When his alarm went off, Dean Winchester seriously considered just going back to sleep. The thought of getting up and having to deal with people today was almost unbearable. However, he knew he’d never get away with it. Especially not on the first day back at school after the summer break, and especially not when it was Sam’s very first day at Lawrence High School. Dean was responsible for getting his little brother there on time, and he didn’t like to think about what his parents would do to him if he screwed it up. Sighing wearily, Dean dragged himself out of bed and found some clothes to pull on.
He suspected that he had brought all of this on himself. There had been a time, not so long ago really, when Dean would have considered himself a pretty happy guy. He was good at sports, good at getting girls, good at socializing, not all that book-smart, but he hadn’t cared too much about that. He hadn’t cared too much about anything. He’d had a good life. If only he’d been able to retain that blasé attitude. But then there was that night, months ago now, which had changed everything.
They’d gone to Sam’s school for an awards evening. Sam had won a prize for some science project he’d done. Dean had always teased his little brother mercilessly for being such an enormous nerd, but he’d felt the same proud glow as his parents had when Sam’s teacher told them that Sam would go really far if he kept up working like he was. John had taken them all for ice cream afterwards as a treat, and Dean had listened to his brother talk animatedly about his dreams for the future. He’d realized that yeah, Sam was still a kid right now, but he was going to go far. He’d go to a good college and get a fancy job, and his life would mean something. It made Dean happy to think of Sam’s future.
It was then that he had made a mistake: he had started to think about his own prospects.
Dean had properly considered his future for the first time ever, and he saw… nothing. He couldn’t imagine any kind of life for himself after high school. What the hell was he good for? He did okay in class, but his grades had never been great and he knew in his heart that he wasn’t meant for college. He had no particular talents. He played football, which was fun and all but he knew he’d never be one of the best. The only thing he could think of that he could really do well was fix up cars. How far was that going to get him? He’d never be able to travel across America, doing random garage work as he went. It just wasn’t feasible. He’d never be able to get anywhere. All his friends, everyone he loved, all had potential. Dean, however, did not. He’d get a job at his dad’s garage, and he’d stay exactly where he was forever. Doing exactly what he’d always done. Forever. He’d never make his parents proud the way that Sam would.
It was then that a horrible thought had struck Dean: John and Mary knew all of this. They knew that Dean was never going to do much with his life, knew he was a failure. He thought of every time his dad had clapped him on the shoulder and said, “I knew I could rely on you, son.” He thought of the times John had had a spat with Sam, and had joined Dean on the couch with a sigh, saying “At least I know you’ll never give me trouble like that.” Dean had felt proud at the time, but he suddenly had a sneaking suspicion of the truth. His parents saw him as dependable, consistent, predictable. They knew he’d never change, never do anything else with his life. Even Mary had stopped nagging at him to study.
Dean knew that there were people who never did anything with their lives, but he’d never really thought that he’d be one of them. He’d just been enjoying life day-to-day, no thought to where it was leading. And sure, he liked his life, he liked living in Lawrence, but he’d always assumed that it wouldn’t be forever. He’d always imagined… something. That something was waiting for him in the big wide world, some kind of higher calling. He’d had these vague, wistful dreams of traveling, of earning lots of money with some unspecified job and taking care of his family, of meeting someone amazing who would understand him and who’d have crazy adventures with him. Those were just dreams, though; they were never going to happen. Even if he started putting in the effort right away, he wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t determined enough, wasn’t… anything enough.
Mary had laid a hand on his arm. “Are you okay, honey?”
Dean had looked at his mother, her eyes full of concern, and he’d forced a smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m good. Just… not hungry.”
John had made one of his lame jokes about Dean not being hungry being one of the signs of the forthcoming apocalypse, and they’d all moved on. He knew now that if that had been all there was to it, he would’ve gotten over it pretty quickly. He might have sulked for a couple of hours, but then he would’ve laughed it off, felt embarrassed for being so damn emo, and then just gone on like before. Dean was a positive guy at heart, and he’d never been one to dwell on things.
But then he’d gotten that text message from Kyle, a guy he knew from school. There was a party that night up at the college and Kyle knew a guy who could get them in. Dean should come along. This had lifted Dean’s spirits: a party was just what he needed to pick himself up. Beer, loud music, girls… It was a timely distraction. He’d told his parents that he was going to his friend Ash’s house to watch a couple of movies, and they’d said it was fine.
It had started out okay. There had been fewer girls there than Dean would have liked, but then he’d had a girlfriend at the time so it didn’t really matter. There had been drinks though and music, and Dean had got talking to some guys about horror movies, and whether the film industry’s current reliance on special effects was detracting from the quality of the genre. One of the guys had been smoking pot, and Dean had been getting lightheaded.
Dean could remember one guy - older than the rest - who Dean had been told was someone’s brother, in town for the weekend. He’d sat next to Dean, given him whiskey, made a joke about how Dean was so pretty that it didn’t matter that so few chicks had turned up. It had made Dean uncomfortable, but he’d laughed it off. It wasn’t the first time a guy had shown interest, and Dean knew how to deal with it.
“I’m Alastair,” the guy had said with a grin, handing Dean the bottle again.
It was then that Dean had started to lose track of the evening. He didn’t know where the guys he’d come with had gone, and he remembered insisting that he had to find them. Alastair had taken him out back for some fresh air. It had been cold, and Dean had stumbled down the back stairs outside the house. The other guy had caught him and held him up. Dean had felt heavy, like he couldn’t control himself, like he was made out of lead. He remembered Alastair leading him through the back garden in the dark, and…
But he wouldn’t let himself think about anything that happened after that. Ever.
From that day on, Dean had given up. Something had died in him. A few days after the party, he’d broken up with Cassie, the only girl he’d ever dated for longer than a couple of weeks. She was great, but she had big dreams of going to New York to be a journalist, and she was smart enough to do it too. She wouldn’t want to stay with some guy who worked at his dad’s garage. Besides, he no longer wanted her to touch him, not when she had that look in her eyes, like she actually cared about him. He couldn’t stand it now. What had really got to Dean was that she hadn’t even queried it when he’d told her it was never going to work between them – apparently she’d already figured that out.
He’d gone from being lackadaisical about schoolwork to not bothering at all. His teachers had gotten mad when Dean had failed to complete assignments and had given him detentions, but none of them had really cared. Dean evidently wasn’t worth fighting for.
After a month, he’d quit the football team. The coach had been pissed and some of the guys wouldn’t talk to him after, but they quickly found a replacement and Dean’s departure hadn’t made any real difference. Everything he did, everything he failed to do just proved to him that he’d been right. No one fought for him. No one expected anything more. No one noticed that all his smiles were now false, his eyes defeated. He was just Dean Winchester, and he’d always be there. Always.
When Dean finally appeared in the kitchen, he was grateful to find that there was still coffee in the pot. This was highly unusual when Mary was around, as Dean’s mom was a complete coffee freak. She blamed it on her job at the local radio station where everyone was always highly caffeinated. This was something that Dean shared with her – they both liked thick, syrupy black coffee and could drink it like water. When alone, they would disparage John, who took his with milk and two sugars. Dean liked it, having something to share with his mom, like a little club that only they were members of.
He poured himself a mug and leaned against the counter opposite his younger brother, who pulled a face.
“Ugh, I don’t know how you can drink that stuff.”
Dean snorted. “Oh, go back to your Lucky Charms, champ. Seriously, Sammy, couldn’t you move onto some more grown-up breakfast cereal?”
Sam shrugged. “I don’t care, I like it. Besides, not everyone cares about being cool.”
At that point Mary Winchester rushed into the kitchen, trying to put in a pair of earrings. “I am so late!” she wailed. “Has anyone seen my—”
Dean handed her her purse which was on one of the kitchen chairs.
“Oh! Thanks, sweetheart.” She reached up on tiptoe to kiss Dean on the cheek. “Hm, who gave you permission to get so tall? Now, are you guys okay for today? Got everything you need? Sure? Dean, will you be all right driving Sam to school?”
Dean rolled his eyes. “Mom, I said I was the last ten times you asked. It’ll be fine.”
“Well, drive carefully, okay?”
“Of course! I’m not gonna mess up that car.”
Mary gave him an amused look. “I’d think you’d be more concerned about not getting your little brother killed.”
“Well… yeah, that too, but I have to prioritize.”
“Hey!” Sam mumbled through a mouth of cereal.
“Just kidding, short bus.”
Sam scowled half-heartedly.
“Have a good day, love,” Mary said, planting a kiss on the top of Sam’s head. “Don’t be nervous; you’re gonna do great.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Sam grinned at her as she picked up her keys and hurried out of the kitchen.
“C’mon, Sammy,” Dean groaned. “Let’s get this over with.” The thought of going into school, being around all those people again, made Dean’s flesh crawl, but there was no way he was messing things up for Sam.
“It’ll be okay, Dean,” Sam said, looking up at his older brother with large brown eyes that were way too perceptive for Dean’s liking.
He forced a grin. “Sure they will! Nothing to be nervous about – you’ll do great. I mean, for someone as nerdy as you, high school’s gotta be, like, Mecca or something. And if anyone gives you shit, I’ll come kick their ass.”
Sam made an unattractive snorting sound. “Dean, I can take care of myself.”
“Oh, come on. What’s the point of having a big brother if you can’t use them for intimidation purposes? Although, once they find out you’re related to me, the girls will be all over you. That’s gotta count for something.”
“Sure, Dean,” Sam sighed, tying his sneakers. Dean thought it was a bit rich that Sam was already unimpressed with Dean’s status as resident school stud. The kid really was a massive nerd.
Sam tugged lightly at the sleeve of Dean’s jacket, and Dean glanced down at his pale, serious face. “It really will be okay, you know.”
Dean swallowed, suddenly aware that Sam knew. Not everything of course, but he knew that something was eating away at Dean, and it bothered him. Dean hated himself for that; he didn’t care what he had to suffer, but the last thing he wanted was to cause his family grief over it. Especially Sam. “Let’s go,” he grunted, tearing his eyes away from his brother’s innocent face. Something was twisting painfully in his chest, and the house was suddenly too small.
Dean led the way outside, digging his hand into his jacket pocket for his car keys, resolving that he would make an extra special effort to keep his guard up, particularly where his little brother was concerned.
Despite getting to school early in order to make sure that Sam found his new home room okay, Dean still managed to be late for his first class of the day. He skulked to the back of the classroom, ignoring the disapproving look of Miss Bishop, his English teacher, and found a seat next to his friend Steve. ‘Friend’ might be too strong a word for it. He hung out with Steve and his friends occasionally. People like Steve were fun to be around. More importantly, people like Steve weren’t going to leave. Steve was none too bright, shiftless and lazy, and he, like Dean, would be tied to Lawrence forever.
“Dude!” Steve whispered. “Dude! Where the hell were you Saturday night? It was wild! College girls, man!”
Dean grinned. “I had… other plans.”
“You sly dog. Don’t tell me you hooked up with Lisa Braeden again!”
Dean laughed softly. He hadn’t seen Lisa in weeks and had spent Saturday night working a late shift at the garage, but he wasn’t going to let Steve know that.
“Oh, man! She is so hot. Her boyfriend’s gonna kill you when he finds out.”
“Pfft. No he won’t. Besides, he’s not gonna find out. It’s not serious with Lisa – we just hook up occasionally. You know me; I like to keep my options open.”
Steve laughed. “Dude! Hey, you gotta meet me and the guys behind the bleachers later. We’re gonna need details.”
Dean felt suddenly good. People like Steve made it possible for him to kid himself that he was worth something. They went along with the Dean’s game. They helped him play the character he had devised for himself so well, and when he was pretending Dean didn’t feel the emptiness in his soul so keenly.
He leaned back in his seat, the front two legs off the floor a little, and surveyed the room. It occurred to him that he’d already seduced three of the girls in this class, and the thought made him grin. He might not be destined to be anything special, but he was going to leave Lawrence High as a legend. Never mind that none of those girls still talked to him.
His eyes, still absently scanning the classroom, suddenly snapped into focus when they lighted upon someone he was sure he’d never seen before. There was a boy sitting at the front of the room with his back to Dean. He must be new. There was something about the kid that caught Dean’s attention, something in the way he was sitting up so straight, intently focused on whatever crap Miss Bishop was saying about their summer assignments that Dean hadn’t bothered to even look at. Dean thought he looked funny, almost like he’d tried to look smart yesterday, but he’d been to bed in his clothes since and hadn’t bothered to change. He was wearing a tan trench coat with the sleeves pulled up a little so that Dean could see the dark jacket he was wearing underneath. His hair was a mess. Dean found himself wishing that he could see the boy’s face properly, and suddenly regretted being late. A smile crept across his face as he looked at the new kid. He was so damn focused, like the English class was the most compelling thing he’d ever experienced. No one, not even the nerdiest kids, were sitting that rigidly. Dean saw that the boy’s foot was tapping nervously.
“So, Henry James,” Miss Bishop said.
Dean reluctantly shifted his attention to her. He supposed he should at least look like he cared, seeing as it was the first day back. Besides, she was wearing a tight-fitting sweater, and Dean had always been partial to cougars.
“Not perhaps the easiest of reads, but I hope that you’ve all at least made an attempt.” Miss Bishop’s eyes flickered over to where Dean and his fellow miscreants were sitting at the back. “Don’t worry,” she added, talking to the new boy. “Everyone was asked to read The Wings of the Dove over the summer and we’re discussing it today, but you’ll be able to join in next lesson.”
“I’ve read the book,” the boy said, and Dean was surprised by how deep and purposeful his voice was. He’d half expected him to sound timid.
Miss Bishop looked pleased. “Oh, you have? Well, perhaps you could start us off then. Was there anything you found particularly interesting about the novel?”
The boy thought for a moment. “I liked… how if you think about the plot as separate from the novel itself, it could sound quite trivial. It could easily have been made into a melodrama, but James didn’t do that. It wasn’t just through his convoluted use of language, it was… I liked the way that all the big moments, the most significant things that affected the characters profoundly, were never actually described. We, the readers, heard about them second-hand, if you will, as if they happened off-stage. It was very clever.”
There was a short silence following the speech.
“Well!” Miss Bishop said, a faint smile playing on her lips. “That’s very astute. Would anyone else like to share their thoughts?”
“Who the hell is that?” Dean whispered to his friend.
Steve shrugged. “New guy. I heard he was home schooled; one of those weird religious families. Can you believe he actually wore a tie to school? And get this: his name’s Castiel. Seriously, who calls their kid something like that? Man, he’s not gonna last a week.”
Dean didn’t reply.
Things started to look up at lunch time. Dean sat with Jo, Pam and Ash, his three closest friends, and for a while he managed to forget the black cloud hanging over him.
Jo wrinkled her nose in distaste at the sight of Dean’s cheeseburger. “Ugh, do you realize what that crap’s doing to your arteries?”
Dean rolled his eyes. Of all his friends, Jo was the person he felt closest to. He’d known her ever since he was seven years old and she and her mother Ellen had moved to a house across the street from the Winchesters. John and Mary had invited them over for a barbeque. Jo had been this tiny little blonde thing, and Dean remembered that she’d sulked the entire time because her mother had made her wear a dress. Dean, being a brat and sensing an easy target, had teased her about it. Jo had responded by pushing him into the fish pond, Dean had pulled her in right after him, they had both been thoroughly told off for it, and the two of them had been best friends ever since.
“This is good food, Harvelle,” Dean said. “The food of champions. You’re just—hey!” He swatted her hand away. “You don’t get to bitch about my diet then steal my fries. That’s not how it works.”
“I don’t care if you end up dead from a cholesterol-induced heart attack,” Pam cut in. “Can I have some fries?”
“Oh, you can have the whole lot, baby,” Dean said, returning her provocative leer.
Jo snorted with amusement. Dean and Pam always flirted with each other but it never went any further than that. Dean said it was because they had too many years of friendship behind them and he hated the thought of her getting hurt because of him. Pam, however, claimed that it was because Dean couldn’t handle a woman like her. Secretly, Dean agreed.
“You’re a lucky man, Winchester,” Ash said, his grin lazy. “They never fight over me like that.”
“What can I say, dude,” Dean replied, eyeing the questionable school mashed potato that Ash had inexplicably opted for. “You should have gone for the fries.”
Ash, by all rights, should not have been there. He was a year older than the others and already had a place secured for him at MIT, but his abysmal grades in English had prevented him from graduating, and his refusal to get up in time for summer school had left him doomed to repeat senior year. Dean was secretly grateful. Ash would have been the first person to leave, and it was nice to delay the inevitable even for a little while. It was nice to make-believe that they’d all gone back to a year ago, back when Dean still had his innocence.
“So, Dean,” Jo said interrogatively, making Dean recoil a little in spite of himself. In a few years, Jo was easily going to be as terrifying as her mother. “Are you coming with us to the game on Saturday? Or do you have an appointment to conduct douchebaggery with Lawrence’s resident loser brigade again?”
Dean looked away guiltily; he knew he’d been neglecting his friends all summer. “No, I’ll be there,” he mumbled.
“See, I think it’s my fault,” Pam sighed dramatically. “Dean can’t stand to be around me anymore because the simmering sexual tension’s just getting too much for him.” She kicked him playfully under the table.
“See, I was just about to say the same thing,” Ash said.
Dean laughed. He was grateful that none of them were pushing the issue; he wasn’t sure he’d be able to explain what was going through his head in a way that any of them would understand. How sometimes it’s better to spend time with people you don’t give a shit about because they could never hurt you. How sometimes you felt dirty and ashamed, and like you didn’t deserve to be around good people. He leaned back in his seat and listened to Ash’s stories about ‘accidentally’ hacking into the school’s online records database, and Pam offering to do a psychic read on Jo’s new boyfriend. He let time wash over him, liquid golden, until the bell rang and he had to get back to class.
Dean had a new math teacher, and by the end of the first class with him, Dean had decided that math would be one of the classes he would not be attending very frequently this year. The guy had seemed okay at first. Kind of cocky, but then new teachers always were before the student body wore their enthusiasm away. He announced to the class that his name was Mr. Henriksen, and then he launched into a lecture about trigonometry or something that Dean was sure would’ve been quite compelling to someone who still gave a crap about all this. Dean, however, did not, and he quickly zoned out.
Michele Steele was wearing a fairly sheer blouse and Dean could see her bra through the back of it. He was well past the stage where this would have been an exciting revelation, but even so it’s enough to keep him entertained for a good twenty minutes. And then he thought about his car. It had been making a weird noise on the way to school that morning, and Dean thought it had something to do with the exhaust. He’d have to take a look at it when he got home. He hoped he wouldn’t have to tell his dad, because Dean really wanted to prove to John that he could take care of the Impala by himself…
Dean’s train of thought was slowly interrupted by the realization that Mr Henriksen was standing right in front of him. He looked up.
“You,” Henriksen said. “Dean Winchester, right? Would you like to show the rest of the class how to calculate the surface area of the triangle on the board correct to three significant figures?”
Dean smiled, faking bravado. “Nope.”
Henriksen raised his eyebrows. “And is that because you still don’t understand how, despite my explaining it three times, or because you haven’t been listening to a damn word I’ve been saying all lesson?”
Dean didn’t reply. Henriksen was gazing at him steadily, and he had to force himself not to look away. There was no way he was going to be intimidated by some asshole of a teacher who thought he knew what Dean was about.
Finally, Henriksen sighed and looked away. “See me after class, Winchester.”
Dean balled his fists under the desk. Great. Another stupid lecture from a stupid teacher who didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about. To be fair, Henriksen was new and hadn’t figured out that Dean was a hopeless case yet. He’d learn.
When the bell rung, Dean reluctantly made his way to the front of the class. He crossed his arms in front of him, refusing to look up, assuming a casual stance.
“So I had a look at your record, Dean,” Mr Henriksen said. “It’s something I like to do before I start with a new class. I like to know who to look out for.”
Dean sighed. He did not have time for this.
“You were interesting. See, until around February last year, you were doing just fine. Not top of the class maybe, but you were on course for a good pass. And then you started dropping out, failing to complete assignments. You had to do some re-sits which you barely scraped through. Now, I’ve met some stupid kids in my time, believe me, but you’re not one of them. I can tell.”
Great. Dean had managed to get himself a teacher who wanted to save him. That was just peachy. He looked up at Henriksen insolently. “No offense, Sir, but you’re wasting your time. I don’t care, okay? I don’t care. I’m not gonna go to college, I’m not gonna get out of this town… hell, at this point I doubt I’ll finish up the year. So save your energy for the kids who actually have a future to plan for, yeah?” He turned to leave.
“You think I give a crap about that?” Henriksen said, surprising Dean into turning back. “I’m not some touchy-feely I-wanna-be-your-best-friend teacher, okay? You want that, go to the school guidance councillor. If you want to piss away your life, go right ahead. What I won’t tolerate is someone being rude enough to not pay attention in my class when they’ve got a brain in their head. And yeah, maybe seeing someone throw their education away gets to me a little. I’m getting paid to get all of you through this year, and if I do that then I’ve done my job right. And I am going to get you all through. Now don’t let me catch you slacking off again.”
“Whatever,” Dean mumbled. “Can I go now?”
Henriksen sighed resignedly. “Yes, you can go.”
Dean stormed out of the room, paying very little attention to where he was going, and promptly crashed into someone in the corridor.
“Sorry,” Dean bit out, forcing back a fresh surge of irritation at people who got in his damn way.
“It’s all right,” the other person gasped, and Dean realized that it was the new kid, Castiel. He was crouched on the floor trying to pick up the books he’d dropped when Dean had collided with him.
“Here, lemme help you,” Dean said gruffly, stooping to gather up some stray sheets of writing paper. He wasn’t in the most charitable mood, but he felt sorry for the guy. He was new, and if that morning’s English class was anything to go by, he was a complete geek. That and the way he dressed, the way he spoke, the fact that he’d been home-schooled and probably never had to deal with anything like this before… Steve had been right – he was going to get the crap bullied out of him.
“Thank you,” Castiel said, the sincerity in his voice making Dean look up.
Castiel was looking at him, really looking, and he had the bluest eyes Dean had ever seen.
“That was very kind of you,” Castiel said.
Dean blinked; he realized he’d been staring back. “Uh, no problem.” He shoved the papers he was holding unceremoniously at Castiel, got up and walked away.
Dinner at the Winchester house was always a slightly chaotic affair. Mary would occasionally refer to it as ‘feeding time at the zoo’. Dean thought that with two grown men in the house, plus a boy whose appetite rivalled theirs, she had a point.
John had made his famous spaghetti bolognaise to celebrate the fact that not only had Sam survived his first day at high school, he’d actually managed to enjoy himself. Dean was starting to despair of the kid. Still, he was happy that Sam was getting on, and he was quite content to lose himself in the cheerful conversation of his family.
“I’ve got loads of classes with Andy,” Sam told them (and Dean was not going to tell him that he had tomato sauce on his chin). “And our history teacher’s really cool. He’s gonna take us on field trips. Oh, and there’s this really funny girl called Ava I met in Spanish. There’s loads of extra stuff I’m gonna sign up for. I definitely want to join math club and the debate club. I’m thinking about doing something with the track team, but I don’t know how much time I’ll have.”
Their mom smiled indulgently. “It sounds lovely; I’m sure you’ll do just great.” She reached out with a napkin and wiped Sam’s chin.
“Mo-om!” Sam protested.
“Sorry, sorry!” Mary held her hands up. “I keep forgetting you’re all grown up now. Hey, at least I don’t do it in public.”
“How was your day, Dean?” John asked.
Dean had been wondering how long it would take for the attention to turn to him. His heart sunk a little; he was such a disappointment compared to Sam. “Oh… you know. Fine. School.”
John huffed a laugh. “Well, thanks for being so forthcoming, son. I feel much more informed now.”
Dean sighed. “Oh, well, we’ve got ourselves a new math teacher who’s kind of a jerk.”
“Mr Henriksen?” Sam cut in. “I liked him.”
Dean nudged him irritably with his foot under the table, prompting Sam to give him what Dean liked to call ‘Sammy’s bitch face’.
“Anyway,” he said pointedly. “Apart from that, there’s nothing much to tell. Regular school, you know. Oh, we’ve got a new kid,” he said as an afterthought, not really sure why he was telling his family about this. “He’s kinda… weird. Apparently he’s part of a really religious family and he was home-schooled. The poor guy’s called Castiel. His last name’s weird too, kinda foreign-sounding. Del- Da-… I dunno.”
“Oh!” Mary exclaimed. “Delacroix?”
“Maybe.” Dean shrugged. “How come?”
“Well, he’s probably related to Reverend Manuel Delacroix.” She looked at the blank faces of her husband and sons. “He’s a preacher, pretty famous now. He’s got slots on most of the religious channels. Some members of his family moved to Lawrence about six months ago; they’ve been causing quite a stir amongst the Christian communities in town. I think they’re planning on setting up their own church once they get a solid congregation. We ran a story on them at work a while back.”
Conversation quickly shifted away from the subject of Castiel’s family. John told them about a customer who’d been giving them all grief at the garage for not being able to get new engine parts in quick enough, Mary tried to get them all to all agree on a date for going to visit her parents, and Dean pushed all thoughts of school and the strange new boy out of his mind.
The rest of the first week dragged by at a tedious pace. Dean went to school every day and attended most of his classes more out of a sense of obligation to his family than anything else. It was all so utterly redundant. He spent most of his time dreaming about long stretches of road. When he was younger, he used to collect maps of America and old travel brochures he’d picked up from here and there, and he’d fantasize about the trips he’d take one day. He’d trace routes on maps with his fingers, make notes of the sights he had to see. He’d tour the whole damn country, just him and the Impala his dad had promised to pass down to him once he got his license. He couldn’t imagine any greater freedom, any greater adventure. Sometimes, when he couldn’t sleep, he’d closed his eyes and pictured himself speeding along an empty road in his car so fast it was like flying, and he’d be drift away, the imaginary thrum of the engine like a lullaby to him.
He knew it was never going to happen now, of course. He’d never make the kind of money to finance a trip of that scale, even if he did odd jobs as he went along. Plus, there was no way in hell his dad would let him take off like that – John had already told Dean how much he valued his help at the auto shop and how Dean would have a job waiting for him there once he finished school. Dean never had been able to stand up to John, not like Sam could.
It wasn’t that his dad was mean or overly-authoritative, but Dean had always had a horror of disappointing him. Making John proud was like an obsession to him, and if John wanted Dean to stay in Lawrence and work at the garage, then that was what Dean would do. Even if he did have that wistful longing in his heart for something… more. Dean wouldn’t really be able to achieve anything else anyway, he told himself harshly. He was being ungrateful. He’d have a better life if he just stuck to what he knew than if he attempted to do something by himself.
Dean felt bad for the car. The Impala was his now and he loved it, and because he loved it he felt guilty. A car like that should be speeding along highways chasing adventure, not trundling around a guy’s hometown, picking up groceries and giving people lifts. It was an insult. When he was sure that he was alone, he’d sit in the driver’s seat and talk to the car. “I’m sorry, baby,” he’d say. “I know you could do better. Wish I could give it to you.” He’d tell the car about the dreams he used to have, convincing himself that he was consoling it somehow. He told his car everything.
School was a waste of time. Dean didn’t know why he hadn’t quit already, though he suspected that it had something to do with his mother. The one time he’d mentioned the idea he’d had of dropping out now and going to work at the garage full time, Mary hadn’t said anything but he’d seen the regret in her eyes. She’d smiled at him and told him that he should do whatever he needed to make him happy. Dean’s heart had sunk at this. Happy. This had nothing to do with happy. He’d known that his mother had felt bad though, and that stopped him from mentioning dropping out again.
Still, he had to remind himself of this when he got detention for honestly forgetting about the history report he was supposed to do, or when Mr Henriksen kept calling him out in math, making it next to impossible for Dean to do anything other than pay attention.
Dean didn’t give much thought to the new student, Castiel, after the first day back. He had other things to think about, like hanging out with his friends, looking out for his brother, meeting up with the hot college chick he’d ‘befriended’ last year and who’d come back for the new semester. He was vaguely aware that Castiel had firmly established himself as one of the ‘smart kids’, and that he’d joined the FCS where he’d already made quite an impression. His life and Dean’s were evidently very different, and there was no cause for their paths to cross. Dean occasionally found himself staring at the back of the guy’s head in class, smiling to himself over how damn poised Castiel was, like he’d never learned how to relax, but it wasn’t like he ever really thought about him.
However, on the Wednesday of the third week of term, Dean was forced to think about Castiel. He’d skipped fifth period to hang out behind the bleachers with Steve, Karl and Laura, three of his waster buddies. Good god, they were boring. All they ever talked about was getting drunk or getting high or getting laid. They had no interests beyond that. Dean thought wistfully of the time when he’d spend evenings at Jo’s house watching crappy science fiction movies with titles like The Killer Shrews or Santa Claus Versus The Martians! He thought of hanging out at the pizza parlor with Ash, flirting with the waitresses. He had to remind himself that in less than a year, all those people would be leaving him behind for something better. Dean had to establish new relationships now, with his own kind. It was painfully depressing.
Still, it wasn’t all bad. These people idolized him. They saw Dean with his nice car and his charm and his ability to attract all the pretty girls, and they thought he was amazing. They’d been thrilled when Dean had started hanging out with them last year. It made him feel, just for a little while, like he was worth something. As far as the hierarchy of loser dropouts went, at least, he was at the top.
Dean forced a laugh at the stupid story Karl was telling him about almost getting arrested the night before. At least this was better than being in class.
“Hey, look!” Steve said suddenly. “What the hell is he doing here?”
Dean turned around, only half interested, and saw Castiel Delacroix wandering towards them, a small frown of consternation on his face, seemingly unaware of his surroundings. The sight of him made Dean uneasy. He wanted to warn Castiel somehow to go back where he had come from. He knew instantly that his companions were going to give the guy a hard time, and he loathed the pettiness of it all. “Who cares?” he muttered, hoping to prevent events from taking the course he could envision. “Who cares what he’s doing?”
However, Steve had that stupid grin on his stupid face. “Dude, we cannot turn a blind eye when prey wanders so willingly into our midst. This is our turf, and nerds are not allowed.”
Dean had the sudden urge to punch him.
Steve moved to block Castiel from passing them, while Karl and Laura sniggered idiotically.
Dean hated this. Most of all he hated that he was too much of a coward to stop it from happening. He didn’t want anything to happen to Castiel: there was something about him that reminded Dean of Sam. He would kill anyone who picked on his little brother, and it made him feel sick that he was basically condoning the bullying of someone like him.
He hung back, not looking at what was going on, loathing himself.
“Hey!” Steve said.
Castiel stopped and looked up, blinking like he hadn’t realized where he was. He looked at them all blankly. “Hello.”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Steve was still smiling, but Dean could hear the menace in his voice, and he saw the way he was crowding Castiel slightly.
Castiel, however, did not seem to recognize the warning signs. “I have a study period now,” he informed Steve mildly. The gravel in his voice surprised Dean as much as it had the first time he’d heard it. “I’m working on a paper for history, and walking helps the cognitive process.”
Dean saw the others stare in confusion at this. Dean doubted that they’d understood half of what Castiel had just said.
“Well listen, nerd,” Steve said, giving Castiel a hard push in the chest. “You need to go be a freak someplace else.” Another shove, making Castiel stumble a little. “This is where we hang out, and we do not take kindly to nerds.” He tried to push Castiel again, but the other boy reached out and grabbed his wrist before Steve could make contact.
“Don’t do that.” His voice was still mild, but Dean could see the whites of his knuckles where he was gripping Steve’s arm.
Steve’s eyes widened a little with shock, but he soon recovered. “Get the fuck off me, freak!” He swung his free arm to hit Castiel, but the other boy effortlessly blocked him, and an attempted kick resulted in Steve sprawled on the floor, his legs knocked from under him. Laura and Karl looked on, shocked.
Castiel began to walk away from them, but Steve struggled to his feet and with a yell of rage he threw himself at the other boy. They grappled for a couple of seconds and Dean was momentarily concerned that Steve was going to get the upper hand, but then Castiel delivered him a sharp blow to the stomach, then a kick that sent him to the ground again.
“I’d give up if I were you,” Castiel growled, a definite bite to his voice now. “At this point you’re just embarrassing yourself.” He looked down at his opponent with obvious distain, his mouth a hard line. Just before he turned away again his eyes met Dean’s, just for a second. It was long enough to make Dean’s chest clench with shame. Castiel’s blue eyes were full of reproachfulness and disappointment, as if for all the world he knew that Dean wasn’t like these people and he judged him for being there. But maybe that was just Dean’s overactive conscience playing tricks with him.
Dean watched Castiel walking away, his face burning with shame.
Laura went to help a winded, but otherwise unharmed Steve to his feet.
“Well, thanks a lot, guys!” Steve complained. “Great friends you are! Why the hell didn’t you come help me? Oh man, if anyone finds out about this… If I hear any of you repeating what just went down I will kill you, understand? He just… caught me unawares is all. Hey, Winchester! What the hell were you doing, man? Why didn’t you back me up?”
Dean was still staring at the retreating figure of Castiel Delacroix. “Who the hell is that guy?”
The one thing that Dean actually looked forward to every week was when he got to work at the garage on Saturdays. Okay, so the thought of working in that particular garage for years to come under his dad’s constant supervision was… more than a little discouraging, but all of that seemed to melt away once Dean was working on an engine. There was something beautiful about it. Dean wasn’t an especially creative guy, but he felt like fixing cars was a kind of art form. There was something inherently satisfying about taking a machine that was malfunctioning and making it work again. It was something that came naturally to him. He knew how to listen to a vehicle, discover what it needed, do whatever he had to in order to make it happy. He’d made the mistake of trying to explain this to John once, and his dad had made a lame joke about how if Dean could apply that theory to women he’d be set for life.
Dean loved his dad and would’ve done anything to make him proud, but there were some things that John just wouldn’t get.
He liked the easy camaraderie of the garage though. He liked being around people who knew what it meant to work for a living. He enjoyed joking around with Kat, the mechanic, and making coffee for Rufus, their acerbic supplier, whenever he dropped in. Dean was the only one who could make him laugh. He loved it when his dad taught him something new, or when he smiled at Dean and told him he’d done a good job. He looked forward to the opportunities he’d get to talk with Bobby, John’s business partner.
Bobby was family: both he and Sam had grown up calling him ‘Uncle’. One of Dean’s earliest memories was of riding around on his shoulders, both of them laughing till their sides ached. Bobby had laughed a lot back then. Dean remembered how he used to make up silly stories for them and take them out to the park where he’d buy them ice cream and play ball with Dean while Sam watched from his buggy.
All that had changed when Dean was eight and Bobby’s wife had died in a car accident.
Dean had been too little to really understand anything more than Auntie Karen was gone and it was real sad. Even so, he remembered how devastated Bobby had been. He’d remembered the hushed conversations his parents had had about how they were worried their friend wouldn’t get through this.
Bobby stopped laughing after that. He’d come to stay with the Winchesters for a while, and he’d sit for hours, silent and brooding, drinking beer. Dean remembered how he and Sam had nervously tried to comfort him, bringing him books and toys. In retrospect, Dean marvelled at Bobby’s patience with them. He had just smiled at them sadly, never once turning them away.
Dean wondered whether Bobby would ever really recover from his wife’s death. He could function now, sure. He’d go out with John and the others, he’d read books, he was enthusiastic about the work he did. His love for Sam and Dean had been as unwavering as if they’d been his own boys. Still, something had been broken, and Dean was starting to doubt whether it would ever be mended.
It made him wonder whether it was worth it, falling in love so deeply that you’d be shattered if you lost the other person. It made his chest feel tight just to think of it. Dean had to remind himself that he didn’t have anything to worry about – he’d never fall in love like Bobby and Karen, or like his parents. He didn’t think he had it in him. More to the point, he couldn’t see anyone falling in love with him. The mere thought was ridiculous; wanting to be in love was as preposterous as wanting a flying horse. Sure, it’d be nice. But it was never going to happen.
“I don’t care if it’s not useful!” Sam yelled. “I like history, and I’m joining History Club! What’s the big deal, anyway?”
“I just don’t want you wasting your time!” John retorted. “I don’t mind about the debate team, but what’s the point in spending two hours a week doing more history? Do you really think it’s gonna help with your career?”
Sam made a loud noise of exasperation. “Dad, I won’t even go to college for another four years! Can’t I just do something I enjoy for once? Why should it always be about where it’s heading? I don’t even know what I want to do when I grow up, give me a damn break!”
“Don’t you talk to me like that! I’m just thinking about—Sam, don’t you walk away from me. I am your father, and you will show me some respect! Sam, I—Sam, get back here! Sam!”
Dean winced as his brother’s bedroom door was slammed shut with enough force to make the whole house shake. He heaved a sigh and threw aside the copy of FHM he’d been reading. His mother was out with friends, so he was going to have to do some damage control.
He found John in the kitchen, angrily making coffee and getting more granules on the counter than in the pot.
“I don’t know what the hell I’m gonna do with that kid,” John grumbled. “He’s so damn smart. He must get that from your mom’s side. He could do anything he puts his mind to, but he’s so damn stubborn as well, and what if…” He sighed.
“He’s not gonna screw up,” Dean said quietly. “You know he’s just gonna get more stubborn the more you tell him what he can and can’t do. I know he’s just a kid still, but he doesn’t feel like he’s a kid anymore. He wants to be treated like he knows what he’s doing.”
John smiled at him grudgingly. “When the hell did you get so insightful?”
Dean looked away, embarrassed. “Um… I’ll go talk to him. Get him to calm down.”
“Thanks, Son,” John sighed as Dean left the room. “I’m glad I can depend on you.”
Dean ignored the pang his father’s words caused him. Dependable. Predictable. Boring.
There was no reply when he knocked on Sam’s door, but he could hear the maudlin tones of Nirvana or The Manic Street Preachers, or whatever wrist-cutter band his brother was favoring that week.
“Sam? It’s me. Can I come in?”
No reply again, but the music was turned off which Dean took as a yes.
He found his brother lying on his bed with his back to the door. “Dad’s a jerk,” Sam mumbled. “What’s the big deal if I join History Club? Ava’s joined and her parents didn’t mind. They were actually pleased she wanted to do something extra, like any normal parent would be. Like Mom was when I told her last night. What the hell is his problem?”
Dean sat at the foot of the bed. “Look… I know Dad can come on a little strong sometimes—”
“Okay, yeah, I know. But he’s…” Dean tried to find the words. He’d never been good with words. How to tell his brother that he was lucky John got angry with him. John only got angry when he really cared about something. How to explain that Sam was lucky that his dad cared so much about his future, had such high hopes for him, that he’d make a big deal about a stupid history club. How to explain that Dean envied him. That he understood that Sam was under pressure and it must be frustrating, but hey, John was actually fighting for his future. John wanted him to get out into the big wide world and do something amazing. How to explain all of that without sounding like a whiney bitch. “Give him time,” he said eventually. “He’ll cool off, and Mom will talk him round. He’s just really… practical, you know? He’s always thinking three steps ahead, and sometimes he gets so… caught up in what he wants for you he forgets that it might not be… I dunno. He means well. Just… don’t get so mad, okay, Sammy?”
“Sam,” his brother replied half-heartedly.
Dean knew he had won.
September wasted away, and October saw the stores of Lawrence stocking up on candy and costumes for Halloween. Dean couldn’t normally get up much enthusiasm for the holiday because for the last few years he’d had to take Sam Trick-or-Treating, but this year Sam had been invited to a party at Andy’s house, so Dean was free to do as he liked.
“So you guys are all free next Friday, right?” Pam asked a week before Halloween. “I was thinking the four of us could get together at my place for a creep night. You know, I could do a séance, and we could have a horror movie marathon and eat so much junk food we barf.”
“Sounds good,” Jo said. “You know, minus the barfing.”
“We could have a run-down of horror through the ages!” Dean enthused. “You know, Nosferatu to Blair Witch. Oh man, I’m gonna put a list together.” Dean didn’t care that he was being a geek. Horror movies were his thing, okay?
He was actually really looking forward to it. He knew it wasn’t a big deal and it was just a night in with friends, but he couldn’t help himself. He felt like an evening of mindless fun with people he loved was just the distraction he needed right now. He’d been put in charge of getting the movie collection together, and he felt confident that he’d got a good combination of mainstream and cult classics. And okay, most of the cult classics featured the lovely Barbara Steele in the lead role, but he was sure none of his friends would mind.
He dropped the films off at Pam’s house after school on Friday, and promised to return as soon as he’d picked up some frozen pizza. Dean did not have as much of a sweet-tooth as his friends and he didn’t think he’d last the night on candy alone.
There was a general store just a couple of blocks away, so Dean decided to walk it. The early evening air was chill and crisp. He walked slowly, enjoying the crackle-snap of fallen leaves beneath his boots and the way the air smelled dusky. People’s front yards were decorated with streamers and pumpkins and plastic skeletons. Dean could remember when he was little and Sam was still a baby; Mary would make pumpkin cookies and they’d all sit around watching Scooby Doo. Thinking about that gave him a strange, wistful ache in his chest.
Everything should have gone so smoothly. Dean should have got to the store, bought a couple of pepperoni pizzas, and returned to his friends.
Instead, he ran into Gordon.
Gordon was a couple of years older than Dean and went to the local college. Dean had met him through Steve, who relied on the older guy for his supply of alcohol and pot. Dean didn’t especially like Gordon but, unlike some of Dean’s other associates, the guy had a brain in his head and could hold a half decent conversation.
“Hey, Winchester!” Gordon hailed him from the other side of the shop.
Dean looked up and smiled, even though his heart sunk a little; it was like he already knew what was going to happen next. Reluctantly, he walked over.
Gordon’s smile was amiable enough, but there was always something about him that made Dean not want to piss him off. “Any plans for this evening?” he asked.
“Oh… just hanging out with some people,” Dean replied dismissively.
“Well, you should come hang with us!” Gordon said, slapping him on the arm.
“I would, man, but I’ve really gotta—”
“Oh, don’t be a buzz-kill! Come on, there’s some people I want you to meet. A bunch of us are gonna be hanging out at Pioneer Cemetery, and there’s this great girl who really wants to know you. Just come along for an hour or so, and then you can get back to your school buddies.”
Dean didn’t miss the hidden barb and, much to his shame, he fell right into the trap Gordon had set for him. “We-ell, I guess I could come along for an hour or so.”
Gordon laughed. “Wise choice, my man. Wise choice.”
Dean left the store with Gordon, sending a short text message to Pam saying something had come up and they should start without him. He really would only miss an hour or so, and if he was lucky that would mean the séance would be over by the time he got there. He would never tell anyone this ever, but Pam’s séances always freaked him out.
“So,” he said to Gordon as they stepped out into the chilly air. “This chick who wants to meet me… she hot?”
As it turned out, she wasn’t. At least, she was only attractive in that really obvious way that doesn’t make you think too hard. She wore too much makeup, had overly-bleached hair, and called herself Starla or something. To be fair, Dean had been going after that kind of girl quite a lot recently, so he couldn’t really blame Gordon for thinking he’d like this chick.
Starla gave him a sticky-sweet smile and draped an arm around him. Dean thought longingly of his friends, but he knew the part he had to play well and didn’t let his regret show. He gave Starla a lazy grin, letting his eyes trail up and down her body.
Gordon passed Dean a bottle in a brown paper bag, and he sat down on a tombstone to take a swig. He was glad that he’d decided to sit down, because what Gordon had given him wasn’t beer or whiskey or anything that Dean had ever had before. He choked.
Gordon laughed. “A little much for you, kid?”
Dean glared at him, his eyes watering. “Jesus, did you even wait for it to distil?”
“Oh come on, don’t tell me you can’t handle the hard stuff. You disappoint me, Winchester! I thought you were made of stronger stuff. It won’t kill you – we drink it all the time.” He gestured towards the assorted wasters who were gathered in the cemetery.
Dean resisted saying yeah, you look like it. He knew what was going on. He knew Gordon was goading him into drinking more of that crap. Worst of all, he knew he was gonna fall for it. Starla was laughing huskily and started to kiss his neck; she smelled like stale cigarettes through her heady perfume.
Fuck it, Dean thought, and raised the bottle to his lips again. It went down easier this time. He’d just stay a few more minutes, he told himself. His friends wouldn’t mind. Anyway, this was exactly where he belonged: in the dark, in the cold, with losers like him. He took another swig.
Dean had only closed his eyes for a couple of seconds, he was sure of it. His head had been spinning so he’d sat on the ground, and looked up at the stars. It had felt like he was drifting away. The voices of the others had merged into one indistinct blur in Dean’s head, and he’d tried to ignore Starla’s hands on his body and the way her acrylic nails scratched unpleasantly. The bottle of rancid alcohol kept being passed to him, and he’d drunk from it mindlessly. It felt like the stars were getting closer…
When he’d opened his eyes again, he was alone in the cemetery. It had taken him a couple of minutes to figure that out because every time he tried to lift his head he lost balance. He breathed in through his nose deeply, trying in vain to steady himself. Shit. The memory came, completely unbidden, of the last time he had been drunk like this. His body clenched in panic because fuck, he never let himself think about that and fuck, what if it happened again, and fuck, how the hell could he have been so stupid?
He threw up, but didn’t feel better afterwards.
He’d have to get back to Pam’s house. He knew that it was late now and they’d be mad at him, not least for showing up completely wasted, but it was his only choice. He couldn’t go home like this. Dean sat on the ground, trying to clear his head. His neck was stiff from lying hunched against the tombstone. He’d go to Pam’s. He doubted he’d be able to walk there in the state he was in, and there was a danger he’d get picked up by cops for being drunk, because they were always extra vigilant on Halloween. He forced his brain to think. He’d call a cab. He knew that the cemetery was right next to Constant Avenue and the college campus, so he’d have them come pick him up from there. He reached into his jacket for his cell phone, but couldn’t find it. He tried the other side for his wallet, but that was gone too. It took a few minutes of fruitless searching for Dean to figure out what had happened. Fucking Gordon and his friends has got Dean drunk, and when he passed out, they’d robbed him. His stomach turned, and he threw up again.
There was nothing for it: he’d have to walk now. Stupid. How could he have been such a fucking stupid moron? This was classic Dean Winchester. He’d let everyone down once again, the eternal screw-up. He hated to think of what his parents would say. He hated to think of Pam and Jo and Ash, who must have been waiting for him for hours. They didn’t deserve this. He wasn’t worthy of their friendship.
Dean hauled himself to his feet and took a guess at the direction he needed to head in. This would be easier if everything wasn’t swimming the way it was. Fuck, what had he been drinking? He couldn’t walk in a straight line, and he prayed that he wouldn’t run into any cops. He couldn’t imagine what his father would say if he got a call asking him to pick Dean up from the police station. Gingerly, he made his way out of the cemetery.
Dean breathed deeply, concentrating on the lights he could see up ahead, forcing himself to just keep going. Damn it, he was sure he was going to reach Constant Avenue any minute now. Why the hell was it so dark? Still, if he just headed towards the lights, he’d find his bearings soon enough. He just had to keep going. His head would clear, and then he’d—
Dean’s foot slipped, and he fell. He was on some kind of… hill. A really steep fucking hill. What the hell? He tried to get to his feet, and fell again. It was all so quick that Dean hardly knew what was happening. He slipped downwards, helplessly struggling to stop himself, and then he hit water. It was so cold it took his breath away; he tried to hold onto something, anything, but he just got handfuls of wet earth. His head was spinning with panic and alcohol. It was too dark. He slipped down, down beneath the water, and it pressed in on him even as he tried to escape. He gasped for air but breathed in a lungful of icy water instead. He choked, panic overwhelming him. And then it stopped. He stopped. Everything was cold and dark and still, and Dean didn’t fight anymore. I am dying, he thought. This is how I die. He felt peaceful. He felt that, all things considered, this was probably for the best. He allowed the oblivion to consume him.
