Fic: "In the Weeds: Part 4" [Dean/Cas, AU - NC-17]

Oct. 30th, 2011 | 07:00 pm
From:: nanoochka


TITLE: In the Weeds - Part 4
AUTHOR: [livejournal.com profile] nanoochka
ARTIST: [livejournal.com profile] daggomus_prime
PAIRING(S): Dean/Cas, references to Sam/Ruby
RATING: NC-17




"In the Weeds - Part 4" by [livejournal.com profile] nanoochka



        The first glimpse of Castiel from across the kitchen was enough to make Dean forget he made his living off sweet-talking people and making them like him. In his years as a server, Dean’d dealt with everything from old women complaining about the temperature of the soup, to watching a high-powered asshole treat a female colleague like her twat was included in the price of the pork roast. He was good at defusing high tempers—other than his own—and something of a genius at making people forget what they’d been angry about in the first place; Dean knew how to make an entire table fall in love with him for the sixty minutes of their meal with nothing more than a smile and a well-timed joke.

        But when he got to work that Thursday morning and recognized the slender line of Castiel’s back bent over a worktop from several feet away, Dean had trouble remembering he was anything but a fraud with no social skills whatsoever, except for the power to turn a successful night of great sex and burgeoning friendship into an utter disaster. One that would likely get him shipped back overseas, no less. Even though he and Cas hadn’t said a single word to each other since Tuesday—Dean would never, ever admit to anyone that he’d contemplated stealing his number out of Crowley’s phone and making a desperate call to beg forgiveness—with each moment that passed it was looking less and less likely Dean would get a handle on the situation and prevent himself from getting fired. As Jo had said, it would require a lot of delicacy and making sure Dean was on his best behaviour, like Obama had popped in for a surprise lunch with Kim Jong Il and it was Dean’s job to make sure no one got murdered over dessert. She had faith that if anyone could do it, that person was Dean.

        As such, his first move was to make himself as scarce from the kitchen as possible.

        Crowley picked up on it almost immediately, taking notice when Dean refused to linger by the plating station or asked after his orders with a voice barely louder than a whisper. It might not have been his imagination that Castiel was staying firmly at the other end of the kitchen, too, which was hidden from sight by high shelves and kitchen equipment scattered between the walk-in freezer at the back and the order window. When Crowley, watching Dean with a shrewd eye, casually asked Dean if he might take over the chef’s table, which afforded diners a full view of the kitchen at work, Dean’s blunt rejection of the idea had the manager pulling him aside into an alcove before he could blink.

        “What the bloody hell is going on?” hissed Crowley. “You’ve been acting like you’re touched in the head since you walked in the front door.” At Dean’s flush, Crowley’s face darkened even more. “Would you mind filling me in so I can get back to running the damned restaurant?”

        “There’s nothing to fill in,” Dean said quickly. “I’m just… not feeling so great after last night.”

        Crowley’s eyes narrowed. “You weren’t drinking last night.”

        “I know. Must’ve had some bad shrimp or something.” Dean plowed on before his guilty face could give him away even more. He was a good liar—exceptional even—but for some reason that never seemed to work on Crowley, who was so perceptive it was almost like he’d been a MI5 operative in a past life. Dean didn’t dismiss the possibility. “It’s okay, man, I’m on top of it,” Dean assured him. “I’ll try to be more on my game from now on, so don’t worry about it. Just give the chef’s table to someone else tonight, all right? I think Jo said she was a little short on tips the other night, and she’ll clean up there for sure. I don’t mind.”

        “You’re bullshitting me about something,” growled Crowley, poking Dean in the middle of the chest with one finger, “but I don’t have time to waste on you right now. Just get your act together and start pulling your weight. The middle of lunch service is not the time for you to decide you no longer want to do your job, because Martin won’t hesitate to give it to someone else. Especially not with all this hogwash that’s been going on lately between you and MacCarthy.”

        Before Dean could fire something back, Crowley stalked away and barked an order at one of the other servers to take over the chef’s table; whether or not it was Jo who would do the honours was unclear, but Dean knew no one else would balk at covering what was typically the highest-paying table in the restaurant. That Dean had refused looked plenty hinky, and he knew that, but he also knew it’d be worse if he fucked up trying to work under the watchful eye of Castiel, who for all he knew was busy stabbing a voodoo doll out back.

        Dean sighed and tried to get back to his other tables without worrying too much. Of course, thinking about the chef’s eyes wasn’t a huge help, since Dean more than remembered the way Castiel had stared him down the other night as Dean stripped for him, bent over for him; and then the next morning, albeit in a very different way, when he yelled at Dean to get the fuck out of his house.

        Yeah, he was screwed.

