Title: Love is a Battlefield
Theme/Topic: "Angel-pheromones or smth. Everyone wants a piece of Cas' ass. And I mean everyone. The crackiest the pairing the better. Dean is most definitely NOT amused by everyone hitting on/propositioning his bf."
Character/Pairing/s: lightly DeanxCas (with some highly dramatic SamxCas, a little bit of random OCsxCas, and Balthazar being European, or something)
Spoilers/Warnings: Through 6x15 (as this goes up DAYS after 6x17 airs, I can only hope this entire premise doesn't get shot dead…)
Word Count: 23,550
Summary: Cas makes new friends and Dean hates them a lot.
Dedication: for tenshi_to_akuma's birthday at the deancastiel Everlasting Birthday Challenge! Happy birthday, and I hope you enjoy this despite my fudging of the specifics in the prompt.
A/N: This… started off with angel pheromones and then kind of got away with me. I was also in a bit of a rush, so forgive me of some of the research is questionable or vague or WRONG; we'll call it artistic license or something? I WILL LEARN HOW TO WRITE PROPERLY IN THIS FANDOM ONE DAY. Maybe. Uh. Special thanks to myxstorie for reading through this for me and being generally cheerful about it, particularly because I still have awful insecurity issues whenever I write SPN. ;_;
Disclaimer: No harm or infringement intended. All is just for fun.
When Balthazar and Castiel arrive on earth—the Netherlands today, specifically— for the next in a long series of very important meetings, the first thing Balthazar does is pause to give his brother a very serious once-over in the dark of the nightclub, at the base of the gaudy spiral staircase that will take them up to the VIP room.
Castiel's physical body moves wearily to Balthazar's eyes, its shoulders slumped and its hair rumpled and unruly. It is still wearing the ridiculous coat and the ridiculous suit that initially came with the vessel, and suddenly, Balthazar realizes how horribly out of place Castiel seems right now, as the two of them stand amongst all the loose, happy humans who are writhing and drinking amongst themselves down on the dance floor. More than that, Balthazar thinks Castiel's grace looks like the survivor of a particularly brutal mugging, and that its shabbiness is starting to show physical signs on his vessel. That won't do at all. Not for where they're going.
He tsks to himself, helplessly. "Oh, Cassy," he sighs.
Castiel blinks. Frowns. "What's the matter?" he asks, sounding weary, anxious. "Is there danger here?"
The bouncer standing guard at the foot of the stairs eyes them in a cursory manner when they linger nearby instead of going straight up, but doesn't do or say anything particularly threatening.
Balthazar ignores the bouncer, crossing his right arm over his chest and resting his chin on top of his left hand as he deeply contemplates the merits of Castiel's current appearance, physical and otherwise. "No, no particular danger," he murmurs, reluctantly. "For the moment."
Castiel stares back, getting impatient. "Balthazar," he growls, voice low and full of warning.
Balthazar sighs. "You're sure you're ready for this? Not to be rude or anything, Cassy, but you look, well, less than angelic right now. If I'd have known you were tired enough to let your vessel fall into such a scruffy state, I'd have made you rest and clean the poor thing up before I took you out with me tonight."
Castiel's eyes stray down to the state of his dress. "This is how I always look," he says, after a moment.
His brother shakes his head. "It's not your clothes," he murmurs. Pauses. "Well, not just your clothes."
Castiel's expression doesn't change. "If we do not go now, we will be late."
Eventually, Balthazar sighs and throws his hands up. "Whatever. I'm not the one who's going to judge you, brother," he says breezily, before nodding in the bouncer's general direction. The bouncer wordlessly allows them to pass the velvet rope, and the two angels ascend the stairs, leaving the thumping music and the dancing, amorous throng of humans on the first floor behind them. "But," he can't help but add, as they find themselves in front of a surprisingly quiet hallway and a clean, white painted door, "she probably will. And if she sees what I see, well. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence."
Castiel stops when he hears that, turning thoughtful and grave, like any proper general in the midst of losing a war ought to, except for the fact that they are in the highly improbable setting of a thumping European sex club. "Do you feel my appearance would make her less inclined to agree to an alliance with us?" Castiel poses carefully, brow furrowed.
Balthazar chuckles. "It might have, but it's too late either way. She knows we're here." He gestures to the door again. "It would be ruder to keep her waiting on us, don't you think?"
Castiel nods, though he does attempt to straighten his tie a little, as Dean had once done for him.
Balthazar sees him falter awkwardly with the knot and is eventually forced to intervene for the sake of the tie if nothing else; he swats Castiel's hands away from his throat and proceeds to take care of it himself. "There," he declares, when it's acceptable. "And try to smile at least once, would you? Just because misery has been rolling off of you since your last visit to earth doesn't mean we should all have to endure it."
Castiel blinks back at him. "Will that help?"
Balthazar studies Castiel, trying to imagine any sort of charming smile on the other angel's face. It fails. "No, probably not," he responds eventually, with a sigh of helpless amusement. He shakes his head and nudges the door open with his grace. "Come on then. At the very least, we might get an orgy out of this."
"I do not want an orgy," Castiel answers, as they face the open portal.
Balthazar huffs in resignation. "No, of course you don't."
They disappear into the doorway.
When they come out the other end, a moment later and a thousand miles away, they find themselves in a large, dark room draped in plush furs and exotic, hanging silks. Women and men in various states of undress dance or lounge or freely engage in sexual acts throughout the premises, turning to eye the newcomers coyly as they pass, but not pausing in their sensual activities either way. Castiel sees them and feels uncomfortable— inexplicably, humanly so— and when that frustrates him, he schools his expression and forces himself to keep his gaze fixed straight ahead. Music plays in the distance though Castiel sees neither musicians nor an electronic source for the sounds. It is in sharp contrast with the noise from the club that they'd just come from, the melodic strains playing only loudly enough to be pleasant but not so much that it drowns out the sounds of the humans' laughter, their moaning and rutting.
Castiel can smell perfume and alcohol and sex in the air as well; it abruptly reminds him of the brothel Dean had taken him to in those aspects, though the atmosphere seems lighter here than it had been in that place somehow, less weighed down by the gravity of human sorrow and the pain of hopelessness and degradation.
"Ah, heaven on earth," Balthazar sighs dreamily from beside him, and waves at a pretty little nymph of a thing wearing bracelets of golden bells around her wrists and nothing else. She smiles back, invitingly, and when the angel looks as though he might pursue that invitation, Castiel growls, "Balthazar," and pulls him along, by a fistful of jacket.
"You really need to get laid," Balthazar mutters, but yields so Castiel releases him. He straightens the lapels of his coat and realigns his sleeves. "This way, then."
He leads Castiel to an elegantly curtained canopy at the very back of the room, from which dangling chains of gold and diamonds sparkle and wink in the low light. More sounds of pleasure, of sex and laughter and companionship, reach Castiel's ears from inside. He pauses at the threshold, uncertain.
"Come in, angels," a voice entreats, pleasantly. "You won't be interrupting anything."
Castiel takes a deep breath and parts the curtain, to reveal a beautiful, buxom woman sitting amidst a mound of furs and elaborately embroidered cushions, naked and lazily sipping wine from a bowl. At her feet are several young men and women, all engaged in various stages of fervent copulation.
Balthazar stares. Castiel quickly averts his eyes. "Astarte," he greets, with a nod. "Thank you for granting us audience."
"Indeed," Balthazar murmurs, but is not looking at the goddess when he does.
The goddess only seems to appreciate his open interest, and raises her bowl to Balthazar with a smirk. "Can I offer you boys something to drink? Eat? Do?"
Balthazar is about to answer in the affirmative for all three, but before he can, Castiel steps forward, bowing his head slightly. "All we ask of you is an alliance."
Invitation thus declined she pauses to study Castiel for a minute after that, without saying or doing anything. It is not unlike how Balthazar had looked him over earlier, though much, much more unsettling somehow. "Oh you're pretty," she says after a beat, and licks her lips. "Just my type."
Castiel blinks, looking to Balthazar for help.
Balthazar just shrugs, helplessly. Though he does not attempt to contain his smirk.
Astarte chuckles and stands, coming down off her throne of furs and pillows until she is level with Castiel, naked and flushed invitingly before him. He resolutely keeps his eyes trained to hers and nowhere else.
She seems to revel in his discomfort. "Poor, pretty angel," she murmurs, reaching out to stroke her fingers lightly along his neck, his jaw, his cheek. "Things must be going fairly badly for you to come to me for help. I know how much your type doesn't like pagans."
"My type?" Castiel asks, perplexed.
"The steadfast type." Pause. "Virgins," she amends, when he continues to look boggled.
Castiel, admirably, does not react, even as a love goddess breathes her charms into the air around him. "Times have changed," is all he says. "The world has changed."
She chuckles. "Right, the end of the world has come and gone. Time to build a new one, then."
"Raphael and his followers seek to build nothing. This new world is one which they wish to destroy," Castiel tells her. "This is why we need what power you can spare us. This world and its…" he pauses then, and his eyes sweep downward along her body, briefly, "…pleasures… are the source of your power. Help us protect it."
Astarte considers this. "You really want my help?" she asks again, still stroking Castiel's face with the backs of her fingers. "What is it that you think I can do for you, exactly?"
Castiel catches her hand in his own, lowering it from his jaw. "Lend us aid."
"I appreciate war as much as the next pagan, but I don't like fighting angels, angel," she says, after a beat. She pulls her hand delicately from his own and begins to circle him. "Why should my priestesses and I suffer for your petty family squabbles? Haven't we endured enough of them already?"
"If Raphael wins, you will suffer anyway," Castiel says. "He will destroy the world. Your priestesses will be dead and you will have no sex, or love, or war to feed you."
Astarte continues to study him slowly, eyes laser focused on his own. "Who says I won't? Perhaps I could learn to feed on you angels. These days there seems to be more than enough sex and love and war amongst you lot to feed an army of pagans."
"She has a point," Balthazar murmurs out loud, eyeing her appreciatively.
Castiel glares at Balthazar, while Astarte laughs. "But you are right in your own way, little virgin angel," she sighs eventually, "the end of the world doesn't very much appeal to me. Not with how fun the humans have become again."
Castiel looks relieved. "Then you will join us in battle?"
"I didn't say that," she answers, breezily. "Looking at you as you are, you don't exactly inspire confidence, general." She glances over him again, more predatory than inviting this time. "You're tired. Sad," she tells him. "I can smell the weary sorrow of battle all over you, can taste your heartbreak on my tongue."
"Yes," Castiel acknowledges, without any attempt at denying it. "It is why I have come to you for help."
She laughs at his honesty, at his tired, desperate hope. "Well, at least you're straightforward," she declares, licking her lips. "That, I will give you over the others of your kind I've tangled with."
She claps her hands together once, before coming to an abrupt decision. "Very well then," she declares, eyes bright with anticipation. "I see now that even if you are of heaven, you are not so different from us earth dwellers after all. I will help you."
Castiel's eyes light with relief, Balthazar's with surprise. The capitulation is easy, worryingly so, but in the end, not unwelcome.
Astarte sees both reactions as she returns to her throne. "But let us be clear on one thing pretty angels. I will give your armies my aid in this war, in whatever way I see fit. You," she rumbles, and there is an edge to her voice as she says this, "will have no say in what that is."
Castiel is in no position to refuse her. Not when he is losing so badly. "Very well," he agrees. "Any help you can provide will be appreciated."
"Good," she murmurs, voice like a leopard's purr as one of her sacred whores pours her more wine. She lifts her eyebrows at Castiel invitingly, free hand tracing the arch of her own neck. "I think I already know how I'm going to start."
Something about the way she looks at Castiel when she says that makes him wonder if he will regret this one day.
Dean thinks something weird is going on.
Which, okay, is pretty much par for the course given that weird and his life are basically in love, gay-married, and raising a bunch of little weird-life babies that will grow up one day to become menaces to society. But even still, surviving as a hunter usually means being able to tell the difference between the normal kind of weird they usually see and the super freaking weird kind of weird that means shit is about to go down in life-changing, face-mauling sorts of ways.
Call it a hunch, but Dean is starting to feel like that this might be the start of some of that super freaking weird stuff.
It begins with the birds.
More to the point, it begins with birds suddenly dive-bombing kamikaze style towards the Impala while he and Sam are going a full out 75mph on the freeway, as they're crossing the Nevada state line after finishing up a pretty strange hunt in Arizona which had involved some displaced tengu settling into the Phoenix suburbs and voting republican.
Dean has been attacked by many things over the course of his life on the road, but tiny suicidal bird bombs have not numbered amongst them until that moment. Clearly they know where to hit him where it hurts, these birds; he weeps for his paintjob, and the fact that he just washed her yesterday afternoon.
Cas is slumped in the backseat when it happens, very seriously explaining some weird phenomenon he and the rest of the Angels Against Another Apocalypse (AAAA) have picked up within the vicinity of southern Nevada. Namely, phenomenon that's manifested into what is essentially a no-fly (for angels) zone inside the state of Nevada. Oh, and also a couple of random untraceable deaths and other inexplicable weirdness, but Cas's focus is clearly on the important things these days. His heavenly priorities really piss Dean off, but it's not like that's news to anyone.
"Jesus, what the fuck?" Dean shouts when the first fuzzy brown impact interrupts the angel's grave monologue. He barely has time to stare in horror at the gooey clump of beige feathers now stuck under his left windshield wiper before a second impact occurs, against what seems to be the roof directly over Castiel's head. "Are we being attacked?"
Castiel just frowns and stares at the windshield, towards the distant sky. "Those birds have been coming towards us for a very long time," he admits. "I don't think their intent is malicious, though."
Another crunchy, flappy thunk against the hood of the car makes Dean wince and glare through the rearview at Cas. "Anything crashing against the car is malicious, Cas!" he growls. "They better not scratch the freaking paint."
Castiel frowns back at him through the rearview like he doesn't understand what the big deal is, while Sam kind of squirms and winces in the passenger seat as more tiny brown birds explode against the car. "Cas can fix the paint later, Dean," the younger Winchester says. "What's more important is figuring out why they're doing that in the first place." He looks sympathetically at the death smudges along the hood and windshield.
