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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.

Chapter Text

In the aftermath of the big reveal, Dean’s on edge for a couple days, and Cas stares a lot more than he used to, which is saying something. 

Dean shoves his unwelcome feelings for Cas down deep and makes a point of going out at least once a week to interact with someone outside of work who isn’t named Castiel Novak. He doesn’t rub it in Cas’s face, as much as that would please the vindictive part of him, but he texts Cas to let him know if he shouldn’t wait up. 

Dean only regrets not spending the evening with Cas about half the time.

It doesn’t help that his track record isn’t what it used to be. He’s gotten pickier since he met Cas. He stays away from men altogether (not hard in Kansas) and tries to live up to his prime bachelorhood years.

Across the bar, Benny scowls at him. “You want another?” he asks, gesturing at Dean’s empty glass of whiskey.

Dean shakes his head as he casts another glance around the Roadhouse. “No thanks. I think I’ll settle up, if that’s alright with you.”

“No problem. Not feeling it tonight?”

“Am I that obvious?”

Benny's silent shrug is telling. As he turns around to ring up his bill, Dean fishes his wallet out of his pocket, a twenty already in his hand. He pauses as a flash of a familiar face catches his eye across the Roadhouse. He twists in his seat, staring at her.

Lisa idly swirls the ice in her empty glass around with the little cocktail straw. Her attention hardly stays on the man sitting opposite for more than a half second before she loses interest again. It’s only a matter of time before she spots Dean. 

He gives her a sheepish wave from his awkward position half-angled towards her. She smiles before quickly diverting her attention back to her date and saying something Dean can’t hear. She starts to get out of her seat, her hand curling around her empty glass, but before she can stand, her date grabs her hand across the table and calls over their waiter.

Lisa tentatively sits back down and rolls her eyes, a gesture clearly meant for Dean.

He could go over and rescue her from what all signs point to a terrible date. 

He pulls out his phone instead. Dean’s played the hero before and only got a drink thrown in his face once or twice for unappreciated gallantry.

 

Dean 8:17

U need a bail out call?

 

He watches as Lisa checks her purse, her face apologetic as she types out her response.

 

Lisa 8:17

If you can get him to leave yourself there’s a free drink in it for you.

I was looking forward to my salad and it hasn’t come yet.

 

That’s all the permission Dean needs to swagger over to Lisa’s table, a plan already forming in his head.

“Lisa, hey!” he calls. A couple heads turn in his direction. “Baby!”

Lisa’s eyes widen for a split second before she says, “Dean?” like she just saw him there.

“I just can’t take it anymore,” Dean tells her fervently, sliding down his knees next to their table. “You gotta take me back. I can’t live without you. I’m dyin’ here. Honest!” 

Lisa’s date is gaping at him, frowning at the display. “Come on.”

Dean ignores him. “Lis, I’ll be a better man for you.”

“Dude,” the date mutters, “you’re embarrassing yourself.”

Dean takes Lisa’s hand in his like he has eyes only for her. “I’ll do better this time, I swear. You and Ben - that’s it for me.”

Lisa gasps dramatically, looking like she’s about to swoon. Her date asks, his expression just shy of ludicrous, “There’s a Ben now too?”

He shuffles closer, still on his knees. Crumbs dig into his kneecap, and he’s going to murder Jo for not sweeping up properly. “You and your son are all that matter to me!” Dean proclaims, and he can tell Lisa’s struggling to keep a straight face. 

“Screw this,” the date says as he gets out of his chair. “I thought you were too good to be true. Fucking dating apps.”

Dean gets to his feet as he watches the departure, feeling mighty pleased with himself. Lisa bursts out laughing.

An older lady twists around in her seat, glaring disapprovingly. “Young lady, that’s no way to treat this man.”

“No, it’s fine,” Dean waves her off as he sits down in the vacated seat. He glances down at the still-empty table. “You promised me a free drink.”

“I sure did,” Lisa says, still grinning. “You can have his food too, if you like.”

“What’d he get?” Dean asks, intrigued.

“The steak, I think,” Lisa says, nose wrinkling. “Very manly.”

“Well, I am a very manly man,” Dean says, puffing his chest out. “Coming to the rescue of a damsel in distress? Nothing manlier than that.”

“As long as you don’t expect true love’s kiss at the end, then I’m happy,” Lisa says with a shrug.

Dean snorts. “True love. Hah.”

Lisa rolls her eyes. “Don’t knock it. It could happen to you.”

“Fat chance. I’ll have that drink now, though.”

* * *

Lisa does end up giving him a kiss that night, and a hell of a lot more. Ben is at another sleepover, so she has a rare night free of mom duties. After dinner, they migrate back to the bar. Dean shoots the shit with Lisa and Benny until the room goes fuzzy from the alcohol and all he can think about is his last night with her. They end up walking back to Dean’s place, since Lisa’s date drove them to the Roadhouse and Dean’s too drunk to get behind the wheel of his baby.

Dean wakes up to the smell of coffee. He takes a moment to get his bearings, wincing at the bright morning light. He pulls on a pair of pajama pants on and his bathrobe before he makes out of his bedroom.

Lisa is in the kitchen, tentatively pressing at buttons on the coffee maker. She’s wearing the flannel he wore last night and what he hopes is a pair of pilfered, clean, boxers.

“You don’t have to do that,” Dean says blearily as he sidles up behind her and presses a kiss to the back of her head. 

“Here.” Lisa hands him a mug of coffee. “I don’t know how you take it.”

“Black’s fine,” Dean says he takes a sip. It’s too hot, but at least it wakes him up some. 

“Who are – Dean?” 

Dean suppresses an internal groan. God, if only he’d gotten up fifteen minutes earlier to have coffee and be properly awake for this. Last night went a long way to putting him in a good mood, but even sex can only do so much for early-morning Dean Winchester. “Hey, Cas,” he says to the newcomer emerging fully dressed from his bedroom. “This is Lisa.”

“Hi,” Lisa greets with a hand not holding her own coffee mug. “You’re Dean’s roommate, right?”

“Dean would be highly circumspect if not,” Cas rumbles, signing along with his words. He casts Dean a doubtful look, “or maybe not, since it is before ten am.”

Lisa glances bemusedly at Dean, who merely grunts his assent. 

Dean asks, “You going somewhere, Cas?” Cas is in a regular shirt and jeans, no suit-and-tie combo Dean’s used to seeing on him.

“I have a meeting with my thesis advisor,” Cas explains.

“Oh, right,” Dean says as he sags back against the kitchen counter, half of his coffee already gone. He sets the cup down to sign, “Don’t let him give you any shit.”

“I try not to,” Cas says with the ghost of a smile. “Lisa… It was nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, same here,” Lisa says awkwardly, waving as Cas leaves. 

Dean drains the rest of his coffee and pours another cup, emptying the coffee pot. “Do you want another?” 

Lisa shakes her head. “I’m good.”

“Do you have to take off soon too?”

“Since Ben sleeps till two pm if I let him, probably not,” Lisa says, a smile spreading across her face. “Why? Do you have any plans?”

They spend the rest of the morning back in bed. By the time lunch rolls around, Dean’s feeling supremely disinclined to put on pants. They’re laughing, freshly showered, and partially dressed by the time the delivery man arrives. 

Dean flops down on the couch and hands out their sandwiches to Lisa, leaving the one he ordered for Cas in the bag. He wolfs down his first couple bites, not terribly conscious of his manners. From her stories, Dean’s got nothing on Ben, despite Lisa’s best efforts. 

Lisa nibbles at hers, picking at stray bits of lettuce and sprouts that are almost falling out.

“Hey,” Dean says after a few moments of silence. “You okay?”

Lisa sighs, and Dean stuffs another bit of sandwich in his mouth. “What are we doing?”

“Eating lunch?”

“Dean.”

He just shrugs. “I don’t know. Having a good time, I hope.”

Lisa manages a half-smile in return. “I shouldn’t have drank that much last night.”

Dean stares at her for a second, his sandwich drooping slightly. His stomach sinks, panic rising. “What? I mean, you seemed into it. Shit, I – uh, sorry if you didn’t want, fuck – I thought I asked –”

“No, no,” she says quickly as she places a reassuring hand on Dean’s bare knee. “I had a good time. And I wanted it. This morning was great. Just… hindsight you know? I just don’t want to give you any ideas that this can be a repeat thing.”

“Oh,” Dean says, and truthfully he hadn’t been thinking along those lines anyway. “You said that last time.”

Lisa blinks at him. “I did,” she acknowledges.

“Same deal now?”

“Same deal now.” Lisa shoots him a relieved smile. “Thanks. We can just call last night a fluke, since it was coincidence that I ran into you.”

“If that makes you happy,” he says with a shrug. “I don’t see the point in overanalyzing it. I had a good time. You had a good time. We’re square. No expectations.”

“You’re being very understanding about this.”

“What? A man can’t have layers?”

“I know you have layers,” she says, fingering the lapel of his flannel shirt. “You’re a good guy, Dean Winchester.”

Dean snorts. “You don’t have to flatter me. I’m not going to hound you for more sex.”

“I didn’t think you would,” Lisa says, a little offense in her tone. “I’m just saying that you should give yourself more credit.”

To Dean’s infinite relief, he is spared from answering by the sound of the door opening. They both turn around to see Cas standing in the doorway, a cup of coffee in hand and a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face.

“Hello Dean,” he starts, adding after half a beat, “Lisa. I hope you had a pleasant morning.” He barely holds back a grimace, and Dean can practically feel Cas’s eyes linger on his bare legs and Lisa’s lack of dress.

“And that’s probably my cue to go,” Lisa says as she hauls herself up from the couch. “Ben’s probably waiting by now. Dean, keep in touch, okay? I’d like to see more of you.”

“Sure,” Dean says weakly as she presses a chaste kiss to his cheek before disappearing into his bedroom to change back into her own clothes. He watches, warily, as Cas just hovers weirdly in the doorway. “You want to come in, buddy?” 

Cas gives himself a little shake. “If I am intruding… I can…”

“You’re not,” Dean says as he bends down to get the bag of delivered lunch. “Got you a sandwich and everything.” He thrusts it in Cas’s direction with little fanfare.

“You did?”

“What, did you eat already?” Dean asks, eyebrows raised. “Metatron always talks your ear off. And I know you’re too cheap to buy lunch yourself.”

Cas takes the sandwich from Dean, but he doesn’t sit down next to him on the couch. He grumbles instead, “You’d be cheap too if you lived off my stipend.”

“You’re welcome.” Dean grins as Cas rolls his eyes. He still doesn’t take a seat. “You waiting for a formal invitation here?” Dean asks, eyebrows raised. He shifts to make a little more room.

“No, I –” Cas breaks off, glancing at Dean’s still-closed bedroom door. He signs without speaking, “I don’t want to keep you.”

Dean waits impatiently until Cas is looking at him again. He signs back silently, “I’m not going to kick you out of your own apartment to have sex. You really think I’d do that?”

Cas shrugs helplessly. “It wouldn’t be ideal,” he signs slowly, not meeting Dean’s gaze, “but I would understand.”

“Really,” Dean says aloud, his tone as flat as a two-by-four.

Cas just gives him another despairing look as he signs furtively, “It’s not like I would hear any of your activities. And if you kept the door closed…”

“Not going to happen,” Dean signs back swiftly. “That’s a total dick move. And I am not a dick.”

Cas snorts a silent laugh. “That remains to be seen.”

“Does it?” One haughty eyebrow raises as he leans back against the couch cushions like they’re his throne. He signs, almost lazily, “Because, here I am, trying to be nice; kicking out my girl, giving you free lunch, and you just go and assume the worst.”

A corner of Cas’s mouth turns down into a half-frown. “I wasn’t assuming.”

“What?” 

“You’ve brought people back before,” Cas signs, jerking his head towards his room, “while I was here.”

Dean’s mouth falls open. “How’d you know?”

Cas signs, his face pained, “I can feel the vibrations of your bed through the floor if they’re forceful enough.”

“Fuck.”

Lisa emerges from Dean’s bedroom. She pauses on the threshold, her eyes darting back and forth between Dean and Cas. “Got awful quiet out here, boys.”

“Just telling Cas about lunch,” Dean says, forcing a grin onto his face as he signs the same to Cas.

Cas tips his head in a nod. “It’s from my favorite restaurant,” he says, like he has any fucking clue what Dean bought for him.

“Oh, good,” Lisa says before turning back to Dean, “I’ll be seeing you? Don’t be a stranger.”

“Of course,” Dean says, smiling, as he gets up to show her out. When he comes back, Cas looks anywhere but at his face as he sighs, “I wasn’t going to tell you.”

“Why not?”

“Because I didn’t want to interfere.”

“Interfere with what?” Dean asks. “I thought we talked about this, man.”

Cas gingerly sits down next to him and unwraps his sandwich. “Before, I always saw casual relationships as cheating, in a way.”

“Jesus Christ,” Dean mutters as he runs a hand down his face. His day had been shaping up so well: a fucking great night with Lisa, some good morning sex, and then a whole afternoon of Cas to himself after his advisor meeting. But no, Cas has to bring up fucking soulmates – just sit him down for a deep analysis of Jefferson Starship’s discography and make it real torture.

Cas takes one look at Dean’s face and quickly barrels on, “But with you, I know they’re not because of your,” he fumbles for a second before coming up with, “situation.”

“Gee, thanks,” Dean says sourly. “So glad to know you’re making an exception for me.”

Cas takes a bite of his sandwich, looking a bit sheepish. 

“That’s bullshit,” Dean continues, and Cas’s face falls like there was any way in hell Dean would be pleased to know Cas fits Dean into his apple-pie soulmate fantasy as some sort of acceptable deviant. “Soulmates aren’t the end goal of all relationships. They can fuck each other over just like anybody else, except it’s ten times worse because they have one more reason to justify it.”

Cas doesn’t disagree aloud, but his expression tells Dean he has serious doubts about what Dean’s saying.

Dean rolls his eyes. “And what are people like Lisa supposed to do, huh? If their soulmate kicks the bucket too early? Join the nunnery?”

Cas doesn’t have an answer for that either.

* * *

Two weeks later, Dean stumbles home late. Jamie (Jane? Janet? Janine?) didn’t ask him to stay over, but she did send him off with her number, so Dean counts that as a win.

He closes the door quietly behind him, conscious of his sleeping neighbors, and he’s unsurprised to see Cas exactly where he left him, poring over his laptop in the dark. His hair looks like he fucked an electrical socket, and deep purple bags sag underneath his eyes.

Dean certainly doesn’t find Cas sexier than Jamie at this very moment, looking as awful as he does, but the sight does pull at something tender in his chest, a place untouched by any of the random sex Dean has been having.

He flips on the living room light, and Cas winces, throwing up a hand to shield his eyes like he’s fucking Dracula. “Dean!” 

“Hey, Cas,” Dean signs as he approaches the kitchen table, strewn with printouts of his dissertation presentation and post-its scribbled in Cas’s spiky handwriting. “You gonna call it a night soon?”

Cas frowns. He glances down at the mess. “I needed to look up the airplay time of Aerosmith’s first album.”

Dean stares at him. “Seriously?” he signs. “That’s what’s keeping you up?”

Cas throws him a helpless look. “My thesis defense is tomorrow, and I’m not ready.”

Dean doesn’t hide his eye roll. “You’re ready.”

