.:.

Appendicitis. Appendicitis.

Gabriel had turned up at his little brother's digs out of the blue (seriously, years of not seeing each other), and while he was there Cas had complained about a pain in his side. It hadn't taken long before he was fully doubled over in agony, so Gabriel had rushed him into the ER for an emergency appendectomy before it got so bad that his appendix burst. Before one of his organs burst.

"It was really lucky Gabriel had turned up, or it would have been much harder for me to get here. He might have even saved my life. If I'd gone into shock from the pain before I could get to the phone…"

But Dean was only half listening by now (partly because he did not want those images in his head holy shit). He couldn't hear Cas over the mantra of not dying, not dying, not dying, fucking Gabriel that fucker, not dying, not dying, I bet he wishes he planned the whole thing, HE'S NOT DYING, are you sure though? Maybe he's just saying this to get you off his case…

Dean lifted both hands from where they'd fallen in shock, and started yanking at Cas's hospital gown. Cas didn't stop talking, but he did look down with a perplexed expression to watch himself be forcibly undressed. "It was a standard operation, though, and I don't want to stay here any longer than I have to. I'd go home tonight but Doctor- Dean, what are you doing?"

He'd reached around him again to untie the fastenings (when he'd realised just tugging wasn't doing much) and had pulled the blue collar-edge all the way down his torso, leaving the icky garment crumpled on top of the sheets, still attached to Cas by his wrists. Dean pushed impatiently at it to get a clearer view of the sewn-up gash in his side.

There was a careful moment of silence, which Cas then broke by saying "I'm supposed to avoid any strenuous movement to allow it time to heal neatly." Dean realised his head was sort of swimming; the edges of his vision were blurring around like motor oil on a puddle. "It's alright, I can barely feel it." His voice was low, not needing volume to travel across the tiny space between them.

Dean's head cleared with an almost audible click. "Of course you can barely feel it, you're pumped full of drugs! That- I am going to slaughter that sick bastard!"

Cas's eyes did a flickery little confused-surprise thing that stopped Dean in his tracks for a second. "Who?"

Only a second though. "Your fucking brother, that's who! Where is he? Is he still at your place?"

"Gabriel?"

Of course, Cas didn't know what that bag of dicks had done. Motherfucking- Maybe Dean would make a brief detour to pick up the tire iron from the Impala on his way to-

Fuck, he didn't even know where Cas lived!

"Dean."

He'd done it on purpose of course, not knowing where Cas lived. He knew that if he'd had a set address to aim for the next step would be planning the route (more precisely than to just the college) and then he'd never have been able to stay away.

"Dean."

Dean stopped. He'd gotten to his feet at some point and was already almost at the door.

"Why- What did he do?"

Dean looked at him across the dark room, over in the bed with the white metal frame, the drip wire buried in his forearm. He was sitting upright again, still deathly (no not deathly) pale.

What the hell are you doing all the way over here? Dean's brain asked him. Instead of answering it, he strode back over the steps he'd just taken until he ended up next to the bed. Cas stopped looking like he was expecting an answer.

Dean sat back down heavily.

They stayed like that, not looking at each other but unconsciously matching their breathing.

Wow, it seemed really stupid now. Gabriel had never actually specified… But he'd made it sound like

Right? Or had Dean just invented the whole thing?

"How's college?"

He could feel Castiel's silent computer-processing face searching for clues to explain the sudden change of subject. "Varied," he said eventually.

"Varied?"

Varied? Varied how? Varied experiences, classes, people? Varied as in he could pick and choose now?

"Yes… Some days I enjoy the freedom and the purpose. Some days I don't and I just want to come home." He finished pulling the hospital gown back up to his shoulders, tucking his bare forearms under the sheets.

"What's it like living with…?" Dean tried to remember the name that had been mentioned all those months ago over the phone.

"It wasn't suitable. I moved out."

Something angry hid beneath Cas's hard tone. Dean's hands curled into fists in response. "How wasn't it suitable?"

"We weren't compatible."

"Why?"

"He was insincere and arrogant. And inconsiderate. And he kept eating all of my food."

Dean's mouth twitched and his fists relaxed. Cas side-eyed him like he knew what he was thinking. "How long did you last?"

"Almost six months."

"Which means it was closer to five. What about now?"

"I managed to find a flat with low enough rent to pay by myself."

Dean let that sink in for a second. "Huh. Must be pretty crappy."

The (sort of) teasing missed its mark. "It's alright. There were worse places on offer."

