Castiel’s car is stuffed with boxes. His entire life is in his car, every item that ever meant something to him is packed away, piled into the back of the station wagon. What was it that Gabriel had said on the phone – “Today is the first day of the rest of your life, baby bro.” Castiel had smiled at that, his heart knocking around his rib cage with excited, nervous energy.
He pulls up to Anna’s apartment and steps outside. Leaning against the door of the car, he looks up at the bright morning sky and smiles easy and confident. He’s ready for this, he really is.
Anna has her arms wrapped around a man that must be Dean, her boyfriend, headed to California as well. “Why don’t you both go together?” Anna had suggested. At the time, Castiel had thought it was a great idea. From all that Anna had talked about him, Dean Winchester seemed like a decent enough guy, someone who would provide good company for the trip, maybe take over a few shifts so Castiel could be refreshed on the road.
“I’m gonna miss you baby,” Anna croons, her blue eyes so similar to Castiel’s own, brimming with tears.
“I’ll miss you too,” Dean replies, pulling Anna in for a seductive kiss that goes on just a few more moments longer than Castiel can stand. He rolls his eyes and reaches into the car, his hand pounding on the car horn to announce his arrival.
Anna breaks away looking flustered and embarrassed, wiping a hand over her saliva slick mouth. Dean is less modest, wearing a face splitting grin when he turns his attentions to Castiel. Dean is no doubt attractive with his sandy hair and green eyes, pouty lips and skin adorned with freckles splaying across his strong features, but all Castiel can see is arrogance cascading off of him in waves.
“Oh, hey Cas,” Anna squeaks, her cheeks still flushed. “Dean this is my cousin, Castiel. Cas, this is Dean Winchester.”
Dean gives Castiel a salute, hoists his one duffle bag over his shoulder and makes his way to the station wagon. He grips the door handle with all of his strength and throws the duffle on top of Castiel’s boxes before slamming the door against the metal with a gigantic clang. It makes Castiel’s skin itch with anger.
“Have a safe trip guys!” Anna calls out. “Give me a call as soon as you get there!” But neither man can hear her over the sound of the engine as they drive away.
“It’s gonna be a long drive, why don’t you tell me the story of your life,” Dean says. He’s got his feet up against Castiel’s dashboard, his dirty boots caked with mud staining the interior of Castiel’s car. Castiel wrinkles his nose but the behemoth beside him only digs his heels in further.
“The story of my life won’t even get us out of Lawrence,” Castiel sighs. “Nothing has happened to me yet. That’s why I’m going to California.”
“So something can happen to you?”
“Like going to grad school so I can become a reporter,” Castiel can’t hold back the tone of annoyance in his voice.
“So you can write about things that happen to other people.” Dean shrugs in the passenger seat and twists his body around to grab a pack of Funyuns from the bag he had carelessly tossed in before they drove off. He pops a Funyun into his mouth and the smell of over-salted onion preservative wafts into Castiel’s nose so strong he almost gags.
“What if nothing happens to you?” Dean asks, crunching on his snacks and repositioning his feet back onto the dashboard. Castiel throws him a peeved glance and Dean’s face falls, his feet plummeting back down on the floor of the car. He crunches another Funyun and asks, “What if you fail miserably and die completely alone in your apartment and no one notices until the smell starts clogging up the hallway?”
“Anna mentioned you had a dark side,” Castiel replies. Dean’s green eyes shimmer with some sick sort of delight.
“Of course she did. It’s what drew her to me. Well, that and my good looks.” Dean laughs light and airy at his own hubris. That’s what it is, Castiel thinks, narcissism and hubris. “Everyone likes a good dark side.”
“Not everyone,” Castiel mutters. “Having a dark side doesn’t make you a better person.”
Dean pops another snack into his mouth and crunches hard like he’s contemplating Castiel’s words. Castiel wants to warn Dean not to think too hard, it might break his tiny mind.
“Let’s just say,” Dean says, mouth full of Funyun, “that when the shit comes down, I’ll be ready for it and people like you won’t.”
Crossing one leg over the other, dirty boot hovering painfully close to Castiel’s already ruined dashboard, Dean relaxes into the seat and starts fiddling with the radio. The smooth sound of jazz fills the car and Castiel smiles as he continues driving, thanking God that at least Dean has a good taste in music until John Coltrane is abruptly changed to the crackling static of dead air. Dean keeps pressing the buttons and fiddling with the radio tuner until he stops on a station playing a song with a wailing guitar. Castiel grinds his teeth together but Dean makes no notice of Castiel’s irritations. Instead, Dean pumps up the volume to a maddening level that has Castiel’s head pounding. They haven’t even merged onto the highway yet and Castiel is already regretting ever meeting Dean Winchester.
“No I am not.”
“Dude, you’re so wrong. He wants her to leave –“
“She doesn’t want to stay.”
“Of course she wants to stay! Wouldn’t you want to stay with Humphrey Bogart?”
They pull into a diner somewhere in Colorado, not even halfway to the destination and Castiel is already burnt out on Dean’s incessant needling.
“Not everyone is a hopeless romantic, Dean.”
“So you’re telling me you’d get on the plane?”
“Yes. And, given the choice, I believe most people would.”
Dean gives Castiel a sidelong glance and raises an eyebrow but remains quiet as they both get out of the car. It’s like twisting a knife in Castiel’s side.
“What is it, Dean?” Castiel asks once they’ve sat down at a booth. The vinyl seats are sticky in some places and Castiel pulls a sour face when he finally sits down. Only fifteen more hours of driving, he tells himself, fifteen more hours before he is set free from Dean Winchester.
“Oh nothing, nothing.”
“Dean, I don’t appreciate you judging me based on my opinion about Casablanca.”
“Nothing it’s just, well, you obviously haven’t had great sex yet.”
Castiel’s eyes widen, his mouth falling open and he gapes at Dean who is sitting with his smug face hidden behind the diner’s menu. Dean Winchester is offensive enough as it stands without him insinuating the details of Castiel’s sex life.
“My sex life is not of import,” Castiel says. Dean’s mouth is still quirked in this irritating not-smile that Castiel cannot help himself when he adds on “But it just so happens that I have had plenty of great sex.”
The waitress looks down at Castiel with raised eyebrows and he sinks into the sticky vinyl while Dean laughs across from him. Dean orders one double bacon cheeseburger and a plate of barbecue ribs as well as two orders of onion rings and Castiel feels the second hand diabetes already coursing through his system. In turn, Castiel stares at the plastic tabletop and mutters, “I’ll have the chicken club, thanks” and hopes the waitress doesn’t spit in his food.
“So what happened?” Dean asks.
“With this guy you were having this great sex with? Aw c’mon Cas, you can tell me.”
There’s a real earnestness to the way Dean says that, like they’re just too guys hanging out at a diner, swapping old stories between them. Castiel’s sure that Dean’s stories are probably much more outrageous, some of them might even make him laugh. For all of his annoying qualities, as many as they are, there is something to Dean Winchester that is appealing. Castiel smiles and shakes his head, reminds himself this man is with Castiel’s own cousin. He’s unavailable.
“It’s silly,” Castiel says despite himself. “I had these days of the week boxers –“
Dean cuts Castiel with a sharp laugh. “Oh, you gotta be kidding me. Days of the week boxers?”
Castiel nods. “Yes. And my, well, my ex was all suspicious about Sunday. Where was Sunday? Where did I leave Sunday? And when I explained it to him, he didn’t believe me.”
“What was it?”
“They don’t make Sunday.”
“Because of God.”
A plate of food is dropped on the tabletop but Dean barely notices it, staring at Castiel like he’s suddenly grown a second head.
