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Forget-Me-Not Blues

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Monday, June 2nd 2014

Every morning while Dean makes his coffee, he stares out at his garden and wishes there was more to see than just a well-kept lawn. He adds sugar to his mug and thinks about scattering seeds and when steam, warm and rich, rises up to blossom into smoky flowers he sighs and hopes that one day there’ll be a colour other than green outside his kitchen window.

After a few sips of coffee and a contented sigh as his body begins to wake up, Dean usually wonders why he still hasn’t done anything about it if he has the same damn conversation with himself every morning.

Today Dean is halfway through pouring the leftover coffee from the pot into a travel mug, when his phone rings and his half formed daydreams about flourishing flowerbeds are cut off by Bon Jovi. Dean grins and tucks his phone between his ear and his shoulder.

“Hey, Sammy,” he greets and screws the lid onto his travel mug.

“Hey man, you at work?”

“Not yet. Why? You know if you’ve set fire to your kitchen again, there’s probably a fire department in Palo Alto you could call.”

Dean swears on every pie he’s ever eaten that he can hear his baby brother roll his eyes.

“That was one time, Dean. And it wasn’t even a proper fire.”

Dean snorts, “Ellen banned you from the kitchen for a month.”

Sam sighs and Dean turns away from the window to lean against the counter, taking a sip from his mug and smiling at the memory.

“Not that I’m not happy to reminisce about your kitchen failures, Sammy, but is there a reason you called?”

“Yeah actually, I was just calling to remind you that your flight’s at 9am on Saturday. You manage to get that week off from work?”

“‘Course I did,” Dean says gruffly and tries to choke down the ridiculous swell of fear sticking in his throat, “I’ll be there.”

Sam sighs again, softer this time, “Look, Dean, I really am grateful for this. I know you’d rather drive.”

“Nah, it’s fine,” Dean says, despite the fact it really doesn’t feel fine, “Flying’s quicker, I know that and I can’t get any more time off work.”

Dean loves his job, really, he does. He loves his team and he loves his uniform and he loves kicking fire in the ass. But with his little brother getting married in California, he really wishes he had the time to hit the road. It’s been too long since his Baby’s had a proper drive, and there’s a chance she’s starting to get jealous of how much time Dean spends in the fire truck.

“All the same,” Sam continues, “We really appreciate it. Your return flight’s on Sunday the 15th. That alright?”

“Yep that’s cool. Any best man duties I gotta take care of before I get there?” Dean asks, glancing at the clock with another sip of coffee.

“Nope but actually that reminds me,” Sam says, a little sheepish and uh oh, Dean thinks, this sounds ominous, “You okay with sharing a room? Jess’s best man is staying with us too and neither of you would fit on the couch.”

Dean frowns, “Why does Jess even have a best man?”

“Why not?” Sam says, somehow managing to shrug loudly, “They’ve been friends ever since she started Stanford. He’s your age but he was doing his doctorate here and they were in Astronomy club together. Now he’s a professor.”

Dean snorts, “Wow, Sammy, hanging out with your professors? That’s lame, dude.”

“He’s a History professor, Dean, he’s never even set foot in law school.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean smirks and waves at an empty kitchen, “I don’t mind sharing.”

Sam sighs with relief, “Okay thanks. I think you’re really gonna like him actually. He’s really nice and super smart and… oh God Dean, please don’t sleep with him.”

Dean huffs, amused, “Hate to say it Sam, but sounds like you’re the one who wants to sleep with him.”

Sam snorts, “Shut up, jerk.”

“You shut up, bitch!”

Sam sighs again and Dean chuckles, turning back towards the window to finish his coffee.

“Whatever. You’re gonna get on great. And get this, he even grew up in Lawrence! Must have been in your year at High School but he says he doesn’t remember you.”

Wow. Rude.

“Bitch please,” Dean scoffs, “That’s impossible, everyone remembers me!” He’d been on the football team for crying out loud. He’d driven around in a leather jacket and a ’67 Chevy Impala.

He takes an indignant gulp of coffee. And then regrets it.

“Yeah, well apparently not Castiel.”

Dean’s coffee ends up spattered across the window. And Dean would probably set to cleaning it up right away if it weren’t for the fact that he’s kind of choking up a lung right now.

“Dean?” Sam’s voice sounds concerned but distant over the phone, “You okay, man?”

And you know what? No. Dean is absolutely, 100% the opposite of okay right now. He could be in be middle of a burning building with no back up and a watering can and he’d still be more okay than he is right this second. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is ‘okay’ and 1 is ‘Oberyn Martell in the latest episode of Game Of Thrones’, Dean is about a 1.5.

“Yeah, yep,” Dean gasps and hopes Sam assumes it’s just the choking making him breathless, “Just swallowed my coffee wrong that’s all.”

“Are you sure?” Sam sounds sceptical.

“Yep. It’s all good now. Dandy, actually. Everything is good in the hood.” Dean cringes, time to wrap it up Winchester, “Anyway I gotta get to work, you know how it is. Fires. Kittens in trees. The whole… dealio.”

“Dean, what – ”

“I’ll see you next week! Say hello to Jess for me, won’t you? Okay, bye.”

And he hangs up.

And then he panics.

Like hell does Castiel not remember him. Dean groans and leans heavily against the counter, knuckles white against the polished wood. Ten years. Ten years and Dean’s finally in a place where he honestly hasn’t thought about Castiel fucking Novak in months, years even, and now he feels like a nervous 18 year old all over again at the mere mention of him.

Dean’s hands are very deliberately not shaking when they pick up a cloth from the sink and wipe angrily at the drops of coffee racing each other down the window pane. He pours the rest of his drink down the drain, he’s probably not gonna get any sleep from now until Palo Alto anyway, and stares out into his garden.

Of all the times he’s stood in this spot, eyes lingering on a neat but lifeless garden, it’s never looked so bare as it does this morning.

Monday, September 4th 2000

Castiel really doesn’t have much experience of school. He’s been home schooled by his brother Michael ever since he can remember and his only real friend in the world (because Gabriel says he cannot include his siblings in that list) is almost as inept when it comes to social norms and popular culture as he is. And as much as Castiel likes Gadreel, he’s pretty sure they only ever bonded over their parents’ poor choice in names.

It’s for this reason, as he trudges his way through the High School parking lot, that Castiel briefly considers turning around and running straight back home.

It’s not like Gabriel and Balthazar have painted a particularly bad picture but then it’s not exactly the same. The two of them have always been popular, big fish in this small pond called Lawrence, and both have the annoying talent of being obnoxious enough that it’s actually quite charming. Were they still here, maybe it would have gained him some popularity points to be related to them but Balthazar’s in college now, Oxford actually, and Gabriel runs a successful candy store in New York.

Castiel sighs and grips his bag a little tighter against his shoulder. Gadreel isn’t here either, shipped off to some Catholic boarding school by an overbearing mother and Castiel knows enough from his brothers’ tales of High School to know that a home-schooled kid with glasses and his absent father’s oversized trenchcoat isn’t exactly bully-proof.

When he finally finds his way through the front doors, he feels like a very small fish.

He takes several wrong turns before he gets to his assigned locker and almost expects to have to complete a series of trials, or perhaps answer a riddle, before he can get into it. But it opens easily enough and he breathes a sigh of relief.

No one looks his way, or at least Castiel doesn’t notice them if they do.

The same cannot be said for the scrawny boy on the other side of the room. He must be a freshman too, about a head shorter than Castiel and a good two or three heads shorter than the boys surrounding him.

They’re wearing matching sports jackets and Castiel files them away in his mind under the category marked ‘jocks’. Balthazar was very firm about staying away from them.

But then again, Castiel has never been particularly good at following rules.

