Dean made good on his resolution to thank Alfie the next morning. The man waved him off, saying it was the least he could do.
“I barely did a thing, anyway. And Kevin was pretty worried about you.”
“You and Kevin are friends, then?” Dean asked. Alfie nodded in reply.
“He roomed with me when he was new here,” he said, “and now we're neighbours. Naomi wasn't best pleased at our friendship, but then she was always the jealous sibling.”
Dean did a double take. “Sibling? You're a Balt?” He'd always connoted to the name to stiff, cold and mildly creepy, of which Alfie was none.
The doctor laughed at him. “Surprising, isn't it? I'm the odd one out in my family. Or what's left of it, anyway.” He looked pensive for a split second, before his smile returned.
Dean still couldn't quite make the link between Alfie and Balt in his head. “You look nothing like the rest of them!” he exclaimed.
“Unlike Raphael and Naomi, who look so much alike,” Alfie said sarcastically. “We're what you could call an adoptive family. Not many of us are related by blood.”
“Not many? Do you mean there are more of you? How big is this family?!”
Alfie shook his head. “Too big to comprehend. Did you think it was just the three of us?”
“I never really thought about it at all, really.”
“Well, believe it or not, most of the orderlies are Balts as well. Not to mention Michael, but he's never around anyway.” Alfie didn't look too bothered by his brother's absence, which wasn't completely surprising, assuming he was similar to the rest of his siblings.
“Michael Balt? The guy who founded this place?”
“Yup, that's him. Always interested in new things, Michael. And then of course we all got roped into it,” Alfie said slightly bitterly. “Though I suppose I don't mind so much. It got better when Kevin appeared.”
Dean nodded. He could only imagine the amount of walls he'd be climbing if Kevin hadn't been employed at Balt's. “So is the majority of staff here part of your family?” he asked curiously.
Alfie scratched his head. “Jeez. I'd say at least half, but then again, we've employed a lot more outsiders. Let's see, there's Hester, Inias, Muriel, Malachi...”
“Do you all have weird-ass names?” Dean interrupted.
“Michael and Naomi are pretty normal, aren't they?” Alfie asked innocently. “But yes, I suppose our names would seem strange. I grew up with it, so I don't really think about it.”
Dean shrugged. “Makes sense. Alfie's ordinary, though; you got lucky.”
Alfie chuckled, shaking his head. “That was Kevin's influence, I'm afraid. My given name is a bit more of a tongue twister.”
“What is it?” Dean asked. “Alfred? Alan? Alphonse?” He sniggered at the last, unable to reconcile the pretentious-sounding name with the scrawny youth in front of him.
“I won't make you keep guessing,” Alfie laughed. “You'll never get it. My name is Samandriel.”
Dean blinked. “What?”
“Samandriel.” 'Samandriel' grinned widely. “I take it you now see why Kevin wanted to give me a nickname.”
Dean was speechless for a second. After a moment, he asked in bemusement, “How the hell did he get Alfie from that?”
“He didn't. He said it suited me, and promptly rechristened me.”
Dean shook his head slowly. “But surely it would have been easier to just shorten it?”
“Like your nickname for Castiel?”
Dean coloured slightly. “Sure. Like Sammy, or...” Words caught in Dean's throat, and breathing was suddenly difficult. A flash of memory, suppressed memory, passed before his eyes, too fast for him to see. It crippled him, his stomach twisting in agony. When he tried to grab at the shred of déjà vu, it vanished into the evanescent mist surrounding the holes in his memory.
Meanwhile, Alfie hadn't noticed anything the matter. “I suppose that would have been too easy for him. Kevin always liked to do things the unconventional...Dean? Are you feeling alright?”
Dean had broken out into a cold sweat, sagging against the wall. His palm left a damp mark on the paint. “I'm fine,” he insisted. “Just came over feeling a bit weird suddenly.”
Alfie looked concerned and not at all fooled, but before he could open his mouth to ask more questions, Dean felt a cool, delicate hand take his own.