They eat their meal in silence.
The desert is beautiful even from the window of Castiel’s car. Somewhere around Salt Lake City, Castiel let Dean take over driving, leaving Castiel to catch some sort of sleep. They’re in Nevada when he wakes up, wiping the sleep from his eyes and stretching cat-like in the small confines of the front seat. The sun is just rising over the flat expanse of land and it illuminates the sand like glittering diamonds. They’re not even in Palo Alto yet but Castiel’s chest swells simply knowing that he’s the farthest away from home he’s ever been.
Dean glances over at Castiel as he begins to fully wake up and slings a pop tart over at him.
“Thank you,” Castiel mumbles. He’s not a fan of processed food as a general rule, but it’s nice of Dean to think of Castiel at all.
“You don’t look a lot like Anna,” Dean says.
“No,” Castiel says. “We have our grandfather’s eyes.”
Dean hums, taps his fingers against the steering wheel, and says, “She never mentioned you were so attractive.”
The hair rises on the back of Castiel’s neck and his palms begin to sweat, not just from the heat of the desert. It’s much too early for this, he thinks, too early for Dean’s ridiculous attempts at conversation.
“She’s my cousin, Dean,” Castiel says.
Dean merely shrugs. “I don’t think that really matters. I mean, I wouldn’t deny my brother’s quite a catch, you know what I mean?”
“No. I don’t know what you mean.”
A smile blooms from Dean’s pink lips, easy and unassuming. He looks over at Castiel one last time before turning his eyes back to the road and the look he throws is not a mere glance. Castiel blushes uncontrollably at the intensity in Dean’s eyes and the realization hits him hard.
“Are you…coming on to me?”
Dean laughs. “No! No, no, no.” Castiel waits a moment, staring at Dean with crossed eyes. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
Castiel can barely contain his outrage in the cramped front seat. He wants to lash out – would if Dean weren’t driving on the highway – practically speechless. Is this what Dean had expected when they embarked on the trip? That Castiel would melt at those bright green eyes and toned arms, throw caution to the wind and betray his blood?
“You are disgusting,” Castiel spits.
“What? I can’t make a comment about your looks?”
“Not when you are dating my cousin.”
“You know you’re kinda hot when you growl like that.”
Castiel crumbles in the passenger seat, completely still and angry. Dean in turn fiddles with the radio to fill the void that Castiel’s silence has left.
They drive into California and Dean doesn’t try again. It’s an awkward, uncomfortable silence on both ends. Dean pulls over 70 miles away from Palo Alto to let Castiel drive the rest of the way and they barely cross paths. For that, Castiel is grateful. He shuts off the radio completely, passing curt glances at Dean every time he taps his fingers on the window.
Castiel pulls up to the Stanford University campus, slightly shocked that Dean associates with someone with such a high level of intelligence. There’s a very tall young man waving like a lunatic when he notices the station wagon pull up and Dean lights up like the fourth of July, waving back just slightly less enthusiastically. Castiel ignores the tug of jealousy at Dean’s megawatt smile and instead throws him a tight lipped scowl.
“It was nice knowing ya, Cas,” Dean says.
“Very interesting,” Castiel replies.
Dean slams the door to the back of the station wagon shut and runs to the tall man on the green.
It’s the last Castiel sees of Dean Winchester. The first day of the rest of his life.
Flight 431 direct flight to Boston will be boarding in…
There’s something about Balthazar that Castiel finds insatiable. It’s all in his mouth -- in the words he says, coated in that beautiful accent that can make anything sound both sexy and intelligent; in the way he kisses Castiel, those lips skilled and smooth against Castiel’s rough skin. Now, in the airport lobby, Balthazar’s hands are holding Castiel’s attention, one kneading at the base of his spine while the other rubs circles into his neck.
“Oh God,” Castiel moans followed by a furious blush when a woman with her daughter shoots him and Balthazar a disgusted look.
Balthazar chuckles and plants a kiss on his boyfriend’s neck, right below the soft spot behind his ear. Castiel melts into it, allows Balthazar to snake his arms around his waist and hold Castiel close. Castiel’s eyes drift shut, his head falling back against Balthazar and a wave of comfort washes over him. He’ll only be in Boston for three days but he’s just started seeing Balthazar and the idea of leaving him for any period of time makes Castiel’s stomach lurch. They haven’t spent much time apart since their relationship began and the more Castiel thinks about it, the more he can see Balthazar as someone he can grow old with. Balthazar has so much “potential”, as Gabriel had noted. Then again, this wouldn’t be the first time Gabriel was wrong about one of Castiel’s “promising” beaus.
Castiel shakes his head and turns in Balthazar’s arms, shaking the thoughts of commitment and other large, scary words from his mind. They kiss again, not caring this time who sees or comments, and Castiel surges up to pour all of what he feels into this one kiss when he freezes at the sound of a vaguely familiar throat clearing.
Dean Winchester stands there, same duffle bag from five years ago slung over his shoulder, same goofy looking grin on his face. He does look slightly different; he’s packed on more muscle over the years, his freckles somehow more pronounced, probably from the California sun. Castiel waits for Dean to open with a rude comment about Castiel’s budding sex life but he realizes that Dean isn’t looking at Castiel at all, his eyes fixed on Balthazar instead.
“Balthazar!” he yells. “I thought that was you, how you doing?”
“Very well, Dean,” Balthazar says, his voice shaky with confusion. It’s the first time Castiel has heard Balthazar speak without a spark of confidence. “How are you?”
“Eh, can’t complain, you know. “
There is a moment of awkward, slightly tense silence and Castiel looks away, hiding into his boyfriend’s jacket and thanking God that Dean hasn’t noticed him yet. Balthazar takes this as a cue for introductions.
“Oh, uhm, Dean this is Castiel Novak. Castiel, this is Dean Winchester. Dean used to live in the apartment below me,” Balthazar says with an awkward smile. Castiel nods but doesn’t step away from the blanket of Balthazar’s embrace.
Dean nods back and hoists the bag over his shoulder one last time. “Well,” he says, “it was great catching up with you!” before turning on his heels and heading toward the terminal.
With Dean out of ear shot, Castiel expels the breath he’s been holding and laughs despite himself.
“What is it?” Balthazar asks.
“I know him,” Castiel says. “I drove with him from Kansas to California five years ago and he was…exhausting. He was dating my cousin, Anna, at the time and he actually made a pass at me. Can you believe that?”
“Depends, were you this sexy five years ago?”
Castiel rolls his eyes and Balthazar laughs, pulling him in closer and planting a kiss in Castiel’s hair.
“Oh Cassy, I’m going to miss you. I love you.”
Castiel’s heart stops and he pulls away to look at Balthazar’s face. There’s a faint smile tracing his gorgeous lips and a beautiful spark behind his blue eyes, an unmistakable warmth.
“I love you too,” Castiel says. He does, truly. There’s a future with Balthazar looming over the horizon, a kind of plan that Castiel couldn’t envision with the others.
Castiel maintains a love-struck grin as he steps onto the plane, relaxing into the comfort of the Delta Airlines seat. He’s got the window seat this time, luckily. Something about flying always made Castiel feel safe, silly as it may sound. The smooth glide over and through the clouds, the sight of the massive skyscrapes so small and insignificant when viewed from such a great distance. It all resonated with something deep within his heart, like he was meant for flying.
“God, I hate flying,” the passenger in the aisle says. There’s a man between Castiel and the aisle passenger, reading a newspaper and not bothering to look up but the voice startles Castiel and he has to turn, his eyes locking with Dean Winchester’s once again.
“You from Palo Alto?” Dean asks Castiel.
“No,” Castiel sighs.
