He’s already watched the commercial like six times before he gets what it’s about. It keeps coming on during the breaks in between episodes of the Sunday afternoon M.A.S.H. marathon. Smiling people swinging each other in their arms, looking at each other across tables in coffee shops, curling up together in sock feet on a couch in a perfectly pristine apartment with a lot of light and some ferns. At first he thinks it’s an advertisement for like, that lube that gets warm on its own. But he watches these people smile dopey smiles at each other over yogurt parfaits for the seventh time and it finally hits him: it’s a dating commercial. The logo is a laptop with a heart around it. It’s an online dating commercial.
"You should do that," Sam says, from his chair across the room. He’s looking up from his own laptop with a weird smile on his face, nodding at the television. Dean looks at him and then at the screen. There’s another bland-looking couple clutching each other on a rollercoaster, screaming in delight.
"Pass," Dean says. "I hate those things." The last time he was on a rollercoaster, he’d eaten four churros and a corndog beforehand and ended up chucking his contents behind a bush. Cas had calmly called it a miscalculation. Actually, that memory is not as shitty as it sounds. Cedar Point was expensive and eighty-five degrees in the shade, but it was a good day. Dean spent ten minutes of the afternoon barfing hot dog pieces into a shrub and Cas still let him have pizza for dinner. There are friends and then there is Cas. He zones out for a second until Sam clears his throat.
"I’m not-" Sam says, and puts a hand to his forehead, pained, like Dean is a form of fast-acting sinus congestion. "I’m not talking about the rollercoaster."
"The dating thing?" Dean frowns. "Online dating is for weirdos. Robots. Dudes hanging out in their basements."
"You hang out in your basement."
"I have an air hockey table down there,” Dean says, icily. Sam puts his hands up and goes back to whatever he was doing before- probably taking a practice test again- but after a few minutes he sighs heavily. Dean ignores him. Sam sighs a second time and when Dean glares over at him, he’s shaking his shaggy head slowly, judgmentally, mutely implying that Dean is so unreasonable. “Sounds like you’re losing cabin pressure,” Dean says. “Spit it out.” Sam scowls, but shuts his laptop and faces Dean directly. Okay. Maybe he’s actually serious and not just taking the piss out of Dean for kicks. “What?”
"I wasn’t trying to be a jerk," Sam says. "I just think, you know. It could be good for you."
"You think I have trouble meeting people?" Dean says. He crosses his arms. "I don’t."
"Yeah, meeting people," Sam says, sort of disdainfully, clinically, like meeting people is a condition he’s diagnosing. “But it’s been a while since you, uh, connected with somebody. Right?” Dean smirks and Sam stops. “Don’t look at me like that, I don’t mean connected connected. You are so gross.”
"Digital connections," Dean says, grinning, wiggling his fingers. "Kinky."
"Give me a break," says Sam. He gets up and clomps out of the room and Dean thinks that’s that. Dean goes back to watching Hawkeye and finishing the last inch of his beer, and just when his eyes are starting to slip shut, Sam drops the laptop onto Dean’s delicate and socially important groin area. He totally ignores Dean’s protests in favor of standing over him and pointing his finger into Dean’s face. "It’s easy," Sam says. "It’s normal. And you could meet somebody that you actually have things in common with. Somebody you’d want to talk to."
"I talk to Cas," Dean blurts out. Sam stares at him. Dean doesn’t know why that sentence came out of his mouth, or what the fuck it was supposed to mean. The Cas thing is not something he talks about. Not ever, not like that. It’s kind of a rule. Keeps things simple. "I’ve got, I have friends," Dean says, awkwardly. Sam is giving him the strangest, saddest look now, like Dean is a lost duckling that’s about to get scooped up in Sam’s gigantic hands and put gently into the bathtub. "It’s not a big deal," he says. "I’ll meet somebody. Or I won’t. It’s none of your business."
"For crying out-"
"It’s none of your business," Dean says. He shoves the computer at Sam and stands up and grabs his empty bottle off the coffee table. "You think I can’t- you get a girlfriend and suddenly I’m the sad one? Fine, fuck you." Dean stomps away into the kitchen and throws his bottle into the recycling bin harder than he should have. He thinks about getting another one out of the fridge, but he doesn’t. Instead he goes out the back door and sits on the porch alone for a long time, watching the grass move across the field between their neighbor’s houses, watching bugs drag themselves across the worn old wood of the deck and then flit upwards on tiny wings, blowing out of his sight like dandelion seeds. For no reason he thinks about Cas again, standing barefoot out in the yard, telling Dean not to be such a dick about dandelions, that people make salads and wine out of dandelions, that weed is an arbitrary label and does Dean want to be an enforcer for the pesticide industry or somebody who recognizes the true value of things? For a quiet guy, Cas can talk a lot of shit when he gets going. Dean thinks about flowers and Cas’s feet in the grass and after a while he’s not so mad anymore. Sam’s not wrong. It’s been a long time since he seriously thought about anybody but- yeah, no, stop, do not pass go. He’s not going to screw that up, he’d be better off meeting an internet serial killer than jumping for that ledge and missing it.
