Title: White Winter Hymnal
Word Count: 23,205
Disclaimer: This belongs to the Kripkeeper and the CW.
Warnings: Graphic m/m sex
Summary: AU. Writer!Dean walks into a café late at night on Christmas Eve, looking for inspiration for his next novel. Instead he finds librarian!Cas.
A/N: Huge thanks and credit to nanoochka for the helpful and swift beta cleanup.
* * *
Christmas, Dean had long since decided, was possibly the most obnoxious holiday of them all. It was repetitive, offensively and falsely chirpy and, the worst part, absolutely one-hundred percent inescapable. Not only were the streets littered with bright lights and glowing snowmen and Santas that all seemed to give off sex offender vibes, but it was physically brought to his door.
He'd politely excused himself from no less than fifteen sets of carol singers that week alone (and not so politely excused himself from three). Even to a man like him, a man who wasn't religious, didn't celebrate and made no excuses for it, people persisted with the plastic, happy bullshit that was flimsily coated-on, thinly masking the thunderous stress and frustration that bubbled violently underneath.
Alright, so call him bitter, but it was Christmas Eve and he'd just about had enough. Yes, sure, it would be over in a day or so and he could look forward to getting absolutely and utterly wasted out of his mind over New Year's, but this nonsense started in October. He wasn't kidding. He saw Christmas decorations alongside their Halloween counterparts in the store.
Twelve days of Christmas? Bull. Shit. He would hardly be surprised if a few years down the line it eased its way into twelve months of Christmas. But right now he was close to tearing his hair out, close to punching the next guy who offered him a candy cane in the face.
And Dean wasn't actually all that cynical—he didn't begrudge people their fun. Really, he didn't. They could all go hotbox themselves into an eternal winter wonderland of Yuletide cheer if they wanted; he just wished they'd leave him alone. He just wasn't into Christmas. He'd tried, oh believe him he'd tried, to get into the 'holiday spirit'. Over the years he'd sat down to Christmas dinners with his family, exchanged gifts with girlfriends. Hell, one year he even decorated his crappy, one-bedroom apartment. Garlands and all. But no dice. He just could not get into it. It reeked of falseness, of a fantasy as fake as his plastic tree. It felt empty.
The whole period, year after year made him feel uncomfortable and unsteady. So he just stopped. Didn't bother writing out cards or sending gifts to anyone that wasn't his parents or Sammy (because he did not want to have to deal with both his brother and his mom complaining at him over the phone). Didn't bother pretending to be happy and peppy and eager to please when in actuality he felt no different than usual. He just didn't bother with Christmas. And it would be great, foolproof even, if everyone else would just get the memo already. Dean Winchester did not do Christmas.
Which was why he'd skulked out of his home on Christmas Eve, cellphone-less and free in the biting-cold air, through the sludge of slushy streets and into a quiet, Scrooge-friendly café. It was the only one he'd found in the city that didn't have any decorations or Christmas songs playing. They weren't even serving 'nog. It was freaking awesome. It was paradise.
The place did, however, offer some of the best hot chocolate he'd ever tasted, and while he didn't like Christmas, he loved winter, loved the way the elements came together to make something so volatile and beautiful as a simple snow storm, or how the nip of unfriendly wind made you wrap yourself up in silly knitted materials until you could barely breathe beneath their weight.
He loved how angry and destructible the weather was, how honest. Winter breathed around him, some amalgamation of horrible and wonderful that blended together without a frayed seam, without a hiccup. It was something at which to marvel and detest and love. Winter was starkly, undeniably real, especially next to the brass fairytale of Christmas.
And there was something distinctly winter-ish about the hot chocolate they served at this café. Dean guessed it had something to do with the slight bite of cinnamon that blended into the rich cocoa like a liquid happy ending, though he was probably just a little distracted by his over-active tastebuds.
But it was hot and comforting and right now just what he was craving. And Dean had the slight suspicion the drink was fast becoming what he resorted to to take the edge off of life, as opposed to his usual glass of Jack. It really wouldn't surprise him. The stuff was fucking delicious.
And that was part of the reason why this blissfully untouched-by-Christmas café was the ideal place for him to be right now. He'd been going there for a little over two weeks, absolutely besotted from the moment he'd tentatively opened the door and heard no carols snaking out from inside. It was regularly quiet, especially in the evening. He figured most people desired an environment more friendly to their manufactured good spirits, and left in favour of somewhere that didn't play a strange mix of Zeppelin, Wham! and T-Pain. That was something to get used to, at least.
The guy that worked there—owned the place, he supposed—was Gabriel, as he'd discovered from the man’s brassy name tag. He was short, forthright and a little annoying, but seemed to be a good guy. Dean found he didn't mind him chattering nonsense or putting whoopee cushions on his chair, as long as he kept the holiday out and the cocoa flowing. It also helped that the guy's pie—especially the cherry pie—was freaking amazing.
