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Don't Look Back

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“It was the heat of the mo-“

“Dean!”

“Telling me what your heart mea-a-nt!”

A furious pounding on the bathroom door.

“Heat of the moment shone in your eye-e-e-s!” Dean tilts his head back under the spray to rinse out the shampoo. He gives himself a little shake to make sure he’s not in danger of getting water up his nose.

Sam hammers again. “Shut the fuck up!”

Dean flicks the shower curtain back angrily, eyeing the door to make sure Sam doesn’t burst in on his private time like a giant Norman Bates. “Make me, bitch!”

“I swear to god, if you use all the hot water again-”

Dean grins to himself as he twists the temperature up. He double-checks that all the suds are gone, gives himself one last moment to bask in the glorious water pressure, and turns off the shower. With a towel wrapped securely around his waist, he emerges from the bathroom with a billow of steam. He claps Sam on the shoulder on the way past. “All yours, buddy.”

“You’re such a jerk,” Sam huffs.  He slams the door behind him.

While Sam showers, Dean pulls on his favorite pair of jeans and an olive button down Sam bought him for Christmas last year. Dean’s worn it maybe twice, once for Sammy’s college graduation back in Palo Alto and Jess’s birthday dinner at a fancy restaurant. If it were up to him, he’d wear a tee shirt and flannel to every occasion, but Sam insisted on dressing up.

Sam races out of the bathroom, leaving a track of wet footprints across the living room. 

Dean ambles out of his bedroom to tidy up the beer bottles, stray bits of popcorn, and half-empty bag of licorice from their Star Wars marathon the night before. He checks his watch as he dumps everything in the garbage. “Hey, we’re burning daylight here!” he calls. “Reservation is in fifteen minutes, and I can’t park my baby just anywhere!”

“Just a minute!”

“Weren’t you just on my ass for taking too much time-” Dean starts as he barges in Sam’s room, uninvited.

“Dude!”

“What? You’re not naked,” Dean says pointedly as he watches Sam struggle his broad shoulders into a navy blazer. He reaches for a tie, but Dean stops him. “It’s not a job interview,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Stop stressing.”

Sam grimaces. “I can’t help it. I haven’t been this nervous since before the LSATs.”

“And you aced those, right?”

Sam doesn’t meet his eyes. “Um.”

“Yeah, yeah, we all know you’re a gigantic nerd.” Dean balls up Sam’s tie and lobs it in the general direction of Sam’s bed before steering him out of their apartment. “But you don’t have to look it in front of Jess’s parents.”

Dean blasts more Asia on the drive over, uncowed by Sam’s bitchface. If Sam’s annoyed at him, then he’s not stressing about dinner. And bonus, Dean gets to sing along to more Asia. Win-Win. Every time Sam reaches for the volume dial, Dean slaps his hand away and turns it up. Sammy should know better. Dean only has two rules to living an awesome life:

  1. Driver picks the music and shotgun shuts his cakehole.
  2. Soulmates are for suckers.

(Including a sucker named Samuel W. Winchester)

They reach the restaurant with five minutes to spare. Dean hustles them past the hostess stand without even flirting with her because Sam looks ready to hurl. He spots Jess’s distinctive blonde curls near the back, facing away from the entrance and makes a beeline in her direction.

She gets up from her chair as they approach, enveloping Sam in a hug and giving him a kiss on the cheek. She makes the introductions to her parents, gripping Sam’s hand tightly in her own, and the tension in Sam’s shoulders seems to ease slightly as Dean grins and puts on an all-out charm offensive.

As Sam shakes Jess’s father’s hand, she turns to Dean, raising her arms for a hug of his own. “Heat of the Moment, really?” Jess asks, eyebrows raised as she pulls back.

Dean snickers. “How do you know it wasn’t Sam?”

“Because he hates Asia?” Jess says wryly as she takes her seat. “And you’ve been going out of your way to annoy him lately?”

Dean raises a hand to clutch at his chest in mock-offense. “How could you – I would never!”

“Knock off the shitty music. The last thing I need after a four-hour strategy meeting is to get Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive playing on repeat in my brain.”

Dean winces. “Sorry.”

Jess just rolls her eyes, half-listening as Sam thanks her parents for coming out here to meet him. “I got your number, Dean Winchester,” she says in an undertone. “You think that by pissing him off now, it’ll hurt less when he moves out.”

Dean drops his gaze and picks up the menu – a flimsy piece of paper listing only four entrees with too many vegetables. He resists the urge to ball it up and toss it at the nearest waiter’s head. Give him a stack of large laminated pages, thick enough to concuss a fully grown man, and he’d be golden.

Dean scowls at it as Jess continues, “We’re just going to be across town.”

“I know.” He holds back a grimace at the petulant tone in his own voice. Sam and Jess had been planning on moving in together for the past year, but they were so picky with their housing, it took them this long to finalize anything. Dean had almost thought they’d given up the search when Sam took him to view his new apartment (pets welcome) with Jess. Dean had smiled throughout the tour, even though it felt like a part of him was dying inside. 

Jess lays a gentle hand on his arm. “You can visit us whenever you want to. Sam will be expecting it, even. You’re the only family he has left, Dean. That means everything to him.”

When the waitress comes to take their orders, Dean gets the steak because that’s the only main course he recognizes. What the hell is branzino? As they wait, Sam does most of the talking until Mrs. Moore turns to Dean and says, “Enough about these lovebirds. Tell us about yourself.”

“Well, I’m this big lug’s older brother,” Dean says, pasting on a smile and nudging Sam with his elbow. “I grew up here in Lawrence and went to KU for a couple of years. I work at Recordin’ Man and have a radio program on KAZ 85.3.”

Mr. Moore leans forward, a pleasant expression on his face. “I bet your drive your soulmate nuts, working with music all day.”

Before Dean can answer, he receives a vicious kick from underneath the table. Probably from Sam, since Jess’s feet are normal and not gigantor-sized. Dean bites back a wince and vows to get Sam back later for not giving him any credit. Like he would go off on Jess’s parents – he isn’t brilliant like Sam, but he still has some common-sense rattling around his goddamn head.

“Uh, no. I’m still waiting to meet my special someone,” Dean lies.

“It must be nice, though, working in music,” Mr. Moore plows on, oblivious to Dean’s discomfort. “Your soulmate could be just around the corner!”

“No, I don’t think so,” Dean says through gritted teeth.

Sam kicks him again, a little harder than before. Ouch.

“No?”

“I’ve never heard any soul songs,” Dean says, unable to meet Mr. Moore’s gaze. He slaps his bullshit smile back on his face. “Makes my work a lot easier, though. Don’t have to worry about what anyone else wants to listen to but me.”

Mr. and Mrs. Moore sit there in silence while Dean picks at a forgotten breadstick.

Sam sends a panicked gaze his way before raising the bottle of wine in Mr. Moore’s direction. “Another?”

After a generous pour, Mr. Moore continues, either oblivious or heedless of Dean’s distaste for the conversation topic, “Were your parents soulmates?”

“They were,” Sam interrupts before Dean can respond, launching into the story of how their parents met. Dean scowls into his wine as Sam talks, painting their marriage as some pie in the sky fantasy. 

Truth was, even though John and Mary were soulmates, they didn’t have a smooth or very happy marriage. Their frequent arguments, tense and whispered, put everyone in the house on edge. John would drink the fight off while Mary would give the silent treatment for days. They’d inevitably make up, but then the cycle would start all over again. John and Mary loved each other, that much was clear, even to Dean, but they weren’t good for each other.

Even worse, when Dean tried to talk to his mom about it, she never saw anything wrong. She put all her blind faith into soulmates  – she and John had been chosen by angels, she said, like all soulmate pairs. And those same angels were watching over Dean, invisible and waiting. When the right time came, he would hear his soulmate’s voice in his head, and he would know, wherever they were, they were singing, just for him.

But the right time for Dean never showed up. He never heard a damn thing, and his parents stayed married right up until the bitter end.

“How lovely,” Mrs. Moore gushes. “And do they still live in Lawrence?”

