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Looking for a Sign

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Dean stood on the train platform in the sweltering heat.  He could feel rivulets of sweat running down his back and adhering his dress shirt to his sticky skin.  His suit coat was folded over his arm, but he didn’t think he would be any more miserable with it on.  He raised his hand and then lowered it, barely refraining from tugging on his tie and collar again.  It was only seven o’clock in the morning which meant the day would get worse.  He was going to have to start getting up earlier and taking the six o’clock train; the humidity was more than he could bear.

The echoing whistle of the train alerted Dean to its approach and he shuffled out from the shade of the station awning with his fellow commuters.  They were spread out along the platform in bunches, waiting at the precise spot where the doors would be positioned when the train arrived.  There was only one other person standing with Dean.  He’d learned that the first car after the engine was usually the least crowded because it was inaccessible to the platform in the biggest station downtown where most people detrained.  Dean rode the train two stops farther and got off literally on the wrong side of the tracks.  It wasn’t a great neighborhood to work in, but work was work.  And he needed work.

The train glided slowly up to the platform, shooting out hot steamy air at the waiting passengers’ ankles.  It came to a stop with some mild clanking, and then the engine let out a slow, labored sigh.  The doors at the ends of the cars opened and Dean closed his eyes in pleasure when he was hit with a blast of cold air.  He hurried inside the train and chose to sit on one of the sideways benches at the front rather than in a traditional seat.  It allowed him to put his lunch on one side and his messenger bag on the other which created a small buffer between himself and the other passengers.  The bucket seats were so narrow he would rub elbows with even the tiniest person and the leg room was a joke.

The doors on the train closed with a quiet change of hydraulic pressure.  The car jolted slightly when the engine began to move, and then it sped up smoothly.  Dean glanced at his watch and repressed a sigh; now he had a fifty minute ride.  He leaned his head back on the wall and it tilted awkwardly to the side against the frame of the safety procedures poster.

He hated his job.  He hated his commute.  But he loved his brother and college was expensive.  Especially since they didn’t qualify for financial aid.  He didn’t want Sam to be buried by debt when he graduated—and the kid had already deferred for a year to work full time to save up money for food and textbooks— so they got as small a loan as possible and Dean was supplementing the rest the best he could.  He wondered what life might be like in an alternate universe where he could pay the bills by being a stripper or an escort.  He bet that was a lot more fun and lucrative than working in the mail room of an advertising firm.

He opened his eyes and looked around.  He was surprised to see someone sitting on the opposite bench in the corner.  Usually people didn’t start sitting here until the rest of the seats filled up.  He must have already been on the train though because Dean hadn’t seen him on the platform.  He would have noticed him if he had been.  The guy was very attractive, but Dean wouldn’t call him cute or handsome.  He was closer to beautiful, but Dean’s brain didn’t like that term because the man was so very masculine.  He was well aware that men could be referred to as beautiful—hell, he often was to referred to as such—but for some reason it just felt weird to call him pretty or beautiful.  He’d stick with attractive.  Really attractive.

His dark hair and dark suit made him look paler than he probably was, or maybe it was the gross fluorescent lights of the train, but he liked that look in men.  Most of the women he dated had mocha or caramel skin and big dark eyes.  With men he tended to gravitate more to pale skin and bright eyes.  Probably because marks showed up better on lighter skin and he liked marking the men he’d been with.  But not the women.  He wondered if that was some sort of weird psychological thing.

The man’s eyes flicked up and over to Dean, and then returned to the book he was reading.  Even from five feet away Dean could see the guy’s bright blue eyes.  Man, this dude was hitting all of Dean’s buttons: attractive, dark hair, pale skin, bright eyes, and reading a Larry McMurty novel.  A man who loved Westerns was a man who—well, he was a man Dean could talk to about Westerns.

“So what do you think so far?” Dean asked, his voice startling himself a bit because he hadn’t been aware he was even going to ask the question.

The other man didn’t look up.  The moving train was a little loud, so maybe he hadn’t heard Dean.  Dean knew he could use the opportunity to let his awkwardness slink off unnoticed, or he could try to come up with something better to say.

“Do you like it so far?” he asked, a little louder.  And oh yes, that was a much better question.

The man didn’t respond right away.  He did glance up, but like he was trying to check to see what Dean was doing and not because he wanted to engage him.  He flinched when he got caught looking.  Dean smiled and nodded in his direction.

“I like all four,” Dean said, wiping the lingering layer of sweat from his upper lip with his fingers.  “But I like Lonesome Dove the best.  Have you read Dead Man’s Walk?  I thought the end was a little ridiculous.  Kind of ruined everything.”

The man just stared at him.  Dean felt that weird social anxiety worm squirm in his stomach.  He wasn’t usually prone to attacks from the creature, but being completely ignored while simultaneously being focused on by a dude on a train was an odd situation.  Dean didn’t know if he should say something else or put his eyes forward and stare awkwardly at the wall.  For some reason he opted to stare awkwardly back at the guy.  It was possible a full twenty seconds of silence and staring passed.

“Um.”  Dean waved a hand generally in the book’s direction.  “Do you like it?”

The man looked down at the book in his hands, and then held it up a bit in acknowledgement as he gave Dean a wan smile.  Then he focused on his book.  Dean watched him for a few more moments and then faced forward with a muttered, “Well good fucking morning to you too.”  Dean cut his eyes over to see if the man responded to his grumbling.  He didn’t react at all.  Dean reached into his messenger bag and pulled out his ancient iPod.  He attached the headphones and turned the volume up to hear it over the rattling train.  He ignored the guy after that aside from an occasional glance in his direction.  One time he caught the guy looking back, but he quickly looked away again.  Juvenile.

The man got off at the stop before the main terminal downtown.  Dean exhaled a long breath slowly.  He hadn’t even realized he’d been tense until the guy left the car.  He definitely needed to take the earlier train from now on so that he could avoid the heat and the asshole.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Castiel stepped off the train and stuffed his book into his briefcase.  He immediately put his eyes back up to keep him aware of his surroundings.  People moved so fast in the mornings with their noses buried in their phones because they could rely somewhat on their hearing to give them awareness of their environment.  Of course, there were enough videos on YouTube to prove that being hearing didn’t stop people from running into walls, into fountains, and in front of oncoming traffic if they weren’t paying attention to what was going on.  Hearing people were so annoying.

Like the guy on the train.  Yeah, fine, the gorgeous guy on the train.  But he’d kept talking with his hand in front of his mouth.  How the hell was he supposed to understand him?  Castiel thought he might have been referring to the book he was reading, but it was too damn early in the morning to try to read someone’s lips behind their fingers.  Although, was it too damn early to be nice to the gorgeous guy on the train?

Castiel frowned.  He didn’t date hearing people, so it didn’t matter if he was nice to him or not.  He didn’t need any more friends either.  Three was more than enough, especially when two of them couldn’t stand the third.

Castiel entered the foyer of the squat, concrete building sandwiched between two metal and glass skyscrapers.  Oh how developers would love to get their hands on the lot of the eyesore, but no one felt comfortable using the usual pressure tactics on the “handicapped.”  It was the kind of attitude the deaf community hated, but sometimes it could be used to their advantage.  The Deaf Community Outreach had occupied the same space for over thirty years, and they weren’t going anywhere.

The elevator lurched unsteadily under Castiel’s feet and he worked to steady his alarmed heart like he did every morning.  Quite possibly nobody in the DCO would be going anywhere if their elevator broke down on them.  The only set of stairs was wired with an emergency alarm.  The employees of course wouldn’t care if the alarm sounded all day, but the wire was set to automatically trigger an emergency call to the local fire department.  The elevator was the only option to get upstairs.

He passed the second floor where people went to get information about and make requests for their services.  The third floor was where they planned and organized their services.  Everything from finding resources and funding for service animals to connecting people in the deaf community with each other to planning mission trips to third world countries to fit underprivileged children with hearing aids.  Those were the fun services.  The less fun services included supplying interpreters for court proceedings and filing lawsuits against schools and businesses that didn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

By the time the elevator finally clawed its way to the third floor, Castiel already had a list of tasks in mind of what he needed to get done.  When the doors opened and he saw Meg’s amused smirk, he knew he wasn’t going to get any of it done.  He held up a finger as he stepped off the elevator to prevent Meg from starting in on him before he even got to his desk.

“Ten minutes,” she said, not bothering to sign.

Castiel frowned at her back as she walked over to her desk.  Meg was hearing and she had been asked on several occasions to always sign while she was at work, even when speaking with people who were proficient at lip reading like Castiel.  Castiel was definitely the exception and not the rule, and even he only caught about fifty to seventy percent of what people were saying—when he was facing them directly and they were speaking slowly.

Irritated that his Monday morning was already off to such an inauspicious start he merely nodded at Muriel’s sign for coffee.  He walked into his office and sat down at his desk suddenly wishing he’d called in sick.  A couple of minutes later Muriel brought him a cappuccino from the fancy machine that was the office’s one luxury splurge.  He normally drank regular coffee, but Muriel must have assumed he needed a little pampering.  Which meant his behavior was a little embarrassing and unprofessional this morning.  He signed his thanks and she left him alone.  As the seven year old laptop on his desk went through its usual ten minute start up process, movement in the corner of his eye got his attention.  He turned and saw Gabriel Milton standing in the doorway.

“We have to get the draft finalized and sent in today if we want a shot at that grant money,” Gabriel said as he signed.

Gabriel had been hearing until he’d gotten to high school and the genetic degenerative disorder that rendered half his family deaf had caught up to him.  He always chose to speak aloud even around deaf people because he wanted to keep in practice.  Hearing people could understand him perfectly.  They didn’t get that uncomfortable, confused look on their faces like they did when Castiel spoke.  It was one of the main reasons Castiel could count on one hand the number of times he’d ever vocalized anything.  There was no point to it.

-I finished it last Friday-  Castiel signed.  –It should be on Hannah’s desk ready for her to mail.-

“I asked her about it.  She says she doesn’t have it.”

Castiel sighed.  –I’ll print out another copy and then walk it down to the FedEx place myself.-

“Ever the consummate C-O-O.”

-And what is our C-M-O up to?-  Castiel signed as dryly as possible.

“Chiefly marketing things.  Of course.”

Castiel kept his unamused expression in place.  Gabriel smiled.

“You need to get laid, my friend,” Gabriel said.  He didn’t sign it, but Castiel caught it.

-Maybe you need to stop getting laid.  Take things more seriously for once.-

Gabriel pretended to consider Castiel’s words, and then said, “No.  I think I’d like to enjoy my life while I live it rather than suffer through it.”

Gabriel gave him a wink and a mock salute and then disappeared from the doorframe.  Castiel was struck by how profoundly Gabriel’s words affected him.  Enjoy his life rather than suffer through it.  What a novel concept.  Maybe if train guy tried to speak to him again, he’d at least be polite.

 ~~~

It was seven o’clock on a Wednesday morning and Dean was sweltering in the oppressive heat on the train platform.  He’d caught the six o’clock train yesterday morning and decided it wasn’t worth the effort of getting up so early.  It wasn’t the heat, it was the humidity, and that didn’t change with the rising and setting of the sun.  Plus it was just hotter on the commute home.

He was the only one to board the first car that morning and got himself settled on his seat in his usual spot.  He pulled his travel mug of coffee out of his bag and took a sip.  He paused mid sip as he saw that hot asshole guy was in the same seat he had been on Monday.  The coffee stayed too long on his tongue and he swallowed it down quickly and let out a small hiss of pain as he tried to wag his burned tongue around to dispel the pain.  He heard a huff of amusement and looked up to see hot asshole guy focused on his book—but he was smiling.

“Oh, it’s funny is it?” Dean asked and turned to his bag to look for his bottled water.  “At least I was able to amuse you in some way.  Good to know you’re not some animatronics thing.”  He found the bottle and took a sip.  He turned back to look at the guy.

He was staring at his book again, looking totally blank.

“You’re not an animatronics thing, right?” Dean asked.

The guy didn’t move.  Didn’t even blink.

“Even animatronics blink.”

Dean watched him carefully, counting the seconds it took for the guy to blink.  Suddenly he looked up at him.  Dean started and splashed water on himself.  The guy’s lips curved up in another smile, but his expression was not one of “Aw, how cute is this clumsy guy?” but more of an “Aw, look how hard this special needs child is trying.”

Dean used his hand to wipe the water off his chin.  “You a fan of liquids dripping off a guy’s face?” he asked, wanting to figure out quickly if the guy was into dudes.  Or at least not offended by the thought.

The man stared at him blankly for a moment, and then smiled and nodded as he held up the book again.  Dean tilted his head in confusion.  He didn’t remember anything like that happening in the gritty Western.  The man suddenly looked embarrassed and actually lifted the book up so that it was covering his face as he read.  He managed to stay like that for ten minutes before he finally lowered his arms to a more comfortable position.  By that time Dean had taken the hint though and was listening to his iPod and staring at the opposite wall.  There was a poster advertising the city’s women’s professional soccer team.  He didn’t even know they had a women’s professional soccer team.

At the stop before the downtown hub, the man quickly put his book up and stood by the door before the train came to a full stop.  Clearly he was anxious to get off the train.  Maybe he’d finally understood what Dean had said and was disgusted.  Good riddance then.  He glanced back at Dean just as the door slid open.  Dean gave him a suggestive smile and waggled his fingers at him.  Rather than scoffing or making a face, the man gave him a tentative smile in return and disguised his reflex to wave back as running a hand through his hair.  Then he scurried down off the train.  Dean hummed to himself.  Interesting.

 ~~~

Castiel rolled his eyes up into his head and didn’t even care if he ran into anybody.  That was why he didn’t try to engage with hearing people.  He’d only done it because he’d been happily surprised to see the man again after he didn’t appear on Tuesday.  He thought there would be nothing wrong with being nice to the guy.  Maybe he liked Larry McMurty.

However, the stranger seemed incapable of pointing those pretty, pouty lips in his direction.  He kept looking away when he talked or wiping his hands over his mouth.  Castiel had taken a shot in the dark that maybe the guy had asked about the book again.  His confused expression and head tilt clearly indicated that Castiel’s response was a weird one to whatever he had said.  It would be better if they just abided by the unwritten rules of Commutership: I can see you, but I’m going to pretend like I don’t.

Castiel still felt mortified as he entered the DCO building and couldn’t even be bothered to be concerned when the elevator shuddered hard before finally beginning its ascent.  He acknowledged Muriel on his way to his office, but no one else.  He just wanted to bury himself in work and forget about the stranger.  Hopefully he would not be on his train tomorrow.  Or he would sit in a different car.  He could always sit in a different car, Castiel realized, but the first one let him out right by the station exit.  He set to work immediately and decided not to think about it anymore.

But the smile and wave the man had given him when he’d gotten off the train…Castiel tapped a pen on his chin.  It had seemed a little sarcastic, and yet it had been a little suggestive.  Did Train Guy like him?  Castiel shook himself.  It didn’t matter.  He didn’t date hearing people.  He was definitely not going to think about it anymore.

Half an hour later, Castiel was still thinking about it.  His thoughts only strayed when he felt the floor vibrate under his feet.  Confused, he walked to his office door and peeked his head out.  The fifteen people who sat at the islands of computers were various shades of red and looking very uncomfortable.  Some had their hands over their mouths and a few were clustered in a corner, having abandoned their desks.  Castiel looked over at Gabriel who had just poked his head out of his office.  He shrugged in Castiel’s direction.

Clearly some sort of fight had taken place in the front room.  Despite having his door wide open, Castiel hadn’t been aware of it at all until someone must have slammed a door hard enough to shake the floor.  He looked around the still stunned faces of his team.

-What happened?- he signed.

No one said anything.  Castiel signed it again, his hand movements harder and sharper.

“It was…” Meg began talking and Castiel couldn’t catch the name she said.

-Sign!  How many times do I have to ask you?-

Meg signed clumsily as she spoke, but Castiel could follow along.  “It was Alistair Damian.  He said that the interpreter we sent for his stepdaughter’s trial fucked up and that’s why she was found guilty.  He threatened to sue us.  And he also said that he would kill the interpreter if he ever saw her again.”

Castiel swallowed.  He’d met Alistair Damian a couple of times, and every time he felt physically uncomfortable and unsafe around him.  He could only imagine what the man would be like in a rage and realized that his staff wasn’t so much upset as terrified.  Gabriel moved to stand near him, but at enough of an angle that he could still see his hands.

“Who was the interpreter assigned to her case?” Gabriel asked Meg.

“Claire Novak.”

-Claire?!- Castiel signed her name sign: braid, but with a C instead of an R.  –Why was she assigned to the case of a drug dealer?-

“Ruby Damian is only eighteen.  We thought they could relate.  And it’s just interpreting.  She doesn’t make any decisions or play a part in the court proceedings.  It’s no different than being a stenographer.”

-Where is she now?- Castiel demanded.

Meg looked behind her at the others, silently asking them for help.

-I think she’s in class. - Ambriel signed.

-Someone get me her contact info.  And call the police.  We need to report the threat.-

Castiel started to head back toward his office and nodded his head at Gabriel for him to follow.  Today was going to be a nightmare.

 ~~~

Dean stepped onto the train determined to find out today if Hot Asshole was actually Hot Awkward But Actually Nice Guy.  He was tempted to glance over at the corner as soon as he boarded, but he managed to get himself situated in his usual spot first.  He didn’t want to appear too eager.  The guy was there, but he was concentrating very hard on his phone with a frown and deeply furrowed brow.  His finger slid quickly and precisely over the screen.  He must be texting.

Dean waited for nearly twenty minutes for the guy to get off his phone, but he seemed thoroughly preoccupied with whatever was putting him in such a bad mood.  Finally, Dean cleared his throat.  The man didn’t respond.  Dean tried again.  Nothing.

“Is everything okay?” Dean asked loudly.

“Just fine.  How about you?”

Dean started when the conductor responded; he hadn’t seen the man come in.  He nodded politely and displayed his monthly pass.  The conductor glanced at the ticket hanging from the lanyard around Hot Asshole’s neck, and then moved on to the next car.  Hot Asshole glanced up to watch him go and then looked at Dean.  He returned his attention to his phone, but did a double take back at Dean.  He stared at him helplessly for a moment.

“Is everything okay?” Dean asked, and then looked down at the man’s phone.

His eyes followed Dean’s, and then he looked back up.  He shrugged.

“Work?” Dean asked.

The man half-shrugged, half-nodded.  Dean nodded in return.

“Yeah.  Been there.  Well, not my current job.  It’s not like things can go horribly wrong in the mail room.  We’re not even responsible for real mail; just internal stuff, so no drama from missed deadlines or whatever.  I used to work on cars though, and sometimes when one thing went wrong, everything went wrong.  Still liked it though.  But everybody’s cars now have computers and shit in them.  I worked for my uncle part time and he mostly took in junkers, so I never learned how to work on the new models.  When I went looking for full time work no one wanted to pay someone full salary when they still had to train the guy up like he’s a newb.  Plus I needed benefits, so…”

Dean stopped rambling.  He wasn’t really appalled by how much he’d shared, but he felt incredibly uncomfortable with the look the man was giving him.  He was concentrating on him very hard and looked like he was severely constipated.

“Where did I lose you?” Dean asked.  “Mechanic?  Too blue collar for you?”

The guy blinked and sat back and checked his collar.  Dean raised an eyebrow.  The hell?  The guy stopped fiddling with his collar and looked annoyed.  He turned his attention back to his phone and Dean didn’t try to engage him again.  Clearly he didn’t want to be bothered.  He supposed Hot Asshole really was just an asshole.  That didn’t mean there couldn’t be a really hot one night stand in their future.  Dean was about ninety percent sure the guy was into dudes—mostly due to a feeling he had and no actual evidence—but was he open to a hand job in the train’s cubicle bathroom?  They could do it every morning as an alternative to coffee.

Dean laughed out loud and rubbed his hand over his forehead, kind of embarrassed by his own thoughts.  Maybe he should start bringing a book to read on the train because his imagination clearly needed something to keep it occupied.  He dropped his hand and looked over at the man.  He was staring at him.  Dean stared back, not intimidated.  The match went on and on, neither conceding nor, Dean thought, feeling self-conscious.  The guy’s phone began to chime repeatedly, but he ignored it.  Eventually Dean glanced down at the phone and back up.

“Weren’t you doing something important?” he asked.

The man looked down at the phone and his fierce scowl returned.  His fingers zipped over the screen in another bout of rapid texting.  Dean sighed.  Maybe he shouldn’t have reminded the guy of his phone.  He was so absorbed he almost missed his stop and had to run off in such a hurry Dean didn’t get a chance to wave goodbye to him.  He wasn’t quite sure why he was so obsessed with the guy.  Maybe it was because he’d shown some interest, but was also incredibly good at ignoring Dean.  Not everyone necessarily liked or desired him, but nobody could ignore him.  He’d learned that an early age.  He didn’t blend into a crowd simply because he was too good looking.  In some people that kind of thinking might be gross narcissism, but more than one person had actually said that to his face.  He was just repeating facts.

The train moved on, bringing him closer to another day in the mailroom of Adler Advertising.  He groaned softly and slumped in his seat.  If he really was that attractive, why wasn’t he doing the earn money for Sam’s college as a stripper thing again?  Surely being covered in glitter and trussed up in a G-string on a pole had more dignity than being bossed around by a twenty-two year old on the proper way to organize his push cart.  Dean sighed dramatically again.  Why didn’t Hot Asshole like him?  He supposed having a mystery to solve would give him something to look forward to in the mornings.

 ~~~

Castiel didn’t have time to be distracted by Train Guy today.  Claire had been found safe and sound the day before and Alistair had been reported to the police, but there wasn’t much they could do about it.  They couldn’t really charge Alistair with anything as his threat had been much vaguer than his staff had led him to believe.  Neither could the police put Claire under permanent watch.  Castiel had requested to meet with Alistair in person in order to discuss the matter.  Everyone at the office thought he was crazy to try, but Castiel found that almost any problem could be resolved if people sat down and talked it out rather than continuing to labor under misunderstandings and misinformation.

Alistair was…decent-ish at ASL as he needed it to communicate with his stepdaughter, but Castiel was going to bring Hannah along just in case.  She was hearing and better at sign language than some deaf people he knew.  She was also less likely to lose her temper and cause trouble than Meg. They were meeting at a coffee shop near the DCO offices and he was running late.  He would have been on time if he’d taken an earlier train.  Now why hadn’t he tried harder to take the earlier train?  He ignored the snarky inner monologue and weaved expertly along the crowded sidewalks until he reached his destination, Cups and Crullers.  He wasn’t certain, but he thought the name was meant to be a play on “cops and robbers” as the proprietors were a couple of retired police detectives.  He also wasn’t certain on the status of the relationship between the two ladies, but he was fairly certain they were romantically involved.

Inside the shop smelled like coffee and warm sugar.  If he were given a magical wand that could make him hearing but he had to give up his sense of smell—he’d give the wand back.  In fact, he didn’t think he’d trade hearing for any other sense.  Of course he had no idea what hearing was like, so perhaps saying that he didn’t care about something he’d never had didn’t mean much.  He should ask Gabriel if he would trade another sense to have his hearing back.

Castiel bypassed the counter as he saw Hannah, Alistair, and a young woman already seated at a table.  He hurried over to them and signed his apologies for his tardiness.  Hannah started to interpret for Alistair, but he snappishly cut off her by signing that he understood.  The young woman was introduced as Ruby, the one at the center of the ruckus.  He was a little surprised to see her in person until it was explained that even though she’d been convicted on the drug charges, she’d only been given probation and community service.  Alistair sat in stony silence while Ruby explained that her stepfather had made his tirade before the actual sentencing, so he’d assumed she would be going to jail.  Castiel was tempted to point out that even if she had received jail time, his actions were still inappropriate.

-Claire was great,- Ruby signed.  –I appreciate everything she did for me during the trial.  She, of course, was in no way responsible for the outcome of the trial.  I trusted her to interpret for me.  You’re lucky to have her as an employee.  And my stepfather has something to say.-

Ruby looked at her stepfather and then gave him a warning look with her expression.  The man rolled his eyes, but made a rough approximation of “sorry” in ASL.  Ruby looked up, but didn’t quite roll her eyes.  She turned back to Castiel with a decent effort at a smile.

-Please let Claire know that she is perfectly safe.  It was just a misunderstanding and a bad temper.-

Alistair glanced at her hands and then started talking.  His lips didn’t move much when he spoke and Castiel had been told by others that the man sounded really weird, so it was no surprise that Castiel couldn’t read his lips.  From his posture and the fact that people at other tables were trying to discreetly glance their way, Castiel gathered that he was either saying something inappropriate or had raised his voice.  He glanced at Hannah.  She quickly signed that Alistair was berating his stepdaughter for saying he had a bad temper.  Ruby was completely deaf and unless she had learned to recognize the micro movements of her stepfather’s mouth, she probably had no idea what he was saying either.  Castiel felt bad for the young woman.

Finally the irate man turned to Hannah and she signed quickly, trying to keep Castiel in the loop of what was being said.

“Are we done here?  Your girl is fine.  There’s no need for the police.  This has been a huge waste of my time.  It was a waste of the police’s time.  Obviously there was never a real threat.  Stow your theatrics.  Ruby, let’s go.  You’re going to be late for your community service.”

With that Alistair stood and stalked toward the door.  Ruby quickly apologized again and signed thank you.  She picked up her coffee and her half-eaten bagel and then hurried after her stepfather.  Castiel sighed and shook his head.

-I feel sorry for her,- he signed.

Hannah nodded in agreement.

Castiel chuckled and for some reason signed, -I can’t believe I blew off Train Guy for this.-

He reached down to pick up his bag, and looked at Hannah when she tapped his arm for his attention.

“Who’s Train Guy?” she spoke as she signed.

Castiel shook his head, totally pulling off nonchalant.  –No one.-

Hannah’s smile turned knowing and she held onto his arm to keep him from trying to stand up.

-Who’s Train Guy?-  She stopped speaking out loud.  She gave him a raised eyebrow and an expectant look.

Castiel made a face, but capitulated without a fight.  –Cute guy who rides the same train as me.  No big deal.  I don’t even know his name.  He’s just aesthetically pleasing.-

-Yeah?  And?-

-And what?-

-Are you going to talk to him?-

‘No.  He’s just nice to look at.-

Hannah made an exasperated face.  –He could be nice to talk to too.  He could be nice to date.-

Castiel looked away and pretended to be busy with his bag.  Finally he glanced at her and signed, -He’s hearing.-

Hannah threw her hands up.  Literally.  Then she tapped him roughly to make him look at her.

-So what?  Castiel, you have to get over this prejudice you have against hearing people.-

-I do not have a prejudice against hearing people.  I have a dating preference, which is completely legitimate.-

Hannah waffled a hand in the air.  –Not really.  And Castiel, come on.  Ninety-five percent of the population of the entire planet is hearing.  Do you know how much that limits your dating pool if you only date deaf people?  And on top of that you have to find a gay deaf person?  I don’t know what percentage of the world is gay—

-It’s never been reliably quantified.-

-Whatever.  It’s less than straight men.  Now take the percentage of gay, deaf men who live within fifty miles of you—and tell me again why you’re single halfway through your thirties?-

-I’m 31!- he signed indignantly.  -There’s nothing wrong with being single in your thirties.  Not everyone defines their life by the ideal of having a partner to share it with.-

-Very true, but you do.  You want to get married.  You want a family.  It’s in you.  It may not be in everybody, but it’s in you.  And you’ll never get it if you don’t open yourself up to possibilities like Train Guy.-

-Train Guy could be a douche hole!-

-And he could be perfect.  But I guess we’ll never know.-

She gave him a melodramatically heaved sigh and stood up.  Castiel grumbled internally and collected his bag.  He told Hannah to head on to the office without him because he was going to buy a latte.  She looked like she wanted to lecture him a little more, but left without argument.  As Castiel stood in line, he wondered if it would really be awful if he tried to communicate with Train Guy.  It wasn’t like he had to date him just because he talked to him.  There was nothing wrong with talking to hearing people.  Usually.  He did find most of them to be jackasses in some way, but maybe Train Guy would surprise him.

 ~~~

Two weeks later and Hot Asshole no longer even bothered to get his book out of his satchel.  He just sat in his corner with his arms and legs crossed and stared at Dean with amusement.  Dean threw everything he could at the guy: humor, empathy, vulgarity, politics (a bit redundant), television, movies, music, sports, childhood stories, complaining about work, complaining about the train, complaining about the heat, flirting, bro-talk—he even resorted to cat videos on YouTube.  For almost the entirety of the fifty minutes they shared time and space on their morning commute, Hot Asshole wouldn’t respond with a single word.  All he did was stare at him; sometimes he squinted a bit and seemed to be concentrating really hard—and if Dean wasn’t crazy he was zeroing in on his lips—but he never replied with a story of his own or a comment on Dean’s.  He never he even told him shut up although he could tell he annoyed the other commuters who got on the train later.  Often times they moved farther into the car, leaving the two of them alone.

It was frustrating, and yet Dean actually started looking forward to commuting in the morning.  He’d never been able to talk to someone so freely before.  He prided himself on having a “don’t give a shit what people think” attitude, but his psyche just didn’t back that up.  He was pretty sure he overanalyzed every action and comment other people made—just like everybody else.  He was just better at hiding it than most people.

Hot Asshole, however, seemed to legitimately not give or shit—or even two—about what the world around him was doing or thinking.  It was kind of impressive—and impressive, dark hair, bright-eyed, handsome men were now becoming a kink for him.  When his mind started to wander while he was at work, it often drifted into dirty fantasies revolving centrally around Hot Asshole.  And because that sentence made him giggle when he thought about it, he considered renaming Hot Asshole something like Hot Commute Guy or Steve.  Unfortunately, Dean couldn’t make a new name stick.  After all, Hot Asshole was how he ‘met’ him.  He wondered if he ever learned the guy’s real name if he’d be able to make the switch.  Probably not.

“So,” Dean said, looking Hot Asshole straight in the eye.  “Do you really have nothing to say, or am I just so hot that your brain can’t function around me?”

The man stared blankly for a moment, and then his lips quirked up.  He was laughing.  Not out loud, no, but Dean could tell he was laughing on the inside.  He could see it in his eyes.  Dean smiled at him, pleased that he’d amused the man in some way.  It felt like a strange victory.

“You know you can tell me to stop talking and I will.”

The man shook his head, still sort of smiling.

“No…you don’t want me to stop talking, or no you don’t think I will stop talking?”

Hot Asshole full on smiled.  Geez, he was adorable.  The man nodded.

“It wasn’t a yes or no question.”

The man shrugged one shoulder as the train began to decelerate as it approached the next stop.  The man hooked the strap of his satchel over his shoulder and prepared to detrain.  Dean sighed and slumped into his seat.  He thought he’d finally been getting somewhere.  Even if the man thought he was on par with a trained seal performing amusing tricks, at least he was acknowledging that he found him entertaining now.  Truthfully Dean should be insulted, but he wasn’t so there was no sense being upset over the fact that he wasn’t.

A couple of people trickled into the front of the car to line up behind Hot Asshole at the door.  The train came to a stop and the doors slid open.  Hot Asshole glanced over his shoulder at Dean.  He gave him a little smile before he stepped down onto the platform and out of sight.

That smile was floating in front of Dean’s vision like he’d stared at the sun too long.  Why was he continuing to play this game?  He should just go talk to him properly and introduce himself.  He sat up straight and fingered his bag as he contemplated dashing off the train.  The warning bell sounded indicated the doors were about to close.  Well, maybe he could try on Monday…

 ~~~

Castiel grinned as he walked down the platform.  Train Guy was so amusing.  It was like watching a small child present his macaroni art for placement on the coveted refrigerator door.  Castiel felt a little bad for just staring at the guy while he rambled for nearly an hour every day, but quite frankly the guy seemed to enjoy it.  Hell, maybe he thought he was getting free therapy or something.

Two weeks ago Castiel had intended to speak to the man, or at least convey why he hadn’t responded to him before.  However, from the moment he’d sat down, Train Guy had started talking and talking and talking.  He’d gesticulated with his hands so often that Castiel thought if he raised his own hands to try to sign anything to him he’d think he was just making hand movements.  He’d typed out “I’m deaf, you nitwit” on his phone, but then decided that was too harsh.  He’d switched between watching the man and trying to find another way to phrase his message: I’m deaf, dummy; I can’t hear you, genius; you’re not the most observant person on the planet, are you, pal?  But he really didn’t want to be a jerk to Train Guy.  He had a nice smile and seemed friendly; Castiel could play nice.  He’d just decided to simply show him “I’m deaf” when he finally caught some words from the shape of his mouth.  The man had said, “You should know; you’re really hot.”

Castiel wasn’t actually one hundred percent certain that was what he had said, but he was fairly confident that he was starting to recognize some of the shapes his lips made.  Also, if the guy thought he was hot, then he was interested in Castiel.  If he was interested in Castiel, shouldn’t he have realized there was something just a little bit off about their interactions?

Castiel had decided to conduct an experiment.  From that day on he would pay attention to the man, try to understand what he was saying, and just wait to see if the guy could figure out on his own that Castiel was deaf.  After a week, Castiel just wondered if the guy would ever notice there was something unusual in general.  So far…nothing.  He probably should stop teasing the guy, but he was fun…and funny.

Castiel had definitely learned the shape of his mouth and the way his lips formed words.  Granted sometimes he got lost staring at them and wasn’t thinking about the words coming out of them, but without his hands constantly in the way he wasn’t the worst case scenario for lip reading.  He wasn’t the best either as he seemed to switch between mumbling and over-enunciating quite a bit, but Castiel knew for a fact that the man had a brother named Sam and an uncle named Bobby.  And something he referred to as Baby.  For a while it had been terribly confusing when he talked about “Bobby” and “Baby” as the things he did with one seemed wrong for the other, but once he started catching the word “uncle” in front of Bobby, it was easier to see the difference between the two.  Of course, Castiel still had no idea if Baby was a living person or not.  He hoped Baby was inanimate otherwise he didn’t have a shot in hell with Train Guy.

Castiel gasped in surprise when something latched onto his shoulder.  He was usually not so startled by people who came up behind him because he’d trained himself over the years to detect vibrations in the floor, changes in the air, and even the tingly feeling of someone invading his personal bubble.  Outdoors it became much more difficult to recognize these things, especially when his mind was preoccupied with beautiful, albeit perhaps a bit dimwitted, strangers.

His heart gave a concerning lurch as he was pulled to a full stop, and it only jumped again in surprise when he saw who had stopped him.  Train Guy was in front of him, talking rapidly.  Castiel’s thoughts were predominantly taken up by why Train Guy wasn’t on the train, so he wasn’t even attempting to try to understand what he was saying.  When he finally focused on his lips, he found that the man was talking much too fast and probably muttering too much for him to have a chance at even catching one or two words.  Train Guy seemed very earnest and his cheeks didn’t look like they were pink from the heat.  The traitorous part of Castiel’s brain—the one that also operated his dick—was whispering that Train Guy was trying to ask him out.  Castiel couldn’t decide if he wanted that to be true or not.  Regardless, he had to explain to Train Guy immediately that he couldn’t understand him.

Castiel raised both hands in a stop gesture.  Train Guy’s eyes widened for a moment, and then before Castiel could begin to sign, Train Guy grabbed both his hands.  He pulled them down and held them tightly as he quickly began speaking again.  Castiel tugged his hands down, but Train Guy held on and just moved his hands down too.  A sudden rage caused Castiel to flush hotly.  Worse, a childish impulse to cry suddenly clogged his throat and eyes.  It had been a very long time since he’d felt this helpless due to his deafness.  Train Guy just kept babbling and Castiel couldn’t say anything to make him stop.  Kneeing him in the balls seemed a little extreme—but he was so fucking angry he actually slid his foot back to give him the balance he would need to go through with such an attack.  He really only had one recourse left open to him, and he hated Train Guy for forcing him into it.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

“Stop.”

Castiel could feel the word leave his mouth.  He had no idea if he’d pronounced it correctly or not, but it seemed to have gotten Train Guy’s attention.

“Stop,” he repeated, not brave enough to try “let go.”

Train Guy just stared at him—and from the look on his face he had finally figured out that there was something weird about Castiel.  Because he couldn’t pronounce one damn word correctly to save his life.  This time when he tugged on his hands, Train Guy let him go.

-I can’t understand you,- Castiel signed angrily.  –I can’t hear you.  I can’t read your lips.  I’m deaf.-  Castiel was horrified when he realized he was about to apologize.  Not that Train Guy would know if he had.  Although the man did have the good grace to look mortified.  Then again, he could have just been embarrassed to be seen with the “handicapped weirdo.”

-Please leave me alone.-

Castiel adjusted the strap on his shoulder and moved around Train Guy.  He hurried on toward work, but then found himself passing by the door.  He pulled out his phone and texted Gabriel and Muriel that he wouldn’t be coming in.  He choked back his tears, angry and humiliated that Train Guy had made him this upset.  Why was he this upset?  It wasn’t the first time a hearing person had been so clueless and callous around him.  Hell, some people did it maliciously on purpose; Train Guy seemed to just be genuinely ignorant of the situation.  So why was this bothering him so much that he couldn’t face anybody at work?

Because he’d let himself get his hopes up.  He couldn’t even blame it on Hannah, it had been him.  He’d wanted so badly for Train Guy to be different that he’d allowed himself to believe the fantasy could be a reality.  But of course it wasn’t.  Train Guy wasn’t any different from any other hearing person.  Relationships between hearing and deaf just didn’t work out well.  Most hearing/deaf couples he knew over the years did eventually split up.  Eileen and her wife Charlie were the only exception he knew of, and that was probably because Charlie preferred to communicate with people more though electronics than in person anyway.

Castiel found his way to Cups and Crullers and barely noticed the concerned smile Donna gave him as she made him a caramel apple cider.  He was so pathetic he couldn’t even drink coffee; he had to drink a nostalgic sugar bomb.  He sat in a corner of the shop and nursed his drink, wishing it was dark and rainy rather than bright and sunny.  The cheery weather was killing his brood.

Well, it was decided: he could never see Train Guy again.  He was going to have to start sitting in a different car.  Or better yet, take an earlier or later train.  Castiel scowled at the foamy top of his cider.  Why did he have to leave?  He didn’t do anything wrong.  He wasn’t the asshole in this scenario.  He should show up on time and sit in the exact same place Monday morning and make Train Guy feel uncomfortable.  Hell, maybe Train Guy wouldn’t have the balls to ever show his face again.  Castiel tried not to feel disappointed as he realized that was the most likely outcome.  Whatever, he’d spent the majority of his life being disappointed by humanity.  He’d get over it like he always did.

 ~~~

Dean’s Friday was one long uncomfortable feeling of a snake squirming in his guts.  He felt so embarrassed and so supremely disgusted with himself.  When he’d first heard the man speak—finally heard him speak—he’d thought the strange pronunciation of the word stop was because he was a foreigner.  He’d thought that that guy hadn’t been responding all along because he didn’t speak English, which would have been funny.  Then the guy had pulled his hands away and started to sign.  Dean didn’t know sign language, but he knew what it looked like.  He also now knew that emotion could be expressed very easily through sign language as the guy had been positively livid.  Dean didn’t blame him.  What he’d done had been the equivalent of holding his hand over someone’s mouth to keep them from speaking.  It was rude and invasive as hell.

Dean couldn’t believe he’d been trying to engage this guy for three weeks and he’d never picked up on a single clue that he was deaf.  In hindsight, it was obvious.  If the guy wasn’t looking at him, he didn’t acknowledge that Dean was speaking.  He hadn’t reacted the day the train had taken a turn with such a sharp squealing of metal wheels on metal rails that everyone else let out soft grunts of pain.  Whenever he had “listened” to Dean talk, he’d always been concentrating very hard and staring at his lips.  All the clues had been there, Dean had just been too focused on the possibility of sleeping with the guy to notice.  Dean tried to console himself with the thought that the guy could have told him he was deaf, but that only abated his guilt a little bit.  It turned out that he was Hot Asshole.

He zombied his way through work and blew off invites from Benny and Victor to hang out on Saturday.  He turned down an offer from Annie to Netflix and chill while her roommate was out of town.  He even rushed his weekly phone call with Sam because he didn’t want to admit what had happened to his little brother.  He knew that if he talked to him too much, it would all come spilling out.  Dean was actually a little glad that his moral compass had decided to go to school a thousand miles away.

Of course since he didn’t go out and let anyone distract him, all he did was replay what had happened over and over again in his mind.  It got worse each time.  Or maybe he was just remembering more accurately how horrific it had been.  He knew he could never look the guy in the face again.  He’d have to start sitting in a more crowded car, or better yet, take an earlier or later train.  That would solve everything.  They just needed to never see each other again.

Sunday night found Dean tossing and turning in bed.  He’d set his alarm for an hour earlier so that he could be on a different train and avoid the guy altogether.  His brain wouldn’t let him sleep though.  He just kept thinking about it and thinking about it and coming up with various circumstances that would allow him to apologize before disappearing for good.  Each time the apology ended in success, he wound up convincing himself that it would never go like that and would spiral into one of the nightmare scenarios.

The time crept into tomorrow, and then whittled away at the morning hours.  Still, Dean couldn’t sleep except for a few fitful snatches here and there.  He watched his clock turn to five o’clock and had a hand out to silence the alarm before it even sounded for more than a second.  He sat up and rubbed his eyes.  He should call in sick.

Rather than head for the shower, he shuffled out of his room and into the dining room where he had a desk shoved into the corner.  He powered up his laptop, opened a Word document, and began typing.  By the time he had finished proofing it and editing it multiple times over, he didn’t have enough time to catch the six o’clock train.  He was going to have to take his usual train, but that was okay.  He would deliver his note to the man, and then start taking the earlier train.  Dean tucked the letter into his bag so he wouldn’t forget it, and then headed for the shower.

