Dean had all of Castiel’s tattoos memorized by now.
There was the peregrine falcon on his arm, with a wingspan that started at his shoulder and wrapped around his bicep, to dip just below the joint at his elbow.
The opposite forearm was almost entirely black, with large white roses blossoming across the negative space; there was a stunning contrast along the sharp edges where the tattoo ended above the wrist and below the other elbow.
On his abdomen, above his hip, was a script that Dean had caught sight of a few times when Castiel had happened to take his shirt off in front of him, but he still wasn’t sure what it said - it clearly wasn’t English, but also wasn’t any language he recognized. It looked about how Dean felt whenever he managed to catch a glimpse of Castiel shirtless.
He had a small mountain range tattooed on the side of one of his feet - and whenever he was asked about it, would always take the time to explain how it symbolized him metaphorically climbing mountains.
There was a length of rope, tattooed to wrap around his left calf and create a noose around his ankle - it apparently had a symbolic tarot meaning to him.
Castiel also had a small feather inked into the space behind his ear, accented with shades of purple and white, that would catch anyone’s attention if he turned his head at the right angle.
Yes, all of these tattoos Dean had memorized.
Which was why he was pretty damn sure Castiel had a new one.
“Is that -” Dean gestured towards his roommate’s neck after grabbing a beer from the fridge, waiting for Castiel to look up from his book so that he could point out the the inked lines that were currently poking out from under the neckline of his black t-shirt. “Cas, hey. Cas?”
Dean frowned, realizing that Castiel was currently tapping his fingers and nodding his head, then saw the earbuds sticking out of his ears. Dean rolled his eyes and ripped a page from the notebook they usually kept on the counter, crumpled it up into a ball, and chucked it at Castiel - grinning when it hit square in the middle of his forehead.
Castiel looked up, rubbing at where Dean’s projectile had landed, and took one earbud out of his ear. He squinted over at Dean.
“Yes? Can I help you?” he asked, his hair - the top of which had recently been dyed from purple to blue - falling in his face before he brushed it back.
“Did you get some new ink?” Dean asked, pointing at the the tattoo on Cas’ collarbone that he could only partly see.
Castiel glanced down and nodded, pulling the collar of his shirt down, until Dean could see the words ‘La Vie a Plus’ written in a cursive scrawl along underside of his collarbone.
“Last week,” Castiel said, tilting his head in the opposite direction so Dean could get a better view. “Not my usual, but I like it.”
Dean raised an eyebrow as he took a swig of his beer.
“What’s it mean?”
Castiel let the collar of his shirt go and patted his collarbone once, before turning back to snap his book closed.
“ Life has more .”
Dean set the bottle down and waited for an explanation, but Castiel didn’t seem to want to elaborate. He sighed and leaned against the counter.
Castiel shrugged and shoved the book back into his bag, as if the words he’d had embedded into his flesh for the rest of his life weren’t all that important.
“More everything, I guess. Depends on the situation.”
Dean finished off his drink and almost rolled his eyes again.
“So, why the French?”
“I’m an art major, Dean. English isn’t nearly pretentious enough,” he said, standing up with a smirk. “Anyway, I’ve got to go finish a project with Meg. I’ll be back in the morning.”
“The morning?” Dean asked, raising an eyebrow.
“The morning. It’s going to be a long one.”
Castiel pulled the strap over his shoulder and waved as he put the earbud back in place.
“Use protection,” Dean mumbled when he knew Castiel wouldn’t be able to hear him. He sighed and flopped down onto their overstuffed couch, turning on the television to drown out all of the jealous thoughts that crept their way into his mind on nights like these.
Just once, he wanted to the be one that Castiel had ‘study nights’ with - wanted to hold him close in his arms, and trace his way across every art piece Cas had preserved in his skin.
Dean grunted and hugged a pillow close to his chest.
What did he have to go and fall in love with his roommate for?
When Dean had first been assigned as Castiel’s roommate, he’d been… hesitant.
This college was supposed to be one of the best around for mechanical engineering - and so even though it was pretty far from home, when Dean had got accepted, he’d jumped at the chance. And then, in a day, Dean went from being your average wide-eyed freshman from rural Kansas - where he didn’t see too much variety in people - to the guy with the scary punk roommate that had loads of tattoos and piercings, and used more eyeliner than Dean had ever seen on a man. Once Dean had finally climbed over the stereotype he’d set in place for Castiel and had actually gotten to know the guy, they got along just fine.
