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Looking for a Sign

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Dean stood on the train platform in the sweltering heat.  He could feel rivulets of sweat running down his back and adhering his dress shirt to his sticky skin.  His suit coat was folded over his arm, but he didn’t think he would be any more miserable with it on.  He raised his hand and then lowered it, barely refraining from tugging on his tie and collar again.  It was only seven o’clock in the morning which meant the day would get worse.  He was going to have to start getting up earlier and taking the six o’clock train; the humidity was more than he could bear.

The echoing whistle of the train alerted Dean to its approach and he shuffled out from the shade of the station awning with his fellow commuters.  They were spread out along the platform in bunches, waiting at the precise spot where the doors would be positioned when the train arrived.  There was only one other person standing with Dean.  He’d learned that the first car after the engine was usually the least crowded because it was inaccessible to the platform in the biggest station downtown where most people detrained.  Dean rode the train two stops farther and got off literally on the wrong side of the tracks.  It wasn’t a great neighborhood to work in, but work was work.  And he needed work.

The train glided slowly up to the platform, shooting out hot steamy air at the waiting passengers’ ankles.  It came to a stop with some mild clanking, and then the engine let out a slow, labored sigh.  The doors at the ends of the cars opened and Dean closed his eyes in pleasure when he was hit with a blast of cold air.  He hurried inside the train and chose to sit on one of the sideways benches at the front rather than in a traditional seat.  It allowed him to put his lunch on one side and his messenger bag on the other which created a small buffer between himself and the other passengers.  The bucket seats were so narrow he would rub elbows with even the tiniest person and the leg room was a joke.

The doors on the train closed with a quiet change of hydraulic pressure.  The car jolted slightly when the engine began to move, and then it sped up smoothly.  Dean glanced at his watch and repressed a sigh; now he had a fifty minute ride.  He leaned his head back on the wall and it tilted awkwardly to the side against the frame of the safety procedures poster.

He hated his job.  He hated his commute.  But he loved his brother and college was expensive.  Especially since they didn’t qualify for financial aid.  He didn’t want Sam to be buried by debt when he graduated—and the kid had already deferred for a year to work full time to save up money for food and textbooks— so they got as small a loan as possible and Dean was supplementing the rest the best he could.  He wondered what life might be like in an alternate universe where he could pay the bills by being a stripper or an escort.  He bet that was a lot more fun and lucrative than working in the mail room of an advertising firm.

He opened his eyes and looked around.  He was surprised to see someone sitting on the opposite bench in the corner.  Usually people didn’t start sitting here until the rest of the seats filled up.  He must have already been on the train though because Dean hadn’t seen him on the platform.  He would have noticed him if he had been.  The guy was very attractive, but Dean wouldn’t call him cute or handsome.  He was closer to beautiful, but Dean’s brain didn’t like that term because the man was so very masculine.  He was well aware that men could be referred to as beautiful—hell, he often was to referred to as such—but for some reason it just felt weird to call him pretty or beautiful.  He’d stick with attractive.  Really attractive.

His dark hair and dark suit made him look paler than he probably was, or maybe it was the gross fluorescent lights of the train, but he liked that look in men.  Most of the women he dated had mocha or caramel skin and big dark eyes.  With men he tended to gravitate more to pale skin and bright eyes.  Probably because marks showed up better on lighter skin and he liked marking the men he’d been with.  But not the women.  He wondered if that was some sort of weird psychological thing.

The man’s eyes flicked up and over to Dean, and then returned to the book he was reading.  Even from five feet away Dean could see the guy’s bright blue eyes.  Man, this dude was hitting all of Dean’s buttons: attractive, dark hair, pale skin, bright eyes, and reading a Larry McMurty novel.  A man who loved Westerns was a man who—well, he was a man Dean could talk to about Westerns.

“So what do you think so far?” Dean asked, his voice startling himself a bit because he hadn’t been aware he was even going to ask the question.

The other man didn’t look up.  The moving train was a little loud, so maybe he hadn’t heard Dean.  Dean knew he could use the opportunity to let his awkwardness slink off unnoticed, or he could try to come up with something better to say.

“Do you like it so far?” he asked, a little louder.  And oh yes, that was a much better question.

The man didn’t respond right away.  He did glance up, but like he was trying to check to see what Dean was doing and not because he wanted to engage him.  He flinched when he got caught looking.  Dean smiled and nodded in his direction.

“I like all four,” Dean said, wiping the lingering layer of sweat from his upper lip with his fingers.  “But I like Lonesome Dove the best.  Have you read Dead Man’s Walk?  I thought the end was a little ridiculous.  Kind of ruined everything.”

The man just stared at him.  Dean felt that weird social anxiety worm squirm in his stomach.  He wasn’t usually prone to attacks from the creature, but being completely ignored while simultaneously being focused on by a dude on a train was an odd situation.  Dean didn’t know if he should say something else or put his eyes forward and stare awkwardly at the wall.  For some reason he opted to stare awkwardly back at the guy.  It was possible a full twenty seconds of silence and staring passed.

“Um.”  Dean waved a hand generally in the book’s direction.  “Do you like it?”

The man looked down at the book in his hands, and then held it up a bit in acknowledgement as he gave Dean a wan smile.  Then he focused on his book.  Dean watched him for a few more moments and then faced forward with a muttered, “Well good fucking morning to you too.”  Dean cut his eyes over to see if the man responded to his grumbling.  He didn’t react at all.  Dean reached into his messenger bag and pulled out his ancient iPod.  He attached the headphones and turned the volume up to hear it over the rattling train.  He ignored the guy after that aside from an occasional glance in his direction.  One time he caught the guy looking back, but he quickly looked away again.  Juvenile.

The man got off at the stop before the main terminal downtown.  Dean exhaled a long breath slowly.  He hadn’t even realized he’d been tense until the guy left the car.  He definitely needed to take the earlier train from now on so that he could avoid the heat and the asshole.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Castiel stepped off the train and stuffed his book into his briefcase.  He immediately put his eyes back up to keep him aware of his surroundings.  People moved so fast in the mornings with their noses buried in their phones because they could rely somewhat on their hearing to give them awareness of their environment.  Of course, there were enough videos on YouTube to prove that being hearing didn’t stop people from running into walls, into fountains, and in front of oncoming traffic if they weren’t paying attention to what was going on.  Hearing people were so annoying.

Like the guy on the train.  Yeah, fine, the gorgeous guy on the train.  But he’d kept talking with his hand in front of his mouth.  How the hell was he supposed to understand him?  Castiel thought he might have been referring to the book he was reading, but it was too damn early in the morning to try to read someone’s lips behind their fingers.  Although, was it too damn early to be nice to the gorgeous guy on the train?

Castiel frowned.  He didn’t date hearing people, so it didn’t matter if he was nice to him or not.  He didn’t need any more friends either.  Three was more than enough, especially when two of them couldn’t stand the third.

Castiel entered the foyer of the squat, concrete building sandwiched between two metal and glass skyscrapers.  Oh how developers would love to get their hands on the lot of the eyesore, but no one felt comfortable using the usual pressure tactics on the “handicapped.”  It was the kind of attitude the deaf community hated, but sometimes it could be used to their advantage.  The Deaf Community Outreach had occupied the same space for over thirty years, and they weren’t going anywhere.

The elevator lurched unsteadily under Castiel’s feet and he worked to steady his alarmed heart like he did every morning.  Quite possibly nobody in the DCO would be going anywhere if their elevator broke down on them.  The only set of stairs was wired with an emergency alarm.  The employees of course wouldn’t care if the alarm sounded all day, but the wire was set to automatically trigger an emergency call to the local fire department.  The elevator was the only option to get upstairs.

He passed the second floor where people went to get information about and make requests for their services.  The third floor was where they planned and organized their services.  Everything from finding resources and funding for service animals to connecting people in the deaf community with each other to planning mission trips to third world countries to fit underprivileged children with hearing aids.  Those were the fun services.  The less fun services included supplying interpreters for court proceedings and filing lawsuits against schools and businesses that didn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

By the time the elevator finally clawed its way to the third floor, Castiel already had a list of tasks in mind of what he needed to get done.  When the doors opened and he saw Meg’s amused smirk, he knew he wasn’t going to get any of it done.  He held up a finger as he stepped off the elevator to prevent Meg from starting in on him before he even got to his desk.

“Ten minutes,” she said, not bothering to sign.

Castiel frowned at her back as she walked over to her desk.  Meg was hearing and she had been asked on several occasions to always sign while she was at work, even when speaking with people who were proficient at lip reading like Castiel.  Castiel was definitely the exception and not the rule, and even he only caught about fifty to seventy percent of what people were saying—when he was facing them directly and they were speaking slowly.

Irritated that his Monday morning was already off to such an inauspicious start he merely nodded at Muriel’s sign for coffee.  He walked into his office and sat down at his desk suddenly wishing he’d called in sick.  A couple of minutes later Muriel brought him a cappuccino from the fancy machine that was the office’s one luxury splurge.  He normally drank regular coffee, but Muriel must have assumed he needed a little pampering.  Which meant his behavior was a little embarrassing and unprofessional this morning.  He signed his thanks and she left him alone.  As the seven year old laptop on his desk went through its usual ten minute start up process, movement in the corner of his eye got his attention.  He turned and saw Gabriel Milton standing in the doorway.

“We have to get the draft finalized and sent in today if we want a shot at that grant money,” Gabriel said as he signed.

Gabriel had been hearing until he’d gotten to high school and the genetic degenerative disorder that rendered half his family deaf had caught up to him.  He always chose to speak aloud even around deaf people because he wanted to keep in practice.  Hearing people could understand him perfectly.  They didn’t get that uncomfortable, confused look on their faces like they did when Castiel spoke.  It was one of the main reasons Castiel could count on one hand the number of times he’d ever vocalized anything.  There was no point to it.

-I finished it last Friday-  Castiel signed.  –It should be on Hannah’s desk ready for her to mail.-

“I asked her about it.  She says she doesn’t have it.”

Castiel sighed.  –I’ll print out another copy and then walk it down to the FedEx place myself.-

“Ever the consummate C-O-O.”

-And what is our C-M-O up to?-  Castiel signed as dryly as possible.

“Chiefly marketing things.  Of course.”

Castiel kept his unamused expression in place.  Gabriel smiled.

“You need to get laid, my friend,” Gabriel said.  He didn’t sign it, but Castiel caught it.

-Maybe you need to stop getting laid.  Take things more seriously for once.-

Gabriel pretended to consider Castiel’s words, and then said, “No.  I think I’d like to enjoy my life while I live it rather than suffer through it.”

Gabriel gave him a wink and a mock salute and then disappeared from the doorframe.  Castiel was struck by how profoundly Gabriel’s words affected him.  Enjoy his life rather than suffer through it.  What a novel concept.  Maybe if train guy tried to speak to him again, he’d at least be polite.

 ~~~

It was seven o’clock on a Wednesday morning and Dean was sweltering in the oppressive heat on the train platform.  He’d caught the six o’clock train yesterday morning and decided it wasn’t worth the effort of getting up so early.  It wasn’t the heat, it was the humidity, and that didn’t change with the rising and setting of the sun.  Plus it was just hotter on the commute home.

He was the only one to board the first car that morning and got himself settled on his seat in his usual spot.  He pulled his travel mug of coffee out of his bag and took a sip.  He paused mid sip as he saw that hot asshole guy was in the same seat he had been on Monday.  The coffee stayed too long on his tongue and he swallowed it down quickly and let out a small hiss of pain as he tried to wag his burned tongue around to dispel the pain.  He heard a huff of amusement and looked up to see hot asshole guy focused on his book—but he was smiling.

“Oh, it’s funny is it?” Dean asked and turned to his bag to look for his bottled water.  “At least I was able to amuse you in some way.  Good to know you’re not some animatronics thing.”  He found the bottle and took a sip.  He turned back to look at the guy.

He was staring at his book again, looking totally blank.

“You’re not an animatronics thing, right?” Dean asked.

The guy didn’t move.  Didn’t even blink.

“Even animatronics blink.”

Dean watched him carefully, counting the seconds it took for the guy to blink.  Suddenly he looked up at him.  Dean started and splashed water on himself.  The guy’s lips curved up in another smile, but his expression was not one of “Aw, how cute is this clumsy guy?” but more of an “Aw, look how hard this special needs child is trying.”

Dean used his hand to wipe the water off his chin.  “You a fan of liquids dripping off a guy’s face?” he asked, wanting to figure out quickly if the guy was into dudes.  Or at least not offended by the thought.

The man stared at him blankly for a moment, and then smiled and nodded as he held up the book again.  Dean tilted his head in confusion.  He didn’t remember anything like that happening in the gritty Western.  The man suddenly looked embarrassed and actually lifted the book up so that it was covering his face as he read.  He managed to stay like that for ten minutes before he finally lowered his arms to a more comfortable position.  By that time Dean had taken the hint though and was listening to his iPod and staring at the opposite wall.  There was a poster advertising the city’s women’s professional soccer team.  He didn’t even know they had a women’s professional soccer team.

At the stop before the downtown hub, the man quickly put his book up and stood by the door before the train came to a full stop.  Clearly he was anxious to get off the train.  Maybe he’d finally understood what Dean had said and was disgusted.  Good riddance then.  He glanced back at Dean just as the door slid open.  Dean gave him a suggestive smile and waggled his fingers at him.  Rather than scoffing or making a face, the man gave him a tentative smile in return and disguised his reflex to wave back as running a hand through his hair.  Then he scurried down off the train.  Dean hummed to himself.  Interesting.

 ~~~

Castiel rolled his eyes up into his head and didn’t even care if he ran into anybody.  That was why he didn’t try to engage with hearing people.  He’d only done it because he’d been happily surprised to see the man again after he didn’t appear on Tuesday.  He thought there would be nothing wrong with being nice to the guy.  Maybe he liked Larry McMurty.

However, the stranger seemed incapable of pointing those pretty, pouty lips in his direction.  He kept looking away when he talked or wiping his hands over his mouth.  Castiel had taken a shot in the dark that maybe the guy had asked about the book again.  His confused expression and head tilt clearly indicated that Castiel’s response was a weird one to whatever he had said.  It would be better if they just abided by the unwritten rules of Commutership: I can see you, but I’m going to pretend like I don’t.

Castiel still felt mortified as he entered the DCO building and couldn’t even be bothered to be concerned when the elevator shuddered hard before finally beginning its ascent.  He acknowledged Muriel on his way to his office, but no one else.  He just wanted to bury himself in work and forget about the stranger.  Hopefully he would not be on his train tomorrow.  Or he would sit in a different car.  He could always sit in a different car, Castiel realized, but the first one let him out right by the station exit.  He set to work immediately and decided not to think about it anymore.

But the smile and wave the man had given him when he’d gotten off the train…Castiel tapped a pen on his chin.  It had seemed a little sarcastic, and yet it had been a little suggestive.  Did Train Guy like him?  Castiel shook himself.  It didn’t matter.  He didn’t date hearing people.  He was definitely not going to think about it anymore.

Half an hour later, Castiel was still thinking about it.  His thoughts only strayed when he felt the floor vibrate under his feet.  Confused, he walked to his office door and peeked his head out.  The fifteen people who sat at the islands of computers were various shades of red and looking very uncomfortable.  Some had their hands over their mouths and a few were clustered in a corner, having abandoned their desks.  Castiel looked over at Gabriel who had just poked his head out of his office.  He shrugged in Castiel’s direction.

Clearly some sort of fight had taken place in the front room.  Despite having his door wide open, Castiel hadn’t been aware of it at all until someone must have slammed a door hard enough to shake the floor.  He looked around the still stunned faces of his team.

-What happened?- he signed.

No one said anything.  Castiel signed it again, his hand movements harder and sharper.

“It was…” Meg began talking and Castiel couldn’t catch the name she said.

-Sign!  How many times do I have to ask you?-

Meg signed clumsily as she spoke, but Castiel could follow along.  “It was Alistair Damian.  He said that the interpreter we sent for his stepdaughter’s trial fucked up and that’s why she was found guilty.  He threatened to sue us.  And he also said that he would kill the interpreter if he ever saw her again.”

Castiel swallowed.  He’d met Alistair Damian a couple of times, and every time he felt physically uncomfortable and unsafe around him.  He could only imagine what the man would be like in a rage and realized that his staff wasn’t so much upset as terrified.  Gabriel moved to stand near him, but at enough of an angle that he could still see his hands.

“Who was the interpreter assigned to her case?” Gabriel asked Meg.

“Claire Novak.”

-Claire?!- Castiel signed her name sign: braid, but with a C instead of an R.  –Why was she assigned to the case of a drug dealer?-

“Ruby Damian is only eighteen.  We thought they could relate.  And it’s just interpreting.  She doesn’t make any decisions or play a part in the court proceedings.  It’s no different than being a stenographer.”

-Where is she now?- Castiel demanded.

Meg looked behind her at the others, silently asking them for help.