The next thing that Dean was aware of was the worst pain he had ever known in his life. He couldn’t see. He gasped for breath, but it felt like there were needles in his lungs, and he made a small whimpering noise. His entire body felt like one giant bruise. I am in Hell, he thought. I died, and now I’ve gone to Hell. He tried to move, tried to get away from the pain, but he couldn’t. His body wasn’t doing what he told it to do. It was too much. He wanted the oblivion again; he wanted the pain to end. He tried to cry out, but it hurt too much. His whole chest felt like it was burning from the inside. He had never felt fear this intensely. He hadn’t been afraid when he had known he was going to die, but this was a different story. He could taste blood in his mouth. Why couldn’t he see anything?
“Lie still,” someone said. “The ambulance is on its way. It’s going to be all right.”
Dean tried to speak again, tried to tell whoever it was that he wanted to go back, that it was too much, that he felt like he’d been broken into painful shards and he couldn’t take it anymore. He managed a dry sob.
“It’s all right.” The other person was holding onto him, and Dean realized that he was shivering violently. “You’re going to make it. Just a little longer.” Something was being wrapped around him. It occurred to him that he wasn’t dead after all. He was in pain because he was alive.
Dean couldn’t feel his hands, but he was suddenly aware that he’d grabbed hold of the other person, was practically clinging to them. Please help me. Please stop it hurting. Don’t let go.
“It’s all right. I’ve got you. You’re going to be fine.” Dean was being held tightly, and he forced himself to focus on that instead of the pain, instead of the roaring in his ears. Arms around him. Not alone.
He could make out lights now. Blue flashing lights, and a siren. There were people shouting, but it was okay. Just as long as they did something to make the pain stop. He blinked a couple of times, ignoring how it stung. Someone was looking down at him, so close, and their eyes were intensely blue.
“Oh,” Dean whispered. “It’s you.” And then he slipped back into unconsciousness.
Dean could hear the ocean. It sounded like the tide was turning.
He breathed in and out very slowly. Carefully. Anything more than that would be… bad. In…and…out. He was coming back to himself in strange pulses; it felt like he was wrapped up in cotton wool. In…and…out. It was important, he realized, that he didn’t move his head. He couldn’t be sure, but he had the horrible feeling that it might fall off if he tried. He couldn’t really feel any of his body, there was just a general… awareness, which made Dean grateful that he couldn’t feel, because he suspected that it would be painful if he could.
It took him some minutes to figure out that he couldn’t hear the ocean after all. It was the sound of his heart beating in his ears. So he was still alive, then. Gingerly, he swallowed. It didn’t hurt.
Opening his eyes proved a little more difficult; Dean had to persuade his body that yes, he really did want to wake up. Even when he was able to crack his eyes open a little way it took a while before he could get them to focus. He was eventually able to see that he was lying in a bed in a stark, white room. A hospital room. Oh. He’d… he’d been in an accident. He remembered that. He slowly ran his tongue across his chapped lips.
Dean’s mom was sitting beside his bed, holding his hand. Dean managed to give it a little squeeze, and Mary looked up, startled. Her eyes opened wide when she saw he was awake.
“Oh my god, Dean!”
Her other hand reached out to touch his face gently. He could see where the tears had dried on her cheeks.
“Mom…” Dean rasped, but apparently that was too much for his abused body. Talking made him cough, which made him inhale sharply, which made a jagged burst of fiery pain shoot through his lungs. Dean winced and breathed in slowly through his nose, trying to force his body back into relaxation. His head throbbed angrily.
“Shh, shh,” Mary soothed, pushing him back into the pillows. “It’s okay, love. Don’t try to say anything just yet.”
Dean looked at her and felt instantly calmer. The pain gradually lessened.
Mary smiled shakily. “You’re going to be fine. The doctors—” She paused to check the tremble in her voice. “The doctors say you had a close call, but that you’re gonna be just fine.”
Dean managed a smile. Her face blurred, swam back into focus, blurred again.
The next time he woke up, there was a young blonde doctor in the room who explained to Dean that he’s almost drowned, and that he was very fortunate that he didn’t seem to have sustained any brain damage. He’d fallen into a small lake on the college campus and, she told him with a disapproving look, it would most likely not have happened if he hadn’t been intoxicated. She went on to explain to Dean about cerebral hypoxia and a load of other complicated medical shit that Dean didn’t understand. He was very grateful when she left.
The next day, Dean was able to sit up (with the assistance of a very cute nurse), and eat some soup. It wasn’t half bad for hospital food. It still hurt his chest to talk and he felt like he’d pulled every muscle in his body, but there was a TV in his room and he could work a remote, so that was something.
His family came to visit in the afternoon. None of them talked too much, knowing that Dean wasn’t up to it yet. Mary was sweet and attentive and made Dean feel one hundred times better just by being there. John barely spoke a word and had a strange, pained look on his face. Still, he squeezed Dean’s shoulder – a little more tightly than Dean would’ve liked – and gruffly told him that he was glad Dean was okay. Sam looked pale and scared, and could hardly look at Dean at all.
It was only then that it hit him – he had almost died. He’d really almost died. In fact, if the doctors were to be believed, he had died for a couple of minutes before he’d been brought back by… by… he couldn’t remember.
He’d almost died, and while his life might not matter to himself very much, he knew he mattered a hell of a lot to his parents, and to Sam. Sure, they fought and teased and were brothers, but Dean knew the fierce, protective love he felt for Sam, and he knew Sam loved him too. Sam looked up to him, much as Dean didn’t deserve it, and Dean’s death would have broken him. Dean had been an inconsiderate, thoughtless son-of-a-bitch.
Embarrassingly, when his family left Dean had started to cry. His mom hugged him tightly while his dad pretended not to see.
Dean blamed all the painkillers he was on.
The day after that, Dean actually got out of bed. He was very unsteady on his feet and his muscles screamed in protest, but he was determined. He shuffled over to the bathroom, thinking how awkward it was when you had to drag a saline drip behind you.
Glancing in the mirror, he could kind of understand why his family had all looked so worried: Dean looked like crap. He was pale and wan, and his eyes were bloodshot. Crap, had the nurse just been pity flirting with him that morning? He splashed a little water on his face.
Dean then began to tentatively examine his body for damage. There were scratches on his forearms which didn’t go too deep – that must have happened when he’d fallen. There were a couple of nasty-looking bruises on his shins, but he couldn’t think where they’d come from. He knew he’d pulled something in his back because it kept spasming painfully if he moved too quickly. The strangest thing of all was when he pulled up the sleeve of his pajama top. On his arm, just below his right shoulder, were some very weird bruises. Dean cautiously reached up to touch them, and that was when he realized that they were in the shape of a hand. Four fingers and a thumb were imprinted on his skin. Dean winced; they were tender.
So that must’ve happened when… when… he’d been pulled out of the lake.
He could remember more now. He remembered that dick Gordon had stolen his phone and his wallet. At least he’d never have to explain that to his family now. He remembered how he’d tried to get back to Pam’s, and felt a fresh pang of guilt over how he’d treated his friends. He could remember falling into the lake. He remembered the pain and terror he’d felt when he’d been dragged back to life, and he remembered that someone had been there to comfort him. He remembered that someone had held him tight. He remembered blue eyes. A shiver ran up his spine. Something had just occurred to him, and he thought he… remembered all of it.
Dean made his way painfully back to his bed. A nurse – not his favourite – was making up his bed. She smiled when she saw Dean. “You’re on your feet! Good. The sooner you start exercising those muscles the better.”
“Yeah,” Dean replied hoarsely. He still wasn’t breathing easily. “Um, I don’t suppose you know… where are the clothes I was brought in in?” Mary had brought him new pajamas and underwear, so he hadn’t really thought about his clothes till now.
She considered for a moment. “Well, they would’ve been taken to get washed, but I guess they’ll be in your cabinet there.” She gestured towards the small bedside cupboard beside Dean’s bed.
Dean waited until she’d gone, then he carefully stooped to open it. His jacket and jeans were what he saw first, but there on the shelf below was the thing he’d been expecting to see but which made his stomach flip all the same. It was Castiel Delacroix’s trenchcoat.
“Hey, Sammy,” Dean said.
Sam looked up at him shyly.
“You okay, dude?”
“Yeah, I just… you really scared me.”
Dean grimaced. He was sitting up in bed eating a pot of green jello, and Sam had stayed with him while their parents went to get coffee. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“And… and when the hospital called it was the middle of the night. I woke up, and I could hear Mom crying, and I went out of my room and she was running about trying to get stuff ready, and Dad was just standing there, really pale, like he was too scared to do anything. I’d never seen them like that, Dean, and it—” He broke off, distressed.
Dean reached out and grabbed Sam’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”
Sam bit his lip. “I know. It’s okay, I just… it was so scary. Don’t do it again.”
“I won’t. I was an idiot, and I’m sorry. I swear, I will always be your pain-in-the-ass big brother. Hey… are we cool?”
Sam smiled at him grudgingly. “I can’t believe you almost drowned in an ornamental pond.”
“It was a lake!” Dean said defensively. “A big lake!”
Sam snorted. “I’ve seen it – there were water-lilies. It’s an ornamental pond.”
“I’m telling Mom.”
They grinned at each other, and Dean started to feel better.
“Would you do me a favor?”
Dean pressed his lips together. He’d been obsessing over this since the day before when he’d figured out exactly who had saved his life.
“I was wondering if you could do something for me. I was wondering if… when you go to school tomorrow, if you could… I mean if you get the chance…”
Sam sighed. “If you could finish this sentence before I graduate, that’d be great.”
Dean threw his empty jello pot at him. “Okay, Sarcasmo. I was just wondering if you could talk to someone for me. It’s… it’s a senior, and his name’s Castiel. Ask Jo if you don’t know who he is. Just… Could you maybe let him know that I’d really like to see him? I mean, if it’s not… if he’s not too busy. I just… I really need to see him.”
Sam nodded, determined. “Sure, I’ll do it.” He didn’t ask any questions, for which Dean was grateful.
Dean felt easier after that. He didn’t know what it was, but the thought of talking to Castiel Delacroix was becoming an obsession. It wasn’t just that Dean wanted to thank the guy, though obviously that was part of it. It was… a feeling that something really important had happened on Halloween, that something had taken place between him and Castiel that only they could understand, and he felt like if he could just be with the other guy he’d feel easier in himself. He felt like maybe Castiel had the answer to something.
Sam wouldn’t let him down, he was sure of that much. Always the over-achiever, the kid was incapable of leaving any challenge incomplete. He’d find Castiel and he’d give him Dean’s message. It all depended now on whether Castiel would be interested in seeing him. This thought sent Dean’s anxiety going again.
The next day was Saturday, and Dean was woken up at the ungodly hour of… well, ten-thirty in the morning, by Jo Harvelle.
Jo gently squeezed Dean’s hand, and he opened his eyes groggily. He smiled. “Hey, blondie.”
Jo made a strangled noise and threw her arms around his neck. She held onto him tightly, making Dean whimper in pain.
She pulled back, her eyes over-bright. “Oh, I’m sorry, Dean, did I hurt
“Ow! Jo, what the hell?”
“You fucking jerk!” Jo yelled. “Do you have any idea how worried we all were? Fuck! I mean, you just didn’t show up! We waited for ages and then your phone was dead, and… and then my mom called and told me… You’re a fucking dick, you know that, Dean?”
“And then! Then! I found out that all this happened because you decided to blow us off to hang out with a bunch of losers in the fucking cemetery! Have you any idea how that felt?”
“No, shut up! I know you’ve been going through some kind of… crisis, or whatever, and I have tried to be understanding, but I am fresh out of patience! I’m sorry if we’re not cool enough for you now. I’m sorry we don’t like to get drunk and throw up every weekend. But we have been your friends for years, and we have stuck by you and we’ve loved you, and we don’t deserve to be treated like this!”
“Jo!” Dean said, horrified. “No, it’s… It wasn’t like that!”
“Then how was it, Dean? Please do explain it to me.”
Dean gulped. “I just… it was never like that. It was the other way around. You…. You guys are too good for me.”
“Say what now?”
“Well, do you really think I enjoy hanging out with those people? You think I prefer their company to yours?”
“It certainly seems that way.”
“Shit, Jo…” Dean looked away, frustrated.
“What?” Her voice had softened a little.
“You’re all leaving, okay?” It burst out of Dean before he could stop himself. “Come September, you and Ash and Pam are all gonna go off to college, and you’ll leave, and you’ll start your lives for real, and I’ll just be the guy who got left behind in Lawrence, and you’ll all move on and forget about me. So I’m just… I’m just making it so that I’m not left completely alone.”
Jo stared at him. “That... Can I just… Dean, that is the biggest load of self-pitying, self-indulgent bull crap I have ever heard.”
Dean scowled, irritated. “Well, that’s easy for you to say, you’re—”
“No, actually, it isn’t! Dean, you have no fucking idea.” She looked at him sadly, and Dean sucked his lower lip into his mouth. It had been better when she was angry. “Dean, do you really think I’d just move on and forget about you? Is that what you think of me? Yeah, so I’m going to college next year, but that doesn’t mean… it doesn’t mean I’ll be suddenly better than you! It certainly doesn’t mean I’ll forget about you. In fact, not seeing you every day and hanging out with you and talking to you is going to be one of the worst things about leaving! Dean, you’re… you’re my best friend, you idiot! You’re the one I built a den with in the back garden the summer I was nine. You’re the one who came to my twelfth birthday party in that stupid dinosaur outfit because I was going through that Jurassic Park obsession. You were the one I went to when Mike broke up with me, and you made me laugh and told me he was an idiot, and watched crappy movies and ate ice cream with me till I felt better. I could never forget about you, you jerk! And god, if you’d just talked to us you would’ve figured that out a long time ago! Cause I’ve… I’ve really missed you. I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my life, and trying to build a relationship with my dad, and I’ve started dating someone new, and… and I really needed you but you weren’t there.”
Dean’s throat felt horribly tight and he didn’t trust himself to speak. He climbed out of bed and pulled Jo into a hug, not caring that it hurt this time. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
Jo sniffed. “I hate you.”
“I kinda hate me too.”
“You’re such a fucking idiot, Dean.”
“I know.” He pressed a hard kiss to the side of her head.
They separated, both turning away so they could wipe their eyes.
“You really scared me, you know,” Jo said mulishly.
Dean sat down on the bed. He picked at the scratchy blue blanket, focusing on the way the light coming through his window threw dancing shadows on it rather than the fact that he’d hurt his friend more that he’d possibly imagined. He really was a jerk. “It scared me too,” he breathed. His heart was beating hard from the effort of standing up. His head was aching dully.
“So will you promise me something?”
Dean nodded mutely. Right about now he’d promise Jo anything if it made things any better.
“Will you promise you’ll stop all this now? Please stop hanging out with those people. I don’t… I don’t want to spend any more time worrying about you.”
Dean swallowed hard and nodded again.
Jo came to sit down next to him. She linked her arm through his and rested her head on his shoulder. “Good, cause I don’t know what I’d do without you, doofus.”
They sat in silence for a while, which Dean was grateful for. He felt now more than ever that he didn’t deserve the friends he had, but he also knew that he couldn’t push them away anymore. He’d been horribly selfish, and the best thing to do was try to make it up to them. It had genuinely not occurred to him for a second that they’d think he wasn’t spending time with them because he didn’t like them anymore. God, Dean was a complete dick. He was going to have to turn things around. His life might not be going anywhere, but that didn’t mean the people he loved had to suffer.
“I need to talk to Castiel,” he said eventually.
“Hm?” Jo lifted her head and looked up at him, confused. “What, the weird guy from school?”
“Why? I wouldn’t think you’d have much to talk about.”
“Ordinarily I’d agree, but…” Dean hooked his feet around the bars under his bed. The cool metal was pleasant against his bare skin. “Jo, he was the one who pulled me out of the water. He saved my life.”
“Yeah. It took me a while to remember, but it was definitely him. I just… I really need to thank him. And I need to know what happened. I can’t really… I can’t remember all of it, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I just. I really need to see him, I think.”
Mary looked a lot better when she came to visit Dean on Sunday; the worry had mostly gone from her eyes. She handed Dean a bag of clean clothes and the car magazine he’d asked for.
“So good news!” She beamed at him. “I spoke with your doctor, and she said that you could come home in a couple of days.”
Dean tried to smile; he didn’t know why this information made him so nervous.
“It’ll be fine. You’ll be back on your feet in no time. And you know, everyone from your dad’s garage wants to throw you a party.”
Dean grimaced. He looked over to the table beside his bed where there were cards and gifts given to him by his friends from school, his family, Bobby and the others from the garage. “I don’t deserve a party,” he sighed.
“Don’t be silly. They love you.”
“Mom, I… You do know why I almost drowned, don’t you? I went out and got drunk when I’d promised to spend the evening at Pam’s. I acted like an irresponsible idiot, and now I… I just don’t deserve people being nice to me.”
Mary looked pained. “Yes, I know what happened.” She was wearing a light blue sweater, and she was worrying at the sleeve, pulling it taught and flicking a finger across the fabric so that it made a soft popping noise. She always did that when she was anxious, and Dean resisted the temptation to reach out and still her hand. “Sweetheart, I…” She broke off and stared out of the window, her expression troubled.
She sighed wearily, and Dean felt a fresh stab of remorse for the pain he must have caused her. “Dean, all I ever wanted was for you to be happy, and you haven’t been. Not for a while now. When you were little, you never stopped smiling. You were…” She laughed softly. “You were exhausting. But it was… wonderful. Do you know, I always knew when you’d woken up in the morning because as soon as you opened your eyes you’d start singing. It was so lovely. Your dad and I used to lie in bed listening to you singing and laughing to yourself, and it made us smile. Dean, it’s… it’s so hard when you have a child and you love them more than yourself, and you can see that they’re in pain but you can’t reach them.”
“Mom, I… I’m so sorry.”
She grabbed hold of his hand. “I don’t want you to be sorry. I want you to be happy. I… I know it must be difficult. I know Sam’s so intellectually bright, and everyone makes a big deal of that, but it doesn’t mean we love him more than you. You have to know that. Yes, we’re proud of him, but… Dean, I don’t care if you don’t go to college. It doesn’t matter – college isn’t for everyone. I just… Oh, Dean, I just don’t want you to give up on yourself. I know that if you give up now there will come a day when you regret it, and it would break my heart. Promise me you’ll try. Promise you’ll just get through this year, get your high school diploma. You may not think it, but you are smart, and you can do it. Just don’t give up. You have so many people who love you and who are rooting for you, and I… I just want you to be happy. Promise me you’ll try?”
“Yeah, Mom,” Dean whispered. “Yeah, I promise.”
Waking up now was like resurfacing. Dean didn’t know if it was because of the drugs they’d got him on or because regaining consciousness reminded him of the drowning now. And if that was the case, would it always be like this? Would there always be this panic associated with waking up, like it was a struggle, like he might not make it? Because that would suck.
Dean forced his eyes to open. It was Monday afternoon and he’d been watching TV, but he must have dozed off. Daytime programs were hardly scintillating.
He thought he was alone in the room at first, but then a strange frisson ran through him and he knew that he was being watched. Slowly, because he was still a little tender, he turned over.
Castiel was sitting Indian-style in the chair beside Dean’s bed, elbows on his knees, fingers steepled under his chin. He was staring at Dean intently, and apparently did not see any reason to stop doing so now that Dean was actually awake.
Dean stared back. He realized that he should probably be a little creeped out by all of this but, he figured, the usual boundaries of intimacy kind of didn’t apply with the person who brought you back from the dead. He was also filled with a sense of wonder. This was the one. The one who had saved him. The strange, pale boy sitting across from him had dragged him out of the lake, breathed life back into him, snatched him from death. Dean could have looked at him forever.
“They told me you were asleep,” Castiel said eventually. “But they said that I could wait.”
“I’m glad you’re better. Your brother told me that you wanted me to visit, so I came.”
“Yeah. Um… thanks.” Dean had never had to thank anyone for saving his life before, and he hadn’t thought it would be this awkward. It seemed crazy that as much as he had been desperate to meet Castiel properly over the past three days, now that he was actually here Dean didn’t have a clue what to say to him. He didn’t know where to begin. Castiel, however, seemed completely oblivious to his discomfort. He just sat and stared.
“What happened?” Dean asked quietly. “I mean, they told me the basics, but… what actually happened?”
Castiel looked at him, and Dean knew that he didn’t have to explain any further. “I don’t know why I was there. I mean, I don’t know why I went out. We don’t celebrate Halloween in our family, so there was no reason for it. I’d been feeling… restless. I’d thought that a walk might clear my head. I wandered around for ages; I didn’t really know where I was going. I didn’t want to go home because… well, I didn’t want to go home. But it was getting late, so I cut back across the college campus, and… and as I crossed the grounds I came across the boating lake. I don’t know what drew me to it. I just stood there, staring out over the water, and I felt… I felt troubled. It was like I knew that something was wrong or that something bad was about to happen, although I didn’t know what. You know? And then the moon came out from behind a cloud and I saw you lying face down in the water. You weren’t moving.”
“You pulled me out,” Dean whispered, instinctively placing his own hand over the bruises on his arm where Castiel had grabbed him.
“Yes. It was… really hard. You weigh a lot.”
Dean huffed a laugh. “Thanks.”
Castiel frowned, puzzled. “The thing I can’t explain is that… you were dead. You were cold and pale and you weren’t breathing. I couldn’t feel your heart beating. But when I touched you I knew. I knew that I could bring you back, and that you were still in there somewhere. I called for an ambulance and then I… I turned you over and I pumped the water out of your lungs, but you still weren’t breathing. So I…”
“You performed CPR,” Dean said softly. He had just realized that Castiel was as affected by all of this as he was. They looked at each other again.
“Yes,” Castiel said. “CPR.”
Which meant, Dean thought, that Castiel had breathed air back into his lungs, had beat his chest until his heart jump-started again. He had wrestled with Death, that night by the pond. He had battled for Dean’s life. And what was most amazing was that this awkward, strange, enigma of a boy had won.
Castiel lowered his eyes. “I remember shouting at you,” he said quietly. “Shouting at you to come back, telling you to fight. And then it was like you… you were thrown back into your body. Violently. You opened your eyes and you grabbed hold of my arm so tightly it hurt. I tried to comfort you, but you were so scared, and I… I don’t think you heard me.”
“You wrapped me up in your coat.”
A small smile. “Yes.”
“You know, it’s in the bedside cupboard if you want it back.”
“Thank you.” Castiel suddenly unfurled his legs and came to stand by Dean’s bed. He reached out and placed a hand over Dean’s heart. He didn’t appear to realize that what he was doing was weird, and in complete violation of all the personal space rules you’re supposed to have with someone you only properly met five minutes ago. “It’s beating,” he said.
“Um… yeah.” Dean was too surprised to actually do anything. “Yeah, I should hope so.”
Castiel gave a half smile. “The last time I checked, it wasn’t.” He didn’t take his hand away.
Dean swallowed. “It feels… weird.”
Dean kind of wished that the other boy would stop staring now. It was starting to make him feel… exposed. “So… Castiel,” he said lightly, trying to break the tension. “How’d you end up with a name like that?”
Castiel frowned with confusion, tilting his head to one side a little so that he had the look of a bewildered puppy. “Well… it’s what my parents decided to call me.”
“Noooo, I mean why Castiel? It’s an unusual name.”
“Oh. We’re all named after angels in our family. It’s a traditional thing.”
“Seriously? So you’ve got a Gabriel?”
“My eldest brother.”
“And a Raphael?”
“One of my uncles.”
“Do you really think that Castiel is unusual?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, I never met anyone called Castiel before.”
“I have never met anyone called Dean before. Is that an unusual name?”
“Uh… not really.” Dean was beginning to think that Castiel might be some sort of alien who had read books about being human, but hadn’t put theory to practice much. Still, he was fascinated. Leaving aside what he owed to Castiel, being with him was the first time in god knows how long that Dean had felt a spark of real interest. “Uh… I was thinking,” he said. “I mean, I understand if you’re too busy or if you don’t really… I mean, I get that we’re pretty different, but if you ever wanted to hang out, or…” Dean cleared his throat, and turned away, embarrassed. He didn’t even know why he was saying this.
“You’d like to be friends.” It wasn’t a question.
“Well… yeah. I mean, you saved my life, and I… Well, you’re not like anyone I ever met before.”
“I’d like that. I haven’t had an actual friend before. The concept is… intriguing.”
Dean laughed. Clearly Castiel thought of him as some sort of science experiment, but he was somehow okay with that. He didn’t think he would get easily bored with Castiel’s particular brand of weird. “Okay then,” he said. “The doctor says I’ll be out of here tomorrow, so… I guess I’ll see you at school.”
“That would be good. Goodbye, Dean.”
Dean wasn’t sure why, but in spite of the lingering aches, the hospital food, and the knowledge that he would be even more behind than he already was by the time he actually got back to school, he felt cheerful for the rest of the day.
Dean did not go back to school for another week. He’d been allowed to go home the day after Castiel’s visit, but he was still shaky and exhausted, and Mary insisted that he stay home until he was stronger. Of course, not being able to leave the house meant that he had to spend evenings in with his parents and sit through his dad’s many lectures on underage drinking and taking responsibility for your actions. Dean knew he deserved it, and he knew that getting angry was John’s way of showing concern – hell, he took after him in that respect. All the same, he took it for a sign that his dad was finally seeing him for what he was: a screw-up.
In spite of this, he was in no rush to get back to school. He remembered the promise he’d made to his mother at the hospital and he wanted to honor it, only… it was going to be difficult. And not just because the thought of going into school day after day and actually doing the work made Dean want to curl up in horror. He’d already been behind in all his subjects before the accident, and he was in a much worse position now. He wanted to do what Mary had asked of him and get his diploma, but he didn’t see how it was possible now. He’d missed too much, and he knew he wasn’t smart enough to catch up. Even thinking about the task ahead filled him with panic. Dean had a practical brain, a brain designed for action and on-the-spot thinking. He was no academic.
He wished that it could be like in the movies. In films, people had wake-up calls and decided to turn their lives around and it would just happen in the space of a two minute montage. Dean’s life was not a movie, and he couldn’t see any happy ending. He wasn’t sure if he was capable of turning things around and, truth be told, there was still part of him that didn’t really see the point. Still, a promise was a promise, and a promise to his mother was worth more than most. He had to at least try.
One consolation, though it was weird that he was even thinking about it, was that once he’d returned to Lawrence High he’d get to see Castiel again. He’d realized upon leaving the hospital that he didn’t have the other boy’s cell number and had no way of getting in touch with him; he’d have to wait until he saw him at school. Castiel was quite possibly the strangest person Dean had ever met. Dean kept re-playing their brief conversation at the hospital in his head, and he was becoming more and more convinced that they had next to nothing in common, so he really didn’t know why he felt so drawn to the guy. He couldn’t imagine hanging out with Castiel and watching a movie or any of the stuff he liked to do with his other friends. Still, the weirdest think about Castiel’s weird hospital visit was that being with him hadn’t felt weird at all.
Dean knew that there was no reason for him to keep thinking about the other guy. He told himself that they’d probably talk a few times before realizing that the bond they shared through Castiel having saved Dean’s life was not strong enough to breach the gulf that clearly separated their two lives. Castiel was book-smart and withdrawn, and clearly came from a strong religious background. Dean was a trainee mechanic who liked parties and horror movies and hadn’t actually read a book all the way through in years. They were too different. He told himself that, and yet…
The night before Dean returned to school, Bobby came over for dinner. This happened on a regular basis; Bobby was pretty much considered an honorary Winchester. What was different this time was that Bobby was wearing a jacket. And no hat. It was really weird.
“Uncle Bobby, your head looks kinda small,” Sam said.
Dean kicked him under the table.
“What? It does!”
“I just thought I’d make a bit of an effort for once,” Bobby said shiftily, not looking at any of them.
John laughed. “Since when do you dress up to come to ours? Come on, man, what’s the occasion?”
“It’s nothing,” Bobby growled.
“Oh come on, you—”
“Oh, leave him alone, John!” Mary said. “Bobby, don’t listen to him, you can wear whatever you want.”
Silence descended, but it was a loaded silence. The Winchester men kept stealing furtive glances at Bobby, who was staring resolutely at his pot roast.
“Oh, damn it to hell!” Bobby threw down his knife and fork. “Fine! If you must know, I’m meeting someone later, and I won’t have time after this to go home and change.”
The Winchesters stared at him in shock.
“Someone as in… a date?” Dean asked.
“Maybe. I dunno. It’s not a big deal.”
Bobby was looking more belligerent than usual, which the family took as a sign that they should back off. Still, this was big news. Bobby didn’t date. He hadn’t gotten involved with anyone since Karen’s death, and they’d all pretty much assumed that he wasn’t ever going to. Even Mary had stopped trying to set him up, and now here he was getting all smart to go on a possible date. Silence descended on the kitchen once more, broken only by the clatter of cutlery against plates. Dean sneaked a look at his father, who was trying his best not to grin. Bobby was still scowling and refusing to meet anyone’s eye. Unspoken questions hung heavy in the air, and Dean knew he wasn’t the only one who was itching to know who this mystery date was. Bobby looked like he wished he’d never opened his mouth.
As usual, it was Mary who came to the rescue. “So, Dean, are you all ready for going back to school tomorrow? Got all your assignments done?”
“Uh… yeah.” Dean figured that it wasn’t technically a lie. If you didn’t know if you had any assignments then you couldn’t possibly do them, in which case you could comfortably argue that you had done them because… okay, Dean knew it was a stretch. Still, if he’d told his mom the truth she wouldn’t be smiling at him like that. Like she was proud of him.
“Hey, Winchester, you’re back! I heard you’d died.”
“Yo, Dean! Is it true you overdosed in the park on Halloween?”
“Oh my god, Dean, what happened to you? Did you really try to kill yourself in the bathtub? Because that’s what everyone’s saying.”
Dean had been back in school for approximately five minutes, and he could already feel a tension headache building. It seemed that everyone in the school realized that something bad had happened to him at Halloween, but very few actually knew what it was. It hadn’t helped that his friends had all refused to answer any questions about what had gone down, although Dean knew they’d only been trying to protect him.
Jo had now taken it upon herself to act as his own personal bodyguard, glaring and shoving at people so that Dean could get to his locker. “God! When did this school become such a breeding ground for morons?” she ranted, glaring at a group of passing tenth graders who were all staring shamelessly at Dean.
“It’s fine,” Dean muttered. “It’ll blow over, it always does. No one talks about the time I got caught with Jenny Colbert in the girls’ locker room anymore.”
Jo gave him a look. “Yeah, and I know how much that pains you. Come on, let’s just get to home room.”
Dean tagged along wearily behind her. He’d made the mistake of telling Jo about his promise to Mary, and she seemed to be making it her personal mission to keep him on the straight and narrow. It was a little wearing but Dean still had a lot of making up to do where his friends were concerned so he didn’t complain.
Home room was noisy, and did nothing to ease Dean’s headache. To make matters worse, he got a note telling him that he had an appointment with Mr. Shurley, the guidance councillor, that afternoon.
“Shit,” he whispered to Jo. “You know the last thing I wanna do is go talk to someone I don’t know about what happened. Why can’t they just leave me alone?”
Jo gave his arm a little squeeze. “It’s just procedure. Jump through a couple of hoops and let them know you’re back on track, and they’ll ease off. This won’t last long.”
Dean grimaced, not sure how to tell Jo that he didn’t think that he was back on track.
Another blow to Dean’s peace of mind was that Castiel was in his home room, but the guy hadn’t even tried to come over. Dean had felt a burst of nervous apprehension upon seeing him and secretly hoped they’d be able to talk, but aside from a couple of glances Castiel had barely acknowledged his presence. Dean didn’t know why it bothered him so much, but it meant that he left for his first class of the day feeling even crabbier than before.
Unfortunately for Dean, his first class was Math. Henriksen was just as obnoxious as Dean remembered, and did not seem to make any allowances for the fact that Dean had been absent for over two weeks. They were doing calculus now, and as Dean had been having trouble keeping up with trigonometry he was pretty much screwed. When Dean realized that not only could he not follow the equations Henriksen was talking about, he didn’t know the meaning of some of the words he used, he gave up.
After the bell rang, Dean approached Henriksen’s desk with no small amount of reluctance. He cleared his throat. Henriksen, the bastard, did not look up from the papers he was grading.
“Um… Mr. Henriksen?”
“Is there something I can help you with?”
“I’ve… been absent for a bit.”
Henriksen finally did Dean the honor of looking at him. “I’d noticed.”
“So I… I’m a little behind.”
“You were behind before your little adventure. Now I’d say you’re failing.”
Dean breathed in deeply through his nose. “Well, I… I thought…”
“What exactly are you asking me to do for you, Winchester?” Henriksen asked.
Dean gritted his teeth; he hated this. “You know what? Nothing. Forget it. I… I’m obviously wasting my time.” He turned round and slammed out of the classroom.
English was even worse. Dean tried to concentrate on what Miss Bishop was saying about Hamlet, he really did, but he didn’t have the first clue what was going on. It was made so much worse by the fact that Castiel was there at the front of class answering all the questions and not so much as looking Dean’s way. Maybe Dean had imagined their meeting at the hospital. He’d still been on those painkillers, and the whole experience had had that surreal, hallucinatory quality to it. He could quite possibly have dreamt the whole thing, and why that would give him a feeling like there was a pit in his stomach he did not know.
He was asked to stay behind at the end of class. Miss Bishop had always been one of the nicer teachers, and Dean had actually felt a little guilty for never paying any attention to her lessons.
She smiled at him. “Dean, I know things have been tough lately, but we need to talk about your grades. Look, I… I know this is the last thing you want to hear on your first day back after the accident, but—”
“I’m failing, right?” Dean said resignedly.
“Dean, you haven’t completed any assignments this year. You flunked the test I set back in October. In fact, I’m fairly sure you haven’t even done any of the reading.”
Dean didn’t reply.
“Dean, you’re not a stupid kid. You could do well, and I really don’t want to have to fail you, but at this rate I—”
“It’s fine,” Dean barked. “I get it.”
“No, but I don’t want you to—”
“It’s fine! I’m failing. It’s… I haven’t done the work and I’m failing.”
“Dean, I don’t want you to give up. You could still…”
Dean had already backed out of the classroom and walked away. He had that stupid appointment with the guidance councillor in half-an-hour, and he wanted to at least get some lunch first. He didn’t think he could face Mr. Shurley on an empty stomach. So far, this day was putting Dean’s vow to never drink anything again until he was at least twenty-one sorely to the test.
“So… Dean. Dean… ah… Winchester.”
Dean slouched in his seat, staring at the pamphlets on eating disorders and drug use at the front of Mr. Shurley’s desk. The room smelled like disinfectant, and Dean really didn’t want to think about why.
“You know why you’re here?”
“I guess.” His nerves felt paper thin.
Mr. Shurley looked kind of nervous and tired which really boded well for a guy who was employed to help other people with their problems. “How are you feeling now you’re back at school?”
“Bored. Frustrated. Really fucking irritated with everyone and everything. Does that answer your question?”
“Uh… yes. Yes it does. Thank you for being so… forthcoming.”
“Great. Can I go now?”
“Well, I think we should discuss your plans for the future. Things have been tough for a while now by the looks of things and—”
“Do you care?”
Mr Shurley looked scared. “Do I… do I what?”
“Do you care? I mean, do you actually care about my problems? Is this what you love to do, fixing the lives of teenagers?”
“Well, I… I mean this isn’t… that’s hardly the point, Dean.”
“No, well it’s just that if you don’t, and I really don’t think you do, Mr. Shurley, I’d really like to just get back to trying to fix up my crappy life by myself. I’m not really the caring and sharing type, see, and I’ll be honest with you, I’m not gonna get anything out of these little sessions. So I’ll make you a deal: I won’t take up any of your time, and you won’t bother me with stupid questions about my feelings. No one tells the principle and everyone goes home happy.”
The councillor swallowed. “That’s really… that’s not…”
“Listen, ah, Chuck,” Dean read the name from the badge pinned to Mr Shurley’s jacket. “I don’t really care. Yeah, I know I messed up. Yeah, I know I’m flunking everything. But, see, I don’t think that anything that you can do or say is gonna help me. So I’m just gonna leave now.”
“Uh, but, Dean…”
“No, I was just told I had to come to the appointment. It didn’t say anything about actually getting anything out of it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a life to screw up.”
As Dean shut the door to the office, he heard Mr. Shurley feebly call “See you next week!”
Dean decided not to go to fifth period. It was only History, and as he was failing everything anyway he couldn’t see that it mattered. He wandered over to the sports field and sat down on the bleachers. It was too cold to be outside, but Dean didn’t feel like being around anyone. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets and sunk down into his jacket as much as possible. He closed his eyes against the milky November sunlight, turning his vision red. He felt safer, shut off from the world, like he could hide behind his closed eyelids and not deal with any of this ever again.
Dean had been sat like that for about five minutes when he felt a prickling sensation at the back of his neck like he was being watched. He opened his eyes slowly and looked around; the sports field was still empty. There were some birds a few feet away from him, and they’d found what looked like some french fries that someone had dropped. One of the birds tried to fly off with one but another made a grab at it and they fought, wings beating aggressively, their grating cries echoing across the field. Dean watched them idly. It was weird being alone like this. He wondered what it would feel like if he went back into the school and discovered that everyone else had disappeared and he was the only person left in the world.
“Fuck!” Dean got up and spun around so quickly that he lost balance, and Castiel had to reach out and grab his jacket to stop him falling over backwards. The guy really did have crazy good reflexes. Dean steadied himself, panting. “You… what the hell? What’re you… how long have you been sitting there?”
“A couple of minutes,” Castiel replied calmly. He cocked his head to one side. “Are you all right, Dean?”
“Dude, you scared the crap out of me! You don’t just sneak up on people then sit down behind them without saying anything!”
“No! It’s fucking creepy!”
Castiel frowned and lowered his eyes. “I apologize. I’m not very good at…” he waved his hand in an empty gesture. “Human interaction. I wanted to talk to you, but you looked peaceful and I didn’t like to disturb you.”
“You saw me earlier in home room.”
Castiel grimaced. “You were with your friend. I wasn’t sure if you’d…” He sighed. “In my short time at this school I have learned that I am not the kind of person that… many people wish to be seen with. I didn’t want to embarrass you.”
Dean sat down; he felt a little bad for the guy now. “Well… hey, you don’t have to worry about me. I don’t give a fuck what people think, and Jo’s cool. She’s my best friend. Next time just come over, okay? And… and don’t sneak up on me when I’m not expecting it. Say hi or… or at least make some noise when you walk. I mean what are you, a ninja?”
Castiel looked up, almost alarmed. “No, of course not!”
“I was kidding. But yeah, just be…” Dean was going to say ‘just be normal’, but he realized that that advice might be a little redundant in Castiel’s case. Besides, he kind of liked that the guy wasn’t like anyone else. “Just chill. You don’t have to worry. About me.”
Castiel relaxed a little, and Dean thought that he almost smiled. At least, a corner of his mouth twitched. “All right.”
Dean turned back to the playing field; the birds had flown away. There was a white, crisp November wind blowing, and Dean could see gossamer clouds skidding across the sky high above like feathers. It didn’t feel weird, not talking. Dean wasn’t usually comfortable around most other people unless he was playing his role, joking around, flirting, showing off. There were very few people outside of his immediate family, very few, that he could just be with, and they tended to be people he’d known for years. However, Castiel’s presence didn’t bother him in the least. It was kind of ridiculous. He was sat there with a weird, nerdy, super-religious ninja guy perching right behind him, so close that if Dean leaned back even an inch he’d be pressed up against Castiel’s shin. It should make Dean feel profoundly uncomfortable, and yet it was the easiest thing in the world. He wasn’t sure how much of that could be explained away by the fact that Castiel had saved his life because really he thought that something like that would make this situation even more awkward. All things considered, Dean felt that this was one of those things he should just not think about.
“So I’m flunking half my classes,” he said eventually, breaking the silence.
“What do you intend to do about it?” Castiel replied evenly.
“Pfft. Not much I can do. They’ve all written me off as a drop-out. I guess I’ll just have to let my mom know that I’m…” He sighed. “It’s not like I care anyway. This place isn’t gonna get me anywhere.”
“I think you do care.”
Dean turned around, irritated. “Oh, is that what you think, Sigmund Freud? Look, you and me are… we’re cool, okay, but don’t try to psychoanalyse me or any of that shit. You don’t… I’m not like you, all right? I don’t care about any of this crap. I’m just gonna end up working at my dad’s garage whatever I do, so… so what’s the point?”
“If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t have told me.”
Dean gritted his teeth. He couldn’t argue with that, although he’d really like to try. “Fine. Maybe I care a little bit, but what’s the point? Everything else I said is true. There’s no point in any of it, so I might as well not care, okay? I’m…” Dean turned around to look at the other guy. Castiel was staring at him intently, his expression unfathomable, and Dean momentarily forgot what he’d been trying to say. “I’m…” He cleared his throat and decided that it would be better to look at Castiel’s knees instead. “I hate to break this to you, Castiel, but the guy whose life you saved isn’t smart or successful or even especially nice. I let people down, okay? And I’m not gonna do anything special with this life you gave back to me. I’ve accepted that, and—”
Dean was interrupted by Castiel reaching out and grabbing his shoulder. He really did have a very strong grip, and his hand was right where the bruises had been left that night. They’d faded now, but the ghost of them remained so that Castiel’s touch made Dean’s skin sing. His eyes immediately snapped back to Castiel’s face, and he was shocked by the intensity in the other boy’s gaze.
“Don’t ever say that,” Castiel growled at him. “There was a reason that I was there that night, and there was a reason I saved you. You were meant to be saved, Dean. It happened for a reason, and I’m not going to let you give up on yourself.”
“Woah, okay! Okay! I’m… sorry.” Dean’s heart was beating a little faster than he would have liked. “Cas, you’re kinda hurting my arm there.”
Castiel relaxed his grip, but he still had that fierce look in his eyes. He really was a little intimidating. “I’m sorry. I have problems with… I just don’t want you to… I’m sorry. I’ve made you uncomfortable.”
“No! Well… yeah, a little. But I… I get….” Dean wasn’t sure what he got. “Why do you even think that about me? I mean, you don’t even know me.”
“I know enough. You’re not a bad person, Dean.”
Dean laughed uncomfortably. “Yeah, well, wait till you know me a bit better.”
“Dean, what are you going to do about your grades?”
“What can I do? I’m failing. I mean, I’d just promised my mom that I’d turn things around, but I guess it’s too late. Another let-down to add to the list.”
“You’re being incredibly self-indulgent.”
“Well, it just seems like you’ve got this idea into your head that you’re going to fail and it’s almost as if you want to now because you want to prove yourself right. Also, I think you’re afraid because you suspect that if you actually do try to do better and you don’t succeed, it will be far worse than if you’d never tried at all.”
Dean gaped at him.
“I think you should talk to your teachers. I’m sure there’s something you can do. If… if you like, I’ll help you. I mean, I can help you study. I’m good at schoolwork, and… and it will give me a reason to… Well, I’d be happy to do it. If you’d like.”
Dean finally found his voice. “You are the most… Why the hell do you even care?”
Castiel frowned and looked away. “I don’t know. So far I find you incredibly frustrating, but… but I want to…” He sighed. “I can’t explain it. I brought you back from the point of death. I feel responsible. In a way, it makes me your third parent.”
“Like hell it does!”
“It does, if you think about it.”
“Well, I’m not gonna! You are not my parent.”
“I just don’t like to leave a job unfinished. I believe we met for a reason, and I saved your life for a reason. Plus, we decided at the hospital that we were going to try to be friends. I have no prior experience of friendship, but I believe it entails elements of support and… and… being there for one another in times of crisis. If I am to be your friend I intend to do it properly. I can help you pass this year. I’ve been getting A’s in all my subjects. I would like to help you. Will you at least think about it?”
Dean thought. He thought about his mother and the promise he’d made. He thought about how Castiel was right, and he really was afraid of trying and failing, though like hell he was going to admit it. He thought about actually achieving something for once. He thought about how no one had bothered enough to notice that Dean was giving up on himself, and certainly no one had been willing to sacrifice their time to help him, until Castiel came along. He thought about how irritated he was with Castiel right now, and how the guy was self-righteous and presumptuous and obviously thought he knew best despite being ignorant of the circumstances. He thought about how Castiel seemed to think that friendship was something you got graded on and he was determined to get an A. Dean thought it was weird that despite being annoyed and freaked out, he still liked the guy.
“Okay,” he mumbled.
“Look, I don’t want you putting yourself out for me or anything. I don’t need anyone’s pity. I don’t think you—”
“You can stop talking now. Let’s go and see your teachers about getting some extra credit.”
Castiel set off across the playing field back to the school, and Dean was left to trail behind, feeling like he’d very much like to throw something at the back of Castiel’s head.
“So then he makes me stay behind after school to see all my teachers. Even friggin’ Henriksen who was a smug son-of-a-bitch about the whole thing. Do you realize how much work I have to do now, Sammy? Do you? Because I think it’s safe to say that I can kiss goodbye to my social life for the next decade. God, this was a horrible idea. A horrible, horrible idea. And he’s coming over tomorrow night to help me study for my science make-up test. It’s like… it’s like I bought a puppy or something. Yeah, it’s like I bought a puppy, and it seemed like a good idea at the time but now it’s taken over my life and it’s eaten my favorite shoes and I can’t go out anymore because it’ll pee in my bed. Yeah! Castiel is like a disruptive puppy!”
Sam looked up from his Biology textbook, confused. “You think Castiel’s gonna pee in your bed?”
“What? No! It’s a metaphor, Sam!”
“Right,” Sam sighed. “Poor you, having someone who’s offered to give up their time to help you despite the fact that you’re a complete jerk. Must be tough, Dean.”
“Shut up,” Dean muttered.
“You know, you don’t have to hang out in my bedroom. Feel free to do something else.”
“Oh come on, Sam! I’m not like you, okay? I’m not good at the whole study thing.”
Sam sighed again. “You’ll cope.”
“Dude, what the hell is your problem? Why are you being so pissy?”
Sam pulled a face and put his book aside. “I’m sorry. It’s just… there’s this girl in my English class.”
“Ooooh.” Dean grinned. “A girl! Well, that is something I can help you with. Who is she? Is it that Ava chick?”
“No! Ava’s just my friend. It’s… she’s called Ruby and she’s really pretty and smart, but she’s part of the popular crowd and she doesn’t even know I exist.”
Dean laughed. It would seem he wasn’t the only Winchester throwing himself a pity party. “Come on, Sam, have you even tried to talk to her?”
“No. There’s no point; we belong to different worlds.”
“That never stopped me. All you need is confidence. You know, make her feel special, tell a couple of jokes, don’t act desperate. Come on, if there’s one thing us Winchester men are good at it’s getting girls to like us.”
Sam looked up at him uncertainly. “You… you really think she’d like me?”
“Sure! If all else fails, say you’re related to me. She’ll see that you have the potential to turn into this in four years, and she’ll be all over you.”
Sam snorted. “Yeah, right. The fewer people at school who know we’re related the better. In fact, I’m thinking of starting a rumor that you were adopted from a family of circus people who left you on our doorstep.”
Dean threw a sneaker at his brother.
Castiel cornered Dean the next morning in home room. Or rather he loomed over Dean, who was talking to Jo about their plans for the weekend. He didn’t even say anything, he just stared until Dean broke off his conversation and looked up nervously.
“We need to talk. Outside. Come please.” He turned abruptly and walked out of the room.
Jo looked at Dean incredulously. “Do you think he was raised by woodland creatures?”
“I’ll get back to you on that one,” Dean replied as he got up to follow Castiel.
The other boy was waiting for him anxiously in the corridor.
“What’s up, Cas?”
“I have to talk to you.”
“Yeah, I got that. What about?”
“It’s about tonight. I… I can still come over, but I… Um.”
“Well, we may have to stop off at my house first. I need to pick up my notes, and also… well, my family are… it’s hard to explain.”
“Well, it’s no problem to swing by your place. It’s only a short detour, right?”
