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Love in an Elevator

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March 4th, 1997

 

Dean couldn’t believe it. Of all the people he could possibly have got himself stuck in an elevator with, it just had to be Castiel Novak.

For most of their freshman year, they’d done a pretty good job of avoiding each other on their college campus. Most people didn’t even realise that they knew each other, let alone that they’d almost dated in high school. Their friend groups were entirely separate and they didn’t share any classes. The only thing they had in common was the building they lived in - a fourteen-storey monstrosity with a cold, clammy back stairwell that was best avoided. Dean had never known the alternative - a slightly old, but reliable elevator - to ever malfunction before.

Except here he was, punching Request Assistance repeatedly at one in the morning, with Castiel Novak behind him.

“I think the assistance is putting up some resistance,” Castiel said. His tone was awkward, a quandary of familiarity and distance. Dean resisted the urge to round on him crossly, keeping on punching.

“Guess so,” he said, fake polite. “It does say twenty-four hour help on the sign here, though.”

“Then I suppose we should expect them in twenty-four hours.”

“Yeah, that’s not what it… ugh, whatever.” Dean tried hitting the button from a different angle. “Come on. Come on.”

Castiel stood silently just behind his shoulder. The elevator wasn’t that small, but it certainly felt more cramped now that they were stuck in here without any sign of imminent escape. Dean had so nearly hopped back out of the elevator as soon as Castiel had walked in after him, nose in a book, apparently oblivious to the world. He’d always been like that, Dean remembered. Always in another world. No, that wasn’t quite right. Always in this world, and yet somehow making it a little more otherworldly just by seeing it a little strangely.

Or something.

God, and Dean had been doing so well at not meeting Castiel. He’d made it six whole months. Six whole months. And then the universe had trapped him, cornered him. Suffer, it seemed to say. I will see you suffer. And Dean was suffering. He smacked his hand against Request Assistance, uselessly.

“Fuck this,” said Dean under his breath. “Fuck you. Fuck me.”

“No, thank you,” Castiel responded, after a moment of silence. Damn. The elevator was too small for him to go unheard, apparently.

“Not even if I buy you dinner?” Dean said, making sure the question was suffused with enough grating sarcasm that there was no way Castiel could mistake his attitude as friendly. There was a little shuffle noise behind Dean.

“No,” Castiel said, and somehow the empty, solemn rejection infuriated Dean even more than a witty comeback could have done.

“Good,” said Dean. It sounded weak to his own ears, but hopefully it had done some damage.

They stood in silence. Ten seconds. Twenty seconds. Twenty five…

“Hello?” said a voice, staticky through the speaker in the elevator wall. “Did someone call?”

Dean punched the button marked ‘Speak’.

“Yes, they fucking did,” he snapped.

“Sir, if you could just -”

“We’re stuck in the fucking -” Dean began, but then he was shunted unceremoniously aside by firm hands, and next thing he knew, Castiel was speaking instead.

“Good evening.” He briefly tussled with Dean, fending him off as Dean struggled to speak with the assistant again. “Sorry to trouble you.” He shoved Dean back, and flipped up his middle finger without meeting Dean’s eyes. Dean subsided. “We’re stuck in an elevator in the Singer Building, and we require your assistance.”

“Suck-up,” Dean said, pouring contempt into the two syllables and leaning back against the elevator wall. Castiel threw him a furious look over his shoulder, the first eye contact they’d made in the whole time they’d been stuck. Dean folded his arms and looked away, ignoring the way it made his heart pound to have Castiel look at him.

“Yes sir, sorry about that, it’s an electrical problem, not a problem with the elevator itself, and we are trying to get it fixed,” said the assistant, speaking incredibly fast, the grainy quality roughening away all inflection and tone. “It may be some time.”

“Some time?” Dean said loudly, leaning forwards so that his voice would be heard.

“How long is some time?” Castiel said, sounding more calm, though Dean could hear the edge of irritability in his tone.

There was a pause.

“Maybe an hour,” said the voice, and even through the crappy speaker, Dean thought he could sense the assistant wincing. “Maybe… two.”

