This time, Castiel is the one who runs.
He doesn't know the answer to Dean's actual question, much less the million and one implied questions behind it. How far do they want to take this? How fast? It feels like they've jumped from near strangers to practically lovers in the span of a few days; do they take a step back, try to work up to being friends like they were before?
And how do they deal with the fact that both of them moved as far away from Kansas as they could...in opposite directions? That's a lot of miles between them. Should they try it long-distance for a while? Can they survive that? Should one of them move to be closer to the other? Can they survive that?
If someone has to move, who should it be? How do they even decide that?
He buries his face in Dean's shoulder and asks if they can talk about it over breakfast.
"In about...two hours," he clarifies, the writhing snake-pit of nerves in his stomach making his voice harsher than he intended.
But Dean must take it for his usual early-morning ill humor, because he laughs softly and pulls Castiel tighter against him.
"S'okay," he murmurs into Castiel's hair. "Go back to sleep."
He follows his own advice a few minutes later, but Castiel is wide awake. He waits another half hour, until Dean's hold on him has gone a little slack and he's snoring softly. Then, he carefully extricates himself and moves around the room as quietly as possible: clothes on, bag packed, wallet, watch, keys, phone...
He's swift and soundless and ready in a matter of minutes, which is when his intention to flee suddenly becomes hard to follow through on. Because Dean has slept through all of it, is still sleeping, curled around the cooling vacancy Cas left in the too-small bed. He looks so much younger than he is, so much like the boy Cas kissed in the grass the night before graduation. He's...content. At peace.
Castiel doesn't want to take that away from him...but he can't do this. He can't do this.
He's down the stairs, out the door, and in his car before he can talk himself down. Thankfully—or unfortunately—he doesn't meet any other early-risen Winchesters on the way. He's not sure he could have explained this to them. He's not sure he could have gone through with it.
And he has to go through with it. He has to get out of here before he lets himself get invested again, sets himself up for another heartbreak.
It takes him the entire drive from Lawrence to the airport in Kansas City to calm down, the fist clenching in his chest finally easing its grip enough for him to breathe. He turns in his rental and spends the shuttle ride to the airport in a strange haze of guilt, relief, and dread. Dean is probably awake by now. Dean probably knows by now.
He gets confirmation when his phone starts buzzing incessantly in his pocket while he’s waiting in line to change his ticket. It doesn't stop until he gets to the gate...and only then because he pulls it out and turns it off, resolutely refusing to look at the name on the screen.
The flight back east is interminable. He just wants to be back in his apartment. He wants to shower away the smell of Dean Winchester and Kansas country air, fall into his bed, and sleep for two days. Every minute in between then and now is a minute he has to think, and he really doesn't want to think about what he's done.
It's just that Dean's perfectly logical question made the whole thing feel a bit too real.
And it isn't fair, because when he was a kid he was so certain. He knew what he wanted. Now, twenty years later? Well...he still knows what he wants, what he never really stopped wanting. But the boy who believed in an ordered universe is gone, and so is his certainty that he and Dean were ever meant to be together. He isn't sure he even remembers what it felt like to know. To be sure. And the thought of getting Dean back only to lose him again is paralyzing.
He finally lets himself into his dark apartment around six. It smells like laundry detergent and lemons; he always cleans before he travels. Usually, it's nice to come home to. Now, he finds he misses the warm, perpetual-summer smells of the Winchesters' home with an intensity that takes his breath away.
He doesn't take that shower after all, just falls into bed with his clothes on and his bag tossed, unpacked, in the general direction of the closet.
He's asleep in a handful of minutes. Five hours later he's sitting up again, blinking disorientedly into the dark room and wondering what woke him.
Eventually, his tired brain registers the banging on his front door.
He squints at the clock, confused. It's just past eleven, and he can't imagine who would be beating down his door at this hour. None of his friends are expecting him back yet, and none of his neighbors are usually so rude.
Ah hell, he thinks. The neighbors. All the noise is going to wake someone's kids, and then he'll have to deal with angry parents...something he is never in the mood for.
He drags himself out of bed, trying to shake himself awake and grumbling under his breath as he shuffles through his apartment to answer the door.
His grumblings die in his throat when he opens the door and sees who's standing on the other side.
"Dean?" He says, uncomprehending. Because it can't be, but it is. Dean Winchester is standing on his doorstep, looking simultaneously so good Castiel could cry and, well...like hell. He looks like he hasn’t shaved since yesterday, his clothes are rumpled and look suspiciously like the same ones he'd taken off the night before, and his eyes have that slightly puffy look to them, like someone who's flown recently, or been crying.
But both things are impossible, because Dean has never been prone to crying. And he doesn't fly; he's terrified of flying.
Castiel lingers on all these little questions and details, obsessing over them, just a bit, doing everything he can not to let himself put them all together into the bigger picture, the obvious conclusion that's too wonderful for him to hope for. But in spite of his best efforts, the truth eventually filters through his shock.
Dean came after him.
Dean came after him, he's here, and now he's pulling Castiel in close and he doesn't even seem angry. Just relieved, if the way he exhales shakily into Cas's neck is any indication, the way the tension in him just melts away when Cas doesn't try to pull back.
"Guess I deserved that, too," he says in a voice that's trying to be nonchalant and failing spectacularly. At the sound of it, Cas finally snaps out of his fugue state and grabs onto Dean's shoulders, needing to feel the reality of him under his hands.
He's real. He's solid and real and warm and here. And it's possible that whoever runs the universe not only knows what they’re doing, but is the smartest asshole ever to exist, because it paired Castiel with the stubbornest man on the planet and he is so grateful.
Grateful, and so very confused.
