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Sam decided to walk home from work rather than take the subway. It was a beautiful night, milder than average for Boston. He absorbed himself in his own thoughts, the pile of books waiting for him at home both daunting and exciting. They were the pathway to his future. It was a corny thought, he knew, but he entertained it all the same. He imagined all the good he would do for others.

He never heard the mugger coming.

At the hospital (which he hadn’t even wanted to go to, but the person who witnessed the attack had already called the ambulance and the paramedics insisted), his mother called his brother Dean. He’d begged her not to, but she said he’d be downright pissed if she didn’t, and although they weren’t as close as they used to be, given everything, he knew it was true.

Sam only had a few scrapes on his face and hands as well as a sore shoulder from being knocked into a wall when he’d resisted the guy trying to steal his wallet. He’s not even sure why he resisted – hell, he only had a few bucks on him, and credit cards could be replaced. A matter of pride or instinct, he supposed.

Dean, despite being contacted, was pissed anyway. When he saw Sam’s cuts and scrapes over Skype, he lost his mind and immediately went into big brother mode. He was so mad that it was hard to figure out what he was saying, but with his mother's help Sam got the gist – he wanted Sam to leave Boston and come back to live with him, or at least live with Mom. Sam refused both. Sam accused him of not listening to him, as usual, and Dean told him he was being an idiot and that this was just proof that he shouldn’t be living on his own. Sam disconnected the call in disgust and refused to talk to him for months.

Eventually the ice in Sam’s heart melted. He missed his brother, and he wanted him back in his life. He knew his brother was just scared for him, that Dean just didn’t understand. But Sam convinced himself that maybe, if Dean saw him here in his element – saw the apartment, the school, work, his friends – he would finally understand that the mugging was just an unfortunate incident that could’ve happened to anyone. Maybe then, Sam thought, Dean would understand that Sam wasn’t broken. Maybe then he would see that Sam was making a good life for himself. Maybe then he’d listen.

Chapter Text

Denial and avoidance: two of Dean’s greatest skills. He’s been putting them to good use lately – at least for the past few years – but today he has to put them aside and figure out what other coping skills he has, because today he’s going to see Sammy, his little brother, who issued him an invitation a few months ago and by God, he's gonna get over himself and visit, no matter how hard it is.

It’s not like he hasn’t seen Sam at all in the past five years. In fact, for the first couple of months after the accident that changed everything, he hardly left his side. But that was when he was recovering, and now he’s “recovered” – as recovered as he’s going to get, anyway, and it still makes Dean shake when he thinks too hard about it. He's angry, but more than that, he's afraid for his brother. Especially after the mugging a few months ago.

Dean hates Boston. It’s like any other big city, he supposes – congestion and parking that costs him an arm and a leg per day – but the one ways and the criss-crossing streets every which way are what really get him. Traffic is a nightmare this time of the day, and he’d be a happy man if he never needed to use Storrow Drive ever again. He finally navigates his prized ’67 Chevy Impala through the narrow streets to Northeastern University, where he’s picking Sam up after his class. Sam told him he didn’t have to pick him up, that he could use the T, but Dean wouldn’t hear of it, even though it would’ve been a hell of a lot easier on him. He just… doesn’t want him using the subway. It doesn’t feel safe, even though he knows logically that Sam uses it all the time. So Dean is picking him up and they’re going to head to Malden, where their mother now lives. Sam lives with a roommate in a little apartment just off campus. Dean’s not sure he agrees with that decision – actually, he’s pretty damn sure he doesn’t, especially now – but it’s been made and there’s nothing he can do about it. He’s never seen the apartment or even met Sam’s roommate, but it wouldn’t matter anyway. He wouldn’t agree with it even if the apartment was gilded in gold or the roommate was the next coming of the Messiah. He double-parks and waits.

Sam emerges on the sidewalk from whatever building he left, and Dean takes a moment to soak him in. He’s still tall, of course – the kid shot up at 16 and never seemed to stop – and his body is a little more filled out than Dean remembers. The baby fat is gone and he’s lean and muscular, and he’s smiling brightly as he gestures emphatically with his hands to another student. His mouth is moving a mile a minute and Dean chuckles as he remembers what a motormouth Sam can be. His hair seems even longer than it was the last time Dean saw him over video chat, and it’s bouncing along with him as he walks. Dean is reminded of a horse’s mane whipping in the wind. He’d love to make a whinnying noise when Sam gets in the car, but the joke would be lost on him. Sam waves goodbye to his friend and flings the door open with all the carefree enthusiasm of a person in the prime of his life, an enthusiasm Dean isn’t sure what to make of.

“Hi, Dean!” Sam says as he pulls him into a hug. It’s been so long since he’s seen him in person, and it feels really good to hold his brother again.

“Hey, Sammy,” Dean says, mostly to himself. His breath tickles Sam’s ear. Sam pulls back and smiles.

“It’s so good to see you!”

“You too,” Dean says carefully, looking at Sam and hoping he understands just how good it is to see him, despite everything.

“Can’t believe you’re driving this boat through Boston,” Sam teases, gesturing to the car. Dean’s grateful for the teasing. It makes him feel like everything is okay even if Sam’s voice sounds just a little different than it used to, just slightly off. Dean sticks his tongue out and his middle finger up, and Sam laughs as Dean eases into traffic and toward their mother’s home.

Mary greets them as they come into the house – first Sam, who she acknowledges with a wave and a kiss on the cheek, and then Dean, who she tugs into a quick hug and kiss. She loves them both – Sam wouldn’t be here in Boston if she didn’t – but she was never one for a whole lot of physical demonstration of the fact, especially now that they’re adults. Dean misses it a little, but he knows she loves him.

She lets them know that she’s ordered pizza, then brings them into the living room. It’s a nice room, cozy and lived-in, not frilly but comfortable. Pictures of the brothers hang on the wall and sit on the tables. There aren’t any photos with their dad in them.

They talk about Dean’s career as a singer, his rising fame now that he’s had a few songs on the Top 40 charts, and his time on the road. He leaves out the unsavory bits – the loneliness, the meaningless sex, the suspicion and paranoia, the ass-kissing everyone does around him. They talk about Mary’s work as the head nurse at a veteran’s hospital and about her live-in boyfriend, Arthur. Dean’s a little uncomfortable about that still, as (adult) children of divorced parents can be, but he gets it and he doesn’t begrudge his mother her happiness. She’s sacrificed a lot over the years, first in a marriage that started strong but ended sour and then with everything that happened with Sam. When the pizza arrives they take a break from talking and dive into the meal, and Dean didn’t realize how famished he was. Dean laughs as his mother matches his pace and Sam, as usual, eats with a bit more reserve. Once the feeding frenzy slows down, Sam puts down his uneaten pizza crust, wipes his hands, and begins talking about the latest happenings in his life. Listening to Sam talk about his life is the most bittersweet part of the evening. Sam seems really… happy. He’s going for his JD at Northeastern, still chasing his dream of becoming an attorney. He’s there under the Public Interest Law Scholars program, so he gets full tuition, which is a great relief to all of them. He works part time at a Starbucks near the school, and he loves the apartment he shares with his friend Kevin. Sam tells them about his usual weekend activities, which consist of errands, studying, and hanging out with some of his friends, most often Eileen, Gabe, and Cas. Dean hears about them a lot when they text each other or during their occasional video calls, especially Cas, who to hear Sam tell it is like some sort of angel on Earth. Dean wants to ask so many questions – How did you make so many friends? How do you take care of yourself? How are you so happy despite everything? – but he doesn’t know how.

They watch a movie and Dean is annoyed by the subtitles or whatever they're called on the bottom of the screen, but they can't turn them off. It’s Airplane! and he and Sammy can recite almost the entire movie by heart. Sam recites some of the lines and his timing is only off by a fraction of a second.

Lying in the bed he’ll be using for the next month or so gives Dean too much time to think. Tomorrow they are going to hang out in the city. They’re going to use the subway and tour the campus and drink overpriced coffee. They’re going to go to a karaoke night, of all the ridiculous, pointless things, and Sam is going to introduce all of his friends to Dean. Sam says they go out to karaoke night every month or so and it’s a blast, but Dean doesn’t see the appeal from Sam’s point of view. It’s strange, thinking of Sam as an independent adult – before it might not have been, other than that he’s his brother, but since the accident it’s even stranger, more dangerous. He’s happy that his brother seems happy and he may even be a little jealous (of some parts of his life – the friends, mostly), but he’s scared for him all the time and he really doesn’t know how to tell him that, or even if he should. It’s not really the kind of thing to send over a text message, but telling him in person, like telling him most things in person or over video chat, is frustrating. Dean can’t help but wonder, too, if Sam’s life would’ve been so much better if… if. If he’d never gone out with his friends that night. If he’d never fallen down that quarry. If he’d never become deaf.

Chapter Text

Sam sits at the breakfast bar in his mother’s kitchen with his coffee and a bagel and scrolls through his Twitter feed. He is excited for the day’s events and is thrilled that Dean is visiting, even if Dean himself probably isn’t. He loves his big brother and just wants to have a relationship with him. They used to be so close before the accident. Sam wasn’t hopeful about much in the days and weeks after the accident, but seeing Dean at his bedside truly helped. Dean was 22 at the time, just a year younger than Sam is now, and sometimes he tries to reverse their roles and put himself in Dean’s place. He imagines how hard it must have been for Dean – ever-protective, ever-strong – to feel so helpless. He imagines it was difficult for Dean to know what to say or how to say it, to be unable to communicate except for the written word and exaggerated gestures or pointing. It’s not hard to imagine any of it, really, because he felt the same way, except of course that he was also the one who’d lost his hearing.

Dean had just moved out to live with his boyfriend at the time of the accident, so it was pretty easy for him to distance himself in the following weeks. He didn’t see what Sam saw – the bills, the new routines, the fighting. Their parents’ marriage had been standing on its last leg for a long time, and though Sam suspected she would’ve left anyway, his new needs were the perfect excuse. She wanted to take him away from their small town in Kansas and move them to Boston, where she knew a couple of people and had talked to countless others. He hadn’t given up his dream of college, and his mother thought he’d have a better chance in a larger city to get the resources he needed to succeed. Within a few months of his accident, he and his mother moved, leaving his father and Dean (and his friends, neighborhood, and everything familiar to him) behind. He wasn’t too worried about Dean, since he was already on his own, but he did worry about his father, who had some problems with booze and never really did well on his own. They moved to Malden, and Sam and Mary set about to continue learning the language they’d started learning shortly after his accident: American Sign Language, or ASL. Sam wondered about the name of the language – he'd never given ASL much thought before, hadn’t even known there were other sign languages, but thinking about it he supposed it made sense.

Despite his initial misgivings and fears, Sam thrived in Boston. He loved the energy of the city, the diversity, the opportunities. Using a homeschooling program, he caught up on schoolwork he missed after the accident and graduated high school only a semester late. He started college at Northeastern in January, and that’s when he met Gabriel and Castiel.

Gabriel was one of the TAs for his Intro to Family Law class, and Castiel was the interpreter. Gabe was a golden-haired man with an easygoing, jovial smile and mischievous eyes, while Castiel was a dark-haired, blue-eyed man with an intense gaze and, Sam guessed, quite a bit of patience. Sam could see the two were close, their movements and interactions like those of people who knew each other too well. Gabe noticed Sam right away and began signing to him, too quickly for Sam’s skill level at the time. Castiel sensed it and signed to Gabe to “Slow down, asshole,” which made Sam laugh. He’d been nervous about the class, but Gabe sat next to him and Castiel stood at the front of the lecture hall in front of him, signing at just the right pace and spelling out terms he wasn’t sure Sam knew. His face was expressive (as far as the subject of family law would allow, at least), and when he glanced around he saw he wasn’t the only one entranced by the way Castiel made the words come alive (though he supposed many might’ve been entranced by the handsome man himself).

After the class, Gabe and Cas invited Sam to join them for coffee, and they explained the services they provided. He learned that they were brothers and that they started a company together, and that Cas had been providing interpretation services informally since childhood as his brother’s interpreter. Gabe already had some mild hearing problems in his early years due to prematurity, but became profoundly deaf after a case of meningitis when he was six and Cas was three. Their mom, a fearsome woman if you got on her bad side, learned ASL as soon as she could and went back to school to become a speech/language pathologist. Like Sam’s own mother, their mother took charge and refused to be helpless. Their father left the family after Gabe’s illness. Gabe and Cas were warm and friendly, smart and very funny, and he connected with both of them instantly despite the age differences of seven and four years, respectively. As they spent more time together, they introduced him to other people, and his circle of friends grew along with his proficiency in ASL. Now, at age 23 and in grad school, he has stayed close to them. Sometimes he wonders how much harder his adjustment would’ve been without them; he doesn’t dwell on it too long.

Sam is most excited for Dean to meet Cas. Cas is the most genuine guy he’s ever met, full of so much heart that it spills onto his sleeve. He’s kind, generous, and completely guileless, sometimes to the point of brutal honesty, if he feels it is warranted. Most of the time that honesty is to help the other person, to point out things he thinks they need to see in the most efficient way possible. Occasionally, though, that brutal honesty comes out in more aggressive ways. Cas doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and he will call people out on their behavior. This mostly happens if he is standing up for some cause or defending the rights of others, particularly those within the Deaf community. He’s a well-known advocate for the rights of Deaf persons, and he can get indignant and downright nasty if necessary, which is both inspiring to watch and secretly comical given how well Sam knows him. He’s naturally brilliant with languages, has a Bachelor's degree in social policy, and got his JD just because he figured he “might as well” since he was helping Gabe with his and he thought it might “come in handy” in his work with their business.

Sam closes out of Twitter and confirms their plans for tonight with Cas:

To Cas 7:42am: Hey just making sure we’re on for karaoke tonight.

To Sam 8:03am: Yes, of course. I apologize for the delay in responding. The blender was loud and I couldn’t hear my phone so I missed your text.

To Cas 8:05am: I can’t hear my phone either but you don’t hear me making excuses. ;P

To Sam 8:08am: I guess I have no excuses then. :D Did your brother make it to town safely?

To Cas 8:13am: Oh yeah, he’s fine.

To Sam 8:14am: How is it going?

To Cas 8:19am: It’s awkward, but it’s okay. I’m happy he’s here. He feels weird about things, I can tell.

To Sam 8:26am: Well, hopefully spending some time with you, seeing you live your life, will help him feel more comfortable.

To Cas 8:33am: Yeah, I hope so. I know there’s stuff going on with him, too, but he just blows it off, says everything is fine. It’s bullshit and I’d bet he doesn’t have anyone to talk to about stuff.

To Sam 8:41am: That would be a shame. I hope he does. Everyone needs someone who will listen to them.

To Cas 8:45am: Yeah. See you tonight.

Sam puts his phone down and looks up at Dean, who'd apparently come in while Sam was occupied with his phone and is now standing by the coffeemaker. He clearly was watching Sam, but he turns away in what looks like embarrassment and is now watching the coffee drip maddeningly slowly into the pot. Sam thinks he’s going to have to buy his mother a new coffeemaker for her birthday. They eat and get ready for the day in silence.

Dean reaches for his keys hopefully, but Sam waves him off and tells him they’re going to take the T into the city. They walk down to the Malden Center stop, buy Dean a Charlie Card since he’ll be here a while, and hop onto the Orange Line, then transfer at Government Center onto the Green Line and ride it to the Northeastern stop. Dean follows Sam off the subway car. Sam leads them a few blocks to his apartment, in a complex that caters to college students, grad students in particular. The landlord feels that grad students are a safer, quieter lot.

As he unlocks the door, he greets Kevin, who’s bent over a book studying as usual. Kevin, a young man of Asian descent with dark hair, dark eyes, and large hearing aids, returns the greeting and says hello to Dean. Sam explains that Kevin is Hard of Hearing and can hear low sounds, and that he is also fluent in ASL. He’s studying international finance and they were connected through a roommate match program that Gabe started with Northeastern’s Off-Campus Student Services. Dean appears grateful that Kevin might be able to hear a bit of what he’s saying. Sam gives him the tour and they settle down to watch reruns of Seinfeld before lunch. After a lunch of cheap Ramen noodles (for which Sam gives a sheepish apology and Dean just shrugs), Sam grabs a sweatshirt before leading them out again, this time to the Starbucks where he works.

Starbucks is busy, but Sam skips the line and goes behind the counter to make them their drinks. He’s greeted by a couple of his co-workers as he finishes their drinks – a tall Sumatra for Dean, a tall Americano for Sam. Scanning his card to pay, he grabs the drinks and tells Dean about the work he does here. He knows it’s not glamorous, but it’s a job that allows him enough cash to live on his own. Between Starbucks and some of the work he does for Cas and Gabe, he’s done alright – alright enough to surprise his brother with tickets to a playoff game at Fenway.

They get back on the T and ride to Fenway, and at the game Dean is as relaxed as he’s seen him so far on this visit. Sitting next to each other watching the game feels like old times, and Sam would bet Dean’s thinking the same. It feels good, and Dean gives him an easy smile. He’d like to see many more smiles like that on Dean’s face, and he hopes he will, starting tonight.

Chapter Text

Dean doesn’t understand how this is going to work. Karaoke isn’t really about the visual performance – most people just stand there stiffly – it’s about the performance of the song itself, which you can’t hear if... well, if you can't hear. Sam assures him that he’ll understand once he attends and that it’ll be a little different that the typical karaoke he’s seen. Dean will just have to take his word for it.

The bar is nice, as far as bars go. It’s homey and comfortable, neither too upscale nor saturated with the stale smell of old, spilled beer in the floorboards. It draws a mixed crowd but tends toward the younger. Dean likes it. He and Sam join a bunch of people already at a table in the front with a “reserved” sign on it that no one bothered to remove.

The group is clearly a bunch of Sam’s friends; they smile and sign rapidly and are quite happy to see him, from what Dean can tell. He skims a hand through his dirty blond hair and waits for introductions. While he’s waiting he scans the table: there’s a man with light brown hair almost Sam’s length, a woman with pale skin and vibrant red hair whose color probably comes from a box, a woman with curly brown hair and a heart-shaped face, a man with blondish hair who doesn’t look old enough to drink, and a woman with dark hair and a welcoming smile. Sam points to each person and says, “Dean, this is Gabe, Anna, Meg, Alfie, and Eileen. Guys, this is my brother Dean.” He says it with such pride as he signs that Dean is ashamed. Dean waves and they all wave back.

The man Sam called Gabe holds his hand to his ear and says, “What’s your name?”

“Dean,” he says, a little louder.

“What?” Gabe says, still holding his hand up to cup his ear. He leans forward and concentrates on Dean’s face.

“It’s Dean,” he says, even louder.

“What?”

“Dean!” he practically yells.

Gabe snickers and signs as he says, “Sorry, I can’t hear shit.” His eyes glitter as he smirks. Dean blushes furiously, now remembering that Sam had told him Gabe is profoundly deaf. Gabe laughs and raises his glass.

Dean sits next to Sam and orders a beer. It’s going to be a long night.

“So Sam tells us you’re a musician? My sister loves your new song,” Eileen says. Her voice sounds a little strange to Dean’s ears, but he tries to get over his discomfort and nods. She asks him how it feels to be making it big and he doesn’t want to give her the whole truth, so he gives her a thumbs up and smiles. She pinches her brows together, then laughs.

“I can read your lips,” she says. He feels like an idiot.

“Sorry,” he says, and she laughs again, pleasant and warm, not condescending or taunting in the slightest. He feels a little better and tells her, with careful attention to his lips, “It’s okay. It’s not as great as everyone thinks.”

