"This is the one?" Castiel frowned dubiously at the establishment his cousin had led him to.
Nestled near the beginning of a tiny pedestrian street in the center of Amsterdam, the coffeeshop from the outside comprised of a white wooden door, one cramped, darkened window, and a large purple sign above them both that read "Crystal Ball" in yellow block letters with chipped paint. The street itself was typical of the city's Centrum - a smooth path for bicycles surrounded by old, crooked architecture. A couple of the buildings further down looked as if they were in danger of falling over onto the street. It was beautiful and charming, like the rest of the city, but Castiel would have preferred to enjoy it from outside rather than follow Gabriel into this particular shop.
"Supposed to be one of the best in town!" Gabriel declared. His hand came down heavy on Castiel's shoulder as he came to stand beside him. Castiel threw him a suspicious sidelong glance.
"You said that this morning, and that place was disgusting," Castiel said with a slight bitterness in his voice.
"The Pit has a great reputation for their wares, not their atmosphere. And chances are we'll just be buying and running here, anyway. Not a lot of seating space in there for such a popular place!"
"You mean we'll be going to another one after this?" Castiel asked futilely.
"Come on now, Castiel. We've barely even started," Gabriel cajoled as he pushed Castiel through the door of the coffeeshop.
Castiel was not prepared for what he found inside. The Pit had been his very first time inside an Amsterdam coffeeshop, and if the smell and the filth hadn't put him off the experience, the leering and glaring of the other patrons had done the trick. The Crystal Ball, on the other hand, was completely empty. Not to mention tiny; there were maybe seven seats crowded around a couple little aluminum tables near the window. In the back of the shop, which was not fifteen feet away from the entrance, was the counter where Castiel could only assume purchases were made.
What was most remarkable were the walls. Every inch of wall was covered with stickers and postcards and photographs. There didn't appear to be any particular theme to the decor - it looked to be a free-for-all, a living scrapbook created by years of traveling patrons and regulars alike. There were Post-It notes with scribbled messages, lots of "Andy was here" and "call +32 0555066420 for a good time"; photo booth strips of laughing tourists, one of which depicted a play fight ending in a triumphant smiling woman alone in the frame while her partner presumably bled on the ground; bumper stickers of all sorts, including an inexplicable "Got Pie?" pasted proudly above the handle on the entrance door; and lots of band logo stickers and cutouts from brochures for festivals and concerts, most of which seemed to be based in Amsterdam. Scattered over everything were rolling papers which had been licked and stuck on the wall, as if those people who hadn't brought anything to contribute had decided to improvise.
The only hint of influence by the owners seemed to be the United States license plates hung up around the tops of the walls, some of them nailed onto the ceiling, in no discernible pattern save "wherever they could fit". Castiel wondered if there was one from each of the fifty states, but before he could count them a man emerged from the back room and smiled at them from behind the counter.
He was tall and broad, in his late twenties or early thirties, with light sandy brown hair and a smattering of freckles over his nose and cheeks. His eyes were large and bright and green and for a moment Castiel forgot how to breathe.
"Hey there, have you been waiting long?" the man asked as he wiped his hands on a dishtowel. "Sorry, Spring cleaning; you know how bosses get." He had an American accent and a wide, white smile. The terrifying man behind the bar at The Pit had definitely been Dutch, and Castiel had thought most coffeeshop owners would be. He couldn't help but immediately wonder how an American could have wound up in a place such as this.
"Nah, we just walked in. Come on, Castiel," Gabriel grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him along closer to the counter to peer at the menu. "What do you want?"
Castiel found his voice after a moment of struggle and pursed his lips at his cousin. "I will not be smoking with you, Gabriel, so it hardly matters to me."
"Come on, man, drop the act. What's the point of even coming here if you're not going to enjoy it?" Gabriel said. He waved the menu under Castiel's nose and scoffed, "Stop being such a baby."
