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Ever since that damned accident had left him without a sense of smell, the whole world didn’t make any sense anymore. There were so many little things for which he used to rely on his keen nose: making sure he didn’t run into things when he wasn’t looking where he was going, avoiding areas that were scent-marked and thus off-limits, taking the lasagna out of the oven before it burned…

Most important of all: picking up on someone’s mood. Somehow, betas managed to go through life without having that problem (although they were at least able to smell something), but Castiel really needed his nose to make sense of the people around him.

He was neither good at reading facial expressions nor at figuring out what people were trying to say when they were talking to him—mainly because they didn’t always say what they meant and then expected him to read between the lines.

His sense of smell had always told him whether whoever he was talking to was angry with him, friendly, or hostile, sincere or disingenuous…

Now—nothing. He might as well be trying to read their minds, which was frustrating on many levels. How did betas do it? Granted, they were at a clear advantage, having learned how to navigate the world without a heightened sense of smell from a young age.

So, here Castiel was, for his check-up a few weeks after the accident, no idea what Dr. “Call me Sam” Winchester was thinking. He had a smile on his face and had been nothing but friendly towards him, but Castiel knew for a fact that people who were smiling on the outside weren’t necessarily smiling on the inside, too.

Sam asked a series of questions, starting with how his head and shoulder were doing (fine), if he needed a new prescription for more pain medication (no), and finally the questions turned to his sense of smell (no, it hadn’t returned).

“You didn’t smell anything at all, even when scenting an alpha?” Sam checked, scribbling something on his clipboard.

Castiel was tempted to just say ‘no’ and be done with it. He was pretty sure that it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway, but he hesitated a second too long, and when Sam’s inquisitive eyes returned to his, he went with the truth instead, “I haven’t scented an alpha.”

The sigh might be disappointment. It might also be indifference or code for ‘Do you have to waste more of my time?’ No telling with his nose as useless as it was.

“Castiel. That was the one thing you were supposed to do,” Sam said.

“You said the one thing I was supposed to do was ‘take it easy.’” One more example of people not meaning what they were saying.

“I also said scent an alpha, see if you can pick up on a faint trace of scent.”

“I… didn’t find an amenable alpha.” Truth was, he didn’t know any alphas he could ask. It wasn’t like you could walk up to a stranger on the street and ask permission to scent.

That admission didn’t seem to faze Sam one bit. “I might know a paramedic who could help you out.”

Great. Trying (and most likely failing) to scent a stranger wasn’t high on his list of things he enjoyed doing. But it didn’t seem like he’d get around it, and if it got Sam to sign off on whatever meds or surgery he needed to get his sense of smell back, he had no choice but to go along with it.

“Is there a Castiel Novak here?” the alpha asked when Castiel opened the door.

Not that Castiel would have been able to tell for sure that he was an alpha. He looked like one, but secondary gender was one more thing that you couldn’t know just from looking at someone. There were small alphas and big omegas… it was really all in the scent.

But the alpha was wearing a paramedic’s uniform (that fit him very well) and Sam had told him to expect him this afternoon, so… yes. Definitely an alpha.

I’m Castiel Novak,” Castiel remembered to say, opening the door wider to invite the alpha in.

But the alpha didn’t step inside. “You’re kidding?!”

“I’m… not.” Once more, being able to smell would have been very helpful. The alpha’s behavior was confusing, to say the least (why would he be kidding about who he was?), and picking up on his emotions via his scent could have cleared things up. As it was, Castiel was at a loss for what to do.

“My brother said I’m supposed to be looking for an old guy, mid-eighties?” the alpha said. After a short pause, he mumbled to himself, “That little shit.”

He probably wasn’t talking about Sam since he wasn’t ‘little’ by any definition of the word.

Castiel’s eyes flitted to the name embroidered on the alpha’s jacket, ‘D. Winchester.’ If he had his sense of smell, he would have picked up on the familial relation between the two Winchesters immediately. He couldn’t wait to get it back so that he could make sense of the world again without having to play detective.

Castiel opened the door a bit wider still, and finally, the alpha stepped through.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get him back for this,” he declared.

Castiel had not been worried about it, but he nodded nevertheless while leading the alpha to the living room and offering him a seat on the couch while he took the armchair.

“I’m Dean, by the way,” the alpha said, as he made himself comfortable on the couch, leaning back with his arms spread out against the back of it.

“Hello, Dean,” Castiel said a bit awkwardly because he didn’t know what else to say.

Dean grinned at him as if he had said something particularly funny.

Then he raised his eyebrows and said, “So, I hear you haven’t been able to scent anything. Let’s see how much of your sense of smell is gone.”

And with that, he tilted his head in invitation, just like that, as if he expected Castiel to start scenting his neck.

Castiel stayed put. He didn’t need to see how much of his sense of smell was gone. He knew. “All of it.”

He had tried scenting things. Freshly cut lemons, essential oils, perfumes… Even things with the strongest scents which he usually couldn’t stand having in the house had given him nothing. Sure, the most powerful scent was that of an alpha, but so far, he hadn’t picked up on anything from Dean either.

“Won’t know it until we try it,” Dean said, head still tilted so that the long line of his neck was hard to look away from.

Since Castiel didn’t want Dean to report back to Sam that he had been uncooperative, he got up with a sigh to join Dean on the couch.

Leaning in, he sniffed in the direction of Dean’s scent gland. As predicted, “Nothing.”

He should have known that Dean wouldn’t give up that easily. He didn’t seem the type. “Didn’t your parents teach you how to scent properly? Your nose didn’t even make contact. Here, let me…”

And that’s all the warning Castiel got before Dean pulled him in, flush against his side, ignoring the way Castiel flailed and tried to support himself by grabbing onto Dean’s biceps. The next thing he knew, his nose was pressed up against Dean’s neck.

Looking for a scent gland when you weren’t able to scent for it was a challenge. Luckily, Dean switched into paramedic mode and talked him through it.

“Little bit to the left, other left, further up, stop. Right there. Now, take a deep breath through the nose. Three, two, one. And another one.” Castiel even got a, “You’re doing great,” which was ridiculous because he wasn’t doing anything a newborn pup wasn’t capable of.

It was rather strange, being instructed how to scent. Stranger still was the position he was in with an alpha he had only just met. A nose on someone’s scent gland was usually reserved for family and partners.

There was a moment where he thought he might have picked up on the ghost of a scent, but it was gone before he could try to chase it. Probably just a memory of a scent. He had a lot of those. He had started dreaming in scents shortly after the accident, which was very weird.

Even though he did everything Dean told him to, it didn’t change his answer once their tests were done.

“Still nothing, huh?”

“No.” After a beat of silence, he added, “Sorry,” because he somehow felt like he had let the alpha down.

“Nothing to apologize for. Now we know what we have to work with.” Dean smiled at him, but Castiel couldn’t return it. He might have gotten his hopes up. Dean’s optimism had to have rubbed off on him, and he had hoped for… something.

“Don’t worry,” Dean said. He had probably picked up on Castiel’s despondent mood. No wonder, Dean was able to smell changes in his scent, after all. “My brother’s the best. You’ll have your sense of smell back in no time.”

There was that smile again, and this time, Castiel smiled back tentatively. Even though he couldn’t smell if Dean was being sincere, he somehow knew. Maybe he was getting better at telling what people were feeling by observing their facial expressions, now that he couldn’t rely on his nose anymore. Or maybe Dean was just easier to read.

Either way, for the first time since the accident, some (small) part of the world finally made sense again.