After their reunion in the kitchen, Dean stepped back and rubbed the back of his neck, a nervous habit that he must’ve picked up from somewhere. The room felt awkward, but the edges were still warm with relief and happiness. Castiel wiped his eyes again and tried to recollect his thoughts.
“Um… Sorry about that.”
Castiel tilted his head in confusion. “About the hug?” It had been a great hug. He had felt so warm and cared for. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been hugged; his mother certainly hadn’t hugged him for years.
“Yeah, uh,” Dean rubbed his elbow and glanced up from the floor. “I’m just… happy to see you, I guess.”
Castiel tugged on the sleeve of his trench coat, feeling his nerves return, and looked down at the floor. “I wasn’t exactly complaining.” He said softly. “I’m happy to see you, too.” He doubted Dean knew how much.
“Yeah, well,” Dean blew a quick breath through his nose, the facsimile of a laugh, “Doesn’t mean I had the right to maul you like that.”
“It’s really okay, Dean.” Castiel smiled tentatively. He wouldn’t mind Dean doing it again, to be honest, but now probably wasn’t the best time to say that.
Dean smiled back. “Well, we should catch up, man! D’you want to go up to my room?” Dean glanced around the kitchen like he expected his mother to jump out from behind the fridge.
Cas nodded. He would like it if they relearned each other. Neither one was the exact same as they were at seven years old. He certainly wasn’t the same little boy he used to be. Plus, he would love to see how Dean’s room had changed. Were his walls still dark green? Did he still have that baseball bat shaped lamp? His sheets probably didn’t still have racecars on them, right? He smiled at Dean’s hand wave and followed him up the stairs.
“I haven’t seen you in years, dude. Are you going to school around here?”
“Yes, I’m starting at KU this semester.”
“No kidding?” Dean turned around at the doorway to his room and gave him a bright smile. “So’m I. We should see if we can’t meet up sometime, for lunch or something.”
“Yeah,” Cas said softly, smiling back. “I’d like that.”
Dean turned away quickly, cheeks a little pink. Probably from climbing the stairs.
They sat on Dean’s bed (he did not have racecar sheets, but he did still have the baseball bat lamp) and talked for hours. They talked about classes, their possible majors, dorm rooms; they discussed what had happened since they last saw each other. They laughed at memories and talked about friends, school; anything that came to mind. Castiel didn’t bring up his feelings, but Castiel knew it now just as certainly as he had twelve years ago. Maybe even more now, with the wonderful man that he could clearly see Dean had grown up to be; Castiel was in love with Dean Winchester.
Eventually, Castiel did end up receiving another hug, but not in the way he wanted. Dean had asked about his mom, how she was doing, and Cas couldn’t stop himself from breaking down. He felt the hot tears coursing down his face as he tried to get out between great, shuddering breaths that she wouldn’t talk to him anymore. How she had changed after he had told her he was asexual, grown cold and sharp. She wouldn’t even let him explain what it was, just heard that he wasn’t straight, wasn’t normal, and stopped caring.
He forced out how, when he told her that he was moving back to Kansas for college, she had tried to force him to stay, all the things she had screamed at him. He didn’t even know why she wanted him to stay, she hated him anyway. She had for a long time.
Mary had always felt more like a mom to him than Naomi, and he hadn’t even heard from her in twelve years.
Dean wrapped him in a hug, rubbing circles into his back as he shook and tried to calm down. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” Dean said softly. “You’re okay.”
“I’m sorry,” Castiel said shakily, closed eyes resting on Dean’s shoulder. “I didn’t need to tell you that. I don’t know why I did that, I’m sorry.”
“No, Cas, don’t say you’re sorry.” Cas felt him shake his head. “It’s fine. You needed to get it out. That’s a lot to hold in.”
Castiel hummed, acknowledging, but neither agreeing nor disagreeing. He focused on his breathing, slowly returning back to regular breaths instead of the shaking gasps he had been letting out.
“You know,” Dean said softly, after a few minutes spent simply holding Castiel, “My mom was talking about making some chocolate chip cookies earlier. Do you want to go see if we can’t steal a couple?”
Castiel felt his eyes well up again, mind flooding with the memories he had used to keep himself going. He took a few more measured, careful breaths. He had cried on Dean enough today. “Yeah,” he whispered, pulling back reluctantly. He fiddled with the button on his sleeve, focusing on the threads holding it in place. “That would be nice.”
“Great,” Dean beamed at him again, he could see out of the corner of his eye. “And hey,” Dean reached over and gently brushed a few strands of hair off of Castiel’s forehead.
Castiel looked up slowly, tentatively giving Dean a small smile.
“Let’s see if we can’t swipe some chocolate milk, too.” Dean winked at him.
Dean stood to leave, but Cas couldn’t make himself get up. He reached out and snagged the end of Dean’s sleeve, looking anywhere but Dean’s face as the other man turned back.
If Dean remembered that too, that meant something, right? After all these years, he still remembered that chocolate milk was Cas’ favorite, that it always got him to stop crying after he scraped his knee or stubbed his toe. Dean remembered them stealing the cookies, too, although Cas wouldn’t have blamed him at all for forgetting that in the years they were apart. He even remembered that they always snuck chocolate chip, because Cas didn’t like the snickerdoodles Mary made.
