“You know what I don’t get?”
Castiel startles at the sound of Dean’s voice suddenly in his ear, but he still smiles indulgently, knowing he doesn’t need to ask to hear the answer as Dean practically bounces beside him.
All Castiel does is raise an eyebrow and Dean is off on another one of his hourly rants, and Castiel soaks in every word, desiring the passion he can actually feel radiating off of Dean.
“Did you know they charge ten cents for plastic utensils if you don’t buy anything in the cafeteria?” Castiel rolls his eyes but Dean doesn’t notice as his attention is momentarily on something else. Or, should he say someone else. Castiel just manages to squash his disappointment before Dean turns back to him.
“Yes, actually, I do know—”
“Okay, great, so what’s the deal with that? Like, come one, we’re in college; I’m already broke from tuition and rent, don’t you think they could cut us some slack on the freaking plastic cutlery?” Dean huffs and shakes his head as they walk through the halls towards Castiel’s next class. He slows his pace a little when he sees how close they’re getting, not wanting to leave Dean just yet.
“It’s ten cents—it’s not exactly breaking the bank. They have to pay to get them, you know? It’s not like they come free.” Castiel shifts his books to one arm to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose, but they just slide back down as soon as his books are tucked against his chest again. He leaves them be, not bothering to fix them since they’ll only fall again as he walks.
Dean continues his passionate rant about freaking forks and Castiel can’t quite manage to hold back his smile. He loves how Dean gets like this; filled with so much enthusiasm about everything. Seriously, everything. Just give him a topic and some time for a little research and he will go off. A lot of people find it annoying, but not Castiel. It’s one of the things he loves most about Dean because even though his opinions are strong, they’re not ironclad. He can be reasoned with and that’s what makes him Castiel’s best friend. He’s stubborn, but not pigheaded.
“Wait, wait, wait. You’ve bought them, haven’t you? Cas!” He stops them in the middle of the hall, the swell of people grumbling as they move around them. Dean just stares at him, wide-eyed, before scowling as he reaches up to fix Castiel’s glasses.
Castiel’s heart stutters but he beats it down before the all too familiar feelings can race in and jumble up his thoughts. He’s known and loved Dean since pre-school; he has plenty of practice at it and gets himself under control before the blush manages to heat his skin above the collar of his button-down and sweater vest.
“There,” Dean whispers when he finally gets them balanced on his nose. Castiel glances away when Dean’s mesmerizing green eyes meet his.
“Yes,” Castiel says in answer to his previous question. “I forgot to pack a spoon for my yogurt so, yes, I paid for one like the good, law-abiding citizen I am.” Then he turns away, leaving Dean in a momentary daze before he shakes himself out of it and bounds across the space between them to catch up.
“Do you really not care about this stuff at all?” Dean sounds so confused by the possibility, that Castiel actually feels bad for not caring. Not because of Dean, but more because of just how little he cares about anything. He tries not to let it bother him but it does. Dean is just…so passionate about so many things and Castiel…isn’t.
“The world couldn’t handle two you’s,” Castiel says to both Dean and himself as they arrive at his classroom. He spins around to face Dean, walking backward through the door with a raised eyebrow and a half smirk. “I’ll see you in a couple of hours so you can rant about the fountain water’s flavor.”
Dean’s eyes light up as he practically bounces where he stands. “Yes! Speaking of that, don’t you think—”
“Goodbye, Dean!” He says over his shoulder as he turns around so Dean can’t see the adoration he can’t manage to hide.
What Castiel doesn’t see, is the adoring look directed right back at him as he walks away.
Castiel taps his pen against his thigh, watching the clock as it ticks away the seconds until class ends. God, who knew the medieval ages could be so boring? Okay, Cas did, but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s ten seconds to the hour and he’s already thinking about Dean’s next obsession. He doesn’t care what it is, really; he just wants to hear Dean speak. He loves Dean’s voice, even if he tries not to think about it.
But now it’s two o’clock and he’s shoving his things in his back and rushing for the door, not even caring that the professor is still yammering on about whatever autobiography what’s-his-or-her-name wrote. He can practically feel the butterflies flapping to escape his stomach as he walks out the door, and his heart almost jumps out of his throat when a hand wraps around his arm.
“Hey, Sunshine!” Dean shouts, wrapping his arm around Cas’s neck and playfully pulling his face into his armpit. Cas slaps at his stomach, trying not to breathe too deeply as he laughs because—God, when Dean sweats, he sweats.
