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3. COWBOY SONG

Dean has been quietly convinced that Castiel Novak doesn’t engage in things as petty and human as eating; in the week they’ve been working together, he’s never seen the man with anything even remotely edible - and that includes the coffee he drinks, since it looks like it’s the by-product of road surfacing. No way is that to be considered a foodstuff. He’d figured he must eat something gross, like a mouthful of oatmeal in the morning, and run off that all day like it’s Duracell. It’d at least explain why he’s so damn grouchy most the time.

As such, he forgives himself for staring when Novak scrunches his nose up and take the biggest bite he’s ever seen anyone, himself included, take out of a burger.

And continuing to stare when the man directs his eyes heavenward and makes a noise that could only be described as rapturous.

Once he notices Dean’s attention, he raises an eyebrow in the universal sign for ‘what?’ and keeps chewing.

There’s no way Dean should be finding any of this attractive, but considering how none of his weird interest in Novak makes sense, he’s not entirely shocked to do so.

When Novak lifts his shoulders in a more emphatic ‘what?’, still apparently completely not put off his dinner, Dean shakes himself out of this thought-pattern with a shrug.

“It’s nothing. Just, you’re fulla surprises, you know that? I mean, I was starting to think you just absorbed energy from the sun, but you’re eating that like you found God in it or somethin’.”

Novak gives his a considered nod, and takes a noisy slurp of coke. “I don’t like eating when I’m thinking.”

“What, a sandwich is gonna throw off your train of thoughts?”

“Other way around,” he says, with small, lopsided smile. “Can’t enjoy things properly if I’m puzzling clues out at the same time.”

Dean nods in appreciation. It was pretty obvious to any observer that Novak was an all-in kinda guy when it came to work; it would be interesting to find out if he was the same with all his pleasures.

Nope. Not going down this thought avenue again, at least not for another couple of hours.

When a waiter walks by, Novak flags him up and orders another burger. "Dude, you think you can handle all that cholesterol in one go?"

Novak gives him an irritated look, but deigns not to speak until he's finished chewing. At least the guy's got manners.

Dean finally takes a bite of his own burger, and, okay, it's actually great. Score one for his awesome diner picking, and score two for conning Novak into paying for the whole thing. "So, you just take work breaks to stuff your face sometimes?"

"Yes," he says, and in characteristic fashion doesn't expand on it. It's just as well this isn't a date, given how shoddy a conversationalist Novak is.

Dean's not even halfway through his own meal before Novak's digging into his second, the waiter giving him the exact look Dean's imitating right now. "Jesus, you could give Adam Richmond a run for his money."

"Dean," he says, around a mouthful of fries, decorum momentarily ignored, "Stop talking about people I've never heard of."

"This one I'll let you off on. He's this dude who goes round the states eating stuff, it's pretty great." Sighing that this is the level of conversation he's reduced himself to, Dean figures he might as well keep talking. "I keep saying next holiday I'm gonna do it myself, just drive round checking out stuff like that. It's an age since I left the state, let alone the city."

"Me too," Novak says, after another obnoxiously loud slurp. Is he doing that on purpose? He's gotta be. "I haven't left the state in a very long time."

"You're totally not invited," Dean says. "I'd kill you within the first day." Admittedly, though, it probably wouldn't be that bad - dude's got good taste in music and doesn't spend time criticizing some of Dean's more creative driving in the way Sam would. As long as they never actually stopped anywhere, it'd probably be a great road trip.

Not that he's gonna say that out loud.

"I have to ask," he says eventually, because the silence is starting to bother him and it's been weighing on his mind, and this new mellow Novak might actually answer the question. "Back at the Gallhagers, I got the feeling you were talking from experience."

"Ah," Novak says, putting the burger down and folding his hands. "Yes. I was."

Dean waits, but it looks like he ain't gonna say anything else unprompted. "Mind if I ask who?"

"I mind," says Novak, quickly. He bites his lip, looks down at the table, little furrows forming on his brow. "I'd rather not discuss it."

"This got anything to do with your car thing?" Novak nods, then glumly lifts his burger again, a sure signal he's not down to do more talking right about now. "Man, I get it. My house burned down when I was a kid, still feel uneasy when I see a fire now. Some stuff never leaves you."