-I think she’s in class. - Ambriel signed.

-Someone get me her contact info.  And call the police.  We need to report the threat.-

Castiel started to head back toward his office and nodded his head at Gabriel for him to follow.  Today was going to be a nightmare.

 ~~~

Dean stepped onto the train determined to find out today if Hot Asshole was actually Hot Awkward But Actually Nice Guy.  He was tempted to glance over at the corner as soon as he boarded, but he managed to get himself situated in his usual spot first.  He didn’t want to appear too eager.  The guy was there, but he was concentrating very hard on his phone with a frown and deeply furrowed brow.  His finger slid quickly and precisely over the screen.  He must be texting.

Dean waited for nearly twenty minutes for the guy to get off his phone, but he seemed thoroughly preoccupied with whatever was putting him in such a bad mood.  Finally, Dean cleared his throat.  The man didn’t respond.  Dean tried again.  Nothing.

“Is everything okay?” Dean asked loudly.

“Just fine.  How about you?”

Dean started when the conductor responded; he hadn’t seen the man come in.  He nodded politely and displayed his monthly pass.  The conductor glanced at the ticket hanging from the lanyard around Hot Asshole’s neck, and then moved on to the next car.  Hot Asshole glanced up to watch him go and then looked at Dean.  He returned his attention to his phone, but did a double take back at Dean.  He stared at him helplessly for a moment.

“Is everything okay?” Dean asked, and then looked down at the man’s phone.

His eyes followed Dean’s, and then he looked back up.  He shrugged.

“Work?” Dean asked.

The man half-shrugged, half-nodded.  Dean nodded in return.

“Yeah.  Been there.  Well, not my current job.  It’s not like things can go horribly wrong in the mail room.  We’re not even responsible for real mail; just internal stuff, so no drama from missed deadlines or whatever.  I used to work on cars though, and sometimes when one thing went wrong, everything went wrong.  Still liked it though.  But everybody’s cars now have computers and shit in them.  I worked for my uncle part time and he mostly took in junkers, so I never learned how to work on the new models.  When I went looking for full time work no one wanted to pay someone full salary when they still had to train the guy up like he’s a newb.  Plus I needed benefits, so…”

Dean stopped rambling.  He wasn’t really appalled by how much he’d shared, but he felt incredibly uncomfortable with the look the man was giving him.  He was concentrating on him very hard and looked like he was severely constipated.

“Where did I lose you?” Dean asked.  “Mechanic?  Too blue collar for you?”

The guy blinked and sat back and checked his collar.  Dean raised an eyebrow.  The hell?  The guy stopped fiddling with his collar and looked annoyed.  He turned his attention back to his phone and Dean didn’t try to engage him again.  Clearly he didn’t want to be bothered.  He supposed Hot Asshole really was just an asshole.  That didn’t mean there couldn’t be a really hot one night stand in their future.  Dean was about ninety percent sure the guy was into dudes—mostly due to a feeling he had and no actual evidence—but was he open to a hand job in the train’s cubicle bathroom?  They could do it every morning as an alternative to coffee.

Dean laughed out loud and rubbed his hand over his forehead, kind of embarrassed by his own thoughts.  Maybe he should start bringing a book to read on the train because his imagination clearly needed something to keep it occupied.  He dropped his hand and looked over at the man.  He was staring at him.  Dean stared back, not intimidated.  The match went on and on, neither conceding nor, Dean thought, feeling self-conscious.  The guy’s phone began to chime repeatedly, but he ignored it.  Eventually Dean glanced down at the phone and back up.

“Weren’t you doing something important?” he asked.

The man looked down at the phone and his fierce scowl returned.  His fingers zipped over the screen in another bout of rapid texting.  Dean sighed.  Maybe he shouldn’t have reminded the guy of his phone.  He was so absorbed he almost missed his stop and had to run off in such a hurry Dean didn’t get a chance to wave goodbye to him.  He wasn’t quite sure why he was so obsessed with the guy.  Maybe it was because he’d shown some interest, but was also incredibly good at ignoring Dean.  Not everyone necessarily liked or desired him, but nobody could ignore him.  He’d learned that an early age.  He didn’t blend into a crowd simply because he was too good looking.  In some people that kind of thinking might be gross narcissism, but more than one person had actually said that to his face.  He was just repeating facts.

The train moved on, bringing him closer to another day in the mailroom of Adler Advertising.  He groaned softly and slumped in his seat.  If he really was that attractive, why wasn’t he doing the earn money for Sam’s college as a stripper thing again?  Surely being covered in glitter and trussed up in a G-string on a pole had more dignity than being bossed around by a twenty-two year old on the proper way to organize his push cart.  Dean sighed dramatically again.  Why didn’t Hot Asshole like him?  He supposed having a mystery to solve would give him something to look forward to in the mornings.

 ~~~

Castiel didn’t have time to be distracted by Train Guy today.  Claire had been found safe and sound the day before and Alistair had been reported to the police, but there wasn’t much they could do about it.  They couldn’t really charge Alistair with anything as his threat had been much vaguer than his staff had led him to believe.  Neither could the police put Claire under permanent watch.  Castiel had requested to meet with Alistair in person in order to discuss the matter.  Everyone at the office thought he was crazy to try, but Castiel found that almost any problem could be resolved if people sat down and talked it out rather than continuing to labor under misunderstandings and misinformation.

Alistair was…decent-ish at ASL as he needed it to communicate with his stepdaughter, but Castiel was going to bring Hannah along just in case.  She was hearing and better at sign language than some deaf people he knew.  She was also less likely to lose her temper and cause trouble than Meg. They were meeting at a coffee shop near the DCO offices and he was running late.  He would have been on time if he’d taken an earlier train.  Now why hadn’t he tried harder to take the earlier train?  He ignored the snarky inner monologue and weaved expertly along the crowded sidewalks until he reached his destination, Cups and Crullers.  He wasn’t certain, but he thought the name was meant to be a play on “cops and robbers” as the proprietors were a couple of retired police detectives.  He also wasn’t certain on the status of the relationship between the two ladies, but he was fairly certain they were romantically involved.

Inside the shop smelled like coffee and warm sugar.  If he were given a magical wand that could make him hearing but he had to give up his sense of smell—he’d give the wand back.  In fact, he didn’t think he’d trade hearing for any other sense.  Of course he had no idea what hearing was like, so perhaps saying that he didn’t care about something he’d never had didn’t mean much.  He should ask Gabriel if he would trade another sense to have his hearing back.

Castiel bypassed the counter as he saw Hannah, Alistair, and a young woman already seated at a table.  He hurried over to them and signed his apologies for his tardiness.  Hannah started to interpret for Alistair, but he snappishly cut off her by signing that he understood.  The young woman was introduced as Ruby, the one at the center of the ruckus.  He was a little surprised to see her in person until it was explained that even though she’d been convicted on the drug charges, she’d only been given probation and community service.  Alistair sat in stony silence while Ruby explained that her stepfather had made his tirade before the actual sentencing, so he’d assumed she would be going to jail.  Castiel was tempted to point out that even if she had received jail time, his actions were still inappropriate.

-Claire was great,- Ruby signed.  –I appreciate everything she did for me during the trial.  She, of course, was in no way responsible for the outcome of the trial.  I trusted her to interpret for me.  You’re lucky to have her as an employee.  And my stepfather has something to say.-

Ruby looked at her stepfather and then gave him a warning look with her expression.  The man rolled his eyes, but made a rough approximation of “sorry” in ASL.  Ruby looked up, but didn’t quite roll her eyes.  She turned back to Castiel with a decent effort at a smile.

-Please let Claire know that she is perfectly safe.  It was just a misunderstanding and a bad temper.-

Alistair glanced at her hands and then started talking.  His lips didn’t move much when he spoke and Castiel had been told by others that the man sounded really weird, so it was no surprise that Castiel couldn’t read his lips.  From his posture and the fact that people at other tables were trying to discreetly glance their way, Castiel gathered that he was either saying something inappropriate or had raised his voice.  He glanced at Hannah.  She quickly signed that Alistair was berating his stepdaughter for saying he had a bad temper.  Ruby was completely deaf and unless she had learned to recognize the micro movements of her stepfather’s mouth, she probably had no idea what he was saying either.  Castiel felt bad for the young woman.

Finally the irate man turned to Hannah and she signed quickly, trying to keep Castiel in the loop of what was being said.

“Are we done here?  Your girl is fine.  There’s no need for the police.  This has been a huge waste of my time.  It was a waste of the police’s time.  Obviously there was never a real threat.  Stow your theatrics.  Ruby, let’s go.  You’re going to be late for your community service.”

With that Alistair stood and stalked toward the door.  Ruby quickly apologized again and signed thank you.  She picked up her coffee and her half-eaten bagel and then hurried after her stepfather.  Castiel sighed and shook his head.

-I feel sorry for her,- he signed.

Hannah nodded in agreement.

Castiel chuckled and for some reason signed, -I can’t believe I blew off Train Guy for this.-

He reached down to pick up his bag, and looked at Hannah when she tapped his arm for his attention.

“Who’s Train Guy?” she spoke as she signed.

Castiel shook his head, totally pulling off nonchalant.  –No one.-

Hannah’s smile turned knowing and she held onto his arm to keep him from trying to stand up.

-Who’s Train Guy?-  She stopped speaking out loud.  She gave him a raised eyebrow and an expectant look.

Castiel made a face, but capitulated without a fight.  –Cute guy who rides the same train as me.  No big deal.  I don’t even know his name.  He’s just aesthetically pleasing.-

-Yeah?  And?-

-And what?-

-Are you going to talk to him?-

‘No.  He’s just nice to look at.-

Hannah made an exasperated face.  –He could be nice to talk to too.  He could be nice to date.-

Castiel looked away and pretended to be busy with his bag.  Finally he glanced at her and signed, -He’s hearing.-

Hannah threw her hands up.  Literally.  Then she tapped him roughly to make him look at her.

-So what?  Castiel, you have to get over this prejudice you have against hearing people.-

-I do not have a prejudice against hearing people.  I have a dating preference, which is completely legitimate.-

Hannah waffled a hand in the air.  –Not really.  And Castiel, come on.  Ninety-five percent of the population of the entire planet is hearing.  Do you know how much that limits your dating pool if you only date deaf people?  And on top of that you have to find a gay deaf person?  I don’t know what percentage of the world is gay—

-It’s never been reliably quantified.-

-Whatever.  It’s less than straight men.  Now take the percentage of gay, deaf men who live within fifty miles of you—and tell me again why you’re single halfway through your thirties?-

-I’m 31!- he signed indignantly.  -There’s nothing wrong with being single in your thirties.  Not everyone defines their life by the ideal of having a partner to share it with.-

-Very true, but you do.  You want to get married.  You want a family.  It’s in you.  It may not be in everybody, but it’s in you.  And you’ll never get it if you don’t open yourself up to possibilities like Train Guy.-

-Train Guy could be a douche hole!-

-And he could be perfect.  But I guess we’ll never know.-

She gave him a melodramatically heaved sigh and stood up.  Castiel grumbled internally and collected his bag.  He told Hannah to head on to the office without him because he was going to buy a latte.  She looked like she wanted to lecture him a little more, but left without argument.  As Castiel stood in line, he wondered if it would really be awful if he tried to communicate with Train Guy.  It wasn’t like he had to date him just because he talked to him.  There was nothing wrong with talking to hearing people.  Usually.  He did find most of them to be jackasses in some way, but maybe Train Guy would surprise him.

 ~~~

Two weeks later and Hot Asshole no longer even bothered to get his book out of his satchel.  He just sat in his corner with his arms and legs crossed and stared at Dean with amusement.  Dean threw everything he could at the guy: humor, empathy, vulgarity, politics (a bit redundant), television, movies, music, sports, childhood stories, complaining about work, complaining about the train, complaining about the heat, flirting, bro-talk—he even resorted to cat videos on YouTube.  For almost the entirety of the fifty minutes they shared time and space on their morning commute, Hot Asshole wouldn’t respond with a single word.  All he did was stare at him; sometimes he squinted a bit and seemed to be concentrating really hard—and if Dean wasn’t crazy he was zeroing in on his lips—but he never replied with a story of his own or a comment on Dean’s.  He never he even told him shut up although he could tell he annoyed the other commuters who got on the train later.  Often times they moved farther into the car, leaving the two of them alone.

It was frustrating, and yet Dean actually started looking forward to commuting in the morning.  He’d never been able to talk to someone so freely before.  He prided himself on having a “don’t give a shit what people think” attitude, but his psyche just didn’t back that up.  He was pretty sure he overanalyzed every action and comment other people made—just like everybody else.  He was just better at hiding it than most people.

Hot Asshole, however, seemed to legitimately not give or shit—or even two—about what the world around him was doing or thinking.  It was kind of impressive—and impressive, dark hair, bright-eyed, handsome men were now becoming a kink for him.  When his mind started to wander while he was at work, it often drifted into dirty fantasies revolving centrally around Hot Asshole.  And because that sentence made him giggle when he thought about it, he considered renaming Hot Asshole something like Hot Commute Guy or Steve.  Unfortunately, Dean couldn’t make a new name stick.  After all, Hot Asshole was how he ‘met’ him.  He wondered if he ever learned the guy’s real name if he’d be able to make the switch.  Probably not.

“So,” Dean said, looking Hot Asshole straight in the eye.  “Do you really have nothing to say, or am I just so hot that your brain can’t function around me?”

The man stared blankly for a moment, and then his lips quirked up.  He was laughing.  Not out loud, no, but Dean could tell he was laughing on the inside.  He could see it in his eyes.  Dean smiled at him, pleased that he’d amused the man in some way.  It felt like a strange victory.

“You know you can tell me to stop talking and I will.”

The man shook his head, still sort of smiling.

“No…you don’t want me to stop talking, or no you don’t think I will stop talking?”

Hot Asshole full on smiled.  Geez, he was adorable.  The man nodded.

“It wasn’t a yes or no question.”

The man shrugged one shoulder as the train began to decelerate as it approached the next stop.  The man hooked the strap of his satchel over his shoulder and prepared to detrain.  Dean sighed and slumped into his seat.  He thought he’d finally been getting somewhere.  Even if the man thought he was on par with a trained seal performing amusing tricks, at least he was acknowledging that he found him entertaining now.  Truthfully Dean should be insulted, but he wasn’t so there was no sense being upset over the fact that he wasn’t.

A couple of people trickled into the front of the car to line up behind Hot Asshole at the door.  The train came to a stop and the doors slid open.  Hot Asshole glanced over his shoulder at Dean.  He gave him a little smile before he stepped down onto the platform and out of sight.

That smile was floating in front of Dean’s vision like he’d stared at the sun too long.  Why was he continuing to play this game?  He should just go talk to him properly and introduce himself.  He sat up straight and fingered his bag as he contemplated dashing off the train.  The warning bell sounded indicated the doors were about to close.  Well, maybe he could try on Monday…

 ~~~

Castiel grinned as he walked down the platform.  Train Guy was so amusing.  It was like watching a small child present his macaroni art for placement on the coveted refrigerator door.  Castiel felt a little bad for just staring at the guy while he rambled for nearly an hour every day, but quite frankly the guy seemed to enjoy it.  Hell, maybe he thought he was getting free therapy or something.

Two weeks ago Castiel had intended to speak to the man, or at least convey why he hadn’t responded to him before.  However, from the moment he’d sat down, Train Guy had started talking and talking and talking.  He’d gesticulated with his hands so often that Castiel thought if he raised his own hands to try to sign anything to him he’d think he was just making hand movements.  He’d typed out “I’m deaf, you nitwit” on his phone, but then decided that was too harsh.  He’d switched between watching the man and trying to find another way to phrase his message: I’m deaf, dummy; I can’t hear you, genius; you’re not the most observant person on the planet, are you, pal?  But he really didn’t want to be a jerk to Train Guy.  He had a nice smile and seemed friendly; Castiel could play nice.  He’d just decided to simply show him “I’m deaf” when he finally caught some words from the shape of his mouth.  The man had said, “You should know; you’re really hot.”

Castiel wasn’t actually one hundred percent certain that was what he had said, but he was fairly confident that he was starting to recognize some of the shapes his lips made.  Also, if the guy thought he was hot, then he was interested in Castiel.  If he was interested in Castiel, shouldn’t he have realized there was something just a little bit off about their interactions?

Castiel had decided to conduct an experiment.  From that day on he would pay attention to the man, try to understand what he was saying, and just wait to see if the guy could figure out on his own that Castiel was deaf.  After a week, Castiel just wondered if the guy would ever notice there was something unusual in general.  So far…nothing.  He probably should stop teasing the guy, but he was fun…and funny.

