Dean normally doesn’t make it a habit to read on the job. It’s not exactly discouraged; he’s the only one that works the night shift. By the time 9PM rolls around, most of the re-shelving and tidying up has already been done by the combined efforts of him and the librarian during the previous shift. Not to mention that it’s completely dead throughout his shift until closing time.
So, despite his enormous amounts of down time on his shift, he doesn’t make reading a habit—ironic, since he works surrounded by books. But the university library is deserted, and there’s another few hours to go before he can close up, and there was a book on garden weed varieties that caught his attention.
He’s deeply entrenched in reading about a particularly aggressive variety of crabgrass when someone loudly clears their throat just a few feet in front of his desk.
Dean jumps minutely in his seat and slams the book closed on instinct. He barely makes eye contact with the guy standing in front of him when he asks, “Uh, yeah?”
“One of your computers is broken.” The man hooks a thumb over his shoulder at the row of computers that line the back wall.
“So use another one,” Dean suggests.
The man shakes his head, looking simultaneously impatient and concerned. “I always work on that computer. If it truly doesn’t work after you try, I’ll choose another one.”
Dean finally meets the man’s eyes to give him a very skeptical look; one that always pissed his brother off growing up (“Stop looking at me like I’m speaking gibberish, Dean!”). “You really can’t use another one?”
Raising an eyebrow, the man says, “I’d hate to take time away from your…” he peeks at the title, “gardening book, but I do think this falls under your job description.”
Dean pastes on the friendliest smile he can manage. “Boy, you’re polite,” he says. “If you keep your pants on for two seconds, I’ll help you.” He walks around the desk, carefully stepping past the guy. He narrowly avoids collision with the man’s massive messenger bag as he goes to the computer that’s causing all the grief in the first place.
He does his usual routine when contending with technology: check the plugs, restart it, make sure the wall sockets are working.
“I’m sorry,” the man says behind him. Dean glances over his shoulder to see him pushing his wild black hair back with a nervous hand. “I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m coming off a long shift and have to finish this paper by tomorrow and I’m… I guess there’s no other word for it but tired.”
Dean plugs and unplugs a USB wire. “I’m working this shift after my day job, so I feel you. Apology accepted.”
The man sighs. “Thank you.”
Kneeling under the desk to reset the power strip, Dean asks, “So why this computer? In particular?”
“You’ll think I’m insane.”
Dean straightens and turns to face him. “Try me.”
The man clutches the strap of his messenger bag tighter. “It’s the computer that’s farthest away from the vent, so there’s no breeze. Since it’s on the end of the table, it lowers the chance of anyone sitting directly next to me. It’s the only one with a CD drive, so I can listen to whatever classical music I pick out from the CD section, while I work. I also like how loud the keyboard is; it reminds me to keep working.” He shrugs. “That’s about all.”
Dean crosses his arms and grins. “You’re right, that is insane.”
Blinking, a slow smile crosses the man’s face. Dean can’t believe he’s only just noticing how blue his eyes are. “Well, I’m not getting a graduate degree in logic.”
“Gross, who would?” Dean pats the computer’s hard-drive. “Well, I’m sorry to say, this guy is toast, for reasons unknown. I can put in a work order to have someone look at it, but it’s definitely not usable tonight.”
Blue eyes nods. Frowns wistfully at the computer. “That’s a shame. I’ll take my chances on another one. Thank you for your help, nonetheless.”
“Sure.” Dean scoots past him to go back to his desk; pauses. “It isn’t a gardening book, by the way.”
Blue eyes looks up from where he’s putting his leather bag on the desk. “What?”
“The book I was reading. It wasn’t about gardening. It was about weeds.”
“Only a gardener would care about weeds,” the man responds.
“Or a guy who is sick of his yard being overgrown by them.”
Dean clears his throat. “Well, anyway. Just wanted to clear that up.”
The guy nods slowly. “Well… thank you for doing so.”
“Yup.” Dean’s treacherous brain is now noticing the way the guy’s long-sleeved dress shirt hugs his arms; the guy’s full set of lips that are lifting at the corners in a smile. “Okay,” Dean says, louder than he should, “let me, uh, let me know if I can do anything else. I’ll be… there.” He errantly gestures to his desk.
Blue eyes works on his paper for three hours without getting up once. At exactly 1AM, closing time for the library, he gathers his things and departs. He gives a small nod to Dean as he passes. Dean awkwardly waves back.
“Damn it,” Dean says to the deserted library, head in his hands.
Where Dean was once oblivious to the man’s presence during his shifts, he’s now hyperaware. The next shift that Dean sees him, he says, as casually as he can, “Got that computer working again.”
This makes Blue Eyes give a disarmingly genuine smile. “That’s great.”
Dean begins a tradition of shelving returns (a task technically for the morning shift), just so he can move around the floor and find an opportunity to talk to the guy (he never can). He tries pretending the computers really need dusting, just in hopes that the guy will look up and chat (he never does).
