Dean stands on the sidewalk outside the café, staring at the building like he’s never seen a place to eat before. To give himself some credit, though, this place isn’t exactly just a restaurant. It’s some sort of art gallery too. He let Castiel pick it out, figuring he’d know better since he spent most of the past two years in Seattle. Leave it to Castiel to pick some fancy place when all Dean would want is a damn burger.
He frowns to himself as he realizes Castiel might not even know that Dean likes burgers. Did they ever talk about that? Dean can’t remember.
Part of him is wondering if this was a good idea. He told Castiel he wanted to drive separately, something he promised himself he would do. Dean has made himself a lot of promises regarding this new… well, whatever it is they’re going to try. The main one is he won’t be with Castiel alone unless it’s in public. That’s why he had picked a busy beach. That’s why he said he didn’t want to drive with him to the restaurant, even though that meant Dean had to get an Uber.
All of that freedom is fine and dandy, but now Dean feels frozen on the sidewalk, unable to take that first step. He could really use Castiel beside him right now. A strong hand on the small of his back to guide him. His soft voice whispering to Dean about this or that, taking his mind off the anxiety he feels as he watches all the people – So. Many. People. – swirl around in the chaos of the city.
After a few more minutes of giving himself a pep talk, Dean rocks on his feet and sends himself moving forward. The feeling of being overwhelmed comes right back to him the second he’s inside. A pretty girl with a bright smile asks him if he wants a booth or a table, and Dean just stares at her. He’s meeting someone. That’s what he’s supposed to say. But then she’ll ask what the person’s name is, and Dean’s not sure if Castiel would have given his last name, or his first name, or maybe Castiel has a fake identity too just like Dean.
Dean blinks, refocusing on her. “Not sir. Don’t – not sir.”
She gives him a strange look but then pastes her smile back on. “Okay. Well, can I help you?”
“Meeting someone,” Dean mumbles, eyes scanning the place. He sees that crazy mop of hair in the far corner and smiles. He can’t make up this shit. The second Dean sets eyes on that man, his world softens.
It makes sense.
He’s at peace.
“He’s over there,” Dean tells her, already walking away.
When Castiel sees him, he stands up. Dean’s eyes rake over him. He’s changed a lot these past two years. First of all, he’s not in a suit. Instead, he’s dressed in dark wash jeans that hug his legs just tight enough to look damn good without making him look like a hipster, and a simple heather-gray t-shirt that hugs his chest and arms while hanging slightly loose on his stomach. His hair is more wild than usual, too. He probably doesn’t have to cut it as much anymore, considering he’s not meeting with some of the most important people in the world on a weekly basis. He’s tan. Must spend more time outdoors now, instead of locked away in an underground compound.
How is it that Dean just saw him less than an hour ago, but missed him so much already? It’s like he spent the last 47 minutes unable to breathe properly.
“Dean?” Castiel asks softly, reaching a hand out toward him before quickly dropping it. “Are you okay?”
Dean lifts his chin to meet Castiel’s eyes and nods. “Yeah. Good. Sorry.”
That smile Dean’s gone far too long without pulls at Castiel’s lips. “Why don’t you sit down before I do something cheesy like pull out the chair for you?”
“What if I want my chair pulled out for me?”
“I – do you?” Castiel’s eyebrows pull in, his gaze flicking over to the chair next to Dean. He puffs up a little as if preparing for a challenge. “I can do that.”
Dean laughs, which makes Castiel’s entire face light up. “I don’t want you to pull my chair out, Cas. But thanks for offering.”
The two sit down across from each other, and the waiter comes over just seconds later with menus. He goes through the drink specials and a few other things that Dean could care less about because he sees beer listed on the menu, and the person at a table near them is eating a burger. Those are the two things Dean wants. No menu needed.
When Dean’s asked what he’d like to drink, Dean smiles confidently. “I’ll take whatever your seasonal draft is, please.”
He feels Castiel’s eyes settle on him. They don’t leave when the waiter asks Castiel what he’d like. After a much longer pause than necessary, Castiel says, “I’ll have an iced tea with lemon.”
“Yes, sir,” the waiter says in response, and Dean finds it curious that the man chose to call Castiel sir and not Dean. Maybe the lady in the front told him how Dean had reacted. Or maybe he could sense the power dynamic that will never leave the two of them, no matter how their labels and situation shifts.
That doesn’t bother Dean. He doesn’t need to be a sir. In fact, he wouldn’t like it at all. Castiel can take that responsibility. Dean’s so fucked up, Castiel’s going to have his hands full.
Dean would hate to be him.
“And we’ll both take waters,” Castiel adds, pulling Dean from his thoughts.
“Of course, sir.”
Dean waits for the waiter to walk away before leveling Castiel with a smirk. Castiel darts his eyes down to his menu and asks, “What?”
“You let me order beer.”