 ~~~

As the train guttered to a stop at the second stop on its schedule, Castiel fidgeted nervously.  He forced himself to stop.  He started fidgeting again.  He was about to face Train Guy again.  He wasn’t ready.  All weekend he’d debated what to do.  Should he take his regular train?  Should he ignore Train Guy?  Glare at him?  Give him the benefit of the doubt and a chance to apologize?  What if he didn’t show up at all?  It would be the best and worst scenario.  The worst because Castiel knew he would take it as a rejection of his deafness even if the real reason was just embarrassment.  The best because then Castiel could stop thinking about him and move on with his life.  Three times he’d logged into deafsinglesmeet.com and three times he’d logged out without even looking.  This whole incident had shaken him up more than he thought was reasonable.  He just wanted life to go back to the way it was.  Why had Train Guy started taking the train anyway?  Clearly as much as he loved cars, he wasn’t really a Train Guy.

The doors on the car opened and Castiel straightened in his seat.  He reached for his bag and hesitated before he pulled his book out.  Should he pretend to be busy and uninterested?  Should he track Train Guy with a challenging glare like an alpha wolf?  Should he appear nonchalant but approachable?

It turned out to be a moot point.  Train Guy was spineless and didn’t show up.  Castiel didn’t fight the disappointment or the longing to see the guy one more time.  He knew that if he allowed himself to wallow a bit on the train ride that it’d be easier to shake off.  Then he could move on with life like he wanted to do.  He wondered why people tried so hard to repress their feelings or pretend like they weren’t feeling them.  Castiel always found that by accepting his feelings, he had more control over them—other than the other way around.

When the train pulled into his stop in the city, he was slow to tuck his book back in his satchel and stand up.  As such he was the last one in line to detrain.  The doors whooshed open and a blast wave of sticky heat hit the commuters.  Castiel made a face.  This summer weather was so gross.  It was halfway through September; when was it going to cool off?

Castiel felt someone tap him on the shoulder.  He turned and started visibly when he saw Train Guy.  Last time he hadn’t been able to appreciate his beauty up close.  Now he was kind of mesmerized by it.  He could tell that Train Guy thought his physical reaction had been him flinching away from him—he looked ashamed and embarrassed.  Maybe a little hurt.  Castiel wanted to tell him that wasn’t the case, but there was no time to pull out his phone and type up a long message.  There was nothing he could do about it—and the misunderstanding would stand.  This was exactly why hearing and deaf relationships never worked out.

Train Guy handed him a white envelope.  Castiel took it.  It was unmarked and very flat.  Train Guy said something and then scurried back farther into the car.  Castiel couldn’t take the time to watch him leave or contemplate the envelope.  He just barely managed to slip off the train before the door closed.  He tucked the envelope in his satchel, determined not to read it until he’d settled morning business at the office and had some spare time.  Even with that resolve, he found himself sitting in a corner of Cups and Crullers with a large dark roast coffee tearing open the top of the envelope.  He pulled out a single sheet of printing paper halfway covered in fairly large text.

 

Hi.

We technically don’t know each other, so let me start by introducing myself.  My name’s Dean Winchester.  I’m an Aquarius.  I like long walks on the beach, frisky women, and frolicsome men.

You’re probably thinking I should have started with an apology, but an apology from a stranger is social obligation.  Now that you know me, you know that this means something.

I am sincerely sorry for what happened last Friday.  I took away your voice, which is unconscionable.

 

Castiel stopped reading and raised his eyebrows.  He’d expected the man to apologize for not realizing he was deaf and making some ignorant comments about how hard his life must be and he was sorry he’d made it harder.  He’d never considered that Train Guy—Dean—would even recognize what he’d done by holding his hands immobile.  Castiel knew that being impressed by a person’s ability to understand something patently simple was ridiculous.  So he decided not to think about it and kept reading.

 

I swear I had no idea what I was doing at the time otherwise, of course, I never would have done it.  Not that holding your hands wasn’t nice.  But…you get what I mean.

 

Castiel could feel himself smiling.  He ruthlessly schooled his features and kept reading.

 

I would also like to apologize for pestering you for three weeks under the assumption that you were just some hot asshole who was ignoring me.  And then studying me like an experiment.

 

Castiel bit his lip to prevent his smile from getting too wide.  So Dean had realized he’d been Castiel’s little morning commute experiment.  He’d still participated.  Also, he now had confirmation that Dean thought he was hot.  Not that that should factor into anything.

 

I understand if you don’t want anything more to do with me, and I will respect that.  I can keep to myself or sit elsewhere on the train if that would be preferable for you.  However, I would like if we could hit the reset button and meet for the first time tomorrow on the train.  I’ll leave it up to you.  I hope to talk to you tomorrow and learn your real name.  Hot Asshole doesn’t really seem appropriate anymore.

                                                                                                                Dean

 

Castiel reread the letter two more times.  He was still smiling.  This was dangerous.  He should ignore Dean tomorrow and let the whole disaster just fade to an uncomfortable, somewhat humorous memory.  But wouldn’t that be rude?  Dean seemed to be nice and sincere in his apology.  He even seemed to understand what he was apologizing for rather than just feeling pity for Castiel and his “condition.”  It really would be petty to shun a man for making one innocent mistake.  He was going to give Dean a chance because he was a good person.  Not because he thought the guy on the train was cute, but because he was always interested in community outreach in order to further the visibility and understanding of deaf people.

Yep.

 ~~~

Dean spent all day at work distracted by thoughts of what Hot Not Asshole was doing—or not doing—with his letter.  Did he read it?  Trash it?  Was he offended by it?  Disgusted?  Annoyed?  Impressed…?  As much as Dean would have liked to pretend that he was only worrying about making a good impression, he did have a daydream or two that involved him getting on the train tomorrow and Hot Not Asshole throwing himself in his arms and demanding that Dean do some seriously kinky shit to him.

After getting yet another look and huffy sigh from his coworker as he redistributed the mail Dean had misplaced again, he decided to let Brent do all the sorting if he was so gung-ho about it being right.  He went into the mail room office and sat down at the old, shared computer.  Despite it being a work computer that was never locked and everyone had access to, there were quite a few questionable sites in the search history.  Dean was smart enough not to search for porn at work, but there were definitely some Food Network recipe pages in there.  More than likely no one would suspect him of those anyway, so he never felt the need to clear the history after he’d spent an hour goofing off.

Dean opened a web browser and Googled sign language.  Just on the off chance Hot Not Asshole forgave him and would want to talk to him.  Before he found a page on how to learn it, he discovered that there were literally scores of different versions of sign language.  It made sense that different languages would use different signs for the same things, but he learned British Sign Language and American Sign Language were quite different despite the fact that both were technically conveying the English language.  And on top of that, within America, “dialects” had popped up in different regions.  It was as distinctive as the way a New Yorker or a Southerner would talk, or using different signs for the same thing the way pop and soda, couch and sofa were interchanged depending on where one lived while learning language.

Dean decided that the safest thing to do was focus on standard American Sign Language.  After a few clicks he managed to find a site that allowed him to search for specific words and then provided a video demonstrating how to sign that word.  He had intended to only look up a few words, after all he didn’t know if the guy would even be willing to talk to him, but he did hate his job so he spent over an hour learning several pertinent signs.  Including some dirty ones because for better or worse—he was Dean Winchester.

When he got home he was still practicing the motions in his head, occasionally twitching his hands and arms which no doubt explained some of the odd looks he’d received on the train on his evening commute.  Dean only managed to drop off his keys and bag before his stomach rumbled demandingly.  He opened his pantry and saw that he didn’t have much in the way of…food.  The refrigerator was similarly bare.  He’d been so obsessed about the whole deaf guy thing over the weekend that he’d forgotten to go to the grocery store.  He shrugged it off and decided to order to take out.  On his way to the couch he remembered that his cell phone was in bag, which was by the front door.  Way too far away to be worth the effort.  He picked up the receiver for his landline—which he only had so that he could buzz people in the front door of his building—and was surprised to find that he had a message on the built in answering machine.

He fell heavily onto the couch and frowned at the blinking light on the machine.  Should he order dinner first?  It was probably a hang up anyway; he better just play it and delete it so that the flashing light wouldn’t bother him.  It took him longer than he thought it would to figure out how to get the machine to play from the handheld receiver, but eventually Sam’s panicky voice filled his living room.

“Dean.  It was fine at first, right?  Like one test here, some homework there.  Whatever.  But like, now there are midterms.  I have five major tests all in the same week!  Why did I ignore your advice to take it easy the first semester?  Five tests!  Same week!  And two of them are half my grade and one is a third!  Half my grade!  If I fail…the best I can get is maybe a C in the course.  I’m—I just…this is a bad idea.  We can’t afford it and clearly I can’t handle it.  I should quit and come home, right?  I have to go.”

The machined beeped.  Dean didn’t feel concern or sympathy.  This was marching band all over again.  Dean scrolled through his directory on the landline, which literally had three numbers in it, and called Sam.  He picked up right away.

“Dean.  I’ve been looking into if we can get a refund on the tuition for this semester and—”

“Well, hello to you too, Sam.”

“What?  Oh.  Hi.  Look.  I think we can—”

“Sam.  Why did you call the landline?”

“What are you talking about?  We need to—”

“Why didn’t you call me on my cell phone?”

“Because I knew you were working and I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Right.  Bother me because I’m working to help you pay for school.”

“Exactly!  So if I quit—”

“If you quit I will kick your ass so hard it will fly off your skinny Sasquatch body and land on Bobby’s doorstep so that he doesn’t have to leave the comforts of his own home to give you an ass-kicking too.”

There was silence on the other end.

“Now.  What’s scarier?  Me and Uncle Bobby kicking your ass?  Or these tests?”

“You know, now that I think about it…I do have time to study and I understand most of the material already.”

“Mm-hm.”

Dean heard a soft laugh colored with relief come from his brother.  “You’re right.  I was just panicking.  I’m okay.  I can do this.”

Dean toed his shoes off and then hooked one ankle on the back of the couch.  “’Course you can do it.  You’re smart.  A little disorganized which is probably why you initially get overwhelmed by things.  But Sammy—”

“Oh, no.”  Dean could hear the eye roll.  “Here comes the ‘Sammy.’  What?”

Dean scowled.  “I was just going to say that if you really don’t think college is right for you, you don’t have to stay because we had to do so much to get you there.  Mistakes only become a problem if you don’t try to fix ‘em."

“I know.  But it’s not a mistake.  I want to be here.  And I know I can do it.  I just…got overwhelmed for a minute.”

“Hey, it happens to all of us.  Just yesterday, I had an envelope that was supposed to be delivered to 325, but it was put in mail slot 352…the whole office nearly came to a standstill.”

Sam chuckled.  “I hope it all got sorted out in the end.”

He laughed and snorted at his own joke.  Dean made a face.

“I don’t know how we’re related.”

“Oh, like you’re a comic genius,” Sam scoffed.

“Thank you, Sammy.  I appreciate that.”

“Screw off, loser.”

“Screw off?  Is that the kind of salty language you’re picking up in the big city?  I don’t know, maybe you should quit and come home after all.”

Sam laughed.  “Okay, apparently the pep talk portion of the conversation is over and now all we’re left with is insults.”

“It’s the easiest way to express my love, Sammy.”

“I know, Dean.  I’m gonna go grab some food and power through some studying.  And thank you.  I really appreciate everything you do for me.”

“Whatever.”

Dean hung up on his little brother.  He was hungry and didn’t have time for mushy BS.  He managed to locate the Chinese place that also delivered Mexican food in the redial list.  As the phone rang in his ear, Dean was consumed with thoughts of what would happen on tomorrow’s commute.  It would be easiest if they both just smiled and nodded awkwardly at each other and then never saw each other again.  Easiest, perhaps, but when was the easy way ever the fun way?

 ~~~

Castiel fidgeted nervously on the train.  He didn’t even try to pretend to read.  He was excited to meet Dean.  He really shouldn’t be.  He had a ton of work to do for the annual Most Awkward Conversations Ever Gala coming up in a couple of months.  He hated the name for the fundraiser, but in its second year over ten years ago, someone had made the joke and not only had the name and acronym stuck, but it had become official.  Castiel thought it was a little insensitive to refer to a joint event between the Deaf and Blind communities with such a negative connotation, but it made seeing and hearing people laugh.  And when people laughed they were happy and when they were happy they were much more willing to write checks.

At the moment the event planning, the stupid name—all of it was a flickering shadow in the back of his mind.  He was eager to finally interact with Dean in a meaningful way.  A friendly meaningful way.  Not a romantic one.  He was still very clear on that.  Every time his traitorous brain tried to make his stomach flip-flop on him, he just remembered the humiliation he’d felt last Friday and his giddiness went away.  Deaf people and hearing people just couldn’t date.

The train began to slow down as it approached the second stop of the morning.  Castiel shifted and then in a fit of insane vanity he pulled out his phone and used the camera to check his hair.  He put his phone up just the doors opened.  The heat wave had broken last night and he couldn’t feel the difference in temperature today.  A man stepped onto the train.  Castiel’s mouth moved—like he was going to speak?  He sat back in confusion.  It didn’t matter.  It wasn’t Dean.  The next person to step on was Dean, however, and the small surprise made Castiel’s heart jolt fretfully in his chest.  He inhaled deeply, and seeing Dean startled slightly at seeing him made him feel better.  Dean felt unsure of himself as well.  Castiel managed to settle down a bit and watched Dean take his usual seat.  They maintained eye contact the whole time.  The doors closed.  Castiel attempted a small smile.  The result was magnificent.  Dean’s smile was huge and beautiful.  He slid down the bench until he was sitting directly in front of Castiel.

Dean waved and then signed, -My name is D-E-A-N.-

Castiel fought to keep his smile under control.  Dean had signed in that stiff, exaggerated way people did when they learned sign language from online tutorials.  It was cute.  Castiel used the same gestures rather than the shorthand he was used to so that Dean would recognize the signs.

-My name is C-A-S.-

He stopped there because hearing people always asked him how his full name was pronounced.  It was strange; that was the only thing that made him feel uncomfortable by being deaf.  Not being able to hear music or a beautiful voice or a funny noise didn’t register with him as being great losses or even inconveniences.  It didn’t bother him that he didn’t know what his family’s voices sounded like or what sound accompanied that thrumming purr of a cat.  However, for some reason, it did bother him that he had no idea how to pronounce his own name.

Dean’s lips formed his name.  Then he spelled out C-A-S.  Castiel nodded.  Dean said his name again and smiled.  Castiel smiled tentatively back because now Dean looked a little helpless.  He opened his mouth a few times, but didn’t say anything.  Finally his shoulders slumped dejectedly and he signed, -I like pie.-

That surprised a laugh out of Castiel.  He immediately pulled it back, but Dean brightened by seeing his reaction.

-I see that your signing is quite limited,- Castiel signed quickly.  Then he held up a finger indicating for Dean to wait, and pulled out his phone.  He typed up a quick message in a notepad app and then handed the phone to Dean.  He chewed his lip nervously as he watched the man read his message.

Thank you for your apology.  I appreciated your candor and sincerity.  I’m also happy that you’re attempting to learn ASL.  If you need a tutor, I’m available.

Dean looked up with a smile.  He gave Cas a thumbs up, and then looked embarrassed by the gesture.  He typed something on Castiel’s phone and then handed it back to him.

I’m really glad you don’t think I]m the worst person the planet.  I would love to gets ome free ASL lessons. ;)

Castiel arched an eyebrow at the message and raised his eyes to look at Dean.  The man smirked confidently at him.  Castiel typed quickly.

Who said anything about free?  You can bring me coffee from Starbucks tomorrow.  Grande Americano, splash of soy milk.

Dean took the phone back and laughed.  His eyes sparkled when he laughed.  Not that Castiel was noticing.  He typed and returned the phone.

You drive hardbargain but youre cute so Ill allow it.

Castiel felt his cheeks warm but he refused to call it blushing.  He put his phone away and was vainly pleased that Dean looked disappointed at the thought that he was ending their conversation.  He used the gestures Dean was familiar with to sign, –My name is C-A-S.  Then he signed the same sentence only he replaced the hand spelling with his name sign.  Dean tilted his head in confusion, but the second time Castiel did it Dean caught on immediately.  He said Cas’ name as he used the name sign.  Castiel nodded and gave him a thumbs up.  Dean grinned and pointed to himself.  Castiel shook his head and wagged a finger.  Dean was crestfallen at the notion that he didn’t get a name sign.  Castiel chuckled softly and pointed to his watch.  He wasn’t sure if Dean really understood what he meant, but the man nodded and looked less dejected.

Then things got awkward.  Why had Castiel put his phone away?  They couldn’t communicate now.  At best Castiel could point to something and then give Dean the sign for it, but that was the worst way to teach someone any language.  Dean said something and Castiel thought he caught the word “talk.”  Of course, he was calling Castiel out for being an idiot.  At least he was smiling while he did it.  Then he waved his hands back and forth between them and signaled speaking with his hand like he was a quacking duck.

Castiel felt his heart sink.  Dean was already asking him to use his voice.  Then he would be asking him why he didn’t use his voice.  Then he’d ask him if he ever tried.  Then he’d ask him if he could try again…just for him.  It was his college boyfriend all over again.  Which was why dating Dean was not an option.  So why wouldn’t the damn thought leave his mind?

Dean was talking, his lips moving in that sensual mumble of his.  Then he used the sign for “signing.”  He encouraged Castiel again.  Castiel cocked his head.  Did Dean just want him to sign…anything?

-What do you want me to say?- Castiel signed, not sure why he was asking a question of a man who couldn’t understand him.

Dean just smiled and nodded and kept talking.  Castiel’s eyebrows lifted gently.  Was Dean really suggesting that they just talk at each other?  That they shouldn’t even care that they couldn’t understand each other as long as they were talking?  Castiel shook his head.

-You’re weird,- he signed.

Dean’s mouth stopped moving.  Then he pouted.

“I’m not weird,” he said, and Castiel could read the phrase on his lips as easily as he could text on a screen.

Castiel’s jaw dropped open.  Then he signed, -You learned the sign for weird?  Why?-

“I know weird,” Dean said making the sign with his hand.  Then he said something else and began making single signs: penis, vagina, breasts.  Then he switched to slang: dick, pussy, come, fuck.

Castiel threw his hands up in a stopping motion.  Dean put his hands out in feigned innocence.  Castiel covered his eyes, but he was grinning.  He looked back up at Dean.  The man signed pussy at him again.  Castiel gave him a stern look, and Dean relented with a smirk.  He started talking again, but Castiel wasn’t sure about what.  Then Dean rolled a hand in the air at him expectantly.

Castiel thought a moment and then signed, -You’re one of a kind.  I really don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like you before.-

Dean’s smile grew wider as he watched Castiel speak even though he couldn’t understand him.  Castiel felt such an odd sensation in his chest that he wondered if there was something physically wrong with him.  The longer they “talked” the stronger the feeling grew, but he never felt ill.

When the train pulled into his station downtown, Castiel was greatly disappointed to have his time with Dean come to an end.  He supposed he would see him tomorrow, but that seemed intolerably far away at the moment.  He shouldered his bag and smiled at Dean as people from further in the car trickled into the front to line up at the doors.  Dean used two fingers to point to his own eyes, then one to point to Castiel, and then down at the floor.  Castiel assumed he was asking him if he would see him on the train tomorrow.  Or maybe he was telling him he would.  Castiel nodded and smiled.  Dean smiled back.

Castiel stepped off the train into the balmy October air, hoping that fall was finally going to start pushing away the dregs of summer.  He walked briskly down the sidewalks that led to his office, feeling energized.  As he reached the office door he realized that he could feel his vocal cords vibrating.  Once he was aware of it, he realized he’d been doing it since he’d left the train station.  Castiel stared at the floor indicator light of the ancient elevator.  It was a long pause before the three turned off and the two lit up.

Had he been…humming?  He didn’t even know he could hum.  Well, of course he could hum, but what would he hum?  He didn’t know any tunes.  Putting aside the oddity of a deaf-from-birth man humming anything at all, didn’t only Disney princesses hum just after they met their princes?

The lighted number two put up a good fight, but at last the light fell to the one.  The doors crawled open.  Gabriel’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“Castiel!” he spoke and signed.  “Glad you’re here.  I was going to go to Cups and Crullers for a muffin.  You should come with.  The staff is discussing themes for the MACE Gala.”

Castiel made a face.  –Can we please change that name?-

Gabriel grinned and Castiel lamented the planning that couldn’t move forward until the stupid theme was picked out.  It turned the DCO offices into a warzone for a couple of weeks while everyone argued like they were on the prom planning committee in high school.  He preferred to sit that battle out; they never liked his ideas anyway.

Castiel nodded his consent to bailing on the gala theme discussion and backed up so that Gabriel could step off the elevator.  They left the building and headed for good coffee and even better pastries.  Castiel glanced at Gabriel—his lips were pursed out slightly.  He tapped his friend’s arm.  Gabriel looked at him with a smile.

“What’s up?” he said, the signing done very sloppily.

-Are you whistling?- Castiel asked.

Gabriel nodded.  “I’d ask if it bothered you but…”  Then he laughed.

-Is whistling like humming?-

“No, they sound pretty different.”

-Not the way they sound.  What they mean.  Why people do them.-

“You are a human being on the planet, right?  You don’t have to hear it to know why people sing or dance.”

-I know that.  I specifically mean whistling versus humming.  They’re different, but they don’t communicate anything like singing or dancing.-

“Well, they can in the right context.  Whistles are often used for signaling.”

Castiel shook his head.  –Never mind I’m not explaining myself well.-

Gabriel nodded thoughtfully.  “Well, maybe…”  He paused for a moment or two and then he said, “Whistling’s more like a ‘whistle while you work’ kind of thing.  Keeps you preoccupied.  People usually hum because they’re happy.”

Castiel took that in and then looked straight ahead.  How interesting.  Actually, how absolutely uninteresting and in no way applied to anything he was feeling.  He started slightly when Gabriel pulled on his arm, forcing him to stop.  He looked at him and saw Gabriel indicating the Cups and Crullers shop; he’d walked right by it.  Castiel turned and entered the store with Gabriel.  He could see the warm earth tones, smell the donuts, feel the cool interior, taste the coffee in the air.  He looked at all the patrons around him—he couldn’t tell if they were humming.  Were they happy enough to hum?  To let other people know they were happy by humming?  He couldn’t know unless he put his hand against their throats, and his social graces weren’t that bad.

They stood in line at the counter and Castiel felt his good mood crumble around the rising mound of confusion and irritation of his psyche.  He’d never put so much thought into sound before.  He’d never cared.  Now this one person was making him curious about things he’d never concerned himself with.  Worse, curious about things for which he could never have satisfaction.  Forget dating him, Castiel couldn’t be friends with Dean.  He didn’t want to change.  He was happy with the way he was.

 ~~~

Rather than sitting on the couch in front of the TV to eat his dinner, Dean sat at his dusty dining room table.  He used a paper towel to swipe some of the dust away, and then he set up his laptop just to his left and his bowl of mac n’ cheese to the right.  With his right hand free to shovel the steamy, cheesy pasta into his mouth, he used his left to awkwardly click on the bookmark that took him to the webpage with the ASL directory of signs.  He contemplated what signs would be the most useful to know: general vocabulary so that he could discuss more topics with Cas, or grammar so that when he did sign he wasn’t speaking like a two year old.  He hadn’t been sure at first whether or not sign language had grammar, but it definitely did.

He did pretty well for about fifteen minutes, but once his mac n’ cheese was gone, his concentration started to drift.  Not away from Cas, but into other ways to communicate with someone that didn’t necessitate the use of one’s vocal cords.  Touch was definitely a way of communicating with someone.  Thinking about touching Cas, of course, led to thinking about touching Cas, which led to touching himself.  He could probably go lie down and finish himself off with thoughts of Cas, but since he already had his computer on, there was no sense in not enjoying one of his favorite porn sites.  He was contemplating what search term would get him close to a video starring a hot, blue-eyed deaf guy when he was struck with a sudden thought.

Was deaf porn a thing?  It seemed like there was a fetish for everything and a video for every fetish on the Internet.  He hesitated only a moment before opening Google and typing in “deaf porn.”  Then he added “gay” just because that really was what he was in the mood for.  He clicked enter.  He huffed out a laugh as the Internet did not let him down.  He had a lot of options, though he was pretty sure some of the results were just regular gay porn.  After scrolling halfway down the results, he decided to click on a site that boasted amateur porn between two “hot deafies.”  Dean wondered if that was a slur from a hearing person or if deaf people called themselves that.  Clearly that wasn’t something he’d be able to ask Cas this early in their acquaintanceship.  Heck, for all he knew it was a specific type of deaf gay man, like a bear or a chicken hawk or something.  Then Cas would know what he’d been looking up in his spare time.

The video started to play and it was pretty typical of amateur porn: bad lighting, bad angles, not the most attractive people in the world, and less than five minutes long.  At the beginning Dean couldn’t ascertain any differences.  It was a hairy man with a bit of a beer gut pounding awkwardly into a skinny, pimply ass.  Not the hottest thing he’d ever seen.  But then the two men started to get into it.  Hairy guy found his rhythm and pimply butt must have turned into just the right angle.  They started moaning—pretty loudly.  Then they started moaning really loudly, unabashedly loudly.  Dean turned down the volume on his computer.  The bottom started yipping and the top was groaning like he’d discovered the secret to the greatest orgasm ever.

Dean watched, unable to look away even as he kept turning the volume down more and more.  He felt bad, but he was laughing.  He thought sex faces were hilarious and distracting, but listening to this he wasn’t even close to being hard.  If this was what truly unselfconscious sex noises were like, he was grateful people tried to restrain themselves.  Even when people “let themselves go” and got noisy—it was nothing like this.  People always exercised a little constraint simply because their ability to hear allowed them to adjust for the situation.  Deaf people clearly had no point of reference for what was loud and could let everything they were feeling pour out of them.  He wondered if deaf people had better sex because they didn’t have that self-conscious need to censor themselves.

Better sex or not, it was still funny and kind of embarrassing to listen to.  What would it be like for a hearing person to have sex with a deaf person?  Would it be possible to enjoy it if his ear drums were getting blown out?  Dean chuckled uncomfortably and closed the tab with the porn.  He was such a jerk, but he couldn’t help it.  He was curious.  But he should know better.  If his experience with Cassie and her hair had taught him anything, it was that he could be an ignorant jerk sometimes.  Really though, how was he ever supposed to know and learn for the future if he didn’t ask?

Amorous mood effectively killed for the moment, he returned to the ASL web site and learned a few more phrases.  He practiced them several times but found that he’d forgotten half of them by the time he got up in the morning.  He tried to watch the videos again on his phone as he waited for the train, but he seemed to have the worst cell phone service on the planet and couldn’t even get the page to load.

Knowing that he’d be unable to hold even a basic conversation via sign language, Dean decided to sit down right next to Cas so that it would be easier to pass written messages back and forth.  Even though he watched him walk toward him, Cas still seemed surprised when Dean plopped down next to him.  Dean smiled and waved.  Cas gave him a tentative waggle of fingers back.  They stared at each other until the train doors closed and the engine began to pull them forward.  The slight movement shook Dean enough that he was able to tear his eyes away from the ocean he’d just about drowned in and began to type out a message on his phone.  He showed it to Cas: What do you do?

Cas’ brow creased in a little confusion, and then he typed on his own phone and showed it to Dean: What do I do when?

Dean chuckled and typed: No, what do you do for work?

Understanding replaced the confusion on Cas’ features.  Then he smiled and dug something out of his satchel.  He handed Dean a pamphlet and tapped on the title.  It seemed to be a thin, two-fold brochure for the Deaf Community Outreach.  There was a picture of an ugly building with two people smiling brightly while they signed in front of it.  The picture was clearly staged, but it didn’t look like a stock photo.  Dean looked up at Cas.

“You work here?” he asked while pointing at the brochure.

Cas nodded.

“Can you read lips?” Dean asked.

Cas made an iffy face and tilted his head as he waffled his hand in the air.  Dean took that as a “not really.”

Dean opened the pamphlet and read through the services that the Deaf Community Outreach provided and was surprised by how far reaching it was.  It also made him realize how many things he took for granted by being able to hear.  He looked up at Cas, hoping he didn’t say something stupid and insensitive about the work he did, and found another pamphlet in his face.  Dean took it and definitely noticed how fidgety and anxious Cas looked, but pretended like he didn’t.

The second pamphlet was information on ASL classes taught at the DCO.  There was an in depth course that held classes three nights a week for six months and enabled the takers to become officially certified interpreters.  There was a class designed for hearing family members to have time to practice signing with their deaf family member.  The third class was a Saturday afternoon class designed for beginners who were simply interested in learning ASL.  Dean pointed to the class and then to himself as he looked up at Cas.

“I guess I should take this one,” Dean said.  He couldn’t tell by the man’s expression if Cas had completely understood him, but he smiled and nodded.  And then shrugged, like Dean could take it if he was interested but it was no big deal if he wasn’t.

Dean typed out on his phone: How do I sign up?

Cas then began to type on his phone, and he took such a long time that Dean was able to completely read over both of the DCO’s pamphlets.  Finally, Cas handed him his phone.

If you want, I can give your name to the coordinator and get you signed up.  You don’t have to pay the fee until the first day of class.  We only teach one of these classes in an eight week cycle, so you have to wait for the first class before you can start taking it.  This Saturday is actually the first class of a new cycle, but if that’s too soon to start, you’ll have to wait until January as we take a break from all classes over Christmas and New Year’s.  Please don’t feel pressured; that’s just the way the schedule happens to fall at the moment.  Sorry this message is so long.

Dean chuckled when he finished the message.  He gave Cas a wink as he handed his phone back to him.  He typed out a reply: Don’t apologize for long massage.  If i could sign, it wouldn’t be an issue.  I guess i really need this class.  And some priv lessons. ;)

Cas’ smile became much more confident after reading the message.  His reply was Private lessons?  I don’t see any coffee.

Dean read the message and then smacked his face with his hand.  “Crap!  I knew I forgot something.”  Next time, he typed.

Do you want me to sign you up for class starting this weekend?

Dean only hesitated to think about if he had any prior commitments he was going to have to break, but of course he didn’t, he had no life.  In that short pause, Cas typed a message and handed him the phone.

I’m teaching this upcoming cycle.

“You are?” Dean asked.

Cas nodded.

“Sign me up.”

Cas nodded again.

They smiled at each other.  Then realized they still had about thirty-five minutes together on the train.  Dean wasn’t a big texter, so he didn’t know if he could carry on a conversation that way for that long.  Maybe they could do something else besides talk though.

“You wanna make out?” Dean mumbled with a shrug and a laugh.

Cas tilted his head to the side in confusion and Dean bit his lip to prevent himself from cooing at the cuteness.  Dean Winchester was not a cooing type of man.

Cas held up his phone.  What?

“It’s nothing,” Dean said and waved his hand dismissively.

Castiel frowned a little and sat back.  He didn’t press the issue, but Dean could tell that what he’d just done must be a serious pet peeve for the guy.  It was really unfair to say something knowing the other person wouldn’t know what was said and couldn’t respond to it.  Although in Dean’s defense, he’d said it so softly he doubted a hearing person would have caught it and he would have given them the same response.

They sat awkwardly for a few moments and then Cas typed something into his phone.  He held it up for Dean to see.

Do you have a baby?

Dean burst out laughing and wasn’t deterred from laughing even when he bumped his head against the wall.  Cas gave him a bemused look, but waited for Dean to settle.  Dean grinned and leaned a little closer to Cas.

“Not a baby…” he said slowly, looking directly at the man so that he could read his lips.  “The love of my life.”

Caveman Dean was pleased by the slightly deflated look Cas got as a result of that announcement.  He opened the photo album on his phone and found a picture of the Impala gleaming brightly in the sun after getting a bath.  He showed the picture to Cas.

Cas took the phone and looked at the car.  He pointed at the picture and then mouthed, “Baby?”

Dean nodded, still grinning.  Cas rolled his eyes, but then looked at the picture a little more closely.  He shook his head and handed the phone back to Dean.

“Oh, you don’t even know the can of worms you’ve opened, Cas.  Allow me to educate you.”

Cas tilted his head again, unable to follow.  Dean cracked his knuckles and prepared to type.

 ~~~

Castiel had never learned so much about a car even when he’d been doing research to buy one.  He couldn’t believe he’d managed to stay awake and alert for the whole of it.  He wondered if the Impala was really that impressive, or if it was just its owner.  Wait, her owner.  Castiel smiled to himself and knew that he looked like a dope.  Fortunately the elevator ride even to the second floor was long enough for him to school his features.

He stepped off onto the second floor and the office was empty except for a young man named Alfie who was sitting behind the front desk.  It must be too early for visitors.  Alfie smiled and signed good morning to him.  Cas replied and asked who was teaching the Saturday beginner level ASL classes.  Castiel’s confidence faltered when Alfie told him it was Hannah.  She was going to ask questions.

-Do you know if she’s come in yet?- Castiel asked.

-She arrived just a few minutes ago.  She hasn’t gone upstairs yet.-

-Thank you.-

Castiel left the waiting room and passed by the multitude of rooms used for private meetings and consultations.  The classrooms were in the back and the lights were on only in one.  Hannah had her back to the door as she was writing on the chalkboard.  Castiel rapped lightly on the wood door, and like magic…Hannah turned around.  She smiled when she saw him and signed and vocalized at the same time.

“Good morning.”

-Good morning.-

“What brings you down here?  Hiding from the MACE Gala theme decision committee?”

Cas made a long suffering face.  –I just might.  How hard is it to decide between Winter Wonderland and The Nutcracker?  If we do one this year, we can do the other next year.-

Hannah shrugged.  “Next year there will be two better ideas.”

-Don’t start talking about next year already.  Please.-

Hannah laughed.

-I’m not here to hide though.-

“Shocking.”

-I’m here to um…offer my services.-

Hannah’s eyebrows lifted slightly.  “Your services?  What exactly is the nature of your services?”

-For the ASL classes.-

“Oh, that’s great!  I could really use you for the final exams for the interpreter class.”

-Actually…I was thinking about teaching one of the beginner level classes.  On Saturdays.-  Castiel signed that as nonchalantly as he could manage.

“The beginner level classes?  But Cas…you’re not hearing.”

-So?-

“So?  So, no one in these classes knows any sign language.  You’re an amazing lip reader, but you can’t keep up with an entire class.  Especially not people in the back of the room.  You also don’t…”  Hannah looked uncomfortable, but Castiel knew what she was about to say and he didn’t mind.  “You don’t vocalize.  You can’t teach with signing only.  It would be like a Spanish teacher who doesn’t speak English trying to teach English speakers who don’t speak Spanish.”

-I can write on the board.  And isn’t immersion supposed to be the best way to learn a language?-

“Not at a dinky Saturday class people take for fun.”

Undeterred Castiel said, -Can I help you teach this upcoming cycle?-

Hannah looked at him for a moment, and then she shrugged her shoulders and smiled.  “Sure.  Of course.  You’re the director of the DCO.  You can do what you want.”

Cas smiled.  –You make a good point.-

“And I’ll be happy to have you.  It’ll be fun.”

Castiel nodded vaguely.  Fun, right.  As long as Hannah didn’t stick her nose into why one of the students seemed to already know who he was.

-I’ve got to get upstairs,- he said.

“Okay.  I’ll up in a bit.  There’s supposed to be a vote at nine.”

Castiel shook his head and rolled his eyes.  He wanted no part of that vote.

Back in the front office, the waiting room was still empty.  Alfie appeared to be playing spider solitaire on the computer.  Castiel moved in front of him and waved his arm to get his attention.  Alfie looked up and didn’t look the least bit guilty about playing games while he was working.

-Need anything else?- he asked.

-Yes,- Castiel replied.  –I’d like to add a name to the ASL beginner level class that is starting this Saturday.  It’s the first class of a cycle, correct?-

Alfie pulled up the enrollment records on the monitor.  –It is the beginning of a new cycle, but unfortunately the class is full.-

Castiel took a scrap piece of paper and a pen from the supplies on the counter and wrote down Dean’s name.  He handed the piece of paper to Alfie.

-I think there’s room for one more,- he said.

Alfie’s eyes looked side to side before he accepted the scrap of paper.  –Okay.-

-Thank you.-

Castiel took the elevator to the third floor and had to practically run to his office to avoid the people chasing after him for his opinion on the theme for the MACE Gala.

 ~~~

Dean rarely drove the Impala into the city—poor gas mileage and tiny parking spaces being among the top reasons—but he didn’t want to trust the city bus system to get him to class on time.  The trains didn’t run on weekends at all and the subway system didn’t go anywhere near where Dean lived in the suburbs.  So, that left him with driving to the DCO, which gave him a good excuse to show Cas his baby without being weird about it.

He was a little nervous about attending the class.  He’d never done particularly well in school.  The teachers that cared told him that it was just because he wasn’t paying attention.  He was very smart; he just didn’t “apply” himself.  The teachers that didn’t care dismissed him as a lost cause.  Dean did manage to graduate, but just barely.  He was worried that he’d performed poorly not because he was uninterested but because he was, well, kind of stupid.  This class would help him figure that out.  He was definitely interested in learning ASL so that he could speak with Cas, but what if he couldn’t keep up?  What if he couldn’t remember all the different signs?  He was pretty certain Cas would lose interest in him very fast if he couldn’t pick up ASL.

Dean stood in the small foyer of the DCO building waiting on the elevator.  He tried to review in his head some of the signs Cas had taught him the last couple of days on the train.  He went through the signs three times and the elevator still hadn’t arrived.  He pushed the button for the elevator again, but it was already lit.  He checked his watch.  He had about five minutes before the class started, but he didn’t want to rush in and disrupt Cas if he was doing introductions or something.

Dean spotted the door that led to the stairwell on his left.  The classroom was only on the second floor; he felt confident that he could make it up one flight of stairs.  He walked over to the door and was about to pull the handle when a hand landed on his wrist.  He jumped and turned to find Cas standing next to him.  Cas smiled and pointed up at the top of the door.  Dean looked and saw a wire connected to the door.  It was an emergency door and would have sounded the alarm if he’d opened it.  He turned back to Cas.

“Sorry.  I didn’t see the wire.  You should really put a sign on the door.”

Cas got that little tiny furrow in his brow that he got when he was concentrating on reading Dean’s lips.  He seemed to give up on trying to process Dean’s sentence and just signed something.  Dean nodded and shrugged because he had no idea what he’d said.  Cas laughed softly and Dean smiled in response.

“Well, we should get to class because I really need to learn to sign,” Dean said, making the sign for signing.

Cas nodded and led Dean back to the elevator which had finally arrived.  They stepped onto the car and the doors closed so slowly Dean wondered when the machine had last been serviced.  There was an alarming lurch and then the elevator began to rise…slowly.  Dean looked at Cas.  He just smiled and shrugged in a “what can you do?” gesture.  Dean glanced at his watch and then gave Cas a mock reproving look.

“Cutting it a little late, huh, teach?”

Cas’ eyes narrowed slightly, which made him look like a disgruntled kitten.  Dean felt a sudden urge to grab Cas and push him up against the wall.  He wanted to kiss him so badly he could actually picture it perfectly in his mind’s eye.  He restrained himself because he and Cas were barely acquaintances let alone friends that could test the boundaries of their relationship.  Dean had already made the decision that he didn’t want Cas to be a hook up or a fling.  He wasn’t sure why, he didn’t know much about him at all, but he was determined to do this the right way.  Get to know him, develop a solid friendship, and then seduce him with hamburgers and a rendition of “Whole Lotta Love” in his underwear.

Dean chuckled to himself and Cas eyed him suspiciously.  Dean laughed again and waved a hand.  If they were going to be friends, Cas was going to have to learn that a lot of his thoughts made external appearances but he rarely clarified them for anybody.

At last the elevator managed to claw its way to the second floor.  The door opened as a metal clanging sound echoed in the shaft.  Dean stepped off it quickly; he did not trust it one bit.  The room had several people and young children waiting in clusters or sitting in comfortable looking chairs.  Everyone was signing.  Dean really hoped these weren’t the people waiting for the beginner level class.  He followed Cas out of the waiting room and toward the back.  They entered a room that had about twenty people sitting at double occupancy tables.  A slender, dark haired woman was at the front of the room writing on the chalkboard.  She had already written Hannah and was just finishing Castiel.  Dean turned to look at Cas.

“Castiel?” he asked using the sign for his name that Cas had taught him.

Cas shrugged one shoulder, looking a little embarrassed.

“Does it have a different sign?  Cas and Castiel?”

Cas shook his head, but Dean wasn’t sure if he was answering his question or not.  Cas waved for him to follow him to the front of the class and he greeted the woman, Hannah, with a flurry of signs.  Hannah turned to Dean and smiled.

“Hello.  My name is Hannah,” she said, sticking out her hand.

Dean took it and was surprised by how strong her grip was.  “Dean.”

“Welcome to class, Dean.  Let me grab you a packet.”

Hannah turned to the large desk next to the chalkboard and picked up a thick packet of papers being held together by a straining staple.  The top page declared it to be Learning American Sign Language: Levels I & II—Beginning and Intermediate, but it was skewed just a bit to one side indicating it had been photocopied from something.  Dean took the heavy booklet and wondered if his next question was offensive, but decided to ask it anyway.

“Uh, can you hear?” he asked.

Hannah smiled and nodded.  “Yes, I’m hearing.  I was born to deaf parents so I learned how to sign from an early age to communicate with them.”

Dean noticed that Hannah signed as she spoke, and it dawned on him that it was because even though she wasn’t addressing Cas, it was to keep him a part of the conversation just like a hearing person would be.

“Uh, can you sign what I’m saying so that Cas knows what I’m asking you?  I don’t want him to think I’m talking about him because I think he can’t understand.”

“Sure, of course.  Dean wants me to sign what he’s saying,” Hannah said to Cas.

Cas quirked an eyebrow at him.

“You showed me a sign you use for your name—”

“Name sign,” Hannah interrupted him.  “We call them name signs.”

“Ah, thank you.  Cas showed me his name sign, but he indicated it was only for Cas.  I guessing from the board that his full name is Castiel or Casteel?  Is there a different name sign for that?”

Cas made an “Oh, I get it now” face recalling their conversation at the door.

“No, his name sign is his name and encompasses nicknames and the like.  I believe it’s pronounced Castiel, with three syllables.”

“Ah, good to know.  Uh…can only deaf people have name signs?”

Hannah laughed.  “No, this is my name sign,” she said as she dragged her index and middle fingers down the middle of her forehead toward her nose.

“What does it mean?”

“Nothing.  It’s an arbitrary name sign.  Sometimes people are assigned descriptive name signs.  It depends on the community that assigns the name.”

“Assigns?”

“Oh, yes.  You can’t pick your own name sign.”  She smiled and gave him a wink.

Dean laughed, and then Cas stepped almost between them as he signed something.

“Okay, okay,” Hannah said.  “You’re right.  We should start class.  Dean, if you could find a seat, we’ll get started.”

“Oh, yeah, right.  Sorry to hold you up.”

“Not at all.  I’m thrilled to have you.”

Dean walked to the back of the classroom and took a seat at an empty table.  He took a pen out of his jeans pocket and clicked the top.  He was ready to learn.  The first part of the class covered the alphabet.  Dean had already learned it online, and he was grateful to find that the website hadn’t lied to him.  Then they went over simple introductory phrases.  There appeared to be a lot less grammar involved than he had read about on the Internet though.  It seemed like ASL worked a lot more on concepts and context than being a strict transliteration of English words to signs.  Paradoxically, that made it both easier and harder to learn.  It was easier not to have to learn signs for articles and linking verbs and the like, but it was more difficult to form sentences when he had to sort through unneeded words until he reached the word he could sign.

Toward the end of the two hour class, Hannah told them all to pair up and practice what they had learned.  Dean was the odd man out and was about to ask the couple in front of him if they could make it a three-way (he snickered in his head), but then Cas joined him at his table.  Dean smiled and happily showed off his newly acquired mad signing skillz.

-Hello.  My name is Dean.  It’s nice to meet you.-

-It’s nice to meet you.  My name is Cas.”

-How are you?-

-I’m well.  How are you?-

-Great.  Thank you.-

Cas smiled and nodded.  Dean tried to low-key preen under the praise.  Then Cas picked up his pen and scribbled on the corner of the page of his open packet.  Dean worried for a moment that he was going to tell him he sucked, but he’d simply written, You can speak while you sign.

Does it help the people I’m talking to? He wrote back.

Cas shrugged.  Sometimes.  But it will help you keep your thoughts organized so you don’t get lost in the signs.

Dean almost wrote “you don’t speak,” but then decided against it.  He didn’t know why Cas didn’t speak.  He definitely could.  He’d used his voice on that terrible Friday a week ago, but he hadn’t uttered so much as a syllable since then.

“Okay, that’s time for today,” Hannah called out.

Dean glanced at her and then back at Cas.  “Class is over,” he said.

Cas nodded.  They stared at each other for a moment or two as the people around them packed up their booklets and stood up to leave.  Dean used his pen to write, Coffee?

Cas looked at that one word for a worrisome long time.  In reality it was probably only a second or two, but to Dean it felt like an eternity.  Finally Cas nodded.  Dean smiled, the breath he’d been holding coming out in a whoosh that he hoped Cas didn’t notice.  After nearly a month of talking the guy up and expressing avid interest, he’d finally gotten a date with him.

