[personal profile] nansense
TITLE: “Between Two Lungs”
AUTHOR: [livejournal.com profile] nanoochka
RATING: PG-15 for language and drug use
PAIRING: Dean/Castiel, mentions of Sam/Jess
SPOILERS: None
WARNINGS: AU, Mild drug use, shotgunning
WORDCOUNT: 3,417
SUMMARY: A wedding and a funeral together in the same place; two strangers meet.
DISCLAIMER: Supernatural and all associated content is the property of The CW and Eric Kripke. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR’S NOTES: I’m blaming this one on [livejournal.com profile] plentyofowls because of this, [livejournal.com profile] obstinatrix and no doubt a lot of other Twitter peeps for circulating the idea of shotgunning, like I don’t already have a million other things to write. Cheers. Thanks also to the literal army of people it took to convince me to post this, including [livejournal.com profile] fossarian, who was my primary cheerleader for this as in all things, and also [livejournal.com profile] oddlyfamiliar and [livejournal.com profile] annundriel for addressing my technical (and mental) concerns.


“Between Two Lungs” by [info]nanoochka



     They meet for the first time in the alley behind the restaurant, two men of a similar age, both dressed in black suits, white shirts and shiny shoes, though they couldn’t look more different. The first man wears his suit in clean lines, tie colourful and neatly fastened in a sartorial expression of pride; his mood is reflected by the brilliance of his smile and the bright sparkle of his green eyes. A quiet bubble of laughter emerges from his throat before he registers he isn’t alone, but the twinkle remains even in the company of a stranger. By contrast, his newfound companion is rumpled, monochrome and slightly ill-fitted. Though his eyes are a fierce, saturated blue, there’s no joy in them; he flinches at the sound of the back door screeching open as though his hiding place has been found out. Of these two men, one thinks he’s is the happiest he’s ever been in his life, the other the most sad.

     Only a few minutes have passed since sundown, the Kansas sky awash with orange and red and purple like buckets of fingerpaint have been unceremoniously upended across the stratosphere. Even the dim alleyway seems on fire, multifaceted, soft, a perfect place for a meeting if one doesn’t count the rusted dumpsters and the dirty brick walls. Sounds of dinner service are audible from where the back door of the restaurant has been left ajar.

     The two men acknowledge one another with unequal amounts of enthusiasm, the first offering a cheerful, “Hey, man,” like he’s all too glad of the company.

     As he nods in greeting, he pulls a lighter and, wrapped in a sandwich baggie, a half-smoked joint from the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He’s around thirty, perhaps slightly too old to be lighting up in back alleys like a teenaged delinquent, but the ease with which he frees the blunt from its protective covering is practiced, calm. With neutrality bordering on reproach, the blue-eyed man stares at it for a moment, saying nothing, though he returns the nod. An invisible weight seems to press down on his shoulders, pushing him in on himself like an Atlas just beginning to shrug under the pressure; he glances away as though his problems could only be so easily solved.

     The other man seems to sense the potential disapproval—they’re still in public, after all—so he pauses with the joint halfway to his mouth and asks, “You don’t mind, do you?”

     Those blue eyes flicker up and for a moment their eyes meet. The mutual assessment that takes place is lightning-fast but lingers in the air like electricity after a thunderstorm. “No,” he says hesitantly. “I just… nevermind.” When the other man considers this response a moment before offering the joint instead, he just receives another shake of the head.

     With a shrug, the man places the filter end between his lips and lights it, taking a few determined puffs to get the thing going. Bitter smoke fills air like gold-tipped stormclouds in the twilight. He takes one deep drag and studies the other man contemplatively, curiosity flickering across his face while he holds the smoke in his lungs and then exhales.

     “You here for the wedding?” he asks through the haze.

     Another shake of the head. “The wake.”

     “Oh.” For a few seconds neither of them has anything else to say, until the green-eyed man bites his lip and asks, “Someone you knew well?”

     “Not really.” A troubled look falls across the man’s face and he scuffs at the ground with the toe of his shoe. His shoulders slump a little lower. “My father.”

     At this piece of information, the other man winces as though he’s just learned of his own father’s death. “Shit, dude, I’m sorry.” Perhaps realizing the inadequacy of this statement, he adds, “I lost my dad a few years ago. Don’t get any easier no matter how well you knew them. And I didn’t know mine all that well, either.”

     “Thank you,” comes the reply. The words don’t seem to come easily. “It has been… difficult. Unexpectedly so. When I thought about this day coming I always thought I would care far less.” With a quiet, ironic laugh, the man reaches in to his pants pocket and withdraws a cigar still couched in its plastic wrapper. He studies it in the silence for a moment and then holds it up for the other man to see. “My brothers want to smoke these in his memory, but what if I don’t have any? At least, no good ones.”

