Dean had been promised ice cream and a TV marathon and beer - and maybe something stronger - and that was the only reason he was leaving his apartment for the first time in two weeks.
It was bitterly cold and apparently he needed to have a look at the Impala’s heating system, because as he drove towards Charlie’s place the air coming out of the vents was doing a great job at speeding up his fingers’ journey towards frostbite. He turned on the stereo, and a song came on that he knew. Led Zep, obviously. Castiel would have -
Dean’s stomach clenched and his chest ached and he said, out loud,
He wasn’t thinking about Castiel. Not today. It had been two weeks of thinking and thinking and thinking, and today he was giving it a rest. He was going to go to Charlie’s place and watch whatever crappy TV she put on while attempting to drown himself in a potent mix of alcohol and Phish Food.
He turned off the stereo. The silence wasn’t much worse or better. When he had nothing to listen to, he thought about Castiel; when he had something to listen to, he thought about Castiel with a backing track. It wasn’t much of a choice.
Phish Food. Phish Food and old soap operas and no ex-boyfriends.
Even thinking about Castiel as his ex-boyfriend made Dean’s grip on the steering wheel tighten.
When he pulled up outside Charlie’s apartment, he took a moment to gather himself. He’d been avoiding Charlie’s calls for days up until this morning, and he was pretty sure that if she didn’t see him today, she was going to chase him back to his own apartment and force-feed him Ben and Jerry’s finest herself. Even still, he didn’t want to go in. He just wanted to start the Impala’s engine again and drive away. He wasn’t hungry for the ice cream. He didn’t want to be seen by anyone. Charlie would know as soon as she saw his face that he was broken.
Dean felt raw and razor-sharp. He was in tatters and ribbons and he knew that it showed and he didn’t want to damn well cry in front of anyone tonight.
He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t. He could stop himself crying, he wasn’t two years old. He was doing it now, after all, wasn’t he? It wasn’t so hard.
Getting out of the Impala, Dean slammed the door behind him and headed inside Charlie’s building. It was a shabby, nondescript place with an elevator that was a little past its best. The sign had some graffiti on it, so that it read,
No More Than 6 00000
People in this Elevator
at One Time. Thanks for being an asshole
Dean stared at it.
Thanks for being an asshole, Castiel had pointed out to him, the first time Dean had brought him to meet Charlie.
Thanks for being an asshole, Dean had joked, when Castiel had stolen all the blankets, the first night they’d slept in the same bed.
Thanks for being an asshole, Castiel had said, when Dean would get hard-headed in an argument, give him the silent treatment.
Thanks for being an asshole. Their get-out clause, their password, their grin in the middle of their worst times. They’d had problems, sure. But they’d always got themselves back out, together. Dean had meant it when he’d said thank you for them. He’d been grateful, in a way. Because if he was annoying Castiel and Castiel was annoying him, it meant that even through the worst of their crap, they were holding onto each other.
And now Dean was reading those words for the first time since the break-up, and he wanted to laugh and he wanted to hit something. He could hear them in Castiel’s voice. His throat felt choked. His hands were fists by his sides.
The elevator’s doors rumbled open. Dean walked out of it on legs made of concrete, feeling like a part of him was still back in there reading those words, over and over. Before he walked down the hallway to Charlie’s door, he took a second to lean against the wall and try to pull himself together again. He was never going to make it through a long night. He needed to go home and sleep more. But he could at least show his face, stop Charlie worrying about him.
When he peeled himself off the wall and walked down towards Charlie’s door, he found that it was already ajar. Frowning, he tapped his knuckles on against it as he stepped inside.
Charlie was standing in the tiny hallway, her hands on her hips, looking expectant.
“Hi!” she said, stepping towards him.
“Uh… hey?” Dean said. She was wearing a thick winter coat and boots. “Are we going somewhere?”
Grabbing him by the arms, Charlie swivelled them around in a half-circle and then backed out of her own front door, and promptly slammed it in Dean’s face.
“What?” Dean demanded. “Charlie?!”
“It’s for your own good,” Charlie said, and he could hear the sound of her keys in the lock. “I swear to god, Dean, I’m doing this for you, okay? Please don’t hate me.”
“What are you talking ab-”
Dean went quiet and still. He knew the voice that had sounded from behind him, inside the apartment. He’d know it anywhere.
“Charlie,” Dean said in a low, threatening voice.