When he goes back inside Sam is still sitting in front of the television, angrily watching a documentary on the whaling industry and pretending Dean doesn’t exist. Dean sits next to him on the couch. “Okay,” Dean says. Sam turns his head slowly around.
"Okay," Dean says, and gestures at the laptop still resting on the coffee table. "I could try it."
"Dean," Sam says. His face softens a little. "Forget it. I’m sorry I made you feel-"
"Jesus, I don’t want to write an essay about it," Dean cuts in. "Hand me the damn thing and show me what to do."
"So glad we had this talk," Sam sighs. But he hands it over and opens up a browser for Dean, shows him how to register a username and upload a photo. Picking out a photo actually takes a long time, because there aren’t a lot of pictures of Dean without other people stuck into the frame.
There’s pictures of him and Sam side-by-side in front of the Grand Canyon, at Sam’s undergrad commencement, in front of the grill at Bobby’s old house. And more pictures of Dean with Charlie tucked under his chin or Benny slapping him on the shoulder, pictures of Dean with his face painted for the tourney at Moondor, him drunk off his ass at Ellen’s with Jo throwing popcorn into his open mouth. A couple of nice old pictures of him with their parents that Sam scanned for facebook. There are bad pictures where he has red eyes like he’s possessed by the Tim Curry devil from Legend. And a million shots of him and Cas. Him and Cas at Ellen’s summer barbecues, looking sweaty and buzzed. Him and Cas and Sam working on Bobby’s barn after the tornado passed through three years ago, wearing dorky toolbelts. Him and Cas both purple-faced from a charity pie-eating contest at Cas’s school. Dozens of pictures with his arm slung over Cas’s shoulder, Cas and Sam leaning over Dean, their faces close to the camera. It takes Dean a long time to find a picture that’s just him by himself, one picture of him in the driver’s seat of the Impala with his sunglasses on, laughing. Cas took it, on the way to Ohio last summer. Dean picks that one and Sam gives him a funny look for a minute, but he doesn’t say anything.
"Okay," Dean says. "What am I looking for? Huh." He selects both of the little boxes for seeking women and seeking men. “No point limiting my options.” The page loads for a second, and suddenly there’s a long spread of questions, each with their own little text box for him to write in. Dean scrolls down, and then tilts the screen to show Sam. “This is longer than the fucking GED,” he says.
"It’s a sophisticated algorithm," Sam says with a straight face. Dean wonders if he practiced. Dean grumbles but sits there and reads them one by one.
What do you do for fun? He decides against writing drink beer in my underwear and watch Spike TV, in favor of the much more diplomatic watch movies. He puts something in there about restoring classic cars, which makes him think about road trips, which makes him think about all the diners he’s eaten in, which makes him think about Cas trying every strawberry milkshake in the state and deciding that the one at Patty’s Last Stop was best. Try new things, Dean writes. It’s true. He puts in something else about spending time with friends and then moves along.
What are you most proud of? Dean doesn’t even have to think about that. He’s sitting next to it. The eight-foot monster with the fancy degree, the nice girlfriend, the good life he deserves. Everything Dean’s done to get them this far, he’d do again. Twice if he had to. But he doesn’t know if he can write that shit with Sam sitting there two feet away, so he writes something brief about my family and skips the next one, what would you change if you could go back in time? There’s not really a text box big enough for that clunker of a question.
What is your favorite month of the year? It takes him a second, but there’s not really a contest there. It has to be July, when the yard is usually closed because of the terrible heat, and Cas is out of school and Sam is back from classes, and they spend practically every day laying around eating popsicles and getting drunk at Bobby’s fire pit. Sometimes they load up the car and go camping and Cas does terrible bird calls and burns the marshmallows they were supposed to use for s’mores and lets Dean eat all the Hershey bars. And sometimes if they are all really drunk Dean will play the guitar and between the two of them they’ll try to sing all the parts from Judy Blue Eyes and-
-oh, Dean thinks.
