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P is for Panic!

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Monday

Castiel’s first kiss is something he’ll never forget.

Most people don’t forget life-or-death situations anyway, so whether or not a kiss was involved, the fact of the matter is that Castiel will forever remember the sensation of plush, soft lips, a hand over his breast, forest-green eyes, sun-kissed freckles, fingers plugging his nose shut, palms compressing his chest with the force of a bull…

Wait.

--

Two hours earlier…

Castiel stands, arms crossed over his chest as tight as he can with the life vest strapped tightly to him, glaring at Balthazar as he wiggles a strange looking key in front of Castiel’s eyes.

“Oh come on, you tightwad. It’s perfectly safe and fun. Live a little!”

Castiel’s eyes turn towards the wave runners parked innocently next to the dock, gentle waves pushing their footwells against the buoys tied to the dock to create a rhythmic sound. He drums his fingers over his bicep, looks over the machines calculatingly, and then looks at Balthazar. “No.”

Balthazar rolls his eyes. “Cassie, come on. You’re wearing a life vest, the key straps to your wrist so if you fall off the wave runner shuts down, and- and- we’re not going out there to do party tricks. It’s a tour of the lake, love. A beautiful relaxing ride with the option to take a dip when the sun bakes us too hot.”

“I can’t swim, Zar,” Castiel reminds his best friend.

Balthazar reaches out and slaps the chest of Castiel’s life jacket, causing the dark haired man to stumble back slightly and shoot him a scowl. “That’s what this is for.” He grabs Castiel’s wrist, presses the key into his palm along with the weird springy lanyard, and then starts walking towards the two wave runners he’d reserved for them.

Clearly, no matter what Castiel does, Balthazar is going out on the wave runner. Sighing, Castiel wraps the lanyard around his wrist, tightens the strap, and then makes his way over towards the other wave runner.

“There we go,” Balthazar says approvingly. He takes the athletic bag off of his back and opens up a compartment below the handlebars, carefully putting it inside. “I packed us some snacks and waters.”

Castiel grunts in reply. He watches warily as Balthazar unclips the buoy from the wave runner and then hops onto the machine, barely giving Castiel a glance as he puts the key on the knob and roars the beast to life. Resisting a sigh, Castiel squats down to reach the nose of his wave runner, unclipping the buoy and carefully stepping into the footwell as the machine starts to float away. There’s a bit of precarious wobbling before he finally straddles the seat and sits firmly, knees tight, fingers gripping the handlebars with white knuckles. Taking a few careful breaths, Castiel watches the dock get farther and farther away, before resolutely taking in a deeper, calmer breath, and putting the key on the knob. The wave runner is a lot quieter than he thought it’d be as it starts up, and he checks all the gauges before testingly pressing his thumb to the gas. It hops forward a bit, but it’s nothing he can’t control; slow and steady, he pulls away from the dock, mindful of the ‘no wake’ zone, his eyes scanning the water for Balthazar.

He’s parked about fifty yards away, waving towards Castiel. The more speed Castiel picks up the more tension bleeds from his body and… this actually isn’t so bad. The sun is warm, the water is splashing up on his feet and keeping him relatively cool, and the wave runner itself isn’t all that scary. He feels safe with his key strap and his life vest and… yeah, he can definitely do this.

He passes by Balthazar, whipping his wave runner to one side to spray his friend with his wake, grinning wide as Balthazar curses and starts up his machine to take after him.

--

It takes about two hours to tour the whole lake. It’s a path Balthazar has taken before, as well as one he’s knowledgeable about, so at certain points they slow down for Balthazar to explain something about the history of the land or the buildings. It’s all very interesting and calming, and incredibly beautiful, and Castiel is fully relaxed as they make their way. They’ve reapplied sunscreen once, drank their waters and had power bars, and make the decision to head back towards the rental docks.

Castiel’s wave runner doesn’t start.

Balthazar comes close, and together they figure out that Castiel’s machine has run out of gas. Irritated, Balthazar mumbles about ‘dumb teens not caring about their customers’; he has enough fuel to head to a station ten minutes away to get a gas can to get Castiel back to the rental dock. Castiel isn’t thrilled about being left alone to float in the middle of a lake, but Balthazar pulls an orange flag out of Castiel’s glove box and fixes it onto the back of his wave runner, telling him he’ll be back soon, but maybe a kind samaritan will see him stranded and be able to help.

Alone, Castiel sighs. Traffic on the lake isn’t terribly thick today. He shifts on the wave runner, turning around so his back is to the handlebars, reclining against them and folding his arms over his chest. He can’t fault Balthazar for this inconvenience, as much as he’d like to; he’d been having a good time, after all. The lake and its surroundings are gorgeous, so it’s not like he’s particularly put out by his location. He reaches up, adjusting his aviators, and then huffs out a little sigh when he feels his nose damp with sweat. He’s got no choice but to sit and wait for Balthazar to come back to the rescue, and even though this would actually be a lovely time for a read, Castiel figures that being surrounded by blue waters and lush forests is good enough. Balthazar had left his bag with Castiel so he pulls out the bottle of sunscreen, carefully reapplying it to his sweat-damp skin. The sport stuff is thick and a little globby, but he’d rather be slightly sticky than burn. And it’s not like he’s going to go for a swim, anyway.

Ha. Ha.

Ten minutes pass rather uneventfully. An eagle soars overhead and Castiel tracks it for a few moments, until his eyes get tired even with the cover of his aviators. When he lowers his gaze he sees Balthazar nearing and he hums in pleasure, satisfied that the situation, which could have been disastrous, was solved fairly quickly. They get the gas in his machine and then they head back towards the resort, driving slowly so they can chat. Close to the docks a few boats go speeding by and they don’t think much of it… until their waves cross and create massive, white-capped swells. Balthazar manages to navigate them but Castiel, still a novice, gets swept up.

He sees the water, he sees the sky, and then feels his head crack against the footwell of his wave runner before everything goes black.

--

As far as first kisses go, it’s only mildly traumatic. His vision is spotty, his head hurts something fierce, and he’s still gurgling water when strong hands help him sit upright. Woozy, he puts his hand over his eyes, ears faintly ringing even though he can hear Balthazar squawking in the background. After a few disorienting moments he finally opens his eyes again, locking gazes with what is probably the most beautiful man he’s ever seen in his life.

He throws up a Hail Mary, and the man lets out a startled laugh.

“You ok, buddy?” Dean asks, squeezing Castiel’s shoulder gently.

“I’m-” he coughs a little, clearing his throat before he nods slowly. “A little dizzy.” He then squints at the man. “Who are you?”

“Dean Winchester,” the man replies readily. “Lifeguard. Your spill happened right in front of my post.”

“You… saved me,” Castiel says slowly, absorbing the information.

“Well, Jesus sure as hell didn’t,” Dean grins wolfishly.

“That’s terribly blasphemous,” Castiel mutters, choosing to lie down again to try and regain his breathing.

“He’s a priest,” Balthazar supplies. Castiel turns his head and comes into direct eye line with his hairy ankles.

“Oh, shit,” Dean replies. “I guess Jesus really did save you, huh?”

“I believe that is also blasphemous,” Castiel says blandly, closing his eyes.

“Hey, hey,” Dean’s fingers are soft where they flutter over Castiel’s temples. “You might have a concussion, buddy. Can you stay awake?”

“Mmh,” Castiel grunts.

“C’mon,” Dean whuffs, lifting Castiel’s arm around his shoulders to start hauling him up to his feet. “Let’s get some food and water in you.”

It takes a bit of shuffling, and Castiel really is still quite dizzy, but they make it to a small barbecue shack with a smattering of picnic tables surrounding it. Dean carefully sits Castiel down on one of the benches while Balthazar leaves to go order some food, his green eyes scanning over Castiel’s features.

Castiel manages an eye roll, even though it hurts his sockets. “I will be fine, Dean.” Their knees are pressed together, sun-warm and sunscreen tacky. Taking in a measured breath, Castiel musters up a tiny smile, just a faint quirk of his lips. “Thank you for rescuing me. That was very brave.”

“Literally my job description,” Dean deflects with a smile. “One of the perks of being a lifeguard is being surrounded by hotties who occasionally need the life pumped back into ‘em.”

Leaning his elbows on the table, Castiel studies Dean’s features. “I can’t decide if you are actually that shallow or if you don’t realize how incredible it is you just saved someone’s life.”

“Well,” Dean shrugs, all bravado and white teeth. “What you see is what you get with me.”

“I find myself doubting that,” Castiel murmurs. That seems to catch Dean off guard a bit, those jade eyes shuttering slightly. Before Castiel can say anything else, though, Balthazar returns to the table armed with french fries, cheeseburgers, a rack of ribs and coleslaw. Castiel blinks at the spread as the blond sits across from him and Dean. “This is quite a lot, Zar.”

“I figured Mr. Hasselhoff here wouldn’t mind his kindness being repaid with food,” Balthazar says with a shrug, his joke lightened by the oddly genuine smile on his features. He turns his attention to Castiel. “And all you had for breakfast was oatmeal, you heathen.”

“It had fruit and honey,” Castiel says, pulling a burger towards himself. He picks the onions off of it, setting them aside, before taking a bite.

Balthazar leans conspiratorially towards Dean, “Our sweet Cassie here partakes in only the simplest of pleasures. Side effect of the priesthood, as it were.” He sits back and sends Castiel a more serious look. “If you would have had a bigger breakfast your gourd might have been a little less whacked.”

“I highly doubt my stomach contents are responsible for whether or not I have a concussion,” Castiel says around a mouthful of burger.

Dean picks up a fry and sends Castiel a grin. “So. I just macked on a priest, huh? Gotta say, that’s a personal best.”

“And sexual harassment, from the sounds of it,” Balthazar snorts, clearly unsympathetic.