"From Balthazar's preliminary investigations, he's discerned that the epicenter of the phenomenon we are to investigate is somewhere in Las Vegas," Castiel offers, helpfully. "It makes sense that the closer we get to the city, the stranger the behavior we will encounter."
That is another one of the angel's vague and cryptic answers that don't actually mean anything. Dissatisfied, Dean scowls and pushes the speed to 85mph. "You'n Balthazar have any extra info about Vegas that we don't, Cas?" he asks as he does, a little nastily. "Feel free not to tell us again, since that always seems to work out so well for you."
Okay, yeah, he's still kind of pissed about that whole Jared and Jensen debacle, by the way.
Castiel eyes Dean and looks kind of tired and pissy. "I have already apologized for withholding information from you, Dean," he says straight up, and Sam does more uncomfortable fidgeting in his seat while he looks back and forth between the two. "And I have told you everything I know so far about this case. If you don't wish to help me with this, I understand. I am capable of investigating myself."
Dean scowls and glances purposefully away from the image of Cas's grim, resigned reflection in the rearview, feeling kind of like an ass suddenly, even though he knows that logically, he really shouldn't since Cas was an ass to him first. "Whatever. Not like we can just ignore a bunch of people dying because you're a dick sometimes," he concedes eventually, and hunkers down to drive. Also, the thought of Cas investigating anything in a place where angel powers are a no-no just makes Dean worried for the bastard, though he's careful not to say that part out loud.
Concern aside, he's still freaking mad though, dammit. Cas keeping secrets from him "in his best interest" is not unlike Sam keeping secrets from him for the same reasons, and they all know how well—apocalypse, apocalypse, apocalypse— that line of thinking has gone for the Winchesters thus far.
And to be perfectly honest, there are only a handful of people left in this world— maybe fewer than that even—who Dean not only trusts to watch his back but who he actually freaking likes as well, and the fact that Cas is doing all the things he needs to in order to that stomp all over that distinction is a lot like watching Sam walk off with Ruby all over again. It sucks.
Which is why Dean is determined to stay angry about this until something changes in this arrangement or he's dead. Whichever comes first.
Dean twitches as another bird clips his right side view mirror and kind of hopes that whatever is making things go kooky in Vegas is something he can stab in the face.
Naturally, his hopes are only meant to be dashed.
The particulars they have managed to gather on all the strange happenings in southern Nevada from the handful of internet news feeds Sam subscribes to are as follows:
Story one: local Las Vegas man Chase Avery, aged 32, with a wife and two young children, goes to the strip for a business dinner with clients one night. Later that night, Mr. Avery comes home with a crazed look in his eye, stating that he's met a girl. Avery kills his wife and kids in a rage while in full hearing-distance of the neighbors before calmly getting into his car and driving back to the strip. Police apprehend him along the way and he argues that he did it for love. The police call him a nut job, arrest him, and put him away for life.
Story two: a group of people from Carson City go on a weekend mission trip to Vegas in order to pass out pamphlets about God and sin and Hell to tourists walking along the strip in the hopes of turning them away from the bright lights and lascivious entertainments in order to save their souls. Night one goes well for the missionaries; they pass out nearly one hundred pamphlets. Night two ends not as well (or better, depending on how you look at things) when all of the members on the trip—including the 52-year-old parish priest— end up indulging in an all out orgy on the floor of a local strip club after. As one of the young women involved shakily declares in her statement, an uncommonly pretty young lady had asked them all if they would like to join her for an evening on the town, so that they might better understand what they are passing judgment on. Everything after that is mostly a blur, and the police decide that it must have been a drug thing.
Story three: A 35-year-old widower from Hong Kong goes on vacation in Las Vegas with two of his buddies, both of whom hope to distract their friend from the one year anniversary of the car accident that killed his wife. It works for the most part; after the man tells his story to a beautiful American woman in the seat next to him, he starts to hit it big at the craps table. From there, the man spends the night drinking, flirting, and winning obscene amounts of money. His friends marvel at his good luck, but when the man moves to call it a night, he is suddenly and violently pulled aside by one of the craps dealers. Said craps dealer proceeds to invite the widower home with her. But before he can answer, a cocktail waitress throws down her tray, stomps over, and yanks his head into her bosom. Witnesses say that an all-out melee began after that, as various women of all ages and occupations joined in on the fight, rolling up their sleeves, hiking up their skirts, and battling to get a piece of the man. Eventually they all, literally, got a piece of the man, and not in a good way. The resort has since closed down after the poor bastard had been ripped apart by that gang of harpies right there on the casino floor. Probably because people think it means the place is bad luck, or something.
There's another story about a bunch of cats going missing in Reno too, but that might be reaching a bit.
Add to that the fact that super powered almost-archangels (or whatever) can't seem to blink in at will so much as drive in at a very human 90mph, and Dean figures they've got something pretty ominous brewing. With his luck, it's probably evil man-hating stripper witches (though part of him continues to remain stubbornly optimistic that maybe it will just be a nice, simple cursed object instead). Castiel is worried it's some sort of demon convention or something, because apparently the word from Balthazar's covert Earth investigations is that the unholy might be rallying their forces in order to elect a new king of hell or something. Which also makes about as much sense as stripper witches in this context, because hey, if he were a demon, Dean would insist on having the elections happen in Vegas too. So far, the odds seem fifty-fifty in favor of either the witches or the demon con.
As for Sam, he's banking on Furies because he's a nerd like that, though Castiel is fairly certain that if his very long and very exact memory serves, the Furies have never punished anyone with an orgy before.
"Also," Castiel points out, as they stand in the covered parking lot outside of the Luxor (apparently Sam had found a decent Groupon deal online that meant getting to stay on the strip instead of in one of the seedy dives advertised within quote-unquote walking distance; normally Dean would have vetoed something as douchy sounding as "Groupon" on principle, but had to concede the point when Sam added that it even came with two free buffet tickets), "I do not think Furies should be able to dampen angelic powers. Or possess small birds." Castiel holds his arms out for emphasis, where several of the feathery brown creatures are now perched on him like he's the world's most fail scarecrow. They look incredibly content and chirp accordingly, possibly in memory of their lost, bird-splattered brothers strewn across the Impala, who didn't make it to cuddly angel fun time.
"Great, now he's a freaking Disney princess," Dean mutters irately, as he grabs his duffle from the trunk. He glares at the birds and heads towards the giant blinking parking lot sign that reads, "Hotel Lobby/Casino."
Sam grins at Cas like he finds the whole thing kind of endearing. "Okay, so maybe not Furies," he admits gently, while he shoulders his own duffle and motions for Cas to precede him into the casino entrance.
"It is…unlikely," Castiel concedes vaguely. "But not impossible, of course."
Everyone present also knows that this is the 21st century after all, and after hearing about Balthazar's many angel orgies and seeing Gabriel punish people with aliens, they suppose they can't rule anything out entirely just yet. MOs can change with time.
Castiel eventually shakes off his snuggling bird friends and the three of them move to check into their room before heading out to conduct research.
"This is not research," Sam says, a little while later.
Dean is too busy stuffing a dollar bill into the powder blue bikini string currently gyrating in the vicinity of his face to notice.
"Dean, this is not research," Sam says again, louder. The blue bikini dances further along the stage, towards more outstretched dollars. Sam is a prude.
Dean watches it go with an appreciative grin. "But I'm learning so much, Sammy," he answers, as the two of them linger alongside the catwalk of the strip club victim number one had last been seen entertaining his clients at. None of the girls look particularly suspicious from here, but Dean is convinced that closer inspection is necessary before he can rule any of them out. Being thorough is the key to any investigation, after all. He cranes his neck to inspect a white bikini approaching from the other side of the stage. Yeah, that's nice.
Sam just rolls his eyes at that, because Sam is not only a prude, but a 14-year-old girl prude at that. Then Sam snaps his fingers in front of Dean's face a few times to get his attention so they can get down to business. Sam is also diligent and a total nerd, by the way. "I asked the owner about Mr. Avery's actions the night before he went crazy, but apparently the man didn't seem to pay any one of the girls here special attention so much as all of them." Sam furrows his brow. "I mean, I'd get if this was some sort of skewed vengeance or a justice thing for cheating, but the girls I've been talking to said he was all look, no touch."
Dean, in the meantime, is currently also all look.
Sam makes a stinkface at him. "Cas says he doesn't sense anything malicious or magical here either," he adds, with a look over his shoulder at the bar, where Castiel is sitting, back resolutely turned to the stage because apparently he's still uncomfortable in dens of iniquity, regardless of the number of demons he's made out with or the amount of porn he's seen since the last time he'd been to such an establishment. Either way, the waitresses seem to find his shyness incredibly endearing, and are flocking to the angel a lot like those suicidal birds had. They pet his shoulders and brush their boobs against his arm and the bartender keeps giving him free drinks with these lecherous grins that make Dean wonder if he should warn Castiel about the possibility of date rape.
That would probably require a lengthy explanation of roofies though, and he's pretty sure those won't work on Cas (hopefully). Besides, Cas is obviously a big boy now and doesn't need Dean to take care of him anymore (except maybe when he needs Dean to do decoy work by traveling to alternate dimensions where he becomes the douche that plays himself on TV).
Whatever. Dean is not letting his irritation at Cas ruin a perfectly good early morning trip to the 24-hour strip club (Dean loves Vegas, by the way).
"You sure he can sense anything either way, Sammy?" Dean asks his brother in the meantime, before turning his attention back to the stage. "I thought he said he said his superpowers got muzzled the minute we hit city limits."
"They're just dampened, Dean. He can still feel around for the mojo apparently." Pause. "Either way, we should probably hit up the library to do some actual research," the younger Winchester manages, as a brand new, beautiful yellow bikini heads down the velvet-lined catwalk towards them. Sam makes a torn, fluttery face at the sight of said yellow bikini and leans backwards, away from the stage lights. This is because Sam is no fun.
Also, Dean is not certain if Las Vegas even has a public library system. Seriously, who would use it?
"Dean, c'mon, no one here knows anything," Sam says, getting more and more impatient and nervous looking as yellow bikini stops right in front of them and starts gyrating. He keeps glancing over his shoulder at the bar and Cas, like he expects Cas to spontaneously burst into flame at any second now.
Dean sighs. "Yeah, yeah. Lemme close out my tab," he says, and sounds mournful.
Sam gives him this incredulous look. "You opened a tab? Dude, it's 10am."
Dean shrugs. "I figured we might be here a while. And obviously my cash is for the strippers." This is punctuated with his best duh face. Sam isn't the only smart one here.
Sam, once more proving the 14-year-old girl theory, throws his hands up in the air before stomping away. "I'm taking Cas and we are going to wait by the car. I think he might blow a fuse if we stay in here any longer."
"Spoilsport," Dean calls after him, before looking over his shoulder and resignedly motioning a waitress over.
While he's waiting for his tab to get closed out, Dean mentally shrugs and pulls out the last ten singles in his pocket and waves them up at yellow bikini, a gorgeous brunette with glacier-blue eyes and perfect Victoria's Secret posture. She smiles down at him and bends forward, inviting him to tuck the remaining singles into her bra for her, which he is only too happy to help with.
"Nice," Dean adds as he does, with a thumbs up in her general direction. "I just want you to know I'm a fan of your work."
She winks back. "I like what I see too," she says, voice husky and inviting. She lingers in front of Dean for a while longer, looking appraising as a hand reaches out to brush the side of his face. "Though you do look like you could use a little love, handsome."
Dean, feeling kind of warm in all the right places under her hooded gaze, grins back and leans into her hand a little. "I wouldn't say no if you're offering to help me find some."
She smiles. "Oh yeah?"
Dean sighs at that sound; it is a woefully familiar sound and one that is not conducive to his game. "Coming, Sammy," he murmurs as he turns, and yup, there it is; Sam's impatient hulking form looming in the doorway and making the bouncer very seriously debate whether or not he wants to get involved in whatever is about to go down here if it indeed is about to go down. Sam is pretty damn big, after all.
Dean turns back to yellow string bikini and looks regretful. "Sorry, sweetheart. Duty calls."
She looks amused. "I'll bet. See you around."
Dean sucks in a breath. "Oh I hope so."
"Dean, seriously, can we leave now? The birds are back and Cas is grumpy."
The waitress finally gets around to bringing him his credit card back and Dean waves it at Sam pointedly as he signs off on the receipt. "Just closing out the tab, Sammy," he says, turning over his shoulder to give yellow bikini one last wave before following Sam out the door.
"Whatever. You know places like that make Cas uncomfortable," Sam lectures him, making it abundantly clear that Sam's panties have not yet started to come unbunched despite their much too hasty departure from the land of boobs. Cas is already sitting in the car when they get back to the parking lot, a couple of birds circling overhead ominously. A stripper obviously coming in for the midday shift winks at the angel as she passes the Impala and heads towards the back entrance. Castiel ignores her.
"Not my fault service there is slow," Den reiterates, as he waves back at the stripper in Cas's stead. Pause. "You were pretty damn anxious to get out of there. You sure your soul is back?"
Sam sighs, opens the passenger door, and says, "Only you would categorize enjoying strip clubs as a soulful activity." Pause. "Do you even have any cash left?"
"Sure I do," Dean answers, with an easy smile at his brother.
He does not elaborate that it all happens to be in Sam's wallet right now, though from Sam's expression, Dean supposes his brother probably already knows. The two of them get into the car.
"Hey there, Mr. Popularity," Dean says to Cas as he slides into the driver's seat and fastens his seatbelt. "You get any useful information back there that you're willing to share, or is it all above our pay grade?"
Sam looks wounded on Cas's behalf. "Dean! God, you're such a jerk," he mutters.
Castiel just frowns at Dean. "I did not get any information pertaining to the case," he says resolutely, sounding more than weary of Dean's constant heckling on the matter of his transparency.