"Hey now," the dealer cut in, to both their surprise, "Maybe he just wanted to check out the museums or something, huh? You shouldn't be trying to force someone to take drugs, dude."
Castiel stared at the man in shock. He had come with Gabriel to Amsterdam in hopes of touring their famous museums. (And to make his cousin happy, although he'd never acknowledge it). He'd had zero intention of partaking in any recreational substances, so the words that next came out of his mouth surprised him more than anyone:
"Well, maybe I could give it a try," he said quietly.
The dealer caught his gaze and raised an eyebrow. "You sure?"
"Yes, um..." Castiel looked at the menu now in his hands and frowned in confusion. He had no idea what he was doing. "What do you recommend?"
Gabriel looked at Castiel, then at the dealer, then back at Castiel. "Ooookay, then. You pick something nice for yourself, Castiel, and I'll go sit down and smoke what I bought before. Do I have to buy a Coke or something?" he asked the dealer.
"No, go ahead," the man told Gabriel, but he was still watching Castiel ponder the menu.
Once Gabriel was seated by the window rolling his joint, Castiel gave the man a shy smile. "I'm afraid I have no idea what I'm even looking for."
"No problem, Castiel. That's a cool name. I'm Dean," the man, Dean offered, along with a killer grin.
"Hello, Dean," Castiel said, rather stupidly. Dean didn't seem to notice, though, and leaned forward onto the counter, taking the menu from Castiel's hands.
"You've never smoked before, right? Are you looking for something more sleepy or energizing?" he asked as he grabbed a few plastic containers of weed from the shelf behind him.
Castiel had absolutely no idea. But it was early in the day, so "sleepy" probably wasn't a good idea. "Energizing, I think? I really don't know, I'm sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry for, dude. Actually, I'm friggin' thrilled to be providing someone's first smoke. Sort of a big responsibility, but I'll try to take care of you," Dean said with a wink.
Castiel swallowed the heat rising in his throat. "Yes, well, I'll defer to your judgement."
"Does that mean you're going to let me pick for you?" Dean asked.
"You are the expert, right?"
"I don't know if I'd say 'expert', though I've learned a lot in three years. But sure, I can find something for you," Dean said, opening one of the containers. He held it out for Castiel, alarmingly close to his face.
"Um," Castiel was unsure of what was required of him.
"Smell it, dude. I know you have no idea what's good and what's not, but this is how you learn," Dean explained.
Castiel dutifully took a sniff of the box's contents. It smelled simply like marijuana, although the scent was potent.
"It smells good?" Castiel said tentatively, having no idea what to say. Dean only chuckled and closed the box before picking up a new one.
"That was one of our most popular strains, and one of the strongest. I like it, but it's not right for a first time. And neither is this one, here," he said, offering the next one for Castiel's appraisal.
The scent wasn't as strong, but it was sweeter somehow. "That's nice," Castiel offered. He was slowly starting to feel more comfortable. Dean seemed to have that effect - a natural-born charmer perfectly suited to customer service work.
"I call that one the Blue Steel. I can't take all the credit for it, but I helped create and cultivate the strain," Dean stated with a certain amount of pride.
"Why Blue Steel?" Castiel asked.
"'Cause it's strong, and sort of blue, see?" Dean demonstrated by picking up a branch between his forefingers and twirling it so Castiel could see the dried flower up close. It looked more purple than blue to Castiel, but he nodded.
"It's beautiful," seemed like an appropriate thing to say. He was rewarded with Dean's proud smile and slight flush.
"Thanks, man. Okay, now this is the one I want you to try. It's our weakest sativa," Dean said and handed Castiel the last box.
Castiel held the rim under his nose and inhaled. It was very similar to the others, but maybe a bit more... "Citrus?"
"Wow, yeah. That's the lemon haze. Damn, you're a natural at this!" Dean said. "So what do you think? You really wanna try it?"
