It’s 8.30 AM when Castiel parks his small, sensible car in front of the building where he works. He turns off the radio (he would have liked to hear that Beethoven piece until it was over, but he has never been late at work in his life and he won’t start now), straightens his tie even if it’s still not quite right (he has never learned to do the knot properly), tightens his trench coat around his shoulders, and gets out of the car.
He looks up at the building, belonging to Sandover Bridge and Iron, where he has been working for ten years. He has a desk on the 19th floor (section W, number 816 of the accounting division), and he hates his job. If only because he’s good at it, and he has been doing it right. He works overtime each week and he’s always on time, he has been here since he was through with college and he doesn’t even particularly like the accounting. But still, in ten years of hard work, his check has never seen any benefits.
With the exception of one thing, there’s nothing Castiel likes about Sandover.
He sighs, running through his mind what he has to do today, work-wise. He’s sure that he’ll end up staying overtime all over again. Maybe he could treat himself to something nice when he gets back to his apartment tonight, he thinks. A nice cup of hot herbal tea, ordering from his favorite Indian take out, a good movie –
His train of thought is over when he realizes that it’s Thursday.
He’ll have to stay overtime longer than usual.
See, accounting is the least of his worries. Because right now, the main is his apartment. Castiel owns a nice, small studio apartment, in a good part of town, which is not too expensive. It’s nice and cozy enough, with its walls covered in bookshelves, an old TV, a proper record player and a sofa that Castiel bought new because he likes to be comfortable when reading.
But since one of his bosses, who’s also coincidentally his second cousin (Gabriel owes him so much) asked Castiel to lend him that apartment once to bring his then-girlfriend, because he was still in the process of breaking up with the one before her, all of his bosses have started dropping by his desk asking for the apartment’s keys.
It might be that Castiel comes from a family where they teach you to never say no to your elders (and there’s a reason he studied economics instead of English literature), it might be that they’re his bosses and he could get fired, but he can’t refuse.
This time is the guy in charge of tech support; Castiel has never met this Gordon Walker person, but he came to Castiel after Gabriel told him and he couldn’t have said no either.
And it’s not like any of these people ever tried to at least put a word for him to get if not a promotion at least a stupid pay rise, even if he works hard and, as stated, always stays overtime.
He sighs, moving inside the building and looking in the direction of the elevators. He looks at the one at the left and he smiles in spite of himself; because that’s exactly where the only good thing about Sandover is.
Because, you see, Sandover is a pretty rich company; they still hire people in order to run the elevators. And if you use the elevator on the left, it’s Dean Winchester running it.
Incidentally, Dean Winchester is the only good thing about working for Sandover. He’s nothing short of handsome, with his short, light brown hair, his striking green eyes, his linear, regular face and a pair of dark, pretty lips that just beg to be kissed. He even manages to pull off the horrible uniform that operators have to wear, which is no small feat. But it’s not just that Dean is good looking. He always has a smile for everyone walking into the elevators even if they don’t look at him twice, if you talk to him even for a couple of minutes and casually, he’ll always have something nice to say, or something that will make you laugh. And, well – Castiel doesn’t really have friends. His bosses have good words for him only when they want the keys to his place. So having someone who always has a nice word for you every day, – even if they don’t really know you – is something he appreciates.
He takes off his hat when he walks into the elevator, trying not to stare at Dean’s backside (he’s only human, and those uniform trousers are tight); he hates wearing hats, but today it was way too cold not to.
“Hey, Cas,” Dean says as he walks in. Castiel’s heart skips a beat. He likes that Dean calls him like that. No one else does.
“Hello, Dean,” he answers, and then waits until the elevator stops at the first floor. Then at the second. When he doesn’t get off at the nineteenth, Dean raises an eyebrow – from there until the thirtieth, there’s just private offices.
“I, uh, need to have a word with my boss. At the twenty-third floor,” he says. Gabriel had asked him to drop by before his shift.
“Oh, all right. Going up, then.” Dean looks at him for a second, then shakes his head and stares at the elevator buttons instead.
“You know,” he says, “you’re the only one who ever comes into this elevator that takes off his hat. Not that I give much of a damn, but y’know. Manners are appreciated.”
Castiel swallows and nods at him, not having an idea of what to answer – he’s already trying not to hyperventilate.
There’s a reason Castiel Milton’s love life is mostly uneventful. He just can’t cope with really liking someone, especially someone who could do a lot better than an accountant who can’t even keep people out of his apartment.
He gets off at twenty-third, and heads for Gabriel’s office. He knocks, and Gabriel says to come in.
He’s drinking hot chocolate and not doing any work whatsoever, from what it looks like.
“On time as always, huh? Good! Listen, I don’t want to take you too much from your work, so I’ll be quick and nice. So, I know that we’ve been doing that thing with the apartment for, uhm, two years?”
“Three, actually,” Castiel remarks, keeping his voice polite.
“Oh, right. Two, three, we’re there already. Anyway, I’m about to have a talk with the boss. Y’know. Adler.”
Castiel nods – Gabriel means the real boss of them all, Zachariah Adler. Whom Castiel never had the pleasure of ever seeing.
“Since you’ve been so nice to everyone around here, I could see if he’d be so nice to think about that pay rise we talked about. Don’t hold your breath though – if it’s a bad day, I guess he wouldn’t even consider it, but hey, who knows. Maybe it’s a very good day for him. That’s what I wanted you to know anyway – if he calls you, just go and be your usual charming self, won’t you?”
“Of – of course.”
“See, that’s the spirit!”
Castiel isn’t one for amenities and so excuses himself – on the way out, he can’t help thinking that maybe it’s high time this whole thing with the apartment paid off. He doesn’t ask for much – maybe a desk in a place that isn’t as noisy, and enough money to go on vacation once in a while. He’s sure he hasn’t used any vacation days since he got hired and he stopped talking to his parents. He sighs, sits down at his desk after taking off his coat.
He has accounting to do.
Gordon Walker sends a secretary for the key and Castiel gives it, even if he can’t help feeling horrible about it – he’d like to get a raise because he’s good at his job, not because he gives his bosses a room to cheat on their wives.
Still, he tells her that it’s until ten thirty PM, she nods and she leaves; Castiel keeps on doing his accounting.
At ten PM, he can’t look at numbers anymore; he’s been here for two hours more than he should have, and the entire floor is empty.
He sighs, closes the file he was working on, grabs his coat and hat and gets out of the door, expecting to find everyone else gone and heading for the stairs; but then he sees that Dean is leaning outside the left elevator, reading a book.
Castiel is delighted for a second, but it’s short-lived; it’s not like it means anything, right?
He moves closer, clearing his throat.
“Oh, there you are. I was wondering if you had died in there,” Dean says closing the book. Castiel can’t make out the title but he’s sure that it’s Vonnegut. He likes Vonnegut, too, but he isn’t sure that it’s an appropriate conversation subject.
“Why, you were waiting for me?”
“Nah – I’m waiting for the people at the top of the food chain. They’re having a late meeting and can’t bother with the stairs. And I can use the extra money for not doing anything. Then again, yours was the only light on in the rest of the building and you’re way quieter than they are while discussing, so I figured I could stay here. And give you a lift down.” He winks then, and Castiel hopes that his cheeks aren’t flushing. He feels heat rushing up to them, though.
“That would be most kind of you.”
Dean rolls his eyes and calls the elevator; Castiel steps in, mindful not to put the hat on.
“So, working overtime because you need extra money?”
“… mostly, but it’s not like I have someone waiting for me at home either,” Castiel replies.
“Well, I get that – I live alone, too,” Dean replies, not looking exactly happy about it. Castiel is about to answer, but the elevator is already arrived (they’re too quick, these days), and Castiel steps out, putting his hat back on.
“See you tomorrow then. I hope they don’t keep you much longer.”
“Damn, I hope too. Don’t kill yourself working though – it’s bad for you.”
Castiel can just smile slightly at that. He gets out of the building feeling slightly better, and it lasts throughout the time it takes him to drive home.
It all goes away when he realizes that it’s way past ten thirty, and there’s still a light on in the apartment. He turns the radio’s volume up, the classical music station airing a Chopin piece that does nothing to cheer him up, and waits.
Gordon and a girl that Castiel can barely make out in the darkness get out at half past midnight.