So Dean settles on reading. At first it was because it keeps him at the desk, in view of the mysterious man, and bonus points for seeming more intellectual. But it’s what ultimately breaks the ice.
Blue eyes nods his head at Dean as he passes by at the same time he’s been leaving for the past few weeks. Dean gives a disappointed wave, as usual, barely looking up from the book propped up on his desk.
“What book is that?”
Dean slowly looks up, frozen at those blue eyes drilling into him. “Huh?” he intelligently replies.
“The book,” Blue Eyes clarifies with a gesture.
“Oh. It’s by Eliot, I think. Uh…” Dean checks the title. “Silas Marner.”
“You didn’t know?”
“Nah. I just picked it up off the shelf. Tried and true way of discovering a new book.”
The man’s eyes seem to light up at this; Dean’s not sure what triggered it, but he’s not complaining. “George Eliot is one of my favorite authors. It’s a good random choice.”
“Yeah, I really like it so far.” Dean taps the cover. “Normally books from this time period bore me, but I like his writing style.”
“Her writing style. George Eliot was a woman.”
Dean scoffs, “Oh, yeah, I totally… didn’t know that.”
The guy laughs softly, “It’s okay. Not everyone does.” Adjusting the strap of his bag on his shoulder, he says, “Let me know what you think of the ending, when you’re finished.”
“Totally. Gives me incentive to finish it.” Dean shifts in his seat. “I’m, uh, Dean by the way.”
“I know.” The man taps his chest when Dean gives him a questioning look. Dean looks down at his own chest; mentally kicks himself when he remembers his nametag.
“Oh, yeah. Well, in case you can’t read, and all.”
Miraculously, the guy smiles at the joke. “It’s nice to meet you, Dean.” he begins to walk from the desk; Dean’s heart sinks. The man turns and says, “My name is Castiel.”
Dean waits approximately five seconds after Castiel leaves to punch the air with his fists. He gives Silas Marner a big kiss. “Thank you George Eliot, you beautiful broad,” he whispers to the cover.
* * *
This is what Dean has learned in the scant weeks of knowing Castiel:
He’s a graduate student getting his masters in theology while also teaching math at a nearby Catholic high school.
He is addicted to tea (Dean never sees him without it).
He takes six hours every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night to work on his thesis.
He’s the most damn adorable man Dean’s ever met.
And he only talks to Dean when a book is involved.
It’s only when a book is in Dean’s hands that Castiel stops and talks. Dean wonders if Castiel is shy, hesitant to start a conversation out of nothing; or if he really just prefers books to people (or Dean). Based on how his eyes light up at the sight of a book, Dean is willing to bet money on the latter.
Dean’s always loved reading, just never to this extent. He feels constantly pressured to finish a book quickly; Castiel comes to the library only a few times a week, and always wants updates on what Dean thinks of the book. It even gets to the point where he’s reading at his day job. Bobby finds him in the back office reading Laughter and Forgetting rather than filling out an order, and barks at him to get his head out of the clouds.
Dean takes to reading in his car during his breaks after that.
The eye strain and stiff back is worth it for Cas approaching him over the next few weeks to discuss the books.
Dean knows something’s gotta give. Every time he and Cas talk, he can feel some sort of connection between them (even though it’s all based on books, but whatever, Rome wasn’t built in a day). Cas is clearly too shy to take the plunge; so Dean does.
It’s the fourth Wednesday after he and Cas meet, the third Wednesday of their book discussions, that Dean decides to do it. He’s fidgety his whole shift, unable to stop peeking at Cas above the pages of his book. Finally, 1AM rolls around. Cas walks past with his usual tangled and tired eyes, sees the book in Dean’s hands, and stops.
“What are you thinking of Kunderas?” Castiel asks. He puts his tea on the desk.
Casual, Dean instructs himself. Act casual. “I gotta be honest, man.” Dean leans back in his chair and stretches. “It’s all too political for me.”
“That’s just the surface of it, though,” Castiel says. “There’s so much more, if one reads it carefully.”
“I’m reading it plenty careful. It’s just not grabbing me.”
“To each his own,” Castiel shrugs. “Although maybe you should try his other book, Slowness. It’s my favorite by him.”
“I’ll check it out,” Dean says. He clears his throat. “You know, you seem to have a lot of book suggestions. Maybe you can, uh. Tell me more books you’d recommend sometime?”
“I’ll make a list for you,” Cas decides with a nod.
“No, I mean. A list would be great but it’s—it’s not exactly what I meant.” Dean takes a steadying breath. “Maybe we could talk more about it sometime. Like, longer than a few minutes after my shift.”
“I could attempt to come in earlier,” Cas offers, brow furrowing as he seems to think through that scenario. “My teaching schedule doesn’t allow for much room, but if I were to bring my dinner—”
“No, Cas, listen.” Dean pinches the bridge of his nose. “I’m trying to ask you out, okay? On a date.”