Castiel bit his bottom lip as he glanced back at Gabriel, who was smoking peacefully and watching people walk by through the window. He then looked at Dean, all sincere and helpful and sinfully attractive. He had an eyebrow raised at Castiel in inquiry, and there was a gleam of mischief in those bright green eyes.
"Yes, I would like to," Castiel answered. Dean's answering grin was blinding.
"Awesome. You want to start off with just a gram? It'll last you a while since you won't need very much at a time," Dean asked, already grabbing a piece from the box and setting it on a professional-looking scale.
"Whatever you think is best," Castiel said.
When Dean finished weighing and set the small plastic bag on the counter in front of him, Castiel took out his wallet and squinted at the prices on the menu.
"This one is eight Euros?" he asked.
Dean waved a hand at him and shook his head. "No, man, it's on the house. If you like it, you can come back some time and buy some more, okay?"
"Oh. Thank you," Castiel said in surprise. A simple thank-you didn't feel like enough, so he added, "Next time I'll try the Blue Steel, then."
"Hey, don't go making promises like that. You might not even like what I gave you," Dean pointed out, but he was smiling. Castiel allowed himself a warm smile in return.
"I'm confident in your guidance," Castiel replied.
"You let me know what you think after you've tried it, alright?" Dean said, his tone turning serious for the first time. "And take it easy. This may be the weakest thing I've got, but it's still way stronger than what even your friend there is used to. You don't need a lot."
"Gabriel is my cousin," Castiel found himself clarifying. Dean's face lit up a bit at that, and Castiel's insides fluttered in response. He swallowed and continued. "Don't worry, I'll be careful. And thank you again."
"No problem, man."
When Castiel turned around, he was shocked to see people standing in line behind him. He hadn't even noticed that anyone had entered the shop. He nodded politely to them and gave Dean one last smile before joining Gabriel at the table by the window.
Gabriel's eyes were red but he seemed otherwise normal, albeit a bit more relaxed. "Took you long enough. Did you at least get his phone number?"
"No," Castiel glared at his cousin briefly before continuing, "but he gave me this for free."
Gabriel took the baggie from his hand and studied it, whistling. "Damn, Cassy. Only been in town for two days and you've already got an admirer."
"Quiet, Gabriel," Castiel chided, "and my name's not Cassy."
"Touchy, touchy. Fine, whatever. You want me to roll for you?" Gabriel didn't wait for an answer before taking out a rolling paper and crumbling some of Castiel's weed over it.
"Seeing as I don't know how, yes," Castiel conceded. "Thank you."
"No, thank you! You've finally decided to get with the program. I figured I'd get you to cave eventually, but I didn't think you'd be joining me on the second day. I guess I have Rapunzel-eyes over there to thank for that."
"I don't know what you're talking about. I was merely... curious," Castiel said.
Gabriel smirked at him over the joint he was rolling. He raised it to his lips and licked the adhesive before gently closing it with his thumbs. "Here you go, Mr. Adventurous."
"Hardly," Castiel scoffed, but he took the joint in his fingers and stared at it. "Now I just..."
"Light the end of it, genius, then inhale. You've seen me do it."
Castiel did as he was told. He'd never smoked so much as a cigarette before in his life, but marijuana smoke wasn't nearly as toxic as tobacco and it's not as though he was planning on making a habit out of it. And he felt compelled to try Dean's product, because after the salesman's show-and-tell Castiel was admittedly intrigued. After igniting the end with Gabriel's lighter, he quickly raised the joint to his mouth and sucked on the tip to bring oxygen to the ember and smoke into his lungs. He knew that Gabriel would chastise him if he exhaled too early, so he held it in for a couple seconds before coughing it out.
"Not bad, little bro, not bad," Gabriel said, nodding his approval. Castiel blushed as he always did when Gabriel called him 'little bro', because he also thought of Gabriel more as a brother than a cousin, but was never brave enough to say so.
Castiel took another hit off the joint, this time without coughing, and then handed it to Gabriel. "Do you want to try? It's called lemon haze."
"I love me a good haze," Gabriel said.
