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Castiel was finishing up the dishes when he looked through the window over the sink and saw Dean in the backyard. He was tugging on the new tire swing Castiel attached to the old maple tree in the backyard as a surprise. Dean looked concerned, as he tentatively leaned his weight against it, and Castiel chuckled to himself at his unease. Castiel ducked his head and watched as Dean stepped gingerly into the center until he was standing on the rim, his hands firmly grasping the thick nylon rope that attached the old truck tire to the branch some 20 feet above his head. The tree limb groaned slightly, but Castiel knew it was solid enough to hold both of them at the same time.

This was too good to pass up. Castiel threw down the rag he just wiped the table with, then quietly tiptoed out the back door and stepped into the yard. Dean was too busy testing the rope's strength by hopping up and down to hear Castiel's approach.

"You scaredy-cat!" Castiel said, loudly enough to make Dean jump again. "I'd have thought for sure that by now, you'd have stopped worrying about the thing breaking!"

Dean twisted in the wind until he was facing Castiel. He was grinning, but it was that 'naughty boy' smile he used when he was secretly a little embarrassed.

"Yeah, well, I just wanted to make sure," Dean said. "There are some pretty big kids around here, and I don't want to risk any lawsuits."

Dean flexed his arms and lifted his legs out of the center hole, then widened them and pulled them around until he was straddling the top of the tire where he settled his weight. Castiel grabbed his knees and pulled him, and the tire, to himself until Dean's face and his were even.

"Sweetheart," Castiel whispered and watched the heat of his words spot Dean's cheeks, "After what we did with this thing last night, I'd think you'd realize there isn't a kid alive big enough to get this thing to fall; no matter how hard they tried."

"Yeah," Dean laughed. "You have a point. That was something else again. I didn't think it would work."

"I told you, you could trust me," Castiel reminded him. "Trying new things can be an exciting experience."

"Just keep reminding me of that," Dean said, as he leaned over and kissed Castiel.

Castiel grinned. "Haven't I always?"

"Oh yeah," Dean whispered as he rested his forehead on Castiel's. "And I've always been so glad you did."

And so was Castiel, Though there had been times when he hadn't been sure at all of the outcome...

 

 

July 24th, 2004

It had been a really shitty day. Two of the younger associates at work had started it off by screaming at Castiel because the research wasn't done on a property they had to present at a meeting to the partners. Never mind the fact that they hadn't even given him the assignment until a mere twenty-four hours before.

Then, one of the bigwigs came in and handed Castiel a list of designs he needed yesterday. And another one wanted to know why Castiel hadn't found time to create a scale he'd given Castiel a couple of days ago, conveniently forgetting that he said there was no hurry, and to 'work at it at his own speed.'

Between this and all the other bullshit Castiel had to deal with, he didn't get out of there until well after eight, which meant Castiel's been sitting on his ass staring at a computer for the better part of twelve hours. Charlie had taken pity on him and had shared her lunch of fruit and yogurt, but otherwise Castiel had nothing in his stomach all day except coffee. At least it was Friday, and he didn't have to be back in that hellhole for another two whole days.

Okay - maybe not a hellhole - not really. All things considered, it was still a pretty good place to work and leagues above what most students had for employment. The problem really wasn't work; it was him. Castiel just wasn't in the mood for office politics.

Of course, there wasn't much he was in the mood for lately. It'd been a month since Castiel's disastrous phone call to Dean. They hadn't spoken since. Castiel wrote twice and started a dozen more, and Dean had sent Castiel a few postcards showing the sights he wasn't seeing in Rome and saying, in as few words as possible, that he was okay. But it wasn't nearly enough to make Castiel feel better about the whole fiasco.

Castiel could manage to shove it to the back of his mind for only so long anymore. He'd be working or running an errand or just kicking back... And suddenly, he would get this sinking sensation in his stomach that usually meant his brain was reminding Castiel he forgot to do something important. But in this case, it meant that somehow his internal clock was telling him that time was running out - that the longer Dean stayed away, the less chance there was that he'd ever come back.

Castiel tried to tell himself he was just being paranoid. Even if Dean did decide that they could never be friends again, Castiel didn't think he'd do that by cutting him off without a word. But as the days turned into weeks, it was getting harder and harder to convince himself of that.

