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Stuck in the Airport with You

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“How long ya been stuck here?” Dean asked the man sitting on the floor next to Gate 15 at DIA.

“This is my third day,” he responded. It seemed about right; he had a thick scruff, and his dark brown mop looked like an insurrection more than a hairstyle.

“Where ya headed?”

He tilted his head back slowly as if he found the question in poor taste, and looked at Dean with a little frown.

“At this point, I really don’t know,” he admitted, as if he were surprising himself to say it aloud.

Dean was, if not teasing him, then being a lot more nosy than the average stranger. “Seriously? How can you not know where you’re going?”

The man sighed. “Because the place I come from shoved me out the door, and the place I was going to — well, it’s ‘refusing the shipment’ - and I’m the shipment.” For a second the words seemed self-pitying; his expression was outwardly calm. The air quotes were the special sauce. In repose, you might not even notice him, but the instant his face became animated, he was mesmerizing.

Dean chuckled awkwardly. “That’s terrible, but the way you said it, it’s kinda funny, too. So now you have to explain to me how that happened. Are you a ‘package’ that needs to be ‘shipped’?” He gave the air quotes right back.

There was that tiny polite frown again. It wasn’t irritation, it was thoughtfulness. “I must preface anything I say with a question. What kind of a family do you have?” the man demanded.

Dean considered it, and after doing so, shrugged. “Okay, I guess. Not too therapy-inducing. My dad’s a bit of a dick and my bro’s a really good guy and my mom died in a fire when I was four and due to ‘reasons’, I got a sort of extra mom and dad.”

His big blue eyes got even bigger and his mouth formed an ‘O’. He couldn’t make eye contact. “I’m sorry. I know I complain about my mother — a lot — but I wouldn’t like it if she was dead.”

“It was a long time ago,” Dean said, brushing it off. “So why do you have nowhere to go?”

“Because my mother got her sister to tell my cousin Gabe that he’ll be disinherited and handed to his creditors if I move in with him.”

“Wow,” Dean said. “Yeesh. That sucks. What got your mother so bent out of shape?”

“Personal stuff,” the man said to the floor. “Being a disrespectful, rebellious child,” he added.

“No offence, but aren’t you a little old to be a disrespectful, rebellious child?” Dean asked.

To his surprise, the man laughed very hard for a moment, almost as if he was about to veer off into hysteria, and then controlled himself. “I suppose,” he said. “I’ll be forty in the spring.” Dean blinked. Age appropriate. Sam would be having a field day at this point.

“The big four-oh is still a ways away, for me,” Dean said comfortably, keeping the conversation going.

There was that candid gaze, like a little blue short circuit in Dean’s brain, and then his new friend was looking at the carpet again. “So my ticket’s for Chicago, but now that Gabe’s told me I have to find somewhere else to live, that doesn’t have to be where I end up. I just have — I just have no idea where to go.”

“Mm,” Dean said sympathetically.

“Where are you going?”

“Dearborn was where I was going; but I too been stuck here for days, so I missed my stepmom and stepdad’s wedding. I mean, it’s amazing that they managed to wait thirty-five years to get married, but somehow I miss it. It makes you think, don’t it.”

“You have a dad and a stepdad?”

“Lots of masculine role models,” Dean said easily. “One of them taught me how to fight, and the other how to fix things.”

“My dad didn’t teach me to do anything except cringe and obey,” the man said. “I can’t imagine what a spare father might have taught me.”

Dean made a face and the man laughed again.

“You think I’m exaggerating?” he asked.

“No,” Dean said. “Seems to me, you’re telling the exact truth, just like it happened to you.”

“Are they angry about you missing the wedding?”

“Those two? Not a chance,” Dean said with a little laugh. “Life happens. I did my best to get there. I missed out on hanging out with some of my favourite people, and now, strangely enough, I am in the same situation as you.”

He looked troubled suddenly, and Dean felt that little pang again. “How so?”

Dean was still having trouble believing that phone call. “Because if I don’t get back to Austin by six a.m. tomorrow, that entire bag of dicks known as Dick Roman, my boss, is going to fire my sorry ass for ‘being absent without prior authorization’.”

There was a lull in the conversation while the two of them looked out the window at the evidence that Dick Roman had perhaps made a hasty decision. The dense, penetrating snow was still falling; visibility was not even an eighth of a mile, and the wind was buffeting the snow in circles against the plate glass. The two men contemplated it for a moment, and Cas said, “I really don’t think you’re gonna make it. So, what, you’re unemployed?”

Dean emitted a joyless snicker. “Unless an eccentric billionaire from the future gives me a lift to Austin on her matter transporter, or Neo flies me there, yeah. The airport just ran out of de-icing fluid so…”

“Where did you hear that?”

Dean shrugged. “Overheard two ramp crew talking to each other. No de-icing means they can’t clear the wings of accumulated snow and ice, even if they clear the runways, so guess what? None of us are goin’ anywhere, even though they’ve cleared the runways and the taxiways; we should be adults and make the best of it.” Dean sighed and gently stretched his neck from side to side.

His friend took his phone out of his pocket as it chimed gently. He gave a brief chuckle and said, “I just got a notification that the Presidential Suite is now available at the Airport Hilton!”

Dean said, “What?”

“Oh, I asked the hotel to alert me as rooms became available, since I’m pretty much done trying to sleep here. At the same time, I don’t feel like paying $600 a night just so I can have a door I can lock! Now that I’m unemployed and homeless, I’ll need to watch my pennies.”

“So your phone will ping when something becomes available? I’d kill for a shower.” Dean could feel his undies sticking to him and he wasn’t enjoying it.