They smoked the joint together in silence, watching passersby on the tiny street outside. Castiel started to feel the effects of the drug in the lightness of his limbs and the heaviness of his eyelids, as well as the meandering paths his thoughts took him down.
He thought that maybe coming to Amsterdam had been a good idea, after all. It was such a beautiful place, and the people were mostly nice, especially Dean. Dean was probably his favorite part of the trip so far, although he was very much looking forward to seeing the Rijksmuseum. And Vondelpark was supposed to be nice this time of year. Castiel loved nature but he loved people-watching even more, and he couldn't wait to set himself up on a comfortable bench and let an afternoon crawl by as he observed the human race. This was the perfect city for people-watching. There were a lot of people. So many of them on bicycles, though - it was sort of disconcerting. And there were bicycles sitting around virtually everywhere; how prevalent was bike theft in a city like this one? He wondered if Dean had a bike. Castiel had always relied on cars, but if he lived here he'd never drive anywhere for fear of hitting a cyclist.
Funnily enough, there was a bicycle repair shop just down the street, Castiel could see, and next to it was another coffeeshop. It looked bigger and more commercial than the one they were in. And there would be no Dean behind the counter at that place. How wonderful was it that Gabriel had brought him to this particular shop, out of all the coffeeshops in Amsterdam?
Once in a while Castiel glanced back at Dean, watching him as he good-naturedly served customers who mostly came and left after making their purchases. He seemed even more beautiful now that Castiel had started smoking, which shouldn't even have been possible.
But most importantly, out of all the hazy ideas rolling around in his head, Castiel was just utterly content to be sitting here with Gabriel. They were far away from the rest of their family and free to do as they pleased. Castiel could be anyone he wanted, here. He could be himself.
"Thank you for bringing me here, Gabriel," Castiel said happily.
Gabriel leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms over his head. "You needed a break, kid. Get your head away from all those crazies."
"They're our family, though," Castiel said, although he didn't know why he still felt obliged to point that out.
"They're nuts. The only one worth anything is Anna, and she's not around anymore to keep you sane. So I had to rescue you."
"I don't need rescuing."
"You need something, that's for sure," Gabriel said.
"Maybe I just needed a vacation and some lemon haze," Castiel said. The smile on his face wouldn't come off, but he found he didn't mind. Gabriel didn't seem to, either.
"You look great. Much more relaxed," Gabriel said, then raised his eyebrows meaningfully, "Now all you need is to get laid. Luckily this is the perfect city for that!"
"I am not sleeping with a prostitute, Gabriel!" Castiel protested even as he laughed. Everything Gabriel did was funnier than normal, and Castiel couldn't control his mirth.
"No, you idiot," Gabriel said fondly, "I mean this is one of the gayest cities in the world! You won't need to pay, trust me. We'll check out a gay bar later."
Castiel grew quiet, turning his gaze back to the window. He still had a difficult time talking about his sexuality with anyone, even someone as open-minded as Gabriel.
"I don't know..." He liked the idea of going to a bar to observe, but he didn't want to end up with Gabriel pushing him onto anyone.
"We'll just go have a drink, okay?" Gabriel said.
Then, to Castiel's shock, he turned to Dean, who had suddenly appeared at the table next to them to wipe it down with a wet washcloth.
"Hi, um-" Gabriel began, but he didn't know Dean's name.
"Dean," Castiel provided without thinking. Dean turned to them with a smile, waiting expectantly for Gabriel to finish.
"Dean. Do you know where there's a good gay bar around here?"
Castiel could feel his face turn beet red in less than a second. It was a good thing he was high or he might start having a serious anxiety attack.
But Dean's smile only grew wider. "My personal favorite is just two streets away. If you're looking to score, there's no better place."
Gabriel looked at Castiel, a silent question on his face. Castiel gulped, but the high he was riding gave him courage that he never normally had.