He nods again, finishing up his food, and taking a much more polite sip of coke. See, knew he was doing it on purpose. "Thank you for your help today, Dean. I believe tomorrow will shed some real light on our case."

"Just doing my job, dude." As he waves down the waiter, he grins. "You are paying for mine, right?"

* * *

Michael's secretary gives a Novak a knowing look, which automatically bothers Dean, and instantly buzzes through to his boss with a simple "Detectives for you, sir."

Despite the enthusiastic welcome, the guy is still instructs them they're going to have to wait a while, and since Dean just ain't in the mood to get arresty, he nods and agrees. Novak, cold fish as ever, neither sits down nor leans against the wall, standing ram-rod straight like he's been called to attention. Looking around, there's a weird number of people waiting around -- surely the office should have told some of these guys to get bent?

When the man himself finally appears -- smiling and shaking some sharp-looking older guy's hand, and looking, to his eyes, like a massive douche, Novak somehow manages to stand even straighter. Once the goodbyes are done, Dean can see the other marks waiting perk up, hoping they're next, but apparently law-enforcement trumps random guys off the street; Michael rounds on them with that crappy plastic smile and crows "Detectives," cheerfully, ushering them into his office.

When Michael takes a seat, somehow looking very pleased with himself, Dean plonks himself in the chair opposite, no fuss given to formality. Despite there being another chair, Novak elects to stand to his side, hands folded behind his back, and gives Dean a nod that he supposes is meant to direct him to take it from here.

Yeah, sure. It was totally his awesome idea, after all.

"So," Michael begins, leaning back casually. "To what do I owe the pleasure, detective...?"

"Winchester. And this --"

Michael gives him a smarmy little grin, looks towards Novak appraisingly, and says "Ah, we know each other very well."

If he hadn't been paying attention, Dean would have totally missed the way Novak's eye twitches; as it is, he's been spending far too much time staring at the guy's face, trying to decipher what the small movements of his face say emotion-wise, so it's more than apparent to him that the guy's annoyed. Still, he gives a nod and doesn't say anything to the contrary, Michael smiling once more in that grating manner.

Odd as the interaction is, he'll have to think about it later; they came here to see if there's a link between the Mayor's office and Ward's death, not to find out who Novak hangs out with in his spare time. Dean leans forward slightly on the desk, keeping his own diplomatic smile in place, and says "I'm guessing you know why we here?"

"To be honest, detectives, I'm not entirely sure. It's my impression that your colleague here," and he waves a generous hand at Novak, "is only particularly interested in murder cases. Unless he's then, perhaps, branching out?"

Suspiciously, Novak remained silent. The guy gets his hackles up real quick, Dean has noticed, especially in regard to his work ethic. Something about the way Michael speaks is bitingly patronising, so whatever relationship they've got must be pretty antagonistic. When Dean had tried to riff him for his completely single-minded dedication to investigating only certain cases, he'd gotten the full stare down, scary quiet shouting voice thing. But no, apparently the Mayor is above all of this.

Might as well get straight to it. "Actually, we hear about the death of one of your interns; the  name Rachel ring any bells?"

Michael leans slightly further back, steepling his hands. His expression is perfectly sombre; mawkishly so, in fact. His tone is equally faux sad. "That was a terrible, terrible shame. She was a very bright young girl, and we were all very surprised by her actions." Keeping his expression in place, as Michael leans forward, Dean can see a little glint of steel behind the facade. "But, I've already answered several questions about it to police previously. As far as I was aware, the case had been closed. What brings you to here?"

"We got reason to believe that it may have something to do with a different case we're working on; we're just looking into every option. You know this guy," and at this Dean points a thumb towards the standing Novak, who has moved not an inch, "so you probably know that this is the way he does things." He's not looking, but Dean can practically feel the way that Novak's eyebrows raised slightly at that; but hey, if he can use anything about the guy against him he's going to.

Michael's eyes shoot one small, appraising the, toward Novak, who seems to shrink slightly under his gaze. He still says nothing, but does give a brief nod, as though to back up Dean's assertions. The fact that the guy hasn't opened his mouth once since it went into the office is pretty weird, but after a few days working with the guy, weird seems like his modus operandi.

