Castiel stared down at his work feeling slightly nauseous. The lines, the shading, the light, it was all perfect, a perfect representation of what he saw before him. His crystalline eyes rose and settled again on the window and its view. That scene had been under his laser-like focus for the past hour or so. The paper under his hands could have been a picture of his surroundings (with a few computerized style changes, he supposed, pixels had much greater power than pencil), yet his work was, again, a complete failure.
Why, he asked himself, why can I only capture!?! Why can’t I create?
This was the question that had been haunting Castiel for the past semester. As an art major, he should be able to create, not just recreate. He should be able to capture motion - capture emotion - instead of just following the lines set before him. Like a computer, he thought bitterly, like a robot following its program. Perhaps he should have gone into Web Design instead.
Castiel sighed softly and folded his sketchbook closed, packing it and his now dulled pencil in his bag. He had utterly wasted the hour he had before his next class which was (of course) Figure Drawing I. Now, the last thing he wanted to do in light of his present failure was to sit in a room with a group of students who had mastered what he could not. The worst part was the praise of his teacher. Failed author Mr. Chuck Shurley held strongly the belief that each of his students had a special talent - a unique skill that made his or her art personal. Michael was honored for his strong, purposeful lines, Luci for his command of light, and Balthazar for his complete disregard of established style. Castiel could easily see all of those traits as strengths - even Balthazar’s favorite pastime of explaining why Monet was the antichrist and then "improving" his work was at least passionate - while his own art was simply 3D made 2D and nothing more. Why then did Mr. Shurley insist on featuring his work above his peers in each of the art shows funded by the school art department? “Flawless attention detail, stunning work,” the professor had beamed at him each and every time Castiel had protested the public attention. “You deserve to be honored for this, Cas, this is some God given talent. Though I would like to think I had a hand in some of it.” Of course, if Chuck had possessed any modicum of credit Castiel would have signed up for Figure Drawing II with him the next semester.
Grabbing his tan, shabby trench coat in one hand and slinging his bag over his shoulder with the other, Castiel rushed out of his dorm into the hallway beyond. He had been so caught up in the subtleties of his bedroom window that he hadn’t noticed that the beginning of his class had come and gone. Luckily, his dorm building was only a five minute walk (three minute light jog) to his classroom, and he was sure the doting Chuck wouldn’t mind him a few minutes late.
The cold wind bit into Castiel’s exposed face and combed through his dark hair as he stepped outside into the early autumn chill. He quickly pulled his coat over the strap of his messenger bag before adjusting his tie and beginning the downhill jog that would lead him to his last class of the day. It was held near the edge of campus in an old storage building turned classroom. The administration had decided to save money by denying the growing art program a new building; converting the warehouse-like space into a passable art studio cost the school much less.
As Castiel approached the large barn studio he slowed from his trot into a determined and steady walk. Only slightly out of breath, he slid open the metal door and froze solid in the relative warmth of the room ahead.
Dean Winchester was about to fall asleep. Honestly, it was no surprise; after working all night at the diner and then only catching a few hours before he had to get up and drive Sam to school, Dean more than deserved a good night’s sleep. And he would have returned to the apartment to rest up after dropping off his younger brother, but of course Bobby had called him in to work in the shop. Dean, trying not to make a habit of letting down his unofficial father, had wearily obliged. But after a few hours sweating under some glorified chunks of metal, Dean was ready for a hot shower and a week of sleep, the latter of which had been (and always would be) denied to him. And all of this on the day he started his newest job: a nude model for a bunch of spoiled college kids.
Not all spoiled, he quickly admonished, remembering the faces of the young artists he’d met as he first entered the strange studio. Many of them looked almost as tired as he had been this morning; they didn't even waste energy staring at the man in the bathrobe while setting up their easels. School was tough and tuition was hell. He knew that much from experience with Sammy.
Dean refocused his gaze at the empty seat in front of him (no one wanted to look right in the face of their first nude model) and tried to concentrated on his breathing.
Breathe. Breathing. These kids are pretty good I bet. Sammy’s taking an art class, isn’t he. Bet he’d love this stuff. Nerd. Wonder if I could get him in touch with the professor of one of the students. He needs a good role model. Someone to help him get into a good college.
