling himself Alfie now. Krissy’s idea, I swear.” He scoots towards the edge of the crate, showing Castiel his tablet. “Here, tell me what you think.”
There are a few windows open on the screen, one of which is playing a movie with explosions, and another is a coding window. The language isn’t one Castiel’s an expert on, but the lines of code draw a familiar enough picture. “A diagnostics program?”
“Thinking of making it open source,” Dean says. “Anyone who can get their hands on the hardware can check their own installations. Just for the small things, like squeaky gears or whatever. No point going to a specialist when you have a cold, you know what I’m saying?”
“Yes, that sounds useful.” Castiel scrolls through the code, pointing out the occasional extraneous commands but mostly appreciating the simplicity of it. He could even try it on himself, because experimental tech is what this place is all about, even if Dean isn’t technically in the R&D department. “I’ll forward you a few reference files, you might find them useful.”
“Cool, thanks,” Dean replies.
Castiel automatically closes the window, and in doing so reveals a portion of the tablet’s background wallpaper. He hesitates, unsure of the privacy of what he’s looking at, but Dean answers that question by reaching over and closing the other windows so Castiel can see the photograph clearly.
“That’s Sam.” Dean points. “My young brother. That’s his girlfriend, and that handsome bastard you already know.”
They make for an attractive trio, the atmosphere warm and easy as they pose for the camera. Sam is taller than Dean, though they share the same smile and bright eyes. The picture looks relatively recent, with what looks like an Academy building in the background. “They’re wearing uniforms,” Castiel says in surprise.
“Yeah. Training for the Deep Space Fleet.”
“Oh.” Castiel reassesses the picture, trying to align his knowledge of Dean, who is the way that he is, with a brother who’s apparently committed to a long-term Company project. The Deep Space Fleet isn’t even due to be launched for a couple more years. “I’m not sure whether I should congratulate you.”
“Sammy’s always had his eyes on the stars.” Dean smirks. “Too bad he’s got the smarts to go for it.”
“You prefer your feet on the ground?”
“Eh, flying’s fine if that’s your thing. But there’s plenty to see and do on this hunk of rock, and that’s good enough for me.”
Evening is upon them, and though Castiel can sense the early chill seeping under his collar, he is warmed with the satisfaction of a job well done, although there’s no job that needed doing here that Castiel can see. Dean’s relaxed smile reflects this line of thinking, even if he leans back a little – as though just at that moment noticing their proximity – and says, “You really need to have a shower, dude. You reek.”
Castiel huffs under his breath. “I’m sure that when you perform manual labor you walk away smelling freshly laundered.”
“Well, yeah, obviously. I poop rainbows, too.”
“That sounds uncomfortable.” Castiel shakes his head at Dean when he takes his leave, and Dean’s little salute – and the smile that accompanies it – lingers with Castiel on the journey back to his cabin.
Chapter 4: Operation Cheer
Just because Castiel doesn’t feel it himself doesn’t mean he can’t recognize homesickness. Kevin is a private soul, stoic and devoted in his own way, but Castiel feels compelled to act. Castiel also knows that there is wisdom in searching for experts instead of bungling his way through unfamiliar territory.
So he goes to Dean. It’s easy enough to find him during the regular working hours, asking the right people the right questions that lead Castiel to the Sector B power station where Dean’s hunched over a partially-disemboweled generator and muttering to himself.
Castiel calls his name and Dean’s head jerks up, eyes hidden by overlarge goggles. “I didn’t do it.”
“I…” Castiel narrows his eyes. “Should I be worried?”
“Reflex action to a uniform, ignore it.” Dean carelessly shoves the visor off, the motion smearing more grease across his face and hair. He squints at Castiel through the sudden sunlight. “’Course you couldn’t pick a day I looked pretty.”
“Nothing. What do you need, Cas?”
“It’s about Kevin. He needs emotional nourishment.”
“I think that’s above my paygrade.”
“Heh.” Dean gestures at a workbench, where they sit together while Dean pulls his gloves off. “I’m weak, so sue me. Okay, Kevin. Emotional nourishment. Spill.”
Castiel’s vision is limited, and it’s likely that Kevin’s state of mind is no more perturbed than that of any of his peers, but he doesn’t care. He presses on, telling Dean about Kevin’s listlessness and unvoiced longings, and then rounds it up with: “I think Kevin’s lonely.”
Dean’s expression is undecipherable. “Kevin is lonely.”
“I think you can help. You’re good with people.”
“Not the only one.” Dean rubs the back of his neck sheepishly, which isn’t the reaction Castiel had been hoping for. “Ion’s in charge, right? Shouldn’t you be going to him?”
“Are you advising me to go to Ion?”
“No, no, I mean, it’s fine.” Dean clears his throat. “He’s got a lot on his plate. So what’re you thinking? You want me to throw him a party?”
“Does that help? Do you think that’d help?”
“I don’t know, what does Kevin like?”
Castiel thinks. He doesn’t go into Kevin’s room except that one time he’d asked to help install an additional shelf. Kevin brought quite a few personal effects with him. “He likes games. Classic strategy games. With… fictional characters, I think.”
A slow smile spreads across Dean’s face. “That’s something to work with. Game night at the Roadhouse?”
“Don’t make it too competitive,” Castiel says. “He gets enough stress with his day work.”
Dean waves it off. “It’s a different kind of stress, trust me. Plus food and alcohol. Kid’s old enough to drink, right?”
The ideas flow easily from there as they talk about asking the cadets and Ellen for feedback, and Castiel finds out that the Roadhouse regularly has themed nights – movie nights, poker nights, et cetera – that are fully sanctioned and approved by Command. The Roadhouse has its role to play in maintaining the community’s well-being, because claustrophobia and loneliness are real things that need their outlets.
“I can give you his mother’s contact details,” Castiel says, taking out his tablet, “if you think that’d help. I believe Linda will be more than happy to provide assistance. I’m also sending you my authentication, you can charge me for whatever you need.”
“Dude, I won’t need—”
“It’s not like I spend it on anything other than paying off my contract,” Castiel reminds him. “Kevin works very hard. He should have something nice.”
“What if I order strippers and coke?”
“Good luck getting them past Victor,” Castiel deadpans.
Dean laughs. “Hey, don’t knock my skills, buddy.” It is a plan, and if Dean fails miserably at it, then Castiel knows where to find him.
Hester gets wind of it and confronts Castiel, claiming to be hurt because Kevin is one of the best cadets she’s ever seen and Castiel should be ashamed for thinking she wouldn’t want to participate in such an exercise.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Hester says. “Kevin can be the focal point, but I see no reason why the other students shouldn’t reap the benefits. Yes, that’d be best, and I will assist.”
“You,” Castiel says dubiously. “Kevin isn’t one of us, he wasn’t raised the way we were.”
“Honestly, Castiel,” Hester chides him, “it doesn’t matter how different our backgrounds are, I will learn. I am also excellent at organizing events and herding people, and Dean Winchester will need those skills, no matter what he thinks. I’ll go to him.”
So she does. As a consequence, Castiel’s communication stream takes an unusual turn over the next few days where he has to field Hester and Dean’s messages, which more often than not are about Dean and Hester. Castiel’s only hope at the start had been to plant the seed and see it off into more capable hands, and how difficult can it be to organize a small social event?
- did u sic ur girlf on me?
- Dean is being frustrating, could you please advise him to be more open to suggestions?
- sorry i called u camp nanny, thts obvsly Hstr’s job
- How did this man get hired?
It’s a small miracle that they manage to work it out eventually, settling on the next Friday for a small (in theory) recreational gathering at the Roadhouse. Game night, just as Dean says, and he describes through his messages his idea of linking up some of the old console games he has lying around his Impala to the big-screen TV there, plus the additional screens they’d hijacked from other locations for the cause. Apparently Dean is the sort of man who has old games lying around his car.
Dean adds: - will u b workin?
Castiel replies: - I’ll have to check my schedule, but probably yes.
- b cool if u could com
- It isn’t for me, it’s for Kevin and his peers.
- jus sayin, u want 2b there to c u got your $$’s worth
- Rest assured, Hester will report to me on my behalf.
Castiel has no intention of going, which has nothing to do with his confidence or lack thereof in Dean and Hester’s planning capabilities. There’s a reason Castiel hadn’t known about the Roadhouse various themed nights, and the reason is that when he’s not away tending to his Satellite Stations, he’s catching up on other activities that need catching up on.
Perhaps it’s just Castiel’s bad luck, then, that Friday night has him out at Satellite Station Epsilon wrestling a sandstorm. On one hand, sandstorms are good in that they provide data on the durability of the station’s equipment.
On the other hand, someone has to deal with said equipment during and after a storm, and that someone is Castiel. Not that he minds that much – after all, he has the perspective of years being stationed on the frontlines, and a little sand doesn’t compare to being in a lightning storm during a firefight.
But just because he doesn’t mind doesn’t mean he can’t still be frustrated.
While Castiel’s in the middle of wrestling with the antennae on the station’s roof, Dean sends him a picture of the goings-on at the Roadhouse, where Kevin is apparently in the thrall of a karaoke machine they’d borrowed from Charlie. Dean’s only trying to be inclusive; Castiel tries to be pleased but can’t because it’s cold and his back hurts and he has five more hours of this before he can clock-off and head back to the base.
All in all, Castiel’s not in a particularly good mood when he finally gets back in the morning. His suit needs major clean-up, he has to make an additional trip out that night to fix up what he couldn’t at the time, and he has to lug all the equipment that needs scrubbing down back to his cabin.
The only thing Castiel’s thinking about is how nice a shower would be, and this is when Dean comes bounding out of nowhere, chirping a loud, “Hey, Cas!” that has Castiel shuddering to a halt from sheer surprise.
Castiel swings his head round, and Dean stops at the sight of his expression. “Oh,” Dean says. “Uh.”
“What do you want?” Castiel asks.
“Just.” Dean’s holding a small box, which he now lifts up for Castiel’s viewing. “There was a cake. They – the other cadets baked it, and it’s vegan or something so it tastes a little weird but I’m more a pie-person myself so I’m not the best critic in the first place.” His expression gets more uncertain the longer he talks. “Thought you might want some.”
Castiel wordlessly raises the two bags he’s holding.
“That’s cool,” Dean says. “I’ll carry it for you, your cabin’s round here, right?”
Too tired to argue, Castiel lets Dean trail him back to the cabin. Dean follows him in, blessedly quiet the whole time. Kevin’s not at his work station but Castiel can hear movement beyond the door to his room. While Castiel arranges his equipment neatly to be dealt with later, Dean heads straight for the kitchen area.
“There’s barely anything else in here,” Dean says, scrutinizing the fridge’s innards.
“Then you shouldn’t have a problem fitting that in there.” Castiel peels off his grimy outer jacket, groaning with relief when he works a crick out in his lower back. “Pass me a shake.” He nods a thank you when Dean complies, and cracks the seal to take a quick gulp. “Kevin prefers the instant meals, and only buys them as necessary. There’s cereal and MRE bars in the cabinet if you want some.”
“Thanks, that’s okay.”
A door opens and Kevin peeks out. “Oh my god, Dean, how are you not hungover?”
“Designated driver,” Dean says, cracking a smile. “Or the walking equivalent.”
“Hey, Castiel.” Kevin looks terrible, skin flushed a shade that makes Castiel consider calling in a medical emergency. It doesn’t help that Kevin’s legs aren’t working properly when he walks, sending him weaving from side to side before he crashes into Castiel, who only lets him do so because the alternative would be to let Kevin fall.
“I don’t know any hangover remedies,” Castiel says.
Kevin’s arms come up around Castiel’s torso, squeezing firmly. Castiel assumes that it’s because Kevin already reeks that he doesn’t notice Castiel’s own odor. “Thanks, Cas,” Kevin says. “You know, for… Hester said it was your idea?”
“Oh.” Castiel’s supposed to pat him, right? He does so, very carefully. “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.”
“Yeah.” Kevin’s grip tightens, and there’s a faint sniffle from somewhere in the middle of Castiel’s torso.
“Kevin,” Castiel says, alarmed. “You’re going to succeed, and you’re going to be the first Asian-American Fleet Admiral.”
Kevin pulls back, glaring at Castiel with bloodshot eyes. “Yes, I am.”
“I would like to have a shower now.”
“I’ve got this,” Dean says. He moves with the confidence of someone who’s done this a hundred times before, pulling Kevin’s arm over his shoulder and drawing him away. “Go do whatever you gotta do.”
“Thank you.” Castiel goes to his room, leaving Dean’s amiable laughter and Kevin’s soft groaning behind him. Castiel refuses to feel bad, because he really does need that shower and sleep.
After a thorough shower and a couple hours of sleep, Castiel wakes up and feels bad. This is a mental hangover, perhaps, because there is a slice of cake that he didn’t ask for waiting for him in the fridge, and Dean had only been trying to share his excitement over a night of small accomplishments.
Small accomplishments are good things, and the world needs plenty more of them.
Castiel drags himself out of bed. He’d almost forgotten his daily report to Naomi, for shame, but he manages to put together a couple of acceptable paragraphs (plus some recommendations for protective gear) before wandering out of his room. The outer area is clean and empty, and Kevin is nowhere to be seen.
It takes a moment for Castiel to remember where the cutlery is kept. He hadn’t been exaggerating about Kevin mostly eating out; almost everything they keep around the cabin can be drunk or eaten straight from their wrappers. That said, there’s a set of unused forks and knives in one of the cabinets, and Castiel sits down to consume the vegan-friendly cake waiting for him.
It’s not bad. The frosting is a little sweeter than Castiel would’ve preferred, but it’s pleasant on the tongue.
Dean had said some of the cadets baked it. That must have been interesting. They would’ve had to use Ellen’s kitchen, because none of the cabins have the appropriate equipment, and maybe Hester had volunteered to supervise them to make sure nobody exploded anything.
After washing, the cake’s container looks strange on their otherwise empty dish rack. There’s a picture of a pastel-colored stylized horse on the top, which doesn’t strike Castiel as the type of thing Dean would have lying around.
He should probably return it.
Castiel remembers where Benny’s cabin is, if only because it’s across the way from where Lieutenants Meg and Casey tried to convert an old engine into a barbecue set some weeks ago. After the minor explosion and ensuing fire were dealt with, they’d argued to Victor that The Oasis is meant for experimentation and development of new tech.
There’s barely any sign of the incident now. All that’s left are scorch marks on the ground, but even those have been cleverly camouflaged with potted plants.
Benny’s cabin, which is also Dean’s cabin, doesn’t have a delivery box. The windows are open, though, so Castiel climbs up the steps to the front door and peers in.
Through the blinds, Dean peers back out at him. “What the!” Dean yelps.
Castiel takes a quick step backward, landing on solid ground. Resisting the unnecessary urge to run a hand through his hair, Castiel forces his body into casual rest mode instead. When the door opens, he says, “Hello, I would like to return your container.”
Standing in the open doorway, Dean Winchester is wearing a robe. A long line of leg is visible through the open slit, and fuzzy gray slippers adorn his feet. The sight is absurd and intimate and Castiel really shouldn’t want to tell a grown man to wrap himself up.
“My…” Dean visibly struggles to suppress a smile. “You came here to return the container?”
“I washed it.” The longer Castiel stands there the firmer he’s coming to the realization that he missed a step somewhere. Dean is amused and Castiel can’t see the joke. That isn’t new either, but Castiel doesn’t have to stay and take it. Castiel puts the container on the bottom step. “Thank you, I’m going now.”
“Wait!” Dean calls out, but Castiel’s already walking. “Wait, Cas, hang on!”
Castiel sighs, but he lets Dean grab his shoulder and spin him round. “What?”
“You hungry? ‘Cause I’m hungry.” Dean catches his sleeve, pulling him back and up the steps into his quarters. It seems more effort than necessary to resist, so Castiel doesn’t. “I was just catching a couple of z’s on account of last night but now I’m starving. How ‘bout you?”
“I’m all right.” Castiel glances around the cabin while Dean closes the door behind them.
The layout is similar to the one Castiel shares with Kevin, but it’s larger at all angles, the most prominent addition being a huge TV screen on the wall, which is in front of a comfortable-looking set of chairs. Benny’s dark jacket and hat hang from a hook on the wall next to Dean’s leather jacket. There are also a few photos hung on the walls, but none Castiel can immediately identify as Dean’s.
“I mean are you hungry?” Dean puts the empty container in the sink. “I was about to have lunch. Join me.”
“I have my own—”
“Yeah, those shakes.” Dean rolls his eyes. “No wonder I never see you in the commissary. Or the Roadhouse.”
“The shakes are fortified with all the nutrition I need,” Castiel says. “And they save time.”
“Save time for what?”
“For being productive.”
“As far as I know, eating is being productive. Sit down.” Dean swirls around the kitchen, robe flapping around him almost cape-like. “I have so much leftovers from yesterday Benny’s already bitching at me for taking over the whole freezer. We can warm some up right here.”
“I don’t want to trouble you.”
“Even Hester complains that you need to get out more.” Dean’s expression turns smug at whatever response he sees on Castiel’s face. “You didn’t know? Now you do, and you gonna sit there ‘cause shit, son, you’ve only been on Earth for what, four, five years, and you’re still living like you’re in Company space?”
Castiel scowls. “Why were you talking with Hester about me?”
“Hey, she started it.” Dean moves around the kitchen with ease and confidence, getting on with the warming up of what looks like meat and potatoes in the oven. “She was all offended that you asked me first, and it spiraled from there. Got offended when I asked if she was your girlfriend, too.”
“Shouldn’t you change? You’re a fire hazard.” Castiel is amused when Dean turns to face him, all serious and scowling, and dramatically ties his rope shut. “Better.”
“You totally should’ve been there yesterday. Now that would’ve been a hoot.”
While the smell of oil and roasted potato skins fill the cabin, Dean goes into a – perhaps skewed – retelling of the events of the night before. His description of Kevin’s antics is amusing and pleasing, though, and Castiel is satisfied that at least here, his judgment has paid off.
“Krissy even got Aiden to take the mic.” When Dean laughs, the crinkles around his eyes deepen in an interesting way. “Kevin’s just lucky she’s on a different track than he is, I tell you. Hey, eat up.” He slides a plate towards Castiel. The oil glistens.
Castiel pulls the plate to himself and unfolds his cutlery. “It sounds like you had a good time.”
“No one got arrested, so I’d consider that a win.”
“People get arrested often where you’re from?”
Dean winks at him. “More than you’d think.”
The food is good. It’s excellent, even, and Dean outright beams when Castiel tells him this. Turns out that Dean had a bigger hand in the kitchen-related activities than Castiel had guessed, and such culinary skills were cultivated by a lifestyle that also required extensive customization and furnishing of a classic Impala.
“You drive everywhere?” Castiel sits back in surprise. “But a ground vehicle isn’t an efficient mode of transport, no matter what your personal feelings are about flying.”
“It depends on how you define efficient, don’t it?” Dean replies mildly.
“So your vehicle is your… Oasis, so to speak. The means of staying an extra level of independent from Company influence.”
“You know it is,” Dean agrees. When Castiel mentions that the vehicle appears older than Dean himself, he adds, “My father started work on her before I was born. She already had some pretty good specs when she got passed on to me, and I just continued the good work. She’s never let me down.”
For a moment Castiel cannot imagine that kind of life, with its lack of security and safety nets. Then he remembers that the Company he grew up with isn’t the one that owns him now, and in some ways, Castiel’s future is as uncertain as Dean’s. It’s startling to think of that as something they have in common.
“Why are you here?” Castiel asks. “You don’t care about space exploration.”
“I care that my friends care,” Dean says, shrugging. “Jo wants to go. Ellen’s not happy ‘bout that, but she’ll support her. I’ll support her, too, ‘cause she’s like Sam that way – searching for her share of that great big pie in the sky, I guess. When Bobby asked if I’d try it out, I said I’d give it a shot. A job’s a job, right? But a job where I get to spend time with my friends is a bonus.”
“That is very precious time indeed.”
Castiel looks at his plate. Somewhere along the way he’d actually finished the meal, his first proper meal in what feels like ages. Well, for a limited amount of ‘proper’, since there weren’t any vegetables that hadn’t been soaked in gravy. He puts his fork and knife down, and when he looks up, Dean is staring at him.
Dean’s gaze can be so direct. He’s unafraid of challenging people, which maybe has something to do with his problem with authority, but right now that challenge is in the way he’s watching Castiel. This is a man who commands one’s attention (whether deliberately or not, Castiel can’t tell) and returns said attention as much as he receives it.
Sometimes Castiel thinks it’s just performance, that no one could possibly have that much good cheer that they share so freely with everyone around them. But then Castiel remembers that he’s only seen the tiniest fraction of what Dean is in public, because there are also moments like this, where Dean is quieter, sharper.
“You’re so…” Dean trails off, shaking his head a little. “Do you want ice-cream?”
“How did you manage to get ice-cream out here?”
“Made it.” Dean beams, rubbing his hands together. “What? It’s not like it’s hard.”
They end up sitting on the cabin’s front steps, open door behind them, a bowl of ice-cream balanced on each of their laps. The area is relatively quiet, only the occasional staff going by. Dean waves at them when they pass, because naturally he knows almost everyone on base by now.
Castiel isn’t sure how he got there. He has things to do – all the cleaning he has to get started on, the truck’s tires need to be changed and realigned, so on so forth – but his body feels weighted down, content to stay where he is, hip almost touching Dean’s where they’re arranged next to each other.
“You’re very direct,” Dean says. “You say what’s on your mind.”
“Yes.” Castiel is used to being observed, but the knowledge of Dean’s studying him settles differently on Castiel’s consciousness. Something about this prickles Castiel’s skin and makes him want to sit up, respond, do his best and prickle Dean right back. “Does that bother you?”
“No, I guess it just takes a little getting used to.” Dean stretches his legs out, slippers barely hanging on to the tips of his toes. “Lots of things take getting used to.”
“You’re talking about the changes on Earth?” Castiel guesses. “Where once you had to provide your services in secret, now you have been hired by the Company itself.”
Dean nods distantly. “Yeah, that fucks with your head. For so long I had to, uh… keep under wraps, you know? Keep moving, don’t slow down, don’t leave tracks. Until the Wars broke out, I guess, but by then you guys didn’t care what the hell was going on down here. Now look at us. Look at me, Jesus, I’m having ice-cream with an Officer.”
“Very good ice-cream, at that.”
“Oh naw, flattery’s not gonna get you anywhere.”
“Is it flattery if it’s truth?”
“Careful now, anyone might think you like me.”
“I wouldn’t mind.” Castiel glances over to see how far Dean’s along with his dessert, and in doing so notices that Dean’s kind of… stopped eating, and is instead studying his hands. Castiel puts his spoon down and offers a hand to him. “Here.”
Dean starts, almost guiltily. “What?”
“You were looking.” Castiel flexes his fingers. “You may touch.” He waits until Dean’s disbelief subsides and he finally, carefully, clasps Castiel’s palm. “You’d probably appreciate the workmanship better than I do.”
Dean is furtive at first, but grows confident when Castiel allows him to press against the metacarpals and roll the joints experimentally. Dean does work in this field and understands what he’s handling, yet Castiel finds himself surprised how gentle his touch his, almost respectful.
“Homeostasis is all internal,” Castiel says. “For a while they tested on making skin that sweats, but I think they decided that wasn’t practical.”
“We gave up figuring out synthetic skin grafts at all. Prioritization, right? We didn’t have the resources you do, so better focus on what’s going on underneath.” Dean’s talking very quietly, a connoisseur of fine work. “The articulation here is really… fine.”
“The left hand is newer.” Castiel raises said left hand off the bowl, waving it a little at Dean. “I lost the first one during an altercation and needed a replacement. I like the second one better. The first was an exact mirror image of the right and that felt… off.”
Dean nods. “Yeah, we’re wired to expect asymmetry.”
Castiel’s right hand is practically cradled in Dean’s lap, so it doesn’t need to travel far to move up and thumb a wayward drop of ice-cream away from Dean’s chin. Dean starts at the touch, his eyes snapping to Castiel’s in surprise.
“Was that a boundary? I apologize.” It’s come to this, then. Castiel has no idea what he’s doing here, but he likes that he’s here, talking to someone outside Company context and prejudices, and what does this say about Castiel? Selfishness grips him, drawing him to what he says next: “I’m not going because of the salary.”
Dean makes a small noise of surprise. He nods, waiting for Castiel to continue.
“I’m going because there’s nothing for me on Earth. I barely spent any time here growing up. I was always stationed somewhere or other, up until that wasn’t an option anymore. Earth has changed so much. It’s so foreign now. Earth is full of…” Castiel casts Dean a wry look. “…Wolverines and Murphys.”
“It won’t be the same when you go up again, you know,” Dean says carefully. “It’ll be new people, new ships.”
“There’s nothing for me to go home to, you mean. I know. But there’s potential to create something new in its place. Jo knows it, Hester knows it – that’s why they’re going up as well. We’ll be at a distance from Earth’s administration, and they might start new colonies out there, who knows? Don’t forget that it’s the next generation that’s coming forward now. Kevin, Alfie, Kate – they are the future.”
“Treat them well and let them lead the way?”
“Is that sarcasm?”
“No, that’s me being a smart-ass.” Dean sits back, empty bowl balanced on his knees. “I don’t see why you wanna race up there when there’s so much down here to work on.”
Castiel concedes this with a nod. “That is true as well.”
“So you have…” Dean’s smile is not very happy, though Castiel can’t pinpoint how he knows, “…no interest in paying off your contract and getting out.”
“I have no interest in being free,” Castiel replies. “It’d be nice, but not a priority.”
“Maybe it should be a priority.” Dean says that mildly, but there’s an undercurrent of tension beneath the statement. This is understandable, considering Dean’s history. He must’ve seen so many civilians struggle with augmentations, legal or not, and knows the collateral damage outside the dotted line. “Though I guess I understand why it isn’t. Benny and Meg, they… got sucked into it, but this is all you know. Which sounds scary as fuck to me, to be honest.”
“I know,” Castiel replies. “If it’s any consolation, your life sounds scary as fuck to me, too.”
Dean laughs. The sound is a far better balm than the ice-cream.
Despite the easy atmosphere, there’s a sense of expectation hovering between them. On Castiel’s part, it’s probably this new curiosity to know more about Dean, who he was and is, and why Dean had been so unnerved by Castiel’s interest in being helpful when Dean has proven himself to be far more invested in the well-being of others all over The Oasis.
Castiel doesn’t ask any of these things, for fear of breaking the spell of the moment. Instead, he says, “Thank you for the meal, Dean.”
“No problem, man.”
There can be no more delays once dessert is finished. Castiel really does have to get on his regular tasks, and Dean’s going to be late for an appointment elsewhere. Still, it isn’t a wasteful afternoon – the meal was acceptable and the company more so. Dean accepts Castiel’s leave, though he insists that Castiel drop by any time for the ice-cream if he ever gets a craving.
“Serious,” Dean says. “Any time you want.”
“That is very kind of you, thank you.”
“See you around, Cas.”
Castiel expects the warm glow that’s settled in his chest to follow him for the rest of the day, but it gets a jolt when Hester gets a jump on him.
Not that Hester getting a jump on Castiel is all that uncommon (and Castiel does his best to return the favor when he’s able), but what’s different is the way she grabs his elbow to drag him along and hisses, “Were you on a date with Dean?”
Castiel starts. “What? No.” He starts to laugh, but the sound dies away when his mind sieves back through the last hour plus – lunch with Dean, talking with Dean, the contentment he’d only a few seconds ago been hoping would linger. Dean had been friendly and warm, but Dean is friendly and warm with everyone. “No, it wasn’t like that.”
“Then what was that?”
It’s strange to be included in Hester’s pathological interest in the antics of Oasis staff. Castiel tries to focus on her, even as his mind skips frantically through the different types of Dean’s smiles, the way his jokes seemed aimed at something just out of Castiel’s line of sight but not unkindly. Dean seems the sort of person who’d put themselves down before they’d do it to anyone else.
“It wasn’t a date,” Castiel insists. “He would have asked me first if it was.”
Hester raises her eyebrows. “That’s your biggest concern? That you think Dean would ask first?”