“I’ll be at the Starbucks down the block,” Charlie said through the door. “And Dean, I know you probably could break my door down, but please don’t do it. I’ll be back in an hour so just hide in the bathroom if you have to. Don’t break my door. Okay bye!”
Dean slammed his fist against the door, furiously, as he heard her footsteps start to recede down the hall.
“Charlie! Don’t you dare walk away, don’t - don’t - ah, shit.”
In the distance, there was the far-off ding of the elevator.
She’d really gone. Dean was locked in here.
He turned around. Standing opposite him now in the hall, there he was: the person Dean most and least wanted to see in the whole world.
Castiel. He looked -
Well, he looked like a wreck, if Dean was being honest. He had big dark shadows swooping under his eyes, and his hair was a mess, and he seemed to be wearing a new blue bathrobe and old pyjamas with his snowboots at the bottom.
“Did you walk here in that?” Dean asked, at the same time as Castiel said,
“You look terrible.”
Dean wanted to hug him. Not in a stupid airy-fairy sweet way. He wanted to hug Castiel so tightly that it crushed him. He ground his fingernails into his palms.
“Charlie told me we were having a movie night,” Dean said.
“She said to me that she had some of my stuff that she wanted to give back to me. From you.”
“So you came in your freakin’ pyjamas?”
Castiel looked haughty.
“It’s none of your business anymore,” he said.
Dean pulled a big cold smirk.
“That’s right,” he said, “It’s not. Get hypothermia. Whatever.”
“As though you’re the height of fashion, today. How long since you shaved?”
“Not your business anymore,” Dean said tightly.
They stared at each other for a long moment. The light in the hall flickered. Dean was so angry he could weep. He wanted to hit the wall.
“Are we going to try to break out?” Castiel asked.
“‘We’ aren’t doing anything.”
“Then in the absence of a better plan, I’m going to go and sit down,” Castiel said calmly. “And wait for an hour.”
“Dibs on the good seat.” It came out almost automatically - just the first thing Dean could think of that would make Castiel annoyed. C’mon. Feel something. Fight with me. Why exactly Dean wanted a fight wasn’t important. He was so angry that it burned. Him. Castiel. Alone. In an apartment. Fucking Charlie. Dean was ready to physically fight whoever was nearest.
“No,” Castiel said. “I was here first -”
“Doesn’t matter. I called dibs,” Dean said, stepping forward as Castiel turned away towards the living room.
“I called it before you were here.” Castiel was obviously trying to act dignified, but he made a rush for the chair as soon as he heard Dean coming up behind him; Dean grabbed for the back of his bathrobe, and pulled hard. Castiel turned to push him off and the two of them squabbled, ungainly, moving into the living room step by awkward step.
“It’s my turn ,” Castiel said, with Dean’s arm at his throat. “You had it last time we were here.”
“That was before. ”
“‘Before what?’ Seriously?”
“Before breaking up? That makes a difference?”
“What, it doesn’t make a difference to you?” Dean shot at him.
Castiel glared at him furiously, and then with a twist of his shoulders he was out of the bathrobe and dropping into the best seat in Charlie’s living room. Dean was left standing with the gown in both hands, holding it tightly.
That had been all wrong. The physicality of it. They weren’t supposed to touch anymore. They weren’t supposed to even see each other, that was the last thing Castiel had said before he’d left - but thanks to Charlie, that part was already wrecked.
Dean sat down on the second-best chair. It had a hard upright back that no amount of cushions could improve.
They sat in silence for some time. Dean pulled his phone out, and tried to call Charlie. Her number was unavailable. He texted her, and then texted Sam, and Jo, and even Bobby. Stuck in hell at Charlie’s please come, emergency.
When he glanced up, he saw that Castiel was looking down at the floor.
No one was replying to his messages. Dean put his phone on the arm of the chair, where he could definitely see and hear it if someone answered.
The seconds ticked on.
Castiel. Dean didn’t want to look at him, and also wanted to look and look and look, because this… he thought he’d already had his last chance to look at Castiel, to be in the same place as him. He’d been tearing and twisting himself into pieces over that for two weeks, and now he had another chance. Here. In this awkward living room, with everything and nothing to say to each other. It felt like coming up for air and finding it was poison gas, and breathing it anyway.
“How have you been,” Castiel asked, eventually.
Dean said nothing.
Castiel breathed out.