“All jobs have their share of shit, right?” she says, and he laughs.

“Hey, maybe you can perform it tonight,” Gabe suggests. His signs are fast and Dean now notices that his voice is fairly clear, but not quite as clear as Sam’s; it’s more like Eileen’s. Dean shakes his head. “Chicken shit,” Gabe responds as he signs, and the rest of the table laughs. It’s strange to see everyone laughing but not everyone making noise, and between that and the insult Dean is a bit stunned and doesn’t know what to say. “I’m joking with you. Relax. You need to drink more,” he says, and the table laughs again, Dean joining in this time. He’s nervous as hell but these people seem nice. He remembers Sam telling him that Gabe busts everyone’s balls, so he guesses he should feel pretty good about being included in his teasing.

The owner of the establishment comes to the stage and waves excitedly at someone in the back. It’s a harried-looking man in a trench coat, who whips the coat off quickly once he’s on stage and is still left wearing a full business suit, looking like he just came from some corporate meeting. He shakes his hands a bit and loosens his shoulders as the owner laughs and he smiles at her, then at their table. She announces the first karaoke performer.

“Alright, folks, we’re gonna have a good time tonight!” The man signs as the woman talks. “To my left we have Mr. Handsome over here, a special guest ASL interpreter who many of you have seen here before; he’s gonna be taking turns with the lovely Anna and they will be interpreting tonight. Now, first up we have Jeannie singing ‘My Heart Will Go On.’ Give it up!” The crowd applauds as the woman starts singing.

Dean is fascinated. He’s seen interpreters, of course, but none who engage him the way this man does. The man interprets not just the words, but the song. He moves without effort as he interprets, gestures so natural and unselfconscious it’s as if he’s in his own bathroom singing into the mirror by himself rather than in front of many, many pairs of eyes. Dean’s never really liked the song – it was so overplayed back in the day – but he feels the song like he never has before and before he knows it, the crowd cheers and the song is over. The interpreter stands quietly at attention, waiting for the next words to be spoken. It’s another popular song that Dean recognizes, and the man makes it look so easy to cross between languages, between worlds. He stares at the man’s features – his tousled hair, softly angled face, pink lips, dark eyes, and gorgeous hands. He’s never had a hand fetish before but he thinks he’s getting ideas.

The man is about to step down to switch with Anna – he assumes the Anna at their table, who hasn’t said much – but Gabe stops him with a hand in the air and the man stays put. As the third performers take the stage, the man seems to understand why and he rolls his eyes. The man and woman on stage, whose names Dean doesn’t catch, laugh at the interpreter and wink at him. The man doesn’t take the bait; instead, he loosens his shoulders and hands again, takes off his suit jacket, and looks directly at their table.

“I hate all of you,” he speaks in a deep baritone as he signs, “especially you two,” he finishes, pointing to Sam and Gabe, who are cackling with delight. He hasn’t seen Sam laugh like that in ages. Meg and Eileen give each other a knowing eye and amused smiles. Alfie looks embarrassed and amused simultaneously. Anna smiles and shakes her head, leaving the man on stage to his fate.

The song starts, and Dean knows right away that this is going to be interesting. The fellow on stage knows it, too, and he’s clearly done this before. For their part, the couple singing the song engages well with the audience and even with the interpreter. Dean cannot stop giggling as the straight-laced man in the suit interprets “Anaconda.” He’s impressed both by the way the man keeps up with the speed of the song and by the way he interprets it with no shame, all sexual innuendo and exaggerated facial and body movements that play up the raunchiness of the song.

When the song ends, the crowd erupts in cheers and the man shows this with his hands in the air before stepping off the stage and switching with Anna, who’s already heading his way. She smiles and squeezes his elbow before taking the stage. Dean doesn’t pay any attention to the stage now that Mr. Handsome (a fitting name) is approaching their table. Sam jumps up beside him and opens his arms wide, and the guy walks into his arms for a bear hug. He’s laughing and Dean can hear the timbre of his voice in his chuckle. The man makes his way around the rest of the table, catching hugs along the way, until he reaches the empty chair on the other side, across from Dean. He stays standing and eyes Dean, clearly the newbie of the group.

“Hi, I’m Dean,” he says, slowly and carefully and a little loudly. He spells out his name, one of the few things in ASL he knows how to do. He’s extra nervous, both because of his ineptness with ASL and because the guy is so hot he could melt glass.

The man cocks his eyebrow. “Hello, Dean,” he says, and he uses the name sign that Sam made up for him: he signs “drive” with both hands, with one of the hands forming a “D.” Dean regards him shyly. He didn’t realize the man would know his name sign. The man continues, “I’m Castiel,” he spells with his fingers, then says, “Cas,” and makes a “C” with his hand as he drags it up behind his ear; he simultaneously drags the index finger of his other hand across his face and up as if he is smiling. Dean assumes this is his name sign, but he isn’t really sure what it means.

“Nice to meet you,” Dean says, careful to move his lips clearly. He practically shouts above the din of the karaoke singer.

“Thank you,” Cas says as he arches an eyebrow again, “and I can hear you.”
Dean blushes and feels ridiculous. Of course Cas can hear him.

“Sorry, I’m an idiot,” Dean mumbles, head down, and only Cas and Eileen understand. He raises it again once his embarrassment fades. “So, uh, you’re Cas. My brother talks a lot about you.”

“Sam speaks about me when I’m not around? I hope he speaks well of me.” Cas moves his hands about as he speaks, and Sam and Gabe snicker. Sam and Gabe shrug and Cas laughs in response. “Yes, that’s what I thought,” he says to the two men, then to Dean, “Sam speaks of you as well.”

“All good, I hope?” Dean asks, and Cas eyes him with an indecipherable look before saying “mostly.” Dean’s not quite sure whether the man is joking or not.

The blond kid – Alfie – gets Cas’ attention and speaks to him, Cas responding quickly and with a smile. It feels different than how he responded to Dean, but he figures the guy just doesn’t know him yet. He’s going to have to change that.

Throughout the next couple of songs, Dean watches Cas’ interactions with the others at the table. Whenever Dean asks him a question or says something, Cas is polite but reserved; he answers him aloud and in ASL or repeats what Dean said to the others in ASL. He’s both grateful and uncomfortable. Anna hadn’t offered to interpret for him, even though she’d been sitting there listening to everyone, and Dean hadn’t wanted to ask. The others have been nice enough to him, but when Cas interprets for him they perk up and talk to him a lot more. Cas, seeing this, moves his chair next to Dean’s so the others can see him interpret more easily while looking at Dean. He starts to get more enthusiastic about interacting with the others, and even remembers to look at them rather than Cas when he is talking to them after Cas reminds him several times with a pointed look and a pointed finger. He tells a funny story about puking after meeting one of his idols in the recording studio and Sam and his friends (except for Cas) laugh and ask questions excitedly. Anna steps down from the stage and Cas pauses, excusing himself and asking Anna to take over for him at the table as he resumes his duties on stage. Anna fills in admirably while they prepare for the next song. Dean starts to feel pretty good, with the combination of beer in his system and a greater level of comfort now that he can talk to the others around him. Out of the corner of Dean’s eye, Gabe and Sam smile wickedly at each other, then at Cas. Not for the first time tonight, Dean wonders what’s going on.

“Shake It Off” begins, and the crowd gets into the energy of the song, singing along. Dean turns to his brother and shoots him a withering glare, thinking that he probably had something to do with the song choice – Sam knows he’s kind of a closet Taylor Swift fan. Sam smirks back and Dean shakes his head. He and Gabe seem to know a lot of people here, and it appears when they’ve gotten up to “use the bathroom” or “get another drink” they’ve also been convincing people to select certain songs, particularly when Cas is on. Cas is smiling at the table as he signs and sings along, and even Dean sings a few words since no one seems to care.

The woman from the “Anaconda” song comes back, and Cas shoots Gabe and Sam a death glare before rolling up his sleeves and removing his tie. Dean recognizes the song right away as the intro music starts and Sam tells him what the song is. The signs he uses are clear enough so Dean can figure out the words, but they don’t look nearly as suggestive as Dean would’ve thought. Still, he can’t wait to see how the hot guy, with his gorgeous hands, interprets it.

It’s as hot as he’d hoped it would be to see Cas interpret The Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself.” Dean has a hard time picking out the signs Sam had used, and he wonders if Cas is using them at all. It looks like he’s replaced the words Sam used with his own interpretation (which is much closer to what Dean expected), and it’s clear with his facial expressions and gestures exactly what he means. The guy has no shame and it’s so hot. Dean likes it. The woman hugs him when she finishes and they share a laugh. The man who was with her earlier jumps onto stage next to join her, and the audience cheers as if they know what’s coming. They probably do, Dean surmises. Anna jumps up on stage with him, somewhat reluctantly it seems.

It’s some kind of rap/pop song, he thinks by Flo Rida, and Cas and Anna do it expertly. Gabe gets his attention and tells him it’s “Wild Ones” by Flo Rida (ha, yes, got it right) and Sia. Anna is doing Sia’s part while Cas raps Flo Rida’s. Dean had no idea that rap would look like that in ASL. He’s impressed.

When the couple finishes, Cas interprets a few more songs before the karaoke portion of the evening ends. Dean buys him a beer before the songs end and presents it to him with a wink and a smile when he returns, but he politely (always politely) but coolly declines, so Dean shrugs and drinks it himself.

He can’t figure the guy out. He seems so friendly to everyone else, but he’s not reacting to the Winchester charm the way Dean expects. Then again, the charm hasn’t been all that charming tonight. He’s mostly been making a fool of himself. But he wants this guy to like him. He’s a friend of Sam’s and he knows he will probably be seeing him again. Plus, Sam was really insistent on him meeting Cas, and hell, the guy just does things to Dean with his energy and passion and fuck he’s so hot. He tries to turn the charm up to ten, but the guy does nothing more than blink and respond oh-so-politely, like he’s tolerating him.

Music starts pumping through speakers overhead and people begin to dance. It’s a good mix of faster club songs and slower songs, and most of his table gets up to dance to the fast techno songs with thumping basslines. When one particular song starts, a slow, romantic one Dean’s heard on the radio countless times, Cas signs to Sam and they stay on the dance floor. Sam takes the lead and glides around the floor with Cas, moving and dipping in time to the music. Dean tries to see if Cas is helping at all, but he seems to be letting Sam lead without worry. Cas is signing with one hand and the fingers of his other hand are moving on Sam’s neck, and Dean figures it out. They’re dating. Holy shit. That’s why Sam wanted him to meet Cas so badly, and why Cas was standoffish about Dean's advances. Damn, he didn’t even know his brother was into guys. Well, he’s disappointed – really disappointed – but he won’t home in on Sam’s territory. They’ve known each other for years, so who knows how long they’ve been dating or how serious they are? Now, though, he really does need to get to know the guy, if only for Sam’s sake. He decides that he’ll do just that, no matter how much Cas doesn’t seem to want the same in return.

Chapter Text

On Monday morning Castiel Novak walks into his sunny little office at Listen Without Barriers, the business he and his brother Gabe started a few years ago. The offices themselves are small, a sacrifice the brothers made in order to have a couple of larger meeting spaces for group lessons and gatherings. He fires up his laptop while his tea steeps in the kitchenette. Lost in his thoughts as he unwraps his breakfast, he takes a large bite of his blueberry bagel only to cough and spit it out onto his desk. It’s an onion bagel. The person at the counter got his order wrong. He sighs and cleans up his desk, scraping everything into the trash can. He’s scrolling through his e-mail when he hears a knock at the door, which is ajar, and looks up to see Sam’s brother, Dean. Cas groans internally and puts on his professional face. He can play nice. For Sam.

“Dean, hello,” he greets the tall, sandy-haired man with classic, symmetrical facial features. His outward appearance is handsome. It’s too bad. “Did we have an appointment?”

“Hey Cas,” Dean answers. “Uh, no, no appointment, just thought I’d drop by. You sign even with people who can hear?”

“Not all of them,” Cas says as he signs. “But with you, yes.” Dean frowns and Cas knows he has no idea why Cas is doing it, which just annoys him even more.

“Okaaay, well. I, uh… yeah, okay.” Cas stares at him and waits for him to continue. He knows the way he looks at people can be intimidating – that’s what he’s told, anyway – and he sees no need to modify his look at present.

“Okay,” Dean starts again. He fidgets with his hands and it’s sort of cute, or it would be if he weren’t so set on disliking the man. “Um, so, it seems like you don’t like me very much.” Cas keeps his mouth closed, neither confirming nor denying the statement, so the other man continues. “I… well, Sam means a lot to me, and you guys clearly mean a lot to each other, and since you’re dating and all I just figured maybe we should get to know each other, try to get along and whatnot, since I’m trying to reconnect with Sam, and, uh… yeah.”

Cas frowns and stares more intensely. “You want to get to know me… since Sam and I are dating.”

“Well, yeah,” Dean responds, “I mean, it’s the right thing to do, you know?”

“I suppose it would be. Excuse me a moment.” Cas picks up his phone and texts Sam:

To Sam 9:02am: I have a gentleman sitting at my desk who seems to think we are dating.

To Cas 9:03am: Sorry. He’s an idiot.

To Sam 9:04am: No need to apologize. Just making sure I didn’t miss the memo. ;)

To Cas 9:05am: Well if you missed the memo so did I. :D More than one memo, considering we’re just friends AND I’m not into guys. Sorry again.

To Sam 9:06am: No need, Sam. See you later. Let me know what Jess says.

Cas turns his face up to Dean as he finishes texting with Sam. Dean’s phone vibrates and he looks at the incoming text:

To Dean 9:07am: You’re an idiot. Cas and I are NOT dating! I want to set him up with YOU!

Dean looks up at Cas, who’s holding his text conversation out for Dean’s inspection. “He didn’t even ask who I was talking about,” he says, amused at his friend’s intuition as to who was sitting across from him. Dean grumbles and puts his phone away, not showing Cas his own phone. He pouts and thrusts his hands into his jacket pockets. He looks like a four-year-old who’s been told he can’t have ice cream before dinner, and Cas has to try not to snicker. “I’m curious, Dean… why did you think that?”

“You guys are… close.” It seems Dean is trying to be vague, and Cas isn’t sure why. He hopes it’s not some sort of homophobic or hyper-masculine bullshit.

“Men can be close, Dean. Men can be physically affectionate within the bounds of friendship. I embraced your brother, but I also embraced my brother and everyone else at the table.” Except you.

“Yeah, but you danced together and you were…” Dean stumbles on his words and waves a hand as he tries to figure out what to say, “…caressing his neck when you were dancing.”

“Hmm. Well, I suppose one could make the assumption that we’re dating,” Castiel muses, “Or one could ask and find out that I’ve been teaching your brother to dance to that specific song so that he can impress a woman he wants to ask on a date.”

Dean sits with his mouth agape. “Uh… but the neck thing…?”

Cas rolls his eyes. “The ‘neck thing’ was me tapping out counts and signaling him to do different moves at the appropriate times. Between that and the timers he has set on his phone to go off at different points of the song, we’ve gotten him to the point where he can lead. We’ve been practicing this for weeks.”

“Oh. Um…” Dean does look abashed, but the man’s presumptions irritate him and Castiel is losing his patience.

“Dancing is an intimate practice, Dean, and when you can’t hear the music there’s a lot of reliance on your partner. However, they don’t yet have that level of intimacy and it was important to Sam to do this on his own, and as his friend I wanted to respect his wish. If you understood ASL you would’ve seen that we were talking about the dance and about what he wants to do on their date.”

“Sorry, man,” Dean mumbles, “I just… he didn’t tell me about this girl.”

“Jessica is the woman’s name. I’m sure he would love to. In fact, there’s a lot he’d like to share with you, Dean, but the language barrier and your bias and avoidance make it a bit more challenging.” Dean presses his lips together until they turn white. He’s becoming agitated, and Cas has to determine how much he really wants to get into this. On the one hand, the man is only hanging around for a short time and he doesn’t want Sam’s experience to be colored by any foul mood on his brother’s part. On the other hand, it may be his only chance to tell this guy exactly what he thinks of him and how he’s hurting Sam.

“There’s not a language barrier exactly…” Dean mumbles once again, and Cas’ temper decides for him.

“That is bullshit, Dean. There is and you know there is. Yes, you both know English, but you don’t know ASL and they are completely different languages! It makes a huge difference in your relationship.”

Dean is consternated now, and he hides it behind righteous anger. “Who the hell are you to be talking about my relationship with Sam? You don’t know me!”

“No, I don’t, but I know people like you, and I know Sam, and…”

“People like me? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“People who can’t be fucking bothered….”

“That’s bullshit!”

“Is it? How long has your brother been Deaf, Dean?” Dean is silent except for the shuffling of his feet. “Five years. Know how I know? Because he tells me, every year on the anniversary of the accident. Five years you’ve had to learn ASL and you haven’t. Five years you’ve had to adapt to his world, to see that he’s a competent human being. What the hell are you waiting for? An invitation? Here’s your fucking invitation, Dean. Get over your big, bad self and learn the damn language. Because he’s not going to ‘get better.’ He’s not going to spontaneously regain his hearing, and you know what? He’s a whole person just as he is. He’s had enough to adapt to, Dean, so accept him as he is and build a fucking relationship with him again. Get off your fucking ass and be there for him.”

Across the desk, the man folds his arms and glares at Cas. Cas would like to do the same, but he can’t because he’s still signing for the jerk, hoping he’ll get a clue. “Why are you such an asshole?” he asks Cas. His sarcastic response comes flying out without thought.

“Well, you see, my ‘Daddy Issues Life Kit’ came with the options of ‘abusive dick,’ ‘distant, selfish jerk,’ or ‘overfunctioning asshole who cannot tolerate the ignorance of others.’ I chose option three.”

Dean stands, anger evident in his looming stance over Cas. “So you have daddy issues and now you hate me, is that it? I don’t live up to your standards and you judge me when you don’t even know me?”

Still sitting, Cas stares at him and takes a moment to collect himself. His emotions and behaviors, usually so easy to check even when he feels fit to burst, have been tumbling like laundry in the dryer. He inhales deeply and rubs his forehead. Collect yourself, Novak. He exhales harshly and admits, “I don’t hate you, Dean. I guess I don’t really know how to feel about you. I want to hate you, because you’ve put Sam through a lot of pain, but... I don’t. Sam loves you so much and has told me so many wonderful things about you that I can’t hate you. I do know this, though: I am pissed off and disappointed, because from what he’s told me you’re a good person and you can do so much better than you’ve been doing.”

His words, softly spoken, startle Dean and cut him to the quick in a way they wouldn’t have if Cas had yelled. Dean sits. He rubs his nose and looks at the degrees and certificates framed on Castiel’s wall. “It’d be easier if you hated me,” he murmurs.

“I guess it would, for both of us.” Cas tents his hands and rests his elbows on his desk. This vigorous confrontation is not how he wanted to start the day. He shakes his hands out and starts speaking and signing again. “Sam’s forgiven you, you know. He’s forgiven you for everything. But your absence, your avoidance, your drive to rescue him when he doesn’t need rescuing… it’s been hard on him, and as his friend I feel compelled to protect him. I don’t want to see him hurt anymore.”

“I didn’t realize I was hurting him,” Dean rasps, his throat seemingly dry. Cas sits quietly, watching him. “I’m not really an asshole.”

“You probably aren’t, Dean, but I wouldn’t know.”

