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In a very small library in a very big city, sitting at his desk with one hand wrapped around a mug of coffee and the other covering his eyes, was Castiel Novak.

Castiel Novak had had a late one, last night.

He couldn’t stop thinking about it. It had been… mind-blowing, really. He didn’t know whether he’d go so far as to say life-changing, but he definitely felt different today than he had yesterday. It had just been so special - he hadn’t felt so seen, so known, so vulnerable and yet so strong, for a long time. He was suffering the consequences now, of course. His head was pounding, and there were parts of him that definitely felt… strained.

But the book had been so good, and Castiel hadn’t been able to put it down until he’d finished the last page - even if his eyes were now definitely sore.

He took a sip of his coffee, and felt the warmth of it his unfurl his mood like a poppy in the sun. The library was quiet, at least - today was a Tuesday, and nothing much happened in the library on a Tuesday. Castiel generally spent his time neatening the shelves, scouring catalogues for new books to order, and creating displays that would - hopefully - grab people’s attention as they walked in.

Today, though, at least for a little bit, he was going to sit and nurse his coffee. He pushed a hand through his hair, enjoying the way that it felt on the sides, where it was buzzed a little shorter. It needed a cut, if he was honest - it was a little too long on top - but he could never seem to find the time to book an appointment. Particularly not when he was spending his nights wide awake between the pages of a book.

The library itself was cosy and warm, at least. Earlier that morning, Castiel had seen the rain tipping down outside the window of his apartment and groaned, and pulled on a soft woollen sweater over his shirt and tie - but now, inside the heated library, he was practically toasting and he was enjoying it. He pulled a couple of papers towards him, trying to remember what he’d printed out last night before leaving.

Through bleary eyes, he read the title of an article: Local Author Promises Visit to Heavensgate Library.

With a groan, he pushed the print-outs away. He hadn’t had enough coffee to deal with that, yet. He took another sip, and contemplated today’s tasks.

The children’s area needed a clean-up, like usual. There was a modest stack of books that wanted reshelving, and Castiel had been meaning to order in some new textbooks - they got updated every other academic year or so, and he liked to have the most recent versions available in case any kids from the local schools couldn’t afford their own copies.

None of those jobs were especially urgent, though, and Castiel found himself peering around the place, looking for something else he could do - something a little more inspiring.

The big rectangular room had light blue walls, oak bookshelves, and a corner dedicated entirely to big, soft, ageing sofas. Castiel’s desk was at the far left corner, and just beside him was the archway that led through to the children’s section. It had a tangled tree painted around it, of Castiel’s own design; in fact, scattered throughout the library were several of his murals.

After all, he reasoned, why should the children be the only ones who got exciting pictures on the walls? Maybe some grown-ups wanted those, too.

Castiel’s own desk had a big paper pad covering half the worktop, covered in the little sketches and doodles he liked to draw throughout the day. Today, so far, it had a little cat in a bowtie, and a cup of steaming coffee, and the words Rain, Rain, Go Away.

The desk also had several plants in various pots gathered around the computer screen, given to Castiel by regulars at the library - ones who knew his taste, and had bought him long-leafed, draping spider plants and soft, furred succulents. He reached out now, and touched the tips of his fingers to the soil inside one of the pots.

Dry. Castiel frowned.

Getting up, he wandered towards the sink that was at one side of the children’s area - installed at Castiel’s own insistence, after the third time a kid came in with messy hands and got chocolate all over the pages of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. He picked up the little metal watering can at the side of the basin and filled it, water tinkling against the silver insides and splashing over his fingers, before he headed back through the archway to water his plant collection.

He usually did it without thinking, but today he found himself very consciously enjoying the simple domesticity of the task. He loved the fact that the plants were his to look after, and that the library was full of little corners like these - things that needed careful tending, that required his specific knowledge and love and attention.

Belonging, he thought. He was settled, here. He was a part of the place and the place was a part of him. It was a feeling that wasn’t easy to come by, especially growing up as a gay kid on the ace spectrum in the home of Mr and Mrs Conservative from Conservativesville, Illinois. He’d experienced life from the wrong side of a smoked-glass window for a long, long time. And somehow, now, being able to do what he wanted and wear what he wanted wasn’t nearly as important as being able to do everything - both the things he did and didn’t want to do - as himself.

He watered the plants as himself.

He reshelved books as himself.

He mopped chocolate off children’s literature as himself.

He’d never felt more connected, more invested in his own story. Or perhaps it was that it didn’t feel like a story at all, anymore - he wasn’t distanced enough from it for that. It just felt like his life.

No longer hidden, no longer watching his words or keeping quiet when he wanted to speak out, he felt authentic and sincere in a way he hadn’t been allowed to be, before. He wasn’t always happy - of course not - but all the feelings he experienced now were true ones, not just the best facsimiles his brain could offer as he pretended his way through school and home life.

After returning the watering can to its home, Castiel put his hands on his hips and surveyed the library.

A thought that he had often occurred to him again: yes, the place was a paradise of openness for him. But was it one for every person who needed it? Although there were plenty of books on the shelves that involved non-straight and non-cisgender characters - Castiel liked to keep as many queer stories available as possible, a job that was becoming gratifyingly easier as time passed - they were nonchalantly resting between classics and more generic, traditional novels, with no song and dance being made of them.

Up until this point, Castiel had enjoyed that. The books blended; they were a part of the library that was normalised and accepted, without a fuss. He’d always been able to point at the queer books in his library as evidence that the place was welcoming to queer people, without making a huge deal of it and making them feel exotified and strange.

Now, though, he started to wonder. Were people who wanted to read queer literature checking the library’s catalogue, or were they just assuming that it was full of traditional, conservative books? Did questioning kids know that they could come to the library for help and guidance? Were parents aware that there were lots of resources for teaching their children about queer topics?

With a little click of his tongue, Castiel realised that the answer was almost certainly no to all of those questions.

That absolutely needed to change. As much as Castiel enjoyed the normalisation of queer literature, he also wasn’t averse to its celebration. He headed towards his desk, and with the speed and sure-handedness of a soldier arraying his weapons, he pulled out a staple-gun, a few markers, some stickers, and several rolls of brightly-coloured paper. He knew exactly what he was going to spend his day doing.

It was time to make a display.

***

A few hours later, there was a timid knock at the library’s door.

Castiel frowned, and twirled the pen he’d been pressing meditatively against his lips, tucking it instead behind his ear. He walked over to the door and opened it, to find a woman with brown hair and bright blue eyes watching him, looking nervous. She seemed to relax a little when she took in his soft sweater and ear piercing, however. She was wearing a name tag that read Hannah. Under it, there was another pin that was hidden by a fold in her shirt.

“Hello?” Castiel said. “Can I help you?”

“Hi,” she said. “DPD. I’ve got some posters for you?”

“Right,” Castiel said, his expression clearing. “Of course. Do you need me to sign?”

He quickly scribbled his name on the electronic pad she offered him, and then pushed open the door to the library so that she could haul in the posters in their large boxes - they were ones meant to be hung upright on a metal stand, taller than Castiel himself. He’d ordered them a couple of weeks ago - just some standard quotes about reading, but they’d looked eye-catching in the picture on the Internet.

“Oh!” Hannah said, as she turned around and caught sight of the display that Castiel had spent the past few hours putting together.

It was nothing less, Castiel thought now as he surveyed his handiwork, than a rainbow extravaganza. He’d decided to go all out with the colours. Flags from the queer community were lined up under a title that read in big, glittering letters, Read with Pride. On a table in front of the display board, there were books stacked high: ones that were for older readers and younger readers, fiction and non-fiction, light-hearted and sombre. He’d tried to stick to ones that had a happy ending, or at least a hopeful one; he knew from personal experience how crushing it could be to relate to non-straight characters in a book, only to have their chance of happiness ripped out from under him at the end. If any visitors to the library wanted a book like that, they could of course come to him and ask - but he preferred to promote safer choices to unsuspecting readers.

“What do you think?” he said to the woman - Hannah - a little cautiously.

He surprised himself with how nervous he felt; he’d thought he was completely comfortable with being out, thought he’d felt safe in this city and in this neighbourhood, but somehow putting it on display like this - it reawoke the old clench of nerves in his gut.

Hannah, however, was turning to look at him with her face shining.

“It’s fantastic,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it! Did you make it yourself?”

“Yes,” Castiel answered her, relaxing under her obvious enthusiasm. “I thought it might be time to have a little more open celebration of diversity. Just so that everyone knows what we’re about.”

“It’s fantastic,” Hannah repeated; her eyes had drifted back to the display. “You even have the genderqueer pride flag! Did you find any books that have genderqueer characters?”

“Well,” Castiel said, surprised that she knew enough to recognise the flag. He wondered if she, herself, was genderqueer, or if she knew someone who was. “There’s the books by Rick Riordan that have -”

“Oh, I loved those. I know I’m a bit old for them, but I’m a fan of mythology and if there’s LGBTQ characters in there, too, I’m sold,” Hannah said, nodding. “Do you have the ones by Zoë Marriott? The Name of the Blade?”

“No?” Castiel said curiously. “Is she -”

“She’s a British writer. I love her books,” Hannah said. “If you want, you could read them and see what you think.” Her reticence seemed to have completely melted away under the sunlight of her happiness. She turned back to Castiel, beaming. “This has made my day!”

“I’m so glad to hear that,” Castiel said, feeling a little burst of happiness in his chest. “And thank you for bringing the posters.”

Hannah seemed to remember where she was and what was happening; she stopped staring at the display and cleared her throat, tugging down her shirt to make it sit more neatly. As she did so, Castiel caught sight of the second pin on her shirt, the one under her name tag. It read They/Them.

Castiel’s eyebrows rose briefly as understanding dawned on him. So, Hannah wasn’t cisgender - no wonder they’d been so excited to see the genderqueer flag. He looked back over their conversation, hoping he hadn’t accidentally used the wrong pronouns already since he’d read them as a woman, initially, and had been calling them she in his head - but he didn’t think so. He was cringing slightly, and remonstrated himself for making assumptions. At least he’d managed to catch sight of the pin before making the mistake out loud.

“I’d better run,” Hannah said. “But I live not far from here. Am I allowed to come in some time and look through the selection?”

“Of course, you’re more than welcome,” Castiel said, offering them a small smile, which they returned. “The library is free for anyone to use.”

“Fantastic. Then I’ll be back,” said Hannah, eyes full of excitement. “I’ve really got to go. But have a nice day!”

As they walked out of the door, Castiel felt his heart growing light with happiness. He’d never connected with a person in that way before, seen them visibly brighten because of something he’d done that supported them in a way that they hadn’t expected. It had been a better feeling than he could have possibly expected. He kept remembering Hannah’s surprised, shining face when they first saw the display.

The nervousness over what other visitors to the library would think was still with him - but even if all of them ended up being horrible about it, Castiel felt like the display had already more than been worth it.

He walked over to his desk and scribbled down the name of the blade on his jotting pad, before grabbing a pair of scissors and making his way over to the packages that Hannah had brought for him. He stripped the tape off the cardboard and tore open the boxes. He was excited to put these posters up; he’d thought one of them might be able to go in the children’s area, depending on how sturdy the metal stands were. He didn’t want any unbalanced little ones grabbing onto the poster and finding the whole thing coming down on their heads.

Pulling out a long, tight roll of thick shiny paper, Castiel unfurled it, using both hands to open it up like a scroll. His slight smile of excitement faded, however, when he saw the content of the poster.

It was not his carefully-selected quotes about reading. Instead, a pair of bright green eyes were looking up at him.

Castiel’s heart sank. He knew whose eyes those were.

He’d been trying to forget that this was even happening, but there was only so long that he could run from it when the event was only a week away. The posters wouldn’t unprint themselves; the article on his desk wouldn’t unwrite itself. Local Author Promises Visit to Heavensgate Library.

Gritting his teeth, Castiel rolled the poster back up, and stuffed it unceremoniously back into its box. He might have to deal with the fact that Dean Winchester was coming to his library, but he didn’t have to deal with it right now.

And yet even so, twenty minutes later he found himself at a loose end having finished the final touches to his display - and without remembering making the decision to do so, he was looking up Dean Winchester again. Castiel felt the same grimace slide onto his face that had appeared there the moment he’d heard Mr Winchester wanted to come to the library for a signing. The local library area manager, Chuck, had called up one day last week, and - rather than asking - had simply informed Castiel of the time it would be happening.

It was bad enough that Castiel had had no say in who was coming to the library for an event; it was even worse that, from his media profile, it was quite easy to see that Dean Winchester was not at all the kind of person Castiel would have chosen.

Googling him revealed several obviously edited photos of Dean in various poses, wearing either a thoughtful expression while looking into the distance, or a clearly faked smile. Interviews with him revealed a type of guy that Castiel had come to recognise: privileged and outwardly charismatic, but inwardly insipid and often douchey. Scrolling through his online presence, Castiel had ticked off far too many of his pet peeves. Attractiveness providing the illusion of personality - check. Average white guy being given way too much credit for doing things like saying, I love women - check. Irritating smile - big check.

He imagined building a profile for Dean Winchester’s website. Dean Winchester. Height: perfect. Face: perfect. Eyes: greener than your envy. Favourite Quote: Something about being open and honest with your feelings which could be interpreted as progressive, but in reality is just meant to intimidate other guys and make women think you’re in touch with your feminine side when really you’re interested in femininity in an exclusively sexual context. Favourite food: something manly. Favourite music: something manly. Most Likely to be Heard Saying: “Oh, Moonlight? Well, I don’t really like political films...”

Castiel snorted. Maybe he was being a little too harsh. He’d never even met the guy, and Dean had never specifically been reported as saying anything that would indicate he was the jerk Castiel was picturing. In truth, Castiel had never even picked up one of Dean’s books. But there was just something about the fakery in Dean’s photographs - the way his smile never reached his eyes, like he was always more conscious of looking good than feeling happy - and something about his press-trained, cautious answers to interview questions, that made Castiel sure of at least one thing.

Dean Winchester was not the kind of person who was welcome to speak in the library.

Chapter Text

A week later, Castiel was setting out chairs in the library with a grim and unnecessary force.

Dean Winchester was due to arrive in exactly twenty minutes, and there was a gathering of people inside and outside the library, muttering to each other in excited voices. Castiel had expected the event to do fairly well, but it was promising to be more popular than he could have anticipated; there weren’t going to be enough chairs. It was angering Castiel more than it should have done that there weren’t going to be enough chairs. Somehow, it was entirely Dean Winchester’s fault that there weren’t going to be enough chairs.

Just looking at the posters that he’d had to place around his library space made Castiel’s teeth clench. Dean Winchester looked just as beautiful as ever in all of them, his eyes carefully soulful and intense, his lips just the tiniest bit parted to hint at sexuality whilst remaining professional and ostensibly family-friendly. Castiel already had plans to burn the things as soon as Mr Winchester’s oh-so-graceful descent into their humble library was over.

At least Castiel had managed to steel himself long enough to actually pick up a copy of the book that was being promoted, today: Tales from the Summer Land. Castiel hadn’t opened it, of course, but he’d read the blurb, which declared the book worthy of five stars and said it had “effortless, charming simplicity” and “a rustic, honest style”. That had earned a snort from Castiel. It seemed Mr Winchester even had critics fawning over his supposed sincerity. Was Castiel the only one who could see that it was all staged? It was right there in the man’s face, and in every skimmed-milk answer he gave to every single question in every stupid interview that Castiel had read.

And there weren’t enough chairs.

The children’s area of the library was completely transformed, though, and it didn’t look bad. In fact, with Dean Winchester’s handsome face plastered everywhere, it looked very, very good, and Castiel was sardonically irritated by that. He’d cordoned off the children’s area while he set up the little venue, and the visitors gathered for the event were mingling in the main library room itself.