In Castiel's darkest hours, he imagined Dean in Rome, surrounded by a new circle of jet-setting friends and laughing, forgetting all about Castiel, or maybe turning them into an amusing anecdote complete with shrugs and self-deprecating banter. Dean would finish his tale, and the beautiful girl by his side would kiss his cheek and assure him that as funny as the story was, she was sure he was making it the whole thing up. Especially in light of what had happened between them the night before in his bed.

This was nothing more than self-indulgent pity on Castiel's part, and he knew it. In fact, he had gotten news from Rome that assured him that the reality of Dean's life there was quite different than Castiel's perverse daydreams were making it out to be.

Sam had made good on his promise to call Castiel after he got back from his gig as personal slave to a Vatican dignitary. And Sam wasted no time either in assuring Castiel that he thought that his brother Dean was totally nuts - but not fatally so, and that he'd come around eventually. It was a sentiment Castiel was most grateful for. But it was sometimes hard to remember that, late at night when he was alone in the dark.

Castiel had to admit, he was kind of surprised that this was Sam's attitude. Obviously, Castiel knew Sam was aware he was gay, so it didn't shock Castiel that Dean had told Sam what had gone on between them. Even though the brothers had drifted apart over the years, Castiel figured Dean would have to have shared something this big with his brother. Hell, that was undoubtedly the reason he'd gone to Rome in the first place.

What did amaze Castiel was Sam's acceptance of the whole situation. He didn't seem in the least bit surprised that Dean was grappling with the issue of his bisexuality. To Castiel, that seemed to be a pretty big thing to be blasé about.

"Look," Sam said, "Dean has always been a little more interested in guys than he'd have most people believe. I've known that since we were kids."

"You trying to tell me something?" Castiel was joking when he said it, but the silence on the other end of the phone went on little two long and he realized that maybe he had inadvertently struck a chord.

This was an interesting development. Castiel waited for a minute, hoping that Sam would add to his little revelation. But if there was a story to be told, it didn't look like Castiel was going to hear it from him today. Castiel decided to let him off the hook.

"On second thought," Castiel drawled. "I think we can just leave that topic alone." Sam chuckled self-consciously and Castiel grinned to himself. Oh yes, he thought, there was a story...

"Yeah well," Sam finally continued. "Let's just say you know stuff about your sibling you've depended on your whole life, you might otherwise miss with another sibling you aren't as close to. At least, I do. So it didn't exactly come as a shock to me when he finally admitted his feelings for you. Actually, I've sort of expected it."

Castiel was stunned. "You're kidding!" He said. Though Castiel realized Sam wasn't. But what did bother him was why this had apparently been so clear to everybody except for the two people who were most involved.

"You want the honest truth?" Sam went on, oblivious to Castiel's internal thoughts. "I was less surprised by that than I was when he announced his engagement to that girl Lisa. In fact, I think in the long run, this is something that was bound to happen. Especially since the day he met you."

Castiel sighed and shook his head. "Too bad Dean isn't as thrilled about it as you are."

"Listen Cas," Sam said. "I know my brother. He wouldn't be miserable if he realized that what he really wanted was you. And trust me," Sam continued, laughing. "He's the most miserable jerk on the face of the earth right now."

"Sorry, but that doesn't exactly make me feel better." Castiel responded dryly.

"Oh, hell! I don't mean that the way it sounded," Sam apologized. "But look at it from his point of view: for most of his life, Dean's been one of those guys who always had it easy, and he got used to things going exactly the way he thought they should. You've been a real shock to his system. And, I think maybe that's not such a bad thing."

Sam went on from there in his very logical Jesuit manner. By the end of the conversation, Castiel was feeling pretty good. That lasted about as long as it took him to get ready for bed. Much as it was nice to hear Sam's words of encouragement, it didn't mean squat if Dean didn't agree with his assessment.

But Castiel is nothing if not stubborn. He promised himself to not give up until Dean actually told Castiel himself it was hopeless. So Castiel got up the next morning, and all the other mornings after that and he went to work and planned for the day when he and Dean finally would talk again face-to-face. But he'd be lying if he said it was easy. And as the days grew into weeks, Castiel was beginning to think that even his pigheaded optimism wasn't going to last longer than Dean's indecision.

That morning, Castiel took his car into the shop for some repairs, so he rode his bike to work. What had seemed like a great idea in the cool of early hours had now turned into a test of endurance. July in Gainesville is like July in his home state: hot, muggy, and miserable. The day had been a scorcher, and it showed no signs of letting up. By the time Castiel got home, he was dripping with sweat and filthy with the grit and exhaust residue of a hundred cars and trucks from the seven-mile trek from downtown. All he wanted to do was take a long shower and veg in front of the TV with a beer and the bag of tacos he picked up on the way home.