“I would say that that’s an important concern, yes.” Castiel stops walking when Hester takes his hands. Both of them, to get his full attention, though Castiel wishes she wouldn’t because there are such new things cascading through his head and he’d rather be dealing with them in private. “I would update you if there was anything, Hester. You know I would.”
“Even on this?”
“You’re the one who’s been telling me to interact with people more,” Castiel says, a little sharply.
“Yes, but you’d never taken me up on that on your initiative,” Hester responds. “Are you attracted to him?”
“Are you asking as my friend, or my monitor?”
“I’m not sure myself.” Hester’s smile is small. Castiel can’t tell whether this confrontation is because she approves, disapproves, or neutral, but Hester does tend to avoid leading questions when it comes to him. “Let’s go with both.”
“Then my answer is: I don’t know.” Castiel squeezes her hands gently. “Let me think about it.”
Chapter 5: Take Two Aspirin and See Me in the Morning
What are the downsides of being attracted to Dean? The thought hadn’t occurred to Castiel before, but now it moves to the forefront of his consideration.
Firstly, and most clearly, is that being attracted to Dean wouldn’t be a hardship. If Castiel were to be attracted to anyone, Dean would be a superb candidate – warmth and kindness and prickly parts included. He is Castiel’s type – to borrow a term Balthazar used to use despite Castiel’s lack of understanding – and there’s nothing shameful about it. There’s nothing embarrassing at all about inviting the thought in and letting it recolor the way Castiel’s been thinking about Dean.
Hester presses the issue again some days later, and this time he’s able to tell her, “I’m growing fond of him, yes. But mostly as a friend.”
She nods. “You look at him differently.”
Which isn’t what Castiel expected. “What do you mean? How do I look at him?”
“Like you’re relieved.”
Relieved. Relief is a good thing to associate with a person. Relief implies comfort, pleasure and contentment. Castiel wouldn’t mind being relieved to see Dean.
A downside to being attracted to Dean: Castiel becomes hyperaware of everything to do with him. Every encounter becomes fraught with one-sided tension, each shared word a potential landmine.
When Castiel sees Dean at the laundry, Castiel finds himself studying Dean’s choice of wardrobe with more closeness than is necessary, and realizes that he is, indeed, capable of being shallow. Not only is he attracted to Dean, the fact is that Dean is actually attractive. In boots or fuzzy slippers, in his shirts or his overalls, sarcastic and grumpy or not.
“No, you see,” Dean says as he unfolds his jeans, “these were made to be worn all the time. The whole point of them is that they last a freaking long time because you wear ‘em for everything. You should actually put ‘em in the list of recommended attire, or whatever you want to call it. See? Battered and threadbare but they still look damn good.”
“Like yourself,” Castiel says, because he sometimes does not have the ability to stop himself.
Dean starts in surprise, and then grins. “Exactly.”
Castiel chalks all of this up to the nature of the base itself – it was only a matter of time before Castiel were affected by forced close proximity with a limited number of people, most of whom are non-Company. It just so happens that it’s happened with Dean.
Why shouldn’t it have happened with Dean, anyway? Dean honestly doesn’t seem to mind Castiel’s company, whenever he has it, and it’s nice. Castiel thinks he can get used to the hyperawareness, too, because it merely sharpens the degree with which he notices and retains information relating to Dean.
Such as how Dean likes to chew on something when he’s thinking and working. And how Dean sometimes sleeps in the Impala instead of his cabin, which has little to do with being sexiled and more to do with the comfort of familiar surroundings.
And how Dean quietly volunteers to help with the cadets’ weapons training in his free time, which Victor doesn’t approve of but lets slide because Meg, of all people, vouches for him. Dean is embarrassed when Castiel mentions this to him, citing some need to make sure the “kids don’t fuck up the important shit” which is no doubt only partially true.
So many interesting things.
Hyperawareness is bullcrap.
Today Castiel’s paying a visit to the biomech station, and instead of Bobby receiving him, there’s Dean. A week or so ago this wouldn’t have been a problem, but that is then and this is now.
“Where’s Bobby?” Castiel asks.
“Did you hear ‘bout the malfunction at the water tanks? Bobby’s looking into that so I’m holding down the fort until it’s settled.” Dean’s just finished another job, and is drying his hands with a towel when he approaches. “What’s the word, Cas?”
“Bobby knows I have an appointment. I sent him a reminder.”
Dean goes to the computer behind the counter, pulling up what Castiel hopes are the relevant records. “Ah yeah, I see it. Cleaning, alignment, the usual? I can do that, no problem.”
“I’d prefer Bobby.”
“Cas, this is part of my actual job,” Dean says. “I may not be able to poke around optic nerves or in someone’s skull, but anything Level 3 and lower comes by me these days. Benny, Meg, Krissy – they’ve all been in my chair, my problem.”
“What do you mean, you handle Level 3 and lower?” Castiel demands. “Bobby didn’t notify me.”
“Dude.” Dean is perplexed, maybe even offended. Castiel doesn’t care. “You know this is why Bobby hired me. Says here you’re having some pressure problems in your back. You gotta have that checked before it gets serious.”
Castiel knows he should be checked before it gets serious, that’s why he made the damn appointment in the first place. It’s Dean being here that’s unnecessary, and although Castiel doesn’t say that out loud Dean’s able to read it off his face.
“Don’t know if it helps to say so, but I’m good at this,” Dean says. “They wouldn’t have taken me on if I wasn’t. You believe in that, right?”
Castiel’s being ridiculous. He knows he’s being ridiculous, because there’s work time and efficiency at stake, and Castiel has truly gone soft if this is all it takes for him to hesitate. When he slowly nods, Dean flips his hands up in relief. “You know where it is?”
Yes, Castiel knows where the consultation room is, since he’s been in there twice with Bobby. He goes in there now, retreating behind the changing curtain to shed his jacket and shirts, and ignoring Dean’s, “There’s scrubs in there if you want ‘em.”
The consultation room is small and cozy, the smell of antiseptic and grease familiar from Castiel’s visiting many others just like it. The lighting is overly bright, as is necessary for the work that needs to be done. Castiel sits in the consultation chair that’s been set in the center of the room, leaning forward and bracing his chin on the support while his arms hang loosely down his sides.
He can hear Dean moving behind him, followed by the squeaky roll of a cart being pushed close to the chair. Closing his eyes doesn’t mean that Dean can’t see him, but Castiel closes them anyway.
“I’m gonna do the four points,” Dean says. “You let me know if anything feels off, okay?”
Castiel nods and murmurs his authorization key. He stays still while Dean opens up his maintenance sockets. Dean’s hands are deft, pulling open the synthetic skin at the base of his neck, the two at his shoulders, and one more near the base of his spine. This is followed by the faint tickle of tools entering him – his left arm first – touching internal synthetic nerves that were installed for safety reasons.
Maybe this is what it’s like when Dean works on his Impala. Goodness knows he must’ve spent hundreds of hours tinkering around her insides, smoothing over her workings, coaxing the best from her circuits and gears. Maybe Dean can do the same for Castiel, realign the parts of him that must’ve shifted to sub-optimal configurations. Dean’s certified, after all.
“Looks like just a little wear and tear,” Dean says. “Nothing to be worried about. I’m just gonna do some clean-up.”
Slight pressure inside Castiel’s spine makes his hand twitch. Dean apologizes, but that’s all right, he just hit an equivalent of a funny bone, no damage. Even if there was damage Dean’d just find the right replacement part and fuse it back on.
Castiel knows, distantly, that he’s having a panic attack. It’s been a while, but it’s not like he can forget what it feels like. Why yes, Dean, he is a tin man, he was rebuilt in a factory because he couldn’t take care of the parts he’d been born with. Some assembly required, that’s all.
But Castiel’s also a soldier, and soldiers know how to stay at attention, unmoving and quiet until ordered otherwise.
Dean’s not supposed to see him like this.
The long lines of scars down Castiel’s back where the synthetic skin meets real skin is one thing (he’d turned down the premium surgery package because it cost too much and couldn’t imagine any reason why he’d need to erase the scars and staples). There also are all the innards that whirr and light up under fingers and screwdrivers.
One good thing about the installations is that Castiel’s arms have surgeons’ precision. His hands don’t shake.
“Okay, lift ‘em up, ninety degrees,” Dean says. Castiel obeys. “Now straight up. Good. Clench your fists. Middle finger to thumb. Tips of fingers to shoulders. Good, okay. Up on your feet.”
Castiel follows. He’s not stupid enough to keep his eyes closed anymore, but he makes sure to avoid Dean’s face. If he’s not looking at Dean, then Dean’s not looking at him. Castiel turns left, then right, moves his arms at angles, bends over, turns his head, looks up, et cetera.
“Closing you up now,” Dean says. The tech is supposed to be advanced enough that sealing is a seamless process, but Castiel’s always thought that he can hear it click. “Right, we’re done, there you go.”
It is physically impossible for Castiel’s fingers to be clumsy, so whatever thickness Castiel’s feeling in his joints must only be in his head. He goes away to button himself up and slide his jacket on as well as he can. Dean’s waiting for him outside with the log, and he signs it off, no fuss.
“Hey.” Dean’s voice seems to be coming from a faraway place. “Do you need me to call someone?” When Castiel just makes a questioning sound, Dean adds, “Is there something I can do?”
Castiel shakes his head. What he needs right now is to stand somewhere for a while. Or sit down somewhere, he’s not picky.
“Okay.” Dean touches Castiel’s shoulder, but pulls back when he stiffens. “Let me know if you need anything.”
Castiel wanders out of the building, leaving Dean far, far behind on his journey to his truck, which he climbs into and locks the door behind him. He sits on the floor and waits for the silence to turn from oppressing to comforting.
There’s a wrapped lollipop in one of Castiel’s pockets. Dean must’ve dropped it there.
Dean had been mostly quiet during the consultation, speaking only when he needed to. There’d been no joking and banter; he’d just done what needed to be done and let Castiel go on his way. The thought that Dean understands should make Castiel feel better, but it instead makes him wonder how obvious his flaws had been.
The lollipop is too sweet but Castiel keeps it in his mouth anyway. It gives him something to focus on while he waits for the rest of him to coalesce back into his familiar self.
What’s the protocol now? Is Castiel supposed to say thank you? Is he supposed to pretend it never happened, so to avoid the conversation Castiel doesn’t want to have? Dean once said something to the effect that he liked that Castiel is direct; if he is not, does that change something between them?
Does Castiel care?
A particularly vicious sandstorm damages a section of the perimeter fence, and dealing with that takes up some of Castiel’s time. Then there’s an accident at their sister base over in the mountains, which means someone needs to make the journey out and back in to enable the transfer of workload.
When all that’s done with and the reports filed, Castiel barely even blinks the next time he sees Dean again. Castiel’s making his usual visit to the commissary, collecting a box of the nutrition shake that’s on his monthly order, when Dean pops up out of nowhere to lean close to Castiel’s shoulder.
“You could try other flavors once in a while,” Dean says.
“I did,” Castiel replies. “This was the best.”
“What does ‘regular’ even mean…?” Dean pulls a bottle out of the box and studies the label. “Whoa. This is like soylent green level of nightmare.”
“Not everyone has your culinary expertise.” Castiel plucks the bottle out of Dean’s hand and puts it back in. “Or your skill at improvisation.”
Dean chuckles. He looks tired, though, and just rolls his eyes dismissively when Castiel comments on it. “We’re doing something at the Roadhouse tonight, wanna come?”
“Please be specific.”
“Nothing fancy. Jo got her flight certificate.”
“So you’re asking me to join you,” Castiel says neutrally.
Dean shrugs. “If you want to.”
“All right.” Castiel pulls the box into his arms, nodding a thank you when Dean helps adjust his grip. “I’ll see you there.”
“Cool.” Dean pats his shoulder before going off, leaving Castiel to carry his supplies and marvel that it really might be just that easy.
Castiel’s only ever gone into the Roadhouse a handful of times. When it comes to obtaining food, the commissary is sufficient, and the Roadhouse’s other purposes are mostly irrelevant to Castiel. Dean’s invite counts as relevant.
Ellen’s not going into space, but the Roadhouse is. A branch of it, anyway, which is to be managed by Ellen’s 2IC and bartender, Paul. That had been Captain Sands’ idea: the Roadhouse’s function on land is as relevant as its potential function in space. If the Company’s going to rent ship space to vendors who wish to and are able to jump the many hoops to join the voyage, then some of that space had better be used for the serving of good food (and alcohol and entertainment).
The sister bases are pursuing similar endeavors – The Reef has its own restaurant, and The Cloud has an arcade. There’s going to be commercial competition on the Executive, which is one of the most novel things Castiel’s ever heard.
But that’s in the near future. Right now there’s just a well-stocked metal hut in the sand, where in one corner a group of people are arguing over the use of the pool table, and a bunch of cadets in a booth are taking shots over what appears to be a theoretical physics drinking game. Castiel weaves his way carefully to the bar, where he sits at the empty stool next to Jo.
“Hello,” Castiel says.
Jo tips her drink at him in greeting, and then helps him pick out something from the menu. Castiel didn’t even know they had a drinks menu. “I think you’ll like that one. Do you have any allergies?”
“None that I know of.” The drink Jo ordered him turns out to be quite pleasant, and they share some small talk about the events around the base, the new staff who’ve just arrived and Jo’s recent success in getting her pilot certification. “It was a close call, but… sometimes you put the pedal to metal and wish for the best.”
“There were a few in my garrison who were pilots,” Castiel says. “I’m qualified to fly a shuttle, but that’s about it.”
“You should take Dean up in a shuttle,” Jo laughs. “In fact, I will pay good money to see you pull it off.”
“That’s hardly fair. Are you saying that just because I can pick him up with my bare hands?”
“That, too,” Jo says, far too cheerfully. “In fact I can see that in my head and wish my brain had a camera. You should check with R&D if they’ve invented that yet.”
“May I ask something?” When Jo nods, Castiel asks, “Why are Benny and Gordon playing pool together?
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“Aren’t they at each other’s throats?”
“That was weeks ago, Cas.” Jo grins over her glass of beer. “You know how it is.”
Actually yes, Castiel does know how it is, because when Dean arrives just then, Castiel finds himself sitting up straighter and glancing at the mirror behind the bar to check that his appearance is presentable. His hair is not too unruly, his shirt buttoned down well, and Castiel should really just accept that he has previously-untapped potential for vanity.
“Hey, Jo, Cas.” Dean drops into the seat next to him. He signals Paul, for whom this is apparently routine because he immediately comes over with glasses and a bottle. “Let’s keep ‘em coming, how’s that for an idea? Fucking hell, they don’t pay me enough for this shit.”
“Perhaps you should ask for a raise,” Castiel suggests.
Dean shoots him a sarcastic look. “Yeah okay.”
Castiel dutifully closes his mouth. Well then.
Jo and Dean start talking about work, discussing the shuttles and Jo’s getting her wings, and Castiel offers the occasional helpful comment between listening with interest. He’s reminded of downtime back in the garrison, sitting between Rachel and Balthazar as they sniped at each other, except here Jo and Dean aren’t sniping at each other.
“I probably won’t get first pick of commissions,” Jo says, “but it doesn’t matter. I’m in and I’m going.”
“I thought you were in the lead,” Dean says. “There’s no one here anywhere close.”
“I don’t have ‘experience’,” Jo says, finger quotes emphasizing her point. “That counts for a lot, apparently.”
“Bullshit. You take turns like a fucking champ. You should be helmsman or Captain Sands is an idiot.”
“I’ll make it anyway.”
“Did you see the new crew that just came in?” Dean tosses back a shot. “Holy shit, some of ‘em aren’t even shaving yet!”
Castiel studies the remainder of his drink and wonders if coming here was a mistake. This may be a different location with different dynamics, but the welcome that had previously surrounded Dean has dried up. He’s had a bad day, maybe a bad week – Castiel hasn’t been keeping himself updated, and that makes him the wrong kind of company for Dean to have. Jo understands and speaks the correct language, but Castiel is treading water.
There’s a TV installed on the wall. There’s a game playing, but then a commercial comes on, the Company’s logo flashing dramatically across the screen.
“Hey,” Jo says quietly. “That’s gonna be us.”
The commercial doesn’t offer any new information. Castiel knows the new ships, the new fleet, the opening of Company doors to other agencies and organizations to get on board. The commercial’s voice-over does the usual spiel about the potential of the future, omitting what Castiel thinks is the most interesting part, i.e. the program is the first major exploration journey not headed by the military.
Dean isn’t impressed. His brother is going to captain a ship someday and Castiel knows that Dean is proud of him for it, but that knowledge is apparently taking the back seat today.
“Fucking scam, man,” Dean says.
“Dean,” Jo murmurs. “Not here.”
“C’mon, it’s not like it’s a secret. Right, Cas?” Dean shoves at Castiel harder than is necessary. “How long you gonna be paying for your arms, huh?”
“They would have been paid off by the time I made Captain,” Castiel replies. “Of which I was well underway.”
“Only that didn’t work out, did it?” Dean challenges. “Now not only do you have your brand spanking new chassis to take care of, you gotta deal with sports rims, spoilers, and who knows what other useless shit you didn’t even ask for.”
Castiel has spent years mastering his poker face, and uses those skills now. “Don’t take out your frustrations on me, Dean.”
“You know what, you can shove it.” The stool topples over when Dean stands up. “I’m going for a walk.” He grabs a bottle from the bar and stalks off to the exit. Castiel half-expects him to dramatically shove someone out of his way, that’s how tense Dean looks.
“Cas…” Jo says, slowly.
“Do you know what he’s upset about?”
“His brother, I’m guessing.” Jo’s mouth thins. “When he’s like that it’s usually about Sam. A couple of years ago I’d say it’d be about John.”
“Dean’s father is dead?” Jo nods, confirming Castiel’s suspicions. “Before giving him the Impala, which Dean now cares for. I see.”
“You know what? Just go, Cas,” Jo says. “I’m gonna crash, and you’re not gonna be good company for me anyway.”
When Castiel steps outside, he just catches sight of Dean disappearing round the corner. He could give it a couple of days, maybe, and then try again, search Dean out while he’s on downtime, use the ice-cream as an excuse to check on him.
Castiel makes it a couple of yards towards his quarters before he stops. He stands there for a long moment, glancing up at the faint shimmer of the environmental shields over the sky beyond, ignoring the occasional body that passes by in the cold night air. Castiel thinks about orders, and how there are sometimes orders inside orders, and how Dean had pushed Castiel.
Some people need to stay in a quiet place for a while. Other people need to lash out.
Castiel’s aware he’s not good at this. He doesn’t always know when’s the time to push and when’s the time to hang back.
He’ll never learn to tell the difference if he doesn’t actually try, though.
Castiel turns and retraces his steps. Dean can’t have gone far, and even with the ruckus of music and noise coming from the Roadhouse Castiel’s able to spot movement behind the building, in the narrow patch of space between the back door and the loading area. Castiel turns the corner cautiously to see Dean standing there, his back to him, shoulders hunched.
This must be handled carefully. “Dean?”
Dean doesn’t turn around, but he waves a hand over his shoulder – a stiff, frantic gesture for Castiel to stay away. Castiel obliges by standing where he is, leaving plenty of space between them.
“Stop right there,” Dean growls. Which isn’t go away.
Castiel could call Ellen. She knows Dean’s history, she might know what to do, and whether Dean needs a drink or touch or space.
“Nothing’s changed,” Dean says.
Or maybe needs an ear.
“You trap us in your fucking deals.” There’s a small light in Dean’s palms – a phone, Castiel realizes. “You don’t call ‘em that anymore, of course. You call them scholarships. You call them grants. Don’t matter, ‘cause it’s all the same fucking thing.” He turns around, taking two quick steps forward so he can grab Castiel’s collar. “Then they own you for life.”
Castiel swallows back the defense rising up in his throat.
“Not they. You.” Dean tosses the phone aside, Castiel automatically tracks the movement. “You’re one of them.”
Castiel can’t argue. Not only is he Company, he’s old Company. The old system had been flawed, and for so many years Castiel’s function had been to serve those flaws without question.
So, really, it costs nothing for Castiel to stand there and let Dean curse at him. Castiel can take Dean’s anger, the way his eyes seem to glitter in the dark (an illusion, like so many other things about Dean that are getting filtered differently by Castiel’s brain these days). Dean is hurting, and he needs this.
“Yes,” Castiel says. He’s surprised when Dean’s hands move up around his neck. He’d thought Dean wasn’t a violent man, but maybe that’s because he keeps forgetting that Dean is just like him, that he has parts Castiel’s never seen and might never see, and some of those parts make him loom taller in the dark. He can easily be the kind of man Castiel might have once been ordered to take down with his biomechanical hands.
“Fuck you,” Dean hisses.
Castiel blocks the first punch. It’s automatic; some things stay the same even after surgery and throwing his uniform into a disposal furnace. Dean switches hands, so Castiel does as well, and then they’re doing a strange, sparring dance in the dark. It’s clear Dean isn’t a boxer – he’s a street fighter, someone who grew up learning through practice.
After the third, fourth punch, Dean stops. He drops his hands away, disgusted.
“Come on.” Castiel keeps his fists up, ready to receive him. “You can, Dean, it’s all right.”
“Fuck off.” There’s a tremor in Dean’s voice – almost imperceptible, but Castiel’s senses are rewiring themselves for Dean’s benefit. “Shut up.”
Castiel has no idea what he’s referring to. Dean’s still tense – unsure of fight or flight – and staring at Castiel like he has no idea why he’s still there. As if it isn’t obvious.
Dean’s hands are hurt, Castiel realizes. He slowly reaches for Dean, mindful for a flinch or refusal that doesn’t come. Castiel cups Dean’s hands, pulling the skin of his knuckles to check for tearing. There are only mild abrasions, and Castiel takes out the antiseptic spray from his jacket to coat the skin thoroughly. Dean’s fingers tighten over Castiel’s.
“Shit,” Dean whispers.
It’s dark out here, their faces lit by the secondary lighting from the Roadhouse behind them. Even so, they are close enough that Dean seems to fill up the entire world. Castiel doesn’t think he’s ever stood face to face like this before Dean, and his eyes linger on every detail for the taking.
There’s a grafting scar along the line of Dean’s lower lip, so subtle that it’s hidden in the shadow of his chin. Castiel moves without thinking, fingertips touching the corner of Dean’s mouth where the premium procedure must have been made.
“Oh,” Castiel says quietly. “I see.” There’s no turning away, not even when Dean grabs the back of Castiel’s neck. Castiel tenses up, prepared to take the hit, but it’s not a punch that’s coming.
Instead, Dean presses his mouth to Castiel’s, so harshly that it might as well be a punch. When he pulls back, his fierce scowl is unchanged.
There’s no protocol for this. There’s little more than white noise roaring in Castiel’s head, even. But the body knows how to react and Castiel moves, returning volley with a kiss of his own.
This time there’s a responding flicker across Dean’s face, eyes widening. His gaze drops to Castiel’s lips, as if he can’t believe that just happened.
Might as well kiss him again, then.
The amazing thing is the way Dean comes alive after that. His mouth opens against Castiel’s, turning the kisses hot, invasive, intimate. His hands are on Castiel’s body, pulling him close and arranging them so they are tight, tighter, together. Castiel returns the favor, glad for the chance to appreciate the hard planes of Dean’s chest and waist, then sliding his hands under Dean’s jacket to study the dips of Dean’s back.
Dean kisses like he’s still fighting. Maybe he is. Castiel can take it all, anyway.
It’s dark and cold and the only warmth in this place is each other. Although Castiel hadn’t thought about this much – the idea of this thing between them still so new – he hadn’t expected to be ensnared so easily, falling over to Dean’s demands because it turns out they match Castiel’s own.
“God,” Dean gasps, his breath hot against Castiel’s face, “oh god, Cas, you.” But he, what, Cas doesn’t find out, because Dean’s taking his mouth again. His groans are loud and lewd where they echo in Castiel’s ears.
Urgency makes their movements clumsy, uncoordinated. Their hands run into and get in the way of each other, Castiel pulls where Dean pushes, there’s a faint clack when their teeth come together. Still, it’s good, dizzying, wonderful in the way that the food and the ice-cream and lollipop hadn’t been. Dean’s hard against Castiel’s thigh, rubbing against him through two layers of cloth.
A thread in Castiel’s mind acknowledges that this isn’t the ideal place for this, but the rest of him doesn’t care. Castiel wants to give this to Dean, and this is hardly the worst thing he’s done in a public place.
Castiel drags two fingers along Dean’s erection, smiling when Dean growls against his mouth. “Don’t tease,” Dean hisses. “Don’t you dare…”
No teasing. Castiel finds Dean’s belt – an easy, old-fashioned thing with buckles and straps that come open at a few tugs. The jeans underneath it are the same, and as he works them open Castiel keeps his eyes on Dean, following every second of open hunger in his face, and the shocked gasp he makes when Castiel lowers himself down onto his knees.
It’s important that Castiel get his mouth on Dean’s dick. It’s extremely important, in fact, and it’s good that Dean understands this and helps pulls his erection out through his underwear. Castiel holds the shaft with both hands, tipping the head towards him so he can swallow it down.
“Ah, fuck,” Dean says shakily. “God, fuck.”
There’s a wall of heat and musk in Castiel’s face, Dean’s cock a pleasurable thickness on his tongue as he makes his throat take whatever Dean gives him. Castiel’s hands guide Dean’s thighs, rocking him gently so Dean understands that he can fuck his willing mouth. He finally does it, too, and Castiel revels in the slide of skin against skin, sucking as much as his lips will allow.
Dean’s hands find Castiel’s hair, carding through the strands uncertainly. Castiel looks up, nodding, and his eyes flutter shut when Dean’s grip tightens. Dean’s rhythm is good – short, careful thrusts through Castiel’s tightened fingers and into his mouth.
Nothing in the world matters aside from this cock that needs to be serviced. That’s good. Castiel’s always liked simple missions.
It’s even better when Dean loses it and comes, hand pressed against his mouth to stifle his cries. Castiel feels a pang at that, but he still has the desperate stuttering of Dean’s hips, the salty taste in his throat, plus the long, lingering sigh when Dean pulls his softening dick away and out of his mouth.
Castiel wipes his lips and carefully tucks Dean back into his pants. Dean’s swaying unsteadily, so Castiel rises back up to his feet to pull Dean’s arm over his shoulder.
“Shall I take you back to your quarters?” Castiel asks. Dean bobs his head mutely, his eyes unfocused. He’s crashing, all the exhaustion he’d been holding back finally let loose, and Castiel quickly grabs Dean’s discarded phone before starting the slow journey back to his cabin.
The few people they see along the way don’t even bat an eye at Castiel’s dragging Dean along; the sight is common enough around here, especially at night.
There’s a brief struggle to unlock the door because Dean doesn’t, or can’t, understand that Castiel needs a key. Then when they get in, Castiel tries to point Dean towards his door and push him along, but that doesn’t work either and Castiel ends up having to bodily pull Dean into his room.
It’s neater than Castiel expected. The corners of the bed are tucked down neatly, the desk tidied up, Dean’s work coveralls hanging behind the door.
“Off now,” Castiel says softly, pulling Dean’s jacket down his shoulders. The outer shirt goes next, though Castiel doesn’t linger on the sinuous shape of Dean’s arms and chest underneath. “Can you sleep like this? Do you want to brush your teeth first? No?”
Dean frowns down at his jeans, so Castiel takes that as a request and helps him out of those as well, kneeling down to undo his boots and drag the heavy material off of him. Castiel may have just sucked Dean off, but this is far more intimate.
Once Dean’s down to his boxers he sits on his bed, the frame creaking at the sudden movement. Castiel turns to put his clothes in the laundry basket, only to be stopped when Dean catches his wrist.
Castiel turns back to him, frowning. “Dean?”
Dean’s not looking at him directly. His gaze is off to somewhere in the middle distance, his expression guarded. His fingers tighten on Castiel’s wrist, a subtle tug where the man can’t (or won’t) ask, before dropping away abruptly. Dean slides into his bed, not bothering to pull the covers over him, and rolls over to face the wall.
Castiel doesn’t have his toothbrush or his sleeping clothes. Castiel still smells like the Roadhouse and would like a shower. Castiel has work in the morning.
