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Waiting Room

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Waiting room

 

The dark haired man came into the room and, seeing Dean, stopped in surprise. He then nodded to Dean in a single jerk of his head, that being all the greeting he seemed willing to part with. He slowly closed the door behind him and sat as far away from Dean in the waiting room as possible.

After five minutes the therapist appeared.

“Hey, Pam,” Dean said.

The dark haired man said nothing, merely looked beseechingly at Pam. She was pale under her makeup, and seemed shaky.

“I’m very sorry, but my parents have been in a car accident and I’m going to have to cancel both of your appointments to get to the hospital.”

Dean looked stricken. The dark haired man said, in a calm and compelling voice, “I’m so sorry, Dr. Barnes.”

Dean said, “Is there anything I can do?”

With an exhalation that might almost have been a laugh, Pam shook her head.

The two men rose and filed out of the room.

Dean turned to the man in the elevator. “Wanna get a coffee? I could use sitting still for a minute before I go back to work.”

The man stared at Dean for almost the whole elevator ride.

“Okay,” he finally said in a shy voice, nothing like how he’d sounded with Dr. Barnes.

“Social anxiety?” Dean said in a kindly way.

The man nodded.

“Grief,” Dean said, patting his chest with his free hand.

The elevator door opened. Dean led the way, and they sat down in the coffee shop closest to Dr. Barnes’ office.

“You said grief,” the dark haired man said. His blue eyes were full of sympathy.

“Wife and daughter,” Dean said.

“That would be very hard,” the dark haired man said, his eyebrows rising.

“It’s supposed to get easier, but I’m ….”

“Stuck,” the dark haired man supplied after his new acquaintance trailed off.

“We had a fight. It was the last time I saw her, saw them both.” Dean struggled to suppress tears, and succeeded.

“So, I guess, there’s guilt,” the dark haired man said.

“Buckets and buckets of it,” Dean said with a faint laugh.

“Dean,” he said, sticking out his hand across the table.

The other man looked stricken.

“You don’t want to shake hands,” Dean said.

“I overthink it,” the dark haired man said, and shook hands. He had nothing to be embarrassed about. It wasn’t as if he was sticky, or anything.

At Dean’s expression, he said, “What if I shake hands too hard or too soft. What if the other person feels strange or I feel strange to them. What if I’m too quick or too slow to put my hand up. What if I forget my name.”

“You forget your name.”

“I changed my name when I came out,” the dark haired man said.

“You shook hands without actually telling me your name.” Dean said in his warm voice.

“Castiel,” he said, and repeated the handshake.

“I’m still Dean,” Dean said.

“You’re teasing me,” Castiel said.

“I don’t tease people I don’t like,” Dean assured him.

“You have no basis for liking me,” Castiel said. His eyebrows indicated mild disbelief.

“You’re a grown man who cares about his mental health. Sounds likeable. You’re polite and well-spoken.”

“I can’t even work right now,” Castiel said. He probably shouldn’t have said it. People made judgments. If he started to work somewhere on the books his family would find him, but this nice man didn’t need to know that.

He did seem nice. Well-spoken and now that he was sitting closer, very attractive. He made eye contact, which instead of being irritating or scary, as it usually felt, it was — Castiel tried to think of the word. Friendly. And compelling, somehow, without being overwhelming. That felt weird in and of itself.

Dean sat with his comment about work for a few moments and drank his coffee. Castiel had ordered a complicated chai latte and it was finally up. Dean was thinking thank god for black coffee.

“I’m a construction site supervisor,” Dean offered. “What do you normally do for a living?”

“I was trained as a tax accountant.”

“Well, it’s not like the requirement for those is going to go away anytime soon,” Dean said soothingly.

“I trained for it. Words can’t express how much I loathed it.”

“Oh.”

“I was forced to work in the family business,” Castiel said. “Essentially all my close relatives are slum landlords and looked to me for ways to screw their tenants, their suppliers and the government ever more effectively.”

Dean frowned. “Okay, that’s straight up gross. So, if I may fill in blanks, you quit, came out and now the world’s a scary place.”

“I was also diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum this past year.”

Dean humphed. “You’ve been busy.”

“I’m a wreck. I thought these steps I took would make me feel better but without the structure of work I’m just wandering around like a lost sheep — and I’ll run out of money soon.” Castiel shrugged helplessly.

The honesty of the man just killed Dean.

“So…” Dean said, “No more Pam.”

“She’s recommended some group settings.”

“For social anxiety,” Dean scoffed.

“It’s not a perfect world,” Castiel said heavily.

“No, it sure’s shit isn’t. Are you looking for work?”

“I don’t know.”

Dean took that as a yes. “Do you want to come look at a temporary job at my, um, office?”

The blue eyes shot open in surprise. “I — don’t know.”

“Okay. Dean took out his business card and said, “Give me a call if you want to give it a whirl. It’s about two weeks of work, if you dog it.”

“I don’t ‘dog’ work,” Castiel said almost grimly. There were air quotes in there, and along with the grim expression the precise finger movements almost made Dean laugh, but he did not.

“I can’t pay more than fifteen bucks an hour, I don’t care how you dress as long as you’n your clothes’re clean, and as long as you honestly record your hours I don’t care when you work.”

“That sounds like a remarkably relaxed office.”

“Well, it’s in my house, so if that makes you anxious….”

“No. No, I would actually prefer a less formal setting to work,” Castiel said. “I don’t want to overthink it.” He brightened. “Can you pay cash?”

“Sure. And if you hang around with me for any length of time you will completely lose the ability to overthink things because I kinda run straight at shit.” Dean rose. “I’m going to go sit in my car and make phone calls, since I think it would be kinda rude to make them in here.”

“Okay,” Castiel said. He was folding Dean’s business card over and over in his hands.

“Something wrong?”

“No — I just envy you.”

“Do you cry yourself to sleep every night?”

Castiel gasped. “No,” he managed to breathe.

“Until that’s a step up, please don’t envy me. Don’t envy anybody on general principles, actually, good advice at any time.”

“I have a feeling that you’re full of good advice,” Castiel said.