        Luckily, he had more than enough to keep him occupied as the afternoon wore on and the tables in his section filled up. The majority of them were easy, if busy, groups of older men out for a business luncheon, a few regulars interspersed with tourists fresh from visiting the Writers Museum—no sweat. The only immediate problem Dean could identify were the six middle-aged women who showed up at half one without a reservation, and expected to be seated right away. Lunch service ended at two.

        “Watch out for that lot,” warned Crowley in an undertone as he handed them off to Dean. “I’ve a feeling they’ll be a handful.”

        Sure enough, within three minutes of getting them settled and taking the drink order, Dean was forcing a smile so hard his cheeks felt ready to burst. The women seemed immune to his charm as well as his attempts at buttering them up, and after a quick inquiry into the nature of their outing that day, he knew why: they were members of a Catholic women’s league out to talk shop, and as one of them dismissively informed Dean, “Save the flirting for your other table, dear; we’d prefer to be left to our business and simply enjoy our meal without being fussed over.” With a shrug, Dean did just that, though a heavy feeling in his gut warned him he’d be lucky if they left him alone without a fuss.

        He should have been in the clear once their orders were in, but the beckoning flicker of one manicured hand in his direction let Dean know this was very much not the case. “What can I do for you?” he asked brightly, wiping his hands on his apron.

        “Could you please tell me what’s in the ceviche?” asked the woman, who seemed to be going for the nun look in her suit of powder-blue wool and calf-length skirt. Her shirt was fastened right to the very top button; all that was missing was the headpiece. It didn’t matter that Dean had already offered to answer any questions they might have about the menu prior to ordering—people ignored that part of the spiel all the time, only to realize they had no idea what they’d actually asked for. Dean was accustomed to such inquiries and the change of mind that usually followed. The only problem was he had no fucking idea what was in ceviche, except for raw fish, and that it was something of an unusual addition to Chapter’s more traditionally-themed fare.

        Having memorized the menu, Dean could rattle off exactly what it said, and with no better ideas that immediately came to him, that’s precisely what he did. “Our chefs prepare the sea bass with oil infused with lime, vanilla and Korean chilli,” he supplied but, perhaps owing to the uncertainty he could hear in his own voice, the woman made an impatient clucking sound with her tongue.

        “Could you please go ask someone a bit better informed?” she sighed. “I’d like to know what I’m eating before I pay for it.”

        That didn’t seem to matter when you wasted my time ordering it, Dean thought peevishly, but plastered his smile back on and said, “Certainly. I’ll be right back.”

        Passing by Ruby on his way to the kitchen, he grabbed her elbow and pulled her aside. “The ceviche,” he said quickly. “What’s in it?”

        Ruby wrinkled her nose and looked at Dean like he’d lost his mind. “Fish,” she answered. “And lime and vanilla and shit. We were both at the meeting.”

        Dean rolled his eyes. “Yeah, smartass, I got that. But what else? I’ve got some witch at my table who isn’t satisfied with the menu description.”

        “How the hell would I know?” Ruby shot back. “I’m a freaking vegetarian.”

        Making a strangled sound, Dean released her arm and let her get on with her service. Pushing his way closer to the kitchen, the next person he encountered was Crowley. Dean almost laughed with relief. “Dude,” he muttered, sidling up to him, “what the fuck is in ceviche?”

        “Oh, for the love of—” Crowley gave Dean a look not much different than the one he’d received from Ruby. “Dean, the kitchen is right bloody there,” he snapped. “Go ask one of the cooks.” He was about to go on his way, then glanced out across the dining room and stopped when his gaze hit Dean’s problem table. “It’s those women, isn’t it?” he asked. “They giving you trouble about the menu?”

        “Yes,” sighed Dean. “Apparently I’m not ‘informed’ enough.”

        “Christ.” Crowley shook his head, but nevertheless shrugged. “You’d still better go ask in the kitchen,” he said. “I suspect nothing but an exact quote from a chef will do.”

        “Fuck.” This was exactly what Dean had been afraid of, though he tried to keep the annoyed look off his face. He just hoped he’d stumble across a line cook who wasn’t too busy to talk to him, hopefully without laughing Dean out of the kitchen. It was out of the question to ask Chef Lewis such a mundane thing, but even that seemed preferable to flagging down Castiel for the answer. Under normal circumstances he was the first person Dean should have gone to, Cas no doubt having suggested the item for the menu, but there was no way in hell that would happen.

        Crowley caught his indecision the second it flickered over Dean’s face. “Dean,” he said sharply, trying to force down the worst of his impatience, “get a fucking grip and go do your job. But we’re talking about his later.” With that he strode off, leaving Dean to wrestle with the rest of his anxiety alone. Crowley kind of had a point, though; Dean needed to man the fuck up.