Castiel sheds his outer clothing, leaving behind his pants and inside shirt. There’s no pulling the blanket out from under Dean, so he takes the blanket from the upper bunk and draws it over them both when he crawls into bed.
It’s a little presumptuous, or maybe not presumptuous enough, but Castiel rests a hand on Dean’s waist and drops a kiss to the back of Dean’s neck.
After a minute or two of quiet, Dean takes Castiel’s hand and pulls it up to his chest.
Chapter 6: There’s Got to be a Morning After, and Other Maureen McGovern Songs
Like almost everyone back in his old garrison, Castiel is a light sleeper. He wakes once or twice when Dean moves, and when their legs catch against each other. Once Castiel’s eyes open to the sight of Dean watching him, but as there’s no crisis to attend to, Castiel goes back to sleep.
When Castiel finally wakes up properly, it’s because he has work to do. The different location is only briefly disorienting; he glances at the clock on the dresser and his mind starts sorting the list of items he needs to deal with today, some of which he has to pay particular attention to because he hadn’t settled them last night.
Dean is snoring faintly, face mashed against the pillow. It is an exquisite sight, and if Castiel’s tablet wasn’t on the floor blinking a warning at him, he might even stay for a while to enjoy the view. As it is, Castiel slips out of bed as surreptitiously as he can, tucking the blanket around Dean before getting dressed.
Benny is outside, brewing something that doesn’t smell like coffee. He doesn’t seem surprised to see Castiel, and merely levels a long, cool look at him that Castiel doesn’t have time for.
Castiel’s careful to keep his voice low when he asks, “Will you be here long?”
“Pardon?” Benny says.
“There’s some things I need to do,” Castiel says as he buttons his jacket up to his neck. “But I’d like to come back and I don’t have a key. If you’re here, you can let me in.”
Benny shrugs. “I’ll be here.”
Outside, there’s an hour or so to sunrise. Nearby there’s the comforting hum of the water treatment station, along with other faint humans-in-the-morning noises.
Castiel returns to his cabin swiftly, grateful to be able to shower and clean up. Once or twice he has to stop and process the fact that he’s slept with Dean – that his attraction was reciprocated – but the further Castiel gets into his routine the firmer the memories of last night become. While in the middle of his shower Castiel puts two fingers in his mouth and sucks on them, just because.
Hester needs to be informed, too, since Castiel promised. He sends her a message: - For info – I slept with Dean. Please keep private.
Later, while Castiel’s out at his truck and checking the feeds, he gets her reply: - Noted.
Castiel ends up gone a little longer than expected, so the sun is up by the time he heads back to Dean’s. He should’ve specified a time with Benny, he thinks regretfully, only to be surprised when the door opens immediately when he knocks.
Except it’s Dean who lets him in, not Benny. Dean, who’s wearing an apron and greets him with an upbeat, “Hey, just in time.”
Breakfast is on the agenda, apparently. Castiel finds himself being forcibly seated at the little formica table because Dean refuses any and all offers of help. “This is Earth,” Dean says, gesturing at the kitchenette, “and you are exiled to Mars.”
Dean’s good mood is contagious, and whatever anxiety Castiel had been harboring since he’d woken up is forgotten. “Have you been up long?”
“Naw, just.” Dean sounds cheerful enough. “I’m starved as fuck, did you notice we missed dinner? Well, we missed dinner.”
“I did notice, but it wasn’t important.”
“It’s hella important now.” Dean turns with a flourish, pan out to slide sausages on Castiel’s plate. The apron, Castiel finally notices, has little flower-patterned frills on the hem and straps. A gag gift, perhaps, but it’s charming how Dean doesn’t care. “How do you like your eggs? I can do requests, if it’s nothing too fancy.”
“Oh, I haven’t had eggs in…” Castiel thinks. “Do you have ingredients for an omelet?”
Dean glances at his prep area. “A really basic one. Got some cheese, milk, butter, but that’s about it.”
“That’d be wonderful.” Castiel is startled by Dean’s wide grin, and automatically smiles back.
There are bad mornings, dull mornings and good mornings. This is a good morning for both of them, and Castiel is glad for it. Everyone has their demons that come and go, and Castiel relaxes now he sees the ease with which Dean finishes up his cooking, whistling a catchy tune under his breath, and then joins Castiel at the table.
They eat together, Castiel answering Dean’s polite inquiry about the work he’d left to do. “Nothing major,” Castiel tells him. “I just needed to check some of sensors. What are your plans for today?”
“I’ve got to go to the shipyard,” Dean says, scrunching up his face. “That place has some mighty fancy toys, I’ll give them that, but they’re super jumpy about letting anyone get in, make you sign two dozen logs to get in. As if there’s such a high chance of strangers wandering in out here.”
After they’ve downed their breakfast, Dean again insists that Castiel not do anything. Dean clears the table and puts the things that need to be washed in the sink, and it’s easy enough to imagine him somewhere else – somewhere not in the middle of a desert, definitely – doing the best with what he has to create as many simple pleasures as he can.
“So!” Dean tugs his apron off with a flourish. “I owe you a blowjob, right?”
Castiel laughs. He feels silly and light-headed, hand over his face to stifle laughter when Dean turns Castiel’s chair away from the table. Dean is a seductive creature, made of sunlight and warmth and other pleasurable things, and he lowers himself down to the floor with cocky elegance.
“You were flirting with me,” Castiel accuses. “How long have you been flirting with me?”
Dean raises an eyebrow. “You were flirting with me.”
“See, that’s the thing!” Dean slides his hands down the contours of Castiel’s calves, his touch sure and spine-tingling. “Sometimes I’d swear you were hitting on me, which was the weirdest thing ever, then other times it’s like it was just in my head.”
“Why would that be the weirdest thing ever?” Castiel scoots forward to the edge of the chair at Dean’s behest, widening his legs so Dean can settle between them.
“Cas, don’t get me wrong, you’re really hot,” Dean says mildly, nosing curiously along Castiel’s inner thigh, “but you’re not exactly the easiest guy to figure out.” When Dean meets Castiel’s eyes, there’s that same sense of being seen. It should be terrifying, but isn’t.
“Neither are you, believe it or not. Yet that is what I find interesting.” Castiel is gratified when Dean chuckles. “Dean, what about Benny?”
“I kicked him out. Okay, I didn’t kick him out, but he figured pretty quick that he wouldn’t want to be here when you got back.” Dean rubs his cheek firmly against the hardening line of Castiel’s dick. “There you are.”
Castiel enjoys it immensely when Dean’s playful like this. “I wasn’t flirting with you deliberately.” Castiel bites back a groan and continues, “It didn’t occur to me what was happening until recently. I hadn’t even considered that you might return it, or that you would want to do this.”
“Well now you know.” Dean tugs at the buttons on Castiel’s pants, confident but careful as he pulls Castiel’s dick out through the open V of his crotch. “I want to do this. Kinda a lot, actually.”
“That’s nice to know.”
“Damn, son.” Dean breathes deliberately on the sensitive head, and then his tongue comes out to tease the shaft. He makes these terrible teasing little licks up and down, then up to the glans. Dean’s lips are sensuous, sucking and tasting his way across the length of Castiel, and one long, firm lick across the fat head has Castiel knocking his other head back so hard that he almost hits the table behind him.
Under Dean’s ministrations Castiel’s fully erect in no time. This is obviously to Dean’s satisfaction, since he grins up at him and says, “Hey, Cas. Any requests?”
“I don’t…” Castiel shakes his head. “Surprise me.”
Apparently, not only does Dean want to do this, he’s also extremely good at this. Dean sucks Castiel in, just the head at first, bobbing a little as he slicks it up, and then swallows. And swallows. And hums and swallows some more.
Castiel would accuse Dean of being a show-off if he weren’t too busy having the time of his life.
The amazing thing here is that Dean seems to feel the same. His lips are stretched wide around the cock in his mouth but Castiel can still tell he’s smiling, and would no doubt be grinning that broad, self-satisfied grin that’s quickly becoming a favorite. And why shouldn’t he be self-satisfied? He’s deep-throated Castiel to the edge of an orgasm Castiel can already feel building up low in his stomach.
Dean nudges Castiel’s hand, then gestures at his own head. Castiel declines the invitation with a firm shake of his head – he’d like to pull Dean’s hair, but his hands need to stay at his sides where they’ll be safe.
“I’m almost there, Dean,” Castiel whispers. Dean takes this as his cue to lock his lips tight, sucking with enthusiasm that Castiel can’t resist.
That’s a lie, of course. There’s no resistance whatsoever.
Castiel falls over the crest of his orgasm, gasping until he has barely any breath left to spare. He falls back against the back of the chair, loose-limbed and sated, body twitching through the aftershocks. He lets out a long sigh, and then glances down.
Dean’s eyes are half-lidded, his mouth stubbornly holding on to Castiel’s softening cock. This makes Castiel think that he’s come as well, but suddenly Dean’s alive again, snapping out of whatever indulgent place he’d been lingering in. He carefully takes Castiel’s cock out of his mouth and climbs over his lap, which is an excellent idea because a lapful of Dean is also an armful of Dean, and Castiel’s hands ache to touch.
Castiel touches him now, relishing the firm lines of Dean’s throat, Dean’s chest, Dean’s waist. “You can kiss me,” Castiel says, and Dean takes the invitation with a growl, tipping Castiel’s head back to take his mouth with relish.
This man who’s laughing and nipping at Castiel’s mouth is Dean, but the man who’d briefly scared Castiel last night is also Dean. It is useless to want Dean to be only like this, to pretend that the other is a momentary and inconvenient lapse. Castiel thinks about all of this when he slides his fingers against the grain of Dean’s stubble, then smiling when Dean leans into the touch.
Dean opens his pants, pulling his dick out. “Gonna ruin your new shirt.”
“That’d probably improve it.”
“Hah!” Dean deliberately rolls his hips, shoving his erection against Castiel’s chest. “Flirting.”
Maybe Dean’s right; Castiel laughs, buoyed by the ridiculous notion that he might’ve been courting Dean before he realized it. There are more outlandish things in the universe anyway, and it cannot have been all bad if it has brought Castiel to this. Dean may sometimes kiss as though he’s fighting, but other times, like now, he kisses as though every kiss is a reward.
Castiel slides his hands up Dean’s back, holding them firmly together so he can feel the line of Dean’s cock where it drags wetly against his stomach. Dean’s buried his face in Castiel’s neck, whimpering faintly as he rubs himself towards orgasm. Castiel whispers, “Do you want me to jack you off?”
“Aww, fuck,” Dean groans, voice muffled against Castiel’s skin. “Next time, okay? Next time?”
Well, if Dean insists. He must be close if he doesn’t need too much help, but Castiel helps anyway, kissing his neck and shoulder, and then sliding a hand tentatively over Dean’s ass to press suggestively in the space between.
“Oh, yeah,” Dean moans, shoving back onto Castiel’s hand. They move like that for a while, Dean humping and pushing at the cage of Castiel’s arms and chest before he goes rigid and gasps. There’s a splash of wet on Castiel’s shirt, filthy and perfect, and Castiel holds on to Dean while his breathing slows down.
Castiel moves his lips against Dean’s neck, savoring the texture and warmth of his skin. “That was nice.”
Dean draws back to beam at him. “Yeah, I’m awesome.”
“Though Benny might have choice words about your using the common area for sex.”
“Like the dipshit hasn’t done it himself.”
Castiel looks down at his shirt. “At least the mess seems to be contained.” Castiel expects a responding chuckle but gets a kiss for it instead, Dean practically grabbing his head to take his mouth. He’s tender but no less demanding in the daylight.
Once Dean’s done, he pulls back and declares, “Dazed is a good look for you. You should try it more often.”
Castiel wants to agree, but he’s suddenly distracted by their close proximity. He can see Dean’s scar again, so cleverly hidden in the faint lee of his lower lip. The moment Dean realizes what Castiel’s looking at, he unceremoniously lifts himself up off Castiel’s body, mumbling to himself as he tucks his genitals away.
Dean’s body is all organic, but he’s still had work done. Excellent work, by the looks of it, which is something that a drifter shouldn’t be able to afford.
“Do you spar?” Castiel asks.
Dean double-takes. “What?”
“Spar. We have a gym, have you seen it?”
“I know we have a gym,” Dean says defensively, and Castiel doesn’t miss the endearing way Dean touches his stomach. “Why’re you asking?”
“It helps clear my head. There is simplicity in the rules of the mat.” Just as it is in the rules of the field. “I find it comforting. I haven’t sparred since… in a while. I’m asking if you’d like to join me. Not tonight, I have work to do at the Satellite, but tomorrow, maybe?”
Dean’s perplexed. It’s almost as though last night never happened, that Castiel hadn’t seen Dean hurting so badly. That begs the thought of whether, in Dean’s world, last night was normal.
“Okay,” Dean says slowly. “Sounds like it could be cool.”
“Then you may cook me dinner afterward,” Castiel tries, and he’s rewarded with another one of Dean’s spectacular smiles. “If you like.”
“Sure.” Dean nods. “I’d like that.”
A couple of hours later, while Castiel is in the middle of helping Victor’s security team check the perimeter gates, he’s struck by a sudden thought. Hester should be at work, but it’s no harm for Castiel to pull out his tablet and send her a message.
He sends - I think I asked Dean out on a date.
She replies - You *think*?
That’s sounds about right. You would accidentally ask someone out without meaning to.
Castiel stares at that last message, feeling faintly offended. Having both ‘accidental’ and ‘without meaning to’ is redundant.
You *would* try to the derail me. Do you want his psych profile?
Castiel scowls. You wouldn’t.
You’re right, I wouldn’t. You didn’t say no, though.
He’s more interesting than you give him credit for. I’d just like to learn it the hard way.
Yes, that sounds about right as well.
I’m going to stop messaging you now.
It would happen this way, Castiel thinks. Unplanned and unexpected, because goodness knows Castiel wouldn’t know where to start looking for someone like Dean, let alone seduce them into his life. Yet here they are. Castiel wants to be good at anything he does, and now what he wants is to help Dean.
Not that Dean seems to understand this, or why Castiel asked him along to the gym. It’s a good facility, which they can thank Ion for, with well-maintained equipment that would quiet even Uriel’s criticisms.
There are only a handful of people in the place when they get there. Most of them are listening to their personal music players and focusing on their workouts, and only one or two glance their way when Castiel leads Dean to one of the mats.
“We’ll do some stretches first.” Castiel sinks down to the floor and gestures for Dean to join him. “Are those your own gym shorts or did you have to borrow them from Benny?”
“My brother got these for me,” Dean replies, sounding as pissy as he sometimes accuses Castiel of being. He glares at Castiel’s comfortable track pants. “Not that they’re necessary, apparently.”
“They don’t enforce a dress code here, Dean.”
“I was talking ‘bout getting a good look at your ass.”
“You’ll get plenty of that later.” Castiel doesn’t laugh at the way Dean perks up, but it’s a close thing.
Dean figures out soon enough that Castiel didn’t bring him here just to flirt. They can do that anywhere, and in more comfortable conditions. Instead Castiel talks to Dean the way he would anyone in his garrison, calmly and clearly about how to warm up his body, loosen his limbs, et cetera, which doubles for guiding Dean gently into the headspace they need.
“Do you need handguards?” Castiel asks.
“Nah.” Dean’s stance is overly conscientious when he stands before Castiel. His eyes flicker sideways, aware of their lack of privacy.
“Don’t look at them,” Castiel says. “There’s only you and me, and this is our space. I shall tell you how this is to go.”
Dean merely blinks at him, startled at the soft order in the instructions and explanation of the ground rules. This is for both of them, and Castiel is solemn enough in his delivery that Dean doesn’t crack a single joke.
“Up. And begin.”
Castiel blocks Dean’s first half-hearted punch. He allows a few more, just to let Dean get warmed up, and then darts in to cuff Dean easily under one ear. Dean gasps, more out of shock than pain, and gapes at him. “What?”
“You can’t hurt me, Dean,” Castiel assures him. “I am designed to withstand far more than anything you can do. This is safe.” He slaps his forearms, one after another, to remind Dean of the metals that make up the bones and muscle within. Dean’s tinkered around inside himself, for crying out loud, and he should know better than most what a Terminator can take (he downloaded the movie just the other night, after Dean planted the idea). “If you wish to stop, you will say so and I will stand down. I will return the courtesy.”
Castiel tries again, tsking under his breath when Dean swerves out of the way but doesn’t retaliate. “Surely you can do better than that.”
Dean says quietly, “I can’t say I’m too comfortable roughhousing someone I’m sleeping with.”
“I will still sleep with you later,” Castiel says, sighing. “But that is then, and this is now. I thought you’d appreciate this.”
“Did I mention I’d expected you to be wearing something tight and sexy?”
“It felt like a good idea.” Castiel takes a deep breath and rolls his shoulders. “I thought you’d like an outlet for your anger.”
Dean starts, and then scowls. “I’m not angry.”
“I don’t mean you’re angry all the time,” Castiel explains. “Just that it is there, and it needs a channel, a healthy one if at all possible—”
“Dude, I’m not angry.”
“—because it’s perfectly understandable, you’re only human and so many people in your life are moving on with the tide—”
“—so it feels as though you’re being left behind, though of course they and you would never put it into those words exactly. Your brother, for example, he’s going to have his own ship one day and you don’t even like to fly—”
“—but that doesn’t make you weak, or selfish.” Castiel nods at how Dean’s simmering at each word he says, his face flushed with color. “I completely understand why you have issues with the Company, especially because of your own augmentation. You’re all organic but not untouched, and that’s first class stitching, very expensive, and—”
Castiel’s prepared this time. Dean doesn’t lose it, exactly, for his eyes are still clear when he charges at Castiel, but the flip of the switch is striking. Dean swings and Castiel blocks – thrust, parry, parry, thrust – when Dean finally accepts Castiel’s invitation.
This is just a guess, and if Castiel’s wrong then he’s wrong and will back off. But then Dean lets go, coming at Castiel with fists and arms and feet, and Castiel is relieved instead.
“Good,” Castiel whispers when Dean catches him in a hold, trying to drop them forward on to the mat. Castiel plants his feet and resists, smiling when Dean growls through his effort. “Good.”
Anna had been like this, keeping her frustration and rage bottled up until outlets were demanded. Dean kind of reminds Castiel of her, in how their similar zest and easy-going nature lay atop a need to prove themselves. Castiel feels calm, centered, pleased, as he attacks and blocks and eventually tosses Dean over his shoulder.
“Jesus.” Dean rolls away and taps the mat, breathing heavily. “Fuck.”
Castiel rests back on his haunches. That was good. Not challenging, but he’s not here to be challenged. “Pause or end?”
Dean makes a face at him. “You could’ve just shoved me at a punching bag.”
“Would that have been as satisfying?” Castiel inhales sharply when Dean strikes at him across the mat. There’s a tussle, both of them low to the ground and changing their strategies, but Dean still ends up trapped underneath Castiel in a modified hold, Dean’s face squeezed between Castiel’s non-augmented calves.
“Motherfucker,” Dean burbles, struggling to breathe. “Uncle, uncle!” He wheezes, taking in lungfuls of air when Castiel releases him. “This isn’t even a fair fight, Cas.”
“It’s not supposed to be.” Castiel shimmies over to the edge of the mat, grabbing a water bottle and rolling it towards Dean. “Though it can be, if I modify my settings.”
“Don’t you go tryin’ that smooth move on me now.” Dean takes a long drag from his bottle and tosses it aside. “One more round, let’s go.”
It’s satisfying. Here is an itch, and they scratch it together, Castiel mindful of Dean’s stamina and careful not to push too hard. By the end of it Dean’s scowl has turned into a sharp, satisfied shark of a grin, and Castiel knows exactly how it feels.
“You’re not going to let me win, are you?” Dean asks, after Castiel had pinned him down for the third time. Dean’s still smirking, though, his body going lax underneath Castiel’s hands.
“No,” Castiel says apologetically. “But I’m sure you’ll earn it yourself eventually.”
They call it a day, retreating to the gym’s showers while Dean mutters about wrestling cylons and Castiel tries to advise him on his technique, not that Dean makes any effort to listen. It’s only after Castiel’s changed and waiting on the locker room bench that he realizes Dean hadn’t made any overture inviting Castiel to join him in the showers. Castiel thinks of this when Dean steps out of his cubicle with a towel around his hips, and everything that had been cool and agreeable between them is suddenly not.
They may have already engaged in sexual relations but this is the first time Castiel’s seen Dean damn close to naked. Skin, Castiel thinks feverishly, shocked at the strength of his own reaction, the way his fingers curl with the urge to grab. Skin and nipples and collarbones and hips – a mighty canvas begging for touch.
Dean catches him watching and honest to goodness preens, striking a ridiculous pose to show off his assets. “Nice to know I still got it.” He winces. “Ow.”
“Did you pull something?” Castiel quickly gets to his feet, circling round to Dean’s back. “I can take a look, if you like?”
“You do massages, too?” Dean sighs when Castiel prods at the space between his shoulder blades. “Of course you do.”
“I’m not an expert, if that’s what you’re asking.” Spend enough time with the same people in close quarters, and a massage becomes casual, cursory. Castiel curls his fingers, pressing his knuckles firmly against a knot. “You have a kink here.”
“What?” Dean tries to look over his shoulder at Castiel, but Castiel firmly pushes his head to face forward. “I’m still trying to figure out if this is foreplay or not.”
Castiel digs his heel deeper into Dean’s back, humming when Dean groans. “I actually did ask you here just to spar, and I can’t say I’m a fan of sex in public spaces. Did you enjoy yourself?”
“Yeah, actually.” Dean rolls his shoulders, allowing Castiel to enjoy the flex of muscle under his hands. “That was fun. And you gotta show me that trick of yours, the one you did with your foot? That was cool.”
They’re quiet while Castiel makes his way down Dean’s back. Someone enters an empty shower cubicle behind them, and Castiel only notices enough to note the sounds of the water flowing.
More important is the fact that Castiel can smell Dean through the general cloud of chlorine and sweat and damp clothes. Dean is rich and musky, and the longer Castiel stands therethe more he decides that he wants to soak Dean up through his pores.
“It takes me by surprise, sometimes,” Castiel admits, “how attractive you are. I know that doesn’t make sense – it’s not as if your appearance changes from one moment to the next. It’s just… we can be talking or doing something together and I’ll be so immersed in the moment that we’re just two friends in each other’s company. But then I look at you and I remember.”
Dean exhales slowly. “You do know how to sweet talk a guy.”
“Oh. Good. Thank you.” Castiel stills when Dean catches his wrist, tugging gently so they are face to face.
“But you were kind of an asshole back there,” Dean says.
“Yes.” Castiel starts when Dean looks at him expectantly. “I am an asshole, Dean.” He shrugs and – just because it seems like the thing to do – pats Dean on the chest, two neat taps at his collarbone. Dean’s skin is very supple.
“You’re not an asshole,” Dean says, rolling his eyes. “Well, okay, yeah, you are, but you’re also nice. Like, you’re so persistently helpful that all the signals got mixed up in my head. Even this was thoughtful in your own… way. And you’re always looking out for everyone here.”
“I don’t do all of that because I’m nice,” Castiel says with a laugh. “I do it because I’m making up for past wrongs.”
“You’re not who you work for,” Dean declares with quiet conviction. “Took me a while to get that, too.” He blinks a few times, and then slowly looks down to where Castiel is still touching him. “Man, it’s hard to concentrate. All I’m wearing is a dish towel and you – you’re scrubbed clean and gorgeous and I just wanna mess you right back up. You sure this isn’t foreplay?”
Castiel is warmed by Dean’s flattery, as odd as it is. He says quietly, “You may take me back to your cabin. And since you lost so profoundly to me earlier, you may make a request of me. A sexual one, in case I wasn’t clear.”
“Shouldn’t it be the other way round—oh, hey, sounds good to me. Yep, I can do that.” Dean catches Castiel’s hand to squeeze it, the motion halfway between a threat and promise. “I want to ride you like a pony and then hang you out to dry. That cool with you, Cas?”
Castiel nods gravely. “That is cool.”
There’s something to be said about how Castiel is doing a magnificent job of seducing Dean. It’s not this easy – it’s never been this easy – but maybe that’s because Castiel’s rarely indulged himself like this before.
They manage to get Dean dressed up quickly, and then stroll back together to Dean’s cabin. Well, it’s a stroll that turns to a brisk walk, to a jog, to a competitive run that Castiel lets Dean win.
“Benny,” Castiel says urgently, once they’re inside and Dean has him pressed up against the door to suck against his throat. “Is he here?”
“You’re really gonna have to stop bringing him up when I’m about to get a hand on your dick.” Dean drags his teeth across Castiel’s jawline. It’s unexpectedly erotic, Dean’s breath hot on Castiel’s skin in delicious counterpoint to how they’re rubbing up against each other. “Where is he? Don’t know, don’t care, why the fuck are you so distracting, Cas?”
Castiel almost laughs, because he would’ve said the same thing about Dean. He even starts to actually say it out loud, but then Dean grabs the hem of Castiel’s shirt and Castiel freezes, catching Dean’s wrists to stop him.
“No,” Castiel says. Dean’s eyes are unfocused and petulant, so Castiel shakes his head firmly. “No, I don’t want to take it off.”
Dean huffs. “I don’t care what you look like—”
“No.” Castiel leans in, ghosting his mouth over Dean’s, asking nicely. “Please.”
There’s a moment of uncertainty, and then Dean nods. “Okay. Okay, so what do you want?”
Castiel sighs, burying his face in Dean’s neck to calm himself. He can put his own anxiety aside for now and focus instead on the good things, the wonderful things, the way Dean’s hands have gentled and are now stroking up and down Castiel’s sides as he awaits further instruction.
“Let’s go to your room,” Castiel murmurs. “I would like to touch you, open you, and then watch you ride me.”
Dean doesn’t ask anything else. He just takes Castiel’s hand and pulls him along, back into the dark privacy of his room where they indulge in touch and kisses and shared heat. Dean is glorious when naked – though to be fair he’s also glorious when fully clothed – and goes easily with Castiel’s limitations. It must be strange to him, Castiel thinks, to be with a partner who’s only naked from the waist downwards, but Dean’s kisses are no less demanding, his growls no less toe-curling.
When Castiel finally slides his lubed-up fingers inside Dean, he’s surprised by the ease of the glide. He meets Dean’s eyes, which are alight with mischief. “Prepped myself before going to see you,” Dean says. “In case you were wondering.”
“So sure of yourself, are you?” Castiel says.
“Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about this.” Dean’s splayed out on his bed so Castiel can sit between his legs, and he arches his back when Castiel presses in deeper. “I’ve been looking at your fingers. Wondering what they’d feel like inside me.”
Castiel’s stomach twists pleasantly at the thought of Dean’s watching of him. “I hadn’t.”
Dean raises his eyebrows. “You hadn’t?”
“I…” Castiel is momentarily distracted by Dean’s erection thickening up, and grabs it to suck at the tip for a while. “I’ve been thinking about what it might be like to kiss you. To touch your face. To sit with you, your leg pressed against mine. Nothing like this.”
A strange expression passes over Dean’s face – softer, a little uncertain. “Whatever floats your boat, man, I ain’t judgin’.”
“Are you ready?” Castiel asks, suddenly impatient. “Can you mount me now?”
Dean laughs, and then they’re trading places, Castiel stealing Dean’s pillow and lying on his back as they make the most of Dean’s bunk bed. Two men can lie side by side in here, but apparently it’s too much to ask for enough vertical space for one to ride the other – they learn this when Dean knocks his head against the frame of the upper bunk when he climbs onto Castiel’s lap.
“Aww, balls.” Dean rubs the top of his head, glaring at the metal frame near his face. “You’d think they’d take this into account when they built the place.”
“Perhaps they did,” Castiel says reasonably.
“Hey, sex is good for Company morale! Let me figure this out…”
Castiel can’t complain about the view. Who would complain about a shamelessly naked Dean crawling over his thighs and stomach to find the best angle to fuck, holding on to Castiel’s condom-wrapped erection stubbornly because he will figure it out, damn you. Dean eventually settles for leaning over Castiel, and then he’s pushing back, pushing down, so tight, and Castiel gasps through the sudden heat gripping his cock.
