Dean had never spent all that much time in the coffee shop across from his apartment building before now. It’s always been there, convenient and open late, but when he still lived with Lisa it was just a place he walked past on his way home or maybe stopped by for coffee and muffins on a lazy weekend morning.
It was there, handy when he needed it, but otherwise he didn’t give it a lot of thought. Maybe he took it for granted, to use the words Lisa had flung at him the day they’d finally called it quits.
Now that she’s moved out, Dean finds himself in the cozy coffee shop a lot. He likes to set up in the end seat of the little counter that overlooks the espresso maker. There’s an outlet right there to plug in his laptop and Charlie, the barista, seems to sense when he wants to chat and when he needs his coffee cup slid to him without a word.
God knows he could make coffee for a whole lot cheaper up in his apartment. Lisa had thoughtfully left their coffeemaker since Matt already had one, but even though he knows they are better off apart, better as friends than anything else, he still hates coming home to an empty apartment. Many days, the coffee shop serves as a buffer between his busy day at work and the loneliness at home. It's a respite, almost like a rest stop, where he can sit and gather himself and, if he's honest about it, kill a couple of those long hours before he can call it a night.
Maybe it will be easier when she retrieves the last of her belongings from the space they'd shared.
Dean had methodically collected her things from closets and shelves and drawers. He’d had to shut off a piece of his brain so he wouldn’t get wrapped up in remembering the beach town where she’d bought that sweater or how her old umbrella stuck and she always had to ask Dean to close it for her. He packed her things into boxes which he stacked in the second bedroom, putting them safely out of sight behind a closed door. She said she didn’t need their bedding, but he’d stripped it off anyhow and washed it before boxing it up as well. He’d gotten himself a plain set of sheets and a solid blue comforter and he has vague plans to rearrange the bedroom so it no longer looks like a sadder, emptier version of theirs, but so far he hasn’t mustered the energy to do that.
Sam offered to come help his brother, to keep him company as he sorted all of this out. He even offered to let Dean move in with him and his wife Eileen, a gesture that Dean appreciates but firmly refuses. Dean doesn’t need to make his old life disappear. He just needs some time to get used to the way things are now.
It stings that Lisa has found someone new, but he’s not heartbroken by it. He loves her enough to want what’s best for her and he knows that he was never going to be there for her in the way that she needed. But he’s not meant for living alone. He needs someone to cook for and someone to hold tightly during the long, cold winter nights. Knowing Dean well, Sam keeps encouraging him to move on. Hell, so does Lisa, for that matter. He wants to move on, but trying again with someone new feels like climbing a mountain. He thinks he could manage it, though, if he could just get his feet underneath him and take those first few steps. Right now he’s stuck in some sort of liminal space, still living with their belongings but without her.
It’ll be easier once she picks up the rest of her things.
In the meantime, the coffee shop helps. He can stop in there when he isn’t quite ready to face the apartment alone or he can come down in the evenings after he’s fed himself and washed his sad, single plate. Even if he doesn’t talk to anyone but Charlie, he can feel like he’s a part of something simply by not being closed up in his apartment.
Today, he needs every bit of familiarity and comfort the coffee shop holds for him. He needs the chime of the bell when he opens the door and the hissing sound of the espresso maker. He needs to settle in at the end of the counter with a hot cup of coffee and his laptop and let the hum of conversation surround him. But today when he comes in, there’s someone sitting in his seat.
Cas looks up when he hears a loud sigh. A man has entered the coffee shop and approached the counter where Cas sits. With an oddly resentful look at Cas, who is merely sitting with his book and his cup of tea, the man drops heavily onto another stool, leaving an empty seat between them. Cas can see right away that he’s a nice-looking man, in fact, that may be a bit of an understatement as Cas finds his gaze lingering on the man’s face. He looks a little harried, though, fidgeting in his seat before sighing again and opening up his computer.
Cas goes back to reading his book, only half-conscious of the typing and clicking from his neighbor. A few minutes later another loud sigh catches his attention and he looks up to find the man shifting over to the stool next to him.
From where he sits, Cas can see the warning pop-up on the man’s screen, flashing red with a low-battery alert. The man jiggles something and Cas realizes he’s holding his charging cord and gesturing toward the outlet on the wall.
“Of course.” Cas leans back as the man reaches across him to plug in his charger. From this close, Cas can see he has freckles scattered across his skin. It also gives him a vantage point to admire how the henley he’s wearing clings to him, showing off nicely rounded muscles. He jostles Cas’s tea cup with said muscled arm and there’s a brief, awkward scuffle as Cas tries to right it before it spills.
Apparently this is Castiel’s fault because the man heaves another sigh. “I usually sit there.”
Tea cup rebalanced, Cas spares him a long look. Apparently he’s one of those guys used to getting what he wants simply by being attractive. “I wasn’t aware there were assigned seats.”
The response he gets is not at all the cocky attitude he’s expecting. Instead, the man lowers his eyes and runs a hand through his hair. “No, of course not. Sorry. Just not having my best day.”
He goes back to his computer and Cas goes back to his book. It’s a little distracting having him sitting so close. Not to mention the annoying way the cord trails across Cas’s place at the counter, especially when he realizes that the guy has gone to all that trouble to plug in his laptop and now he isn’t typing anything. A quick glance up shows he isn’t even looking at the screen, his eyes instead fixed somewhere out the big front window that faces the street.
Cas feels the strangest urge to ask him if everything is alright but before he can, the redheaded barista approaches, greeting him with a bright smile. “Hey, man.”
Cas wonders what it would feel like to be the kind of person who frequents a place, showing up often enough that a friendly barista would anticipate his order. He knows he should spend more time out and about, getting to know people other than his co-workers, but the thought of it intimidates and exhausts him. Still, to be such a regular, a familiar face, a fixture somewhere other than his own living room couch...there’s something appealing about it.
