"This is exactly the kind of place we were looking for, isn't it?" Gabriel said, smiling over the lip of his cocktail.
Castiel had to admit that Dean had given them good advice when he'd recommended The Plank. The interior was spacious and well-lit, and the crowd seemed more interested in keeping to their own groups at their tables rather than dancing or wild partying. Or maybe things were just calm because it was a weekday. Either way, Castiel was grateful for the stress-free environment and the absence of ear-splitting music. They were playing Dutch alternative rock, seemingly an album or a playlist of the same band, at a comfortable volume. The other people around them were mostly men in groups but there were some women and some couples, too. Everyone looked relaxed and happy to be there.
"Normally I hate it when you drag me to bars, but this is nice," Castiel said.
"That's probably because this is your kind of bar, huh?" Gabriel said, raising his eyebrows and glancing pointedly at the two men kissing openly a few tables away.
Castiel appreciated the effort Gabriel was making, and he did enjoy being at ease in his surroundings for once. But despite himself, the sight of the happy couple only invoked a sad, vaguely jealous feeling in Castiel.
Gabriel seemed to noticed his shift in mood. "Hey now, don't go being like that. We'll find somebody for you, kiddo."
"Finding" somebody was never the problem, Castiel thought. It was keeping them. He was self-aware enough to realize that he'd have no trouble finding a date or a one-night stand, if he were the kind of person who was interested in things like that. But he wasn't. Castiel wanted romance; he wanted the grand love story, 'til-death-do-us-part nonsense that'd he'd struggled all his life not to need, just as he'd struggled with his sexuality for years before daring to admit to himself that he might be gay. He'd eventually come to realize that his desire for a soul-deep connection and his disinterest in casual relationships were a part of him that he could never change.
"I don't want just anybody," Castiel murmured, propping his head up with his hand and leaning over the table to stare sullenly down into his drink.
"Oh, I know you don't. You want Dean," Gabriel said.
Castiel jolted in surprise and raised his eyes to narrow them at his cousin. "I don't even know anything about Dean. Except that he's a drug dealer."
"The proper term is budtender and it's a perfectly respectable profession. Besides, I didn't see you complaining about his drugs as you were smoking them earlier today," Gabriel countered.
"Yes, well, like I said, I was curious," Castiel said, refusing to be flustered.
"So what'd you think?"
Castiel wasn't sure how he felt about the day's adventure. The entire experience at the Crystal Ball coffeeshop still felt surreal, like it'd been a dream rather than something that'd actually happened to him. He'd enjoyed getting high but he wasn't sure how well he could trust his emotions and memories of the encounter. At the time everything had felt so amazing and right, even when he and Dean had just been awkwardly standing there staring at each other. Surely that wasn't normal?
"I don't know. It was pleasant, but..." Castiel wasn't sure how to explain. "How much of it was real?"
"What do you mean, real? You weren't hallucinating anything, I'll tell you that," Gabriel laughed.
"No, I mean, how do I know..." Castiel trailed off, not knowing what he was even trying to ask.
"How do you know that Dean didn't think you were a blithering idiot, is that what you're asking? Are you feeling embarrassed, Cassy?"
Castiel didn't bother to correct him on the nickname; he was too busy realizing with horror that that was exactly how he felt. Dean had been working, so he'd surely been sober the entire time. How ridiculous Castiel must have looked to Dean, glassy-eyed and goofy as he and Gabriel had been.
Castiel hid his face behind his hands and groaned. "Oh my God."
"Don't be such a drama queen," Gabriel chided, but when Castiel didn't move he reached over the table and grabbed his arm, shaking it, forcing Castiel to look at him. "Stop it! Listen to me. Dean works at a coffeeshop. You said he said he's been there for three years? He sees people high off their asses every single day, Castiel. A good number of them way more fucked up than you were today. He's used to it. If he hated dealing with stoned people, don't you think he'd find a different job? Coffeeshop jobs are coveted, man, and I can guarantee everyone in the business feels damn lucky to be there. And he may not have been smoking today when we saw him, but I'll bet you a thousand dollars he's at least as much of a stoner as I am. So lighten up, okay?"
Castiel wanted to lighten up, he really did. "So I didn't act inappropriately in any way?"
"Of course not. Actually I was pretty impressed; for your first time smoking you handled yourself really well. Especially since Amsterdam weed is some strong shit."
"Yes, Dean told me. He warned me that even you should be careful," Castiel remembered.
"And what else did he tell you?" Gabriel asked, leaning forward over the table conspiratorially.
Gabriel had always been a terrible gossip. Castiel hesitated; he trusted that his cousin had his best interests at heart, but he didn't trust Gabriel not to embarass him somehow. Gabriel had a tendency to help and humiliate at the same time.
