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Crossing Lines

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4:30 PM, DR. WINCHESTER’S STUDY. SESSION WITH: C. NOVAK

 

“So, when I kill myself, it will be your fault, right? Because you failed to save me or whatever? How would that make you feel, doc?”

“Seeing you’ve yet again failed to make vertical cuts on your arms to effectively kill yourself, I assume you crave my attention more than you like to admit. I actually feel very satisfied with that result. You’re making progress, Mr. Novak.”

“Fuck you and your fucking expensive suit you fucking fuck!”

Dean doesn’t say anything. He just looks at his client, knowing that the progress he mentioned is real. Castiel did not even want to speak with him at first, and this harsh provocative taunting is a step further. Castiel is glaring at him, his bare arms exposed, showing off the scars. Dean is not happy about the cuts, because self-harm is never a thing he enjoys seeing at his clients, but with Castiel, he isn't expecting to see much else. The fact that Castiel has come to this session means something. The fact that he yells at Dean and calls him names is progress. Of course, that pisses Castiel off.

“Mr. Novak,” Dean says with a deep sigh, “why are you here if you just want to cut to the quick?”

“Maybe I just think you need to hear that you’re not as dynamite as you think you are.”

“Perhaps.” Dean leans forward, elbows resting on his knees. “Or perhaps you are looking for a place where you feel you can have some kind of impact, which you cannot find at home. You go here because if you yell at me hard enough, I might care about what you say.”

Castiel rolls his eyes, but there is a shift in the way he sits. He is nervous.

“But you don’t give a shit, do you?” Castiel asks. “You just pretend because it pays you good money.”

“Oh, I’m disappointed,” Dean says, totally unfazed. “I hear that accusation at least once a week. I was hoping you’d be… more creative than that. You and I both know that I care, more than others, which is why your brothers sent you to me. They know that I’m honest and real, and you know it, too.” He pauses. “I know you can come up with better insults than that, Mr. Novak. So I’m curious—were you too scared to use them, afraid I’d kick you out and you’d lose your place here? Or do you actually not feel the need to insult me, but do just not know what else to say?”

Castiel just glares at him. Dean sits back, not really expecting an answer. His intuition tells him the answer would lie closer to the second option, but what matters most is that Castiel realizes, and that he now knows Dean can’t simply be offended.

As Castiel’s brothers told Dean, Castiel has walked away at every single therapist former to Dean. This often happened within a few weeks—sometimes Castiel wouldn’t even return after the first meeting. So it wasn’t surprising that Castiel’s family was amazed when Dean, after their list of therapists Castiel had left, showed no hesitation scheduling an appointment for the very next day. Dean barely ever hesitates to take on clients. Besides, he’d had the entire Friday afternoons free and suggested Castiel to come by.

On the first appointment, Castiel had been incredibly late. He barely showed interest in Dean, but walked around the room, observing the different flavors of teas and sniffing at a few. He was indeed a special client, Dean soon realized. Eventually, Castiel sat down and actually acknowledged Dean, in such a way it was almost uncomfortable. He eyed Dean with full interest and no shame, observing every bit of him as if he was a sculpture.

Castiel’s eyes are… distracting; bright blue and surrounded by dark lashes, giving him a very intense stare, enhanced when he squints. During the first session, Dean was more taken back by those eyes than he’d been by anything Castiel said or did. Haunted eyes, filled with pain and stories, but strong as well, able to hold their storms inside.

Dean is not sure yet what exactly Castiel has all been through, or why he is the way he is, but he heard some from his brothers. Bad mom, showing signs of depression since high school. Self-harm visible since last year, possibly been going on for longer. No suicide attempts or talk of suicide (one of the brothers felt like Castiel has always been afraid of death). Currently living at one of his brother’s. Dropped out of college on his depression’s full peak and collapsed without anything to do. Doesn’t have friends, seems to try and escape the real world. Didn’t say a word for about two months in which all he did was make art. That has always been what Castiel seems drawn to in both good and bad times. Art is his escape, and it has always been.

All Dean could think about hearing Castiel’s description was how close his problem areas hit to home. Castiel was definitely different from most clients, which also made him more… intriguing. Dean was interested—more than usual, wanting to see if and how he could get through Castiel.

Castiel has no shame in showing the scars on his arms or mention his mental illness—the problem sits with how little he seems to want to do anything about it. He goes to therapy because, in his own words, his brothers are so fucking tired of him lying around and doing shit, not being useful, and he wants to do them a favor for still caring about him. That was definitely a reason Dean never heard before, but he’d tried to hide that as he noted it down.

And that is where his journey with C. Novak began. Seemingly endless back-and-forth discussions trying to outwit each other for weeks. Unfortunately for Castiel, Dean is good at breaking through masks, and though Castiel’s is stronger than most, Dean is able to crack it, make little indentations. Castiel doesn’t go unfaced by what Dean asks him or speaks of. He does care, and he seems to care more every day, though some might not notice the progress. The thing that surprises Dean most is that Castiel keeps coming back. Every week he wonders if Castiel will show up. Maybe he left this time, maybe he finally gave up on Dean like all previous therapists.

But weeks pass, and Castiel stays. He is late sometimes, or he leaves early, but he comes. He’s coming and going for over two months now, and when Dean checks the files, that is a record for Castiel. Does that say something about Dean? Or is Castiel just tired of going to yet another random dude and does he really just want to do his brothers a favor?

 

4:30 PM, DR. WINCHESTER’S STUDY. SESSION WITH: C. NOVAK.

 

“Why haven’t you left yet, Castiel?”

“What?” Castiel frowns at him.

“I asked why you haven’t left, like you have with every other therapist in the past. Why you didn’t walk away after a few weeks of testing me out. It has been ten weeks. The longest you’ve stayed with a therapist before is eight. Call me arrogant, but that pleases me.”

Castiel watches him for a while, head slightly tilted. He shrugs slowly, his frown deepening. Maybe he didn’t even notice it had been so long.

“Dunno. Perhaps it’s because you’re hot and I just like fantasizing while looking at you.”

Dean tries to show no signs of that comment affecting him.

“Kind of overly complex and expensive, wouldn’t you say? You could watch porn for free.”

It is the first time he hears Castiel chuckle.

“I guess this is why I’m staying,” Castiel leaned into his chair, pointing at Dean. “None of the other therapists would’ve talked about porn without blushing.”

Dean scoffs, scribbling on his pad. He has an idea for Castiel that he wants to suggest today, but he needs to lead up to it in the right way for Castiel to even consider it in the first place.

“Or maybe you actually think that I can help you?”

“Nonsense.”

Dean looks up and sees that Castiel’s eyes are sparkling like they always do when he is out to provoke Dean. Those eyes are the most revealing about Castiel, though it is always hard for Dean to look into them without getting too distracted.

“That would just be ridiculous indeed.” Dean shakes his head. “Seen the fact that you have actually told me things about yourself you’ve never told others before, and that for the last three weeks you have been on time and stayed late—you evidently already know that I can help you. Foolish of me to assume you weren’t already aware.”

For a moment, Castiel seems perplexed. Then he quickly pulls himself together and cocks his eyebrow.

“Oh so you’re sassy now, doc? I like it.” He smirks. “I’ll give it to you that you might… know what you’re doing. A little. More so than my former therapists. So yes, maybe I am interested in seeing what happens. Maybe I think that what you’re letting me do isn't all bullshit. I might actually think about what you say every once in a while. Besides, your tea is fucking delicious. Hope you don’t mind I take a few bags home at times. Stores don’t carry the brand.”

Dean hides his smile by taking notes. Castiel just said something important, something that for him is deep and dangerous territory. His comment on the tea was an attempt to cover it up, hoping it all seemed as unimportant to him. But Dean absolutely noticed.

“You can take the tea. I get refills every day I’m here anyway, no one would notice but me.” He shrugs, then gets up. He can feel Castiel’s eyes follow him across the room. Dean rummages through his bag at his desk and fishes out a black book, A5-size. He walks back and holds it out to Castiel.

“What—” Castiel takes it and scrolls through the book. All pages are empty. He flips to a random page, lets his fingers glide over one of the pages. Dean watches his face change. “That’s… that’s drawing paper. It’s thick, heavy. Mixed media?”

“Correct.”

“Why—”

“It’s for you.” Dean sits down again. “I want you to do one thing and one thing only. Whenever you feel like it, make something in there. There’s no rules. Make it as ugly or as beautiful as you wish. Use whatever you want, write, stick in things, I don’t care. As long as it’s something that you want to make, or something that represents how you’re feeling—whatever feels right. Just go wild in it. Take it with you so we can look at it during sessions. I will not judge, whatever you make is right. It’s just a thing for you to keep track of your week and your emotions throughout it.”

For once, Castiel doesn’t look bored or isn’t chewing on a witty comeback.

“And you? What do you wanna do with it?” His fingers are still gracing the paper.

“It’ll be what we can talk about. Felt that’d be easier for both of us, as you don’t really have to talk about yourself directly. We can just talk about your art.”

Castiel hums as a sign he understands. He keeps touching the paper. Dean didn’t expect him to react very positively; it is Castiel after all, and he seems to not enjoy any kind of exercise Dean gives him. But this… It is art, Castiel’s thing. He is forced, or more so allowed, to make art in any way he wishes, without any commands or assignments attached to it, just what he feels like.
With this homework, Dean has given him a certain freedom he’s been missing in his sea of spare time. Dean has just given him the sense of direction he’s been craving.

“I uh… I’ll try.”

Castiel reaches for his bag, putting in the sketchbook with tender, careful fingers. He gets up and heaves the bag over his shoulder, suddenly seeming nervous. “Thanks for the sketchbook, doc. You could’ve just… asked me to buy one.”

“It’s all covered, Mr. Novak.”

“Please just call me Castiel.”

Dean always calls his clients by their last name to them, and by their first name in his head, until his clients tell him differently. This method gives him a sense of connection when thinking about them, without breaking any boundaries. Castiel has just strengthened their connection even more by finally allowing Dean to call him Castiel.

“Alright. You should call me Dean, then.”

Castiel doesn’t reply, busy putting on his jacket.

“I’ll work on the book. Thanks, doc.”

Dean doesn’t comment on that, but tells Castiel goodbye and watches the door close behind him. He stares at nothing for a while, then sighs deeply and goes to his notes. One thing is clear: to keep Castiel from getting too overwhelmed, Dean will never tell him how expensive that sketchbook was.

Chapter Text

4.30 PM, DR WINCHESTER’S STUDY. SESSION WITH: C. NOVAK.

 

Dean is glad Castiel is always scheduled last, and after an at least ten-minute break. He needs to prepare for him, be calm, have the right mindset. He is one of the only patients that Dean gets a little nervous about, like he used to with every patient back when he just started. He’d be nervous for every session, afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid to make things worse, afraid to not know how to help. But as he’d grown in his job, he got more confident, and as he saw results, he realized that he could, in fact, help.

With Castiel, things are different. Dean can never tell how their conversation will go that day, and he stopped trying to prepare for that. But he does want his full energy and attention to be able to work with Castiel.

Unreachable, Castiel’s files read. Something Castiel’s older brother said when suggesting Castiel to get therapy. Dean can definitely see where he is coming from. Castiel built a wall around himself so tall and strong the Roman Empire would be jealous. Dean can often crack patients’ defenses within the first session, but it took weeks for Castiel to open up only a little.

With Castiel, that small step was a huge accomplishment for Dean. Castiel finally reacted the way Dean wanted him to. He finally found a small weakness in the wall—but he only but wiggled at a loose stone. One of the things that make Castiel seem to care is talking about his brothers. This gave Dean a grip, and he’d started to slowly build something with Castiel.

Castiel isn’t very helpful, however. He is sarcastic, playful sometimes, completely uninterested, outright rude and obnoxious—definitely out to see how Dean will react to certain things. A desperate cry for attention, but not one he himself recognized. Dean sees there is hurt behind the smirks and grins, care within the uncaring attitude, kindness within the cursing, but he wants Castiel to see that, too. And for that, Dean has to work.

Today isn’t any different from other days. Castiel is obviously not happy to be here, an air of apathy around him. He is exposing the thin scars that cover his arms, a matter of provoking Dean, and wears clothes even more insolent than last week’s, with more holes than fabric in his jeans, his oversized sweater reading “Grunge is Dead”. Dean has to bite away from a smile at the sight. He always wonders when Castiel will start dying his hair blue or come in with eyeliner smudged around his eyes and his nose or lip pierced. But maybe Castiel feels he’s too good for that.

Castiel flops down into the comfortable chair opposite Dean’s. Dean is still standing at the side table making coffee and shoots him a glance. Castiel just observes him, waiting. He knows what Castiel wants to drink. Mint tea, no sugar. A strange choice for a guy like him, then again, Dean’s job constantly reminds him that people barely ever look like their personality.

“Good afternoon, Mister Novak,” Dean says, waiting for the water to boil.

“When are you gonna stop calling me that and just say Cas?”

Cas. Not even Castiel anymore, just Cas.

“As soon as you stop calling me doc and just say Dean.”

Castiel snorts, throwing his feet on Dean’s coffee table.

“Good afternoon, Dean. Happy now?”

“Depends,” Dean says, putting down the cup of tea in front of Castiel. He sits down himself, crosses one leg over the other and sips his coffee. “Have you been doing the work we discussed?”

Castiel reaches for his bag and groans softly as he fishes out the sketchbook. Dean doesn’t show his surprise that Castiel has actually done something. Yes, Cas was in awe when Dean gave him the book, but Dean still worried. For a moment it seems Castiel is going to toss the book to him, but then he opens it and holds it out. Dean reaches to take it from him. “So. Can you tell me a little bit about the last week?” Dean asks as he looks through the sketchbook.

He almost hesitates, staring.

Holy shit, that is more than good.

Cas has talent and lots of it. Dean glances at Cas, who isn't looking. The art is insane. It’s gorgeous, so rough and deep and Dean feels something looking at it. It’s a feeling that words can’t do justice. There is also more than Dean expected. In this one week only he filled page upon page with full paintings or rough sketches, he stuck in newspapers and made pockets out of paper to put other things inside.

Dean’s fingers run along the texture of the acrylic paints that Cas layered on top of each other. The book smells like the art store his brother’s wife works in; a good place, and it brings Dean back to good memories. But he can’t show that, that’s not what this is about.

“So…” Dean repeats. “Your week?”

“It was alright,” Castiel says in a fake, casual voice. “Had a great time, was very productive, went outside a lot…”

Dean sighs and leans forward. “Castiel—”

Cas.”

“Alright, Cas, stop lying. It just makes these sessions longer for both of us. I can tell you weren’t feeling great.” He holds up the art journal, which is currently open on a page filled with skulls and red splatters. Cas sighs and leans back, looking up at the ceiling. It is quiet for a while and Dean just drinks his coffee, looking at the art.

“I didn’t do anything,” Cas suddenly mutters. “Everyone’s doing stuff, and I just…” He makes a gesture with his hands. “Couldn’t even get outta bed sometimes.”

Dean tries to hide how glad he is that Cas is talking. Dean never knows if he will before a session.

“Did anyone else have issues with that, or is it just you who is bothered by it?”

Silence.

“I guess I am afraid people will get pissed at me for not doing anything,” Cas eventually says, “Why?”

“I think the people around you would want you to heal, and if that means not getting out of bed a few days… I’d say they would understand.”

Cas scoffs. “My mother wouldn’t,” he shoots Dean a quick glance that Dean notes, but doesn’t respond to. “She just says I’m lazy and weak.”

“And you believe that.”

Cas looks at him again. “What? No.”

“You do,” Dean says without looking up from his notes, “otherwise you wouldn’t care or write it down a few hundred times.” He gestures to the art journal, where Cas has written lazy all across a page.

Their eyes meet. Cas doesn’t look away, but Dean can see discomfort in him. “Don’t tell me you don’t care.” Dean flips a page.

“I—“ Cas begins. He doesn’t continue.

“You didn’t know.” Dean states, “you thought you didn’t care about it because you’ve been telling yourself that you don’t. You thought that what your mom says or thinks about you doesn’t matter to you at all. You started to believe your own mask.”

“That’s not-“ Cas’ tone turns aggressive, and Dean expects an outburst, the last sip of his coffee smashed against the wall in matter of seconds. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Surprisingly, Cas calms himself down. Dean looks up and sees that he is practicing the breathing exercises he’d given Cas a while back.

Four breaths in, hold for four, breath out in five. The one Dean uses himself.

Maybe Dean has been misjudging Cas- maybe he doesn’t give him enough credit for the things he’s doing. Dean has this image in his mind of Cas being apathetic, not listening. And yet here he sits with an art journal full of emotions and a breath he’s trying to keep under control. He does, indeed, try.

Cas doesn’t want people to see that he tries, however. If people knew he tries, they’d see him fail. These are things Dean doesn’t want to bring up yet. Cas has come from far- barely spoke before going to Dean. Dean sometimes forgets how much Cas has already changed, and how hard that must have been for him.

Don’t blame yourself for mistakes and misjudgment, he tells himself, no time or use for that. Change your perspective and move on.

“You’ve been making progress.” He says and closes the journal. He hands it to Cas, who takes it as he eyes Dean suspiciously.

“But?” He asked, waiting.

“No but,” Dean says with a hint of a smile. “That’s all. You’ve been making progress and I’m proud of you.”

Cas’ face changes. He is difficult to read, but it is Dean’s task to do so, and he observes, takes notes in his mind that he will later write down. Surprised, confused? Upset? No… Flattered.

A very emotional, quite striking kind of flattered. How long has it been since someone told Cas they are proud of him? Dean realizes they are just staring at each other, both lost in their own, sudden emotions.

“Right.” Cas clears his throat, gripping onto his journal. “I’m… trying.”

“I know,” Dean says. The fact Cas admits says enough. “Will you work on your journal more, just like this week? Put in whatever you feel like. Even if you’re fine. Just work on it whenever, if you can, every day. You can write, too, if you wish- though I think you prefer art.”

Cas nods and gets up. He is often the one to end their sessions. Sometimes he leaves after ten minutes, sometimes after two hours. This session has been alright- about an hour. Cas is putting on his jacket- a long, beige trenchcoat, and he’s already buttoned it up before he speaks again.

“I had another panic attack.”

He isn’t looking at Dean, staring at the coat rack.

“When?”

“Last night.” Cas sighs, his tone turning bitter. He reaches for the door, hand on the knob.

“Guess I’m not improving as much as you hope.”

Then, he is gone.

Dean looks at the open door for a long time, then grabs his notebook and begins to write.