“That’s the ticket,” Dean sighs. He wriggles a little and it’s all Castiel can do to lie there and be still until Dean’s taken all of him. “Hey, hey Cas. Is this okay?”
Castiel forces his eyes to focus. Dean’s fingertips are brushing the hem of his shirt, his palms rubbing against Castiel’s stomach. Dean’s eyes are dark with arousal, his body clenching restlessly around Castiel’s cock, but he’s still cautious, so cautious.
“Yes, you can…” Castiel pulls his shirt up, ignoring his self-consciousness at how silly he must look, and rucks the cloth up to his armpits. He reminds himself that his scars and installations are on his back; Dean can’t see anything when they’re face to face like this. It’s fine. This is fine.
It’s especially fine when Dean’s smile gets sharper. “Oh, yeah.” His hands are immediately on Castiel’s chest– greedy fingers sweeping up Castiel’s torso and shaping themselves to his pecs, rubbing his nipples. Dean groans and Castiel groans with him, helpless to do more than watch Dean dip his head down to swipe a tongue across Castiel’s nipple, and then follow the trajectory to rub his cheek against Castiel’s chin. “That’s great, hold on.”
The warning is for when Dean raises his arms up, wrapping his hands around the frame of the upper bunk, and starts bouncing. For a handful of seconds Castiel doesn’t react, shocked by the sinuous glide of Dean pulling off and pushing back onto his dick, but then his body catches up, realizing what he’s been offered and he’s thrusting up into Dean, thighs slapping Dean’s ass, driving himself as deep as he can go.
Dean’s indulgent, enthusiastic, confident in his ability to get them both there. He performs such magic with his body that it’s as though Castiel’s actually made for this, as though Castiel’s never been awkward or clumsy or unsure. Castiel is as good at this as Dean is, he must be, because Dean’s making desperate noises that means he’s getting there.
“Keep going,” Dean tells him. There’s a slap where their bodies meet, Dean moving down as Castiel shoves up, and Dean practically snarls. “Yes, fuck, just like that, oh god.”
Then Dean lets go of the bars, one hand landing hard on Castiel’s bare chest to brace himself, the other pulling at his own cock. Castiel quickly grabs Dean’s hand before he can move it, Dean’s weight an anchor flattening Castiel to the mattress even as he keeps thrusting into Dean elsewhere.
“Fuck,” Dean gasps.
Castiel goes cross-eyed for a moment, Dean tightening down when he comes. He registers the hot splash on his chest, followed by a deep, satisfied hum of pleasure. Then there are hands, Dean’s hands, coming down to Castiel’s stomach and chest, gleefully spreading his come across Castiel’s skin and nipples.
“I just had a shower,” Castiel protests.
Dean shrugs. “Not like there’s a lockdown on water use. Wanna do this bare next time? We’re both clean – everyone on base has to be clean, right?”
“Uh.” Castiel shrugs helplessly, filthy images of Dean open and wet flickering through his mind. “If you like. Would you like me to roll over now?”
“Eh, too much work.” Dean hoists himself up, holding on to the bars above his head again for leverage as he starts rocking. “You stay down there and lemme know what’s working for you.”
“Everything works.” Castiel smiles when Dean snorts. He could’ve come just from watching Dean come, but this is good as well. Castiel runs his hands up Dean’s arms, over his collarbone and up the sides of his face, and gasps when Dean turns his head and draws the closest finger into his mouth.
Multitasking is Dean’s forte. He sucks Castiel’s fingertips gently but does not lose his expert rhythm of moving on Castiel’s dick.
“This okay for you?” Dean rubs his face against Castiel’s hand, catlike and curious. “Not weird?”
“Yes,” Castiel says, struck by the sudden realization that he should’ve been the one to ask Dean first. “I can’t imagine it feeling better if they were my original hands. Thank you.”
Dean’s smile is pleased, maybe even relieved. He can concentrate now, so he watches at Castiel through half-lidded eyes, his face dimly lit by the side light. Dean’s good cheer has melted away into something different, more focused. Castiel’s been called intense before, but surely the people who’d said that only did so because they’d never met Dean, who looks upon Castiel with a hunger that is fascinating and flattering.
Castiel’s only secrets in life are the ones he’s had to keep for the Company. There are no vices he can think of that belong to himself, no soft hidden underbelly that can be scarred when the wrong person sees it. Yet when Dean looks at him Castiel finds himself thinking of interrogators and inquisitors, and of gloves and dark eyes in darker rooms.
But where fiends might pull Castiel apart to find something to their advantage, Dean might do the same to find something that mirrors himself. Dean could have anyone – he definitely has the skills to get anyone – yet he’s invited Castiel here instead.
There must be something in Castiel that Dean finds comforting. It is the strangest conclusion, yet the only one Castiel can think of.
“That good?” Dean asks.
“Yes, keep going.” Castiel nods frantically when Dean shoves down, sharp slaps of his ass that drives the breath from Castiel’s lungs. “Yes, yes, like that, oh, I’m close.”
It’s not long at all before Castiel comes with a shudder, whole body jerking during his release. He just remembers to pull his hands away from Dean’s body before the first rush of pleasure hits, clenching them to fists at his sides while he rides it out.
Dean keeps moving, coaxing Castiel through it until there’s nowhere left to go.
Once Castiel’s recovered, he props himself up on an elbow, whining his displeasure until Dean pulls off his cock and helps him sit up. He needs to kiss Dean, or hold Dean, anything to feel more of Dean. Thank goodness he understands, Dean’s hands coming under Castiel’s armpits to haul him up until they’re back in each other’s space. Castiel’s kisses are sloppy and uncoordinated, but Dean doesn’t seem to mind.
Eventually they end up lying together on the bed, kisses getting lazier and softer until Castiel’s had his fill and falls back. The silence is comfortable and pleasing, but Castiel still feels like he should express his appreciation somehow, wrap up the night with a confirmation that it has been a good night for them both.
This close, facing each other, Castiel can see Dean’s scar again. He’s still in his post-coital haze when he carelessly brushes his thumb against it.
“My dad paid for it,” Dean says quietly. Castiel blinks at him, not understanding until Dean continues, “Happened during the… when the fighting was going on. While you guys were battling it out upstairs, there were some pockets of anarchy down here, I’m sure you heard. I got in a bad way, would’ve died, probably. But Dad wasn’t gonna take that lying down. He hated the corporations, hated them like you can’t imagine, but he went to them for help.”
“Oh,” Castiel says.
Dean chuckles. “Seems to me if anyone would’ve seen it, it’d be you.”
Castiel starts in surprise. “You wanted me to notice.” He rests a hand on Dean’s sternum, just enough to feel the vibrations of Dean’s heart. Dean’s not smiling, precisely, but his gaze is heavy and expectant. There are invitations inside invitations, and for all that Dean is more comfortable interacting with people, he apparently has difficulty speaking up for himself sometimes.
It makes sense that Dean has trouble asking for what he wants. It’s something Castiel understands as well, about the differentiation between the individual and the unit, about being selfish and selfless.
“You didn’t want to be attracted to me,” Castiel says.
“Yeah,” Dean says. “Wanted to hate you, but you wouldn’t let me.”
“Your prejudices are rooted in actual experiences,” Castiel says. “My history is what it is, and I know what the system is like from the inside. If you would like to talk to me about this anyway, I’d be honored to listen.”
“You would, wouldn’t you?” Dean shifts, shaking his head at Castiel. “You mean it when you say crap like that.”
“I try my best.” Castiel presses a quick kiss on Dean’s mouth because he can, and sits up. “Are you ashamed of the work that’s been done on you? I don’t think you should be. You’re alive because of it, and there’s nothing wrong to be glad of that.”
“It’s not that, it’s…” Dean sighs. “I don’t think I’d be so pissed if I’d paid for it myself. But I’ve seen what contracts do to people. Hell, my mom used to work at a corp before they screwed her over. She was a fighter pilot, did I tell you that? But when a mission goes wrong they put everything into covering their ass no matter who is in the way. Leaving Sammy and Dad and…”
“I’m sorry, Dean.”
Dean’s smile is thin. “Just the way it works, right, Cas?”
Castiel is quiet in mourning Dean’s lost family. The system is flawed in so many ways, but it’s always a shock to be up close and personal with the collateral damage. “So it’s not that you dislike what’s been done to your body. You dislike that your father felt pressured to make a contract after everything your family had been through. The scar… it’s a reminder of that.”
“But that’s what the Company does, right? They give options.”
“And you feel guilty for it.” Castiel turns away for a moment. “Perhaps you could try recognizing that your father is a grown man – was a grown man – when he made that choice. He was willing to put aside his feelings because you were at stake – you, who are far more important than his feelings. You’d do the same in a heartbeat for your brother, wouldn’t you?”
Dean stares at him. “Fuck you and your logic. Stop being so, so… Why are you so fucking nice to me? I keep expecting you to – to deck me or something.”
Castiel smiles weakly.
“Which I did!” Dean exclaims. “I took a swing at you and you’re not even the one who…”
“You still can,” Castiel says. “We can do that, like tonight, we can—”
“Geez, Cas, no.” Dean grabs Castiel’s hand, squeezing firmly. “Not like that.”
“I like you because you’re kind,” Castiel says. Dean’s mouth falls open, floored, as though Castiel hasn’t just said something obvious. “You’re kind and thoughtful and – and interesting, even when I don’t understand what you’re saying. You make everything seem… easier.”
Dean stares at him, and then mutters a venom-free, “Fuck you,” before rolling over to press his face into the pillow.
Castiel watches him, helpless and sad and hopeful, and then carefully drops a kiss to Dean’s shoulder. Dean doesn’t shake him off because Dean brought him here and shared this with him, despite fully knowing who he belongs to. That means something. “We can talk more of this later, if you like. May I use your bathroom now?”
“Don’t fucking distract me,” Dean says, voice muffled. “Trying to sulk here.”
“I’m not inviting you for sex, Dean. I’d just go clean up. I wouldn’t have sex in there even if you’d asked. Benny uses that bathroom.”
Dean slowly turns, focusing one beady eye on Castiel. “Just like how Benny uses the kitchen outside?”
“But Benny’s been naked in that bathroom,” Castiel protests. “That’s… there are lines, Dean.”
So Dean laughs and kisses him, and then shoves him to the privacy of the bathroom to clean up and change. Dean even offers his clothes when Castiel comes out – Castiel’s shirt, at least, is beyond salvaging for the night – and Castiel’s learned enough about the language of Dean that it would be to everyone’s delight if he stays. So he does.
“Have you told Naomi yet?” Hester asks.
It’s not a welcome question, even if it’s one that Castiel knew his friend would ask. This particular section of the Command center is quiet, most of the staff out for lunch save the few, like Hester, who are eating at their work desks. Castiel dislikes eating here, but it’s one of the ways he can make sure Hester is getting a full meal on busy days.
Hester is wearing one of her best suits today, the buttons done all the way up her collar, and she is so pristine that Castiel feels the terrible urge to reach over and flip her plate up onto her shirt. He doesn’t actually do that, of course, because he is a mostly civilized human being.
Instead Castiel resorts to a calmly-delivered, “You didn’t tell her about Charlie.”
“There was nothing to tell.”
“Then I have nothing to tell.”
“That’s such a…” Hester goes still for a moment, eyes glazed over and a finger raised up in a request that Castiel hold that thought. She blinks and turns to him. “Call from Elsworth at the gate. He’s asking when you’ll be done with lunch.”
“He can wait,” Castiel replies. “Don’t rush me.”
“But this is what I mean – information travels faster than you think it does. People will know, and Naomi will know.”
“It’s not against regulations.”
“It’s not about regulations, it’s about how you have had an obsessive need to update her about every single thing you did and do, and now you have a blind spot.” Hester taps a pen against Castiel’s hand to get his attention, and Castiel has a brief, disorienting flashback to Uriel doing the same a long time ago. “How many times have you slept with him?”
Castiel considers this. “Does it only count if both of us achieve orgasm?”
Hester makes a scandalized sound. “Castiel.”
“It might be an important distinction.”
“He’s a terrible influence on you,” Hester says. Before Castiel can demand clarification, she adds, “You’re forgetting. It’s nice that you have something to be selfish about, but you made your own rules. I’m just… reminding you.” Hester doesn’t seem worried, or angry, or any of the emotions that Castiel had thought a good friend should exhibit at a time like this.
“He’s…” Castiel trails off. “He’s a good man.”
“Perhaps,” Hester says neutrally. “Are you going to sleep with him again?”
“We haven’t made arrangements, but I hope so.”
“Well, do what you wish, Castiel,” she says. “It’s your life. But don’t threaten to share details about your orgasms with me ever again, is that understood?”
Castiel nods solemnly. “Yes.”
Chapter 7: It is Necessary to Confirm the Nature of the Event (Are We Dating?)
The excuse that Castiel tells himself is that it stands to reason that Naomi already knows. Hester was right: word travels quickly in a semi-closed community, so even as Castiel sees Dean again and eats with Dean again and adds two more orgasms to their growing tally (apparently Dean is just as skilled when he has Castiel’s legs over his shoulders), he puts it off.
He puts it off until there’s a quiet morning where he can’t put it off anymore, following a night of working and no sex with Dean whatsoever. He opens the vidlink to request an appointment with Naomi. It’s not a code red so Naomi needn’t respond immediately, but Castiel doesn’t have to wait long before a confirmation comes through and Naomi appears on his screen.
“Hello, Castiel,” Naomi says with a smile. Her office looks the same; pristine, clean, spotless. “It’s a pleasure to hear from you.”
“Thank you.” Castiel goes through the usual: his latest physical tests, the work at the stations, other incidents on base. “The reason I’m calling in person is because I’d like to inform you that I have begun a relationship with a member of the contract staff on base.”
Naomi’s expression doesn’t change. “Is it affecting your work?”
“Do you see it affecting your work in the future?”
“Then we have no problem with this.” Naomi’s smile is, as usual, unreadable and unhelpful. Castiel doesn’t know whether to be glad that there’s how many hundred miles between them. “Keep up the good work, Castiel. You are an asset to us, and please don’t hesitate to contact my office if ever you need.”
“Thank you, Naomi.”
Castiel means to tell Dean about it the next time he sees him. It so happens that that next time is the following morning, after Castiel comes back from another night tending to the Satellite Stations and, honestly, it’s like Dean has the memory of a dongle.
The fact is, Castiel has a routine that shifts with the work he’s required to do, and he manages the limits of his body based on said shifts. He can stay awake for 58 hours straight and still be fully functional if that’s what’s needed (he’s measured) but functional isn’t the same thing as willing.
So when Castiel returns to his quarters and sees Dean sitting at the kitchenette with Kevin, their animated conversation coming to a stop as soon as the door opens, Castiel’s first reaction is one of dismay. “Dean, is something wrong?”
“Oh, nothing, I was just…” Dean stands up, making a move to offer to take Castiel’s bags, but Castiel has already put them aside. “Wasn’t sure if it’s okay to call you while you’re out there working, so I thought I’d just come by and, uh…”
Castiel exhales his relief. “I’m tired. If you’re here for Kevin, I’ll leave you to it, but if you’re here for me, please go away.”
Dean double-takes, a flash of hurt cross his features. “Oh. Okay.”
“Dean made breakfast for you,” Kevin says quietly.
“Thank you.” Castiel presses his palms to his eyes, deciding it isn’t worth it to explain that at times like these even thinking about under-processed food makes him nauseated. “Would it have hurt you to ask beforehand if you could come? I thought you were here because of Naomi.”
“I just said, I wasn’t sure if I could call,” Dean says, irritated. “Who’s Naomi?”
“Never mind that,” Castiel mumbles. “Rest assured that I will feel wretched about this in five, six hours, and apologize to you then. For now, I’m going to adjourn.”
“The Director?” Dean exclaims. “Director Naomi, that Naomi? What’s she got to do with anything?”
“She’s my boss, and I had to let her know that I’m seeing someone. I thought perhaps she’d contacted you for feedback or something, I don’t know, her protocols can be unconventional.”
Dean chokes. “You told the Director that you’re sleeping with me?”
“I didn’t mention your name,” Castiel says.
“Like that matters!” Dean paces across the narrow space of the cabin, and Kevin tries his best to make himself even smaller. “Everyone’s in everyone’s grill here, Cas, this is a goddamn beehive! Jesus, she – she’s on the freaking Board of the Company, why’s she got to know about my personal life?”
Castiel sighs. “If everyone knows, then why do you have a problem with my informing Naomi?”
“That’s – that’s not even – why would you even tell her?”
“Why do you think?” Castiel snaps. “I’m expensive! The Company’s got to keep track of its investments.”
Dean’s mouth snaps shut. He may be angry but Castiel turns away, lacking the energy or will to deal with him at the moment. At the back of Castiel’s mind he knows that he’s going to feel terrible about it later, but that’s later. He waves a dismissive hand at Dean, heading for the privacy of his room that he sorely craves, and is relieved when Dean doesn’t stop him.
As Castiel sheds his clothes and enters the shower, he reflects on how he’d thought that the conversation with Naomi would be difficult, and the one with Dean would be a relief. It figures that he’d gotten it the wrong way round.
When Castiel wakes up, he finds himself replaying a story Dean told him just the other night about how his mother used to sing to him, and how he used to tell her that one day he’d grow up and become a pilot just like her, so they could have the same pair of wings. And while Castiel remembers the story itself, he also remembers the details of the telling – how Dean had been subtly vibrating, excited to share that piece of himself as if he’d had few chances in his life for such things.
Castiel presses his face against the pillow. “Damn it.”
He drags himself out of bed, marveling at the novel feeling of dread that comes with preparing to scope out the damage. When Castiel’s with Dean he wants to be with Dean, a 100% ready and open to take what Dean wants to share, but Castiel’s not like that all the time. Surely no one can be like that all the time.
Kevin’s still outside at his station, a half-full bowl of oatmeal next to his keyboard, upon which his fingers are doing their usual dance. He glances up when Castiel approaches. “Hey.”
Castiel spots a container on the counter, of the same make and color as the ones around Dean’s cabin. Kevin nods when he sees Castiel looking; it’s still full. Castiel sighs and peels it open. Dean’s cooking will be excellent, as always. “Was Dean angry when he left?”
“Just annoyed, I think.” Kevin rubs the back of his neck sheepishly. “Cranky can be contagious.”
“It didn’t occur to me to ask him first if he’d be okay,” Castiel says. “About me telling Naomi. I don’t know why.”
Kevin shrugs. “It happens. Hey, Dean left some coffee for you, it’s in the fridge.”
“Thank you.” Of course Dean would leave the fruits of his labor here instead of taking it back with him. The least Castiel can do is honor that by actually eating what Dean’s prepared, so he gets on it. “You’re dating Channing, aren’t you?”
Kevin winces. “Not anymore, actually.”
“Better this way.” Kevin shrugs, and Castiel is reminded once again that Kevin’s the more forward thinking one of the two of them. “We’re still friends, but it’s – both of us want to make the cut, right. We know how important it is, so we’re doing our things together, but not together together.”
“It helps you to focus if you’re not romantically bound to each other,” Castiel says, nodding. “Yes, I understand.”
“But it works differently for everyone,” Kevin says quickly. “She’s still my best friend, I still care for her a lot. And if both of us make it up there, who knows what’ll happen?”
That’s not unreasonable. Kevin – and quite a few other of his batch – are young enough and driven enough to carve out new paths for themselves. That’s the whole point of this new phase of the world, really. Castiel may be old-fashioned – obsolete, even – but he’d be content to see it come to fruition.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to make an appointment to make things up with my…” Castiel stops. Kevin’s face goes funny, like he’s trying not to smile. “…Dean. I mean Dean. Finish your oatmeal, Kevin.”
“Okay,” Kevin says kindly.
The problem here is that he and Dean don’t have parameters. They’re winging it – to use a term that Dean favors – and Castiel understands the casual thrill of that. Maybe he even craves it, after a lifetime of being guided by hard rules until said rules gave up on him.
People can’t survive on the binary, Anna used to say. We’re too much, too big.
Castiel is overthinking this.
“I’m overthinking this,” Castiel says out loud. “I’m just sleeping with him. It isn’t as if it’s a matter of differential equations.” His audience is Benny, who is sitting next to him at the Roadhouse bar and appears to be hoping that his drink will provide a conclusive explanation on how he landed in this situation. Castiel finds himself cheered up by this, and waves at Paul. “Benny’s drink is on me.”
“I don’t think so—” Benny protests.
“I do appreciate this.” Castiel pats Benny’s arm. “You’re a good friend. Of Dean’s, of course. How’s your leg?”
“The leg? Warranty’s still valid, it’s all good. Look, Cas, just ‘cause you’re… doing what you’re doing, that’s no call for you to be hanging out with me.”
“I’m not hanging out with you.” Castiel carefully dismantles a complimentary pretzel and slides a piece into his mouth. “I merely entered the Roadhouse because I have a lunch appointment with Dean today. I saw you sitting here and thought I’d say hello.”
Benny levels him with a look. “Hello.”
“Hello,” Castiel replies.
“You can’t possibly be drunk,” Benny grumbles. “Can you? Isn’t your liver made out of platinum or something?”
“That’s classified. And I’m not drunk, I’m anxious, there’s a difference. I don’t think it’s possible to get drunk on one of these.” Castiel nudges at the drink Paul made for him. “How’s your leg?”
“You already asked me that.”
“I didn’t get a sufficient answer.”
“Dean!” Benny practically jumps to his feet at the sight of Dean making his way towards them.
“Hey, Cas, Benny,” Dean says. “Making friends, huh?” Relief washes over Castiel at Dean’s immediate smile and the way he slaps both of them on the shoulders.
“That would be too optimistic,” Benny says, shoving Dean towards his stool. “Please take this seat, it’s been pre-warmed.”
Dean seems to be in good spirits, taking Benny’s commentary with a smirk and an eye-roll before letting him take his leave. Dean’s earlier message had been agreeable, too, accepting Castiel’s invitation to join him during his lunch break, along with Castiel’s apology that he hasn’t got kitchen skills to show off the way Dean does.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you this morning,” Castiel says.
“That’s fine,” Dean says. “Everyone’s bitchy when they’re tired, forget about it. And I get why you told Naomi. I’m not Company, I forgot that’s how you do things. It’s cool.”
“Oh.” Castiel falls back, oddly bereft while Dean orders his lunch. It’s nice that Dean is easygoing, but easygoing is anti-climactic and leaves Castiel more bemused than relieved. “I was composing an argument in my head.”
Dean makes a distracted sound. “That’s fine.”
“I don’t know whether I like that you’d characterize this morning as just my being bitchy.”
Dean blinks, waits until Paul hands him his drink, and then turns to Castiel with his full attention. “Wait, are you actually picking a fight with me?”
“Because I don’t think I was being bitchy,” Castiel says carefully. “You took me by surprise.”
“Well, sorry if I thought I’d cheer you up,” Dean mutters sarcastically. A second later he’s already sighing, rubbing his temple. “That was uncalled for.”
“No, actually, that was honest.” Castiel touches Dean’s arm – an assurance for both of them that this is also a safe space, and hopefully Dean will understand that. “I was thinking about it, and talking to Benny—”
“You weren’t talking to Benny, you were talking at Benny, I saw the faces he was making.”
“It helped cleared my head,” Castiel says dismissively. “As I was saying. I was thinking about it, and you are someone who likes to make people happy, yes? Not just sexually—” Dean chokes on air, and Castiel ignores him, “—but generally, as a friend and a brother and a companion. Your purpose in surprising me was to try and make me happy, and it hurt you that I was not.”
“It didn’t hurt me,” Dean says, with a hilarious put-upon face that would surely get him a smackdown from Ellen if she were listening in. “You were cranky, and I reacted like any normal person would.”
“So you’re not internalizing an assumption that your presence made me unhappy? Because that would be sad, and incorrect.”
Dean laughs weakly. “Now I know why Benny was looking so harassed. How much coffee did you have this morning?”
“I’m on a roll, Dean,” Castiel says. “This is exciting. Everything about you is exciting. I would like this to be a date.”
Dean starts in surprise, which is followed by a moment of curious indecision on how to react next. He nods when Paul hands over a plate with a burger and other artery-clogging food items, and then cocks his head at Castiel. “Sure, it can be a date.”
“You didn’t consider this a date?”
“I already thought the wrestling thing was a date. A weird one, but hey?”
“Excellent, we are on the same page, then.” Castiel samples some of Dean’s fries, noting that they’re delicious and that he could order some later. “See, isn’t that easy? Parameters, in as simple terms as we can manage, so there can be no room for misunderstanding. Would you mind if I continue?”
On one hand, Dean’s making an oh shit face. On the other hand, he’s listening, and isn’t running for the nearest exit. Best to press on.
“I would like you to let me know beforehand if you wish to see me,” Castiel says. “It has nothing to do with you, and how pleasing you are at any given moment. It has to do with me, and my ability to receive you.”
“To receive me?” Dean echoes. “What, like you gotta prep yourself before seeing me? Like you would, uh, Naomi?”
Aha, Castiel thinks triumphantly, Dean does still feel the sting. “Yes. I want to be at my most agreeable when I see you.”
“The idea,” Dean says wryly, “is that my showing up makes you agreeable.”
Castiel feels his face warming. It must be visible, because Dean’s gaze skitters away from Castiel and he glares at his burger before despoiling it. Castiel says, “It doesn’t work that way with me. Not always, anyway.” This is something else interesting about Dean, some new tidbit for Castiel to pick at and file away. An extension of his desire to please, maybe, and perhaps an emotional measure of worth?
Castiel really is the worst person to handle all these things.
To hell with that. He’s going to try.
“Fine, that’s fair,” Dean says eventually. “I’ll give you due notice before I’m gonna pull anything on you. No surprises.”
“I’ll return the favor.”
“Actually,” Dean says, warming up to the topic, “I don’t mind if you don’t. You can drop by my place any time you want. Hell knows our fridge’s better than yours. You should give me a head’s up if you’re coming to see me at work, though – I could be in an emergency or something. But yes, my off hours are open.”
“Noted, thank you.” Castiel also notices how Dean smiles a little at the acknowledgement – more reflex than conscious – and Castiel rewards himself with another forkful of fries. “What about behavior in public? What’s considered acceptable for your comfort?”
“I don’t know if it’s acceptable that you’re stealing all my food, Galactus.”
“I’m assisting you,” Castiel says. “The portion is too big.”
“That’s not what you said the other night.” Dean cracks up, encouraged by Castiel’s unimpressed side-eye. “No, no, I hear ya. Uh… what’s your take on it? You’re pretty private, though you don’t care what people say about you.”
“Is it true people already know about us?” Castiel asks. “I’d guessed as much, but I don’t know the extent of it.”
“Oh, god, yeah, you don’t even know. They were making bets about it. Whether we’d get together, and when. Not everyone, just a couple of assholes.” Dean doesn’t seem to mind, and he visibly relaxes when he sees that Castiel doesn’t either. “People are people, what’re ya gonna do? They’ve already moved on to the next big thing, anyway.”
“I’ve served with people who’d make bets on who’d next lose a limb.” General Gabriel’s humor was certainly a league of its own. “Tasteless, but a lot of the work we did was. Do you know who won the bet?”
“Pamela, I think? I’m not gonna ask, dude.”
“I suppose I’m comfortable with people knowing. I won’t lie if anyone asks, but I won’t offer information either.”
“Oh.” Dean starts. “That’s what you meant by ‘public’? I thought you were talking about, uh…. touching, and crap like that.”
“You can touch me in public if you want.” Dean makes a faint choking sound, and Castiel kindly pats him on the back. “Within reason. Nothing too forward or inappropriate according to the Company’s conduct manual. But I wouldn’t mind a kiss if the occasion called for it.”
“Gee, Cas, you make that sound so exciting.”
“Do you want to have a quick one right now?”
“A quick…” Dean closes his eyes as though he needs to count to ten, and when they reopen they’re full of mirth. “Quickie. The word you’re looking for is a quickie. How can you even… Why are you even bringing that up now?”
“You just finished your meal,” Castiel points out. “And you have to head back to work soon.”
“So you’d thought you’d ask if I want a quickie.”
“It is polite to ask first, Dean. Even if we are on a date.”
