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Counting Stars Chapter Four

Castiel stood contemplating the house he knew so well. For most of his life it had felt like a prison, the walls closing in on him. But now it felt somehow underwhelming, just wood and mortar, not the stifling cage he had once seen it as.
When he walked in his father was waiting for him, unsurprisingly given the amount of surveillance the man had invested in.
“You’re alive.” His tone was one of a man commenting on the weather.
“I am…I managed to escape.”
“I can see that.” He hadn’t exactly expected a warm reception, but he had half expected that his father would at least pretend to be happy to see him. “Do you know who took you?”
“I don’t. I never saw their face.”
“Well, then I suppose that’s the end of it. I’m just glad you’re safe.” This time he managed to muster enough emotion to sound almost sincere. “What are you wearing?” This time he sounded genuinely horrified as he looked Castiel over.
He was stilling wearing Dean’s clothes. He had grown used to feeling of denim and the soft material of the hoodie that he had forgotten to retrieve his own clothes before he left.
“It’s…a long story. But that’s not what’s important. I thought I was going to die, and it brought clarity. It made me realize how small and vulnerable I am on my own. I saw for the first time what you’ve been trying to show me. Without power I’m nothing. I…I want to take over the company, like you wanted. If you still are willing.”
A smile that tugged at the corner of his father’s mouth and he put one hand on Cas’s shoulder, “Of course son. I’m proud of you, I knew you’d come around eventually.”
It was the first time he had ever told Cas he was proud of him, and it took a good deal of effort not to pull away from the hand that was grasping his shoulder. He doubted his father could see how bitter and broke Castiel’s smile was. All he could see was the good son who had finally become what he was supposed to be.

A bell above the door rang softly as he opened the door and stepped inside the small shop. The woman at the counter looked up smiling. “Hi, can I help you with anything?”
“I saw the sign in the window. Are you still looking for someone?”
Her smile brightened, “That I am. It’s a small town and not many people are looking to work in a bookstore these days. It’s all about e-books, no one appreciates the beauty of ink and paper anymore.”
He looked around the shop, it was a small shop, but clean and the neat rows of books lined up gave it a charm all its own. The shop was free of flash and didn’t try to draw attention to itself, sitting quietly minding it’s own business, much like its owner. It was nothing like what he was used to, and exactly what he needed in his life.
She looked at him quizzically, “Are you sure? You don’t sound thrilled about it.”
“It’s…uh…my legal name, but I don’t usually go by it.” The name still didn’t fit him right. It was the name on his ID, so he was going to have to get used to it. But it didn’t feel like him.
“Okay…’Clarence.’ Is there something else I can call you?”
“Cas.” Lilith had told him he could choose another name, something to go by if not his new ‘legal’ name. But there was nothing else that fit him quite right.
“Nice to meet you, Cas. I’m Anna. Tell me, why do you want to work here? Have you ever worked in a bookstore before?”
“Not exactly. I guess I need a change. I need something quiet. Books make people happy. And that’s all I want, to do something that helps people.”
Anna nodded, “I can respect that. Well congratulations, Cas, you’re hired.”
“Just like that?” He had expected much more of a process. Everything had been a fight for him, he wasn’t sure he could trust anything that went easily.
“Sure, you seem nice and you want the job. If things don’t work out, we can renegotiate. But I believe in giving people a chance and you certainly seem like you could use one.
A new name, a new town, a new life. It was everything he had once wanted. But now sitting in a café in a small town where no one knew him, he could only think of his old life and of a man with green eyes. He had officially started his new life as a “Clarence Novak” a little over a week ago and he was finding his new life to be less satisfying than he had expected. He liked the quiet, the peace, and most of all the freedom. But he couldn’t stop thinking about Dean. It was better this way, he wasn’t good for Dean. His father would never stop looking for him. He knew it wouldn’t take much for the man to figure out what had happened, and the true depths of Castiel’s betrayal. And Dick was not a man who gave up easily. As long as he was associated with Dean and Charlie he would only put them in danger. Castiel wasn’t fooling himself, his freedom was only going to be short lived. It wouldn’t be long before…he wasn’t exactly sure what would happen. Before he came face to face with his father once more? Before he was found dead in a ditch? Before he mysteriously disappeared never to be seen again? Whatever happened, it wouldn’t be good. A man as powerful and connected as his father was would inevitably find him. As long as Dick was alive, Castiel would never be safe. The only thing he could was distance himself from the people he cared about.
He sipped his coffee and scrolled through the news on his phone. It still brought him a deep sense of satisfaction witnessing evidence of Dick’s fall from grace. Everything he cared about most had been stripped away. One headline jumped out and Castiel froze. “Renowned ‘philanthropist’ found dead.” He couldn’t stop the way his hand shook as he clicked on the article scrolling down,
“The case involving Dick Roman continues to unfold. He was found dead this morning, and while investigations continue, it is rumored that it was suicide. After it became public that he had embezzled millions from what was supposed to be a charitable organization, along with accusations of more serious allegations, Mr. Roman was not available for comment. It now appears that the infamy of his name, and the dissolution of his empire proved to be too much for him to handle.”

