As far as small carnivals in the middle of nowhere go, this one is even more run down than Dean was expecting. It’s set up in what was once probably a field, but now is merely dusty earth, dry and beaten into even ground.
He’s not entirely sure where he is right now, because the sign on the road just says “Carnival”, which isn’t all that descriptive. He’s pretty sure he’s in Colorado, somewhere north of Loma, which is somewhere north of Grand Junction, which is a good eleven hours east of Valencia, which is where Dean wishes he was but needed to get away from. He can only immerse himself in Sam’s apple pie life for so many consecutive days before he gets an itch under his skin, and even the comfort of being around Sam, Jess, and their two-point-five children isn’t enough to keep him.
They’re used to it by now, though little Mary and Abby have no idea where exactly Uncle Dean goes when he’s not around to play catch with Mary or help Abby conquer her fear of the dark. They tell the kids Dean is a travelling exterminator, which Dean thought was clever a few years ago, but eventually the girls will be old enough to know that it’s not a real job. They’ve argued about that. Sam doesn’t like lying to his kids, while Dean thinks telling children that monsters are real is a lousy fucking thing to do, and Sam should know that. Luckily Jess was in agreement with Dean, or Abby would be afraid of more than just the damn dark.
Dean left Valencia four days ago, the Impala peeling out of the driveway in the wee hours of the morning, AC/DC blasting away, probably waking up all of Sam’s fancy neighbors. The hunt in Loma had taken almost no time, which usually Dean would be grateful for, but since he’s on the run from normalcy, he’d been hoping things would take a little longer to suss out. But the spirit of Jasper K. Winston has been laid to rest, bones salted and burned, angry apparition no more than a memory for Dean and some traumatized teenagers.
Dean had spent a day sitting around his motel in Loma, trying to find a hunt on Sam’s old laptop before giving up and leaving. Instead of heading back though, he’d spent hours driving aimlessly, feeling a restless tug under his skin, like there was somewhere he needed to be, someone he needed to look in on. Sam had chuckled into the phone when Dean told him that, suggesting maybe Dean missed him already. Dean had responded by telling Sam he was ugly and hanging up because even at thirty-six, Dean is shit at comebacks.
No, Dean’s pretty sure this restless feeling isn’t homesickness, especially when he hasn’t been gone even a week yet. Decades as a hunter have left Dean with a sixth and seventh sense, sometimes he just knows when something Not Quite Right is afoot. It’s how he found the feral werewolf in the middle of Tulsa, and that stranded fucking mermaid in Lake Superior (freshwater mermaids, who knew?). There’s definitely something off in this area, but Dean doesn’t know if it’s of the “harmless Peruvian fatsuckers running a day spa” variety, or the “vampire nest picking off hobos and dumping their bodies in the woods ” variety.
He’s not sure what he’s looking for, but he thinks a creepy carnival is a good place to find it.
It looks like it’s been here a long time, there’s layer upon layer of dust over the thrown together tents and stands. There are two rides; a ferris wheel, and a ridiculously small roller coaster that circles the grounds, but both are broken and look like they have been for a long time. It’s not empty, though. There are plenty of active stands and booths. Dean sees kids playing skee-ball, people eating freshly made funnel cake and cotton candy, and someone dressed in a clown outfit is drawing a cartoonish portrait of two grinning women. Dean counts nearly fifty people milling about, and it’s the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday.
He buys a soft pretzel and eats it in large bites as he wanders the grounds until he finds himself drawn to a tent in a deserted corner of the “park”. It has the same burgundy fabric as the other tents, and yet it’s different than the rest of the carnival. It takes Dean over a minute of standing there, munching on his pretzel to understand why; the ground under and around the tent has grass. Green, soft grass that starts about three feet from the tent. Very peculiar, seeing as the rest of this area is so dry and dusty. There’s a sign on a post by the tent’s door flap, hand painted and weathered. It reads “CONFESSION STAND” in bright, colorful script.
Well, Dean’s interest is piqued. He finishes the last of his pretzel and wipes his hands on his jeans before moving the flap so he can step inside.