Castiel had definitely learned the shape of his mouth and the way his lips formed words.  Granted sometimes he got lost staring at them and wasn’t thinking about the words coming out of them, but without his hands constantly in the way he wasn’t the worst case scenario for lip reading.  He wasn’t the best either as he seemed to switch between mumbling and over-enunciating quite a bit, but Castiel knew for a fact that the man had a brother named Sam and an uncle named Bobby.  And something he referred to as Baby.  For a while it had been terribly confusing when he talked about “Bobby” and “Baby” as the things he did with one seemed wrong for the other, but once he started catching the word “uncle” in front of Bobby, it was easier to see the difference between the two.  Of course, Castiel still had no idea if Baby was a living person or not.  He hoped Baby was inanimate otherwise he didn’t have a shot in hell with Train Guy.

Castiel gasped in surprise when something latched onto his shoulder.  He was usually not so startled by people who came up behind him because he’d trained himself over the years to detect vibrations in the floor, changes in the air, and even the tingly feeling of someone invading his personal bubble.  Outdoors it became much more difficult to recognize these things, especially when his mind was preoccupied with beautiful, albeit perhaps a bit dimwitted, strangers.

His heart gave a concerning lurch as he was pulled to a full stop, and it only jumped again in surprise when he saw who had stopped him.  Train Guy was in front of him, talking rapidly.  Castiel’s thoughts were predominantly taken up by why Train Guy wasn’t on the train, so he wasn’t even attempting to try to understand what he was saying.  When he finally focused on his lips, he found that the man was talking much too fast and probably muttering too much for him to have a chance at even catching one or two words.  Train Guy seemed very earnest and his cheeks didn’t look like they were pink from the heat.  The traitorous part of Castiel’s brain—the one that also operated his dick—was whispering that Train Guy was trying to ask him out.  Castiel couldn’t decide if he wanted that to be true or not.  Regardless, he had to explain to Train Guy immediately that he couldn’t understand him.

Castiel raised both hands in a stop gesture.  Train Guy’s eyes widened for a moment, and then before Castiel could begin to sign, Train Guy grabbed both his hands.  He pulled them down and held them tightly as he quickly began speaking again.  Castiel tugged his hands down, but Train Guy held on and just moved his hands down too.  A sudden rage caused Castiel to flush hotly.  Worse, a childish impulse to cry suddenly clogged his throat and eyes.  It had been a very long time since he’d felt this helpless due to his deafness.  Train Guy just kept babbling and Castiel couldn’t say anything to make him stop.  Kneeing him in the balls seemed a little extreme—but he was so fucking angry he actually slid his foot back to give him the balance he would need to go through with such an attack.  He really only had one recourse left open to him, and he hated Train Guy for forcing him into it.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

“Stop.”

Castiel could feel the word leave his mouth.  He had no idea if he’d pronounced it correctly or not, but it seemed to have gotten Train Guy’s attention.

“Stop,” he repeated, not brave enough to try “let go.”

Train Guy just stared at him—and from the look on his face he had finally figured out that there was something weird about Castiel.  Because he couldn’t pronounce one damn word correctly to save his life.  This time when he tugged on his hands, Train Guy let him go.

-I can’t understand you,- Castiel signed angrily.  –I can’t hear you.  I can’t read your lips.  I’m deaf.-  Castiel was horrified when he realized he was about to apologize.  Not that Train Guy would know if he had.  Although the man did have the good grace to look mortified.  Then again, he could have just been embarrassed to be seen with the “handicapped weirdo.”

-Please leave me alone.-

Castiel adjusted the strap on his shoulder and moved around Train Guy.  He hurried on toward work, but then found himself passing by the door.  He pulled out his phone and texted Gabriel and Muriel that he wouldn’t be coming in.  He choked back his tears, angry and humiliated that Train Guy had made him this upset.  Why was he this upset?  It wasn’t the first time a hearing person had been so clueless and callous around him.  Hell, some people did it maliciously on purpose; Train Guy seemed to just be genuinely ignorant of the situation.  So why was this bothering him so much that he couldn’t face anybody at work?

Because he’d let himself get his hopes up.  He couldn’t even blame it on Hannah, it had been him.  He’d wanted so badly for Train Guy to be different that he’d allowed himself to believe the fantasy could be a reality.  But of course it wasn’t.  Train Guy wasn’t any different from any other hearing person.  Relationships between hearing and deaf just didn’t work out well.  Most hearing/deaf couples he knew over the years did eventually split up.  Eileen and her wife Charlie were the only exception he knew of, and that was probably because Charlie preferred to communicate with people more though electronics than in person anyway.

Castiel found his way to Cups and Crullers and barely noticed the concerned smile Donna gave him as she made him a caramel apple cider.  He was so pathetic he couldn’t even drink coffee; he had to drink a nostalgic sugar bomb.  He sat in a corner of the shop and nursed his drink, wishing it was dark and rainy rather than bright and sunny.  The cheery weather was killing his brood.

Well, it was decided: he could never see Train Guy again.  He was going to have to start sitting in a different car.  Or better yet, take an earlier or later train.  Castiel scowled at the foamy top of his cider.  Why did he have to leave?  He didn’t do anything wrong.  He wasn’t the asshole in this scenario.  He should show up on time and sit in the exact same place Monday morning and make Train Guy feel uncomfortable.  Hell, maybe Train Guy wouldn’t have the balls to ever show his face again.  Castiel tried not to feel disappointed as he realized that was the most likely outcome.  Whatever, he’d spent the majority of his life being disappointed by humanity.  He’d get over it like he always did.

 ~~~

Dean’s Friday was one long uncomfortable feeling of a snake squirming in his guts.  He felt so embarrassed and so supremely disgusted with himself.  When he’d first heard the man speak—finally heard him speak—he’d thought the strange pronunciation of the word stop was because he was a foreigner.  He’d thought that that guy hadn’t been responding all along because he didn’t speak English, which would have been funny.  Then the guy had pulled his hands away and started to sign.  Dean didn’t know sign language, but he knew what it looked like.  He also now knew that emotion could be expressed very easily through sign language as the guy had been positively livid.  Dean didn’t blame him.  What he’d done had been the equivalent of holding his hand over someone’s mouth to keep them from speaking.  It was rude and invasive as hell.

Dean couldn’t believe he’d been trying to engage this guy for three weeks and he’d never picked up on a single clue that he was deaf.  In hindsight, it was obvious.  If the guy wasn’t looking at him, he didn’t acknowledge that Dean was speaking.  He hadn’t reacted the day the train had taken a turn with such a sharp squealing of metal wheels on metal rails that everyone else let out soft grunts of pain.  Whenever he had “listened” to Dean talk, he’d always been concentrating very hard and staring at his lips.  All the clues had been there, Dean had just been too focused on the possibility of sleeping with the guy to notice.  Dean tried to console himself with the thought that the guy could have told him he was deaf, but that only abated his guilt a little bit.  It turned out that he was Hot Asshole.

He zombied his way through work and blew off invites from Benny and Victor to hang out on Saturday.  He turned down an offer from Annie to Netflix and chill while her roommate was out of town.  He even rushed his weekly phone call with Sam because he didn’t want to admit what had happened to his little brother.  He knew that if he talked to him too much, it would all come spilling out.  Dean was actually a little glad that his moral compass had decided to go to school a thousand miles away.

Of course since he didn’t go out and let anyone distract him, all he did was replay what had happened over and over again in his mind.  It got worse each time.  Or maybe he was just remembering more accurately how horrific it had been.  He knew he could never look the guy in the face again.  He’d have to start sitting in a more crowded car, or better yet, take an earlier or later train.  That would solve everything.  They just needed to never see each other again.

Sunday night found Dean tossing and turning in bed.  He’d set his alarm for an hour earlier so that he could be on a different train and avoid the guy altogether.  His brain wouldn’t let him sleep though.  He just kept thinking about it and thinking about it and coming up with various circumstances that would allow him to apologize before disappearing for good.  Each time the apology ended in success, he wound up convincing himself that it would never go like that and would spiral into one of the nightmare scenarios.

The time crept into tomorrow, and then whittled away at the morning hours.  Still, Dean couldn’t sleep except for a few fitful snatches here and there.  He watched his clock turn to five o’clock and had a hand out to silence the alarm before it even sounded for more than a second.  He sat up and rubbed his eyes.  He should call in sick.

Rather than head for the shower, he shuffled out of his room and into the dining room where he had a desk shoved into the corner.  He powered up his laptop, opened a Word document, and began typing.  By the time he had finished proofing it and editing it multiple times over, he didn’t have enough time to catch the six o’clock train.  He was going to have to take his usual train, but that was okay.  He would deliver his note to the man, and then start taking the earlier train.  Dean tucked the letter into his bag so he wouldn’t forget it, and then headed for the shower.

 ~~~

As the train guttered to a stop at the second stop on its schedule, Castiel fidgeted nervously.  He forced himself to stop.  He started fidgeting again.  He was about to face Train Guy again.  He wasn’t ready.  All weekend he’d debated what to do.  Should he take his regular train?  Should he ignore Train Guy?  Glare at him?  Give him the benefit of the doubt and a chance to apologize?  What if he didn’t show up at all?  It would be the best and worst scenario.  The worst because Castiel knew he would take it as a rejection of his deafness even if the real reason was just embarrassment.  The best because then Castiel could stop thinking about him and move on with his life.  Three times he’d logged into deafsinglesmeet.com and three times he’d logged out without even looking.  This whole incident had shaken him up more than he thought was reasonable.  He just wanted life to go back to the way it was.  Why had Train Guy started taking the train anyway?  Clearly as much as he loved cars, he wasn’t really a Train Guy.

The doors on the car opened and Castiel straightened in his seat.  He reached for his bag and hesitated before he pulled his book out.  Should he pretend to be busy and uninterested?  Should he track Train Guy with a challenging glare like an alpha wolf?  Should he appear nonchalant but approachable?

It turned out to be a moot point.  Train Guy was spineless and didn’t show up.  Castiel didn’t fight the disappointment or the longing to see the guy one more time.  He knew that if he allowed himself to wallow a bit on the train ride that it’d be easier to shake off.  Then he could move on with life like he wanted to do.  He wondered why people tried so hard to repress their feelings or pretend like they weren’t feeling them.  Castiel always found that by accepting his feelings, he had more control over them—other than the other way around.

When the train pulled into his stop in the city, he was slow to tuck his book back in his satchel and stand up.  As such he was the last one in line to detrain.  The doors whooshed open and a blast wave of sticky heat hit the commuters.  Castiel made a face.  This summer weather was so gross.  It was halfway through September; when was it going to cool off?

Castiel felt someone tap him on the shoulder.  He turned and started visibly when he saw Train Guy.  Last time he hadn’t been able to appreciate his beauty up close.  Now he was kind of mesmerized by it.  He could tell that Train Guy thought his physical reaction had been him flinching away from him—he looked ashamed and embarrassed.  Maybe a little hurt.  Castiel wanted to tell him that wasn’t the case, but there was no time to pull out his phone and type up a long message.  There was nothing he could do about it—and the misunderstanding would stand.  This was exactly why hearing and deaf relationships never worked out.

Train Guy handed him a white envelope.  Castiel took it.  It was unmarked and very flat.  Train Guy said something and then scurried back farther into the car.  Castiel couldn’t take the time to watch him leave or contemplate the envelope.  He just barely managed to slip off the train before the door closed.  He tucked the envelope in his satchel, determined not to read it until he’d settled morning business at the office and had some spare time.  Even with that resolve, he found himself sitting in a corner of Cups and Crullers with a large dark roast coffee tearing open the top of the envelope.  He pulled out a single sheet of printing paper halfway covered in fairly large text.

 

Hi.

We technically don’t know each other, so let me start by introducing myself.  My name’s Dean Winchester.  I’m an Aquarius.  I like long walks on the beach, frisky women, and frolicsome men.

You’re probably thinking I should have started with an apology, but an apology from a stranger is social obligation.  Now that you know me, you know that this means something.

I am sincerely sorry for what happened last Friday.  I took away your voice, which is unconscionable.

 

Castiel stopped reading and raised his eyebrows.  He’d expected the man to apologize for not realizing he was deaf and making some ignorant comments about how hard his life must be and he was sorry he’d made it harder.  He’d never considered that Train Guy—Dean—would even recognize what he’d done by holding his hands immobile.  Castiel knew that being impressed by a person’s ability to understand something patently simple was ridiculous.  So he decided not to think about it and kept reading.

 

I swear I had no idea what I was doing at the time otherwise, of course, I never would have done it.  Not that holding your hands wasn’t nice.  But…you get what I mean.

 

Castiel could feel himself smiling.  He ruthlessly schooled his features and kept reading.

 

I would also like to apologize for pestering you for three weeks under the assumption that you were just some hot asshole who was ignoring me.  And then studying me like an experiment.

 

Castiel bit his lip to prevent his smile from getting too wide.  So Dean had realized he’d been Castiel’s little morning commute experiment.  He’d still participated.  Also, he now had confirmation that Dean thought he was hot.  Not that that should factor into anything.

 

I understand if you don’t want anything more to do with me, and I will respect that.  I can keep to myself or sit elsewhere on the train if that would be preferable for you.  However, I would like if we could hit the reset button and meet for the first time tomorrow on the train.  I’ll leave it up to you.  I hope to talk to you tomorrow and learn your real name.  Hot Asshole doesn’t really seem appropriate anymore.

                                                                                                                Dean

 

Castiel reread the letter two more times.  He was still smiling.  This was dangerous.  He should ignore Dean tomorrow and let the whole disaster just fade to an uncomfortable, somewhat humorous memory.  But wouldn’t that be rude?  Dean seemed to be nice and sincere in his apology.  He even seemed to understand what he was apologizing for rather than just feeling pity for Castiel and his “condition.”  It really would be petty to shun a man for making one innocent mistake.  He was going to give Dean a chance because he was a good person.  Not because he thought the guy on the train was cute, but because he was always interested in community outreach in order to further the visibility and understanding of deaf people.