“It’s against your rules, though. Non-negotiable.”
Castiel tilts his head to the side as he examines Dean. “I meant it, Dean. No more rules.”
“Couldn’t stop yourself from ordering that water, though, hey?” Dean asks with a wink, trying to lighten the mood so Castiel can’t tell how he’s about to cry at the reassurance that Castiel really is taking him back with no strings attached.
“Water is good for you.” Castiel gives him a fake glare. “If you’d like to be stubborn, as I know you enjoy being, I’ll drink both glasses.”
Dean sticks his tongue out at Castiel, which takes the man completely by surprise and leaves him a little flustered. He ends up just looking down at the menu again to avoid eye contact with Dean which, if you ask Dean, is fucking adorable.
“How hungry are you? We could get something to start?”
“I’m not that hungry, actually,” Dean admits.
“Had a big breakfast?”
Dean bites the inside of his cheek. He has to remind himself that Castiel doesn’t have a say in what he does. There aren’t any rules anymore. He can’t get in trouble. “No. I just had a slice of toast.”
Casually, Castiel turns his wrist and glances at his Rolex. When he looks up at Dean again, Dean’s pleasantly surprised by how calm Castiel looks, his eyes soft and lips curved in a patient smile. “It’s been a stressful day. And you had to fly here. I understand that your appetite probably isn’t the best.”
In the spirit of full honesty, Dean informs him, “I don’t really eat much anyway. Lucky if I have a full meal a day.”
Castiel’s lips part, but they’re interrupted by the waiter before he can say anything. The drinks are placed on the table and the waiter asks if they’re ready to order. Castiel looks to Dean, which makes Dean feel very independent and respected. It’s such a silly thing, but he doesn’t care.
“I’ll have the smoky bacon bleu burger with fries, please.” Dean glances over at Castiel before continuing. He knows he doesn’t have to order anything else, but for some reason, just knowing it would please Castiel makes Dean hungrier than he’s been in a long time. “I’d also like a cup of the soup special, please.”
“Absolutely. And you, sir?”
“I’ll have the agnolotti with shrimp.”
The waiter nods, then takes their menus. When he’s out of earshot, Castiel says in a low voice, “You don’t have to eat the soup, Dean.”
“I know.” Dean takes a sip of his beer, letting the bubbly liquid sit on his tongue for a second or two. Once he swallows, he adds, “I’ll eat until I’m full.”
“Can I ask why you haven’t been eating lately?”
Dean fiddles with the label on his beer bottle. “The meds they have me on, I think. They keep trying to mix ‘em around to get rid of all these side effects, but the more they do that, the crazier I feel, so I just lied and said I’m fine.”
There’s a pause long enough for Dean to peek up at Castiel through his lashes. The man is staring very intently at Dean’s hand that’s resting beside his silverware. Dean almost offers it to him but decides to let things play out. He’s curious how long Castiel can really go before touching him without explicit permission.
Eyes remaining on Dean’s hand, Castiel asks, “Are you at least feeling better in other aspects?”
Blue eyes flick up at him, eyebrows pulling in as Castiel frowns. “I know you well enough to know that’s a no, Dean.”
“But I don’t have to tell you,” Dean reminds him. Not because he doesn’t want to tell Castiel, he knows he will, but because it feels good to bring up his freedom again. It feels like it did when he first got his safe word. All he wants to do is flaunt it. Enjoy it.
“No, Dean. You don’t have to tell me. I’d like to know, because I care about you, but we can change topics if you’d like.”
Dean smiles softly, feeling butterflies in his stomach. What a silly thing to get so worked up about. Not that he cares. He just cares that he’s finally with Castiel again. He can finally breathe. He has this possibility in his hands that he could be free but still be happy.
“It helps with the depression. I think. Honestly, though, that probably has more to do with me making my decision about you.”
Castiel shakes his head. “The decision about me? Didn’t you make it yesterday?”
“I decided to follow through with it yesterday, but I came to terms with the fact that I was going to come back to you a few months ago. Right after I moved back home, actually.”
“Oh? You moved back home?”
“Yeah. My uncle and dad needed help in the auto shop. Or, that’s what they claimed. I think they were fine and just wanted to check up on me. But I’ve been helping out anyway. Been working after hours. Don’t really like working during the day much. I’m too jumpy.”
“Well, that’s good, though, Dean. I’m glad you were able to go back and enjoy that with them.”
Dean takes another drink of his beer as he mulls over what to say next. “I think a lot of the weight lifted after I decided I’d go back to you. All that emotional chaos, that back and forth fighting between logic and my heart, between what I want and what everyone else was telling me I had to do, it got a lot easier. Dad never brought you up again, which helped too. Before I left the first time, he spent nearly every day trying to reason with me about you.”
Castiel nods. “I’m assuming I won’t be meeting him any time soon.”