Castiel sighs for the umpteenth time that day, gets out of the car and inside the small building he lives in. When he walks up the stairs to the second floor, where his apartment his, he hears the next door open. It’s his neighbor, Chuck; he works as a nurse at the hospital, and writes novels by night (or by day if he has the night shift) even if he hasn’t found a publisher, and he’s the only person Castiel actually sort of talks to outside of work environment. Chuck doesn’t look too thrilled.
“Man, I know why you do that, and I know you aren’t exactly the kind who will say no when people like that guy ask for your key, but you think you can tell them to keep it down once in a while? I don’t sleep much anyway, but writing shit while hearing people fucking their brains out on the next side of the door isn’t ideal.”
“I’m sorry,” Castiel says. “He was supposed to leave before eleven.”
“Yeah, well, I get it, but – really. Next time – just try?”
“I will,” Castiel answers, wishing he could just dig himself a hole and hide in it for eternity.
When he gets inside the house, he isn’t surprised to find out that they hadn’t cleaned up anything and that glasses dirty with champagne are still on the table in his main room.
He’s too tired to deal with this.
He barely manages to stay awake enough to brush his teeth and get into bed, and when he falls asleep, he can’t help thinking, where did I go wrong?
The next day, he’s actually at work earlier than usual – he woke up at six AM and hasn’t managed to go back to sleep. He drives to Sandover, figuring he can finish yesterday’s leftover work (not that at this rate he won’t be out of work in a month or so); and just as he’s done parking, he sees something that makes his heart stop.
Dean is at the corner of the building, talking to a girl; she’s nothing short of lovely, long red hair, dark eyes, thin, her features elegant, her skin pale. Then he leans down and kisses her, and Castiel turns his head down towards the steering wheel, breathing in and out, trying not to feel too bad about it. It’s not like he had any hope. And of course Dean would already be with someone – assuming the contrary had just been ridiculous. Dean being actually nice to him doesn’t mean anything more, and he knew it.
When he looks back at the building, they’re gone.
He gets out of the car, or better, drags himself out of it; he walks inside the building and sees that Dean is not working yet. He takes the stairs.
At midday, he’s doing accounting as usual when he hears a pen tapping on his desk.
He raises his eyes and tries to place the girl in front of him. She’s tall, with long blonde hair, dressed with a pricey two-piece suit of blue silk trousers and jacket; she’s also wearing heels and her nails are perfectly done.
“Castiel Milton?” she asks.
“Yes. How can I help you?”
“The boss wants to see you. Thirtieth floor, now. Mr. Adler doesn’t like to wait.”
He stands up too quickly, almost making his chair topple over; he runs after her (how can she walk so quickly in those heels, anyway?) until they get to the elevators. She chooses the right one. Dean is nowhere to be seen.
Castiel has never been on the thirtieth floor. It looks newly redecorated, with mirrors all over the walls and soft blue carpet on the floor. He glances at one of the mirrors – his shirt is wrinkled and his tie is still not perfectly set. He hopes it suffices – it’s not as if he has had any time to iron his shirts, considering that he hasn’t set foot in his own house for the entire week.
“Here,” she says after bringing him to a door. Then she moves back to a desk a bit farther from it. She has to be his secretary.
He knocks, waits for someone to tell him to come in, and does.
There are some fifteen feet between the door and the desk; Castiel walks them slowly. Zachariah Adler is around fifty, maybe even sixty. He’s dressed in a perfectly ironed suit with a straight tie, and his shoes are so polished that Castiel thinks he could see his reflection, if he came any closer.
He doesn’t take a seat.
“Mr. Adler,” he says, and Adler raises his head from a report. He smiles, but it’s not the genuine kind of smile Castiel gets from Dean. There’s something off about it. But Adler seems in good spirits, so he tries not to dwell on it.
“Mr. Milton, I presume. You can have a seat.”
Castiel does. He feels as if his throat just ran dry.
“Good. So, I had a number of people telling me good things about you. And to be honest, your productivity is off the charts. I might even say that your dedication to the company is admirable – not a sick day or a leave in ten years is quite impressive. Now, if it had been just our common acquaintance Gabriel, I might not have taken that into account – after all you’re related.”
“If I can say, it was purely by chance that we ended up here both. I didn’t know he worked here, when I applied.”
“He told me the same thing. And a lot others are inclined to say the same about you – even if they don’t work for your department.”
Castiel thinks that this can never go well. He’s already starting to sweat; he licks his lips, not adding anything.
“I don’t doubt that you do deserve at least a raise – no one could argue with your stats. But, truth is, I wished to know why exactly the tech department had anything positive to say about you.”
Adler raises his eyes, smirking. He knows, Castiel thinks.
“So, is what I hear about a certain key moving from floor to floor in this company true?”
Castiel swallows, figuring that it’s not time to lie.
“I – yes, it is.”
“You don’t deny it.”
“You know. Why should I? If you decide to fire me because of it, then I can’t stop you and you would have every right. If you don’t, I can only be grateful.”
“Well, well. I can appreciate honesty. And I’ll make you an offer. Your cousin told me about a pay rise and a more challenging office. I can give you your own office on the twentieth floor, and an according pay rise, if you give me that key for tomorrow.”
Castiel thinks that this is too much. He’s light-headed, and it sounds good, but he doesn’t get why would Adler want a key when he’s famous in the entire company for having been married to his wife for thirty years or so. And tomorrow is Christmas Eve; why would you need a key on that day?
“Oh, I can hear you thinking. It’s not for me.”
“Mr. Adler, I would be happy to accept the offer, but you must realize – until now, I have given that key knowing who would use it. I don’t ask for details, but at least I would appreciate to know why you need it.”
He hopes he hasn’t just jinxed his entire career, but Adler just smirks again and leans back in his seat.
“That’s nothing but reasonable, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t tell you. As long as it doesn’t get out of this room, of course.”
“See, it’s my niece. She has been seeing this guy she met at a coffee shop for a year or so. He was pretty down on his luck when they met, and she was so nice to find him a job here – though it’s nothing of the office kind.”
Probably he’s cleaning toilets, Castiel thinks but doesn’t say.
“And see, it’s not that he’s a horrible person, surely not, but my niece can do a lot better than a high school dropout that can’t even offer her a future. Not when she’s about to start working here in a short while. She’s smart, and I’m sure she’ll do great – as everyone in her family has done before her.”
Castiel nods at that. Sandover has been founded by Adler’s great-grandfather and the CEO has been from the family ever since. Nothing new.
“I think she can’t afford to stay with that guy any longer. And she did agree to break it off, but it obviously can’t happen at the dump where he lives or at our place.”
“I understand,” Castiel says. “If that’s all – I guess I don’t have any objections. How long do you think it would take?”
“I’m sure you’ll be able to get home before ten PM,” Adler says, smooth and satisfied, as if he had just put the seal on a deal that’s only good for him.
Castiel should object. He should say that no one deserves to be dumped on Christmas Eve. That you shouldn’t dump anyone because your family wants you to (even if then it means you’re stuck with an accounting job for the rest of your life).
But he’s also tired and maybe if he gets that promotion, he won’t have to lend out his house anymore.
“I will send you the key tomorrow then.”
“Oh, Rachel will fetch it. See you after the holidays then, Mr. Milton. I’m sure that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
When Castiel calls the elevator, he finds himself in front of Dean.
“Hey there,” Dean says, looking a bit surprised. “I wasn’t expecting you of all people. No offense.”
“None taken. It’s – well. Maybe they finally did notice how much overtime I did in the last five years.”
Dean laughs as he presses the button for the nineteenth floor.
“Let me tell you, considering that I’ve been just here for a year, and how much you work, I’m just surprised they didn’t notice sooner.”
Castiel knows that he’s blushing, but he forces himself to keep his eyes on Dean’s.
“Thank you,” he whispers, trying not to choke on his own voice. This sounds like genuine recognition, at least – and he doesn’t mind that it’s Dean giving it. “I will… see you tomorrow at the office party, then?”
“Maybe for a while,” Dean agrees, and Castiel gets down at his floor feeling like everything should be right, but something really, really isn’t.
He can’t put his finger on what, though.
To be entirely honest, Castiel hates the office party – or better, the nineteenth floor party (every floor has a different one – different departments and everything). Having two hundred people you don’t know on the same floor means that the secret Santa thing everyone is so keen on organizing has no sense, since you buy things for people you don’t even talk to, and same for getting them. Unless you’re particularly unlucky. Castiel bought a new tie for someone whose name he had forgotten, and he almost hopes that whoever got him had forgotten it.
Clearly this isn’t his lucky day. He’s been inside for half an hour and has already had more alcohol than he should have when he finds out who is his secret Santa.