“Fine,” he said. “Don’t talk to me.”
“I just don’t wanna talk.”
“You never want to talk.”
All Dean had been thinking about for two weeks was the things he wanted to say to Castiel. He had reams and reams and reams of words locked in his head.
“Nope,” he said.
He caught the look on Castiel’s face, the half-second blanch of pain before it was smoothed over with a resigned shrug.
Dean didn’t want to talk. He didn’t want to talk. He wanted to stay shut up tight and safe and not say a single word, and -
That look of hurt on Castiel’s face kept cracking against the back of Dean’s mind like a whip.
You never want to talk. Nope. Crack.
Dean swallowed hard.
Stupid. Stupid words. Stupid Castiel. Stupid Charlie. Stupid goddamn situation. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“I’ve been okay,” he said. Grunted, really.
Castiel looked over at him.
A long pause.
“No,” Dean said.
Castiel’s mouth twisted up ever so slightly to one side and Dean knew he was trying not to show that he was sad. He wanted to pull Castiel in, hold him together. He wished the living room were smaller and they were crushed together, no escape from each other. He wanted the whole world to be so tiny, right now, that they couldn’t be apart by even an inch.
“You?” Dean said.
“No,” Castiel replied.
This room wasn’t claustrophobic enough. It would be a mistake, an embarrassment, a vulnerability, to choose to go over to Castiel now. Dean wanted it to be a necessity, not a choice. He wanted the world to give them no option.
“I keep thinking about that night,” Castiel said.
“When you left?”
“When you told me I had to go.”
“I said maybe you should go,” Dean said. “You were the one who actually did it.”
“You wanted me to.”
Dean’s head jerked up.
“Is that what you think?” he demanded.
Castiel swallowed visibly.
“You think I wanted you to go?” Dean pushed.
“How am I supposed to know, Dean?” Castiel said, and the pain in his voice was thin as a wire and sharp as a barb. “When you’re angry you just shut me out. You can’t wait to get away from me. You won’t even look at me.”
Dean put his head in his hands.
“I didn’t want to go,” Castiel said. “I didn’t want any of this. But when you can’t stand to be around me…”
“That’s not true,” Dean said, muffled by his hands. Somehow it was easier to talk into them, in the dark.
Castiel didn’t say anything.
Dean took his hands away from his face.
“Then why do you avoid me?” Castiel asked. “When you make me angry, I tell you, and we talk about it, and then it’s done. But when you’re angry, you never say anything, and I have to guess what I think that you want, and this time… everything pointed to you wanting me to leave. Just like it always does. And this time, I actually did it.”
“You knew I didn’t want you to leave,” Dean shot back.
“You didn’t want me to?”
“Really? You’re gonna play it that way? Like you didn’t know?” Dean said. “Jesus.”
“I didn’t know, Dean.”
There was a ring of truth in his voice that brought Dean up short.
“But that’s not - obviously it’s not like that,” he said. “Obviously I didn’t want that.”
“It’s not obvious. You never say anything. Nothing is obvious.”
Dean glared at the floor. How to explain himself? How to tell Castiel that when he was angry, it felt like he was carrying round a bomb and if he talked, if he said one word, it would go off and explode on them both?
“If I talk to you about that crap, you’ll leave,” Dean said.
“I already left,” Castiel said, “because you didn’t.”
Dean paused to take that in.
“But when I’m angry…”
“I screwed up,” Castiel said. “I upset you. I was always going to because people are never going to be able to agree all the time. You’re going to be angry at me. And I wanted you to tell me.”
“You don’t actually want that,” Dean said.
“You don’t. You really don’t.”
“You don’t think I want to know about what you’re thinking?”
“I think me being angry is a me problem.”
“Right. So that’s why you said I should leave.”
“I said maybe you should leave.”
“You gave up,” Castiel said.
“ Me? You left!”
“You told me to.”
“I didn’t really want you to…”
“How was I supposed to know that, Dean?”
“You can’t tell that I don’t want you to leave? You can’t tell that I care?”
“I know you care,” Castiel said, angrily at first, and then again, quieter. “I know you care.”
There was a pause.
“Maybe I should’ve tried harder,” Dean said after a while, trying to keep his voice from being too thick with feeling. “That night.” Castiel, across the room, put his head on one side. It was such a familiar gesture that Dean almost broke.
