Walmart at four in the morning is a special kind of hell. They keep the lights up, the music up, and they try to pretend it's not dead, that the only people there aren't meth-heads or insomniacs or both.
Dean's never done meth, but he is an honest-to-god insomniac. He used to take some pills that the clinic prescribed, but they gave him nightmares like you wouldn't believe--he'd dream someone was suffocating him or that all the air had turned to poison gas. One night he woke up, soaked in sweat, and flushed the rest of the bottle down the toilet before he was even really conscious enough to know what he was doing. He hasn't taken anything since.
Now he just walks. He walks out of his shitty little apartment at night and then he wanders until dawn. As the sun comes up, he collapses into his broken-down mattress and knows nothing for two hours, then he drags his sorry ass into the shower and goes to work.
Tonight he decides that he needs fruit. He really just wants a damn piece of pineapple, and he doesn't even know why. He gets cravings sometimes. So he walks down the street and he sees Walmart and he thinks pineapple, so he goes in.
"You got pineapple?" he says to a guy wearing a namebadge.
"Canned or fresh?" the guy asks. According to the badge, he's called Cas. The A is crooked. Dean wonders briefly if Cas put it on that way himself or if someone did it for him.
"Fresh," Dean decides.
"Produce," Cas replies. After a second of waiting for Dean to come up with a satisfactory response, he adds, "It's over there."
"It's late," Dean says, as if in apology, and wanders away, dodging a guy running the floor polisher.
They have chunked pineapple in the cold case, and big spiky whole ones in a freestanding island. He stands there, completely indecisive. He just wants some fucking pineapple, it shouldn't be this hard.
"Get the whole one," Cas says from somewhere over near the pears. "We cut the stuff in the case almost a week ago."
"Cool, thanks," Dean says.
"Don't mention it."
"That was the best damn pineapple I've ever had," Dean says the next night.
"You should always eat it fresh," Cas replies, rotating cans of Great Value string beans. "Though it would probably be even better if you didn't get it from here."
Dean blinks. "Isn't that, like, treason? For a store employee?"
Cas raises an eyebrow at him and walks away without replying.
On Thursday, the guy says to him, "Why are you here again?"
"Can't sleep," Dean replies, which is the truth. The barebones truth, but never mind that. "Can I help?"
Cas looks at the boxes of Ritz crackers that he's arranging on the shelf. "No. I get paid to do this."
"Okay," Dean says.
Somewhere near Sporting Goods, the floor polisher whines.
The next Tuesday, Cas says, "I'm heading out for a break. You want to come?"
"Sure," Dean says.
They sit on a picnic bench out back, Cas on the seat and Dean on the table itself. It's surrounded by a privacy fence, so it doesn't even really feel like outside, except for the winter chill. Dean stuffs his hands into his pockets to keep them warm.
"Cigarette?" Cas asks, shaking one out of a crumpled pack.
"I don't smoke anymore," Dean replies.
"I don't either," Cas agrees, placing the cigarette between his lips. "But you get longer breaks if you do. The night manager's a chimney."
"Oh," Dean murmurs.
It's quiet for a few moments, then Cas says suddenly, "This isn't what I do."
"This isn't what I do. I teach. At the college. I'm an associate professor."
"No shit?" Dean says, squinting at him in the dim light.
"Hard times," Cas says, the words softened and slurred around the cigarette. "They let a quarter of the department go. They cut me down to one class, but at least I'm still employed."
"Not employed enough," Dean replies. It's a reasonable observation, he thinks.
"No. Imagine that--nine years of higher education and a doctorate and I end up working the skeleton shift at a Walmart."
Dean shifts awkwardly. "That's rough, man."
Cas makes a low rumble in reply.
They sit there in silence for another few minutes, then Cas tucks his unlit cigarette back into its crushed pack, stands, and heads back for the door.
Dean follows quietly, but cuts a right at the Dairy section and heads out of the store.
The next night, he finds Cas cleaning the glass in the freezer section.
"What do you teach?" he asks.
"Classical archeology," Cas says, without looking up. "I specialize in building materials."