"Michael's helping you?" Stood to reason. Dean wondered if Cas found that annoying; like he hadn't really escaped home. Or maybe it was reassuring.

"No. I got a job."

"You… You got a job?" All sorts of comedic scenes popped up in Dean's imagination. He couldn't help it; a smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth.

"Yes, Dean. It's a very common occurrence amongst students. Employment."

"Yeah, I've heard, I just… That's so weird. Sorry, man." He couldn't help but widen his smile at Cas's mildly indignant expression. "So which route did you pick? Store clerk? Factory worker? No wait don't tell me. Stripper?" Okay, that was a good one. Dean allowed himself a chuckle. "Has to be something you can fit around studying, right?"

The smirk on his lips died when he noticed what Cas's face was doing: a weird twisty-considering gaze into the distance. Okay, that was disconcerting.

"You're not actually a stripper are you?"

"No…"

"Okay… You don't sound certain about that at all."

"Technically, I've already taken my clothes off by the time they see me, so no. I'm not a stripper."

"What."

"Well I had to make money somehow, and this way I can even think about my studying at the same time. It's very easy. All I do is lie there until they're finished."

"WHAT? Are you- Are you fucking kidding me?"

"I'm deadly serious. I quite enjoy it actually. It seems like a silly thing to get paid for. Do you realise you're squeezing my leg so hard it's starting to go numb?"

Dean just kept staring. Really, really intensely.

Cas met his gaze steadily. It was a long, agonising moment before his mouth curved into the corners and he looked away.

"You bastard."

Cas laughed, and Dean had to hold himself back in case of spontaneous nuzzling.

"Holy crap. You have got way better at lying." His heart was fluttering like a moth on amphetamines. That was not cool. But was kind of funny. But only because it was Cas.

"I wasn't lying. I life model. Part time, of course."

There was an extended pause while Dean's brain took him through the correct processes: life model - life drawing - naked model for people to draw.

"Are you serious?"

"I get paid twenty dollars an hour to just sit there. Or lie there. Sometimes I fall asleep."

Great, now he was imagining him naked. Totally not the right time or place. Excellent.

No, actually, that was excellent. That was… That was priceless. Cas got naked for money. So many jokes, so little time. Apart from how there was lots of time.

"I hope they appreciate the view."

There was that barely-there smirk. And all Dean could do was think about kissing it. Kissing it until it grew into a grin and then changed completely.

He thought about it until it wasn't just a thought anymore; until he was running through actions that weren't just imaginings. He was kissing Cas, and Cas was kissing back in a way that suggested not even a hint of bitterness (and maybe suggested that he'd never actually considered them broken up ever) and all the nerves in Dean's body were sparking back to life with little Frankenstein bolts of energy. White, glowy energy that spread all the way to the top of his scalp and felt like life-fuel.

If someone's addicted to something that keeps them alive, is it even an addiction at all? Isn't it just… sustenance? Something that's needed to survive? Or at least to live.

Well, whatever. It was around then that Dean decided he didn't want to do without his addiction anymore. He was too tired and strung out.

"Hey, d'you mind if we forgot about the whole giving each other space thing?"

"I would like that a lot."

"Awesome."

Dean didn't bother thinking about whether he'd have come here if he hadn't thought he'd never see him again. Not right now. That didn't mean he was going to let Gabriel off easy though. Dean was still going to fuck his shit up next time he had the opportunity, which may involve shoving his face into a table. He'd wait and see where the mood took him.

But that could wait. Would have to wait.

.:.

Until tomorrow, after that stuffy nurse found them both asleep in Cas's hospital bed (still fully clothed, Jesus, what was his problem? Well, if a hospital gown counted as clothes) and Cas had checked out and they both walked to the Impala together under the already-warm morning sun, tired-eyed and crumpled and smiling.

"You look awful." Cas said from the passenger seat. Dean looked at him while they waited to turn out of the parking lot.

"Thanks. You don't look too healthy yourself."

A gap in the stream of cars had Dean easing the car out of the junction. He'd turned right automatically, going back the way he'd arrived, but he suddenly realised he had no idea where he was going.

"Err…"

"Keep going up here, I'll tell you when to turn."