Sam swallows, glancing at Dean before saying, “No, they actually died – car crash. About ten years ago, now.”

Dean grunts an assent. He does not add the rest of the story, how Mary died on impact while John swallowed more painkillers and whiskey than his body could handle the weekend after he got home from the hospital. Dean never told Sam the last part – he had been away on a hippy-dippy camping trip out of phone reception. Easier to tell him they both died from trauma complications and leave it at that.

Dean holds his tongue now, too.

“So tragic,” Mrs. Moore says, sipping her wine. “It’s so sad to see soulmates taken before their time.”

“It wasn’t a good time for us,” Sam says placidly like it wasn’t the worst year in Dean’s life, balancing medical bills against insurance payments, dropping out of school to take care of Sam, taking on every odd job to keep them above water. It was the right decision since Dean had never really fit in at KU anyway. He liked learning about music, but not the constant assignments and lectures. 

Unlike Dean, Sammy was the smart one cut out for college life – he had to be, since he spent most of his childhood running off to the library every time Dad disappeared or Mom got depressed. Smart enough for a full ride to Stanford for undergrad and another full ride at KU for law school. 

* * *

Sam is quiet the whole ride back to their apartment. 

“You know, Dean, if you’re still bitter about your soulmate-” he starts as Dean yanks open their front door.

Dean sighs loudly and makes a beeline for the kitchen as Sam lingers in the tiny entryway, dropping his keys in the little bowl by the door Dean always forgets to use.

“I’m not bitter-“

“Oh sure.” Sam rolls his eyes. “That’s why you always change the subject.”

Dean yanks the fridge open and fishes out a beer. He twists off the cap and takes a hearty swig, washing out the taste of the pretentious wine as Sam keeps talking about soulmates.

“Look,” Dean cuts off Sam’s jabbering. “I’m fine, OK? Just leave it.”

Sam throws him a withering look. “I can’t!”

“Why not? Now you’ve found your soulmate, was that your come to Jesus moment? Now you gotta get me on board too?”

Sam’s frown deepens.

“Because that’s not going to work with me,” Dean continues, pointing an accusing finger in Sam’s direction.

“I know it’s not,” Sam says slowly with a horrible patience.

“Good.”

“But-”

“Sam!”

“Come on!” Sam throws up his hands as he takes off his blazer and begins rolling up the sleeves of his button up. “You can’t tell me you’re really happy with the one-night stands and all that crap.”

Dean purses his mouth around the lip of his beer bottle. “I am happy.”

“No, you’re not. There are groups out there,” Sam says as he strides into his room and grabs his laptop off his bed. He turns the computer screen around for Dean to see. “Look, this website’s just for people who have lost their soulmate. And I know that’s not your situation exactly, maybe it could work? People put in their profile if they’re willing to talk about soulmates at all to get matched.”

“I don’t need a computer picking out a date for me thanks,” Dean scoffs, turning away.

“Doesn’t look like that from where I’m sitting,” Sam mutters under his breath. “I can make a profile for you, no problem.”

“Don’t bother.”

“I just want you to be happy, Dean. Why don’t you give it a chance?” Sam’s puppy dog eyes turn to him, and Dean has to push down the guilty feelings churning around his gut. He takes another long drink from his beer and doesn’t say anything. “One date? Just one before I move out on Sunday. All I ask. Then I’ll never bring it up again.”

“Never?” Dean finally asks, intrigued.

“Never.”

“And if I hear the word soulmate from you again, you’re paying for my next year’s supply of Busty Asian Beauties. I’m talking the supreme subscriber package at Christmas.”

“Gross.” 

But that’s not a no.

“Fine,” Dean says as he flings himself down on the couch and picks up the television remote. “Profile me up, Zuckerberg.”

“Great!” Sam says brightly. “I’ll text you the account info and password.”

Dean looks up, accusatory, at Sam. “You son of a bitch, you already signed me up.”

“Guilty.” Sam hauls himself up and stretches. “Well, I’m going to do some more packing and then call it a night.”

Dean flips channels as Sam closes the door to his bedroom, mind wandering as procedural cop shows and medical dramas flash by.

Dean doesn’t kid himself that Sam’s website will work out. How can it? Unlike everyone else on there, Dean’s soulmate isn’t dead. He doesn’t know what it’s like to lose the love of his life. He only knows what it’s like to be alone.

So Dean did his best to fill the quiet with music. He started out with his dad’s old cassette tapes and a handful of yard sale records. Now, at least he can enjoy the fact that he only hears the songs he wants to.

He thought he was doing pretty well for himself, actually.

Until Sam met Jess. 

Then, next thing Dean knew, Sam was talking about getting serious and moving out. Dean was never built for that life, with the white-picket fence, 2.5 kids, and dog, and he had thought Sam wasn’t either. But then Jess happened, and all of these hidden desires burst out of his brother like Dean was the one holding him back all along.

* * *

As Dean walks in the door three days after meeting Jess’s parents, Sam crows, “I got Chinese and found you the perfect roommate!” He gestures to the coffee table where several white cartons sit, and a single law tome with the most boring maroon cover Dean has ever seen.

Dean scowls as he snatches the container of dumplings sitting in front of Sam and pops one in his mouth with his bare fingers. “What? A roommate?”

“You need one after I move out,” Sam reminds him, like the prospect hasn’t been looming over Dean’s head like a biblical plague-carrying storm cloud. 

At first, Sam left it up to Dean to find a suitable roommate. But since Dean preferred to languish in denial like it came with pressure jets and a personal masseuse, he dithered for two weeks without any leads. Apparently, that was all the signal Sam needed to start the look for himself.

“He’s not a neat freak – not a slob,” Sam is hasty to correct, “But he won’t be on your ass when you leave the dishes in the sink for a day or two.”

Dean throws himself down on the couch next to Sam and begins unlacing his boots, listening with a reluctant ear.

“He’s a doctoral student, so he can pay a little more than I do. He doesn’t like cats – says they’re always up to something. Very quiet. Doesn’t play music at all. But that doesn’t mean he’ll mind your music. You can play whatever you want.”

Dean narrows his eyes at Sam’s overly earnest picture-perfect roommate. He asks flatly, “What’s the catch?”

Sam pulls a face, hesitating. “It’s not a catch, per se-” 

Dean rolls his eyes. “Cut the crap. What’s wrong with him? Drug problem? Comes with too many gerbils? Megalomania?”

Sam pokes around the dumpling container, not looking at Dean. “He’s, uh, deaf.”

Dean purses his lips as he thinks that over. “Can he lip-read?’

“Mostly,” Sam says, shrugging. “I used sign, but I think you’ll be alright. I’d bet he can lip-read as well as Eileen.”

Dean nods to himself. He remembered Eileen well, his favorite of Sam’s girlfriends before Jess came along. He even used the Impala to shepherd Sam to afterschool ASL classes for a couple of years so Dean could pick up some signs to communicate better with her. “And where’d you meet him?”

“At the library.”

Dean snags another dumpling. He chews, thinking it over. “I guess I should meet him before he moves his crap in?”

Sam rolls his eyes. “Even if you don’t want to, I’m sure Castiel would want to check the place out before he adds his name to the lease.”

“Castiel?”

“Castiel Novak. Named after the angel of Thursday,” Sam says, which figures. Only Sam would look that shit up. “His parents are very religious.”

“Catholic? Will he have problems with who I bring home?”

Sam pulls a patented bitch face. “Like I’d set you up with a homophobe.”

“No prudes either. I don’t need judgment over my cereal after I kick someone out in the morning.”

“You’ll have to talk with him,” Sam says as he glances down and pulls out his phone while Dean picks up the half-eaten lo mein and begins to chow down. “Good news! He says he can make time tomorrow to see the place and meet you. 10 am too early?”

Dean wrinkles his nose at Sam’s enthusiasm. “Not really, I guess.”

“Great!”

“What are your plans tonight?”

“Got a date.”

“A date?” Sam repeats. “A prearranged deal, not trolling the bar for lonely singles?”

Dean grabs the last dumpling. In between spiteful bites, he mumbles, “From that website you recommended, you jackass. So you can use that judge-y face to kiss my ass.”