“You don’t know that,” Cas signs moodily.

Dean throws up his hands. “Yes, I do. Dude, you’ve been going over this thing for what, a month, now? And the panel’s not going to ask about that damn album.” He moves slowly, giving Cas ample time to stop him, as he gently shuts Cas’s laptop. “I’ll tell you the same thing I told Sam before he took the LSATs, which he aced, just like you will. Go to fucking bed, already. You can’t get jack shit done when you’re five minutes away from passing out and smell like you haven’t showered in a week.”

“But-”

“Go on,” Dean says as he crosses his arms across his chest, glowering down at Cas so he can read his lips clearly. “Take a shower and hit the hay. I’ll clear up here.”

“I can’t.”

“Take a shower. Then if you really want to keep working, I guess I can’t stop you.”

Cas casts one lingering glance at his work before hauling himself to his feet. He sways slightly, and Dean’s arm shoots out, alarmed, to hold him steady before gently pushing him in the direction of the bathroom.

Dean busies himself with re-attaching flapping post-its to their relevant pages and gathering up Cas’s dissertation into one big pile and binder clipping it closed. He snatches Cas’s empty bag slung over the back of the chair and stuffs his laptop into it. He closes Cas’s reference books and stacks them in the middle of the table. He takes Cas’s tea mug and washes it out in the sink, listening as the shower cuts off.

Cas emerges not too long after, wearing a bathrobe and still looking dead on his feet. “You put it all away,” he signs dumbly, gaping at the cleared table.

“Sure did,” Dean says as he wipes his hands with a dishtowel. He sets it down to sign, “But if you want to set up shop again, you’re welcome to undo all my hard work.” 

“Dean.”

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”

Cas rolls his eyes. He looks away. “What if they don’t accept it?”

“They will.”

“But what if?” Cas asks quietly.

“Cas,” Dean begins, “You’re the smartest guy I know. You’ve been practically defending your thesis every night since I met you. You answered all my stupid questions and then some. They never tripped you up. You’ve got this.” He takes a step closer and cautiously wraps his arms around Cas. Beneath all the fluffiness of the bathrobe, he’s as tense as a board.

Dean resists the urge to inhale Cas’s scent like a creep, and instead breathes like a normal person as he holds on. Cas sags. “That’s it,” Dean says quietly even though there’s no way Cas will hear him. “You’re going to be alright.”

As the seconds tick on, Dean forces himself to clap Cas on the back and pull away before he does something stupid like kiss him. “Bedtime,” he says firmly as he walks Cas to his bedroom door. “I’ll see you in the morning, okay?”

With the air of a man marching to the gallows, Cas raises his hands to say something but drops them with a shake of his head. With a funny look in his eye, he turns away. “Thanks, Dean,” he signs instead before closing the door behind him.

* * *

Dean wakes up to his phone blaring the chorus of Back in Black, and for a second he can’t remember why he set his alarm so goddamn early on a Tuesday morning until – Cas.

Dean throws the covers off and jumps out of bed. After throwing on a pair of jeans and regular tee-shirt, he barrels out of his room and through the living room to the kitchen area. Cas’s door is still shut, and Dean thanks the gods above Cas won’t hear him banging around the kitchen. Attempting to cook before his first cup of coffee is a tall order, but Cas is worth it.

Cas’s vibrating alarm goes off half an hour later, and by that time the fried eggs are just the right amount of runny. 

Dean is halfway through slicing up a browning banana and bits of melon for the saddest fruit salad ever when Cas stops dead in the kitchen, staring at him.

“Hey,” Dean says with a wide grin as he puts down the knife.

“What’s all this?” Cas asks cautiously, peering down at the kitchen table, laden with far too much food for two people.

“I made breakfast.”

“I can see that,” Cas says before looking around. “Why?”

“Because I bet you didn’t eat at all yesterday. Don’t want you passing out in front of all the professors.”

“I had a few protein bars,” Cas says defensively, but his heart clearly isn’t in it.

“Not enough. Sit.”

Cas sits without another word, and Dean deposits a fresh breakfast burger, topped with a fried egg and bacon, in front of him.

“I know you usually just eat cereal,” Dean signs, looking away nervous, “But this is the most important meal of the day. And you need your strength. This has way more protein than the bars, anyway, and doesn’t taste like cocoa covered cardboard. Brain food, right? Wait, shit, I think that’s fish.”

“I think you’d be hard pressed to find quality fish in Kansas at eight in the morning,” Cas signs mildly. “Thank you.”

“You’re, uh, welcome,” Dean says as he hustles back into the kitchen for the bowl of fruit. “This is also for you, if you aren’t up for the burger.”

Cas stares at the burger for a moment, not moving to pick it up. He has a strange expression on his face Dean can’t read, so Dean pushes the fruit closer. He says randomly, “Come to my dissertation defense.”

“What?”

Cas glances up and then back down so quickly Dean almost misses it. But he doesn’t miss the pink tinge creeping up Cas’s cheeks which are going redder by the second. “My dissertation defense is open to the public,” Cas explains. He swallows, Adam’s apple bobbing. “You don’t have to. And I didn’t mean to order you to. But you could come, if you wanted.”

“I could?” 

Cas nods, blinking a couple times in rapid succession. “If you don’t have work. It’s probably going to be an hour or two, and boring-”

“Dude,” Dean says, laughing, “of course I’ll go.”

Cas looks like somehow Dean’s answer catches him by surprise. “You will?”

“Yeah,” Dean pumps his fist in the air, “Like I’d miss it. This is awesome!”

"You don’t have to work?” Cas licks his lips, his small smile growing as he picks up his burger.

Dean shakes his head as Cas takes the first bite. “I took today off anyway.”

“Why?”

“You’re getting your P-h-fucking-D,” Dean says like the answer is obvious, “As if I wouldn’t take the day of to celebrate when you got back home.”

Cas bites his lip. “I wouldn’t get my hopes up. It’s not guaranteed,” he argues.

Dean snorts. “Fine. You can be the Debbie downer while I party in the back of the lecture hall.”

Cas rolls his eyes and tries to catch a bit of the egg yolk running down the back of his hand before it drips on the plate. Head bent, his tongue laves at the yellow trail, running up the side of his wrist and dipping into the divot between his knuckles. 

Dean coughs and stands up. “I’m just gonna go take a quick shower,” he signs tightly, jerking his head in the direction of the bathroom. “Don’t leave without me.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Cas says, oblivious.

* * *

Dean feels a little stupid, flipping his hands back and forth in the last row of seats in the hall while everyone else claps, but the way Cas catches his eye and his widening smile as he spots him is all worth it. 

He hugs Cas again once the Dissertation Committee comes back from their weird sequestering post-defense and greets Cas with a, “Congratulations Dr. Novak.” Dean can’t help it. He’s never seen Cas so happy, beaming widely from ear to ear, as he accepts more well wishes from some of his students that attended the defense and his thesis advisor, Metatron. Cas is like a magnet, pulling him into the inevitable. 

“Dr. Cas, huh?” Dean says as he reluctantly pulls away, conscious of the others clamoring for Cas’s attention. 

“Just Cas is fine,” Cas says breezily.

Dean throws his head back and laughs. The whole academic thing is not in his wheelhouse at all. He'd been a little bored when they got to the question-and-answer portion of the defense - the hoops the committee made Cas jump through were complete bull - but Cas’s good mood can’t help but rub off on him now. 

Dean steps away as more well-wishers approach, listening with half an ear as Cas answers yet more questions about his research and receives a couple congratulatory handshakes from severe-looking academics.

The door squeaks behind him, and Dean turns his head to see a few people filtering out. He shifts his weight from foot to foot as Cas’s conversation with his colleagues goes on, growing more self-conscious of his worn-out jeans and flannel in the middle of all the blazers and tan slacks, some with honest to god creases. None of them looked like they rolled out of bed at seven-thirty in the morning and threw on whatever was in reach.

For fuck’s sake, the professor speaking is going on and on about the hegemony of the culture industry and dialectic of enlightenment. What the hell is a commodity fetish?

Dean’s so far out of his zone, he’d need several tow trucks to get him back on familiar ground. 

At least Cas doesn’t seem too enthused, judging by the slight frown and laser-focused squint. Cas replies to Professor Douche in kind, and Dean’s heart sinks as he only understands every third worth coming out of Cas’s mouth. Cas name-drops people that has the rest of the professors nodding along in agreement but leaves Dean without the faintest clue if Cas is talking about singers, philosophers, or travelling bards from the Middle Ages.

Dean is not usually aware of his height – the hazards of constantly being around Sam – but now, standing in the middle of all these university people, he feels like a stupid, lumbering interloper. 

The worst part is, he’s still interested even though he has no hope of understanding anything. Someone will mention CCR or Bob Dylan, but then, in the next breath, connect their work to Hebdige’s analysis of subculture. And he is lost again.

Dean licks his lips nervously as Cas catches his eye at the next lull in the discussion. “I’ll just-” he begins to sign, tilting his head towards the now-open door.

“Dean?” Cas asks, turning to face him fully. He looks a little dazed, like he’s surprised to still see Dean there.

“I’ll see you at the apartment, okay?” The corners of Dean’s mouth rise in a smile that feels more like a grimace. “Great job today, Doc.”

Cas frowns. “Did something happen?”

“No,” Dean signs slowly, avoiding eye contact with anyone in the over-credentialed hoard of well-dressed professors. “It’s just that – look, I’ll leave you to ‘em. I’m sure you got stuff to get on with.”

“I do?”

Dean nods stiffly before turning on his heel and beating a hasty retreat. He glances behind him at the last moment, barely heartened to see Cas once again deep in discussion with the other docs and grad students. It’s like Dean was never there.

He stalks back to the Impala, hands shoved deep inside his pockets and avoiding eye contact with any students crossing his path. He spends a minute sitting behind the wheel, making no move to start his baby. Just breathing.

He shouldn’t have come.

Cas might’ve let him think otherwise, softening Dean up by dumbing down his arguments in the safety of Dean’s apartment, but Dean sure knows better now. 

Cas isn’t going to be happy rooming with Dean forever – at the most, Dean is someone to shoot the shit with until graduation. Cas will move on, probably sooner rather than later now he’s a fucking doctor. Dean can see all Cas’s milestones laid out like boxes to tick off on the to-do list of Cas’s life. Finish degree. Meet soulmate. Move to a prestigious university. Have 2.5 kids and a white picket fence. Die surrounded by family within minutes of his soulmate. Meet the angels hand-in-fucking-hand. 

Really, Dean is barely a blip on Cas’s radar. A footnote squished in between the important parts of the schedule. And it’s not like Cas hasn’t made it clear he’s waiting for the one. The one whose songs he hears in his head day in and day out. The one playing all of his favorites. The one who knows Cas in a way Dean can’t ever hope to match.

Hell, with all the time Cas’s soulmate devotes to classic rock, she can probably step up where Dean disappoints. She’ll understand Cas’s dissertation like everyone else did, praise Cas’s intelligence in more words than just “awesome.”

Eventually, Dean starts up the Impala. He drives for hours in silence.

* * *

Dean has a liquid dinner on the couch that night. He keeps his eyes stubbornly glued to Jeopardy! and then Dr. Sexy instead of the clock. When Cas gets home shortly after eight, Dean is shamefully pleased to see him looking a lot less happy than the last time he saw him. 

“Hello, Dean.” Cas drops down on the couch next to him, eyeing the three empty beer bottles on the coffee table with a small bit of distaste. “You started the party without me, it seems.”

“What?” The alcohol makes Dean’s movements a little clumsier than normal, but he still tries to sign, “Isn’t the party over? ‘S why you’re back here, right?”

Cas shakes his head slowly. “My colleagues insisted on taking me out for lunch, but it was hardly a party. And then dinner with the Dean of the History Department and President with the other doctoral fellows.” He slumps back in his seat. “Too much glad-handing for my taste. But that’s the way of academia,” he adds sourly.

“Oh.”

Cas’s gaze slides to him for a moment but slips away. “It’s fine,” he says dismissively as he begins loosening his tie – backwards, as usual – and undoes the top button of his shirt. “A necessary evil, really. I’m just glad you didn’t have to sit through it too. Although you would have appreciated the dinner. There were excellent canapes.”

Dean doesn’t know what to say, so he keeps his mouth shut, all too aware of the alcohol sitting in his stomach and loosening his tongue if he lets it. He takes a drink to stop himself from saying something stupid, like he would have loved to sit through an absurdly boring dinner if Cas was there next to him. Or how hot he looks, half-undone and unguarded with his professor getup dismantled.

Cas just shakes his head at Dean’s silence and grabs Dean’s empty beer bottles with one hand, hauling himself up off the couch.

“Hey,” Dean protests a beat too late. “You don’t have to do that.” But Cas is already walking away, not looking back to read Dean’s lips. Cas comes back with a beer of his own, though. “Sorry your evening sucked,” Dean tells him as Cas sits back down.

Cas shrugs, an unreadable look in his eyes. “Couldn’t be helped. I’m just glad you didn’t have to suffer through it with me. The other spouses and partners looked absolutely miserable. Metatron does tend to be long-winded, after all.”

Thank god Dean didn’t say anything about wanting to be there. He swallows, shoving down the sharp spike of disappointment. “Anyone got a hot wife?” he asks in a terrible attempt at humor.

Cas makes a face. “I wouldn’t know. Akobel’s wife is aesthetically pleasing, I suppose.”

“Aesthetically pleasing?” Dean repeats. “You say some really weird things, man.”

Cas rolls his eyes. “I don’t think of women as ‘hot,’” he says, with real goddamn air-quotes. “I never have.”

“Wait, you don’t think people are hot?”

Cas looks away, signing, “Not usually women,” his movements almost too quick for Dean to catch. Shoulders stiff, he takes another long drink from his beer.

Dean blinks, his sluggish brain trying to catch up with Cas’s words. “How about men?” he sets down his beer to sign, waiting until Cas looks at him to ask the question.

Cas gives a jerky nod, eyes skittering away again.

“Dude,” Dean says, grinning broadly, euphoria rising to take the sting off the lingering disappointment, “I had no idea!” He claps a hand down on Cas’s shoulder and gives him a little shake. 

“I don’t tend to spread this knowledge around.”

“Nobody will hear it from me,” Dean says, miming zipping his lips shut. He bites his lip before asking, “Any hot husbands, then?”

Cas exhales loudly. He squirms in his seat, his expression growing increasingly uncomfortable as Dean does his best to send out encouraging vibes. Like the time last year he got Sam to admit, aloud, that his hair was getting out of hand. “I find Akobel very attractive.”

“Well then, don’t Mr. and Mrs. Akobel have it all.” Dean smirks. “Think they could swing a third?”

“Dean,” Cas says in warning.

“Hey!” Dean says, hands in the air, “Asking for me. Not you. I know you’re not into that.”

“Wouldn’t you rather be with two women?”

“Been there, done that,” Dean says with a lascivious leer. “Isn’t Akobel the blond one? With the glasses and the long hair?”

Cas nods dumbly.

“I’d tap that,” Dean declares, deliberately crass.

Wide, blue eyes stare at him. “You would?”

“Sure,” Dean signs, waggling his eyebrows as he meets Cas’s gaze. “Wouldn’t be the first time, either.”

“Not the first time?”

“I wasn’t in college for long, but damn, it was an educational experience.”