Polished smile back in place, Michael turns back to him. "Well, I am always happy to help our city's great police department in any way I can. But I doubt it would to shed any more light on matters than I was able to with the other detectives."

"Don't worry, we'll be brief. Did you know her pretty well?"

"As well as I know anyone who works in my office. I knew why I hired her; I knew what her strengths in the workplace were; but if you were to ask me about her personal life, I would not be able to answer. She was definitely one of the brightest interns I've had through my office, and she seemed to be very cheerful, and dedicated to her work. If you're going to ask me if her unfortunate death came out of nowhere, then I would have to agree that it did; by all accounts, everything was going wonderfully for her."

At the corner of his eye, he can see Novak flex his arms; he'd consider it just fidgeting, but the timing seems a little odd. "So, no lateness, no drop in her work quality, no unexplained absences, nothing like that?" It's a pretty standard question that you ask people when it comes to cases like this; a lot of the time, even those trying their hardest to hide whatever problems they've got boiling beneath the surface will have a little steam rise out. Dean's sure whoever investigated previously would've asked that, but reading a paper report ain't a substitute for seeing just how Michael answers.

Aw, jeez, he's even agreeing with Novak's methods now.

Michael shakes his head. "No, nothing at all like that. If anything, she was more productive than ever towards the end." Michael swivels his chair slightly to the left, looking toward the wall, fingers still steepled. "It really is such a tragedy," he says, tone such well perfected misery that Dean feels his own hackles rise. It's so obvious that the guy doesn't give a damn about who the hell she was, or why she apparently killed herself, except as to demonstrate himself as a feeling man, as a way to score political points. It pisses him off, in the same way some guys he's worked with in vice act all patronising about some of the poor kids they have to deal with, kids who didn't really have much of a chance, a choice in the way their lives went off the rails; they say the right words, have the right sympathetic expressions, but past that they don't care about the real issues, about actually changing anything.

It makes him pretty dam mad, so he doesn't even bother to reign himself in. "So what, she works here for like a year, and you never even bothered to find anything out about her? No one did? You're seriously telling me that this is some terrible tragedy that happened, that absolutely nobody here saw coming? Bullshit."

Novak tenses up, turning to look down at Dean with an expression he can't entirely decipher; it looks like it should be reprimanding, but there's little glint underneath it, like he's psychically urging Dean to carry on with this admittedly pretty dickish line of questioning. Or maybe he's just imagining it. Michael, on the other hand - while he still has that perfected plastic smarmy little shit grin, the glint of steel he'd seen has morphed into something way more threatening. Still, the guy couldn't give Novak's crazy stare a run for its money even on its mildest setting. "Believe it or not, Winchester, I do actually have a lot of work to attend to, and I speak to a large number of people on a daily basis. Forgive me for not being able to remember every single detail about every single one of them."

Dean almost can't control himself. There's a grin bubbling right up inside him that wants to burst out, because even though they're not getting anywhere with anything that even resembles an investigation, he's got the guy on the ropes, and hell if that don't feel good. They look each other for a moment, before Dean leans back, as though to back off. "Sorry, sorry, I'm sure you know how it is." As platitudes go, it's pretty much the worst he's ever given, but Michael looks a little satisfied. "We think she might have been in some trouble, and sometimes people don't like to say they notice that kind of thing."

Michael manages to look a little intrigued about this. "Honestly, detective, it seemed she had nothing troubling her at all. Ask anyone."

Dean leans in on the desk again slightly, looks towards Novak with faux conspiratorialness, and then looks back to Michael. "The thing is," and he hopes Novak is paying attention here, "we think she was being watched. More than that, we think she knew about it. That ring any bells?"

If he was expecting to see a change in Michael's expression, then he was instantly disappointed. The guys slightly curious expression remained firmly in place. "I'm afraid it doesn't."

"Haven't seen anyone suspicious lurking around? The amount of people in your waiting room, it'd be pretty easy for a guy to come in every day and never speak to you, right?"