“Come on, Dean, you need to eat,” Lisa said briskly. “Look at you, you're almost falling over. Meg, get him some breakfast.”
Her companion did so, and while she was piling a plate with various pieces of everything, Lisa dragged Dean away from Alfie, who looked as if he was going to object.
“Maybe you should take Dean to –” he started.
“He's fine,” Lisa said shortly. “He barely ate anything last night is all.” She pulled Dean away and sat him down at the furthest table by the window. Meg followed, dumping the plate in front of Dean.
“Now eat up, I didn't just do all that for fun,” she said acidly.
Dean obeyed woodenly, still shaken.
Lisa watched him solemnly as he ate. “You shouldn't talk to Alfie like that. He's nice, sure, but he's staff. He's a Balt.”
Dean frowned at her. “He got my ass out of the lion's den,” he said, perhaps a bit more grouchily than necessary.
“Like I said, he's nice. He's a good guy. But he's still not completely trustworthy. Anything you tell those guys could go down on record,” she warned.
“What, even Kevin?” Dean challenged. “I suppose he's out to get everyone too, short people being closer to Satan and all that.”
Lisa had the decency to look abashed, but she didn't back down. “Kevin is more trustworthy than the others, I'll admit, but you still shouldn't talk to the staff too much. It'll only get you into trouble. I'm just trying to look out for you, Dean,” she said pleadingly, eyes going all big and soft.
Dean felt his stomach deliquesce. Dammit, he could never resist puppy eyes. “Fine, whatever. I just had to thank him for getting me out. Surely I'm allowed to do that.”
Lisa smiled. “Sure. Just be careful.”
Dean shook his head and poked at his congealing bacon. He didn't have much of an appetite, being far too preoccupied with the shard of memory that had pierced through the walls surrounding his mind. It had been the name...Sammy. It still twinged his heartstrings a bit to think of it, but it had nothing of its previous, shattering significance. The memory was back behind lock and key. Dean ground his teeth in frustration.
“Please don't do that,” Meg commented. “It's gross.”
“She's right, can you not?” Lisa added, giving him a pointed look.
Dean sighed and obeyed. So they had the type of friendship that meant they'd back one another up about anything, then. Admittedly sweet, but could be annoying. Especially if it meant he'd have to suck up to Meg to even have a chance of getting with Lisa.
“Are you alright, Dean?” Lisa asked with a kinder tone. “You look kinda peaky.”
Meg raised an eyebrow. “Seems fine to me,” she said.
“No, look, he's so pale. Are you sick?” Lisa persisted, reaching across the table to take his temperature. Dean let her, pressing his face subtly into her hand, which was pleasantly cool.
“I'm alright,” he said. “Just had a bit of a moment back there. I'm fine now.”
Meg raised an eyebrow. “What, you had a hot flush or something?” she said sardonically.
Dean looked at her. “I don't know what that involves, but I'm gonna say no.”
Lisa's laugh was heartfelt, none of that simpering giggling some girls put on when they thought they were being attractive. She was genuine, and Dean liked that. He wondered whether it was screwed up that he was seriously planning on sleeping with a woman in a mental institute. He concluded that he didn't care.
“I just felt a bit weird. I might be catching a bug or something,” he commented offhandedly. Hopefully the annoying woman was a germ freak and would piss off.
Unfortunately, it seemed Meg was immune to germophobia. “Maybe. Give me warning if it turns out to be terminal: too late to avoid catching it now, but I'd like a bit of time to write my will.”
“Who would you leave all your things to?” Lisa asked, a teasing lilt to her tone.
Meg considered in mock-sobriety. “I think I had some money in a bank account somewhere. I suppose I'd send that to Cuba to piss off the US. And then my personal effects could be cremated with me. Apart from my underwear. Clarence can have them.”
Dean tried and failed to suppress a fit of sniggers, picturing Cas' bewildered expression as he held up the bra of a dead woman.
Meg looked at him, tilting her head to the side. “So you do have a sense of humour after all.” She grinned. “Maybe we'll get along better than I thought.”
