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Be Tender With Me Now

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It had been a while since Dean had heard that name. A year or two at least. No one really brought him up anymore, he’d been gone so long.

“What?” He asked, rinsing off the plates from dinner. Dean had made the roast himself, just like Mary used to on Sunday afternoons.

“I said, why didn’t you tell me about Cas?” Sam repeated, leaning against the counter.

Dean tried to meet his brother’s eye, but found he couldn’t. Why was he bringing this up now? It happened years ago, it was long in the past. How did Sam even find out? He focused on loading the plates into the washer, his hands feeling shaky. It had been long enough, he supposed. Maybe it was time to spill.

“I didn’t know what to say, really.” Dean said quietly to the box of detergent in his hands.

“Dean, come on. All you had to say was, ‘Hey Sam, did you hear Cas was moving back to town?’, and I would say, ‘Gee Dean, I had no idea. Thanks for telling me instead of leaving me to find out from Mrs. Doolan, who I haven’t lived next to for three years’.”

Hang on.

“What?” Dean was squeezing the detergent so hard at this point that the box was starting to crumple beneath his fingers.

“Really?” Sam asked, not trying to hide his eye roll.

“No, repeat that, Castiel is moving back? To here?” Dean asked, suddenly finding it very hard to focus on anything except how his brain was sounding all kinds of alarm bells.  

“Yeah,” Sam said, frowning, “Wait, you didn’t know?”

Dean shook his head.

“How would I know, I don’t talk to him.”

“Then what did you think I was talking about?” Sam asked.

Dean shrugged, closing the dishwasher and pressing Start, so that he didn’t have to look his brother in his stupid, earnest face.

“Okay. Well anyway, apparently he’s moving back at the end of the month, just down the street from my old place.”

“Cool. I guess it would suit him now, living on the fancy side of town – Master’s degree and all that.”

Sam looked at him with a small, confused frown.

“Dean, he got his doctorate.”

“Did he?” Dean swallowed awkwardly, shuffling back to the table to grab his beer.

“Yeah. How come you don’t know this?”

“I told you, I don’t talk to him,” Dean said.

He aimed his beer for his mouth and missed by an inch. He cleared his throat and put it back down, giving up. He still hadn’t looked at Sam.

Sam folded his arms across his chest, leaning back against the counter. Dusk was settling in behind him, and the light came through the window in a way that made him look older than he was.

“You guys were inseparable. You even talked about moving with him to Sacramento. You’re telling me you just... Lost touch? With Cas?

Dean said nothing, but fiddled with the label on his bottle.

“You got something to tell me?” Sam asked, shifting gears.

“Nope,” Dean replied – a bit too quickly.

“Okay,” Sam said, watching his brother closely, “Then why are you acting like I found your stash of man-porn?”

Dean tried to act natural, to casually lean against the dining table and scratch his chin like he was slightly confused, but not at all affected by the current conversation. Instead he lost his balance, knocked his beer bottle off the table, and went bright red.

“Smooth.” Sam said.

“Fuck off.” Dean grumbled, picking up the spilled bottle before tossing down some paper towels.

“Okay, can do - but first you need to tell me what’s going on.” Sam said, calm as anything.

Dean sighed. He rubbed a hand over his eyes and decided to sit, leaving the spill for later.

“We had a disagreement.”

“What about?”

He finally chanced a look at his brother, who had moved away from the counter in order to pull out a chair next to Dean.

“I mean. There was an issue.”

“Oh okay, that really clears things up.”

Dean sighed, rest his forehead on his palm, “It’s, uh... Embarrassing.”

“Just say it, like ripping off a band-aid.”

“Okay, so. Cas is generally considered to be an attractive guy, you know, by a lot of people. And I...”

“You were attracted to him.”

“I mean I wouldn’t choose those words personally, but I suppose some would describe the situation that way.”

“Okay, so what was the issue.”

“It may or may not have been that he found out about the particular situation that you mentioned.”

“He found out you were attracted to him?”

“Your words, not mine.”

“Okay, so what’s the problem. Wait, did he have a problem with it?” Sam asked, his voice taking on a sharp tone.

“No, no. No problem. He didn’t really care. Said he was flattered.”

“Oh,” Said Sam, “Well that’s okay.”

“Is it?” Dean said bitterly, mostly to himself.

“Oh,” Sam said, realization appearing on his face the way that dawn creeps in after night, “Well, shit,” he added,  running his thumb along a crease in the table cloth, “What, and then he just left for grad school and you stopped speaking to him?”

“Hm. No. It was just before I started college.  He left two years later.”

“Dean!” Sam said, staring at him wide eyed, “Why didn’t you say anything? I could have been there for you, or distracted you, something!”

Dean smiled at his brother, a small thing.

“Nah, it was fine. Didn’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill.”

“So it was just ‘Hey buddy, I think you’re cute’?”

Dean shifted in his seat, not wanting to divulge the extent of his crush.

“Uh, yeah. ”

“Wow, so you really liked him then. I’m sorry, man.”

“It’s fine, it was a long time ago,” Dean said, rubbing at his chin, not meeting Sam’s eyes.