Sure, he looked like he could kill you and not feel bad about it - and Dean had been on the receiving end of a particularly scary glare from the guy after running the dishwasher during one of his showers - but after witnessing him create a myriad of different paintings while sitting cross legged in his own bed as gentle music rang from his room, he got a lot less intimidating.
Not to mention that he’d seen Castiel coo at rabbits at a petstore once, and that was it for Dean.
Needless to say, they’d become nearly inseparable ever since.
“Dean, I need to ask you for a favor.”
Dean poked his head up over the top of the couch when he heard the front door slam shut, and shrugged his shoulders.
“Sure,” he said easily, following with his eyes as Castiel walked around to the front of couch and flopped down next to him - half an ear still listening to the TV. “What’s up?”
“You can say no,” Castiel assured him, and Dean raised an eyebrow at how… awkward he sounded. Castiel was fiddling with various rings on his fingers - and as Dean watched, he leant forward and then back again in his seat, while not quite meeting his eyes.
“Okay, noted,” Dean said, shifting all of his attention to Castiel.
“I won’t be offended if you do say no. I’ll absolutely understand, and I want you to know that I wouldn’t ask you if this wasn’t so last minute, and - “
“Dude.” Dean rolled his eyes. “Just say it.”
“I need a nude model.”
“I'm sorry, what?”
Castiel dropped his face into his hands silently, and Dean could see the parts that he hadn’t covered were turning pink.
“I completely forgot about a nude sketching assignment,” Castiel said, though his voice was slightly muffled by his hands, “and now it’s too last-minute to book one of the campus sign-ups.”
Dean tried to stay calm, and think logically about it.
He sat, frowning as he thought of the implications. Were there any? Probably not. Castiel was an artist. He did this shit ‘cause he liked to, and because he was a goddamn professional.
“And - and you want…” Dean trailed off and pointed at himself when Castiel looked back up at him.
“If… you could? I can’t think of anyone else who might be willing to do this for me.” Castiel rubbed at the back of his neck, showing off the floral tattoo unintentionally, and Dean was gone. “It’s alright if you don’t want to. I can look up pictures online for half credit -”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll do it,” Dean said with what he hoped looked like a casual shrug. “Grab your sketch pad or whatever. Let’s do this.”
Castiel was still staring at him as Dean got up and stretched.
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Totally.” Dean could feel his heart racing but was trying his damndest to seem cool and collected on the outside. “Having the best-looking model is guaranteed an ‘A’, right?”
Dean could see Castiel visibly relax when Dean lightened the situation; he rolled his eyes.
“I guess we’ll just have to see,” he said, coolly - but the little smile he gave Dean was warm and bright.
Turned out that “Nude Modeling” didn’t always mean completely nude, especially for someone that wasn’t technically on the model list, much to Dean’s surprise. Castiel instructed that he could, in fact, wear a small amount of clothing as long as it was extremely tight-fitting.
That was how Dean found himself sitting on an actual pedestal in one of the campus art studios, in the tightest pair of boxer shorts that he owned, holding so still it almost drove him crazy. Luckily, the studio seemed to be prepared for the possibility of naked people, and was decently heated - so he wasn’t cold or anything, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t just the teensiest bit uncomfortable despite his bravado.
“So, there are actual models that do this?”
Castiel nodded, but didn’t look up from his sketchpad.
“And they get paid for it?”
Dean was tempted to move his head but had already been scolded by Cas a few times already for shifting positions. Frankly, he hadn’t realized how much he used his body to talk until he wasn’t allowed to.
“What am I getting paid?”
Castiel glanced up briefly before returning to his sketching again.
“And I’m obviously taking you out to dinner after this.” Castiel’s hand slipped before he got control of it again. “You know, as - as a thank you.”
Dean hummed and held his position with one hand resting on his knee. There wasn’t much else in the room to look at besides Castiel. There were a few other unused pedestals and easels, a couple of chairs lying around - but then there was Cas, with his blue-tipped hair just long enough to slightly dangle in front of his eyes, and the tattoos on his arms rippling as he made bold strokes on the page.
Castiel was easily one of the best things that had ever happened to him, hands down, and Dean liked to think he’d at least been an okay find in Castiel’s life as well. Dean had been there for Cas through the death of his mother when she’d suddenly taken ill, and Cas had always been there for Dean when his dad would drunk dial him, asking for money. It was nice to have almost a system of checks and balances with each other. They were in no way perfect, but they worked.
