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A Single Kiss

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>> So did you kiss him?

Cas read Anna’s text message with a sigh, standing next to his bed in his pyjamas, only just woken up. He should never, ever have allowed his sister even the slightest of glimpses into his meagre dating life.

<< Not exactly…

He typed out the response quickly, and then dropped his phone down on the bed. Curled up on the covers, a cat with soft, blonde fur narrowed its bright blue eyes at him, and purred. Cas reached down, and scratched its ears.

“I wanted to,” Cas said. “But he didn’t look like he wanted to. How was I supposed to just… do it?”

Balthazar only purred some more. Cas supposed that his failed date wouldn’t feature hugely on his cat’s list of problems. Cas smiled down at him, and then padded out of his bedroom and down the stairs. He needed coffee, and fast; the early morning’s sharpness would only be softened by the taste of caffeine. Crossing the hallway, feeling the boards of the floor underneath the slightly threadbare carpet, he entered the kitchen.

It was the same as it always was, of course. Cas switched on the coffee machine and leaned against the counter, looking out of the window at the familiar view. Same little yard out the back, overgrown a little since he hadn’t been able to take time off work to tend to it. Same view over the back fence, of the same trees that had been growing in the same ground for decades. Same, same, same.

Usually, the unchanging days were a comfort. Today, Cas found himself chafing at the familiarity; the staid, unending pace. The date, last night… he’d been looking forward to it for weeks beforehand, and now it was over - and not much chance of a second date, if the lack of a goodnight kiss was anything to go by. Obviously, the guy just hadn’t been that into him.

Balthazar, who had followed Cas downstairs, leapt neatly onto the kitchen counter. Cas tutted, and gently pushed him back off. Balthazar purred all the same, and yowled.

“There’s no need for that,” Cas said. The hungry look in Balthazar’s eyes, however, said otherwise. Cas rolled his eyes, and headed for the pantry, towards the box where the cat food was kept. It was a poky little corner in the wide, old-fashioned kitchen.

“I’m delaying my coffee for you,” Cas said sternly.

Mrrrrrrow? ” Balthazar said innocently, in response. Cas shook his head in mock exasperation.

“Anyone would think I starved you,” he said, as Balthazar began to twine around his legs. He picked up the white plastic food box. He frowned as he lifted it too easily - it was a great deal emptier than he’d thought. Hadn’t he filled it up only last week from the big pack of biscuits he kept in the garage? He peered down at Balthazar, who licked his lips.

“You’re going on a diet,” he said.

Balthazar looked suitably chastened - but when Cas poured out the last of the biscuits into his little silver dish, he began to tuck in just as eagerly as normal.

Cas straightened up and put the empty box back on the shelf. As tempting as it was to spend the day lazing around the house - unpicking the details of last night’s date, and wondering what he’d done wrong, and generally feeling sorry for himself - he couldn’t afford the time. It was a Sunday, which meant that he had classes to teach the next day, and twenty papers to grade before his scholars’ seminar in the morning.

He cast a regretful look at the coffee machine as he passed it on his way out of the kitchen, back up the stairs, and to his bedroom - a haphazard, books-for-walls kind of place, with multicoloured light filtering in through the scarves that he’d made use of as curtains, after finding them going cheap in a garage sale. Picking up his phone, he swiped the screen to unlock it and found himself met with a barrage of texts.

>> Not really? What does that mean?

>> It’s too early in the morning to be this cryptic, Castiel.

>> What, is it embarrassing? Did you spit gum in his mouth? Bite his tongue? Say you wanted to get married and have three kids halfway through?

Cas’ thumbs circled for a second, before typing out an awkward reply.

<< I’ll tell you about it later.

He didn’t go on dates nearly often enough to find this after-the-fact dissection natural.

He let his phone fall to his side for a second, closing his eyes. As much as he’d had a fantastic time last night, he needed to put it out of his mind and start grading those papers - even if for no other reason than the fact that Dean obviously hadn’t been interested. There was no point winding himself up.

Cas swallowed. Dean. It was the first time he’d allowed himself to think the name since he woke up, and it came with a memory of nice cologne and an easy smile, and it stung a bit. Dean.