“Excuse me?” A timid voice from behind Castiel stopped him in his tracks. He turned around, carefully packing away his grumpiness out of sight and peering down at a tiny girl of no more than seven or eight, who was standing by the red-rope cordon and bouncing on her toes. She looked decidedly nervous, and she was wearing an outsize pair of blue overalls and a big straw hat.

“Hello, there. How can I help you?” Castiel asked politely, keeping his voice soft and friendly. The girl seemed to untense at his tone, and she blinked up at him keenly.

“Do you know when Mister Winchester will arrive?” she said. “Is he really going to talk about his book? Can I really ask questions?”

“Soon,” said Castiel seriously, but not unkindly. “And yes, and yes.”

“Do you - do you think he’ll like my outfit? I made it - my mom made the hat, well, she bought the hat from this shop. I made the, I made the overalls with the, um, the blue. Because they were white before but we dyed them.”

Castiel nodded, listening thoughtfully as the girl explained the hardest parts about dyeing clothes. When she’d fully explained, he said,

“I can see you’ve put a lot of thought into your outfit. It was definitely worth it.” He smiled at her, just a small one, and she beamed back gappily.

“It’s for Mister Winchester! The costume is from one of his stories, and -”

Castiel sighed inwardly. He just wasn’t able to listen to this new gush of information with the same enthusiasm. The girl seemed bright and good-humoured, but she liked Dean Winchester. Castiel couldn’t help but doubt her judgement, therefore, on everything from books to overalls.

“- and maybe when he sees it he’ll think I’m really from the story and he’ll be so, he’ll be so…” Castiel waited patiently for her to find the word. “He’ll be so - surprised!” she supplied eventually, looking thrilled with herself. “And maybe he’ll come home to my house because I’ve got ten pictures, I’ve got ten and one more but my sister took that one, and I’ve got the pictures that I drew because they’re from, they’re from the story.”

“Mr Winchester is a very busy man,” Castiel reminded her gently. “He has a lot of stories to write. Otherwise, you’d have nothing new to draw, would you?”

The girl frowned as she considered this. Internally, Castiel let out a sigh. This girl and tens of other kids like her were all gathered here to greet Dean Winchester - and no doubt he was going to turn up and play celebrity for a little while until he’d taken all the pictures he needed, and then swan off back to his house to stare at himself in the mirror for a bit.

They were just going to be disappointed.

“I’ve got to go and finish setting up,” Castiel said. “Is that OK? Is your mom here?”

“Yes sir,” the girl said, her courteousness making Castiel smile. “Thank you!” She skipped off back towards a woman who was standing and watching with her arms folded, a fond smile on her face. She nodded her thanks to Castiel, who dipped his head in return before going back to arranging chairs.

Some people could stand along the wall, he supposed, though it wouldn’t be comfortable. And if he put some cushions down at the front, right by the desk behind which Dean Winchester was going to be sitting, then some of the younger ones could all sit with their legs crossed instead of on chairs. That’d save room, too.

Plus, Castiel thought happily, they could ask Mr Winchester all manner of interesting questions, from there, and he’d have nowhere to run.

Castiel’s phone beeped just as he finished setting up the children’s area for Dean Winchester’s arrival. He rolled his eyes and pulled it out of his back pocket, expecting a message from his boss asking him to confirm that everything was prepared; instead, the text was from an unknown number. Castiel frowned, and opened it.

Hi, this is Dean Winchester, I’m supposed to be coming to your library for a signing today. Got your number from Chuck. ETA is about 10 mins. Would it be poss to have a coffee when I arrive. Milk two sugars. No worries if it’s a pain to make it. Thanks

Castiel read the text through twice.

He put his phone away in his pocket.

He breathed in, deeply.

He breathed out, slowly.

Outwardly, he straightened some chairs, and fixed a poster so that it was sitting straight. Inwardly, he threw his phone into a boiling pit of burning lava, and tore up every poster of Dean Winchester in his library and threw the scattered remains of them into the lava, and then gathered up the ashes and threw them into a foul-smelling bog. And then set fire to the bog. And then gathered up the ashes of the bog, and threw those ashes into another bog, that smelled even worse.

Coffee? Coffee? Who did Dean Winchester think Castiel was? Some kind of - of coffee-maker? Did Dean Winchester really think that a librarian had nothing better to do all day than sit and hone their coffee skills, just in case some incredibly famous author happened to deign to stop by? Did Dean Winchester seriously believe that the simple gift of his presence was enough for him to be able to demand hot beverages at the drop of a hat?

Castiel pulled out his phone again, and read the text back through. No worries if it’s a pain to make it. He snorted. Of all the insincere, cutesy things to write at the end of a text. Of course it was a pain to make it - but now that Dean Winchester had said it like that, if Castiel didn’t make the coffee, then it looked like he was saying the demand was a pain. It made Castiel look rude. Mr Oh-So-Famous-Coffee-Lover might even put in a bad word to Chuck, or - worse - to the local news. No doubt the man was petty enough for that.

Castiel wasn’t going to lose his job or be publicly smeared for the sake of a cup of coffee. Gritting his teeth, he headed through to the break room of the library - little more than a big, glorified cupboard, with teetering stacks of plastic book jackets and breaking paperbacks that needed some care before they could be reshelved. The walls were a pale blue, and the shelves and cupboards lining them were made of light wood. There were two doors, one from the children’s area and one from the main library hall, making the room feel cramped. It was Castiel’s next big project, this room; it was too bland, too generic. It was a break room that could belong anywhere. He wanted to paint book quotes on the wall, or scenes from his favourite novels - make it into a library break room, and get rid of some of the bigger cupboards that made the space feel smaller.

At one side, there was a battered little coffee machine that Castiel himself only used occasionally, when his book hangover was too heavy for even a new book to entice out some energy. It looked about ready to give up the ghost.

Castiel didn’t just walk around the break room, making the coffee; he stomped. When he got the water, it was by twisting the taps with unnecessary force. He flung open the cupboard to pull out a mug, slammed it closed, and placed the mug - a slightly chipped old thing with a stack of books drawn on one side and #1 Librarian written on the other - on the countertop with overemphasised caution, so that it wouldn’t shatter. He glared at the coffee machine, daring it to break down completely on today, of all days - because of course it would. Of course that was going to happen. Because absolutely nothing was going to go right today. Castiel could feel it.

He sighed, and breathed in the scent of the brewing coffee.

Maybe he was being pessimistic. Maybe he was being irrational. Maybe he was assuming things about Dean Winchester, before the guy even got here - like, he was assuming that Dean Winchester wouldn’t sprain his ankle on the way into the library and have to immediately go to hospital, so that the event could be cancelled.

For a moment, Castiel lost himself in that happy imagining.

When the machine had stopped filtering through, though, it was time to rejoin reality. Castiel did so with bad grace, pouring out the coffee with angry precision. What had His Majesty’s order been? Castiel reread the text, and rolled his eyes at it all over again. He grabbed some milk from the mini-fridge to the left of the coffee machine, and slopped in a likely-looking amount. Sugar - they were out of sugar.

Well, Castiel thought, the coffee could be bitter. It would fit the mood only too well.

He swirled the mug on the counter a couple of times to mix the milk in a bit, and figured that that would be good enough; he didn’t want to have to use a teaspoon. He’d only need to wash it up later, and he’d spit on his own copy of Pride and Prejudice before he spent more time on Dean Winchester’s catering needs than was absolutely necessary.

Time to go back out there. Mr Winchester would be arriving in just a few minutes, and Castiel wanted to be there to greet him professionally. And give him his wretched coffee.

Steeling himself, he pushed back through the door to the children’s area - and ground to a halt, almost spilling half the coffee out of the mug in his hand.

Children had flooded the area, and they were running around excitedly, yelling and laughing. One little boy was spinning in circles; another seemed to be slapping himself in the face. The girl in the straw hat to whom Castiel had spoken earlier was laughing, and reaching out her hand to try to grab up at the arm of the only adult in the area - a tall man with blondish-brown hair wearing a jacket and jeans, facing away from Castiel.

A parent, it had to be - someone who thought that they were too good for cordons, and had apparently invited half of the visiting infant populace into the roped-off area with him. Castiel gritted his teeth and strode over, careful not to spill any of the hot coffee on the children milling excitedly around him.

“No, no, come on, let’s just -” the man was saying with a laugh in his voice. Castiel got to within a couple of feet, squared his shoulders, and cleared his throat.

Over the years, Castiel had perfected his librarian’s clear of the throat. His shh wasn’t bad, but he was most proud of the way that he could clear his throat. It was a room-silencing kind of sound; it evoked images of blackboards and chalk and haughty schoolmistresses and the cane. It seemed to tap into that hind-brain alarm in every person’s head, and thoroughly resound. It was simultaneously judgmental, obtrusive, gut-freezing, and very, very quiet.

It silenced the children’s area with no trouble, and part of the main library hall, too, where lots of parents and some children were still waiting patiently and watching. The man in front of Castiel swivelled, his eyes wide.

For the second time, Castiel almost dropped the coffee.

He’d just cleared his throat at Dean Winchester.

Local celebrity, bestselling author Dean Winchester.

His Royal Highness, the coffee-demanding douchebag Dean Winchester.

And local celebrity bestselling author His Royal Highness the coffee-demanding douchebag Dean Winchester was looking at Castiel, abashed and slightly flushed and bright-eyed, and he was - he was cute .

And Castiel felt a rush wash over him. Hot pins and needles, bright static, soft electricity. Real and physical and briefly overwhelming.

“Uh,” Dean said. “Hi. Sorry?” He grinned at the same moment that Castiel realised his mouth had fallen slightly open, and snapped it shut.

“I wasn’t expecting you,” Castiel said, as coolly as he could. “Not for another couple of minutes.”

“Oh, man, I’m sorry,” Dean repeated. Around him, the kids were starting to regain some confidence after the devastating clear of the throat; they started to move around again, though they spoke in muted, respectable tones. Dean himself was losing his blush, his smile becoming wider and less awkward. “I just saw this amazing kids’ area and I was like, I gotta get in there! How did you afford to get these murals done? When I used to come in here, it looked like ass.”

Castiel blinked. “I did them myself,” he said. “I only had to buy the paint and brushes.” Dean Winchester had frequented the library, as a child? Castiel didn’t know why he hadn’t expected that, in the slightest. He was still tingling all over, his skin warm. It got worse when he looked Dean in the eye.

“It’s incredible,” Dean said sincerely, and Castiel fought not to feel gratified. Fought not to feel anything he was feeling. “Anyway. Shall we get this show on the road? Oh, man - is that my coffee? Love the mug.”

“Ah - yes,” Castiel said. He proffered it, remembering at the last moment that it wasn’t sugared like Dean had asked for. He considered pulling it away, and then shook off the urge. What did it matter if Dean didn’t like the coffee? Hadn’t Castiel spent the entire last couple of weeks wishing this man would fall down a well?

Dean wrapped his big hands around the mug, and took a generous sip. Castiel watched his face twist, almost imperceptibly, at the bitterness of it - and then he looked up at Castiel, and smiled.

“Thank god for coffee, right? Man. I just picked up a copy of The Hunger Games last night and, like, devoured it. I know, I’m super late, but I got there eventually. Anyway, I totally read the entire thing in one night, and like… you’re a librarian, you must’ve done this. The literal book hangover?”

He squinted and drilled with one finger at the side of his head, expressively demonstrating his headache. It was, somehow, completely charming. Maybe it was the way his mouth moved, or the lines at the outer corners of his eyes.

The man needed coffee because of a book hangover. He was handsome, he spoke in an easygoing and down-to-earth kind of way, and he read books late into the night. Castiel swallowed, and tried to shake the feeling of having been suddenly and dramatically plunged into a quicksand of feelings.

Pull it together, he told himself.

“Yes,” he said stonily. “I’ve done that.”

Dean’s smile dropped a little, but was soon hitched back on. “Anyway, thanks for the coffee. Shall I just sit over here?” He pointed at one of the chairs that Castiel had set out, and Castiel quickly shook his head.

“I set up the desk for you,” he said. “Just to give you some space. People have brought their books for you to sign, but first they’re expecting a Q&A session. There are a couple of pens on the desk -”

“Brought my own,” Dean said, reaching into the pocket of his jacket and pulling out a biro. “Look at me, coming prepared.” He winked at Castiel.

Castiel blinked awkwardly in response, feeling the colour rise to his cheeks.

“Well,” he said, “in that case, I’ll get everyone in here.”

“Awesome. I’m Dean, by the way,” Dean said, holding out his hand. Castiel stared at him, framed as he was by several very large posters of his face, all with the caption Dean Winchester beneath.

“Yes,” he said, with the touch of sardonic humour that his rational mind could gather. “I know.” He reached out and shook Dean’s hand anyway, not wanting to leave him hanging. Dean’s hand felt warm and soft, and Castiel found to his horror that little swirls of warmth seemed to be starting in his own fingertips where they rested on Dean’s skin.

“And… you are?” Dean said, continuing to shake Castiel’s hand.

“Oh - oh, yes,” Castiel said. “I’m Castiel Novak. Castiel. Well, I’m Castiel Novak, but I’m Castiel. People call me Castiel.”

He hated himself. He hated Dean Winchester. He hated everything.

He wondered how much one-way flights to darkest Peru were going for, these days. He could go and live with Paddington’s parents, in total and complete isolation from all of - Castiel’s eyes were locked on Dean’s - all of humanity.

“Good to meet you, Castiel Novak,” Dean said. He let go of Castiel’s hand, but somehow their fingers seemed to linger ever so slightly over each other, and just like that Castiel’s heartbeat was kicking up a notch. “Maybe we can talk after the signing? See if I might be people.” He grinned hopefully, and then backed off towards the desk.

So. Dean Winchester was apparently charming, and he was sweet, and he was unassuming. Castiel could only nod and back away, and focus on not stumbling over his own benumbed feet as he removed the cordon between the children’s area and the main hall, and ushered people towards the seats. He snuck glances at Dean Winchester as he did so; Dean was settling himself on the desk rather than behind it, making eye contact with the kids as they came in and waving at them. Once or twice, he looked towards where Castiel was standing, and Castiel quickly looked away. When everyone was in their seats or else lined up against the back wall, Castiel took up an unobtrusive place leaning against the door frame, with a good view.

“Well, looks like everyone just about fits. Hi, guys,” Dean said, and Castiel breathed out, his part in the proceedings over for now. He could relax, and watch Dean.

Not that he would enjoy it, of course, he reminded himself - though the thought felt weaker than old tea. He could still feel lines of heat and static running up and down his back, across his chest, through his hands.

“Alright, well,” Dean said, and Castiel tried to concentrate. “You all know me - I guess? But I’m Dean Winchester, I’m here to talk about my book, Tales from the Summer Land - yup, you got it!” He grinned down at a couple of the kids at the front who waved their copies in the air. “But I’ll answer questions about any of my books, really. Anything you wanna ask about. Let’s see, who’s first? Yeah, at the back there?”

“Hi!” said a voice from the back - an older woman, with curly brown hair. “Love your books, I’m a big fan. Read them to my kids and grandkids.”

“Well, thank you,” Dean said, beaming at her.

“I just noticed, you’ve never put a dedication in any of your books. I wondered why?”

“Wow,” Dean said, sounding impressed. “You noticed that?! Never occurred to me that I’d get that question.”

“Oh, I -” The woman seemed a little embarrassed. “I collect dedications that I like. So I always notice these things.”

“You - no way. That’s so cool. Isn’t that cool?” Dean asked the kids at the front, who mostly looked clueless, but a couple nodded. “What’s your favourite dedication you’ve ever found?”

“To that guy in Walmart who told me I could do better than pink sweatpants,” said the woman immediately. “With love. The main character wore sweatpants the entire time she was kicking ass and destroying a totalitarian government.”

Dean nodded seriously. “Not bad,” he said. “Not bad at all. Well, to answer your question, I never put a dedication myself because it just felt a little forced. I didn’t ever feel like I owed the existence of a book to one particular person, so… yeah. That’s it, I guess.” He smiled. “Another question?”

