“Dean!” a muffled shout came floating into Dean’s subconscious. He struggled to awareness, groggily wondering if he’d heard anything, or had just imagined it. “Dean!” the shout came again, sounding pained.
Wide awake now, Dean launched out of bed, only sparing a split second to wonder why he was in a guest room rather than his own. He ran towards the next room, from which the shout seemed to be coming. He threw open the door and flipped the light on to find Cas sitting bolt upright with a terrified look on his face. “Cas? What’s wrong?”
“I…” he trailed off, looking confused. Feeling awkward standing, Dean sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cry out like that; I think I was still mostly asleep.”
“God, Cas, I thought you were being murdered,” Dean muttered, his relief palpable.
Cas closed his eyes for a second. “I don’t know what happened. It was like a dream, but it was…bad. It was terrible.”
“So you had a nightmare,” Dean explained.
“A nightmare?” Cas asked.
“Yeah, like a really bad dream. The worst you could have,” he said. “The kind that leaves you sweating and scared, and, sometimes, calling out in your sleep. We’ve all been there.”
“I had a nightmare, then.”
Dean scratched his neck idly, wondering what he was supposed to do in a situation like this. It had been years since Sammy had gotten a nightmare, or at least since he’d mentioned getting one. Dean had never been good at the comforting thing. “Uh…do you want to talk about it?”
“Will that help?”
“Sometimes it does.”
Cas nodded. “Okay. We were in the bathroom of the hotel, like yesterday, and you were dead. So I took the club…and I touched it to you, but it didn’t work. You didn’t come back. I didn’t have my powers, and I didn’t know how to save you,” he said, voice tight. “Nothing I did worked. I…couldn’t save you.” Cas kept his eyes trained on the comforter draped over his legs.
Dean blinked. “Cas, it’s not your job to save me. One day I’m gonna die, and I don’t want you beating yourself up over it. It’s not your job.”
Cas stared at him, like he was chewing on some words, trying to say them, or maybe trying not to. Eventually, he settled with, “I’m sorry for waking you, Dean.”
“Don’t be. I got enough sleep anyway. It’s time for me to get up and moving,” he said. Cas yawned, rolling his shoulders back. Dean couldn’t help but glance at the way his muscles moved under that smooth v-neck… “So, uh, did you get a bandage on that thing? That cut?” Dean asked, words not quite coming smoothly this morning. “Sorry I crashed on you, man. You shoulda woken me up.”
“I bandaged it myself. I’m not sure I did it right, though,” Cas added with a frown. “Would you… would you take a look?”
Take a look at Cas’s bare, muscled chest? “Sure,” Dean replied, hoping he hadn’t said that too quickly. He stood up, allowing Cas to throw off the covers and swing his legs over the side of the bed. He stripped off his shirt in one smooth motion, allowing Dean to see the loose and sagging bandage underneath. Amongst other things.
“It’s really loose,” Dean said. “Why don’t I just re-do it?”
Cas nodded gratefully as Dean gathered up the supplies. Where he had rushed through the first bandaging because of the awkwardness of such close proximity, this time Dean went slower. He felt a little guilty about letting his feelings run wild with something that could never be, but not guilty enough to stop. “Just making sure I do it right this time,” Dean said in way of explanation of his slowness.
“Take your time,” Cas replied. Dean almost smirked, but caught himself.
When he finished up, he stepped away, annoyed at how his heart sank. “All done. How’s it feel?”
Cas moved a little, his muscles rippling. “Good. Thank you.”
Dean nodded. “Well, I think I’m going to go get some breakfast. Need anything and you know where to find me.” He got the impression that Cas was about to say something, but then changed his mind. He simply nodded, and then Dean was out the door.
For the next week, Dean tried to ignore the feelings that were growing inside him, and so he tried to ignore Cas. Whenever he was with Cas, he’d make sure Sam was there as well, almost to keep him in check. Whether that helped relieve the tension or made it worse, Dean wasn’t entirely sure. What he did know, however, was that being alone with Cas would spell disaster. He refused to give in to his emotions and ruin one of the best friendships that he’d ever had. He refused.
Dean flipped a page in an old journal of one of the Men of Letters and drummed lightly on the arm of his chair. Sam looked up. “What’s with you lately, anyway?” he asked. “Since when have you liked reading so much?”
“Just thought I’d keep you company,” Dean said with a little shrug.
“I’m perfectly okay with reading on my own, Dean,” Sam said. “Why don’t you go help Cas with dinner? I think he’s trying to make spaghetti, and you and I both know how that went last time.”
Sauce. Everywhere. Still, Dean shook his head. “He’ll be fine.” He looked back down at his book, but wasn’t really reading the words. From the corner of his eye, Dean could tell that Sam was still looking at him.
“Dean, is something up with you two?”
“You and Cas,” he said. “Something seems off with you.”
Dean replied dismissively, “Nah, we’re fine.”
Sam looked unconvinced, but turned back to his own reading. Dean stared at the same page for over ten minutes, not comprehending a word. If he was being honest with himself, he wasn’t convinced either. In the past week, there were at least three times when Dean woke up in the middle of the night with the strange urge to check on Cas, to make sure that he wasn’t having nightmares again. And, again, when Cas winced while Dean changed his bandages, he wanted to do something, anything, to alleviate his pain. He also wanted to keep running his hands over Cas’s chest far after the salve had gone from his fingers, but that was another matter.