“You wouldn’t know how much I was hoping to get you.” The voice coming from behind him isn’t really the kind you can mistake.
“Meg,” he grits between his teeth, turning to face her. Meg Masters works at the call center and she’s been trying to get into his pants for two years; it started at another office party, when he had been very drunk and had ended up kissing her in a bathroom stall before realizing that he had no idea how he got there.
And he surely didn’t remember agreeing to go with her. Then again, he had been really drunk.
Since then, Meg hasn’t wanted to hear any excuse – most of all, the one where he says that women just don’t do it for him; he’s half-sure that she has rigged the secret Santa just in order to get him.
“Aren’t you glad to see me?” she asks, moving closer, so much that he has to back away.
“You know,” he answers, and then she starts tutting under her breath before handing him a neatly wrapped box.
“I know how to win my battles, handsome. And I think this would look lovely on you,” she says before (thankfully) moving away from him and into a group of girls from the call center.
He sighs and opens the box – it’s a new hat. The note says, yours is seriously out of date. Castiel doesn’t know how his fedora is out of fashion and this sort-of-coppola isn’t, but he can’t exactly give it back. He doesn’t think about the fact that it’ll probably be his only Christmas present this year.
There’s a mirror in the bathroom; he goes inside and tries the hat on, thankful that no one is around.
The more he looks at his reflection, the more he’s sure of something.
“That looks horrible on you,” Dean says from behind him, and Castiel barely stops himself from letting out an undignified gasp.
“That’s what I thought, too,” he says. “But it’s my secret Santa present. I can’t give it back.”
“Guess you can’t, but for the sake of everything you love, just keep the old one.”
Castiel chuckles, and at the same time he thinks that Dean really, really looks better in old jeans and a dark leather coat than in that stupid elevator person uniform.
“Are you staying for a bit?” Castiel asks. He’s pretty sure he knows the answer already.
“Nah, I have something to do. But I had to be here for a short while and I figured I’d say merry Christmas to the only poor bastard that ever says hi while getting into the elevator,” he answers, his voice soft, and Castiel thinks of course. It’s not as if Dean doesn’t have a gorgeous girl to spend the night with.
Castiel thinks about what’s happening at his apartment right now and he can’t help feeling horrible. He takes the hat off.
“Merry Christmas to you then. I hope you have a good year.”
“Can’t be worse than the previous one,” Dean mutters. He looks about to leave, but then he comes closer instead.
“Also,” he says, his hands reaching up towards Castiel’s neck, “if the big kahuna decided to give you a raise, maybe it’s time that you learn how to keep this straight.” He fixes Castiel’s tie then, making the knot straighter. When he moves away, it isn’t crooked anymore and Castiel savors the second in which they’re mere inches from each other.
It doesn’t last, though, and then Dean is raising a hand and getting out of the door.
Castiel looks at his watch. It’s barely eight thirty PM.
He thinks about Meg waiting inside the room, about Adler promoting him just because he needed the damned apartment, he thinks about not even being able to spend the night in his own house, he thinks about Dean’s lovely girlfriend and about the fact that he hasn’t kissed anyone in five years if you don’t count Meg in the bathroom stall. He thinks about how fast his heart was beating while Dean fixed a stupid tie he has never quite learned how to keep straight and he wants to cry.
When he parks his car in front of the house, the lights are turned out.
Well, at least Adler took him more seriously than most of the other people using his apartment. It makes him feel slightly better, though not enough; since getting out of that bathroom, he has been thinking that there’s something in front of his eyes that is missing and that something else is wrong. Very much wrong.
He’s probably too tired.
He walks up to his door, stops outside for a second. He can hear Chuck typing away from the aisle. He smiles to himself slightly, thinking that at least someone is doing something they like this stupid evening, and gets inside the house. He turns the lights on and sees that things are more or less as he left them. Except that there’s a Led Zeppelin record which he’s sure he has never owned near his player.
He picks it up and then sees that there’s a blank envelope underneath.
He almost faints when he sees that there’s a check for two thousand dollars inside.
Castiel can’t put two and two together – why would Adler leave him money? It makes no sense and he should probably call for explanations, but that can wait for tomorrow. He takes his coat off, decides that he wants to wash his face before everything else.
Then he gets inside the bathroom and realizes that there’s something very, very, very wrong.
The meds cabinet is open, and at first glance everything looks fine, but Castiel immediately realizes what is off.
Some three years ago he had a bad case of insomnia, and at some point he had meds prescribed because otherwise he couldn’t get more than two hours of sleep each night. It had gotten better then, and he had stopped taking meds just before finishing the last bottle, but he had kept it around just in case. There were maybe ten or fifteen pills inside, and it’s empty.
Dread takes hold of him as he runs from the bathroom into his room.
And as soon as he gets inside –
Dean lies on his bed, unhealthily pale and still. Too still. A folded sheet of paper lies on the pillow, and on the nightstand sits an empty water glass.
Castiel doesn’t have time to think about this. If he freaks out now –
He can’t afford to freak out.
Before he knows, he’s on the bed, feeling for Dean’s wrist. Despite his clammy skin and unwell appearance, a faint pulse beats. Castiel breathes out, thinks about this for one second – Dean was at Sandover at eight thirty, and now it’s a quarter to eleven, and it takes half an hour from Castiel’s place to Sandover, more or less.
This can’t have happened before one hour, he thinks, and then he realizes that he has no fucking idea about what he should do, and Dean is on his bed and maybe dying in front of him and Dean’s the person Adler’s niece was dating and he has no idea what to do.
Then he remembers that maybe his neighbor has.
“Castiel, what the –”
Castiel shoves the bottle in Chuck’s hand instead of going for explanations. “It was about ten of them. Less than fifteen anyway. Not more than one hour ago.”
Chuck shakes his head, looking at Castiel with a face that says we’re talking about this later, and feels for Dean’s pulse again.
“Okay, maybe it’s not too late. Obviously calling a hospital won’t be an option – not like there’s time. All right. Fine. Uh. Castiel, bathroom. He needs to throw that up. Now.”
Castiel doesn’t even question it – he grabs one of Dean’s arms, moves them both to the bathroom, puts the both of them in front of the toilet and shoves two fingers down Dean’s throat.
For a terrible second nothing happens, and then Dean’s frame shakes. Castiel presses those two fingers down again, deep, and then takes them out just in time; Dean’s eyes flutter open, even if entirely not focused, and he retches, unable to hold himself up. Castiel keeps him upright and tries to see if there’s any pills among the vomit – he sees three or four. Not enough, he thinks, and repeats the same operation. Dean lets out a sound that is pure pain before vomiting again, and Castiel sees another four pills coming out. Maybe the rest is out and he just hasn’t seen it – and anyway, that was a mild enough sedative that he had started on three pills each day.
“Dean?” he asks, when it seems like it’s over, but Dean just shakes against him and doesn’t answer. Chuck comes in with what looks like a mug full of black coffee.
“Did… did it work?” he asks, sounding worried.
“I think the worst is out.”
“You can’t be sure enough. Make him drink that.”
Castiel keeps an arm around Dean’s waist while Chuck holds his head up. He tips the cup, making sure that Dean has to drink it, and Dean retches all over again, sounding like he’s about to pass out. Chuck forces him to drink half a pot and by then he looks beyond barely coherent.
“Will that suffice?” Castiel asks, and he knows he sounds worried.
“It should. Make him drink the rest and make him walk around a bit – he can’t go to sleep just now. Give it half an hour, maybe a bit more, and let him sleep it off after but, uh, keep an eye on him. I’d go to a hospital to be extra sure, but I’m not sure that this business you’re in makes it a good idea. Anyway, if you don’t, keep him here because there could be a relapse for the next forty-eight hours or so. Also, when this is over, I’ll want an explanation.”
He gives Castiel a small, sad smile though, as if he gets that Castiel hasn’t wanted any of this, and then he walks out of the room. Castiel takes a breath, his hand rubbing a circle into Dean’s shoulder.
“Dean?” he tries again.
“No hospitals,” Dean mutters, and Castiel figures that Chuck was right.
“Fine,” he answers, but before he can add anything to it, Dean’s eyes flutter closed, his body slumping against Castiel’s.
“No, wait, you can’t,” he says, dragging Dean up and forcing him to walk. Chuck has left another full mug on the kitchen table and Castiel grabs it before sitting Dean down on a kitchen chair and forcing him to drink some.
“Fucking bitter,” Dean mutters, but drinks it anyway.
