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Grasp It, Sense It, Tremulous and Tender

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Alone in the tiny community theater, Dean vacuums the aisles. It’s a little past one a.m., and he’s falling asleep where he stands. Working at the garage all day and here at night—it has begun taking its toll.

A half hour later, Dean can finally flip off the vacuum cleaner. He ventures outside, shivering in the chill night air, and empties the bag into the dumpster. Then he returns to the theater and stows the vacuum cleaner in the storage closet.

He surveys the interior one last time. Just before he leaves, he hears a sound from behind the stage curtain. Like someone had dropped something. It had been his imagination, right? But it was loud.

He shuffles backstage and squints, examining the area through the dim light emanating from the auditorium.

“Hello?” he calls. “Anybody here?”

Nothing. Just as he’s about to leave the backstage section, he spots something lying on the ground.

A yellow pen, decorated with bees.

Huh. That’s weird. He knows it wasn’t there when he was sweeping back here.

He pockets it and locks up the theater.

xxxxxxxxxx

Dean forgets about the incident until, three weeks later, he catches sight of an apparition.

As he’s gathering trash from the front row, he spots someone standing on the far side of the theater, their face chalk white.

He’d thought everyone had gone home.

“Hey . . . ” Dean shouts, striding toward the figure, who quickly dashes out of sight. “Hey!” Dean repeats. “Who . . . what . . . ?”

He scours the building but can’t find the person anywhere. Perhaps he’d imagined them.

At the end of the night, when he tucks his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket, his fingers stumble upon the pen he’d picked up all those weeks ago.

On a whim, he leaves the pen in a backstage corner.

The next night, it’s gone.

One of the actors or stagehands might’ve taken it, but he suspects that’s not the case.

xxxxxxxxxx

Another week passes before Dean encounters the mysterious figure again.

He’s sweeping the wings, and when he whips around to move to the other side of the stage, he’s confronted by the eerie presence, now mere inches in front of him.

Startled, Dean jumps and babbles the first thing that pops into his head. “Hey, make some noise, would ya? Christ, you scared me.”

This close, Dean can discern that the stranger is probably a man. The man tilts his head to the side as if he cannot comprehend Dean’s words.

“Um . . . ” Dean vacillates, unsure of what to say. Instead, he settles on studying the individual before him. He’s wearing old scuffed-up black dress shoes and what appears to be a rumpled suit underneath a faded tan trench coat. He possesses a thick head of dark brown, almost black, hair. A white mask covers his entire face except for full, plush lips and a set of brilliant blue eyes. “So. What’s your name?” The guy remains silent. “I’m Dean.” He waits for a response, but the man still says nothing. “Um. Can you talk?” Dean swears he hears crickets chirping. Shit. Is he being insensitive? Maybe the guy is . . . “You deaf?” Yeah, good one, Winchester. Because if the dude is deaf, he would’ve heard the question.

The man shakes his head. Well, then. Dean breathes a sigh of relief. “So you just can’t talk, then?” The man neither confirms nor denies the assertion. They stare at each other for a few minutes. Jeez, this is getting awkward.

The man pulls out the pen Dean had left in the theatre last week, presses it to his lips, and grins before scurrying away.

Huh. Dean guesses that was supposed to be a thank you?

xxxxxxxxxx

Every night now, Dean looks for the masked man. He wants to unravel the enigma of him. Who is he? How does he get into the theatre? Is he living in the theatre? Why does he wear a mask?

Just as his curiosity is starting to drive him mad, he sees the guy again.

This time, the man approaches Dean, a chipped white mug in his hand. He extends his hand toward Dean, and Dean sees that the cup’s filled with coffee.

“Is that for me?” Dean asks.

The man nods. He looks like he wants to say something, but he doesn’t speak. Instead, he takes out a small notepad and the bee pen from one of his coat pockets, jotting down something before passing the pad to Dean.

You look tired.