“I don’t think I prepared to commit homicide for a shower, but I could use to soak my weary bones in a tub,” the man said.

I’ll take the tap end, Dean thought. He rarely felt this attracted to another man. “Maybe something cheaper will come up and we could split it,” Dean suggested.

“Mm,” the man said.

 

The storm stopped. More de-icing fluid was delivered. The airport gradually emptied out over the next twelve hours.

Dean and Cas, now fast friends, finally chiselled their last missing piece of luggage from its icy prison in an abandoned baggage cart, accompanied by the implausible excuses of the exhausted and overwhelmed staff, who had also been trapped at the airport. To celebrate, they checked into an affordable room, split down the middle, at the Airport Hilton.

They were exhausted and felt gross and had no idea where they were going next, three conditions that make the existence of hotels a really swell idea, as Dean pointed out. Dean barely got his boots kicked off next to his queen-sized bed and he was unconscious - so much for the shower he’d been talking about, as if it was some kind of hygienic holy grail.

Cas had his soak and was about to climb into his own bed when he paused to throw a comforter over Dean, and they both slept for a long time.

 

“Cas,” Dean horse-whispered. He was freshly showered, annoyed with himself for going to sleep filthy, like a heathen.

“Mf,” Cas said.

“You awake?”

“Yes, but why?” Cas said in a sepulchral voice.

“‘Cause the buffet opens in five, aren’t you starving? I’m frickin’ starvin’, and it’s free with the room, so….”

“Oh, God,” Cas said, and flopped over onto his back like an angsty teenager.

“Can I turn the lights on?” Dean asked.

“I should have asked if you were a morning person,” Cas said, if anything in an even deeper voice.

“I am wilfully and persistently a morning person,” Dean said, in a cheerful tone. He was quoting his brother, Sam the lawyer, who dozed until noon every chance he could, and only ripped on Dean’s ability to bounce out of bed after four hours of sleep like a jack-in-the-box because he was jealous. “But if you want me to abandon you so you can sleep right through breakfast….”

Cas dragged himself out of bed and dressed, mumbling and bumbling the entire way. He emptied his luggage to find clothes; Dean, used to packing for overnight investigations watched him with amusement. Then he scowled at the closed bathroom door. Cas hadn’t taken the opportunity to dress in front of him. Okay, shy.

Cas yawned almost continuously during the elevator ride. With his first swallow of coffee, Cas transformed into a breakfast companion with sophisticated conversation.

“So, Dean,” he said. “Quo vadis?”

Dean was getting around his bacon. “Quo what-iss?”

“Whither goest thou,” Cas clarified. “After this.”

Dean shrugged. “I got no idea.”

The middle-aged man at the next table said into his cell phone, “Babe, you know you’re the only one for me. Love you lots. Love you more. Bye.” A woman half his age sat down and cooed at him.

“Why are men such dicks,” Dean said under his breath.

Cas blinked at him, and spoke quietly in response. “I assume you’re being sarcastic. Sometimes I’d like not to be one, and then I remember I don’t have a choice.”

“Sure you do,” Dean said. It was important to be welcoming. “I mean if you’re trans you can have your gender reassigned.”

“My discontent with how things are in my life doesn’t encompass that,” Cas said. He scrinched up his nose and transformed himself into the cutest thing Dean had ever seen. “I am who I am.” He didn’t seem to comfortable saying more and returned to their earlier subject. “You have to go back to Austin for your stuff, right?”

“Wrong,” Dean heard himself say. Normally he’d be cagier about his own business. There was nothing like being a PI for making you understand how fast and hard a casual conversation could ruin your life.

But he trusted this guy, no idea why, really. And cute! Damn, he was adorable. “I was in an apartment hotel until I got my own place, and the company was paying. My stuff’s in storage in Kansas; I was so goddamned busy with work, I never got a chance to even pick up the phone and get it shipped down. So probably I should just move back to Kansas, since all my belongings are there. And Baby’s there.”

Cas’s horror was funny as hell. “Baby? You left a baby in Kansas?”

“Baby is a car,” Dean growled. Just thinking about how the boss had insisted that he couldn't do PI work in a muscle car made him angry.

“Oh, thank God, I didn’t figure you as a guy into child abandonment,” Cas said with obvious relief.

“Thanks a pantload,” Dean said, heavy on the sarcasm.

The two of them pretended to eat while not looking at each other. Their shoulders were shaking. Finally they made eye contact and they both laughed aloud. “I never met anyone who could misunderstand me so fast,” Dean said.

“I never met anyone so easy to misunderstand, so fast,” Cas complained.

“I am the simplest man alive,” Dean proclaimed. “I have simple tastes and even simpler needs. You shouldn’t misunderstand anything about me.”

“I don’t know how you can ‘simply’ taste anything, considering how fast you eat it,” Cas complained.

“We’re not married,” Dean said. The exaggerated tone took the sting away. “You don’t get to talk to me like that.”

Cas sipped his coffee and tilted his head before he responded. “It’s very enjoyable, though. I’ve been told that bickering is one of the perks of marriage.”

Dean was chuckling again. “When I think about the perks of marriage, bickering is not the first thing that comes to my mind.”

“No, I suppose not. Have you ever been married?”

“No. Lived with a couple of people, it never worked out.” Dean’s face had darkened. The last thing he wanted to talk about was how he kept falling hopelessly in love with people who couldn’t return it. He turned the question around. “You?”