So he walked briskly to the café—a fifteen-minute walk from his apartment in the cold, snow lightly falling above him, but it was so very worth it for the chance to breathe—lugging his laptop along with him, intending to get some writing done and, ha, that was a joke. He'd been stuck halfway through the second chapter of his third novel for more than four months. Something was just... jammed. He couldn't pull ideas from their confines within his uncooperative psyche and, even when he could, he found it overwhelmingly difficult to get them onto paper. Or word processor. Whatever.
Writing his first novel had been challenging and difficult, but he'd had so much fun, relished the catharsis of articulating his most private thoughts, twisting them into unrecognisable characters and watching them play out across the pages. It was exciting, invigorating and no small amount of comforting. And it had been successful, in the cult sense, enough that Dean was glad he'd written it under a pseudonym, because he heard the conventions got more than a little rowdy. He never got recognised—he didn't release his personal details and kept a low profile anyway—but that suited him just fine. He enjoyed his privacy and, coupled with the fact that people were enjoying his work in a way that paid the bills, well, he didn’t mind the anonymity.
The second novel... that was different. He barely knew what it was about, didn't quite remember the words he'd written. It was after his brother had married Ruby, and two weeks later he met Adam—his dragged-out-of-a-soap-opera, illegitimate half-brother from an affair his dad had twenty years prior. His parents had gotten divorced, no surprises there, and Dean had watched, helpless, as his father, his hero, descended into heavy alcoholism.
His life began to reek with the stench of liquor and piss, John refusing his help, responding with slurred threats and sluggish violence whenever Dean tried to intervene. And he was alone to do so—his mom didn't have the strength to care, Sam was in California, and there was no way Dean was asking the kid for help. Adam had no idea what he was getting into when he showed up on his parents' doorstep, and that wasn't his fault. Then there was the accident, and what happened, happened.
Dean had been helpless. He could do nothing. But write.
And so, he wrote.
This latest attempt, however, wasn't like his first novel; he didn't strive for the best, didn't ponder over particular words or phrases or struggle with character development. Hell, he didn't even have a plot in mind. He would just move in front of the laptop and write. The words would seem to flow out of him, without the granting of his conscious mind. There was an ebb to them, a wave.
It was... difficult to explain—even he had no real recollection of the emotional passage he went through. It was distant, dream-like, and the result had the same quality. He hadn't read over a large percentage of the novel, but what he'd gathered was that it was about a man—a good man—in hell, the angel who saved him, and a road. It read theoretically, abstract, but mostly it presented the notion of loss, decay and anchors. About losing a sizeable chuck of your soul and finding it again in another person. It was... trippy.
He never showed it to anyone: no publishers, no fans. Not even Sammy. It was his. Some part of him was embarrassed, other parts scared. Terrified, even, of what it contained, what secrets it spanned about the quietest screaming corners of his mind. It was personal, more so than the pathetic anthology of his own weepy, mournful poetry gathering dust in his nightstand. More so than the blog of thoughts he totally didn't have, but updated every night before going to bed. It wasn't intended for alien eyes—it wasn't intended for anything really—it just was. And it was his, his own little slice of perdition laying heavy on his hard drive.
He'd started work on the third novel to take his mind off it, to produce something for his fans because they'd been waiting six years and he sure as hell wasn't gonna show them his novel. No matter how much his fingers didn't want to type, or his brain didn't want to think, Dean was determined to get this damn book written and out on bookshelves by December next year at the latest. (Because if the Christmas season was good for anything, it was selling crappy literature en masse). So that meant he sat with his laptop clutched to him every waking moment he wasn't peeing or socialising. Or procrastinating.
But hey, maybe tonight. Maybe Christmas Eve would work some of that magic everyone was always crooning about, and he'd actually finish the goddamn chapter.
Maybe he'd grow gills.
Sighing, he trudged across the street, feeling a calm prick of relief set in as he saw the warm glow of the café—open, as he knew it would be, when everywhere else was shut. It always stuck Dean as amusing, heathen atheist that he was, that he found blessings in the nonreligious. Confusing and oxymoronic, sure. But he didn't find all that much comical these days. Who was he to judge his own sense of lumpy humour?
Shaking his head, Dean pushed open the door and stepped into the café. He shuddered as the warmth lapped at his freezing skin—even after he'd buried himself amongst layers of wool and flannel and the cosiest coat Walmart could offer—and exhaled. No tinny music, no tinsel, no fairy lights. Fuck, he loved this place. Looking around, he also realised the café was entirely empty, which, alright, it was gone 10pm on Christmas Eve, but not even Gabriel was tinkering behind the counter. Frowning, he turned around to look at the door to verify that it was actually open, because yeah... awkward.
But the closed sign was facing him, to his relief, so he shrugged and made his way to the counter, wondering where the hell the little guy was. He shrugged his wet coat off, dusting snowflakes from the shoulders with gloved fingers, then folded it over the back of a stool. He peered behind him, just double checking no-one was in there, before clearing his throat.
“Hello?” he called out, looking over to the door that seemed to lead to the kitchen area. He heard a thud, pulling a slight jump from him, followed by what sounded like someone running down a flight of stairs.