Then he pauses and looks kind of confused, like he's weighing whether or not he should say something else. Eventually, he seems to come to the conclusion that not telling Dean everything is just going to encourage more of his nasty comments. Which will probably lead to another alleyway beat down somewhere along the line, if Dean is being honest with himself.
"There is one other thing," the angel begins, hesitantly.
Dean holds his breath and waits for some new and offsetting news that will make him want to punch Cas in the face.
Instead, what comes is, "Several of those women and the very large man at the door kept handing me their garbage," Castiel starts after a moment, obviously perplexed as he reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a handful of napkin corners with phone numbers scrawled on them. Dean stares at him over Impala's bench seat.
"Is that…something you wanted to know?" Cas asks him warily, after a beat.
Dean snorts at that, abruptly, and feels strangely relieved to know that's all there is to Cas's deep dark secrets, at least for now. He finds himself grinning, despite everything. "So now you're the slutty Disney Princess. Congrats, man."
Sam frowns at Dean, probably for being insensitive to Cas's cluelessness, Dean laughs, and Castiel furrows his brow at Dean like he'll never understand him, not in a million years. The angel puts the pieces of paper into his jacket pocket again.
It's in moments like these, when Cas is making his confused, head-tilty frowny face while Dean laughs at him, that Dean thinks it almost feels like the good old days again, or like maybe they could be heading that way for a second time around.
The thought inexplicably infuses him with an optimistic sort of warmth.
They head directly to the library after that, at Sam's insistence.
The birds follow.
While the three of them are busy at the library ruling out a thousand things that this monster or creature or object is not, incident number four occurs.
The owner of a local Pitbull rescue is forced to watch in horror as his wife is mauled to death by one of the former fighting dogs that they are trying to rehabilitate.
When Sam and Dean hear about it on the local news after they return their room at the Luxor later that day, neither of them think that the story has any particular relevance to their current case.
They are wrong.
"You know, you should really try to be nicer to Cas," Sam says seemingly out of blue later that afternoon, when they're at the buffet, eating a late lunch.
Dean pauses mid-chew and stares at Sam. "What now?"
Sam gestures with his chin over at the buffet, where Castiel is very dutifully waiting in line to get Dean a second helping of prime rib. While he is there, a petite, incredibly rotund middle-aged woman smiles and stands on her toes so that she can whisper something into the angel's ear. The angel listens dutifully, before his eyebrows jump slightly. The woman pulls away, licks her lips, and okay that is awkward. Castiel, wisely, takes a very large step away from her, holding his empty buffet plate in front of his chest like a shield.
"Hey, you notice how nerdy angel dude seems to be on the top of everyone in Vegas's to do list today?" Dean poses after watching that entire display. Sure, he can see how guys like Cas get hit on sometimes; it's just a fact of life. Some people find nerds incredibly sexy, and Cas does kind of have that windblown, otherworldly look to him to add on top of those endearing geek traits of his or whatever. But even for all that, the sheer number of times the angel's been hit on today is kind of suspicious. This is including the stray dog that had jogged out of an alley to hump Cas's leg in the library parking lot earlier, if Dean is being perfectly honest.
Sam doesn't seem to notice. "He's just good looking," Sam answers, still watching Castiel at the carving station. "I mean, people dig that, you know? Perfect posture, permanent bed-head, the eyes, the mouth, the voice…"
"Okay woah," Dean interrupts, holding up a hand to stop his brother. "Way too TMI, dude. Do you even hear yourself?"
Sam blinks, then shakes his head, looking embarrassed. "Er, just, scientifically," Sam offers, after a bit. It is lame.
Dean snorts. "That why you want me to be nicer to him too, Sammy? The pretty?"
Sam flushes and glares. "Just… hear me out. I know he kind of screwed us with the alternate TV reality thing, but at the same time, it wasn't that bad, when you think about it. And it probably saved our asses."
Dean is incredibly skeptical. "What could possibly have been good about that? We were actors, dude. Soap operas."
"That was you," Sam reminds him, all snooty like. "And I dunno, man, I was just thinking earlier. Technically, he sent us to a place where we were rich, famous, and had hot, non-evil wives. Not to mention access to legitimate credit cards and universal health care."
Dean moves to object, but Sam keeps talking as he warms on the subject. "And! And, even with the angels coming after us, it's not like they had any powers they could use to hurt us there. The chances of us winning against Virgil were way better there than they are here. If you look at it that way, it was even kind of an advantage."
Dean had never really thought of it that way, but even still, no. "He shoulda told us his plan," Dean mutters, and grabs a roll off of his plate. He starts to butter it with undo ferocity. "If he just said something, I'd have been fine going along with it. But he lied to us. Keeping secrets is where all this bad shit starts, Sammy. Friends don't do that. Family doesn't do that."
"Yeah, and I've never lied to you, and you've never lied to me," Sam answers, again with the snootiness, and Dean sighs, because he hadn't technically lied when he wasn't telling Sam about his year and a half of soullessness, he was just skirting. That's different, okay.
Sam points his fork at him, still all worked up in Castiel's defense for whatever reason. "All I'm saying is, ease up, man. It's like you hold him to higher standards than everyone else, or something."
Dean snorts. "What, just because I want him to freakin' tell me the truth? Or, I dunno, help us out once in a while, without having to wonder if he's upstairs just ignoring us?"
Sam makes a face. "Bobby isn't at our beck and call twenty-four seven and you don't yell at him about that." Pause. "Anymore, I mean."
Dean winces, because okay, even he can kind of acknowledge that he's the type of person who keeps the people he trusts close to the chest; it's just a Winchester thing, obviously. He's willing to go the distance for Sam and Bobby and Cas, would put his own life down for theirs in an instant, would throw down anything he was doing to help if they really needed him. And because of that, he expects the same in return, at least a little.
Or in Cas's case, at least a lot. It's just, it's Cas, and maybe Dean does hold the angel to a higher standard or whatever, but he's a freakin' angel, and Dean is pretty sure that's warranted. They're always going on about how much better they are than people, in any case. Never freaking let him forget it.
Plus, Cas was the only guy in the world who'd managed to never let Dean down before. Maybe he'd gotten too used to it. Expected it.
"I mean, he's here now, isn't he?" Sam continues, waving his fork in the air and being all preachy and heartfelt with it, "And he keeps trying to do what he thinks is right. Even when you keep making him look sad for it." Pause. "Well, sadder."
Dean supposes that's true enough—and the line about making Cas sad inexplicably makes him feel about two inches tall— but he still just wants Cas to be honest with them, dammit. There'd been a time, after all, when the angel had believed in him more than God. Now it's like that entire chapter of their lives has been conveniently erased or something, and they've rewound to save-the-seals Cas, who had, in all honesty, been kind of a jerk.
Dean shuffles in his seat while Sam looks imploringly at him on Cas's behalf. He supposes this is one of those moments when he can admit to himself that maybe he's being an asshole now because he misses team free will Cas like crazy. Which he needs to stop doing, obviously, because that Cas got exploded and hasn't come back yet.
The thought makes him inexplicably kind of sad.
Which Sam doesn't notice, because he's still busy doing the Dance of Cas Advocacy with his fork like if he weaves it just the right way, Dean will get over his irrational anger at Cas's perceived betrayals.
"Yeah, okay, Sam," Dean mutters eventually, before Sam can bring up the blown up twice for us, man argument (because he knows it's coming). He keeps his eyes trained on the mess of entrees crammed onto his buffet plate as he says it. "I get it. This is me, playing nice from now on, okay?"
Sam pauses, mid-sentence and mid-fork dip, to look pleased. "Well, good. Okay then."
Dean frowns and picks at his potatoes.
That is when Castiel finally returns to their table of course, plate full, eyes alert. He sets the plate down in front of Dean and gives the older Winchester this familiar, appraising look, like he's about to ask Dean if something's wrong or if he feels okay.
Dean heads that off at the pass, because despite his apparent cluelessness, Cas has a way of getting to the heart of what's eating Dean way too quickly and way too easily for Dean's liking. "Jesus, Cas, did you get the whole roast?" he whistles as he ogles the hulking slice of ultra-rare prime rib sitting on top of the plate. He forces a smile and happily stabs it with his fork, glad for the change in conversation, and slides the meat onto his own plate before digging in. "Now this is what I'm talking about. Usually you gotta fight for a cut like this."
Castiel seems slightly ruffled. "The man at the carving station offered me as much meat as I liked and then gave me considerably more than that. He also suggested that he had a special sausage he would like to give me later, if I was receptive. I could go ask for it now, if you're interested." Pause. "What does it mean when a person repeatedly thrusts their eyebrows up and down?"
Dean chokes on his beef while Castiel looks over his shoulder, back at the carving station, and what seems to be an entire line of buffet-goers who are now staring at the angel like he's the only actual cut of prime beef in the vicinity. That eyebrow motion seems to be a theme too.
Dean throws down his fork and wipes the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. "Okay, something weird is obviously going on here," he deducts.
"Yes, Dean," Castiel answers, in what Dean strongly suspects is his duh voice. "That is why we are here."
Dean scowls at him. "Okay, Cas, I know I told you I want you to be honest with us from now on, but we could really do without that tone, asshat."
Sam just glares at the other diners.
Suicidal birds, humpy dogs, housewives, strippers, bouncers, bartenders, and sausage-toting chefs aside, there are still deaths (and surprise orgies, admittedly), to investigate.
The investigation aspect is familiar territory at least, more familiar than the Ru Paul impersonator that had grabbed Castiel and started smelling him on their way to the guest parking lot anyway, and definitely more familiar than the Rush Limbaugh impersonator that had fought the Ru Paul impersonator off of Cas so he could take his/her place.
Though Dean will admit the bewildered look on Castiel's face while he was busy getting assaulted in the street by semi-celebrities might have been worth having to wrestle the grounded angel away from the fleshy man in the suit. Just barely.
Sam is more sympathetic to Cas's plight, and suggests, with those soulful puppy eyes that Dean had never thought he'd miss until Soulless Sam, that maybe they ought to split up to cover more ground. Clearly this town is some strange hotbed of weird pheromones that are making people crazy, and the sooner they handle this the safer everyone will be, as these things are obviously the sort that escalate. He tops this suggestion with a hopeful look at Cas. Cas nods in agreement, and suggests that he and Dean should go investigate the first crime scene, while Sam goes to the local lockup and visits Chase Avery, the man accused of killing his family.
Sam looks visibly disappointed at this, but Dean is pretty damn sure the suggestion makes sense; it's not like they want to send Cas to interrogate the guy all by himself or anything, that would be a freaking disaster. So before Sam can protest, Dean grabs his keys and waves Cas towards the car. "We'll meet back here in a coupla hours, Sammy. Call us if you find anything."
Sam sighs. "Fine." He stomps off to buy a ticket to the monorail.
"You even remember how this goes?" Dean asks Castiel warily a little while later, as the two of them pull up to the neat little split-level that victim number one had lived in with his family on the outskirts of the city, at least until he'd gone nuts and killed everyone.
Castiel nods and automatically moves to fiddle with his tie in preparation for meeting new humans. He is hopeless with it, of course, and for some reason, that makes Dean feel a warm burst of amusement, like knowing that no matter how all-powerful and heavenly dick-tator Cas can get, at least he'll always be that dude who needs help knotting his tie straight at the end of the day.
After watching Cas struggle with the mechanics for a few minutes, Dean eventually takes pity on him and reaches out to straighten the tie for him before he hurts himself. "Just keep quiet and let me know if you sense any evil witch residue in the house or something, okay?" he prompts, after he's finished.
Cas looks affronted that Dean even found that worth mentioning. "Of course, Dean."
"Okay then." Dean gets out of the car and they duck under the yellow crime scene tape together. They push open the front door and aren't sure what to expect.
Except the inside of the house seems to be a bust for anything useful; no sulfur, no EMF readings, no weird negative mojo readings on Cas's muted angel mojo reading meter. It's just fucking depressing, is what it is; kids toys strewn about the floor, blood on the furniture and walls, family photos smashed against the floor.
Cas seems to feel as fucking depressed about it all as Dean is, or at least, it looks that way, when the angel stops in the living room and picks up a small stuffed dog from where it is wedged between the couch cushions. He studies it for a while, looking grim, before setting it back on top of the couch and turning to face Dean. "Whatever possessed Chase Avery to kill his family was not here when it happened," he reports after a moment, in a steady, grave soldier's way. Dean's beginning to realize this is Cas's coping voice; it's the same one he uses whenever he tells Dean that he's fighting a war, and that there are things he has to do—not so nice things—that help him stay alive to do it.
Dean swallows. "Okay then. I guess we'll have to talk to the neighbors again, see if they noticed anything weird leading up to the uh…the you know."
Castiel nods and Dean goes back to the front door, walking maybe a little more quickly than normal. He pauses when he gets a glimpse out of the window however, and sees another car pulling to a stop on the curb in front of the Impala. The neighbors. Good timing.
He exits the house.
"Howdy," Dean greets when a middle-aged man with douchy hair wearing a douchy silver suit climbs out of his equally douchy silver Prius. The man pauses when he sees Dean watching him, and offers a douchy smile to go with his douchy hair. He must be a real estate agent or something.
"Hello," he offers as he closes his driver's side door. "Something I can help you gentlemen with?"
Dean reaches into his pocket for his badge. "Agent Simmons, FBI. He gestures to Cas, whose back is to them, as he closes and locks the front door of the Avery house behind him. "And my partner, Agent Stanley." He pauses to point to the house the Prius is parked in front of. "You live there?"
The man nods.
"Great. Was wondering if we could ask you some questions about the incident with your neighbors, then."
The man in the suit shrugs, before ducking into his car's trunk to retrieve a sleek black briefcase. "Sure, but the police department already took my statement."
"We just like being thorough," Dean assures him. Castiel heads down the front walkway, following dutifully.
"So," Dean begins, and sees it out of the corner of his eye when the douchy guy does a double take and pauses to give Cas a thoughtful, lingering once over as he closes the trunk to his car, "what can you tell me about how well you knew your neighbor, Mister…"
"Saunders," the guy answers, while still eyeing Cas. Cas of course, isn't helping; he just stares right back at the guy. "Jeff Saunders."