Cas wasn’t making eye contact, again. “When I was twenty-two, my parents selected for me a beautiful, charming, intelligent and kind woman to marry, and so we got married.” Dean grunted in surprise. “A year later we were on vacation - the purpose of the vacation was to get Anna pregnant because shock! horror! she wasn’t pregnant yet! - and she went scuba diving, had a seizure and drowned.”

Dean’s face showed dismay and compassion. “Holy shit.”

“I pray for her every day. My parents quit making me try to marry, although they did try to convince me it was my fault that she died.”

“That’s just terrible,” Dean said, “So, no kids.”

“No. If I could have kids and skip marriage I’d sure think about it, but I think that part of life has passed me by.”

“Me too,” Dean said sadly. “And I wouldn’t mind being a step-dad if I can’t be a dad, since Bobby showed me how to love a kid and raise them when you’re not blood, but — ” and he shrugged and fell silent.

“We don’t always get what we want in life. At least you got a family who loved you, so you know what it looks like,” Cas said.

“You seem like you turned yourself into a decent human being no matter what your parents did to you,” Dean said.

“That’s…” Cas looked right at him. Dean basked, he couldn’t help himself. It had been so long since anyone looked at him like he was … a friend.  “That’s really good to hear, Dean. I mean, I wonder a lot about what kind of person I am, and what kind I want to be.”

“Like how?” Dean asked.

“Like brave. I’m trying to completely start again when my life is half over and the pandemic is still raging and I’ve got nowhere to go and my family is openly mocking what a failure I am.”

Dean was suddenly very angry at Cas’s family.

“They’re assholes. Their opinions don’t matter. It’s your life.”

“Sure,” Cas said. The conversation died and Cas attended to his breakfast methodically while Dean seemed bent on loading his plate.

After a few minutes, Cas said, his eyes very bright. “You’ve been very kind, and I’ve really appreciated your company. But at some point today you’re going to get on a flight and resume your life. I just wanted to thank you.”

“Blowing me off so soon?” Dean said dramatically. In a more business-like tone, he said, “I was going to ask you to come back to Lawrence with me, so you have a base of operations while you figure out what to do.”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth he could feel himself blushing. It was an amazing offer to make to someone he didn’t know. It was a helluva commitment. And somehow it didn’t bother him. It would all be fine.

Cas looked like he’d been ‘smote hard’ by something. His mouth opened but he couldn’t talk.

“It might be months,” Cas said, and even getting that out was a struggle.

“Okay,” Dean said. He didn’t look worried.

Cas’s mouth wobbled and his eyes brimmed with moisture. “Are you always this relaxed about things?”

Inwardly, he sighed. Dean tapped Cas’s hand once, shaking his head with a wry expression. “Nobody thinks I’m relaxed. You’re just wound so tight you make me look relaxed. Now try to look a little less like your dog died.”

That sent Cas down another tangent. “I never got to have a dog. Or any pet, not even a guinea pig. Too messy, too emotional, too expensive to be an investment and hopelessly low class.”

“I fucking hate your parents,” Dean said grimly.

Cas pretended to toast Dean with his coffee cup, his little finger crooked out, and said. “Weird, isn’t it? Now that they can’t tell me what to do any more, I don’t hate them!”

Dean saluted him back, got up, got two danishes off the far end of the buffet table, and ate both of them in rapid succession.

A faint look of disapproval crossed Cas’s face. “I don’t understand how you stay in shape,” Cas said.

“Intermittent fasting and a gym membership,” Dean said, swallowing hard. “You’re kind of a nag.”

“You’ve got an answer for everything,” Cas said.

Dean raised a lecturing forefinger. “I try to be prepared for any eventuality.”

“Which makes me wonder –” Cas said.

“Oh boy,” Dean said, mouth full again.

“I never asked you how you make your living because my parents trained me out of making such a faux pas, but I am curious… you’re not a Boy Scout, are you?”

“I’m a private investigator.” Dean narrowed his eyes as if expecting Cas to complain about it.

“That sounds like it can be interesting, at least sometimes. I’m a CFA and a CIA.”

“A numbers guy who’s also a spy?”

Cas made a face. “They’re financial designations! I’d prefer words, but my brothers went to business school to press flesh and follow footsteps and I, the spare heir, became an accountant to solve all the problems that greed makes. I wanted to direct your attention to the fact that I have professional designations and I should be able to find a job and become self-sufficient within a short period of time.”

Dean was touched that Cas wanted to assure him that he wouldn’t turn into the shiftless tenant from hell, but he was also still Dean. “What, you’re not planning on playing Fortnight on the sofa eating Cheesies for days on end until your brains leak out of your ears?”

Cas’s eyes narrowed. “That doesn’t sound very – what’s Fortnight? If it’s a video game, I’m sorry, I wasn’t allowed to play video games.”

“You’re forty years old, you can play frickin’ video games if you want to.”

“Do you play video games?” Cas asked, genuinely curious.

Dean distinguished himself by sounding like a ten year old boy with his response: “Of course I play video games. If you start playing, you’ll have to buy your own controller,” Dean said. “I ain’t loaning you mine. And you’ll need your own headset. And your own Steam account. And your own Netflix account, now that we’re getting down to brass tacks.”

“This is the part of the discussion where my brother would say, ‘Too granular!’” At Dean’s puzzled expression, Cas said, “My brother is very easily bored and not able to deal well with details.”

“You got stuck with the details,” Dean surmised.

“Oh, did I ever,” Cas said with weariness. “Sitting here eating breakfast with absolutely no agenda and no one about to pounce on me, I’m wondering how I lived that life for so long. For two whole seconds when I woke up this morning, I scared myself thinking, ‘Who’s minding the store?’ and now I’m officially declaring, if I may borrow an expression from you, ‘Who the fuck cares?’ Mother thinks I’m going to flounder but I think I’m going to be fine.”