Cas just sits there dumbly, so Dean has no choice but to go on, “Dad wasn’t the most… liberally minded.” He signs, his bravado wavering, “Marines, you know? And Mom was a lot like you. Wait for your soulmate and all that shit. She didn’t care who I slept with, just that I was sleeping around at all. In college, though, I didn’t have to sneak around them. Could do whatever I wanted.”

“Whoever you wanted,” Cas adds, and Dean manages a snort of laughter before sobering. 

“Anyway, then they died, and I dropped out. Couldn’t really keep up the experimentation when I had to look after Sam. By the time he could look after himself, I just didn’t see the point anymore. Too much effort, you know?”

“No, I don’t really,” Cas says blandly.

“Course you don’t,” Dean says, almost fondly. “You’re like a baby in a trench coat.”

Cas scowls, and Dean laughs for real. “After that, I guess I settled down. Whatever settling down for me is, anyway. Normal one-night stands and stuff, mostly with women. Like Sam warned you about.”

Cas is silent for a moment, mulling over Dean’s story. “And are you satisfied with that?”

“Sure,” Dean says with a lightness he doesn’t feel. He pivots, gesturing up and down Cas’s general being. “And are you satisfied with what you’ve got going on? Um, waiting for your soulmate?”

Cas nods a yes, but his face looks anything but decisive. “I was,” he says, his gaze darting away. “But lately, I’m not sure.”

“Not sure?” Dean echoes, his common sense desperately clawing back at the hope springing in his chest.

Cas’s mouth twists. He doesn’t answer immediately. Instead, he tugs at his loosened tie until it comes completely off. He winds it absentmindedly around his hand. He signs as his speaks, his motions slow and hesitant, “I’ve obviously been looking forward to finishing my doctorate… but now it’s over, I’m not sure what to do.” He heaves a great sigh. “I told myself I wouldn’t go looking for my soulmate until I got my degree. My work always came first. And now that it doesn’t…”

Dean hesitates a split second before reaching out and giving Cas’s hand a quick, reassuring squeeze. “You’ll figure it out. You’re a smart dude.”

“You keep saying that,” Cas signs, his face wry, “But I’ve never felt so ill-equipped in my life.” At Dean’s curious look, he explains, “My people skills are… lacking. I don’t understand a lot of humor, and my pop culture references, as you know, are terrible.”

“So you suck at small talk. Everyone hates small talk anyway. And, hey, you managed just fine with me.”

Cas huffs a despairing laugh. “But not everyone is you. Not everyone is forced to spend time with me until we get along.”

“Nobody forced me to spend time with you, man,” Dean counters gently. “And we always got along just fine. I stuck around because you’re interesting and you have awesome taste in music.”

Cas doesn’t say anything about that but does go a little red in the face. “That’s very kind of you to say.”

“It’s true,” Dean says easily, waving off Cas’s words.

“But with everyone else,” Cas adds, his signs a little frantic, “I don’t know how. For instance, at the dinner tonight, I could have – I should have – been making connections. Commiserated, even, with the others forced to be there and suffer through Naomi’s presence and Metatron’s blabbering. But I froze. All I could think about was how I wanted to be back here with you instead.”

Dean’s mind goes completely and blissfully blank as a heady warmth spreads through his chest. Without conscious thought, a grin spread across his face. He slaps a hand to Cas’s knee. “Ain’t you a flatterer,” he manages, even though his head is repeating here with you instead, in Cas’s voice over and over like a mantra. He gets up. “Come on. We can’t work on your small talk in here.”

“What?” Cas’s eyes narrow suspiciously.

“We’re going out,” Dean announces, adding at Cas’s immediate scowl, “This isn’t for picking up guys. Relax. You’re going to meet a couple of the regulars at the Roadhouse. If your small talk sucks, then you’ll have plenty of chances to run into them again and get better.” He whips out his phone to text Benny to make sure he’s behind the bar, and that Jo’s either working or free to stop by. He sends an emergency text to Sam to show or else.

“I’d appreciate some heads up if I have to meet people,” Cas grumbles.

“You got thirty minutes. I’ve been dying to get a drink with you for forever.”

“We drink together all the time.” Cas holds up his half-empty bottle as evidence.

Dean rolls his eyes. “Yeah, no, I’m talking about going out. Being sociable just to see new people – I do that too, you know. It’s not all about picking up chicks.”

Cas mulls that over for a moment.

“Come on, man, we’ve never had a drink together. It’s starting to get weird at this point.” He doesn’t overthink it before he blurts, “Come out with me. I swear you’ll have a good time or we can come straight back here.”

“You swear?” Cas presses. “One word, and it all stops?”

“Cross my heart,” Dean says, grinning broadly. “You in?”

Cas exhales a weighty sigh, like Dean just signed him up to chauffeur Sam to and from Chipotle for a month. “I’m holding you to your promise, Dean Winchester.”

* * *

When they get to the Roadhouse, Jo jumps on Cas like a shark smelling blood in the water. She challenges him to a drinking contest,  justifying they – meaning Charlie, Ash, Victor, and Pam – started drinking a half hour ago and he needs to catch up. Dean begs to be left alone, citing the need for designated driver, and Jo lets him off with a warning.

“So,” Jo asks after she motions for Benny to bring over shots. “I hear from a little birdie we’re celebrating tonight.”

“Like you need an excuse to drink,” Charlie says, elbowing Jo in the side before offering her hand. “Hey there, I’m Charlie.”

“Castiel,” he says before casting a fleeting, panicked glance at Dean who is still waiting for his beer at the bar.

“Hey, no, no, no,” Jo says, snapping her fingers in front of Cas’s face like he’s a misbehaving four-year-old. “Dean’s had you all to himself for months. It’s about time we figure out why he’s been stashing you away.”

“It’s ‘cause y’all are a bad influence!” Dean calls.

Jo flips him off behind her back as she practically drags Cas back to their section of booths in the dining area. It’s a little quieter back there than at the bar, not that the noise level matters at all to Cas.

Just as Dean’s about to follow, he spots Sam’s tall silhouette pass the front window. He gives Sam a wave and Sam’s long strides get him to the bar in no time. He greets Dean with a firm hug, and calls Benny over to order his single beer for the night. 

“Where’s your better half?”

Sam pulls a face. “Her old college roommate is in town – road tripping across the country or something. Girls night tonight.”

“And you weren’t invited, Sammy? Aw, how’s it feel to be the ugly girl left out at prom?” Dean doesn’t wait for Sam’s bitchface and instead grabs a beer and starts walking back to the table in the back where Jo, Charlie, and Cas are already sitting. In the next booth over sits Ash, Victor, and Pam. 

“I had to drag him out tonight. You know he never socializes?” Dean says to Sam.

Sam throws him a look. “Dude, I knew him before you did. We met in a library. The bookstacks don’t really attract the rager types.”

Dean doesn’t have anything to say to that, so he takes a long drink of his beer, listening with half an ear in case Cas suddenly calls it quits and they have to beat a hasty exit. But right now Cas is all smiles, proclaiming to a riveted Jo and Charlie, “I think I’m beginning to feel something.” There’s already a line of empty shot glasses in front of him.

Jo lets loose a derisive, “Hah!” and pushes another shot towards Cas. “Not enough then. Drink up!”

Cas obediently tips his head back and sets the empty glass upside down.

Because of how the booth is set up and Cas’s field of vision, he can only really concentrate on the people across from him – Jo and Charlie. Dean, unused to not having Cas’s full attention, tries to focus on Sam instead, but he can’t help the way his gaze slides to Cas like a magnet every couple of seconds. 

Sam kicks him beneath the table.

Dean scowls and looks his way. “What?” he barks.

“You’re like a protective mother hen,” Sam coos. “You’re adorable.”

“Shut up.”

Sam grins. “This is his first time at the Roadhouse? I’d have thought that you would have brought him around sooner. You know – to meet the gang.”

“What do you mean?” Dean asks. “I brought him now, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, and it’s been, what, four months?” Sam points out, eyebrows raised. He sighs theatrically. “I guess the honeymoon period had to end sometime.”

Dean chokes on his beer. Spluttering, he hisses in a low voice, “What the fuck. There’s no honeymoon period, you dick.” He gasps for air and sets down his glass with a little more force than necessary. The beer sloshes against the glass, almost spilling out.

Sam just shrugs, apparently unconcerned with the sight of his brother dying across the booth. “You know, that time when you’re all couple-y and don’t want to be around other people.”

“He was busy with his PhD!”

Sam rolls his eyes. 

Dean listens for a moment as Charlie grills Cas on his status on Harry Potter (read), Lord of the Rings (read), Star Wars (watched, but only because of Dean), and Game of Thrones (currently watching with Dean). Charlie throws Dean a scandalized look and invites Cas to her Game of Thrones watch parties Dean ditched last month to watch with Cas instead. He gives a little shrug in return. What can he say – Charlie talks too much during the episode, and Jo’s even worse. 

“Dean.”

“What?”

Sam just shakes his head. “You gonna do anything about that?” he asks in a low voice, tilting his head in Cas’s direction.

“He’s waiting for his goddamn soulmate. Not much I can do to compete.”

Sam’s face is positively tragic. “Dean.”

“Don’t Dean me.”

Sam sighs. “Are you okay?”

“I’m awesome.”

Sam’s brows draw together, and Dean knows he’s a second away from being psycho-analyzed by Sam Winchester, future attorney at law and current pain in Dean’s ass, but he breaks off as Charlie lets out a loud groan and thumps her head on the table.

“You okay?” Dean asks, leaning over Cas to get a good look at her.

“’M fine,” she mumbles, eyes squeezed shut. “Just my soulmate.”

Dean retreats further back in his seat as Jo and Sam converge on Charlie instead.

“What’s she playing this time?” Jo tuts sympathetically.

“Country music,” Charlie says, her face grave. “It’s not even good country music! Early Taylor Swift, I think.”

Jo guffaws and pushes the last shot at Charlie instead.

“Taylor Swift? Teardrops on my Guitar or Tim McGraw?” Dean asks before he can stop himself.

Jo, impossibly, laughs even louder as Sam whips his head around to stare at Dean. He rolls his eyes. “I work at a radio station and a record store,” he says, scowling at his weak excuse. “I have to know more than rock music.”

“Sure,” Jo says, eyes dancing, and Dean knows with a sinking feeling he’s going to be paying for this for a while.

“My soulmate is quite fond of Taylor Swift too,” Cas says, unprompted.

Dean frowns. “I thought they were all about good music.”

Before Cas can respond, Sam tips his head in Dean’s direction, asking, “His kind of good music, or actual good music?” 

“Good music,” Cas inserts firmly. “Ninety percent of my soul songs are classic rock.”

Jo tuts, “Sorry, dude,” and pats his arm sympathetically.

Cas huffs, shifting in his seat like an irritated bird. “I like classic rock.”

Jo snorts. “You’d have to, living with this one,” she says, jerking her thumb at Dean.

“No, he doesn’t,” Dean argues before Cas can respond. He signs along, “Cas is deaf. He doesn’t care what the hell I’m playing in the apartment. Y’all just have shitty taste in music.”

Jo punches Cas in the upper arm, and he turns to her, aghast. “No wonder you wouldn’t bring him around,” she says, grinning. “You’ve been brainwashing him before we could stop you.”

Cas gapes at her. “Dean hasn’t been brainwashing me,” he says, playing into Jo’s hand like a piece of putty.

“Sure he hasn’t,” Jo says, looking at the pair of them askance. “How else would you have the tolerance of an elephant and the music taste of one too?”

Charlie rubs her temples, mouthing along to lyrics none of them can hear.

“Dean’s a wonderful roommate.”

“Aw, thanks, Cas,” Dean simpers, kicking Sam under the table as he makes a kissy face behind Cas’s back.

“Ow.”

“Have you found your soulmate yet?” Cas asks Charlie gently.

“Yeah,” she mutters. “This is punishment for missing our video chat yesterday. She’s in Oklahoma doing research for another month.”

“How did you two meet?” Cas asks politely.

“Internet,” Charlie says with a grin. “I signed up with one of those soulmate-finder sites the minute I turned sixteen. You know, the ones that ask you for a playlist of what you hear every day. Took two years of logging into that stupid site, but damn, was it worth it.”

Cas turns to Jo. “And have you met your soulmate yet?”

“Nope,” Jo says with a grin. “No promises if he starts making me listen to Taylor Swift, though. Then I’ll probably try to track him down just to stab him with a rusty spoon.”

“Vivid,” Sam deadpans, shuddering.

“I know what I like,” Jo says archly. “And I do not like Taylor Swift.”

Dean chuckles. “You just don’t like her ‘cause she’s got better legs than you.”

Jo glares and Charlie smacks him in the arm. “Stop being a sexist jerk.” Sam even throws Dean a withering look too. Thank god Cas didn’t seem to catch what Dean said; he’s still staring at Jo.

Appropriately chastened, Dean apologizes as his brain catches up with his mouth. “My bad.”

“You’re bad is right,” Jo sniffs. “And I don’t like her for a lot of reasons. Not because she has better legs than I do, because she doesn’t.”

“Damn right,” Charlie says, raising her hand for a high-five.

Cas looks a little confused, and damn, it must be hard to catch everything when four people are talking over each other. “Should I get another round?” he asks after a beat.

“I like him,” Jo declares as everyone scoots aside to let Cas out.

Cas ducks his head, face reddening as he hurries to the bar. “I’ll see if he needs help,” Dean mutters, sliding out of the booth to follow Cas.

Dean leans forward over the bar, bracing his weight on one elbow. “How’s it hanging?” he asks Cas. “You doin’ okay?”

Cas turns to him, nodding slowly. “I don’t think I understand everything, but your friends are very accommodating.”

“Good,” Dean signs with a grin, “Because if they’re jerks to you, I’ll have to kick their asses.”

Cas stares at him, stunned. “Please don’t do that.”

“Do you want to leave yet?” 

Cas waits a beat before signing, “No, I’m happy to stay a little while longer.”

“Awesome. Apparently, they all wanted to meet you, so you have to stay for at least this round.”

“They did?”

Dean rolls his eyes. “Charlie invited you to her Game of Thrones night, right?”

“Yes,” Cas confirms. “But people often invite me to things or mention events they really don’t intend on following up on.”

“That’s some bullshit we don’t do here,” Dean signs as he catches Benny’s attention with a look. “If Charlie invited you, she wants you there. You’ll probably like it since you don’t have to hear her yammering on during the entire episode like the rest of us.” He glances at Cas out of the corner of his eye. “I mean,” he rubs the back of his neck, “You don’t have to go at all. I’m just saying, you’re welcome to come if you want. No pressure.”

“I think I’d like that,” Cas says, cutting off Dean’s stupid rambling. “I do find myself with a lot more free time on my hands than I’m used to.”

* * *

“Got the licorice!” Dean announces as soon as Charlie opens the door. “You know,” he adds, grinning at her scowling face, “cause you never have any.”

“She doesn’t have licorice because it’s gross, Dean!” Sam’s voice calls from inside Charlie’s apartment. 

“We also brought kettle corn,” Cas says, holding up his own bag of goods.

“Thank god,” Jess adds loudly as Charlie drags them both inside. “At least one of you has common sense.”

Dean waves to Sam, Jess, and Jo squeezed on the couch. Garth lounges on the floor, legs akimbo and looking like a deflated tube man from the garage down the road. Pam hogs the whole lounge chair to herself. 