Dean scowls and steps in front of Cas, right into this Saunders guy's line of sight. "Right. What kind of guy was your Mr. Avery, exactly?" he asks, starting the questions off vague before he gets into the meat of asking the weirder, more specific stuff. You know, develop a repertoire with the witness, or something.
Saunders shakes his head, blinking. "Who Chase? Uh, well, he was a pretty normal guy, I guess. Worked selling set pieces for some of the higher-budget shows that happen down in the casinos. Always seemed like a stand up guy. We used to watch games at his house on the weekends. His wife made great nachos."
Dean tries to look interested. Meanwhile, Saunders moves ever so slightly sideways, to get another look at Cas.
"So you knew the suspect pretty well," Dean sums up. "He do or say anything strange in the days leading up to the murders?"
"Not particularly," douchebag answers, still staring at the parts of Cas he can see sticking out from behind Dean. "Though I guess it's not a big surprise he went off the deep-end in the long run, now that I think about it."
Dean blinks. "Oh? Why's that?"
Saunders shrugs. "You know, when I'd go over for game day we'd talk sometimes, while our wives were gossiping in the kitchen or whatever it is chicks do when you're watching the game."
Dean pauses there, and gives the guy a skeptical look. "You're married?"
"Ten years," Saunders answers, while Cas gets bored with the interview and heads off towards the house again, making squinty eyes at the hedges like he's trying to see if they are in fact, evil plants of evil. He looks at a decorative lawn gnome positioned in one of the planters in an entirely accusatory manner.
Saunders' gaze follow Cas the whole time.
"Okay dude," Dean starts, losing his patience. "Stop staring at my partner and just tell me what's going on, will you?"
Saunders blinks. "Your partner?"
"FBI partner, mister married man. Now tell me what Chase said to you during the game."
"Oh uh, just the usual stuff," Saunders says, eyes still straying towards Cas anyway. "Talked to me about his wild days, you know. Back when he was single, when he didn't have kids and a wife and a mortgage and stuff. He talked about that kind of stuff a lot; sowing his oats or whatever, being free to do whatever or whoever he wanted. Glory days, is what he called them..."
Dean has to snap his fingers in front of Saunders eyes a couple of times to get him to stop the sideways lean of his body that probably means he's checking out Cas's ass. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with this city.
"Okay, so he liked sowing his oats. Doesn't mean a guy will suddenly start killing people to get them back."
Saunders shrugs, unhelpfully. "Suppose not."
Dean has to keep himself from outright rolling his eyes at this moron. "So what I'm asking is for you to tell me about anything out of the ordinary for him happening, man. Did Chase meet any new people recently? Talk about doing new things? Take up any drugs, or other weird-smelling habits? Did he mention any hallucinations, or nightmares?"
Saunders shrugs. "Not particularly. Everything was business as usual, if you look at it that way. He did say there was this girl he had a crush on, Ally or something, who his company liked to call for client entertainment, if you know what I mean. But uh, he had a new crush pretty much every week. Not gonna lie, I thought the guy was kind of a horn dog, even if it was all talk."
Before Dean can answer either way, the sound of the door to Jeff's house opening and closing catches their attention.
When they look up the driveway to the house, a pretty middle-aged woman in a smart pantsuit is standing on the porch of Saunders' front door, looking confused. "Jeff, is something the matter?" she asks. "We're going to be late for the show."
"Nothin's wrong, hon," her husband answers, eyes straying back to Castiel in the meantime. "Just talking to the… FBI."
"We apologize for the inconvenience, Mrs. Saunders," Castiel adds in the meantime, oblivious to her husband's ogling as he stands up from examining the shrubbery to greet her. He brushes a few stray leaves off of his coat jacket.
Mrs. Saunders gives a little start at the sight of him, and Dean initially chalks it up to surprise at Cas's usual stealth creepy and big blue stare, at least, right up until the moment her hand flutters up to rest on her chest. "Oh…he—hello," she begins, and flushes bright pink. Heaving bosom and all.
"Hello," Castiel answers, automatically. He goes back to examining the property. Some birds land in the trees lining the street as he does this and Dean can't help but think that they look especially shifty.
Jesus Christ, it's like it's multiplying or spreading or something. They should probably get out of here.
"Uh, if you want," Saunders begins, pausing to swallow and loosen the knot of his tie, "I can take you boys around back, get a better view of what we saw that night. View's good from the backdoor."
Dean snorts. "Yeah, I'll bet it is," he says, and turns to Cas. "We're outta here, Cas."
Saunders looks bereft. "So soon? I mean, I've got Chase's March Madness bracket in my kitchen, if you think that might help give you a psychological profile…"
"No, I think we're good," Dean says, while Mrs. Saunders stands at her stoop, rubbing her neck like she's auditioning for a part on Desperate Housewives as she watches Cas trudge all over the dead neighbors' lawn looking for signs. Dean scowls. "Cas!" he says, louder. "Let's go."
Cas turns to look at him. "I have found no…residue on the exterior of the home either," he announces after a minute, while the Saunders actually start to drool. "This place seems normal."
Except it really, really isn't. "Get in the car," Dean says. He turns back to Mr. Saunders and reaches into his pocket for his card. "you remember anything else, call me, okay?" he says. "Preferably once you've cooled down some."
Saunders takes the card reluctantly. Then points to Cas and outright asks, "Can I get his number instead?"
Dean scowls. "No. Go see a show with your wife, asshole."
He spins on his heel and heads to the car, thinking that he will not allow everything that is happening right now to end in an encore presentation of the really gross human dismemberment case.
"Did you discover anything useful from the neighbors?" Castiel asks a few minutes later, as Dean fastens his seatbelt and turns on the engine.
"Nothing that isn't crap or mentally scarring," he says, pulling the car back onto the street while the Saunders look on, waving at Cas in a bereft sort of way.
Overhead, Dean thinks he sees those seedy looking birds from earlier take off after the Impala as they pull out of the residential streets.
Meanwhile, at the local police station, Sam sits down with Chase Avery, accused murderer of his wife and two young children. Sam is currently creeped out beyond measure.
"Mr. Avery, do you have any idea what you're accused of doing?"
The man in the cell just smiles beatifically. "I'm free," is all he says, and sits back looking as peaceful as anyone has ever looked. "I can do anything I want now."
Sam swallows, thickly. "So, you're glad they're gone? They were your family, Mr. Avery."
"It's everything I coulda wished for," Chase preens. His eyes glaze over and he sighs. "Everything. No more responsibility, no more duty, no more vows. The world is mine for the taking."
Sam abruptly decides that he's probably not going to get anything useful out of this guy on account of the crazy.
He gets up to leave, and once he's outside, finds himself absently wondering what Cas is up to now.
This is called a sign, a portent even, and Sam is very good at recognizing them when they have to do with other people.
As for himself (which history has proven) not so much.
Dean however, has gotten pretty good at recognizing these signs from Sam. Mostly because he's been watching Sam his whole life, and also because he feels like someone ought to be able to do it, for the sake of the world, or something.
He thinks he is seeing one of those signs right now, in fact.
Because as Sam explains the pure loony that has gripped Chase Avery to Dean, all Dean can see is that Sam is very subtly eye-fucking Cas while he does it, as the angel stands obliviously beside the window and converses with Bobby on the phone about what sort of research should be done on his end.
A thunk against the glass spells the doom of another bird, or maybe a bat, or some other sort of flying creature that is also in the angel's thrall. Maybe a really big mosquito.
Dean pulls Cas away from the window and closes the drapes again so that there will be no more wildlife suicides tonight, hopefully. In the meantime, he also keeps a careful eye on Sam, who is keeping an equally careful eye on Cas, and Dean—with a grossed out feeling deep inside his gut—suddenly realizes that maybe Sam's scientific breakdown of Cas's many charms at lunch earlier today might not have been entirely scientific.
Which just makes him want to do a whole body shudder, because Sam is not allowed to think those things about Cas. Jesus, the two of them are practically brothers as far as Dean's concerned.
Sam, still at the table, rests his chin on his hands and gives a fluttery, girly sigh as Cas continues to converse with Bobby in low tones, not noticing the younger Winchester's soulful staring.
Dean quickly grabs his brother by the shoulders and pulls him aside before Cas does catch a clue. "Dean?" Sam blinks, when his brother suddenly manhandles him out of the chair and to the other side of the room.
"Okay, man, don't take this the wrong way or anything, but I think maybe you're possessed."
Sam frowns. "What? Why would you think that?" He looks down at himself. "I'm not showing any symptoms of possession."
"Well you're showing signs of something. Whatever's wrong in Vegas, I think you caught it," Dean hisses. "It's like a brain STD or something. You have brain crabs, Sam."
Sam looks alternately horrified and offended. "Jesus, Dean, nothing's wrong with me," Sam murmurs, lowering his voice when Castiel pauses in the middle of his phone conversation to give both brothers a strange look. "It's just… if I've been acting a little weirder than usual…" He trails off and makes a strange, vague motion with his hand that means absolutely nothing to Dean.
Dean scowls. "It's just what?"
Sam rubs at the back of his neck lamely before looking at Dean and whispering, "Dean… I think I'm in love with Cas."
Dean stares at him. Then abruptly lets him go. Takes a step backwards. "Christo," he says, instinctively.
Sam looks at him in this totally hurt way. "I'm serious man. This is a real feeling. I can't stop thinking about him."
"Yeah, you and half of this city," Dean reminds him. "And the freaking birds, come to think of it." His brow furrows thoughtfully, while Sam's eyes begin to drift back over to the bed and Cas.
Dean waves a hand in front of Sam's face. "Look, whatever you're feeling, it's not real. There's no way you're really in love with Cas." He says it with the kind of heated conviction he usually saves for giving Sam his don't-fuck-demons, don't-drink-demon-blood, and don't-talk-about-dad-that-way speeches, which is kind of surprising, but all the same, he'll take it as welcome fuel to back him in this time of immense and disturbing grossness.
Sam just frowns. "Okay there is obviously something wrong with those other people and the birds," he begins, "but my feelings are real, man. I love him so much it hu…"
Dean claps a hand firmly over his brother's mouth. "You're not allowed to finish that sentence. Ever," he declares, voice low and dangerous. "Now, what we are going to do is figure this case out, fix whatever is wrong with everyone, and get the hell out of town. If you still feel that way after everything's sorted out, we'll deal with it then, got it?"
By deal with it then, Dean means lots of ear-plugging, eye-closing la-la-la humming avoidance, but Sam doesn't have to know that now.
Sam eyes him like he knows exactly what Dean is thinking anyway though, and Dean is forced to give him another one of those reassuring brother-knows-best looks. Sam sighs. Nods once. When he does, Dean finally takes his hand off of his mouth.
Cas, in the meantime, just looks puzzled as he holds Dean's phone to his ear. "No," he answers Bobby, politely, "it is unlikely to be fairies either."Pause. "I don't understand your sudden fascination with fairies." Another pause. "I have not been exercising recently as I have no need to. I also fail to see how you can ascertain the state of my musculature over the phone, Bobby." Pause. "You would like me to say what again? Oh. State of my musculature."
"Jesus Christ," Dean mutters, and snatches the phone from Cas.
The following morning, after some intense Sam-sadfacing, Dean and Cas are on the road out of Vegas and headed towards Carson City, where the church group from incident number two supposedly live, pray, and repress their inner needs to orgy. Sam is left behind scuffing his toes and being sulky as he stays behind to figure out the time difference before calling the friends of the Hong Kong businessman who'd been ripped apart on the floor of the now defunct Silver Road Hotel and Casino.
"Sam seemed upset to see us go," Castiel says after they've been on the road for ten minutes. "We could have taken him with us."
"Oh no we couldn't have," Dean says, and when Cas just gives him a perplexed frown in return, he has to bite back a bunch of smart remarks about Angels Gone Wild being the hot new Vegas property. He reminds himself that Cas probably hasn't noticed the abnormal amount of people (and other things) dead set on humping his leg. Cas's sense of self-preservation has always been nil that way, and he's not very good at learning from past experiences.
He'd gotten blown up for Dean twice, after all.
Dean winces at the memory, because over the last few months he's kind of been trying his damndest to forget about the whole apocalypse thing, mostly because it had sucked and also a little because not remembering the shit Cas had gone through for them during that chapter in their lives makes it so much easier to be pissed at him in this one, when Cas is being angelic and dickish and secretive.
So that he can prevent Apocalypse: the Sequel, a small part of Dean adds unprompted, like a bastard.
He sighs and eyes the angel surreptitiously.
Meanwhile, Cas just sits quietly in the passenger seat and gazes out the window, doesn't complain about the level of the music, and looks kind of relaxed for the first time since they'd been reunited via Dean's vaguely facetious prayers. In that moment Cas seems more like the guy Dean had been fighting side-by-side with two years ago than the asshole angel who had sent Dean and Sam into his own version of TV Land's Behind the Scenes Special.
It is, admittedly, kind of nice to have that feeling back.
Even despite the dive-bombing wildlife.
When Dean gets to the church he makes Cas stay in the car while he questions the brass about what happened that night in Vegas. What he gets is basically a cold denial that any of the events portrayed by a sinful and liberal media had happened at all. All members of the congregation who had been involved in the orgy are mysteriously no longer members though—parish priest included— and Dean supposes that just figures with these hyper religious freaky types. He does manage to intimidate one of the head administrators into handing over the contact information of several of the people involved in the incident however, and no one hits on Cas (directly anyway; Dean does notice a few of the church staffers pausing in the middle of morning activities to drool in the general direction of the Impala, but that could be the car's fault as much as it is Cas's), so in the end, Dean is willing to count the visit as a win, at least compared to yesterday's freaky suburban swingers debacle.
From there, they get to the first address on the list fifteen minutes after 11am and find two frat boys sitting out on the front porch of a dilapidated apartment building down the street from the local community college. The two boys are alternately smoking weed and making out right in plain view of the intersection.