Yep.

 ~~~

Dean spent all day at work distracted by thoughts of what Hot Not Asshole was doing—or not doing—with his letter.  Did he read it?  Trash it?  Was he offended by it?  Disgusted?  Annoyed?  Impressed…?  As much as Dean would have liked to pretend that he was only worrying about making a good impression, he did have a daydream or two that involved him getting on the train tomorrow and Hot Not Asshole throwing himself in his arms and demanding that Dean do some seriously kinky shit to him.

After getting yet another look and huffy sigh from his coworker as he redistributed the mail Dean had misplaced again, he decided to let Brent do all the sorting if he was so gung-ho about it being right.  He went into the mail room office and sat down at the old, shared computer.  Despite it being a work computer that was never locked and everyone had access to, there were quite a few questionable sites in the search history.  Dean was smart enough not to search for porn at work, but there were definitely some Food Network recipe pages in there.  More than likely no one would suspect him of those anyway, so he never felt the need to clear the history after he’d spent an hour goofing off.

Dean opened a web browser and Googled sign language.  Just on the off chance Hot Not Asshole forgave him and would want to talk to him.  Before he found a page on how to learn it, he discovered that there were literally scores of different versions of sign language.  It made sense that different languages would use different signs for the same things, but he learned British Sign Language and American Sign Language were quite different despite the fact that both were technically conveying the English language.  And on top of that, within America, “dialects” had popped up in different regions.  It was as distinctive as the way a New Yorker or a Southerner would talk, or using different signs for the same thing the way pop and soda, couch and sofa were interchanged depending on where one lived while learning language.

Dean decided that the safest thing to do was focus on standard American Sign Language.  After a few clicks he managed to find a site that allowed him to search for specific words and then provided a video demonstrating how to sign that word.  He had intended to only look up a few words, after all he didn’t know if the guy would even be willing to talk to him, but he did hate his job so he spent over an hour learning several pertinent signs.  Including some dirty ones because for better or worse—he was Dean Winchester.

When he got home he was still practicing the motions in his head, occasionally twitching his hands and arms which no doubt explained some of the odd looks he’d received on the train on his evening commute.  Dean only managed to drop off his keys and bag before his stomach rumbled demandingly.  He opened his pantry and saw that he didn’t have much in the way of…food.  The refrigerator was similarly bare.  He’d been so obsessed about the whole deaf guy thing over the weekend that he’d forgotten to go to the grocery store.  He shrugged it off and decided to order to take out.  On his way to the couch he remembered that his cell phone was in bag, which was by the front door.  Way too far away to be worth the effort.  He picked up the receiver for his landline—which he only had so that he could buzz people in the front door of his building—and was surprised to find that he had a message on the built in answering machine.

He fell heavily onto the couch and frowned at the blinking light on the machine.  Should he order dinner first?  It was probably a hang up anyway; he better just play it and delete it so that the flashing light wouldn’t bother him.  It took him longer than he thought it would to figure out how to get the machine to play from the handheld receiver, but eventually Sam’s panicky voice filled his living room.

“Dean.  It was fine at first, right?  Like one test here, some homework there.  Whatever.  But like, now there are midterms.  I have five major tests all in the same week!  Why did I ignore your advice to take it easy the first semester?  Five tests!  Same week!  And two of them are half my grade and one is a third!  Half my grade!  If I fail…the best I can get is maybe a C in the course.  I’m—I just…this is a bad idea.  We can’t afford it and clearly I can’t handle it.  I should quit and come home, right?  I have to go.”

The machined beeped.  Dean didn’t feel concern or sympathy.  This was marching band all over again.  Dean scrolled through his directory on the landline, which literally had three numbers in it, and called Sam.  He picked up right away.

“Dean.  I’ve been looking into if we can get a refund on the tuition for this semester and—”

“Well, hello to you too, Sam.”

“What?  Oh.  Hi.  Look.  I think we can—”

“Sam.  Why did you call the landline?”

“What are you talking about?  We need to—”

“Why didn’t you call me on my cell phone?”

“Because I knew you were working and I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Right.  Bother me because I’m working to help you pay for school.”

“Exactly!  So if I quit—”

“If you quit I will kick your ass so hard it will fly off your skinny Sasquatch body and land on Bobby’s doorstep so that he doesn’t have to leave the comforts of his own home to give you an ass-kicking too.”

There was silence on the other end.

“Now.  What’s scarier?  Me and Uncle Bobby kicking your ass?  Or these tests?”

“You know, now that I think about it…I do have time to study and I understand most of the material already.”

“Mm-hm.”

Dean heard a soft laugh colored with relief come from his brother.  “You’re right.  I was just panicking.  I’m okay.  I can do this.”

Dean toed his shoes off and then hooked one ankle on the back of the couch.  “’Course you can do it.  You’re smart.  A little disorganized which is probably why you initially get overwhelmed by things.  But Sammy—”

“Oh, no.”  Dean could hear the eye roll.  “Here comes the ‘Sammy.’  What?”

Dean scowled.  “I was just going to say that if you really don’t think college is right for you, you don’t have to stay because we had to do so much to get you there.  Mistakes only become a problem if you don’t try to fix ‘em."

“I know.  But it’s not a mistake.  I want to be here.  And I know I can do it.  I just…got overwhelmed for a minute.”

“Hey, it happens to all of us.  Just yesterday, I had an envelope that was supposed to be delivered to 325, but it was put in mail slot 352…the whole office nearly came to a standstill.”

Sam chuckled.  “I hope it all got sorted out in the end.”

He laughed and snorted at his own joke.  Dean made a face.

“I don’t know how we’re related.”

“Oh, like you’re a comic genius,” Sam scoffed.

“Thank you, Sammy.  I appreciate that.”

“Screw off, loser.”

“Screw off?  Is that the kind of salty language you’re picking up in the big city?  I don’t know, maybe you should quit and come home after all.”

Sam laughed.  “Okay, apparently the pep talk portion of the conversation is over and now all we’re left with is insults.”

“It’s the easiest way to express my love, Sammy.”

“I know, Dean.  I’m gonna go grab some food and power through some studying.  And thank you.  I really appreciate everything you do for me.”

“Whatever.”

Dean hung up on his little brother.  He was hungry and didn’t have time for mushy BS.  He managed to locate the Chinese place that also delivered Mexican food in the redial list.  As the phone rang in his ear, Dean was consumed with thoughts of what would happen on tomorrow’s commute.  It would be easiest if they both just smiled and nodded awkwardly at each other and then never saw each other again.  Easiest, perhaps, but when was the easy way ever the fun way?

 ~~~

Castiel fidgeted nervously on the train.  He didn’t even try to pretend to read.  He was excited to meet Dean.  He really shouldn’t be.  He had a ton of work to do for the annual Most Awkward Conversations Ever Gala coming up in a couple of months.  He hated the name for the fundraiser, but in its second year over ten years ago, someone had made the joke and not only had the name and acronym stuck, but it had become official.  Castiel thought it was a little insensitive to refer to a joint event between the Deaf and Blind communities with such a negative connotation, but it made seeing and hearing people laugh.  And when people laughed they were happy and when they were happy they were much more willing to write checks.

At the moment the event planning, the stupid name—all of it was a flickering shadow in the back of his mind.  He was eager to finally interact with Dean in a meaningful way.  A friendly meaningful way.  Not a romantic one.  He was still very clear on that.  Every time his traitorous brain tried to make his stomach flip-flop on him, he just remembered the humiliation he’d felt last Friday and his giddiness went away.  Deaf people and hearing people just couldn’t date.

The train began to slow down as it approached the second stop of the morning.  Castiel shifted and then in a fit of insane vanity he pulled out his phone and used the camera to check his hair.  He put his phone up just the doors opened.  The heat wave had broken last night and he couldn’t feel the difference in temperature today.  A man stepped onto the train.  Castiel’s mouth moved—like he was going to speak?  He sat back in confusion.  It didn’t matter.  It wasn’t Dean.  The next person to step on was Dean, however, and the small surprise made Castiel’s heart jolt fretfully in his chest.  He inhaled deeply, and seeing Dean startled slightly at seeing him made him feel better.  Dean felt unsure of himself as well.  Castiel managed to settle down a bit and watched Dean take his usual seat.  They maintained eye contact the whole time.  The doors closed.  Castiel attempted a small smile.  The result was magnificent.  Dean’s smile was huge and beautiful.  He slid down the bench until he was sitting directly in front of Castiel.

Dean waved and then signed, -My name is D-E-A-N.-

Castiel fought to keep his smile under control.  Dean had signed in that stiff, exaggerated way people did when they learned sign language from online tutorials.  It was cute.  Castiel used the same gestures rather than the shorthand he was used to so that Dean would recognize the signs.

-My name is C-A-S.-

He stopped there because hearing people always asked him how his full name was pronounced.  It was strange; that was the only thing that made him feel uncomfortable by being deaf.  Not being able to hear music or a beautiful voice or a funny noise didn’t register with him as being great losses or even inconveniences.  It didn’t bother him that he didn’t know what his family’s voices sounded like or what sound accompanied that thrumming purr of a cat.  However, for some reason, it did bother him that he had no idea how to pronounce his own name.

Dean’s lips formed his name.  Then he spelled out C-A-S.  Castiel nodded.  Dean said his name again and smiled.  Castiel smiled tentatively back because now Dean looked a little helpless.  He opened his mouth a few times, but didn’t say anything.  Finally his shoulders slumped dejectedly and he signed, -I like pie.-

That surprised a laugh out of Castiel.  He immediately pulled it back, but Dean brightened by seeing his reaction.

-I see that your signing is quite limited,- Castiel signed quickly.  Then he held up a finger indicating for Dean to wait, and pulled out his phone.  He typed up a quick message in a notepad app and then handed the phone to Dean.  He chewed his lip nervously as he watched the man read his message.

Thank you for your apology.  I appreciated your candor and sincerity.  I’m also happy that you’re attempting to learn ASL.  If you need a tutor, I’m available.

Dean looked up with a smile.  He gave Cas a thumbs up, and then looked embarrassed by the gesture.  He typed something on Castiel’s phone and then handed it back to him.

I’m really glad you don’t think I]m the worst person the planet.  I would love to gets ome free ASL lessons. ;)

Castiel arched an eyebrow at the message and raised his eyes to look at Dean.  The man smirked confidently at him.  Castiel typed quickly.

Who said anything about free?  You can bring me coffee from Starbucks tomorrow.  Grande Americano, splash of soy milk.

Dean took the phone back and laughed.  His eyes sparkled when he laughed.  Not that Castiel was noticing.  He typed and returned the phone.

You drive hardbargain but youre cute so Ill allow it.

Castiel felt his cheeks warm but he refused to call it blushing.  He put his phone away and was vainly pleased that Dean looked disappointed at the thought that he was ending their conversation.  He used the gestures Dean was familiar with to sign, –My name is C-A-S.  Then he signed the same sentence only he replaced the hand spelling with his name sign.  Dean tilted his head in confusion, but the second time Castiel did it Dean caught on immediately.  He said Cas’ name as he used the name sign.  Castiel nodded and gave him a thumbs up.  Dean grinned and pointed to himself.  Castiel shook his head and wagged a finger.  Dean was crestfallen at the notion that he didn’t get a name sign.  Castiel chuckled softly and pointed to his watch.  He wasn’t sure if Dean really understood what he meant, but the man nodded and looked less dejected.

Then things got awkward.  Why had Castiel put his phone away?  They couldn’t communicate now.  At best Castiel could point to something and then give Dean the sign for it, but that was the worst way to teach someone any language.  Dean said something and Castiel thought he caught the word “talk.”  Of course, he was calling Castiel out for being an idiot.  At least he was smiling while he did it.  Then he waved his hands back and forth between them and signaled speaking with his hand like he was a quacking duck.

Castiel felt his heart sink.  Dean was already asking him to use his voice.  Then he would be asking him why he didn’t use his voice.  Then he’d ask him if he ever tried.  Then he’d ask him if he could try again…just for him.  It was his college boyfriend all over again.  Which was why dating Dean was not an option.  So why wouldn’t the damn thought leave his mind?

Dean was talking, his lips moving in that sensual mumble of his.  Then he used the sign for “signing.”  He encouraged Castiel again.  Castiel cocked his head.  Did Dean just want him to sign…anything?

-What do you want me to say?- Castiel signed, not sure why he was asking a question of a man who couldn’t understand him.

Dean just smiled and nodded and kept talking.  Castiel’s eyebrows lifted gently.  Was Dean really suggesting that they just talk at each other?  That they shouldn’t even care that they couldn’t understand each other as long as they were talking?  Castiel shook his head.

-You’re weird,- he signed.

Dean’s mouth stopped moving.  Then he pouted.

“I’m not weird,” he said, and Castiel could read the phrase on his lips as easily as he could text on a screen.

Castiel’s jaw dropped open.  Then he signed, -You learned the sign for weird?  Why?-

“I know weird,” Dean said making the sign with his hand.  Then he said something else and began making single signs: penis, vagina, breasts.  Then he switched to slang: dick, pussy, come, fuck.

Castiel threw his hands up in a stopping motion.  Dean put his hands out in feigned innocence.  Castiel covered his eyes, but he was grinning.  He looked back up at Dean.  The man signed pussy at him again.  Castiel gave him a stern look, and Dean relented with a smirk.  He started talking again, but Castiel wasn’t sure about what.  Then Dean rolled a hand in the air at him expectantly.

Castiel thought a moment and then signed, -You’re one of a kind.  I really don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like you before.-

Dean’s smile grew wider as he watched Castiel speak even though he couldn’t understand him.  Castiel felt such an odd sensation in his chest that he wondered if there was something physically wrong with him.  The longer they “talked” the stronger the feeling grew, but he never felt ill.

When the train pulled into his station downtown, Castiel was greatly disappointed to have his time with Dean come to an end.  He supposed he would see him tomorrow, but that seemed intolerably far away at the moment.  He shouldered his bag and smiled at Dean as people from further in the car trickled into the front to line up at the doors.  Dean used two fingers to point to his own eyes, then one to point to Castiel, and then down at the floor.  Castiel assumed he was asking him if he would see him on the train tomorrow.  Or maybe he was telling him he would.  Castiel nodded and smiled.  Dean smiled back.

Castiel stepped off the train into the balmy October air, hoping that fall was finally going to start pushing away the dregs of summer.  He walked briskly down the sidewalks that led to his office, feeling energized.  As he reached the office door he realized that he could feel his vocal cords vibrating.  Once he was aware of it, he realized he’d been doing it since he’d left the train station.  Castiel stared at the floor indicator light of the ancient elevator.  It was a long pause before the three turned off and the two lit up.

Had he been…humming?  He didn’t even know he could hum.  Well, of course he could hum, but what would he hum?  He didn’t know any tunes.  Putting aside the oddity of a deaf-from-birth man humming anything at all, didn’t only Disney princesses hum just after they met their princes?

The lighted number two put up a good fight, but at last the light fell to the one.  The doors crawled open.  Gabriel’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“Castiel!” he spoke and signed.  “Glad you’re here.  I was going to go to Cups and Crullers for a muffin.  You should come with.  The staff is discussing themes for the MACE Gala.”

Castiel made a face.  –Can we please change that name?-

Gabriel grinned and Castiel lamented the planning that couldn’t move forward until the stupid theme was picked out.  It turned the DCO offices into a warzone for a couple of weeks while everyone argued like they were on the prom planning committee in high school.  He preferred to sit that battle out; they never liked his ideas anyway.

Castiel nodded his consent to bailing on the gala theme discussion and backed up so that Gabriel could step off the elevator.  They left the building and headed for good coffee and even better pastries.  Castiel glanced at Gabriel—his lips were pursed out slightly.  He tapped his friend’s arm.  Gabriel looked at him with a smile.

“What’s up?” he said, the signing done very sloppily.

-Are you whistling?- Castiel asked.

Gabriel nodded.  “I’d ask if it bothered you but…”  Then he laughed.

-Is whistling like humming?-

“No, they sound pretty different.”

-Not the way they sound.  What they mean.  Why people do them.-

“You are a human being on the planet, right?  You don’t have to hear it to know why people sing or dance.”

-I know that.  I specifically mean whistling versus humming.  They’re different, but they don’t communicate anything like singing or dancing.-

“Well, they can in the right context.  Whistles are often used for signaling.”

Castiel shook his head.  –Never mind I’m not explaining myself well.-

Gabriel nodded thoughtfully.  “Well, maybe…”  He paused for a moment or two and then he said, “Whistling’s more like a ‘whistle while you work’ kind of thing.  Keeps you preoccupied.  People usually hum because they’re happy.”

Castiel took that in and then looked straight ahead.  How interesting.  Actually, how absolutely uninteresting and in no way applied to anything he was feeling.  He started slightly when Gabriel pulled on his arm, forcing him to stop.  He looked at him and saw Gabriel indicating the Cups and Crullers shop; he’d walked right by it.  Castiel turned and entered the store with Gabriel.  He could see the warm earth tones, smell the donuts, feel the cool interior, taste the coffee in the air.  He looked at all the patrons around him—he couldn’t tell if they were humming.  Were they happy enough to hum?  To let other people know they were happy by humming?  He couldn’t know unless he put his hand against their throats, and his social graces weren’t that bad.