Cas didn’t have much courage left, not after everything he had done today, but that line bolstered what little he could muster.
“What,” Castiel started softly, scared to let himself hope. He made a frustrated noise, angry at himself. He could move all the way here, fight with his mother, enroll at a college nearly across the country, and he was chickening out here?
“What would you say,” he still couldn’t look Dean in the eye, focusing on his thumbnail, white as he clutched Dean’s sleeve. He couldn’t do it. He felt his heart stop in his chest and plummet to his stomach. He couldn’t do it. He felt like crying again. “…if I told you that I had a crush on you when we were little?”
Cas felt Dean slowly sit back down, but wouldn’t take his eyes off of his own hand. Coward. Castiel was a coward.
“I would say,” Castiel watched as Dean’s hand slowly covered his own. “That I’m glad you had a crush on me,” Dean spoke measuredly, “…because I had a crush on you, too.” Dean carefully eased Cas’ grip off of his sleeve, “And… I would say…that I hope yours didn’t end when you left.” He slowly threaded their fingers together. “Because mine didn’t.”
Castiel slowly traced his eyes up to Dean’s face, taking in the small smile and the odd mix of nerves and confidence in his eyes. What? Dean liked him, too? After all this time? “What would you say,” he was whispering now, again, but not out of fear, this time. Not fully, anyway. “If I told you that mine didn’t either?” He felt exposed, having put himself out there like this. In a few seconds, Cas would ever be elated or devastated. It was up to Dean, now.
Dean’s smile grew. “Mmm,” he hummed. “Well, Cas, I don’t know that I would say much. But I might do something, if you would be okay with it.”
“What?” Please don’t say it was ‘punch Castiel in the face’. Or ‘throw Castiel out of the house’. Or ‘laugh at Castiel for falling for this’. Just, Cas’ thoughts were gaining hysteria again, please don’t be anything bad, please.
Dean leaned closer, hands still clasped together on his bedspread. “What would you say,” he was whispering now, too, and Cas could feel his breath on his lips. “If I told you that I really want to kiss you right now?”
Castiel felt his heart slowly move back up to his chest before beginning to beat double time. “I would say,” Castiel whispered back, “That I would really like to kiss you, too.” His eyes fell to the blankets again.
“Hmm.” Dean smiled. Then he leaned back suddenly. “Too bad this is all hypothetical, then, huh?”
Castiel made a strangled sound and tried to tug his hand away from Dean’s, but it was held in an iron grip. “You asshole.” Was he just playing with Castiel, then? Had all of this been a joke, a horrible, terrible prank? “If you were messing with me, why not just tell me to leave? What was all of this, a trick?”
Dean shook his head, and still wouldn’t let go. “No, Cas, I’m not messing with you. Hey, come on, look at me,” He reached forward and took Cas’ jaw in his hand, forcing him to look Dean in the eye. “This wasn’t a hoax, or a rank, or any of that. I’m not saying I don’t like you. I do like you. A lot. I’ve liked you for a long time.” He raised their joined hands and smiled at Cas. “I just want to hear it from you. I’ve wanted to hear it from you for a long time, okay? Not as a hypothetical. Do you like me?” He slid his hand to gently cup Cas’ cheek.
Castiel tried to glare at him, still kind of pissed from the psych out, but felt his old fear creep over him again and douse the fire. He still couldn’t look Dean in the eye. He turned his face more into Dean’s hand, trying to hide his embarrassment. “Yes,” he said softly, into the skin there. “I like you.” He glanced up for a moment, seeing Dean’s happiness and relief. Had he really not been sure? After all that? “I’ve liked you since we were little.” He smiled faintly, and Dean felt the curve of his mouth against his palm. “Every time my mother went too far, I always felt better by remembering us stealing your mom’s chocolate chip cookies and how your freckles stretched out when you smiled.” He glared at Dean again. “I’m reconsidering, though, after that crap.”
“Aw, no, Cas. I promise, I won’t do it again, okay?” Dean laughed. “I just wanted to hear it. I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to freak you out like that.” Dean smiled, and leaned back in, “Can I kiss you now?”
“I’m tempted to say no, you jerk.” Castiel grumped, still muttering into Dean’s hand. “But,” he sighed softly, in pretend petulance. He really was over it, by now. It was a little mean, but Dean hadn’t meant anything by it. And Cas believed him when he said he wouldn’t do it again. “Yes, I suppose I would like that.”
They both smiled into the kiss, and felt each other’s happiness through it.
Dean leaned back and stroked his thumb across Cas’, hands still held together. “Now let’s go see if we can’t steal some cookies, alright?”
“Okay.” Cas sighed. “But I get an extra. I need it after that joke you pulled on me. You owe me a glass of chocolate milk for that, by the way.” Cas narrowed his eyes at Dean, trying to look intimidating. Judging by the laugh, it hadn’t worked very well.
Dean kissed the tip of his nose. “Alright, I promise you a big glass of chocolate milk. I could even see if we have any crazy straws, really get that childhood experience.”
Cas smiled down at the bedspread. “I had forgotten about the crazy straws.” He whispered happily. He looked up at Dean, leaning forward to kiss his cheek. “Yeah,” he was so happy, he felt his smile split his face and crinkle the corners of his eyes. “I would like that.”