Dean's eyebrows jump at the sight while Castiel gets out of the car before Dean can stop him, the angel looking at the show like he smells something fishy now. Before Dean can explain that it's probably just the pot, Cas is crouching in front of the two boys and staring.
The kids notice of course, and pause in their lazy tongue-action to survey the newcomer. "Hey," the blond one murmurs, smiling invitingly at Cas. "You're cute."
His brown-haired, equally stoned companion nods. He offers Cas their blunt, dreamily. "You can join in, if you want."
Dean basically jumps over the Impala to pull Cas away before Gropey Mc Groperson's evil druggie influence can take hold and they're on their way back to 2014!Cas again (which still gives Deans nightmares, to be perfectly honest).
Cas just turns to look at him when Dean grabs his arm and says, "Something about this seems familiar."
Dean balks. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," he mutters after a moment, when images of Cas making out with random dudes flash in his head without warning. He tells himself that the next time he sees that sleazy asshole Balthazar, he's going to fry him in holy oil, because clearly any debauchery of that sort being familiar to Cas is all because of that English bastard's rotten influence. It's always the Europeans, after all.
That decided, Dean shoves Cas behind him before turning to the leering college boys and whipping out his badge. "FBI, kids. Either of you know a David West and a Gavin McArthur?"
The two boys pause to look at each other for a moment, before bursting out laughing.
The blond one raises his hand. "I'm David."
The brown-haired one raises his hand next, and salutes sloppily. "Gavin at your service, man."
Well. Dean had not expected that, to be perfectly honest. These were two kids who'd been on a church mission trip to preach the word in Vegas just last weekend? They smell riper than 2014!Cas had, post orgy.
Apparently deeply entertained by Dean's flummoxed staring, the boys break down into another series of giggles against each other.
Dean hastily remembers himself and clears his throat. "Just have a few questions to ask you about last weekend's incident, boys," he says, doing his best impression of Cas's epic authority-douche voice.
The two kids eye each other. Then grin, flush with affection. "You mean the revelation," David says.
Castiel blinks at that. "God told you to…have an orgy?"
The boys burst out laughing again. "You sure you don't want to have a threesome with us?" Gavin murmurs, around a grin. "Your voice could do things to me, man."
Dean starts to lose his patience. "Look kids," he mutters, deciding that he doesn't care enough to finesse this thing like he'd tried with Saunders, "we just need you to tell us what happened that night. Anything unusual you felt or saw or smelled, anyone new or strange you talked to? Had any strange dreams, hallucinations?"
"Yes to all of them, probably," Gavin breathes, stretching like he's reliving a particularly favored memory. "We can't exactly remember, but then again, it was Vegas, so you know. Par for the course."
Dean glares. "Okay then, smart guys. Just tell me what you do remember happening." He crosses his arms when he does this, because he knows it makes his shoulders look big. This is the Winchester intimidation method.
David doesn't seem to notice that the method is in play as he slings an arm over Gavin's shoulder. "I dunno man," he says, blinking bloodshot eyes. "We were on one of the overpass bridges, passing pamphlets out to people walking by… you know, spreading the good word, or whatever."
"What a crock of shit," Gavin mutters.
Dean eyes him when he hears that. "Feel a little different about the word now, do we?"
"We just feel stupid now." Gavin leans forward to whisper conspirationally to Dean. "I was still a virgin until that night, you know? Saving it up for my wife or for Jesus or whatever. Virgins at 21, man. How sad is that?"
Dean snorts, because yeah, that is pretty sad, but at the same time, he mostly doesn't care. "So the statement your parish priest gave to the police said that you got lured into one of the clubs at Treasure Island by some hot chick. Can you describe her?"
The boys both shrug. "I thought it was a dude, to be honest," Gavin says. "Cute, though."
"Definitely cute," David agrees sagely. "Not sure if it was a guy or a girl myself." He doesn't seem to care either. "It was Vegas."
"Whoever she was, we should send her a fruit basket," Gavin jokes. "Get it, fruit basket?"
He and David break down laughing again, because being baked apparently automatically makes everything hilarious.
Dean has a feeling this is going to be another supremely useless conversation unless he can steer it in the right direction fast. Plus the birds are starting to descend on Cas again— a couple are already perched on his shoulder, much to Gavin and David's delight— and there's a squirrel sitting on the sidewalk across the street that is looking especially shifty.
"Okay, so let me get this straight. You two go through the church your whole lives, do the mission trip thing on weekends instead of going to parties, save yourselves for Jesus, and then one night you randomly have a black out orgy with a bunch of people you know for no apparent reason and you're perfectly okay with that? You don't want to even try to remember what happened, exactly?"
David looks at him like he doesn't understand. "Dude, what part of 21 and virgin did you not get?"
"And you know, repressed and homosexual on top of that," Gavin adds, after a moment. "That night taught me that praying the gay out doesn't actually work, man. It did us a world of good to get out there and get our feet wet." Pause. "Among other things."
"I've had sex like three times today," David agrees with a leer.
Dean supposes that's par for the course at 21, and as great as that might be for these two, he's pretty sure that father Joseph and the handful of other people in the group hadn't been as lucky. "What about the other people with you guys? They make out as well as you did at the end of this? Or did they just lose their jobs, friends, families…"
"No, but they definitely made out," Gavin snorts. Dean is not amused. Well, okay, a little amused, but he manages to hide it with a glare.
"Look," David begins, when Dean's eyes narrow, "All we know is, everyone there needed to let loose a little, you know? Father Joseph was downright creepy with some of the members of the young women's choir until he finally got some that night, and Annabelle was freaking 28 and had never orgasmed, man. Now she's traveling Europe, probably having crazy bisexual orgies every night. She e-mails us pictures sometimes. Having the time of her life, she says. Finally."
"Not that we're knocking the church or anything," Gavin adds, with a small tinge of regret. "We just found out that maybe it wasn't for us after all."
Dean stares at them. They both seem completely sincere, though David keeps doing this lewd thing with his tongue in Castiel's direction that makes Cas creep a little closer to Dean on instinct.
"So," Dean starts, and lets Cas stand right next to him, "all that happened is you met a cute girl—or guy— blacked out, fell on each other's dicks or something, and woke up feeling like it was time to ditch everything you knew to have lots more gay sex?" he asks, skeptically.
"Have you ever had gay sex?" David asks.
"Pretty much the best thing ever," Gavin agrees.
David leers. "Though new best thing ever would be if trench coat back there came upstairs with us and let us…"
Dean grabs Cas and marches back to the car.
"Their behavior reminds me of something I saw at a meeting Balthazar arranged several months ago," Castiel begins, once they're in private again. "Perhaps…"
Dean holds up a hand to stop him. "Jesus Christ, I don't want to know about anything that happened with you and that prick Balthazar that reminds you of those two, Cas, okay?"
Castiel looks perplexed, but on Dean's insistent look, reluctantly capitulates. "I understand." Pause. "I will inform Sam of it later, in private."
Dean scowls. "No!"
In the rearview mirror, he can see that shifty squirrel from earlier chasing the Impala down the street.
Sometimes he hates his life.
Sam, in the meantime, misses Cas as he waits on the phone for a Mr. Lamm, one of the Hong Kong businessmen who had been here with his friend Mr. Yip—the victim of the casino floor dismemberment—a few nights ago. Mr. Lamm's secretary, sporting a nearly indecipherable canton accent and not very much patience, had stated that her boss had already spoken to local authorities on the matter. Sam had played every charm card he owns to talk her down from hanging up on him, and that had taken about thirty minutes alone. Now he's waiting for Mr. Lamm to get off the phone with his factory in Mexico or something, and is very close to losing his patience.
Eventually, after Sam has filled up another page of the hotel's complimentary memo pad with Sam+Cas 4ever, there is a click on the other line, and a tired-sounding man asking in a crisp, Chinese-British accent, "Hello? Agent Frehley?"
"Right. Hello, Mr. Lamm. Look, I'm sorry to bother you about this again, but I just need a statement about what happened on the night of the incident involving Mr. Yip. The uh, the embassy needs it for prosecution purposes."
Mr. Lamm sighs on the other end. "There is nothing to prosecute. Yip Tak Lun was a good man and paid the necessary respects to his ancestors and to his gods. All that happened that night is that they answered his prayers. Please do not ruin the lives of those who were acting out the will of the divine in meting out his rewards."
Sam blinks. "I'm sorry, reward? Mr. Yip was dismembered."
"The last thing I saw, Agent Frehley," Mr. Lamm says, firmly, "is the smile on the face of my friend as he died. Ever since his wife was killed in that accident, he has only wished to join her. I often suspected that his responsibilities as my business partner and as his family's only son were what kept him from ending his own life. This way, the gods took away the dilemma and gave him what he truly wanted."
Sam pauses on the line. "So… you're saying he was suicidal before this happened?"
"He would never say it out loud to us, but Chow and I knew. When we took him to Las Vegas to forget, we thought it would distract him for at least a night. But I felt instantly, that something was strange about that evening. It was the beautiful woman, the luck, the fun he was having. It was all very unlike him. He had never really smiled or enjoyed himself like that since his wife died. Chow told me that Yip turned to him in the middle of it all and said he was certain this would be the end of everything bad that had happened to him before. Chow thought he meant he would learn to let go and move forward. Later, we realized he meant the end of his life."
Mr. Lamm takes a shaky breath on the other side. "He has gained his reward in heaven, and is now with the person he loved best, Agent Frehley. Even after witnessing the violence of his death, the way those women seemed possessed, I can only bow to the wisdom of the gods. Yip Tak Lun's fondest wish was granted and he is with his wife again. They are at peace now and we must not disturb it by questioning it."
Sam is deeply disturbed by this. "Wow. So he actually wished for this?"
"Many times. Not in so many words, but to those of us who knew him, we understood what he meant."
Sam furrows his brow in thought. "I see. And the woman he was with that night, can you describe her?"
Mr. Lamm hesitates. "I don't remember anything," he admits. "Just a leopard-skin dress and laughter that went straight to a man's…well, you know."
"Yeah, I think I do," Sam admits, thinking of Cas's gravelly rumble. He shivers in his seat.
"Is there anything else then, Agent Frehley? I am afraid I am very busy arranging business matters as well as the funeral feast."
"Right. Of course. I uh, I think we're done here. Again, I'm sorry for your loss." Pause. "Or you know, not, I guess."
Sam hangs up thinking that things are getting weirder and weirder.
He scribbles a heart with Mrs. Castiel Winchester on it across his memo pad one last time before picking up the phone to call Dean.
His stomach complaining loudly of neglect is what forces Dean to exit off the freeway and pull into a cheerful-looking wannabe 50's throwback diner that sits right across the on-ramp, halfway back to Vegas.
He and Cas take up a booth in the back, hoping not to draw too much attention to themselves while Dean refuels and checks in with Sam. Dean orders a double bacon Swiss cheeseburger with onion rings and an extra side of mayo for dipping while Cas politely orders juice to sip on after Dean demands he order something so the angel doesn't look like a total freak sitting there watching him eat. The waitress glares at Dean when she overhears this but then smiles indulgently at Cas. When she leans forward to gather up their menus after they're done ordering, Dean sees what is very obviously a purposeful nip-slip against Cas's arm.
He groans inwardly. They're going to have to make this fast. The trucker on the other side of the diner with "Bubba" written across his cap makes Dean anxious.
Dean tells Cas not to move in the meantime and pulls his phone out to call Sam. Which is perfect timing or something, because his cell starts ringing the minute he takes it out of his pocket. He flips it open. "Please, Sammy, tell me you or Bobby found something."
"Is Cas there?" Sam asks, dreamily.
Dean scowls. "I'm not letting you talk to him. Especially not with stalker voice."
Sam hesitates for a moment, and Dean can see him in his mind's eye, getting all sulky and bitchy. "Dean… I haven't heard his voice for hours, can't you just let me—"
Dean cuts him off. "Focus, Sammy. What'd you find out from the Chinese guy?"
Sam takes a long-suffering breath. "His friend said that getting ripped apart like that was his reward from the gods, or something, man, I don't know. It's kind of weird; he kept insisting that it was what Mr. Yip wanted."
"Yeah, because people ask to get ripped apart all the time," Dean mutters.
"Well, not specifically ripped apart, but he did want to die, I guess," Sam says. "I mean, Mr. Lamm was his best friend, and he's pretty sure that Yip was entertaining suicidal thoughts for months now. Being ripped apart was just how it played out in the end."
"Great then. We'll just cross that one off the list as a perfectly acceptable way to go," Dean drawls, just as the waitress comes back with their drinks. There's a pitcher of OJ for Cas, with a bendy straw and one of those little umbrellas in it and everything, and a cup of lukewarm coffee for Dean. With a hair floating in it that is so obvious it could only have been put there on purpose.
The waitress smiles in a not-so-pleasant way as she slams Dean's coffee mug down on the table for him, before turning to Cas an cooing, "Let me know if you need anything, beautiful."
"Thank you," Castiel manages, while shying away from her hand on his shoulder. Particularly when she leaves it there a little too long and starts to knead.
Dean rolls his eyes. "Any leads on the woman he was with?" Dean prompts Sam before pushing his coffee out of arm's reach with a grimace.
"Nothing but a leopard-print dress and a sexy laugh," Sam answers, absently.
Dean scowls. "Yeah, so that narrows it down to half the hookers in Vegas. Great detective work, Romeo."
"What about you guys?" Sam asks after a moment, sounding all yearning and breathless. "Did you find anything? Did Cas do anything awesome?"
"He got invited into a threeway with two frat boys, though I don't know if that counts as awesome in my book," Dean answers, before he can stop himself. He winces when he finishes that sentence.
"Oh my god, you didn't let him go did you?" Sam practically screams from the other end, predictably. "Dean, you know how I feel…"
"Okay, relax there, Samantha, I didn't let your cute angel crush go off with another girl on prom night. Jesus. He's right here with me."
Sam sighs in relief on the other end. "Well, okay. Good. I guess."