Dean rubbed his brow with one hand, his eyes closed. Unbelievable.

“Two hours is utterly unacceptable,” Castiel said. “There must be some way to get us out of the elevator, even if it is not functioning correctly -”

“Thank you for your patience, sir!” said the voice, and there was a click.

“Hello? … hello?” Castiel said, jabbing at the keypad.

“Hung up on you,” Dean said. Castiel sighed.

“I’m sure you are,” he replied.

Dean scowled, and rolled his eyes. There was that unexpectedly smart mouth he’d missed so much.

Well, if they were going to be stuck in here together, Dean would just have to brazen it out. Then they could both get back to frostily ignoring each other at every possible opportunity, which had been going so well for them up until now.

“Look,” Dean said. “We’ve got an hour to waste in this fucking box. Let’s try and do it like fucking adults.” He slid down the metal wall of the elevator, and sat down, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a box of Rainbow Nerds. He grabbed too many and shoved them into his mouth, before holding it up to Castiel. “Want some candy?” he said, through his mouthful.

Castiel frowned down at him, hands shoved into his pockets, uptight and tense. Dean grinned to himself. Good.

“They don’t bite,” he said, still chewing. “You do all the biting.” He waved the box enticingly.

“Are they poisoned?” Castiel said. Dean snorted and rolled his eyes. He swallowed his mouthful.

“Suuuuure,” he said. “This was my secret plan all along. Lure you into an elevator and kill you with poison candy. If the Nerds don’t work, I’ve got a marshmallow rope to strangle you with in my other pocket.”

“Marshmallows would be no good for causing asphyxia,” Castiel said. “They don’t have the tensile strength.”

“Maybe they do if you braid them together,” Dean said. “Spread the pressure.”

“Braiding increases stress in specific areas,” Castiel replied smartly. “It would still snap.”

Dean glared at him.

“Whatever, Physics major. Eat a damn Nerd.”

Castiel squinted at him, and then caved, and took a small pinch of candy. He sat down on the opposite side of the elevator, stretching his legs out so that his feet were almost touching the wall where Dean was resting. He was wearing soft, ratty jeans, Dean noticed, with holes in the knees that looked as though they’d been put there by time, not design. And his feet…

“Dude,” Dean said. “You’re not wearing shoes.”

Castiel curled up the toes on his socked feet.

“It’s not cold,” he said. Dean frowned at him.

“Yeah,” he said. “And I’m not a lampshade. You wanna give me another unrelated fact, or explain what you’re doing wandering around with no shoes?”

“The two are related. It’s not cold. I’m not cold without shoes on. Therefore, I don’t wear shoes.”

“It’s unhygienic,” Dean said, unable to stop his nose from crinkling at the thought.

“So is pressing all the elevator buttons and then eating candy,” Castiel pointed out. Dean, who had been just about to shove another mouthful of Nerds into his mouth, looked down at his hand with new suspicion.

“Whatever,” Dean said, and ate them anyway, if for no other reason than to save face. He couldn’t let Castiel be right two times out of two, and he’d already won the marshmallow rope thing.

For a few moments, there was silence. Dean listened to the little metal ticks and creaks of the elevator, not looking at Castiel. There was no shouting or laughter from the dorms around them; everyone was sleeping, this close to exams.

“Maybe if you strengthened the marshmallow with a wire running through it,” Castiel said, eventually.

Dean shook his head.

“Then I’m doing it with a wire, not marshmallows,” he said. “If I’m gonna make my name as the Candy Killer, I’ve gotta really invest.”

For a moment, there was the briefest flicker of a smile on both of their faces.

And silence, again. Neither of them made eye contact.

The seconds ticked on...

Dean chanced a glance at Castiel, and found him looking down at the back of his book, distracted. With no one to stop him, Dean let his eyes linger. Castiel had, if it was even possible, become even more handsome than he had been in high school; age had sharpened his jaw, put a shade of stubble on his chin, heightened his cheekbones, tanned his skin. Given him muscles, too, by the looks of the way he filled the scrappy t-shirt he was wearing.