“Yeah, but he’s moving back here, and you just said you had feelings for him.” Sam said, looking about ready to call in an emotional support squad.

“I didn’t say I had feelings for him!  I don’t have feelings about stuff except the car, and my own ass. And your ass too sometimes, but don’t tell anyone I said that.”

“Because that’s healthy,” Sam said, rolling his eyes.

“Honestly Sam, it’ll be fine,” Dean replied, waving him off.

“If you’re sure,” Sam seemed hesitant.

“I’m sure. Go home to your girl, it’s nearly ten.”

“Okay, Dean.”
 
  Once Sam had left, Dean sat down on the old couch in the living room of his family home.  The stairs were just to his left, the ones Mary had fallen down. He was never sure whether to feel more creeped out or reassured by the knowledge that she had died a handful of feet from where he sat in the evening to watch TV. It was a bit morbid, but people passed away at home all the time, Dean figured. And living here, alone in the house where his mother died and his father ran away from was a lot cheaper than finding a shitty apartment to live in by himself.  

Dean scratched at his chin, gazing blankly at the photos on the mantle. The frames and their contents hadn’t changed since before Mary had fallen. John didn’t like things in the house changing, and Dean was happy to let him have his way. Not that John was home all the often. The last Dean had heard, his father had gone up to Cleveland to do some seasonal work. Construction, or maybe something to do with all the farms up there. Dean wasn’t sure, and if John wanted to hide in corners of the world and pretend he was someone who wasn’t weighed down by grief, that was fine by Dean.
He made a mental note to try call his father on Saturday, and went upstairs to get ready for bed.
 
 ____________________________________________________________________________
 
 
To: DeanW6769@gmail.com
From: Castiel.Novak@gmail.com
09/03/2008
 
Hi Dean,
 
I just made it to Sacramento! The drive up is so beautiful; we should definitely do it sometime. My apartment is old and dirty, but the campus is so leafy and full of sunshine. I really like it here.

I hope you had a good summer with your uncle Bobby.
 
I’ll call you tomorrow morning!
 
Love,
Cas

____________________________________________________________________________
 
To: DeanW6769@gmail.com
From: Castiel.Novak@gmail.com
09/10/2008
 
Dean,
 
It’s weirdly sunny for September, not that I’m complaining. Classes are starting soon, and I’ve been offered a job as a TA in the humanities department, for the undergraduates. I’m so excited!  I’m trying to narrow down what my thesis could be. But enough about that.
 
How are you? And Sam? When does your school year start?
 
Let me know when you’re free to chat, I don’t want to bother you while you’re out grocery shopping again. I have a lot to tell you, and I want to hear what’s new at home.
 
Love,
Cas

____________________________________________________________________________  

To: Castiel.Novak@gmail.com
From: DeanW6769@gmail.com
09/13/2008
 
Hi Cas,

Sorry, I’ve been busy with stuff. Good to hear that you’re liking Sacramento and that things are working out. Everything is still the same here – it’s barely been two weeks since you left. I should be free to chat this weekend, but we’ll see what happens.

Make sure you talk to people, and make some new friends.

Dean

____________________________________________________________________________


The next morning, Dean went about his day as he usually would, despite all the mental effort put into wondering what Castiel was doing right now. Did he still shower in the morning and then completely ignore his hair, or had he learned about personal grooming standards since he left?

By the time Dean got into work, he’d wound himself up a little bit, but perhaps that could be blamed on the bad night’s sleep. Dean didn’t mind his job so much. He worked at a coffeeshop downtown (a cute little place, Ellen had named it ‘The Depot’), in the lobby of an office tower.

“That you, Dean?”

“Morning, Ellen.” He said, darting around the counter and into the back of the shop.

“Can you come in here a sec?”

“Sure, what’s up?” He poked his head into her small office.

“We have someone doing a trial today at two, and there’s a delivery of coffee cups scheduled for sometime between eight and eleven. Also that guy from the accounting place is coming in for an order of muffins around lunch, alright?”

“Yessir.” Dean said, giving her a smile as he put on his apron.

“Dean?” Ellen said.

“Yeah?”

Ellen just looked at him for a minute

“I heard about that boy moving back to town.”

Dean sighed, suddenly feeling tired.

“Jeez, Ellen... Was I the only one who didn’t know?”

“Are you gonna be okay?”

Dean shrugged, closely inspecting the paint on the doorway in front of him.

“Go on then, get to work.” She said, with a sigh.

He nodded at Ellen before leaving her office, going back out behind the counter.

“Morning, Handsome!”

“That’s workplace harassment, Charlie”.

“I just can’t help myself, you’re too attractive.”

“You’re gay.”

“That’s homophobic.”

Dean rolled his eyes and started wiping the counter.

“Busy this morning?” He asked. He started at seven, but Charlie usually opened at five thirty. Ellen came and went as she pleased.

“It was okay. Not too many people.

“Yeah, and now it’s rush hour,” Dean said, his brow furrowed.

“Stop grumping, it’ll be fine. The day goes faster when it’s busy.”