“You always try your hardest,” Castiel said. “I do know that. You just try your hardest to keep me out, most of the time. Not let me in.”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Dean said. Castiel went still.
“This is -” he began, and then cut himself off. Dean looked up at him. “Nothing you could say,” Castiel said carefully, “could be worse than the things I imagine you thinking.”
“Like you’re glad I’m finally gone,” Castiel said, so quickly, so easily, and Dean could tell how many times he must have thought it. “Like I’ve been hanging around for too long, all this time. Like your life just got so much easier and better without me in it. Like you’ve wished I’d leave for so long, but you didn’t want to hurt me by telling me. Or you just couldn’t be bothered.”
“Couldn’t be…” Dean’s stupid choked-up throat was giving him trouble. And across the room, Castiel wasn’t helping, looking as though he were barely holding it together. Dean gritted his teeth. “It’s nothing like that,” he said.
Castiel raised one shoulder, slightly, eloquently.
Dean took a minute, and then a minute more.
“These last two weeks,” he said, and then stopped, and then started again, looking at the floor. “These last two weeks the thing I’ve thought about the most is how I won’t get to see you again. I haven’t been out my apartment in two weeks until tonight and the whole drive over here I was looking for you on every corner. I don’t - how long am I gonna do that? I haven’t spent a damn second of my life ever wishing you were gone.” Across the room, Castiel looked unconvinced. Damn. It. “What I, uh. What I think about is how - how now we’re broken up your face is going to change when you get older and I won’t know what you look like anymore. Someone else will, maybe. Not me. And I keep thinking that they might be able to - they might feel - for you, I mean - but it won’t be even a - a small… thing - compared to what I - and Cas, I wish that I could give you…” Dean couldn’t go on. He took in a breath, and let it go.
Every word felt like a fire ant bite. And the only reason he had any of it in his head, the only reason he could talk at all, was because he’d spent so much time recently lying in bed trying to explain himself to a Castiel that wasn’t there. Before two weeks ago, he wouldn’t have had a word to say.
When he looked up, eventually, he saw that Castiel was sitting with his bare arms folded, his eyes on Dean. He looked cold, and Dean realised he was still holding the stupid bathrobe in his hands.
“Shit,” he said, standing up. He held it out. “Here.”
Castiel got to his feet, and came near. Dean pressed his lips tightly together. Hard. Strong. As cold as he could be, after saying all that. He’d never spilled so much all at once. It was too much.
As he took the bathrobe, Castiel’s hands brushed Dean’s.
Don’t, Dean wanted to say. Don’t. I can’t touch you if it might be the last time.
Castiel wrapped the bathrobe around himself again, and tied a knot at his waist. The cord, Dean noticed, was the one from Castiel’s curtains at home, an odd shade of purple.
“You look like a wizard who just got kicked out of magic school in the middle of the night,” Dean said.
“Thanks,” Castiel said.
“For being an asshole?”
Castiel was half a step away. He was watching Dean. There was something in his face that hadn’t been there before Dean had said all that crap - a kind of intensity that Dean recognised. Dean swallowed. He wanted this, he wanted this, he wanted it so badly that he couldn’t speak - but he also knew that he couldn’t stand it, could not stand it, to touch Castiel now and then have him leave. But he couldn’t stand to be here and not hold him, either -
“I can’t do this,” Dean managed. “Cas, I can’t. Not if we’re over.”
Castiel watched him, those eyes of his clouded with thought.
“You’re an asshole,” he said, after some consideration.
“You are. You’re an asshole. You push me away even though you don’t want to. You’re my best friend, and you act like I’m your worst enemy.”
“It makes me angry, Dean. I’m angry and I’m telling you. And later maybe I won’t be angry, and I’ll tell you about that too. I’ll tell you right now that these two weeks have been hell, in case you couldn’t already tell from the fact that I walked here in a bathrobe to get the things I thought you’d dumped here at Charlie’s for me. I’ll tell you that hearing your voice in the hallway when you arrived was like coming home. I’m telling you because I want you to know... you can’t switch off saying just the bad things. You switch off the good things, too. And I wanted to hear the good things, Dean. I wanted to hear all of it. You were thinking things like that about me all the time? And you let me think you wanted me gone? You asshole .”
Dean’s heart was beating a mile a minute in his chest. He felt hot all over.
“Good things,” Dean said. “That I think about you? You wanted to hear them?”
“If there were any,” Castiel said.