They stood in line at the counter and Castiel felt his good mood crumble around the rising mound of confusion and irritation of his psyche.  He’d never put so much thought into sound before.  He’d never cared.  Now this one person was making him curious about things he’d never concerned himself with.  Worse, curious about things for which he could never have satisfaction.  Forget dating him, Castiel couldn’t be friends with Dean.  He didn’t want to change.  He was happy with the way he was.

 ~~~

Rather than sitting on the couch in front of the TV to eat his dinner, Dean sat at his dusty dining room table.  He used a paper towel to swipe some of the dust away, and then he set up his laptop just to his left and his bowl of mac n’ cheese to the right.  With his right hand free to shovel the steamy, cheesy pasta into his mouth, he used his left to awkwardly click on the bookmark that took him to the webpage with the ASL directory of signs.  He contemplated what signs would be the most useful to know: general vocabulary so that he could discuss more topics with Cas, or grammar so that when he did sign he wasn’t speaking like a two year old.  He hadn’t been sure at first whether or not sign language had grammar, but it definitely did.

He did pretty well for about fifteen minutes, but once his mac n’ cheese was gone, his concentration started to drift.  Not away from Cas, but into other ways to communicate with someone that didn’t necessitate the use of one’s vocal cords.  Touch was definitely a way of communicating with someone.  Thinking about touching Cas, of course, led to thinking about touching Cas, which led to touching himself.  He could probably go lie down and finish himself off with thoughts of Cas, but since he already had his computer on, there was no sense in not enjoying one of his favorite porn sites.  He was contemplating what search term would get him close to a video starring a hot, blue-eyed deaf guy when he was struck with a sudden thought.

Was deaf porn a thing?  It seemed like there was a fetish for everything and a video for every fetish on the Internet.  He hesitated only a moment before opening Google and typing in “deaf porn.”  Then he added “gay” just because that really was what he was in the mood for.  He clicked enter.  He huffed out a laugh as the Internet did not let him down.  He had a lot of options, though he was pretty sure some of the results were just regular gay porn.  After scrolling halfway down the results, he decided to click on a site that boasted amateur porn between two “hot deafies.”  Dean wondered if that was a slur from a hearing person or if deaf people called themselves that.  Clearly that wasn’t something he’d be able to ask Cas this early in their acquaintanceship.  Heck, for all he knew it was a specific type of deaf gay man, like a bear or a chicken hawk or something.  Then Cas would know what he’d been looking up in his spare time.

The video started to play and it was pretty typical of amateur porn: bad lighting, bad angles, not the most attractive people in the world, and less than five minutes long.  At the beginning Dean couldn’t ascertain any differences.  It was a hairy man with a bit of a beer gut pounding awkwardly into a skinny, pimply ass.  Not the hottest thing he’d ever seen.  But then the two men started to get into it.  Hairy guy found his rhythm and pimply butt must have turned into just the right angle.  They started moaning—pretty loudly.  Then they started moaning really loudly, unabashedly loudly.  Dean turned down the volume on his computer.  The bottom started yipping and the top was groaning like he’d discovered the secret to the greatest orgasm ever.

Dean watched, unable to look away even as he kept turning the volume down more and more.  He felt bad, but he was laughing.  He thought sex faces were hilarious and distracting, but listening to this he wasn’t even close to being hard.  If this was what truly unselfconscious sex noises were like, he was grateful people tried to restrain themselves.  Even when people “let themselves go” and got noisy—it was nothing like this.  People always exercised a little constraint simply because their ability to hear allowed them to adjust for the situation.  Deaf people clearly had no point of reference for what was loud and could let everything they were feeling pour out of them.  He wondered if deaf people had better sex because they didn’t have that self-conscious need to censor themselves.

Better sex or not, it was still funny and kind of embarrassing to listen to.  What would it be like for a hearing person to have sex with a deaf person?  Would it be possible to enjoy it if his ear drums were getting blown out?  Dean chuckled uncomfortably and closed the tab with the porn.  He was such a jerk, but he couldn’t help it.  He was curious.  But he should know better.  If his experience with Cassie and her hair had taught him anything, it was that he could be an ignorant jerk sometimes.  Really though, how was he ever supposed to know and learn for the future if he didn’t ask?

Amorous mood effectively killed for the moment, he returned to the ASL web site and learned a few more phrases.  He practiced them several times but found that he’d forgotten half of them by the time he got up in the morning.  He tried to watch the videos again on his phone as he waited for the train, but he seemed to have the worst cell phone service on the planet and couldn’t even get the page to load.

Knowing that he’d be unable to hold even a basic conversation via sign language, Dean decided to sit down right next to Cas so that it would be easier to pass written messages back and forth.  Even though he watched him walk toward him, Cas still seemed surprised when Dean plopped down next to him.  Dean smiled and waved.  Cas gave him a tentative waggle of fingers back.  They stared at each other until the train doors closed and the engine began to pull them forward.  The slight movement shook Dean enough that he was able to tear his eyes away from the ocean he’d just about drowned in and began to type out a message on his phone.  He showed it to Cas: What do you do?

Cas’ brow creased in a little confusion, and then he typed on his own phone and showed it to Dean: What do I do when?

Dean chuckled and typed: No, what do you do for work?

Understanding replaced the confusion on Cas’ features.  Then he smiled and dug something out of his satchel.  He handed Dean a pamphlet and tapped on the title.  It seemed to be a thin, two-fold brochure for the Deaf Community Outreach.  There was a picture of an ugly building with two people smiling brightly while they signed in front of it.  The picture was clearly staged, but it didn’t look like a stock photo.  Dean looked up at Cas.

“You work here?” he asked while pointing at the brochure.

Cas nodded.

“Can you read lips?” Dean asked.

Cas made an iffy face and tilted his head as he waffled his hand in the air.  Dean took that as a “not really.”

Dean opened the pamphlet and read through the services that the Deaf Community Outreach provided and was surprised by how far reaching it was.  It also made him realize how many things he took for granted by being able to hear.  He looked up at Cas, hoping he didn’t say something stupid and insensitive about the work he did, and found another pamphlet in his face.  Dean took it and definitely noticed how fidgety and anxious Cas looked, but pretended like he didn’t.

The second pamphlet was information on ASL classes taught at the DCO.  There was an in depth course that held classes three nights a week for six months and enabled the takers to become officially certified interpreters.  There was a class designed for hearing family members to have time to practice signing with their deaf family member.  The third class was a Saturday afternoon class designed for beginners who were simply interested in learning ASL.  Dean pointed to the class and then to himself as he looked up at Cas.

“I guess I should take this one,” Dean said.  He couldn’t tell by the man’s expression if Cas had completely understood him, but he smiled and nodded.  And then shrugged, like Dean could take it if he was interested but it was no big deal if he wasn’t.

Dean typed out on his phone: How do I sign up?

Cas then began to type on his phone, and he took such a long time that Dean was able to completely read over both of the DCO’s pamphlets.  Finally, Cas handed him his phone.

If you want, I can give your name to the coordinator and get you signed up.  You don’t have to pay the fee until the first day of class.  We only teach one of these classes in an eight week cycle, so you have to wait for the first class before you can start taking it.  This Saturday is actually the first class of a new cycle, but if that’s too soon to start, you’ll have to wait until January as we take a break from all classes over Christmas and New Year’s.  Please don’t feel pressured; that’s just the way the schedule happens to fall at the moment.  Sorry this message is so long.

Dean chuckled when he finished the message.  He gave Cas a wink as he handed his phone back to him.  He typed out a reply: Don’t apologize for long massage.  If i could sign, it wouldn’t be an issue.  I guess i really need this class.  And some priv lessons. ;)

Cas’ smile became much more confident after reading the message.  His reply was Private lessons?  I don’t see any coffee.

Dean read the message and then smacked his face with his hand.  “Crap!  I knew I forgot something.”  Next time, he typed.

Do you want me to sign you up for class starting this weekend?

Dean only hesitated to think about if he had any prior commitments he was going to have to break, but of course he didn’t, he had no life.  In that short pause, Cas typed a message and handed him the phone.

I’m teaching this upcoming cycle.

“You are?” Dean asked.

Cas nodded.

“Sign me up.”

Cas nodded again.

They smiled at each other.  Then realized they still had about thirty-five minutes together on the train.  Dean wasn’t a big texter, so he didn’t know if he could carry on a conversation that way for that long.  Maybe they could do something else besides talk though.

“You wanna make out?” Dean mumbled with a shrug and a laugh.

Cas tilted his head to the side in confusion and Dean bit his lip to prevent himself from cooing at the cuteness.  Dean Winchester was not a cooing type of man.

Cas held up his phone.  What?

“It’s nothing,” Dean said and waved his hand dismissively.

Castiel frowned a little and sat back.  He didn’t press the issue, but Dean could tell that what he’d just done must be a serious pet peeve for the guy.  It was really unfair to say something knowing the other person wouldn’t know what was said and couldn’t respond to it.  Although in Dean’s defense, he’d said it so softly he doubted a hearing person would have caught it and he would have given them the same response.

They sat awkwardly for a few moments and then Cas typed something into his phone.  He held it up for Dean to see.

Do you have a baby?

Dean burst out laughing and wasn’t deterred from laughing even when he bumped his head against the wall.  Cas gave him a bemused look, but waited for Dean to settle.  Dean grinned and leaned a little closer to Cas.

“Not a baby…” he said slowly, looking directly at the man so that he could read his lips.  “The love of my life.”

Caveman Dean was pleased by the slightly deflated look Cas got as a result of that announcement.  He opened the photo album on his phone and found a picture of the Impala gleaming brightly in the sun after getting a bath.  He showed the picture to Cas.

Cas took the phone and looked at the car.  He pointed at the picture and then mouthed, “Baby?”

Dean nodded, still grinning.  Cas rolled his eyes, but then looked at the picture a little more closely.  He shook his head and handed the phone back to Dean.

“Oh, you don’t even know the can of worms you’ve opened, Cas.  Allow me to educate you.”

Cas tilted his head again, unable to follow.  Dean cracked his knuckles and prepared to type.

 ~~~

Castiel had never learned so much about a car even when he’d been doing research to buy one.  He couldn’t believe he’d managed to stay awake and alert for the whole of it.  He wondered if the Impala was really that impressive, or if it was just its owner.  Wait, her owner.  Castiel smiled to himself and knew that he looked like a dope.  Fortunately the elevator ride even to the second floor was long enough for him to school his features.

He stepped off onto the second floor and the office was empty except for a young man named Alfie who was sitting behind the front desk.  It must be too early for visitors.  Alfie smiled and signed good morning to him.  Cas replied and asked who was teaching the Saturday beginner level ASL classes.  Castiel’s confidence faltered when Alfie told him it was Hannah.  She was going to ask questions.

-Do you know if she’s come in yet?- Castiel asked.

-She arrived just a few minutes ago.  She hasn’t gone upstairs yet.-

-Thank you.-

Castiel left the waiting room and passed by the multitude of rooms used for private meetings and consultations.  The classrooms were in the back and the lights were on only in one.  Hannah had her back to the door as she was writing on the chalkboard.  Castiel rapped lightly on the wood door, and like magic…Hannah turned around.  She smiled when she saw him and signed and vocalized at the same time.

“Good morning.”

-Good morning.-

“What brings you down here?  Hiding from the MACE Gala theme decision committee?”

Cas made a long suffering face.  –I just might.  How hard is it to decide between Winter Wonderland and The Nutcracker?  If we do one this year, we can do the other next year.-

Hannah shrugged.  “Next year there will be two better ideas.”

-Don’t start talking about next year already.  Please.-

Hannah laughed.

-I’m not here to hide though.-

“Shocking.”

-I’m here to um…offer my services.-

Hannah’s eyebrows lifted slightly.  “Your services?  What exactly is the nature of your services?”

-For the ASL classes.-

“Oh, that’s great!  I could really use you for the final exams for the interpreter class.”

-Actually…I was thinking about teaching one of the beginner level classes.  On Saturdays.-  Castiel signed that as nonchalantly as he could manage.

“The beginner level classes?  But Cas…you’re not hearing.”

-So?-

“So?  So, no one in these classes knows any sign language.  You’re an amazing lip reader, but you can’t keep up with an entire class.  Especially not people in the back of the room.  You also don’t…”  Hannah looked uncomfortable, but Castiel knew what she was about to say and he didn’t mind.  “You don’t vocalize.  You can’t teach with signing only.  It would be like a Spanish teacher who doesn’t speak English trying to teach English speakers who don’t speak Spanish.”

-I can write on the board.  And isn’t immersion supposed to be the best way to learn a language?-

“Not at a dinky Saturday class people take for fun.”

Undeterred Castiel said, -Can I help you teach this upcoming cycle?-

Hannah looked at him for a moment, and then she shrugged her shoulders and smiled.  “Sure.  Of course.  You’re the director of the DCO.  You can do what you want.”

Cas smiled.  –You make a good point.-

“And I’ll be happy to have you.  It’ll be fun.”

Castiel nodded vaguely.  Fun, right.  As long as Hannah didn’t stick her nose into why one of the students seemed to already know who he was.

-I’ve got to get upstairs,- he said.

“Okay.  I’ll up in a bit.  There’s supposed to be a vote at nine.”

Castiel shook his head and rolled his eyes.  He wanted no part of that vote.

Back in the front office, the waiting room was still empty.  Alfie appeared to be playing spider solitaire on the computer.  Castiel moved in front of him and waved his arm to get his attention.  Alfie looked up and didn’t look the least bit guilty about playing games while he was working.

-Need anything else?- he asked.

-Yes,- Castiel replied.  –I’d like to add a name to the ASL beginner level class that is starting this Saturday.  It’s the first class of a cycle, correct?-

Alfie pulled up the enrollment records on the monitor.  –It is the beginning of a new cycle, but unfortunately the class is full.-

Castiel took a scrap piece of paper and a pen from the supplies on the counter and wrote down Dean’s name.  He handed the piece of paper to Alfie.

-I think there’s room for one more,- he said.

Alfie’s eyes looked side to side before he accepted the scrap of paper.  –Okay.-

-Thank you.-

Castiel took the elevator to the third floor and had to practically run to his office to avoid the people chasing after him for his opinion on the theme for the MACE Gala.

 ~~~

Dean rarely drove the Impala into the city—poor gas mileage and tiny parking spaces being among the top reasons—but he didn’t want to trust the city bus system to get him to class on time.  The trains didn’t run on weekends at all and the subway system didn’t go anywhere near where Dean lived in the suburbs.  So, that left him with driving to the DCO, which gave him a good excuse to show Cas his baby without being weird about it.

He was a little nervous about attending the class.  He’d never done particularly well in school.  The teachers that cared told him that it was just because he wasn’t paying attention.  He was very smart; he just didn’t “apply” himself.  The teachers that didn’t care dismissed him as a lost cause.  Dean did manage to graduate, but just barely.  He was worried that he’d performed poorly not because he was uninterested but because he was, well, kind of stupid.  This class would help him figure that out.  He was definitely interested in learning ASL so that he could speak with Cas, but what if he couldn’t keep up?  What if he couldn’t remember all the different signs?  He was pretty certain Cas would lose interest in him very fast if he couldn’t pick up ASL.

Dean stood in the small foyer of the DCO building waiting on the elevator.  He tried to review in his head some of the signs Cas had taught him the last couple of days on the train.  He went through the signs three times and the elevator still hadn’t arrived.  He pushed the button for the elevator again, but it was already lit.  He checked his watch.  He had about five minutes before the class started, but he didn’t want to rush in and disrupt Cas if he was doing introductions or something.

Dean spotted the door that led to the stairwell on his left.  The classroom was only on the second floor; he felt confident that he could make it up one flight of stairs.  He walked over to the door and was about to pull the handle when a hand landed on his wrist.  He jumped and turned to find Cas standing next to him.  Cas smiled and pointed up at the top of the door.  Dean looked and saw a wire connected to the door.  It was an emergency door and would have sounded the alarm if he’d opened it.  He turned back to Cas.

“Sorry.  I didn’t see the wire.  You should really put a sign on the door.”

Cas got that little tiny furrow in his brow that he got when he was concentrating on reading Dean’s lips.  He seemed to give up on trying to process Dean’s sentence and just signed something.  Dean nodded and shrugged because he had no idea what he’d said.  Cas laughed softly and Dean smiled in response.

“Well, we should get to class because I really need to learn to sign,” Dean said, making the sign for signing.

Cas nodded and led Dean back to the elevator which had finally arrived.  They stepped onto the car and the doors closed so slowly Dean wondered when the machine had last been serviced.  There was an alarming lurch and then the elevator began to rise…slowly.  Dean looked at Cas.  He just smiled and shrugged in a “what can you do?” gesture.  Dean glanced at his watch and then gave Cas a mock reproving look.

“Cutting it a little late, huh, teach?”

Cas’ eyes narrowed slightly, which made him look like a disgruntled kitten.  Dean felt a sudden urge to grab Cas and push him up against the wall.  He wanted to kiss him so badly he could actually picture it perfectly in his mind’s eye.  He restrained himself because he and Cas were barely acquaintances let alone friends that could test the boundaries of their relationship.  Dean had already made the decision that he didn’t want Cas to be a hook up or a fling.  He wasn’t sure why, he didn’t know much about him at all, but he was determined to do this the right way.  Get to know him, develop a solid friendship, and then seduce him with hamburgers and a rendition of “Whole Lotta Love” in his underwear.

Dean chuckled to himself and Cas eyed him suspiciously.  Dean laughed again and waved a hand.  If they were going to be friends, Cas was going to have to learn that a lot of his thoughts made external appearances but he rarely clarified them for anybody.

At last the elevator managed to claw its way to the second floor.  The door opened as a metal clanging sound echoed in the shaft.  Dean stepped off it quickly; he did not trust it one bit.  The room had several people and young children waiting in clusters or sitting in comfortable looking chairs.  Everyone was signing.  Dean really hoped these weren’t the people waiting for the beginner level class.  He followed Cas out of the waiting room and toward the back.  They entered a room that had about twenty people sitting at double occupancy tables.  A slender, dark haired woman was at the front of the room writing on the chalkboard.  She had already written Hannah and was just finishing Castiel.  Dean turned to look at Cas.

“Castiel?” he asked using the sign for his name that Cas had taught him.

Cas shrugged one shoulder, looking a little embarrassed.

“Does it have a different sign?  Cas and Castiel?”

Cas shook his head, but Dean wasn’t sure if he was answering his question or not.  Cas waved for him to follow him to the front of the class and he greeted the woman, Hannah, with a flurry of signs.  Hannah turned to Dean and smiled.

“Hello.  My name is Hannah,” she said, sticking out her hand.

Dean took it and was surprised by how strong her grip was.  “Dean.”

“Welcome to class, Dean.  Let me grab you a packet.”

Hannah turned to the large desk next to the chalkboard and picked up a thick packet of papers being held together by a straining staple.  The top page declared it to be Learning American Sign Language: Levels I & II—Beginning and Intermediate, but it was skewed just a bit to one side indicating it had been photocopied from something.  Dean took the heavy booklet and wondered if his next question was offensive, but decided to ask it anyway.

“Uh, can you hear?” he asked.

Hannah smiled and nodded.  “Yes, I’m hearing.  I was born to deaf parents so I learned how to sign from an early age to communicate with them.”

Dean noticed that Hannah signed as she spoke, and it dawned on him that it was because even though she wasn’t addressing Cas, it was to keep him a part of the conversation just like a hearing person would be.

“Uh, can you sign what I’m saying so that Cas knows what I’m asking you?  I don’t want him to think I’m talking about him because I think he can’t understand.”

“Sure, of course.  Dean wants me to sign what he’s saying,” Hannah said to Cas.

Cas quirked an eyebrow at him.

“You showed me a sign you use for your name—”

“Name sign,” Hannah interrupted him.  “We call them name signs.”

“Ah, thank you.  Cas showed me his name sign, but he indicated it was only for Cas.  I guessing from the board that his full name is Castiel or Casteel?  Is there a different name sign for that?”

Cas made an “Oh, I get it now” face recalling their conversation at the door.

“No, his name sign is his name and encompasses nicknames and the like.  I believe it’s pronounced Castiel, with three syllables.”

“Ah, good to know.  Uh…can only deaf people have name signs?”

Hannah laughed.  “No, this is my name sign,” she said as she dragged her index and middle fingers down the middle of her forehead toward her nose.

“What does it mean?”

“Nothing.  It’s an arbitrary name sign.  Sometimes people are assigned descriptive name signs.  It depends on the community that assigns the name.”

“Assigns?”

“Oh, yes.  You can’t pick your own name sign.”  She smiled and gave him a wink.

Dean laughed, and then Cas stepped almost between them as he signed something.

“Okay, okay,” Hannah said.  “You’re right.  We should start class.  Dean, if you could find a seat, we’ll get started.”

“Oh, yeah, right.  Sorry to hold you up.”

“Not at all.  I’m thrilled to have you.”

Dean walked to the back of the classroom and took a seat at an empty table.  He took a pen out of his jeans pocket and clicked the top.  He was ready to learn.  The first part of the class covered the alphabet.  Dean had already learned it online, and he was grateful to find that the website hadn’t lied to him.  Then they went over simple introductory phrases.  There appeared to be a lot less grammar involved than he had read about on the Internet though.  It seemed like ASL worked a lot more on concepts and context than being a strict transliteration of English words to signs.  Paradoxically, that made it both easier and harder to learn.  It was easier not to have to learn signs for articles and linking verbs and the like, but it was more difficult to form sentences when he had to sort through unneeded words until he reached the word he could sign.

Toward the end of the two hour class, Hannah told them all to pair up and practice what they had learned.  Dean was the odd man out and was about to ask the couple in front of him if they could make it a three-way (he snickered in his head), but then Cas joined him at his table.  Dean smiled and happily showed off his newly acquired mad signing skillz.

-Hello.  My name is Dean.  It’s nice to meet you.-

-It’s nice to meet you.  My name is Cas.”

-How are you?-

-I’m well.  How are you?-

-Great.  Thank you.-

Cas smiled and nodded.  Dean tried to low-key preen under the praise.  Then Cas picked up his pen and scribbled on the corner of the page of his open packet.  Dean worried for a moment that he was going to tell him he sucked, but he’d simply written, You can speak while you sign.

Does it help the people I’m talking to? He wrote back.

Cas shrugged.  Sometimes.  But it will help you keep your thoughts organized so you don’t get lost in the signs.

Dean almost wrote “you don’t speak,” but then decided against it.  He didn’t know why Cas didn’t speak.  He definitely could.  He’d used his voice on that terrible Friday a week ago, but he hadn’t uttered so much as a syllable since then.

“Okay, that’s time for today,” Hannah called out.

Dean glanced at her and then back at Cas.  “Class is over,” he said.

Cas nodded.  They stared at each other for a moment or two as the people around them packed up their booklets and stood up to leave.  Dean used his pen to write, Coffee?

Cas looked at that one word for a worrisome long time.  In reality it was probably only a second or two, but to Dean it felt like an eternity.  Finally Cas nodded.  Dean smiled, the breath he’d been holding coming out in a whoosh that he hoped Cas didn’t notice.  After nearly a month of talking the guy up and expressing avid interest, he’d finally gotten a date with him.