Dean looks at Cas with desperation. “What can I do?”

Cas regards him carefully. He’s not sure what Dean means by his question – How can he have a better relationship with Sam? How can he redeem himself in Cas’ eyes? Something else? – but the answer is the same. “Learn ASL, Dean. Make an effort. And trust in Sam.”

“I do trust in him. It’s the rest of the world I don’t trust.”

“That sounds like your problem, not his.”

Dean shrugs, and Cas watches him as they sit in heavy silence.

“I’ve tried to learn,” Dean admits, and this surprises Cas into a doubtful frown.

“Sam never told me you tried.”

“He doesn’t know. I didn’t want to say anything in case I failed. Which I did.” He looks soft and sad now, the anger drained out of his denim-and-leather-clad body.

“It takes a lot of dedication. Most people don’t become fluent for two or three years at least.”

“Two or three years? Shit,” Dean says, and Cas can feel the nugget of anger kicking around in his gut again.

“Yes,” Cas says tightly.

Dean sighs with an air of determination. “Guess I’d better get started, then. What do you suggest?” Dean turns away from the wall and back to Cas. He’s wearing a cautious half-smile and Cas subtly licks his dry lips as the nugget of anger disintegrates into crumbs of wariness.

“Well, there are many ways to learn. You can learn online, although that’s not ideal. The best way is to learn from others and immerse yourself. You can take classes, learn informally from someone who is fluent, or obtain a tutor for individualized instruction.”

Eagerly, Dean leans forward and says, “I want you to tutor me, Cas.”

“Me?” Cas asks, wondering if he heard correctly.

“Yeah.”

“Dean, I’m… no. You should learn from someone who will be near where you live so you have regular contact. Also, to be frank, my services are quite expensive for private tutoring, and I would probably charge you double because you seem like a pain in the ass.”

A small chuckle escapes Dean’s lips, and Cas tries not to smile. Perhaps the man is used to being called a pain in the ass, or perhaps he appreciates the honesty. He rubs his face before slapping his palm on his thigh. “Cas, I want to learn from you. You’re clearly good at what you do. And you’re the only one who won’t kiss up to me and tell me what a great job I’m doing if I’m not. You’ll have no problem keeping me on track and kicking my ass, and I’ll let you because we’re both motivated to do this for Sam. I’ll stay as long as I need to and we can video chat in between. And I can afford your services, even if you charge me double. Hell, even if I couldn’t, I’d find a way. Please. I need… I need to make this right, man. I need to fix what I've done.”

Cas rocks back in his chair and observes Dean. His hopeful green eyes radiate sincerity. He’s chewing his bottom lip and bouncing his leg up and down, waiting for Cas to respond. Cas puts on a stern face. “I won’t put up with half-assed efforts. We do it my way. You will be working hard. Your hands will hurt and I don’t want to hear a word about it.”

“You got it. You’re in charge. I’ll shut my trap and learn. I’ll practice for hours. Promise.”

“Don’t promise me, Dean. Promise Sam.”

“I promise both of you.” He raises his right hand and smiles cheekily. “Scout’s honor.”

One corner of Cas’ mouth quirks up. “You were never a Scout, were you?”

“I was kicked out,” he laughs, and it rings through the office and fills it with a different kind of light that the sunbeams just can’t match. Cas shakes his head and can’t help it as the other corner of his mouth perks up to match the first. I’m in so much trouble, Cas thinks.

Chapter Text

Dean reflects on yesterday’s meeting with his brother’s gorgeous best friend while he waits. He really had been a bit down about the whole idea of him dating Sam, but he had gone to Castiel’s office with the idea that he was going to make the effort to get to know the guy anyway, and even ask him what he could do to communicate better with Sam. Admittedly, that was his second motivation for seeing the guy and not his first, but it was mixed in there. Then he found out that they weren’t dating, but he didn’t have time to be hopeful and turn on the charm again because Cas called him on a whole bunch of his shit. Dean got pissed off at the guy and a little turned on by the way he wouldn’t back down or fuck around. The hardest part, though, was when he said he was disappointed in him. He didn’t know why he cared that this practical stranger was disappointed in him, but he did. This man, who didn’t even know Dean, somehow believed in him enough to be pissed off and disappointed that he wasn’t living up to what he could be. It was a lot to wrap his head around, but then and there he was ready to actually listen to everything Cas had been saying… and he was ashamed of himself for what he heard, because Cas was right.

So yeah, the last time he was here at this office it went a little differently than he expected, but that seems to be what’s been happening on this trip so far. This trip had been planned as a big step for Dean in his mission to get over himself. It’s still so hard for him to get used to the fact that Sam is deaf and alone, vulnerable in a big, bad world, that he figured just being in his presence would help Dean get more comfortable with the idea, kind of like holding a snake is supposed to help you get over your fear of it – exposure something-or-other, they call it. Before the trip, all he could think about was how sad and scared Sam probably would be in his day-to-day life, how much of a struggle life must be for him, and he braced himself for it. He was really sad in the early days after the accident, and though it’s been a long time and he doesn’t seem sad when he talks with him over video, he’s always assumed Sam just kind of put on a brave face, especially after the mugging. But then he came here, and Sam seems pretty damn happy overall even though it’s only been a few days, and if anything makes him sad according to Cas it’s Dean and his avoidance of him and anything related to the Hearing world or to ASL – avoidance of the former because he didn’t want Sam to feel bad, and avoidance of the latter because Dean didn’t want to feel bad.

It’d be funny how wrong Dean can be sometimes if it wasn’t so damn pathetic.

“Hello Dean,” a deep voice rumbles, pulling him out of his self-deprecation.

“Hey Cas. Ready for me? My teachers always said I’m incorrigible, but I’ll try to be good,” Dean jokes, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Somehow that’s not surprising. Come in,” Cas responds. His voice is only slightly warmer than it ever is with Dean. The Winchester charm was failing once again. “I trust you settled up the fee for today with Meg?”

Dean looks over his shoulder at the dark-haired woman who’s giving him the evil eye. “Uh, yeah, paid for four sessions, actually.”

“Did you? Hmm. Well, let’s get to it, then.” Dean thinks Cas might’ve sounded just a little impressed, and he preens internally at having done something right in this man’s eyes.

Cas takes him into one of their meeting rooms and flicks the sign on the door to “Meeting in Progress.” He sets a photocopied packet of materials and a small package on the table.

“Aww, you’re giving me gifts, Cas?” he tries to joke, but Cas is having none of it.

“They’re not gifts if you’ve paid for them, Dean; they’re purchases. Now, the packet will be for your use at home. There are instructional videos that you need to watch before next time; the links are contained within the packet under Lesson 1. I’ve created this course specifically for you. It will progress at a faster pace than a typical group class because it is individual instruction. Today, we’ll be reviewing the alphabet and I’ll give you a few key words. At home, you’ll be practicing as well as learning about the rules of grammar for ASL. Also,” he says, bringing the package to himself and opening it, “you will be using these after today.”

“Earplugs?”

“Yes, earplugs. We will be simulating the experience for you. Each lesson, we will be speaking to each other only through ASL.”

Dread roils in Dean’s gut. He thinks of every language class he ever failed because he didn’t understand. He thinks of how Cas' hands have been flying through the air and how hopeless he feels that he'll ever understand.

“Something wrong?” Cas asks in an unimpressed tone.

Dean clears the shame stuck in his throat. “Nah… uh, no, just thinking. This was really hard for me the last time I tried to learn ASL. Just don’t wanna screw up again.”

His tutor's face softens. “Immersion is one of the best ways to learn, Dean,” Cas says, signing naturally as he goes. “And I’ll be with you. I won’t give up if you won’t.” Dean takes a deep breath and nods once, comforted by Cas’ earnestness despite whatever personal feelings the man might have about him. Sam couldn’t give up on it when he was learning; he had to keep struggling through it until he mastered it. Dean would do the same. He wouldn’t make failure an option.

After Dean shows Cas what he already knows, Cas takes Dean through each letter, explaining why hand position matters. He makes Dean do them over and over, and eventually teaches him a few small words, like “car” and “cat.” He also teaches him “yes” and “no” and how to ask the basic “W” questions, like “Who?” and “What?” By the end of the lesson, Dean feels cross-eyed and his hands are tingling.

“Okay,” Cas says finally, looking at the clock, “for the next few days I want you to practice your alphabet. I’ve included a small list of words in your packet that I want you to be able to finger-spell by the next time we meet. Also in your packet are several links to videos that can help you. The starred ones are required by our next session. Practice in front of a mirror to ensure that you have your positions correct, and to watch your facial features. As you learn, you’ll realize that your facial features and other movements are part of the grammar of ASL and really make you more understandable to the other person, just as they do for Hearing persons. You may video call me any time if you have a question, although I cannot guarantee I will be immediately available. If I’m not, I’ll call you back or you can record a video for me with your question and text it. My number is in your packet.”

“Okay,” Dean says. He’s exhausted and he can’t even tell Sam why when he sees him after class. He wants this to be a surprise.

“You did well today, Dean.”

“Thanks, man. Think I’m gonna go stick my hands in ice water now.”

Cas chuckles, finally, at something Dean said, and Dean will take it even if it wasn’t meant to be a joke.

“If you practice hard, Dean, I’ll have a surprise for you the next time we meet.”

A spark of excitement pulses through Dean’s body. “Oh yeah? What is it?”

“Are you unfamiliar with the term ‘surprise,’ Dean?” he says, then signs something else without talking that Dean knows was not a repeat of the sentence he just said and signed.

“Isn’t it considered rude to sign something without interpreting to the non-ASL speaker what it means?”

“Perhaps,” the bastard smirks.

“You know, one day I’m gonna know what you’re saying with your hands.”

“I look forward to it,” he smiles, and Dean hangs on to that smile all through the next several days of hand-numbing practice.

On Friday morning, Dean sits once again in the conference room at Cas’ office. Gabe walks by the open door, stops, and backs up until he sees Dean clearly through the space.

“Why are you here?” Gabe asks aloud as he signs.

“Learning ASL,” Dean says, fingerspelling as he goes. It’s painfully longer than the sentence he spoke. Gabe lifts his eyebrows in surprise.

“Really?” he asks, fingerspelling slowly for Dean with a look of surprise. His interest turns devilish as Cas enters the room and he sees Dean’s face pique in interest. “I see,” he spells and gestures to his eyes with a smirk, hiding what he’s saying from his brother. Dean rapidly shakes his head even as he signs “no,” but Gabe is unimpressed by the man’s denials. He makes silent kissy faces behind his brother’s head before he leaves them to their lesson.

“How did it go?” Cas asks as he sits. Dean assumes he means his practicing, and he shrugs.

“Okay, I guess. I watched all of the videos. There were some funny ones you threw in there.”

“Yes, well, I figured it would be nice for you to remember to laugh during all of this.”

Dean chuckles self-consciously and agrees. He knows that Cas planned this whole curriculum for him, and the thought of him specifically choosing videos to lift Dean’s spirits makes him understand why other people seem to like him so much.

The lesson is more intense this time. He puts in the earplugs and looks at Cas, who mouths something to him while he signs. He tries to guess at what he’s saying but he is struggling, so he answers what he hopes is correct. Cas gestures to him to remove his earplugs.

“If you don’t understand, say so,” Cas instructs him. “Do this.” He shows Dean how to say he doesn’t understand. “It’s obvious if you don’t understand, and it’s insulting if you try to just skate through.”

“Sorry,” Dean mumbles. He’s feeling overwhelmed already and they just began.

“It’s no problem, Dean,” Cas assures him. “You’re learning. Rome wasn’t built in a day, right?”

He’s comforted by Cas’ words, but still feels frustrated with himself. “Yeah, I know, but I just want to get this right…”

“And that’s why you’ll succeed. Now, let’s try again.” Cas gives him his earplugs and they try again. Dean is grateful that Cas taught him the “I don’t understand” thing, because he uses it a lot. Cas is stern when he belittles himself, but otherwise he is patient and actually cracks a smile a time or two. At the end, he removes his earplugs and waits for Cas’ verdict.

“Not too bad for your second time,” Cas says.

“I was horrible,” Dean moans. “I feel clumsy.”

“Mmm, yes, most people do at first. You play guitar?”

It seems like a sudden change of topic, but if Cas has some sort of interest in him beyond ASL he’ll take it.

“Yeah, among other things.”

“Think back to when you were learning to play.”

Dean remembers. It was difficult to remember where to put his fingers, the notes often sounded sour, and there were many times he wanted to give up, but he kept at it until his fingers calloused and he was able to play a few chords from memory. Eventually, as he practiced more and gained more confidence, he got better and before he knew it he wasn’t really thinking about his finger positions anymore. He just knew.

“I think I get where you’re going,” Dean says. “At first it was hard and I had to think about it a lot, but the more I did it the more natural it became. Now I don’t think about it and I can actually do other things while I’m playing, like sing.”

“Exactly, Dean. Your mind knows how to do this. You have what it takes to learn ASL. I’m sure of it.” Cas’ confidence in him warms him to the core. “For the next few days I’d like to see you get faster with it. I also think it would be helpful for you to pay attention when others are signing around you. Will you be joining us for dinner and the concert tomorrow night?” There is a concert at The Paradise Rock Club that Sam and his friends are excited to attend, and after seeing their joy at karaoke last Friday, he figures maybe it’ll be fun. Dean nods.

“Wonderful. Dinner will be a great time to just watch and be absorbed in the language, and I’ll be interpreting at the concert so you can observe some of the nuances of the language, particularly as it relates to music, which I imagine would interest you.”

“Yeah, it does. I mean, it’s weird for me to think that a music concert could be enjoyable if you can’t hear it, but I’m trying to understand.”

Cas eyes him thoughtfully for a moment before saying, “In your packet, you have more video links. Make sure you watch the starred ones. There are instructions on a couple of them that I want you to follow. Do you understand?” As he signs the last question, Dean smiles, realizing that he actually understood the question in ASL without Cas translating it into English. He keeps that information to himself in case he sounds stupid or ignorant in some way.

“Got it, Teach,” he says as he stands.

“ASL, Dean.” Dean refrains from rolling his eyes and signs that he understands. Cas makes a small correction and Dean signs it again. Satisfied, Cas says, “Now for your surprise.”

Dean had forgotten about his surprise. He sits back down and waits. Cas holds his hand up vertically, facing his palm to the side, and taps it to his chin so that the index finger hits his chin, his thumb snug just under it. “What does that mean?” Dean asks, signing as best as he can.

“Bitch,” Cas says with an amused twinkle in his eyes. “Sam told me you used to call him that. I thought you might like to say it again.”

Ridiculously, Dean feels a prickling behind his eyes as he copies the movement. Of everything he’s learned so far, this by far has the most meaning, and the fact that Cas knows that and makes it one of the first things he teaches Dean… well. Maybe it’s just for Sam’s sake, or maybe Cas doesn’t really think Dean’s so bad after all, but either way Dean thinks it’ll go a long way toward healing. “Thanks, Cas,” he says, belatedly signing it in ASL. Cas seems to appreciate the thought, because he smiles the widest smile he ever has at Dean, and signs, “You’re welcome.”

Chapter Text

Sam’s been kind of worried about Dean. He’s been staying with their mom and Arthur, but mom says he’s been kind of skulking around and has been in and out of the house a lot. Sam thinks he’s probably uncomfortable around Arthur, and his mom agrees, but she thinks something else is going on, too, something he’s trying to keep secret. She says that when he is around he’s been watching a lot of something on his laptop, but when his mom comes around he shuts it down. He rules out the obvious – porn – when his mother says he’s out in the open when he’s watching whatever it is, usually in front of a mirror. It’s odd. Sam has never been a big fan of secrets, though, and although everyone’s entitled to privacy, he’s pretty sure Dean’s hiding something significant.

Dean comes for lunch at his apartment on Saturday, complaining about having to use the T, and he’s looking tired and more intense than usual. Sam makes them burgers and fries, and when they sit down he casually asks Dean what he’s been doing to stay busy while Sam’s at school and his mom’s at work. Dean shrugs and stumbles around until he finally mouths, “Nothing.” Sam scrutinizes him carefully. He’s still staring at him, trying to get him to talk, when lights flash in the apartment, alerting them to someone at the door. Gabe waltzes in with a heavy box filled with reference books Sam had asked to borrow for a paper he’s writing, and Cas walks in behind him with a second box, presumably filled with more books. Gabe notices Dean and smiles, raising his hand and waving, and Cas gives him a nod. They turn back to Sam, angling themselves so that Dean can see their hands flying between the three of them, which Sam thinks is a little odd since Dean can’t understand ASL. He figures Gabe and Cas are just being polite, although Cas’ mouth isn’t moving so he isn’t interpreting for Dean. In his periphery Sam notices that Dean is watching them closely and seems fascinated. He can’t tell if Dean is interested in the way that many individuals are interested when they see or hear another language or if he has a larger interest, perhaps in the dark-haired man as Sam hopes. As Gabe continues to talk, Cas breaks off and says something to Dean, but his back is to them and Sam can’t see his lips or hands. He doesn’t know what he’s saying or why he’d have any need to talk to Dean about tort law. Dean would probably just make some joke about tortes and pies anyway. Whatever it’s about, Dean is nodding and smiling a little. A calm has settled over him and Sam is both curious and pleased about it.

The men leave but promise to meet them for dinner before the show. Dean has perked up a bit and Sam decides not to ruin the good vibe by bringing up any suspicion Sam has about whatever secrets Dean is keeping. They sit on the couch and watch reruns of North Woods Law.

“I had a date Wednesday night,” Sam says during a commercial. Dean turns and gives him a look that is both questioning and surprised. He waves his hand toward himself, and Sam takes it as his cue to continue.

“Her name is Jess. She’s great. She’s in some of my classes.” There’s the fascination with my hands again, Sam thinks as Dean flicks his eyes between his face and his hands. He's not even sure why he's signing, really, since Dean doesn't understand it, but Cas had told him it would be good for Dean, so he's going with it. “We went to dinner. It was weird because we texted half the time, but Cas said it just makes us look like modern young adults.” Dean’s face lights up in a laugh that Sam shares. “She is meeting us for dinner and the concert tonight.”

“Nice,” Dean mouths, with a thumbs-up. He types out a text to Sam:

To Sam 3:18pm: I’m gonna tell her embarrassing stories about you

“No!” Sam says, and Dean nods vigorously, throwing in a wink for good measure. Sam shoves him and looks away. Dean taps him on the shoulder and mouths what Sam thinks is, “I won’t, I promise,” then does something Sam hasn’t seen in ages: he licks his hand and holds it out for Sam to shake. As kids, neither one of them liked making the types of promises you had to use blood for (because you had to poke yourself with needles and they both hated that), so they used their spit to pledge their promises instead. Sam smiles, feeling fond and nostalgic, and licks his own hand, then grasps his brother’s hand and shakes it. It feels good to make that connection to their past without it getting awkward.

“Are you dating anybody?” Sam asks his brother. When Dean shakes his head no, Sam grins, “I know someone… tall, dark and handsome…” He makes Cas’ name sign and Dean scowls.

“He doesn’t like me,” Dean says with a shake of his head, and between the context clues and his knowledge of his brother, Sam gets the gist even if Dean mumbled it.

“He doesn’t know you. He only knows what I’ve told him.”

Dean says something that Sam can’t decipher, so Dean texts:

To Sam 3:27pm: Must not have been telling him good things, because the guy can barely stand me.

“He’s just… loyal,” Sam says. Dean seems to be studying the way Sam swirls his extended finger and thumb and holds it to his heart. Sam repeats the motion when Dean says, “What?”

