Author's Note: For any new readers-welcome! This one should stand alone without revealing too much of the overarcing plot, and I hope you enjoy it! For those of you who've joined us on the road so far, I'm still working on my outline for the next episode, so here's a "Campfire Tale" to tide you over! Our heroes are still in Camp Chitaqua, following the events of Fate's Warning, and there may be a story or two to tell there before we go deal with that epilogue and its implications.

As always, please let me know what you think! Reviews are love: share the love!

Before the Fall 'Verse: (Full "episodes" in italics.)

Before the Fall * Afterward * Incarceration * Some Sin For Nothing * Drive * Odds & Ends or Shave and a Haircut * Thunderstruck * Warm-Up * Snow Angel * Communication Breakdown * Fate's Warning

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Castiel was fairly adept at ignoring the looks that he felt throughout the camp, in his first few days there. Within this camp of hunters, apparently poised at the end of the world and wedged somewhere between a future that could have been and the one unrolling at their feet, everyone knew what he was.

The Campbell brothers who acted as their hosts asked him straightforward, strategic questions about their enemies, classifying threats and understanding the doomsday scenario being painted for them. The other hunters treated him as something potentially dangerous, like an unleashed dog on the street, only tentatively offering a hand when it appeared he would not bite, prepared to snatch it back in an instant. The children were perhaps the worst. The younger ones were kept away from him, either by design or simply by the close-knit nature of the camp life, but the ones old enough to wander seemed perpetually to travel in packs, asking impertinent questions with innocent curiosity that he found it impossible to ignore.

Castiel hadn't intended to speak of heaven or of angels or of history, but the children asked, and sat around with rapt attention as he attempted to paint images with words. And perhaps he kept going because it wasn't just the children that listened.

He could feel Dean's regard on him, buzzing like an electric current along his consciousness, and he answers their questions to answer Dean's as well. He chooses the safest memories for the children, creating bedtime stories until night comes, and half of his audience is chivvied away, and then crafting campfire stories for the brashest teenagers to cower from in safety, but still he shies away from the harshest truths.

It pains him, all of it, to dredge up the memories of what he's seen and experienced and what he had been. But perhaps it's no different than writing it down in his journal. So much of humanity has been based on oral tradition: telling stories as they huddle away from the dark. It makes the children regard him with something like wonder, and he enjoys it: but it's Dean who he turns back to with his final tales, pushing himself to his feet as he dusts off stained and torn jeans when he can't do it any more, can't live in the stories.

He ignores the looks from the hunters of the camp as he lets Dean draw him back into their cabin, shooing away the youths for the time being, because he is used to it.

He feels strangely selfish when he realizes he's not the only one being given looks. It's late enough to almost be early, and the Campbells, the eclectic group of hunters that were their allies and residents at the camp, Bobby, Sam, and the others are there, breaking apart to discuss munitions, tactics, strategy. Castiel negotiates these small groups with Dean at his side, both of them directing each other's gazes when it comes to maps and possibilities, a touch on the arm while pointing, standing shoulder to shoulder while discussing defenses, he feels the eyes and he ignores them until he separates briefly from Dean, pulled aside by Bobby, Sam and Roland to correct their Enochian.

The stares remain on Dean as well, and this concerns him in a way that the perpetual curiosity about him does not. Castiel is other, different, alien and potentially dangerous. Dean is. . . Dean. In a camp of hunters, Dean Winchester should be considered a paragon. He says as much when he returns to his hunter's side, stung to indignation on Dean's behalf, and Dean flushes slightly and ducks his head, as he frequently did when Castiel pointed out anything other than his perceived flaws.

"No, Cas. . . it's not just about the angel thing. I mean, yeah it's about that too. But it's us. They're trying to figure us out, Cas." Dean eventually offers, and for a moment there is a crack in the cocksure persona he put on amongst people, as he shoots a fleeting look at a group of hunters who suddenly find things to polish on their weapons, giving greater interest to whatever was at hand, many clearly illustrating they'd been caught out looking at the two men leaned close together, speaking in rough whispers.