He quickly brought his phone back up and pulled open the messaging app again - trying to put out of his mind the fact that just yesterday he’d been using it to text Dean excitedly, making sure that Dean knew his address and what time to pick him up.

And more than that, Cas could remember the thrill, suddenly, of being asked out at all - of having someone as good-looking as Dean break away from the group of friends he was with at a bar to come and say hello to him, specifically. Cas had been sceptical at first, but then - well, Dean had seemed different. Warm-hearted, and funny, and easygoing. And when he’d asked for Cas’ number with a wink and a promise to call, Cas couldn’t deny the memory of his heart skipping a beat in his chest.

He scowled at himself. Enough remembering the cliched romance he’d been able to live for a couple of weeks. He might as well lose Dean’s number, now, since he wouldn’t be getting another call or text, he was sure. He began typing out the message he’d come upstairs to send.

<< Do you have spare time today? Balthazar’s run out of food and I can’t leave home, I’m snowed in with grading papers. If you could drop some in around four, that’d be great.

He hit send and threw his phone down on the bed once more. Hopefully Anna would come through; otherwise, Balthazar’s dinner would have to be the fish in the freezer that Cas had originally earmarked for a slightly more special occasion that feeding time.

More ready than ever for his morning dose of caffeine, Cas headed back down the stairs. Balthazar greeted him with a headbutt to his legs as he poured out his coffee.

“You’re welcome,” Cas said, and Balthazar purred. Together, they headed through to Castiel’s office; he pulled back the heavy velvet curtains, relics of the house’s former owners that he’d never quite got around to replacing. They made the room smell of dust, though the cup of coffee in his hands added a bitter-smoke tang, and the books that lined the shelves had a sweet scent that he liked better than almost any other.

The memory of Dean’s cologne resurfaced.

He shoved it away, putting his coffee down on his desk and falling into his chair. Sighing, he picked up the first paper on the stack to his left, setting it down in front of him. Immediately, Balthazar leapt lightly up onto the desk, and sat down on it.

Cas met his eyes, blue gazing into blue.

“I’m never talking to you again,” he said.

Balthazar narrowed his eyes, purred, and then rubbed the top of his head under Cas’ chin. Cas sighed, and gave his cat’s fur a few gentle strokes before gently pushing him to one side. Balthazar made a couple of attempts to crawl into Cas’ lap, which Cas rebuffed - and then settled down on top of his stack of the nineteen remaining papers, creamy tail curled around his body.

“Don’t look so elegant,” Cas said, picking up his pen and turning over the page of the first paper. “I was there that time you fell off the counter and landed in that bucket, remember?”

Balthazar’s purring didn’t cease. Memories didn’t matter much to cats, Cas thought. He chewed his lip, and began reading the essay in front of him.

He wished it were as easy for humans to ignore their pasts. More specifically, perhaps, their recent dating history.

The day passed by in a blur of facts, figures, and dates; being a history professor meant checking every detail a hundred times, just to be certain that he was being completely fair and accurate in his grading process. His coffee was quickly finished, but he waited until after the next paper to get another one, and then the next paper, and then the next -

Finally, as he blearily wended his way through the last paragraph of the final paper, the doorbell rang. Cas blinked hazily up at it; Balthazar, finding Cas’ attention open for the taking for the first time in hours, leapt neatly up to sit in his lap. Cas petted him absent-mindedly.

“Who’s that?” he said, as though Balthazar would have any idea. Frowning, Cas glossed over the last sentence of the essay before him - a rather ruthless summing-up of the causes of the Civil War - and scrawled a ‘B’ on the front of the paper.

The doorbell rang again.

“Coming!” Cas called, standing up quickly and dislodging Balthazar, who yowled in protest and disappeared behind a stack of books. Cas threw a glance at the clock - and then did a double-take, squinting at the hands in disbelief. Four o’clock? How had he been working for over six hours, without pausing? Still, that explained the slight dizziness - and the way his legs were slightly wobbly -

The doorbell went again. As Castiel blinked and headed out into the hallway, a memory clicked into place. Balthazar’s food. Sending a text. Anna.

He fumbled with the door handle. His sister was going to judge him for still being in his pyjamas at this hour -

Cas threw open the door, and was greeted by the sight of a person who was definitely, definitely not Anna.