Castiel yawned, and Dean found himself yawning, too. Castiel looked up at him, then, that ghost of a smile haunting his features once more.

“You’re up late,” he said. “Studying?”

“Yup,” Dean said glumly. “You?”

Castiel lifted a shoulder.

“I don’t sleep at regular times anyway, but yes. Tonight I was studying.”

“I didn’t see you at the library.”

“I wasn’t there,” Castiel said.

“Oh?”

“I study in my room. I only wanted to go for a walk.”

“Without shoes.”

“Exactly,” Castiel said. Dean rolled his eyes again, but a little more kindly than before. Their idle chitchat falling back to silence, they went back to studiously looking anywhere in the elevator except at each other.

“You’re an art major, right?” Castiel said, eventually.

“Sure am,” Dean said. He studied Castiel’s face. “I guess you disapprove.”

Castiel tilted his head to one side.

“Of art?” he said, sounding confused.

“Of art majors,” Dean said. “C’mon, all the science majors have a stick up their asses about the humanities. Admit it, you’re looking down on me right now because I don’t, like, calculate vectors before painting a canvas.”

“Judge you? No,” Castiel said. “Art is... expression of self and other. It is a way to connect us through both feeling and knowledge. Art can reach places that science cannot.”

Dean opened his mouth, and then closed it.

“Huh,” he said.

“Of course, the opposite is also true. Science knows much that art cannot detail.”

“Aha!” Dean said, slapping his leg. “And there it is. Boom. Art is great for being feelingsy, but the hardcore stuff is all science, right?”

“You are putting words in my mouth.”

“Let me put some Nerds in there instead, then,” Dean said, proffering the box. This time, Castiel didn’t hesitate to take some.

“Honestly,” Dean said, feeling his tone relax into a lower register, his interest in their conversation becoming genuine. “Do you think science is better?”

Castiel frowned, chewed, swallowed.

“I do not see the distinction so clearly as we are taught to do,” he said. “Art is a science. Art relies upon knowledge of paint, or pencil, or tattoo ink.” Dean blinked. Castiel was surprising him. “And science is art. Science needs creativity and sensitivity and passion.” He quirked a small smile. “It’s not all number-crunching, you know. Physics can be quite beautiful, if you only have the knowledge to see the perfection of it.”

Dean had a sudden, intense memory, of the two of them sitting together on the bleachers in high school, comparing notes on the solar system. Dean could still see the expression on Cas’ face, the way he’d lit up as he’d talked about space, and stars, and the size of the universe.

“What’s funny?” Castiel said, and Dean realised that he was smiling. Dean shrugged self-consciously, quickly flattening his features.

“Nothing,” he said. “Just - you haven’t changed much.”

It was the first mention of their history that either of them had ever made, since The Day It Happened, on the last day of high school. The easing atmosphere in the elevator suddenly tensed up, and Dean’s heart was back pounding out a too-fast beat against his ribs.

“Anyway -” Dean said awkwardly.

“I think I’ve changed,” Castiel said.

“Oh, yeah? Well. I guess you would know better than me, seeing as…”

“We haven’t talked all year.”

“Right.”

There was a protracted pause. If there was such a thing as social torture, Dean thought, this was it.

“So did you -”

“How are you -”

They both broke off at the same time, and laughed awkwardly.

Dean met Castiel’s eyes, and saw something in them that - that he’d been missing, without ever wanting to admit it. God, he’d wanted to date Castiel so badly.

Maybe it was time to try to let go of whatever had happened between them. Maybe trapping them in a box was the universe’s way of telling Dean to just get over it, get over the whole thing, get over Castiel…

Not that Dean was still into Castiel. Not really. Not - well, not as much as he had been.

Probably.

No matter how Dean felt, it was probably doing more harm than good to keep holding onto this grudge.

“Look,” Dean said, deciding to risk it, nervousness rising. “It’s been ages since… you know. Maybe... we should just be moving on?”

Castiel’s face shut down in a matter of moments.