“Just a moment!” came a deep, gravelly and unfamiliar voice, and he half-wondered whether he'd interrupted a burglary or something, because that was some serious force behind those pipes. If there was such thing as the perfect serial killer voice, that was probably it.
He narrowed his eyes at the door, his endless nights of distractedly watching horror movies coming into play, because he knew how to handle this situation, damn it. It involved being prepared, not asking stupid questions and absolutely not tripping up. Okay, so he was probably getting a little ahead of himself, because people he was suspicious of rarely turned out to be serial killers. Or zombies. Or Mormons. But he was a writer. He had a naturally over-active imagination.
Just not when he actually, y'know, needed it.
The door slammed open as an out-of-breath man scrambled through it and... wow, okay, his mom always told him not to judge a book by its cover, and he was trying to cling to his serial killer theory, but... Well, let's just say he was waiting for his brain to catch up with his dick.
The guy was tall—an inch or two shorter than Dean himself, but tall—his dark hair bed-messy, and Dean couldn't help wonder if that's what he was doing when Dean came in. If that was the case, he wasn't gonna lie, he was a little jealous of whoever was responsible for sliding fingers through those soft locks, or pushing him down and making his hair look like... that. Jesus-freaking-Christ.
At first glance, the other man appeared thin, just this side of scrawny. But no, even through the cosy-looking knitted sweater he wore, Dean could see muscles, could see the sinewy, slender form of someone who worked out but not, obviously, like a body builder. The guy had the shape of a gymnast, all subtle muscles and misleading slimness. This dude could kick Dean’s ass if he wanted to. And coupled with the hard set of a stubbled, speckled jaw and the almost-darkened expression that projected experience—the bad kind—the man was clearly someone who could take care of himself. Someone a little fierce, a little guarded.
But looking at the man's face, the soft, apologetic clench of chapped pink lips, the earnest arches of his eyebrows—he wasn't a dick. One of the few gifts that came with being a writer meant Dean was good with first impressions, with summing people up without hearing the words from their mouths like a cold reader. But the intriguing thing was the conflict in this guy. The closed body language, the deep worry lines contrasting with the gentle slopes of his expression, the wide honesty of his eyes.
And his eyes, dear sweet Odin, his eyes. Alright, alright, Dean thought, you've heard it all before—the tall, dark stranger with the “blindingly, knee-shakingly, soul-penetratingly, beautiful ocean gaze” coupled with all the over-romanticised adjectives and metaphors you could think of, but no. Really.
It was kind of ridiculous. No man or woman or creature had any business being in possession of eyes so very fucking blue. Enough to make the hard-lined, masculine face pretty as hell. And Dean didn't usually go for men. There had been instances in the past, of course, and hey, he was an equal-opportunity flirter, but it was rare a guy caught his eye. Just... damn. If it did turn out the dude was a serial killer, and if Dean knew how predictable the global press were (and they were), he'd be dubbed something shallow and insulting. Babyface. Or Angelface, if they were feeling particularly zesty.
The man moved behind the counter, quickly yanking on a black apron over his clothes. He inclined his head slightly towards Dean in what was possibly an apology; it was quite difficult to tell. He didn't... move like most people.
“Sorry, I had to urinate,” he said, grave tone crisp and brutally frank. Dean blinked, searching the guy's face for a hint of irony, humour—something—but he just stared right back at him, intense and unwavering, completely oblivious to the sheer oddness of that first impression. Dean felt the corner of his mouth twitch up despite his bewilderment at the nonchalance. The slightly awkward mode of address, the honesty... it was winter. It was refreshing.
“Don't worry about it dude, nature calls, right?” He smiled. The guy tilted his head to the side, eyebrows drawing together as though deciphering Dean's words, like English wasn't his first language, and maybe it wasn't. That'd actually make sense.
“Yes,” he said after a beat, the word drawn-out slightly like he was still pondering his response. He pulled out a notepad. “Nonetheless, I am sorry to have kept you waiting. What can I get you?”
“The, ah—” Dean braced himself, coughing, “—'Hot Chocolatey for Fatties'.” Gabriel, Dean was sure, was absolutely a sadist. The annoying man practically squealed with glee whenever Dean complied to his demands to 'say it properly', almost relishing his humiliation. But he always gave Dean extra whipped cream when he did so. And now it had apparently been conditioned into him. Fantastic. “Grande,” he clarified.
The new guy even managed a flicker of a smile at the words, his blue eyes shining with amusement and, alright, it really wasn't that funny. “Of course,” he replied, and yep, that was definitely amusement in his low voice, fuck Dean's life.
The man turned around, fiddling with the machines behind him, surveying the controls as though he didn't quite understand how to get them to work. Dean was a little nervous he wasn't going to get his hot chocolate after all, before he heard the encouraging whirring of something electric come to life.
It was actually the only sound Dean could hear—the empty café was incredibly quiet. Awkwardly so, given he had never met this man before. He cleared his throat, compelled to fill the silence by some creepily engrained sense of societal duty or something.
“So, uh... I haven't seen you around before,” he said and oh god, now it sounded like Dean was hitting on him, which he absolutely wasn't. Mostly. The guy didn't turn around to answer, busied with the task of preparing Dean's drink.