        Edging warily into the kitchen, Dean glanced around for any of the chefs that looked like they might have a moment to spare. It wasn’t promising, however. They were all rushing around and shouting orders back and forth—same as any day during the height of meal service—and Dean didn’t risk interrupting anyone for fear of getting an earful. Much as he knew he could take it, the kitchen staff were a funny bunch and didn’t take kindly to disruptions. If one chef found something to go apeshit over, the rest of them took up the call like a flock of unsettled seagulls, a single cry quickly elevating to a chorus of outraged shouts. Dean did not want to be the guy they decided to turn on, not ever, but today in particular he really wanted to escape the notice of one chef in particular.

        But because the gods, apparently, had decided to shit on him, this was not to be.

        “Is there a reason you’re hovering back here, Dean?” asked a clipped voice from over his shoulder, and Dean jumped guiltily before turning around to find Castiel standing there with the bitchface in full effect, wiping his hands on a dishtowel in short, angry movements. Dean had been so busy scanning the kitchen for any sign the coast was clear of Castiel, he’d failed to notice the chef come up behind him.

        “Uh, shit,” he blurted, hand immediately working through his hair in a nervous gesture. Cas, seeming to notice how unsettled his mere presence made Dean, only looked more pissed off.

        Since Dean neither managed to provide a reason for his presence nor made any move to leave, Castiel bit out, “You’re in the way,” even though Dean was not actually, at this moment, obstructing anything but his own will to live.

        The sharpness of his tone immediately put Dean on the defensive, face flushing with embarrassment and displeasure that Cas was acting as all-out hostile as Dean feared he might. Normally he would have made a joke to try and dispel the tension, but couldn’t see that going over any better. So as he frequently did when he was out of better options, Dean got pissed. “Yeah, I got that, thanks,” he snapped back. “I’m just trying to answer a damn question for a customer.”

        Castiel glared and looked about to say something else, but then he just sighed. “What’s the question?”

        Dean swallowed, bracing himself for the other shoe that would drop as soon as it was out of his mouth. He knew he should know this—it didn’t matter that no one else seemed to, because Dean was head waiter and supposedly better at this job than anyone. There was no doubt in his mind it would be just another strike against him in Cas’s book, just one more reason for the sous chef to take his apron away and make sure he never worked in Ireland again. “There’s a woman who wants to know what’s in the ceviche,” he said reluctantly, forcing out every word with extreme displeasure. “Whatever was listed on the menu isn’t good enough for her.”

        Even though Dean had been preparing himself for a derisive response, he found he still had the capacity to be surprised when Cas’s mouth tightened and his breath snorted out of his nostrils in a way that could mean nothing good. “Are you for fucking serious?” he asked after a second.

        Refusing to rise to the bait, Dean set his jaw and said, “No, I’m back here because the one thing that was missing from my day was dealing with your crap as well.”

        “For fuck’s sake.” Cas’s voice was hard and cold enough that a couple other chefs actually turned to watch the exchange, faces wary as though a bomb might go off at any second. “Well, let’s see,” he began. “Ceviche. It’s cured fish. So, there’s fish.”

        Dean clenched his fists and made a strangled sound. “And?”

        A muscle twitching in his cheek, Castiel held up a hand and began ticking off a list of items on his fingers. “Salt, chilli, citrus juice, and oil. Because it’s actually the easiest fucking thing to make in the world. Do you require a diagram? I know you Arkansas lads aren’t always so quick on the uptake.”

        With every word out of Castiel’s mouth, Dean could feel his cheeks growing even warmer, if that was possible. He thought there might even be some vapour beginning to rise from his skin like in cartoons. Though he wanted to shout, Kansas, asshole! all that came out was a belated, “Dick,” finding himself at a loss for anything more articulate. With a flustered glance at the rest of the kitchen, which was still staring at him in mild shock, Dean turned on his heel and went back to the dining room to pass on the answer to his customer, who was waiting impatiently for him back at the table.

        “Did you have to swim the length and breadth of the Shannon to come by this information?” she asked curtly. When Dean just frowned and apologized for the wait, she waved him off and said, “I think I’ll have the tuna carpaccio instead.”

        Resisting the urge to ask whether she needed the full list of ingredients and cooking method for that dish as well, Dean smiled—more faintly this time, and unable to do more with Castiel’s angry tone still ringing in his ears—and said instead, “Great. Coming right up.”

        Dean finished out the rest of the lunch service in an absolutely foul mood, made all the worse by the knowledge that he was on a double and had the whole rest of the evening to survive, hopefully without getting yelled at or fired. Despite Crowley’s threat of a chat there’d been nothing intimidating from Chef Lewis or Martin, who seemed to be responding to Dean as pleasantly as ever.

        “Staff meeting upstairs in five, Deano,” said Martin with a cheerful smile, right as Crowley was coming down the hallway to corner Dean about this morning’s unusual behaviour. Just before Dean could begin to fret that five minutes was all Crowley would need to rip him a new one—or get to the bottom of his weird demeanour—Martin added, “Mind rounding up the rest of the servers so we can begin? Chefs Lewis and MacCarthy have a few changes to the menu they’d like to go over with everyone before the pre-theatre crowd arrives this evening.”