“Wait, don’t tell me…”
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
“You’re Annie’s brother –“
“Anna’s cousin,” Castiel corrects.
“Cousin, right, that’s what I said. Wow, Cas. You look great.”
Castiel puffs out his chest and settles himself back into the airplane seat, lamenting in his head at the idea of another trip with Dean Winchester.
“Would you two like to sit next to each other?” The man with the newspaper asks. Before Castiel can push out an emphatic ‘No’, Dean is already smiling and thanking the man, the two of them switching places.
“And you’re with Balthazar now?”
“Yes,” Castiel grits.
“Bit of a prick, that guy,” Dean mutters. Castiel’s hands clench into fists at the allegation and his teeth grind but he refuses to give in to the dig. “You’ve been together, what, a month?”
Castiel raises an eyebrow. “Just over. How did you know?”
“Dropping someone off at the airport is a clear sign of the beginning of a relationship. It’s one of my rules actually.”
“You have rules?” Castiel asks.
Dean nods. “I never take someone to the airport at the beginning of a relationship. I just don’t want to hear them say ‘How come you never bring me to the airport anymore’ y’know?”
“You must not be very successful in relationships.”
“Actually, I’m engaged.”
Castiel sputters. “You? You’re engaged?”
“I’m actually headed over to meet her family. I hate flying, always have. The things you do for love, right?” Dean laughs nervously. He’s got one hand white knuckling the arm rest and the other squeezing a tennis ball, Castiel notes. That and his incessant chattering aside, Dean looks calm and easy, somehow still cool like he should be wearing a leather jacket right now instead of the button up which looks so out of place on him. Must be another one of the things Dean does for love, Castiel thinks.
“Who on earth would marry you?”
“Her name’s Lisa, she’s an actress. Sort of.”
“Well, congratulations. I hope you two are happy together.”
Even though there isn’t a shred of sincerity in Castiel’s voice, Dean beams with joy at the words. “Thanks,” he says. “We really are.”
One Year Later
Castiel makes it a point to have lunch with his brother, Gabriel, at least once a week if only to stop Gabriel from annoying him with phone call after phone call of guilt tripping. “You’re the only one in the family I actually like, Cas, so do me a favor and stop avoiding me.” Gabriel’s not so much lonely as he is bored and without company to entertain him. Not that Castiel himself is very entertaining, preferring above all things to sit on his couch with a good book and some Miles Davis in the background, but he laughs at Gabriel’s outrageous stories that can’t possibly be true and gives into his decadence every once in a while for his own sanity. “You’re too locked up,” Gabriel says, “just let go.” That’s what lunch with Gabriel is for.
“Anna’s getting married next week,” Gabriel mentions at their weekly lunch date. “Make sure you and Balthazar get her something nice.”
Castiel squirms in his seat and coughs loudly, the words he was trying to say coming out sputtered and half spoken.
“What was that, bro? I couldn’t hear you.”
“Balthazar and I broke up,” Castiel says, much clearer this time. It’s been the first time he’s said it aloud to anyone since it happened. Much of their mutual friends were held to Castiel by Balthazar’s end and without Balthazar around, Castiel didn’t really have much in common with them anyhow.
Gabriel frowns and throws a hand on Castiel’s shoulder. “Aw, Cas. I’m sorry.”
“I’m fine, really. We wanted different things.”
“You sound ready,” Gabriel says with a smirk.
“Ready for what?” But Gabriel isn’t listening, instead dragging out his laptop and typing furiously before spinning the computer around for Castiel to look. On the screen is the Facebook profile of an older man in a black on black suit by the name of Crowley. His default photo is frightening.
“Gabriel,” Castiel chides. “Is this necessary?”
“What? You said you were fine!”
“I am fine, that doesn’t mean I need to date someone again right now. Also, you set us up two years ago, remember?”
“Did I?” Gabriel thinks a moment and then shrugs, taking the laptop back and typing another name into the search bar against Castiel’s wishes.
“Thank you but I can assure you that I am alright with being single for now.”
Gabriel sucks his teeth in disapproval but closes the laptop screen and pushes it away to appease his younger brother. The rest of the lunch goes smoothly even with Gabriel giving Castiel pitiful glances every time he looks up from his food.
It’s raining when Lisa kicks Dean out of the house.
His bags are already packed for him, clothing all put away nicely in brand new Samsonite luggage and stacked in the backseat and trunk of the Impala. Dean has half a mind to just sleep in the car in the garage but the thought of his wife in his bed with another man fills him with uncontrollable rage that he fears what he might actually do if he stayed there much longer. In the end, he always finds his way back to Sam’s place. Some of his stuff from when they first lived together is still there in the now guest bedroom that used to be his before he met Lisa. He never should have gotten married in the first place; hell, it was one of his rules for relationships. But Lisa was beautiful and Sam had told him to go get her, to make Dad proud and settle down, have the family that he and Sam weren’t lucky to have themselves, and Dean couldn’t say no to that.
Sam let’s Dean in without question, those puppy dog eyes filled with pity that only piss Dean off further. At least he remembers to thank his brother for taking him in just moments before passing out in a drunken stupor on the couch. Sam doesn’t blame him for it, just leaves an empty trash pail by his head and some aspirin and water on the coffee table, just in case.
After a year of being in a relationship, it’s surprisingly easy to slip back into the routine of singledom for Castiel. Grocery shopping, bill paying, sleeping in the middle of the bed, these are things Castiel can do without complaint. Something about it is actually freeing in a sense. He can buy peanut butter again and play jazz albums whenever he feels like it. He can go to clubs if he wants or stay in if he wants. He is completely and utterly alone.
He takes a detour from grocery shopping into the old bookstore on 44th Street, looking for a good novel to read to pass the time alone in his apartment. There’s a new James Patterson book out and even though Castiel truly hates the plot of all James Patterson’s novels, he might give the new one a try, just because he can.
He catches Dean staring at him in the Self Help section, this time looking more Dean Winchester than before, a silly notion, Castiel thinks, considering he really doesn’t know much of Dean Winchester other than his arrogance and cockiness. He’s got a dark leather jacket on and a gray t-shirt underneath that does something quite wonderful for the green in his eyes. For the first time Castiel notes his bowlegs and can’t stop the curve of a smile appearing on his lips. He gives Dean and a wave and begins to walk over there, watching Dean smile at him.
“Hello, Dean,” Castiel greets.
“Hey, Cas. How are ya?”
“Fine. How are you? How is the married life?”
Dean grimaces. “Not so good. I’m uh, I’m getting divorced, actually.”
Castiel’s face falls. “Oh Dean. I’m so sorry.” Unlike their last meeting, this time he means it. Castiel can see the sadness weighing heavily on Dean’s shoulders, as if almost all of the fire has been extinguished from Dean’s soul, those sparks that make Dean what he is now faint embers.
“Well…What about you? How’s Balthazar?”
“He’s well. So I hear.”
Now it’s Dean’s turn to offer condolences. “You’re not together?”
“We just broke up.” It’s still a little bitter for Castiel to swallow but he pushes the words out.
They stand there together in silence, both parties looking down at the floor in a sad sort of embarrassment when Castiel says. “Do you have plans for today?”
“Would you like to join me for lunch?”
Dean laughs and for a moment Castiel regrets extending the invitation. “Just friends?” he asks.
Castiel smiles warmly. “Yes, just friends.”
“Yeah, alright. But don’t try and get me to ‘open up’ or anything, okay? I get enough of that girly crap from my brother.”
“I promise you, there will be no opening up of any kind.”
“Good,” Dean says with a grin. Castiel’s grin matches Deans and they head out of the bookstore together, not totally empty handed.
“So, what happened with you guys?”