     “Then save it for when you have a reason, even if it’s just something you make up. I won’t tell.” The statement earns him a look that’s halfway between grateful and uncertain, fading when the green-eyed man clamps the joint between his teeth and extends a hand. “I’m Dean, by the way. Dean Winchester.”

     He accepts Dean’s handshake solemnly. “Castiel Novak. Nice to meet you.” Castiel nods his head in the direction of the restaurant they just exited. He changes the subject. “Is the wedding yours?”

     Dean laughs. He’s got the laugh of someone used to finding humour in strange places, but Castiel doesn’t appear to get what’s so funny until Dean settles and begins to explain. “Hell no—my brother’s. The bastard finally found himself a good woman. Small reception, but god damn if it isn’t the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I’m thrilled for him.”

     “Then why are you outside smoking pot when you could be with your family?” Something in Dean’s reaction makes Castiel chuckle, pleased with himself. He adds, “It’s a legitimate question, if you’re as thrilled as you say.”

     Grunting in acknowledgement, Dean takes another drag off his joint. His voice when it emerges is somewhat strained. “Fair enough. I guess a part of me is a little sad to see him leave the nest—it’s been just the two of us for a lot of years. I know he’ll have a happy life with Jessica, but it’s bittersweet, you know? Thought I’d take the edge off and just be sweet, especially since I might never be able to get married in Kansas myself.”

     “Why not?”

     Dean curls his lip in disdain, but his expression has gone gentle and indistinct with the pot, making him look more bored than angry. “Fucking same-sex marriage laws, man. Not saying that I’ll end up with a dude, but who knows, right? Maybe a wife and 2.5 kids aren’t in the cards for me. Doesn’t seem right that I don’t get much say in the matter, though.”

     Understanding softens Castiel’s face into something very different than what Dean’s seen from him so far. His expression seems to open up, even the strong lines of his jaw giving the appearance of gentleness. Castiel’s eyes take on a glassy look so vulnerable that all that’s missing is a faint lip-tremble. “Say no more. You’re closer to interpreting the reason for my estrangement from my father than you think. At least you’re in the right place if you get hungry,” he teases. Or tries to, anyway, since the humour fails to reach his eyes.

     “Heh, yeah.” The quiet admission between the two of them, becoming less strange to one another by the second, fills the silence with something easy and calm. As common grounds go, this acknowledgement that they both exist on the fringes of their own worlds is more unifying than two men trying to hide from their respective families in the dark. “You sure you don’t want some?” Dean asks. “Sounds like you might need it more than I do.”

     A couple minutes pass before Castiel admits, “I think it would just mess me up. I’ve never smoked anything in my life.”

     “Seriously?”

     Castiel nods and blushes like he’s just confessed to wearing women’s underwear beneath his suit. His hand comes up to rub the back of his neck awkwardly. “So I appreciate the offer, but I don’t know how acceptable it would be for me to cough up a lung at my own father’s funeral. I doubt my brothers would care, but my sister is distraught enough as it is.”

     Laughter tinged with understanding accompanies the crookedness of Dean’s smile, and Castiel immediately looks a bit apprehensive. “I could shotgun you, if you want,” Dean suggests. “Might not get you too high but at least you won’t choke to death.” As soon as the words leave his mouth, Dean pauses to replay them and gives a low whistle, shaking his head. He holds up his hand and looks away with a cough at Castiel’s frown, his obvious lack of comprehension. “Christ—sorry, man. I must be higher than I thought, didn’t mean to go there. I don’t smoke up that often; guess it's affecting me more than I thought.”

     Despite his frown, Castiel doesn’t look disgusted or offended, merely confused. “Shotgunning is what, precisely?” Off the way Dean’s eyebrows lift in surprise, he makes a quiet, defensive sound. “Sorry if I’m not terribly well-versed in drug use.”

     “I’m not exactly Snoop Dogg, either,” snorts Dean. “God, this is gonna sound so creepy when I explain it to a total stranger.” He waves his hands unintelligibly. “Shotgunning is when you inhale the smoke out of another person’s mouth. You know, so it’s smoother. Not as potent. Some people don’t even get much of a buzz the first time.”

     Watching Dean seriously, Castiel doesn’t so much as bat an eye until a sudden twitch of his lip accompanies his chuckle, sceptical but oddly affectionate. “You’re right, that does sound rather creepy when you explain it to a total stranger.” Dean blanches, but Castiel extends a hand and gestures at the blunt in such a way that Dean suspects he doesn’t even know what to call it. Considering that Castiel appears no less than thirty-one or thirty-two years of age, he’s got the look of the wildly innocent about him. “Would you mind?”