 ~~~

Castiel hesitated before saying yes to getting coffee with Dean because he didn’t want him to think it was a date.  He was confident that Dean didn’t think that though.  It was two friends hanging out after class.  Just to be on the safe side though…As they approached the front of the classroom, Castiel got Hannah’s attention.

-We’re going to get a cup of coffee.   Would you like to join us?-

“Sure!  I’ve been craving a crème brûlée donut.  Dean, have you been to Cups and Crullers?  They make the weirdest but best donuts.”

“Uh…”

Cas noticed Dean looked a little confused.  He steadfastly kept a neutral, oblivious face.

“Um, no, I’ve never been there.  I have heard of it though, but I never come to this part of the city.”

“Well, you’re in for a treat.  Let me just grab my purse.”

Cas put his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels.  He glanced at Dean.  He didn’t appear to be upset or disappointed.  Good.  He must not have thought it was a date.

They had to wait for the elevator to come back up to collect the second half of the class.  Hannah told Dean that they had looked into getting the thing replaced, but it was much more money than the DCO could afford.  They were currently grandfathered in on certain building codes, and if they attempted to change anything they would have to fix everything.  Cas was grateful that Hannah was there to interpret for Dean, but he had a feeling her signing wasn’t really capturing what Dean was saying.

Cups and Crullers was packed to the gills and Cas was sent on a mission to find a table while Dean and Hannah waited in line.  He didn’t realize his mistake of leaving the two of them alone until they found him at the table he’d managed to snag away from a couple soccer moms.  Dean was carrying the coffees and Hannah had a box with donuts in it, which left her with just enough hands to sign behind Dean’s back, -This is Train Guy?  You downplayed how hot he is!-

Castiel gave her a look warning her not to say anything and then smiled at Dean when he handed him his coffee.  Hannah didn’t say anything as she sat down at the table and opened the box of donuts, but she was smirking like a cat that had cornered a mouse.  He was watching her so closely he didn’t notice Dean take a bite of one of the donuts.  He did notice that Hannah made a startled face and then looked at Dean.  Cas looked too and Dean shrugged sheepishly and mumbled something around the bite he was chewing.

“He said, ‘It’s good,’” Hannah spoke and signed.  “He expressed his appreciation in a more…animalistic way before.”

“Thank you for putting it that way,” Dean said and Hannah interpreted.

They laughed, but Castiel didn’t understand why it was funny.  He also didn’t know why Hannah kept making Dean laugh.

-What kind did you try?- Castiel asked.

“Peanut butter and jelly,” Dean replied.

-That’s my favorite.-

“Oh, sorry.  Did you want it?  You can have the rest.”

-It’s okay.  I work nearby.  I can get one whenever I like.-

Dean took a sip of his coffee, his eyes on Castiel.  Then he inhaled deeply, cut his eyes over to Hannah, and then spoke to Castiel directly rather than Hannah.  Castiel appreciated that.

“Can I ask you something personal?  I don’t want to offend you, but…”

He didn’t finish his thought.  Hannah waited for Dean to continue, but then glanced at Castiel with a look of “that was it.”  Castiel knew where this was going.  Where it always went with hearing people.

-Why don’t I speak?-

Dean looked a little guilty as he nodded.

-Some deaf people just choose not to speak.  I was born deaf so I really have no frame of reference for how any letters or words sound.  I can try to mimic the shape of my lips and tongue to what other people do, but from what I’m told it just doesn’t come out quite right.  I don’t need my voice to communicate and most people can’t understand me when I vocalize, so I don’t see the point of doing it.  Especially in today’s world with so much business and communication taking place online or over texting, I’m not at a disadvantage at all.-

Dean nodded and took a large bite of his donut.

-I think he said, ‘That’s cool.’- Hannah signed.

-Is that all?- Castiel asked her.  –No ‘your speech can’t be that bad,’ no ‘maybe you just need to practice?’-

Hannah shook her head.  And then signed, -Maybe he’s someone hearing who could handle being in a relationship with a deaf person.-

-Hush.-

“Are you guys talking about me?” Dean asked, wiping his mouth with a napkin.

“Yes,” Hannah replied cheerfully.  “Sorry.  Sometimes we do have terrible manners.”

“Is that sorry?” Dean asked, making the sign for sorry against his chest.

“Yes.  You’re a quick study.  You and Cas won’t need me before too long.”

Dean chuckled.  “I’m not trying to get rid of you.”

“Of course not.”

They smiled at each other.  Castiel glared at the top of his coffee cup as he took a large swig of the hot liquid.  He knew why it bothered him that they were so friendly with each other, but he had to get over it.  He couldn’t be jealous over someone he was not nor would ever be in a relationship with.  Dean was just a friend.  He might have a little crush on him, but it would fade.  As all things did.

 ~~~

Dean shuffled onto the warmth of the train, his ear stinging with the cold.  Summer had clung to the earth as long as possible, but when it let it go it seemed to have taken autumn out with it.  It was only the second to last week of November but the temperatures had dipped into the 30’s.  Dean moved to sit next to Cas where he sat in his usual corner.  He sat practically on top of him, leaning against his body to try to steal his warmth.

-Cold?- Cas signed.

-Very,- Dean replied and then blew on his hands to warm them up.

-You.  Gloves.-

You should wear gloves, Dean’s brain pieced together the signs he knew into a sentence.  He was pretty proud of himself for how well he picked up and retained dozens and dozens of signs every week, but he still had a hard time grasping the differences in grammar.  In theory it should be easy because ASL was a much simpler language than English—they didn’t have to use articles or worry about verb conjugations.  However, it was like recalibrating his brain after almost 24 years of being programmed to think of language in one way.  He’d barely managed to complete his three years of Spanish in high school to fulfill the language requirement to graduate.

Despite his self-diagnosed difficulty with languages, Dean was definitely ahead of everyone in his beginner level classes.  Probably because he spoke with Cas every day on the train and they went out for coffee with Hannah after every class.  Dean definitely benefited from being able to watch Hannah sign while she spoke and listen to her speak while Cas signed.  He and Cas could bumble through a conversation entirely in ASL the way preschoolers talked to each other in nouns and verbs with the meaning hopefully being implicit.

Cas playfully nudged Dean off his shoulder so that he had more freedom to sign.  Dean nudged back and Cas made a soft, disgruntled noise.  Dean almost felt guilty for it, but he felt a thrill hearing Cas’ voice.  He so rarely heard anything out of him that he reveled in any small sound he could get out of him whether it was intentional or not.  His voice sounded deep, but he wasn’t sure.  He’d never heard a full word out of him.  Not since that one time, which Dean tried not to think about.  That was why Dean did his best to get Cas to laugh, but either he wasn’t really funny or Cas had trained himself not to laugh.  And since Dean was frickin’ hilarious, it must be the latter.

-S-A-M.  Home.-

There was a third sign Dean didn’t catch.  Well, there was a fourth sign as well, but Dean knew he was supposed to know that one so he didn’t ask about it.

-What is…-  Dean copied the last sign.

Cas finger spelled “Thanksgiving.”

“Oh.  Is Sam coming home for Thanksgiving?”

Cas nodded, reading Dean’s lips.

-No,- Dean signed.  And then spoke slowly, throwing in a sign or two when he knew a word for it.  “It’s too expensive to fly for every break.  He’ll be home for winter break.”

-Alone?-

“Nah.  I’ll be at my aunt and uncle’s.  Will you be alone?”

-Fly.  I-L-L-I-N-O-I-S.  Parents.  Brother.  Sister.-

“For how long?”

-Long.  Weekend.-

“So, you’ll be back on Monday?”

Cas grinned.  –Why?-  Then he made a sign and pointed to himself.

Dean shook his head.  Cas’ cheeks grew a little red as he finger spelled “miss.”

“Will I miss you?” Dean asked with a laugh.

Cas shrugged and looked away.  Dean waited for Cas to build up the nerve and look back at him, and then he nodded.

“Yeah.  I’ll miss you.  Will you miss me?”

Cas stared at him for a moment and Dean felt like Cas was about to say or do something profound.  Then he gave his head a slight shake and emphatically signed, –No.  Too much car.-

Dean threw his head back and laughed.  He deliberately made Cas teach him a new word for different parts of his car in addition to their regular practice on the train.  He knew it irritated Cas because he actually had to look some words up on his phone that he didn’t know the signs for.  He kept trying to tell Dean to just finger spell everything technical because there weren’t specific signs for spark plugs and carburetors.  Although as it turned out, there were, which made Cas huff in exasperation—which in turn made something pull inside Dean’s chest.  It wasn’t painful…but it felt dangerous.

“What are you doing at work?”

-Good news.  Win money.-

“Did you win the lottery?” Dean asked, confused.

-G-R-A-N-T  M-O-N-E-Y.-

“Oh.  That’s great.  What will you do with it?”

Cas started to sign, then stopped.  He held up a finger and then pulled out his phone.  He used his phone when the idea was too complicated or just too long to finger spell.

The DCO will be going on a mission to Mexico to provide free hearing tests to people in impoverished neighborhoods and fitting those that need it with hearing aids.

“That’s exciting.  Will you go on the trip?”

Cas nodded.  –Next summer.-

“You need any volunteers?” Dean asked with a laugh, mostly joking.

-Yes.  Two weeks.-  Then Cas pointed to him and made the sign Dean now remembered was “come.”

“Sure.  The grant money covers travel, food, and lodging for the volunteers, right?” Dean asked, elbowing Cas lightly in the arm and showing him he was teasing him since he couldn’t hear his tone.

-Yes,- Castiel replied.

Dean blinked, startled.  “It pays for everything?”

Cas nodded.

Dean was surprised by this news.  It made making the trip actually feasible.  Did Cas really want him to go?  They could bond over helping children receive help and then get drunk on tequila and mescal and then make out in the warm air under a full moon…

Dean started when Cas waved a hand in front of his face.

-You okay?-

“Y-yeah.  M’Good.”

Cas frowned.  He typed a message on his phone.

You’re swallowing your words and making contractions that don’t exist again.

-Sorry,- Dean signed.  “I forget because you read lips so well.”

Cas waffled a hand in the air.

“No, none of that.  You read lips better than anyone at the DCO.”

Cas shrugged one shoulder is false modesty.  Then he looked down at his phone as it vibrated in his hand.  Dean politely looked away while Cas checked his messages.  He checked his own phone.  His last text had been at 2:00am from Sam because the kid had no appreciation for time zones.  Cas made a disgusted noise and Dean looked over at him.  He looked seriously peeved.

When he put his phone away, Dean asked, -Problem?-

Cas rolled his eyes and reached into his satchel.  He pulled out a flyer and handed it to Dean.  He pointed to the name of the event on the gaudily over-decorated piece of paper.

 

Twelfth Annual MACE Gala

Benefitting the Deaf Outreach Community and the Regional Association of the Blind

December 17, 2016, 8:00pm

Come explore the world of The Nutcracker

 

“Do you have to go to this?” Dean asked.

-Go.  Plan.  Everything.-

“Is it your big fundraiser for the year or something?”

Cas nodded.

“Black tie?”

Cas nodded.

“Ouch.  That’s rough.  What does MACE stand for?”

Cas made more faces and typed on his phone.  He showed it to Dean: Most Awkward Conversations Ever.

Dean shook his head.  “Why?”

Cas typed some more.  Mostly deaf and blind people attend.  How do we communicate?

Dean thought for a moment, and then he sniggered.  Cas shot him a look, which just made him laugh harder.  Cas shoved him in the shoulder and Dean fell sideways on the seat and continued to laugh.  The woman sitting on the bench across from them looked up from her phone with an annoyed glare.  Dean ignored her and sat back up, still laughing.  Cas pushed him again, but he fought back.  They wrestled for a moment until the woman cleared her throat loudly.  Dean let Cas win, but gave the woman a long hard stare, which she mostly succeeded in ignoring.

The train began to slow down as they approached Cas’ station.  Dean sighed.  Fifty minutes used to feel so long, and now he felt the train rides couldn’t go on long enough.  Cas tucked the flyer in his satchel and put his phone in his pocket.  The train slowed more and Cas stood up.  Dean reached out to get his attention.  He somehow wound up taking Castiel’s hand, and then just held it.

“What train do you take home?”

Castiel shook his head, not understanding.  Dean had to let go of his hand to make a couple signs to help get his point across.

“The train you take home, what time?”

-5:40.-

“I take the 5:30.  It must be the same train.  I don’t see you.”

The train came to a stop and people crowded into the front of the car to access the door.

-I.  Sit.  Different.  Car.-

“What number?”

Castiel headed for the door but he held up four fingers before he stepped off the train.  Dean wondered if that meant four from the front or four from the back.  Probably the front, right?  He would find out that evening.

 ~~~

-Castiel, the event is tomorrow.  Tomorrow.  How can you not have a date?-

Castiel sat back in his chair and groaned.  –It’s not a cotillion.  It doesn’t matter if I don’t have a date.-

-It does matter,- Gabriel insisted.  -You’re the director.  The CCO.  You set the example.  If you don’t do the stupid charity games that require partners or dance, no one else will either.-

-The director for the RAB will be there.  She and her husband can set the example.-

-This is our event.  It’s joint only in name, you know that.  Our people work so hard on this.  You don’t want to let them down, do you?-

-Let them down?  You’re acting like I’m not even going to attend.  I’ll be there from an hour before it starts until an hour after it ends.  Why are you pushing so hard about this?-

Hannah pushed Gabriel out of the door to Castiel’s office and cut him off.