There was no big fight between Balthazar and Castiel. In fact, out of every breakup that Castiel’s ever had, this last one went the smoothest. No bad blood between them at the end of it all, just a mutual decision to go separate ways.
Castiel sighs and looks down at his burger with an empty feeling settling in his gut.
“Balthazar was wonderful,” he begins. “My brother, Gabriel, loved him. Anna thought he was charming. I thought we were in love. But towards the end it became…”
“Boring?” Dean supplies.
“Almost. Our relationship froze at one point, and we both carried it along as far as we could before there were only two options. Either we make a true commitment to each other – buy a home, start a family – or we end it before we start to resent each other for not moving forward.”
“I’m sorry things didn’t turn out like you planned,” Dean says, offering Castiel a small, lopsided smile. Castiel returns it.
“Thank you, I appreciate that. What about you?”
Immediately the warm and real expression Dean’s wearing fades away, his face going blank for one quick second before he throws on the cocky grin that Castiel has begun to associate him with.
“Eh, you don’t want to hear about my problems,” he mumbles, mouth filled with burger so much that Castiel can see the chewed food rolling around in his mouth. It’s disgusting.
Castiel wants to point out that it’s only fair for Dean to share his relationship woes now that he himself has poured his story out but he doesn’t. Dean’s put up a wall at the mention of his ex-wife, impenetrable and so cold that it practically unnerves Castiel. He decides to let it lie, hoping that the breath of fresh air that was Dean just moments before will return if Castiel doesn’t pry.
It takes a few stunted attempts at small talk on Castiel’s part before the walls start to drop. Dean’s actually quite funny, even if Castiel doesn’t understand most of his jokes. Now that they’re older, years of experience and the wisdom that comes with age and hardship settled into their bones, they can relax around each other. Dean’s not hitting on Castiel, not making inappropriate comments about his sex life or his family’s sex life. And even when he does turn around to catch a glimpse of the bus boy’s backside it doesn’t bother Castiel. In fact, he takes a small peek at it too. He’s only human.
After lunch, Dean and Castiel take a walk to the park around the corner from the diner and sit at one of the park benches. Dean likes it because it’s quiet and sometimes he needs for there to be some moment of quiet in his otherwise noisy life. Castiel doesn’t agree with Dean on that; it’s not quiet at all. There are children propelling themselves off swing sets, couples laughing on the grass off in the distance, life happening all around them.
“Y’know when I first met you I thought you really needed the stick up your ass removed,” Dean says. “Hell, I thought I was gonna be the one to remove it. So to speak.”
“Is that supposed to be a compliment?”
“All I’m saying is, you must have got it removed at some point. You’re much more relaxed now.”
Castiel laughs quietly, despite the pseudo-insult. “And you’re not as immature as you were six years ago, either.”
“Oh I’m still immature. You’ve just been worn down over the years and you can finally accept it.”
Again, Castiel laughs, much louder this time. His head falls back up into the sunlight and Dean laughs with him just as enthused.
“Are we friends now?” Dean asks.
“I believe we are,” Castiel replies.
“Huh. Well then.”
Castiel is lying in bed, an old Ella Fitzgerald album on the stereo and a book on Oscar Wilde in his lap that he’s long since forgotten about, when Dean calls. It’s nearly midnight and Castiel has to finish his article sometime tonight or his editor will be furious with him tomorrow but Castiel isn’t worried about it now and he always answers when Dean calls.
“Turn on channel 42,” Dean says without waiting for Castiel to greet him. He grunts as he lifts himself out of the La-Z Boy and shuts off Ella, turning the TV on to 42.
“Casablanca,” Castiel says. “Nice choice.”
“I can’t believe you’d rather be with Victor Lazlo,” Dean says.
“No I would not.”
“You said you would on the drive to California, remember?”
“I never said that.”
Dean sighs, “Fine, if you say so.”
As friends, they complement each other well. Castiel has never really had friends outside of his own family and even then it’s hard for Castiel to say he truly enjoys spending time with them. Dean is charismatic enough to charm people into being friends with them but it’s rare that he lets them get as close as Castiel has gotten. He has friends at the bar, that Castiel knows of, but they haven’t been introduced yet and Castiel is okay with that.
Castiel isn’t sure of what it is they have but he knows that it works. They talk, they get drinks, they take drives in Dean’s Impala and argue about stupid, petty things. Dean goes on dates and comes back to Castiel with stories about good sex, great sex, and oftentimes really awkward and slightly scary sex. Sometimes Castiel gives advice, sometimes he sits there horrified that Dean can so readily jump into bed with another person. Castiel is so different from Dean in every way but it doesn’t matter. They’re simply Dean and Cas, best friends.
“This whole thing makes no sense,” Gabriel said last week over one of their lunch dates. “You’re telling me there’s a hot guy who totally gets you and he’s into dudes and you’re not dating him but you spend all your time with him anyway? Come on, bucko! That’s just not being fair to you!”
“He’s my friend, Gabriel.”
Gabriel raised a cynical eyebrow. “You don’t want to bone him? Honestly?”
Castiel sighed. “No, Gabriel. I do not want to ‘bone’ him.”
“Alright, bro. If you say so.”
Castiel doesn’t spend time analyzing or justifying his friendship with Dean. He doesn’t see any need to nor is he looking to delve any deeper into their relationship simply because he’s single. He can be single, he almost enjoys it now more than ever. There have been a few nice dates with good looking men but nothing that went past a sloppy handjob in the backseat of Castiel’s car in the parking lot outside his apartment complex, but Castiel isn’t complaining. He’s got Dean’s nightmarish dates to keep him company.
The TV crackles as Rick says, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“Best last line to a movie ever,” Dean says on the line.
“Agreed,” Castiel says with a stifled yawn.
“You goin’ to bed?”
“I have an article to finish by noon tomorrow.”
“So you’re gonna stay up and listen to some shitty jazz records for another and pass out on the recliner aren’t you?”
Castiel scowls and knows that Dean can envision it now, based on the laugh at the other end of the line.
They both have the idea at the same time over coffee at Starbucks. Dean once again had been lamenting about how horrifying it is living with his sheltered younger brother while Castiel complained for what must have been the hundredth time that Gabriel needs to start becoming serious with somebody, anybody, before he completely loses it. A simultaneous sigh escaped both of them before Dean had perked up and looked at Castiel with a plan formulating behind his green eyes. The words were already out of Castiel’s mouth before he could really think about it and within a week there was a reservation for four at the Italian restaurant on Front Street.
“You sure he’s good looking?” Gabriel asks yet again on their way to the restaurant.
“Yes, Gabriel. He is completely to your tastes.”
Gabriel wrinkles his nose in aggravation. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”
“You haven’t even met him yet. Stop making judgments the way you always do before you get to know the person.”
“I resent that! I don’t always make judgments.”
Castiel fixes his older brother with a pointed glare and Gabriel throws his hands in the air, conceding to his little brother.
Dean’s brother, Sam, is glancing around nervously at the table when they arrive. Castiel does his best not to size him up blatantly but he can’t help noticing how extremely large he is. Dean had mentioned it more than once, the considerable height difference between them, but if Castiel had thought Dean a behemoth he had never envisioned the massive towering of his younger brother. He’s not much younger than Castiel but he has a look of naivety and innocence that is quite endearing. Also he has Dean’s eyes, expressive and gentle at the same time. Gabriel is looking at Dean like he’s a piece of meat and elbows Castiel in the ribs just a little harder than intended, an awkward way of showing his appreciation that Dean was not in fact a “dog face.”