     A startled laugh emerges from Dean’s throat. “For real?”

     Castiel nods again. “Perhaps it will help. I’m not looking forward to going back in, dealing with… any of it.”

     Dean looks at Castiel with a hint of a smile that could be approval or the drugs talking. “Well… if you’re sure. I don’t mind, and you’re pretty cute.”

     “What does that have to do with anything?” asks Castiel.

     The amusement that glints in Dean’s eyes suggests he’s picked up on the humour in Castiel’s tone, but his voice betrays nothing. “You mean to say it doesn’t help, accepting drugs from a mysterious, but handsome, stranger?” This earns him a smile, a quick flash of teeth Dean isn’t expecting given the tone of their encounter so far. He moves closer to Castiel and, finding that the joint has gone out, re-lights the end. “Don’t go running in there and accusing me of molesting you, now,” he warns with a small smile.

     “And ruin your air of mystery?” Castiel retorts. He straightens his shoulders in front of Dean and visibly wills himself to a degree of seriousness approximate to boy scouts and neurosurgeons before a major procedure. “What do I do?”

     Dean holds up the joint for Castiel to see. “I’ll take a drag, and when I say so you come closer to inhale out of my mouth. Kind of like kissing, but not. Then you hold it in for as long as you can before exhaling. Okay? Maybe count to ten or something.” Going for levity, he adds, “Good thing neither of us minds guys, huh?”

     Castiel rolls his eyes a little, but doesn’t comment. “What should I expect?”

     The joint is almost at Dean’s lips before he responds with a waggle of eyebrows. “Dunno. Everyone’s first time is different. You know this won’t really change anything with your dad, right? Just so we’re clear.”

     “I’m not particularly hopeful to that end,” says Castiel. "But at this point, it couldn't hurt."

     “Okay, then. Ready?”

     Hesitating only a second, Castiel eventually nods. “Yes. Ready.”

     Just like the few times before this, Dean puts the joint between his lips and takes a long, steady pull on the end, eyes fluttering shut in concentration. A few more seconds go by while he withdraws the blunt and holds in the smoke between his hollowed-out cheeks. When his eyes open again, Castiel is ready for the quick nod of Dean’s head that signals for him to approach, the gentle hand Dean lays against his neck.

     True to his word, it is a bit like embracing a new lover, a tender meeting of mouths no less tentative than a first kiss. Dean’s lips are as soft and plush as they look, slightly dry but welcoming. The smooth flood of smoke into Castiel’s mouth seems to startle him even in this half-anticipatory state, his brow furrowing as he experiences the taste of earth and herbs for the first time. His tongue flickers into it experimentally, catching Dean’s bottom lip before the other man withdraws with a smile. If anyone were to walk out and find them now, there’d surely be questions and more than one raised eyebrow.

     “Now hold it in,” Dean instructs. Castiel does. He fingers begin a metronome count against his leg as if intending to count to ten in his head, but he only makes it to seven or eight before he has to let it all out quickly. He coughs once, but isn’t struck by the need to do more than that. This fills him with an absurd sense of accomplishment that shows on his face, especially when Dean says, “Good.”

     He tilts his head and meets Dean’s gaze, the other man studying him intently. “That wasn’t unpleasant,” he acknowledges. “So far I doesn’t feel any different.”

     Dean’s thumb strokes against his neck and he wets his lips. Up close, his eyes are very, very green, earthy in their own right. “Again?”

     “Yes.” Castiel stifles a small giggle and immediately blushes; maybe the drugs are working after all.

     The process repeats itself: Inhale, hold, kiss, breathe. Their lips catch in slight tackiness against each other this time, and Castiel pulls deeper, his fist going to ball in the front of Dean’s suit to hold them both steady. Now that he knows what to expect, it goes easier. They pull apart with a soft sound from Dean that could mean anything, but Castiel shoots him a look of understanding; as he seals his lips shut and forces the smoke steady in his lungs, he leans into Dean just enough to suggest he thinks the kiss could have gone on a bit longer without him minding. For all his glibness, Dean’s remark about attractive strangers was not incorrect. Both of them are, as beautiful as they are damaged in their own small ways, which may have something to do with they wound up here in the first place, trading smoke in a darkening alleyway like they’re part of some sacred, secret ritual.