Chapter Text

Castiel comes roughly every week, roughly on time. Part of Dean wonders if he does that on purpose. He’s so busy trying to pretend he doesn’t care—Dean sees it regularly, and often those doing it don’t notice it themselves. If you don’t try, you can’t fail: failure is a big warning sign. Failure equals not being good enough, equals not doing anything right, equals being worthless—it is too big of a risk to take.

Dean has to get that out of Cas and show him that failure is not his enemy. No one will remember his failures more than he himself will, but it is quite hard to make someone as stubborn and harsh as Cas see that. Dean creates cracks in the wall every session. They’re small, barely noticeable. Sometimes the cracks close again over the week and Dean has to start over again. He does so, with patience, perseverance, focus.

He must be honest with himself, though it is hard. Castiel’s sessions are exhausting. They’re more intense than any other. One wrong comment, one off sentence, he feels, and Dean can be tossed back into the pit of people Cas doesn’t trust. Dean is glad their sessions are on Fridays—at least he can crash at home and sleep as long as he needs.

Sam is over one Saturday afternoon and had raised his eyebrow at Dean’s state—pajama pants and an undershirt, kitchen table scattered with client folders Dean was trying to organize.

“It’s like 3PM, Dean. Haven’t you done groceries yet?” Sam asks, inspecting Dean’s fridge.

“Just because you got your life together doesn’t mean that I do.” Dean rolls his eyes. “Saturday’s the day I get to do and wear whatever the hell I want, despite my little brother coming over and being a pain in the ass.”

Sam chuckles, fishing out some food to make them a sandwich.

It feels good, being around Sam. They would still live together if Sam and Eileen hadn’t been married. Dean never speaks about how much he misses living with his brother; it’s just ridiculous, and he’s happy for Sam and Eileen, he truly is. There is no underlying spite or bitterness, no hard feelings, just… A feeling of nostalgia that fills him for a moment as he watches Sam maneuver through his kitchen. Dean doesn’t like admitting that he’s not that comfortable alone.

“Right,” Sam says, unaware of Dean’s sudden melancholic train of thoughts. He washes tomatoes (to Sam’s surprise, Dean does actually have vegetables in his fridge) and starts slicing them up, “--you still with that one tough client? The dude you bought a sketchbook for.”

“Cas, yeah,” Dean says. He doesn’t ever tell Sam about the personal problems of his clients—privacy is important. But he talks about the way his work impacts him, and he’s told Sam plenty of times that he really can’t come over for dinner on Fridays. “He stayed for like, two hours yesterday. Felt like he didn’t wanna to go home.”

“No wonder you’re exhausted. I’ve always said you schedule your clients in late—especially if they stay over time.” He puts Dean’s sandwich in front of him with raised eyebrows. Dean takes the food with gratitude and takes a huge bite, ignoring his brother.

Sam sits across from him. Dean pushes some client folders aside. “How are you able to keep up with it all, Dean?” Sam isn't judging him, he’s just… worried perhaps, just like when they were kids and Sam would be both in awe and nervous when Dean did things he thought impossible.

“Because…” Dean says, chewing his sandwich pensively. “He’s making progress, y’know? It’s been—what, four months now? I don’t even remember. But he’s growing, and he’s listening, and I think he finally trusts me. What I do is helping, that’s how. He’s come from far, and it’s just an amazing feeling to have him trust me, y’know?”

Sam is watching him, sandwich loose in his hand. Dean frowns back. “What?”

“I meant…” Sam hesitates, not meeting Dean’s eyes. “I meant your work in general, Dean. Not just… Him.”

“Oh, yeah.” Shit. Dean feels himself blush and he quickly tries to save himself, “It’s just… that kind of thing, y’know?”

“Yeah,” Sam nods, slowly taking a bite. He keeps looking at Dean. “That kinda thing.”

 

4.30 PM, DR WINCHESTER’S STUDY. SESSION WITH: C. NOVAK

“Hello doc.”

Dean tries to hide his frustration.

“Good afternoon, Cas, sit down.”

Cas eyes him, grins at the use of his name, then plops down on the couch. His tea is already on the table and he looks at it for a while before reaching forward.

“So…” Dean says and he opens his map to the right folder. “Tell me about your week.”

Cas sips his tea for a while at first, probably deciding if he will begin with a lie or go straight to the truth. He seems to decide on the latter, which Dean notes as progress.

Cas says that his mom has been yelling at him over the phone again, and that he doesn’t know why his brothers can deal with it better than him (he sees it as unfair). He seems to insinuate that he deserves the yelling, and his brothers don’t, though he doesn’t explicitly state that. It’s mostly in his body language.

Dean gets more frustrated with Castiel’s mom every session. He always tries not to blame other people when dealing with clients, focus fully on the person in front of him- but Cas’s mom sounds like the kind of person Dean would punch in the throat at spending one minute with them. She is a large part of the problem, the inner self hate and guilt that has been building up in Cas for years and has eventually lead to him believing he is not worth anything. If she hadn’t been filling him with guilt-trip stories and reasons to hate himself for years up front, Cas would be able to deal better.

Dean has seen it before; parents constantly blaming their children for everything- that if they had only been different, things wouldn’t be as bad, destroying every bit of self worth left; and then, when it all ingrained on them, when their child had started to believe in their words completely, they blamed them for that, too. T
hey then called their children dramatic, selfish, rude, and blamed them for asking for attention. On top of that, they’d pretend to love their children, as if all they tell them is constructive and coming from a place of love. This would later turn into a disturbed view of love, the feeling love came with a whole bunch of pain and insults, or the fear that no one could ever truly love them.

It destroyed more than most people assumed.

Dean sees it every day, but he never numbs to it. It always pisses him off, gets his blood boiling. But all he can do about it is work with his clients, help them understand, help them cope and learn that they aren’t the mistake. It shouldn’t be that way, but there isn’t much else Dean can do. So, instead, he does what he can to help, to heal.

And Cas is finally learning to let him. He still calls him doc instead of Dean, but Dean thinks it is just to piss him off, provoke him. He still doesn’t talk at times, or will exaggerate and lie. Dean sees it, still, as a cry for attention. Cas can’t talk about it. He internalized everything so much that the only way to deal with it is this. And Cas doesn’t even realize it.

He sprawls himself on the couch, which is fine by Dean—he didn’t look at Dean at all while talking about his mom, and has now turned quiet again, waiting for Dean to continue the conversation. He isn’t done yet, he just isn’t sure what to say.

“Did you bring your art journal?” Dean asks.

Cas reaches for his bag, which lies slumped at the side of the couch, fishes out the black notebook and reached over to give it.

“I’ve dated it so you can see when this week starts.”

He’s been thinking about this. Why is Dean still surprised that Cas cares? He should know by now that he does—maybe it is just the fact that Cas is now showing it.

“Thanks.” Dean flips pages to this week. The art, though some pages disturbing, do not disappoint. Cas has been sticking in all kinds of things, he was seemingly out in the woods with it as dirt smudges, glued in leaves and sketches of birds and a fox cover a few pages.

“I… just wanted to eh—remember that I went outside,” Cas says when he notices what page Dean is on. “On my own, without having to go anywhere. Didn't even ask my brother to bring me. Just… wanted to take a walk and I went.”

“That is great, Cas.” Dean looks up, “you understand how good that is, right?”

Cas doesn’t answer.

“Cas?”

“I also cut myself again.”

Cas pushes away his sleeve, showing his arm. “I hadn’t in a while. Is that great, too?” His eyes are suddenly filled with angry tears as he stares at Dean, bottom lip trembling.

Dean looks at the fresh lines on Cas’s arm, the pride he earlier felt replaced with shock and to his own surprise, fear. We were going in the right direction. I should’ve been expecting setbacks.

“Is there a reason to this?” Dean asks, sitting forward in his chair. He finds eye contact.

“No, I did it for fun.”

Dean tries hard not to get angry. The sorrow, the hurt… the emotion is right there, swimming in Cas’ eyes. He sits there, shaking lightly, and his blue eyes are glistening, and still...

When Dean speaks, his voice is soft, despite his initial instincts to start yelling at Cas.

“I can see that you’re hurt. Why do you keep hiding it... even now?” He whispers. “Pain is not a sin, Cas. You are allowed to feel. Accept it, feel it. You can’t fix something if you refuse to believe it’s broken.”

“It’s not—” Cas is fighting the tears. His jaw is locked just like his shoulders, hands into fists, knuckles white. “You wouldn’t listen, anyway.”

“Why would I not?” Dean asks, his tone unchanged.

“Because you—” Cas waves his hand around, gesturing at Dean, “you just sit there and give me advice and tell me what to do, you don’t care, you’re just here trying to tell people how to fucking feel better while you have no fucking clue how I’m feeling, or what I really need, or what it feels like to be fucking told you’re shit, you don’t get that I don’t want to be fucking told what to do with my life—I don’t want you to pretend you know how to fix me, because you can’t!”

Cas got up while he was yelling, and now kicks at his bag. It slides across the floor and smacks against the side table with drinks. The table shakes and one of the mugs knocks over, which rolls off the table and falls on the floor with a hard thump.

Silence.

Dean doesn’t respond, just watches Cas standing there as he stares at his bag, heaving. A tear finally slips down Cas’s face. He turns and walks to the coffee table. He picks up the mug and checks for chips. Though he is careful, Dean can see his fingers shaking. Cas still has his back turned to Dean, and he fiddles with the coffee machine. It is a confusing one and it took Dean a few days to figure it out, so he isn't surprised Cas is struggling as well. He can’t get the lid open and Dean sees his body tense up even more.

Dean joins besides him. He shows him how to open up the lid, then how to put in the pad. Still in silence, he carefully takes the mug from Cas’ fingers and places it under.

“There.” He points at the button. Cas hesitates, presses it, and coffee starts pouring into the mug. “Now you can do it yourself next time.”

Cas nods. He stares at the mug through a blur of tears, though he doesn’t wipe them away.

“I can just listen to you,” Dean says, “if that’s what you want me to. But if you don’t tell me, I can’t know that that’s what you need. You don’t have to do it by the standards. You’re here for you, and for your needs.”

“And you?” Cas asks, voice strained. “Why are you here?”

Dean wants Cas not to lie. So, he can’t lie himself. It would be wrong.

“Because I know how hard it can be. How life can feel.”

“You don’t know how I feel.” Cas states. “You don’t know how it feels to…” His eyes lower to the scars on his arms.

 “It’s like there is a constant, never-ending ache inside, one that you cannot fix,” Dean says. “It’s a relief from the guilt, a distraction, a break. It’s a gasp for air because you feel like you’re drowning all the time. One moment of fresh, real feelings. It’s the only thing you know after a while. It feels good, for a moment, and then you start hating yourself. You did it again, you let it happen—you were weak, you overreacted, you couldn’t deal with yourself and the proof is right there. Everyone is right, about you being weak. You can’t even handle yourself, so how would you ever be able to handle a normal life? And if you can’t handle life, what kind of person are you? You’re not a person, you’re a failure, not worth saving, or helped, not worthy of a normal life. In fact… it’s a cycle.”

The coffee stops pouring, but neither of them take the mug. Cas is looking at him, but this time, Dean can’t get himself to look back.

“How… how did you stop?”

“I realized that the air I breathed in those moments is toxic. That you can’t fight fire with fire, and that the constant pain I felt could be fixed without making any more scars.” He takes the mug and reaches for a spoon. “That no matter how bitter my coffee is, it wouldn’t taste any better as an espresso.” He grabs the ceramic pot and opens its lid. “That I needed sugar instead.”

He stirs, then holds the mug out to Cas.

Cas looks from the mug back to Dean’s face. Dean finds himself lost in the teary but oh so blue eyes, filled with emotions that Dean wishes Cas wouldn’t have to feel. He knows this is going wrong, that what he’d been telling himself about Cas isn’t why he cares so much, but he pushes it away. That isn’t something he can deal with. It is wrong and he can’t allow any of those emotions to be more important than Cas.

“I…” Cas takes the mug, shakingly brings it to his lips, then takes a sip. He smiles through his tears. “Perfect.”

Dean smiles back.

“I can help you, Cas. Trust me. You just have to help me by telling me how.”

Cas puts down the mug. He nods, takes a shivering breath and is silent. Then he does what Dean isn't expecting—he hesitantly leans in and buries his face into Dean’s chest.

Without pause, Dean pulls him close.

He wraps his arms around Cas, though shocked and thrown off guard. Cas grips at him tightly, then starts to cry.

His shoulders shake as Dean holds him, lightly rocking like he would with Sammy. He strokes Cas’ hair, allows him to let go. No words are spoken for minutes, but nothing else could have been as powerful, as significant. Cas’ fingers grip onto Dean’s suit and he pushes himself against Dean so fiercely that it almost hurts.

But Dean doesn’t care—he closes his eyes, bites away the tears that he can feel burning in his throat. He holds Cas, lets his fingers glide over his back, his shoulder, then slowly into his soft hair. Cas startles and Dean can feel his body stiffen, but then Cas lets it happen, softening into Dean’s touch. Dean’s chin rests on Cas’ head, and it’s wrong, god Dean knows it’s wrong in so many ways.

He just can’t help it.

Chapter Text

Only ten minutes later, seated on the couch with Dean beside him, Cas talks. He’s been working on a portfolio—the one thing that he liked to do and what kept him going, and he finally dared to send it off to an art school. He didn’t tell anyone, too nervous—and yet, he hoped. It was the spark of light in his days, the one thing he looked forward to.

The rejection came two days ago. Because he didn’t tell anyone, he couldn’t share his pain. It had all been too much.

Dean is honestly perplexed by the idea of someone rejecting Cas’s art—there is something about it that even touched Dean, who isn’t much of an art guy to begin with, and barely understands the way critics speak of it. Every page in Cas’s journal has touched him thus far. Even the provocative ones or those that were meant to be ugly had something to them that made them beautiful, or interesting. Art schools are strict and harsh, though, Dean knows that much, but still, he doesn’t get it.

He lets Cas talk, and doesn’t give advice. He sits and listens and curses at the art school (Cas seems to like that). Now Cas is talking, he can’t stop. They are long over time, longer than they’ve ever been, but neither of them feels like ending. Dean has nowhere to go. Cas talks, talks, and Dean listens. Cas has told him things before and he exposed his emotions sometimes.

But he’s never been like this. Raw, truthful, honest. About his upbringing; Christianity constantly being pushed into him. How, when he started to stand up against it, his mother started to disgust him. How she used to rip drawings of him as a child because they were ‘too pagan’, how his father had always tried to stand up for him but couldn’t.

His school years being lonely and boring, without many people who cared for the weird nerdy guy in the back who read during lunch. That art had always been his escape and that he’d just wanted art school so fucking badly, and that now life seemed to stand still again. That he did want to fight his depression, but that different and new thoughts scared him, and that they were hard to keep up with. That he wasn’t sure who he was without all this pain and bad thoughts. That he is envious of people who are happy, which turns him angry, which then makes him angry at himself for being so selfish and rude.

He also asks Dean questions—wants to know about him and his childhood and whatever he dares to ask.

Dean talks, though he doesn’t say everything. He mentions Sam and living with his dad, but he doesn’t mention his mom or the way his father raised them. He says they’d moved a lot and that he didn’t have many friends or a very stable childhood, but not how it had made his teenage years so difficult.

Dean finds that when he talks, Cas talks. It is like he is exchanging. If Dean tells him something, Cas will tell him something related about himself. The side of Dean that is still busy with a therapy session takes a mental note, as this is useful. If it will help to let Cas open up, Dean will take anything. Just because Cas talks today doesn’t mean that he will next week. Cas speaks until his voice is even rougher than normal, and Dean makes him a mint tea.

“Are you afraid of things?” Cas says, holding his mug and eyeing Dean from above it. “Like… anything?” His eyes are puffy and red, his lips chapped. It’s unfair how good he still looks.

Dean didn’t expect the question, but he chuckles softly.

“Of course.” He says, nodding. “Flying. Fires. Losing family or friends. Death.”

Cas observes him, long and thoughtful. Dean can’t stop noticing how handsome he is. That is wrong, but you can’t simply turn those thoughts off. It buzzes in the back of his mind constantly.

“I’m afraid of the dark.” Cas blurts. “It’s… pretty bad. Can’t sleep without a light on. I’ll panic.”

He never mentioned that before.

“Do you… want to work on that?” Dean asks carefully.

“Yes,” Cas says determinedly. “I… want to. After we, y’know—” He exposes his lower arm. “Got through this.”

“Alright.” Dean reaches for his notebook and flips to the last page, noting it down. It is mostly so Cas will see him do so, because Dean doesn’t think he will forget anything said this afternoon. “Is there anything else that you want to work on besides this?”

“No. But I will tell you if I do.”

Dean agrees.

Cas finishes his tea, asking Dean more questions than talking about himself much, but Dean learns more about him than he did in weeks. In fact, Cas does have quite some interests, things that he enjoyed. That is good, as Dean can use those things to get Cas back on track. He also finds himself enjoying answering those questions. How long has it been since he talked? Finally, after several hours, Cas gets up and quite awkwardly apologizes for staying so long.

“It’s okay, Cas, don’t worry about it,” Dean says, watching him work on his jacket. “Do you have any means to get home?”

Cas nods.

“I do. Thank you—Dean.”

Dean walks him to the door which he normally doesn’t, and rests his hand on Cas’ shoulder right before he leaves.

“I’ll see you next week.”

Cas turns, his eyes determined.

“See you.” He says, and then he disappears across the hallway.

The rest of his night is spent slightly confused and in thoughts all about Cas. He is everywhere with Dean as he goes home, makes dinner, sits on the couch and tries to get his mind off of it by watching TV. When Dean started his job, he’d always found it difficult to leave his clients’ stories behind at work and separate his home from that. He’d been able to work on that and had been detaching the two quite easily, but now, none of his former ways work.

When had Cas started to feel like more than just a client?  He asks himself, not for the first time, and wonders how he still could have told himself that Cas is just a client.

He already broke so many rules for him. He can’t specifically say when exactly Cas had become more than the others, something else, as Dean has been trying to push away those thoughts as soon as they began to come up. But there is no denying now. Dean wants to treat all his clients with the same level of attention and need, but Cas…

Fuck, Dean can’t stay a hundred percent true to the law if it means he has to pretend he doesn’t care about people. If he has to lock away his personal emotions (which yes, in fact, he should, but he isn’t good at), Dean will go insane.

Shit, Cas is more than just a client.

Dean watches TV, but can’t really focus on what is happening on the screen. He thinks about Cas and how he is doing right now, if their next session is going to be as intense as this, or if Cas will be back to square one, embarrassed about what happened and with a rebuilt wall of anger and sass. Dean highly doubts that.