Dean hummed in agreement, not wanting a fast day. He wanted the next month to be as slow as possible, because he knew that once Castiel was in town, Dean would be constantly keeping an eye out for him. Not in hopes of running into him, but so that he could avoid him with one hundred percent accuracy.

“Are you excited about tonight?” Charlie asked.  

“‘Course I am. I love taking my lesbian friend out for Valentine’s Day dinner” He replied, setting up the coffee machine the way he liked it.

“Come on, it’ll be fun!” She said.

“I was being serious! If I ever get married, I’m still spending Valentine’s with you.”

“And what if I get married?”

“You’re kicking me to the curb? Heartbreaker.” Dean said, smiling as his first customer of the day walked in.

Dean finished work at the coffee shop around one, and swung by his second job at Jo’s house to check his schedule for tomorrow. He was home by five thirty, and got ready for his ‘date’ with Charlie.

“Hey gorgeous, you need a ride?” He called out the open window, pulling up to her house.

“A mysterious, handsome man, stealing me away into the night? Count me in.” Charlie replied, opening the door and pretending to swoon as she dropped herself down into the passenger seat.

She had a yellow dress on that clashed with her hair, but she still looked beautiful. Dean told her as much.

The drive to Fable was quiet. Charlie watched the city go by outside her window. Dean tried hard to think about anything other than where Cas was tonight, and if he was with anyone. He let himself wallow for a few minutes, feeling sorry for himself, before he decided to pull his head in. He didn’t say much until they’d been seated at the table he’d reserved last month.

“So,” Charlie said, “What’s up, Buttercup?”

“Nothin’,” Dean replied, smiling, “I’m at dinner with a beautiful girl and love is in the air.”

“Gross.”

“That hurts my feelings, Charlotte.”

“Shut your pretty mouth. Are you getting a drink?”

Dean had a look at the menu, thinking it over.

“I’ll have a beer,” He said, “But then I’ll switch to water. Someone’s gotta drive your drunk ass home.”

“Great, so the champagne is all for me?” Charlie asked, her eyes twinkling.

“Duh.”

After the waiter brought Dean’s beer with a glass to pour it into, and Charlie’s bottle of Champagne in a bucket of ice, he took their order, and then left them alone.

“So. What’s new with you?” Charlie asked.

Dean shrugged.

“Not much. What’s new with you?” He said. He couldn’t quite meet her eye, and instead focused on making sure his knife was lined up perfectly with his fork.

“Hmm,” Charlie said, her eyes narrowed, “That sounds like something someone with news they didn’t want to share would say.”

“I don’t have news,” Dean insisted, trying to look like he was telling the truth.

“Don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not lying!”

“Yes, and we’re a couple of heterosexuals out for a romantic evening. Spill the gossip, Winchester.”

“I, uhh. I don’t want to talk about it,” He tried.

“Don’t care. Spill.”

Dean sighed. He did want to talk about it, of course he did, but vulnerability wasn’t one of his strong suits. He chewed his lip, thinking.

Deep breath.

“Castiel is moving back to town. Apparently.”  

Charlie looked at him for a moment, her eyebrow raised.

“Castiel, the straight guy who broke your heart Castiel?”

“He didn’t--” Dean sputtered.

“Castiel, the guy who was very straight and had nothing to do with you or your feelings?”

“Um. The one and only.” Dean said, shifting nervously in his seat.

“Wow,” Charlie said, picking up her champagne, “You really don’t have any news.”

Dean watched as she rolled her eyes and chugged her glass of bubbles.

“Classy. It’s not a big deal, Charlie.”

“Shut up. Level with me here. You have to be honest, we’re on a love date of romance.”

“Okay,” Dean said, taking a second to collect himself, “Sam told me he’d heard that Cas-- uh, that Castiel would be here by the end of the month.”

“Well that’s, what, two weeks away?” Charlie said, “What are you going to do?”

“Nothing. Avoid him.”

“It’s been a long time, maybe things are different now.”     

Dean studied the label on his beer bottle, not trusting himself to talk.

“Dean, I’m serious. What if you run into him,  you’re just going to give him the silent treatment?” Charlie asked, leaning toward him over the table.  

“I don’t know. It’s not a big deal.” He said.

“Not a big deal? Oh well as long as we’re blatantly lying to each other, I think you should know that I’m pregnant, and Sam is the baby-daddy.”

“Mazel tov.”

“Oh my god,” Charlie said, completely exasperated.

“What, Charlie? What do you want me to do? Be his friend? Kiss his ass? There’s no point.”

“Why not? You were friends once. So you asked him out and he turned you down. I know you’re emotionally stunted, but it’s been, what, eight years? Rejection sucks dude, but it’s time to move on.”

Dean grit his teeth. This is what he got for keeping everything locked up inside, neat and tidy, he supposed. Maybe she was right, and all he needed was to get this thing off of his chest, this big secret. Maybe then he’d be fine once March came and Castiel was within fifty miles of him again. Wouldn’t feel sick every time he imagined running into him somewhere around town.

“It wasn’t--” He started, “I didn’t just ask him out for a drink.”

