Anna's house is a twenty minute walk across campus, and despite being it being half an hour after Anna's last class has finished, Castiel still makes it there before her. He uses the spare key under the yellow flower pot to let himself in. Crowley's scent lingers in the hallway.
He flicks on the lights and heads to the kitchen. There's a pan of abandoned noodles on the hob that are at least two days old. Castiel considers throwing them out, but he's not entirely sure if she's planning on eating them at some point, so he finds some cling-film and covers the pan instead. He figures the least he can do is stop her from eating a bowl of festering germs.
When Anna gets home at 6pm, Castiel is lounging on the sofa, spread out with a brown comforter covering the majority of his body. He's flicking through channels on the television, stopping to comment on how old this episode of Pokémon is. Anna rolls her eyes and swats him with a cushion.
"I tidied up this morning." She says, gesturing at the empty mug on the coffee table. Castiel laughs, grabbing the pillow on her second swipe.
"That's not even mine. Obviously you didn't go a very good job." Anna frowns and takes the mug into the kitchen, propping the door open so that Castiel can still hear her.
"It must be Crowley, he left after me this morning. He never puts his pots in the sink, it's so annoying."
"Neither do you." Castiel counters, following her into the kitchen. "Want to explain the noodles?"
"Oh," Anna turns to the pan of dry noodles. "I forgot about those." Castiel jumps up to sit on the counter. He picks up a chunky psychology textbook Anna has left by the sink and starts flipping through it. "You seem happy," Anna notes, "Considering."
"Considering what?" Castiel says after a few seconds. Anna stares at him with the pan of noodles in one hand a fork in the other. Castiel meets her gaze and tries his best to look naive about the whole thing.
"Why didn't you call me?" Anna says, placing the noodles back on the hob. She locks her hands together behind her back and leans against the counter. Castiel shrugs, his eyes on the book. He starts reading about Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development.
"Dean called you." He says. He knows what Anna is getting at here, and he isn't ready to venture into this yet. He doesn't want to because he's scared, because he feels guilty. After what happened in the club, Castiel didn't even consider telling Anna – his best friend – what had happened, and instead left with Dean without so much as letting her know where he was. He doesn't want to tell her what happened back home, and he doesn't want to tell her about Dean, and for the first time ever, he finds himself hiding things from her.
"I know, and I had to find out from him that you were almost-" Anna's voice rises and then comes to an abrupt stop. Castiel knows she wants to get angry. She looks torn for a second, and then her face relaxes. "I'm sorry," She says, "I shouldn't have shouted." Castiel looks at her, sees the genuine upset in her frown.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you myself, but I can promise you that I'm okay." Castiel says, walking over so he can cup her hands in his own. She frowns hard at him between long strands of red hair. Castiel smiles. "You're so beautiful. Even when you're doing your angry eyes."
She shakes her head, a blush creeping up her neck, and Castiel laughs, grabbing her shoulders to hug her. "I have some issues, Anna." He sighs, holding her tight. "I have some serious issues and you don't know about them all because I don't want you too. I know you won't judge me, and it's not because I don't trust you, but there are some things that I just don't want you knowing. I hope that's okay." He loosens his grip and Anna nods, resting her head on his shoulder. Castiel kisses her hair and closes his eyes. "I made out with Dean." He says, and he tries and fails to keep himself from smiling about it. Anna pulls away, a look of awe colouring her cheeks.
"You actually... You made out with him?" She asks, playing shoving Castiel in the chest. "That's something you should be telling me."
"It happened this afternoon, before I came here." Castiel laughs, grabbing her wrists. "I wanted to tell you face to face." She beams at him, and Castiel grins, taking deep breaths because now that he's said it aloud it seems a whole lot more real. "I actually made out with Dean Winchester."
Anna looks at Castiel, really looks at him, and sees the happiness that is buried beneath the bruised surface. She knows the majority of what he went through as a teenager, and she knows he has issues with his brother, and she also knows that there's other stuff too, stuff he doesn't want to talk about, and she wonders how he's stayed so strong for so long. She wonders why he thinks of himself as weak, as worthless, when he's been through so much and come out smiling. He stands in front of her, grinning to himself all rosy-cheeked and beautiful, and Anna has never been more grateful to have him in her life.
"You deserve to be happy." She says softly, placing a hand on his shoulder and matching his smile. "You deserve this."
They decide to do a final clean of the house before the Christmas break. Castiel cleans the kitchen while Anna tackles her bedroom. As she's throwing clothes together she thinks about how she never even wanted to live in this house. She was supposed to be living with Jodie and Nina from her first year, but they backed out at last minute and by that point Castiel had already signed a contract for a one bedroom apartment, so Anna was stuck with a house on the opposite end of campus. It still frustrates her, but she's also accepted that there's nothing she can do about it now. And it's not like she doesn't get to see Castiel, he's at her place almost every day, doing her homework and reminding her that despite what she's read on the internet, milk does not last for two weeks.