"You mean our. . . " Castiel frowns, his gaze swinging to the same group unerringly, brow drawn down in a scowl. "I murdered thousands of angels, I committed the highest form of blasphemy and declared myself God, I started a war between heaven and hell. . . and their discomfort is because of the nature of our relationship?"

"Dude, chill." Dean mutters, trying to defuse Castiel before he can get his ire up entirely. The fallen angel looks downright wrathful, and that was never a good way to negotiate.

"No. I will not 'chill.'" Castiel air-quotes abruptly, his motions jerky, and refuses to look away from the others or lower his voice. "Our bond is perhaps the one thing I have gotten right in my time on this Earth, and of all the things I am willing to be judged for, deserve to be judged for. . ."

Rolling his eyes, Dean runs a palm down his face, shoots a look at the group behind him, and makes a wild, reckless decision and damn the consequences. With a firm grasp, before he can question the wisdom of his actions, Dean drags the fallen angel back around to face him, tangles the fingers of his other hand in Cas's hair, and kisses him soundly in front of God and everyone just to shut him the hell up. Castiel responds instinctively, with the unquestioning enthusiasm he always gave to anything involving Dean, but it feels different. It feels off.

It's Risa who breaks the silence with a wolf-whistle, and somehow that seems strangely appropriate. Breaking for air, Dean takes a step back from Cas without relinquishing his hold on Cas's arm, and gives a mocking half-bow to their now brazenly watching audience before shooting a look over at the still dumbstruck angel in his grip, and then smirking self-assuredly, all of it a carefully constructed mask. "Alright, good. Now that we've got that cleared up, shouldn't we be talking about how to kill something?"

And that's that. Clapping Cas on the shoulder, he half-shoves the mute angel into the thick of the planning again, and prompts him until he remembers how to speak.

Hours later, Sam pulls Dean aside and asks if he is "okay," and gives wide, sympathetic eyes to his elder brother, shooting a glance at the crowd around the fire, and a pointed look at Castiel that the fallen angel could feel even as he unsuccessfully attempts to hide that he was eavesdropping just as badly as the earlier group. Dean rolls his eyes, and shrugs as he leans against the wall, folding his arms across his chest and looking away from his brother.

"I told you, Sam, there are three people in the world whose opinion I care about any more and you're all okay with it. Anybody here has a problem with me and Cas can either get over it or tell it to my face. What're they gonna do, beat the shit outta me? Been there, done that, like to see them get the drop on me now. Hell, or on Cas. Starting to think he'd enjoy the chance to hit someone."

"Dean. . ." Sam begins, and just because Dean essentially 'came out' in front of an audience (most of whom already knew because Rivera and his talking shit) doesn't mean he's changed overnight into someone who enjoys this chick-flick crap. He cuts his brother off with a curt gesture and a quelling look, already shoving off of the wall and walking away.

"I'm fine, Sam. I'm not planning on any frikkin' pride parades, and I don't plan on shoving my tongue down Cas's throat on a regular basis. . . not with an audience, at least . . . but it was bothering him."

And that's that. Castiel frowns into the fire, and stays there as people move and shift and speak around him, until the unofficial meeting breaks up, until everyone heads back to their posts or their cabins, until Dean rests a hand on his elbow again, more gently, their audience gone, trying to draw him back from that angelic stillness he seemed to tumble into, letting time pass around him without seeming to respond to it or feel it. "Cas? You still with me, buddy?"

Dean's beautiful by firelight, it plays on his skin with a golden glow, burnishes copper and gold in his hair and creates delicate fans of shadow from his eyelashes, making his eyes seem liquid and warm one moment and unfathomable and deep the next. Cas is doing it again, his attention shifted from the fire to his lover, but he speaks before he lets himself fall too far into staring. "You shouldn't have kissed me."