“Yes but, Dean, it’s more about my family.” He folded his arms across his chest. “You see, they’re very… they have these ideas about how things should be done. They’re very committed to the church, as am I, but… well.”
“Cas, while we’re still young?”
“The thing is, the only reason I was allowed to come to public school was because I persuaded them that I would use the opportunity to introduce more young people to our mission. I’ve been spreading the word amongst the students in the FCS, and that’s fine, but… well, I’m not exactly allowed to… Let’s just say that they would not look kindly upon my socialising with people outside of the context of the church.”
“So… what are you saying?”
“Just that… if you wouldn’t mind meeting them briefly. I am not asking you to lie, but I may have implied that I was… trying to convert you.
Castiel held up a hand defensively. “I know! I… Look, that’s not my agenda. I have no intention of…” He scrubbed his hand over his face. “I had to say it. I argued that it was more important for me to work with individuals who were not already open to the teachings of the church, and…”
“Aw, Cas, I don’t know about this.”
“Dean, I’m sorry. I know it’s reprehensible of me, but there was no other way I would be allowed to help you. All you will need to do is… is come over for five minutes and not… contradict any of their assumptions. I hate to ask this of you, and if it were my decision I would not involve you with my family, but…” He pressed his lips together, his eyes fixed on Dean’s shoes.
Dean felt acutely uncomfortable about all of this. Still, he figured it was the least he could do when the guy was going out of his way to help Dean study when he really didn’t have to. “Sure, Cas,” he said. “Don’t worry, it’s not a problem. I’ll ask Jo if she can give Sam a ride home.”
Castiel exhaled. “Thank you, Dean. I promise it won’t take up much time.”
“Don’t sweat it. It’ll be fine.”
He clapped a hand on Castiel’s shoulder, and the two of them walked back into the classroom together. Dean looked sideways at the other boy and noticed that he was almost smiling again.
“This really won’t take long.” Castiel’s fingers were beating a nervous tattoo on his knee.
“Relax, dude. Now, is it a left here?”
“Um, yes. Left, and then the driveway is at the end of the road.”
Castiel lived in the nice part of town. Actually, no. Dean lived in the nice part of town. Castiel lived in the rich part of town. This was where investment bankers and politicians had houses. Dean wasn’t exactly surprised; he knew that Castiel’s father had a huge following and that it must bring in lots of money. All the same, Cas really didn’t look like someone who was rich. Dean had only seen him wear about three different outfits, and he always seemed slightly… destitute.
Dean turned down a long, tree-lined driveway.
“We really don’t have to stay long. Just let me get my notes and we’ll leave.”
“Seriously, take it easy!”
“I just don’t want you to think… Never mind.”
Dean pulled up outside Castiel’s house. To be more accurate, it was a four-storey Queen Anne style mansion. He killed the engine. “Wow. Dude, you are gonna be seriously unimpressed by my place.”
“Don’t say that, Dean! I would never… you mustn’t think that I would ever set any store by property or—”
“I was kidding!” Seriously, did the guy take everything literally?
Castiel was sitting very still in the passenger seat, looking up at the house with wide eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I talk too much when I’m nervous.” He made no effort to move.
“Um… Cas? Are we doing this?”
“Oh! Um. Yes. Right.” Castiel got out of the car and walked quickly over to the house.
Dean followed, taking in his surroundings. It was a beautiful property, but there was something about it that was… cold. Dean felt like the house itself disapproved of him. He stood beside Castiel on the porch, hands in his pockets, while his friend fumbled with a set of keys. Before he could find the right one, however, the door was opened by a grey middle-aged man who looked at them both coldly.
“I expected you earlier than this,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” Castiel replied. “Um, Dean, this is my Uncle Zachariah. Uncle, this is Dean Winchester, who I was telling you about.”
Uncle Zachariah gave Dean a cold smile. “Ah yes, Castiel’s problem case.” He held out a hand which Dean shook reluctantly.
“I never said that,” Castiel protested quietly. “Um, Dean is… Dean is unfamiliar with the church, that’s all.”
Another cold smile from Uncle Zachariah. “Well, I hope that Castiel will bring you to the light. He is a fine orator when he puts his mind to it.”
“Uh, yeah,” Dean said. “Yes, Sir, it’s… all really interesting.”
“Well, you’d better get inside. We’re letting all the cold air in.”
Dean followed Castiel through the door, and quickly discovered that the inside of the house was just as unwelcoming as the outside. It was dark and smelled like dust and mothballs. The walls were painted dark red to complement the walnut wainscoting, but with the lack of light in the place it just made things look even gloomier. There was nothing about the house that suggested a family home; it was the kind of place that made you feel like you had to whisper, or like you’d get in trouble for touching anything.
Dean stole a glance at Castiel, who was looking acutely nervous. Poor guy. Well, Dean would make an effort, if only to avoid getting his new friend into trouble.
“Come on through,” Zachariah called. “We’re in the front room. We’re working on Martin Luther today. I’m afraid Anna is still a little unfocused.”
“I’m sorry,” Castiel muttered to Dean. “This really—”
“Won’t take long, I know. It’s cool.”
Dean didn’t know why Zachariah had complained about letting the cold air in, because the house was freezing enough as it was. He wondered if the place even had any heating, or if the family just didn’t choose to use it.
The front room had a high stucco ceiling and would have been quite beautiful if it had been made to look a little cheerier. It was full of heavy mahogany furniture: a large bookcase, several ornate coffee tables, an empty dresser. There was a set of hard-looking armchairs surrounding the fireplace, and there were two people sitting there: a young man who looked to be in his early twenties, and a redheaded girl who Dean guessed was a year or so younger than him. They were both reading, the silence broken only be the loud ticking of a large grandfather clock in the corner. Dean felt that even the air was heavy in this house.
“We have a guest,” Zachariah announced.
Castiel cleared his throat. “This is Dean Winchester, the boy from school I was telling you about. We’re not staying long. I am helping Dean with his studies. Dean, this is my older brother Michael, and my cousin Anna.”
Michael nodded in greeting, looking at Dean appraisingly. Anna said a quiet “hello.” Dean noticed that she was pretty but had a sulky mouth. She looked bored and miserable, and Dean immediately felt sorry for her.
“Well,” Castiel said. “I… We have to go. I need to collect some things and then. We, um. Have to go.” He tugged at the sleeve of Dean’s jacket.
“I hope we’ll see you again soon, Mr. Winchester,” Michael said. He had a clear, articulate voice, and Dean realized that Castiel wasn’t the only one in his family who liked to stare. Michael looked nothing like Castiel, and Dean would never have guessed they were brothers. Michael was fairer, more muscular. He looked well put-together in a light grey suit and white dinner shirt. He had the same penetrating gaze as his brother though, but while Dean had always been kind of amused when Castiel stared, Michael made him feel uneasy.
“Uh, yeah,” Dean replied. “Sure thing.”
“You will be back no later than nine, Castiel,” Uncle Zachariah called after them. “I will not be pleased if you miss silent prayer.”
“Yes, Sir,” Castiel replied.
Dean followed Castiel in silence as they walked along a corridor, up a flight of stairs, up another flight of stairs, along another corridor and up a third, much narrower, staircase.
“Here,” Castiel said tightly as they reached the top. “This is my room. I won’t be long and then we can leave.” Dean could practically feel the tension radiating off him, but he wasn’t about to say anything. He followed Cas into the room.
“How come they put you up here?” Dean asked. “I’d have figured a place like this would have enough rooms that you didn’t need to be in the attic.”
“Oh… I chose this room. I like to be up high. Away from everything.”
“Yeah, I… I get that.”
Castiel’s room was a good size, but very bare. In fact, it was completely empty apart from a narrow bed, a desk and a small wardrobe. The only mark of individuality was the row of well-cared-for books lined up on the windowsill. The room smelled like pine and cotton, and it seemed… lighter than the rest of the house. Like the mood had lifted.
“This won’t take long,” Castiel said, opening a draw of the desk and rifling through some papers.
Dean laughed softly. “Cas, you sound like a stuck record.” He wandered over to the window and looked out. He could see why Castiel liked it up here: there was a great view across the trees, and Dean could see the city in the distance. He thought that the lights must look pretty at night. The window looked over the back garden of the property which was a considerable size, although a large part of it was taken up by a whitewashed outhouse. “Hey, Cas?” he called. “What’s that building out back?”
“Hm? Oh, that’s our family chapel. We use it for evening prayer. Sometimes others come along.”
“Oh, okay.” Dean was friends with a guy who had a church in his back garden. His life was weird.
Dean’s read the titles of the books on the windowsill. They all looked really dull. There was a bookmark lying beside them with what looked like a poem written on it, and Dean picked it up to read.
For he shall give his angels charge over thee,
To keep thee in all thy ways.
They shall bear thee up in their hands,
Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
- Psalm 91:11-12
Well, that figured.
“My father gave that to me when I was a boy,” Castiel said, coming to stand beside him. “He always… he liked what the Bible says about angels.”
“Yeah, it’s… nice. I mean, I don’t know if I exactly believe in any of that stuff you know, but… yeah. Reminds me of something my mom used to say when I was a kid.” He put the bookmark down carefully on the desk. “So, does your dad come here a lot?”
He knew immediately that he’d said the wrong thing. Castiel’s face went blank, and he looked away from Dean. “My father has never been here. I haven’t seen him in five years. He… he’s very busy. His schedule means that he has to travel a lot, and… and he’s devoted his life to spreading God’s word, so… so it’s just us. My uncle decided to move here last year. My father keeps in touch by phone, but he mostly talks to Uncle Zachariah. He… advises us on how we should be spreading the word.”
“Oh. Right. So… So I guess your family is pretty close.”
“Not really. We are united by our faith, but we don’t… we don’t talk. I don’t know how… I… I don’t think we are like most families. We don’t talk about… about anything outside of the church. I spend most of my free time alone, reading or walking. It’s… it’s all right. I’ve never craved close companionship with others.”
Dean stared. It struck him that this was the most alone person he had ever met.
Castiel looked up at him. “We should go.”
Castiel was very quiet in the car. Dean didn’t know what to say. He could see now why Castiel had been so anxious about him coming over. Dean couldn’t imagine having a family like that, and he was suddenly very grateful for his own. His parents had never been super religious. Sure, they went to church at Christmas and Easter, but it wasn’t something they were ruled by. Dean didn’t get it. Surely if you believe in God that much, the best thing you can do is go out and enjoy the life that you’d been given, not shut yourself away in the dark, away from love and companionship, away from fun. He couldn’t reconcile himself to the idea.
He felt bad for Cas, having to go back to that night after night. Little wonder the guy had been so keen to come over to Dean’s and help him study. And what the hell was going on with Castiel’s father? Was he just another of those cold, emotionless men who was so committed to God that he forgot to love the people who were actually in his life? Was he another celebrity preacher who only cared about making money and didn’t really live by the lessons he was teaching? Either way, it sucked to be Castiel.
“Thanks for this, man. I mean, I don’t know if I’ll be the best student, but I’m gonna try. I… no one’s looked out for me like this before, and… and it means a lot.”
Dean had never been happier to see his own house with the basketball hoop above the garage and the old tree in the front yard, and the peeling paint on the front door that his dad kept promising to touch up but somehow never got round to. He thought he might ask his mom to make them some of her amazing hot chocolate while they studied. He thought Castiel might appreciate something warming before he went back to that chill, loveless house of his. No wonder the guy wore so many layers.
“Come on in,” he called, pushing the car door shut. “I thought we’d set up in the dining room. I’m gonna warn you, Cas, I haven’t studied in a long time and I’m not as smart as you are, okay?”
Dean scowled. “There’s no need to sound quite so smug about it.”
They went inside, and Dean threw his schoolbag down. “Mom?” he called. “You home?”
“In the kitchen!”
Dean grinned at his friend, who was still standing nervously by the door. “Come on through.”
Mary was sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper, and Dean was not surprised to see an empty coffee pot beside her. “How was school, honey?” she asked, not looking up.
“Yeah, it was fine. Uh, Mom, this is Castiel. He’s gonna help me cram for that Chem test I gotta do next week. Is it okay if we use the dining room?”
Mary’s attention was caught immediately. She got to her feet, staring at Castiel. “So you’re… you’re Castiel? The boy who… You were the one who found Dean that night.”
Castiel rocked a little on the balls of his feet. “Um, yes, Mrs Winchester. I—”
He was interrupted by Mary rushing over to him and throwing her arms around his neck. Castiel’s eyes grew very wide, and he looked at Dean over Mary’s shoulder with something very like panic, his arms held rigidly at his sides.
“Thank you,” Mary whispered, holding onto Castiel tightly. “Thank you so much for my son.”
“Um, that’s all right,” Castiel replied stiffly. He reached up and tentatively patted Mary a couple of times on the back.
Dean almost laughed at the look of complete bewilderment on Castiel’s face. Anyone would think he’d never been hugged before. And then it occurred to him: he probably hadn’t. Cas’s family did not seem like the affectionate sort.
“Mom, leave him alone. He came over for a study date, not to get assaulted.”
Mary pulled back, her eyes over-bright. She gave Castiel a warm smile. “Thank you,” she said again.
Castiel looked at her gently. “It was my pleasure.”
“Mom,” Dean insisted. “Is it okay for us to use the dining room?”
“What? Oh, of course you can! Yes, go wherever you want. Is there anything I can get for you?”
“Can we have hot chocolate? Oh, and some sandwiches. I’m starving. And… are there any of those muffins left over? The ones with the cinnamon?”
Mary grinned. “I’ll see what I can do. Castiel, would you like some hot chocolate?”
Castiel looked at her shyly. “I’ve never had it before, but… yes please.”
“All right then, I’ll go heat up some milk. You boys go get settled.”
Dean laughed softly as they left the kitchen. “You might wanna watch out – I think my mom wants to adopt you.”
Castiel didn’t say anything, but there was a soft look in his eyes. Dean picked up his bag from where he’d dropped it, and got out his long neglected Chemistry textbook. “Okay, how do you wanna do this?” He led Castiel through to the dining room, which the Winchesters only ever used for its designated purpose on special occasions. He noticed that his dad had put some sheets of newspaper on the table and had laid out some oily engine parts on them. Why the guy couldn’t just do that stuff in the garage, the rest of the family would never understand. Dean cleared them away, embarrassed. Castiel was used to things being a little more refined than this. The other boy didn’t seem to have noticed, though. He was staring at the family bookcase.
“You have so many titles,” he said quietly. “We only have religious books in our house. I don’t really mind; I find theology interesting, but it’s… nice to read something else occasionally.” He looked at Dean guiltily. “My family don’t know this, but I borrow other books from the library, and I stay up at night reading them.”
“Wow,” Dean replied flatly. “You rebel, Cas.”
Castiel did not seem to detect the irony.
Dean threw his book down on the table. “Okay, let’s do this,” he sighed. “Pull up a chair. Uh… where do you think we should, you know, start?”
Castiel frowned in contemplation. “Well, you’ll be familiar with the periodic table, so maybe we could go over some chemical compounds, and—”
“Uh, Cas? When you say familiar, you mean that I know what the periodic table is, right? I mean, I’d recognize one if I saw it.”
“No, I mean that you know all the basic elements.”
“I know that Fe is iron!” Dean replied defensively.
Castiel looked slightly aghast, and Dean scowled. Yeah, he knew he was behind, but now he was starting to feel stupid. “Okay, okay, I know I’m dumb. I did warn you.”
Castiel reached out and grabbed Dean’s wrist, making him wince. The guy had the hands of a rock-climbing jazz pianist. Dean looked up at him, because Cas really wasn’t giving him much of a choice.
“You are not stupid, Dean.” Really, it didn’t make sense that anyone’s eyes could be that blue. “You’re not. You’re behind, that’s all. You are more than capable of the task ahead, and I am going to make sure that you get through this.”
Dean’s mouth quirked into half a smile. “You’re really not gonna give up on me, are you?”
“Never. Now, open your book. By the end of this evening you will have the whole periodic table memorised.”
Dean sighed. He hoped his mom came through with the supplies soon, because he had the feeling that he was going to need all the sustenance he could get.
“Cas, I’m sure I don’t have to—look, most people just get notes online or something. I don’t have to read the actual play.”
Castiel gave him a look that said Dean Winchester, I will end you. “I was under the impression that you wanted to pass English. You need to do these essays for extra credit, and for that you need to read the play. Or do you not care about any of this after all? Am I wasting my time?”
Dean scrunched his hair in his hands. His skin was hot and prickly, and he felt like he really, really needed to just kick something right about now. This whole tuition thing had been a horrible idea. For someone who came across so awkward and thoughtful, Castiel could be a real slave-driver when he wanted to be. Which was all the fucking time as far as Dean was concerned. He’d even drawn Dean a timetable to help him manage his studies, and he’d color-coded it because apparently scientific studies had proven that the human brain responded faster to color than it did to text. He’d made Dean hang it opposite his bed so that it was the first thing he saw when he opened his eyes in the morning. To think, Dean had thought Castiel had actually cared when he’d asked Dean about his out of school commitments. No, the sneaky bastard was just trying to plan how much of Dean’s life he could monopolize with this insane regime. Stupid Castiel with his stupid multi-colored sharpies. Dean would very much like to get hold of Castiel’s sharpies and—
Dean let out a groan of frustration. “Look, I can’t, okay? We’ve already spent an hour on Physics, and now you expect me to read friggin’ Shakespeare?”
“We have to multi-task. The fact is that the only classes you’re okay with are Woodshop and Spanish, so we’ve really got to—”
“I know that, Cas, but… Shakespeare! I mean, this isn’t even English anymore! It’s… how the hell am I supposed to write an essay on this crap if I don’t even understand half the words?”
Castiel sighed wearily. “Okay. We can take a short break.”
“Thank you.” Dean took a long swig of the soda his mom had brought through earlier, and rested the can against his hot forehead. Castiel sat beside him in silence. “Hey, Cas?”
“When do you do your work?”
“In study hall, and when I get home at night after evening prayer is over.”
Dean grimaced. “So you spend your whole life doing schoolwork? Dude.”
“It’s not like I have anything better to do.” Castiel gave a small shrug. “And I like coming here.”
Dean moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue. He guessed he really should try to keep in mind that Cas was doing him a huge favor with all of this and he should attempt to be a more agreeable student. “So… can I ask you something?”
“Obviously you can ask me something as you have just done so. When requesting permission out of politeness you should say ‘may I’.”
Dean inhaled deeply, and valiantly resisted the urge to tip the remaining soda over his friend’s head. “Fine. I was just wondering… you remember that day out by the bleachers? You know, when Steve Pritchett was giving you a hard time and you…”
“Well… how did you do that? I mean, Steve’s not the toughest guy but I’ve seen him hold his own, and you just… it was awesome, man! You floored him.”
Castiel looked amused. “I’ve practiced martial arts since I was a child. Judo, Ninjutso, Krav Maga… We all have, the children in my family. It helps to keep us focused, channel our energies in a healthy way. A discipline for both mind and body. I practice every morning before I go to school; it wakes me up. I’m not half as good as Michael though, he’s…” Castiel frowned. “I’m not really supposed to actually use it on people. Not in real life. It was only ever supposed to be a… a method of personal improvement. But that boy was very provoking, and… it wasn’t as if anyone else was going to stop him. I’m not proud of it.”
Dean was fully aware of the reprimand in this, and changed the subject. “So your whole family do it then?”
“Yes. Although Anna isn’t as keen on it as Michael and I.”
Dean thought of the sulky girl he’d briefly met at Castiel’s house, and felt another pang of sympathy for her. “Anna. That’s… I mean, it doesn’t sound like an angel name. Was she not—”
“Anna is short for Anael.” The corner of Castiel’s mouth twitched. “We’re all angels.”
“So… how big is your family exactly?”
Castiel’s brows knitted a little, and Dean felt that he really wasn’t entirely comfortable discussing family matters. Still, he couldn’t help his curiosity – Castiel’s home situation was unlike anything Dean had ever come across.
“There’s a lot of us,” Castiel told him, “though I haven’t seen many of them in years. It was better when I was younger and my father was still around. He kept the family together. But then he realized that his true calling was with the world at large, spreading God’s word, and… and we’ve all kind of drifted since then. My father still leaves his instructions, but it’s… I don’t know. When I was little we lived in Denver near my uncle Raphael. I wasn’t close to him – he was never the kind of man you could be close to – but I got on well with my cousin Balthazar. We played together a lot, but then I moved away with my Uncle Zachariah, and I haven’t seen Balthazar in over seven years.”
“And you… you never hung out with Michael, or—”
“Michael isn’t the type you ‘hang out’ with, Dean. He is my… my elder. My superior in many ways. He has always been better than me. Stronger, you know? His faith is pure and unwavering. I love him, but I’m not… close to him. I can’t be. And Anna is… she’s always been the baby of the family, and she’s rebellious. Her heart is not with the mission, and… and I try to help her, show her how she could find it easier, but… I don’t know.”
“So it’s just you and Michael then, who’re your dad’s kids.”
Castiel grimaced again. “Ah. No. There’s… I have another older brother, the eldest, but he left some years ago now. We haven’t heard from him since.”
The look on Castiel’s face made Dean feel like he shouldn’t push anymore. He felt bad now for sticking his nose into Castiel’s family life, and when Cas suggested that they get back to work Dean didn’t complain.
“Just read over the soliloquy a couple of times,” Castiel instructed. “Then talk to me about your impressions.”
Dean read in silence. “I… Cas, I can’t. I can’t write one thousand words on this! I don’t even understand the language!” He threw the book down in frustration.
“Dean, you’re allowing yourself to become distracted by the words. Don’t think about that. What is Hamlet actually saying here? What’s just happened?”
“Well, his dad was killed by his uncle, right? And now his uncle’s hooked up with his mom. And his dad’s ghost came back and told him to kill his uncle, but Hamlet doesn’t want to cause he’s chicken shit.”
“You… may wish to word it differently in your essay, but yes. And what is he saying here?”
“Well, he’s… he’s thinking about death. He’s thinking about whether it’d be better to face up to things or just give up. Right? And… and he’s… he doesn’t know what’s gonna happen. It’s like he’s stuck at a crossroads. He’s scared to do what he knows he should, but… but the other option isn’t exactly attractive either. He wants to take that leap, but he’s scared of what’ll happen if he does.”
“Good,” Castiel breathed. “Sound familiar?”
Dean scowled at him. “Dude, what did I tell you about psychoanalyzing me?”
“No, it’s good. You should use what you can identify with in the essay – it will make it yours. Shakespeare is ageless, Dean. Get past the barriers of the antiquated language and you’ll discover the universal themes of our existence. Uncertainty, betrayal, fear of the unknown, jealousy, anger, greed, love… That’s why these plays have stood the test of time. People can relate to them because they are about the human condition. Find out what the story means to you, then write about that.”
Dean shook his head. “Cas, I can’t just… I’m not smart like you are.”
“Dean, look at me. Look. You are not stupid, and you are more than capable of doing this.”
There was something about the way Castiel was looking at him that made Dean feel exposed. “How can you be so sure?”
The other boy gazed at him evenly. “Because I have faith in you.”
“Winchester. A word.”
Dean groaned inwardly. “Mr Henriksen?”
The math teacher waited until the other students had left the classroom, then looked up at Dean. “You’ll be pleased to know that you passed your trigonometry make-up test. It was good work, Winchester – a solid B-minus. You’re finally putting in the effort.”
Dean tried his best to hide how pleased he was. “Well, I… I had some help. A friend’s been tutoring me, so it’s—”
“Don’t sell yourself short.” Henriksen actually grinned. “Look, I know I’ve been riding you hard. I know you probably think I’m a jerk and that I should get off your case. But believe me, Dean, I wouldn’t be half as tough on you if I thought you weren’t capable of better things. I push you because I know you could do well, and there’s nothing I hate more than a talented kid giving up on himself. I’m glad you’re finally giving that brain of yours a chance.”
“Uh… yeah.” Dean wasn’t entirely sure how to respond. “Um… thanks, Mr Henriksen.”
“Okay, get out of here. And don’t be late next lesson.”
Dean walked quickly towards the cafeteria. He was back in the game as far as math was concerned, and he couldn’t wait to tell Cas. Cas, who had put up with Dean’s swearing and ranting while he’d studied for the test. His vows that he was doomed to failure. He never would have gotten through it if it wasn’t for Castiel.
Dean stopped in his tracks and turned around to see Lisa Braeden leaning against her locker, smiling at him.
“Oh… hey, Lisa. What’s up?”
“I was just wondering if you wanted to do something tonight.” Her smile grew wider.
Dean swallowed. “What, you and me?”
She laughed. “Obviously. Matt and I broke up last week, and I really need someone to go to the new Robert Downey Jr. movie with. What do you say?” She took a step towards him, her smile indicating that she knew exactly what Dean would say.
The trouble was that Dean already had a study date booked with Castiel that evening. He’d barely scraped through his Chemistry test and there was still lots he needed to work on. On the other hand, Lisa was gorgeous, she was the head cheerleader, and best of all she wasn’t a prude. Surely Cas wouldn’t mind.
“Sure, Lisa. I’ll pick you up at seven.”
Dean walked into the cafeteria with a huge grin on his face, immediately honing in on where his friends were seated at the back. Dean was pleased to see that Castiel was with them. He used to spend his lunch times alone or with his associates from the Christian society, but lately he’d been spending more and more time with Dean and his friends. Dean wasn’t really surprised by how easily his gang had welcomed the new addition to their flock. After all, between Pam’s widely proclaimed psychic abilities, Ash’s computer hacking habit and Jo’s knife collection, none of them were exactly normal. True, Jo still stared at Castiel like he was some kind of space alien and Ash had found his complete ignorance of the Internet hilarious, but Dean could tell they accepted him. It was like an unspoken ‘welcome all outcasts’ rule.
Dean was genuinely pleased his friends liked Castiel, which made him wonder why it was that he sometimes felt jealous. Seeing Castiel engaging with other people, talking to them, smiling at them… It was weird. It wasn’t like Dean didn’t want the guy to spend time with other people, but he couldn’t get over this childish impulse to make sure that everyone knew Cas was his friend first and foremost. He… really didn’t want the other boy finding someone better and forgetting about Dean.
“Hey, Cas!” he called, throwing himself into the seat at the end of the table. “Guess who scored a B-minus in their trig make up test?”
Castiel was the only person Dean had ever met who could smile without actually moving his mouth. “Dean, that’s wonderful. I told you you could do it.”
“Thanks to you, man!” Dean slapped him on the shoulder and Castiel’s cheeks turned a little pink.
“It’s good to have you back, Dean,” Jo said, grinning at him. “Here.” She shoved a brown paper bag towards him. “My mom made you a BLT sandwich.”
“Joanna Beth, your mother is a wonderful woman.” Dean grabbed the sandwich out of the bag and took a large bite. “Hey, Cas?” he mumbled. “’m gonna have to cancel tonight. Something came up.”
Castiel’s brow puckered a little. “What’s happened?”
Dean swallowed. “Nothing. It’s just I have a date. Can we rearrange for Friday instead?”
Castiel’s face smoothed out so that he was completely expressionless. “I see.”
“It’s just that I don’t have anything big coming up right now, and I promise I’ll catch up over the weekend. And this girl’s really hot.”
Pam groaned. “Ugh, I bet it’s that Lisa again.”
“What’s wrong with Lisa?” Dean said defensively.
Jo gave him a stony look. “You mean little miss I’m-only-complete-when-I-have-a-man-on-my-arm? Hmm, let’s see…”
“Oh, you would say that,” Pam cut in. “Like guys ever have an issue with women who define themselves by who they’re dating. Dean, I think you’re being a little thoughtless here.”
“What? Oh, come on! Cas doesn’t mind, do you, Cas?”
“It’s up to you how you spend your time, Dean,” Castiel replied evenly, that blank expression still on his face.
“See? It’s fine!”
Pam was glaring at him like she was trying to tell him something, but Dean pretended not to see.
“Dean, you’re such a jerk sometimes!” Jo snapped at him.
“What the hell is your problem?”
“Ash,” Pam said. “As a man of superior cranial capacity, would you care to inform Dean that he’s acting like a douche?”
Ash held his hands up. “Sorry, ladies, I’m on team Winchester here. A hot chick asks you out, you drop everything.”
Pam and Jo made loud noises of disgust, Jo muttering something that sounded like “Men!”
Sam was waiting for Dean by his locker at the end of school and they made their way to the parking lot together.
“I dunno, man,” Dean sighed. “I don’t get why they were so mad at me! They know what I’m like by now. It was just that they seemed to think I was doing something wrong by Cas. But he said he was cool with it so I don’t see what the issue is! It’s only one night!”
“Maybe they just don’t like the girl.”
“Well they never did, but they didn’t act like this when I went out with her before! Anyway, enough about me. How’re things with you, short bus? Made contact with this Ruby chick yet?”
Sam scrunched up his face. “Not really. I talked to her a little in Math, but she was only half interested. Her friend Meg asked me out though.”
“Well hey, that’s progress! Is Meg cute?”
“I guess, but she makes out with everyone. She’s not really my type.”
“Hang on in there. She’ll come around to your charm. Just… just don’t start talking to her about dinosaurs, okay?”
“Hey, some people find dinosaurs really interesting!”
“Yeah, if they’re—”
They both turned round to see a tiny blonde girl running across the parking lot towards them.
“Oh crap!” Sam hissed. “Get in the car, Dean. Get in the car and drive. We can pretend we didn’t hear!”
“Sammy, what the hell?”
“Oh god, it’s too late!”
The blonde girl had caught up with them. “Sam! Hey! I’ve been trying to talk to you all day! You’re really fast!”
“Hi, Becky,” Sam muttered, staring at his shoes.
“Hi, Sam.” Becky was the happiest looking person Dean had ever seen.
“So… what did you want to talk to me about?”
“Oh! Well, you didn’t get the itinerary for the next History Club meeting. I told Ava I’d give it to you! You know, I wanted to tell you that I really, really liked your presentation in Art yesterday. I never knew Michelangelo was gay! I wonder if anyone’s written any fanfiction. Anyway, your hair’s looking really good today. Oh hey! You must be Dean! Sam talks about you all the time. You’re totally his hero. Anyway, I have to go – I promised I’d meet Ava and Lori. I’ll see you tomorrow, Sam! I’ll save you a seat in English!” She ran off again.
Dean laughed. “Did… did she even pause for breath? Who the hell was that?”
“Becky Rosen,” Sam groaned. “She’s Ava’s friend. She… likes me.”
“No kidding! Well hey, she seemed nice, why don’t you go for it?”
“Um, because she’s insane? Seriously, Dean, can we just go home now?”
“What, you’re not gonna take my advice? I thought I was your hero.”
San colored. “I never said that, okay!”
“Shut up, I’m totally your hero.”
“God, Dean, you’re such a jerk!”
Castiel was unusually quiet during their study session on Friday.
“Is everything okay, dude?” Dean asked.
“Of course. How are you doing with the quiz?”
“Fine. It’s all going fine. Cas, are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes. Did… did you have a good time last night?”
“Hm? Oh yeah, it was cool I guess.”
“Lisa is… she seems… she has… nice… hair.”
“Yeah, she’s a total babe. Plus, all that cheerleading makes her really flexible, if you know what I mean.”
“I think we should focus on studying right now,” Castiel said quietly.
“Dean, just think about it! Think how cool it’ll look!”
“Yeah, imagine the title: School Bad Boy Triumphs Over Death!”
Dean sighed wearily. Ed and Harry had been trying to get an exclusive interview with him about his accident for weeks, and they’d managed to catch up with him just after the final bell of the day had rung. The two of them ran the school paper and they were harmless enough most of the time. Harmless, except when you had a story they wanted, and then they were like some kind of fungal infection. Just when you thought you’d shaken them off, they popped right back up again.
“Look, guys, I really don’t wanna talk about it, okay? Why don’t you run along and find a new victim?”
“Dean!” Harry wheedled. “Come on, man! It’d do wonders for our circulation, and everyone’s been dying to know what really happened. You could set the record straight!”
“Guys, back off, okay? I’m not comfortable talking about it, and I—”
“But it’s the most interesting thing that’s happened at this school in years!”
“Dean has told you that he doesn’t wish to talk about it. I suggest you respect that.”
Dean turned around to see Castiel standing next to him, giving the two amateur journalists his very best death glare. Dean felt a little scared for them. Ed and Harry looked like they wanted to protest, but Castiel just stared and stared, and Dean knew from experience how unnerving it could be. Eventually they took the hint and backed away nervously.
“Thanks, man,” Dean sighed. “Those guys can be kinda persistent. I just… really don’t wanna talk about what happened.”
“Of course not.” Castiel moved closer to him so that their arms were pressed together. Dean supposed that this was Cas’s version of a pat on the back.
“Hey… I know we hadn’t arranged to study tonight or anything, but d’you wanna hang out?”
“Oh, I… I’m afraid I can’t tonight, Dean. We have a family meeting.”
“Oh. Well… that’s cool. I gotta hang around here for a bit longer to wait for my brother, so I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Dean, wait. I… can stay a little longer, if you’d like the company.”
Dean grinned, his spirits lifting. “Yeah, that’d be cool. It’d give us a chance to talk about something other than work. C’mon, we’ll go out to the car.”
Sam had Math Club on Tuesdays after school, so Dean had to wait an extra half-hour for him. He usually found this annoying, but as Castiel had decided to wait with him today he didn’t really mind. The two of them sat on the hood of Dean’s car, and Dean was trying to explain the merits of driving for fun to his friend (“but, Dean, don’t you find it confining?”), when they were approached by Tara Bury, a pretty brunette girl in Dean’s history class.
She smiled at Castiel. “Hi, Cas. You left your textbook in Mr Fitzgerald’s lab.” She handed Castiel the book, her smile widening.
Dean felt annoyed. He was the only one who was allowed to call Castiel ‘Cas’.
“Thank you,” Castiel said.
“No problem.” She was staring at him and smiling. “So… maybe I’ll see you around?”
Castiel glanced up at her. “We have three classes together so it’s likely.”
“Hi, Tara,” Dean said.
She gave him a frosty glare. “Dean.”
“How’ve you been?”
“Fine.” She pointedly turned away from him and smiled at Castiel again. “Well… I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
Cas gave her a brief, perfunctory smile. “Yes. Thank you.”
When she walked away, Dean gave Castiel a hard nudge. “Dude, what the hell is wrong with you? She was totally giving you the come-on!”
“She likes you! Man, you should go for it.”
“I… I don’t…” Castiel was looking thoroughly embarrassed now.
Dean looked at him. “What? You’ve had girlfriends before, right?”
“Oh. But… but you’ve done stuff, right?”
Castiel was staring determinedly at his shoes.
“Oh. Oh man. How is that even possible? I mean, you’ve got that whole mysterious, brooding thing going on, which chicks love. And you’re not, you know, unattractive. Were you waiting for a written invitation or something?”
“Dean, I’ve spent my whole life up until now only interacting with my family. Any, ah, romantic relationships would have involved some fairly controversial lifestyle choices.”
“Right. Yeah. Wow. Sorry, I… forgot.”
There was a long, awkward silence.
“You know, I could help you out.”
Castiel looked at him, shocked. “You could… what?”
“I could, you know, hook you up with some girls. I mean, you’re getting me through high school, it’s the least I could do. See, studying might not be my thing, but when it comes to this I am a world class expert.”
Castiel looked down again. “Oh. Um… that really won’t be necessary.”
“Oh come on, it’s really not that scary. And Tara’s perfect. She’s a cool girl, and a total vixen in the sack. I banged her a couple of times last year, and she’s not afraid to take charge. She’ll definitely show you the ropes.”
Castiel frowned. “Dean, I really don’t think you should talk about her that way.”
“It’s… not very respectful,” Castiel mumbled.
Dean laughed. “Oh, come on! She’s not the kind of girl you respect!”
“Well, you know, there are women who are smart and strong, and you can have a conversation with. And then there are the women you have sex with. Tara belongs to the latter category.”
Castiel looked horrified. “Are you… is that what you actually believe?”
Dean shifted uncomfortably. “Oh, come on! I mean, it’s clear what the expectations are – we use each other for sex, and that’s it. I’m not gonna treat them all like princesses; if they want my respect they wouldn’t give it up so easily.”
“And how would you feel if some man was talking about your friend Jo that way?” Castiel said quietly.
“I’d rip their lungs out. But Jo’s not like that! She’s a classy girl, and she… she just wouldn’t do something like that.”
“So if women feel that they are entitled to enjoy sex, they deserve to be disrespected?”
“No! This has nothing to do with them being women. It’s not like I expect them to respect me. I don’t give a damn if they all discuss me behind my back too. It’s just that if you’re gonna sleep around, you should accept that you’re gonna be talked about like that.”
“And this is what you want to get me involved in.”
“Dude, you take things way too seriously. It’s fun! And this is what we’re supposed to be doing, while we’re still young.”
Castiel shook his head. “I am not all that concerned with what I’m supposed to be doing. What you’re describing sounds trivial.”
Dean couldn’t help but be riled by this. “Yeah, well, we can’t all be smart, you know. Maybe I am trivial. Maybe you should just—”
Castiel grabbed his wrist. “I didn’t say that you are trivial. You are very far from it. But being this way is… beneath you. You should have more respect for yourself instead of just throwing yourself away.”
Dean sighed. “Yeah, well, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Though I still think you’d change your mind if you actually, you know, experienced some of the stuff you’re sermonizing about.” He shot Cas a cheeky grin. “You sure you don’t want me to hook you up with Tara?”
Cas blushed and looked away. “Yes. It’s not that… I know you mean well, but I will have to decline. Girls aren’t really my… area.”
“Okay, okay. But don’t think for a minute that I’m gonna let you leave high school with your virginity intact.” He could see Sam approaching, so he gave Castiel a couple of pats on the knee and got up to go meet his little brother.
Dean had driven halfway home before it occurred to him what Castiel had said. Girls aren’t really my area. Oh. Did that mean Cas was…? Had Castiel just come out to him? Dean couldn’t be sure. After all, half of what Cas said wasn’t exactly clear at the best of times. He could have just meant that he was inexperienced and didn’t feel comfortable interacting with women in that way. But what if that wasn’t what he meant? What if he’d actually been telling Dean that he wasn’t interested in women full stop?
It made Dean feel… something. Not uncomfortable. He’d been brought up to believe that people like who they like. He’d had gay friends before, and it didn’t make any difference to him. But this felt different. God, what the hell did it make him feel? Because there was definitely something about the possibility of Castiel being gay that was… he didn’t even know. Dean hated trying to think about his feelings, he sucked at it. It was best not to even try. By the time they reached home, Dean had dismissed all thoughts of Castiel from his mind.
Dean always enjoyed driving Castiel home after their study sessions. He wasn’t sure why because it only took ten minutes and it wasn’t like they ever talked about anything much. It was just nice to be there together, just the two of them, no interruptions. He had never guarded a friendship as closely as this before. He remembered that when he was little he’d gotten territorial with Jo sometimes and would sulk if she played with anyone else, but he’d been a kid back then and he liked to think he’d grown out of his selfish phase a long time ago. He didn’t let it worry him too much; it was just some hangover from Cas saving his life. That was something that the two of them shared exclusively, and no outsiders could ever understand it or be part of it. Given a little time, Dean was sure he’d calm down about the whole thing.
“You can come in, if you want,” Castiel said to him as they pulled into his driveway. “Zachariah and Michael are away on business at present, so it’s only me and Anna at home.” He gave Dean a small, crooked smile. “I doubt that she’ll interrogate you about your religious beliefs.”
“Well… sure, Cas.”
“You don’t have to! I mean, I would understand if you’d rather not. It’s just that I’d like to repay you for your hospitality.”
Dean laughed. “Cas, I said I’d come in! It’s cool! And you don’t have to repay me shit, you know that.”
The house was just as dark and unwelcoming as Dean remembered, but he was comforted by the knowledge that Castiel’s creepy uncle and brother weren’t around. Loud music was coming from upstairs.
“Anna,” Castiel said. “She always takes advantage of Zachariah being away. He doesn’t approve of her tastes in music.”
Dean followed his friend to the back of the house along a corridor he hadn’t been down before, and they ended up in the kitchen. It was still gloomy, but the room was fitted with modern appliances and was the first real indication in the house that the Delacroix family had moved into the twenty-first century. Dean was a little relieved.
“Would you like a coffee?” Castiel asked.
“Sure. How come you never drink coffee?”
Castiel grimaced. “Oh… it doesn’t agree with me. I get jittery and hyperactive. I prefer to stick to tea.”
Dean made a mental note to spike the guy’s lunch with caffeine supplements at the first possible opportunity. A hyperactive Castiel was something he needed to see.
They had just sat down at the kitchen table with their mugs when Anna came in. She looked at Dean with surprise. “Oh! I didn’t know you had company, Castiel.”
“You remember Dean, Anna.”
“Of course. Castiel, if I go out tomorrow night, will you promise not to tell?”
Castiel shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Anna, are you sure that’s a good idea? If something were to happen—”
“Nothing’s going to happen! I’m not an idiot! You just don’t want to lie.”
“Anna, your father is only trying to protect you, and—”
“Oh, don’t be such a damn sycophant, I know you resent him as much as I do. At least you have the option of getting out of here occasionally and, you know, meeting other people.”
“Well, perhaps if you didn’t defy him quite so openly he might agree to let you come to school as well.”
Anna scowled at him. “Sorry, Castiel, I’m not a hypocrite.”
Castiel blinked. “I… Dean, would you excuse me for a minute? I’ll fetch you that study guide I borrowed from the library. I think you’ll find it useful.” He got up and left.
“You know, that was kinda harsh,” Dean said.
Anna glared at him. “Do you have any idea what it’s like living here?”
“I can imagine, and personally I don’t blame you for wanting to get the hell out, but there’s no need to blame Cas. He’s a good guy.”
Anna sighed, scowling at the table top. “I know. But he’s a coward as well. He never stands up to either of them, and they never let us see the rest of the family. Do you know that Castiel hasn’t actually talked to his father in over a year? My dad takes all Uncle Manuel’s calls in his private office. Castiel won’t say anything. He just does whatever he’s told, and he won’t admit that he doesn’t agree with them most of the time, not even to me! And I know he hates it!” She sat down in the chair next to Dean. “Do you have any idea how much I would love to be allowed to go to school and meet other people? I feel like I’m going crazy in this house! But they won’t let me because I’m too rebellious, and they think an outside influence would be bad for me.” She laughed bitterly. “I know it’s awful, but I hate them. I do. Castiel’s the only one I can stand, and even he won’t ever stick up for me.”
Dean felt a little uncomfortable. Clearly Anna didn’t have any of Castiel’s reserve, and he wasn’t entirely sure whether his friend would be comfortable with him knowing any of this. “Anna, I… I’m sorry. You’re in a really crappy situation, but… but it’ll get better. I mean you’re what, sixteen? In a couple of years you can get the hell outta here, and they won’t be able to do a thing to stop it. This isn’t forever. And Cas… he’s just trying to do what’s right. That’s what he does.”
She gave him a small smile. “You’re nice, Dean. Castiel’s lucky to have you as a friend.”
Dean huffed a laugh. “I think most people’d see it as the other way round, but thank you. And, uh, if you ever need to talk…”
Dean’s next words died in his throat as Anna leaned in to kiss him. He was a little taken aback; he’d had no intention of kissing Anna. Still, his brain had been programmed to accept that when a pretty girl puts the moves on you, you let her. He kissed her back, his hands gently running through her hair.
Anna pulled away slowly, a strange look in her eyes. “You’re nice,” she whispered again.
It was then that Dean realized that Castiel had returned and was standing across the table from them. Dean pulled back guiltily. “Cas! I was just… it’s not… I didn’t mean to…”
“I kissed him,” Anna cut in.
It took Dean a moment to register that his Castiel was glaring at Anna and not at him, which he thought was a little weird. “Uh, Cas? I think I should go. I’ll see you at school.” He got up and left the kitchen. Castiel didn’t say anything; he was still staring at his cousin, and Dean was shocked by the look of hurt on his face.
Dean felt awful. He was fairly sure that Cas hadn’t meant repaying hospitality to include making out with family members. He was obviously protective over Anna, and now Dean had come along and… fuck. Cas was going to be mad at him now. It made Dean feel more anxious than he would have liked.
He’d just reached his car when he heard his name being called. He turned to see Castiel walking from the house towards him, wrapping his arms around himself against the cold.
“Cas, I’m really sorry,” Dean blurted out. “I never meant for that to happen. We were just talking, and then she leaned in and kissed me without warning, and I know I shouldn’t have kissed her back, but—”
“It’s fine,” Castiel interrupted, his teeth chattering a little. “I believe you. I’m not angry with you; Anna is not fragile and she’s more than capable of looking after herself.”
“Okay, but I… I didn’t mean to cause trouble. I’m really sorry.”
“Dean, I know. If anyone was trying to cause trouble, it’s her.”
“What do you mean?”
Castiel sighed, and he didn’t meet Dean’s eyes. “Anna’s… she’s very frustrated and very unhappy. This life isn’t for her. I’ve tried to explain to her that if she just plays by the rules then my uncle will be more inclined to make the same allowances for her that he has for me, but… she’s too tempestuous. She’s a good girl, but she’s…”
“Yes. And she resents me because she thinks I’ve been given special treatment. She wants to get back at me, that’s all.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing, Dean. It’s nothing. Don’t feel bad about it. I’ll see you at school.”
Dean nodded. “Sure, Cas. See you later.”
Dean drove home in silence, not even bothering to turn the radio on. Something really weird was going on with Cas’s family. He couldn’t help but feel that there was something he was completely missing, but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out what it was. Not for the first time, he felt grateful that his own family were so comparatively normal.
Still, the important thing was that Castiel wasn’t angry with him. The thought made Dean instantly calmer. He just wished that he could get his friend out of that house. He wished that he could keep Cas with him.
December snuck up on Dean. Everything had been so weird and stressful that he hadn’t been keeping track, and then suddenly stores were being decorated for Christmas and Dean realized with dismay that he had to go gift shopping. He sucked at gift shopping. He didn’t think his mother had forgiven him yet for the Christmas Dean was twelve and he’d bought her a large crystal duck. Still, it meant that she’d at least made the effort to give each of her sons lists of suitable gift ideas ever since.
Christmas wasn’t the only thing bothering him: his friends had all been immersed in college applications for a while now. Jo had pretty much decided on NYU, Ash was finally off to MIT, Pam had deferred her place at UCA for a year to go traveling… Everyone was preparing to move on, to put Lawrence in their rear-view mirror. Everyone except Dean. His one comfort was that Castiel hadn’t mentioned college. He was a little surprised – Cas was a straight-A student and could probably get into any Ivy League school he wanted. Then again, there was Cas’s family. He’d made it very clear that being allowed to go to public school had been a pretty big concession, and Dean doubted whether the charming Uncle Zach would take kindly to his nephew heading off by himself. It sucked for Cas; if there was ever anyone suited to higher education it was him. Still, there was a horrible, selfish part of Dean that was pleased. If Castiel was going to be staying in Lawrence, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
Having said that, things had been… different between the two of them lately. It could just be Dean’s imagination. Castiel hadn’t mentioned what had happened between Dean and Anna since that night, which Dean was thankful for. He hadn’t wanted his friend to think he was putting the moves on Anna or wanted to get with her. She was a beautiful girl, but he really couldn’t deal with the complications right now. Besides, it wouldn’t feel right somehow, her being Castiel’s cousin.
Dean had continued to study with Cas, careful not to mention the subject of the other boy’s family. Dean hoped they were okay. He thought they were okay, only there was a strange distance between them that hadn’t been there before. It bothered him, not least because he had the distinct impression that Castiel was sad about something. Dean wanted to ask what was wrong, but he had the feeling that Cas would resent the intrusion.
It was weird; Dean had never given so much thought to a friendship before. He’d never worried so much about what a friend thought of him or how he could make things better. Then again, he’d never had a friend to whom he owed his life.
