“We have to stop,” Cas said abruptly. When Dean glanced over at him he was staring out the window. “In there.” He pointed.
Dean didn’t question him, smoothly pulling the Impala into the sprawling parking lot of the woodland Hills Mall, fearing a lecture coming on about his behavior back the bar they just left. But Cas didn’t say anything, looking intently at the building.
When he still didn’t say anything as Dean steered into a nearly empty side lot away from other cars and parked, he cracked his usual ‘what the hell’ expression. That produced nothing and Cas started getting out of the car.
“Cas,” Dean said, turning the key and getting out after him. “What are you doing?”
“We have to go in there. It has stores.”
That was the limit of his explanation, sending Dean’s frustration with the angel a notch higher. “Why?”
Cas turned on him, pausing in his departure. “Dean, it’s Claire’s birthday. I should get her something. A gift.” But then he hesitated, looking confused. His eyes narrowed and his mouth squinched up like it always did when he wasn’t quite sure what he was doing. He muttered, “What should I get her?”
With that he started toward the building. Dean rolled his eyes, leaning back into the car to lock all the doors. He scrutinized the area, making sure there was nothing near and that Baby would be safe. He turned to the mall, looking at it as though it represented a threat to humanity. He trotted after Cas to catch up, wondering why he was so determined to insert himself into Claire’s life when clearly; she didn’t want him there. Dean could easily understand how uncomfortable it was for her, seeing her not-father parading around and thought it might even be detrimental to the kid’s sanity. He thought about some angel possessing his own father and he remembered too well what it was like when Gadreel had taken over Sam.
He shoved that thought aside, and caught up to Cas.
“You couldn’t have parked closer?” Cas said, arms spread in exasperation. He seemed more on edge than usual. Everyone did and that set Dean on edge.
“No,” he growled with a glance back at Baby, and strode a couple steps ahead to lead. He looked over the parking lot, at the cars they walked by, at the people leaving the mall, noting what they were doing and what threat they might pose. They probably didn’t pose any, but it was a rare day anymore when he didn’t look at people as potential monsters. He steered them toward the nearest main entrance, still trying to wrap his head around why they were doing this.
It was late, so a lot of people were leaving. Dean spotted a security camera perched on the corner of the brick building up near the roof, and turned his face away as if he was casually looking out for traffic as they crossed the open lane to the sidewalk. Cas followed behind, talking to himself about what an 18 year old might like.
Dean couldn’t help but smile over it, rubbing his face as they walked by another camera.
Inside, the mall was full of light and the strains of echoing music, some pop song he didn’t recognize, but mostly empty. A couple walked by them on their way out. A few strangling families roamed the broad corridor. Way off in the distance a baby was crying at the top of its little lungs. A few groups of teenagers stood around laughing over something. It was all a part of Americana that he rarely experienced. He didn’t do shopping malls.
There were 20 shops lined up on either side, and more across a big intersection further down, and Cas came to a halt a few steps inside the doors, his eyes searching for the place to go. A pair of giggling girls caught his attention, huddled over a phone as they walked, heads together and oblivious to everything else around them. They seemed about Claire’s age and they drifted into a shoe store. Cas’ face brightened and he started after them.
“Cas,” Dean called after him, then grabbed his coat sleeve to stop him. “No shoes.”
“You don’t get a girl shoes for her 18th birthday, man. Just no.”
“Do I look like I know?” Dean snapped back and then tried to dial it down a little. He nodded to another store up a few. It looked more promising to him at least and way better than shoes. “Try that one.”
The teens coming out of this store were not the cute or cuddly kind. Two of them had piercings just about everywhere a body could be pierced, along with holes in their earlobes that looped around giant gauges and multicolored spiky hair to boot. Goths, or whatever the kids called it these days, Dean supposed and Cas took a step back as they walked by him. He looked doubtfully up at the store logo, scrawled across the doorway. His head tilted to the side and his face scrunched up, a sure sign of a doubly confused angel.
“Why is it call Hot Topic?” he said, squinting as he peered in through the glass. “I don’t see any books or anything indicative of a topic of any sort.” He brightened as he looked a couple stores down. “That’s a book store. I’ll go there.”
“No man. Look Cas, she doesn’t want a book either. Guaranteed. I know I didn’t want any books when I turned 18.”
“Well I imagine her schooling has been lacking and it would be—”
Dean only rolled his eyes and gave him a semi-gentle shove to get him moving. “Give it a shot. We need to get on with this. We’re on the job. Remember?”
That produced a grumpy frown, but Cas turned and strode into the Hot Topic as though he was conquering heaven.
He watched Cas examining the merchandise a moment, a t-shirt, very closely before he set it back down. He’d probably be the last one out. Dean heaved a sigh and after a quick look around, left him to it. The mall was emptying out fast.