“Ew,” Sam deadpans as he reaches for his textbook.

 “Have fun studying, nerd.”

Dean pushes himself off the couch to get ready in a clean set of clothes. No need to get dressed up in a monkey suit like it’s something he does on the regular. First impressions are important, and Dean isn’t the type to start things off with a lie. 

He waves to Sam on his way out, tells him not to wait up.

The restaurant Lisa picked is a fifteen-minute drive from Dean’s apartment, on a popular street full of bistros and cafes and other froofy places Dean would normally never set foot in. He’s much more of a Roadhouse kind of guy, where Jo will tell you to get your own goddamn pretzels if you piss her off, and it isn’t a rare sight to see Ash sleeping on the pool table.

To Dean’s immense relief, the restaurant seems to have a casual dress code. There isn’t a white tablecloth in sight, but there is a full bar in the back.

Dean’s ten minutes early, so he grabs a table for himself and pulls out his phone to look up Castiel Novak. He searches Facebook, Instagram, even Snapchat: nothing. The guy might as well be a ghost. Dean scowls at the screen in his hands, a simple utilitarian LinkedIn profile with no picture, “Castiel E. Novak, PhD student at Kansas University,” the only sign Sam didn’t invent the guy off the top of his head. 

As the meeting time ticks closer, Dean looks up to spot Lisa walking towards the table.

He resists the urge to whistle under his breath. Instead, he thanks all the gods above for the casual dress code of the place. 

Two words: yoga pants.

“Hi, I’m Lisa,” she introduces as Dean stands up to awkwardly, unsure if he’s supposed to shake her hand or kiss her on the cheek. He ends up just standing there like a post for a half a second before Lisa takes her seat without any touching at all.

“Sorry, I’m late,” she says with a bright smile as she scans the menu the waiter had left on the table when Dean sat down. “Class ran a little over.”

“Class?” Dean echoes.

“Yoga,” Lisa adds. “I teach yoga Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at the studio just across the street.” She grins and looks down, bashfully. “I picked this place because I always come here for lunch for convenience but I’ve never had the dinner.”

Dean’s mouth went dry at the thought of bending Lisa over every surface in the restaurant, but he unsticks his tongue to ask, “Do you know what’s good? First time here.”

Lisa tucks an errant strand of hair behind her ear, and Dean follows the smooth line of her neck and down, down, down. “Their pasta selection is usually pretty good. Roast chicken too. But I’ve always gone for the burger.”

Dean swallows. “Then I’ll get that.”

“That easy?” Lisa asks, eyebrows raised. 

“That easy,” Dean says, leaning back in his chair.

* * *

Dean doesn’t wake up in his apartment. He comes to awareness slowly, shifting a little to get a better idea of how Lisa’s situated on the other side of the bed. They’d had a good date last night, and damn, Dean had forgotten what that was like. They stayed far away from soulmates, per their preferences on that not-as-stupid-as-Dean-thought website Sam signed him up for.

Instead, they talked music, Dean’s go-to conversation topic, and movies, Lisa’s. She knew a surprising amount about monster movies and action flicks, even though they aren’t her favorite. Dean spent all of dessert trying to talk her round to Ghostfacers, his favorite hate-watch movie to date.

Lisa rolls over.

Dean opens his eyes and turns his head to get a better look. “Hey,” he says, leaning in for a kiss.

Lisa obliges. “What are you doing this morning?”

Dean lets his eyes rake over her face and down her body. But before he can make a move, her phone pings.

“Sorry,” she says apologetically as she reaches for it. Her face goes white. “I – I’ve got to go,” she stutters as she slips out of the bed.

“What?” Dean sits up, staring as she starts getting dressed. “Everything okay?”

“No – maybe,” Lisa says, her voice muffled as she pulls on a shirt. “I’ve got to pick up my – shit, I thought he’d be fine until noon, but I guess not.”

“You’ve got to pick up your friend at,” Dean glances at his watch, “Nine in the morning? On a Saturday?” At Lisa’s harried nod, Dean gets up and begins to look for his clothes he threw down on the floor. “You need a ride?”

“What?” 

“I have to move the car anyway,” Dean says with a shrug as he buckles his belt.

Lisa hesitates.

“Unless I should just head out,” he ventures instead, disappointment sinking low in his gut. 

“No, it’s not that.” She runs a distracted hand through her hair and grabs her purse, not looking at Dean. “I need to get my son, okay? He was at a sleepover last night, but apparently they broke something expensive at Todd’s place, and his mom wants them all out of her house.”

Dean dumbly following her out of the apartment. “Your son?”

Lisa throws him a look as they make their way down to the street level. “Not really first date talk.”

“I guess not,” Dean says with a humorless chuckle. He waits until they’re on the sidewalk to ask, “Do you still need the ride?”

Lisa gapes at him over the hood of the Impala. “The offer is still open?”

“Why not? I’ve got nothing better to do. And I had a good time last night. Never had first date go that well.”

Lisa offers him a tentative smile as she opens the door. “I’m happy to hear that. Would you want to do it again?”

Dean bites his lip, bides his time by noisily climbing in the Impala and starting up the engine. “Look, Lisa,” he says, turning to her, already feeling like a heel for taking the easy way out. “I think you’re great – fucking awesome, actually. But I don’t think I can do kids right now.”

Lisa sucks in a bracing breath, her bangs fluttering as she stares straight ahead. Her expression turns wry. “No, I get it. I understand. If the dead soulmate doesn’t send ‘em running first, the kid definitely does.”

“I still had a good time last night,” Dean offers feebly. He musters up a stronger grin for her. “If you wanted to do that again, I’d be game.”

Lisa chuckles, shaking her head decisively. “I can’t do that to Ben.”

Dean tips his head in her direction. “Fair enough.” When he was Sam’s sole provider, he didn’t have a steady parade of one-night stands or fuck buddies either. Once every couple of months, if he was lucky. Dean got real familiar with his right hand for those couple of years. “I get it.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Dean says gruffly. “You and the kid probably already have it rough. Don’t need someone like me fucking it up worse.”

Lisa doesn’t contradict him.

Dean drives for a couple more minutes, the silence settling between them not entirely uncomfortable. More resigned, if Dean is feeling retrospective. Lisa chimes in every other corner as she directs him to their pickup location.

Dean stays in the car as Lisa marches up to the doorway of the small two-story house, a determined look on her face. She disappears inside just as Dean’s phone pings with a text.

Sam 9:33

Wake up!

Where are you? Castiel is going to be here in 30.

 

Dean 9:33

Dude chill. I’m awake

Had to run an errand

Be back with plenty of time

 

Sam 9:34

You’d better

Pick up milk if you can. We’re running out.

 

Dean rolls his eyes and pockets his phone again. He turns up the radio, fiddling with the dials to his favorite classic rock station. Warrant’s Cherry Pie blasts through the Impala, and Dean feels a sharp pang of regret as he glances out to the closed door where Lisa disappeared. It would’ve been the perfect song to get him back in the mood from this morning. 

He taps along to the beat on the steering wheel, singing along under his breath, as the song changes to Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me. 

God knows why KAZ 85.3 decided to queue up their playlist of Songs To Fuck To this particular morning, but Dean’s going to strangle the producer in charge. Probably Gabriel since he’s either got sugar or sex on the brain.

“Now we’re talking!” Dean says to nobody as the beginning riffs of You Shook Me All Night Long filter through the fade-out.

He’s really getting into it, thumping on the steering wheel and nodding his head as the passenger-side door to the Impala opens and Lisa gets in. Dean twists in his seat as one of the back doors open a split second later and a young kid clambers in, maybe ten or so.

“Ben,” Lisa begins as Dean lowers the music. He doesn’t turn it off – awesome one-night stand or no, Dean doesn’t turn down AC/DC for just anybody. The song’s almost over, anyway. “This is Dean.”

“Hey,” Ben says, blinking over at him confusedly. “You Mom’s new boyfriend?”

“I – uh,” Dean fumbles, accidently turning up the volume as he does a full-body freak out at having to explain a purely sexual relationship to a minor.