Christmas in the Winchester household was always something of an event. It was all down to John, really. Dean was the first to admit that his father was quite possibly the biggest Christmas geek that ever existed. As soon as the first day of December rolled around, John would start getting boxes down from the attic, and the whole family would be enlisted in the mission to turn the house into a regular Santa’s grotto.
When he’d been little, Dean had found it all enchanting. Then when he’d hit his teens, it had been excruciatingly embarrassing. Now, however, he’d reached an age where he could find his father’s child-like enthusiasm kind of endearing. It was nice that John wanted to make things special for them all, and Dean was feeling distinctly nostalgic for his earlier years when everything was still fresh and clean for him. He felt like he really wanted to enjoy this Christmas for a change. He didn’t even mind the hideous singing Father Christmas his dad always insisted on putting in the front hall which rocked from side to side and played the most sinister rendition of ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ ever, whenever anyone was foolish enough to walk too close to it. Dean, Sam and Mary referred to it as the ‘anti-Claus’. John insisted that it was festive.
“Okay, family, listen up,” he announced over breakfast on the first Saturday of the month. “We all know what day it is: Christmas Tree Day. Now, at eleven-hundred hours, we’re going to go pick out the perfect tree. At thirteen-hundred hours we’ll bring it home and get it in the house. We’ll have a lunch break after that, and Mary? How about some of your special Christmas cookies? That way the house will smell like pine and gingerbread. At seventeen-hundred hours we’ll all gather in the front room to decorate the tree. Then after dinner, Dean and I will go out to put up the outside lights on the house. I bought some new ones, so if that damn Mr Costello across the street thinks he’s going to outdo me this year, he’s got another thing coming. You know, I never thought I’d enjoy having a Christmas nemesis, but I do. Oh, I do.” He laughed, a little darkly.
Dean wondered whether anyone else’s parents considered preparing for the holidays as a military operation.
“Dad, do we all have to go get the tree?” Sam whined. “Seriously? Cause I’ve got a book report to finish.”
“Sam, Christmas is the one time of year when we all do things together as a family,” John replied. “Come on, you used to love picking out the tree! I know that it’s not cool to hang out with your family. I know you’d much rather be… poking your friends on Face Space or whatever, but I’m sure you can spare an hour or so to spend some quality time with us.”
Sam groaned and banged his head down on the table, and Dean burst out laughing. “Dad… are you talking about Facebook?”
John scowled half-heartedly. “Well, I don’t know what it is you people do on there. I don’t see why you can’t just call each other on the telephone. It worked just fine for us, didn’t it, Mary?”
Dean rolled his eyes; his father was the biggest technophobe he’d ever met. He still remembered the time that John had texted him ‘9317 7342 25 958 9157 42 75 4227 958#’ because he’d somehow managed to put the number lock on on his phone. “Yeah, Dad, and whatever happened to the abacus as well?”
Sam snickered. “Yeah, and the horse and carriage. It was good enough back in your day, right Dad?”
“I don’t have to put up with this abuse,” John grumbled, jamming his Santa hat back on his head and stalking out of the kitchen.
Dean was looking forward to school breaking up. Thanks to Castiel, he wasn’t completely failing any of his classes anymore, but he was still only hanging on by a thread and he could use a break. Not that he expected to get that much time for relaxation: he’d already agreed to some extra hours at the garage, and Castiel had given him a long list of things to study up on over the holidays. Still, he wouldn’t actually have to be in school, and that was something. No more being around other people and having to put on an act. No more reminders that this was the end of the line for him. No more stupid counselling sessions.
Having said that, Dean didn’t hate his sessions with Mr Shurley as much as he’d thought he would. Sure, the guy was pretty awful at his job, but Dean didn’t really care. In fact, he was grateful – the last thing he wanted was someone trying to get him to talk about his feelings. Instead, the sessions were a pleasant weekly break from classes. Chuck was an okay guy, really. In fact, he seemed grateful for Dean’s insistence that they don’t try to discuss personal matters. It turned out that Dean’s assumption that Chuck wasn’t really into his job had been right – apparently he just needed the money while he got his writing career off the ground.
“So what is it you’re writing, exactly?” Dean asked on their last session of the semester.
“Oh… it’s a fantasy series. It’s about two brothers who drive around America fighting the supernatural. The first one’s been published and it’s doing pretty well, but, you know, not earning me enough to get me out of this hell hole just yet.” Chuck laughed nervously and popped a couple of aspirin. “The second one should be out next month.”
Dean nodded. “Sounds cool, I love that kind of stuff. I’m the biggest horror fan.”
“Oh, me too! I’m using lots of urban legend stuff in the books, you know.”
Dean laughed. “Well, I guess you live in the right place for that. Lots of famous paranormal shit in Lawrence.”
“You mean Stull Cemetery? Yeah, I’m thinking of doing something with that in the future.”
“And have you seen Carnival of Souls? They filmed the bridge scene here.”
“No kidding? I love that movie!”
“Yeah, I mean they demolished the actual bridge, but you can still—” The bell rang for lunch. “Well, Chuck, I’d love to stay and chat, but it’s pizza day today. Hey, have a good Christmas.”
Dean was surprised to see Castiel waiting for him outside the councillor’s office. He hadn’t seen much of his friend outside of their study sessions, and he was starting to feel like Castiel had been avoiding him.
The other boy gave him a small smile. “I was passing on my way to the cafeteria and I remembered you had an appointment today. May I have lunch with you?”
Dean laughed. “Dude, you don’t have to wait for an invitation!” He slung an arm around Castiel’s shoulders. “Just relax, okay? It’s good to see you. Now come on, it’s pizza day today – I don’t wanna be late or all the good stuff’ll be gone.”
Castiel almost laughed. Dean wanted to ask him if they were okay, but couldn’t think of any way of doing it which wouldn’t make him sound like a total girl. It was bad enough that he cared this much without Cas knowing he cared.
They passed Lisa and some other cheerleaders on the way into the cafeteria. Lisa said hi to Dean, and her friends immediately collapsed into fits of giggles. Dean scowled; he hated when girls did that.
“If you want to have lunch with… with her, it’s all right,” Castiel said quietly.
“What? Why the hell would I want to do that? Cas, Lisa and I aren’t… I mean, we’re not together. We just hook up occasionally.”
“Yeah. You know, have sex. But that’s it; neither of us wants anything more.”
“Oh!” Castiel looked a little flustered. “I see.”
Dean hid a smile; Castiel was a total maiden aunt sometimes. “Lots and lots of sex,” Dean teased, earning himself a disapproving look from one of the lunch ladies. “In lots of different positions, Cas. And she has these leather knee-high boots, and sometimes she’ll keep them on when we do it.” He glanced back at his friend, amused. He’d only been trying to see exactly how embarrassed he could make the guy, but he was surprised by the look on Castiel’s face. He looked like he was about to pass out or something. “Hey… you okay, Cas?”
Castiel looked up at him, then immediately turned his eyes away again. “Yes. That is, I… I forgot that… I’m not hungry.” With that he turned and marched out of the dining hall.
“Cas, wait up! What’s wrong?”
Someone grabbed Dean’s arm, and he turned to see Pam at his side. “Dean, what’s going on? Is he okay?”
“How the hell should I know? He was fine a minute ago! I swear, that guy needs some kind of psych evaluation or something – he’s getting weirder by the day.” Dean was starting to feel a little pissed off now.
“What did you do?”
“Nothing! Why do you always assume that I did something? We were just talking about Lisa, and I started joking around about having sex with her, and the next thing I know he’s having some kind of… of episode!”
Pam punched him hard on the arm. “Dean, you’re such a fucking jerk sometimes!”
“Ow! What the hell? I didn’t do anything! Pam! I didn’t do anything!”
A week before Christmas, Dean finally had the opportunity to find out a little more about Castiel’s father, the renowned Reverend Manuel Delacroix.
Things with Castiel had continued to be weird. The other guy hadn’t mentioned what had happened in the cafeteria, and clearly didn’t want to talk about whatever it was that was bothering him. Still, Dean knew that he’d screwed up again somehow. He’d alienated Castiel just when things were starting to get better between them. The trouble was that he still didn’t fully understand what he’d done wrong. Maybe he shouldn’t have teased the guy about sex. It hadn’t been fair of him, not when he knew Cas wasn’t exactly experienced in that department. Still, he’d horsed around like that with his other male friends and it had been taken as a joke – how was he supposed to know the rules were different with Cas?
Because the rules always had been different where Castiel was concerned. Dean had known it, right from the start. Castiel wasn’t like any of his other friends. So why did Dean continue to do this? Why did he keep opening his mouth and saying things that were just downright careless? Dean hated himself a little more for that. Every time something good came along, he screwed it up. Every time a decent person took an interest in him, he pushed them away. He knew perfectly well that Castiel was far too good to be his friend. Yet that same selfish part of Dean that didn’t want Cas to go to college couldn’t bear to let him go without a fight.
Dean had been absent-mindedly flipping through TV channels, trying to figure out how he was going to fix things this time, when the name ‘Delacroix’ made him pause with the remote. At first he thought it was just his imagination seeing as he was worried about Cas, but he went back a couple of channels and found himself watching one of the Christian stations he usually avoided like the plague.
He was immediately drawn in by the man on the screen. The script at the top of the screen told him that he was indeed watching the esteemed Reverend Manuel Delacroix, Cas’s father. Dean felt his stomach do a weird little flip-flop, and he leaned forward in his seat. The man looked to be in his mid- to late- fifties, and he was shorter and fairer than Castiel. Facially he looked more like Michael, but Dean noticed that he had Castiel’s startlingly blue eyes.
“At this time of year,” the Reverend was saying, “everyone seems to be getting caught up in commercialism, don’t they?” Dean rolled his eyes – another lecture on how being religious meant not having any fun. Not that he was surprised after meeting the rest of Cas’s family. But then Manuel Delacroix grinned. “And I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. Christmas should be a celebration. It’s a time when we are put under pressure to think of our loved ones, to choose gifts for them that they will enjoy, to cook food for them, to spend time with them. Personally, I can think of no better way to celebrate the arrival of Christ on Earth. Christmas forces us to make an effort, to think of others and step outside of our routine. Don’t resist it. Don’t think of it as a chore. A wonderful way to honor the birth of Christ is by taking the opportunity to enjoy yourselves and give joy to others. Remember that—”
Dean switched off the TV. Well, he hadn’t been expecting that. There was something affable and welcoming about the guy, and Dean could kind of tell why he was such a big hit. Okay, so the Reverend had obviously been neglecting his own family, but it wasn’t like he was spouting any of the hateful, bigoted crap that Dean had heard from other celebrity priests. If Dean was in any way religious, he thought he could get on board with the guy’s way of thinking. Which begged the question of why the hell the rest of Castiel’s family were so cold and severe, and why Cas and Anna were so tightly reined in. Dean frowned. There was definitely something weird going on.
In the end, Dean decided to take the high road – that evening, he apologized to Castiel. He did it via a text message, but he reasoned that when it came to him being less of a dick, baby steps were better than none at all.
CAS. SRY ABOUT THE OTHER DAY. IT WAS A DICK MOVE. WE STILL OK 4 THURS?
Within ten minutes, he’d had a reply.
THERE’S NO NEED TO APOLOGIZE, DEAN. I SHOULD NOT HAVE REACTED IN THE WAY THAT I DID. IT WAS FOOLISH OF ME. PLEASE DON’T THINK ANY MORE OF IT. YES, THURSDAY IS STILL GOOD FOR ME. CASTIEL.
The message made Dean smile. Castiel seemed to be physically incapable of not using perfect grammar in text messages. He was also relieved – clearly Cas bore no hard feelings about what had happened and was keen to forget the whole thing, which was just fine by Dean. Things were all right between them, and they would study together on Thursday, and everything would be okay.
He went down to the kitchen, feeling infinitely lighter at heart. Mary was sat at the kitchen table reading one of her crime novels, and she jumped when she realized Dean was in the room.
“Oh! God, Dean, I have to stop reading these things.”
Dean laughed and helped himself to a bowl of cereal. He hadn’t felt like eating much at dinner and suddenly realized that he was starving.
“You seem very happy tonight,” his mother mused. “You were like a bear with a sore head earlier, we couldn’t get two words out of you.”
Dean looked at her sheepishly. “Sorry about that. I’m just, you know… it’s been hard work catching up at school. I’m kinda tired.”
Mary arched an eyebrow. “Mm-hm. So when do we get to meet her?”
Mary’s face was a mask of innocence. “Oh… no one. I just hope she’s worth all the stress.”
Dean was confused. Surely his mom wasn’t talking about Lisa? He hadn’t even spoken to the girl in a week, and he was fairly sure he hadn’t mentioned her to anyone in his family. Why would he? Sometimes his mother could be a very strange woman.
“I have some good news,” Mary said, pulling Dean out of his reverie. “We’re finally going to meet Uncle Bobby’s new lady friend.”
“No shi- No way!” Dean replied. “When?”
“I’ve persuaded him to invite her over for dinner on Christmas Eve. I promised that we’d all be on our best behavior.”
“So, what did you find out?” Dean asked through a mouth of cereal. He and John and both cautiously attempted to get Bobby to talk about his mystery date at the garage, but they hadn’t gotten anywhere.
Mary smiled. “Her name’s Jody, she works in law enforcement, she got divorced five years ago and she has a son. She grew up in North Dakota, she likes Mexican food, and she has introduced Bobby to Fringe, which is apparently very good and I should watch it.”
Dean nodded appreciatively. “You’re good.”
Mary shrugged. “I’m a journalist.”
Dean had to stop off at the garage on Thursday, and Castiel had agreed to take the bus and meet Dean back at the Winchester’s house. Dean had hoped to beat him there but the traffic had been bad, and Castiel was already sitting at the dining room table when Dean got home. Talking with Sam.
“This is so awesome!” Sam was enthusing. “I mean, I’ve never met anyone who’s even heard of Gustav Meyrink, let alone read anything by him! What did you think of The Angel at the West Window?”
Castiel smiled softly, and for some reason it annoyed Dean. “I enjoyed it very much. I recently finished The Golem. Have you read it? I think you’d enjoy it; it’s a quite brilliant metaphor for the predicament of the Jews in nineteenth-century Europe. Very bleak.”
Dean cleared his throat loudly. “Hey, Green-Eggs-And-Sam, don’t you have a date with your World of Warcraft buddies? It’s just that Cas and I have actual work to do.”
Sam scowled. “God, Dean, you’re such a jerk.” He stomped out of the room, and Dean felt a stab of guilt. He didn’t know why he’d snapped at the kid like that.
“I did come here to see you, you know,” Castiel said. He was looking at Dean gently, and it was more than a little discomforting.
“Yeah, I… I know.”
“I enjoy your company, Dean. Very much.”
Dean laughed awkwardly. “Good to know, Cas. Come on, let’s go get some snacks – if we’re gonna be doing History, I’m gonna need some serious fuel.”
Castiel looked a little shocked by the extent of Christmas cheer that surrounded him. Dean couldn’t really blame him – he didn’t suppose that many families decided to turn their house into a full-on grotto every December. He smiled apologetically. “My parents get a little… holiday obsessed. It’s kinda lame, but we do it every year, and it’s pretty fun once you get into it.”
Castiel smiled at him. “I think it’s amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s… is that a singing Santa Claus?”
Dean quickly ushered his friend into the kitchen.
Mary smiled warmly when she saw Castiel. “Hello, sweetheart. Would you like a gingerbread cookie? Dean’s father will end up eating them all otherwise.” She held out a plate.
“Thank you,” Castiel said, taking a cookie. “Ha! It’s shaped like a Christmas tree.”
“Well, you have as many as you want.”
Castiel smiled at her as she left her room. “I like it here; people are always pleased to see me.” He ate the cookie in two bites and immediately reached for another. “These are delicious.”
Dean grinned. “I’m guessing no one in your family is the cookie baking type.” He led the way back to the dining room, taking the plate with him.
“No. Michael is a fine enough cook, but he would deem these... frivolous. Sadly.”
“Oh, we’re all about the frivolous food in our family.” He grinned. “You know, on Christmas Day my parents spend all morning in the kitchen after we’ve unwrapped our presents, and they put together this enormous feast. And then my grandparents come over, and Bobby, and Jo and her mom come, and they always bring the eggnog… it’s loud and messy and chaotic... You know, awesome.”
Castiel was looking at him with wide, serious eyes.
“So if not food, what Christmas traditions do you have?” Dean asked.
“Oh… we just spend the day in quiet contemplation.”
“You mean you don’t do anything?”
“Well, we pray a lot.”
“No Christmas dinner? No presents?”
Dean frowned. This just didn’t make any sense, especially considering what Reverend Delacroix had said on TV the other night. Was there one rule for his adoring public and another for his family? It didn’t seem logical to Dean. Either way, he hated the thought of Castiel spending a miserable Christmas with his creepy ass family.
“You know, you could always come here for Christmas. I mean, my mom loves having people over, especially if they appreciate her cooking.”
Cas smiled sadly. “That’s kind of you, but I’ll have to decline. It’s my duty to stay with my family, and I can’t imagine that they will look favorably on any deviation from our annual routine.”
“Well… that sucks.”
“I don’t mind; actually, it’s nice to escape from everything and remember the true meaning of Christmas. My uncle only does what is best for us as a family. He’s just trying to respect my father’s wishes, and it would be ungrateful of me to complain.”
Dean pulled a face, but didn’t say anything. He found it hard to believe that the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ meant sitting in silence in a cold chapel. In fact, hadn’t Castiel’s father said the exact opposite?
They worked in silence for a while. Dean struggled with History, but Castiel had taught him some neat mental association things to help him remember dates. Only Dean couldn’t quite focus this evening.
“Cas… I was wondering…”
Dean moistened his bottom lip with the tip of his tongue. He felt like it would be straying back onto dangerous turf to mention Castiel’s family, but he couldn’t help his curiosity. “When did you last talk to your dad?”
Castiel’s eyes grew a little wider, the only indication that he was surprised. “Why do you ask?”
“Because A- Anna said it had been well over a year.”
Castiel’s lifted his chin a little. “It is none of her concern. Nor yours.”
“Well, I was just wondering if you… I mean, have you seen any of your dad’s TV shows lately? Cause I caught one the other day, and… and he seemed like… well, he seemed surprisingly normal for a television preacher. You know, he was talking about how Christmas should be a celebration, and believing in God doesn’t mean that you couldn’t have fun, and… Well, I guess the guy didn’t follow through on the part where you should value your family, but do you really think that he’d be preaching one thing to the American people, and have a whole different set of rules for his own family?”
Castiel’s expression grew hard. “Dean, I really don’t think that is any of your business.”
“Well, I get that I’m probably overstepping my bounds here, but I… you’re my friend, okay? And personally I think your Uncle Zach is taking you for a ride. I mean, you said yourself that he’s the only one who talks to your dad… well, what if he isn’t? I mean, what if he’d not in contact with your dad at all, or he is, but he’s purposely going against what your dad wants? What if he’s just doing what he thinks is the right, Christian thing, and not… Cas, what if he’s intentionally stopping your dad from talking to you?”
“You don’t have the slightest idea of what you’re talking about,” Castiel said, his voice quietly dangerous. “I know that you think my family is weird, that I’m weird. I know you think it’s funny that I believe in God and that I don’t behave the way that you do.”
“Cas, that’s not what I –”
“ However, believe me when I say that you have no right to pass judgement on us. You do not have the slightest comprehension of who we are. Perhaps you think it’s ridiculous to want to dedicate your life to your faith.” He leaned forward so that his face was inches from Dean’s. “I do not understand many of the things you do. I do not care for many of the things you do. Yet I refrain from passing judgement on them and I wouldn’t dream of… of trying to convert you to my way of thinking, or passing censure on you. Please offer me the same courtesy.” He got to his feet. “I think I should leave now; I’ll show myself out.”
Dean was too shocked to respond. His mouth was dry and his hands were bunched into tight fists. He didn’t know why this kept happening. He didn’t know why Castiel was suddenly so on edge all the time. All he did know was that once again he’d managed to open his big mouth and mess everything up.
Dean wanted to call Castiel, but he didn’t know what the hell he was meant to say. He supposed he should apologize, but at the same time he didn’t want to lie to Castiel. The fact was, Dean wasn’t sorry for what he’d said. He knew Cas was smarter than Dean could ever hope to be, but the guy was being an idiot as far as his family was concerned. The way he just went along with whatever crap his uncle and brother told him to do, not even questioning it, when he deserved so much better. Castiel hadn’t even spoken to his dad in years and while the good reverend obviously wasn’t father of the year, Dean doubted very much that he was the one giving the orders for the Delacroix family’s Spartan lifestyle. He couldn’t take back what he said because he didn’t want Castiel to put up with the way things were anymore. Cas needed to realize that he was being manipulated, and if that meant being mad at Dean for a while then so be it.
At the same time, Dean missed the guy. He missed him, even though it had only been a matter of hours since they’d last seen each other, and he hated the idea of Castiel being angry at him. It made him restless and snappish, and he was starting to wonder whether it would be worth offering an apology he didn’t mean just to make things right again.
However, his dilemma was solved the next evening when Castiel paid him a visit.
Dean was in the front room watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV, when his dad stuck his head round the door. “Dean? You have a guest.”
Dean turned round, expecting it to be Jo, and saw Castiel standing awkwardly in the doorway, his expression unfathomable. “Cas!”
Castiel lowered his gaze. “Do you mind if I sit down?”
“No, of course not.”
Castiel sat at the opposite and of the couch to Dean, and stared at his knees. “I can’t stay long,” he said. “I told my family I was going into town to buy candles.”
Dean sat through about ten minutes of silence after that before he lost patience. “It’s not that I’m not happy to see you Cas, but is there a reason you’re here?”
Castiel pressed his lips together, his fingers drumming on his knees. Finally, he looked up at Dean. “If… If I tell you something, do you promise not to tell another living soul?”
Dean turned down the volume on the TV. “Well… sure, Cas.”
Castiel took a deep breath. “First of all, I must apologize for the way I reacted to what you said yesterday. What you said… it made me uncomfortable, and I… I didn’t mean it. I know you were only trying to help. I shouldn’t have… it’s just that I have had rather a lot on my mind of late. It’s not your fault, it’s mine, and I need to…” He sighed. “The truth is that… that I’ve had doubts for a while now. About my family. My father hasn’t… You have to understand that he wasn’t always this distant. When I was little and my mother was still alive… we were a proper family. He was around, and me and Michael and Gabriel… we were happy.”
“Oh, I never told you. He’s my other brother. The eldest. He left us years ago because he couldn’t put up with Zachariah anymore. He wanted me to go with him, but I was too… I was too scared. I haven’t seen him since.”
“Shit, Cas, I’m sorry.”
“It’s not important. The point is that I… that I don’t know what’s going on. Michael used to be… he used to be happy, but now he doesn’t even… I feel like he’s angry at our father. And I think my uncle is angry as well. I know he always disagreed slightly with my father on certain theological matters, but… I don’t know.” He pressed a hand over his mouth, like he was aware that he’d said too much.
“Hey.” Dean reached over and gave Castiel’s knee a little squeeze. “Hey, it’s okay.”
Castiel shook his head, his eyes troubled. “No, it’s not. I don’t know what to believe anymore, Dean. I don’t know what to think. I have no idea of how I can get in touch with my father, and I… I’m scared to question my uncle because… because what if I’m wrong? What if these suspicions are completely unjustified? My father decided to leave us with Zachariah after my mother died. He felt it was his duty to spread God’s word, and… and I think it hurt him to be around us. I think her death broke him in some way, and just became… buried in his work. Maybe he… I don’t know. I just don’t know what to think.”
Dean noticed that Castiel’s hands were shaking. He doubted whether the guy had ever even admitted having these thoughts to himself, let alone voiced them out loud. “It’s okay, Cas,” he repeated. “I got your back. You’ll figure this out. You just need to do what you think is right, not what your family tells you is right. Do what makes you happy.”
Castiel smiled sadly. “That’s easier said than done.” He sighed shakily. “Thank you, Dean. I… I appreciate it, truly. I… I don’t know what you’ve done to me.”
“What I’ve done?”
“Before you came along I never… I don’t know. You make me think differently, I suppose. I don’t know why, but I…” He laughed awkwardly. “I should go. I still need to buy candles.”
“You need a lift?”
“No, I can’t risk anyone seeing me with you. I don’t want my family to know I lied about my whereabouts. I can take the bus.”
Dean walked him to the door. Castiel shrugged his trenchcoat on and shoved his hands in the pockets. “Thank you, Dean,” he said softly. “For listening.”
“Well… sure, Cas. Any time. Hey, don’t you have anything warmer? It’s freezing out there.”
Castiel gave him a small smile. “I’m all right. It’s not far to the bus stop.”
“You sure I can’t drive you?”
“Yes. Thank you, Dean. Goodbye.”
Dean closed the door behind him, and wandered back into the front room. He stood at the window and watched Castiel walk away, his chest clenching a little at the sight of his friend’s bare neck, so vulnerable and exposed against the chill air.
Before he realized what he was doing, Dean had run out the front door after him, grabbing his navy blue wool scarf off the coat rack as he went. “Cas, hold up!”
Castiel turned around and waited for him to catch up. “Dean?”
“Here.” Dean held out the scarf. “Here, take it.”
Castiel frowned. “That’s yours.”
“It’s okay, I have another. Come on, Cas, you’re gonna freeze. I want you to have it.”
Castiel was still just staring at him, so Dean sighed impatiently and wrapped the scarf around his neck himself. He tied a loose knot with the ends, rearranging the collar of Castiel’s coat so that it sat right. “There,” he breathed. “Much better.”
He glanced up, and was surprised by how close they were. It made his heart jump a little. Castiel was still staring at him openly, guilelessly. Dean swallowed. Castiel blinked and stepped backwards, and Dean shook his head a little. “Keep it,” he said gruffly. “It looks good on you.”
Castiel smiled then. “Thank you, Dean. It’s really very kind of you. I wish I had something to give you, but we don’t really—”
“Cas, it’s cool, don’t sweat it. I don’t want anything. Just… happy Christmas.”
“Happy Christmas, Dean.”
Dean stood and watched Castiel walk away, and then he stood and watched the corner of the road his friend had disappeared around until he realized that he was shivering and went back inside.
“Hey, Cas, guess what? I read a book over Christmas.”
“You did?” Dean knew Castiel was smiling even though they were talking over the phone, and it made him smile too.
“Yup. A whole book, from start to finish. Just for the hell of it. I haven’t done that since I grew out of Dr Seuss. It was Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and it was friggin’ awesome. Sam lent it to me.”
“I haven’t read that one. I enjoyed American Gods though – I think you’d like it.”
Dean laughed. “Look at us, having a conversation about books. What the hell have you done to me, Cas?”
“I take it you had a good Christmas?”
“Yeah, it was great. I ate too much, Sam got over-excited and fell down the stairs, my dad set fire to the table cloth a little bit... How was yours?”
“Yes. Good. It was fine. I’m... I’m looking forward to seeing you again. At school.”
“Yeah.” Dean smiled. “Yeah, me too.”
The real turning point came at the end of January. The start of the new semester had gone smoothly. Dean had turned eighteen, and had been given tickets to the rock festival in Kansas City he’d been dying to attend. His grades had continued to improve, and Castiel had continued to tutor him. The study dates were more a matter of habit now. Dean was just about back on track with everything, and it wasn’t like he ever expected to get the kind of grades Cas did. He just needed to graduate. The company was nice though, and it was easier to work when there was someone working beside him.
Dean habitually sat with Castiel in study hall as well. It was just because it made things easier; he got restless and distracted if he didn’t. So it was that he felt a strong surge of annoyance when he walked into the classroom for the study period he and his friend shared on Monday morning to see that Tara Bury was sitting right next to Castiel. Cas was poring over his English notes for the big test he had on Friday and couldn’t have been less interested in Tara, but she kept glancing over at him with that little coy smile. Dean narrowed his eyes. How she could make such a disgusting display in a public place was beyond him. Some girls had no shame.
“Hey, Tara!” he hissed. “You’re kinda in my seat there.”
She looked up at him coldly. “This is study hall, there are no assigned seats. There are plenty of other places to sit.”
“Exactly! So if you wouldn’t mind moving...”
“No! I’m sitting here! Find somewhere else, Dean.”
Dean inhaled deeply. So that’s how it was. Fine, he was willing to play dirty. Cas shouldn’t have to put up with her unwanted attentions. He dragged a chair over from another desk and squeezed himself into the narrow gap between Tara and his friend. Tara made a small noise of outrage, but Dean saw the corner of Castiel’s mouth twitch a little like it did when he wanted to smile.
When the bell rang, they walked to the cafeteria together.
Cas handed Dean a notebook. “I’ve brought my old calculus notes for you, if you’re still struggling.” He still looked thoroughly amused.
Dean grinned. “Cas, you’re an angel.”
The other boy scowled half-heartedly. “Don’t be facetious.”
Dean glanced at him sideways. There was a lightness about Castiel today; a spark of something beneath his trademark stoicism. “What’s got you in such a good mood?”
Castiel looked at him cautiously. “Do you promise not to tell anyone just yet?”
Castiel took a deep breath. “I’ve been accepted to Cornell. I found out at the weekend.”
Dean felt himself go hot, then immediately cold. “Cornell... the school?”
“Yes. Their arts faculty is excellent, and they have a beautiful library. I only applied on the off-chance – I thought that as I’ve been home-schooled most of my life it might stand against me, but... but they liked my application so much they’ve accepted me without an interview!” He smiled then, one of his rare, true smiles, and Dean felt like there really wasn’t enough air in his lungs.
“That’s great, Cas!” he enthused, his voice sounding horribly over-bright. “So... you’re actually going to college!”
Castiel’s expression clouded a little. “I haven’t told my family yet; I’m waiting for the right time. I don’t suppose they’ll be terribly happy, but I can’t see what they can do. It’s not as though I’ll be cutting myself off from the church. I can still work for them while I’m away, and I’ll be back in the holidays. Besides, I’m eighteen now. I can make my own choices.” He smiled again, like happiness was a new concept and it scared him a little.
Dean kind of felt like he wanted to throw up. “That’s great, Cas! It’s awesome! I’m so happy for you!”
“Dean, are you all right?”
“I’m fine! Listen, I have to bail. I said I’d, uh, pick up some extra test papers from Henricksen. I’ll see you later, okay?” Dean hated the false brightness in his voice, and he walked away quickly because his smile was making his face hurt.
Dean didn’t think about where he was going, he just knew that he had to get out because this place was suffocating him. He felt like punching something. God, he’d been such a fucking idiot to even hope that Cas was going to stay. He was way too good for a place like this. He had an amazing future ahead of him, a future that didn’t involve Dean. Dean should be happy for him instead of moping around like a little bitch because he was going to lose the one thing that he... God, he was a fucking idiot.
Somehow, Dean found himself wandering over the sports field towards the bleachers. He knew exactly what he was doing there, and he knew who he was looking for. Sure enough, Steve, Karl and Laura were there smoking. They all looked a little surprised to see him – Dean hadn’t hung out with them in weeks.
“Winchester!” Steve eyed him suspiciously. “Where the hell have you been?”
Dean forced a laugh. “I’ve just been busy. You know, extra hours at work.”
“How come you’ve been hanging around Jesus boy? Are you two, like, best friends now? Does he make you do Bible study with him?”
“No! It’s not... it’s nothing. I just talked him into letting me copy his notes and shit. Anyway, that’s all over now.” He grinned. “I’m a free man again.”
Karl laughed stupidly. “Nice! Cause a bunch of us are gonna be hanging at the park tonight having a few drinks. You up for it?”
Dean didn’t even have to think about it. Anything to dull the ache in his chest. “Absolutely.”
There was a little voice in the back of Dean’s head that told him it would be a terrible idea to call Cas. It was the same voice that reminded him to pretend to be happy, pretend not to care, make the people he loved think he was okay so he wouldn’t become a burden.
Then again, there was the drunk part of him that just didn’t give a damn about any of that, and right now Drunk Dean was winning.
“Dean, it’s eleven at night. I was asleep.”
“Yeah... sorry about that. I just... Cas, I wanted to...”
“Dean, are you drunk?”
“See, I knew you’d do that. I can feel the judgement radiating out of the phone, Cas. It’s so easy for you to be superior up in your attic—”
“Dean, where are you?”
“I’m in Centennial Park. And... and you need to stop doing this to me. You need to stop—”
“I’m on my way. Stay where you are.” Castiel hung up.
It took Dean a couple of minutes of glaring at his cell phone to figure out what had just happened. Castiel was on his way here, to the park, to collect Dean as if he was a naughty child. Son of a bitch! What the hell had Dean been thinking, calling him up like that? What had he been trying to prove? Dean went back to join the others; he didn’t know what to do now. He looked at the people around him, all drunk or stoned, lying around stupidly, staring at nothing. His kind of people. Dean suddenly felt so depressed he wanted to die.
Eventually, Dean pulled his phone out again and clumsily sent a text to Cas telling him not to come. He got a reply within seconds. I’M 5 MINUTES AWAY. STAY WHERE YOU ARE.
Damn it! How the hell did Cas get here so fast? Okay, so the park wasn’t far from his house, but how did he even get out? Dean wished he hadn’t gotten drunk. He kept looking around – he hoped that he could just slip away when he saw Cas and that the others would be too out of it to notice.
Sadly, it was Dean who was too out of it to notice. He couldn’t see how because he really had been on the look-out, but Castiel was suddenly there, right in front of him, giving Dean his best ‘you’ve really let me down this time’ face.
“I’m taking you home.”
“Cas, it’s fine. You shouldn’t have come.”
“Well, I have, and now we’re leaving.”
“I’m not a fucking kid, okay!” Dean shook him off.
He’d spoken a little too loudly – the others looked up to see what the commotion was. Steve got to his feet unsteadily. “What the hell is he doing here? Seriously, Winchester, is he stalking you or something? Nobody called the God Squad!”
“Back off, okay?” Dean mumbled. “It’s cool.”
“I’m here to collect Dean,” Castiel said coldly.
“Cas, would you let me handle this? You shouldn’t even be here.”
“Yeah, get the hell out of here, freak!” Steve shoved Castiel hard in the chest, clearly too stupid or too drunk to remember what had happened last time he’d tried that.
Castiel stepped forward, crowding himself into Steve’s space, and Dean couldn’t help but feel awed by the sheer electric power his quiet, unassuming friend could evoke. “Do you really want to start with me?” he said softly.
Steve blinked and stepped back. “Fine. You two go off and be gay together or whatever.”
Dean stepped forward angrily, but Castiel held him back. “Dean, leave it. We’re going.” He gripped Dean’s arm painfully and practically dragged him away.
“Cas, why the hell did you come out here?” Dean panted. “It was fine. I’m sorry I called you, but I don’t need you fucking rescuing me, okay? And how the hell did you even get permission to come anyway?”
“I didn’t,” came the curt reply. “No one knows I’m here. And evidently you do need rescuing. Dean, I’m sick of watching you indulge in this idiotic, self-destructive behavior, and I won’t tolerate it. You can do better than that.”
“No, you can! You’re the one who’s gonna get out of here and do something amazing, not me. I’m a fucking lifer, all right?”
Castiel shook his head. “I’m so tired of hearing this from you.”
“Well, I’m sorry for being boring. I’m sure you’ll find yourself a much less tedious set of friends at Cornell.”
Castiel pulled up short. “Dean, why did you call me tonight? If you didn’t really want me to come out here, then why?”
“I... I don’t know, I was drunk.”
“But you’ve been doing so well.” Castiel’s eyes were earnest and impossibly blue in the moonlight.
Dean’s teeth were chattering. “Yeah well... sometimes I feel like I can hardly hold it together, okay? You know, you’ve got all these options and all this future ahead of you, and when I look into my future I just see... I just see more years of boredom and disappointment and guilt. And you’re not gonna be there. So forgive me for needing a little distraction occasionally.”
Castiel looked genuinely hurt. “I’m sure you’ll get over it,” he whispered. “Once you’ve successfully graduated you won’t be needing my assistance anymore.”
Dean blinked. “Is that what you think? What, you think I only spend time with you because you help me study?”
Castiel looked away. “We should get going, I don’t want to be up all night. I’ll see you home.” He walked away and Dean followed him, feeling increasingly frustrated.
They caught the night bus back to Dean’s part of town, and Castiel refused to engage in conversation, staring passively out of the window despite Dean’s attempts to get his attention.
Then Castiel went as far as to walk Dean home from the bus stop.
Dean protested that he was fine, he hadn’t drunk that much, and he didn’t need a minder, but Cas had given him that look, and Dean had shut up. He had to concede to himself that seeing as he’d almost died the last time he’s wandered around by himself when he was drunk, he probably did need a minder.
They walked in silence. The cold night air cleared Dean’s head, and he was soon completely sober. He glanced over at his friend; Castiel looked thoughtful and serious. Not that that was much of a change, but Dean could tell that there was something particular on his mind. When they reached Dean’s house they stopped, and Dean turned to Castiel expectantly.
“Okay, Cas, what is it?”
Castiel didn't bother pretending not to know what Dean was talking about. “Why do you really spend time with those people?” He gave Dean a long, penetrating look.
Dean looked away, uncomfortable. “Well… why not?”
“They’re not good friends, and you know it. You don’t even like them.”
Castiel had that talent for stating uncomfortable truths.
Dean shrugged, turning away.
“What?” Dean felt like the night was closing in on him.
“You deserve better. You have better.”
Dean looked at his friend. Castiel was gazing at him with big, serious eyes, and it struck Dean that this was all so ridiculous. Cas was one of those rare, good people who hadn’t been tainted by the world. He simply couldn’t see that Dean didn’t have any other options, that the world had already had its way with him. He couldn’t see that Dean didn’t deserve the friendship of someone like him.
“What does it even matter?” Dean muttered.
“It matters because this is your life, Dean!” Castiel’s jaw was set. “I’m sick of you talking about it not mattering, when you have so many people around you who love you. I mean, do you even realize how fortunate you are? Do you have any idea what I would give to…” He turned away, frustrated.
“Cas, don’t. Don’t do that. Of course I know I’m lucky. Hell, I’ve been handed everything on a plate. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m… that I’m… It’s me, Cas. Not my life, me. All the chances I’ve been given, and I still screw it up. I’m a loser. And… and you caring and trying to fix me only makes it worse because I know that in a few months you’re gonna go off to some Ivy League school, and you’re gonna have this amazing life, and… and you’re gonna forget all about me.”
The look in Castiel’s eyes was painful. “Dean…”
“This is it for me. I mean, I’m never gonna leave Lawrence. I’ll scrape through high school if I’m lucky, but then what? I’ll work at my dad’s garage, get a cheap downtown apartment, have a series of casual relationships and one night stands until I get old and no one wants me anymore. And then I’ll just rot here. And you and Jo and Sammy… you’re all gonna leave. You all have futures and potential, and you’ll leave and forget about me. So… so what if I hang out with losers? Because at the end of the day, I’m one of them.”
Castiel shook his head. “You have no idea…”
Dean couldn’t look at him anymore. “Don’t think I’m not grateful. I mean, someone like you taking the time to… to help me out and… well, it means a lot. It means everything. But honestly? Maybe it would’ve been better for everyone if you’d just left me in the water and—”
Castiel shoved Dean hard in the chest, knocking the breath out of him. “Don’t you ever say that!” he hissed. “Do you have any idea what you’ve… Do you even know what my life was like before I met you?”
“Cas,” Dean choked. “Don’t. Just… just stop caring. I can’t… you’re gonna leave and… and if you care, it’s just… Cas, why even bother with me?”
Castiel’s expression was unfathomable. “You really have no idea, do you? Dean, is your opinion of yourself that low that you can’t see what you mean to… to… to everyone? That you can’t see your worth?” He lowered his hands, but didn’t move away.
Dean shook his head. “Why would you even bother, though?” he whispered. “You could have anything, and you’re… you’re…”
Castiel was trying to say something, Dean could tell. Clearly, he was trying to think up some good reason, any reason, that he had bothered with Dean for so long, aside from a sense of charity. He wasn’t going to be able to come up with anything, Dean thought. He would realize that Dean had been right, that he’d been wasting his time. And then he would walk away.
Instead, Castiel kissed him. Hard and desperate and painful. Dean made a small noise of surprise, too astonished by what was happening to respond, too astonished to even think. And then before his brain could even attempt to unfreeze, Castiel had pushed away from him violently. He was staring at Dean, wide-eyed and horrified. “I… I’m so sorry,” he gasped. “I didn’t mean… Oh God.” He turned and ran, and Dean tried to go after him, tried to call his name, but Castiel’s lips must have had some kind of paralyzing agent in them because by the time Dean had forced himself to move, the other boy was long gone. Dean stood tingling in the darkness, staring into space, for an unfathomable amount of time before he realized that it was freezing cold, and he forced himself to turn around and go into the house.
Much to Dean’s dismay, his parents were still up, watching TV in the front room.
“Dean!” Mary said. “It’s gone midnight! We were worried; you should have called.”
Dean stared at her stupidly.
“Dean!” John was using his military voice, which was never good. “Did you hear your mother? Where the hell have you been? It’s a school night, for chrissake! What are you—” He stared at Dean. “What the hell is wrong with you? Did someone slip you some roofies of something?”
Dean blinked a couple of times; he needed to get his shit together. “Uh… no. No, I’m just really, really tired. I’m sorry, I… forgot the time. I’m sorry, Mom. Dad.” Dean turned around and headed for the stairs. John started to go after him, presumably to question him further, but much to Dean’s relief Mary held him back.
As soon as Dean was in his room, he slumped on the floor, his back against the door, and stared. What had just happened was so surreal, so unexpected, that Dean was starting to doubt that it had actually taken place. He ran his tongue along his lips slowly, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back against the door with a soft thud. Castiel had kissed him. Dean still had the taste of him, and it made him shiver. “Oh fuck,” he whispered. “Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…”
Dean got to his feet and paced his room. Then he threw himself face-down on the bed. Then he got up again and resumed pacing. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” He felt feverish. What the hell had just happened? Castiel had kissed him, and it had made him feel… oh, fuck! This was ridiculous. It hadn’t even lasted that long! There hadn’t even been any tongue involved! It was not the kind of kiss you get worked up over, yet Dean had felt more passion in those few brief seconds than he’d ever… oh, fuck. He scrubbed a hand over his face. Dean liked girls. Girls, with their curves and their soft hair and their breasts. Dean smiled dreamily to himself, momentarily distracted. Breasts. He shook his head. He was good at being with girls; he’d always known, instinctively, what he had to do to be with them. He knew all the lines, all the moves, and he’d always been happy with that. Hell, it was one of the few things Dean had felt confident that he could do. He was certain that he’d never been attracted to another guy before. He thought about kissing Steve, and almost physically recoiled. That, however, probably had more to do with the fact that Steve was, well, Steve. And here he was, feeling all warm and tingly over Castiel, who was most definitely a guy. He sat down on the bed, slowly rocking back and forth. This was madness. It couldn’t be happening to him. He was just… confused or something. Although confusion rarely left him with such sweaty palms.
Dean closed his eyes and breathed in deeply through his nose, trying to calm down. He needed to think this through logically. Castiel had just kissed him, and Dean been really shocked but… he had liked it. Maybe that was just a natural physical reaction to being kissed. No, that didn’t make any sense. Still, he’d never thought about Castiel this way before tonight, had he? He thought about how he felt when he was with Cas. How he always looked forward to seeing him, even if it was just to study. How sometimes the prospect of seeing Castiel was the only thing that got him to school. He thought of how much he hated it when Cas hung out with other people, and how he dreaded the day when the other boy would inevitably leave. Oh. Oh God. Dean buried his head in his hands. “Fuck, fuck, fuck…”
Dean didn’t know if he could face going into school the next day. He’d only gotten around an hour of sleep in the end and he felt like crap, but he knew that if he said he was sick his parents would think he was hungover. Which was only half true. The thought of going in and seeing Castiel made his stomach squirm unpleasantly, and the knowledge that the other guy was probably feeling just as uncomfortable didn’t help in the slightest.
Sam looked at him sideways as they drove in that morning. “Dean, are you okay? You’re looking a little... caffeinated.”
“I’m fine!” Dean snapped. “Everything’s just fine. I’m fine. Keep your eyes on the road.”
“You’re the one driving, you keep your eyes on the road!”
“Would you relax?”
“I’m not yelling,” Sam said calmly. “I’m just... concerned.”
Dean swallowed. “It’s fine. Seriously. I’m sorry, Sammy, I’m just kinda stressed about, you know, school.”
“You’re stressed about school?”
Dean forced himself to calm down. There was no point making Sam worry about him because of this. He just needed to be Dean Winchester. He’d done it before, and he could do it now. “Yeah.” He gave his brother an easy grin. “Not a big deal, I just got a math test coming up, that’s all. Henriksen’s been pushing me pretty hard since I made the mistake of letting on that I’m not as dumb as I look. It’s not a big deal, really. Uh... sorry about the spazz.”
Sam looked at him like Dean wasn’t fooling anyone. “Okay. Well, I have to do something with the debate team after school. Will you wait around or should I get the bus?”
“Nah, I can wait. You enjoy the debate team, Sammy?”
“Yeah, it’s cool.”
“And it has lots of members?”
“Quite a few, I guess.”
“Mm-hm. So... you do a lot of mass debating, then?”
“Yeah, we...” Sam gave him a look of deep disappointment. “Doesn’t it worry you that I’m four years younger than you, yet I’m the mature one?”
Dean laughed. That was better. Better to be the idiot big brother than a cause for concern.
Castiel wasn’t in home room. Dean saw him in English, but he slipped out before Dean had a chance to confront him. Not that he’d tried. In fact, Castiel did an excellent job of avoiding him all day, and Dean couldn’t help but feel relieved. Until he’d worked out what he felt, he didn’t want to actually deal with anything. As the week wore on, however, it started to bother him. Cas just disappeared whenever he saw Dean. He was there and then he was gone, and he wouldn’t even look at Dean let alone talk to him. Dean had even sent him a couple of texts suggesting that they should talk, but Cas hadn’t replied. It made him feel panicky. He was scared to confront what had happened, but more than that he missed Castiel. He didn’t care if it was awkward, he just wanted for them to talk and figure something out and be okay with each other. It was impossible when Castiel could just slip away from him and disappear. It did lend some plausibility to Dean’s theory that Cas was secretly a ninja though.
More worryingly, Dean couldn’t stop himself from thinking about the kiss. He remembered how Cas had made him tingle, had made his pulse race, his head spin. It hadn’t just been from shock. Something about it had felt good and right, and that freaked the hell out of him. He’d find himself wondering how it would feel to kiss Castiel again, how it would feel if neither of them pulled away. He thought about what Cas would taste like, what it would feel like to put his arms around him. He’d never even entertained thoughts about another guy like this. Never once considered it. But then Cas had come along and had taken Dean by surprise, somehow managing to work his way under Dean’s skin without even trying. Without it being scary. Dean had dreams about him, about the way he’d look at Dean like there was nothing else on Earth, about his strength and his gentleness, about the soft whimpering noise he’d made when he’d crushed their lips together that night. Dean would awake from these dreams breathless, afraid and almost painfully hard.
By Friday he thought he was going out of his mind. He felt angry because what right did Castiel have to do this to him? To throw everything into chaos, then disappear and leave Dean to deal with it by himself? It wasn’t fair. He didn’t care anymore that Cas was probably scared too. He just wanted... he didn’t know what he wanted. He wanted to stop feeling this way. He wanted to go back to how it had been before, when Dean knew who he was and what he wanted and there were no weird doubts and urges. Well, fine. Fine. If Castiel didn’t want anything to do with him, that was just fine. Dean would just forget the whole thing had ever happened. He was good at that, forgetting. He’d move on from one more fucking disappointment. He’d go back to what he knew he could do.
He sent Lisa a text asking her if she’d like to go out that night.
Naturally, she replied with an affirmative.
It was going to be all right, he told himself. He’d go out, have sex with Lisa in the back of his car, and everything would be back to normal.
Everything would be fine.
He couldn’t go through with it in the end; he’d made an excuse about having to go to the garage early the next morning and had dropped Lisa off at home without even trying to get into her pants. She hadn’t been happy.