“Are you trying to kill me? Jesus,” Cas shouts, shoving Dean away with a laugh before his eyes widen when color floods Dean’s cheeks.
“Ah…sorry. I, uh—I went to the gym while you were in class,” he rubs the back of his neck with one hand and refuses to look at Cas.
For a moment, words fail him. This has never happened before and it’s definitely not what he’d expect from Dean of all people. He adjusts his bag before clearing his throat. “Uh, don’t worry about it,” he murmurs, forcing his feet to move towards the cafeteria. “Are you hungry?”
“Yeah, I could eat.” Dean’s quiet for a moment but Cas doesn’t comment. What would he even say? This just got awkward in a way it’s never been before and he just…what the hell happened? But then Dean’s bouncing on the balls of his feet with every step and small, knowing smile curves Castiel’s lips. “I wonder if they’ve got any pie today?”
After Dean’s had what he deems the third best cherry pie he’s ever had the pleasure of putting in his mouth—the first being his mother’s and the second being the one Castiel had baked for Dean’s birthday the year his mother died—they head back to their shared dorm to study.
But Cas’s heart sinks when he sees the crowd waiting around outside their door. Dammit, he thinks. Can’t I just have a few hours alone with Dean? It seems like there’s always someone around when Dean is home and all Cas wants is for them to go away. It’s not like Cas doesn’t like Dean’s friends—it’s the opposite, actually; some of them wouldn’t even be Dean’s friends if they weren’t Cas’s friends first, but still…
Cas unlocks the door, smiling absently at the people jumping for Dean’s attention and just barely acknowledging him. He lets them all in and heads for his room without a word, thinking no one will notice if he just quietly disappears.
But Dean calls out to him before he can close his bedroom door. “Cas! Don’t you want to play a game with us?” His eyes are so wide and excited that Cas wishes he had any interest in the video games they play. But he doesn’t and he has work to do.
“Nah, I’ve got readings to catch up on,” he says with a shrug and a half smile that feels a little too forced. His sinking heart starts up a dull ache when Dean’s shoulders slump.
“Okay, well…we’ll try to keep it down, then.”
“Thanks.” Cas shuts the door behind him and closes his eyes as he leans back against it. God, how he wishes he could be like them—wishes he could enjoy spending time with anyone but Dean—but he doesn’t. He likes Benny, and Charlie, and Jo, and Garth, but Dean…Dean’s his best friend in the whole world, just to start with. Not to mention the way his heart pounds in his chest at just the thought of him.
But he doesn’t think like that—he can’t think like that; it would ruin their friendship because he knows Dean doesn’t feel the same. Why would he? Dean is Dean and Castiel is just…Castiel. Nothing special or noteworthy. He doesn’t even have hobbies for Christ’s sake! There’s nothing in the world that gets him as excited or worked up as Dean gets over practically nothing.
Dean’s so full of…everything. Of opinions and feelings and life. And Cas is…empty. No one wants someone who’s empty.
So Cas drops his bag beside his desk and falls into his chair. He rests his elbows on the surface and buries his head in his hands, listening to the muffled sound of Dean arguing with Benny about how he cheated in whatever game they’re playing.
It has to be hours later, but he wouldn’t know it by the amount of work Castiel has completed. Or, rather, not completed. His word document has nothing but the date in the top right corner but he’s not looking at it. His head is in his hands and he’s thinking so hard about how much he just doesn’t care that he doesn’t hear the knock on his door. He doesn’t hear it open either, but suddenly Dean’s voice is coming from the doorway.
He lifts his head and looks over his shoulder to see Dean looking in from the hall. “Yeah?”
“Did you…did you want to get some pizza? We’re all pitching in but I didn’t want to leave you out in case you were hungry, too…” Dean’s concerned green eyes burn into his and Cas can’t help but smile. But his stomach is still twisted in knots and as much as he wants to spend time with Dean, his sour mood will only bring everyone else down.
So he shakes his head and saves his empty word document. “Thanks, but I—”
Dean’s eyes catch the blank screen and his eyes widen. “Were we too loud? Shit, Cas, why didn’t you say anything?”
“What? No…no, it’s not that.” He waves a hand at the screen. “I uh…I have a bit of a headache so I’ll probably just go to bed.” He hates lying to Dean. He hates it, even if it’s as simple as lying about a headache, but having Dean think there’s something more going on with him would be worse; Dean would only worry and Cas hates that more.
“O-okay,” Dean nods and forces a smile onto his face. “Did you need some meds? Water?”