The light on his answering machine was blinking when Castiel walked through the living room, but he ignored it. He didn't even think about it again until he was getting ready for bed. With a yawn, Castiel punched the play button, ready to hear the spiel of some telemarketer. Instead, he froze as a very familiar voice spoke from the box.

"Cas, it's Dean. I guess you're still at work, or maybe you went out. I wanted to talk to you, but it's probably better that we wait and do it in person."

In person - had he really said that? Castiel stopped the machine and rewound the message. That's what he said all right. Castiel listened to the rest with his eyes shut in concentration, his heart pounding like a jackhammer in his chest.

"I'm coming home. The flight number is 734 on Northwestern. I'll be landing at Regional at 12:40 AM tonight - or I should say, tomorrow. Anyway, I could really use a ride, but if you can't make it... well, I'll understand."

There was a long silence then a sigh.

"Still, I'd really like to see you."

There was a click and the phone went dead. Castiel looked at his clock. Shit! It was already 11:55 and he was car-less. It didn't matter; if Castiel had to use a skateboard, he was going to get to that airport! He grabbed some clothes and threw them on. His fingers shook as he buttoned the fly on his jeans. He was down the steps and banging at Eleanor's door in under 60 seconds. She was still up, but not very happy to see Castiel at first.

"There had better be a damned good reason for this, young man," she said, raising an eyebrow in irritation.

"Can I borrow your car?" Castiel asked, breathlessly. "It's kind of an emergency."

Castiel knew the Caddy was Eleanor's baby. And he was half expecting her to say no, but the look on his face must have convinced her that this was no late night run for beer.

"Of course." She said, looking at him closely. "Come in while I get you the keys."

Castiel stood in her kitchen, first on one foot, then the other. His mouth was dry and his heart was pounding. Eleanor came back into the room with a set of keys in her hand.

"Are you okay, Castiel? Would you like me to come with you?" she asked with concern.

Castiel shook his head. "I'm fine," he said. "I have to go to the airport and pick somebody up."

Castiel didn't want to get into some long discussion, so he deliberately omitted saying Dean's name - but she knew. She smiled, then raised her tiny hand to his face and softly stroked his cheek.

"Things usually have a way of working out for the best," she said quietly. "Even if it doesn't seem that way at the time, Castiel. If you need to talk later, I'll be here - anytime, day or night."

She pulled him down and kissed him, quite firmly, on the forehead, then pointed towards the door.

"Now, get out of here and don't worry."

"I love you, Eleanor." The words were out of Castiel's mouth before he could stop them.

"Of course you do," she said calmly, "I'm irresistible! Now hurry, and take care you don't hurt my car."

Castiel practically ran to the garage and jumped into the big, comfy gas-guzzler. He glanced at the dimly lit dashboard clock - it was now 12:10. He silently cursed as he gunned the engine and tore off down the street. There was no way he could make the drive in a half an hour, but he was counting on baggage and customs to slow Dean down. Thank God, traffic was light for a Friday night, and he made good time.

At first, Castiel was too absorbed in the driving to think of much else, but after he got on the freeway, he started to wonder how this was going to go. The nervousness he lost in the initial act of plotting the quickest route out of Gainesville returned with a vengeance.

By the time he pulled into the front of Northwestern's Terminal, Castiel was a basket case. He wasn't even sure where he should meet Dean. There was no way he could park without having to walk about a mile, and Castiel was too afraid to do that in case he missed Dean. At least his thoughts kept him from facing what he was really worried about. What was he going to say to Dean when he saw him? And more importantly, what was Dean going to say to him?

Castiel glanced at the dashboard. It was after 1 AM. The concourse was a madhouse, and his heart sank when he didn't see Dean. Because of the traffic, Castiel couldn't stop and take a good look, but had to keep endlessly circling, craning his neck as he avoided an ocean of pedestrians, cabs, cars, and shuttles. On Castiel's fifth go-round, a spot in the loading area miraculously opened up. He grabbed it and carefully pulled the Caddy up to the curb. He took a quick look around, and decided to risk a ticket and go into the terminal. Suddenly, a shape detached itself from the shadows and stepped into the light.

It was Dean. He didn't appear to recognize the car, but then, he was probably expecting Castiel's old Duster. Castiel watched him for a minute as he stood there looking into the gloom beyond the streetlights. He looked so... alone.