Dean decides to steer this train back onto the tracks. "No info about the woman that started the orgy either, by the way. One of the guys swears she was a dude, or something. Which gives us a suspect list of the other half of the hookers in Vegas, if you know what I mean. As for the victims, they're all excommunicated now or whatever, but to tell you the truth, the stories say they all seem pretty okay with that. The guys we talked to made a big coming-out party of it, like it was the best thing that ever happened to them."
Sam hmmms on the other end of the line while Cas stares at Dean and methodically sips his orange juice at what he must consider precise and accepted human-drinking intervals. "I guess if they were repressing like that in the church community and then suddenly got to let it all out, it must have been a relief," Sam admits, eventually. "I mean, I know how that feels. To hide something like that for so long and…"
"Don't finish that sentence," Dean warns him. "My food is coming, and I want to still be able to eat it without your 14-year-old girl hormones making it taste like a Teen Beat article."
"I was just thinking, Dean."
"Well try to do it while breathing through your nose, Sam. It'll help you concentrate."
"Concentrate on what, exactly? I mean, so far nothing in this case is matching up except for the state."
"And the dead people," Dean quips absently, when he sees the waitress back out of the kitchen with a tray of beefy goodness that can only be for him. The sight of it is enough to capture Dean's undivided attention from then on out, mostly because Sam's mooning over Cas at breakfast had made him lose his appetite and he is now paying for that oversight with a severe case of Angry Empty Stomach Syndrome.
"The church orgy didn't result in any deaths," Sam points out. "So that's an anomaly. Unless you want to count an orgasm as a small death, but…"
The waitress arrives with Dean's burger a second later, which means Dean stops listening to Sam. This is probably bad timing, because it is just as a no-longer-important Sam mutters, "There has to be something besides pretty women and Nevada linking them…" from the other end of the line.
Dean might have heard it too, if the waitress—Carla, her nametag says—hadn't decided right then and there to put down Dean's burger and throw herself into Cas's lap.
"Woah, okay, gotta go, Sammy," Dean says, hastily. He forgets about the burger.
"Wait, Dean, no… I think I…"
Dean slams his phone shut just as Cas blinks at Dean in a vaguely panicky way. "Her state of arousal is very high," the angel says unnecessarily, and stands abruptly, sending horny waitress Carla tumbling off of him and onto the table top.
"Oh, I like it rough," she purrs, sitting in the mess of food and drink that had been lunch. Cas doesn't know how to respond to that obviously, looking slightly wide-eyed and rumpled from where he'd just had crazy waitress trying to get his shirt off.
"Yeah, we're leaving," Dean says when he looks around the rest of the diner and sees Bubba at the counter doing something gross with the waistband of his pants in Cas's general direction while the chef and busboy stand in front of the kitchen door together, wielding knives and totally inappropriate in-slacks boners that Dean can freaking see through their aprons, okay.
Dean, appetite officially gone now, grabs Cas by the hand and pulls him towards the door.
He may have to clock Bubba in the face and throw Carla into the kitchen staff along the way. Cas seems grateful, which is all fine and good, but Dean really could have used that burger.
Meanwhile, Sam, mind still slightly abuzz with news that Cas is not having orgies with strangers because obviously he believes in true love after all, is also struggling with the new pattern his brain is telling him has emerged in the case evidence so far. It's difficult to focus because holy god, Cas, but at the same time, he promised Dean that he is a working professional and that once they handle this case and Sam can show Dean that his feelings for Cas are real, they will discuss the possibility of Sam asking Cas to go steady with him afterwards.
To get there, he needs to figure this out first.
Sam stares really hard at his notes (and does his best to ignore the hearts with his and Cas's names written on them in the margins).
He sits back, takes a deep breath, and reads through what he knows again. Slowly. Thoroughly.
So far, there are mostly discrepancies between all three cases. Those who'd been affected were—or are, as the case may be— all in different lines of work, were in different parts of the city when the incidents happened, and each incident met with different outcomes.
The first, Mr. Avery, met a beautiful woman at a strip club and was turned into a killer. He got what he wanted in the end, but at the cost of an innocent woman and two small kids.
The second "victims," the church group, had met a strange woman on the overpass and had some sort of sexual awakening, or something. They sound happy, so whatever. No one died.
The third victim, Mr. Yip, had met a hot American chick and then had been brutally dismembered by a bunch of strange women. But he'd wanted it, according to his friends. He'd been wishing for it. The only death was his own.
So one killer, a couple of sexual deviants, and one killee. A premeditated murder, a crime of passion (so to speak), and a bizarre dismemberment.
A desired outcome, a positive result, a long wished for death.
Now Sam, even when brain-addled and horny from angel-pheromones, has a pretty sharp mind.
He slaps a hand to his forehead, thinks he's on to something, and almost can't believe he hadn't seen it sooner.
Sam grabs his laptop and googles Ruff Works Pitbull Rescue.
Meanwhile, Dean is making great time back to Vegas. Probably because he is driving very fast. Like, 105mph and pushing it very fast. Bubba the trucker might also be following them in his rig.
The sound of police sirens wails in the distance as well, because Bubba, unfortunately, is not the only person involved in this wacky desert-scene car chase.
Cas, for once, looks appropriately freaked out by the happenings. It probably has something to do with what the Highway Patrolman two squad cars back had said he was going to do to Cas after he forced him out of the car and made him spread'em.
Dean really wishes someone would break that goddamn Megaphone.
Sam listens sympathetically on the phone as Drake Netterman blubbers on the phone to him about his wife's unfortunate mauling. "I just hate that it came down to this, you know?" Drake says to who he thinks is a reporter who wants to write an article on the tragedy at the pitbull sanctuary.
Sam interrupts him. "Can you tell me about the weeks leading up to the incident, Mr. Netterman? What was it like at the sanctuary? Describe the mood, your feelings in particular."
"Oh man, I don't know if I can, Mr. Criss. I mean, if I tell you the truth, won't it paint the sanctuary in a negative light? We don't need any more negative press."
"What readers need to feel sympathy is a story, Mr. Netterman. Something genuine they can latch on to and relate to."
Drake takes a deep breath on the other end. "I guess…I was just feeling overwhelmed by my work over the last few months. It felt like one thing after another kept going wrong and I was getting sick of it."
He sighs. "It's just…this job has been so hard since my dad died. He really wanted me to take over the place, you know? Build it up to what he always hoped it could be. It was his baby, his life's work, not mine."
"And your wife?" Sam prompts. "How did she feel about the sanctuary?"
"Jamie…she hated it here. Said I was paying so much attention to the damned animals that I didn't have time for our marriage. I guess she was right in a way, but even still, I had to listen to her say those things five years running, man. It just compounded my frustration with the way things had been going lately."
"That must have been tough," Sam chimes in. "How did her attitude about the job make you feel?"
Drake sniffles pathetically. "Mad. Frustrated. I don't know, the whole time she was nagging to me about our marriage while I tried to keep the sanctuary's head above water, all I could think was I wish she wouldn't do that, you know? Make it a constant fight between her and the sanctuary. As if one or the other wasn't enough of a fight already. As if I had enough energy to deal with both at the same time."
"You said the sanctuary wasn't your dream, though. Why didn't you just sell it or hire someone else to take over?"
"It was my dad's dying wish for me to run it, keep it in the family. So I tried."
"And Jamie disapproved."
"Yeah. She always told me I could have one or the other, but I couldn't have both. I guess I saw it as her making me choose between her and my dad. So of course I couldn't decide." Pause. "Maybe that's what made her serve me up the divorce papers last week. She said I had to choose. Her or this place." He laughs then, bitterly. "For a while, all that pressure, all that anger, I didn't want either of them."
Drake sighs. "Now I don't have either of them. Jamie's dead and… after the attack... I can't look at them the same way now. I shouldn't have let her work with Bugsby. I knew he was more aggressive than the others, harder to control. I don't know why I made her do it that day, why I insisted. After that… after what I saw, I just can't do it anymore, you know?"
"It makes perfect sense, Mr. Netterman." Sam pauses, thoughtful. "I suppose in the end, you got what you wished for."
A sigh from the other end. "I guess I did, if you want to look at it that way." Drake pauses. "When you write this article, can you let the readers know that I won't be here anymore, being half-assed or wishy-washy about it? I'm going to leave it in the hands of people who really want to do this work, who actually can give their everything to the dogs. After the incident, after all the bad press, just tell them that the sanctuary's slate is being wiped clean. I'm gone."
"And what will you do from here on out?"
"I don't know." He chuckles then, ironically. "I guess I'm finally free to decide on my own. At my leisure."
Sam supposes that's true enough. "Good luck, Mr. Netterman."
Sam hangs up a moment later and supposes he's kind of figured something out now. Maybe if he calls Dean with the good news, his brother will let him talk to Cas.
Dean scowls as the phone rings as he speeds back into the Las Vegas city limits at a screeching pace, riding at the head of the world's most terrifying convoy.
"What?" Dean shouts. "Sam, you better have figured something out!"
"Dean, whatever is causing this is doing it by making the victims' own secret wishes come true," Sam bursts out, sounding well pleased with himself. "Can I talk to Cas now?"
Dean hangs up on him so he can glare at Cas. "Cas, did you wish to be porned by a bunch of random strangers while you were watching porn?" he demands.
Castiel blinks. "No, Dean."
"Are you sure?"
Castiel just gives him that extra super special pissy look again, the one that reminds Dean that he's still the most human angel in all of heaven. "Okay, fine," Dean concedes, "I believe you. But in case you haven't noticed, everyone and their mom wants a piece of your holy spirit, man."
"You don't seem to be any different," Castiel points out, reasonably.
Dean just realizes that too, and swallows, thickly. "Yeah, well. Stood up to Famine, remember? Nothing in here to stir up, I guess." He grins at that, but it's not in a particularly pleasant way, because hey, this might just be another one of those signs that he's shriveled up and dead inside. Thanks, universe.
Castiel eyes him with that annoying all-knowing angel gaze of his. "Famine exercised its power on will, Dean. It pitted a human's will against the things they wanted most. Your will was simply too strong for Famine to influence."
Dean snorts, skeptical and embarrassed all at once. "That's a pretty way of putting it, Cas."
Castiel gives him this incredibly dry, but incredibly fond look. "I have never tried to flatter you, Dean. I don't understand why you think I would begin now."
Dean coughs. "Yeah, I guess you're right." He manages a thoughtful smile. "So you're saying I have an iron will."
Castiel's lip curves slightly upward in answer. "And you are using it to be willfully unattracted to me."
Dean snorts. "Very funny, chuckles."
In the background, Bubba blows his horn and accidentally runs a few squad cars off the road.
By the time Dean manages to shake Bubba and the rest of Cas's crazy diner and highway stalkers via some really creative driving in the back alleys, parking lots, and various employees only areas of several of the casino lots, it is dark, he is still hungry, and the bed at the Luxor looks like a little piece of heaven on earth.
Except that when he opens the door, Cas dutifully behind him and a few steps too far into his personal space bubble as per usual, they immediately get accosted by Sam, who has had some kind of nerd revelation.
"It has to be something strong enough to grant wishes but in an entirely questionable way!" he blurts at Cas, shoving Dean aside and looking all starry-eyed at the angel, like he wants a cookie for performing a neat trick. Cas just gives Sam a dubious look back and shifts sideways a little, back towards Dean. Dean thinks the bastard is probably planning on using him as a projectile in case Sam starts to get any funny looks in his eye that reminds them of Bubba. "That narrows down the list, doesn't it?"
Dean opens his mouth to say "Djinn," automatically, but Sam cuts him off like he's already thought about that. "It's not a hallucination, Dean. I mean, if it was, this would be an ideal universe to at least one of us, right?"
Dean closes his mouth. Which is good, because Cas is inching close enough that if it were still open, he'd probably have a mouthful of slicked-up angel hair. He scowls and mutters, "Cas, seriously, personal space."
Castiel ignores him. "Perhaps Bobby was right. Fairies tend to grant human desires for a price," he poses, and ducks sideways when Sam reaches out one of his enormous bear paws to start stroking down the side of his coat.
Sam looms closer to Cas. "With the exception of the first incident, no one else had a firstborn sacrificed as far as I can tell."
Cas sidles sideways again. He's making that same face he'd made when Dean had taken him to the whorehouse, and if this whole situation wasn't so deeply uncomfortable, Dean might have laughed at the fact that whores and lusty Sam get the exact same reaction out of the angel. As it is, not so funny when he's right in the middle of it. Literally. "How about that Veritas thing?" Dean butts in, on a whim. "Like, are there other gods or goddesses that answer people's prayers like she does? A bunch of cats went missing in Reno, by the way."
"That would be consistent with the sphere of influence that is being exerted on this entire area," Castiel agrees, and looks like he's parsing through the new information slowly and carefully in his head. "But I have been unable to sense any of the residual magic invoking a pagan goddess would require."
"Maybe you can't because your mojo is muzzled," Dean points out.
Castiel huffs. "That is a possibility I had not considered," he says, voice gravelly with irritation.
Which naturally, makes girly, love-struck Sam's nostrils flair. "I like it when you talk like that, Cas," he admits, with a small, goofy laugh. He leans forward; Cas leans away.
"Uh," Dean starts, as the three of them start doing this weird, shuffling dance further into the room, as Cas crowds Dean to get away from Sam and Sam continues to crowd Cas to get a whiff of whatever it is on him that's making the world hot for angels. Dean had never known it before, but Sam can look incredibly creepy when he wants to. It's probably the Frankenstein Monster Hands and the hitched whimpery noises in the back of his throat that are making him sound like a Twilight heroine. "Seriously, can we stop the whole basement dweller fangirl routine for a second and get back to work, Sammy?" Dean demands.
Sam bitchfaces at that. "Maybe we could if you'd stop standing between me and Cas's love, Dean!"
Castiel takes the moment to say, "I would prefer it if he did, Sam."
Sam blinks, and then bitchface morphs to totally hurt face. "Am I bugging you, Cas?"
Castiel realizes his previous human insensitivity mistake a little too late and looks helplessly at Dean at Sam's next question, because clearly he wants to answer this the way he knows best, even if, from the looks of things, that way will probably just make creepy!Sam cry. He will however, attempt to be nice if Dean recommends it.