“Damn,” Charlie whistles behind him as she rifles through Cas’s grocery bag. “Dude, you were holding out on me! There’s kettle corn, cheese popcorn, low fat popcorn too?”

Cas looks to Dean, who summarizes what Charlie just said in sign.

“I didn’t know what to get,” Cas replies uncomfortably.

Charlie slaps him on the back. “Right move, getting them all, then.” She raises her voice, “Babe, we’re going to need more bowls!”

Dorothy steps out from behind the kitchen island, holding a half-empty liter of soda and a rueful expression on her face. “It exploded.” The whole front of her jeans is soaked. 

Charlie doesn’t bother muffling a laugh and tugs a scowling Dorothy closer to press a kiss to her cheek. “Cas, meet my soulmate, Dorothy.”

“Nice to meet you,” Cas says, holding out his hand.

Dorothy shakes it with a grin. “Back atcha. Now that’s done, if you’ll excuse me, fellas, I have to change.”

Dean follows Charlie into the kitchen as Cas splinters off to catch up with Sam. “When did she get back?” he asks, casting a worried glance into the living room to make sure Cas is getting on okay, before rifling through Charlie's cabinets for bowls.

“Two days ago!” Charlie sighs happily. “She thought she’d have to be away longer since it’s the middle of tornado season, but the write-up of her research can be done anywhere. And the rest of her team is still in Oklahoma, so they can take care of any last-minute science-y things if an emergency happens.”

“Good for you, kid.”

“Yeah,” Charlie grins. “If we didn’t have this already planned, I’m not sure I would have gotten out of bed.”

Dean smirks and raises a fist for Charlie to pound. “Get it, Charlie.”

Charlie obliges. 

“Who else are we waiting for?” Dean asks as he opens the bags of popcorn.

“Just Benny. Victor had to take the late shift today.” She gives him the stink eye. “You’ll see him next time, right?”

Dean merely shrugs. “Dunno. Depends.”

“Depends on what?” Charlie asks, hands on her hips. “You’ve missed the whole season so far!”

Dean cringes. “It’s only been two episodes. I watched ‘em with Cas, anyway.”

“And not with us?” 

Dean bites his lip. “Cas didn’t have the time. He was writing his dissertation, you know.” The excuse sounds weak even to his ears.

Charlie’s not buying it. “The episode’s only an hour long!”

“And he’s been really stressed the past month!”

Charlie pokes him hard in the chest. “What’s a better way to let off steam than watching a bunch of stabbing and the occasional beheading?”

Cowed and running a big fat blank on any other reasons, Dean hisses, “I just wanted to watch it with Cas, okay? It’s not a big deal.”

Charlie blinks at him for a second, absorbing his words, before her eyes light up. “Not a big deal?” she says, her voice low but Dean can hear how she’s barely restraining herself. “I think this is a huge fucking deal!”

“No, it’s not,” Dean pleads, sending a panicked glance to where Cas is still talking to Sam.

“Uh huh,” Charlie says, actually rubbing her hands together like a cartoon villain. “So I’m not the only one who’s been getting it lately, huh?” She holds out her fist for him to bump.

He doesn’t make a move. “Me and Cas…” Dean starts, “We’re not like that.”

Charlie’s face falls. “You’re not?” she asks. “Why? Is he ace?”

“No, he’s got a soulmate,” Dean says in a hushed voice. “And he’s the traditional type.”

Charlie drops her fist and instead gives him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “That’s rough, buddy.”

Garth interrupts them soon after, and they meander back into the living room to wait for Benny. Everyone more or less finds a place to sit. Dorothy kicks Pam out of the lounge chair, so she perches on the armrest of the couch so Dorothy and Charlie can squash together. Garth lays back down on the floor, and Dean and Cas take the chairs from Charlie’s table. When Benny comes around, he snags a beanbag from Charlie’s bedroom.

As usual, there’s no hope for Cas once the show starts. He’s riveted, jerking out of his trance only as Jo throws popcorn at Joffrey’s head with unerring accuracy as he moves across the screen.

Dean blocks out all the commentary around him and tries to get into the zone like Cas.

He zones out until the sex scene.

Blinking, Dean smiles to himself as he glances around the room; Cas is red in the face; Garth is peeking out from between his fingers; Benny is asleep; Sam and Jess are giggling behind their hands; Jo is scarfing popcorn like it’s her last meal; Pam is people-watching, like Dean. She catches his eye and winks.

Charlie and Dorothy are making out. The slick sounds of their kissing barely register over the harsh slapping and muted moans from the television.

Dean so rarely hangs out with couples – Sam and Jess don’t count, since they somehow skipped all the handsy, gross PDA parts and headed straight into the boring, date-night on Friday bits – he’s forgotten what it looks like. The gentle way Dorothy cups Charlie’s face. How Charlie’s thumb swipes back and forth just under the hem of Dorothy’s shirt. 

Dean has to look away. He’d rather see the porn on screen. 

At least he can relate.

* * *

Cas starts going to more and more group events, some even without Dean. It’s a bittersweet sting. On one hand, Cas is making more friends, seeing more of the world than their apartment and KU buildings. On the other hand, he has much less time to spend with Dean. 

Cas gets dragged to the self-defense class Jo teaches when she’s not waitressing. He especially likes her krav maga courses. 

Charlie shepherds him along to the local PFLAG chapter and he bonds closely with Dorothy since she’s quite similar to you and provides good commentary on the meetings. Cas doesn’t do well with the group sessions but dives headfirst into a one-on-one mentoring program Charlie is pioneering. 

Dean’s annual trip to Vegas with Sam creeps up on him. It isn’t until Sam sends him an email a week before with about a billion choices of itinerary, that Dean realizes it had completely slipped his mind. He pulls out his phone to text Cas immediately, even though he’s technically in the middle of his show at KAZ. It’s fine, he just put on Man in the Wilderness by Styx and guaranteed himself six minutes of no interruptions.

Dean 6:10

I’m going to Vegas with Sam next week, fyi

 

Cas 6:10

Have fun?

I hope this doesn’t mean Sam and Jess are eloping

 

Dean 6:11

Fuck, I hope not

If Sammy thinks he can get rid of my embarrassing best man speech that easy

He has another thing coming


Cas 6:12

When are you leaving?

 

Dean 6:12

Thursday morning

Early. We’re driving.

 

Cas 6:12

From Lawrence?


Dean 6:13

No from Timbuktu

Of course from Lawrence

I don’t go anywhere without my baby

 

Cas 6:13

How long is the drive?

 

Dean 6:13

19 hours straight through but

We split it up over two days

 

As the last notes of Styx fade out, Dean checks the queue and grins to himself. Another six minutes of freedom to text Cas. “And up next,” he announces into the mic, “we have a personal fave of mine, Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Nothing better than this song and the open road, if you know what I mean.”

 

Cas 6:16

A 19 hour car ride? Is this some kind of punishment for Sam?

 

Dean 6:16

No! This is how we’ve always gone to Vegas.

We had a lot of long road trips growing up before we came back to Lawrence

Sam doesn’t mind 

He’s not a fan of my music tho

But he knows driver picks the music and shotgun shuts his cakehole

 

Cas 6:17

If you say so.

Hydrate adequately and get a good night’s sleep.

I wouldn’t want you to pass out behind the wheel and die in the desert somewhere.

 

Dean 6:18

How sweet of you Cas

 

Cas 6:18

Do you know how many car accidents happen due to exhaustion?

 

Dean 6:18

No idea

But I have a feeling you might

 

Cas 6:20

Upwards of 72 thousand crashes.

 

Dean 6:20

How do you know that?

You don’t even drive anywhere!

 

Cas 6:20

Just because I don’t drive often doesn’t mean I’m not a well-informed citizen.

 

Dean 6:21

Nerd

 

Cas 6:21

That’s Dr. Nerd to you.

 

Dean laughs so loudly, he barely hears Gabe banging on the glass, mouthing DEAD AIR, ASSHOLE. Still snorting to himself, Dean flips on the mic. “Whoops, sorry we’re back!” he says with false enthusiasm. “And I think we have a caller with a request.” He eyes narrow as he watches Gabe, now back in his booth, shaking his head and showing off his middle finger.

There’s a beat of silence. “Uh, hi Dean, my name is Ben. It’s my first time calling.” 

“Hey,” Dean says, his eyes widening with recognition at the voice. “What can I do for you?”

“Can you please play Deep P– I mean, Smoke on the Water?”

Dean grins. “By Deep Purple?”

“Yeah.”

“You got it,” Dean says. “Why Smoke on the water, Ben?”

“I just like it,” Ben says. “I’m learning how to play it on the guitar. It’s not too hard.” 

“That’s a personal favorite of mine too,” Dean says. “They don’t make hooks like that anymore do they?” he asks rhetorically, singing an exaggerated, “do do dooo, do do do-do, do do dooo,” he pitches deeper, “do do. Do you know anything about the history of the song, Ben? It’s a true story. Deep Purple were supposed to record Machine Head in a studio in a casino, but before they could play anything, some jerk fired a flare gun – mentioned in the song if you listen carefully – and set the whole place on fire.”

“That’s so cool,” Ben breathes.

“The title is from the image of smoke from the fire over Lake Geneva,” Dean continues. “And without further ado, listeners, this is Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple.”

He listens for a moment as the into plays, only looking at his phone as Ian Gillan starts with the lyrics.

Cas 6:21

How long is your trip?

 

Cas 6:22

Can I get a guinea pig while you’re gone?

 

Cas 6:24

I think my soulmate is listening to KAZ

 

Dean 6:24

How do you know?

 

Cas 6:25

I just heard the riff from Smoke on the Water. 

That’s what you’re playing now, right? 

Your website says you are.

 

Dean 6:25

Yeah Lisa’s son just called in and requested it

 

Cas 6:25

So that’s a no on the guinea pig 😊 ?

 

Dean 6:26

What have I said about the emoticons man

 

Cas 6:26

Claire says they’re “cool”.

 

Dean 6:27

She’s lying to you 

I don’t know what her endgame is

But she’s got one

And it starts with the emoticons

 

Cas 6:27

Dean, for the last time, Claire has no ulterior motives.

I’m frankly grateful she’s giving me instructions at all.

 

Dean 6:27

Its cause she knows an easy mark when she spots one

 

Cas 6:28

She’s a questioning youth, not a con woman.

 

Dean 6:28

Yet

 

* * *

“Jess is gonna kill me,” Sam says, bracing his hands on the table as he drops down into his seat.

“Yeah, sucks to be her,” Dean agrees heartily. “Sucks to be me too. I had to hear you in-person. Why the hell did you choose Billy Joel? She’s Always a Woman?”

“It’s in my range!” Sam protests, wincing as the next singer in the karaoke bar tries (and fails) to hit a high note. “Maybe she liked it?”

“Fat chance. What’re you gonna sing next?” Dean snickers. “Elton John?”

Sam elbows Dean, nearly knocking him out of his chair. “Shut up. Maybe.” He sighs and lets his head fall into his hands. “I can’t believe you talked me into this.”

“It’s tradition!” Dean says as he nudges Sam’s half-drunk beer, his fourth of the night, under his nose.

“A tradition I don’t need now that I found Jess. Two years ago.”

“Bah,” Dean waves him off, nearly swatting Sam in the eye as his casual dismissal goes a little wide. “Traditions don’t die just ‘cause you got boring.”

Sam inhales the rest of his beer and grabs Dean’s already empty glass. “I’m getting us one more round. One more. Then we’re out.”

Dean sulks as he pulls the binder of available songs closer. “Then I’m gonna go up one more time.”

“No more AC/DC. You’re gonna kill your throat, man,” Sam warns before he takes off towards the bar.

“Yeah, sure,” Dean mumbles, squinting as he tries to make out the text in the flickering pink and blue lights. When they had started coming here, about five years ago now, Dean had been drawn by the advertising. He’d never stepped inside a karaoke bar before, but the images of smiling Asian women holding microphones sent him back to his first Busty Asian Beauties issue, so he dragged Sam inside with him for brotherly bonding time. Plus, they had a killer happy hour special.

Karaoke bars are usually pretty popular, and this place is no exception, especially for would-be soulmate pairs. 

When you sing, you bare your soul, as the saying goes.

The most exclusive karaoke place on the strip posts what songs are sung daily and boasts the number of people who sang soul songs on their premises.

That’s… not where Dean and Sam are. They’re about a mile down the strip, sandwiched between a spa and a mini-golf course. The place is still pretty nice, and the waitresses provide plenty of eye candy for Dean and shitty soft-rock songs for Sam. There are more than enough people to provide some variety to the tunes, and it’s not overly couple-y like other karaoke places can be. 

It’s a good compromise between the gambling (Dean) and desert hikes (Sam).

Sam comes back to the table carrying two beers and a sappy expression on his face.

“What’s up with you?” Dean grouses.

“She’s singing Shut Up and Dance,” Sam says dreamily, going misty-eyed.

“Hah. Looks like Jess hated your singing as much as I did.”

Sam bounces in his seat in time to the beat only he can hear. “She’s got such a nice voice.”

“No, she doesn’t,” Dean says, frowning. “She’s even worse than you are. I remember.”

Sam punches him in the shoulder. “Shut up,” he sings, a little off-key.

Dean takes a sip of his beer. “You want me to put your name in too?” he asks, holding up a little strip of paper with his first name and song choice. “I’ll even let you go first, get it over with.”

“Nope, I’m good,” Sam says as he leans back in his chair, relaxing like a long-legged savannah cat in the sun.

“Jess done singing?”

“She knows we’re at karaoke. Hearing two songs at once makes it hard to think,” he says, tipping his head towards the stage where a group of twenty-somethings are doing a decent job of Queen.

Dean watches, humming along as the song winds down and a young girl take the stage to belt out a very impressive cover of that one Adele song Dean always forgets the name to.

Then Dean’s up next. He waits, tapping impatiently his fingers against his jean-clad thigh, as the guitar intro thrums through the bar in sharp bursts. “Lonely is the night,” he sings, avoiding Sam’s gaze and instead staring out through the crowd, “when you find yourself alone… Your demons come alive, and your mind is not your own.”

He struts around the stage, basking in the eyes on him. Dean’s voice won’t be selling out stadiums, but it’s not bad. He can carry a tune and knows his limits. In the car with Sam, he’ll sing too loud and miss the high notes, but that’s just to see the way Sam’s face pinch. 

Dean won’t ever tell a soul, but if he was any better at singing, he’d have probably tried to do it full time. Music is in his blood, the first thing he turns to in the morning and the reason he can go to sleep at night.

There’s no soulmate out there to hear Dean's soul songs in their head. He’ll never have that true connection that lays his soul bare, no matter how loudly he sings or how much emotion he pours into his lyrics.

But Dean will take what he can fucking get.

* * *

Dean’s hangover pounds as he drives out of Las Vegas the day after karaoke and bar hopping. Last night, Sam, drunk off his ass like Dean, called Jess for over an hour and then spent the next two hours complaining to Dean about how much he missed her. 

Dean pointed out (many times) they were only in Vegas for three nights.

Sam ignored him. 

Then he sang the chorus to Bruno Mars’s Marry Me, eight times in a row until Dean shut him up with his pillow.

Nothing like a light smothering to switch up Sammy’s priorities.