“I don’t think you’re the one who gets to decide that,” he said stiffly.

Dean’s mouth fell open.

“Wait. I’m not the one?” he demanded. “What does that mean? Who else is going to decide, exactly? It can’t be you, I mean...”

“Of course not,” Castiel interrupted angrily, a flush rising on his cheeks. “Of course not. You know, I have no idea why I keep expecting better of you.”

“Better of -” Dean began hotly, and then broke off, shaking his head. “I’m not doing this. We’re just gonna sit here in silence, OK, because I am not doing this.”

“Fine,” Castiel said, folding his arms tightly around his book and scowling. “Fine.” The way he said it betrayed his hurt. Dean glanced at him in disbelief. Castiel was hurt? Seriously? What right did he have to be upset?

It wasn’t as though he was the one who’d been stood up in the fanciest restaurant in town, after they’d finally worked up the courage to go on a date together. He wasn’t the one who’d been stared at for three whole hours before getting asked to leave by the condescending waiter. He wasn’t the one who’d spent the whole summer trying to fix a broken heart. And he thought he had the right to be upset?

That was it. Dean couldn’t understand why he’d ever liked Castiel in the first place. This was the final nail in the coffin; after tonight, he wasn’t even going to think about trying to talk to Castiel ever again.

Silence, and the minutes ticked by. Dean lost himself in a daydream as best he could, to try to help the seconds slip past faster. It was hard, though, with Castiel sitting right opposite him, making him angry, and sad, and - and everything he’d known he would be, if they ever tried to meet.

He ate another handful of Nerds. They were starting to make him feel sick. He sat forwards, bringing his knees up so that he could lean on them. He was tired of being in this goddamn elevator. It had to have been an hour by now, right?

He checked his watch. It had been twenty minutes.

“Shit,” he muttered. Castiel, who had opened his book, looked up at him. Dean glared at him, and then looked away.

“I thought we were going to do this like adults,” Castiel said. Dean rolled his eyes.

“What do you want me to do,” he said. “Get out my briefcase and do some taxes?”

“Well, not sulking at me like a three-year-old would be a start.”

Dean turned to look at Castiel, incensed, and then caught the tiny, smug smile on his face. God. Castiel was actually playing with him now.

He fumed, quietly.

After a while, Castiel closed his book with a sigh. Dean didn’t look at him.

“Not interesting enough for you?” he snapped.

“These aren’t ideal reading conditions,” Castiel said. Dean glowered.

“Well, maybe you should just leave it on its own in a restaurant, if it can’t hold your attention,” he said sarcastically. “That works really well.”

Castiel’s mouth actually fell open.

“I can’t believe you,” he said. “I can’t believe I ever wanted to go on a date with you.”

Dean snorted.

“Yeah, well, you actually wanting to do that... didn’t exactly last that long,” he said. “So don’t sweat it too hard.”

“I won’t,” Castiel said, with sudden cool sincerity. “Trust me.”

“Like I’d do that again,” Dean scoffed.

“You’re a horrible human being.”

“You’re worse.”

They both glared at opposite corners of the elevator, arms folded. Dean couldn’t believe he was actually having to sit here, for this long, with someone who showed absolutely no remorse whatsoever for what he’d done. It wasn’t as though Castiel hadn’t known how Dean felt about him, back when he’d stood Dean up. Dean had spilled everything - how he’d had a crush on Castiel since before he could even remember, how he’d never had the courage to ask him out, how he got butterflies in his stomach whenever they spoke, even if it was just asking the time or commenting on the weather or asking to borrow a pen. Castiel had known. And he’d still left Dean on his own, and never even tried to contact him afterwards.

Maybe if they’d had school again after the failed date, they would have been forced to talk about what had happened. Maybe Castiel would have had to be honest about why he’d ditched Dean. But it had been on the last day of high school, and Castiel had got away for all this time without ever having to explain himself. Looking at him now, Dean was glad. He didn’t think that he could have coped with hearing Castiel be so… hard-hearted, and unapologetic, back when his heart had just been broken.