“You are such a…” Dean trails off, shaking his head. “Of course. Of course. You’re just gonna make a career of yourself drivin’ me crazy, aren’t you?” He’s up on his feet, though, nodding a thank you at Paul before leaning close to Castiel’s ear and saying, “My workshop, ten minutes. I’m gonna go round the back.”
Castiel returns, “I don’t care if anyone sees us leave together.”
“No, this is a race.” Dean grins. “Winner picks.”
Technically Dean wins, but he forgets to claim his prize when Castiel jams him up against the wall and nips at the tender skin under his ear. There’s little they can do in the narrow space of the biomech workshop’s bathroom anyway, not that there’s anything wrong with a little frottage between consenting adults.
“Oh, Jesus, oh yeah, you fucking bastard.” Dean grabs at Castiel’s back to pull him close, his kisses sloppy and open-mouthed. Castiel can feel Dean’s thickening erection against his thigh, and pushes against it. “Right there, right there.”
There are many good things about taking it slow and drawing it out through touch and taste, but this is amazing as well. Now the clock’s ticking away under their skin, urging them faster, harder, and they’re swept up with it. They’re both a long way away from being carefree cadets, but the excitement of illicit coupling is theirs to have anyway.
“I want you so much,” Castiel says. “So much, Dean, so much, I don’t know where this comes from, I don’t understand it.” His words aren’t as clever or sexy, but Dean shivers anyway, fingers fumbling as he opens his pants. Castiel has his own erection freed soon enough, pants shoved down only far enough that he doesn’t have to deal with them for the moment, and then he’s pulling Dean’s leg up around his waist so they can rub against each other.
They’re close. They shouldn’t be because they’ve practically only just started touching each other, but this is today’s game. They’re turned on because they want to be turned on, and Castiel can apparently go from zero to sixty at the thought of Dean now. Dean doesn’t seem to be any better.
“Fuck yeah, harder, harder.” Dean grabs at Castiel’s ass, fingers digging in as he jerks his hips and follows the sharp thrusts Castiel’s making against him, their crotches tight against each other.
Castiel can feel the wetness against his thigh – his and Dean’s mixed up together – and that’s so filthy, they’re rutting furiously like animals and Castiel should be too old for this. “Damn,” Castiel snarls, “I didn’t lock the door.”
Dean’s eyes fly open. “What—?” But then he comes with a shocked whimper, body jerking helplessly against Castiel’s.
Castiel doesn’t mean to laugh, but there’s too much joy in his chest to be contained. It spills out in bubbles of laughter he lets loose against Dean’s neck, and although Dean grumbles a complaint his arms tighten around Castiel. At least, his arms tighten until he reaches up to tug at Castiel’s ear, encouraging Castiel to turn his face. Then there’s another kiss – slow, wet, jaw-aching, and then Dean gets his revenge by using his devastatingly clever hands to jerk Castiel off.
Afterward, when they’re cleaning up, Dean says, “Don’t know why I thought you’d be too uptight for this. Sex in Company property? Shows what I know, right?”
“Our cabins are Company property as well. I see no difference between having sex there and here.” Castiel takes hold of Dean’s chin and keeps him still for another kiss. Dean’s smile is lopsided when Castiel pulls back. “Don’t worry about the shirt, I’m doing my laundry after this.”
“Why don’t you touch me?” Dean’s tone is light. “When you’re coming, or just about to come, you just… pull away. Scared you’ll hurt me?”
Castiel finds himself smiling ruefully, endorphins making the question less fraught than it would’ve been otherwise. “Yes.”
“Don’t you have safety protocols built-in?”
“My hands are designed to damage. Such protocols would’ve contradicted their function.” Castiel’s studied their protocols himself, plugged himself up to a console before tweaking and locking them down under a half dozen firewalls. He’s allowed to do that now. “I have written some safety subprotocols for my work, but none specific for sexual-related temporary loss of control. It shouldn’t be too difficult, though, now I have the data for it.”
Dean’s mouth twitches. “You’re thinking of writing sex coding?”
“Orgasm coding,” Castiel corrects. “It hadn’t occurred to me, but now you’ve brought it up, I suppose I’d better.” Since this seems to be something they’ll be doing regularly from now on.
“Well, fuck me sideways,” Dean drawls, in that way that Castiel knows to part his lips and accept the kiss that’s about to follow. “How’s about you stop finding the weirdest ways to turn me on, huh, Cas? Asshat.”
“Hey, I think Bobby’s got some templates in the database. They might be useful, if you need references. Don’t give me that look, you’re an Officer, you’re entitled to Company resources.”
The pendulum keeps swinging between them, and right now they’re on easy, comfortable, the lighter side of good. The itch Castiel’s been resisting finally compels him to say, “Am I allowed to see other people?”
Dean stops. He frowns a little, unsure if he heard correctly. “What?”
“Other people. Would you be all right if I want to see someone else?”
Dean’s responding, “Who?” is very even. “Who do you even… Who?”
“This is hypothetical. There’s no one.” Castiel holds Dean’s gaze and sees the moment he understands. Dean doesn’t need lines the way Castiel does, but the fact remains that Castiel does. Maybe that’s the Company side of him, maybe it’s just the way Castiel was made. The difference now is that Castiel gets to choose his own lines, if he wants. “I need to know.”
Dean’s gaze drops away. His breathing is steady as he tosses the used tissue paper away and buttons himself back up. He knows Castiel’s watching him. “Can I say I’m not down with that?”
“Yes, you can.” Castiel helps tug Dean’s shirt back into place. He’s disheveled, but he’ll be changing into his overalls soon anyway. “Thank you.”
“Are you, uh…” Dean fidgets. “How about you? How do you feel about, um, if…?”
“We can negotiate.” Castiel’s answer is honest, and knowing what he does so far about Dean, he’s unsurprised by the flash of disappointment that passes over Dean’s face. Of course they’d be having this conversation in a common restroom facility of a biomech station. “I’d be open to discussing what you want. And how I can be part of that.”
“Where I’m from, we gotta fight for what we want.” Dean rests a hand on the back of Castiel’s head. The weight is grounding. “You might wanna try that out some time.”
“Forget it, I know what you mean. See you tomorrow night, maybe? Next shipment should be coming in, let’s binge on bad TV, how about it?”
After he’s extracted a confirmation from Castiel, Dean leans in and says in a voice that brooks no argument, “Oh, and by the way, Cas? Things are expensive. You’re not a thing, you are… you’re a dumbass who needs to spoil yourself more.” He kisses Castiel once more, quick and almost embarrassed, and then he’s muttering a weak see ya and making his exit.
Castiel stands there for a little while longer, breathing quietly.
Chapter 8: Sam Winchester is a Bossy Man
There are still things to do: machines to fix and data to process and schedules to fulfill. The only difference is that in the weeks that follow, Castiel has something else in his routine. Hester’s right, this is something for himself, and he gets to be selfish about it. The only advantage to be gained from being with Dean like this is that he gets to be with Dean like this.
It’s even true that Castiel’s work isn’t adversely affected by Dean’s presence. He’d argue that it’s the other way round, because semi-regular sparring keeps Castiel’s reflexes up, and Dean’s dragging him out of the cabin every so often even has Hester nodding with approval. Dean also suggests and sets up a private communication channel for the nights Castiel’s doing work off-base, their conversations a welcome addition in the long hours out in the desert.
Castiel could get used to having Dean’s chatter accompanying him during those nights, no matter if they’re talking about something light, such as Castiel’s limited film-watching experience, or something not.
“So you’re not a fan of the Mars U colony?” Dean asks, voice echoing in the hollow of Castiel’s helmet.
“I didn’t say that.” The suit’s sensors tell Castiel it’s cold tonight, but he doesn’t notice as much. “I meant that it was no different from anywhere else I’d been stationed. People are people and work is work. Surely you understand that.”
“I don’t know, I’ve gone pretty much as far as anyone can go on this hunk of rock, and people look pretty different to me.”
“Then it’s probably down to my perception versus yours.”
“Translation – everyone is foreign to you, even the people you’re close to, so you can’t tell the difference.”
Castiel smiles. “I shall run that by Hester and ask her opinion.”
“Was she with you? On Mars U?”
“She wasn’t stationed there, but we did have a few missions together.” Castiel stops, glancing up at the dark night sky. The ship should be up there, in orbit, the frame and floors and engine near completion. “She was there at my last mission.”
“She is a very brave Officer, and a forgiving one. Perhaps it’s hard to imagine now, since she’s moved on to an Intelligence post.” Castiel has to sit down on the roof, glad of the darkness and the kindness of Dean having laid out the path that has enabled this conversation. “Did I tell you that she saved my life?”
“No, you didn’t.”
“She did. Injured badly, but she managed to get both of us out of there. Company gave her a brand new spine, and fixed up her face on top of that.”
“That’s…” There’s a rustle and the sound of Dean putting something down. “And you guys were the only ones that got out?”
“So sorry, man. That’s tough.”
“I know you understand,” Castiel says. “That’s why I can tell you this.”
“I never fought on the frontlines.”
“Battles are still battles.” Some nights Castiel gets woken up by Dean’s shaking with nightmares. People he’d failed to save still haunt him, though Dean insists that he’ll never stop doing what he does as long as there’s a chance of helping someone. “You fight your own.”
“That’s when you got discharged? You know I can’t imagine that, Cas? I can’t picture what you used to be.”
“Good,” Castiel says. “Better you know me as I am now.”
“Look. My dad, he, uh. He helped getting me on the track of doing what I do, with installations and all that. Figured that we’d take back what we could from the Company, play outside their rule book. It’s stupid, I know, just the two of us against—”
“It’s not stupid at all.”
Dean coughs. “What I’m trying to say is, my family got screwed over, but yours did, too. It doesn’t matter that you’re one of ‘em.”
Castiel smiles. “This is why you’re so worried about Sam, isn’t it?”
“Screw you,” Dean says good-naturedly. “Yes, it freaks me the fuck out that he’s getting a command chip drilled into his skull. Don’t see you complaining – it got me into bed with you, didn’t it?”
Now Dean can refer so flippantly to the angry outburst that led to their first night together. The phone call he’d received that evening had been from Sam, and Dean had tried to take out his frustrations on Castiel, only to be thoroughly derailed. It’s strange to think of Sam indirectly being responsible for where they are now, though Castiel thinks they might’ve gotten here some other way, eventually.
“It’s not as permanent as you think it is,” Castiel says. “I had mine removed when I was discharged.”
“Get the hell out. That’s impossible.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“But that’s… Jesus, you’d have to drill a new hole, you can’t touch the old one ‘cause the seal’s grown into the bone. How are you… holy shit.”
“The miracle of modern science,” Castiel intones gravely. “So you’re concerned that Sam’s accepting the chip means permanency of his position.”
“Fucking yeah that’s exactly what it means. I mean, I’m happy he’s going for what he wants, but it’s like he doesn’t even remember Dad, Mom, the rest of it. You… won’t tell him about this, right? When he comes here next week?”
“I promise, Dean.”
“It’s just, you know, he’s got enough on his mind with his training and all.”
Castiel holds his tongue. Dean doesn’t want Sam to worry about the fact that Dean worries; of course this is how Dean thinks. At this moment Castiel wishes Dean were physically beside him and close enough to touch, but he will settle for seeing Dean tomorrow, or later. “I will do that. But wouldn’t he already know? He is your brother.”
“Just don’t tell him, capisce?”
Dean speaks of his brother often, his stories varying from sweet to funny to fraught. From them Castiel starts to understand how Dean loves Sam with an attachment bordering on desperate, thanks to Dean’s watching the rest of his family get taken away from him one after another. Sam, Castiel would later learn, has figured out how to mourn and let go; Dean hasn’t, or he’s just never stopped mourning at all.
The entire day leading up to Sam’s arrival has Dean restless and snippy. Castiel receives messages of increasing ridiculousness as hours tick down, and by the time Dean gets off work, Castiel’s ready and waiting for him in his quarters with a cold bottle of beer and a blowjob offer. Dean takes the beer.
“Do you want to wait at the gate?” Castiel asks. “I checked the logs, they should be here within the hour.”
“What am I, a pining wife?” Dean snaps. “I’ll wait right here. Sit down, you’re making me nervous.”
Castiel sits down. The remote is nearby, so he turns on the TV and pulls up one of Dean’s shows. Dean barely notices, muttering to himself as he empties his bottle and then goes off to pee.
When Sam shows up some fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, Castiel’s the one who opens the door.
“Hello,” Sam says. “Uh, I was told this is Dean Winchester’s…”
“Yes, please come in,” Castiel says, backing up to let Sam in. Dean’s brother is dressed informally, but the uniform he usually wears has already adjusted his posture and the way he carries himself. Sam is a foreground person, filling up the empty space wherever he goes. “Dean will be a minute.”
“Did Benny move out?” Sam snorts softly when he notices what’s playing on the TV. “He was Dean’s roommate last I heard.”
“Oh, I’m just a friend. Castiel. My cabin is in a different section.”
Sam tries to be casual, but there’s no missing the way he turns to look at Castiel properly. “Oh, right. Nice to meet you.” He’s curious and assessing, but Castiel’s probably looking at him the same way.
Like so many in the Command track, Sam carries himself like a leader. He’s not completely switched on at the moment but there’s careful thought in the way he adjusts himself to this place he’s never been, body language relaxed, trying to make himself smaller. That makes him similar but not the same as Dean, and Castiel is struck by the sudden, ridiculous, arrogant craving to demand that Sam reveal everything he knows about his brother.
“Are you visiting the shipyard today?” Castiel asks.
“Tomorrow morning,” Sam replies. “It’s a tight schedule but there’s pockets of free time here and there, thank goodness. Can’t have us collapsing during the world tour, right?”
“They feed you very well, too. That much I remember.”
“Oh, you’re Company?” Sam says in surprise. Dean didn’t tell him everything, then.
“Yes, my whole life,” Castiel replies.
“So you’re working with Dean in some project?”
“Oh, no, my job scope is separate.”
“But you’re in the biomech division?”
“No. But I have parts that require biomech expertise?”
“Are you a pilot with Jo?”
“I mostly manage the data collection centers.” Castiel adds, “No, not a pilot.”
Sam is perplexed, but Castiel understands. After all, Hester gives Dean that same look, though less in recent days than she used to. “How did you and Dean…?” Sam trails off.
“I suppose this being an enclosed compound, there is a finite number of people, and Dean…” Castiel stops. That doesn’t sound right, no matter that he’s the one who just said it. The idea of it being random doesn’t sit well. Castiel rewords himself using the best of his knowledge: “I don’t know.”
Sam nods thoughtfully. “Okay.”
Before Castiel can add to his answer, there’s a dramatic yell of, “Sam!” as Dean barrels into the room. Sam is up and off the seat to meet Dean’s hug, both of them laughing as they shake each other with enthusiasm. “Where’s Jess?” Dean asks.
“Settling in at the guest quarters,” Sam says.
“You let your girl handle your luggage? Lame.”
Castiel gets up, putting his empty beer bottle aside and heading for the door. “All right, if you’ll excuse me.”
“Oh, hey,” Sam says, head whirling towards Castiel, “you’re not joining us for dinner?”
“I have things to do, sorry. Another day, perhaps?” Castiel smiles at Dean, who nods a subtle thank you at Castiel. “Nice to meet you, Sam.”
Visitors on base are rigorously controlled. Ion has many an amusing story of having to corral passers through The Oasis, be they VIPs checking the progress of the program, new cadets getting a glimpse of the life that might be theirs, or the rare – very rare – family member who’d pulled enough strings to get more than just a video call to a loved one. Dean might’ve liked Linda Tran, Castiel thinks, though Victor’s ears probably still ring from her reams of helpful advice.
Sam Winchester and Jessica Moore are part of an active command team, the best and brightest for the Company’s new short-range fleet. When the Company’s next ships take off four, five years down the road, one of them might even be captaining it. At least, that’s what Hester says.
“My impression is that Captain Sands is gunning for Moore,” Hester tells him. “Though I must admit that the younger Winchester is as remarkable in person as he appears on paper. Wouldn’t have thought that he shares genetic information with your bedfellow.”
“That alone will earn you points with Dean,” Castiel replies. Hester scowls, so he adds, “I’ll be sure to tell him.”
Castiel’s cabin is quieter than usual during the visiting team’s presence, since Kevin is with the rest of the cadets in shadowing the people they might eventually replace. The few times that Castiel does get to see his roommate, Kevin is profuse in his excitement.
“If I get enough experience points, I can intern directly under one of them,” Kevin tells Castiel, mouth running a mile a minute through the possibilities that have apparently exploded in his brain. “Can you maybe ask Dean what Sam thinks of – wait, would that be cheating? I don’t think that’s cheating, is that cheating?”
“No, I don’t think that’s cheating,” Castiel reassures. “That’s… exploring all avenues of information.”
So Kevin’s busy, and Hester’s busy, and Dean’s definitely busy as he takes up whatever spare moments in between he can with his brother. Castiel’s irregular work schedule and Sam’s rigid one means he doesn’t see much of them anyway. Castiel still tries to help out where he can, taking full advantage of Dean’s open invitation – and spare key – to his cabin whenever necessary.
There is a brief interlude one evening when Castiel lets himself into Dean’s place and is surprised when Dean himself comes out of his room, harried and talking to himself as he pulls his jacket, a glove dangling between his teeth.
“Oh, hey Cas,” Dean says, once the glove is out of his mouth, “sorry man, we’re just going out now, I volunteered to drive the team to – what are you doing?”
“You were running low.” Castiel is in the kitchenette: milk and fruit slices go into the fridge, waffles into the shelf, pan cleaner in to the cabinet under the sink. “I’ll lock up after you, don’t worry.”
“You got me groceries?”
“I asked Benny,” Castiel says. “He said it was all right.”
“No, no, it’s…” Dean trails off. When Castiel’s done putting away the last of the items he turns to a Dean who is staring at him, face open and still and bewildered all at once, as though he’s waiting for Castiel to finish whatever it is Dean had been about to say.
“I can charge you, if that’ll make you more comfortable,” Castiel offers.
Dean’s laugh is more a gasp, almost breathless. Then he’s closing the distance between them, arms boxing Castiel against the counter. “You were, what, browsing the commissary and decided to shop for me?”
“Yes,” Castiel replies.
Dean’s smile is strangely tentative. “You were just thinking of me?”
“I do that a fair amount, yes.” For goodness’ sake, they’re just groceries. But then Castiel listens, and is pleased and sad and flushed warm, because he has also been confused and delighted by Dean’s simple gestures many times over. Why this one, specifically, Castiel has no idea – perhaps it’s the timing, perhaps it’s because Castiel is taking some of Dean’s space for himself.
“Hey, you got something on your…” Dean covers Castiel’s mouth with his own, the kiss careful and surprisingly unsure. Castiel presses in and parts his lips in acceptance, then says a firm, no you haven’t, when Dean starts apologizing for ignoring him.
Footsteps behind Dean mark Benny’s entrance from the other room. Castiel pulls back just as Benny announces, “And this is why I suggested your brother switch quarters with me for the week.”
“I’ll make it up to you,” Dean promises. To Benny he yells, “What makes you think he’s the one who didn’t want to switch? I don’t want to share a wall with those two, thanks.”
The closest Castiel gets to any proper social setting with Dean’s sibling is the brief drink they share at the Roadhouse before Castiel has to go out for the night. Even then, Castiel ends up talking to Jess more than he does Sam.
“There’s just a lot to catch up on,” Jess tells him. They sit at the bar together, watching Sam and Dean hog the pool table, laughing. “And not much time to do it.”
“Of course,” Castiel replies. “I hope that your visit has been educational.”
“Tremendously,” Jess replies. “Ion has quite an operation going on here. When are you due to launch?”
They talk about Jess’ background in terraforming, about the prospects this particular voyage may have, about how Sam and Jess met while they were cadets themselves. Castiel listens and is appreciative of the thrall that falls upon Jess when she talks about her goals, and decides that he simply must follow the progress of their careers in the years to come.
“So you’ll be with the vendors, huh?” Jess says. “That’s the most exciting thing, I think, the Company’s opening up to anyone who wants a seat into space.”
“For money, though,” Castiel reminds her. “The Company’s altruism doesn’t extend that far.”
“It still blows my mind.”
Behind them there’s an explosion of shouts; it’s that time of the evening when accusations of cheating and threats to one’s honor start being made. At a glance, Castiel can see that it’s Jo and Sam’s group ganging up on Dean and Charlie’s, and he shakes his head, thinking: these people are professionals. “It’ll certainly be something different.”
Late into the night before Sam’s group is to leave, Castiel receives an unexpected message from Dean. - can I crash at yr place tonite?
Castiel answers in the affirmative. He is on base tonight, and wouldn’t have minded going to Dean’s if he’d asked for company. As it is, his only plans had been to catch up on the news and clear his journal-reading backlog, but he can do that at any time.
It occurs to Castiel that Dean’s never spent the night in his cabin before. Dean’s quarters are more spacious, and Castiel’s already left some of his toiletries there, that it’s simply been the more convenient venue. Far be it from Castiel to turn down this request, though, so he checks his supplies and the sturdiness of his bed, in case Dean would like to have sex.
Dean’s exhausted when he arrives. When the front door opens he practically falls into Castiel’s arms with a lazily drawled, “Hey, stranger.” Castiel sighs and pulls Dean into his room, following a by-now familiar procedure of helping Dean undress and push him into bed.
“Your room’s tiny,” Dean says. “Why do you have a bunk bed? S’barely enough space for one person.”
“I keep some of my things on the upper bunk. It’s quite useful.” Castiel runs his fingers through Dean’s hair as he rolls onto the pillow, and then tucks the blanket around him. “What did you do today?”
“Shipyard again.” Dean makes a dismayed sound, shuffling under the covers to get comfortable. “Feels like I haven’t seen you in ages.”
“Don’t be silly.” Castiel lies down on top of the covers, his tablet open on the pillow with the rest of his reading. “I just saw you yesterday.”
“For like, two seconds. What was that package you got, anyway?”
“Some equipment for my truck. Nothing salacious, unfortunately.”
“Hey, your truck’s pretty damn salacious.” Dean grins at him, and Castiel knows he’s thinking about the time Castiel fucked him up against the truck’s hull, Dean’s legs around Castiel’s waist. It’s not like Dean needed to request a demonstration of Castiel’s augmented strength in order for Castiel to have sex with him, but he’s getting used to Dean’s ideas of foreplay and flirtation.
“Go to sleep,” Castiel says. “You’re tired. It’s been a good week.”
Dean’s smile is goofy. “Sammy’s great, isn’t he? So fucking smart.”
“Yes, he is.”
“He’d go to the end of the universe just to poke it, if he could.”
“Yes, he would.”
“He thinks you’re weird. He’s too polite to say it out loud, but I can tell.”
“That’s all right. You think I’m weird, too.”
“No, no, it’s different, he doesn’t get… I mean, he knows what I usually…” Dean trails off, squinting at Castiel groggily. “Dude, is your hair blue?”
Castiel puts a hand over Dean’s eyes. “You’re tired. Go to sleep, Dean.”
Miraculously, Dean obeys. The room settles into peacefulness, Dean’s breaths evening out into an idle background soundtrack of Castiel scrolling through his feeds. Every so often Castiel glances at him, for the sight is the most pleasing thing in the entire room, and his only challenge is to resist rubbing his face against Dean’s neck.
Then Dean starts to dream.
When they’d started sleeping together, becoming Dean’s first responder was a task Castiel couldn’t have foreseen. He does it willingly, though, and tries not to think about the other times Dean’s had to wake up alone.
Castiel puts his tablet down and watches Dean twitch, hoping that this time he won’t grab at air or whimper. Castiel doesn’t dream anymore but he remembers what its claws feel like. He even craves it sometimes, because of the way he is, but he’d never wish it on anyone. Especially not Dean.
He hadn’t known what to do the first time it happened, but now Castiel knows to gently touch his shoulder. He won’t hold Dean, because Dean shouldn’t feel trapped. Castiel won’t touch his back, either, because that’s where weapons get pointed.
“Dean,” Castiel says softly. “Dean, it’s Castiel.” His muttering doesn’t stop, brow furrowing tightly as he struggles. “Dean?”
Dean twists sharply, snapping awake with a hoarse, “Sam!”
“Shh,” Castiel says. “Sam’s fine, Sam’s okay.”
“Whuh…” Dean shudders and heaves in huge lungfuls of air.
Now Castiel puts his arms around him, sliding up against Dean’s back in a reminder of where Dean is and that he’s not alone. “It was just a dream. Nothing more.”
“Oh Jesus Christ,” Dean wheezes. “Cas.”
“Do you need something?” Castiel asks. Dean clutches Castiel’s wrist, so Castiel dutifully stays where he is. “Breathe, Dean.”
“I can’t watch him, Cas,” Dean gasps. “I know that’s not my job anymore but when he’s on the ground I can pretend I can be there whenever he’s in trouble. It’s when he leaves it’s like… it’s like the sky swallowed him up and I can’t… I don’t know how to…”
A nightmare about Sam, brought on by the fact that he’s leaving for far off places and out of Dean’s immediate line of sight. Castiel presses his face to Dean’s neck, mouthing the skin there in what he hopes is a soothing way.
It takes what feels like ages for Dean’s breathing to return to normal. Castiel stays with him, counting his breaths and only relaxing when Dean’s twitching eases up.
It’s almost a shock when Dean says, sounding eerily calm, “You’ve done things, Cas.”
“Things you regret.” Dean’s face isn’t visible from this angle but Castiel can hear the bared teeth, the scowl. “That’s why you answer to Naomi directly, right? Military Cas is on a short leash because he’s dangerous.”
Dean is smart. “Yes.”
“How do you deal? How do you – how do you settle?” Dean turns in Castiel’s arms, and his face is dark, shadows taking up the space behind Dean’s eyes, and of course this side of Dean would recognize its mirror in Castiel. It’s only after Castiel’s processed this that he realizes that Dean isn’t asking because he wants to know how Castiel can live with himself; he’s asking because he wants to know how to do the same. “Things you’ve done follow you. Us. People like us.”
“You think the mistakes you’ve made will… what? Affect Sam?” Castiel asks. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“I’ve hurt people,” Dean confesses. “That doesn’t go away. That bleeds. Help me, Cas.”
“Dean,” Castiel says softly, “if what you need is normal… If what you’re looking for is someone who can bring you back to normal, then that’s not me. It can’t be me.”
“You don’t have nightmares.”
“You’re still grieving the things you’ve done. I don’t because I can’t remember.”
Dean’s scowl deepens. “You can’t remember?”
“Either my brain purged everything after my last mission, or the Company purged it for me when they took out the command chip. I don’t ask.” Castiel’s thoughts drift to Anna, Balthazar, Rachel and others. He remembers their years growing up together, being trained and deployed, but their later missions are reduced to echoes in his mind that he doesn’t know how to honor. “All I know is on paper, and even then most of it’s classified to me.”
“Fuckers,” Dean growls. “They emptied your melon? To protect the Company? The hell kind of world is this, Cas?” His hand finds the back of Castiel’s neck, pulling him in so that their foreheads press together. “Is that what it takes?”
“Sorry,” Castiel whispers. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said—”
“No,” Dean hisses, fingers digging into the back of Castiel’s neck. Their breaths are sharp and hollow, a storm raging in this place where Dean and Castiel are tangled together. “Don’t be sorry. It’s not you who should be sorry.”
Castiel wishes that he were stronger, so he could bear some of what Dean carries, and smarter, so he could know what to say to help.
“They’re taking Sam now, too,” Dean says. “Maybe I’m too fucked up for normal. Don’t deserve it, after everything. I thought I was saving people but I…”
“I’m built to be a weapon,” Castiel says. “I have to believe I’m worthy of forgiveness. I must, or there’s nothing for me. If I am deserving of good things—”
“You deserve all the best things.”
“—then so do you,” Castiel insists. “So do you, Dean.”
If he could, Castiel would download that thought straight into Dean’s head. He would etch Believe It onto every single one of Dean’s neurons, but the tools of the real world are clumsy and blunt.
“I’m scared for Sam,” Dean whispers. “I know that he got out. I know there’s nothing that ties him to the shit I pulled, but I still can’t stop thinking…”
“Of course you do. He’s your brother and you love him. Fear… attaches itself to the equation.”