“He’s a friend,” Lisa says firmly as she elbows Dean out of Ben’s eyesight, “and he offered to give us a ride.”

“Okay,” Ben says.

Dean narrows his eyes. He’s heard that kids are the worst – they ask too many questions, expel too many fluids, and are a general little shits. God knows Sam did all that and more up until he grew out of his awkward phase. 

Sure enough, the next thing out of Ben’s mouth is a question: “What’s this song?”

Dean glances at him in the rearview mirror. “Hot Blooded by Foreigner. You like it?”

“Yeah.”

“This your kind of music?” Dean asks, glancing at Lisa out of the corner of his eye as he pulls out of the driveway. Lisa just shrugs. 

“Yeah.”

“You got a favorite band?”

“I like AC/DC,” Ben says in a bored voice.

Dean bangs his fist on the steering wheel regretfully while he uses his other hand to turn the volume dial up again. “You just missed Shook Me All Night Long.”

Ben doesn’t take the news too badly. “I’ve got the album on my iPod, anyway. And I like Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution better.”

Dean turns to Lisa, laughing. “Holy shit, your kid is awesome.”

“Dean! Language,” Lisa rebukes with a glare as Ben snickers from the back seat, “Ben, no funny ideas.”

“Sorry,” Dean says as he mentally gives himself a little shake. Right. It’s been a long while since the Impala had to be kid-friendly. He glances at Lisa again, but she doesn’t look too offended. She seems the type to curse all the time and just pretend to regret it in front of her kid. Hell, she didn’t hold back on the swear words last night.

Dean navigates the way back to Lisa’s place as Ben sullenly relays to Lisa what led to the early end to his sleepover. Somewhere between eating enough pizza, nachos, and ice cream to puke, slipping in said puke, and knocking into some hideous family heirloom, Ben wins Dean over hook, line, and sinker. 

“Hey,” he calls as Lisa opens the door and Ben shuffles over to the sidewalk side of the Impala, “If you’re really interested in music like this, then you’re welcome to stop by the station. I work there five nights a week.”

“Really?” Ben asks, hand pausing on the door handle. “Mom, can I?”

“Maybe after I’m done grounding you,” Lisa says, rolling her eyes. “Dean, you have my number, right?”

“Sure do.” Dean pats his phone in his pocket.

“Then maybe we’ll see you later,” Lisa says with a smile as she lays a possessive arm around Ben’s shoulder and steers him to their apartment.

“Yeah,” Dean says to their backs. He sits there for a moment, thinking, as Lisa unlocks the door and ushers Ben inside. Dean should head back home; he’s cutting it pretty close to meet Sam and the new roommate. But he’s having a hard time getting Ben out of his head. Ben seems all kinds of awesome for a ten-year-old. While Dean’s absolutely sure he made the right decision to nip things in the bud with Lisa, that doesn’t stop him from wondering.

Maybe some doors aren’t as closed as he thought. 

The first thing Dean sees when he lets himself into his apartment is Sam’s bitchface. “Nice of you to stop by, Dean,” he says, a little too sassily for Dean’s taste. He’s only ten minutes late. Hardly enough time for Sam to send out a search party.

Dean ignores him. He takes a split second to give the stranger a once-over: dark, messy hair like he just rolled out of bed, blue – Jesus that’s some color – blue eyes, and a fugly trench coat he’s still wearing even though he’s inside. As Castiel turns to get up, hand outstretched for a shake, Dean grins at the backwards tie that swings with every step.

“Nice to meet you, man,” Dean says, reaching out his hand.

“Hello, Dean,” Castiel says as he shakes, and if Dean was taken aback by the eyes, then the deep voice is like a second punch to the gut. He speaks with the same blunted syllables Dean hasn’t heard since Eileen. “Sam has been telling me a lot about you.”

“Uh, same,” Dean lies with a glance at Sam who is still scowling behind Castiel’s back. “Hope you weren’t waiting long.”

Castiel shakes his head. “We were just catching up.”

Sam stands up. “I was hoping I could be here while you two get to know each other, but I have to meet Jess for an early lunch. Show Castiel more of the place for me?”

“Sure,” Dean says. “Say hi to Jess.”

“Yeah,” Sam says with a wave. He signs a quick good-bye for Castiel and leaves.

Dean turns to Castiel and asks, “What do you think about the place?” 

“Serviceable,” Castiel pronounces as he takes a slow look around. “I confess, I’m not much of a cook, so the extensive kitchen is wasted on me.”

“That’s alright, man,” Dean says with a grin. “Sam’s been banned from the kitchen since sophomore year of high school. That’s kind of my area. I, uh, keep it mostly clean.”

“It will be available next week?”

Dean wracks his brains for a split second and signs a quick, “Yes,” feeling a little stupid as Castiel’s eyes widen in recognition. Dean drops his hand back to his sides as soon as he’s done.

“You know sign language too?” Castiel asks eagerly, signing as he speaks.

“A little. Less than Sam.” He grimaces as he finger-spells the last M, already wondering how much he’s fucked up. His ASL is beyond rusty.

“More than most,” Castiel says while signing a little faster than Dean can follow. A smile curves his lips. “I can get by with some lip reading and texting, so signing will be unnecessary.”

Dean looks away, feeling a little hot under the collar under the weight of Castiel’s unwavering gaze, and then faces forward again since Castiel can’t read his lips if he’s staring off to the left. “Might as well meet you halfway, man, if you’re going to pay for half the space.”

Castiel studies him for another second, and Dean struggles not to fidget. “That’s very kind of you,” he says, again, signing at the same time.

“No problem.” Dean takes a step back and gestures to the bedroom. “Want to see what you’re in for?”

* * *

Sam moves out and Castiel moves in.

It’s not a seamless transition; Dean goes out every night for a week just to avoid calling Sam every night like a clingy ex. The Roadhouse, the seedy karaoke bar that isn’t constantly swamped by KU students, the Roadhouse, more karaoke… lather, rinse, repeat.  He texts a couple of times a day. That should be enough.

Dean gets used to seeing Castiel’s trench coat thrown over the backs of chairs or hung up by the door rather than Sam’s jacket, and he finds Sam’s old guilty-pleasure snack shelf (only pilfered during late-night studying binges) filled with a whole assortment of colorful teas instead. Castiel comes with his own kettle. It makes permanent residence on the stove.

Now when Dean comes home from his evening program at the radio station, it’s to the smell of freshly brewed tea instead of Sam’s evening run stink. Castiel lives up to Sam’s acclaims. He’s quiet, keeps to himself, and doesn’t bother Dean much at all. They spend most of their evenings in companionable silence, with Dean parked in front of the television and Castiel reading at the kitchen table.

Only after Dean caves and calls Sam after two weeks, does he give Dean a verbal kick in the ass to interact with his new roommate.

“Hey,” Dean says the next day, waving a little to get Castiel’s attention. He panics as Castiel takes his time closing his book and looks up at Dean expectantly. Dean’s mind goes completely blank for a horrifying second, but he manages to sign, hesitantly and probably fucking up terribly, “Have you had dinner?” 

Goddamn, he was so much better in front of the bathroom mirror at the radio station an hour ago.

Castiel slowly shakes his head no.

“You want a burger?” Dean asks, still signing because so-far so good.

“I’d like that very much,” Castiel signs, smiling. “They’re my favorite.”

Dean grins right back at him. “Awesome,” he says, and yeah, he’s definitely looked that one up in Sam’s ASL dictionary, now stashed under Dean’s bed like a porno mag. He opens his mouth, realizes he has no idea how to sign the words on the tip of his tongue, and drops his hands in defeat. He says slowly and clearly, “I think I got all the stuff. You okay with frozen fries?” 

“As long as there’s a burger, I will eat just about anything with it,” Castiel says, his fingers flying in the air so quickly Dean can only catch every other sign as his brain struggles to translate the ASL, but at least Cas speaks at the same time he signs.

Dean takes that as his cue to get to the kitchen. He grabs his phone and portable speaker from his bedroom and blasts his classic rock, singing along and dancing around a little since Castiel’s reabsorbed in his book and wouldn’t know to look up anyway.

