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Death and Taxes

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Prologue

This is a story of a man named Castiel Novak and his wristwatch. He was a man of infinite numbers, endless calculations, and remarkably few words, though his wristwatch said even less. Every weekday for 12 years, he would brush each of his 32 teeth 76 times - 38 times back and forth, and 38 times up and down. Every weekday for 12 years, he would put on a slightly ill-fitting suit and trench coat. He would tie his blue tie in a single Windsor knot instead of the double, thereby saving up to 43 seconds. His wristwatch thought the single knot made his neck look fat, but said nothing. Every weekday for 12 years, he would barely catch the 8:17 bus, though his wristwatch would delight in the feeling of the wind rushing over its face. And every weekday for 12 years, Castiel would review 7.134 tax files as a senior agent for the Internal Revenue Service.

Every morning, a coworker would ask him a difficult multiplication question that he only needed 10 seconds to solve without a calculator. Every lunch would be exactly 45.7 minutes. Every coffee break was timed precisely by his wristwatch to be 4.3 minutes. Beyond that, Castiel lived a life of solitude. He would walk home alone, eat alone, and at exactly 11:13 every night, he would go to bed alone, placing his wristwatch to rest on the nightstand beside him.

That was, of course, before Thursday.

On Thursday, Castiel’s wristwatch changed everything.

Chapter 1

If one had asked Castiel, he would have said that this particular Thursday was exactly like all the Thursdays prior. And he began it the same way he always did…

“Hello?” He stopped brushing his teeth, realizing now that the male voice he was hearing was definitely not his own. When nothing happened, he resumed brushing. He only had 16 brushes to go.

He began it the same way he always did. When others’ minds would …

There was obviously someone talking, but he didn’t know who. “Hello? Is someone there?” He looked at his toothbrush as if that was the cause and shook it against his ear. Hesitantly, he resumed and watched his reflection in the mirror.

When others’ minds would fantasize about their upcoming day, or even try to grip onto the final moments of their dreams, Castiel just counted brushstrokes.

He stopped again, spitting out the toothpaste and putting the brush on the sink. He turned around, thinking that the voice must be coming from behind. “Alright, who just said ‘Castiel just counted brushstrokes’? And how do you know I’m counting brushstrokes?” There was no reply. “Hello?”

Leaving his cramped bathroom, he walked to his closet, donning his outfit for the day - suit, tie, trench coat. As he began to tie his tie, though, the voice returned once more.

It was remarkable how the simple, modest …

As he stopped tying, the voice abruptly stopped. He resumed tying again. He didn’t have much time to lose, even knowing that the voice would probably resume narrating. He already took long enough brushing his teeth with his many pauses. His tie was actually done backwards, but the narration distracted him from that fact.

It was remarkable how the simple, modest elements of his life, so often taken for granted would become the catalyst for an entirely new life.

Trying to ignore the voice, he rushed to get out of his apartment and to work. He was out the door with an apple in his mouth with just seconds off his normal routine. He ran briskly for the bus as usual, but the voice started up again just as he began to cross the crosswalk.

Castiel ran for the bus. His stiff leather shoes made a terrible squeaking sound as they flexed against the asphalt.

He stopped in the middle of the crosswalk, picked his foot up and placed it down. Like the narrator said, his shoe made an unpleasant squeak. It wasn’t noticeable until the voice pointed it out. He wondered if it would bother him for the rest of the day. He was about to do the same motion with his other foot when he heard the sound of his bus departing. Trying to wave to get the bus driver to stop didn’t work. The voice came back.

And though this was an extraordinary day - a day to be remembered for the rest of his life - he just thought it was a Thursday.

***

Being an IRS agent wasn’t fun, but it paid the bills and he was good at it. Unlike his usual days of crunching numbers and looking through multiple forms, today was different. The voice he heard was a constant intrusion and his job gave him no distraction from it. It narrated every single thing he did as he did them. It left him frazzled and he stumbled through his work. Coworkers tried to ask him questions, but he couldn’t concentrate on them. He was asked to multiply 67 times 452, but got it wrong since he couldn’t calculate the numbers with the voice speaking over his thoughts. Thinking solitude in filing was the best course of action, he made his way to the 12th floor.

He was given 10 minutes of quiet bliss until he began to search for files. The voice began to describe his actions - better than he ever could - so he had to stop. He must have stood there for another 10 minutes in order to prevent the voice from speaking.

“Dude, I just totally caught some insurance adjuster claiming his jet ski was a work vehicle. What an idiot.” Gabriel, another IRS agent and who happened to be his best friend despite how different they were, appeared from around the corner and walked up to him with an amused smile on his face. “I’ll tell you, it’s a shame they don’t give out an auditor of the year award. I would totally win it and wave it in front of Michael’s stupid face.” He must have noticed Castiel’s strange demeanour. “Cas, you okay? You’re acting weirder than usual.”

He looked at him but stayed as still as possible, speaking in hushed tones. “Gabe, I’m being followed.”

He looked behind Castiel and then gave him a blank look. “How are you being followed? We’re the only ones here.”

“It’s by a voice. I’m being followed by a man’s voice.”

“Oooooooooooh!” The inflection in his voice went high as Gabriel thought that Castiel was daydreaming about a man.

He rolled his eyes. “No, not like that.”

“Okay … what is he saying?” Gabriel followed his eyes, which were looking upwards.

“He’s narrating.”

“Cas, you’re not even moving. You’re staring at boxes. What is he narrating?”

“No, I had to stop filing to stop him from talking. Watch. Listen.” He picked up a folder and began to file it into the box in front of him.

The sound the paper made against the folder had the same tone as a wave scraping against sand. And when Castiel thought about it, he listened to enough waves every day to constitute what he imagined to be a deep and endless ocean.

He stopped and the narration stopped with him. He looked at his friend. “Did you hear that?”

Gabriel blinked. “You mean you filing?”

“No, the voice.”

He shook his head. They stared at each other for a moment - Gabriel in confusion and Castiel wondering if the voice would start back up.

“The scary part is that sometimes I do imagine a deep and endless ocean,” he commented, just as the image of the sea popped into his mind.

“What ocean? Dude, what the hell are you talking about?”

“The one made by the sound,” he raised a file but put it back down. He thought about repeating his action, but realized that perhaps he truly was the only one that could hear the voice. “Forget it.”

A secretary came by and dropped off a couple of files. “New audits. Have a good day.”

Gabriel took a look at them as Castiel continued to stare at nothing. He wondered what prompted the narration to start and attempted to do nothing in order to prevent it. Sadly, he knew he had work to do. He looked at the file in his hand and quickly placed it in the box. Thankfully, there was no narration to accompany his swift filing.

“Alright, we have a baker and a securities trader.” Gabriel held up both files - one rather thick and the other rather thin - gave him a look of pity, and spoke again. “Maybe you should take the baker. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Gabriel thrust the thin file in his hands and then left. Castiel rushed through the rest of his filing since it seemed if he was fast enough, the narration wouldn’t start, and was out of the building in less than ten minutes. Usually, he would read through the file at his desk, but since the voice seemed the most active at his workplace, he decided to review the file on his way to the bakery. He silently thanked Gabriel that he was given the thinner file of the two and it worked out in his favour that the time it took to take a bus there was the perfect amount of time to read everything in it.

Stepping off the bus, he breathed out a relieved sigh that the narration hadn’t started since the file room. Perhaps it was just some weird pent up stress and all he needed was a new change in scenery. Walking a block, he found himself in front of the bakery. It was situated on the corner of the street with old brick walls and large windows decorated with flowers. The building was attached to other shops and Castiel guessed the second floor had either apartments or office spaces. He looked at his file once more before entering the bakery. He was looking for the owner, Dean Winchester.

The bell above him chimed as soon as he stepped into the quaint but eclectic shop and he was hit with the aroma of freshly baked goodies. He couldn’t quite pinpoint what just came out of the oven - pies or cookies - but he didn’t let that detract him from the task at hand. He looked around the bakery at the unusual decor and the mish mash of customers. There was a group of teenagers in punk attire studying, a couple of hippie looking types having a loud conversation, one man in a suit working on a laptop, and what appeared to be either a homeless man or a hipster - he couldn’t tell. Objectively speaking, it was a nice, cozy bakery.

He walked up to the counter. There were two people working behind it; one red-haired woman currently restocking a section of the glass case with dainty macarons, and a man with a Led Zeppelin shirt on under an apron working on kneading dough by the ovens. He liked that he could watch baked goods be made in such an open space. The woman saw him first.

“Hi, what can I get for you?” She cheerily asked, flashing a bright smile to him.

He looked down at his file quickly before responding, “I’m looking for a Dean Winchester?”

“Well, we’ve got one right here.” She walked over to the man kneading. “Dean, this dude’s looking for you.”

Dean looked up and smiled at her before looking at him. “Thanks, Charlie.”

The man, Dean, wiped his hands on his apron, which, like his face and hair, was dusted with flour. He had a half tattoo sleeve consisting of a geometric and floral pattern on his upper right arm, bright green eyes, and a smile that rivaled the sun’s brightness. All of that meant that he was unbelievably attractive in Castiel’s eyes. He cleared his throat - he was here to work, not ogle the man.

“What can I do for you?” Dean began, and damn if that voice and smile didn’t make his knees a little bit weak.

He cleared his throat again, finding Dean’s voice was making his throat go dry. “My name is Castiel Novak. I’m an agent for the Internal Revenue Services and …” He was about to continue his spiel when Dean started to curse loudly.

“Fuck! Goddamn it!” His once open and smiling expression turned sour, and his loud swearing caught the attention of everyone in the shop.

“Jesus, Dean.” Charlie whipped her head around. “Did you burn yourself again?”

“Charlie. Take a break.” He spoke in a stern tone.

Surprised, she responded, “What?”

“Can you go sit with Sam for like five minutes?”

She shrugged and walked over to a table, but Castiel didn’t follow where she went. Instead, he spoke, “You should have received a letter and phone call …”

“Fuck you, taxman …”

He sighed internally, and remained stone-faced as his training took over. “I understand …”

“Son of a bitch.” He placed his palms on the counter. “I can’t believe this.”

From the reflection in the display case, Castiel spotted a man smartly dressed in a suit rise from his seat and approach the counter.

“Dean, chill out.” The man spoke and then turned to face Castiel. “Can I …”

“Sam, get back to your table and finish your goddamn sandwich.” Dean looked up with fire in his eyes at the man and it made Castiel wonder if he spoke to his customers like this when angry, but the eye roll and scoff from the tall man revealed a sort of familiarity between the two.

“Is there somewhere else we can speak about this?” He asked calmly as Sam returned to his seat, though he could still feel his eyes on the two of them.

Dean crossed his arms and let out a big huff. “No, we’re gonna talk about this right here.”

He sighed, but resumed in a gentle tone, “Okay. It says in the file that you only paid 78% of your taxes for last year.”

“That’s right.” He looked so proud of this fact it made Castiel confused.

“So you did it on purpose?”

“Yep.” He smirked, indignant.

“So you must have been expecting an audit?”

His expression faltered a little but the smugness returned. “I was expecting a fine or scolding or something.”

“A scolding? This isn’t …” He paused, deciding not to provoke the man even more with a sarcastic quip. “You stole from the government, Mr. Winchester.”

“I didn’t steal from them, okay? I just didn’t pay them entirely.” He smirked again but combined it with a casual shrug, dropping his arms to his sides.

He turned around and went back to the table where he was kneading and resumed as Castiel stared. The baker’s nonchalant attitude was frustrating for the IRS agent. All he wanted to do was to perform the audit and move on with his life.

“Mr. Winchester, you can’t just not pay your taxes. Now I have to go over your last four years of returns.”

“Fine.” He stopped kneading and looked back up at Castiel, brandishing a floury finger at him as he approached him once again. “You know what, no, it’s not fine. I’m a big supporter of fixing potholes and public healthcare. I am more than happy to pay for those taxes. I am not a fan of the government using my taxes for national defense, corporate bailouts, and campaign discretionary funds, and I certainly don’t want my money going to the hypocritical orange bastard who goes golfing every goddamn month instead of running the country, so yeah, I didn’t pay those taxes.”

He wasn’t quite sure what to say to that, but a timer chose to go off at that moment, prompting Dean to go check the oven for whatever fresh batch of goodies were finished. It was also in that moment that the narration decided to return.

It was hard for Castiel to come up with a witty remark to Dean’s explanation. He was distracted by the man’s appearance, which was seemingly out of place in the bakery. He imagined him to be a fashion model or an actor gracing magazines and billboards, and yet, seeing him as a baker seemed to titillate Castiel’s imagination more.

“Not now,” he muttered to himself.

His strong arms …

“What?” Dean turned around.

Kneading dough. His long, muscular bow legs …

He cleared his throat. “Nothing.”

Flexing as he reached to lift bags of flour. Castiel wasn’t prone to fantasies, so he tried his best to remain professional, but of course, failed. His attempts at moving the conversation to auditing Dean’s files was being prevented by his traitorous imagination.

“Is there, uh, a place …”

He couldn’t help but imagine Mr. Winchester stroking the side of Castiel’s face with the soft blade of his fingers.

“Um, an office, maybe …”

He couldn’t help but imagine him taking a shower after a long day, and he couldn’t help but imagine Dean naked, stretched out across his bed. He couldn’t help imagining a soft kiss from those plump, pink lips.

As the narration spoke, he was unconsciously following Dean’s movements as he began to plate some muffins. It wasn’t until Dean was calling out to him that he realized where his gaze fell. He blushed immediately and looked up, jolted back to reality. “Yes?”

“You’re staring at my crotch, dude.”

“Uh, no … of course not,” he spoke, frazzled. “I don’t think I was. I don’t think I would do that.”

Dean raised an eyebrow at him and was about to say something when Castiel piped up, “Sorry, I’m just having some issues today. I’ll be back on, uh, Monday.”

Before the baker could respond, he turned on his heel and walked out the bakery’s doors. The door’s bell chiming seemed to mock his humiliating exit. He was flustered and embarrassed at getting caught accidentally checking the man out. On any other day when he wasn’t working and was more discreet about it, it would probably be fine, but the fact that it was a man he was about to audit wasn’t appropriate whatsoever.