It’s a surprisingly stilted conversation that sputters through the table. On paper, Castiel and Sam are perfect for each other. Both are bookish intellectuals with jobs in a field they’re interested in, same sense of nerdy humor and love for all things philosophical and logical. Dean and Gabriel also have so much in common, such as their own crude brand of humor and their love of sex and food and decadence. But, Castiel thinks, these things are all too general when actually applied. The conversation he’s having with Sam is borderline dead while the conversation Dean is having with Gabriel is borderline hostile. Sam clears his throat and eventually their voices die down, all turning to their own menus silently.
“So this is a really nice restaurant you picked, Dean,” Castiel says, hoping to engage the entire table in some sort of polite conversation.
“Sammy picked it, actually.”
Sam looks up from his menu and smiles. “Yeah, I love the atmosphere of it. All the art on the walls…Like that one in the corner.”
Sam points to a small painting hanging slightly lopsided on the red painted wall of a gondola sitting atop the waves of a Venetian canal. Gabriel turns to look at it and breaks out into a broad grin.
“I painted that,” he says.
“No way!” Sam shrieks. “You did that?”
“Yep. About seven years ago, give or take. Back when I was in college I would do commissions for restaurants, businesses. Do a few landscapes and get back enough money to buy groceries for the month.”
The light in Sam’s eyes brightens and he moves forward onto the table, one hand under his chin as he stares at Gabriel in awe across the table. Gabriel of course is eating it up, loving the attention. Truth be told, Castiel forgets most of the time that his brother, for all his ridiculous antics, is actually fairly talented.
“Hey Sammy, y’know Cas is a writer,” Dean interrupts.
“Oh cool,” Sam says. He doesn’t even turn his attentions to Castiel, his eyes firmly planted on Gabriel. “So did you do anything else I might have seen?”
“Well there’s a giant landscape in the courthouse that I did. Right in the front office, I mean the thing is huge, you can’t miss it. Anyway I drew dicks into the mountain range on the far left. Over ten years it’s been there and no one’s noticed yet.”
Sam laughs so hard his entire overgrown body shakes. He hits his hands on the table to calm down and the plates chink together. “Seriously!?” he yells.
“It’s true! We’ll go some time, I’ll point ‘em out to ya.”
“Yeah, definitely. I’d like that.”
Dean and Castiel settle back into their chairs and watch as their brothers flirt mercilessly with each other. Gabriel pours on the charm and Sam licks it up happily. It isn’t what Castiel had expected but it warms his heart to see his brother so happy with someone and Castiel knows Dean is thinking the same thing too.
Sam goes back to Gabriel’s at the end of the night and Castiel spends some time on Dean’s couch watching old zombie movies and laughing together about their ridiculous plan.
It doesn’t take long for Sam to move in with Gabriel. Gabriel’s house is big enough thanks to a trust fund from their father set up years before he died, and Sam spends more time in Gabriel’s bedroom than anywhere else. They’re happy, they’re in love, and Castiel couldn’t be more excited for either of them. The plan still worked in both Dean and Castiel’s favor, even if they do both end up still single. Their circle has expanded, they go out more now that they have a clique. Dean still calls Castiel to bother him to go get burgers at four o’clock in the morning after yet another failed date and Castiel still rolls out of bed because he knows Dean needs him and that Dean will pick up the bill.
Yet for some reason that Castiel can’t quite figure out, Dean isn’t too thrilled about going to buy a house warming gift for the new couple.
“Just buy them a plant and move on with it,” Dean groans. “This is stupid.”
“You only think it’s stupid because it’s polite and you dislike doing polite things for people,” Castiel points out.
“No, I think it’s stupid because it’s stupid.”
Castiel doesn’t push it because he knows that, despite his attitude, once they enter The Sharper Image Dean is going to light up like a Christmas tree. Every time they go to the mall Castiel promises him two things: they will hit every spot in the food court for lunch and they will play with the useless toys provided by The Sharper Image.
“How about one of these electric razors?” Dean asks. “Sam’s sideburns are getting pretty unruly.”
“Well we can’t just buy a razor for Sam. It would be unfair to Gabriel.”
“No it wouldn’t! Gabriel’s been bitching about Sam’s facial hair for the past two months. He’d be grateful.”
Castiel stops listening and tries to get the image of Sam’s mutton chops out of his mind when he gets hit in the face with what appears to be a deflated balloon followed by Dean’s “Oh yes!” in the background. Dean is standing in the middle of the store with what appears to be a crossbow water balloon launcher in his hands, holding it with pride like a soldier with his rifle.
“Oh come on, Cas! This is the perfect gift! Imagine how awesome this would be in a water balloon fight!”
“I’m about ten minutes away from buying them a potted plant, Dean, unless you start taking this seriously.”
Dean’s jaw drops. “But I am being serious! If someone bought me a housewarming gift I know that the only thing I’d want would be this thing…whatever it is.”
Castiel crosses his arms over his chest and glares at his friend who is pestering him with the crossbow, shoving it at Castiel until he finally takes it and agrees to try it out. He aims for the entrance of the store, hoping his aim isn’t horrible, and fires the deflated balloon with vigor. It is pretty awesome, Castiel has to admit, but then rethinks it when a brunette woman turns around to glare at Castiel after being hit by some friendly fire.
The woman grabs the man she came in with by the hand and steadily makes her way to Castiel and Castiel’s breath hitches in his throat. He is going to murder Dean for getting him kicked out of the store, he really is. He’s formulating the words he is going to say after the security guard throws them out when he realizes that the woman isn’t coming to talk to Castiel, she’s coming to talk to Dean. Casting a look at Dean, Castiel notices that his friend has gone completely stiff, his hands balled into two tight fists and a plastic smile pulling at his face.
“Hi Dean,” the brunette says.
Lisa, the ex-wife. Castiel can only gaze at her, thinking about how she must have hurt Dean in order for those walls to be raised so high. They talk about her sometimes. Dean’s policy on exes is to forget and move on and in Lisa’s case, it took much longer than normal for him to do either of those things.
“Dean this is Alex,” Lisa says, tilting her head toward the man whose arm she’s hanging off of. Alex doesn’t stick out his hand to shake and Dean doesn’t say hello to him, just stares at Lisa like she’s something he wishes he could burn away.
Castiel clears his throat and Dean snaps out of it briefly.
“Oh, Lisa, this is Castiel. Castiel, Lisa…and Alex.”
“Nice to meet you,” Castiel mumbles. When no one says anything once again, Castiel takes the reigns and says, “We’ll be going now,” tugging at Dean’s arm and dropping the crossbow on a random table.
Dean doesn’t thank Castiel, doesn’t even say anything really, just drives them to the florist so Castiel can pick up a potted plant for his brother.
It’s a stilted affair at Gabriel’s house with Dean still stoic and angry while Gabriel and Sam argue about the placement of their Christmas tree. Sam says it should be right in the window of the living room, just like his mother used to do during the holidays while Gabriel says it needs to be in the corner across from the fireplace because there’s too much wall space there anyway. This leads into a fight about wall space and why there’s so much of it in the first place. Dean is sitting on the couch in the living room while the happy couple stands in the middle of the room, bickering about trivialities.
Castiel sits down next to Dean so quietly that Dean startles visibly when he turns his head.
“What do you want, Cas?” Dean spits. “No offense but I don’t need you preaching at me how to handle what just happened back there.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Just what I said; you’re always preaching at me with your holier than thou bullshit.”
“I do not ‘preach’ at you, Dean. I try and help you.”
“Help me?” Dean squawks. “Tell me, Cas, how can you help me when you can’t even help yourself?”
At that, Sam and Gabriel turn their attentions to their brothers, standing open mouthed in the center of the room watching Dean and Castiel face off.