Dean’s voice became a pleasant hum in the background as Castiel sank into his own thoughts, with more than a little trepidation to hear what they had to say for themselves.

He’s cute, said his brain, at the first opportunity it had to be listened to. Remember how you were thinking two nights ago that after all this time you were probably never going to get into a serious relationship or even try dating anyone probably ever? Doesn’t that seem stupid right now? Date him. I want to date him.

Castiel gritted his teeth.

He smells good, added his brain.

Following that pattern of thought was not what he should be doing. Trying to shake off the feeling that had swept over him like a wave when he’d first met Dean was what he should be doing; he was angry at himself for even feeling it at all. Come on, now, he told himself. You knew he was good-looking. It was part of the reason you hated him. He’s just working his average-man charisma on you, and you’re falling for it.

Apparently, all it took to move past Castiel’s defences was a nice smile - definitely less irritating in person - and a pair of bright green eyes. Internally, he shook his head at himself. As nice as the feeling was - this strange, static, starry kind of warmth - Castiel knew it had to go. After all, it would probably only take him listening to what Dean was actually saying, right now, because without a doubt the man would prove himself to be a total ass.

A bland, beige, boring kind of guy. An I have a sign on my wall saying “Love. Laugh. Live.” kind of guy. An I went to Mexico for Spring Break and shouted slow English at the locals kind of guy.

Castiel tuned back into what Dean was saying long enough to hear him say enthusiastically, “Yeah, I really wanted to challenge gender roles with her character. Like, I used to hear it all the time growing up, only girls do this, only boys do this, yadda yadda yadda. I’m like…” He mimed scrunching something up and throwing it away. “No thanks.”

Well, then.

Swallowing, Castiel shook his head at himself. Call the news desks. White Man Says Gender Roles Are Bad!! What Shockingly Basic Decency Will He Display Next? It was a schtick, and Castiel knew he should know better than to be taken in by it. The fact that Dean was cute, and somehow even more beautiful in person than on his posters, and had actually just offered a fairly decisive opinion on an important topic, didn’t take away from Castiel’s point that - that -

What was his point, again?

“Yeah, hi,” said a sharp little voice from the gathered audience that broke into the jumble of Castiel’s thoughts. He blinked back to the real world. The speaker was a girl of about sixteen or seventeen, Castiel thought, with dyed black hair and deep purple eyeshadow. “I just wanted to ask. I know Lulu is a great character to challenge gender roles, a girl who’s a scientist and warrior, that’s great. But do you think that maybe you’re really just saying, girls can be as good as boys as long as they’re doing so-called boy things really well? Do you think it’d be more genuinely challenging to gender roles if you had a character like Thomas be into ballet or cookery or sewing or something?”

Now, that was an interesting question, Castiel thought.

A couple of the kids at the front giggled nervously at it - mostly boys, Castiel saw, peering over some heads to look. A few parents were also exchanging glances, some indulgent and some less so, a few of them not appearing to enjoy the question. Castiel drew in a breath. Here it was: the moment when Dean was going to prove himself to be the superficial jerk that Castiel had guessed he would be from the start. He’d laugh, he’d dismiss the question; or he’d make a joke, or he’d start to talk about how not every story can be all things to all people and there isn’t enough room in every narrative for every kind of inequality to be addressed and - in his words - yadda yadda yadda .

Castiel folded his arms as Dean took a moment to formulate his answer.

This was going to be good. Castiel would also undoubtedly find his sudden onrush of positive feelings for the man washed away. It would all be as it was, again.

But he’s cute - his brain tried to say.

But he’s a jerk, Castiel replied firmly.

“You’re totally right,” Dean said seriously to this girl, and Castiel felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. “You’re right. I hadn’t totally put that together so I’m sorry if this answer is a little messy. But yeah... I mean, exactly, it’s not about saying that to be cool, girls have to do cool boy things, is it? And I love the idea of Thomas being into ballet. But - I don’t know what you think about this, but - I’m not sure that just having Thomas like a so-called girl thing is going far enough. It’s about totally breaking down the idea that anything like that has to be a girl thing or a boy thing at all, maybe?” Dean paused for a moment, seeming to consider his next words. “The thing is, I know that in Summer Land, I leaned pretty heavy on Lulu’s character being different from all the other girls in the story. Like, it’s a big part of her motivation for leaving the city, and heading out north, right? And a big part of the reason she decided to learn to fight. And, you know, she’s a badass, but lots of people have talked about this stuff online and I think I really fell into a trap, there. In the future, I think I wanna explore more how all the girls are different from the other girls. I wanna show everyone doing all kinds of different things, without thinking twice about whether or not it’s supposed to be a girl thing or a boy thing. For them, it’ll be an everyone thing. So, maybe Thomas will like ballet, but he won’t get any sh- any teasing for it, just because he’s a boy. It’ll just be.” Dean shrugged. “That answer was a mess. I don’t know if I’m making a lot of sense. I’m still learning about a lot of stuff.” He swallowed, and held out his hands, as though opening himself up to open fire. “I, like - don’t want to get too grabby with the word ‘feminist’ because I clearly don’t know enough to call myself that, but I do wanna try even harder to write in that direction, you know? Basically, yeah, I agree, and I wanna do better. Thank you for your question. That’s really got me thinking.”

Outwardly, Castiel did not move.

Inwardly, he was sinking silently to the floor.

It’s for the look of it, Castiel tried to tell himself. He doesn’t genuinely care about changing how he writes. He’s only saying that because he’s looked at that girl and decided it’s what she wants to hear. He’s just trying to win her approval by saying the right kind of things. None of it is real. He doesn’t care about anyone here beyond their sales potential. He’s a jerk.

He’s cute and he is so not a jerk, his brain said, and it sounded smug. Castiel tried to ignore it.

The kids at the front were getting restive, with all the serious talk. Dean seemed to notice; he turned his attention to them, smiling down at them conspiratorially.

“Now,” he said. “I’d like a question from the front. Does anyone have a question for me?”

Several excited hands were thrust into the air; Dean covered his eyes with one hand, swung the other around like a compass pointer, until finally stopping it when it was pointed dead ahead of himself.

“Who’ve we got… you!” Dean said, opening his eyes and looking down at the kid right in front of him. “What’s your question?”

Castiel craned his neck, but there was no need; a moment later, the girl in the big straw hat was standing up, though she was so short that it didn’t make a huge amount of difference. Dean folded his hands in his lap and looked at her encouragingly.

“I was wanting to ask!” she said in a small voice, and then stopped. “I… I wanted…” She let out an audible breath. Opening her mouth to start again, she made a little noise but no comprehensible words came out. She looked back towards the audience, for her mother, Castiel thought; unable to see her, the girl seemed to lose her nerve a little bit. She wavered visibly.

“Hey,” Dean said, getting off the desk and stepping forward to squat down next to her. His eyes were round as saucers. “Don’t I know you?”

The girl said nothing, seemingly starstruck.

“It can’t be,” Dean said. “Are you… are you Lulu? The Lulu? From my book?”

Shyly, the girl nodded. Dean gave a little gasp, his eyes bright and warm.

Wow, ” he said. “This is amazing. Well, Lulu, do you have a question for me?”

“Yes,” the girl said, in a little rabbit squeak of a voice. “Um, I wanted to ask, if you would like to come back to my house for dinner!”

There was some general good-natured laughter at this; Castiel noticed that Dean made sure to keep his eyes on the girl as he grinned, too, finding it funny with her rather than with everyone else.

“Oh, man,” he said. “That’s such a kind offer. But, the thing is…” Castiel narrowed his eyes. And here it was. Dean was finally going to make a misstep, reveal his true nature as a heartless ass. This would put an end to Castiel’s brain’s sudden determination to like Dean Winchester. He readied himself for Dean to give the most douchey answer possible. The thing is, I don’t eat. I’m so cool and famous that I survive on dew drops and Instagram likes, and I doubt you have a house clean enough for my needs.

“The thing is… do you remember the first rule of the Summer Land?” Dean said.

Castiel frowned.

The girl’s face screwed up with the effort of remembrance, but she didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Only when she shook her head, though, did Dean turn to their audience, opening the question up to the floor.

“Anyone?” he said.

“The person with the most, gives the most,” said a voice near the back - the girl with the purple eyeshadow.

“Absolutely,” Dean said. He turned back to the girl in her Lulu costume, and smiled at her again. “And if I remember right, Lulu doesn’t have more than two dimes to rub together. You know what that means?”

The girl shook her head wonderingly. Dean reached out and straightened her hat.

“It means I’m the one who should bring you some dinner. I think Lulu’s favourite is grilled cheese, right? How’s that sound?”

Silently, the girl held out her arms; to little aww ’s from the gathering of people, Dean looked slightly taken aback but gave the girl a quick squeeze of a hug, before standing up and gently ushering her back to sit down with the other kids at the front. With a final special smile at her, Dean sat back on the desk, ready for another question.

Castiel swallowed hard.

It was time to admit it.

He’d been wrong.

So far as Castiel could see from his answers and his behaviour, Dean was either incredibly good at keeping his douchiness on lockdown, or else he was - it hurt to even think it, after these weeks of irritation and certainty - actually kind of a good guy, or at least making a decent effort at it.

Told you, said his brain. He’s cute.

Cute enough to make Castiel feel this absurdly physical reaction to his presence - all heat and electric energy, synapses firing in his mind that he knew hadn’t seen action in years.

It was all ridiculous. Castiel couldn’t believe this was happening. Surely, surely it couldn’t be happening.

Of course, they hadn’t covered all topics, and as the event progressed Castiel was still thoroughly prepared for some unexpected awfulness to come creeping out of Dean’s shadows like Mr Rochester’s wife lurching down from her attic - but the rest of the Q&A went smoothly, and at the signing Dean took at least a few minutes to talk to every single person who’d shown up. He wrote their names into his books with care, leaving each one a personalised message and his own rough-looking signature.

Every single person who left the library did so with a smile on their face - even the little girl in the Lulu costume, who’d waited until last in the line and who started crying when her mother said it was time to go. Castiel, who was quietly stacking away chairs, watched her little face crumple in the way of true tears, rather than just a tantrum.

“Hey,” Dean said, coming out from behind the desk and squatting down beside her again. “Listen.” He held out his hands and raised his eyebrows, making sure to smile. “Not the last time I’ll be in the neighbourhood. Okay? Promise. I’m on Twitter, are you guys on Twitter?”

Castiel couldn’t even bring himself to roll his eyes at Dean’s mention of his social media; his voice was too sincere, his expression too genuine for anyone to believe this was a ploy to gain more followers.

“I have Twitter,” the mother said, squeezing her daughter’s shoulder.

“Okay. Well, I’ll post on there when I’m next doing an event nearby. I don’t know when or where but if you can come, send me a DM and I’ll bring you those grilled cheeses. After all, I owe Miss Lulu a dinner, don’t I?”

And when the girl left, she was smiling - albeit a little wetly - and hanging off her mother’s arm, already chattering away about what Dean had said to her. Castiel smiled and closed the door behind the pair of them quietly, watching for a moment as the girl and her mom walked away down the street.

She hadn’t been disappointed. In fact, Dean Winchester had probably exceeded her expectations completely, to judge by the way she was skipping and half-running all the way back to her mother’s car.

Her surprise, though, was nothing on Castiel’s.

He’d spent all this time so sure that Dean’s careful marketing hid some kind of beige-souled asshole, and instead he’d found himself faced with Dean. A guy who answered questions calling him out with politeness and thoughtfulness; a guy who wanted to write from the most feminist perspective that he could achieve; a guy who promised grilled cheese sandwiches to kids. A guy who seemed down-to-earth, who’d been polite about Castiel’s crappy attempt at making a coffee.

A guy who was somehow way better-looking in person than he was on posters. Which shouldn’t have been humanly possible, really.

Castiel turned back to his library, letting out a long sigh. He enjoyed the return of the silence. He didn’t hate being around people on principle, but his brain had been just starting to buzz angrily in the way that it tended to when he didn’t get any quiet time for a significant stretch.

Everything here was so familiar. He let his eyes wander over the books, the display of queer literature, the murals. Everything just as it should be. A perfect little kingdom.

And then Dean Winchester wandered through to the main library hall from the children’s area, his hands in his pockets. Castiel felt another little wave of that feeling, the hot-cold-soft-spiky-good one, splash over him. He cleared his throat, just to distract himself from his own errant emotions - but Dean heard it and froze.

“Oh -” said Castiel. “Oh - no, no, sorry. That wasn’t…”

Dean raised half a grin, and held his hands up in surrender.

“I wasn’t doing anything wrong, this time?” he checked, his voice warm, lightly teasing.

“Not this time.” Castiel drew in a little breath of courage before adding, “But I’ve got my eye on you.”

“That so?” Dean raised one eyebrow, and Castiel smiled slightly in response. His stomach did a little flip.

“It is.”

Well, it was definitely true, after all. And whether or not Dean had taken that as flirting, he hadn’t seemed offended by it, so that was a good sign.

Had it been flirting?

Castiel tried to push the thought away. If he got too inside his own head right now, he’d just tense up and go silent, and then probably spend the next few decades regretting everything from his choices to his personality. It was obvious that he liked - that he didn’t hate Dean Winchester, and maybe that feeling could translate to flirting. Maybe.

“Guess I should head off in a bit,” Dean said vaguely, looking around the library. He was standing by Castiel’s desk.

“Well - thank you for coming,” Castiel replied and walked towards him, wanting to be a little closer, feeling strange having the conversation from halfway across the room - but once he reached where Dean was standing, he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. He turned towards one of the plants on his desk as though he’d always been heading towards it, and began to fuss over its leaves.

“You really made this place nice,” Dean said, putting his hands in his pockets and leaning against the other end of Castiel’s desk. He looked so suave like that, with his tailored jacket fitted to him so neatly. Castiel did his best not to notice too much. “Like, damn.”

“You said you used to come in here?” Castiel said, rearranging a couple of his pen pots on the desk for no reason. It was easier to look at stationery than it was to look at Dean. Looking at Dean only made him feel more intensely strange and good and full of weird static. Stationery made him feel... organised?

Of the two, right now, he’d take the latter. Less confusing.

“Yeah, man, all the time. Me ‘n’ my brother. Everyone thought it was for him, but honestly he was so full of smarts from school, he didn’t need this place. And anyway, he was always more of a tech nerd than a book nerd. Just where his heart was.”

“And you?” Castiel said. “What kind of nerd were you?” He picked up a stapler and put it back down somewhere else.

“Me… I mean, I never thought of myself as the nerd.” Dean snorted. “No one thought that. I mean, people pick their pigeonholes for you, right? Specially in school. How’s that line go? You know, Breakfast Club… uh, ‘in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions’.”

“And you weren't the brain. So, you were… the princess?” Castiel said, managing to recover enough light cynicism to be able to look at Dean again, and leave arranging paper-clips for another day.

“Hah. Noooo.” Dean drew the word out, low and flat. He shook his head. “Not popular enough. Guess again.”

Castiel sighed. “The athlete,” he said. Of course Dean would have been the athlete. You just had to look at him.

Dean laughed. “God. No. I was way too cool for sports, man, come on. You think I’d be out there in shorts and swingin’ sticks or bats or whatever they use to make the ball go far?”

Surprised again. Castiel tilted his head to one side. “So, what type of person were you?” he asked.

Dean’s hands pushed further into his pockets, and he broke their eye contact to look up at the ceiling.

“Ah. Well. Honestly, I was somewhere between the basket case and the criminal. You know, that kid making crappy choices.” He shrugged. “Weird stuff happening at home, plus pressure to do OK in school and, you know, save our family from crushing debt, equalled… some pretty bad habits. One of those ones where, you know, you think you have everything under control and separate, and then it all just has to collide.” When he turned back to look at Castiel, he had a little smile on his face again. “But books… just reading things. Getting the hell out of my head. That was always good. Never stopped loving that.”

The man was never what Castiel expected him to be. Never the asshole Castiel kept expecting.