“No…thank you, though; I think I just need some sleep.” Cas pushes away from his desk and closes his laptop, turning the chair to face Dean. He’s so busy thinking about how much he wishes he were more like Dean that he misses the way Dean’s eyes drop to his lips when he licks them, and the way he flushes before giving a quick nod and backing out the door, closing it between them before either of them can say anything more.
Cas can’t help it. He’s tries—he really does try—but his feet seem to drag of their own accord, pulling his mood down with it. It’s been a few days since his self-pity hit a new low, but Dean still hasn’t mentioned it. Cas knows he’s noticed, but he only starts ranting about something new when Cas fails to fill the silence between Dean’s words.
“Hey, so I have a game this Friday…you coming?” Oh yeah, did he forget to mention Dean’s the freaking captain of their college football team? Because, of course, he is.
“I don’t know…I’ve got a lot of work to do—”
“Okay, stop.” Dean grabs Cas’s arm, pulling him to a halt in the middle of the stream of students. “What’s up with you? You’ve been weird for days.” Dean tries to search his eyes but Cas avoids them, pulling himself free and continuing on to class.
“I’m always weird, remember?” He forces a chuckle that fools no one.
“Seriously, Cas, what’s wrong?” Dean tries to stop him again but Cas can’t look at him as his throat starts to close.
“It’s just…okay, so you know how you always say I don’t care about things?”
Dean nods but he doesn’t get a chance to speak as Cas continues.
“Well, it’s true, okay? You’re so enthusiastic about everything and I’m…not.” He glances at the floor as they continue walking, watching the tiles pass beneath his feet. “But I want to be. I want to feel whatever it is you feel when you get all worked up over…I don’t know…how you never know how much waffle batter to put in the press.”
“Dude, I’m sorry—”
Cas stops then, turning to face Dean and making sure he can see just how much he means what he’s saying. “No. Don’t apologize for being you, okay? Don’t do that because who you are is why we’re friends.” They’re outside his classroom now, so there’s really nowhere else for him to go but inside. “It’s just…I want to feel that, too. I know it’s stupid but…yeah. It is what it is.” He shrugs as the lump in his throat swells, but he turns away before Dean can see how upset he’s getting. “I’ll see you after,” he whispers, but he knows Dean hears him.
He’s no less mopey when his class ends but when Dean meets him at the doorway, he’s full of excitement. More so than usual and Cas just wants to slap that stupidly perfect smile off his stupidly perfect face.
“What is wrong with your face?” Cas grumbles, not bothering to wait for Dean’s answer before moving down the hall. Dean just bounces along beside him.
“My face is perfect, but that’s beside the point.”
“Okay, then what is the point?”
“Well, if you’d stop walking away from me, I could tell you,” Dean says, pulling Cas around to face that stupid, stupid—perfect—grin. “So you don’t have any kind of passion for anything right?”
“Thanks for reminding me; I’d just managed to forget,” he snarks, directing his most scathing glare at Dean, who just rolls his eyes.
“So, we’ll find something. There’s gotta be something, right? We’ll just try everything until we find it. What do you think?”
“I think you’re an idiot,” Cas grumbles, but he can’t help feeling a tiny bit of hope that maybe…maybe this could work. So, with a heavy sigh, he nods. He thinks this all might be worth it, though, when Dean beams and his heart swells a little. Okay, a lot.
“Okay, Cas…just keep your eye on the ball. Watch it…okay…okay, swing! No! Swing when I say swing, not after I say swing!”
“I can’t read your freaking mind, Dean! There’s literally no way I can swing as you say swing!” Cas throws down the bat and crosses his arms, scowling at Dean who’s standing on the pitcher’s mound with his baseball cap pulled low and an exasperated look on his face.
“C’mon! Just try again, okay?”
“No! No, I’m not trying again and you know why? Because I don’t care about baseball—”
“—and I think I might actually hate it now if I wasn’t so busy hating you!”
“Don’t be like that; you know you love me.” He smiles that lopsided grin and tilts his head but Cas isn’t buying it.
“Okay, yeah, fine, but right now I hate you!” He kicks the bat and throws off the stupid helmet Dean made him put on, before kicking it, too. He stomps out of the baseball diamond and over to Baby where he stands outside of the locked passenger’s side door.
Dean stands, dumbstruck, where Cas left him—a ball in one hand and his glove on the other—staring open-mouthed at Cas as he fumes.
