Castiel couldn’t help but notice the tension in the atmosphere, all of it radiating from Dean, who stood awkwardly in front of him like he didn’t want to be there at all. He kept shifting his weight between his feet, and his nervous energy was leaking through to Castiel. It was an unfamiliar feeling, and not one he wanted to pursue, but Dean didn’t seem to want to calm down either. He did at least break the tension by speaking again.
‘So … nice place.’
Castiel felt confused. Why was Dean complimenting him on the house they had chosen together? Why did he sound so insincere? Castiel wasn’t used to that either.
‘Thanks. But it’s your home too, Dean.’
They continued looking at each other. Castiel felt like the space between them was a huge, insurmountable chasm at that point. He wanted to step closer, to embrace Dean, for them to communicate the best way they knew how. For Dean to stop dressing like a hobo. He wanted the Dean he’d just left in the yard back. That was confusing him so much. Wasn’t this the same Dean?
‘Oh, right. So, no bunker?’
Castiel tried to force a smile. Maybe Dean had knocked his head on one of the lawn sculptures?
Dean’s reaction made Castiel jump. He seemed affronted by the very notion that Castiel would forget. Was it from one of their earlier dates?
‘The Men of Letters bunker? My legacy?’
Castiel had to bite his tongue to keep himself from telling Dean that he was the last person on earth who looked like they had a legacy at that moment. Maybe Dean was referring to the time, way back in the early days of them dating, when they had outdoor sex for the first time. It had been in a ditch, but Dean might have been role-playing back then. Maybe that was what he was doing now?
‘Sweetie, is this a joke? Or are you role playing?’
Dean’s expression went from mildly insulted to completely baffled. Had Castiel forgotten how expressive his husband’s face could be? Dean nodded to the picture beside him, one of their various honeymoon pictures that lined the walls.
‘Never mind. So … we went to Italy?’
‘Are you okay, Dean?’ Castiel dropped his voice, softening it. How had Dean forgotten their honeymoon? He must have hit his head. Castiel decided to make it easy on his husband.‘I thought you wanted to have sex, anyway. Wasn’t that what we were doing?’
Dean’s expression cleared, and Castiel felt like he was looking at a mask again. He didn’t like that, as much as he didn’t like the distance between them. Why was it so hard to walk across and touch him right now?
‘No. We broke up, Cas.’
Dean seemed so sincere as he said it, with an undercurrent of sadness too. But it made no sense. They were married, they were long past the point of breaking up. They could only separate or divorce now, and that wasn’t likely to be on the horizon. Was it? But it did explain something about Dean’s demeanour … or was that wishful thinking on Castiel’s part?
‘Why would we do that?’
Castiel felt like they were stepping carefully, trying to work each other out. He wasn’t used to that. He was used to a flow,the way they could predict each other without speaking, could know each other’s minds. Why did he not just know this Dean? Why was this Dean struggling to understand him so much? Castiel watched as he closed his eyes, seemingly concentrating on his breathing, the mask still firmly in place.
‘Cas just … just tell me about us.’
Castiel couldn’t help but smile at the request, even though Dean’s eyes opened and he looked annoyed. It was a game they’d been playing for the past couple of days, telling each other everything. It had helped Castiel fill in some of the gaps.
‘Well, we didn’t break up, that’s for sure. What do you want to know?’
He was stalling, trying to remember the things they had shared the past few days, for anything that might seem relevant to this Dean.
‘Everything. Tell me everything that led us to this house, right now.’
There was something in Dean’s expression that seemed at odds with his words, as though he didn’t really care to hear it, and though Castiel hated that, he couldn’t resist. He was so proud of how well they still worked, how in love they still were. He found himself babbling the highlights.
‘We got together about seven years ago, but we’ve been friends for much longer. We’ve been married five years, but it honestly doesn’t feel like that, Dean. It feels like the honeymoon stage. We have a good life together. And a great sex life, that seems so important to you. And we don’t live too far from Sam and Becky, that’s important to you too. And we have the best nieces in the world, even if Jessie’s a little too hyperactive and Mary’s too confrontational. I think it’s because they’re three, you think it’s because they get excited to see us.’
Castiel took a breath to start talking about John the Puppy and their individual thoughts on why Sam would name a dog after his own father, but Dean jumped in.
‘We’re married?’ His voice sounded strained, as though this were information that was hard to accept, let alone to repeat. There was a hint of disgust in his tone, which hurt Castiel more than he realised it could.
‘Yes, Dean,’ Castiel had to fight to stop himself from crying at the possibility that Dean was no longer happy with their marriage. It couldn’t be true, could it? ‘Don’t you remember?’