"How did you--" he doesn't know how to finish the question. How did you find me? is just a reminder that he ran. He ran away, snuck out in the morning like a one night stand doing the walk of shame.
I ran, he thinks giddily, his brain seemingly caught on an endless loop. And Dean ran after me.
Castiel doesn't know what he's doing anymore. He doesn't know what to feel. But whatever resolve he felt that morning is long gone. There's no way he can keep Dean out of his life, not now. Not because Dean wouldn't leave if Cas asked him; he's pretty sure he would, if he thought Cas really meant it. But Cas doesn't think he has it in him to even say it, much less say it and mean it. Not when Dean just proved exactly how different he is from the boy Castiel knew so many years ago.
That boy held Castiel at arms’ length all their lives. He let Castiel walk away, and then ran the other direction as fast as his legs could carry him. But the man in front of him didn't do either one. He ran toward Cas, this time.
And it may not be enough to erase twenty years of uncertainty and loneliness, but it's a start. Cas will take it.
It takes him a full thirty seconds after his thoughts finally quiet to realize that Dean answered his half-asked question from before.
"I called your mom," Dean had mumbled sheepishly into the skin behind his ear.
Cas is sure if Dean weren't holding him up he would fall right over. And if he weren't feeling approximately twelve too many things at one time, he might start laughing and never be able to stop.
Dean called his mom. Who, as far as Cas knows, Dean has never said more than three words to since they were twelve years old. He would give anything to have heard that conversation.
He melts into Dean's touch then, clinging to him and silently kicking himself because really?! He got everything he ever wanted on a Sunday and left it in the dust the following Friday, and why? Because he got a little scared?
He knows, in some small still-objective corner of his mind, that it's much more complicated than he's letting it seem. There were reasons he ran, and some of them may even have been good ones.
But for right now, he's going to be irresponsible. For right now, he's going to put off examining all those good reasons and difficult questions and deep fears for another night, because it's late, and he's tired, and Dean is here, and there's only one thing he really wants to do, and it isn't talk.
He steps inside and pulls Dean with him, pulls the door closed behind them and locks it...and then presses Dean's back against it with an urgency that belies all his internal misgivings. And at first, Dean goes willingly enough, takes Cas's kisses and his hands and the hot press of his body with every bit as much enthusiasm as Cas had imagined—whenever he'd let himself imagine—he would.
But eventually he starts to push Cas away, gently, and slow things down, and Cas can feel that he's about to pull back completely and insist they talk and he can't, he can't talk right now, he can't give either of them another chance to run because if he does, he knows in his bones one of them will take it.
Dean came after him once. Would he do it again? Would Cas survive it, if Dean was the one to run?
He doesn’t know, and they don’t have enough time. And he has learned, in the last twenty years, not to be shy about what he really wants. So he leans in, even though a small voice tells him this isn't entirely fair, and whispers what he wants in Dean's ear. Feels the tension snap through Dean's body, feels the heat in those bottle-green eyes like a touch on his skin, before Dean goes loose and pliant against him. Those hands pull him close, closer than before, and Dean sets about giving Cas exactly what he asked for.
They leave a trail of clothes through the apartment to Castiel's dark bedroom. Dean lays him out across cool, clean white sheets without ever breaking their kiss, pressing Cas's wrists into the mattress on either side of his head before tangling their fingers together and refusing to let go. Cas is amused at first at the impractical arrangement, then amazed at what Dean can accomplish with lips, tongue, and teeth alone.
Cas is keening into Dean's shoulder by the time Dean sinks down on him, holding on for dear life as Dean rides him, breathing hotly into his ear and gripping him so tight Cas can feel the bruises forming under his fingertips.
He isn’t going to last long, and tries to convince himself it doesn’t matter, Dean will be there in the morning, they can have this again if they want. He feels himself tipping over that edge, and clutches at Dean in the dark, aching, desperate, hoping.
Dean swallows the sound of his own name with a kiss as Cas shakes apart beneath him.
It's quiet after, the only sounds the ticking of the clock and the distant, infrequent rumble of late night traffic. Cas lays sprawled on his back, his head pillowed on Dean's stomach, one hand tangled in one of Dean's while the other strokes the inside of Dean's thigh absently. He thinks of nothing, and for once it isn't even a struggle. He just breathes, and gets lost in the feel of soft skin under his fingers, the low tide of Dean's breath ebbing and flowing beneath him.
He's always fancied himself a thinker, but today it seems he's all about the tangible. The memorable. He wants more than thoughts, more than ephemeral feelings. He wants the things that can't be forgotten, ignored, or wished away. He wants everything Dean wants to give, for as long as he's willing to give it.
Because he doesn't know how long that will be, and if he's going to end up broken at the end of this, he might as well do a thorough job of it. Let Dean leave his fingerprints on every inch of Castiel's skin, let him leave the scent of his hair on all of Castiel's pillows, so that one day he can look back and say for certain, "he was here. He was mine. It was real."
He knows these aren't necessarily healthy reasons to sleep with someone, but they're his reasons. And since Dean doesn't ask, he doesn't share.
It's possible, he barely dares to think, that Dean doesn't need to ask because Dean still knows Castiel just as well as Castiel knows him. Damn him.
Somewhere in between late night and mid-morning, Castiel realizes that Dean stayed...and that he's made up his mind. He's afraid to trust Dean completely again, however much he might want to. But...he's also afraid of losing Dean, of losing whatever lays heavy in the air between them, crackles quietly in the silence, whispers between their wandering hands.
So he's going to try. He's going to let Dean try.
Seven years of friendship, then twenty years of radio silence? It's possible they'll figure it out before they both turn seventy.
But oddly enough, it's that thought which puts a smile on Cas's face as he finally drifts off to sleep, hand still twined with Dean's in the scant space between them.