Dean shut down this line of thought again, like he had so many times before. He closed his mind to it, said no to his feelings. It was the same thing he had done to stop himself from knocking on Cas’s door at three in the morning. It was the same thing he would continue to do every time Cas got a little too close, or gave that cute little smile, or looked confused.
It was the hardest thing he’d ever done, but Dean said no.
Dean lasted only four more days before he found himself alone with Cas. He couldn’t sleep, so he had gotten up and put in Pearl Harbor, one of his favorite movies. Partway through, he heard footsteps in the corridor behind him.
Damn. “Hey, Cas,” Dean said, trying to keep his voice neutral. “It’s one in the morning; you shouldn’t be up.”
“Neither should you,” Cas retorted, coming around the couch and sitting down next to Dean, barely an arms length away.
Dean watched the movie for a second. Unable to accept Cas’s presence simply for what it was, he asked, “Another nightmare?”
Cas nodded reluctantly. “The same as the last.”
Dean didn’t know what to say, so he let it drop. After a few minutes of watching, Cas gestured to the screen. “Are they brothers?”
“In everything but blood,” Dean replied. “Danny and Rafe grew up together. They’re best friends,” he explained. Once he got started, though, he couldn’t stop. In a few minutes, Dean had summarized everything that Cas had missed. He even admitted that one of the reasons he liked this movie so much was that it reminded him of him and Sam - brothers fighting side by side.
“So Danny doesn’t know that Rafe’s alive?” he asked, trying to make sense of this.
“Not yet,” Dean said. “Neither does Evelyn.”
Cas nodded in comprehension. “Ah. Awkward.”
They turned back to the movie in silence, watching nearly all of it before saying another word. When it got to the emotional part, Dean’s face contorted in sympathy before noticing the silent tears that streaked down Cas’s face. “Okay there, Cas?” Dean asked gently.
He swiped at them angrily. “She didn’t even tell him! How could she not tell him?”
Dean shrugged. “I guess sometimes people think it’s better to keep a secret if it helps the other person stay out of danger. If she’d have told Danny, and Danny was distracted and died, then she never would have been able to forgive herself.” Realizing that he was no longer strictly talking about the movie, Dean looked away.
“How is what happened any better?”
“It’s not always,” Dean said. “It just seems like a good idea at the time. You know what they say, hindsight is 20/20.”
“Life would be easier if everyone was just honest,” Cas commented.
“Yeah,” Dean muttered. “Yeah, it would.”
They fell silent again until the last bars of the credits scrolled past, and Dean shut off the TV. “Well, what’d you think?”
“It was an excellent movie. Truly emotional,” he said.
There was a moment of silence. Cas shifted on the couch so that he was facing Dean a little more head on. “Listen, Dean… I was wondering if I could ask you something.”
Dean looked Cas in the eyes and found himself saying, “Sure, Cas.” What about distance? he berated himself. He should have said, Why don’t you wait and ask Sam? He’ll be more helpful. But Dean could no longer control his words.
“That movie got me thinking that we don’t always have forever to say the things we need to, or want to. Time is fragile, people die. And…” he licked his lips nervously. “Well, what do I do if I really like somebody, but I don’t know how they feel in return?”
Dean could feel his heart hammering in his chest. “You’ve met someone?”
“You could say that.”
Cas met someone. Dean wished his heart didn’t plummet quite as much as it did at that realization. He wanted to ask a million questions. When was it? While he was human? Who was she? Was she pretty? Was she good enough for him? Did she know about the whole angel thing? But what came out of his mouth was, “Do you plan on seeing them again?”
“Oh, yes. Very much so,” Cas replied.
“And…uh… do you have any idea how they think of you?”
Cas thought about this. “Well they consider me a friend, I think. But I am hesitant to want something more for fear of jeopardizing what we have.”
That was something Dean understood all too well. He swallowed hard and gave Cas the hypocritical advice that he’d been telling himself not to follow for weeks now. “Then I guess I’d say to just go for it. Tell her the truth. Like you said, life’s short. Who knows, she could die tomorrow and you’d never get to tell her.”
Cas looked down. He muttered, “It’s already happened more times than I can bear,” so quietly that Dean missed it.
“What was that?” he prompted.
Looking up now, meeting Dean’s eyes, Cas replied, “It’s not a she.”
Everything around Dean seemed to stop. “Oh.”
“Dean, it’s you.”
Dean blinked, wondering if he had just imagined those words coming out of Cas’s mouth, wondering if they had been nothing more than wishful thinking. He stared at Cas, wanting to move closer, wanting so much to reply with what he was really feeling, but at that inopportune time, words from Crowley, of all people, echoed in his mind, People in your general vicinity don’t have much of a lifespan. And then his own words came back again with more biting truth than he’d ever wanted, I’m poison, Sam. People get close to me, they get killed or worse.
Dean felt like he was going to be sick. While all this was running through his head, he had simply been staring at Cas, who now looked devastated and embarrassed. Dean wanted to say something, to explain, but the words wouldn’t come out. “Cas, I can’t… I-I don’t-“
Cas shook his head quickly, standing up. “It’s okay. I understand. I’m sorry I said anything. I’m sorry.”
Trying to call out but not finding the voice, Dean simply watched as Cas disappeared around the corner. He sank back on the couch miserably. This should have been a good moment, a moment which Dean never saw coming, but appreciated none the less. The moment when Dean found out that his feelings for Cas were actually reciprocated, against all odds. Instead, he’d ruined it. He’d done the one thing he would give anything to avoid: he had hurt Cas.
Dean tried to tell himself that it was better this way, that Cas was safer, but the words sounded hollow in his ears. Maybe that’s because they were.