Castiel shook his head, letting out a slow breath. His sudden new feelings about Dean aside, he felt he owed the man an apology.

“What?” Dean said, his tone a little less friendly.

“Oh - no, sorry,” Castiel said. “Sorry. I’m not judging you. Actually, it’s kind of the opposite.” Dean frowned at him, and Castiel raised one shoulder awkwardly and let it drop. “It’s just - I thought… I thought from your posters and your interviews that you’d be - more - more like a celebrity.

Dean’s frown only deepened.

“No, I mean - I thought you’d only be in the writing business for the fame, and you’d only be here today for the attention. I didn’t expect you to have ever come to this library before. I didn’t expect you to be - well - to be -” Castiel struggled for an adjective. “Well. You put me and my preconceptions to shame at every turn.”

“Okay,” Dean said, not sounding convinced. “So, I get a couple books published and it means I’m a total dick, kind of thing? You’ve had people like that come here before, or something?”

Castiel felt himself shrivelling, ever so slightly. Part of him - a very large part, in fact - wished that he’d said nothing at all.

“Well… no,” he admitted. “It was just - well, I mean, your pictures…”

“Oh, god,” Dean said, and suddenly the crease between his brows was gone. “The blue steels? Right. Yeah, I don’t blame you for expecting an a-hole if that’s all you had to go on. Like, those things are literally the equivalent of grabbing a megaphone and yelling I take myself too seriously. Right? I need to get new ones done, honestly.”

Castiel, relieved that the conversation had got back on track, smiled genuinely. He picked up one of the rolled-up posters on his desk, and unfurled it; Dean groaned as his own face was revealed, staring sultrily out at him. He reached out a hand for it, and Castiel gave it to him.

Dean held it up next to his own face, and did his best impression.

“Very good,” Castiel said, rubbing his chin, pretending to consider it as carefully as an art critic looking at a new painting. “Yes, very good. If you could just filter your face slightly next time to really highlight how stunning your eyes are, that’d be better.”

As he lowered the poster, Dean’s smile returned - a small one, genuine and pleased, almost bashful.

“Cool,” he said.

“Cool?”

“Yeah. Wait, what?” Dean said.

“What?” Castiel was lost.

“Nothing.” Dean seemed to consider him for a moment. “Your eyes are pretty good too,” he added after a moment. “For the record.”

And Castiel felt his own expression turn soft and surprised.

“Thank you,” he said. “Yours are too.”

“Yeah,” Dean said. “Yours too.”

Their gaze held for a drawn-out moment, and Castiel felt a wild rush of that feeling - the one that hurt, that felt good.

“Hey,” Dean said. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” Castiel said, feeling his heartbeat pick up a little.

He wasn’t sure what he’d say, if Dean asked him out - how exactly he’d phrase the most resounding yes . Maybe he’d play it cool, with a yeah, sure. Or maybe he’d say, I’d love that. Or -

“Did you make that display?”

Castiel swallowed, and took a mental step back.

This is Dean Winchester , he reminded himself. Even if Dean was a good guy, he was still a very, very beautiful one, who could afford to flirt with just about anyone he wanted. Maybe Castiel was having weird onrushes of feelings, but he was the only one.

Almost certainly.

“Yes,” he said out loud, turning to follow Dean’s eyeline and brightening a little when he saw his display of queer literature. “I did. Just a couple of weeks ago, actually.”

“It looks awesome,” Dean said, going over and picking up one of the books. “Any with bi characters?”

“Lots,” Castiel said, following his lead and walking over. “Though often it’s just implied, not outright said.”

“Tell me about it,” Dean said sourly - with a personal investment in his tone that told Castiel all he needed to know. “I think I first read a book where someone actually said they were bi after, like, ten years of looking. It was super helpful.”

“I understand the frustration,” Castiel replied. “I’m demisexual, myself. It’s on the asexual spectrum.”

“Sure,” Dean said, with a knowledgeable tone to his voice that Castiel hadn’t expected. Obviously catching Castiel’s expression, Dean shrugged. “I went looking for bi pride pins once, and I saw some that were black, purple, and white by the same seller. Ace pride. I was like, ace pride? What’s that, like, aces in a deck of cards? Ace Ventura? Two hours later, I’d learned some stuff.” He grinned, and it was charming, and Castiel didn’t have to explain himself and that felt good. His skin was warm all over in a good way. It just felt like everything was so much.

“I have a couple of pins myself,” he said out loud. “A rainbow one because I’m homoromantic, and an ace one because I’m on the ace spectrum.” It was so comparatively easy to come out to other queer people, Castiel thought, as the words barely stuck on his tongue for a moment. Especially someone who already knew all about the asexual spectrum.

“Nice,” Dean said, drawing out the word appreciatively. “I know I should wear mine more often. I get kinda - ehhh - about it, though. Especially round here. There’s something about growing up someplace that just makes you feel way more aware of how many people won’t like you for who you are, right?”

“That’s definitely true to my experience.”

“Maybe it’s because you can remember all the dicks you went to school with, and you’re like - yeah, that guy’d probably try to beat me up even today if he saw me with a badge that had pink on it. Let alone if he knew what it meant.”

“It’s difficult,” Castiel agreed. “When I made the display, I thought it would be easy. I’m out to everyone I know well - I have nothing to hide. But I still find myself feeling nervous whenever someone comes through that door, with this display up.”

Dean smiled at him in understanding, and ran his hands down the stack of books nearest him on the display. Castiel watched his fingertips touching those spines, and swallowed.

“Yeah,” Dean said. “It’s a thing. But like, something like this? It’ll change minds. For like, straight people who can learn about it, and queer people who can learn about themselves. Wait - are you cool with me saying queer?”

“Of course,” said Castiel. “Actually, I think I spent too long in academia to even really register it anymore.”

“You were in academics?” Dean said, sounding a little awed - to Castiel’s surprise and vague amusement. “Never got past high school, myself. Do they really make you dress up as weird shit and go and embarrass yourself on lawns?”

“That’s the impression of college that you’ve got?” Castiel said, smiling, and Dean shrugged.

“Movies did a number on me,” he said easily. “So, what made you leave that whole thing?”

“Well, I got my second Master’s degree and ran out of money,” Castiel said. He couldn’t stop the sadness creeping into his voice. “I had a lot of things left to say, but I just couldn’t afford to do a PhD. So I came home and I got a job here. It’s not as though I’ve never looked back since, but I do love working here.”

“And it’s not like you haven’t made a difference,” Dean said, patting one hand on the stack of queer literature and offering him a consoling little twist of his lips. “This’ll mean a lot to a lot of people. Means a lot just to me, and I’m already out to everyone who knows me personally, so.”

“Have you… ever thought about…” Castiel began hesitantly, and then swallowed. However he said it in his head, the question sounded pushy and overeager. He opened his mouth to move on, but Dean seemed to have already caught the gist of what he’d wanted to say.

“Yeah,” he said quietly. “Yeah, I have. I don’t know. I write for kids, and - yeah, yeah, I know, the whole gays aren’t for kids thing is bullshit, don’t look at me like that, OK?” Dean grinned good-humouredly. “But, like, I know I’ll get a ton of crap for it, if I write a kid’s book with a character who’s not straight. I don’t know if I’m ready to have that target painted on me.”

Castiel nodded. “I understand,” he said, but Dean was shaking his head.

“Nah,” he said. “You don’t. Look at you! Making this display, actually putting yourself out there.” There was a real note of admiration in his voice that made Castiel’s cheeks feel warm. He shrugged one shoulder self-consciously.

“Well… like I said, I only really thought through the consequences after I’d already done it.”

“Didn’t take it down, though, did you? Not even when you knew all these people were coming here today.” Dean raised his eyebrows at Castiel, who struggled for words that were honest without sounding falsely modest.

“I just thought it could help,” he settled on saying. Dean nodded, his eyes on Castiel, an expression in them that was bright and careful and, somehow, seemed aware of the feeling in Castiel’s chest. Seemed aware of the sensation of a start that filled the space between them.

“So,” Dean said.

“So.” Castiel cleared his throat. He’s just a good-looking guy used to flirting with everyone, he reminded himself. This means absolutely nothing to him at all.

But even still, Castiel couldn’t stop the little hum of horror that went through him at the thought of saying goodbye to Dean now, with no plans or prospect of ever seeing him again. The sheer wrongness of that was startling.

If he was honest with himself, a feeling like this… Castiel was thirty-one years old, and he’d never been so instantly attracted to someone. It was electrifying. And perhaps it was only a crush, perhaps with time it would cool; after a few days, maybe it would be over. But right now, in this moment, all Castiel wanted was the chance to see Dean again.

He couldn’t ask Dean out, though. That’d just show how seriously he was taking this little… whatever it was… between them. There had to be something else he could say, another way to bring them both back to the same place.

“So, uh, I was wondering -” Dean said, but in a moment of inspiration, Castiel opened his mouth and interrupted.

“Come back and read for the kids,” he said. It came out blunt, like an order.

Dean blinked.

“You - read for the - kids?” he said.

“Yes,” Castiel said, speaking assuredly and nodding seriously, as though he’d been planning this for longer than roughly three and a half seconds. “We usually do weekly readings for the kids every Thursday afternoon. Why don’t you come to one of our sessions, and check me out?”

Oh, God.

The feeling of horror was instant. Castiel died a thousand deaths in a moment. Rooted to the spot, he felt his consciousness drift out of his body briefly, as though trying to leave his humiliation behind.

“Check you out?” Dean repeated, amused. There was a twinkle in his eye that Castiel liked more than he should; it took the edge off the cruelty of his embarrassment.

“It,” Castiel said, his voice hard and emotionless - the only emotion he’d have been able to manage to put into it was abject horror at his own mistake, and even his robot voice was better than that. “Not me. I’m not check-outable. I’m not a book.”

“No,” Dean said. “I can see that.”

For a moment, Castiel felt Dean’s eyes travel over him.

And then Dean cleared his throat, and looked down at the book stacks in front of him, frowning slightly as though trying to get back to business. “So, uh - next Thursday, is it? The reading thing?”

“Next Thursday,” Castiel agreed, feeling a little light-headed with it all. “You might not have the same crowd as today, though. It’s usually just a small group.”

“It’s all good,” Dean said. “I’ll keep it off Twitter so it’s just a lowkey thing. Except - is it OK if I invite Lulu and her mom for their grilled cheese?”

Castiel shook his head internally. The man was actually going to bring grilled cheese. He was a walking paradigm. And he was bi. And he’d been flirting, before, Castiel was almost sure of it. And he was coming back to the library next Thursday. This was ridiculous.

“Anything you want,” he said, and he meant it.

Chapter Text

The next Thursday found Castiel sitting at his desk, wearing his best shirt and favourite tie - blue, with little bees on it - and doodling on his desk pad absently. There were only a couple of hours to go before Dean Winchester came back to the library, and Castiel barely knew how to feel about it.

He wanted to feel exasperated, or at the very least stoically sardonic. All his head was giving him, though, was the memory of Dean smiling, of the way Dean had said check you out? , of the warmth and sincerity and thoughtfulness in his answers to questions at the Q&A. Castiel’s fingertips felt on the verge of pins and needles when he thought about Dean being close by again. It made his heart beat faster just to think about being in the same room as him.

He leaned his head on his hand, and drew the word hopeless on his desk pad in swirling cursive.

Castiel knew the definition of the word smitten, and it was his own picture beside the word in the dictionary. And there was a very similar entry for the definition of U-Turn, and only a marginal difference for the definition of hypocrite. It had taken exactly one afternoon for Castiel to fall thoroughly for all the charms he’d hated Dean Winchester for having.

The only defence against his own runaway feelings was logic’s cautious reminder that Dean - famous, handsome Dean - was sure to already have someone that he was seeing. Or, even if he wasn’t in a committed relationship, he must have a hundred other people he’d flirted with just for the fun of it. Castiel couldn’t expect this to actually go anywhere.

It wasn’t really enough of a defence, when Castiel thought about those green eyes, that warm voice. The soft, sheepish, smiling look on his face when he’d first turned around to face Castiel’s disapproving clear of the throat. He found his hand moving of its own accord, sketching on the desk pad; Dean’s eyes emerged first, and then the lines of his brow, his cheeks, his jaw - the way he grinned, the way it was so genuine and bright.

“Excuse me?”

Castiel slammed his hand down over the drawing of Dean, and looked up to see a blonde, bright-eyed teenager standing in front of his desk, looking at him just a little too knowingly and holding a thick book in her arms. In their arms, Castiel corrected his thoughts, remembering Hannah from earlier . They seemed like a nice, neutral option, until the person clarified on preferred pronouns.

The teenager glanced down at Castiel’s drawing pad. Castiel followed their gaze down, and saw that Dean’s eyes were peering out over his pinky finger.

He shifted the finger an inch. No more eyes.

“Nice drawing.”

Castiel cleared his throat. “How can I help?” he said, as smoothly as he could.

“Is he your boyfriend?” The kid had long blonde hair that was braided at the sides, clear blue eyes, and an expression of mischief.

Castiel had no idea what to say to that. “No,” he managed.

“Do you want him to be?”

“No…”

“That wasn’t convincing.”

“Well - well, it’s complicated. He’s - it’s not -” Castiel stopped talking, took a deep breath, and let it go. “What’s your name?” he said, in his librarian’s voice.

“Why’d you wanna know?”

“Why do you want to know if he’s my boyfriend?” Castiel responded. There was a moment of silent thought, and then -

“Claire.”

“Hi, Claire,” Castiel said. “I’m the librarian here. If you have any questions about the library, please let me know. Anything else is my own personal business.”

Claire’s expression became thoughtful.

“Any question about anything in the library?”

Castiel saw the loophole, and narrowed his eyes wordlessly. Claire sighed, and seemed to let it go.

“I’d like to take out this book…”

When Claire was gone, Castiel threw the drawing away. He crumpled it up before dropping it into the trash. There was no way he was risking having it around with Dean arriving later.

He finished shading in Dean’s lips first, though.

***

At quarter to four, Castiel had everything ready for Dean’s arrival. There were beanbags set out in a circle that was just the right blend of neat and relaxed. A special chair for Dean himself was ready - a low and reclined one that didn’t put its occupant too far above the kids sitting on the beanbags, but also saved older bones from aching after a whole hour of reading. The children’s area had been so thoroughly spritzed with citrus-scented cleaner that it smelled like a germ-free lemon meringue pie.

And the coffee maker had been primed. There was sugar. Castiel had even got in some fresh milk.

At five to four, there was a healthy gathering of parents and children. The girl dressed as Lulu - who had arrived in full costume once again - was sitting attentively in the beanbag right next to the special chair, her hat practically vibrating with the excitement. Castiel was chatting with a few familiar faces, waving hello to the kids he knew by sight after several months of reading to them every week, and resisting the temptation to take out his phone and use his camera’s selfie mode to check his tie was sitting right.

What Dean thought of his tie didn’t matter, he told himself. Not for the first time.

At two minutes to four, the coffee was made. In the mug that Dean had said he liked last time. Steaming, brewed nicely, stirred. Waiting in Castiel’s hands to be given to Dean on his arrival. Dean wouldn’t have to be polite about this one - at least, hopefully not, though it occurred to Castiel that in all likelihood Dean had a coffee machine at home that was a thousand times better than the beaten-up little beast in the library’s back-room, and he was probably accustomed to only using beans picked and hand-polished in Columbia, with water filtered through a thousand layers of cashmere, and milk from a cow fed only on tofu and the tears of lesser cattle.

Either way, this coffee would be a nice gesture, and that was the important thing.

At five minutes past four, Castiel was frowning slightly.

At nine minutes past four, he put Dean’s coffee down on his desk.

At twelve minutes past four, he was beginning to berate himself.