“In all seriousness, I’m glad you’re ok,” Dean says. He reaches to pluck the onions off of Castiel’s plate, putting them on his own burger with a grin.

“And I’m glad it was you who saved me,” Castiel says honestly. Dean gawps at him for a moment and, finally realizing how that must sound, Castiel backtracks, his cheeks heating up. “I merely meant- you are clearly an experienced and dedicated lifeguard and I am very fortunate that it was by you that my accident happened.”

Dean looks all too smug as he crams nearly half the burger in his face. “Me, too.”

“You know Cassie has taken a vow of chastity, right?” Balthazar says boredly, from where he’s being ignored.

“Balthazar,” Castiel finally turns to his friend, narrowing his eyes. “I could do without your commentary.”

“I’m protecting your honor,” Balthazar scoffs, even with the amusement lighting his eyes.

“Well sorry for the lip-lock, padre,” Dean says. He doesn’t look sorry. “Mouth-to-mouth is kinda necessary for uh, y’know. Breathing life back into people. Besides,” he plunks his elbows on the picnic table, taking another bite of his burger and speaking through his mouthful, “s’not like it was yer first kiss, right?”

Balthazar shoves a handful of french fries in his mouth. Castiel picks up his napkin, dabbing the corners of his mouth with it. Dean falls quiet, looking between the two.

“Oh my God,” some mashed bun falls out of Dean’s mouth as horror crosses over his features.

Castiel reaches over with his free hand to do a Hail Mary in front of Dean’s face.

Dean swallows, and then practically yells, “But you’re so hot!”

Castiel sends him a withering look.

“Look, man, I’m really sorry,” Dean starts, truly looking regretful. “But it uh, doesn’t count right? Because it was for uh- uhhh business, not pleasure!” He looks proud of his reach. “The business of saving people.”

“Quite,” Castiel says dryly. He picks up a french fry. “It’s alright, Dean. Truly.”

For a moment, quiet settles over them. Balthazar gathers up trash and excuses himself from the table as Castiel uncaps his water and takes a deep drink of it. Alone with Dean, he can’t help but admire the man next to him; beautiful, charming, a bit of a dork… but sweet. A good man.

“So,” Dean shifts a little in his seat, picking up his cup to take a pull from his soda. “You can’t swim?”

Castiel shakes his head, “I’ve never had the inspiration to learn.”

Dean blinks a few times, and then snorts while gesturing expansively behind them towards the lake. “You live by Priest Lake, Idaho. Y’really never thought about swimming?”

Castiel shrugs, “I don’t live in Priest Lake. I’m from Couer d’Alene.”

“Which… is also a lake city,” Dean laughs. “C’mon, you grew up in the great beautiful inland Northwest and haven’t had the faintest inkling to learn how to swim?”

“I grew up in a very sheltered family,” Castiel supplies. “Going to the beach was not one of our past times.”

“Damn shame,” Dean says, shaking his head. “Nothin’ better than a day at the beach. Sun, water, chicks in bikinis-” he blinks, then laughs. “Actually that’s probably what you were sheltered from, huh?”

Castiel can’t help but smile a little. “That is some of it.”

“Huh. Well,” Dean offers Castiel a smile that rivals the sun, “how long you in the neighborhood, then?”

“Until Saturday,” Castiel replies, head tilting curiously.

“Well consider yourself lucky, Cas,” Dean reaches out to clap Castiel on his bare shoulder, his skin hotter than the air around them. “I’m fixin’ to teach you how to swim.”

--

Tuesday

“I don’t like this.”

“You’re barely in the water.”

“And I don’t like it.”

“C’mon Cas, at least get to your knees.”

“I do that multiple times a week.”

“Heh, heh, heh- ahem. You got jokes now, huh?”

“I know your mind went into the gutter, Dean.”

“Not really sure what else you’re expecting at this point.”

Castiel knows he probably looks as threatening as a grumpy, wet kitten, ankle-deep in the crystal clear waters of the lake, arms folded tightly over his chest as he glares at Dean, who is standing a few feet ahead of him with the waves lapping gently over his waist. He also knows he should most definitely be thankful for the fact that Dean is taking time out of his day to spend time with him, let alone teach him how to swim, especially since Dean explained that this week is Sam’s turn to be on lifeguard duty, therefore giving Dean the week off. But Castiel is wary of the water, not Dean - because he already knows that Dean is very well capable of saving his life when it comes down to it. It’s nature that is unpredictable.

The water sloshes around his legs as Dean walks towards him. Dean’s still wearing a soft smile, but his eyes are gentle when he asks, “What are you afraid of?”

Castiel lets out a breath. “I am more used to being the one asking that question.”

“Alright,” Dean nods. “Control issues.”

Castiel’s jaw tenses. He’s not wrong.

“Did something happen in your past that’s makin’ you afraid of the water?” Dean asks. “You went out on the wave runners ok. Can you also ride in boats?”

“I am not in the water when there is a watercraft involved,” Castiel replies, avoiding the main question. “And in those instances I am always wearing a life jacket.”

“Ok,” Dean nods, reaching out to gently pry Castiel’s arms away from his chest. “Let’s focus on the small stuff first. Like, y’know. Actually being in the water.”

Dean’s fingers slip down to Castiel’s wrists where they wrap around the bone gently, guiding Castiel rather than tugging him. Castiel goes, following Dean’s lead, grounded by the point of contact, his eyes on the water as he watches, and feels, the lake climb up his legs.

“There we go,” Dean murmurs. Once they’re waist deep, he sends Castiel a bright smile. “See? Not so bad.”

“I suppose,” Castiel relents. By this point he’s turned his hands over so they’re gripping lightly to each other’s forearms. His nose wrinkles. “It’s cold.”

Dean laughs. “Glacial lake, buddy. Gonna be nippy.”

For the next hour or so Dean helps Castiel toddle deeper into the water. When the water laps over his shoulders Castiel doesn’t panic, but he does get a little uneasy, his hands moving from Dean’s forearms to his freckled shoulders to help keep him afloat, even as he stands weightlessly on his toes. Dean doesn’t make fun of him or tease him, for which Castiel is grateful for, and as they walk back to shore and let their hands drop from each other’s arms, Castiel finds himself mostly at ease.

“Getting you in is the most important part,” Dean says, “‘specially if you’re scared of somethin’. Tomorrow we’ll float in the shallow end, ok?”

Castiel nods. With the sun warming his skin and chasing away the goosebumps, he looks at Dean curiously. “Are you staying in the resort?”

“Yeah,” Dean says. “Got a cabin with my brother and a couple other lifeguards.”

“What do you do during the winter?” Castiel asks. “I can’t imagine you stay up here when it gets cold.”

“Sure I do,” Dean says with a wide smile. “Snowmobiling, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing… this place is an outdoorsy person’s dream. All four seasons happen up here.”

“I see,” Castiel nods.

“Anyway, you staying in a cabin?”

“Yes.”

“And when the sun goes down, you just… stay holed up inside, or what?”

“It has a lovely fireplace that I enjoy reading by,” Castiel says, feigning being miffed.

Dean chortles. “Well, hey. You get tired of that tonight and wanna have some real relaxation, you come on back down to the beach. Can see the Milky Way from here. We build a small fire and make s’mores and dip around.”

“Do you imbibe?” Castiel asks, arching a brow.

Dean shrugs, “Well- I mean, yeah…”

“It’s not a sin to drink,” Castiel says, lips tilting upwards.

Catching on that Castiel had been teasing him, Dean barks a laugh and shakes his head. “Damn, Cas. Ya got me.” He reaches out and pats the priest gently on the shoulder. “Anyway, bring your best blanket and your best bud and come join us tonight after sundown.”

“I’ll be there,” Castiel says, watching as Dean winks and turns to walk away.

And then he rips his gaze away from the tiny red shorts Dean’s wearing, focusing his attention elsewhere and clearing his throat violently before hurrying away from the beach.

--

That night Castiel and Balthazar don their cozy clothes, take the blanket off of the cabin couch, and make their way down towards the beach. Sure enough there’s a small fire going and people surrounding it, laughter and chatter being carried up the path by the waves. Within range of the fire Castiel spots Dean easily enough, seated on a fallen log with a guitar propped on his lap. Next to him is a petite, pretty girl with red hair that catches the light of the fire, and on his other side is a much taller man, with long hair pulled up into a bun and a Washington State University sweatshirt. There are two other people around the fire, but their backs are to the path.

“Hey!” Dean catches sight of them first. He stands up, setting his guitar carefully on the log. “You made it!”

“I love soirees,” Balthazar greets.

Dean laughs, “We might be a bit redneck for that but, hey. Welcome to the party!” He turns towards his friends, “Guys, this is Cas and his friend Balthazar.”

A smattering of greetings choruses as Castiel and Balthazar take up the last two empty seats. Castiel thinks it sweet that Dean had clearly been planning on their attendance. He ends up between Balthazar and a pretty blonde woman, who turns a friendly smile towards him.

“You’re the one Dean saved, right?”

“I am,” Castiel nods.

“I’m Jessica,” she says, holding out her hand. “You’re a priest?”

“Word travels fast,” Castiel concurs.

“Hey,” Dean pipes up, “you’re a priest on Priest Lake. It’s a little too good to be ironic, y’know?”

“Do you know the origins of the name of this lake?” Castiel asks everyone at large. Awkward as he may sometimes be during social gatherings, if he can find a topic he’s comfortable with, he doesn’t mind the attention. Considering he delivers Mass every Sunday, he’s used to eyes on him… as long as he is in control.

“White settlers, right?” The man next to Dean pipes up.

“Yes,” Castiel nods. “As it were, I’m sure the Kalispel Tribe had their own name for the lake. However, Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet, a missionary from Belgium and proud friend of Sitting Bull, settled in on the lake and became quite good friends with the tribe. He gave the lake a name that didn’t stick, even though the Kalispel Tribe was quite fond of him. Eventually, given the holy roots of the white man that settled here, the lake was called Kaniksu, a native term believed to mean ‘black robe’. Over time it was settled to call the lake, simply, ‘Priest Lake’.”