“I know. Come on, I need you to walk a bit. Yes, fine, like this,” Castiel blathers on as he forces Dean to walk through the living room and back. He makes them pace for ten minutes before making Dean finish the coffee, and then he paces some more. Dean is barely awake and not saying anything coherent when he speaks at all, but he does say something.
“Knew it was going to happen,” he mutters at minute fifteen of pacing around Castiel’s living room. “Always knew.”
“What?” Castiel asks, not hoping to get an answer.
“It’s all of ‘em anyway. Sam first, everyone else later, her in the end – just fucking peachy,” Dean keeps on, and by now he’s slurring. Castiel can see that he just wants to get some sleep, and he probably needs it, but Chuck said half an hour and Castiel isn’t about to risk anything here. Now that it seems as if the worst is passed, he remembers Dean lying motionless in his bed and he feels like retching himself. He just wishes he could say that he has no idea about this; but he does. The lovely redhead has to be Adler’s niece, and it makes sense that it was Dean who Adler was talking about. He has been working at Sandover for about a year, and Castiel just wishes he had seen it first. He thinks about what Adler had said and he wants to retch himself – she could do better than that.
It’s just a pity that Castiel thinks he couldn’t, isn’t it.
The next fifteen minutes pass, and Dean stops talking altogether at some point; Castiel decides that tomorrow will be time for questions, and now it’s high time he gets Dean into bed. He’ll keep an eye on him – he’s sure that tonight he isn’t going to get any sleep at all. He drags Dean back to the bathroom and forces him to rinse his mouth – waking up with the taste of vomit and black coffee on you isn’t something he’d wish on anyone. When they’re done, he brings Dean into the bedroom and lays him down on his bed, then finds a couple of old pajamas in his closet. For a second he wonders if he should do this, but then again… it’s making Dean a favor, not taking advantage. He makes a point of not staring when he takes off Dean’s dirty shirt (he feels his stomach knot when he realizes that it’s actually a good one – he obviously didn’t pick it randomly from a drawer), or when he takes off his jeans and shoes. He’s thankful that those pajamas were a bit large on him because they’re good on Dean, and manages to get him under the covers, pulling them up to his chin when he’s done. Dean is breathing regularly now, his cheeks flushed even if he’s still too pale, and Castiel breathes out in relief.
He’d like to stay, but he figures he owes Chuck some explanations. He has his number, so he sends him a text asking if he can come over.
Chuck is there a minute later and Castiel lets him in. They both sit on the sofa and Chuck, at least, doesn’t look as pissed as he should.
“So, spill it. What the hell was that?”
“Yesterday the boss called me up. Adler.”
“Oh, the big one? Yeah, okay, so?”
“So he tells me that considering my stats and most of my other bosses putting a good word for me, he would consider giving me my own office. And a raise.”
“Well, it was about time that –”
“If I lend him the apartment keys because his girlfriend has to break it off with a boyfriend that isn’t good enough for her. Or for her surname,” Castiel says.
“So he’s the boyfriend?”
“But you know him.”
“He works at Sandover too. At the elevators.”
“But you didn’t know the poor bastard was him.”
“I wouldn’t have said yes if I had,” Castiel admits. “At the moment, though… it seemed a good deal. Getting that promotion would mean that I could stop lending the apartment altogether. But –”
“Oh, shit. You like him, don’t you?”
Castiel doesn’t deny it and Chuck goes from perplexed to downright sympathetic. He stands up and gets two beers from Castiel’s fridge.
“I think you need a drink,” he says, handing it over.
Castiel doesn’t question it.
“He doesn’t know, doesn’t he?”
“As far as I knew, he had a girlfriend. No, of course he doesn’t know. Also, how do you explain this?”
Castiel hands Chuck the envelope with the check and Chuck whistles when he sees the sum. “How much do people working on the elevators earn?” he asks.
“How would I know? Surely a lot less than that, though. I think. What do I make out of this?”
Chuck shakes his head and stands up, bringing the beer with him. Castiel doesn’t tell him not to.
“I have no clue, man. But I guess there’s a reason why he tried to, uhm, well, leave this valley of tears. Maybe you should ask him.”
Castiel had figured that out himself, but doesn’t say.
“Chuck, can you just… keep quiet about this?”
“Oh. Well. I should probably report it, but if he doesn’t get worse or anything, I guess I can forget it. Just – don’t make him do anything stupid. If he wanted to kill himself, it’s not a given that he won’t try again.”
Castiel nods and sees Chuck out. He gets back inside his room, noticing for the first time the piece of paper Dean had left on his bed. It’s folded, and there’s a for Sam written on the side.
Castiel isn’t sure that he should read it, and so he puts it on the nightstand and tries not to think about it. Dean is still sleeping, his breath blissfully regular, and Castiel can’t help himself. He sits on the side of the bed, reaching out with his hand and smoothing the hair from Dean’s forehead.
It’s not as if he’ll ever have another chance.
By nine AM, Dean is still sleeping and Castiel has decided that he needs to call Adler. There’s no way he can pretend this didn’t happen, and he needs to know about the money.
Clearly Adler’s number is not on available on the phone book, so he has to call Meg (it’s the first time he’s thankful that she had put her number in his cellphone and that he had never learned to delete numbers from the index) and bribe her to give him the number. It’s nine-thirty AM when he has it. It won’t be too early, right?
He dials the number and waits.
A woman answers and he blurts out that he’s very sorry to be calling now, but he’s an associate of Mr. Adler’s and he really needs to have a word with him. Just a small one.
When Adler picks up the line, he’s not amused.
“Milton,” he hisses, sounding everything but cheerful, “how do you have my number and why are you calling on Christmas morning?”
“I’m… extremely sorry to disturb you, but… something has happened. And I thought you should know. It’s about your niece’s boyfriend,” he says.
“What about him?” Adler answers, and it’s obvious that he doesn’t want to have this conversation.
“When I got back, I found him in my bed passed out. He had finished a bottle of sleeping pills.”
“Is he dead?” Adler asks, and now at least he sounds a bit worried. Castiel is sure that it isn’t about Dean at all, though.
“No. My neighbor is a doctor and we brought the situation under control. But I was told to keep him here for two days, and well – I thought you should know.”
“Yes, I can see why. Well then, you’re excused from work tomorrow and the day after. One can’t be too sure. You haven’t called his family, have you?”
“No. I was thinking of tracking them –”
“Don’t. No one has to know. And I’m sure that when he wakes up, you’ll reason with him and make sure he doesn’t get any idea to press charges.”
“Don’t mind it, you’ll be rewarded for your loss of time.”
“It isn’t –”
“Merry Christmas, Milton. Remember what I said,” Adler said, and then he closes the call.
Castiel remains standing with the phone in his hand, trying to stop himself from the urge of flinging it across the wall. He feels sick – how can you worry about someone not pressing charges when they almost died?
Castiel isn’t even sure he wants that raise anymore. And why not call the family? Then again, maybe he should ask Dean about that first. If Dean doesn’t want them to know, it’s another story entirely.
He sighs and moves back to the kitchen. He makes some fresh coffee for himself and drinks it black.
Then he hears a noise from the bedroom.
He rushes inside and sees Dean turning on the bed; his eyes flutter open next, and he tries to sit up but he obviously can’t.
“What – I don’t – Cas?”
“Easy,” Castiel replies, helping him sit up. “You shouldn’t – don’t tire yourself.”
“But why are you here?” Dean asks. “And why am I even – I don’t –”
“… this is my house,” Castiel admits, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
Dean stares at him, bringing a hand to his head. It obviously hurts, from the way he’s grimacing.
Castiel is about to ask him if he wants an aspirin, but adding more pills to the mix doesn’t seem a good idea.
“How?” Dean asks, and he looks lucid enough.
“I, uh, I lent it from time to time to my cousin. For… well. He isn’t exactly the faithful kind,” he says, feeling suddenly so ashamed that he could crawl under the ground. “And then other people from the company started to ask. When Adler called me up yesterday, first he spoke about my great stats, and then he told me he’d give me that raise… if I lent his niece the apartment for yesterday night. I said yes, figuring that if I got that raise I could stop lending it in the first place. And then I came back home, I found you on the bed and – my neighbor is a nurse. I called him in.”
Dean nods, and thankfully he doesn’t look like he’d punch Castiel. Even if he were able.
“Sorry for the inconvenience. I wouldn’t have tried to kill myself in your place if I had known,” he says, his voice barely audible. Castiel feels as if someone took his heart in their fist and crushed it.