Dean just had to go and ruin it by falling for him.
“So, uh,” Dean nodded towards him - and immediately went still again as soon as he remembered. “What’s your tattoo really mean? I’ve got a hard time believing it was something simple.”
Castiel raised an eyebrow.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you’re extra as fuck, dude,” Dean said with a chuckle.
“Says the man who lay on the floor of the kitchen for three hours because I had eaten the last slice of pie?” Castiel countered, a small smirk on his face as he worked.
“ Hey -”
“I’m just saying.” Castiel shrugged. “But to answer your question… it’s both simple and not simple.”
Dean waited, not wanting to interrupt his line of thought.
“ La Vie a Plus. Life Has More. It’s something my mother used to say to me when I would get extremely down on myself,” Castiel explained, not pausing in his drawing. “I would work myself into a self-destructive pit of failure, convinced that I’d eliminated all possible roads away from it. That’s when she would take me by the hand and say, ‘ La Vie a Plus, Castiel. You’re not giving it a fair chance if you don’t have a little trust.’”
Castiel rubbed at his nose and moved a couple feet to Dean’s right before sketching again.
“She was right, of course. I tend to… focus on the bad things sometimes. But life has more to offer than that. It always has more to offer. The tattoo is supposed to be a reminder to myself to switch viewpoints sometimes. To not always look for the worst in a situation.”
Dean nodded his head along to Castiel’s explanation, freezing when Castiel raised an eyebrow pointedly.
“That’s actually… pretty sweet.” Dean said, trying to keep his tone light, but lost in thought.
“You don’t need to be concerned about me, or anything,” Castiel said, as though reading his mind. “I realize that it may have sounded worrying. I’ve gotten better thanks to her.” Castiel swallowed. “And you.”
Dean was taken aback.
“Don’t sound so surprised, Dean. If there’s one person I can count on to find light in a dark situation, it’s you.”
Dean ducked his head when he felt a blush start to crawl across his face.
“Head up please, Dean.”
Castiel’s sketches were nothing short of amazing.
It was hard to believe that Castiel could make someone like Dean come to life on paper as quickly as he did.
Looking at them, Dean could clearly see himself in the lines and curves, but it wasn’t quite the person he saw in the mirror every day. The guy he usually saw had an excessive amount of freckles on his face and his shoulders and arms that made him cringe. He had soft spots on his stomach and hips, which he usually frowned at, from eating a few too many slices of pie.
The man in the sketches was different. He was beautiful. He was perfect.
He didn’t have -
Dean tilted his head and brought the sketch closer to his face.
Yes, he did.
The freckles and the softness of his stomach were still present and visible, but the way it was drawn didn’t make Dean feel the way he usually did when he looked at himself. He kind of liked it here, actually.
Was this how Cas saw him?
“Looks good, man,” Dean said, handing the sketchbook back over to Castiel as they climbed into Dean’s car - with Dean now fully dressed again. “I like it.”
“Of course it looks good,” Castiel responded, shutting the door behind him. “ You were the model.”
Dean snorted as they drove off down the street, the sun having finally set in the distance.
“Yeah, well, you’re not wrong.” He cranked up the volume on the radio and glanced over at his roommate, wondering if Cas looked at himself the same way Dean looked at him.
It was hard to think of Castiel’s outward appearance as anything but flawless. The tattoos, the piercings, the dye - while they may not have originally been a part of Castiel, they’d become a part of him, and there was nothing about him that Dean didn’t like.
He cleared his throat when he realized he’d been staring at his friend for longer than was probably socially acceptable.
“So, I heard something about dinner?”
In the end they decided on dinner and drinks at the Roadhouse, as it was only a few blocks away from their apartment - and Ellen always let Dean keep his car there overnight, if he had too much to drink.
They ate dinner together at the bar so they could chat with Jo, and definitely not because she gave them free refills whenever they came in.
All the while, Dean couldn’t stop thinking about the sketches.
For as long as he had known that he was in love with Castiel, he’d also known that he didn’t want to ruin anything between them by admitting it. Besides, he didn’t know if Cas was interested in guys.
The sketches, though… if that’s how Castiel saw him, maybe he was?