“Like I said, too good to be ironic.” Dean grins, patting the shoulder of the man next to him.

“I’m Sam,” the man says, thrusting his hand out towards Castiel.

“Ah,” recognition rings in Castiel’s head from conversation earlier in the day. “Dean’s brother.”

“Yeah,” Sam’s smile is big and friendly as he settles back on the log. “I’d say you’re a saint for still hanging out with Dean after having his mouth on you, but that’d just be pointing out the obvious.”

That startles a little chuckle out of Castiel, who shakes his head. “Dean has been very kind.”

“Yeah, but, in your professional opinion,” the redhead woman pipes up, “he’s totally heading for Hell, right? Like, on the fast track.”

“Charlie,” Dean hisses.

She sends him a sweet smile.

Castiel laughs again, “As a matter of fact, Dean is probably more noble and pure than many of my parishioners, not that I want to speak badly of my flock. I’m unsure as to how many lives they’ve saved, but I already know Dean has saved one.”

“That’s right!” Charlie smacks Dean’s arm. “You saved a priest! You’re definitely on God’s Nice list for the rest of your life!”

Dean rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Alright, enough about me. Who’s got the s’more stuff?”

“That’ll be me, Dean-o!” The last member of the group speaks up, shaking a grocery store bag rigorously. “Been waiting for my cue all night.” He sends a wink towards Castiel and Balthazar. “Now that the eye candy is here, we can partake in the actual candy.”

“My God, Gabe, I’m surprised you kept quiet for this long,” Dean says.

“It’s all in the art of observation, my fine freckled friend,” Gabe replies, waggling his brows.

“Be happy his attention’s on the newbies,” Sam mutters to Dean.

“Aww, Sammy baby, you know I sexually objectify you the most, right?” Gabe leers, making a kissy face.

Castiel watches that interaction curiously; Sam rolls his eyes good naturedly in reply, Dean rolls his eyes in annoyance, and everyone else basically ignores the exchange while the supplies for s’mores get passed around. Jessica hands Castiel and Balthazar metal s’more sticks, and then the bag of marshmallows gets passed around. There’s idle chatter, no conversation too deep to follow, as they all stick their marshmallows into the fire. Castiel has never roasted marshmallows before so, of course, his immediately catches fire. He pulls it out quickly, blowing on it with a frown, and is surprised when Balthazar reaches over to peel off the burnt crust, blowing on it briefly before eating it.

“Ugh,” Castiel can’t help his reaction.

“Burnt marshmallows are the best,” Sam declares.

Dean sends him a withering glance. “How are we related?”

“I like mine just warm enough to smush between the crackers,” Jessica says. Charlie agrees.

“No, no, nooooo,” Gabe says, pointing to the fire. “You stick your ‘mallow in the embers so it gets beautifully golden brown. Very light crunch, lots of melty.” He kisses his fingers. “Perfection.”

“I can’t believe I agree with Gabe on something,” Dean says with a snort.

“The embers?” Castiel asks. His marshmallow, all melty and gooey, starts drooping down on his stick. He reaches up to collect it with his fingers, putting it in his mouth so it doesn’t fall off, licking his fingers clean. He looks up to tell Dean that golden brown sounds best, but is pinned to his seat by Dean’s heavy gaze, which is locked on where his fingers are currently stuck between his lips. Yanking his fingers free, Castiel clears his throat loudly, which catches Dean’s attention. He only looks mildly embarrassed, which causes Castiel to think that the man, likely, has no shame.

Then again, he already knew that.

“Switch me spots, Jess,” Dean says, standing up. “You can sit by Burn Boy and Lukewarm Girl and I’ll show Cas where to put his marshmallow so it doesn’t catch on fire.”

Jessica switches spots with Dean without argument, which Castiel quickly realizes is because Sam and Jessica must be an item, given how his arm goes around her and tucks her neatly into his side. Dean sits down in Jessica’s chair and flashes Castiel a smile, grabbing the bag of marshmallows and reaching to carefully stick one on the end of Castiel’s poker.

“Now, on this side…” Dean carefully examines the fire, reaching with his own empty stick to poke around the logs a bit. “Ah, here we go. This spot right here. If you hold your marshmallow about an inch or so away from the embers, it’ll get nice and golden.”

Castiel follows Dean’s direction, placing his marshmallow exactly where Dean showed him. Dean busies himself for a few moments doing something that Castiel can’t see, mostly because he’s focused on making sure his marshmallow doesn’t catch fire again. He rotates slowly, carefully, pulling the marshmallow out occasionally to check on it, and on the fifth or sixth exam Dean announces that his marshmallow is perfect.

Turning towards Dean, Castiel is surprised to see him holding out the makings of a s’more. He has the plain top in his right hand, and the graham cracker with chocolate on it in his left, his smile lighting up brighter than the fire they’re sitting in front of. Quietly, with a small smile, Castiel carefully aims the stick towards Dean, who reaches up to sandwich the marshmallow directly off of it. He pulls it off and exchanges the sandwich for the stick, grinning huge.

“There. The perfect s’more.” Dean says. “Let it sit for a couple seconds so the chocolate melts a little, and then it’ll be amazing.”

Castiel follows the instruction before lifting the treat up to his mouth, taking a big, crunching bite. It’s sticky, gooey, melty, messy, and absolutely… delicious. Dean reaches out to clap him on the shoulder in approval before he starts setting up the poker with his own marshmallow, allowing Castiel to enjoy his treat in peace.

The night goes on quietly and easily. After everyone fills up on s’mores beers are passed around, and eventually Charlie goads Dean into picking up his guitar and singing a few songs. Dean mostly plucks around different melodies, never really settling on anything, providing a nice backdrop for conversation. Balthazar and Gabriel are getting along quite well, if their hushed giggles are anything to go by, and Castiel is content to sit silently next to Dean, absorbing the mood and atmosphere. People eventually start petering out after a few hours; Balthazar heads back up to the cabin, leaving behind their blanket with Castiel, Sam and Jessica pair off, and Gabriel and Charlie bid goodnight, as well.

The fire is down to embers, crackling lowly. Dean and Castiel sit quietly in their chairs, Dean still plucking around on his guitar, both their heads reclined on their seats so they can look up at the sky. Spread expansively down the middle, like some great cosmic zipper, is the Milky Way, and Castiel finds himself marveling at its beauty. It’s a real shame that he’s lived in this region of the country his whole life and only just now is starting to explore it. He wraps the blanket tighter around himself, draws his knees up, and relaxes.

“Did you have a good time?” Dean asks quietly, the volume of his voice complementing the soft sounds of the strings.

“I did,” Castiel says with a small smile. “Your friends are lovely.”

“They’re alright,” Dean chuckles. “Balthazar’s a pretty neat guy, but what’s a nice guy like you hanging out with a guy like him for?”

“Mm,” Castiel lets out a little laugh. “Balthazar is a childhood friend. He’s always been a heathen, but he’s always been good to me.”

“He go to your church?”

“Not out of piety. He treats Sunday Mass like social hour, which is alright by me. The other parishioners love him. He also donates a hefty sum to the church, which I appreciate.”

“Ooh, so he’s like your bible sugar daddy.”

Castiel snorts. “More like he has more money than he knows what to do with. I’m not so sure he believes in God, but he’s always had a good heart.”

“Huh.”

Blinking, Castiel turns his gaze over towards Dean. “Hm?”

“Just,” Dean lets out a small laugh. “When I think of a priest… it’s nothing like you.”

Castiel smiles wryly. “That’s usually what I aim for. My church is a very relaxed congregation.”

“I think if I had a priest like you I might even attend church,” Dean grins.

Castiel rolls his eyes. “You should attend church to find a greater connection with God, not because you think the priest is cool.”

“Well,” Dean’s eyes flash a little in the firelight. “I could think of plenty of reasons to join your flock.”

Castiel’s cheeks heat in reply to those words. He’s celibate, not an idiot, and he’s not too stupid to understand that Dean thinks he’s attractive. And he’s definitely not too stupid to know that he thinks Dean is attractive, in turn. Considering the fact that Balthazar’s donations keep Castiel’s church a mostly private organization and less of a Vatican domain, the rules that have been drawn out aren’t all that rigid. Castiel follows his religion dutifully and worshipfully, maintains a strong relationship with God, but in opening the church and becoming the head priest, Castiel had been very open with his parishioners. “Utterly indifferent to sexual orientation and gender” were words he had spoken on high, and he made it clear that his church would be a safe domain for all people. Being in North Idaho he’d received a bit of backlash from the community, but after the dust settled, his congregation grew, as did his love for the people he now looks after.

As it is, he’s mostly indifferent to being flirted with; he had done some research of his own and figured out that he most closely identifies with asexual, or even demisexual if the right person happened along. Most times it’s easier to shoot people down and explain that he’s a priest, instead of jumping through hoops trying to explain that he doesn’t experience sexual attraction the way that most people do.

And then there’s Dean, totally unbothered by the whole ‘priest’ thing, instead interested in Castiel as a person.

It’s charming.

It’s humbling.

“Coeur d’Alene is a long way to travel just for Mass on Sunday,” Castiel finally replies.

Dean laughs. “You’re right. ‘Sides, not really sure churches are my thing.”

“How do you mean?” Castiel asks. “Are you an atheist?”

“Mmm, nah,” Dean shakes his head. “When we were little, mom and dad took us to church a couple times a year, mostly for holidays. Was taught mostly to just not be an asshole, y’know?”

“A good thing to be taught,” Castiel agrees with an amused hum. “And now? Have you gone to church since?”

“I think about it from time to time,” Dean muses, “but it just don’t… seem right. For me, I mean.”