The sincerity with which he said it made Dean want to hit a wall all over again.
“You - you think I don’t think nice things about you? But I do things for you, all the time...”
“You do things for lots of people, Dean.”
“But you - it’s different, it’s special…”
“You don’t know that?!”
“I’m an asshole,” Dean said.
He stared at Castiel.
“I’m an asshole,” he said again.
“Dean, I -”
“I am,” Dean said.
“Well. At least when you’re being an asshole, you’re caring and not telling me. Not the other way around.”
There was that slight dryness, the odd humour, Dean had missed with a pit in his stomach.
“Well, for what it’s worth…” He steeled himself. “Cas, I… you… I mean, you know, uh.”
Castiel didn’t know, though. That was the problem. And the world wasn’t going to push the words out of him, fate wasn’t going to force them any closer than this. Dean had to choose. He had to decide to say it.
He looked down at the floor.
“I want to be with you,” Dean said. “Every day. I want you. And I want to deserve you even though I can’t. But I wouldn’t have ever given up. Trying to, I mean. If it wasn’t already over.”
Castiel’s shoulders untensed. His hand moved to Dean’s cheek, thumb pressed into the stubble there.
Dean looked up, into his eyes.
“Don’t leave me,” Dean said.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Castiel said, and kissed him. The kind of kiss that Dean had missed more than anything, the kind that said everything Dean didn’t know how to use words for. Devastatingly soft - no teeth, no anger, no hardness. Hands holding, bodies pressed, skin alive, heart thudding.
I love you, Dean said with that kiss. I love you I love you I love you I love you.
One day he’d say it. One day.
After some time, they made coffee. And talked a little more.
“I was angry with you,” Dean said.
“Why?” Castiel asked.
Dean gritted his teeth.
“Because,” he said. “It feels like I do a lot of things to show I care. And they don’t seem to mean much to you. So it feels like I care more than you sometimes.”
“But I always tell you that I care,” Castiel said.
“Anyone can say it,” Dean said.
“Fine. Point made.”
“I can show you,” Castiel said. “As well as tell you.”
“Mm.” Castiel drew him closer. “I can start now.”
They sat together on the best chair, which was just big enough for two people who wanted to be close. Dean’s phone, lighting up over on the arm of the second-best chair, went ignored. And so it came as something of a shock when there was an almighty crash from the front door, followed by the sound of a distant wail.
“What the -”
Together, Dean and Castiel rushed towards the noise. When they arrived in the hallway, they saw a small gathering: Bobby, Jo, a very surprised-looking Sam, and a distraught Charlie who appeared a few seconds later.
“What did you do?” she said. “How did you get here?”
“I just kicked down a door,” Sam said, sounding proud of it.
“What’s going on here?” Jo asked, looking between Dean and Castiel, a smile growing on her face as she took in the way they were standing, close to each other.
“We were just told there was an emergency,” Bobby said.
“And you couldn’t have tried to knock first to stop it?” Charlie demanded.
“We thought the element of surprise might be important,” Sam said. “Like in a hostage situation.”
“Yeah,” Charlie said sarcastically. “Loudly slamming my door off its hinge is going to make it really surprising when you walk into my apartment.”
“It wasn’t a very good door,” Bobby said.
“It was great! It opened and it closed and it didn’t hang off one hinge at all!”
“I can get a new one. Better.”
“Yep,” Bobby said.
“Huh. Well… okay, then.”
“Yeah, but seriously, what’s going on here?” Jo asked. She was still looking at Dean and Castiel, her eyes flickering between them. “Is there something I don’t know?”
“Don’t look at me,” Dean said. “Charlie’s the one who locked us in here.”
“Wait - what?” Sam demanded.
“You did what?” Jo said, sounding more delighted than Dean would have preferred.
“Well…” Charlie shifted uncomfortably. “You know, they just wouldn’t talk to each other… and they make each other so happy, when they don’t have their heads up their asses… and it was all wrong, so I just thought…”
“You thought you’d lure us to your apartment under false pretences and then lock us in,” Castiel finished for her.
“With the best of intentions?” she said weakly.
“Still kind of an asshole thing to do,” Dean said.
Charlie opened her mouth, and then closed it, seeming to accept this.
“But, uh, hey - Charlie?”
Dean looked at Castiel, and grinned, and took his hand.
“Thanks for being an asshole,” he said.