If he was honest with himself, he wasn’t coping with it very well, right now.

He needed some kind of distraction.

Unfortunately, the only possible distraction he had was talking to Castiel again, and that… wasn’t going to happen.

Dean sat quietly for five more minutes, replaying in his mind the various stages of the being-stood-up process. He could still see it all, feel it all so clearly. He’d arrived, flower in hand - a single red rose - ready for the date in his best shirt. He’d been sitting down for twenty minutes, and his faith that Castiel would arrive was shaken for the first time. He’d been in the restaurant for an hour, staring aimlessly at the menu to avoid the pitying gazes of the other diners. He’d decided to order for both of them, and got Castiel a plate of delicious-looking pasta that he’d had to watch cooling and going to waste on the other side of the table, as he’d forced down his own food - a steak tartare that had tasted like ash. And the waiter had come up to him, his thin lips pulled into a repressed smile, and told him that it was time to leave, young man, I don’t think your date is going to show...

Dean shuddered.

“Want to play a game?” he said to Castiel, who didn’t look up.

“If the game is called ‘Sit in Silence and Don’t Talk to Each Other’, then yes,” Castiel said. Apparently, his train of thought hadn’t been particularly pleasant, either; he looked to be in an even worse mood than before.

“I spy…” Dean began, and Castiel groaned.

“Please, no…”

“With my little eye…”

“I don’t want -”

“Something beginning…”

“I really think -”

“With C.”

Castiel sighed, and leaned his head back to rest on the wall of the elevator. For a moment, Dean thought he was just going to be ignored, but then -

“Carpet.”

“Nope.”

“Ugh.”

“That doesn’t begin with ‘C’.”

Castiel’s gaze could have wilted flowers.

“Candy.” He glanced down at the box of Nerds sitting by Dean.

“Nuh-uh.”

“C… c… carotid artery.”

“Dude, where am I going to spy a freaking artery in here?”

“We both have them,” Castiel said.

“Yeah, it’s called I spy, not I possess in my body. Did you not get the memo?”

Castiel’s scowl became, somehow, even more pronounced.

“Cause of irritation,” he said, looking right at Dean. Dean raised his eyebrows.

“Not far off,” he said. “Actually, I’m almost tempted to give it to you.”

Castiel looked confused for a moment, and then he suddenly leaned back, rolling his eyes.

“Castiel,” he said, in a bored voice.

“Right you are,” Dean said, grinning smugly, making sure to be as annoying as possible. “Your turn.”

To his surprise, Castiel did not refuse.

“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with D,” he said. Dean sighed internally. So, it was like that. Well, he planned to string this one out. There was no way he was going to let Castiel out-annoy him.

“Huh. Tricky one. You’re really being so original,” he said. “OK, um, how about... darkness.”

“No.”

“Dreariness,” he said.

“No.”

“Dinginess,” he said. Castiel squinted at him.

“The quality of the lighting is not involved.”

“Huh. OK. Um… dimness.”

He thought he saw a muscle twitch under Castiel’s eye.

“No.”

“Drabness?”

“No.”

“Dullness.”

Dean.”

It was the first time that Castiel had said his name, in all this time. Dean couldn’t help the breath he sucked in too hard. He couldn’t help the sudden seize in his chest. He couldn’t help meeting Castiel’s eyes -

“What is it, Cas,” he said quietly, not saying it like a question. Castiel blinked, too hard, and his jaw clenched. “What do you wanna say.”

Castiel drew in a breath.

“Fuck you,” he said, with feeling.

“Fuck you,” Dean replied, not batting an eyelid. “Dean.”

“What?”

“Dean. The answer’s Dean.”

“No, it’s not. It’s dick.” Castiel looked angry, but also triumphant. Dean smirked falsely.

“I’ve already told you, Cas, I’m a dinner-first kinda guy. You aren’t gonna be spying that anytime tonight.”

Castiel looked practically apoplectic.

“I hate you,” he said, quiet and stinging. “I hate you.”

