Inspired and encouraged by the brilliant and persistent trinityofone. We were thinking back over several seasons of Sam and Dean being mistaken for boyfriends, and got to wondering what happens when Castiel comes into the picture.
Signs and portents
At first, Dean doesn't really notice it.
They crash for the night at the Gator Inn in Pensacola, and Dean takes Castiel with him to check in while Sam redoes some of the wards on the trunk. The receptionist gives the two of them a look along with their room key, and Dean figures the look's mostly for Castiel and his trench coat and vague aura of not really belonging.
In Atlanta they get the same treatment from an older guy with Elvis sideburns and a polyester shirt. Dean catches it just before the guy's face goes carefully blank and he turns away, muttering about strict no-noise policies and clearing out by ten. Castiel, holding the room key, exudes weirdness.
Sighing, Dean makes a note to leave Cas outside with Sam until he can teach him how to stand like a normal human being. The resolution lasts until Charleston, when Dean hears about this place that will deep-fry anything, and Sam, after making shrill, indignant lettuce-loving sounds, refuses to come with him. So Dean brings Cas and they sit across the table from each other, and Cas picks away politely at a basket of shrimp and watches Dean while Dean inhales a fried grouper sandwich.
"You guys going to split the check?" the waitress asks, once Dean finishes his pecan pie.
"Oh, I got it." Dean takes the leatherette folder and manfully suppresses a grimace at the tab. For her part, the waitress says something about how chivalry isn't dead, bounces her eyebrows at Cas (who doesn't respond), and retreats to join a knot of her colleagues, who glance over frequently and giggle to themselves.
On one of their rare not-Apocalypse-related hunts, in Raleigh, Dean takes Cas with him to go interview a couple of guys, maybe-witnesses to a haunting in their dorm. One look at Cas and Dean realizes the usual "new frat brothers" story's out the window; he explains that they're grad students, just transferred blah blah, campus legend, and the two guys fall over themselves explaining about the student who hung himself fifty years ago. Cas, like the guardian angel he says he isn't, hovers over Dean's shoulder the entire time, and Dean finds he's okay with leaning back so he can feel the warmth of Castiel's hand just on the other side of his jacket.
Mostly the interview's uneventful, until Dean decides it's a waste of time and tells Cas they need to clear out.
"Dude," one of the guys – Brian or Ryan or something – says, "we're cool and all, but you might wanna keep that, like, not so obvious." He gives Dean a look that's meant to be significant, and nods over at Castiel, who is examining a dart board with interest. Dean shrugs and says whatever.
When they're in Alexandria a few demons slip past Dean's guard. Cas and Sam take care of them, and then Sam takes care of Dean's seriously messed-up wrist, which has puffed up and gone mottled with bruises. By the time they get to the Hillside Motel, it throbs uncomfortably under its blanket of pressure wrap; in reply to the receptionist's sympathetic wince, he can only offer a closed-mouth smile.
"Well," the receptionist says, "you be sure and take care of him." She slides a sly grin to Dean's right, where – to Dean's painkiller-dulled surprise – Cas is standing, far closer than he usually does.
"I will," Cas says gravely. He takes Dean's elbow. "Come on, Dean."
Dean wants to say something about not needing to be taken care of, but it gets mixed up with the painkillers and exhaustion, and the weird feeling that he's missed something.
The weird feeling follows him north, through a werewolf in Baltimore and a pair of seriously cranky spirits in Trenton. In Bennington, Vermont it's more demons, and by the time they're finished Cas is pissed off and territorial, and refuses to let either of them out of his sight when they fetch up under the warm golden lights of the Refuge Inn.
It's an actual inn, done up with shingles and curtains, and the name of the inn painted on a hanging sign. There isn't any neon, so far as Dean can see, and it's just one building, a renovated house, not a long ramshackle row of rooms. There's a garden, barely visible at the edge of the light spilling from the main office. Definitely not their usual place.
"I'll take care of the car," Cas tells Dean and Sam, and there's that look that promises wall-slamming and invasion of personal space if Cas thinks it's necessary. Dean's pretty sure his body can't take any more abuse tonight, and he knows Sam can't, so they take it easy as Castiel goes over the Impala with a fine-tooth comb. The only blood involved goes under the car, to his relief.
Cas shepherds them into the bright, cramped office, and Dean winces in the abrupt switch from darkness to blinding white, like Cas has just gone nova or something. Dimly, through the haze of fuckfuckfuck I'm blind now he hears Sam collapse on the loveseat with a moan and quiet snapping of stiff joints. But he's not going blind, it's just light, and a bitch of a headache, and Cas saying something very quietly about how Dean's going to have to take care of the receptionist. And that… Dean coughs around a cracked rib and a laugh, because give Castiel a demon and he'll go to town on the motherfucker, but present him with a short unassuming woman and Dean has to step in, smoothing over a grimace enough to ask for a single room.