“No, I'm covering for Gabriel,” he responded over his shoulder, raising his voice a tad over the noise of the machine. Dean nodded, which he realised afterwards was stupid and insufficient as a reply, because the other man couldn't even see him.
“Right. Uh, where is Gabe, anyway?” he asked, genuinely curious. “Doesn't come across as the Christmas-celebrating type.” His eyes flickered around the café again, eyes drinking in the distinct lack of decorations. Nope, not at all.
“Gabriel... likes to, um, party,” the guy said, removing the mug from the machine and adding what Dean figured was whatever made the cinnamony taste. “Christmas usually provides plenty of opportunities for that. Whipped cream?”
“What? Oh, uh, please,” Dean said, half-distracted by the guy's ass, which was really rather nice, the suggestion of whipped cream catching him dangerously off-guard. “So, what? Did he bribe you into working Christmas Eve?”
The man made a huffing sound as he squirted a sizeable amount of cream over the drink. “It wouldn't be beyond my brother to bribe me, but no. I don't celebrate either,” he replied, twisting around slightly, eyebrow quirked in a question. “Chocolate sprinkles?” Dean grinned.
“Hell yeah.” Because, c'mon, what's hot chocolate without sprinkles?
The man's smile widened a little, shaking his head at Dean before adding a generous amount of sprinkles to the beverage and turning around to place it in front of Dean. “One, ah, Hot Chocolatey for Fatties,” he announced, expression bemused and just a little mocking. Dean rolled his eyes, ignoring the warmth of his cheeks as he reached out and gripped the mug.
“Mock all you want, this drink is so worth the humiliation,” he said adamantly, and it really was. He brought the mug to his mouth, breathing in the rich, aromatic mixture of chocolate and cinnamon, and sipped at the drink through the cream. He closed his eyes, unable to fight against the small moan that resonated from his chest. Warmth seeped through his body, spreading down his torso, and drew a pleasant shudder from him. God, it was good.
He opened his eyes to find the guy staring at him, the same amused half-smile on his face as he watched Dean's outright display of pleasure.
“Satisfactory?” he inquired, with a small head-tilt. Dean snorted.
“Very,” he said, cradling the mug toward him like it was something precious. “Dude, everyone needs to experience this at least once in their lives.” It should probably be law, actually.
“I must confess, I haven't yet had the pleasure,” the guy said, and Dean noticed his posture had relaxed somewhat since he'd first laid eyes on him. Oh, he still stood as straight as if he had a monumentally large pole up his ass, but there was an openness about him that hadn’t existed two minutes earlier. Maybe it was the cinnamon.
“See, that... that's just wrong,” Dean said, shaking his head in half-serious dismay. “C'mon, you gotta have some. It's totally the weather for it, too.” He inclined his head back towards the window behind him.
“I'll even spring for it.” He wasn't sure why he was so keen for this stranger to try the drink, aside from the obvious mission he'd adopted for everyone in the immediate area to hear the good news. He just knew it would brighten his day a little to see the guy's eyes closed in reverence as he sipped at the warm beverage, a pink glow illuminating his cheeks at the heat. The guy smiled at him, a little indulgently.
“Maybe later,” he said, leaning against the counter a little. “I was always more of a tea person.” Dean wrinkled his nose up, remembering all of the fruity girlish brews Sam invested himself into. He'd tried the camomile once. It tasted like ass.
“That's... tragic,” he replied, earning himself a small, gentle breath of laughter in return. Dean's eyes flickered to the guy's chest—because he really couldn't keep mentally referring to him as 'the guy'—in search of a name tag, frowning when he was met only with the sticky-looking black fabric of the apron. Okay, a switch in tactics.
“I'm Dean.” He smiled, all charm, as he stuck out his hand. The other man peered at it questioningly for a heartbeat, as though sizing up the protocol, before he wrapped a firm, strong grip around the proffered hand, shaking it steadily.
“Castiel Novak,” he responded and, at the confused little twitch of eyebrows that appeared on Dean's face, he ducked his head a little, smiling, obviously used to questions about his name (one of which was, admittedly, on the tip of Dean's tongue). “It's the name of an angel,” he clarified, “the angel of Thursday, though he shares that title with the angel Sachiel.” Dean nodded, releasing the attractive hand he'd been holding a second or three too long.
“So, uh, is that like a family thing?” he asked, “The angel name thing?” Castiel's eyebrows furrowed slightly, the head-tilt coming out to play again.
“Yes,” he said slowly, “how did you know?” And if he was anything at all like Dean, he was probably sizing up the chance of him being a stalker. Or, incidentally, a serial killer.
“You said Gabriel was your brother, right?” He shrugged. “Like the archangel. I just figured... ” Castiel nodded, lips opening slightly in understanding. “Gabe for a brother... that's gotta be interesting.” Dean really hadn't known the shorter man all that long, but he was, after all, an excellent judge of character. Having Gabriel for a sibling was not something he would be envious of. Ever.