Castiel wraps his arms around his knees, drawing them to his chest and resting his cheek on the curve so he can regard Dean thoughtfully. “Have you committed many sins?”

Dean snorts a laugh, “Man, short of killin’ someone, I’ve probably done it all. Stealing, adultery, violence…”

Castiel’s brows rise. “Have you done these things to commit willful evil?”

Dean is quiet for a moment, before he replies, “They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, right?” He rubs the back of his neck, shifting to set his guitar carefully on the sand. “Our parents died when we were kids. My uncle took us in, but he was real busy and not ready for the responsibility, y’know? So I took it upon myself to do what I could to provide for us. Some of it was honest work. Mowin’ lawns, walkin’ dogs. Other stuff… wasn’t so noble.”

“I see,” Castiel says softly. “You did these things to provide for yourself and Sam?”

“And I’d do it all again,” Dean says, his voice on this side of defensive.

“I’m not judging you,” Castiel murmurs. “It’s not my place to judge, only listen.”

Dean blinks over at Castiel, then lets out a surprised laugh. “Did you just con me into my first confession?”

Castiel’s lips curl at the corners. “God, the Father of mercies, though the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace. I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Castiel reaches out with his left hand, drawing a cross in front of Dean’s face.

Dean blinks, astonished, his lips parted with surprise.

Castiel rocks from side to side in his lounge chair a bit, before leaning over towards Dean and murmuring, “Now you say ‘amen’.”

“Amen,” Dean dumbly replies.

Castiel nods and returns to his seat. “God has forgiven your sins. Go in peace.”

Dean’s lashes are long where they fan out, fluttering against his high cheekbones as he blinks at Castiel in bewilderment. “Is it that easy?”

Castiel shakes his head. “It would be proper for me to assign penance, but considering you’re not a practicing Catholic, I won’t.”

“Huh.” Dean sits back in his chair, tipping his head back to look up at the stars. They’re quiet for some time, falling back into the comforting silence draped between them neater than a blanket. After a bit, Dean speaks softly. “Y’know, the idea of confessional… I get it. But… shouldn’t people go out and make real amends? Instead of telling their dirty secrets to a guy in a box, shouldn’t people… I dunno. Go out and do some good in order to repent?”

“You are a man of action,” Castiel notes. “For you, absolution most likely comes from doing good for others. I’m sure you are a man of your word, but you believe actions speak louder than that.”

“Well, they do,” Dean says. He, too, draws his knees up onto his chair and wraps his arms around them, staring out at the glassy water. “I can tell you all the shit I’ve done wrong, but it don’t mean crap unless I go out and do something about it.”

“Which is an admirable trait,” Castiel says. “But there is something quite special about being able to talk about things that weigh on your conscience. Yes, my flock confesses to me even the most trifling of concerns. But they make up for their transgressions by helping organize charity events and fundraisers for the church and community.”

“Betty cheats on her husband and repents by baking an apple pie?” Dean asks with a snort.

“I, of course, would advise Betty about a divorce,” Castiel says thoughtfully, “but I also would not say no to a freshly baked apple pie.”

At that, Dean turns a bright, charming smile over towards Castiel. “That’s more like it. Nothin’ better’n pie.”

Castiel laughs in reply, the noise cut off by a jaw-cracking yawn that he covers lazily with his hand. Dean’s eyes soften and he reaches out, gently patting Castiel on the knee.

“Alright you crazy kid. Let’s get to bed. Tomorrow we’ll have another go at swimming.”

Castiel wrinkles his nose as he stands. Dean grabs a bucket from nearby and then walks to the shore, scooping up water before bringing it back to carefully pour out the glowing embers of the fire. He puts the empty bucket down and then gestures for Castiel to follow him, heading up the path.

“Which cabin you stayin’ in?” Dean asks quietly.

“Number four.”

“Nice, it’s hard to get close to the beach.”

“Balthazar is very… persuasive.”

Dean laughs. “Yeah, I’ll bet.”

Dean leads Castiel to his cabin, and as Castiel climbs the small porch, Dean stays on the sidewalk. With his hand on the doorknob, Castiel turns towards Dean, tilting his head slightly. They regard each other in a peaceful quiet, eyes fixed, postures relaxed; Dean’s hands are stuffed in the front pocket of his hoodie, his bowed legs bent at the knees, the picture of sated. And yet, his eyes as he regards Castiel...

“You don’t think you’re worth saving,” Castiel says softly.

Dean quirks a faint smile. There’s a break of silence, and then: “Good night, Cas.”

Castiel watches Dean walk away, before turning to enter his cabin, smiling to himself.

He’d been saved by God when he decided to join the church… and had been saved again, by a fallible, beautiful man.

That is the irony of a priest on Priest Lake.

--
Wednesday

“Yeah, Cas, just like that.”

“Dean-”

“Shh, just breathe slow. Relax.”

“It feels strange-”

“That’s why you gotta give into it. Here. Let me…”

Dean-”

“Ah, yeah Cas- doesn’t that feel good now?”

“Mm… ah, yes, Dean.”

“Perfect. I’m going to let go now, ok?”

“I don’t-”

“Hey, you can do it. I’m right here. Trust me.”

“... Alright…”

When Dean’s hands leave the small of Castiel’s back to allow him to float by himself on his back in the water, Castiel exhales very, very slowly. Dean is still standing right by him and they’re only about waist-deep, practicing floating. Dean had mentioned that if you can’t float, you’ll sink like a rock. Which makes sense, and makes Castiel infinitely grateful that he’s able to float without Dean’s help. He floats for a few moments alone, and when he turns his head slightly he sees Dean shifting to float as well, their fingers brushing under the water.

“See? Not so bad, huh?”

Castiel smiles up at the blue, blue sky, not a cloud in sight. “No. You’re a very good teacher, Dean.”

Dean chuckles, “Hey, part of it is you trustin’ me to not let you drown.”

“You’ve already proven yourself worthy once,” Castiel reminds him.

“Yep!” Dean laughs, getting back to his feet. “Alright, you comfy with that?”

Castiel nods, lowering his legs to the soft sandy bottom of the lake so he can stand as well.

“Good. First things first, let’s doggy paddle.” Dean says, crouching down in the shallow water.

“Really?” Castiel blinks.

Dean laughs. “At the very minimum, everyone should know how to doggy paddle. Learning to swim is important. Learning to fancy swim isn’t one-hundred percent necessary.”

Castiel rolls his eyes with fond humor. “Alright.”

They spend the next fifteen minutes paddling around the shallow waters. Castiel touches down with his toes a few times to rest, but after a while Dean declares him fit for deeper waters. Castiel is only a little hesitant as he follows Dean out towards where the buoys cordon off the swimming area; he keeps his eyes up above the water so he doesn’t watch the way the sandy floor gets farther and farther away from his feet. Once out at the buoys they take a rest, holding onto the cords that connect the bright orange balls, and then Dean guides Castiel into first floating, and then doggy paddling from one buoy to the next. Castiel catches on quickly and the panic subsides, the weightlessness of being in the water finally registering as a sort of relaxation in his brain. They swim until Dean announces that he’s hungry, Castiel agreeing.

As they return to shore to dry off, Dean’s voice becomes muffled by the towel he’s currently rigorously ruffling his hair with. “Wanna go up some of the mountain trails with me? We can grab some sandwiches for lunch and then take some waters and snacks with us.”

“The mountain trails?” Castiel asks, his head automatically turning to take in the surrounding Kaniksu forest and mountaintops. The mountains are not great, but they are plenty, and lush with trees.

“Yeah,” Dean drapes his towel around his neck and grins wide. “I’ve got a pretty neat side-by-side.”

“A four-wheeler?” Castiel frowns a little, wiping his chest clear of water.

“Uh, kinda,” Dean chuckles. “I’ve got a Razor, it’s got a roll cage and is a bit safer than a regular ATV.”

Castiel’s eyes narrow. “A roll cage.”

Dean tries his best to look innocent. “I’ve never rolled it.”

“Lying is a sin,” Castiel says dryly as he picks up his sunglasses from the cup holder in his beach chair.

“And so is the fact that you’ve never done any of this outdoorsy shit before, so, tomayto tomahto, buddy.”

Shaking his head to hide his chuckle, Castiel nods. “Alright. We can pack a lunch at my cabin.”

“Yeah, you’re definitely gonna wanna change,” Dean says, waggling his brows.

Castiel perches his aviators on his nose. “Then you can wait outside.”

Dean makes a wounded noise as Castiel pats his shoulder and walks past him, trailing behind him like a kicked puppy. At Castiel’s cabin the mood lifts with the prospect of food; Dean tells Castiel to put on a pair of jeans he doesn’t care about, a long-sleeved shirt, and boots. Castiel does as told while Dean helps himself to the fridge, designating himself as sandwich and snack maker. Balthazar is gone, which isn’t that surprising, so Castiel leaves a note for him saying he’ll be back by dinner time. If Balthazar is even around then, anyway.

After the small cooler is packed with snacks, waters, and ice, Dean looks over Castiel’s outfit appraisingly. There’s no mischief in his gaze as he assesses Castiel’s clothing, his chin dipping in a nod.

“Alright, those’ll be good. I got a washer n’ dryer unit in my cabin so you can wash ‘em there when we get back if you want.”

“Wash them?” Castiel repeats as Dean heads out of the cabin. The door shuts behind them, the tiny beep of the electronic lock clicking quietly nearly drowned out by the sound of a horde of crickets that has taken up residence in the garden.

“Yeah,” Dean throws Castiel a grin. “I hope you like getting down n’ dirty, padre.”