“What do you mean?” Charlie asked, after a pause.

Dean sighed.

“You remember how we met?” He asked.

“Yeah, at the university library. You were working there right?”

“Right. That’s where I met Cas too.” Dean said.

He remembered the exact moment he saw Cas. He’d been sorting poetry books and this tall, striking man had walked past him, spared him a small smile. Cas had been twenty years old then. Newly liberated from his over-zealous, god-fearing family, and ready to start college, even if it was a little later than most. He loved the library, Dean remembered, all the access to piles and piles information that his parents banned from their house. Dean had been eighteen, and so impressed by his handsome older friend who got to live on campus and go to classes.

“You were really into him, I remember that.” Charlie said, looking at him, mildly confused.

“It was...” He paused, willing himself to say it, “More. More than that.”

“Oh.” She said, quiet and soft.

“Yeah,” Dean said, chewing his lip, steeling himself to say the worst of it,  “I told him about it,” He managed to get out, not looking anywhere but at his placemat.

“Dean,” Charlie reached out to touch his hand, “You were very brave, okay? That takes guts.”

Dean nodded, still not meeting her eye.

“Remember what he was like? It wasn’t really talked about in his home, growing up. He thought homosexual was a curse word,” She said, not unkindly.

“He thought I meant that I loved him like a friend,” Dean said, voice catching in his throat, “He said he loved me too, and it was the best two seconds of my life.”

“Oh, honey,” Charlie said, and there was pity in her voice.

“But then he didn’t quite understand,” Dean continued, needing to push through, to get it all out, “And I had to sort of... Take his hand. Tell him I wanted to kiss him, and hold him in a way that friends don't. Know him biblically, as it were.”

Charlie took a moment to just look at him, and he felt the embarrassment beginning to swirl in his chest. He pulled his hand away from hers and took another deep pull on his beer. Sharing wasn’t working, he felt miserable.

“So what happened?” Charlie asked.  

Dean hesitated, scrubbing a hand over his mouth.

“He didn’t really get it,” Dean shrugged, “From what he could see, I’d taken girls on dates, kissed them at parties. I wasn’t ‘Gay’. Maybe he thought I was kidding, or trying to scare him. I don’t know. We went back to being buddies, and that was that.”

“I’m sorry,” Charlie said, looking sad. Looking like she pitied him.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Dean replied, feeling uncomfortable with the weight of what he just revealed, “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Okay, I think our entrees are coming out, so I’ll bargain with you,” She started, “No more talking about this tonight. We eat until we feel sick and I get drunk, that’s the rules.”

“Okay,” Dean agreed, watching the waiter put down his plate of buffalo chicken wings.

“Good. Now, let’s talk about me, and all my romantic prospects,” Charlie said, picking up her soup spoon.

Dean gave her a tight smile and prepared to listen. He thought he’d feel better after telling her, treating it like an old story.

Of course, he didn’t tell her that he tried again. That he went home to his mother and cried his eyes out onto her pillow while she stroked his hair with a shaky hand. That she talked him into having resolve and not to give up on someone he loved. That he spent his two years at college involved with the GSA, and asked Castiel to attend the Pride parade that he had helped organize. That he went on dates with boys he didn’t like, just to get the point across. That, nearly two years later, he’d sat by Clinton Lake with Castiel as the sun set on Graduation day.

“You looked great up there, you know,” He’d said, as they dangled their feet off the dock and into the cool lake below.

“Thank you,” Castiel had smiled at him. They were sitting so close together. Their feet keep catching in the water as they’d swung them gently back and forward. The wind swirled in the trees behind them.

“Really, the cap and gown... You were impressive.”

Castiel had ducked his head, looking pleased.  They sat there, so close, watching the gentle waves of the lake rolling in towards them, splashing softly into the wood below.

“I’m moving to Sacramento in the fall,” Castiel had said then, looking out across the water, “I got accepted into that master’s program I wanted.”

“Oh,” Dean’s heart had clenched in his chest, but he had smiled, “That’s great. I’m so proud of you, Cas.”

Castiel smiled at him again. “I’ll miss you,” He’d said to Dean, the soft pinks and oranges from the tail end of the sunset reflecting off the water, making him look like something out of a dream. Dean felt like he couldn’t breathe.

“I’ll miss you too,” He’d said. Then he’d reached out his hand, so carefully. He’d placed it over Castiel’s, curling his own fingers into his friend’s palm. Cas had looked at him still. Dean had leaned across the small gap between them, and gently pressed his lips to Castiel’s, just a little, just for a second.

“I love you,” He had spoken so softly, “I really do.”

Castiel had squeezed his hand then, and looked back towards the horizon, the sun almost completely gone, it’s golden hues fading slowly with it.

“I know, Dean,” He had replied, just as quiet, “I understand now”.

He pulled his hand away then, placing it back in his lap with the other. Dean pulled back, out of Castiel’s space, tucking his own hands under his arms. The breeze from across the lake had picked up then, causing him to shiver. His feet were getting cold.

“I’ll still miss you,” Castiel said then.

“Okay.” Dean had replied, eyes closed.