Dean snorts. “Yeah. I am tired. Thanks.” When he accepts the mug, his fingertips brush the guy’s hand between his thumb and index finger. He feels a deep groove in the skin and glances at it, gaping at the innumerable scars crisscrossing the back of the man’s hand.

The man follows Dean’s gaze then yanks his hand back, stuffing it into his pocket. Dean wonders about the wounds, but he knows he shouldn’t pry. He’s just met the guy, after all.

“So. You got a name?” Dean ventures. The man shakes his head. “No?” He shakes his head again.

Dean’s attention migrates to the man’s eyes, which stand out starkly against the white mask. They seem so bleak and hopeless that Dean just wants to envelop him in a hug.

After he drains the mug, Dean passes it back to the man and thanks him once again.

Every night after that, the man brings coffee in the same chipped mug. Occasionally, rather than meeting with Dean, he’ll leave the mug on the edge of the stage.

xxxxxxxxxx

Two weeks pass before their interactions change.

Dean heads into the men’s bathroom to make sure he’s cleaned it adequately. There, he finds the masked man sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall with his knees tucked under his chin.

He’s weeping, forehead pressed to his knees.

Dean’s heart sinks at the sight.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Dean asks. The man flinches at the sound of Dean’s voice and raises his head, eyes wild. He leaps to his feet and scrawls something on his notepad. I’m sorry.

“Hey, it’s all right—” Dean tries to reassure him.

The man rushes toward the door, but Dean blocks his way. His shoulders quiver as he glares at Dean.

“Sorry, can’t let you go ’til I know you’re okay. What happened?”

Nothing, the man writes.

“Nothing? C’mon, you can tell me. I promise it’ll be just between us.”

I don’t want to talk about it.

Dean nods. “Okay. I can understand that.”

The man’s eyes water. I’m sorry.

“Hey, don’t apologize.”

I’m sorry. I should never have bothered you.

“You’re not botherin’ me.”

I’m too messed up for human interaction.

“No, I’m sure—”

Yes. I’m sorry to put this on you. He breaks into a fit of sobs again. Instinctively, Dean wraps his arms around the man and smooths a hand through his hair while he presses his face against Dean’s shoulder.

Dean doesn’t know how much time passes until the tears dry up. Eventually, the man extricates himself from Dean and jots down one last message.

Thank you. You’re very kind.

Dean’s face heats up at the compliment.

xxxxxxxxxx

After that, they resume dancing around each other. The man has taken to avoiding Dean almost all the time now, though he still leaves him coffee every night.

Maybe Dean should report him to the theater owners or at least tell someone else about him. But he doesn’t want to break whatever this spell is, the inexplicable pull he feels toward the man. Something about it feels sacred, and he doesn’t want to tarnish it by discussing it with anyone else.

One night, just as he’s about to leave the theater, he hears a voice behind him, raspy from disuse. “Hello, Dean.”

Dean knows exactly who the speaker is. He smiles and turns around to face the masked man. “So. You do talk.”

The guy swallows. He points at his chest and croaks, “Castiel.”

“Castiel? That your name?” The man nods. “Well. Nice to meet you, Cas.” He holds out his hand, and Cas stares at it distrustfully and shakes his head.

“No. Castiel.”

“Yeah, I heard ya, buddy. Just thought it was a mouthful. Sorry if I offended ya, Castiel.”

Castiel shakes his head. “No. Cas . . . fine.”

Okay, so Cas has minimal speaking capability, but perhaps that’s because it’s been a while. Dean keeps his hand extended, and after another moment of hesitation, Cas accepts. As Dean shakes his hand, he’s careful not to glance at his hands. He can feel the scars, like last time their hands touched, but he doesn’t want to scare Cas away when he’s finally opened his mouth.

Cas disappears after the handshake, and something occurs to Dean. The name Castiel sounds familiar, but he doesn’t know why.