"Are you here for the wedding?" the woman asks, smiling and clicking away at her computer.
The what? Dean blinks hazily at her, and then, when she indicates a sign on the wall, blinks at that instead.
The Refuge Inn is, apparently, welcoming Daniel R. Lambert and Christopher A. Vanderbilt and congratulating them on their wedding tomorrow morning. And the receptionist is smiling at them, at the two of them, Dean and Cas, Dean who is leaning against Cas, and Cas, who's taking Dean's weight and doesn't seem staggered by either that or by being mistaken for Dean's boyfriend.
"Oh my god," Sam mumbles from the safety of the loveseat. "I'm being dumped."
"Just passing through," Dean grunts, and, even as his face threatens to burn off, passes the receptionist his credit card.
"Oh," the woman says brightly. "Well, if you'd like to keep us in mind, we have lovely facilities here for weddings and commitment ceremonies." She staples a card to the receipt.
The only room left is a single king-sized bed the two of them will share while Cas roosts on the roof or whatever he does at night. Sam asks if Dean's coming back to him after all, even though he'd dumped him for Cas. Dean tells him to shut the goddamn hell up, and he had fucking better not snore.
Sam doesn't snore, but it doesn't matter, because Dean spends the night listening to his head pound and watching Cas as Cas keeps watch over them. The inn's way out in the country, so it's dark layered upon dark, only thin moonlight coming through chintzy curtains to limn the odd angles of Castiel's face and the spikes of his hair, select folds in his coat, his long fingers.
Eventually he drifts off, wondering if he should be freaked that he isn't freaking out.
"I'm telling you man, it hurt me," Sam says over breakfast the next morning. He places a hand delicately over his heart. "Hurt me deep."
"Shut up and eat your pancakes," Dean growls. He shoves a piece of bacon in his mouth and grinds down on it, imagining it's one of Sam's fingers. "Next time we do this, you and Cas are going in together."
"We could have lived this dance forever," Sam murmurs.
Dean gulps his coffee instead of asking Sam if he's really quoting George Michael.
Next to him, warm and close, Castiel investigates the wonder of hash browns.
They move on down the road to New York, on the trail of something that might be one of Lucifer's henchmen, but whatever it is, it's lying low, and the trail goes cold somewhere around Syracuse. Dean, still achy and bored out of his skull, and fucking tired of Sam asking him where they went wrong, baby, and Castiel occasionally popping up like a heart attack to report on nothing, stops early.
Keeping his promise, he makes Sam and Cas go in to book a room together, and lurks outside the office while they do, line of sight with the front desk.
Nothing happens. The receptionist doesn't look up, just takes Sam's credit card and processes it, hands him the key and goes back to surfing the Net.
Fluke, Dean tells himself.
He makes Sam and Cas sit next to each other at dinner. It requires effort, since Sam isn't helping, and Cas has no idea why Dean's insisting that Cas sit over there for once. The waitress does waitressy things, nothing out of the usual, no looks, no comments beyond a pause when Cas asks for an appetizer instead of dessert when dessert comes around.
Then the check comes.
It's split two ways: Sam's club sandwich and Coke on one, Dean's burger and Cas's cheese sticks on the other.
Dean sighs heavily and reaches for his wallet, staring at his plate so as not to see the gigantic smirk on Sam's face that is, conveniently, reflected in the polished Formica tabletop. It also means he misses – well, would have missed, since he glances up – Cas licking marinara sauce off his fingers.
Once they get back to the motel, Sam tells Dean he's going to go drown his sorrows. "Drown yourself," Dean snaps, more defensive than he thinks he should be, but he knows, knows he'd be all over Sam if random hotel receptionists and waitresses and college kids thought he and Cas were together-together.
"Ain't no sunshine when he's gone," Sam warbles, and dodges the rock Dean throws at him. "He made me cry, he done me wrong…"
"I am fucking disowning his ass." Dean hurls his duffel bag at the bed hard enough for it to bounce once and slither across the comforter. He collapses next to it, too tired suddenly to do much more than sit there and stare at his hands, and wonder idly over him and Cas, and why, thinking back to Mobile and Atlanta, the dozen or so other stops – that had definitely been one of those looks from the cashier in Charlottesville – he doesn't want to drive a thousand miles to revisit everyone they've seen to tell them look, Cas and me aren't gay, okay?