“Maybe we should talk about this later,” Castiel offers.
“No, Cas. We’ll talk about it right now. You’ve been single for well over a year. You don’t go out, you don’t do anything unless I force you, you don’t date anyone. You’re still not over Balthazar but you won’t admit it!”
Rage cascades through Castiel’s body so much so that he’s shaking with it. He doesn’t even look up at Sam and Gabriel before he gets up, just inches from Dean’s face and sees for the first time a speck of fear in Dean’s eyes. It’s only a speck and it’s not enough to stifle Castiel’s anger.
“I don’t need to prove anything to you, Dean!” he yells. “Just because you feel the need to fornicate with every man and woman in California does not mean that I have to!”
Castiel leaves the living room, heading for the front door when he stops at Dean’s hand on his arm. Castiel shoves it off of him only for Dean to replace it with a stronger hold. Castiel is vaguely aware of Sam and Gabriel peering around the corner to catch a glimpse of their show and he wilts, relinquishing his strength and letting Dean hold his arm.
“You done?” Dean asks. Castiel nods and Dean takes his hand away, bringing it to the back of his neck and rubs for a moment, looking at the floor.
“Look I’m sorry. I just…“ Dean breathes slowly, deep breaths in and out. “I guess this Lisa thing just got to me, I dunno.”
Castiel nods. “I understand.”
They smile at each other and for a brief, brief moment, Castiel thinks that Dean might hug him or even kiss him. His heart beats rapidly in preparation for it but nothing happens except for a clap on the shoulder from Dean before he turns around and walks back into the living room, pushing past Sam and Gabriel on his way back to the couch.
The hallway to Dean’s apartment warps, twists and turns that Castiel doesn’t remember ever being there before. His fingers fly against the walls, grabbing for something to steady him as his legs wobble with every step. It’s not just the alcohol that’s blurring his vision and causing his heart to hammer violently against his ribcage and all he needs is for someone to be there for him, to listen to him and explain to him what’s going on because no matter how many glasses he downs, Castiel still can’t make sense of it.
He bangs on Dean’s door, one hard fist against the wood, powerful enough to splinter it, and he can hear Dean’s chair scratching across the tile floor of his kitchen. Castiel isn’t sure what time it is, just knows that Dean is awake. Dean has to be awake. Just this one time, Castiel needs Dean to be there for him.
"It's two o'clock in the fuckin' -" Dean's words catch in his throat at Castiel's state. Castiel himself can only imagine how utterly wrecked he must look. Dean's eyes scan every inch of him, looking for any sort of clue as to why Castiel is leaning against his door frame right now.
"What the hell, Cas?" he asks. He moves in closer and Castiel finally lets himself go, crumbling into his best friend's side. Dean runs a hand through Castiel's hair, the other holding him square in the middle of his back.
"Come on," Dean says into Castiel's hair but Castiel doesn't want to move. Not now. "Dude, I want to help you out but not in the middle of my hallway."
Castiel nods against Dean's neck and allows himself to be shuffled into the tiny apartment and propped up on the couch. His head is swimming and Dean runs to the kitchen to grab a glass of water which Castiel takes gratefully. He glances up at the mirror on the far wall and catches his reflection with a grimace. He looks awful: heavy lidded eyes, mussed hair and tie askew. He's an absolute mess.
"You want to tell me what happened?" Dean asks.
Castiel nods and takes a drink, attempting to sober himself up as fast as he can.
"Balthazar called," he says. The words weigh heavily on his tongue. "He's getting married. A woman. Rachel, he said. He called to tell me the 'good news.'"
Castiel looks up to meet Dean's gaze and there's a look of genuine concern all over Dean's face. Dean stretches out an arm that for a brief moment hovers over Castiel's knee, suspended there before the better half of Dean's brain takes over and moves it to the back of his own neck, scratching.
"I had thought all this time I was over him," Castiel continues. "Told myself he had commitment issues, that it was all him. But the truth is, it was me. All this time, it was me."
Staring down at the glass of water in his hand, Castiel wishes it was the bottle of whiskey still sitting on his kitchen counter. He wants to wash away all the insecurities with something stronger than they are. Every thought in his head is a scream of anger and he hangs his head low in embarrassment.
"Balthazar is a dick," Dean says.
"You heard me. He's a dick. Anyone who doesn't want to be with you for the rest of his life is a total dick. You are the best friend I have ever had and I'm not just sayin' that."
Castiel flops back against the couch and groans. "I'm old."
At that, Dean laughs. "You're two years older than me, Cas! You don't look old. You act like an old man sometimes, sure, but that's...that can be a good thing."
There's a pressure on Casitel's left shoulder and when he swings his head around, he notices Dean's hand atop it. His thumb sweeps back and forth across the material of his button up. It's nice and intimate and Castiel's mind is too mixed up to do anything but turn and bury his face into Dean's neck. In turn, Dean holds him tighter.
"I've never seen you get this loaded before," Dean whispers. "You look exhausted."
"I am exhausted," Castiel mumbles. He can feel Dean's pulse against his lips, beating fast. When Dean takes a deep breath, Castiel feels it through his entire body and he shudders involuntarily.
"You should get some sleep." Dean's voice is shaky and unsure.
They break apart slowly and look at each other for what feels like the first time. Dean's eyes have never looked more green in the dim light of his living room. The flecks of gold that usually stand out brilliantly have all but disappeared, leaving the most beautiful forest green color that Castiel has ever seen. Castiel bites his bottom lip, teeth sinking in just hard enough to sting, and he watches as Dean's eyes travel downwards, his own lips trembling.
It's the next logical step. They're standing right on the edge, but neither one seems ready to fall yet.
When Dean kisses him, it's less like falling and more like flying. His whole body kicks into overdrive and it goes from innocent to explicit quickly. They're teeth mash together in the most unelegant way. Castiel reverts to being nineteen, kissing someone for the first time in his childhood bedroom back in Lawrence, so fearful of what will happen next, unsure of where to go.
For the first time since his adolescence, he gives up control. He lets Dean push him back into the couch cushions, lets him explore Castiel's mouth, Castiel's body, with an unabashed curiosity. They know each other in almost every possible way, but not like this. In the year that's transpired between them, Castiel has given parts of himself to Dean that he has never given to anyone. He has opened up and has shared and has cared for and Dean has met him step for step; everything but their bodies up until this moment.
It snowballs from there, Dean rutting his hips againt Castiel while he pants into his mouth. Castiel's skin is feverish from the alcohol and the contact of Dean's hard body above him, on top of him. He runs his hands up underneath Dean's t-shirt, feeling the heat radiating off of his skin. Dean's mouth moves to Castiel's neck, licking and biting right underneath his jaw while his hands work on removing Castiel's tie. It's unorganized and messy and eventually Castiel rips Dean away from him so they can both disrobe. When Dean finally removes his shirt, Castiel stares at his toned chest and arms, the golden skin that he's seen countless times suddenly more beautiful than it's ever been before. Dean looks down at Castiel with a feral smile, teeth bared. He dives back in, claiming Castiel's mouth with his own as Castiel pulls at the waistband of Dean's sweats. He grabs at Dean's ass and pulls their lower bodies together, both of them gasping at the initial jolt of contact between them.
Dean pulls his mouth away from Castiel's in favor of exploring the rest of his body. He lays wet kisses across Castiel's chest, teeth scraping across the skin so lightly that it tickles and Castiel laughs lightly. Dean laughs against Castiel's belly, hot breath blowing just above his beltline. Taking off Castiel's pants is clumsy and awkward, no act of swift belt stripping or quick pants tugging. Castiel's legs kick them down as far as they can go until he hears Dean mutter a "fuck it" and they resume their lustfilled discoveries.