        Mention of Castiel’s name made Dean’s stomach flop like he might vomit, but he pushed the anxiety aside as irrational and nodded so that Martin wouldn’t think he was a total space cadet. “Right away, sir,” said Dean, and shot an apologetic look at Crowley before hurrying off.

        Finding the rest of the servers scheduled for dinner service took about thirty seconds, since they were mostly all out back smoking or putting on their uniforms inside the staff locker room. Unlike some of the restaurants where Dean had worked over the years, the staff room at Chapter was actually a place where most people didn’t mind spending time. In place of the typical grubby lockers and worn-down benches were tidy cubbyholes and a set of comfortable leather chairs arranged to look more like a small den than a break room.

        Ruby and Jo both hung back a little as the other servers filed out, leaving them alone with Dean before they headed upstairs to the party space for the meeting. “Heard about the scene in the kitchen,” cackled Ruby without preamble. Jo, who was only just beginning her shift, looked from Dean to Ruby in surprise, and Ruby quickly explained, “MacCarthy threw a shit fit at Dean earlier when he asked a question about something on the menu.”

        “What did you ask?” said Jo, brow furrowed.

        Just how many fucking times was he going to be forced to remember this story? “A customer asked what was in the ceviche,” Dean answered patiently. “No one seemed to know, so I wound up having to find out from Cas.”

        “Who practically ripped his balls off and ate them in front of everyone,” added Ruby, still unhelpful as ever. Dean severely regretted telling her any of what took place between him and Cas, up to and including their fight.

        “How do you not know what’s in ceviche?” Jo said. “There’s, like... five things in it.”

        Dean rolled his eyes. “That is not the fucking point. Ruby and Crowley didn’t know, either.”

        “Well, Ruby’s a vegetarian,” Jo pointed out. Before Dean could grow more indignant, she asked, “But that’s good, right? If he just got pissed at you and you haven’t been fired by now, you probably don’t need to worry about losing your job.”

        “Yeah,” answered Dean.

        Ruby flashed an evil grin. “The night’s still young.”

        Together they headed to the Jameson Room, Chapter’s private dining area, Dean lagging behind and feeling like every step down the hall brought him that much closer to the possible unceremonious death of his work visa. The other servers were already seated around the table with Chef Lewis and Martin at its head, but after a quick glance around Dean saw that Castiel had yet to join the group.

        “Is Chef MacCarthy not behind you?” asked Martin in confusion. As if in answer to the question, Castiel came storming into the Jameson Room carrying a large, dog-eared food dictionary bound in red cloth. Dean recognized it right away from where it sat in Chef Lewis’s office.

        Since Dean was the last one in the room, he was in the perfect spot at the end of the table for Castiel to slam the book down in front of him, the tome cracking thunderously open to the page Castiel had bookmarked with a finger. A couple of the servers around them, including Jo, Ruby and Chuck, recoiled at the dramatic entrance. They backed away, having all heard about the animosity between Dean and Castiel that had all but reached its head.

        Looking up at Castiel with his mouth half-open, about to speak, Dean flinched back when Cas’s index finger came jabbing down onto the open page. “You want to know what’s in the fucking ceviche?” he demanded, voice darker than Dean had ever heard it. “There’s your fucking ceviche. Maybe in future you’ll find a better way to address these petty concerns of yours, Dean, before you bother to waste more of my time. Because I see now that’s what it was: a waste. But while we’re on the subject, is there anything else you need to get out of your system before the rest of us can carry on with our business as normal?”

        The sudden awareness of fifteen sets of eyes on him—and burning most brightly, those belonging to Crowley—made an uncomfortable pressure against Dean’s chest grow and grow until he thought he might have to sit down, were he not already doing so. At first he was struck by a wave of regret at having not sought Castiel out earlier to apologize for Tuesday’s misunderstanding, to swallow the whole bitter pill like Sam and Jo both suggested so Dean and Cas could get on with their lives. But the feeling was quickly replaced by anger that most strongly resembled the reaction Dean had had upon first meeting Castiel all those weeks ago—utterly blinding rage that knew neither reason nor rhyme.

        It wasn’t, Dean dimly realized, because he felt embarrassed in front of a group of his peers, or even that Cas, in a matter of weeks, had come to pose a threat to what Dean considered a pretty damn decent way of life, one he wanted to hang on to. Rather it was that he made Dean question how worthwhile his life even was. No, it wasn’t glamorous or special or meaningful in any particular way, but it was his, and Dean had always figured that was enough. Somehow Castiel had made him question the rightness of that, made Dean frustrated that he couldn’t stand up to the chef with more. Topping it all off was the worry that, if he got fired and sent back to America, the choice might be taken from him altogether.