“Come on, Castiel. Get it together.”

He suddenly found himself exasperated standing outside the bakery …

He looked up at the sky and yelled, “Shut up!”

Cursing the heavens in futility.

He sighed in defeat and continued on his way to catch another bus back to his workplace. Thankfully, the narration stopped for a couple of hours and he was able to seem normal to his coworkers for the time being, but apparently, his weird demeanour earlier in the day made an impression on Human Resources.

The HR manager was spewing some strange philosophical query at Castiel that he couldn’t be bothered to listen to, though that was in part due to the narration that had suddenly picked up the moment he sat down in the chair.

Why was Castiel talking to this man? This man was an idiot who used cheesy metaphors and explained that trees were trees. Of course trees were trees - he knew that. What he didn’t know was why he couldn’t shake the smell of brownies from his senses, or why Mr. Winchester had made his fingertips quiver and lips go numb, and …

“Castiel?” He was apparently being called, but it was his watch’s sudden beeping that brought him back to the situation at hand.

“Sorry.” He pressed a couple of buttons, hoping it would stop. “My watch isn’t supposed to be beeping.” He looked at his watch again, frustrated. It looked back, also frustrated.

“Castiel?”

“Right, um…”

“Listen, according to your records, you haven’t taken a vacation in a few years now. Let’s say you take tomorrow off?” He phrased it like a question, but he knew that this was something he couldn’t say no to.

“Sure. That’d be a good idea.” He lied.

It was more or less the end of the day, so he walked out of the office and back to his cubicle, where he sat down for a moment to collect his things, and then left. Thankfully, no one else noticed him leaving or tried to stop him from leaving earlier than usual. He really didn’t want to explain the meeting he was not listening to. He walked to his usual bus stop where a bunch of other men and women in suits were waiting. Not even thirty seconds had passed when his watch began to beep uncontrollably. It was another thing to add to his frustrating day. He simply wanted to crawl into bed and not come out.

Castiel assumed his watch was simply on the fritz and never even considered that it might be trying to tell him something.

He took off his watch and pressed multiple buttons in order to get it to stop, but it already turned a few curious heads wanting to see what was happening.

In fact, as he fiddled with the buttons, he wouldn’t notice a certain handsome baker walking by across the road.

At that his head snapped up to see, just as the narration said, Dean walking on the other side of the street towards some unknown destination. He no longer donned the flour stained t-shirt and ripped jeans, but dressed smartly in a leather jacket and pants. Castiel wondered where he was going, and what he was doing downtown, but the jarring beeping brought him back to the issue in his hand. No amount of button pushing would stop it.

Castiel had never once paid attention to his watch, other than to find out the time and the lack of attention drove his watch crazy, so on this particular Thursday evening as he waited for the bus, his watch suddenly stopped.

He blinked at his now silent and powerless watch. He stared it at for a moment, and then it reset, blinking 12:00 incessantly. He asked to the crowd, “Does anyone have the time?”

The man in front of him turned around and said, “Yeah, it’s 5:28.”

“Thanks,” he replied as he set the new time on his watch.

Thus Castiel’s watch thrust him into the mercy of fate’s path. Little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result … in his imminent death.

Chapter Text

Before he could stop himself, he looked up into the sky and exclaimed, “Wait, what? What?” The bus he was waiting for soon arrived, but it didn’t stop him from shouting at the air, “Hey! Hello? Did you say … my imminent death?” He caught the looks of many bystanders and even the bus driver. “Excuse me! When? How imminent?”

The bus driver interrupted his line of questioning by posing his own question, “You getting on or what?”

He looked frantically at the bus driver, but nodded quickly. He got on and found an empty seat where he sat, unmoving, but staring at his watch. Of course the voice stopped the moment he had questions. He desperately needed to freak out, but he couldn’t do it in such a public space. Most of the people who were waiting at the stop with him had migrated to different spots, not wanting to sit beside the weirdo yelling at the sky about his imminent death. He tried analyzing what the voice said. His watch put him on fate’s path? Setting his watch meant he was going to die? Feeling as if an anxiety attack was coming, he closed his eyes and took in deep breaths, posing difficult multiplication questions to himself as a distraction. It seemed to work for the rest of the bus ride, and it helped him keep his composure up until he walked through the door of his apartment.

“Okay, where are you?” He dropped his suitcase and flung his coat onto the sofa, barreling towards the bathroom - where it all started.

He wasn’t sure what he was looking for - a speaker, perhaps - but he looked through every nook and cranny for the source of the voice. He even tried brushing his teeth again, but even that didn’t work. Frustrated, he returned to his bedroom, hoping for some answers.

“I heard you! You said, ‘would result in his imminent death!’” He began to pick up things to try to force the voice to talk. “Come on! ‘Castiel picked up his pillow and threw it across the room!’” He tried a different approach. “‘Castiel took his lamp and shook it for no apparent reason!’” “‘Castiel dropped the lamp and it smashed to pieces!’ Come on! Talk! Say something!” He yelled before collapsing into his bed. “Please,” he croaked, his voice small. “Say something.”

***

The next day he cleaned up the mess he caused and made an appointment with any psychiatrist that was available. He wasn’t particularly fond of psychiatrists, but he had no one else to turn to. He explained his story to the doctor and she came up with a diagnosis immediately.

“I’m afraid what you’re describing is schizophrenia,” the psychiatrist revealed.

“No, no. It’s not schizophrenia,” he tried to explain. “I hear a voice, but it’s not telling me to do anything. It’s telling me what I’ve already done in great detail.”

She rebutted. “Mr. Novak, you have a voice speaking to you. That is schizophrenia.”

“No, not to me,” he repeated. “About me. I’m somehow involved in some sort of story, as if I’m this character in my own life, but I only hear it occasionally. It comes and goes. The issue is that I’m only hearing parts of it and I need to figure out the other missing parts before it’s too late.”

She looked at him incredulously. “Before the story ends with your death.” She gave him a look when he nodded. “Mr. Novak, I’d hate to sound like a broken record…”

He interrupted before she could say the S-word again. “Okay, hypothetically, what if what I said was true. What if I was living out this story, what would you suggest that I do? Besides the logical conclusion of taking medication.”

She regarded him for a moment, and he held in his breath hoping that she would try and go along with what he was saying. “I suppose I would send you to see someone who knows about literature.”

“Okay.” He nodded. He could work with that.

As he left, the psychiatrist warned that if the voice in his head told him to buy a gun, he should probably call her immediately.

***

Following the psychiatrist's advice, he found himself poised in front of a closed door with a worn out plaque. He did a little research later that morning and came across a name. Thankfully, he was able to make an appointment for the afternoon with a literature expert. He was nearly late, too, for a freshman came up to him thinking he was an econ professor and asked for directions to a room he’d never been in and in a building he’s never heard of. He looked at the plaque again, and then knocked on Professor Singer’s door. An older man opened the door. He had a gruff appearance and was slightly shorter than him. He was about to say hello when the man spoke first.

“So you’re the gentleman who called me about the narrator.”

“Yes.”

“This narrator says you’re gonna die.”

He wondered if he should have made a move to walk into the office to talk about this. “Yes.”

“How long has he given you to live?”

“I don’t know.”

Professor Singer smirked and moved away from the door, letting him in. He took a seat as his desk, which was situated next to the door even though the office was spacious enough for two couches. “Dramatic irony. It’ll screw you over every time. So are you crazy, or what?”

“I’m sorry?” He stepped in the room, and the smell of years worth of stale coffee hit him dramatically. Books were strewn everywhere - on the tables, couches, bookshelves, and windows. Papers were equally unorganized in the same fashion. He wasn’t sure where to sit, so he stood by the doorway.

He ignored Castiel. “How long have you been an accountant?”

“Not an accountant. I’m an IRS agent,” he corrected.

“Married?”

“No.”

“Ever?”

He shifted. “Engaged to an auditor. He left me for a banker.”

“That’s heartbreaking. Sorry,” he responded emotionless and without any sympathy - clearly he wanted to get to know him as efficiently as possible. “Live alone?”

“Yes.”

“Pets?”

“No.”

“Friends?”

“Gabriel, at work, but otherwise, no.”

“I see.” He examined him. “This narrator. What does he sound like. Is he familiar? Someone you know?”

Castiel shook his head.

“So this man, the voice, said you’re gonna die?”

“Yes.”

“And you believed him.” He said it more as a statement than a question.

“He’d been right with everything else.”

“Everything?” A brow raised was the first real expression of emotion from the professor.

“Pretty much.”

“Pretty much?”

“He said I’m going to die. I really want to believe that it’s not going to happen.”

He let out a breath. “Mr. Novak, I gotta tell you. Frankly, there doesn’t seem to be much to narrate. There doesn’t seem to be a single literary thing about you, so I want you to write down everything you hear and come back to me in two weeks. Maybe we can figure something out.”

“I can barely remember it all. I just remember ‘little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would lead to his imminent death.’”

Professor Singer stilled. “Did you just say ‘little did he know?’”

Castiel nodded.

“I’ve written papers on ‘little did he know.’ I used to teach a class, an entire seminar on ‘little did he know.’” He shook his head and scoffed. “Son of a bitch. ‘Little does he know’ means there’s something you don’t know. You can’t not know something unless...” He paused to look at the calendar pinned to his wall. “I want you to come back Monday. 9:45.”

“Ten seconds ago, you said to come back to you in two weeks.”

“It’s been a revealing ten seconds, Castiel. And don’t forget,” he paused, “imminent. You could be dead in two weeks time. You could be dead by Monday, in fact, but if you say that this story has just started, I think you could hold out till Monday.”

After saying goodbye, he got back onto the bus. He was thinking about his dinner when the voice suddenly returned. Thankfully, he remembered he stuck a legal pad in his briefcase and put Professor Singer’s advice to write things down to use. The voice spoke a bit too fast for him to write, though.

Castiel was deep in thought. For a few brief moments from Jamieson Boulevard to First Avenue, all the calculations, all the rules, and all the prevision of his life just faded away. How perfect then, that in this space, Dean Winchester would appear.

His head snapped up to see Dean board the bus. Dean was walking towards the back of the bus looking for a seat when they suddenly made eye contact. He stopped in his tracks, and though it seemed as if he wanted to return to the front, a few burly men blocked his path. He stood just a few feet away from Castiel and just inches away from an empty seat in front of him.

He suddenly heard himself speak. “Hi.”

Dean stared him down. “Hi.”

A sudden jolt made Dean fall into the open seat in front of Castiel.

“Um. How are you?” He asked as Dean regained his bearings.

Dean fixed his shirt and frowned at him. “I’m lousy. I’m being audited.”

He looked away briefly. “Of course.”

Dean added, “By a real creep, too.”

He turned a hint of pink. “I owe you an apology. IRS agents are given rigorous aptitude tests before working. Unfortunately for you, my people skills are rusty, so I apologize. I o-ogled you.” He stammered. “Sorry.”

Dean blinked, but his shoulders relaxed slightly. “Okay. Apology accepted, but only because you stammered.” A small smirk appeared in the corner of his lips.

He wasn’t sure what to say next. “So you’re a frequenter of public transit, too?”

“No, I’m just late to my brother’s weekly dinner.” He leaned back in his seat. “I thought I was meeting him at his office, but turns out I was wrong. So here I am on the bus to his place.”

“You must be close to have weekly dinners.”

“Well,” he smiled as he looked out the window, “He gets to eat free at my bakery pretty much every day, so a weekly dinner basically covers the cost for that. I mean, he’s a lawyer, so I don’t know why I’m giving him free food anyways. He could totally afford to buy everything at my shop.”

He remembered a very tall man in a suit. “This wouldn’t have been the same man that tried to defend me the first time we spoke?”

“And then I yelled at him to finish his sandwich?” He chuckled. “Yep, that’s him. I’m surprised you remember.”

“He stood out like a sore thumb.” He mumbled to himself, but Dean clearly heard as he began to laugh.

“Yeah, I do have an eclectic mix of customers, and it doesn’t help that he’s a giant moose.”

He wasn’t sure why Dean was having this conversation with him, but it was nice. Castiel nervously made small talk, and congratulated himself for doing well up to that point.

He blurted out, “You have very straight teeth.”

Until he said that.

Dean took a moment to register what he said, but chuckled. “Thanks. They’re real.”

Even though Dean seemed to take that odd compliment well, Castiel quickly calculated the odds of making a further ass of himself in ratio to the amount of time he stayed to chat. He decided the best course of action was to end the conversation right now. Luckily, the bus was slowing down as it approached its next stop.

“This is my stop. I should go.” He picked up his briefcase and smiled a shy smile to Dean before departing the bus. “See you soon.”

He was elated and surprised by his somewhat flirtatious encounter with Mr. Winchester. So elated that he exited the bus a good twenty four blocks too early and would now have to walk the rest of the way.

He sighed in defeat when he realized that the narrator was right, and so he began his walk. That night he went to bed with thoughts of Dean and hopes of Professor Singer figuring out a solution for his narrator come Monday morning. From their first meeting, he wasn't sure what to expect from him but at least he didn't suggest that he had schizophrenia.

***

On Monday, Castiel completed his normal morning routine without any narration in his head, even as he counted his brush strokes and the number of steps he took to get to the bus stop. He eventually found himself inside Professor Singer’s office. The professor was lounging around on one of his couches watching some sort of literature television show on his TV that was somehow mounted on the very packed bookshelf. It looked as if it was precariously sitting on the edge of the shelf, with only a few books stabilizing it.

“Mr. Novak, please come in,” he said as he turned off his TV. “Looks like the narrator hasn't killed you yet.”

“No, not yet.”

“Good, great. Have a seat.” Professor Singer pulled out a clipboard with something written on it. “Over the weekend, I've devised a test of 23 questions which I think might help uncover more about this narrator. Now these may seem silly but your sincerity is important.”

“Okay.”

“So we know it's a man's voice, it's modern, it's in English, and I'm assuming the author has a cursory knowledge of the city. So question 1.” He looked up at him. “Has anyone recently left any gifts outside your home? Gum, money, a large wooden horse?”