Castiel watched Dean’s expression carefully, wondering when Dean suddenly decided to stop caring about his happiness. That was one of the reasons they worked together too, wasn’t it? They worked to keep each other happy. Dean’s poker face returned, and when he spoke again, he sounded unsure of his words, as though each one was foreign to him.
‘I’m just surprised, that’s all.’
‘You’re the one who proposed.’
This time, Dean didn’t react, at least, not in a physically negative way. He folded his arms instead, and tried to sound casual. But Castiel knew him too well, he knew there was more going on than Dean was expressing. Since when did Dean shut him out this much?
‘I guess it was like, the perfect proposal, huh?’
And Castiel dropped his guard all over again. Maybe he was just imagining the negativity coming from Dean, because in that moment, he’d understood. He’d even used the right expression, the one that sounded like his Dean. Maybe he had just rushed the story, after all, his Dean liked to linger on the details. Castiel just wasn’t sure how to do that, not the way that his husband did it.
‘It really was. I mean, other people might not think it was romantic, but it was so … us. We’d been walking by the river and you stopped us walking, then went down on one knee and said about how much you loved me and then you proposed. It was just us, and the river, and the stars. It was amazing.’
Instead of immediately gushing about the serenity of the river or the blissfulness of being alone, how they felt like the only two people on earth, waxing poetic about the stars being the angels watching them and bestowing their blessings, Dean pressed on. Castiel noticed, but he was hoping to cling to the positives in the hopes that this conversation would revert to familiar ground.
‘And the wedding?’
‘Perfection. Oh Dean, you know I love this story!’
Dean’s mask seemed to be frozen into place, even as Castiel clumsily picked his way through the highlights.
‘So we decided not to have a church wedding. You weren’t really bothered about where we got married, as long as we did. I chose this cute little place, right on the beach, and we had a few friends and family members there. My brother officiated, Sam was best man. We had our first dance to one of those rock songs you used to love.’
Castiel knew he could have explained this better, about how Gabriel almost forgot to call for witnesses, how much funnier Sam’s best man’s speech was than anyone had anticipated. How Dean had sung along to that song - what was it called again? - and made Castiel feel like the only man on earth. How Castiel had worked hard to have a stack of pies instead of a wedding cake, knowing it would make Dean so happy to have his pick of pie fillings. But the Dean in front of him didn’t seem to be concentrating on what was missed out, so much as what was implied.
‘So, what, I’m not into music any more?’
‘Not so much.’
It seemed to kill the conversation. Castiel felt he hadn’t explained that properly either. It wasn’t that Dean didn’t still love music, he just wasn’t as focused on old music as he was. He’d let it go for other things. Part of it was one of the mechanics in the garage, who wouldn’t stop playing R’n’B, and Dean would come home bemoaning the music, wanting to turn it all off because he was so tired of the same repetitive refrains. He’d said before that R’n’B had killed rock’n’roll for him. There was nothing Castiel had managed to do that could have saved it for him. And now it felt like Dean was assuming … what? That Castiel had tried to iron that out of him? Castiel had no intention of transforming his husband. He hated himself for not being able to explain properly to this Dean, and he did the only thing that occurred to him. He changed the subject.
‘So, why’re you by the front door? I thought you were headed into the back yard. And you’re wearing different clothes. You look like a trucker.’
He didn’t mean for it to come out so badly, so judgementally, but he felt so put-upon by this Dean. He instantly regretted it.
‘Look, Cas, this isn’t easy to hear, but we’re not married. We’re not even dating right now. You screwed me over, and I broke us up. You ran into a siren that looked like me about two weeks ago, and it put you in this, this coma-like place. All its other victims woke up, and you’re the only one who won’t. Sam and Charlie, they worked out a way for me to get in here and talk to you, convince you to come home. So would you just come home? We’ll work out whatever we need to, but I need you home. I think … I think you’re dying back there, man.’
Castiel was trying to follow what Dean was saying. He could understand - even if he disliked it - what Dean was saying about their break up. But he felt lost by the mention of sirens, and he barely caught up from there. Was Dean saying he was in an accident? But he felt fine. He felt the best way to tackle this was to reassure Dean of the most important parts. Mainly, his feelings, his commitment. Dean had to know that they were still okay, no matter what.
‘I wouldn’t screw you over, Dean. I love you.’
‘Uh-huh, I wouldn’t have believed it either, but you did. Could you please just listen to me? Come home with me.’
Castiel wasn’t expecting Dean to brush off his efforts like that. It wasn’t how they worked.
‘We are home.’
He didn’t say it to be argumentative, he was truly worried about his husband. But for some reason, this seemed to irritate Dean, who started talking faster, his eyes sparking with unchecked emotion.
‘No, Cas, we’re not. We’re stuck in your head, in some weird fantasy you have about us. It’s not real. And you know what? It would be real selfish of you to stay in here where nothing bad ever happens just because you’re too afraid to deal with the consequences of your actions. Especially when you’re going to leave me to watch you die. You think I could deal with that, Cas?’