"I've already told you that he's worked there for three years. That's all I know," Castiel said.
"Come on now, don't be stingy. I want the juicy stuff," Gabriel said. He then waggled his eyebrows in way that was completely over-the-top and forced a laugh out of Castiel.
That was his technique: lure Castiel in with laughter and make him spill his guts. It never failed, and the part of Castiel that wasn't annoyed by it was absurdly grateful that Gabriel understood how to make him open up. It's not that he wanted to keep everything bottled up inside; it's just that nobody normally cared what he had to say. Eventually it had become a force of habit.
"We really didn't talk about much. He just showed me some selections from his stock and had me smell them. It was like a lesson," Castiel explained.
"A lesson in dope-sniffing?" Gabriel said.
"A lesson in differentiating between strains," Castiel paused before continuing, because he knew Gabriel would enjoy this next part. "Dean said that I was a 'natural' because I correctly identified the lemon haze as being reminiscent of citrus."
It was such a silly thing to be proud of, but Gabriel still rewarded him with a wide smile.
"You've already managed to impress him! Good going, little bro," Gabriel said, leaning back into his chair and visibly relaxing. He always looked so much more comfortable in his body than Castiel could ever imagine being. "So you're going back tomorrow?"
Good question. Should Castiel return to the Crystal Ball so soon after his first visit? He very much wanted to see Dean again, and Dean had seemed amenable to the idea as well. But how much of that had just been politeness on Dean's part? Professional courtesy? Even if it had felt like flirting to him, Castiel couldn't forget that he had been high, Dean had been sober, and Dean worked in a service industry and possibly flirted with customers all the time for the sake of business. Or maybe he didn't; maybe Castiel truly had been special. Or maybe it hadn't been flirting at all and Gabriel's overzealousness was just giving Castiel false hopes.
"I- I'm not sure," Castiel finally answered.
"Alright, what's your issue?" Gabriel said. "Do you not remember how he was looking at you? Trust me, he was interested. Or if that's not enough, what about the weed he gave you for free?"
Castiel had to admit that Gabriel had a point. Though even if Dean were "interested", the question remained: interested in what? A date? A one-night stand? A relationship that was doomed to end once Castiel's vacation was over anyway? As attractive and intriguing as Dean was, Castiel had never in his life been inclined to have a casual romance.
"I don't- I haven't been been with anyone since Rachel," Castiel said, quiet and avoiding eye contact with Gabriel. "I have no idea what to even want, let alone what to do."
Rachel had been Castiel's first and only love. They'd been together for five years, and Castiel would have married her if she'd let him. Castiel knew now that their relationship would never have worked in the long term, but he still had fond memories and was grateful for the lessons learned. He didn't really miss her - he missed being in love. He'd been swept away by her goodness and loyalty, and even his lack of physical attraction to her had been overcome by his affection. Castiel couldn't imagine how it would feel to find love now that he knew which gender he needed to seek it in. What would it be like to be consumed heart, body and soul? How would he even find a man he could trust enough for that? And if Castiel didn't want to fall in love, was he even capable of keeping his heart distant while enjoying another person's body and company?
Maybe that was why he'd kept to himself after Rachel. And maybe that was why he wasn't sure about Dean. How much did he really know about the man, after all?
"You need to stop overthinking this. You don't have to find true love to have a good time with someone," Gabriel said after a long moment of silence.
"I don't think I know how to do that," Castiel admitted.
"You can practice with me." Gabriel threw back the last of his drink before pushing the shots he'd ordered towards Castiel's side of the table. "You gotta relax. If Dean's a decent guy he won't try to push you into anything you don't want to do. Remember how he got on my case about trying to make you smoke? You guys can just hang out and see what happens. I mean, I'm sure he'd be thrilled to take you home and have his way with you... But you won't owe him that."
Castiel knew all this; he really did. But it helped immeasurably to hear Gabriel say it aloud. And the truth was that he was on vacation in a foreign country; there'd be no better opportunity to step out of his comfort zone.
"You're right, Gabriel. I'll just go in tomorrow and buy some of the Blue Steel and we'll take it from there," Castiel said, nodding to himself.
"There you go! What's up with that Blue Steel thing anyway?"
"It's the strain that Dean helped create. He seems very proud of it, but he said it was too strong for my first time," Castiel said. He picked up the first shot and swallowed it down. He followed it directly with the second one. Shuddering slightly from the taste, he smiled. "So tomorrow I'm going to try it out."
"I'm proud of you, Castiel. You need me to go with you?" Gabriel asked, but Castiel recognized the glint in his eyes and knew which answer he needed to give.
"No. I think I can handle it on my own."