“Take me home, Dean Winchester!” Cas shouts and Dean does after gathering the scattered bat, helmet, and balls. In the ride back to campus, he only manages to get out that maybe sports aren’t the way to go before Cas levels him with a ball-shriveling glare that has his mouth snapping shut.
“So…flowers? Do you like flowers?” Dean asks and Cas tries to muster up even a little bit of excitement just so he doesn’t have to see Dean’s face fall again at having failed his mission.
Castiel plasters a big smile on his face before turning around, hoping that, by some miracle, Dean won’t notice just how fake it is.
He does notice, though. Of course, he does because Dean knows Cas better than anyone in the world, and Cas hates the way his shoulder slump and his face falls, but he can’t help that he feels nothing towards the allergy-inducing plants.
“Dammit,” Dean mumbles, wiping at his mouth with his palm before resting his hands on his hips and dropping his head to stare at the dirt covering the greenhouse's floor.
“It’s fine, Dean—”
“We’re gonna find it,” he says, cutting off anything else Cas might try to say by spinning on his heel and pushing through the door. Cas sighs and pushes his fingers through his hair. He’s starting to think this is causing them both more distress than it’s worth.
They’ve been at it for two weeks now, trying everything from sports to gardening, to fucking yoga and Cas is tired. He’s tired of seeing how this is slowly bringing his best friend down with him. Dean’s passion-filled rants have slowed down to the point that he barely talks anymore. He drags his feet, having lost his usual bounce after their failed attempt at improv.
Cas has had enough. He still wants to feel whatever it is that Dean feels, but not if the price he’ll pay for it is watching his best friend lose his own spark. Dean’s passion for life is what keeps Cas going—it’s the reason he smiles when Dean speaks—and it’d be the absolute worst thing in the world if Dean lost that because of him.
“Hello, Dean,” Cas says as he walks up to where Dean is sitting with his cheek squished against his palm and a textbook open in front of him.
He glances up and tries to smile. “Heya, Cas.”
“Listen…” Dean doesn’t look up again as Cas sits, so he covers the words that he knows Dean isn’t reading with his hand. “I want to stop.”
That has his eyes snapping up to Cas’s. “Stop what?”
“You know, looking for…that spark, I guess. It’s just…it’s bringing you down and I don’t want to be the reason you lose your spark, too,” he shrugs, forcing himself to look at Dean as his frown turns into a scowl.
“You think I’ve lost my spark?” Dean’s face falls so fast and so dramatically that Cas panics.
“No! No, no…” But he knows Dean knows he’s lying; he can see it in Dean’s face. “Okay, fine—yes. A little bit, yeah.” All Cas can do is shrug as his heart sinks a little bit more with the weight that seems to settle on Dean’s shoulders. “Come on, don’t do that! That’s what I mean,” Cas’s voice is barely above a whisper, and he can’t help but think that he never should’ve opened his mouth in the first place. If he’d just dealt with his own short-comings himself, Dean would still be Dean.
“That’s not—Cas, I know what you mean, it’s just…it really fucking sucks to think that you don’t get excited about anything, you know? And knowing it bothers you too…” He growls in frustration, at such a loss for what to do that Cas feels a physical ache in his chest for causing it. He watches him for a moment as Dean buries his head in his hands.
He’s never seen Dean like this before and, frankly, he never wants to see him like this again. That all too familiar longing rises in his chest—the one that has him wanting to solve all Dean’s problems, no matter the cost—but he shoves it down, opening his mouth to say something that doesn’t come even close to the words he wants to say, but he never gets the chance.
Dean shoots out of his chair, packing his bag in a rush and not looking at Cas. Cas is so startled by the sudden movement that he doesn’t react until Dean is pulling his backpack on and grabbing his jacket.
“Where are you going?” Cas moves to stand, too, but Dean waves him off.
“It’s too loud in here; I’m gonna go take a nap.” Then he’s gone, weaving through the crowd without a backward glance. A sick feeling worms its way into Castiel’s stomach but he doesn’t get the chance to dwell on it too long because he’s suddenly surrounded by people. All of his and Dean’s friends drop into the empty chairs around him, throwing their bags around as they greet him.
“What’s got you looking all end of days?” Charlie asks, nudging him with her elbow. Cas just sighs, his shoulders slumping as he pouts.
“Nothing…it’s just, you know how Dean is always so excited about things? Like, every little thing in the whole world?” He gets various degrees of agreement from all of them. “I don’t know, I’m just upset that there’s literally nothing like that for me, you know?”
Jo snorts so loud that Cas actually jumps. “Oh, please, that’s not true at all and anyone who says so is blind as fuck.”