When the largest of the group, a broad shouldered boy with dark skin, shoves the small boy hard into his locker, Castiel finds himself surging forward without really thinking about it.

“Hey,” he says, voice firmer than he feels, “Leave him alone.”

The jocks turn around, and Castiel feels a little less brave.

“What’s it to you, Four-Eyes?” sneers a spiteful looking boy with a nasal voice that sends shivers down Castiel’s spine.

Castiel frowns, “That seems like a rather unoriginal insult.”

Something dark flashes in the boy’s eyes and Castiel clenches his fists. The boy steps forward, right into Castiel’s space, the others standing close to his sides like bodyguards.

“Well, if you don’t like my insults,” he smirks, “Maybe you should lose the glasses.” And before Castiel can do anything about it, his glasses are being pulled from his face and placed just out of reach on top of the lockers. Castiel’s heart sinks. Michael will be disappointed.

The rest of the boys are sniggering behind him, and the sneer on the creepy boy’s face is only visible because he’s standing far too close.

“I’d watch your back if I were you,” he licks his lips and it almost sounds like he’s singing. Somehow, the gleeful lilt to his voice makes it all the more chilling.

And then he’s gone, the other boys with him, and Castiel feels shaken and lost. The scrawny boy is still there, back flat against the locker, and though he can’t see as clearly as he’s used to he thinks he can make out an apologetic smile on his face.

“Thanks, man!” he says and even his grateful voice doesn’t shake the sense of dread spreading through Castiel’s bones, “The name’s Garth.”

“Castiel,” he replies, trying and failing to reach his glasses.

“Sorry about your glasses, amigo,” Garth says, startling Castiel with a brief hug around his shoulders, “I gotta get to class. Thanks though. And, um, sorry again.” And then he’s gone too, and Castiel begins to realise he’s one of the only people left in here and he has no way of reaching his glasses.

He holds onto the belt of his trenchcoat and sighs. He’s going to be late to his first ever class and he’s pissed off the jocks already and he’s destined to spend four years swimming against the current.

A warm presence appears at his back and Castiel curls in on himself even more, ready for a physical blow when he sees an arm lift out of the corner of his eye.

But it doesn’t come. Instead, the arm reaches around Castiel and up to where it can only just reach his glasses. Castiel turns around just as the boy, who seems to be only a few inches taller than him, places the glasses back on his face with gentle hands.

Castiel blinks as his world comes back into focus and thinks for one startling moment that maybe he’s actually been blind his whole life and only now is he truly seeing colour for what it really is. The boy’s eyes are green, that’s the first thing he notices. Greener than the meticulous lawn Michael keeps in the front yard or the leaves of the flowers in Castiel’s window box.

He’s also the most attractive human being Castiel has ever seen. He smiles, kind and a little bit shy, and Castiel feels the tips of his ears burn.

“That was pretty cool, what you did,” the boy says and Castiel feels pride swelling up in his chest.

“Thank you,” Castiel says, and when he reaches up to straighten his glasses it’s more for something to do with his hands than anything else.

The boy grins even wider, “I’m Dean, by the way. Dean Winchester,” and he holds out his hand.

They’re standing close together, closer than they need to be now that Dean has returned his glasses, and the shiver that runs up Castiel’s spine is nothing at all like the one caused by that other boy. This time it’s exciting, addictive, and Castiel finds himself wishing it was more permanent. That he could crystallise this bolt of lightning forever like fulgurite.

“Castiel,” he smiles timidly and takes Dean’s hand, “Thank you for retrieving my glasses.”

“It’s no problem,” Dean smiles back and the sight almost distracts Castiel from feeling the loss of Dean’s hand, “I’m sorry those dicks did that in the first place.”

Castiel shrugs, “My brothers warned me this might happen.”

Dean frowns, “Doesn’t make it okay.”

No, Castiel thinks, but you just might.

“So, Cas,” Dean asks, after a long moment spent simply looking at each other and the nickname sends another spark of electricity through Castiel’s veins. “You’re a freshman too?” Castiel nods.

“Cool,” Dean grins, ducking his head, “We better get to class. But uh, maybe we’ll see each other around?”

He looks up at Castiel through his eyelashes and there’s a shy kind of hope there that makes Castiel’s heart speed up. He smiles and nods again, not trusting himself to speak, and he watches as Dean walks away, turning at the last minute to offer a little wave that makes Castiel feel giddy.

He smiles all the way through math, feeling like maybe being a small fish may not be so bad as long as he has Dean Winchester swimming against the current with him.

Friday, June 6th 2014

Dean is a rational man and no matter what his brother, his surrogate parents or his best friend might try to tell you, he absolutely never overreacts to anything ever.

Which is why it is perfectly reasonable that Dean is currently banging his own head repeatedly against the table in the middle of the fire station kitchen. What is not reasonable is that Benny, the ass, is laughing.

“No way,” he says in his Southern drawl with an incredulous shake of his head, “The same Castiel who punched you because you asked him to prom?”

Dean lifts his head from the table and glares at his friend with the most withering stare he can muster, “No, one of the many other ‘Castiel’s I know.”

Benny is irritatingly unfazed by his best death glare and whistles, low and sympathetic, “Brother, that’s rough. Small world, huh?”

Dean groans and lets his forehead drop back to the table and Benny claps a large, warm hand onto his shoulder and squeezes.

“What the fuck am I gonna do?” Dean asks, and Benny pushes at his shoulder until he’s sitting upright again.

“Dean, you haven’t seen this guy since you were 18. Please don’t tell me you’re still hung up on him.”

“What?” Dean splutters, because no, okay? He’s not, “Guy’s clearly a homophobic asshole. I don’t wanna see him because it was fucking embarrassing! And he’s a dick. Not because I still like him.”

Benny sighs, “Dean, ten years is a long time. Maybe he’s grown out of that.”

“Yeah,” Dean says and he is absolutely not pouting, “Ugh, I still can’t believe he told Sam he didn’t remember me. Like hell he doesn’t!”

Benny laughs, “Maybe you’re not as memorable as you think you are, Bub,” he grins and pats Dean on the cheek.

Dean bats his hand away and rolls his eyes, “Shut up, I’m adorable. Plus, he hated me enough to punch me. And he never punched anyone. Not even the dicks who bullied him.”

Benny levels him with a sad look, “Dean,” he says softly, “You were one of the dicks who bullied him.”

And just like that Dean’s miserable mood turns even fouler. It’s not like he’d forgotten, in fact it’s pretty much all he’s thought about for the last four days (and maybe some of his more sleepless nights over the last ten years), but hearing it said out loud drops a lead weight right into his stomach.

“Not – ” he says, “I wasn’t – ”

“Yeah, I know,” Benny squeezes his shoulder again, “But he probably didn’t.”

Dean huffs, “Well maybe he would have done if he’d let me apologise without punching me in the face!”

Benny sighs and this time it’s a little less fond and little more exasperated, “Dean, I cannot believe we’re still on this. You haven’t even mentioned him since we were in training, I thought you were over this!”

“I was!” Dean insists, “I am! I haven’t thought about him in years, honestly,” he adds when Benny raises an eyebrow, “I just didn’t think I’d be running into him again, you know? Let alone have to share a fucking bedroom with him for a week.”

Benny snorts, “Yeah, I really don’t envy you there, Brother. Just,” he looks pained, “Try not to kill each other ‘til after the wedding, alright?”

Dean huffs a shaky laugh and nods, “Yeah. Man, I wish you were coming.”

Benny smiles and shakes his head, “Me too. I wanna meet the guy who turned big, bad Dean Winchester soft.”

And fortunately for Benny, that’s when the alarm sounds around the station and the two of them leap up and head toward the garage, because Dean was totally about to come up with a really awesome and badass comeback.