Dean chewed on his lower lip as he tapped his fingers on the bottle of the second beer he’d ordered, trying to figure out what to do. It couldn’t hurt, right? This probably wouldn’t damage their friendship, if Cas ended up not being interested. They could talk it through. Or Dean could just laugh it off like it was a joke, if things didn’t go well. Both could work.
“Are you alright?”
Dean blinked and looked over at Castiel, who had his head tilted in concern.
“You seemed lost in thought,” Castiel murmured, tapping his bottle of beer against Dean’s. “Anything wrong?”
Dean shook his head and pushed his stool back.
“Nah. I just have to use the bathroom. I’ll be back.”
Dean locked himself in a bathroom stall a few moments later, resting his forehead against the cool stainless steel and trying to work up some courage.
It wasn’t as if he hadn’t asked people out before. He could do it, and he could do it with confidence.
But this was Cas.
It was different.
This was something that he’d be heartbroken about if he got rejected, as much as he wanted to shove that thought into the back of his mind.
He unlocked the stall and headed to the sinks, washing his hands just to kill some time before he had to decide whether or not he was going to do this.
Today was the first time he’d had hope that he might not get a total rejection, though. The first time he'd ever let himself consider the possibility that something could really happen between them.
Dean let out a long breath and stared at himself in the mirror.
He could keep everything as it was and stick to the status quo, or -
La Vie a Plus.
He could just go for it.
Don’t think, just go - before he lost his nerve.
Dean nodded to himself, clenched his fists together and released them, walking back out into the busy bar.
The first thing he noticed was a man - tall, very blond, handsome, tattoos of his own covering his arms - leaning up against the bar next to Castiel with a flirtatious smile on his face. The body language told Dean everything he needed to know about the guy’s intentions.
“- so what do you say? Can I make you more comfortable?”
Dean could only hear the last part of the man’s offer as he approached, instantly feeling a sense of protectiveness that he knew he had no right to feel.
He wished he could see Castiel’s face from this direction, but his back was turned.
“I’m very flattered,” he heard Castiel say. “But I feel no sexual attraction towards men, so I’ll have to decline your offer.”
Dean felt all of the confidence that he’d mustered in the past few minutes sink into a pool at his feet, and seep into the ground - lost to the world forever. None of his feelings were even relevant any more, after that reveal.
Cas wasn’t into dudes.
Dean stopped mid-step towards the bar and let himself feel the heartbreak for a brief moment, before shoving it deep into a repressed corner somewhere in his heart. Things would just have to stay the way they currently were, and that… that was something that Dean could live with. As long as he still got to spend time with Castiel, and got to see his smile every day -
That was all he really needed, anyway.
The man was shaking his head by the time Dean reached them and sat down on the stool next to Castiel.
“Shame,” the man muttered, before turning and walking away across the bar.
Dean grabbed his beer and downed the rest of it in one go, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket.
“What did he want?” Dean asked, hoping that it sounded casual enough in tone.
Castiel simply stared at the bottle in front of him for a moment, then sighed.
“The inevitable.” He took a swig and leaned back on his stool. “By the way, I should ask - my brother is coming into town soon. Would you be alright if he stayed on our couch for a couple of days?”
“Sure,” Dean said automatically, barely processing what Castiel had just said. “Yeah, of course.”
“Great.” Castiel smiled at him warmly and patted him on the shoulder as he stood. “If you’re done, should we head back home?”
“Yep.” Dean answered, standing up - and leaving his broken heart in shambles behind him.
It was time to move on.
Dean had met Castiel’s sister Anna a few times in the past, but even through all of the years that they’d been rooming together, he’d yet to meet Castiel’s elusive brother Gabriel.
Castiel had explained that Gabe frequently travelled all over the world and didn’t like staying in one place for very long, so not seeing him for years on end was, unfortunately, not out of the ordinary.
Dean wasn’t sure what kind of person he’d expected Castiel’s brother to be - probably having the same quiet intensity that Castiel himself tended to have - but it definitely wasn’t this.
“- and there I was with my ass hanging out of my pants in the middle of Paris, and it was in that moment that I realized… he’d meant Paris, France and not Paris, Texas .”
“Fuck, dude,” Dean said, only half believing the story. “Was this before or after you accidentally asked the mob boss’s daughter out on a date?”
“Before.” Gabriel pulled out a bag of tootsie pops and offered it to both Dean and Castiel from where he was lounging on their couch. “And Kali must never know about the Paris thing.”