“Loyal. I think he likes you. He needs to get to know you. Give him time.” At Dean’s doubtful look, Sam says, “He’s been on his best behavior. He hasn’t yelled at you or anything.” With a tiny, out-of-place smirk of his lips, Dean rolls his eyes and stares at the TV again.

Sam knew that his best friend yelling at Dean was a strong possibility (may even still be), and it was the only thing he was nervous about when he thought about them meeting. Cas is an “all-in” kind of guy. It takes a while to earn his trust, but once he gives it, he sticks with you to the end and defends you against anyone he perceives as a threat. Dean isn’t a threat, of course, but Sam has told Cas everything about him and Dean – good things, but sometimes his own sad, occasionally dark thoughts too. Cas has never been anything but supportive of Sam, and though he didn’t want Cas to get the wrong idea about Dean, sometimes he needed to talk things out to get his own head together. He hopes he hasn’t blown it for the two of them, because he really believes they would be great together.

“I think you can win him over eventually, if you’re interested,” Sam says, looking at Dean’s ear. Dean texts:

To Sam 3:39pm: The Winchester charm isn’t working

“Charm doesn’t work on Cas. You just have to be you,” Sam says. Dean looks like he groans as he rolls his head back on the couch.

To Sam 3:40pm: I’m doomed

Sam laughs and claps his older brother on the shoulder. Dean beat him to the joke.

An hour later they take the Green Line to Pleasant Street, then walk to a restaurant not too far from The Paradise, where Cas, Gabe, Meg, Eileen, Alfie, and Jess are already waiting in the lobby. As soon as they arrive, Sam greets everyone with a wave except for Cas, who pulls him into a hug. (Cas’ inclination to hug his friends is one of Sam’s favorite things about him. It’s one of the few indulgences Cas ever asks for himself, and Sam enjoys the physical closeness he didn’t get much of growing up.) He sees everyone wave at his brother except Cas, who gives him a small nod. He thinks he might need to talk to Cas about Dean if things don’t warm up between them.

They’re seated at a rectangular table for 8. Sam has Dean on one side of him, Jess on the other, and Cas across from him, available to interpret if necessary. After the waiter takes their drink orders, Sam introduces Dean to Jess and they begin a conversation over Sam’s lap. Their lips are moving too fast and Sam tries to figure out the words, but he’s struggling and eventually he gives up, assuming they’re just getting to know each other. He tries to laugh off his position in the middle of the conversation sandwich, but Cas sees him and immediately stands up and Sam knows that shit’s going to go down. He grabs a chair from a neighboring table and sits himself right next to Dean, glaring at him with his arms folded. Surprise, awareness, and shame flicker across his brother’s face when he notices Cas. Dean asks him something, then turns to Sam and signs what Cas signed for him: “Sorry, Sam.” Sam tries to wave Dean off, turning away from him as Cas moves behind him to say something to Jess, but Dean won’t let it go. He reaches out for Sam’s arm and turns him back gently. “Sorry, Sam,” he signs again. His eyes shine in the dimness of the incandescent table lighting above them. It’s the most contrite his brother’s ever looked for anything.

Sam claps him on the shoulder. “It’s okay,” Sam says, and it is. He understands that it’s hard for Hearing people to adjust to being around people who are Deaf. He appreciates Dean’s sentiment. Jess taps him on the arm and makes the same apology Dean made, and he smiles at her sincerity and her beautiful face that he just wants to see smiling again. He tells her it’s okay and she makes sure Cas is next to her before she explains that she was asking Dean about his career. Sam is secretly glad he didn’t have to hear about it again. He isn’t sure that Dean is all that happy in his career, and he hates to see him pretend he is. They talk for a few minutes before the waiter comes back with their drinks and takes appetizer and dinner orders. Cas excuses himself after a tap on the arm from Dean gets his attention, and Sam wonders as they walk away what Dean and Cas could possibly have to talk about, especially since Cas is probably still pissed that they talked over Sam. Dean doesn’t realize he’s walking into a tornado.

When his brother and his best friend return to the table, way after the appetizers arrive, Sam looks for any signs of bloodshed. They actually look… not bad. Copacetic, even, considering what Sam had expected. They sit and eat their appetizers like Dean hadn’t been rude to a Deaf person and Cas hadn’t seen it. No, more than that… Cas looks at Dean as if he is puzzling him out, and Dean plows through his stuffed mushrooms with laser-like focus, trying very hard not to look at Cas. It reminds Sam of when the cute 20-something guy down the street finally spoke to Dean after months of Dean jogging by his window in the afternoons (which he never did again after that, because he was only doing it to get the guy’s attention). He was too old for Dean and wasn’t gay, but at least he let 16-year-old Dean down gently. Dean was disappointed but thrilled that the guy at least noticed him and was nice to him. Dean rarely loses his cool, but gaining the attention of a guy he really likes, a guy he really wants to get to know, always makes him a little… well, a little like this. Shy. Self-conscious. Nervous. Holy shit, my brother totally has an honest-to-God crush on Cas, and maybe not just of the lustful variety. And with the way Cas is studying Dean, maybe….

Sam can’t wait to see how this plays out. Maybe both the Winchester men will finally have Cupid on their sides.

Chapter Text

Shit, he’d almost screwed that up so badly. He did screw that up so badly, actually, but it could have been so much worse. He wasn’t trying to exclude Sam; he just got a little excited to speak to his new “friend” and he just… kind of forgot. And oh, the look on Cas’ face. Fuck, if he never saw that look again it would be too soon. He was angry, yeah, but disappointed… yikes. He saw it behind his eyes, and disappointing others was always tough for Dean. He’d done it so much in his life: when he dropped out of school, when he came out as gay, when he moved out, when he didn’t learn ASL. It’s why he’s avoided Sam whenever possible for the better part of five years. He just couldn’t bear to see that disappointed look in Sam’s eyes, pointed in his direction.

But he’s trying to be better about this. He’s trying to be a better brother, a better human being. Maybe he could attract some decent friends... that would be a bonus. Right now, though, it’s about Sam, and their relationship, and maybe a tiny bit about Cas if he’s being honest.

Cas is the most attractive asshole Dean’s ever met, and it’s frustrating as all hell. His looks are one thing, obviously, but it’s so much more. Unlike other guys, Cas doesn’t give a shit about Dean’s burgeoning fame, his money, his looks, or his charisma. He can’t flash him a smile and get in his pants – which would be really nice on the one hand, because the guy looks like he could make diamonds out of coal with those thighs, but on the other hand, he’s glad for it. Cas is too fascinating to him to just have a quick fuck with the guy. He’s different. He doesn’t put up with shit, he has a strong moral compass, and it’s gonna take a lot more than just a smile and a song to interest him. Dean knows he probably shouldn’t bother if Cas is really not interested in him, but he can’t help it because he just needs to know this man better. He’s just hopelessly pulled into Castiel’s orbit.

The apology to Sam was genuine and needed to be done, and he’s glad that Cas called him on it. Cas didn’t tell him to apologize but seemed pretty impressed when he did, and Dean couldn’t help but feel redeemed a little in his eyes. When Dean pulled him aside at the restaurant and they went out into the alley, Dean was just hoping he wouldn’t get punched before he got to say what he wanted to say. But Cas did punch him – emotionally. He looked right at him with those soulful blue eyes – seriously, how had he not noticed how blue they were before? – and signed, “Dean.” That’s it. Cas just signed his name – didn’t even use that thick, earthy voice – but his face showed so much disappointment that Dean couldn’t look at him. He focused over Cas’ shoulder and across the alley to the concrete wall of the opposite building. He rolled his lips hard against his teeth as he tried to figure out what to say, why he pulled Cas out here in the waning daylight.

“I fucked up,” Dean settled on eventually.

“Yes,” Cas said as he signed. Always signing. After a few moments of silence, Cas added, “Why did you bring me out here?”

“Because I just… I just wanted you to know that I know.”

“Okay. So?”

“So… I don’t know. It’s just important to me that you know that I’m trying.”

“I know.”

“No, but you don’t know,” Dean said, feeling desperate for the man before him to understand. “You were right, and I want to be better, and I’m trying to be better. I don’t wanna avoid Sam, and I don’t wanna treat him like he’s a second-class citizen. I get pissed when other people do it and I did the same damn thing. If you hadn’t stepped in it would’ve taken me even longer before I realized. How many times have I done that to him?” Dean ran his fingers roughly through his dirty blond hair.

“You should tell Sam you’re learning to sign,” Castiel said to Dean, which seemed completely out of left field.

“What? Why?”

Cas sighed. “Look, I’ve been overstepping, getting too… emotionally involved. You are, technically, my client now, and if you prefer to keep your lessons a secret, I will respect that.” Dean winced at Cas labeling him a “client.” It felt so impersonal. “However, as Sam’s friend and as someone with plenty of experience in the family dynamics of households with a Deaf individual, I think if you told your brother it would honor him and the relationship you’re trying to rebuild with him. He would understand that he is important to you, and I believe he would truly appreciate the effort you’re putting in. He could even help you sometimes, if you both wanted that.”

He chewed his lip as he said, “Yeah, well, what if I screw up again? What if I give up?”

“If you want it badly enough you will screw up many, many times, but you will not give up.”

Dean shook his head. “You don’t know me, Cas. I’ve given up lots of things: high school, my hometown, friends, my brother, hell, sometimes even my dignity… all kinds of things.” Dean’s gaze shifted to the ground and he shuffled his feet. He thought that if he smoked this would be the point where he’d take a long drag. His nervousness didn’t abate as Cas leaned toward him and spoke just inches from his face, slow and low, his hands moving slowly in Dean's peripheral vision.

“I don’t know about the other things, Dean, but you didn’t give up your relationship with your brother. It has stalled and stuttered through the past few years, but you didn’t sever ties. You did the best you could at the time – or maybe the best you were willing to do, I don’t know. Regardless, now you’re willing and able to do better, and here you are, becoming more self-aware and committing to learning a difficult language from a self-righteous jerk who didn’t want to give you the time of day.”

Dean had to shake his head and smile. Cas didn’t bother to sugar-coat things, even in regards to himself.

“So… are you going to give up on me?” Cas asked him, the low intensity of his smoky voice teasing Dean’s nerve endings.

Never, Dean thought as he signed, “No.”

Cas glanced quickly at his hands and a corner of his mouth ticked up.

“Good. Remember what I told you, Dean. I won’t give up if you won’t.” He backed off and all Dean could do was try to remember how to breathe.

Now he’s sitting across from Cas and shoveling food into his mouth as fast as he can so he can calm down and give his trembling hands something to do. He can feel Cas’ eyes on him and he doesn’t know what it means. It feels like ninth grade all over again, when he would see Tom Saunders in the hall and he’d want to hurl, the butterflies churning his stomach. It’s so much more intense now, though, because he’s grown up and Cas is grown up and they could do grown up things if only Cas would just…

“Dean!” Gabe waves his hand and calls to him from his seat next to Cas, and Dean startles back into the present. Their meals come and they wait until the waiter has left before Gabe says, “Have you been to a concert with Deaf people?” When Dean shakes his head no, Gabe continues, “You’ll love it. We’re party animals.” He winks and Dean grins. He was wary before, but now he’s looking forward to it. “And if you party too hard, you can crash at Cas’ house. He’s our DD.” Cas side-eyes his brother but says nothing further, digging into his turkey burger and sweet potato fries.

Dean thinks it might be worth it to get wasted just to get an invite to Cas’ house.

After dinner the crowd makes its way to The Paradise Rock Club, where they get priority entry because the group needs to be in the front so they’re able to see Cas. Cas disappears for a while, and when he gets back he’s stripped off his jacket and hoodie, leaving only a fitted, unadorned black V-neck t-shirt to top the pair of dark blue jeans that hug his ass. Gabe catches Dean staring when Cas’ back is turned. He points to Cas and then leers at Dean as he quickly strokes two fingers down from his chin. Dean is confused, but he’s determined to learn and since Gabe knows he’s learning he decides to ask. Checking first to make sure Sam is looking away, Dean points to Cas, then repeats the motion Gabe did, following up with “I don’t understand” (man, that phrase has come in handy, he thinks). Eileen catches the interaction and laughs. Gabe waggles his eyebrows and smirks as Eileen starts to interpret for Dean and then thinks better of it. “It means… wait, I’ll let Cas tell you.” She taps him on his hard, muscled bicep and signs something to make Cas turn around to face Dean. Dean can tell that she’s asking him to tell Dean what the sign was that he missed, and the look that passes between Gabe and Eileen tells him he probably should’ve lived with his ignorance.

“This,” Cas says, making the sign, “means cute, or attractive, or it can mean sexy or ‘hot,’ depending on the person and the facial expression. Where did you see that?”

Oh, fuck. Fuck Gabe and fuck Eileen, too. He points weakly at Cas’ brother. “Uh… Gabe, uh…”

Cas blows out an exasperated breath. “Gabe, what did you do?” Gabe gives him an exaggerated shrug, and Cas signs as he says, with a small smile Dean can tell he can’t control, “Gabe, stop telling Dean he’s attractive. You’re scaring him.” He turns to Dean, who thanks the heavens above that Cas misunderstood the situation, and says, “Sorry, he flirts with everyone.” Dean doesn’t miss Gabe’s shit-eating grin.

“It was a joke!” Gabe says with a wink, and Dean hopes he can see his grateful look in return even as he’s pretending to blow the whole thing off.

“Can’t take him anywhere,” Cas says, then squeezes his brother’s shoulder affectionately. Gabe gives him his best Cheshire cat smile and turns to talk with the rest of the group.

“So hey, I watched those videos,” Dean says to keep the conversation going because he doesn’t want to turn away from Cas’ smile. He tries to sign what he can, which is still much less than he’d like. “They were awesome. Those interpreters were really cool. It was weird watching the concert clips without sound, but I can see how you can still enjoy the show.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed them,” Cas responds with a small, gentle smile. “It’s better being here live, because you can feel the vibrations and the people moving around you as well.”

“That’s cool. Hey, I brought my earplugs, figured I’d try it out here and see if I can figure out anything you’re signing. I mean, I know the earplugs probably won’t block everything, but, well, you know.” He licks his lips shyly as Cas considers him with his piercing stare.

“Dean, that’s… very thoughtful,” Cas says carefully, and there’s a mosh pit agitating Dean’s gut at the praise. He tries to commit both Cas’ words and his signs to memory; he hasn’t been called “thoughtful” any time recently. Cas clears his throat and continues, “I have to get ready now, but I encourage you to ask any one of the group any questions you have about what I’m doing, and we can talk about it after as well. And of course,” he pauses and smiles with his eyes, his hands hovering in the space between them for a moment, “feel free to listen to the show, too. It’s not a crime to be a Hearing person.” He inhales deeply, then nods and walks toward the backstage area. Eileen steps into the space the interpreter just vacated.

“Are you going to ask him on a date?” Eileen asks without preamble. Dean raises his brows in surprise. What’s with all these straightforward people? He’s very unused to dealing with people who don’t dance around an issue. He shakes his head and signs “No” and then she’s the one who looks surprised. Dean is excited when he recognizes “Why not?” when she asks. Sam is focused on Jessica so he tries out his elementary fingerspelling on her as he speaks, since he doesn’t know all the signs or how they’re put into order yet.

“He doesn’t like me,” Dean tries to explain, and between his fingers and his lips she understands, though she disagrees.

“Give him time. He doesn’t hate you. Trust me.”

“What?” he says, remembering to sign. Trust her? What does she mean?

“We’re good friends. I know him well. Trust me.”

“But wait, has he said…” Dean sputters before the lights go off and the crowd starts cheering. Eileen smiles mischievously and turns away as she starts clapping along with the rest of the crowd. Dean sighs and turns to face the stage.

The lights are rotating, the audience is jumping, and the band is LOUD. They’re a rock band called Fury and Light. Dean’s heard one or two of their songs on the radio and has liked what he’s heard. He finds Cas right away, on the left side of the stage. He’s getting into the music as much as everyone, but with more purpose than just losing himself in it. Cas’ movements are precise yet big and dramatic, showing the audience the power of the instruments as well as the words. Sam told him that Cas studies and practices the songs for hours before a show like this, particularly if he’s not familiar with the artist, and he speaks to the artist well ahead of time to clarify anything he needs to. In one of the videos Cas had him watch, the woman explained that it’s important in ASL not to just understand the words themselves, but the meaning behind them in order to interpret properly. Dean connects with that sentiment. It’s why it’s important to him to write his own songs.

One song flows into another and another and Dean loses himself for a while, as he tends to do when listening to music. Sometimes he watches the band and sometimes he watches Cas, trying to match what’s being sung to the signs he’s using. He gives up quickly, too much of a novice and too entranced in the movements to interpret them. He finds himself closing his eyes to block out all other stimuli but the sweet mixture of guitar and drums. After the fourth or fifth song – he’s lost count – Dean takes the earplugs from his pocket and pushes them in. It’s not a perfect likeness of his brother's type of deafness, of course, but it changes the experience. Everything is muffled, muted. He finds himself watching the lights flash and has a new appreciation for how they pulse in time with the music. He pays more attention to the actions of the band members – their facial features, their movements – and he can tell they’re having fun. He turns in place and sees people jumping, hands waving, faces contorting into ecstatic shouts and screams and mouthing of words – visions he’s used to, but usually sees from the stage instead of from the floor. He watches Cas, the experience heightened by the lack of meaningful sound. It’s like watching an artist at work – the energy flows out of him from some wellspring deep in his soul, mutating and multiplying into explosions of emotion he splatters like Jackson Pollack toward the audience. God, it’s mesmerizing. Finally, he takes a moment to watch his brother and his friends. Their attention flits between Cas and the band. Sometimes a couple of them close their eyes, just as Dean did, losing themselves in the vibrations and the sway of the human sea surrounding them. Joy is etched into Sam’s face, and tears from Dean’s very core spill like lava down his cheeks, hot and slow and seemingly without end. He’s missed so much, missed him so much. Sam turns toward his brother and his smile turns to panic at Dean’s tears, but Dean waves him off, a bit embarrassed at his involuntary expression of emotion. Sam keeps staring at him until Dean signs, “What, bitch?” Sam’s eyes widen as a tentative smile plays on the corners of his mouth, and Dean confirms, “I’m learning ASL” with sloppy hand movements. Sam moves toward him as he laughs and the tears well up in his eyes, and they pull each other into a bear hug to stem the tide of the waterworks. Sam releases him and says, “Jerk.” The song ends and they let go of each other to cheer the band and Cas.

Dean leans against the bar and drinks a beer while the group of friends waits for Cas after the concert. He watches Sam and Jess talk with Meg and Alfie. Jess is smiling a lot but looks uncomfortable. Dean knows the look well. Eileen chats with him (but is coy about her earlier “trust me” statement) and Gabe joins in. They’re patient with him as he works on his signing, correcting him and giving him pointers when he needs it. Cas emerges from backstage, guzzling a bottle of spring water handed to him by one of the employees after the show. He holds his sweatshirt and jacket in his other hand, still too warm to layer up just yet, and the sweat makes the shirt stick and his body glow. Dean watches as Sam breaks away from the group and says something to Cas that Dean can’t follow, although he thinks he sees his name sign. Cas smiles widely and even laughs, and then signs something to him before tugging him into a hug. When they pull apart he looks at Sam sincerely, softly, before telling him something else and then nodding toward the friends waiting for them.