As he watches Cas’s retreating figure, he realizes how thin the guy is. His baggy trench coat disguises his scrawniness somewhat, but it’s apparent upon closer examination. Has he been living in the theater? If so, for how long? Does he ever get anything to eat?

xxxxxxxxxx

The next night, after he’s sure everyone is gone (other than Cas, of course), he calls in for a pizza. Earlier, he’d stowed two Cokes in the theater kitchen’s fridge. After about twenty minutes, the pizza arrives, and Dean pays. He grabs the Cokes out of the fridge and carries them and the box of pizza to the stage.

“Cas!” he yells, hoping the dude’s near enough to hear him. Cas appears a minute later, brow wrinkled in confusion at the sight of Dean sitting cross-legged on the stage in front of the open pizza box. Dean waves a hand at him. “Sit down.” Cas follows the suggestion, and Dean points at the pizza and slides him a Coke. “Want some?”

Cas whips out the notebook and scrawls, I don’t wish to steal your food.

Okay, so maybe he isn’t ready to completely dispose of communicating via paper. That’s fine. Dean can wait. “No, man. I got it for us to share.”

“Really?” Cas rasps.

“Yeah.”

It will be hard to eat with this mask on.

“So. Take it off,” Dean advises.

No. Cas underlines the word three times. It’s hideous underneath.

Cas looks poised to flee, and Dean scrambles to think of something to calm him down. “Never mind,” he replies. “Just eat however you can with it on.”

“Okay.”                                              

Cas cracks open the Coke can and guzzles half of it in one gulp. Jeez, he must’ve been thirsty. Dean watches as Cas wolfs down half the pizza in mere minutes. He’d been right; Cas has been eating very little, if anything. His mask is smeared with pizza sauce, and Dean can’t help but laugh. Cas glowers at him. “What? Your face . . . um, mask . . . is covered in sauce . . . it’s funny.” Cas continues to scowl. God, why can’t the guy have a sense of humor? He passes a couple of napkins to Cas. “Here. Might wanna clean up.”

Cas scours his mask with a napkin, but he doesn’t get most of the sauce. Dean snatches up a napkin and cleans up the remainder of the mess. When he’s finished, he finds himself staring into Cas’s eyes, blue, entrancing . . .

“Dean,” Cas utters.

Dean draws back. “Oh. Yeah. Um.” He scoots back and rubs a hand over the back of his neck. “Sorry.”

I don’t mind.

Oh. This is awkward.

Dean bites into another slice of pizza.

xxxxxxxxx

They begin a new routine. When Dean’s at the theatre, he orders a late-night meal for himself and Castiel once he’s sure they’re alone. Sometimes he has it delivered; sometimes he picks it up. They make small talk, and gradually, Cas relies less and less on the notepad. Cas doesn’t share anything about himself, and Dean’s afraid to ask since he doesn’t want to scare him away.

One night, Dean struggles to complete his work, distracted by a fight he’d had with Sam hours earlier. Sam has this girlfriend, Ruby, who often gets in trouble with the law. Dean hates her. She’s a bad influence on his brother. Today, she’d been arrested for drug dealing, and Sam insisted on bailing her out.

“Let her rot, Sammy!” Dean urged.

“I can’t leave her all alone in jail, Dean,” Sam countered.

“She’s a no-good lowlife, but you’re too damn blind to see it.”

“Don’t talk about Ruby like that.”

“She’s gotta learn her lesson, Sammy, and she won’t do that if you’re always there to get her outta trouble.”

“She’s not a bad person, Dean. She’s just got some issues. They’ll get worse if I abandon her.”

“Bullshit.”

“Shut up,” Sam fumed, stomping out of Dean’s apartment.

Now, he breaks down, scared for Sammy. He’s found drugs in Sam’s apartment more than once. After confronting Sam the first time, with disastrous results, he hasn’t said anything. But he can’t just watch Sam deteriorate.

“Dean,” Cas ventures as he approaches. “What is wrong?”

Dean wipes his eyes. “Don’t worry ’bout it, Cas.”