The interior of the tent is… not what Dean was expecting. There are lanterns affixed to some of the support beams, casting a warm glow on the inside. There’s no floor, only more grass, which is as alive as the stuff outside. There’s a large, unfolded futon at the opposite end, covered in crushed velvet throws, decorative pillows, and a man wearing what looks like a cassock, only it’s a light blueish color rather than the black or white Dean is used to. The man is barefoot, lying with his feet crossed at the ankles while he reads a tabloid magazine that must be really old, because Patrick Swayze is on the cover. His dark brown hair is in total disarray, like he was sleeping recently, and Dean feels like he’s walked right into someone’s home rather than a carnival booth. He looks around, wondering if he should say something or back out slowly.
But then again, there’s that grass. Lush and alive where it shouldn’t be.
“You’re here to confess?” the man says, voice a delightfully deep rumble that Dean can feel rolling through his bones like thunder in the mountains. He’s still reading the magazine, hasn’t even looked up at Dean.
Dean is uncomfortable, he feels like he’s intruding. “I guess?”
The man looks at Dean, and his eyes widen. “Oh,” he says, setting the magazine down and getting to his feet. He’s… very attractive. Strong, stubbled jaw, appealing cheekbones, eyes an inviting slate blue. He looks ordinary enough, but Dean’s certain this man is what drew him here.
“Have a seat,” the man says, gesturing to a table and chairs that Dean’s pretty sure weren’t in the tent a minute ago. The furniture is nothing fancy, just two simple wooden chairs, and the small, round table is covered in a red satin cloth. It reminds Dean of the kind of set up he sees charlatan fortune tellers using all over the country.
He sits, though, because why not. “So, how does this work?”
The man’s gaze is intense, disconcerting. “You tell me a sin, I give you something in return.”
“Something, like… what?”
The man shrugs. “A trinket, a coupon for popcorn at the carnival, some people like to have their fortune read.”
“Can you see the future?”
The man smiles. “No.”
“So, you’re a fake.”
“I’ve never claimed to be a fortune teller, merely told people I can tell them a fortune.”
Dean glares. “What in the hell is the difference?”
Dean’s about two seconds from pulling his gun out. “Well, since you don’t give real fortunes, I don’t want one from you.”
“I never said you had to take one, I said that some people like to have it done.”
“So I pick what I want, tell you a sin, and you give me the thing?”
“Do you have a menu?”
“I’m not a restaurant.”
“Well how am I supposed to know what you have to offer?”
The man smiles again, tapping the side of his nose like that’s supposed to mean something to Dean. “I can pick for you.”
Dean rolls his eyes. “Fine.”
“Alright,” the man says, holding his hands out across the table. “Take my hands.”
“Do I actually need to do this, or is it just part of the act?”
“Take my hands,” the man repeats.
Dean sighs, putting his hands in the waiting palms of the… whatever the fuck this guy is. The man’s eyes are closed and Dean looks around, not quite sure what he’s waiting to see.
“Tell me a sin,” the man says, mildly impatient.
“What kind of sin?” Dean’s a thirty-six year old monster hunter that’s spent a great deal of his life getting by through less than honest means despite having a well off lawyer as his closest kin. He has plenty of sin to share, from the petty to the unforgivable.
“The bigger the sin, the greater the reward,” the man says.
“For you, or for me?”
The man grins, but doesn’t open his eyes. “For me.”
In that case, Dean’s going to say something small. “Let’s go with a lie, then. When I was thirteen, I told my little brother he had lice, and that we needed to shave his head. He didn’t have lice, I was mad at him for spilling soda on my Gameboy.”
The man snorts, but holds onto Dean’s hands, lips parting on a smile as he sighs with something that sounds like relief. “One more. Another lie you told, perhaps.”
“I told my first girlfriend I couldn’t kiss her because I had the flu, but really it was because her breath smelled like garlic.”
“Mmm,” the man mutters. “These are all very small, you know. Maybe just one more.”