“What—” Cas’s face screws up in annoyance. This is a serious issue for him and they’re all just treating it like…like it’s a joke! He opens his mouth to say something, but Charlie cuts him off.
“Seriously? You don’t see it?” Her eyes are narrowed on Castiel but he only shrugs and she laughs in disbelief before slapping his arm. “It’s Dean, you idiot! You get excited about Dean!”
Cas’s heart drops into his shoes, but they keep on talking. “God, I’ve never heard anyone talk so damn much about another person! It’s always Dean this and Dean that. I’d think Dean talks about himself enough; he doesn’t really need you doing it, too,” Benny says while fiddling with his shirtsleeves.
All Cas manages to get out are aborted protests as he really starts to think about their words. He thinks of all the times he’s slipped Dean’s name into their conversations, feeling his cheeks flush when he realizes it’s almost every one. He talks about Dean, if not to Dean, every chance he gets to anyone who’ll listen. That’s passion—it’s excitement and…and…it’s the spark he’s been searching for forever. It’s been right under his nose the whole time and he just never realized it.
His passion is Dean.
Cas is so excited that he actually has something he’s passionate about, that he grabs his things and leaves, barely able to get out a goodbye in his hurry.
He runs through the school in the direction of the residences, shouting apologies when he accidentally bumps into someone, but not stopping or slowing down. The grin on his face almost hurts with how wide it is but he doesn’t care. He feels like he could float away on his joy as he rounds a corner and crashes right into a hard chest. He stumbles but arms wrap around his shoulders to steady him.
The apology is already leaving his mouth when he looks up and meets Dean’s concerned eyes.
“Dean! I found it!” He’s practically vibrating as he bounces on the balls of his feet, his smile splitting his face again.
Dean tilts his head to the side, confusing marring his features. “What? Cas, what’s wrong? Why are you running?”
“My passion! I know what it is!” Understanding dawns on his face and he pulls his hands away. Cas hadn’t even realized they were still holding his arms, but now that they’re gone, he misses them.
“Okay…what is it? Reading? I know you like reading but I didn’t think—”
“It’s you!” The words burst out of him, cutting off Dean’s own as he continues, too excited to realize that he should probably be embarrassed about admitting this to Dean. “I didn’t realize it until Jo pointed it out, but it’s you! The only thing I get excited about! Looking back on it now, I can see it, you know? How I kept all your high school football medals when you insisted on throwing them out—”
“—and I practically have your schedule memorized! I know what your favorite foods are, or when you’re happy or sad or mad or whatever.” Castiel gestures wildly as he speaks, not noticing the way Dean’s confusion slowly morphs into awe at every word. “I know how much you love classic rock, and—even if you won’t admit it—how much you love LARPing, and I try to learn as much as I can about cars because I know how much you love them, even though I think they’re boring as—”
He gasps as Dean’s lips cover his, effectively shutting him up. For a moment, he’s frozen, but then Dean’s pushing him up against the brick wall of the dorms and he’s kissing him. It’s soft and sweet and Dean smells so good. Dean always smells good, but he tastes good too—like cream soda and cherry pie. Cas’s fingers squeeze his waist as Dean’s hands on his cheeks pull him closer, kissing him deeper and longer and with more passion.
Cas’s heart soars and he feels almost giddy from all the sensations running through him because Dean is kissing him and it’s all he’s ever wanted. It’s everything he never thought he could have because this is Dean and he’s just Cas.
Dean pulls away, then, resting his forehead against Cas’s as his breaths rattle out of him. Cas isn’t much better and his fingers flex in Dean’s shirt as his anxieties start to rise in his chest.
“Shit, I’ve wanted to do that forever…I’m sorry,” Dean whispers and Cas’s heart drops a little. “I know—um…you’re my best friend and I don’t want to lose you, so if that wasn’t okay, just tell me and we’ll pretend it never happened.” Dean searches his eyes as panic swells inside Cas. His hands constrict around Dean’s waist.
“No! No…I’ve—I’m okay with this.” He swallows hard, forcing down the lump that’s trying to choke him. “I’m okay with this…can I kiss you again—”
He doesn’t even get a chance to finish the question before Dean’s pulling him back in and pressing their smiles together.
Something both familiar and foreign bubbles up inside of him. It’s something he’s felt before, but only for Dean, and he only now realizes what it is exactly. It’s passion. It’s joy and excitement and love.
Dean is what they’ve been looking for. Dean is what he’s had all along.