        Faced with the possibility of having all that snatched away, along with the respect of some people he’d come to like very much, he responded the way pretty much anyone would—like a badger that’d been poked one too many times with a spoon. That he’d lost whatever tentative respect he might have gained from Castiel himself shouldn’t have stung so much, a shame that compounded his anxiety even more. Dean didn’t like shame; it was a useless emotion. He’d much rather go out in a blaze of glory than the guy everyone remembered as having no balls.

        “Why do you have to be such a goddamned cock, huh?” he blurted out, mouth running off while Dean’s brain was still huffing to catch up. Whatever resolve he’d fostered throughout the day to be sensitive to Castiel flew out the window. “Does it ever occur to you your first restaurant failed because no one can fucking stand to work with you?”

        Had their roles been reversed, Dean probably would have responded not in words, but with a solid punch to the nose. He found himself tilting his head towards Castiel in case the chef wanted to do just that, but the hit never came. Cas just stared at him in bewildered silence, not another soul in the room even seeming to breathe, then with a dark flush staining his cheeks Castiel closed the food dictionary with considerably more gentleness than he’d set it down, and walked out of the room. Dean stared after his departure for a few seconds before turning back to face his colleagues. Not surprisingly, all eyes were on him, with the small exception of Jo and Crowley, who had buried their faces in their hands in unwitting parody of one another. It was Martin who eventually broke the quiet.

        “Dean,” he said, voice more serious than Dean had ever before heard it, “I think we need to go have a talk in my office.”


+


        Dean knew he was in the shit when not only Martin and Crowley joined him in the manager’s office ten minutes later, but Chef Lewis as well, shutting the door behind him with a soft click and an unreadable glance in Dean’s direction. He supposed they’d wrapped up the meeting pretty quickly, or else gotten Castiel to take over running through the rest of the changes to that evening’s menu. Either way, he got the impression there was no shortage of time in which to discuss the little scene that had just gone down in the Jameson Room. Replaying it all in his mind, Dean was at a total loss. Here he’d been so worried Castiel would be the one to get him fired, only for Dean to go and do it himself.

        As though he could sense the direction of Dean’s thoughts, Martin sighed and spread his hands out across the surface of the desk, letting the resignation in the sound do the talking for him before he actually spoke out loud. “This is quite the situation we have here on our hands, Dean,” he said, foregoing any and all preamble. “Truly quite the situation.”

        No one said anything in the few minutes that followed, the statement unacknowledged except for Dean’s solemn nod, eyes fixed on the carpet, and the sound of Crowley fiddling with his cufflinks. Although Martin and Chef Lewis were probably wondering who would break the silence next, Dean knew all too well Crowley’s fidgeting was a precursor to the explosion he was currently trying to articulate in his head. Whatever his suave demeanour, Crowley had a frightening mean streak mitigated only by his cultured upbringing; he very rarely expressed anger at anything that couldn’t be dismissed with an acerbic comment. But when he let loose the flood, Dean had to admit it was an impressive display of intelligence, venom and cutting, calculated intimidation. His entire bearing changed, voice taking on a throaty, animalistic growl that made Crowley seem to grow a hell of a lot larger than his five feet ten inches. That Dean’d never before been on the receiving end made him no less uneasy, since he fully knew what to expect. He was going to find himself with a new asshole any second now, there was no doubt about it.

        It was an outburst Chef Lewis seemed to anticipate, too, glancing at the Englishman quickly enough that Dean saw a glimmer of worry there. Apparently he wasn’t the only one aware of Crowley’s temper, and Dean wondered how many times in the past Martin and Chef Lewis had been around to witness it in action. “Is there something you want to say, Fergus?”

        “You had bloody well believe there is,” Crowley ground out, hazel eyes gone dark and beady-looking with outrage. They were fixed upon Dean without so much of a waver; the man barely blinked. “I’d like to know what the fucking hell is going on between yourself and Chef MacCarthy, and just what the fuck you were thinking!” His voice reached a sharp, startling crescendo in the middle of the sentence, making Dean have to fight hard against his instinctive need to flinch, but by the time he’d reached the last syllable, he was back to speaking normally except for the ugly twist of his mouth that remained.

        “That is the question of the hour, isn’t it?” Martin murmured. He was watching Dean carefully. To make it easier, he turned and met Martin’s gaze with a lot more confidence than he felt. “I think we’d all like to know how things got to this point, Dean.”

        Chef Lewis broke in with a quiet chuckle. “You’ll get no argument from me there,” he said, “but Martin, I do wonder what good knowing will do at this stage.” Glancing apologetically at Dean, he explained, “I am sorry, Dean, but surely you know the exchange we witnessed just now is unacceptable. That we’re giving you the benefit of this meeting at all is, frankly, beyond me. Because there is only one outcome here, and that is that your employment with us is terminated.”