Unfortunately, the next item on Sam’s shit list after his own inability to propose was Dean’s hopeless pining. Once Dean removed his pillow from Sam’s face, Sam was off like a shot, delivering a surprisingly coherent lecture about the steps Dean needed to take to win over Cas.

Sam had obviously put considerable thought into it before drinking himself stupid.

The next morning, hungover as fuck and mad as hell, Dean left Sam in the hotel room and went out for a drive to clear his head. He put in his most morose cassette, a mix of sad, slow songs. Dean sings along as the highway disappears under the Impala’s hood.

“Come down off your throne and leave your body alone. Somebody must change…”

The sun is slowly rising in the east over Sheep Range, and boy are Dean’s drugstore sunglasses not enough. The rays of sunlight come down like knives to his eyeballs. He’s truly in the desert by now, nothing but red dirt and shrubs as far as the eye can see.

“And I’m wasted, and I can’t find my way back home.”

His head gives a nasty throb, so he pulls over to the side of the road with a crunching rumble of dirt on tires. He resettles in his seat, facing away from the sun. The dry heat hasn’t settled in yet, but it’s quickly rolling in as the sun climbs higher in the sky. Dean reckons he has about twenty minutes before he has to hightail back to the AC-blessed hotel room.

He tilts his head back against the window and closes his eyes as Can’t Find My Way Home ends and the beginning notes of Man in the Wilderness start up.

“Another year has passed me by, and I look at myself and cry, ‘What kind of man have I become?’”

Dean really gives it his all, voice still slightly hoarse from the karaoke and many, many arguments with Sam last night. Nobody’s probably around for miles, especially at this hour of the morning.

“Sometimes it makes no sense at all!”

His phone pings with a new text as Behind Blue Eyes by the Who comes on. He picks up the phone, ready to text Sam that he’ll be back in an hour and chuck his phone in the back seat, but his text isn’t from Sam.

Cas 6:06

Do you ever look up at the stars and ponder how small you are in the grand scheme of things?

 

Dean 6:06

Gettin real philosophical at 6am?

 

Cas 6:06

You’re awake?

 

Dean 6:06

Unfortunately

 

Cas 6:07

My apologies if I woke you up. It’s already 7:07 here.

 

Dean 6:07

Don’t worry about it

I’ve been up for an hour already

 

Cas 6:07

Why? Is everything OK with you and Sam?

 

Dean 6:07

Oh yeah, everything’s fine.

Samsquatch is sleeping in the hotel 

I went on a drive. Couldn’t sleep.

 

Cas 6:07

I couldn’t get back to sleep either. 

 

Dean 6:08

Please don’t tell me you’re going on a morning run

or something else insane

 

Cas 6:08

No.

My soulmate started singing a little while ago.

It was pleasant at first. My dreams had a soundtrack, which hasn’t happened before.

But then I woke up. And here we are.

 

Dean 6:08

Sorry man

 

Cas 6:09

Have you ever heard of emotions coming through the soul bond?

 

Dean 6:09

I’m really not the person to ask about soulmate stuff

 

Cas 6:09

My apologies. I don’t know who else to ask.

 

Dean 6:09

The internet?

 

Cas 6:09

I tried. There’s just so much out there on soul songs. It’s hard to wade through it all.

 

Dean 6:09

Ask Sam. He did a lot of research into soulmates the year before he met Jess

Drove me fucking nuts

 

Cas 6:10

OK

 

Dean squints at his phone screen, mouth pursing as he rereads the two letters of Cas’s most recent text. Cas is usually much wordier. It’s fucking endearing; the way he types is exactly the way he speaks.

 

Dean hums along as the chorus to Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters as he waits for Cas to elaborate. 

 

Cas 6:11

I’m sorry if I brought up an uncomfortable topic for you.

It’s just that you are much more adept at deciphering human emotions and behaviors than I am.

 

Dean 6:11

You’re not a robot dude

You’re doing just fine

 

Cas doesn’t respond, and Dean frowns at his phone.

 

Dean 6:12

What are you worried about not getting right?

 

Cas 6:13

I’m worried about my soulmate. Their song choices this morning indicate they’re unhappy.

There have been incidents like this before, but not in years.

It made me wonder, what would I do if I was there with them?

And I don’t know.

 

Dean 6:14

Comforting people is never easy. There’s no rule book for it

You can ask them to talk about it, but sometimes people don’t wanna talk

You could distract them.

 

Dean 6:16

When Sammy didn’t get a full ride to Stanford Law, I took him on a road trip to LA

Saw the sights, ate like kings on a shit budget

He was ok after a couple of days

But sometimes all you can really do is sit there in the same room as them

Tell them “that sucks”

And wait it out

It’s not fun and you do feel useless

But better to be useless than make them feel worse

 

Cas 6:16

That makes sense.

When you feel poorly, what works best for you?

 

Dean 6:17

Me? Distractions, probably. Frisky women. Lots of booze. 

You name it, I’m probably up for it

 

Cas 6:17

That doesn’t sound very healthy

 

Dean 6:17

It works.

 

Cas 6:17

I have a hard time believing that.

 

Dean 6:17

Sam too. You should’ve heard him after I showed up piss ass drunk to meet Jess for the first time

Decked me across the face

 

Cas 6:18

That doesn’t sound healthy either.

 

Dean 6:18

When have I ever indicated that the Winchesters are a well-adjusted bunch?

 

Cas 6:18

You extol Sam’s virtues all the time.

 

Dean 6:18

Cause it's not polite to mention his toxic burrito farts 

 

Cas 6:18

You know what I mean.

 

Dean 6:19

Come on

Nobody wants to air all their dirty laundry

 

Cas 6:19

You were upset when you met Jess?

 

Dean 6:19

I’m not proud of it

You know how I get around the whole soulmate crap

 

Cas 6:20

I guess I do. I did not realize that would extend to Sam’s soulmate, however.

 

Dean drops his phone in his lap and thumps his head back against the window, wincing as the motion knocks his hungover brain against his skull. He eventually types out a response.

 

Dean 6:21

Yeah, well, now you know that I couldn’t even get over my own shit to meet the love of Sam’s life

 

Dean groans as he recognizes the opening of Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way because that’s what he deserves for choosing this playlist when he’s feeling like such shit. Dean just breathes for a moment, letting the music wash over him. He shouldn’t have sent that last text, but it’s too late now. 

Dean’s torn.

Being around Cas makes him want to open up, reveal all of his deepest, fucked up parts. Test Cas, see how much he can get away with before Cas draws the line and says goodbye for good. Dean’s not a dreamer. He doesn’t have a goddamn romantic bone in his body. He had enough of that waiting desperately to hear his first soul song at 13, then at 14, and even at 17, when only two-percent of the population, the latest of the late bloomers, hear their first. 

Even when sitting in the emergency room at 20, praying with everything he had for the angels to give him this one thing to help him get through losing both his parents in one week.

At 28, Dean’s a realist.

But Cas is like a black hole, inevitably sucking Dean into his orbit. Eventually Dean is going to fall all the way and be lost forever.

At the same time, being around Cas also makes him want to keep all that shit buried so fucking deep it will take a whole excavation crew to unearth it. If Dean can keep those parts to himself – despite his crap record so far – then maybe he can hold the inevitable off. Squeeze out as much time as possible with Cas since he already knows how this’ll play out.

Dean 6:21

Heading back to the hotel to pick up Sam

TTYL

Chapter Text

Jess asks Sam to marry her a few days after they get back from Vegas. Sam says yes like a giant girl.

The engagement party is two weeks later, and Dean is already four drinks in by the time the restaurant starts on the appetizers. He still has a toast to give – since when do best men have so many fucking speeches? – and he should be pacing himself, but he just can’t bring himself to.

And how fucked up is Dean that he can’t dive headfirst into supporting Sam and Jess, his favorite people in the world? 

Dean’s a bitter, sad, soon-to-be old man who can only look forward to all his friends settling down with their soulmates while he pretends to be okay with a life of celibacy and platonic friendships once he’s not good-looking enough to score one-night stands.

So. Alcohol.

Cas watches him out of the corner of his eye, a little too judgmentally in Dean’s opinion. 

“What?” he demands.

“Do you want a breadstick?” Cas asks, completely out of the blue.

It takes a while for Dean’s brain to compute. “Sure.”

Instead of grabbing a piece, Cas plops the whole basket in front of Dean. And Dean barely has time to say he doesn’t need all these, before Cas drops the butter dish next to it, followed by the plate of olive oil. Cas signs without speaking aloud, “You need something in your stomach if you are going to be drinking like this.”

Dean, already reaching for a breadstick, frowns. He signs back, breadstick caught between two fingers like a fancy long cigarette from the arthouse movies Sam loves, “I don’t need you lecturing me, Cas.”

“Not lecturing. I’m helping.”

Dean rolls his eyes. “Right.” He takes a bite out of breadstick anyway because he only has so much pride. They’re covered in toasted garlic bits and delicious.

Sam and Jess are holding their engagement party at an upscale restaurant in Lawrence. All of Sam’s law school buddies are there, and Jess’s coworkers at her consultancy firm. Jess’s family is still out in California, where they will be holding the wedding in a year.

A dozen or so small tables at chest height are scattered around the room, accompanied by barstools. Dean and Cas have one all to themselves.

Cas snags a glass of wine from a passing waiter.

Dean watches Sam and Jess laughing in a corner, sipping his beer a smidge slower. The couple has been making their rounds the whole party, accepting congratulations with wide smiles on their faces. Arm in arm, they move like a single unit from friend group to friend group.

“They are, as Claire says, ‘relationship goals,’” Cas says as he catches onto the direction of Dean’s gaze. He turns back to Dean.

“Sure are,” Dean says sourly.

Cas is silent for a moment. He swirls his wine around the glass a few times, his face pensive. “Have you ever tried a real relationship?” he asks, and there’s no judgment there, just curiosity.

Dean shakes his head. “No point. Everyone’s hung up on holding out for their soulmate. Anything with me would always be a… a practice run until they found the real deal.”

Cas’s expression softens, and Dean has to look away. “You could be the real deal. You don’t know.”

“Pretty sure I do,” Dean says, his signs clipped.

“But do you want a relationship?”

Dean’s mouth goes dry. Hands flailing a little, he chokes out, “It doesn’t matter what I want.” At Cas’s grimace, Dean adds bitterly, “It’s a moot point if it can’t happen.”

Cas doesn’t look convinced. “Anybody would be privileged to be in a relationship with you,” he declares, supremely confident and completely oblivious.

“Anybody,” Dean repeats woodenly. Heart beating wildly in his chest, alcohol spurning his words, he tacks on, so quickly that the signs are barely decipherable, “Except you, right?”

Cas blinks at him, totally thrown. “Me?” he says, actually pointing at himself, like Dean could have possibly mistaken him for another one of his crazy-smart, good-looking best friends.

Dean’s mouth twists. “Yeah, you.”

“You would want to be in a relationship with me?”  

Dean, face heating, sets his nearly empty beer down on the table with a clatter. “Doesn’t matter either way, does it?” he signs, his face dark. “Since it’s a fucking moot point.”

“Me?”

“For fuck’s sake, Cas!”

Cas stares at him, finally out of words.

Dean huffs a frustrated breath and drains his beer, tilting it all the way back to get every last drop. “Forget it. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Cas signs desperately, “Me?”

Dean glowers at him. “It’s not fucking rocket science. God knows, I’m not even subtle. I spend all my time with you. I ask you stupid questions about your research. I went to your goddamn defense even though I know jack shit about whatever the fuck you were talking about.”

“What do you mean?” Cas demands, latching onto possibly the least important part of Dean's argument. “We spoke about it for months.”

“Yeah, the dumbed down version,” Dean mutters.

“Dean Winchester, I have never ‘dumbed down’ anything for you,” Cas signs seriously. “I refrained from the academic jargon because it’s unnecessary to convey my points.” His eyes narrow. “I’m sure I’ve told you all this before.”

Yeah, but Dean didn’t believe him. Still doesn't. Dean runs a hand through his hair. “Cas," he starts and then breaks off helplessly.

Cas spins his wine glass around and around in his hands. “You are being serious?”

Dean closes his eyes for a moment, taking in a deep breath. “Wish I wasn’t,” he says on the exhale, blinking to see Cas doing his squinty, head tilt thing he always does whenever Dean accidentally drops too many pop culture references.

“Why?”

Dean glares at him, anger rising. Logically, he knows he shouldn’t be mad at Cas. It’s not his fault Dean can’t keep his big fat mouth shut and not ruin one of the best things he had going for him. “Fishing for compliments, now?” he sneers.

Cas shakes his head. “I just don’t understand.”

“Right,” Dean says as he gets up. “You’re the smart one. Figure it out. I’m done here.” And he turns a deaf ear to Cas’s pleas as he walks out of the restaurant. Best man speech be damned. They’ll hear it at the wedding.

* * *

Dean manages to avoid his apartment for two and a half days, first by crashing at Charlie’s and then at Sam’s. When Sam and Jess kick him out, he drives over to KAZ.

“You’re three hours early,” are Gabe’s first words when he finds Dean sitting outside the sound booth, playing a meaningless game on his phone and deliberately avoiding text messages, emails, and other forms of communication. Gabe’s hair drips onto his collar and shoulders from the summer storm raging outside, and he carries his dripping raincoat slung over his arm.

“You know me,” Dean says weakly, “Can’t get enough of ladies’ night at KAZ.”

“Thursday’s tomorrow, numb nuts.”

Dean just shrugs. “You gonna kick me out?”

“Not if you tell me what the hell you’re doing here,” Gabe says, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Don’t want to go home yet.”

“How long’s it been since you were home? Since you had a shower?”

Dean scowls. “Not that long.”

Gabe pulls a disgusted face. “Look, I’ve had my share of multi-night sleepovers, but if you’re waiting out some chick at your place who won’t leave-”

“It’s not that. I don’t want to see Cas,” Dean mumbles.

Gabe’s eyes widen. “Cassie? Why?”

“I, uh,” Dean starts, looking away, “It’s not important.”

“Right,” Gabe says, disbelieving. “What’d he do now? Scare off a special lady friend? Buy enough guinea pigs to clog the sink?”

“What? Gross. He loves those things, why would he shove them-”

Gabe cuts him off with a hand. “I don’t care. Whatever it is, sort it out before your next shift. If you come in here looking homeless again, I’m kicking you out myself.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“Nope, just Gabriel Novak,” Gabe says smartly over Dean’s groan at the trite routine. His eyes narrow. “What happened between you and Cassie?”

“Nothing.”

“Doesn’t look like that from where I’m standing, Dean-o.”

“I can’t believe Cas is related to you.”

“I know." Gabe drops his head with mock-sorrow. “Shame I got all the good looks, isn’t it?”

Dean can’t help his snort of disagreement. “As if.”

“Come on, Cher Horowitz. Give me all the deetz.”

“Careful, you’re showing your age with that reference.”

Gabe preens. “Good thing I age like fine wine, then.”

“Never seen wine with thinning hair before,” Dean says, smirking.

Gabe takes a dramatic step backwards. “You shut your mouth.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” Dean sighs as he closes his current game and opens a new app to spice things up. “Been trying to do that since I got here.”

“At least you’re all bent out of shape too.”

Dean’s head snaps up. “What?”