Shit. I wonder if they saw that? God, they’re paying me to be still. Don’t move. Concentrate.
I’m gonna need to pick Sam up right after this.
No, he’s getting a ride home from Jess, that’s right. Think.
I should call Jo and ask her to cover my shift tonight. Then maybe I can spend some time with Sammy. Take him out to a movie. Kid works too hard.
Think, calm, breathe.
This is your rest.
Five minutes later Dean was both seeing and not seeing the light navy thread of the vacant chair before him. Nowhere near sleep (but certainly not exactly awake), Dean Winchester existed in a plane above himself, almost hypnotized. And what was it they said about hypnotization, that it was as good as hours of sleep? Well, if that was true, then this was the best job that Dean had ever taken.
He didn’t notice when the door to the studio opened, he didn’t even blink when a draft of cold air forced goosebumps along his thighs and up his arms. Nor was he phased when a student with ruffled hair and a backwards tie stumbled forward into the art room, prompting all of the occupants to switch their gazes from his naked body to the frazzled newcomer. Dean barely even registered that a tan trench coat was thrown over the chair before him and a slight, well-dressed man was lowering himself into it. Only after the student had grabbed a pencil from the bag he had deposited next to the recently empty chair and straightened up, his eyes meeting his model’s, did Dean return to Earth.
Castiel had no will to move, even with the wind at his back doing its best to push him through the door. Before him, naked for all but a golden pendant hung with a black cord around his neck, was the most, well, the most aesthetically pleasing man Castiel had ever seen. Tanned and toned - even in the beginning of October? - the man sitting on the low wooden stool in the middle of a circle of students was wholly focused on the single free seat in the room, reserved for Castiel through the process of elimination.
Mr. Shurley grabbed Castiel’s arm and pulled him softly into the studio, shutting the door against the elements. He stumbled slightly and Chuck reached out again to steady him, pulling Castiel’s attention away from golden god before him.
“Cas, go on to your seat, there,” he breathed quickly, the caricature of a teacher trying to maintain order and concentration in a room of students meant to be working. “Glad you could make it to our first day with the model,” he continued both quietly and excitedly as he guided Castiel to his station, the other artists returning to their canvases. Castiel noticed the model in various stages of recreation on the pages of his peers before turning to Mr. Shurley as his teacher finished with a murmured, “Can’t wait to see what you do with this one, Cas.”
Castiel removed his jacket and tossed it carelessly over the back of his chair. He normal sat closer to the door, but Naomi had nabbed his spot, no doubt not wishing to look into at a naked man’s face day after day. From her new perspective, Naomi would be drawing a beautiful picture of the model’s left ear and ass. This seat-stealing was probably one of her worst decisions of the semester; Naomi was the best with eyes, using them to insert life into her subjects. He supposed that working with a real person instead of mannequins and photographs would seem too personal for her professional manner. Castiel sighed, low and dark like his mood after any conversation with his drawing teacher. He sat carefully down into the seat that would be his for the next week and reached down into his bag to grab a fresh pencil and his favorite eraser before straightening up to look directly into the face of his newest challenge.
The eyes of his model widened as Castiel gazed into their light green depths. Naomi had most definitely made a mistake in not facing this man. His face was the most gorgeous part of him. He had light brown hair - almost blond and lightly tufted - matched with bright green eyes, flecked with brown. The hard line of his nose and his soft, freckled cheek bones paired with the strong brow, and cleft chin underneath contrastingly sweet, full lips made him visibly, artistically, mathematically perfect; each line and feature of the man’s face was set into the proportions determined to be ‘ideal’ (though by whom Castiel did not know). More importantly, he was an ideal model for their beginning class; his contradicting features offered something new for any one of the students, meanwhile challenging them by forcing them into unfamiliar territory. For example, Castiel could see now the trouble freeform Gabriel would have with the definite arch of the jawline. Anna would probably overuse the darkness of his eyes and forget to bring forth the obvious light that shone from under the dark brows. Zach - the aging ‘adult-learner’ who somehow seemed to think himself above his classmates - would try to pigeonhole the man into his manly, muscular form and purposefully understate the plushness of his lips and wide wonder of his eyes- a grave mistake. Wonder. The model was fixing Castiel with an incredulous, wonder-filled, wide-eyed stare that sent tremors down his spine. Ignoring these unpleasant shivers, Castiel moved his eyes away from his face and began to appreciate the limbs and torso he found attached.