        Hearing the words aloud was a greater shock than Dean had anticipated, which he supposed came through clearly enough in his jerk of surprise. Martin tightened his mouth sympathetically but didn’t contradict. A kitchen was not very unlike the army in that way—there was a strict chain of command and the explicit understanding it was not to be challenged. It was the reason why the Gordon Ramsays of the culinary world frequently remained unchecked in terms of ire and nasty behaviour. They were very fortunate at Chapter that Ross Lewis was one of the more easygoing chefs around, but Dean held no illusions this would in any way impact the outcome of this conversation. What Dean had said to Castiel in front of their entire team was the equivalent of telling a commander-in-chief of a military force to go fuck himself with a banana. On national television.

        “The purpose of this meeting shouldn’t be undermined, Ross,” said Martin gently. He rose from his chair and came around the other side of the desk to place a hand on Dean’s shoulder. If anyone was unnerved that Dean had yet to say a single word, the sentiment wasn’t expressed—or maybe they were in universal agreement that Dean had said more than enough already. “Dean has been a dedicated and reliable employee of Chapter One for almost a year now, whereas Chef MacCarthy, for all his promise and talent, is still something of an unknown to us. There has been a rash of incidents since he arrived, and if there are concerns about his behaviour or disposition, by all rights we should hear them before any serious decisions are made. It wouldn’t do to let the wrong person go and find ourselves back here again in a month.”

        At this, Dean did have a reason to speak up. He may have fantasized about knocking Castiel the fuck out a few times—amongst other things he probably shouldn’t start thinking about in the company of his soon-to-be-ex-bosses—but that didn’t mean he’d been raised as the kind of man who would go and rat someone else out for personal gain. “That isn’t it,” he interjected, startling himself when he realized he was not only not going to sell Castiel down the river, but was about to come to his defence. “Cas didn’t—there’s nothing wrong with anything he’s done, nothing wrong with his ‘disposition’. He’s a good chef and seems to fit in here well enough. What I said was just...” He faltered. “It just wasn’t workin’ out with him and me around here. I fucked up.”

        A breath hissed out from between Crowley’s teeth, and all three men turned to look at him. “Cas,” he repeated with an edge to his voice Dean definitely didn’t like; he should have figured out not to go using that name when it had tipped Jo off just the day before. “Oh, Christ above—”

        The sound of the door clicking open drew everyone’s attention away from Crowley and Dean’s subsequent look of desperation before the sentence was finished. Dean caught the expression of disbelief on his friend’s face at the realization that Dean and Castiel’s lovers’ spat was just what it looked like, more or less, and then Castiel was slipping into the office with a repentant but firm set to his features. Dean’s back immediately went up and he stared the chef down as though he hadn’t just finished having Castiel’s back.

        Cas met and held Dean’s eyes as he closed the door behind him, not looking away until Martin said, “Chef MacCarthy. Perhaps you could come back in a few minutes? I’m afraid we’re in the middle of a private discussion at the moment, if you can forgive us.”

        Instead of bowing out of the room the way he was clearly expected to do, Castiel folded his arms across his chest and made it clear he had no intention of leaving. “That’s why I’m here,” he said solemnly. “I know you’re about to let Dean go, and I’m here to ask you not to.”

        The room, with the obvious exception of Castiel, seemed to collectively blink in confusion. “Why on Earth would you ask a thing like that?” Crowley finally spluttered. Dean turned to glare at him for the lack of support, and Crowley shrugged. “I’m sorry, but you’re the last person who should be in here asking us to show mercy, considering the Springer-worthy spat we just witnessed.”

        With a nod, Cas approached the desk, eyes trained on Crowley and the owners as though he didn’t trust himself to look at Dean now that he’d begun talking. “That’s precisely it,” he answered. “The fault is mine that the exchange took place at all—for various personal reasons, I’ve not been having a good day, and I unfairly decided to take my frustrations out on Dean. Anyone in the kitchen would be able to tell you he was not the instigator. Dean was just doing his job, which I think you’ll all agree he performs admirably on a regular basis, and I had no right to jeopardize his ability to do so. Had our roles been reversed, I might have said a great deal worse after the food dictionary stunt.”

        Dean’s mouth all but fell open in shock. “Are you for real?” he blurted. Cas shot him an annoyed, challenging look, which only served to compound Dean’s confusion about what the fuck he was doing. He was getting pretty tired of being at a loss all the time where Castiel was concerned. It made him tetchy as hell.

        Ever the diplomat, Martin jumped in to try and mediate, rightly predicting what further repartees might result if Dean and Cas were allowed to be drawn back into their confrontation. “Everyone here appreciates your saying that,” he promised, “no doubt Dean least of all. But you must understand this is more than a simple difference of opinion—when an executive chef has such a public, aggressive disagreement with a member of the wait staff, we then have not just a matter of decorum on our hands, but one of reputation and morale as well. Could you imagine what would become of a kitchen with no sense of order or hierarchy? It would simply fall apart.”