The bookstore Cas mentioned had movies and magazines too, so Dean wandered that way. He found a bin of discount dvds near the front with a big $5 sign taped to it. He didn’t have a lot of cash on him and his fake credit card was just about maxed. He reminded himself to talk to Sam about that. Time to defraud VISA again. They made it too easy, especially for Sammy.
He riffled through the dvds, stopping when he ran across a familiar green cover. Caddyshack! He loved this movie, remembering when he and Sammy had watched it one night huddled up under a ratty blanket in some crap motel – it seemed a million years ago – when their dad left them alone to go off on a hunt. Dean stole some popcorn and liquorish from the Gas N Sip just down the block and they’d stayed up til 2 in the morning laughing their asses off.
“We’re closing, Mister.”
Dean came out of his reverie, annoyed the memory was interrupted and on impulse, Caddyshack in hand, headed for the counter. He walked by a pile of $2 books, used ones, and stopped. Lying on top of the heap a green, fat one caught his eye, eyebrows rising at the irony of having an angel next door and a book on the myths of Enochian sitting here. He laughed at that and picked it up, thinking to get it for Sam, but then decided he’d hold onto it for Cas – in case he ended up not getting anything for Claire. Maybe she’d learn a thing or two about her not-Dad, the real Castiel, the angel who’d helped save the world.
He had just enough money for the book, the dvd and a couple of squares of really bad wrapping paper he found next to the register. Turned out the wrapping paper was the single most expensive item, and cleaned him out. While the cashier was rummaging under the counter for a bag, Dean palmed the scotch tape sitting on the counter.
Cas was not waiting and so Dean went to the Hot Topic, shaking his head over Cas’ confusion over the store name. There were still a lot of things he just didn’t get. Cas was inside over by a rack of stuffed animals, two of the same cat in hand, standing there just staring at them. Dean made it in just before the girl, a cute, curvy little dumpling was about to pull the grate down halfway to keep anyone else from getting in. Dean flashed her an appraising look, smiled his most charming smile at her, eyes traveling down and then back up.
“I’m here to rescue you,” he said and she blinked at that until he pointed to Cas. “From him. He’s trying to figure out what to get his daughter, uh, sorta and it doesn’t look like it’s going too well.”
“Right,” she said, smiling up at him. “You got 5 minutes.”
Cas turned when he heard Dean, holding the two cats out at him and Dean was sad to say he recognized them. “Which one?” Cas asked.
Dean wasn’t sure what he was talking about, since they were identical, but he bit anyway. “What’s the difference?”
“Well this one,” and he held up the one in his right hand, “has substantially less hair fiber than this one, but this one’s face is … I don’t know…”
“Grumpier?” Dean said after a look up at the ceiling. “We have to go. Get the furrier one. Come on.”
Cas frowned over that, staring at the two cats a moment while Dean reined in another flash of annoyance. He started for the register, both grumpy cats in hand like he didn’t know he had them both, stopped, went back, debated about it some more and finally put the less furry cat down.
He paid for his prize and they finally made it out of there. Dean flashed a smile at the girl again, ushering Cas out of the store and she wished them a good night, grinning after him.
Cas started off the wrong way while Dean was looking back. “Doors are that way, Cas.”
“I have to wrap this. Isn’t that what you do with gifts? I can’t give it to her out of a store bag, Dean.”
He knew arguing was pointless and that he didn’t have enough wrapping paper for a big stuffed cat. There was a Target down at the other end of the mall so Dean just turned that way. Target usually stayed open later than the rest of the mall. Maybe. He glanced at his watch. Close to 10. He set off and Cas half ran to catch him, looking down at his purchase and asking the whole way through the Mall if Claire would like it. Dean did a pretty good job of lying about that, all the while wishing he’d just shut up about it.
Picking out the bag took more time, having to convince Cas that this kind of bag was different than the plastic one from Hot Topic. Dean found himself explaining gift bags to a celestial being.
“Can we please go now?” he said, almost begging after the 4th bag rejection. He checked his phone. No call from Sam and that fact was starting to work into the worry center of his brain that had his brother’s name carved into it. He pushed thoughts of why Sam maybe hadn’t called out of mind. That list of horrors was pretty long.
Cas took the hint, picked a bag color, a ribbon, and a sheet of tissue paper that clashed with everything. Dean wondered if angels were colorblind. He supposed Cas saw it all in the same way that let him know one cat was less fury than the other.
He made Cas half-jog all the way back through the mall, but they finally made it out of the place. He unlocked Cas’ door for him on his way around the car, making the full circuit around Baby to make sure nothing was amiss. The parking lot was totally deserted now, but Dean kept looking all around anyway, half sorry there wasn’t something there. He was ready for something to jump out at him where he could…
He pushed that thought out of mind too, gritting his teeth as he slid in behind the wheel and started her up.
He jerked the Impala into reverse and floored it. Cas grabbed his parcels and the dash, glaring at him. Tires squealing, Dean left the mall behind, hoping he’d never find himself in one again.
They made it back to the Curtis Motor Court in good time and inside for the big presentation. It went about as Dean expected.