“I’m sorry,” Castiel said, sounding hesitant, “I know this must hurt...”

Dean shook his head, swallowing against the lump forming at the back of his throat. “It’s fine, Cas. Forget about it,”.

“I’m not—,” Cas had sighed, looking pained, “I care deeply for you Dean, but I’m not the same as you. I don’t... Feel the way you do. About men.”

Dean had nodded then, choking slightly in an effort to stay composed. He hadn’t wanted to cry there, in front of Castiel. He had pulled his feet up and onto the dock.

“See you later,” He’d said,  shoving his socks in his pocket and his shoes under his arm. His throat had felt so thick. He had quickly walked the length of the dock, back toward to solid ground, with the waning light, and Castiel, behind him. Castiel had said nothing.

He never told anyone about that.

____________________________________________________________________________

To: DeanW6769@gmail.com
From: Castiel.Novak@gmail.com
09/14/2008
 
Dean!
It’s great to hear from you. I’ll definitely try to give you a call on the weekend.
I’ve met with the other TA’s in my department, and they’re all really great. Don’t worry, you taught me how to play nice, remember? :)

There’s this one guy, Garth, he’s so funny. Reminds me a lot of you, although not as muscular. In fact, not muscular at all. To be honest, the resemblance is entirely non-physical, unless you count the fact that you both exist in human bodies, but I digress.

The other guy, Marv, is a total dick, but luckily we work different days. There’s also a nice woman named Meg, and she’s offered to show me around the city, so that I can get my bearings. The people here are very kind.

How are your mom and Sam? How’s college?

Love,
Cas.

____________________________________________________________________________
 
To: Castiel.Novak@gmail.com
From: DeanW6769@gmail.com
09/18/2008
 
Hey Cas,

Won’t be able to call this weekend, Uncle Bobby needs extra hands in his salvage yard. Had a big lump of a car crash dropped on his door step and we gotta move it.

Sam’s good, college is going well for him. My mom is doing ok.

Garth is probably a great guy. Or a murderer.

Meg sounds nice.

Dean.

____________________________________________________________________________


Dean tried to ignore the end of February as though it wasn’t rapidly approaching. He went to work, kept his head down and got through the days. Sam kept asking if he was alright, which Dean worked hard to assure his brother that he was, trying to mask the fact that his insides felt like lead snakes. They were well into March before Sam brought ‘It’ up, ruining Dean’s lunch-break.

“Do you want to come over later for the game?” Sam asked, leaning one elbow on their table at Café Alta.

“What game?” He asked. Sam had been trying to make increasingly vague plans involving Dean going to his house which was nearer the house that Castiel had probably moved into already.  

“Uh... I’m sure there’s one on”, said Sam, with all the confidence of someone talking out of their ass.

“No thanks.”

“You can’t just not come over ever again because Castiel lives kind-of, sort-of nearby, Dean!”

“Oh, Castiel moved in huh?” Dean said nonchalantly, feigning interest in his fork, “You’d think they clean the cutlery between customers,” he muttered.

“Yeah, him and this other guy, emptied a huge truck worth of stuff into the green house on the corner of Maple and Lance, you know the one.”

“Well, there goes the neighborhood.”

“Come on, man,” Sam said, abandoning his salad bowl, “Are you still into him or something?”

“Why would you ask me that?” Dean frowned.

“Uh, because it’s been like twelve decades and you’re acting so weird about this whole situation.”

“Am not.”

“You are too! You can’t avoid an entire chunk of town just because he lives there now.”

“I’m not, I just don’t want to go to your stupid house.”

“Dean.”

“Samantha.”

Sam sighed and lowered his voice.

“Be real with me here, how bad did you have it?”

“Okay, you know what? I don’t have to--” Dean cut himself off, standing up from the table and digging out his wallet, “I’ll see you later Sam,” He said, tossing two twenties down next to his empty plate and heading for the exit.

“Later at my house for a sports game?” Sam called after him.

Dean flipped him the bird and pushed open the door to the parking lot. He didn’t appreciate the constant questioning from all sides. He didn’t feel things in relation to Castiel, and he assured himself that he hadn’t for a long time. It was done with, he was sure, that all Castiel was to him anymore was a sense of youthful longing, and a few minutes of pondering during bigger holidays - Where was Castiel for Thanksgiving, was he having a nice Christmas, would he know Dean was thinking of him on his thirtieth birthday? That was all, and Dean was happy to keep that to himself.
 
It was hard to distance yourself from someone so close to you, but he knew it had been for the best. Knew by the way his chest hurt a little every time he’d see Castiel look at someone else. The way his heart sped up when they were alone together in the quiet hours of the night, when everything was soft and sleepy and sweet. The way that had all stopped when Castiel had left, and Dean had told himself that that was it, they would never speak again if he was lucky. Everyone asked him for updates on his friend, and he had to kind of make it up or just shrug, until they got the hint and stopped asking.