     “This is all kinds of illicit,” Dean comments, and this does make Castiel laugh, unexpectedly, the smoke pouring out of him around the sound. The hand he moves to clap over his own mouth is a bit heavier, more clumsy than before. “What?” asks Dean, but he’s fighting a laugh, too.

     Castiel’s fist tightens around Dean’s shirt, the buttons hard points that each dig into his palm. “I think it’s working,” he whispers conspiratorially.

     Dean snorts. “You think?”

     “Well it’s not like I know…” Castiel blinks up at him with an owl’s sleepy gaze. The blueness of his eyes is really something. “Can I say something else that’s creepy?” Castiel asks him. His voice takes on an rather smokier purr than before, which makes Dean blink but respond with a surprised laugh whose cadence is a note lower than usual to his own ears.

     “Only fair,” he allows.

     Uncertainty flickers in Castiel’s eyes for a second and then disappears. He seems to be getting it, letting the drug settle around him like a warm, protective blanket. “I think I’d like to kiss you again. Without the smoke,” he says. “Would that be… acceptable?”

     Dean is obviously a little high, but not high enough to miss out on an opportunity to tease the other man a bit. He acts totally relaxed, at ease, like it’s more than fine to settle into this playful mood without thinking too hard about where they are, or how they really were complete strangers until five minutes ago. So he pretends to consider Castiel’s request, narrowing his eyes in contemplation of those full lips and dark bedhead like they are anything but lovely.

     “I think that’s acceptable,” he says eventually. The smile of pleasure on Castiel’s face is wonderful, if a bit stoned-looking. “Come here.”

     Using the hand still on Castiel’s neck, Dean draws them together and sighs in response to their lips gently colliding, slow and easy like a Sunday morning. He gives a slow shudder of desire with no urgency to it, though the weed does little to stop him from pulling Castiel in tight against his body, hips close to hips. He’s careful to keep the joint in his hand well clear of them both. It’s already gone out and he makes no effort to revive it, choosing instead to savour the warmth and dryness of Castiel’s skin beneath his palm, his heart beating a lazy rhythm against Dean’s hand. Anything more and he’ll be in no shape to participate in the rest of his brother’s wedding reception. Their tongues greet each other without hurry, and Castiel, too, gasps into Dean’s mouth like he isn’t prepared to enjoy it so much.

     Unable to help himself, Dean makes that same, small noise of disapproval when they separate. “That was nice,” he says dumbly. He ducks back in to place a parting kiss to Castiel’s lips.

     “Very,” agrees Castiel. “Thank you.”

     Dean accepts the compliment with the most charming smile in his arsenal, which is enough to make Castiel’s cheeks colour a delighted red. It seems wrong to maintain it, though, given how they wound up here and what still waits for Castiel beyond that door. The smile fades with reluctance and genuine regret. “I’m sorry about your dad, again,” Dean tells him in a sincere voice. “What was his name?”

     Castiel bites down on his lip and looks at the hand he’s still got fisted in Dean’s shirt. “My brothers and I used to call him ‘God’,” he answers at last, and Dean, too stoned to tell if he’s joking or not, frowns. “I appreciate your sympathy.”

     “And I appreciate you hanging out with me,” Dean assures him. As if on cue, Castiel’s hand withdraws and they take a step back from one another. Glancing at the door with no small shade of disappointment, Dean says, “I should be getting back in there. Both our families are probably wondering where we went. Not that I wouldn’t rather stay out here.”

     Something about Castiel’s smile has reverted to its earlier reluctance, but Dean makes no attempt to change it or tempt him back to his earlier joviality, however brief. “My thoughts exactly,” Castiel murmurs, and then Dean does appear to wish he could ditch his brother a while longer, smoke another bowl with this quiet, sad-seeming man and learn his life story, maybe make him feel a little less weighed down by it all.

     “Maybe I’ll see you in there,” he says.

     Castiel turns and places one hand on the doorknob, opens it up to let the light and noise of the restaurant filter into the alleyway and the empty space between them. “It was nice meeting you.”

     “Likewise,” Dean answers, and tips the joint at him in mock-salute. His mood definitely seems less bittersweet now, but whether more bitter or sweet is a question only he can answer for himself. Nevertheless, it seems to tilt slightly more towards the former than when he first came out into the alley and greeted Castiel with a smile. “See you around. Good luck.”

     One last, inscrutable look flits through the blue of Castiel’s eyes before he disappears back into the restaurant, the heavy metal door shutting behind him with a bang. It echoes for a second and then Dean goes back to leaning against the wall, playing with the burnt-out spliff between his fingertips. Darkness has settled over the alley completely, but he lingers a while longer. Just in case.


Fin
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