“When I was nine, I convinced my brother that he was allergic to chocolate so I could eat the rest of his Halloween candy.”
There’s a look on the man’s face that’s almost-almost sexual, like he’s eating a really good piece of pie or satisfying a particularly stubborn itch. He opens his eyes to look at Dean, and that’s when Dean sees the swirls of blue-white light, only for a fraction of a second, where his pupils should be. He starts to jerk his hands away in surprise, but the man… or whatever he is… has a tight grip.
“Relax,” he whispers, as the wisps of light clear from his eyes and his blissed out expression returns to something normal. He gently releases Dean’s hands.
“What are you?” Dean hisses, debating on reaching for his gun. It’s an unfair reaction, he knows. He always does this when meeting something supernatural, assumes they have nefarious intentions when he’s learned time and time again that not all of them do. Those fatsuckers just ate fat. That mermaid just wanted to go home. He was even rescued by a vampire that only fed on livestock, once.
The man doesn’t answer, though, and Dean can’t say he really expected him to.
“Well, what do I get?” Dean tries.
“What do you want? Free popcorn? A stuffed bear? You didn’t seem interested in the fortunes…”
“How about a name?”
“Ahh, my name for your prize? I’m very flattered.”
“You gonna tell me or not?” Dean says, impatient.
“For three very mundane sins? Even a stern priest would be uninterested in those.”
“You want another sin? That’s greedy.”
“You’re being very stingy with your sins, it’s not as though you need them for anything.”
Dean can’t believe this is a real argument. He reaches for the man’s right hand, clasping his wrist tight and staring into his startled eyes. “I’m wearing shoes that I stole off a man two years ago. We got into a drunken brawl in a bar outside of Flagstaff, I won, and I took his shoes and seventy dollars out of his wallet.”
The man’s head tips back and he sighs, gripping Dean’s arm in return. “Why did you fight?”
“He saw me making out with a guy in the bathroom and called me a name I didn’t like very much.”
“Oh, that’s interesting.”
“I broke his nose.”
The man is squirming in his seat. “Ah, I see.”
Dean glares. “You always get off on this process?”
“No,” the man chides, “but you have such a wonderful flavor. All bright and golden like honey, or saffron rice.”
God, this guy is even weirder than the damn fatsuckers. And Dean saw them feed once before he was on his way; it was pretty fucking weird. He feels something shift inside himself. Something feels loosened, relaxed. Something that he didn’t realize was cold, for a moment, feels warm.
The man's eyes open again, and Dean catches the same wisps of light in them before they go back to normal. “That was wonderful, thank you,” he says, like Dean just gave him a delicious meal.
It occurs to Dean that that’s probably exactly what just happened.
“That’s four sins, more considering all the sin in that story. You owe me a name. And the stuffed bear.”
“Of course. You’ve been very generous.” The man places his palm flat on the table, slowly lifting it to uncover a small, brown stuffed bear that couldn’t possibly have been hiding in his hand. It looks ordinary, the materials certainly don’t seem otherworldly, though there’s no manufacturer’s tag. It’s about the size of of a soda can, with a little green bow tie and tiny black buttons for eyes. It’s cute, but intimidating, as it seems to have been produced out of nothing. “Castiel, by the way.”
Dean looks up from the bear, to the man. “What?”
“My name, it’s Castiel.”
Dean runs through the little rolodex in his mind and comes up with nothing. Castiel, other than sounding angelic, is not familiar. “What are you, Castiel?”
“Full,” Castiel says happily, “and sleepy.”
“Am I being dismissed?”
“I do hope you’ll return. If you have nowhere more pressing to be that is,” Castiel says, rising from the chair and drifting over to the futon. He crawls onto it, burrowing into the nest of blankets.
“Uh, maybe,” Dean mutters, walking to the door, clutching the bear.
“Wonderful. Come back soon, Dean,” Castiel calls from the bed.
Dean turns back to ask how Castiel knew his name, but the tent is empty, save for the lanterns and soft, green grass.