"That is...specialized," Dean agrees.
Cas says nothing, just spritzes more cleaning fluid onto the glass.
"I'm an orderly," Dean blurts suddenly. "At Pine Hills."
That makes Cas look up. "The retirement home on Sixth?"
"Yeah," Dean nods. "Bed pans and sponge baths, that's what I do."
"Do you like it?"
"It's okay," Dean says. After moment, he adds quietly, "I hate watching them die."
"Oh," Cas replies. Dean doesn't blame him. There's not much else to say.
A few aisles over, a box of cereal hits the linoleum. "Sorry," someone yelps, apologizing to the air.
Cas finishes cleaning the door and closes it before moving on to the next one.
The heat from his body makes the glass fog up when he opens the door, and Dean reaches around and dot-dot-dashes a smiley face into the condensation.
Cas wipes it away with his cloth, but Dean thinks he sees the ghost of a smile appear before he does.
"Fuck you, it is not," Dean says incredulously.
"I swear to you," Cas insists, "the Coliseum was constructed in concrete. What did you think it was made out of?"
"I don't know, marble?"
"Something that big? No chance."
"I can't believe the Romans even had concrete," Dean snorts.
"If they didn't create it, they certainly perfected it," Cas shrugs, cutting open a crate of yogurt.
"Just think," Dean chuckles, "if it wasn't for them, this building probably wouldn't even exist."
"Now isn't that a pleasant concept," Cas mutters, sliding four cartons of Yoplait into place at once.
Dean laughs for the first time in ages.
"Yeah, he's out west, he's got this gorgeous wife and they got a baby. He's lucky--the kid got my looks instead of his."
"I hope he punched you for that remark," Cas smiles around his cigarette.
Thick, fat snowflakes are falling, the last of the season. One skirts over Dean's cheek and he rubs at the spot while grinning. "You got any brothers or sisters?"
"None that I know of," Cas says. "But that's okay."
"Man, but who do you talk to?"
Cas shrugs. "At this point? Mostly you."
Dean snorts and shakes the snow out of his hair, but he's secretly a little pleased.
"I think you should," Cas says, rounding the corner into the baking supplies aisle with his push-broom.
"Yeah?" Dean says nervously, walking alongside. "I don't know, I'd have to get a couple of loans."
"It's a big pay jump--you could work in practitioners' offices. Plus, it's only an associate's degree. You can have that done in eighteen months. I think it's worth it."
"That's what Sam said."
"There you go, then."
March comes in like the lion, and Dean breathes in cold, wet air from the vestibule. It should be dawn soon, but you'd never know it from the black, low-hanging clouds. Raindrops distort reflected light all over the parking lot, and everything smells like metal and earthworms.
"This is terrible," Cas says, appearing next to him. He's in the process of shrugging into a tan trenchcoat that at least looks somewhat water-resistant. Dean's cotton jacket doesn't stand a chance against the rain.
"Mm," Dean agrees.
"Let me give you a ride," Cas says. "It wouldn't be any trouble."
That's how Dean finds himself giving directions in the dark, squinting past the water left behind by Cas's bald wiper blades, trying to remember that walking routes are not the same as driving routes.
They make it back to his apartment building more by luck than skill, but the end justifies the means in situations like this. "Thanks," Dean says. He always appreciates not being soaked to the skin.
That's when Cas kisses him.
It's fast, close-mouthed, and chaste, and it completely short-circuits Dean's brain.
They'd been flirting, then. He'd been flirting, he knew, but Cas was kind of a weird dude and Dean had thought maybe that was just friendly for the guy, but no, they'd definitely been flirting, then.
Dean twists in his seat, leans into it. Brings his hand up to fist in Cas's coat and jerk him in too.
It's open-mouthed then, warm and slow, and Dean lets himself run his hand up the back of Cas's neck into the bristly-short hairs at his nape.
Raindrops make popping sounds off the windshield, but it's the headlights of a passing car that makes Dean pull back.
"I'd invite you up," he says, "I would, but the place is a mess, and--"
"It's okay, that's okay," Cas replies quickly. "Some other time."