Cas has seen now that Dean was hurt, too, and apparently, that had been exactly what he needed. He isn’t alone, though his story is unique, and Dean is interested in hearing it. It’s what Cas has been indirectly asking for all this time.

4:30 PM, DR. WINCHESTER’S STUDY. SESSION WITH: C. NOVAK

Cas does not come back with a rebuilt wall of anger and sass the next week. He comes in, and though calm, he is not stark and cold. He hands Dean his art journal and sits onto the couch. They spend the session talking as Dean flips through the journal. They’re calmer than last time, but Cas is also more open than before.

Dean continues to look through the art journal in awe. It is stunning and Dean wishes he had hours upon hours to look at all the pages, astonished by what Cas has created in such a short time limit. There’s emotion on each page; a huge step in the direction Dean had wanted this journal to bring Cas to. Dean runs his finger over stacked layers of paint which started to crack slightly, caresses the pages that are messy and torn up.

Dean lets Cas talk and tries to connect what he says to the pages. He asks follow-up questions, and Cas actually answers them, as honestly as Dean needs. It used to be hard to get honest answers lasting longer than a few words from Cas before, but now Cas can talk. He is still struggling with it, eyeing Dean, breaking the tension with jokes or a faint shrug. But he explains the situation with his mom, which he hasn’t done before; about the way she makes him believe that he just sucks at being a good person to the point that he believes her. He hears his mom’s judging voice with things he does, her disapproval of him as a person. He also mentions being afraid to annoy his brother because he lives with him, to an extent that he is sometimes afraid to go downstairs and show himself, or sudden urges to pack his things and leave his brother in peace.

Standing outside in the pouring rain with a duffle bag, he would realize that he had nowhere else to go, and he’d have to go back and unpack.

This is the first time in the conversation Dean interrupts, reminding Cas that he thinks his brother is negative about Cas, whereas it might very well be that his brother is happy enough with Cas working through his problems.

And suddenly their session is over and Cas gets up to leave, his hand resting on Dean’s for a brief moment as he takes back his art journal. It tingles on Dean’s skin long after Cas has left the room, and Dean closes his eyes, leaning back into his chair, and wondering if this is ever going to pass.

It is not for at least a while, he realizes. Sessions with Cas are still heavy and now often span over the scheduled time, and despite how tired they make Dean, he looks forward to them. Cas is his most difficult client and yet also his favorite one.

Dean denies that it’s the young man’s wild hair, those intense and haunted eyes, the deep laugh that very rarely rumbles through the room and fills Dean’s chest with warmth, the smile that tugs at Cas’ lips teasingly, testing out how it feels to be happy. He doesn’t want it to be those strong shoulders, the curve of his hips and the defined body sometimes exposed under tight shirts. The knowledge that he is, undoubtedly and overwhelmingly into Cas is driving him insane. Dean is a professional therapist with a good, solid reputation.

Reviews haven’t been negative in any way for over a year now, and he’s going places. But Cas, Cas is changing him—and Dean is way too willing to accept it.

Chapter Text

4:30 PM, DR. WINCHESTER’S STUDY. SESSION WITH: C. NOVAK

“When’s the last time you’ve gone out, Cas?” Dean asks, tracing the edge of his mug. “I mean… not your nature walks, which are now quite regular and I very much approve of, but I mean, with people.”

“I’m not a going out having fun at a bar type of person.” Cas frowns, surprised by the question. “Are you honestly introvert shaming me right now?”

Dean smiles.

“As a fellow introvert, I can’t possibly shame you for rather staying in bed and reading every night. But it’s… good to go out every once in a while. Doesn’t have to be every week. It can be every month, or two months—”

“Once a year.”

“Cas—” Dean hides his amusement by taking a sip. He knows Cas is just teasing him, he has been starting to pick up on when Cas was simply enjoying a good witty discussion. “It’s incredibly selfish of you to stay inside all the time.”

“What?” Cas’ small smile fades and his frown deepens and Dean can see him stiffen up. At one time, this would’ve startled Dean into making sure Cas wouldn’t get angry, but now it is exactly what Dean is aiming for.

“Yeah,” he continues calmly, “I mean… you have so much to share with people. You’re intelligent, creative, funny, probably wouldn’t do to bad with the ladies… No one can enjoy your presence if you’re not there. I honestly think that you should give people the joy of hanging out with you at least sometimes.”

Cas’ initial reaction, getting defensive, melts away. He seems conflicted; surprised, but doesn’t want to show it, amused because he realizes Dean outwitted him, and somewhat flattered because of Dean’s words.

“I can’t quite make out if what you just said is an insult or a flirtation,” Cas decides on. Dean tightens the grip on his cup. “But… I don’t know. Where’d I have to go? I don’t have friends.”

“You can go with your brother,” Dean suggests, “I’m sure he would appreciate if you asked to go somewhere. There’s enough lowkey places in this town. Just a bar, a pool table, music if you’re lucky. You don’t have to go to a heavy metal dance party if that’s not your thing.”

Cas chuckles, leaning in with a smirk.

“What about you? Is that your thing? You actually into heavy metal?”

“I’m sure you know that if I go out, it’s always at one of those lowkey places.” Dean tries to look unfazed.

“Psh, you’re boring.”

Dean raises an eyebrow.

“Well, you don’t even do that. So… I wouldn’t say that I’m the boring one.”

Cas smiles, and Dean cannot help but smile back. It’s just a very small gesture, but they both know that their teasing is just that; no actual insults, like how Cas used to act around Dean. Now, it’s more like a game. They wrap up the session (Cas always stays late now) and Dean is left behind, lost in thoughts. He doesn’t tell Cas he brought up the going out thing because Sam was the one to tell Dean that he should do it more, that he is now going out tomorrow for the first time in ages, and that Sam’s words made him think about Cas, and had made him realize that Cas definitely didn’t go out often enough.

He is looking forward to hanging out with Sam, Eileen, and their friends. He hasn’t seen Benny and Charlie in a while and he definitely misses them—but being social is always something Dean has to prepare for. So he sleeps in that Saturday and is not productive during the day at all, enjoying the opportunity to be lazy and alone. But when he’s eventually getting ready that evening, he is excited to see his friends again.

When Dean arrives at their regular bar, Sam and Eileen are already there. Dean hugs them both and is handed a beer. The bar is designed in a somewhat older style which gives it homey, cozy feeling, which is exactly why Dean doesn’t mind hanging out here.

“Benny and Charlie are on their way,” Sam says, tucking his phone away, “I invited a guy from work too but I don’t know if he’ll make it.”

Dean nods, sipping his beer. He asks Eileen how her work has been and listens, catching a glimpse of Sam’s face looking at her. Dean smiles. He loves seeing Sam happy like this, no doubt in his mind that Eileen is the one for Sam. Benny and Charlie arrive when they’re halfway through their first drink, and Charlie doesn’t let Dean go for almost a full minute, complaining about how long it’s been. Dean tries not to show just how glad he is to see his friends again, too, but he can feel Benny’s grip tighten shortly before they let go. After all, they’re not stupid.

They sit and laugh and talk, and Dean totally forgets about the other guy Sam had invited until Sam is waving someone over. Dean vaguely recognizes him, probably because he’s seen him around Sam’s work a few times. The guy arrives at their table and greets everyone with a kind smile and some handshakes.

“Oh Sam, hope you don’t mind I brought my little brother along. Had to take him outside.”

“I have a name, Gabriel.”

Dean’s head shoots up. He stares at Cas who is still glaring at his older brother. Then he greets the others, before his eyes land on Dean and he pauses. Surprise and recognition wash over his face, but a moment later, they’re gone and replaced with a mischievous, playful smile that starts in his eyes, sparkling bright.

“And who is this?” Cas asks as if offended, punching Gabriel’s shoulder. “You didn’t tell me there’d be demigods tonight. Then I’d worn something else.”

Charlie whistles and claps, grinning cheerfully at Dean being flirted with, and Benny chuckles along.

Dean, however, is lost for words.

What the hell is he thinking? Dean tries to read Cas’ expression in top speed but all he gets is mischief and joy. He knows that he shouldn’t complain about that, your job is basically to make him feel better, but this is definitely not a situation Dean should find himself in. Cas, however, had already decided that they are playing pretend, and before Dean knows, he’s shaking Cas’ hand as if they never met. Gabriel seems to be fine with his little brother’s game, or he simply doesn’t recognize Dean.

He has to reply, come up with something clever. Cas knows him as clever and fast, but Dean isn't in his work mode, where he has to think twice as fast as the person in front of him. So Dean hesitates, his reply a little later than it should’ve been.

“I’m glad I look human enough to not be a complete god.” Dean stares right into Cas’ eyes, angry at how pretty they are in the low light of the bar.

Cas chuckles, slipping into the seat opposite Dean and smirks. It’s aggravating, how gleeful he seems. Dean doesn’t often see clients outside of therapy, but when he does, he is always sure to ignore them or leave the place. Now, he’s literally forced to interact with Cas, forced to pretend he is not a client, and that’s exactly what Cas seems to have wanted. Cas is way better at this game, however. He just throws Dean a quick glance before ordering a drink, then asks Charlie where she bought her shirt.

Dean can’t help but look at him as he starts talking with Charlie, leans in, smiles again. A totally different setting and place, and Cas isn't any less attractive. But here, Cas doesn’t even seem like someone with problems as heavy as he discusses with Dean. When looking long enough, Dean can still see the Cas he knows.

When Charlie turns to ask Eileen something, Dean catches Cas fiddling with his sleeves, swallowing and looking down. He can see a moment of discomfort as someone brushes past Cas’ back and he stiffens, but then Cas looks up and catches Dean looking. Dean wants to look away but Cas smiles. Not a smirk, not a playful grin. Reassuring.

It’s right then and there that the possibility of Dean still being somewhat professional with Cas disappear completely. The warmth that he feels at that smile is enough to heat his cheeks. Cas looks up when his drink arrives, and Dean forces himself to look away.

Dean needs time to think. He doesn’t know what is the right thing to do now. The ethics of his job imprinted in his brain say that he has to leave, but it is already too late for him to start listening to those ethics. Maybe he shouldn’t be so close to Cas, though, as they’re literally sitting across each other, but Dean can’t help it. If he lets go of all shame, he is glad to see Cas. First of all, he listened to Dean and he went out with his brother.

Second of all, Cas does look good, like he’s enjoying himself. There are moments when no one but Dean pays attention to him and he seems… lost. But it’s not something Dean doesn’t recognize or understand. And the moment Cas is dragged into the conversation again, he seems to forget all about the moment of nothing. So Dean pulls him in several times, asks him a question and talks while they still pretend they don’t know each other.

“What do you do for a living?” Benny eventually asks Cas, and that throws Cas off for a moment. He hesitates, eyes flicking to Dean almost unnoticeable.

“Oh,” Dean says, drawing the attention to him, “Cas just told me, he’s an artist.”

“That’s nice,” Benny grins, “I can’t even draw a stick figure.” The conversation swiftly moves into dream jobs they had as a kid, and Dean has to admit that he desperately wanted to become a firefighter. It seems to amuse Cas way too much, but then Cas says that next to an artist, he used to want to be an ice cream seller, and Dean feels less embarrassed.

“Cassie was obsessed with sculptures, too,” Gabriel adds in, but Cas doesn’t seem annoyed with it. “Like, old Greek ones and such. You had this period where you were sure you were gonna be a sculptor.”

“And then I realized how much more work that is and how expensive the big materials are. I’ll just stick to my sketchbook.”

Dean tries not to look too surprised or impressed. It was yet another thing Cas had never told him, but he couldn’t show that.

Was Cas going to keep on being this surprising?

Dean is getting drinks a while later, waiting at the bar, when suddenly he feels someone standing close behind him. Before he can turn, he hears Cas’ voice.

“Thought I’d help you carry.”

Dean half turns, but he can’t move far between the bar and Cas.

“What are you doing, Cas?” He says as an attempt at professionalism. “Pretending we don’t—”

“We don’t, here.” Cas shrugs, “Here, you’re just a hot guy on a night out with his friends, and a wise guy told me that I had to go out and have fun. I was supposed not to worry too much, so I’m not.”

They shoot a glance at the table and see Charlie looking, so Cas leans in closer, pretending to be flirting with Dean as he shields their faces away from the table.

“Cas—” Dean begins, but even he can hear that he isn't really angry. “It’s just… are you sure? I mean…”

“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna make this awkward. Especially not in front of your brother.”

“You literally have your hand on my ass now, Cas.”

Cas scoffs, but pulls away. 

“I… also wanted to thank you for, y’know, telling Benny that I’m an artist and all that.”

Dean doesn’t know what to say, but their drinks arrive and bring distraction, as they have to find a way to carry all drinks at once.

They arrive at the table and pass drinks and Dean can’t help but agree with Cas. Cas is not supposed to worry more than he already is. This is an opportunity for him to have a good time and let go. Besides, no one will know. Dean’s boss would never find out, and even if any of his friends knew Cas is one of his clients, they probably wouldn’t even care much.

Chapter Text

 

The night is good. Dean feels happy, laughs, somewhat lets his guard down. He even allows Charlie to drag him over to dance, begging him because it’s been ages. They had dance classes together at some point during school and always paired up, even winning the competition together. Dean did like dancing with Charlie, so she didn’t need to do much convincing. Dean could feel Cas’ eyes on him at times, and even thought Charlie noticed, too.

Dean thinks about it late that night in bed, trying hard not to let his thoughts drift solely to Cas. Of course they do, and they go places he isn't ready to accept yet. So he’s glad when Charlie texts, distracting him.

Honestly I thought you’d leave with that Cas guy tonight. - Charlie

Dean hesitates with phrasing his words but goes for We talked about you and your tendency to set me up with random people, Charlie. - Dean

She replies right away.

Oh but I didn’t need to do any setting up tonight. Your eyes were basically glued to each other the whole time. He introduced with a flirt. Honestly, there was nothing for me to do, and yet… You didn’t bite. - Charlie

Maybe he just wasn’t my type? - Dean

I’ve known you and your type for years. That’s about as much your type as they get. Dark, mysterious, hot. Don’t fool me, De. What’s wrong? - Charlie

Dean hesitates. Should he tell Charlie? He doesn’t want people to know, but Charlie… Sam and Charlie are the two people he trusts most, whom he tells everything to. He knows Charlie won’t judge him. Not telling her feels… off.

He’s a client. He just pretended not to know me. - Dean

There are a few moments of uncomfortable silence and waiting in which Dean starts to regret all his life choices, but then Charlie is typing again.

Oh, damn. I’m sorry for pushing you to talk. - Charlie

That must suck. - Charlie

Dean sighs, relieved by the way she is reacting, still nervous. She knows him well, probably too well—she’d seen him look tonight. She’ll know how Dean feels by now, and knowing he feels like that about a client… He texts Charlie about how difficult it was for him to let Cas trust him, to make him open up and how Cas always walked away at former therapists. She must understand why Dean can’t let it go. Why Dean can’t be the professional he is supposed to be—he must give Cas the help that he needs which he is only accepting from Dean, and he has to ignore his own feelings in the process.

They talk until they’re both too tired to type. Charlie understands—of course she does. She asks if Dean told Sam yet. But Dean is worried what Sam will think; not as a brother, but as a lawyer. About most laws and rules, Sam is quite strict. He’s still Sam, though, so he can be highly critical of laws, too. Dean isn't sure how Sam will react to this. It isn't a crazy rule that Dean and Cas can’t be in a relationship, but that’s not what this is about… right?

The way Cas had acted tonight keeps bugging Dean, even in his dreams. So loose and flirty and open and warm, so inviting. Dean dreams about pressing close against him, kissing him gently so that a smile curves onto his lips. He kisses the corner of Cas’ lips and whispers how lucky he feels to be with him, and that he shouldn’t deserve it.

He wakes up with a headache and the feeling that he’s travelled across the world in one night. The dream stays with him all day, and he can’t shake it off.

 

4:30 PM, DR. WINCHESTER’S STUDY. SESSION WITH: C. NOVAK

 

Dean isn't sure how he’s going to feel during the next session with Castiel. He has never been in a situation where he had to go from non-professional to professional within a session. He’d seen Castiel outside of this room now, in a bar, slightly tipsy and more open and social.

Was he always like that? Or was he just like that because Dean was there, and he wanted to make Dean uncomfortable? He is also worried about Cas—how he’s going to act now that he has seen the non-therapist side of Dean, where he is not in a fancy-ass suit with a cup of coffee in his hands and his hair neat. He’d seen Dean laughing and joking with his friends, had met Sam, had seen him, not the therapist side of him. Would he still take him serious?

But Cas shows no sign of even remembering that he was with Dean that Saturday. He doesn’t give him any looks or makes any comments when he comes in. Their session is about as normal as can get, though Dean is the one who is… distracted, a little nervous. Cas shows no signs of noticing.

Dean hates how unprofessional he’s behaving; having feelings he can’t quite categorize yet for Cas is one thing, but letting that affect their sessions? That’s something completely different. He needs a break from all this; from Cas, he realizes. He needs to reset his mind. Dean makes notes that end up in doodles and scribbles, half-finished words and when he realizes, he gets so angry with himself he slams his notebook shut.

Cas startles, looking up to Dean in surprise and confusion, in the middle of answering a question Dean asked about the art school rejection. Shit.

“Sorry,” Dean says quickly and gets up. Luckily, Cas’ cup is empty. “It’s not because of what you said, honestly. Want more tea? Coffee?”

“Tea.” Cas nods. “Dean are you okay?”

Dean laughs. “We’re not here for that, we’re here for you. I just shouldn’t be taking any notes right now, and I realized that I was not completely focusing on what you were saying. My apologies. Please… Can I ask another question?”

“Sure.”

Dean can feel him watch him.

“How exactly do you feel about the rejection? I don’t mean that it sucks, or that it feels bad, but… why exactly do you feel so upset by it?”

Cas is quiet for a few moments as Dean makes tea.

“Because that was the only thing I thought I could do. Art was what I still could be… proud of. Now I just feel like my art is shit.”

Dean puts the tea in front of him. Not a surprising answer, actually the exact answer Dean had thought to hear.

“That makes a lot of sense,” he says, sitting down, his notebook untouched. “Do you like the Beatles?”

What?

“I asked if you enjoy The Beatles. Their music.”

“Of course,” Cas says, eyeing Dean suspiciously, “they’re like… the best band ever. Why?”

“They were rejected at first— just like so many other awesome bands, writers, artists like you,” he nods at Cas, “-do you think that makes the Beatles bad now somehow?”

“No, but they were bad when they were rejected. Doesn’t matter that they became better later.”