“He is... a handful at times,” Castiel agreed, eyes fond. “But he is the closest friend I have, as well as our sister, Anna.”
That Dean understood. Sam annoyed the absolute crap out of him, but he'd die for the overgrown bitch in a heartbeat and take anyone he needed to down with him. He didn't shy away from the fact that Sam was the absolute most important thing in his life. Even living on the West Coast, he still felt the need to check in with him at least once a day, make sure he was alright, that Ruby hadn't eaten him alive yet.
He'd hated that chick at first. Freaking despised her. But eventually... he'd warmed to her, begrudgingly, because, well... she was made of bark and bite laced in sarcasm and wit, and she could take care of herself; but most importantly, she loved Sam. Having seen them marry, that much was evident. She looked at Sam the way Dean’s mom used to look at his dad. He just hoped their marriage wouldn't crumble quite so easily.
“Say no more,” he replied to Castiel, holding his hand up. “I got a kid brother, Sammy.” He paused, backtracking. “And a half-brother, Adam, I guess.” His eyes quickly darted up to Castiel's to ensure he didn't notice the hesitation in his tone, because so he did not want to have that conversation with a stranger. But the man's face was composed, showing no hint of recognition of the touchy subject as he nodded, happy to listen to Dean's story.
“Sammy, though,” Dean continued, satisfied his awkwardness had gone unnoticed, “him and me... we're close. Always have been. Even if he is a giant girl.” Castiel snorted softly, dropping his head a touch in amusement. Dean found he liked pulling out those tiny smiles from the man, liked the crooked set of them, the buttered quality his eyes took on.
“He's been nagging at me for weeks to come stay with him over Christmas, all puppy eyes and sympathy because you can't be alone at Christmas, Dean!” he rolled his eyes, quite proud of his incredibly accurate Sammy impression. It was true, though. The Sasquatch had been pestering him nonstop to come up there with their mom, who ended up going without him, but Dean wasn't in the mood to play happy families and act all Brady Bunch and smiles over Ruby's shitty turkey, and giving shitty gifts he couldn't really afford anyway. He'd rather be doing nothing at all but lounging around in his boxers and reading all about his favourite busty Asians.
Not that he told that to Sam, because he wasn't an asshole. He didn't want to be a downer to his little brother's fun, but the kid should know by now that Dean wasn't into all this bullcrap. He just wasn’t.
“You're not a fan of Christmas either,” Castiel said. It wasn't a question. He pulled over a stool from behind the counter and arranged himself opposite Dean. “Sorry, I've been standing all day. I'm fairly certain my legs will have to be amputated.”
Dean let out a huffed laugh. “Not used to it, huh?” He smiled, sipping appreciatively at his drink. “What do you do when you're not working your ass off while short slackers go get their groove on?”
“I'm a librarian,” Castiel replied, nimble fingers fiddling with a little packet of sugar. “It's actually a lot more of an active occupation than you might think. There’s a lot to be said for the amount of energy it takes to devote your day to referencing and developing collections. Though I suppose I should be grateful I’m no long a Page”.
And okay, Dean knew Castiel was still talking... but he'd kind of zoned out around 'librarian'. And now he was drifting far away from this conversation, his mind conjuring up images of Castiel in a fitted sweater vest, delicate glasses balanced on his nose, framing his eyes beautifully as he strode around a library somewhere, organising errant books, running strong, gentle fingers over the spines, gliding his fingertips over the pages, caressing the written words...
“What about you?”
The pleasant rumble of the man's voice snapped Dean out of the mental movie set of Sexy Librarians 4: Time to Pay Your Late Fees and he jerked his head up to look back up at Castiel, a guilty flush spreading over his cheeks as he tried to recall exactly what Castiel had asked, coming up blank since all his energy was focused on stopping his dick from getting any harder at the parade of mental images. And really, the task was stupidly difficult to accomplish while Castiel continued to look at him through the thickness of his dark lashes, speaking to Dean in a voice that really shouldn't be used in public. Dean was pretty certain it needed to be saved for the bedroom. Or a sex line. And oh crap, he was staring again. He shook his head, summoning a strained smile.
“Sorry, I was, ah, lost in thought. What did you say?”
“I enquired about what you do for a living,” Castiel said with patience, a skill Dean supposed he'd obtained through living with Gabriel.
“Oh, uh, I'm a writer.” He grimaced at how that sounded. Every hipster with a blog was a 'writer' these days, every pretentious douchebag with their oh-so-very insightful piece of recycled bullcrap comprised of the thoughts and ideas and metaphors of someone else. And Dean didn't really blame them. They used it to score chicks or to appear creative and relevant, but he didn't want people thinking he was one of them. Actually, no. That was a lie. He didn't give a fuck what people thought about him or his line of work. Just, oddly, this one stranger. It's not like he had any real impression he needed to make, didn't have to create an image of excellence for himself. It was doubtful he'd see this guy that often, if at all. But for some reason he felt the need to clarify.
“A novel-writer. I write novels.”