“Hey, I hate to interrupt your bonding moment, guys,” Lisa chipped in, “but Meg! You know I want that top you had before they introduced the uniform! Can't I have at least that?”
Meg shot her a glance. “I suppose. You're awfully enthusiastic about this. I don't have to sleep with one eye open, do I? Surely murder's not worth a single top.”
Lisa bit her lip. “I dunno. It was a really nice top.”
“Moving on from tops,” Dean interrupted, “they only introduced the uniform recently? When?”
Lisa swayed her head from side to side. “Ehh. Not that recently. Like maybe a year and a half or something. Before, we could wear our own clothes, as long as they conformed to the rules. We don't know why they revoked it, but it does mean it's easier trying to figure out what laundry basket everything goes into.”
“My theory is that it's because they're hiring all this younger staff,” Meg said eagerly. “Without the uniform, they wouldn't be able to tell the difference between patient and employee, and then they might experiment on the wrong people.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure, Meg. Not that the doctors wear white coats or anything. Anyway, there are like thirty patients in this entire hospital. I don't think anybody would be mixing us up with the orderlies any time soon.”
“Think what you like.” Meg shrugged unconcernedly. “I think my idea makes sense.”
Dean shook his head, grinning wryly. He half-regretted his initial assumptions about Meg, now. She was actually pretty funny, once one got past the fortress of sarcasm.
At this point, Castiel walked in, still looking half-asleep and dishevelled. Trying to dispel the mental image of the man regarding Meg's underwear in complete confusion, Dean grinned at him when their eyes met, motioning for him to come and sit with them. Castiel smiled back, but shook his head, instead taking his plate to sit at another table.
Meg turned to regard Dean in carefully casual interest. “You two have a lover's spat or something?”
Dean huffed in frustration. “Actually, yeah. I wouldn't let him top last night.”
It was worth it just for the expressions on their faces. Meg looked like she swallowed a toad, and Lisa's eyes bore an uncanny resemblance to a startled bushbaby's.
Dean managed to keep his straight face for around five seconds before he burst out laughing.
“Yeah, yeah, very funny, Winchester,” Meg snarked, apparently recovered from her shock.
Lisa began to laugh too. “It was a pretty good one, actually,” she said admiringly. “You had me for a few seconds.”
“So you don't actually think Cas and I are fucking?” Dean teased. “What a relief. And here I thought you were stringing me along.”
Lisa smiled at him from under her lashes. “And what are you going to do now you realise I'm not?” she asked, equally teasing.
Meg made vomiting noises. “Jesus, guys. See you never.” She got up and left, abandoning her empty breakfast plate.
Dean eyed it in irritation. “Considerate of her.”
Lisa shrugged. “To be fair, we weren't being overly considerate either.”
“Well, what are we supposed to do? This entire place is one massive cockblock. I'm ready to explode.”
Lisa sniggered in a most unladylike manner. “Me too, actually,” she admitted. “I think everyone's a bit frustrated.”
“It'd explain the staff,” Dean pointed out. She laughed again, harder. “Maybe we shouldn't talk about them, though.” He picked up her hand from where it lay on the table; she blushed as her stroked the back gently with his thumb.
Glancing to the side, she whispered, “Castiel's watching.”
Dean nearly looked. Nearly. “Nice try,” he whispered back instead. He kept his hold on her hand.
Lisa gazed at their linked hands for a while, before looking up and smiling at him apologetically. “Dean, I'm sorry, but I don't want a romantic relationship right now. It's far too dangerous here.”
“I know, I know!” Dean reassured her. “I'm not looking for one either. You're just really hot,” he said frankly.
Lisa let out a relieved peal of laughter. “Alright, then. As long as you don't get too attached,” she warned.
Dean smiled warmly at her. “The only thing I'm in danger of getting attached to here is your pretty face. And they way things are looking, that not going to vanish from my life any time soon.”
She shook her head. “Fine.” She stood up, dragging Dean to his feet as well. “Come on then,” she said, scooping up Meg's plate along with her own.