Dean puts his cup away and grabs Cas’ art journal that lies in between them on the table. He opens it to a random page and turns it to show Cas.

“I don’t know much about art, or what art schools reject. But when you told me that you’d been rejected, I was shocked. This? This is good. I am really impressed by every single page you put in here, Cas. And if a simple guy like me can feel something when looking at this? I would hope that people who are educated in art would do the same. For some reason, you weren’t accepted, and I don’t know why. But this should not be a setback for you. It hurts, and that’s okay—rejection is just not something we humans are very okay with.

There are ways to learn how to deal with it, or at least get better at it. But it will always hurt a little, especially if we don’t understand why we were rejected. But you’ll have more chances, and it doesn’t mean that you should give up on art. Your work is amazing, and you should be proud of it. Don’t stop being proud of your art because one school rejected you—there are so many more places out there I’m sure would love to have you.”

Cas watches him in silence for a moment, hesitates, then looks at the art journal and then his lap. He makes a gesture between a nod and a shrug, but Dean knows he understands. Cas just doesn’t know what to say.

“Here,” Dean closes the art journal and puts it in front of Cas. “I understand that it can be hard to get over it right now. But—you can talk to me, okay? And you’ll get through it, promised.”

Cas takes the journal, fingers still as tender and careful with the book as the moment Dean had given it to him. His finger glides across the pages, Cas lost in thought.

Dean waits patiently until Cas seems to be more at ease, then goes through a few smaller exercises and questions. He doesn’t make notes, but he knows he will remember. Besides, it is clear what he will write: Client made great progress compared to first meeting. Open, speaks more, serious about his problems. Tries and succeeds. Still does not have very positive self-image. It’s not very difficult to write things down about Cas. It’s just difficult to keep them professional.

But by the time Cas has to leave, Dean feels like he has done a good job keeping up a professional straight face.

Then, as he’s buttoning up his coat, Cas suddenly speaks.

“Where’d you learn to dance?”

He isn't looking at Dean and Dean doesn’t look at him. He turns his back on purpose, pretending to rearrange stacks of paper on his desk.

“I took classes with Charlie several years ago.”

“You’re both very good.” Cas doesn’t even sound amused. “You have awesome friends.”

Before Dean can answer, Cas has already left and closed the door behind him. Dean stares at the closed door as he does often after Cas has gone, then sinks into his chair and groans softly. What has he gotten himself into? And why does Cas keep doing things like that?

Dean eats a late dinner at home and binges Dr. Sexy to distract him from work as much as he can. He sleeps in late as usual, does some paperwork on clients until Sam comes over to drag him out. Dean half expects Cas to be there when Sam says they’ll have dinner at Charlie’s, but both Gabriel and Cas aren’t there and despite an inappropriate sense of disappointment, Dean feels more relaxed than he would’ve with Cas.

Luckily, Charlie doesn’t talk about Cas whatsoever and doesn’t steer to the subject either. She approaches him when he’s alone in the kitchen, however, pulling him aside. Of course, she wants to know more about Cas.

“My feelings are still as unprofessional, if not worse,” Dean sighs. “I don’t know how to deal with this, Charlie. I feel like I’m the only one that can help him but I’m… worried that I’ll screw up. Get too close.” He waves his hand around.

Charlie nods silently and watches him for a while.

“Maybe it isn't that bad,” she says, turning to do some dishes. He helps her, the chatter of the others a calm noise in the background. “Having feelings for him, I mean. Like yeah I get why it’s not really appropriate with clients and whatever, but… also, maybe it’ll help? Maybe it will improve your ability to help him if you’re, y’know… closer.”

“But—“ Dean hesitates. “It’s not.. it’s just wrong, Charlie, it’d get me in big trouble if people were to find out. This is like a whole problem and one of the first things that you’re told when you’re given rules. No physical contact, no friendship, no relationship outside of the therapist’s office, no romantic or sexual relationships, all that stuff. Right now, I’ve already broken at least two of those rules, if not three, and I’m interested in another. What if this means I’m failing? What if I’m just… not as good as a therapist as people think I am…. as I think I am? And if people find out, I’m pretty fucked, Charlie.”

Charlie puts her hand on his shoulder.

“Dean, listen… You are the best therapist I know, and no one can ever tell me that you’re not good at your job. You’ve shown you are very smart and professional. And this thing with Cas? It might not be okay by the books, but it says nothing about your abilities as a therapist. It doesn’t make you a better or worse therapist just because you’re into someone or not. And I’m just seeing this from an outsider’s perspective but I really don’t think it’s that inappropriate—you’re both adult, grown men with a rational sense of understanding rules and know how to be reasonable.”

“And if we don’t?”

Charlie smiles, then reaches up to ruffle Dean’s hair.

“Then you’ll figure it out too. It’s gonna be okay, yeah? Now c’mon, help me make dessert.”

Chapter Text

4:30 PM, DR. WINCHESTER’S STUDY. SESSION WITH: C. NOVAK

Cas is late. Just late. There’s nothing wrong, nothing to worry about. He’s just late. He used to arrive at the end of appointments, so there is no reason to keep checking the door every minute. Five minutes pass. Ten. Fifteen. Dean paces around his office, walks to the window, stares at the storm raging outside. He’s fine. He’s just late. Public transport is delayed. It’s okay. Dean repeats it to himself as he waits. It doesn’t really help. He cannot stop looking outside and wondering if Cas got injured in some way, and how, and where, and… It’s fine. Just stop. Maybe he didn’t feel like it today.

He can’t sit down. He paces around the room, forces himself on a chair, gets up in less than a minute, taps the table impatiently, opens the door, checks the hall, closes the door, repeats.

It’s half an hour later when the door finally opens and Cas comes in, soaked and panting slightly. Relief washes over Dean like he’s never felt before—and he realizes just how worried he’s actually been. Cas is here, alive, though wet and shivering.

And then Dean realizes Cas has also been crying.

Cas watches him with wet eyes, nervous. He looks like a stray cat lost out in the cold for days, scared to be kicked, worried he’ll be yelled at. Weak, troubled, shaky, scared.

He doesn’t say anything.

“Hey, you okay?” That’s a dumb question, of course Cas isn’t okay. When Cas doesn’t answer, Dean hurries to get him a towel first. When Dean gets back, Cas has taken off his coat, and nods at Dean thankfully. He’s sniffling, his breathe still unsteady and short. Dean feels uncomfortable; should he force Cas to say what’s going on? Should he just let him sit here in silence?

“You don’t have to talk, okay?” Dean says softly. “But… I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s going on.”

Cas just nods softly.

“I just…” That’s all he says. Dean lets the silence sit for a while, while Cas calms down.

“Why’d you come here?” He asks eventually. “If you don’t feel like talking.”

Cas reaches in his bag and hands Dean his journal. Dean opens it to the latest pages.

What if I can’t do it what if I’m never going to be happy what if I’m just not a good person what if I’m just not capable of being happy like other people, what if I just keep thinking things that upset me no matter how good I felt before— It goes on like that, a string of words. It isn’t pretty or artistic. Just a scribbly mess of Cas’ handwriting, splotchy with the paper wet around the edges. Dean looks at it for a while, reading the words.
They mostly repeat, going on for two whole pages. Cas wondering if he’s good enough to be human. He feels like he’s wasting everyone’s time trying to fix him while in fact he is never meant to be fixed. Cas sits with his face in his hands, shoulders shaking.

Dean closes the journal and puts it back in Cas’ bag, then eyes the window. It’s dark outside, but he can see the wind raging. He can hear it, too, wind howling against the building and rain hammering on the roof. Dean suddenly knows what he has to do. It has never been written in any book about psychotherapy, never been said in any class, never been taught or spoken of. But he knows this is the only right thing to do. He grabs his own coat and starts packing his notebooks and client files into his bag. Cas is just eyeing him, no sign of confusion or surprise on his face. It’s when Dean grabs Cas’ coat that he frowns.

“I know it’s still wet,” Dean says as he kneels down with him, “so maybe just carry it along.”

“What are we—”

“We’re gonna do what I always do when I feel like shit.” He takes the car keys from his pocket and dangles them in between his fingers. “If you want.”

Cas looks at Dean, the keys, the wet trench coat in Dean’s hands. In a swift motion, he grabs his bag and the coat and nods, wiping at his eyes.

“Please.”

They run to Dean’s car, Cas following Dean close behind. It’s so dark and rough that Dean doesn’t worry about anyone seeing them leave and get in his car together. Inside, a silence between them falls as the rain rattles on the roof. They’re panting softly. Dean starts the car, and the dark rumble of the motor gives him the warm wave of feeling home that nothing else can give him. He smiles despite himself.

“Pick some music if you want,” Dean nods at the glove box. “See if you can find something you like.”

Cas hesitates, then opens the glove compartment. Dean focuses on the road, careful not to go too fast in the heavy rain, but he can hear Cas scoff.

“Should’ve known you still have cassettes.”

“Listen, tapes and records are the only right way to listen to music.”

“Says the guy who owns an Impala.”

“Anything wrong with Baby?” Dean turns to stare at Cas, eyebrows raised. Remnants of his tears still glisten on his face, but Cas smirks at him, shaking his head.

“Also should’ve known you get defensive over your car.”

Dean smiles.

“Just pick a damn song, man.”

The air is lighter, because Cas is doing better. He’s smiling now instead of crying, and he also seems more… comfortable. More like the guy Dean saw at the bar, just not fake. This is Cas, not client-Cas or outgoing-Cas. Just Cas.

Cas picks a cassette, pops it in. AC/DC starts a moment later, and Dean smiles, turning up the music.

“Should’ve known you’re a guy with a good music taste,” he grins.

“It was basically the only good thing in there,” Cas notes. “You know new music exists, too, right? Fall Out Boy, stuff like that.”

“Psh,” Dean shakes his head, “don’t come at me with that Terror at the Disco crap, man.”

Panic! at the Disco, Dean.”

“Whatever. It’s all the same, anyway.”

“It’s good music, you just need to stop listening to tapes.”

“Can’t hear you,” Dean says as he turns up the volume, “I’m sorry, music’s too loud!” He gestures at his ear, eyeing Cas from the side, enjoying the guy’s grin.

Cas presses the side of his head against the car and watches the rain outside, and Dean focuses on the road.

“Where are we going?” Cas asks after about ten minutes. He looks comfortable, though his earlier breakdown is still all around him.

“I want to show you something.” Dean says. “The weather is perfect for it.”

Cas frowns, then ducks his head to read the passing sign as Dean takes the exit.

“The beach? It’s the perfect weather for the beach?”

“Just trust me.”

The windshield wipers can barely keep up with the rain. Dean sees Cas following them with his eyes. It’s such a normal, innocent gesture—Dean wants to forget they’re not supposed to be here. He’s lowered the music and the ambience in the car is cozy, warm, good. Dean knows he’s going to ruin that in a moment, but he stands by his plan.

He drives the car on the abandoned parking lot and turns off the engine. Now they can really hear the rain outside, the sea rushing and smashing up against the rocks. Far, far behind them, thunder rolls softly.

Dean reaches in the back and grabs Cas’ trench coat. “Here,” he says, unbuckling his seat belt.

“You want to go outside?”

“Yes. The thunder is far away, it’s safe, don’t worry.”

“But why—” Cas frowns, looking at Dean as if he’s gone crazy. “I thought I was the crazy one.”

“Listen,” Dean says, taking a deep breath. He nods outside, buttoning up his leather jacket. "Being out there, in a storm, on the beach.. It’s… it’s like nothing else. I—I want you to feel it. Experience it. At least once.”

Cas squints at the storm outside. If Dean didn’t know better, he’d listen to his own instincts screaming to stay in the car as well. He lays his hand on Cas’ shoulder, making him turn. “I’d never make you go out there if I wasn’t sure it’s safe. Trust me.”

Cas’ shoulders relax, and he nods, working himself into his clammy coat.

Dean opens the door and pushes it against the wind, hurrying to get out.

Cas still looks very worried. He huddles himself in his coat as Dean locks the car before going ahead, making his way down to the beach with Cas close behind him.

Down on the beach, they stand close together in the sand.

“Don’t think about the fact that you’re getting soaked. Don’t think about how cold you are, just… Just look!” Dean says loudly.

Large waves rush over and slam against the rocks with an enormous force. The foaming black water seems unreal, as from a dream—the waves chase each other eternally, splash up against the shore, then disappear. The sounds wrap around the two of them, and Dean breathes in the salty air that he missed so much. He lets the rain splash on his face and run down his neck into his suit. He doesn’t care. He closes his eyes for a moment. The feelings and sounds take him back years ago, back when he was a child with no worries other than if sea monsters lurked within that darkness. He opens his eyes and turns to look at Cas. He’s watching the sea, and Dean can feel he’s tense.

“Feel it, Cas, don’t think about the storm, just feel it. Here.” Dean himself stands, face turned to the rain, allowing it to surround him. It’s cold and somewhat uncomfortable, but it’s also freeing. He can imagine it washing away his problems and pains—he turns back to Cas who hesitates before following along.

He leans into Dean slightly, for balance maybe—so Dean stays where he is and feels the weight of Cas’ shoulder press against his. “Just let go,” Dean says quietly. His words would’ve gone with the wind if he wouldn’t stand so close to Cas. “This storm—this is all there is right now. Nothing else. And you can think that’s scary and horrible, and you can fear it and hate it… or you could just—watch it. Feel it. Let it happen. You’re already soaked anyway, you don’t have to worry about that—and the storm’s not gonna stop and those waves are not gonna hold back for you. But look at it—it’s friggin’ beautiful. Don’t resist it. Cherish it instead.”

Cas shivers against him, and then he steps away, into the rain. He tilts his head even further, rain gliding over his cheeks. He stands strong with his legs slightly spread, and the wind plays vigorously with the flaps of his coat. Something changes in his posture; he doesn’t look like the broken scared man that walked into Dean’s office this afternoon. He now looks like he rules the sea.

Dean hears a sound—a moment later he realizes Cas is laughing. He sees him smile, and Cas is yelling something that Dean can’t hear but it’s fine because Cas is radiant and forceful and Dean can’t remember ever seeing something this beautiful.

He doesn’t know how long they stand, feeling the wind and watching the sea hunt itself. They get soaked and drag themselves through the wet sand. They get as close to the sea as they dare and run back when waves come rolling in, they stand and watch and somehow end up holding each other’s arm.

Eventually they make their way back up to the parking lot and Dean holds Cas’ hand a little too long after he helps him up the steep slippery stairs—neither of them mention it as they get back into the car and close the door, shutting out the sounds of wind and sea and rain.

They still don’t speak, just look at the sea outside, until Dean’s breath is calm again and he starts the car.

They drive in silence, no music, nothing—and it’s good. This is how it’s supposed to feel, how Dean has sometimes dreamed him and Cas could be.

Suddenly, Cas is snickering softly, breaking Dean’s thoughts.

“What?” Dean asks.

“You look so fucking soaked, like you came from the sea.”

“You seen yourself?” Dean ask, giving Cas a quick glance. His face starts burning at the idea that Cas had apparently been looking at him. “You’re not any less of a mermaid. Now tell me where you live. I’ll drop you off.”

Chapter Text

They arrive at Cas’ house about an hour later, and suddenly Dean is back to feeling nervous. What if Gabriel comes out and sees him? He hadn’t minded hanging out at the bar, but… this is different. Cas doesn’t seem to be worried, however. He has taken off his coat again and holds it rolled up under his arm. He looks at Dean.

“I…” He swallows. “Thank you, Dean. That… That means a lot to me. I’m kinda shit at saying stuff like this but… know that I’m very grateful. And I mean it.”

“Ain’t no thing,” Dean smiles reassuringly, pretending his heart isn't racing. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

Cas grabs the strap of his backpack, seems to hesitate one more time, then gets out of the car.

Dean can’t help but watch him hurry to the front door. He watches Cas rummage through his pockets until Dean realizes that he’s staring and he quickly looks away, ashamed of his own weakness. Today has been overwhelming not only for Cas—and Dean isn't sure yet how to put all his thoughts and emotions together.

He looks up one more time and to his surprise, Cas is coming back to the car. Dean lunges to open the glove compartment pretending to look for something, until Cas knocks on the window. Dean quickly opens the door and suddenly Cas is back inside, taking a deep breath.

“Gabriel is not home tonight and I forgot my keys.”

“You sure you didn’t have them on you? Did you lose them somewhere?”

“No, I’m sure they’re inside. I haven’t touched them since I put them down yesterday. I… kind of left in a rush this afternoon.”

Cas looks worried, however, his frown deep, his eyes on the house.

“Do any neighbors have a key?”

Cas shakes his head.

“Do you know when Gabriel’s gonna be home? Can you call him, maybe?”

“He’s out of town with friends, won’t be home until tomorrow afternoon. They’re hours away, calling is useless.”

They sit in silence again and Dean runs all the options he has. There’s only a few, and he’s already made his decision.

“Well, since I brought you into this mess-” Dean gestures at Cas’ soaked trench coat and the hair sticking to his forehead, “-and you must be hungry and you’d probably would like a hot shower, it’d be rude not to invite you to stay at my place. My guest room is pretty nice, and I’m not a horrible cook even though I say so myself.”

Cas frowns.

“Dean I can’t… you don’t have to… it’s too much to…”

“No,” Dean interrupts. “It’s fine, please. I don’t know if you have any other option, and I honestly don’t mind.”

Cas runs a hand through his wet hair, takes a deep breath, and nods. “You’re right,” he says, fumbling with his coat. “I just… I don’t- I don’t wanna be a bother, and it’s just, y’know…”

“I know,” Dean says as he starts the engine again. “But it’s okay. You’re not a bother and I’m not just saying that. I promise, it’s fine. Now tell me, do you like burgers? Because I wasn’t gonna be super fancy about dinner tonight, to be honest.”

“Burgers are great,” Cas says quickly, then, after a pause, “—they’re my favorite, actually.”

“That’s perfect, then.”

Dean doesn’t live very far away. It’s the first time he’s ever had a client know his home address. But with Cas, a lot of things are the first time. And he isn't worried Cas is going to use this in any way—Dean trusts Cas completely for some reason; maybe because he’s been so vulnerable around Dean.

It’s just that with every day, Dean wishes more and more that he’d met Cas somewhere else, somewhere where driving to Dean’s house together wasn’t against the rules. But then—then Dean maybe never would’ve been able to help Cas in the way he had—maybe then, he’d not even know Cas’ vulnerable side. And yet…

He shouldn’t daydream about ideas like that, but he catches himself doing it an awful lot these days. Especially now, with Cas next to him, going through his cassettes as they drive home, Dean can imagine them together, like this, everyday—him and Cas and the Impala.