        “I understand this,” Castiel responded. Considering how angry he’d been before Dean had publicly called him a cock, his tone of voice was pretty damn calm. Obviously knowing how to defuse a situation was an area in which he excelled far more than Dean, and he deliriously thought that if Cas hadn’t been the one he was fighting with in the first place, Dean probably could have gone to him for a few pointers. “Disagreements happen in the kitchen all the time, but we let them go and walk away. I’m not saying it should be encouraged or commended, but clearly in this case it is not worth someone losing their job over.” Castiel paused and then, looking briefly at Dean for confirmation, added, “And in Dean’s case, I imagine it would result in a great deal more than that, since he has his work permit to consider.”

        Crowley was still being curiously silent in his corner of the office, like he was unsure whether he understood what was taking place, or perhaps was caught between deciding whether to leap to Dean’s defence or throw him to the wolves. Martin and Lewis weren’t letting on how much of the whole situation they’d figured out, but Dean knew Crowley was sharp enough to have determined that not only had Dean and Castiel fucked, but probably which positions they’d used as well. It was a theory he wasn’t in the mood to test, however. Luckily, next it was Chef Lewis who spoke up.

        “So what happens then?” he wondered aloud. “You say all is forgiven and perhaps we force you both to swear nothing of this sort will happen again, but what of the rest of the staff? No one will simply forget they saw what they saw, which is a subordinate staff member directly undermining the sous chef. Martin is right; at the risk of overstating our own already-overblown sense of importance, that kind of anarchy has no place in a kitchen.”

        “I don’t think you need to worry about Chef MacCarthy’s ability to defend his authority.” This came from Crowley, who lifted and eyebrow and gave a shrug. “We’ve all seen what becomes of staff members who contradict him.”

        In spite of himself, Dean snorted. “You’re not helping, dude, unless you want both Chef MacCarthy and I to get canned.”

        “I have no intention of getting fired,” Castiel said wryly. A tiny smile turned up the corners of his mouth. “But Fergus has a point. Meanwhile I would be willing to defend Dean to anyone who questions why he still has employment here, though I doubt this is a matter that will come up. Far more of our staff would be sad to see him go than they would be to see him stay.”

        Dean was so baffled, staring Cas down in disbelief, he almost missed the look Martin and Chef Lewis exchanged between them, then way the head chef eventually sighed and gave a resigned shrug. “This is unprecedented,” he said to no one in particular. “Not only that, the two of you have been at odds since the day you met. You’re both valued parts of the team, make no mistake about that, and please don’t think I would take the decision to terminate employment lightly. But who’s to say another such falling out won’t happen again next week, or next month?”

        That was a damn good question, and Dean was glad Chef Lewis’s asking it saved him the trouble. “You know what,” he burst out, “I think it would be a good idea of Chef MacCarthy and I had a minute alone to talk.” This whole conversation had taken on such a weird twist that he hardly knew what to make of it. Castiel’s intervention, aside from being totally unexpected and a bit more random than Dean thought he could handle, was almost casting Dean in the role of victim in the grand scheme of things, and that was not only inaccurate but uncomfortable.

        He would have preferred to explain to his bosses exactly how things had degenerated from relatively harmless kitchen pranks to this point, which apparently involved not just people losing their jobs, but Cas all but implying bodily harm to anyone who questioned Dean’s continued tenure at Chapter. But Dean didn’t really want to come out and tell everyone they’d slept together, if that wasn’t obvious enough by now, because then he’d have to admit to being a bigger idiot than they probably suspected already. Not to mention it wouldn’t do Castiel’s credibility any favours. He thought of Jo’s reaction to learning Cas had made Dean breakfast the morning after and wanted to groan, since this most recent championing of Dean’s virtue was of a similar level of kindness that both reminded him how badly he’d fucked up and still scared the shit out of him. If he didn’t deserve breakfast in bed, he certainly didn’t fucking deserve Cas laying his own reputation on the line for him. Dean hadn’t even gone down on the guy.

        “I think that’s a grand idea,” agreed Martin, and looked between Dean and Castiel with a smile. “We’ll let you sort it out between yourselves, and you can tell us after how it went, hmm?” He was a touch more serious when he added, to Dean, “I think it’d be best if you took the rest of the evening off, lad. Give things a chance to calm down. We’ll manage better without you than we will with a kitchen full of staff gossiping like old women.”

        Knowing this to be the truth, Dean nodded and made to get up. A hand on his shoulder prevented him; it belonged to none other than Crowley. “A word first,” he growled.

        As Dean glanced at Chef Lewis and Martin, who looked sympathetic but quietly excused themselves from the room, he sighed and nodded. “Fine.” To Castiel he said, “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll come find you in a bit.”