“Already?” Dean had to admit he was surprised.
Lisa gave him a look. “I'm not that easy. We're going to the rec room. To talk.”
Dean nodded. “Right. Lead the way, then.”
“With pleasure,” she replied, strolling to the door and dumping her plate with Meg's. “Come on, then.”
Dean did as he was told, walking slightly behind her on the way to the rec room. Garth and Charlie were already there, the latter giving him a wave and the former a bright grin. Dean returned the greetings with a nod of his head.
“Looks like Meg isn't here,” Lisa said matter-of-factly. “Apparently we were a bit too gooey and she had to go to her room and throw up.”
Dean shrugged. “Her loss,” he said. “The breakfast was pretty good today.”
Lisa laughed. “Yeah, though the eggs were a bit solid.”
Dean agreed, then motioned to the empty couch. “Shall we sit?” he suggested.
Lisa looked hesitant. “That's normally Gordon's spot...”
“Well, he's not here, is he? What's he gonna do, smell our scent on the cushions?”
“Fair point,” Lisa admitted, plonking herself down. “Well then, Mr Suave, what would you like to talk about?”
Dean was silent as he sat down. “Uh...”
Lisa grinned. “Maybe I should rephrase: what would you not like to talk about?”
Dean looked relieved. “Well. I would not like to talk about fashion.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know so much about that. This lunatic asylum's got all the latest trends.”
“Just in case,” Dean said. “Let's see...I'd also prefer to avoid the topic of the staff. If this place is a turn off, they need a new word invented.”
“Indeed.” Lisa nodded her head seriously. “Shame, I was hoping to gossip about about that rumour-scandal going around about Naomi and Raphael.”
Dean did a double-take. “What?! They're siblings!”
Lisa fastidiously avoided eye contact, looking pensively at the ceiling. “Yes, Dean, that is why it would be a scandal. It takes quite a lot to shock us, after all.”
“So you're saying Naomi and Raphael hooked up?”
“You've got to be joking.”
“As a matter of fact, I am,” Lisa finally admitted, before bursting out laughing. “Your face!” she gasped. “If only they allowed us cameras.”
“If only,” Dean repeated sarcastically. “Well, now we've got that cleared up.” He heaved an over-dramatic sigh of relief. “I'd rather not talk about just now, either. Ever.” It wasn't like him to be so gullible.
Lisa managed to rein in her guffaws. “As you wish,” she teased. “Is there anything else you desire to add to the list, Your Highness?”
Dean mimed deep thought. “Hm. No, I believe that's all. Except – ah, yes. Let's not talk about Castiel for a bit, okay?” He leaned forward, whispering conspiratorially, “Can't have you getting the wrong idea again, now can we?”
“Certainly not,” she replied teasingly. “But what would be the wrong idea?”
Dean hummed. “Let's see...that we're screwing. That he affects my sex choices at all. That I'm gay. That I don't think you're gorgeous.”
Lisa's face broke out into a grin. “Charmer. Compliment accepted and returned.”
Dean raised his eyebrows. “You think I'm gorgeous?” he asked.
“That's what I just said, isn't it?”
“Yeah, but I was hoping for a bit of a more masculine adjective. Handsome, dashing...?”
Lisa thought about it. “Nope,” she said finally, “definitely gorgeous.”
“Dammit,” Dean joked. “Well, I suppose I'll have to take what I can, then, won't I?”
“Yes you will.” Lisa's eyes were bright, mischievous. She bit her lip deliberately and Dean wondered whether he was reading the signs wrong, or whether she was just teasing him.
When Lisa started laughing, he was sure she'd been teasing. “God,” she said. “Do I have to do everything?” She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his, reaching up to cup his cheek. Dean reacted immediately, holding the back of her head and pressing forward. She willingly let him take control.
“Ew!” A shout broke through the atmosphere. “Take it somewhere else, guys!”
It was Charlie, Dean saw when they broke apart. She looked disgruntled.
“You're just jealous because I'm getting the girl!” Dean yelled back cheerfully.