Cas blinks. “Oh.”
“Yeah.” Dean shifts in his seat. Closes the book and puts his hands on top of it. “I know we both have killer work schedules, but maybe we could find something. Or even like, I dunno, moonlight it and have a beer after one of these shifts sometime. There’s a bar open down the street pretty late, and, uh… yeah.” He trails off when he notices that Cas’ face has froze, blue eyes just staring at Dean. “What do you, uh. Think about that?”
Cas stares for a moment, then seems to snap out of it. He takes a breath, then takes his tea. “No,” he says simply before walking out of the library.
Dean gapes in Cas’ wake.
* * *
It’s a blow on his self esteem, but Dean licks his wounds and tries to move past it. He’s been rejected before. He can deal.
He keeps reading books, out of some self-flagellation ritual. For a while he tries reading the Kunderas book that Cas suggested.
Cas doesn’t stop by his desk anymore after his shift, whether Dean has a book or not, but he at least has the common courtesy to nod at Dean as he walks past.
It goes on like this, until the sixth Wednesday after Dean and Cas met, until the second Wednesday after Cas rejected him.
The library is deserted, as usual. Dean is not reading that day, instead opting to play Tetris on his phone, his brain and body completely fried from his previous shift at the garage. He doesn’t even notice Cas approach his desk until he loudly clears his throat, making Dean’s finger skate across his phone screen in shock.
“Hey, Cas,” he says, trying to sound as casual as a rejected man can.
“Hello, Dean.” Cas pauses. “The computer. I’m afraid it’s broken again.”
“Oh.” Dean wonders if it’s possible to murder a piece of technology. “I can put in a work order for it.” When Cas remains to stand there, messenger bag clutched in his hands, Dean adds, “I could also try to fix it, I guess.”
Cas looks relieved. “Thank you.” He stands out of Dean’s way as he works his way around the desk and goes toward the offending computer.
Dean tries the usual things: turning it on and off again, making sure it’s plugged in fully, seeing if there’s any updates that maybe is making the computer sluggish. He’s on his back, under the desk and checking the power strip, when Cas approaches.
“I wish to apologize,” Cas says above him.
Dean grunts, trying to get himself at a better angle to turn the power button on and off, “For what, dude?”
“For rejecting your advances two weeks ago.”
Jesus H. Christ. Dean unplugs and plugs the computer cord. “It’s fine, Cas, we don’t need to talk about it.”
“We do need to talk about it, Dean, that’s the trouble.” He hears Cas sigh above him. “I have to admit that I have a crush on you.”
Dean nearly bangs his head on the table as he scrambles out from under it. He’s on his knees, staring up at Cas. “You what?”
“I have a crush on you.”
“Okay. But you said no to a date.”
“Yes, I know. But the fact remains that I have feelings for you.” Cas’ eyes skate away and he shakes his head. “It’s very irritating.”
“Why the hell would it be irritating?”
Cas’ cheeks color. “Because, I.” He shuts his mouth, working his jaw, before continuing, “Because I am on a very strict, very difficult career path. I cannot afford distractions. Furthermore, my previous relationship ended in a bad way and was distracting to say the least, and if that were to happen again it would probably derail my academic efforts.”
“Cas.” Dean holds up his hands. “You’re getting ahead of yourself. I asked you out for a beer, man. It’s casual, okay? Doesn’t have to be anything serious. I just want to get to know you.”
“Get to know me,” Cas repeats. He tilts his head and frowns. “That’s all?”
“Well, yeah.” Dean puts his hands in his pockets and shrugs. “If it leads to more than that, fine. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. Doesn’t have to like, be a big thing.”
“Oh.” Cas adjusts his bag on his shoulder. “Because you… want to hear my book suggestions?”
Dean huffs a laugh. “Well, sure, and talk about other stuff too. If you want.”
Seeming to think on this for a long moment, Cas frowns down at his shoes. He finally nods. “I think that’d be okay.” He adds quickly, “If the offer still stands.”
Dean grins. “I should say no, just to get back at you.”
There’s a hint of a smile on Cas’ face, the first one Dean’s seen in a while, as he says, “I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”
Dean adjusts his weight to his other foot. “So, uh. I guess, give me your number before we can leave? We can work something out.”
Cas nods. “I certainly will.”
As he’s turning back to his desk, Dean asks, “Any books I should read? Before we meet up? You know, to further my education,” he says with a quick wink.
“Hmm.” Cas sets his messenger bag next to an adjacent computer, brow furrowed in thought. His face changes into a grin as he seemingly thinks of his answer. “Maurice. It’s by Forster.”
Dean shoots Cas a finger gun. “Will do.”
He reads it, of course, on the day before their date. The tone is a bit different from Cas’ typical dark and pessimistic recommendations. At its core, the book is essentially about two men who meet, fall in love, and in no uncertain terms live happily ever after.
Dean takes it as a good sign.