“Well, if you want more of it you’re going to have to come in to work tomorrow, say 3 o’clock, just to get your arms wrapped around the problem.”

“The problem?” Castiel asked. “You said it was a job.”

“I’ll let you make that determination,” Dean said. He smiled, a strange little half smile, and gave Castiel a wave as he left.

 

Castiel phoned Dean at noon, having stewed all morning about the propriety of working for someone he’d met at his therapist’s office. Truth be told, the degree of challenge it would be to work for someone as handsome as Dean also took a toll on his fevered misgivings. As he could have gloomily predicted, he was in general overthinking a God-sent gift.

He tried to be an atheist, in keeping with his new way of thought as a scientifically open and reasonable person, but it was hard to give up on God. In his darkest hours he had believed he had heard a voice, always calm and clear and loving, and it had helped immeasurably when he’d felt lost and beyond himself, beyond saving, beyond ever being loved by another human being. It was hard to abandon God, thinking of that feeling of always being thrown a strand of hope to pull himself back with.

He wanted to believe Dean’s appearance in his life was a gift. Maybe it wasn’t wise to ascribe too much of it to God. Dean had asked him to coffee, taken an interest in him.

Castiel tried to remember the conversation. How had Dean shown that he was a good person? How could anyone not be charmed by him? He’d responded to bluntness with humour, or misdirection or something that was almost, but not quite, flirtation. Castiel had a sense of engagement with Dean he didn’t feel with other people.

He’d been kind. He’d offered him a job. Castiel then overthought that. Maybe the job was something disgusting, like ripping up flooring. Maybe Dean was just trying to get him over there to assault and murder him.

The first thing the police would figure out is that they had Dr. Barnes in common. Really, he was being a dolt.

He picked up the phone and put it down.

By the time he got through his catastrophizing and bad self-talk, he finally realized that he’d just have to power through it, and he picked up the phone and dialled.

“”Lo,” Dean said.

“It’s Castiel.”

“Cas!”

Castiel blinked. He had a nickname, already? At least it wasn’t ‘Cassie’, his dreadful family teasing name from childhood.

“May I come look at the job?”

“I’m not so sure I want to offer it any more. It’s pretty bad.”

“What do you mean by ‘pretty bad’?”

“Undesirable.”

“Being unemployed is undesirable,” Castiel said firmly. “And you said you’d let me make the determination. Now I want to know.”

Dean sighed heavily. “It involves my mental health.”

“Now I am seriously intrigued, given that I met you in my therapist’s office.”

“Ha. You’ll see.” Dean gave his address on Genesee, and Castiel figured out how to get there by bus from his apartment on Harrison, and arrived half an hour early. It was only 45 minutes, and Google Maps said it was a 75 minute walk, so if he was feeling ambitious, and if Dean actually hired him, it was all quite manageable.

The house was painted a soft yellow, with cream trim. There was a sycamore tree in the corner of the front yard across from the driveway, and a dilapidated garage leaned into the side of the house. The lawn was weedy and overgrown and the flower beds looked sad.

He knocked on the door and there was no answer.

The porch swing was in perfect shape, so he made use of it, and then wondered if Dean was going to ghost him. It just didn’t seem like Dean, though; and there was always the fact that he had to come home eventually. Then Castiel began thinking that he was sitting on a total stranger’s front porch, and he began to sweat a little.

After five minutes a big black muscle car rumbled into the driveway, and Dean got out.

“Cas!” he sang out. “You made it.”

“I do what I say I’m going to do,” Castiel said calmly. He stood and was surprised when Dean gave him a very casual cuff to the shoulder, with a smile. Dean took a deep breath as he opened the door and said, “Welcome to my nightmare,” and that was when Castiel started determining the scale of the problem.

 

The top floor of the house, except for pathways cleared between the bathroom and bedrooms, and the main floor (except for pathways cleared between, kitchen, sofa and front door), were both entirely stuffed with boxes, storage containers, furniture and an assortment of stacked and random items which would usually be characterized as ‘useless junk’.

“Oh, Dean,” Castiel said. He didn’t sound disgusted; he sounded really sad. He turned to him. “When did it start?”

Dean walked over to the kitchen island, which was completely clear of debris, like all the kitchen surfaces, and put his keys down. He could no longer make eye contact with Castiel.

“After Jasmine and Judi died,” Dean muttered. “But I had help. Within a six month period my dad and my stepdad died and I ended up with all this junk cause I was too stupid to pay for a storage space, and then when Judi died her parents downsized and they gave me all the stuff from her old room, and I couldn’t say no.”

“There’s shit in the basement, too,” Dean added after a second.

Castiel looked around. Dean hadn’t just lost his wife and child — he’d lost four family members in a single year. It was no longer a ‘mental health project’; it was something he could be proud to do.

It was all in a single house. He could clean out a house. He tried to sound professional.

“I need a proper OSHA dust mask and eye protection, your permission to recycle as much as I can, and a dumpster.”

“What? You’ll do it?”

“I will.”

He sounded beseeching. “Why? Why the fuck would you do this?”

Castiel decided to be a little more like Dean. He moved toward him and tapped him on the shoulder with a gentle fist and said, with what he hoped was a jaunty air, “Because you’re paying me, Dean,” and Dean slowly smiled back.

“I’ll get going on renting the dumpster, then,” Dean said. He instantly seemed more cheerful and energetic.

“I’m going to make a list and go room to room,” Castiel said. Dean handed him a clipboard and a pen, and Castiel got to work.

After he got off the phone, Dean joined him in the basement. The stairs were practically blocked, and apart from a path to the furnace and the hot water heater and the sump pump and the stacked washer/dryer, the basement was bung-full to the rafters. It was, candidly, almost scary.

“I got the four hundred dollar dumpster, holds six pickup truck loads.”

Castiel said, “It may not be enough.”

Dean responded, “I know, but some of this stuff is actually useful and I’m expecting pickups from charities for the furniture. I mean — I don’t want any of that furniture. I’d like to see my own furniture again, if you know what I mean.”

“You must feel very strange and stressed, asking for help about this,” Castiel said, and then wished he hadn’t. Dean surprised him.