Charlie snorted. “Hardly! I'm not desperate enough to go drooling after straight women: I just don't wanna see that. Either stop or leave.”
Dean put on a martyred expression. “Well, then,” he said, turning to Lisa. “I suppose we'll have to –”
“We'll stay,” Lisa interrupted, flashing him a genuine but firm smile. No room for argument there, then. Dean was a bit frustrated. First this woman said she didn't want a romantic relationship, then she kissed him, and now she was making it very clear that she didn't want the bedroom yet. Was this the normal woman's way of 'taking it slow'? Dean couldn't hope to understand. She was hot enough to make it worth the trouble, though. If he was lucky, they might even have a regular thing after a while.
“Whatever you wish, Princess,” he said indulgently, bowing his head.
Lisa's eyes narrowed. “You making fun of me?” she asked.
Blinking, Dean said, “What? No!”
“Good. Because Meg's just appeared.”
Sure enough, Meg sauntered over to their sofa. “You lovebirds stopped canoodling yet?” she asked bluntly.
“We're not in love, Meg,” Lisa sighed all-sufferingly.
“What a relief, keep it that way,” Meg rapped out in a flat monotone, completely uncaring.
Dean decided to change the subject. “You guys wanna play cards?” he asked.
“Hell yes!” Lisa cried enthusiastically. “Irish snap!”
“Irish snap?” Dean asked, confused. He'd never heard of it.
“This is gonna end in injury. I'm in,” Meg said, sitting down.
Lisa picked up a pack of cards and
began shuffling. “Okay, so the rules are...”
“It's time for lunch, guys.” Garth interrupted Meg and Dean's screaming competition over who exactly had put their hand down first.
Dean cleared his throat. “Already?” he asked, slightly hoarse.
Lisa laughed. “Having that much fun?” she teased. “I'm flattered.”
Meg groaned. “And they're off again. Bye.” She got up and sauntered out of the room, turning at the doorway to fix Dean with threatening eyes. “This isn't over yet, Blondie,” she warned.
“My God, you two are hilarious,” Lisa sniggered.
Dean shook his head indulgently. “I suppose. But my hand was down first, wasn't it?”
“Oh, no! I'm not taking sides on this! Meg gets really competitive.”
“I hadn't noticed. She practically chewed my head off.”
Another laugh. Laughing suited her, Dean thought absently. “She's just jealous,” Lisa said, motioning to the door that Meg had just exited.
Dean had to suppress a snort. “Oh yeah, because she obviously likes me so much.”
Lisa sighed. “Not of me, you egoistic prick. Of you!”
Dean did a double-take. “Wait, she –?”
Lisa interrupted him before he could finish his sentence. “No, she doesn't like me like that! I'm just paying attention to you.”
“Yes, like a lot of people in here. Can you blame her?”
Dean shrugged. “I guess not. C'mon, let's go eat.”
It was pasta for lunch, Dean noted with satisfaction as Ellen handed him his plateful. They didn't cook it with salt, but the sauce was generally amazing.
Lunch wasn't exactly a quiet affair, with Meg and Dean continuing their previous argument and Lisa adding her two bits now and then to egg them on, but it was definitely the most relaxed Dean had felt since he had arrived at Balt's. While Castiel's presence was calming, it didn't make Dean feel as real as he felt now.
On the subject of Castiel, he wasn't at lunch. It was strange for him, Dean thought. He didn't often pass on mealtimes, though Dean theorised he may have eaten quickly and left before Dean had realised he was there. It felt a bit like the other man was avoiding him. Dean shrugged off the thought. He obviously just needed space, like Dean did.
After lunch, they played one more game of Irish Snap, which (to both Dean and Meg's huge irritation) Lisa won. Muttering about not wanting to witness anymore vomit-inducing flirting, Meg went off to her room, after ensuring Dean that there would be a rematch in which he would be trounced. Dean just smiled and nodded.
He and Lisa talked until group, about silly things like the weather and food and music. Dean really liked Lisa, he realised. Not in a dangerous way: he simply thought she was a fun person to be around. She let him forget.