Alfie and Meg wave off Cas’ offer of a ride home since their cars are parked nearby, so the rest of the crowd takes the short walk and piles into Cas’ SUV. They drop off Jess at her car, and Sam gives her a hug and a peck on the cheek. When Sam returns, Cas leaves the car in park for a moment and signs to Gabe, then to Eileen and Sam, and they all say yes to something Dean doesn’t understand before Cas turns to him. “And you, Dean? Are you staying at my place or am I dropping you off somewhere?” he says, hands flying just like Dean’s gut is now.

“Uh…”

“Sam, Eileen, and Gabe are staying. We usually converge at my house after concerts and have breakfast together the next morning. It’s become a ritual for us, but don’t feel you have to. I’m happy to bring you wherever.”

Dean is flustered and uncertain. He’d really like to go, but he doesn’t want Cas to feel pressured to invite him. He’d had a couple of beers, but he isn’t drunk. He gulps and takes a chance. “I mean, if you don’t mind me crashing the party…”

Cas raises his eyebrows and smirks playfully. “Dean, do I seem like the type of person to invite you if I didn’t want to?”

Dean feels his nervousness about rejection ebb and his excitement about his inclusion bubble to the surface. “Uh, no, you certainly do not,” he jokes, uncertain if it’s appropriate but too taken aback by Cas’ attentions to censor himself.

“Alright, then,” he says, giving Dean a tiny, considering smile that softens his face before turning around and putting the vehicle into gear.

Maybe I should trust Eileen, Dean thinks as he closes his eyes for the ride.

Chapter Text

Castiel awakens to the slap of an arm across his chest, and he rolls his bleary eyes as he plucks the offending arm off him and gives it back to its owner. Thirty years old and still hogging the bed, Cas thinks as he shoves himself off the sliver of his mattress he has left after his brother’s unconscious overtaking of Castiel’s queen-size bed. They didn’t ordinarily have to share a bed, but with Eileen in the guest bedroom and Sam and Dean on the foldout couches in the living room, there were no beds left. Dean offered to sleep with his brother, but the two men are so large that no one thought it would be a good idea. Besides, Gabe and Cas had grown up sharing a bed most of the time. After his father left, they had little money and often ended up in one bedroom apartments, his mother occupying the foldout couch. He used to beg her to let them sleep there because he thought it was fun, like camping, but she wanted them to have a room of their own. When they got a little older she would let them use it on the weekends and she would sleep in the queen-size bed they shared that used to be her marital bed. It must’ve been a great relief to her back. Cas is three years younger than his mother was when his father left, and he can’t imagine spending night after night on a foldout couch.

Cas uses the bathroom, then shuffles downstairs to start the coffeemaker for Eileen and Gabe and whoever else wants it. He doesn’t drink coffee unless he really needs a strong caffeine jolt. Cas prefers water, or tea if it’s a cool day. Today is a tea day. He clatters the mugs around in the cabinet before remembering that someone in the house could actually be woken by the noise, and he stops looking for his favorite mug and settles on the one currently under his right hand. He microwaves a cup of water and places a bag of Bengal Spice in to steep. He’s heard that loose leaf tea is better, and that he shouldn’t microwave the water, but he can’t be bothered to change his ways. He’s never had the luxury of spending too much time on himself, and nuking a cup of water and sticking a teabag in it is faster than the alternative.

Sipping his cinnamon-spiced tea, he leans in the doorway and watches the brothers sleep. Sam, as always, is sprawled across the width and length of the foldout bed like a starfish. He is snoring lightly. He was so happy last night when he told Cas about Dean learning ASL (Cas had to laugh at just how happy Sam was that his brother called him a bitch). He knew that Sam would have never insisted on Dean learning the language, but Cas knew his friend enough to know that it would be meaningful to him. Being a small part of at least getting his brother started on the path to ASL and their reconnection fills Cas with satisfaction and joy. It gives him hope that some families can fix what’s been damaged. Dean sleeps on his back with his hands curled into the blankets and under his chin. His face is relaxed, his lips slightly parted. Dean is… growing on him. He’s only been acquainted with the man for just over a week, but he’s willing to consider that the man he thought Dean was perhaps isn’t quite the man he is. At least, he hasn’t proven to be just yet. But then again, many people are not what they seem on the surface. His father is proof of that. Upstanding Christian man my ass.

Dean stirs and squints as the light from the kitchen fills his eyes. Cas puts down his cup and speaks to him quietly as he signs so as not to startle him in his new surroundings. “Would you like something to drink? Coffee, tea, juice, water?” The man answers “Coffee” in a sleep-rasped voice and it stirs something deep in Castiel’s gut, which he studiously ignores. It’s just been a long time, he tells himself. He breathes deeply into his belly and leaves his cup for the moment. He returns shortly after with the dark coffee in his favorite mug (which of course had been right in front of his face) and sets it on the side table next to Dean.

“Perfect,” Dean moans after he takes a sip. Cas doesn’t bother to offer cream or sugar since Dean seems content.

“Did you sleep alright?” Cas asks, leaning against the doorway again. He won’t be in the room for long so he doesn’t sit.

“Yeah, wasn’t too bad for a foldaway.” He stretches and Cas flicks his eyes briefly over the man’s torso before focusing on his eyes once again. He’s close enough to see they’re a very attractive green color. They remind him of sea glass.

“Good. I imagine you remember where the bathroom is. Feel free to watch television or poke through the books on the shelves. The wi-fi password is Listen2me, all one word, with a capital L and a numeral two.” Cas picks up his cup and turns to go, assuming that Dean will want to keep to himself until his brother wakes, but he surprises him.

“Where’re you off to?” Dean says it as a joke, but he sounds a little lost, a little hurt.

Cas places his cup down again and raises his hands. “First one up makes breakfast. Those are the rules. Unfortunately for me, I’m usually up first,” Cas says, smiling to let his client – no, this morning he’s just Sam’s brother – know that he’s not ditching him. Dean seems to relax and flings the covers off, revealing the sweatpants Cas loaned him.

“Mind if I join you? I like to cook but I usually only cook for me. Gets kinda boring. I like feeding other people.”

He likes taking care of people. Interesting. He finds his reservations about Dean loosening as he considers that Dean is probably not a self-absorbed jerk, but rather a scared older brother who has felt helpless to protect and care for his younger brother for all these years. “Sure. I’d appreciate the help,” he replies, and is surprised to find that he means it.

They discuss what to make, and soon they act as a well-oiled machine – well, maybe one that could use a touch of WD-40, but that’s more because Dean doesn’t know the way around his kitchen. He does know his way around a kitchen, though, because he chops vegetables and works a skillet like a pro. He’s a fast learner, too, because he learns the layout of the space quickly and soon moves with ease. Dean shares a little bit about his life back at his apartment in Nashville, Tennessee. He rented the extravagant space when he started having a bit of success, and though he’s more of a crossover pop/country singer than just a country singer he’s stayed in Nashville because “Eh, why not? It’s not like it matters.” He doesn’t seem particularly connected to his home or to anyone or anything in the area, something Dean confirms when Cas points it out. He confesses that he hasn’t really had a place that felt like home since living with an old boyfriend, then corrects himself and says it’s been much longer, maybe many years before that, probably when he and Sam were little and their parents got along. Not wanting Sam’s brother to feel too vulnerable in his confession, Cas shares that the first place that felt like home to him is the one they’re standing in now, because it’s the first place that feels permanent. Before he knows it, he’s telling Dean about how, after his father left, the rest of the family bounced around from apartment to apartment while his mom went to college and worked, always trying to find the place that wasn’t too expensive and didn’t have loud or creepy neighbors and didn’t have an insect problem. Cas finds that he’s keeping his hands so busy signing as he’s speaking that Dean’s taken over the Western omelets. He apologizes sheepishly, but Dean dismisses his apology with a smile and a “Don’t worry about it. This is fun.” Castiel silently agrees.

They set the table and Cas wakes the others while Dean plates the food. They look well-rested and ravenous, and there’s good humor all around as everyone digs in. Since the secret is out about Dean’s ASL education, everyone is extra conscientious about including him and signing slowly. He asks questions and keeps trying, even when he accidentally signs the wrong words and Sam teases him. In fact, the teasing seems to help him; he appears lighter and more at ease. Cas thinks this is probably how they used to be. He smiles in thought and Dean offers him a quick, shy smile in return before looking away; Cas didn’t realize he’d been looking at Dean and takes a longer than necessary sip of his tea to collect himself. Gabe and Eileen start teaching him dirty words and good cheer fills the dining room. Castiel loves his house best when it’s like this, full of life and laughter. The house gets a bit lonely sometimes by himself. He figured he’d be sharing his house and his life with someone by now, at 27, but it hasn’t happened. He tries not to dwell on it and instead enjoys the company of his brother, his friends, and his client – Sam’s brother – Dean.

Despite himself, Castiel thinks about Dean Winchester for the rest of the day – not constantly, but here and there. He thinks about him when he’s listening to his CD that afternoon as he puts the couches back together. Usually he listens to the CD with a singular purpose – not for entertainment, as Sam had perhaps had in mind when he gave it to him, but for study. Since Sam told him of Dean’s upcoming visit, Cas has learned each of Dean’s songs in hopes that perhaps he would perform somewhere and Sam could finally experience his own brother live in concert. He didn’t expect much from them, to be honest, but he finds them less vapid than what he’d expected. In fact, they seem quite deep and meaningful, and Cas finds he enjoys them. What surprises him is when he thinks of him during other activities in his Sunday. He thinks of him when he’s making supper – and that’s not so surprising, he supposes, since he was able to watch the man move in his kitchen like he belonged there, like it was nothing to use his cookware and crack his eggs and load his dishwasher. He thinks of him when he’s sorting his laundry, and that strikes him as odd. As he folds, he realizes he’s never had to sort a partner’s laundry from his. He’s not sure how they’d keep the socks separate unless they wore radically different socks. Maybe they’d just have one large sock drawer and share. He usually wears either dress socks with his work clothes or low-cut athletic socks around the house, with a couple of pairs of boot socks that are dug out during snowy weather. He wonders what kind of socks one wears as a singer. He didn’t notice what kind of socks Dean was wearing earlier. He rolls his eyes at his runaway thoughts and dumps the socks into his drawer, neat rows be damned. The chaos makes the drawer look fuller and he feels less lonely, somehow.

That’s all this is, he tells himself as he abandons the laundry and steps into the shower. Loneliness. He hasn’t had a date in an embarrassing amount of time, so long he can’t remember. Being gay – or maybe just his stubbornness – limits his options some; he hates the singles’ scene and he hates playing the “Find the Gay Guy” game when he enters a room. Then there’s work. Most of the people he meets are through work, and he doesn’t want to stop being a resource for anyone since there are so few resources to begin with, so that pretty much rules anyone out there. Work keeps him quite busy, anyway, between his position at LWB and his other commitments – boards, Gabriel’s stuff, et cetera – that he just falls into bed exhausted sometimes. His big, empty bed.

He scrubs and rinses shampoo through his hair and works in the conditioner, then sets to washing his body while the conditioner infuses his hair with minerals and coconut oil that are supposed to smooth and seal his hair shafts or something. He massages his neck and shoulders, the soap making his hands slide easily over the muscles. If I had a boyfriend this would be a hell of a lot easier, he muses. He breathes in the intermingled scents of coconut and amber as he leaves his shoulders and smooths his thumbs and fingers firmly around each forearm, then over each hand, pressing into his palms and shimmying up each finger. He loves a good hand massage and it’s been too long. He went with Meg and Eileen once when they had their nails done and envied the little hand massages with the lotion that they got with their manicures so much that he got a manicure himself. He didn’t tell them why, but he liked the results so he gets one every so often. He considers it a work expense since everyone stares at his hands, but he doesn’t take it from the business’ coffers or count it on his tax returns. As he scrubs the rest of his body, Cas’ mind wanders to Dean. His hands are large and strong and calloused from guitar strings, and he thinks he’d give a great hand… massage... yes. He would warm some sort of lubricant in his hands, coating them to the tips of his fingers. He’d wrap one of his strong hands around him, using the other to support him gently, and glide over him in long, firm strokes. Dean’s hardened fingertips would provide an interesting change of texture as his hand works over Cas’ skin, which would redden with the increased blood flow until…

“Oh fuck, fuck, fuck,” Cas gasps as his orgasm overtakes him, coating his hand in his own lubricant as he drops slowly to his knees. Water pounds onto his back as he bends himself over his knees and rests his head on the shower floor. He pants through the aftershocks until his breathing slows and his mind begins to focus.

“Oh fuck,” Cas whispers as he realizes what he did and who was on his mind.

Chapter Text

I’m gonna do it.

I’m gonna do it.

I’m… not gonna do it.

Dean moves his finger away from the “send” button. Sitting in the message space are two videos, one of a woman interpreting at a Pearl Jam concert, and another of a cat eating Cheetos. It makes him think of Cas.

He’s been thinking of Cas a lot over the past two weeks – well, three weeks if you count the first week they knew each other. But he feels like the concert a couple of weeks ago – and the morning after – may have been a turning point. He hopes so, anyway. When they had their twice-weekly lessons and almost daily video chats for fine tuning in between (okay, Dean was just looking for an excuse to call), things were a little… warmer. Not at first – in fact Cas was almost standoffish and stilted at their lesson that Monday after the “sleepover” – but things smoothed out and Cas smiled more and more. They gathered at his house the following weekend for a movie night, and Cas let him make homemade pizzas in his kitchen without trying to treat him as a guest. He didn’t have any time alone with Cas that night, so they didn’t get to talk, but what he’d learned about Cas after the concert made him want to learn more because he realized how little he actually knew, other than from Sam.

The first thing he did when he got home that Sunday morning after the show was to look him up online, and most of the stuff he read was about Listen Without Barriers. One of the best things was when he went to the website itself. Most of it was serious, but in the “About Us” section of their company’s website he learned a little more about the brothers and their sense of humor. He tried to watch the video first (much of their website was video-based), but it was too fast for him to follow, so he moved to the written description. It started innocently enough, with a nice color photo of them with their arms around each other and autumn leaves in the background, but it got very brother-like very quickly:

Gabriel and Castiel Novak are brothers and the founders of Listen Without Barriers, an organization that seeks to amplify the visibility and voices of Deaf persons through advocacy and interpretation services.

Gabriel Novak, CEO (Chief Entertainment Officer), has been profoundly deaf since the age of six. He earned his JD from Northeastern University and takes people by surprise when he kicks their asses in court. He is an adjunct professor at NU when he feels like it. He livens up any party and, when he’s not kicking ass in the courtroom and the classroom or harassing his brother like any older brother should, Gabe can be found sunbathing on the rooftop deck of their office building…

Gabriel…

What???

…or volunteering his time working with schools and first responders to understand the needs of Deaf persons in their communities. (You’re no fun, Cas.)

Castiel Novak, COO (Chief Operating Officer)…

That’s boring, little bro!

…is Gabe Novak’s brother (unfortunately) and is fluent in both American Spoken English and American Sign Language (ASL) and conversant in Spoken Spanish and Spoken French. He earned his JD from Northeastern University and provides consultation and advocacy for individuals, particularly in terms of their rights to access education, employment, and public events. Cas provides ASL interpretation services to individuals and groups. He is passionate about access to artistic events and has interpreted at a number of concerts and theater performances throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Cas also volunteers on several boards and with local children’s hospitals.

The guy’s an angel, seriously, he doesn’t tell you half the stuff he does. But let’s get to the important stuff. Tell them you’re single!

Cas also lost a bet and now Gabe gets to write whatever he wants in this section. :(

He can’t stop laughing at it, even now as he thinks about it, and he can’t believe Cas actually let Gabe post it. If he were a client, though, he’d love it. Well, he is a client, he supposes. That’s what Cas called him, but he’s hoping perhaps now that they’ve broken the ice and Cas is smiling at him on a regular basis he can be a little more.

Dean also found more serious stuff, of course, like articles and videos about appearances in court and at the State House and shit like that, but his favorite stuff was the stuff that showed the more personal side. Stuff like when he dressed up as a clown and interpreted for the little kids at a hospital function. Stuff like the YouTube video of him interpreting for Ed Sheeran at TD Garden and a bunch of girls crying to “Perfect” as if no one had ever called them that before. (Dean admits he teared up a little, too.) Stuff like the funny cat videos he posted on Facebook. He’s reminded of the Cheetos cat.

He’d love it. I’m gonna send it.

He’d know I was cyberstalking him. I’m not gonna send it.

But it could change things. I’m gonna send it.

But it could change things. I’m not gonna send it.

As Dean debates, Sam walks up behind his shoulder, steaming cups of blessed wakefulness in his hands. He holds both out in front of Dean, who has to put his phone down to take them, and Sam pounces on it. “What’s this?” he says as he comes around and repeats his question for Dean in ASL.

“Nothing,” Dean says as he tries to remember if there’s a sign for “nothing” or not and if he knows it. Sam glances at the phone and smirks.

“A text for Cas?” He grins deviously at his brother like only little brothers can.

“No, no,” Dean signs as he stands up to snatch it away from Sam. Sam holds it high over his head and, ignoring Dean, hits the send button.

“Asshole,” Dean says, then signs the term he learned from Gabe. He knew it would come in handy.

“You think too much,” Sam signs, then takes his cup from Dean and sits. He doesn’t give his brother his phone back. Dean’s phone vibrates a few minutes later and he peeks at it, then grins cheekily at Dean and starts to type a reply.

“Is that Cas? Give it back, asshole,” Dean says as Sam stands and holds it over his head again, using his height advantage against his brother.

“What? I can’t hear you,” Sam says, and Dean steps back as if burned. He feels bad for not using ASL with Sam. He just hasn’t gotten that far in his lessons yet. The guilty look on Dean’s face has Sam giving his phone back to him, but not before he hits “send” again and rolls his eyes. “Relax, Dean, it was a joke,” Sam chides him.

“Shitty joke,” Dean mutters as he looks at his phone. He sees the conversation with Cas:

To Cas 7:22am: [2 videos]

To Dean 7:31am: I love the Pearl Jam video. They are one of my favorite bands. The cat is adorable. Did you send me these for any particular purpose?

To Cas 7:34am: Cool. Nah, they just made me think of you.

Dean is mortified. Although it’s true, he doesn’t want Cas to know that. Not yet. They’re not there yet. His phone buzzes in his hand.

To Dean 7:37am: I see. That was very thoughtful of you. Thank you.

He’s not sure what to make of Cas’ response, since it’s hard to tell anything about tone or mood over text. Cas is a polite guy (mostly). Is this just a polite response? Before he has a chance to think any more on it, he receives another text:

To Dean 7:39am: Enjoy. I will see you later for your lesson. [1 video]

The video is a compilation of dogs in cars singing along to the radio with their owners. Dean grins at his phone, biting the edge of his lip to keep it from spreading into something dopey and ridiculous for a 27 year old man. He knows his brother is looking at him with some sort of “I told you so” look, but he can’t be bothered to care.

At 4:30 Dean steps into the waiting area at LWB. Meg’s not around, so he figures he’ll give his payment to Cas. As he waits, Gabe comes out of Cas’ office. He looks more subdued than usual. He greets Dean and sits down next to him. Dean frowns and signs, “What?”

Dean picks up “Cas,” “angry,” what he thinks is “sad,” and “father” as Gabe signs. Gabe follows it up by repeating himself in spoken English as he signs, “Our father called Cas. He’s not happy.”