When he's finished scrubbing worktops and putting away pots, Castiel ventures upstairs, sliding into Anna's room and throwing himself down on to her bed while she re-arranges her DVD's alphabetically. Castiel pulls out his cell phone and skims through his phone book, pausing on Dean's name. He reads the number in his head and repeats it until he's sure he's memorised it. He bites his lip, smiling to himself, and thinks about The Coffee Shop. He hasn't been in a while now, and his coffee addiction has magically disappeared. He wonders if it was ever the coffee he craved in the first place.
"Should I arrange them alphabetically or by genre?" Anna asks, sitting cross-legged and staring at the shelf of DVDs.
"Haven't you just done them alphabetically?" Castiel asks, loading up a game of Bubble Power on his cell. Anna takes a while to answer.
"Yeah." She says slowly. "But it doesn't look right. I could organise them by the colour of their cases, what do you think?"
"Which ones are you taking home for Christmas?"
"Not sure yet, why?" Anna asks, turning to Castiel.
"Because you can take those ones out now, and then arrange the ones you have left. Otherwise you'll complain when it gets to Christmas and you have to spoil the way it looks." Castiel answers. Anna contemplates this.
"That's true." She says, and takes out a selection of DVDs that she wants to take home. "I'm going to arrange them by age classification."
"So when are we going to meet up in the holidays?" Castiel asks. He thinks it's probably best that he see her after Christmas so that his mom doesn't complain about him leaving again, but he also knows that Anna's parents go their annual holiday to New York in that time, and he isn't sure if she's planning on going with them this year.
"Well my parents are going to New York on the 27th so you could always come down on the 28th and stay until the New Year? It would be cool to spend New Year together." Anna pulls out a John Green book and suddenly flashes a grin at Castiel, "We could invite Crowley and Dean!" The idea captivates him, and he really wants to tell her to invite them, but he knows Dean badly wants to see his brother and figures they probably already have plans, and he doesn't want to play third wheel to Anna and Crowley.
"Maybe," He says, hoping to derail her ideas. There's too much at risk. "Do you want me to help you sort your books?"
"Yeah, okay." Anna says, smiling as Castiel sits down next to her, picking up a pile of last year's psychology books. He glances over the title, frowning.
"Religion and Culture in Renaissance England, since when did you study that?" He flips the book over to read the blurb as Anna grabs it out of his hands, shoving it back on the shelf next to A Graphic Guide to Your Mind and Behaviour.
"First term when we started uni," Anna explains, "We had to look at how religion has affected Western countries and I picked England, and just to spice things up I decided to do Renaissance. It was a bad idea; I almost failed the first assessment because I didn't know enough about what I was talking about. Everyone else did about the KKK." Castiel takes the book back of the shelf.
"You could have asked me." He says. Anna rolls her eyes, once again taking the book and placing it back on the shelf.
"And what could you have told me that isn't related to ancient literature?" Castiel shrugs.
"I could have told you that in 1534, England broke away from the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity and become predominantly Protestant. It was also when the Church-"
"Okay yeah, I get it, you know more than me. Big deal." Anna shoves him in the chest, sighing. "You're such a geek." Castiel laughs, quickly whipping up a generic insult about the colour of her hair matching her temper.
They manage to sort out a date for Castiel to visit, settling with the 28th because her parents will be long gone by then and Anna will have had time to 'party-up' the house. She tells him to bring the essentials: booze and a toothbrush. She also absolutely does not agree not to invite Dean and Crowley, despite Castiel insisting that it will make them look desperate.
"We are desperate." Anna laughs. "There will be two of us, Cas, and maybe Jo and Ellen if they still want to come. We need boys!" Castiel blushes, shaking his head.
"Okay, but make sure you tell them this is your idea. I don't want to seem too clingy; it's not like me and Dean are actually dating."
"Yet." Anna says, flashing a mischievous grin.
Castiel takes a slightly detour on his way home, a detour that adds an extra half hour on to his journey and lands him outside The Coffee Shop. It's almost 6pm, so he knows Dean will be locking up by now. Despite the fluttering in his stomach, he feels less confident with every step. He starts to wonder if he's being clingy. He knows Dean won't be annoyed, won't say anything, but Castiel is already doubting himself, doubting whether he should actually go. Maybe Dean is busy, and there's a chance his manager could be there, which would make things awkward. And Castiel doesn't want to get Dean into trouble, so he tells himself he should probably just turn around and go home.