“I won't be around after group,” Lisa said softly, stroking Dean's hand where it lay on the cushion.
Dean turned his head to look at her. “Why not?”
Lisa's smile turned excited. “I have a visitor.” The words had a touch of pride in them, that only intensified on the word visitor.
Dean grinned back at her. “Oh, do you now?”
“I do indeed. Ben. My little boy.” The love in her voice made Dean's eyes soften, even as he raised his eyebrows.
“You have a kid?” he asked. “You look way too young.”
Lisa grimaced. “I am a bit, aren't I? But. Wayward adolescence and all that. I love Ben, though, with all my heart. I'm beyond glad I decided to have him.”
Dean nodded, not really understanding, because how could he? “So how old is he?” he asked, stroking her hair.
“About ten now,” Lisa told him. “I can never keep real track. Time passes so strangely in this place.”
“Tell me about it. Does he live with your family?” Dean asked carefully, curious, but not wanting to pry.
Lisa shook his head. “They wouldn't have taken him if I'd asked. No, he's in care. He says it's not as bad as he thought it would be, and I believe him. He tells me so many stories about all his friends there.” She looked happy at the mere memory, a blissful smile on her face.
“That's great,” Dean said honestly. He half-wished he could meet the kid, but dismissed the urge. He'd only known Lisa herself for about a week. “How often do you get to see him?”
Lisa sighed. “Only every few months. I wish it was more often...he grows so fast.”
“Yeah, well, that's what kids do, isn't it?” Dean said, not insensitively. “Anyway, you enjoy it. I'll see you tomorrow.”
He kissed her then, ignoring the other people in the rec room. The orderlies could go fuck themselves too, they looked like they needed it. Her lips were soft against his, as was her cheek against his hand.
I could get used to this,
Dean thought as they broke apart. Lisa smiled at him and walked
“So, have there been any changes in anyone's lives recently?” Kevin asked in group that day, smiling cheerfully at them all.
“Dean's snagged himself a girlfriend,” Charlie snorted, looking almost as incredulous as she looked amused.
“Really?” Kevin blinked in bemusement.
All eyes turned to Dean, who shifted uncomfortably. “Not really a girlfriend,” he admitted.
Charlie laughed loudly. “Oh yes, I'm sure it's just platonic friendship through and through,” she drawled, irony loading every word.
“I never said that,” Dean reminded her loftily.
“Alright guys, break it up.” Kevin waved his hands in a calming gesture. “Lisa, right?” he asked Dean.
Dean nodded, and that was apparently the end of that. One of the many reasons Dean was immensely appreciative of Kevin.
Group was a fairly brief affair that day: Charlie told a story of how Andy had accidentally sat on Mr Fizzles (while he was separated from Garth) and he hadn't been found until quite a few hours later (Garth had apparently been distraught). Chuck mumbled a few sentences about a plotline for a story he'd been dreaming (sometimes literally) up. Dean had to admit, it sounded pretty good for a guy who wasn't allowed pens. Dean talked about his stint with Crowley, of which some of the more amusing parts drew a snigger out of Kevin himself. Funnily enough though, the young doctor didn't address Castiel directly throughout the entire session. It was strange: Dean had noticed that Kevin always made a point of getting everyone to talk (or in Castiel's case at least nod and pay attention) but this afternoon he seemed perfectly happy to let him drift off very obviously into a world of his own.
It was only when Castiel's eyes caught his own that Dean realised he'd been staring. Too embarrassed to either look away or to smile, Dean just kept looking. Castiel stared back, his eyes solemn, until finally they drifted away to the floor. If anyone noticed their exchange, they didn't mention it.
When they all exited the room Dean tugged on Castiel's sleeve to catch his attention. The dark-haired man turned, an expression of quiet curiosity on his face.
“Hey,” Dean said quietly. “How've you been?”
Castiel blinked. “Fine. As always.” His voice was flat and dimensionless.
“Yeah, I was just wondering.” Dean scratched the back of his head. “We haven't spoken all day, and you weren't at lunch...”