He furrowed his brow, wondering if he heard him correctly. “I'm sorry?”

“Just answer the question.”

“No.”

“Do you find yourself inclined to solve murder mysteries in large luxurious homes to which you may or may not have been invited?”

He swallowed a confusing question that bubbled out of his mouth. Instead, he shook his head.

“Alright. On a scale of 1 to 10 what would you consider the likelihood you might be assassinated?” He was serious.

The questions were getting more and more ridiculous by the second and he wasn't sure that he could take this, especially not knowing when he's going to die. Time was tantamount in this situation. “Assassinated?” Professor Singer nodded. “I have no idea.”

“Okay. Let me rephrase. Are you the king of anything? King of the lanes at the local bowling alley? King of the trolls?”

“King of the trolls?” He questioned, nearly scoffing in the man’s face.

“Yes. A clandestine land found underneath your floorboards.”

“No. That's ridiculous.”

“Agreed, but let's start with ridiculous and work our way backwards. It's easier to get rid of the ridiculous genres and come up with the most logical one for the story.” He returned to his clipboard.

“I am 100% certain that we can skip anything that is related to science fiction or fantasy, Professor Singer.”

He interrupted. “Please, call me Bobby.”

“Okay, Bobby. What do these questions have to do with anything?”

“The only way to find out what story you're in is to determine what stories you're not in. Weird as it may seem, I've just ruled out half of Greek literature, 7 fairy tales, and determined conclusively that you are not King Hamlet, Scout Finch, Miss Marple, Frankenstein's monster, or a Golem. Aren't you relieved to know that you're not a Golem?”

“I suppose so.”

“Alright, then just answer the rest of the questions.” He looked down at his clipboard. “Any magic? Magical powers, magical lamp?”

Castiel sighed, realizing now that it was going to be a long day and he really should have packed a lunch. They continued on with the questions, but at least they became more and more sane the further they got down the list.

“What's your favorite word?”

“Assbutt.”

“Assbutt?” He raised a brow but didn’t comment further. “Do you aspire to anything?”

“No.”

“Conquer Russia? Win a whistling contest?”

“No.”

“Castiel, you must have some ambition, some underlying dream. Think.”

“I've always wanted my life to be a bit more … interesting. Musical, maybe. I've always wanted to learn how to play the guitar.”

“Alright, last question. What’s your secret? What’s something no one knows about you?”

“Well, um.” He paused. “I count things.”

“Castiel.” He looked at him. “Anyone who’s anyone can tell you count things. Why do you count things?”

He thought about it for a moment. “I don’t know. Sometime it makes me feel better, sometimes it makes me feel like I have control.”

The professor nodded. “Okay. The last thing to determine is whether you're in a comedy or a tragedy. In a tragedy, you die, and in a comedy, you get hitched. Most common heroes fall in love with people introduced after the story has begun.” He looked up at Castiel. “And in a tragedy, well, it usually has someone hating the hero, though I can’t imagine anyone hating you.”

“I’m an IRS agent, everyone hates me,” he countered.

“Have you met anyone recently who might loathe the very core of you?”

He didn’t have to think twice. “I just started auditing a man who swore at me the moment we met. He’s a baker.”

“What’s he like?”

“He’s, well, he’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen, and he hates me because I’m auditing him. Even the narrator knows he’s absolutely beautiful.” He sighed forlornly.

Bobby smirked. “Well, that sounds like a comedy. Try and develop that.”

His watch suddenly beeped, signalling it was time for him to leave for his appointment with the very man he was alluding to. “I have to go. I, uh, have to meet the baker.”

“Let me know if the plot thickens, Mr. Novak.”

Chapter Text

On the bus ride over to the bakery, Castiel took out a small notebook and a pen and opened it up to a spot with two blank pages. He titled one page as “comedy” and the other as “tragedy.” He wasn’t quite sure if this was the correct approach to take, and frankly, he felt silly having to record this. He wasn’t sure his life was interesting enough to even be a comedy or a tragedy.

Stepping into the aromatic shop, he immediately found Dean behind the counter helping a customer. He looked around the bakery and noticed a few of the same characters as the first time he walked inside. There was Dean’s brother, Sam, sitting in the same spot dipping what looked like a grilled cheese sandwich in some tomato soup. Eventually, the customer stepped aside and Dean and Castiel made eye contact. He waved. Dean ignored him. He added one mark to the tragedy side of his notebook.

“Hello, Mr. Novak. You’re here early,” Dean said, walking away from him and towards one of the ovens, pulling out a pan of freshly baked banana bread. “Must have a lot of people to extort.”

“No, just you.” He marked that as a comedy when the baker chuckled. “So, it should only take the day to make sure 22 percent is all you owe.”

“Well, I won’t be paying no matter the percentage, Mr. Novak.” He emphasized his last name as he began cutting slices into the bread and plating them.

“You know, you can call me Castiel.”

“Yeah, I know, but I don’t want to.” He sneered, prompting him to add another mark to the tragedy side. Dean noticed. “What are you marking?”

He shut his book quickly and stuffed it in his pocket. “Oh, nothing. Um, why don’t we start with your backup documents and the receipts for the past three years?”

Dean raised a perfect brow at him but motioned with his head for him to follow. “Alright, come on.”

He led Castiel up the back stairs to an upstairs area where extra supplies were stored, alongside a little rest area that had a table and a chair.

“You can sit there. Let me go grab the stuff.” He observed as Dean walked through another door, and from the very quick peek, it looked like the door led to a separate apartment.

Castiel thought that it was convenient living above the place of one’s employment. Not only that, but Dean lived atop a bakery. He wondered if Dean was ever late for work, or if he ever went hungry.

He let out an annoyed groan before remembering what Bobby said - try and write down what the voice was saying. When he finished writing the last few words, the door to the apartment closed and Dean came back with a very disorganized box, placing it on the table. Castiel put the notepad away and examined the box’s contents.

“What’s this?” Everything was so haphazardly thrown in that he wasn’t sure that he was looking at receipts.

“My tax files.” He teased a smirk.

“You keep your files like this?” He didn’t want to judge, but he knew it was going to be a mess to sort through.

The smirk widened. “No, actually I’m really organized. There were labeled file folders and everything. I dumped them in this box just to screw with you. Have fun, taxman.” He winked before walking back downstairs.

After taking a moment to digest that, he took off his coat and carefully laid it over the back of his chair. He sat down and stared at the box for a few moments before diving in. He spent hours going over the pile, making sure everything was correct. Eventually he came upon a receipt with numbers he couldn’t distinguish. He went downstairs and saw that Dean was chatting up a customer.

“Mr. Winchester, can I just ask you a question about this receipt?” He spoke loud enough for him and his companion to hear, but they both ignored him. He mentally made a note to add a tally to the tragedy page.

“Just, uh, wondering if this three is a five?” He tried going at it again, but nothing. He wasn’t sure if he should continue standing there or not, especially since a few people were now staring at him. He decided he’d make his way back upstairs and ask later.

“Hey, Castiel, right?” Sam came up from behind just before he placed his foot on the first step, grabbing his attention, and offering his hand to shake.

“Yes, you must be Sam. Dean mentioned you.” Castiel shook his hand.

“Did he?” He glanced as his brother quickly and then returned his attention back. “Did you need help with anything?”

“I just wanted to clear this up.” He handed the receipt to him and pointed with his pen to the number in question. “Is that a three or a five?”

He watched him closely as Sam squinted his eyes. “God, my brother’s writing is terrible. But … that’s definitely a five.”

“Okay, great. Thank you.” He gave him a polite smile.

Sam gave him a sympathetic look. “Don’t mind my brother. He’s just going through … a lot of personal things right now. He’s not usually this rude.”

“That’s alright, there’s no need to defend his actions. I am an IRS agent. People aren’t usually excited to see me anyways.” He shrugged and began to walk up the stairs. “Anyway, back to work.”

He ended up making a bit of a dent in looking through Dean’s files. It was a task sorting it in the first place, and when he was finally able to find a steady rhythm, he looked outside and noticed it was dark out. His watch told him closing time was in ten minutes. Carefully storing the papers away, he took his coat, picked up his briefcase, and climbed the 23 steps down past the heavily postered wall to where Dean was pulling something out of the oven.

It was during closing time that Castiel could count the twelve tables and forty-eight empty chairs cleared of all the patrons. Even Sam, the seemingly nicer brother who he foolishly thought would still be in the cafe, was gone.

He wanted to take out his notepad to write that down, but Dean suddenly took notice of his presence. “Want a slice of pie?”

He shook his head. “Thank you, but no.”

“Come on, it’s warm and the crust is perfect. It’s fresh out of the oven.” He smiled softly and held the pie towards an exhausted Castiel.

“No, I don’t like pie.” He neared the counter.

Dean paused, lowering it, and examining him. “You don’t like pie? What the fuck’s wrong with you?”

“I, uh, I don’t know.” Though, the first thing that came to mind was, “I have a man’s voice narrating my actions.”

“Everybody loves pie!” He exclaimed wildly.

“No, I know.” He shrugged.

Dean leaned in and whispered conspiratorially. “Didn’t your mom ever make you pie?”

“No, my mother didn’t bake. The only pie I ever had was store bought.” He explained, tiredly.

“What about birthday cake?”

“Store bought.”

“Breakfast muffins?”

“Store bought. Thawed in the oven or the toaster. Whatever was convenient.”

“Bake sale brownies?”

“Went to a private school. No bake sales.”

“That’s tragic.” He shook his head before laughing. “You know, that’s probably what turned you into an evil government drone.”

Castiel wanted nothing more but to capture Dean’s laugh in a photograph. He knew this moment would end soon, so he thought of a witty response.

“No, actually, it’s because I was kidnapped by rogue accountants as a teenager. That’s why I dress like one.” He smiled.

That seemed to do it, and Dean threw his head back and laughed. It was a beautiful sight. He desperately tried to save this moment in his mind.

As his laugh died down, Dean watched him before taking a knife to the pie and cutting a slice, plating it, taking a small piece off with a fork, and literally shoving it under Castiel’s nose. He could only think of his tiny notebook shoved in his pocket, one page filled with 7 tallies under comedy, and 112 tallies under tragedy.

Dean sighed, nudging it closer to his mouth. “Come on, eat it.”

His eyes flickered down to the steaming pie, the smell of the browned sugar mixed with the apples tickling his nose. He really wanted to eat it, but instead he said, “No, I really can’t.”

“Cas, it was a really awful day.” He looked at him with a soft expression on his face, but Castiel focused on the nickname and made a mental note to add a tally to the comedy page. “I know, I made sure of it.” He chuckled. “So just one bite?”

He took the fork from him, their fingers brushing as he did so. He opened his mouth and stuck the piece of pie in. He chewed slowly, relishing the textures and the flavours of the cinnamon and apple together. The crust was wonderfully sugared, with enough flakiness to make his knees weak. He didn’t notice the happy sigh he let out until he opened his eyes to see Dean’s satisfied grin.

“This is really good.”

“Thanks.” He motioned to the tables. “Wanna sit?”

“Sure.”

Dean handed him the plate and he chose a table to sit at as the baker brought over the rest of the pie plus a plate for himself. Working on his own slice, he watched as Dean cut one for himself, scooping out a large piece onto his plate.

He decided to fill the silence. “So when did you decide to become a baker?”

“In college. It started after a really bad breakup, and I mean, really bad. Things thrown at heads bad. It helped me forget about it. I kept baking when my classmates and I had to participate in these study sessions. Sometimes they’d be all-nighters, but I’d bake so no one would go hungry while we studied. I would bake whenever I didn’t have class and then bring ‘em to the study groups and people loved them.” He ate and spoke at the same time. “I made cookies, brownies, and pie, man, I made a lot of pie, and everyone would eat and be happy and study harder and do better on the tests. I started looking for better recipes when more and more people started to come, but guess what happened?”

“What?” He asked, mid-bite.

“Well, Cas, at the end of the semester, I had 30 study partners, 9 journals filled with recipes, and a D+ average.” He sighed, but leaned in. “So I dropped out and opened this bakery. Made pie, brownies, and whatever else you can imagine. You like it?”

“I do,” he sincerely responded.

“I’m glad.”

They stared at each other for a moment. Dean’s mouth parted slightly and Castiel’s finger twitched. His watch looked on.

“Thank you for forcing me to eat a slice.”

“You’re welcome.” Dean smiled again, making Castiel’s heart ache a little.

He stood up slowly. “I should go. Thank you, again, for the pie.”

Dean stood up as well but walked determinedly towards behind the counter with the rest of the pie in hand. “Why don’t you take it home?”

“Oh, no. I really can’t.”

Dean ignored his protests, even as he handed the box in his direction.

He took a step back. “No, really, please. I can’t.”

“You can’t?” He looked at him, confused.

“I would like to, I really would, but I can’t. It, um, it constitutes a gift.” He explained quickly. “Actually, I shouldn’t have even had that one slice.”

“Oh, right, your job.” He rolled his eyes. “Okay, well, I’m not gonna tell anyone.”

“No, I know, but if you did…”

“Well, I’m not going to.”

“But if you did…”

A disappointed and hurt expression flashed across Dean’s face as he understood. He basically told him he didn’t trust him whatsoever, even over something as simple as taking pie home.

“How about I purchase them?” Castiel tried to placate him. “I’m happy to purchase them. Then there are no issues.”

Dean placed the box down on the counter and shook his head, turning his back to him. “No, nevermind. Just go home, Castiel.”

“Really, it’s not a big deal.”

He turned around. “Go home.”

“Okay.” He picked up his briefcase from where he set it by the table. Realization hit him like a truck. He straightened his back and looked at Dean.

“You baked that pie for me, didn’t you?” He sighed, sadly, as he watched Dean shrug, trying to act cool instead of embarrassed. “You were just trying to be nice and I totally blew it, and that may very well be the last time you try to be nice to me again.” He simply shrugged once more.

He walked towards the exit, but paused and turned around. “This may sound like gibberish to you, but I think I’m in a tragedy, and it’s no one’s fault but my own.”