“Okay,” he nods, and Gabe hightails it out of there before Cas opens his office door.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas signs. Dean remembers he’s supposed to be in lesson mode and puts his earplugs in. Cas nods and beckons him into his office. Dean is confused because they always have their lessons in the conference room. When Dean signs, “Why?” Cas gestures to the conference room door, which shows it is in use. Dean steps inside and closes the door behind him.

Cas carries on as if it is any other lesson. He is completely professional despite the stress lining his face, and it’s driving Dean nuts. About midway through the lesson, Dean stops and signs “why,” “you,” and “sad,” hoping he got his message across. Surprise blooms on Cas’ face at the question. Dean thinks he tries to deny it and Dean signs back “bullshit” (he’s really grateful Gabe and Eileen taught him these words). He smirks sadly but doesn’t say anything. Dean huffs and gets back to the lesson. When it is over and he can remove the earplugs, he leaves his payment for the lesson on the desk and looks Cas in the eyes as he says, “Can I take you out for dinner or a drink or something?”

He doesn’t mean to say it quite that way, and Cas looks shocked. Dean quickly recovers and says, “I mean, you look stressed about something and I thought maybe you could use some company. You look like maybe you haven’t taken care of yourself very well today.”

Cas recovers quickly as well. “Dean, I’ll be fine.”

“I know you’ll be fine,” Dean responds as he rolls his eyes, “but sometimes you get to fine faster if you have someone to help you get there.”

“Dean, I’ve gotten through bad moods by myself before. I’m quite confident I can do it again.” He signs rapidly (always with the signing) and Dean is lost, so he concentrates on the words – words that are making him sad and a little pissed.

“Yeah, well, I bet you do a lot by yourself, Cas.” This makes the blue-eyed man pause, and he stares at Dean like he’s seen into Cas’ soul and he isn’t sure whether he’s going to fight or flee in response. Dean doesn’t think he’s ever seen Cas so vulnerable. He recognizes the shutters starting to close on Cas’ expression and takes a chance before he loses his opportunity forever.

“Cas, I’ve been there. My dad was – is – a functional alcoholic, just barely, and my mother was usually off working and avoiding my dad, so I had to kind of take care of things at home. I took care of the house, I took care of Sammy. My parents loved me and they provided the basics for me, but they had a hard time taking care of me emotionally because they couldn’t do it for themselves. So I had to do it. When I finally left the house I thought I’d finally be able to focus on myself, and I did. Or I thought I did. Basically I was just running from shit, but that’s a whole other story that you probably already guessed, given how I bailed on Sam. Point is, I get it, and you don’t have to do it alone, you know?”

“I have friends, Dean.”

Dean deflates a little but carries on.

“Yeah, I know, I’m not saying that, I just…” He knows that Cas is trying to reject his offer. He tries another tactic: the truth. “You know what? Gabe told me your dad called and that you were in a shitty mood. I’m just trying to help.”

Cas appraises him quizzically. “Why?” he signs.

Dean throws up his hands in frustration. “Because it’s a nice thing to do! Because I like you! Because you deserve to have someone pay attention to you without expecting anything in return!”

Cas turns his head toward his right. His eyes rove over his degrees, his photos, his commendations. His mouth tightens into a straight line before he bows his head, exhaling forcefully. “I don’t really feel like being around other people,” he says softly as he signs, small and tired and barely turned toward Dean. Dean matches his tone, hoping his use of the word other is a good sign that he's not rejecting Dean, too.

“Don’t have to. I’ll cook at your house. I make a killer stir-fry.” Dean cracks a smile and tries his most convincing voice. “Come on, when was the last time you had a hot guy cook for you?” He immediately feels bad after as Cas closes in on himself, and he fumbles to recover as he tries not to lose the man completely because of his stupidity. “’Cause I gotta tell ya, it’s been forever since I had a hot guy to cook for.” That was sadly, utterly true. Any of his recent partners had been like hitting the drive-through – quick and unsatisfying and regretful even though it had seemed like a good idea at the time.

“Dean…”

“Please?”

Cas heaves a sigh. “It would be nice.”

“That’s a yes. Come on.”

Dean had taken the T into the city (damn Sam for being right about it being more convenient than his beloved Impala), so he climbs into Cas’ SUV with him and they head to Cas’ house, stopping for a few groceries on the way. Calm seems to overtake Cas as soon as he steps over the threshold. He toes his shoes off at the door and Dean follows suit, then he gives his jacket to Cas to hang along with his own. Cas excuses himself to change and returns a few minutes later in loose jeans, an old t-shirt with a decal too long faded to read, and white athletic socks. Tendrils of wet hair frame his face; he must’ve washed up before coming downstairs. His muscles flex as he reaches for a wok in an upper cabinet; Dean thinks very, very clean thoughts to counteract the dirty ones.

“Would you like some music, Dean?” Cas asks, his hip leaning against the counter while he signs. Already he’s lost the tension in his shoulders, though it still shows in his face. “I have an extensive collection.”

“Whatever you feel like, man. I’ll listen to anything.” He has his preferences, sure, but this is Cas’ house and this is Cas’ night and it’ll help him get to know the man a bit more. Cas queues up Jack Johnson and returns to the kitchen. The speakers fill the space with rich, velvety sound. It’s glorious.

Initially Dean pushes away Cas’ efforts to help, but Cas seems to feel listless so he relents. They chop and julienne, splash and dash, and steam and stir until dinner is ready.

“You know, I’ve never used a real wok to stir-fry?” Dean admits, and Cas chuckles.

“You know, I’ve never used that wok?”

“No shit?”

Cas chuckles again, more enthusiastically, and the tightness in Dean’s chest loosens, replaced by fluffy batting stuffed in and around his heart that he would never admit to anyone.

They talk about things of little consequence, but they help each of them get to know the other better. By the time Cas changes the CD and serves brownies a la mode in the living room, Dean is reluctant to break the golden glow between them that he thought he’d never get to experience. But break it he must if he’s going to be a good friend… acquaintance… whatever he is to Cas. He waits until they’ve eaten every chocolatey crumb before he plunges in.

“So your father called.” When Cas responds noncommittally, Dean continues, “Tell me about it.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to listen, dumbass.”

Cas snickers darkly under his breath. “Ted calls when he wants something… usually something to make himself look good. This time he called because he wants me to interpret at his concert when they’re in Boston.”

“Concert? I didn’t know he was a musician.”

“He fancies himself one,” replies Cas with an edge to his voice. His signs are precise but angry. “He sings in a Christian folk band and he’s trying to get noticed by one of these huge churches so he can get a regular gig, I assume. He wants to play Christian music with his latest wife for the good people watching the televangelists on TV.”

Dean doesn’t miss the bitterness in Cas’ tone. “Ah. So he wants you to interpret. Isn’t that a… good thing, sorta? Like, isn’t it good that it’ll be accessible?”

“Yes, that’s good, but you don’t understand,” Cas laments. He runs his hands through his hair. “He’s not doing it for them. He’s doing it for himself. He thinks he’ll look so good having his son up there doing some good fucking deed…” Cas alternates between signing rapidly and gesturing wildly, wringing his hands or tugging at his scalp. He’s right on the edge of losing it and he’s still trying to sign even though there’s no need. Dean isn’t his client right now. Maybe Cas doesn’t know that. Dean takes Cas’ hands into his and smooths his thumbs over the knuckles, stunning Cas into silence.

Dean’s not sure what to make of his silence, but it’s too late to take it back and he doesn’t want to. Cas needs this.

“Cas, I can hear you. I’m not your client right now, okay? You don’t have to sign. Just… talk to me. With your voice box.” Dean’s lips quirk up in a tiny smile that Cas matches before he drops it again.

“Dean, you should take every learning opportunity, and this is a good opportunity to learn how to speak with someone who’s upset…” He tries to take his hands back, but Dean holds firm.

“No. This isn’t a learning opportunity, Cas. This is me listening to you when you’re upset. This is me caring about you, no strings attached. This is me being a friend.”

He waits and waits for Cas’ reaction, and for several moments endures the scrutiny of Cas’ infinite gaze. Finally, hands still in Dean's, Cas says, “Ted is very charismatic and uses his charm to make people think he’s a wonderful person. But he’s not. He says he left because the Lord called him to sing His praises, literally, in a Christian band, but that was complete bullshit. The truth is that he’s selfish. He abandoned his older son when that son couldn’t hear anymore. He abandoned his wife and left her to raise children on her own with no money and a wealth of new needs to deal with. He was, and is, an asshole. And now, he wants to make himself look good by being ‘inclusive.’ He told me he wants me to help him reach more sheep for the flock.” Cas growls in frustration but doesn’t say anything more.

“He abandoned you, too, you know,” Dean says quietly, wanting to acknowledge Cas’ loss.

“It doesn’t matter…”

“It does matter. You have feelings and you were just a little kid and you got a bunch of shit dumped in your lap. You didn’t deserve that, Cas. You’re important, too. You’re not just a tool to be used by whoever needs you next.”

A sad frown drags Castiel’s face down, forcing his eyes closed. He leans toward Dean subtly, almost swaying, then backs up again. Dean sees his throat bob hard as he swallows, and he doesn’t hesitate anymore. He lets go of Cas’ hands and threads his arms around him, pulling him in close. Cas doesn’t follow at first, but gradually Dean feels his body release and sag into him. Hands clutch onto the back of his shirt and a head full of sable-brown hair rests on his shoulder. He’s trembling slightly and his breath hitches a few times.

“I shouldn’t be doing this,” Cas says as he tries to straighten up. Dean holds him closer. “You’re just going to leave anyway,” Cas mumbles, and Dean doesn’t think he was supposed to hear it.

“I’m not going to leave, Cas, not right now,” Dean assures him, letting himself run his fingers through Cas’ hair to soothe them both. They sit like that together for a while, a love song mix playing softly from the speakers.

“He never took responsibility for anything,” Cas says after a while. His hands move and clutch lower onto Dean’s shirt. “When the going got tough, he bolted for the door. He didn’t want the pressure of raising a family and having a Deaf son. He couldn't be bothered.”

Dean thinks back to their first conversation in Cas’ office. I know people like you. People who can’t be fucking bothered. His stomach lurches.

“He wanted to take me with him. I don’t remember much, just my parents yelling and me clinging on to Gabe and saying that I wouldn't go without him. I didn’t understand why my father wouldn’t stay, or take both of us. My mother told me that my father tried to separate me from Gabe and I bit him hard enough to draw blood.”

Dean can’t help the chuckle that erupts from his body. Luckily, he feels Cas laughing with him. “I don’t know you that well yet, but that sounds like something you’d do.”

“It’s very much in character,” Cas agrees, his voice rumbling through Dean’s shoulder and making his body shiver. Cas inhales and exhales, settling something deep within himself before lifting off Dean’s body. Dean lets his arms drop and shimmies back to give Cas space, but Cas takes one of his hands in both of his and rubs it gently, massaging the tiny muscles Dean didn’t know he had. It feels amazing.

“I remind you of your dad,” Dean says eventually as Cas switches hands.

“My father. Yes, you did.”

“Guess I can see why you didn’t like me all that much.”

Cas shrugs. “I tried not to let it bias me, but…”

“Yeah, well, we did a lot of the same shit.”

“Not really,” Cas says. He places Dean’s hand down, and Dean picks up Cas’ hand and follows what Cas had been doing. Cas sighs, a tiny thing that Dean feels through the muscles and bones of his beautiful hand. “You are not him, Dean. You weren’t actually responsible for your brother. I’ve always put my brother ahead of everyone, because I loved him and I just wanted him to be included. He was so sad sometimes and I couldn’t stand it. Pretty soon people just… it was just easier to give me the responsibility of watching out for him. He was my older brother, but sometimes it was like the roles were reversed. I projected the sense of responsibility I carried toward my brother onto you, when really that kind of responsibility belongs to a parent and not to a brother. It was wrong to judge you based on my warped sense of responsibility. I also never heard your side of things. All I ever heard was Sam’s.”

“Yeah, well, I’m glad you were there for Sam. He's lucky to have you as a friend. You were right about some things, though,” Dean admits. He presses circles between Cas’ metacarpals and feels Cas soften like butter on the counter. He thinks he might have purred. Pleased with how he’s making Cas feel good, he continues, “Sam was always my top priority. I took on that responsibility too, like you did, and even though it shouldn’t have been mine, Sam expected it and so did everyone else after a while. But then, after his accident, when things got scary and I didn’t know what to do, I dropped the ball and ran away from it, you know? I was a coward. I left.”

“You were afraid. I understand that now. And you came back. You’re trying.”

“Yeah, but I’m no hero, man. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what my plan was when I came here, not really. I wanted to think that I was gonna be all understanding and shit, but knowing me I could’ve just as easily let my fear make me a demanding jackass who tried to bully Sam into giving up his independence. If I hadn’t met you I don’t know if I’d be doing what I’m doing now.”

“He appreciates it all the same.”

I appreciate it,” Dean says with fervor. “Truth is, I need him a lot more than he needs me.” After a few minutes, the clock ticks to 9:00pm and Dean dares to meet Cas’ eyes. “Do you still hate me?”

“I never hated you.”

“I mean are you still pissed and disappointed and stuff?”

Cas holds Dean’s gaze in his for a moment. “No. You are not the man I believed you to be. You are… so much more.”

Dean wants to kiss him. He wants to hold him, wants to trace every inch of him with his hands and mouth. But this isn’t about him.

“You’ve always been so much more, Cas,” he says as he grips his hand tightly.

“Thank you,” Cas says, squeezing Dean’s hand in return for several seconds before he stands. His eyes dart between their feet when he bends down to pick up the dessert dishes. “We have the same socks on,” Cas notes with a hint of amusement.

“Huh, so we do. Makes us quite the pair, don’t you think? Get it?” Dean nudges Cas’ arm.

“That was truly horrible,” Cas says with a smile. He signs something that Dean doesn’t understand except for “I” and “you.”

Dean pouts as he attempts to make sense of what Cas says and finally asks, “What does that mean?”

A glimmer of wistfulness shines in Cas’ eyes before he says casually, “If you stick around, maybe I’ll tell you someday.”

Chapter Text

It’s the last full day that his brother will be here before he goes back home to Nashville, and Sam wants to make the most of it. He has to finish his shift, but then they’ll be able to hang out. It’s also the day after Thanksgiving, and Starbucks is even busier than usual, with people getting their caffeine fixes before (or after, or in between) their Black Friday shopping. When it’s this busy, Sam is usually picking up and prepping orders from the self-serve order kiosks. It’s a job he can do without having to exhaust himself by trying to read people’s lips time after time. The atmosphere, though busy, is cheery, and it’s nice to see people in the spirit of the season, unlike yesterday’s lunchtime celebration.

They ended up going to Arthur’s family’s house for Thanksgiving, because their mom was going. They were usually more of a “get Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant” kind of family, especially after leaving Kansas, so it was different to be around a bunch of people he didn’t know all that well. He’d met Arthur’s family a handful of times, but Dean hadn’t met them before, and he wasn’t too crazy about having to kiss up to them. His mom and Dean were conscientious about keeping him included in the conversations, which was nice, but the conversations were rather stuffy and boring and Art’s family leaned a little too far to the right politically for Sam’s taste. He was grateful that Dean had insisted on driving over separately, because they got to leave early.

The spirit of the season was reawakened at Cas’. After a nap at home, they showed up at Cas’ late in the afternoon and were greeted with football and butternut squash soup and nachos with a queso dip and several pies left over from Cas and Gabe’s celebration with their mom, aunt, and cousins. And, of course, they were greeted with Gabe, as well as Meg, Alfie, and Eileen, who’d also had enough of the more traditional celebrations of their families (or who didn’t have any family around). It would have been even better if Jess had been able to come, but she had to travel to upstate New York to be with her family. As much as he missed her, though, the games and the conversations were awesome, and he loved being around his friends. Every so often he caught sight of Cas and Dean in their own private conversations. Both Cas and Dean denied anything was going on between them (and yeah, he’d asked), but they seemed to be closer together than he’d ever seen them before. And when they left, Cas gave Dean a hug, and his dopey brother was smiling like an idiot the whole way home.

Dean and Cas are in line, and it must be one of their lessons because after Cas orders and pays Dean tries to order in ASL and one of his co-workers has dragged Sam over. He has his earplugs in and Cas isn’t giving him any help. He’s fingerspelling some of the details, and it’s pretty slow. Sam already knows what he wants, because he always gets the same thing, but he waits, letting his brother practice. Most of the people behind them are patient, but Sam notices a couple of guys who are making fun of Dean. They’re flailing their hands around and making rude faces and gestures, laughing between them obnoxiously (it looks obnoxious, anyway). He flicks his eyes over to see if Cas has noticed and, oh yeah, he’s noticed. His jaw is clenched and his nostrils are flaring. When Dean is finished ordering and has paid for his drink, Cas turns around and says something to the two guys. Sam sees enough of his hands and lips to know that he says something along the lines of “What the fuck is your problem?” Dean turns around and looks at Cas, not knowing what’s going on. Cas signs that the two guys are assholes and Dean starts tearing into them. He can’t see what’s happening after that because he has drinks to make, but soon the two guys leave without ordering and Cas and Dean return to pick up their drinks. Sam sees the line of people applauding them. Cas apologizes to the manager but she waves him off and gives them gift cards.

After Sam gets out of work Cas leaves the brothers for a while, promising to meet them for dinner and karaoke later. They trudge back to Sam’s apartment and make turkey sandwiches with some of the leftovers that Arthur’s mother insisted he take with him. (Dean joked that it was because he’s so tall and requires a lot of sustenance, but Sam thinks they probably felt bad for the deaf guy.) Things have gone so much better than Sam thought they would over the past month, and he finds he’s going to miss his brother. He wants to take advantage of the good feelings between them and really find out what’s going on in Dean’s head.

“So, are you excited to go back home and get back to normal?” Sam asks. He makes sure to sign slowly and deliberately.

“Nah,” Dean says. He signs as much as he can as he goes. “I like it here.”

“You like it here or you don’t like it there?”

“Both,” he shrugs.

“You must be excited to see your friends again, at least.”

“Sure,” he shrugs again, and Sam isn’t buying it.

“Don’t lie to me,” Sam says. He signs slowly without speaking, “I’m your brother. Talk to me,” and Dean seems to understand. To be sure, Sam says, “I don’t want this to be one-sided. You are trying and I want to try too. I want to listen to you.”

Dean nods reluctantly. “Sam, I don’t have any friends.” At Sam’s doubtful look, Dean says again, “Don’t have any. Not like you do.” He looks so sad, and Sam can’t stand it.

“They’re yours too now,” Sam assures him. “My friends are your friends.”

“Yeah.” He taps his feet on the floor. Sam can see his knees bouncing.

“What about your job? You like that, right?”

“I like to sing,” Dean says, making the sign Cas taught him, “but I don’t like the rest of the bullshit. Never know if people like you for you or not. Always gotta do more, make them more money, look better, whatever.” He’s stopped signing because there was too much he didn’t know, and Sam asks for clarification.

Dean texts him:

To Sam 1:21pm: Love to sing. Hate the bullshit of the industry. Never know who’s fake.

Now they’re getting into territory that Dean’s never liked talking about: feelings. Sam chooses to continue texting, hoping that not having to make eye contact will be easier.

To Dean 1:23pm: You really don’t have anyone you trust in the business?

To Sam 1:24pm: Not really, no.

To Dean 1:25pm: Maybe you’re involved with the wrong people.

To Sam 1:27pm: Maybe. Or maybe I just got into the wrong career. Who knows? I got lucky and I didn’t bother to find anything or anyone better.