“I wouldn’t have said yes if I had known that you were the boyfriend she was supposed to break up with,” he says then, not even knowing where it came from, and Dean’s eyes widen just slightly when they meet Castiel’s again. “I… I already thought it was a horrible thing to do. But… I’m not that great at saying no.”
Dean snorts, noticing the folded sheet on the nightstand. His expression turns to somber again.
“Did you… did you read it?”
“No. I didn’t think I had the right.”
Dean lets out a breath of relief and Castiel notices that his frame is shaking. Just a bit, but it is.
“Dean, do you… do you want me to call anyone from your family? I spoke to Adler before –”
“How did you do that?”
“Well. Do you know Meg from the call center?”
“That idiot who keeps on hitting on you even if it’s clear she has no chance?”
Castiel can’t help smiling at that. He doesn’t know how Dean noticed it, but it’s kind of pleasing.
“She put her number in my index and I never figured out how to delete it. I called her. And she did give me Adler’s number. He – I figured he’d feel bad about it.”
“Wait, you mean she dumped me because he asked her?”
“He said – I’m not sure I should…”
“Cas, spill it out. Can’t get worse than it is right now.”
“He said she can do better than you. He also told me not to call your family, but… if you want me to, I can. I’m –”
“Don’t call them. Not like they’d answer anyway.”
Castiel swallows, noticing that Dean is shaking harder. This is not right. He can’t just – he has to do something. He wants to reach out, put an arm around Dean’s shoulder, but maybe it’s too much. He sets on touching Dean’s shoulder, squeezing gently.
“Dean, can I ask – why did you do it? If you don’t want to tell me it’s fine, you don’t have to, but –”
“That’s okay,” Dean says, his voice shaking. “You got a right to ask since I guess I scared the living shit out of you last evening. It’s just – when I met Anna, it was a pretty fucked time. My brother had left for college some three years before and my dad didn’t want him to – he hasn’t called since. The second he left, my dad just – he started drinking too much and it ended up with him crashing with his car into a tree, and I can only be happy he hasn’t killed anyone else in the process. When I met her, it was two months after the funeral. I needed a better job than fixing cars part time and she said that at her uncle’s company they needed someone for the elevators. And it’s not like you need more than a GED to do that, right? She was – she’s a nice girl. We hit off. During this last year she was the only decent thing I had going on. Hey, just – can I have a glass of water?”
Dean coughs then, and Castiel curses himself for not having one ready. Of course he’d want some water. He runs to fetch a glass and hands it over to Dean, who finishes it in one go.
“Thanks. So, uh, I have been trying to talk to Sam – my brother, I mean – for a couple months, but he’s not answering. He didn’t even come down for the funeral. It’s not been that nice of a time. So when she says she had a nice place to spend Christmas Eve I was – well, we hadn’t managed to go out in a while. I even bought her roses, shit. That LP was my Christmas present – we clicked because she told me she liked Led Zeppelin. And – she said we couldn’t see each other anymore since she’s about to start working at the company and it isn’t convenient, and gave me that envelope. Hoping it’d make me feel better. Then she left and – it just all crashed down on me, you know? I hate my job but I don’t have qualifications for a better one, I live in a room without windows, my brother isn’t talking to me for some stupid reason, I don’t have other family, and it was fucking Christmas. I had gone to the bathroom just to wash my face and then I saw those pills. I don’t even know – I wrote that letter and then – guess I gotta be thankful that it was almost empty, right?”
Dean’s voice breaks on that last point, and Castiel – Castiel is horrified.
There’s nothing of what Dean said that you could imagine just by looking at him. He’s always nice to everyone, he’s always so charming and easy to be around, and this – this is making Castiel want to punch Adler in the face. And maybe ask Anna how could she ever agree to give someone money to make them feel better about being dumped.
“I’m just – sorry for having done it here. Guess I should’ve found myself a bridge to jump from,” Dean says, and his voice sounds so hollow that Castiel can’t just stand there anymore. He moves on the bed, puts an arm around Dean’s shoulders and tries not to gasp when Dean hides his head against Castiel’s shoulder. He’s still shaking like a leaf and Castiel wraps an arm around his waist, letting out a breath of relief when Dean doesn’t shrink away.
“Don’t – don’t say that,” he manages. “I won’t say you didn’t give me a scare, but – believe me, I wouldn’t have wanted you to find that bridge.”
Dean doesn’t answer but doesn’t move from his position either. Castiel doesn’t dare doing something else (he wants to bury his hand in Dean’s hair, but he doesn’t know whether it’d be appropriate or not) and doesn’t move until Dean slowly backs off a bit. His eyes are red and Castiel’s wrinkled shirt is damp, but he doesn’t remark on that.
“Shit. Sorry, that wasn’t – guess I’m not thinking right.”
“You needed it. It’s fine. Do you – do you want something to eat? Nothing too heavy, but you know – I’m not sure you’re up for it.”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess I could eat. Thanks, I –”
“Don’t trouble yourself.”
When he gets to the kitchen, Castiel decides on fixing Dean a bowl of oatmeal. He doesn’t have anything else and it’s Christmas today – he can’t exactly go shopping for groceries. He finds a jar of honey and adds a bit into the mix, though not too much. He just can’t begin to process everything Dean has said. He wishes he had something to say about it, but he has no idea. Surely he can’t tell Dean that he has had feelings for him for at least eight months.
He brings the oatmeal over to the bedroom with some more water.
“I figured you’d be sick of coffee,” he said handing Dean the bowl.
“Last night… you drank quite a lot of that,” Castiel answers, and Dean shakes his head as he takes the bowl.
“I don’t remember shit. Guess I was too out of it.” He takes a spoonful of oatmeal and then another, and Castiel is relieved when he finishes the entire bowl.
“Can I – can I call in my neighbor?” Castiel asks when Dean is done. “I think you’re out of danger but… I would like to be sure.”
“Oh. Yes. Sure, call him in.” Dean’s voice is low, and Castiel doesn’t want to leave the room but he needs reassurance that Dean isn’t going to die on him just now.
Chuck looks like someone who hasn’t slept in ages, but it’s not that different from the usual. Dean looks perplexed enough when he sees that the person who basically saved his life last night hasn’t shaved in four days and is wearing torn jeans and a faded Misfits t-shirt, but he doesn’t complain when Chuck gives him a quick check-up. Castiel waits outside the room and when Chuck comes out and tells him that there’s no danger anymore, he lets out a breath of relief.
“I think he could eat normal things, too – don’t give him or anything heavy though. And still, keep him here until tomorrow. You can’t be too sure. Also – uh, I think that what he needs most is some cheering up, but I guess I’ll leave that to you.”
Chuck steals another beer bottle and runs back to his own place; Castiel walks back inside the room and sits on the chair next to the bed.
“Your neighbor is a riot,” Dean comments, but he looks half-relieved, too. “Also – well, guess I’ll have to thank him properly.”
“You could read his book for him – he’d be ecstatic,” Castiel comments.
“What, he’s a writer?”
“When he isn’t at his main job. He’s been writing that novel for years though – by now he should have finished. Or well, considering the subject, two years is enough, time-wise. Listen, are you sure that you don’t want me to track your brother down?”
“That’s – that’s okay. You don’t need to. Better that he doesn’t know, anyway. It’d just confirm him how fucked up I am. Listen, could we open the window?”
Castiel stands up, and then he stops. He knows it’s irrational, but he can’t help it.
“If I do open it – well, it’s a low second floor, and you’d break a leg at most, but –”
Dean shakes his head, still looking miserable. “Don’t – I’m not going to jump off it, man. Don’t worry. And even if I broke one leg – fine. They shoot horses like that, don’t they?”
Castiel almost recoils at that. “Don’t – don’t say it. Promise me you won’t.”
“Who would give a damn anyway? My brother doesn’t talk to me, my mom died when I was four, my dad – you know, Anna just dumped me because I wasn’t good enough for anything, so?”
“I would. You’re the nicest person I know in that building.”
Dean snorts, looking at the ceiling.
“Seriously. Why can’t I ever fall for nice people like you?”
Castiel almost chokes at that. If only you knew, he thinks.
“Oh, Anna’s just the latest. My first serious girlfriend dumped me just after I dropped out of high school because I worked too much – it was for paying the bills, but she said we never went out. The second was someone I got with a week before my dad died and she cut it off because after the funeral I wasn’t that nice to deal with. I know that Anna likes me, but she agreed to that farce. What can I say?”