They walk up the slightly windy roads towards where the employee cabins are. It’s barely ten minutes, but Castiel is starting to sweat in his layers, so by the time Dean unlocks the door to his cabin and lets Castiel inside, he’s ready for a drink. Dean points him towards the kitchen and then takes the left of two doors, shutting it behind him. Castiel glances around the cabin as he sets the cooler down on the kitchen table, idly perusing the cupboards for cups. He finds one, fills it with tap water, and takes a deep drink as he absorbs Dean’s living space.

It’s very much like an outdoorsman lives here. The furniture is mismatched but cozy and well-worn, the coffee table looks hand-carved, and all of the decor and knicknacks are some sort of nature-themed. There’s a heft bookshelf built into one of the walls, clearly an addition because the woods are slight off in color, packed full with what looks like both new and used books. Cup in hand, Castiel wanders over to the bookshelf, tilting his head slightly so he can read some of the authors. Vonnegut, Gaiman, King…

“Whaddya think of the place?” Dean asks as he comes out of what is likely his bedroom. He’s dressed similarly to Castiel, although he has a baseball cap on his head and a bandana tied around his neck. Castiel’s eyes drop to his hands, which hold another cap, and another bandana.

“I never considered myself a ‘city boy’, but I think even I might go a little stir crazy up here.”

Dean hands over the items in his hand with a wolfish smirk, “Bein’ cooped up in that church don’t make you stir crazy?”

Castiel sends Dean a flat look. “That’s different. My mission is in the church.”

“And my mission is here,” Dean says, gesturing expansively. He kicks one of the legs of the coffee table with the toe of his boot. “Me n’ Sammy carved this’n ourselves. Kitchen table, too. Chairs are store bought, but we’ve been working on some for a while during our down time. We don’t get much free time in the summer to do stuff so most of the woodworking happens in the winter.”

Castiel looks at the furniture with new eyes, an… interesting sensation blooming in his chest. “You are very talented.”

“Aw, shucks.” Dean laughs. “Put that hat on and tie the bandana around your face like this,” he points at his nose, “and then let it fall around your neck. It’s gonna get dusty up there so you wanna make sure your mouth and nose will be protected.” He walks over towards a free-standing closet in the entryway. He opens the door, rummaging around a bit, before pulling out two pairs of goggles. “This’ll protect our eyes. And these,” he procures two helmets, sending Castiel a dazzling smile, “will protect our noggins.”

“You said you’ve never rolled it,” Castiel says flatly.

“Safety first!” Dean crows. Helmet tucked under one arm, his free hand takes the cooler off of the table. “Let’s go.”

Unsure, but also fully aware that he trusts Dean perhaps a bit more than he should for barely knowing him, Castiel follows Dean out of the cabin towards the little carport perched on the side of the building. Under it is an old beat up Ford pickup truck, and parked next to it is possibly one of the scariest contraptions Castiel has ever laid eyes on.

“We’re going to ride in that?”

The Razor really is a glorified four-wheeler. True to how Dean called it, there is a steering wheel on the left side, and a passenger seat on the right side. There is also a ‘back seat’ that can house two more passengers. That’s the only thing about it that remotely resembles anything safe. The body looks like something out of a stunt magazine, sleek black with crimson accents, the wheels huge and treaded thickly. The roll bar that encases the vehicle cages it in and has a soft-top cover on it, which Dean is busily snapping into place, ignoring Castiel’s disbelief.

“This is one of my babies,” Dean says proudly. He gets the soft-top in place, puts the cooler in the backseat, and pops open the glove box to grab a bungee cord to secure the cooler to the seat. “Just wait til’ you see my boat.”

“If it’s anything as scary as this, I think I’ll pass,” Castiel mutters.

Dean laughs. “C’mon, this ain’t that bad. But I mean… my boat does look pretty bad ass.”

Sighing softly, Castiel approaches the vehicle. Dean unsnaps the mesh screen that acts as a door, gesturing for Castiel to get in. When Castiel seats himself Dean points out the seatbelt, and while Castiel buckles himself in, Dean puts the cap on Castiel’s head, and then plunks the helmet atop it. The helmet only covers his head, thankfully, and Dean’s deft fingers make sure the chin strap isn’t choking him before they help Castiel raise the bandana up around his nose and mouth.

Dean’s smile is breathtaking when he deems Castiel fit to ride, as he snaps the mesh ‘door’ shut again.

The man goes through much of the same routine on his own side before climbing behind the wheel. Castiel spots a bluetooth speaker mounted to the dashboard, covered in dust but well loved if the all of the fingerprints are anything to go by. Dean pulls his phone out of his pocket, AC/DC blasts through the speaker, and Dean lets out a whoop before pocketing his phone, turning the key, and peeling out of the carport in reverse.

Castiel’s hand immediately flies to what is popularly known as the ‘Oh Shit Handle’, where his grip is white-knuckled as Dean tears off down the road. The ride is smooth, the machine loud and the music louder, but the thing that sets off the most butterflies in Castiel’s stomach is the sound of Dean’s laughter as they leave the campground, head up the road, and turn off into the trees. Dean slows down a bit on the unpaved and uneven terrain, expertly handling the Razor in a way that Castiel know is because he has a newbie with him. Relaxing his grip on the handle slightly, Castiel keeps his fingers wrapped around it but looks out towards the scenery, feeling peacefulness wash through him despite the shrieking music and the roar of the engine.

The woods are beautiful. There are spots where it looks like fire has eaten away at things, or perhaps lightning strikes have killed vegetation, but the amount of green and all the flowers sprouting up from the earth is truly remarkable. Castiel sees rabbits, foxes, and birds, and smiles thankfully when Dean slows the vehicle down a bit so he can get a better look. They aren’t going very fast but he can feel dust particles pinpricking his exposed skin, although it’s not uncomfortable enough for him to care beyond occasionally swiping over himself with his free hand. The trails seem to go on forever, filled with potholes and what Castiel is starting to recognize as speed bumps, which don’t seem to dampen Dean’s enthusiasm, by the way; in fact at one point he yells at Castiel to hang on and then guns it over one of the speed bumps, treating it as a ramp and vaulting them to the other side. Castiel’s teeth clack when they land but he’s smiling behind his bandana, starting to feel the freedom that Dean shouts out around every hairpin curve.

After an hour of riding they’ve reached the summit of the peak they’d been climbing. Dean parks the Razor and shuts it off, though Castiel still feels it vibrating in his bones even as he unbuckles himself and unsnaps the door so he can stand on his feet. He takes off his helmet, pulls down his bandana, and sets his goggles on his unoccupied seat, laughing in surprise when he sees the only areas not covered in dust are the areas that their butts were occupying.

Dean comes around the vehicle with a grin, putting his foot on the back bumper and hauling himself up to the roof. “C’mon up here, the view’s great.”

Castiel follows Dean’s path, and when he sits down on the roof next to the other man and looks out ahead, he can’t stifle the awed gasp that leaves his lips.

Endless. The forest and the sky and the mountains and hills are endless, green and blue. Dean shifts next to him, the music blaring from the speakers lowering considerably in volume, Castiel’s ears instead picking up the sweet, soft, melodious sounds of nature around them.

“It’s beautiful,” Castiel murmurs. He mimics Dean’s pose, leaning back on his hands, his eyes unable to stop taking in every minute detail, crossing his ankles together where they dangle.

“God’s greatest creation, right? Nature.” Dean says, his voice soft.

Castiel nods in agreement. “Moments like these bring to light for me God’s vision. Places like this, where man hasn’t had the opportunity to destroy it…” he nods again, tipping his head back to feel the sun on his face. “It reminds me of why I chose the path I did.”

“Yeah?” Dean inquires.

“Mm, to help people back onto whatever path they are meant to be on.” Castiel turns a small smile towards Dean. He’s struck by Dean’s verdant green eyes, brought to life by the foliage around them, already trained on Castiel’s features as he speaks. “All my life, all I’ve wanted to do is help the people who need it most. The people who have no one to turn to.”

“A wayward flock,” Dean supplies. Castiel hums. “Pretty altruistic of you, padre.”

Castiel laughs. “I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a typical priest.” He turns his gaze back out towards the landscape. “As cliché as it sounds, I too was lost, once.”

“And then God put you back on track?” Dean asks.

Castiel shakes his head. “Not God. The priest in my family’s church. He preached to me, yes. He took my confessional, yes. But the advice that he gave me wasn’t from God to worshiper. It was man to man.” His expression softens as he watches a hawk soar through the endless blue sky. “He is the one who set me on the right path. Man is fallible, but man is powerful, and through God us humans can do our best to help one another.”

Dean falls quiet. Castiel closes his eyes, exhaling slowly through his nose. After a moment there’s a faint touch on his pinky finger closest to Dean, causing his eyes to blink open as he tilts his head slightly to regard the other man. Dean’s eyes are still on the view, pensieve, his features soft. His freckles above the line where his bandana had been resting are barely discernible from the dust caking his skin. Glancing down, Castiel sees Dean’s pinky finger gently hooked over his own, and that strange feeling blossoms in his chest again.

They stay silent, gazing out towards the forest and the mountains. With the sun warming them, a slight mountain breeze kissing their exposed skin, and a view that Castiel has a hard time absorbing… he feels peaceful.

Honestly, truly, peaceful.

Dean is fallible, Castiel thinks.

But oh, is he powerful.

--
Thursday

“Dean, it’s…”

“I know.”

“You maintain your body so well. It must take so much time and effort.”

“Well hey, you know me, Cas. Can’t rush perfection. When it comes to this, I’ve got all the time in the world.”

“And so well groomed…”

“This is my best asset. Of course I make sure everything looks good.”

“Do you wax?”

“Mmm, yeah- feel it. Right there. Good, right? Every four-to-six weeks I do a full detailing. Clean up real nice. No bumps, all smooth.”

“Cassie, don’t rock the boat like that, it’s blinding me!”