“I’m sure she’d only tease you for a few years,” Castiel said with a smile. “She’s nice like that.”
“ Speaking of teasing,” Gabriel pointed at Castiel and waggled his finger before turning to look at Dean. “Did you know that Cassie here used to wear sweater vests?”
Dean’s mouth fell open as he combed his eyes over Castiel’s look once again, trying to imagine the guy wearing anything other than the black or grey wardrobe that he owned. The dyed hair. The tattooed body. The pierced ears.
In a sweater vest?
“You’re kidding me,” Dean managed, looking over at Gabriel like Christmas had come early.
Castiel frowned and folded his arms in front of his chest. “When I was a child.”
“You wore sweater vests -”
“I didn’t come out of the womb in skinny jeans!”
Gabriel pulled out his phone with a shit-eating grin.
“I think I have pictures somewhere.”
Castiel threw his hands up in the air and stomped out of their living room in a huff, only making Dean and Gabriel laugh even harder. When he returned, he had his bag slung over his shoulder and an expression of acceptance on his face.
“I’ve got to get to class but I’ll be back in an hour.” He pointed at Gabriel. “Behave.”
Dean’s laughter had finally subsided by the time Castiel shut the door, and he was more than ready to see pictures of a small Castiel in sweater vests.
“So, how long have you been in love with my bro?” Gabriel asked, tapping on his phone.
Dean’s eyes widened and he nearly tripped as he went to sit down on the chair next to the couch.
“I - what?” Dean spluttered, shaking his head. “I’m not.”
Gabriel looked up and raised an eyebrow.
“That bad, huh?”
Dean opened his mouth to argue, ready to deny everything and laugh it off - then slumped back in his seat. What was the point? It didn’t matter how he felt, anyway. Castiel wasn’t ever going to be interested in him.
“Am I that obvious?” he said, his voice just above a whisper.
“Yeah, you’ve got it pretty bad.” Gabriel smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “You should ask him out.”
Dean rolled his eyes and sunk even lower into the chair. “‘Cause it’ll be funny? No thanks. I don’t ask out straight guys.”
There was a moment of silence before Gabriel burst out laughing, even harder than when they’d been talking about sweater-vests.
“What?” Dean asked, frowning and wondering what kind of asshole would laugh at his pain like this. “It’s not funny, you know. It sucks.”
Gabriel wiped at his eyes and let out a long breath.
“Cas isn’t straight, my dude.”
Dean squinted at him, replaying the memory of the conversation he’d overheard for probably the hundredth time since it had happened.
“Yes, he is.”
“But I heard him say -”
“Just trust me.” Gabriel popped another piece of candy into his mouth and stretched out on their couch like he’d been living there for months. “Ask him out. He likes you.”
Why was Gabriel so sure of that? Castiel had seemed pretty sure of himself when he’d told the guy at the bar that he hadn’t been interested, so why would Dean be any different?
Dean sat forward, fingers steepled under his chin as he scrutinized Castiel’s brother.
“You’re sure ?”
Gabriel drew a cross over his chest and nodded solemnly.
“Stick a needle in my eye if I lie.”
He sure seemed like he was telling the truth.
“Fine,” Dean said, turning away from the smug look on Gabriel’s face. “But you better get that needle ready.”
An hour later, the front door opened once again and Dean stopped his nervous pacing in the kitchen. He'd been planning, he'd been considering; mostly, he’d been trying not to throw up.
Here he was. The idiot. About to put it all on the line for the stupidest of reasons.
Dean’s heart jumped at the sound of Castiel’s voice.
“In - in the kitchen.”
He leaned against the counter in an attempt to look nonchalant, and smiled when Castiel walked through the doorway, glancing around as he dropped his bag on the counter.
There were a few flecks of purple paint along his jawline.
It was adorable.
“Where’s Gabriel?” Castiel asked. “ I didn’t see his car.”
Dean cleared his throat.
“Uh, said he had to go to the store to grab more candy.”
“Ah.” Castiel looked over at him and frowned. “Are you feeling well? You look extremely pale.”
He attempted a smile and shrugged.
“Yeah, I’m good. I just, uh -” He licked his lips and ran a nervous hand through his hair. “- I wanted to ask you something.”
“Of course,” Castiel stepped forward until they were close, a serious look on his face. “Anything.”