"Dean," Castiel gasps. "I want to -"
"I know," Dean finishes. "Bedroom."
Castiel nods and lets Dean help him up off the couch, discarding his pants in the middle of the floor, suddenly feeling embarrassed at his own flushed, naked body. Dean throws Castiel a look back from the doorway of his bedroom and the embarrassment dissolves. Dean's never looked at Castiel that way - like a true work of art, like something to be cherished. Castiel needs to be looked at that way right now. He needs Dean tonight.
Dean's bed is never made every time Castiel comes over but tonight it's borderline pristine, not a pillow out of place. It's almost a shame that they're going to wreck it, Castiel thinks.
There's no time for an awkward transition. Dean grabs Castiel's face with both hands and kisses him with enough force to knock Castiel onto the bed. They tumble together, falling onto each other like sloppy dominoes. Fully naked and unashamed, Castiel finds his voice and begs with it. The only words his clustered brain can process are "Dean" and "please" and "now" interspersed with wrecked moans and broken gasps as Dean takes his time. Dean grunts as he finally pushes into Castiel, his head lolling forward, hovering over Castiel's forehead. It's good, so fucking good once they get going. Dean knows what he's doing and Castiel digs his fingers into Dean's back, urging for more. Dean looks at Castiel and kisses him gracelessly a few times before finally letting go, Castiel's own orgasm following after a few quick strokes.
And then, nothing.
Dean rolls over, still trying to catch his breath, a smile on his face for a brief moment as reality sets in. Castiel didn't think it was possible, but it's as if he just got fucked into sobriety, the high of sex and the fuzz of alcohol fading out of him quickly. They don't even chance glancing at each other, both opting to stare up at the ceiling until sleep overtakes them.
Castiel doesn't even wake Dean before he leaves. Just tip-toes out of bed and grabs his clothes, changing in the bathroom and slipping outside, grabbing a cab back home.
Gabriel is in that blissful moment just before waking up where he knows the sun is out but he doesn't have to do anything yet. He can just rest in bed with his eyes closed, pretend he's still asleep, hang on to that beautiful dream for just another minute or two longer.
Then the phone rings.
"Hey, Gigantor!" Gabriel hisses. Sam is draped over Gabriel, his large body almost crushing Gabriel's much smaller one. He wriggles a hand free and shoves his boyfriend's shoulder with all his might. "Sasquatch, come on. You're phone is ringing."
"How do you know it's not yours," Sam mumbles, half asleep.
"No one I know would call me this early," Gabriel retorts. Sam rolls his eyes and flips over, grabbing his phone off the nightstand. It's Dean. That alone worries him. Dean's never awake past noon unless he has to be.
At that moment, Gabriel's phone also goes off. Sam hands it off to him with a raised eyebrow. "No one you know would call this early, huh?" he says before answering his own phone.
"This better be good, baby bro," Gabriel mutters.
Both men sit up in bed, eyes wide as their brothers recount their nights. Sam and Gabriel turn to each other, smiles wide and brilliant and mouth at each other, "They did it!"
"That's awesome!" Sam yells.
"I always told you it was gonna happen," Gabriel says.
They turn back to each other, still smiling and ask into the phone, "How was it?"
"The sex was great," Dean says.
"During was wonderful," is Castiel's answer.
"But right after it was just..."
"Afterwards it just felt..."
Sam's face falls and Gabriel rolls his eyes.
"Eh, you win some, you lose some," Gabriel says.
"Yeah, you guys have been friends for so long. I can understand that," Sam says.
"I think I'm gonna talk to him," Dean tells Sam.
"I need to talk to him about this," Castiel says.
Without another word, they hang up and Gabriel and Sam turn to each other, sighing. Sam folds himself into Gabriel's arms and shakes his head against his boyfriend's chest.
"Thank God we don't have their problems," Gabriel says. Sam is inclined to agree.
They decide to talk over lunch.
It hasn't even been a full 24 hours but Castiel knows Dean, knows that he wants to nip this in bud before it festers between them. Castiel can't help but agree to that. There's a weird prickling sensation all over his skin that he can't scrub away. Every time he thinks of Dean he thinks of the way Dean's lips felt against his and that prickling intensifies. There's an electric buzz all over Castiel's body that hums when Castiel's eyes float to the photo of them hanging in his living room.
It was taken just a few months ago, when they were forced into going on a trip with Gabriel and Sam to Anaheim. All the years Castiel had been in California he had never been to Disneyland and Dean had thought that was a "crime against humanity. How the hell do you live in California and not go to Disneyland, Cas? That's like livin' in China and not visiting The Great Wall once or twice." The photo is of Dean with his arm around Castiel's shoulders as they pose in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle. It's a wonderful photo, Gabriel's not too shabby with a camera, and it had always made Castiel smile warmly at the memory every time he passed by it hanging on his wall. Today he can't look at it without every muscle in his body tensing.
Looking at Dean across the table in the small cafe is even harder. Dean swallows thickly and stares at his sandwich for what feels like hours before he tears away from his plate and locks eyes with Castiel.
"It was a mistake."
Castiel's fork clatters onto his ceramic plate, a loud crash in the middle of the dreadfully quiet restaurant. Dean looks down at his friend's mess and waits for Castiel to collect himself.
The smile Castiel wears is forced, almost to the point of pain burning in his cheeks. He rolls his shoulders with an audible pop in each movement and says, "Couldn't agree more," through gritted teeth.
"Not that it wasn't good -"
"No, no it was...it was great, really."
"Really great, yeah. But we're just -"
That settles everything. They can go back to normal now.
Only how do they do that? Forgetting it happened seems impossible for either of them and treating this like one of their random hookups doesn't seem to be working either. Castiel can see it, bubbling under the surface of his calm demeanor, that Dean wants to talk about it some more. Not the repercussions of it, but the actual act itself. Dean's never been good at modesty and he knows just how much Castiel enjoyed last night. The problem is he has no one to brag to. He won't brag to Sam; Sam won't listen, not the way Castiel would. He is stuck with his tongue hiding behind his teeth and a hand curled into a fist beneath the table as Castiel continues to eat in silence.
Eventually they both go home, parting ways curtly, hearts heavy with something that feels too much like defeat.
Dean doesn't call Castiel and Castiel doesn't call Dean and they slowly drift out of each other's lives.
One of Castiel's co-workers, Roger, asks him out on a date and Castiel accepts, happily. When they kiss goodnight, Castiel feels nothing. His lips aren't soft enough, his eyes aren't green enough, and there's a distinct something missing from the way he says "Goodnight, Cas."
Castiel wants to tell Dean about Roger but every time he picks up the phone he can't find the strength to punch in Dean's name.
"I don't know what's happening, Sam."
"Well, Dean, it's not that hard to figure out. You have feelings for Cas, you're just too afraid to admit it."
"Did you really just tell me I'm 'afraid of my feelings'?"
"You know I'm right."
"I'm hanging up now."
Two weeks later, Castiel sleeps with Roger.
It's not his finest judgment call, but at least he isn't drunk this time. It's just barely satisfying for the briefest of moments, but inevitably leaves Castiel with a hollow feeling in his chest. Lying in Roger's bed, sheets tangled between them and Roger already rolling over to fall asleep in fucked out bliss, Castiel wonders how Dean can stand this. Fucking away the loneliness and the sting of rejection is not a good enough band-aid, not for Castiel at least.
When he gets home, he calls Gabriel and tells him.
"Have you talked to Dean?" Gabriel asks.
"No," Castiel answers honestly. "Why? Does he ask about me?"
Gabriel doesn't answer and Castiel's not even sure he wants to know.