‘I’m not dying, Dean,’ Castiel forced a smile, trying to make his tone gentle, to calm Dean down. Maybe then Dean would listen to reason, and stop coming up with such strange statements. For example, Castiel couldn’t think of any actions of his that could come with such major consequences that it would make Dean break up with him. They weren’t that flippant with their feelings for one another. He decided to hammer that point home. ‘And if we’re really broken up then why would it bother you?’
Dean didn’t seem to take it the way Castiel had hoped, where he would have said something about how right Castiel was, it clearly bothered him to think of him as dying so it made no sense for them not to be together. Instead, Castiel watched as he formed fists with his hands, and barely controlled his voice as he let everything tumble out. Whatever this Dean was going through, he was clearly hurting very badly.
‘Are you fucking kidding me right now? Cas, who the fuck do you think came to your rescue from the siren? Who do you think has kept an eye on you for weeks, trying to make sure you’re at least stable? Did you think I’d let my brother come in here and try to reason with you instead of me? You really don’t get it, do you? You’ve won, okay? You’ve won because I still feel this way. Because you can treat me like total crap and I still can’t stay away from you. You’ve won because I-I-‘
He stood there, breathing heavily, and Castiel wondered how else he could have “won”. He didn’t feel like he had won anything, watching Dean fall apart in this way, still unable to approach him through the wall of hostility that Dean seemed to cloak himself with.
‘Whatever. Look, Cas, it’s me. Can’t you just trust me? Or has that gone in your little fantasy world, and it’s just about what you want, all the time?’
Dean misunderstood, so badly. It wasn’t a fantasy, wanting to be on mutual ground. Castiel dropped his gaze to his wedding band, twisting the ring over and over and focusing on the words. Vanilla latte, vanilla latte, vanilla latte. It wasn’t about the coffee, it was the fact they knew each other so well they could know each others needs without constantly having to ask. So why did it suddenly feel like Castiel was getting it so wrong?
‘I trust you, Dean. You know that.’ He forced out, knowing it was weak and pathetic compared to the empowering speeches that Dean was making. His husband had such a way with words, and no idea of the impact of them.
‘Then please, please come home?’
Castiel didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how to put across to this Dean that they were home, and safe, with nothing to worry about. He seemed so distressed, and Castiel had no real way of helping him. He could only repeat the truth in the hopes that it would sink in.
‘I am home, Dean. So are you.’
‘This isn’t real, Castiel! None of it’s real! Don’t you get that? The only things that are real in this place are you and me. What’s real is that you are dying in front of me in the bunker, what’s real is that you lied to me, and cheated on me, and took advantage of me, and I’m still here fighting for us, Cas.’
There was something amiss with this Dean. Why would Castiel lie to him? How could he think he would cheat? Who was there to cheat with? And yet Dean seemed to believe it whole-heartedly.
‘Cas, please, just look at me.’
Castiel raised his head, the tone of Dean’s voice being the main trigger rather than the request. He had stopped over-emphasising, and now sounded broken. His facial expression matched the timbre of his voice, his eyes were wide, his gaze swinging wildly around Castiel’s face as though he were hoping for some miracle, a tic pulling in his cheek as though he was fighting back tears. But he must have seen something in Castiel’s expression that he didn’t like, because it seemed like the effort to keep going completely left him.
‘Maybe this was a waste of time.’
This, at least, was something Castiel could get right, no matter what. His confidence that he could at least get that through to Dean carried through in his own voice.
‘No, no it wasn’t, Dean. It never is when it comes to us.’
When Dean looked at him properly, it was with more control, and with a hint of hope. And Castiel could feel that hope fluttering in his own chest, because if they could find some middle ground, and start communicating properly, then they could get back to being happy, and Castiel could work on the rest, on finding out why Dean was so adamant that anything had ever gone wrong between them. He carried on talking, knowing he was on the right track now.
‘You’re right, I need to cut you some slack. I mean, you can drink the beers from the local convenience store if it makes you happy. It doesn’t have to be imported. Even if they’re better.’
Dean’s face became a mask once more, as his voice became curt.
‘Well, thanks Cas, but you’re completely missing the point.’
‘Do you want to top some more? Or have me cook once in a while?’
Castiel felt like he was wildly guessing now, trying to find some problem with their routine that he hadn’t noticed before. They’d been too busy doting on each other to score cheap points, surely? And yet, with Dean like this, it really seemed to matter.
‘Cas, I want you to come with me. I figure if we walk out the front door, we’ll make it back. Will you at least try, for me? Humour me.’