 ~~~

Castiel hesitated before saying yes to getting coffee with Dean because he didn’t want him to think it was a date.  He was confident that Dean didn’t think that though.  It was two friends hanging out after class.  Just to be on the safe side though…As they approached the front of the classroom, Castiel got Hannah’s attention.

-We’re going to get a cup of coffee.   Would you like to join us?-

“Sure!  I’ve been craving a crème brûlée donut.  Dean, have you been to Cups and Crullers?  They make the weirdest but best donuts.”

“Uh…”

Cas noticed Dean looked a little confused.  He steadfastly kept a neutral, oblivious face.

“Um, no, I’ve never been there.  I have heard of it though, but I never come to this part of the city.”

“Well, you’re in for a treat.  Let me just grab my purse.”

Cas put his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels.  He glanced at Dean.  He didn’t appear to be upset or disappointed.  Good.  He must not have thought it was a date.

They had to wait for the elevator to come back up to collect the second half of the class.  Hannah told Dean that they had looked into getting the thing replaced, but it was much more money than the DCO could afford.  They were currently grandfathered in on certain building codes, and if they attempted to change anything they would have to fix everything.  Cas was grateful that Hannah was there to interpret for Dean, but he had a feeling her signing wasn’t really capturing what Dean was saying.

Cups and Crullers was packed to the gills and Cas was sent on a mission to find a table while Dean and Hannah waited in line.  He didn’t realize his mistake of leaving the two of them alone until they found him at the table he’d managed to snag away from a couple soccer moms.  Dean was carrying the coffees and Hannah had a box with donuts in it, which left her with just enough hands to sign behind Dean’s back, -This is Train Guy?  You downplayed how hot he is!-

Castiel gave her a look warning her not to say anything and then smiled at Dean when he handed him his coffee.  Hannah didn’t say anything as she sat down at the table and opened the box of donuts, but she was smirking like a cat that had cornered a mouse.  He was watching her so closely he didn’t notice Dean take a bite of one of the donuts.  He did notice that Hannah made a startled face and then looked at Dean.  Cas looked too and Dean shrugged sheepishly and mumbled something around the bite he was chewing.

“He said, ‘It’s good,’” Hannah spoke and signed.  “He expressed his appreciation in a more…animalistic way before.”

“Thank you for putting it that way,” Dean said and Hannah interpreted.

They laughed, but Castiel didn’t understand why it was funny.  He also didn’t know why Hannah kept making Dean laugh.

-What kind did you try?- Castiel asked.

“Peanut butter and jelly,” Dean replied.

-That’s my favorite.-

“Oh, sorry.  Did you want it?  You can have the rest.”

-It’s okay.  I work nearby.  I can get one whenever I like.-

Dean took a sip of his coffee, his eyes on Castiel.  Then he inhaled deeply, cut his eyes over to Hannah, and then spoke to Castiel directly rather than Hannah.  Castiel appreciated that.

“Can I ask you something personal?  I don’t want to offend you, but…”

He didn’t finish his thought.  Hannah waited for Dean to continue, but then glanced at Castiel with a look of “that was it.”  Castiel knew where this was going.  Where it always went with hearing people.

-Why don’t I speak?-

Dean looked a little guilty as he nodded.

-Some deaf people just choose not to speak.  I was born deaf so I really have no frame of reference for how any letters or words sound.  I can try to mimic the shape of my lips and tongue to what other people do, but from what I’m told it just doesn’t come out quite right.  I don’t need my voice to communicate and most people can’t understand me when I vocalize, so I don’t see the point of doing it.  Especially in today’s world with so much business and communication taking place online or over texting, I’m not at a disadvantage at all.-

Dean nodded and took a large bite of his donut.

-I think he said, ‘That’s cool.’- Hannah signed.

-Is that all?- Castiel asked her.  –No ‘your speech can’t be that bad,’ no ‘maybe you just need to practice?’-

Hannah shook her head.  And then signed, -Maybe he’s someone hearing who could handle being in a relationship with a deaf person.-

-Hush.-

“Are you guys talking about me?” Dean asked, wiping his mouth with a napkin.

“Yes,” Hannah replied cheerfully.  “Sorry.  Sometimes we do have terrible manners.”

“Is that sorry?” Dean asked, making the sign for sorry against his chest.

“Yes.  You’re a quick study.  You and Cas won’t need me before too long.”

Dean chuckled.  “I’m not trying to get rid of you.”

“Of course not.”

They smiled at each other.  Castiel glared at the top of his coffee cup as he took a large swig of the hot liquid.  He knew why it bothered him that they were so friendly with each other, but he had to get over it.  He couldn’t be jealous over someone he was not nor would ever be in a relationship with.  Dean was just a friend.  He might have a little crush on him, but it would fade.  As all things did.

 ~~~

Dean shuffled onto the warmth of the train, his ear stinging with the cold.  Summer had clung to the earth as long as possible, but when it let it go it seemed to have taken autumn out with it.  It was only the second to last week of November but the temperatures had dipped into the 30’s.  Dean moved to sit next to Cas where he sat in his usual corner.  He sat practically on top of him, leaning against his body to try to steal his warmth.

-Cold?- Cas signed.

-Very,- Dean replied and then blew on his hands to warm them up.

-You.  Gloves.-

You should wear gloves, Dean’s brain pieced together the signs he knew into a sentence.  He was pretty proud of himself for how well he picked up and retained dozens and dozens of signs every week, but he still had a hard time grasping the differences in grammar.  In theory it should be easy because ASL was a much simpler language than English—they didn’t have to use articles or worry about verb conjugations.  However, it was like recalibrating his brain after almost 24 years of being programmed to think of language in one way.  He’d barely managed to complete his three years of Spanish in high school to fulfill the language requirement to graduate.

Despite his self-diagnosed difficulty with languages, Dean was definitely ahead of everyone in his beginner level classes.  Probably because he spoke with Cas every day on the train and they went out for coffee with Hannah after every class.  Dean definitely benefited from being able to watch Hannah sign while she spoke and listen to her speak while Cas signed.  He and Cas could bumble through a conversation entirely in ASL the way preschoolers talked to each other in nouns and verbs with the meaning hopefully being implicit.

Cas playfully nudged Dean off his shoulder so that he had more freedom to sign.  Dean nudged back and Cas made a soft, disgruntled noise.  Dean almost felt guilty for it, but he felt a thrill hearing Cas’ voice.  He so rarely heard anything out of him that he reveled in any small sound he could get out of him whether it was intentional or not.  His voice sounded deep, but he wasn’t sure.  He’d never heard a full word out of him.  Not since that one time, which Dean tried not to think about.  That was why Dean did his best to get Cas to laugh, but either he wasn’t really funny or Cas had trained himself not to laugh.  And since Dean was frickin’ hilarious, it must be the latter.

-S-A-M.  Home.-

There was a third sign Dean didn’t catch.  Well, there was a fourth sign as well, but Dean knew he was supposed to know that one so he didn’t ask about it.

-What is…-  Dean copied the last sign.

Cas finger spelled “Thanksgiving.”

“Oh.  Is Sam coming home for Thanksgiving?”

Cas nodded, reading Dean’s lips.

-No,- Dean signed.  And then spoke slowly, throwing in a sign or two when he knew a word for it.  “It’s too expensive to fly for every break.  He’ll be home for winter break.”

-Alone?-

“Nah.  I’ll be at my aunt and uncle’s.  Will you be alone?”

-Fly.  I-L-L-I-N-O-I-S.  Parents.  Brother.  Sister.-

“For how long?”

-Long.  Weekend.-

“So, you’ll be back on Monday?”

Cas grinned.  –Why?-  Then he made a sign and pointed to himself.

Dean shook his head.  Cas’ cheeks grew a little red as he finger spelled “miss.”

“Will I miss you?” Dean asked with a laugh.

Cas shrugged and looked away.  Dean waited for Cas to build up the nerve and look back at him, and then he nodded.

“Yeah.  I’ll miss you.  Will you miss me?”

Cas stared at him for a moment and Dean felt like Cas was about to say or do something profound.  Then he gave his head a slight shake and emphatically signed, –No.  Too much car.-

Dean threw his head back and laughed.  He deliberately made Cas teach him a new word for different parts of his car in addition to their regular practice on the train.  He knew it irritated Cas because he actually had to look some words up on his phone that he didn’t know the signs for.  He kept trying to tell Dean to just finger spell everything technical because there weren’t specific signs for spark plugs and carburetors.  Although as it turned out, there were, which made Cas huff in exasperation—which in turn made something pull inside Dean’s chest.  It wasn’t painful…but it felt dangerous.

“What are you doing at work?”

-Good news.  Win money.-

“Did you win the lottery?” Dean asked, confused.

-G-R-A-N-T  M-O-N-E-Y.-

“Oh.  That’s great.  What will you do with it?”

Cas started to sign, then stopped.  He held up a finger and then pulled out his phone.  He used his phone when the idea was too complicated or just too long to finger spell.

The DCO will be going on a mission to Mexico to provide free hearing tests to people in impoverished neighborhoods and fitting those that need it with hearing aids.

“That’s exciting.  Will you go on the trip?”

Cas nodded.  –Next summer.-

“You need any volunteers?” Dean asked with a laugh, mostly joking.

-Yes.  Two weeks.-  Then Cas pointed to him and made the sign Dean now remembered was “come.”

“Sure.  The grant money covers travel, food, and lodging for the volunteers, right?” Dean asked, elbowing Cas lightly in the arm and showing him he was teasing him since he couldn’t hear his tone.

-Yes,- Castiel replied.

Dean blinked, startled.  “It pays for everything?”

Cas nodded.

Dean was surprised by this news.  It made making the trip actually feasible.  Did Cas really want him to go?  They could bond over helping children receive help and then get drunk on tequila and mescal and then make out in the warm air under a full moon…

Dean started when Cas waved a hand in front of his face.

-You okay?-

“Y-yeah.  M’Good.”

Cas frowned.  He typed a message on his phone.

You’re swallowing your words and making contractions that don’t exist again.

-Sorry,- Dean signed.  “I forget because you read lips so well.”

Cas waffled a hand in the air.

“No, none of that.  You read lips better than anyone at the DCO.”

Cas shrugged one shoulder is false modesty.  Then he looked down at his phone as it vibrated in his hand.  Dean politely looked away while Cas checked his messages.  He checked his own phone.  His last text had been at 2:00am from Sam because the kid had no appreciation for time zones.  Cas made a disgusted noise and Dean looked over at him.  He looked seriously peeved.

When he put his phone away, Dean asked, -Problem?-

Cas rolled his eyes and reached into his satchel.  He pulled out a flyer and handed it to Dean.  He pointed to the name of the event on the gaudily over-decorated piece of paper.

 

Twelfth Annual MACE Gala

Benefitting the Deaf Outreach Community and the Regional Association of the Blind

December 17, 2016, 8:00pm

Come explore the world of The Nutcracker

 

“Do you have to go to this?” Dean asked.

-Go.  Plan.  Everything.-

“Is it your big fundraiser for the year or something?”

Cas nodded.

“Black tie?”

Cas nodded.

“Ouch.  That’s rough.  What does MACE stand for?”

Cas made more faces and typed on his phone.  He showed it to Dean: Most Awkward Conversations Ever.

Dean shook his head.  “Why?”

Cas typed some more.  Mostly deaf and blind people attend.  How do we communicate?

Dean thought for a moment, and then he sniggered.  Cas shot him a look, which just made him laugh harder.  Cas shoved him in the shoulder and Dean fell sideways on the seat and continued to laugh.  The woman sitting on the bench across from them looked up from her phone with an annoyed glare.  Dean ignored her and sat back up, still laughing.  Cas pushed him again, but he fought back.  They wrestled for a moment until the woman cleared her throat loudly.  Dean let Cas win, but gave the woman a long hard stare, which she mostly succeeded in ignoring.

The train began to slow down as they approached Cas’ station.  Dean sighed.  Fifty minutes used to feel so long, and now he felt the train rides couldn’t go on long enough.  Cas tucked the flyer in his satchel and put his phone in his pocket.  The train slowed more and Cas stood up.  Dean reached out to get his attention.  He somehow wound up taking Castiel’s hand, and then just held it.

“What train do you take home?”

Castiel shook his head, not understanding.  Dean had to let go of his hand to make a couple signs to help get his point across.

“The train you take home, what time?”

-5:40.-

“I take the 5:30.  It must be the same train.  I don’t see you.”

The train came to a stop and people crowded into the front of the car to access the door.

-I.  Sit.  Different.  Car.-

“What number?”

Castiel headed for the door but he held up four fingers before he stepped off the train.  Dean wondered if that meant four from the front or four from the back.  Probably the front, right?  He would find out that evening.

 ~~~

-Castiel, the event is tomorrow.  Tomorrow.  How can you not have a date?-

Castiel sat back in his chair and groaned.  –It’s not a cotillion.  It doesn’t matter if I don’t have a date.-

-It does matter,- Gabriel insisted.  -You’re the director.  The CCO.  You set the example.  If you don’t do the stupid charity games that require partners or dance, no one else will either.-

-The director for the RAB will be there.  She and her husband can set the example.-

-This is our event.  It’s joint only in name, you know that.  Our people work so hard on this.  You don’t want to let them down, do you?-

-Let them down?  You’re acting like I’m not even going to attend.  I’ll be there from an hour before it starts until an hour after it ends.  Why are you pushing so hard about this?-

Hannah pushed Gabriel out of the door to Castiel’s office and cut him off.

-Because he has a date lined up for you and he wants you to feel obligated to take a date and since it’s so last minute you’ll have no choice but to take his guy.-

Gabriel said something out loud to her, but he was facing her and didn’t sign so Castiel didn’t know what he said to make Hannah smirk in triumph at him.  He waved his arms to get their attention.

-I will not go on a blind date.  Especially not to an event this important.-

“But you should take a date,” Gabriel spoke and signed.  “Really.”

Castiel sighed.  He looked at Hannah.  –Really?-

She shrugged.  –It’s expected.-

-But is it necessary?-

“Yes!”  Castiel didn’t have to be hearing to know that the man had shouted his response.

Hannah didn’t say yes or no, but her shrug was a little bit more of a nod than anything.  Castiel rolled his eyes.

-Fine.  Fine.  I’ll bring a date.-

“Great!  I have the perfect—”

-No.  No blind dates.  I can ask Balthazar.-

Gabriel made a face and threw himself against the wall and slid to the floor in quite the dramatic fashion.  Hannah was amused by Gabriel’s antics, but she was also wincing.

-No to Balthazar, then?-

Hannah stalled and then said, “I don’t think people have quite forgiven him for last year.”

-We earned more money last year than any previous gala.-

“Yes.  But, we’re kind of hoping to earn this year without a strip tease.”

Cas shrugged.  –Your loss.-

Gabriel sat up from the floor.  “Who are you going to bring if not Balthazar?”

Cas scratched his head.  -I’ll think of someone.-

“By tomorrow night?”

-I’ll handle it.  Now get out.  I have work to do.-

Castiel spent the rest of the afternoon handling last minute details for the event and it completely slipped his mind to start looking through his mental rolodex for possible date options.  As he walked to the station he wondered if he should just make it easier on himself and ask one of his female friends to accompany him.  That way there would be zero confusion or expectation concerning the “date.”  The only problem was that all of his female friends were either in relationships, too young to be appropriate even on a platonic date, or Meg.  He loved Meg dearly, but her feelings toward him weren’t quite as platonic as his were for her.  He didn’t want to hurt her feelings or give her false hope even though she knew quite well that he was a complete six on the Kinsey Scale.

As he watched the train pull into the station, his stress over finding a date dissipated.  It was replaced with the familiar pleasure that seeing Dean gave him.  He was so happy that his friend had started sitting in his car on the ride home as well.  It was a nice way to shed the work day and have a pleasant, stimulating conversation rather than slumping on the bench and frowning at his book until he got to his station.

The conversations really had become stimulating.  Not only was Dean interesting in general, but with daily practice on the train Dean had flown past his peers in Saturday classes, although he had continued to attend them until the last session last weekend.  Castiel hadn’t known anyone hearing who had picked up ASL so fast.  Even parents of deaf children often learned at a much slower pace.  Gabriel had told him that it was the “Power of the Boner.”  Castiel had scoffed at him.  He and Dean were just friends.

Castiel stepped onto the train and moved to sit right next to Dean with a smile.  It was kind of silly to sit so close to him; it made signing harder, but he liked how solid and sturdy Dean felt against him.

“Hey, Cas,” Dean spoke and managed to sign at least half if not more of what he said.

-Hello.-

“Rough day?”

-Why do you ask?-

“You look tired.  Usually you just look annoyed.”

Castiel laughed.  –I’m surprised I don’t look more annoyed.  My employees are pestering me to bring a date to the MACE Gala.-

“Well, you’re the boss.  You should have a date.”

-Not you too!-

Dean shrugged.  Castiel settled more firmly against his side.  He almost let his head fall onto his shoulder, but instead let it rest on the wall.  After a couple of minutes, Dean nudged him gently and he opened his eyes.  He snapped his head up, suddenly aware that he’d dozed off.

“Do you have to take someone annoying?”

-Who’s annoying?-

“Your date.”

-Oh.  I don’t have a date.  That’s the problem.-

“Isn’t the gala, like, tomorrow?”

Castiel nodded.

Dean chuckled.  “Where are you going to find a date on such short notice?  Craig’s List?”

Castiel smiled and then wondered if that was a possibility.  He’d said no to blind dates but only because he didn’t trust Gabriel.  Surely he could trust some rando from the Internet.  Dean poked him.

“You cannot take a date from Craig’s List.”

Castiel conceded with a bob of his head.  Then he glanced over at Dean.  He kept looking at him until Dean felt himself being stared at and looked over.  He pointed to himself.

“Me?”

Castiel nodded.  –Free food.  Free alcohol.  Stupid games.  Door prizes.-

“Sure, it sounds great, but uh, I don’t own a tux.  And I don’t know if I could rent one on such short notice.  I mean, I probably could, but—”

-Is the tux your only objection?-

“What?”

-If you had a tux would you not want to go?-

“No, I’d be happy to stand up for you,” Dean said with an obnoxious wink.

-My brother gave me his old tuxedo, but it doesn’t fit me.  You’re built like him.  A little taller than me and more slender.  It should fit you.-

“Are you sure your brother gave you an extra tuxedo and that you haven’t been planning this for months?”

Castiel rolled his eyes.  -You caught me.  This has all been an elaborate ruse for me to trick a stranger into being my date for the MACE Gala.-

“Oh, the plot thickens!”

-Yes.  It all started when I got Sam into Stanford so that you would have to take a job at that ad firm which would require you to start riding the train.-

Dean laughed and Castiel enjoyed watching his eyes sparkle.  “Well, then, since you’ve gone to so much trouble, how could I possibly say no?”

-You can’t.  One of the girls who interprets for our youth programs makes her own clothes, so she’s going to come over and tailor the pants of my tux for me.  She can do yours too.  You can come over to my apartment to get dressed, and then I can drive us to the gala.-

“Okay.  It’s a plan.  You know, this will be the first time we’ll hang out outside of commuting or classes.”

-True.  Although, we could think of this as your final examination.-

“Thank you.  I wasn’t nervous before, but I am now.”

Castiel smiled.  –Sorry.-

“It’s okay.  It’ll be good practice.  I guess.  But if it’s a test, then we need to make plans to hang out just because at some point.  See a movie or watch the game.”

-What game?-

“Whatever, Cas.  I like ‘em all.”

Castiel reached over and flicked his thigh.  –Swallowing words.-

Dean mumbled something that involved the word “swallowing,” but Castiel couldn’t catch it.

-What did you say?-

Dean shook his head and didn’t clarify.  Cas didn’t feel offended though.  Dean did that even with hearing people.

-I’ll email you my address.  You can come over around 3:00 or 4:00.  That should give Claire enough time to adjust both of our suits if she needs to.-

“What’s her name?  I don’t know what the name sign stands for.”

-C-L-A-I-R-E.-

“Claire.  Got it.  Well, alright.  Looks like I have something to do on Saturday night rather than sit at home and surf the web for anime porn.”

-Anime porn?-

“No, just porn.”

-You didn’t sign it but I saw your lips.-

“Anyone tell you it’s really unfair that you can read lips?”

-No.-  Castiel smiled at him.  –What do you watch?  Tentacle porn?-

“Please don’t tell me that’s the sign for tentacle.”

Castiel laughed and didn’t even care that the other people on the train looked at him strangely because he was either laughing oddly or too loud.  He didn’t care because Dean was grinning at him and it made him look even more beautiful than usual.

 ~~~

Dean inhaled deeply and shook out his hands to dispel his nerves.  He knew that Cas hadn’t asked him on a real date per se, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t end in a very real date kind of way.  Cas had to know he liked him, right?  He had to.  If he didn’t, he was going to know by the end of the night.

Dean hesitated before knocking because he was really early.  It was only 2:40, but it hadn’t taken as long to get to Cas’ townhouse as he’d anticipated.  It turned out they lived quite near each other.  Not so near that Dean could walk, but less than fifteen minutes by car.  There was no sense in standing outside his door like a creeper, so Dean knocked on the door.  Then he rolled his eyes up into his head for being a freaking moron.  He rang the doorbell, which wasn’t attached to a bell but lights that flashed through the whole house.  Within seconds the door opened and Castiel grinned at him.

-Did you knock first?-

“Shut up.”

Dean shouldered past Cas without being invited, trying not to dwell on how good the man looked in jeans and a T-shirt instead of his usual suit.  The door opened straight onto a flight of stairs that led up to the second story of the townhouse.  From the landing the stairs continued up to the third level, and to the right was the main level of the house.  Dean stepped into the living room and appreciated the open floor plan with a large kitchen at one end and a sunroom at the other.  He shrugged out of his leather coat and turned when Cas took it from him.

-Would you like something to drink?-

“Are we pre-gaming?”

-I meant water or iced tea, but I have beer too.-

“You have an IPA?”

-Let me check.-

The lights flashed in the house.

-Can you get the door?- Cas asked while hanging Dean’s coat up in a closet.

Dean headed back down the stairs.  He was a little upset that Claire had already arrived.  He had been hoping to spend a little one on one time with Cas in a private setting.  When he opened the door he found a pretty young woman with long blonde hair done up in an interesting series of braids.  Now he understood why her name sign was “braid” with a C rather than an R.  Her clothing was mostly black and looked pieced together and distressed.  Dean wondered if Cas really trusted her to play seamstress to an expensive tuxedo.

“Who are you?” Claire asked bluntly.

“My name’s Dean.  I’m Cas’ date to this shindig.”

“Really?”  Claire looked him over.  “Cas sure is slumming it this year.”  She smirked at him.

Dean fake laughed at her and she fake laughed back.

“Get inside,” he groused.

He turned around and stomped up the stairs, leaving it to Claire to shut the door and follow him.  When he reached the living room, Cas handed him an open bottle.  Dean checked the label, deemed it to be acceptable, and took a swig.  Cas greeted Claire with an awkward hug, the awkwardness of which didn’t appear to be entirely Cas’ fault.  Dean suspected neither of them were particularly great with people.

“Where are these tuxes?” Claire spoke and signed.

-Upstairs,- Castiel said.  -I’ll go get them.-

He left Dean and Claire alone as he ran up the second set of stairs.  Dean took another swig of beer and looked Claire over again.

“So, what are you, in high school?”

“I’m in college.  I’m nineteen.”

“My brother is nineteen.”

“Wow.  He and I have so much in common.  We should hang out.”

Dean scowled at her.  “Well you both have attitudes, so you do have a lot in common.”

“How old are you?  I didn’t take Cas for a cradle robber.”

“I’m twenty…four.”

Claire gave him a look.

“I’m almost twenty-four,” he said defensively.  “I’ll be twenty-four in January.”

“You know he’s in his thirties.”

“So?”

Claire shrugged a shoulder.  Cas came back downstairs holding a garment bag in each hand.  Claire caught his eye and signed, -Did you know he’s only twenty-three?-

“Did you know that I can sign?” Dean growled.

Claire looked at him with mild surprise.  “I didn’t think you could read signs that well.”

“Well.  I can.”

Cas laid the garment bags across the back of his couch.  He faced Dean.

-You’re twenty-three?-

“I’ll be twenty-four in January.  Why?  Does it matter?  How old did you think I was?”

-No, no problem.  Of course not.  You just seem older.  Probably because you have to take care of your brother and you’re so responsible.  You could learn from him, Claire.  He’s remarkably organized and goal oriented.-

Claire circled a finger in the air in a “whoop-de-do” gesture.

-Okay, Claire.  What do we need to do for you?-

“Well, change into the tuxes.  And do you have a foot stool or step ladder?”

Castiel nodded and retrieved a step stool from the pantry.  Dean undid his belt and dropped his pants right there, completely unperturbed by Claire’s inarticulate protests.  He was wearing black boxer briefs so he didn’t think there was anything offensive about his quasi-hairy legs and sock-feet.  Especially since his T-shirt and flannel hung down low enough to obscure most of his package.  He turned to examine the garment bags to see if he could figure out which one was his and found Cas right in front of him.  He shoved a garment bag into his arms and then pushed him across the room and into a half bath.

-Change in here!-

Then he slammed the door shut.  Dean actually took Cas’ reaction as a good sign.  It was easiest on his ego to just assume Cas was flustered because he was attracted to him.  Dean was totally cool with that.  His theory was confirmed by Cas’ slightly ajar mouth as he stared at Dean when he came out of the bathroom in the Tom Ford tuxedo.

“Your brother gave you a Tom Ford tuxedo for free?”

Cas’ jaw worked uselessly, and then he seemed to remember that he didn’t use it to speak anyway.  He signed, -He bought himself a Hugo Boss.-

“What does your brother do?” Claire asked.

-He sold his soul to the devil and works on Wall Street.-

“Uh oh.  Family drama?”

-Not at all.  That’s how he describes himself.-

“He’s hearing, I take it,” Dean said.

-He is,- Cas replied.  –How did you know?-

“I didn’t.  Just guessed.  I didn’t think Wall Street would be that…accommodating.”

-Ah.  You’re probably right.-

They held eyes for a moment, and Dean forgot someone else was still in the room until Claire waved her hands in the air.

“Hey, guys.  Sorry to break up the eye sex, but after this I still need to get home in time to get ready myself.”

“You’re coming to the gala?” Dean asked.

“All the DCO employees are.  Now get on that stool and let me see where the pants are breaking.”

“Breaking?”

“Don’t ask.  Just get up.”

Dean stepped onto the stool.  “How did you get involved with the DCO?  Are your parents deaf?”

“No.  No one is in my family.”

Claire was using her hands to work on Dean’s pants, and he wondered if he should he sign what Claire was saying for Cas.  However, Cas had disappeared with his garment bag, probably to change into his tux.  And to hide the blush that had overtaken his face at Claire’s “eye sex” comment.

“So, how did you get involved?”

“I took the interpreter certification class in high school in order to pad my college applications.  Since I passed the test and picked up sign language so well, they asked me to work part time while I attended school.  They thought it was good to have someone my age available who could relate to the younger clientele.”

“Do you plan on being a professional interpreter one day?”

Claire laughed softly.  “There’s not much money in that.  I wanna be an engineer or something.  I figured I could just be the interpreter at my future company for like assemblies and presentations and stuff to keep up my skills.”

“You sound like a giver, Claire.”

Claire straightened and gave him a cheeky smile and a sarcastically sweet, “Thank you.”

Dean stared her down.  He wasn’t intimidated by snot-nosed teenagers.  Claire took a step back and looked him over again.

“Seriously, if you don’t get laid tonight, you have something seriously wrong with your personality.”

Dean smiled, and then wondered if that was more compliment or insult.

The fitting went smoothly as apparently both Dean and Cas’ brother Michael were exactly the same size and the tux needed no tailoring.  Claire only had to adjust the cuff of the pants on Cas’ tux by half an inch.  When she was gone they had about an hour to kill before they needed to get ready to leave.  Dean was a little concerned that their first time alone together might be awkward, but the easy conversations that they had on the train carried over to Cas’ home without missing a step.

The car ride was a slightly different story, however.  With his hands on the wheel, Cas couldn’t sign, nor could he keep his eyes on Dean to watch him sign.  Not that it would matter because it was already dark out at 6:00 and they couldn’t see each other’s hands in the interior of the car.  Dean was also a little nervous about Cas driving, which Cas picked up on and made him testy.  He’d explained several times that not only was it legal for deaf people to drive, but that it was perfectly safe.  Dean did his best to relax, but he knew that Cas could tell his body was rigid.  Perhaps it was a good thing that they couldn’t talk during the drive—for the entire long hour.

When they arrived safe and sound and without incident, they put the tense car ride behind them.  Both were determined to enjoy themselves and Dean didn’t mind arriving early so that he could help Cas with a last minute check of the venue, the band, and the caterers.  The large ballroom of a hotel had been turned into what looked like to Dean a mini Epcot Center at Disney World.  There were sections with decorations and food for various countries as well as a huge dessert station.  Dean had seen the human sized nutcrackers when they had come in the front doors, but he didn’t know what the rest of it had to do with anything.  When he finally gave in and asked, Castiel gave him a quick summary of the story of The Nutcracker ballet.  He still thought it looked more like Epcot, but he wasn’t complaining because the dessert section was twice as large as any other.

Slightly after 8:00 guests started to arrive.  Cas touched Dean lightly on his arm.  He was surprised to find him looking anxious.

“You okay, Cas?”

-Yes.  Just the 2017 budget is riding on this.-

“Come on, you got this.  You’ve got Epcot center, desserts out the wazoo, and arm candy.  We’ll get you that cash.”

Cas smiled distractedly.  –You’re my arm candy?-

“Hell yes.”

Cas looked over at him and offered his arm.  Dean took it, though it felt a little weird because he was always on the other side of the gesture, and followed Cas toward the assembling crowd.  The cluster of people they approached broke into signing as soon as they saw Cas.  Dean felt overwhelmed by the multiple conversations happening.  Only a couple people spoke out loud as they signed and their pronunciation wasn’t very good.  After several minutes, someone gestured to Dean.

-Oh, I apologize.  Where are my manners?- Cas said.  He proceeded to introduce the group of people, first finger spelling names and then using name signs.  The people were all high ranking individuals in Fortune 500 companies.  Dean didn’t think he’d ever stood next to so much money in his life.  He was a little disappointed that Cas introduced him as his “friend,” but he was distracted by Cas making a sign after he finger spelled his name.  After Cas was finally able to back away from the group to go in search of other patrons, Dean dragged him toward a food table.

“Let me eat something first and tell me what you said after my name.”

Cas smiled indulgently and let himself be led to the China station.  Dean loaded up a little plate full of pot stickers and faced Cas.  He did his best to sign with his hands full, and fortunately Cas had gotten pretty good at reading his lips.

“What did you say after you spelled my name to them?”

Cas’ cheeks tinged pink.  –It’s your name sign.-

Dean smiled brightly.  “I have a name sign?  Since when?”

Cas shrugged a shoulder.  –It was just kind of a way to refer to you when people in the office didn’t know your name.  And it just kind of stuck.-

“Oh.  I didn’t recognize it, but you were using a D for my name, right?”

-Yes.  After they learned your name, they just altered the sign a little to include the letter to denote you.-

“What is it?  Nothing bad, I hope.”

-No, of course not.  You know this sign, right?-  Cas took the index and middle fingers of his right hand and rubbed them up and down his left forearm.

“Train,” Dean said around a mouth of tasty dumpling.

Cas nodded.  –It’s train, only the moving hand is changed to the letter D.-

Dean nodded.  “That’s cool.  Why am I associated with trains at the office?  You, I get, by why everyone?”

-They all know that’s where I met you.-

“Was I a source of gossip at the DCO?” Dean asked with a grin.

-No,- Castiel snipped at him.

Dean chomped down on another dumpling.  He offered the plate to Cas.  Cas picked one up with his fingers and let some of the sauce drip off before popping it into his mouth.

“It’s good, huh?”

-Yes.-

Dean finished off the plate and tossed it into the trash.  “So, what’s next?  Spain or Russia?”

-More schmoozing.-

Dean deflated a little.

-I promise, we’ll hit all the stations.  But you promised to use your pretty face to get me some money.  So, let’s go pimp you out.-

Dean laughed and took his proffered arm.  “Aw, you think I’m pretty?”

Cas ignored his remark.

 ~~~

Four hours later and Castiel felt ready to cut his feet off and just be done with the wretched things.  His head was pounding from concentrating on reading the lips of all the hearing guests—who were the majority in attendance.   Dean had done his best to help out, but he was nowhere near fluent enough to be an interpreter.  He only crossed paths with Hannah and Meg a couple of times, but they were busy interpreting for the other DCO employees who were much less proficient at lip reading than he was.

He also regretted agreeing to the trivia games and carnival-esque games rather than just having a silent auction.  There was too much confusion on how the benefactors paid for and received the prizes.  Castiel was almost certain they were going to make much less money than previous years if not outright break even.  A small battle of wills had also taken place between the most affluent of their benefactors and the director of the Regional Association for the Blind.  He couldn’t afford to insult either and only some distraction from the band (which he didn’t even notice at first) somehow put an end to the argument.

Dean had been a saint through the whole evening.  He had faithfully stayed with Castiel and done his best to help him when he could and promoted the DCO to total strangers.  When Castiel noticed him starting to drag, he would take him to a new food table and let him refuel.  They had only parted when Castiel had been called away to deal with the tiff between benefactor and director, which he had no effect on in the end anyway.  It took him quite a while to track down Dean, but at last he found him safely in a corner scarfing cream puffs and talking animatedly with Charlie Bradbury.

Castiel had been very skeptical when Eileen had first introduced him to her new girlfriend, but seven years later Eileen and Charlie were married and Castiel adored Charlie.  He was only surprised to see Dean talking with her.  She was friendly to everyone, but she only got this excited when she was talking about her nerd things.  Was Dean into nerd things?  He did like anime porn; it stood to reason that he liked other things nerdy as well.

Charlie spotted him first and waved him over.  Dean turned and smiled when he saw him, but then his brow creased in concern.

-Are you okay?- he signed as Castiel approached.

-Yes.  Just tired.-

“Castiel!” Charlie spoke and signed in her odd shorthand that only Eileen truly understood.  “Why didn’t you introduce me to Dean sooner?  He’s totally going to LARP with me!”

“I said maybe,” Dean said, but Charlie’s zeal was not affected.  “Oh, hey, is there really a movie out there called Deafula?  Or is Charlie just pulling my leg?”

Castiel smiled.  –It’s real.  It’s absolutely terrible, which is why it’s so good.-

“I have to see it then.”

“Definitely,” Charlie agreed.  “Hey, Cas, have you see my wife?”

-I last saw her in the vicinity of France.-

“Thanks.  As always, fantastic party, but I think it’s time we called it a night.  Dean.  Email me.  We have to talk about stuff.”

“And things,” Dean said.

They both laughed, but Castiel didn’t get the joke.  Charlie headed off to find Eileen and Dean noticed Castiel’s face.

Walking Dead reference.  Do you watch it?”

Castiel shook his head.  –It’s too scary.-

Dean grinned.  –Seriously?-

-Don’t make fun of me.-

Dean put his hands up in surrender.  Castiel gave into his exhaustion and leaned against Dean lightly.  He didn’t want to stay and help with the cleanup.  He just wanted to go home and crawl into bed and snuggle with De—He stopped that thought right there.  He must really be tired if he was letting his brain wander that much.  Dean nudged him gently and Castiel pulled back, concerned that he’d overstepped the bounds of their friendship and made him uncomfortable.  However, Dean was just letting him know that Hannah had come over to talk to him.

“Hi.  Long night, huh?”

Castiel nodded.

“But good night.  Everything went smoothly.  Sort of.  I think we should go back to the silent auction next year though.”

-Definitely.-

“Look. You’ve worked yourself to the bone the past couple of months.  We’ve got a crew to handle the cleanup.  You should go home.”

-Everyone has worked hard.  I need to be here-

“You’re Dean’s ride, aren’t you?” Hannah cut him off.  “Don’t make him suffer.  We got this.  Go on home.  I promise no one will curse you behind your back.”

Castiel was so tired he couldn’t even find it in himself to put up a second protest.  He nodded and thanked her.  Hannah gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.  She waved to Dean and then headed off to clear out the rest of the stragglers.  Castiel turned to Dean.

“Get out of jail free card?” Dean asked.

Castiel smiled and nodded.  –Let’s get out of here.-

Dean offered to drive them back to Castiel’s townhouse, and he only felt a twinge of suspicion that it was because he was scared to let the deaf guy drive.  He didn’t care either way at the moment; he just wanted to shut his brain off for the hour long drive back to the suburbs.  He must have dozed off along the way because before he knew it Dean was gently shaking him awake.  He got out of the car and stretched, actually feeling a little refreshed.  He looked at Dean and there was just enough light from the streetlamps for them to sign by.

“Well, I’ll let you go to bed,” Dean said.  “You look wiped.”

-I’m feeling better after my nap actually,- he signed with a chuckle.  –You should come in and at least change first.-

“Oh, right, the tux.  Sorry.  I wasn’t trying to steal it.”

Cas waved a hand.  –Keep it.  I can’t wear it.  Maybe you can wear it to next year’s gala.-

“I’d like that,” Dean said with a soft smile.  A warm smile.  A smile that made Cas think unrealistically happy thoughts.

-Come in and change.  It’s too cold to stand out here and debate it.-

Dean agreed to go inside with him and while he changed downstairs, Castiel hurried upstairs to change into a pair of black pajama bottoms and a heather grey T-shirt.  When he returned downstairs Dean was in the T-shirt and jeans he had arrived in.  Dean’s eyes roamed over Cas’ body, and he realized that he’d put on the T-shirt that was a little small and completely formfitting.  Totally by accident.

“Well, I guess I should be going,” Dean said, his reluctance obvious even in his signing.

-Do you want to watch Deafula?  I have a copy.-

“Now?”

Castiel shrugged.  –If you want to.-

Dean nodded.  “I’d like that.”

Five minutes later they were sitting side by side on Castiel’s absolutely huge couch that had plenty of room for them to sit without touching, and watching the opening credits of Deafula.  Castiel watched Dean more than he did the movie because he wanted to see his reaction to it.  He was laughing at all the right places.  He really had picked up sign language fast.  Once Dean glanced over at him and he whipped his forward.  He closed his eyes in embarrassment.  Way to make it really obvious, he thought.  He forced himself to remain focused on the movie even though he wanted to look at Dean so badly.

Five minutes later, Castiel felt a hand on his knee.  He cut his eyes down so that he could confirm it was a hand and not his imagination, but he left his head immobile in case the movement would make Dean pull away.  For a moment Castiel wondered if Dean thought that he’d put his hand on his own knee, but then he started to rub his knee soothingly.  Castiel relaxed a bit into the couch and only then realized he’d been sitting quite stiffly.  Then Dean’s hand began to move.  Up.  Slowly over the next ten or fifteen minutes, Dean’s hand crept higher and higher.  Castiel relaxed more and more, his legs spreading slightly of their own volition.  Dean’s hand was on his upper thigh, dipping down in between his legs and making his groin tingle in a way he hadn’t felt in months.