A little crack damages the put-on look on Michael's face. "It might surprise you to learn that I do actually speak to every person who visits my office. And while I have several repeat visitors, I'd find it difficult to believe that any one of them were, as you say, 'watching' my intern. I'm certain I would have noticed that."

"Certain, huh?" Dean leans forward further, letting his smile become what he knows is a tinge dangerous, pressing his advantage. "Because, I mean, you don't seem to know very much about Rachel at all, and you worked with her for like, a year. So you're going to tell me that you know the motives of every person you speak to, but you don't know anything about your supposedly wonderful intern? Because something there just don't add up."

It's brief, but because he's watching, Dean sees it; just a tiny, brief, flash of rage on the pompous arse of a Mayor's face. He's about to crow his victory, but Novak suddenly lays a hand on his shoulder, and says, uncharacteristically quietly, "Dean, enough."

It's weird enough to startle him right out of kill-mode.

"Apologies," he says, looking at the Mayor with a blank, inscrutable look upon his face. "We won't monopolise any more of your time." After that he says nothing, and doesn't look to Dean at all, the grip on his shoulder tells him in no uncertain terms that they are leaving, now.

He tries -- and ultimately, fails -- not to grumble as he stands, and doesn't bother to put a hand out for the Mayor to shake. He can't quite keep the distain off his face as he says, "it's been a blast."

He all but storms straight out, frustrated at having been cut down on midstream by frigging Novak and his apparent diplomatic sensibilities, just when he'd really got the guy against a wall. He looks back a moment, to see Novak awkwardly shake the dude's hand, and apologise again. To his surprise, Michael's mask has completely disappeared, leaving him with a face so calculatingly cold that he suddenly understands the need to have so perfect a front in the first place.

"I won't humour this again, Ja-" Novak must make some face, or gesture that Dean can't see, but wherever it is cuts Michael straight off, the detective joining Dean at the door without a further word.

Dean leaves the radio turned down on the way back. He's waiting for the inevitable dressing down by Novak, and he's about ready to give as good as he gets; but the guy says nothing, just looks thoughtfully out.

Eventually, Dean gets bored, pops in a tape, turns the volume up loud, and they both scream along to Immigrant Song on the way back to the station.

* * *

The station and dispatch have their own ringtone - Hawaii 5-O, for enquiring minds - so when someone calls him at two in the freaking morning after a long and annoying day, Dean hits cancel without thinking about it. Whatever it is can wait until the morning.

When it happens for the fourth time, Dean groans, hauls himself up to a sitting position, and tries to rouse himself enough to give this persistent nuisance a verbal beatdown.

What he managed was a sleepy "Fuck off and call in the morning."

When an unfamiliar, urbane voice answers "So this is Dean Winchester," he groans and tries gamely to rub the grit from his eyes, flicking the bedside lamp on. It was probably worth just dealing with whatever it was. "As much as I'd love to call back at a more reasonable hour, this is quite time-sensitive. I believe I have something you may want to collect."

A grin inched it's way across his face when he asked, "This a bar?" and received an affirmative. Had Sammy finally done what he'd spent his entire time at college resisting and finally cut loose? Dean was so proud.

Or he was right up until he could hear a familiar gravelly voice slur "Who're you talking to?" somewhere close to the receiver. Seriously? Seriously?

He groans loudly over the responding "No one, Cassie," from the obviously massively mistaken bartender.

"No, he said emphatically. "No way, I have to spend all day at work with him, that's bad enough. Stick him in a cab if he's a nuisance, hell I'll even pay the fair, but no."

His complaints only earned him a patronising chuckle. "Well, aren't you a charmer? No, you really must come down. I insist."

And this is how Dean, against his better judgement, finds himself at 12 Measures at 2.30 in the freaking morning.

"Double whiskey," he says without preamble to the guy behind the bar, who looks like, dare he think it, a more attractive version of Gordon Ramsey.

He gets a smile practically dripping sark in return, along with an equally loaded "Do you think that's wise?"

"Who cares if it's 'wise'? You're a bartender, serve me."

"A responsible bartender, serving a cop, who'll be driving my friend home. No," he says, popping the cap off a bottle and setting it in front of Dean, "this is all you're getting. Compliments of the house."