“I said,” Gabe says with emphasis, “At least you both are miserable. I was going to kick your ass the next time I saw you, but you just look too pathetic.”

Dean is far too used to his boss casually threatening bodily harm, so he waves that point aside. “Cas is unhappy?”

“Like a deaf little Bambi after his mom got shot.”

Dean bites his lip and pockets his phone. “About… this?”

“Gotta be specific,” Gabe says wickedly. “I have no idea what ‘this’ is. Might be. Might not be.”

“Anyone tell you you’re fucking annoying sometimes?” Dean says in a last-ditch effort to get out from under the proverbial microscope where Gabe has him pinned.

“Only all my brothers, every day from kindergarten until college.”

Dean pulls his phone back out for something to do with his hands, and mumbles as he unlocks it, “I might’ve told Cas that I like him... In that way, you know.”

“Like him? Do you write Mrs. Dean Novak in your diary while you moon over at him in the cafeteria?”

“You clearly get it,” Dean growls, “so fuck off.”

“Alright, right,” Gabe says, holding up his hands in a gesture of peace. “Just confirming.”

Dean’s shoulders hunch as he stares out into the empty sound booth. “Will you go now?”

“Of course not. I have a show to produce,” Gabe says, punching him in the arm. “I have to work, unlike some people.”

“Great.”

Gabe pauses, his face uncharacteristically serious. “You should talk to Cassie.”

“Not doing that.”

“You should,” Gabe says as he takes a step back towards the office part of the building. “He’s not doing too hot. I wasn’t making up that part.”

Dean doesn’t reach out to Cas in the hour and a half before he has to go on air. Instead, he gets an early start on work. Retreats to the tiny temporary office KAZ has in the back and double-checks the songs he has on deck for today and looks up some more music trivia tidbits to say in between the lineup. Gabriel, to Dean’s infinite irritation, checks on him no fewer than five times to remind him to text Cas.

By the time Dean heads into the booth, he’s practically memorized the list of songs and his opening monologue, something he hasn’t done since his first week. He's usually more of a wing-it kind of dude. Keeps the show from feeling to rehearsed or formulaic.

“Hello, listeners! This is Dean’s Classic Rock Hour KAZ 85.3,” he says, turning his back to the glass dividing him and Gabe. “Today’s a real treat – we're gonna be listening to the early days of rock. That’s right, all the classics of ‘67! It’s my favorite year, but not for the music (although there are some good ones) since it’s the year my baby, the car I’ve had since I was 20, rolled off the assembly line. This is how today is going to go: I’m gonna walk you through what was on the top of the charts. First up, the Monkees, our favorite industry-made band before One Direction.” 

When they hit their first commercial break, Dean makes eye contact with Gabe, who wastes no time holding up a sheet of blank paper with the words, “TALKED TO CASSIE YET?” in obnoxiously large letters written in black sharpie.

Dean just grimaces and pulls out his phone to ignore him as the ads roll.

Two minutes later, Dean taps on the mic. “And we’re back,” he announces with a broad smile his audience can’t see. “This is classic rock at KAZ 85.3 with Dean. We’ll be taking our first caller now.” He nods over to Gabe, who shoots him a death glare. “Hey,” Dean greets as he focuses on the caller. “What can I do for you?”

“This is Gabe and I’m calling on behalf of my cousin, Castiel.”

Dean bangs his knee on the underside of his desk in his haste to turn around. He gets out, “What the f-” before he remembers that he can’t swear on-air or he’d have Crowley and company breathing down his neck.

“Castiel,” Gabe continues, and Dean watches in horror as Gabe uses his switch to turn Dean’s mic off, “would be calling in for himself, but he’s deaf, so you see the problem. Anyhoo, he’s on the search for his soulmate.”

Dean hurtles to his feet and stalks over to the glass. He bangs his fist, snarling, “I am going to kill you!” 

“He has pretty good intel that they’re out there somewhere, listening to classic rock,” Gabe continues, undeterred. Every word is like a knife to Dean’s chest . “This classic rock program, to be exact. So, Castiel’s soulmate, if you’re out there, and interested in meeting cousin Cas who also likes classic rock, hit him up.” 

Dean knocks against the glass again as Gabe finishes his call with Cas’s cell phone number. “Dead air! Get back in your seat!” Gabe mouths as he ends the call and flips Dean’s mic back on. 

“And we’re back,” Dean says, his voice tight. His whole body feels like a livewire, ready to blow at the slightest suggestion. “As... touching, as that shout out is, this is a radio station not a soulmate matching service. So without further ado, let’s get back to what all you listeners really tuned in for!”

Sufficiently thrown, Dean’s once again down to operating at about 50% capacity for the rest of the program. As he goes through the queue, he fidgets, fingers tapping on his thigh, leg jiggling under his desk. Dean keeps glancing at his phone, worried that Cas will text any second. Dean, I found my soulmate. Dean, I'm leaving you. Dean, this is a good thing because your delusions were getting out of hand.

Dean is distracted and jumpy for the rest of the hour, almost forgetting to take another round of callers at the halfway point. Thankfully, there’s a real person on the line this time, who asks a question about the Temptations (not strictly rock, but Dean still knows the answer) and waxes poetic about how she met her soulmate in ‘67. Dean has to drag his finger back from pushing the button to cut her off right then and there.

It’s a sweet story, and normally Dean would charm more details out of her, but he’s too distracted. 

When the show is finally done, Dean doesn’t waste another moment dithering in the studio. He can’t look Gabe in the face on the way out – from embarrassment, from rage, he has no idea. He races to the Impala and drives with reckless speed in the pouring rain.

* * *

Dean is imperceptibly shaking as he rings Lisa’s doorbell fifteen minutes later.

She answers after barely a second, phone in hand and a concerned expression on her face. “Dean,” she says, stepping aside. “That was fast. Glad you finally took me up on my offer.”

“Yeah,” Dean says weakly as he enters her house. “Been a while.”

She eyes him up and down critically before heading further into the house. “You’re… not looking too good.” 

Dean tries to muster up his usual charm. “Right back atcha, sweetheart.”

“Cute.”

Lisa leads him to the kitchen. Dean gratefully throws himself on a barstool by her kitchen island as she gets him a glass of water and drops a bag of veggie chips in front of him.

“Really?” he asks, eyebrows raised at the choice of snacks.

Lisa points at herself, her face deadpan. “Mom,” she says by way of explanation. “Don’t like, don’t eat. Ben likes them, if that’s enough to sell you.”

“Kid’s got good taste in everything else,” Dean says as he gingerly picks up a carrot-y orange chip and pops it in his mouth. He grabs four more without another word.

“Not bad, right?”

“Shut up.”

“So if you don’t want to talk about snacks, what do you want to talk about?” Lisa asks with raised eyebrows. “As much as I’d love to believe you’re stopping by for a social visit, it looks like you’ve got a lot on your mind.”

Dean ducks his head with a sharp exhale of breath. “I don’t know who else to go to. Figured you might know what to do.”

“About what?”

“I fucked up,” Dean says dully. “Told a guy hung up on his soulmate – who he’s never met – that I was into him.”

“And why’s that a bad thing?”

“Because I live with him?” Dean offers miserably.

Lisa makes a sympathetic tutting noise and scoots the glass of water closer to Dean’s elbow. “And why would I know what to do? I’ve never really met the guy. Your brother or someone would give better advice.”

“But you don’t have a soulmate in the picture either,” Dean says, looking up to meet her eyes. “Everyone else doesn’t get where I’m coming from.”

Lisa makes a little “ah,” sound and takes down a bottle of whiskey from the small cache on top of the refrigerator. She grabs two more glasses. “You’re a whiskey guy, right?” 

“Right now I’m an everything kind of guy.”

“The perfect guest,” Lisa says as she pours. “Cheers.”

Dean takes a long swallow, relishing the smooth burn on the way down this throat. “I should never have opened my fucking mouth.”

Lisa pats his arm as she takes a sip of her drink. “Too late now. Don’t focus on that.”

“Just focus on how my life’s going to shit?”

“How are you so sure about that?” Lisa asks sharply. “Is he going to kick you out?”

“He should,” Dean says, his voice bleak as he swirls the whiskey around the glass. “But maybe no? Probably not. He’s too nice for that.”

Lisa purses her lips as she takes a moment to think. “And what would everybody else tell you to do?” She sets her glass down.

“Go after him anyway,” Dean says, defeated. “They’re a bunch of unrealistic romantics. Sam’s been telling me to man up and…. I don’t know, go for a real relationship, for fucking ever now.”

“Well then,” Lisa says. “I’m afraid you came to the wrong girl if you want different advice.”

“Lisa,” Dean says, imploring. “You can’t be serious. Do you know how often non-soulmate relationships last?”

Lisa wrinkles her nose and shrugs. “Beats me.”

“Me too because nobody fucking wants them!”

Lisa doesn’t look surprised or intimidated in the least by his outburst. “You can’t possibly be telling me you’d rather deny yourself than take the chance that it might work out.”

Dean swallows and reaches for his whiskey again. “It’s what I’ve been doing for the past fifteen years.”

“And it’s been working out so well so far for you,” Lisa says in a knowing sort of voice.

Dean scowls. “Well, it did until Cas.”

“Then it seems like you’re going to have to change your tune sooner or later,” Lisa says. “Because if you want to keep Cas in your life – as a partner, romantic or no – you can’t go back to the way it was before. Once the cat’s out of the bag, it’s out. Can’t stuff that sucker back in.”

Dean’s face falls. “Damn it.”

Lisa takes a large gulp of her whiskey. “Did I ever tell you what happened to my soulmate?”

Dean shakes his head.

“We didn’t like each other at first,” Lisa says. “He was the boy-next-door type, totally not for me. Khakis, polos, no sex on the first date. You know the drill. He didn’t know how to show me a good time, and I had no clue what to do with him.”

“But you got together anyway?” 

“Sure did,” Lisa says smartly. “He was all aboard the wait-until-soulmate train, and I felt too guilty to turn him down since he saw me as his only shot in life.”

“And you… loved him?”

“Eventually. It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t the passionate, fated romance that Hollywood sells. There was hardly any drama. It was a slow process of getting to know the other person. Which I think you can relate to.”

Dean drains the rest of his whiskey.

“Anyway,” Lisa continues. “That’s the kind of relationship that I wouldn’t trade for anything. There’s something in the thrill of knowing that there’s growth ahead. That you’re not instantly going to click.”

“But still,” Dean argues weakly. “He was your soulmate.”

“So?” Lisa asks. “Our relationship wasn’t perfect. We still had disagreements and rough patches. After Matt, I don’t think there is one person out there for any of us.” She takes another sip of her drink and lowers her voice. “Maybe the whole soulmate thing just points us in the best direction. But who’s to say that you shouldn’t take the road less travelled? There could be a bunch of perfectly good people out there for you.”

“Best direction,” Dean mutters as he pours himself another. “So everyone else is second best.”

Lisa throws him a pointed look. “You’re not getting the bigger picture here. Soulmates don’t mean a perfect relationship - clearly. So maybe you won’t be the universe’s definition of a perfect couple. But it could be perfect for you.”

“You’re assuming he’ll go for me,” Dean says sourly. “I’m not his soulmate, after all.”

“Come on, Dean, you’re too stubborn to let him go like that. It’d be one thing if he wasn’t attracted to you,” at his slow head shake no, she adds, “So then this is a rough patch. Not impossible to get over.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“But that was before he knew you were interested, right?” 

“I guess.”

Lisa grabs a handful of the abandoned veggie chips. “You can do it. I have faith.”

* * *

Dean winces as the door shuts loudly behind him. 

After he left Lisa’s, he went to the Roadhouse. Jo was off tonight, but Benny was behind the bar. Dean shot the shit with him for a couple hours, deliberately steering away from all topics related to soulmates, relationships, or Castiel Novak. He walked the whole way home, only a little damp from the light drizzle coming down.

Now, squinting in his darkened apartment, he can just make out a shape on the couch – Cas – from the street lights outside.

The room sluggishly seesaws back and forth. Dean braces himself on the wall as he staggers towards his bedroom. In the dark, he bangs his knee on a side table in the entryway and stumbles over a couple of shoes. He rips loose a couple of hissed swears, and he’s never been more thankful that Cas is deaf.

The light flips on.

Dean cringes as he turns around to see Cas blinking dazedly in the glow from the standing lamp by couch. He briefly contemplates ignoring him and just making a break for it, but Cas is pinning him in place with that death stare. “Hey, Cas,” he says instead, defeated.

“You’ve been avoiding me.”

Cas was never one to beat around the bush.

“Figured you didn’t wanna see me.”

“Funny,” Cas signs, his face deadpan. “I thought my two dozen text messages said otherwise.”

“Phone’s dead,” Dean lies unashamedly, nearly knocking his elbow into the wall as his signs go a bit wide.

Cas glowers. “You can’t just say something like that and leave for three days. We can work this out like adults.”

Dean sags against the nearest surface, leaving half the living room between them. Cas swims before his eyes, and Dean is still too sober to have this conversation. “What’s there to work out, Cas?” he asks tiredly. “I fucked up. This is my shit to deal with, not yours.”

“Dean,” Cas begins, his face solemn, “of course it’s my problem too.”

Dean barks a bitter laugh. “Oh yeah? What the hell gave you that fuckin’ idea?” 

“You’re my friend.”

Dean shakes his head. “You still sure that’s the case?”

“I’d like it to be.”

Dean hunches in on himself, drawing back as much as he can without stumbling backwards. “Didn’t think you wanted anything to do with me,” he mumbles, barely audible and hardly lip-readable.

Somehow Cas gets what he’s saying. He actually rolls his eyes. “If you read any of my messages, you’d know how ridiculous you’re being.”

“Right, sure. And you’re just, what, gonna ignore… my,” he swallows, “Feelings?”

“No, Dean,” Cas signs gently.

Hope surges in Dean’s chest, warm and glowing. He sucks in a ragged breath, completely frozen to the spot.

“I thought we’d work through them, together,” Cas finishes.

And it all goes crashing to the ground again.

Dean shakes his head before he realizes what he’s doing. It feels like he’s bashing his whiskey-soaked brain against steel walls. As he raises his hands to sign, he doesn’t bother to keep the ugliness from surfacing. His usual Cas-filter vacated the premises three days ago. “Yeah, no thanks, Doc. You can’t psychoanalyze this outta me. I’ll just do my own thing, make myself scarce for a little while.” 

“Dean-”

But Dean plows over whatever Cas was going to sign next. “It’s not like you’ll even notice I’m gone, with the soulmate search and all.”

Cas’s face scrunches up in confusion. “Soulmate search?”

“Gabe called in, made the announcement during my show. Asked your soulmate to reach out to your number.”

Cas glances down at his dark phone, sitting innocently on the coffee table by his left knee. “I have received an unusual number of unknown calls this evening. I never asked him to do that.”

Dean huffs an irritated breath. “I didn’t think Gabe could be such an asshole.”

Cas slumps forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Usually his pranks are harmless. He hasn’t done something this malicious in a while. I bet he thought he was helping.”

Dean snorts. “Isn’t he?” he signs roughly, his throat closing as his gaze is drawn to Cas’s phone, still dark with no incoming calls. “I can’t believe nobody thought of it before. You knew your soulmate listened to my hour.”

“I did think about it,” Cas says quietly.

Dean’s eyes snap to his face. “You have? Why didn’t you do it?”