“Don’t let her live rent-free in your head,” Dean advised.

Cas spoke with the bemused calm of someone who’s survived something horrible. “She gave birth to me, and apart from her never understanding me or taking my side on anything even once, she was an okay mother. After a decent night of sleep and a cup of coffee I feel like I can just leave it at that and walk into whatever changes life gives me. I am not required to think more of her than she does of me. I mean, I’m probably going to need therapy, but I’ll worry about that when I’ve got the bandwidth to worry and the money to pay for it.”

Now the sausages he’d piled on his plate were disappearing into Dean’s face. It didn’t stop him from talking. Invisibly, Cas sighed.

“So we’re headed to Lawrence?” Dean said, mouth full.

“If you’re asking me through all that food, yes.”

“What?” Dean said. “Didn’t we just talk about it?”

“Dean, I’m very particular. I like things just so. I like to believe I’m understanding what’s happening. You said, and I quote, ‘I was thinking of asking you.’ That is not asking me. That is floating a trial balloon. You can withdraw the offer if you’re having second thoughts.”

No, Dean thought. I am not having second thoughts. “Are you, like, a lawyer, too? because I already have one of those in the family and I don’t need a spare,” Dean said.  He clasped his hands over his heart. “Yes, please join me in the metropolis of Lawrence, which believe me, is no match for Chicago, although some folks say the barbecue is better.”

“If my mother isn’t there, I’m sure I’ll love it,” Cas said.

And so it proved. Although he also proved not to like Lawrence in the summer heat, and said so, many times. Their air conditioning was second to none. And Dean never made him get his own Netflix account.

 

Dean found a two bedroom apartment for them in a nice neighborhood, and a shared office nearby to run his investigative service business from. His eyes nearly bugged out when Cas said he’d do his books for free.

Cas found a job almost immediately as the CFO of a non-profit. The salary was adequate and it had medical and dental; he didn’t care as long as he could cover his share of the rent and pay for his own modest needs with a little left over, savings for a holiday, or a house. Away from his siblings and mother, he became a much more relaxed and sociable person.

Dean really liked the person Cas was turning into. After a couple of months Dean realized that he liked Cas better than he’d ever liked anyone. He was really good looking, too. It seemed a little weird that someone that good looking could be as sweet and genuine as Cas, but he’d had a weird childhood and he hadn’t had a lifetime - as Dean had had - of people telling him ‘how gorgeous’ he was. And then following up that line with just using him like a trash bag.

Dean was too embarrassed to ask Cas anything about his orientation. If he asked that meant he was interested, and they were supposed to be roommates and that would have been bait and switch, sort of.

After a couple of flailing and ultimately doomed attempts to figure it out, he decided that since Cas was generally calm and disinterested about sex - anybody’s, really -  that he was probably asexual. He was physically quite modest, which didn’t prove that contention, but Dean accepted it as proof.  Nor was he ever interested in any other man, or any woman for that matter. He was always kind and polite, but not needy in any way. Sometimes he was affectionate, with shoulder pats being his favorite way to communicate being pleased.  Dean started to envy him, never being at the mercy of his sexual urges, at least to outward appearances. He never commented negatively on being single and he didn’t indulge in flirting. 

Dean decided that it’s just how Cas was, but by the time he was convinced of it, it didn’t matter. Cas was his best friend and Dean stopped jerking off while thinking about him because that wasn’t what their friendship was about and it was gross.

 

Four months after they moved in together, Cas mentioned that he was starting to look for his own apartment; Dean figured that even though Dean hadn’t mentioned him moving out, he was probably wanting his privacy back. Dean caught him going through rental listings and was both angry and hurt about it. “Can’t stand living with me, is that it?”

“No, Dean!” Cas said. “I just thought you were too polite to ask me to leave.”

“Since when am I ever polite?” Dean asked in wonder. “It’s really not my brand. After all, you never quit complaining about my table manners! And hey, numbers guy! I don’t want to pay for this place by myself, so you’re fixing it so I’ll have to move out, too!”

“I thought - that’s not what I meant to do. I just don’t want to take advantage of you.”

“You’re not,” Dean said. “If I want you to move out, I’ll give you two months’ notice.” His tone was quite rude and the matter seemed closed.

The weeks flew by. Dean never asked him to move out, and their set-up was convenient to both of them. Cas kept covering his share of the rent.

Dean watched Cas make friends with all of his own friends and watched him turn his work colleagues into friends. It seemed impossible to believe Cas when he said he’d never had a friend before Dean, seeing that he was pretty good at making and being friends.

Cas quit trying to move out and worked on various projects to improve the apartment and to smooth out how they arranged their domestic lives. Cas spent months researching a washer/dryer combo, while Dean teased mercilessly and started picking names for the appliances as if they were expecting twins, which really messed up some of their friends, one of whom became convinced they were having twins by a surrogate mother. It was funny in retrospect but Dean nearly lost it. And Cas spend a lot of time trying to improve Dean’s eating habits, fighting to get more vegetables and less animal fat into him. Dean’s incipient alcoholism, which at first seemed so alarming, became quite tame; between the two of them they were only drinking two six packs a week these days.

Cas opened a joint bank account for household expenses, which very slowly became their joint savings account. Cas was hoping to buy a house, eventually. He kept detailed records of whose money was whose, but he learned early that Dean, once he decided you were honest, didn’t spend a lot of time checking up on you.  After being picked-on and second-guessed his entire life, Cas was thrilled to be trusted and consulted and told that his efforts were appreciated.