“Shit.” The noises Dean makes next are wrought with frustration and anger and other things that rattle around Dean’s head at night whether he wants them to or not. His fingers tighten around Castiel like locks. “Don’t leave,” Dean says. “Cas, just… just don’t.”
“I’m right here.” Castiel will hold onto Dean until the storm passes. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Despite all of Castiel’s overthinking of the matter, he’d still developed blind spots. The very next morning, Sam finds Castiel. As in, Sam actively searches for him, cornering him at the parking lot while he’s running diagnostics on his truck, and Castiel gets a taste of the Captain that Sam will one day be.
“I wish we could’ve spent more time hanging out.” Sam sounds honestly regretful, and laughs when Castiel points out that the limits of his schedule necessitate maximizing his time with Dean. “Of course I would’ve loved more time with Dean, too. If I were king of the galaxy, I guess. But it feels like I’ve had, like, ten minutes with you.”
“You wish to know how Dean’s doing. I understand.”
“How is he doing?” Sam asks quietly.
Castiel isn’t qualified for this. His baseline is skewed; he’s too new to learning Dean. Yet Sam’s watching him so closely, so hopefully, that surely Castiel can find something that won’t betray Dean’s trust. “He misses you a great deal. He even admits it sometimes, usually when drunk.”
Sam laughs, a little sadly. “Yeah. Yeah, sounds like him.”
“He misses a lot of things, I think. The simplicity of when you were younger. Well, practically all of us look on our history from a skewed point of view, but I think Dean longs for that stronger than most. Especially after what happened to your parents.”
“What?” Sam starts. “Our parents?”
“Growing up as you have, moving around so much?”
“Dean told you this?”
Castiel snaps his mouth shut. Sam’s staring at him, but not in anger. He looks confused and shocked, and for a few heavy seconds Castiel is bone cold at the possibility that Dean lied about everything he’s said. “Dean mentioned your mother dying young. How your father had trouble dealing with that, with the Company.”
Sam slowly leans back. His eyes never leave Castiel’s face, the wheels in his head turning, recalibrating. “You know about that. You know about his… his issues.”
“He’s not exactly subtle about it.”
“Huh.” Sam shakes his head, his sudden smile gentle. “Okay then.”
“He’ll be fine,” Castiel continues. “I don’t know him as well as I’d like, but I think he’s starting to understand the roles he can play in the future. He seems happy – happier with his work. He certainly likes ordering people around.” Sam barks a laugh, and Castiel chuckles with him. “He’s a good man, and he has a lot of goodness to share with people.”
“That’s…” Sam clears his throat hoarsely. “That’s very nice of you to say, Cas. I try to keep in touch with him as much as I can. It’s not the same as seeing him, but… yeah.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“What are you going to do when you leave?”
“You’re going up, right?” Sam says. “What are your plans about that?”
And right there’s the blind spot. The simplest one of them all, maybe, above the prejudices and the nightmares and the various landmines in their conversations. Castiel hasn’t thought about it because he’s chosen to grind down each day as it comes, and horizons are things that happen to other people.
“That’s months away,” Castiel hears himself say. “Anything can happen between now and then.”
“You mean, you and Dean will just… peter out?”
“Anything can happen.” Castiel is sometimes illogical, and right now he illogically hates Sam Winchester. “That’s… there’s plenty of time.”
“Okay.” Sam’s expression is kind. “So what’re you doing with the truck? Is there anything I can help?”
Castiel is grateful for the change of subject, but the question has already been planted.
Castiel can’t be expected to be able to deal with this thing with Dean ending when he’s still trying to deal with the fact that it started at all. There’s multi-tasking, and then there’s ridiculous, so Castiel sequesters himself in his truck after Sam leaves, deciding that he can push the rest of the day’s tasks aside.
This is how Dean finds him hours later, eyes glued to a console screen as he reads the lines of code. Dean climbs into the truck blathering out a report on the farewell – there wasn’t anything so sentimental as a party for the departing visitors, and Jess asked that Dean pass her contact card to Castiel for further geekery or whatever.
“What’re you doing?” Dean observes the cables slithering out of the console, crossing and intercrossing before the root leads into the back of Castiel’s neck. “Is it tinkering day?”
“I would like to touch you when I come,” Castiel declares. “I think I’ve fixed what went wrong the last time.”
“Oh?” Dean drops into a seat, rolling it forward so he can peer over Castiel’s shoulder at the screen. “I thought the safe word protocol worked just fine.”
“But it only works if I hear it,” Castiel tells him. “The safety limits need to be initiated when there’s stimulus.”
“Hey, the cable is… Do you mind? I swear I won’t look.”
Castiel knows he can be a stubborn bastard sometimes. He tries to be that now, even if the thing he’s trying to beat is the uncontrolled response of his own body. “Fine. Fix it.”
He tries not to shudder at the slight pressure at the back of his neck. Castiel’s treacherous body tenses up, defensive against the attack that isn’t. Dean’s just trying to help, Castiel reminds himself. He’s a friend, he’s just tightening the ports, he knows far more vulnerable places in Castiel in which one can shove a screwdriver and twist.
“Jeez, you smell good,” Dean murmurs. Castiel freezes at the warm press of lips near the base of his neck, just to the right of where the cable is connected. Dean’s fingers are deft, and there’s a soft click when the plug is fixed. Dean is still kissing his neck. “We are gonna test this out today, right?”
“You don’t need to turn me on yet.”
“S’okay.” Dean’s tongue trails a soft line up the shell of Castiel’s ear. “Just enjoying myself, feel free to ignore me.”
Castiel huffs under his breath. He can feel himself relaxing, Dean’s touch a welcome distraction from the things that lurk in Castiel’s mind. “You’re impossible to ignore, Dean.”
While Castiel yearns for and enjoys contact with Dean – even things as simple as a casual message sent his way – it’s only when Dean’s right in front of him, the curve of his body an open invitation, that the other yearning comes out. It’s a hungry and almost feral want that rears its head and latches hooks under Castiel’s skin, drowning everything else out.
“Ooh, look at that.” Dean points at the small screen displaying Castiel’s diagnostic data. The little spikes of Castiel’s brain activity betray all. “I know your tells, Cas.”
“Do you want me to finish this or not?” Castiel nudges him away, laughing softly. “Let me compile it, and then you can fuck me.”
“What, right here? Move over, let me help you review.”
Castiel’s truck isn’t as big as the Impala but there’s still space for sleeping bags to be spread out on the floor between the equipment. They work together compiling and downloading the protocol, and then Dean cracks up at the discovery that Castiel has taken to bringing a sex kit around.
“I don’t see why you’d make fun of that,” Castiel says. “Don’t you like having lubrication readily available?”
“It’s just so practical.” Dean pats Castiel’s thigh with one hand while the other’s busy opening Castiel up. “So you.”
Castiel squints down at him. “Thank you?”
“No, Cas, thank you.”
They fuck. They’re both content to take it slow and easy – Dean’s got a couple of days of sexual frustration he wants to savor, while Castiel’s trying to see if he can sense anything different in how his body responds to Dean’s cock inside him. The monitoring program’s still watching his brain activity, but it’s always best to get some hands-on observation.
“Seriously?” Dean whines. He adjusts Castiel’s legs where they’re slung over his shoulders. “You’re not just gonna lie there, are you? What’s that computer got that I don’t?”
“Why not consider it a challenge?” Castiel doesn’t understand why Dean’s complaining when his dick’s bobbing heavy and leaking in response to Dean’s ministrations. “Make me come.”
“Give a guy something to work with. Heckle me a little!”
“Oh Dean, you’re so big,” Castiel deadpans. “I’m stretched so full.”
“I know you’ve watched better porn that that. Well, if you wanna be that way.” Dean frowns in concentration, tongue poking out of his mouth, while he gets a hand under Castiel’s knees and pushes.
Castiel exhales sharply. He’s maneuvered, almost folded right in half with Dean pressing him into the floor as though his goal is true fusion. Dean’s eyes are always mesmerizing, but they’re even more so when he’s like this – excited and focused and happy, and inviting Castiel to be excited and focused and happy with him.
“You like this,” Dean says, grinning. “Even if I don’t get your prostate, you like it.”
“A little prostate touching would be – oh – appreciated.”
Dean grabs at one of Castiel’s hands, bringing it up to his arm. “Some scientist you are, you forgot what you’re supposed to be testing.” Castiel tentatively curls his fingers around Dean’s shoulder. “Hold on, and keep holding on.”
He picks up the pace. Dean’s thrusts become long and firm, and Castiel raises his other hand so he’s clinging on to Dean with both. He does love touching Dean, and being able to feel Dean fucking him as much with his synthetic palms as he can with the rest of his body.
“It’s okay,” Dean tells him, their bodies rocking together. “Don’t be scared.”
Castiel hisses when Dean finds his prostate, pleasure rushing through him. His fingers scramble, unsure of their hold. “Safe word?”
“Yes, I remember the fucking safe word,” Dean snarls, up on his knees now as he ploughs on home. “You’re not gonna hurt me, Cas.”
Through the thickening haze of pleasure Castiel wonders: is that word choice deliberate? Hurt. Does Dean know the worst of Castiel’s fears, of what he was and is and doesn’t want to be? It would be no surprise if he does, because Dean is smart and wretched and by some miracle wants Castiel back.
Castiel tries to keep his hands on Dean, resisting the learned instincts that try to make him pull away. Dean, stubborn Dean, grabs one of Castiel’s restless hands so he can suck a couple of fingers into his mouth, preventing his escape. Castiel closes his eyes and arches his back, fingers digging into Dean’s shoulder and trusting him to handle this.
He comes with a gasp. The loss of control is brief, Castiel forcibly resurfacing through the bliss so he can croak, “Are you all right? Dean, Dean.”
“M’fine.” The muscles of Dean’s neck and shoulders are strained, though it takes Castiel a few confused blinks to register that it’s because Dean’s trying not to come. Dean’s in one piece, his skin whole; Castiel’s hands are on Dean’s body and clear of red. Dean grins at him and slides both hands under Castiel’s ass to raise it up off the floor. “See? You got worried for nothing.”
Not nothing, Castiel would protest, but this isn’t the time for it. Better to move all that aside and pretend it doesn’t exist, for now he is with Dean, who’s determined to prove that their bodies are made for wonderful things instead.
Castiel keeps his legs wrapped around Dean through his release, accepting the last few stuttering jerks of his hips until Dean stiffens and looses a long exhale.
This is still so new. This is too new, too wondrous. Castiel is on an upward trajectory and doesn’t want to look down.
“Eventually,” Dean murmurs, “we’re gonna work up to you clawing down my back when you come.”
“I clip my fingernails quite close, Dean,” Castiel replies. “That doesn’t sound plausible.”
“I bet a couple of months ago you thought letting me stick my tongue up your ass didn’t sound plausible.”
Does Dean think about where this is going? He’s made no sign of it, has never brought it up despite all the things they’ve spoken about. Still, that means nothing; Dean’s not even upfront with his own brother on the things that plague him so.
Dean knows more about this matter than Castiel does. He travels so much, makes so many friendships and relationships wherever he goes. Castiel’s only ever really known his own garrison, its members almost extinct now. Dean should know better about the limitations of time and space when it comes to personal attachments, and how these limits are to be managed.
“I defer to your expertise,” Castiel says.
Chapter 9: Thought Exercises and Actual Exercises
Apparently Castiel didn’t announce his presence sufficiently, because Kevin bleats and drops into his seat in shock. There’s half an oatmeal cookie in his mouth, and he takes the opportunity to push it between his teeth and chew while he recovers.
“Sorry.” Castiel sits down on the stool near Kevin’s workstation. The computer is still booting up, the coffee machine just getting started on its morning miracle. “Good morning, Kevin.”
“Hey,” Kevin says weakly. “Exam week, feeling edgy, sorry. What’s up?”
“I’d like to know how you and Channing managed,” Castiel says. “How were you able to switch it off, when you decided to?”
“Oh. Um.” Kevin clearly wasn’t expecting that. “It’s a matter of prioritization, I guess? We talked about it a lot and decided that it was the best thing to do for the moment. The course is more important, and we have to focus our energy on that.”
“But how do you make it go away?” Castiel presses. “How do you get it to stop?”
“You can’t.” Kevin frowns, intelligent young man connecting the dots. “At least, I know I can’t, but I accept that. Oh my god, is this about Dean? Are you asking for relationship advice? Because I, I’m not – oh my god, Cas, you can’t ask me for relationship advice!”
“You’re the best available person.”
“I can’t be responsible for this!” Kevin flails. “I’m just a kid—”
“You’re a legal adult.”
“—I’ve only ever dated two people my whole life so what makes you think I can take this kind of pressure! Dean will kill me!”
“Dean won’t kill you for answering a question.”
“He will if I give the wrong answer!” Kevin rubs his hand over his face. “Look, I can’t – don’t ask me about this, I can’t handle this, you’re a great guy, and I’m sure you and Dean will figure it out. I need… numbers. Numbers are good. If you’ll excuse me.”
Kevin wanders off to his room, mumbling to himself the whole way. Castiel watches him go, and then goes to the cupboard to check the nutritional content of Kevin’s energy drinks.
Castiel may be getting a little complacent, but he’s not so complacent that he doesn’t immediately wake up when the base’s alarm goes off at three in the morning.
The Oasis has different kinds of alarms varying in volume, pitch and general level of annoyance. It’s Castiel’s job to know the difference, so when he snaps awake to electronic screaming, his brain acknowledges: no danger, but immediate action still required.
“Dean!” Castiel barks. They’re on the upper bunk of Dean’s bed, Dean having suggested they try fucking up there a scant few hours ago and neither felt the urge to crawl back into the lower bunk once they’d finished. “Dean, get up, we’re moving!”
“Mrr?” Dean is barely audible through the siren. “What?”
Castiel jumps down to the floor and starts getting dressed. “It’s a simulation exercise, I have to go.”
It sounds like a mobility exercise, and Castiel confirms this when he clips his communication link to his ear and the acknowledgement code comes through. Captain Sands’ choices are deliberate, and tonight – this morning – she’s putting her would-be crew through their paces. This is bigger than the environment drills, where they have to shut down the base and get everyone to safety within a set time (Dean calls those turtle drills, unsurprisingly).
“Cas?” Dean’s definitely up now, hands pressed against his ears. “The fuck’s going on?”
“Check your orders,” Castiel says, tablet in hand and already getting out the door.
This is what The Oasis was designed for. Well, spiritually it was designed to house a mix of Company and non-Company staff as they train for a ground-breaking future space voyage together, certainly. But physically it’s designed for immediate pack and evac, a watered-down version of how the Company’s old military installations were designed to haul ass at a moment’s notice.
Castiel’s not even the first to get outside. The night’s security staff is already moving around, yelling orders and waving for non-Company staff to stay in their cabins and await further instructions.
Castiel knows his instructions. He reports in through the link that he’s on duty and ready. Hester’s ready, of course, her voice crisp in Castiel’s ears as she receives the check-ins.
“Castiel, you have Sector B4,” Hester says. “Secure the cabins, prepare to move.”
“Affirmative.” Castiel nods at Victor, who’s running in the opposite direction to the command center. The alarm tapers down to a low whine, and in the distance there’s the hum of engines warming up.
This isn’t like being woken up by gunfire and explosions. This isn’t Mars, and Castiel’s body knows it – no cold sweat, no white noise. He feels focused and efficient, and he mentally checks off the to-do list and gets on securing the cabins for moving. They’re being timed, of course – somewhere out there Captain Sands, Ion and Naomi are watching the crew’s response and monitoring their performance. Castiel is a machine, and today being a machine is a good thing.
“We’re not gonna make it,” Inias says through the link.
“No idle chatter!” Hester snaps. “Perimeter fence is prepped, hovercrafts 2 and 3 ready for launch.”
Castiel finishes clearing Sector B with two minutes to spare and then he’s off, pulling more orders and packing the base up one block at time. He also successfully loads his truck into the transport crate, saluting at Jody before she locks it up to the hovercraft.
There’s elegance in the way the buildings are unhooked from the ground one after another, then returned to their packing shapes and being lifted away. Castiel notes the pattern of evacuation, nodding when he sees that the hovercraft assigned to Level 2 staff is the first to go up. Ellen will be up there, enjoying the view as they lift the Roadhouse, commissary and laundry stations into the air.
The explosion that follows is unexpected. It’s not a big one and hardly even rattles the ground, so Castiel stands where he is and estimates the intensity of the blast. The direction of origin means that’s it probably the secondary generators. New tech does tend to get twitchy, and goodness knows there’s enough of it on site.
“Incomplete removal at Section C1,” Hester announces, the dulcet tones meaning that someone’s going to get their ass kicked if the explosion hadn’t done it for her first. “First responder needed.”
“I will be there,” Castiel says. “ETA forty seconds, stand by.”
It speaks to Alfie’s favor that when Castiel arrives at the location, he eschews excuses for a plain: “It exploded when we touched the control panel.” Others of his rank are moving around the setpiece, unsure how to proceed. Where are their instructors?
At this point Castiel’s professionalism, which had been flawless from the moment he woke up, takes a jolt. That’s Ellie from R&D crawling through the debris, a portable clamp over her right arm, and right behind her is Dean. “What are you two doing?” Castiel shouts. “Get out of there, you’re supposed to be in flight!”
Afterward, there is a debriefing. Captain Sands and Ion talk to various heads of department, and Castiel gets to see Naomi in person.
The move was successful. The Oasis has been unmade and remade, all of its buildings set up in the same configuration as before, save the secondary generator and water tower that have been shipped off to people who’ll decide if they’re to be repaired or salvaged. Captain Sands seemed pleased enough by the exercise when Castiel passed by her in the hallway, though her goals and Naomi’s aren’t always in alignment.
Naomi has taken over one of the command center’s small meeting rooms for the interview. Castiel stands before her at parade rest, hands behind his back, eyes focused on the wall just over Naomi’s right shoulder.
“In your own words,” Naomi says. “Proceed.”
“There were significant modifications made to the generator. I only caught a glimpse of it, but my assessment was that they had been done to circumvent the base’s power restrictions.” Maybe someone thought they were being clever and wanted to boost the internet connection. “The cadets tasked to move the generator were unaware of these modifications and unsure how to react once the malfunction became apparent.”
Apparent. Alfie is still in medical, unconscious from the second blast.
“Please continue,” Naomi prompts.
“My objective was not to do repairs, but to evacuate the personnel from the area. Two members of staff—” Dean and Ellie, “—disagreed with my decision and attempted to interfere.” By shouting at Castiel that the wiring was a fucking live grenade and lifting it into a hovercraft would be goddamn suicide for everyone, was he nuts?
“Interfere,” Naomi echoes. “What is your assessment of this behavior?”
“The personnel were not Company, and did not have the necessary authority to touch the equipment. There was no time to negotiate, so I compromised by allowing them to proceed with their makeshift solutions while I covered them.”
“No one is dead,” Naomi says, almost kindly. “All injuries will be duly compensated by us. What is your assessment of your behavior?”
Castiel pauses. His body is still thrumming, adrenaline refusing to dissipate after having had the experience of dragging Dean out from the generator frame before it collapsed on them both. Alfie is still in medical, Krissy is sitting with him, Ellie is probably being debriefed by Ion right this minute.
Naomi didn’t ask him about the others. She’s asking about himself.
“I didn’t disobey any orders,” Castiel says.
“I didn’t say you did.” Naomi’s expression doesn’t change, and there’s nothing Castiel can glean from her neutral smile and even gaze. “Your assessment, Castiel.”
“The base was moved successfully.”
“That it was. Is there anything else you’d like to add?” Naomi isn’t military; she isn’t like Zachariah, or Gabriel, or Raphael. Naomi gave Castiel his certificate of approval when he was discharged, and she was the one who allowed him to choose his own work. That would’ve been unthinkable, in the old days.
Castiel understands and chooses not to be angry. “No. I believed my behavior was in line with the needs of the Company.”
“You destroyed Company property in extracting members of staff from the site.” Naomi even has the photos pulled up on her tablet screens. Dean’s probably in some of them, his inconvenient hero moment captured for posterity.
“Company property is replaceable.”
“Thank you for your time, Castiel.” Naomi’s smile manages to become even more neutral. “ I do appreciate your reports, keep up the good work.”
Castiel snaps his feet together. “Thank you, Director.”
It’s hard to tell who’s more frustrated in the aftermath. Castiel certainly feels angry, but the emotion lacks a convenient target. Dean’s angry enough to pace the length of the Impala, talking non-stop and ignoring Castiel’s attempts to make sure his bandages aren’t under threat of being dislodged.
“At least Victor’s taking it seriously,” Dean growls, running his remaining useful hand through his hair. “Guy’s all right. Better than Ion, Jesus, he was talking to me like it was my fault, why the hell is he running The Oasis?”
“Naomi likes him.” Castiel swerves away when Dean turns, barely avoiding the head-on collision. “And you did act off-script. You were supposed to be on one of the exit crafts instead of getting in the way.”
“Hey, and it’s a good thing I wasn’t!” Dean exclaims.
“It’s a good thing Naomi hasn’t kicked you out.” Castiel grabs at the edge of the bandage, ignoring Dean’s hiss of pain, and adds another layer of protective spray. “She could’ve, for your interfering. The exercise was not meant for you, and because of you, I acted off-script as well.”
“Seriously?” Dean gapes at him. “We’re seriously arguing about this? We got those kids out of the line of fire and you gonna tell me that wasn’t the right thing to do?”
“It was an exercise,” Castiel snaps. “The whole thing was a simulation to test the staff. Think, Dean.”
Dean finally stops, giving Castiel the handful of necessary seconds to seal the bandage up to his satisfaction. Dean breathes, “Not sabotage. Planned.”
“Mother of fuck, it was on purpose? To test the kids?”
“To test all of us. I’m sure there were other things that went wrong all over the base. Victor, if he’s to get the post he desires, will figure it out and confront the Captain on it as well.”
Dean sways, falling back until his hip hits a crate. “That’s fucked up.”
“Your father once left you in a forest to test your survival abilities. How is that different?”
“Hey, don’t you—”
“Weren’t you twelve years old?”
“That was necessary!” Dean bellows. “It’s not the same, things are not the same! Things might happen up there but it’s gonna be exploration and rocks and final frontiers—”
“—and Alfie got it right in the face, Cas.”
“He’s getting a new one. Everything’s compensated.”
“That doesn’t make it all right!”
“No, it doesn’t,” Castiel says, which takes Dean so by surprise that he snaps his mouth shut. “But the wheels, they grind. I’ve been watching them grind for a long time.”
Dean glares at Castiel. “Yet you don’t do anything about it.”
“I do what I can. The small things are still—”
“No, you don’t. You stay in your little truck, minding your own business and justifying yourself because you think you’re, what, atoning? Because you followed some shitty orders in the past that means you’re gonna follow some less shitty orders now and that makes you better?”
He means for it to hurt. If it were anyone else, it might even strike the void where Castiel’s memories dislodged themselves. But the blade is dull, and Castiel can calmly offer, “Yes. Yes, I believe that makes me better. Let me run this by you, Dean, he who thinks he knows everything. The Company’s code of conduct prevents them from decommissioning an augmented Officer. Do you understand what means?”
Dean exhales sharply. “It’d be a waste of money. Because of all the things they’ve put on you.”
Castiel nods. “I am to live and work for as long as I can so that the Company gets their return of investment. I’m no longer interested in the military, so civilian work it is. Someone has to do the small things, and I will do them. I’m not a waste of space.”
The anger ebbs away. The air in the Impala is no longer stifling, Dean’s body language no longer on the edge of another punch. “It’s still fucked up,” he mutters.
“I’m not disagreeing, but I don’t think this is the time to talk about it in any way that’s useful.” Castiel steps into Dean’s space, shaking his head at the state of Dean’s stitches. Castiel shouldn’t have been surprised to see Dean there, shoving through the cadets and ordering them back so he could dive headfirst into the red zone. “Please be still.”
“Quit it, I’m fine.” Dean tries to push Castiel away, not that he’s any match for the hand pressing against his chest. “It’s just a burn, Cas, calm yourself.”
“Dean, I’m trying to initiate sex.”
“Oh.” Dean blinks rapidly, his protesting hand going lax at his side. “Oh, okay. Wait, why’re we talking ‘bout decommissioning?”
“I thought you’d figured it out?” Castiel tugs Dean’s shirt up, pulling the fold away from the wrapped arm. “Why I’m here at all?”
“It was a test for you, too,” Dean says in surprise. Castiel nods, slipping Dean’s shirt off and tossing it aside. “They – Naomi was grading you.”
“Yes.” With that, Castiel cups the back of Dean’s head and pulls him in for a kiss. It takes Dean a beat to react, and then the kiss deepens, cool air rushing past Castiel’s cheek when Dean inhales sharply.
Castiel may be speaking to Dean calmly, but that doesn’t mean he’s calm all the way through. Castiel’s desire for physical strength goes back a long way, but today it bears a different name, because if he hadn’t been there with Dean, or reacted differently, or did what he was supposed to and wasted more time, who knows what the outcome might’ve been. Dean’s burns are superficial but Alfie’s are not, and Castiel has no right to be relieved it’s not the other way round.
“Did you pass?” Dean asks between kisses.
“I don’t know.” Castiel hooks two fingers into Dean’s pants, pulling him to the foldable bed. The Impala is Dean’s home, and is accordingly filled with the thousand and one things necessary for his nomadic lifestyle. Castiel winds his way through the debris, dragging Dean with him.
“Wait, let me get this straight.” Dean doesn’t actually mean for Castiel to wait, and goes over easily when Castiel pushes him onto the bed and pulls his pants off. “Did I get you in trouble? Are you… will you be kicked off the project?”
“Even if I am, they’ll have to put me somewhere I can be useful.” Castiel leans forward, stealing a few more kisses while Dean murmurs appreciatively. Dean even tries to lean up and reciprocate with his usable hand, but Castiel pushes him flat against the canvas. “They can’t fire me, I’m a permanent fixture.”
At that, Dean’s mouth falls open in surprise. Whatever it is he’d been about to say is forgotten as he finally lies back and allows Castiel’s touches.
Castiel now understands the need for closeness after an event. He isn’t Dean’s caretaker but he wants to ask – demand – that Dean take care of himself, that Dean not treat his safety so carelessly. Since Castiel can’t say that out loud, he’ll indulge himself in a way Dean does understand, by kissing him senseless and biting marks into his skin and mounting his cock.
Dean whistles through his teeth, arching his back as Castiel sheaths Dean’s erection with his body. At first Dean misunderstands, thinking Castiel has Dean on his back because of his injury. That’s only part of it, of course. Dean tries again to move, but Castiel’s hands are solid and unyielding. Dean’s eyes widen when he gets it, the idiot.
“It’s okay,” Dean says. “I’m okay, Cas, it’s just a little ding.”
The snort-like sound Castiel makes is answer enough on how he feels about that. Castiel braces his hands on Dean’s stomach and starts moving in earnest. Bodies are simple, bodies are a comfort, Dean is in one piece.
“Yell at me, Cas.” Dean can’t thrust upwards with Castiel pressing him into the bed, but he puts in a decent effort. “C’mon, you know you want to.”
“Be quiet.” Castiel curls his fingers, dragging his fingernails across Dean’s skin. It’s difficult to look Dean in the eye as they fuck; Dean might figure out that his stubbornness is one of Castiel’s favorite, yet least favorite, things about him. “You knew what you were doing. I bet you do that all the time.”
“No—” Dean groans when Castiel changes the angle, tilting forward and shoving hard onto Dean’s lap. “Oh, fuck. Not all the time. God, Cas, yeah, right there, just like that.”
That’s just who Dean is. Dean yells and flirts and makes bad jokes and is the sweetest person in the universe even when he’s being an ass. Castiel didn’t break any rules but he definitely bent protocol – it doesn’t matter what Naomi thinks because that’s less important than what Castiel knows has shifted inside him. Castiel is happy, and some of that’s tied up in another person through tenuous knots.
So Castiel takes that out on Dean now by riding him until he comes. Then after Dean’s done cursing and falling apart, Castiel rises up off the spent cock and grabs Dean’s good hand, slicking up the fingers before guiding them into Castiel’s opening.