Annoyingly, it wasn't a half-bad beer. A look at the taps and fridges revealed further not-half-bad-looking beers, considering the front of the place looked suspiciously like this was the kind of bar where everyone drank imported shit and talked bull about mergers.

"It's from a local microbrewery, based out in the boonies," not-Ramsey explains, wiping down the bar in what looks more like a compulsive action than anything else. He dials up the smile to a level that must have him rolling in tips every night, and offers out the hand not holding the dishrag. "Balthazar, at your service. I, of course, already know who you are."

Dean shakes his hand, if only not to be rude. "Yeah, well, whatever Novak told you's probably a lie. Especially if he told I was a good guy to call when he's drunk off his ass. Where is he, anyway?"

"Ah, yes. I had to leave dear Cassie in the back room to stop a commotion. He's in an... impressive state, shall we say."

Dean wasn't sure he wanted to know what the hell 'impressive' meant in this context. "What happened to 'responsible bartending'? What, he slip by you and stick his head under a tap when you weren't looking?"

"That is, in essence, the jist of it," Balthazar says with a heavy sigh and a 'what can you do?' shrug. "If he'd come to see me whenever he started his bender, he'd just be swimming in root beer, not anything stronger."

"So you're not just his friend in the 'gives good tips' sense?" Dean asks, taking another swig. "Why're you callin' someone else to sort him out?"

Balthazar wipes the bar down again. "I, unfortunately, have a business to attend to. My only other staff member - and his usual other compatriot - is out of town for the next week." He pauses in his wiping to give Dean a considering look. "He also wouldn't shut up about you."

Dean had to consider that Novak's life had to be pretty damn shitty if the number of people who would pick him up if he was blind drunk somewhere totalled two.

Dean had at least three people who would.

(Probably.)

"No family?" he asks, wishing Balthazar had given him the damned whiskey if he was going to start prying into his annoying colleagues life.

"That's rather the reason he's like this, I'm lead to believe. You had a run-in with our illustrious mayor?"

Dean drains the bottle in one at that. Man, that guy was a cast-iron dick. He had, however, been under the impression Novak had been fine with the interview, outside of the part where Dean shouted at him and was all but kicked out of his office. "Yeah, maybe didn't play it as cool as I should've, but what's that got to do with anything? Novak came outta that looking like the patron saint of patience."

"This is speculation," Balthazar says, with a tone that sits in the border between conspiratorial and 'duh', "but I think he may have been upset with baby brother questioning him at all."

"Baby- what?" Dean sits straight up at that, looking around as though something will jump out to make that make sense. "Seriously?"

"Well. Half-brother. Cassie is the only evidence of Daddy ever playing away, and Michael never did like anything that showed up how fucked the 'happy family' is."

That did explain a thing or two - how weirdly nervy the usually cool-as-Siberia detective had been beforehand, the way he'd been pretty urgently shooting Dean looks of 'shut up', the fact he'd been way more apologetic than necessary when shooing Dean out of this office. He hadn't said anything, though, hadn't even bitched Dean out about his technique, had just seemed kinda thoughtful on the way back to the station.

"That doesn't actually explain why he got blind stinking drunk," Dean mutters, absently swirling the one or two drops left in the bottle.

"And sadly I can't elucidate further on it. If you want the full story, ask him. Tomorrow," Balthazar added quickly, "because you won't be getting much sense out of him tonight."

Dean sighed, setting the bottle down and tapping at the bar. It probably was the least he could do to take the guy home. Maybe he'd get brownie points or something. Or maybe Novak'd be so hungover tomorrow he wouldn't come into work, and Dean could do some stuff on this damned case himself.

"Alright," he says, shifting off the bar seat, "I'll take him off your hands." Balthazar nodded to the back room with a knowing grin. "You still didn't explain why you called me, dude," he mutters.

Balthazar's smile gets a little softer. "Simple. He likes you, Dean."