Focus.

Dean is glad when they arrive at his house so he can think about anything else. He leads Cas inside and is for the first time thankful for his need to keep most things organized and clean. He shows Cas the guest room, then the bathroom, and gets him some clothes to wear while his own dry. Then Dean disappears into his own bedroom to change into something comfortable. He tries not to overthink it as he grabs a pair of sweatpants and a shirt.

When he hears the shower run, he goes downstairs and starts to prepare dinner. Cooking for people always makes him feel better—his worries somehow disappear when he is busy preparing food with this much care. It makes him feel like he is home, that feeling of having a family despite not having one, not really. But when he makes food for people, at least he can pretend that Dean, too, has a home.

He makes sure everything is pretty and perfect. He’s just busy finishing up the burgers when he hears footsteps preceding Cas. Dean hadn’t thought about the effect Cas in his shirt might have on him, so he’s quiet for a moment.

“Thank you,” Cas says, looking down at his clothes. “Turns out you actually have some sort of taste.”

Dean rolls his eyes and smiles, but Cas broke the ice with that so he can’t really complain.

“We can sit on the couch, ‘s way better than at the table.” Dean gives Cas his plate and settles in his favorite corner of the couch.

“Shouldn’t we…” Cas says suddenly, not looking at Dean. “Maybe, uh, talk about… I mean, this? Like—we’re not really supposed to do this, are we? I mean, you letting me stay here and everything.”

“I’m not, no,” Dean admits, “-but I also wasn’t really supposed to drive you to the beach in a storm, or to ignore our time slots, or to let you take tea home, or to let you smash coffee cups against the wall.”

The corner of Cas’ lips curl up slightly.

“I also wasn’t supposed to give you an art journal, or to let you ignore CBT because “that bullshit doesn’t work on you”. I wasn’t supposed to meet you out in a bar and actually interact with you. I wasn’t supposed to do any of that.”

“Then why did you?”

Now Dean is afraid of the eye contact.

“Because I soon realized that the things I am supposed to do just didn’t work for you. You weren’t going to get anywhere with the standard exercises or treatments. CBT doesn’t always work, no matter how hard it might be forced on you. I don’t really think that’s what therapy should be about. It’s about helping people, and if that means I have to do something else for that—I will.” That’s obviously not all, though, but he can’t say that out loud. “And for this, me letting you stay here, I just…” He only dares to make eye contact with Cas briefly. “I shouldn’t be doing this, I know that. And we shouldn’t—we shouldn’t have met at the bar. But we did, and I did, and I can’t take that back, and… I honestly wouldn’t want to. It’d be ridiculous to pretend that we’re not… y’know, friends.”

He looks to see how Cas reacts to that word—Cas smiles and looks at his food.

“Y’know, sometimes,” Cas says after a pause. He grabs his burger with both hands. “Rules should be broken. Just a little bit.” He takes a bite and chews thoughtfully. Then he nods at the burger. “Especially if that means I get to eat this.”

Dean laughs again, taking his own food.

“You like it?” He asks as Cas chews, watching him.

“These,” he says, “make me very happy.”

Cas insists on helping him with the few dishes. They look like normal friends hanging out, and Dean almost feels like normal friends—aside from the way Dean’s skin tingles when Cas’ hand brushes past it or how he can’t stop thinking about the way Cas looked as he’d been listening to Dean, frowning in deep concentration.

It’s late when they’re done, and they don’t stay up long. Dean locks up and they go upstairs together. There, in the hall, Cas turns.

“Goodnight, Dean. And thank you. For everything.”

“You’re welcome. Night, Cas.”

Once in bed, Dean can’t get his mind to calm down. He tries, but everything comes back to Cas. His mind drifts to places it shouldn’t be going—especially when sleepy, Dean can’t control where his thoughts go very well. And though he tries not to, he has quickly passed all different scenarios of how they bump into each other in the hallway and start an intense makeout session against Dean’s bedroom door, or how Cas comes into his bedroom and strips himself from Dean’s clothes. It’s wrong in all ways, but Dean can’t stop his thoughts and is too willing to go along with this imagination.

Dean dozes off but his mind keeps running the same course. He wakes from his light sleep about an hour later, panting and rock hard, sweat on his forehead.

He bites his bottom lip to restrain himself from groaning, both angry and embarrassed at himself. He tries to ignore it for a while, hoping it will just… go away. But he knows better. Cas being in the room next to him is not helping. Dean can’t get up to take a cold shower, and he knows there’s only one way to calm himself down.

He presses his fist against his mouth to keep himself from making too many sounds, trying not to think too much as his hand reaches down into his shorts.

He doesn’t need long—coming with a silenced moan biting down on his knuckles, and though he knows he barely made a sound, he still worries, and he hates himself as he cleans up in the dark. He never should’ve gone this far, and now he’s here out of breath and has Cas in the room next to him, and nothing is okay. Despite the shame, the fear, the mistakes he’s made, Dean falls asleep soon after, while Cas seems to have settled in his mind for good.

They don’t say much at first the next morning, but Cas seems rested and enjoys his coffee in silence. Dean sneaks glances, trying to get his mind away from last night. He has to get over it fast, or else it will never stop haunting him-it isn't as if he'd never fantasized about Cas before, anyway.

The storm has passed and the sun is peeking inside through the curtains, bringing a soft orange glow into the room. 

“Dean?” Cas suddenly breaks the silence.

“Yeah?” He looks up, worried that Cas is gonna say something about—hearing something.

“I uh, thank you. I mean, I know I’ve said it before, but… This could probably get you in a lot of trouble, and I was thinking about it yesterday. You’ve done a lot that could get you into some deep shit. And yet that didn’t stop you from helping me. So…”

“It’s fine,” Dean says, feeling more guilty than flattered. “Just—promise me one thing, okay?”

Cas nods and Dean reaches forward, turning Cas’ arm to expose the inner side.

“Let these be the last.” He shifts closer, watches Cas look at his own arm. “I know that's hard, and I’m not saying it isn't. But- for me, finally quitting was everything. I never realized how… how much it didn’t just hurt me, but also the people around me, until I stopped and I saw the changes, within me but also my brother. And—all I ask in return for… for this, is that you stop, or at least try to. Not for me, but for yourself and the people you love. You think you can do that?”

Cas nods, fingers curling into a fist.

“If it ever gets tough,” Dean continues as he grabs a scrap piece of paper and a pen, “you now have official permission to call me. Whenever. I don’t care if we just had a session two minutes ago or if it’s 3 A.M., you feel bad and itchy, you call me, yeah?”

His fingers glide over Cas’ arm and he shivers. Dean pulls away quickly but Cas grabs his wrist.

“I promise, Dean.”

Dean can feel Cas’ fingers on his skin long after he pulled away.

Giving his number is yet another thing he can put on the list of ‘Things He Shouldn’t Have Done’.

He drops Cas off later that morning, when Cas is sure Gabriel is home. Cas thanks him with a smile, one that is sweet and gentle and leaves Dean’s heart all confused. He returns home and goes to the guest room, takes off the sheets Cas slept in and goes to do laundry.

As he kneels in front of the washing machine, he can’t help put smell at the sheets full of Cas’ lingering scent. He grips onto them, knuckles turning white. He takes a few, deep breaths of the earthy scent. It's a vague hint of paint, mixed with Dean's own soap. He bites away the tears that are suddenly brimming in his eyes. This is something he cannot have and shouldn't wish for. But here he is, on his knees, pressing a bundle of sheets against his lips. The soft cloth against his bare skin makes him shiver.

He is irrecoverable from the way Cas has thrown him off guard. Cas is a storm that Dean can’t fear or hate despite it being so dangerous, so destructive and devastating, because it is also so overwhelmingly beautiful.

Dean stuffs the laundry inside. The earlier the remains of Cas’ stay are gone, the better.

Chapter Text

Dean doesn’t know if Cas will actually ever call him. Maybe Cas just promised Dean that he would call just to get Dean off his back, or to make him worry less. Maybe he hoped that if he would just not call Dean, Dean wouldn’t worry about him too much.

But it is too late for that. Not one day goes by in which Dean does not think about Cas. His phone rings and he thinks it might be him, another time he wakes up in the middle of the night and quickly checks his phone, making sure Cas didn’t call.

It’s somewhat ridiculous, maybe, so Dean teaches himself to let loose. He doesn’t take his phone everywhere, he doesn’t check it every few minutes. Their sessions are good, and Cas is making progress—though most of it is Dean trying to make Cas understand that he does not have to be perfect.

One of their big breakthroughs, however, is Cas getting a job. Dean is thrilled to hear that it is at Eileen’s art store. Sam had told Gabriel that Eileen was looking for someone and Gabriel had suggested it—Cas, who never would’ve dared to apply by himself, afraid of the rejection, had hesitantly gone by. Eileen recognized him from the bar and had invited him in for a tour immediately.

Seeing how passionate he was about art, the knowledge he already had, and understanding how nervous he was about the idea of an actual interview, she had given him the job.

Cas had told Dean during their next session. He ranted about the supplies that he never dared to dream about which he was now allowed to sell, had said how sweet Eileen was and how he'd started to learn sign language as a surprise for her.

Dean smiled throughout it all, his heart full with the knowledge that Cas was in good hands now—knowing Eileen, she would make that place a home for Cas, let him feel loved.

He said he never dared to dream about getting a job this year, he writes in his notes, but he got one. It was not easy and he was “fucking nervous” to get in there, but it helped that he knew Eileen. The job seems to make him excited. He gets to do a lot of things that I don’t understand because he uses a lot of fancy words but I have never seen him this excited. He also kept gliding his hand over his cheek. He’s growing a stubble. It’s a good look on him.

Dean looks at the last few sentences for a long time, his pen hovering over it, ready to cross it out. He shouldn’t write things like this. These are his notes and no one else will ever see them, so technically it doesn’t matter. But he’s been trying to keep these files professional—these notes have been his anchor, forcing him to stay detached.

But he doesn’t cross it out. It’s not an anchor at this point, it's just fooling him. A desperate attempt to look like he got himself under control. But he already gave Cas his personal number, and every passing day in which he doesn’t get a call leaves him feeling scorned.

It should make him happy, as it means Cas isn't hurting—but the conflict in Dean’s mind doesn’t stop. And compared to that, what's a small comment on Cas' appearance in his notes?

Dean wakes up to his phone ringing and he wonders why he'd worried about not waking up to it. He would never be able to sleep through the damn thing blasting in his ear. He groans, half-asleep and somehow not completely aware of who it might be.

“Hm… ‘sup?” He groans, eyes still closed, his first thought being it's Sam.

Silence.

“Hello?” He asks, his voice hoarse in his dry throat.

“...Dean?”

“Hey—” Dean drags himself out of his sleep at the sound of Cas' voice, feeling for the light on his nightstand. “What’s wrong?” 

It's a few weeks after he'd given his phone number and though he never forgot, he'd started to expect a call less with every passing day. 

Cas is quiet at first, maybe not sure whether to continue or hang up.

“I… I’m sorry. I’m sorry I called, I shouldn’t have—you were…”

“No, no,” Dean says, trying to sound more awake as he rubs his eyes, “I told you, it’s fine… Just, give me a sec.”

When he's more awake, he sits up in his bed, phone back to his ear. “Tell me, what’s going on?”

“I just…” Cas begins, his voice shaky. It sounds like he’s trying not to cry. “Don’t feel very great. Kinda got myself into a rabbit hole about… well, stuff. Me.”

“You want to talk about that? Or do you want to talk about something else?”

“I just can’t really calm down. I don’t want to—I don’t want to have a panic attack, Dean, and I don’t know how to stop it. They’re always worse at night.”

“Alright,” Dean says, “you in bed? Can you get up and turn on a light? As light as you can make it. Tell me when you did that.”

He waits until Cas is back.

“Now breathe for a moment, okay? If the air feels stuffy, open your window. It’s okay if it’s cold, you can get a sweater. Just get some fresh air in your room.” He listens to Cas doing what he says, and it goes on like that for a few minutes, just Dean giving Cas things to do.

He asks him to tell Dean what the color is he sees most in his room (white), and what he smells (lavender), and what he loves most in his room (the box full of art supplies and old art), lets him count the number of filled sketchbooks, list the titles of his favorite books on his shelves. Dean can’t help but begin an imaginary outline of Cas’ bedroom in his mind, envisioning him sitting there in his bed wrapped in a blanket, window open, lights on.

Cas doesn’t complain about the seemingly stupid things Dean tells Cas to do. In between, Dean asks him questions like “are you too warm? Too cold? Can you get up for some water? Would you feel better going to another room for a moment?” After a series of these questions and little undertakings, Cas’ voice is calmer, his breath slower.

“It helps,” he tells Dean after a while, “I’m… feeling better. Thank you.”

“That’s good,” Dean smiles, hearing the relief in Cas’ voice. “Do you want to keep talking?”

“Yeah. If that’s okay.”

“Of course.” Dean lays down on top of his sheets, staring up at his own ceiling, imagining Cas doing the same. “Did you work today?”

“Yes. I—It was actually really great.”

“How’s working for Eileen?”

“She’s the best, honestly. She’s so kind and sweet. The way she handles the customers, the amount of patience she has with everyone, the amount of patience she has with me… It just…”

Dean can hear it in his voice, the nervousness, that little hint of bitterness.

“Just what?”

“I just feel like, I’m not… I’ll never be like that, y’know? I’ll never be able to listen to an annoying teen ramble about a specific kind of pen that they saw on a blog and need to have because it’s the only pen that’s good enough and that we need to order it without going insane. But Eileen just let her talk and explained why she couldn’t get the pens, several times, and then she just kindly told her there were alternatives.”

“Sounds like Eileen, yeah,” Dean says and Cas laughs softly.

“But I’m not… She was dropping hints about letting me run the store on my own for a day—what if a kid like that walks in when I’m alone? What if I scare people off and Eileen gets complaints and bad reviews and... I kept thinking I could never be like her, I just… don’t know how to. People freak me out. I know what to do and say most of the times. But sometimes I just kind of… forget. I don’t know what to do. That also sort of got me into the rabbit hole.”

Way back when they started out, getting Cas to admit all this would’ve taken Dean several questions and tricks to get him to speak. Now, it just comes rolling out.

“I can’t come up with a better analogy right now because it’s…” Dean throws a glance at his alarm, “...2 A.M. But listen. I really like pie. A lot. I have favorites. Apple, pecan, and blueberry, to be precise. The fact I love one doesn’t mean I can’t love the other just as much. There’s tons of different kinds of apple and pecan and blueberry pie as well. The fact that you’re not one kind of apple pie doesn’t mean that you can’t be another kind of pecan pie." Dean pauses. "What I’m tryna say is—the fact that Eileen’s personality is great doesn’t exclude you from having a great personality too, even if they’re completely different.”

“You could’ve said that without the pie thing.”

“Yeah, probably.”

“It’s better with the pie thing though. Now I know you like pie.”

“And I’m hungry now.”

Cas chuckles.

“And you don’t happen to have any pie, do you?”

“Sadly, no.” Dean sighs. “But I might make something else. Won’t sleep anyway.”

“I’m sorry,” Cas says, “I know it was—”

“Hey, I promised you I’d pick up, you don’t need to apologize. And now I get a free pass on a midnight snack.”

They talk as Dean gets up for some food. He sits at his table for a while, listening to Cas talk about his job and the customers, to Cas teasing him lightly as Dean lightly teases him back. Despite it being the middle of the night, it is a pleasant conversation.

Dean doesn’t mind that they just keep talking—like he would with Sam or Charlie. He eventually gets back into bed, wrapping himself in his blanket. When Cas is quiet for a moment, Dean hesitates.

“You getting tired?”

“Hmm,” Cas hums, “don’t hang up though.”

The question why hangs on his lips but he doesn’t ask, just hums back and closes his eyes.

“Eileen told me how to say ‘cassette tapes are stupid’ in sign language.”

“Hilarious,” Dean grumbles, “you happen to know ‘the crap they make these days isn't even music anymore’?”

“You don’t even know what you’re talking about, you just listen to ancient crap.” Cas scoffs.

“Oh c’mon, I know that what you listen to doesn’t even come close. All that… that Panic at the Diner nonsense.”

Cas chuckles, the sound warming Dean’s heart, filling his sleepy mind.

“It’s Panic! at the Disco, Dean. And it’s actually really good. Have you ever even listened to it? But you wouldn’t know what good music is anyway.”

“Whatever, buddy.”

Dean smiles, pressing himself deeper into his pillow. They listen to each other breathe, content with not saying too much.

“Should probably hang up soon.” Cas says after a while, his voice sounding deeper now. “I’m surprisingly tired right now.”

“Good to hear,” Dean hums, “anything you need?”

“No, I’m… I’m good. Thank you, Dean.”

“It’s no problem. Promise.”

“Kay,” Cas says and stifles a yawn. “Goodnight, Dean."

“Night, Cas.”

Chapter Text

 

4:30 PM, DR. WINCHESTER’S STUDY. SESSION WITH: C. NOVAK.

It’s almost impossible to believe Cas was having a hard time a few days ago, seeing the way that he is throwing jokes from the moment he walked in. They are mostly snarky, witty remarks to Dean’s comments—today he is obviously out to provoke him. That either means he is really in a good mood, or he is hiding something. Dean feels like he can’t tell, not right away at least. He will have to figure it out.

“So, has anything happened this week you want to talk about?” Dean asks as he takes the art journal from Cas and flips it open. It’s a routine Dean looks forward to, their talks, the start of their sessions; Cas smelling like the air outside and something musky, a blush from the sun still visible on his cheeks. The stubble looks way too good on him—Dean tries not to look at it too much, but he sneaks glances when Cas isn’t looking.

“Well, I had my first day alone at the store. I… actually did quite well. I have to add, however, that it feels quite good to be the one to ask the questions and know the answers for once.”

Dean raises his eyebrows at that, almost reprimanding—but Cas smiles and Dean forgets to be annoyed.

“It’s like we discussed. You might have different methods from Eileen, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. You did great. That’s awesome.” He looks at the art on the current page—one from last week, but one he particularly enjoys. It’s brighter and more lively than the others. Positive. There’s a few of these pages that stick out, compared to the dark and gloomy themes of most of the pages, they seem to be even brighter and saturated. It’s a sketch of a father and two kids at the art store.

Cas told Dean that the energy had been so positive that he wanted to capture it, so he’d made a quick sketch behind the counter and had filled in the colors during his break. Dean flips the pages until he’s at the newer sketches. He asks some regular check-up questions as he goes through them, not particularly sticking with at any of the sketches. Until he flips the page and he’s greeted with a completely different theme. They’re sketches made with ink, beautifully detailed depictions, anatomy studies of naked men, in all kinds of stretched out positions.