Twenty minutes later, and Dean is flipping the last patty. Without thinking, he calls over his shoulder, “How do you like it?”

Castiel doesn’t give a response, and Dean gives himself a mental kick in the ass for expecting one. He turns off the heat anyway, just in case. If Castiel likes a more well-done burger, then it can always be cooked more. Can’t be un-cooked, though.

“Hope you like it rare,” Dean says as he sets the plate down in front of Castiel along with another one laden with fixings. “Do you want something to drink?” he asks, eyeing the cold mug of tea by Castiel’s elbow. “I’m grabbing a beer.”

“I’ll have one too, thank you.”

Finally, Dean sits down at the table. “Cheers,” he says, raising his bottle.

Castiel’s brow furrows, but he raises his bottle too and takes a sip. He sets it down to sign, “What are we cheering?” 

“To two weeks of not killing each other?” Dean proposes as he picks up his burger. He takes a large bite, savoring the taste. “I love the kid,” he says after a quick swallow, “but when Sam moved in when he started lawyer school, he drove me up the fucking wall for a while.”

Castiel looks a little taken aback. He inhales a deep breath, looking apprehensive. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that,” he says cautiously. “Can you please repeat?”

“Uh sure,” Dean says, fumbling to sign along as he repeats himself, a little slower this time as he finger-spells words he doesn’t know the signs for.

“I’m glad this is going better than that,” Cas signs back.

Dean gives a definitive nod in agreement. “You don’t constantly complain about my music.”

Castiel takes a bite of his burger, and Dean actually resists stuffing his face to focus on the rapturous expression on Castiel’s face as he inhales his meal.

“Like it?” Dean asks, eyebrows raised, as Castiel resurfaces to meet his gaze. Half of his burger is gone.

He licks his lips, signing, “This is very good.” 

Dean shifts in his seat, pants going a bit tight, and tries to focus on Led Zeppelin, still blaring in the kitchen. “There’s one more for each of us, if you want.”

Cas takes a sip of his beer to wash it down. “I probably will. I forgot to eat lunch.”

“You forgot?” Dean asks, eyebrows raised. He’s fairly positive he only skips lunch if he’s physically tied down, which has only happened twice in his life. Two and a half, if you count the last time with Ronda Hurley.

“I was in the middle of research. It wasn’t as important.”

Dean stares, his expression dumbfounded. “Dude, nothing’s important as lunch.”

“The library closes early on Sunday,” Cas explains with a little one-shouldered shrug. “It needed to get done.”

Thank god, a lead. Dean’s a pro at small talk, either at a bar or at the station with callers-in. “What were you reading up on?”

“It was for my dissertation,” Cas says, his hands slowing on the sign for dissertation, and Dean has the feeling he’ll be seeing that one a lot. “I’m studying how classic rock impacted the cultural zeitgeist of America, particularly with regards to influencing ideas of masculinity.”

Dean lowers his burger, mouth nearly falling open. “You’re studying classic rock? Music?”

Castiel bristles. He signs, sharp and brusque, “I know it doesn’t seem like the most logical area of study, given my disability, but I’ve found that I am in a unique position to-”

“No, man, you don’t get it,” Dean cuts him off. Castiel crams the last of his burger in his mouth and chews, looking mutinous. Dean explains, “Classic rock is basically all I listen to.”

“Really?” The frown doesn’t quite disappear, but Castiel looks intrigued, at least.

“Sure is,” Dean says, letting a hint of pride creep into his tone. “I even get paid for it a couple of hours a week.”

“Sam did mention that you work at a radio station. He didn’t say which one.”

“KAZ 85.3.”

Castiel blinks at him, dazed. “I know KAZ,” he signs, mouth going slack.

“You do?” Dean asks, perplexed. “But you’re…”

Castiel waits for Dean to finish his sentence, his expression wry. “My soulmate listens to that station all the time.”

“I – they do?” And just like that, Dean’s appetite is gone.

“I’m almost positive,” Castiel says, signing along with a business-like nod. “My cousin works there, and he initially made the connection. I’ve checked their website to find what’s currently playing and can match it with the soul song I’m hearing. Half the time, it’s correct.”

“Oh,” Dean says weakly, at a total loss for real words. He swallows, unsticking his tongue from the roof of his mouth. “I’m glad you’ve found them, then.”

And wouldn’t that just figure, even the deaf guy hears soul songs. 

Dean stares down at his burger, irrational anger and disappointment surging up to choke him. It’s not Castiel’s fault that Dean doesn’t have a soulmate. It’s not his fault that Dean’s so broken, made so wrong, the angels didn’t see him fit for the one gift they give everyone else.

It makes sense Cas’s soulmate is in the area. Most soulmates tend to live in the same state, at least. Dean learned in middle school health class, back before he knew better than to pay attention to any of this soulmate crap, most pairs tend to share similar interests and childhood experiences. It’s harder to get along with someone who grew up completely differently and soulmate pairs reflect that.

“I haven’t found them yet,” Castiel corrects Dean, a little stiff. “But at least I know they live nearby. That gives me some comfort, at least. What about you?” he asks innocently, like he hasn’t stepped on the motherload of Dean’s issues.

Dean drain the rest of his beer before answering. “No soulmate in the picture,” he says shortly, one-hundred percent truthfully. It’s not the whole truth, obviously, but that’s a conversation better had on the far side of a million years from now.

* * *

Living with Cas is easy. Dean plays music at all hours of the day when he’s home and Cas either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. His head is usually stuck in a book, anyway, or half-hidden behind his computer screen. Cas leaves his books strewn all over the apartment, just like Sam used to, so that doesn’t grate on Dean’s nerves at all. Pretty much the opposite, actually, since all of Cas’s books are about music, or music history, or the seventies and eighties. A definite upgrade from Sam’s concrete tomes on constitutional and criminal justice law.

When Cas caught him peeking at his stuff the first time, Cas let him borrow a monograph on the intersection of punk and rock in England for the afternoon.

The second time, Cas came armed with a list of recommended reading.

The third time, Cas practically insisted on having an intellectual discussion about it. Dean’s first instinct was to run screaming for the hills, but Cas looked so earnest and started out with a slight jab against Zep, so of course Dean had to set him straight. 

Now, Dean finds himself coming home to Cas practically every night. He asks about Cas’s day and the newest tidbits of his research. If Dean had the time, he’d haul ass to the library too, 'cause whatever Cas is reading about is always fucking interesting. 

Dean blinks as Cas’s hands settle back in his lap. He refocuses on Cas’s face, expectantly waiting for Dean’s response. Shit, Dean must’ve missed the question.

“Sorry,” Dean signs sheepishly. “Wasn’t paying attention.”

Cas peers at him, his mouth turning down in a reluctant frown. “I didn’t mean to bore you. If you have other plans, I always have more research to do.”

“Not boring,” Dean hurries to reassure him. “I just didn’t catch that last thing you said.”

“You didn’t?”

Dean bites his lip and tries to mimic the sign he just saw Cas do, the one he’d never seen before.

Cas tilts his head, brow furrowing. “Oyster?” he repeats aloud, his hands moving at about half speed to demonstrate the sign. “Did I pronounce it incorrectly? Blue Oyster Cult?”

“No, dude,” Dean says quickly. “You said it fine.”

“Oh, good,” Cas says, a little flustered. “I can never be completely sure.”

“Sorry,” Dean apologizes. “Got too focused on the signs. I wasn’t listening.”

Cas blinks at him. “You weren’t listening?” he repeats, more than a little baffled. At Dean’s apologetic shrug, Castiel says, for once not signing along with his words, “I don’t have to sign if it’s distracting.”

“But I wanna learn,” Dean says in a blurt of motion. His are signs a little sloppy in his haste to get them out. At Cas’s frozen expression, Dean’s brain catches up. He backtracks almost immediately. “Not if you don’t want to teach me, though. You didn’t sign up to be an ASL tutor when you moved in.”

Cas doesn’t look convinced. He asks dubiously, “You would like me to teach you?”