He stepped out into the cool night but hung his head in shame. His watched beeped sadly. He began to walk to the bus stop.

To say that Castiel Novak did not give enough credit to fate is similar to saying that he did not give enough credit to major train accidents. As anyone else could explain, the precision with which fate must work in order to cause two trains to exist on the same track at the same time, in spite of all the technology and human resources is absolutely remarkable and unlike any phenomena of the modern world. To put it simply, it would not happen unless fate intervened.

He got to the bus stop and sat down at the bench, taking out his notepad and a pen. He was too tired to write every single thing down, so he opted to listen for anything important. He added the words “train” and “fate” to the page.

Castiel’s death was quickly approaching and he still remained completely oblivious to the moment when his, Hannah’s, and the boy on the bicycle’s courses would smash into each other. Here he was, alone.

He wrote down “Hannah” and “the boy on the bicycle.” He found the voice to be a welcome distraction from what happened just moments ago.

Fate, like two trains on the verge of careening into each other, would occur with or without his intervention or participation. The miraculous math and purviews of chance remained inconceivable for even a calculator such as Castiel. He could not understand fate, the behaviour of his watch, or the desires of his own heart. He certainly couldn’t understand the poetry of train wrecks.

He sighed. Later that night, he fell asleep with the memory of Dean laughing.

***

Castiel found himself walking briskly with Professor Singer towards a classroom. They were discussing who “Hannah” and “the boy on the bicycle” could possibly be when Castiel brought up the tragedy/comedy situation he was facing.

“I failed at it. In fact, the guy I was telling you about? Dean? The baker? I think he likes me even less,” he said sullenly.

“Hmm.” Bobby stopped in front of the classroom door he was supposed to enter, his hand hovering atop the doorknob.

“What?”

“I think the voice is dependent on the actions you take. You reset your watch, it says you reset your watch. You brush your teeth, it says you brush your teeth.” He gave Castiel a contemplative look. “I want you to try something else. If you yourself are moving the plot forward, I want you to try to do nothing.”

“What about Dean?” Admittedly, a little part of him also should have vouched for the fact that he had to do work as well, but he blurted out what was seemingly more important to him first.

“Forget him.”

“Forget him?” He wanted to scoff. “Other than numbers and work, he’s all I think about.” He reddened as he said that, realizing he was admitting something to someone who was maybe just an acquaintance, and he was admitting something that he didn’t believe until he verbalized it.

Bobby’s hand transferred from the doorknob to Castiel’s shoulder. “If you want to stay alive, you should do this. Do nothing.” He noticed the subtle confusion in his face. “Let me explain. Some plots move forward by events and crises, others by the characters themselves. If I go through this door,” he glanced at it quickly, and then continued, “the plot continues. If I don’t, the story can’t continue. The story ends. So tomorrow, do nothing.”

“Nothing.” He confirmed.

“Stay home. Don’t answer the phone, don’t open the door, don’t even brush your teeth. Don’t do anything that moves the plot forward. Let’s see if the story finds you.”

Chapter Text

Doing nothing was a seemingly impossible task. The previous night he emailed his manager to let them know he wouldn’t be coming into work. Otherwise, he made sure his watch didn’t beep at its usual time and he went to bed, hoping that he could sleep in long enough to avoid having to do nothing.

Waking up two hours later than he usually woke up, he felt weird and gross not brushing his teeth. Instead, he went to his kitchen to rinse out his mouth, but was otherwise left with an unsatisfied grimy feeling in it. For breakfast, he avoided his usual piece of fruit. While waiting for a cup of coffee to brew, he looked in his fridge, saw nothing breakfast appropriate, and tried his freezer. There was one storebought frozen English muffin left.

Placing it in his oven, he thought about his last conversation with Dean. He was offering Castiel an olive branch in the form of the most delicious pie he’d ever eaten, and he just recited policy and basically told him he couldn’t trust him. God, he was an idiot. He wouldn’t even know what to say to him to apologize for that bonehead move. Realizing that thinking of Dean could potentially start the story, he focused his thoughts on something mundane.

When the muffin was done, he brought it over, along with coffee and other snacks, to his living room and set it on the table. He wasn’t sure what encompassed the “do nothing” criteria, but just in case, he brought over an empty juice bottle he had in his recycling, a couple of blankets, and turned the TV onto a wildlife channel showing documentaries all day. He willed himself not to bring his phone or laptop, and sat down for what would essentially be the longest day of his life.

After his muffin and his thankfully weak coffee was gone, he fell asleep to the sounds of a very monotoned commentator discussing the fauna in the Brazilian rain forest. He dreamt about Dean’s bakery. He relived his last interaction with him, but instead of spouting nonsense about bribery and IRS policy, he gladly took the pie when offered, stepped in close, and boldly pulled him in for a kiss, to which dream-Dean happily responded to.

He woke up to the sound of his watch beeping and he cursed its malfunctioning nature. He looked at it to see he slept for a couple of hours. The same documentary on fauna was just ending and it appeared that one on sharks would soon begin. He sighed. The day was yet to end.

A little while later, he heard his phone ring in his bedroom, but forced himself to stay put even though the urge to change his routine gnawed at him. After that, the mail slot in his door creaked open and shut, and the sound of mail tumbling to the ground was heard. Then, another phone call and a text alert. He was about to fall back asleep when his watch started to beeped wildly.

He reached for it and held it in his hand. As he deliberated resetting the watch - he wondered if that would move the plot forward, especially with how much his watch seemed to be in the narration - the sudden and tremendous crash of a giant metal claw into his building wrecked through his living room. He panicked and jumped off his couch, scrambling to get away. He watched the claw grab hold of his TV, his side table, the debris, and then retract to where it came from. After the initial shock, he slowly made his way to the edge. There was a construction crew below but they hadn’t noticed him.

“Hey!” Castiel shouted. “What are you doing!!??”

One of the crewmen noticed him in his second floor apartment and halted the man operating the excavator. He shouted back, “Who the hell are you?! We’re demolishing this place!”

“Are you nuts? I live here!”

“What?” He dumbly replied.

“My name’s on the goddamn buzzer! Castiel Novak. Apartment 2-B. 1924 McCarthy!”

The man looked down at his clipboard as Castiel began to seethe in rage. “Did you say 1924?”

Exasperated, he yelled, “Yes!”

“Oh. Oops.”

Castiel shook his head, took his phone, and stomped his way down to the crew. He tried so very hard to keep his composure, but he was getting redder and redder as his anger grew. Getting the crew manager’s number, he basically yelled at the man for the crew’s incompetence and threatened to sue. That seemed to spur everyone to action, with the manager offering a settlement of some sort, and the crew trying to repair what they’ve done. Still, his place was unlivable. He packed some clothes and his watch, minus the ties and suits, into a small suitcase. Looking around his now trashed living room, he tried to remember if there was anything important in the heap that now laid on the cold, grassy ground outside. Realizing he should probably not leave his auditing files on Dean Winchester laying around, he took the briefcase it was in with him as well. Before leaving his apartment, he let his landlord know what happened, gave him the construction manager’s number, and said he’d probably need to end his lease. The landlord was surprisingly understanding about it.

A few blocks away from his apartment, he realized he had nowhere to stay. He took out his phone and stared at it. Relenting, he called the one friend he had. Thankfully, Gabriel was excited with the idea of Castiel staying over. Unfortunately, he could only meet him after work was over. It took him a little while to figure out what to do next, but it came to him when he realized why being at home stopping the construction crew from doing more demolishing was no coincidence. He called for a cab.

***

Wheeling in his luggage, he found Bobby just finishing teaching a class.

“Jesus, Castiel. What happened to you?” Bobby looked him up and down. Castiel didn’t notice that he was basically covered in plaster dust.

“I was, uh, doing nothing like you said, and then a wrecking ball crashed through my apartment. It’s pretty much totaled.”

“Holy crapping hell.” He was stunned.

Multiple students walked by the two, some glancing at his plastered state. “I’m not exactly sure it was plot. I was hoping you’d say it was just a really bad coincidence?”

“Running into an insurance agent the day your policy runs out is coincidence. Getting a letter from the queen saying she is visiting is plot.” He paused. “Having your apartment eaten by a wrecking ball is … something else. Castiel,” he looked up at him, “you don’t control your fate.”

He realized that. “I gathered.”

“Come on, follow me.”

They began walking back in the direction of Bobby’s office. Suddenly, Bobby paused when they stepped outside.

“Do you still have the journal you’ve been keeping of what the narrator’s been saying?”

A dreadful sinking feeling filled Castiel up and he really hoped he didn’t take it out and leave it on his coffee table. He reached into his briefcase and let out the biggest sigh of relief when his fingers made contact with the familiar legal pad. He handed it to Bobby.

He examined it before speaking. “It’s possible through analysis of sentence structure and extensive vernacular profiling that I could possibly figure out who’s writing this story.”

“You can?” He became terribly hopeful.

“And then we could possibly ask him to stop writing, but I can’t make any guarantees. I don’t even know how long this would take.”

He jumped in. “I could help you.”

Bobby gave him a sad expression. “No, Castiel. Don’t help me.”

“What? Why?”

“The narrator is going to kill you. We don’t know when and we don’t know how. I cannot let you sit in my office maybe helping while I analyze the writing. You have to go live your life.”

“Go live my life? I am living my life! I’d like to continue to live my life.”

“I know. I mean however long you have left. Do something with it. Go make it the one you’ve always wanted. This is your only chance.”

***

Hope was a dangerous motivator, but he clung onto it. Castiel knew that he would die imminently, but there was some shred of hope that made him believe that Bobby could identify the narrator through his words. He wanted to believe that he could convince the writer to let him live.

When he arrived at Gabriel’s apartment later that evening, he was shown the guest bedroom, which was strangely decorated like a cheesy porn set - the poster of a half naked woman on the wall facing his bed didn’t help - and they both sat down to have dinner.

“Hey, just so you know, you can stay for however long you need. It’ll be nice having you around,” Gabriel said. “Though if you do stay longer than a month, I’m gonna need help with rent.”

Castiel took a bite of his pasta. “Of course. Thanks again. I really appreciate it.”

“It’s no problem, dude.”

Silence stretched over as Gabriel played with his phone.

Castiel had a sudden question. “Can I pose a somewhat abstract, purely hypothetical question?”

Gabriel looked up. “Sure.”

He took in a breath. “If you knew you were going to die, possibly soon, what would you do?”

“Wow, I don’t know.” He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “What are my options?”

“Anything.”

“Can I travel in time? Am I super rich?”

“You don’t have any powers. You’re just you.”

“Boring, but okay.” He began to stroke his chin with his thumb and index finger. “I’d go to Candylicious.”

“Candylicious?”

“It’s one of the biggest candy stores. It’s in Dubai. I loooooooove candy.”

“So if you were dying, you’d go there?”

Gabriel shrugged. “YOLO, man. You only live once.”

He blinked at Gabriel and then smiled. “Think you’d ever go?”

“With the amount of audits I have to do?” Gabriel laughed, and shook his head. “Maybe someday, but that’s after I become …”

“Auditor of the year?”

He smiked. “It’s mine, baby, all mine.”

That night as he brushed his twelfth sideways stroke, he realized there was no point. There was no point to counting. There was no point to living safely and by the rules. There was no point in being in control. He looked at his toothbrush and shook his head, a smile growing in the corner of his lips. He began to laugh.

“YOLO.”

He stuck his toothbrush back in his mouth and began to brush up and down, sideways, zig zag, in circles. And he didn’t count a single stroke.

***

The next morning, he didn’t wake up to the sound of his watch. For the first time in a while, he woke up to the sounds of birds chirping. It was a new day.

“Did you let ‘em know?” Gabriel wondered if Castiel let HR and their manager know of his extended leave.

“Yep.” He said over very sugary cereal - he made a mental note to pick up something a little less diabetes inducing for tomorrow morning.

“Alright, see you later!” He waved as he walked out the door.

Changing out of his pajamas, he threw on a shirt and then a sweater overtop. He almost unconsciously reached for a tie and then remembered - he didn’t have any. Nevertheless, he slipped on his watch and left Gabriel’s apartment. He wasn’t sure what to do, but he remembered what Bobby told him.

“Go live your life.”

He found himself wandering into various stores he would have otherwise never had the opportunity to check out. He ended up purchasing some speciality soaps for himself, a gift card to a new candy store for Gabriel, and some breakfast options. He was just about ready to return to the apartment when something shiny caught his eye. In the window of the store were dozens of electric guitars. Beyond that was walls filled with more and more guitars. He went in without any hesitation, setting his bags by the counter of that music store.

122 guitars. 732 strings. 257 pickups. 189 volume nobs. Here Castiel stood, face to face with his oldest desire, and stand is almost all he did.

He was too entranced by the multitude of guitars to even roll his eyes at the snippy remark. He began to look for the one.

It wasn’t just about finding a guitar. It was about finding a guitar that said something about him.

Walking towards one red V-shaped electric guitar, he examined it, but shook his head.

This guitar said something along the lines of,”Why yes, these are leather pants.”

He came across one featured by itself in the corner atop a circular, spinning platform. It had double necks and looked absolutely ridiculous.

“I’m compensating for something. Guess what it is.”

Finding a wall of acoustic guitars, he looked at each one closely, considering if going acoustic was a good way to start.

This one said, “I’m very sensitive, and caring, and I probably don’t know how to play the guitar, and it’s probably just going end up being a decoration in my house.”

Sighing, he tried another room. Reading a sign that pointed out that the various guitars were all previously owned, he took a chance and hoped that the narrator spoke favourably of at least one of them. His eyes wandered over each guitar, but stopped short when he saw it.

A damaged and obviously mistreated sea-foam green Fender Stratocaster was staring back at him. Despite its obvious maladies, the guitar spoke with conviction and swagger. In fact, it looked Castiel directly in the eye and very plainly stated: “I rock.”

“Hey, man, can I help you find anything?” A store associate came up from behind him, startling him from the narrator’s words, and saw him staring at the guitar. “Nice choice, but you sure you want a used one? We have a brand new one in stock.”

“No, I want that one.” He responded seriously.

