“God dammit, Dean, you just had to get the heaviest fucking mattress-”
“Don't swear around the memory foam, Sammy. It remembers things.”
Sam huffs and tugs the Tempurpedic another two feet out of the truck. “But it's ridiculous, Dean. You don't even need a king-sized bed, you're way too short to take up so much space.”
“I'm SIX FOOT ONE, dick. That's tall among humans. Don't be a bitch just because you're the freakishly giant love child of a giraffe and musk ox. Everyone looks small from such great heights.”
Sam makes Patented Winchester Bitchface #47 and squats down to get a better grip. Dean, who is supposedly shoving the other end of the mattress from deep inside the U-Haul, smirks and only pretends to help because (a) he's a dick and (b) he so rarely gets the opportunity to torture his little brother these days. He's almost forgotten how much fun it is.
Sam staggers back under the weight, making some noise that's oddly similar to wookiee language (and if Sam doesn't cut that fucking hair soon, Dean's really not going to be able to tell the difference between his brother and Chewbacca) and Dean laughs, scrambling to finally help.
Sam huffs and lifts his end. “It's not like I don't have anything better to do than help you move in, you know.”
Dean grunts and starts shuffling toward the condo's propped open door. “Yeah, I know. I'm sure Jess had a thrilling day of Lamaze classes and making your own organic baby food planned.”
Sam stops, frowning as he tries to determine how to angle the bed and get it up the front steps. “Ooh, burn, Dean. I'm married and happy and having a child, whereas you're just now getting around to moving in with a woman at the ripe old age of 30.”
Dean glares. “I'm 29, bitch.”
“For how many years now?”
He doesn't answer, because of course Sam knows that he turned 30 last January and has yet to admit to it. They wrangle the mattress until it's midway up the steps to Lisa's front porch, one her condo shares with the neighbor. Dean doesn't think he will ever get used to how crowded together people live in this city, happily spending half a million dollars for a glorified duplex. But whatever, it's where Sam's practice is and where Jess is going to have his nephew, where he's going to finally live in the same city with the girl he met when they all came down to Florida on vacation last spring. Some sacrifices are worth it.
“Alright, we're gonna have to turn it sideways through the door and then angle it up the stairs-”
Sam bobbles and drops his end. “Ok, well hold on, I've gotta set it down a sec-”
“Sam, I don't have it. SAM I DON'T HAVE THE MOTHERFUCK-”
Dean's warning makes its way through the thin air in the stratosphere up around Sam's head two seconds too late, the mattress careening wildly to the left as Dean tries to control it on his own. He fails, of course, in spectacular Dean Winchester fashion, so that his efforts to stop 150 pounds of memory foam only serve to send the corner of it directly into the front window of the condo next door. Shattered glass rains around them, a security alarm blaring into the quiet Sunday morning for half a minute before it quiets from a series of electronic beeps on a control pad deep in the now-broken condo.
Blood wells from a tiny cut on the back of his hand, but Dean doesn't bother to swear. He isn't even surprised, not really, because this is exactly how everything has been for the past four days. He got not one but two flat tires on the drive up from Florida, and a fucking wheelbarrow – seriously, a wheelbarrow? - flew off the back of a pickup in front of him, cracking the U-Haul's windshield and sending scenes from his pathetic life flashing before his eyes as he careened wildly across the interstate to avoid wrecking completely. So why should Dean think that he could move his belongings into the townhouse without sucking Lisa's neighbors into his vortex of shittiness?
But then the neighbor's face peers outside, blinking and terrified through the jagged shards of glass still trapped in the window frame, and Dean realizes just how completely and truly fucked he really is.
Castiel had been watching – from the far end of his living room to ensure that no one looking at the building would be able to see him – curious about the new neighbor. He'd never actually speak to him, of course, just like he hadn't talked to the petite brunette who'd moved in last year, so his only way of gleaning any sort of information was from lurking at his own window like some reverse peeping Tom.
But now there's a goddamned mattress in his house and all the inside air is flowing out and the outside air is coming in and there's a man staring in through the mess with absurdly green eyes and a crooked smile of apology.
Sweet Jesus, he's going to have to actually deal with the outside world.
Cas isn't sure if he's going to throw up and pass out or smile back like a normal human, so he splits the difference, awkwardly leaning out into the sunshine to inspect the damage. And then he gets a better look at Dean and adopts the same terrified trapped-in-the-tractor-beam-of-an-alien-spaceship panicky expression he sees on that familiar face.