To Dean 1:28pm: Seems lonely.

To Sam 1:28pm: Always.

Dean sags and looks away. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Sam knows he needs to get him to stay on topic.

To Dean 1:31pm: What about a boyfriend? No one special?

To Sam 1:32pm: Not there.

Sam signs, “Cas?” Dean lifts one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug.

To Sam 1:34pm: I have to leave. I have contracts and obligations and shit. I can’t do that to him. Not even sure he’d be interested.

To Dean 1:36pm: Do you have to leave? I mean can you go do what you gotta do and come back?

At Dean’s lack of response, Sam continues:

To Dean 1:39pm: I mean I know it’s not ideal but is it worth trying?

Dean shrugs.

To Dean 1:40pm: Do you like him?

Sam almost misses Dean’s nod.

To Dean 1:40pm: Then tell him. Don’t let yourself be lonely. Live your life. Never know what can happen to you.

Sam watches as his brother’s haunted, tired eyes look at him, and Sam lets him sit with his thoughts.

Dinner’s a blast, and now at the bar they have to put two tables together to fit all the people with them because almost everyone is paired up tonight. The usual karaoke crew – Gabe, Anna, Meg, Alfie, and Eileen – are there. Gabe brought along his latest fling, Kali, and Alfie brought along a sweet girl named Trish. Anna brought her new fiancé Caleb and Meg brought a woman named Sasha that she’s had her eye on for months. Sam brought Jess, Eileen brought Kevin to “get him out of those books for once,” and Dean and Cas just brought themselves, but neither seem to mind. Benny and Andrea, the couple who likes to torture Cas with their song choices, join them as well. It’s everything Sam never thought he’d have, and everything he hopes Dean will accept as something he can have, too.

There’s so much laughing tonight – Gabe spewing his beer all over the table, Alfie blushing furiously when Trish tells a dirty joke, Cas having to interpret every raunchy song Gabe and Sam can get people to sing – and Sam is thrilled that Dean is laughing right along with them. He’s looser, more comfortable, and more at peace. There’s a tinge of sadness coloring his eyes, but Sam is pleased to see it. For once, the sadness is for a good reason – not because he thinks he’s failed or because he’s ashamed, but because he’s made genuine connections that he doesn’t want to lose. It’s something worth celebrating. Sam buys Dean a beer and they clink their bottles together, the others clamoring to join in without knowing what they’re toasting to, only trusting that it must be worth toasting.

Cas takes a seat next to Dean when Anna goes to the stage. Dean leans in to Cas’ ear and whispers something, and Cas beams at Dean in return and nods enthusiastically. Maybe Dean finally got the balls to ask him on a date, although it would have to wait since Dean is leaving tomorrow. A few songs later, Anna returns and Cas goes back to the stage. A name is called but Sam is talking to Eileen and Jess and doesn’t see who it is at first. Eileen taps his arms rapidly and points to the stage. Sam can hardly believe his eyes. It’s Dean, sitting on a stool rubbing his hands together. Lots of people recognize him and he smiles and waves. He adjusts the microphone and speaks, Cas standing directly next to him.

“Hi everyone. So this is my song, for real.” Dean signs the couple of words he knows as he goes, then waits for Cas to interpret fully before he continues in the same manner, signing what he knows and Cas interpreting. “It’s about losing your way when life gets to be too much. It’s a very personal song for me. I, uh, I’m finding my way back. For my brother. And for me, too. Here it is.”

Cas moves to the side and interprets as Dean sings his latest song. It’s the first time Sam experiences the song in ASL, previously having only tried to watch closed-captioned YouTube clips. Cas never wanted to interpret any of Dean’s songs for him before, and now he thinks he knows why – because he hoped that someday Sam would have this moment, watching Dean sing right in front of him, bringing him into his world. Dean’s eyes roam around the audience but always end up back on Sam, and he feels the bridge they’ve been repairing between them grow solid again, the rotting and missing planks replaced by something new – different, but stronger. Maybe it’s taken Dean a little longer to step on the bridge, to repair the boards, to trust that it will hold him, but he’s trying, and Sam will always wait for him. Dean finishes the song and signs, “I love you, Sam,” and Sam loses it, letting go of the lonely years without his brother through his tears as he crosses the floor to meet Dean halfway in a hug. Dean’s crying too, and several people at their table are crying, and Cas stands watching from the stage, smiling and wiping his eyes with the back of his hands.

They can never go back and relive those years, fix them and make them different, but this moment – this hope for the many years to come – is worth the pain. For Sam, it’s worth everything.

Chapter Text

Dean packs the Impala as early as he can manage on Saturday morning. He has a long drive ahead of him, and frankly he just wants to get out of his mother’s house. It’s been okay, all in all, he supposes. It’s been nice to see his mother, but he can’t help but feel that he’s been invading the space she shares with Arthur. Her boyfriend isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy with him, and he feels like an outsider. His mother loves him, he knows, but there’s a gap there between them. He’s not sure if it’s normal or not.

“Wish you didn’t have to go,” Mary says regretfully.

“Yeah, me too,” Dean says.

“Come for Christmas?”

“Not sure. It’s Dad’s year.” He usually alternates between his parents, even though Sam hasn’t done so since he moved.

“Alright.” She pulls her son into a hug, cradling him to her chest even though he’s much larger. “It’s wonderful, what you’re doing.” He assumes that she’s referring to reconnecting with Sam and mutters his thanks before kissing her on the cheek and separating.

“I’m sorry,” she says. When he looks at her questioningly, she murmurs, “Just… for everything.”

It’s good enough for Dean, good enough for now, and he gives her another quick hug, patting her on the back as he does so.

Soon the city melts away and he’s on the road heading to Nashville. The highway numbers get smaller – 93, 90, 84 – until he gets through half of Connecticut, when they have less of a pattern to them. He’s reminded of the road games he and Sam would play on their family vacations (before his parents fought too much to bother taking family vacations), and it’s weirdly comforting. He stops to sleep in Virginia so that he doesn’t fall asleep at the wheel, because if he gets himself killed his manager and the record company will be pissed. Sure, his sales would be boosted some because he’s dead, but that would stop after a few weeks and then they’d have nothing left to cash in on.

Sitting on the bed in the cheap hotel room – yeah, he could shell out more for something better, but why bother when he gets free parking, breakfast, and internet? – Dean is startled to hear his phone chime. He sees that he is a part of a group chat over text with a bunch of Sam’s friends. He didn’t have all of their info before. Sam must’ve screwed with his phone.

From Sam 6:25pm: Hey, everyone says hi

Sam and his friends are going to some movie marathon at NU. It sounds like it would’ve been fun. He’s sad that he’s missing it.

From Dean 6:26pm: Tell them I say hi. You at the movie thing?

Before Sam can respond, Dean’s phone chimes over and over with messages:

From Gabe 6:27pm: Tell us yourself. Hi stud!

From Eileen 6:27pm: We miss you! Safe travels and let us know when you make it home!

From Meg 6:28pm: Don’t fall off a stage or something. We’d like to see you back sometime.

From Alfie 6:28pm: Where are you right now?

From Dean 6:29pm: At a hotel in Roanoke

From Sam 6:30pm: Yeah, we’re standing in line. Had dinner at Eileen’s first. She made tacos and we all ate on the floor because she doesn’t have a real table. ;P

From Jess 6:30pm: Hi Dean!

From Eileen 6:31pm: I have a real table, just not for so many people. Brat.

From Dean 6:33pm: Good thing I’m not there taking up space, then.

From Cas 6:34pm: Hello Dean.

From Cas 6:34pm: There will always be room for you with us.

That makes his heart stop. That kind of statement… Cas would never know what that means to him.

He lets his thoughts drift to last night, which seems so long ago now. He had a great day with Sam (other than those idiots at Starbucks) and an even better night with the whole gang. He laughs to himself a bit at thinking of them as “the gang,” like they’re in some 90s sitcom, but that’s what they feel like to him. He’s starting to see beyond the obvious fact that most of them are Deaf and is just seeing them as people, people who have their ups and downs like anyone else, deafness only being a part of those ups and downs for most of them – and not necessarily a negative part, either. They folded him into their little group even when he was a bumbling fool and even – shamefully – when he thought he was better off than them, superior in some way just because he can hear. He was wrong and he admits it. He knows he is lucky to have found them and to have them accept him even when he doesn’t deserve it. He’s grateful to have the chance to earn their friendship, even though they freely give it.

He’d been debating whether he should sing, not wanting to make it into some spectacle or publicity stunt. He was especially nervous to ask Cas to interpret for him, particularly in light of his father’s recent request. But Cas understood it for what it was, and was so excited that Dean was confident it would be okay. And it was okay. Great, in fact. They cried like babies and something came loose in him that had been held tightly for years. It felt like he could breathe again.

Saying goodbye to everyone wasn’t too hard at first. Everyone, even Meg, hugged him and wished him well. But then he had to say goodbye to Cas and Sam. Since they’d just had that emotional outburst, it was a little easier to leave Sam. Leaving Cas was probably the hardest, because there was a little bit of regret mixed in there, at least on his side of things. Cas pulled him away from the others so they had a little privacy.

“I am… so impressed, Dean.”

“Thanks,” Dean said, feeling his face flush at the compliment.

“Truly, Dean. I don’t just mean your performance; I mean I’m impressed by you as a person. You should record this, because I don’t say it often, but I was wrong about you.”

Sharing a laugh, Dean said, “And you’re not an asshole.”

“Well, that could be debated, but thank you.” Cas rested his hand on Dean’s shoulder and leaned into Dean’s body as he whispered in his ear, “Don’t be a stranger, okay?” He hugged him and then pulled back abruptly, before Dean could get too used to the feeling.

Dean caught his sleeve before he could get away. “Cas? I know we’re gonna be doing our lessons online and stuff but… do you think, um, we could… get to know each other better? Like, personally?”

Cas cupped Dean’s elbow in his hand. “I’d like that.”

Dean almost kissed him. He hugged him again, and when they pulled back they were staring at each other, and everything was just right, and Dean leaned into his space just slightly before Cas stopped him gently with a finger over his mouth and said, “If you come back.” He stroked his hand down Dean’s face and turned away.

Dean still feels his finger on his lips, his hand on his cheek, and it’s all he can do not to turn right back around and go to Boston and kiss Cas and stay forever.
He reads all the messages he missed while he was staring off into space and smiles. They’re saying goodbye as the doors open to the theater, wishing him well and telling him to keep in touch and come back soon. They’re such great people.

The next several days are filled with meetings and interviews and promos and other industry bullshit. All of it feels like it’s happening to someone else, like he’s playing a role. He’s getting ready to perform at some holiday show in Miami that features several artists and is sponsored by a bunch of radio stations (and the DJ/MC guy is creeping him out with his leering and his come-ons backstage) when he gets a video message from Cas:

To Dean 7:48pm: [1 video]

Cas and a bunch of his – their – friends are at some kind of bar. Everyone signs something to him silently, in unison, before raising their bottles in a toast to him. They must just be hanging out, because Cas is drinking too, which Dean learned he doesn’t do when he’s interpreting for a performance. He grins as he watches them. Whoever is recording the video with Cas’ phone pans to each one of them, and they either make a funny face at him or flip him off jovially or, in Cas’ case, smile and wave softly with a look that makes Dean’s heart ache. He calls them on FaceTime.

“Hey,” he smiles when Cas answers.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas says, a tiny grin playing at the corners of his mouth. “You got our message?”

“Yeah. Didn’t know what it meant, but yeah.”

Cas holds out his phone so that Dean gets a better view of his upper body and fingerspells their message: good luck.

Before Dean can respond, the phone is being passed around the table and everyone is begging him to come for Christmas. He tells them, regretfully, that he can’t, but he’s hoping for late January after he’s done recording his next album. They tell him how much it sucks and he agrees wholeheartedly.

“I’ve gotta go,” he says reluctantly when he’s handed back to Cas.

“I’m looking forward to hearing how your concert went,” Cas says, and even though he’d said he wanted to get to know him personally and Cas had agreed, he hadn’t actually done anything about it because he got sucked back into his self-doubt when he got back to Nashville and he was afraid Cas was just being nice. But maybe Cas is opening a door. Dean dares to stick his head through the opening.

“Yeah? Can I call you later?”

“I’d like that,” Cas answers him, reminding him of their conversation just a couple of weeks before, and Dean understands. It’s an invitation, a hand through the door. Dean takes it.

“Me too, Cas.”

From that night on, they speak at least once a day outside of their lessons, either by phone, FaceTime, or text if they’re too busy for anything else. Dean listens to Cas talk about everything under the sun, and he never knew the guy could talk so much. In return, Cas listens to Dean talk about work, and stupid people, and some nice fans he meets, and a few obsessed ones. Every so often, they make confessions by the light of their screens – Cas about his resentment at being parentified and about his frequent childhood fantasy that someone with a kind heart and deep pockets would take them to Disney World, Dean about his fear of Sam hating him and his anger at his parents for being too absorbed in their own shit and his feeling that he makes no impact on the world.

On Christmas Eve, Dean is feeling out of sorts. He’s in Kansas with his father, his Uncle Bobby and Aunt Ellen, and his cousin Jo. Jo has her boyfriend there and they’re hanging out at Bobby and Ellen's watching Christmas movies, but the spirit is a little lost on him. He can’t help feeling he should be somewhere else. He excuses himself to the kitchen, where he nabs a beer and the shrimp ring they’d been eating earlier, and calls Cas on FaceTime.

“Hey, Dean,” Cas answers with a warm, suspiciously relaxed voice and a smile to match. His eyes are soft and slightly glazed, and his hair looks more ruffled than usual. Dean chuckles.

“Hey Cas. Are you drunk?”

“Um… I don’t think so? But I am getting there, and if they say ‘Christmas’ one more time I’m done for.”

“What do you mean, buddy?” Dean asks with no shortness of amusement. He’s never heard or seen Cas even slightly inebriated.

“We’re watching a movie and playing a drinking game,” Anna shouts as she gets into frame. “We all drew words and we drink whenever the word is said. Cas got ‘Christmas.’ Poor bastard. He’s lucky we’re cutting off the drinking at 10:00 because we’re responsible adults.” She’s a bit inebriated herself, if her loose-limbed hanging over Cas and her deviance from her reserved manner are any indication.

“Go away, Anna, I’m talking to Dean.” He sees Cas gently pushing Anna away from him as he makes his way down a long hallway Dean didn’t see when he visited, then pivots back to the living room where he left her.

“Sorry, Dean, sorry. You probably called to say hi to everyone.” He props the phone on something – an end table, he thinks – and signs to the group of people on the couches and the floor. Dean’s view shakes as each person picks up the phone and places it in front of them to sign to him. Every so often he hears laughter or sees someone gulping down what looks like eggnog. He can see that they’re watching The Grinch. He speaks to his brother and he looks relaxed and happy where he is, completely himself. He doesn’t seem to miss Kansas at all, although he does ask Dean to send his love to Bobby and Ellen and Jo. Sam holds the phone out so that Dean can see the room. There’s a tall Christmas tree with golden lights and ornaments in the corner and evergreen garland strung around the room. It’s beautiful and festive and Dean wishes he was there – not because of the decorations, but because of the easy, relaxed atmosphere with people who clearly love and take care of each other.

Cas snatches the phone back and starts walking out of the room, Anna signing and yelling something about “talking to his boyfriend” and Gabe making some of the obscene gestures that he and Eileen had taught him.

“I’m so sorry,” Cas says as he turns on a small light and flops on a bed. Dean realizes it must be his bed. He’s never seen Cas’ bedroom before. He curiously takes in what little he can see as Cas gets comfortable, choosing at the same time to move to the room he’s staying in at Bobby’s.

“Don’t worry about it. You’re gonna quit drinking at 10:00? Over here everyone just stops when they pass out.”

“They’re all spending the night and it’s Christmas tomorrow, so they need to be able to get up and out of my damn house and go see their own families.” He sounds grumpy but his grin gives him away. “How are you, Dean?”

“Better now,” he answers honestly.

“Good,” he says, laying on his side and resting his head against his pillow as he extends his phone out. A piece of a sheet or maybe a pillowcase edges the screen. “You looked sad. I hate it when you’re sad.” His eyes ripple with sincerity and it’s hard to take being so far away.

“Dude…”

“I do.”

“You get sappy when you’re drunk.”

“No, I’m always like this. I just don’t show you.”

“Why not?”

He pauses. “Self-control is important for self-preservation, Dean.”

Now Dean pauses. “You’re trying to protect yourself from me?”

“Mmm.”

“Why?”

“Well… because I think of you when I’m folding socks.”

Dean’s snicker breaks the sudden seriousness. “What? What do you mean?”

“Mmm… I don’t want to tell you yet. It’s dangerous.”

“Why is it dangerous?”

“Because it makes me dream.”

“Of what?”

“Of not being alone,” he sighs. Dean’s not even sure he was supposed to hear it, but he can’t and won’t unhear it now.

“You’re not alone, Cas. You have a house full of people.”

“You can still be alone in a crowd.”

Dean wonders how long it would take him to get to Boston and if the Novaks would mind him crashing their Christmas. He sighs.

“I get lonely too, Cas. I get it.”

“I’m sorry, Dean. You should never be lonely.”

Dean settles onto the bed, his hand extending his phone onto the other pillow, as Cas has done. “If I get lonely I think of you.”

“Don’t say that,” Cas whispers with shining eyes, then says, “I think of you all the time.”

“Yeah?”

Cas’ finger touches the edge of the screen. “Yeah. I’m not supposed to tell you that.”

Dean smiles crookedly as his finger reaches out toward Cas’. “Why not?”

“Self-preservation. Weren’t you listening?” He says it groggily as his eyes flutter, and Dean smiles fondly at the man falling asleep onscreen.

“Cas?”

“Mmm?”

“I can’t wait to see you again.”

“Me too, Dean.”

That night, Dean dreams of cuddling on the couch with Cas in stockinged feet.

Chapter Text

Castiel spins his pen on the calendar blotter on his desk. With both his phone and his computer available at any time, he’s not even sure why he bothers buying a calendar blotter for his desk anymore. It’s fun to doodle on, though, and he’s busy drawing a fish with large eyes when Gabriel walks into his office without knocking.

“Yes?” Cas signs.

“Why are you still here? It’s Friday,” Gabe signs in return. Cas shrugs a shoulder.

“Nervous?”

“Why?”

“Dean’s coming back tomorrow.”

“And?”

“And you want to have a relationship.”

Castiel scowls at his brother. “Gabe…”

“Cas…”

“He’s coming to see Sam.”

“And you.”

“I’m his tutor. His friend.”

“And you want to be more.”

“I…”

“Stop. Do something for yourself. Be happy.”

Cas scribbles swirls around tomorrow’s date on his calendar. “Maybe,” he signs finally, with a little smile on his face that he can’t hide from the man who’s known him all his life.

“And have sex. Lots of it.”

Cas throws a pencil at his brother as he scrambles out the door.

Dean is coming back to Boston to visit his brother for a week or so. Unfortunately his timing is somewhat bad, since Sam is just starting classes up again. Cas mentioned that when Dean texted him about it, but Dean didn’t seem to mind. He just said that Nashville is driving him crazy and he really needed to get away, even if it is to come to Boston at the worst possible time of the year. He wasn’t going to argue with Dean about it. It’s his decision, and Castiel can’t say he was upset to know he’d be seeing the tall, green-eyed man with the gorgeous hands that make such beautiful music, that speak in halting but sincere movements, that give great massages, that must surely be skilled in other ways…

Cas digs his pen deeply into the blotter and pushes away from his desk in frustration. “When did he become so attractive?” Cas mutters to no one.