Dean goes back to the motel in Loma, checks back in and takes a long and confused shower before crawling into bed and calling Sam.
“Hey!” Sam sounds out of breath.
“You’re not fucking, are you?”
“If I was, do you think I’d stop for you?”
“Well, I wasn’t. I just got back from taking Bones for a jog. What’s up?”
“Are sin eaters a thing?”
“Sin eaters, is that a uh… a thing?”
“Well,” Sam says slowly, considering, “they’re a thing, but not our kind of thing.”
“What does that mean?”
“I mean sin eating is a ritual that a human does. Absolving someone… I think usually a dead someone, of their sins… taking them on so the soul doesn’t have to bear the weight. It involves a symbolic meal, bread, if memory serves.”
“So… there’s not like… a monster that eats sins?”
“Not that I know of?” Sam says cautiously. “But that doesn’t mean such a thing doesn’t exist, right? Have you asked Dad?”
Dean rolls his eyes. “No thanks.”
“Yeah, I figured. So, what happened? Did you see something? A monster?”
“I saw… something…” Dean says uncertainly. “I don’t know what he was.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well leave him be, then.”
“I wasn’t planning to cut his head off, Sammy, I just wanted to know what the hell he was, and he wouldn’t tell me.”
“Where did you see this being?”
“At a carnival in Colorado.”
Sam snorts. “Maybe he’s just a person fucking around with you.”
“Uh, no. His eyes were glowing. And we were in this dry and barren field, right? But the area around his tent was all green and grassy.”
“Oh, wow. And he… ate your sins?”
“I told him some of the crappy shit I’ve done, and he seemed to be… I don’t know, energized by it? But then he got tired and had to take a nap… and fucking disappeared.”
“That’s very interesting, I’ve never heard of anything that does that. You sure you don’t want to call Dad?”
“No way,” Dean says, fidgeting with the teddy bear. “You know how Dad is. He’d track him down and kill him no matter what he is.”
Dean can practically hear Sam’s frown through the phone. “You should talk to him about that. About hunting. He’s sixty-two, shouldn’t he be hanging it up?”
“Dad won’t be happy unless he dies in a blaze of hunter glory, there’s no talking him out of that, Sam.”
Sam groans. They both know Dean is right. John will hunt until he physically can’t anymore, and there’s no point in suggesting otherwise. “What about you, then?” Sam says.
“What? What about me?”
“You ever think about hanging it up?”
“Aw, come on, Sam. Don’t do this now.”
“You could, you know. Brady’s brother runs a construction company out here, I could get you—”
“Nah. I’m not saying I’ll be like dad hunting until I’m fucking sixty, but… not yet. Okay?”
Sam sighs. “I worry about you, Dean.”
“I know. It’s… I’ve tried it, Sam. How long did I last with Lisa? A year? By the time I left I was climbing the walls with the need for a hunt.”
“Maybe that’s because you quit cold turkey.”
“You make it sound like I’m an addict.”
“I’m hanging up.”
“No, come on. I just mean… maybe if you tapered off. Don’t jump on every hunt you find. Maybe do like one a month.”
“Think about it, okay?” Sam begs. Dean can practically see Sam’s giant sad eyes staring down at him and he sighs.
“No promises, okay? But I’ll think about maybe trying something like that out. Maybe.”
“Maybe is good. I like maybe.”
Dean wakes up feeling like he’s being pulled in three different directions; back to Valencia, away to a hunt that doesn’t even exist yet, and to the carnival, where Castiel is. He really wants to see Castiel again. He doesn’t know if it’s curiosity, or attraction, or maybe a craving to experience that odd feeling of confession, but he knows he wants to see him again.
But Dean is a man who is stubborn for the sake of being stubborn. So when he feels himself being tugged in all those different directions, he chooses to defy them all, staying in bed, fucking around on Sam’s old laptop. It’s covered in Strawberry Shortcake decals, because back when it was still Sam’s laptop, Dean put the decals on to be an ass and they proved hard to peel off. It’s no big deal until Dean has to take the laptop out in front of some grizzled, old hunter and they smirk at him like the cat that got the canary.