Dean was totally screwed. He’d thought that if he just reminded himself of who he really was everything would be okay again, but it hadn’t worked. He’d tried to be interested in what Lisa was saying about moving to LA, her new pet dog, cheerleading competitions... He’d never found it so hard to focus on a woman in his life. He just didn’t care. He didn’t care enough to even pretend. He missed being with Cas, who he never had to pretend with, who he could just be with.
He’d tried to kiss Lisa then, thinking that it might help, but it had just felt so... wrong. She was wearing this really sticky lipgloss that tasted of bubblegum, and it had been kind of off-putting. Castiel’s lips had been dry, but they were soft and sensual, and Dean remembered the brush of stubble against his lips, the way Cas had gripped the lapels of his jacket so tightly. Lisa just didn’t feel right. The noises she made sounded false, like she knew what he’d like and was playing the part. He’d never noticed that before. There was a knowing look in her eyes, and okay he liked his women to be sexually confident, but... he missed the way Castiel would look at him. That open look of his, like Dean was something special. He felt like being with Lisa was some kind of betrayal, even though that was stupid because Castiel hadn’t even talked to him since the kiss, so Dean was free to do as he pleased. Only this really didn’t please him anymore. He’d gone home frustrated, scared and confused.
Dean broke into his parents’ drinks cabinet when he got in and helped himself to a shot or three of bourbon. He sat back on the sofa, breathing deeply, feeling the warm spread of the alcohol down his legs, through his brain. When he’d reached the point where impulse outweighed fear of consequences, he picked up his phone.
JO I NEED 2 TLK ABT CAS. U FREE 2MORO?
There was no getting out of it. Dean woke up the next day to a reply from Jo telling him to come over after work, and he knew his best friend well enough to realize she wouldn’t let him worm his way out of it. So after he’d gotten home and showered he went next door to Jo’s house, his stomach jittery.
Ellen opened the door, and grinned when she saw him. “Dean! Good to see you.” She pulled him into a slightly painful hug. “Come on in. I hope you haven’t come over on behalf of your daddy. You tell him I won that money fair and square, and he’s a sore loser!”
Dean laughed. “Nah, he should know better by now than to take you on at poker. I just came by to see Jo. She in?”
“Mm-hm, she’s in the den – just go on down.”
Dean went down to the basement which the Harvelle’s had converted into a rec room. Jo was sprawled on a bean bag chair playing Grand Theft Auto, but she paused the game when she saw Dean.
She laughed at him. “God, Dean, you look like you’re going to your death!”
Dean rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m just... you know, there’s really nothing to talk about. I don’t know why I—”
“Dean, stop fidgeting and sit down. You wanted to talk, so let’s talk. You said it was something about Castiel?”
Dean breathed in deeply. He knew there was no getting out of it now, but he didn’t know what to say. Moreover, he didn’t know whether he should tell anyone about what had happened. Still, he knew he could trust Jo to keep quiet and not to judge, and he felt like if he didn’t get this off his chest he might go crazy.
“He kissed me,” he whispered. “On... on Monday night, Cas kissed me.”
Jo’s eyes grew very wide. “Oh wow,” she breathed. “Are you serious? I didn’t think he’d ever get up the courage.”
Dean looked at her, stunned. “You... you... what?”
She grimaced. “Dean, it’s been kind of... I mean, the two of you are... different, you know? You were never just friends. Everything’s so intense and, I don’t know, intimate. I’ve known he had feelings for you for quite a while, but I honestly didn’t think he’d ever do anything about it. I didn’t think you’d give him the chance.” She glanced up at Dean. “How do you... how do you feel about it?”
Dean pressed his lips together. “I dunno. I mean, I was shocked at first, but I...”
“You like him.”
“Well yeah, of course I do. I mean, once you get past the staring and the weird clothes and the fact that he takes everything literally, and his complete lack of anything that’s—”
“No,” Jo interrupted. “You like him.”
Dean looked up at her, panicked. “What the hell am I thinking, Jo? I mean, I like girls. I’ve always liked girls, and I haven’t changed. But there’s... there’s something about him, and I don’t know what’s happening to me, but now I’ve thought about it I can’t stop thinking about it, and it’s... I feel like I want to kiss him again, but I don’t know what that means, and... and everything’s gonna change, and I’m scared. Not just because of what people will say, but... but about, you know, who I am. I mean, I don’t know what’s scarier, that I might like it or that I might try something with him and realize that actually, you know, I don’t like it and it was just a weird fluke the other night, and I’ll end up hurting him. I’m scared that I’m gonna lose him. I feel like I’m just gonna screw it up anyway, and he’s gonna leave anyway, but I can’t stop thinking about it, and I’m not gay, I’m not, it’s just that it’s him, and he saved my life, and he believes in me, and he... he makes me feel like I could—”
“Dean, breathe.” Jo laid a hand on his arm. “Just breathe for a second, okay? Okay, now I’m gonna tell you something I thought I’d never tell you, but... but I think it might help. Back in ninth grade I had the biggest crush on you.”
Dean stared at her. “Are you serious?”
“Mm-hm. The biggest. You know, you were my best friend, and you’d gotten so damn beautiful, and you were pretty much my favorite person in the world. But I knew I could never tell you. You were always so... so good around girls. You’d give them the smile and the flirty eyes, and you’d say exactly the right thing. You had your act down to perfection. I knew it was an act, of course, but... I dunno. I wasn’t going to be one of those girls. That wasn’t enough for me. I knew that even if you’d been able to get over the fact that we were best friends and I actually knew you, it would never be... I’d never be the one. I mean, I probably know you better than just about anyone, but even with me you’ve never been... there’s always been a wall. But not with him.”
“Shit, Jo, I’m sorry. I had no idea.”
She grinned. “Oh, I got over it. The point I’m trying to make is that you’ve always been... cut off from everyone. You protect yourself, even from the people who love you, and you don’t let them in. There’s always an act. But with Castiel you’re just... calm. I see the two of you together, and you always seem so peaceful, like you can just be. And honestly I think that if you can find someone who makes you feel that way, you can’t walk away from it. You just can’t. He’s good for you, Dean. You liked it when he kissed you, didn’t you?”
“I guess. I mean, I was shocked and it only lasted a couple of seconds, but...”
“You felt the spark.” Jo had a big, stupid grin on her face.
Dean scowled. “Jo, I swear to God, don’t do that. I’m telling you this because you’re the least girly of all my friends – including Ash – and I thought I could rely on you not to get all... mushy, okay?”
Jo made an effort to straighten her face. “Sorry.” She punched him on the arm. “That better?”
Okay then. So... you felt something. And have you, you know, thought about taking it further?”
Dean couldn’t look at her. “Kind of,” he mumbled. “I mean, I’ve never thought of another guy like that before, but... I don’t know. With him it’s different. I want to try, and I want to... But what if I don’t like it? I mean, what if going from thinking to, you know, doing is too much and I have to bail? I couldn’t do that to him, and...”
“Dean, I think you’re making too big a deal of this. It’s just genitalia, and penises really aren’t that scary.”
“No, seriously! If you like the person and you’re attracted to them, I think the rest of it doesn’t even matter. You know? And if you liked kissing Castiel, odds are you’ll like the other stuff as well. And you know what, screw what everyone else thinks! The people who love you will only care that you’re happy, and who give a shit about anyone else?”
“But he’s leaving, Jo! And... and he could do so much better, and I’m so messed up, and one day he’s gonna realize that and he’ll—”
“Dean, stop! You can’t not do something because you’re scared of it ending; that’s just stupid. I get that it’s scary, I do, but... but if I know you, you’ll beat yourself up a lot more if you just give up on it now than if you try and it doesn’t work out. At least then you’ll have the satisfaction of telling me I was wrong. These things are always gonna be difficult, but you know my mom always said that nothing worth having comes for free.”
Dean swallowed. “So... you think I should actually do this?”
Jo shrugged. “I just want you to be happy, and you haven’t been. And I think if you let your fears get in the way you might miss out on something that could actually make you happy. You have feelings for the guy. I mean, you’ve accepted that much, right?”
Slowly, Dean nodded. “I guess I do. I mean, I just want to be with him. Like, all the time. And if something happens, I want to tell him about it. He makes me feel like I can actually do stuff, you know? Like I could... like I’m worth something. I want to make him proud of me, and I’m scared that I won’t. And it’s so frustrating cause I want to tell him that his family are dicks, and I want to get him away from them cause I feel like if I could take him somewhere warm and give him something good to eat and just, you know, tell him how amazing he is all the time, he could be happy. I hate how they treat him. It freaks me the hell out, and part of me wishes that none of this had ever happened, but it has, and he makes me feel good about myself, you know? He makes me feel... peaceful and agitated at the same time. And I... I don’t know why, but I want him. I wanna know what it’d be like to... Yeah. Yeah, I like him. And I... I guess he likes me too.”
Jo snorted. “You’re kidding. Dean, the guy’s head-over-heels in love with you! God knows you’ve done little to deserve it.”
“I think love might be a little—”
“He is! Dean, he looks at you like you hung the moon. Pam noticed from the beginning. I wasn’t sure at first cause you know what she’s like, but... then there was the staring and the following you around and the tolerance for your never-ending bullshit. And that time at lunch when you started bragging about Lisa... he looked like he’d been punched in the stomach. Even Ash noticed, and you know he can’t pay attention to anything that doesn’t have a binary code.”
Dean’s heart was thudding dully. “I’m such a fucking idiot.”
“Yes you are.” Jo gave him a couple of pats on the knee. “But it’s not entirely your fault. I mean, this must be a pretty scary thing to come to terms with. It’s not surprising you’ve been in denial.”
“Jo, I don’t even know what... I mean, the guy runs a mile every time he sees me now.”
“He’s embarrassed. Dean, if you really want this to work out, you’re gonna have to make him listen to you.”
“But he’s been avoiding me!”
Jo raised an eyebrow. “So go confront him some place where he can’t.”
Dean looked up at the old Queen Anne style house; it was even less welcoming at night. Still, he had driven out here now, and at this point he was more than willing to brave Castiel’s weirdo family if it meant he got to talk to his friend. Heaving a sigh, he stepped onto the porch and rung the doorbell.
He was starting to think that maybe no one was in, when a light flicked on in the hallway and Cas’s brother Michael opened the door.
Michael stared at Dean, then smiled slowly. “Dean. This is a pleasant surprise.”
“Uh, yeah. Is Cas home? We had a… study date.”
Michael frowned. “He didn’t mention anything about that.”
Dean wished the guy would stop staring at him. “Well, maybe he forgot. I mean, it wasn’t, you know, a specific plan. It was just… we’d talked about it. That we… we might get together tonight and… see, I’m still having these problem with calculus, and Cas is really good at it, and… and…” Shut up, Dean, just shut up. Stop talking already. “So is Cas home?”
Michael was staring at him again, and Dean forced himself not to look away. “Castiel is in the chapel.”
“Oh. Well… can I see him?”
“Yes, Dean. I’m sure that won’t be a problem. Oh, but Dean? Don’t keep him too long. We have family prayer this evening, and I’d hate for him to miss it. Castiel has become… a little negligent of late.”
“Um, right. No problem.”
Dean turned away and walked round the back of the house, only relaxing when he heard the front door close. God, Michael was creepy. There was something about the way he looked at Dean, making him feel like he was being examined. Cas stared, it was true, but he never made it feel like eye rape. Dean would almost have preferred it if Uncle Zach had come to the door instead.
There was a light on in the little wooden chapel. Dean scowled. Who the hell builds a goddamn church in their back garden? This was about the last place that Dean wanted to have this conversation. Still, he told himself, Jo was right. Cas couldn’t run away from him here, and there was no going back now.
Dean opened the door as quietly as he could, and went inside. The room was lit only by a few candles at the far end, but Dean spotted his friend immediately. Castiel was sitting in one of the pews at the front of the chapel, his head bowed. The sight made Dean’s heart clench painfully. No one should be as alone as this. He approached slowly, tentatively, knowing how fragile the moment was. Castiel did not hear him, and Dean was able to sit down beside him without him even being aware of it. Cas’s eyes were closed and his hands were folded in his lap. He should have looked peaceful, but he didn’t; he looked sad and tired, and Dean could practically feel his distress.
“Cas…” he breathed.
Castiel gasped and flinched away from Dean like he’d been burned. “What the— what are you doing here?” He staggered to his feet, his eyes wild.
Dean held his hands up. “Woah, I’m sorry! Calm down, okay? It’s just… you didn’t give me a whole lot of choice, Cas. I’ve been trying to talk to you all week. I have to say, you’re a stubborn son-of-a-bitch when you want to be. The problem with that is that I am too. Now we are gonna talk about this right now.”
Castiel wouldn’t meet his eye. “I don’t see what there is to talk about.”
“Well, I was thinking we might discuss what happened the other night. When you—”
“There’s really nothing to say,” Castiel interrupted. “It was a mistake, and you have my word it won’t happen again. I would… be very grateful if you just forgot about it.”
“Well, I can’t do that, Cas.”
Castiel looked up at him, frustrated. “What do you want me to say, Dean? It was an error of judgement and I apologize. Believe me, I never meant to… I didn’t want…” He gave Dean a pleading look.
“I’ve missed you.”
Castiel sighed and looked away. He didn’t say anything for a couple of minutes, and Dean was starting to get scared that he’d read things wrong and Cas really did just want him gone, but then: “I missed you too. I was just… I was embarrassed. I would be very, very grateful if we could just forget the whole thing. I want things to go back to the way they were.”
Dean got to his feet slowly. He would have to play this very carefully; he couldn’t afford to scare Cas off now. “Well, sure. If that’s what you really want.”
Castiel nodded, looking determinedly at Dean’s knees.
“Okay then, it’s forgotten.”
Castiel breathed in deeply. “Thank you.”
“So… we’re okay?”
Castiel nodded, but he still wouldn’t look up.
Dean moved closer, noticing how Cas visibly tensed. “You know, you don’t have anything to worry about with me.”
Castiel smiled bitterly. “Right.”
“It’s true. I mean, whatever it is, whatever’s bothering you… I’m telling you that you don’t need to worry about it.”
“It’s very kind of you to say that, but—”
“Fuck being kind! Cas, do I strike you as someone who’d say something just to be nice? I’m saying that I… that you’re… that you don’t ever have to worry about how I… how I feel… I… Damn it!”
Dean had never learned to talk about his feelings, and even if he had, nothing could have prepared him for a situation like this. Words were not his forte. Words could be so easily misunderstood. Instead, he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Castiel, holding him as tight as he could and praying that it would say everything he didn’t have the words for.
He felt Cas tense up but Dean refused to let go, knowing full well that if the other boy really wanted to get away, he could. He didn’t have the first clue what he was doing, but he needed to make Cas understand. Gradually, his friend began to relax into the embrace. Dean rubbed a hand soothingly over his back, and slowly, tentatively, Cas wrapped his arms around Dean’s waist. Dean was feeling distinctly light-headed now. Perhaps getting this close to the other boy hadn’t been such a smart thing to do after all, because while his better judgement was telling him to approach with caution and take things slow, his instinct… Dean’s instinct was telling him that if he’d ever had doubts about his attraction to Castiel before, those doubts were long gone now. It was terrifying and wonderful at the same time. The way Cas felt in his arms, the touch of his skin, the way his hair smelled – it was all completely intoxicating to him. Dean buried his face in Cas’s neck and breathed in deeply. It made his head spin, made him ache, and Castiel wasn’t pulling away. Dean couldn’t help himself. He pressed a soft kiss to the base of Cas’s neck. He did it again, a little higher this time, and still the other boy didn’t try to stop him. Another kiss, just below the ear, and another on the jawline, and another—
Castiel pushed Dean away violently. “What the hell do you think you are doing?”
Dean looked at him, dazed. “Cas…”
“Get out.” There was cold fury in Castiel’s eyes, and Dean felt a momentary thrill of fear in spite of himself. “Get out, and don’t ever talk to me again.”
“Cas, wait…” Dread was starting to pool in Dean’s stomach. God, what the hell had he been thinking? He had known full well how fragile the situation was, and he’d allowed his libido to get the best of him yet again. “Cas, listen to me!”
“And why the hell should I? I trusted you, Dean! I thought that you were my friend, but you’re just—”
“I am, and I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that, okay? It’s just that ever since the other night, I’ve been… I’ve had these feelings that… I like you, okay?”
Castiel looked shocked and angry, and unspeakably hurt. “So you thought you’d use me to experiment.”
“Come on, Dean.” He laughed bitterly. “You thought you’d see what it would be like. And you thought I wouldn’t mind.”
“No! God! Do you— is that what you really think of me? Am I that much of a dick to you?”
“Dean, you like girls.”
“Well, yeah I do. But apparently I like you too. Cas, ever since the other night, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you. And all this stuff’s just… fallen into place. Like how I get jealous when you spend time with other people. And when we’re studying together… how I always sit really close to you, even when I don’t have to. And how I’d do stuff for you that I’d never… I mean, I read friggin’ Shakespeare for you, man! An actual play, not just the Cliff’s Notes! I wouldn’t even do that for my mom, but I did it for you, because I wanted to make you happy. Because I didn’t want to let you down. And when you kissed me, it was like… like someone switched a light on in my head. God, please, Cas. Please don’t think that I’d lie to you about this. I mean, I know I’m an idiot and I do stupid, thoughtless things, but you have to know that you’re different. You have to. What we’ve been through… I wouldn’t use you like that. Look at me, you know it. And I know that I’ve gone about this the wrong way, and if it’s what you really honestly want, I won’t mention it again. Hell, I’ll even stay away from you. But… but I can’t help but feel that we could be something… more. That it could be amazing. And I’m not gonna pretend that I’m not shit scared, because I am. I’m taking a huge leap here. All I know is that I’m not gonna let being scared stop me from at least ... I tried to forget it and... and go back to how I’d been before, but it didn’t work, cause you’ve done something to me, and I don’t wanna pretend anymore. I can’t just… walk away from this, Cas.”
Dean felt slightly sick. He prayed that it was enough, that Castiel would see what it had cost him, see that he was telling the truth. He prayed, because the thought of losing Cas made him feel panicky and desperate and lost.
Castiel just stood and stared like he was in a trance.
“Cas…” Dean realized that his legs were shaking.
“Dean, if you’re lying to me…”
“No! For fuck’s sake! Come on, do you really think I’d lie about something like this? Look at me! You know me, Cas. Look at me; you know I’m telling the truth.”
Castiel took a step forward, and Dean could see that he was shaking.
“Cas, please.” Dean reached out and took hold of the other boy’s arm. Castiel didn’t pull away. “Look at me. I don’t know what the hell it is you’ve done to me, but… but I’m here, and… and I’d never lie to you. There’d be no point. You always manage to see straight through me anyway.”
“Dean…” Castiel’s voice was ragged. “Have you… even thought about what this would mean?”
“Of course! I can’t think about anything else. All I… all I know is that when I’m with you, all the shit stops. When I’m with you, I feel like maybe I can be something after all, and… and I’ve been scared of going after what I want for as long as I can remember, but you know what? The thought of losing you scares me more.”
Dean was shaking himself now. He realized how strange a sight they would make to an outside observer. Two broken, terrified young men laying their hearts open to one another before the altar of a family church.
“Dean,” Cas whispered. “If you knew what I’d… how hard I’ve tried not to feel this way. How much I’ve prayed. How long I’ve…”
Dean ghosted fingers across his cheek, and Castiel’s eyes fluttered closed. “It’s okay.”
Castiel looked up at him helplessly. “I don’t know what’s happened to me.”
“Me either, but… this is right, isn’t it? You and me? I mean, I’m not just kidding myself here am I?”
Castiel shook his head.
They were so close now; Dean felt like his heart would burst out of his chest, it was beating so damn hard. He’d never wanted anything so much in his life.
Castiel was staring at his mouth. “I don’t know what happened that night, but… I think I’ve loved you from the moment I pulled you out of the water.”
Dean swallowed. He leaned in slowly, still afraid that he was going to lose everything, and kissed Castiel. He had never felt anything like this. He was suddenly acutely aware of all his nerve endings and how they were tingling. He grabbed hold of the lapels of Castiel’s jacket, knowing that he might die if this was denied him again now, unable to think of anything except how good Cas tasted and how his head was spinning, and how this should never ever end.
“Dean,” Castiel whispered, turning his head away slightly. “We can’t. Not here; it’s not right.”
“What?” Dean pulled back a little, breathless and confused.
“We’re in church.”
Dean laughed shakily. “Cas, does this feel like a sin to you?”
“Me either. And I’m going to take the fact that we haven’t been struck down by a lightning bolt from above as a sign that God is categorically okay with this.”
Castiel looked at him searchingly for a moment, then pulled him roughly back into the kiss. Dean's felt like he'd fall over if he wasn't holding onto Cas so tight. Castiel kissed him desperately, like it would hurt not to, like he would die if he didn’t. Dean was left incapable of anything other than holding him close, trying to show him that it was okay, he needed it too.
It didn’t matter that this was unexpected or inconvenient. It didn’t matter that no one else would understand. All that mattered was that Dean had been lost before, they both had, and now they’d found each other. All that mattered was that being with Castiel made Dean feel truly alive for the first time in years, and he didn’t know what he’d done to deserve it, but there was no way in hell he was going to give it up now.
Dean awoke with a violent start. His heart was beating so hard it almost hurt and he thought for a second he was going to throw up, but he gulped in a couple of deep breaths and the feeling passed. He flopped back onto the pillows, the sheen of cold sweat on his chest making him shiver. Fuck. He hadn’t dreamed about that in ages. He’d hoped that the dreams had stopped altogether.
This wasn’t a coincidence. This was because of what had happened last night with Castiel. It had set things off again.
He would have to talk to Cas, tell him that things were moving too fast and they’d have to cool things off. Castiel would understand. Castiel had to understand, because Dean had been trying way too hard to forget.
Before driving to school, Dean sent Castiel a text asking to meet him out behind the cafeteria instead of going to home room. The sooner he dealt with this the better. Those stolen kisses in the Delacroix family chapel seemed like a strange dream now. It had only been the night before, but it felt misty and far away. Dean could hardly believe it had actually happened; he couldn’t believe he’d had the nerve. He simply didn’t do things like that. Maybe it had been a mistake to act on it. He’d agonized over his feelings for Castiel long enough to know that he hadn’t been kidding himself, but maybe they shouldn’t have rushed into things. Maybe they should have talked things over first. God, there was so much about him that Cas didn’t know. Dean was pretty sure that had he known the full truth, Cas wouldn’t have been so willing to kiss him.
Dean arrived at their meeting place first. There was a little alcove behind the cafeteria where kids would sometimes go to smoke, and Dean had chosen it because it was secluded and they were unlikely to be seen. It was a clear, crisp February day, cold enough for snow. Dean leaned up against the wall and closed his eyes, going over what he wanted to say one more time. The last thing he wanted was to hurt Cas. His head was starting to ache.
“You wanted to talk?”
Dean opened his eyes to see Castiel standing in front of him. He was too used to the guy’s sudden appearances by now to be surprised. “Hey,” he said softly.
“What did you want to talk about?” Castiel’s arms were wrapped around himself protectively.
Dean opened his mouth to give the well-rehearsed speech about how he still felt the same but he had to back off because things were moving too fast and he was freaking out and he didn’t know who he was anymore.
But then he looked at Castiel. Castiel in his trenchcoat and his blue sweater and the scarf Dean had given him, looking at Dean with big, worried eyes. He forgot everything he was going to say.
“Nothing. It’s nothing, Cas. I just needed to see you.”
Castiel exhaled. “I was afraid you’d changed your mind.”
Dean stepped towards him and hesitantly kissed him on the corner of his mouth. He hadn’t kissed anyone that chastely since he was about twelve, but he was suddenly shy. “No,” he said. “I didn’t change my mind.”
Castiel sighed deeply and wrapped his arms around Dean, relaxing into the embrace like he wanted to melt into Dean completely. Dean’s first instinct was to worm himself out of it. Hugs were fine, but this was bordering on cuddling. Dean hated cuddling – it made him feel trapped and claustrophobic, like the other person was trying to keep him captive and wouldn’t let him go. There was something about this though, about being so close to Cas, all warm and solid and comforting. It was actually... really nice.
“I am safe, aren’t I?” Dean whispered. “With you?”
“What do you mean?” Castiel looked up at him, his brows knitted. “Of course you’re safe.”
“It’s nothing.” Dean smiled. “I’m fine. Hey, Cas, would it... would it be okay if we kinda keep this quiet for now? Just till we’re—”
“Of course. I mean, I think it would be for the best. I don’t want my family finding out yet – I think this is one of those things they wouldn’t approve of.” He gave a small, bitter smile, and Dean had the feeling that ‘not approving’ would be putting the Delacroixs’ reaction to the news in the lightest possible terms.
Dean rested his chin on Castiel’s shoulder and closed his eyes. He couldn’t believe he’d freaked out like that. He just needed to not be away from Castiel; if he was with Cas he wouldn’t be afraid.
“I really thought you were going to call this all off,” Castiel said, his voice slightly muffled by Dean’s scarf. “I never expected anything from you, you know.”
Dean laughed. “I never expected anything from me either. I mean this is... you are the last thing I ever expected to happen. I meant it though. You know, what I said. Last night. I’m not... good at words, but when I’m with you I kinda... forget all the crap, you know?”
“I think I do.”
Dean made himself let go and leaned back against the wall. “Cas, how long have you known?”
“About all of it.”
“Ah. Well, the two are sort of... intertwined to be honest. I mean, you’re... you’re the first person I’ve ever... I mean I could ignore it until you came along. I think I’ve sort of known since I was little though. Deep down. You know, there... there’s never been anyone else, but...” He sighed deeply. “When I was younger I was given a book of saints. I read it all, but I loved the page dedicated to John the Baptist best. I used to look at the picture of him all the time – I thought it was beautiful, and it made me feel... I don’t know. I tried to explain it to Michael one day. I thought he’d be pleased with my religious fervor, as I thought of it, and I never expected him to get angry. He ripped the page out and tore it up. He... he told me it was wrong to devote myself to the admiration of a picture because it distracted from my worship of God. Like worshiping false idols, I suppose. But now I think he suspected the truth about me. And... that was it. I never let myself think anyone or anything was beautiful since then. Until you. I don’t suppose you remember it, but the first day I came here we ran into each other in the corridor and I dropped my books. You stopped to help me even though you didn’t have to, and it was the first kind thing anyone had done for me all day. You looked a little like the picture of John the Baptist. I never thought you would be part of my life, but I liked to look at you sometimes. You always seemed so lost, and I wanted to help you but I didn’t know how. I think that maybe... maybe God meant me to save you that night. Until then you were just a beautiful boy I wished I knew, but that night... that first breath of air you took, when you grabbed onto me so tight... I loved you. You were my miracle, and God had somehow decided that I should know you and help you, and I never expected anything, I never wanted more than you were willing to give, but—”
He was interrupted by Dean grabbing hold of his scarf and pulling him in for a kiss. It was kind of clumsy because their faces were so cold, and Dean had that surreal out-of-body awareness of oh-my-god-I’m-making-out-with-another-guy-and-how-the-hell-did-I-get-here, but there was something so right about it, and this wasn’t just some guy it was Cas. His Cas.
If Dean had ever thought that Castiel’s lack of experience would make him shy and awkward when it came to this kind of thing, he was happily mistaken. Cas was a very fast learner. He nipped gently at Dean’s lower lip before snaking an arm around his waist and pulling him even closer with a quiet growl that made Dean flush with heat in spite of the icy weather. Castiel’s tongue pushed into his mouth, and it was all so easy and natural to Dean, only there were those subtle differences from all those other kisses that sent a spark of excitement through him. Differences like the slight scrape of Castiel’s stubble which was actually surprisingly erotic, and Castiel’s strength which was equal to, if not surpassing, Dean’s own. And his body, smooth and hard beneath the layers of clothing. A body like Dean’s. Not to mention the fact that no one had ever kissed Dean this thoroughly, this... sincerely. Thinking about this sent the heat in Dean’s body even lower, and he had to think of something distracting because if he wasn’t careful he was going to start dry-humping Castiel up against the wall. He didn’t think he was ready for that just yet and, at the risk of feeling like a total girl, he wanted to do things right by Castiel. He wanted to do things properly this time.
The bell rang, and Cas pulled away a little. “First period,” he gasped.
Dean took the opportunity to plant open-mouthed kisses along Castiel’s jaw-line. “Let’s blow it off. I know a couple of places we can go where we’ll be alone.”
“No.” At least Cas had the decency to look regretful about it. “I haven’t yet missed a single class, and I’m not going to start now. Besides, I sat there and listened to you whine about how you were never going to pass English and writing essays was boring and you didn’t see the point of poetry, and I’m not going to let you skip out on it now that you’re actually doing well. We’re going.”
“We’re going. But... I am free after school if you wish to... continue our assignation.” He fixed Dean with a long, burning look before turning and walking back to the main building.
Dean followed, feeling distinctly tingly. For a socially awkward virgin, Castiel had an undeniable natural talent for being a prick-tease.
Dean suggested over lunch that the two of them go to the movies that evening. They’d never done anything together that didn’t involve schoolwork, and Dean had decided that that was incredibly lame. It gave him a funny thrill of excitement to think that he and Castiel were going on an actual date. It made him feel oddly shy, and he could have sworn that Castiel blushed a little when Dean asked him. Great. They were turning into a couple of bashful twelve-year-olds.
They’d agreed to meet by Dean’s car after school. When Cas arrived he was talking on his cell, and smiled apologetically. He wasn’t saying much, just the odd “Yes, I- yes... Yes, Uriel, I... No, I understand perfectly, I only wanted to- yes. Very well.” Dean couldn’t hear what the person on the other end was saying, but they sounded angry. Castiel hung up with a sigh. “I’m sorry about that. That was my cousin.”
Dean opened the passenger door for him. “I thought you’d lost touch with your other cousins.”
“Raphael’s children, yes,” Castiel replied once Dean was sitting next to him. “But that was Uriel, Lucifer’s son. We’re all in touch with him because he manages the family accounts. He worked for my father in the early days, but it didn’t really work out. Uriel isn’t... a people person.”
Dean snorted. “Right. So you... wait, did you say he was Lucifer’s kid? You have an uncle called Lucifer?”
“Lucifer was an angel!” Castiel said defensively.
“Yeah, but more commonly known as the devil. So your grandparents just decided to... no, you know what, I’m not gonna...”
“I think he prefers to be known as Luke now. We don’t really talk about him. He’s... estranged from the church.”
Dean couldn’t help laughing at this, earning himself a scowl from Castiel. “Let me guess, he’s immersed himself in seedy corruption and evil undertakings.”
“He owns a vegan bakery in San Francisco.”
“An evil bakery?”
“I... believe they sell erotic cakes.”
Dean laughed again, and this time was rewarded with a small chuckle from Castiel. Cas laughed so rarely, and Dean was pleased with himself.
“So what did your cousin want?”
“Oh.” Castiel’s face clouded again. “He didn’t want anything. I was asking him if I could have access to the trust fund my father had set up for me now I’m eighteen. You know, for college.”
“Oh.” Dean had forgotten that Castiel was going to Cornell.
“He didn’t think it was necessary. He couldn’t see what I’d need the money for, and I... well, I still haven’t told any of them about...”
“Right. Well... I mean, I bet you’ll be able to pay for it with scholarships, right? Even if your family don’t...”
“I suppose so. I just wish it didn’t have to be so difficult.”
Dean reached over and gave Cas’s knee a small squeeze, still amazed that he was able to do stuff like that now, shocked at his own daring.
It took a while to decide on a movie. Castiel flatly refused to see the latest Saw venture and looked longingly at the poster for an arty foreign film, but wisely didn’t suggest they see it. In the end they settled on an action movie that looked like about ten other action movies Dean had seen before, but he reasoned that if he’d actually wanted to watch a film he’d be here with Jo. The whole point of this venture was to sit with Castiel at the back of a darkened room and make out, so a plotless, half-assed movie was pretty much ideal.
The cinema was half empty, and they had the whole back row to themselves. The trailers hadn’t even finished before Castiel pounced on him, and Dean was surprised again by the guy’s passion, his complete lack of reserve. He never would have suspected it. Just thinking about how Cas was so closed-off and remote most of the time but would come alive for Dean, would catch fire with him... it made Dean half breathless with want.
Castiel’s kisses were bruising in the darkness, and Dean bit on his lips, pulled on his hair, almost wanted to hurt him for being so fucking perfect. For being just what he’d needed all along. Just kissing – that was a joke. There was no ‘just’ about it. Dean had never felt so purely alive as he did in that moment. Perhaps it was something to do with the fact that it still felt so illicit, being with Castiel. Maybe it was because he was finally surrendering to what he had denied in himself for so long. It could just be that he was with someone who actually got him, who knew the real Dean Winchester rather than just the facade he put on. Whatever it was, it made his heart pound in his chest, made his skin buzz, made him want to breathe Castiel in, wrap himself up in the other boy and never have to go back to the real world again, where he was lonely and afraid. He felt like he was kissing Castiel with his very soul. And it hurt.
The problem now was that Dean was extra conscious of how he acted around Cas. Before, he would have thought nothing of slinging an arm around the other boy’s shoulder or sitting close to him while they ate their lunch. He knew now that he’d probably been pushing the boundaries of ‘just good friends’ for a while, but as he’d been so far in the closet about Cas he’d practically been in Narnia, it hadn’t occurred to him. Now, however, he was hyper-aware of everything. He made sure that there were at least six inches between him and Cas whenever they were in public, and gave himself a limit of three seconds of looking at Cas at any one time. Any longer than that, Pam had informed him, and it started to become eye sex. It was nice that at least their closest friends knew what was going on. After the panicked conversation Dean had had with Jo, and the fact that apparently his friends had known something was up with them for weeks, there was no point hiding it. Dean liked having a couple of people he didn’t have to lie to, and it had been pretty touching that his friends had just been immediately cool with the whole thing.
The thing that made Dean really uncomfortable was the thought of telling his family. He knew that there was a chance that this thing with Castiel would fall apart before it had even begun. This was him after all, and he was notoriously bad at relationships. He might never have to tell them. But what if it did work out? What if, by some miracle, Dean managed to not screw things up and Cas stuck around? It was fine to keep things quiet for now while they were still figuring each other out and Cas had to live at home, but they couldn’t go on like that indefinitely. At one point or another, Dean would have to man up and admit that his sexuality was a little more fluid than he’d previously thought. He got butterflies is his stomach just thinking about it.
His mom would be the easiest. Dean couldn’t imagine something like this making the slightest difference to the way Mary treated him. He was fairly sure that Sam would be okay about it too. Fairly sure. But how the hell would his dad react? John expected certain things of Dean; he wanted him to be a man’s man. He wanted Dean to fix cars and listen to classic rock music and work for the family business. He wanted him to marry a pretty girl and have a bunch of kids, and a house in Lawrence. John wanted Dean to be him. He was going to be so disappointed, Dean could tell. It didn’t matter that Dean knew he was his own person and could make his own choices – this was his dad. His hero. Dean wanted to be like John. He was so scared that John would love him less, that he wouldn’t want to be around Dean, that he would treat him differently.
Dean had never taken a relationship this slowly. Ever. It was, Jo informed him, the way that people who were able to control their libido did things. Dean had never seen much point in libido control. Life was short, and sex was fun; the whole ‘true love waits’ thing had seemed kind of pointless to him.
But Cas was different. Dean tried to convince himself that the only reason he was taking things so slowly was because he was being respectful of the fact that Cas was so new to this kind of thing and took it a lot more seriously than Dean ever had. This was certainly a factor, but Dean knew deep down that there was more to it than that. For one, Dean was fairly sure from the way Castiel looked at him sometimes when they were alone that he would be happy to do pretty much anything Dean asked of him.
Part of, if not most of, the reason things were progressing so slowly was because of Dean himself. The fact was that, somewhere along the line, Dean had fallen pretty hard for the guy. This wasn’t just some hook-up, and he understood for the first time what people meant when they talked about waiting for the right time, and that ‘the right time’ didn’t just mean when your parents were out. It was kind of nice that they were taking their time with things rather than just rushing into the sex part.
Ah yes, the sex part. The sex part that would involve Dean and another guy. Even though the guy in question was someone he loved and trusted, it was still pretty terrifying. It shouldn’t be, Dean reasoned with himself. After all, he at least new from personal experience how everything worked with guys and what felt good and what didn’t. He hadn’t had any of that with the women he’d been intimate with, so why the hell was this so much scarier? He figured that it was just because being with a guy in that way would change things. It would change who he was, and how he saw himself. How other people would see him. It didn’t matter that he knew he was still the same Dean Winchester he’d been before Castiel came into his life, and it was nobody’s goddamn business what he did with his personal life. He couldn’t help the feeling that taking that final step with Cas would change things somehow, and that freaked him out.
He’d watched some gay porn on the Internet in an attempt to educate himself on the mechanics of two guys doing it. It had been awkward at first, but then Dean had found that it turned him on which had been scary in itself. Maybe it had just been because all sex was arousing to him, or maybe it had been because he was imagining himself doing those things with Castiel. Being with Castiel, kissing him and touching him, was certainly a turn-on, and it was exciting and terrifying at the same time. It was scary because it made Dean question everything he’d thought about himself before, but also because of... because he kept getting flashbacks with increasing frequency of that other thing that he’d been trying so fucking hard to forget. And it wasn’t fair. Castiel was awesome and what they had together felt... special. Innocent, almost. And that other thing kept intruding in on it and spoiling it and making it dirty. Dean hated it, and he hated himself a little for the fact that Cas had no idea. He had no idea just how messed up Dean was.
It had been over three weeks now though. Over three weeks and still they hadn’t gone further than kissing. Dean had moved their study sessions to his bedroom so they could indulge in their increasingly frantic make-out sessions whenever they wanted. The result was that not much studying got done anymore, but Dean was comfortable enough with his grades that it didn’t really matter. They had put in hours of kissing time by now and it wasn’t getting boring in the least, but Dean was driving himself crazy from wanting more and not having the guts to take it. He felt like he was waiting for a sign. A sign that it was okay to proceed, that he didn’t need to be afraid anymore. He wanted Castiel so much that it scared him, and he had never felt so frustrated in his life. It was like a constant, gnawing hunger, a prickling under his skin. His whole family was getting annoyed with how long he was spending in the shower these days, and he was invariably distracted and irritable.
“So when are you actually gonna get laid?” Pam asked him one day over lunch with her customary frankness.
Ash banged his head down on the table, and Dean was grateful that Castiel had a meeting with his Christian Society today: the poor guy still wasn’t used to Pam’s sex talk. Jo was trying not to laugh.
“Would you keep your voice down?” Dean hissed. “And what makes you think you know anything about my sex life anyway?”
Pam rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. You don’t need to be psychic to see that you’re wound as tight as a spring. What’s up with that?”
Dean shrugged uncomfortably.
“I’ve often been tempted to go gay,” Ash said, stretching his arms so that his back cracked. “I mean, guys want sex all the time; you’d be getting laid constantly. I thought you of all people would be making the most of that!”
Dean buried his face in his hands. He was fairly sure his ears had gone red. On second thought, perhaps it wasn’t such a good thing that his friends knew about him and Cas after all.
“It’s complicated,” he mumbled.
Jo looked at him quizzically. “Why, because he’s a guy? I thought you were okay with that now.”
“Yeah, I am. Pretty much.”
“Is it him then?” Pam asked. “I mean, I know he’s pretty religious but I figured from the way he’s been fucking you with his eyes at every opportunity that he’d be up for getting pelvic already.”
Dean swallowed hard. He did not need to be thinking about Castiel’s hips right now. “No, I’m just... I just really don’t wanna screw this one up.”
Jo rested her head on his shoulder. “You’re not going to. He knows you, Dean. He loves you. You should have a little more faith in yourself.”
Dean’s track record wasn’t exactly conducive to self-belief, but he figured that he should probably try because this level of sexual frustration wasn’t healthy.
Jo walked with him to Spanish, and Dean couldn’t help noticing the big, shit-eating grin she was wearing.
“Nothing!” she whispered. “It’s just... I have a gay best friend! I never thought I’d be this trendy.”
“Would you shut up? And I’m not... I’m not gay.”
“Well, I’m glad my huge fucking personal identity crisis has made you so happy,” Dean sulked.
Jo gave his arm a squeeze. “Oh, come on! I’ve just been worried about you, okay? And I think that this new thing... it’s good. And I don’t want you to psych yourself out and ruin things. I meant what I said, Dean – you should have faith in yourself. You should have faith in him.”
After Spanish, Dean sent Castiel a text asking if he wanted to go for a drive that night instead of studying.
Now it had actually come to it, the two of them driving along the country roads outside of Lawrence, the setting sun in the rear view mirror making Dean squint a little, he thought that maybe taking Castiel parking wasn’t such a good idea after all. He knew of a good secluded spot near here where he’d taken a couple of girls in the past... and that was exactly what bothered him. He felt like he shouldn’t be treating Cas in the same way he treated his casual girlfriends, that it would be cheapening things somehow. It wasn’t like he had much of a choice though. They both lived with their families, and Dean’s car was the closest thing to a place of his own that he had. It was far from ideal, but if he was going to initiate anything more than kissing with Castiel he couldn’t really think if any other way of going about it.
He glanced sideways at the other boy, who was staring blankly out of the window. Dean really hoped that one day he’d be able to actually read the guy. Did Cas know Dean’s real motive for bringing him out here, or was he completely oblivious? Would he be pleased about it? Disgusted? Would Dean even have the guts to make a move, or would they just sit there awkwardly until it was time for Dean to get Castiel home again? Dean began drumming his fingers on the wheel nervously, and turned up the radio.
It was getting dark by the time they arrived at Dean’s preferred spot, turning into that little woodland track that was a favorite with picnicking families and horny teenagers alike. Dean killed the engine, using the lame excuse of giving them a chance to eat the sandwiches they’d bought before leaving town. The whole thing felt so fucking seedy now, and Dean struggled to think of something to say to break the tension. He glanced over at Cas again to find that he was staring at Dean intently, his eyes almost black in the gathering gloom.
“You know,” he said, putting his unwrapped sandwich on the dash. “I’m really not that hungry.” There was a slight quiver in his voice.
Dean swallowed. “Me either.”
Castiel was the one who moved first, grabbing hold of Dean’s lapel, and pulling him in. Dean loved the little noises of repletion Cas made in the back of his throat whenever they kissed, like he needed it just as bad as Dean. Dean liked to think that Castiel felt the way that he did – that ache beneath the skin when they weren’t together, the feeling like something was missing, and that static rush when they touched. He wondered what Cas thought about him, what he fantasized about, what he wanted from Dean.
The angle was uncomfortable. Dean wanted to press himself up against the other guy, wrap himself up in him, breathe in his skin. No matter how much he twisted in his seat, he couldn’t get close enough. He bit back a moan as Castiel began biting and sucking the skin on his neck, knowing that he would have some pretty suspicious bruises tomorrow, and he couldn’t have cared less. He slid shaking hands under Castiel’s sweater, grabbing at the soft cotton of his shirt underneath. Dean’s jeans were getting uncomfortably tight.
“Dean,” Castiel gasped, breath hot on his throat. “You didn’t bring me out here just for this, did you?”
“I— I mean, we don’t have to—”
“It’s all right. It’s just I’ve... I’ve never...”
“No, I want to. With you. I want to.” He looked just like Dean felt, all wide-eyed nervousness combined with the kind of desire that comes from wanting someone so intensely, so completely, for so long but never having the courage to act on it.
Dean cleared his throat. “Back seat.”
Castiel gave a worried little look behind him. “What’s wrong with it?”
“No, you... get into the back seat, Cas.”
“Oh! I... Oh.” He immediately twisted round and clambered awkwardly between the two front seats, making Dean wince as he thought of the potential damage to the car’s interior.
“I meant... Watch the upholstery, Cas! I... Oh, wait up.”
Dean clumsily followed him. Castiel pulled him close with a small, desperate sound. His grip on Dean’s upper arms was so hard it hurt, and his kisses were bordering on fierce.
“Woah, Cas, it’s okay,” Dean breathed. “I got you, I’m not going anywhere. It’s okay...” He ran a hand up the inside of Castiel’s thigh; as usual, he felt more confident now that the time for action had come. Castiel shuddered convulsively, squirming slightly beneath him.
“Dean, I... I meant it when I said I don’t know what I’m... Please let me know if I do something wrong.”
Dean kissed him hard. “You won’t. Just... let me know what feels good, okay?”
He was going to do this. He was actually going to do this, and it wasn’t scary anymore. Castiel wasn’t this scary unknown thing, this challenge that had to be overcome. He was a person, a person who had supported Dean and helped him to feel like maybe he was worth something again, and Dean loved him. He wanted to make Castiel feel good. He wanted to make him come.
He could feel Castiel’s ragged breath on his neck as he undid the other boy’s belt and unzipped his fly. He tugged Cas’s pants down a little over his hips. Dean paused with his fingers hovering over the waistband of Castiel’s underwear.
“You sure about this?”
Castiel looked up at him, breathless and wide-eyed. He nodded.
Dean crushed their lips together, not letting himself think, just focusing on the heat of Castiel’s mouth, and the slow slide of skin against skin, until he was holding Castiel’s hard cock in his hand. Cas gasped and bucked his hips against Dean, and Dean realized that this was easy. This was something he could do. He started to stroke Cas slowly, doing all the things he liked to do to himself, twisting his wrist slightly on the upward stroke, running a thumb over the head.
Castiel made a keening noise, burying his face in Dean’s neck and biting hard on the soft skin there. Dean picked up the pace a little, a rough surge of desire passing through him as he felt Cas grow even harder in his hand. He’d never thought it would be so arousing to do this, but his body told him otherwise, his own dick giving a painful throb every time he made Castiel moan.
Castiel’s nails were digging into Dean’s arms now as he thrust his hips upwards in time with Dean’s strokes. “Oh god, Dean,” he whispered. “Oh god, Dean. Oh... Dean. Please, I... God. Dean, Dean, Dean!” Dean kissed Castiel hard when he came, muffling the other boy’s cries as he pulsed in Dean’s hand.
He rested their foreheads together afterwards, waiting for Cas to come back to him. Dean felt hot and feverish, not to mention painfully aroused, but he didn’t want to... presume anything. It had been amazing to just do this much, to make Cas feel good like that. He, Dean, had done that. He’d turned the reserved, poised Castiel Delacroix into a trembling, incoherent mess. He’d made him let go.
Castiel took a great shuddering breath and opened his eyes.
“You still alive?” Dean asked with a chuckle.
Cas grinned at him hazily.
Dean grabbed an old t-shirt of the floor of the car and used it to clean them up. Castiel watched him dreamily, long fingers tracing crop circles in Dean’s hair.
“I expect you’ve done this a lot,” he said at last, his voice ragged. “I mean, you must have had a lot of girls back here.”
Dean kissed him. “Doesn’t matter anymore,” he whispered. “I’m here with you now.”
Castiel pushed him back so they were both sitting, his hands fumbling with the buttons of Dean’s jeans.
Dean shuddered. Having Cas’s hands that close to his neglected erection was making him dizzy. “Cas,” he managed. “It’s... it’s okay. You don’t have to—”
Castiel looked up at him, blown pupils and bitten lips. “Dean, I’m not fragile, you know. I’ve wanted you for months. I want to do this, to make you feel good. I want you. Now just... just tell me what you like.”
Over the next half hour, Dean was to learn that what Castiel lacked in experience, he made up for with enthusiasm and a great deal of initiative.
“Well, Mary,” John said the following evening. “It would seem that our eldest has bought into the current popular trends and is dating a vampire.”
Dean scowled and pulled the collar of his jacket up a little higher to hide the purplish bruises Castiel had left him with.
“Oh, leave him alone!” Mary said, giving her husband a playful nudge. “I seem to remember you leaving me with some pretty impressive hickeys back in the day.”
