-x-

When it comes to half of the wacked-out situations Dean's ever gotten himself into, it wouldn't turn out like this.

Getting out of the Midwest. Finding his way here. With an angel pretty much off his kilter, who had disappeared for a week, now wearing pair of blue, ripped jeans and a faded Anaheim baseball cap. Out in the middle of some urban park in California, working on some community mural with complete strangers. Dean's bare hands smeared with yellow finger paint.

In their halter tops and form-fitting muscle shirts, the participants drink large bottles of water and focus on their project; the low chatter of voices and sounds of heavy breathing through the growing heat; bikes and skateboards rolling by sidewalks; the occasional outburst of earnest laughter; brows damp with sweat.

Cas's upper body flecked with drying, scattered spots of turquoise and a deep purple — on the tops of his pale and mole-dusted shoulders, his arms, and on his abdomen. He's not sweating.

There's no banishment sigil to be found on his chest. As there is no visible sign of Cas's influence on Dean's shoulder.

Almost as if they're just as much strangers to each other as the mellow locals gathering around them.

When Cas silently bends to duck his hands in a bucket of muddied-colored water on the tarp-covered ground, Dean has more than a moment's glance at him. Huh. He didn't know Jimmy Novack was a few pounds around the waist. Not really a big surprise considering the man's occupation but Dean wouldn't call it 'fat'. Not at all. Maybe 'slightly pudgy' belly.

"Did you finish the honey bees?" Cas' hands dripping clean, twisting open another paint tube.

Dean makes a face at him, tracing a yellow, glopped fingertip against the mural wall, etching a round oval. He left his leather jacket abandoned on the park grass along with his over-shirt. He would leave it with his baby but Sam has the car, back towards town and probably at the nearest free wi-fi building from the usual shitty motel they'd find on the road. "Screw bees, you can paint all the damn bees you want, Cas."

And god almighty, he may be off his kilter but Cas still has the ability to stare so intensely at him.

Dean blinks at him with a "What do you more want from me... I'm friggin' fingerpainting with you in public, dumbass" expression and frowns when Cas' fingers slick up with a stark-looking, bloody red color from the tube. It's all too familiar, too haunting. Cas looks like he's cut himself up good, prepping to work some angel mojo and perhaps ward the mural wall in front of them. Too many times they have bled for the cause.

Whatever cause it was.

Always happy to bleed for the Winchesters.

Dean jerks back a little when Cas's right thumb leans into his air space.

"Wha—...?"

Gently, the angel reaches up with his other hand and holds Dean's chin still.

Cas' thumb returns, pressing against Dean's sweaty, pinched forehead and swiping a brief horizontal line. He lifts the pad of his thumb and marks a vertical line. Summer-sky blue eyes slip shut as he does the anointing ritual, mumbling something like a prayer in a language Dean isn't completely sure is Latin.

Not too far off, a fellow finger-painter, with the electric green mohawk, eyes them skeptically. Dean doesn't make much of a facial expression as he flips them off.

Cas lets go of his chin, thumb removing itself, an untroubled smile quirking across his features.

"Mind telling me what that was about?" Dean asks, grumpy attention pinpointing back to him. "I've already been baptized, Cas."

"Everything has a purpose, Dean." Cas tells him, smiling lengthening, "Even the littlest ant prepares for the summer, richly supplied if diligent." Dean lets out a long sigh, scratching the back of his neck and groaning frustrated when a thin layer of paint coats his skin. Dammit. At least the idiot who was gawking took off. Everyone else seemed more concentrated on each other, and with painting.

"How long are you gonna be like this, Cas? Talking in freakin' riddles all day?"

The tip of Cas's tongue peeks between his lips, lingering out in the open. Dean wants to feel taken back from the clearly human and mocking gesture - from a celestial being with not so much a funny bone in him — but he chuckles, the warmth of its reverberations filling up his chest. "Careful what you're sticking out later. It might get bitten off." A gruff, automatic reaction.

He doesn't even feel embarrassment, despite how lame his comeback is.

"Perhaps I am not as adverse to the idea of you biting me, Dean, as you assume I would be."

"No?"

Dean's throat clenches a little, warming, and Cas' hooded eyes underneath his baseball cap, for the moment, narrow — looking like Cas again.

Whoever Cas was anymore…

"No," he parrots Dean, using the same breathy exhale to expel his words.

Dean's forefinger rises, streaking a midnight blue, crooked rune¹ against the surface of Cas's exposed shoulder. "For protection then," he insists, teeth unconsciously grinding together behind his closed lips.

"From my brothers and sisters and all others who mean to kill me?" The question strays between them, softly spoken. "Or is it from you, Dean?"

Hands crusted and bright gold like sunflowers, dipped with tips of deep sea blue, shake as Dean yells out, choosing to ignore the handful of people that will stare, "I don't even know what you're saying anymore, damn it, Cas! Just stop! Help us!" The flutter of wings picks up in his ears, and by now Dean understands that he's yelling at no one.

His breathing ragged.

A small tube of bloody red paint takes a short tumble onto the tarp.

It shouldn't have turned out like this.

-x-


¹The rune Dean uses is "eihwaz" - protection, reliability, purpose.