As it is, he settles for shoving him playfully as they pile into the truck and when Benny laughs he feels himself relax, just a little.

Monday, October 4th 2000

“Hey guys,” Dean says with a soft smile as he opens his locker. There’s a photo stuck to the inside of the door; a pretty blonde woman and a handsome dark haired man. They’re smiling happily at the camera, arms wrapped around each other, and between them sits a boy with green eyes and a wide, goofy grin. The boy has a new-born baby cradled in his arms and all four of them look like they haven’t a care in the world.

Dean likes seeing them there every day, he needs his parents’ smiling faces kept fresh in his mind.

He grins excitedly as he begins to put his books away, “Guess what?” he says, imagining what it would be like to tell them for real, “I made it onto the football team!”

The photo doesn’t answer, but the mom in his head sweeps him up into a warm hug as his dad ruffles his hair in a way Dean would pretend to hate.

“Hey, Winchester!” comes a voice from behind him and he looks over his shoulder, confused. It’s the rest of the football team and Dean tenses as they stroll towards him. He recognises the leader, Alastair. He’s the boy who took Cas’s glasses last month.

As the boys draw closer, Dean squares his shoulders and turns to face them, and out of the corner of his eye he sees Cas watching from his own locker at the other end of the row. Dean wants to meet his eye, just like he usually does when they see each other in the hallways, but he doesn’t. He raises his chin and watches Alastair approach.

“Hear you just made the team,” he says and Dean tries to relax.

“Yeah, coach just told me,” Dean shrugs, “Did you want something?”

The boys directly behind Alastair, Uriel and Raphael, bristle slightly and Dean takes some pleasure in the fact that he’s managed to annoy them already. Alastair however, and Dean doesn’t know if it’s a relief or if it’s just plain creepy, laughs.

“Oh, I really am sorry if we’re bothering you Dean, can I call you Dean? It’s just, we had to come check that you’d be a good fit.”

And slowly, Dean’s joy at making the team and all the hope he had that maybe he could be valued for something at this damn school rather than mocked for his love of books and astronomy, begins to trickle away.

“I plan to be,” Dean says and Alastair moves closer.

“That’s good,” he smiles, sickly sweet, “Because we were beginning to worry you were friends with that boy over there.”

Alastair turns his head to look at Cas and Dean turns to look just in time to meet Cas’s eyes for a second before the dark-haired boy is looking away, a dusting of pink just visible on his cheeks.

And the last of Dean’s joy drains away like sand in an hour glass. He hasn’t even spoken much to Cas since that day back in September, they barely count as friends. So maybe Dean goes out of his way sometimes to make sure he bumps into Cas on his way between classes, and maybe every time Cas smiles that small, private smile at him he feels lighter than before but Dean has never quite got up the courage to do much more than smile goofily back.

Cas is smart; he’s brilliant and brave and beautiful. And Dean should have pursued more than just the handful of conversations they’ve had because now he’s terrified. Alastair is smirking at his clenching jaw and he knows, this fragile foundation of friendship he’s been building with Cas is about to be torn down.

“He was sure staring at you like he knew you,” says another of the boys behind Alastair and Dean shrugs.

“I’ve seen him around,” he says and he knows his voice is a lot calmer than he feels, “but I wouldn’t say we’re friends.”

“Good!” Alastair grins, “Then you won’t mind taking his glasses.”

Dean feels sick. “What?” he asks, voice no longer quite as steady as he’d like, “Why? He’s done nothing to you!”

“Why?” Alastair’s eyes flick to something over Dean’s shoulder and Dean feels his face heat up at the knowledge that he must have seen the photo, “Why, because a little birdy tells me that you have a little brother. Must be in the Middle School just across the yard.”

Dean’s insides turn to ice and Alastair smiles like he can see it happen.

“And I have a feeling,” he leans even closer and Dean wills himself to stand his ground, “That something bad might happen to him if that kid,” he jerks his head towards Cas, “doesn’t lose his glasses.”

Dean feels the ice in his veins like shards behind his eyes. Cas is almost done unpacking his bag and Dean wishes, he wishes with everything he has that he would hurry up. That he’d close his locker door and leave before Dean can do anything.

And if he really listens he can hear Sammy telling him not to do it, insisting he can take care of himself. He can hear his mom, in a voice Dean’s not sure was even hers, telling him to do what he knows is right. He can hear Uncle Bobby telling him to do something for himself for a change and Aunt Ellen telling him he doesn’t need to worry about Sam anymore.

But above all he can hear the last words John Winchester ever spoke to him and they ring in his ears until all the other voices fall away. You take care of your little brother, okay? He’d said. And Dean had cried into his shoulder with a soundtrack of beeping machines and promised he would.

“Tick tock,” Alastair says and Dean slams his locker shut.

The distance between their lockers has always felt too far before but now he finds himself wishing it were further. Cas looks up at him when he’s halfway there and for the first time, Cas’s shy smile makes Dean feel anything but light.

When Dean stops directly in front of him Cas is still smiling, a little confused, and Dean has to force himself to meet his eyes. When he does, he hopes his face says what his mouth cannot.

“Dean?” Cas asks, head tilting to one side, and before Dean can condemn his brother to years of torment he pushes down the feeling of fondness blooming in his chest and reaches out.

Cas doesn’t even look hurt at first and somehow that makes everything ten times worse. He looks up at Dean with so much trust in his eyes, that even as Dean’s fingers prize the glasses away from his face the only emotion Dean sees there is confusion.

“What are you doing?” he asks, eyes squinting at him in an effort to make out his motives and for a fleeting moment Dean allows himself to imagine laughing it off. Pretending he just wanted to try them on and placing them on his own face with a grin.

But he doesn’t. Instead he thinks of Sammy and drops the glasses to the floor. Cas’s face falls and Dean leaves the room before anyone can make him break them, or before he does something embarrassing like cry.

Chapter Text

Saturday, June 7th 2014

Cas looks at his watch with a sigh and an ugly twist of his stomach. They should be here any minute.

It’s not like he hadn’t known when Jess started going out with Sam Winchester that there was a chance he would one day have to see Dean again, but it had always seemed more like a distant possibility than an imminent threat. Dean is a busy man after all, Sam and Jess usually go and stay with him when they have time off, and the only time he’s ever come out to California, Cas made sure to arrange a trip to New York.

And no matter what Gabriel had said, he had not been running away. He’d just felt the sudden urge to visit his brother.

But now, regardless of what he’d like to believe and however little he’d like to admit it, there really is nothing Cas wants to do more than run away.

What makes it worse is that both Sam and Jess seem so blissfully excited about Dean’s visit. Sam has had a bounce in his step for the last week and Jess grins happily at the mere mention of him. And this would be bad enough, having to see the positive impact Dean clearly has on their lives, without also having to listen to story after story about how ridiculously perfect they seem to think he is.

By all accounts, Dean grew into a hero. Cas never heard too much about him before this, careful to avoid bringing him up or asking after him. He’d picked up random titbits of information from Sam about their childhood; about how Dean had practically raised Sam after their parents died in a house fire and their Uncle Bobby and Aunt Ellen had had to work double shifts to keep food on the table.

He’d learnt that Dean was a firefighter now and that he was good at it. He knows that Dean likes cars (though he’d known that already) and he knows that he doesn’t like to fly.

And these last few days, after Jess had called him to say he should stay with the three of them in the week preceding the wedding, he’d learnt just how much Sam truly loves his brother. His heroic, selfless, older brother who’s always looked out for him. And Cas has had to smile politely through all of it and pretend sharing a room with Dean isn’t going to be the most painful week of his life.

It’s just as Cas is contemplating staying at his own home instead and just making the long drive to Sam and Jess’s every morning that Jess flops onto the couch beside him.