“Hey,” said Dean, smiling at him brightly.

Cas could only gape at him. Dean, his date from last night, the man Cas had assumed he’d never see again - Dean was here. On his doorstep. Looking more handsome than ever in a t-shirt and jeans, and  holding - holding -

Cat food?

The faint stirrings of suspicion started to make themselves felt in Castiel’s mind.

“Uh,” Dean said. “Sorry if I’m interrupting. And, um, I’m pretty sure I remember you saying that Balthazar is a cat, last night, right? You said he helps you when you’re grading papers.” Dean grinned. “Hope he’s been doing his job today. Anyway, I got cat food, so I hope he’s a cat.”

Cas could only stare at Dean, his eyes wide.

“What?” Dean said, self-conscious, framed on either side by the rampant wisteria hanging-baskets that Cas had hung on either side of the porch.

“You’re - here?” Cas said. “I don’t - understand -”

Dean hefted the bag of cat food in his arms uncertainly.

“You asked me to,” he said. “You said you couldn’t get out of the house, but your - uh - Balthazar, was out of food. Balthazar really is the cat, right? I didn’t dream that?”

“He’s a cat,” Cas confirmed. In his mind, he was trying to replay the events of that morning. He’d figured out that Balthazar needed more food. He’d gone upstairs. He’d texted his sister…

But he’d been thinking about Dean.

Surely, he couldn’t have -

“Dean,” Cas said - and even being able to say his name was a quiet kind of thrill, one that he did his best not to allow himself. “Dean - I think there’s been a mistake.”

Dean’s shoulders seemed to drop. The cat food sagged in his arms.

“A mistake?”

“I didn’t - I didn’t actually mean to text you this morning.”

“You didn’t?” Dean hugged the big bag a little tighter, frowning. “What, did you mean to text the other guy you went on a date with last night?”

“All three of them,” Cas nodded, seriously - and for a second, Dean’s expression dropped, before Cas smiled dryly. “No, no. I meant to text my sister, Anna. She was asking for details about our date, and I guess I was thinking about you, and I must have just - sent the text to the wrong number.”

There was a slightly awkward pause, as Dean took this in.

“Oh,” said Dean. “Oh, right, yeah. That makes more sense. I did wonder… what with us not knowing each other that long yet, and all.”

Yet, whispered Cas to himself, inside his own head.

Dean was looking a little undercut - a little crestfallen, Cas thought.

“It’s very good of you to come,” he said, trying to save Dean’s mood. “I appreciate it very much. I’m not sure I know many people who would drop what they’re doing to buy cat food for a person they only went on one date with.”

Cas could hear it, in his own voice. Somehow - he wasn’t sure how - it was there in his tone; the fact that the date hadn’t gone well... the fact that, in Cas’ eyes, it had been a failure. The fact that Cas hadn’t expected to be hearing from Dean again.

“R-right, yeah,” Dean said, and there was a look in his eyes that told Cas completely clearly that Dean had picked up on the tone, too. There was a thin look to his cheeriness that belied his smile. “Well, it was nothin’ much. I don’t want to take up too much of your time, anyway, so -”

“Dean,” Cas said. He stared into Dean’s eyes, trying to figure out what to say. There was a part of him that just wanted to ask outright why Dean hadn’t wanted to kiss him, but had still decided to answer his plea for cat food, of all things. He felt the urge to ask overwhelming him - but he pushed it down. He didn’t want to embarrass Dean. Instead, after a strangely long pause, he only said,

“Thank you for coming.”

“Uh, you’re welcome,” Dean said, shifting from one foot to the other. “I’m - I’m sorry, uh, that - yeah, anyway, well, here’s your cat food, and I hope Balthazar enjoys it.” He put it down in front of Cas, and then straightened. They were slightly closer together, now - close enough that Cas could smell Dean’s cologne. He was immediately reminded of how he’d stood right here just last night, hoping that Dean would kiss him; and then he’d been awkwardly told goodnight, and watched Dean’s retreating back walk away.

Just a single kiss, and it would have been the perfect night. That was all it would have taken.

Dean, too, seemed to be reliving the memory.