His attraction, as much as he’d tried to fight it, germinated over the first month they’d known each other, and it has only grown stronger since. His caricature of Dean as a selfish, overbearing brother who couldn’t give a shit was torn down, replaced with a portrait of a human – a man with some faults, some insecurities, but so much good in him that he is lit from within. His charm is not the charm of a snake oil salesman; it is the magnetism of a truly loving soul. He doesn’t do things to make himself look good; he does them because they are the right things to do. He doesn’t try to blame others; he takes responsibility. He’s a good man, a good human. He loves music and cars and anime, hates eggplant and sycophants, and Cas has never trusted someone so fast in his life. It’s exhilarating and frightening. He feels like he’s on a speedboat, loving the wind in his hair but clinging desperately to the side so he doesn’t fall out. And he’s so afraid of falling out, tumbling into the water, losing the joy of feeling nothing but the air and the sun.

He admitted as much during that conversation on Christmas Eve. Tipsy as he was, he remembers all of it. They even talked about it a few days later. Cas told him about the large, inflatable life preserver called self-control that he’s clung onto for years in his ocean of uncertainty. Dean understood, except his life preserver was called avoidance. They agreed that it’s hard to let go, even when you can touch the bottom. But they also agreed that both of them, in their own ways, had taken one hand off the preservers and just needed that little extra push, that little encouragement. Dean asked him if maybe they could let go together, and Cas said maybe they could talk about it over dinner when he returned. And before Cas knew it, he had a date planned with Dean.

His phone buzzes on the corner of his desk.

From Sam 4:08pm: I’m home so come by whenever.

From Cas 4:09pm: Sounds good. See you soon.

One more night – or two, or three, they really hadn’t discussed it in detail – before he gets to see Dean.

Cas heads straight to Sam and Kevin’s apartment and makes use of their shower, changing into the clothes he’d packed that morning for this purpose: black jeans, black Henley, black and blue checked flannel shirt. He tousles his hair with a drop of styling putty, then examines his face. Deciding to wait on shaving, he gathers his clothes and meets Sam in the kitchen.

They talk about work matters, Sam’s new school schedule, and the books they’re reading as Sam cooks, then plates the spaghetti. It’s the first time they’ve been alone in a while.

“How are things with Jess?” Cas signs.

“Not bad,” Sam answers. Cas sees it for the evasion it is.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. It’s nice.”

“What an exciting way to talk about a new romantic interest,” Cas says, face twisted in doubt and signing exaggeratedly to portray his sarcasm.

Sam sighs. He takes a bite of spaghetti, then two. Cas waits. Sam puts down his fork.

“I don’t know if it is going to work out,” he signs.

“Why not?”

“She’s funny and nice, but it’s hard, Cas.”

“What is difficult?”

“The language barrier, for one thing.”

“What else?”

Sam twirls his fork half-heartedly in his food before abandoning it to speak again. “We’ve gone on dates. We danced. We’ve had fun. I just don’t think we are compatible sexually or romantically. I think we are better as friends.”

Cas nods. “What do you plan to do?”

“I’m going to think about it, maybe talk to Dean. Talk to Jess.”

“Those are all good ideas.”

Sam wears a guilty expression as he signs, “I feel bad that I’m breaking up with her after she has made all this effort to learn some basic ASL. Am I giving up too easily?”

“Sam,” Cas signs with a soft, understanding smile. “If you were a Hearing person, or if she was a Deaf person, would we still be having this conversation?”

Sam nods, and relief washes over his face. Cas squeezes his arm in camaraderie, and Sam lays his other arm over Cas’ and does the same.

They finish their supper in thoughtful silence, then Sam asks, “What about Dean?”

Cas’ face screws up in confusion. “What about Dean?”

“I heard you’re going on a date?” At Cas’ shy, happy grin and slight blush, Sam signs, “I’m happy for you. I don’t know why you would choose my brother, but I’m happy for both of you.”

Cas laughs at Sam’s brotherly jab.

“He is a good man, Cas. I’ve said a lot about him over the years, and you need to know that sometimes I said things out of anger or hurt. But he really is good and I hope you give him a chance.”

Cas smiles. “I want to. I really do.” He bites his lip, then signs, “I like him.”

“Good.” Sam smiles a mischievous grin. “If he’s bad to you, I’ll kick his ass because you’re my best friend. If you’re bad to him, I’ll kick your ass because he’s my brother, but I won’t kick as hard.”

“Noted,” Cas says seriously before they dissolve into the easy laughter of friends.

Cas and several of his friends are at karaoke that night. It’s a busy night despite the weather – or maybe because of it. Between cabin fever, the post-holiday blues of the New Year, and the pre-holiday blues of Valentine’s Day, the crowd is feisty and ready to let loose. He’s already had to interpret “Party in the U.S.A.,” “Fight for Your Right,” and “Let’s Get It On” (thanks to Benny). He takes a drink of water and is rolling his shoulders for the next song when Anna comes onto the stage to relieve him. He frowns at her, not understanding why she’s coming up early, when she points behind her and smiles.

It’s Dean, a day early, rosy and sparkling from the cold and the snowflakes melting in his hair. He’s shrugging off a black wool pea coat and he’s signing greetings and sharing hugs with their friends. Castiel leans on a stool near the stairs to the stage and waits. When Dean finally turns around, Cas realizes how much he missed the man who he considered an enemy three months ago. God, he’s more beautiful than ever.

“Heya Cas,” Dean smiles shyly, licking his chapped lips and catching a droplet from a melted snowflake stuck to the stubble above his lip. “I’m back.” He holds his arms out at his sides. “Surprise?”

Cas shakes his head in amusement and disbelief and says, “You’re back.” They drink each other in for a moment before Cas forces his feet to move. He strides to Dean and, without warning, grips his face tightly with both hands and drags him into a kiss that makes him forget why he ever thought there were benefits to self-control. After a moment, he releases a very dazed Dean.

“Surprise,” Cas says.

Chapter Text

Dean lies in bed in the spare bedroom at Cas’ house. It’s a nice size, comfortable and roomy, with gray and blue tones that remind Dean of the sea on a stormy day. The mattress is firm, the sheets are soft, and Dean can’t appreciate any of it because all he can think about is the man in the bedroom two doors down.

When Dean walked into the club tonight, he didn’t know what to expect, although he was hopeful. He certainly didn’t expect Cas to knock his socks off with a kiss. He can’t get his mind off the way Cas’ lips landed firm and cool and wet against his, how hot his tongue was in contrast. And then Cas surprised him again by inviting him to spend the night (“Platonically, of course, I’m not that kind of boy, Dean,” he’d said with a wink that could’ve melted all the snowbanks by the Charles River). He’d said good night without a repeat performance, but he brushed his hand from his cheekbone all the way down to his fingertips with those fucking perfect hands and ohh… and now other parts of his body are awakening.

He’ll admit that he’s jerked off with Cas in mind several times over the three months they’ve known each other. Even when he wasn’t sure Cas could stand him, there was something about him that made Dean light up brighter than the sun reflecting off fresh snow. But now, now that Cas has opened up, now that he’s acknowledged some attraction on his part, now that Dean’s in his house and taking him on a date tomorrow because they couldn’t wait any longer… his hand moves of its own accord, the sensation not quite what he really wants but what will take the edge off for now. He imagines Cas in the tight t-shirt and jeans he wore at The Paradise, sweat glistening off his forehead. He imagines jumping onstage and pulling Cas to him, grinding their hips, licking the sweat off his neck. The scene changes to Cas’ bedroom, and Cas’ face is lit by the soft blue light of a phone screen but they’re together. Cas is still dressed like he was at the concert, only this time he hovers above Dean, straddling his hips. He peels the shirt off, revealing smooth skin and hardening nipples. He traces his thumb from Dean’s forehead to his nose to his lips, and Dean takes his thumb, smooth and manicured and sweet, into his mouth and… he stifles his moans with a pillow as he comes hard over his hand, breathless and lost. Fuck. After a few minutes to calm his breathing, he cleans up with some tissues from the nightstand and prays that Cas didn’t overhear him.

“Good morning,” Cas says when Dean enters the kitchen a few hours later. He’s wearing plaid fleece pajama pants and a white cotton t-shirt but he looks like he’s already taken a shower.

“How long have you been up?” Dean asks with a curious lilt.

“An hour or so,” Cas shrugs. “I did my morning workout already. Gym equipment’s in the basement if you do that sort of thing.”

Dean raises an eyebrow and points to himself. “Do I look like I do that sort of thing?”

“Oh, so you look like that naturally? Show-off,” he replies, giving a quick glance up and down Dean’s body appreciatively, making him blush.

“Dude, are you flirting with me?”

“Am I?” he asks with mock innocence, then winks and bends down to look for some pans to start breakfast.

Hot damn, that man, Dean thinks as he admires the view.

“Are you checking out my ass, Dean?” Cas asks, voice muffled by the cabinets.

He clears his throat. “Guilty,” he says, an apology on the tip of his tongue.

“Good. I’d hate to think I was bending in such an awkward position for nothing. Grab the eggs from the fridge, would you?” Cas grins over his shoulder at Dean.

“Ass,” Dean laughs as his face grows hotter, both from the embarrassment of being caught and the thrill of the heavy flirting Cas is doing.

“Happy birthday,” he grins.

Cas sings “Whole Lotta Love” as he gets the dry ingredients out to make Belgian waffles. Dean joins him and they fall into an easy rhythm. The rhythm carries them throughout the rest of their day, from their lazy morning at his place, to their afternoon checking out books at a little bookseller downtown (where Cas buys every book Dean shows interest in as his birthday present), to their dinner date at Yume Wo Katare in Cambridge, which has the best Ramen that Dean has ever eaten (way better than that plastic-wrapped crap at Sam’s). They practice ASL throughout the day but it’s fun, without pressure, without expectation. They take the same approach to their shared kisses throughout the day. After dinner, they head back to Cas’ house and recline on the couch, beers on the coffee table and Adele from the speakers. They share languid kisses and talk in between.

“How’d you get your name sign, Cas?” Dean asks as he rubs his nose against Cas’ temple before leaving a kiss there.

“Mmm. It’s kind of embarrassing.”

“Too embarrassing to share?”

Cas sighs. “No, I suppose not. It just makes me sound better than I am.” He chuckles a little to himself. “Gabe and I have always been close, as you know. When his hearing was completely gone, he went through a depression.”

“Depression? Wasn’t he, like, six? I didn’t even know six year olds could be depressed. And I honestly can’t imagine Gabe being depressed.”

“Oh yes, unfortunately. No one is immune, no matter their age or personality. Anyway, my mother tells me that Gabe wouldn’t talk to anyone for some time except me. Even though I was only three, we had enough of a connection to make it work, and I guess maybe he figured he was still the big brother and he could still do way more than me, so he wasn’t inferior. He would only work on his ASL if I was around, and we would make it a game. He would learn something and then teach it to me. My mother said it was the only time he smiled for a long time. Eventually, as he learned the language more and got into a school for children who were Deaf, he started to feel better. One day he came home and decided I needed a name sign, since they’d just been spelling my nickname because it’s so short. He said… fuck, I’m sorry,” Cas says suddenly. Dean feels him tremble minutely in his arms and he can tell he’s tearing up. He holds him closer and nuzzles his hair. He feels Cas settle into the touch. “Can’t believe this still chokes me up even though I was so little I barely remember it happening. Anyway, he said that it should be a ‘C’ for Cas, going up to the ear, with the finger on the other side pulling the mouth into a smile. He said that it was because I was his ears, his way of hearing the world, and he was happy when I helped him.”

“Cas,” Dean breathes reverently, kissing the tears sliding unbidden down Cas’ face.

“Yeah, so anyway, that’s the story,” Cas tries to be flippant, but his choked voice ruins the effect.

“C’mere,” Dean whispers, bringing Cas even closer. “You are amazing,” he says, punctuating each word with a gentle kiss. He lingers on the last kiss and opens Cas’ lips with his own, the taste of beer stronger again as they taste it anew on each other. Cas slips a hand through his hair and another under Dean’s shirt. The hand under his shirt is chilled from the bottle, and it’s a sharp, welcome contrast to the heat of Dean’s back. Dean does the same, and then grinds his hips experimentally into Cas’. Cas moans, low and long, and Dean makes it his mission to hear that sound again and again. He moves the hand on Cas’ back down to cup his ass as he grinds into him again, and Cas tugs on his hair in return as he presses them ever closer. They thrust against each other as the heat builds between them. Cas throws the cushions from the back of the couch onto the floor as Dean plants his mouth all along his neck, then rolls them so that Cas is on top of Dean. Cas separates them and Dean whines before he can stop himself.

“Do you think we should do this?” Cas asks, breathless and flushed, propped on his elbows.

Dean wants to say oh hell yes, but senses that wouldn’t be welcome. This is a serious question and he needs to treat it as such. Granted, he’s not used to any of his partners asking such serious questions during sex – or any time, really. Then again, he’s never had a partner like Castiel.

“Why are you asking? What’s on your mind?” he asks instead, sincerely, because the direct approach is always best with Cas and because he really does want to know.

“I’m sorry. I know it’s not the best timing…”

“Doesn’t matter, Cas. If that’s what’s on your mind right now, then it’s the right time, okay?” Cas relaxes at Dean’s acceptance and Dean gives him an encouraging smile.

“Thank you, Dean,” he says as he weaves his fingers through Dean’s hair affectionately. Dean leans into it. His hands are magic. “It’s just… may I be frank with you?”

“Can you be anything else?” Dean teases, and Cas smiles and kisses him lightly, which makes Dean feel a lot better about where this conversation is heading.

“Probably not,” Cas smiles. “I’m… afraid.”

“Of what?”

“Of… wanting you in a way that you may not want me.”

Dean is confused. He doesn’t think it’s possible for Cas to want Dean in a way that Dean doesn’t want Cas, because he wants him in every way possible. “Go on.”

Cas plays with the fringe around Dean’s forehead. “I’m afraid that, once we do this, you’ll be done with me. The… fascination, the thrill of the chase… it’ll be over for you, and I’ll be standing alone with my hopes blown into dust.”

“Whoa, Cas, listen,” Dean says, sitting them both up and holding Cas’ biceps. “That is not what I want from this.”

“Dean, you have access to any number of people. You are handsome and talented and charismatic, and you travel widely and have so many opportunities at your feet. I’m just a guy who hangs out at home or with my little circle of friends.”

“Not true, Cas. You do tons of stuff…”

“Yes, but I mean at the heart of it. Strip me down to my basic self, and I am a man with singular yet simple passions, Dean. I love my work and I love my friends, and I want to have someone special to love, to have a committed relationship with. I realize that’s not exactly an ‘easy-breezy’ sort of approach to dating, but that’s who I am. I’m dedicated wholly to whatever I do; I’m not cut out to be casual. So, if that’s what you want, I can’t do that.”

“That is… Cas, that is not what I want. We’ve talked about this. I’ve told you how much I hate that life, huh? Remember, I wanna let go of my life preserver with you? I wouldn’t do that with just anyone. You, Cas… God, you don’t understand. I need you to understand. You just… you’re awesome. You’re beautiful and you have the best heart and every time I’m near you I want more. You treat me like I’m worth something, Cas. How could I ever leave that? Why would I ever want to?”

“Dean…”

“Forget the sex. Let’s just take it off the table for now. Let’s date. Can I date you? Would that be okay? I know it’ll be long-distance for now, but…”

“Yes, yes of course we can date, Dean,” Cas says, “but, are you sure?”

“Never been surer of anything, Cas,” Dean answers.

“Me too,” Cas says, and kisses Dean within an inch of his life.

Dean spends the night again (in the guest room), and falls asleep with a smile on his face.

On Sunday morning, after breakfast and a kiss that turns into Dean being an hour late leaving, Dean heads out to spend the day with Sam. He hasn’t gotten a chance to spend any time with him yet, even though ostensibly that is the reason for his visit. Thankfully, Sam’s aware of Dean’s other motivations.

“So,” Sam speaks with a smirk as he signs, “how was your date?”

Dean can’t control the stupid grin that breaks his face apart. “Awesome.”

“I thought so. You have that after-sex glow.”

“Dude!” Dean shouts, embarrassed, as he fumbles with his signs. “We didn’t even have sex, for your information.” The surprised (and doubtful) look his brother shoots him leads him to say, “We’re not doing that yet. We’re dating.”

“Dating.”

“Dating,” Dean says, copying Sam’s sign.

“Cas is a good influence.”

Dean tries to look put out, but his perma-grin gives him away. “Shut up.”

Sam’s face softens from snarky brother to supportive friend as he says, “You really like him.”

Dean signs “yes” shyly, and his gargantuan brother pulls him into a hug that he half-heartedly fights.

“How are you going to date being so far away?”

Dean shrugs and answers “We’ll make it work” like it’s inconsequential, but truthfully he is worried. Not about his own commitment, but Cas’. He wonders if Cas will eventually figure out he’s not worth waiting for, not worth developing a passion for. He’s scared, but he’s willing to try, willing to put his heart on the line.

“So how are you and Jess?” Dean asks to deflect the attention from him.

Sam sighs and ruffles his hair a bit before he replies, “I think I’m going to break up with her.”

This new information throws Dean for a loop. “Break up? Why?”

“We just aren’t working out. We’re not compatible like that.”

Dean’s confused about this announcement, but even more, he’s inexplicably nervous about it. His anxiety becomes a solid thing sitting in his chest that he doesn’t know how to shake apart. He forgets to sign as he says, “But I thought you guys were great together! She’s nice and she’s made all this effort and she’s learning ASL and she likes you. Where else are you gonna find someone like that?”

Sam stops him. “Dean, I don’t understand. You’re talking too fast.”

Dean whips out his cell phone:

To Sam 11:17am: You guys are awesome together. She likes you, she treats you well, she’s learning ASL. She’s put forth an effort and you’re just going to dump her? Are you gonna be able to find anyone else like her?

Sam reads the text and frowns. “I’ve thought about this and talked to Cas.”

To Sam 11:19am: What does Cas know about finding someone who will keep him? He can have anyone he wants!

“So can I.”

“But no, I mean…”

Sam’s frown turns into a scowl. “Are you saying I should stay with her because she’s the only one who would ever want to date me? Because I’m Deaf?”

Dean deflates. Of course that’s part of it, and he feels like an ass. He tries to sign as best he can. “I’m just scared for you. It can’t be as easy for you.”

“I’ve dated more than you, jerk! You fuck them and leave!”

Dean tries to let that (nearly true) accusation slide, even though it hurts. He has to remember that Sam’s relationships are his business. Yet the anxiety just won’t go away.

To Sam 11:24am: What about Jess? Won’t she be upset? Isn’t there anything she can do to make this better? Aren’t you going to at least give her a chance?

“She might be upset, but I think she knows we’re better as friends, too.”

“She made all this effort just for you to throw her away!” At Sam’s confused look, Dean says and fingerspells, “Throwing her away.”

“I’m not throwing her away!”

“That’s what it feels like!” Dean yells, even though he knows Sam can’t hear him.

Sam folds his arms, not bothering to sign when he asks, “You would know what throwing someone away is like, wouldn’t you?”

Dean freezes. The anxiety sitting like concrete in his chest is now being assaulted by the jackhammering of his heart.

“Fuck you, Sam,” he signs, then grabs his coat and storms out the door.