Dean fails for a moment, unsure of how to begin. “If... you don’t mind. I’m not asking for, like, vocab lessons every day. Just new ones that come up when we’re talking. Like oyster, you know.”

“I see.”

Flushing, Dean tries to explain. “You don’t have to. But I... like talking to you. And I figure it’s better in-person. Less awkward than texting when you're right there.”

“But teaching you new signs and correcting you wouldn’t be more awkward?” Cas asks eventually.

“God no,” Dean says, relieved as Cas doesn’t seem too put out about dealing with more of Dean’s uneducated ass. “You’re a good teacher. You don’t make it weird at all.”

Cas’s mouth twitches like he’s about to smile. “Many people think I’m very weird.”

“They've really said that?”

Cas looks away, signing demurely, “I may have been lip-reading across the faculty lounge.”

Dean snorts with laughter, grinning harder as he catches Cas’s eye. “Good for you. That’s the opposite of weird. That’s badass.”

“Really?”

Dean nods. “It’s like your secret superpower.”

Cas does actually smile at that.

* * *

Every time Cas brings up some Americana factoid he came across or recites a stupid argument in a student’s paper about CBGB, he doesn’t talk down to Dean. He could, since Cas is the genius and Dean’s the fucking dumbass he’s stuck living with. But Cas seems like he genuinely wants his opinion, which never ceases to baffle him – Dean, the college drop-out who gets all his knowledge from deep dives into Wikipedia and the Jeopardy! episodes he watches every night.

Sam didn’t talk down to him either, but Dean hardly jumped at the chance to hear a lecture on the Ruiz v. Estelle decision.

“Dude,” Dean says once night a little more than a month after Cas moved in. “It’s nearly twelve-thirty. Don’t you have some meeting tomorrow morning?”

Cas waves him off, signing, “I will be fine. My appointment is with my dissertation advisor, and Metatron’s rescheduled three times on me already.”

“Is he always a dick?”

Cas shrugs. “He rambles, but he was the only one in the history department who didn’t tell me to take my thesis proposal to the music department instead.”

“Why not them?”

“I didn’t want to get into the weeds on music theory.” His expression grows rueful. “I don’t have the same experience with music as my colleagues. And some of the theorists – especially those I only know over email – can’t seem to remember that I don’t have the ability to replay songs at will to analyze them as deeply as they can with their dissertation subjects.”

Dean doesn’t speak, just rubs his fist across his sternum a couple of times.

“Thank you,” Cas signs back, acknowledging Dean’s apology kind-of-but-not-really on behalf of all hearing people for being such douches. “It’s not all bad. I like to think that I am experiencing the music the same way that the original audiences did. It’s like listening to the radio. You never quite know what’s coming on next.” 

Dean feels a little stupid for asking, but he can’t help his next question. “Do you like it? Classic rock?”

Cas doesn’t hesitate with his answer “I do. It’s the only music I have in my life. Wouldn’t you, in my position?”

“It doesn’t really seem like you have a choice,” Dean signs, his face serious.

“I may not choose the music, but I chose to research this because I like it so much. The soul songs led to my interest in this.” Cas bites his lip, not quite meeting Dean’s eyes as he continues to sign, “I lost my hearing completely when I was thirteen. My family was very religious and didn’t trust people outside of our community, so I didn’t have much interaction with anybody else like me, except my sign language tutor who also homeschooled me until college.” Cas grimaces. “My soul songs kept me sane, a lot of the time. I was lonely often, and it was gratifying to be connected to someone like that.”

Dean whistles. “Homeschooled? That explains a lot.”

“It does,” Cas signs solemnly, his face completely deadpan. But Dean can tell Cas knows he’s joking by the twinkle in his blue eyes.

Dean cracks a smile. “Classic rock’s not for everybody. Sam hates it.”

“It is for me,” Cas says firmly. “It’s not as high-brow as opera arias or Bach, but it has its own rich history. Plus, I get more leeway to use layman’s terms,” he adds, a little more business-like in his tone, “Which makes my research more accessible anyway. And that was the whole point of music in the latter half of the twentieth century – making it more accessible and appealing to new audiences.” 

Dean frowns. “I thought academics get off on jacking their most pretentious knowledge all over the place so nobody can understand it.”

Cas stares at him for a moment, blinking as he absorbs Dean’s full meaning. He grins. “There are some that do, of course. But I try to stay clear of them.”

“That’s probably why you’re such a good teacher, Cas,” Dean signs as he glances at his watch again and stretches.

Cas freezes, looking oddly bashful. “That’s very nice of you to say.”

“It’s the truth,” Dean signs simply before he beats a hasty retreat, taking their dinner plates, abandoned hours ago, to the kitchen.

* * *

“Been too long, man,” Sam says with a grin as he takes a seat.

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean waves the sentiment off, a wide grin spreading across his face all the same.

“It’s been, what, a month?” Sam asks, eyebrows raised. “I think that’s the longest I haven’t seen you since Stanford.”

Dean pulls a face and picks up the menu to hide behind. He brought Sam back to the little bistro he ate at with Lisa. It seemed right up Sam’s alley, what with their wide salad selection and all. “Can’t be that long.”

“I mean, there was Jo’s birthday at the Roadhouse last week,” Sam muses, “But I don’t think that really counts.”

“Sure, it does,” Dean says as he sets down the menu. “We caught up. I heard all about Jess’s GRE prep and your new cross-fit thing. Sounds painful. The both of ‘em.”

Sam snorts. “That’s small talk you make at a party, Dean.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Come on,” Sam says, exasperated. “How are you doing? Really?”

“Fine.”

“How’s living with Castiel?”

“It’s good,” Dean says, leaning back to get a little more comfortable in his seat. “He’s filling in for an evening lecture tonight. Poor dude’s been stressing the whole damn week. Practiced on me like five times.”

“I hope it goes well?” Sam hedges, a little thrown by Dean’s enthusiasm.

“Me too,” Dean says as he takes a sip of water. “I would have probably gone if I didn’t have this thing with you. It’s about music and Vietnam – comparing what the soldiers had access to and what was being heard back home.”

“You would have gone,” Sam repeats flatly, disbelief etched all over his face.

Dean scowls. “You wouldn’t? How cool does that sound?”

Sam shakes his head, smiling like the fucker’s in on a secret. “Not all that appealing, to be honest.”

“Come on, it’s all the hippie music you love.”

“It’s the hippie music you like, and I can stand,” Sam corrects. “I don’t really care one way or another.”

“A travesty,” Dean declares. “I don’t know where I failed you, Sam, but-”

“Hold up – I don’t want to get off topic,” Sam interrupts. “You would have gone back to school for this guy?”

“Not permanently,” Dean says condescendingly like Sam’s five years old again. “Just one night.”

“I thought you would rather, and I quote, ‘get made up like a painted whore and prance around on stage in a monkey costume’ than step foot in a classroom ever again after you dropped out.”

“Your memory’s shit,” Dean mutters.

Sam looks unbearably smug. “That’s what you said.”

Dean just scowls and flags the waitress over to take their orders. But once she’s gone, Sam’s back on his case like a dog with a bloody ribeye. “Would you go back to school? Are you considering it?”

“No,” Dean says firmly. “I don’t need the extra stress or the hit to my bank account. I just think what Cas is researching is awesome, OK? Who knew you could study music and all that crap.”

Sam’s expression softens. “I’m glad you two are getting along, then.”

“He’s not a hard guy to get along with.”

“You haven’t pissed him off yet by bringing too many randos back?” Sam asks, eyebrows raised. 

“Screw you,” Dean says without any heat. “I haven’t brought anyone back since he moved in. I’m a fucking awesome roommate, bitch.”

“Nobody?”

“Nobody,” Dean repeats proudly.

“Jo said she hadn’t seen you around the Roadhouse since I moved out,” Sam says in a would-be casual voice.

Dean pauses, his glass of water halfway to his mouth. He sucks on the straw obnoxiously. “So what?”

“So that means you found other hunting grounds – which, unlikely, since you’re a creature of habit – or you haven’t been going out at all.”

“So I’ve been having a bit of a dry spell,” Dean says uncomfortably. “What’s it to you?”