“Cool, I’ll package it up for you. Did you need any other equipment?” He plucked the guitar from the stand and took it to the front.

Castiel followed him. “I, uh, I don’t know. I’m just beginning to learn. What do I need?”

“Well.” He put the guitar down. “If we’re just talking the basics, you’re gonna need an amp, a cord, picks, and a strap.”

“Okay. Can I get those here?”

“Absolutely.”

He showed Castiel the various products they had and after about a half hour, he had to call a cab to bring all of his purchases back to Gabriel’s. His fingers were twitching in excitement to try out the guitar. He already had a song in mind that he wanted to learn.

Taking the guitar out of the case, he plugged it into the amp and with one sure move, he strummed, letting the loud, electronic notes reverberate throughout the apartment. His fingers vibrated under the strings, and it provided a welcome new sensation he never thought he would feel. It was euphoria. His watch simply and happily looked on.

It took a few days to learn the chords of the song and trying to commit everything to muscle memory, but his first time playing the song from start to finish was what he hoped. It was slow, rough, and awkward at parts, but the feeling of accomplishment was unlike any other.

Playing it for Gabriel before their nightly dinner was nerve wracking for him, but Gabriel clapped and whooped loudly, eliciting a few angry stomps from the upstairs neighbours. Every evening, they spoke over their vastly different days, with Gabriel updating him about audits and IRS gossip and Castiel talking about something new he saw or a new chord he learned on the guitar. He laughed at Gabriel’s stories, harder than he ever laughed before, and it was during one almost unbelievably sounding tale that the narrator, who was gone for a few days from his mind, spoke.

With every awkward strum, Castiel Novak became stronger in who he was, what he wanted, and why he was alive. He no longer ate alone. He no longer counted brushstrokes. He no longer wore neckties.

Castiel looked down at the spot that missed a signature accessory. He smiled.

And, therefore, no longer worried about the amount of time it took to put them on. He no longer counted his steps to the bus stop. Instead, he did that which had terrified and eluded him Monday through Friday for so many years. He lived his life.

“And that was how a monkey began climbing the pole in the strip club.” Gabriel ended his story when he noticed him smiling. “What are you smiling at?”

“Nothing.” He smiled even wider, staring wistfully. He blinked and returned his attention back to his friend.

He’d been staying with Gabriel for the past week, and though he felt energized every single time he picked up his guitar, something at the back of his mind made him feel antsy and unfulfilled. Even that night after the big dinner and copious amounts of wine, he went to bed feeling restless.

Despite resuscitating his life, reviving his hopes, and instilling a few wicked calluses, Castiel’s journey was still incomplete.

“Tell me what I should do,” he mumbled as he looked upwards.

There was a pause, so he took off his watch and laid it on top of a particular file folder.

And Castiel’s wristwatch wasn’t about to let him miss another opportunity.

Even in the darkness, the luminous, blue glow of his watch shone upon the name of a certain baker. He turned his bedside lamp on, and in the dim light he stared at the file. For the past few nights, he’d find himself reading his file on Dean. It was pathetic, using his auditing files as an excuse to hold onto the thought of him without actually seeing him. He came to the conclusion that he had to at least see the man again. His watch glowed a bit brighter in agreement.

The next morning, he was sitting eating a late breakfast when Gabriel plodded in half awake. It looked like the wine took a bit of a toll on him.

“Gabe, I need advice.”

“What?” He yawned as he disappeared into the kitchen. “Hold on.”

After a moment of listening to him inhale some coffee and munch on a piece of toast, he sat in front of Castiel, ready to dole out wisdom. He gestured for him to speak.

“I need to apologize to someone that I said something stupid to. I really like him and I want to make things better. What can I do?”

Interested, he leaned forward. “Who is this mystery guy?”

“First, you can’t tell anyone. Promise me.”

He became even more enthralled. “Oh, my god. Who is it?”

“Promise!” He looked at him sternly.

“Fine, I promise.”

He paused, a bit hesitant. “It’s the baker I’m auditing.”

Gabriel whacked him in the arm playfully. “Do my ears deceive me or is Castiel Novak breaking the rules?”

He shrugged slightly, but the shy smile gave him away.

“Tell me EVERYTHING.”

So he began to explain the situation to his friend. Everything from their first meeting, to the messy box Dean dumped on him, to meeting Sam, and to how their last interaction ended. Gabriel listened intently and only interrupted once when he asked if Sam was single.

“I saw a wedding band, so no.”

“Damn. But dude, you got it bad.” Gabriel got up and refilled his mug with more coffee.

“Yeah, I know. He’s amazing and I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, first, you gotta apologize.”

“Right …”

Gabriel waved his hands in front of him in a dramatic way. “But you gotta make it romantic. Romantic gestures are the BEST! You gotta let him know you’re interested.”

“How?”

“Well, some people like to give gifts, you know, like the gift card you gave me. Ooh, you could get him chocolate, or, jeez, what does a baker like …” Something in Gabriel’s brain must have clicked as he suddenly and unnecessarily and dramatically dove for his cell phone and called a number. “Hey, are you guys still open? Great!” He gave a Castiel a “wait a second” gesture and went to another room to speak.

A few minutes later, he came out with a very satisfied grin plastered on his face. “I am a genius. You owe me big time. Your baker is going to love this.”

“I don’t even know what you’ve done to warrant anything.”

Gabriel began writing something down on a piece of paper and gave it to him. It was an address.

“What’s this?”

“I want you to be there in two hours. You’ll be picking up a package,” he responded cryptically. “It should be ready by then.”

“Do I want to?”

Gabriel picked hi up and shoved him to the door. “Yes! And then go find your baker, give him the gift, apologize, and make sweet, sweet love …”

“Okay, bye!” Castiel slammed the door behind him and shook his head. He wasn’t sure what he had in store for him, but this was better than nothing.

The address that Gabriel gave him was about half the distance to Dean’s bakery, so he was happy that it conveniently worked out. What he wasn’t expecting to see was an organic grocery store. He thought he was going to find himself at a store selling knick knacks. Double checking the address, he went inside and straight towards the customer service desk. A woman in her early twenties with brightly coloured hair smiled at him.

“Hi, can I help you with something?”

“I, um, have a package to pick up?”

“Name?”

“Castiel.”

“Cool.” The girl turned around and grabbed something that seemed to look heavy. When she turned around, he confirmed his suspicions.

“This is it?”

She laughed. “Yep, this is it. I’m guessing you didn’t order this?”

“No, uh, my friend did.”

He looked at each bag and they each were taped with a different coloured piece of tape. He still had no idea what he was looking at.

“There’s also a card right here on the side telling you what they all are. Kinda hard to keep track of 8 different types, you know?”

He noticed the card and plucked it from where it was wedged in between two of the eight bags. As he read it, he began to laugh and shake his head. Gabriel really was a genius.

Chapter Text

Castiel checked his watch as he waited in the cab. They were stuck in traffic and there was some sort of car accident that was causing a really long delay. He only had twenty minutes to make it to Dean’s bakery before they closed and it didn’t look like he would be able to make it in time. He looked at the gift sitting beside him and then at his watch. It beeped in quick succession.

He hurriedly took his wallet out, pulled out the correct amount and gave it to the taxi driver. He got out, cradling the gift tight to his chest, and began to walk. He tried to think of a fast song to motivate him to walk faster, but the carton was heavy. Finally, the bakery was in distance and he could see the bright blue sign that hung on top. He began to pick up his pace a bit once he noticed that one by one, lights were being shut off.

He was out of breath as he burst through the bakery’s doors, calling Dean’s name, “Mr. Winchester!”

Dean turned around and saw him in the doorway. He was definitely surprised to see him, but it didn’t show in his voice. “Mr. Novak.”

Castiel walked towards the counter. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Dean walked away from the light switches.

He was wearing a pair of slim cut jeans, a white t-shirt, and a worn leather jacket. He wondered if Dean was heading out, and this thought almost distracted him from what he was there to do. “Hi.”

“Yeah, you said that.”

“Right.” He blinked. “I’m glad I caught you. I, uh, I wanted to bring you these as an apology.” He held up his gift and then put it on the counter.

Dean looked down at the eight brown bags that were rolled up and had a piece of tape in different colours holding it closed. He wasn’t sure what he was looking at, but he nonetheless looked at Castiel with an unimpressed expression.

“So you can’t accept gifts, but you can give them?” He crossed his arms.

“Listen …”

“I don’t know.” He rolled his eyes. “That seems a little inconsistent, doesn’t it? Mr. Novak.”

“Very inconsistent, yes, but these ...”

Suddenly, Dean’s eyes lit up with an idea. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll purchase them.” He began to take out his wallet.

“No, no, really, don’t. Maybe this was a mistake…” He was embarrassed. He hoped this would go a little easier.

“I insist.” He continued to mock. “What are they?”

“Flours.” He mumbled.

“What?” Dean’s tone changed, telling him he definitely heard what he said.

Blushing, he clarified. “I brought you flours.”

He wanted to show him the card that said “flours for Dean” on it, but a look of understanding flashed across Dean’s face and it brought out a genuine smile. “That’s … surprisingly funny.”

“Look, Dean. I’ve been odd, and I know I’ve been odd.” Here goes. “But I like you. I really like you.”

“What?”

“There’s so many reasons, so many influences in my life that are telling me that I should come here and bring you these.” He earnestly looked at him. “But I’m doing this because I want you.”

They stared at each other for a moment. Dean’s mouth parted slightly and Castiel’s finger twitched. His watch anxiously looked on.

Dean’s breath hitched. “You want me?”

Confidently, he confirmed, “In no uncertain terms.”

This time, it was Dean who would stutter. “I-I, um, wow.” He paused, searching for words. “Isn’t there some very clear and established rule about, uh, fraternization?”

“Auditor-auditee protocol?

“Yeah, that.”

“Yes, but I don’t care.”

“Why?”

“Because I want you.”

Dean’s expression softened. Castiel remained enchanted by his green eyes.

“Well, do you mind carrying those a little further?”

Castiel nodded. Dean turned off the last light and led them up the stairs and in front of the entrance to his apartment. Dean took out his phone and sent a quick text off to someone.

“Do you wanna come in?” They stood in front of the door.

He glanced at it and then back at Dean - frankly, he thought they were going to put the flours in a storage area. “I guess I could.”

“Have dinner with me.” Dean inched closer to him. Castiel could smell the undertones of his cologne.

“Uhh…”

“Wasn’t that the whole idea with the flours?” He spoke lowly.

“Honestly, I only figured it out up to ‘I want you.’” He ducked his head a bit, shyly.

“Listen, Cas. I think I like you, and before I do anything rash I’d like to make sure.” He watched Castiel. “So dinner?”

He nodded. “I’d be honoured.”

“Great.” Dean opened the door and let them both in.

The space was cramped, but well lived in. It was just as eclectically decorated as the bakery, but with more pictures of Dean, his brother, and his friends here and there. Cassettes were strewn around on his dining room table in such an artful manner that he wondered if it was intentional or not. He watched as Dean took off his leather jacket and draped it over one of the chairs. He then led Castiel to the kitchen to place the flours down.

“Sorry about the mess. Was trying a new recipe.” He began to make room for Cas. “You can set them down here.”

He did as he was told. “Can I help you with dinner?”

“I’ve got something ready to go in the fridge, actually. I hope you like meat.” He winked, making him blush from head to toe.

“I-I definitely do.”

He opened his fridge and pulled out a metal bowl, placing it on the counter before returning. Taking a quick peek, Castiel could see it was ground meat that was dutifully mixed with spices and herbs.

Dean poked his head out. “Wine or beer?”

“Doesn’t matter.” He shrugged.

“Beer it is.” Giving him a bottle, he worked on creating patties from the meat.

Castiel watched intently, and realized how much he stared at the man’s hands as he handled the patties so carefully. Throwing them into a cast iron skillet, Dean tore up some fresh lettuce, tomato, took out the necessary condiments - and mixed a delicious looking sauce from them - and then added a slice of cheese on top of each quickly browning patty. Dean talked about himself, the bakery, and other things to fill the silence. The entire time, Castiel leaned on one of the pillars listening, watching, and occasionally sipping his beer.

“Mind grabbing me two plates? They’re just behind you,” Dean asked as he slowly lifted one burger up and into the toasted bun.

He opened up a cupboard and pulled out two similar sized, but completely different plates. He noticed that none of Dean’s cutlery or dishes actually matched, and he couldn’t have found that to be more endearing. Three weeks ago, he would have found that to be irritating.

“And here we go. Two burgers.”

They sat down at the table and Castiel dug right in, finally acknowledging the fact that his stomach was rumbling the entire time in hunger. The same could have been said for his watch, but it was hungry for something else entirely.

“I was actually supposed to meet Sam for dinner tonight,” Dean mentioned.

He lowered his burger. “I’m sorry that I made you cancel.”

“I’m not.”

He caught Dean staring at him as he finished his last bite, and he blurted out, “These make me very happy.”

Dean smiled, satisfied. “Good. Let me just clean up.” He took their empty plates and walked to the kitchen.

“Can I help you?”

“No, just gonna wash it with the pans. Go and sit down on the couch.”

Castiel rose and began to meander his way over. He noticed an acoustic guitar sitting on the couch.

“Do you play?”

Dean stuck his head out. The water continued to run. “What?”

“Do you play the guitar?” He pointed, though he wasn’t sure that Dean could see.

“Oh, no. Not really. Someone traded me that for a wedding cake. Shoulda just taken cash.” He laughed, but returned to washing their dishes. He popped his head once more to add, “Does that mean I have to claim it on my taxes now?”

Castiel chuckled. “No, I’ll leave it out of my final report.”

“Oh, thank the heavens.” He teased, before loudly asking over the water, “Do you play?”

He stared at the guitar, longingly, his fingers itching to play on something different. The guitar stared longingly at him, wanting to be played. “Not really. I only know one song.”

“Play it!”

“I don’t know it that well, actually. Maybe … some other time.”

“Alright.” Dean grabbed the two empty beer bottles and tossed them somewhere in the kitchen.