Dean and Castiel had been as thick as thieves, once. Which made it really frustrating now that every man and his dog was letting him know they’d seen Castiel around town. Becky saw him at the grocery store, Lisa saw him getting a new library card, Chuck saw him at the diner down near the hardware store (Not the one on the way back from the cemetery), Ash saw him everywhere due to his predilection for hacking into traffic cameras and watching the world go by - and he told Dean as much.

“You’re a creep, Ash.”

“Let me know if you want tabs on him.”

“I’m calling the police.”

“The Police don’t want to know, and didn’t hear anything about it,” Said Victor, sitting across from him at the Buttercut Bar and Restaurant on a Friday night.

“About what?” Ash asked, winking at Victor before turning to leave.

“Get outta here.” Victor said, rolling his eyes as he reached for his beer, “That kid is gonna get me in trouble one day.”

“Maybe if you hire him as your state approved hacker, you wouldn’t have this problem.” Dean said, picking at his fries.

“I’ve tried! He said that would take all the fun out of it. Likes making me let him do it for free, except then there’s way more paperwork involved.”

“True. And I guess the mullet wouldn’t be allowed down at the station.”

“Hell no, not while Jody’s running the joint.”

“Not while anyone’s running the joint.”

“Cheers to that,” Victor grumbled, lifting his beer in a mock salute.

“Alright time to chug, we have to meet Sam and Bela.”

“If she’s even there.”

“Look,” Dean said, reaching for his wallet, “If there’s any chance he managed to drag Bela into a bowling alley, I’m going to show up to see it, even if the place is overrun with children. Especially if it’s overrun by children.”

“Fair enough,” Said Victor, “I’ll pay the tab, you go get your girl running for me.”

“I swear you’re having an affair with her.”

“What can I say, she’s a beauty.”

“Stop romancing my car.”

“Never.”

    Dean walked to the door, sending Jo a wink on his way outside. It was chillier out here, away from the warmth of all the bodies crammed inside. He shoved his hands into his pockets, and went to start the car.
    
    
    They arrived slightly late to the bowling alley, held up by Victor needing to say goodbye to the blond he’d met on the way in for a prolonged period of time. They pulled up outside, and Dean could see Sam through the door, leaning against the wall next to Bela, who was wearing the opposite of practical -  heels and a tight dress.

“You look lovely, Bela,” He said, pushing open the outer set of doors to the alley.

“Obviously.” She said.

“You’re really gonna wear a Little Black Dress to go bowling?”

“Yes. It matches the shoes.”

“They give you shoes to wear in there, Bela.” Victor said.

“Not those disgusting clown shoes, I’ve bought a clean, new pair.”

“Wow, you must love bowling a lot to invest in your own gear,” Dean said innocently, moving through to the foyer.

She wrinkled her nose at him, while Sam huffed a laugh.

It took Dean a while to understand what Sam saw in Bela. Obviously she was beautiful, but she could sometimes be kind of a bitch. Dean hoped she was mostly joking. To be fair, his brother did have potential to be a huge bitch if he’d gone too long without a poached egg or some lawn juice, much to Dean’s dismay.

“It’s not lawn juice, Dean, it’s got good stuff in it like spinach and bok choy and kale,” Sam had said, the first time Dean brought out the lawn juice argument.

“Sounds like grass to me.”

“I don’t eat grass, asshole.”

“Are you sure, you’re pretty much a horse anyway.”

“Yes, he is.” Bela had added with a wink.

“That’s- Okay. That’s disgusting. People can die from that, you know.”

“Ahh, but what a way to go,” Bela said, smiling as she wrapped an arm around Sam’s waist.

 They’d been together for almost two years, and while Dean only recently figured out how they clicked, he was glad they did. It seemed almost effortless. Bela gave his brother’s ego a boost, was a good role model in terms of real confidence, and Dean suspected that she enjoyed having someone that could challenge her and keep her humble.

Well, as humble as possible.

 “Maybe we can come bowling again soon? So you can get your money’s worth of your new shoes.” Sam said.

“These shoes are going in the rubbish the minute we’re done here, do you understand?”

“Yeah, ok.” Sam said, smiling as he headed further inside.

“Oh my god,” Dean said as he followed his brother, “Is it Disco night? I think it might be disco night.”

The alley had about fifteen lanes, and was lit up entirely in black light and fluorescent paint. There was a small mirror ball above each lane.

“I’m leaving,” Bela said, stopping abruptly at the sight.

“No you’re not,” Sam said, steering her by the elbow to the counter.

Disco bowling was apparently quite popular, as they had to wait for a few minutes while a group of kids finished off their last frame. Before changing into his shoes, Dean got the first round of beers.

“Didn’t you just have beers with Victor?” Sam asked.

“Those were dinner beers, these are bowling beers,” Dean explained.

“Right,” Sam said, taking his beer with a raised eyebrow.

“You look incredible in your clown shoes, Bela,” Victor said as they were setting up their names in the system.

“Victor, I’ve put your name down as ‘Wanker’ is that okay?” Bela asked sweetly.

“No.”

“Well, too late anyway.”

“Oh okay,” Victor said, “And what’s your game name, ‘She-devil’?”

“I think it’s ‘Clown Queen’,” Dean added.