The sketches are breathtaking as always, with strong contrasts between light and dark, perfectly messy—and they’re also unbelievably provocative.

If that was everything, Dean would have been able to hide his surprise, but on top of that, the sketches all look very similar to one person: Dean himself.

The few faces are almost perfect representations of Dean’s features, including his freckles, the slight bump in his nose. Dean can’t ignore it. He looks up and tries to find eye contact with Cas, but Cas is looking up at the ceiling, draped across the chair, a small smile on his face. He knows what Dean is looking at now. He’s doing it on purpose, he’s doing all of this on purpose, and Dean—Dean is falling for everything.

For a few moments, Dean doesn’t say anything, just looks at the sketches one more time. Then he flips the page. He is greeted with yet another collection of similarly provocative, very Dean-like sketches. Dean flips the page again and finds more normal sketches, seemingly done at the store. This is where Dean pauses and speaks again, hoping his voice sounds better than his throat feels.

“So what have you been doing besides work these days?”

It feels as if Cas is disappointed by Dean’s lack of response, and Dean can feel his stare. He doesn’t look back, just pretends to be interested in the now almost boring sketches of random people Dean doesn’t know. He wants to go back to the other pages, figure out if they’re really… him.

Maybe they’re slightly more toned and romanticized than Dean looks in real life, but it’s clear that Cas drew his inspiration from him. Instead, he pretends nothing is wrong and waits for Cas’ answer.

“I don’t know, not a lot of mind-blowing things,” Cas eventually replies with a dangerously mischievous tone. Unfaced, he continues, “-a lot of masturbation, though.”

Dean chokes on his sip of water and some of it drips down his chin. He coughs, trying to wipe the water from his suit, as his face turns crimson. Cas has that horrible smile tugging at his lips, eyeing Dean with honest interest while Dean recovers. There are several things Dean can do now—and he’s trying to think of the one that will outwit Cas the most.

“Well,” Dean says when he is mostly recovered from his initial shock, and he gets up. He walks over to the window and starts closing the blinds. “If you are so comfortable around me you’re able to tell me such intimate details of how you spent your time, I can safely say that we can…take this a step further.” He closes the last blinds, shutting off all natural light. He turns to Cas, who is watching him with as much surprise as Dean felt a few moments ago.

“I think it’s time we start working on your fear of the dark.”

Cas sits back, obviously thrown off guard. Dean feels slightly victorious, however, he also wishes he didn’t have to trick Cas into this. “If,” he thus adds in a more serious tone, “you are okay with that.”

“But—” Cas chews his bottom lip. “Do you really think I’m that far? I had a breakdown only a few days ago. You know that.”

“I do.” Dean nods, walking over to his desk. “But I think that your phobia is way more intertwined with your everyday life and your other problems than you think it is. I think that overcoming your fear, or even just working on it, might actually teach you a lot about other things as well—not only will it show you that you are capable of overcoming it, but also how. Don’t you think that seeing improvement in this will give you more confidence overall? It will do so much more for you than only overcoming your fear of the dark.”

Cas hesitates for a moment and Dean lets him think while he rummages through his bag.

“I think I can try, at least,” Cas says with a sigh. “But I… I don’t know how- or if I…”

“That’s okay,” Dean says, “that’s what I’m for.” He almost says it bitterly, but he holds it back. It is, in fact, what he should be for, so there's no reason to be bitter.

He sits back down with Cas and lays down some basic information. About how phobias manifest, what they do, how the brain reacts to triggers of phobias, and why phobias are more difficult to overcome than less severe fears. Cas actually listens and asks questions, like a normal client. Almost.

In the next sessions, they continue with exposure therapy, in which Dean first lets Cas turn off the light and turn it back on whenever he wants to. It starts off slow, seemingly useless to Cas. Dean is determined, however, to get Cas through this in such a way that Cas also realizes how much progress he’s making. Soon, Dean is the one turning the lights off, keeping the room dark longer and longer.

It’s as if his weeks just lead up to those moments with Cas, and that nothing else is as important. Dean does more research than he has ever done before, sends Cas articles and information and asks him to try things out and report back to Dean if it worked. Cas grows and learns; even when he has setbacks, or when he suddenly tells Dean to turn on the light and there’s panic in his voice and he looks so ashamed Dean wants to hold him and tell him it’s okay, Cas seems to learn that those moments are important, too. Dean can tell him all he wants, but if Cas doesn’t experience it himself, he’ll never understand how much those setbacks help him.

Dean is proud of his progress, proud of Cas admitting to his problems and mistakes. They do exercises every Friday afternoon, sit with each other in the dark, on the floor with their backs against the couch, and they talk and laugh about everything to get Cas used to the dark. 

Dean found that playing music is another useful factor. They listen to Cas’ music and it makes the dark feel a little less daunting. Cas can sit and breathe calmly through an entire song, and if it gets hard, Dean is there to help him.

It is great to see Cas happier and more confident. Dean flips through his files one day and only then sees the number of notes and comments and things he wrote down as problems. With it, he can also see himself change. The way he looks at Cas, the way he thinks about him.

At first, he was just curious and determined to get through to Cas. He never thought this would be how he’d end up: with Cas in his mind all the time, their therapy sessions filled more with flirty remarks than with defensive comments.

Dean is happy with that change.

4:30 PM, DR. WINCHESTER’S STUDY. SESSION WITH: C. NOVAK 

There is something off about the way Cas acts. Cas doesn’t look bad or seem disturbed, he’s just… distracted, maybe more quiet than normal. Dean instantly notices. He observes it in silence first as they go about their session. Cas has something on his mind, something he wants to say but doesn’t dare to, or doesn’t know how.

He fiddles with his shirt, avoids eye contact with Dean longer than a second, and doesn’t even try to joke around every other sentence.

If Dean brings it up, Cas might completely shut down, so Dean lets him figure it out for himself. He’ll say it whenever he feels like he can.

That moment is apparently when Dean is putting away the tea at the end of the session, his back turned to Cas.

“I’m seeing someone.”

Dean’s hands freeze above the teabags, his body tensing.

He must misunderstand—Cas isn’t talking about a relationship. He means something else, something safe.

“What?”

“I’m dating someone. It… was kind of something I thought I’d never do, but I am now, so I—I thought you might want to know.”

Everything in Dean seems to go blank. He shuts off, doesn’t know what to do or say or how to act. He just… stands there, foolishly. His hand lowers to lay on the coffee table, but besides that Dean doesn’t move.

It’s good Cas can’t see his face. The silence lasts too long, however. Dean needs to say something, do anything—he can’t just stand there.

“That’s—yeah,” Dean manages. “Progress. It-it… it is. Progress.” Dean barely recognizes his own voice. He clears his throat and continues to clean up.

It doesn’t hit right away. What this means, for them, their sessions, for Dean. From the moment he started having feelings for Cas, he knew it wasn’t right. But he always hoped Cas was at least a little interested in him. Had all the flirting just been his imagination? Cas was dating someone. Dating someone else, someone who wasn’t Dean. He was—

“Dean?”

“What?” He snaps and his voice shakes. He can hear how wrong it sounds.

“I asked what’s wrong.”

“Nothing,” Dean says as he grips onto the table, stabilizing himself. “Everything’s fine.”

“You’re pretty bad at lying, Dean.” Dean turns and watches Cas button up his jacket. He doesn’t know what he’s doing, what he caused by telling Dean this… He looks up. “What is it?”

Dean doesn’t know what he can do, besides breaking down.

“I can’t do this,” he hears himself say, and somehow he finds himself sitting at his desk. “I can’t do this—this,” he waves around the room, “I can’t do it anymore.”

“You mean… our sessions?”

“Y-yes. It’s not… it’s not okay.”

Cas puts his bag down again.

“Because we’re friends?”

Dean nods, his throat dry.

“Why now all of a sudden? Why after I tell you that I’m—”

“That’s not it,” Dean says and to his own surprise, it actually sounds convincing. “It’s just that I realized that we’re… We’re too close, we’ve gone too far. I’ve been- I’ve been thinking about this,” he lies, trying to scramble together a weak excuse, anything that helps to hide the truth. “You’ve grown and progressed and now that you—you are doing so well, I feel like we shouldn’t continue to risk…”

“Oh so you get to decide that?” Cas’ voice raises. “You think you get to decide if I feel good enough to not have our sessions anymore?”

“...Yes. I’m the one who started doing things that were… not allowed. I can be the one to stop.”

“So you’re running away? Fuck, Dean, I honestly thought you were better than that.”

“Don’t you get it?” Dean asks, and now raises his voice too. He stands, hands resting on his desk, shoulders tense. “I’ve done and risked everything for you, and I get to decide when it’s too much. If anyone finds out that we’re closer than we should be, both of us get in trouble.”

“No,” Cas snaps. “You’re just trying to save your own ass. Your entire career is at stake. For me? Not much.”

The fact that their sessions are “not much” to Cas hits Dean harder than anything else before.

“Then why do you care so much if you got nothing to lose, huh? You think it’d be fair that you get to decide if I risk my job or not, then? Is that what you’re saying?”

“No, I’m saying you lied to me, Dean! You told me that we were friends and that it was fine and that you didn’t mind breaking a few rules—you said that us was more important than that, you said all this and you just… you just used that, used me. And now when you hear I started seeing someone you think you can just pass me on? It was just one of your little psychological games, wasn’t it? All the ‘friendship’ and the rule-breaking and-”

“How dare you!” Dean walks around his table, stops when he’s right in front of Cas, now really feeling the anger rage inside him. Cas even seems intimidated for a moment, but he doesn’t move. Dean doesn’t know when this turned into a fight. “Everything I did for you was real, I put up with everything—all the insults and the things you did to piss me off, all the games you played just to see how far you could go. I didn’t mind spending every Friday afternoon here, simply because I wanted to help you. I thought you’d be smart enough to see I care about you.”

He hates how beautiful Cas is, even as his eyes are filled with angry tears and he is looking at Dean with disgust, and he hates how much he wants Cas to stay.

“Well, you’re pretty shit at showing it now.”

Dean takes a deep breath, then walks to the door and hauls it open.

“-Get out.” He points. “Leave! You’re not welcome here anymore.” It almost sounds professional.

Cas glares at him, not moving.

“Get outta my office you son of a bitch,” Dean demands, letting go of all the professionalism, “I’m. Not. Asking. Again.”

Cas hesitates, then reaches for his bag, zips it open and gets out his art journal.

“You can keep this, then. I don’t fucking need this anymore. And you know, I don’t fucking care about this at all! I don't give a fuck about this, or you, or any of your fake bullshit!” His voice is raw and painful. He throws the art journal onto Dean’s desk with a loud bang, looks at Dean one more time, then rushes out.

The door slams shut behind him.

Dean is alone in his office, the silence heavy on him. Cas’ anger still echoes in his brain, the door slamming shut, his footsteps disappearing down the hall.

How did it come to this?

Dean doesn’t want to think, he doesn’t want to feel. He doesn’t want any of this. He wants to get his bag and get the hell out of here, forget about this ever happening.

Forget about Cas.

His eyes fall on the art journal on his desk. Tears brim in his eyes but he doesn’t want to—he can’t cry about this. It needed to end, there had to be a point where they stopped. Dean always knew that they couldn’t keep going, that they were just a gamble, a losing game.

But he never had the guts to stop it himself. Maybe this is for the better.

He starts packing his bag, trying to turn off his thoughts. His desk is empty apart from the journal. He pushes it deep down into his bag, hoping his pain will disappear with it. 

Dean grips onto the table and takes a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. Another deep breath, and another, eyes closed.

Four breaths in, hold for four, breathe out in five.

He grabs the closest thing available, a coffee mug, and smashes it against the wall with an angry yell. He blindly seizes another thing and throws that too, hears it shatter on the floor. Raging, he reaches the table with tea and coffee, snatches another cup and hurls that across the room, followed by another. He takes all the mint tea bags and throws them in the trash, shaking feverishly.

It needs to go, all of it needs to leave, he needs to forget, now.

He sinks down on the floor with his head in his hands, surrounded by broken pieces of porcelain.

Chapter Text

Dean ends up staying late, cleaning the mess he made off the floor and furniture. The slightly embarrassing, boring task numbs his brain, and by the time he steps out into the evening, he doesn’t feel like crying as much. He calls Charlie as soon as he’s in the car.

“Hey!” She is cheerful as always.

“Hey,” he says, and is suddenly lost for words. “I, uh—I…”

“What’s wrong?” Charlie’s tone immediately changes. “Are you okay?”

“I’m… physically fine,” Dean says,“I just… eh, sort of… kicked Cas out of my office. He’s not gonna come back.”

He puts Charlie on speaker and tells her what happened as they drive. She listens and asks questions, and she keeps his head surprisingly calm. At first he just wanted to talk to someone, but Charlie has other plans.

“You’re not gonna sit at home and mope around, you hear me? I was gonna hang out with some friends anyway so now you’re coming too.”

“Char, I’m not really in the mood to-”

“And that’s exactly why you have to do it!” It’s clear Charlie isn’t going to take no for an answer. “You’re gonna get changed into something that’s not your work outfit and you’re gonna head over to me, yeah? You can have dinner here. I will get angry if you don’t show up.”

Dean sighs, then agrees. He knows Charlie isn’t going to let him go, anyway, Besides, she might be right.

At home, he changes into something more casual, trying to fight the urge to just dive in his bed and ignore the world.

It is as if Charlie senses his thoughts, because she calls him again as he’s putting on his shoes.

“Yes, yes I’m coming—”

“Yeah you friggin’ better. That’s not what I called for, Dean. There’s someone here I really want you to meet. His name’s Arthur and I think you’d be interested in each other—if you know what I mean.”

“Charlie,” Dean groans, phone pressed between his ear and shoulder as he ties his shoelaces.“Are you seriously setting me up on some weirdass blind date right now?”

“Listen, I’m not saying you have to elope right away. It doesn’t have to be serious at all. But he… sort of needs to forget someone and move on, and you’re a mess about someone you never even dated— maybe you just need to bang it out. With someone else.”

“Gross,” Dean says, but he goes downstairs to get his jacket anyway.

“Hey, the best way to get over someone is with someone else. In my experience at least.”

“I don’t know how scientifically proven that is,” Dean protests, looking at himself in the mirror in the hall, “but... I mean, I probably don’t know what’s good for me right now anyway, besides… I trust you. If you think we’re meant to be-”

“You know I never said that-”

Dean shakes his head, grabs his keys and heads out, promising Charlie he’s on his way.

Before he leaves, however, he calls Sam. He doesn’t explain everything, not yet—he knows Sam is busy, and he also doesn’t know how to open up about all of this to his brother, especially not over the phone. He’s afraid to disappoint him, so he doesn’t explain much.

“Can you ask Eileen to… keep an eye out on Cas for me?” Dean asks, leaning against his car and looking into the dark street ahead of him. “Just-just wanna make sure he’s okay. I can’t do it right now and I, well… I’m afraid I just made things worse.”

“She says she will.” Sam replies, and though Dean doesn’t feel great when he hangs up, at least he knows Cas will be in good hands.

Once in the car, he turns on some music and tries to get swallowed up in it, ignore the remarks he can hear Cas say about his music style. Dean heard a lot of Cas’ music when they were practicing on his fear of the dark, and Cas kept teasing him about how good it must sound and how he was secretly starting to like the songs. Dean actually had liked a few songs, but never admitted to it—now, his own music constantly reminds him of that the entire way.

The worst is that he doesn’t agree with himself. He hates that he yelled, that he lost himself. He turned the tension, the neverending buzz he feels with Cas, into anger and harshness, because he couldn’t express them the way he wished to. He wanted Cas close, too close, and thus pushed him away.

He hates it. Hates what he’s done, the choices he’s made. Maybe he should’ve let go of Cas as soon as he started to notice his feelings shift. Maybe he should’ve told Cas, or maybe he should’ve kicked himself in the ass to get over it. He remembers when he first started to feel something for guys, and the shame that came with it—how he pushed it away until he couldn’t anymore. He knows, rationally, that he never could’ve ignored what he felt for Cas.

But yelling at him, calling him names? That hadn’t been the solution either.

Obviously.

He doesn’t deserve to be set up with someone tonight, anyway. Charlie is trying, he knows that. But he doesn’t want to use this Arthur as a tool to get over Cas- it’s just unfair. He still doesn’t feel good about it as he gets out of the car at Charlie’s place.

Charlie pulls him into a hug as soon as she sees him. He’s about to get too emotional when she lets go, pulls him in and talks softly with him.

“Now I know I forced you to come here and I basically set you up with some random dude, but if you’re really not feeling it… I understand. Just let me know, yeah? If you wanna get wasted you can sleep here.”

“Sounds like a plan. Thanks, Charlie. I mean it. Listen, I don’t…. I don’t want this guy to just be a useful tool to get me over Cas. I—I messed up. Like, big time. I shouldn’t have yelled at him or… said the things I said. I shouldn’t have done any of it. I… I don’t—”

“Deserve it?” She asks. “Dean, I’ve been tryna tell you for years you’re not perfect!” She punches him on the shoulder playfully. “You did something stupid, yes, but you can fix it. Just not now. You gotta distract yourself, sort things out. Start over. You can keep moping about your stupid mistakes and not get a step further, or have a good time and fix things when the time’s ripe.”

Dean blinks at her, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“Who of us is the therapist again?”

Charlie shrugs. “Learned from the best.” She grins, then peeks through the door.

“Okay, so Arthur’s the guy at the end of the couch, next to Gilda.”

Dean peeks as well. The guy’s definitely someone Dean would call… attractive, dark hair and a strong build, somewhat square features. He looks too much like Cas for Dean not to notice, and he feels guilty about that being his first thoughts. But maybe he doesn’t need to do this now, like Charlie suggested, maybe… just talking is fine. He doesn’t need to rush anything.

At least there’s one obvious difference from Cas; Arthur’s extremely present Britishness. Dean really needs to adjust to that—but Arthur is nice. Dean finds himself actually enjoying the conversation that he falls into with him and Gilda, and Arthur offers him beers and seems genuinely interested in him and his job.

They talk, and Dean was afraid everything he’d do tonight was going to be forced and painful, but it isn’t. It’s freeing. The alcohol is certainly helping, and the side of Dean that is still angry at himself sits quietly in the back of his mind. His time will come, just not now.