“Nothing,” Sam says, raising his hands in a gesture of appeasement. “But it’s a dry spell if you’re going out and getting shut down. But not going out at all…”

“Spit it out. Whatever you’re trying to get at.”

Sam rolls his eyes. “I’m just saying, you go on and on about Castiel, and you’re staying home with him instead of picking up strangers. It’s telling, you know?”

“What,” Dean scoffs, “that I’m a fucking awesome roommate? I said that already.”

“You like him.”

“Sure, I do. He’s a friend.” Dean’s eyes narrow as they take in Sam’s look, half exasperated and half expectant. “A close friend?” he tries after a beat.

“I mean, we are close. You’re my brother, and you love me.”

Dean snorts. “Real confident aren’t you, Sam?”

“Shut up,” Sam says, waving his hand dismissively. “But you never stopped picking up chicks or a guy here and there because I didn’t like it. Or because I had an important test the next morning.”

Dean puffs out his chest. “A man has needs.”

Sam raises his eyebrows knowingly. “And where are those needs now, huh?” 

“Just because it’s more fun to stay home with Cas instead of pushing my luck with Roadhouse regulars does not mean-”

“Oh my god,” Sam mutters. “You cannot be this dense.”

“Hey!” Dean mumbles, “You’re dense.”

After all that effort Dean put in to keep his trap shut at Jo’s party and Sam figured him out anyway. For god’s sake, he let Sam go on and on about his new case for ten minutes.

Sure, alone with his right hand at night, Dean’s been hit with the urge to go out and pick someone up. But at that late hour, it’s easier to take care of it himself. He’d give up a quickie if that meant he could ask Cas if he was familiar with the history behind Travelin’ Riverside Blues or needle Cas into watching Jeopardy! and an hour of Dr. Sexy. 

“Yeah, I get it, bitch,” Dean says quietly. “Cas is special.”

“Yeah,” Sam agrees with a shrug. “You could’ve chosen worse.”

“You still haven’t put a ring on Jess’s finger yet. I still have options.”

Sam fidgets in his seat at the mention of marriage, muttering, “Classy as ever, Dean.”

* * *

“And let’s finish up with some more Blondie for you. This is Dean on KAZ 85.3, and I hope you liked switching it up today to listen to some underappreciated awesome ladies. Tune in tomorrow same time for the only classic music worth listening to.”

Dean receives a dubious thumbs-up from his producer, Gabe, standing outside the sound booth. He wasn’t especially on-board with Dean’s last-minute proposed change to the line-up, but Dean insisted. If all Cas heard were the true classics – he has yet to mention any more obscure but still awesome bands – then he’s still missing out. It’s frankly Dean’s duty, as the connoisseur of all things classic rock, to make sure Cas receives a proper, well-rounded education. 

It wouldn’t be the first time; Dean did the same to Sam during their road trip to Palo Alto. Sam could whine all he wanted about the music, but at least he respected Dean’s numero uno rule in the Impala and got force-fed his education anyway. It’s not Dean’s fault Sam’s got no taste. He did his best.

Since the only thing Dean knows for sure about Cas’s soul songs are their connection to KAZ, he can’t just sit by and play the same Zep, AC/DC, and Black Sabbath he always does. Last week, he proposed ladies night on Thursdays. Today, he got to sing along to some of his old favorites he’d forgotten about. And if he couldn’t hit the high notes, nobody had to know but Dean.

All in all, not a bad night.

Still on his chick-only kick, Dean blasts Heart with his baby’s windows down the whole way back to his apartment. He finds Cas in his usual spot at the kitchen table, a stack of papers in front of him and a frown on his face as he wields his red pen like a flaming sword. He viciously slashes through a whole paragraph, not noticing Dean until he’s nearly at his shoulder.

“Dean!” he jumps, another red line disappearing into the mess covering an unfortunate body paragraph. “Did you just get home?”

“Hey Cas,” Dean signs, frowning as Cas just stares up at him. “You okay?”

Cas shakes his head and ducks his head to focus back on the paper in front of him.

“Yeah, you seem fine,” Dean mutters to himself as he walks over to the fridge and swaps Cas’s half-empty mug of tea for a cold beer.

He nudges the bottle against Cas’s left hand, signing when Cas looks up, “Looks like it’s time for a break.”

Cas pushes the beer away. “I have to get these done by Friday. It’s finals week.”

“How long have you been at this? Did you even get to work on your thesis today?”

“No time,” Cas signs, staring as Dean raises his own beer to his lips and takes a hearty swig. “These finals need grading.”

“They can wait an hour. You look terrible.”

“Thanks,” Cas signs curtly, his hand barely making it to his mouth to make the sign properly.

“Just being honest,” Dean signs lightly. “When I was in school, profs never turned around anything in time. Can’t you take the weekend to finish up instead of killing yourself on a Thursday night?”

“But I promised –”

“Those kids were probably so sleep-deprived or hungover that they didn’t pay attention,” Dean interrupts, signing over Cas’s objections. “And even if they did, what are they going to do about it?”

“Write terrible professor reviews?” Cas signs, his expression disgruntled.

Dean snorts. “Dude, I’ve watched you slave over their papers for the past month. Just ‘cause you’re late with their finals doesn’t mean they’ll forget about the rest of the bazillion assignments you gave back on time.”

Cas looks away, his gaze focusing on the untouched bottle by his elbow. 

“Come on,” Dean wheedles as he picks up the bottle and waves it in front of Cas’s face, “Live a little.”

Cas swipes it from his hand, takes a quick sip, and signs darkly, “Terrible influence.”

“All part of my charm,” Dean says smugly as he leans back in his chair opposite Cas. He watches as Cas stacks his papers into two neat piles, one liberally marked up with red and one pristine. The ungraded pile is considerably smaller, at least, so it shouldn’t take up much of Cas’s weekend. Hell, Cas will probably get them done before Dean wakes up at the ass crack of noon on Saturday.

Cas takes a deep pull of his drink before setting it down to reach up over his head, stretching his arms and back with a deep sigh.

Dean averts his gaze, uncomfortably hot around the collar. He drains half of his beer in one swallow, just for something to focus on other than the sliver of bare skin between the hem of Cas’s shirt and his pants or the way his arms flex.

There have been a couple of close calls since Cas moved in – the hazards of sharing one bathroom. So far Dean’s managed to keep his eyes to himself. Perving on his roommate is one boundary he won’t cross, even with his libido. It doesn’t help that Cas has eyes like a hawk – the upside of having one fewer sense everybody else.

“We should go out,” Dean signs. He hasn’t been down to the Roadhouse in weeks, and it’s been even longer since he’s been in someone else’s bed.

“Out?” Cas echoes, eyes widening.

“You don’t have cabin fever?” Dean asks, pulling a face. “When was the last time you weren’t here or at school?”

Cas makes a face, fingers worrying at the label on the bottle. “A while,” he admits.

“Awesome!” Dean signs, a wide grin splitting his face. “It probably won’t be as crowded on a Thursday night, anyway.”

Cas’s expression doesn’t lighten up at all, in fact it grows even more severe as he takes in Dean’s enthusiasm. “Would this be a precursor to soliciting sex from strangers?”

Dean gapes at him for a second. “Dude,” he says.

“What?” And now Cas has progressed from annoyed to pissed.

“Who talks like that?”

“I do.” Cas raises his eyebrows. “So?”

Dean runs the back of his neck sheepishly, distinctly aware of the uncomfortable heat rushing to his face. “Maybe? I don’t know. Depends on who’s out there. I usually go to their place, anyway, if you’re worried I’ll cramp your style.”

Cas roughly grabs the unmarked piles of paper, nearly upending his half-empty beer bottle in the process. “Then I’m afraid I’ll have to pass. Have a good night, Dean.”

“Woah, woah! Hold your horses. What’s up with you?”

“Nothing,” Cas signs stiffly, frozen to the spot, eyes wide as they dart away. “I don’t want to hold you back. I’ll be in my room.”

“Come on, Cas.” Dean reaches out to snag Cas by the arm. “Don’t you want to have a little fun? You do know what that is, right?”