Dean’s friends didn’t know what to make of them at first. Most of them figured they were sleeping together and just not talking about it, or as seemed more likely, in complete denial about it, right down to maintaining separate bedrooms. Dean had to tell Sammy point blank that he and Cas were not having sex and the yelling that ensued after Sam said, grinning, “Why not?” was unpleasant for both of them. Cas was at work, and so didn’t get the drama.

Dean yelled, “We’re close friends, and roommates. Not everything has to be about sex.”

Sam was quieter. “Your friends have got eyes, Dean! It’s ‘Cas this’ and ‘Cas that’ and ‘you’ll never guess what Cas did this time’ or ‘Cas had birds feeding out of his hands in the park!”

Dean smiled reminiscently, and then scowled at his brother again. “What we do or don’t do is none of your business! as long as it’s not hurting you.”

When Cas came home, there was Dean, talking him into ordering take out cuisine he’d never tried, coaxing him into watching yet another movie which was a ‘must-see cultural masterpiece’ and coaching him on the finer points of surveillance and misdirection, just in case he ever wanted to change careers and be a PI like Dean.

 

Two whole years went by. They did almost everything socially as a couple, and spent the major holidays together.  When there was a group camping trip and they slept in separate tents, Dean’s old co-worker, Charlie, pulled them aside and asked if things were okay at home.

Cas, taken aback, told Charlie that their sleeping arrangements were a matter of convenience, since when Dean went camping, he drank. And when he drank, he broke wind and snored most of the night, something Cas has learned during a previous camping trip. Charlie, clearly uncomfortable, quit bugging him.

Most people who met them casually thought they were romantically involved. Then Cas began to believe that he was holding Dean back in some undefinable way; as long as he was hanging around, Dean couldn’t date or ‘move on’ to a relationship. It was hard to know what was going on with Dean. He didn’t complain about the past, he didn’t comment much on the present, and he didn’t seem to plan too hard for the future. Whatever Cas wanted on that front seemed to be fine with him.

Cas was too honest for his own good, sometimes. He asked point blank if Dean ever thought about dating - or wanted him to move out - in the middle of him unloading groceries after shopping after work on a Friday evening.

“We already had this conversation. No,” Dean said.

“You’re not dating anyone,” Cas said.

“Neither are you,” Dean pointed out.

“I’m way less sociable than you. You’re a people person.”

“After I’ve dealt with assholes all day, you not being an asshole is a distinct plus,” Dean said. “You’re basically the only person I can point to and say, ‘He doesn’t suck.’ Well, apart from Sammy and Eileen of course. And Bobby, and Ellen, and Adam, and Benny, and Charlie.”

Cas seemed troubled. “Mm-hmm. We could wake up in ten years and find out that we’re still living together and we haven’t made any progress in our lives.”

“Why do we have to ‘make progress’? Can’t we just live? Or do you want to find a special someone and settle down and I’m cramping your style?” Dean asked. He sounded weird; he had turned his back to Cas while speaking.

“I did,” Cas said. “And then I started living with you.”

“What? Sounds like I’m cramping your style.” Dean said. He whipped around to check Cas’s facial expression.

“Well, no, not really,” Cas said.

“‘Not really’ doesn’t sound like ‘no’ to me. So you want to move out so you can date? Why don’t you just say so? Or go on dates, I ain’t stoppin’ ya.”

“I’m not looking, I don’t want to start dating,” Cas said. “And really, I don’t want to move out. I just wanted to make sure that I’m not hindering your search for a life partner.”

“I’m not looking,” Dean said. He sounded irritated. “And even if I was, if I started dating, most of our friends would be chewing me out on the phone, asking me why I was being so mean to you.”

“Because they think we’re in a relationship,” Cas said. They’d both given up trying to convince people otherwise; Cas said he didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to look like a homophobe, and Dean didn’t say anything because he didn’t think it was anyone’s business.

“Which we aren’t. Shit’s awkward enough, people always asking when we’re getting married.” Dean fired a box of breakfast cereal into the cupboard with ballistic excess, and it bounced back onto the counter and from there to the floor. Swearing under his breath, Dean put it back in the cupboard.

“Maybe we should be married,” Cas said.

Dean pivoted on his heel like a giant clockwork figure.

“What the fuck, Cas?” he said.

“Can we at least talk about it?” Cas asked.

“Are you high? Are you asking me to marry you?” Dean gritted out.

Cas said, “No, but I have to say, in practical terms, if we are going to continue to live together, we should probably put some safeguards in place.”

“Now what?” Dean complained. “We already have a joint savings account, that’s more married than some people ever get.” With an expression of disbelief, he returned to putting the groceries away, shooting occasional worried glances at Cas.

Cas looked even more serious than usual. Dean was floored when he said, “Don’t take that tone with me. Here’s a hypothetical. You get killed in an auto accident.”

Dean turned around again and pulled a face. “The fuck?”

“Here’s how it goes. I arrange your funeral, because Sam knows me and trusts me and I consult him on everything. It’s very sad, but I give you exactly the funeral you would want and your family isn’t left out of anything.”

Dean splayed a hand in confusion. “O-o-kay,” Dean said. “Go you, I guess.”

“Next hypothetical. I die in an auto accident. My family appears out of nowhere, collects my body because technically they’re my next of kin, fights you for my assets because we have a joint account, and while I do have a will, they may just ignore it, because they’re rich assholes. And since they’ll think that you and I are lovers, they’ll want to ruin you, because God Hates Fags.  They drag you into lawsuits and through the internet for as long as you can stand it, before you just give up. You never even find out where I’m buried because they won’t tell you.”

