Pairing: Dean/Castiel
Rating: G
Warnings/Tags: Ficlet, AU: Modern Setting, Pet Stores, Tooth-Rotting Fluff, Puppies
Notes: Gift for sherry_doll, for the prompt "pet shop". Originally posted here on spnspringfling!

Wherein Dean and Castiel both learn new things.

Learned Behavior

The bell on the front door jingles, barely noticeable under the din of barking and twenty-odd people all speaking at once. Castiel looks up from correcting a chow mix's extremely apathetic take on "shake" just long enough to see someone's come inside, then refocuses on the dog.

"Ferdinand," he chides, gently. "I know you're bored, but once we get past this we'll be able to learn more interesting things. Ms. Wills, please try again."

"Shake, boy," the girl tries, and the chow looks at her appraisingly for a long moment.

"Ferdinand, shake," Castiel says firmly, and the chow's paw slowly leaves the floor until Jo can take it in her hand and hold it with a huge smile.

"Clicker," Castiel reminds her, and after the click Ferdinand immediately drops his paw and noses her pocket expectantly. Still, it's a start.

While they were having their breakthrough moment, a man has come to stand awkwardly at the edge of the practice floor. He's dressed in a sleek, slim-fitting suit, slate gray lapels with a narrow tie the color of young apples. He's absolutely covered in cream-white dog hair, the cause of which is very probably the puppy using the circumference of its leash to the fullest extent possible. It strains towards the other dogs with a flurry of happy yips and howls, tail wagging so hard the entire back half of the puppy is moving with it.

When he sees Castiel looking, the man smiles awkwardly. He gives him an aborted half-wave with the hand that doesn't have the end of the leash wrapped around it three times, and Castiel stands.

"Ten more minutes," Castiel calls to the class at large. "Remember, click first!"

There's a smattering of acknowledgement from the two dozen pet parents he's teaching as Castiel weaves around them towards the puppy, who lunges for him the second Castiel makes eye contact.

"Hello there," he murmurs, crouching down. The puppy is ecstatic, rubbing its head up under his offered fingers before rolling over and presenting its stomach for petting, which he gives with both hands. The yips haven't stopped or slowed; if anything, they're louder, and that tail might be in danger of sprain if it wags any harder. "Aren't you excited."

"Her name is Marigold," the man in the suit says miserably. Up close, there are unmistakable teeth-marks in his glossy leather shoes. "Sorry, she's— she doesn't have the best manners."

"She's very young," Castiel observes with a small smile, letting Marigold have one of his fingers to teethe on. "And that's what we're here for. Would you like to sign up for a class?"

"I did," the man says, looking even more hangdog. "I mean, I'm already signed up for this class. I just... haven't been able to make it before today."

Castiel's eyebrows rise; this is the third session in a six-week course, and the class starts at six in the evening. It's now seven-thirty. "I think you may need to pick a different class, Mr.—?"

"Call me Dean," the man says tiredly. "And this is the only one I can make it to. Theoretically."

Now Castiel frowns at the puppy, who's investigating his apron pockets with zeal. "... Dean. Raising a puppy requires a great deal of time and effort, and if you can't make time—"

"I know that, okay?" Dean interrupts, sounding exhausted. "Trust me, I am well aware that puppies are a lot of work, but— look, it's complicated, and... y'know what, I'm just going to go. Thanks."

"Wait," Castiel says, hand on Marigold's leash. "Stay."

There are a few reasons he says it. One is the perfect trust and bright-eyed focus of the puppy currently chewing on the ratty cuffs of his jeans; Castiel is certain Marigold will be a joy to teach, once some of her energy has been bled off. Two, although by her teeth she's only seven or eight weeks old, Marigold is already as big as a some of the fully-grown dogs in this room and if she doesn't start training soon, he can see her becoming a completely unmanageable nightmare.

Third, if Castiel is being honest, is more because Dean's eyes so perfectly match his tie than anything Marigold has done.

"I didn't mean to sound like I was scolding you," Castiel says, rubbing behind Marigold's ears as she rubs her face on his stomach. "If this is a recurring problem, I can stay a little later most nights. It's no trouble."

"Really?" Dean asks, expression cautiously hopeful. "I mean, I can pay you extra, of course—"

"No extra," Castiel says, waving it away. "Why don't you bring Marigold to the back corner? It looks like we'll need to brush up on her leash training, for a start."

"... you have to train them to walk on leashes?" Dean says, in the tones of the doomed.

Marigold succeeds in fitting herself into his largest apron pocket. Castiel bites his lip. "And wear collars."