He doesn't have an answer by the time Cas comes flapping back from recon, or whatever he does when he goes off on his own. It's quiet sixty miles out to Rochester, no demons, no signs. Dean lets himself loosen a bit, relieved with the silence, at how Cas stops with telling him what's going on and lets the quiet ride after that. Without much modesty he strips to boxers and changes his t-shirt, distantly aware of Cas glancing over him, the quick brush of awareness, and is surprised by being okay with thinking of Cas's gaze skimming down his spine.
"You gonna hang out here for a while?" he asks once he's sacked out and stretched a bit. His body still needs to unwind from a day spent coiled in the car, and the thrumming vibration of the Impala's engine that's his second heartbeat. Even after a life on the road, he takes a while to remember how to be still again.
"I think so," Cas says, and takes off his coats. It's the first time he's done that in Dean's memory, and he doesn't stop there, pulling off socks and shoes, then unbuttoning his shirt and pants, and hey, blue striped boxers.
Unceremoniously, Cas lies down next to him. The sprawl of his arms and legs is almost studied in its perfection, something Cas has observed and is copying now. With the stubble and disordered hair, it looks good on him, better than Dean would have thought. Slowly, slowly, the carefulness melts out of Cas's spine and his head lolls to the side as though gravitating towards Dean.
"I like hanging out," Cas says, like saying And God looked, and saw that it was good.
"Me too," Dean says. He thinks about reaching for the remote and introducing Cas to the spectacle of Monday Night Football, but rethinks it, and lets the room go dark and quiet with the evening. Seeing Cas in the corner of his eye, he can see a map from Pensacola up to here, and a thousand small pieces that, together, in Cas's soft not-quite-there smile, make sense like not many things have made sense in Dean's life.
The next day is a full day of driving, started off by a call from Bobby asking if they can be back at his place in a few days. He's off on a hunt, but has some research he thinks Sam'll be especially interested in. Sam's in a lather to get back, but it's pointless without Bobby there, and anyway, there's something especially soul-deadening about driving across Ohio.
They stop somewhere fifty miles south of Cleveland, a town islanded in a sea of ripening corn. Dean hates cornfields – you don't see Children of the Corn and come away unscarred – but fortunately the town is free of signs of psychotic cult members and crazy kids. The Crow's Nest Motel, done up with a neon pirate sign, is the only bizarre thing, and it's only bizarre because, so far as Dean knows, pirates have never been an issue in central Ohio.
"Check in first?" he asks Sam and Cas, the latter of whom has materialized just outside the door.
"Yup." Sam unfolds himself from the passenger seat and stretches, spine popping.
"C'mon, Cas." Dean's heart thumps, quick flush of adrenaline like he's going into a hunt and not into a motel office.
Cas heels him obediently, slouch-shouldered and impassive as he always is, close – close, Dean thinks, like he tends to be under most circumstances.
The girl behind the desk greets them with some surprise. From the deserted parking lot outside, the weeds prodding their way through the cracks in the concrete, Dean gathers they don't get many guests. Which is a damn shame, because… well, pirates.
"What can I get for you?" the girl asks, and there go the eyes, skipping back and forth between Dean and Cas, trying to parse them out.
"One king," Dean says, and smiles. Cas is still close next to him, not understanding it yet, maybe, but he will.
Cas only agrees to the separate rooms on the condition that both rooms are demon-proof; fortunately, he waits until the girl goes back to popping gum and filing before saying this. Dean agrees – like he wouldn't – but with only half a mind because he's got Sam to deal with.
"Dude, what room are we in?" Sam asks. He's surrounded by their duffels and his laptop bag, an ocean of corn at his back.
"Cas and I are in Room 12," Dean tells him, jingling the key and its parrot-head keychain. Surprise blanks Sam's face and oh it's perfect, like he's caught a two-by-four between the eyes, and there is no way Dean's not going to grin like a maniac. "You might want to bunk a couple rooms down. You know, because of the noise. Just in case."
Sam's face folds in on itself, the crinkly, all-the-puppies-in-the-world-are-dead face that means hugs and sharing. But it passes; he squares his shoulders and nods, bends to pick up his duffel and laptop.
When he brushes by Dean, Dean hears the words, Bittersweet memories, Sam breathes, that is all I'm taking with me, stretching the me out on a soft falsetto, and Dean has to punch him right under the shoulder blade, because Whitney Houston? Come on. Sam stumbles, laughing as he tries to hit the high notes, and Dean sighs something profane at him, then turns to walk down the row of empty parking spaces, to where Cas waits outside the door to their room.