It’s still a formless thought for a second, the first smoke from a green fire. It’s just- it’s so simple, and so huge, and for a second Dean can’t see it, can’t see anything or feel anything except a great wave of something powerful, something that ships must feel when a wave rises. It passes over him and then everything becomes so fucking clear it’s uncanny. Here he is taking some fucked up test for strangers when the correct answer- the A plus, the bonus extra credit- lives across fucking town and Dean’s always been too chickenshit to do anything about it. Is he still? Is he really? Is this going to be it? The moment when he decides there’s really no chance, or- Dean sits there unnaturally stiff and quiet and stares out across the top of the laptop, not really hearing the tv anymore. He doesn’t know how long he does that. Beside him, Sam turns pages in his book. Dean puts the laptop back in the coffee table really carefully, making sure his hands don’t shake.
"I’m gonna, uh," he says, and nods towards the front door. "I gotta get a thing." Sam raises an eyebrow. "A thing," Dean says. "You know."
"Okay." Sam goes back to his book. And Dean tries not to run out of the door and down the driveway. He maintains a steady pace and starts the car and gets down the road and he’s five minutes from Cas’s house before he thinks to actually stop and call him, find out if he’s even at home or if he’s at fucking Home Depot again buying shit for the bees, spending an hour picking out a specific kind of screening that looks like every other fucking piece of screen Dean has ever seen in his life. Dean pulls over and dials and tries to remember that this is not actually an emergency, even if it feels that way. Cas picks up on the third ring.
"Dean," he says. Dean can hear the smile in his voice. "I was going to call you. I found a place that stocks-"
"Can I come over?" Dean interrupts. There’s silence for a second.
"Of course," Cas says.
"You’re home now?" Dean asks. "I’m not interrupting your, uh, your grading or your dinner or whatever?" He feels like he’s babbling. He’s babbling.
"Come over," Cas says. "I’m making lasagna." Dean feels a swell of that huge emotion washing over him again, and he actually has to press a hand over his chest to keep from letting out the huge gulp of air he just took in.
"Be there in five," Dean says. He’s there in three. He has a key to Cas’s apartment but he never needs it because Cas leaves the door unlocked for him, Cas is already waiting in the kitchen in a rumpled-up button down shirt and a pair of worn-out jeans that Dean remembers pouring barbecue sauce onto once by accident. There’s still a faded stain above the knee. Bizarrely, he wants to put his hand over it. Cas opens the fridge and asks if Dean wants a drink and Dean feels like he’s filling up with thoughts and he’s going to barf them out like the corndog. "Can I," he says, and stops, and tries to pull himself the fuck together. "Can I say something?" Cas watches him from around the side of the fridge door, and shuts it again.
"Sure," he says.
"I," Dean starts. It’s a pretty solid beginning and he knows where he wants to end up, but suddenly the fucking middle of this speech is gone and Dean is imitating a goldfish.
"You," Cas says, in echo, and the corner of his mouth lifts up, and yes, he is totally fucking making fun of Dean right now, that asshole. Getting a tiny bit mad makes Dean’s words come flooding back.
"Hey, screw you," Dean says, cheerfully, "I’m trying to say something here."
"Mm-hmm," Cas says, and leans back against the fridge. "You’re trying."
"I, uh, today I kinda, I kinda joined- Sam said I should try this thing, this online dating thing." Cas’s face makes a funny little twitch. "I saw a commercial," Dean says, lamely, and hopes a cartoon anvil will fall on his head and murder him before this conversation gets any worse. It’s awful. Dean doesn’t know what’s happening. Cas is staring at him kind of impassively, the way he stares at people who aren’t Dean, people who try to rope him into conversations about sports or reality television. He’s standing perfectly still. Which means Cas is kind of freaking out, or else he’s in that perfectly calm teacher-taking-charge mode and Dean is going to detention.
"A lot of people do it," Cas says, finally. "It could be good for you."
"That’s what Sam said." Dean grips the side of the counter. "I don’t want it to be, though. I don’t want it to be good for me."
"I don’t think I understand," Cas says.
"I don’t want it to be good for me," Dean says. His face feels hot but his body feels light, like a seed in the wind. Totally weightless, free, not at all terrified anymore. Finally. "You’re good for me.” Cas stares at him and his eyes are bright, soft, like the glow of fireflies. They used to catch them together when they were still almost kids and Dean can remember how they looked between his hands, warm and good, miniature stars that chose to stay on earth and flicker in the tall grass. He knew then, what he felt. But just like the fireflies, he always made himself let it go. Stuff dies when you put it into a jar, Dean knows that. But maybe not this. Maybe not ever. “You’re absolutely perfect for me,” Dean says.