“But I am worried, Dean. It hurts to see you so . . . distressed.”

“I’ll be fine.” Cas gives him a disbelieving look. “What?”

“Please tell me what’s wrong. I want to help you.”

“You can’t. No one can.”

“But you’ve done so much for me, Dean. You’ve been kind, and warm, when you’ve never even seen my face. And you don’t mind that I can’t . . . I can’t show it to you.” Damn if Cas doesn’t have the most effective puppy-dog eyes. “Please. Tell me. At the very least, I can listen.”

“Okay,” Dean sniffles. “It’s my brother. Sam. He’s got this bitch of a girlfriend. Drug addict, gets into all sorts of shit, and she . . . she’s dragging him down with her. But he won’t listen to me.”

“Oh, Dean. I’m sorry.”

“I just don’t know what to do.”

“Hmm. Perhaps you have to let him live his own life, Dean.”

Dean snorts. “You think I haven’t been told that before? Cas, how can I just stand by while someone I love is hurting themselves?”

“I understand. I have an idea. Does he have any other friends?”

“Yeah, but he’s kinda been distancing himself from them.”

“Hmm. Would he listen to any of them?”

“I don’t know . . . Yeah, maybe there’s one. Jessica. He really liked her, Cas. Like a lot. But she had a boyfriend, so he went after Ruby instead.”

“Had a boyfriend?”

“They broke up a little while ago.”

“Ah.”

“And she . . . I think she likes Sam, too, but she’s trying to respect his relationship with Ruby. She doesn’t know what they’ve been up to, though.”

“Why don’t you speak with her? Perhaps she can try talking to your brother. Sam.”

“I don’t know,” Dean sighs. He flashes a bleak smile. “But I’ll try anything.”

“Good luck.”

xxxxxxxxxx

Dean explains the situation to Jess, and she’s eager to help. She meets with Sam in a coffee shop and works her magic. The next time Ruby is arrested, Sam doesn’t pay her bail. He starts hanging out more with Jess.

“Cas,” Dean tells the masked man. “Sam listened to Jess. Your plan worked!”

Cas’s grin lights up the room. Dean can’t help but feel warm and fuzzy at the sight of it. He’s not sure if Cas has ever smiled before, not in earnest. He should do it more often.

“I’m glad to hear it, Dean.”

“Hey, wait here. I’ll be back.” Dean rushes to the car and grabs a case of beer he’d stowed in an icebox. When he returns, he holds it aloft. “Thought we should celebrate.” He tears open the box and cracks open a can. Cas looks at the case warily. “Take one, would ya?”

Cas tentatively accepts a beer and sips.

They drink and talk all night. About what, Dean doesn’t know, but eventually they both dissolve into a fit of giggles.

Cas’s laugh is a glorious sound.

xxxxxxxxxxx

“May I ask you something?” Cas inquires one night.

“Shoot,” Dean replies.

“Why . . . why have you told no one about me?”

Dean freezes with the bottle of Coke in his mouth. He lowers it and asks, “How d’you know I haven’t told anyone?”

“No one has attempted to run me out.”

Dean shrugs. “You’re not hurtin’ anyone, so why would I do that to ya?”

“Thank you,” Cas whispers.

“Now. Can I ask you a question?”

“Okay.”

“How long you been livin’ in here?”

Cas frowns. “I don’t know. I came here about a month before we met.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why are you living here?”

“I have nowhere else.”

“But don’t you miss, like, having a bed?”

“Yes. Of course. But I am not fit for society.”

Dean knows he’s referring to his appearance. Dean has a hard time believing someone so . . . genuine . . . could be as ugly as he claims, but it’s a touchy subject for Cas, so he doesn’t say anything.

“You wanna go home with me?” Dean offers.

“What?”

“I don’t have an extra bed, but I do have a couch. It’s gotta be more comfortable than this place.” What’s he doing? Is it weird to bring a guy home if you’ve never seen his face? Probably, but he feels like he knows Cas, and he likes him.