* * *

Novak has his head down on the table, dressed exactly as he was when Dean'd last seen him at the station, down to the dumb Columbo overcoat. Not exactly in the mood for pleasantries - it was still like, nearly 3am, and they both had work tomorrow, and he was still a bit pissed at being called out to help a guy he wasn't even on a first-name basis with, no matter how not-half-bad the free beer was - Dean thumped the table and added an entirely unnecessarily loud "Hey Kerouac, rise and shine!""

Novak shot up like he'd been shocked, eyes darting around the room erratically before finally settling on him. "Oh," he said, slowly, a confused-looking smile slowing inching it's way across his face. From a guy who looked pretty much the same happy or sad, it was really freaking weird. "Hello, Dean."

"Didn't peg you for a drunk," he said wearily, gesturing with his hand for the other man to get up. "Seems like it'd mess with that thinkpan you're so proud of."

Novak drags himself to his feet, heavily leaning on the table, before gamely stumbling over to Dean, chuckling when he trips on his own shoes jostles into him. Up close he smells of the rolling tobacco his college roommate used to smoke and whiskey, but when he tries to say "sorry, sorry," into Dean's ear it ends up being more like talking to his nose. Novak's breath is minty.

Dean needs to stop thinking about shit like this.

"Alright," he starts, using the tone he keeps for unruly kids who think they know better than him, shifting them so Novak's arm is draped over his shoulder. "Let's get you home."

"No thanks," Novak slurs, but doesn't stop walking as Dean directs. They manage to make it out of the bar without incident, Balthazar giving them an altogether too cheery wave considering the time, and he manages to bundle Novak in the back without much hassle. He still has the dumb grin of a drunk on his face, and leans over the bench seat to pat Dean on the arm once he settles into the driver seat which, okay, weird. He so didn't come across as the kind of guy who got touchy-feely when drunk, but he also didn't come across as the kind of guy who got drunk period, so Dean chalks it up to 'weird night'.

"Didn't know you smoked, either," he tries, conversationally.

Novak makes a sort of gurgling, laugh kind of noise. "Don't usually do either, 'cept on special occasions."

"Today's special? Because of your dick mayor brother, huh?" Dean starts the car, pulling out and flicking his eyes up to the review mirror to keep an eye on Novak. To, you know, make sure he wasn't gonna puke in the car. "And how come you never mentioned the family connection? Did you, what, forget it might be important?"

He leans back heavily, staring up at the roof with a put-upon groan. "Don't wanna talk about it."

"Alright," Dean says, passing a hand over his face. It's way to early to be dealing with this guy's cagey bullshit. "What do you wanna talk about? Gonna tell me where we're going, since apparently I'm playing cab driver for you?"

Novak lays a palm across his uptilted face, in a gesture that mirrors Dean's own, and leaves it there. "This was a mistake. Apologies"

"Hey, it wasn't your idea. I'll at least give you a pass for that."

"No, not-" he waves his other arm vaguely. "The drinking was a mistake. Sorry you're left dealing with my," and he takes a huff of breath here, like it's a real effort to talk, and from the way he's slurring it probably is, "inappropriate coping mechanisms."

"Woah, big words from Bukowski there!" Novak gurgles again, but doesn't add anything. "You get like this every time you're getting stonewalled on a case? Because seriously, I did not sign up to deal with you being even weirder than usual." Dean keeps his tone light, but watches in the mirror again for anything out of the detective. He's been around the force long enough to know the dangers of a guy who hits the bottle too hard and too often.

Novak seems to get what he's trying not to say, because he leans forward again, lazy, weary smile still in place. "s'not like that, Dean, it's an... impulse thing. "

"So, what, you're the proverbial pringles tube? Once you pop you just can't stop?"

His head bops up and down in an exaggerated nod. "I ate twenty burgers in a row once," he mumbles with a certain degree of pride.

Dean whistles appreciatively. "Seriously, dude? I gotta say, that's pretty impressive."

Novak's head bops up and down again in agreement.

"What was the occasion then?"

"Oh, no," says Novak, "you're not gonna catch me out like that."

Seriously, how the hell does the guy managed to remain so cagey, despite being so obviously smashed? That's some skill set right there.

"You at least gonna tell me why you didn't say a word to him in there? I mean, you cut me off pretty sharpish, but then you didn't even bitch me out after."