"It's for me, actually. I just want to go somewhere we can sit peacefully and have a drink. Is there anywhere like that?" Castiel asked. His voice was very small, but at least he'd gotten it out. Gabriel beamed at him like he was a kindergartner presenting his dad with his first finger painting.
Dean's expression changed, too, but Castiel couldn't hope to interpret it. It was a subtle shift into something softer; still kind, but maybe also a little curious. Sympathetic? Gorgeous? Delicious? There were a lot of words Castiel could use to describe Dean's face but none of them were right.
"Yeah, man, sure. Um, The Plank is just off Damrak. The drinks aren't too expensive and the crowd is cool," Dean said.
"Thank you, Dean," Castiel murmured. He wished he could get rid of the blush on his face.
"No problem. Going tonight?" Dean asked.
"Yeah, wanna join us?" Gabriel cut in before Castiel could answer.
Castiel widened his eyes slightly at Gabriel in warning, but Dean sighed somewhat wistfully.
"I wish I could, but I'm here all night," Dean said, and then caught Castiel's gaze and held it. Castiel felt as though something was happening, here, and maybe if he were sober he'd be able to understand it. But as it was, he only felt warm and happy at the sight of Dean's face, and could hardly concentrate on anything else.
"Maybe some other time," Castiel said, surprising himself with the deepness of his voice.
Dean's tongue darted out to lick his lips, and Castiel couldn't help but follow it with his eyes. "Sure thing. You need to come back and try the Blue Steel, after all. Maybe then."
"And maybe it's time for us to get a move on, huh, Castiel?" Gabriel interrupted, gathering his things from the table.
Castiel frowned at him, but nodded, and they stood up from their chairs.
"Thank you again, Dean. I enjoyed the lemon haze, by the way," Castiel offered, perhaps in apology. He wasn't sure. He only knew that he wanted to talk to Dean forever.
"It was my pleasure," Dean answered.
They stood there staring at each other for another moment before the shop door opened and a group of teenaged tourists walked in, chatting loudly. Castiel was sure that Dean would excuse himself and return to his work, but he wasn't moving, and Castiel didn't dare to either. Gabriel finally coughed loudly, shattering the moment, and took Castiel by the elbow and pulled him towards the door.
"Thanks, Dean-o, it was a trip! Got a lot of shops to hit today, though, so let's get going Cassy."
"My name's not Cassy," Castiel growled half-heartedly before smiling apologetically at Dean. "Goodbye, Dean. I'll see you tomorrow?"
Dean seemed a little shocked, but he answered easily enough, "I'll be here in the morning but I have the afternoon off."
"I will come in the morning, then."
"Awesome. Okay. Um, have fun," Dean said, giving them a little wave as Gabriel finally pushed Castiel out the door.
Out on the street, the world seemed impossibly bigger than it had been before they entered the coffeeshop. The sun was shining brighter and sounds of the bicycles riding past the corner were like music. Castiel realized that he was a lot more fucked up than he'd figured. He was having a bit of a difficult time walking, but Gabriel was keeping him steady as they made their way down the lane.
"You were tripping out in there, man. If I hadn't cut that short, you guys would have stared at each other like that for hours," Gabriel explained, putting his arm around Castiel's shoulder and squeezing it. "Sorry, but there are some things even I don't want to see."
Castiel shook his head to clear it, but it didn't work. "No, thank you. Leaving was probably a good idea. I don't want him to think that I-"
"Okay I'm going to stop you right there. He was totally into you, Castiel. Don't you dare go talking yourself out of tapping that!" Gabriel exclaimed.
"I don't want to tap anything."
"You're a filthy liar," Gabriel muttered as he led Castiel into a building on the opposite end of the street. Castiel recoiled at the thought of another coffeeshop, but Gabriel insisted, "Relax, kiddo, we're just grabbing a bite to eat. Get you sobered up a bit before our next adventure."
Castiel realized they had entered a small fast food place whose menu consisted entirely of fried chicken. "I love you, Gabriel."
"I'm going to want that in writing."