“No, Dean. But thank you.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

xxxxxxxxxx

Dean hasn’t seen Cas all night, and he’s worried. Cas wouldn’t leave without telling him first, right?

But the more time passes, the more nervous Dean grows.

“Cas!” Dean shouts into the void once he’s finished all his tasks. Still nothing.

“C’mon, Cas,” he tries again. “Where’re you? You’re scarin’ me, man.”

Where hasn’t he looked? There’s gotta be somewhere no one would go, or else why hasn’t anyone seen Cas but Dean?

Dean walks slowly around the building, running his hands over the walls and feeling like an idiot. He’s about to give up when—

Bingo.

The wall feels loose. His fingers trip over faint grooves, and he pushes open a hatch.

“Cas?” he calls. He steps inside.

Cas is laying on the floor on the far side of the nook, shivering, coat thrown over himself like a blanket.

“Cas!” Dean exclaims. “You all right?” He dashes over and slips a finger underneath the mask, attempting to discern if Cas has a fever. His skin is cool to the touch, however.

“Go away, Dean,” Cas pleads, eyes wide and petrified.

Instead, Dean falls to his knees beside him. “What is it, Cas? What happened?”

“Just go,” he begs again, huddling further into himself.

“No. Not till I know you’re all right.”

Cas barks a mirthless laugh. “I’ll never be all right. I’m sorry I dragged you into this. I should’ve . . . should’ve stayed away,” he wheezes. “But you were so beautiful; your eyes . . . something about you. I—I couldn’t resist.”

He sounds delirious, and Dean’s heart sinks. “Don’t talk like that, Cas.” He grasps his hand. “Let me help you. What’s going on?”

“Today is the day, Dean,” Cas exhales.

“What day?”

“The day that ruined me.”

“What?”

“The day he started turning me into a monster.”

Who? He knows enough not to ask, though.

“He made me . . . I’m so ugly that no one can look at me. Not even my family.” He has a family? They must be worried sick about him.

“C’mon, I bet it’s not that bad.”

“It is. You haven’t seen. If you had . . . you wouldn’t be here.”

Dean wants to prove him wrong. More than anything. He places his hands on both sides of Cas’s face. “Can I see?”

“You’ll be horrified.”

“No, I won’t.” He grasps the mask. “Let me?”

“I can’t stop you.”

“I won’t if you don’t want me to.”

Cas closes his eyes, and tears trickle onto the mask. “Get it over with,” he whispers.

Dean tugs off the mask, and he is horrified.

Not by Cas’s face, but by the fact that someone could do this to another person.

Scars mar his right cheek, and his left . . . it looks like someone had tried to chew it off. “Christ,” Dean gasps.

“I’m sorry,” Cas breathes. “I understand . . . you can leave now.”

“No, Cas, I’m not—open your eyes, Cas. Please?” After a moment, Cas reveals his brilliant blue orbs to him. “You’re not ugly. You’re beautiful.”

“Do not lie to me, Dean. I have seen my face.”

“You’re beautiful to me.” Your soul is beautiful.

He leans down and presses his lips to Cas’s, runs them over every scar, his eyes on Cas’s the whole time.

“Dean,” Cas sobs. “You’re here. You didn’t go.”

“No. Cas, I couldn’t do that.”

He reaches for Dean’s shoulders and grips them, sealing his lips to Dean’s. “Thank you.”

Dean runs his hands over Cas’s shoulders and back. He’s filled out some over these past few weeks, and he looks good. He remembers Cas’s scarred hands and wonders if the rest of his body bears similar wounds.

“Can I see all of you?” Dean asks.

“Yes. Okay.”

He strips Cas slowly, reverently, and Cas returns the favor. Scars cover his back, his chest, his arms and legs, abruptly stopping at the knee. Dean’s heart throbs at the knowledge of what Cas must’ve endured.