“I was nervous about meeting my soulmate,” Cas signs, downcast. “I thought, if I could finish my dissertation, maybe that would give me enough confidence to make the first move if he hadn’t found me by then. Maybe then I would know what the hell I’m doing.” He meets Dean’s gaze, and his eyes are strangely bright. “But then I met you… and I couldn’t.”

Dean’s throat is as dry as the Nevada desert. “Cas,” he rasps, “Man, you can’t mean what I think you mean.”

“I don’t know,” Cas signs, agonized. He ducks his head, and his voice grows even more uneven. “I don’t want to. All my life, I thought there was only one way forward. Do you know how hard it is to completely shift your whole life trajectory for one man?”

Dean gapes for a moment before he starts to laugh. It’s a dark, resentful sound, and thank god Cas will never hear it. “You can’t be serious,” he chokes out. “Of course, I know what that’s fucking like.”

Cas’s face falls. “I didn’t think-”

“No, you didn’t,” Dean snarls over him. He signs, furious and sharp, “But that’s not your problem, is it? You have to overthink everything. Do everything in order, stick to the plan, because then life’ll work out you want it to. Newsflash, Cas, that’s not how anything works. There’s no grand fucking plan out there. There’s just little people running around, pretending they know how the world works because if they didn’t, their heads would explode. And there’s one little person, one coward, sitting in front of me, who can’t just take a fucking chance on something that’s not in the guidebook.”

Dean may as well have struck Cas across the face, going by his expression.

Dean wrenches open the door to his room and slams it shut behind him.

* * *

Dean can’t tell if it’s his hangover or his regret about how he handled things with Cas that makes him feel like the worst piece of shit in history when he wakes up the next morning. He packs a bag and goes out for a long drive after he calls in sick to Recordin’ Man. Garth, cheery as ever on the other end of the line, tells him to get better soon.

Dean tears down I-70 like the devil’s on his tail. The fresh air clears his head.

Sam calls him a half hour in, probably about their lunch they had planned this afternoon. Dean ignores him and floors the Impala instead.

He devotes all his attention to the road. It’s just Dean, his baby, and the highway. Just as it always is in the end.

He eventually turns around about halfway to St. Louis and heads back the way he came. After checking into a motel not too far outside Lawrence, he spends his afternoon watching daytime soaps. Magic fingers runs in a continuous loop in the background. 

In the evening, he leaves his phone behind and walks to the closest bar to get hammered. 

When he wakes up the next morning, he’s still a little drunk. He sends a quick, ‘not dead’ text to Sam and turns his phone off. It’s Monday, so he has to be at the station in the evening. But just the thought of seeing Gabe makes Dean want to punch something, so he calls in sick there too.

He goes back to sleep.

The room spins a little as he opens his eyes late in the afternoon. His whole body aches with his hangover, so he just lays there on the scratchy sheets as he tries to gather his bearings. The television, left on the whole night, chatters at the foot of his bed. it’s not enough to block out Dean’s thoughts.

He shouldn’t have blown up at Cas like that. It’s not Cas’s fault that Dean barged into his life like a wrecking ball and turned him upside down and inside out. It’s not his fault that Dean threw him so hard he couldn’t tell which way was up. That’s all on Dean, who couldn’t keep his fuckups all to himself. He had to ruin Cas too.

But Cas is strong for such a nerdy little dude. 

Once Dean gets his shit together, he’ll head back to Lawrence. He’ll apologize. He’ll move out and Cas will move on. Cas will probably even laugh about it with his soulmate, but not in a bad way because as many faults as Cas has, he hasn’t got a cruel bone in his body.

Dean’s bleak future spreads out before him like a holey, moth-eaten blanket left to molder. He has Sam and Jess’s wedding to quasi-look forward to. He’ll probably be promoted in the next year or so and add another program and a producing credit to his resume. That’s not too bad. He’ll just have to live with the knowledge that Cas and his soulmate are probably listening in.

Lisa was wrong about him; that much is obvious a day later. Cas is never getting over his soulmate. He’s never going to choose Dean. Why would he?

* * *

Dean doesn’t bother stopping by his apartment and risk running into Cas. He avoids eye contact with anyone at KAZ as he heads for the tiny office in the back that all the guest hosts share. He locks himself in for the first time in months and reconfigures his tracklist for today’s program. It’s last minute, but that hardly matters to Dean.

He flips Gabe the finger as he settles into his seat behind the host desk and deliberately spins away so he doesn’t have to look at him.

“And this is KAZ 85.3, and you’re tuned in for the Classic Rock with Dean…”

The first twenty minutes go down as smooth as Ellen’s top shelf bourbon. Dean lined up all his favorites today, plenty of AC/DC, the Stones, and, of course, Zep. He figures he deserves it, after the shit week he’s been having.

He checks his phone as the longer songs play, replies to Sam’s texts and apologizes for standing him up. He doesn’t tell him about his fight with Cas – he’ll save that for after Sam’s cooled down.

Dean is actually feeling better than he has in days. The power of good music.

“She’s got a mortgage on my body," he sings along as he comes to the end of Travellin’ Riverside Blues, “a lien on my soul.” He checks the time on his watch, internally groaning since he has to take a caller after the next song. Dean dutifully queues up the next track, Poison Whiskey by Lynyrd Skynyrd. He nods along as he sings in an undertone to the first verse, tapping his fingers along to the beat.

Dean swings around in his seat to signal Gabe to patch in the call, and he nearly falls off his chair. Cas is there, standing by Gabe’s desk. He’s got a thousand-yard stare going on, and his tie hangs completely undone, wrinkled to hell and back like Cas has been fiddling with it nonstop since Dean last saw him.

“Cas,” Dean breathes, breaking off mid-chorus.

Cas, who can’t possibly have heard him or read his lips from this angle, jumps like he’s been electrocuted. His gaze zeroes in on Dean’s mouth, and Dean has to resist the urge to lick his lips. 

“What’re you doing here?” Dean signs instead, one eye on the clock that counts down to the next ad break.

Cas gives his head a little shake to clear it. “I’m here to see you,” he signs back, hands shaking so badly Dean isn’t sure why Cas bothers at all.

Dean gives him a brisk nod to show he understands. “Why?” He holds up his phone questioningly. 

“I didn’t think I could get through to you any other way,” Cas signs, his eyes big and bluer than ever. “You can’t run away this time.”

Dean’s good mood curdles the longer Cas stands there, just staring. “I said all I wanted to say,” Dean signs eventually.

“But I did not,” Cas says, his face hopeful.

“Save it.”

Cas’s face falls. “Please, Dean.”

Dean rubs a hand down his face and sneaks a peek at Gabe who is watching both of them, clearly transfixed. Dean holds up a finger to Cas to pause their conversation, ears piqued for the end of Skynyrd. He skips the call bit since Gabe is clearly going to drop the ball, and instead lets the song fade right into the next, Blue Oyster Cult’s Burnin’ for You.

With a sidelong look at Gabe, Dean says to Cas, “If you’re here to tell me you found your soulmate because of that assclown, you can take a hike. I don’t need to hear it.“

Cas bites his lip and raises trembling hands. “I didn’t come here to find my soulmate,” he signs hesitantly. “But I think I inadvertently did anyway.”

Dean’s face hardens. He turns his chair the whole way around and deliberately ignores the thump of a fist on glass and his phone, now buzzing in his pocket. He stares hard at the opposite wall and tries to ignore the weight of Cas's gaze boring a hole into the back of his head.

As the last notes of Burnin’ for You peter out, Dean hesitates for a second before taking the next call. Gabe could be screwing him over again. He’s clearly invested in this whole mess between Dean and Cas, and Gabe is the exact type to string Dean along for his own amusement. 

On the other hand, the higher ups wouldn’t be happy if Dean neglected callers for his whole program.

“This is Dean at KAZ 85.3,” Dean rattles off, speaking too quickly. “What can I do for you, listener?”

A throat clears on the other end, and Dean closes his eyes, praying for the strength not to kick through the glass himself and strangle Gabriel Novak.

“My name is Castiel, and I have a request.”

“Shoot,” Dean says through clenched teeth. Gabe can translate to ASL for him, since there’s no fucking way in hell Dean’s facing Cas right now.

A beat of silence. “I request that you don’t sing along to the next song.”

 “Huh?” Thrown, Dean does end up turning around at Cas’s request. He watches as Gabe signs for Cas to repeat himself.

“Please don’t sing along to the next song.”

“I – okay,” Dean says slowly, mind whirring as he tries to figure out what the hell Cas is getting at. “No song you wanna hear?” he asks, a little spitefully.

Cas freezes. “Boston’s Don’t Look Back, please.”

Well, Dean’s not going to deny himself the opportunity to hear one of his favorite songs. Even if not singing along would be a crime against humanity. Still, he keeps his promise to Cas as the first notes of the intro start up.

Through the glass, though, Cas isn’t looking too great. He’s looking everywhere but at Dean, wringing his hands with a kind of nervous energy Dean has never seen before.

Gabe nudges Cas right before the lyrics start, and Dean’s just about to say fuck it, he can sing along if he fucking wants to sing along, when someone else starts singing in his place.

“Don’t look back. A new day is breaking.”

That’s Cas’s voice.

But Dean can’t possibly be hearing him through the soundproof glass. The words are smoother than Dean’s ever heard Cas speak, and – fuck. 

“I can see, it took so long just to realize - I’m much too strong not to compromise. Now I see what I am is holding me down. I’ll turn it around, oh yes I will.”  

It’s his very own soul song. His first one.

To Dean’s utmost embarrassment, his eyes well up as Cas moves through the familiar chorus. But he can’t stop looking to gather himself. Rabid dogs wouldn’t be able to drag him away from the sight of Cas baring his soul, all for Dean.

The song ends, and Dean rockets up from his desk. He yanks open the door open separating the sound booth. “You,” he thunders at Gabe, “Out. Now.”

“Fine, fine,” Gabe says, hands up. “Just get him to stop singing. He’s a fucking travesty. Talk about tone deaf.”

“Out!” Dean vaguely registers Gabe shouldering past him to take up the empty seat at the mic. He closes the door behind him.

Behind Gabe’s desk, Cas's shoulders hunch forward, like he's trying to take up as little space as possible. “I just wanted you to know,” he signs quickly, his eyes focused on the blinking LIVE sign above Dean’s right ear. “You made it very clear you don’t want a soulmate; never pictured that sort of thing for yourself. And you probably hate me for being so terrible to you, but I couldn’t just let you go on thinking there was something wrong with you because you never heard a soul song.”

“Cas,” Dean says gently, and, shit, if he doesn’t do something, the waterworks are going to spill over. He takes Cas’s still-trembling hands in his, effectively cutting him off for the time being. He leans forward, resting his forehead against Cas’s for a second to give him enough time to pull away if he wants.

Instead, Cas makes a desperate noise in the back of his throat that Dean’s not sure he’s even conscious of making. 

Dean he raises a hand to cup Cas’s face. The pads of his fingers settle at the hinge of Cas’s jaw. Reverently, he strokes at Cas’s pulse point. When their lips finally meet, it’s indescribable. It's everything.

Cas kisses like he can’t get enough of Dean. His hands scramble against Dean’s arms, his waist, his back as he tries to touch all of him at once. 

Dean leans forward further into Cas’s space, ducking his head to mouth along the column of Cas’s neck, lightly dotted with stubble. Cas’s breathing ratchets up into double time, and Dean smiles against Cas’s skin. “Like that?” he murmurs against Cas’s skin.

“Dean,” Cas gasps.

His breath ghosts along Cas’s throat. “Want to make you feel good.” 

“Dean,” Cas says, more firmly this time. He barely gives Dean time to get with the program before he gently pushes him off.

“Cas?” Dean asks, confused. His heart rate picks up, and his throat feel dry. Definitely not from arousal. He shores up his expression into something that looks reassuring instead of downright terrified.  “I – uh, everything okay?”

“You were saying something,” Cas says before swallowing. “I felt it… but I couldn’t hear it.”

“Oh.” Dean tries to hide his enormous sigh of relief. “I was saying I wanted to make you feel good,” he signs, embarrassed, as the heat of the moment starts to fade.

Cas blinks at him as his mouth curves into dopey smile. “That’s… good. Yes. Very good. That felt very good.”

Dean smirks. “Glad to hear it.” He crowds back in again, but Cas raises a hand to his chest to stop him.

“I would rather do this without an audience,” he signs clearly, looking pointedly over at Dean’s shoulder - since there Gabe stands, phone held aloft, grinning like a crazy person. He mimes several lewd hip-thrusts. The asshole must’ve filmed the whole thing.

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Dean growls.

“Fuck my Instagram story,” Gabe signs after he pockets his phone. “This is going on the website!”

“I’m going to kill you,” Dean signs through the glass.

Gabe’s grin only widens. He signs back gleefully, “Come at me bro.”

Dean takes one step towards the door, but Cas’s hand catches around his wrist and holds tight. “He’s not worth it,” he says in a low voice. “Can you get out of here? I think we have a lot to talk about.”

“I probably shouldn’t leave,” Dean says slowly, still eyeing Gabe warily. 

Gabe’s gaze is trained on Cas’s grip like a shark honing in on guppy. He’s already reaching to get his phone back out. 

“But,” Dean finishes, turning to Cas so he can sign, “I don’t give a shit about staying right now. Let’s go.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Gabe give a whoop of delight before dropping back in Dean’s empty chair in the sound booth.

* * *

The short ride back to their apartment is spent in tense silence. Dean can barely keep his eyes on the road. At least he’s not alone. Cas seems to be going for the longest stare on record as his eyes catch Dean’s every time his head turns to the passenger side.

The tension mounts as Dean and Cas climb the stairs to their floor.

There’s a brief moment of confusion as they both get their keys out, but Dean’s the first one to fit it in the lock and usher them both inside.

As soon as the door shuts, Dean takes up where he left off. He backs Cas against the nearest wall and captures his mouth in a searing kiss. One hand flies up to cradle Cas’s head in place, while the other snakes around to palm his ass like Dean’s been dreaming about for a solid year.

Cas breathes raggedly against his mouth as his arms wrap around Dean’s waist, pulling them flush together. His lips part, and Dean can practically hear the hallelujah chorus. Just as he gets to the third button of Cas’s shirt, Cas pulls back, blinking up at him dazedly. “We should talk,” he pants. 

“Later,” Dean murmurs before diving in again.

But Cas deftly dodges. “No, we should talk now,” he says, a bit more firmly this time. But his pupils blown so wide there’s hardly any blue, and his hair looks like a demented bird’s nest.

“Really, Cas?” Dean complains, absently leaning further into Cas’s space. His hard on aches like a mother in his jeans and Cas better feel that.

“Yes.” Cas extricates himself from Dean’s hold and makes his way to his side of the couch. “We need to do this.”

“Fine,” Dean grumbles as he follows. “What do you want to talk about?”

“You’re my soulmate,” Cas signs as a slow smile spreads across his face. Dean automatically tenses at the word – years of habit – and Cas’s expression dims. “You don’t want this.”

“Hell of a conclusion to come to.” Dean rolls his eyes as he adjusts himself in his pants. “And I thought you were the smart one.”

“Not smart enough,” Cas points out, “Or you wouldn’t gone hating soulmates since puberty. I didn’t even think – I lost my hearing when I was fourteen, and I started hearing my soul songs a year later. Do you really want this?” he repeats as a question, gesturing between them. He exhales a sharp breath. “This would be a serious commitment.”