Novak makes that odd, gurgling laugh again. "You did great," he slurs, "it was hilarious. It's been a long time since I've seen someone talk to him like that."

Dean has to raise an eyebrow about. As much as he likes to take the piss out of his brother, he'd pretty much batter anyone who did it for him. Unless, of course, it was about his hair, or his taste in music, or the fact he ate dumb salads. He'd never let someone rag on Sam the way Novak thought it had been funny of him to rag on Michael. "Dude, dick or not, that is your brother we're talking about."

Novak says nothing, for a very long moment, and when Dean looks in the rearview mirror, he can see that the soporific grin has somewhat slipped off his face. "My family's not like yours, Dean. Not the same kind of thing at all." And then, just to drive home the point that the conversation is done, he's slowly minute this himself to be lying flat on the bench seat; the stupid smile is back, even as he covers his face with his arm once more. "I owe you one," he mumbles out, and says nothing more.

* * *

Dean is abruptly awoken the next morning by a crashing noise coming from his bedroom.

It takes him a moment to remember he's not sleeping on the couch because of an argument, and another to remember it's his drunkass colleague banging about like he's just tipped the bed over.

He lies back down. Doesn't matter that time it is, seven, noon, or night, it's still too early to be dealing with this shit.

Novak stumbles out in a flurry, holding up what looks suspiciously like Dean's bedside lamp, sans the shade, in what would be a threatening manner if his hair wasn't all smooshed and sticking up on one side.

Dean groans. "You're replacing that, man."

Novak drops it with a thump, his expression dropping with it. "This isn't my home."

"What twigged you, genius? You point blank refused to tell me where you live, where'd you expect to wake up, a skip?"

He at least has the sense to look a little abashed, if only momentarily. "I'm not sure how this adds up," he says, hands twitching abortively like he wants to rub his face or something.

Dean thinks maybe he should just pull the blanket back over his head and go back to sleep. Or better yet, hop into bed, now that it's free. He's getting a little old to be sleeping on couches.

"Guessing the blind stinking drunk part of last night is still a little fuzzy," he says eventually, stretching and padding over to his coffee maker. No way is he staying awake without at least a litre of java in him,

"Ah," Novak says stonily. "Yes."

"You gonna explain what that was all about? 'Cause, you know, great as it is to know you're capable of loosening up, I kinda would've liked to find that after the case. And preferably not at stupid o'clock on a work night."

Novak looks down at himself, fiddling with his half-open shirt. It looks like he pulled half the buttons off before giving up last night. "Apologies," he says eventually. "Wasn't my intention to trouble you with this."

Dean motions for him to come sit at his little breakfast bar. "Here, just how you like it. Tarmac-thick."

On anyone else that blank look would mean nothing, but Dean could see a hint of a rueful smile, and didn't that tell him he'd been spending far too long staring at the guy's face. Novak plonks himself down and drains his mug by half in one go, humming appreciatively. "Sorry for the lamp, too. Waking in foreign places is... troublesome."

"I'll bet," Dean snorts. "Now come on, don't leave me hanging. What did big bro say yesterday to get you all twisted up?

Novak's head shoots up momentarily at that, but he then gazes into his mug with an expression Dean is pretty damned glad isn't directed at him. "Ah, he says again. "Balthazar."

"Yes, 'ah'," Dean shoots back tersely. "What the hell, man? Were you gonna tell me about the family connection there? Because before you say anything, it is a big deal. How're you meant to go at him objectively?"

Novak actually looks offended at that.

"Believe me," he says, voice fit to burn though metal, "Our relation will not impede me." Then, as if remembering who he was talking to, he dropped his head in his hand and continued entirely more wearily. "Trust me in this, Dean. I won't be further emotionally compromised by his involvement."

"You make yourself sound like a damn Vulcan," Dean mutters to himself, ignoring that Novak will have no clue what he means. "Wait, 'further'?"

At this, Novak leans forward slightly, and gives him a bright-eyed, conspiratorial look. "Michael is lying. Of that, I am beyond certain now."

Ignoring the non-sequitur, Dean asks "What, you find that from the bottom of a bottle last night?"