“Oh gross!” Dean groused, staring moodily at the TV as if the current affairs program his parents were watching was the source of all his problems. He’d had a similar lame vampire joke from Bobby earlier.
“So... are we ever gonna meet her?” John persisted. “You haven’t brought one home in a while. Not since Cassie.”
“I liked Cassie,” his mother said softly.
“Yeah,” Dean sighed. “Me too.” He had liked Cassie, though he hadn’t really thought about her in months. He’d been grateful that she attended a different school and he hadn’t had to run into her after breaking things off. It had been easy, dating her; he’d thought nothing of bringing her over for dinner to meet his family. What would John and Mary say if he announced that they’d already met his new love interest, and it was the boy who’d been tutoring him for the past four months? His heart beat painfully just thinking about it. He sighed. “I’m gonna go pick Sammy up from Jake’s house.”
“Dean,” his mom called after him. “You... you seem happier.” She smiled warmly. “Whoever it is you’re seeing, I think they’re good for you.”
Dean couldn’t suppress a smile.
Sam had been at his friend Jake’s all evening, rehearsing for the school play. Dean honestly didn’t understand how his kid brother managed to find the time for so many extracurricular activities and still get A’s in everything. It wasn’t fair.
Dean was happy for Sam though. As much as he could be a pain in the butt sometimes, Dean wanted to see his brother grow up happy and do something great with his life. Hell, one of them ought to.
He pulled up outside Jake’s house and beeped the horn. Sam emerged a couple of minutes later, slinging his ridiculously large backpack over his shoulder. Dean grinned as he saw that Sam’s jeans were a good couple of inches too short. It looked like that growth spurt was finally kicking in.
Sam got in with a sigh and immediately turned down the volume on Dean’s Black Sabbath cassette.
“What gives?” Dean protested.
“I have a huge headache,” Sam groaned.
“I take it the rehearsal didn’t go well.”
“No, it was okay. I mean, Ava kept doing funny accents, and Becky kept groping me and going on about how me and Jake would make a good slash pairing, whatever the hell that is. But we managed to get through quite a lot."
Dean laughed. "Becky's still got that crush on you?"
"God, yes," Sam groaned. "She won't give up! But that's not what's... It’s just... Ruby. I don’t know, Dean, I mean I think she likes me. She was really nice to me last week when we were studying together, but now... Well, I asked her to go to Rudy’s for pizza with me at the weekend, but she said she’d only go if I was paying. And if Meg and Bela could come too. And I paid for them. I just don’t get it. She’s just so... I dunno. I mean, I’ve done everything she wanted me to. I helped her finish her history report, I let her copy my notes in English... And she was so nice to me over that stuff! I really feel like she likes me sometimes, but then... I just don’t get where I’m going wrong.”
Dean frowned. “Sammy, are you... has this girl made her your bitch?”
“Because we talked about that.”
“It’s not like that! I’m, you know, happy to do that stuff. I mean, she’s really good fun, and she’s smart, and she’s really pretty and... well, I don’t really like her friends much, but she doesn’t like mine, so it’s not like—”
“I don’t like her.”
“Dean! You don’t even know her!”
“Yeah, well, I don’t like how she’s treating you.”
“She probably just wants to make sure I’m serious about her.”
“Yeah, or she’s a manipulative little princess! Dude, I know her type, okay? You should be with someone who’s, you know, smart and funny and sweet...” Dean trailed off with a little smile on his lips, thinking about Castiel. Yes, he was a total girl.
“Right,” Sam huffed. “Because Lisa’s a rocket scientist.”
“Who? Oh! Well... me and Lisa aren’t together. I mean, we never were. I mean—”
“My point is that you are in no position to give advice on forming functional relationships.”
That one kind of hurt and it must have showed on Dean’s face because Sam immediately looked guilty. “I- I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean that.”
“Yeah, you did,” Dean sighed. “And you’re not entirely without a point. I’m just looking out for you, okay?”
Sam nodded, looking chagrined. “Yeah, I know.”
Dean drove in silence the rest of the way home.
Dean had had the dream again. Every time it happened he felt dirty and sick to his stomach, and it didn’t matter how many showers he took because the filth was under his skin. It was made so much worse by the fact that Castiel had come over the previous evening to ‘study’. Which actually meant that they had shut themselves up in Dean’s bedroom and rubbed up against each other like... well, like a couple of frisky teenagers.
Dean was amazed by how fearlessly Castiel had gone into the physical side of their relationship. There were still things he was shy about, things he had to be shown, but he never... there was never any of the anxiety Dean himself felt.
Dean had asked him about it as they lay side by side, breathless and half naked.
Castiel had smiled at him dreamily. “Because this is the best thing I’ve ever done. I know that my family would say that it’s a sin against God, but... how can it be? You make me feel like... like I’m closer to God than I’ve ever been before. Our lives are given to us as a gift, and as long as we aren’t doing any harm we should take pleasure in them. I love you.”
Dean had tried to respond but the words stuck in his throat. He settled on a kiss instead.
“Why would I be afraid?” Castiel breathed. “I’m doing something wonderful. The way you look at me when I touch you, the feel of you on top of me...” He sucked Dean’s earlobe into his mouth a little. “I have never done anything so pure or so good.”
Dean had felt ashamed at this. He suddenly hated the way that Cas looked at him so rapturously, like Dean was made of gold. He felt like he was somehow deceiving Castiel, tricking him into thinking that Dean was... was something special. Tricking him into believing that Dean was going into this untainted.
And then, that night, there was the dream again. The fucking dream. Like a kick in the guts for Dean, a nasty little reminder that he’d better not get too happy, he’d better not start thinking things would be okay now, because Cas didn’t know about that now did he? Cas wouldn’t look at him with so much love in his eyes if he knew. Cas wouldn’t look at him at all.
Cas sent him a text that Sunday, asking Dean to meet him in town because he wanted to show him something. Dean had been half tempted to make an excuse and not go. He felt raw still, and guilty. Guilty because he knew in his heart that he was corrupting Cas. It was like going outside on a snowy day, seeing your garden covered in a thick blanket of white and jumping on it, trampling over it, revelling in the experience, only to realize that you’d spoiled it all and it would never be that beautiful pure thing again. That’s what he was doing to Castiel, and he hated himself for it.
At the same time, Dean was selfish. He knew that the only thing that could possibly make him feel better was being with Cas again. Just holding onto him, having someone good in his arms, kissing him, telling him that he was loved. The selfish part of him won.
The thing Cas wanted to show him was a house. A really big fucking house.
“We’ve bought it,” he announced as the parked in the driveway. Like buying three-storey mansions was like picking up some milk from the store. “Uncle Zachariah thinks we could establish a church here, and he thought it would be good to have a second house in case other members of the family wanted to join us. No one’s living here at the moment though.” He looked at Dean sideways. “I... I thought we could, you know, use it. As a place to go. It’s not difficult for me to get hold of the keys.”
Dean grinned in spite of himself. Castiel was really getting the hang of this whole rebellion thing.
He definitely preferred this house to the one Cas was living in. The place was lighter, airier. It was difficult to remember how rich Castiel actually was. He didn’t act like it.
There wasn’t much furniture in the place, but one of the back rooms had a large, slightly dilapidated sofa in it, facing an empty fireplace. Castiel ran his hand over the back of it like a caress. Dean couldn’t believe he’d gone so long without noticing how beautiful Cas’s hands were. He caught hold of one and pressed it to his lips. He kissed the palm, then let his mouth trail along the long fingers. Dean put one in his mouth and bit on it gently. He heard Castiel’s small intake of breath and looked up at him, surprised as always that his innocent Castiel could look so damn... fuckable.
“You know,” Cas said. “It would be a shame to put this sofa to waste.”
Dean made a small, bitten-off noise, a rush of adrenaline jolting through him.
Castiel pushed him up against the wall and kissed him almost aggressively, one hand cupping the back of Dean’s head. Dean shuddered as Cas pushed a thigh between his legs and pressed their bodies together, and god damn it felt good when Cas rocked his hips like that. Dean felt himself grow hard, and he whimpered against Castiel’s mouth, hating how helpless it made him sound. Cas was pinning him against the wall, and his free hand travelled down over Dean’s chest and stomach to press firmly on his crotch. Dean’s breath hitched. The blood coursing through his veins wanted more, ever more, wanted to let Castiel do whatever the hell he wanted to him.
But then he realized that Castiel was so fucking strong, and he had Dean pinned up against this wall, and Dean was trapped, and he didn’t think he’d be able to stop Cas, and he couldn’t get out and... and he remembered the last time someone had overpowered him like this and he kind of felt like he was going to throw up, and he couldn’t let it happen again but now it was happening again and Dean felt like he was suffocating.
“No,” he gasped. “No, I— I can’t— Get off me! Get the hell off me!” He shoved Castiel away from him and staggered away from him. Castiel didn’t try to hold him back, and Dean turned his face to the wall, covering his face with trembling hands.
It took a moment or two for him to calm down a little and realize what an idiot he had just made of himself. This was Cas. Cas who had saved his life, and who was sweet and kind and good. Cas who had been fooling around with Dean for over a month now, and had never once put any pressure on him. Cas who had just been glad of anything that Dean was willing to give. And now Dean had just completely freaked out on him, treated him like some kind of... date rapist, and acted like a complete idiot with no apparent explanation.
Dean wanted to just disappear. He knew that Castiel was standing there where Dean had left him, waiting for an explanation that Dean couldn’t possibly give. Dean couldn’t even bring himself to look at him. The silence stretched horribly between them.
“Dean?” Castiel’s voice was very small.
Dean swallowed painfully and slowly turned around. He’d be okay as long as he kept himself pressed up against the wall. As long as he didn’t have to stand alone. He took a deep breath and made himself look at Cas. He was standing there at the other side of the room, looking so bewildered and hurt, and Dean just wanted to die.
“Dean, did I... what did I do? I’m sorry. I’m... I’m new to all this and I... I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s not you,” Dean rasped. His body had gone numb. “You... it wasn’t anything you... it’s my fault.”
Castiel took a step towards him, then stopped short. Great. The guy was scared to even go near Dean now.
“Cas, I’m so sorry, I...” Dean’s voice cracked.
“Dean, can I...” Castiel reached out towards him, then let his hand fall back by his side. “Dean, what happened?”
Dean couldn’t look at him any more. Cas was so fucking innocent. He was so good, and he’d been trying to hide who he was for so long, and he was only just starting to explore it and starting to learn about sex, and now Dean had probably given him a complex or something just because... Just because Dean was so far from being innocent it was a joke. He realized how wrong he’d been to do this with Castiel. To let Castiel touch him, be touched by him, think that he loved Dean. Castiel had no idea who Dean really was. He had no idea how dirty Dean was, how broken. It hurt to be loved by someone so good.
Dean walked over to the window and pressed his forehead against the cold glass.
“Dean, please talk to me.”
Dean gave a hollow laugh. “Trust me, Cas, you don’t wanna know. I’m sorry, okay? You didn’t do anything wrong, I’m just...” His chest felt tight. His head was pounding, and he felt like he was standing on the edge of a precipice, like he was on the verge of doing something that was...
“Please. I just want to... Please tell me what’s wrong.”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Yes I do! Dean, I love you!”
The words made Dean’s face crumple in shame. “Cas, you don’t know what you’re saying...”
“Do not presume to tell me what I feel. Dean, look at me. Look at me.”
He came to stand beside Dean, who obediently turned his head to look at him.
“Dean, I want to help you, but I can’t unless you tell me what’s wrong.”
Dean looked away from him again, and gazed out of the window. He felt numb, like this was some strange dream he was going to wake up from. He was going to lose Cas over this, he knew it. Castiel wouldn’t want to touch him anymore. He’d try to hide it, but Dean would know, and the beautiful, fragile, innocent thing they had been building together would be destroyed. But if there was one thing Cas deserved it was honesty. He deserved to know the truth. Dean swallowed again. “Cas,” he whispered. “If I tell you, you have to swear to me that you won’t repeat it to anyone. I mean that. Nobody knows, okay?”
“Of course I won’t.”
Dean made a choking noise that could have been a laugh. “You say that, but when I tell you you’re gonna look at me different, and you might not... you probably won’t want to be anywhere near me, so—”
“I highly doubt that.”
“Just... just promise me, okay? Even if you don’t wanna have anything to do to with me, just promise me that one thing and I won’t ask anything else. Promise me you won’t tell anyone.”
Castiel sighed. “Of course. I promise.”
Dean focused his eyes on a tree at the far end of the garden. This would be easier if he could take himself out of that room a little. “Just over a year ago I was at a party,” he said, still not quite believing he was actually talking about this. “I was kinda drunk, and I was talking to these college kids, and there was one guy there who was visiting them. His name was... his name was Alastair.” Dean wasn’t even processing what he was saying – his mouth was just spewing out the words as if it had a will of its own. Like it had been wanting to talk about this for a long time, and Dean had been holding it back.
Castiel listened in silence.
“He gave me... I think there was something in it. Some kind of drug, I mean. He kept, you know, coming on to me, and he gave me this whiskey, and I tried to get rid of him cause I didn’t think anything would actually... But I got really dizzy and I didn’t know what was going on, and I couldn’t... I felt so out of it, you know? Like I didn’t know how... And he said he’d take me outside for some fresh air and he’d go look for my friends for me, and I went with him because I didn’t think there was any harm in him. He seemed so normal, you know? And we went out into the garden together, and I couldn’t even walk in a straight line so he practically had to hold me up. There were these bushes down at the end of the garden and he took me back there, and I... I was sitting down on the ground. He said that... I can’t remember. He was saying something. He made me lie down, and he... His hands were... I told him not to and I tried to get him off me, but I couldn’t control myself and my body wouldn’t do what I wanted and he was so strong, and he just held me down and he... he made me... and he... I couldn’t... I couldn’t make him stop. But I should have stopped him! And then when he was done he just left me there, and I think I must’ve passed out or something, because I woke up there the next morning, and I was... Cas, ever since then I’ve just wanted to die. I don’t want to live anymore. I feel like he... like everything I do now is dirty because of him. And I can’t get clean again. And you... you didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just that I get kinda... I freak out of I feel like I’m not in control, and it just made me feel like I was... Like I couldn’t...” Dean was physically shaking now. He felt light-headed and hollow, almost like he’d just been sick.
Castiel whispered his name. Dean forced himself to look at him, and he just looked... wrecked. He looked like Dean had slapped him, like he couldn’t believe it, like he was so horrified he couldn’t even process what he’d just heard. He wouldn’t want to touch Dean anymore, not now that he knew what he did. He was probably disgusted that things had gone as far as they had. Dean had lost him, really lost him, and he couldn’t stand it.
“You can’t tell anyone,” he said.
“Dean, I... Dean...”
Dean sprang away from the window and gripped the front of Castiel’s jacket. “You can’t tell anyone.”
“Of course I won’t!” Castiel’s eyes were wide with horror.
Dean shoved him up against the wall, crowding him, his face pushed close to Castiel’s. “If you tell anyone I’ll kill you, okay? I’ll never fucking forgive you and—”
“Dean.” Castiel made no effort to get away. He just stood there, a hand wrapped gently around Dean’s arm.
“And you’re free to leave me now, and you don’t have to come near me again, but—”
“Dean.” Castiel lifted his other hand to brush softly against Dean’s cheek.
“Don’t do that, okay? Don’t make me feel like it’s okay, cause I know I’m broken and I’m disgusting, and I’m—”
“Dean, no, I love you.”
“Don’t you fucking say that!” Dean yelled. “Don’t you pretend I’m still...”
“I love you.” Castiel was shaking now, but he still didn’t try to get away.
“Don’t...” Dean’s grip on the front of Castiel’s jacket loosened a little.
Castiel gently held Dean’s face between his hands. “I love you.”
Dean heard himself make a small noise like a wounded animal, and he fell forward into Castiel’s arms. Castiel held him tightly, soothed him, slowly lowered them both to the floor, where Dean buried his head in Cas’s lap and cried. Castiel was bent over him, holding him close and pressing kisses to Dean’s ear, which was the only part of him he could really reach. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
When Dean was able to stop crying, he felt too embarrassed to look at the other boy. He felt light and lucid and shivery, like the story had been a weight he’d carried around with him for a year, and he’d just set it down. “No one knows,” he mumbled.
“I know. I won’t tell anyone.”
“I know you won’t. Cas, I’m so sorry.”
Castiel kissed his ear again. “Don’t be sorry. I just wish I... Didn’t you ever think about—”
“What, trying to get him put away? What was the point? I didn’t know his second name, I didn’t know who he knew or where he was from. Hell, I was so out of it I don’t even really remember what he looks like. What good would it have done? Nothing would’ve come of it, and I would’ve just... I could never put my family through that. My parents would be wrecked by it, and Sammy... He’d think I was... I couldn’t do it to them. I just wanted to forget it, and I tried to, but it... it’s been eating away at me, and I feel like it’s this dirt that’s all over me, and I don’t think I’m ever gonna...” Dean sat up a little, wiping his eyes on his sleeve.
He risked a glance at Castiel, and was surprised by the look on his face. He was reminded that Cas could be a scary son-of-a-bitch when he wanted to be. “I want to kill him,” he whispered. He looked up at Dean. “I’ve never really hated anyone in my life, but... I want to kill him for doing that to you.”
“Cas, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—”
“Don’t you dare apologize! Dean, listen to me. None of this was your fault.” He pulled Dean close again, rubbing a hand over his back. “You have nothing to be ashamed of. What happened to you was terrible, and I’m so sorry, but it wasn’t your fault. There is nothing dirty about you. You’re beautiful and brave, and I feel honoured to know you.”
Dean laughed wetly. “I don’t know how you can... Cas, all this time I’ve felt so damn guilty about being with you, when you’re so... you’re so innocent and perfect, and I’m broken, and I felt like I was spoiling you.”
Castiel sighed heavily. “Dean, not all types of innocence are good, and not all experiences are bad. Do you have any idea how boring my life was until I met you? I was... I was barely even alive. Over the past few months, I’ve felt like I’m just starting to wake up, and most of that is down to you.”
“You know, in some Japanese traditions, when they broke a cup or a bowl they would fix it using gold paste. They believed that when something was damaged it became more beautiful, and they chose to celebrate it. I knew from the beginning that you had lived more than I had, that the world had taken its toll on you, but that was what made you perfect to me.”
“I love you,” Dean said.
Castiel grew very still. “You’ve never said that before.”
“Sure I have.”
“No. I say it to you, and then you’ll kiss me or start talking about something else. The closest you got was saying ‘same here’ once.”
“Jeez, Cas, I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right. I never... I didn’t mind.”
“Well, I do. I did, I mean. I still do. I’m just not very good at—”
“I know. You don’t have to say anything, it’s okay.”
Dean kissed him then, because he had the horrible feeling that he was going to start crying again if he didn’t. He’d had quite enough of being emotional for one day. It was such a comfort to know that he didn’t have to say anything or attempt to clumsily explain how he felt, because Cas knew. Cas knew what he meant, and he accepted it, and he didn’t want Dean to be anything more than what he was. Cas knew Dean now, knew the deepest, darkest parts of him, and he loved him anyway. He still wanted Dean, still wanted to be with him and touch him and love him, in spite of it all. Dean began to feel like maybe it wasn’t his fault. Like maybe redemption was possible after all.
Nothing and everything had changed. Neither of them had spoken about what had happened since leaving the empty house that day and to all outward appearances they’d carried on as before, but Dean could feel the shift in their relationship. Castiel knew the worst now. He knew the deepest, darkest secret in Dean’s soul, and he hadn’t been scared away. He’d stayed, and he’d loved Dean, and he’d made him feel okay about himself for the first time in... God, years. Dean had trusted Castiel with his life from the beginning, but now he trusted him with his heart, which felt like a much bigger risk. He trusted himself to love Castiel.
It should freak him out a lot more than it actually did, he thought. Any kind of emotional intimacy or closeness had always made him run for the hills, and talking about his feelings was like having teeth pulled, but then it wasn’t like he and Cas were going to suddenly start having sappy heart-to-hearts and crying over Beaches together or anything.
It was just in the way that Dean’s shoulders would relax when they were together because he was with someone who knew him so completely he didn’t have to pretend. It was in the way they could have heated arguments without it being scary because however mad they got, they loved each other more. It was in the way that sometimes, when Dean found himself dwelling on the past, he’d look up to find Cas watching him with such love and understanding in his eyes that Dean would completely forget to be sad.
It was ridiculous really; Dean wanted to laugh out loud at how unlikely it was. Here he was, a salt-of-the-earth guy who had spent his entire teens fantasizing about busty, promiscuous underwear models and leering at anything in a short skirt, and the one person he’d actually been able to love was... and here Dean really would start laughing at the curve-ball life had sent him. He’d fallen for not just a guy, but a socially awkward, sexually inexperienced, nerdy little dude with secret ninja powers and the ability to go without blinking for far longer than was natural. A guy who liked crossword puzzles and obscure novels, and who would sometimes stare up at the sky for ages like he was listening for divine messages from above. A guy who occasionally wore hideous sweater vests. Funny, the way things turned out.
There were times when he could almost kid himself that they were a proper couple. Castiel would come over for dinner some nights, and he’d play chess with Sam while Dean crammed for some test or other he needed to pass. Then they’d sit next to each other at the dinner table and Cas would discuss American military history with Dean’s father while they ate. Dean would press his leg up against Castiel’s beneath the table, and they’d both smile, thrilled by their daring.
But then the lies would come, because they weren’t a proper couple, and it wasn’t like Dean could just hold Cas’s hand sitting on the couch or lean over and kiss him while they were doing the dishes together. They were hiding it away like it was some dirty little secret, like they were ashamed, and Dean hated that. More than anything, he hated that he was still too scared to do anything about it.
The most he could do was to casually suggest that they go up to his bedroom so that Cas could show him that new online study guide he’d been talking about, or some other stupid excuse. Dean would shut the door firmly behind them and, because he didn’t know the words, he’d tell Castiel how much he loved him with his hands and his lips and his tongue.
Sometimes he’d almost forget himself and put an arm around Castiel when they were in public. Sometimes it almost physically hurt not to be touching him, and Dean would have to drag Castiel down to the school boiler room during lunch break for another fix. He’d never been so grateful that he’d made friends with the janitor back in sophomore year.
“Jesus Christ, Cas,” Dean gasped, holding onto a water pipe for support. He was pretty sure his legs had stopped functioning properly some time ago. “Jesus Christ.”
Castiel got to his feet, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. “I suspect I shouldn’t find it so arousing when you blaspheme during intercourse.”
Dean zipped up his pants with a breathless laugh, pulling Castiel in for a lingering kiss. “And I probably shouldn’t find it so hot that I can taste myself in your mouth.”
He buried his face in the crook of Castiel’s neck and breathed in deeply. “Damn it, Cas, you should come with a health warning; you’re more addictive than crack.”
Castiel laughed huskily, his arms wrapped around Dean’s back like he was still scared he was going to get away.
“Cas... you have a definite natural talent.”
Castiel pulled away a little with a rueful smile. “I probably shouldn’t remind you of the first time I tried to do that to you and I accidentally bit you a little bit.”
“Yeah, well, okay, you’re a fast learner. Hey, Cas? You’re... you’re not gonna forget about me when you go off to college, are you?” Dean winced as soon as the words had slipped out, because seriously? Was he actually becoming a girl?
“Why would you even think that?” Castiel tilted his head to one side, as if Dean was a curious, fascinating specimen.
Dean laughed awkwardly. “Nah, forget it. This isn’t gonna be one of those conversations.”
Castiel’s brow creased with a small frown.
“What?” Dean reckoned he was becoming pretty fluent in the nuances of Cas’s facial expressions.
“Nothing,” Castiel demurred.
“No, tell me.” Dean caught hold of his chin, running the pad of his thumb over the other boy’s lips.
“Come with me.”
“Dean, come with me to Ithaca. I know you don’t want to go to college, but you can get a job there! I’m sure there are plenty of auto shops that need a good mechanic.”
Dean looked down, kind of shocked because Cas had never asked anything of him before, never gave the slightest hint that he might be scared about something or insecure. A vision of the two of them living together, out in the open, flashed through his mind, and it didn’t scare Dean nearly as much as it should. In fact, it sounded kind of amazing. “I can’t,” he whispered.
Castiel let his arms fall to his sides and he moved away from Dean. “I understand.”
“It’s not that I don’t... It’s just... my dad, you know? He’s got a job lined up for me once I graduate, and he... he wants me to take over the family business one day. I can’t just let him down.”
The corner of Castiel’s mouth twitched a little. “I know. I suppose we’re both somewhat constrained by what our families expect from us.” He looked over at Dean with big, sad eyes.
“Yeah.” Dean tried to quell the sudden sick feeling in his stomach that they weren’t going to make it. That they weren’t strong enough to withstand everything the world would throw at them.
“I’m telling them about Cornell,” Castiel said. “This weekend.”
The floor of the boiler room suddenly became very interesting to Dean. “Right.”
“Dean, you... it’s going to be okay. I mean, we’ll be okay.”
Castiel came to stand in front of Dean again and gently traced the lines of his face with long, cool fingers. “I’m serious. We’ll make it work. Remember that wherever I am... most of the time I would rather be here with you.”
“You’re kidding me.”
Mr Henriksen looked down at him with a perfect poker face. “I’m disappointed in you, Winchester; you should know by now that I have no sense of humor.”
Dean turned his eyes back to the test paper his math teacher had just slapped down on his desk. “I’ve never gotten an A before in my life.”
“Yeah, well, I’m guessing you’ve never applied yourself before either. I told you, you’re a smart kid. I also recall telling you that I’d get you through senior year.” Henriksen was definitely looking smug now, like Dean’s success was entirely his doing.
Dean was still too shocked to give the guy the sarcastic response he deserved. He picked up his schoolbag and wandered out into the hallway in a daze.
Sam was waiting for him by his locker, all awkward long limbs and floppy hair. “Dean, there’s an extra rehearsal for Our Town tonight, so I’m gonna get a lift home from Lily, okay?” Dean nodded. “Sure, Sammy.”
Sam wrinkled his face up. “You okay, Dean? You look weird.”
Numbly, Dean pushed the test paper at his brother, and watched Sam’s eyes grow wide as he looked at it.
“You got an A in calculus?” Sam wasn’t quick enough to hide the slight jealousy in his tone, and it made Dean laugh, snapping him out of his stupor.
“Don’t worry, Sammy, you’re still the genius of the family.” He ruffled Sam’s hair, trying not to be annoyed that the kid was almost as tall as him now.
Sam smiled guiltily. “I’m sorry, I didn’t... Dean, this is amazing. I mean, you could definitely go to college with the grades you’re getting now. You could still do a late application, you know.”
“Nah.” Dean shoved the paper to the bottom of his bag. “Not for me. Still, good to know I’m not a complete idiot.” He laughed a little awkwardly.
The brothers turned around to see Becky Rosen shoving her way through the crowds of milling students.
Dean heard Sam sigh resignedly. “Hi, Becky.”
Becky beamed up at him. “You have good hair today, Sam.”
Dean turned away to hide a grin.
“Um, thanks, Becky. Was there something you wanted?”
“Well, you’re going to the rehearsal tonight, right? Because I was wondering if you’d like to go for ice cream afterwards. With me.”
Dean wasn’t looking, but he knew the awkward, constipated face his little brother would be pulling right now. Clearly, all of John’s flirting genes had been used up on Dean.
“I dunno, Becky.”
Becky, however, was not to be deterred. She narrowed her eyes and looked at Sam appraisingly. “Your favorite ice cream’s mint choc-chip, right?”
“Um... yeah, and I’m not gonna ask how you knew that, but what’s it got to do with—”
“Well, mine’s raspberry ripple, and they actually go surprisingly well together. You know, you wouldn’t think they would, but they do. What I’m trying to say is that just because you might not think things make sense like ice cream or, you know, people, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them a chance. Cause you might miss out on something amazing.”
Sam ran his hands through his hair in frustration. “Becky... look, you just need to... give it up, okay? You’re a lovely girl, but I’m interested in someone else, and it’s not gonna happen with us!”
It was scary, Dean thought, how girls’ expressions could go from sweet to murderous in the space of nought-point-five seconds.
“You mean Ruby,” Becky snarled. “Sam, get a clue! She’s not into you, okay? She’s not a nice person and she’s just using you to do her assignments for her so that she and her friends can go throw themselves at the football team!”
Sam scowled. “You don’t even know her!”
“I know her better than you do.”
“Becky, just... just get over it, okay? I’m not interested!”
Becky glared up at him, her bottom lip trembling a little. Then she whipped around and stormed off.
Dean turned around to rip his little brother a new one for being a jerk to a cute girl, but Becky beat him to it, back again and all up in Sam’s business.
“You know what, Sam? You’re an idiot!” she yelled, making the passing students stop and stare. “You are! Look, I know what I’m like, okay? I know I’m a little crazy, and I don’t wear short skirts or have big boobs or shampoo commercial hair. I know I can come on a little strong, but that’s just because I like you and I don’t see the point in lying about it or playing head games just because it’s the cool thing to do. I’m a nice person, okay? And I like you! I’d never manipulate you or try to change you or make you do stuff you’re not into, because I think you’re amazing just the way you are. But if that’s not good enough for you and you’d rather be with someone who’s horrible to you just because she’s popular and hot, then... maybe you’re not good enough for me!” She marched away again amid whoops and cheers.
Sam had turned an interesting shade of beetroot.
Dean let out a low whistle. “Dude, you just got schooled!”
“Shut up, Dean,” Sam mumbled, looking very much like any time the earth wanted to open up and swallow him would be fine by him.
Dean was wondering how to introduce Castiel to horror movies. It was difficult to know what he’d like when the guy had been so completely cut off from mainstream culture his entire life. Dean had lost count of the times he’d made a casual reference to a movie or TV show or celebrity, only to have Cas look at him like he’d grown an extra head. Still, if they were going to make this thing work he would have to get Castiel to like at least some scary movies.
Dean instinctively knew that they should steer clear of slashers, at least at first. Cas had already indicated a distaste for gratuitous gore. Maybe something with religious overtones might be the thing. The Exorcist perhaps, or Blood on Satan’s Claw. Then again, that might throw Castiel into a mortal terror considering he presumably believed in all that stuff. In the end, Dean decided to begin Castiel’s education with some of the classics. He couldn’t go wrong with Hitchcock, he reasoned, and Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
Mary came up to his room with a mug of coffee while he was busy examining his DVD collection. “Mom, can I borrow your collector’s edition copy of Psycho? I wanna show it to Cas.”
“Sure, honey.” She set the mug down on Dean’s desk. “Is there something you want to share?”
Dean’s stomach dropped. He looked up at his mother, dearly wishing that his brain hadn’t chosen that exact moment to freeze. “Share?” he said stupidly.
Mary grinned. “Sam told me about your math test. Why didn’t you say anything?”
Dean’s heart started hammering wildly with relief. “Oh, I forgot.”
“You forgot? Dean! This is amazing! Come on, give me the paper and I’ll put it up on the board.”
Dean rolled his eyes. “Mom, I’m eighteen!”
However, Mary was not to be argued with, and Dean ended up fishing the crumpled test paper out of his schoolbag and handing it over. It was a pleasant kind of embarrassment, and Dean didn’t know what to do with it. The last time he’d merited having something on the pin-board it had been the fire truck he’d drawn in sixth grade. He wasn’t used to success. His mind began to tentatively form a vague hope that his dad would let him attend business school in a couple of years. Or something. Maybe.
The weekend stretched gloriously in front of him. He’d work at the garage on Saturday, then he and Jo had made plans for a bad movie night. Maybe on Sunday Dean could start reading that House of Leaves book Sam had lent him. He hadn’t arranged to see Castiel, but then he rarely did on weekends. Cas’s family did not like him having a social life – just another reason why Dean really should be glad that the guy was getting out of there and going to college, but he wasn’t going to think about that right now.
Dean sipped his coffee, enjoying the bitter shudder it sent down his spine. He was looking forward to a couple of days without any drama or complications. Later, Dean considered that he had just been asking for trouble with his complacency. After all, this was his life.
His cell started ringing.
Dean followed the muted tones of Back in Black over to the inside pocket of his jacket, flung across the bed. He retrieved the phone and flipped it open, not bothering to check the caller ID.
Dean sat up, suddenly alert. “Cas? You okay?”
Castiel sounded wrecked. “Dean, can you... can you get away? I really need to see you.”
Something clenched painfully in Dean’s chest. “Sure. I mean, it won’t be a problem. Where are you?”
“Can you meet me at the house? You know, the one I showed you? I’m... I can’t go home tonight.”
Dean swallowed past the lump in his throat. “Cas, what happened?”
“I can’t talk about it now,” Cas replied, a bite of urgency in his voice. “I’m almost out of minutes. I’ll explain when you get here, just please—”
“Sure,” Dean interrupted. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
He heard Castiel exhale. “Thank you. The back door will be unlocked.”
Dean hung up. Fuck. Cas never called him up like that – all their plans were made well in advance, usually fitted in around the demands of Castiel’s family. It had to be something pretty bad. And Cas wasn’t at home, which suggested that whatever had happened concerned the Delacroixs. Dean felt sick. What if Uncle Zachariah had found out about exactly how far Castiel was involved with Dean? They’d been so damn careful, erasing text messages, always making sure they had an alibi... but what if it hadn’t been enough? Dean wouldn’t have put it past Zachariah to spy on them. He bridled at the thought of the man’s thinly-veiled contempt, his obsequious smile that never quite reached his eyes. He’d take great pleasure in ruining things for them, in taking away everything good and making Castiel ashamed of who he was.
Dean shrugged on his jacket, stuffing the phone back in the pocket, and grabbed his duffel. He ran down the stairs, jumping the last three and landing cat-like on the front hall carpet.
“I have to go out!” he gasped, skidding into the kitchen.
John looked up from where he was taking a lasagne out of the oven, frowning a little. “We’re just about to have dinner. You okay, Dean?”
“Um, yeah, but I can’t stay. I have to go meet Cas, he’s in trouble.”
John straightened up, his frown deepening. “What kind of trouble?”
“Oh! Um... nothing bad. I mean, he’s not in trouble. He’s just, uh, upset about something and he needs to... Look, I... I don’t know how long this’ll take, so could I just grab some food for us?”
John gave Dean one of his heavy looks. “Dean, whatever it is you’ve gotten yourself into, get out of it. You’re just starting to get back on track; I don’t want you ruining it all with another of your irresponsible—”
“I’m just trying to be a good friend!”
“Oh, please. You seriously expect me to believe you’re running off to console Castiel? I’d have thought you’d come up with a better excuse than that.”
Dean felt himself flush red with anger. “It’s true! What the hell do you want from me?”
“I want you to be my son again! I used to be able to rely on you, Dean, but lately it’s been drinking, sullenness, fighting – and don’t think I haven’t noticed you’ve been raiding the liquor cabinet. Now stop being a god damn idiot and tell me where the hell you’re going in such a hurry!”
Dean’s fists were clenched so tightly the nails dug into his palms. “Forget it,” he snarled. “I don’t have time for this.” He turned and strode away, wrenching the front door open so violently it banged against the inside wall.
Dean couldn’t remember getting into his car and starting the ignition. It was only when he was a couple of blocks away and the sound of his heart beating in his ears had abated a little that he could take stock of the situation. He’d really done it this time. He was shaking, and he gripped the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles turned white. Why had his dad picked that exact moment to be a douche? The one moment when Dean was already buzzing with nervous energy and really fucking needed to be somewhere? Why couldn’t he just trust Dean for once? Dean angrily shook off the knowledge that he hadn’t exactly done much to earn John’s trust of late. Because couldn’t the guy have realized that this was fucking important? Couldn’t he have looked at Dean and figured it out? Dean forced himself to breathe steadily, trying to ignore the slightly hysterical voice in his head saying you yelled at Dad, you actually got mad at him and now he’s gonna be mad at you and you let him down and you walked away from him and he’s not gonna be proud of you anymore fuck fuck fuck you’d better go back and apologize right the hell now... Dean had bigger things to worry about.
What if Zachariah knew? What would he do? Dean wouldn’t put anything past the bastard, and he strongly suspected that Michael wouldn’t be much better. They could take Cas out of school, cut his ties with the world, keep him a virtual prisoner like they did with Anna. They could even leave the area, stop Castiel from seeing Dean ever again, and what could either of them do about it? By the time Dean pulled into the driveway of the empty house, wheels skidding slightly on the gravel, crazy, half-formed plans were beginning to blossom in his mind. Plans that involved getting Cas out while they still had a chance, and moving him into the Winchester’s home. He’d think of something to tell his parents, and Castiel was legally an adult so it wasn’t like Zachariah could make him go back if he didn’t want to...
Dean ran round to the back of the house and let himself in. The key was in the lock and he turned it once he was inside, wary of the fact that he might not be the only person who would think of looking for Castiel.
“Cas?” he called, his voice echoing strangely. “Cas, it’s me!”
There was no reply, and Dean tore through the house, fearful that Castiel was already gone. But then Dean opened the door to the room, that room, that they had been in before, and found him curled up on the sofa, wrapped in a couple of blankets.
It was April now and the weather was getting warmer though the nights were still chilly, and the old house had not retained any of the day’s warmth. Castiel had lit a small fire in the grate, and its flickering light made him look older than his eighteen years.
Castiel didn’t look up. He was staring at a photo he held in his hand. “Dean, I don’t know what to believe in anymore,” he whispered.
Dean was across the room in a couple of strides, grasping Castiel’s shoulder, his concern making him a little rougher than he’d intended. Castiel’s eyes snapped up to him, astonishingly blue, astonishingly sad. Then he crushed his mouth against Dean’s, pulling him down onto the couch with a hand at the back of his neck. Castiel bit at his lips, crawling into Dean’s lap, pressing their bodies together.
“Hey, Cas, whoa!” Dean gasped. “hey, what’s—what happened? Just—just talk to me a second, okay?”
Castiel buried his face in Dean’s neck, not loosening his grasp. He was panting slightly.
“Cas, what happened?” Dean rubbed his hand in soothing circles over the other boy’s back.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Castiel whispered. “I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
“Cas, did they... did they find out about us?”
“What? Oh, no! No, it’s not... I told them about Cornell.”
Castiel shifted slightly to the side. “This was taken when we were little. Before our mother died.” He handed Dean the photo he’d been holding, resting his forehead lightly against Dean’s temple.
Dean looked at the picture of three young boys, the older two not more than seven or eight, arms around each other’s shoulders, grinning for the camera. The one on the left with the mischievous glint in his eyes must be Gabriel, the one who had walked out. The other was surely Michael, but Dean found it hard to equate the smiling, gappy-toothed blond boy with the dispassionate young man he had met. The smallest boy could only be Castiel. He looked exactly how Dean would have imagined a five-year-old Cas to look: sweetly serious with messy hair and eyes too big for his face. Dean had the stupid urge to pick him up and cuddle him.
“We were so happy back then,” Castiel breathed. “Michael wasn’t always as he is now. He used to laugh. Everything was... we all loved each other, and wanted each other to be happy. My father would talk about love a lot, how it was the most important thing. When he distanced himself, Michael changed. I think it hurt him the most because he’d always been so loyal to my father, always wanting to help him. But he just grew cold after that, and it’s like... I think now that he’s going along with everything Zachariah says because he wants to... get back at my father. You were right – this isn’t what our church teaches. The life we’ve been leading isn’t the one our father intended for us. Not that he’s around to give a damn.”
Castiel laughed bitterly, and Dean set the photo aside.
“Cas, what happened?”
Castiel sighed shakily, and Dean thought that no one should sound that tired. “Basically, I have a choice. I could stay here and let things continue as they are. Or I could go to college and never speak to my family again.”
“What the fuck?”
“And they’re all I have left. I have no idea how to get hold of my father. I don’t have an address for Raphael, and knowing him he wouldn’t speak to me anyway if he discovers I’ve quarrelled with Zachariah. Gabriel is God knows where...”
“Cas, you can’t just let these people dictate your whole fucking life!”
Castiel huffed a sigh, letting his head fall onto Dean’s shoulder. “It isn’t that easy. Dean, they’re my family. Could you do something if you knew that John would never speak to you again if you did?”
“He wouldn’t put me in that position,” Dean replied uncomfortably.
“But if he did. And the church... Dean, this mission has been my life. I know it must be difficult for you to understand, but I’ve never had... I’ve dedicated everything I have to serving God. I believed in our church and I’ve never done anything that wasn’t in its service. I don’t know how to... to live outside it. I don’t want to. I just don’t understand how they could do this. How they could not want me to have anything that is mine.”
Dean didn’t say anything. He suspected that a part of Castiel had known all along that his family would react in this way otherwise he would have told them about college sooner. “What are you gonna do?” he asked.
Castiel gave a small shrug. “Money isn’t a problem. I have enough in the way of scholarships, and Miss Bishop’s already said that she’d help me out with getting extra support. It’s just that... I don’t know. I didn’t think I’d ever have to choose. I don’t know if I can let go completely like that, but I... how can I go back there and work for them when they’re just... perverting everything my father tried to establish for us? I can’t—” He was pressing soft, fretful kisses to the side of Dean’s neck. “I can’t stand it. You’re the only thing I... Dean, I can’t stand feeling this way. Please...” His fingers tightened in the fabric of Dean’s shirt, and he climbed back on top of him, knees on either side of Dean’s hips.
Dean tried to soothe him, running comforting hands over Castiel’s arms, stroking fingers through his hair, but Castiel made a low, frustrated growl and pulled Dean closer. He kissed Dean hungrily, almost like he wanted to crawl inside him, disappear into the kiss completely because it just wasn’t enough, it wasn’t close enough. Dean could feel the tension in Cas’s body and felt an ache of love surge through him because he knew that Cas was holding back for him, that he wanted to just hold Dean down and take, but he was restraining himself because of what had happened to Dean. Because he didn’t want Dean to be afraid. That more than anything made Dean’s control slip a couple of notches. He arched up, grinding himself against Castiel and making the other boy shudder and gasp.
Castiel broke the kiss, still rocking his hips against Dean. Dean looked up at him breathlessly and thought that really no one had the right to look so fucking hot. Castiel was like some wild animal turned human, his eyes dark and wild, his lips parted and trembling. Dean reached up and touched his fingers to Castiel’s face almost reverently; impossible to believe that this beautiful creature was really his.
“Dean.” There was tension in Castiel’s voice and it made Dean shiver. “Dean, you... you know that...”
“What?” Dean blinked.
Castiel was breathing erratically, his lips kissed red. His gaze flickered down to Dean’s mouth and back up again. “There’s more that we could do, isn’t there? I mean more than... than what we’ve been doing.”
Dean was suddenly very aware of how dry his mouth was. He darted his tongue out to moisten his lips a little. “Yeah,” he croaked, not needing to ask what Castiel was referring to.
Castiel exhaled sharply. “Have you... thought about it?”
Well, of course Dean had. Thought about it in the same way he’d thought about Space Mountain when he’d been taken to Disney World aged ten. Something that he knew would be awesome, possibly the best thing ever, but simultaneously mind-numbingly terrifying. The Space Mountain dilemma had been solved by having his dad ride with him. And that really wasn’t an analogy that needed to be pursued here. Ugh.
“Dean?” Castiel grew still against him.
“Hey, yeah, I’m here. Sorry, I... I mean, yeah, I’ve... I’ve thought about it.”
Castiel swallowed. “I’d like to. I mean, I know that you’re not ready to... but I could. I’d like to, I mean. It’s just I want... God, Dean, I need to be closer. It’s not enough, it’s... I feel like I can’t...” Castiel’s hands ghosted over Dean’s skin, feverish and fretful. He squirmed against Dean, who was suddenly very aware of the power of the other boy, all that want and passion and fury in him that had been stamped on for so long, so damn long, and deserved a release. Dean realized how much he wanted this, in spite of the fear, in spite of the no going back-ness of it. He wanted Castiel so badly it hurt him inside and out, made his legs tremble, the ache and the heat and the need almost too much. Not just for the promise of the satisfaction of his own desire. More than that, it was a longing to see Castiel come undone, to give him what he needed, to set him free. He wanted to drive Castiel wild.
“Dean, please.” Castiel’s voice was all gravel over molasses. “Please just make me feel better. Just... do whatever the hell you want to me.”
Dean managed to make a cut-off choking noise. If Cas was going to start saying things like that, there was a good chance that Dean would come in his pants. With a concentrated effort to ignore the steady throb between his legs, he forced some of the blood back up to his brain again. “Cas, are you... I mean, this is... this isn’t just because of what happened today, is it?”
Castiel grew still again, and Dean immediately knew he’d said Something Stupid. At this rate his mouth would have to start charging his foot rent. His suspicions were confirmed when Castiel gave him a hard shove and pulled away from him.
“If you don’t want to, you could just say.”
Dean winced, cursing himself for developing a conscience. Hadn’t the rule always been that if someone you’re really into is practically begging you to fuck them, you should give them what they want instead of trying to reason them out of it? “Of course I want to!” he protested.
“So what if it is because of what happened?” Castiel stood over him, all power and tension and beauty, and Dean was momentarily awestruck that someone so damn strong, so controlled, had been willing to give themselves to him. “So what if maybe I wanted to feel good, to feel like today isn’t just the day I lost faith in my family? Is it really of such consequence?”
Dean gaped at him stupidly.
“So what, you’ll happily go to bed with any girl who’ll have you, but not with me? Dean, I do realize that I’m far from your ideal, but I had thought that—”
“What? Wait, no! Cas, that’s not... Cas, I do want you. More than... I mean, isn’t it fucking obvious?” He caught hold of Castiel’s wrist, seeing that the other boy was about to move away, terrified that if he didn’t keep Cas with him now, that could be it. Dean pulled him in. Castiel sat down next to him stiffly, still not looking at him, and Dean didn’t trust to let go of him. “You just... I’m gonna try to explain, and I probably won’t do it very well, but... Look, with you, I’m... This is new. Not just cause you’re a guy, but... you’re more than just... There’s a lot at stake. You mean more than just... And I’ve never been with anyone like this that I’ve actually loved before, and it never meant anything, and now it does, and I’m kinda terrified that I’m gonna screw this up like everything else, and I want it to be right, and I want you to feel right about it and I’m—” Dean cut himself off. He didn’t know when he’d become such a damn motor mouth or what the hell it was about Castiel that made Dean want to spill out every stupid, incoherent thought that went through his head.
Castiel, unsurprisingly, looked confused. The stupid, hysterical part of Dean’s brain realized that Cas’s confused face reminded him of that owl from The Sword in the Stone.
“So you’re... Dean if you’re just trying to—”
Before Castiel could get up again, Dean grabbed a fistful of his sweater and pulled him in. “I’m saying that I want you,” he said between hard, bruising kisses. “And I’m scared. And I’m stupid. And I’m sorry. Because I never get the things I want. And if I do, I break them.”
Castiel held Dean’s head between his hands, somehow managing to be gentle and firm all at once. He pressed their foreheads together, running a thumb over Dean’s cheekbone. “You won’t break me. Dean, please. Do this for me. Let me be strong for you. You can do whatever it is that you want. You can—”
Dean kissed him again. Kissed him because he hated Castiel sounding so broken, because he didn’t want him to doubt, even for a moment, that he was wanted. He pushed Cas back, lowering him down onto the sofa. Castiel made a quiet noise of satisfaction and pulled him closer.
Dean had always been slightly awestruck by how Castiel kissed so fearlessly, like it was the last thing he’d ever do. He kissed like he was laying claim to Dean. He kissed like he was scared Dean was going to get away. Dean himself had always held back, and it hurt. It hurt to push the surge of want and need back down, when all he ever wanted to do with Cas was mark him, crawl into his skin, take him and make them both complete. He felt like he was suffocating with the effort of restraint. It was a scary thought though, giving yourself to someone like that, intoxicating yourself with them, when they could turn around and break your heart at any moment. That kind of thing could kill you. Sometimes Dean wanted to warn Castiel not to give himself so entirely, to be careful, because while Dean felt like he’d sooner die than intentionally hurt Cas, he didn’t trust himself not to do something stupid and screw everything up. Giving yourself over to another person completely like that could burn you alive.