Sam and Gabriel throw a Christmas party and of course Castiel attends. He goes to The Sharper Image and passes by those moronic water balloon crossbows and thinks of Dean angrily. He ends up buying both Sam and Gabriel a gift card and heads out of the store as soon as possible.
The apartment is filled with friends of both Sam and Gabriel, people that Castiel had only heard about in passing. Some our friends that Dean and Castiel used to hang out with on occasion, a few people from the bar that Dean works at that Castiel had seen pictures of, pictures that covered a majority of Dean's fridge. Castiel had always thought that looked tacky.
Dean's talking to a blonde woman in the corner when Castiel walks into the room. Dean sees Castiel immediately, his eyes must have been focused on the door the entire night. Castiel watches as Dean excuses himself from the blonde and meanders through the sea of bodies to reach Castiel. Castiel tries his best to stay out of Dean's line of focus but to no avail. Dean stops him with a hand on the shoulder that causes Castiel to spin.
"Hey, Cas," Dean says. His smile is bright and warm.
Dean looks down at his shoes a moment, rubs a hand across the back of his neck and asks, "So uh, how've you been?"
"You seeing anyone?"
Castiel's heart stops, thinking briefly that this is Dean taking back what he said about everything being a mistake. Then his eyes travel to the blonde woman in the corner, lonely without her date, stirring the drink in her cup with a neon, bendy straw, bored out of her mind.
"Dean," Castiel grits.
"What?" Dean asks innocently.
"Dean, please, now is not an appropriate time to talk about this."
Dean's brows furrow in confusion. "Talk about -" he starts then laughs, just a small one but enough of a laugh to ignite a spark of anger inside Castiel.
"Is this what we're gonna do?" Dean asks. "Every time we see each other we're just gonna keep bringing it up? Why does it have to be that way, Cas? Can't we just...get over it?"
"I'm not like you, Dean, I don't just get over things by fucking something else and moving on," Castiel spits.
Dean's mouth drops open, his eyes never looking more raw and emotional than right now. Hurt and genuines confusion is pouring out of those green eyes and Castiel wants to take it back, wants to take it all back, but there's nothing he can do. It's done, they are done.
"That's what you think of me?" Dean asks, voice small. Castiel does nothing, simply stands there without the strength to move one way or the other. "Fine. That's great, you know what? Fuck you, Cas."
Before Castiel can shout out back to Dean, he's gone, grabbing his jacket from the front room and scooting past his brother with a gruff "Merry Christmas" under his breath before he slams the front door.
"I'd say that went well," Gabriel sneers. Castiel leaves as well, embarrassed, ashamed and genuinely confused.
On New Year's Eve, Castiel sits in his apartment alone. Someone who isn't Dick Clark is counting down the minutes until the ball drops and Castiel swirls his glass of wine in his hand, thoroughly bored with the entertainment on his television screen. Sam and Gabriel are at the bar with Dean for the night, Castiel's neighbors are having what sounds like either a very fun party or a very loud demolition derby. Even people outside are hooting celebrations into the crisp night air.
For the first time since moving to California, Castiel misses Kansas. When he looks out the window and sees the lack of snow falling from the sky, he feels a pang of homesickness in his gut. He remembers growing up in Lawrence, making snow angels with Anna, baking cookies with his grandmother, jumping off the roof and breaking his ankle after his brother, Michael, dared him that he couldn't do it. Like a movie reel, the scenes of his life in Lawrence play before him, inevitably ending with the drive from Kansas to California, seven years ago.
It's gonna be a long drive, why don't you tell me the story of your life.
The story of my life won't even get us out of Lawrence. Nothing has happened to me yet. That's why I'm going to California.
Looking back now, Castiel can't help but laugh. His heart swells with genuine affection at the memory of how much he just hated Dean. His cocky attitude, his horible taste in music, his stupid pop culture references, his crude humor - the things that Castiel had fallen so completely in love with over time all this time.
It hits him immediately, everything he didn't want to admit comes hurdling towards him and falls into place.
He calls a cab and throws on a pair of shoes and grabs his trenchcoat from off the back of his bedroom door, not even bothering to shut the television off before he runs out the door to grab the taxi. He fumbles in the back, body vibrating and stomach churning with nerves. He's going in without a plan, no speech prepared, just a burning in his lungs from a rush of adrenaline, and the breakthrough he had still bouncing around in his head.
11:58, Castiel notices. Almost right on time.
Dean is already outside, as if he's been waiting for Castiel to show up all this time. He looks miserable. His friends are all inside, enjoying the party, hollering and drunk. It's positively Dean Winchester's scene. Drunk girls and guys are just waiting to be kissed at midnight and annoying college students who think they can hold their liquor are just begging to be punched. But Dean is outside, wearing nothing but a thin t-shirt and ratted jeans, the wind blowing against him hard enough to make him shiver.
If this were a film, Castiel would only have to walk up to Dean and kiss him. Dean would melt into Castiel's arm, sighing pleasantly, and they would look into each other's eyes longingly before kissing again. In classic script, the words 'The End' would float onto the screen. Fade to black. Happily ever after.
Instead, Castiel walks up to Dean with less than stellar confidence, his trenchcoat billowing too far behind him in the wind in a way that's almost comical. Dean watches Castiel come forward with a startled curiousity in his eyes.
"Hello, Dean," Castiel says.
"Happy New Year," Dean says. "Sort of. What are you doing here?"
He doesn't sound angry, something that Castiel takes as a blessing.
"I'm in love with you," Castiel blurts out. Dean's eyes widen. "I have been in love with you since before we slept together. Unfortunately it took us sleeping together for me to see it."
Dean is silent for a minute, his arms folded across his chest, mouth opening and closing while he tries to find the words.
In the end he settles with, "What?"
In the distance, Castiel can hear the faint sounds of a crowd cheering. 3, 2, 1...Happy New Year!
"I mean it. I love you, Dean. My best friend, my only real friend, and I am in love with you. I realize now, not seeing you every day, talking to you every day, just how much I missed you. I thought of how much I hated all the annoying qualities about you -"
"Wait, what do you mean 'annoying'?"
"- but that only resulted in me missing you more. And eventually I realized that I love the annoying qualites about you. I love all the qualities about you. I love you."
It takes a moment for that to sink in for Dean. Exclamations of love aren't something one gets on a regular basis, Castiel knows that. Dean's face morphs through a range of emotion from confused to contemplative to all out surprise before settling on a slightly crooked, cocky smile.
"Alright, you love me," he says. "And I guess I'm supposed to melt in your arms? Let you carry me across the threshold bridal style? That sound about right?"
Castiel shakes his head. "No," he says. "But this does."
Castiel has never been one for bold statements but kissing Dean in the parking lot of The Roadhouse Bar & Grill in front of stumbling drunk patrons at 12:03 on New Year's Eve seemed to be the only way for Castiel to get his point across. Dean makes a startled "oomph" noise behind Castiel's lips before settling into the kiss, his hands snaking around to the small of Castiel's back and pushing their bodies together just a few more inches so that they're lined up as completely as possible. In the background, fireworks go off, and it's just cheezy enough for both of them to stop kissing in order to laugh fully.
When they finally stop laughing, they turn their attentions back to eachother. Dean gives Castiel one more wide smile before closing the gap between them again for another kiss. Dean lands one hand in Castiel's hair and pulls on it, just lightly, and Castiel releases an embarrassing moan in the middle of the parking lot.
"Let's go home," Castiel mumbles against Dean's lips. Dean nods, grabbing onto Castiel's hand and leads the way to his car, and Castiel grins.
Fade to black.
Happily ever after.
It's not Casablanca, Castiel thinks, but it will do.