Dean watches him do all of this. Castiel even expects that of him – Dean’s once or twice commented on Castiel’s supposed natural ability to put on a good show. Dean’s opinion on the matter is flawed, but Castiel has no problems going up to his knees, cock jutting out at the hem of his shirt in anticipation of coming all over Dean’s face.
“Move your fingers.” Castiel hums his approval when Dean obeys, closing his eyes and savoring the rush of pleasure through his body. The press inside him is good, fingertips finding his prostate and stroking gently. Castiel reaches behind himself and between his legs, holding firmly onto Dean’s wrist as Castiel fucks down onto his fingers.
“Holy shit,” Dean whispers, his voice sex-spent and hoarse. “Can I see your stomach, Cas? Just – just a little, can I see?”
Castiel growls, unhappy at the reminder that Dean’s never seen him completely naked. Can there just be five minutes where Castiel doesn’t have to live in that world? He pulls his shirt up anyway, and if Dean’s other hand were usable he’d be petting Castiel’s stomach now, running fingers through the hair at his groin and hopefully helping jerk Castiel off to completion.
“Come on me, come on me,” Dean chants, breathless and eyes eagerly following Castiel’s jerking himself off. “Yeah, come on, get it.”
Castiel almost doesn’t want to come, just to be contrary. But Dean’s making that face, enthralled and wide-eyed as though in all his travels and all his experience he’d never seen anything like Castiel. It is the best kind of fantasy, and Castiel’s body burns through orgasm at the sight of it.
It helps. It’s just sex, but it helps, and Castiel feels better. Dean seems to think so, too, smiling dazedly up at him through the streaks of come on his face.
“Where you going?” Dean still sounds hoarse, grunting as he struggles to sit up. “Cas.”
“The announcements should be coming in soon.” Castiel retrieves Dean’s pants from the floor and fetches an unused button-up from Dean’s little wardrobe to pass to him. Castiel’s tablet is still where he left it, and he sits back on the bed to scroll through. “The Captain’s list shouldn’t take that long to finalize.”
Dean glances over from where he’s cleaning his face. “What? Sands?”
“Haven’t you been keeping up with the weekly updates?” Castiel crosses his legs under him, scowling at the little screen. “It was quite clearly implied last week that it’s time to form a skeleton crew. The mobility exercise was probably the last stage of evaluations.”
“No, that was not clearly implied.” Dean doesn’t sound angry, only surprised. “Hey, did you fuck me to distract me?”
“No, I fucked you because we needed to blow off our residual energy.” Castiel looks at Dean, considering. “Does that actually work, though? In distracting you?”
“What? No! Of course not, no.” Dean shifts over, peering at the screen. “What does that mean, skeleton crew?”
“The ship’s ready to take people on.” There are a couple new messages, but mostly administrative, nothing too important. “Perhaps a third of the final command crew, some of the renovation staff, research team, and the top-ranking cadets, probably.”
“I don’t see any news here yet so I’m going to get us dinner.” Castiel stands up. Dean’s frowning at the wall, and Castiel takes the opportunity to check his bandages again. Dean doesn’t smack his hands away. “Dean, will you be staying here or going back to your cabin?”
Dean starts. “Uh, what?”
“Are you going to continue checking over your car, or will you be heading back to your cabin? I need to know where to bring your food.”
“You don’t need to—”
“You will rest here, or you will rest there. Which will it be?”
“I…” Dean’s smile is sheepish and tired. He probably needs a nap. “I’ll be here.”
“Then I’ll be back in half an hour, maybe an hour. There’s no need to wait for me if you wish to go to sleep.” Castiel starts getting dressed. “I’ll also check on Alfie, see what I can do for him.”
Dean winces, but he nods and lets Castiel kiss him before he leaves.
The call doesn’t come. Castiel shrugs off the results, aware that his services are just as valuable on the ground as they are in orbit. Still, Captain Sands’ list is a good one, and Hester agrees despite not being on it herself. So instead of clearing up their shared cabin together, Castiel stays out of the way when Kevin declares that he will do his own packing, thank you very much.
There’s a small party before the crew goes off. Kevin doesn’t go, choosing to stay in and chat with Linda over the link. Castiel only attends briefly so as to shake the relevant hands, then returns to his quarters for one last game of chess with Kevin (stalemate).
The evening of the launch, Castiel ends up having drinks with Dean on the roof of the Impala. From there they can watch the shuttle take off into the sky, containing newly-minted First Officer Henriksen and the other elite.
“I’m gonna miss Jo,” Dean admits. A cold bottle of beer dangles between his fingers, and he taps it against Castiel’s thigh. “Congrats on your kid making it, though.”
“Kevin’s not my kid.” Castiel shifts to press his shoulder against Dean’s. “But I’ll accept the sentiment.”
They watch the shuttle until it disappears from sight – Dean making the inevitable joke about shooting stars and wishes – and keep watching until the environmental shields go into night mode and they can take their goggles off. It is a good evening, if one measures good by the warmth of the atmosphere and quality of the company. Castiel pulls Dean against him so they may lie down for a while.
“You wanna get dinner?” Dean’s voice is muffled, his mouth half-pressed to Castiel’s ear.
“Can’t you…” Castiel makes a shapeless gesture in the air, stopping when Dean takes his hand and holds it against his chest. “Can’t you build something that will fetch the dinner from the oven and bring it here?”
“Not in the next five minutes, no.”
“Shame on you.”
Dean laughs. He’s drumming his fingers against Castiel’s wrist, which only encourages Castiel on this endeavor of not moving at all. “Man, you’re such a lazypants now, look at you.”
“This is downtime,” Castiel replies. “I’m enjoying my time off. Laziness is the stepping stone to innovation, curb your tongue.”
Times like these, everything feels so far away. Dean is a solid presence at Castiel’s side, making him the most real thing in the world, and Castiel feels like the best and worst version of himself. He would like to be slothful, because he has done his work like a good drone but that is not all that he is – that is not all that they are.
“Can we see the ship from here?” Dean asks. “Is it orbiting directly above?”
“Sometimes, and no.” Castiel lets his eyes drift half shut, sifting through the numbers in his head before pointing upwards at an angle. “The ship should be there. It’s closer to the shipyard than to us, though we’re still closer than, say, the mountain base.”
“Hey, Cas, I was just wondering.” Dean means to sound neutral, Castiel thinks, but he fails. “You don’t actually want to go into space, right?”
Castiel opens his eyes. It’s getting darker now, the base’s perimeter lights flickering on around them. He answers very carefully, “I think there will be a great many opportunities in discovery and exploration.”
“But you’re just going ‘cause there’s no, uh, alternatives.” Dean’s body is so warm. “What if you had an alternative?”
Yes. Castiel’s body is a taut cord, the incompleteness of Dean’s question plucking at everything he’d not let himself think about lately. “You have been talking about opportunities here a great deal.”
“Then don’t go.” They’re not looking at each other’s face as they talk about this, but Dean’s fingers are gentle where they stroke Castiel’s temple. “I’m not gonna commiserate with you for not making the cut. I’m an asshole, sorry.”
“I haven’t reviewed my options,” Castiel admits.
“Yeah,” Dean says. “I’ve been looking into it. Checking the transfer conditions, that sort of thing.”
“Oh.” Dean’s been looking into it. Castiel nods, and he feels Dean relax against him. “All right, then.”
Chapter 10: A Present for Dean
It’s unfortunate when Dean dies.
The Company’s PR team goes into overdrive, as it does every time there’s an accident, though Castiel isn’t even told about the incident until almost two hours after the fact. Hester finds him at his cabin, and he can tell the moment he sees Hester’s face that something is wrong.
“How?” Castiel asks.
“Malfunction during testing of the new anti-grav pods. Electric shock, heart attack. They managed to restart his heart during the flight out.”
“Was he dead long enough for permanent brain damage?”
“We don’t know yet.”
Castiel sits down. Or maybe Hester guides him to a chair to sit down, it’s a little hazy. Castiel takes Hester’s hand to prevent her escape, though she doesn’t resist. “Was it an actual accident?”
“Yes.” Hester delivers this flatly, with none of her usual indignation. “He wasn’t the only one hurt. Bobby Singer is… raising hell, so to speak, in the infirmary.”
Castiel feels his mouth twitch. “Of course.”
“I will forward you the full incident report, once I have it. Do you wish to see Dean?”
Castiel looks at her. “Am I allowed to? Didn’t you say he’s been shipped out?”
“To a facility in the city, yes.” Hester cups Castiel’s neck firmly, checking his pulse. She studies his eyes as well, and is satisfied by what she sees. “Captain Sands is at odds with Ion on how to proceed on this. Dean isn’t ours, but the accident happened on base grounds.”
“It could jeopardize the mission?” Castiel nods to himself. “It could jeopardize the mission.”
“I have recommended that you be allowed to visit him.”
“Arrange for Sam to visit him as well,” Castiel says. “And Benny. Notify Ellen, if she doesn’t know already.”
Hester lets her hands fall away from Castiel’s face. She is calm, and Castiel can take some of the calmness into himself. “I will do that, thank you.”
There is a long hole to climb into if one wants to start exploring the history of Castiel’s encounters with death and near-deaths. That is a fact Castiel doesn’t like to think about too much, which makes it convenient that he’s been given official Company permission to not think about it at all. Castiel is (was) a soldier, except when he was a hammer, except when he’d become a hammer that swung too hard and needed to be taken down.
Castiel told Dean the truth when he said he doesn’t remember his last few missions. It’s one of many in the Company’s inconvenient past, best left buried and forgotten. Castiel sometimes wishes that he were like Dean, haunted by the faces of those he’d lost instead of being padded at all sides with null space. He understands why – either his brain chose to reject the things he’d done, or the Company rejected them for him – but because of this he’s been denied proper closure.
The space Anna left behind is keenly felt every time Castiel craves advice from someone who’s known him long enough to not need context for his questions. He misses Uriel, and his sense of order and focus. Balthazar would’ve been able to decipher some of Dean’s language for Castiel. Yet all Castiel knows about how his family died is what Naomi’s allowed him to read.
So while Castiel knows loss, he doesn’t know the immediacy of loss, the sudden cut between then and now. Dean died for a couple of minutes, meaning that for a couple of minutes the world was devoid of Dean Winchester, and for all of Castiel’s own experiences – losing his arms, breathing acid that destroyed his lungs, surviving sonic impact – he doesn’t know how to absorb this fact of reality.
It helps, somewhat, to actually see Dean in the flesh. Hester kept her promise, and Castiel is allowed to visit Dean where he is recuperating. The hospital is top-notch, all clean lines and expensive furnishings, with premium privacy that the Company so enjoys.
Dean isn’t conscious. It speaks to Castiel’s state of mind that it takes him a while to even understand that. Castiel has to stand at the side of the bed, watching Dean breathe with the respirator for a few minutes before that information settles. For a handful of minutes, Dean Winchester was not in the world, but right now, he is breathing.
“You’re going to miss your shows,” Castiel tells him. Dean doesn’t disagree. “I’ll download them for you.”
There are chairs in Dean’s private room. Sam isn’t here, so he must be on his way, or waiting for approval to start making his way. Castiel sits in a chair and counts the rise and fall of Dean’s chest.
Castiel just saw Dean yesterday. He and Ash finished putting together the new maintenance cranes, and Dean insisted that Castiel test drive one so he could show off all the nifty new gadgets, and refused to explain when he’d called Castiel the Green Ranger to his Red. That was yesterday.
“I’m sure when I read the incident report, I’m going to be quite angry,” Castiel says. He thinks that being angry might be a relief.
The thunderstorm named Sam arrives a couple of hours later. Injuries and hospitalization must’ve happened often enough in their family that he knows exactly what to do, who to pester and what to demand. The only pause in his process is his acknowledgement of Castiel: “Are you reading Vonnegut to Dean? Never mind, keep going, that’s great. Who the hell was on safety detail?”
At some point Hester calls. Castiel doesn’t feel like talking, so he sticks to text messages. He describes Dean’s face relaxed in unconsciousness, the burn scars on his chest – new ones, to add on to the ones he’d earned some weeks ago in that other incident, the strangeness of seeing him like this even though Castiel’s watched him sleep so many times before.
- It just sounds like you’re in shock. He is important to you, after all.
- I haven’t known him that long, Castiel replies. The percentage of my life in which he’s been part of it is small.
- Does that matter?
- I’m not used to it not mattering.
In the background, Castiel can hear Sam talking with the nurse about the status of Dean’s internal linings and the procedures that will have to follow to return him to full health. Sam also makes a number of phone calls, and then takes the chair closest to Dean’s side so he can tell his brother the things he needs to say. Castiel excuses himself from the room.
Being outside is easier, yet not. Castiel can think a little clearer when he can’t see Dean, but on the other hand he can’t see Dean to make sure that he’s still breathing. No one bothers Castiel when he stands facing the wall, forehead pressed against the wallpaper.
In the end, it doesn’t take that long for Castiel to know what he wants. Castiel thinks, breathes, considers the options, and then waits for Sam to call him back inside.
“May I speak with you?” Castiel says. “There’s something I’d like to propose.”
Castiel doesn’t expect Naomi to say no.
“Why?” Castiel demands. “I’m entitled.”
Naomi is nonplussed. She’d accepted his request for an appointment quickly, so she must have been expecting this to be the agenda of the day. “Your track record is excellent, Castiel, and it’s unfortunate that Dean Winchester needs a new heart, but I can’t approve this.”
“It’s my human right to request this,” Castiel replies.
“I can provide Sam with necessary information—”
“Have I behaved in any way that would jeopardize the program? I haven’t hurt anyone. I’ve chosen a line of work that keeps me away from overly stressful situations. I’m not asking this for me, Naomi.” Castiel exhales slowly, chastened by Naomi’s narrowed eyes. “I’m sorry I survived the Wars, I know that’s been… inconvenient for you.”
“It’s inconvenient because you refuse, Castiel,” Naomi says curtly. “If you would take a position in my household, or any of my task forces, then I’d know what to do with you. Yet you insist in using your gifts for duties that are not—”
“Then take them back.” Castiel splays his arms. “I don’t need them.”
Naomi stands up sharply, anger finally breaking her face. “Please remind yourself that I am not Michael.”
“So what was this? Why’d you let me sign up for the program and get a chance to board the Executive? Why would you…” Castiel trails off. Naomi sits down calmly, and it all makes sense. “You didn’t expect me to last.”
“I expected you to get bored,” Naomi replies matter-of-factly. “That… work isn’t what you’re made for, Castiel. Why are you even pursuing this? If you quit the program you may stay on Earth. Isn’t that what you want now?”
“I know what I want.” Castiel puts his tablet on Naomi’s desk, the window open to the proposal Sam drafted up for him. “This is it. If you won’t approve this, I will go to Crowley, or Eve—”
“Don’t use them against me,” Naomi snaps. “I’m the one who allowed your recovery after Hester saved you. I’m the one who let you choose what to do next.”
“Then stay the course.” Castiel nudges the tablet towards her. “You are not Michael. Those days are over.”
Naomi raises an eyebrow at him for saying that, but she does pull the tablet towards her. “I’d hoped to recruit you into my personal security team. Look at you now, arguing for another. You’re useless.”
Castiel nods. “Yes.”
Then Dean wakes up. Not immediately, of course, since medical science still has its limitations. Castiel has been back on base for almost two weeks when he gets the call.
“He’s up,” Sam says. “He’s looking good. And he’s asking for you.”
Castiel’s cabin has been quiet since Kevin left. He could get a new roommate since there are still new staff arriving every so often, but he finds he prefers it the way it is. Kevin’s former room, now bare, is useful as a place for meditation. “I’ll make my way there. I’ll let you know when I get transport.”
“Okay. Uh, are you sure you don’t want to tell him yourself?”
“I’m sure,” Castiel replies, as if they haven’t talked about this a dozen times already. “See you soon.”
Theoretically, Castiel should be more prepared for this conversation than Dean is. After all, Castiel’s had some days to think about it, to review the possible scenarios in his head and compose the appropriate responses. Dean has half a day at most – the next transport out from the base leaves right on schedule. Castiel’s adamancy that Sam tell Dean first is an attempt to even the playing field.
When Castiel arrives at the hospital, Benny’s sitting guard outside Dean’ private room, nursing a cup of what looks like coffee. He nods when Castiel passes.
Inside, Dean’s sitting up, and his eyes immediately find Castiel’s when he steps through the door. There’s a simple meal spread out on the table in front of him, and Dean’s body language – plus the fork he’s waving in the air – implies that Castiel has interrupted an argument about the food.
“Oh, hey,” Sam says. “Great you could make it, Cas. I’ll be outside.” The door clicks shut when he leaves.
Of course there’s relief at seeing Dean awake. But there’s also fear, lead boots keeping Castiel rooted where he stands. Castiel finds himself thinking of Dean in the early mornings, when he’s groggy and careless with his smiles. Though he’s always handsome, sometimes he is handsomer than usual, and Castiel ends up dedicating some time to observe the phenomenon. Dean is not smiling now.
“I want to hear you say it,” Dean says. “Say it to my face.”
“I’m glad you’re well.” Castiel is greedy, even now. He takes in Dean’s eyes, his eyebrows, his nose, the line of his cheekbones that Castiel has enjoyed running his thumbs against. “Have you been briefed about the malfunction at the workstation?”
“No.” Dean puts his fork down, so calmly. “I know what I did. I want to know what you did.”
“You were injured. You know the tech and its effects.”
“Yeah, I got blasted right in the arc reactor, fine, whatever.” Dean’s moving, and Castiel almost reaches for him to make him sit back, stopping himself at the last movement. “Shorted out my heart, ten ounces of dead muscle in the chest.”
It’s unfair that Dean sounds so flippant about what happened to him.
“I asked Sam first,” Castiel says.
“It’s like you’re not even listening,” Dean says. “I told you about my father, Cas! You’re not a fucking idiot, you know me, but it’s like – it’s like you didn’t hear a goddamn thing I was telling you.”
“You needed a new heart.”
“I didn’t want yours!” Dean yells. “Jesus, Cas, Jesus Christ!”
“Excuse me.” Castiel turns away from Dean’s ranting – get back here, get the hell back here – to fetch Sam. He’s just outside the door, and looks up when Castiel calls him. “Sam? Dean’s upset.”
It’s too soon after the operation for Dean to strain himself. He needs to take it easy as he recovers, though Castiel doesn’t regret seeing Dean in person. Sam rushes into the room to placate his brother, and Castiel calls the nurse to make sure that Dean didn’t hurt himself.
“You going back in?” Benny asks. Dean’s voice is still audible through the closed doors.
“I don’t think so. No.” Castiel leans against the wall and regulates his breathing. Everything feels too tight, too small, his body trapped in a winch. Castiel presses his hand to his chest and drags his finger along where the surgical line is, the skin still sensitive from the procedure. His new heart is doing an excellent job, speeding up a little to deliver the blood the body needs when under stress, but not so overwhelming that there is pulsing in his ears.
Castiel supposes he’ll never have to deal with that kind of distracting heartbeat anymore. That should be useful.
“You could’ve waited,” Benny says, but not unkindly. “They could’ve gotten a donor. Jess might’ve pulled through with the loan.”
“The longer the wait, the higher the risk.” Castiel’s rehearsed the argument in his head often enough. “And this way – no loans, no strings. Dean’s still organic through-and-through. The Company doesn’t own him.”
Benny nods. Perhaps he felt he owed it to Dean to raise the point.
Castiel imagined so many scenarios for how the talk with Dean would play out. Dean would of course brush off his own injuries, careless as he is with the state of his own body. If he doesn’t care enough about it then Castiel must pick up the slack.
“Take care of him, will you?” Castiel’s voice comes out a little hoarse, and he tries to laugh with it. “Make sure he gets his rest. I have – his shows, make sure he gets his shows. And some books, and his music? I’m sure you have access to his personal library? That’d be good, yes. And definitely make sure he eats well.”
“Pretty sure with me and Sam tag-teaming him, he’ll get the hint.” Benny’s smile is unexpected. “You take care of yourself now, though.” He reaches over, a hand out. Castiel clasps it dutifully, though he’s unable to meet Benny’s eyes – the idea of Benny reading him is too much.
“Thank you,” Castiel says.
Dean is alive, and awake, and still himself. Castiel doesn’t need Dean’s approval.
Chapter 11: Parting Shots and the Like
It’s just an organ. The Company manufactures them by the bulk now that trends are leaning to pre-emptive surgery. Castiel’s new heart is even tailored for his other installations, matching perfectly with his lungs and arms. Castiel estimates that the new installation will improve his physical performance by 11%, and that is not a number to be taken lightly.
Hester keeps close tabs on Castiel in the days after his parting from Dean. She is conscientious and bossy, and it’s not Castiel’s problem that she’s giving him so much of her time when she should be doing other more useful work.
“It might make you feel better,” Hester tells him.
“No, thank you.” Castiel isn’t going to talk about Dean with Hester. Dean is fine, he has Sam and Benny and the finest medical service the Company’s insurance can afford. If anything, it’s Castiel who got the better deal. After all, Dean has just another three-decade old meat heart, while Castiel has a brand new state-of-the-art piece that he’d only been approved for because of his exemplary Company record. His value has gone up, and Captain Sands will use him accordingly.
“But you knew that he wouldn’t approve,” Hester presses.
Castiel waves her off, the topic irrelevant. “Tell me about how the project is progressing. You’ve managed the fallout from the accident quite well.” Also thanks to Sam, who took back his threat to sue the hell out of them and instead issued statements in support of the Company when they enabled the transplant that saved Dean’s life. “Are there any delays in funding, backlash?”
“It’s under control,” Hester says, not bothering to hide her irritation. “Castiel, you can’t just—”
“Are you asking because you’re worried about me, or because you’re worried how I might react?”
Hester’s mouth thins. “I may be your monitor but I’m also your friend.”
“You should’ve just left me. Then you wouldn’t have to bother with any of this.”
“You think I was going to let them win?” Hester scoffs. “They would’ve liked to be rid of you – of both of us – and pretend that everything from the Wars was destroyed. Easier to rewrite history that way, isn’t it? We’re living reminders of the mistakes that were made, and the world’s better for it.”
Castiel falls quiet, chastised.
“I lost my family, too,” Hester says.
“I know.” Castiel takes her hand. “I forgot. I’m sorry.”
“Stop being so damn sorry,” Hester says. “And just let me worry about you for a little while.”
“What would you have done? If it were someone you cared about.”
“The same thing, maybe,” Hester says. “Though I might have approached Eve instead of Naomi. We’re supposed to be one big happy family now, and I would’ve just tried to undermine her from the get go.”
Dean once claimed to be a strategist. It certainly explains his choice to ambush Castiel in the morning before coffee’s ready, and before Castiel can even look at his rows of nutritional drink canisters and argue with himself whether it’s worthwhile to go to the Roadhouse for Ellen’s breakfast specials.
It’s a shock to see Dean’s face – a shock and a relief and a myriad of other things Castiel doesn’t have time to process because Dean’s stalking towards him, his face a dark cloud. Benny hasn’t said anything about Dean returning to base.
“Oh, hello Dean.” Castiel backs up to the counter. “When did you arrive?”
“Ten minutes ago, who cares.” A visitor’s lanyard dangles from Dean’s neck, so at least his presence is Company-approved. His hair’s a mess, his skin a little blotchy. Maybe he drove out to The Oasis all by himself, like last (the first) time. “In case it’s not clear, I’m still mad at you.”
“Yes, of course.” Dean wanted to catch Castiel off-guard, and he succeeded. “Is it all right for you to travel in your condition?”
“There is no condition. Fit as a fiddle, the whole works. I’ve done this before, Cas, remember?” Dean doesn’t gesture at the scar on his lip, but he doesn’t have to. The scar probably has a sibling on his chest now.
“Surely you can’t be ready to return to duty so soon,” Castiel says. “They must’ve approved you taking time off—”
“I quit,” Dean declares. “I’m done. I’m gonna go, and you’re gonna come with me.”
Castiel blinks. “What?”
“Now, Castiel.” Dean reaches for him, and the hand that wraps around Castiel’s is an order in itself. “I asked if you’d stay with me and you said yes. I’m cashing in that check.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Castiel says, almost laughing. “I just received confirmation for my seat, I thought you understood the situation’s changed—”
“Yeah, changed,” Dean almost spits, as though it’s only travel exhaustion that’s stopped him from shouting outright. “You whored yourself to the wizard for a brand new heart, yes, I completely understand.”
Castiel scowls. “Don’t use that word.”
“No?” Dean challenges. “Isn’t that what it is? Taking another debt on top of the ones you already have? You making a goddamn decision for me, something you knew I would never want—”
“You’d do it for Sam!” Castiel snaps. Dean’s trying to crowd him but Castiel shoves forward, moving into his space, forcing him to take a step back. “Maybe not this way, but you’d do anything you could for him. People act with the resources they have, and that is what I did. Your father had the right idea.”
Dean double-takes. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“Fuck you,” Dean snarls. “Fuck you, fuck everything. Goddammit Cas, I’m pissed but so help me God I still want you to come with me. Didn’t you say there’s work you can do on the ground?”
“Not at the rate I need to make my new payments. No.”
“We can go anyway,” Dean insists. “Leave. I can protect you.”
“Leave the Company?” Castiel scoffs. “I have three different tracking devices in my arms alone. I answer directly to Naomi. They’ll know if I even leave the compound.”
Which is the gist of it, really. Castiel knew that when he’d suggested the idea, but the trade-off is more than fair. Dean is standing strong in front of him, pacing the cabin and gesturing wildly when just a week ago he’d been unconscious, his future uncertain. This is evidence enough that some of Castiel’s decisions are good ones.
“I was just starting to figure it all out,” Dean says. “I was just getting used to slowing down—”
“Exactly,” Castiel says. “If I go with you, we’ll never be able to stop.”
That’s meant to be a warning, but Dean’s gaze sharpens, focusing on Castiel’s face with intent.
“This is what I know,” Dean says, so calmly that the hairs on the back of Castiel’s neck stand up. “I know it wasn’t easy for you. I know you didn’t expect me, or us.” Takes one to know one, Castiel thinks. “That means something. You think – you justify yourself that you’re doing something good, that you’re being useful. But it doesn’t matter how useful you are because you’re a human being, and even if you were the most useless motherfucker on the planet, you deserve to be happy. I can make you happy. Come with me.”
Seems that while Castiel has been rehearsing in his head, Dean has been doing the same. Did he plan that out during the ride over, did he block his movements – deciding to do what he’s doing now, arms boxing Castiel against the counter and well within Castiel’s personal space – knowing what his proximity does to Castiel?
“Cas,” Dean says, as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, “let me take care of you. I want to take care of you. Trust me.”
There’s the hook. Dean knows, and his attack is sublime in its accuracy. The strange domesticity they’ve been sharing – because that’s what it is, now that he can look back on it – has popped the lid off a million dreams Castiel might never have imagined for himself. Small dreams, tiny dreams, dreams that fit into a bunk bed barely big enough to fit two grown men, and what would it be like to let someone else (not something, not the Company) take care of him?
For a couple of seconds, maybe minutes, Castiel lets himself wonder. He tips forward, drawn into Dean’s orbit and closer to press his lips to Dean’s. Dean hasn’t shaved, his stubble scratching Castiel’s, and the soft meeting of their mouths is a perfect counterbalance. Of course Castiel wants more of this, of course he wants them to continue to encroach on each other’s time and space as though it’s no big deal that they’d found each other.
Dean’s breath is heavy on Castiel’s lips, his hands warm where they cup Castiel’s face. Castiel realizes that he’s leaning to one side, the better to rub his cheek against Dean’s palm.
Castiel says, “No, Dean, I won’t go with you.”
Dean’s smile stutters. “What?”
“The answer’s no, Dean.”
Dean doesn’t pull away. He stays close, perhaps the better for Castiel to appreciate the way he clenches his jaw. “Why?”
“We’d never be able to stop running, and we’d resent each other for it eventually. I don’t want that.”
Dean finally draws back and turns in a tense circle. “What the hell is this?” he exclaims, almost hysterically. “You’ll let me have your body parts, but you won’t let me have you? That doesn’t – that’s not how it works! How the fuck am I supposed to live with this? With this – this, this reminder?” He waves his hand in front of his chest, unable to touch himself.