It’s not how Dean expected this week to end or this night to go at all. Deep inside, Dean knows it’s what he wants, but for now that doesn’t matter. At this point, he just needs a distraction, an escape, and he uses Charlie’s offer to stay the night at her place. Everybody else has left but her and Gilda and Dean.

It doesn’t take Dean long to fall asleep, alone in the dark of her guest room, Arthur’s number saved in his contacts, thoughts blurry from drinking just enough to care a little less about everything.

Dean finds himself going on several dates with Arthur in the next couple of weeks. Dates turn into staying over at each other’s place, spending their free days together. It is not what Dean expected his life to be, and Arthus is not the person Dean ever expected to be with. Both of them know that this is not… it, that they’re not meant to stay together forever. It is a shared understanding, which neither of them feels the need to address.

It’s fine, for some reason. Dean doesn’t know why he doesn’t care. He never thought he’d be the type to casually date someone, knowing that it will end at some point and being okay with that. As with everything Dean feels conflicted about, he talks about it with Charlie.

“I’m not saying I don’t like being with him,” Dean says, readjusting his sunglasses as they stroll past a clothing store, “it’s just that I know we’re not… y’know, gonna end up together. We’re not for each other, and pretending we are would be unfair to both of us.”

“But why not, I mean… what’s wrong about him?”

Dean doesn’t know why she doesn’t get it, or at least doesn’t seem to agree.

“Well, first of all he’s British.”

Charlie bursts into laughter and punches him in the shoulder. “What?” He says, smiling. “You could’ve warned me about that at least. I really needed to get used to that.” He grew accustomed to it over time, hell he even started to find it endearing at times. “Second of all, he’s just… not… I don’t know.”

Charlie’s quiet for a while, seemingly interested in a dress Dean knows she’d never look at. She wants him to continue. “I mean I’m not saying that he’s bad at sex or anything…”

She punches him again, harder this time.

“Gross, dude, keep that to yourself!”

“Weren’t you the one suggesting we needed to ‘bang it out’?” He asks, frowning at her, and she rolls her eyes at him.

“But seriously, why isn’t he the one?” She pushes the question and suddenly he knows what she’s doing. She’s pushing him to realize it himself, rather than her wanting to know the answer.

He really wonders who the therapist between them is, sometimes.

He looks at her knowingly but she just watches him. Glad his eyes are hidden behind his sunglasses, Dean turns and inspects a shop’s window filled with games and consoles.

“He’s not…” He takes a deep breath. “He’s not Cas.”

He hasn’t said that name in a few weeks. He’s thought it of course, too much, but the sound feels off in his mouth. Oddly familiar and good, but with a bitterness to it.

“You’re not over him, huh.” It’s not a question. Charlie knew before Dean realized it, and now she’s just letting him get used to that fact. He sighs again, sliding the sunglasses up into his hair.

“I wished I was. I want to. I try. Part of me just feels like-like it’s not over yet. I’ve had to get over people in the past. But this feels different. Like we’re not done yet, y’know?”

She nods, as she looks across the street.

“There’s a cafe over there. Wanna get some lunch?”

He nods, and she takes him by the arm. They sit and talk and Dean tries to ignore the thoughts about Cas that keep returning to him.

But he knows they’re there to stay.

Chapter Text

CASTIEL

Cas is in a fight with Meg. Again. He doesn’t know who’s starting them, and he sure as hell doesn’t know who’s ending them. Most of the time, they just go by in a blur. They’re all the same anyway. Meg is annoyed because Cas is too quiet, Cas gets pissed off because she should accept him being quiet. He knows what she wants; that he opens up to her, explains all his issues so she can help him, but he can’t open up to her. He doesn’t want to.

It’s not that he’s afraid of it, or that he is afraid of her reaction. A certain therapist had helped him deal with those fears of judgement and being seen as a failure, before Cas fucked up and had to leave him behind.

He’s doing it again, he’s thinking about Dean again. It’s ridiculous, how much that happens. The more he fights with Meg, the more he thinks about how good it would be not to fight, and to just enjoy a relationship. Unfortunately, it’s not Meg who turns up as his imaginary perfect partner.

And yes, Cas knows that’s wrong. Partially because he should want to be with Meg, and partially because he promised himself he would stay pissed at Dean. He doesn’t want to forgive Dean for his outburst, for sending him away. He doesn’t want to understand Dean and see that he, too, was confused and tense and tired and probably very done with Cas and everything he had to go through for him. He doesn’t want to see that Dean is very young and, despite his undeniable skill and talent for his job, shouldn’t be expected to never make mistakes.

He doesn’t want to forgive Dean, because that’d mean that he would start missing him, too—that he’d want to see him again. It has been only a few weeks since Cas’ last appointment. He regrets telling Dean about Meg, regrets… Meg. No, he shouldn’t regret her, he truly believed that when he started going out with her, she could be the one. That he loves her. And he does, in a way. Just not enough, and not like he thought he did.

“Are you even listening? Oh my god, you’re not even fucking listening to me right now.”

Shit.

“Meg, no-I… shit, I’m sorry. Wait,” he turns her around and looks at her, his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry. Please. I know I’m not… I’m not what you want me to be right now, and I’m not how I should be.”

She puts her hands on her hips and watches him, expectantly. He could love her, really, her fire, her wit, her laugh, the jokes she makes and the way she doesn’t care what others think, her sarcasm. “I love you, I do.” He says, and he feels like he means it. “But I think… This… us, it’s a mistake.”

She sighs, then her shoulders loosen and she bites her lip. She hums, then sits down at the table and rubs her eyes.

“You might be right.” She whispers, and he sits down next to her, hand on her shoulder. “I think we’re both just a little… y’know.”

“Too much?”

She laughs and looks at him and smiles weakly, nodding. “I think you’re wonderful, Cas. One of a kind. Just maybe not the kind I should be with.”

It hurts when she says that, but he also knows it’s only fair. He can’t pretend to think any differently, he can’t pretend to want to be with her.

“I could say the same about you, Meg. You deserve someone who doesn’t fight with you all the time. Hell, someone who listens when you yell at them.”

She smirks, punching him in the shoulder lightly. Then she hugs him.

It’s weird, how hugging while they’re breaking up feels so much better than hugging when they were still pretending to be a happy couple. It feels right, now, and Cas holds her close for a moment until she lets go.

“So, I guess this is it, then?” She asks as she gets up, and Cas doesn’t know how to describe his feeling. It’s painful but also freeing, scary but calming. They didn’t live together, so she only needs to grab a few things. They share a few more words, give each other one more hug. They’ll stay friends if they feel like it.

She’s gone and Cas is alone and suddenly the thoughts come. He has to work in an hour, but that’s enough time for his mind to wander off to where it shouldn’t be. He’s free now, he’s single now, he can think about whoever he wants…

But no, he is supposed to be mad at him.

Cas remembers how angry he was when Dean sent him away. He was furious, it felt like he was filled with a poisonous fire that won over rationality. He’d kept everything in until he was home, then he’d raged and slammed with doors and threw stuff around his room. When Gabriel came home, he’d told him what happened in a haze of curses and spontaneous bursts of anger. Gabriel was a great listener, he always is, and he let Cas rant until he was too exhausted and then he’d sent him to bed.

Cas had surprisingly overslept. It was the first day he’d come late to work.

Eileen only seemed glad that he was there and pulled him into a hug instead of getting angry at him, which she should have done. Cas still doesn’t understand why she did that, but he’d allowed her to. Damn, he needed her to. Eileen was the one person he could trust now, with whom he felt safe.

She seemed to understand, to feel, that he needed her around. At the exact right moments, she showed up and helped him with things he usually wanted to do himself. If she hadn’t, he might’ve collapsed and gotten back into the darkness that he was just climbing out of.

They ate lunch together and even though it was her afternoon off, she stayed and closed up with him and then took him out for dinner. He knew that she and Dean knew each other well, and he’d wondered if he told Eileen… but he didn’t dare talk about it, didn’t dare bring it up. Instead, he thanked her for being there for him today and she signed ‘For you always, dear’ as they left the restaurant. He repeated the signs to himself on the way home, drew them in his sketchbook and held onto them in his head as he went to bed.

He, at least, had Eileen. Someone he didn’t want to disappoint. Someone in the light side of his life, a reason to stay there, a person to focus on and keep him up.

And now, after breaking up with Meg, it is Eileen he’s going to see again. He used to have another job way back, but it had been exhausting and he often didn’t go when he felt bad. But this job makes him feel good, so he likes going.

Eileen, again, seems to feel that he needs her, as she comes out of the storage room to talk with him. He tells her about his breakup with Meg, fumbling with the straps of his sweater.

“Does it hurt?” She asks with her soft voice, and he hesitates.

I don’t know. A little, he signs. It feels better than saying it out loud.

Don’t feel bad, she signs back, then grabs a box of art supplies to unpack. Before she opens it up, she looks at him. She will be happy. You will be happy. That’s what you want, right?

He looks at her for a moment, then smiles and sinks down on his knees to help unpack. Sometimes he forgets that Eileen is only a few years older than him, about Dean’s age, and that Sam is his age, and that they, too, must have their issues and worries and pain. She looks so strong and she can handle running this store all by herself—if Cas can ever be only half of the way she is…

They work in silence, there’s barely any customers on weekdays in the early morning anyway so they have time to restock. They share a few words here and there, but Cas is mostly alone with his thoughts. He isn’t as afraid of them as he used to be. A certain therapist helped with that.

Maybe he should stop thinking that way. He was the one who did all the work in the end, anyway. It wasn’t just Dean who’d fixed him up. Cas himself had done the hard work.

At least, that’s what Dean would say.

Cas can’t deny that he wants to talk to him again. It feels like it’s been years even though it has only been a couple of weeks. Cas wants to talk it out, to explain himself, to hear Dean explain himself. He wants to talk and tease him again until Dean’s lips curl up in a smile despite his desperate attempts not to show any emotion. He wants to be able to see Dean’s frown deepen as he reads notes or scribbles on his dumb pad, he wants to get that shock that he feels whenever he sees Dean after a while, and his young features seem to be even more beautiful than before.

There’s a reason Cas can’t stop drawing him, that he can’t stop all his sketches of men to turn into Dean. Cas started a larger piece when their sessions still went on—he yearns to continue it, but he can’t. Whenever he pulls away the cloth that he hung over the canvas and sees the piece, he is hit with unbearable emotion and he hides it again.

“Sir?”

Cas startles and drops the box of pencils he was restocking. “Sorry,” he says quickly and smiles at the customer. “Can I help you?”

The woman is nice and takes his thoughts away from Dean for a while as he helps her find the right brushes for her oil painting. He gets wrapped up in his job and is relieved of his aching thoughts for a while. It’s weird, that instead of thinking about Meg, his thoughts so easily drift back to Dean. As if Meg was part of the wall he built between him and Dean, and that now with Meg being gone, there’s a gap in the wall that he can go through to see Dean.

Should he?

He finally dares to ask himself that question as he’s wrapping up for the day. Yes, he wants to see Dean again. Yes, he wants to talk to him. He just doesn’t know if he should.

 

Cas wakes up from a nightmare.

It was abstract and vague, and the images disappear when he tries to remember what exactly the dream was about. A few days have passed since his breakup with Meg, and he’s been sleeping alright; except for today. He lies in the dark and gets his breath back under control. The dark doesn’t scare him as much anymore, though it’s still uncomfortable. At least he doesn’t immediately reach to turn his light on now. He can’t remember the nightmare at all, but it still makes him feel uneasy. It’s just a dream, he tells himself, trying to drift back off to sleep. Nothing here to harm you.

Except for his thoughts. His own, dangerous and destructive thoughts. He hates them, but they’re there. Maybe they always will be. No matter what Dean said, no matter what his brothers say, no matter what they think, maybe Cas is just not worth it.

Maybe Dean realized that Cas couldn’t be fixed, and that’s why he let him go. Maybe Cas failed some kind of test or said the wrong thing—maybe everything is Cas’ fault after all.

These are ridiculous thoughts, the rational side of Cas’ mind brings in. Fuck off trying to blame everything on yourself. You can’t do everything right. You make mistakes, you’re human. Don’t blame yourself, it’ll only make things worse. He tries to hold onto those thoughts, the right ones, the positive ones.

They’re just an excuse to keep fucking up.

He hates this constant battle in his mind, he wants it to just shut up. He needs a distraction. He turns on the light on his nightstand and grabs his phone. He mindlessly scrolls through some art blogs, looking at new inspiration. He looks up some sculptures and zooms in on the pictures to try and see the beauty of the work, how elegant and detailed they are. Ancient art that is so beautiful it leaves Cas breathless sometimes. It makes him both happy and upset at the same time. He scrolls on, looks at some more art. He’s wide awake at this point and soon his mind has drifted to where it shouldn’t have gone.

A certain therapist.

He goes through his contacts, ends up at Dean’s number. He considers pressing the call button, finger almost pressing it. He shouldn’t. He shouldn’t do this. Dean doesn’t want to talk to him. He doesn’t care.

But Cas needs to know if that’s true. He has to know and not just think that Dean feels a certain way about him. If Cas is sure that Dean doesn’t want to talk to him, then he can move on and let go. But he has to be sure.

Dean wakes up when it’s still dark. At first he thinks the rain woke him up, but then another sound disturbs the thrumming. His phone.

This time, he doesn’t think about Sam at first. He knows, without looking, who it is this time. He sits up, trying to get the sleep out of his eyes.

“Hello?” His voice is hushed, rough and painful in his throat. No reply. Dean hesitates, but eventually adds, “...Cas?”

Silence for a moment. Then—

“Didn’t think you’d pick up.”

Dean closes his eyes, and all the worrying melts into nothing. He feels lighter than he’s felt in weeks, a warm buzzing safety enveloping him. Cas is there, Cas is safe, and he’s calling him.

“I promised I always would.”

Silence, again. Neither of them know exactly what to say, just listen to each other breathing. Dean gets up quietly and goes downstairs so he can talk freely, without Arthur next to him.

He feels somewhat guilty, but then again, he hadn’t expected himself to be any better.

“Are you okay?” Dean asks as he sits on a chair, wrapping his arms around his knees.

“Yeah,” Cas says, “please… I don’t want you to go therapist on me.”

“Okay. I won’t, then.”

“Thanks.” Another few moments of silence. “I don’t really know why—”

“Cas, I’m sorry.” Dean interrupts out of nowhere, voice firm. “I’m sorry for… for what I did and what I said. I messed up and I was an asshole to you and I shouldn’t have.”

“Dean…”

“No, listen. I mean it. It shouldn’t have happened and I apologize.”

To his surprise, Cas laughs softly. “What?” Dean asks.

“It’s just… Thank you. For saying that. I… accept your apology. And I’m sorry, too.”

“You don’t have to be.”

“But I am,” Cas says and his voice gets a little louder, “I am sorry. I shouldn’t have made you do everything that you did just… just because I wanted to see how much someone could care about me.”

A whole damn lot, Dean thinks, and he opens his mouth to speak but tears lock in his throat and he has to swallow them away. He wants to say it right there—but then he thinks about Arthur in his bed upstairs and whoever Cas is seeing and he really doesn’t want to mess up this phone call, so he doesn’t say it.

“It’s okay.” He says instead. “I ain’t mad. I’m just… happy you called. Happy you’re alright.”

“I am now. I… I missed you, Dean.”

“I missed you too.” Dean admits, not sure what to do with the adrenaline rushing through him. He grabs a pen to play with. “How have you been? Asking as a friend. Not a therapist.”

Cas laughs his deep, warm laugh and Dean smiles. He’s talking to Cas again, and Cas forgives him, wants to talk…

“I’m… actually doing alright.” Cas says and he himself sounds surprised about it. “I’ve been working hard, I’ve been learning how to cook and Gabriel loves he can just relax at night.”

“That sounds awesome,” Dean grins, fumbling with the pen as he leans back into his chair. “Gabriel’s lucky.”

They talk, like friends. It’s different and part of Dean is still trying to shift from therapist to friend—he has to shut off his work mode and stay himself, not worry about if what he says might not be ethical to say to a client. Cas isn’t his client, hasn’t been for several weeks. He can talk to him however he wants. So he does.

They talk for hours. Time passes but Dean doesn’t notice—he could sit here forever, as night passes and he listens to Cas’ voice.

Eventually, they fall quiet for a moment.

“I uh…” Cas breaks the silence, and he sounds serious again. “I’m also not seeing anyone anymore. Thought I’d tell you.”

Right. Dean cannot resist the somersault his stomach just made.

“Okay, yeah. I—I understand.” Dean stammers. “Are you okay with that?”

“Yes, yes I think I am.” Cas says, “-it just felt like we were forcing each other to stay together and it wasn’t fair on either of us.”

“That’s very wise. I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

Cas stifles a yawn and Dean suddenly realizes that it’s already early in the morning. He can already see the changes in the light outside.

“Do you work today?”

“No. Tomorrow all day, though. So maybe I should get some sleep.”

“Yeah. Might be a good plan.”

“I eh… I’ll talk to you soon?”

There’s hope in Cas voice, hope that makes Dean’s heart swell.

“Yes. I promise. Sleep well, Cas.”

“You too, Dean.”

They hang up and Dean stares at the table for a while. The remnants of a smile still hang on his lips and he’s still playing with the pen, his phone now in front of him on the table.

“That was him, huh?”

Dean startles and looks up. He hadn’t noticed Arthur standing there, watching him from the doorway.

“I—” Dean turns red, not sure what to say, how long Arthur has been there. “I didn’t mean to…”

“Dean.” Arthur comes inside. “It’s okay. Honestly… I’m not mad. I think—I think we both knew.”

It’s the first time they actually talk about it.

“Yeah,” Dean says after a while, then rubs his eyes. “I think we did. Shit. I’m sorry. I didn’t want us to be like this, I wanted to…”

“Don’t." Arthur runs a hand across his beard. “I think we had to stop this sooner or later anyway.”

They look at each other for a while, then Arthur smiles.

“It looks like the whole world was just lifted from your shoulders,” he notes. “Just by one phone call.”

He smiles again, understandingly, then walks back upstairs. Dean finds him in the bedroom later, dressed as he packs his stuff. He’s done so quickly it almost seems as if he was preparing for this, which actually wouldn’t surprise Dean.

It’s just getting light when Arthur leaves and Dean is left alone, standing in just his shirt and underwear as he watches Arthur leave. Exhausted but somehow also content, he goes back inside and heads to bed, knowing he has a lot to talk about with Charlie tonight.

Chapter Text

“So, let me get this completely straight,” Sam says, unaware of the irony of his words. He points at Dean with the knife he is cutting fruit with. “You dated Arthur because Charlie said you had to get over Cas, because you got into a fight, and you did that, even though you and Arthur both knew that you weren’t gonna stay together.”