“Ugh, what’s taking them so long?” She moans, “The airport isn’t that far away.”

Cas smiles tightly and pats her thigh, “I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”

She grins and looks over at him, “Oh man Cas, I still can’t believe this is the first time you’re meeting Dean, you know? I always just kind of assume you’ve already met.”

Cas laughs, though it sounds hollow to his own ears, and wonders what Jess would say if he told her that Dean was calling him ‘Cas’ long before she was.

“I can assure you, we haven’t,” Cas says and he wishes he were telling the truth. The picture Sam and Jess have painted of Dean looks far too similar to the one he was sure he saw back in High School. The one he clung to for four years before it melted in the heat of senior year.

Cas digs his nails into his palms. He doesn’t want to think about that now. He has spent ten years trying to forget how fervently he used to defend Dean in his own head. How pathetically eager he’d been to make excuses for his behaviour.

He remembers one time in junior year, and he cringes to think of it, when Dean had knocked his books right off his desk as he’d walked past. And still, after class had finished and everyone else had left the room, when Dean had bent down to pick one up for him Cas had felt happy. And he’d hoarded the feeling of their fingers brushing like a dragon protects its gold.

But that was years ago and Dean had done nothing but disappoint him, in the end. Cas refuses to revert back to that lonely eighteen year old boy with glasses and too much faith in a beautiful boy who hadn’t given a damn.

“Well,” Jess continues, “You’re gonna like him. He’s awesome.”

“Yes, so you’ve said.”

And the bitterness in the back of his mouth clearly manages to creep forward and stain his lips because Jess giggles and leans over to pinch his cheek, “Aw, Cas, don’t worry, you’re still my number one guy!” Cas glares at her, “Well, number two. Sam’s number one.”

She grins cheekily and Cas rolls his eyes.

Sam’s keys jangle in the front door and Cas feels almost ready to throw up.

Jess bounds out of the room to meet them and Cas pushes himself up off the couch. His hands are shaking, just a little, and he reaches, for the first time in a long time, for the belt of his trenchcoat. But he’s not wearing it and his fists close around empty air.

He hears him before he sees him, a deep voice much lower than he remembers. Jess laughs heartily as they greet each other and Cas thinks he hears Dean pick her up off the floor in an enthusiastic hug. He turns around just as he hears Sam enter the living room.

“Hey man,” he calls over his shoulder, “Come meet Cas!”

Jess almost drags Dean into the living room and Cas has to clench his jaw in an effort to keep it from dropping.

Dean Winchester at eighteen had been bright and sun-kissed. He’d had delicate features and full lips and Cas would have called him beautiful without a second thought. Dean Winchester at twenty-eight is gorgeous. His shoulders are broader than Cas remembers, his arms filling out his shirt more than they used to and his full lips are highlighted by just a hint of stubble. He’s rugged, handsome and strong-jawed where he used to be pretty; a fully grown man with the eyes of the boy Cas has been trying to forget.

For a fleeting moment, Cas wonders what Dean thinks of him now. He has stubble of his own, more out of laziness than conscious choice, and he’d begun wearing contacts the minute he’d started college. He doesn’t look the same as he did back then and Cas wants to kick himself for hoping Dean even notices.

Dean steps forward and holds out a hand, “Hi, Cas,” he says, and Cas would almost believe he really didn’t remember him if it weren’t for the hard look in his eyes.

“Hello, Dean,” he replies and he takes his hand. It’s a brief handshake, both of them pulling away as soon as socially acceptable, and he knows his voice is clipped and icy.

Sam steps forward and claps a hand on his brother’s back with a grin, “I still can’t believe you two were in the same year in High School and you don’t even remember each other.”

Cas snorts and this time, he notices with a grim satisfaction, he definitely sees Dean’s jaw clench.

“I suppose it really isn’t that surprising, Sam,” he says, gaze still holding Dean’s, “I was just a ‘loser’ with glasses. I’m sure I wasn’t worth noticing.”

Dean flinches a little but he plasters a fake smile onto his lips all the same, “Oh, I’m sure that’s not true, Cas,” he says and Cas wonders whether Sam and Jess can hear the bitter twist of his tone, “Maybe you just didn’t give people a chance.”

Cas’s blood boils, “Or maybe I gave people too much of a chance.”

“Woah,” Sam laughs nervously and Cas finally tears his eyes away from Dean’s long enough to see the confusion on their faces, “You guys sure you don’t know each other?”

“Yes,” they say in unison and Sam raises his hands in mock surrender.

Cas sighs, “High School was ten years ago. It’s not really a time I’m keen to remember.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, catching Cas’s gaze again, “Me neither.”

Jess huffs from behind Dean and Sam outright laughs, “Dude, you were totally popular in High School. You slept with most of the cheerleading squad, don’t act like you had a hard time.”

“Oh, you were a jock, Dean?” Cas asks, smiling innocently, “Let me guess, football team?”

Dean grits his teeth, “Yep.”

“Well, I suppose it’s a good thing you didn’t notice me then. I hear the football team made life pretty nasty for kids like me.”

Dean looks momentarily like he’s been slapped but his response is cut off by Jess storming forwards and slapping Cas on the arm.

“Cas! Who the hell pissed in your cereal this morning?”

Cas frowns, “I didn’t have cereal.”

Jess rolls her eyes, “It’s an expression. Now stop giving Dean-o here a hard time or you’ll scare him off!”

Dean chuckles, a little stiffly, but when Cas looks back at him he’s carefully not looking at him.

“Never!” Dean says, and his smile is bright and genuine when he sweeps Jess into a hug and kisses her on the cheek, “It would take more than that to tear me away from you, sweetheart.”

He winks and Jess rolls her eyes.

“Hey!” Sam hits his brother upside the head with a grin, “Stop flirting with my fiancée.”

Dean laughs and raises his arms in defence, “Not flirting Sammy, just my natural charm.”

The three of them look happy together and Cas feels a swell of rage that one minute in Dean Winchester’s company and he already feels like an outsider. Sam makes some retort that Cas doesn’t hear and Dean throws his head back in laughter. There was a time, seems like only yesterday now, that that smile would have been imprinted on the back of Cas’s eyelids for weeks. Had he seen those eyes alight with laughter back at school, those lips stretched wide with delight, he’d have carried it with him like a precious jewel. But now it just makes him mad.

Jess and Dean enter into a discussion about Dean’s job as Sam fetches him a beer to ‘help me get over my near death experience, Sammy’ (‘You didn’t even have any turbulence, Dean’), and Cas just wants to punch him all over again for tricking both Sam and Jess into thinking he’s some kind of saint.

So Dean saves lives every day. So Dean rescues kittens from trees and braves his phobias for his little brother. Cas isn’t going down this road again. He can’t be fooled a second time, not now. He’s come too far. So he can parade around like a Greek God with his freckles and his green eyes and his stupid, infuriating laugh if he wants, but Castiel is not going to fall in love with Dean Winchester again.

Dean is fuming as he throws his bag down onto the pull-out bed in the guest room. He’s so mad that he has to make a conscious effort not to slam the door or take out his anger on any of the innocent ornaments in the room.

Even with the door closed, Cas’s voice floats upstairs and seeps through the crack underneath the door like a poisonous mist that Dean can’t escape from. He’s chuckling at something, Dean can’t hear any words, but whatever it is must be pretty fucking hilarious if it can pull any kind of positive feeling out of that emotionless, close-minded dick.

Dean picks up his duffle just to throw it back down on the bed again and then closes his eyes. He counts to ten just like Sammy used to tell him to do, and breathes.

So Castiel definitely remembers him. And apparently still hasn’t forgiven him the outrageous crime of liking him. Dean snorts, yeah, at least that’s definitely not a problem anymore.