“You live free, as you always have, and have always wanted,” Castiel points out. “On the open road, with the sky above you. That is your life.”
“I wanted it to be yours!” Dean yells.
“It was never going to be,” Castiel says. “Not even in the best case scenario, Dean. Come on, you know better than that.”
Dean’s hands drop weakly to his side. “So that’s it?”
“It’s only a few years,” Castiel tries, but Dean just shakes his head, laughing. “If I do a lot of heavy lifting, it’ll cover quite a lot—”
“You mean if you do risky work, that’s what you mean,” Dean snaps. “Put yourself in danger while you’re up there, take the jobs no one else wants?”
“The compensation rates are higher, it makes financial sense. Dean, I’m not asking you to wait for me—”
“Good,” Dean barks, and of all the things that have been said so far, this one gives Castiel pause. “‘Cause that’s not gonna happen.”
Well. Castiel certainly deserved that. The heart is brand new but his chest is obviously malfunctioning, too cramped to contain the sudden weight below his throat. It seems that both of them have been harboring their own flawed fantasies about each other. Just another thing they have in common, then.
“Dean, I do wish you the best of luck,” Castiel says, reaching for him. “There’s so much you can—”
“Parker!” Dean snaps.
Castiel’s hands jerk away, the muscles locking up under control of the safe word program. He stares at Dean, shocked that he’d use it now.
Dean’s exit is as abrupt as his entrance, with Castiel only understanding what has happened once it’s over. One moment Dean is an impossibly huge presence in Castiel’s space, and the next there’s a vacuum in his wake, the door slamming behind him.
Goodness knows they’ve been angry at each other before, goodness knows Castiel battened his hatches the moment the idea of the transfer occurred to him, and goodness knows that Castiel figured out a long time ago the nature of life’s big expiration dates. Yet this is huge, so huge that right now it fills up the entirety of Castiel’s small world.
At this point Castiel realizes that while he said that he didn’t want to go with Dean, the filters of Dean’s mind no doubt translated that to how Castiel didn’t want Dean. That Castiel simply doesn’t love him enough to run away with him.
Maybe Castiel doesn’t, if that’s what that means.
Castiel turns to the kitchen counter. He’d come out here for coffee, hadn’t he? There’s still coffee, there’s still work, there’s still everything else.
Castiel’s not unused to being denied closure. He should be immune to it by now, even.
First of all, Castiel does the appropriate checks, going to Human Resources and confirming that Dean has indeed quit. Dean Winchester is off The Oasis, his access revoked, the personal items he’d bothered to take out of the Impala gone with him. There’s no point visiting Benny to confirm this.
So Castiel accepts this, and even goes to the Roadhouse afterward to see if having a few drinks will assist his understanding. There are a couple of others from R&D there, and Castiel ends up having to mediate a disagreement between Ellie and Aaron over who has it worse in terms of experiments screwed up by the mobility exercise.
“You don’t get a say!” Aaron protests at Castiel. “Your rig’s out in the desert! Untouched!”
“It’s hardly my fault you aren’t adaptable to change,” Castiel replies.
“He’s just jealous,” Ellie says, smiling around her glass when she takes a sip. “And upset he didn’t make the cut.”
“Like I wanted to make the stupid cut,” Aaron grumps.
It’s an educational distraction, and another immediate reminder that things will go on as they have. Castiel has his work, and his work is important even if he can’t remember why at the moment. It’ll come back to him.
“I get why you did it,” Ellie says with a pointed glance at Castiel’s chest, and Castiel doesn’t know why he’s constantly surprised at how everyone really does get up in everyone else’s business. “That’s a path traveled more often than you’d think.” She has no augmentations herself, so there’s an unmentioned loved one somewhere. “But I refused to sign on to the Co. Figured I’d pay them back through jobs I actually want, and get to pick myself.”
“Wait,” Aaron says, “what are we talking about?”
“Choices,” Ellie says brightly. “We get so few in our lives. Real choices, I mean.”
Castiel nods. “Yes. Yes, that’s true.”
Just as how Dean asked Castiel to go for what he really wanted, what Castiel did was what he wanted. It’s perhaps one of the very few things Castiel’s known for sure, right deep down, that he wanted to make real. Everything else is just dressing.
The first week or so after Dean’s leaving, the ripples he’d made are still far from fading. Castiel keeps reaching for his tablet to send a message to Dean, or wakes up reaching out for a warm body, or finds himself making a mental note about something that happened at work for the sole purpose of telling Dean about it later. Every time Castiel remembers, he stops, puts that aside, and tries to think about something else.
He’s aware, in a vague sort of way, that he’s trying not to think about it because he doesn’t want to acknowledge it, or the consequences of what he’s done. Dean is no longer present; he’s now a good memory, a fantastic memory, maybe the best memory Castiel will ever have, but just a memory.
It becomes less vague and absolutely real one night, some two weeks after Dean’s leaving.
Castiel’s sitting at the table in the common area of his cabin, catching up on his daily feeds. His tablet’s playing music and a song comes on – some old-fashioned rock song the title of which he can’t even remember – and he’s struck with a sudden image of Dean singing along with it, shampoo in his hair and a toothbrush his pretend mic, and Castiel realizes – he misses Dean.
Castiel misses Dean with an ache that’s ridiculous and unnecessary. Castiel is, in fact, sad.
Hot on the heels of that thought is the sudden realization that it’s okay to be sad. He’s heard that saying before but never understood it until now. There’s no reason he can think of why he should avoid this. He’s not on a battlefield, and doesn’t owe anyone a strong front. Castiel is sad, and he’s entitled to be sad.
Once that registers, everything else comes in at once, a hundred dozen switches in his thoughts flicking on, many of them not even about Dean at all.
Dean is gone, and although it’s not the same way Castiel’s family is gone, for a handful of harrowing seconds his mind cannot differentiate between the two. Gone, taken, erased, and somewhere in the middle of dealing with the exclamation marks in his head, Castiel drops his tablet and tips over in his chair. The uninteresting ceiling of the cabin fills his vision.
All the gears and wires living under his skin feel too hot, too foreign.
Castiel realizes he’s scratching himself and makes himself stop, busies himself instead with climbing to his feet and lumbering to the bathroom. He’s drunk on things other than alcohol, fumbling for the light and then practically falling to the mirror.
His reflection gazes back at him. A reflection cannot be judgmental, but the longer Castiel looks, the stranger the angles of its face seem to be.
Castiel struggles with his shirt and pants, unable to turn away from the mirror. Irrelevant clothing is tossed aside and Castiel forces himself to look, to really look, at himself. No gears visible. No clamps, no wires. Instead there are scars and scratches and clumsy patches where real skin meets fake. This is all him, every part of it.
The new scar on his chest is paler than the rest of his skin, the tissue still hard when Castiel runs his thumb along it. This scar is not made of shame.
He is Castiel and he has fixtures in him that cost more than the GDP of a small country.
He is Castiel, and he has been in love. He is not a machine.
“You will be okay,” Castiel tells his reflection. “You are Castiel, you are sad about many things, but you will be okay.”
All of the things that he doesn’t remember are so far away that they are insignificant. They are tiny, irrelevant, literally removed from his mental landscape. They don’t play a part in who he is anymore, aside from his awareness of those empty spaces. Castiel is not who he was a couple of months ago, let alone a couple of years ago. He is not static.
Castiel tilts his head back and breathes, slowly and steadily. New energy thrums through his body, an unusual restlessness that – if this were some weeks ago – he’d have probably channeled into the desire for sex. This is his body, and he wants to use it.
What about the doors? Castiel is struck by the sudden desire to see what’s on the other side of the bathroom door, then the other door, and then that other door. It’s night time out, and quite a lovely night at that.
Castiel runs. There’s no need to pay attention to where he’s going because what’s more important is that his body’s strong and serving him well. Castiel is alive, and awake, and real. The ground is solid beneath his feet.
All things considered, Castiel’s lucky that it’s Jody who finds him. He’d made it all the way to the water tower before rolling to a stop, organic legs cramping out. He sits there in the dark, marveling that he’d actually listened to that reckless voice in his head that people are usually not supposed to, and then footsteps come round the corner and he peers up at the security uniform.
“For the record,” Jody says, “you are not even in the Top 20 of people I’d thought would be doing this next.”
“I’m just having some exercise,” Castiel says.
“That’s what the gym’s for.” Jody sighs and peels off her jacket, handing it over. When Castiel tries to demur, she says, “Please, I insist. I’ll escort you back to your cabin, but I’d rather do it when you’re not buck naked.”
“But I’m not naked. I’m wearing underwear.”
“Put the jacket on, Castiel.”
Castiel does as he’s told, surprised but pleased that he can already feel the world righting itself back up. He will need another hour or so to center himself, perhaps take a long shower or count prime numbers in his meditation space. But it already feels like he’s managed to jar something worthwhile inside himself.
The walk back to Castiel’s cabin is as awkward as Jody’s ill-fitting jacket on Castiel’s frame. “Are you aware what time it is?” she asks.
“Last I checked, it was just after midnight.”
“It’s almost three.” Jody doesn’t seem too concerned, though. Security must see these kinds of shenanigans every day. “Have you been drinking or taking any other recreational substances?”
“Not in the past 24 hours, no.”
“Are you under any greater than usual stress?”
Castiel considers this. “Perhaps. I’m unsure.”
“Okay, look. You’ve never caused any trouble so there’s no point writing you up—”
“You should,” Castiel says. “It’s important that this is documented properly. I will file an incident report myself.”
Jody takes a long look at him, and then nods. “All right. I guess at the very least you chose a convenient time to streak.”
“It can be quite lovely at night.”
“Do you need a hug?” Jody asks this with a scowl, which must be something they train everyone in security to do because Victor used to ask questions the same way. “Feel free to say no.”
Castiel thinks. The restless energy is still present but it’s satisfied for now, dimmed down to a low purr. He needs to think. Then he will write a report to Naomi. Tomorrow he will see Hester and ask for her opinion. Maybe he’ll also see Ellen, just to say hello. He could also write a message to Kevin and inquire on how things are going on upstairs.
Right now, though. “Yes, I think I would like a hug.”
Jody nods, and Castiel opens his arms. It’s a decent hug – not the best, obviously – and Jody firmly pats him on the back, over all the scars and bolts and other things embedded into Castiel’s fleshy canvas.
“Thank you, Jody.” Castiel means it. “Do you want your jacket back, or should I get it laundered first?”
Upon receiving Castiel’s report, Naomi requests a video call, during which he relays the events again to her implacable face. He speaks as plainly as he can, and Naomi listens.
“This will count under your performance points,” Naomi tells him, which Castiel already knows. “ I’m relieved to hear of this.”
Castiel starts. “Excuse me?”
“This is how you are fallible. Now we know, we can can manage it..” Naomi smiles, as though multi-million dollar former soldiers go streaking at night all the time. Maybe they do; Castiel’s experience is limited. “I expect you to report to counseling as soon as your schedule allows. How is your new installation performing?”
“Very well, thank you.” Castiel had barely been out of breath, lungs and heart working perfectly together. “This will not affect my work. If any time I feel that it might, I’ll let you or Hester know.”
“Of course you will.”
That’s that, then. Castiel switches off the video link and sits in the quiet. His hair’s still damp from his shower, his body finally ready for sleep. He’s not sure what he expected from Naomi, but that was almost kind.
Castiel can do this, he thinks. He can go into space and he can make it good.
The Oasis is not so small that he expects any sort of social call from Benny Lafitte. So when Castiel’s in the middle of tending to his truck and glances over his shoulder to see Benny approaching, his first instinct is to ask, “What is it? Is Dean okay?”
“Dean’s fine,” Benny says, and that’s the unexpected first piece of news about Dean that Castiel’s had in weeks. “He’s… moving around, looking for new work, you know the drill.”
Castiel’s done Dean the courtesy of not pressuring information out from anyone who knows him well, so Benny’s presence is confusing. “Is there something I can do for you? I have some free time, if you need me for a task.”
“Oh, none of that.” Benny tips his ridiculous hat up a little, scratching the back of his neck. “This is out of my jurisdiction, so knock me back if you think I’m over the line.”
Castiel puts down the tools he’d been holding. “You have my attention.”
“He’s been asking ‘bout you,” Benny says. “Not at first, not for a while. But lately the questions started coming. I’m not your babysitter, I don’t know what the hell you get up to, so I figure – you can tell him yourself. If you wanna write to him, I’ll pass it on for you.”
“Dean didn’t ask you to do this,” Castiel says.
“No,” Benny says slowly, “but he doesn’t ask for a lot of things.”
Castiel nods. “Why you? Dean is friends with many here.”
“I think he figures I’d be the least biased ‘bout you.” Benny smirks. “Look, there’s no guarantee he’ll even read it, but it’s an option if you want it.”
It’s a tempting offer. It may not be Castiel’s responsibility nor his right to know about Dean’s state of mind anymore, but it’s natural to wonder. If Dean’s asking Benny about him, then there is a level of worry – no matter how distant – that plagues him, and Castiel could assuage those worries.
Castiel could also convince Dean that there’s nothing he could have done to change Castiel’s mind. And yet.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Castiel says.
Benny seems unsure whether to be relieved or offended. “Why not?”
“It might give him the wrong idea.” Castiel laughs softly at Benny’s expression. Of course Castiel still craves Dean’s company, but it’s a manageable want now, culled down to a longing he can accept as background noise. “He might think he has a chance of… swaying me.”
Benny must know enough, because he nods with apparent understanding. If Dean had been serious about plucking Castiel away from the Company, he must’ve formed a plan of action and drawn up allies to serve his purpose. Benny would’ve been near the top of the list easily.
“So he doesn’t?” Benny asks.
“The less hope he has on the matter, the better.” It goes both ways. “I’m glad you’re looking out for him. You’re a good friend.”
“Tryin’ to be a good friend,” Benny retorts. “There’s still no accounting for taste. Ah, well.”
Castiel shakes his head ruefully. “You may tell Dean whatever you like. You may even tell him about this conversation, if you want. That’s all between you and Dean.”
“Right.” Benny slips his thumbs in his belt, gaze distant and thoughtful. Castiel won’t write to Dean to force his hand, no matter how much he wants to. Dean will have to make do with his many friends and formed family members. “Thanks anyway, Cas.”
The fantasy is: Dean waits for him. Castiel goes, explores the galaxy, pays off as much as he can –the arms are almost paid for anyway, and he should make good headway on the lungs as well – and he comes back to a Dean who still wants him.
There are a few options Castiel can take. There will be other ships taking off in the next few years; Sam and Jess will be on one. Castiel can stay on the Executive with Captain Sands, or he can request a transfer and return with a ship that’s on a shorter arc, assuming that he gets enough high level work to justify the early return. Castiel will write messages to Dean through all of this, letters about his experience and thoughts and learnings without ever expecting a reply. The fantasy has Dean reading every single one, and keeping track of Castiel’s voyage.
Or Castiel could be reckless. The world could reorder itself to enable Castiel’s jumping off the deep end and take the impossible offer Dean once made him, ignoring the fact that it’d destroy them both.
Castiel thinks about all of these as the weeks, and then the months, tick down.
At long last the call order comes in. The final departure date is upon them, the transfer shuttles ready, the base ready to spit out the staff it’s spent months getting into shape. There will be other projects and other staff, the Company’s endgame projects many and varied. Captain Sands thanks Naomi for her work, and wishes her the best of luck for future endeavors.
At this point, Castiel thinks about that last fantasy the most. He could steal a vehicle and make a break for it. It’d be easy with his know how, after all. He could find Dean wherever he is, and Dean would be thrilled, and they would have the adventure of their lives.
Castiel could do it, if he wanted it hard enough.
Chapter 12: Another Very Merry Detour
The Executive is everything they said on the brochure and more. Castiel’s watched the vessel take shape over the months of its construction, but the first time he sees the completed ship is when the transfer shuttle enters orbit.
Hester has the window seat next to him in the shuttle, and together they peer out the window, taking in the sleek bulkhead and engines, the sheer size of the vessel not yet fully comprehended as they make their approach. “It’s acceptable,” Hester says. “For a non-military vessel.”
“There’s no reason not to admit that it’s impressive.” Castiel leans towards her in sharing the view. “It’s an engineering marvel; the result of the hard work of hundreds of people.”
Hester laughs. “They should hire you to narrate the next commercial they make about it.”
“I might even accept,” Castiel replies.
It’s disorienting when they board, all those months of seeing the same faces and buildings abruptly traded for this newer, shinier, non-sandy chapter. Castiel’s met some of the staff from the other centers before, having visited the mountain and underground bases a few times, but the atmosphere strikes Castiel as more similar to the breaking in of a brand new colony. Everything is new and primed and dripping with potential.
Castiel even manages to find Kevin, an unusual feat considering the hundreds of people moving in at the same time. His quarters are with the other cadets, a couple of decks above Castiel’s own, but he’s in the Secondary Hangar trying to move some equipment out of the way when Castiel bumps into him.
“Oh my god, can you help?” Kevin exclaims when he sees Castiel. He turns to his companions; Kate glances up from her tablet, and Channing flutters her fingers in greeting. “Cas can help!”
“I think,” Castiel says, “the point of your training period is that you’re supposed to figure out how to accomplish things on your own—”
“I am, I’m taking advantage of available human resources.” Kevin gestures at the huge unrecognizable machine that could be anything from a cold fusion reactor to a tumble dryer. It would probably save the galaxy somewhere down the line.
“Too many damn people taking more space than they’re rightfully allocated, thank you!” Channing announces pointedly. “And not enough senior security badges to move them out of the way.”
“Can you help us move?” Kevin says. “I will owe you coffee. We’ll owe you a coffee each.”
Not that Castiel needs the bribe of recreational drinks to assist the young team. They’d probably have had to request the use of one of the cranes to move their pilot project, and Castiel wouldn’t have had the pleasure of claiming a role in what will surely be a historical moment from some distant future standpoint.
Castiel says, “Must seem strange, having so many new people arriving at once.”
“If you ask me, it’s a relief,” Kevin says with a groan. “All the empty space was giving me the heebie-jeebies. So hey! Give me a buzz, you are going to be so impressed with the observatory. Don’t go to the observatory without me, okay?”
“Kevin, we need to get in our uniforms,” Kate urges. “Sorry, Cas, we gotta do the dancing monkey for the launch ceremony.”
“I know,” Castiel says. “Good luck.” He watches the team run off, the various things they need to do nipping at their heels. The general energy is infectious that way, everyone caught up in the palpable feeling of beginnings.
There’s a couple of hours before the President will arrive for the launch. Captain Sands will be doing her final inspections, perhaps giving her crew a pep-talk before they hit the bridge in full ceremony. Victor hasn’t called Castiel in to assist, but that’s to be expected because his team is larger now, the bases consolidated at last.
Castiel’s personal responsibilities are small. His belongings, unpacked in his cabin. The dismantled satellite stations, in storage and waiting. His truck, outfitted with new wheels and upgraded engine, parked in the Secondary Hangar and the reason he’s down here in the first place. There’s a wide variety of all-terrain vehicles and construction equipment filling up the huge space, owners like himself checking them off before lockdown.
“Well,” Castiel tells his truck when he finds it, “I hope you’re ready for the road trip of your life.” A little personification doesn’t hurt, though he’s not going to assign gender to it any time soon.
Castiel’s halfway down the checklist on his tablet when he realizes that someone is – and has been repeatedly – clearing their throat behind him. Castiel turns.
“Hey,” Dean says.
The first thought in Castiel’s head is: he’s not on medication. He hasn’t hallucinated in years, and even when he did he’d not been able to stand up, let alone be allowed on a space vessel with Hester watching him every step of the way. Castiel stares at the sight before him – of Dean Winchester, handsome and tall and looking oddly sheepish, maybe even nervous – and tries to parse the logic that should explain this situation.
Castiel carefully raises a hand, watching Dean eye his hand warily, and pokes his shoulder. Real. Dean even mutters an appropriate, “Ow.”
Fear grips Castiel. “Are you a stowaway? Did you sneak on to – Dean, I’m not going with you, you can’t…”
There’s a security pass hanging from Dean’s neck. It’s almost identical to the one that Castiel’s wearing, though the color strip is different. Dean’s is dark green, a non-Company vendor color, with the two bars that indicate a Command and Tactical line. In fact, Dean’s wearing the dark grey jacket they’d distributed to staff two weeks prior in preparation for launch.
Castiel keeps staring. If he blinks, Dean might disappear. “How?”
“Oh, you know, I got friends who got friends,” Dean says. “Turns out all you need to get hired by an agency with a job booking on the Executive is pass a couple of tests, put in your time at one of the bases, and charm the pants off a couple of interviewers. A couple of ace referrals help as well, and it’s not my fault so many people think I’m awesome.”
Possible, Castiel thinks through the feverish haze in his mind. Intense and insane and would require very senior referrals and background checks from the Company itself, but possible. Dean is clever, and Sam would be his access to Company resources, Charlie his access to other below-the-line tips. He would have to work on it non-stop for weeks, months, almost from the moment he’d been discharged from the hospital in order to catch up in time.
“I’ve heard it pays well,” Dean continues, almost babbling. “Pays super well, and who’d say no to extra cash, right? Yeah. And someone’s got to look out for the kids, hell knows you guys aren’t doing as good a job as they deserve. Would do them good. And I’ll get to see Sam when he comes out, that’s gonna be great.”
“Oh, Sam. Yes. Yes, of course.” That makes sense. Dean’s fears for his brother, his new sense of responsibility for the cadets, the lure of friends whom he’d been so angry at for leaving him. Benny and Jo and Charlie and others will help him adjust and tip the balance in favor of a commitment that had previously been unthinkable. “You never said.”
“Wasn’t sure if it’d happen at all. So many fucking hoops all the way, and then Benny practically had to sit on me on the ride up.” Dean chuckles, a little thickly. “Didn’t want to… you know. Jinx it.”
“Oh,” Castiel says again, stupidly. “Yes, I see.”
This is so big for Dean, so big. Dean has a willingness to take any job that suits him, but this isn’t some off-highway city from which he can make an exit when it’s convenient. He will have to be here, at least until the Executive completes its first planned arc through the galaxy.
Castiel tries to focus back on his tablet, the incomplete checklist staring up at him from the little off-white screen, but Dean hasn’t moved from where he’s standing.
“Did you miss me at all?” Dean says angrily.
What a question. What a question, and it’s so nonsensical that it seizes the ghost limb where Castiel’s old heart used to be, dragging Castiel the few clumsy steps forward so he can throw his arms around Dean. It’s not a hug, for hugs are to be comforting; this is Castiel seizing Dean’s body for physical confirmation of truth, that Dean is real and here and whole and healthy.
Dean is here, Castiel gets to see him, and this knowledge is too much. It fills Castiel up – happiness and relief and anger and all that time of missing him– breaking the levees he’d painstakingly built inside himself. It’s not a panic attack, but it’s similar in how Castiel loses himself to the moment, feeling everything at once because nothing is ever truly simple when it comes to what Dean brings out in him. It won’t be six years, or four years; it’s now.
Castiel realizes that he’s pressed his face to Dean’s neck, and that he is making embarrassing noises. It sounds like sobbing, though goodness knows Castiel doesn’t sob.
“My apologies,” Castiel says, voice a humiliating croak. He pulls back abruptly, his damned cheeks damp because his damned eyes are traitors, and he must look such a fool because Dean’s staring at him, stunned and speechless. “That was inappropriate.”
Dean doesn’t say anything, mouth open slightly as he continues to stare.
That’s all right. Castiel’s too happy to care. “I would like to have dinner with you.”
Dean finally blinks. “Dinner?”
Of course, dinner is too intimate. “Lunch,” Castiel corrects. “There are quite a few eating options on the ship, though we could also visit the new Roadhouse if you’d like something familiar. I would be glad to have your company. Not now, of course, but when you’re available.”
“You’re not gonna kiss me or anything, are you?” Dean laughs weakly. “’Cause I’m still mad at you.”
Castiel rolls his eyes and quickly flicks away some of the inconvenient wetness from his cheek. “Will you at least let me write to you? I would very much like to write to you.”
“You want to write to me?” Dean says incredulously.
“You needn’t reply, of course. You don’t even need to read it, if you don’t want to.” Castiel smiles at him hopefully. “I’ve been told my writing can be quite scintillating.”
“Aww, shit.” The curse sounds like surrender, and then Dean’s the one kissing Castiel, covering Castiel’s mouth with his own before Castiel can even register the intent in Dean’s eyes.
Yes, Castiel’s starving for it, for him. Just because he can manage his feelings for Dean doesn’t mean that he has to. He puts everything into the kiss, all the ruthlessness and sadness and amazement, and accepts the fervor of Dean’s response. Castiel even thinks he hears Dean whisper a “Oh thank God” that sounds feverish and almost reverential. One kiss turns into a second into a third, both of them unwilling to pull away.
Castiel’s chest rumbles with laughter, every part of him chanting a litany of Dean, Dean, yes, Dean, you’re here. Dean yelps when Castiel almost lifts him off the ground with how tight he’s holding him, but Castiel’s celebrating and Dean will have to deal with that.
Dean’s amazing. He’d found a way through his fears and history to come on board, and without even a promise that Castiel would even want him back to aid that path. Whatever journey Dean made to get here, Castiel wants to know all about it.
“Of course you helped, you asshole,” Dean whispers against Castiel’s mouth. “’Course I wanted to come for you, too. Who’s gonna hold the paper bag for me when the fucking ship takes off?”
“Inertial dampeners exist, Dean,” Castiel says.
This isn’t the best place for them to be making out, footsteps and chatter and metallic groans all around them as personnel prep for launch. But Castiel figures that that’s Dean’s fault for choosing this particular time and place. It occurs to Castiel that maybe that was on purpose, that Dean’s plan came with an exit strategy.
“Dude, wanna breathe,” Dean wheezes. “Not everyone’s bionic, okay.”
“Okay.” Castiel eases up, closes his eyes and keeps his forehead to Dean’s as they catch their breaths. “I can’t believe you did this.”
“Preaching to the choir, man.”
But Castiel can’t believe Dean could do it either. An image drifts unbidden into his mind of Naomi reading Dean’s application form, which she does for everyone who’s allowed on board. Perhaps this was part of her mitigation plan, making sure that Castiel remains controllable even light-years away from Earth. Maybe he’ll investigate this later, maybe he won’t.
“I think I should be clear about…” Castiel carefully backs up to put an arm’s length of space between them. “I’m not going to apologize for what I did. If you expect that, if you need that for – for whatever it is you want to happen next, it’ll be a long time waiting.”
Dean is unsurprised, his smile wry. “Then you’ll let me pay you back.”
“Like I said, I got a bigger paycheck now, benefits and everything. Don’t – don’t argue now, let’s not fight right now, okay?” Dean lets out a shaky breath, shaking his head. “Jesus fucking Christ I’ve got enough on my plate thinking ‘bout how this huge piece of pressurized metal’s gonna—”
“Right, yes, right.” Castiel moves quickly, grabbing his tablet in one hand and Dean’s hand in the other. “Let’s go explore the ship. I will explain things to you, and you will be so overwhelmed and impressed and perhaps arguing with me over the functions of the set-up that you won’t even notice when we launch.”
Dean’s laughter is a jolt to Castiel’s system, and it’s a good thing the corridor leading to the deck elevators is wide enough that Castiel doesn’t run into a wall. “You’re so great at this, Cas.”
“Thank you,” Castiel says, deciding that he should probably not mention that he’s not sure what Dean’s talking about. Castiel has later, after all – a huge, massive, sprawling expanse of later – to catch up and relearn and specialize in all things Dean. It’s funny, the excited energy Castiel had previously been observing is now his to share in, but that’s just the effect Dean has on a person.
“Wait.” Castiel stops, alarmed. “What about the Impala?”
Dean snorts. “I brought her along, obviously. Jeez, what do you take me for?”
“Oh, yes, obviously.” The elevator doors slide open and Castiel pulls Dean in, narrowly avoiding someone wheeling carts out to the Hangar. Dean falls back against the wall after the doors close, and Castiel follows him. “I’m sorry I doubted you.”
“You could let go of my hand, though,” Dean says.
“No,” Castiel replies.
“No.” Castiel slants a look at him. “Is that a problem?”
“No.” Dean grins. “Not anymore.”