Dean opened his mouth to produce a smart answer, but nothing came out. He just sat there, gaping like a moron, for far too long - and then shut his mouth, and folded his arms, and said nothing.

After all this time - after deciding not five minutes ago that once they were out of this elevator, he was never going to speak to Castiel again - Dean couldn’t believe that hearing those words from Castiel still had the power to hurt him. He said them with such sincerity. What had Dean ever done? Was it because he was a reminder of what Castiel had almost made the mistake of dating? Was Cas really that ashamed of him, of their connection?

“You look like you’re upset,” Castiel said, matter-of-factly. He didn’t especially sound like he wanted to help, or to talk about it, but apparently it was too obvious for him to feel like he could let it slide. Dean shrugged, trying to let the anger drain away.

“It’s nothing,” he said. “Just, you know.” He looked at Castiel, who had his eyes back down on his book, fixed in place. “We used to be friends.”

Castiel did look up at him, then, his eyes burning with an intensity that Dean couldn’t even begin to understand. Nothing that Castiel seemed to be feeling made any sense.

“We did,” said Castiel, quietly. Dean let his eyes linger on Castiel’s face, even though he was being watched, even though Cas hated him. He smiled suddenly, bittersweet.

“Remember that time we drove out round the headland and found that beach?”

Castiel hesitated - and then smiled, too. A tiny, tiny smile.

“Yes,” he said. “There were so many shells.”

“And the rock pools, with all the tiny corals and anemones… you knew all the names.”

“And you swam in the sea because I said it would be too cold -”

“And then you had to come in to get me -”

“- even though you were fine,” Castiel finished.

“The current was strong, Cas!”

“I’ve told you a hundred times. The current was pushing you into shore. You were just freaking out over nothing.”

“You still came in and got me, though,” Dean said.

“Yes,” Cas said. “Of course. I wouldn’t have just left you.”

The immediate silence, the ache in Dean’s heart, were too sudden and too painful. But you did, he wanted to say. You did. You just left me with my flower and my nicest fucking shirt in that stupid restaurant.

He sighed out a breath.

“Man,” he said. “What happened to us.” He didn’t really want the answer, but he saw Cas look down contemplatively at his lap, all the same.

“It was the date,” he said quietly. “The - the date. It just... I couldn’t talk to you, after that.”

You couldn’t talk to me?” Dean said. He let out a breath, and tried not to get angry. It was pointless; it was far too late to fix it, to get Cas to apologise. He might as well just go along with it, try to offer Cas some understanding. “Well,” he said, carefully controlled. “Maybe we just tried to move too fast. Maybe we should have just… hung out more at my place, or your place. You know, in a… like, a romantic way. Before we tried dating at fancy restaurants.”

“Huh, fancy. Do you -” Cas began, and then let out a sigh that seemed to shake a little. “Do you think that would have made a difference?”

“I - I’m not sure,” Dean said. How was he supposed to know? Cas was the one who had got cold feet, not him. “Maybe. If I could do it over again, that’s what I’d do.”

“Really?” Cas said. “You wouldn’t just - never ask me out?”

“What?” Dean said, shocked. “No way. I - that day when you said yes…” He swallowed hard. He didn’t want to look like he was guilt-tripping Cas too much. “It was a really good day,” he settled for.

“I - I still - do you remember you gave me that card?” Cas said.

Dean looked at him blankly for a moment, and then it clicked.

“Oh,” he said. “The ace of hearts?”

Cas seemed to hesitate for a second, and then opened his book. Inside the pages, keeping Cas’ place, was a battered old playing card. Dean stared down at it, unable to believe his eyes.

“You - you - what?” he said weakly. “You - what?”

“It’s my bookmark,” said Cas, self-consciously. He lifted a shoulder. “It - it meant a lot. When you gave it to me. Because you accepted me. And you asked me out on a date.” He sounded as though his throat was a little tight. Was this why Cas hadn’t shown up to the date? He’d been afraid that Dean would change his mind, and reject him?