What makes everything about ten times worse is that Cas has gotten hot. And not just ‘huh you grew up’ hot, he means ‘holy fucking shit are you some kind of model?’ hot. And it pisses Dean off because Cas had always been beautiful. No one else at school seemed to notice and Dean had spent four years wondering why the hell Cas never dated anyone because honestly, the colour of his eyes used to take Dean’s breath away. Cas used to smile at him sometimes, usually when Dean definitely didn’t deserve it, and Dean’s heart would beat with it for weeks.

And now he’s standing alone in his little brother’s guest room ten years later trying not to let it happen all over again. Because if you ignore the fact that Cas is a homophobic asshole, he’s also the most stunning human being Dean has ever seen. He’s lost the glasses, and half of Dean is sorry for it because he always liked the way they framed Cas’s eyes, but the other half is glad for the unobstructed view. He’s almost as tall as Dean, with strong looking shoulders and a lean frame that Dean had never really seen before under all the layers of oversized sweaters Cas used to wear. His hair is still all over the place in a way that looks deliberate and completely untameable all at once and he has stubble that Dean would be desperate to feel on the inside of his thighs if it didn’t belong to someone so fucking infuriating.

Cas’s gravelly voice, which would usually have sent fire along Dean’s nerve endings, just makes him want to grind his teeth.

He hears Cas chuckle again downstairs and in a fit of rage, Dean picks up his bag and throws it onto the double guest bed instead. Why the hell is Cas even here anyway? He must have his own place close by.

He sits down on the bed and drags a hand across his face. To add insult to an old and painful scar, Sam and Jess are apparently under the impression that he’s some kind of angel. They seem very excited about the prospect of their two best men meeting and becoming BFFs before the week is over. Sometimes Dean really worries about Sam’s judge of character.

Which reminds him, why had Sam seemed so concerned about Dean sleeping with him? Sure, no doubt, he’s fucking gorgeous. Unfairly gorgeous actually, and there’s no denying he’s smart. But he’s also a boring, judgemental, stuck-up son of a bitch. Who obviously wouldn’t sleep with him anyway considering how disgusted he was by Dean asking him out, and Dean is already tired of how being around him for five minutes is making him feel like that scared teenage boy all over again.

His phone buzzes in his jeans pocket and he huffs a laugh when he reads the text. It’s from Charlie.

WE WANT DETAILS – QUEEN CHARLIE AND SIR BENJAMIN’

Trust Charlie to get right to the point. He’d almost feel sorry for Benny having to put up with the constant chatter (which Dean likes to pretend isn’t completely endearing) if it weren’t for the fact that Benny, despite his pretence, actually enjoys gossiping almost as much as she does. Dean shakes his head at the two of them.

Cas’s hotness seems to be directly proportional to his level of assholery.’ He types back and lies on the bed with his legs still touching the floor.

So he’s still dreamy?’ Charlie replies and Dean groans.

shut up. he’s a fucking douche.’

‘How much of a douche?’

Dean types, ‘Joffrey.’ And hits send with a petulant jab of his thumb.

Wow. Then he must be a sex god.’

Dean groans again and throws the phone next to him on the bed. He covers his face with his arms and breathes.

His phone buzzes again a few seconds later and when he finally summons the energy to pick it up, he smiles.

If this is still about you being bi, he ain’t worth your time brother’

And you know what? Benny’s right. If Cas wants to hold a grudge, that’s fine. Dean had apologised, he’d opened up to him in a way that terrified him, and if Cas wants to ignore that just because he has an issue with his sexuality, that’s his problem. Dean is going to enjoy the rare time he has with his family.

It’s with this resolution in mind and a slightly more relaxed line to his shoulders that Dean stands up and stretches. He can be the bigger man here. He’s just about to grab his duffle and move back over to the pull out bed when the door opens.

Obviously, because Dean cannot catch a break, it’s Cas.

“Hello, Dean,” he says, and his voice is so cold Dean has visions of the room frosting over. Dean watches as Cas’s eyes fall on his bag, still on the guest bed, and then sweep back up to his face. He doesn’t say anything about it but Dean feels Cas’s opinion of him slip even further into the mud.

“Lunch is on the table,” he says and before Dean can even open his mouth, Cas is spinning on his heels and marching back down the stairs.

Dean refrains from throwing anything and reminds himself that he no longer cares what Cas thinks of him. He takes a breath and follows him down the stairs. The ornaments in the room probably breathe a sigh of relief.

One of the many reasons that Jess is way out of his geeky little brother’s league is her ability to prepare a meal without turning the kitchen into a veritable disaster. Bobby always used to smile and clap Dean on the back whenever he got home to see him cooking dinner for Sammy like he was doing something heroic. Truth is, there was nothing selfless about it; Dean would just rather keep his eyebrows.

“Jess,” Dean says, eyeing the spread of bread, meats and cheeses arranged attractively on the kitchen table, “I ever tell you you’re way too good for my brother?”

Cas looks up from where he sits, unfortunately directly opposite Dean, with an affronted look that Dean pointedly ignores. Jess just snorts, “I’m afraid I didn’t heed your warning. Too late to back out now, I guess.”

She sighs dramatically and Sam bitchfaces so hard Dean’s afraid he’s going to pull something.

“Your brother is more than adequate for Jess to romantically tie herself to, both in terms of intellect and moral values.”

Dean clenches his fists under the table before looking at Cas and reminds himself that he is not going to let himself be irritated. Jess and Sam just look amused.

“Thank you,” Dean says, a sarcastic smile twisting his lips, “I’m so glad my little brother is adequate enough for you.”

Jess’s shoulders are shaking slightly in mirth and Sam is grinning at Cas like he told the world’s best joke.

“Dude,” he grins, “Dean was just joking around.” Cas frowns at him, confused and Sam rolls his eyes, “He likes to tease me about my cooking skills.”

“Or lack thereof,” Jess mumbles around a mouthful of quiche and Sam nudges her with his shoulder.

“Oh,” Cas says, and Dean feels a tiny bit triumphant that his cheeks are a little pinker than they had been.

“Yeah, oh,” Dean says, taking a sip of his beer, “But good to know you’re such a romantic.”

He’s not sure why it’s quite so easy for Cas to burrow under his skin like sand in a pair of socks. Maybe he wouldn’t say this out loud, but Sam is really kind of awesome, and if anything it’s a surprise he managed to find someone Dean thought was good enough for him. And Dean should be happy Cas feels the same. He should feel proud that he knows how amazing Sam is, but it pisses him off that apparently his lawyer-in-training brother is only worthy of being ‘adequate’ in the eyes of the mighty Castiel Novak.

And maybe it’s a little about the fact that Sam and Jess get Cas’s official seal of approval, whereas Dean isn’t even worth forgiving after ten years.

Either way, he ignores the way Cas’s eyes narrow at his comment and chews smugly at his beef sandwich.

“Aw,” Jess says, oblivious, and reaches over from where she sits diagonally next to Cas to pinch his cheek in a way Dean can’t believe she gets away with, “Don’t listen to him, Cassie. You could be romantic if you wanted.”

Cas switches his glare to Jess, but it softens significantly until it looks positively fond, “Thank you for your vote of confidence.”

“You’re welcome!” she raises her forkful of quiche in a weird salute and grins, “I got your back.”

Sam chuckles around a frankly dull looking forkful of rabbit food and it relaxes Dean enough that when he leans back to take a sip of beer, his smirk in Cas’s direction is almost friendly.

“So, haven’t had much practice in romance, huh Cas?”

Cas’s facial expression hardly even changes but somehow, all of a sudden, it’s darker. “No,” he says, eyes meeting Dean’s with steel.