“Anyway,” he said, in that rough way he had.

“Really, thank you,” Cas said again, quietly. “And thank you again for last night.”

“I had a good time,” Dean said gruffly, a strange look on his face. What was that - pity, or sincerity? Cas couldn’t tell. He smiled, in a dry, resigned kind of way.

“You don’t have to do that,” he said.

“Do what?”

“Pretend.” Cas swallowed. “It’s okay. We’re both adults. You can just tell me outright that you didn’t enjoy the date.”

Dean’s mouth fell open.

I didn’t enjoy it?” he said. “Man, I thought you didn’t enjoy it?”

There was a brief pause, in which they stared at each other, as though each looking at a mad, incomprehensible mystery.

“What?” Cas demanded.

“I said, I thought you were the one who didn’t enjoy last night!”

Cas tilted his head to one side sceptically.

“Ah, yes, of course,” he said. “I forgot that being obviously engaged in our conversation, smiling frequently, and saying that I hoped to see you soon... were all signs of having had a terrible time.”

Dean put his hands on his hips.

“Are you being smart with me?”

“It’s an occupational hazard of being smart in general,” Cas replied. Dean snorted.

“Okay, big guy,” he said. “Well, yeah, maybe you did seem to be having a good time at the dinner -”

“As did you,” Cas interposed.

“That’s because I was having a good time! But then I drove you home, and I walked you up your drive, and then -”

“You didn’t kiss me goodnight,” Cas finished for him. The word ‘kiss’ seemed to linger in the air, soft and sweet, almost too delicate to have been said in Cas’ gravel tones. Dean looked incensed.

“I wanted to,” he said.

“Well, I wanted you to, too!”

“Well - well - good! ” Dean sputtered, going red in the face and looking angry about it.

“So why didn’t you?” Cas demanded.

“I mean, you could have done it,” Dean said. “I thought, if you wanted to, you’d do it right when we got here. But then you just kind of looked at me like you were waiting for me to leave…”

“I was waiting for you to kiss me,” Cas ground out, unable to believe that, as a fully grown man, he was having a conversation on his porch about whose fault it was that he hadn’t kissed his date goodnight. This was teenager’s stuff, this was high school, this wasn’t two adult men with jobs and responsibilities…

“You could have said.

You could have said.”

Dean glowered at him, but there was an edge of something different in the heat of it - something that wasn’t temper. Something that put a fluttering in Cas’ stomach, just like there had been last night. He let himself feel it, just a little. Maybe… maybe…

“So,” Dean said, “basically. Essentially. You enjoyed the date just fine.”

“That’s correct.”

“And you were disappointed that I didn’t - you know - kiss you.”

Cas glared at him. Dean hastily moved on.

“And you were so hung up on thinking about it that this morning, you accidentally texted me to bring you cat food.”

Cas squared his shoulders. He wasn’t about to let Dean have this one.

“Well, let’s see,” he said. “Basically, you enjoyed the date just fine.”

“Yeah -”

“And you were disappointed that I didn’t kiss you.

“Look, that’s not -”

“And,” Cas went on, “you were so hung up on thinking about it that when I accidentally texted you to bring me cat food, you actually did it.”

Dean stared at him for a long moment, and then shrugged.

“Whatever,” he said, grumpily. “So I like you, big deal.”

Cas tried his best not to let his smile show, but the attempt didn’t really work.

“I like you too,” he said.

Dean’s eyes went wide.

He opened his mouth to say something, and then shut it again; he was blushing, even more than before. For a moment, Cas tried to push away how that made him melt just a little - and then he remembered that he didn’t have to push it away, because Dean was here, and Dean liked him.

His happiness was so complete that he felt as though he might implode with it, might wink out of existence right here on his porch. Dean liked him. And he liked Dean - very, very much.

“Well,” Dean said. “Well, uh. Well.” He put his hands on his hips, and then crossed them over his chest, and then dropped them. “Well.” He snorted. “I swear to God, I’m usually a smooth talker...”

Cas smiled and raised his eyebrows sceptically.

“I am.

“Okay, big guy,” Cas said, copying Dean’s words from earlier. Dean rolled his eyes and grinned.