Castiel's eyes visibly lit up at the words, his whole posture becoming more interested as he leaned forward, as though he wanted to move deeper into the conversation. “That’s wonderful. What genre?” he questioned, speaking a little faster, just a tad more excitably than earlier.
Dean swallowed a mouthful of warm liquid and pondered for a moment, debating how to answer that. His first novel was a supernatural/sci-fi fluff piece set in the Old West, barely breaking any mould whatsoever but still somehow managing to achieve a core group of loyal followers, solidifying its cult status.
The second... Well, he didn't think “acid-trippy-journey-fantasy-thrill
“Um, sci-fi mostly,” was what he decided on, for the sake of ease. Castiel looked appeased by the answer and glanced down at Dean's laptop bag.
“I suppose it makes sense to lug that thing around with you, then,” he remarked, features curling up as though repulsed by the computer. Dean snorted.
“Dude, what's the poor laptop ever done to you?” Castiel sniffed, looking away from the laptop like it had said something to offend him.
“Computers and I... have a frosty relationship,” he explained, much to Dean's amusement, picturing Castiel engaged in battle with his one great personal archnemises: Microsoft, “There is a lot of hate. It's mutual.”
Dean found himself actually laughing at this, louder and clearer and with more heart than he could remember laughing in a long time, putting his cup down, lest he spill it.
“I'm glad you find it amusing,” Castiel deadpanned, folding his arms across his chest. “But those things are abominations and have eaten no less than seven original documents of mine that I had no copies of.” Dean shook his head at his tone, wiping his eye in amusement.
“That's your fault for not backing things up, man,” he said, still chuckling lightly. “You can't blame computers for your lack of foresight.” When Dean thought about it later, it occurred to him that it was probably a little odd, a little rude maybe, to be teasing a guy you'd met less than a half hour earlier, but Dean found he couldn't help himself. Couldn't help the cheeky, lazy grin rising on his lips, couldn't stop the warm, familiar manner in which he addressed this guy he had no business being familiar with at all. Castiel, however, didn't seem to mind.
“I back up everything I write,” Dean continued, ignoring Castiel's rather petulant eye roll, and it was true. He did. When he actually wrote. “I've got a drawer at home full of pen drives packed with old drafts of my work. It would suck to write your magnum opus and then lose it to the evil robot overlords the rest of us regular folk know as computers” He grinned at Castiel again, delighted with the snort of amused offence he received for his efforts. The other man leaned forward, hooking the palm of his hand under his chin.
“What are you working on now?” he asked, eyes flickering to the laptop, but as Dean paused, he sat up straight, eyes widening a little in shock. “Oh, I'm sorry, that's personal, of course. I... sometimes I find myself making invasive enquiries without thinking. When I was younger, the therapist my mother made me see informed me I had trouble with personal boundaries. I suppose I haven't yet grown out of-”
“Cas!” Dean interrupted. “You're blabbering, dude. Chill. It's fine.” Castiel seemed frozen for a heartbeat, paused in mid-tirade, lips pursed in a pink 'O' of an unfinished sentence as his eyes roamed Dean's face, considering.
“Cas?” he asked with that same head-tilt and oh, crap, Dean'd called him that, hadn't he? It just... slipped out. Felt comfortable. Felt right on Dean's tongue, affectionate and fond, wrapped comfortably in the exasperation of his tone.
“I, uh... do you mind? Castiel is kind of a mouthful,” he said rather sheepishly, a coy smile on his lips. Castiel nodded after a moment.
“Of course. You just... caught me off-guard,” he explained. “Only Gabriel and Anna have ever referred to me as 'Cas'. The rest of my family, friends and colleagues all feel my full name is more... proper.” Castiel showed no outward signs of discomfort, or any negativity in his words, but there was a curl to his tone, a shard of regret digging into the smooth rumble of his voice.
There was history there, history Dean had no right to know or want to know, but he did. There was a story behind those eyes; the conflict between their brilliance and the dark circles underneath hammered the notion into him. Part of the allure was in the mystery, he had to admit, and Dean couldn't help but listen to the wavered lull of Cas’s voice and wonder what had happened. Castiel brought a fist up to his mouth and coughed politely into it, signalling his wish to change the subject.
“So, uh, do you not mind telling me what you're writing currently, then?” he asked, stammering a little over his words. And Dean, fuck help him, found it impossibly endearing. Even though he didn't often talk about his work to anyone besides his frustrated publisher, he found himself wanting to tell Cas. Shame there wasn't actually anything to tell—no words, no ideas. Because actually impressing the guy with a decent piece of writing was far too easy for Dean Winchester's life. Naturally.
“Um, it's my next novel...” he began, frowning a little at his laptop as though it was to blame for his chronic writer's block, and well hey, maybe the whole disdain for technology thing was catching.
“It's... not going so well. I'm pretty sure my brain dried up all my ideas. Or some alien asshole has sucked them up. Or maybe the government.” All of which were completely feasible ideas. He was fairly certain the CIA had been tracking him and his brilliance for years. Castiel nodded in sympathetic understanding.
“Perhaps you require some inspiration... Have you thought about a change of environment?”