Balthazar’s whine cuts through Castiel’s appreciation of Dean’s boat, which he fondly refers to as his Baby. The logo on the side reads SUPREME, and it’s a beastly looking thing, all black with cream upholstery and an intimidating looking rack. Castiel and Dean are currently waist-deep in the water where she’s anchored, leaning on the small platform on the back of the boat. Dean had invited Castiel and Balthazar out for a ride, and Balthazar, being the materialistic and dramatic person he is, had immediately agreed. Dean said Sam and Jessica would be heading their way as well, and they were currently waiting on the couple, discussing the boat and its details.

Rolling his eyes, Castiel turns towards Balthazar and rocks the boat just right to get the sun to glare in the blond’s eyes. Balthazar sends him a mightily dirty look, folding his arms over his chest.

“Your boyfriend is a bad influence. You’re sassier than usual.”

Before Castiel can correct Balthazar, Dean cuts in, “I dunno, seems to me like he’s just finally acting on urges he used to ignore.”

Balthazar’s expression turns lecherous, “Oh, I’m sure he has plenty of urges to act on. Did you know he’s a vir-”

“Hey!’ Saved by the Sam, Dean’s brother and his girlfriend are trotting towards them on the beach. Jessica is wearing a white t-shirt dress over her bathing suit, and Sam is sporting only his red lifeguard trunks, which Castiel notes are much more modest than the pair Dean chooses to wear. “Ready to cast off?”

“I brought drinks and snacks!” Jessica announces, showing off the rather large bag she has slung over her shoulder.

Balthazar looks between the four of them, and then laughs. “Well! I think I won’t be interrupting the couple’s cruise. There’s a cougar on a Bayliner down the way, I think I’ll try my luck with her.” He saunters off, wiggling his fingers playfully at Sam.

“It’s fine,” Castiel says aloud for everyone’s benefit. “He and I spend enough time together as it is, I’m becoming quite fond of our distance.”

“Ouch,” Dean laughs.

“The best of friendships weather the storms,” Jessica says kindly as she starts wading into the water. Sam, tall as he is, picks her up before the water reaches her knees, carrying her like she weighs nothing. He puts her on the platform and she sends him a grateful smile before stepping into the boat, grabbing the towel off of the windshield to start wiping up the water she tracked in. “I’ll help Cas get seated, you two can shove off.”

Dean holds his hand out towards Castiel with a playful smile, causing Castiel to roll his eyes - even if his lips quirk. He gets on the platform (by himself) without incident, climbing into the boat and following Jessica’s example by taking the towel from her and wiping up the water droplets from the upholstery. He helps her arrange the bag, which is actually a fairly large, soft cooler, and then takes a seat. Dean and Sam rarely use words to communicate, so the silence as the boat becomes unmoored and starts to float while they direct it isn’t unusual. When the two men climb aboard Jessica hands them each a towel; Dean plops down in the driver’s seat, gesturing towards Castiel.

“Come sit up here,” he says.

Castiel moves from the back seat he had taken, sitting down on a seat long enough to perhaps be considered a bench seat, which faces backwards towards the motor of the boat. Sam and Jessica sit near the back of the boat on separate seats, their legs stretching out so they can touch their toes together.

Heading out of the no wake zone is slow. Castiel only feels a brief blip of trepidation in seeing the shore shrink and feeling the speed of the boat pick up, but that emotion gets obliterated when Dean reaches over and gently squeezes his knee.

“I got life jackets for everyone,” Dean says.

Castiel nods in understanding, trying to relax into the seat. Dean picks up speed until they’re cruising comfortably, the engine loud and the music playing from the speakers on par with the crashing waves around them. Castiel finds it amusing, and charming, that Dean can’t seem to do anything without a soundtrack. The lake is huge, Castiel recalling the tour on the wave runner earlier that week. Dean takes them out to where there aren’t any boats and then cuts the engine, standing up, mindful of the overhead rack.

“Who’s first?” he asks.

“Me,” Sam says quickly, standing up. Dean chooses a wakeboard off the rack and passes it over to Sam, who sets it carefully down on the floor before he rummages around a cubby that runs along the entire length of the boat. He pulls out a life jacket, securing it to his long torso with ease born of a life on the lake, and then picks up his board and makes his way to the back of the boat.

Castiel watches in fascination as Sam sits on the stern of the boat, the wakeboard on the little platform as he works his feet into the bindings. Jessica reaches into the cubby running along her side of the boat, pulling out a wooden stick with a bright orange flag on the end. She holds it up over her head as Dean grabs a coil of rope from the rack, bowed legs carrying him towards the back of the boat so he can toss it in. Sam catches the end of it, which is a handle, and Castiel sits up a bit straighter to watch as Sam casually floats away from the boat.

“Hey.”

Castiel’s attention is caught by Jessica, who is holding a ginger ale out towards him. He smiles in thanks and takes it from her, popping the tab and taking a sip so it’s less full, before resting the bottle on his knee. Dean returns to his seat, Jessica says “Clear!”, and Dean starts up the boat. Sam gets farther and farther away, the rope the only thing connecting him to the boat. Castiel knows in theory what’s about to happen; he’s seen wakeboarding on television. But when Sam yells “Hit it!” and Dean punches the throttle, Castiel’s breath gets caught in his throat.

Sam pops up out of the water like he weighs nothing, balanced perfectly on the board and making it look as easy as walking. He looks relaxed even though he’s being pulled along the water by a thirty foot boat. The orange flag is resting in Jessica’s lap, her body turned so she can watch her boyfriend. The way Sam cuts through the wake looks like child’s play, and when he catches air Castiel’s heart stops. But it all seems so leisurely for Sam, who’s grinning and laughing while he plays. It’s incredible.

His board gets caught on a stray wave, tipping him over. He lands with a crash, the orange flag goes up, and Dean turns the boat on a dime. They float back to where Sam is, the board off of his feet and floating next to his head as he lazily swims towards the boat.

“My turn,” Dean says gleefully. He cuts the engine, throws Castiel a wink, and then gets up. He chooses a different life jacket than Sam, zipping and buckling and tightening it, before he starts pulling the rope in and coiling it at his feet.

Sam pulls his body up onto the platform, then stands and brings the board up as well. As he passes by Dean he shakes his head like a wet dog, Dean laughing and shoving lightly at him. Sam moves to the driver’s seat, undoing his life jacket but leaving it on. Dean takes a few moments to get his feet into the bindings and then tosses himself overboard with a whoop, Jessica shrieking a laugh when she gets splashed.

“So,” Sam turns a smile towards Castiel. “He needs that rope. The way it’s been brought in means it won’t tangle. All you gotta do is grab the handle, tell him to stick his arm out, and then try to toss it over his arm.”

Nodding, Castiel puts his drink in a cup holder and stands, grateful to be let in on the little ritual. He walks towards the stern of the boat and picks up the handle of the rope, careful to not step in it. Dean looks surprised at first, then pleased, reaching up with his hands to slick his hair away from his forehead. He looks beautiful in the water, the sun rippling off of the tiny waves around him.

“Arm out,” Castiel says.

Dean sticks out his right arm, and Castiel takes a moment to decide what the easiest way is to toss the handle. He ends up gripping it where the two ropes from either end of the handle meet the main rope, and then swings it almost like a lasso before letting go. The rope lands perfectly over Dean’s extended forearm and the man lets out a whoop, laughing brightly.

“Atta boy, Cas!”

Immensely pleased, Castiel returns to his seat, sitting up a bit straighter so he can see better. Jessica says “Clear!”, Sam starts the boat, and the line starts to go taut. There’s a bit of drag as Dean’s board straightens, and then he yells “Hit it!”, Sam throwing the accelerator much harder than Dean had for him.

Like Sam, Dean pops up immediately. Unlike Sam, Dean’s constantly in motion. Cutting in and out of the wake, bunny hopping over small waves. The smile on his face rivals the sun warming Castiel’s skin and he watches, maybe slightly enraptured, as Dean lets go of the handle with his right hand so he can tug on the hem of his shirts, where they’d creeped almost obscenely high up his thighs.

“Dean’s a treat on the board,” Sam says over the roar of wind and engine.

Castiel’s eyes never leave Dean. Dean cuts out from the left side of the wake, leans lazily out as he cruises along the glassy water… and then he angles his body and abruptly cuts his board hard to the right, slicing through the water like a hot butter knife. Castiel’s heart stops when Dean’s board hits the wake; instead of barreling through it he uses the shelf as a ramp, launching his body, and the board, into the air.

He clears the wake on the other side.

Castiel lets out a surprised laugh.

Dean is a treat to watch. And a show off, definitely. He jumps the wake, back and forth; when he’s gliding out on the glassy water he does little one-eighties, swinging his right foot forward, then his left, then back again.

“He’s warming up,” Sam says suddenly.

Castiel is practically on the edge of his seat. The next time Dean cuts across the wake he brings his knees up, and-

Sweet Heaven above, he does an aerial flip.

When he lands he whoops loud enough for everyone in the boat to hear. Jessica and Sam both cheer in return, but Castiel’s voice is stuck in his throat. The sheer athleticism Dean just displayed, so casually and confidently, the way his wet shorts are sticking to his legs, how his hair is now dry and windswept…

Oh.

Dean rides for a few more minutes before letting go of the rope and gracefully going down. Jessica raises the flag, Sam turns the boat, and when they pick up Dean and the board he’s grinning ear to ear towards Castiel, who is on his feet. Sam brings in the rope, Dean racks the board, and the brothers switch places again. Frigid droplets of water splatter from Dean onto Castiel’s skin and he shivers, but finds himself grinning back.

“Cool, huh?”

“You were incredible,” Castiel says honestly.

“Wanna give it a go?” Dean asks, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.

Castiel’s eyes widen. “I- I don’t think…”

“You don’t gotta,” Dean says with a warm smile. “But you’re wearin’ a lifejacket and strapped to a board that floats.”