But then, Dean thought, what a lovely way to burn.
He’d been stupid. He couldn’t keep denying Cas the affirmation he needed; he couldn’t keep denying himself. Not when Castiel was tearing at his shirt, not when his legs were wrapping around Dean’s hips, not when Dean had been so fucking lonely for so fucking long and he’d found the one person who understood. He couldn’t be afraid anymore.
He violated Castiel’s mouth with his tongue, vaguely aware that he was making soft, desperate noises in his throat. He could feel Castiel shaking beneath him, still trying to get under Dean’s clothes, trying to get to the heart of him. Dean sat back long enough to pull his shirt off over his head and toss it aside. Castiel’s hands were already on his belt buckle, clumsily attempting to unfasten it with trembling fingers. Dean took pity on him, the adrenaline coursing through him making him feel strangely lucid. This was happening now, it was actually happening, and Dean was starting to wonder what the fuck had taken him so long.
Castiel tugged his own sweater over his head, and really how had Dean never noticed how fucking hot men were before? The feeling of Castiel’s bare skin pressed up tight against his chest was better than chocolate. There was just so much soft skin, and Dean wanted it all around him, wanted to wrap himself up in Castiel, wanted to explore every inch of him with his mouth, but there wasn’t fucking time because Dean felt like he was going to explode if he didn’t just fuck Castiel senseless.
Castiel pulled Dean’s jeans down roughly, taking his shorts with them, and Dean sobbed slightly with relief as his erection bobbed free. He let Castiel stroke him, his eyes fluttering shut as the sensations travelled all the way up his spine, but then he batted the other boy’s hand away because there was a very great danger that if Castiel kept it up this would be over a lot faster than either of them would like.
Castiel huffed with irritation, but then Dean hooked his thumbs around the waistband of his pants and pulled them down in one swift motion. He traced his fingers lightly over the material of Cas’s shorts where the fabric was tented, making Castiel throw his head back against the cushions with a hiss, his fingers digging into Dean’s shoulders hard enough to bruise.
“Dean,” Cas gasped. “Dean, please... please...”
Dean had mercy on him, and dragged Castiel’s underpants down over his hips. His breath stuttered a little as he looked at Cas’s cock, hard and leaking against his stomach, and felt his own erection twitch appreciatively. Oh yes, he was definitely a little bit gay.
There was an awkward moment when they both tried to completely free themselves of their pants which had gotten caught around their ankles, not having enough room to manoeuvre effectively without falling off the couch. But then their bodies were pressed up against each other and they both lay still for a moment, looking at each other in silent wonder. They’d never been completely naked together before. There was something so incredibly intimate about it, flesh against flesh, nothing between them. Castiel kissed him slowly, tenderly, the sense of urgency ebbing away a little because they were here, this was it, this was the moment and nothing could take it from them. Dean almost wanted to cry with relief.
Castiel lifted his knees up, hooking his ankles around the backs of Dean’s thighs, rocking his hips up slightly so their cocks rubbed against each other, making Dean whimper.
“Cas,” he breathed, lips against the soft skin just below Castiel’s ear. “You sure about this?”
“God, yes!” Castiel gasped. “I want you. I want to feel you in me. I want to know that... that you’re just mine.”
Dean rocked his hips down, making them both moan. “I don’t wanna hurt you...”
“It’s okay. I told you, you won’t break me.”
Not wanting to move away from Castiel, Dean reached blindly for his duffel where he’d dropped it beside the sofa, groping for the inside pocket where he always kept a few packets of condoms and where he’d recently stashed a small bottle of oil as well. Dean had always known that it was best to be prepared.
Dean loved the way that Castiel said his name, all deep and rough and sex, how he said it more than he really needed to, even if they were alone together, as if he just liked the way Dean’s name sounded in his mouth. They were definitely going to have to try phone sex at some point – just hearing Cas’s voice was enough to make him hard most of the time.
“You... do know what you’re doing, don’t you? I mean, I don’t really—”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s cool. I mean, I’ve never... done this before, but I’ve been doing... research.”
Castiel laughed breathlessly. “You’ve been doing research? Voluntarily?”
“Sex research!” Dean replied defensively. “Anyway, you wanna put me to the test?”
It should have been cheesy – it was cheesy – being really turned on always kind of made Dean’s brain switch off a little and he would occasionally come out with lines that should not be uttered outside of bad porno movies, but Castiel didn’t seem to mind. He bit his lip so hard the surrounding skin turned white, and nodded sharply.
Dean swallowed hard and flipped open the cap of the bottle of lubricant, squeezing some of the cold liquid out onto his fingers and rubbing them together. He’d never been aware before of exactly what it meant to have another person trust him with their body. Trusting him to be inside them, to not hurt them, to make them feel good. It was a fucking huge responsibility, and Dean wasn’t going to let Castiel down. He was going to give Castiel the best time he knew how.
Slowly, Dean reached down and gave Cas’s cock a couple of quick strokes with his slicked up hand, making the other boy whimper and pant. Then Dean reached lower still, past Castiel’s balls, and began to rub gentle circles with his fingers around Cas’s hole. Castiel’s breath hitched at the sensation, and Dean leaned in to kiss him, ready to stop at any sign of discomfort.
“This okay?” he asked, wishing he didn’t sound so scared.
Castiel nodded. “Hm. Don’t stop.”
“Let me know if it gets too much, ‘kay?”
Castiel ghosted his fingers up and down Dean’s sides in the softest of caresses, pulling his knees up even further to give Dean better access. Dean propped himself up on one elbow, watching Castiel’s face very closely as he slipped one finger inside his body.
Heat. Tight, glorious, trembling heat. Dean bit his lip, thinking that if this is what Cas felt like around his finger it was going to be very difficult not to come straight away if he felt it around his dick. Castiel had gone very still, barely even breathing, his eyes focused on something beyond Dean.
Castiel gasped as Dean began to gently move his finger in and out. “Yes,” he whispered. “Don’t stop. It’s, ah, strange. Good strange.”
Dean swallowed thickly and kissed Castiel once more, kissed him deeply, sucking on his tongue.
Castiel bucked his hips against him with a small noise of frustration. “Dean, just... just get on with it, please! I can’t—”
“Dean huffed a laugh. “Oh, Cas... you old romantic, you.”
He slipped another finger inside Castiel, his movements surer this time, smiling at the way Castiel sobbed with something like relief and grabbed convulsively at Dean’s hips. Dean himself was painfully hard now, but he chose to ignore it. If he could just concentrate on Castiel, on making sure that he had a good time, there was a better chance that Dean wouldn’t completely embarrass himself.
Cas was thrusting down against his hand now, almost helplessly, and Dean pushed deeper until he was inside Castiel up to the knuckle. Then he tentatively crooked his fingers, explored Castiel’s insides, trying to find his prostate. He knew he’d struck gold when Castiel’s whole body spasmed and his muscles clenched involuntarily around Dean’s fingers.
“Oh God!” he cried. “Oh my... Dean, what was that?”
Dean grinned. “You liked that?”
“God, yes!” Cas gasped. “What... how? Ah!” He threw his head back again when Dean bore down on him mercilessly with his fingers. Castiel looked completely debauched, eyes closed, mouth slack as Dean completely ruined him. Dean was shaking now, his whole body singing with such unabashed want he could barely contain it. He added a third finger, and this time Castiel winced a little.
Dean paused. “You... want me to...?”
“Don’t you dare!” Castiel hissed, fixing Dean with eyes that were almost black with arousal. “I swear to God, if you even think about it I will kill you.”
Dean thought it best to take him at his word. After all, he knew that Cas wasn’t delicate, and he’d been left in no doubt that yeah, the guy really did fucking want this. Want him. Fuck.
“Dean... please... more...” Castiel grit out. “Please, I... I can’t...”
Heart hammering, Dean groped for the condom he’d dropped on the sofa and tore the little foil packet open with his teeth. His hands were shaking so badly he could barely get the thing on, and even that brief, fumbling touch made him shudder with pleasure. He really hoped that Castiel didn’t notice how clumsy and nervous he was being, and was suddenly very grateful that the other boy had no basis for comparison.
Castiel moaned in protest at the loss of Dean’s fingers inside him, but then Dean was lining himself up against Castiel’s entrance, and holy crap this was actually going to happen. “Just... relax as much as you can, okay?” he whispered, not trusting his voice to remain steady.
He pushed forward slowly, still not really prepared by how tight Cas would feel, almost too tight, but so fucking good Dean thought he was going to die from it. He inched himself deeper, breaking out into a sweat, unable to think of anything except the heat and the intensity and the muscles pressing in on him from all sides, and how it felt like some kind of fuse was blowing in his brain.
His hips bumped against the back of Cas’s thighs. He was inside Castiel, actually inside, and Dean had never really appreciated what that meant before. None of his prior experiences had prepared him for this. To be inside another person’s body and realize that it’s where you always belonged, and that maybe you’d spent your whole life looking for this, this connection, and it was the first time you’d ever felt right. It was too much, almost.
Dean looked at Castiel, and was almost frightened by the intensity in the other boy’s eyes. He didn’t make a sound, but Dean could feel the tension radiating from him, could feel it in the way his jaw was set, the way his fists were balled tightly, the way he was looking up at Dean like he was trying to ground himself.
“Cas?” Dean choked out, every ounce of his will focused on resisting the urge to just slam into Castiel again and again and again.
“It’s all right,” Cas said through gritted teeth. “I’m fine. Just... give me a minute.”
Dean’s heart clenched. He pressed soft kisses to Castiel’s lips, his neck, his eyelids. He rubbed soothing hands over his thighs, reached between their bodies where the heat was almost sinful and stroked Castiel back to full hardness. “I’m sorry,” he whispered against his cheek. “I wish it didn’t hurt.”
Gradually, Dean felt him relax. He felt the tension ebb away, the muscles unclench, and Cas began to make small noises of pleasure again, experimentally rocking his hips against Dean as if getting used to the feel of him, the length and the heat and the fullness, his breathing erratic, his hands skittering over Dean’s back and sides and arms as if he didn’t quite know what to do with them.
Dean was certain he had never been this hard in his life. His thighs were shaking with the sheer effort of holding back, and he felt like his whole body was one long ache, the centre of everything, the whole fucking universe, the place where he and Castiel were joined.
Dean made a small whimpering noise in the back of his throat. “Cas,” he rasped. “I gotta... I need to move.”
Castiel nodded breathlessly. “Yes. Yes please.”
Dean dragged out slowly and pushed back in with a sob of relief, the pleasure that throbbed through him feeling like the first he had ever known. Yeah, this wasn’t going to last long. He did it again, and was gratified by the moan he managed to pull out of Castiel.
Cas was looking up at him with something like rapture. “Dean,” he said softly, awestruck. “Again.”
Dean moved slowly, partly because he was very much aware that this was Castiel’s first time and he wanted it to be good, partly because he could feel arousal coiling tightly in his gut, making his thighs tingle, making the blood pound in his ears. He didn’t want it to be over. He wanted to make Castiel come undone first. Cas moaned and arched against him, but he wasn’t close enough, not nearly close enough for Dean. He breathed deeply, trying to distract himself by naming all the different parts of an engine in his head.
Dean hooked his arms behind Castiel’s knees and pushed his legs up even further, tilting his pelvis upwards. This, he knew, was all about the angles. He didn’t care anymore that he was violating Castiel’s innocence with this desperate, needy fuck, even though he suspected that he should. He didn’t care that it shouldn’t be like this, on an old couch in an empty house, with Castiel so broken and lost. The only thing that mattered now was that it felt like absolution, like what he’d needed all along, what they’d both needed.
It was driving Castiel crazy, and Dean couldn’t look away. He thrust upwards, trying to hit Cas’s prostate on every stroke, making his cry out wildly, gasping Dean’s name over and over like a prayer, his muscles fluttering deliciously around where Dean was seated deep inside him. It was too much. It was too intense. The hot, electric, pounding pleasure was just too fucking much and it was going to consume them both. Dean realized that he was whispering broken sentences against Cas’s cheek, obscene and loving, worshipful and profane.
Castiel was holding onto him so tightly that Dean could barely move. All they could do was rock together, chase the heat rocketing through them, praying that it wouldn’t tear them apart. “Dean,” Cas choked, lip’s pressed to Dean’s temple, hips bucking helplessly. “Dean... Dean... Dean... Oh... Oh God... Oh fuck!” As far as Dean knew, Castiel had never used dirty language before, and damn him if it wasn’t the hottest thing he had ever heard. His balls tightened painfully, and he grabbed hold of Castiel’s hips in an attempt to ground himself, an attempt to not be blown to pieces.
Castiel’s breath hitched and his body jerked against Dean’s, and then Dean held him down as he cried out and thrashed and came, head thrown back in ecstasy, fingers digging into Dean’s flesh like that was the only thing keeping him together. He looked wild and beautiful and perfect, and his muscles were working Dean so hard that his own orgasm was punched out of him without warning, so powerful it almost hurt, and he buried his face in Castiel’s neck as he sobbed out his pleasure, rolling over him in spasm after hot, shuddering spasm, making lights dance before his eyes, crushing him, crushing them both.
The first thing Dean was aware of again was his breath, stuttering and ragged, against the skin of Castiel’s throat, and how they were still clinging to each other even as the aftershocks ebbed away and their heartbeats returned to their normal pace. Still holding each other tightly like they’d come through something that was bigger than both of them, and it had been too much. The sweat was starting to cool on Dean’s back, making him shiver. He slowly pulled away a little, drawing a soft noise of protest from Castiel, and reached down to drag the blanket that had pooled at their feet up over them. He crawled back into Castiel’s arms, shaking and boneless, and Cas held him tightly, like he’d been afraid that Dean was trying to get away. Dean wanted to reassure him, tell him that everything was okay, but he was suddenly too exhausted. He rested his head on Castiel’s shoulder again and allowed sleep to take him.
When Dean woke up, he was cold. His muscles were cramped and his right arm had gone to sleep, but he was still lying in Castiel’s arms so it was perfect. The room was grey with milky morning light, and Dean wondered what time it was. He knew he was going to be in trouble with John for staying out all night, but right now he couldn’t bring himself to care.
He moved closer to Cas for warmth, his face buried in the other boy’s neck. Dean smiled. He hadn’t felt this contented since he’d been a kid. Castiel sighed deeply, stirring out of sleep, his arms tightening around Dean.
Dean pressed his lips to the pulse point on Castiel’s throat, kissing at the steady thrum of blood through veins. Castiel was alive and real and right there. He was a person who could think and feel and choose, and he had chosen to be right here with Dean. Dean was wanted and loved by another person, a person who wasn’t his family, who didn’t have to love him. It felt like a miracle.
Cas made a contented humming noise.
“You awake?” Dean whispered.
Dean kissed his way up Castiel’s jawline, but Cas turned his head away. “I have morning breath.”
Dean chuckled. “Me too, actually.” He contented himself with nuzzling against Castiel’s collarbone. When he had more time, and more room for that matter, he was going to have a field day with Cas’s body. Sex had had nothing to do with intimacy before. Even with Cassie he’d tried to keep the cuddling to a bare minimum; it just made him feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. He felt safe with Castiel. It was exciting and new, and Dean was terrified that someone was going to take it from him. Castiel snuggled closer, trying to find more warmth in Dean, and Dean pulled the blanket up, wishing that he could keep them both here, like this, forever.
“Sex isn’t like that, you know,” he blurted out, hooking a leg over Castiel’s.
“Isn’t like... what?”
Dean lifted his head to look at the other boy. “Like what we did last night.” Dean laughed at Castiel’s confused face. “I mean, it’s... it’s not normally like that. Trust me. What we did last night was... it was like platinum edition sex. I mean, it was the sex equivalent of, like, that thousand dollar cheeseburger you can get in New York that has bits of gold in it or something. Regular sex is just, you know, like the kind of cheeseburger you get at McDonalds. You know, it’s okay, but it doesn’t have bits of gold in it. It’s not thousand-dollar-cheeseburger sex. I’m just sayin’ that, you know, if you think that it’s gonna be like that with anyone else, you’re wrong. I mean, there really wouldn’t be any point in checking.”
Castiel tried not to laugh. “Dean, I’m not going anywhere.”
“Okay. Good. Just so we’re clear.”
Castiel nodded seriously. “Thousand-dollar-cheeseburger sex. Got it.”
Dean folded his arms across Cas’s chest and rested his chin on them. “My dad’s gonna kill me.”
Castiel’s eyes widened slightly. “Does he know you’re with me?”
“No. Well, I told him, but he thought I was lying because I wanted to go to a party or something.”
Castiel laughed softly. “You really can’t win, can you?”
“I really can’t.”
“I just... thought you might have told them.”
“Nah. I said I wouldn’t.”
“I know, but...” Castiel shifted a little uncomfortably. I suppose I’m... I’m just sick of hiding everything all the time.”
“Me too.” Dean wasn’t sure that he liked where this conversation was leading. It was one thing to imagine being out in the open with Castiel, but the reality would be quite different he was sure. And he didn’t think he was ready to deal with it just yet. He distracted Cas by pouncing on him and kissing him and kissing him until they fell off the couch together.
Castiel was laughing. “Dean Winchester, you are a child.”
Castiel sighed and let his head fall back. “I wish we didn’t have to leave.”
“You could always come stay at my place.”
Castiel’s face was expressionless for a minute, and then he shook his head. “I have to deal with them. They’re my family.”
Dean tried to quell his disappointment. Cas carded his fingers through Dean’s hair, his eyes faraway.
“You okay?” Dean asked.
A small smile. “Yes. I mean, I’m worried about going home, and I don’t know what’s going to happen about college, but I... I feel... I don’t know!” He laughed softly. “I feel kind of like I’m floating.”
Dean kissed him on his neck, on his chin, finally capturing his bottom lip between his teeth and biting gently. It was still a little overwhelming, all that naked skin against his. And it wasn’t even that Dean hadn’t been naked with someone else before, it was just that it was so intimate this time, and that was something completely new. They looked at each other in undisguised wonder. It had been almost too much, like together they’d experienced something bigger than themselves, like they were the first people to discover sex.
“I can drive you home,” Dean whispered. If they didn’t force themselves to get up soon, he suspected that they never would.
Castiel groaned. “All right. I suppose I should get this over with.”
Dean kissed him again briefly, and they set about finding their clothes and pulling them on. Dean’s stomach rumbled loudly, and it occurred to him that he hadn’t eaten since lunch the previous day. He’d have to stop off somewhere on his way to the garage for some breakfast.
Castiel was quiet in the car, and Dean could feel him withdrawing further and further the closer they got to his house. Like he was folding back into himself, becoming that strange, alien boy Dean had met back in October. It hurt him to see it, after he’d watched Castiel unfurl himself in Dean’s company, learn to express himself, learn to let himself feel.
He stopped at the end of Cas’s driveway. “You don’t have to do this.”
“They’re my family,” Castiel said heavily. “Of course I have to do this. I have to at least try to resolve things.”
Dean nodded. He couldn’t explain why he was suddenly so nervous, feeling like he just wanted to turn the car around and drive away as fast as he could, not stopping until he’d taken them somewhere safe, where he could hide with Castiel under cool sheets and hold him fast, so that no one could ever hurt them again. He was afraid to let Castiel out of his sight.
Castiel was toying anxiously with the sleeve of his trenchcoat.
Dean reached over and grabbed his hand. “You know where I am if you need me.”
Castiel kissed him then, hard, brutal almost, dragging Dean across the car towards him, nails digging into the skin of his neck, teeth biting down just hard enough to draw a little blood. And then he was gone, and Dean was left bruised and breathless and bereft. He watched Castiel walk away until he was out of sight.
“So you’ve seen fit to show up then,” John grunted at Dean when he arrived at the garage.
Dean wished that his dad would say something instead of just staring at him like that, disappointment etched across his face.
“You could’ve at least called, Dean,” he said eventually. “I expected better from you.”
Dean tried not to wince. “I’m sorry.”
John nodded. “Better get to work, then.”
Dean turns away, shame crawling in his stomach. He almost would have preferred if his dad had yelled at him. This silent disappointment was so much worse. Like John wasn’t even surprised anymore.
Dean worked badly. He was usually at his best when he was at the auto shop, but that day he was just off. He couldn’t stop thinking about Castiel, wondering what he was doing, hoping that he was okay. Then he’d start thinking about the previous night, and he’d have to check himself before he got too worked up.
“Just go home, Dean!” John had told him after Dean had actually managed to start a small fire. “You’re more trouble than you’re worth today.”
“I’m sorry, Dad.” Dean’s shoulders slumped. Today sucked.
John’s hand was heavy and steadying on his shoulder, and Dean found the courage to look at his father. To his surprise, John didn’t look angry.
“Go home,” he repeated, gently this time. He chuckled. “You know, you could’ve told me the truth about where you were going last night.”
Dean’s eyes widened slightly with alarm. “Huh?”
“Come on, Dean, you were with your mystery girlfriend. You’re covered in hickeys again. What the hell was all that bull about going to meet up with Cas?”
Dean laughed awkwardly. “Right. Busted.”
“Why are you being so secretive anyway? She’s not one of your teachers or anything, is she?”
“No nothing like that.”
John rolls his eyes. “Fine, don’t tell me. Just go home and get some sleep, and for Christ’s sake, take a shower. You smell like sex.”
Dean practically ran for the Impala, his face burning, the sound of his dad’s laughter ringing in his ears.
Dean had been feeling increasingly anxious all weekend. He’d received one text from Castiel on Saturday evening saying that things were okay and they’d talk on Monday, and he’d known better than to reply. He wasn’t sure how much trouble Cas was in, or how closely he was being watched. Still, it looked like Cas would be allowed to return to school in spite of his flirtation with rebellion, so that was something.
There was no opportunity to talk in home room. Castiel arrived late, and only briefly met Dean’s eye, giving him a small nod.
“You wanna go talk to him?” Jo whispered.
Dean shook his head. “Too many people. We’ll talk after.”
But then Cas hurried out of the room for his first class, not even looking at Dean. It was weird, but he supposed Cas must have his reasons. At least Dean knew he was okay. A little pale and tired looking perhaps, but fundamentally okay.
Castiel finally caught up with him after English. “I’ll talk to you later,” he whispered urgently. “I’ll meet you by your locker at the end of school.” He fixed Dean with that intense gaze of his, like he was trying to communicate telepathically.
Dean nodded, knowing that it was pointless to try and get anything out of Cas now. He’d just have to wait. It made the anxiety stir in his chest again, the urgency in Castiel’s eyes.
Pam took one look at Dean at lunchtime and burst out laughing. “So you and Cas finally went the full enchilada, then?”
Dean looked at her in mild horror. “The full what? I’m seriously concerned about where you’re getting your euphemisms from, Barnes.”
Ash snorted with laughter.
Pam bumped him with her shoulder. “Come on, Dean, I’m happy for you. Never thought I’d see the day when you actually got serious over someone.”
“Me either,” Dean confessed.
“So you think he’s the one?” Pam asked, never one to beat about the bush.
Dean glanced around, checking that no one beside his three friends could hear. “I dunno. I don’t even know what the one means, but he’s... All I know is, he makes me feel like I’m—”
Jo made a loud gagging noise. “Enough with the sap, Dean! Some of us are trying to eat here.”
Dean kicked her under the table. “I’m not taking that from someone who thinks REO Speedwagon are a classic rock band.”
“REO Speedwagon are awesome and you know it.”
“You keep telling yourself that, sweetheart.”
Jo rolled her eyes. “Dean, we all know you sing REO in the shower. Accept it, embrace it, own it. Think of the band as a metaphor for your burgeoning homosexuality.”
Dean made an unattractive snorting noise. “Please. Being gay is way cooler than that.”
“So things are good, then,” Pam interrupted loudly. “With you and Cas.”
Dean nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, really good.”
She frowned. “But?”
“Nothing. I mean, I think he’s kinda in trouble for staying out all night Friday. His family are being shitty about him going to college, you know? He wants to talk to me later, seemed pretty serious about it.”
“Can’t be that bad if he’s here,” Ash pointed out.
Dean tended to agree, but he wasn’t going to relax until he’d actually talked to Cas about it. Cas hadn’t talked to any of them all day, and that was just weird. Something was definitely up.
The afternoon dragged by. At least Dean only had Woodshop and Gym, so it wasn’t like he actually needed to concentrate. He ran through possible scenarios in his head, each one more worrying than the last. When he landed on the possibility of Cas being told that he had to marry some distant cousin and never being able to see Dean again, he made himself stop. Jo was right – he needed to man up already.
Castiel was already waiting by his locker by the time Dean got there.
“What the hell took you?” he hissed, glaring up at Dean.
“Sorry, I had to shower. What’s up?”
Castiel looked around, like they were doing something illicit. “Pretend I’m just giving you back some books,” he said, his voice just a low rumble that Dean had to strain to hear. He handed over the Chem textbook they used to work on together, and Dean dutifully took it and opened up his locker.
“What’s with the covert operations?” he muttered.
Castiel wouldn’t look at him. “I’m sorry, I don’t know who might be paying attention. My... my uncle has let me return to school until I graduate, but he’s monitoring me very closely. I suspect that he’s asked people to watch me while I’m here. He’s... he doesn’t want me to see you anymore.”
Dean’s stomach lurched. “He knows?”
“No.” Cas laughed humourlessly. “I wouldn’t be here if he knew. He just... he thinks you’ve been a bad influence. Encouraging me to think for myself. To neglect my duty. Needless to say, college is still vetoed.”
Dean took a deep, steadying breath. “So what do we do?”
“I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”
Castiel sounded so lost, and Dean felt desperate with the need to hold him. He hated everyone, hated them for not leaving the two of them alone, for just not letting them be.
“They can’t do anything though, right?” he whispered, pretending to find something in his locker very interesting. “They can’t make you do anything you don’t want to.”
“No,” Cas sighed. “But I can’t give up without a fight. There has to be some middle ground, there has to be some way of reasoning with Zachariah. If I can just get him to give me my father’s contact details at least, I might be able to fix things. If I can just, I don’t know, persuade my father to come home, to talk to Michael and Zachariah, maybe things will be okay.”
Dean didn’t want to voice his opinion that he didn’t think it was going to work out that way. “Are you okay?” he asked. “I’ve been really worried about you, Cas.”
Castiel didn’t answer at first. “I don’t know. It’s... I haven’t wanted to talk to you about it. I didn’t want to worry you. I didn’t want you to think... It’s difficult to explain about my family. You know, how we work. I realize you probably won’t understand why it’s so important, why I have to save them, but—”
“Of course I understand!” Dean protested a little too loudly, making Castiel wince. “I understand,” he repeated more quietly. “I’d do anything for my family, believe me, and I get that they’ve been pretty much your whole world until a few months ago. But the thing is, Cas, family is more than flesh and blood, you know? Sometimes people don’t deserve to be called family, they don’t deserve your time. You have to earn that. And... and I hate it. I hate watching you burn yourself out fighting for people who have done nothing for you, and... And there are people who love you, who want you to be happy, and...” He broke off, frustrated.
Castiel took a deep breath. “I don’t expect you to understand,” he said again. “I just need to know that you’ll wait. You will wait, won’t you, Dean? I don’t know what this is going to take, but you will just let me try once more?”
Dean had been about to reply, when someone grabbed his arm from behind and spun him around.
“What the hell is going on with you, Winchester?” Lisa Braeden demanded.
“Uh, hey, Lisa.” Dean was very much aware of Castiel beside him, and he felt his face heating up, thinking that the girl could not have picked a worse time. He just hoped that he could diffuse the situation before it got too awkward.
“You haven’t returned any of my calls.” Lisa crossed her arms and looked up at him accusingly.
“I’ve been busy. You know, finals and shit.”
“Dean, that’s such bull. Look, can’t you just be straight with me?”
Dean kind of wanted to start laughing hysterically. Oh, the irony.
“I like you, okay?” Lisa said. “I’ve liked you for a while, and I’ve been hanging on and hanging on, hoping that you’ll come around. I thought that maybe we could have something after that night in your car, but you’ve just been avoiding me, and I... Can you just let me know one way or another so that I can stop wasting my time? Either you like me or you don’t.”
“Of course I like you!” Dean blurted out.
“Then what the hell, Dean? I’ve asked you to prom, and you made some excuse about having to work. I’ve asked you to come with me to the game, and you had to study. I even asked if you wanted to meet my parents, but all you want to do is hang out with some weirdo in a dirty trenchcoat when you could be getting laid! Do you have any idea how many guys at this school would kill to take me out?”
Dean grew hot with anger at the way she was talking about Castiel, but he knew that he couldn’t call her on it. Not when he and Cas were trying to keep under the radar. “Look, sweetheart,” he said with an easy grin. “We’ve had some amazing times, but I didn’t think there was anything else to it. You know me. You knew not to expect anything.”
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “Yeah, you seem to have trouble committing to any woman, Dean. Was it really a matter of lying back, closing your eyes and thinking of Brad Pitt? Seriously,” her eyes flickered from Castiel and back to Dean again, “are you two gay together or something?”
Dean’s stomach flip-flopped, and he was suddenly very aware of how many students had stopped to listen to their conversation. He did the first think he could think of: he burst out laughing. “Are you kidding me? Me and Cas? Come on, babe, just because I’m not hung up on you it doesn’t mean that I’m batting for the other team all of a sudden! Seriously, that’s ridiculous.”
Lisa made a huffing noise and walked off. Dean waited until people had stopped looking at him, and then turned back to Cas, possibly to laugh over how up herself Lisa had gotten. But Cas wasn’t there anymore. Dean looked around, bemused, until he caught sight of the other boy marching away from him down the corridor towards the main exit.
Dean rolled his eyes, wondering what new weirdness was going on with him now. They hadn’t anywhere near finished their conversation, and there was no way in hell Dean was going to be left hanging like that. He shoved his textbooks in his locker and set off in pursuit of Castiel.
Dean finally caught up with him in the school parking lot. “Cas!” he panted. “What the hell?”
Castiel rounded on him furiously. “What the hell do you think?” he yelled.
“What... cause of Lisa? Dude, we said we were keeping this quiet! Come on, I was just kidding around with her to get her off our backs. What do you want from me?”
Castiel laughed derisively. “Dean, don’t even try to pretend that you’re doing this out of consideration for me. You don’t want to spoil your precious reputation. I mean, is that really what our relationship is to you? Ridiculous? How the hell do you think it made me feel, hearing you laughing at the thought of being with me with... with her?”
Dean kind of felt like he was going to throw up. “Cas, I just... I can’t...”
“I’m never going to be enough for you, am I?”
“What? Cas, how the fuck can you say that to me?”
“Because you can’t just... you know that what we have is better than anything you’ve had before. You know that no one is ever going to love you as much as I do. You know that. But it’s not enough. It’s not enough to make you man up and... and just own it instead of protecting your damn reputation! Today of all days, I just needed to know that someone wanted me. I just needed someone to want me, and...”
Dean took a step forward, desperate. “Cas, I... I wasn’t even thinking.”
Castiel shook his head, stepping away from him. “You never do, Dean. That’s the problem.”
“No.” Castiel held up a hand, blocking him. “Just... no. Not now.” He laughed bitterly. “I suppose I should thank you for making it so easy to follow my uncle’s orders.”
Dean tried to grab him, hold him back, make him stop and listen, but Castiel pushed him away so roughly that he tripped and fell to the ground.
Cas towered over him, his eyes cold and furious. “Do you have any idea how sick I am of this? Of constantly trying to fix things? I am trying so damn hard, Dean, and it’s never enough for you. I’ll always be your dirty little secret, won’t I?”
“The hell, Cas?” Dean gasped. “That’s not even... You wanted it to be secret!”
“Ridiculous!” Castiel shouted. “That’s what you called it! A simple no would have sufficed, Dean! You laughed at it. I have given you everything you wanted from me. Everything. And this is what you give me in return? You don’t want to want me, do you? You don’t want any of this. It’s too complicated and messy and dangerous for you. You want a simple, apple pie life with someone like her, you want to be Mr All American, with a house and a pretty wife and pretty children, and you hate that you’ve fallen for me. You hate that you want me. You wish it was different. You might have feelings for me, but deep down you know you shouldn’t. You hate it. And that’s not... I’d rather not have you at all than have you be ashamed of it.”
“Cas...” Dean felt like all the air had been punched out of him.
“No. Just... just stay away from me, Dean.”
Dean watched as Castiel stalked away from him, feeling like the sky was caving in on him.
Castiel wasn’t at school the next day, nor the day after that. Dean had tried texting him, had tried calling, but it had gone straight to voicemail. Whatever Dean had to say, Cas clearly didn’t want to know. The worst of it was that he hadn’t understood. He hadn’t seen why Dean was so scared of people knowing, why he’d been so desperate to hide it. He hadn’t understood, and he wasn’t giving Dean the chance to explain. He oscillated between anger at the other boy and a desperation that left him breathless, that made him want to drive over to Castiel’s house and fight his way in to see him, the rest of his family be damned.
By Thursday, Dean was so sick with it that the thought of going into school was impossible. His mom had let him stay home, and he curled up on the couch watching crappy daytime TV shows. Jo had come over in the evening to report that Cas still wasn’t at school, and that she hadn’t been able to get in touch with him either. Dean had waited until she left before crawling into bed, pulling the covers up over his head and crying. He felt like his source of oxygen had been cut off. The one good thing in his life, the one thing that had made Dean feel good about himself, that had made him feel like he could turn things around and actually be happy again, and he’d screwed it up. And all over some stupid misunderstanding. He remembered gratefully that he’d saved a bottle of scotch in the back of his closet, and he drank until he couldn’t feel anymore.
Friday was Sam’s birthday. Dean still couldn’t go to school, arguing to his parents that he’d caught some virus. The fact that he’d been throwing up all morning was pretty good support to the lie, and he hoped that they didn’t realize that it was all alcohol related rather than gastric flu. He feared that Mary had her suspicions. Crappy as he felt, Dean dragged himself out of bed in the afternoon and helped his dad set up the barbeque in the back garden. He didn’t want to spoil things for his brother, and felt like he should at least pretend to have a good time.
By the end of the evening, Dean’s face was aching from his fake smile. Sam had been too busy geeking out over his new books and the David Attenborough box set he’d been given to notice, but Dean noticed Mary shooting him anxious looks. He was pretty much over his hangover which was a shame: it had been a good distraction from Castiel.
Jo found him in the kitchen where he’d gone to hide.
She leaned up against the counter opposite him. “I feel I should warn you that our mothers are discussing your love life.”
Dean laughed humorlessly. “What love life?”
Jo poked him with the toe of her shoe. “Buck up, champ. You guys are gonna work it out. I hate to say it, but you’re sickeningly good together.”
“Maybe if I wasn’t such a fuck-up.”
Jo did something then that she did very rarely: she threw her arms around Dean and hugged him tightly. He hugged her back, not caring that he was being a baby. Jo didn’t hug very much, but when she did, she really meant it, and made Dean appreciate it all the more.
“It’s going to be okay,” Jo mumbled from somewhere below Dean’s chin. “He’ll come around, you’ll apologize, and you’ll drive off into the sunset together.”
“Yeah, or he’ll drive off into the sunset to go to fucking Cornell and have an amazing life and meet someone who isn’t having a sexual identity crisis, and I’ll be left here to remember how I had something amazing for a while but was too fucking dumb to hold onto it.”
Jo pulled away and rolled her eyes. “Jeez, Dean, drama queen much?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot for a minute that you are a heartless bitch.”
Jo bumped him with her shoulder. “Come on, I’m serious. It’s going to be okay.”
Dean grimaced. He was on the point of saying that it was probably all for the best, that Cas deserved someone better, that Dean would just screw things up anyway. But he didn’t. He knew it wasn’t for the fucking best. He knew it was an insult to what they had to say that, that things had been better for Cas as well as for him when they were together, and he’d managed to spoil it. If only Castiel would listen to him, give him another chance, there was nothing Dean wouldn’t do to fix it.
“Pam’s coming over tonight,” Jo continued. “We’re going to eat junk food and have a TV marathon. You should come over. We’re gonna watch America’s Next Top Model. You know you secretly love America’s Next Top Model.”
Dean shrugged. “Yeah. I really do.”
“And then there’s the next episode of Doctor Sexy. And True Blood re-runs.”
Dean managed a smile. “Yeah. Okay, I’ll be there. But only if you guys don’t tell anyone about ANTM. Or Doctor Sexy either, actually.”
Jo snorted. “I’ll take it to the grave.”
Dean woke up early on Saturday morning, not able to sleep well, his heart still full of that leaden feeling. He dressed and went down to put on some coffee. Maybe working at the garage would help. It would at least give him something to think about other than Castiel, and how badly he’d screwed everything up. To his surprise, his mother was already in the kitchen, and there was a mug of steaming black coffee waiting for him.
Mary smiled when he came in. “Good morning.”
“Mom! I… you didn’t have to do this.”
She laughed. “Well, I can never sleep after your dad’s up. He’s not exactly quiet in the mornings.”
Dean laughed half-heartedly.
“Dean… is everything all right?”
“Sure!” he said, forcing a bright smile. “I’m… I’m gonna drink this outside.” He picked up the coffee mug and went out the back door. There was a bench overlooking the garden, and Dean sat down, closing his eyes. The rising sun was pleasantly warm on his face. When he opened his eyes, he saw that Mary had come out to join him. Dean would have been annoyed, but he suddenly felt that he really didn’t want to be alone after all. The urge to talk to someone was almost overwhelming. It made his heart beat painfully to think of confiding in anyone about his relationship with Castiel, but he felt like if he didn’t he might just explode.
“Mind if I join you?” Mary said.
Dean shook his head, and she sat down beside him. Neither of them spoke at first, sipping their coffee, watching the light stretch out across the grass. Dean cleared his throat nervously.
“Mom, there’s… I guess you’ve already figured out that I’ve been seeing someone. And I really like them. More than like.” Dean stared into his coffee cup as though it had the answers to the universe. It was that time of morning he loved – when it was still early enough for everything to have a golden haze around it. It didn’t seem right somehow that everything could be this beautiful when Dean was feeling this bad. Mary sat beside him on the bench, silently waiting for him to continue. That’s what he liked best about his mother – unlike John, she didn’t push. He took another sip of coffee. “And… and this person is, well, they’re not anything like someone I’d expect to, you know, have feelings for. I mean, they’re completely unsuitable for me in so many ways, and I know no one else is gonna get it, but I… but I…” Dean lost courage.
Mary slipped her hand around his arm and gave it a little squeeze. “Dean. I think Castiel is a lovely boy.”
Dean almost dropped his mug in surprise. He snapped his head round to look at his mother, who was smiling at him tenderly. “You… you knew?”
She gave a small shrug. “A mother picks up on these things. There was the way he looked at you. The way you looked at him. And, of course, the fact that a couple of months ago you decided to start ‘studying’ in your bedroom with the door shut.” She smiled. “Don’t worry, I think I’m the only one who’s noticed.”
Dean looked away. He wanted to say something, but there was a lump in his throat.
“He’s been good for you. Sweetheart, I was so worried about you. Over the last year I’ve watched as you got closer and closer to giving up on yourself. I tried to help you but you wouldn’t let me, and I was scared that you’d… I don’t know. But since the accident you’ve been… you’ve been getting like your old self again, and I know that a lot of that has to do with Castiel. Dean, love isn’t predictable. Sometimes it appears in unlikely forms. And maybe you’re right and other people won’t understand it, but I do. And I’m sure that anyone who knows you and loves you will as well. So isn’t that all that matters?”
Dean took a deep, steadying breath. “Mom, I’ve screwed up.” He squinted into the rising sun, not trusting himself to look at her.
“Someone asked me if Cas and I were… were together, and I said no. Pretty emphatically. He’s so mad at me, Mom. I mean, he won’t even speak to me. He thinks that I’m ashamed. But… but it’s not that. I mean, yeah, I’m scared about people finding out, but it’s got nothing to do with… with how I feel about him or about what we have. It’s…”
“He is so damn innocent. I mean, he’s possibly the smartest person I’ve ever met, and he can sure as hell take care of himself, I’m not worried about him in that respect. But he… he’s not had to deal with people before. He doesn’t know what they’re like. And what we have, it’s… it’s beautiful and good and… and ours. And I feel like he thinks that if we announce it to the world, everyone’s gonna see that. He doesn’t understand how they’d take what we have and turn it into… into something dirty or something to be laughed at. He doesn’t see how they’d try to rip it to shreds, and while it might not break us apart, I… I know how much it would hurt him. And he can’t understand that I’d do anything to protect him from that.” Dean was crying now, but he was beyond caring.
Mary put her arms around him and held him close, and Dean rested his head on her shoulder, wishing that he was a child again and that all his problems could be solved with a hug.
“Sweetheart, you have to tell him.”
“I tried, Mom, but he won’t talk to me. He’s not even answering his phone. He hates me.”
“No he doesn’t, he’s just feeling hurt and confused. And if you give up now, it’ll only hurt him more. You have to make him listen.”
Dean laughed humorlessly. Making Castiel do something was not exactly a simple matter.
“There was this one time back when your dad and I were dating and we had this huge fight. God, I can’t even remember what it was about now. But I was mad. I wouldn’t see him, wouldn’t talk to him, I… I may have threatened him with a shotgun when he tried to come to my house.”
“Well, I was a little wild when I was younger. Anyway, the point is that he didn’t give up. And eventually I heard him out because no matter how angry I was, I loved him. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten so angry in the first place. And obviously, he won me over. If he’d given up… well, I probably would’ve been too proud to go to him of my own accord. See, nothing that’s worth having comes for free. You have to fight for it. And it’s scary, and you’re putting yourself on the line, and sometimes you feel like it’s all going to come to nothing, but you have to keep fighting. You have to.”
“Dean!” John’s voice sounded from the kitchen. “Dean, where are you? Time to get going!”
Dean hastily wiped his eyes on his sleeve, and got to his feet. “Coming!” he called.
“You will try, won’t you?” Mary said.
Dean nodded. “Mom, you… you won’t tell Dad about any of this will you?”
“Not if you don’t want me to.”
“Thanks. And… thanks.”
Dean worked well that day. It was good to have something manual to do, it took him out of himself, gave him something to focus on. Also it felt nice to assure himself that he didn’t fuck everything up: Dean was a damn good mechanic. His dad had put him to work on a truck today, letting him do most of the work himself, and Dean was in his element. It hadn’t ever occurred to him that this was a sign of intelligence, that he could take a machine apart and put it back together again, that he could tell what was wrong with a car just from listening to the motor. It was just something he did. No big deal.
He worked past home time, telling Bobby that he wanted to finish up on the truck that night. John had gone off to one of Ellen’s infamous poker nights, and Dean just hoped that his dad wouldn’t gamble away his pants like he had last time after he’d run out of dollar bills. Mary had laughed herself silly. Sam and Dean thought they would never live down the image of their dad walking down the street in his underwear.
Dean was alone in the garage; Bobby had wandered off to the back office some time ago, grumbling about the shitload of receipts he had to process. It had always made Dean laugh, how Bobby and his dad put off doing the paperwork until the last possible minute, and always fought about whose turn it was like some old married couple.
Dean worked on, his mind soothed by the feeling of fixing something, putting it right.
Anna had to clear her throat twice before he realized that she was there.
When he finally did look up, he felt like his stomach was going to fall out, and he dropped the wrench he’d been holding. Anna jumped a little as it clattered to the floor, and Dean knew just from looking at her that something bad had happened.
“Tell me,” he rasped.
She looked up at him with big, frightened eyes, and for the first time Dean could see the family resemblance with Cas.
“Castiel’s left and I don’t know where he’s gone,” she whispered. “They... they kicked him out.”
Dean’s legs gave out a little, and he sat down on the hood of the truck. He thought for a moment that he was going to pass out.
“I’ve only just managed to get away,” Anna gabbled. “They don’t know that I’ve gone, but there’s no way in hell I’m going back to that house, not after the way they treated Castiel. They... Dean, he told them. On Monday night, he told them he was gay. My dad just started yelling at him about abominations against nature, and how he was playing into the devil’s hands, and then he shut Cas up in his room and took away his cell phone and wouldn’t let him out. Michael just sat there, not saying anything. He was so scary, and my dad kept talking about sending Cas away to some camp and getting him fixed. Like there was something wrong with him. They wouldn’t even let me see him. Then today, they went to talk to him and persuade him that he was sinning in the eyes of God, but Cas said that Zachariah was the one who was sinning by being so full of hate, and that he wasn’t going to any camp, he was going to college, and he wasn’t going to be ashamed of who he was anymore. And then Michael hit him, and... and told him to get out. They didn’t even let him pack or anything, I... he doesn’t have his cell, he’s barely had any food, he’s...”
Anna held out Castiel’s phone, trying to stop her tears, and Dean took it with shaking hands.
“He didn’t say it was you,” she continued quietly. “He never said. I knew it couldn’t be anyone else though; I knew he was in love with you from the very first time he brought you home. I... I didn’t think he’d ever have the guts to tell them.”
Dean nodded numbly. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears. “Anna, do you have any idea where he could’ve gone?”
She shook her head. “He didn’t have any money. He didn’t have anything. I tried to go after him but my father wouldn’t let me, and I...” She bit her lip, tears finally spilling down her cheeks.
Dean’s brain was already racing, trying to think of all the possible places that Castiel could have gone for refuge. The empty house was the first to spring to mind, but would Cas even have the key? If he’d been kicked out with nothing, it wasn’t likely. Then there was the school, the library, the park... Dean’s thoughts were tripping over each other. His mom would be able to help. He was suddenly infinitely grateful that Mary knew everything now; she’d be able to think about this calmly and rationally.
“I have to go,” Dean rasped, his hands shaking so badly it was impossible to hold them steady.
She nodded. “I’m not going back. There’s no fucking way I’m going back after this. I’ve saved up a little and I’m going to San Francisco. I’m going to go and find my uncle Luke.”
“I have to go,” Dean said again, backing towards the Impala.
“I know. Me too, I... I don’t want them catching up with me. Call me when you find Castiel, okay? He’ll know how to get in touch.”
It wasn’t until later that it occurred to Dean that he hadn’t stopped to ask her if she’d be okay, or if she needed a lift anywhere. His thoughts had been too occupied with worry about Castiel to even consider anything else. But then he reasoned that Anna seemed like the kind of girl who could take care of herself. Besides, it wasn’t like she’d offered to help find her cousin, in spite of all her tears. She’d just wanted to get out of there. Dean couldn’t find it in himself to think badly of her for it; he knew better than most that misery could make you callous.
Dean drove home on autopilot, the fear of being stopped by the cops and held up further the only thing keeping him just a little over the speed limit. He was too panicked, he couldn’t think straight. His mom would know what to do. Mary would help him find Castiel, then Dean would explain everything, and it would all be better again. That was the one thought that kept him from spiraling into full-on panic, the one thought that allowed him to get home in one piece.
Only when Dean crashed into the kitchen, it became apparent that no search party was necessary. Castiel was sitting at the table opposite Dean’s mother, his hands clasped around a steaming mug of tea.
“Cas?” Dean choked, relief making his knees weak.
“I didn’t know where else to go,” Castiel said, not looking at Dean. Dean could see the livid bruise that was forming on Castiel’s right cheekbone, and he wanted to kill Michael.
“You’re always welcome here,” Mary told him gently.
“Of course,” Dean breathed, feeling beyond awful that Cas wouldn’t even look at him, when all Dean wanted was to hold him and tell him everything was going to be okay. He guessed he wasn’t allowed to right now, and balked at the thought that he might never be allowed again.
Mary shot him a quick glance. “You’ll be in Dean’s room, if that’s all right. We don’t have a spare bedroom, I’m afraid, but there’s a camp bed we can put up and plenty of spare blankets. If you need it.”
Castiel nodded abruptly. “I’m just... very tired.”