He’d actually thought that Dean Winchester was going to turn up. He’d seriously been taken in by a celebrity with a do-good attitude and a convincing smile - when of course there was no substance behind it. Of course the whole thing had just been meaningless to Dean... all of it, the interactions with the children, the good that he’d done by seeming so grounded and reliable and thoughtful, the promise he’d made to come back and read - and the silent promise that their conversation had held, during the time that he’d spent with Castiel afterwards. It had all meant absolutely nothing.

So, Castiel had been right to begin with.

And Dean’s eyes really did light up like that for just anyone, even someone forgettable. It all held no significance whatsoever in Dean’s mind, clearly.

Seventeen minutes past four. The children were starting to look to their parents, who were looking to Castiel, who had no one to look to and nowhere to hide. Embarrassment was filling up the room like invisible cotton-candy, and everyone was breathing it in. The girl dressed as Lulu looked very, very serious indeed, with her eyes a little shiny in a way that Castiel recognised; she was being solemn and thoughtful and mature, and trying very hard not to cry.

Outside, it started to rain. Castiel glared out of the windows. Nice try at a pathetic fallacy, he told the weather in his head, but you’ll have to make it a thunderstorm if you want to do the job right. With lightning. Hail. Lots and lots of lightning and hail.

At twenty-one minutes past four, Castiel had to stop straightening books on shelves in the perennially quiet botanical section to which he’d fled, and face the crowd.

“Hello, everyone,” he said, trying to keep his disappointment out of his own voice, and be professional. As one, the parents turned to look at him; the children fussed around, fractious, knowing the tone of soon-to-be-announced disappointment. Only Lulu looked up at him, absolutely still, wide-eyed. Castiel knew what she was hoping for - a big reveal, or at the very least a promise that Dean would be here soon - but Castiel couldn’t give it to her. Couldn’t give it to either of them.

“I’m very sorry -” he began - and then the door to the library slammed open.

“Hello?! Am I in time for the reading?”

The question was urgent. Dean Winchester was staggering through the doorway, dripping rain, his arms full with huge, rustling brown paper bags; he could barely see over the top of them, and he almost walked into Castiel’s queer literature display as he hurried over towards the children’s section where Castiel was standing, motionless with surprise. Behind him, the group was silenced.

“God,” Dean was saying as he walked up to Castiel. “I’m so sorry. I know, I’m so late. I just - I was on the phone with the publishers this morning and it went on forever and then I wanted to pick up some stuff before I came and I got way too involved in choosing things and then by the time I finally got to my favourite sandwich place, the place was totally overwhelmed with orders, but I had to get, you know…”

Dean seemed to peter out, the eager flow of his monologue slowing to a trickle in the face of the group’s quiet disapproval - and Castiel’s expression.

“The grilled cheese,” Dean finished, in a small, embarrassed voice.

Castiel stared at him. He was actually here. And he was contrite. It wasn’t as good as being on time, but it was a lot better than not being here at all.

He was dripping rainwater on the carpet.

My grilled cheese?” piped up a voice from behind Castiel - and the spell was broken. The children broke out into laughter, the littler ones cheering up without fully understanding why. The parents, riding a wave of relief, struck up conversations with each other that seemed warmer than before, probably expressing relief that everything was going to go to plan. Lulu herself stood up and came to hover by Dean’s elbow, too nervous to hang off his arm but obviously desperate to do so. Castiel kept his eyes on Dean, who grinned sheepishly at him - and then dropped the smile, and looked serious.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Really.”

Castiel swallowed.

“Come in this library soaking wet again,” he said, “and I’ll have you blow-drying all the books you drip water on.”

He noted his own dangling preposition, and decided to give himself a pass. It had been a stressful half an hour. He could forgive himself a grammatical lapse. What was less forgivable was the very obvious warmth and happiness that shone out from behind the sternness of his words, betraying all his intended aloof reproval.

Dean still grimaced, though, and nodded. “Right… right, yeah. Really, I’m - I’m sorry.”

His eyes met Castiel’s, and understanding passed between them. I’m glad that you’re here. I’m glad to be here, too. They might as well have spoken out loud.

It was a moment that things seemed to hinge on. Castiel felt Dean’s honesty, and trusted it.

Understanding , mused Castiel, as Dean turned to talk to Lulu and offer her the grilled cheese sandwich in its neat little bag. What a boring word for something that felt like each holding one side of the same book, and reading from the same page with fingers touching on the spine. What a dull and tepid way to describe something that changed everything.

He repressed his smile as Dean dropped all his paper bags to the ground and turned to the kids, beaming, and saying loudly,

“Okay, we’re acting this scene out as I read it, and I brought stuff to make it extra special. Who here isn’t allergic to face paint and a fluffy onesie? Because we’re going to need a very fuzzy bear.”

***

“Hey, is that for me?” Dean walked over to Castiel’s desk, looking down at the mug of coffee perched on the edge. Castiel looked up from his computer screen, where he’d just been helping one of the kids to check out a new book before they left. The library was quiet once again, with all the face paints and costumes put safely away.

The coffee, in its cheerful #1 Librarian mug, sat innocently on the desk. In the same place it had been sitting for an hour and a half.

“Yes,” Castiel said.

“Oh, man. Thanks. I’m gasping for one.” Dean picked up the mug and took a generous swig - and then promptly had to fling his hand up to cover his mouth, to stop himself from spitting it out all over the desk. Through his mouthful of stone cold coffee, Dean made a series of uncomplimentary noises.

“It was hot,” Castiel said, turning back to his computer screen pointedly, “at five to four this afternoon.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dean wince, and heard the quiet trickle of the coffee leaving his mouth and returning to the cup. He looked up at Dean, caught between shock and amusement.

“Bleargh,” Dean said, the noise heartfelt, looking down at it with an expression on his face of absolute betrayal. Castiel stood up, and held out a hand for the mug. Dean regarded him with a certain level of mistrust, but Castiel thought he caught an underlying glint of enjoyment in his eyes.

“Five to four, huh,” he said.

“I waited,” Castiel said, “with all those parents eyeballing me. For a third of the reading hour.”

Dean swallowed, and then looked back down at the coffee, and nodded. “Yeah. OK. That’s fair.”

“Come on,” Castiel said, beckoning the fingers of his outstretched hand. Dean handed over the mug, and the backs of his fingers brushed Castiel’s palm.

“I really am sorry ‘bout that,” Dean said, raising his voice to be heard as Castiel made his way round to the back room, swilled out the coffee mug, and turned on the coffee machine again. “So, the parents were getting antsy?”

“I think everyone thought you weren’t coming,” Castiel called back. There was a long pause, and then Dean stuck his head round the door.

“Even you?”

“First in line,” Castiel said, deadpan. Dean grinned, the suddenness of it making Castiel’s chest feel briefly compressed.

“Glad to prove you wrong, then.” He moved into the back room to lean against one of the countertops, slipping his hands into the pockets of his jeans and looking unfairly handsome under the pale yellowy strip lights.

“A one-time victory,” Castiel assured him, as the coffee machine finished filtering through. He switched it off and reached for the sugar, while Dean pulled a thoughtful expression.

“Oh,” he said, “oh, yeah. Of course. One-time thing, me proving you wrong. Just, uh, one question... what are you calling that time when you thought I would be a total jerk when I was here before and I - what was it - ‘put you and your preconceptions to shame at every turn’?”

Crap.

“So, you filed that away word-for-word, did you?” Castiel said dourly.

“Oh, no, no, I’m just…” Dean held up his hands in mock innocence. “I’m just, you know, asking a question, that’s all.”

“I filed that under ‘pending further investigation’,” said Castiel. “You didn’t prove me wrong until I admit I’m wrong.”

“You’d like to investigate me some more?” Dean said, and Castiel almost dropped the milk he’d just retrieved from the mini-fridge.

Dean snorted. Castiel gave him a hard glare, or rather the hardest glare he could summon, which despite his best intentions was really more of a soft and light gaze. The way that Dean smiled back at him made Castiel’s stomach flip.

“Maybe I would like that,” Castiel said.

“Oh, yeah? What do you think you’d find?” Dean accepted the coffee that Castiel handed to him with careful hands, and took in a deep breath of its steaming surface.

“I’m sure I could find an asshole if I looked hard enough,” Castiel said, without thinking - and then turned bright pink as Dean looked up at him, wide-eyed, expression full of shock and humour.

“Oh, you think?” he said.

“No - no, I just meant, you could be an asshole and I could - I could find that out -” Castiel tried to explain, but Dean was laughing and not listening.

“You’re gonna find my asshole, are you?”

“I meant -

“You know, I already have an idea where it could be.”

“I meant -

“Whatever you say, man,” Dean replied, and took a sip of his coffee as Castiel lapsed into glowing, flustered silence. “Ah, OK. Now, that’s the stuff. Thanks, Castiel.”

And just hearing his own name in Dean’s mouth made the tight, shy, worked-up feeling in Castiel’s chest double.

He let out a breath. The wall of slightly unkind humour that he’d built up around himself for the past few minutes wasn’t really working. He let it crumble down, relaxing - and what he really wanted to say came flowing easily.

“I’m the one who should be thanking you,” he said, allowing himself some sincerity. “The kids had a fantastic time today. The fact that you came back at all is far beyond the call of duty. They really appreciated it.” He swallowed. “And so did I.”

Dean looked up at him, his expression softer. He looked touched.

“It was a pleasure, man,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t get to do stuff like this a lot. It’s cool. Never thought kids were my thing but they’re not so bad when you’re actually in the room with them, right?”

“You don’t like children?” Castiel said, frowning. “But you write stories for them.”

“Well. I mean. That’s at a distance, right? They’re, you know, kinda dirty. And they do the cry thing. In public places. Like, have your meltdown somewhere behind closed doors, please?” Dean snorted, but the joke fell flat. Castiel was wincing internally.

“They’re people,” said Castiel. “Just little ones who haven’t learned how to do it like we do it, yet. When they’re babies, they don’t even know where their food is coming from if they’re hungry, or how they’ll get warm if they’re cold. What can they do except cry about it? It’s literally what they’re programmed by nature to do. And it’s a hard habit to shake.”

“Well - well, yeah. That’s true.” Dean took a sip of coffee. “I don’t know, kids… I mean, it’s just not a very… like, it never really… you know, people never really let you do the taking care thing when you’re a guy.”

“Cop-out,” Castiel said bluntly, and Dean smiled.

“Fair,” he said. “Not even a good one. I took care of my brother for years, growing up. I just never thought of him as a kid. He was my little brother. All the other tiny kids were kids.”

“It’s easier to empathise with those close to us. See them as the individuals that we all really are.”

“Yeah. Well…” Dean shrugged, looking cowed. “Okay, okay, maybe you got me on this one.” He held up one finger. “ Maybe.

Castiel relaxed a little. The whole I hate kids thing always bothered him whenever he saw it, but from Dean it felt more like posturing than truth. A recycled opinion that Castiel had never seen him put into action.

“I would never have suspected you harboured any ill-feelings towards children at all,” he said aloud. “Everything I saw today made you seem like a person who completely understands how to treat them with care and respect.”

“That’s different. I mean, when they’re right in front of me, it’s different.” Dean waved an arm. “I mean, I know I said it’s better when they’re at a distance, but… ah, man. I’m just gonna - I’m just gonna drink my coffee.”

He slurped, loudly. Castiel offered him a smile.

“At least you aren’t trying to investigate my asshole,” he said, and Dean - hand not able to move fast enough this time - sprayed coffee over the wall opposite where he was standing, his laugh uncontainable.

“Dean!”

“Oh god!” he said, wiping at his mouth, the laughter still coming. “I’m - I’m sorry, I - fuck, man -”

“I’ve got paper towels…”

They dried the wall down together, hands occasionally and very accidentally brushing - and when Dean left the building fifteen minutes later, it was with a promise to text Castiel soon.

To set up another reading session. That was all. Obviously.

Chapter Text

Castiel’s phone vibrated in his pocket.

> Hey. This is Dean

The message was so stark that Castiel didn’t know how to reply; he just stared at it for a few moments, head on one side. Should he say his own name back? Should he ask how Dean’s day was going?

> I mean, you know that already
> Probably
> Because I already texted you before
> But in case you deleted the text or didn’t save my number or something
> Just thought I’d remind you
> This is Dean

The texts came through in a barrage, and Castiel could only sit there and watch them roll in. Of course, he thought dryly, the writer is texting me a novel in installments. He himself preferred to send things as one long paragraph. It just looked neater that way.

< Hello, Dean.

As replies went, it was pretty boring. Castiel bit his lip, and then added,

< How is your day going?

He stared down at the question, sitting there and looking demanding. Did it come off rude, as though he were insisting Dean told him about his day?

< Not that you have to tell me, if you’re busy

There. Though… reading it back, now, that sounded kind of passive-aggressive. That wasn’t how he’d meant it, but what if Dean took it that way? Castiel swallowed. It was better just to move the conversation along at this point, probably, wasn’t it? Get down to business, talk about the reason Dean had texted.

< Did you have a date in mind to come back and do another reading?

And then again, that was kind of demanding.

< There’s no pressure to come back if you don’t want to though.
< It’s really up to you

Looking down at his texts, Castiel frowned. He needed some kind of preventative remedy for his own hypocrisy, it seemed.

He could see it now - a quack doctor coming into town, unfurling his posters, standing up on his box in a colourful suit and top hat and proclaiming, are you prone to bouts of severe prejudgement? Do you find yourself regularly criticising people for things you then do yourself? Often catch yourself being a bit of an asshole? Then try my Magical Cure-All for Prejudgers and Preconceptors!

Castiel would have to be first in line.

And now, without a doubt, Dean would be totally bemused by the hail of texts. More than likely, he was reclining in some thousand-dollar egg-shaped ergonomic chair covered in faux-fur blankets, reading his texts on the latest Apple phone in rose gold with a slight frown creasing his perfect brow. Maybe reaching for a well-made cup of coffee. Looking back, Dean’s little sentences looked casual and calm, whereas Castiel’s own looked fluttery and nervous and full of backtracking.

Most likely of all, Dean was sitting there and wondering what he was doing texting with a spiky, judgemental, clumsy asshole who tricked him into drinking cold coffee and had absolutely zero bestselling books to his name.

> My day’s good! Just sitting in a coffee shop and writing
> This place is kinda gross and the coffee is shit
> But it’s got wifi and I can use my charger
> Anyway yeah let’s do another reading thing
> When is good?

Castiel squinted at the texts, confused. Dean was somewhere gross? Wouldn’t the dirt be getting on his sleek jacket and branded jeans? He typed out a couple of attempts at a response, and ended up with,

< You’re mixing with the common folk today?
< And any Thursday works. Whichever one fits with you

He tried to do some work while he waited for his phone to buzz again, but ended up just drawing shapes on his computer screen with the pointer of his mouse, lost in thought. There had to be high-end coffee shops with WiFi and charge points. Why wasn’t Dean just using one of those?

> Common folk??

The text back pinged in and Castiel tapped out a quick reply.

< You know, those of us who don’t have bestselling books and money to burn…

Someone came up to Castiel’s desk with a question about historical fiction; Castiel got so involved in answering their question and leading them around the library, showing them all the various shelves with contents that could interest them, that it was a good ten minutes before he got back to his desk and remembered with a rush of - he didn’t want to say excitement, that made him sound like a tween with a crush - remembered with a rush of remembering feeling to check his phone.

> LOL
> However much you think they pay authors
> Divide it by like six
> i AM the common folk dude, what the hell

Dean’s tone was light, but Castiel felt a blush rising to his cheeks. Where was it that he’d got the idea that Dean was hugely rich?

That Magical Cure-All for Prejudgers and Preconceptors was starting to seem more and more necessary. So, apparently, Dean was a guy who knew how to dress pretty sharp, but he wasn’t wealthy - and he frequented dive coffee shops for the WiFi. Castiel could feel his understanding of Dean shifting, moving; as though with a big whitewashing brush, he erased all the riches and snobbery.