“Less so now,” he said, and that was enough to make Castiel glow a little inside, feeling useful, feeling like he was making a connection with another human being.

Castiel had the clipboard in his hand.

“What would you like me to do first?”

“That’s the problem, Cas, I have no fuckin’ idea,” Dean said hopelessly.

“Well,” Castiel responded, in a ‘buck-up’ tone of voice, “Are you willing to let me just do the best I can? I promise I won’t throw out anything without your permission — the first thing I’ll do is clear out a staging area so you can approve stuff moving out.”

“I almost want you to clear it all out without me looking.”

“This is going to take —”

“Weeks, yeah, I know.”

They looked at each other. Dean looked tired, and sad, and guilty… why would he look guilty?

“Are the boxes labelled properly?”

“As far as I know, yeah. But you can expect some surprises.”

“I’m sure.”

“Cas — ” Dean said. He trailed off.

“I know I’m paying you, but this — this is really big for me. I’m trusting you to help me with this, that’s more important than the money.”

Solemnly, Castiel said, “I’m honored by your trust.”

Over the next few weeks, they got into a routine. Castiel told Dean straight up that the more regular a routine he had the more productive he was likely to be, and he also told him that he wasn’t a morning person. So his day started a bit late.

Castiel’s alarm went off at 8:00. He ate breakfast and showered if he needed to and was on the bus by 9:00, arriving by 10:00. Dean was at work, so Castiel had most of the working day to himself. He texted Dean every two hours (he was ‘scared Cas might get dominoed to death by moving boxes’, as he put it) with a couple of words, ‘All OK’, and then Dean got home around 4:30, sometimes earlier, and the two of them would work on sorting and tossing what he’d worked on that day.

The first sets of boxes he opened were from stepfather Bobby’s estate. They were mostly books, boxes and boxes of hardcover thrillers and paperback westerns, and four hundred VHS movies with faded, curling cardboard sleeves. That all seemed very ordinary. He checked on-line to see if any of the books or VHS tapes which were in good shape were collectors’ items, and they were not. Then he opened a box that appeared to be full of satanic ritual items and Castiel, being alone, and having had his ears stuffed with every kind of wacky anti-idolatry nonsense his parents’ pastor could emit like a volcano of bilious piety every Sunday for two decades, was actively frightened by them and closed the box to bolt upstairs and fetch himself some equanimity along with his coffee.

Dean did keep good coffee in the house. He’d even started buying cream. He teased Castiel about that, too. He teased Castiel at every opportunity. Sometimes it hurt; mostly it made Castiel feel as if someone was paying attention to him who wasn’t getting paid to.

Dean was a very thoughtful man, considerate of others. He made it look easy. Castiel studied that, trying to learn how he did it. He shivered, drank his coffee, and forced himself to look at the box again.

“They’re just objects. Objects that are superstitious nonsense,” he said aloud.

He took the box upstairs and emptied it. There was an enormous, ancient and leather-bound book with gold lettering, called Scientia Diabolicam, and the illustrations were like an evil nightmare. He closed the book with a dusty thump. The rest of the items in the box, according to google, were run of the mill items used in divination, worship and ritual magic.

Maybe Dean would be okay to sell them on Ebay, seeing as how that was likely where most of this stuff had likely emanated from in the first place.

Dean’s reaction, when he saw the contents on the table in the staging area next to the mudroom, was like a thunderbolt.

He came in, looked at the book and the ‘crystal’ ball and burst into tears.

Dean occasionally teared up over sentimental items, but this was Niagara Falls in comparison. Castiel became very uneasy, and wondered what he should do, so he approached Dean gingerly and patted him lightly on the arm. Dean’s reaction to the shoulder pat was to literally turn into Castiel’s arms and cry onto his shoulder.

Castiel had never been this close to Dean for this long, and he struggled to maintain his cool, and for something to say that wouldn’t make it worse.

“Dean,” he said soothingly. “It will get better. Maybe you can tell me what about this makes you so upset.”

Dean made a hiccuping noise, pulled back and said, “I bet you think I’m a big baby.”

“Most men I know would rather die than show emotion. I think they have a problem, not you,” Castiel said, trying to sound reasonable. “I’m going to make you a cup of hot cocoa and you can sit down on your newly rediscovered sofa and explain it all.”

Castiel microwaved some instant cocoa, made it more calorific by hiding some coffee cream in it, and sprinkled some cinnamon on top.

He brought it to Dean, whose lashes were still stuck together with tears, and sat next to him on the sofa.

“Bobby — you know Bobby was my stepdad after my dad — ”

“After your dad went to jail, and Bobby and Mary started living together.”

“They didn’t sleep together,” Dean said. “They didn’t have that kind of friendship. A lot of people thought it was really weird. Anyway, my mom died about twenty years ago and Bobby went off the rails. He started getting into the occult and he kept trying — he kept trying to either bring Mary back or talk to her in Heaven, or wherever she was, and he kept trying to drag me and Sam into it.”

“Sam?”

“My brother.”

Castiel said, with what he believed to be saintly patience, “Dean, you’ve heard about my two sisters and five brothers and my hellish childhood and my abusive caregivers and my distant parents and now I hear you have a brother.”

“I know how to reach him, kinda. I’ve sent him money for school. But he doesn’t want to talk to me because of something that happened after mom died.”

“Will you tell me?”

“It’s a cluster-fuck of a story. Not sure I want to. And I’m gonna look like a monster to you by the time it’s done.”

Castiel rested his hand lightly on Dean’s shoulder and looked right into his eyes. Dean was easier to look at than most people. He looked back with such interest.

“Dean, you could never be a monster to me, because I only see you the way you are now.”

“Up to my ass in junk?”

“Kind and hard-working and funny and smart,” Castiel said.

“Sounds like you’re trying to write a plentyofish profile for me,” Dean said. He was hoarse, and he sniffed. Castiel offered him a clean and perfectly folded handkerchief from the pocket of his hoodie.

“Musta been a Boy Scout,” Dean said.

“A handkerchief may be used for many more things than tears.”