He couldn’t bring himself to read any farther. A chill ran through him and his racing thoughts began to quiet until only one remained: It was over. It was finally over. He felt suddenly exposed, like a light was shining on him, and everyone must be watching him. He stumbled to his feet, nearly knocking his chair over. A quick look around told him that even this had drawn little attention. No one knew him, no one cared about him. Something significant had happened, everything he had been fighting for, everything he had been through, and it was finally over. This should be momentous, there should be something, but to everyone else it was another day, and Castiel another stranger in a coffee shop.
It wasn’t a long walk to the small apartment he was renting. Each step felt heavy, he waited for some sense of relief or happiness, or hell, even sadness to grip him. Instead he felt empty and cold. He was free of his father’s rule forever. It still didn’t feel real. But with each step it felt as if a weight was pressing him down. He had cut off all ties from Dean, he had made sure there was nothing left to connect them. He had done it all to protect him, and now the danger was gone, and he was alone. He had broken all ties with his old life, and he felt untethered, lost with a way back to the only man he had ever truly cared about.
He made his way up the flight of stairs, listening to the soft murmur of voices behind closed doors. He unlocked his door and walked inside, dropping his keys onto the table, the soft clink breaking the quiet. His empty apartment greeted him, welcoming him into the emptiness of his life. Even Amadeus hadn’t come to greet him. It seemed even his cat had decided to abandon him when he needed someone the most.
Feeling sorry for himself wasn’t going to do any good. But it was hard for him to feel motivated to do anything else.
“Get the fuck off me. What the fuck is wrong with you?!” The sharp voice broke the silence like a gunshot and Castiel looked up to see Dean emerge from his bedroom attempting to dislodge his cat from his leg.
“Cas, I hate to break it to you, but I think your cat is a demon.”
Castiel stood in shocked silence, was this real? Or maybe he had finally lost his mind and was hallucinating, yeah, that seemed more likely.
“Damn. That would have been so cool. I was going to wait for you to come home then surprise you with something a lot more dignifned. Whatever. Apparently your cat hates me.”
“Amadeus.” It was all Castiel could bring himself to say.
“What? Are you possessed to? Is that why you left?”
Castiel shook his head, feeling like he was waking from a dream. “The cat’s name is Amadeus. It means ‘love of God.’ He was a stray I found wandering around outside, half starved, so I took him in.” Was this really happening? It felt surreal, standing talking to a man he never thought he’d see again, about his cat of all things.
“Okay, that’s fine and all. But I gotta be honest, if we have kids we’re not going to name them after angels, or whatever. We’re giving them nice, normal sounding names.”
Castiel looked up at that, meeting Dean’s eyes. Amadeus had made his way over to Castiel, sitting next to him, eyes narrowed at the intruder, indicating his clear displeasure. “Kids?”
Dean shifted, looking suddenly uncertain of himself. “Yeah, I mean, that’s a long way off, I haven’t forgiven you for leaving yet.”
Castiel tried to swallow past the lump in his throat. He wanted to close the gap between them, but couldn’t bring himself to move. They stood the distance between them interminable now as Castiel tried to find the words to make Dean understand.
But he didn’t need to say anything, Dean crossed the space between them and pulled Castiel against him. The kiss was slow and possessive, as if Dean would never let Castiel go.
The day Castiel had met Dean his life had ended and began anew. And now Castiel was going to learn what it really meant to live.