As he continued to look at the instrument he began to drown out the sound of running water and ignore the image of Dean scrubbing pans. Instead, he succumbed to temptation and picked up the guitar. Strumming it once, he heard that it was pretty much in tune, so he began to play the opening chords to the one song he knew.

“Hey, Jude…”

He sang softly, concentrating on his finger placement and chords over the lyrics. It felt natural playing it on an acoustic guitar, and he briefly wondered if he should have bought one instead of an electric. The softness of the song mixed with the roughness of his low singing somehow kept him from hearing Dean’s footsteps nearing from behind. It was only when he felt the dip of his weight onto the couch that he realized that Dean was now watching him. He began to briefly panic when he realized he couldn’t remember the rest of the lyrics. His voice slowly drifted and he stopped strumming.

“That’s all I remember.”

They stared at each other for a moment. Dean reached over and grabbed the neck of the guitar, pulling it away from him and slowly setting it on his coffee table. Without any more pause, he took Castiel’s face in his hands and kissed him. Castiel kissed him back enthusiastically, his mouth parting to let more of Dean in. Dean pushed him back into the couch, and they each scrambled to get their shirts off - they needed more contact, needed to be closer.

“Cas.” He moaned in between kisses.

He started kissing down Dean’s neck, sucking a spot just in the crook. “Dean.”

“Bedroom?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

Dean led him to his bedroom, and like in every cliched movie scene, they left a trail of clothes on their way. Castiel couldn’t keep his eyes off of Dean. The way he moved over top of him, the fact that his erection was pressed up against him, the way he kissed hungrily, and the way he moaned his name filled him with such ecstasy. He still needed more.

“Cas.” He said in a direct tone, causing Castiel to stop, his face inches away from Dean’s. “I want you.”

“You have me,” he whispered back.

He pushed his body upwards, his lips making contact with Dean’s. The sudden sensation of a hand gripped around his shaft elicited a gasp from his mouth. When Dean’s hand began to move up and down, Cas moaned and then whined for more speed.

Dean’s head dipped down to his ear. “Can I fuck you, Castiel?”

“God, yes,” he cried out.

There were five agonizing seconds where Dean had to leave the warmth and closeness their bodies created to grab the necessary items to intensify the pleasure Castiel was about to experience, but once he was back, it was all forgotten, for the new sensation of lips sucking and licking the tip of Castiel’s cock and the feeling of lube around his hole filled his mind. Dean watched him react to one finger, then two, then three, and decided that it was time.

He groaned loudly when Dean inserted his cock inside him. It filled him up, and the warmth and tightness felt completely welcome. He began to move achingly slow, and pumped Castiel’s cock at the same speed. With Dean’s body pressed against his, he reached out for Dean’s mouth, finding solid contact against those plush and swollen red lips. Laying there with Dean in total control, he tried to keep up with Dean’s lips moving against his, but the sudden change in pace had Castiel grabbing hold of his back, scratching marks into his skin. Every thrust had him moaning into Dean’s mouth until he had to release his hold. With his back arching off the bed and his body tensing around Dean, he came. Dean soon followed suit, collapsing in a sweaty mess beside him, and yet he still had enough energy to press kisses all over Castiel’s body.

It only took a few moments for Dean to fall asleep, even with the bedside lamp still illuminated. It cast a serene shadow over his face, and Castiel smiled, wanting to capture this memory of him forever in his mind. He ran his fingers through Dean’s soft hair, eliciting a soft sigh. He was in a state of utter bliss and was slowly drifting to sleep when it came to him.

Castiel’s life, like the life of every human being, was filled with both significant and mundane moments, but to him, those moments remained entirely indistinguishable, except for this.

He watched as Dean nuzzled closer towards him. His head resting gently in the crook of his body.

As Dean repositioned himself against him, Castiel knew, somewhere, this was one of those significant moments. He knew that Dean had fallen in love with him.

Hearing that, he simply smiled and closed his eyes, falling into a deep, peaceful sleep.

Chapter Text

He woke up to the sound of Dean rustling around the bed. He turned over slowly, cracked open his eyes, and saw that his watch said it was 6 am. It was way too early.

“Go back to sleep,” Dean leaned over and whispered. “I have to open the bakery. I’ll be back when Charlie clocks in.”

Drowsily, he nodded and closed his eyes, sighing contently into the pillow. He felt a soft, warm kiss on his temple before falling back asleep. It didn’t seem like very long, but soon enough he was awake three hours later. He found his clothes from last night, donned them, and secured his watch to his wrist. Opening the bedroom door he climbed down the stairs to see Dean handing change to someone. He supposed that Charlie was yet to start work.

“Morning, sunshine.” Dean chuckled once he spotted him. “Nice hair.”

He turned around and looked into a nearby mirror hanging beside one of Dean’s posters. His hair was more unruly than usual and stood up in ways he didn’t realize it could. He tried to tame it, but it was no use.

“Didn’t think you’d be up this early.” Dean turned around and poured a mug of coffee for him. “Want anything to eat?”

His mouth watered at the offerings in the case, knowing most of them were freshly made.

“And don’t worry, Sam’s buying.” He winked, and nodded his head towards his brother, who was sitting in the corner of the cafe.

Sam looked up at the mention of his name and smiled, and though he couldn’t be sure if what Dean said was true, he still took up the offer for breakfast. His stomach was rumbling and he was sure everyone in the cafe could hear.

“I’d love a warm chocolate croissant.” His eyes darted to the first thing he saw.

“One warm chocolate croissant, coming right up.” He watched as Dean handled the pastry gently, putting it into the microwave and giving it a good thirty seconds. Though he wanted Dean to join him, there was another customer waiting behind him. “Go and sit with Sam.”

“Thank you, Dean.” He took his mug and croissant and sat down with Sam. “Good morning, mind if I join you?”

“Morning, Cas.” Sam put his notebook down and gestured to the empty seat. “I see you had a good night last night.”

“I, um …” He wasn’t sure what to say to the lawyer.

“Don’t worry. I’m not gonna tell anyone. I’m just glad to see my brother happy for a change.” He reassured him.

He breathed a subtle sigh of relief. “I’m happy as well.”

“Though, no offense, you were totally the last person I’d imagine Dean getting into bed with. The first time you two met he was pretty …” He was searching for the right word.

“Hostile.” Castiel finished his sentence, wiping some of the chocolate from the corners of his mouth away after a big bite and large gulp of coffee.

Sam nodded. “Yeah, you could say that, but I guess that’s changed. What a tragedy that would have been if he couldn’t get over his stupid ego.”

Tragedy. A lightbulb switched on in his head just as he finished his last bite. He needed to go talk to Professor Singer. He needed to tell him the good news. A smile grew on his face at the prospect.

“Cas, you okay?” Sam must have seen him space out.

“Yeah.” He stood up suddenly just as Dean began to near them. “I just realized I have to meet someone. Someone important. It was nice chatting with you, Sam.”

“Hey, where’s the rush?” Dean caught his arm.

“I’m sorry, I have to go.”

He looked at Sam and then back at Castiel. “Is there something wrong?”

“No, everything’s great. Everything’s perfect.” He smiled widely. “I’ll explain it all later, but I have to go.” He looked at his watch, hoping he would catch Bobby in between teaching. “I just remembered something, something very important.” Pressing a soft kiss to Dean’s lips, he rushed out of the bakery.

***

Castiel burst through Bobby’s door a little while later. Bobby looked up from some papers with surprise on his face. The sound of a woman being interviewed about her book played on the TV in the background.

“Castiel?”

“Professor Singer, it’s a comedy,” he exclaimed with enthusiasm.

“What?”

He neared him. “A comedy. The man, Dean. Last night …”

He was giving Castiel his full attention now. “Yeah?”

“He’s falling in love with me.” He laughed. “It’s like a miracle. The voice confirmed it in the middle of the night.”

His shoulders sagged slightly. “That’s great, Castiel. I mean, it completely nullifies my list, but that’s fantastic.”

“What list?”

He opened up a drawer to his left and pulled out a piece of paper, handing it over to him. “These are seven living authors whose prior work would seem to make them candidates to write your story based on the criteria you and I previously determined. If your narrator is alive, he’s on this list.” Bobby watched him scan the list. “But I guess the list doesn’t matter anymore, now that you’re gonna live happily ever after.”

He carefully read each author’s name, but for some reason, he knew none of them were correct. It just didn’t look right. The voice of the announcer on TV was drowned out in his mind, but Bobby was intently listening.

Bobby casually mentioned, “Oh, good. This man, Chuck Shurley, he’s one of my favourite authors.”

He glanced over at the screen to see a scruffy looking man greeting the interviewer, but looked back at the sheet of paper, wondering briefly if he should try and find these people just to make sure.

“Beautiful tragedies, just beautiful.” The interviewer spoke.

“Anyways, let me quickly copy this list for you. Just in case.” Bobby grabbed a blank sheet of paper and took the page from him.

“Bobby, thanks,” he spoke.

“Of course. And listen, if you ever hear the voice of the narrator again, you gotta let me know, just for my own satisfaction.” He handed the list to him.

“I will.”

“So what’s the book called?” The interviewer asked.

“Well it’s called Death and Taxes.” Like a switch, Castiel looked up and stared at the screen, recognizing the voice speaking immediately.

“Like the Benjamin Franklin quote,” she said.

“Exactly,” the author, or rather, his narrator, confirmed.

He neared the TV, watching the camera pan between the interviewer and Chuck. “Tell us, what’s this book about?”

“It’s about how things are connected to one another, whether we know it or not, you know, fate, and the looming certainty of death, and, uh, men’s fashions accessories.” Chuck nervously laughed.

“It’s him.” He heard himself speak.

“What?”

“That’s the voice. That’s the narrator.” He pointed at the screen and looked back at Bobby.

The distinctively pitched voice, which had a slightly smoky, nasally, yet soft-spoken manner to it, kept explaining the summary of the book. Though he picked up bits and pieces that correlated with what was happening to him, he tried to focus on Chuck’s face and mannerisms, memorizing every little detail and saving it in his mind.

Bobby interrupted his thoughts. “No, that can’t be right.”

He looked at him. “I’m positive. 100%.”

“This interview’s almost six years old. It can’t be him.”

“I know that voice. I’ve lived with that voice.” He motioned towards the TV.

He turned his back. “Crap.”

Castiel turned away from the TV. “What’s wrong?”

“First of all, he wasn’t on my list.” He sighed. “And, well, he kills people.”

“What?” A heavy feeling filled his chest.

“In every book he …” Bobby tried to search for a kinder way to put it. “The books are all about …” But he couldn’t. “They die. He kills them. He kills the heroes.”

Castiel looked back at the TV where Chuck was nodding along solemnly to whatever the interviewer was saying.

“Where is he?” He heard himself say.

“Castiel, he’s … untraceable. Trust me. I used to teach a class on his work. I’ve written letters. He’s a hermit. A recluse!” Castiel suddenly turned away from the TV and moved towards the bookshelves, looking for any one of Chuck’s books. “I mean … he hasn’t published anything in years! If you think that you can find him and convince him not to ...”

“What was his last name?” He skimmed all the books.

“Shurley.” Bobby moved towards him, standing closely beside. “Look. I know you’ll want to go to the publisher, but the only thing they’ll give you is his P.O. Box for fan mail.”

He had to relent to that. Bobby was right - it’s not like demanding an address of a reclusive author was going to get him anywhere besides getting kicked out of the building by security. That was an unproductive use of his limited time.

“Castiel.” He turned to look at Bobby, who had a gleam in his eye. “You said you worked for the IRS?”

It took him a moment to understand what he was insinuating, but the idea flashed into his mind soon after and he bolted out of Bobby’s office. Instead of taking a bus, like he usually would, he hailed a taxi for the short ride to his office. His coworkers seemed surprised to see him in the building, some greeted him, some asked how his vacation was, and one posed a multiplication problem. He ignored them all, determined to make it to his desk.

He signed into his computer with one swift motion and frantically put in the correct set of words and numbers to find a specific file number. Writing it down on a post it note he walked briskly to the file room. It took him a few moments to find the right box and just a couple of seconds to find the one labelled “Shurley, Chuck.” Taking the most important sheet out, he returned to his desk, picking up his phone and hearing no dial tone.

“Hey! What are you doing here?” Gabriel approached his desk with a steaming mug of coffee and a confused, but curious expression on his face. He saw Castiel was trying to call someone. “Yeah, phones are out.”

He reached for his cell phone in his back pocket, but realized that he didn’t have it. He must have left it at Dean’s. “Can I borrow your cell phone?”

“No reception up here.” Gabriel said, rolling his eyes. “S’annoying. If there was an emergency, we’d all die because we can’t make any calls out.”

He thought quickly. “Do you have any spare change?”

“Uh, yeah.” Gabriel set his mug down precariously on the cubicle wall and reached for his wallet. “How much do you need?”

“All of it.” He put his palm up.

Gabriel looked at him for a moment and then wordlessly dumped his change into Castiel’s hand. He quickly said a thanks and then dashed off to find a payphone. He remembered seeing one on the corner of the office block, but nearing it, he realized there was someone there. Without fail, the voice returned.

Castiel wasn’t sure he could stand waiting for the elderly lady speaking to the phone operator asking for her daughter, but he fortunately remembered a set of payphones in the 6th street subway tunnel.

He sprinted over there, bumping into a few people on the way, and wondering briefly if Chuck himself knew that Castiel was about to call him. It took him just a second to see the set of phones when he entered the tunnel, and ran quickly to them. He picked up the first phone.

The first phone failed to give a dial tone.

He moved over to the second but quickly decided against it.

The second seemed to be splattered with a fresh batch of mucus.

He picked up the third and last one, thanking his lucky stars that the phone worked. Who used pay phones nowadays anyways? He began punching the number in.

Castiel dialed the third phone, making sure to give each number a forceful press.

It began to rang.

The phone rang.

And then again.

The phone rang again.

And then again.

The phone rang a third time.

Until finally, a slightly static-y but still distinctive voice spoke into his ear, “Hello?”

He asked quickly, “Is this Chuck Shurley?”

A hesitant yes was the response.

“Hi. My name is Castiel Novak. I believe you’re writing a story about me.”