        Naturally Castiel’s face was impassive as Crowley made a point of showing him out of the office and shut the door behind him. Although Dean wasn’t particularly looking forward to either confrontation, he stared at the door for several seconds, finding himself rather envious that Castiel got to excuse himself from the lecture Dean was surely in for. Following Dean’s gaze, the smirk that ghosted over Crowley’s face indicated he understood.

        “Oh, I shan’t keep you long,” he promised, smiling darkly. The expression on his face unnerved Dean to so great an extent that he spared a moment to wonder why he’d ever contemplated going into business with someone who was, on occasion, so goddamned scary as Fergus McLeod. “I’ve just one simple question for you, Winchester: have you lost your bleedin’ mind?”

        Since Dean had had almost a full year to get used to dealing with Crowley, he definitely knew the best way to avoid inciting the situation further was to not roll his eyes. “Give me a break, man,” he said, keeping the insolence mostly out of his voice. “You don’t honestly think any of this was done on purpose, do you? It was just—you know things have been rough going with Chef MacCarthy since the beginning. All this was just a matter of time.”

        Crowley folded his arms across his chest and smirked, dark eyebrows lifting in what looked like amusement but screamed, Fuck me around and I’ll bloody kill you. “Before what?” he challenged. “Before you took the little bastard home and shagged his brains out?” Dean grunted, but before he could protest Crowley said, “If you even think about denying it, I’ll fucking slap you. Maybe you had Martin and Ross fooled that there was nothing else going on besides some old-fashioned professional animosity between you and Cas, but they don’t live with you. I admit this is a little more twisted than I normally expect from you, Dean, as your tastes have always been charmingly amateur in this regard, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the dumb look you get on your face when you’ve been schtupping someone you shouldn’t. And MacCarthy, well—he’s even more off-limits than most.”

        Knowing that it looked stand-offish even for him, Dean resisted the urge to fold his arms back at Crowley, settling instead upon a scowl. “I don’t see why that’s in any way your business, dude.”

        “My business?!” Dean imagined lampshades rattling and people outside turning to look at one another in confusion at the shout that burst from Crowley’s throat. “It’s my bloody business,” he bit out, “because not only does your fucking around affect how I run this damned restaurant, but also, if you’d forgotten, has something of an impact on what I’d like to be doing in the next three to five years!” Chest heaving, Crowley jabbed at finger at Dean and visibly fought to get his voice down to a more reasonable, socially-acceptable volume. “Did it perhaps escape your recollection that we’ve discussed starting a business together?”

        Teeth grinding, Dean growled, “No, it didn’t. I don’t see—”

        Crowley cut him off with a furious wave of his hand. “How the fuck did you expect that plan to go forward if you were sent back to America?”

        This wasn’t anything Dean hadn’t already spent two very long, very sleepless nights asking himself, but there was no way he wanted to get into that with Crowley right now, not when he knew the other man was sure to win the argument. Dean’s defence didn’t have a leg to stand on and they both knew it. Even less appealing was having to acknowledge that Castiel was the only thing that had stopped that from happening. “I don’t know,” he snapped. “We would have figured it out. But it doesn’t matter, does it? Apparently everything’s just peachy.”

        “Right, because your goddamned boyfriend decided to step in at the last moment.” Expression going grim, Crowley stared at Dean hard for a moment and then looked at the ground. “I don’t know that’s the kind of person I want to be in business with, Dean. It’s irresponsible.”

        “It was a fucking mistake,” Dean lamented, throwing up his arms. “Okay? A simple goddamned mistake that anyone could have made.”

        “But ‘anyone’ didn’t make it—you made it,” Crowley reminded him.

        For fuck’s sake, Dean raged internally, feeling himself begin to lose his grip on the argument for real. Sometime in the last seventy-two hours, everyone and their dog had started to know better than him. It made him feel about five years old and roughly as intelligent, and Dean hated that a part of him secretly wondered whether they might not be right. “So that’s really enough to make you want to walk away from the plan, huh? Dean fucks up once, and suddenly he’s no longer trustworthy.”

        “If MacCarthy hadn’t intervened, once would have been enough.” Sighing in a long, rough, dragged-out exhalation of breath, Crowley rubbed his hands over his face, then gazed at Dean with eyes gone suddenly bleary and tired. “Look, Dean, I need to have a think about this. You’re certainly not the first or the last person to have fucked the boss in an overwhelming display of lack of judgement, and perhaps you’re right in that it shouldn’t be as large a mark against your character as I’m making it out to be.” He paused to let that sink in. “But this is my money and potentially my arse on the line, and I’m not one for making bets I’m not certain to have a return on. I’ll need some time to decide whether this is acting in my best interests.”

        Dean all but felt his stomach drop out. “That’s not good enough, man.”

        Crowley’s gaze didn’t flinch as he stared back. “You should have thought about that before, Winchester,” he answered. “So for now, it’ll bloody well have to be.”


Part 5

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