Even before Dean's eyes, Castiel's face became a porcelain mask. “I was not hungry,” he stated, voice even more wooden.
Dean wondered whether to press it. Castiel didn't react well to prying, and it really was his business. He took another look as his friend's ashen face and made up his mind. “You're always hungry. Did something happen?”
Castiel shook his head mutely, eyes steadily meeting Dean's and fingers twisting anxiously in his clothes.
Dean sighed. “Cas, I'm not an idiot. What is it?” Castiel seemed about to deny it again, but Dean interrupted him. “No, Cas, I'm serious. You look...worried. Pale. Not like you.”
Castiel took a step back, turning away. “I told you Dean,” he said. “I am fine.”
Castiel stopped and turned to face him again, painfully slow. “You are concerned.” It wasn't a question.
“Of course I'm concerned!” Dean cried. “You're my friend!”
Castiel inhaled sharply. “Yes,” he breathed. “We are friends. You deserve the truth.”
Dean relaxed, relieved, and waited patiently while Castiel gathered himself. Finally, the man said softly, “Raphael called me to his office before lunch.”
Dean was frozen, unable to speak, unable to move, unable to think. “Raphael?” he whispered after a heavy silence. “Why?”
Castiel rubbed his brow. “You.”
Dean almost felt the blood drain out of his face. If anything had happened to Castiel, it would be his fault. If anything did happen to him. All his fault.
“If you had been here, ever, it never would have come to this”
Dean went rigid. It was not his voice, or Castiel's, that had spoken. He turned sharply to look for the eavesdropper and found no one. He realised the voice was in his head.
“Dean?” Castiel asked. “Did you hear something?”
Dean leaned back against the wall, shaking his head slowly. “Just my imagination,” he mumbled distractedly. Shaking his head violently to clear it, Dean breathed in deeply. “Why did Raphael want to talk to you about me?”
Castiel bit his lip, and Dean's eyes inadvertently flickered downwards, watching the pink flesh turn white under the pressure. “He advised me to break off our friendship.”
Dean swallowed. Suddenly Castiel's absence throughout lunch seemed far more significant. “And what do you think about that?”
Castiel looked up sharply, his eyes boring into Dean's. “You cannot think I would listen,” he said disbelievingly. “Surely you have more faith in me than that.”
Dean looked away.
Pursing his lips, Castiel continued. “Well, I did not consider the idea in the slightest. Despite what you may think, you are worth more to me than the advice of a man I neither like nor trust.”
Dean closed his eyes. “Cas,” he groaned. “Look. I didn't mean to offend you or anything. I'm just...scared. Real scared. Because it looks like the entirety of the staff are against us, minus Kevin and possibly Crowley. Naomi, Raphael...how are we supposed to stick together?”
“Do you want us to?” Castiel asked, frowning.
“Of course I do, Cas, Jesus!”
A smile, one that melted Castiel's eyes and a hidden parts of Dean's insides. “Then that is all that need matter.”
Dean breathed out slowly, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Christ. Am I allowed to hug you now?” The expression on Castiel's face said it all. “Never mind.”
“That is not all, though, Dean,” Castiel continued hesitantly. “Raphael told me many things.”
Dean looked at him sharply. “You mean like the hospital?”
“No: people. He told me scraps of information about some of the staff, some about former patients, some about you in particular, and some...about me.”
“And what kind of things were they?” Dean was confused. It was against policy to talk of patients or staff to anyone without clearance, so why would Raphael tell Castiel, of all people?
“He told me that Crowley came to Balt's ten years ago, after serving as a doctor in the army.”
“What?” Dean said incredulously. “He doesn't really look the type, does he?”
Castiel shook his head, a smile playing about his lips. “He said he'd had a friend in the army, who died while under Crowley's care. That was the reason he retired.”
Dean sighed. “Fuck. But why did he tell you that? Why you? Because he thought you wouldn't tell anyone else?”