Dean just shrugs back at him, equally helpless. He's all for letting her rip in this case, to be perfectly honest.
"Yes," Castiel answers reluctantly, after a moment. "I find this situation very awkward, Sam."
Sam deflates. Dean reaches out to pat him on the shoulder, awkwardly. "Now that he's let you down, er, gently, can we please get back to solving this case without you mouthbreathing all over him? Because to be perfectly honest, man, I can't work in these conditions. These are creepy conditions."
Sam sulks. "I just… I love him so much." His hand strays out again, like he wants to pet Cas some more. He has this look in his eye that Dean disturbingly interprets as wanting to rip all of Cas's clothes off and crawl all over him. Or the Becky look, in other words.
Which is, again, not okay.
"Sam!" Dean barks, losing patience. "Seriously quit the ogling. It's not right, man."
Sam scowls. "So it's okay for you to ogle whoever you want any time you want, but I'm not supposed to even look at the person I'm in love with because it makes you uncomfortable?"
"Okay, first of all, it makes Cas uncomfortable too. Second, I haven't ogled anyone since this mess began," Dean rejoins, which prompts Sam to whirl on him and look all accusatory and outraged when he hears.
"Are you joking? Remember that hot blonde at the strip club you were practically drooling all over before we left?"
Dean blinks. Okay, that came out of left field. Also, he does not remember any hot blonde, just the brunette in the yellow bikini and the redhead in the blue. He thinks the one in the white had had a bright orange dye-job, but to be fair, he hadn't really been paying attention to her hair.
He scowls. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Sam gets even more righteously indignant at Dean's apparent lack of ogling memory. "The blonde in the yellow bikini!"
Dean scowls, because if he remembers anything, he remembers that. "Dude. Yellow bikini was brunette. Big blue eyes, awesome sex voice. And I was not ogling her, I was just being appreciative of her work, okay." He pauses and gets a dreamy-far off look on his face at the memory. "She was totally my type, though."
Sam stares at Dean like he has two heads and one of them is a kraken or something. "I'm talking about the girl you gave the last of your cash to. Natural blonde? She had the brown eyes and the cute voice. You were totally ogling her."
Dean is confused. "Dude, that was not her. And that sounds more like your type. Are you sure you weren't the one staring at a stripper?"
Castiel chimes with a cryptically thoughtful, "Perhaps you are both right," like he's beginning to figure out this puzzle way faster than the sad humans on either side of him could possibly do it with their tiny, mortal brains.
Sam and Dean absorb these words. And find themselves locked in a strange moment of silence, as they try to process this.
Eventually, Dean turns to Cas. "So, you want to share what you've figured out with the class, Einstein?"
In the car on the way back to the strip club, Sam is super excited, probably because he'd opted to sit in the backseat with Cas instead of ride shotgun like normal. "She has to be the key! I bet she's the beautiful woman in all the cases, too. Which makes sense, Dean! She looks like whatever your type is."
He pauses to glance sideways at Cas, who is looking like he's finally done building all the puzzle's edges but is still having some problems filling in the middle bit by bit. "Not that cute blonde girls are my only type, Cas," Sam burbles at the angel sweetly. "I bet when we see her again she'll look like you, man."
"Not okay, Sam," Dean barks.
Cas looks at him gratefully, before furrowing his brow again. "I think," he begins, and stops to take a weary breath, "I know which of the pagan goddesses is doing this. I can't, however, determine why or how."
Dean blinks at him through the rearview. "Does that even matter right now, man?"
"It does," Castiel answers. "She is supposed to be my ally. And she should not be strong enough to contain my powers by herself. Not unless someone has offered her tribute and formed a pact through which to directly invoke her influence over me. "
Dean stares. "So what, you think she's in cahoots with Raph, or something?"
"It is possible." Castiel looks grim and disappointed. Mostly disappointed, and that makes Dean kind of pissed, because he doesn't understand anyone being dumb enough to pick Raphael over Cas ever.
Dean shakes his head. "Sorry, man."
"As am I." Castiel sets his jaw. "But this duplicity was better revealed sooner than later."
Dean's never gotten over Cas's ability to get sucker punched in the face by a friend—or family member, as the case more often is— like that and then move right on with whatever needs to be done next like it never happened. It's kind of awesome, but kind of depressing at the same time, like he's just used to it, like it happens to him every day. Briefly, Dean realizes that maybe he might be a contributing factor in some ways considering some of the shit he's said to Cas over the last few months, which makes him feel douchy all over again.
He coughs. "So uh, how do you even kill a goddess?" he asks, trying to be helpful this time.
"I will handle it," Castiel answers darkly, and says nothing else for a while.
In the seat beside Dean, Sam giggles. "Man, he is so hot when he gets angry," he sighs.
Dean ignores him.
When they get to the strip club, they discover that Astarte is not there.
They also discover that the bouncers and the waiters all remember Cas way too well and want to know why he hasn't called any of them back.
Cas inches away from their advances and says, "I don't have a phone anymore," very honestly. In the meantime, Dean manages to shove Sam into the back office to do some snooping for info while he keeps an eye on Cas and his gropey friends up front, which, to be perfectly honest, is serving as a pretty freaking convenient distraction. Or it is until a fight starts out over who gets to touch the angel where, anyway.
"Woah, woah, woah, ladies and…dudes," Dean begins, and starts shoving bodies away from Cas. "You don't wanna rip the poor guy apart, do you?"
"I'd rather he was dead than let this skank have him!" the redheaded stripper shouts, shoving the orange dye-job into a nearby table.
"Fuck you, bitch, he's mine!" The muscle-bound bouncer seethes, and throws a chair at them both.
"Shit," Dean mutters, when things start to get more violent from there. He eyes the Employees Only door in the back and hopes that Sam isn't so twitterpated he can't even pick a few simple locks.
In the meantime, Cas ducks a bottle of whiskey and manages to avoid a pair of amorous man-lips thrust in his direction. "Dean," he begins, as the bottle of whiskey shatters against some of the small lightbulbs along the side of the stage. It erupts into flames—of course— which then catches on the cheap velvet carpet lining the floor of the catwalk. Dean really freaking hates this case on an official level now, because it is totally taking out all the fun of getting to visit a strip club for work.
"Sammy!" Dean shouts towards the back door, while he randomly gets jumped on by the bartender. He scowls and throws the guy off of him. "I am not part of this competition!" he declares, when some of the strippers round on him in the meantime anyway.
"He's always with you," a cute Asian waitress in feathery heels hisses, and breaks out the inch-long fake nails to take a swipe at Dean's face. "Why was he standing so close to you?"
Dean sidesteps her dragon-lady attack and grabs her around the middle; she claws and screams and bites, and by the time she pulls one of the sleeves off of his t-shirt he decides to screw chivalry and tosses her into two other approaching strippers.
Meanwhile, the fire rages on, someone grabs Cas's ass in the melee, and where the fuck is Sam with that info?
It isn't until Dean has been forced to punch two different really hot chicks in the face that his brother finally emerges from the back, a file tucked under his arm in triumph.
The triumph abruptly fades when Sam sees the melee currently happening on the floor, however. Mostly at the part where Cas has been thrown onto a table top with bouncer-guy nibbling on his neck and two strippers working his belt open.
"Dean!" Sam whines, totally scandalized. "I can't believe you let the strippers have him first!"
Dean, trying to pick himself up off the floor from where the club owner had shattered a chair against his back WWF style, glares at Sam. "Did you get it?"
Sam is still all butthurt, but nods and waves the folder in the air. "Apparently her schedule says she's a part time pastry chef at the Luxor buffet on Wednesday and Thursday nights."
"Goddammit, we just came from there," Dean mutters, and staggers towards the table Cas is currently being molested on.
Far beyond caring at this point, he grabs both of the strippers working their way into Cas's pants by the hair and pitches them behind him, which frees up enough space for Cas to throw the amorous bouncer off of him without seriously hurting anyone.
"Cas? You okay?" Dean manages, while Cas stands and fumbles with his belt. The fact that his pants are wide open and sliding down his hips gives some of the other fighters reason to pause and stare; Dean is just thankful for the reprieve.
"Yes. I believe so," the angel answers, and he offers Dean a small smile, which Dean returns, because Cas looks kind of hilarious, standing there with his pants in his hands and lipstick all over his face. "Thank you, Dean."
"Yeah no probl—"
And that is about when Sam tackles Dean.
"What the hell, Sam?" Dean wheezes, as he finds himself pinned to the floor with his very large, very angry brother on top of him.
"I should be asking the same thing!" Sam roars back, and he has that look on his face that reminds Dean of Sam: Vers. Demon Blood. "All he does is look at you! He only smiles at you! You don't even appreciate him, Dean! Why are you taking him from me? Wh—"
Dean manages to slam his forehead into the underside of Sam's chin while his brother is busy doing the super villain monologue.
Sam grunts and Dean manages to roll them sideways so he can get enough leverage to punch his psychotic angel-lusting brother in the gut and knock the wind out of him.
Sam wheezes, hands releasing their grip on Dean's completely ruined shirt—he liked this shirt, dammit—and Dean shakily climbs to his feet.
He turns to Cas, who is now being corralled by the surviving waitresses. He has a look in his eye that says he might, at any second now, give up on not wanting to seriously hurt anyone and break out whatever's left of his super strength to get free.
Dean, slightly short of breath from having Sam's gigantor weight centered on his ribcage, staggers forward to help, stopping just behind one of the waitresses in order to nod at Cas.
Cas nods back, and wordlessly, Dean turns his shoulder and rams through the waitress like a charging linebacker, knocking her aside with a yelp before stumbling right into Cas's open arms.
Cas grabs him, and then, with a rush of air and the all too familiar sensation of being yanked through time and space way too quickly, Dean finds himself back in the parking lot, beside the Impala.
"God I hate that," he mutters, but manages to keep from tipping over by bracing himself against the side of the car. "You okay, Cas?" he breathes to the angel, who looks a little shaken from the sudden angel-portation with his dampened powers. His pants are still kind of falling down, too.
"I doubt I can do that again for a while," Castiel reports breathlessly, as Dean helps him yank up his slacks and button up his fly, before he gives everyone at the corner stop light a freaking show. They've got enough Cas stalkers to deal with as it is.
Cas looks grateful again, before gesturing to the car. "We will have to drive to the Luxor. It could be a perilous path, given that my affliction seems to have gotten…worse."
"Yeah, I figured," Dean mutters, and digs in his pocket for his keys.
Which aren't there.
"Shit," he mutters, and tries the other pocket instinctively, even though he knows that it is probably hopeless. Fucking Sam.
As if to confirm, the door to the strip club suddenly explodes open, and Sam, at the head of a slightly bruised, slightly crispy sex-zombie stripper army, grins and holds up the Impala keys in his hands.
"Missing something, Dean?" Sam asks as he stumbles forward. "I won't let you keep him all to yourself anymore. I'm taking what's mine!"
Dean hates the world right now.
He wordlessly grabs Cas by the wrist and runs.
The club is off the main strip, about seven miles from the Luxor.
That, Dean realizes, is seven miles worth of people he is exposing Cas to, all of whom will also get a whiff of Cas's Amazing Angel Pheromones or whatever jacked up shit is causing this and probably come running after them like they're in an X-rated version of The Pied Piper or something.
He is correct of course.
Around them, the lusty zombie horde only grows.
Dean's lungs start burning somewhere along mile three, and he thinks that maybe he needs to cut back on the burgers and up the cardio a little.
When they get to the strip again, it's looking a lot like how Dean's worst zombie apocalypse nightmares might have, except that instead of flesh ripping there is a lot of inappropriate flesh groping, as it seems that getting an eyeful of running, breathless Cas is the go-ahead for public stripping and in some less shameless cases, public masturbation. Dean's lungs are on fire now and he looks a lot like one of the battle-damage Spiderman toys he'd shoplifted for one of Sam's birthdays as a kid, all cut up and ripped open at seemingly impossible and vaguely slutty ways. Cas is no better off, tie more askew than is normal even for him, trenchcoat shredded, buttons missing, shoelaces gone (seriously, what the fuck).
But they make it back to the Luxor in one piece anyway, and luckily enough for them, Dean manages to grab a fire extinguisher at the casino entrance, which works incredibly well as a zombie deterrent when he swings it menacingly at the charging army of horn dogs coming straight at them. Before long, Cas manages to grab a serving tray from a cocktail waitress to use in much the same way.
From there they fight their way towards the buffet breathlessly, and Dean thinks it just figures that the pastry chef here is their baddy of the week, because the pie at the dessert line the other day had been way too good to be normal.
It's just not fair that an evil, double-crossing love goddess is responsible for that level of strawberry rhubarb goodness.
Dean barrels down the escalators and hops the buffet railing with an imminent need for vengeance on that part. He goes straight for the kitchen.
Cas huffs along right behind him, as per usual. "You will need to barricade the door while I interrogate her," the angel informs him breathlessly. "It is important that I determine what the endgame of all this is, what Raphael's plan is, if he is involved."
"Yeah, easier said than done," Dean mutters. Really, he'd rather just stab the bitch and be done with it.
But then Cas gives him that hopeful look of his, like all he wants in the world right now is for Dean to do him this one favor.
Dean feels that purportedly iron will of his collapse under that look. "Fine, I'll see what I can do. But if I die, I'm going to be so pissed at you."
Cas manages a small upward turning of his lips. "Understood."
When the kitchen doors come into view a few minutes later, Dean grabs Cas and pushes the angel in front of him, guiding him forward before any of the lusty buffet goers can make a play at them. Once inside the kitchen, he looks around frantically for something to barricade the entrance with. He finds a mop immediately to his right, and grabs it and shoves it through the door handles before putting all of his weight back against the doors while he looks for something bigger and heavier to block the way.
There are several impacts on the other side as he does this, the sound not unlike driving through a cloud of bugs on the freeway except, you know, magnified. Some moaning, clawing noises make it through too, and Dean pushes back against the double doors as hard as he can with a muffled curse.