There was a pause. “What?”

“My name is Castiel Novak.”

Another pause. “Is this a joke?”

“No. I work for the IRS. My name is Castiel Novak.” He swallowed the lump in his throat. “When I go through the files at work I hear a deep and endless ocean.”

“Oh, sh-shit.” The sound of the phone dropping to the floor was heard clearly on Castiel’s end.

“Mr. Shurley? Hello?”

A female voice spoke. “Hi, this is Becky, Mr. Shurley’s assistant. Can I help you with something?”

“I need to speak with him. Can you put him back on the phone?”

There was the sound of muffled conversation as he waited to hear back from Chuck. It took an achingly long time, and he was afraid that someone was going to hang up the phone, but Becky was the one that spoke into the phone once more. “He’d like to meet you. He told me to give you his address. Got a pen handy?”

He didn’t, but he knew that he could memorize whatever address was about to be relayed to him. As she told him, he repeated it multiple times until that was all he could think of. Chuck wanted to meet him right this second.

The apartment building was surprisingly close to his own, and ironically, he was able to take the train to it. He looked at the building, its facade imposing, and the concrete still damp from an early morning rain shower. Walking in, he got into the elevator and pressed the button for the correct floor. He thought about what he would say to Chuck, but nothing seemed quite right. Funny enough, he wished Chuck could narrate what was about to happen, if only to have something witty to say. He also wondered if Chuck knew that he was thinking this. He stood in front of the door to his apartment, inhaled once, and knocked.

It took only a few seconds for Becky to answer the door. “Hello.”

“Hi.”

“I’m Becky Rosen, Chuck’s assistant.” She held out a hand.

He shook it. “I’m Castiel Novak, his main character.”

She let him into the apartment. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting, but he wasn’t quite expecting the disorganization and clutter from the author. Bobby’s office, where books and papers laid everywhere, couldn’t quite compete with the amount of stuff inside Chuck’s apartment. It was also darker than he expected, with the only light source coming from an office and the kitchen. Soon, he rounded the corner and saw the man sitting in a chair behind his desk in his office. There was an open bottle of whisky and and unfinished tumbler filled with it amongst the papers that sat on his desk. Chuck stared at nothing until Castiel stood in the doorway.

“Mr. Shurley?” He approached him slowly.

“Oh, my god, it’s you.” Chuck finally locked eyes with him and stood up. “It’s really you.”

“My name’s Castiel.”

“I know.”

Chapter Text

Castiel found himself sitting across the man that was writing his life. They were both staring at each other, possibly working the other out. He thought Chuck was a nervous looking man, who seemed to react to every minor noise. He wasn’t quite sure how he managed to stick it out in the writing industry. Eventually, Chuck broke the silence.

“How did you find me?”

“The IRS audited you seven years ago. Your phone number was in the file.”

He looked down at his desk and then back up at him. “But, I mean, how, uh, how did you know it was me?”

“Oh, um, I could hear you in my head.” He adjusted his seat. “I would hear it, occasionally.”

“Hear it? You could hear my voice?”

“You were narrating my life. Not all the time, but most times.”

Chuck stared off into the distance again, but reached for his glass, downing the rest of it in one quick gulp. “Oh, my god. How did this happen?”

Castiel shrugged. “I don’t know.”

He stared into Castiel’s eyes, the conviction in his voice noticeable. “Well, there's only one explanation. Obviously I'm a god.”

Castiel blinked, and realizing that Chuck was serious, he responded, “You're not a god.”

He stood up suddenly. “How else do you explain it? I write things and then they come to life. Yeah, no, I'm definitely a god. A cruel, cruel, capricious god. The things I put you through. The things I put all my other characters through? And all for what? Literary symmetry?”

“Chuck, you’re not a God. You didn’t create me.” He tried to reassure the author. “The narration only started within the past couple of weeks.”

It seemed to have worked as he sat back down. “Did you think you were crazy when you, um, when you started hearing my voice?”

“Sort of, but then you were right about everything. And then you said, ‘little did he know.’”

“‘Little did he know?’” It was strange hearing it once more.

“Yeah, it’s a, um, third-person omniscient.”

“Christ.”

“It meant that, well, you know, someone other than me knew what was going to happen.” He sat up a bit. “At least that’s what Professor Singer said.”

“Professor Singer? Professor Bobby Singer?”

“Yeah, him. He loves your books.”

“I love his letters. They’re helpful.” He had a nostalgic expression on his face, and Castiel realized he was losing his attention.

“So you understand, then, why I had to find you and ask you not to kill me.”

That seemed to get Chuck back. “What?”

“I mean, you haven’t written the end. I’m still here.”

“Um, uh …,” he stuttered.

“What … am I …”

“Uh…” he was looking at anything else that wasn’t Castiel.

“I mean, now that we’ve met and you can see that I exist, you’re … you’re not going to kill me, right?” He could feel his heart beating faster and harder.

Chuck’s hesitancy was making Castiel quite frustrated.

“Have you written it?” He stood up, now enraged. “Have you?!”

“An outline.” Chuck cowered in his seat. “It’s an outline.”

He calmed down for a bit. “Okay, but it’s just an outline, right? Nothing can happen with an outline.”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“Sort of?” The anger was coming back.

Flustered, he tried to explain. “It’s not typed and maybe that’s okay.”

“What does that mean?” His increasingly loud voice seemed to catch the attention of Becky, who was making her way to Chuck’s office.

“I’m sorry, I’m just trying to write a book.”

“You’re sorry?”

“Chuck.” Becky’s voice cut through the two men. “Let him read it.”

The tension seemed to have dissolved as soon as both character and author realized how easy the solution could be. Chuck opened his desk drawer and pulled out a file. He opened it and placed the yellow pieces of paper that were in front of him behind the last few pages of the stack. He tied the folder back up and gave it to Castiel.

He didn’t have it in him to read it in front of Chuck, so he said goodbye to the both of them and left. While waiting for the bus, he tried to read the first few pages, but it was so utterly strange reading his own life that he closed the folder. He needed someone else to read it first.

***

He entered Bobby’s office without knocking. Bobby was surprised to see him.

“Did you find him?”

“Yes.”

He noticed the manuscript in Castiel’s hands.

“Is that it?”

He nodded. “I couldn’t read it. I tried. You have to read it. You have to tell me what to do or what not to do. If I can avoid it or if I have a chance…”

He interrupted his emotional plea. “Okay.” He stuck his hand out for the file and Castiel handed his life over to him. “Come back in the morning. I should be finished by then.”

***

He eventually returned to the cafe without any recollection of how he got there. The shock of meeting Chuck seemed to have finally affected him. He didn’t realize just how awful and exhausted he look when he stepped inside the bakery that evening. He was a strange sight for Dean, who was wiping down the counter when he spotted him.

“Cas?”

In a sad and pathetic voice, he responded, “Hello, Dean.”

He put his washcloth down and made his way to the other side of the counter. “Cas, what’s wrong?”

“I … I had a really strange day.” He paused. “Something happened.”

Dean led him to a nearby table and sat him down. “Tell me.”

“I want to, but I can’t.” He elected to stare at his shoes. “I can’t.”

Dean stood up and walked behind the counter. Though he wasn’t looking, he heard the sound of cookies being plated and a glass of milk being poured. Moments later, he returned to where Castiel sat.

Softly, he spoke, “Cas, just tell me.”

He stared at the plate of cookies, taking the nearest one, but not putting it in his mouth.

“It’s … you. It’s … you’ve.” He paused, trying to figure out where he was going with this. “I’ve been an auditor for so many years now. I answered this ad. I wanted to be a theorist, maybe a professor, someone who discovered nuances in mathematical systems, but I chose auditing because I thought it was easy and safe and I was counting everything anyways.

“Before I realized it, I developed this pattern, this compartmentalized approach to every aspect of my life that I maintained so I could continue to be safe. I’d become my own mathematical system. I was a soldier and I had no nuances to discover.” He took a breath. “And then everything changed when my watch,” he looked at it, “began to act funny and then people began telling me things that made me believe that my world wasn’t stable or safe. It was anarchy and chaotic.

“But it wasn’t really. Maybe I’d hoped that it would be when you …” He trailed off, but resumed. “When you laid beside me, you sighed and repositioned yourself to be closer, and you proved something.”

Dean’s attention held onto him. “What did I prove?”

He wanted to say that Dean’s proof of love was helping him see that there was more to life, but a book was telling him it had to end. Instead, he remained silent, soaking in the feeling of Dean taking his face in his hands. He seemed to understand that there was nothing more to say, so he took Castiel’s hand in his and brought him upstairs. He let Dean lead him to the bed, helped him out of his clothes into something more comfortable, and helped him underneath the covers. Wordlessly, Dean climbed in beside and held Castiel until he himself fell asleep.

In the dark, he laid wide awake in Dean’s bed. Dean was tucked in against his side snoring softly. He suddenly stopped, sighed, and then nuzzled closer to Cas. Morning was nearing, and he could feel the heaviness in his heart, but he couldn’t sleep, especially knowing that he was about to hear his fate being told in just a few hours.

***

He knocked on Bobby’s door.

“Come in.”

Slowly, he stepped into the office and sat down in front of Bobby.

“You look tired,” Bobby remarked.

“No, I’m just calm.” He was exhausted.

“Castiel.” Bobby looked him right in the eyes. “I’m sorry, but you have to die.”

Tears began to well up in his eyes. He knew this was the biggest outcome, and he spent all night preparing to hear the worst, but it still didn’t stop the emotions. “No.”

Bobby got up and walked towards the window, standing there for a moment. “It’s his masterpiece. It’s possibly the most important novel in his already stunning career and it’s no good if you don’t die.”

“I don’t care.” He wiped his eyes, but no amount of wiping seemed to stop the tears from coming. Bobby turned around and sat beside him.

“I’ve been over it again and again, and I know how hard this is for you to hear…”

“You’re asking me to knowingly face my death?” He took in a deep breath, willing the tears to stop.

“Yes.”

“Isn’t that morally wrong?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

He wiped his face one more time and exhaled loudly. “I thought you’d find something. Can’t we just try and just see if Chuck can change it?”

“In the grand scheme it wouldn’t matter. He set into motion things I don’t think even he can change. At this point, even he doesn’t control fate any longer, even with this untyped. You have to die, Castiel.”

Two beats passed. “I could change. I could quit my job, I could go away with Dean, I could be someone else. I don’t want to die.”

Bobby put a hand on his shoulder. “No one wants to die, but unfortunately we do. You will die someday, sometime. Everyone dies. They die from heart attacks, hunting trips gone wrong, choking on a mint.” He looked at him sympathetically. “You will die, and even if you avoid this death, another will find you, but I guarantee you that it won’t be nearly as poetic or meaningful as what Chuck has written.”

He stood up and returned to the other side of his desk. He opened a drawer and pulled out the manuscript, handing it to him. “I’m sorry, but it’s the nature of all tragedies. The hero dies, but the story will live on.”

He stared at the the folder, wishing it would spontaneously combust. Bobby interrupted that thought.

“I need you to understand, so please read it.” He implored. “I promise you’ll understand, and somehow, I think you’ll be okay with it.”

He wasn’t sure how he could possibly, under any circumstance, be okay with dying. He sat on the bus staring at the brown folder. What sat on his lap was what would be the last moments of his life. It was terrifying, but he had to understand.

It took him a few moments to really muster up the courage and focus to read, but he eventually opened up the file and began. He relived every moment, some happy, some terrible. People filtered in and out of the bus as he read. He finally understood who the mysterious Hannah and the boy on the bicycle were. Ironically enough, he was starting to get emotionally attached to the story, finding the plot to be enough of a detachment from what he experienced to make him invested.

Hours passed, and he soon ended up alone on the bus, even as it pulled into the station for a shift change and refuelling. He continued to read even as it departed again on a different route. His watch counted every second, minute, and hour he spent reading and the sun had just begun to set with darkness starting to settle when he finally got to the last few pages and the outline of what was to come. When he finally finished, he looked up with self-satisfaction and awareness, and quietly contemplated the ending in his head. He realized that though he couldn’t change his destiny, there was no gambling when it came to fate, and no amount of wanting to move across the country or throwing the only manuscript and outline away could stop what was going to inevitably happen - it was so unbelievably important that he died.

Looking outside, he saw he was in a very unrecognizable part of town. Seeing as he wasn’t sure how to get back home, he decided on calling a cab, asking the driver to send him to an imposing apartment building. He knocked on the door, hoping that someone would answer.

Chuck opened the door. He looked run down in his unevenly tied robe, with dark under-eye circles, and the smell of whisky on his breath was apparent. Castiel wondered if he was having a moral dilemma over whether or not to continue the story, thereby killing him. He had his answer for him. He gave the manuscript to the author.

“I just finished it. I read it all in one read, um, on the bus,” he began. “It’s lovely. I like the part about the guitars.”

“Thanks, I’m going to …” He took the manuscript and nervously looked at it, weighing it hesitantly in his hands as if it was some strange gift, but not setting it down.

“Chuck, listen.” He paused until Chuck looked up at him. “I read it and I loved it. There’s only one way it can end. It ends with me dying.” He swallowed the lump in his throat and took a breath. “I mean, I don’t have much background in literary … anything, but this seems simple enough. It’s my fate.” He breathed out. “I can’t escape it. As much as I want to believe that you or I or Professor Singer can control when and where I die, fall in love, or my watch going on the fritz, it’s just not the truth. All I know is that a series of events have been set into motion that none of us are able to do anything about. You can’t change it anymore as much as I want to prevent it, and it’d be a waste if you didn’t publish it. So we’ll have to learn to accept it and move on with our lives. Or, in my case, for however long it’ll last.”

Chuck stared at him with a strange, contorted expression on his face that spoke of awe, shock, sadness, and raw vulnerability. He wasn’t sure if Chuck was going to say anything, so he thought that he could at least have his own last author-less words to the man.

“I love your book, and I think you should finish it.”