“And boogers,” Dean said defiantly. He wiped his nose with a flourish and pocketed the handkerchief after refolding it. “I’ll wash it.”

“Okay. Tell me what you can, Dean.”

“Bobby and Sam had a fight about the séance-y type stuff Bobby was doing, and I defended Bobby; I mean I figured it was harmless and Sam said it was pandering to our worst instincts and superstitious horseshit. He was sixteen and spitting fire, man, unbelievable.  Over the next year, things got more and more tense, and finally he reached the age of majority, eighteen in Missouri, and he left without saying goodbye or letting us know where he was going.”

Castiel let his stricken expression speak for a moment, and then his curiosity got the better of him. “When’s the last time you saw him?”

“I’m thirty-five now, and I was twenty-two - so almost fifteen years. I tried to find him to tell him I was getting married, and I tried again after Jasmine was born, you know, because hey, he had a niece, and for all I know I could have a shopping cart full of nieces and nephews by now, but I’ve heard nothing. It’s like he fell off the face of the earth - the only connection we have is through his bank account.”

Castiel said, “I am so sorry. I only like one of my siblings, but at least I know where even the ones I hate are.”

“I could never hate Sam — we’re just two very different people, and I was all about protecting Bobby, and Sam was all about being rational and not wasting time on bullshit.”

Castiel remained silent. He was no longer afraid to be silent. His social anxiety had framed his silence as incompetence; with a few simple words, Dean had framed his silence as choice.

 

———

“Ya see, Cas,” Dean said over supper about ten days into their mutual ordeal/project, “A lot of people can’t tell how much they talk, and how annoying it is, although there are exceptions, like Charlie.” Dean had made supper by dumping sautéed ground chuck and onions and five cans of beans and tomatoes and some spices into a crockpot. The results were a testament to the modern food supply and Dean’s ability to do a lot with not much.

“You make a choice to talk, or you make a choice to be quiet. When you choose to be quiet you’re letting other people talk. Unlike Charlie.”

“You keep talking about Charlie.”

“I’d be dead without Charlie,” Dean said.

“You’ve said that too.”

“Are you telling me I’m getting boring, Cas?”

“I’m the boring one in this conversation,” Castiel said with just enough exaggerated flatness in his voice to get Dean’s attention.

“Are you dragging on me for calling you boring the other day?”

“Dean, are you making me the accountant of our disagreements by deliberately lying in the retelling?”

“What the fuck d’ja mean by that?” Dean said, all injured innocence.

“You didn’t call me boring, you called my interests boring, and I agreed, as I recollect. However, knowing by heart the anatomical differences between every native bee species in the state is an accomplishment of some note, and I am occasionally called upon to assist in matters of identification.”

“You’re a very nice guy in real life but you sound so fuckin’ pompous it blows my mind,” Dean said.

“I prefer precision in my speech. I can’t control what horrors you subject the English language to.”

“So you call me a liar about our last little brannigan and now you’re setting me up for the next one.”

“I was trying to be funny,” Castiel said in a very stiff voice, very unlike how he’d sounded earlier. “If I accepted that you calling me pompous was gentle teasing, then I thought I could respond in kind.”

“And now he just plain rolls up and owns me. Don’t use that mean voice on me, I don’t like it,” Dean said. He was serious.

Castiel, sitting at Dean’s table and eating Dean’s food and on Dean’s payroll and on a Dean-managed schedule which was very much to his liking, felt his hungry stomach drop six inches.

“I’m sorry, Dean,” Castiel said into his bowl. The smell wafting up from the chili was so good.

 

The daily reunion had been quite amazing for him. It was okay to feel this way. It was important that he not reveal his feelings or he’d be out of a job, but that was okay in its way too. He was enjoying his own feelings enough that he didn’t even feel it necessary to be unhappy that Dean wouldn’t return them — if he ever knew about them.

Men didn’t walk up to their bosses and say, “I’m in love with you, you are the perfect human being, and you are even so perfect that you have an imperfection which you think I can help fix and I’m not even going to think beyond the end of this job so I’m just going to enjoy this.”

Dean had touched him and it was wonderful. He was trying not to act giddy about what Dean had come home to and what he’d done.

It was packaged cornbread but it smelled tempting as he thought about Dean coming through the door to eat something he baked even if it was from a package. Dean had texted him what to do and it hadn’t been hard. 

He’d worked steadily that day; his knees were whining about the basement stairs, he’d stuck himself in the palm of his hand — twice — with one of Bobby’s knives (the collection was immense) and felt that little chill that there was satanic activity afoot and he should be wary because here he was shedding blood in Dean’s house, but the only consequence had been that Dean had gone full Florence Nightingale and dragged him over to the kitchen counter to assess his two ludicrous cuts with a special magnifying glass and bandages and various salves, compounds and solutions.

Magic of his own sort, Castiel had thought at the time, amused how Dean’s presence drove off his misgivings and his way of riding superstitious spirals of speculation into emotionally dark places. “Not deep enough for stitches, but you’re going to have to knock it off for a couple of days. Check it out! it’s Friday night, so that works.”

Castiel was thinking of sitting in his apartment for two days, not knowing what was happening with Dean.

And Dean had said, “Stay. You have revealed that I have a sofa now. I even have bedding.”

“Okay,” Castiel heard himself say.

 

And now Dean was angry with him.

 

“I’m really sorry, I was being disrespectful, I’m glad you pointed that out. Do — would you mind if I called it a night after supper?”

“No,” Dean said. He didn’t sound mad any more. He sounded bored. That made Castiel’s mind up. “Oh, I think perhaps you think I was a little more than disrespectful.” He stood.

“What?” Dean said with irritation.

“Do you want me to leave,” Castiel said flatly.

“What?” Dean said, this time more slowly. “I asked you to stay. I’m not yanking your dinner invite. Siddown, shaddap, and eat.”

“Okay,” Castiel said. He sat and ate in silence as he’d been commanded.

“You’re really used to being ordered around,” Dean said.

“Yes,” Castiel said around a mouthful of cornbread.

“So are you a bottom?” Dean asked casually, and reached for the hot sauce.