Immediately, Castiel found his eyes drawn to a tattoo on the subject’s left chest, covering his heart. It was a black five-pointed star surrounded by a circle of waving sunbeams, slightly faded with time. Overshadowed by this conspicuous mark were a number of small scars pebbling his sun-darkened skin, lightened and raised along the torso and arms. Peppered among these was a continuation of the freckles Castiel had found on the cheeks.
“Five minutes left with this pose,” called Mr. Shurley, interrupting the steady scribbling of students on their pads. Castiel mental shook himself; he had already wasted half of his time by being late and was determined now to make at least some progress before the first break. Readjusting the pencil in his strong, practiced fingers, Castiel began sketching the preliminary lines of the subject - the left leg bent at a severe angle, the other stretched out in front of him, toes pointed to the ceiling. The left arm was resting on the bent leg, hand curled slightly around the knee, while the right hung loosely from its socket, fingers continuing the line toward the ground. His torso was slightly twisted, the back arched gracefully, but he had turned his face back towards the direction of his left leg. His gaze followed the line his shoulder down to where Castiel was now sitting, frantically adding in some dimension to his original outlines.
With only three minutes remaining, Castiel leaned back in his chair and compared his work to the original. His quick sketch consisted only of a few darkened lines and some shading, but it was recognizable as the body of the figure before him. Only his face was left empty now: a white expanse lying between the delicate swoops of the hair and the darkened shadow of the neck.
Castiel sighed. Two and a half minutes was far too short to even begin to attempt the credit such a face was due. Resigning himself to his second failure of the day, Castiel studied the model’s features, praying for some sort of inspiration. Drawn to the remembered wonder in the emerald eyes of his subject, Castiel found his emotion.
He almost couldn’t place it, hidden so well in the strong set of the jaw.
...Scared? You are, aren’t you? This is your first day doing this. This is your first time as a model? You’re scared of the class. You’re scared of ME?
Such knowledge had not been shared with the class, and Castiel would have never guessed it from his experience with the other models he had seen in the hallways, grabbing drinks from the soda machine during their short breaks. Older, hardened models were generally given to beginning classes while the new faces were trained using the advanced (and more mature) classes. Still, Castiel could see the words of the confession drawn on him, like Chuck had attacked his face with a typewriter before the start of class. It was there in the slight furrow of the brow, the thick shadow under the lip, the twinging flare of the nose and the microscopic thinning of the neck (how had he not noticed that part before?). But most of all, it was there was a certain... something set around and inside his eyes that screamed apprehension, and Castiel had caught it, like a flighty bird held hostage between the paper and the tip of his pencil. Now, the challenge was set in the pushing of this quality from flesh into page. Gritting his teeth, Castiel began to work his translation.
For the first time that day, Dean Winchester was ashamed of being naked.
This should be normal; most people aren’t super thrilled to disrobe in front of a bunch of strangers. But Dean had entered the arrangement with few trepidations. He was cool with his body, it wasn’t as though he was unattractive - he had a long line of overeager one-night stands to assure himself of that. No, most of his flaws were hidden under his skin, and it wasn’t as though the artists could see those.
But the second Dean’s gaze had met the blue eyes of the man that was now working his way up and down Dean’s exposed body, Dean felt as naked as he actually was. It was those eyes. The intense azure skating over his skin seemed as though the student was undressing him with his baby blues, though Dean was already nude. What was this aspiring artist trying to strip away, then? Dean could feel the burn of the man’s scrutiny - hotter than the fires of Hell - peeling off layers of skin, muscle, and bone until what could only be his soul was left. Dean’s soul: ugh, that was the one thing he had not agreed to lay bare.
Dean struggled to maintain his still form as student began his work, marking the paper with long, clean strokes, glancing up at his model every few seconds. This was Hell. Before this man, Dean had just happened to be naked in a classroom of students (and was getting paid for it). Now, Dean felt totally powerless - pinned to his seat by the stranger across from him. No amount of money was worth this torment.
What was the man drawing? What could he see under all of his layers of skin?