“Uh, yeah, that's actually how I found this place to begin with,” Dean replied, gesturing vaguely to the café. “I was wandering around, looking for an escape from Saint Nick so I could fake writing in peace, and I stumbled in here to get the hell out of the way of a group of particularly vicious-looking last-minute Christmas shoppers.”
He shuddered. The experiences he'd had with gift-hunters out for a bargain in the past were not pleasant, to say the absolute least. But there was a wry look on Castiel's face and that sort of made relating the story worth it.
“And I guess I never really left.” And he didn't. Not really. The pathetic part was even when Gabriel would finally kick him out or he decided he should probably go leave to shower or something, his mind was still on the quiet little haven, still focused on when he'd next get to enjoy a cup of the most perfect hot chocolate in the world, awful name aside.
He realised, with a sudden sinking rush in his stomach, said hot chocolate was going cold as he conversed with Castiel. He rushed to rectify this, pulling the mug back to his mouth and swallowing a large gulp down, sighing deeply in pleasure.
“You said this was your next novel?” Castiel asked when the mug left Dean's mouth, the man's face oddly flushed, words a little rushed. Curious. “Does this mean you've written before? Have I read your work?”
Dean grimaced. He could play the vague, 'oh probably not, hey have you seen that show Suits?' change-of-subject card, sure, and avoid the subject entirely and not at all subtly, meaning Castiel would view him as closed-off and skittish and would probably create an air of awkwardness around the rest of their conversation—something he'd been greatly enjoying so far. Which, in itself, was extremely odd. Dean wasn't anti-social, per se, he just... didn't usually enjoy socialising. Or people. And especially not strangers in what was supposed to be the quiet solitude of his writing time. But speaking with Cas, listening to his stories, meandering over fumbling words and mismatched communications—it was nice. He didn't want it to end yet.
But on the other hand, he could confess his authorship of the semi-popular paranormal sci-fi Western, Colt, thereby revealing himself as the unknown object of affection of the “Cult of Colt”, as his delightful fangirls and fanboys dubbed themselves.
And that could go three ways: a) Castiel being unfamiliar with the book—fairly embarrassing due to the fact the guy was a librarian, b) Castiel had read the novel and liked it, which lead to the sub-outcome b1) he was secretly one of those fans, which didn't really seem likely, looking at his calm demeanour and lack of Colt/Morse OTP merchandise anywhere on his person. Or c) he'd read the book and didn't like it or was indifferent, which was... yeah.
“Uh... possibly,” he said finally, after several awkward seconds of staring. “I write under a pseudonym, though... so you wouldn't recognise my name.” He crossed his toes, hoping that would be a satisfactory answer.
“What's your pseudonym?” Castiel asked, clearly intrigued, as that was just Dean's personal brand of luck.
“Uh, Ackles,” he coughed, “Jensen Ackles.” Castiel's eyes widened slightly and glimmer of recognition shone in his eyes as he sat up a little straighter.
“As in... the Colt Jensen Ackles?” he asked, and ah, we definitely had recognition at least. Dean grimaced because, now that he reminded himself yet again, Castiel was a librarian. Most likely deeply versed in the most well-crafted literature humanity has ever had to offer. There was a chance—a substantial one—that he'd kick Dean out of the café, pelting him with muffins and scones for his crimes against literature.
“... If I said yes, will there be pelting?” he asked, inching away just in case. Castiel blinked, then frowned, the picture of confusion.
“... No,” he replied, the word coming out slowly as though Dean needed extra time to decipher the complicated syllable. Or equally likely, Castiel needed a moment to figure out what the actual hell Dean was talking about—a feat easy for no man.
“Dean, that novel is... frankly outstanding,” Castiel said, voice surprisingly grave for a compliment. “I'm not usually a fan of the genre... but my sister recommended it to me and I was pleasantly surprised. Very much so.” Dean snorted- as happy as he was to hear from a fan, he wasn't naïve. He knew the book suited a purpose—to entertain the target audience, to hit expectations. It did fairly well with the critics. But it was by no means outstanding.
“Uh, I appreciate the compliment, man, but that book...” He paused for a moment to find the correct words. How could one honestly describe their own work? “It was... expected. It did what it was supposed to do. Entertain for a couple hours. There's so real... substance.” He shrugged. He wasn't self-depreciating, he was realistic. His book was suitable for a Dungeons and Dragons-playing sci-fi nerd to pass the time in a line-up for the latest “I need this” video game, but they wouldn't be teaching it in high school lit classes anytime soon.
“No,” Castiel replied simply, tone adamant, his hands flat on the counter as though shit was about to get real. Oh crap. What if he was one of those fans?
“... No?” Dean repeated quizzically, “Dude, you can't just say 'no'. I wrote the damn thing. There's very freaking little in the way of thought behind it, trust me.” Castiel shook his head, almost in disappointment.
“Dean. There is a lot more depth to your work than you give yourself credit for,” he began. “And perhaps it is a testament to your own character that you didn't need to think about what you were writing. That it stems from impulse and emotion. And having read the book, I could readily believe that.”