Scanning the room, his eyes settle on a tall metal cabinet full of industrial-sized cleaning materials; if they can just tip it over in front of the damned doors it ought to be enough to hold back the horde for at least a little while. "Cas," he barks, "can you move that over here?"
Cas doesn't answer right away, mostly because he seems to be having one of those spidey-senses tingling moments where his whole body goes rigid, his ears perking and brow furrowing. "She's near," he murmurs.
"How can you tell?" Dean grits out, because hey, this would have been nice to know, you know, back at the strip club the other day.
Cas shakes his head. "She is letting me sense her," the angel explains. "She knows we are here."
"Whatever. Move the damned cabinet already!" Dean snaps, and Castiel nods and does as he's told.
"On three," Dean says, still braced against the heaving doors. "One…two…three!"
He jumps out of the way just as the cabinet goes sliding across the doorway with a crash, undoubtedly boosted by what little of his dampened angel mojo Cas can afford to use.
Whatever. For the time being, the doors are secured, though from the sounds of things, it won't last long.
"We should move on," Cas points out, needlessly. "You're not hurt, are you?" he adds after a beat, when Dean doesn't get up off the floor right away.
Dean takes a moment to breathe again, huffing on the kitchen tiles. "Right, I'm good," he mutters, and lets Cas help him up off the ground. "I'd like to punch her."
"That would only result in angering her," Castiel points out, though his voice has gone all rumbly and irate, like he's thinking the same thing Dean is. "You would likely break your fist."
Dean snorts, eyeing Castiel knowingly. "You'd heal me." He manages a grin.
Castiel offers a small, fondly exasperated huff in return. "Of course."
Dean nods. "Then it's on."
The two of them head deeper into the kitchen together, where they find more people working the line. Dean tenses at first, but all the workers seem disinterested in Cas and more interested in doing whatever it is they're doing (which seems to be a lot of making out with each other amongst other things, but whatever, as long as they're not trying to do it with Cas Dean figures he's good).
Dean also notices that the deeper they head into the bowels of the kitchen, the more far off from the real world they suddenly seem, and eventually, the smell of perfume fills the air and pleasant music starts to play in the distance. It's not quite loud enough to drown out the desperate slamming noises of the horny zombie horde as it tries to get past the blockaded kitchen doors, but it's loud enough that the crashing metal sounds aren't the most prominent chorus in the kitchen anymore. This is definitely some weird, pagan shit, Dean surmises, feeling vaguely lightheaded. He sticks close to Cas, who guides him forward with a firm hand at the small of his back that feels a lot like being grounded.
When they finally get to the very back of what seems to be an unnecessarily enormous kitchen—and where something smells amazing, Dean might add— they find a woman piping frosting on a chocolate cake while looking decidedly amused. She is not the hot glacier-eyed brunette from the strip club anymore though, she's just a plain, mousy-haired, slightly rotund patissier in a goofy white hat and with a dusting of flour across her right cheek.
Castiel pulls up short at the sight of her. "Astarte," he greets, and says it in the same tone of voice he usually saves for Raphael or I don't have time for this, Dean.
"Castiel. Do you like chocolate?" she offers, putting the finishing touches on the cake. "It's a new recipe of mine; you're welcome to have the first slice. Or Dean can, if he's so inclined. It's infused with pomegranate and might lead to orgasm."
Castiel ignores the invitation. "What is the purpose of your actions here?" he demands.
"You probably wouldn't be very happy with me if I said frosting, would you?" she answers, and then puts down her piping bag with a dramatic sigh. "Honestly, Castiel, I'm just doing my job."
"Killing people and making an entire city crazy? Doesn't seem very love goddess-y if you ask me," Dean snorts.
Astarte grins at him. "Love has many definitions, handsome." A timer goes off in the background then, and Astarte turns towards one of the ovens, where she pulls out an enormous tray of amazing-looking pies bare-handed. "I give my customers what they want, that's all."
Dean tries not to drool at the sight of that many pies, mostly because it would ruin the validity of his glowering. "You can't make me believe that Avery wanted his wife and kids dead, or that the Chinese guy decided being ripped apart would be swell," he tells her.
She shrugs. "That's just how it worked out in the end. I'm not in control of that, Dean. I'm not fate."
Dean blinks. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that Chase wanted to be free of his wife and children because he missed being able to share his love freely with every pretty face that tickled his fancy. I gave him the resolve to pursue this desire, and how he dealt with it was ultimately up to him. As for Gavin, David, and that whole church group, they were so repressed it was like sitting in on a Republican Party fundraiser. I just released their inhibitions long enough for them to go after what they really lusted after. After that, the ball was in their court, so to speak." She pauses here to stick her finger in the middle of a pie, before drawing it out and licking it. "And for Mr. Yip, he just wanted to have one last, big night out with his friends before he moved on to be with his wife again. There's nothing quite as flashy as how he ended up leaving the game in the end, don't you think?"
Castiel seems to understand. "They invoked your power, and you granted their boons."
"Ding, ding, ding, a winner," she declares, smirking.
Castiel frowns. "But I was unable to sense the residual magic such invocations would leave behind."
She shrugs. "Well, I wasn't formally invoked I suppose; no one knows the old ways anymore, after all. It's why I have to work informally to get by these days, angel," she acknowledges. "But really, I've discovered that all you really need to get a pact going is ten bucks in single bills and someone asking you to give them a little love. Isn't that right, Dean?" She winks at him.
Dean balks. "Wait, what?"
Which just makes her laugh. "Dean Winchester, you are too cute," she murmurs, and begins pouring sugar and cream into an industrial-sized mixing bowl. "If I recall, you did say you were looking for love."
Castiel blinks. "Dean," he asks, surprised, "did you pay Astarte tribute and ask a boon of her?"
"No!" Dean answers, automatically.
Castiel gives him a long, searching look.
Dean sighs when he replays that scene in the strip club over in his head again. "Okay, maybe. But it wasn't on purpose! I thought she was just being a hot stripper, dammit!"
Castiel turns back to Astarte, still perplexed. "You are in the process of granting Dean's boon?"
"Bingo," the goddess answers. "I offered him love, he agreed, and so here we are."
"That's bullshit!" Dean protests, hotly. "I don't feel any more in love right now than I did last week. I'm the only one not looking for love right now!"
Astarte just grins at him, like she knows something he doesn't. "And isn't that odd?" she chuckles, while the distinct cracking of a mop handle in the background signals to Dean that they have about five minutes before the metal cabinet gets totaled and this place is overrun with zombies—amongst which is Sam god dammit— wanting to rip off Cas's clothes and have their thrusty, thrusty ways with him.
"The terms of this boon also do not make sense," Castiel says flatly in the meantime, while Dean seriously contemplates trying to wipe the smirk off Astarte's face with an egg beater. "The birds started following us long before Dean encountered you. Their attraction to me predates your contract with Dean."
She just shrugs once. "A different customer, a different boon, angel," she answers simply. She starts to stir in some vanilla into the mixer. "It's not my fault there's some overlap. A lot of people seem interested in your love life, Castiel." She twitters. "It does seem to be working out better than I could have planned, though."
"So confused right now," Dean admits. Castiel looks the same.
"Who is the other customer?" Castiel demands. "Was it Raphael?"
At that, Astarte actually looks wounded. "Oh, angel," she murmurs, "didn't I promise you I would be on your side in this war? There's no need to fear his getting to me. Plus, I think I'd be the last goddess he would ask a boon of with regards to you, don't you think?"
Castiel gets all confused again. "I don't see how any of this makes sense."
"I'm sure you'll figure it out," Astarte tells him.
"I don't care," Dean adds, even though his voice comes out sounding mortified. "Just, fix it. You don't know how disturbing it is to see your little brother get all quivery over your angel. Sam is seriously making rape faces straight out of those freaking Twilight posters. Nightmares for weeks," he grumbles.
Astarte shakes her head. "Sorry, handsome, no can do. I took tribute. After a pact is made, it's a no return policy pagan magic."
Dean pales, while the goddess shrugs. "On the bright side, it means you'll definitely find your love."
Dean gapes at her. "Seriously? Seriously?" He turns to Cas. "I hate your allies."
Astarte sighs. "Dean," she murmurs, apparently taking pity on him, "don't you find it odd that when I'm busy making everyone else fall in love with Castiel, you're the only one who doesn't change?"
Dean squares his jaw while the pounding of zombies against tenuously blockaded doors grows disturbingly louder. "Cas says I'm willful. So what?"
She smirks. "I'm not Famine, Dean. Will has nothing to do with it. This is just statement of fact. And the fact is, everyone who interacts with Castiel at all loves him right now. It was the sole condition I put on my spell when I accepted this particular boon. Well, that and no angelic power interference, but I think you get my meaning."
And then, after what seems like a very long time, Cas's eyes suddenly widen, at—funnily enough— the exact same time Dean gets it.
Dean pales. "You have got to be kidding me."
Astarte just laughs. "And now, your boon is granted, Dean Winchester!" she declares around a wide, knowing grin. "It was nice doing business with you."
She wipes her hands off with a towel, while in the background, the sound of tumbling shelves and clattering bowls signals that the cabinet barricade is shot to shit and any second now, Dean and Cas are going to get ripped apart by Castiel's mindless fanclub. "Oh," Astarte adds, almost like an afterthought, "and try to move things along, will you? I'd like that other boon dealt with in a timely fashion once I remove the conditions of the spell. I trust you two will be able to handle the rest on your own from here."
"That still makes no sense!" Dean shouts at her.
The goddess smirks. "Love usually doesn't."
And then she winks out of the kitchen without another word, leaving Cas and Dean alone at the pastry station, staring at each other.
On the one hand, everything is suddenly dead quiet again, which probably means the sex zombies have been cured.
Which is inconvenient, because Dean thinks that right now, he probably wouldn't mind getting ripped apart and eaten.
His life, why is it always like this.
"Dean," Cas begins from beside him after a moment, cautiously. He sounds hopeful, and a little awed, and kind of terrified. Dean can't deal with any of that from Cas right now.
"Just… shut up for a second," Dean says, and puts a hand over his eyes so he can just think past the sound of his own mortification.
Castiel nods and obediently takes a step back, cowed. "Of course."
They stay like that for a while longer, at least until casino security is storming towards them, angrily threatening to arrest them for inciting a riot and trespassing.
Castiel—whose powers are apparently back now that the zombies are gone— grabs Dean and blinks them out of the kitchen before the police can be called.
Cas takes Dean back to his hotel room—naturally— where Dean proceeds to hate everyone and everything, love goddesses most especially. "Don't you have a heaven to go back to, now that you're all super-charged again? Don't let me keep you here," he tells Castiel, and won't look the angel in the eye, because obviously the day's revelations are news to him as much as they are to Castiel.
Castiel takes everything he says in stride however, as well as the things Dean pitches at his head every few minutes, for looking like a smug dick.
Dean eventually finds Sam's notes on the hotel memo pad however, complete with their little ink hearts and the scribbles of Sam+Cas 4ever on them. When he does, he suddenly seems to be in a slightly better mood.
Castiel doesn't know why that is, but takes the lull in the proceedings to make it very clear that Dean has no cause to be embarrassed by what they have just discovered, particularly because Castiel has always loved Dean too, even when Dean is being an irrational, needy asshole.
"Why do you think I always return to you regardless?" he asks, holding Dean's stubborn head firmly between both hands. "It's certainly not for the abuse."
Dean glares and Castiel simply looks back, direct, hopeful, honest.
"Fuck," Dean mutters, but finally stops glaring. "Goddammit."
Things start to look up for everyone after that.
Well, everyone except for maybe Sam, who stumbles into the hotel a little while later, looking kind of bruised, slightly crispy, and completely and utterly mortified. The fact that he hadn't gotten back to the room in time to burn the memo pad before Dean found it, snapped pictures of it, and sent said pictures to Bobby almost makes Dean as happy as the preceding wall-shaking orgasm had.
A day later, Castiel calls a strategy meeting amongst his allies, angelic and non-angelic alike.
He takes the stand at the front of his gathered forces at that assembly, strong and sure, and for the first time in a long time, he radiates a calm and determined serenity. A battle with Raphael's armies looms in the near future for them, a decisive, violent, and terrible one to be sure, but even still, Castiel's troops and allies can sense something different about him in this moment, and about how he will approach the coming fight.
It is, some surmise, as if Castiel's faith in this mission has been renewed somehow, has been made sharp again after more than a year's worth of constant wearing down. It is as if he has seen the face of God himself.
Castiel begins to speak to his brothers and sisters and friends then, and the words he uses are ones that specifically remind them all of what it is they're fighting for here. Family, friendship, freedom, love.
Meanwhile, at the very back of this gathered army, Balthazar lounges beside a glowing Astarte and whistles admiringly at the commanding sight his brother makes now, as he stands at the head of their small but dedicated forces. It is a far cry from the broken, hopeless looking creature that had first graced the steps of the goddess's temple a few short months ago.
"Well done," Balthazar can't help but whisper to Astarte, pleasantly surprised.
"Told you I'd get him laid," Astarte answers the angel under her breath. She is naked, shameless, and resplendent in her smugness. "Your boon is granted, Balthazar."
Balthazar just smiles. "And may I just say, it was the most worthwhile ten dollars I've ever spent, my lady," he quips back lightly, words belying the fact that the clever, ancient strategist in him knows all too well that this is the boost they needed all along, the final secret weapon of heaven that will deliver them from Raphael's second apocalypse.
Castiel is here now. Their general is no longer torn apart before them, no longer ragged from fighting two very different wars on two very different fronts.
It means they have a chance, and who knew that the outcome of another potential apocalypse would hinge so completely on a human as puny and base as Dean Winchester? Balthazar chuckles disbelievingly at the thought, but does not discount it for what it is: a fact.
Beside him, the goddess simply nods in understanding, and as Castiel continues in the confident command of his ragtag but dedicated army, she and Balthazar cannot resist bumping their fists together in triumph, when no one is looking.
Castiel is laid!
Balthazar congratulates himself on thus saving the world.