Castiel choked and exhaled. The cornbread described an unfortunate arc from Castiel’s mouth into Dean’s bowl. After a moment of pure and mutual horror, Dean burst into hoots of laughter and, almost unable to speak, managed, “I’ll take that as a yes.”

Pink-faced with embarrassment, Castiel realized that if he decided to speak about his preferences, hints about his true feelings would probably follow. So he said, without much emphasis, “It is absolutely no business of yours and if you’re my employer it’s sexual harassment and while I appreciate you sharing your meal and company with me, sexuality is not really an appropriate topic.”

Dean fished Castiel’s contribution to his meal out of his bowl, setting it on a paper napkin without further comment, and the two of them commenced to eat.

There followed a long minute, during which Castiel felt like he had completely misjudged the situation.

“I’ll never forget that as long as I live, man,” Dean said, and that smirk peeped out. “Like a fuckin’ champagne cork across the table.”

“Dean, that was possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve ever done,” Castiel said in a pleading voice. “Why are you treating it like an accomplishment?”

“Because it was fuckin’ hilarious, and it’s even more hilarious because you’re the kind of person that would never do that, and you’d totally double-never-do-that at your boss’s dinner table in front of your boss. I mean if your family knew about this — ”

“They’d be disgusted, and horrified, and they’d consider you a terrible influence on me.”

“My job here is almost done,” Dean said with that lazy smirk which Castiel alternately loved and hated.

“My job here is nowhere close to done,” Castiel said gloomily.

“Speaking of which, I’ll take the boxes you packed up to the post office on Monday.”

“Thank you.”

They ate some more. Castiel couldn’t keep up with Dean if he tried. How the man could maintain a healthy digestive system when he never chewed his food was a matter of some wonderment to Castiel. Many things about Dean made him wonder.

“Was there a reason you never got a drivers’ license?” Dean asked after a while.

“My parents didn’t think it was necessary.”

“Somebody should teach you how to drive.”

“I know how to drive,” Castiel said, nettled. “I didn’t get a license.”

“You know how to drive and you never got a license.”

“Dean, car ownership and the ability to drive are not the be-all and end-all of masculine prowess. I didn’t have to drive because one of the family’s poorer relations drove us back and forth to work in a mini-bus. We were expected to work on the way to work and on the way back.”

“Poorer relations?” Dean asked, unerringly picking out the sorest point of that description.

“Zachariah was a relative by marriage who fell on hard times and my mother took great pleasure in making him our chauffeur.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because he was poor. She couldn’t ignore him because she thought people would talk, but she made sure he knew of his status every day. I used to take food from catered events for him — Gabe and Inias did too, although Gabe usually ended up eating them himself before handing them over — and then my mother caught me and that with my being unsure of my sexuality got me sent me to a very expensive Christian sanitarium.”

“What happened there?”

“I got a lot of very regressive therapy and kissed another boy. I would have been 17 at the time. We both told each other we were experimenting to rebel against our terrible families but I often wonder what happened to him. He has no social media presence.”

“So you knew you were gay.”

“No. I had no role models! I had no way to shape my behaviour. I very rarely met someone new that I could share my feelings with. I was bitterly criticized for being anything but decisive and emotionless. I couldn’t read anything or watch anything that hadn’t been approved by my mother or my oldest brother Michael.”

“So you’ve never seen Die Hard.”

“Is it pornography?” Castiel said, taken aback. “It sounds like pornography.”

Dean allowed his mouth to drop open first, but then he flung back his head and laughed. Castiel wished his arms could extend a couple of feet and he could quickly caress Dean’s neck as he did that. He looked down at what was left of the chili.

“May I have seconds?” he asked, after Dean stopped laughing at him.

“It’s a classic comedy action thriller,” Dean said.

“Is there violence?”

“Yeah, but not too bad. Like the violence in cartoons.”

“I haven’t watched many cartoons,” Castiel said. “May I please have seconds?”

“Cas you can eat anything; okay, maybe not the emergency Nutella,” Dean said.

“What’s Nutella?” Castiel asked. “Is it something good?”

“Jesus, Cas, you sound like you were raised in a cave!”

“A cave so dark I was thirty-eight when I came out.” Castiel rose to get seconds.

“And have you been painting the town red since you came out?”

Castiel thanked God most sincerely that his back was currently to Dean. “If you mean have I been indulging in lots of consequence-free sex, I’m going to have to remind you that I’m still your employee.”

“You’re fired,” Dean said. “But I’ll rehire you when this conversation is over.”

“That seems an unduly Byzantine way to deal with your interest in my sex life,” Castiel said, almost dropping his bowl of chili as he whipped around.

“Whatever works,” Dean said dismissively. “C’mon, Cas, give with the details. I figure if you know all the anatomical details of bees, gay sex would be a snap.”

Cas, who was trying to sort out being flustered and annoyed and a little bit turned on by the conversation, reverted to type and told the truth. “I’m a virgin,” he said.

Dean’s stupefaction was so palpable it wasn’t funny.

“Dean,” Castiel said, and now his annoyance was obvious. “Me being gay does not destroy my social anxiety with a glitter bomb, nor does it give me the magical ability to catch up on three decades of references to popular culture, or slay my aversion to pornography, or make me twenty years younger so I can be newly gay with people my own age. I dated one man - this would be about a year ago now, we met on the internet - and he said I was like trying to date an antique glass chandelier - I’m impressive as hell but a bit of a maintenance nightmare. I didn’t even rate a kiss goodnight.”

“What a fuckin’ a-hole,” Dean said.

“He was perfectly civil. My feelings weren’t hurt, and I was glad he was honest. He did tell me he found me attractive.” Dean smiled briefly then, and Castiel didn’t know what to make of that.

“So are you trying to date now?” Dean asked.

“I’m not comfortable talking to you about it,” Castiel said; if he kept talking, the next thing out of his mouth was likely to be, “Since you’d never date me anyway.”

“You’re hired,” Dean said, and the subject was dropped, and Dean wasn’t mad at him anymore, apparently, and then he was insisting that they watch a movie, and then tried to figure out what Castiel wanted to watch, since he had six hundred of the most popular movies of all time on a big and (‘shush!!’) illegal media server his friend Charlie had set up for him.