He spends hours reading Wikipedia articles for everything from Hungarian mythology to the history of birth control. Finally around four in the afternoon he puts the laptop away, showers, dresses, checks out, and starts driving back to the damn carnival.
When he arrives at the carnival, Dean realizes he hasn’t eaten in nearly a fucking day, so he buys a soft pretzel near the front, eats it quickly, then makes a beeline for the tent at the far end. He’s a little relieved to see it, a small part of him expected it to be gone, and maybe some rickety old groundskeeper would come wandering past and tell him there was never a tent there, or some crazy ghost story shit like that.
Dean frowns as he gets closer to the tent. There are red and white tulips growing in the grass, in full bloom. There were no flowers yesterday, Dean is sure of it. He walks to the door flap, careful not to trample any of the probably magic tulips.
This time Castiel is in a golden cassock, sitting in a meditative pose on the futon, mountains of blankets pushed to the side. His eyes are closed but he takes a deep breath through his nose when Dean walks in, smiling slowly.
“Hello, Dean,” he says, sounding blissful.
“I never told you my name,” Dean says, accusing.
Castiel cracks one eye open. “Didn’t you?”
“Hmm. Are you here to confess another sin?”
“You told me to come back.”
“I invited you to come back. I hardly expected you to do so. Certainly not without a proper weapon.”
“The revolver in your jacket and the Kurdish knife strapped to your ankle are not exactly enough to take me on, Hunter,” Castiel says, sounding amused.
“Well you don’t have to worry, I’m not here to hurt you.”
Castiel lets out a soft laugh. “I’m not afraid of you, Dean. I simply expected you to come back with a greater number of weapons, given your fear of the unknown.”
“I’m not… I don’t have a fear of the unknown. I’m here, aren’t I?”
“I said you had a fear, not that you bowed down to that fear. You are very brave, Dean.”
“How do you know my name? Or what weapons I have? What are you?”
“So many questions,” Castiel tuts. “And yet you didn’t answer mine. Are you here to confess another sin?”
“Why, do you need to eat some more?”
“Oh no, I’m quite sated. It doesn’t take much to sustain me, really.”
“Well, I’m not here to confess anything. Fresh out of sin.”
“Now I know that’s not true,” Castiel says, rising to his feet. “You’re a hunter, you’re crawling with sin.”
“Depends on your definition of sin, doesn’t it?”
“Anything you feel any level of remorse for, I suppose. What I consume isn’t laid out by the rules of your bible, the definition of sin is left up to the individual. If you spent your life feeling guilty over cutting off a nice old woman in traffic, for example, that sin would have great weight to me, because it did to you.”
“I don’t beat myself up over cutting off people in traffic.”
“I know. You feel guilty for other things, like the pranks you pulled on your brother, or not kissing the girl with the garlic breath, or stealing from an unconscious man.”
“How sweet,” Dean sneers, “you remembered. So what if you met a sociopath that murdered dozens of people but didn’t feel bad about it?”
“Then, they wouldn’t be able to feed me.”
“So you feed on remorse.”
“Perhaps. It’s a package deal.” Castiel is closer now, and Dean can’t help but give him a once-over, wondering if he’s wearing anything under the cassock, then panicking and wondering if Castiel can hear his thoughts.
“Why are you here?”
“Where should I be?”
“In a church? Taking confession?”
“Ah, as clergy. Not interested. So much less freedom.” Castiel is so, so close now. Close enough to kiss, even, not that Dean’s considering kissing a… creature he just met.
“Are you evil?” Dean asks, eyes darting down to Castiel’s lips.
“No,” Castiel says gently, leaning in as close as he possibly can without actually touching Dean, “though I suppose if I were, I wouldn’t admit it.”
“What are you?”
“Warm,” Castiel practically purrs. “You have such a warm, sweet light.”
Dean reaches down, taking one of Castiel’s hands, tangling their fingers together. Castiel smells like coconut and rain on sunbaked soil, something ethereal, cosmic. “I borrowed a pen from an old woman at a diner two months ago,” Dean says. “I forgot to give it back before I left. It had her name engraved on it, it was a really nice pen.”