Castiel gave a weak smile as he tried to deal with the fact that Dean wouldn’t leave this idea that they were in the wrong place alone. It was their home, how could it possibly be the wrong place? But then Dean was moving, striding confidently across the room in order to grab Castiel around his waist, bracing him against the doorframe and bearing down on him, kissing him unexpectedly.
The kiss wasn’t something that Castiel had been expecting. There was a wildness to it, a desperation on Dean’s part, and despite that, there was heat. There was electricity. Dean seemed to know without hesitation what would make Castiel weak at the knees, what would make his groin throb with need. It was messy, and passionate, and beyond anything Castiel could ever remember experiencing. His Dean didn’t kiss like this. It was almost pornographic, the way Dean’s mouth was opened around his, the way he ran his tongue along Castiel’s teeth before plunging it along Castiel’s, the way he could probe deep into his mouth and still suck as though he were demanding Castiel’s participation with physical cues that couldn’t be ignored.
And then Castiel got it, a flash of another time that Dean kissed him in this way, urgent and needy. He’d been sitting in a chair in a nondescript room, and Dean was bearing down on him, forcing his head back, kissing him like he owned Castiel, working his body until it was screaming for him-
And then it was gone, and he was back in the moment, back in that incredible kiss of Dean’s, grabbing at his neck, pulling Dean closer, spurring him on. Maybe this was the only thing Dean had wanted, to have more passion in their lives. It was okay by Castiel, to have kisses that were almost as good as sex. But then he heard a strange sound from the back of Dean’s throat, and Dean was pulling away, suddenly unwilling to kiss him any more. It was then that Castiel realised he was crying, sobbing like he was broken. Castiel wasn’t keeping up with the mood swings, wasn’t used to them at all and especially not from Dean, but the last thing he had ever wanted to see was Dean falling apart like this. He wiped a tear away as he tried to comfort the man he loved.
‘Dean? Dean, it’s okay.’
It seemed like a poor gesture, weak, but he pulled Dean close to him, trying to offer some solace. Dean grabbed hold of his shirt, twisting it roughly in his hands, burying his face into Castiel’s shoulder. And Castiel blundered on, stroking his back, whispering that it was okay, that Dean was loved, that they would talk it out. Their marriage could be saved, if that was the thing upsetting him. Slowly, Dean calmed down, and leaned away from him, still looking put upon and saddened by whatever this was.
‘Cas? Are you going to come with me?’
‘I don’t know.’
Castiel felt horrible saying that, but he was so confused. He didn’t know what to think, how to feel, what to believe, and Dean was clearly pressing him to make a decision. Castiel knew that this could have gone so much better than it had. Dean seemed resigned with the answer, as though he had expected nothing less from Castiel, but it didn’t stop him from pushing for something more concrete.
It was a pressure that Castiel couldn’t deal with right then, not when Dean was so highly emotional.
‘Dean, if what you’re saying is true,’ Castiel was trying to be as explicit as possible without being offensive. He didn’t want to be taken the wrong way. He just wanted to understand the logic of Dean’s point of view. After all, this was his husband, the man who hated conspiracy theories and science fiction. It was an elaborate prank, if that was what it was. ‘If we’re really broken up in a parallel universe, if I’m really dying, then what’s the point?’
‘It could save you!’
Castiel still didn’t understand, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to make himself understand, as much as he might want to. All he understood was that Dean was distressed and making no sense. He tried to soothe Dean instead.
‘I’ll think about it.’
‘No, Cas. We don’t have the time for that.’
Dean let go, and Castiel found himself unable to look at the intense man beside him. Instead, he looked over at one of their wedding photos, that was just to his right. Dean had whispered in his ear a moment before about the photographer’s fly being undone, and the adrenaline of the day had made Castiel burst into laughter, which was the moment that the photographer had caught. Would Dean see their happiness there? Their unity? Or would he see them in tuxes, confetti flying everywhere, pretending to be happy? Castiel hated the doubt that was beginning to creep in. How long had Dean felt this way?
‘Cas? I know it’s not easy, okay? I know you’re happy. But it’s the right thing to do. You think we can’t be happy out there? You think I don’t want to try again? But I can’t do it on my own, okay?’
Castiel nodded, unable to think of what he could even give this version of Dean. There was too much to process, too little time to do it in, and too much expectation that Castiel would ignore everything they’d built for so long. He wanted to at least dwell on that kiss. He didn’t ever remember Dean kissing him like that.
‘Cas?’ Dean sounded like he was pleading, and Castiel looked back at him, worried about this new direction, about how unpredictable Dean was being. ‘Cas I … I love you. I do. And if that means anything, you’ll follow me out of the door. I’ll be waiting for you to wake up. And yeah, it’ll suck at first, but aren’t I worth it?’
And then Dean turned on one foot, and walked out of the front door, leaving Castiel still leaning against the doorframe, feeling completely confused. What had just happened?