“We only get six letters,” Bela said.

“Okay, how about this,” Dean said as he approached the keyboard and elbowed her aside, before hitting some buttons and pressing enter, “You’re playing is ‘jfkgl’.”

“Thank you Dean, I think it has a nice ring to it.” Bela replied, sounding entirely uninterested.

“No problem Be--” Dean did a double take, “You’re entering me in as ‘bigdik’? Thanks.”

“That’s Sam, obviously.”

“Oh okay.” Dean said, nodding as he put his own name in, “Then I’ll play as ‘bgrdik’, because the public has a right to the truth.”

Bela snorted, and swanned over to where ‘bigdik’ was sitting.

They took their time playing, Sam and Viktor having a huge discussion on bowling stances. Bela was actively trying to get gutterballs.

“So,” Bela said, sitting down next to Dean on the grimy faux leather seats, “Sam told me I’m not to ask you about the idiot that moved in next to that loopy old woman.”

“Mrs. Doolan?”

“Yes, that’s the one. Why do we have to do her gardening, can’t she pay someone?” Bela griped, “Anyway. Sam said that you used to know her new neighbor?”

“Sure. We used to be friends. A long time ago.”

“Right.” Bela said, stretching the word out as she studied his face.

“Good chat,” Dean said, moving to stand up.

“Dean,” Bela said, placing a hand on his arm, to keep him from leaving, “Look. I won’t say this again, but I like you. You’re an idiotic lout, but you’re a good brother and a good man. This person, this guy you used to know... If he couldn’t see that, then he’s not worth your time. Let it go. He never deserved you anyway.”

She said it so seriously, so honestly, Dean didn’t quite know how to react.

“Thanks, Bela,” He managed. This was probably the most earnest she’d ever been with him, he thought.

“No problem,” She said, with a small, friendly smile, “Looks like it’s my turn again.”

She stood, sauntering off to take her turn. She threw a gutterball and promptly moved towards Sam, leaning up to kiss his cheek.

Later on, while driving home, Dean thought about how far he'd come since Cas had left. The answer, he realised, was not far at all. He was still single. He worked two part time jobs with no chance of upward movement.  He was a barista, and a glorified receptionist who sometimes went on house calls. Working for Jo’s handyman company was okay, he figured. Sometimes when he went out to fix a drain-pipe, or clear gutters, the clients made him a coffee. Sometimes they weren't home at all and he got to work in peace.

He was happy for Sam, with his position in the law firm and his long term relationship with Bela. He wondered if they would get married. She wasn't so bad, it turned out. And she made Sam happy.

He kicked his shoes off at the door and then went straight to his room to climb into bed. John was either already home, or wouldn't be back until morning, so he turned off all the lights on his way up the stairs.


He was watching the news the next morning, while sitting at the small desk in Jo’s front room. There was an old cordless phone next to him and a tv on the dresser against the far wall.

“The story of Missing Person Lacey Gibson is still on-going. If you know anything, please contact the local police department.”

Dean muted the TV and reached for his coffee. He’d had enough depressing news first thing in the morning. The girl was only fifteen and had been gone for two weeks already. He knew that there was only a small chance of finding her alive, but everyone in town was hoping for a happy ending anyway.


He had an appointment later that afternoon to clear some old branches off the lawn for a retiree, but otherwise he was getting paid eight dollars an hour to sit on his ass and watch the phone while Ash built custom computer rigs in the other room. Not that he minded. If he was needed at Ellen’s at any point, it would be best that he wasn't tired out.

The phone finally rang just after lunch, and Dean answered it on the second ring.

“Good afternoon, Harvelle Handyman and Tech Central, the name's Dean, how can I help?”

“Yes, good afternoon. I'm looking for someone to hook up our television to the cable? It was just turned on and the idiot from the company did it wrong. We don't want to wait another month for someone to come out, so we're hoping you can help”.

“Sure, name the time and place and we can take care of that for you”.

He made them an appointment for the next morning.


 

John was home that evening, and well on his was to getting plastered.

“You alright, Dad?” Dean asked him.

“Fine,” was the answer.

“You had anything to eat?”

“Nah.”

“Okay, I'm gonna make something, I'll bring you a plate,” he said, heading toward the kitchen.

It only took about fifteen minutes to make some pasta and heat up a can of chopped tomatoes to go on top. He took two bowls to the table where John sat, slumped over his glass of cheap whiskey.

He ate quietly, watching John stir his food around the bowl, dropping most of it on the table or his lap instead of getting it in his mouth. Maybe he should have cooked something easier to skewer, Dean supposed.

“How was work?” He asked.

“Fine,” John mumbled.

“Did you go today?”

“Yep.” He slurred back, but Dean wasn't so sure. Usually he didn't bother getting into his pajamas before bed if he'd been to work that day.

“Okay, Dad”.

He washed the dishes and wiped down the table. He managed to get his father over to the couch in front of the television, which gave him a chance to hide the whiskey. He threw out bottles of the stuff all the time but John started getting new bottles each day after work, expecting there to be none at home.