Dean snorts and looks back down at his plate. “Shocking,” he mumbles, before taking another bite of his sandwich. Because really, is it any wonder? If the guy treats every romantic advance with the same unique blend of disgust and violence that he treated Dean’s, he’s not surprised Cas is single.

Dean sees Cas’s fists clench around his cutlery out of the corner of his eye and feels Sam’s ‘what the hell’ gaze burning a hole in the side of Dean’s head.

“Was that sarcasm?” Cas asks, and his voice is even lower than before.

Dean looks up, quite ready to snap at him, but the confused look on Jess’s face gives him pause. This week isn’t about him. This isn’t about his feelings being hurt back in High School or his frustrating inability to make himself resilient to Cas. It’s about his brother and his awesome fiancée wanting to share their wedding weekend with the people they love most, and Dean really, really, doesn’t want to ruin that.

He swallows his mouthful and lifts his hands in a placating gesture.

“Nope, I’m honestly shocked,” he says, despite knowing he doesn’t look it at all, “Sammy told me on the phone that you were quite the catch.”

Cas blushes and glares at Sam. Oh good, someone else for him to turn to dust with the lazer-vision he apparently thinks he has.

Sam kicks Dean under the table, “I said no such thing!”

Dean shrugs, “It was implied.”

Sam rolls his eyes at Dean and then again when he sees Cas still watching him, “Don’t give me that look, Cas, you’re a great guy! I’m allowed to talk you up to my brother.”

Cas sighs and looks back at his plate. “Your brother seems capable of making up his own mind.”

“Ha!” Dean says with a grin and a triumphant clink of his bottle against Sam’s, “You hear that, Sammy? I’m capable and you’re adequate!” Jess laughs and pats Sam on the head while he pretends to preen under the compliment and Dean sends an exaggeratedly flirtatious smirk over at Cas.

“You’re a smooth talker, Cas,” he winks sarcastically and a nerve in Cas’s jaw twitches as he looks down at his plate.

Jess shoves Cas playfully on the shoulder and tells him to lighten up and soon conversation turns to other topics; their chores for the week, the wedding, people back home. But Cas doesn’t look at Dean again and when conversation turns to Dean’s job, Dean doesn’t even know if he’s listening.

Tuesday, September 18th 2001

Cas wakes up to two texts on his cell phone and a missed call from Balthazar who seems unable to remember the time difference between England and Kansas. The texts from Gabriel and Gadreel are pretty much the same, wishing him a happy sixteenth birthday and apologising for not being there, but they still make Cas smile while he gets ready for school.

Sophomore year only started a couple of weeks ago but already it’s been an improvement on last year. Raphael and Uriel both graduated last year and Alastair seems to have been too preoccupied with the freshmen to really give him much notice. The rest of the football team seem happy to follow him around on his hunt for ‘fresh meat’ and Dean… Dean’s mostly kept out of his way too.

Cas sighs as he brushes his teeth. Last year Dean Winchester had been a kaleidoscope of contradictions. One minute he’d smile tentatively at Cas in the hallway or meet his eyes with sadness across the space between their lockers and the next he’d be ignoring him completely or laughing as Alastair made fun of him. Sometimes Dean would pull the team into a conversation whenever Cas got too close, as if he were desperately trying to divert their attention away from him, but then a day or so later he’d stand grim and silent as Raphael knocked papers out of his hands.

But this year, so far, there’s been nothing except a shy, little wave on the first day back. Cas’s heart had flipped in his chest when Dean had walked into English class and sat at a desk a couple of rows in front and one to the left of Cas’s. He’d turned around to meet Cas’s eyes and lifted his hand in greeting.

And Cas had known, just like he’d always known in these moments, that this wasn’t a version of Dean that a lot of people got to see. That Dean keeps himself locked away and shielded by bravado and a football uniform, but bares his soul in little waves and sad smiles across classrooms.

Cas is pulled from his thoughts when his younger sister comes barrelling into the bathroom to wrap her arms around Cas’s shoulders.

“Happy birthday, Castiel!” She says, grinning toothily up at him.

Cas smiles and ruffles her hair a little, “Thank you, Anna.”

Anna pouts and ducks out of the way, “Hey! Don’t touch the hair.”

Cas sighs dramatically as they make their way downstairs, “A few weeks at High School and your hair’s already more important than me?”

Anna giggles, “Yep! Sorry Castiel, that’s just the way it is. Birthday or not.”

Cas chuckles as they check through their bags and he watches with fondness as she opens up the lunch box Michael left for her and transfers all the fruit for any other snacks she can find.

He is about to open his own box, more out of habit than actually caring what’s inside, when Cas notices that Anna’s blouse is a little more… revealing than usual. And he’s pretty sure she’s wearing makeup.

“Are you trying to impress someone?” Cas asks with a tilt of his head and Anna looks up with a blush.

“No!” she says, but she’s biting her lip and Cas only has to raise his eyebrows before she’s sighing and rolling her eyes, “Okay, maybe.”

Cas snorts and leans against the kitchen counter, “Already? He must be special.”

With a shrug, Anna twists a strand of fiery red hair around her finger like she always does when nervous, “I don’t know, I haven’t actually spoken to him. And he’s kind of out of my league anyway, I mean half the girls in school have a crush on him. His name’s Dean and he’s actually in your year. Do you know him?”

Cas’s brain screeches to a halt.

Yes, I know him. I watch him every day.

Yes, I know him. He’s lonely, just like me.

Yes, I know him. Please don’t hurt him.

“No,” Cas says, “Not really.” And he shoves his lunch into his bag without even looking inside.

He’s subdued for the rest of the morning. Dean doesn’t look at him in History but Cas doesn’t mind, he’s trying not to look at him either. Instead he helps Garth with his essay and ignores the persistent weight of something in his stomach.

In fact, he’s all but forgotten about it by the time he and Garth get to lunch. His friend is chatting happily about the dream he had last night and Cas’s mood only gets better when he opens the lid to his lunch box.

There are pb&j sandwiches inside and Cas feels warm with the knowledge that Michael remembered they were his favourite. There’s also a large cupcake with the number ‘16’ iced carefully on top in blue icing.

Cas beams at it and feels such a surge of affection for his oldest brother that he almost doesn’t want to eat it. Michael has never been a particularly affectionate man, too weighed down with the responsibility of raising four younger siblings after their father disappeared, and sometimes Cas forgets that he’s not as cold as he sometimes appears. He has difficulty showing it, but Michael truly loves his family.

“Hey, what gives, hombre?” Garth says, grinning at him across the table, “You didn’t tell me it was your birthday!”

Cas shrugs a smile when Garth leans over the table to give him an uncomfortable but well-meaning hug, “Happy birthday!” he grins and claps Cas on the back before settling back down with his own lunch, “You gonna have a party?”

Cas rolls his eyes, “Don’t ask stupid questions.”

Garth just keeps smiling and Cas huffs a laugh. Garth can be a little too much at times but it’s hard to be in a bad mood when he’s around, even if he does have an alarming number of dreams concerning the tooth fairy.

Sadly, it’s just as Cas is thinking this that he hears something from behind him that challenges that theory.

“Hey, you hear that? It’s Novak’s birthday.” It’s Gordon Walker. Cas can’t see him but he recognises the voice; he’s in both his math class and, unfortunately, the football team. Cas just hopes it isn’t Alastair he’s talking to.

“Winchester!” Gordon shouts from behind him and Cas’s heart sinks. Dean is right in his line of vision, just leaving the lunch line with a bowl of pasta, and he lifts his head at the sound of his name. Cas feels at least some relief that Dean looks as irritated by Gordon as Cas is.

Dean sighs and heads towards him. Cas looks away and stares at his own lunch as Dean walks past, but strains his ears enough that he can hear Dean’s annoyance when he reaches Gordon.