“I was, um, I was wondering...” Dean glanced down at his feet before forcing himself to look into Castiel’s eyes. “I wanted to know if you wanted to go out with me some time. On a date.”
Dean watched the emotions play across Castiel’s face.
Surprise, and a brief flash of something positive - that was quickly swallowed by something else much more disheartening.
“Dean...” Castiel said slowly, as if he was trying to find the right words to say. “I… I can’t.”
And Dean felt his heart shatter for the second time.
“Yeah, no. That’s fine.” Dean plastered a smile onto his face and rubbed at the back of his neck. “It was...stupid anyway. Sorry, I’ll just - “
“Dean, I’m sorry -”
Dean backed up when Castiel reached forward. With as fragile as he was, all it would take was a small touch from Castiel to break him.
“You don’t have to -” Dean turned his face, and began walking out of the kitchen towards the front door. “It’s okay, dude. It was nothing.”
“Dean, wait -”
Dean shook his head and opened the door, not wanting to hear Castiel’s apologies or excuses that he didn’t need to make.
“Don’t worry about it, Cas.” Dean closed the door behind him.
What an idiot.
Dean dropped his head in his hands as he walked around campus, not really having any specific destination in mind, but wanting to clear his head.
Why had he ever listened to Gabriel? He’d known it was all wrong. He’d heard it straight from the horse’s mouth that Cas couldn’t ever be interested in him, and still that stupid speck of hope had lured him forward to mind-numbing failure.
Now everything was going to be awkward, and he had no one to blame but himself.
He stayed away from the art building and studio he knew it housed. The last thing he wanted to do was revisit the place that he’d first had hope about Castiel. Instead, he spent another hour on one of the benches outside of the engineering building, trying to calm himself down.
Things would go back to normal eventually, he reasoned. It was going to be awful at first but he’d apologize again and forget that any of this ever happened, and then he was going to move on.
With that plan in place, Dean took a deep breath and began making his way back to his apartment. With any luck, Castiel would already be asleep - or would at least pretend to be, for Dean’s sake.
As quietly as he could, Dean opened the door to their apartment and tiptoed inside, praying to whatever deity was listening that Castiel wouldn’t be waiting up for him.
Instead, he heard the two hushed voices from the living room, arguing back and forth.
“- because I can’t, Gabriel. I already told you.”
“A piece of shit excuse is what you told me.”
Dean pressed his lips together and leaned against the wall, not wanting to move and let them know he’d accidentally stumbled across their conversation.
“It’s not a piece of shit excuse to me.”
“Yes, it is!”
“No, it’s not!”
“You like him, don’t you?”
There was a pause, a heartbeat, a silence that was only a few seconds but felt like a lifetime to Dean.
“Don’t you?” Gabriel repeated.
Castiel said it like a dam had burst inside him, releasing only that single word out into the world.
Dean couldn't breathe.
Castiel liked him, and Dean couldn’t breathe .
“Then what’s the problem?”
“ When would I even tell him?” Castiel’s voice was raised a lot higher now, not quite a shout but not anything close to trying to keep his voice down. “Do I tell him after we’ve been dating for a while and have him think I was trying to trick him? Or do I tell him now and let him break my heart with his disgust after a ten minute PowerPoint on the subject?”
“I think you’re making this into a bigger deal than it is. Dean would understand, Cassie. He’s in love with you.”
“That’s why I can’t do it.”
“Look, just talk to him -”
Dean swallowed and stepped into view, taking in the sight of Castiel and Gabriel stopping their furious gesturing to look over at him.
“Talk to me about what?” he asked.
Castiel looked shaken, glancing at his brother for some answer, but Gabriel only shrugged and began backing away slowly.
“I’m just gonna… leave you two to it,” he muttered, scooting on past Dean and closing the front door behind him as he left.
“I’m sorry,” Dean said after a few moments of silence. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but it just kind of happened, and…” He took a step closer, his voice lowering. “Cas... if you like me, then why? Why say no?”
Castiel opened his mouth to say something, and then seemed to lose his nerve. He looked down at the floor. Dean bit his lip, and then let out a long breath. The silence was creeping; he had to fill it something, even if that something had the potential to tear them further apart.