“I have no idea what to watch. I only watch cooking shows, the news and documentaries on cable,” Castiel said. “And I only got cable because Gabe said he’d never visit me if I didn’t get it.”

“Just give me an idea of a genre of a movie that you want to watch.”

Castiel wrinkled his nose. “Do you have any with gay content?”

“If you want to watch porn, just say so, I got the screen set up.”

“Why would I watch porn with someone else?” Castiel asked, horrified. “I already told you I’m not really a fan of porn. I’m hoping for a story.”

“No, no,” Dean back-pedalled. “You could watch after I turn in.”

“I really don’t think I would feel comfortable watching porn on a big screen in my boss’s house,” Castiel said. “And that sounds even worse after I said it aloud.”

“You’re fired, feel free.”

“No, whether I’m fired or not, it’s a privacy and comfort issue,” Castiel said, squirming visibly.

“Are you a virgin because you’re really asexual?”

“Dean, trust me, I’m not asexual,” Castiel ground out. He rolled his eyes. There was no profit to be had in telling Dean what he would want to do with him if they were ever — miracle of miracles — in the same bed together. My God, I’d kiss every inch of him, Castiel thought, and then felt himself flush.

“You just blushed, I wonder what the hell you’re thinking about,” Dean teased.

“All the ways in which I am really not asexual, so yeah, I made myself blush,” Castiel snapped.

“Okay, so what are you going to do about it?”

“In terms of picking a movie or in terms of losing my virginity?”

“Why not both?” Dean quipped. “Die Hard it is, and what are you doing about that other thing? You’re forty, right? My bro was always going on about time’s wingèd chariot and, man, it’s gaining on you.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard Andrew Marvell thrown down in the mud quite like that before,” Castiel said. “I was allowed to read poetry as long as there were no dirty pictures,” he added, at Dean’s frown. “Just because I haven’t had sex doesn’t mean it’s a problem. I don’t think I’m ready, emotionally.”

Dean was not polite in his disbelief. “You’re forty and you’re not emotionally ready to have sex.”

“I’m not ashamed to admit it, Dean. I want to feel an attachment to the man and to feel safe. It’s very easy for me to misinterpret things, so I would need to take it very slow. Maybe you’re okay with me having casual sex, but I would find it very alienating to try to have sex with somebody when I was worried or scared.”

Castiel finished his bowl of chili in silence. Behind him in the living room, Dean got the movie set up.

“Relax,” Dean said. “You’re hired.” He sat at the other end of the couch from Castiel as they watched and Castiel, who’d been hoping to at least sit next to Dean, was a little disappointed.

“Oh,” Castiel said at one point. “That’s where that expression came from,” and Dean grinned. He told the story about how the stunt people had lied to Alan Rickman, which was why you got that genuinely terrified look on his face as Gruber fell, and Castiel admitted that it was a very entertaining movie.

“Don’t worry, there are lots more where they came from. I’ll have to get a copy of Brokeback Mountain for you if you really want gay content.”

“I was only saying that to irritate you. I don’t even know what Brokeback Mountain is,” Castiel said apologetically.

Dean laughed a little. “It doesn’t matter. So, cup of cocoa and then bed-time?”

“If you like,” Castiel said. “I’m okay taking the bus home otherwise,” he added.

“Nah, don’t bother. I’ll go get your bedding, now that you’ve cleared enough of my house out that I can get at the linen closet again.” He rose and returned with a duvet, a pillow and a sheet, and Castiel made himself a nest on the sofa.

“I’m up early,” Dean warned.

“I can sleep through almost anything,” Castiel said. Dean made him cocoa and Castiel sighed internally as Dean’s fingers brushed his, passing it across to him.

“See you in the morning,” Dean said.

“See you in the morning,” Castiel responded, and he heard Dean start a shower. Castiel shifted so he could peek around the back of the sofa through the ‘hallway’ of boxes to see Dean come out of the shower. He was rewarded with a brief and entrancing view of Dean, a towel fastened around his waist, his hair in dark, wet spikes, and just the faintest line over the towel showing the point at the top of his pubic hair.

Castiel rolled onto his back and smiled. Dean was so perfect it was almost painful to look at him.

Castiel was almost asleep when he heard Dean make his way back out to the living room. The floors creaked dramatically; it would have been impossible for Dean to sneak out silently.

Blinking, Castiel watched Dean sit on the floor next to him, one knee up, a strange expression on his face.

“What,” Castiel said.

“I like men, too” Dean said flatly.

“What, like sexually?” Castiel breathed.

“Yeah.”

“Fire me.”

“You’re fired.”

Castiel sat up, leaned forward, and kissed Dean. It was wrong, and stupid and short-sighted and ill-advised, but there was no way he would miss finding out what those plushly upholstered lips tasted like.

 

————

 

Castiel woke with a start. He instantly knew where he was, turned to see if Dean was still in bed, and then heard him shuffling and banging around in the kitchen, singing along to a rock and roll song.

He lay back, allowing himself to luxuriate in sheets that smelled emphatically of sex, and Dean. He rolled over and smelled Dean’s pillow.

He felt himself melt into the bed at the recollection of Dean’s hands on him, how his mouth was like a drug. They had taken turns jerking each other off while kissing, which didn’t sound like much, Castiel thought, when it had been such an incredible maelstrom of smooth and harsh and velvety and strong. Dean hadn’t said a word, but his tender caresses and mind-melting kisses and amazing hand job had done all the communicating that was necessary.

He couldn’t have been more considerate and volcanically sexy and sweet if Castiel had planned it, and he made Castiel feel that way too. He dressed, sighing that he had to get back into dirty clothes, and went out to the kitchen with stars in his eyes.

For some reason, Dean’s expression darkened as soon as he saw Castiel. He said, “Breakfast’s ready, coffee’s on,” and turned his back on Cas. Castiel, his happy expression now tucked away, collected his coffee and allowed Dean to dish out huevos rancheros.

They sat across from each other in silence. Finally, Castiel said, shyly, “Are we going to talk about last night?”