Sam, watching Dean stare mutely at the man whose property they just destroyed, grows fully convinced that his brother has lost the last vestiges of basic human decency their mother tried to drill into him and decides to intervene on his behalf. “Ah, man, I'm so sorry. Hell of a way to introduce ourselves, isn't it? I'm Sam and this is my brother Dean, your new neighbor,” Sam smiles as he trails off, his eyes flicking between Castiel and Dean, who hasn't moved. He's just standing there, sparkling shards of shattered glass littering the porch and the toes of his beat-up boots, absently rubbing the back of his neck. He won't stop staring at Cas with that look on his face like the first time Sam rented Total Recall and the chick with three tits came on the screen.
But this is so much more than that. This is a hallucination or a seizure, maybe a brain tumor. Because Dean has seen some combination of these features a hundred thousand times in the past eight years. Unnaturally blue eyes, a mop of the most unruly black hair. Beautiful hands with long fingers, blunt nails that used to scratch at the tiny hairs on the back of Dean's neck when they'd kiss.
He's fucked women solely because their hair was just the right shade of black, or their skin was pale and soft. For six months, he drove halfway across Orlando to get coffee every morning because the barista's lips were a chapped, pouty mess – and the day he found out she'd quit without notice he felt like he'd lost something precious all over again. Hell, the reason he even went after Lisa that first night was because the slope of her neck echoed faintly at his memory of Cas, bent over his textbook in the lecture hall. For years, every time he saw some face that hinted at this one - a man hailing a cab on a street corner, the guy who made sandwiches at the corner deli - Dean's heart would leap. He'd have visceral flashbacks; the feel of those delicate fingers gripping his hips, the taste of Cas' sweat when he licked across the knobs of his spine, the way his eyes would heat and flash when Dean reminded him about personal space in public. And Dean would think - it's here. That moment when we meet again. And I'm not ready.
But this isn't a doppelganger, or some weird coincidence of genetics. It's Cas, really Cas, staring out at Dean from the broken window next door to the girl he's been dating, long distance, for a year now, and Dean's goofy brother looking at him like he's checking for stroke symptoms, and-
Oh, Jesus, don't let Sam figure this out. Be unintuitive for once in your life, you giant freak.
And once Dean lets that thought in, all the tiny shallow reasons why he suddenly wants the Earth to open up and swallow him whole come roaring into his brain. Like the stupid “Save a Tree, Eat a Beaver” t-shirt he's wearing because he knows it annoys Sam and Dean doesn't care if it gets messed up from the move. Or the jeans that are a size bigger than the ones that were always wadded up on the floor of Cas' apartment because he has a little pudge to accommodate now thanks to too many beers and an extreme lack of will to exercise.
And, oh yeah, there's the tiny fact that he's finally moved on with his stupid life – holding down a job for once and moving to the other end of the country to shack up with Lisa, his longtime long-distance girlfriend.
Who happens to have purchased the fancy-ass condo RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the man who single-handedly ruined a rather large chunk of Dean's 20s.
Fuck the entire motherfucking universe.
And then it gets a thousand times worse, because Cas finds his voice, that same smoke and gravel that Dean had worked so hard to forget.
It's a night class with a professor who loves taking attendance and speaks like Ben Stein without any of the humor, so, basically, Dean's in hell every Wednesday from 6-9 pm. Tonight he's taken to trying to find constellations in the freckles on the back of the boy's neck in front of him just to keep himself awake, but he can't do much better than naming a tiny cluster of zig-zagging ones right at the neckline of his t-shirt Cassiopeia. And Dean must have spaced out at some point, because when the fire alarm suddenly blares into the silence, he leaps and shrieks in a way that not even he can convince himself is manly.
“Thank God,” Cassiopeia-Boy mutters as he stands, slinging an old backpack over one thin shoulder and slipping out into the aisle. Dean falls into step behind him as the others squeal and haul ass to every possible exit, leaving the two of them as the only calm students in the auditorium... but then, it is a general education political science class and a fire alarm is probably the most exciting thing that will happen to any of them all week.
Dean steps out into the fading sunlight and takes a deep breath of non-academically oppressive air. It's the end of September and dusk, but it's also Central Florida so the air is still thick with heat and humidity. Not that it seems to matter to Cass (as Dean's decided to think of him, since 'Cassiopeia-Boy' has enough syllables that Dean's laziness can't handle them all) as he shoves his arms into a ratty trench coat, twitching at the left cuff to check the time.
“Seven-oh-three,” Dean offers, and Cass is so startled at being spoken to that he jumps twice as much as he did over the fire alarm.
“Thank you,” he finally mutters, his eyes skipping to Dean's and away again. They stand, a socially-acceptable distance apart as they stare at the clearly-not-in-flames social sciences building for a long moment in silence. Someone else must have thought “History of Congressional Acts” was an ungodly torture session too and taken things into their own hands. If Dean had any faith at all, he'd send up a prayer of thanks for the unexpected liberation.
“Professor Dick-Breath's already taken attendance. He won't really do it again when we get the all clear to go back in, d'ya think?”