Dean nearly snorts at the idea of his father meeting Castiel. “No way in hell. He’d kill you, Cas.”
“Might be for the best.”
“Hey,” Dean says quickly, sitting forward and ducking his head to look Castiel in the eyes. All humor is gone now. “No one decides what’s for the best when it comes to me anymore, understood? Not you, and certainly not my father.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry, Dean.” Castiel releases a deep sigh and scrubs a hand over his face. “Are you sleeping better, at least?”
“No. Not really.”
Castiel laughs, but it’s soft and exasperated. “So, what are the pills helping with then?”
Dean stares at the table as he considers that. He laughs under his breath when he realizes they aren’t helping with a damn thing. “Guess they don’t do much of anything. Think it just makes everyone else feel better to know I’m on them.”
“Everyone else doesn’t matter. Didn’t we just establish that? You put yourself first, Dean. Stick to that.”
“I’ll talk to my doctor and see. I think one of them he said I have to quit slowly, so I don’t get withdrawals or something.”
“Yes. Please, talk with your doctor. I can’t – I don’t want you sick.”
The waiter returns with Dean’s soup and tells them the rest of the food will be out shortly. Dean welcomes the interruption, giving the man a smile in relief. He takes his time breaking crackers and pouring the crumbs over his soup, drawing out the quiet for as long as possible. He even blows on the spoon much longer than necessary before placing it in his mouth.
Pretty soon, they’ll have to talk about the real issues. Dean’s terrified for that moment.
So terrified that, when Castiel clears his throat and opens his mouth, Dean spills what’s on his spoon.
Here it is. The rug is about to be yanked from under him.
Instead, Castiel asks with a smile, “How’s the soup?”
Dean’s on his second beer, and Castiel is on his hundredth mental reminder that he doesn’t get a say in that. After a long pull that makes his throat bob enticingly, Dean sits back and says, “You know, at that first check-up, they found my chip. I wouldn’t explain it to them, didn’t tell them a single thing about you or the compound. I told them I was with an abusive guy because I knew I’d get in trouble if they knew I had information on the compound and organization and all that but was keeping it from them. They respect your privacy and right not to report when it’s just you, but if they found out it was a damn international slave trade, they probably would have had an issue.”
When Castiel says nothing, Dean lifts his gaze, looking Castiel directly in the eye. “They still had the chip analyzed in case I wanted to report you someday. Know what they found?”
“It wasn’t turned on. And not just that, it had been completely deactivated. As in, there was no button or code out there, no possible way, for my chip to get turned back on again.”
Castiel nods. “Yeah.”
“Yeah?” Castiel can hear the very thin line between Dean’s anger and confusion starting to crack. “That’s it? Yeah?”
Castiel frowns. “Dean, I set you free. Why in the world would I keep you chipped? I would have had it removed myself. In fact, I had been planning on it already when we discussed you being able to leave me at the beach house if you wanted, but I just never had the time for our doc to come over.”
He scoffs before taking another sip of beer. Dean darts his eyes away and shakes his head before scoffing again, the sound sort of morphing into a laugh of disbelief.
“What?” Castiel asks.
“Nothing.” Dean takes a much longer pull from his beer this time. He doesn’t put the bottle down, instead keeping it gripped tight in his hand. “I cried myself to sleep that night.”
“When they told me that you deactivated it. My dad looked at me like I was fucking crazy when I broke down in the check-up room. The doctor told him it was probably relief.” Castiel, knowing where this is headed, says nothing. It takes Dean a minute of staring at the beer bottle, but he eventually finishes the thought. “I was devastated. You really wanted me gone. Gave me this fake ID, money, deactivated the chip permanently, all of it. You didn’t care if I fell off the face of the Earth. If you could never find me.”
Castiel sits up straight. “Dean, no. That’s not-”
“It’s okay, Cas. It’s why I called you the very first time. Figured if you still cared, you’d keep your promise and answer it. You answered, and it was like I could suddenly breathe.” He laughs again. “But then it made shit even more confusing, because I needed you to be the bad guy, ya know? Everyone was telling me you were the bad guy.”
“You wanna know what I’ve decided, though?”
Feeling slight panic in his chest, Castiel asks, “What?”
“Who the fuck cares? Maybe you are the bad guy. You most definitely were in that story. But this one is just starting. You haven’t had a chance to be the hero or the villain.”
Castiel sits back in his seat and tries to breathe despite the overwhelming hope blooming in his chest. “Does that mean we’re going to have another story, Dean?”
Dean pauses just before taking a drink, the rim of his beer bottle less than an inch from his lips. Bright green eyes bore into Castiel from across the table as they become suspended in the moment. A moment that feels important. Definite.
“Yeah, Cas,” Dean breathes after a few more seconds tick by. “We’re gonna have a story. And if I have anything to say about it, this one’s gonna be happy.”