“What’s to talk about?”

Castiel felt like he’d been punched.

“Is it likely to happen again?” he said. If it was only going to happen once he needed to know now.

Dean shrugged.

“Do you want me to pretend it never happened?” Castiel said quietly.

Dean shrugged again.

Castiel choked down his breakfast and gathered his backpack and left while Dean was in the bathroom, carefully locking the door behind him. There was no point hanging around and being awkward — he could do that at home.

Just as he got on the bus Dean texted him.

Where did you go

Home

I could have given you a ride

Castiel couldn’t believe it. Dean had been snarly with him after his first night of sex with him (shrugging? like one of the most important things that had ever happened to him was something trivial?) and now he was acting hurt that Castiel had decided not to hang around for what might prove to be further abuse. He considered what to say.

I’ll see you Monday

He turned off his phone.

Dean was probably one of those guys who just didn’t get romantic feelings for other men, just for women. And it wasn’t even romantic feelings Castiel necessarily longed for, just being affectionate. Castiel could feel himself tearing up. Well, he’d had sex. Maybe he could find his own way to some more of it; it’s not like Kansas City didn’t have gay bars.

He fell into a new routine. Weekdays he worked to clear out Dean’s house. One or two nights on the weekend he’d go to Buddies or Sidekicks and try his luck at the bar, and he was handsome enough that he didn’t lack for partners. He quickly learned to ask if they liked kissing and preferred to take it slow, as that weeded out the ‘pump and grunt’ guys. Guys into kissing and taking it slow were often better conversationalists, too. It was hit or miss; some of his partners were more fun than a carnival ride and a couple of them were so focussed on getting their rocks off to the exclusion of everything else that he felt like he was just a convenient piece of meat.

After promising to be gentle and considerate, Glenn, the man who fucked Castiel in the ass the first time, decided to be an ass-slapping jackhammer and got red-in-the-face angry when, after the second time Castiel requested, ‘not so hard!’, Castiel said, “Stop!” and got up, dressed and left.

Glenn was chasing him around the bed with his dick out. “I was almost finished.”

“Too bad, because I’m completely done. You lied to me and you’re a shitty lover with bad communication skills,” Castiel said. He knew he sounded prissy, but he was prissy, he might as well own it.

“Fuck you,” was Glenn’s witty retort. I’ll be lucky if I can sit down without wincing for the next two days. The bus ride home was a sobering experience. There was blood in his underwear when he got home so then he had to decide whether he was going to the ER or not, and decided not to.

At least he didn’t have to work for another day. It was okay. It wasn’t anything serious. He looked it up on line; it was probably a fissure and if Glenn — that incompetent pig — had actually applied enough lube it wouldn’t have been an issue. At least he wore a condom.

Resentfully, he thought that Dean would at least have used enough lube. Probably.

 

After his work day, during which he continued to send texts a couple of times a day to indicate that he was okay, Dean would come home, and he’d always offer dinner, and these days Castiel would always decline. He wasn’t getting paid to hang around with Dean, after all. There wasn’t any point trying to get to know him better since he was the kind of guy who shrugged when you asked if more sex was going to happen. Like he didn’t care one way or the other.

Then, Dean started packing him lunches. It was better than the peanut butter and jelly he’d be bringing from home, so he ate the lunches. Every night he’d offer Castiel a ride home, and every night Castiel would refuse.

Finally after another couple of weeks, Dean said, “Cas, do you not want to tell me where you’re living?”

“It’s better if you don’t know,” Castiel mumbled.

“Do you think I’d be stalking you, or something?” Dean said, obviously upset.

“I can’t tell you where I’m living because I’m committing fraud.”

“Wha-a—a—t?” Dean said, stretching the vowel out until it was ready to snap like a rubber band.

“You know my relatives are slum landlords. That’s a bit of a slur, since they own nice properties too. A while back, when I was thinking about leaving the family business, I thought of a way to give myself free accommodations at their expense, which, considering that apart from about a hundred thousand dollars in cash, gifts and bonuses, plus paying for my education, I’ve never received a dime for the work I did for almost twenty years.”

“So you’re stealing an apartment?” Dean looked puzzled.

“The condominium is ‘under renovation’. I’ll move to a different one when Gabe lets me know I need to change where I am. It’s not like I own anything. I’m on the other end of the spectrum to you.” He waved vaguely.

There were still boxes upstairs, but that was because Dean had made the decision that nothing was going to go back downstairs once it was brought up; it was simply too hard on the knees.

“So you’re protecting me from your horrible fraud, which actually sounds like a sweet gig,” Dean said.

“I knew I could trust you to find my tiny act of vengeance against my family ‘a sweet gig’, Castiel said, rolling his eyes a little. “Anyway, I’ve got a piece of paper signed by my mother saying I can live there, and that little bit of chicanery was also arranged by Gabe, so if you set aside that the signature was illegally obtained, which my mother likely wouldn’t corroborate in public anyway, it’s all perfectly legal.”

“And you don’t want me to know where you live ‘cause you think I’ll run off to mommy and squeal on you?” Dean asked, his disgust and astonishment crystal clear.

“No, Dean, I just want you not to be there in case the cops come busting in,” Castiel said after a moment.

“Oh,” Dean said. “You could have said so. I’ve been offering rides and you’re saying, ‘no’, like I’m a creepy guy with a panel van.”

“The job will be done in the next couple of weeks, Dean, I don’t want to get used to being driven around in style when I’m going to be taking transit wherever I end up working.”

“Riding around in Baby is definitely riding around in style.”

“Yes,” Castiel said, nodding into Dean’s smirk. “The kind of style where grown men give their cars names.”

“My dad named this car.”

“Your intergenerational trauma is your problem.”

“You think my car doesn’t deserve a name?” Dean asked, honestly scandalized.

“I’d like you to think about your masculinity in something other than societal terms,” Castiel said painfully.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dean said.

“Dean, we made love, which is how it felt to me, and we had sex, which is how it felt to you, I guess, and the next morning you were very cold to me, and I realized that no matter what I do or say you’re not going to live openly with your sexuality — that you like having sex with men and women.”