Sam and Jessica pretend they’re not listening. Castiel chews his lower lip thoughtfully, torn between wanting to be adventurous, and wanting to be safe. Dean reaches out to gently swipe his now dry thumb along Castiel’s lip, freeing it from his teeth, offering his own lopsided smile.

“It’s a gut feelin’, Cas.”

“I want to,” Castiel blurts, boldened by Dean’s touch.

“Awesome!” Dean grins, standing up. “Sammy and I have taught a few classes at the marina. You’re in good hands.”

“Oooh,” Jessica grins and claps her hands together, the flag in her lap. “They taught me how to board! I’m still learning how to get out of the wake.”

A little nervous, but feeling better about their ability to instruct, Castiel stands with a small smile. Dean shuffles around a bit and grabs a life jacket, handing it to Castiel, who shrugs into it carefully. There’s a bit more shuffling and then Dean is grabbing a different board off of the rack, putting it on the platform and then helping Casiel to sit down on the boat so he can help him into the bindings.

Dean’s fingers and hands on Castiel’s feet, ankles, and shins are scorching. He’s being very professional, not distracted at all as he straps Castiel in and checks to make sure everything fits right. He stands up, grinning.

“Alright. The most important thing to know is that you don’t have to hang on.” Dean mimes holding the rope in front of his body. “If your ankles feel weird, if your gut feels weird, if anything feels wrong, you let go, ok? Don’t let me drag you.” Castiel nods dutifully, thankful that there’s an out should he feel the need. “Alright. We’re gonna get you in the water and then I’ve got some instructions.”

Together, they manage to get Castiel into the water. He sucks air through his teeth at the sudden cold, feels himself chatter a bit in response, but after a few seconds his body adjusts. Dean carefully lowers the rope to him and shows him how to hold it, and then he crouches on the platform so he can speak to Castiel without the rocking of the boat getting in the way.

“Alright, first we’re gonna get going to pull you taut. Once you’re lined up with the boat and we start pulling you, you’ll feel the board try to pop up out of the water. It’s super important to keep your knees tucked and your butt on the board.” Dean reaches down, propping the bottom of the board against the platform and then grabbing the rope, tugging on it. Castiel’s knees naturally fold, his rear nearly connecting with the board. “Perfect, just like that. If you hold this position, your whole body will pop up out of the water, too. Once it feels natural, you can try standing, but you can also stay crouched if that’s what’s comfortable.” Castiel nods. Dean stands to sit on the edge of the boat, and then with impressive strength, pulls steadily on the rope hard enough that Castiel rises up out of the water. He lets out a startled noise and lets go of the rope, splashing back into the lake, and when he comes up Dean is chuckling lightly. “That’s what it’s gonna feel like when the boat is pullin’ ya. But it’s important to hold onto the rope, right?”

Castiel laughs a little, “Right.”

“Alright, let’s try again.”

Board to platform, rope in hand, Castiel gets pulled up again in slow motion. This time his body naturally acclimates to the change, and Dean nods in approval.

“Perfect! Just like that. In the water it’s gonna be different, but it’s the same theory.”

“Ok,” Castiel nods. Dean pulls him up a few more times, and then Castiel lets out a sharp breath and nods. “I think I’m ready to try.”

“Awesome,” Dean reaches out to squeeze Castiel’s bicep warmly, sending heat through to his core. “Remember. We’ll pull taut, you’ll get a feel for things, and then tell us when to hit it, ok?”

Castiel nods. “Ok.”

Another squeeze and then Dean lets him go so he can return to the driver’s seat. Floating alone in the dark blue water, watching the boat depart, Castiel feels a spike of anxiety. But then Dean’s twisting in his seat so he can watch him with his eyes instead of his mirror, and Castiel adjusts his grip on the handle.

He can do this.

“Hit it!”

The boat goes, the rope pulls, and Castiel is up… and then he’s face planting into the water. He comes up sputtering, twisting his hips to flip the board proper, wiping the water from his eyes when the boat comes careening back towards him.

“That was great!” Dean crows. Sam is gathering the rope, knees braced against the stern of the boat, an equally bright smile on his face. “You popped right up! Now you gotta stay up. When you pop up, whichever foot goes forward - looked like your left foot - put the weight on your back foot. Really press down. Don’t lock your knees but stay sturdy on them.”

Castiel tries to catalogue the information as the boat circles around where he’s floating. Sam calls “Arm out!”, to which Castiel sticks his arm out, marveling at the ease and accuracy with with Sam tosses the rope. He quickly gets the handle and goes through the information in his head; let the boat pull, butt on board, weight on back foot.

“Hit it!”

This time when he pops up he puts his weight on his back foot, but the board squirrels beneath him and he crashes hard. He comes up for air and is much less frazzled than the first time, now just mildly frustrated.

Dean, however, seems undeterred and endlessly optimistic. “Awesome! Cas, that was great!”

“I crashed,” Castiel scowls.

“Yeah,” Dean laughs, the sound warming Castiel’s core, “you’re gonna do that quite a bit. We’re gonna try again, ok? Let the boat pull you up, don’t force it.”

The rope gets tossed to him again. The line pulls taut, Castiel calls hit it, and face plants again. And again. And again. Near the tenth turn his limbs are shaking from exertion, his fuse is short, and he’s close to calling it quits. As the boat pulls around it’s Sam driving, Dean hanging over the side as they circle towards Castiel. Confused, Castiel watches as the boat pulls closer, and when he’s within reach Dean reaches out to grab Castiel’s life jacket by the shoulders, yanking him partway out of the water.

“You can do it,” Dean declares, their foreheads knocking together. “What kind of cool priest will you be if you go back to bible school with a story of failing how to learn how to wakeboard?”

“Your inspiration is astounding,” Castiel replies dryly.

Dean laughs, dropping him back into the water and standing straight. “Do you really wanna call it quits?”

Castiel takes stock of his body. He’s going to be sore all over tomorrow, but for now he thinks he’ll be ok. “Once more.”

“That’s it!” Dean whoops. He and Sam exchange places once more, the rope gets tossed, and the boat lines up with Castiel.

Exhaling slowly, Castiel closes his eyes briefly. Sam and Dean made it look so effortless when they rose up out of the water. Perhaps he truly is overthinking it. Relaxing, he adjusts his grip on the handle, opens his eyes, and calls out.

“Hit it!”

This time when the boat takes off, it immediately feels different - in a good way. Castiel rises with the swell of the water pushing against his board, and when he comes out on top he leans his weight on his back foot while simultaneously straightening his torso and arms. It takes him a few seconds to register the cheering and yelling coming from the boat, and when the realization hits him, he feels himself light up from within.

He’s up.

He stays in the center of the wake, unsteady but unwilling to fall. He rides for a few moments before his arms finally tire and then he lets go, sinking into the water and feeling all sorts of accomplished. His fear of being in the water has been completely dispelled within a few days, something he never thought he’d accomplish, before. When the boat pulls around it’s Sam driving, Dean helping to haul Castiel up onto the platform, and then onto the back of the boat. Dean bends around Castiel’s body, intimately familiar and all too casual about it, so he can undo the bindings and help Castiel pull his feet free from the board.

“Great job!” Jessica cheers as Dean helps Castiel into the boat.

“You did awesome,” Sam says, slapping him on the back.

Castiel lets out a watery laugh, looking at Dean and absorbing the pride radiating from the other man. “Thank you.”

Thank you.

--
Friday

On Friday they take the Razor up a different path on the mountain, a much tamer ride along with the rising of the sun. Dean had roused Castiel from slumber by tapping on his bedroom window, wearing an impish smile that Castiel is finding harder and harder to resist. When he’d open the window Dean had announced they were going berry picking, and those strange sensations fluttered in his chest alongside plain fondness that seems to burrow itself right between his ribs whenever Dean is involved. Castiel had gotten dressed, left a note for Balthazar, and then headed out with Dean.

Holding an empty milk jug with a hand-sized hole cut into the front of it, Castiel is sitting on a rock, surrounded by huckleberry bushes. Everywhere he looks he sees berries, of all sizes, shapes, and colors, but Dean tells him to pick the fattest, juiciest ones he can find. Dean himself is about twenty feet away from Castiel, music playing softly from his phone in his pocket as their fingers and hands busy themselves with plucking the berries from the bushes. They haven’t really talked much, save for a few exclamations about the berries and how delicious and plentiful they are. The sun steadily creeps higher in the sky, the hillside Dean chose for them slowly becoming awash with light.

After a little more than an hour, they pack up. Castiel’s milk jug is only a quarter full, but Dean assures him that he has plenty. Plenty for what, Castiel isn’t sure. They ride back to Dean’s cabin, where Sam and Jessica are seated outside at the picnic table. The barbecue is open and smoking, there’s a carafe of coffee on the table and four mugs, and as they pull up, there’s smiles all around. As Dean takes their spoils and moves over towards the barbecue and the small table next to it to start cooking breakfast, Castiel takes a seat at the picnic table and thanks Jessica when she hands him a cup of coffee.

In the quiet seven o’clock hour, Castiel takes a moment to reflect.

Every day with Dean has been a new adventure. There hasn’t been a single time where it seemed as though Dean felt obligated to do something. Rather, it’s quite clear that Dean enjoys introducing all of these things to someone - to Castiel - taking pride in being the first one to teach him or show him something new. Dean isn’t imposing with his pride or his suggestions, not that Castiel thinks he’d ever turn Dean down for anything. Dean is exuberant yet patient, outgoing yet calm, and overall a general delight to be around.

Dean is unlike anyone Castiel has ever met.

And Castiel still isn’t blind to the attraction he sees in Dean’s eyes, isn’t immune to how their bodies occasionally drift closer to one another. But Dean is respectful, chivalrous, even, and while Castiel is thankful that he has the man’s honor, there’s a part of him quietly wanting… more. He’s not sure if it’s the magic of being on vacation in such a beautiful place and running on the adrenaline of doing new things, or if what he feels for Dean is truly something… real. At night before bed he prays for guidance from God, finding assurance in the fact that something that feels so good, something so joyful and wonderful… that can’t be wrong.