Suddenly Dean’s fingers tightened, gripping Castiel’s leg and curling in the fabric of his pajama pants.  Castiel raised his head and finally looked at Dean.  His arousal flared tenfold when he saw Dean staring back at him with flushed cheeks and parted lips.  His pupils were huge and Castiel could see his chest rising and falling a little shallowly.  Castiel realized Dean’s reaction was because of something he had done.  He’d been moaning.  The feeling of his vocal cords vibrating finally registered with his brain.  He’d been moaning and it had turned Dean on.

Dean suddenly pulled his hand away from Castiel’s leg and he felt his heart lurch in fear that he’d completely misread the situation.  But then that hand was behind his neck and Dean’s other hand was palming his cheek urgently while his thumb played over Castiel’s lower lip.  He was so close it was a little difficult to meet his eyes, but Castiel didn’t need to see his eyes or hands to know what Dean was asking him.  Before his reason could butt into the situation, Castiel closed his eyes and leaned into Dean’s hand.  Thankfully Dean was a smart man.

Castiel gasped when Dean’s lips pressed against his.  He’d intended to make the kiss slow and sensual and make it last as long as possible.  However, with his gasp his lips parted and Dean’s tongue swept into his mouth.  Castiel surged forward and wrapped his arms around Dean’s neck, and then he dropped his head back so that Dean could press forward…go deeper.  Castiel felt his vocal cords vibrate again—he hoped he wasn’t being too loud.

Then his doubts started to creep in.  His memories of his college boyfriend who had complained incessantly that Castiel was too loud in bed.  Castiel had become so self-conscious about the noises he made that he couldn’t enjoy sex anymore.  The last few times they had had sex he didn’t even get off.  Their relationship had ended in a painful, accusatory fight and left very bad blood between them.  He didn’t want to think about that now, but as Dean’s hand slid down his back and his lips kissed his over and over again, he could feel himself fighting against the pleasure in case he made too much noise.

Both of Dean’s hands slid over his hips and then found his legs.  With almost no effort Dean got him turned on the couch so that he could slide between his legs.  When their groins collided Castiel could tell he let out a sound—he couldn’t help it.  It had felt so good to feel Dean’s large, hard length drag against his.

Dean pulled away from his lips and Castiel kept his eyes squeezed shut. He didn’t want to see Dean ask him to be quieter.  But then Dean began kissing his way down his jaw and onto his neck.  He thrust his hips forward and Castiel’s knees came up, taking the natural position to take Dean in.  God, he’d hadn’t bottomed in forever but that’s all he could think about at the moment.  That and the fact that Dean’s lips were moving.

Castiel moved his hand to Dean’s neck.  He could feel his vocal cords vibrating.  Dean was talking.  Dean was talking and Castiel had no idea what he was saying.  He couldn’t know unless he stopped him and made him sit up and sign.  No one wanted to deal with that in the middle of sex.  No one wanted weird grunting or loud screaming during sex.

Castiel pushed on Dean’s shoulders.  He continued to kiss Castiel and run his hands up and down his body.  Castiel couldn’t allow himself to be lulled into a bad decision just because his penis felt good.

“Stop.”

Dean stopped immediately.  He sat up and looked freaked out.

“Are you okay?  Did I hurt you?  What happened?  How long have you wanted to stop?”

At least that was what Castiel guessed he was saying; he’d forgotten to sign.  Castiel slid away from Dean and put some distance between them on the couch.

-It’s okay.  I’m fine.  You’ve done nothing wrong at all.-

Dean’s expression melted into concern and wariness.  “But something is wrong,” he said, remembering to sign.

Castiel shook his head.  –Not wrong…just.  I’m sorry.  I should have put a stop to it sooner.  I let myself get carried away because I am attracted to you, but…we can’t date.-

Dean frowned.  “Why not?”

-I don’t…it’s not a good idea…things rarely work out between…-  Castiel sighed in frustration.  –I don’t date hearing people.-

Dean stared blankly for a moment, and then he shook his head.  “I’m sorry, I think I misunderstood you.”

-No, you didn’t.-

Dean took that in, and then he sat back on the other side of the couch, putting even more space between them.  “That’s it?  You don’t date hearing people?  Hard stop?”

-I have before.  It’s always difficult and it always ends.  Not just for me, but for every hearing/deaf couple I’ve ever known.  None of them can make it work.-

“Eileen and Charlie do.”

-They’re the exception, not the rule.-

“Why can’t I be an exception?”

-Because I care about you too much.  I can’t stand the thought of not having you as a friend.  A relationship would ruin that because it wouldn’t work out.  It just wouldn’t.  I want to be with someone who understands what it’s like to be deaf.  I want to be with someone who can understand my perspective and can relate.-

“I can relate.”

-Not really.  You can learn about our culture and advocate for us and be a part of us, but you won’t ever really know what it feels like.-

“I can empathize.  That’s what should matter.”

-Maybe, but it’s not what matters to me.  Dean, please, I shouldn’t have let it get this far in the first place.  It would hurt less.  And sound less condescending.  I’m so sorry.  Please, don’t let this ruin our friendship.  I would hate myself.-

Dean scooted closer on the couch.  He reached out and touched Castiel’s hand, but didn’t hold it.  He withdrew his touch and was quiet for an unbearably long stretch of time.  Finally he looked up.

“You’re resolved to your stance?” he asked, his eyes looking duller than Castiel had ever seen them.

Castiel bit his lip.  Couldn’t he try one more time?  Dean was worth it.  Dean was worth so much more than sexual gratification.  His friendship was infinitely more valuable than an orgasm.

He nodded.  –I’m very sure.-

Dean nodded and looked resigned.  “I understand.  Sort of.  I like hanging out with you, Cas.  You’re the first real friend I’ve had in a very long time.  I don’t want to lose you either.  And I couldn’t stand it if you hated yourself over someone like me.”

Castiel raised his hands to protest Dean’s low opinion of himself, but Dean held a hand to stop him.

“I get it.  We have a little chemistry, so we give each other a look now and again.  But if the choice is friendship, or nothing at all…Cas, believe me.  I choose my friend.”

Castiel let go of the breath he’d been holding.  He felt so relieved he almost mistook the feeling for happiness.

-Do you mean it?  It’s okay?-

“Yeah.  Totally.  I mean, it’s not the first time I’ve gotten tipsy and gotten a little handsy with a friend.”  Dean attempted a laugh.  “Well, I guess I’m not really tipsy now, but the principle still applies.  Benny and I are still good friends.  His wife still holds a grudge, but it’s not like they were married at the time.”

Castiel laughed.  –I really need to meet this Benny.-

“You do.  And you will.  Because we’ll stay friends.”

Castiel smiled.  –Good.  That’s really good.-

They held each other’s gaze for a moment and then looked away at different points on the wall and ceiling.  Castiel reached out and touched Dean’s knee.

-Do you want to finish the movie?-

“Uh,” Dean rubbed the back of his neck.  “Maybe some other time.  I should probably head out now.”

Castiel tried not to take it as a rejection.  After all, he’d been the one doing the rejecting.

-I understand.-

Dean stood up and adjusted his jeans.  Castiel pretended like he didn’t notice.  He walked with Dean toward the stairs that led to the front door.

You don’t have to keep this stupid rule, Castiel thought to himself.

They walked down the stairs.

You can have him.  He wants you.  Just take him.

Dean put his hand on the doorknob.

Don’t let him walk out.  Stop being an idiot.

Dean opened the door and looked back at Castiel.

Kiss him!  Kiss him!

“Goodnight, Cas.”

-Goodnight, Dean.-

Chapter Text

“If you do it, I’ll never forgive you, Charlie Bradbury,” Dean said, meaning every word.

“Oh, you mean do this?” Charlie replied in an innocent voice as she dropped a plasma grenade on Dean’s avatar’s head.

Dean howled in rage as his soldier melted into the ground.  The game declared Charlie the winner and she stood up and did her “Victory Dance,” which basically consisted of her doing the cabbage patch.  Dean tossed his controller onto the floor in disgust.  He was cool with Charlie being smarter than he and more tech savvy and better at signing, but schooling him in Halo?  Intolerable.

“I take it you lost again?”

Dean turned and saw Eileen standing in the arched opening to the kitchen.  She was wiping her hands off on a towel and smiling fondly at her wife.  Not long ago Dean wouldn’t have been able to understand Eileen without facing her, but his brain had become adept at relearning the way words could sound.

“I think she’s cheating,” Dean spoke and signed.

“No, you just suck,” Charlie said.

“You know what?  I’m not LARP-ing this weekend.”

“No!  No you promised!  There’s a whole narrative change based around your murder!”

“My murder?!  They’re killing me off?!”

Charlie shrunk in on herself, trying to look small and harmless.  “Well…your character is a bit of a dud.  We thought it would help if you tried to make a new one.”

“You haven’t even given him a chance yet.”

“Dean.  It’s been six months.  He’s had a chance.  He’s a dud.  Let him go.”

Dean grumbled to himself and then noticed Eileen’s amused though clueless expression.

-Sorry,- Dean said.  –We should have been signing.-

Eileen waved a hand.  “Talk about LARP-ing is one of the times I’m grateful I’m deaf.”

“Hey!” Charlie exclaimed indignantly.

-I love you,- Eileen said and then disappeared back into the kitchen.

“You’re lucky, Dean,” Charlie said as she flopped on the couch next to him.  “You still have the chance to fall in love with someone who can appreciate the finer things in life.”

“Like Star Trek and marathon games of Risk?”

“Exactly.”  She sighed dramatically, and then recovered with a bright smile.  “Wanna go another round?”

Dean checked his watch.  “I would, but I’m meeting Cas at the DCO to talk about the mission to Mexico.”

“Oh, are you going?”

“If I can convince my supervisor to let me take two full weeks off of work.”

“If he doesn’t, you should quit.  Eileen and I are going too.  It’ll be a blast.”

“I thought the point of this trip was to help those less fortunate than ourselves,” Dean said with mock scolding.

“Well, of course.  During the day.  At night it’s margaritas and mojitos and salsa dancing!”

“I’m not dancing.”

“You will after two margaritas the way Eileen makes them.”

Dean smiled.  “We’ll see.”  He stood up and Charlie walked him to the front door.

“You will come this weekend, right?” she asked.

“It depends on Sam’s schedule.  He’s working every shift he can to help cover the costs of books for next semester, so if he’s got some free time, I’ve got to take advantage of it.”

“I understand.  Family and blah-blah.  It might be better to kill your character off when you’re not around anyway.”

“Thanks,” Dean said dryly.

“Seriously, think of new character.  And try to make one who’s not, you know, a loser.”

“Bulge McSpiden is not a loser.”

Huge loser.”

Dean made a face at her, but before he could leave with his dignity, he was wrangled into a hug—You know I’m hugger, Dean—and somehow he also gave her a kiss on the crown of her head.  He had no idea why he had adopted Charlie so quickly, but he was fiercely protective of her like she was his little sister.  Even though she was three years older than he.

The drive downtown didn’t take too long on a Sunday afternoon and he was even able to find parking a reasonable distance from the DCO offices.  The longest part of the whole trip was the frickin elevator ride up to the third floor.  Maybe they ought to let some big developer buy them out for triple what the place was worth.  Then they could afford to move into better, modern offices.  When he stepped off onto the third floor he was greeted with an eye roll from Meg.

“You know this is for personnel only,” she said.  “The visitor entrance is downstairs.”

“Well, it’s a good thing I’m best friends with the boss then, isn’t it?”

Meg frowned at him.  “Best friends?  You’ve known him less than a year.  I’ve known him since college.”

“Quality not quantity, Ms. Masters.”

“Fuck you.”

“Hey.”

Dean and Meg turned to see Hannah poking her head out of her office.   “This is a place of business.  Please conduct yourselves accordingly.”

“Sorry,” they muttered.

Hannah ducked back into her office and Dean and Meg gave each other commiserating looks.

“Is Cas in his office?” Dean asked.

“No clue,” Meg said and turned with a flip of her hair to head back to her desk.

Dean started for Cas’ office, but was intercepted by Claire.

“Hey,” Claire said, trying to appear apathetic to anything Dean might say.  “Your dorky brother isn’t with you, is he?”

“Um…no.  He’s working.”

“On a Sunday?”

“You’re working on a Sunday.”

“I’m volunteering.  There’s a difference.”

“Sure.  Well, he’s working.  Some people have to pay for college rather than have Mommy and Daddy take care of it for them.”

“Whatever.  I work.”

“I thought you ‘volunteered.’”

“It’s still work.  Shut up.  Is he here all summer?”

“As far as I know.  Why?  You want me to chaperone you two on a date to the soda shop?”

“Oh my God I hate you,” Claire mumbled and walked away, her pale skin showing her blush prominently.

“Afterwards I can take you both to the Sock Hop!”

“Bite me!”

Dean grinned and resumed his trip to Cas’ office.  He wasn’t sure if he should encourage Claire’s crush since Sam had met some girl at school he was pretty smitten with, but teasing her about it was endlessly amusing.

Cas’ door was closed, so he pushed the button that flashed a light in his office in lieu of knocking.  A few seconds later Cas opened the door.  He smiled when he saw Dean and invited him inside.  Dean’s lungs suddenly felt a little tight.  He put a hand to his chest and took a deep breath.  The pressure eased.  He had no idea why these little twinges kept happening.  Maybe he should see a doctor.  Or maybe he was just nervous about the trip to Mexico.  Dean sat down in a chair across from Cas’ desk and waited for him to start.

-Hello.  How are you?-

“Good,” Dean replied while signing.  “I was just at Charlie’s.  Got my ass handed to me in Halo.”

-Well, you can still beat me at Halo.  Does that make you feel better?-

“Not really.  You suck at Halo.”

Cas frowned at him.  –I’m not bad for a N-E-W-B.-

Dean had learned how to see sarcasm in signing.  “You’re not bad, but you’re not good either.”

Cas let out a huff of frustration.  -Whatever.  We’re here to talk about Mexico.-

“Yes.  How is that going?”

-Excellent.  All of our plans have been approved and the funding has been allocated.  Starting tomorrow we’ll be making reservations and confirmations with our partners in Guadalajara, Cuautitlan, and Toluca.  We’ll be joined by Aural HealthCare of California, which will really help us to accomplish more.  We’ve enough funding to take ten volunteers, and if you’re still interested, one of those spots is yours.-

“I appreciate that and I really want to go, but is it fair that I take one of those spots?  There’s only ten and there are so many people who have worked here longer who deserve a chance to go.”

-Don’t worry.  Everyone who is a senior employee here has been offered the chance to go.  Some have obligations they can’t get out of and some need to stay here to keep the offices open.  The spots we’re filling are those hearing people with excellent signing skills.  Even though you haven’t been doing it as long as some of the others here, you’re better than most to be perfectly frank.-

Dean was flattered and little embarrassed by the praise.  “I’m not that good.”

-Better than Meg and she started learning ASL when were undergrads—ten years ago.  I believe her fervor to learn waned somewhat when she found out I’m gay.-

Dean chuckled uneasily.  After Cas had turned him down the night of the gala, he had slacked off on his lessons for a bit.  It was only after he’d realized Cas’ line about staying friends hadn’t been just a line that he’d started applying himself again.

“Well, I haven’t used a single day of leave since I started my job at the ad firm, so I feel like they owe me a two week break.  I’ll put in my request tomorrow.  What dates is it again?”

-July 29th to August 12th.-

“I’ll mark my calendar.”

-Good.  Now, if you can give me ten minutes to finish up one last order of business, I’ll show you that pub I’ve been talking about.-

“Perfect.  I’m fuckin’ starving,” Dean said, using his hands to push on the arms of the chair to stand up.

-I didn’t catch that.-

“Sorry.  I said I’m starving.”

-Was there another word?-

“No…that’s what I said.  Oh.”  Dean chuckled.  “I used a profane modifier.”

-You cursed.-

“Sure, if you want to look at it that way.”

-Show me.-

“Show you what?”

-What your lips look like when you say ‘fuck.’-

Dean quirked a smile and turned fully to face Cas.  He put his hands on Cas’ desk and leaned down close to him.  Cas shifted, but didn’t pull away.  They maintained eye contact until Dean said, “You have to look at my lips, not my eyes.”

Cas must have noticed his facial muscles shifting because his eyes dropped to Dean’s lips.

Fuck, Dean mouthed the word, exaggerating the movement.  Cas’ eyes lingered for a moment, and then flicked back up to his.  Dean let out a small laugh and straightened.  He turned toward the door so he wouldn’t elaborate on that word.  This whole friends with chemistry thing was a little frustrating, but there was nothing wrong with a little harmless flirting from time to time.

 ~~~

Castiel walked Dean to his office door with the intention of closing it so that he could make a phone call, but instead he held it open for a moment as he watched Dean cross the room toward the elevator.  In the heat of summer Dean finally forwent the plaid over shirt and just wore a T-shirt which afforded a better view of just how well his jeans fit him.

Castiel started back when a hand waved in front of his face.  Meg gave him her patented smug smirk.

-Take a picture; it’ll last longer.-

-Stop it.  He’ll understand you.-

-He’s not looking.-

-Go back to work.-

-You’re no fun, Clarence.-

Castiel ignored her and stepped back to close the door as Meg wandered away.  He paused just before closing the door and watched Dean talk with Claire.  They weren’t signing, they were just talking.  Dean massaged his forearm as he listened to Claire.  People who were new to signing often developed sore muscles as their hands and arms weren’t used to so much irregular motion.  Even people who signed a lot could be susceptible to similar symptoms and some even developed something akin to carpal tunnel syndrome and were unable to sign without intense pain.  He’d seen cases of hearing parents who’d had to stop communicating with their deaf children because they lost the ability to make certain motions or the pain interfered with other activities like writing or eating.

Castiel felt bad for Dean.  He’d worked so hard to learn so quickly and it was finally taking a toll on his body.  If they’d given in to their hormones and started dating, Dean would probably be a lot worse off now.  He might have even given up on signing or asked Castiel to try a little harder when it came to lip reading.  Maybe Dean would have given up on the relationship altogether by now.  Castiel was much happier to have his friend Dean set to accompany him on their mission to Mexico than to wistfully or possibly angrily think about what could have been with his ex-boyfriend.  Granted virtually every jerk off session now started off with a memory of being on his couch with Dean, but there was nothing wrong with a little harmless fantasy from time to time.

Dean started to turn toward him, so he quickly backed up and shut his office door.  Dean probably heard it slam because it never occurred to Castiel until after the fact to shut a door ‘quietly.’

Castiel made his way to his desk and pulled up Skype on his laptop.  He clicked his friend Balthazar’s icon and hoped the man hadn’t just left the application running and then flitted off to who knows where.  Balthazar had a terrible habit of never really being anywhere he was supposed to be.  Ever.

Moments later the call connected and Balthazar’s face appeared before him.

-Hello, gorgeous,- Balthazar addressed him like he started all their conversations.

-Hi.  How are things in LA?-

-Wonderful.  Dry as a bone, but fake tans, big cocks, and even bigger tits as far as the eye can see.  Your talents are wasted in Middle of Nowhere, USA.-

-Not so wasted.  We’ve been approved to go on a mission to Mexico to provide free hearing tests and fit those in need with hearing aids.-

-Mexico?  Baja, I hope?-

-Not remotely.-

-Ah, well.  Tequila is tequila.  When do we leave?-

Castiel made an apologetic face.  Balthazar’s expression fell.

-No,- Balthazar signed despondently.  –I can’t go?-

-Sorry.  We only have ten spots available, and you know I had to offer them to the senior members of the DCO before I could invite friends.-

Balthazar sighed sadly and Castiel felt a little guilty.  But only a little.

-I understand.  Our trip to Saint Maarten’s in still on for the fall though, right?-

-Of course.  ‘No island will be left a virgin’ and all that.-

Balthazar grinned.  –Damn right.  It’s probably best I sit this trip out.  You know how much trouble I can be.-

-I do,- Castiel agreed with a wry expression.

Balthazar laughed.  The kind where he threw his head back and really laughed.  Balthazar had no qualms about how loud he was.  He didn’t care if he was ever a nuisance to the hearing.  His thoughts were that they certainly didn’t care if they were a nuisance to him.  It was a philosophy Castiel could relate to.

-Well, try to find a beautiful boy to cozy up to while you’re down there.  You know they’ll all be fawning on me when we go to Saint Maarten.-

-You wish, old man.-

-Hit a nerve have I?  You only get catty when you’re feeling insecure.-

-I’m not…I have to go.  I have a lunch meeting.-

-Of course you do.  Working on a Sunday.  That’s why you’re still single.  It has nothing to do with you being deaf or too choosey.-

-Thank you for your opinion.-

-When will you learn my opinion is fact?-

-Goodbye.-

-Goodbye, darling.-

Castiel ended the call, a smile tugging at his lips.  He’d met Balthazar as a freshman in college.  He’d been a graduate student and the TA for one of Castiel’s classes.  Castiel had been so excited about finding a deaf student at a hearing school that he hadn’t cared how completely different they were.  He’d been bound and determined to make the friendship work, and for thirteen years they had been fast friends.  They had seen each other through many setbacks and triumphs in their careers and personal lives.  There’d never been a romantic spark, which Castiel sometimes lamented.  It would be easier if he could fall in love with Balthazar rather than obsess over someone he didn’t really want.  If he could just stop thinking about “what if” then he could just be friends with Dean.  That’s all he wanted.

Castiel logged off his laptop and used the camera app on his phone to fix his hair.  Then he got annoyed with himself for caring.  It was just lunch with a friend.  He never cared if his hair stuck up with his other friends.  Castiel pocketed his phone and checked to make sure his wallet was still in his pocket.  Then he crossed the room and opened the door.  Dean was speaking with Claire, Meg, Hannah, and Ambriel—all of whom were hearing and none of whom were signing.  Another cluster contained the deafies in the office, all of whom were signing without speaking.  Even at the DCO a natural divide formed.  Hannah was as entrenched in deaf culture as any hearing person could be, but every now and then she preferred to just talk and listen.  It was easier.  It was easier for everyone.

Castiel refused to let his observation settle a melancholy mood over him and put on a smile as he approached Dean and the group he was speaking with.  They all acknowledged him happily and started signing immediately.  No one seemed put out or irritated that they had to adjust to for him, but they had to adjust.  It wasn’t normal for them.  He appreciated their efforts because they were his friends, but it just solidified his belief that relationships were hard enough without adding a complex dynamic like culture clash into the mix.

 ~~~

Dean stood at the bus stop, sweat dripping unpleasantly down his back.  The temperature was only in the high seventies, but the humidity was making everything sticky.  However, he’d expected Mexico at the end of July to be unbearable, so the current conditions were somewhat of a pleasant surprise.  Minus the wild careening descent and bumpy landing of the plane into Guadalajara.  Everyone else said it had been perfectly normal, but Dean was fairly certain they’d been a three degree pitch to the left away from fiery deaths.  At least Cas hadn’t been able to hear him whimper.  Though he might have noticed the white-knuckled grip on their shared armrest.

The group of ten DCO volunteers was waiting with the twelve Aural HealthCare of California volunteers for the bus that would take them out to the small building they had rented on the outskirts of the city.  An outdoor clinic would be set up next to the building, and cots were being rented to turn the building into a makeshift motel.  There were apparently several bathrooms, but only two showers.  There was no kitchen and no TV and no air conditioning.  Dean wondered if any late night bars would have a/c that he could hide in for a few hours.

“Okay, everyone!” Eddie, the director for the California group, said as he waved his hands to get everyone’s attention.  He began to sign as he spoke.  “The bus will be a little cramped, but it should only be about a thirty minute ride.  We’re going to be near Cajititlán Lake, a short ride from a major highway.  Most of our patients are going to be coming from very distant, rural areas.  People were sent out by our local affiliates to spread the word weeks ago.  People will be showing up before dawn, so we need to get the tents set up tonight and be ready to go first thing tomorrow morning.  That’s means no resting, no exploring, no frolicking.  There will be time for that tomorrow night.”

There was an audible groaning from most everyone at the thought of having to work straight away after a five hour flight and an extremely questionable bus ride if the shambling pile of junk approaching them was any indication.  The bus was an old school bus, so they had to take their luggage and the crates with their equipment with them to their seats.  The ride from the airport to their location was incredibly bumpy and more than one person had a heavy crate fall onto their arm or leg.  The group was pretty battered when they arrived at their rental—and it looked worse than it had sounded.

The building was a narrow two stories and made of crumbling stucco.  What windows were still in place, rather than gaping holes into the interior, were covered in dirt.  The surrounding land was a rocky, brown dirt with tufts of scrubby grass dotting it here and there.  The nearest neighbor to the left was the start of a clean, well maintained neighborhood about three hundred yards away, and to the right was a rundown, abandoned building about one hundred yards away.  The lake was only thirty yards from the back of the building and a sparkling blue.  There were no boats on their section of the lake, but dozens of colorful vessels floated near the town of Cajititlán.

“Okay,” Eddie got everyone’s attention, which was given begrudgingly as everyone was ready to get off the bus.  “Let’s offload the entire bus now and then split into two groups.  One group will take the bus to Cajititlán to pick up the cots and get some bottled water and some snack foods.  Maybe something that can be easily cooked over a camping stove since I think we have one, but most meals will have to be ordered and picked up from Cajititlán.

“The other group will separate luggage from the clinic equipment and start setting up the tents.  When group one returns we will all work on getting the cots set up and as much of the clinic equipment we can safely leave outside overnight.

“Okay, pick your groups.  Preferably a Spanish speaker or two will accompany me to get the cots.”

It was a fairly even split between the two groups of DCO and AHC members, and Dean opted to stay at their clinic site.  He was tired of traveling and helping pitch a couple of tarps didn’t sound like much work.  Charlie and Cas stayed with him and Eileen, Hannah, and Gabriel went off with the bus.  Dean wasn’t as familiar with the four other DCO members.  Two were completely deaf, one was hard of hearing, and the fourth was hearing and spoke a little Spanish.  He had no idea what any of the AHC people might be, so he figured the safest thing to do would be to sign to everybody.

They had the tarps set up and the equipment separated and stored in the bottom floor of the building long before the bus people got back.  Volunteers from local clinics and doctors’ offices arrived with folding tables and chairs for them to set up workstations and a small waiting area.  It was during an impromptu meeting that Dean learned what his function on the trip would be.  Some of the local volunteers were able to act as translators, but they didn’t know any sign language in English or Spanish.  Dean and the other hearing individuals were to act as interpreters between the translators and the deaf staff who would be conducting the examinations.  That meant all the deaf volunteers were going to need a hearing buddy.

Dean nudged Cas as they rested in old, plastic chairs facing the lake as the sun began to set.  Cas turned his head barely enough to be able to see Dean’s hands move.

-Need an interpreter buddy for tomorrow?-

Cas nodded.

Dean nudged him again.  –Can I be your buddy?-

Cas smiled and glanced over at Dean before settling back in his chair.  -Always.-

 ~~~

The promise of several bathrooms and two showers was an out and out lie.  There were two bathrooms total and only one of them had a shower.  Hot water was a laughable pipe dream and the two upstairs rooms barely had enough space for the twenty-two cots to fit.  Eddie initially suggested separating into men and women but he was waved off with dismissive scoffs and Castiel happily settled in the corner with Gabriel near his feet, Charlie next to him, and Dean at a right angle to his head.

Everyone was exhausted after hours of set up and inventorying the equipment to make sure they knew what they had and where to find it.  The locals were set to come back at sunrise and everyone was encouraged to go to bed as soon as possible.  They drew straws for order of use of the shower (no one volunteered to skip as they were all quite sweaty after working in the hot afternoon sun), and Castiel had drawn second position.  The shower hadn’t been terrible as the water wasn’t freezing cold and it felt really good to wash off the grime of travel and sweat.  He currently sat on his cot by himself reading a book as Charlie and Dean were both toward the end of the shower queue.  Eileen was already asleep on her cot, which was mostly next to Charlie’s.

Castiel looked up when his cot jiggled.  Gabriel was sitting on his own cot and gave him a wave.  Castiel put his book down and waved back.

-Nervous about tomorrow?- Gabriel asked.

-More anxious.  I want everything to go right, but I’m eager to start.  We’ve been successful in our previous missions, but those were all domestic.-

-I think we’ve got a good group here.  I think we’ll do great.-

-Me too.-

Gabriel played with one of his toes and nibbled on his lower lip.  Castiel tilted his head down to give him a questioning look.

-Is there something you want to ask?-

-I’m just curious why Balthazar isn’t here.-

-Well, there were only ten slots.  They filled up.  He’s not actually with the DCO anymore.-

-He’s not.  But neither is Dean.  And he’s been signing for less than a year.-

-He’s good at it.-

-He is.-

-Is it a problem for you that he’s here?-

-No, no,- Gabriel emphatically signed.  –You’re misunderstanding my interest in his presence.-

Castiel narrowed his eyes.  –What about his presence has you interested?-

-I’m just curious why he made the cut over all the other possible interpreters who could have come.  When I found out Claire and Ambriel and Meg weren’t coming, I assumed you were saving the spot for Balthazar.-

-Meg is helping Anna and Inias run the DCO while we’re gone.-

-I get that.-

-For Pete’s sake, spit it out.-

Gabriel grinned.  –You brought Dean along because you’re looking to get some action.-

Castiel’s jaw dropped open.  –I am not!-

-Hey, it’s cool.  Good on you.  He’s ridiculously hot.  And I say that as a straight man.-

-Stop it.-

-It’s cool.  Really.  Over half us won’t even be able to hear you.  Go wild.-

-Gabriel.  Dean and I are friends.  Only friends.  I’m not going to deny that…it hasn’t come up.-

Gabriel snickered.

-I don’t mean like that!  But he knows my stance on dating hearing people, so we’ve agreed that staying friends is the best option.-

Gabriel rolled his eyes and fell back onto his cot dramatically.  Then he sat back up.  –Are you seriously still ‘I don’t date hearing people?’  You’ve got to get over that.-

-I don’t want to get over it.  Because I can’t.  I’m deaf.  I will always be deaf.  There will never be a reprieve from it and he can’t understand what that’s like.  He just can’t.-

-Who cares if he doesn’t understand?  Ride that cock like a cowboy at a rodeo.  It’s gotta be big.  Have you seen his hands?-

-And then what?  We have sex and things get awkward and we grow apart?  He’s a friend.  A very good friend.  I don’t want to lose him because of something as mundane as sex.-

-Okay, if you’re calling sex mundane, you’re doing it wrong.-

-Shut up,- Castiel signed with small motions as he saw Charlie enter the room.  –Not a word to anyone.  Especially Dean!-

-Fine.-

Charlie approached them wearing pajamas in her Hogwarts House colors, her red hair twisted up into a towel turban.  She stopped by her wife’s cot and gave her a light kiss on the temple, and then proceeded to hop into her own and grin as she faced Gabriel and Castiel.

-What are we gossiping about?-

-Castiel’s bigotry- Gabriel signed unhappily.

-I am not a bigot!- Castiel growled as he signed, wondering if he’d made an actual noise.

-What do you mean a bigot?  Oh.  His whole won’t date someone who’s hearing thing?-

Gabriel nodded.

-Yeah.  I don’t get it myself.  Not when there’s so many people he could be with if he didn’t keep to that silly rule.-

-Yeah, people nearby.-

-Practically right under his nose.-

Gabriel and Charlie looked over at where Dean’s cot butted up next to Castiel’s, and then looked up at the man himself.  Castiel glared at them, and then raised his book high enough to block them from his view.

 ~~~

Not for the first time that day, Dean found himself staring—gazing—at Cas as he worked with a young child.  The boy was probably around ten or eleven, and the smile that lit up his face when the hearing aids were tuned correctly was rivaled only by Cas’.  The boy babbled something to his mother and she laughed as she tried to hold back tears.  The local technician assigned to their table was explaining to the mother how to care for the device and how to get a hold of batteries when the spare ones ran out.

The little boy tugged on the technician’s sleeve and whispered something softly.  The technician looked at Dean with a smile.

“He wants to thank the nice man for helping him,” she said, indicating Cas.

Cas was making notes in his records, so Dean caught the little boy’s eye and signed “thank you” as he said “gracias.”  Then he nodded his head toward Cas.  The little boy faced Cas and Dean tapped his shoulder to get his attention.  He looked at Dean first, and then the boy when Dean nodded in his direction.  The boy imitated Dean’s movement perfectly and Cas smiled and opened his arms.  The child eagerly moved into the hug and Dean felt his chest swell with emotion.  He turned to hide using his hand to rub the pressure away.

Facing the other way, he was able to see the waiting area, which was completely full and an overflow crowd fanned out around the area in clumps.  People had started showing up before sunrise, but they couldn’t work without sunlight, so they’d had to put off opening the clinic for a couple of hours.  They’d all been working nonstop for almost eleven hours, only taking breaks long enough to use the bathroom or devour a protein bar in three bites.

The majority of the clients were senior citizens who had a natural decline in hearing due to age.  Some people seemed to just want a free checkup since they’d never visited an ear doctor in their lives.  A few were children who had hearing impediments that could be corrected with hearing aids, but some, like the little girl next in Dean’s and Cas’ queue, were profoundly deaf since birth.

Cas diligently adjusted the hearing aids to higher settings after the little girl failed to notice Dean snapping his fingers next to her head, just out of sight.  After he had maxed out the hearing aid, Cas sat back with a sad expression.  He looked at the mother’s expectant face.

-She’s not responding to the highest setting on the aid- Cas signed.  Dean interpreted for the translator and she in turn spoke to the mother in Spanish.  –Based on what you told me, it seems likely she was born deaf.  This could be due to problems with the structures inside her ears or with the connection her ears have to her brain.  It would be impossible for us to determine the cause here.  The odds of there being a surgical option are very slim.  What would be best is for her—and you and your whole family—to begin learning sign language immediately.-

Dean watched the mother take in the news; her daughter sat oblivious to the discussion, playing with a paper doll.  The mother nodded, and then shook her head.  She spoke softly and then encouraged the little girl to stand up.  The translator quickly relayed what the mother had said as best she could and Dean did his best to sign the halting translating.

-She said that there is no school, no teacher, no money.  They’ve been okay for nine years, they will be okay.-

Cas stood up and moved in front of the woman and her daughter to prevent them from leaving.

-She can’t go her whole life not being able to communicate with people.  She can’t even read.-

His words went through Dean and the translator, but the woman only shrugged and ushered her daughter out of the tent.  Cas sat back down in his chair and let out a low, frustrated sound.  He thumped a fist on the table and several people around them looked in their direction.  Dean squeezed Cas’ tense shoulder.  He continued to stare at the table for several moments, but finally he looked up.

-Let’s take a break,- Dean said.  –You haven’t eaten anything in hours and you definitely need water.-

Dean could see how despondent Cas was because he didn’t even put up a perfunctory protest.  He just stood up, wearily pushing himself to his feet with his hands on the folding table.  He walked out of the tent and Dean motioned for Eileen and Charlie to come off their floating rounds and take a permanent spot for the moment.

Dean found Cas in the shade of their temporary home.  He was sitting on a rickety crate with his back pressed to the wall.  He was completely out of view of the pop-up clinic.  Dean nudged a small barrel with his toe until it was in front of Cas, and then he sat down on it.  Cas leaned his head back against the wall and looked at Dean.  Neither said anything for several minutes.  Dean didn’t want to break the peace between them, and he couldn’t deny that being allowed to just look at Cas as much as he wanted for as long as he wanted was a good feeling.

-I wonder how she thinks,- Cas said at last.

-What do you mean?-

-When you think, you think in words, don’t you?  You associate words with images or even concepts and you link them together to form thoughts that are very much like sentences.  She has no concept of language.  I wonder how she thinks.  Is it just visual images?  Has her brain created ‘words’ for objects?  Maybe it’s freeing in a way.  But she’ll be taken advantage of all her life.  Thought of as stupid.  Manipulated, maybe abused.  And it doesn’t just happen in ‘places like this.’  I’ve seen this reaction in America plenty of times.  Even though public schools are required to provide education for ‘disabled’ children, a lot of schools don’t know that they legally are.  Or don’t have the money.  Or don’t care.  So many people can’t be bothered to learn sign language in order to communicate with their deaf children.  And the child is understandably frustrated, so they act out.  So they get labeled as a ‘bad kid.’  It’s so fucked up.-

Cas let his hands flop into his lap and moved his head back and forth against the wall in defeat.  Dean watched him for a moment and then signed, -That’s a lot of air quotes.-

Cas huffed out a laugh.  –Sorry.  I’m surprised you can pick them out.-

-I can’t really with other people because they only put one in front of the word, but you bookend each word with them, so it makes it easier to delimitate where the signs begin and end.-

-Does it hurt to sign?-

Dean was a bit taken aback by the question.  He wasn’t sure where it had come from or even what exactly it meant.

-No.  How would signing hurt?-

-I’ve seen you rubbing your forearms after extended periods of signing.-

-Oh.  I haven’t really noticed anything.  At first my biceps and triceps were a little sore.  I wasn’t used to holding my arms up so much.  But I’m used to it now.-

-Would you rather not sign at all?-

Dean frowned.  –You trying to get rid of me?-

-No.  Of course not.  I just don’t…It’s not important.-

-Say what you’re thinking,- Dean signed, his mood darkening.  Was Cas about to tell him that he couldn’t even be friends with hearing people because they were all such enormous assholes?

-I’ve upset you.-

“Yeah, you have,” Dean said, purposely clenching his hands together.

-I’m sorry.  I’m tired.  I don’t understand.  I’ve never cared before if my deafness has been an inconvenience for someone.-

Dean’s brow creased in confusion.  –You think you’re an inconvenience to me?-

Cas shrugged.

Before Dean could respond, Katie from the AHC stuck her head around the corner of the building.

-Hi.  We only have a couple of hours of daylight left, so Eddie was thinking about closing up in half an hour so that we still have light to see by to pack up.-

Dean deferred to Cas; he nodded his ascent.  Katie disappeared and they stared at each other for several moments.

-We should get back,- Cas said.

-Get some water first,- Dean replied.

Then he stood up and left Cas sitting on his crate.  Dean felt upset as he made his way back to the tent.  What had he done to make Cas think that he thought he was a nuisance?  Maybe it was one of those reverse psychology things.  Maybe Cas thought he was a nuisance but wanted Dean to think he was so that he might end the friendship.  If that was the case, why did he ask him to come to Mexico?  Dean had given him plenty of outs, but Cas had been the one to insist that he wanted Dean to come along.  Maybe he was reading too much into it.  Maybe Cas was just tired and feeling a little depressed.  People always looked at the world a little glass-half-empty when they were depressed.

They had done so much good today.  There had been a lot of success stories.  It sucked that one failure could take all the joy out of the good that had been done.  Dean looked at the group of people still working diligently under the tarps.  They all looked to be in good moods.  Tired, but pleased.  Had they not come across a case like little Esmeralda?  Were they just able to shake it off better than Cas?  Was Cas actually upset about something completely unrelated?

For the next thirty minutes Dean tried to remember if Cas had said anything lately that he may have dismissed but was actually a passive way of expressing his problems.  It seemed unlikely as Cas was about as blunt a person as he’d ever met.  Fortunately his mind being distracted didn’t impede his ability to write down the notes the translator was giving him as she took medical histories.

A large number of people had to be turned away for the night and asked to come back the next day.  Some indicated they couldn’t come back and Dean wondered if they couldn’t move the clinic indoors for a bit.  As shabby as their building was, it did have electricity.  Looking around at the volunteers’ faces though, he knew that they had about reached their limit for the day.  Also many of their translators had already had to leave to go home to their families.  Dean thought he might understand why Cas was feeling so melancholy despite the good work they had done—it would never be enough.

“Hey, Dean-o.”

Dean rolled his eyes up into his head as he carefully added the last few files to the cardboard box serving as a filing cabinet.  He stood up and looked at Gabriel.

“What?”

“Some of us are taking the bus to get some supplies for tonight’s fiesta.  You wanna come with us?  Or help pack up the clinic?”

“Shouldn’t we all help pack up the clinic?” Dean asked, signing for Gabriel’s benefit.

“It’s forty minutes one way.  If we don’t get supplies now this party won’t start until after midnight.”

“A party?”

“No, no, newbie.  This is a sacred tradition.  I’m actually offering you a great honor.”

“I see.  And where are we going to get these supplies?”

Gabriel shrugged.  “Costco.”

“There’s a Costco here?”