Heat builds between them, and every touch of skin to skin ignites the most intense pleasure Dean has felt in forever.

When there are no more barriers between them, he grinds his cock against Cas’s, and they come in tandem.

Once they regain their composure, Dean draws Cas to him, wrapping his arms around him and clasping his hands over his stomach.

He noses at Cas’s neck. “Mmm, Cas.” I love you, he wants to say, but that would be weird.

Hell, how did he fall in love with a dude in a mask? Cas would think he’s crazy if he knew. The whole world would think he’s crazy.

He drapes the trench coat over both their bodies and closes his eyes. No one else will be in the theater until tomorrow afternoon, and Dean has the day off at the garage.

He brushes his lips against Cas’s temple before he drifts off.

xxxxxxxxxx

Castiel Novak.

His name is Castiel Novak.

Dean recalls where he’s heard it now. In the news, it seems like ages ago.

He googles the name and discovers the incident Cas had referred to.

Four years ago, based on a tip, the police raided the home of one Alastair Heller in Indianapolis. They discovered he’d been the serial killer terrorizing the city for over three years. He kidnapped men between the ages of twenty-four and thirty-six, holding them prisoner for months and carving them up until no inch of their skin was unmarked. Then he killed them slowly, and ate them.

What a sick fuck. Like Jeffrey Dahmer.

The police found Castiel chained in the basement, where he’d been since he’d gone missing two months ago. He was barely alive, and only the bottom halves of his legs were unmarred.

Dean finds no pictures of Castiel after Alastair Heller had kidnapped him, but there are plenty of the former tax accountant before his harrowing ordeal. He’d been handsome, with prominent high cheekbones and the same disarming, shy smile.

His attitude bore no sign of the torment and self-revulsion he carries now.

Dean weeps at what this amazing man has experienced, how his innocence had been torn from him.

Three years ago, Castiel disappeared. For the trial, he’d left his family pictures of his injuries and a written account of his time in Heller’s lair. He’d also apologized for running away and explained that he couldn’t face the world anymore like this. One of them, Hannah, regularly posts on the Internet in an effort to find her brother. Some of his family members think he committed suicide, but a body has never been found.

Because Cas is still alive. Somehow, he’d been brought here, to Dean.

He’s alive, and he’s so strong for it.

xxxxxxxxxx

The next time Dean sees Cas, he’s wearing his mask again, bringing Dean coffee as if nothing happened last night.

“Cas,” Dean urges, “you can take that off.”

“I do not wish to subject you to my hideous face.”

“C’mon. I wanna see you—the real you.” He shuffles toward Cas and gently removes the mask. “I told you. You’re beautiful.” He pecks Cas on the lips and places the mask on the stage behind Cas. He grasps Cas’s shoulders, gazing into those gorgeous eyes. “I know what happened to you.”

Cas wrinkles his brow, and damn, but it’s cute. “What do you mean?”

Dean takes a step back. “Alastair Heller,” he mumbles.

Panic overtakes Cas’s face. “How?”

“The Internet.”

Cas leans back against the stage and hops on, legs dangling over the edge. “I never told you my last name.”

“I know.” Dean approaches Cas, stopping inches away, his body bookended by Cas’s legs. “But your name, it niggled at me. Then I remembered something I’d seen on the news and looked it up. Turned out I was right.” Dean swallows. “I’m sorry, Cas. I’m sorry for what happened to you.”

Cas closes his eyes, tears leaking from beneath his lids. “I don’t want your pity.”

“It’s not pity, Cas, it’s . . . ”

Cas’s eyes flutter open, and they’re so naked and vulnerable that they pierce Dean’s heart. “I wished I’d died, Dean. I still do.” He laughs bleakly. “They said I was lucky to survive. But sometimes I think the other victims were the lucky ones . . . they died. They don’t have to deal with this anymore.” He seems to shrink into himself. “I sound awful, I know.”