Cass' face lights up, like the thought of ditching hadn't actually occurred to him before and is almost too delicious to contemplate. “No,” he finally answers, drawing the word out like he wants to savor the taste of it. “Most likely not.”
“Then it's settled.” Dean grins, wide enough to show teeth, and gestures to the parking lot with his head. “Let's go get a beer.”
Dean's got no fucking clue what he's doing. All he knows is that he doesn't want to go back to class but if he goes home, alone, to his sad little room above Harvelle's Tavern Jo will whine until he takes over the rest of her shift at the bar. And fuck that, because Wednesdays are the only nights Dean has off.
(There's also a tiny piece of his brain that reminds him that he's strangely fascinated with this guy that he knows absolutely nothing about, but Dean doesn't understand how to process that kind of information about himself, so he tells it to shut the hell up.)
Cass, startled, stares for a long moment before nodding, small and almost to himself, and falls into step beside Dean.
“We can, uh, take my car, if you want.” Dean's awkward, suddenly, and Dean doesn't do awkward. Dean does cocky and swaggering, and if he can't get there on his own he drinks until his confidence swells. Maybe he'll get a whiskey instead of that beer.
“That would be preferable, since I don't have a vehicle.” Cass is so formal, his voice unnaturally deep and a terrible match for those soft lips and adorable bedhead. Everything about him seems alien and fascinating to Dean, who has spent his 21 years making friends almost exclusively with some combination of rednecks and alcoholics and gruff assholes.
They trudge through the parking lot in silence for a moment, someone having finally silenced the false alarm blaring from the building behind them. “It's this one, here,” Dean says, stopping at a half-unfinished car at least 25 years old and roughly the size of a hearse. He blushes, slightly, as he unlocks the driver's door. “I know it doesn't look like much, but this baby's gonna be beautiful once I get the money to treat her right.”
Cass appraises the car evenly, tilting his head and nodding again. “I can see that.”
Dean clears his throat and wrenches the door open on squeaking hinges, leaning across the seat to pop open the passenger's side. Cass climbs in, storing his bag primly at his feet and folding his hands across the knees of his pants.
“I thought we could go to this place that I work – Harvelle's, you ever heard of it?” Cass doesn't answer beyond a silent shake of his head. “It's kind of a dive, but it's cheap and there's some good people there.”
That's it, just calm assent. And now Dean's starting to wonder about this guy. Who just gets in a car with a total stranger and lets them drive him off to anywhere?
He tries to make it better. “My name's Dean, by the way.”
Cass answers, swiftly and surely. “I know. Dean Winchester, next to last on the class roster. I'm Castiel Novak.”
And now Dean knows why his little nickname for the guy seemed to fit – although he now mentally amends it to have only one 's'. He's heard Professor Ass-Monkey call roll every class for over a month and a name as weird as “Castiel” was bound to sink into his subconscious in some way.
('And you thought he was cute so you sort of paid attention' whispered that self-aware part of his brain that he now officially hated.)
“Right, right,” Dean says, the Impala roaring to life underneath him and ruining any chances they may have had at ditching class unnoticed. “Nice to officially meet you, Cas.”
Dean should be watching the road, not his passenger, but he can't help but catch the tiny smile that tugs at Castiel's mouth over the nickname, or the way he eases back a fraction into the worn leather of the seat, his long fingers relaxing where they're laced together.
“You too. Hello, Dean.”
That smile is nowhere to be found now, where the window is far from the only thing that's broken. Dean can see it, or rather the lack of it, in Cas' eyes – the color as brilliant as he remembered but the contents dusty, muted. Like cataracts on his fucking soul or something, and that thought alone makes Dean want to roll his eyes with how fantastically lame he becomes the second Cas comes anywhere near him. Instead, he just clears his throat and steps forward, glass crunching into the boards under his feet.
Sam, whose presence Dean had completely forgotten, looks at him with his disgustingly cheerful Clifford-the-Big-Red-Dog face. “You guys know each other?”
Dean swallows, hard, and forces his face into something close to a normal expression. “Yeah, we, uh, went to college together.” He doesn't bother to look at Cas when he says it, all too familiar with the collected features of judgmental disappointment Cas wears every time Dean downplays their relationship in public.
If only Cas knew.
“Awesome!” Sam says, oblivious and adorable. “What are the chances you'd move all the way to Massachusetts and wind up with a girlfriend, brother, and old friend right in the neighborhood?”
Dean is silent for a beat too long, his eyes drawn back to Cas' dark blue ones, wide and wild and burning with something that Dean's always been too afraid to name.
But Cas collects himself faster than Dean does, like he always has, and answers Sam.
“Yes, it's...” Cas looks away and takes a half step back, moving deep into the shadow of his foyer. “It's great,” he says, but it sounds like he's suddenly a great distance away, lost in the impenetrable dark.