Dean groans and lays his head on the table. It’s too early to get a lecture from his little brother, but he knew he had to talk to him at some point. He replies with a muffled hum, which Sam seems to find enough of an indication to continue. “So then Cas calls you, you make up, then you break up with Arthur the same morning… and that was yesterday.”

“You got it.” Dean says, sitting back up. “I know what you’re gonna say and yes, I know. It’s ridiculous and insane, it’s unethical of me to fall for a client, let alone get so pissed that I send him out of my office and stop our sessions because I simply can’t divide my work from my normal life, I should’ve handled it in a completely different way, and all of this never would’ve happened, and now I need to move on and make better decisions. Did I get it?” Dean didn’t realize he’d rambled all of that out so quickly, and only now notices Sam just standing there, watching him with slightly widened eyes.

“No.” Sam’s voice is soft. “No you didn’t get it at all.” He lays the knife on the counter and sits across Dean at the kitchen table. “Dean… I can’t believe you did all of that to yourself. I can’t believe how hard it must’ve been to… to keep all of that inside and not be able to do anything with it.”

Dean grows silent. He hadn’t expected Sam to react like this. The sentiment, the gentle tone, the care. He doesn’t reply, but he doesn’t need to. “I… Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you just… ask for support? Anything?” Sam almost seems offended if it weren’t for his eyes, looking at Dean as if he just survived some epic battle.

Dean looks away, down to his hands that are resting on the small hardbound sketchbook that he’d been flipping through earlier. He really needs to bring that back to Cas.

“Because—” He begins, his voice trailing off. It isn’t easy to talk, to find words for what needs to come across. “I was embarrassed, Sammy, I didn’t want you to think bad about me ‘cos I couldn’t keep my eyes off a client. I mean… You got it all made for yourself, you got a great job and hell you even married before I did, so I know you don’t need your big brother to be a good example… But I’m still tryna be.” He sighs, rubbing his eyes. “And I’m failing miserably.”

When he looks again, Sam is just observing him, several emotions flashing over his face.

“Dean… You don’t have to—you don’t have to hide things that you’re ashamed of just because you don’t want me to see that you have issues. I know it doesn’t work like that and I don’t expect you to be perfect and do everything exactly how you should. Yeah, maybe you messed up here and there, but do you have any idea how much I fucked up in the last few weeks? I lost at least two cases which I should’ve won. I dropped this large jug of milk on the floor in the supermarket and just stood there for a while before realizing both me and this old lady were soaked and I should probably get some help.”

Dean snorts at that, which then turns into laughter as Sam watches him, bemused at Dean’s joy at that story. It feels like Dean can breathe again.

“I’m sorry,” Dean says after he’s done laughing. “I just… I wanted you to think everything was great. Which is why I didn’t tell you about the real reason I was with Arthur, because I knew you were gonna tell me to break up with him then.”

Sam bites his lip, the short raise of his eyebrows suggesting that he cannot deny that. Dean gets up to make coffee, and as he passes Sam, he grabs his shoulder for a moment and rubs his hand over his back.

“Next time I do something stupid, I’ll tell you, yeah? Might not include old ladies covered in milk, though.”

“Deal.”

Dean makes coffee, mind drifting everywhere and nowhere. As always when Sam’s around, Dean wishes they could be around each other more than once or sometimes twice a week. Sometimes he feels like he loses touch with Sam if he doesn’t hang out with him more, if he doesn’t know what’s going on.

“How are you, Sam?” He asks, pouring coffee into two mugs. “I mean… in general. I feel like I don’t know shit about what’s going on.”

Sam takes the mug gratefully and takes a sip, squinting at the heat of it. He hesitates to answer.

“I wanted to say I’m doing great, but that’d be hypocritical seen what we just talked about.” He says. “So… yeah, I’m not fantastic. I mean—with Eileen, things are perfect, don’t worry. It’s just that my job—” He trails off, looking at Dean’s table, then outside to the small yard that isn’t much, then back inside to the very few pictures Dean has on his bookshelves.

“I miss home.” Sam says all of a sudden and looks at Dean. “I feel so tense all the time. I spend so much time at work… sometimes I’m afraid I’m not good enough for Eileen, either—”

Dean opens his mouth to protest but Sam shuts him off by holding up his hand. “I know it’s not true, and she told me, but still… It creeps on me that if I keep going like this, maybe at some point I won’t be. I—I honestly need a break.”

Having said that, Sam seems a lot lighter. His shoulders less tense, his fingers more gentle around the cup. Dean nods, drinking his coffee and thinking. Home. The small town they grew up in, where they’d suffered John’s neglect and anger, but also where they’d had each other, people that loved them, a quiet, small place but big enough for them to feel free and happy.

When was the last time they’d gone there? Too long—they kept in touch with Ellen and Bobby, but they’d never accepted the invitations to come and stay there for a while.

Suddenly, Dean shares the urge with Sam to go back. There are few things he remembers vividly: the Harvelle’s house, their coffee house where Dean had worked in his teenage years. The little pond in the forest where they’d go swimming in summer and where Dean had had his first kiss, the small grocery store where they’d get breakfast in the morning before school.

“We could go back,” he says, breaking the silence. “Or… you, I mean.”

We could,” Sam agrees. “I… have thought about going, show Eileen everything, take my vacation days and just stay there for a while, but it wouldn’t feel the same without you. I just didn’t know if you’d be up for it.”

Last week, Dean probably wouldn’t have wanted to go. But now, the idea of going back is warming and good.

“Yeah. I’m up for it.” He says, and he smiles at Sam from above his coffee. Sam grins back. They drink their coffee, bringing up memories as Sam finishes making breakfast.

“So,” Sam says as he works down his (delicious) breakfast. “I’m going to the store today. Promised Eileen I’d help this afternoon.” As Dean hesitates to answer, Sam clears his throat. “I was thinking you—might want to come along?”

Dean feels a blush coming onto his cheeks.

“Uh, yeah. I might. Maybe.”

Sam raises his eyebrows at him, then smirks a little.

“From what I hear of Eileen… Cas would be happy to see you.”

Dean feels the notebook under his fingers, then grips it tightly.

“Alright, alright. I’ll come along."

The two brothers step into the store, Sam ahead of Dean. He’s comfortable around here, knows the place by heart. Dean has to admit he hasn’t been here often enough. It’s not close to home and he doesn’t have a reason to come here often. The last time he was here was to buy the book that he has tucked under his jacket to shield it from the rain. He takes it out now, rubs the familiar cover.

There are a few customers in the store, it’s Saturday after all, but Eileen spots them and hurries to them.

“Hey,” she says with a big smile and kisses her husband, then turns to greet Dean.

“It’s good to see you.” She says, signs something to Sam, who nods and signs back. Before Eileen follows him, she looks at Dean with her hands on her hips, making him extremely self-aware.

“Would almost forget what you look like.” She tries, knowing that signing that to Dean would be useless. He really needs to get on that.

“I’m sorry, Eileen. I… have been prioritizing the wrong things lately. Definitely need to bring some change in that.”

She nods in agreement, lips drawn to a line, but her eyes are kind. She looks him over again, then sighs.

“He’s helping a customer.” She points to the back of the store, to where Dean can’t see. “There.”

“Thank you,” Dean says, then holds her back. “For… watching over him, too. I can’t thank you enough. I mean it.” She’d have rolled her eyes or made a snarky remark if she believed he was giving her a fake apology or excuse, but she doesn’t.

She taps her finger against her forehead, points it at him, then makes a large circle with her lower arm, finger pointed upwards.

He doesn’t know what it means, he really needs to figure this out, but she doesn’t explain. She then goes after Sam and Dean is left alone.

He wanders to where Eileen had pointed, filled with nerves and uncertainty. He could still leave. Would Cas really want to see him? But Eileen wouldn’t allow him to see Cas if she thought any negative could come of it. Dean glides his hands across the sketchbooks that he’d checked out before, months ago, lost and confused in the sea of differences and choice. He walks past another aisle and sees Cas, knelt next to a young child.

Dean should’ve remembered how Cas makes his heart leap, but his breath still gets stuck in his throat. He grips the sketchbook tighter, watching.

“...you know what kind of paint she uses? Like… this, or more like this?”

The child looks at Cas, then at the paints in his hand. She eventually points at one. Cas looks up at her father who nods affirmatively.

“That’s good,” Cas nods, putting away the other package. “Do you want to give your mom this, or something else?”

The kid looks at the paint, runs her small finger over the package. She nods as if that had been some sort of test.

“This will be good.”

Cas gives her the packages.

“I’m sure your mom will love it. It’s a great birthday present.” The girl beams at him, then grabs her father’s hand. Dean can’t help but smile hearing the kindness in Cas’s voice. The man thanks Cas as Cas gets up and they walk to the register, where Eileen stands. Cas still hasn’t seen Dean yet. Words are lost in Dean's head, but he steps ahead anyway. Nervously, he clears his throat.

“Can I ask you something, sir?”

Cas spins and looks him right in the eye. His scruff has gotten darker, his hair maybe even messier. His eyes even more beautiful than Dean remembered.

“Of course,” Cas says, his first surprise quickly fading as he straightens his back. “What are you looking for?”

There's a beauty about the way Cas holds himself, something Dean knows wasn't there when he saw Cas for the first time. It's confidence, maybe, though nothing too much. Just him feeling like he's allowed to stand where he stands, he's allowed to be here, to be himself. It's the way he holds his back up straight, the slight lift of his chin as he looks at Dean, almost unnoticeable. Except for Dean, who drinks in everything about Cas. 

Dean holds out the sketchbook.

“Another one of these.”

Cas takes it, his sketchbook. His fingers glide over it, swallowing visibly.

“We… we don’t have them on the shelves right now, but… I’m sure there’s some in the back.” Cas bites his lip, looking up through his lashes to meet Dean's eyes. “Come.”

He's like a siren luring his pray in the waters, impossible to walk away from.

It’s somewhat cramped inside, but organized. They walk past some boxes and cabinets until Cas find what he’s looking for. It's dark in here, but there's no tensing of Cas' shoulders, no nervous, short breath. He seems calm, fingers gliding past the books that all look the same to Dean. He fishes one out.

“This should be it.” Cas turns, handing the book to Dean. Dean holds it for a moment, then immediately holds it back out to him.

“No…” Cas begins.

“Don’t worry. I’ll pay for it on my way out.”

“That’s not what I…” Cas looks at him. “Dean, these are really expensive. I don’t… I don’t want you to—”

“When I bought this,” Dean steps closer, pointing at the one that is already wrinkled, thick and filled with Cas’ works. “I bought it because I wanted to do my job and help a client. But this one, this one’s for a friend.” He taps on the empty one. “I saw your old one was almost filled. And as I won’t be your therapist anymore, you can use it however you wish. It’s not for me or for sessions, it’s for you.”

“But why buy me this? I can’t return an offer like that. If you really wanna buy me something, get something cheaper. I’ll just mess it up.”

“I want you to.”

Cas tries to read him, and Dean tries to read Cas. He can’t, not in here, cramped in between boxes and cabinets, only inches apart from him. Cas still hasn’t taken the empty sketchbook, holding the filled one close.

“Listen… What we used to have—I don’t want that again. And I don’t want your art to be a memento of that.”

“What do you want, Dean?”

Dean hesitates. He looks at Cas’ lashes, his blue eyes reflecting the little bit of light coming from far behind Dean. The scruff that must feel so good under Dean’s fingers. If only he could brush his knuckles over that jaw, push him up against these cabinets, show him what he wants. It’s just their breaths for a moment, eyes insecure, expectant, awaiting each other.

Dean reaches to cup Cas’ cheek, to pull him close.

“Guys, you in here?”

Sam.

Dean steps away and slams his back against a cabinet, curses. Cas clears his throat.

“Yeah!” Dean calls back, stumbling over a few boxes in a haste to create space between him and Cas. There still isn’t much when Sam finds them, his eyes flicking back between the two.

“Eh—Eileen and I invite you to dinner tonight. Both of you.” He seems uncomfortable, still looking as if he’s trying to figure out if something had just happened. Almost, and then you ruined it, Dean thinks.

“Sounds good,” Dean nods, turning to Cas. “Here.” He holds out the notebook to Cas, who squints at him. Dean smiles triumphantly when Cas takes the book out of his hand, holding it together with his old one.

“I’ll be there,” Cas tells Sam as the two brothers make their way out of the storage room.

“Did you…” Sam starts when Cas can’t hear them anymore. Dean stomps him in the sight.

“No.” Sam looks at Dean knowingly. “Seriously!” Dean adds, giving his brother a glare before focusing on Eileen.

Eileen and Sam share a few quick words in sign language which Dean doesn’t follow, then Sam disappears to the back and Eileen looks at Dean, smirking suspiciously. He eyes her.

“What?” He asks. She just shrugs and opens the cash register, putting away money.

“I’m happy I have this afternoon off.” She says slowly. She always needs her time with words when speaking, but now she seems to add to it for extra flair. “So glad that Cas is locking up by himself tonight.”

She eyes him swiftly. 

Shit, he realizes, trying to come up with a quick reply.

“Must be great,” he nods, nonchalant as he pretends to check out the stand with pens on the register. “Would it have been very late if you were to lock up?”

“We close at 8 PM on Saturday. Always eat dinner late.”

“Well, enjoy your afternoon off, then.” He pulls away from the register, zipping up his leather jacket. “I’ll try to be on time tonight. After 8 PM, I assume?”

She nods, then waves at him. He turns around as he leaves, catching a glance of her last mischievous smirk.

Yes, Dean thinks as he gets into his car. Sam is really lucky to have his wife.

Dean arrives at the store for a second time that day, a little before 8 PM. He’s dressed semi-casual for tonight, and he’s already making a list of possible remarks Cas will make about it. He’s wearing a simple white shirt, buttoned down a little, black pants and not his fanciest shoes, so Cas can’t complain about that.

It’s undeniable that Dean thought of Cas while getting ready. He thought of him basically all day, since their moment in here.

And now, Dean will be alone with him again. His heart is racing in his chest as he enters the store.

“We’re closed!” Cas’ voice sounds.

“It ain’t 8 PM yet!” Dean calls back, closing the door behind him. Cas appears from behind the counter. “Hey,” Dean smiles.

Cas looks him up and down. Dean can almost feel his eyes linger on the few open buttons, the rolled up sleeves.

“Did you forget something?” Cas asks as a greeting, quickly putting things back in their place. He is practiced at it, almost doesn’t need to look.

“Not really,” Dean says. “Just… Thought I’d pick you up so you don’t have to walk. Unless you’d rather do that then get a free lift.”

That cracks a smile. Cas gives him a look between exasperated and amused.

“Alright, fancypants. Help me with these, then.” He nods at the several boxes behind the counter. “If you’re willing to risk getting dust on that outfit.”

Dean is definitely willing to. They start carrying the boxes into the storage room, trying to find space for them, reorganizing some so that they can be stacked. They work in silence, besides some pointers from Cas as to what goes where. Dean can’t help but look at Cas bending over a few boxes trying to reach for another.

He turns away with burning cheeks, grabbing an extra heavy box to hide the blush. He sometimes thinks he can feel Cas’ eyes linger on him, but he’s never watching when Dean looks.

With a huff, Cas puts down the last box and leans against it several minutes later. Dean is next to him, almost touching his arm.

“Thank you,” Cas says. “I didn’t realize we’d be getting another shipment this afternoon. This would’ve taken me hours without you.”

“No problem,” Dean smiles, then, without thinking. “This place looks good on you.”

Cas scoffs. “You mean the spiderwebs?” He runs a hand through his hair.

“You know what I mean.”

Cas eyes him. His hair is even messier than before, cheeks flushed from the small workout. He breathes out again as he eyes the storage room for a last check.

“We forgot one more thing,” he says.

“What is it?”

Cas has pushed him up against one of the cabinets before Dean can realize what’s happening.

“This.”

Cas kisses him as if it’s the last thing he’ll ever do.

As much as Dean has wished for this, has imagined this, he could never have been prepared. Their mouths slide against each other; it’s Cas who presses closer, tongue tasting Dean’s lips. Dean opens his mouth to it with a weak moan, desperate to taste Cas more, his fingers twisting into the back of Cas’ hair to pull him closer.

It’s clumsy and messy and rough, pressed between the piles of boxes and with a drawer handle pressed into Dean’s back. But they’ve been careful and hesitant with each other long enough. Dean pulls Cas closer, needs him closer. He bites at Cas’s lip and draws out a dark sound he immediately needs to hear again. They pull away to breathe, frantically, and stare at each other.

“We shouldn’t be doing this,” Cas says, his chest heaving.

“No.” Dean’s voice is hoarse. “We shouldn’t.”

Dean surges forward, tastes the sweetness of Cas’s lips and hums, satisfied. His hand glides to cup Cas’s cheek. Cas tugs Dean’s shirt loose and slips his hand under it. Dean shivers and whimpers at the touch of cold fingers on his skin. Fuck, just that is enough to make him buzz.

Cas spreads his fingers on Dean’s chest and presses them into his skin, the tenderness of it a stark contrast with the desperation in which he kisses. Cas presses closer, one leg slotted in between Dean’s. “Fuck, Cas—” Dean manages. “You feel so damn good…”

“Shut up. More kissing.” Cas complains against Dean’s mouth, breathing through his nose, pushing into him.

“Hey, darlin’, easy,” Dean says against his lips, despite himself, his hand still on Cas’ cheek. He looks into the wild, blue eyes, “no need to rush.”

Cas pulls back but keeps his forehead pressed against Dean’s. He has his eyes closed, catching up with his breath.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, “I just—I can’t, I wanted… So long…”

“It’s okay,” Dean presses a gentle, slow kiss on the side of Cas lips, and another. He wants to hold him forever like that, kiss him endlessly.

“Me too.” They’re unable to stop touching each other, however. Cas’ hand in Dean’s hair, tangled up in the short strands, the other hand still pressed on his racing heart. Their kisses are short and soft and calmer now. Their noses bump together and Cas laughs breathlessly, blinks his eyes open. It’s too good to be real and too magical for it not to be.

Unfortunately, Dean knows he has to break the moment.

“I think we’re… eh, expected somewhere,” he says.

“Wish we weren’t,” Cas huffs, but he pulls his hand from under Dean’s shirt. “So many things I’d rather do now.” His eyes linger on Dean’s now wrinkled shirt. It is almost enough for Dean to throw everything else out of the window and submit to the thrill, but instead, he glides his hands down to hold Cas’s.

“Tonight,” he promises, and he means forever.

“Yes,” Cas agrees, and he understands. “Tonight.”