“What?” He asks and Cas feels the corners of his mouth twitch up at the harsh tone Dean uses.

“It’s Novak’s birthday,” Gordon says with a level of glee that really doesn’t make sense.

Dean sighs again, “So?”

“So we should give him a present.” Cas clenches his fists. He can hear the smirk in Gordon’s voice and he wonders if maybe he should just get up and leave.

Or,” Dean says with a definite edge, “We could just leave him alone.”

“Oh come on, Winchester, that’s no fun.”

“Seriously Walker, just drop it. What’s he ever done to you?” Dean sounds more than annoyed now and Cas can’t help the fluttering in his chest.

Gordon huffs. “Little shit makes me look like an idiot in math,” he grumbles.

“Maybe you make yourself look like an idiot in math,” Dean snaps and Cas takes a bite of his sandwich to hide his grin and, hopefully, to tamp down the butterflies in his stomach.

There’s a moment of silence and then Gordon speaks again, even quieter than before and with a dangerous growl to his voice. “Fine. Let’s put it this way: either you go bring me his dumb little birthday cake or I’ll go give him some birthday beats.”

Dean doesn’t say anything else and Cas really wants to turn around to look at his face. He should have got up and left when he still had the chance. He knows what’s going to happen. Dean would never let Gordon hit him, he knows that. He knows it with 100% certainty and he’s grateful for it, wants to wrap Dean up in his arms and tell him it’s okay and that he knows he doesn’t want to hurt him. But he also wants, just a little, for Dean to walk away. To let them bully him and push him against lockers and punch him sixteen times under the pretence of birthday wishes, in return for friendship.

But he wouldn’t be Dean if he walked away. Dean’s a caregiver, Cas saw it on that first day last year. Dean likes to protect the people around him and Cas knows that being on the football team brings him almost as much misery as it does Cas. Cas just wishes he knew why he stays. Why he can’t just walk away and do what makes him happy.

When Dean appears by his side, Cas isn’t surprised. He looks up at Dean without even pretending he is and for a moment, Dean’s eyes are so full of regret that Cas feels smothered by it. But then he’s looking away and a hollow smirk is all Cas sees, thrown half-heartedly in his direction, as he plucks Cas’s cake from his lunch box, throws it somewhere behind Cas where Gordon, he assumes, catches it, then leaves the cafeteria without saying a word.

Garth looks startled and more outraged than Cas has ever seen him but he just shakes his head when Garth asks if he wants him to go ‘kick Dean’s ass for you’. He smiles weakly at the thought of Garth trying to kick anyone’s ass, let alone Dean’s, and eats the rest of his lunch in silence.

Cas spends both Chemistry and Spanish in a wavering state of indecision. The warmth of Michael’s thoughtfulness and Dean’s unwillingness to hurt him wages war against the sorrow Cas feels when he thinks of Michael getting up early to ice his little brother’s age onto a cupcake Cas wasn’t even able to enjoy. Cas hardly knows what to feel.

It isn’t until the last class of the day, that he sees Dean again. It’s a rare thing for Dean to get to class before him and yet when Cas gets to English he’s already there, staring at his own desk and twirling a pen between his fingers. It’s out of the ordinary for sure, but Cas doesn’t think too much of it.

He sits down in his usual place and starts unpacking his bag. He’s just about to drop his work book onto the desk when he stops completely in his movement and stares.

It’s rushed and messy but where the wood has always been blank and unmarked before, the words ‘Happy Birthday’ have been scratched hurriedly into the surface.

Cas runs a finger across the words and feels his throat close up, just a little. When he looks up, Dean isn’t looking at him, still staring fixedly at his own desk, but the back of his neck looks pinker than usual and Cas feels lighter than he has all day.

Saturday, June 7th 2014

After lunch is over, Cas retreats to the garden. It’s small and the lawn is a little overgrown but it’s a nice day and there are a couple of bees dancing around a lavender bush.

‘So, haven’t had much practice in romance, huh, Cas? Shocking.

Cas tries not to let it hurt. He watches the bees weave between the flowers and tries to pretend a sting from one of them would hurt more than what Dean Winchester thinks of him. But it aches, somewhere deep in his chest, to hear the teasing words come out of Dean’s mouth like it’s a game.

It burns and twists and pinches to be reminded of senior year. Dean, who had never been cruel to anyone before, finding the crack in Cas’s chassis and digging a knife in where he knew it would hurt the most. And even then, ten years down the line, Cas had held onto the hope that there had been some different explanation for it; that Dean would no longer mock his feelings or disparage his sexuality.

But he had. He’d looked him in the eye and smirked, and Cas knows that he hasn’t forgotten. He remembers how Cas used to feel.

Cas sighs. He thinks about calling Gadreel but that would mean admitting he’s upset and he had assured his friend he wouldn’t let this little High School reunion bother him. Instead he fetches his book from the living room where, thankfully, his friends are too preoccupied with a story Dean is telling about someone called Ash and what sounds like a rather dangerous game of ‘beer pong’, to ask him to join them.

He spends a rather happy hour in the garden, letting the words of CS Lewis and the gentle hum of the bees ease the tension out of his shoulders. He even smiles when a butterfly lands on the arm of his chair and it’s then that the glass door leading into the kitchen, opens.

“Hey, Cas,” Jess smiles warmly and flops into the chair next to Cas’s, “Whatcha readin’?”

The butterfly flies away and Cas sighs, “‘The Magician’s Nephew’. You scared the butterfly.”

Jess rolls her eyes, “Just because you’re some kind of… Pied Piper of Palo Alto for insects.”

Cas smiles and closes his book, “I don’t have a pipe.”

Jess sighs, “Okay, fine. You’re the Pied… Wait, what does ‘Pied’ even mean?”

Cas chuckles and shakes his head. Jess nudges her shoulder into his, “Cas?” she asks, “Are you okay?”

Cas looks at her with a frown, “Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Jess’s worried expression softens slightly and she shrugs, “I dunno. You’ve just seemed kind of… off today.”

Cas looks away again and Jess bites her lip, “Is everything okay with your family? Gabriel hasn’t got anyone pregnant has he?”

Cas snorts and when he looks back at Jess he all at once feels grateful and incredibly guilty. He’s been selfish. He’s let his own petty teenage scars get in the way of his friends’ happiness and it’s not fair of him.

“No,” he says with a smile and he rests a hand on Jess’s arm, “Not as far as I know anyway.”

Jess grins, relieved, “So you’re okay?”

“Yes,” Cas reassures, “I apologise. I was up late watching the stars last night, I think perhaps I’m just tired.”

“Good,” Jess grins and pulls Cas into a one-armed hug, “Although it really is odd that with all your siblings you’re not an uncle already. I want a baby to play with, I wish one of them would hurry up.”

Cas raises his eyebrows, “Perhaps you will have one of your own soon enough.”

Jess pulls away and lifts her hands, “Woah, one thing at a time there, champ. Don’t give Sam any ideas just yet.”

Cas chuckles and leans back in his chair, “Where is Sam?”

“He took Dean out for a tour of the city. They’ll probably stay out for dinner and drinks after.” She punches Cas playfully in the arm, “Looks like it’s just you and me tonight. You wanna do something?”

Cas smiles at the sky and closes his eyes, “We haven’t played chess in a while.”

“Ah,” Jess says seriously, “You know, if you wanted to spend your afternoon getting thoroughly beaten you could have just said so.”

Cas opens one eye and smirks at her, “I assure you, I would have done. But I’m not sure I like to lose, hence why I suggested chess.”

Jess scoffs and stands up, “Oh, it’s on, Novak!” she calls as she disappears into the house.

Cas smiles and follows her inside.