Castiel caught his breath as his emotions surged. It was only then that he realized a part of him had truly believed he'd never see Dean again. His hands were shaking. He gripped the steering wheel and steadied himself. Whatever the rest of this night would bring, Castiel assured himself, it had to be better than the waiting he endured in the last few months. After tonight, he would be getting on with his life - one-way or the other.

Castiel shut off the engine and got out on legs he weren't sure would hold him. Dean looked up just as the door slammed.

You know how in all those corny romantic stories the two lovers stare at each other and everything else slows down and disappears? Well, that didn't happen. Castiel was acutely aware of the lights, the sounds of traffic, a porter checking in a young girl's bags. No romantic music, no swelling orchestra - just two, long-lost friends staring at each other from forty feet away, each filled with anxiety.

But Castiel was aware of Dean. He stood in a pool of light and the glow sharpened the edges of his outline. Castiel could see he needed a shave, and there were hollows in his cheeks that hadn't been there a couple of months ago. The eyes that met his own were shadowed with a weariness that wasn't caused by jet lag.

A man in a hurry bumped into him, but Dean didn't notice. He never moved, just continued to stare at Castiel. Castiel walked around the car and stepped onto the pavement next to Dean. He wanted to touch him - to hold him, to comfort him like a lost child. Instead, Castiel picked up the bags that sat at his feet.

"Is this all your luggage?" Castiel asked.

Dean seemed distracted. "Yes," he said.

"Okay. I'll put 'em in the trunk."

Castiel suited his actions to his words. Dean continued to stand motionless. His shoulders sagged.

"Why don't you get in the car?" Castiel said quietly.

Silently, Dean did. Castiel got into the driver's seat and buckled up, then cranked the engine. He looked over at Dean.

"Seatbelt?"

Dean obeyed him, and then lay his head back on the seat and drew in a long breath and closed his eyes. Castiel stared at Dean worriedly. He didn't know what he expected, but it wasn't this.

"Take me home, Cas," Dean whispered. He spoke so softly, Castiel barely heard him.

Castiel wanted to say something, but he didn't have a clue what that would be, so he kept his mouth shut. They drove to Gainesville in silence. It had started to rain and the only sound in the car was the steady womp-womp of the wipers. Dean's eyes were still closed, but Castiel didn't think he was sleeping.

There was a light on in Eleanor's kitchen as they pulled up to the house. He put the car in park and turned it off. Dean never moved. Castiel leaned over and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Hey - you awake?" He whispered.

Dean turned to him slowly and they had another long stare. Castiel could feel Dean's heat radiate from his hand where he touched him. It traveled the long arc of Castiel's arm and entered his heart. Castiel smiled at him. Dean's hand stretched out and pulled Castiel towards him. Slowly their arms tightened until they were holding each other in a fierce, tight embrace. Dean's head was on Castiel's shoulder and he buried his nose in Castiel's t-shirt and took a deep, shuddering breath.

"I've missed your smell." He whispered. "Sometimes I'd catch a whiff of something, someone who would remind me of you, and I'd follow..." He trailed off and took another deep breath then he trembled.

"Oh, God, Cas... I'm so scared."

Castiel's heart pounded and his hands were around Dean's back stroking him softly. The swelling in his cock was an intrusion he wanted to go away. This was not the time for sex; it was love they were talking about. Dean had made his decision. Castiel's heart soared with that realization at the same time his bowels turned to water because of the fear that gripped him. Castiel rubbed the top of Dean's head with his cheek.

"So am I, Dean." Castiel replied as softly as he did. "So am I. But we'll figure this out. I love you."

Dean raised his head and smiled a little.

"That's why I came home. You love me, and I finally realized that's the only thing that matters in my life." He shook his head in wonderment. "Who'da thunk it?"

"Well, apparently, not the two of us," Castiel added dryly, "considering it only took us four years and the help of a bunch of people pointing it out for us to realize it."

They were silent for a few minutes just holding each other and breathing in each other's scent. It amazed Castiel how right it felt to have Dean in his arms. For the first time in his life, he knew what it was like to be completely content. Hell, he was ready to take up residency in that car. Castiel wondered idly if Eleanor would mind if he told her she couldn't have it back. But all good things must come to an end. Both his legs were going to sleep from the awkward position he was in.

Dean must have been getting a little uncomfortable too, because he finally broke the silence. "We should probably go upstairs," he said, nodding his head towards the entrance.