"Right," Dean agrees hastily. "Some other time. Thanks again, really. Good night."
"Morning," Cas says. "Good morning."
"Yeah," Dean grins as he steps out of the car. "Good morning."
"New quarter starts next week," Cas says. "I got picked up for a full courseload again, because one of the Greek professors retired."
"That's awesome," Dean says, checking all of the loaves of bread for any that are past their sell-by date.
"What?" Dean half-yelps, shoving a loaf of Sara Lee back onto the shelf.
"Here, I mean. If I'm going to be teaching three classes a day, I can't afford to work nights anymore."
"Shit," Dean murmurs.
Cas tosses a few packages of pita bread onto a low shelf. "I thought I didn't mind the job so much, but then I really considered it, and I hate it. I hate making minimum wage and staying up all night and wearing this tag with the damned crooked letters."
Dean says nothing.
"The only reason I thought I liked this job at all," Cas continues, concentrating on unpacking the pita, "is you."
Dean looks at him sharply, surprise dancing across his features. But Cas is just shelving products, face turned away and impassive.
"And I figured I could have you over whenever I wanted. I don't need this job to see you. Right?"
"Damn straight," Dean agrees quickly.
Cas finishes unpacking the pita and turns to get a box of sandwich rolls.
Dean just licks his lips nervously and goes back to checking sell-by dates.
Dean spends his first official full night over in May. It goes pretty well until about two in the morning.
"Get back in bed," Cas mutters irritably.
"Can't sleep," Dean replies.
"Well, I can't sleep with you pacing. So get back in bed."
"I said I can't fucking sleep," Dean growls.
"So read. Study. Don't pace."
"I'm going out for a walk."
Cas sits up suddenly and angrily. "Have you even tried?"
"Fine. You know what? Fine," Dean snaps. "Move the fuck over."
Cas rolls over and Dean flops down on top of the covers.
"Get in bed, Dean."
"Thin ice, man. There's only so much I'll put up with for blowjobs."
Cas makes a sound of deep and dangerous irritation, between a growl and a sigh, the kind of sound that one makes when one is fighting when one would rather be asleep.
Dean thrashes his way under the covers, then lies still. He can hear Cas breathing next to him, short frustrated breaths. He figures he'll just wait until the guy falls asleep, then he'll head out.
The next thing he knows, though, sunlight is pouring through the window over the bed and Cas is tugging a blue tie around his neck over near the dresser.
"...the fuck happened?" Dean slurs.
"You slept," Cas replies, looking at him in the mirror. "I'm just as surprised as you are."
"'s a Christmas miracle," Dean grunts. "Also I hate you right now."
"Well, I like you better at night too," Cas says easily, "so that's fair."
At Cas's suggestion, Dean had shelled out the extra money for student insurance when he enrolled in his nursing program. He hates going to the doctor, he really does--he hates being on the patient side--but Cas makes him go. And what the fuck do you know--it turns out that the reason he can't sleep is that he's having asthma attacks due to the black mold growing in his shitty apartment. He stops breathing, he wakes up, and his brain is too freaked out to go back to sleep. And Cas's apartment? No black mold.
"Well, that's excellent," Cas says, when Dean tells him that night. "You should just move in here."
"You planned this," Dean accuses irritably.
"Yes," Cas agrees flatly, "I used my extravagant academic's salary to plant mold in your apartment and then pay off a medical professional."
"Really, you'd only have to do one or the other," Dean points out.
"Hm," Cas mutters, staring intently at the exam he's grading.
"The doc says it'll take me a while to adjust," Dean says from across the table.
"We'll work on it," Cas replies, not looking up. There's a note of patience in his voice that's both unusual for him and somehow very comforting.
"Okay," Dean nods quietly. "Okay."
They just sit there for a long while, Cas grading and Dean thinking. Finally, though, Dean leans over the table and says, "Can I help?"
"No," Cas says with a hint of a smile. "I get paid to do this. You can make dinner."
"Great. Do you like your toast blackened or burned?" Dean asks.
"We'll work on that, too," Cas says mildly, and Dean bites down a smile.