< Apologies. I assumed you were well-off

Immediately after sending the text, Castiel read it back and dropped his head into his hand. It sounded as though he were being somehow accusatory, as though Dean should be rich. It was a bad text and he didn’t even know how to follow it up with a better one; there didn’t seem to be any way to take the edge off that statement. He was still sitting and staring at it, the stark black letters all resolute and unchanging on the screen, when Dean’s reply popped up.

> You assume a lot of things about me huh

Castiel swallowed hard. Dean sounded dry and frustrated - but, Castiel reminded himself sternly, he didn’t know Dean’s text style well at all, yet, and Dean could just be typing out a perfectly ordinary response with no bad mood implied.

< I’m afraid it seems that way

Castiel typed the response back gravely, and sent it. Almost immediately, Dean texted back:

> I don’t mind so much
> Makes me feel surprising ;)

Castiel wasn’t entirely sure, but that seemed like a flirtation. He didn’t know what to say, but it was in an entirely more positive way than just a few moments before. Butterflies were floating gently in his stomach.

< You are very surprising.

The text was too simple and truthful, and Castiel knew it, but he sent it anyway - emboldened by Dean’s wink emoji, and the fluttering sensation inside.

> Haha ok. :) Well you are too.

< I am?

> Hell yeah. I thought Castiel Novak was gonna be some oldass dude with hair coming out his ears

Castiel felt a little curve of warmth sweep up the side of his heart at the thought of Dean making false assumptions about him, too. Suddenly, he didn’t feel quite so foolish; yes, he’d assumed that Dean would be a boring, pretentious, rich asshole and he’d turned out to be an interesting, down-to-earth, not-that-rich guy who was more than a little charming. But apparently Dean had assumed that he’d be old, and he was actually… not that old.

The balance of bold and incorrect assumptions was still definitely tilted towards Castiel, fine. But the fact that Dean was on the scales at all was definitely heartening.

< What else do you assume about me?

The question was a leading one, and Castiel hesitated before hitting send - but the spiral of butterflies was curling his courage up to a place that stuck. He was putting himself out there in a way that felt both good and incredibly unwise; he remembered the easy way that Dean had flirted with him here in the library, and how likely it was that Dean was just a flirty person - that Dean already had a partner, anyway, and that Castiel had just read his behaviour as flirty because he was seeing what he wanted to see -

And then he reminded himself about making assumptions, and the perils therein, and tried to simply act on what he felt and what he’d experienced: Dean flirting with him, and him liking it. A lot.

> Hmm ok I assume.. you like books

Castiel snorted.

< Call the publishers of Sherlock Holmes. They need to immediately rename him. Dean Winchester: consulting detective

> Hahaha well am I wrong though
> Ok I assume.. you’re more of a tea guy than a coffee guy

< Not bad. I’ll go for coffee after a long night but green tea is always my go-to.

> Hah! Watch me living up to the detective name
> Alright I also assume.. you have a cat

Castiel smiled. Of course, the ever-present stereotype of the bookish cat person.

< Miss, I’m afraid. No cat. I do, however, have three birds.

> Birds????

The reply pinged back so quickly that it made Castiel smile. He shrugged a shoulder as he typed back.

< Indeed. Two budgies and a peach canary. Archimedes, Aristotle, and Anne of Green Gables.

> I honestly could never have called any of that, ever

Castiel’s small smile widened slightly. The feeling of being surprising to Dean - not being predictably clumsy and gauche, putting his foot in his mouth at every turn - it was a good one.

> Ok. One more thing. I assume you’re free next Saturday night. :)

Castiel could feel his heart hammering in his chest. He didn’t know whether to smile or bury his face in his hands; he could feel his face getting hot.

< You’d assume correctly.
< Did you have something in mind?

> 7pm at the archive museum, “writing queer voices”. Seems like some kinda event with speeches and panels and stuff. Wanna come?

The butterflies increased tenfold. It was perfect.

< Yes!

Was that too keen, with the exclamation point? Castiel found he didn’t care. When a mother and her young son came up to him to ask about history books, he showed them the way to the right section with so much enthusiasm that they left with a whole armful of literature on Ancient Egypt and smiles on their faces, too.

***

On Saturday morning, Castiel walked into the library with a spring in his step.

He went through his usual morning ritual quickly, deft hands making light work of scrubbing down surfaces and vacuuming the carpet. He watered his plants, straightened and wiped off a poster that had been pulled askew by some small chocolate-stained hand, and unlocked the library doors right on time.

Outside, the weather was a moody kind of purple-blue; there were flashes of bright sunlight flitting like hummingbirds through heavy, thick, bruised-looking clouds. Castiel paid no attention to the overcast sky, and tried to focus on reshelving books and sending emails. When visitors to the library came in, he served them cordially and happily. He made one of them, an old lady with a painful leg, a warming cup of coffee.

“Looks like rain,” she said to him quietly, sipping at it. She was sitting primly in the chair in front of his desk, while Castiel himself sat behind it.

“The weather said it would stay bright,” Castiel said. The lady shook her head.

“Rain’s on the way,” she answered, sounding worried about it.

“Would you like me to call a taxi home for you?” Castiel picked up the phone on his desk, halfway to dialling a number, but she shook her head.

“Rain means changes,” she said, and Castiel didn’t know what to say to that except to nod solemnly. It was true in a literal sense as much as anything else, he thought. The rain washed things clean, and sometimes broke them down.

He resisted the urge to text Dean, even after the old lady left and the rain, inevitably, started to fall, making the trickle of visitors to the library slower than usual. He tidied, and when he ran out of things to tidy, he read - lost himself completely in the familiar words of some Austen, until midday came and his phone lit up with a message.

Castiel pulled it towards him across the desk, a smile already tilting up his lips at the corners, his heart giving a little happy thud-thud when he saw who it was from. He opened the message.

> Well hey there handsome. Are you feeling excited right now? ;) Because I am.

Everything seemed to stop, and swirl a little.

Castiel read the text over again, and then again. And then he looked away.

He set his phone down, his fingers numb. A cold feeling was flooding his stomach, his jaw was clenched.

"Handsome"? "Excited"? The wink emoji?

This was, surely, a sext. Castiel had never sent one nor received one before, but this looked like the format he was vaguely aware existed.

Dean had sent him a sext. And they definitely weren’t on sexting terms, which only left one option.

Castiel tapped out an answer and then dropped his phone as though it were an ice block, burning too cold to touch.

< Sorry, I think you sent this to the wrong person. This is Castiel Novak, from the library.

He rearranged everything on his desk, twice, before a reply came back. Castiel picked up his phone with nerveless fingers.

> Oh haha yeah sorry that was for someone else.
> We still good for tonight?

The cold feeling was spreading all the way up to Castiel’s chest.

Somewhere out there, in the world, right now, Dean was sexting with someone else.

And that shouldn’t be a problem. There was no kind of agreement of any kind between them. Dean hadn’t explicitly even said that going to tonight’s event would be a date, let alone that they’d be dating each other exclusively. They barely even knew each other. It shouldn’t be a problem.

And yet, somehow, there was something about it that felt terrible. Felt like ice under his skin. There was something achingly awful about imagining Dean texting with someone else, getting off on someone else’s dirty talk, which would be showing up in the same black letters on the same screen where Castiel’s own messages must appear. It made Castiel feel stupid, and square, and stone-cold. Like a child who’d thought they were special when they were sitting at dinner, but who had just been told it was bedtime - because the grown-ups wanted to talk about proper things, things they actually cared about, instead of continuing to indulge him.

Of course Dean wasn’t looking for romance with Castiel. Of course Castiel would never be a good fit for him anyway. Of course he had a person in his life that he was interested in, someone who was probably good-looking and well-off and wonderful and had two PhDs -

Someone who isn’t on the asexual spectrum , said a little voice in Castiel’s head. Someone who can give him what he wants, exactly when he wants it, because they want it too.

He pushed the voice away. He was long-since over beating himself up for being demisexual. Past all the sleepless nights wishing that he could feel attraction often, and intensely, and easily, like everyone around him seemed to always do. He was beyond the anger and sadness. Accepting himself as he was had taken years of work, and he wasn’t going to let a creeping little voice roll any of that progress back.

He was happy with who he was. And if who he was meant that he was incompatible with Dean Winchester, there was no point feeling sad about it. In fact, Dean’s little slip-up was something he should probably be happy about. It meant that Castiel could figure out sooner that nothing was going to happen between them.

And that was a good thing. There had been less time for his feelings for Dean to grow. They were strong, yes, and green and good and lovely, and it had felt so right to have them unfurling inside him, putting down roots in the soft earth of his chest where rains and suns across many days had brought the soil to readiness. And now - well, he’d caught them before blossom and thorn, at least there was that. At least he wasn’t standing with cuts and blood, and flowers for no one.

Instead, he just had a little meadow of green, bright promise to mow away, uproot, put aside somehow.

The phone sat, angular and shiny and cold, on his desk. Castiel blinked down at it, feeling in some way outside of his own body.

He had no idea where to begin. But he knew for certain that if he saw Dean again, it’d only crick the necks of his feelings, put hardness and coldness in them, spike their stems with needles. Needlessly, too. As much as he wanted to see Dean tonight - and he did, despite the sext and the feelings of inadequacy and the foolish hurt - he knew it would be a bad idea.

< Sorry. Something came up. Maybe next time

He sent the text back, and stood up. He rearranged eighteen shelves for no reason, his eyes dry and his throat dry and his fingers numb. And then he went home.

Chapter Text

Castiel went home and fed his birds, and read Dostoyevsky.

And Castiel came into work and didn’t doodle, and read Thomas Hardy.

And Castiel went home again and fed his birds and fed himself, this time, too, and read Emily Bronte.

And Castiel came into work and ignored a text from Dean about when their next reading session would be, and read Nietzsche.

And Castiel went home and fed his birds and fed himself and watered his plants at home, and read Marcus Aurelius, and felt marginally better.

And Castiel came into work and told anyone who came in and asked that the next reading session would not have Dean Winchester present, despite his hints to the contrary at the last session. All three of them went away looking disappointed, and so Castiel sent out an email to everyone on the reading session mailing list, deciding to let them know all at once.

Dear readers,

Unfortunately Dean Winchester will not be joining us for the next session, and it’s possible that he won’t be coming back to Heavensgate in the future. Apologies for any inconvenience or dashed hopes. I still look forward to reading with all of you at the normal time on Thursday.

 

  • Castiel Novak, Librarian

 

And Castiel went home and fed his birds and fell asleep, which did a little to soften the purple bruises left by sleeplessness under his eyes. He woke up and dressed nicely and came into work, berating himself - yet again - for taking this so hard. He’d barely known Dean at all, he kept reminding himself. But there had been something about him that was so familiar, something in their conversations, something about being near him; talking to Dean had been like walking down a new path in a place Castiel had always known, which would lead to somewhere he loved.

But it had led to nothing much at all, and the wrongness of it was stealing sleep and appetite and warmth out of Castiel’s day-to-day. There was something they should have been to each other - the thought kept coming back again and again. No amount of Russian despair or English bleakness or German nihilism could drown it out.

There was something they should have been to each other.

At work, Castiel went through the motions. It was a calm Wednesday, with a nice steady flow of people coming in to see him. Two of them took a special interest in his display of queer literature. One of them in particular, a teenager with dark, tightly-curled hair and big brown eyes, was especially taken with it.

“My girlfriend told me about this. I’m Kaia. Can I sign up for a library card? Or can I use hers?”

Castiel, warmed for the first time in days, helped Kaia fill out her details on the form. ‘Her’ for sure, Castiel noted, as she checked ‘she/her’ on the new ‘What are your pronouns?’ section of the form.

When she left, the good feeling went with her.

There was something we should have been to each other.

Castiel shook his head, and went and found some Austen to read, but found he couldn’t stomach it. The promise of happiness at the end was simply too much for him to handle, too out of place and strange; like a golden retriever puppy sitting in a landfill, the book just seemed to bring all the horribleness fully into focus by being so lovely. He set Elizabeth Bennet and her sharp voice - and her fine eyes - down carefully, bookmarking his place two pages in.

Things were dire if even Jane couldn’t dig him out of his hole.

At five-thirty in the afternoon, he was getting ready to leave. He found he kept doing things over and over again by accident, forgetting that he’d already done them; the plants had been overwatered, the carpet had never been vacuumed so intensely, and there were three cups of cold green tea sitting in the break room on the counter - all of them seeming to look at each other gloomily, jilted as one.

The door to the library swung open, and it did so with such a sound of purpose that Castiel - sitting at his desk staring into space, there was something we should have been to each other - looked up hopefully.

His shoulders dropped when he saw it was just a few of the kids and their parents from the reading session, but he still found a smile for them as they walked up to the desk. It was a warm expression that none of them returned; they looked stormy. Castiel was most particularly struck by the determined frown of the girl he knew only as Lulu, though today she was without her costume.

“Good afternoon,” Castiel began politely, as the medley of children and adults arrived at his desk. Somewhere in his mind, he noted that so many shoes in the library were sure to have brought in some mess, and that he’d have a good reason to fill at least a little time with vacuuming again.

“Good afternoon,” Lulu said, and Castiel blinked. Her tone made it a concession, albeit a tiny one; she was indulging his courtesy without feeling it. She thrust out her hand, and passed Castiel a single sheet of paper.

“What’s this?” Castiel said, looking at others in the group - first the children, then the adults - for guidance. Lulu only waved the paper to regain his full attention, while the others watched him with varying levels of truculence. They were all faces that Castiel recognised, but he’d never seen them look so forbidding. Even the little boy who’d dressed up as they very fuzzy bear at Dean’s last reading session was managing to look outright mean. They watched him wordlessly, obviously having prepared this silent plan of action. Possibly even practised it, judging by how hard a couple of the smaller kids were clearly finding it to keep their mouths tight shut.

With a sigh, Castiel took the paper.

It was crumpled at all four corners, and covered with large, untidy handwriting. Clearing his throat and offering Lulu a piercing look over the top of the page, Castiel began to read.

“We the undersigned,” he began, and then glared up at the adults, because there was no way Lulu had managed to spell ‘undersigned’ without some help; one of them, her mother, had the grace to shift uncomfortably. “We the undersigned protest the removal of Dean Winchester as a welcome guest to Heavensgate Library where he wants to come because my mom DM’d him on Twitter and he said so. We want him to come back and it’s unfair if he’s not coming back. Signed…”

There were over fifteen signatures, more than the group of people standing in front of him. Castiel squinted down at one of the names, and saw that it read my cat.

They’d made this, all of them working together, to protest what they saw as an injustice.

Castiel thinned his lips, to stop himself showing any sign of emotion - but within himself, there was rolling a great swell of pride. And, beneath that, a twist of worry that was turning itself tighter and tighter, because he couldn’t give them what they wanted. He just couldn’t.

He looked up at Lulu, whose mouth was set obstinately.

“This has a cat as one of the signatures,” he said, with his tone offering no judgement, only pointing out a fact.

“I explained him what was happening,” said a different kid with short red hair. “And he stopped purring.”

That seemed to settle the matter for everyone in front of him, because they all raised their eyebrows as if to say, ‘well, you can’t argue with that’.

In all honesty, Castiel thought, you really couldn’t argue with that.

He sighed.

“What do you want me to do,” he said.

***

It was just a text.

Castiel sat at his desk, and stared down at his phone, and tried telling himself again.

It’s just a text.

Yesterday, he’d managed to get the troupe of budding activists to leave his library on the solemn promise that he would message Dean, and ask him to come to the reading session this afternoon. As soon as they’d left, he’d pulled out his phone, and begun attempting to script a text in his head.

Hello, it’s Castiel. The one you sexted, who then freaked out, and whom you haven’t spoken to since. I was wondering if you would possibly come into the library and do a reading session whilst simultaneously managing to not speak to me, look at me, or make me aware of your presence in any way that might increase my already fairly substantial feelings about you. It’s not that I’ve built this up too much in my head or anything, it’s just that nothing has felt right since we stopped talking and I have the constant sense of missing out on a future that would have been the best thing I ever had. So if you could be kind, please, and just come to the library for the kids, but not be yourself too much, and definitely not around me, that would be fantastic. Also, please wear a ski mask, because your face is a lot.