Castiel does not believe in a wrathful God. He believes his God is full of acceptance, love, and rewards those who worship Him gratefully and dutifully.

This time with Dean has been nothing short of a lesson in many things, and Castiel is sure that God put Dean in his path for a reason.

At present, Dean makes huckleberry beer batter pancakes, bacon, and fries some eggs in the bacon grease. It’s a hearty, outdoorsy breakfast, complete with orange juice that Sam boasts squeezing himself. Surrounded by these people Castiel feels content, grateful, and warm. Sam and Dean bicker over the smallest things, but their love runs deep. Dean treats Jessica like a sister, and Sam treats her like gold.

Castiel, somehow, slots magically into their little family.

The rest of the day is spent lazily. Balthazar is scarce again, although the note he left in return leads Castiel to believe that the ‘cougar’ he’d been after must have returned his affections. Castiel stays by Dean’s side; they swim, they sunbathe, they walk trails, they eat, they boat. The day is filled with nothing and everything and all Castiel seems to care about is the fact that he’s doing it all with Dean. That night they share a blanket on the beach, knees overlapping as they recline back to look at the stars. When Dean walks Castiel to his cabin he lingers at the door, almost hesitantly.

Castiel watches him quietly with amusement, one hand resting on the door handle. “Something on your mind, my child?”

Dean snorts a laugh at the ‘priest’ talk. “Lotsa things, Father, but I won’t burden you with them.”

“It is not a burden to unload,” Castiel reminds him.

“Yeah,” Dean rocks back on his feet a bit, hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans. “You leave tomorrow, huh?”

Castiel’s buoyant mood drops a little. “Yes. We’ll be leaving in the morning so I can ready the church for Sunday’s mass.”

“Ah.” Dean nods a few times, eyes on the ground.

After a moment’s hesitation, Castiel reaches out to gently pull Dean’s hand out of his pocket by the wrist, squeezing his fingers. “I’d like to see you before we leave.”

“Yeah?” Dean lifts his gaze, hope shining in his pretty green eyes.

It makes Castiel’s heart burst and break all at once. “Yes.”

“Cool.” Dean shifts his hand to squeeze Castiel’s in turn, and then pulls away with a slightly shy smile. “G’night, Cas.”

“Goodnight, Dean.” Castiel says softly, opening the door to his cabin quickly to allow himself inside. His heart is thundering against his chest, his hand pressing over it as he leans against the door. He hears Dean’s footsteps fading away, closing his eyes for a moment before walking to his bedroom.

Heaven above, Castiel thinks as he knees at his bedside, elbows on the mattress, hands folded and pressed to his forehead. “Give me strength, God, not for absolution but for retribution. Give me strength to quell my beating heart. One week in your paradise and I am not yet ready to leave…” he rocks forward slightly. “I know it is not sinful to feel the way I do - to feel the purity that comes from such a… righteous, clueless man. Please, Lord, give me strength, not to forget him, but to embrace him.” He reaches out to the nightstand, picking up his rosary and threading it through his fingers and around his wrist. He kisses the cross, “I know you do not test me, but reward me. I have experienced so much this week… fear, failure, forgiveness. I have learned so much from one man…”

Raking his fingers through his hair, Castiel presses his forehead to the bed, his laced fingers at the crown of his head.

“God, give me strength to leave and not be heartbroken.”

--
Saturday

As Castiel and Balthazar pack Castiel’s little blue Prius, Castiel’s mood is sour. Balthazar, for once in his life, reads the room and says nothing about it, making himself useful as they pack. Dean has yet to stop by this morning, and as the car gets fuller and the cabin gets emptier, Castiel wonders if he’ll be… stood up. Is that a thing? To be stood up for a goodbye?

Before his thoughts can spiral, he hears a familiar drawl.

“That’s what you drive?”

Hiding his relief, Castiel turns so Dean can see his eye roll. “My apologies, I left the nun bus at the church.”

Dean barks a laugh. “Nun bus. This guy.”

Castiel automatically smiles. “Hello, Dean.”

“Heya, Cas,” Dean greets belatedly. He looks to the car. “Dang, was gonna see if you needed any help packing but it looks like y’all are good.”

Castiel nods, also looking at the car, where Balthazar is currently (easily) shutting all of the doors. “Yes, well. Staying in a cabin really allows you to pack light.”

Nodding slowly, Dean’s hands go into the back pockets of his jeans. “So. You uh… gonna come back up next year?”

The thought of not being able to see Dean for an entire year does something vastly unpleasant to Castiel’s gut. “It’s not too far of a drive. Perhaps sooner.”

“And if you uh, can’t get a guest cabin, y’know. Mine’s… available.” Dean’s attempt at the casual invite is laughable, but Castiel keeps it buttoned down. “Y’know. Free of charge.”

Castiel allows the corners of his lips to quirk up. “That is something to consider.”

Balthazar groans. “I can’t STAND this. Cassie, I’m getting in the car. Wrap this up.”

When the door of the Prius slams shut, Dean and Castiel both burst out into a fit of laughter. Once their smiles soften they gravitate naturally towards each other, that quiet comfort enveloping them both.

“Dean-”

“Cas-”

They both try at the same time. They laugh awkwardly, and then Dean clears his throat, gesturing for Castiel to go first.

“I wanted to thank you for this week,” Castiel says. “You saved my life, and then you showed me how to appreciate it and truly live it. You have given me so much and I am unsure how to ever return the favor.”

“Aw, Cas,” Dean says lightly, laughing. “It’s not about repaying a debt or whatever. I showed you all this stuff ‘cause I wanted to. It was fun - you’re fun - and I wouldn’t ever expect anything in return for a good time.”

Smiling, Castiel nods. “Also… I hope you’ll forgive me for being direct, but I wanted to bring up our… relationship.”

A light blush dusts Dean’s cheeks and he coughs into his fist, ducking his gaze. “Uh- I mean. You’re a priest n’ all, I wasn’t- I mean, I was tryna be respectful, if I crossed any lines please let me know and I’ll do ten Hail Mary’s or whatever-”

“Dean.” Castiel interrupts, voice amused and eyes fond. He takes a step closer to Dean. “Let me explain.”

“Ok,” Dean exhales.

“I’m on the asexual spectrum,” Castiel says. “I’ve never… had the chance to explore any sort of romance. Until recently I wasn’t quite sure where I landed on the scale.”

“Huh,” Dean quirks a small smile, “that must be why it’s so easy to stay celibate, huh?”

Castiel reaches out to thump Dean lightly on the shoulder, “I’ll pass on the crude jokes.”

Dean grins.

“I want to remind you, Dean, that my church is my own, and the God I believe in is not angry or vengeful. I might not be fully recognized and embraced by the Vatican, but my church and my flock are respectable, and acceptable.” Dean listens quietly to Castiel speak, chewing his full lower lip and giving Castiel his full attention. “I have very much enjoyed getting close to you, this week. I understand that my… sexuality… might not be appealing to someone as vivacious as you,” Dean snorts, “but knowing with you, being with you… makes me a better man. A stronger man.” Castiel swallows thickly. “I understand if you wouldn’t want to pursue something with me, and I understand that… waiting for a physical aspect of a relationship with me isn’t very tempting, but-”

“Hey.”

Castiel’s rambling gets cut off when Dean reaches out to take his hand. Blinking, his head tilts as he regards the fond expression on Dean’s features, their fingers linked loosely together.

Dean asks, “Can I kiss you?”

Castiel nods.

The press of Dean’s lips this time is soft. They’re full, moist, and Castiel’s eyes flutter closed as Dean takes a minute step closer, lessening the gap between them but keeping their only point of physical contact at their lips and fingers. Relaxing, Castiel tilts his head slightly, which inspires Dean to change the angle of their lips and lightly lick over Castiel’s. Humming, Castiel follows Dean’s lead, the taste, texture, and sensation of kissing nearly overwhelming his senses - Dean nearly overwhelming his senses. He’s glad Dean thought to ask, because through the jumble of emotions Castiel had been filtering through, something as simple as kissing completely left his brain.

When Dean pulls away his eyes outshine the forest around them.

“Y’know, it’s only an hour drive from here to Couer d’Alene,” Dean says, his mood lifted, his voice jaunty.

“An easy trip,” Castiel supplies.

“And access to my cabin and parking is free,” Dean continues.

“Escaping to nature frequently is a good way to keep perspective and revel in God’s work,” Castiel hums.

“I mean, honestly, God would probably be mad if you didn’t uhhh… branch out every once in a while.”

“Did you just make a tree pun about camping?” Castiel asks flatly.

“Maybe?” Dean’s smile is crooked. “Y’know, sometimes I gotta go into town and do big shopping, couple times a month to restock on supplies I can’t get out here.”

“I do have a very conveniently located house,” Castiel considers.

“Sounds like you and I could have a pretty sweet arrangement,” Dean says, nodding his head thoughtfully.

“I’ve always wanted to snowmobile,” Castiel says off-handedly.

Dean lights up. “Winter up here is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.” He reaches out, pulling Castiel in for a hug, their chests and noses pressed together as they share a smile. “You really wanna try somethin’ with me, padre?”

“I prayed about you every night,” Castiel says softly. “You only became more beautiful every time I saw you.”

“Shoot,” Dean blushes and laughs, pressing their foreheads together.

“You may not think you are worth saving,” Castiel murmurs, meeting Dean’s gaze, “but you are not fallen, Dean. You deserve good because you give so much of it.”

Dean’s arms around Castiel tighten a fraction. “Ok, Cas.” After a moment, his cheeky voice says, “Praise be to God.”

Castiel can’t help but laugh at the blasphemy…

...and he can’t help but fall just a little bit further.