“Can I tell you something?” Castiel asks, opening the window after all. Having some fresh air feels good, after this.
“You don’t look that… fucked up, to me. Don’t get yourself this down. It isn’t… maybe Adler doesn’t think that you’re good enough for his niece, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong with you. Decency-wise. And… otherwise-wise, I would say.”
Dean’s lips curl up in half a smile and Castiel has to stop himself from saying that he really looks better when he smiles.
“Noted, then. I’m – well. Sorry I crashed your Christmas plans.”
“Dean, I live alone. I didn’t have plans. I don’t mind.”
Dean nods and suddenly Castiel realizes that he just can’t stand silence right now. He needs to be doing something, and he can’t take Dean looking this miserable.
“Do you – maybe we could play cards?”
“Cards?” Dean asks. “Well – guess it’s okay. What are you good at?”
“I can only play gin rummy,” Castiel replies, realizing that it is sort of lame, but it’s the truth.
Dean sits up straighter and looks straight at him, still half-smiling. “That’s okay. I’m good enough at that, you know.”
One hour later, Castiel hasn’t won one single game.
“You’re good at this,” he says as he folds and gives up for the umpteenth time.
“There’s gotta be something I’m good at, right? But you ain’t half bad at it.”
“Honored to receive your praise,” Castiel replies, but there’s no haste in it. “I think I should fix something for lunch. I didn’t have time to get groceries this week, though. Would some pasta be all right? I don’t think I can come up with anything else.”
“That would be good. You don’t need help?”
“Dean, it’s fine. Don’t tire yourself.”
Clearly, when Castiel gets inside the kitchen, he realizes that he had thrown away his colander last week because it was too old, and he hasn’t replaced it since.
He’ll have to resort to the only other alternative he has, then.
When Dean walks inside the kitchen some thirty minutes later, Castiel is straining pasta with his old tennis racket.
“What are you doing with that?” Dean asks, looking like he isn’t quite taking in the sight.
“What does it look like to you?”
“You’re straining the spaghetti with that.”
“I am apparently missing a proper colander. Don’t worry, it’s clean. And it makes no difference. Cooking-wise.”
Dean full-on laughs at that, and the sound makes Castiel feel warm all over. “Well then. Nothin’ to complain about. You have a nice place, you know.”
“Do I?” Castiel asks, dropping the now drained spaghetti into a pot full of sauce.
“Yes. I hadn’t noticed yesterday. But you know. I took a walk around. It’s… cozy, maybe? I don’t know. But it’s lived in. And it has windows.”
Castiel remembers Dean saying that his own place doesn’t have any. He doesn’t comment on that, though.
“Also, uh, you think you could lend me this, for the moment?” Dean asks, showing Castiel a copy of The Sirens of Titan. “I’m reading it just now and I was missing the last chapter.”
“Sure. That’s no problem. It’s… quite good. Not my favorite of his, but good.”
During lunch, which came out quite nicely (then again, living alone for ten years teaches you how to cook), they spend time talking about Vonnegut. Castiel finds out that Dean’s favorite is Slaughterhouse Five, while his own is probably Breakfast of Champions, but they both agree on Jailbird being underrated. After lunch, Dean finishes Sirens of Titan and Castiel cleans up the kitchen and the living room; he coaxes Dean into playing some more gin rummy when he’s done, and on staying out of bed as much as possible. He doesn’t say anything when Dean throws his note to Sam into the trash. For dinner, he gets Chuck to give him some pre-heated pizza that Chuck buys in pounds the one time of the month where he goes to the supermarket. They eat it on Castiel’s sofa while watching the news, and Castiel is about to change channels when he realizes that It’s a Wonderful Life is next, but Dean insists that it’s okay.
They end up watching it all, and Castiel can’t help thinking that it was the nicest Christmas he’s had in ages even if he sleeps on the sofa after he forces Dean to take his bed.
He wakes up at six AM on the twenty-sixth, and Dean is still sleeping.
Castiel knows that he shouldn’t, but he can’t help thinking that it isn’t right that his brother doesn’t know.
He turns on his laptop and tries to track down a Sam Winchester that can fit the description; he finds one studying in Stanford, at his fourth year – he should graduate shortly.
There isn’t a phone number, though, so he calls the administration hoping that not everyone is on holiday. Someone answers, and Castiel tells them that he needs to contact Sam because of a family-related urgency, and thankfully he doesn’t need to lie about anything before he’s given a dorm number.
He dials it.
“Yes?” a young man answers when the call is picked up.
“Yes. Who is this?”
Castiel takes a breath. “My name is Castiel Milton. You don’t know me, but… I know your brother.”
“Is this about Dean? I thought I made clear –”
“I don’t know what it is that you made clear whenever you talked to him last. But… this is something I think you need to know. He tried to kill himself.”
There’s silence at the other end of the line, and when Sam speaks again his voice is strained. “Is this a joke?”
“No. I’m – we work in the same place, though not in the same department. It would be too long to explain the situation right now, and I’m not sure if it’s my place. But – it happened.”
“Is he in a hospital?”
“No. He’s at my place. As I said, it’s… complicated. I can give you the address, if you wish to drop by. He didn’t want me to call you but from what I gathered you’re his only family and – I thought you should know.”
“He didn’t want you to call?” Sam asks, sounding half-outraged. “Sorry. I just – I guess I can get why. Listen, I can take a flight and be there this evening. This is – shit. Thanks for calling. You’re in Lawrence, right?”
Castiel confirms it and gives Sam his address, then closes the call and prays that he did the right thing.
“You know,” Dean says as he grabs a box of cereal and puts some in a bowl – Castiel had hit the grocery store the moment it opened –, “I don’t even – I guess that if it just took her uncle to tell her that I wasn’t nice enough for the likes of her then it wasn’t serious in the first place.”
Castiel can’t help but agreeing.
“It’s just – that’s the kind of people I always seem to end up with. You know, takers.”
“Yeah. You know, I think that there are two kinds of people. One that takes, and one that… gets taken, I guess. You realize that you’re the kind that gets taken… and you can’t do shit about it. I guess I should get over it.”
Exactly how many people did take from you? Castiel wonders. “I guess you aren't alone in that.”
“I haven’t been able to say no to anyone who wanted to use my place in years, if you forgot it. Maybe it’s just. Well. I guess, that’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.”
Dean gives him a half-smile and finishes his coffee. “We’re two of a kind then. Cas, listen, I just wanted to say – thanks.”
“Come on. You saved my life as much as your writer friend over there did. And you’ve been keeping me around for two days even if everything I did was try to overdose in your bedroom. You didn’t have to.”
Castiel swallows, wondering if he should just say it.
But… it’s not the right time. Dean has been through a lot and considering how the break-up went, Castiel isn’t sure he needs more to deal with. He could also think that Castiel isn’t being serious.
“Dean, I… you have realized by now that I don’t talk to many people. And that I don’t have friends here. I don’t mind having you here. At least I didn’t spend Christmas alone, did I?”
“Have you read Robinson Crusoe?” Castiel asks, suddenly, figuring that maybe a hint could work. If hidden in a good enough metaphor.
“Yes, but how –”
“That’s how I feel most days. Life-wise. He’s shipwrecked on the island and thinks he’s alone, and I feel shipwrecked among thousands of people I don’t know. Then one day he sees a footprint in the sand and he finds someone else on the island. That’s what you were for me, these last two days,” he says, quietly, not daring to add that Dean has been that for the entire last year.
He also hopes that he hasn’t said too much, but Dean’s eyes widen in surprise rather than haste, and then his lips curl up and he gives Castiel such a sweet smile that makes him think that time has just stopped.
“That was – that was the nicest thing anyone has ever told me,” Dean answers.
Castiel thinks that even if this ends badly when Sam arrives, at least he had this.
“Cas?” Dean asks him after another two hours of gin rummy, during which Castiel hasn’t won a single hand.
“You said that Adler wanted you to convince me not to press charges.”
“Yes, but –”
“I wasn’t gonna. It’s not like I can press charges or tell anyone when it was my own stupid fault. But if you want to tell him that you convinced me… just do it.”
“Why would I?”
“You – well. I guess he might give you another raise. And apartment or not, you deserve that. I don’t mind. ‘S not like he’s gonna think less of me.”
Castiel can’t stop himself; his hand reaches out and covers Dean’s wrist, stopping him from shaking.
“I couldn’t. You aren’t – don’t think that I like the feeling of everyone walking all over me. You deserve better than that.”