That was the best draft Castiel had, and it was sixteen hours later. He was running out of time to hold up his end of the promise; if he didn’t text Dean soon, then he’d be going back on his word.

He was overthinking it. There was no need to address the gap in communications over the past week or so. Dean, who wasn’t invested in Castiel at all, probably hadn’t even noticed anything was wrong, after all. Maybe he’d been a little confused at the terse way in which Castiel had dropped out of their plans, but surely he’d been too busy sending dirty messages to the original recipient of that text to let it bother him for long. If anything, Castiel thought, Dean had probably been glad that Castiel had bailed; he must have had a free evening to spend with the person he’d been messaging.

He’d probably been relieved that he wouldn’t have to babysit Castiel through the evening, before going home to the person he really wanted to spend time with.

Thorns, Castiel chastised himself. These are thorn thoughts. That’s enough.

He picked up his phone resolutely, and typed out a message.

< Hello Dean. Castiel here, from the library. Just wondering if you could make it to the session this afternoon at 4pm. The kids requested you specifically. Let me know

He sent it, with no follow-up, no backtrack, and no whimsical additions. And then he put his phone down, and worked for seventeen seconds, until Dean’s reply came back.

> Hey!! Yeah of course I’ll be there
> See you later, looking forward to it

Of course he was looking forward to it, Castiel thought, looking down at the texts. Of course he was excited. Because Dean Winchester was the kind of guy who got excited about coming to read to kids on a Thursday afternoon. He was the kind of guy who would make it extra special and exciting, if he could. He was the kind of guy who was perfect to have around the library whenever Castiel could possibly have him -

If it only weren’t for the fact that -

Castiel let out a long, steadying sigh.

There was something we should have been to each other.

“Shut up,” Castiel said aloud, and received worried glances from the two visitors currently inside the library. He gave them both stern looks, as though he’d been preemptively shushing them, and tried to get back to work.

Chapter Text

Three-thirty rolled around, and Castiel found himself wading through a swathe of parents and kids as he set up the last few things - some more chairs, some soft cushions, a big stack of books for Dean to choose from. The reading session had never been so popular; before he’d met Dean, he would have been bitter just thinking about it, but today all he could muster up was vague and exhausted agreement. He, too, would have come to the reading session especially if he’d heard that Dean would be here, and he knew what kind of person Dean really was.

“Hey,” said a voice behind Castiel, and he turned to see Kaia standing behind him. Her hand was being held by someone else - someone Castiel recognised.

“Kaia,” he said. “And - Claire, wasn’t it?”

Claire raised an eyebrow, with an expression that might have looked impressed if it weren’t so sardonic.

“Is Dean Winchester really gonna be here?” she said, chewing on some gum.

Even the sound of his name out loud was making Castiel’s stomach tie itself in knots. He tried to pull himself together.

“Yes,” he said starkly.

“Awesome. Let’s sit down,” Kaia said, tugging on Claire’s hand. They headed over towards the children’s area, sitting down next to another face Castiel knew - it was the girl from the Q&A, the one with heavy eyeliner who had asked the question about Lulu and feminism. Castiel watched as she gave Claire and Kaia a tight smile, which they returned. After a moment, they began talking.

How had all these people even known about the reading session, Castiel couldn’t help wondering. There had been no posters, no social media presence for the event. He couldn’t understand it. With Dean arriving in just twenty minutes now, though, he couldn’t focus on the problem for long; his mind was skittering about like a rabbit on ice, sliding this way and that over tasks and topics.

Should he make Dean a coffee? It would be a friendly gesture.

He wanted to.

He wanted Dean to pick up a warm steaming mug of sweet coffee that Castiel had made for him, and drink it; he wanted to brush a fingertip over the rim of the cup where Dean would put his lips. He wanted it so much that it was absolutely a terrible idea, and he decided not to make the coffee.

Dean would be arriving soon, anyway. Lulu, in full costume, walked through the door; catching her eye, Castiel gave her the acknowledging nod of one equal to another. She walked over to him.

“You look nervous,” she said - but in a sympathetically quiet voice. Castiel, once again, found himself surprised by her.

“I am a bit nervous,” he said, just as quietly. “But please don’t tell anyone.”

Solemnly, Lulu held out her hand. Castiel frowned, and reached out, and took it.

It was slightly sticky. Lulu squeezed.

Castiel squeezed back.

“Thank you,” he said.

“I got more calms,” Lulu said matter-of-factly.

“Yes. You do.”

“The person who has the most, gives the most.”

Castiel swallowed. He tried to take the calms that were being offered.

“Yes,” he said. “That’s right.”

She let go of his hand, and went to sit on the floor with some other kids who were playing together. Castiel watched her go, and when he was sure she wasn’t looking, he quietly slipped away to the break room to rinse the stickiness off his hand. Something in his manner must have looked particularly furtive, and his guilty conscience must have been working double, because when someone cleared their throat behind him, Castiel turned too fast with an expression of distinct culpability on his face.

And found himself looking, of course, at Dean Winchester.

Dean was half-laughing at Castiel’s reaction; Castiel was struck, though, by how unsure he looked - he had his hands in his pockets as though he wasn’t sure where to put them, and when his laughter faded he opened his mouth and said nothing, reaching for words that wouldn’t come.

“Hello,” Castiel said.

Dean’s face shifted, but the journey was from a strange place to an unknown destination, both of which Castiel had never been to. He had no idea what Dean was thinking.

“How’s it going?” Dean asked, in a voice that sounded as though it mattered. Castiel noticed he looked a little sleepless, too, dark marks under each of his eyes that looked like two pointing fingers had left smudges.

Probably he’d been awake, spending his nights with the recipient of that sext.

Or, Castiel considered, maybe he was just reading the second Hunger Games book. It wasn’t a page turner like the first, in Castiel’s own opinion, but it was a good read.

He realised he’d been silent too long.

“Coffee?” he said, in a quiet voice. When he met Dean’s eyes, he felt like they were both trying to say something - but it was like speaking with invisible ink, drawing words in the air that neither of them could see or understand. All they could do was look.

“I -” Dean began, but then a kid came rushing up behind him and grabbed his hand, laughing, and then there was another, and soon children were pelting into and out of the break room, helter-skelter in their excitement.

“He’s here!”

“Dean’s here!”

The cry went up, and suddenly the library was abuzz with excitement. Castiel offered Dean a rueful smile as he was tugged away by eager little hands, all pulling him towards the reading chair in the circle that Castiel had set up so carefully. Following more sedately, Castiel watched Dean look unhappy, at first, but then hitch on a smile when he saw Lulu sitting and waiting with her hands folded neatly in her lap, her eyes alight with excitement.

“Read this one, Mr Winchester!”

“No, read this one!”

Children were stuffing books into his hands as he sat down, crumpling the pages. Just when Castiel was about to intervene, Dean raised his voice authoritatively.

“Okay, okay, let’s settle down,” he said, in a tone that was relaxed but brooked no argument. “Easy there. So, uh - I guess everyone saw the last-minute post on Twitter, huh?”

Castiel, who was taking his place in the corner of the room, felt his lips go thin. So, that was how everyone had known to come. But why? Why would Dean want so many people here, just for a normal Thursday reading session? He didn’t seem to have even brought any props and costumes with him, this week - just a folder tucked under his arm, pale manila.

The crowd in front of him were restive, murmuring to themselves. Dean, at the front, held up his hand for quiet.

“Just by a show of hands, who here has read my book, Tales from the Summer Land ?”

Hands raised. Castiel leaned forwards, and saw that just about every person in the room had read the book; only a couple of kids at the front hadn't held up their hands.

“OK, awesome. Thank you, by the way.” Dean smiled charmingly, and Castiel felt his heart drop in his chest at the sight of it. He looked away, trying to gather himself. “So, I brought something along today that might be interesting for you guys.”

He pulled the manila folder out from under his arm, and opened it. From inside, he drew out a thick wad of A4 paper, and then he cast the folder to the floor.

Castiel generally didn't take to littering in his library, but he had to admit the effect was dramatic. The little crowd of people were completely still, hushed.

“This,” Dean said, “is a draft of the next book I'm writing. It's the sequel to Tales from the Summer Land. It's going to be called, and tell me if this is too out there and original, More Tales from the Summer Land.

A collective gasp went up, and people leaned forwards in their seat. The girl dressed as Lulu, Castiel could see, was sitting ramrod straight in her chair, practically quivering with excitement.

“Is Lulu in it?” piped up a little voice from the front.

“Absolutely she is,” Dean said. “And I thought you guys might like to hear some of it. What do you think?”

“Yes!” called Lulu, and the group laughed at the instantaneous excitement of her reply - but more voices joined hers, agreeing with her, and her momentary shrinking into her chair turned once more into head-held-high enthusiasm.

“Awesome!” Dean said. “Now, I gotta ask you guys not to share anything about this online and not to record me reading. My publishers would have my ba- my head, if they knew I was doing this. So if you could keep it our little secret, that'd be great. Is there anyone not OK with that here?”

The room was quiet, people looking left and right to check what everyone else was doing. When no hands raised, Dean nodded.

“Good,” he said. “Then I'll begin.”

The crowd shuffled their feet, settled themselves into their chairs. There was a sensation of something beginning, something important - there was a stillness to their air, and a look on Dean’s face that was more serious than usual.

Castiel let out a slow breath into the silence, watching Dean and only Dean. And right before he started, Dean looked up at Castiel. His gaze held, longer than if he’d caught Castiel’s eye by accident; he half-smiled, but it was sad, somehow, and brave, somehow, and Castiel didn’t have any idea what it meant.

“Once upon a time,” Dean said, speaking directly to him, “there was a land where it was always, always summer. The sun always shone and the days were always long and the flowers were always in bloom. It was the most beautiful place in the world. And everyone who lived there was always happy.

Everyone except just one person.

Lulu was never happy.

And Lulu thought it was strange that everyone around her was always happy. Even when they burned their toast, people would smile and say, how lovely! And even when they broke their toes, they would laugh on the way to the hospital and say, how wonderful! And even when they had their hearts broken, they would hurt and hurt and hurt but still they’d beam and say, isn’t this a miracle?

It was just plain weird. When Lulu burned her toast, she stomped her feet for at least five minutes. And when she broke her little toe on her fifth birthday, she cried and cried and no one knew what to do with her. And she was seventeen years old, now, and she had never broken her heart, but she imagined that if she did then she might cry for perhaps a year and also stomp her feet.”

Castiel smiled. Dean was telling the story in a smooth, steady voice, not hurrying and not self-conscious. He seemed lost in this world of his own making.

“One day, Lulu decided to leave the Summer Lands, and go outside. No one could understand her decision. Her parents were so confused. We don’t understand why you want to leave us! How lovely, they said. But she left, and she travelled far away. And she met lots of people outside the Summer Lands: she met a ghost, and she met a monster, and she met a witch. But you already know that story, don’t you?”

“Yes!” Lulu said again, seeming unable to contain herself. Her mother put a gentle hand on her shoulder, while everyone else sat rapt, waiting.

“You remember how Lulu broke the witch’s curse on the Summer Lands, that kept everybody happy all the time? You remember how she had to learn to fight and learn to survive even when everyone around her wasn’t happy to help her all the time? You remember how she made friends, along the way? Of course you do. But what you don’t remember,” Dean read, “is the next part of the story. What happened after Lulu broke the witch’s curse. Because that tale hasn’t been told yet.” He smiled around at the group. “That’s the tale inside this book.”

He left a pause, and a couple of people moved, thinking that the reading was over - but Dean flipped a page, and carried on.

“This tale is different to the last, though,” Dean read. “Before, Lulu defeated the witch - well, she was the saddest, baddest witch who ever lived. Before, Lulu didn’t know how to be happy, because being happy was all anyone else did and what she herself could never seem to do. Before, Lulu had never broken her heart.

“And this time, everything is going to be different.”

He glanced up at Castiel, and then back down at the page.

“Last time was about breaking the witch’s curse,” he said, “And this time is about healing the witch’s heart. Only true love could possibly do it. But who could possibly love the saddest, baddest witch?”

“Lulu!” said the girl dressed as Lulu. “She can do it!”

Dean grinned, and raised his eyebrows. “Well,” he said, “we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?”

He folded his papers away, and tucked them under his arm. Castiel watched him, a hum starting in his ears. The way that that introduction had been written - it certainly sounded - it sounded a lot like -

It was impossible. Dean couldn’t be writing a queer romance into his book. He’d already told Dean that he was too uncomfortable to think about doing it, right now. And Castiel had completely understood.

Yet here he was, writing an introduction that seemed to be leading the reader to potentially thinking that possibly, just maybe, there could be something between Lulu and this saddest, baddest witch. Sounded very much like it. Dean wouldn’t queerbait, would he? Not intentionally, at least.

But it wasn’t possible. Maybe the love was going to be platonic, the love of friendship. Castiel enjoyed stories that took the “true love” thing, and gave it an original twist like that. He enjoyed it a great deal more when the alternative wasn’t a canonical queer romance, though, he had to admit.

Dean started to read something else - part of his first book, Tales from the Summer Land, a specific chapter asked for by the clamouring, excited group who had gathered. Castiel, however, heard nothing of it. His mind was lost in thoughts of the sequel, of whether or not Dean was actually going to do it. But it wasn’t possible, surely, he kept thinking. It wasn’t possible.

When the end of the reading hour arrived, Castiel blinked back into reality only when everyone started standing up and making to leave, chattering to each other excitedly. Watching Dean talking with some of the visitors, grinning at them and nodding with enthusiasm, Castiel felt that clutch in his chest. He wanted to go over, and say something. Say anything. Feel Dean’s eyes on his, where it felt like they should be.

He cleared his throat, and shook his head, and went over to sit behind his desk.

Pretending to work was easier when there was any work to pretend to be doing; Castiel, in his efforts to forget about Dean completely over the past days, had finished up everything that there was to do. He clicked around aimlessly on his computer, hearing people file out. He wondered if Dean would come and say goodbye before leaving. Not that it mattered either way - in fact, it’d be better if he didn’t. Or maybe he’d already left, anyway.

“Hey,” said a voice that Castiel knew, and liked a great deal, and wished he wasn’t hearing. He gathered himself, glanced briefly up at Dean - ugh - and said,

“Hello, Dean.”

Seeing him was worse up close, and there only seemed to be the two of them left in the library. Even little Lulu had gone.

“So… what did you think?” Dean said. His tone was awkward enough to acknowledge the chill between them, one that had to make no sense to him at all - after all, Castiel thought, Dean had only ever thought they were casual acquaintances. And now he was standing in front of a guy who was even worse at social interaction than usual, a guy who was staring down at his desk and pressing his hands against the edges of it as though trying to hold up a barricade.

“Of what?” Castiel said.

“Dude… the sequel. I mean, it’s not been edited or anything, you know. But - I wanted you to…” Dean trailed off, sounding embarrassed. “I mean -”

“Are they going to fall in love?” Castiel said. He looked over Dean’s shoulder, which was the closest he could come to looking at Dean’s face without feeling a wrench in his gut.

He saw Dean do that smile again - the half-sad, half-brave one.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, they are.”

“A queer relationship?”

“Right there on the page, yeah.” Dean cleared his throat. “I dunno. The book was already written, actually. But it didn’t feel right, all the time I was putting it down. Then I just - well, you know, what with everything, and stuff…” Dean swung his hand around to take in the library, ending up loosely pointing at Castiel. “I called my publishers. I said, I’m really sorry, but what I sent you isn’t good enough. I’m gonna do better.” He grinned. “Remember that day I was late for the first reading? I’d just been on the phone with my editor all morning. She thinks I’m crazy to change up the whole storyline even though the original draft had already reached typesetting stage. The wheels were grinding, she said. And I said, OK, I can have a new draft for you in a month. She said I had two weeks. So I’ve just been writing and writing, and…” Dean reached a hand up to the back of his neck, the gesture self-conscious, suddenly shy. “Dude, I’m talking your ear off. Anyway. Point is, it’s happening.”