Cas doesn’t answer, just shakes off Dean’s grip and stalks determinedly away. 

“Fuck,” Dean swears, unheard, to Cas’s back.

* * *

Dean goes out anyway, but he doesn’t try to chat anyone up at the Roadhouse. His unexpected argument with Cas put him completely out of the mood. He plays a round of pool with Jo during her break and catches up with Benny. He comes home pleasantly drunk but not falling over himself.

Cas’s door stays firmly shut the whole night.

By the time Dean wakes up the next morning, Cas is long gone. He isn’t in the best headspace for customer service at Recordin’ Man, so he stays behind the scenes to sort inventory until he heads over to the station.

Dean plays all of his favorites to raise his mood. By the time his program is over, he can almost pass for a normal human being.

That night, he comes home to an empty apartment for the first time in weeks. He almost turns right back around, but he can’t bring himself to go through another night drinking off stupid worries about his disagreement with Cas. Dad used to do that, and Dean’s vowed to himself too many times over never to fall in that hole. He spends the night vegetating on the couch as Jeopardy! plays on the television, muted because Dean can’t be bothered to turn the sound back on after weeks with it off.

At least he gets the Final Jeopardy question right. What dumbass isn’t familiar with Revelations 6? He snorts as two contestants get it wrong.

Dean falls asleep on the couch sometime absurdly early and wakes on Friday morning to find himself covered by the comforter that usually sits on his bed. Bemused, he spares a glance for Cas’s half-open door, but Cas probably already took off for his morning class. Unsure of what to make of that, Dean heads out for his shift at the store.

At Recordin’ Man, it’s more of the same. Dean lets Garth take the register as he finishes up his inventory work ahead of schedule. The day drags on. Even Gabe notices at the station and makes a blatant and stupid attempt to cheer Dean up by pranking another producer, Crowley, on his way out. Crowley is not amused, to Gabe’s infinite glee.

The next night, Dean half-expects Cas to make himself scarce again, but he comes home to find Cas working at the kitchen table like he never left.

“Hey,” Dean says apprehensively as Cas looks up from his screen.

“Dean,” Cas says, and some of Dean’s nerves melt away at the sound of relief in his name. “Hello.”

“I’m just gonna,” he says, jerking his head to the kitchen. “You have dinner yet?”

“No, not yet,” Cas says. He flips down his screen with an elbow, signing with his hands, “But, if you wanted, I could get take out for us.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Dean waves him off. “I have ground beef that’s gonna go bad soon in the fridge. You in the mood for burgers?”

Cas swallows, looking distinctly put out. “Always.”

“Great,” Dean says, forcing cheer into his smile. “Be ready in twenty.”

“Yes, Dean.”

As Dean sets himself up in the kitchen, he can feel the weight of Cas’s stare on the back of his neck. He turns his music all the way up and sings obnoxiously loudly along in a futile attempt to keep the tension in the room at bay. 

Shake it off. Just shake it off.

Shame has no place here. 

Dean’s had a shit day, and it’s not his fault Taylor Swift sings songs for every occasion. Dean is going to damn well shake it off since his roommate probably doesn’t know Taylor Swift from Hound Dog Taylor. 

He glances over to Cas a couple times, quick, fleeting sweeps that are mostly done instinctively. Every time Dean looks over, Cas seems troubled, forehead wrinkled in concern as he morosely flips through a couple of journals half-heartedly. By the time he comes around with the food, Cas has already cleared his work away. 

No use prolonging the inevitable. Dean opens his mouth, ready to lay it into Cas for being an out-of-character asshole the night before.

Cas beats him to it: “I’m sorry.”

Dean blinks at him. “You’re what?”

“Sorry,” Cas repeats as he signs the word for emphasis. “For the other night – I was an ass.”

Thunder sufficiently stolen, Dean frowns. “It’s fine.” 

“No, it’s not,” Cas signs. “I’m not sure about your feelings, but I don’t do casual… relationships. I don’t go out all that often. It’s why I moved out of my last apartment, actually.”

“Oh,” Dean says, guilt sinking low and heavy in his gut. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It’s not something I’m proud of,” Cas signs baldly. “And I don’t blame Gabriel. It was his apartment, and he was only renting to me as a favor. Short-term only.”

Dean’s brow furrows. “If he knew it bothered you, couldn’t he have gone to their place? Or kept it in his pants if he didn’t give you a heads up?”

“Does that sound like Gabriel to you?” Cas asks dubiously. 

“I don’t kn – Gabriel?” Dean fumbles, at a loss.

“You work with him,” Cas points out. “He’s a radio producer at KAZ, isn’t he?”

“You lived with that Gabriel?”  Dean honestly can’t picture it at all. 

“He’s my cousin.” 

“You look nothing alike.”

“Gabriel used to try to drag me out all the time, and I never wanted to. He said I should loosen up. Have fun.” He shifts around in his seat, uncomfortable. “I know it’s traditional, but it makes me uncomfortable to witness-”

“I get it, I saw Sammy with his pants down enough-”

“-it between people who aren’t soulmates.”

Dean snaps his jaw shut with an audible clack. Blindsided, he blinks stupidly at Cas, his burger halfway to his mouth. He eventually stutters, “I – you – what?”

Cas squints, head tilting as he zeroes in on Dean’s mouth. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.”

Dean signs, “Never mind,” with a free hand and stuffs his face with his burger, mind whirling and dread dragging him down.

Cas’s eyes narrow in irritation at Dean’s quick dismissal. “I realize that a lot of people like to… experiment before they meet their soulmate,” he says, tipping his head in Dean’s direction, and Dean feels like he’s going to be sick. “But I was raised differently. Even though I have distanced myself from most of my parents’ conservative upbringing, I still believe in this.”

“Of course you do,” Dean mumbles as he sets his burger down.

“Sam warned me that I might see some… overnight guests,” Cas signs delicately. “But you haven’t brought anyone back yet, and I thought he was exaggerating. I know I don’t have any control over your life, and I wouldn’t presume to, but I just don’t want to participate in it.”

“I get it,” Dean says even though he doesn’t. “Fuck,” he mutters to himself, looking away.

“I hope this doesn’t impact our relationship of cohabitation.”

Dean drags a hand down his face. He doesn’t meet Cas’s eyes as he shakes his head. “’Course it won’t.” When he next looks up, Cas’s mouth is turned down in a worried frown.

“I’m not judging you, if that’s what you are thinking.”

“You can judge me all the fuck you want,” Dean says, his signs sharp and precise. “It’s not my job to change your point of view, as old fashioned as it is.”

Cas freezes at the nearly hostile expression on Dean’s face. He closes up, eyes darkening. “No, it isn’t. If you want to have experience before-”

“Before?” Dean cuts him off with a harsh laugh. “Before what, Cas? Before I find my soulmate?” He sneers the last words.

“Yes.”

“Well that’s not going to fucking happen,” Dean snarls, his signs razor sharp. “What do your traditional views think about that?” 

Cas, frustratingly earnest and understanding, says, “Just because the odds seem long now, that doesn’t mean you’ll never –”

Dean interrupts, “The odds aren’t long. They’re fucking nonexistent.”

But Cas plows on, “If even I have hope that I’ll find my soulmate, then you–”

Dean snaps. He cuts Cas off with a forceful gesture. “I’m never going to find my soulmate because I’ve never heard a damn soul song in my life. I don’t have a fucking soulmate to find, okay?”

For once, Cas is struck speechless. He stares, open-mouthed across the table, and Dean would laugh at the dumbstruck expression on his face if he wasn't all but consumed with anger. “I didn’t know,” Cas says after too long a pause.

“I don’t spread it around if I can help it. Don’t like people thinking of me differently.” He watches Cas, inwardly recoiling at the look of abject pity on Cas’s face. “I don’t need any crap or inspirational speeches. I’ve heard them all, and they make me wanna punch something. Don’t let that be you.”

“I won’t,” Cas signs hesitantly.

“Good.”

“I’m fine,” Dean says firmly as Cas continues to stare at him.

Cas doesn’t answer, just resumes eating his burger in silence.