“Of course I accepted you,” he said. “You being asexual never changed the way I felt about you, Cas. It - it - it never could.” He was stuttering, stammering, climbing back down into the well of feelings that he was trying to board up and forget about. He shook his head, as though trying to shake them away.

“Thank you,” Cas said, and he sounded sincere. “It meant a lot to me then. Before… before it went wrong.”

There was a beat of silence. Dean bit his lip. He shouldn’t ask. It was too late to fix anything. Too late to fix anything. There was no point in -

“What happened?” Dean burst out, unable to stop himself.

Cas blinked at him, eyes wide.

“What happened?” he repeated blankly.

“That - that night,” Dean said, suddenly shy under his stare. “That night. When we were supposed to meet. What happened?”

Cas was staring at him as though he’d seen a ghost.

“What happened?” he demanded. “Why don’t you tell me?”

Dean couldn’t believe what he was hearing. God, and he’d actually been thinking that they were making progress.

“You keep saying stuff like that!” he exclaimed. “Apparently, it’s your job to decide when we move on! It’s my job to tell you what happened! How can you say those things? It’s - it doesn’t make sense! I can’t tell you, Cas, I don’t know, okay?!”

“How can you be yelling at me about this?” Cas retorted, his eyes burning so hot that Dean almost cringed. “How can you be angry at me?”

“Oh - oh, I’m supposed to be fine with it, am I,” Dean said, loaded with sarcasm. “Yeah, I tell you how I feel about you, I ask you out on a date, you say yes and then you don’t even bother to turn up, and I’m supposed to be fine with that?”

“I didn’t turn up?” Cas said furiously. “Me? How can you say that when it was you who didn’t show?”

There was a long, long silence, more weighted and wide-eyed than any before it. 

Dean was barely breathing. 

Cas was looking at Dean like he’d never seen him before, mouth open.

“W - what,” Dean said. “What did you just say?”

“You… you didn’t show up,” Cas said, and the corner of his mouth pulled down at the corner, just saying the words enough to pull back the memory, it seemed. “I was there at exactly seven o’clock, like we said, and you never showed up.”

“Cas,” Dean said, barely speaking above a whisper. “I was there - I was there. I waited for you for three hours. I stayed until they threw me out, and then I waited outside for another hour, I thought maybe you’d just - got held up, or something -”

“No.” Cas was shaking his head.

“Cas, I swear -”

“You - you - that’s not possible,” Cas said, his face pale. “Dean, if this is just - if you’re just making another joke -”

“I’m not,” Dean blurted. “I’m not, I swear to God, I wouldn’t joke about this. Cas, I was there. I had a flower for you. I ordered you pasta. I was there ten minutes early to make sure we got a table, because they were always so busy…”

“Pasta?” Cas demanded suddenly. “Pasta - no, they didn’t do pasta at The Burger Grille.”

“The - the - the - what?” Dean said, weakly. “No. Cas. Oh, my God, Cas. I said - I said The Grill. Not the Burger Grille. It’s - it was the nice place, remember? The fancy one across town. I wanted to treat you, I -” He swallowed hard. Cas was staring at him as though he couldn’t take in what was happening. “Are you - are you telling me that…” He couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence; couldn’t take in the magnitude of what it meant.

“Dean,” said Cas softly, as though afraid to frighten away the quiet disbelief. “Dean, were you… were you there?”

“I was there,” Dean said, his own voice sounding as though it was a million miles away. “I was there. Where were you?”

“I was - I was - I thought you meant…” Cas said helplessly. “You were really there? You showed up?”

“I told you,” Dean said, a wave of sudden, almost hysterical joy rising up inside him. “I was - fuck, Cas, I was there, I was in my best shirt, I was there!”

“You - you waited for three hours…” Cas said. “I waited - I waited for you, I waited too…”

“Cas,” Dean said, his voice almost shaking. “Cas -”

Ding.

Dean and Cas froze, staring at each other.

“Elevator going up,” said a cool voice.