“It’s Mexico.  Not Mars.”

 ~~~

Castiel wiped the sweat from his brow and strained his eyes in the darkness to look around the empty clinic again.  Only the tarps and folding tables and chairs remained.  He fanned the top of his shirt to cool off a bit.  With the setting sun the temperature had cooled to a more pleasant 65, but the humidity hadn’t dropped much and there wasn’t a breath of wind.

Flashing light caught his attention out of the pitch black to his right.  The bus was returning from its trip to Costco.  He walked over to stand by the door to the building and waited for the bus to skid to a halt with a burst of gravel and dust.  Gabriel was the first one off and carried only a 24 pack of Corona.

-Ready?- he signed one-handed.

Castiel shrugged.  -As I ever am for these things.-

Gabriel grinned and disappeared inside the building.  Castiel walked over to the bus to help carry in the bags of ice and other supplies.  There was quite a bit of tequila, triple sec, and limes, so he was grateful there were also bags of chips and buckets of guacamole and salsa.  At least there would be something to help absorb the alcohol.

Dean smiled when he saw him as he debussed.  He was carrying two bags of ice in each hand and his forearms and biceps bulged with the effort.  Castiel did his best not to take notice.  Unfortunately in order to do that he had to walk behind him, and that just presented a whole other set of problems.

Inside the building the main room had been converted into a middle schooler’s basement party.  Everything had been shoved against the walls to create a large open space in the middle of the room, and small but powerful speakers had been set up in every corner.  As the supply runners carried in their treasures, ice chests and plastic crates were set up to accept them.  Everything was placed haphazardly around the room, with only the barest organization of “margarita ingredients go over here.”

Castiel smiled when he saw that Dean had already broken into a tub of guacamole and was happily scooping it up by the chip-ful as he watched everybody else work.  He crossed the room to stand next to him.  Dean offered him a guac-laden chip, which he accepted with a growling stomach.  They were going to have to send someone out for real food for breakfast tomorrow.

Charlie approached them and handed something to Dean.  He opened his hand to look at the items sitting on his palm: bright orange foam earplugs.

“What are these for?” he asked, with a decent effort at signing with full hands.

“This is your first official Deaf Party,” Charlie spoke and signed.

Dean shrugged.  “Do hearing people and deaf people party differently?”

“Let’s just say there’s a reason why we picked such an isolated spot.”

At the moment Castiel felt his body vibrate from the waves produced by a heavy bass line, Dean flinched and raised a hand toward his ear.  Castiel enjoyed being able to feel the beat of music he couldn’t hear, but he hated that it was almost painful for Dean and Charlie.  Dean quickly put the earplugs in, and his face relaxed.  He grinned and nodded at both Charlie and Castiel.

-It’ll be nice not to have to shout just to talk to someone at a party for once.-

-Is it okay?- Castiel asked.  –The volume?  They can turn it down.-

Dean shook his head.  –The earplugs work great.  It’s really cool to feel the bass so strongly.-

-Are you sure?  I don’t want—

Dean caught Castiel’s hands, but immediately let them go.  –It’s fine.  Let’s party!-

Charlie made “rock on” hands and then bounced in a decidedly un-rock-and-roll kind of way across the floor to where her wife was mixing up the first batch of margaritas.  Dean crammed a couple more over-guac-ed chips into his mouth and then started to guide Castiel across the floor.

-I was promised epic margaritas,- Dean said.

Castiel allowed himself to be pulled around the room from drink station to food station to clumps of people.  He did his best to fight Charlie’s attempts to get both him and Dean on the dance floor.  She demanded that if she had to dance with her wife that they had to look stupid with her.  It wasn’t even that bad until Katie from the AHC started to dance more on Dean than beside him, but Dean didn’t seem too put out by it.  Castiel was going to have to get Gabriel to tell him that hookups weren’t allowed until the last night, just in case it caused problems.  Then it wouldn’t matter since they would all be going home.

Since he didn’t get a chance to speak with Gabriel about the matter he may have insinuated himself between Dean and Katie when the party began to break apart into small clusters of people talking or playing drinking games.  Their cluster was sitting down on equipment crates in a small circle and Castiel slipped onto the other half of Dean’s crate so smoothly Katie actually sat in his lap before she noticed him.  Embarrassed, she popped up like a jack-in-the-box and quickly shifted to another crate.

A bottle of tequila and several medium-sized cups were produced by Gabriel and placed in the center of the circle.  Everyone filled the cups about halfway full with cheap tequila and Castiel sighed in resignation that he was probably about to get pulled into a game of Never Have I Ever.  He glanced at Dean, who was smiling, his cheeks a little flushed with the warmth of alcohol.  When he reached up to take his ear plugs out, Castiel realized he couldn’t feel the music anymore.  It had either been turned down or completely off as some people had decided to call it a night and head to bed.  Castiel felt a little sorry for all those poor schmoes who had to deal with not being able to sleep through random noises.  Someone had already commented that the cicadas outside were crazy noisy.

-I’ll start!- Gabriel said.  –Never have I ever had sex with my boss.-

A couple people drank and the group plied them with questions.  Dean tapped on Castiel’s leg.

-Are you Gabriel’s boss?-

Castiel waffled a hand.  –Not really, but technically yes.-

-Never have I ever had sex with a man,- Charlie declared proudly.

Everyone woman in the group, including Charlie’s wife, and Castiel and Dean took drinks.  Most everyone started teasing Charlie, but Katie leaned over Castiel to get Dean’s attention.

-Are you gay?- she asked bluntly.

Castiel was annoyed by her behavior and impertinence, but Dean just laughed.

-Bisexual,- he replied.

-Good to know,- she said with a wink.

Castiel sat forward, forcing her back into her own seat.  He just needed to check his shoelace.

-Never have I ever had sex with a hearing person,- Darlene from the AHC said.

Everyone except Darlene took a drink; she looked surprised and a little miffed by her solo status.  Dean nudged Castiel in the ribs.

-So you don’t date hearing people; you just fuck them?- he asked.  He was smiling to let Castiel know he was joking with him, but the smile didn’t quite make it to his eyes.

-Aren’t you the one who says you’ll ‘try anything once?’-

Dean shrugged his lips.  –Good point.  Okay then…Never have I ever…had sex with a teacher.-

Gabriel and Katie took sips of their tequila.  Based on their open mouths and pointing fingers and rocking bodies, Castiel assumed just about everyone was making some kind of noise at these revelations.  They were plied with questions.  Katie refused to answer, but Gabriel went into more detail than anybody wanted to know about his tryst with an instructor he met while taking a four week cooking class.  He was also booed for his loose definition of the word “teacher.”

Dean nudged him again when it was his turn, and then remained pressed against his side.  Or maybe that was just the way they were sitting because the crate was so small.

-Never have I ever…-  Castiel looked around the circle.  He knew secrets about half of those present that would let him make a little mischief, but he wanted to know more about Dean.  –Never have I ever had a one night stand.-

About half the people in the group took a swig of tequila, Dean among them.  Dean smiled at Castiel.

-Never?  No one night stands?-

Castiel shook his head.

-You’re the ‘make love’ type?-

-No,- Castiel signed sharply, feeling a blush coming on.

Dean nudged him.  –There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.  Sweet is sexy too.-

-I’m not ‘sweet,’- he said, making a face.

Castiel’s heart made an attempt to break free of his rib cage when Dean swayed into him and kissed him full on the lips.  They kissed for one second, maybe two, and then Dean pulled back and said something.  The hearing people in the group laughed.  Castiel pushed back gently on Dean, and taking in his complexion and the glazed expression in his eyes, realized that Dean was much drunker than he had originally thought.

-What did you say?-

“I said…” –You taste sweet to me.-

Everyone in the group laughed and Castiel blushed, but played it off by rolling his eyes.

-Alright.  Everyone is now officially too drunk to keep drinking.  We have a very long, hard day ahead of us tomorrow.  I think we all need to go to bed.-

-You mean go to ‘cot,’- Gabriel said.

-Yes, yes, you’re so clever.-

Castiel stood up and Dean pitched into the empty space he left behind.  He put a hand on his friend’s shoulder to steady him, and his flush turned a little ashen.

-Are you going to throw up?-

Dean shook his head.  –I got it.  Just need to lie down.-

With Eileen’s help, Castiel got Dean up the stairs with a minimum of weaving and safely onto his cot.  He managed to get Dean to take some Advil and drink some bottled water before he was fully asleep.  His mouth hung open and based on the way Hannah raised her head and glared at him, he must be snoring.  Castiel stayed up long enough to take his turn in a bathroom, and then settled down on his cot to go to sleep.  He set the alarm on his phone and then placed it near his face and shoulder so that he would feel it vibrate when it went off.  He breathed deeply when the lights went out.  He turned his head and just managed to make out Dean’s shape in the meager moonlight.  He shook his head in amusement, and then realized that he was touching his lips with his fingertips.  He whipped his hand down to his side.

Just go to sleep.

 ~~~

Dean snorted awake as about six or seven different alarms blared, beeped, and vibrated into the morning.  He squeezed his eyes shut against the light, and then peeked them open as he realized there was no light.  The sun was not up yet and no one had turned on an overhead light.  He groped for his phone and turned it on to check the time.  Then he hissed and hid his eyes from the sharp light.  His head hurt.  A lot.  It had been awhile since he’d had that much tequila in one sitting.  He managed to peek one eye open.  It was 5:30am.  He groaned and dropped his head back down onto his thin pillow.  He’d probably gotten less than five hours of sleep.  Whose brilliant idea had it been to party last night?

The overhead lights turned on.  A mass groaning sounded in the room.  Some people buried themselves into their cots, but some managed to sit up and stretch out their limbs.  Dean caught Charlie’s eye.  She was halfway between the two reactions.

“How you feeling?” she asked.

“Hungover,” he replied.

She nodded her head.  “I told you Eileen’s margaritas were legendary.”

Dean grunted.  “I’m not sure it was the margaritas so much as the straight up tequila.”

“Well, maybe if you weren’t such a bad boy, you wouldn’t have gotten as drunk.”

“Never Have I Ever is a rigged game.”

Charlie smiled.  “That’s why you never play that game with people you know.”

Dean agreed with a snort.  Castiel’s legs blocked his view of Charlie as he swung them over the side of his cot.  Then the man stood up and shuffled stiffly toward the door and, Dean assumed, the bathroom.  He watched him leave the room, and then looked back at Charlie.  She was still smiling at him.

“What?” he asked.

“What’s with your expression?” she asked.  “You look confused.”

“Confused?  I guess…did I kiss Cas last night?  Or was that a dream?”

“Uh, definitely not a dream.”

“Oh, crap.”  Dean put a hand over his eyes.

“Don’t worry.  No one took it as more than a drunk joke gone wrong.  Even Cas.”

“What was the joke?”

“That Cas tastes sweet.”

Dean couldn’t help but smile a little.  “He did a little bit.  I think it was the sugar rims on the margaritas.”  He moved his hand and looked at Charlie.  “Who the hell uses sugar and not salt for margaritas?”

“My wife.  That’s who.  Got a problem?”

Dean put his hands up in surrender.  He dropped them to his sides again and heaved a sigh.  He looked at Charlie.

“Are you sure it didn’t make Cas mad?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.  He was cool with it.  I think you broke Katie’s heart, but…I’m sure she’ll live.”

“Katie?  The redhead?”

“Redhead?  I’m a redhead.  She is not a redhead.”

“It’s like strawberry blonde.”

“Not a redhead.”

“Close enough.”

Charlie picked up her pillow and threw it at him.  He easily caught it and used it to supplement his own poor excuse for a pillow.

“No…no don’t take my love away from me.  Dean…please…”

Charlie’s voice faded as he fell back asleep.  His nap was short-lived when someone zipped the tip of a finger up the middle of the sole of his foot.  He jerked awake with a yelp.  He heard laughter around him, but he didn’t think there was anything funny about it.  They must have let him stay asleep to keep him out of the bathroom queue because he was the only one not dressed (or changed from last night’s clothing) and the first rays of dawn were making grey light through the windows.

With a jaw cracking yawn, Dean got to his feet and made his way to the bathroom.  He took the quickest shower of his life and then scrubbed his teeth for a full three minutes.  His mouth still felt a little fuzzy after.  He felt bad for Cas; that kiss must have been gross.  Hopefully it had been closed mouth.

When he got downstairs, Katie the Non-Redhead grabbed him by the arm and asked if he felt comfortable driving the bus.  With nothing more than an uncertain “maybe,” Katie volunteered the two of them to make a run into Guadalajara to get everyone a real breakfast.  Or as real as a breakfast from Burger King got.  The restaurant was thirty minutes away, so everything was pretty much cold by the time they got back, but it was all devoured like it was Mom’s home cooking.

He’d learned a heck of a lot about Katie during their hour and a half trip and she managed to coax him into agreeing to be her interpreter for the day.  It turned out to be a non-issue anyway as everyone was already buddy-ed up and working by the time they got back, so they were paired by default.  He still enjoyed the work, even without Cas’ company, and he found it fascinating to speak ASL with someone who had grown up learning it in California.  There were definitely some differences from the way Katie spoke and the people he was familiar with at the DCO.

There was just as many if not more people at the clinic as the day before and everyone did their best to get through as many appointments as possible.  They were only going to be in Guadalajara for half a day the next day, and then they were packing up and driving the five and a half hours to Cuautitlan, which was just outside Mexico City.  They wanted to accommodate as many people as possible in the two and a half days they allocated for each city.

The celebration that night was much more subdued as most people went to bed early because they had been dragging all day.  A few people scoffed at the “old people” who couldn’t party all night and work all day.  Dean would have been one of the scoffers, but he followed Cas upstairs to their cots for a long talk rather drink with Katie and some of the other California based volunteers.  Dean noticed that he did a lot less drinking since he had become friends with Cas, and oddly enough he didn’t really miss it.  He also didn’t miss Sam quite as much as he had when his brother had first gone off to school.

He was grateful Cas was willing to put up with him as much as he did because he’d grown dependent on Cas’ companionship.  He was a little worried he might be smothering the older man, but half the time they hung out, Cas initiated the meet up.  And even though Cas had yawned several times already and Dean had indicated they could end their talk, the man had found something else to discuss.  In the end, Dean fell asleep first.

The next morning was stressful and hectic as the group tried to fit in as many appointments as they could while they packed up and returned the cots and prepared for departure.  Everyone was upset that they had to turn away several people—many of whom were children—even though they were two hours late getting on the road.  The disgruntled mood lasted for about the first hour of the five hour trip, but soon everyone was excitedly discussing what they would do to improve the second clinic based on their experiences in Guadalajara.  Excitement turned into joviality and by the end of the trip there were some terrible renditions of karaoke favorites being sung loudly off key—and it couldn’t all be blamed on the deafies.

Cuautitlan was different from Guadalajara right from the start.  Most of their travel budget was being spent at this location on several hotel rooms.  They had been informed that squatting in a building this close to Mexico City wouldn’t be the safest, so they had eleven rooms at the Holiday Inn a few miles outside Cuautitlan.  Eleven rooms for twenty-two people meant everyone had to double up.  It was nice to share a bathroom with only one other person, but Dean was still a little fuzzy on how he and Cas had wound up in a room together.  Especially after Gabriel had seemed confused about being unceremoniously thrown into a room with Hannah.  Dean was too grateful for being able to take a hot shower and sleep in a real bed to give it too much thought though.  He fell asleep while Cas was still in the bathroom.

 ~~~

Castiel was pleased with how efficiently the clinic at Cuautitlan was set up.  They had definitely learned their lessons in Guadalajara and the payoff was that they just managed to get through every patient that showed up that day.  A few volunteers were worried that that meant no one would come for the second day, but Castiel was quite certain they would be just as busy if not more so once word spread around the town.

The group had dinner at a local restaurant that was little more than a series of tarps and a dirt floor, but the food was excellent.  Many decided to go to the Holiday Inn’s “bar” afterwards for cocktails and possibly karaoke if Gabriel could persuade the hotel manager to let him play the old upright piano collecting dust in a corner.  Castiel had begged off in order to Skype with Inias back home and catch up on any DCO news he needed to know about.  As expected, he had everything very much under control and mostly complained that he hadn’t been allowed to go on the trip this year.  Castiel promised him that he could definitely go next year and could even choose the cities himself.  He got a gleam in his eye at that and Castiel suspected he was thinking about branching into other countries.

After saying goodnight to Inias, Castiel hopped in the shower and reveled again in the warmth and the water pressure; it wasn’t much, but it was better than anything they had gotten in the abandoned building their first three nights.  It felt so nice he allowed himself to indulge in it and braved the cold tile against his back so that he could he just stand there under the spray.  Unconsciously his hands began to play over his thighs.  He became aware that he was teasing himself when he felt that telltale throb of arousal in his groin.  He hesitated for a moment, and then let the edge of his thumb brush against his cock.  A quick little jerk off session wouldn’t hurt anyone, and he wouldn’t think about Dean so it would be fine.

Of course, as soon as the man entered into his thoughts, he wouldn’t leave.  Castiel frowned and dropped his hands to his sides.  He refused to masturbate to thoughts of Dean right before he shared a room with him.  That would be creepy and inappropriate.  But that didn’t stop his stupid brain from remembering what it felt like to have Dean on top of him, kissing him breathless while his dick tingled in the falling water.

Frustrated, Castiel opened his eyes and turned off the water.  He needed to stop objectifying Dean.  He was his friend, his good friend.  He’d had a chance to be with him and turned him down.  For good reasons.  Valid reasons.  Reasons that still existed and hadn’t changed.  If he saw no romantic future with Dean, then he needed to respect him as a person and a friend.  His annoyance with himself was more than enough to kill his amorous mood and the small, scratchy towels finished off his fledgling erection.  He brushed his teeth, put on his PJ’s, and stomped out into the main room.

Castiel literally jumped when he saw Dean laying on his bed, reading a magazine.  Dean must have heard him because he looked over and smiled at him.  He tossed the magazine aside and sat up.

-Sorry.  Did I scare you?-

Castiel nodded.  –I wasn’t expecting you yet.-

Dean shrugged.  –Cocktail hour wasn’t very stimulating.-

-And “Las Mejores Atracciones Turísticas en la Ciudad de México” is?- Castiel asked, awkwardly getting around the long Spanish title with exaggerated gestures at the magazine.

Dean shrugged again.  –In case I ever come back.-

-Can you read Spanish?-

Dean grinned.  “Nope.”

Castiel smiled and sat down on his bed.  He faced Dean across the gulf of three feet between their beds.  They had to sit slightly off center from each other or else their knees would have knocked together.

-How is everything at home?- Dean asked.

-Good.  Inias wishes he was here.-

-I bet.-

-I told him he could come next year.-

-So who gets bumped to let him in?-

-Not you.-

Castiel had responded so quickly that he flushed with embarrassment that he made the assumption Dean would even want to come next year.  Dean just smiled and tapped his toe on the frame of Castiel’s bed.  Neither spoke for a few more moments despite Castiel furiously searching his brain for something to say.  Anything to say.  Before he could come up with anything, Dean stood up.

-I’m going to shower.-

-Okay.-

Dean gathered his toiletry bag and the T-shirt and lounge pants he slept in and disappeared into the bedroom.  Castiel rolled his eyes at himself and flopped face-first into the pillows.  He stayed that way until he couldn’t really breathe anymore and then turned onto his back.  He was going to destroy his friendship with Dean if he kept being weird around him.  Maybe they should just fuck—get it out of their systems and behind them.  Then they wouldn’t have to think about it.  His dick perked up at the thought, but Castiel dismissed it even as he thought of it.  That would definitely ruin their relationship.  He needed to stop being selfish and think about what was best for Dean—and that was Castiel not acting like some creepy perv.

Castiel felt himself begin to drift off a few times, but he fought against it until a brief dimming of the light let him know Dean was out of the shower and crossing in front of one of the lamps.  He opened his eyes and watched Dean towel dry his hair as he sat down on his bed.  When he caught Dean’s eye he signed, -Do you want to go to sleep?  Or do you want to talk…?-

Dean put the towel in his lap and picked at it with a small frown on his face.  Castiel didn’t think he was upset, just thinking about something.  He waited him out.

“Well…there was something I wanted to ask you.”

Castiel noticed that Dean would switch to talking and signing at the same time when he felt unsure of his ability to convey himself clearly with signing alone.  Castiel sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed.

-What is it?-

“I, uh…I overheard a couple of the AHC people having a fight, well, discussion.  Although, I guess I ‘oversaw’ them.  They were signing.  I should have looked away, but I was curious…”

-About what?-

“I don’t want to come off as insensitive, or ignorant, but I just don’t know anything about it.”

Castiel shook his head, confused and thoroughly curious at what Dean could be talking about.  –Tell me what it is.  No disclaimer necessary.-

Dean let out a small laugh at that.  “Yeah, well…Um.  They were arguing about cochlear implants.”

“Ah,” Castiel mouthed.  Now he understood Dean’s discomfort.  –It’s okay.  It’s not taboo to talk about it.-

“But it’s not viewed as a good thing by the deaf community?”

Castiel waffled a hand in the air.  –It depends on who you talk to; the reasons being provided for getting one.  There are a lot of people—myself included I can admit—who view being deaf as being a part of who they are.  The idea that we need to be “fixed” is kind of like being told that someone can “fix” the gay in me.-

“Oh.  I had no idea it was that offensive.”

-It’s not.  Not really.  Not the procedure itself or the technology.  It’s imperfect technology.  A lot of people develop chronic headaches.  For some people it fails entirely.  Many report that the sounds they hear aren’t really similar to real hearing.  Things are echo-y and robotic.  Whatever that sounds like,- he added with a sardonic smile.

Dean smiled in response and that made Castiel stupidly happy.

-However, there are a lot of people who are grateful to have their hearing restored.  There are children who have the procedure at a very early age so they grow up more hard of hearing than actually deaf and they say they were grateful they had the operation.  The opposition states that deaf children shouldn’t have the decision forced onto them by lazy hearing parents.  That there’s nothing wrong with being deaf and it shouldn’t be viewed as a defect in any way.-

“I agree it’s not a defect, but is it wrong to want your child to hear?  Would you not consider it for your child?”

Castiel paused to think before answering.  He’d certainly never asked himself this question before.  He’d only ever considered children to be a part of his life plan in an abstract kind of way.

-I think, sitting here now, that it’s easy for me to say that it’s better to not put my child through a painful operation when there’s nothing wrong with them.  I think my child would be able to live a full and happy life being deaf.  But…I wonder if when I’m holding my child in my arms that it would be different.  If I would want to give him every opportunity in life…even if that meant taking away something that would bond us together.-  Castiel shrugged.  –It’s hard to speak to that hypothetical.  What about you?-

“If I had a deaf child?”

Castiel nodded.

Dean looked down.  He fidgeted with the fabric of his lounge pants.  He looked guilty, and Castiel felt bad that Dean would feel that way about something that was as much a part of him as Castiel’s deafness was to himself.  Dean looked up and had to meet his eyes.  One of the downsides of dealing with a deaf person: you couldn’t really hide your face when speaking to them.

“I would.  I think that while there’s nothing wrong with deafness, hearing just…it’s nice.  Music is such a large part of my life.  I can’t imagine not being able to share that with my kid.”

Castiel felt an odd discomfort in his chest.  Did Dean dislike that he couldn’t share that part of his life with Castiel?  This was the first time Castiel had known Dean to mention that music was an important part of his life.  Either it really wasn’t—or he’d intentionally not spoken to Castiel about it.  Because he was deaf and he thought he’d never be able to understand.

Castiel looked down at the geometric print of his pajama pants.  He disliked not being able to share something with Dean.  He was annoyed with Dean for assuming that music was a non-entity in his life.  He was angry that even though he could feel a beat, he really didn’t know what music…was.  And he hated these feelings.  He hated feeling them, he hated the divide it made between him and Dean, and he hated that it proved him right about it being best to not be with a hearing person.

Castiel saw a shadow move on the thin, brown carpet and looked up.  Dean was signing.

-…music.  But being able to hear…it’s the little things.  It’s not about birds chirping or children laughing…I mean, that’s daytime talk show host fluffy crap.  It’s the comedic value of a fart.  It’s hearing a creak in your house and being convinced an ax murder is there to kill you.-

Castiel was surprised into a laugh, Dean’s mischievous smile easily pushing his disconsolate thoughts away.

-Jumping at every sound the wind makes is a good thing?-

-Well.  It has its moments.  Plus there’s sex.”

-Sex?-

-The sounds of sex.-

Castiel shook his head.  –A lot of people have said that all the grunting and yelping isn’t sexy at all.  And I’m sure you’ve learned or Googled enough about deaf culture to know that we often get made fun of for being too loud.  So, clearly, you guys like it quiet during sex.-

Dean cocked his head.  –Someone told you that you were too loud?-

Castiel flushed.  He hadn’t meant to share that.  He hated thinking about his stupid college boyfriend.

-I wouldn’t,- Dean declared nonchalantly.  –I like it when I can make my partners scream.-

He gave Castiel a wink, and Castiel was fairly certain the blood in his face was boiling.

“And I don’t just mean the vocal stuff,” Dean said, speaking in addition to signing.  “Although that is a part of it.  The moans that let me know they like my touch.  The groans that let me know I touched them just right.  The small whimpers as they try to hold it back but it feels too good to stay quiet.  The grunts and desperate panting I can punch out of them when the rhythm starts to overwhelm them.  The yells and screams as they run their nails down my back.”

Castiel swallowed.  Hard.

“But there’s also the sounds of sex itself.  Lips smacking together, sucking sounds into each other’s skin.  The slap of two bodies coming together again and again and again…The creamy sound of a body taking me in because they’re so wet for me…”

Castiel had no idea what any of that might sound like, and it should seem kinda gross—smacking, slapping, creamy?  And yet…his cock was stiffening in his loose pajamas pants and he was laser focused on Dean’s lips as he talked, only peripherally taking in the words he was making with his hands.

“Sounds like a good time, huh?” Dean asked with a cheeky smile.

Castiel sat up straight and put his hands on his knees, his arms held awkwardly straight to hide his lap.  Then he turned partially like he was just getting ready to get into bed, one leg hiding his groin so that he could sign.

-Seems mostly weird considering this topic started because you want to give your kids something special.-

Dean laughed and Castiel quickly jumped under the covers.  He manipulated the cheap clock on the nightstand and set the alarm for 5:00am.

-Wake me up when that goes off,- he signed.  –Goodnight.-

-Goodnight, Cas.-

Castiel turned his back to Dean as he got comfortable on his side.  He closed his eyes and exhaled the breath he’d been holding.  Maybe he should have jerked off in the shower after all.  Then he wouldn’t be lying in the semi-dark trying to ignore his arousal and wondering inanely what it would sound like as Dean slowly sank inch by inch inside of him.

 ~~~

Cas’ prediction was right: the number of people who showed up the second day was nearly double the first day.  Despite having nearly perfected their system, the volunteers were once again unable to see to everybody.  They had slightly more time to work on the third day as their final destination wasn’t as far away, but once again the beginning of the bus ride was somber.

A little over two hours later they arrived at a collection of cabins on the edge of a national park just outside Toluca.  They pitched the tarps for the clinic, put their gear away in their assigned cabins, and split into two groups.  Half took the bus into Toluca for dinner at a restaurant and drinking afterwards.  The rest were happy to cobble together a campfire meal and explore the nearby wilderness.

Dean and Cas had started off walking a trail with Charlie and Eileen, but the two couples had split at some point.  Dean wasn’t sure if it had been Charlie and Eileen who had peeled or away, or he and Cas, but it was almost surreal to walk the serene paths of a beautiful desert forest in Mexico with a man he had trouble believing he’d only known for not quite a full year.  Cas was such a huge part of his life that it was hard to remember what had filled the hours before he had known him.

-Was Sam mad I took you away during his summer break?-

“Nah.”  -He’s working so much anyway, I didn’t see a whole lot of him.-

-Will you get back before he leaves for school?-

-Yeah, we have another two weeks.  And he’s not working that last week.  We’re going to take a road trip together.-

-A road trip?  To where?-

-I’m going to take him back to school.-

-You’re driving to California?!  How long is that?-

-Well, it can be done in two days technically, but we like to wind around and stop by stupid tourist attractions.  So we’ll take four or five days.  Maybe six.-

-And you can stand to be in a car that long with your brother?-

-We basically lived out of a car with our dad when we were young.-

Dean saw that flash of irritated disapproval Cas tried to hide every time he mentioned his dad.  Cas masked it quickly though as he had learned that Dean brushed off most criticism of his father.

-I couldn’t spend that long trapped in a car with Michael.  Nor he with me.  We’d definitely kill each other.-

-Sam and I are pretty different superficially, but deep down we’re surprisingly alike.  I think that’s why we can put up with each other.  Even enjoy each other’s company from time to time.-

Cas stopped walking and wiped the sweat from his brow.  He looked up at the trees around them.  They were fairly squat as far as trees went, barely qualifying for the minimum standard for being called a tree.  The green of the leaves was very dark and rich, and contrasted pleasingly with the yellow-brown dirt beneath their feet.

-I wish I had more time to get to know him,- Cas signed.  –He’s so important to you.  I feel like…I’m missing knowing a part of you by not knowing him.-

-Well, geez, Cas, we’re brothers, not soul mates.-

-I know.  I didn’t mean it like that.  I guess I just meant that there’s still things I don’t know about you.  And I want to know everything.-

Dean was a little shocked to hear—or see—those words.  The only person who’d ever said something similar had been an ex-girlfriend.  He didn’t know how to interpret them from Cas.  Was this how he spoke to all of his platonic friends?  Was this how best friends felt about each other?  Dean himself had so little reference for this kind of relationship.  He’d never really had…friends in the strictest sense of the word.  He had people who were either family or potential fucks.  Almost everyone fell into one category or the other.  There were a few people here and there, Victor and Rudy and Walt and Roy, who had been simply friends.  More acquaintances really because he didn’t see them often.  But his closer friends, Benny and Charlie (as new as she was) felt like siblings.  Bobby had always been Uncle Bobby even though they weren’t related by blood.  Even Garth felt like a weird second cousin or something.

Cas was someone he wasn’t allowed to have romantically, but thinking of him as a brother made his mind rebel so strongly it was practically a physical reaction.  He was also the person Dean felt closest to…even more so than to his brother.  It was hard to reconcile having such strong feelings for someone who wasn’t close family or a lover.  There Cas sat though—in an odd limbo area that Dean was utterly unfamiliar with.

-Will your boss let you go?-

Dean shook his head at the non-sequitor.  –What?  Let me go where?-

-On the road trip with your brother.  So close to letting you go on a two week trip here.-

“Oh, well.”  Dean picked up a stick and began to break it into smaller pieces, impeding his ability to sign clearly.  “He didn’t ‘let’ me go on this one.”

Cas pulled the stick from his hand.  –What do you mean?-

Dean shrugged.  “He said I couldn’t take two weeks.  So.  I quit.”

Cas made a soft noise that was more air than anything, but the hard punctuation at the beginning made Dean think that Cas had said his name out of shock.

“It’s okay.  That job was killing me.  It wasn’t a dream job, it was just something I was doing for money.  But I already have a job lined up at Lizard Tailz, so I’ll be fine.”

Cas’ eyes went wide.  –You’re going to be a stripper?!-

Dean laughed.  “No.  Of course not.  I’m joking.  You really believe I could be a stripper?”

Cas waved a hand in his general direction.  -With your looks and body…yes.-

Dean grinned.  “I’m flattered, Cas, really.  Curious why you know Lizard Tailz is a strip joint, but flattered you’d be interested in getting a lap dance from me.”

Cas cheeks flushed with color.  –I didn’t say that.-

“It’s how I chose to interpret it.”

-But what are you going to do for real then?-

“My Uncle Bobby will let me work for him again while I job hunt.  Cas…”  Dean took the man’s shoulders in his hands and turned him to make sure he was facing him head on.  “Don’t feel guilty about me giving up my job to come here.  I needed to get out of that place.  I’ll find another job, and in the mean time I won’t starve or get kicked out of my place.  Sam is getting by on student loans for tuition, and we’ve already covered room and board for the next semester.  My sanity was the only thing in danger.”

Cas still had a little frown on his lips, which translated into a frown on his forehead.

-As long as you’ll be okay.-

“I’ll be fine.”  Dean used his thumb to smooth away the furrow between Cas’ brows.

-We won’t see each other on the train anymore,- he signed forlornly.

“Well, it’s a good thing we don’t need those train rides to be friends.”

-True.-

Dean stared into Cas’ worried, blue eyes and did his best to repress a wistful sigh.

-We should head back.  It’s getting dark,- Dean signed.

Cas agreed and they walked out of the forest and into the openness of the farmland bordering the park.  The sun slipped into the horizon, providing just enough purplish red light for them to see their way back to their cluster of cabins.

-Can I ask you a silly question?- Cas asked.

“Of course.”

-Does a sunset make a sound?-

Dean thought for a moment, his mouth bunched up in a weird configuration.  “No, it doesn’t.  I wouldn’t ascribe any particular sound to a sunset.  I mean, it can have ambient sounds depending on where you are, but a sunset is totally visual.”

Cas smiled softly as his eyes turned back to the setting sun.  The only sound was the soft crunch of dirt under their shoes.

 ~~~

The Toluca clinic wasn’t nearly as crowded as the other two.  For some reason the people here were a little more resistant to the idea of outside help.  That didn’t mean they weren’t still busy from dawn until dusk; they just weren’t as harried throughout the day.  It made it much easier to say yes to an end of the day party.

The sleeping cabins were in a small circle around a slightly larger main cabin that could just hold all twenty-two volunteers comfortably.  With the coolers for alcohol and food set up everywhere, it was slightly less comfortable, but there were worse things than turning away from the margarita station and bumping into the chips and guac set up.

It also wasn’t bad to keep turning around and bumping into Dean.  There was something perversely wrong with him that made Castiel enjoy the sensation of pressing into his very solid body.  Especially since he kept telling Dean no to them being more than friends, and yet there he was so far inside Dean’s personal bubble he was practically in his lap.  Dean didn’t seem to mind though.  He never stepped away from Castiel’s touch and the hand that didn’t have a drink in it was pretty much always somewhere on Castiel’s body.  Usually somewhere safe like a shoulder or his upper back, but sometimes it snaked around a waist, rested on a hip, brushed “accidentally” against his ass.

It was when Castiel had a sudden vision of dragging Dean back to the cabin they shared with Charlie and Eileen and giving into his desire that he realized he’d had too much to drink.  He guided Dean over toward a group of people and told him he was going to get some air and come back.  Dean had nodded and happily joined the conversation of the new group.

Castiel did go outside for air, but he had no intention of going back.  He wandered a little ways from the grouping of cabins, but not far enough to lose sight of them.  He found a short rock that was just wide enough to sit on.  He put his arms on his bent knees and tried to get his buzzed brain to focus.

Castiel had to decide what he was going to do about Dean.  The whole teasing and testing each other’s limits thing had to stop.  They either had to give in to it and try dating, or they needed to actually allow their friendship to settle into a true platonic friendship.  If they let things stay the way they were, Castiel had a terrible feeling that something would happen that would ruin everything.  So now was the moment of truth for Castiel.  He knew which option Dean would want to try, so it was up to him to make a decision.

On the one hand, dating Dean meant that he would finally be able to touch Dean the way he’d been longing to.  They could get rid of all that stifling sexual tension between them and see how their relationship would evolve when not under that pressure.  Castiel had little doubt the sex would be excellent; he didn’t have any concerns that it would be a letdown after too much anticipation.  His fears of being rejected for making noise during sex wasn’t even that much of a factor anymore.  He didn’t fully believe that Dean would be totally onboard with someone completely uninhibited with sounds during sex, but he didn’t think Dean would make an issue out of it.  What remained was the little day to day things.

Would Dean eventually get tired of signing all the time?  Would Castiel wonder if Dean was talking behind his back because he knew he couldn’t hear him when they had fights?  Would Castiel be able to fight against that paranoia?  When Castiel became frustrated with the constant battle between the hearing and deaf worlds, would Dean, after the tenth time or so, just shrug it off or try to placate him?

Castiel didn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who would roll their eyes if he complained “too much” about the “deaf stuff.”  He didn’t think Dean was a bad person or disingenuous, but he knew from experience that even good people eventually became fed up with something they couldn’t understand.  Hannah was the only hearing person he knew who kind of got it, but that was because she’d practically been raised like she was deaf.

Castiel liked Dean a lot.  He knew that the only way a relationship wouldn’t work between them was if there was a fight bad enough that they couldn’t get over it.  That would mean the end for any kind of relationship between them.  It would mean they wouldn’t part on good terms.  It would mean bitterness and resentfulness.  Castiel quelled at the thought of feeling that way about Dean.  It hurt just to think about it.  He received companionship from Dean now, was the addition of further intimacy and sex worth the risk of potentially hating Dean one day?  Castiel couldn’t find it in himself to believe it was worth the risk.  As much as coming home to Dean at night, cooking dinner together, making love, cuddling under the covers, waking up in his arms tempted him…their friendship did satisfy him.  He didn’t feel like he would miss out on anything by not changing the status quo.  Well, not really anyway.

Castiel started slightly when Hannah came into his field of vision.

-Sorry,- she signed.  –Didn’t mean to startle you.-

-It’s okay.  I was just deep in thought.  Not paying attention to what was around me.-

-Are you okay?-

-Yes.  Why?-

-Because there’s a party back there, and you’re out here sitting on the ground and slumped over like you’re waiting for the asteroid that’s going to demolish Earth.-

Castiel smiled.  –I was having some serious thoughts, but I think it was just the alcohol making me think at a slower rate,- he laughed.  –I just needed a moment to clear my head and make a decision.-

-Did you make it?-

-I did.-

Castiel stood up and dusted off the back of his jeans.

-Are you going back to the party?- she asked.

-No.  I think I better to go to bed and sleep this off.-

Hannah’s expression fell a little.  “Oh.”  She pursed her lips for a moment and then signed, -Are you sure about your decision?  I mean, whatever it was about.-

Hannah was terrible about looking nonchalant and Castiel suspected that she had at least partially guessed what his decision was about.  He nodded firmly.

-I’m certain about my decision.  And I feel good about it.-

Hannah nodded, but looked unconvinced.  –Okay.  Sleep well.-

-Thank you.  You too.-

Castiel made his way to his cabin, going over in his head the subtle things he would do to steer his and Dean’s relationship back onto the right path.  He wasn’t going to lose Dean; he would make sure of it.

 ~~~

Dean helped pack up the clinic equipment for the last time.  The turnout had been pretty low today, so they had decided not to open the clinic for the half day tomorrow and let everyone do the tourist thing in Mexico City before their flights home.  He felt a sense of accomplishment and even pride in the work they had done. However, he couldn’t quite fully enjoy it because something was nagging his mind.  Cas was different.

Not conspicuously so, and not in any way that Dean could pinpoint.  They still talked and joked and spent more time with each other than anyone else, but that slight shift in their dynamic that had started at the beginning of their trip had dissipated.  Dean couldn’t put his finger on the exact feeling, but it was akin to the one he got when he was friend-zoned.

The return to their completely platonic way of interacting with each other was made very clear when they had their “We’re Awesome” celebratory party for a job well done.  They had seen close to a thousand patients and distributed hundreds of hearing aids and instructional materials in just two weeks.  They’d started the seeds of two sign language classes in Guadalajara and Cuautitlan.  They had received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the locals who had been patients and the volunteers.  All in all it was a job well done and they deserved to celebrate.  Again.

Dean watched Cas dancing with a group of people.  He wasn’t really much of a dancer, but when he had a little alcohol in him he could prove that he was still a young man in the prime of his life.  The only difference was that when he danced with Dean, they didn’t touch.  At all.  But Cas had no problem pretending to grind on Eddie who was decidedly straight but thought it was hilarious to dance with a man.  It was insane that Dean felt jealous—and he couldn’t deny that it was jealousy—over something as ridiculous as Cas’ and Eddie’s mock booty dancing.  But there it was—he hated seeing Cas with someone else.  Anyone else.  His crush really hadn’t gone anywhere, and it was silly that he let it take over his emotions so much.

He signed to the group bouncing around him that he was going to get some water and step outside.  Cas smiled and waved at him.  Dean forced a smile back and slithered through the gyrating bodies to the blue cooler that contained the water.  He cracked open a bottle and downed half of it before he made it to the cabin door.  The other half was gone just as quickly as he walked toward the fire pit in front of the main cabin.  He slowly lowered himself onto one of the log seats and exhaled heavily.  The cold ashes from the fire they’d had the night before shone spectacularly in the light of the full moon.  The sight was mesmerizing.  Or maybe he was just drunk.

A hand touched his shoulder.  He turned and saw Charlie smiling at him.  She sat on the log next to him and he shifted so that he was partially facing her.  He saw her lips move, but if she said anything aloud he didn’t catch it.

“What?”

Charlie pointed to her ears.  Dean raised his hands to his own ears and realized he still had the earplugs in.  He pulled them out and sighed in relief at the sounds of night coming to him at a reasonable decibel.  The pounding of the music from the party could still be heard, but it was muted background noise.

“I said,” Charlie said, “are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah.  Just got overheated.  Needed a water break.  And a piss break soon if you’re interested in that as well.”

Charlie made a face at him.  “Don’t be snarky.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay.  I know that even when it’s pretend, seeing your SO dance with someone else is aggravating.”

“He’s not my SO,” Dean muttered, not even bothering with the pretense of not knowing what she was referring to.

“I know.  And I don’t know why.  You two are ridiculous.”

“Charlie, he’s not interested.”

Charlie gave him a look like he was crazy.  “Yeah, okay,” she said sarcastically.

“He’s really not.  I’m hearing, and that is a deal breaker for him.  And I have to respect that.  Besides.  It’s just a stupid crush.  It’ll go away.”

Now Charlie was looking at him like he was stupid.  “A crush?  Dean…you’re in love with him.”

“What?”  Dean asked with an uncomfortable, breathy laugh.  “I am not.”

“Then why aren’t you dating somebody?”

He shrugged.  “I haven’t met anyone.”

“You have.  We’ve gone out together.  Men and women hit on you all the time.  You get phone numbers without even asking for them.  You’re not even hooking up with them, are you?”

“I’m past the age of being into one night stands.”

“Oh, yes, I forgot that you’re a worldly twenty-four now.”

“Youth does not equal promiscuity.  I’m just not interested.”

“Because you’re in love with Cas.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Dean, I don’t just mean that you want to bone him, which you clearly do.”

Dean shot her a displeased look, but he had to look down to hide his blushing cheeks.

“I mean you watch him with this stupid smile on your face when he’s doing…frickin anything.  I mean you’re always with him or talking about when you’ll be with him again.  I mean you want to just be with him, like all the time.  All the way until you’re old and you can’t hear anything either.”

Dean stared at her, a little amused by her melodramatic speech, but mostly appalled by its truth.

“Fuck.  I love him.”

“No shit, Sherlock.”

“What do I do?” he asked helplessly.

“Um…tell him?”

Dean shook his head.  “We already made the decision to just be friends.  We talked about it.  If I bring it up, he’ll just think that I can’t be friends, and then he’ll back off and we’ll grow apart and eventually stop seeing each other.”

“I seriously doubt that.  Honestly, I think he’ll admit he’s in love with you too.”

Dean shook his head.  “I don’t know.  I really think my feelings have always been the stronger of the two.”

“Sure,” Charlie replied with a quick eye roll.

“Look, I mean it.  We already discussed it.  We don’t think a romantic relationship is worth risking our friendship.”

“But there’s no risk!”