Not everyone is judging you Castiel, not everyone hates you. Castiel thinks back to his counselling sessions in school, remembers his three personalised steps to overcoming anxiety. Step one: Start small, set a goal. Okay, a goal, that's easy. He decides his goal is going to be getting to The Coffee Shop. Step two: Prepare. In this case it's conversational topics. He already has this figured out because he started coming up with some as he was leaving Anna's house, he's decides that he can ask Dean if anyone bought any caramel cappuccinos, because it's an inside joke that won't sound like he's had it planned. He can also ask about his plans with Sammy over Christmas. His backup to his backup is the basic stuff, like 'how was your day?' and 'have you had any interesting customers?' Step three: Give your mind positive instructions, and use those instructions to achieve your first goal. Repeat steps one through to three. Castiel can do this. He thinks positively, tries to tell himself that even though he's a bit dorky he's maybe a little cute, and he's quite smart, so there's no reason for Dean not to like him anymore.
When Castiel finally turns the corner and is faced with the bright orange wall of The Coffee Shop, he doesn't really have a lot of time to panic, because Dean has already spotted him.
"Cas!" Dean calls over, half waving and half trying to lock the door behind him. He still has his apron on. Castiel tries to hold in his smile until he's at least close enough for Dean to see it, but it breaks through and he ends up grinning at passing cars and awkward strangers. Nothing feels real. So many times he has crossed this road and felt sick with nerves at the prospect of actually having a conversation with Dean, and now here he is, with Dean waving at him, beaming and reaching behind his back to untie his apron. And it still has that little stain on it, the one that looks like a butterfly just above his midriff. It's so endearing that Castiel doesn't feel anxious anymore, doesn't feel like he's imposing. He just feels incredibly happy.
"Didn't expect to see you again today." Dean's says, shooting Castiel a questioning glance. Castiel shrugs, smiling.
"I was on my way home from Anna's and I thought I'd come and say hello."
"Just can't keep away, eh?" Dean winks. Castiel blushes, smiling. Dean glances at his watch and purses his lips. A question hangs silently in the air for a second. Castiel begins to feel nervous again when Dean says, "Do you want to go out for some dinner?"
They end up at Montana Mike's Steakhouse. They find a table in the corner and slip into a conversation about how literature and sports are taught in schools and how they disagree with the methods. They talk for almost thirty minutes on the subject. Dean lays out a plan for how he wants to teach if he ever gets his qualifications, and Castiel listens patiently, commenting in the right places. They realise they should probably order some food, and decide to order a large plate of fries each.
"So you want to teach too?" Dean asks, leaning forward on the table and picking up two fries from his plate. Castiel licks his lips, laughing a little.
"I'm not sure what I want to do. Teaching is kind of my backup plan, because I know it's something I'd like to do if I can't work myself into a specialist area." Dean nods.
"And what would you specialise in, if you could work your way in?"
"Modernist and experimental poetry." Castiel says quickly, smiling down at his plate of fries. He carefully squirts some tomato sauce on the edge of his plate. "I hated poetry in high school, but when I came here I kind of found my footing. I didn't want to like it, but I did, and when we started doing modernist poetry in my lit class, I actually started giving my opinions."
"In class?" Dean asks, trying not to raise an eyebrow. Castiel laughs.
"I know. That's how passionate I was. I never speak in class; I just put it all down on paper and into my essays, which kind of sucks because 10% of our grade comes from our contribution in class. But I figure I can make up for that 10% in my essays and exams." Castiel laughs again, remembering back to a poetry class in which he'd spoken up in, and every student in the class had turned to him, noticing him for the first time. "We were doing Stevie Smith, and this guy started talking about his interpretation of my all time favourite poem, and it was a good interpretation but he kept saying it as though it was fact, and I just couldn't resist. I told him what I thought it was about, and he kind of just told me I was wrong, which is usually my cue to step back. But I never, I argued my point." He picks up a chip and dips it in the sauce, a warm, confident smile tugging at his lips. "That's what I like about poetry, you can never be wrong with it. It's always your own interpretation, words for you to form into your own story.
Dean stares at him for a few moments, his eyes taking in all of Castiel's innocence. He thinks he could sit here all night and listen to Castiel talk about poetry. It feels good to watch him smile, to lose the tension that he usually has knotted up inside him. To see him so relaxed and carefree, to see him laugh and then laugh even more because Dean can't get to grips with reading Ezra Pound. And the best part is that Dean can read Ezra Pound, and he can understand the dialect, he just doesn't want to because Castiel's laugh is just too beautiful to pass up.