"Not entirely," he says, a slight flush of embarrassment painting his face. "His behaviour put me in mind of a more difficult time. While everyone else always danced around what was happening, Michael was the only one who ever flat-out lied to me. I still haven't-" he pauses momentarily, empty hand drumming against the counter. "He did so then and does so now. It... got to me."

Okay, Dean could respect what Novak wasn't saying, at least for the minute. "So, Mikey is a big fat liar. But what about?"

Novak absently swirls his remaining coffee around. "Most likely, the fact that Rachel was being watched. Michael is very shrewd, and it's clear she was being monitored even within his office. I'd find it difficult to believe he wasn't aware of it." At this, he takes a thoughtful-looking sip. "The greater question is whether he thought of said observation as benign."

"Why the hell would he let his intern get stalked like that, man? 'Benign' or not, that is so not kosher."

"Likely he thought it a political opponent trying to dig something up on him. Not everyone in the city appreciates his popularity."

"No kidding," added absently, sipping his coffee a little, until his brain caught up. "Wait," he starts, going cold. "How'd you know someone was watching her at the office?"

Novak drops his mug with a clack, looking very much like he had earlier in the week when he'd been doing his Palmer impression. Must be too early for him too, if his poker face wasn't instantly intact.

"Novak," Dean asked, "How? Because I was shooting in the dark with that, and you can't have just guessed it."

"Extrapolated it," he says back blankly, looking resolutely at the wall, but Dean can see how his left hand is twitching, itching to cover the back of his neck.

"No," Dean says, getting up and walking round the counter so Novak's only choice is to look at him or to blatantly snub him. "I know enough of you by now to know you don't extrapolate. Not from just those two things, not so certainly. Ain't that the entire reason I'm on board?"

Novak continues staring straight ahead, like his silence is gonna take back the fact he's obviously messed up somehow in saying this.

Dean leans in, giving the other man no other option than to be looking right at him. "Novak. Castiel. How the hell do you expect me to work with you if you're gonna lie to me?"

That seems to twig him. Dean's noticed it over the past couple days, really. He has absolutely no compunctions about omissions and truthbending, but he can't stand a straight-out lie. Kvetching about Michael confirmed it.

"I didn't mean to lie," he says slowly, meeting Dean's eye. "But I needed to know if we could come to this conclusion without this."

"This?"

"A surveillance log." And it takes pretty much every iota of patience Dean possesses not to shout at or punch the guy, because seriously, what the fuck, why would anyone in their right mind keep evidence that important to themself? "You mustn't think I'm trying to exclude you, Dean," he says hurriedly, as though trying to cover himself, though he makes no motion to do so physically. "But we can't use this without compromising ourselves."

That really does it. "Well fuck you, Castiel! When was I gonna get a chance to decide how 'compromising' whatever it is would be? You keep telling me you need my help, that I need to trust you, and you're giving fuck all trust in return! Am I just here to tick a box for you? Make sure you can carry on with whatever you want without your boss interfering? Because I'm starting to think they're right about you!"

Novak jolts up at that, that diamond-cutting glare focused entirely on him, but Dean's too pissed to be intimidated. "I have my reasons, Winchester."

"Oh, don't pull that shit on me. You wanna work with some patsy who just goes with whatever you say? Find someone else!"

"No," Castiel says sharply, getting up and pacing away. He should look ridiculous, with the hair and the shirt and the fact he's only wearing one sock, but the hard line of his shoulders and the set of his jaw make him anything but. "No," he repeats, "I won't find someone else."

"Something's gotta give then, man, because I won't work blind."

There's a slump to his shoulders, like he knows he's done wrong but isn't quite willing to be contrite yet, and Dean knows he can squeeze a little extra pressure in. "Trust me, Castiel. Let me decide for myself whether it's worth using what you've got or not."

Finally, finally, he nods. "Suppose I owe you that much."

"Damn right you do."

Without looking back, Castiel heads back into Dean's bedroom, probably looking for the missing sock, and Dean knows he's struck a blow for Winchester when he agrees to borrow a shirt.



[2. RAMBLE ON | MASTERPOST | 4. LET IT ROCK ]

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