“Yes, there is.  I know you think that hearing and deaf couples can work out because you and Eileen are so happy, but you’re the exception—not the rule.”

“Ugh.  You sound like Cas.”

“We’ve chosen not to pursue it, so that’s it.”

“You can’t choose love, Dean.  And you certainly can’t choose to not love someone.”

“But you can.  People do it all the time.  They separate for school or jobs or because life just intervenes in some way.  Most people inevitably meet someone else and are perfectly happy.  There’s no such thing as ‘the one,’ Charlie.  There’s really not.”

Charlie looked down and nudged the ring of stones around the fire pit with her toe.

“Maybe not, but it’s also stupid to try to ‘protect’ someone from their own feelings.  You can’t.  It’s the worst cliché in fiction.”

“But this isn’t fiction.  It’s our lives.  And we want each other in our lives.  So, we’re willing to take the safest path to ensure that.”

Charlie nodded, but she didn’t look happy.  “I get it.  I guess.  But what are you going to do?” she asked, looking up at him.  “You don’t just like him.  You love him, Dean.”

Dean buried his face in his hands.  “I know,” he bemoaned.  “Or at least I do now.  Thanks for that.”

“No problem,” Charlie murmured sadly.

Dean was silent for a moment as his brain whirled around crazily.  When he finally managed to calm it somewhat, he sat up and looked at Charlie.

“What am I going to do?”

“To get over him?”

Dean shrugged.

“Go on a date.  Meet someone new.  Fall in love with someone else.”

Dean frowned at that suggestion.  He didn’t want to love anybody else.  And that thought made him realize that he had to try, or he would be miserable for the rest of his life and probably ruin their relationship anyway.

“You got any single friends?” he asked with a weak laugh.

Charlie stared at him for a very long moment, and then she softened.  She reached out and patted his knee.

“I know a LARP-er or two who mostly sit at home on Saturday nights.”

“Ugh.  Not a LARP-er.”

You’re a LARP-er!”

“Not like…I mean, you’re not going to try to set me up with Jerry the Orc, are you?”

“No, not Jerry.  He’s not even into dudes.  I was thinking like Carissa.”

“Who’s Carissa?”

“Her character is Laella.  She’s the High Priestess.”

“Oh.”  Dean bobbed his head.  “She’s pretty.”

“And recently single.  If nothing else, maybe it will help you to be her rebound guy.  Just get laid or something.”

Dean closed his eyes and sighed in embarrassed regret.  “Thanks, Charlie.”

“I’m on your side, buddy.”

Dean opened his eyes and saw Charlie giving him a sincere look of compassion.  He smiled at her, grateful he had her brand of unconventional honesty and kindness in his life.

“Thanks, Charlie.”

 ~~~

There was a lot of garbled signing as the DCO and AHC members said a rushed goodbye at the security line.  They’d had two weeks to get each other’s contact info, but for some reason they’d waited until they were at the airport about to split up for their flights home.  Castiel had Eddie’s contact information, so he figured if needed to get a hold of anyone else, he could just ask him for it.  He saw Katie asking for Dean’s email address.  He was a little surprised when Dean gave it to her, but it would be really rude to say no.

When Eddie declared the California bound group could wait no more, they hustled off to their gate while the DCO members meandered slowly to theirs as they still had over an hour to kill.  He and Hannah had a long discussion about the successes of the mission and the areas they could improve on.  The conversation carried onto the plane and Castiel used it as a way to feign not noticing that Dean was sweating bullets on takeoff.  He nonchalantly laid his hand over Dean’s where it clutched the armrest and kept his focus on Hannah.  It may have been his imagination, but he thought Dean’s hand relaxed just the tiniest bit.

Once he and Hannah exhausted themselves talking about the mission, he turned to Dean to apologize for ignoring him, but the man was fast asleep and apparently had been snoring in his ear.  Castiel smiled and leaned his seat back to be even with Dean’s, which allowed his friend’s head to tip over comfortably onto his shoulder.  He let Dean use him as a pillow and pulled out a book to read for the remainder of the flight.

Castiel tried to let Dean sleep through the landing by reaching over him to push the button that would raise his seat, but he must have jostled him in some way.  Castiel found himself half-laying on Dean and looking into his startled eyes.  He sat back quickly and signed that they were landing.  Dean nodded and raised his seat.  Then he double-checked his seatbelt and put on a strong, macho face as he faced down the back of the seat in front of him.  Castiel put a hand up to hide his smile.  Dean was at his cutest when he was trying desperately not to be.

They landed with no major delays and surprisingly no one had lost luggage.  A few people took the shuttle out to the long-term parking while the rest walked up to the Arrivals level to catch a cab or a ride share vehicle.  Castiel confirmed with Dean a plan to get together before his road trip with Sam so that the three of them could have dinner together.  As the group made their way to the Uber pick up area, Dean peeled off and pointed to the Impala which was inching its way down the crowded pick up zone.

-Sam’s picking me up.-

-Okay.  Thank you for coming on the trip, Dean,- Castiel said.  –You were so much help.-

-I had fun.  Can’t wait for next year.-

Castiel smiled and started to turn away, but he noticed Charlie run up to Dean quickly and offer him a folded sheet of paper.  She didn’t sign as she spoke, but Castiel managed to pick out a few words.

“This…number.  The one…about.  Call her.”

Dean hesitated for a moment, but then he nodded and accepted the note.  “I will.”

Castiel felt like he’d been punched in the chest.  Like he’d just witnessed one of his good friends help his boyfriend cheat on him.  But that wasn’t what happened.  One of his friend’s gave another a note.  Even if it was intended to be a setup, that didn’t make Dean Castiel’s boyfriend.  Not by a long shot.

Castiel swallowed his hurt and took a deep breath.  This was a good thing.  He had finally decided to end the slightly ambiguous nature of their relationship, and now Dean was doing the same.  This was the best thing for them both.  Castiel walked toward the car the app on his phone told him was his ride.  This was a good thing.

Chapter Text

Castiel could tell he was laughing out loud.  He rarely did as he tried to avoid ever making vocal sounds of any kind—just because he liked being difficult for hearing people—but this was too funny.  He was doubling over and clutching his stomach, practically crying with his laughter.  Dean had to keep pausing because Castiel couldn’t see him sign when he was bent over and his eyes were closed.  He finally managed to sit back up and look at Dean, who was smiling at him, but trying to look annoyed.

“So there I am: trapped in this girl’s bathroom with no cleaning products, no toilet paper, bad shrimp dripping out of my ass and sprayed all over the toilet seat…”

Castiel burst into another fit of sniggers.  He continued to giggle, but this time kept his eyes up.

“So, I wiped myself off on her shower curtain…”

-You didn’t!-

“Pulled up my pants and just ran from the bathroom to her door.  I think she was in the kitchen and didn’t even see me, so I just made a break for my car.  Fortunately I keep a towel in the glove box, so I could sit down to drive home.  And I barely made it to my bathroom before the bad shrimp was coming up the other end.”

Castiel winced.  –I’m so sorry.  Food poisoning is the worst.-

“So not an accurate way to describe how horrible it is.  God, I felt like shit all night long.  Both ends, man.”

Castiel laughed and covered his eyes with a hand.  When he finally looked at Dean again, he was finished making a monster sandwich out of basically everything in Castiel’s refrigerator.

-I see the episode hasn’t affected your appetite.-

“It wasn’t a sandwich that did it to me.”  He took a giant bite of his sandwich and then wiped the mayonnaise and mustard from his face with a napkin.

-Did you ever hear from the girl?-

“Thank God, no.  And I’m really glad it was some random Internet chick and not one of Charlie’s friends.  I’d never be able to LARP again.”

-Would that be a bad thing?- Castiel teased.

“Hey.  I don’t make fun of your stupid hobbies.”

He did, but Castiel was going to let it slide.  –Adventures in dating, huh?-

Dean shrugged.  “I don’t remember it being this difficult in high school.”

-Well, it’s only been two dates, right?  Third time’s the charm.-

“Oh.  I didn’t tell you about Ron, did I?  Well, first off…did not look like his picture.  But don’t judge a book or whatever.  But this guy…he thinks the government is using robots with laser eyes to cover up alien invasions.”

-Was he just fucking with you?-

“Hand to God,” Dean said, raising the hand with the sandwich in the air.  “He was dead serious.”

Castiel tried to repress his laughter, but he could picture Dean’s face in his mind: kinda scared, kinda freaked out, kinda curious, and trying to not let any of that show.  He lost the battle with his mirth and rocked forward in a belly laugh again.  Dean chewed on his sandwich and watched Castiel laugh with an irked expression.  When Castiel finally settled down Dean signed, -I’m glad my dating exploits are so amusing for you.-

-And I appreciate you amusing me with your dating exploits.-

Dean made a face at him.  He checked his watch and then jumped off the stool he’d been sitting on.

“Crap.  I gotta get back to the shop.  One downside to the auto shop: gotta work weekends.  Anyway, you never answered.  You wanna go to the game next Friday?  Uncle Bobby has some spare tickets.”

-You’re swallowing syllables again.-

“I’m signing ain’t I?”

-What sport again?-

“Hockey.”

-I know nothing about hockey.-

“Neither do I.  It’s about drinking beer and yelling insults at the away team.  Also, when someone scores, a light goes off.  So, you’ll know what’s going on.”

Castiel bobbed his head.  –Okay.  I’ll go.-

“Cool.  I’ll pick you up at 5:30.  Oh, can you put all this stuff up?” Dean indicated the mess he’d left on the counter.  “Thanks.  Bye!”

Dean hurried out of the room, shoving the rest of his sandwich into his mouth, and Castiel looked at the carnage of deli meat, cheese, a partially hacked head of lettuce, and every condiment he owned left behind.  Dean was lucky he was cute.

 ~~~

“Hey, Sammy, how’s life on the west coast?”

“A balmy seventy degrees and no humidity.”

“Shut up, you little shit.”

“You asked!”

Dean shook his head at his little brother through the web cam.  “It’s still over eighty degrees here.  It’s mid-September.  It’s total bullshit.”

“Well, you could always move.”

Dean scoffed at the very idea and buttoned his dark blue shirt over black jeans.

“Are you going out?” Sam asked.

“Yep.  Got a hot date.”

“Didn’t know Cas had been upgraded to ‘hot date.’”

“I’m not going out with Cas.”

“That’s a first,” Sam said wryly.

“I go out without Cas all the time.”

Sam gave him a look.

“Okay, sometimes.”

“Is it that Aaron guy again?  You friended him on Facebook.”

“You stalking me?  You need a hobby, Sam.”

“Shut up.  Is it Aaron?”

“No, not Aaron.”

“So, why are you friends with him?”

Dean sat down on his bed to put on his socks and shoes.  “Because.  When we went on our date it was okay, but when we got to his place we didn’t really know what to do or say.  It was just kind of awkward between us for some reason.  So, he asked if I wanted to smoke a joint, and I said sure.  He had some good stuff.  We spent the whole night blazed on his couch.  Then we decided we weren’t really dating compatible.”

“But you still friended him.”

“You don’t break ties with a good weed hookup, Sammy.”

“But you don’t even smoke anymore!”

Dean shrugged.  “I might if I keep having dates like the one I had with Lisa.  Gorgeous, smart, funny, likes rock and roll and big muscle cars.”

“And?”

“And then had to leave the date early because her babysitter called about her sick kid.”

“Are you really dumping a girl because she has a kid?”

“He’s eight, Sam.  I’m twenty-four.  What am I gonna do with an eight year old?”

Sam shrugged.  “I dunno.  Just seems, like, a sexist thing or something.”

“Believe me, if I was dating a guy and found out he had an eight year old son, I’d drop him too.  I’m not looking to be a parent.  I’m not sure I’m even looking to be a husband at this point in my life, you know?”

“Yeah, I get it.  I guess.  Jess said the same thing.”

“About what?”

“About us being too serious right now.”

“She’s right.  You’re sophomores.  You’ve got all the time in the world.  Time after you have a job and can support yourself.”

Sam shrugged.  Dean’s smile faltered.

“Aw, crap. Did she dump you?”

“No.  No.  We’re just…on a break.”

“So.  She dumped you.”

“Yep.”

“Hmm.  Call Claire.”

Dean stood up and looked for his wallet.

“Call Claire?  Claire Novak?  Why?”

“The quickest way to get over someone is to get under someone else,” Dean sing-songed.

“Is that why you’ve been blitz dating?  To get over Cas?”

“I was never under Cas.  Now, crack a book you slacker.  I’ll talk to you on Sunday.  Uncle Bobby’ll be over.”

“Okay.  Have fun!”

“Thanks,” Dean replied, rolling his eyes.

Dean logged off of Skype and grabbed his car keys.  He whistled on his way out the door and headed for the Impala.  He wasn’t whistling out of happiness; he was anxious.  He’d tried out a new dating site: deafsingles.com.  It wasn’t just for deaf people to find each other, but it was also for deaf people who wanted to date hearing people who wouldn’t be turned off by the idea of dating someone deaf.

Dean knew it was kind of sick, but he figured he might as well try to get Cas out of his system by dating someone who was like Cas.  The guy was cute with blue eyes, totally deaf since birth, and he even had a weird ass name.  They’d agreed to meet at Viviano’s, a popular Italian restaurant in the town between their hometowns along the highway.

Dean was ten minutes early, but the hostess told him his date had already arrived.  Then she leaned in and whispered out of the side of her mouth, “He’s been here for half an hour.”  Dean took that in, but didn’t think it was too weird.  Maybe the guy was just worried about being late; Dean could understand that.  However, when he rounded the corner and saw his date sitting at a table for two, he found that the guy hadn’t ordered an appetizer or a drink.  Not even water.  He just sat there with his hands folded on top of the table, staring straight ahead.

He approached the table from the side, but the man noticed him and quickly stood up to face him when he arrived.  Dean stopped awkwardly in front of him.

-Hello,- Dean signed.  –Are you G-A-D-R-E-E-L?-

The man gave him an awkward little half bow, and then indicated the chair on the opposite side of the table.  Dean sat down and rubbed his hands on his thighs to dispel his nerves.  His date sat down and stared at him.  Cas stared a lot too, but it was never creepy like this.

“Uh…”  -How are you?- Dean started.

-Well.  And yourself?-

-Good.-

Dean bobbed his head along with his statement.  Yes.  Everything was good.  He wondered if deaf people experienced awkward silences the same way hearing people did.  Thankfully the waiter appeared with a second menu and took their drink order.  Dean buried his nose in the menu, unsure of how to interact with Gadreel.  He wasn’t sure if it was the man’s awkwardness, or his own due to his slight guilt about trying to find a fill in for Cas.

The waiter returned and Dean took a large gulp of his beer.  He needed that.  They both ordered steaks that only came with a perfunctory bit of fettuccini on the side.  Dean smiled.  Maybe they had more in common than he thought.  He waved a hand between them.

-Ordering steak at a pasta place.  Do you also order beer at a wine bar?-  Dean tried out a small laugh.

Gadreel stared blankly at him for a moment, and then signed, -I like wine.-

“Ah.”  Dean glanced around the restaurant, searching for something to inspire conversation.  He gave up.

-So…do you mind me asking about your name?  It’s very unique.  I bet you get asked about it all the time.-

-Not all the time.-

Dean waited, but Gadreel didn’t elaborate.  They stared some more.  Dean let some air out of the side of his mouth, making a popping sound.  He cast his eyes about for inspiration again.  He gave up and took a sip of his beer.

-What’s your stance on abortion?-

Dean choked on his beer.  He coughed harshly and picked up his napkin to cover his mouth, the silverware rolled up in it clattering to the table loudly.  When his coughing fit ended he looked up at Gadreel to see if he had been pulling his leg.  He looked exactly the same.

-Are you okay?- Gadreel asked.

Dean nodded.

-I apologize for jumping right into a controversial topic.  I’ve been told that controversial subjects are good ice breakers.  Perhaps that was a bit too provocative.-

Dean nodded.  –Maybe a bit.-

Gadreel nodded.  –What are your thoughts on assisted suicide?-

~~~

-Castiel, the MACE Gala is in less than three months.  We have to pick a theme!- Hannah demanded.

Castiel looked down the large meeting room table at his assembled team.  He threw his hands up in the air.  –That’s why I hired all of you!  Just pick something.  I really, really don’t care.  Just no more carnivals.-

-But we can’t agree on anything,- Inias said.  –That’s the problem.-

-Gabriel?- Castiel pleaded.

-Hey, I gave them a theme.  They rejected it.-

-What was it?-

“You don’t wanna know,” Meg said, and she was the one person from whom Castiel would take that statement at face value.

-Alright.  What are the choices?-

As Hannah signed each choice, Ambriel wrote them down on the large paper pad propped on the easel at the end of the table nearest Castiel.

-Winter Wonderland.  Mardi Gras.  Winter Garden.  Silver and Gold.-

“See?” Gabriel spoke and signed.  –“They’re all terrible.”

-Everyone loves Winter Wonderlands!- Anna signed exasperatedly.

“I like Mardi Gras,” Meg said.

-But Mardi Gras is in February,- Inias pointed out.

-Silver and Gold,- Hannah said.  –It doesn’t box us in with props.  It’s just colors, but it’s classy.-

“It’s boring,” Gabriel declared as he fell back into his chair.

Everyone burst out signing, many talking as well.  Castiel just watched them go at it.  He hated this stupid gala, but if they wanted to do their mission trip to Haiti next year, they needed it for the money.

Suddenly the hearing people all turned their heads.  That made the deafies turn to see what they were looking at.  Dean stood in the doorway holding a brown paper bag and making an embarrassed “whoops” face.

“Uh, hey.  Muriel said Cas was in here.  I have his lunch.  She, uh, didn’t say you were having a meeting.  Sorry about that.”

-Dean, wait,- Castiel stopped him from leaving.  –Of these four choices,- he indicated the paper next to him, -which do you like best?-

“What for?”

“The MACE Gala,” Hannah explained.

Dean looked at the choices.  “I like Mardi Gras.”

“Good boy,” Meg said and Dean gave her an amused look.

-But Mardi Gras is in February,- Inias said again.  -The ball is in December.  It would be weird.-

“So just make it a masquerade ball,” Dean said.

Everyone looked at each other around the table.

-We’ve never done a masquerade ball before,- Anna said.

-I like it,- Inias said.  –It’s a good compromise.-

Gabriel nodded.  “It could be a lot of fun.”

Everyone seemed to be in a tentative agreement.

-Well, what if everyone had to wear a gold or silver mask?- Hannah asked.

Hands got thrown in the air and debate broke out again.  Castiel rubbed a temple with his fingers, and then he saw Dean trying to sneak out the door.

-Wait for me in my office.  I won’t be long.-

-Okay.-

After another five minutes Castiel settled the debate by declaring that the 2017 MACE Gala would be a Gold and Silver Masquerade Ball.  Everyone nodded and said good decision making skills like that was why Castiel was the boss.  He rolled his eyes at their sarcasm, but the decision was made and he was starving.  Dean was waiting for him in his office, like he said he would be.  He was eating the pickle that had come with his sandwich, but that was fine.  Castiel didn’t really like pickles.  He shut the door to his office and dragged a chair behind his desk to see what Dean was doing on his laptop (while sitting in Castiel’s good chair).

Castiel raised his eyes in mild surprise as he watched Dean scanning through dating profiles on arrowtotheheart.com.  He pulled out his sandwich and started eating, more than happy to watch Dean make faces at every single “stuck on you” match he received.

“What did you guys decide on?” Dean asked.

-Gold and Silver Masquerade Ball.-

Dean nodded.  “Sounds neat.  You want me to find you a date too?”

-Are you kidding?  I’ve heard all the stories of your dates over the past two months.  I’ll choose my own, thank you.-

Dean didn’t respond right away with his face or his hands, but Castiel had been told by Hannah that he sometimes grunted replies.

"I guess you already have a date anyway, huh?"

Castiel tilted his head.  -What do you mean?-

"That guy you went to the Virgin Islands with.  Bartholomew."

-Do you mean Balthazar?-

Dean shrugged.

-It was not a romantic getaway, Dean.  We're just friends.  We take a trip together every year.  Mainly so he can hookup with people he's guaranteed never to see again.-

"I don't know.  I've never gone to a romantic tropical location with 'just a friend' before."

-Are you jealous?-

"No."

Castiel was a little confused by the scowl on Dean's face and his quickly darkening mood.  He decided to try to get him to lighten up.

-Maybe I should pick a date for you since you have no luck,- Castiel signed jokingly.

Dean looked at him for a prolonged moment, and then turned the laptop to face Castiel.  “Please do.  I really do suck at it.”

-What happened with Carmen?-

“Her husband joined us on the date.”

Castiel looked at him, startled.  –What?  Are you okay?  Did he try to hurt you?-

“No.  He was on the date with us.  They were looking for a third.”

-Oh.-  Castiel chuckled.  –Interesting.  Did you accept the offer?-

“No.  Of course not.  Although, it wasn’t completely unappealing.  They were both hot.”

Castiel chewed on his bottom lip to hold back his smile and to temper his imagination.  –Have you ever been in a threesome?-

“No.”  Dean looked like he was blushing.  “Have you?”

Castiel shook his head.  –I like threesome porn though.-

“With two guys and a girl?”

Cas laughed.  –Three guys.-

“Of course.  Well, find me a date.  I need one that will at least just be…uneventful.”

Castiel grinned and began searching through the profiles listed in Dean’s account.  He couldn’t believe some of the fake bullshit people spewed out on these sites.  At least deafsinglesmeetup.com was mostly drop down menu answers.  There were so few of them around a given area, one really couldn’t be that picky.

-Oh, here.  How about this one?  He’s a veterinarian who likes classic rock.  He’s also bisexual, so no weird hang ups about that.  He’s twenty-six, cute, looks like he works out.-

Dean turned the computer back and looked at the guy’s profile.  He pulled a face and looked at Castiel.

-Did you pick him just because his name is A-S-A F-O-X?-

Castiel shrugged.  –How can you not at least go on a date with a man named A-S-A just to say that you have?-

Dean rolled his eyes.  “Fine.”  He moved the mouse and clicked on the “Shoot me!” button.  An animated arrow with a heart for a tip flitted across the screen and hit Asa Fox’s name with a burst of pink hearts.  “There.  Now it’s up to Mr. Fox to determine if he at least wants to go on a date with a man named Dean just to say that he has.”

Castiel smiled.  -Be sure to bring a collar with you.-

Dean narrowed his eyes.  “You’re not even funny.”

-I’m a little funny.-

“No.  Not really.”

Castiel smiled and opened the bottle of flavored water Dean had brought him.  He took a sip and then signed, -But you love me anyway.-

Dean’s lips tightened into a smile.  “Yeah.  I guess I do.”

 ~~~

Dean frowned at the large archway made out of plywood and painted to resemble a clown’s face.  People had to walk through its mouth to get inside the fair.  He had no idea why he and Asa had decided to meet here for their date.  They had wanted a public place between their homes, but Asa lived in a town on the other side of the city from Dean.  Halfway around the beltway on one side was the town with the highest crime rate in the state, and on the other side were the fairgrounds, usually empty but just so happened to be hosting a county fair during the month of October.  It had seemed like a safe compromise at the time, but now Dean was worried about his baby sitting in the muddy parking lot surrounded by rednecks.

“Dean?”

Dean turned, saw no one, and then turned the other way.  He eyes alighted on a face with a strong jaw and blue eyes.  Asa’s face was mostly hard angles, but put together in an attractive combination.  He wore a T-shirt and jeans, and he had a body that made a simple outfit like that look like he’d just stepped out of a magazine.  Dean raised his eyes back to the man’s face as he realized he hadn’t returned his greeting.  He noticed that Asa was checking him out as well.  He was glad he’d opted for his date jeans rather than his comfy jeans—they made his ass look great.

“Hi.”  Dean offered a hand.  “I’m Dean.”

“Asa.  Nice to meet you.”

“Oh, good.  I’m glad you pronounced your name first.”

Asa laughed.  He had a deep laugh even though his voice was fairly average in tone.

“Yes, it’s Ace-suh.  Not Ah-suh.  Definitely not Ass-a.”

“It mean anything special?”

“My mom thought there were too many Aiden’s?”

Dean chuckled.  He was glad the man had a sense of humor.  “So.  County fair.”

Asa smiled tightly and nodded, glancing uneasily at the clown mouth.  “Yep.”  He looked at Dean.  “What were we thinking?”

“That we didn’t want to get murdered?”

Asa snapped his fingers and pointed at Dean.  “That’s it.”

They grinned at each other.  After a beat or two of silence, Dean clapped his hands.

“Alright.  Let’s do this, I guess.”

They turned and walked through the clown’s mouth and were promptly nearly run over by a gaggle of tweens.  Asa shook his head.

“It probably would have only been a mugging,” he mumbled.

Dean laughed and clapped him on the back.  “Come on.  Corndogs make everything better.”

“Going straight for the phallic foods.  I like you, Dean.”

Dean smiled and shook his head.  Funny guy.

Unfortunately, there were no corndogs.  There were no funnel cakes.  There were greasy chicken tenders (with no ranch dipping sauce) and a sample of the prize winning hot pepper jelly.  Dean made a face and dumped his half-eaten tenders in the trash.

“What the hell kind of fair is this?” he griped.

“A shitty one,” Asa said.  “I can’t even see a place to sit down.”

“There’s the rides.”

“Are you kidding?  They look ready to shimmy apart at the seams.”

Ordinarily Dean would scoff at people who were scared of pop-up carnival rides, but looking at the juddering machines around them, Dean thought he had a point.

“I’d offer to win you a bear, but I forgot my platinum card at home,” Dean said.

Asa nodded, taking in the man in the striped shirt hawking his rigged game for ten dollars a pop.

“It’s okay.  Those bears look more like mutated boogers than anything else.”

“So.  There’s no food, no rides, no games that won’t bankrupt us in three tries.  I think two kids have tried to pickpocket me.  We sure do know where the fun is.”

“Well, I guess we could always just walk and talk.”

Dean made a face, and then turned apologetically to Asa.  “Sorry.  Not the talking or the company.  I just…I hate walking.”

Asa gave him an odd look.  “Okay.”

They stood, silent, looking at anything but each other.  Dean inhaled deeply, and let it out as slowly as possible.  He didn’t want Asa to think he was sighing in annoyance or boredom.  Although this date was turning out like all his others.

“There are paddle boats at the lake,” Asa said suddenly.  “We can sit there.”

“And paddle?” Dean asked skeptically.  He realized he was coming off like a whiny bitch.  He really didn’t mean to.

“I’ll do all the work,” Asa said good-naturedly and nudged Dean with his shoulder.

Dean thought for a moment and then shrugged and agreed to go.  He balked at the twenty dollar price, but Asa paid it before he could get more than three words into his rant at the operator.  He fussed with Asa over the money and they missed most of what the operator told them as they boarded the paddle boat shaped like a swan.  They started to paddle out toward the middle of the lake, and Dean did help, but he let Asa do most of the work.

“So, Dean, what do you do?  Your job on your profile is just listed as ‘cars.’  Do you sell them?  Fix them?  Race them?”

“Love them,” Dean replied.  “And fix them for money.”

“Ah.  You’re like me.  I love animals.  So, I fix them when I can.”

Dean smiled at the comparison.  “Yeah.  Although it’s a little less sad when I lose one of my patients.”

“Depends on the car.”

Dean glanced over at him.  “I suppose that’s true.  I’d mourn my baby if I ever lost her.”

“I’m going to take that in the context of this conversation, but just to clarify, your baby is a car, right?”

Dean chuckled.  “Yeah, she’s a car.  A ’67 hardtop four door Impala.  Still has the original interior and chrome work.  I replaced the engine a few years back.  Three hundred fifty horsepower.  That’s net.”

Asa stared at him, and then smiled.  “I’m sorry.  I wish I understood what any of that meant, but…I’m going to assume by your slightly lascivious smile that she’s got real power in her.”

Dean narrowed his eyes.  “I did not smile las-lisiv-lasshiv—like that.”

“Little bit.  Of course, if I tell you my babies are purebred silver Egyptian Maus with a classic pattern, I don’t suppose that means anything to you either.”

“Nope.  Not really.  Are they dogs?”

“Cats.”

“Ah.”

Asa tilted his head.  “Don’t like cats?”

Dean shrugged.  “I don’t really feel one way or the other about them, but I am allergic to them.”

“Ah.  Highly?”

“Enough.”

“Hmm.”

They continued to paddle quietly.  After a few minutes they noticed they weren’t near any of the other paddlers.

“Maybe we should head back?” Asa suggested.

“How do we turn?”

“Uh, I think we turn this thing here.”

The boat started to turn slowly to the left.

“Wait,” Dean said, putting his hand on top of Asa’s.  “Aren’t we supposed to stay to the right of the markers?”

“To the left I think.”

“I thought it was right.”

“Iiiiiiii…really think it was left.”

They looked at each other, not sure who was right or if neither of them were.  Regardless, it didn’t occur to either to stop paddling and the boat plowed straight into the red and white striped pole sticking out of the water.  It hit slightly to the left, which caused the boat to raise up just enough that Asa slipped toward Dean’s side.  Their combined weight was more than enough to flip the boat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dean surfaced sputtering some of the nastiest water he’d ever had in his mouth.  He looked around and didn’t see Asa.  He could hear distant laughing, but he couldn’t be annoyed by it.  He didn’t see his date and he had no idea if the guy could even swim.

“Asa?!”

“Here,” he called out from the other side of the boat.

Dean pushed through the water, his toes almost touching the rocky bottom, until he was on the other side of the swan’s ass.  Asa was shaking the water out of his ears.

“You okay?” Dean asked.

“Me?  Oh, I’m awesome.  How are you?”

“A little wet.  Nothing a towel won’t fix.  I just hope my—my phone!”

Dean reached into his back pocket and pulled out his phone.  He held it out of the water and tried pushing several buttons.  It wouldn’t even light up—it was completely shorted out.  Dean groaned and thunked his head against the boat.

“Your phone shorted?” Asa asked, looking at his perfectly working phone.  “I thought they were all waterproof, or at least water resistant now.”

“They probably are now.  This phone is more of ‘then.’”

“Ah.  I’m sorry.  I can pay for it.  I did make us crash.”

“Come on, man, let’s be honest: it was a combined effort.”

Just then they became aware of loud shouting from the dock.  The operator was waving his arms and stamping his foot.  He was shouting quite loudly too, but he was too far away for them to make out anything clearly.

“I don’t know if I want to go back over there,” Asa murmured.

“We could always make a run for it.”

They turned and looked at the opposite shore of the lake—there was a thick, dark forest and no sign of civilization.  They both sighed.

“Guess we’re getting yelled at,” Dean said.

“Wouldn’t be a properly terrible date without some shouting.”

Dean laughed and helped Asa tow the boat across the lake to the dock.  The operator’s shouts became clearer, but since Dean ignored him he didn’t know what he was specifically angry about.  Getting out of the water was unpleasant as his clothes now felt five times heavier and his jeans ten times tighter.  Although the way the water made Asa’s jeans cling to his ass was not the worst sight Dean had ever seen.

“We’re very sorry,” Asa said, finally managing to get a word in while the operator drew breath.  “I don’t see a hole in the boat, but I can pay for any damages…”

Asa’s face lost a bit of color as he patted his back jeans pockets, and then his front jeans.  He did that several times and stuck his hands in his all of his pockets at least three times.

“Oh no…” Asa said weakly.  “My wallet…”  He looked out into the lake.

Dean reached back and felt for his own wallet.  He was relieved when he felt the familiar lump.  He pulled it out and a blob of lake scum splatted on the clean wooden dock.

“Get off my dock!” the operator yelled.  “I understand teenagers being a pain, but you are two grown men!  Shoo!  Shoo!”

They hurried down the ramp, and Dean followed Asa around the side to the edge of the lake.  He was looking out into the water like his wallet would suddenly surface and start waving for help.

“I’ve never been shoo-ed before,” Dean commented.

“Well, I’m glad we could experience it together then,” Asa said forlornly.

Dean put his hand on Asa’s shoulder, and water squelched out of his shirt.  He picked up his hand and shook it off.

“Well.  Credit cards can be replaced.  The DMV lets you order replacements online.  Nothing major lost, right?”

“Just a condom from 2007.  And two hundred dollars in cash.”

Dean winced.  “You always carry that much cash?”

“No.  I thought I’d need it for the fair stuff.”

Asa ran his hands back through his hair.  “God, this blows.”

“Sorry, man.”

“It’s okay.  I guess.  But maybe we should call it a night.”

“Yeah.  Probably.”

They left in silence, not commenting on anything they passed—even the fact that the way out of the fair was through the clown’s butthole.  Dean walked Asa to his a car—a truck actually, a big Silverado (hey, at least he was a Chevy man)—and Asa fist pumped in victory when he found that his key fob still worked.  He turned to say to goodbye to Dean, and then he groaned and leaned against his truck.  He covered his face with his hands.

“What is it?” Dean asked.

“My driver’s license is in the lake.  I can’t drive home.”

“Well, you can…”

“No, I saw them setting up a DIU checkpoint on the way up here.  I’ll definitely get stopped.  I’d have to take all those back roads to avoid it, but then I’d be driving for well over an hour with no license.  I don’t want to leave my truck here overnight…or for days before I can get a replacement license or can scrape together two people to drive me out here.”

Dean really wanted the date to be over too—at barely six o’clock in the evening—but he took pity on the guy.

“Well, lucky for you, you just had a terrible date with a mechanic.  I can get someone from my garage to come out here with a tow truck and take it home for you.”

Asa brightened and Dean thought quite randomly that he liked this guy’s smile.

“You’d do that?”

Dean tried to play it off with a casual shrug of one shoulder.  “Least I can do.  Uh…I just need to borrow your phone.”

“Of course.”

Asa unlocked his phone and handed it to Dean.  He instinctively hit the contacts icon, and then realized that Asa wouldn’t have his contacts in his phone.  And Dean certainly didn’t have any numbers memorized.  The shop was closed by now and their afterhours call tree number wasn’t listed on their web site.  Bobby was definitely unlisted.  He could vaguely guess at Sam’s cell phone number—he thought it was similar to his…

After seven tries during which Asa began to look more and more despondent, Dean finally hit on the right combination and got a hold of Sam.

“Hello?”

Dean almost laughed at his little brother’s suspicious answer.

“Hey, Sammy, it’s me.”

“Oh.  Hey, Dean.  What number is this?  New phone?”

“No, though I’ll probably need a new one soon.  I’m calling from a friend’s phone.  My phone is dead and—”

“What sort of friend?  I have all your friends’ numbers.”

“I don’t know why you do.  I swear, you’re trying to Single White Female me, aren’t you?”

“Is it a date?”

“Yes, it’s a date.”

“How’s it going?”

“Well, I’m calling from his phone because my mine is broken and I need you to give me Uncle Bobby’s number so that we can get a tow.  How do you think it’s going?”

Sam sucked in a sympathetic breath through his teeth.  “That bad, huh?”

“Well, I’ve had worse.”

Asa gave him an amused look.

“Okay.  I’ll text Uncle Bobby’s number to this number.  Let me know when you get home okay.”

“Yeah, yeah.  Go study or something.”

“It’s Saturday night.”

“You’re at an Ivy League school, Sam.  You’re not supposed to have a life.”

“Noted.  I’ll be sure to start that next weekend.”

Dean tsked.  “College has changed you, Sam.  This is why we don’t need no extra schoolin.’”

Sam laughed and told him to shut up.  Then he said goodbye and hung up.  A few seconds later, Asa’s phone chimed with a text message.  Dean called Bobby, who felt obligated to grumble at him for ten minutes before telling him he was already on his way.  He got hung up on, again, but at least there was light at the end of this Tunnel of Love disaster ride.  Dean handed the phone back to Asa and wondered if they were going to have an awkward forty-five minutes of silence to sit through.

“So, Sam…I take it he’s a cousin type relation?”

“Brother.”

“He’s attending an Ivy League school?”

“Yeah, Stanford.  Kid’s got it in his head that he wants to be a lawyer.”

“That’s very impressive.”

Dean awarded Asa some brownie points for understanding that Sam was impressive.  He found it easier to talk about Sam than himself, so he launched into an explanation of just how great his kid brother was.  After about ten minutes, Asa lowered the gate on his truck and they sat on it together.  Eventually Asa did bring up that he was an only child, raised by rich parents who spoiled him.  After his parents had been killed by a drunk driver, he had given up his party all night, sleep all day life and decided to make a useful contribution to society.  Most of his inheritance had gone to charities aimed at helping the children of alcoholic parents or those orphaned by drunk drivers.  He opted to go to veterinarian school because animals were easier to deal with than people.

“Well, that and I got rejected or waitlisted by every med school I applied to,” Asa chuckled.

Dean smiled and leaned back on his hands.  “Vet school is impressive too.”

“Hmm.  Just figured that full disclosure is best on a date such as this.”

“Such as this?”

Asa turned and leaned against the side of the truck, pulling one leg up and wrapping his hands around the knee.  His eyes roamed over Dean for a moment before settling on his face.

“A missed opportunity.”

Dean cocked his head.  “Why’s that?”

“Because.  Your uncle will get here.  We’ll make awkward small talk while he hooks up my truck.  We’ll agree we should try again.  But your phone is broken and when you get a new one, you might get a new phone number.  I’ll say I’ll understand.  Then we’ll go our separate ways and we’ll think about it.  I mean, we’re hot.  We’d be hot together.”

That surprised a laugh out of Dean.

“But, we’ll keep thinking back to the fact that the highlight of this date was walking through a clown’s butthole.”

Dean grinned.

“And so…we’ll just think, ‘It’s probably for the best,’ and never see each other again.”

Dean’s smile faded.  “Yeah…” Dean agreed softly.

Asa’s phone rang and he answered it.  Then he held it out toward Dean.  “I think it’s your uncle.”

Dean took the phone and gave Bobby directions to where Asa’s truck was parked.  They backed the truck out into the aisle to make it easier to hitch, and then Bobby looked at Dean.

“You comin’ with or dija drive yourself?”

“I drove.”

“Alright then.  Mr. Fox, let’s get you home.”

“Okay.  Thank you, again, so much for this.  I can pay for the tow when—”

Bobby waved him off.  “Friend of Dean’s, first tow’s free.”

Asa smiled, and despite the dried lake scum flaking off his skin and the still uncomfortably damp jeans clinging to his body and the fact that his identity and money had just been swallowed into an abyss, his smile was real and genuine.  Dean reached out and put a hand on Bobby’s shoulder.

“What’s up, boy?”

Dean dug his keys out of his pocket and handed them to Bobby.  “Drive the Impala to the shop.  I’ll take Asa home and then drive the truck back.”

Bobby was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth.  He swapped keys, patted Dean on the shoulder, and then told them to have a good night.  Dean called after him if he knew where he was going, and he said he saw the Impala on the way in.  Dean figured it was Bobby’s problem if he wandered around the county fair parking lot for twenty minutes and he and Asa got into the cab of the tow truck.

Dean hoped he didn’t make a mistake in offering to take Asa home as it might just prolong the awkwardness, but Asa quickly launched into a story about the worst date he’d ever been on.  It involved a girl’s parents and two sets of aunts and uncles chaperoning them.  The worst part of the worst date was that he had to sit through a grilling by her relations of why he wouldn’t set a firm date for their second outing.  Finally he had given in and agreed to a second date—a family dinner at their house.  He’d never shown up, of course.  He’d even changed his email and cell phone number.

Dean laughed at the notion of changing all his contact information to avoid a girl.

“I mean, I felt a little bad,” Asa said, “but we weren’t a good match.”

“Why not?” Dean asked, knowing exactly why they weren’t a “good match” based on the fact that the story took place during Asa’s self-proclaimed “spoiled rich asshole” days.

“Well, we were just different…”

Dean glanced at him for a moment before returning his eyes to the road.

“Fine.  I didn’t go on second dates with anyone who didn’t put out on the first.”

Dean chuckled.  “And now?”

“Now?  I’m not even a three date rule guy.”

Dean nodded.  “So, it takes four dates to get into your pants.”

Asa laughed.  “Yeah.  Four.  Or five.  Sometimes two.”

They grinned at each other.

“How about you, Dean?  How does one…” He flicked his eyes down Dean’s body and back up.  “Get into your pants?”

“The old fashioned way.”

“Candy and flowers?”

“Liquor.”

Asa snorted in amusement.  “Gin, vodka?  Tequila?” he asked with a judgmentally raised eyebrow.

“Whiskey.”

“Of course!  I should have known.  Kentucky, Ireland, or Scotland?”

“Geography don’t mean anything to me; I can drink anywhere.”

“Here’s to that.  Man, I dated this one guy…he talked about different kinds of whiskey the way pretentious snobs talk about wines.  Smoky this, oaky barrels, blah blah.  I mean, I can tell the difference between a smooth whiskey and rotgut, but does it really matter?”

Dean chuckled.  “Not in the slightest.  I hope he didn’t make it to the fourth date.”

“Ah…he was the two date special.”

“Was he really special?”

Asa leaned his head back and let it loll toward Dean on the back of the seat’s headrest.  “I shit you not…nine inch cock.”

Dean “oo’ed” in concerned appreciation.  “Is something that big really all that much fun?”

“It can be.  But I did learn the hard way that good sex can’t make up for a bad relationship, you know?  Every time you fight, you have sex and it feels so good that you think you’re happy again.  But, nothing was resolved and you still had the same problems.  God, that relationship dragged on for a year and a half.  And the friend that set us up was mad at me when I ended it…that’s why I switched to online dating.  Total strangers are way safer.”

Dean laughed.  “Not necessarily.  I’m pretty sure I went on a date with a serial killer.”

“What?” Asa asked with a disbelieving laugh.

Dean proceeded to detail his bizarre date with Gadreel, leaving out the part about him being deaf and a stand in for the guy he was actually crushing on.  They were still laughing over shared dating horror stories when they arrived at Asa’s home.  It was a small, ranch style house in a neighborhood built in the 60’s, but Asa told him that he’d been slowly gutting the place one room at a time and upgrading everything.  He stopped just short of inviting Dean in to see it, though Dean got the impression he wanted to invite him in.  Dean wasn’t sure he would have turned down the offer.