Dean sighed, putting the bottle at the back of a cabinet behind a sack of potatoes. Hopefully John would just sleep on the couch. Usually he didn't work on weekends, so Dean was hoping his father would just lay on the couch all day snoring, while he went out to fix some guy’s cable. Whatever. Maybe he'd be cute.

Dean wasn't sure how he felt about Cas being back in town. He told himself it was fine and that he didn't care, but he also spent a lot of time wondering where Cas was and what he was like now. Dean hadn't seen him in close to ten years and maybe he wasn't even the same person now. Maybe he'd changed into someone Dean no longer recognized.

He tried not to wonder so much, but he often couldn't help it. He didn't have much going on in his days, if he was honest.



Dean walked up the paved path to the house on the corner of Maple and Lance. The address rang a bell for some reason, but he couldn’t place it. He knocked on the door and waited.

“Coming!” Came a voice from inside.

The door was opened by a dark haired man who was about his height.

“Hi, are you Dean? I'm Dick Roman. Come in.”

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Roman.”

“I’m sure. The living room is just through to the right, the one with the TV.”

“Thanks, Mr. Roman. I’ll go ahead and take a look at it.”

“Great. I have to jet but if you're finished before my partner gets home, just lock the door on your way out.” Mr. Roman said, fixing his cufflinks.
 
“Sure, no problem. I shouldn't be too long.”

“Great. You can give the invoice straight to him if he's home, or just leave it on the table. And don’t touch anything you don’t have to,” Mr. Roman said, leaving the room without a glance in Dean’s direction.

“Okay,” Dean said. What an asshole.

He listened to the man leave, before moving through to the living room. It was a nice house. Yellow walls, lots of sunlight. The couch looked soft and cozy, and there was a knitted blanket slung over the back.

Framed articles lined the walls, and on closer inspection, Dean saw that they were all written by one ‘Richard Roman’. So the guy was a journalist. A successful one, by the looks of things. No wonder he and his partner lived on the good side of town.

Dean turned back to the mess of cables and got to work. The problem was fairly simple - The cable company had brought everything needed for installation, but had just put it together all wrong. Dean sorted it out quickly and then wrote an invoice, which he signed and left on the table by the front door, making sure to touch as many things as he needed to.

He locked the door behind him, and headed back to the office.

____________________________________________________________________________
 
To: DeanW6769@gmail.com
From: Castiel.Novak@gmail.com
10/17/2008
 
Hi Dean,

Haven’t spoken in a while, how are you? You must be pretty busy with school at the moment.

Things are going well with Meg, we’ve been on a few dates now. She said she’d like to come with me for the holidays, so I’ll have to sort somewhere for the both of us to stay. I don’t think my mother would be pleased to have us sharing a bed under her roof, so I thought maybe we could stay with you during thanksgiving? Or even just Meg, if my mother gets too annoyed about me not being in the house… I don’t know.

Tell me what’s new with you?

Love,
Cas.

____________________________________________________________________________
 
To: DeanW6769@gmail.com
From: Castiel.Novak@gmail.com
10/30/2008
 
Hi Dean, I really need to confirm with you for Thanksgiving, as we have to book our flights.

Meg and I are officially dating now, so she’s really excited to come and meet everyone back home. She’s heard a lot about you! She’s also doing an undergraduate in psychology, so she’s excited to discuss it with you.

Let me know A.S.A.P.

Love,
Cas.

____________________________________________________________________________
 
To: Castiel.Novak@gmail.com
From: DeanW6769@gmail.com
11/02/2008
 
Cas –

My dad’s home for Thanksgiving, and he’s fighting with my mom, so the spare room is taken. Sorry.

And I don’t go to school anymore, so I can’t entertain your girlfriend for you.

Happy Holidays.

Dean.

____________________________________________________________________________

To: DeanW6769@gmail.com
From: Castiel.Novak@gmail.com
11/02/2008


What? Why aren’t you going to school? When did this happen? Why didn’t you tell me?

Also thanks for trying. I’m glad your dad will be with you for the holidays for once, you deserve to have some family time.

That’s not good about them fighting. Tell your mom Happy Holidays from me, and I hope you have a good time together.
 
Love,
Cas.

____________________________________________________________________________
 
To: Castiel.Novak@gmail.com
From: DeanW6769@gmail.com
11/15/2008
 
Sam got accepted into Stanford. Both of us at college is too expensive.

Mom says happy holidays to you too.
 
____________________________________________________________________________
 
To: DeanW6769@gmail.com
From: Castiel.Novak@gmail.com
11/16/2008
 
Dean,

I’ve been trying to call you, but you won’t pick up.

Sam got approved for a bunch of scholarships, didn’t he? Surely he can take out a loan. We talked about this, you can’t sacrifice things you want or need just because you think he deserves it more. Which is untrue, you both deserve to get a good education.

Please just give me a call.

Let me know you’re okay.

Love,
Cas

___________________________________________________________________________

To: Castiel.Novak@gmail.com
From: DeanW6769@gmail.com
11/16/2008

 
I didn’t tell you because it’s none of your business. Leave it alone.
 
____________________________________________________________________________