Dean wavered on his feet and then sat down very hard at the kitchen island.

“You’re kidding.”

“No. Dean, you know I don’t ‘kid’, at least not without warning you first. I know it’s a ‘hypothetical’ but it’s exactly the kind of vicious, cruel, narcissistic thing my family would do.”

If his expression meant anything, Dean was not doing well. Implacable, Cas continued.

“Hypothetical number three: I get cancer. You get to visit me, but you don’t get any say in my care because you’re my roommate. My family appears out of nowhere and declares that they have the money to afford better treatment options. They have no difficulty convincing my medical team of this and remove me from the hospital and I die alone, probably without painkillers, because that’s how God wants it, since I’ve disappointed him so much, and you never see me again.”

“Jesus Christ, Cas.” Dean sounded devastated.

“I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about it. If we want to keep my family out of my end of life decisions, the only way we can do it is to get married. But I know that you have very fixed ideas about what marriage looks like, so I’ve never suggested it.”

“Are you suggesting it now?” Dean said.

Cas looked at him without speaking. Finally he said, “I would like you to think about it and come up with alternative solutions. I don’t want you to get run over by my family, but if you’re good with pretending it’s okay, there’s not much I can do. Life’s going to continue to happen whether we prepare for it or not.”

“You’re trying to protect me,” Dean said. “That’s adorable.”

Cas got up and left the room. He didn’t slam doors or show temper. Dean figured he was done talking for now and finished putting the groceries away. Then, just as he was about to bang on Cas’s door and ask him if he was still mad, he found Cas, dressed like he was going out on a date, headed to the front door and a waiting Uber.

“What?” Dean asked blankly.

“I’m going to have drinks with a friend,” Cas said, and left.

Dean sat on the couch, while his innards shrivelled with cold dread and his brain got too hot to work properly.

 

After a minute, Dean broke down completely and wept. Cas wasn’t just done talking, he was done with Dean. Everything Dean could have said and should have said was useless, and so he waited, trying to watch something on TV while his brain said, You fucked up royally, on repeat.

Around one a.m., Cas tried to sneak in. It was hard for him to do; Dean had never seen him so trashed. It was one of the reasons he’d quit drinking so much, he didn’t want to be drinking noticeably more than Cas.

Cas dropped his keys and giggled; closed and locked the door and then made an incredible amount of noise just getting his shoes off in the front foyer. He fell off the bench (or so Dean figured, from the racket) and giggled again, after which he said, with genuine annoyance, “Shit.”

Dean said, “Do you need some help there?”

There was a stunned silence.

“What are - what’re ya doing, Dean? Still up?”

“I was worried.”

“I’m an adult,” Cas said, through a filter of drunken imprecision.

“I know,” Dean said. “And you’re home now. Do you want a glass of water, some orange juice mebbe?”

“Sure,” Cas slurred.

He flopped on the couch and closed his eyes. Dean brought him orange juice and watched him drink it.

“You don’t look - are you okay Dean?”

“Please don’t leave me,” Dean said. It wasn’t what he meant to say. It just came out of his mouth.

There was a slow frown. “What?” Cas asked. “I want you to be happy, and you’re not happy with me. I’m not happy either, but I’m used to that.”

Dean chose to disagree. “I am happy. I’m friggin’ ecstatic. I just don’t know how we got here. I’m sorry I made fun of you. I’m sorry I didn’t take your concerns seriously. I’ve been trying, I’ve been trying so hard and I didn’t know you were having issues and I responded wrong. Just… don’t leave without warning me, okay, if you just move out without telling me I’ll …”

“You’ll what, Dean, say, ‘sorry’?” Cas said, and the repressed anger was now obvious.

“If you want to get married, we can get married,” Dean said desperately.

“You don’t want to.”

“I just said we can,” Dean said.

“You don’t want me! You want the convenience of having a partner, so you’ll hold your nose and marry me even though it’s not what you want,” Cas growled.

“Cas, I was trying to respect you being asexual,” Dean said desperately.

“What?” Cas said.

“Well you are, aren’t you?”

Cas dragged himself to his feet. He swayed, shifted his feet closer to where Dean was sitting on the other end of the couch, and half knelt, half-collapsed on top of Dean, and began kissing him.

“Mmm?” Dean said, at this point so confused and emotional that he felt as if he were going bugfuck. He pulled back. “Why are you doing this. You’re not … what’s happening?” he asked, bereft.

“I’m not asexual,” Cas said. His breath smelled like wine and his mouth tasted like orange juice. Dean wanted to stop and deal with the fact that Cas was kissing him. “I’m very definitely gay. We’ve never talked about it, because every time I hinted at it you’d get upset and change the subject.”

“I did not,” Dean said.

“Oh, yes, you did,” Cas said, very sadly. “But I can tell from your lack of response that while you very much like having me as a roommate, and I’m convenient, you don’t think of me as a partner, and certainly not a sexual partner.”

Dean said, “You’re drunk, I don’t want to take advantage.”

Cas crawled to his end of the sofa and rested his head on the back. “Ha. Ha ha ha. Very funny,” Cas said. “I can’t believe you’d marry me just for the sake of convenience,” Cas added. “Just to maintain your lifestyle, or whatever.”

“You - I -,” Dean said, still on fire from that kiss. “I mean, usually aren’t people in love when they get married?”

“Usually. But I’m in love with you, and you’re not in love with me, and I can’t stand it any more, so I’m moving out.”