"Oh," Dean says faintly.

Castiel tries to look encouraging. "Let's get started, then? It looks like we have a lot to work on."

As suspected, Marigold is a fast learner. She is also hyperactive, clumsy, and increasingly large; Dean's eyes go a little wide when Castiel tells him he thinks she might have some Great Dane or wolfhound in her bloodlines.

"I don't even have a park near my apartment building," Dean admits one evening, lightly tugging to pull Marigold away from an unusually riveting bush. She trots up to them after only a little resistance, and knocks into Dean's legs expectantly until both click and treat are delivered. "But I've been thinking about moving."

"Find a place with a fenced yard, if you can," Castiel advises. They're nearing the end of their circuit of the neighborhood; as spring turns to summer, the days have gotten longer, and the sun is still a hot pink glow on the horizon. "She'll need the room."

"She needs the room now," Dean says on a laugh, tugging on the leash again. "Hey, honey, leave the squirrels alone. What'd they ever do to you, huh?"

Marigold's history is once that's depressingly common to Castiel, as the operator of a pet store and shelter: a box of unwanted, too-young puppies abandoned in a public place, in this case a school, and a pair of sisters who'd decided to smuggle one home in their backpack.

"The older one, she's a force of nature," Dean says, obviously proud. "She had Marigold in her closet for five days before Jess found her, can you imagine?"

"What happened?" Castiel asks. It's cooling down now that the sun's given up the ghost, and he shivers, half-wishing he'd brought a sweatshirt. "If you don't mind me asking."

"Well, the younger one's pretty allergic," Dean says, shrugging. "And those kids— not my nieces, I mean, but Sam and Jess— they're both still paying off law school. The four of them live in this tiny shoebox apartment. They love Mari, but there's no way they could have afforded to keep her, you know? So. Uncle Dean to the rescue, I guess."

"That's very sweet of you," Castiel says, and Dean ducks his head with a smile.

"Yeah, I—"

"And very foolish," Castiel adds sternly. "Pets, dogs especially, require a great deal of love and attention and should never be purchased or picked up on a whim—"

"Yes, thank you, heard the PSA, got the t-shirt," Dean grumbles, but his smile doesn't fade, and the look he aims at Castiel from under his lashes could even be called fond.

"It's very important," Castiel grumbles, nearly tripping as Marigold crosses to investigate a patch of dandelions that have grown through the asphalt path.

"Trust me, I…" Dean trails off, looking up at the dark sky. "Hey, did you feel—?"

A drop of rain hits Castiel's nose, and, when he turns his face up, his cheek. Forehead. "But the forecast didn't have any—"

The deluge is so sudden it draws a gasp from Castiel and a curse from Dean. Marigold yelps in dismay and tries to hide behind Dean's legs, tangling the leash around the two of them, and their rush towards shelter is almost a pratfall into the nearest mudpuddle.

"Your new name is Moron, moron,"Dean growls at the puppy, tucking her under his arm. "Cas, c'mon!"

The store isn't far away, but the rain is falling so hard it stings on contact and Castiel doesn't resist being pulled into a jog and dragged down the sidewalk. They reach a building, some real estate or insurance agent with a narrow, nearly useless awning out front. They crowd in under it shoulder to shoulder and, Castiel discovers with mild surprise, hand in hand.

"Jesus," Dean says, angling his head to look up at the clouds attempting to drown them. Propped up against his chest, Marigold shivers and whines. "Yeah, just— wonderful. How long are we going to be stuck here, do you think?"

"Hard to say," Castiel murmurs, fingers twitching unconsciously against Dean's palm.

Dean's eyes flick down to their hands, and he looks as surprised as Castiel feels. "Um."

Castiel looks out at into the rain, at the florist across the street and the neon signage of the dry-cleaner's next to it. "Well, it's not all bad," he says bracingly, and gives Dean's hand the slightest squeeze. "I like the rain."

"Yeah," Dean says, sounding dazed and a bit hoarse. "I, uh…" Dean's answering squeeze is a little more firm. "The. The rain can be nice."

It's a professional hazard, but for a moment Castiel has the overwhelming desire to reach for the clicker in his pocket.


#I could have written ten thousand words about castiel owning a pet shop but I ran out of tiiiiiiiime
#ain't that always the way
#but seriously he goes around with kittens sleeping in his pockets
#and boas curled around the rim of his hipster glasses
#birds and the occasional adventurous rat on his shoulders
#he's had the same two turtles since he was five
#and the same goldfish since age ten
#they are ridiculously old and fat and happy
#if dean's not careful he's going to end up the same way