“Nice to say, but the offer still stands. I’m not gonna be offended if you do.”
Castiel nods, but he already knows that he’s not going to do it.
“It won’t – it won’t last forever,” he says then, dealing the other hand. “I mean, I know it’s bad right now, but – you get over it.”
“How do you know?”
“I stopped talking to my family when they found out that the person I was seeing back then was a man. They’re… the bad kind of religious. And then we broke up three months later.”
“Was it you?”
“It was him. It wasn’t any particular reason. He just decided that we didn’t… work together anymore after I asked him why he seemed to be distancing himself. At times I thought I should have just not spoken. It… we could say it happened from one day to the next though, I had no idea that he felt like that. It isn’t the same thing, but – I felt miserable for a long time after. And then I decided to get over it and sent him a card for Christmas.”
“He was with somebody else but he said he was glad that we worked it out. He sends me a fruit cake every year. There’s one in my fridge.”
Dean looks at him for a second, obviously trying not to laugh, but he can’t help it.
“You’re just trying to make me feel better.”
“I’m merely telling the truth,” Castiel says before taking the half-eaten fruit cake out of the fridge.
They finish it in the next thirty minutes and Castiel can’t help thinking that the only thing that he regrets, about the last two days, is that Dean is here because he almost died.
There’s a knock on the door at ten PM, and Cas tells Dean that it’s okay if he gets it; it’s probably Chuck.
Sam Winchester is taller than Castiel would have imagined, nearly six and a half feet; he obviously dressed in haste, his flannel buttoned wrong, and before Dean can say anything, Sam moves forward and hugs his brother, hard enough that Dean flinches for a second. But then he hugs him back, his hands digging into Sam’s shoulders, and Castiel can’t help thinking that he did the right thing. He turns his back on them, not wanting to intrude on a private moment, but then –
“You called him, didn’t you?”
Castiel turns towards Dean, trying not to look too sheepish.
“I – yes. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t do otherwise.”
“I should punch you, but then again maybe you weren’t wrong,” Dean whispers.
“Seriously, how could you – listen, I’m sorry that I just told you I was done with anything… us-related, I guess. We should talk. A while.” Sam’s voice is somber, his hand on Dean’s elbow, and Dean gives him a nod.
“Yeah. Guess we should.”
“I have a hotel room near here. And I got you some clothes to change in – I figured you wouldn’t have any,” Sam says, and Dean gives him another nod.
“Cas, uh –”
“That’s fine – go change in my room. I’ll bring yours back after they’re washed.”
Dean grabs the plastic bag Sam hands him and goes into the bedroom again; Castiel is left with Sam.
“Listen, I don’t know the specific of this, but – thanks, I guess. And for calling.”
“I told you, I felt like I had to.”
“Yeah, but – I told him a very stupid thing last time we saw each other. Now maybe I can make some amends. But I’d never have if you hadn’t called, so… thank you.”
Castiel shakes Sam’s hand, thankful that it went right, and then Dean is out of the bedroom, wearing his coat and a pair of jeans.
“Cas, thanks again. Really. I can’t even start to –”
“Dean. Don’t. Footprints in the sand, do you remember?”
Dean gives him another half-smile before leaving with Sam, and the apartment suddenly feels a lot colder.
The next day, Dean isn’t at work, but Adler is; Castiel goes to the thirtieth floor as soon as Rachel comes for him.
“I assume that everything went smoothly,” Adler says as soon as Castiel is inside the room.
“Mr. Winchester is fine, yes,” Castiel replies, sitting down.
“Good, good. I assume he won’t say anything about all of this.”
“He won’t,” Castiel says, hating himself for not phrasing it making it clear that he had no influence in that decision.
“Lovely. I can see that you’re someone we can trust. Well then, you can move to your new office. Twentieth floor, you’re head of the accounting department. I trust you’ll do great.”
“Thank you,” Castiel replies, trying to feign gratefulness.
The new office is large, even if smaller than Adler’s. Or Gabriel’s. It’s empty except for his stack of files on the desk. The window has a lovely view of Lawrence.
It doesn’t feel nearly as nice as he thought it would.
“You know,” Chuck tells him that evening as he steals beer from his fridge again, “you should quit this.”
“Moping around and thinking that the world is against you. And letting everyone walk over you. You’re smart, you’re a decent guy, you don’t like it, why do you have to always be so passive?”
“Chuck, the second to last time I went with my gut, my parents told me to never show my face to them again for the rest of my life, and the last time I did the same thing, it was the end of the only stupid relationship I’ve ever been in.”
“See? Feeling sorry for yourself! Believe me, I know, but… I would have told him. Before he left.”
“He didn’t need more burdens,” Castiel answers. He’s drinking water – he can’t take alcohol.
“There you are at it again. One day you will realize no one thinks you’re a burden, but really, Castiel, you should, uh, really quit it.”
Castiel doesn’t find an answer for Chuck; he doesn’t tell him that he wishes he could find it in himself to say no.
The next day, he brings a bundle of clothes with him, making sure to hide it in his briefcase. He calls the left elevator when he’s sure that no one is watching.
When Dean sees him, his features soften a bit.
“I wanted to give you these,” Castiel says, handing Dean a plastic bag in which the clothes he had on Christmas Eve are neatly folded.
“Oh. Thanks. So, you’re one floor higher, huh?”
“It isn’t that different.”
“Well, you still don’t iron your shirts. And your tie is still crooked.”
“I’m afraid I’ll never learn.”
“That’s okay. Suits you.”
What does it mean? Castiel thinks, and then Dean speaks again and Castiel feels as if the floor has opened under his feet.
“Anna wants to talk.”
“She called and said that – well, someone told her. Adler, I guess. She says she feels like we have to meet and… talk about it. I told her fine, but… I’m not even sure that I want to know.”
“Maybe she feels guilty.”
“She should,” Dean mutters. “I threw the check away.”
Castiel wishes he could say I’d have done the same. “Anyway, we’ll see, I guess. Cas, really… thanks again. Maybe we should hang out sometime. Not during work-time.”
Castiel knows that it means it’s never going to happen.
“We should. Not work-wise,” he answers, and then Dean disappears in the elevator and Castiel curses himself for not having the courage to say it straight. Apparently, being burned once was enough for him, but mostly – Dean had a girlfriend. It’s hopeless anyway.
On the thirty-first, Rachel comes to fetch him again.
As Castiel walks towards Adler’s office, he can feel his skin crawling. His tie is straight – for the first time in years, he managed the knot right. And since he doesn’t have people coming in and out of his place anymore, he had the time to iron his shirt and suit.
He feels as if he can burst any second.
“Milton, please, walk in.”
Castiel takes a seat and Adler looks at him in the eyes, the same smile that he had the first time they met on his face.
“Is your new position suiting you?”
“Very much, sir.”
“I was wondering if you’re interested in further improving it. Let’s say, to the twenty-fifth floor.”
Castiel swallows – that means triple the salary that he gets right now.
“I can’t possibly have proven myself enough to deserve that,” he replies, honestly.
“Well, yes, but I know how to reward friends. I just need that key one more time.”
“Anna has decided that she owes her guy a better explanation. I’m not sure that she owes him anything, and it’s not as if she’s getting back with him, but I figured that it can’t hurt. And maybe she’ll convince him to accept her help, since last time he didn’t even look at the check she left him twice, from what I gather. If she manages that I could finally have him out of my way. It wouldn’t be a good thing if they saw each other every day. I do realize that maybe you might feel bad for him, but well, you know how life is. It takes years to get to the twenty-fifth floor, and thirty seconds to be out of the door. I’m sure that you understand what I’m saying.”
Castiel stays still, wishing he could just stand up and punch Adler. He wishes he could tell him that Dean is a better person that Adler can ever hope to be, and if he isn’t enough for Anna then he’s good enough for him, but he can’t.
He reaches down into his pocket and takes a key out, putting it on the table.
“I knew you were going to be reasonable,” Adler says as he picks the key up and Castiel grabs his coat.
Castiel stands up and puts it on, wondering when Adler is going to realize –
“I think it’s the wrong one.”
“It’s the right one.”
“It’s the key to the private washroom on your floor, it’s not –”
“It’s exactly the one I wanted to give you. One could say I’m… washed up, work-wise.”