Dean threads his fingers through Cas’s. “No, Cas.” He understands. No doubt Cas’s worst scars aren’t physical. He strokes a thumb over Cas’s knuckles.

“I tried to end it all, you know. Several times.” Cas snorts. “But I’m a coward. I could never finish it.”

Dean kisses his hand. “’m glad you didn’t.”

Cas cocks his head to the side. “Sometimes I wonder if you are a figment of my imagination.”

Dean smiles. “No, I’m real, thank God.” He pauses, gathering the courage to mention what he wants to say next. “Listen. Your sister. Hannah,” he clarifies, remembering from the articles he’d read that Cas has two brothers and two sisters. “She’s been looking for you nonstop. D’ya think . . . maybe we should let her know you’re okay?”

“I’m not okay.”

Dean flushes. “Um, I mean. Tell her you’re . . . ”

“Not dead.”

“Yeah.”

Cas yanks his hand out of Dean’s grasp. “No.”

“No? Why not? She’s your sister, man.”

“You weren’t there when they, when they all looked at me; you didn’t see the disgust on their faces.”

“Cas—”

“I said no, Dean.” He stomps off, presumably to his alcove. Dean figures he should give him some space.

xxxxxxxxxx

Dean’s not sure whether he should respect Cas’s wishes. If he were in Hannah’s shoes and Sam had disappeared, he’d want to know that his brother was still alive. Even if it meant keeping away from him.

He navigates back to her website, notes the phone number she’d posted, and calls her.

“Hello?” a woman answers on the third ring.

“Hey, is this Hannah Novak?” Dean replies.

“Yes. May I ask who’s calling?”

“Dean Winchester. Um, you don’t know me, but I live in Lawrence, Kansas. I’ve seen your brother.”

“Castiel?” Hannah gasps.

“Yeah.”

“Listen, if this is another prank call—”

“What, no!”

Hannah sighs. “Forgive me. I’ve been receiving a lot of those lately.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Yes.” After a minute of silence, she asks, “Where have you seen him?”

“Here. In Lawrence.”

“I’m coming down there.”

“No, you can’t—”

“Why not?” she snaps.

“’Cause . . . Cas doesn’t know I’m calling.”

“Cas?”

“’s what I call him . . . anyway, I told him you were looking for him, and he said he didn’t want to see you. He was very clear about it.”

“Why?”

“Guess he’s . . . he’s scared. But if you just pop down here, he might not talk to me again. You don’t know how long it took for me to earn his trust. I think I’m the only person he’s talked to in years, and I don’t . . . I don’t think he should isolate himself again.”

“Okay. I understand. But I’m still coming down there. What’s your number? Let’s meet when I get there. You’re telling me more.”

xxxxxxxxxx

Dean meets Hannah at a coffee shop near her hotel. They shake hands, and after they’ve ordered their coffee, Hannah gets down to business. “Where did you see Castiel, exactly?”

“He’s been squatting at this little theater where I moonlight as a janitor,” Dean answers.

“And you talk to him regularly?”

“Yeah.”

“I want to see him.”

“I don’t think—”

“He’ll never agree to it, Dean. You’ll just have to take me there.”

“Okay, okay. But. Let’s be strategic about it, all right? I don’t wanna lose him.”

Hannah narrows her eyes, studying him. Dean squirms underneath her gaze. “How long have you been in love with him?”

Dean laughs uneasily. “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”

“Of course you do. It’s in your eyes, how they go softer when you mention him. And your protective demeanor.”

“The dude’s been through enough, okay? I’m not addin’ to it.”

Hannah’s eyes grow sad. “That he has,” she agrees. “Bring me to the theater next time you’re there. We’ll . . . we’ll make sure he doesn’t run away. Somehow.”

“Like what? I ain’t handcuffin’ him or anythin’ like that.”

“God, no. Just. Soften him up first.”

Dean snorts. “And how do you expect me to do that?”