-Because he has a date lined up for you and he wants you to feel obligated to take a date and since it’s so last minute you’ll have no choice but to take his guy.-

Gabriel said something out loud to her, but he was facing her and didn’t sign so Castiel didn’t know what he said to make Hannah smirk in triumph at him.  He waved his arms to get their attention.

-I will not go on a blind date.  Especially not to an event this important.-

“But you should take a date,” Gabriel spoke and signed.  “Really.”

Castiel sighed.  He looked at Hannah.  –Really?-

She shrugged.  –It’s expected.-

-But is it necessary?-

“Yes!”  Castiel didn’t have to be hearing to know that the man had shouted his response.

Hannah didn’t say yes or no, but her shrug was a little bit more of a nod than anything.  Castiel rolled his eyes.

-Fine.  Fine.  I’ll bring a date.-

“Great!  I have the perfect—”

-No.  No blind dates.  I can ask Balthazar.-

Gabriel made a face and threw himself against the wall and slid to the floor in quite the dramatic fashion.  Hannah was amused by Gabriel’s antics, but she was also wincing.

-No to Balthazar, then?-

Hannah stalled and then said, “I don’t think people have quite forgiven him for last year.”

-We earned more money last year than any previous gala.-

“Yes.  But, we’re kind of hoping to earn this year without a strip tease.”

Cas shrugged.  –Your loss.-

Gabriel sat up from the floor.  “Who are you going to bring if not Balthazar?”

Cas scratched his head.  -I’ll think of someone.-

“By tomorrow night?”

-I’ll handle it.  Now get out.  I have work to do.-

Castiel spent the rest of the afternoon handling last minute details for the event and it completely slipped his mind to start looking through his mental rolodex for possible date options.  As he walked to the station he wondered if he should just make it easier on himself and ask one of his female friends to accompany him.  That way there would be zero confusion or expectation concerning the “date.”  The only problem was that all of his female friends were either in relationships, too young to be appropriate even on a platonic date, or Meg.  He loved Meg dearly, but her feelings toward him weren’t quite as platonic as his were for her.  He didn’t want to hurt her feelings or give her false hope even though she knew quite well that he was a complete six on the Kinsey Scale.

As he watched the train pull into the station, his stress over finding a date dissipated.  It was replaced with the familiar pleasure that seeing Dean gave him.  He was so happy that his friend had started sitting in his car on the ride home as well.  It was a nice way to shed the work day and have a pleasant, stimulating conversation rather than slumping on the bench and frowning at his book until he got to his station.

The conversations really had become stimulating.  Not only was Dean interesting in general, but with daily practice on the train Dean had flown past his peers in Saturday classes, although he had continued to attend them until the last session last weekend.  Castiel hadn’t known anyone hearing who had picked up ASL so fast.  Even parents of deaf children often learned at a much slower pace.  Gabriel had told him that it was the “Power of the Boner.”  Castiel had scoffed at him.  He and Dean were just friends.

Castiel stepped onto the train and moved to sit right next to Dean with a smile.  It was kind of silly to sit so close to him; it made signing harder, but he liked how solid and sturdy Dean felt against him.

“Hey, Cas,” Dean spoke and managed to sign at least half if not more of what he said.

-Hello.-

“Rough day?”

-Why do you ask?-

“You look tired.  Usually you just look annoyed.”

Castiel laughed.  –I’m surprised I don’t look more annoyed.  My employees are pestering me to bring a date to the MACE Gala.-

“Well, you’re the boss.  You should have a date.”

-Not you too!-

Dean shrugged.  Castiel settled more firmly against his side.  He almost let his head fall onto his shoulder, but instead let it rest on the wall.  After a couple of minutes, Dean nudged him gently and he opened his eyes.  He snapped his head up, suddenly aware that he’d dozed off.

“Do you have to take someone annoying?”

-Who’s annoying?-

“Your date.”

-Oh.  I don’t have a date.  That’s the problem.-

“Isn’t the gala, like, tomorrow?”

Castiel nodded.

Dean chuckled.  “Where are you going to find a date on such short notice?  Craig’s List?”

Castiel smiled and then wondered if that was a possibility.  He’d said no to blind dates but only because he didn’t trust Gabriel.  Surely he could trust some rando from the Internet.  Dean poked him.

“You cannot take a date from Craig’s List.”

Castiel conceded with a bob of his head.  Then he glanced over at Dean.  He kept looking at him until Dean felt himself being stared at and looked over.  He pointed to himself.

“Me?”

Castiel nodded.  –Free food.  Free alcohol.  Stupid games.  Door prizes.-

“Sure, it sounds great, but uh, I don’t own a tux.  And I don’t know if I could rent one on such short notice.  I mean, I probably could, but—”

-Is the tux your only objection?-

“What?”

-If you had a tux would you not want to go?-

“No, I’d be happy to stand up for you,” Dean said with an obnoxious wink.

-My brother gave me his old tuxedo, but it doesn’t fit me.  You’re built like him.  A little taller than me and more slender.  It should fit you.-

“Are you sure your brother gave you an extra tuxedo and that you haven’t been planning this for months?”

Castiel rolled his eyes.  -You caught me.  This has all been an elaborate ruse for me to trick a stranger into being my date for the MACE Gala.-

“Oh, the plot thickens!”

-Yes.  It all started when I got Sam into Stanford so that you would have to take a job at that ad firm which would require you to start riding the train.-

Dean laughed and Castiel enjoyed watching his eyes sparkle.  “Well, then, since you’ve gone to so much trouble, how could I possibly say no?”

-You can’t.  One of the girls who interprets for our youth programs makes her own clothes, so she’s going to come over and tailor the pants of my tux for me.  She can do yours too.  You can come over to my apartment to get dressed, and then I can drive us to the gala.-

“Okay.  It’s a plan.  You know, this will be the first time we’ll hang out outside of commuting or classes.”

-True.  Although, we could think of this as your final examination.-

“Thank you.  I wasn’t nervous before, but I am now.”

Castiel smiled.  –Sorry.-

“It’s okay.  It’ll be good practice.  I guess.  But if it’s a test, then we need to make plans to hang out just because at some point.  See a movie or watch the game.”

-What game?-

“Whatever, Cas.  I like ‘em all.”

Castiel reached over and flicked his thigh.  –Swallowing words.-

Dean mumbled something that involved the word “swallowing,” but Castiel couldn’t catch it.

-What did you say?-

Dean shook his head and didn’t clarify.  Cas didn’t feel offended though.  Dean did that even with hearing people.

-I’ll email you my address.  You can come over around 3:00 or 4:00.  That should give Claire enough time to adjust both of our suits if she needs to.-

“What’s her name?  I don’t know what the name sign stands for.”

-C-L-A-I-R-E.-

“Claire.  Got it.  Well, alright.  Looks like I have something to do on Saturday night rather than sit at home and surf the web for anime porn.”

-Anime porn?-

“No, just porn.”

-You didn’t sign it but I saw your lips.-

“Anyone tell you it’s really unfair that you can read lips?”

-No.-  Castiel smiled at him.  –What do you watch?  Tentacle porn?-

“Please don’t tell me that’s the sign for tentacle.”

Castiel laughed and didn’t even care that the other people on the train looked at him strangely because he was either laughing oddly or too loud.  He didn’t care because Dean was grinning at him and it made him look even more beautiful than usual.

 ~~~

Dean inhaled deeply and shook out his hands to dispel his nerves.  He knew that Cas hadn’t asked him on a real date per se, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t end in a very real date kind of way.  Cas had to know he liked him, right?  He had to.  If he didn’t, he was going to know by the end of the night.

Dean hesitated before knocking because he was really early.  It was only 2:40, but it hadn’t taken as long to get to Cas’ townhouse as he’d anticipated.  It turned out they lived quite near each other.  Not so near that Dean could walk, but less than fifteen minutes by car.  There was no sense in standing outside his door like a creeper, so Dean knocked on the door.  Then he rolled his eyes up into his head for being a freaking moron.  He rang the doorbell, which wasn’t attached to a bell but lights that flashed through the whole house.  Within seconds the door opened and Castiel grinned at him.

-Did you knock first?-

“Shut up.”

Dean shouldered past Cas without being invited, trying not to dwell on how good the man looked in jeans and a T-shirt instead of his usual suit.  The door opened straight onto a flight of stairs that led up to the second story of the townhouse.  From the landing the stairs continued up to the third level, and to the right was the main level of the house.  Dean stepped into the living room and appreciated the open floor plan with a large kitchen at one end and a sunroom at the other.  He shrugged out of his leather coat and turned when Cas took it from him.

-Would you like something to drink?-

“Are we pre-gaming?”

-I meant water or iced tea, but I have beer too.-

“You have an IPA?”

-Let me check.-

The lights flashed in the house.

-Can you get the door?- Cas asked while hanging Dean’s coat up in a closet.

Dean headed back down the stairs.  He was a little upset that Claire had already arrived.  He had been hoping to spend a little one on one time with Cas in a private setting.  When he opened the door he found a pretty young woman with long blonde hair done up in an interesting series of braids.  Now he understood why her name sign was “braid” with a C rather than an R.  Her clothing was mostly black and looked pieced together and distressed.  Dean wondered if Cas really trusted her to play seamstress to an expensive tuxedo.

“Who are you?” Claire asked bluntly.

“My name’s Dean.  I’m Cas’ date to this shindig.”

“Really?”  Claire looked him over.  “Cas sure is slumming it this year.”  She smirked at him.

Dean fake laughed at her and she fake laughed back.

“Get inside,” he groused.

He turned around and stomped up the stairs, leaving it to Claire to shut the door and follow him.  When he reached the living room, Cas handed him an open bottle.  Dean checked the label, deemed it to be acceptable, and took a swig.  Cas greeted Claire with an awkward hug, the awkwardness of which didn’t appear to be entirely Cas’ fault.  Dean suspected neither of them were particularly great with people.

“Where are these tuxes?” Claire spoke and signed.

-Upstairs,- Castiel said.  -I’ll go get them.-

He left Dean and Claire alone as he ran up the second set of stairs.  Dean took another swig of beer and looked Claire over again.

“So, what are you, in high school?”

“I’m in college.  I’m nineteen.”

“My brother is nineteen.”

“Wow.  He and I have so much in common.  We should hang out.”

Dean scowled at her.  “Well you both have attitudes, so you do have a lot in common.”

“How old are you?  I didn’t take Cas for a cradle robber.”

“I’m twenty…four.”

Claire gave him a look.

“I’m almost twenty-four,” he said defensively.  “I’ll be twenty-four in January.”

“You know he’s in his thirties.”

“So?”

Claire shrugged a shoulder.  Cas came back downstairs holding a garment bag in each hand.  Claire caught his eye and signed, -Did you know he’s only twenty-three?-

“Did you know that I can sign?” Dean growled.

Claire looked at him with mild surprise.  “I didn’t think you could read signs that well.”

“Well.  I can.”

Cas laid the garment bags across the back of his couch.  He faced Dean.

-You’re twenty-three?-

“I’ll be twenty-four in January.  Why?  Does it matter?  How old did you think I was?”

-No, no problem.  Of course not.  You just seem older.  Probably because you have to take care of your brother and you’re so responsible.  You could learn from him, Claire.  He’s remarkably organized and goal oriented.-

Claire circled a finger in the air in a “whoop-de-do” gesture.

-Okay, Claire.  What do we need to do for you?-

“Well, change into the tuxes.  And do you have a foot stool or step ladder?”

Castiel nodded and retrieved a step stool from the pantry.  Dean undid his belt and dropped his pants right there, completely unperturbed by Claire’s inarticulate protests.  He was wearing black boxer briefs so he didn’t think there was anything offensive about his quasi-hairy legs and sock-feet.  Especially since his T-shirt and flannel hung down low enough to obscure most of his package.  He turned to examine the garment bags to see if he could figure out which one was his and found Cas right in front of him.  He shoved a garment bag into his arms and then pushed him across the room and into a half bath.

-Change in here!-

Then he slammed the door shut.  Dean actually took Cas’ reaction as a good sign.  It was easiest on his ego to just assume Cas was flustered because he was attracted to him.  Dean was totally cool with that.  His theory was confirmed by Cas’ slightly ajar mouth as he stared at Dean when he came out of the bathroom in the Tom Ford tuxedo.

“Your brother gave you a Tom Ford tuxedo for free?”

Cas’ jaw worked uselessly, and then he seemed to remember that he didn’t use it to speak anyway.  He signed, -He bought himself a Hugo Boss.-

“What does your brother do?” Claire asked.

-He sold his soul to the devil and works on Wall Street.-

“Uh oh.  Family drama?”

-Not at all.  That’s how he describes himself.-

“He’s hearing, I take it,” Dean said.

-He is,- Cas replied.  –How did you know?-

“I didn’t.  Just guessed.  I didn’t think Wall Street would be that…accommodating.”

-Ah.  You’re probably right.-

They held eyes for a moment, and Dean forgot someone else was still in the room until Claire waved her hands in the air.

“Hey, guys.  Sorry to break up the eye sex, but after this I still need to get home in time to get ready myself.”

“You’re coming to the gala?” Dean asked.

“All the DCO employees are.  Now get on that stool and let me see where the pants are breaking.”

“Breaking?”

“Don’t ask.  Just get up.”

Dean stepped onto the stool.  “How did you get involved with the DCO?  Are your parents deaf?”

“No.  No one is in my family.”

Claire was using her hands to work on Dean’s pants, and he wondered if he should he sign what Claire was saying for Cas.  However, Cas had disappeared with his garment bag, probably to change into his tux.  And to hide the blush that had overtaken his face at Claire’s “eye sex” comment.

“So, how did you get involved?”

“I took the interpreter certification class in high school in order to pad my college applications.  Since I passed the test and picked up sign language so well, they asked me to work part time while I attended school.  They thought it was good to have someone my age available who could relate to the younger clientele.”

“Do you plan on being a professional interpreter one day?”

Claire laughed softly.  “There’s not much money in that.  I wanna be an engineer or something.  I figured I could just be the interpreter at my future company for like assemblies and presentations and stuff to keep up my skills.”

“You sound like a giver, Claire.”

Claire straightened and gave him a cheeky smile and a sarcastically sweet, “Thank you.”

Dean stared her down.  He wasn’t intimidated by snot-nosed teenagers.  Claire took a step back and looked him over again.

“Seriously, if you don’t get laid tonight, you have something seriously wrong with your personality.”

Dean smiled, and then wondered if that was more compliment or insult.

The fitting went smoothly as apparently both Dean and Cas’ brother Michael were exactly the same size and the tux needed no tailoring.  Claire only had to adjust the cuff of the pants on Cas’ tux by half an inch.  When she was gone they had about an hour to kill before they needed to get ready to leave.  Dean was a little concerned that their first time alone together might be awkward, but the easy conversations that they had on the train carried over to Cas’ home without missing a step.

The car ride was a slightly different story, however.  With his hands on the wheel, Cas couldn’t sign, nor could he keep his eyes on Dean to watch him sign.  Not that it would matter because it was already dark out at 6:00 and they couldn’t see each other’s hands in the interior of the car.  Dean was also a little nervous about Cas driving, which Cas picked up on and made him testy.  He’d explained several times that not only was it legal for deaf people to drive, but that it was perfectly safe.  Dean did his best to relax, but he knew that Cas could tell his body was rigid.  Perhaps it was a good thing that they couldn’t talk during the drive—for the entire long hour.

When they arrived safe and sound and without incident, they put the tense car ride behind them.  Both were determined to enjoy themselves and Dean didn’t mind arriving early so that he could help Cas with a last minute check of the venue, the band, and the caterers.  The large ballroom of a hotel had been turned into what looked like to Dean a mini Epcot Center at Disney World.  There were sections with decorations and food for various countries as well as a huge dessert station.  Dean had seen the human sized nutcrackers when they had come in the front doors, but he didn’t know what the rest of it had to do with anything.  When he finally gave in and asked, Castiel gave him a quick summary of the story of The Nutcracker ballet.  He still thought it looked more like Epcot, but he wasn’t complaining because the dessert section was twice as large as any other.

Slightly after 8:00 guests started to arrive.  Cas touched Dean lightly on his arm.  He was surprised to find him looking anxious.

“You okay, Cas?”

-Yes.  Just the 2017 budget is riding on this.-

“Come on, you got this.  You’ve got Epcot center, desserts out the wazoo, and arm candy.  We’ll get you that cash.”

Cas smiled distractedly.  –You’re my arm candy?-

“Hell yes.”

Cas looked over at him and offered his arm.  Dean took it, though it felt a little weird because he was always on the other side of the gesture, and followed Cas toward the assembling crowd.  The cluster of people they approached broke into signing as soon as they saw Cas.  Dean felt overwhelmed by the multiple conversations happening.  Only a couple people spoke out loud as they signed and their pronunciation wasn’t very good.  After several minutes, someone gestured to Dean.

-Oh, I apologize.  Where are my manners?- Cas said.  He proceeded to introduce the group of people, first finger spelling names and then using name signs.  The people were all high ranking individuals in Fortune 500 companies.  Dean didn’t think he’d ever stood next to so much money in his life.  He was a little disappointed that Cas introduced him as his “friend,” but he was distracted by Cas making a sign after he finger spelled his name.  After Cas was finally able to back away from the group to go in search of other patrons, Dean dragged him toward a food table.

“Let me eat something first and tell me what you said after my name.”

Cas smiled indulgently and let himself be led to the China station.  Dean loaded up a little plate full of pot stickers and faced Cas.  He did his best to sign with his hands full, and fortunately Cas had gotten pretty good at reading his lips.

“What did you say after you spelled my name to them?”

Cas’ cheeks tinged pink.  –It’s your name sign.-

Dean smiled brightly.  “I have a name sign?  Since when?”

Cas shrugged a shoulder.  –It was just kind of a way to refer to you when people in the office didn’t know your name.  And it just kind of stuck.-

“Oh.  I didn’t recognize it, but you were using a D for my name, right?”

-Yes.  After they learned your name, they just altered the sign a little to include the letter to denote you.-

“What is it?  Nothing bad, I hope.”

-No, of course not.  You know this sign, right?-  Cas took the index and middle fingers of his right hand and rubbed them up and down his left forearm.

“Train,” Dean said around a mouth of tasty dumpling.

Cas nodded.  –It’s train, only the moving hand is changed to the letter D.-

Dean nodded.  “That’s cool.  Why am I associated with trains at the office?  You, I get, by why everyone?”

-They all know that’s where I met you.-

“Was I a source of gossip at the DCO?” Dean asked with a grin.

-No,- Castiel snipped at him.

Dean chomped down on another dumpling.  He offered the plate to Cas.  Cas picked one up with his fingers and let some of the sauce drip off before popping it into his mouth.

“It’s good, huh?”

-Yes.-

Dean finished off the plate and tossed it into the trash.  “So, what’s next?  Spain or Russia?”

-More schmoozing.-

Dean deflated a little.

-I promise, we’ll hit all the stations.  But you promised to use your pretty face to get me some money.  So, let’s go pimp you out.-

Dean laughed and took his proffered arm.  “Aw, you think I’m pretty?”

Cas ignored his remark.