Dean frowned lightly. He felt a vague sense of discomfort at Castiel's words—not because they were full of praise or that they were personal, but because they were laced in this tone of sheer certainty, that Castiel believed what he was saying was nothing but the honest truth.
“The plot itself,” Castiel continued, like he'd already reviewed Dean's work in the past, like he'd studied it in depth, “is of course intricate and fascinating... but it is the characters you have woven that make this novel truly great. The volatility with which they feel, with which they need to save each other, to save everyone... to carry that weight on your shoulders and not break... is remarkable.” Castiel paused for a moment, looking off to the side in thought.
“Colt’s sole anchor is Morse—his only sense of balance drawn from camaraderie—from a family with no blood shared, but curiously symbiotic nonetheless. Without each other they are flawed, scarred human beings. But together, those flaws become strengths. It is easy to perceive the novel as a tale of a man and his partner aiding those in danger and destroying vampires and wendigos because it's the ‘right thing to do’. But the core of the story, the thread amongst the narrative, is this idea of family. That we need each other to fight. That without family, without people, there is nothing to fight for.”
Castiel stared at Dean, who was sat across from him, eyes flitting about in some kind of desperation to understand Castiel's passion. To comprehend where the hell he got this... faith. Faith in Dean's characters, in Dean's tragically flawed, selfish, hedonistic characters. Faith in Dean's ability to write, to a degree that warranted this kind of passionate observation. Faith that his unqualified beliefs were true. It was... unnerving. When Dean didn't speak, Castiel wet his lips and carried on.
“I always believed that Colt... was a reflection of his creator,” he said quietly, and Dean felt his eyebrows go up because, wow, that was almost an insult. “He is a man with—pardon the pun—demons. He has a history, he has seen and done things that would make the average person recoil. But he is not average. Nobody takes great notice of him... but he is exceptional. He is heroic and just, yes, but that is not his saving grace.”
Dean swallowed, stomach twisting oddly because, for a fleeting moment, Castiel wasn't shaping his tongue around his thoughts on a fictional character; he was curling around Dean, capturing him unapologetically and with earnest appreciation, spreading warmth around him that was just ridiculous because he wasn't talking about Dean. Not really.
Dean had lived an average life, had seen and done nothing extraordinary, had experienced nothing more troubling than the next faceless guy in this human cesspool of angst and loathing. He was plainly, obnoxiously mundane. He was just... Dean Winchester. He frowned and listened, since Cas wasn’t done yet.
“What makes Samuel Colt so impressive, so sympathetic is his devotion.” Castiel's eyes were almost pleading, so impassioned with his love of this piece of Dean's psyche, this tiny fragment of his imagination. Like he needed to believe in this man's righteousness, actually cared what his faux existence depicted. “His devotion to his tasks, to his friend, to humanity, so strong that he will not give up. He persists and he persists with the impossible because everything is screaming at him that it is unachievable, that he will fail, but he cannot let it weigh him down. He fights when all else has surrendered around him because he cannot give up. Until there’s absolution, he won't.”
Like writing this goddamn book. Dean thought bemusedly, half-wondering how Samuel Colt would feel to have the stifling heat of his furious passion and devotion compared to an obnoxious author's struggles to put pen to paper and smear his brains across a starved page. He would probably, certainly, shoot him.
“But what makes the book itself so very much more than simple 'entertainment' is that it is holds a mirror up to humanity.” Castiel's left hand was clenching and unclenching expressively, clutching at intangible ideas, completely immersed in his task of explaining Dean's own novel to him.
“It portrays this man, so full of compassion and unwavering love amongst the most consuming rancour and hatred. So righteously driven and selfless, but somehow unhingedly violent, with selfish, hedonistic motivations. The universe you have created is hostile and welcoming. The characters charitable and consuming. The book is paradoxical, oxymoronic. It is human. It is... honest.”
Dean stopped for a moment and blinked at him as the man took a few deep breaths, some brand of tension vibrating around them, the heavy speech on Dean's work, Dean's life, lingering taut in the air. Dean felt invigorated, his flesh tingling, inspired by Castiel's passion, drawn in by how his face looked as he recounted his ideas of the novel; the wide, dewy eyes blinking slowly as he animated his mouth around concepts, then narrowing, eyebrows tightened as he pressed his points down. The way his body shifted forward, leaning into Dean's space over the counter, his form compelling and captivating. The pink seconds of tongue coating over chapped lips in his excitement. The movements of eager hands.
It both healed and ripped open something inside Dean, some gaping wound he didn't know existed was scabbing over, some netted mass of bitter compunction pulled wide apart. At these simple words he found himself so close, so simply close to believing. Not in the plastic lullaby of religion or Christmas or even his own wavering talent, but in... something. For the first time in years, watching this man, listening to his passion, he... felt.
“Honest, huh?” he said, voice strained. Castiel smiled.
“As honest as winter.”
And with the ice of the sky falling outside, cocoa warm in his hands and sole words connecting heartbeats, Dean couldn't be expected to do anything other than hear familiar sounds drop from a stranger's tongue and fall fast, half gone in an instant.