“You’ll think of something.” She attempts a smile. “After all, you got him to talk to you. It’s the most human interaction he’s had in a long time.”

xxxxxxxxxx

Dean doesn’t know what he’s gonna say to Cas. Hannah’s waiting somewhere out of sight, and the last patrons and staff have filtered out.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas greets him, and wow. He doesn’t even have on the mask. Dean’s heart flips.

That’s it. He’s gotta tell Cas now, or he might not have another chance, not if he runs off when he sees Hannah.

“Cas. I have somethin’ to tell ya.”

Cas sits down in the front row and pats the seat next to him. Dean slips into it. “What is it, Dean?” Cas asks.

“I . . . I think . . . ’m in love with you, Cas.”

Cas’s mouth falls open. “No. You can’t be.”

“Why not?”

“Because. Look at me.”

“Y’think I care about that?” He grips Cas’s shoulders and pulls him close, smashing their lips together. “This isn’t fuckin’ charity,” Dean breathes when they pull back for air, their lips still sharing the same space. “It’s because I want it. Because I love you.”

“Dean . . . ” Cas whimpers. “I—I love you, too. Since you were so kind to me that day I broke down . . . but I can’t allow you to saddle yourself with me. That would be cruel.”

“No, letting you go just ’cause of appearances—that’d be cruel.” He slots their mouths together, pressing in as close as he can.

Hannah must take that as her cue. She strolls down the center aisle, calls, “Castiel?”

Cas jerks back from Dean and jumps to his feet, eyes ablaze. “You. You betrayed me,” he fumes at Dean.

God, he’s gonna lose Cas, isn’t he? “No, Cas. I’m sorry.” Dean’s eyes water. “She’s your sister—”

“Was this all a joke?”

“What, no! I love you, dammit!”

“Then why would you do this to me?”

“Because he loves you,” Hannah retorts. “He cares enough about you to do this even if it means losing you.”

“Hannah . . . I can’t do this.”

"I can’t lose you again.”

“You don’t want me.”

“What?”

“None of you do. I’m not stupid, Hannah. I saw how you all looked at me. The hatred, the revulsion, the . . . the everything.”

“Is that what you think, Castiel? Honestly?”

“I saw it.”

“God, Castiel. For someone so smart . . . you never disgusted me, Castiel. That motherfucker Alastair Heller, he’s the one who disgusts me. And the thought of what he did to you . . . and I can’t do anything about it,” she sobs. “I would murder him if I could.”

“What happened to him? Sometimes I wonder.”

She wipes her eyes. “Life in prison. Too good for him, if you ask me.” She strides toward Cas, and Cas doesn’t back away. He allows her to throw her arms around him, pull him close. “I love you, Castiel. Please don’t disappear again.” She weeps into his shoulder, and Cas soon breaks down, too.

“Hannah, I’m sorry I hurt you,” Cas says quietly.

Dean feels like an intruder now, and he’s about to go wait in the Impala when Cas shouts, “Dean. Wait.”

Dean turns around. “Yeah, Cas?”

He draws back from Hannah. “Thank you.”

“’Course.”

“Hannah. I’m not going back to Indianapolis with you.”

“But—but—” Hannah protests.

“I’m sorry. It’s too much.”

“But you can’t just stay here.”

“Come home with me, Cas,” Dean suggests before he can think through the idea.

Cas squints at him. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, Cas. Stay with me. Please.”

Cas contemplates the proposal for a few minutes before nodding. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Yes.”

Dean beams. “Awesome.”

Cas eyes Hannah. “I’ll keep in touch. I promise.”

“Thank you,” Hannah replies.

Cas stumbles, and Dean laughs, hoping to break the tension. “Y’look tired, Cas. Let’s go home.”

“All right.”

Dean slings his arm around Cas, and they follow Hannah out of the theater.

Maybe their relationship began unconventionally, and introducing Cas to his family and friends might be awkward.

But Dean doesn’t care, because it’s Cas. He’s never felt so strongly for someone before.

Deep down, he knows.

Castiel is the one.