For Ella, on her Birthday
Summer’s day. That’s what the box says the sheets smell like. But it’s summer out and it smells nothing like the soft, over-chemical floral scent tumbling around inside the machine next to him. Instead it’s heavy with the dying bloom of magnolia and Spanish moss, acrid with the stickiness of stale beer and day old garbage. A light breeze kicks through the streets only pushing the scents along faster, more steadily, forcing a sharp exhale and the reminder to breathe through the mouth. The faded screen-door slams shut in retaliation, swept out and open each time a new gust or a new person comes through—it’s welcoming like that, this place—to slam shut behind, an emphatic suggestion to stay a while.
They’ve got three duffels worth of clothes to clean, though these days the duffels are small, filled only with supplies needed for one hunt at a time. But with the amount of dirt, sweat and gore they handle on a daily basis, it’s never a quick task. And today it fell to him. Sweat beaded under the collar of his shirt as he separated the whites from the colors and the darks. These to be bleached, these to be mended, these nearly beyond redemption. Perched on the lip of an abandoned washer the Former Angel of the Lord watches the rise and fall of the chest of the woman fast asleep in the far corner, her pink shirt proclaiming “Bermuda!” slung across gaunt shoulders, not quite hiding a pair of fading bruises. He picks at his nails, the edges jagged and dirt-crusted even after a scalding shower—digging in the bayou a much less exciting and fruitful task than they’d hoped. And far muddier. The haunt seemed to take great pleasure in crashing each of them into the murky water, tangling them in knotted roots, nearly killing Sam in the process. They’d finally salted and burned the amulet, pumped the last of the swamp from Sam’s lungs and now he’s here, in an undershirt and soon-to-be-retired boxers, waiting.
Dean had snatched up the keys to the Impala and torn off, muttering something about witches and Sam ducked out to the library and the archives, leaving Cas alone with a stack of quarters and three bags of laundry. Detergent measured in scoops, bleach in capfuls, softener in sheets or dribbles, depending on what is handy. None of the usual vending machines brands worked in the dubious machine in the half-lit back room, so the owner handed over the bottles a regular keeps under the counter. Castiel’s gratitude and thanks in the form of an iced coffee is now half-consumed, leaving rings on the counter top, but she smiles at him every time his eyes look up.
He’s sure she’s waiting for him to talk, everyone in this city seems to, but he’s content in this moment to say nothing, wait for the machine to shake loose the past week. A quick breath of air kicks in, the door jumping up and slamming again, the sharp sound a counterpoint to the slop of wet fabric and hum of dying lights. He tips his head back to catch the wind on his throat, drying the drops of sweat mirroring heat, eyes shut against the chance of catching eyes with anyone. Braced back on arms corded and lean, he barely notices the man until he slides in front of him, right between his knees, pressing soft lips to the column of his exposed neck. He hums, discordant with the machines and the lights, a sweeter, gruff sound, hand rising to cup the nape of a neck, feels more than hears the chuckled response. Eyes open to a familiar smirk, one dimple deep and satisfied. Cas smiles and presses his lips to the shadowed jaw, the sudden wail of a buzzer slicing through the room.
They fold: arms in to square and three times up the middle, socks paired, denim brushed flat and creaseless. They stand: shoulders pressed together, fingers brushing.