Castiel had spent the entirety of Dean’s little monologue trying not to look at him, whilst also listening closely. It was hurting his brain. It was hurting his chest even more.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Dean’s hopeful little smile as he waited for Castiel to answer.

Schooling himself, trying to act like the casual acquaintance that he should be, Castiel looked over at his computer and clicked on a couple of things, pointlessly, and said,

“That sounds good.”

He clicked on something else.

The way Dean’s shoulders dropped, just within his peripheral vision, made Castiel’s heart ache. He was doing this all wrong, upsetting Dean and upsetting himself. He was so clumsy, so spiky, so wrong, wrong, wrong.

“Well,” Dean said, “I should be getting on.”

He waited. Castiel said,

“Yes. Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“Maybe I will,” Dean said - and the words seemed to matter to him, so much that Castiel couldn’t help himself; he looked up into Dean’s eyes. For a moment, he was lost in them - a wave of fantastic imagining swept him, and he could see himself standing up and taking Dean’s face in his hands and kissing him, because they were together, and everything was good, and there was no reason not to -

He blinked, and looked away. Dean had a partner. It wasn’t right to think about him like that.

“See you,” Dean said.

Castiel watched him walk away, and out of the door.

Chapter Text

Two months is not a long time, and it is also a very, very long time.

Castiel found that nothing much changed in his life when Dean stopped coming to the library. The kids at the reading group, apparently appeased by the extra session with Dean that they’d managed to petition for, only bothered him occasionally to invite Dean again - and when they did, it was easy to put them off with one day and maybe next time.

The girl dressed as Lulu stopped coming.

Castiel tried not to feel bad about it. Tried not to wish that the kids were still harrying him and giving him reasons to see Dean again. Tried not to wish that Dean’s Twitter - which Castiel absolutely did not find himself checking at random points throughout the day - would one day announce Dean’s break-up from his partner and willingness to go on dates with specifically librarians.

None of it worked particularly well. He knew that he should be moving on - that what had happened between them was nothing from Dean’s perspective, and next to nothing from his own - but even still, he couldn’t let go. The suddenness of his feelings for Dean, the way they’d been so powerful, so unmistakable - that had felt too good to let go easily.

Two months wasn’t nearly enough. Castiel still woke up with his chest aching, sometimes, pulled out of a dream where Dean was in his library, confessing the way that he felt. Sometimes, when he was feeling lazy, Castiel let himself doze back into those dreams - half-awake, allowed himself to imagine what Dean would say, what he himself might reply, where they might go on their first date…

It was cruel on himself, he knew. But it happened often, even still.

At least he still had his books. Always stalwart friends, even Dickens.

Just reading things. Getting the hell out of my head, Castiel could hear Dean saying. Never stopped loving that.

They hadn’t even texted in the two months since they’d last seen each other. Why could Castiel still hear his voice so clearly?

He had a book arriving today, special delivery - a book that several sources had told him contained better than decent queer representation, if not a main character, and a good story to go along with it. He was looking forward to giving it a go, losing himself in a whole different world for a while. Also, the queerness in question was aromanticism, which Castiel hardly ever saw - it made things even more exciting.

At the library, he put his hands on his hips and surveyed his display of queer literature. It had been up for so long that it was starting to look a little rough around the edges, coloured paper peeling away from the walls and the lettering definitely the worse for wear. Every time Castiel had just resolved to take it down, though, someone new seemed to come into the library and see it, and look taken aback or pleased or intrigued, and he felt again like it was earning its keep.

Still, he should really redo some of the lettering. It was just looking shabby, at this point. One of the E’s was hanging sideways, tilting dangerously, about to escape its last staple and fall to the floor; Castiel reached up, now, and tugged it away from the wall, and went to cut out a new E.

Just because he wasn’t straight, didn’t mean his lettering couldn’t be.

At three-thirty, there was a tentative knock on the door, and in came a face that Castiel recognised with raised eyebrows and a smile; Hannah, their smile just as wide as before when they saw that the queer literature display was still going strong.

“Hello, Hannah,” Castiel said, and they looked slightly surprised in a good way that he’d remembered their name. “How are you?”

“I’m all the better for seeing this again,” they said, and held out a package to him - short and blocky, this time, about the size of a thick book. With a little kick of excitement, Castiel remembered that he was expecting his new reading material, and beamed as he held out his hands for it.

“Thank you!” he said. Hannah beamed back at him.

“I must remember to come in some time and look properly at the display,” they said. “Before it gets taken down.”

“I won’t take it down until you’ve seen it,” Castiel promised them, and their eyes went wide.

“You can do that?”

“I’m the librarian,” Castiel said. “I can do whatever I want.”

The book felt weighty in his hands, heavier than he’d expected. It had looked like a pretty slim volume, online.

“Well, awesome!” Hannah said. “Thank you so much!”

“Here to help,” Castiel said, and gave them a small smile. They turned for the door, saying,

“Have a good day!”

“You too,” Castiel replied, heading back to his desk.

“Oh,” Hannah said, on their way out of the door. “Oh, it looks like rain.”

“Rain brings changes,” said Castiel out loud, to no one in particular, as the door swung shut behind them. He reached for the pair of scissors in the pot on his desk, and slit the package neatly up the side, eager fingers tearing the cardboard apart.

Inside, he caught sight of a name - a name that made him stop moving for a second, his heart dropping a beat.

Dean Winchester, said the name on the spine of the book. Above it, the title read, More Tales from the Summer Land.

Castiel sat down at his desk slowly, trying to stay calm. He had no idea why this would be here - or even how it could be here, given that as far as he knew, it was still another month at least before Dean’s sequel was officially released in stores.

With unsteady fingers, he pried open the package fully, and removed the book from inside. A post-it note on the front read,

Castiel - just a proof copy but thought you might be interested. Maybe one for your awesome display if you end up liking it. Hope you’re well. Dean.

Peeling it off the front cover of the book, Castiel held it in his hands. It occurred to him that he’d never seen Dean’s handwriting before - it was neater than he’d thought it would be, the letters consistently shaped and sized.

He fought the urge to put it away in his desk for keeping - but he couldn’t bring himself to throw it in the trash. He compromised by sticking it to the screen of his computer - and then realised that in the long run, that was probably worse.

It didn’t matter, now. He wanted to look at the book. Even though it was just a proof copy, it had art on it - beautiful art, too, of a girl that Castiel assumed was Lulu, with bright red hair and a face liberally scattered with freckles, her eyes closed. On the top of the cover, upside down, there was a second picture - another girl, her hair in a headscarf, her skin dark brown and her eyes open, looking up at Lulu. Across the bright blue space between them was written, More Tales from the Summer Land.

Castiel opened the book to the first page, which was blank. He flipped it, and there was another blank page - and then he flipped again, and found something written. A dedication. He skipped past it, heading for the start of the story, until a memory clunked in his mind like a coin hitting the floor: a woman at the Meet and Greet, the very first time Castiel had met Dean, asking him about his dedications.

You’ve never put a dedication in any of your books, she’d said. I wondered why?

With a frown, Castiel turned back to the dedication page. He dreaded what he’d see; hopefully it would be to the fans, or to a parent, or to Dean’s pet goldfish - anything but his partner. Castiel didn’t want to read that. Even still, curiosity had him peering down at what was written, biting his lower lip absently.

For Castiel, the dedication read. Who made me braver by being brave.

Castiel blinked, and read it again.

And shook his head, and closed the book, and opened it, and read it again.

He could feel his heart starting to pound.

For Castiel.

For Castiel.

For Castiel.

Surely there was no other Castiel in Dean’s life. It was a rare enough name that Castiel could be reasonably certain of that. Somehow - impossibly, absolutely impossibly - this book by Dean Winchester was dedicated to him.

Castiel sat very still for quite some time.

A visitor to the library came in, had a question, took one look at the expression on his face, and decided to come back later.

Eventually, Castiel picked up his phone.

< Hello Dean. I just got your book. Thank you so much. The dedication though…

He sent it, trying to think of what to say. How could he ask the questions that he had? What questions did he have?

Before he could figure it out, a message popped back. It was almost instantaneous; if Castiel had been a guessing man, he’d have said that Dean had been waiting on his text. It would have seemed far-fetched, fifteen minutes ago; now, Castiel was the dedicatee - the only dedicatee of one of Dean Winchester’s books.

> Oh yeah is it OK? Hope you don’t mind. Wanted to run it by you before it goes to print and everything. If you’re uncomfortable with it I’ll scrap it

Castiel swallowed, and began typing immediately.

< No, of course it’s completely fine. It’s definitely a surprise. I didn’t think you’d even remember my name.

> You’re kidding me right

The text back was stark and confusing. Castiel had no idea of the tone it was supposed to strike - whether Dean was saying it lightly, humorously, or whether there was an edge to it. To Castiel, it didn’t sound simple and carefree.

He circled his thumbs over the keyboard, trying to figure out what to say. In the end, he decided that he just had to go for it. Ask the questions that were on his mind. After all, how much worse could things get? What could Dean do except never speak to him again - just as Castiel had assumed he wouldn’t, for the past two months?

< Won’t your partner mind?

> Partner?

< The dedication. Shouldn’t your first dedication be to them and not your local librarian?

It was better to keep things in the safe and steady shallows, and Castiel wanted to make his turn of phrase comical. He hoped it came off.

Dean’s reply, however, held no humour whatsoever. It simply said,

> I don’t have a partner?

Castiel stared down at the text for a long, long time. Longer than he’d stared at the dedication. The same visitor to the library who had come in twenty minutes earlier poked their head back in the door, saw his expression, and decided to come back another day.

< You what

It was the best that Castiel could manage. He hadn’t even put a question mark. He couldn’t summon the will. He couldn’t think. He could barely breathe.

> I said I don’t have a partner. Why would you think I had a partner

Castiel’s typing, this time, was furiously fast.

< The text. The one you sent me by accident.

> ?????????

Castiel rolled his eyes. His heart was thudding. His fingers weren’t working as well as they should. He’d completely forgotten where he was; all that mattered was his phone, and the words they were saying to each other. In that moment, his whole world was inside the screen.

< You accidentally sexted me the day we were supposed to go to the queer lit seminar. When I said I thought you might have the wrong number, you said that was right. I just assumed you had a partner who was the intended recipient.

> Oh GOD

The reply was so instant and short that Castiel almost laughed, his nervousness wanting to leak out into hilarity. Dean didn’t have a partner. Dean didn’t have a partner. Maybe that didn’t mean anything - maybe Dean still wasn’t interested in him - but Dean had dedicated a book to him, and Dean didn’t have a partner. He was on the edge of giddiness.

> You thought that was a SEXT
> Cas
> No

< ??????????????????

> Ok listen I screwed up but this is what happened
> I texted you to ask if you were excited cos I thought we were going on a date
> Then you said you thought I must have meant the text for someone else and I figured you were seeing the date as more of a friendly hangout thing and you were uncomfortable being flirted with and in the moment I just sent you that text like oh yeah it was meant for someone else
> I don’t know why I did it I just didn’t want you to feel uncomfortable and I was embarrassed
> That’s all
> GOD you thought it was a SEXT

Castiel could feel the walls crumbling around him.

This changed everything. This changed absolutely everything. Outside, he could hear the rain pouring down.

< Of course I thought it was a sext!! It had a wink emoji and you said you were excited

> Excited for the DATE CAS
> Jesus Christ
> Is this why you ditched? You thought I was flirting with you while I had someone else I was with??

< No, I assumed I’d misread your intentions, thought you must have never meant to flirt with me before because you already had a relationship, and decided that you’d just been being friendly when you asked me to come. But I wanted it to be a date and truthfully I didn’t want to try to go and build our relationship if it could never become romantic.
< Not because I don’t want to be your friend but because the way I feel about you is so decidedly romantic that I would never be able to convincingly hide it and I knew I’d only be hurting myself

> Holy shit
> Holy shit
> What the hell
> Are you for real
> All this time I thought you hated me now

< I mean it.
< All this time I thought you didn’t care about me at all

> I care about you
> I really like you

Castiel got up, and did a lap of the library, and sat back down.

< Dean. I need you to come here. Right now.

> Twenty minutes

< Ten minutes. Run

Castiel dropped his phone, and started walking again. Walking was the only way that he was going to get through this. If he walked around then his heart wouldn’t burst out of his chest and his breathing would stay steady and he wouldn’t ascend, right now, his feet lifting off the floor and the roof opening up above him and the sky opening wide blue arms to welcome him to paradise.

Dean liked him.

Dean liked him.

Dean Liked him, with a capital L.

Dean had wanted the night of the queer literature seminar to be a date. He’d just been being flirtatious in the text. He had no partner. He Liked Castiel.

Stride, stride, stride. Pace, pace, pace. There was no one in the library, and Castiel didn’t know if he’d frightened them away or the rain had. It was absolutely tipping it down outside the doors, drops splattering the glass panes.

Up and down and up and down the shelves.

Dean had dedicated a book to him. People didn’t dedicate books to people that didn’t matter to them. Did they? Sometimes they dedicated books to people they hated, yes, or people they wanted to call out or embarrass or annoy, but the whole point of a dedication was that you gave it to someone who stood out for you in some way. Someone important, for whatever reason.

In the History section, Castiel put his hands on his hips and tried to come to terms with the fact that he was important to Dean Winchester.

The Dean Winchester. The same Dean Winchester whose loss he’d been feeling like ice in his chest every day for weeks. The same Dean Winchester who made his heart squeeze every time they were in a room together. The same Dean Winchester -

Knock knock knock knock knock.

Castiel poked his head around the shelves, peering out the library door.

The same Dean Winchester who was outside his library, right now. Soaking wet, looking nervous and excited and elated and terrified all at once, and knocking on the door.

On legs that he could barely feel, Castiel floated across the library and pushed open the door. For a while, they simply stood there - Dean, in the rain, breathing hard. Castiel, inside the door of the library, staring at him. They watched each other, Dean’s mouth slightly open, as though he were looking for something to say. Castiel had no idea where to begin, either.

“It’s not locked,” he said, eventually.

Dean swallowed, and breathed. He must have run hard, Castiel thought.

“I couldn’t come in,” Dean said. “I didn’t want to get water on the books.”

He looked so earnest, standing there with his hands by his sides, dripping, letting the raindrops pelt down onto his head; and Castiel found himself moving, stepping out into the rain, his hands reaching. Just like he’d imagined, just like he’d always pictured, he cupped Dean’s face with his fingers, touching lightly, and Dean’s hands slid around his waist and drew him in closer. For a long, long moment, Castiel looked into Dean’s eyes, let himself feel it all - the realness of this moment, the tangibility of it, how alive and inside his own body he felt, how he could feel the press of Dean’s hands and the warmth of his body and the splatter of raindrops on his own neck.

And then he leaned forwards, and kissed Dean. Kissed him like it was the first time, yes, but maybe the last time - pulling Dean in, in, in, wanting to feel the touch of him on his own lips for as long as Dean would let him feel it. And Dean matched him; his hands were steady and strong on Castiel’s waist, grounding him, holding onto him as though he weren’t ever going to let go.

The kiss lasted, and lasted. They pulled away for breath and came back, still breathless, unable to wait. The rain poured down around them, washing away everything but the rock steadiness of the two of them; they were lost in each other, found by each other, untouchable to anyone and anything but each other.

Eventually, Dean pressed a kiss to Castiel’s cheek, instead of his lips - the movement so soft and sweet that Castiel could feel himself flushing, cheeks warming.

“Hey, Castiel,” he said.

“Mmmm.” Castiel was bliss. He didn’t feel it; he was it.

“Are you a library book?”

Castiel pulled back, so that Dean would be able to see him making a confused face.

“A library book?” he said.

“Yeah,” Dean said, looking incredibly pleased with himself. “Because I’d like to check you out.”