“I love you too,” Dean said. He felt like he was throwing his heart over a fence, not knowing what it would land on, on the other side. He’d never said it to anyone else. It was probably too late, but at least he’d said it. “I know I don’t deserve you. If you need to leave, of course you should leave.”

“No,” Cas said. “You don’t get to shay that. It isn’t true.”

“What would prove it to you?” Dean said quietly.

“What?”

Dean spoke louder, on the edge of tears again. “What proof would mean anything to you? You’ve already made up your mind. Okay. Anything I say will make it worse for both of us. If you don’t believe me, I’ll leave you alone. You can tell me your plans later, I’m going to bed.”

Five minutes later, Cas was tapping on his door. “Dean, I can hear you in there, I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”

“I did it to myself. I fucked it up. I waited too long. I didn’t communicate properly; I get it,” Dean said, voice blurry. “You should have someone who loves you and cares for you and cherishes you like you deserve and I was too busy pretending everything was peachy with the roommate situation to see how unhappy you were.”

“I don’t want to talk through the door.”

“I don’t wanna talk at all,” Dean replied sadly.

“Okay,” Cas said, and he came in, closed the door, and lay down on Dean’s bed. He’d changed into his pjs. Dean sighed. Cas always looked so good.

“Can I hold you?”

Dean was stupefied. “Wha-at? I don’t deserve to be comforted by you.”

“But you need it,” Cas said simply.

“I can’t stop you,” Dean said, and turned his back to Cas and closed his eyes. It’s just Cas being nice, it doesn’t mean anything. He said he loves you but you know that can’t be true.

Cas lifted the covers and put his arm around Dean, and Dean, thinking this could be the last time Cas would ever touch him in an intimate way, sobbed aloud harder than he could remember doing since high school. Dean put his hand over his own mouth and Cas whispered comforting words.

He was still there in the morning. He looked hungover, even in his sleep. Dean got painkillers and a glass of water for him and left it on the nightstand. He took a mental picture of Cas, out cold, in his bed; something to remember over a lifetime of kicking himself.

Cas, looking ghastly, staggered into the kitchen a couple of hours later. Dean said, “There’s coffee,” and tried to leave the kitchen. Cas blocked him quite deliberately.

“Were you serious,” he said quietly. He got out of Dean’s way and poured his coffee and sat down.

“About what?” Dean asked.

“Do you love me?” Cas asked.

“Kind of a lot, actually,” Dean said. He tried to hide the despair under a joking tone of voice.

“Really? And you didn’t tell me because…” Cas asked, almost casually.

Dean’s mouth had gone dry. “I thought you were asexual and if I came on to you I’d lose you for good.”

“You could have asked me,” Cas said.

“I was scared,” Dean said. “I asked myself what would happen if I said something and it wasn’t what you wanted.”

“You’ve never acted like you’re physically attracted to me,” Cas said accusingly.

Dean sighed. He couldn’t meet Cas’s eyes right away. “Really? The little mole on your chest. Your beautiful smile. The way you stand, and move. Your hands, chopping onions. Your fantastic legs, your luscious ass, your silky hair, the sound of your voice. I didn’t mind not having sex with you, it was like a deal I had with the universe, I could have someone as wonderful as you as long as I didn’t bug you with my, you know…”

Cas seemed moved, and then astonished, and then, there was almost a leer. “… your repulsive sexual demands?”

Dean couldn’t speak for a second, and then it came out in a burst. “I didn’t know, okay? and yes! I’m a moron for not asking you.” Dean finally got up the courage to ask. “Will you stay? Will you at least think about it?”

Cas grinned. Dean felt the weight on his heart lift, and he smiled back tentatively. “Well, it depends, Dean. Am I ever going to see any evidence of these repulsive sexual demands? When I’m not hungover?”

Dean said, trying not to act like his heart was pounding, “Yes. Whenever you want.”

“I’ll hold you to that.

 

Dean allowed himself to feel better. But the rest of the day went by, and Cas seemed to be hiding in his room.

“You okay in there?” Dean said, after knocking gently.

“Um,” Cas said, and opened the door. He looked worse than when he’d been actively hungover. “We probably need to talk,” Cas said quietly.

“About?” Dean asked, heart sinking.

“I shouldn’t have made those comments,” Cas said.

“You’re not interested,” Dean said flatly.

“I’m, uh, let’s sit down in the living room,” Cas said.

“Right,” Dean said.

“I know I suggested that we could start being intimate, but I have, I have reservations,” Cas said.

“Oh,” Dean said.

“I don’t know how to say this without sounding foolish, so I’ll just say it,” Cas said. There was genuine misery in his voice.

Dean took a breath and held it.

“It’s really hard for me to think that you’re going to find me all that great a partner, given my lack of experience,” Cas said in a rush. “I’m very concerned about it. I thought you weren’t interested in sex with men, or sex with me, so I never had to think about it, I just put it aside. Now that I it’s something I know you want - I’m panicking.”

Dean exhaled.

“Okay,” he said.

“Okay?” Cas said with astonishment. “You’re okay with that?”

Sam’s voice was in his ear. Dean, try to at least pretend that you’re paying attention. “I hear that you don’t feel comfortable with having sex with me because you don’t feel experienced enough,” Dean said.

“More or less. I do sound stupid, though, don’t I?” Cas said.

“I’m never going to agree with that,” Dean sighed, “because you aren’t stupid. But I am not going to try to argue with you about it, I’m just glad you told me.”

“Are you going to ask me to leave?” Cas asked.