***

He wasn’t sure just when Chuck would finish typing, so he thought it best to take care of some things before the end. He ended up at his office, taking care of some last minute reports and signing off on anything that was outstanding. He searched up some plane tickets and found a great price on a hotel and plane ticket combo for a vacation in Dubai. It cost him a bit of money, but he had to thank Gabriel for all that he did. He set up a timed email to send the itinerary to Gabriel for the day after. His message: “Enjoy the candy.”

He wandered over to Dean’s bakery, getting off a few stops early to enjoy the late night air and the stars that shone brightly over the cloudless night sky. He could smell the last of whatever had been baking in the last hour. Its aroma was comforting to him, and filled his heart with a feeling of warmth he knew he’d never experience again. Though that thought was depressing, he knew he had to push it down, instead electing to try and memorize every last moment he had in the bakery and with Dean.

He stepped inside and took it all in. The mismatched decor, the goodies bursting within the glass cases, the half ripped posters on the far wall, and the bell that always announced someone’s entrance and exit. Mostly, he took in Dean standing behind the counter.

“Hey, Cas. How are you?” Dean stopped counting his till when he realized Castiel was in the shop. “Are you feeling better?”

“Yeah.” He watched Dean closely, taking note of the way he was moving towards him, the colour of his eyes, and the beauty of his shop. “I am.”

“Good. I’m glad.” He returned to the till and finished counting. “I made some meatloaf if you want to stay and eat? I also have a fresh batch of cookies.”

His heart fluttered at the idea. “I would like that very much.”

“Great, come on.” He held out his hand and Castiel took it, holding on tightly as they walked up the stairs into his apartment.

It was a nice enough evening and in any other circumstance would seem commonplace. They ate a delicious dinner and the two watched old movies, Dean chuckling at some of the scenes, and Castiel laughing as well, though more than a tad distant. Like any other couple, they held each other as they made love that night. In fact, the only thing that made this night significant was the morning it preceded.

They laid side by side, with the top of Dean’s hair tickling his cheek. Castiel had his arm around Dean’s bare shoulders, his fingertips tracing a random pattern onto the naked skin. The temptation to count his freckles bore deep in him.

“I have to tell you something,” Castiel spoke softly into the air.

Dean smirked, moving so that he was on his side and able to look at Cas. “Is it a secret?”

“Sort of.” He smiled shyly. “I adore you.”

Dean smiled back, touched, with a warm look in his eyes. “I adore you.”

Their noses bumped together as Dean intertwined their fingers together. He leaned in for a soft and languid kiss. The kiss turned into another, which turned into another, but neither Dean nor Castiel were complaining. Sometime later, the time on his watch struck midnight. His watch looked on.

They were still just inches away when Dean asked, “Wait, was that it?”

“No, I have to tell you this …” He propped himself up on his elbow so he could look down at Dean. “I just want you to listen carefully.”

“Okay.”

For a moment, he was ready to tell Dean everything, until he realized it didn’t matter. He could let Dean wallow in pity and fear for the rest of the night and leave him regretting saying anything, or he could just soak in all this love for however long he had left. He changed his mind, instead saying, “You can subtract the value of the food you give away every night to the shelter as a charitable contribution. It amounts to more than what you’re currently withholding and it doesn’t break any tax laws.”

Dean just looked up at him and chuckled. “Cas, the whole idea is to break tax laws.”

“Well, this way you’re not paying for defense or going to jail.”

“Sam could get me out.”

“Possibly, but I don’t think it’s worth a risk. Besides, I have a feeling he’d make you stay in there to teach you a lesson.”

He laughed at that and nodded. “God, you’re right.”

They stared at each other for a moment, the soft light coming from the street lamp casting a warm glow over their bodies.

“You’re kinda weird, but I like you anyways. Don’t ever change.” He leaned in for another kiss. “Night, Cas.”

“Good night, Dean.” He watched as Dean closed his eyes, falling asleep easily.

His watch beckoned to be taken off, so he took it off and set his alarm, setting it gently on the nightstand beside him. He fell asleep watching the seconds tick away, the minutes slowly creeping further into a new day.

Chapter Text

Chuck sat down at his computer early in the morning with a giant mug of coffee and an exhausted hunch in his back. He hadn’t slept at all the previous night. After a nervous breakdown thinking about all the other characters he’d killed in his past books, he contemplated whether or not to continue his current one. He knew he had Castiel’s blessing, which was strange in itself, he knew Becky wouldn’t leave until he did, and he knew the pressure from his publisher to finish kept building, but he didn’t know if he could write the rest of it.

He hadn’t published a book under his real name in years. Every idea was stagnant, every letter from a fan made him anxious to write, and the pressure from his publisher never helped. He penned a few dozen books under a pen name for a totally different series in a totally different genre and that helped, but writing about angels, demons, and monster-hunting brothers could only distract him from the fact that fans and his publisher were still waiting for the Chuck Shurley novel that was promised six years ago.

He looked at his outline and back at the blinking cursor on the screen. It was quiet in his apartment, and unlike the past few weeks, Becky wasn’t there to try and help him in any way. Taking a large sip of coffee, he put his fingers on his keyboard and pressed down, the words coming to him easily. He imagined the scene and placed himself in the mindset of Cas. He imagined the watch dutifully waking Castiel up with three beeps and the warmth of the bed and Dean’s form wrapped around him nearly making it impossible to get up. He was sure Castiel knew that today was the day he was going to die.

He began to speak to himself as he typed, “Getting up, he looked down at Dean’s sleeping body. Though he only had a few of these mornings, these moments of intimacy that lingered still made him happy. He leaned down and kissed Dean on the forehead, whispering, ‘Thank you, for everything.’ Dean only stirred for a second before continuing to sleep.”

He leaned back and stared at his screen for a large chunk of time, wondering next how to phrase the coming lines. Chuck imagined Castiel returned to his apartment at the time he’d usually wake up for work, which meant that was right on schedule for his routine - it meant the story could continue. He placed his fingers back on the keyboard and typed.

“Much had changed for Castiel over the past few weeks: his attitudes towards work, his habitual counting, and his love life, but all of the transformations Castiel Novak had undergone, perhaps the most significant, was that today on his return to work, he was not late for the 8:17 bus.” He imagined Castiel calmly making his way to the bus stop with an apple in his hand, dressed smartly in a well-worn suit and plain blue tie underneath a trusty trench coat.

“What Castiel had not understood about that Wednesday four weeks prior was that the time he received from a fellow commuter was, in fact, three full minutes later than the actual time, and therefore, three full minutes later than the time to which his watch and his life had been previously set.

“Not the worst of errors, but if Castiel hadn’t set his watch to the incorrect time, he would have again barely caught his 8:17 bus, and he would not be approaching the bus stop precisely at 8:14 that particular morning. An otherwise ignorable fact until the unthinkable occurred.”

Chuck could see it before him. The boy on the bicycle swerving off the sidewalk to avoid the group of commuters waiting for the bus and not seeing the quickly approaching bus off in the distance, toppling over his bike and hitting the hard road. Castiel immediately rushing to the boy, picking him up and pushing him back to the sidewalk, but not having enough time to join him as the bus, unable to stop in time, careens into him, his watch making the first impact. He could see in his mind Castiel’s body flying a few feet in the air before landing with a dull thud. Hannah, the bus driver, panicking when she steps off her bus and the boy on the bicycle being led away from the gruesome scene.

He could imagine Castiel’s body resting, lifeless, in the middle of that street. His legs buckled underneath, the blood pooling to form a halo around his head, his arm snapped, and shards of glass littered everywhere around him.

“Castiel Novak was dead …”

Chuck’s hands trembled violently overtop his keyboard. Shaking, he pulled out a glass and a bottle of whiskey from his drawer. It took him several tries to open it up, and it sloshed into his tumbler, a few drips missing it entirely. His fingers failed to properly grip the glass, and it slipped and fell to the floor, the glass shattering into a million pieces. He jumped up in surprise and then anger and horror enveloped, and he collapsed to the floor sobbing in despair. Somewhere in the distance, the sirens from an ambulance racing down the street could be heard.

***

Sunlight streamed in brightly through the tenth floor window of the hospital. Opening his eyes slowly, Castiel squinted at the brightness and then noticed a figure standing at the foot of his bed.

“Ah, Mr. Novak. You’re awake,” the figure spoke.

The only thing he managed to say was, “Um.”

“It was a pretty brave thing you did, stepping in front of that bus.” The doctor flipped through a page on a clipboard. “It was kind of stupid, but pretty brave.”

“Oh, yeah.” He tried clearing his dry throat, but his voice continued to sound even more gravelly than usual. “Is the boy okay?”

“He’s fine. Scratched up is all.” She put the clipboard away.

“Am I okay?” He asked, groggily.

“Well, no, but...” She looked at him past the harness holding his broken leg up. “You’re not dead.”

***

There was a light knock at the door.

“Come in.” Bobby set down his pen and the essay he was grading.

A scruffy looking man appeared in the doorway. “Are you Professor Singer?”

Bobby knew exactly who was standing just a few feet away. He tried to school his expression so he didn’t look too astonished. “Yes, hi.”

“Hi, I’m Chuck Shurley. I think we have a mutual acquaintance.”

Bobby stood up and motioned to the chair in front of his desk. “Please, sit down.”

Hesitantly, he creeped forward. “No, I just came by to …” He held up a brown folder. “Here.”

He knew exactly what Chuck was holding, and his stomach turned, realizing that Castiel’s fate was sealed. He looked away for a moment. “Is that it?”

“Yes, you’ve read it, I take it?”

Bobby nodded.

He held it up for him to take. “I think you might be interested in the new ending.”

***

Dr. Meg Masters, as he was eventually introduced to, needed to attend to another patient before she could explain to him the extent to his injuries, but when she returned, the relief coming from the fact that he wasn’t dead helped soften the shock when she began to list the multitude of injuries to him. The morphine helped too.

“You cracked your head, broke three bones in your leg and foot, suffered four broken ribs, fractured your right arm, and you severed an artery in your left arm which should have killed you in minutes, but …” She took a breath and looked at his heavily bandaged left wrist. “Amazingly, a shard of metal from your watch became lodged in that artery, causing your heart rate to slow, which kept blood loss down enough to keep you alive, which I think is pretty cool.”

He simply blinked.

“So with some physical therapy and a few months of rest you should be fine.” She smirked. “Well … sort of. We couldn’t take that shard of watch out without risking more damage, so you’ll just have a piece of watch embedded in your arm for the rest of your life.” She shrugged. “You’re, like, 1% bionic.”

He wasn’t sure how to take that news. In all honesty, he was kind of confused as to why he wasn’t dead. “Okay.”

“We informed your emergency contact.” She checked his clipboard again. “Gabriel Milton? He’s on his way.”

“Okay.”

“Aw, don’t look so sad, Clarence. You’re lucky to be alive.”

“Yeah, I am.”

***

Bobby sat down and read the new ending, finishing it in record time. He put it down, leaned back, and looked at Chuck. It almost seemed like he was critiquing a student of his, instead of a renowned author that he considered to be his favourite. It was a strange situation for him.

“So?” Chuck broke the silence.

“It’s … it’s okay.”

Chuck looked a little downtrodden. “It’s not great.”

“No, but it’s still okay. It’s not bad.” Bobby sighed. “It’s not the most amazing piece of American literature, but it’s okay.”

He nodded and then looked back at him. “I think I’m fine with ‘okay.’”

Bobby jumped in. “It doesn’t make sense with the rest of the book, though.”

He shrugged but still managed to look positive. “No, but I’ll rewrite it.”

“Why? Why change the book? Because Castiel’s real?”

“There was … lots of reasons. I mean, that was a big one, but it wasn’t the only one.” Chuck smiled softly. “It’s a book about a man who doesn’t know he’s about to die, and then dies, but if the man does know he’s going to die and dies anyways, dies willingly, knowing he could stop it, then, well, isn’t that the type of man you want to keep alive?”

***

A little after Dr. Masters and Gabriel left, a nurse came in to announce that Castiel had another visitor.

“Oh my god, Cas!” Dean rushed to his side, being careful not to bump into any bandaged or casted body parts.

“Hello, Dean. I’m fine,” he said in between frantic kisses.

Tears were beginning to form in Dean’s eyes. “Cas, look at you. You’re not fine.” He rubbed the tears away. “God, you’re really badly hurt.”

Castiel chuckled. “I’m fine. I’m alive. How did you know I was here?”

Concern replaced the worry in his eyes. “Some guy, uh, Gabriel, I think, called me. He said he found my number in your file? But, Cas, seriously, what happened?”

“I stepped in front of a bus.”

“What? Why?”

“There was a boy. I had to push him out of the way. I had to keep this boy from getting hit.”

His brows raised. “You stepped in front of a bus to save a little boy?”

“Yeah.” He chuckled. “I didn’t have a choice. I had to.” He noticed Dean had something in his hands. “What are you holding?”

Dean followed his eye line and realized he was carrying a small brown box. His eyes widened in realization and laughed. “I was, uh, packing up some cookies when the phone rang. I guess I forgot to give them to a customer when I rushed out of there.” He scrubbed a hand down his face. “Jesus, I didn’t even tell Charlie I was leaving. Let me just call her.”

He stepped out of the room for a minute and Castiel laid his head down, still trying to work out why Chuck changed the ending, though he wasn’t complaining. He was confused, but grateful. Dean came back.

“Okay, everything’s good. I mean, it’s not really, you almost died, but …” He blabbered on.

“I’m alright, Dean.” He watched him carefully, and using his left hand, he carefully threaded his fingers through Dean’s and smiled. “I’m really happy you’re here.”

Dean kissed the unbruised knuckles gently. “Yeah, me too, taxman.”

Prologue

“Sometimes, people lose themselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy. Fortunately, reassurance can be found in a familiar hand on skin, a kind and loving gesture, a subtle or cheesy encouragement, a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort. Not to mention the hospital gurneys, an uneaten sandwich, soft-spoken secrets, Fender Stratocasters, freshly baked pie, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction.

“All these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, and the material objects which is assumed only accessorizes each day, are in fact here for a much nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. It’s a strange idea, but it’s true. And so it was: a wristwatch saved Castiel Novak.”

Satisfied, Chuck scanned the last few sentences, hit save, and turned his computer off.