“You know, I only asked you out because I thought maybe - just maybe - I had a chance. And then you said no, so I'm like - okay, I don't have a chance. And now?” Dean raised his hands helplessly, unable to stop the flow of questions. Castiel was watching him, lips pressed hard shut. “Now… what, Cas? Because if I don’t have a chance then I need you to tell me so I can move on but... why did you just say you liked me? Why did you say no before? How can you even - I mean, that night at the bar. Why did you tell that guy that you were straight, why -”
“You heard that?” Castiel said, his surprise apparently enough to make him speak. Dean shrugged hopelessly.
“Yeah. I thought… I don't know… that night…” Dean didn't want to go into it all. How he'd felt after seeing the sketches, how much it had hurt to hear Castiel shut down any possibility of them being together.
Castiel sighed - long and low, steadying himself.
“I didn’t tell him I was straight.” Dean watched Castiel take a deep breath and clench his fists at his side like he was bracing for the worst. “I told him I wasn’t sexually attracted to men. And I’m not. I’m not sexually attracted to anyone.”
Dean frowned, and tilted his head to the side. “Oh. Okay.”
There was a pregnant pause, then Castiel waved his hand like he was asking Dean to continue.
“Okay? Is that all you have to say?”
“But you like me.”
Castiel’s gaze softened for the first time during the entire conversation.
“I do, Dean. I like you a lot. So much that it hurts sometimes. But… I will never want to be sexually intimate with you. And that's something that has nothing to do with you. Does that make sense?”
Dean nodded after taking a moment to consider it. This… this made a lot more sense now that he thought about it. Cas never went on any dates, never brought anyone home, and never talked about any sexual escapades. The study dates must have been just that. Studying.
“I’m fine with that,” he said, taking a small half-step forward.
“ Are you?”
And there it was again. The mistrust and the disbelief lacing Castiel’s voice was like a venom, trying to push Dean away before he could get any closer.
“Because you can’t do this to me, Dean.” Castiel said, his voice cracking. “You can’t say you’re okay with it when you’re not. You can’t say that you’re fine dating an asexual, and then realize later on that you miss sex too much to stick around.”
Dean shook his head, taking another step forward towards Castiel.
Castiel liked him. He liked him a lot, and that was all that mattered.
“How do I know,” Castiel asked, and the defensive stance that he’d taken dropped to something much more vulnerable. “How do I know that you won’t?”
Dean sought for words. How to say it out loud?
“If you don't want to have sex with me,” Dean said, “then I don't want us to have sex. It's that simple.”
“But if you want to date me,” Dean pressed on, needing to get the words out before Castiel interrupted, “then I want us to date. I want it to be us.”
“Dean…” Castiel had that look on his face - the one that Dean only saw in his worst moments. The one that allowed for no hope.
Dean reached out, slowly enough that Castiel could stop him if he wanted, and placed his hand on Castiel’s heart, just below the words he knew were tattooed onto his skin.
“ La Vie a Plus, ” he said, trying to show with his eyes what he couldn’t promise with just words. “Remember? You’re not giving it a fair chance if you don't have a little trust.”
Castiel looked away.
“I haven’t had sex in two years,” Dean murmured, smiling when Castiel glanced back up at him with wide eyes. “Wanna take a wild guess on how long it's been since I realized I'm in love with you?”
“Are you okay with holding hands?”
Castiel nodded slowly, and Dean let his hand drop from Castiel’s chest to his hand, squeezing it tightly.
“Are you okay with kissing?”
Dean raised Castiel’s hand to his lips and pressed a gentle kiss against his knuckles.
“Life has more to it than sex, Cas. For one: it's got you, and that's all I need.”
He pressed another chaste kiss on the inside of his wrist, just under the floral tattoo.
“Are you okay with cuddling in your bed until we fall asleep?”
Castiel pulled Dean into a kiss, a proper one with lips and warmth but absolutely no promise of more, and pulled away a few moments later - giving Dean a studious once over.
“And you're alright with… just that?”
Dean grinned, a little dizzy from the kiss - but he couldn't remember a time he'd ever felt happier.
“I'm more than okay with it.”
Castiel stared a little longer before allowing himself to smile.
“Okay? Okay... my bed or yours?”
Unable to resist, Dean swayed closer; when he spoke again, the words were almost kissed to Castiel's lips.
“Mine doesn't have paint on it,” he said. Castiel pulled back far enough to smile at him narrowly.
“You're not so lucky,” he replied.
When they kissed again, Dean felt his heart - his poor shattered heart - come whole again, bright inside him.
Just that, he thought.