There were barely any people around; only the morning commuters in their cars, a few early-bird students and a couple of runners. The low sun, just risen from pink to yellow, glinted through the leaf-laden trees lining the street, throwing flashes of heat into the morning-cool interior of the Impala. Dean felt the shadows under his eyes like wet sandbags, weighting his eyelids and making him squint; the ache in his back and shoulders from spending most of the previous afternoon under a car, then the night contorted into a bed meant for one. He'd slept better and for longer than he had for weeks, but it almost felt like he was more exhausted for it; the sudden relaxing of the tension he'd grown used to had left him feeling droopy and slow and like he could go straight back to bed. He glanced at his companion to find out if (please) that was an option, but forgot to when he found his glance returned as a stare.

Cas held his gaze a moment, then looked out of the windscreen, like catching his eye had been his intention.

"I thought I'd have to wait longer. I'm glad."

"Wait longer for what?"

Cas levelled him a look. Dean tried to stay focused on the road.

"You never made use of that email address I gave you, but your brother did."

"What? Sam… Sam's been in contact with you since last Christmas?"

"Not that long, but we did exchange news once or twice. He helped me understand some things… He asked me to come see you."

Meddling kids… Dean could guess what kind of "news" Sam had been offering as his side of the exchange. It made looking at Cas uncomfortable, so he didn't. "Oh yeah?"

"But I… thought it would be better if you figured things out for yourself, however long it took. I'm glad it was only one year."

Dean kept looking straight ahead, at least until Cas told him when to turn.

But he hadn't figured things out on his own. He'd needed a ridiculously massive shove to get him moving, and even now…

They parked in front of a permanently-padlocked garage door at the end of the street and set off to walk the rest of the way. Cas was still careful on his feet, and to be honest Dean wasn't exactly steady; it was more of a shuffle-nudge-each-other-along than a walk.

Dean pulled them to a stop as they levelled with a boarded-up shop front. He wanted to say this before he had that bastard Gabriel to deal with.

"Cas… You… When you said Sam helped you understand some things…What things?"

Cas returned his gaze unabashedly, then reeled off his answer like all he'd been waiting for was the question. "He told me that you'd almost certainly broken contact with me because you wanted me to be free and unattached when I went to college. He said you thought I was only with you because I hadn't had the chance to meet anyone else, and that I'd be better off if you left me alone so that I could realise that. And although he called you a lot of things that were detrimental to your sanity and intelligence, he did assure me that you were in love with me and probably had been for at least a decade."

Have not! screamed a childish voice in Dean's head. But he couldn't say that on the outside; couldn't say anything. Instead his mouth opened, closed, and he turned his quickly flushing face away from the penetrating stare a matter of inches away.

He thought he saw a smile out of the corner of his eye, before Cas let him off the hook and looked away too. He wasn't sure if that made things better.

The smile was still there the next time Dean looked at him, momentarily confused out of his embarrassment when they ended up at a diner instead of an apartment. It stayed on his lips (those ones Dean couldn't wait to kiss again) as he explained that he was hungry and didn't want to go home yet. In fact, the smile stayed there all the way through breakfast, and all the way back round the corner, lighting up pale faces and putting sparks in tired eyes. Dean studied it and saw relief in there, happiness and a bit of surprise, and realised that it was a reaction of someone having his hopes confirmed. Because that was the first time Cas had known. And Dean thought maybe that would make it easier – maybe, just a little…

Maybe it might make it easier to say the words if Cas already knew the secret. Especially if the reaction they got was anything like this one. And maybe if it was, Dean might start to let himself be a little bit convinced. (Convinced of the truth.)

.:.


A/N: Ugh, I know guys. I'm a bad person. I am so sorry for the last chapter.

I've had these extra POVs drafted and stashed away practically since I finished the main bulk of the story (which was about three months ago or something). I've only recently had the chance to read them back and polish them up, and even though I've really enjoyed writing this fic, it feels like it just WON'T LEAVE. This POV wasn't originally supposed to be quite so enormous, but as it's the POV of the other half of the couple, I wanted to show his thoughts/feelings in a bit more depth. The trouble with that plan was that it's Dean. So, you know, inner turmoil/complicated guilt and self-flagellation abounds.

Sorry if it got a bit rushed. I dunno, basically I would've liked to edit this some more, cut some of it, maybe tweak a few things/go deeper into some stuff (I've probably completely forgotten some threads I was gonna tie up) but my brain's too numb from it and I'm running out of time omg!

Thank you for being so patient and generally awesome. Every single little review means LOADS, and I love all of you :]

(One more to go...)

p.s. Dean wouldn't really smash Gabriel's face into a table. Pretty sure.