Castiel shook his head. “Raphael is clever. He knows very well that I will not even consider breaking off relations with you, and that I will tell you everything. I'm afraid that he will use it against us. I'm afraid that he is using it against us. He's manipulating us.” His eyes betrayed the true extent of his worry.
Unable to stop himself anymore, Dean reached out and slowly covered Castiel's hand with his own, giving him ample time to flinch away. He did not. “We ain't going to let him do that, Cas,” Dean comforted the other man. “We're clever too, remember?”
“Not that clever.” Castiel smiled a smile that came nowhere near his eyes.
“Well, we gotta try,” Dean said frankly, absent-mindedly stroking the other's hand, which still did not shy away.
“He told me about Gordon.”
Dean's fingers froze mid-stroke.
“He will be released again tomorrow. Raphael said he was responsive to...” Castiel's voice gave out, “...treatment, and that we will not be troubled again.”
“He didn't specify. But I am certain it was the same punishment you suffered that night.”
Dean winced despite himself. Over a week of that... No matter how much he despised Gordon, he had to admit that no one deserved that.
“And then he told me about you.” Castiel's voice was quiet, careful. Dean's blood ran cold at the sound of it. He dropped Castiel's hand.
“What did he say?” His voice sounded foreign in his ears.
“He told me of your friends outside.”
The ones I can't remember.
“He said...taking into account how those friendships ended, I was unlikely to come out any better off.”
“How did they end.” Dean said flatly, eyes fixed on the opposite wall.
“Badly,” Castiel whispered. “He did not say how.”
Dean forced himself to breathe deeply. It seemed everyone knew more about his previous life than himself, and it infuriated him. It was so hard not to become angry at Castiel, no matter how many times Dean repeated to himself that it wasn't the man's fault, that Castiel's situation was unimaginably worse than his...
“He told me about your romantic relationships as well.”
Dean's hand clenched into fists and the bones of his jaw creaked at the force with which he ground his teeth together. “And what did he tell you about that?” he spat furiously. He had no memory of any girlfriend. None at all.
Castiel took a step forward. “Dean, I didn't want to hear these things, I'm sorry –”
“Cas. Shut up and tell me.”
Dean could have punched himself for the expression that passed over Castiel's face. Nevertheless, the man continued, voice steady. “He told me you have problems with commitment and emotional investment. That you are prone to becoming angry and dangerous.”
Dean could feel his hands shaking, his tense muscles travelling the vibrations up his arms. “He's lying,” he hissed through his teeth. “It's not true, none of it's true!” He wasn't sure who he was trying to convince.
Carefully, Castiel took Dean's fist and unfurled it. Dean's fingernails had left red welts in his palms, which Castiel cooled with his fingers. “I know it's not true,” he said. “I know.”
Dean, over the ringing in his ears, couldn't tell whether he was lying or not. He forced his jaw to loosen and said, “So does Raphael think we're going at it too, then? That's why he warned you of my violent tendencies.”
“I do not know,” Castiel admitted. “I don't know why he told me that. I don't know why he told me any of it. But he asked me why I am so...attached to you, he said. He said it was unlike me to trust, let alone so quickly. It scares me that he seems to know me so well.”
Dean laughed derisively. “You're not the only one. And what did you tell him then?”
“I didn't say a word. I said nothing for the entire meeting.”
Dean smiled, but it was a cold one. “Good.”
Castiel released his hand, and when Dean looked at him in surprise, he fished in his trousers, as if looking for something.
“Cas? What exactly are you doing?”
“Being intimidated was not all I managed to do during that time.”Castiel drew out a sheaf of papers, stapled together and folded. “This was on Raphael's desk. Staff reports.”
Dean looked at him in incredulity. “How the fuck did you get this?” he breathed.
“Raphael turned his back once too often.” Castiel looked proud.
Dean shook his head. “Jesus Christ, man. Were you a ninja in a past life?”
“I hardly think shoving a stack of paper into my pants counts as ninja-like action, Dean.”
“Maybe not, but doing anything without Raphael Balt noticing? Dude, you rock.”
“Thank you Dean.”