“Yeah,” Mr. I-Have-A-Usual says, then quickly corrects himself. “No, wait. I’ll have the pumpkin spice with an extra shot and extra whip.”
Wondering how that differs from his regular order, Cas glances up to find Charlie staring with narrowed eyes at the guy. “What’s up with you?”
He doesn’t mean to eavesdrop, but they’re having this discussion right next to him.
The man slams his laptop shut. “Lisa’s picking up the last of her stuff this afternoon. She and Matt are up there now.”
Cas pretends to read but he’s been on the same page for quite some time, scanning the words without taking any of them in. Nevertheless, he flips a page. Totally not eavesdropping.
Charlie’s voice is sympathetic as she begins to prepare his order. “Sorry, dude. That’s rough.”
Resting his chin in his hand the man says, “Yeah, well, I’m gonna sit here and drown my sorrows in sugar and caffeine.”
Cas bites his lip to keep from smiling at that. It’s nice, though, that a guy this attractive isn’t railing about how he’s been done wrong or how he can do better.
“I mean…” Charlie ventures, once she’s presented him with his cup. “It’s not like you’re still pining for her.”
“I’m not,” he agrees. “We’re better off as friends.” He takes a sip of his coffee and, out of the corner of his eye, Cas can see him lick a bit of whipped cream from his upper lip. “I’m tired of getting that sad look from her, though, like I haven’t moved on.”
Charlie polishes the steam wand with a cloth. “Have you moved on?”
“I’m moving on. Ish.” He fiddles with the cup a little bit, running the pad of one finger along the rim. “I just don’t have a lot of time to, you know, get out and meet people.”
Looking around exaggeratedly, Charlie points out the obvious. “You’re out right now.”
“Yeah, but...this doesn’t count.”
Cas can’t help his smile this time. Charlie catches his eye before he can pretend to be absorbed in his book and smiles back. “More hot water?” she offers, and Cas slides his cup toward her.
While she goes to get him a refill, Cas feels eyes on him and turns to see the man looking at him. He can’t quite read the look on his face. The man isn’t glaring or inquisitive he just looks...thoughtful.
“I didn’t mean to overhear,” Cas starts, then clears his throat. “It can be hard to meet people.”
There’s a long moment when Cas worries he’s overstepped, but the man nods his agreement.
“I’m not really one for the club scene,” he says. “My brother wants me to go on one of those online sites but...that’s not really me.”
“I think our brothers would get along well,” Cas says with a laugh. “I know mine is looking out for me but…”
“Gotta do it on your own terms,” he finishes.
“Yeah.” Cas smiles his thanks at Charlie when she returns with his tea.
The other man holds out his mug. “Here’s to not meeting people.”
Carefully, so as not to spill the hot liquid, Cas toasts with his mug. “Amen.”
The man stops with his coffee halfway to his mouth. “Shit.”
Charlie and Cas both follow his gaze. A couple is crossing the street, holding hands. The woman has shiny dark hair and she’s smiling at her tall, handsome companion.
“That’s them?” So much for pretending he hadn’t been listening.
“Yeah. They’re gonna come over here and make big, pitiful eyes at me.” The man sets his mug down despondently.
“Because you haven’t ‘moved on’?” Cas makes actual finger quotes before he can stop himself.
They’re getting closer now, clearly approaching the coffee shop door.
“Well,” Charlie says, “I’d pretend to be your girlfriend but Lisa already knows I don’t swing that way.”
Impulsively, Cas puts a hand on the man’s shoulder. It’s just as firm as he imagined it would be. Startled by the sudden touch, he turns in confusion, looking first at Cas’s hand, then at his face, eyes lingering on his mouth. Cas gives a questioning lift of his eyebrows and receives the faintest nod in response. In the next moment Cas is leaning over and kissing him. He hears a soft noise of surprise from Charlie, and then there’s nothing but the man’s mouth, soft plush lips against his own and the whisper of stubble on stubble. The kiss deepens and Cas realizes the man has put a hand to Cas’s face, cupping his jaw gently with his warm palm.
“Hey.” A female voice causes them to pull apart. Lisa is standing there and Cas catches his breath as he gets a good look at her. She’s pretty, bright dark eyes looking between the two of them with a hint of amused curiosity.
“Oh hey, Lis,” the man says. He licks his lips slowly like he’s still tasting Cas. Come to think of it, Cas can taste cinnamon and sugar and the sharpness of coffee. He wipes a hand over his own tingling mouth.
“Were you going to introduce me?” She’s got one eyebrow arched and Cas can see instantly why this guy likes her.
Cas gets to his feet to shake her hand. “I’m Cas. You must be Lisa.”
“I am. And you are apparently a well-kept secret. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Well, you know.” The man has gone a little pink. It’s a good look on him.
Lisa reaches to pull him into a hug, smiling at Cas over his shoulder. “I’m happy for you.”
The four of them stand there chatting for a few moments longer and Cas can’t resist placing a hand at the small of the man’s back. Casually, the man reaches back and Cas goes to remove his hand as subtly as possible but instead he finds their fingers threaded together. Cas tries to make appropriate small talk but he’s distracted by the way his heart is pounding and the confident grip of the hand in his.
When Lisa and Matt leave, Cas looks down at their joined hands. When he raises his eyes, the man is looking at him, his green eyes wide and curious. After a moment of stilted silence, they separate and sit back down.
“Uh, thanks. You didn’t have to do that but that was cool. And um nice. It was nice.” He’s full on blushing now and rubbing a hand at the back of his neck.
“It was very nice,” Cas confirms, and then something occurs to him. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Dean. Dean Winchester.”
Cas smiles. “Hello, Dean.”