 ~~~

Four hours later and Castiel felt ready to cut his feet off and just be done with the wretched things.  His head was pounding from concentrating on reading the lips of all the hearing guests—who were the majority in attendance.   Dean had done his best to help out, but he was nowhere near fluent enough to be an interpreter.  He only crossed paths with Hannah and Meg a couple of times, but they were busy interpreting for the other DCO employees who were much less proficient at lip reading than he was.

He also regretted agreeing to the trivia games and carnival-esque games rather than just having a silent auction.  There was too much confusion on how the benefactors paid for and received the prizes.  Castiel was almost certain they were going to make much less money than previous years if not outright break even.  A small battle of wills had also taken place between the most affluent of their benefactors and the director of the Regional Association for the Blind.  He couldn’t afford to insult either and only some distraction from the band (which he didn’t even notice at first) somehow put an end to the argument.

Dean had been a saint through the whole evening.  He had faithfully stayed with Castiel and done his best to help him when he could and promoted the DCO to total strangers.  When Castiel noticed him starting to drag, he would take him to a new food table and let him refuel.  They had only parted when Castiel had been called away to deal with the tiff between benefactor and director, which he had no effect on in the end anyway.  It took him quite a while to track down Dean, but at last he found him safely in a corner scarfing cream puffs and talking animatedly with Charlie Bradbury.

Castiel had been very skeptical when Eileen had first introduced him to her new girlfriend, but seven years later Eileen and Charlie were married and Castiel adored Charlie.  He was only surprised to see Dean talking with her.  She was friendly to everyone, but she only got this excited when she was talking about her nerd things.  Was Dean into nerd things?  He did like anime porn; it stood to reason that he liked other things nerdy as well.

Charlie spotted him first and waved him over.  Dean turned and smiled when he saw him, but then his brow creased in concern.

-Are you okay?- he signed as Castiel approached.

-Yes.  Just tired.-

“Castiel!” Charlie spoke and signed in her odd shorthand that only Eileen truly understood.  “Why didn’t you introduce me to Dean sooner?  He’s totally going to LARP with me!”

“I said maybe,” Dean said, but Charlie’s zeal was not affected.  “Oh, hey, is there really a movie out there called Deafula?  Or is Charlie just pulling my leg?”

Castiel smiled.  –It’s real.  It’s absolutely terrible, which is why it’s so good.-

“I have to see it then.”

“Definitely,” Charlie agreed.  “Hey, Cas, have you see my wife?”

-I last saw her in the vicinity of France.-

“Thanks.  As always, fantastic party, but I think it’s time we called it a night.  Dean.  Email me.  We have to talk about stuff.”

“And things,” Dean said.

They both laughed, but Castiel didn’t get the joke.  Charlie headed off to find Eileen and Dean noticed Castiel’s face.

Walking Dead reference.  Do you watch it?”

Castiel shook his head.  –It’s too scary.-

Dean grinned.  –Seriously?-

-Don’t make fun of me.-

Dean put his hands up in surrender.  Castiel gave into his exhaustion and leaned against Dean lightly.  He didn’t want to stay and help with the cleanup.  He just wanted to go home and crawl into bed and snuggle with De—He stopped that thought right there.  He must really be tired if he was letting his brain wander that much.  Dean nudged him gently and Castiel pulled back, concerned that he’d overstepped the bounds of their friendship and made him uncomfortable.  However, Dean was just letting him know that Hannah had come over to talk to him.

“Hi.  Long night, huh?”

Castiel nodded.

“But good night.  Everything went smoothly.  Sort of.  I think we should go back to the silent auction next year though.”

-Definitely.-

“Look. You’ve worked yourself to the bone the past couple of months.  We’ve got a crew to handle the cleanup.  You should go home.”

-Everyone has worked hard.  I need to be here-

“You’re Dean’s ride, aren’t you?” Hannah cut him off.  “Don’t make him suffer.  We got this.  Go on home.  I promise no one will curse you behind your back.”

Castiel was so tired he couldn’t even find it in himself to put up a second protest.  He nodded and thanked her.  Hannah gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  She waved to Dean and then headed off to clear out the rest of the stragglers.  Castiel turned to Dean.

“Get out of jail free card?” Dean asked.

Castiel smiled and nodded.  –Let’s get out of here.-

Dean offered to drive them back to Castiel’s townhouse, and he only felt a twinge of suspicion that it was because he was scared to let the deaf guy drive.  He didn’t care either way at the moment; he just wanted to shut his brain off for the hour long drive back to the suburbs.  He must have dozed off along the way because before he knew it Dean was gently shaking him awake.  He got out of the car and stretched, actually feeling a little refreshed.  He looked at Dean and there was just enough light from the streetlamps for them to sign by.

“Well, I’ll let you go to bed,” Dean said.  “You look wiped.”

-I’m feeling better after my nap actually,- he signed with a chuckle.  –You should come in and at least change first.-

“Oh, right, the tux.  Sorry.  I wasn’t trying to steal it.”

Cas waved a hand.  –Keep it.  I can’t wear it.  Maybe you can wear it to next year’s gala.-

“I’d like that,” Dean said with a soft smile.  A warm smile.  A smile that made Cas think unrealistically happy thoughts.

-Come in and change.  It’s too cold to stand out here and debate it.-

Dean agreed to go inside with him and while he changed downstairs, Castiel hurried upstairs to change into a pair of black pajama bottoms and a heather grey T-shirt.  When he returned downstairs Dean was in the T-shirt and jeans he had arrived in.  Dean’s eyes roamed over Cas’ body, and he realized that he’d put on the T-shirt that was a little small and completely formfitting.  Totally by accident.

“Well, I guess I should be going,” Dean said, his reluctance obvious even in his signing.

-Do you want to watch Deafula?  I have a copy.-

“Now?”

Castiel shrugged.  –If you want to.-

Dean nodded.  “I’d like that.”

Five minutes later they were sitting side by side on Castiel’s absolutely huge couch that had plenty of room for them to sit without touching, and watching the opening credits of Deafula.  Castiel watched Dean more than he did the movie because he wanted to see his reaction to it.  He was laughing at all the right places.  He really had picked up sign language fast.  Once Dean glanced over at him and he whipped his forward.  He closed his eyes in embarrassment.  Way to make it really obvious, he thought.  He forced himself to remain focused on the movie even though he wanted to look at Dean so badly.

Five minutes later, Castiel felt a hand on his knee.  He cut his eyes down so that he could confirm it was a hand and not his imagination, but he left his head immobile in case the movement would make Dean pull away.  For a moment Castiel wondered if Dean thought that he’d put his hand on his own knee, but then he started to rub his knee soothingly.  Castiel relaxed a bit into the couch and only then realized he’d been sitting quite stiffly.  Then Dean’s hand began to move.  Up.  Slowly over the next ten or fifteen minutes, Dean’s hand crept higher and higher.  Castiel relaxed more and more, his legs spreading slightly of their own volition.  Dean’s hand was on his upper thigh, dipping down in between his legs and making his groin tingle in a way he hadn’t felt in months.

Suddenly Dean’s fingers tightened, gripping Castiel’s leg and curling in the fabric of his pajama pants.  Castiel raised his head and finally looked at Dean.  His arousal flared tenfold when he saw Dean staring back at him with flushed cheeks and parted lips.  His pupils were huge and Castiel could see his chest rising and falling a little shallowly.  Castiel realized Dean’s reaction was because of something he had done.  He’d been moaning.  The feeling of his vocal cords vibrating finally registered with his brain.  He’d been moaning and it had turned Dean on.

Dean suddenly pulled his hand away from Castiel’s leg and he felt his heart lurch in fear that he’d completely misread the situation.  But then that hand was behind his neck and Dean’s other hand was palming his cheek urgently while his thumb played over Castiel’s lower lip.  He was so close it was a little difficult to meet his eyes, but Castiel didn’t need to see his eyes or hands to know what Dean was asking him.  Before his reason could butt into the situation, Castiel closed his eyes and leaned into Dean’s hand.  Thankfully Dean was a smart man.

Castiel gasped when Dean’s lips pressed against his.  He’d intended to make the kiss slow and sensual and make it last as long as possible.  However, with his gasp his lips parted and Dean’s tongue swept into his mouth.  Castiel surged forward and wrapped his arms around Dean’s neck, and then he dropped his head back so that Dean could press forward…go deeper.  Castiel felt his vocal cords vibrate again—he hoped he wasn’t being too loud.

Then his doubts started to creep in.  His memories of his college boyfriend who had complained incessantly that Castiel was too loud in bed.  Castiel had become so self-conscious about the noises he made that he couldn’t enjoy sex anymore.  The last few times they had had sex he didn’t even get off.  Their relationship had ended in a painful, accusatory fight and left very bad blood between them.  He didn’t want to think about that now, but as Dean’s hand slid down his back and his lips kissed his over and over again, he could feel himself fighting against the pleasure in case he made too much noise.

Both of Dean’s hands slid over his hips and then found his legs.  With almost no effort Dean got him turned on the couch so that he could slide between his legs.  When their groins collided Castiel could tell he let out a sound—he couldn’t help it.  It had felt so good to feel Dean’s large, hard length drag against his.

Dean pulled away from his lips and Castiel kept his eyes squeezed shut. He didn’t want to see Dean ask him to be quieter.  But then Dean began kissing his way down his jaw and onto his neck.  He thrust his hips forward and Castiel’s knees came up, taking the natural position to take Dean in.  God, he’d hadn’t bottomed in forever but that’s all he could think about at the moment.  That and the fact that Dean’s lips were moving.

Castiel moved his hand to Dean’s neck.  He could feel his vocal cords vibrating.  Dean was talking.  Dean was talking and Castiel had no idea what he was saying.  He couldn’t know unless he stopped him and made him sit up and sign.  No one wanted to deal with that in the middle of sex.  No one wanted weird grunting or loud screaming during sex.

Castiel pushed on Dean’s shoulders.  He continued to kiss Castiel and run his hands up and down his body.  Castiel couldn’t allow himself to be lulled into a bad decision just because his penis felt good.

“Stop.”

Dean stopped immediately.  He sat up and looked freaked out.

“Are you okay?  Did I hurt you?  What happened?  How long have you wanted to stop?”

At least that was what Castiel guessed he was saying; he’d forgotten to sign.  Castiel slid away from Dean and put some distance between them on the couch.

-It’s okay.  I’m fine.  You’ve done nothing wrong at all.-

Dean’s expression melted into concern and wariness.  “But something is wrong,” he said, remembering to sign.

Castiel shook his head.  –Not wrong…just.  I’m sorry.  I should have put a stop to it sooner.  I let myself get carried away because I am attracted to you, but…we can’t date.-

Dean frowned.  “Why not?”

-I don’t…it’s not a good idea…things rarely work out between…-  Castiel sighed in frustration.  –I don’t date hearing people.-

Dean stared blankly for a moment, and then he shook his head.  “I’m sorry, I think I misunderstood you.”

-No, you didn’t.-

Dean took that in, and then he sat back on the other side of the couch, putting even more space between them.  “That’s it?  You don’t date hearing people?  Hard stop?”

-I have before.  It’s always difficult and it always ends.  Not just for me, but for every hearing/deaf couple I’ve ever known.  None of them can make it work.-

“Eileen and Charlie do.”

-They’re the exception, not the rule.-

“Why can’t I be an exception?”

-Because I care about you too much.  I can’t stand the thought of not having you as a friend.  A relationship would ruin that because it wouldn’t work out.  It just wouldn’t.  I want to be with someone who understands what it’s like to be deaf.  I want to be with someone who can understand my perspective and can relate.-

“I can relate.”

-Not really.  You can learn about our culture and advocate for us and be a part of us, but you won’t ever really know what it feels like.-

“I can empathize.  That’s what should matter.”

-Maybe, but it’s not what matters to me.  Dean, please, I shouldn’t have let it get this far in the first place.  It would hurt less.  And sound less condescending.  I’m so sorry.  Please, don’t let this ruin our friendship.  I would hate myself.-

Dean scooted closer on the couch.  He reached out and touched Castiel’s hand, but didn’t hold it.  He withdrew his touch and was quiet for an unbearably long stretch of time.  Finally he looked up.

“You’re resolved to your stance?” he asked, his eyes looking duller than Castiel had ever seen them.

Castiel bit his lip.  Couldn’t he try one more time?  Dean was worth it.  Dean was worth so much more than sexual gratification.  His friendship was infinitely more valuable than an orgasm.

He nodded.  –I’m very sure.-

Dean nodded and looked resigned.  “I understand.  Sort of.  I like hanging out with you, Cas.  You’re the first real friend I’ve had in a very long time.  I don’t want to lose you either.  And I couldn’t stand it if you hated yourself over someone like me.”

Castiel raised his hands to protest Dean’s low opinion of himself, but Dean held a hand to stop him.

“I get it.  We have a little chemistry, so we give each other a look now and again.  But if the choice is friendship, or nothing at all…Cas, believe me.  I choose my friend.”

Castiel let go of the breath he’d been holding.  He felt so relieved he almost mistook the feeling for happiness.

-Do you mean it?  It’s okay?-

“Yeah.  Totally.  I mean, it’s not the first time I’ve gotten tipsy and gotten a little handsy with a friend.”  Dean attempted a laugh.  “Well, I guess I’m not really tipsy now, but the principle still applies.  Benny and I are still good friends.  His wife still holds a grudge, but it’s not like they were married at the time.”

Castiel laughed.  –I really need to meet this Benny.-

“You do.  And you will.  Because we’ll stay friends.”

Castiel smiled.  –Good.  That’s really good.-

They held each other’s gaze for a moment and then looked away at different points on the wall and ceiling.  Castiel reached out and touched Dean’s knee.

-Do you want to finish the movie?-

“Uh,” Dean rubbed the back of his neck.  “Maybe some other time.  I should probably head out now.”

Castiel tried not to take it as a rejection.  After all, he’d been the one doing the rejecting.

-I understand.-

Dean stood up and adjusted his jeans.  Castiel pretended like he didn’t notice.  He walked with Dean toward the stairs that led to the front door.

You don’t have to keep this stupid rule, Castiel thought to himself.

They walked down the stairs.

You can have him.  He wants you.  Just take him.

Dean put his hand on the doorknob.

Don’t let him walk out.  Stop being an idiot.

Dean opened the door and looked back at Castiel.

Kiss him!  Kiss him!

“Goodnight, Cas.”

-Goodnight, Dean.-