Once the truck was unhitched and safely in the garage, they stood next to the tow truck with their hands in their pockets, rocking back and forth on their heels.

“So,” Dean said, “how will you get to work?”

“I can ask my vet tech to pick me up on her way in.  If I put a rush on it, I can get my license replaced by the end of the week.  I’m familiar with the process—my best friend loses her stuff all the time.”

“Okay.  Well…I guess you’re all set then.”

“Yeah…”

They looked at each other for a moment and then Dean stuck out his hand.  Asa shook it.

“It was nice meeting you, Asa.”

“You too, Dean.”

They nodded at each other, and then Dean turned and walked toward the cab of the truck.

“Wait, Dean…”

Dean turned back.

“Um.  I don’t…I don’t think it’s for the best for us to let it end like this.  It wasn’t a date either of us would have been comfortable with regardless.  Let’s try it again, but let’s do something more…us.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Do you know Leon’s Sports Bar?  It’s over by you.”

Dean shook his head.  “Haven’t heard of it.”

“It’s pretty great for watching games.  Huge screens, good selection of beers on tap, and the food is actually decent and not just ‘available.’”

Dean smiled.  “Sounds good.  What is it again?”

“Leon’s.  Based on where you said you live, it’s probably like five or ten minutes from you.”

“You drive that far just to go to a sports bar?”

“Ah,” Asa said holding up a finger and giving Dean a conspiratorial smile.  “It’s a gay sports bar.”

Dean made a face.  “Oh, God.  What sports do they watch, figure skating?”

Asa playfully kicked Dean in the shin.  “Don’t go stereotyping.  It’s exactly like a straight sports bar.  So much so, straight guys often wander in by mistake.”

“So, what makes it gay?”

“Well, when a guy offers to buy another guy a drink, the response isn’t the threat of getting punched, but a distracted, ‘Maybe at halftime.’”

Dean chuckled.  “Sounds like a good place to watch a game.”

“Yep.  And the playoffs are tomorrow afternoon.  We could meet there at, like, noon.  Grab a booth and have a nice chill date.”

Dean smiled.  “I’d like that.”

“Yeah?”  Asa looked totally jazzed that he’d agreed to go, and then he quickly tried to play it off like he was totally cool about it.  “I mean, yeah.  It could be fun.”

Dean laughed and Asa bit his lip and glanced away.  He was cute.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Asa,” Dean said, and climbed into the tow truck.

“Goodnight, Dean,” Asa said, and then backed up toward his driveway.

Dean closed the door to the truck, and then rolled down the window.

“Hey, Asa?”

“Yeah?”

“How are you going to get there tomorrow?”

Asa froze as he was reminded of his license-less dilemma.  “Uh…I will find a way.  Don’t worry about me.”

“I guess I’m buying,” Dean said dryly.

“Oh!  Oh, no!  I didn’t…I can—!”

Dean gave the stammering man a wink, and then drove off.

 ~~~

Castiel stared down the superintendent of the city’s school administration and waited for Hannah to finish interpreting what he had signed.  The man was clenching his jaw so hard Castiel was certain he was going to break his teeth.  The DCO had been struggling to get proper equipment and trained staff for the deaf students for over two years.  They always tried negotiation before litigation, but the school board’s failure to fulfill their promises had been going on for too long.  They had scheduled an appointment like it would be any other meeting, but then used the opportunity to serve them a subpoena.

“You have no standing,” Superintendent Rosings stated through Hannah signing.  “We’ve addressed all of the concerns you’ve brought up.  We’re in compliance.”

-You’re not remotely in compliance, and we’ve pointed out how and why your ‘actions’ have failed to meet those requirements.  You’re violating a federal statute, and have been since 1990.  We’ve given you ample time and opportunity to address these grievances.  Your non-compliance will now be addressed in court.-

“You say you’re doing this to help the students, but you’re just going to hurt them.”

-How?-

“By making other students resent them.  The only way to pay for all the cr—things—you’re asking for is to take money from other parts of the budget.  No one will allow athletics to be cut, so the money will come out of the arts.  The program is already gutted.  The hundreds of kids who have to give up band and choir are going to be hurt because, what, three kids in the entire system need special treatment?  I thought your whole schtick is that you people aren’t ‘special.’  That you want to be treated like everyone else.”

-You provide materials and specialized classes for dyslexic individuals.-

“Well, yeah, those kids are ‘special!”’

Castiel narrowed his eyes.  –We’ll see you in court.  I’d work on your argument before you present it to the judge.-

The superintendent threw his hands in the air and turned to mutter to someone on the board.  Castiel glanced at Hannah as he packed up his briefcase.  She gave a slight shake of her head; he was speaking too quietly for her to hear, so he wasn’t just talking because he knew Castiel couldn’t hear him.  They were unhindered as they exited the municipal building, and they both managed to keep their smirks in check until they were in Hannah’s car.

Back at the DCO there were mixed reactions to the news.  Some had been hoping that the threat of a lawsuit would make the school board take them seriously and change their stance on making changes.  Some were gung-ho about taking them to court and raking them over the coals.  Still others were worried that the case would go to court, and they would lose.

Castiel felt confident that they would win easily.  There were several instances where the school system was in direct violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and he had carefully documented his rebuffed attempts at getting the school board to address them.  It was a pretty cut and dry case.  No doubt the city’s lawyers would find some way to try to weasel out of it, but he was bringing in Balthazar to represent the DCO.  The man was undefeated in court on matters of discrimination.  Probably because he only took cases that were slam dunks, but the statistics still backed up his reputation.  The only problem with a reputation that good was that even with the family and friends discount, he was very expensive.  Since they weren’t suing the school board for money, they couldn’t ask them to cover their attorney’s fees.  Castiel was going to have to come up with the money from somewhere.  He sat down at his desk and began reviewing the budget.

A few hours later Castiel’s back hurt and he was in a foul mood.  Because last year’s gala had underperformed, their backup surplus was already gone and they were going to have to cut some classes and activities in the upcoming months.  He couldn’t cut back on the services they provided—they were much too important—so that meant all the “fun” things would have to be scaled back or canceled altogether.  It wasn’t the first time they’d had a lean year and everyone handled cuts with grace and understanding (mostly), but he still hated having to take away the incentives for working for the DCO.

The lights flashed in his office and he looked up to find Dean flicking the light switch.  He smiled and motioned his friend into the room.  Dean walked in, pulled the door partially closed, and then plopped into one of the chairs on the other side of Castiel’s desk.

-What brings you to the city on a Monday?- Castiel asked.

-Job interview.-

-Really?-

Castiel finally registered that Dean was wearing a suit.  A cheap black suit with a skinny black tie.  He looked like a seventh grader at his first dance.

-Yep.  As an ‘administrative assistant’ at some company that makes, like, medical shit.  Not medicine, but like tubing and filters and sutures and stuff like that.-

-Why did you use air quotes around ‘administrative assistant?-

-Because that’s the modern term for secretary.  I interviewed to be a secretary.-

Dean looked completely put out by the thought of being someone’s secretary.  Castiel had to tease him about it.

-Well, if you get the job, I’ll buy you your first strand of pearls.-

-Hey, fuck you,- Dean said without malice.  –How did the meeting with the school people go?-

-Oh, fabulous.  We were insulted and condescended to, but we served them and now we’re going to court.  The only problem is that we don’t have enough money to cover the attorney fees without cutting some programs.  Temporarily.-

“Bummer.”  -That explains the face.-

-What face?-

-The really grumpy face you had when I came in.-

-Oh.  Yeah.  I just really hate being constrained by money.  It’s terrible that everything has to revolve around it.-

Dean shrugged.  –Preaching to the choir.  Again, I just interviewed to be a secretary.-

-There’s nothing wrong with being a secretary.-

“Yeah, yeah.”  -You free for lunch?-

-Yes, just let me log off.  Where do you want to go?-

“Cups and Crullers.”

-Every time, Dean,- Castiel said, shaking his head.

-Hey!  I don’t live or work over here.  I only get to go when I come here.-

Castiel gave him an indulgent smile, which made him frown and grumble.  Ordinarily he’d be offended by someone muttering under their breath and not signing, but multiple people had told him that being hearing didn’t actually help one to understand what Dean was saying when he was being sulky.

They caught the coffee shop towards the end of the lunch time rush, so they didn’t have to wait long for their order.  Dean ordered the same roast beef and cheddar sandwich with horseradish and beansprouts (which usually “fell out” during the course of consumption) that he always did, and Castiel branched out and ordered the French dip, which he ordinarily only ate in the spring.

-So, what have you been up to?- Castiel asked.  “Oh!”  He excitedly moved his arms to sign and caused his dipping sauce to slosh out of its container.  –You had your date with Mr. Fox, right?  How did that go?-

Dean rolled his eyes and worked on chewing the large bite he’d just taken.  Castiel gleefully waited, eager to hear about another one of Dean’s dating disasters.  He really shouldn’t take such joy in Dean’s misery, but for some reason it was oddly pleasing to know that Dean wouldn’t be getting serious with anyone anytime soon.

-It was pretty terrible.  We went to a county fair, and it was a sucky county fair.  No corn dogs, no funnel cakes.-

-No funnel cakes?  That’s not a fair at all.-

-I know, right?  The rides looked about to come apart at the seams.  The games were overpriced—even for a fair.  And we got on a paddle boat.-

-A paddle boat?- Castiel asked, totally surprised by that piece of information.  He couldn’t picture Dean on a paddle boat at all.  –Why?-

-There was nothing else to do!  Anyway, we crashed the boat—

-How do you crash a paddle boat?-

-You just do!  Okay?  And my phone shorted out and he lost his wallet.  He couldn’t drive home without a license so I had to call Uncle Bobby to bring the tow truck to take him home.  The whole thing was just ridiculous.-

Castiel laughed and thought that Donna had outdone herself today; the French dip was marvelous.

-Well, at least you can tell people you dated a dude named A-S-A.  And a ‘fox’.-

Dean tried to repress a laugh at Castiel’s bad pun.

-Where would you rank that date?  Better than the bathroom incident, not as exciting as the offer of a threesome?-

-You take way too much pleasure in this,- Dean signed, scolding him.  Castiel just grinned.  –And I guess it ranks the highest because he decided to save the whole thing by saying it didn’t count and we needed to try again.-

Castiel’s sandwich got stuck in his throat.  He coughed and then it slid uncomfortably down.  –What?  You went on a second date?-  Dean hadn’t been on a second date with anyone he’d dated in the last two months.  One and done disaster dates were why they were funny.

“Well…not a second date.  It was more like a do-over.  We went to a gay sports bar and watched the playoffs.”

-How is a gay sports bar different from a straight sports bar?-

“Honestly?  It’s not really different at all except sometimes instead of celebrating with a high five two dudes would kiss.”

Castiel poked at his sandwich which suddenly seemed soggy and overcooked.  –Is that how you two celebrated?-

Dean laughed.  “Oh, God no.  It was totally Bro City between us.  It was just like being at a bar with Victor or Benny.  We watched the game, commented how we, of course, could play better, and then left all pissy because we lost and the season is officially over.  We had an awkward goodbye in the parking lot and just shook hands because it felt wrong to even think about kissing your bro goodnight.”

Castiel smiled.  –Well, maybe he can be a new friend.  Like Aaron.  Though I really do hope you’re not too good of friends with Aaron.  ‘Just say no,’ Dean.-

Dean waved him off while flipping him the bird.  Castiel laughed and thought his sandwich wasn’t so bad after all.

 ~~~

Dean checked his temper as he was cut off again.  He really hated driving on this side of the city; it wasn’t even rush hour yet, but the traffic volume was high and people were driving like dicks.  Where he lived wasn’t exactly a cultural mecca, but the traffic into and out of the city was much more manageable.  However, after their awkward goodbye in the parking lot last night, Asa had asked if they could just give it one more try.  The first date had been bizarre, the second one hadn’t really been a date at all, so he just wanted to try a cliché dinner and movie date.  If it was still bad, three strikes and they were out and could move on with life.  Dean had shrugged and decided, “Why not?”  He was going to be in the city the next day anyway for an interview, so driving to Asa’s work to pick him up wouldn’t really be putting him out.

Dean parked in front of the All Paws Vet Clinic and was surprised to see the building painted a clean white with bright blue trim and a blue metal door.  Most vet clinics he’d ever passed on the road looked dingy and drab for some reason.  This place looked like it could be somebody’s home.  Or a tea house.  Inside, it definitely smelled like a vet clinic.  A young girl wearing lavender scrubs covered in cartoon kittens greeted him from behind a desk.

“Good afternoon.  Welcome to All Paws.  What can I help you with?”

“Uh…I’m here to see Asa, uh, Dr. Fox?”

And as he said Asa’s title aloud for the first time, Dean realized he was technically going on a date with a doctor.

“Oh!  You must be Dean.  Gosh.  I thought he was exaggerating.”

Dean tilted his head.  “Exaggerating what?”

“Nothing,” she said with a bright smile.  “I’ll get him.”

She popped up and disappeared behind a swinging door.  Dean put his hands in his pockets and looked around the room.  It was clean and the furniture was well maintained though dated.  There were dozens of pictures on the wall of dogs and cats and birds and hamsters and a few other critters.  Based on the amateur composition and the average 4x6 inches size, Dean assumed they were patients of the clinic.  A middle-aged woman sat on the couch with a small terrier shaking violently in her lap.

The swinging door opened again and Asa came out.  Dean was a little disappointed he wasn’t wearing a white lab coat, but he was dressed for their date after all.  Dean could smell the soap and shampoo on him as he got close; he must have overdone it to overpower the animal stench.

“Hi,” Asa said, giving him that big smile that Dean was starting to think was his default expression.

“Doctor,” Dean greeted him quasi-seriously.

Asa’s lips twitched in amusement.  “Doctor,” he addressed Dean with a deep, serious voice.

Dean laughed.  “Thank you.”

Asa shrugged.  “Based on the fact that you quoted Dr. Sexy in your profile, I think I already know one of your kinks.”

Dean was surprised by Asa’s boldness, especially considering his vet tech was close enough to hear and snickered.  Then she called the woman with the frightened terrier to the back.  Asa hooked an arm with Dean’s and pulled him gently toward the door.

“Shall we?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.  Who’s, uh, who’s running the show while you’re gone?”

“My colleague.  It’s actually her practice.  I just graduated one year ago.”

“Really?  Are you a bad veterinarian?” Dean asked with a sympathetic look.

Asa bumped his hip against Dean’s playfully.  “Veterinary school is like regular medical school.  It takes four years.  Three years of mostly didactic learning and one of practical experience.”

“Ah, so you are a real doctor.”

“Well, I at least can play the role of one.”

He gave Dean a wink, which made him laugh.  Even if Asa thought LARP-ing was weird, his willingness to “role play” in other situations could definitely be fun.

“Where’s your car?” Asa asked, looking around the parking lot.

“Oh, it’s here,” Dean said, unlocking Bobby’s burnt orange and black ’65 Ford Mustang.

“What?  You talked for thirty minutes about your ‘baby’ yesterday and showed her off in the parking lot, and you don’t even bring her out for date night?”

“Well, I started detailing her last night.  I needed something to take my mind off that shit show of a sports team last night.”  Asa bobbed his head in understanding at that sentiment.  “And I didn’t finish.  So, I had to bring the Mustang.  Which is still a great car.”

“It is.  Just after all that build up I was looking forward to taking a ride in the Impala.”

“Well, play your cards right, and you’ll get that chance.”

“Oh, already anticipating date four, Dean?”

“Four’s your magic number, right?”

Asa blinked at him, startled for a moment.  Then he let out a breathy laugh and turned away to quickly get in the passenger side seat.  Flirting came like second nature to Dean, but for some reason with Asa it felt a little…dangerous.  Dean slid into the driver’s seat and Asa was fidgeting nervously, but he was smiling happily, which was enough to put Dean at ease.

“So what movie do you want to see?” Dean asked as he pulled out of the lot, following Asa’s direction to turn right.  “There’s Blood on the Walls, Fist Crunch, Toss Me Into Hell…”

“Oh…”  Asa glanced at him and then out the window.  “I was thinking of maybe, um, Fake Boyfriend/Real Love?”

Dean snorted out a derisory laugh.  “Really?  A rom-com?”

Asa shrugged.  Dean took the next left when told to.  He glanced at Asa again.  He looked serious.

“Uh, yeah.  Okay.  Rom-com.  Let’s do it.”

Asa smiled and Dean was perfectly happy to let Asa think that he was seeing a rom-com for his sake and not because he kind of wanted to see it too.  Even though Asa had gotten a new credit card from the bank that morning, Dean gallantly paid for the tickets, the tub of popcorn, the giant Icee, the Twizzlers (which was as close to licorice as he could get), the Cookie Dough Bites, the nachos because a picture popped up on the menu screen while they waiting, and the Sour Patch Kids, which liking the sour candy was really the only flaw he’d noticed in Asa.

They both had mild stomachaches by the end of the movie, so they decided to walk around the shopping center, browsing here and there and talking for a couple of hours until they felt hungry again.  They went to a steak place and devoured large prime ribs, mashed potatoes, and Dean even ate his asparagus because Asa could be very persuasive.

Despite being overly full after leaving dinner, they decided to get gelato and walk around some more.  Dean realized they were prolonging the date—neither were quite ready for it to be over.  He ruined his own good mood by wondering if he was just stretching it out because he knew he wasn’t going to see Asa again.  Three strikes and they were out, right?

He didn’t really think this date was a swing and a miss, but it wasn’t anything special either.  He was enjoying himself and he liked Asa and he liked talking with him, but…was that enough?  Had it really been that long since he’d been on a successful date that he didn’t know what one felt like?  He shook his head and focused on Asa again.  He was going to enjoy this date, damn it.

On the drive to Asa’s house, the man relaxed into the seat like he was totally at home in Dean’s presence.  Dean dropped his right hand from the wheel to his lap.  Then he moved it over to the side of his thigh.  Then he dropped it lower to the seat, just inches from Asa’s hand.  Before his pinky finger could scooch closer, they arrived at Asa’s house.  He left the car running and said goodnight.  That smile that Dean had become so familiar with in just three days wilted and stiffened into something false.  Asa said goodnight, and got out of the car.  He didn’t even ask if the date was strike three or not.  And then it hit Dean like a kick to the head that he’d driven up to the guy’s house, left the engine running like he couldn’t wait to leave, and just dismissed him.  That’s not what Dean had meant to do…

Dean turned the car off and quickly hopped out.  He jogged up the driveway and caught Asa just as he started to unlock his door.  Asa turned around, surprised, but pleasantly so, to see Dean on his doorstep.  Dean stood close, but couldn’t quite find the will to make a move.

“Um.  I guess I thought since this was a traditional date, it needed a traditional…ending.”

Asa smiled and it made Dean’s stomach flutter just a little.  Then Asa stepped closer and Dean inhaled slowly, but deeply as his eyes met Asa’s blue-grey ones.  They were awfully close, but Dean still couldn’t push past the barrier holding him back.  Asa hooked his thumbs in the front pockets of Dean’s jeans and pulled him even closer.  They touched down the lengths of their bodies and Dean looked at Asa’s lips, and then let his eyes slip shut.

Asa’s lips weren’t at all tentative, nor was he overly aggressive.  Dean tilted his head slightly and leaned into the kiss.  They swayed slightly on their feet and Dean’s hands came up instinctively to steady them, gripping Asa’s hips.  He was prevented from really holding onto him because Asa’s arms were in the way, his thumbs still in Dean’s pockets, but that just made Dean press forward as he felt deprived of contact.  Asa hummed into the kiss as he felt Dean crowd closer for more, and the small sound incited a craving in Dean.  His hands moved, still holding him mostly by the hips, but his fingers were framing his ass.  Asa gasped softly and pulled back the slightest bit from the kiss.

Dean swallowed and opened his eyes.  Asa leaned forward and pressed a closed mouth kiss to his lips and then pulled back again.

“Dean…I want to see you again.”

Dean nodded.  “I’d like that too.”

They both lingered for a moment, and then licked their lips and stepped back to a more appropriate distance.  Asa’s smile was brighter than ever and Dean felt a little giddy.  Kind of like when he’d first met Cas…but different.

“I get my license back on Friday.  Maybe we could meet in the city for dinner after work.”

Dean nodded.  “I could do that if we had a later dinner around 8:00 or 8:30.”

“How about 8:30 at The Chop House?”

“It’s a date,” Dean said with humor.

“It’s a date,” Asa echoed, his eyes sparkling even in the weak porch light.  “Goodnight, Dean.”

“Goodnight, Asa.”

 ~~~

Castiel turned the page of his verbose steampunk novel that he really was struggling to get through.  It had been recommended to him by Claire, but it seemed to him like the author had created a rich, detailed world and then belatedly remembered he needed characters and a plot.  He was never taking a recommendation from a twenty year old again.  Of course, it might not be solely the book’s fault that his morning commute felt unbearable now.  He missed his daily conversations with Dean.  Texting just didn’t give the same connection and fulfilment as talking in person did.

Someone slapped his knee and sat down right next to him.  Castiel started more in anger than surprise, and turned to give his best death glare to whomever had invaded his space.  His jaw dropped when he saw Dean grinning at him.

“Dean,” he breathed, not quite making his vocal cords move.  –What are you doing here?-

-Well, hello to you too.-

-Good morning.  What are you doing here?-

Dean sat back a little to display the fact he was in a suit again.  –I got the job!-

-The secretary job?-

Dean made a face.  –Administrative assistant.-

-Right, yes, of course.-

Dean nodded.  –Yep.  I’m the assistant for a vice president.  My salary is actually higher than it was working the mail room at Adler’s.-

-That’s great!  Why didn’t you tell me?-

-I wanted to surprise you.  Are you surprised?-

Castiel smiled.  –Very.  Not that you got the job, of course.  You’re very smart and I think this company knows what you can do for them.  Your organizational skills alone will blow them away.-

-Geez, Cas, you could just use your hand if you want to get me off that much.-

Castiel punched him lightly on the shoulder.  –So crass.-

Dean smiled and then plucked Castiel’s book from his lap.

“What are you reading?” he asked while thumbing through the pages.

-Nothing.-  Castiel took the book back and stuffed it into his bag.  –We should celebrate tonight.  After your first day of work.  We could go to Pete and Paulie, or Mikonos Breeze if you want a real dinner.  There’s always Lizard Tailz, of course.  You could bemoan your lost opportunity for employment with them.-

Dean laughed and shook his head.  –We should go to Lizard Tailz one day.  Tonight though, I’m already meeting someone at McGinty’s Pub, so you should come.  Finally try the lamb stew.  It is that good.-

-Who are you meeting?-

“Um.”  Dean looked a little uneasy, but he was smiling, so Castiel wasn’t concerned even though he switched to speaking and signing.  “I’m going to meet as a there.”

Castiel shook his head, confused by the odd choice to finger spell a couple of words.  -As a what?  Are you dressing up?-

“No, Asa.  As in Asa Fox?”

It took a moment for all the pistons to fire in Castiel’s brain.  -Asa Fox?  The guy you met from shottotheheart.com?-

“Yep.  That’s him.  Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the only Asa I’ve ever met.”

-Oh, so you two did decide to stay friends?-

“Yeah.  Uh, well…kinda…”  Dean rubbed the back of his neck nervously.  “We’re kinda dating.”

Castiel sat back a little.  –Dating?  I thought the two dates went terribly.-

“They did, but we decided to give it a three strikes and you’re out kind of deal.  The third date went okay.  So, we’ve been seeing each other for about three weeks now.”

-Three weeks?-

“Yeah, but don’t worry about it being awkward.  Tonight is a totally chill hangout to celebrate the fact that I got a job.  Benny might even show up.”

Castiel brushed a piece of non-existent lint off his pants leg.  –Does he know I’m deaf?-

“Uh, well, we had the whole ‘tell me something interesting about yourself’ conversation, and I told him I knew ASL.  And I told him it was because I met you and all the people at the DCO, so, yeah, he knows I have deaf friends.”

Castiel felt like he’d been gut punched.  He’d gotten his wish: he was just Dean’s…deaf friend.

All day long Castiel couldn’t concentrate on his work because of the dread hanging heavy in his stomach.  He didn’t want to go to dinner; he didn’t want to meet Asa.  He just wanted Asa to go away.  And then what?  Watch Dean go through a long series of unhappy attempts at dating until he finally gave up and resigned himself to a life of solitude and loneliness like Castiel had?  He wasn’t really that petty was he?  That childish?  He didn’t want Dean, but that didn’t mean anyone else could have him?  He didn’t want Dean until he couldn’t have him anymore?  That wasn’t it, that wasn’t the feeling.  He was certain of that.

Maybe he was just worried about losing his friend.  His friend, and nothing more.  People always started spending more time with the person they were dating than friends.  It was natural, it happened to everybody.  Castiel just knew that their time to hang out together was going to be cut back, and that was why he was upset.  It made sense.  He was happy for Dean, just sad for himself.  Well, on the bright side, maybe they would break up in another week or two.  From what Dean had told him of his past, he wasn’t really a “long term” sort of guy.  He said he’d dated a lot of people but had only ever had one person he would have called a girlfriend, and that was back in high school.

Castiel needed to calm down and give Asa a chance.  Really, he ought to feel sorry for the guy.  Dean was bound to drop him fairly soon, and Castiel would still be his best friend.  It was a much better position to be in.

Despite his meager attempts at a pep talk, Castiel was still uneasy as he approached the Irish pub.  When he entered, he couldn’t feel a bass line, so if there was music playing, it was soft.  He’d pre-typed out a message on his cell phone and showed it to the hostess.  She nodded, and to her credit didn’t give him an odd look.  He moved past the host stand and let his eyes roam around the room, searching for Dean’s hair and his signature plaid.  Then he remembered that he’d be in a suit.

Movement caught his eye, and he turned and saw Dean kneeling on one leg on his bar stool to get more height and waving both arms.  He grinned when Castiel spotted him and motioned him over.  Castiel’s heart started to pound as he moved across the room to the side bar.  He didn’t want to meet Asa; he didn’t want to do this.

Dean pulled him in for a hug when he arrived and Castiel could faintly smell alcohol on his breath.  He’d already started drinking, but didn’t appear to be more than one drink in.  Castiel was relieved when Dean reintroduced him to Benny—thank goodness he wouldn’t be a third wheel—and then Dean introduced him to a man he finger spelled as being –A-S-A F-O-X-

Castiel shook hands with the man, and he shyly signed, -Nice to meet you.-

Castiel replied, -You too,- distractedly as he analyzed the man.

He was as tall as Dean and more handsome in person than his photo suggested.  He looked eager to come off well to Castiel, which made Castiel feel somewhat better since that meant Dean had stressed to him how important their relationship was.  But…if Dean had told Asa that he needed to get Castiel to like him, that meant Dean really liked Asa and wanted him to stick around for a while.  Castiel felt a foul mood settle on him.  He actually felt a little sorry for Asa considering the night he was about to have.

-Do you sign?- Castiel asked.  –Or did you just learn a few signs to pander to Dean?-

Asa went stiff, and then glanced askance at Dean.

“He doesn’t sign,” Dean spoke and signed, “He just asked me to teach him a couple of things before meeting you.  Isn’t that nice?”

Dean lifted a warning eyebrow in his direction.  Castiel gave a subtle shrug acknowledging Dean’s displeasure.  Castiel started when a large, meaty arm landed across his shoulders.  Benny hauled him in close and said something, laughing as he did so.  Dean did his best to sign what the man was saying, but he was using a lot of odd words that Dean didn’t know the signs for and had to finger spell.  His finger spelling was his one weakness in his signing.

-I’m going to order a drink,- Castiel signed, slipping out from under Benny’s arm.

Dean intercepted him before he could get to the bar and turn his back to the group.  He handed him a Shirley Temple Black, which was a Shirley Temple with cherry vodka instead of grenadine.  It even had extra cherries in it, which was Castiel’s favorite drink.  However, being handed the clear drink with cherries all through it at an Irish pub with three manly men around him made him feel a little ridiculous.  All he could do was start drinking.

He only peripherally paid attention to Dean as he signed the conversation over the next hour.  He could see Dean struggling to keep up.  Most interpreters swapped off with someone else after ten or fifteen minutes.  It was draining to sign at the rapid pace at which people, multiple people at once, talked.

Castiel didn’t speak unless directly asked a question.  Asa tried several times to draw him into conversation, but he gave curt answers.  Dean elaborated for him, after all he knew Castiel well enough to be able to answer most of the basic get to know you questions as well as Castiel himself.  Benny didn’t appear to pick up on any standoffishness from Castiel, either that or he didn’t care, but Asa clearly noticed that he was getting a bit of a cold shoulder.  When he excused himself to go to the restroom, Dean rounded on Castiel.

-What the hell?  Did something happen at work?  Why are you in such a bad mood?-

-I’m not.-

-You are!  You’re being a jerk to Asa.-

-I am not.  I’m answering every question he asks me.  You guys are just talking about subjects I don’t particularly care about.-

-That’s bullshit.  You don’t even know the guy.  Give him a chance.  What is your problem with him?-

And that was the problem right there.  His problem with Asa had nothing to do with who he was as a person, but simply the fact that he existed.  Castiel couldn’t admit to Dean that he didn’t like him because Dean liked him in a more-than-friends kind of way.  He’d forfeited the right to jealousy and possessiveness when he’d pushed Dean away.

Castiel swallowed and looked down.  He really was nothing more than a petty child.  He didn’t want Dean for himself, but he didn’t want anyone else to have him either.  He was better than that.  He loved Dean (as a friend), and a true friend would want him to be happy.  Even if that meant watching him find that happiness with someone else.

-I’m sorry,- Castiel signed.  –You’re right.  I had a bad day at work.  The gala hit a snag, but we’re working through it.-

Dean’s defensive body language melted away.  –Sorry.  You didn’t have to come tonight if you didn’t feel up to it.-

-No, I wanted to celebrate with you.  My mind is just…on other things.-

-You don’t have to cancel the gala do you?  Because of the attorney fees?-

-Oh, no.  Nothing like that.  Just something silly really, but obnoxious.  You know how it can be.-

Dean nodded.

-Do…do you still plan on coming this year?-

-Of course.  I wouldn’t miss it.  I mean, you’d be okay with Asa coming, right?-

Castiel raised his eyebrows.  –You think you’ll still be with him that far from now?-

Dean gave him an odd look.  –I guess I don’t know for sure, but it’s only a month and a half away.-

-Right.  Right.  Of course he can come.  I don’t suppose he has deep pockets, does he?-

-Not especially.-

-Ah, well, fifty bucks is still fifty bucks.-

-Fifty bucks?-

-That’s the cost of the tickets.  Each.-

-I didn’t pay last year!-

-Because you were the arm candy of the guy running the show.  Now, you’re just a regular Joe.-

-That’s so sad.-

-No, it’s for a good cause.-

Dean laughed and Castiel finally cracked a smile.  Asa arrived at just that moment and smiled as he slipped an arm around Dean’s waist.  He said something to Dean who didn’t bother to interpret it, but he did let out a small laugh and shot another warning look at Castiel.  Castiel raised his hands to ask Asa a question, be a nice, polite friend, but then Asa squeezed Dean’s waist.  Dean looked away and faced Asa, who leaned forward and gave him a quick kiss on the lips.  Castiel realized he couldn’t do this.  Not yet.  He hadn’t had enough time to process the idea of Dean dating someone.

Castiel smoothly turned raising his arms into yawning and checking the time on his wristwatch.  He backed a little away from the group.

-I’m sorry for bailing so early, but I had a long day at work and will probably have a longer one tomorrow.  You guys enjoy your evening.  Nice meeting you, Asa.  Good to see you again, Benny.  Goodnight, Dean.-

He could tell that Dean was interpreting, but he didn’t wait for any responses.  He just waved and turned and started walking away.  One good thing about being deaf, he didn’t have to pretend not being able to hear his friend calling after him.

 ~~~

“So, when am I going to meet this guy?” Sam asked as he shoveled another forkful of mac ‘n’ cheese into his mouth.

“Well, seeing as how you’re not coming home for Thanksgiving, not for a while?”

“I haven’t decided for sure yet, but the plane tickets are expensive.”

“Sam, I don’t expect you to come.  I was just pointing out that the two of you are in different states, so it makes meeting difficult.”

“Uh, we could Skype.”

“I’m not going to introduce you to him over Skype.”

“Why not?  It’s not like a phone call.  It’s almost like meeting in person.”

“Because, I don’t want him to see you clipping your toenails or stuffing your face when you meet.”

“One time, Dean.  I was clipping my toenails one time.”

“It was gross, dude.  The clippings fell all in your keyboard.”

“They did not.”

“I saw them.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Oh, yeah?  Pick your laptop up and tip it over.  Let’s see what falls out.”

Sam made a face, and then stuffed another spoonful of his neon orange dinner into his mouth.

“That’s what I thought.”

“Come on, Dean.  It’s weird that I haven’t met your boyfriend yet.”

Dean looked up from dabbing the lint off his black dress pants with a wadded up ball of tape.  “Boyfriend?  He’s not my boyfriend.  We’re just…dating.”

“Are you dating anyone else?”

“No.”

“Is he?”

“No.  Well, I mean I don’t know.  I don’t think so.”  Sam gave him a look.  “No,” he said sulkily.

“So, you’re dating exclusively, you’ve met each other’s friends, you’re making plans weeks in advance, you don’t want him to meet your brother by Skype because…”

Dean frowned and squished the tape ball in his hands.

“You’re cleaning the lint off your dress pants, Dean.  You’re wearing dress pants.”

“Alright, enough.  I get it.  We just haven’t discussed it yet.”

“Maybe you should.”

“Maybe you should…discuss it.”

“Good comeback.  And I am discussing it.”

“Shut up,” Dean grumbled.

“So, is Cas being any nicer to him?”

Dean groaned.  “God.  I made the mistake of telling him about Asa’s past, to try to illustrate how he’d changed and was doing good for others.  Now he just thinks that it’s all an act and that Asa’s trying to use me in some way.  What possible way?  I have no money, I have no influence or connections.  Guy’s crazy.”

“About you,” Sam mumbled.

“What?” Dean snapped.

Sam put his hands up in the air, not hampered by the bowl or the spoon in them.  “Nothing.  But if Asa’s your boyfriend and Cas is your best friend…how’s that going to work out if they hate each other?”

Dean sat down heavily on his bed.  He stared at the floor.  “I don’t know,” he said softly.

“Oh, uh, hey.  I didn’t mean to bum you out.  Don’t you have a date tonight?”

Dean checked his watch.  “Oh, crap.  Yeah, I gotta go.  Uh, how’s school?”

“Good.”

“How’s Jess?”

“Oh my gosh, super pissed that I didn’t tell her Claire was visiting during her fall break.  But not just at me, she wasn’t super nice to Claire either.  But Jess says we’re still ‘just friends.’  I didn’t tell my other friends Claire was coming, why should she get special treatment?”

“Sam, obviously she doesn’t feel for you like ‘just a friend.’  Rubbing that in her face by hanging out with another girl is bound to make anyone cranky.”

Sam gave him an unamused look.  “You don’t see the irony of lecturing me on this, do you?”

Dean shrugged.  “What irony?  Look, I gotta go.  Be good.”

“Always.  Bye.”

“Bye.”

Dean logged off Skype and closed his laptop.  He made one last pass through the bathroom to check that his white-striped light green button down was tucked in all the way around.  Then he threw on a darker green, lightweight sweater.  He shook his head in the mirror.  He looked so GQ it was painful.  At least he wasn’t wearing a tie—like the model in GQ he had stolen the look from.  Asa had asked if he would be okay with dressing up (just a little bit) for a nice dinner.  He’d agreed without a bit of hesitation.  It was a little scary how a well-timed smile and a lingering kiss on the cheek could make Dean putty in his hands.

He was a little irked that Asa asked him to drive out to his house, especially if they were just going to have to drive back into the city for dinner.  However, when he arrived at the house and saw the mood lighting and smelled something truly delicious in the air…he got it.  Asa wanted to have dinner in.  Dean was down with that.  He greeted him with a kiss, but when he moved to pull back Asa moved forward and prolonged the kiss, deepening it a bit.  Dean put his hands on Asa’s back and smoothed them over the strong, hard muscles encased in soft cashmere.

When Asa finally let him go, Dean asked, “What was that for?”

Asa shrugged.  “Just happy to see you.”

Dean leaned in for another kiss, but the smells were distracting.  “Did you cook?” he asked against Asa’s lips.

“Mm-hmm.  Potato lasagna.”

Dean pulled back, intrigued.  “What’s potato lasagna?”

“Come have a taste.”  Asa led Dean by the hand toward the kitchen.  It was only the second time he had been inside Asa’s house, so he was still impressed with the completely modern look and technologically enabled rooms.  It was practically a smart house as he had his heating and air conditioning, the lights, the alarm, and his whole media center hooked up to a device he controlled with voice commands.

Alexandria, his female cat, was perched on the window sill in the dining room, watching them with her black-outlined green eyes.  Memphis was nowhere to be seen, but Asa had said that it took him a while to warm up to people.  The smells in the kitchen were even better and Dean’s mouth watered.

“I hope you’re hungry,” Asa said as he opened the oven and pulled out a square baking dish with cheese bubbling on the top of whatever was inside.

“Starving.”

“Excellent.  You want to get us some beers from the garage fridge?”

“Sure.  Got a preference?”

“There’s an IPA in there.  I’ll take one of those.”

“Okay.”

Dean took a moment to study the four kinds of beer Asa kept in the extra refrigerator and decided on a lager.  He popped the caps using the bottle opener hanging off the side of the fridge and dropped the lids into the large bucket beside it that was over halfway filled with caps.  It might have given the impression that Asa had a bit of a drinking problem, but Dean knew that the bucket hadn’t been emptied since Asa had moved into the house two years ago.

When he returned to the kitchen, Asa was setting two plates filled with steaming food (including vegetables) onto the table, and a gorgeous silver cat with black markings was rubbing at his ankles.  As soon as he heard Dean, the cat started and then darted out of the room.

“Wow.  He really is a pretty color.  I just thought he’d be grey, but he really does look silvery.”

“Mm.  Silver Maus are beautiful.”  He turned and looked at Alexandria, who was a “bronze” Mau, but mostly looked brown with black markings.  “You’re beautiful too, baby.”

She slowly blinked her eyes at him, but otherwise didn’t move.  Asa chuckled and then looked up at Dean.  He gestured to one of the seats.

“Shall we?”

An hour later, Dean was still moaning his appreciation over the delicious dinner—even the damn broccoli had been good—and Asa waved off the compliments with feigned modesty.  Dean loved how easy it was to be with Asa.  They could talk about nothing for hours and it didn’t feel forced.  He also appreciated that they had the same tastes in regards to what was “fancy” and the need to do “special” things for each other.  Dean had fixed a loose toilet seat for Asa the first time he had come over, and Asa had taken the wireless headphones Dean had received for Christmas the year before out of the box and showed him how to use them.  Those little things were how they showed they cared, and they both understood that.  There was no pressure for grand gestures or expensive gifts.

There was no need for words, as was evidenced by the fact that Dean could let Asa know exactly how much he was enjoying the chocolate silk pie he had made by sucking it off his tongue.  Asa giggled as Dean boxed him in against the kitchen counter, licking a bit of whipped cream from the corner of his mouth.

“You bake too?” Dean moaned and then kissed Asa again.

The man hummed in response and then tilted his head away so Dean could kiss down his cheek, his jaw, and onto his neck.

“I can do a lot in the kitchen,” Asa panted.

“Oh, yeah?” Dean laughed.

“Mm-hmm.  Dinner, dessert.  I make a mean breakfast.”

Dean circled his arms tightly around Asa’s waist and murmured, “I bet,” before gently sucking a mark onto his neck.

“Yeah…you know.  I could make breakfast for you sometime.”

“Okay,” Dean said and nuzzled under Asa’s chin with his nose.

“Like, tomorrow, I could make you breakfast.”

Dean grumbled a little at that.  “It’s a long drive though.  It seems stupid to drive home tonight and then turn around and drive all the way back first thing in the morning.”  Dean raised his head and kissed him again.  “Besides, I’m not ready to leave yet.”

Asa wrapped his arms around Dean’s neck and returned the kiss, but then he pulled back and clarified his meaning.

“Or…you could just not go home tonight.”

Dean thought about what that could mean.  “If I don’t go home, where would I…?”

Dean cut off as Asa undulated his hips against Dean’s, making them both aware of their half-hard cocks rubbing together.

“Ah…”  Dean finally understood Asa’s offer to cook him breakfast.

They’d been dating for a month and a half and hadn’t slept together yet.  Dean knew that wasn’t a long time for some people, but for Dean Winchester a month and a half of being with someone without being with someone was unheard of.  A small part of him pointed out that maybe he should really analyze why he’d been so hesitant in developing his relationship with Asa.  A larger part was squeezing the man’s ass and grinding their erections together.

“So, yes to—” Asa gasped, and then groaned, “breakfast?”

“Yes.  So much yes.”  Dean paused and when Asa opened his eyes they were just a touch unfocused.  “Just one thing.”

“I have condoms.”

“Oh, not that.  But, good.  Um.  Are we…”  Dean was almost too embarrassed to ask.  “Are we boyfriends?”

Asa’s eyes focused.  He smiled lightly, and then Dean gasped in surprise when Asa turned them suddenly and pushed him up against the counter.  In a flash he hooked his hands under Dean’s knees and hefted him onto the counter.  Dean was stupefied by the sudden aggression and just how good it felt to have a man spreading his legs apart and pushing between them.  Dean bit his lip as his groin throbbed in anticipation and Asa’s hands played with the hem of his sweater.