For a beat of silence, neither of them said anything; Cas, for his part, was only thinking about Dean, and how only fifteen minutes ago he’d thought that they would never see each other again. And now, here they were - on his porch. Together again.

It was amazing, Cas thought, how the simple presence of another person could make a day that was all wrong into a day that was completely and entirely right.

“You know… if you hadn’t texted me earlier, I probably wouldn’t have messaged you again,” Dean said. “I thought, you know, I wouldn’t want to make you feel pressured into a second date, better just to leave it.”

Cas nodded.

“I wasn’t intending to contact you again, either,” he said. “For the same reason. Though… it would have saddened me.” Dean smiled.

“Lucky you have a cat,” he said, and Cas nodded solemnly.

“Very lucky indeed,” he said.

Balthazar took this as his cue to appear, and wind himself in a figure of eight around Cas’ legs, purring.

“Hey, there he is,” Dean said. When Balthazar looked up at him, Dean raised his eyebrows in greeting. “Hope you don’t mind me not saying hello, little guy. I’m allergic.”

“He’s a Balinese,” Cas said.

“He’s a what?”

“He’s a Balinese. They’re hypoallergenic. You should be alright.”

Dean squatted down, and gave Balthazar a tentative pat on the head. When no sneezes seemed imminent, he smiled and petted him a little more. Balthazar purred.

“He likes you,” Cas said. “That’s a good sign.”

Dean straightened up again, and he had a look on his face that seemed to ask a question. Cas hesitated for a moment.

“Do you - do you want to come in?” he said, gesturing behind him. Dean beamed, immediately, and it was brighter than the sun in the sky.

“Sure,” he said, sounding as though he was trying to be offhand. “I’ll bring the cat food in for you, shall I? Or do you keep it out here?”

“It goes through to the garage - if you don’t mind carrying it,” Cas said, stepping backwards, ready to show Dean the way - but Dean didn’t move; instead, he only stood still on the porch.

Cas frowned.

“Or - I can take it?” he hazarded. Cat food wasn’t exactly heavy for him.

“No, no,” Dean said. He looked nervous. “It’s just - before I come in - there’s something I want to do. Um, come here?”

Cas frowned, and took a step outside his door, onto the porch. Dean looked into his eyes, his cheeks pinker than ever. He didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands; they were down by his sides, they were clasped behind him, they were strangely half-raised as though they wanted to hold Cas’ hips, or his hands, or -

Cas felt his heart skip a beat as he realised what was happening.

“Dean?” he said.

“Yeah, Cas?”

He wanted to say something poetic and romantic, but everything Cas could think of didn’t seem to fit the moment at all - so instead, he simply took Dean’s hand in his own, and smiled at him softly.

It was enough. Dean relaxed, his free hand rising to cup Cas’ cheek. Cas closed his eyes, and then - gently, so gently - Dean’s lips were on his.

Cas felt his heartbeat speed into the stratosphere, his grip on Dean’s hand tightening; somehow it meant more, it meant so much more, because it was so light, so careful, and it so nearly hadn’t happened -

They broke apart, and for a long, long moment, all they could do was gaze into each other’s eyes. After a few seconds, Dean ducked his head and laughed.

“What?” Cas said. Had he stared too long?

“Nothing,” Dean said. “S’just - I’m really glad you own a cat.”

Cas smiled, and slowly disentangled his fingers from Dean’s.

“Come in,” he said, giddy with it - with the kiss, with Dean’s presence, with the possibility of inviting Dean into his home.

They hefted the cat food inside between them, and carried it through to the garage. While Dean flicked on the coffee maker - got one just like it at home - Cas went upstairs to find his phone.

When he picked it up, the first message that he saw was from Dean.

>> Sure, it read. Happy to help! x

Cas smiled at it - at the wording, at the easy agreement, at the single kiss. He pressed his lips together, feeling the memory of Dean’s touch on them. A single kiss.

And there was time enough for more, Cas thought, as he headed back downstairs and went into the kitchen, and half-shy, half-sure, took Dean’s hand in his own. Time enough for plenty more.

Their lips met, and this time, they didn’t break apart for longer, and longer still.

On the counter behind them, Balthazar happily thinned his bright blue eyes to slits. He purred.