“I’ll go set it up,” Dean whispered, suddenly not able to be in the room anymore. The fold-out bed was ancient, and he trapped his fingers in the springs when he opened it up, making him swear under his breath. At least the pain gave him something to focus on, because he felt like he was going to choke with desperation. The thought of Castiel not wanting him, even now, made his chest tight and his hands shake. He tried to think of what he could say to convince Cas that he was sorry, that they could work things out. He fucking hated how much he sucked at this.
By the time he got back from the linen closet with some clean blankets, Castiel was standing apprehensively in the doorway to his bedroom. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go,” he said again, looking at Dean’s knees.
“Don’t worry, I’ll stay out of your hair,” Dean snapped, misery making him bitter. “I know you’d rather be anywhere else.”
“That wasn’t what I...” Castiel sighed.
“Anna told me what happened.” It was easier to concentrate on making up the bed, because at least then he had his back to Cas and wasn’t constantly made aware that the guy couldn’t stand the sight of him anymore. “She came to the garage and told me. She gave me this.” He reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out Cas’s phone, handing it over.
“You can take my bed,” Dean said, finally facing the other boy.
Castiel did look at him then, surprised and pained. “No, Dean, I couldn’t possibly—”
“Forget about it,” Dean said, waving his hand dismissively. “Take the bed; I’m fine on this.” He wasn’t about to bring up the fact that his bed could easily fit two. He didn’t think it would be a welcome observation.
Castiel shuffled over to the bed awkwardly, clutching his restored cell phone like some kind of talisman. “Um, I didn’t have anything with me when I left...”
“Huh? Oh, right.” Dean opened a drawer and pulled out some sweatpants and an old t-shirt. “Here. I’m gonna go take a shower. I’ll give you some space.”
“Thank you,” Castiel whispered miserably.
Dean ran the shower as hot as he could take it. It was the best way of getting engine grease off, and it made him feel stronger, less shaky, as the hot streams of water ran almost painfully over his neck and down his back. It made him think a little less. He’d thought that it would be easy if he could just see Cas again and have the chance to talk to him. He’d been pretty fucking wrong.
He toweled himself off and slipped on some drawstring pants. He told himself that it was ridiculous to be nervous about going back into his own bedroom.
When he cautiously opened the door a couple of minutes later, Castiel was already in his bed and under the covers.
“You okay?” Dean asked gruffly.
Castiel glanced up at him and nodded. “I hope you don’t mind. I’m just... I’m really cold.” He pulled the blankets up higher and turned towards the wall.
“Of course not.” Dean stared at Castiel’s back miserably for a few seconds. “Cas, I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry I hurt you.”
“Please don’t apologize.” Castiel turned over to face him, his eyelashes wet. “Please don’t”
Dean’s heart clenched. He sat down on the edge of the bed, hands fidgeting in his lap, wanting to touch Castiel but not sure if he was allowed. “Well then what the hell can I do? Cas, please tell me how I can fix this.”
Castiel sat up. “Dean, I’m the one who should be apologizing! I’ve been embarrassed. I wanted to call you, but they took my phone and they wouldn’t let me—”
“What are you talking about? You were mad at me.”
Castiel looked away from him, shifting uncomfortably. “About the other day... There is a chance, a very small chance, that I may have overreacted just a little bit.”
Dean choked on a laugh. “You... overreacted?”
Castiel sighed heavily. “I was... it was a bad day. And I’d felt differently since we slept together. And then overhearing you talking about us to her like none of it mattered... But I hadn’t told you. How were you supposed to know that I didn’t want you to lie for me anymore? It was really unreasonable of me, and I apologize.” He flopped back on the bed, the corners of his mouth turned down, not looking at Dean.
Dean tentatively reached out and laced his fingers through Castiel’s, his shoulders sagging a little with relief when Cas didn’t pull away. “You know she didn’t mean anything to me.”
A small nod. “I know.”
“And I am sorry. For being scared. Because, you know, I am scared of this. Of being open about what we have, and having the whole world know. I’m scared of what people are gonna say. I’m scared that it’s gonna hurt you.”
Castiel sighed again and turned to let his forehead rest on the back of Dean’s hand. “After this week, I think I can cope with it. I don’t know what I was trying to prove. I just... didn’t think they’d...”
Dean tentatively stroked his fingers across Castiel’s cheek. “I’m so sorry.”
“Your mother knows.”
“Yeah, I told her this morning. Not that she hadn’t already guessed. You can stay here for as long as you want.”
Castiel nodded. “I’m so tired.”
Dean bent down and kissed the top of his head softly. “Go to sleep. I’ll be right here if you need anything.” He laid Castiel’s hand back on the pillows and covered him up with the comforter. Cas was looking up at him with wide blue eyes, and Dean pressed a kiss to his forehead before moving away.
It hurt, hurt to get under the covers of the little camp bed, hear it creak beneath his weight. All Dean wanted was to hold onto Castiel, hold them both steady, shake off that feeling of almost having fallen from a precipice. But then Castiel was so broken and exhausted, and Dean wasn’t even really sure where they stood yet. He closed his eyes, trying to ignore the way his skin was crawling with want, trying to forget that what he needed was mere feet away.
“Dean?” Castiel whispered, ragged and shaken.
“Yeah?” Dean tried and failed to keep his voice steady.
“I... I know that you’re trying to be, I don’t know, noble or something right now, by giving me some space. I know you’re probably concerned about taking advantage, but... could you please just get over here already?”
Dean didn’t need to be asked twice. Castiel grabbed onto him so tightly it was going to leave bruises, pulling Dean in, pulling him down. Castiel’s mouth was hot and hard against his own, and he was making quiet noises of desperation, like it wasn’t enough and he couldn’t get close enough, and he wanted to merge his body with Dean’s completely, inhale him, consume him.
“God, Cas, I couldn’t breathe,” Dean gasped. “I felt like I couldn’t breathe without you with me. What the fuck have you done to me?”
Castiel didn’t reply. He just dragged Dean under the covers and held him tightly, shivering as he buried his face in Dean’s neck. “I can’t get warm,” he whispered.
Dean wasn’t cut out for this. He wasn’t used to being the strong one where Cas was concerned. It had always been him who needed Castiel so terribly, who fell apart, who had to be saved. He tried to choke down his fear, his terror that he wasn’t going to be enough, that he would fail, that he would disappoint. He kissed prayers into Castiel’s skin, made promises with his fingertips, feeling the little tendrils of peace and love that he’d come to associate with Castiel reaching out again, tentatively, hopefully.
“It’s gonna be okay,” he breathed, to himself as much as to Castiel. “I got you now. It’s all gonna be okay.”
Little by little, Castiel began to relax against him. Dean held him close, tangling their legs together, breathing in the scent of Cas’s skin until his own heartbeat began to slow. He needed this, needed it, and the terror that it wouldn’t work, that they were both just too messed up, too needy, and that it would all fall apart, almost overwhelmed him.
But maybe, after all, that was why they worked so well. Two broken, frightened little boys clinging to each other for comfort in the darkness.
Waking up next to Castiel was different the second time. There was the benefit of being in his own bed and of knowing they were both safe, and that this could be the first of many such mornings. They might be able to actually make this work now.
Castiel’s head was under Dean’s chin, and they were so tightly wrapped around each other Dean wondered how the hell they’d managed to get like that. He wondered why he didn’t feel more uncomfortable. He tried, somewhat half-heartedly, to convince himself that it was all for Castiel. Cas had been denied affection pretty much his whole life, so it wasn’t surprising that he’d feel the need for physical comfort. But then Dean wasn’t exactly being self-sacrificing about it. God, he was snuggling, and he liked it. Dean was a snuggler. He was too happy to be embarrassed.
Dean still couldn’t get his head around the huge clusterfuck that had been the past week. He began to feel guilt stirring in his gut, which was kind of ridiculous all things considered, because Cas himself had admitted that he’d been partly to blame for their falling out, but... Dean felt like he should have known. He felt like he should have had some kind of psychic connection with Cas to let him know the guy was in trouble. All that time, Dean had thought Castiel hated him and was ignoring his calls and not coming to school because he didn’t want to see him. If he’d been thinking clearly he would have figured out that Cas would never sacrifice his perfect attendance record like that. And all those missed calls... Zachariah had probably been looking through them. Zachariah had probably figured the whole thing out by now. The thought gave Dean the creeps. He knew he was being stupid about it, but he should have known. It went back to what Cas had said about that night he’d saved Dean’s life, that he’d been drawn to the lake, that it was fate, he was meant to be in Dean’s life. Why hadn’t Dean felt that? Why hadn’t he known? He almost felt jealous of Castiel for being so much better at this than he was, especially when Cas was so much more deserving. Dean shifted uneasily and Castiel sighed, his arms tightening a little. Dean pulled him close, feeling a surge of love that was almost painful in its intensity. That was something those stupid romance movies never told you – how love hurt, how it felt like it was trying to tear its way out of your chest, how sometimes it had to be endured.
He needed to compensate. It was Castiel’s turn to be the one who got taken care of now, his turn to have a hero. Dean felt like he could be heroic for him. He extracted himself, very carefully, thankful that Cas was too exhausted to wake up easily.
Dean pulled on the jeans that were slung over the back of his desk chair, and found a t-shirt on the floor that wasn’t too dirty. He didn’t need to make an effort for what he had to do this morning. The house was quiet as he padded down the stairs – the Winchesters liked to have a lie-in on Sundays – and so Dean would probably be able to get away without meeting anyone, which was just about perfect as far as he was concerned because he really didn’t need—
Fuck. Dean really should learn that lesson about not counting his eggs already. He turned round slowly at the front door.
John was sitting on the living room couch, and he looked weird. “Come in here for a minute, Dean. I want to talk to you.”
Dean’s stomach twisted with sudden nerves. “What’s up?” He wandered into the room, affecting casualness he didn’t feel, and stood in front of his father. He didn’t sit down.
John looked up at him, the look in his eyes unreadable. “When were you going to tell me? About you and Castiel?”
Dean’s breath stuttered, and he felt for a moment like he was going to pass out. He wanted to say something, but everything in his brain felt like it was screaming. “Mom told you?” he choked.
John shook his head. “Believe it or not, I figured it out for myself. Mary said what had happened with Castiel’s family when I got in last night. I managed to string the rest of it together.”
“I’m so sorry, Dad.” The words escaped Dean in a rush, and in a strange, detached way, he thought how much like a kid he sounded. Like a little boy. “I’m so, so sorry. I never meant to—It wasn’t—I didn’t do it on purpose, it just happened, and I am so sorry. I know you didn’t want—”
Dean became foggily aware that strong hands were gripping his shoulders, holding him steady.
“Dean, breathe,” his father said. “Just breathe, okay? Come sit down.”
Dean let himself be guided onto the couch. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
“Dean, look at me.”
John was kneeling in front in him, but Dean was too afraid to look up. He didn’t want to see.
Dean, ever the dutiful son, obeyed. He didn’t know what his dad’s face meant, he couldn’t read it.
“What the hell are you apologizing for?” John said. “Don’t you dare apologize to me. Hell, I’m the one who should be saying sorry for... for whatever it is I’ve done that made you think I’d... I’d feel any different about you over this.”
Dean’s brain felt like it was backfiring. “You’re not mad?” God, why the hell did he have to sound so young?
John looked pained. “Of course I’m not! How can you... Look, I’m not gonna say I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t see this one coming. Maybe I’d been too worried about you coming home and telling us you’d got some girl pregnant. I was shocked, okay? But if you think that... Dean, you’re my son. You’re the kid who’d ride on my shoulders in the park, the kid I taught to play baseball, the kid who wanted to help me fix engines. You’re noisy and obnoxious, and you were trouble from the day you were born, and I love you. I love you and Sam so much, I feel like it could kill me. And if you think for one second that anything could change that, much less something like this, then you don’t have half the brains I gave you credit for.”
Dean was absolutely not going to ruin the moment by bursting into loud, girlish sobs. He was not. He inhaled deeply through his nose.
“Does he make you happy?” John’s eyebrows were interrogative.
“Yes, Sir,” Dean whispered.
John nodded. “Castiel’s a good kid; I like him. You’ve been better since he came along.”
John got up and turned his back, giving Dean the chance to clear his throat and rub a hand over his eyes. “I have to go out,” he said as soon as he’d gotten control over himself. “Cas’s uncle kicked him out of the house; he doesn’t have anything. I’m gonna go over there and pick up his stuff.”
John made a grunt of approval. “Okay, let’s get going.”
His dad looked at him like he was being especially slow this morning. “This is serious between you and Cas, isn’t it?”
“Well then, that makes him one of us, and in this family we look out for our own. I’m coming with you. Besides, I don’t like the sound of these people. There’s no way in hell I’m letting you go over there by yourself.”
The loud girlish sobs were threatening Dean again, so he just gave his father a curt nod and led the way out of the house.
The drive over to the Delacroix mansion wasn’t nearly as awkward as Dean feared it would be. John, in an uncustomary fit of sensitivity, seemed to detect that Dean was feeling a little fragile and kept topics of conversation to strictly neutral themes, like how work at the garage was going, or the plans he’d made to take Mary to New York for their anniversary that summer. Dean decided that his dad was awesome.
John pulled into Castiel’s driveway and gave a low whistle. “You know, I never quite believed you when you said Cas’s folks were rich. He always looks so much like an unemployed librarian.”
Dean laughed. “I always thought tax accountant, but librarian’s good, too.”
John looked over at him. “You gonna be okay in there? I can come back you up if you want.”
Dean shook his head. In spite of everything, he wasn’t afraid of Zachariah and Michael. “I won’t be long; Cas doesn’t have much stuff.”
“Be careful!” John called after him as he got out of the truck.
It was Zachariah who opened the door, and he looked at Dean expressionlessly. It was like someone had made a man out of dust and ashes.
“I’m here to get Cas’s things,” Dean told him, not looking away.
For a moment it looked like Zachariah wasn’t going to let him in, but then he sighed and stepped to one side. “I assume you know where everything is,” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
Dean didn’t deign to reply. He’d only been to Castiel’s room once, but he remembered the way. The little attic bedroom was just as he remembered it, but it seemed lonelier now. Dean thought of Cas shut up there for almost a week, and he shuddered. There was a small suitcase under the bed, and Dean filled it with the few clothes Castiel owned. It would be good to get the guy a new wardrobe. At least a pair of jeans. He snapped the clasps shut on the case, and grabbed Castiel’s treasured book collection from the windowsill, lodging the volumes under his arm.
Zachariah was waiting in the hallway when Dean descended the stairs, and he immediately tensed up. He figured he could probably overpower the guy if it came to it, but if Michael was around somewhere Dean would be in trouble. He was really glad that his dad was waiting outside.
“I knew it was you,” Zachariah said, his voice deceptively soft, silky almost. “You corrupted him. Infected him with your filth.”
“There’s nothing wrong with Cas,” Dean growled. “You’re the corrupt one, locking him up like that, telling him he’s sinning, not letting him talk to his father.”
Zachariah smiled nastily. He was like a snake. “The arrogance of ignorant sinners never fails to amaze me.”
“I could say the same.” Dean stepped past him and made for the door, his heart hammering slightly now in spite of himself.
“For what it’s worth,” Zachariah called after him, “I’m sorry that Michael hurt him. Michael is sorry too. We should not surrender to our passions.”
Dean sneered. “No, you prefer oppression and lies. Well, you see how well that worked out for you.”
There was a flash of fury in Zachariah’s eyes, but then he schooled his face back to the calm mask. “Castiel is a lost cause. I did my best for him, I gave him a chance to rectify his sins, but he turned his back on the righteous path. As for my daughter... there is still time. Once Michael has found her.”
He looked so alone, standing there in his grey suit in his gloomy house, in the isolation he’d created for himself.
“You poor, misguided son-of-a-bitch,” Dean breathed. “I’d almost feel sorry for you if you weren’t such a colossal douche.”
“I will pray for you both. I will pray that you renounce your sins and that Castiel returns to the light.”
Dean wasn’t going to listen any more. He let the front door slam shut behind him and resisted the urge to run back to his dad’s truck. Being in that house had left him feeling sick to his stomach.
“You okay?” John asked as soon as Dean climbed in beside him.
“Sure. I’m fine.”
Dean could tell be the glances that kept being thrown his way that John didn’t believe him, and they stopped off at Lou’s diner on the way home where his dad treated him to a cooked breakfast.
It was past ten by the time they were done, and Dean wanted to get home. He needed to see Cas again and make sure everything was okay. John cleared his throat as he manoeuvred into the driveway.
John was staring very hard at the steering wheel. “You and Cas... you are using protection, right?”
Dean blanched. “Oh my god, Dad!”
“I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a father if I didn’t ask, ‘cause just because there’s no risk of unwanted pregnancy, it doesn’t mean that you—”
“Yes! Yes, we’re being careful! We’re fine. You never have to mention anything like this again!”
“Right,” John said gruffly, not looking at Dean. “Good. Thank you.”
“Oh my god,” Dean muttered, grabbing Castiel’s things and hurrying into the house before his father could do or say anything else excruciatingly embarrassing.
He could hear Mary and Sam moving about in the kitchen, but he didn’t go in. Cas would probably be awake by now.
He wasn’t. Dean knocked gently on his bedroom door before opening it, only to find the other boy still completely dead to the world. In fact, he was pretty sure Cas hadn’t moved an inch since he’d left that morning.
“Hey, Cas?” he called softly.
He didn’t receive any response, so he reached over and gently shook Castiel’s shoulder. Cas’s face crumpled into a bitch face so epic it would put Sam to shame, and he made a soft noise of protest. Chuckling, Dean flopped down onto the bed beside him. “Hey, Mr Comatose, wakey-wakey!”
Castiel jumped and flailed, and Dean had to throw out an arm to stop him from falling off the bed.
“Whoa, Cas, it’s okay! It’s just me.”
Castiel stared up at him with wide, surprised eyes for a moment or two, and then he visibly relaxed. “Dean.”
Dean scooted closer and rested his head on the other boy’s shoulder, giving a little sigh of relief when Cas raised a hand to rake his fingers through Dean’s hair. It looked like they were going to be okay.
Castiel glanced over at the clock on Dean’s bedside table and groaned. “Why did you let me sleep so long? Your family will think I’m—”
“Cas, you obviously needed it. Besides, I wasn’t here. I went to fetch your stuff.”
Castiel sat up, dislodging Dean from his shoulder. “What?”
Dean shrugged. “Well, as much as I enjoy the idea of you going around in my clothes every day, I thought you might like your own things. So I went over this morning and got them for you.” He gestured towards the suitcase and pile of books.
Castiel stared at him in horror. “How could you even think of going there alone? What happened? What did they say? They didn’t—”
“It’s fine!” Dean held up his hands like he was trying to calm a startled colt. “It was fine. Michael wasn’t there, it was just Zachariah, and he didn’t try anything. Just spouted a load of sanctimonious, homophobic crap about how we’d damned ourselves and he was going to pray for our souls. He’s not gonna do anything.”
Castiel took a deep, shuddering breath. “What if...”
He bit his lip. “What if they’re right?”
“Are you kidding me?” Dean felt like he’d been slapped. “Is that seriously what you believe?”
“No,” Cas replied miserably. “I’m sorry, of course not. What we have is... It’s just that I’ve spent my whole life believing them, following their orders, and it’s hard to...”
“I know. I get it.” Dean pulled him close. “I get it. And I don’t know what the hell I believe in when it comes to God and religion, but I feel like if God does exist, he’s gonna be mad at us for all the war and the cruelty and the injustice that people inflict on each other, not for people who happen to be the same gender falling in love. And if that’s not the case... well, God’s a dick and I don’t care what he thinks. Your family messed you up, that’s all. You know, deep down, what’s right and what isn’t. The way I look at it, if you’re not doing anything that’s gonna hurt someone or hurt yourself, you’re doing just fine. And what we’re doing... well, it’s certainly made my life a hell of a lot easier.”
Castiel nodded, fingers twining in the fabric of Dean’s t-shirt. “I know. I’m just... unfamiliar with the process of thinking for myself. I’ll adjust.”
“Yeah you will. Anyway, I didn’t go there alone – my dad drove me. And he’s cool with us.”
Castiel laughed shakily. “I don’t know what to do now. I don’t have anyone telling me.”
Dean kissed him. “You’ll do what you want. You’ll go to college in the fall. The two of us’ll work something out. I’ll come out and see you when I can, and you can come back here for the holidays. You’re gonna figure out what you wanna do with the rest of your life, and it’s gonna be awesome.”
Castiel nodded seriously. “I still wish you were coming with me.”
Dean didn’t know what to say, so he kissed him instead, pushing gently at Cas’s shoulders so that he lay back again, then pressing him into the mattress, hooking a knee over Castiel’s body. He was probably holding on a little too tightly, but he still didn’t feel safe just yet. He’d never felt before that relationships could be fixed after a fight. He’d never tried before. He needed to just hold on for a bit, in case Cas realized that he’d made a mistake and wanted out. Not that it seemed like he did, from the way he was pushing his hands under Dean’s shirt and pulling him down, pulling him closer, deeper. Dean went with it, powerless to resist, willing to give anything to Cas, everything he—
Dean’s bedroom door slammed open. “Dean, do you still have my...”
Sam froze in the doorway, staring at the two of them on the bed with big horrified eyes. Dean and Castiel, frozen, stared back.
“Uh, oh god, I- I’m sorry,” Sam stuttered. “I’ll just... I’ll... I’m sorry.”
Dean didn’t think he’d ever seen his brother move so fast as he did when exiting the room just then.
He let out a sigh and flipped over to lie beside Castiel. “Well, I guess that solves the problem of how I’m gonna tell Sammy about us.” He glanced over at Cas, who had turned beet red. “You okay, dude?”
Dean laughed. “Oh come on, it could’ve been worse. At least we were just kissing. I’m gonna go talk to him.”
Dean thought that, all things considered, he’d done pretty well to reach the age of eighteen before getting caught in a compromising position by a family member.
He knocked on Sam’s door and waited a moment or two before he heard a sheepish “Come in.”
Sam was sitting cross-legged on his bed, and Dean laughed out loud when he saw the look on the kid’s face. “You notice what I did there, Sammy?” he said. “The way I knocked, and waited until you said I could come in before busting through the door? It’s a good method, you should really try it our sometime.”
“I’m so sorry, Dean,” Sam mumbled. “I really didn’t... I had no idea you and Cas were...”
“It’s cool. I mean, we hadn’t exactly been public about the whole thing.” He sat down on the bed beside his brother, suddenly a little nervous now that everything was out in the open. “Hey, you’re... I know it’s kinda weird, but are you okay with this? I mean, it doesn’t make you feel... uncomfortable, does it?”
Sam looked genuinely shocked. “Dean, how the hell can you say that? I think Cas is awesome!”
“Yeah, but... the whole thing where he’s a guy...”
Sam frowned. “Dean, I’m a member of the Gay Straight Alliance club! Not that I’d expect you to notice, but I go to meetings every Tuesday lunchtime. And my friend Lily’s gay, you know that. Of course I don’t have a problem with you and Cas being together, that’s ridiculous.” His face lit up with inspiration. “Hey, you should come along to GSA next time! You could give a speech or something, and then maybe I could talk about—”
“Dude, no way! Like hell I’m gonna let you take me in for show-and-tell. God, trust you to turn this into something to geek out over. Jeez.” He punched Sam lightly on the shoulder. “So we’re cool?”
Sam nodded. “Of course we are, you douche. Do Mom and Dad know?”
“Yeah, it’s all good. Cas is gonna stay here for a while.”
“That’s good.” He laughed. “I’m happy for you.”
Dean grinned. “Me too. I mean, it’s... still kinda new and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but... Yeah, Cas is awesome. Weird, but awesome.”
Sam nodded. “Well, I’m in no position to judge when it comes to dating weird people. I mean, my girlfriend spends her spare time making compilation CDs of songs that she thinks represent Angel and Spike’s deep and enduring love for one another.”
Dean looked at him in surprise. “Girlfriend? Wait, we’re not talking about that Ruby chick, are we?”
Sam smiled ruefully. “Nah, you were right about her – she was just using me. Becky and I kind of... Well, once you get past the crazy, she’s actually really sweet and funny, and she likes Doctor Who and The X-Files, and... I dunno. We’re kinda dating now, I guess.”
“What made you change your mind?”
“Well... I think it was when she yelled at me in front of the entire school.”
“You’re a strange man, Sam Winchester.”
“I guess it must run in the family.”
Jo got a ride in with them on Monday morning, and she pulled Dean aside before they got into the car. “I just thought you should know that there were some... rumors going around at the end of last week when you weren’t in school.” Dean frowned in confusion, and she rolled her eyes. “About you and Cas! I dunno, I think someone saw you two fighting on Monday, and then a few people had overheard the discussion you had with Lisa and... well, people are starting to figure stuff out. I mean, it’s not gotten too bad because we’ve been playing things down, but... well, I thought you should be prepared.”
Dean smiled grimly. “Yeah. Thanks, Jo.”
Castiel looked over at him anxiously when he got into the car, and Dean tried to look as relaxed as possible. He didn’t care for himself, not really, but he was worried about how Cas would take it. He was still pretty fragile after everything that had happened. They’d spent the whole weekend just laying low, watching movies with Sam, and not talking about anything too serious. If anyone did or said anything today that made Cas feel bad... well, Dean might just have to kill them.
The first half of the day passed without incident. Dean kept his head down and stuck close to his friends. Maybe a few more people were glancing at him than usual, but he was studiously not paying attention.
Nothing actually happened until Dean was on his way to fourth period, when his old associate Steve accosted him.
“Is it true then, Winchester?” he sneered.
“Yeah, Steve, they’re thinking of banning pizza from the lunch menu. It’s tragic, I know.” He knew he wasn’t going to deter the guy for long, but it was worth a shot.
“No, I’m talking about you and Jesus boy. I heard that the two of you are fa—”
Dean had fisted a hand in Steve’s shirt before he could finish speaking, and shoved him up against the lockers. “You’d better not have been about to say what I think you were,” he growled, vaguely aware that passing students had stopped to watch.
Steve coughed. “I’ll take this as a confirmation, shall I?”
“Yeah, you know what? You can.” Dean let him go with another backward shove. “Me and Cas are together,” he said, loud enough for other people to hear. “I’m not gonna hide it or be ashamed. Cas is awesome, and frankly I couldn’t give a fuck what you people think. I mean, why the hell should I? You’re pathetic,/i>, dude! You’ve been following me around for years, kissing ass, trying to be like me, and you know what? I’m through with pretending to be who you want me to be. I’m Dean fucking Winchester! I’m ten times cooler than you could ever hope to be, and I can do whatever, and whoever the hell I want! And if I ever catch you saying homophobic shit again, I’ll... you know what, my boyfriend will kick your ass. I think we all know how that would go for you.”
Dean didn’t pay attention to how people reacted as he stalked off to go to Spanish. He was too busy trying not to pass out.
Dean and Castiel decided to blow off their senior prom. Dean hated having to wear formal attire, and Cas had gotten that rabbit-caught-in-headlights look on his face whenever anyone mentioned dancing. Besides, neither of them especially felt like being gawped at by the entire school as Lawrence High’s token gay couple. Sam was out somewhere with his friends, so they figured they’d just spend the evening at home in front of the TV.
But then Bobby turned up on the front doorstep wearing a tux.
He didn’t look very happy about it. “I’m here to pick you up,” he told Dean resignedly.
Dean’s gaze travelled from Bobby to the sleek black limousine parked in the road behind him. “Bobby, what the hell?”
Bobby shook his head. “Not my idea, kid.”
“But we’re not going to prom.”
Castiel had come out to join him. “I can’t dance,” he said quickly.
“Alternative arrangements have been made,” Bobby sighed. “Look, you think I wanna be dressed up like this? I was put up to it. Now you two idjits get into the damn car before I change my mind.”
“Just get going already!” John and Mary had appeared in the hallway behind them, both of them grinning.
“You guys knew about this?” Dean demanded. “What the hell’s going on?”
“Shh, just go,” Mary told him. “Have fun.”
Dean rolled his eyes, seeing that he was getting nowhere. He grabbed Castiel’s hand and pulled him out of the door. Clearly, everyone was conspiring against them.
“You owe me one for this, John Winchester,” Bobby groused as he followed them to the limo.
“Dean, what are we doing?” Castiel muttered as they drove off. “I don’t dance, Dean. Please don’t make me dance.”
Dean laughed. “Dude, no one is gonna make you dance.”
They didn’t seem to be heading in the direction of the school, which was some comfort. However, when they pulled up in front of the auto shop Dean was more confused than ever.
Bobby opened the door for them, looking more hang-dog than ever. “Go round the back,” he said. “If anyone wants me, I’ll be in the office.”
Dean and Castiel shared confused glances before heading round the side of the garage. There was a lot out back where John and Bobby sometimes kept the vehicles they were waiting to work on, only now the alleyway leading to it was lined with fairy lights, and there was a big banner saying ‘Lawrence High Antiprom!’ The lot itself had been cleared, and it was lit up with Chinese lanterns and fairy lights.
“About damn time!” Pam shouted when she caught sight of them. “We thought you guys were never going to get here!”
Dean broke into a grin. “What the hell did you do?”
They were all there – Pam, Jo and Ash, as well as Jo’s boyfriend Mark, and Sam, Becky, Ava and Andy.
“Well, none of us were exactly keen on the idea of getting all dressed up and spending the evening in the school gym with a bunch of people we’ve spent the last four years reviling, listening to crappy music,” Jo told him. “So we figured we’d throw a little prom of our own – awesome people only. And then your kid brother and his friends decided they were going to crash. Andy persuaded the guys at the Jet Lag Lounge to let us borrow their sound system for the evening, so we thought it was only fair.”
Dean laughed. Andy could talk people into doing pretty much anything. “You guys are insane,” he said. “This is so awesome.”
Jo shrugged. “You two have had kind of a tough year. We figured you could do with a nice surprise for once.”
“Enough talking!” Ash yelled. “Music! Food! Beer!”
Dean considered it the best prom ever. Ash reprised his role as DJ Doctor Badass for the evening, playing a soundtrack that consisted mostly of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Metallica. Becky was dancing around like a maniac with Ava yelling about how the songs playing were totally about Spike and Angel! while Sam and Andy looked on in bemusement. Pam tried to talk everyone into playing strip poker. Dean spent most of the time making out furiously with Castiel behind the speakers, stopping only when their friends got sick of them and started pelting them with M&Ms. At midnight, Bobby came out and helped them set off fireworks. Dean didn’t think they could have wanted for anything more. He had everything, everything that had been good about his high school years, right there. There couldn’t have been a better send-off.
“I’ve heard from Anna,” Cas said.
“Is she okay?”
They were lying in bed together, curled up in the dark. It was the part of Dean’s day he always looked forward to.
“She seems to be fine. She made it to our uncle Lucifer’s house in California. He’s taken her in, and they’re going to try to get some form of court injunction so that she doesn’t have to go back to her father.” He stirred uneasily.
“Dean, I’ve been trying to find my father.”
Dean didn’t say anything. Personally he was pretty fucking angry at Manuel Delacroix and thought that a father who abandoned his kids like that without even trying to keep in touch wasn’t worth looking for, but he knew better than to voice that opinion. This was Cas’s thing.
“It’s not going well so far,” Castiel sighed. “I tried to contact Uriel, but he won’t take my calls. I’m beginning to suspect that he’s been working with Zachariah all along. I’ve spoken about it to Anna, but she doesn’t know anything. Uncle Luke hasn’t spoken to my father in years. I’m going to try and contact my other cousins, but I very much doubt that Raphael will help me if he’s spoken to Zachariah.”
“I can help you, if you’d like,” Dean said, affection slightly outweighing his better judgement. “I mean, my mom can probably look something up for you. She knows quite a lot of people through her job, so she might be able to chase up someone who works for your dad.”
“That would be nice,” Castiel replied. “He’ll want to know, won’t he? He’ll want to know what’s going on, and what Zachariah’s been doing?”
It hurt Dean to hear the innocent hope in Castiel’s voice. “Yeah, course he will,” he lied.
The conversation came back to haunt Dean three days later when he and Pam found Castiel sitting by himself at one of the picnic benches in the school quad, a studiously blank expression on his face. Dean was getting pretty good at reading the subtle nuances of Castiel’s facial expressions. He hated it when people made fun of Cas for being like a robot. It was completely untrue that he didn’t have emotions, it was just that he wasn’t used to being around people and he didn’t know those little social rules that other people seem to pick up intuitively. If you took the time to get to know him, he’d start to relax, and then he’d unfold and open up, and was possibly the most amazing person who ever existed, in Dean’s opinion. It was just that when he was nervous or unhappy, he went blank. Right now, Dean could tell Cas was unhappy blank.
They sat down at the bench, Pam opposite him, Dean beside him, sitting as close as he was comfortable with in public. They waited.
“It’s about your dad, isn’t it?” Dean ventured after about five minutes. He was regretting telling Castiel that Mary could help. He’d known all along that it would come down to this.
Castiel gave a small nod. “Your mother found me the number of his publicist. I called her this morning, and she said she’d pass my contact details on to my father. He... he called me back.”
“And?” Pam prompted gently.
“And he thinks it would be for the best that he doesn’t get involved. According to him, I’m coping just fine by myself. He doesn’t see the point in returning. Apparently, seeing me would be counterproductive. Apparently, I’m better off without him. He is, of course, willing to pay my college fees,” Cas added with a note of bitterness.
Dean grit his teeth. He was fairly sure that he wanted nothing more than to punch the good Reverend right about now. He couldn’t understand how the guy could have the gall to go on TV and preach about love and kindness, then turn his back on his own children.
“I’m so sorry, Cas,” Pam breathed. “Are you gonna be okay?”
Castiel shrugged, a funny jerk of his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
“What do you want to do?”
Castiel stared at the table top. “I think... I want to find a liqueur store. And drink it.”
“I’m taking you home,” Dean said. “No, come on, we only have study hall. We’re gonna go home, and we’re not gonna talk about your dad.” He hauled Castiel to his feet and marched him to the Impala. He’d had an idea that maybe he could distract him with sex, but when they got in Cas just wanted to curl up in front of the TV, not really watching, definitely not talking. Dean didn’t know what to say to him. The last vestige of Castiel’s old life, the system of belief he’d held so strongly since childhood, had just been shattered. Anything Dean thought of to say seemed so trite and pointless. It would be better if Cas was angry. Dean understood angry, he didn’t understand this strange, pained silence.
It went on for the next couple of days. Cas was remote and unresponsive, except when they were alone at night when he would tear Dean’s clothes away and pull him down onto the bed, telling Dean shakily to do anything he wanted to. Dean held him tightly, glad to help in any way he could.
On the third day, Mary told Castiel that she’d found his brother Gabriel. He was living in New York, and she had a contact number for him. For the first time since the failure with his dad, there was something like hope in Castiel’s eyes.
“Are you gonna call him?” Dean asked later that night as they were going to bed.
“I would like to. Very much.”
“I am nervous,” Cas replied carefully, feeling the words out.
“Because you’re scared he’ll be the same as your dad?”
“Partly, yes. But also... Dean, when Gabriel left, he was sixteen. We hadn’t seen our father in months, Zachariah was being... Well, he and Gabriel had their differences. Gabe had a little money saved up, and he... he couldn’t stay. But he wanted me to go with him. He asked me if I would because he didn’t want to be alone, but I was too scared. I mean, I was thirteen, and I... I didn’t want to... I’d never disobeyed before. I was too scared, and I said I was staying. I’ll never forget how hurt he looked.”
“Cas, you were a kid. I mean, you both were. Of course you were scared. He’ll want to hear from you.”
Castiel looked so tired. “Could we... Dean, would it be alright if you just held onto me tonight?”
Dean turned off the light and pulled him in close.
The next morning he sat next to Castiel as he nervously called up his long lost big brother. Dean had been right – Gabriel was delighted to hear from him. So much so that he immediately bought a ticket for Cas to fly out to New York to visit him the next day.
Apparently, Gabriel had come into some money since running away from home.
It was only four days, Dean kept telling himself. He was being incredibly lame, pining after Cas when he was only going to be away for four days. He’d see his brother, and then he’d come back home in time for graduation. It was all arranged, and Dean was being stupid. Jo kept laughing at him about it, and he couldn’t in all fairness blame her for it. It was a little worrying how quickly he’d gotten used to having the guy around all the time.
Sleeping was the worst.
Sharing a bed with Castiel had been an interesting experience for Dean. Not just the parts when they were awake and trying to have sex as quietly as possible (because as happy as Sam was about their relationship, Dean didn’t think he’d appreciate them fucking rampantly on the other side of his bedroom wall). It was the actual sleeping together thing that was going to take some getting used to. Castiel talked in his sleep. Dean could only ever catch the odd word or phrase, and sometimes he’d entertain himself by having pretend conversations with the sleeping Castiel. He liked it whenever he caught his own name amongst the indistinct muttering. Sometimes Cas would laugh in his sleep. This was actually pretty disturbing because it sounded nothing like Cas’s regular laugh, and it was really creepy when you were on the verge of falling asleep and there was this sinister chuckle from the other side of the bed. Cas also liked to cuddle, which Dean liked way more than he thought he would. But then Cas sometimes got a little aggressive about it. One time Dean had had to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and had carefully extracted himself, only to have a still sleeping Castiel grab hold of his t-shirt and haul him back into the bed before wrapping his arms and legs around Dean tightly. Cas always seemed to have more limbs than he actually did at times like that. Dean had had to actually wake the guy up in order to escape. It was, he thought, a bit like sharing a bad with a large, possessive octopus.
It was safe to say that Dean didn’t sleep as much now he was sharing his bed, but he hadn’t realized how much he’d miss it when Cas went away. The bed was just too damn big. Dean took to hugging his pillow.
The best thing, though, were the texts Castiel would send him about life at his brother’s house:
GABRIEL HAS RED SATIN SHEETS ON HIS BED. GOOD GOD, WHAT AM I DOING HERE?
I WOKE UP THIS MORNING TO FIND BLONDE SKANDANAVIAN TWINS MAKING WAFFLES IN THE KITCHEN WEARING ONLY THEIR UNDERWEAR. IT WAS TERRIFYING.
I SUSPECT THAT GABRIEL IS RUNNING SOME KIND OF DEN OF INIQUITY. I HAVE A HORRIBLE FEELING YOU WOULD LIKE IT HERE.
Cas had a way of being funny without realizing it. It was at times like this that Dean loved him especially. He didn’t want him to go away and leave Dean behind.
When Castiel called on Wednesday evening, he sounded much too far away. Dean tried to work out how many miles there were between them, and realized that he’d probably have to get used to doing that.
“We went over to see Cornell today. Gabriel’s bought me a house near the campus,” he told Dean. “I honestly don’t know where he’s gotten all this money from; he’s only three years older than me. I don’t like to ask, to be honest with you.”
“A house, huh?”
“Just a small place. It’s nice, though.”
Dean smiled painfully. “That’s good, Cas. Hey, you will be back for graduation on Friday, won’t you. I mean, you’re the valedictorian. You can’t miss it.”
“Yes, Dean, I’ll be back. I miss you.”
“I miss you too.”
Dean hung up. He had a feeling he’d be saying that quite a bit over the next few years.
“I don’t think teal is my color,” Dean told Mary as she adjusted his ceremonial robes.
“Don’t be silly, it brings out your eyes.”
Dean sighed. “Please don’t be Embarrassing Mom today.”
She laughed. “I’ll try, I promise. It’s just that... do you realize how far you’ve come? Just a few months ago we weren’t sure you’d even finish up the school year, and here you are on graduation day.”
Dean shrugged, still not quite sure how to cope with being proud of himself. “I had a lot of help.”
“You also worked hard, and you tried, and you made us all very proud of you. You did that, Dean. You’ve been amazing.”
Dean nodded, pleased and embarrassed. He went over to join the other graduates, and finally caught sight of Castiel, sitting two rows in front of him, somehow managing to look like he’d just rolled out of bed in spite of the formal occasion, with the collar of his robes askew and his cap at an oddly jaunty angle. Dean was sure that Mary would be dying to get her hands on him. They were too far away for anything more than a wave and a smile. It made Dean feel oddly wistful, like they were already being split up, Cas was already moving away from him. He was so preoccupied that he was barely aware of what he was doing as he went up on stage to collect his diploma, his smile fixed and brittle.
Castiel’s valedictorian speech was brief and nervous. He couldn’t even look at the audience, and Dean just wanted to hug him the whole time. He knew that Cas didn’t have to leave for college until the end of September and they had the whole summer ahead of them, but he felt like it was happening right now. It was the end of high school, the end of everything that had brought them together in the first place. So much had changed, Cas had, he had, and now they were going to be set adrift with nothing but the sense of the bond they shared to keep them together. Graduations were fucking depressing.
Dean’s family hugged him afterwards, as did Ellen Harvelle, who was trying to persuade Jo to keep her mortarboard on long enough for a few more photos. Dean tried to be enthusiastic about everything and hide the fact that he was feeling a strange mixture of happy and sad and he didn’t know how to deal with it.
John inclined his head, and Dean followed him a short distance away from the rest of his family.
“What’s up, Dad?”
“I got something for you.” John reached into his pocket at pulled out a folded piece of paper, handing it over to Dean.
It was a cheque. Dean figured his dad was giving him a graduation present, until he saw the amount written down. He felt a little dizzy.
“Dad, what the hell is this.”
John cleared his throat. “The day you were born, I went to the bank and I set up a savings account. I’ve been putting a hundred bucks a month into it ever since. I did the same for your brother. It’s, you know, a college fund. Dean, you might not think college is for you, but you’re a damn smart kid. You could... you could really do something with that brain of yours, and I don’t wanna see you working at my garage your whole life.”
“Dad, don’t be ridiculous! You’ve been dreaming about it since before I could walk, how I was gonna take over the family business one day.”
“Yeah, and maybe it was unfair of me.” John looked at him evenly. “Those were my dreams, Dean, not yours, and it was wrong of me to make you feel like... like you had to live up to them. Of course I want to keep you here forever, see you every day, watch you become a man, but maybe I was being selfish. Your brother, I had no chance of hanging onto him, he had his big ambitions from the start, but with you... I guess I took advantage. But I... I want you to be your own man, Dean. I want you to go out there and figure out who you are and what you want. I mean, d’you think my old man wanted me to join the Marines? Hell no, I was supposed to be a doctor. I didn’t do what he wanted, and I... don’t want you to do what I want, either.”
“No. No arguments. You think I didn’t know about that road trip dream of yours? All those maps you used to buy? Why don’t you and Cas take off for a couple of months before he starts at Cornell?”
“I can’t just—”
“Yes you can, Dean. And there’s something else. I’ve... I’ve been asking around. Rufus knows a guy called Caleb who owns a garage near Cornell. Apparently he gets a lot of rich students bringing their cars in during term time and could use an extra hand. I called him up, and he’d be willing to take you on if you’re interested. So if you wanna go be with Cas, you can.”
Dean didn’t know what to say. He hugged his dad tightly, swallowing past the lump in his throat, hoping that the older man understood how deeply grateful he was. He could go now. He could be with Castiel and see if they could really make it work by themselves, two adults together in the world. Dean could do anything he wanted. The sense of potential was nothing short of terrifying.
Castiel was standing across the quad, standing with a man in jeans and a khaki jacket who had his arm around a stunning young woman Dean was fairly sure he recognized from last month’s Busty Asian Beauties.
Dean ran over to him. “Cas,” he gasped before the other boy could say anything. “Cas, I’m coming with you. I’m coming to Ithaca. My dad, he’s found me a job near the college, and he says I can go.”
Castiel’s eyes grew wide with shock. “Are you... what?”
Dean’s face grew hot. It hadn’t occurred to him to think whether Cas would really be pleased with the news or not. Maybe he’d been looking forward to getting away by himself. Maybe the thought of having Dean around all the time freaked him out. Dean couldn’t bear the thought of not being wanted. “Yeah,” he said soberly. “That is, if you’d like me to.”
Cas laughed weakly. “Are you joking?” He suddenly threw his arms around Dean’s neck in an uncustomary public display of affection. “Of course I want you to! Do you have any idea how scared I’ve been? I can’t do this all by myself, I don’t know how! No one will talk to me! I’m awkward and I make people uncomfortable, and I forget that I’m supposed to make eye contact, and I don’t want to be away from you, because you’re the one person in the world who makes me better at being a human being, and I can’t be without you.”
Dean breathed a sigh of relief. “Then I’m with you.”
“So this is the guy who’s introduced my baby brother to sexual deviancy,” the guy standing next to Castiel said.
Cas sighed, pulling away. “Dean, this is my brother Gabriel.”
“Pleased to meet you, Dean-O!” Gabriel said, shaking Dean’s hand enthusiastically. “This lovely lady here is Kasha. We figured we’d fly over and see Cas’s big day. I have to say, it’s an honor to meet the man who seduced the kid away from the straight and narrow. I can’t say I’m all that surprised now I’ve met you, you are pretty for a guy. Hey, what d’you say I treat you all and your family to lunch? Is there anywhere good around here? D’you want some Skittles?” All of this was said at such a pace that Dean had trouble keeping up; Cas had mentioned his brother’s candy addiction so Dean figured the guy must be on a constant sugar high. Cas had warned him, but Gabriel was someone who had to be experienced to be believed.
He spent the next two hours with his very confused family, listening to Gabriel discuss the finer patisseries of New York, make sexual innuendoes, and tell a story about a cabbie, a parrot and a tub of ice cream that he was pretty sure would get Gabriel arrested if true. Castiel was sitting next to him, looking at Dean with mournful, apologetic eyes.
Dean didn’t care. He was going. He was actually going to leave here and try and make a life for himself. He was going to really make a go of things with Cas. He was going to go on his damn road trip. He was going to live. And sure it was scary, and it might not work out, and he didn’t really know what the hell he was getting himself into, but it was his life. Dean was living his life, and he wasn’t afraid anymore.
They left Kansas on the Fourth of July.
They figured they’d spend a couple of months driving round the country, stopping off in motels along the way. Dean had saved up enough over the years working at the garage to fund the trip, and he’d brought his old maps out again, plotting routes with Cas, planning what they wanted to see. It was much more fun doing it with someone else.
Dean tried not to think about how far New York State was from Kansas. Unlike Sam, who had picked out what college major he was going to take in kindergarten, Dean had had very little time to get used to the idea of leaving home, and the thought of not being able to see his family whenever he wanted was a little unsettling. He’d spent hours – literally hours – teaching John how to use Skype.
John helped Castiel load the last of their bags into the car, and Mary took the opportunity to give Dean one more hug. “There’s a good community college near Cornell,” she whispered in his ear. “I know you think higher education isn’t for you, but will you at least think about it?”
Dean nodded. “Yeah, Mom. I promise.”
Sam hadn’t spoken to him much over the past few days, and he was still standing on the front porch, scowling at his feet.
“Hey, bitch-face,” Dean called, going to stand beside him. “You know you’re not getting rid of me for that long; I’ll be back in a few months. And Mom was talking about flying out to see us for Thanksgiving.”
Sam nodded. “I know. You realize Dad and I are gonna kill each other without you around.”
“Go easy on him. He doesn’t always get it, but he tries real hard.”
Sam sighed again.
“Hey, you know what? If you want, the summer you graduate, we’ll do this. We’ll go on a road trip, just you and me. If you want to.”
Sam smiled at him then. “That’d be awesome, Dean.”
Dean suddenly found himself enveloped in his not-so-little brother, whose arms seemed to have doubled in length over the past year. “I’ll miss you too, Sammy,” he mumbled.
He had to blink back the tears when he pulled out of the driveway, waving at his family without being able to look at them properly because that would make it so much worse. Castiel understood, and gave his knee a little squeeze.
“Well, Cas,” Dean said as they left the last of Lawrence’s suburbs behind them and headed into the open country. “It’s been one hell of a year.”
“Yes,” the other boy agreed gravely. “A lot has happened. Some of it quite portentous.”
Dean laughed, the tight feeling he’d had in his chest after driving away from his family dissipating in the excitement of being young and free and with the person he loved. “Oh, Cas,” he said, turning up the radio so that AC/DC blasted through the open windows. “Don’t ever change.”