“What? No,” Dean said. “You’re my partner.” He moved toward Cas and pulled him into a loose hug.

“I am?” Cas asked. “I am,” he said, with more emphasis.

“Yeah,” Dean said. Then, he murmured into Cas’s neck, “The last two years have been the best of my life.”

“Mine too,” Cas said softly.

“I want to ask a favour, if I can?” Dean said.

Cas nodded, his eyes huge.

“I want you to imagine that I’m so hung up on you that I decided that I’d be okay never having sex with you, just to be near you. Can you imagine that?”

Cas nodded.

“I want you to imagine that I would do pretty much anything you asked me, in bed or out of it.”

“Oh, Dean, that’s -”

“So then I want you to imagine that you don’t need to feel shy around me. I want you, and everything I am is yours.”

Cas pulled back and looked at Dean so intently he could feel his heart pounding. “Dean, I had no idea you feel this way.”

Dean pretended to shrug. “But if you want to believe I don’t want you, I can’t stop you. Anyway. I really liked sleeping in the same bed with you. Is that too much? Can I ask for that? It felt…” Dean stopped, not knowing what to say that didn’t sound ludicrously mushy.

“I know,” Cas said. “I liked it too. Or as much as I could with my head hurting so much.”

They stayed in each other’s arms, and most of Dean’s anxiety faded. He took a few deep, slow breaths, and allowed himself not to worry. Cas was solid and affectionate and his, and this and every other non-standard step they took into partnership was necessary, in order to make sure Cas felt okay in himself. Dean made himself feel patience, as he was holding Cas.

“Thank you,” Dean said, letting go. “That meant a lot to me.”

Cas was smiling, and Dean’s smile bloomed back at him.

“And can I have another favour?” Dean asked.

“I’m listening,” Cas said.

“What are we calling ourselves now? We know we’re more than roommates, but – ”

Cas’s voice was steady, and almost amused. “You said it already. We’re partners.”

“That’s good,” Dean said. “That’s fucking fantastic.”

 

Dean didn’t push Cas into sex. He didn’t nag or pout or belittle him. He practiced keeping his voice proud and level, introducing Cas, “This is my partner, Cas Novak,” and Cas learned not to grin like a toddler from the novelty, whenever Dean said it. Whatever they did during the day, however hard (or little) they worked, whatever shit life threw at them, there was a comforting body and a listening ear waiting for them at home, and gradually, Cas relaxed. He relaxed as Dean made himself comfortable around him, massaging (as he put it) Cas’s boundaries.

At night, they had each other. After a few days of Dean peacefully waiting for Cas to come to him, Cas woke up one morning, arm across Dean’s ribs, and thought to himself that he’d never been happier.

“I never wake up before you,” Cas whispered.

“You still haven’t,” Dean whispered back.

“You’ve been lying there awake?”

“I get to have you all to myself and I don’t have to talk. It’s perfect.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”

Dean spoke softly. His eyes were closed. “I like feeling completely peaceful. And loved. You said you loved me, but you throwing an arm across me in your sleep and hugging me is proof to me. I love you too and I love that you said it, but I really feel it in the way you treat me.”

“So – if I asked you to kiss me – would that be proof?”

Dean jerked.

He relaxed again, but his voice was guarded. “If you enjoyed it, that would be proof,” he said. “But babe, honest to God, my breath’s like dysentery and gum disease did shots all night long,” he said.

“Oh, Dean,” Cas said with distress and disgust.

Dean hurried it along. “I think the idea of kissing you is fantastic. You kissing me right this instant would be a mistake on a cosmic scale.”

Cas sounded no-nonsense. “We could always brush our teeth.”

“We could think of other things to do,” Dean said, sounding more wheedling.

“You’ve already got a list,” Cas said accusingly.

“Well, yeah, but I’m not the one with, you know, ’taste’ and ‘standards’,” Dean said.

“I can feel you making air quotes, so I know you’re mocking me,” Cas said.

“I am not mocking you, I’m borrowing your style,” Dean said virtuously. “You and I agreed to take things as slow as you’re comfortable with.”

“You’ve waited long enough,” Cas said. “I’ve waited long enough. Come brush your damned teeth. I’ve got some ideas of my own.”

 

…..45 minutes later

 

 

“So you’re telling me we could have been doing that at any point during the last two years,” Cas said. Dean rose to get a towel and a washcloth. His bare ass, crossing the room on his errand, rendered Cas shy and speechless and filled with wonder. Dean’s mischievously grinning face, as he returned, held all the promise of many more moments like the one they had just experienced.

Dean’s voice was sweeping in its sarcasm. “Well, no, because you were too noble to seduce me - fuck, think of the goddamn time we would have saved! And I’m such a dork I made a very wrong assumption about you and never had the sense to question it.”

Cas sounded smug. “I’m glad you accept your role in this terrible debacle.”

“I fucked up. I admit it.”

“And are we getting married, or do you want the milk without paying for the cow?”

Dean honked with laughter. “We have to get married if we’re planning on adopting.”

Cas said, stars in his eyes, “Oh, Dean.”

“Don’t look at me like that, I know you were thinking about it. But we’ll have to buy the house before we adopt, sorry. It’s a long term kinda plan.”

“Dean, you never planned a thing in your life.”

“With you in my life I won’t have to,” Dean said, as if that were a very great accomplishment.

Cas looked at Dean speculatively. “Do you ever think back to how we met?”

“All the time. I remember thinking that you were the only person I ever met who could make being stuck at an airport… okay. Better than okay. You made me want to be stuck with you.”

“And now you are. Stuck with me,” Cas said.

 

The smile said the rest.