Dean shifts, and suddenly he's guarded. It's a cover for confusion, a defense against insecurity, and Castiel knows it well. Knows this man better than any other creature on Heaven or Earth, better than he knows himself most days, and yet he knows he could study him for decades and still be surprised. This, though. . . this was fundamental. Simple.

"I don't want you to kiss me when you don't mean it."

And this time, Dean blinks. "Cas, what the hell are you talking about, of course I mean. . ."

Stepping forward, Castiel cups a hand to Dean's unshaven cheek, and in the emptiness of the room, in the warmth of the fire and the play of the light, he coaxes Dean's lips open against his own, thumb gently sweeping from the hollow behind Dean's ear down the side of his neck, and up again, other arm securing Dean's waist, tugging him firmly into Castiel's embrace as Dean settles against him, folding an arm around his shoulders as he relaxes in the kiss. Dean gently bites down on that full, tempting lower lip, then chases Cas's tongue into the cave of his mouth, tracing over the straight line of his teeth, and the lazy battle for dominance is cut short only when Castiel pries himself away with a sound almost like pain, dragging air into his burning lungs. His voice is low, deep, a hoarse whisper that Dean was starting to associate inherently with sex and need and late nights in anonymous hotel rooms and cabins deep in the woods. ". . . That you meant. You may kiss me like that whenever you wish. Often, I hope."

Dean blinks his eyes open, so close to Castiel's own, his head bowed down the short distance to meet the fallen angel, and Cas brushes a thumb over his lips to keep him from interrupting. "But that is private. That is ours. I understand now. And I would rather their stares than you kissing me when you don't mean it. Never to prove a point. Never to be a show. Never because you feel you have to, for my sake."

Dean Winchester has never done anything by half measures. He may agonize over a decision, destroy himself over one, but once he commits he throws himself headlong into everything, and responds to threats predictably by opening up on them with everything in his arsenal, by issuing his own challenges. This is no different. Since San Antonio, he has been silently up at arms at anyone who decided to take offense at who he loved. Since Rivera pummeled him with words and with fists, tore him down, he has been shoring himself up, prepared to take that fight to anyone else simply to prove it to Castiel, and to himself.

This camp, these people, they have their own negative connotations for him: the lingering ghost of a future that would never come to pass if they succeeded, and two broken men and their dysfunctional, tattered love that drove that Dean into the bed of every willing woman, and that Castiel into drugs and orgies. Here, it all cuts that much deeper.

But whatever his personas, whatever his masks, the soldier or the smartass, Dean uses them to hide himself. The protector that would suffer hell for his brother's life, the son who would conqueror his fears for a father's soul, and the lover who would lay himself bare for his partner's peace of mind. Truly, Dean's is a beautiful soul. And Castiel covets it. Dean may hide it however he must from the rest of the world, so long as he lets Castiel keep his place past those defenses.

Their conversations, for as honest, as painful as they can be, are rarely long unless they come to argument. Dean searches Cas's eyes for a moment, before drawing him back in as naturally as breathing, resting his forehead against Castiel's and nodding, once, his breath warm on Cas's skin. "Okay."

When he draws away, he guides Castiel back to their own cabin, the brush of their hands against each other as they walk in step is more genuine than if they'd clasped palms, more them, and far more dear for it.

In the privacy of their borrowed room, Dean kisses Castiel as if he's determined to wash away that farce of a kiss from his memory, and when he breaks the kiss again to grin, the slow wicked smirk that Cas was learning to love and dread, he tugs Cas down onto their mattress on the floor, and pins Castiel between himself and their bed, lips finding his neck just above the fold of his collar. "You know, there are other ways to prove you're mine to anyone curious, without an audience . . ."

And perhaps he can't blame Dean for marking him with lips and teeth and tongue, leaving a stain of a bruise on the bend of his neck as Castiel fumbles with their clothes. After all, the fallen angel thinks as he fits his hand over Dean's shoulder with pride and possessiveness, leveraging off the bed to flip their positions . . . Cas has no room at all to judge someone else for branding the things they love.