Both of them leapt to their feet at the same time, standing up as the elevator began to rumble upwards once more. Dean lived on floor six. He had seconds before the elevator reached his destination, and he had to get out. Suddenly, after all this time wishing the damn thing would be fixed, he wished it would break, break, break…

“Dean,” said Cas urgently. “Dean, I -”

“Look - look, Cas, we can - I think we can fix this!” Dean said, and he meant it - this thing between them, it wasn’t too late to fix it, not anymore.

“Dean,” said Cas. “It’s not... broken.” He was looking at Dean and his eyes were wide, and his expression was soft, and Dean thought that maybe he had never, ever seen him look so happy.

“It’s not?” Dean said. Castiel shook his head.

“I don’t think it ever was,” he said. He leaned a little closer. “Dean, I -”

“Floor Six,” announced the metallic elevator voice, and the doors opened. The corridor beyond was wide and empty. Dean looked out at it, and took a half-step towards it, and then looked back at Cas.

Cas was standing with his hands by his sides, his eyes wide. He said nothing; only waited to see what Dean would do. Leave him, or -

“Fuck it,” Dean said, and stepped back inside, hit the button for the highest floor, waited for the doors to close, and then hit all of the floor buttons, and punched Request Assistance for good measure. The elevator hummed, buzzed, and jammed to a stop.

“Dean?” said Cas, sounding puzzled, though there was an edge of a smile on his face that told Dean he had a pretty good idea just exactly what was happening.

“Cas,” Dean said. “Listen. I never stopped - I never stopped caring about you, OK? And I know I acted like I didn’t even know you this year, and I’m - I’m sorry, I - it messed me up when you didn’t show, or I thought you didn’t, and I was just trying to - to cope with it, but Cas, if you meant to be there -”

“I did,” said Cas solemnly. He was listening to every word with a serious expression on his face. Now that they were standing up again, Dean was once more aware of how close the elevator’s limited space made them feel.

“Yeah, see, well - well, then, why shouldn’t we - I mean, if you want to, we could - we could give it another try?” Dean said, his heart ready to pound right out of his chest, his cheeks bright pink, he was sure, and his hands clenched up tight by his sides.

“Dean, I -” Cas began, and then cut himself off, took a little shift back. “I just - after all this time, Dean, I…” Dean could feel his stomach drop.

“Cas…” he said.

“I just want you to know that you don’t have to do this, Dean,” Cas said, speaking fast. “There’s no - you don’t have to feel any obligation. People move on, and -”

“Cas,” Dean said, “I told you once that I was in love with you.”

Cas blushed all the way to the roots of his messy brown hair.

“I remember,” he said.

“I said nothing had changed,” Dean said. “I meant it. I’m - I’m still in love with you, Cas. I always was, I think - God, I have this feeling like I’m always going to be.”

Cas put out a hand, and shyly, solemnly reached out for Dean, who unwound his own fisted hands, and let Cas twine their fingers together.

“I’m still in love with you, too,” Cas said. He was so close, and he was smiling just a bit, and he’d been there, he’d shown up to the date - all this time, all this pain, all for nothing -

Well, Dean was ready to start making up for lost time.

“Cas,” he said. “Date me. Please.”

“As long as you drive me,” Cas said, his thumb rubbing against Dean’s. “I never want to get stood up again.”

Dean grinned.

“I’ll drive,” he said. “You navigate. Deal?”

“Deal,” Castiel said, smiling. He was so, so close. He smelled good, just the way that Dean remembered, a sudden and unexpectedly powerful memory that almost had him choked up.

He leaned forwards, and rested their foreheads together.

“Seal the deal?” he said.

“With a kiss?” Cas asked.

“Mmmm. Or we could shake on it,” Dean said, pretending to look thoughtful.

“If you make me wait another second,” Cas said, “I’m going to go back to arguing with you and pretending to hate you.”

Dean narrowed his eyes. Yeah, Cas owed him a little fun, for saying that.

“I spy,” he said.

“No.”

“With my little eye.”

“Please, no -”

“Something beginning with…”

Dean…”

“K,” Dean said, and kissed him.

Turns out, there was no one Dean would rather be stuck in an elevator with than Castiel Novak.