Dean seemed incapable of speech.

“I gave up everything so I could live openly and it seems like the man I had the most fun with will never walk down the street holding another man’s hand, or admit that he likes having sex with other men.”

“The most fun with,” Dean said, laser-focused on a compliment to his performance.

Castiel just shrugged. “I don’t think this conversation is useful any more,” he said, and got ready to leave.

Dean followed him, clearly intent on saying something.

“I was scared,” he said finally.

“You want a medal?” Castiel said harshly, thinking of his own terror when his family cast him out, and left.

 

Dean often texted him while he was waiting at the bus stop, so he turned his phone off. When he remembered to turn it back on the next morning at six, to his horror there was a text from Gabe, saying simply CHEESE IT THE COPS and that meant the inspector was coming and he had to get out of his ‘under renovation’ condo. There were a bunch of texts from Dean, but he ignored them.

Unfortunately there was only one other place he knew of that he had a key to, since Gabe hadn’t given him the key for the new place yet, so now he had to go back to Dean’s to hole up for the day to try to reach Gabe to figure out his next move.

He fully expected Dean to be at work; most mornings he was on the job site by a quarter to seven.

He wasn’t.

He rose up from the couch, naked but for briefs, gaping at Castiel.

“I told you never to come back,” Dean said.

Castiel blinked. He probably should have read the texts.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Dean asked. That was when Castiel realized he’d been weeping.

“Dean, what’s wrong.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Dean said. “Maybe I’m having a little nervous breakdown.”

Castiel went straight to him and sat down. “I know we didn’t part on the best of terms, but I wish you no ill will,” Castiel said.

“So I guess a pity fuck is out of the question,” Dean said. His voice broke a little.

“Dean, I thought we covered why I don’t want to have sex with you.”

“I got that you think I’m a coward. Do I have to put a label on myself?”

“Closeted is a label,” Castiel said. “I’m sorry I was so judgmental. I’m sure there are lots of other closeted men who’d be thrilled to have sex with you from time to time.”

“But they wouldn’t be you,” Dean said, as if he couldn’t help himself.

“Well, now,” Castiel said. “That’s very flattering. I find you very attractive too, but I’d rather take my chances with someone who doesn’t hate himself for having sex with me.”

“I don’t hate myself,” Dean said. “Not for that,” he amended. “For pretending I didn’t care about it the next day.” Dean blew his nose. “So what are you doing here?”

“I’m running away from home,” Castiel said, with cutting sarcasm.

“I thought you already did that.”

“I had to move before the inspector came. Gabe sent me a text last night. I thought I’d get here after you went to work. Do you want me to return the key and leave, or do you want me to work, or what?”

“I want you to take me into the bedroom and fuck me.”

Castiel sat back and folded his arms.

“Come out to one person, one person at all, anybody you know who isn’t me, and you’ll get your wish.”

Pouting, Dean picked up his phone from the coffee table and looked at the time.

“She’ll fuckin’ kill me,” he muttered, and texted someone.

“Can I see?” Castiel said. He was texting Charlie.

“Don’t trust me, hunh? S’pose I earned that.”

 

I’M BI

 

There was a long pause.

 

wut?

 

since when?

 

I don’t know, I’m just telling you.

 

Pitching or catching?

 

I don’t ask you what you do with Gilda.

 

E XXX cellent point.

 

well now you know

 

We should catch up at Sidekicks sometime and you can check out the selection.

 

l8r

 

“Wow,” Castiel said.

“So,” Dean said.

Castiel pushed Dean down until he was stretched out on the sofa and started kissing him mercilessly. Dean gasped and surrendered without a struggle. He tried to caress Castiel and found his hands pinned over his head, so he squirmed and moaned into Castiel’s mouth instead.

Half an hour later, after more kissing, total nudity and a break in support of Dean’s complete hygienic readiness for ass play, he was face down on his bed feeling Cas’s red-hot tongue alternately stabbing and licking his asshole. He’d never been this combination of horny, submissive and terrified before; hearing the tearing noise of the condom wrapper and the obscene schlooping noise of the Astroglide bottle dispensing its extra-thick contents made him whimper.

“Dean,” Castiel whispered.

“Yeah,” Dean breathed.

“I probably won’t last a minute.”

“Okay,” Dean acknowledged.

The lube was cold, and Dean shivered. Castiel ran a pacifying hand down Dean’s flank. He pushed a finger into Dean’s ass and Dean moaned.

Remembering how lack of lube had made his first time memorably ugly, Castiel didn’t skimp, and he took care to make sure Dean was feeling okay with another finger before he added any more.  The response to the question was almost a growl.

“Dean,” Castiel said, almost helplessly. “I want to take care of you.”

“You do,” Dean said, and the softness in his voice was all he needed to hear.

 

“I didn’t think I was a top,” Castiel said. ‘Taking care of Dean’ had been the most life-affirming, ecstatic, soul-shattering experience of his life. It was all a little startling.

“I didn’t think I’d ever admit to being bi,” Dean countered.

“I thought being a top meant being the dominant personality,” Castiel said humbly. “It’s pretty obvious who the alpha male is.”

Dean had a funny expression on his face. “First off, the guy who first named ‘alpha males’ renounced his research.”

Castiel sat up. “Really?”

“Second off, you can boss me around any time.”

Cas’s eyebrows continued the upward momentum. “Really.”

“Really.”

“You told me not to use a certain tone of voice.”

“Yeah, ‘cause I’d do anything you asked of me and I didn’t want you gettin’ ideas.”

“I’d like to boss you around some more later, but honestly Dean, I didn’t think I’d go nearly ten minutes, especially with you yelling like that.”

“I wasn’t yelling,” Dean said primly.

“Oh yes you were,” Castiel said with a reminiscent smile. “Although it was mostly guttural grunts, low moans, and saying my name like you were either praying or scared of forgetting it at a critical juncture.”

“That is so not true.”

“It totally is,” Castiel said. Being confident with a sexual partner — who knew?

It all started in a waiting room, but Castiel didn’t have to wait now. “Dean,” he purred. “I have an idea.” He lay back down and pulled Dean into his arms.