He hasn’t thought about it twice; after hearing Dean’s story of how exactly he came to overdosing on his sleeping pills, he had felt angry on Dean’s behalf. But right now he’d feel just pathetic if he did anything other than what he has just done; after all, Dean has had a difficult life and taken all the blows it had given him, but never to the point of this. Castiel is done feeling like someone that can be bought with a promotion; if Dean refused those stupid two thousand dollars, then he can do the same and not feel like a failure at life after.
“Milton, do you realize –”
Castiel raises his head and meets Adler’s eyes; this is the one chance he has to show exactly how he feels about this.
“I realize that I spent ten years working here and doing my job right. Better than a lot of others. But no one noticed it until they needed my house. You didn’t realize it until you needed it. I’m not a perfect person. I don’t claim to be. But I know I have said yes when I should have said no. Mr. Winchester over at the elevator might not hold up to your standards, but he isn’t someone you’ll buy with two thousand dollars. He doesn’t deserve any of this. If you want to go ahead with your plan anyway, feel free to. But you’re not doing it in my house. Oh, and don’t tell me I’m done. You don’t need to. I quit myself.”
“What has gotten into your head?” Adler asks, looking so flabbergasted that Castiel can’t help smiling just a bit.
“I just decided that my life is mine, not yours. Goodbye, Mr. Adler.”
He takes the stairs when he gets out of the building.
On New Year’s Eve, one hour before midnight, Castiel is sitting miserably on his sofa. He can’t even bring himself to watch some television, or read, or do anything else. Quitting his job had felt great, at the moment, but he knows that now there’s no chance he’ll get one anywhere as good as this was, pay-wise. He has enough saved to keep the apartment for half a year, so he won’t worry about that right now.
Still, he’s this close to grab a bottle of tequila and get drunk out of his mind just so that he has an excuse to have a long, cathartic cry. Chuck isn’t even at home – being on shift at New Year’s means a lot of extra money, if you work in a hospital, and Dean is probably with Anna. Maybe they’ll work things out. Maybe not. He sighs, going to the fridge. He was going to have a beer, but clearly Chuck has stolen the last bottle he had, and the only one of tequila he had, too. There’s just a champagne one that he had bought when Gabriel told him he might get promoted. He figures it’ll have to do. His fingers shake as he tries to take the cork off, and when he manages to finally open the bottle, the cork shoots away with a loud banging sound before smashing a mirror Castiel keeps in the kitchen. A quarter of the champagne also spills over the floor because the hand holding the bottle is shaking, too. Before Castiel can even curse, he walks back and knocks into the kitchen table, which never was that stable to begin with, and he sends it crashing to the ground.
And then he hears someone screaming no on the stairs and there’s a frantic knock on the door. And –
Someone is screaming Cas.
Castiel opens the door and Dean is in front of him. There’s snow melting in his hair and on his leather coat and he looks scared out of his mind.
“What – Dean?”
“You didn’t – you weren’t – are you okay? That sounded like a gun shot,” Dean asks, and Castiel suddenly realizes that maybe someone hearing that noise from the outside would jump to wrong assumptions.
“Yes. I, well, I managed to ruin my kitchen, but I’m –”
Then Dean closes the door and walks inside, taking off his coat, and shaking his head as he looks at Cas.
“You stupid – why didn’t you say anything?”
“What do you mean?” Castiel asks, feeling dread creeping through him.
“You – Anna told me. Or well, she didn’t understand the implications, but I did. Adler asked you to let her use the apartment today and you said no. And you actually quit? When you were just –”
“I don’t want promotions because I lend out an apartment.”
“That’s not it. You – it was because of me, wasn’t it? It was because you didn’t want me to get screwed another time.”
“I wouldn’t have said yes the first time if I had known.”
“You lost your job! And then she told me that you actually told Adler I was a better person than him.”
“Yes, and then you say things in code. Did you think I’d miss what you meant with that Robinson Crusoe thing, after this?”
“Cas, just tell me the truth. You like me? That way?”
“… yes,” Castiel admits, forcing himself to look Dean in the eyes. He deserves as much. “Since the first day you worked at that elevator. For the last year you were the only reason I looked forward to going to work. When I realized that Anna’s boyfriend and you were the same person, I kept asking myself how I could have been so stupid, and when I realized you could have died in my bed I – I felt like I couldn’t even breathe. So yes, I like you. I… more than like you. But I know that there’s no way it can lead anywhere, so if you were here to be sure of that… you are. If it’s everything, just go.”
And then Dean moves even closer, his hand under Castiel’s chin, forcing it up. And there’s such a sweet look on his face that Castiel has to keep himself from kissing him right now.
“You’re an idiot. You should’ve told me. I guess I get why you didn’t, but – I did a stupid thing. And believe me, not many people I know would have been as nice to me as you were. I hadn’t realized it at the beginning, but then Anna told me that, and I put two and two together and… I just can’t believe that you quit Sandover because of me.”
“You’re worth it,” Castiel replies, his voice barely audible. It’s enough that he can speak at all.
“Well. If you’re out of a job, so am I. I told Anna they could take their money. And their job. I might just have a stupid GED but I can get something better. Someone made me realize that maybe I’m not as fucked up as I think.”
Castiel swallows, starting to shake his head.
“Don’t. If you hadn’t called Sam, I’d have kept on thinking that. And I realized I spent ages feeling guilty for things that weren’t my fault. And – well. If Anna can do better than me, I can do better than her.”
He looks straight at Castiel then, and – oh. One of Dean’s hands moves on Castiel’s back, and Castiel can’t dare to hope that it’s actually happening.
“I’m not better than her,” he whispers. “I can’t even say no when it’s needed.”
“You did it today. And stop beating yourself up. You’re – listen, I can’t say that I’ve been ogling you for months. It’d be – well, you don’t deserve me lying to you. But there’s a reason you’re the only person working in there whose name I knew. Or well, whom I bothered to call by name. Or, you know, there’s a reason why I’ve been spending months trying to find an excuse to fix that stupid tie of yours. Last week – let’s say that I saw a lot that I liked. More than what I liked already. Remember when I told you that I never fall for nice people like you?”
“Well. Seems like I’m on the right way. Because there’s nothing I see that I don’t like.”
“But – I thought that you would try to work it out with her after all, and –”
“I think that we could send Anna a fruitcake each Christmas. Maybe we could send one to her uncle, too,” Dean says, and then he leans down and oh. Their lips meet, and Castiel parts his own immediately. Dean’s mouth is warm against his, his lips full and soft and warming right under his. His hair is cold and wet when Castiel’s hand reaches up, his fingers stroking it. When Dean’s tongue touches his, Castiel moans and kisses him harder, his other hand on Dean’s cheek. Dean’s arm that was behind his back tugs him closer, the kiss not breaking. It lasts, long, and when Dean’s tongue traces Castiel’s mouth on the inside, Castiel can’t help thinking that it was all worth it.
When they part, they’re breathless and Dean’s cheeks are flushed. He’s smiling, that nice, genuine smile that makes Castiel’s knees melt, and to be entirely honest Castiel doesn’t know how he’s still standing up.
“Wow,” Dean says, “that was the best thing I did this year. So, you mind if I spend the night with you?”
“Not at all,” Castiel replies, not quite wanting to move.
“All right. Then I guess we could play some gin rummy, since you like it that much.”
“Maybe we should talk –”
“We can talk later.”
Castiel can’t refuse – he doesn’t think he can refuse Dean anything, right now, and so he nods as he gets the cards and sits on the sofa. Dean takes off his coat and joins him – he’s wearing a green sweater that matches his eyes completely, and Castiel can’t help thinking that he looks so different from last week.
He tries not to think about Dean lying on his bed on Christmas Eve. He cuts the deck, but doesn’t look at it. He can’t stop staring at Dean and he can’t believe that it’s really happening.
Dean smirks and cuts the deck again, looking at him expectantly.
“Cas, the night is young, but I’d like to start before dawn. I had other plans, other than gin rummy.”
“Dean? I think I love you.”
Dean smiles and looks at his card. “Seven.” Then he looks at Castiel’s. “Queen. All right.” Then he hands back the deck. Castiel takes it, but he just – he can’t.
“Dean? You do realize that –”
Dean’s smile is blinding when his hand covers Castiel’s wrist. Castiel hadn’t realized that it was shaking.
“Cas? Shut up and deal.”
Castiel deals, not looking at the cards once, and he knows that he’s smiling as hard as Dean is. When midnight arrives, they’re still playing and none of them notices, but then Dean looks at the time and says that it’s high time he starts the new year on a high note, and he kisses Castiel again, the game forgotten.
Castiel doesn’t even mind that he was about to win that hand.