“I can commit,” Dean signs, a little insulted.

“You haven’t before.”

“You’re different,” Dean signs simply. “I had the relationships I had because I had no other choice. If you’re offerin’, I’m takin’. Whatever you can give me.” It’s a little pathetic to lay it all bare like that, but it’s Cas on the line. Of course Dean’s all in.

Cas swallows and nods to himself.

“Yeah, you haven’t done this either,” Dean signs, nudging him with his foot. “It’s gonna be the blind leading the blind here.”

“Not quite,” Cas signs with a smile, gesturing dryly to his ears.

Dean runs a hand through his hair nervously. “And you?” he signs back. “You really want this? With me?”

“Why not with you?” Cas asks, like that doesn’t open a whole ugly, twisted can of worms.

“I... haven’t been saving myself like you have,” Dean signs, staring hard at Cas’s left knee. “And, well, we’re very different people.”

“Dean.” Cas reaches for Dean’s hand and squeezes. “That’s a good thing. Do you know what I was like before I met you? Afraid of meeting new people, so awkward I could hardly be around myself if I wasn’t standing in front of a lecture hall. But you opened up your home to me. Your friends. It’s incredible. You’re incredible.”

Dean blushes red as one of Sammy’s heirloom tomatoes. “But you were saving yourself for your soulmate.”

“I was saving myself for you,” Cas corrects, his gaze steady. 

Dean’s erection resurfaces with a vengeance. The distraction doesn’t last long, though, staring into Cas’s awfully expectant face. Dean looks away, unable to meet his eyes. “But I’m not holding you to that. Holding you to me. You put a lot of stock in your mysterious soulmate. I’d understand if… since you know it’s me now… you wanted something else.” 

“Have you listened to a word I’ve been saying?” Cas asks, exasperation creeping in his tone. “I want you. Soulmate or no.”

“Or no?” Dean echoes, frowning.

“I didn’t go to KAZ to find my soulmate –”

“You didn’t?” 

Cas ignores Dean’s interruption. “– I went there with the intention of making things up with you. I want to be with you, Dean Winchester. It was purely an accident that I could put two and two together.” He smirks. “It’s lucky you sing along to so many songs.”

Dean grimaces and runs a hand down his face. “Christ, I… can stop that. I never thought anyone was listening. It must be annoying.”

“It’s not. And please don’t,” Cas says warmly. “I like your taste in music.”

“Thank god for that.”

“And as for saving myself, that’s why I wanted to stop – our activities.” Cas takes a fortifying breath. “As you can probably imagine, I have no experience with this,” he signs in a rush. “I don’t want to disappoint you –”

“I’m gonna stop you right there,” Dean signs, reaching out to gently touch the back of Castiel’s hands, stilling them for a moment. “Nothing you do could disappoint me.”

Castiel’s face pinches. “You say that now.”

Dean can’t help the wide smile that spreads across his face. “Can you even imagine what it’s like for me? I get to show you all sorts of shit for the very first time. Buckle up, teach. Time for you to learn a thing or two.” He leers, waggles his eyebrows suggestively as he leans way into Cas’s space.

Cas weakly smiles back, shoving him back with a barely-there push.

“We can start slow,” Dean assures in a gentler tone of voice.

Cas exhales slowly, some of the panic ebbing from his eyes.

Dean scoots a little closer, reaching out to tip Cas’s face up. “Kissing is okay, right?” he murmurs. “For now?”

Cas nods mutely.

And after that, Dean sees no reason to hold off Cas’s education any moment longer.

Chapter Text

Dean slows his pace, going nearly cross-eyed as he tries to keep Cas in view. 

Cas’s hands hover half in and half out of sight, his usually nimble fingers jerky and stilted.

It's no use. Dean can only concentrate on so many things at once. With Cas's cock in his mouth like a divine weight on his tongue, his sign-reading skills definitely take a backseat. He pulls off with a gasp. "Cas, man, I don't know that sign."

Cas comes all over his face with a low moan. 

Dean freezes. 

"I was trying to tell you that I wasn't going to last," Cas groans.

Dean bursts out laughing. He can’t help it.

"Funny?" Cas signs, looking comically affronted. 

Dean pinches his thumb and forefinger a quarter of an inch apart as he uses his other hand to wipe away the come before it gets in his eyes. That shit stings like a motherfucker. 

He opens his eyes to see Cas looking away, his hands still at his sides on the bed. His mouth is pressed into a very thin line. Impressive, for lips like his. 

"Hey," Dean says, tapping Cas's knee to get his attention. "You okay?"

"My first orgasm with a man and I accidentally ejaculate all over his face after five minutes," Cas signs, his face blank. His jaw clenches. "I should have expected this."

"No way," Dean signs after wiping the rest of his face with a corner of the sheet. "Nobody ever really tells you how funny sex can be." He grins up at Cas, reaching up to trace his lips with a finger and pressing the corner of Cas’s mouth up into a half smile. "The hottest sex still comes with stupid noises - air can get trapped in a lotta places - and a mess. Trust me, angel, you did nothing wrong."

Cas doesn't look convinced.

"Right then," Dean says with a little slap to Cas's thigh as he gets to his feet. "I'll just have to show you."

"Show me?" Cas repeats, confused, and Dean kisses him for the stupid frown and head tilt Cas does like it's his signature move.

"You thought we were done?" Dean asks, eyebrows raised. 

Cas licks his lips nervously. "But I ruined-"

"Come on," Dean mock scolds over Cas's protesting signs, "I haven't even come yet. You gonna leave me high and dry?"

Cas gestures to Dean's cock, which started to flag as the action slowed down. "But you're not hard."

"Like you couldn't get it up again in two seconds flat," Dean signs before clambering up on the bed next to Cas. "You have no idea how many boners I had to hide just cause you looked at me funny."

"You can't be serious," Cas signs, his face flat.

Dean just makes a crossing motion across his heart. 

Cas tentatively reaches out to grasp Dean's shoulder. With a grin, Dean wraps an arm around Cas's bare waist and pulls him close for proper kiss. Dean rakes his fingers along Cas's scalp, making his usual sex hair look completely debauched. When he wraps a hand around Cas's spent cock, Cas hisses with oversensitivity. 

Dean pulls back, signing, "You remember the rules, right?"

Cas nods his head impatiently, leaning in to kiss Dean again.

Dean splays a hand against his chest, stopping Cas in his tracks. "Tell me the rules, babe."

Cas's nose wrinkles, but he signs impatiently, "One tap for good; two taps to pause; three taps to stop."

Dean grins at him as he slides his hand over to thumb one of Cas's nipples. Cas arches his back with an involuntary shiver, and Dean murmurs, "Perfect," into his skin even though Cas won't hear. 

He starts at Cas's other nipple, laving the tightened nub with his tongue. Steadily, agonizingly slowly, he works his way up Cas's chest, sucking and nibbling a reddening trail of skin.

By the time he gets to the hollow of Cas's throat, Cas is a panting mess beneath him. He's not hard yet, but Dean's sure it's not from lack of effort on Cas's part. 

As Dean reaches his mouth, Cas's hips make an aborted thrust up, lips parting in a silent gasp. Dean idly skims his fingers down Cas's body, his touch feather light, circling nearer and nearer to where Cas really wants him. 

Cas gives a full-body twitch as Dean finally reaches down to trace the length of his cock. When Dean takes him in hand, Cas releases a ragged breath, his whole body taut with anticipation. Dean pauses, tapping once in question. 

Cas shakes his head. "No, it feels good. It’s a lot, but it feels good."

Dean grins as he gives him a few experimental pumps, Cas's hips bucking every time Dean's first gets closer to the head.

Dean lets go, and Cas's eyes fly open, his mouth falling into a confused pout. 

Dean merely gives him one last squeeze, drawing a mournful whimper from Cas as he pulls away completely to scramble one-handed for the lube on the nightstand. 

"Do you want to try prepping me?" Dean signs, his gaze hooded. "Or do you want a show?"

Cas licks his lips, his  wide eyes nearly black with desire. He stares.

Dean grins. "Did I break you?" He uncaps the bottle and pours out a generous amount. "Why don't I start, and you can take over if you want?"

Cas watches, riveted, as Dean positions himself on the bed and slowly slides one finger into himself. He breathes out, eyes closed and brow furrowed as he tries not to tense up. 

The first touch of Cas's hand on his bent knee makes him nearly jump off the bed. Cas's hand flies away, his expression apologetic, but Dean grabs Cas's hand and squeezes it. He taps a question along Cas's wrist. 

Cas swallows, rasping, "I just wanted to see."

Dean's cock jumps at the pure lust in Cas's wrecked voice and obligingly spreads his legs wider. 

Cas's fingers tighten along Dean's inner thigh, and Dean releases the tiniest of moans Cas won't hear. He bites his lip, pushing his finger in deeper, searching. 

He lets out a gasp, his hips jerking, as he grazes his prostate. God, that feels so fucking good. Cas has a decidedly hungry look in his eye, pupils blown wide to leave only the smallest sliver of blue. 

As Dean applies a little more pressure, he cries out, precome beading at the tip of his cock. 

Cas reaches out to grasp Dean's wrist in a gentle hold, stilling Dean's fingers. Dean grins, adjusting the placement of Cas's hands, guiding his finger around and around Dean's entrance. Wondrously, torturously, Cas takes gets himself acquainted with the furled rim, his finger slicking with lube. 

Ages later, Cas finally pushes in. Up to the first knuckle. The second. Then his whole finger.

Dean pants a heady moan at the sight of Cas's hand thrusting in and out between his spread legs. Head thrown back, his spine bows as Cas adds another finger and probes deeper, almost at the spot Dean needs.

"Harder," he grunts as he covers Cas's hand with his and tilts their fingers up. 

When Cas brushes against Dean's prostate for the first time, Dean nearly arches off the bed. He lets out a low cry as heat and want fly up his spine to the crown of his head and down his legs to the tips of his toes. 

Cas rubs again, more deliberate this time, and Dean can't hold back the way his body jerks on the bed. He breathes in deep gulps of air, trying to keep himself back enough from the edge. 

Cas crooks his fingers, the full pads of his fingers dragging against Dean's prostate. His hips buck, nearly dislodging Cas’s hand. An endless stream of stuttered moans fall from his lips. Jesus fucking Christ. What’s the goddamn use of all Dean’s experience if he shoots off like a rocket after thirty seconds of Cas’s fingers inside him? 

He starts to hum Metallica. Very quietly.

“Dean!” Cas stops, an incredulous look coming over his face. His fingers stop immediately.

“What?”

“Why am I listening to Enter Sandman?”

Fuck. Dean blinks up at him. “I don’t want to come yet,” he signs honestly. 

Castiel looks torn between glaring and laughing. 

"I was trying not to fuck it up for you," Dean signs defensively. 

"Like I did twenty minutes ago?"

"Uh."

“Don’t - do - that - again ,” Cas says, punctuating each word with a viciously deep probe of his fingers against Dean’s prostate. Dean groans, his heels digging into the bed in a futile effort to keep him grounded. He can only nod in response.

He taps on Castiel’s wrist just as he feels like he’s about to explode, and Cas freezes.

“I want you inside me,” Dean signs as Cas’s questioning eyes meets his own.

“How?” Cas murmurs.

“Here.” Dean guides him up from between his spread legs so Cas in the right spot. Dean shuffles in place on the bed, angling his ass just so. “Push in,” he urges. “Slowly.”

His face a fascinating mix of caution and desire, Castiel focuses his laser gaze on Dean’s ass and his cock as he guides himself inside.

Slowly, ever so slowly, Dean is filled.

He breathes in deep, sighing with bone-deep satisfaction. Cas’s eyes nearly roll back in his head as he finally buries himself to the hilt. His fingers twitch on the back of Dean’s thighs, barely holding him steady.

Dean licks his lips, swallowing as he rocks his hips. Once. Just once to give Cas the right idea.

“Dean!”

Dean grins and hungrily rolls his hips again. “Fuck me,” he demands clearly.

Cas’s eyes dart down to where they’re joined and back up to Dean’s face. With an adorable expression of absolute concentration, he surges forward.

“Oh fuck,” Dean whines, his fingers bunching in the sheets as Cas’s cock lights him up from the inside. 

Cas’s breathing turns ragged as Dean meets him thrust for thrust. Brows furrowed, he releases his hold on Dean’s legs to hold him firmly around the waist. Dean’s ankles lock around Cas’s lower back, and Cas all but slams him down on his cock. Dean cries out under the assault, his whole body writhing in Cas’s grip.

“Cas,” Dean gasps as he reaches up. He hooks his hand at the juncture where Cas’s shoulder meets his neck and pulls him in closer. Cas bends at the waist, leaning forward, close enough for their breaths to mingle. He taps twice at the hinge of Cas’s jaw, mouthing, “Slow down, or I’m gonna come.”

Cas blinks, licks his lips, and obliges. 

But with the change in angle, the weight of Cas’s cock slides across Dean’s prostate, not to mention Dean’s dick now trapped between their moving bodies. This wasn’t the brightest idea if he wants it to last. His hands fly up to clutch at Cas’s sturdy forearms, now braced on the bed by Dean’s shoulders. 

Cas drives deeper, his face a mask of concentration. He looks too serious.

Dean surges up to meet his mouth, their lips meeting in a stuttered approximation of a kiss. He can feel Cas start to smile against him, his hips stilling to a delicious crawl as he carefully balances his weight on one hand and uses the other to cup Dean behind his head to angle his face.

His hot mouth opens against Dean’s, and Dean loses himself in Cas’s taste.

“Okay?” Dean breathes as they separate.

Cas takes a minute to respond. He blinks a couple of times, his eyes growing impossibly tender. “I’m okay.”

“Good.” Dean grins. He bears down, and Cas shivers in response. “Come on, fuck me like you mean it.”

Cas wastes no time in picking up the pace. He pounds into Dean, sending him flailing for purchase.

Underneath him, Dean tries and fails to hold himself together. He comes with a shout.

Cas doesn’t slow down as Dean relaxes around him, boneless with the sudden rush of release. He’s a little sore and oversensitive but hardly in a place to care.

Cas comes a little while later, holding Dean in place with a vice-like grip. He slumps on top of Dean, who hisses as Cas’s sweaty stomach compresses his tender bits with a little too much weight.

Dean taps against Cas’s side in warning. He wiggles slightly, trying halfheartedly to extricate himself to clean them up.

Cas mumblings something indiscernible into Dean’s shoulder. He doesn’t budge.

Dean laughs as he presses a quick kiss to Cas’s hairline. “Fine, have it your way, angel. You’ll regret it in about ten minutes, though. Mark my words.”

Cas raises his head to squint blearily up at him. “I don’t know what you just said.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Dean says clearly as he raises one hand to trace nonsense patterns against Cas’s bare back with his finger. He’s tired but not sleepy. He could stay here in bed with Cas forever, probably.

Cas almost falls back against Dean’s chest, but his head whips up at the last second, nearly busting open Dean’s nose.

Dean freezes in alarm. “Woah.” 

Castiel’s eyes go wide. He blinks up at Dean for a tense second, his mouth parting in surprise. He licks his lips before saying hesitantly, “I love you too.”

Well, they weren’t exactly nonsense patterns.