“Yes, Dean.”  He pulled Dean’s sweater over his head and tossed it away.  “I’m your boyfriend.”  He pressed forward and kissed him, rubbing their erections together again.  “And you are definitely mine.”

 ~~~

The gala was only a week away, the DCO’s holiday party for the staff and their clients was the week after that, and the school board suit had its first court date the first week of January, so why on earth was he wasting time playing board games at Charlie’s and Eileen’s house?  Yes, it was Charlie’s birthday, but he could take her out for a nice dinner some other time on an IOU.  He was way too swamped with making arrangements and compiling materials for court to take a break, even for a dear friend.

Especially when that dear friend invited Dean and the rando he was dating to come to her birthday party.  Dean and Charlie were friends, fine, Dean should come.  But why had she invited Asa?  And why couldn’t Asa go more than thirty seconds without having his hands all over Dean?  He was constantly touching his shoulder, his waist, fixing his hair, kissing his cheek.  Castiel had very nearly chucked a beer bottle at his head when he saw the man discreetly pat Dean on the ass.  He had no idea what Dean saw in the guy.

Currently Castiel was playing Tokaido with Meg, Hannah, Inias, and Eileen.  He was usually pretty good at board games, but he was distracted tonight because he kept trying to see what inappropriate thing Asa was doing.  As a result, he was losing pretty handedly.

Someone nudged his elbow and he turned to look at Hannah.  She waved at the board in a “your turn” gesture.  Castiel looked at the board, then down at his cards, and back up at the board.  He had no idea what was going on or what he should do.  Meg rolled her eyes and reached across the table to play his turn for him.  She was probably screwing him over, but his eyes were already back across the room where Asa was standing behind Dean, watching him play a more complicated game with Charlie and her hardcore gamer friends.  He was massaging Dean’s shoulders and occasionally leaning down to whisper in his ear or kiss his cheek.  Dean was smiling, but Castiel knew he had to be annoyed because the man kept distracting him.  Surely everyone else at the table was irritated by the PDA.

Within ten minutes, his group finished their game and Eileen got up and announced that it was time for cake.  Charlie’s group protested being interrupted before they were finished, but Eileen insisted.  The cake was a large sheet cake decorated with dungeons and dragons, but nothing trademarked.  Ordinarily Castiel would have found it amusing, but he was irritated that many of the hearing people who knew how to sign were not really interpreting anything going on around them.  All of Charlie’s gamer and LARP-ing friends were hearing, so the deafies were in the minority, and they were definitely being neglected.

Everyone crowded into the living room, overflowing on the couch and loveseat and dragging the folding chairs from the card tables to form a misshapen circle.  The cake was marble with a buttercream frosting.  It should have tasted good, but Castiel couldn’t eat more than one or two bites.

At one point, Asa attempted to sign something to Castiel.  He narrowed his eyes as he tried to decipher the weak hand gestures.  Then he figured it wasn’t really worth his while and looked away without answering.  Dean immediately drew his attention back with a sharp arm gesture.  Castiel looked at him, his friend’s jaw was tight with tension.

-Dude.  He asked you a question.-

-Did he?  You saw his signing; I have no idea what he asked me.-

-He’s trying, Cas.-

-So?-

Dean stood up abruptly and spoke and signed, “I’m going to refresh my drink.  Anybody want anything?  Cas, will you help me?”

Only one other person asked for a drink.  –I think you can handle two drinks.-

-Help me anyway.-

Dean’s expression was not pleasant, so Castiel stood up and followed him to the kitchen.  Asa watched them leave with a concerned expression on his face.  Castiel rolled his eyes as he entered the kitchen.  He was startled when Dean turned on him and immediately launched into a signing rant.

-The hell is your problem?  You’ve been avoiding me all night.  You’re being bitchy to everyone, even Charlie, who’s birthday it is if I have to remind you.  If I’ve done something to you to piss you off, I have no idea what it is, so you better just tell me.  I mean, it’s pretty par for the course for you to be a dick to my boyfriend, but why are you being a dick to me?-

Dean put his hands on his hips and stared Castiel down, waiting for an answer.  Castiel, however, had the anger knocked right out of him.  He felt a little lightheaded…a little nauseated.  Dean hadn’t mis-signed or forgotten a sign in a very long time.  So, he’d probably used that sign quite intentionally.

-Boyfriend?  Asa is your boyfriend?-

Dean’s angry expression faltered.  He looked a little embarrassed and stepped back, his aggression leaking out of him.

-Well, yeah.  We’ve been dating exclusively for a little over two months now.  We’re…in a relationship.-

Castiel stared at Dean, his chest pulling tight in despondency.  –Are you sleeping together?-

Dean balked.  –I don’t think that’s any of your fucking business.-

He was right.  Castiel had no right to know anything about Dean’s private love life.  He didn’t want to know come to think of it.  And yet, his reply was, -Are you?-

Dean’s face hardened back into anger.  –Yeah, Cas, we are.  We bang it out every chance we get.  In fact, we fucked before we came here tonight.  Would you like to know if he’s any good in the sack?  How big his dick is?-

-No.-

-Because I can tell you if you really want to know.-

-No!  No.  I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have asked.  I’m just surprised.-

-Why?-

Castiel shook his head.  He gnawed on his lower lip and couldn’t meet Dean’s eyes.  Castiel was startled when Dean laid a finger under his chin and gently lifted his head up.  Dean didn’t look angry anymore, just concerned.

-Cas, is something wrong?  Are you okay?  Can I help?-

This tender worry for him when he was being a grade A prick was too much.  Castiel felt something break inside of himself with Dean’s altruistic concern.  He didn’t deserve Dean’s friendship.  He could feel a rush of tears, and he knew he had to leave before Dean saw them.

-I’m fine, Dean.  Just stressed about the court case.  Please apologize to Asa for me.  Tell him I look forward to seeing him at the gala.-

Castiel rushed out of the kitchen, shaking off Dean’s attempt to grab his arm.  He went to the hall closet to retrieve his coat and Eileen met him over there.

-Is everything okay?- she asked.

-Yes, fine.  I just have to go.  The party was great.  I’ll see you in the office on Monday.-  Castiel turned and waved at Charlie where she still sat in the group.  –Happy birthday!  I’ll see you at the gala if not sooner.-

She waved back, looking a little confused, but then glanced toward the kitchen where Dean was leaning against the jamb with his arms crossed and a frown on his face.  Castiel turned away and walked out the door.  He was hit with an icy blast of wind and struggled to get into his coat.  He didn’t realize someone had followed him until he was halfway into his car and saw Charlie running down the driveway with her arms wrapped tightly around herself.  She was wearing only a thin T-shirt and had no coat or gloves or hat on.  Castiel got out of the car and stood up straight.

-What are you doing?  Get back in the house!  You’ll freeze.-

-Why are you leaving?-  Her teeth chattered and she winced when the wind gusted again.

-I’m fine.  I just have some business to take care of.-

-Are you and Dean having a fight?-

-No.-

-Then why are you crying?-

Castiel raised a hand to his face and felt the wetness on his cheeks that had already been leeched of its warmth.  He shook his head, but he had no answer for her.

-I don’t know,- he signed at last.  –I don’t know what’s wrong.  I just…I know it’s stupid to be jealous of Asa.  I mean, he’s not a threat to our friendship.  I guess I was just surprised when Dean called him his boyfriend.  I knew they were dating, I just didn’t know…it was that serious.  I don’t know why it bothers me this much.-

Castiel could tell Charlie let out a groan and she covered her face with her hands as she tilted her head back.  He could tell her lips were moving under her hands, and when she dropped them and looked at him he easily read her lips: “…this conversation with you too.”

Castiel cocked his head, not sure what she was referring to.

-Castiel.  Do you really not know why it bothers you so much to see Asa with Dean?  Why it makes you feel bad to see him make Dean happy?-

Castiel raised his hands, but then lowered him.  He had no reply.

-You’re in love with him, Castiel.  You don’t just like him.  He’s not some forbidden crush.  You are head over heels, woodland creatures flocking around you in love with him.-

Castiel stared at her.  He wasn’t letting his brain process that.  He couldn’t.

-But…he’s hearing.-

Charlie threw her hands up in the air and turned a circle.  He suspected she was making some sort of aggravated noise.  When she faced him again she looked beyond annoyed.  She started to walk away, but then turned back and pointed a finger at him.  She jabbed her finger at him for good measure, and then stomped back inside the house.

Castiel stood in the blustery wind and below freezing temperatures, shaking uncontrollably.  He didn’t think it was due to the cold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asa wolf-whistled slowly when he opened his door.  “Damn you clean up nice,” he murmured, eyes raking over Dean’s body as he stepped inside and shut the door behind him.

Perhaps Dean preened a bit and turned around to show off his Tom Ford tuxedo.  He faced Asa again and grinned.  He was in a rental tux, but it fit him to a T and he looked mighty fine himself.  He also held a small black overnight bag in his hand.  Seeing the bag reminded Dean that Asa would be going home from the gala with him and spending the night.  That reminded Dean that they’d be spending the night together and doing various—night time activities.  His groin tingled in anticipation.  He loved that he felt excited to see Asa after they’d been apart.  He loved that he loved sex with Asa.  He was so close to being able to love the man himself—he could feel it.  He could love this man.  There was nothing holding him back.  He was certain that with just a little more time…

Asa stepped forward and ran his free hand up Dean’s arm and onto his shoulder.  He leaned into him and spoke softly and seductively into his ear.

“As good as that looks on you, I can’t wait to take it off you.”

Dean chuckled and wrapped an arm around Asa’s waist.  He turned his head to kiss him just behind his ear.  Asa pulled back and kissed him on the mouth.  They stood in Asa’s foyer, kissing sensually but trying not to let themselves get too aroused.  When Asa pushed him against the front door, Dean knew they needed to stop or he was going to lose it and they were going to be really late.  He squirmed out of Asa’s embrace and wagged a finger at him.

“Later,” he promised.

Asa made a pained expression, but dutifully opened the door.  They were hit in the face with a powerful gust of wind and a few snowflakes.  Asa quickly shut the door.

“Let me get my coat.”

“Good idea.  Mine’s in the car.”

“Why didn’t you leave it on?”

“And deprive you of this?” Dean asked, gesturing at his tux-clad body.

Asa laughed and shrugged into his coat.  “It’s not bragging if it’s true, right?”

“Exactly.”

Dean drove slowly into the city as the roads were a little slippery with the freshly falling snow, but he still held Asa’s hand the whole time.  They talked about their plans for after Christmas.  For the holiday, Asa was going on a skiing trip to Canada with his friends—an excursion that had been planned and paid for months before he and Dean had even met.  Dean was going to be occupied with Sam and didn’t have much leave available since he was still new at his job.  So, they decided to celebrate together by attending a large party thrown by a local radio station for New Year’s Eve.  Dean was really looking forward to a night of loud music, heavy drinking, and rutting against his hot boyfriend on the dance floor.  It certainly would make up for the formality of tonight’s event.

Dean reluctantly handed the keys to the Impala over to the valet attendant, and Asa nudged him and laughed.  Dean pointed out that he was just as discerning about who he let take care of his cats.  Asa conceded and took Dean’s hand as they entered the hotel lobby and looked for signs pointing them to the gala.  Just before they got to the large ballroom hosting the event, Dean pulled on Asa’s hand and made him turn back.  He reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a small, silver Mardi Gras mask.  He placed it on Asa’s face and reached around him to tie it gently, but firmly in place.  He pulled out an identical mask in gold and secured it on his own face.

“Now we’re ready.”

“I feel like we should be wearing gloves,” Asa remarked.

Dean smiled and led him into the ballroom, handing off their tickets to the unfortunate person who had been assigned door duty.  The entrance looked down onto the room from a faux-marble staircase.  Classical music with a modern bass and percussion track underneath it floated like a dark dream around the room.  The hotel lights were low, and there were hundreds of fake candles that looked fairly real flickering in candelabras of all sizes around the room.  The walls were draped in swaths of gold and silver cloth and the dance floor was rich with women in gold, silver, and white ball gowns.  Some were slinky and sparkly, some had very full skirts and ruffles.  The men moved amongst them in a stark black contrast.  Every face was covered in a gold or silver mask.  Some were simple like Dean’s and Asa’s, some covered the entire face, and some were extravagantly elaborate.

Dean glanced at Asa.  He was smiling at the spectacle in front of him.  Then the man faced him, his eyes lost in the shadows of his mask.

“Shall we?” Asa asked.

Dean hooked his arm with Asa’s and they walked down the steps together.  Before going on the dance floor, or looking at the silent auction items, or even looking to greet people they knew, Asa proved himself to be a man after Dean’s own heart and led him to the buffet table.  The food was excellent, the ambience was immersive, and Dean bid five whole dollars on a trip to the Virgin Islands.  Maybe he and Asa could go if he won.

Nearly two hours later, Dean was just about done with the whole affair.  Some people were taking the mask thing a little too seriously and pretending like they couldn’t recognize each other.  Even the ones who had full face masks on weren’t that hard to figure out after a few seconds of talking to them.  He was ready to call it a night and make good on his promise to Asa, but he had somehow run across everyone from the DCO except for Cas.  He wanted to at least say hello before he left.

After Charlie’s party they had had their daily chats on the train as they commuted to and from work and it hadn’t been awkward or strained.  Cas had apologized to Dean again for his behavior and asked if Asa disliked him.  Dean assured him that Asa did like him, although he wasn’t exactly sure if it was more than cool indifference at this point.  But Castiel had offered an olive branch, and Dean was going to take it.  He needed Cas and Asa to like each other.  If they didn’t and he had to choose between them…Dean glanced guiltily at Asa.

-Hello, Dean.-

Dean would recognize the way Cas signed from a myriad of disguised hands.  He smiled and greeted his friend.  Asa and Cas exchanged polite greetings; Cas slowed down and exaggerated his signs for Asa’s benefit, and Asa managed to correctly make a few stilted signs.

-Are you enjoying yourselves?- Cas asked, and Dean interpreted for Asa.

“Yes.  You guys did an awesome job on this shindig.  The food is excellent, by the way.”

-Anna found a new caterer.  I think we’ll use them again.-

“You should.  They’re great.”

-Have you been here long?-

“About two hours, actually.”

-Oh, I had no idea.  I’ve been so busy schmoozing, and it’s a little hard to find someone in a crowd when they’re all wearing masks.-

“Kind of evened the playing field a bit for the blind people,” Asa said, and then pulled back a bit looking worried that he had said something stupid or offensive.

-I suppose that’s true.  In a way.-  Castiel tilted his head in that way he did when he was trying to process confusing information.  –As long as everyone is having a good time.-

“We are,” said Dean.  “It’s been a lot of fun.  But, we’re probably going to head out soon.”

-Oh.  Right, yes, of course.  Before you go though, Asa, may I impose on you for one dance with your boyfriend?-

Asa looked a little surprised that Cas was asking him for permission.  He glanced at Dean, saw that he was okay with it, and then nodded.

“Sure.  Of course.  I’ll wait by the stairs.”

Asa rubbed his hand briefly over Dean’s back, smiled at Cas, and then wandered off.

“Hey, babe, steal some of those cream puffs on your way out, okay?”

Asa waved him off dismissively.  Dean grinned and then turned back to face Cas.  He offered an arm.  Cas took it and they walked onto the dance floor.  Dean thought the request was a little odd, they’d never danced together before, not even at last year’s gala, but he was not opposed to pulling Cas into a loose embrace and swaying to the dark, heavy beat of the current song playing.  Cas followed his lead in regards to the tempo and held Dean’s right hand lightly in his left.  They moved harmoniously together, but then Dean realized that he couldn’t talk to Cas.  All they could do was move together like this.  He closed his eyes and leaned his head softly against Cas’.

The song bled into another and still they danced slowly together.  Dean wondered if Cas’ eyes were closed and if so, what that must be like.  He couldn’t see anything, he couldn’t hear anything.  All he knew was Dean’s embrace and their subdued rhythmic movements.  Dean thought it might actually be great to be able to focus so completely on something.  Someone.

Before the song ended, Dean pulled back.  He couldn’t leave Asa hanging for too long.  He smiled at Cas and signed, -Thanks for the dance, buddy.  I’ll see you on the train on Monday.-

He started to step back, but Cas’ hand suddenly whipped out and clamped down tightly on his arm.  Dean was a little alarmed by the tight purse of Cas’ lips.  They had gone bloodless and his blue eyes shone brightly with distress even through the shadows of his silver mask.  Then Cas turned suddenly and began to pull Dean off the dance floor.  He went willingly, but glanced back toward the stairs.  He spotted Asa talking to someone, so he figured he could spare a few moments to find out what was wrong with Cas.

Cas led him to the other side of the ballroom and through another set of doors.  They were in a dimly lit corridor that led to conference rooms not in use for the gala.  Cas let go of him and paced in a circle a couple of times, and then he took off his mask.  He looked stricken.  Dean quickly removed his mask and dropped it to the floor so he could sign.

-Cas, what’s wrong?  Don’t lie or try to brush it off.  Something’s wrong.  Please.  Talk to me.-

Cas swallowed thickly and looked at Dean like he was in pain.  He was clearly struggling with figuring out how to tell him whatever it was that was wrong with him.  Slowly, he raised his hands.

-I…I don’t want Asa to be your boyfriend.-

Dean was confused at first.  That wasn’t what he’d been expecting.  He thought that the DCO was in trouble or, God forbid, Cas was sick or something.  Not approving of his friend’s significant other?  Not on the list of things to be that stressed about.

-I don’t understand.  What is your problem with him?  He’s great.  He’s actually really fucking great.-

-I know.  I mean, I believe you.  I don’t dislike him.  I don’t think he’s a bad person.  My problem with him…is that he’s your boyfriend.-

Dean turned away and ran a hand down his face in aggravation.  He turned back to face him.  –I’m still not understanding what you’re getting at.  Treat me like I’m stupid.  Explain it real slow.-

Cas bit his lip and Dean realized he was trembling.  His instinct was to go to him and comfort him, but he refrained.  Just barely.  Finally Cas shook his head and gave up.

-I love you.-

Dean’s stomach dropped and his chest felt tight.  He took a step back and bit his lip hard to stave off the tears that unexpectedly sprang to his eyes.

“I…Cas…Like friends, right?”

Cas shook his head, looking absolutely miserable and apologetic.  –I’m in love with you, Dean.  And I can’t stand Asa because he has you.  And it’s not fair.-

“Not fair?!” Dean exploded, forgetting to sign.  He stepped away again and paced for a moment.  When he faced Cas again the man looked small and beaten.  He moved closer to force Cas to look up at him.

-Not fair?  You said it wasn’t possible.  That you could never date a hearing person.-

-I know.  I thought I meant it too.  But, just because I thought I couldn’t be with a hearing person didn’t stop me from falling in love with one.-

Dean shook his head and looked away, one stray tear falling down his cheek.  He took a moment to compose himself.  He licked his lips and the other tears receded a bit.  He faced Cas again.

-I don’t know what you want from me, Cas.  You just want me to know that you love me so I’ll never date anyone else?  So I’ll be available to you as a friend and a forbidden fantasy for the rest of your life?-

Cas shook his head.  –No.  Of course not.  I want you to be the exception to my rule.-

Dean retreated toward the door.  –I can’t do this now.  Asa is waiting.  I have to go.-

“Dean…”

Dean turned away and opened the door.  He took the long way around the dance floor, trying to regain his composure.  If the way Asa’s smile faded a bit into confusion was any indication, he only partially succeeded.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yes.  Let’s go.”

“O-Okay.”

Asa followed him up the stairs and waited silently with him for the valet to bring around the Impala.  He didn’t complain when Dean turned on music for the drive home.  He reached over and held Dean’s hand as they drove.  Dean wanted to take comfort from the gesture, but he kept finding reasons to need to return his hand to the wheel.  It was a long, miserable drive for Dean back home.  He wondered what Asa was thinking and feeling.  He couldn’t bring himself to ask.

When they got inside Dean’s apartment, he didn’t embrace Asa or offer him a drink or even talk to him.  He just sat down on his couch and glared at the blank screen of his TV.  He felt the cushions shift as Asa sat down on the couch, at the opposite end.  Neither spoke for several minutes.  Asa broke first.

“What happened?”

Dean let out a soft, humorless laugh.  He contemplated confessing everything to him, but he didn’t want to deal with it tonight.  “Nothing.  Don’t worry about it.”

“What did Cas say to you?”

Dean’s head whipped around to face Asa.  He didn’t know why he was surprised Asa had guessed that much.  After all, there were only two dots to connect.  He inhaled deeply as he looked at Asa.  He was solemn, but calm.  He was leaning casually on the couch, his arm along the back.  He was patient and supportive.  Dean owed him an explanation.

“He, uh…Cas said that…”  Dean inhaled and exhaled quickly.  “He said the reason that he’s had a problem with you is because he loves me.”  Dean shrugged, at a loss for what to say or do.  “He said he’s in love with me.”

Dean waited for Asa’s reaction.  There wasn’t one.  It was like he was waiting for something more.  When Dean just kept staring at him, Asa glanced down at the back of the couch and picked at it with his fingers.

“I can’t say I’m surprised.  It was pretty obvious he had feelings for you.”

It was?  Dean’s brain wandered back over the course of their relationship.  Was it obvious?  There were sometimes, when yes, Dean had thought it might be possible, but Cas had always shut it down.  Because he didn’t want him.  In fact, even during his confession, Cas had never said that he wanted Dean.  Not explicitly.  He’d just brought up his stupid rules and exceptions BS again.  All he’d really said was that he was in love with him and jealous of Asa.  Maybe there would have been more, but Dean had walked out.  He closed his eyes.  He couldn’t think about that right now.  When he opened his eyes, Asa was still watching him calmly, though cautiously.

“You’re not angry?” Dean asked.

“With Cas?”  Asa shook his head slowly.  “No, Dean, I understand perfectly well why Cas would be in love with you.”

Dean swallowed.

“The real issue is…”  Asa looked down, reluctant to speak his next words even though they both knew what they were going to be.  He looked up.  “Are you in love with him?”

Dean let those words bounce around his brain.  He looked away from Asa’s carefully controlled features.

“I was,” he admitted.  “When we first met I had a crush on him.  And the more I got to know him, the more I came to care about him.  I realized I was in love with him eventually, but he had always been so adamant about never being with a hearing person.”

“So, that was the only thing keeping you apart?”

“Not just that.  I mean, he didn’t feel the same way.  At least…I didn’t think he did.”

Asa’s lips tightened.  “But now that’s not the case anymore.”

Dean nodded, his brain starting to entertain the possibility that—he shut that train of thought down.  “He still has the same issues about hearing and deaf couples.  I don’t think that’s changed.”

“Maybe he’s willing to make an exception for you.”

Dean clenched his teeth as Asa’s words echoed Cas’.  Did he mean it?  Did it matter?  Sometimes if you missed your window of opportunity, there was no prying it back open.  He looked at Asa.

“It doesn’t matter if he could or not.  I decided to move on.  And being with you…Asa, I love being with you.”

Asa dropped his head again, nodding with a look of hurt resignation on his face.  “Love being with me.  And Cas?  Do you love being with him too?  Or…do you just love him?”

Dean clenched his jaw and struggled to find the answer within himself.  Had his feelings changed since August?  Was he over Cas?  Was he able to move on, even knowing how Cas felt about him?  He heard fabric shift as Asa stood up.  Dean straightened swiftly.

“Asa, I’m not saying yes.”

The man nodded, barely able to glance in Dean’s direction.  “But you’re not saying no, either, are you?”

Asa started for the door and Dean leapt to his feet to follow him.

“Asa, babe, please.  It’s not…Cas’ issues don’t concern us.  Please.  Don’t break up with me.”

Asa let out a bitter laugh as he bent down to pick up his overnight bag.  He turned to face Dean while slinging the strap onto his shoulder.  When his eyes met Dean’s they were hard, but laced with pain.

“Dean…you’re breaking up with me.”

Dean shook his head, but he couldn’t find any words.  He stepped forward and cupped Asa’s cheek.  The man gave him a pleading look, begging him not to make things harder.  Dean kissed him anyway, and Asa responded, but without passion.  They broke apart and Dean parted his lips, but still couldn’t think of anything to say.

“Goodbye, Dean.”  Asa’s voice was thick with tears and it broke Dean’s heart.

Asa opened the door and walked out.  Dean leaned against the cold metal, his hand on the knob, but he made no move to follow him.  He finally allowed his tears to fall and sobbed bitterly at his loss.  For it was a loss.  Asa had found a place in his heart, and now there was just empty space where it had been ripped away.

He could stop it.  If he walked out the door right now he could stop Asa from leaving.  He could grab him and tell him he loved him and beg him to stay; he was almost certain Asa would.  But he couldn’t do it.  Not before he talked to Cas.  Not before he found out if it was a possibility.  Even if it wasn’t possible, especially considering the anger Dean now harbored for Cas, he couldn’t possibly win Asa back if he didn’t go after him right now.  Asa would know that Dean had gone to Cas.  That he’d either been rejected or decided he preferred the easier route.  Either way, Asa would be his second choice.  Some people couldn’t live with that.  He didn’t blame Asa in the slightest.

Dean turned around and slid down the door to the floor.  He pulled his knees up and rested his elbows on them so that he could bury his face in his hands.  He cried even harder.  Damn Cas.  How could he do this?  In a fit of fury, Dean pulled out his phone and typed out a scathing message.  His thumb hovered over the send button.  After a minute or two of deliberating, he erased the message and put his phone up.  He would have to wait and talk to Cas later when he was calmer.  He’d already lost Asa.  He didn’t want to lose Cas too.  Even if they just stayed friends.

~~~

Castiel cracked an eye open and immediately regretted it.  His head was pounding.  No, not pounding, splitting.  Breaking apart.  Liquefying.  He had gotten stupid drunk last night.  He had no clue who had had the onerous task of taking him home.  His memory stopped about fifteen minutes after Dean had stormed out and he’d downed his fifth finger of whiskey.

He glanced at the clock on his nightstand.  It was after noon.  That meant neither Hannah nor Inias had brought him home because they would have woken him up before now to make sure he wasn’t in a coma.  Most likely it had been Gabriel or Meg, and since he didn’t smell anything cooking, it was probably Meg because she would have stripped him, dropped him off in bed, and promptly left him to his own devices.

Castiel sat up slowly, his body feeling old and achy.  He groaned, not caring if he was loud enough to be heard through the shared wall of his townhouse.  With effort he hauled himself out of bed and trudged into the bathroom.  He took a marathon piss and was grateful his bladder had held on through the night.  Then he took a quick shower (that also included a ten minute nap against the tiled wall) and spent five minutes brushing the fuzz and decay out of his mouth.  He put on a soft pair of black lounge pants and an old X-Men comics T-shirt.  He had zero plans to go out today.  In fact, until he received a full report of whatever had happened after he had gotten drunk at the gala, he might not go into work.

He lumbered down the stairs one step at a time and then shuffled into the kitchen.  He opened the refrigerator and settled in for a long debate as he stared unseeingly at its contents.  Then the lights flashed in his kitchen.  Someone was at the door.  It must have been Gabriel who had brought him home, and he was only just now returning with groceries for a greasy, alcohol absorbing breakfast.  Castiel walked slowly toward the door and the lights flashed again.  He made a face.  Impatient bastard.  He managed to walk more or less normally down the stairs to the door, and then swung it open, a grumpy bitch face at the ready.  He straightened, startled (and a little frightened) to see Dean on his doorstep.

Dean didn’t wait for a greeting or an invitation.  He didn’t say anything either.  He just pushed past Castiel and walked up the stairs.  Castiel was left staring out the front door at the Impala where it sat in his driveway.  He turned slowly and looked up the stairs.  Dean was out of sight.  Castiel shut the door and trekked up the stairs with only a little stiffness in his thighs slowing him down.  He found Dean pacing around his living room.

-Are you alone?- Dean signed, looking like he might snap if Castiel had company.  Considering how hungover he must look, he wondered if Dean was worried that Castiel might have brought home a random hookup to try to forget what had happened.  He hoped Dean knew him better than that.

-I’m alone,- he signed.

Dean relaxed just a fraction and continued his pacing.  Castiel waited him out.  He was tempted to sit down on the couch, but he didn’t want Dean to think that he was dismissing him or was put out by his presence.  Finally Dean came to a stop and faced him.

“What the hell was last night?” Dean spoke and signed.

Castiel’s shoulders slumped.  –A poorly executed confession of my feelings.-

Dean’s jaw clenched in anger.  “I told Asa.  I told him what happened.”

Castiel swallowed uneasily.  –What did he say?-

“That he wasn’t surprised.  And then he broke up with me.”

Castiel’s jaw dropped.  His body was awash with conflicted emotions.  He wanted to go to Dean’s side and comfort him.  He was angry at Asa for hurting Dean.  He was ashamed of the part he had played.  He was gleeful that Dean was free.  The shame bowled into the glee, knocking it down and away.

-Because of what I said?  Let me…let me talk to him.  Maybe I can…fix things.-  It pained him to make that offer.

“No, he didn’t break up with me because of what you said, but because of what I didn’t say.”

Castiel gave a slight shake of his head, not understanding.

“He said it didn’t matter if you loved me.  He knew you had feelings for me.  He just wanted to know how I felt about you.  If I was still in love with you.”

-And…what did you say?- Castiel asked, treacherous hope clawing its way into his chest.

“Nothing.”  Dean shrugged his shoulders.  “I didn’t say a god damned thing because I couldn’t deny it.  And he walked out the fucking door.”

Castiel stood still, not sure if he should say or do anything.  Dean cleared that up a moment later when he launched into an attack.

“How could you do that, Cas?  How could you?!  You haven’t changed your mind about hearing and deaf couples.  I know you haven’t.  You don’t think this will work out between us, but you still want to try it out just to prove it to yourself?  You wanted to make sure I can’t be happy because you’re miserable?”

Castiel flinched and Dean pointed a finger at him.

“No.  No!  You don’t get to play the victim in this.  I may have never said it, but you knew how I felt about you.  You knew it.  You know I wanted so much more.”

Dean inhaled roughly.  He couldn’t see tears in Dean’s eyes, but he wondered that if he could, he would be able to hear the tears in his voice.

“I wanted you.  I wanted to try because I know we would have succeeded.  I was so sure of it and you weren’t even willing to give it a chance.  You were perfectly happy to carry on with a friendship for months…until all of a sudden someone else wanted to play with your toy.”

-That’s not how I think of you!- Cas signed harshly.  –Don’t belittle my feelings.  Don’t belittle how much I’ve struggled with this!-

“Oh, I’m so sorry this has been hard on you.  But you know, you did bring this on yourself.”

Castiel clenched his hands into fists.  He inhaled rapidly, his distress making him flustered.  Dean didn’t say anything more, but he didn’t move to leave either.  Castiel allowed himself to take the time to calm down, his chest hitching as he attempted to steady his breathing.  After a few minutes, his lungs no longer felt like they were about to pop.  Dean was still standing in the middle of his living room.  He looked calmer too.

-I’m sorry,- Castiel signed.  –I’m sorry for hurting you.  For hurting Asa.  I just…I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t tell you how I felt.  I couldn’t live a life of ‘what if.’  You’re so important to me.  You’re precious to me.-  Dean colored at his choice of word.  –How could I possibly step aside and let someone else have you?  I had to try, Dean.  Don’t you understand?  I had to fight for you.  I…-

Castiel trailed off and searched Dean’s face.  Aside from color in his cheeks, he looked totally blank.  He couldn’t get a read on his state of mind.  Castiel decided to make a risky move; at this point he felt he had nothing to lose.

-You said…before you said that when Asa asked if you were in love with me, that you said nothing.  Because you couldn’t deny it.-

Dean swallowed, his jaw tightening.  Castiel almost chickened out, but he continued.

-If you can’t deny it…does that mean you are in love with me?-

Dean’s lips trembled and tears welled up in his eyes.  He didn’t sign, but the words were clear on his lips: “Damn it, Cas.”  He stepped forward quickly and Castiel braced himself, his heart exploding into a wild staccato beat.  But Dean walked right past him.  Castiel turned and saw Dean head for the stairs to the front door.  He disappeared behind the half wall as he descended.  Castiel stood still, waiting.  Waiting for Dean to come back, to see if he could feel the door slam.  He waited, and got nothing.  His heart rate dropped suddenly and his legs failed him.  He stumbled back until he hit the edge of his couch.  He sat down limply and stared at the floor.

Then everything came loose.  All his fear and tension and regret and anger and longing and despair collapsed in on him and he bent forward, crying like he hadn’t cried in years.  He covered his face with his hands and wailed.  He didn’t care who heard him.  He just rocked back and forth and cried for what he had lost because surely he had lost Dean completely.  There would be no friendship after this.  Why had he been so damn prideful?  Why had he been so foolish?  He cried until he couldn’t breathe and had to either force himself to calm down or hyperventilate.  Then he let the tears stream down his face until he had no tears left.  He sat staring blankly for a long while after that.

When he finally became aware of the room again, he had no idea what time it was.  He wasn’t hungry anymore.  He was just tired.  Sad and tired.  He wanted to go to bed and sleep until it stopped hurting.  Castiel pushed himself onto unsteady feet, and then began to walk slowly toward the stairs that led to his bedroom.

When he reached the landing, he gasped.  Dean turned around from his perch on the third stair down and looked up at him.  Castiel felt like his eyes were about to fall out of his head.  He held onto the banister tightly, worried he might collapse if he let go.  Dean stood up and turned completely around to face him.  His eyes were red and tear tracks lined his cheeks.  He walked up the stairs until they were on even footing.  He came closer.  Castiel did his best to maintain eye contact with Dean, to show that he was present and that he would listen to anything more he had to stay, but the green of his eyes was so bright, so intense, Castiel felt like it might burn him away.

Dean didn’t say anything.  He just moved as close to him as he could, a hand coming up to palm Castiel’s cheek fervently.  Castiel leaned slightly into the touch, desperate to close his eyes and fall into the fantasy, but he held Dean’s gaze.  He wasn’t going to abandon him now.  Dean looked like he was waging an internal war, and Castiel saw the moment when love won.  He let his eyes fall closed, and Dean’s lips were on his a heartbeat later.

It was too stiff and hard at first, both of them too scared to push too far too fast, but so desperate for each other.  Then Dean’s other arm came up and he cupped Castiel’s face between his hands as gently as possible.  The change in energy allowed them to relax into a more natural stance, their lips softening and parting.  Castiel put both of his hands to the back of Dean’s head, running his fingers through his short hair and directing him a little more to the right.  Their mouths sealed together and Castiel whimpered when he felt the first brush of Dean’s tongue.

The touch sparked inside him, sending a current of desire straight to his groin.  He grasped at Dean and tried to pull him closer, his kiss turning rough.  Dean pulled back and Castiel pushed forward hungrily, but he kept himself just out of reach.  Castiel opened his eyes, confused and refusing to contemplate that Dean had changed his mind.  Dean just smoothed a soothing hand over Castiel hair and then leaned in to kiss him.  When Castiel again tried to capture his lips wildly, Dean pulled back just enough to meet Castiel’s eyes.  He waited for Castiel to settle and calmly lean back in to kiss him, and only then did he return it.  They played at this back and forth of calm and control until Castiel felt his back against the mattress.  He hadn’t even been aware they’d been climbing the stairs.

When Dean’s body settled on top of his, he wouldn’t be constrained any longer.  He kissed Dean feverishly, desperate to be inside him in some way, occasionally pulling back to bite and suck on his lower lip.  That beautiful lower lip that was his—his to have whenever he wanted, his to receive kisses from all over his body.  With a lusty groan borne out of primal possessiveness, he rolled them over and pinned Dean to the mattress.  Their shirts were gone. He didn’t remember that happening either, but he could feel the heat of Dean’s smooth skin against his own as their chests heaved with the need for air their need for each other’s lips denied them.

They were down to only underwear when they rolled back over, Dean straddling Castiel’s hips and grinding his ass down onto Castiel’s straining, needy cock.  He was so hard the delicious pressure and friction was almost painful.  His hands were becoming sore with how hard he kept grabbing handfuls of Dean’s arms, his chest, his legs, his ass…it was like he was trying to convince himself that this was real, that it was happening.

When Dean was stretched out naked beside him on the bed, one leg entangled with his, his hands working their cocks, their hips massaging their balls together, Castiel could tell he was making noise.  He had no hope to control it even if he wanted to.  Dean kissed him, swallowing a groan.  Then he partially sat up and watched Castiel closely as he increased his movements.  Castiel’s lips parted on ragged breaths, his eyes barely able to stay open as Dean drove him closer and closer to the edge.  And when Dean twisted his wrist just right and Castiel threw his head back and wailed—he was still gazing at him just as intensely when Castiel opened his eyes again.  Then Dean did it again—intentionally—to make him scream.  The look on Dean’s face as Castiel lost control was not embarrassment or irritation.  It was arousal, it was pleasure, it was pride.

Castiel’s hand clenched tightly to Dean’s shoulder, and he gave in to everything.  His back arched and his limbs locked as he came blindingly hard.  He became aware of Dean going rigid against him, so he swiveled his hips to work him through his own release.  They relaxed at the same time, collapsing into a panting, sated mess.  After a few moments, Dean raised his head and looked at Castiel.  He combed his fingers through Castiel’s damp hair and then leaned down to place a soft kiss on his lips.  When he pulled back, he was smiling.  Castiel returned it.

Dean held up one hand.  –I love you.-

Castiel mirrored the sign.

Dean started to settle down on his side, but then he suddenly sat up enough to use both hands.

-You’re really fucking hot when you scream.-

Castiel was startled for a moment, and then he let out a shout as he grabbed a pillow and smacked Dean with it.  Dean laughed and rolled away.  Castiel followed him and soon was swept up in his arms.  They laughed as they play-wrestled, and Castiel was astonished that he’d never known sex could be joyful.

They languished in bed for a while, foregoing a round two (a potentially more penetrative round two) because their growling stomachs actually made a better argument than their dicks.  Dean whipped eggs for omelets while Castiel chopped up some lunchmeat to go in them.  It was a delightfully domestic scene and Castiel tried not to think about how close he had come to never having it.  Once the eggs were in the pan and they were both standing there, staring at the round yellow disc dotted with ham pieces like it was a work of modern art, Castiel wondered if they were going to be okay.  Perhaps they shouldn’t have rushed into intimacy so swiftly after their fight.

-So, Cas.-

Castiel shook himself out of his dark thoughts and focused on Dean.  He prepared himself to react calmly if Dean voiced the same concerns.  He didn’t want Dean to think that he would be hysterical every time they discussed their relationship.

-Yes?-

-I’m thinking we don’t tell anyone that we’re together.-

Castiel froze, his heart dropping like a stone down a deep well.  It was worse than he’d imagined.

-We shouldn’t?-

-Yeah, I’m really curious how long it will take for everyone to notice.  I mean, they claimed that we already acted like we were dating and in love, think they’ll notice when we actually know we are?-

Dean grinned and poked at the omelet with a spatula.  Castiel breathed out a relieved laugh.  Dean was enough of a goober that he’d want to see how long they could pull a fast one right under their friends’ noses.

-Probably not long,- Castiel replied.

-Why not?-

-Because now that I can…-  Castiel moved closer.  –I will touch you whenever I want.-  He ran a hand up Dean’s arm and then pulled him close.  He nuzzled his nose against his cheek and placed a kiss in the same spot.  He pulled back and Dean was smiling at him.

-Whenever you want, angel.-

Castiel made a face.  –That cannot be your pet name for me.-

-Why not?-

-Because.-

Dean pouted and sloppily flipped the omelet over with the spatula.  He prodded it to make it slide off the side of the pan and more toward the center.  Castiel reached out a hand and gently brushed his fingers on Dean’s wrist.  Dean looked at him and the verdant green of his eyes took his breath away for a moment.  He steeled his resolve to ask the question that was plaguing his mind.

-Is everything…okay between us?  Yesterday you had a boyfriend who wasn’t me, and I made a very selfish decision that drastically affected three lives.  Is everything actually okay?  Or are we just pretending everything is okay?  If we need to talk more, we can.  I want to.  I always want us to be open with each other.-

Dean nodded his head, looking like he was carefully considering Castiel’s words.  Then he picked up a plate and slid the cooked omelet onto it, holding half of it up with the spatula.  He nudged it toward Castiel, who picked up the bag of shredded cheese and sprinkled some on one half of the omelet.  Dean folded it over to melt the cheese and then set the plate down.

-See how well we work together?  We’re definitely okay.  Besides, today actually isn’t all that different from yesterday.  You know why?-

Castiel shook his head.

-Because I was in love with you yesterday too.  Nothing’s really changed.-

Castiel bit his lip to push back a quivering swell of emotion threatening to turn him into a blubbering sap.  Dean reached up and finger combed some hair back behind Castiel’s ear.

-We’re okay, Cas.  And I mean that openly and from the bottom of my heart.  I want us to always be honest with each other too.  Which is why…there is something I want to ask you.-

-Anything.-

-I, uh…I know you never vocalize when you speak, and that’s fine.  I’m completely fine with it.-

Castiel tilted his head slightly.  –But?-

-But…-

Castiel waited him out.  There was a touch of anxiousness to learn what Dean’s question would be, but there was no doubt of Dean’s intentions.  No fear that he was going to demand that Castiel change to accommodate him.

-I was just wondering if you would be willing to say something to me.  Just once.  I mean…-  Dean started speaking aloud in addition to signing.  “I’ve only heard you speak when you’ve been telling me ‘no’ or ‘stop.’ It’s always been negative.  I just…just once wanted to hear your voice when you’re…not mad at me.  I mean, hearing you scream in ecstasy is great and all—”

Castiel swatted his arm and Dean grinned.  His grin softened into a hopeful smile.

“Is it okay that I asked that?  I didn’t upset you, did I?  You understand that I don’t want you to start trying to speak all the time.  I—”

Castiel held up a hand and Dean quieted.  –What do you want me to say?-

Dean shrugged.  –Anything you want.-

Castiel didn’t even have to think about it.

“I love you, Dean.”

Dean’s smile widened and his eyes lit up.  He didn’t sign it, but Castiel could tell that he said, “That’s so hot.”

Castiel laughed and Dean grinned in response.

-I love you too.-

 ~~~

Every day with Dean is a marvel, a different way of experiencing life, a new rule broken.  Castiel had gone his entire life barely speaking more than a handful of days.  Now, he speaks every single day.  Even if it is the same three words.