Castiel gasps, breath hitching.
“I was having a bad day last week, and my waitress brought me the wrong order twice, so I didn’t leave a tip.”
“Oh.” Castiel closes the infinitesimal gap, pressing his lips to Dean’s. There’s a spark. A jolt. Something that skitters across Dean’s nerves, causing him to twitch and shudder. The kiss is rough, wet. Hungry. Dean hasn’t had a kiss like this in years. There’s a level of desperation clawing its way up out of nowhere, making Dean cling to Castiel.
They stagger in the direction of Castiel’s futon, and Dean’s pretty sure he steps on Castiel’s bare feet at one point before Castiel is shoving him onto the futon, on his back. He straddles Dean’s hips, grabbing him by the shirt collar and pulling him into a sitting position so he can nip and suck at Dean’s neck. Dean groans, tipping his head back to give him better access.
“I stole a car when I was sixteen,” Dean mutters, hands working under Castiel’s robe, shuddering when he realizes there’s nothing but skin underneath. “I was drunk, and stupid, and mad at my father. I drove it for two hours before I crashed it into the side of an abandoned muffler factory. I never got caught.”
Castiel’s skin seems to warm slightly under Dean’s hands and he moans, loud and unashamed before biting down hard on Dean’s neck. “I’ve never… what are you?” Castiel says, voice full of wonder.
“I thought that was my question,” Dean moans, palming at Castiel hard, wet cock. He feels drunk on this, whatever this is, already addicted to the startled whimpers he’s pulling out of Castiel with each stroke of his hand under the robes.
After a moment Castiel pulls away, making quick work of Dean’s boots and socks to fling them onto the grass. Dean pulls his jacket and shirt off in response, but finds his fingers clumsy as he tries to undo the button and zipper on his jeans. Castiel makes a frustrated sound, batting Dean’s hands away and tearing the jeans open himself. Dean actually hears fabric rip before Castiel is pulling the possibly ruined jeans off of Dean along with his boxers, and then Dean is naked, and Castiel is straddling him again, groaning when their cocks slide together.
What Dean wouldn’t give for a box of condoms and a handful of lube right now.
Castiel pulls the cassock off and Dean gasps, miles of gorgeous and tattooed tan skin suddenly on display. There are curving, organic lines and swirls all along Castiel’s arms, stopping at his shoulders. They almost seem to shimmer with that blue-white light for a moment, and Dean stares at them with interest before spitting in his hand, vulgar and artless. He brings their cocks together, slick with precome and spit, stroking them in a tight grip. Castiel moans, bracing himself with a hand on Dean’s left shoulder, thrusting against Dean’s dick. Dean thinks he’s close to coming already, yanked to the edge without a fight in the face of how ravenous he feels for the being rocking in his lap. With his free hand Dean grips Castiel’s hip tight, wanting to be sure they’re touching.
“I was a vampire once,” he pants, impressed at his own ability to form a coherent sentence. He’s certain the tattoos are shimmering this time. “There’s a cure for vampirism, not a lot of hunters know that. As long as you don’t drink human blood, there’s a cure. While I was turned I infiltrated a nest, and I killed everyone inside, including my maker.”
Castiel lets out a sharp, beautiful wail, throwing his head back and coming in Dean’s grip as the lanterns shatter, plunging them into near darkness. Castiel is glowing, and Dean feels warm and helpless to do anything other than come too, cursing and jerking his hips.
It falls dark and quiet as Castiel’s tattoos stop glowing, no light or sound from outside seems to be reaching the tent. All Dean can hear is Castiel’s shaking breaths, his own desperate gulps for air.
Something warm and soft brushes against Dean’s legs; it feels like feathers.
“What… what are you?” Dean says for what feels like the hundredth time.
Castiel chuckles softly, leaning forward to lay kisses along Dean’s jaw as they cling to each other in the dark. “Yours, it would seem.”