With only a few minutes left until his first break, Dean watched as the student sat back to appraise his work so far. He seemed disappointed with the progress, squinting his eyes and turning his head slightly as he fixed his art with the same intensity that had previously assaulted Dean. Letting out an audible sigh, the still-ruffled stranger lifted his concentration once more to Dean’s face.
If Dean had felt those eyes piercing his soul before, it was nothing - absolutely nothing - compared to the sensation Dean was experiencing now. Dean felt dissected. Piece by piece, this man was pulling him apart, finding secrets between his sections. If the eyes were the window to the soul, then the artist had broken through the glass and walked right in, finding a home in the space between his pupils and frontal lobe. It was wholly unfair, as the blue studying his face seemed to be a two-way mirror; he could look out while Dean was unable to see in. Mysterious dark-haired stranger with an eagle eye and a trenchcoat? Dean should probably be afraid of getting mugged. Fighting the urge to turn away or even close his eyes, Dean gritted his teeth and hoped his face wouldn’t betray his churning gut and sudden, damn it if he would ever say it aloud, fear.
At the break Dean finally felt free. Still, there was a level of shock that continued to rock through his body. As he grabbed his robe and quickly pulled the soft grey fabric over his nakedness, his traitorous hands shook, betraying the shuddering that hadn’t yet left from under his skin. He hadn’t expected his job to be anything like this. Nudity was okay. Attractive strangers with wind blown sex-hair eye-raping him was not.
The teacher had told him at the beginning that he should feel free to walk around and observe his students work between poses. Dean hadn’t had the desire to do so before; he wasn’t very keen to see how a group of strangers would interpret his naked body. But the experience with the blue-eyed student, while disconcerting, had awoken his curiosity. Perhaps he could see on the paper exactly what had been extracted.
Dean stepped around the circle and studied the different angles the students had seen. Some were still finishing up, a line here or there. One student - a short, golden-haired man with an eternal smirk - was doggedly trying to perfect his left heel. Dean didn’t like his work; his body looked too smooth, weak and doughy with softened edges and imperfections ignored. The artist, suddenly satisfied, signed his work with a quick flourish in the left-hand corner and bent into his bag to pull out a packet of Skittles. He tore the package open with his teeth and spat the corner of wrapping onto the tiled floor between himself and the student next to him. Dean looked at this large, black, bald-headed man now staring disdainfully at the first students trash. Dean would not admit intimidation to anyone, not even Sam (though it seemed a moot point; the majority of his secrets seemed no longer safe). Though, intimidation in this situation could be allowed. The second student had drawn Dean like he was something to be squashed, a disgusting bug. The drawn looked to Dean as though someone had injected a brittleness into his structure, a thin exoskeleton that would make a satisfying crunch under boot.
Moving on from what he had darkly determined to be a thinly disguised threat, Dean stalked toward his goal. Just as he was about to see what the front of the canvas held, the artist it belonged to set down his pencil and stood up, turning to face Dean and hitting him yet again with sharp edge of his gaze.
Castiel was almost done when Mr. Shurley called time, allowing the model to break from his position and grab his robe. He almost fled from the circle formed by the easels and their respective students, turning quickly away from Castiel and his gaze.
Castiel watched him feign interest in the art of his peers, carefully working his way around the outer ring of chairs, peering over their shoulders at the papers that still held their attention. Castiel pretended to join them. He didn’t feel the model would be comfortable with his continued observation, not after the those tense five minutes. He felt somewhat nervous at the idea of the model seeing his art. He didn’t want the man to know how much Castiel had seen, how much he had been able to guess, not when he had finally succeeded. There was more than graphite on his paper this time, and after only five minutes of work. Castiel could see the fear behind the lines of the eyes, the fluttering of his heart behind the tattoo, the tense muscles under the skin; the marks had captured the essence of the man. Castiel was finally proud of his art, but it did not seem appropriate to have been able to work so intimately with a complete stranger.
The model was about to reach Castiel when he decided to act. Setting his pencil firmly on the easel and standing sharply, Castiel turned to look at the man behind him.
There was no response. The man looking back at him didn’t speak, just stood there stonily - shocked into stillness. Before the silence could become too awkward, Castiel extended his hand.