"Dean," Cas says, hesitantly, "you just- today?"
"No," Dean says. He knows how this must sound, like he just fucking figured it out. Well, he kinda did. Christ, he’s a dummy. "Not just today, I mean- yes, today, for once I just thought- but I screw everything up, I make people leave, and you were always- I always said I wasn’t going to mess it up with us, I wasn’t going to wreck it."
"Day one," he says. "That’s when. Day one." And then, because Cas still hasn’t really said anything, Dean’s stomach starts to knot itself up. He feels kind of dizzy. "I’m sorry." Cas’s eyes narrow a little. "Man, I know you don’t- I mean, if you don’t-" Dean inhales, hard. "I’m sorry. I’m dropping this on you and you don’t need-" he babbles, and then Cas is coming forward to grab him by the front of his shirt and kiss him until he shuts the fuck up. "Oh Jesus," Dean says, when they break apart for a second. Cas’s mouth is reddening and his hands are knotted in Dean’s shirt like he’s hanging off a cliff. He looks almost as wide-eyed and hysterical as Dean feels. There is nothing happening in Dean’s brain: it’s white noise and static and the sound of loose change being shaken in coffee cans. "Holy crap," Dean says, and pulls Cas in again by the back of his neck. Dean starts out in charge and then finds himself backed into the fridge while Cas opens his mouth and sucks the curve of Dean’s bottom lip, atomically vaporizes Dean’s top ten hits from his sexual history without unbuttoning anyone’s shirt. It is not quite how Dean expected- or feared- this would go. "What the fuck,” Dean murmurs, cupping Cas’s face with one hand so he can kiss up and down the other side of his face, under his eyes, along his cheekbones, while Cas shuts his eyes and sighs like’s falling apart. “What the fuck was I waiting for?”
"I don’t know," Cas says. "I don’t know."
"Why didn’t you ever-"
"Why didn’t you?” Cas says.
"Fair," Dean says, and kisses down Cas’s neck. "Did you think I wouldn’t- it wouldn’t have changed things," Dean says. "Between us. Even if I didn’t."
"I know," Cas says. He pulls back and smiles at Dean. His cheeks are kind of pink. "I like that about you."
"Oh yeah?" Dean preens. "What else?"
"Everything," Cas says, and Dean knows that’s fucking ridiculous, nobody could like everything about him, he’s a mess, but somehow the way Cas says it is like- it’s like stuffing wool in the crack under a door. For a second Dean can’t feel the wind creeping in, for a second he’s warm all over. Safe.
The oven timer goes off.
"You gotta-" Dean says, but doesn’t let go. "You ought to get that."
"Yeah," Cas says, and tilts his face up and kisses Dean again, hauls him closer and then lets him go. His palms skate over Dean’s chest a little, still. Hovering to touch. "I’m gonna- lasagna," he says. Between the two of them they manage to find Cas’s potholders- dorky potholders with kitchen herbs printed on them- and get dinner out of the oven and onto a cooling rack. When Cas isn’t holding a casserole dish full of boiling tomato lava anymore, Dean takes the potholders out of his hands and kisses him some more, because why the fuck not, he’s been not doing this for years and it feels like a giant waste. But then Cas slides his leg between Dean’s and things start to shift, suddenly Dean is very hard and also very aware of the fact that fifteen minutes ago Castiel did not even actually concretely know that Dean has been dementedly obsessed with him for the last fifteen years. Dean sighs and takes Cas gently by both arms and pries him off, holds him a couple inches away.
"I wanna do this right," Dean says. Cas’s eyes go a little feral, and whoa has he misunderstood, because his hands are now wrapping around Dean’s belt buckle. "Cas, whoa, I- oh God, shit, fuck yes- I mean no, Cas I think- I want to do this right, goddamit.” And Cas gets it then, lets go of him and tilts his head curiously. “We should- shouldn’t we like-“
"Get to know each other?" Cas says, dryly.
"Jerkoff," Dean says, and runs his thumb along Cas’s cheek. Cas smiles, kind of goofily. "I want to make this good for you. Do things the real way, take you out, make you feel, I don’t know. Special. Right?"
"Dean," Cas says. "You make everyone feel special. Do you not realize this about yourself?"
"Okay," Cas says. "We can do it right, if you want." He uses air-quotes around right like a fucking alien and Dean’s heart throbs in his chest a little, adoringly. Cas points at the lasagna. “Here. Dinner date. You can pull my chair out for me if you feel like it.”
"Yeah," Dean says. "Cool."
"I should inform you," Cas says, getting plates out of the cupboard, "I’m a sure thing."
They skip dessert.
Dean wakes up later with Cas in his arms, draped across him like a heavy rug, his face stuck into Dean’s chest next to the armpit and his rucked-up hair tickling Dean’s nose. Dean holds onto him and watches morning light climb up the window frame. He feels brave, amazingly so, like he could fight a bear or climb into a burning building to save a basket of cats. He ought to play the lottery. He’s woken up next to Cas before, in a tent or a cabin, watched his sleeping face from the other side of an air mattress or across a tangle of sleeping bags and blankets, wondering if that was the closest he was ever going to get. If he’d break the happy spell, the easy balance they had, by rolling closer. He could have had this, he could have had this for years instead of hours by now. Cas is right. There’s no more fucking time to waste. When Cas’s alarm clock goes off- disturbingly early- Dean rolls him onto his back and sucks small wet circles down his neck and chest, smushes their faces together and kisses Cas behind the ear, on the forehead, everywhere he hasn’t yet. Cas groans and holds on and doesn’t even open his eyes until the snooze timer goes off again and Dean watches him shift immediately from yes-good-more to late-for-work. Cas takes a five-minute shower and kisses Dean and gets dressed and kisses Dean again and then runs out the door with wet hair.
Dean putters around Cas’s apartment and picks his clothes up from various rooms and puts them back on in reverse order. He eats a bowl of Cas’s healthy cereal. It’s disgusting. And finally he locks up and drives home. He has time to change clothes and make some eggs and toast before he heads to Bobby’s.
Sam is sitting at the kitchen table when Dean comes in, cutting a banana into what looks like a bowl of cardboard. It’s the same brand of gross hay-based breakfast chunks as Cas keeps. Those two nerds probably compare grocery lists. He can easily imagine them at the co-op together, arguing over buckwheat contents and free-range corn byproduct. When Dean comes back to earth he finds Sam raising his eyebrows at him.
"Morning," Dean says, awkwardly, like that’s somehow a lie.
"A thing," Sam says. "You had to get a thing."
"For twelve hours," Sam says, and Dean flushes. But then Sam just smiles and shakes his head and goes back to cutting up his fruit. "Wow," says Sam. "Fucking finally." Dean goes cold all over, and then boiling hot.
"You knew," he hisses.
"Everyone knew," says Sam.
"When I brought Jess to that picnic in June, she asked me what your husband’s name was," says Sam.
"Oh," says Dean. He frowns. "Then why did you- the online dating thing?"
"I don’t know," says Sam. He grins. "Maybe because I’m a dick?"
He laughs out loud and Dean grabs the banana peel away from him and rubs it into his face and Sam is still laughing hysterically when Dean lets go and stomps upstairs to change out of yesterday’s clothes. He takes ten minutes picking out which grody old ringer t-shirt he’s going to wear because his eyes keep unfocusing and his hands feel clammy and his heart is going stupidly fast. He doesn’t make a second breakfast after all, because apparently he’s already stuffed with butterflies. Instead of doing that he decides he’s going to check his facebook and see if Charlie put up any more pictures from last weekend. But there’s still a tab open with that dating site profile on it. Dean only answered like five questions and forgot to put down his age, but he’s already got three messages. He’s going to delete the damn thing in a minute, but he opens them anyway, figuring they’ll be good for a laugh. The first one just says u like dick i got dic 4 u and Dean deletes that one right off. He’s sent better sexts by pocket dial. Some people have no sense of pride in their work. The next one is a woman who runs an animal shelter; no thanks, Dean would never want to live in a halfway house for sad pooping dogs with those shame collars on.
The third one is from only fifteen minutes ago: I’d like to get to know you. Grammar is not especially important to Dean, but he can appreciate the effort. The message is from a brand-new profile. The picture is a guy’s face with dark hair around it, but it’s kind of blurry, like it was taken with a shitty old cameraphone in a bathroom stall. He’s only answered one question. Out of curiosity, Dean reads it.
What are you looking for, the question says, and underneath it, somebody’s just written, Dean. Dean’s cheeks go bright red, he can feel it. Somebody is fooling around at work, apparently. Somebody who buys terrible cereal and actually- actually loves Dean, actually wants him. He said so last night, over and over. Dean feels nervous and excited, caught with a secret, like a kid passing notes. He feels amazing.
There’s a little button under the message asking, would you like to make a connection?
So Dean presses send.