“My name is Castiel.”
It almost was awkward, and Castiel began to regret his decision, but then the man finally acted, taking his hand and shaking it firmly. “Dean Winchester.”
He had a gruff, low voice that matched his strong jaw and tight grip. Castiel let go of Dean’s hand and offered him a smile. Castiel supposed that it would be best to try to be at least friendly after having seen Dean naked.
“It is nice to meet you, Dean,” Castiel said, trying to sound sincere. He wasn’t sure he had managed it, as Dean glanced down, breaking the eye contact and shuffled his bare feet slightly. Castiel was suddenly struck by Dean’s continued lack of clothing; his robe was tied loosely around his waist and it created a low ‘v’ low on his chest. How would it feel, Castiel wondered, to move his arms around Dean’s waist, place a palm on his tattooed chest, thread his fingers through his hair, grab his ass and-
No, that was not appropriate, not allowed. Where had those thoughts even come from? This was meant to be a professional relationship, and Castiel was determined that it would remain that way. He could not ruin this opportunity, lose the one inspiration he had found. Realising that the silence was again becoming awkward, Castiel tried again.
“Have you been doing this job long?”
Dean looked up at Castiel’s face and began to blush, lips pressing together as he swallowed nervously. “Uh, this is actually my first day.”
So Castiel had been right. It really wasn’t surprising, though; Dean had already told Castiel this and Castiel somehow didn’t doubt his ability to read Dean. Now that he was seeing him in action, Castiel could see that Dean was an open book. He put even more of his language in his motion and subtle vocal lifts then he did in his facial expression.
Castiel watched as Dean glanced over his shoulder toward the canvas and easel, so recently abandoned. Steeling himself against the inevitable, Castiel decided to take preliminary action.
“Would you like to see what I have been working on?”
Dean blushed again, more strongly this time. “Uh, yeah, sure, why not?” It wasn’t a question, Castiel could tell that. Still, there was a level of curiosity behind Dean’s statement that caused a corner of his mouth to twitch. Dean was such an interesting subject. All of his mannerisms were coming together to evolve Castiel’s view of Dean as a person - he was guarded yet open, gruff and kind, awkward but still sure of himself. It seemed as though Castiel had only seen a tiny piece of the man through his pose. All in all, Castiel was enthralled. Dean was a paradox, a problem that Castiel would need more than five minutes to solve.
Dean sidestepped the artist (Castiel?) and gazed down at the canvas. He hadn’t expected the student to allow him to see the work, not after that protective stance, deep voice, and abrupt handshake. But then, Castiel (that really was a strange name) didn’t really seem to be able to follow normal social cues - that much was obvious. Dean wasn’t sure he would ever be able to fully anticipate the actions of Cas.
Finally able to behold his goal, Dean approached the chair and looked down into his own face. It was like looking into a mirror. He saw the strength of his limbs, the muscled form of his shoulders and smooth lines of his legs. But, most astonishing was his own face on the white paper. He could see the fear behind his eyes, the trepidation and nervous panic he had been feeling at the time. It wasn’t perfect, only a sketch, yet Dean saw himself recreated on the page. Cas had built his form piece by piece and then - somehow - he had breathed his soul in. It was worse than disconcerting, it was damn right scary. What kind of man could see that in a stranger? And, more importantly, what could he see now?
“Uh, that’s good. That looks good. Thanks.” Dean barely knew what he was saying. He had to get out of the room, get home and forget the day had ever happened. How had he thought this would be a good idea? Fucking idiot. You don’t just get naked in a room of college kids and expect good things to happen. He was quitting, definitely. No amount of money was worth the level of creepy he had found in this freaking warehouse studio.
Dean found his eyes meeting Cas’s. Damn man looked concerned. Suddenly, Cas was growing taller. Or was Dean falling? He couldn’t tell, the ringing in his ears made it too hard to think. Dean watched as Cas flung out an arm and gripped his shoulder, fingers tight around the muscles under the robe. Through the thick fabric, Dean could feel a burn like a brand where Cas’s hand was, trying to keep him from falling. It wasn’t enough though, the black around the sides of his vision was closing in. Dean closed his eyes as the Earth swallowed him whole.
“Dean? Are you well? Dean.”