The afternoon trickles into evening in a relaxing kind of haze and Cas almost forgets that this isn’t just another summer day spent with his friend, playing chess and eating leftovers outside on the patio chairs. The bees have long since retreated back to their hive but there’s a bird cleaning its wings on the tree in next door’s garden.

“So,” Jess stops flicking through her textbook on cardiovascular disease and Cas looks away from the bird, “How is the rest of the Novak clan?”

“Good. I believe Gabriel’s thinking of opening another store.”

Jess whistles, “You know, next time you go to New York you should totally take me and Sam with you. It’s crazy that you have four siblings and Anna’s the only one I’ve even met.”

Cas smiles, “Gabriel would flirt with both you and Sam, Balthazar would distrust you the minute you told him you’ve seen ‘Titanic’ more than once and Michael would probably bond with Sam over the ‘importance of upholding the law’.”

“Awesome,” Jess grins, “But I always imagined Michael to be more like Dean than Sam.”

Cas frowns and turns to look at her, “How so?”

Jess shrugs, “I dunno. I mean Michael raised you when your dad left, he always puts you first, he calls every other week just to check you’re okay. He clearly loves his family but finds it hard to say so in as many words. Sounds like Dean to me.”

Cas tilts his head, “Perhaps, but I think that might be where any similarity ends. I’m afraid Michael doesn’t have much of a sense of humour.”

Jess hums, “And of all the things you could say about Dean, lack of humour really isn’t one of them,” she shoots him a look he can’t decipher before continuing, “Plus, Dean was considerably younger than Michael was when he started taking care of Sam.”

Cas sighs and meets Jess’s eyes. She looks hopeful about something and Cas wishes he could tell her what she wanted to hear, but he doesn’t know what that is.

“Why are you so adamant that I like Dean?” He asks instead, and tries to ignore how sad his voice sounds.

Smiling softly, Jess shrugs, but her eyes are more serious than they have been all evening, “I dunno, Cas. I guess we were kind of hoping…” she looks up at the sky where the first faint traces of stars are beginning to shine, “You mean a lot to me, Cas, and Dean means a lot to me too. I know you feel kind of lonely sometimes and I think… I just think you two could be pretty great friends.”

Cas shakes his head minutely and stares up at the sky. He doesn’t say anything, just lets Jess pat his arm and go inside, and hopes that she won’t be too disappointed when he and Dean part ways at the end of the week.

He hears the Winchesters climb the stairs just after he’s settled into the pull-out bed for some reading. He hears them say goodnight to each other before Sam disappears into his bedroom and Cas keeps his eyes trained on his book. He refuses to look up even when the door to their room opens.

Dean stands motionless in the doorway for a moment, and Cas remembers with a blush that he took his contacts out when he brushed his teeth and his glasses are perched on his nose.

Not saying anything about them, or perhaps not noticing, Dean just shuffles his way past the foot of Cas’s bed to get to his bag. He rifles through it for a few minutes and the silence is so deafening that Cas can’t concentrate on a single word of his book. He’s staring through the pages and the words look so blurry that for a moment, Cas thinks that maybe he isn’t wearing his glasses after all.

Dean leaves the room again with an old t-shirt and a travel bag and Cas waits for the bathroom door to close before he lets out a sigh of relief and rests his head back against the wall. Would Dean believe it if he pretended to be asleep when he got back? Probably not.

He resolves to finish his chapter. There’s no reason he should act any differently to how he usually would, awkward silences be damned. He’ll just finish his chapter, then turn out the light.

When Dean gets back to the room and closes the door behind him, Cas looks up from his book. He had hoped that maybe some sort of greeting might make the silence a little bit less suffocating. Instead he thinks it just made it worse. Dean is wearing an old t-shirt, slightly too tight around the arms and chest, and Cas darts his eyes back to his book almost as soon as they meet Dean’s. The shirt looks worn and soft and Cas catches a glimpse of strong thighs where his boxers don’t cover them, before Dean climbs into his bed and they’re hidden from view.

Cas tries to refocus on his book, but he can see Dean out of the corner of his eye lying on his back, his head turned to look directly at him.

“I never thought I’d see those again,” Dean says eventually and Cas startles a little even though Dean’s tone is soft, almost timid.

He looks up with a frown, mind set into a tailspin of confusion by the tentative way Dean is smiling at him. Dean gestures vaguely at his own eyes and Cas blushes again when he realises he’s talking about his glasses. For a moment Dean’s smile is small, perhaps even a little fond, and Cas’s eyes narrow in an effort to work out why, but then Cas blinks and there’s nothing but a smirk on Dean’s face.

“You’re not seeing anything again,” Cas says with a tilt of his head, “These are a new pair.”

Dean huffs a laugh, “Okay, Mr Literal. I just meant – ”

“You meant to mock me,” Cas supplies and it’s neither a question nor a surprise.

Dean sighs and all traces of humour flicker out as he turns his face back to the ceiling.

“No, I didn’t,” he says, and something about it sounds weary, “But if you want to twist everything I say then fine.”

Cas frowns and puts his book on the bedside table between them, “I wasn’t trying to – ”

“Why are you even here anyway?” Dean snaps, looking back at him with a glare and Cas’s jaw snaps shut with an audible click, “Don’t you have your own house to be miserable in?”

Cas feels the anger sweep through him and he grasps the blanket underneath his hands in a white-knuckled grip. Dean raises his eyebrows obnoxiously as he waits for a reply and Cas clenches his jaw.

“It’s a 36 minute drive to my house,” he explains in clipped tones, “Jess thought it would be more convenient for me to stay here before the wedding, considering our busy schedule.”

Dean snorts bitterly as he turns back to stare at the ceiling with a glare.

“Awesome,” he growls and turns around until the tense line of his back is all Cas can see.

Cas rips the glasses from his face and turns the light out with a shaking hand. He doesn’t fall asleep for a very long time and by the uneven sound of his breathing across the room, Dean doesn’t either.

Chapter Text

Sunday, June 8th 2014

When Dean wakes up on Sunday morning it’s to a feeling of guilt broiling low in his stomach. All the anger and frustration he’d felt the night before, snowballing ever since lunch, is gone so suddenly that Dean just feels like shit for overreacting.

He pulls himself up into a sitting position and rubs his eyes. Cas is still asleep on the pull-out bed, and that’s another thing that makes Dean flush a little with shame. When he got home last night to find Cas already in bed, relegating himself to the thin, single mattress, Dean hadn’t felt like he’d won.

The clock on the bedside table between them tells him it’s almost 9am, later than Dean usually sleeps, but he’d had some trouble dropping off last night. The ridiculous argument with Cas playing on a loop in his head, the image of Cas in glasses again bringing old memories back to the foreground. And now here he is, feeling tired and guilty and sad like he hasn’t in years.

He gets up as quietly as he can and shuffles slowly around the foot of Cas’s bed. He can’t help but smile when he sees how Cas is huddled in the blankets like it’s the depths of winter, curled in on himself with arms wrapped around one of his pillows. Dean can’t see his face, just his head of messy dark hair poking out over the top of his blanket nest, and Dean files the information away in a folder he hasn’t opened in years. It’s the middle of summer in California, and yet Cas still likes to be warm.

Dean also thinks Cas is probably more of a cuddler than yesterday’s icy demeanour would have suggested, but he tries not to think too hard about that. He doesn’t need to go down that road again.

He sighs when he gets into the shower. It’s kind of ridiculous how his brain keeps running around Cas, even when he tries to think about something else. He tries to think about his evening with Sam last night and how nice it had been just to spend time with his brother. But then he remembers how he’d barely even thought about Cas at all, he’d been so caught up in Sammy, and that just makes him think about Cas now.

He tries to think about Benny, but that just makes him feel weird considering he’s in the shower, so then he tries to think about his garden. He closes his eyes and tries to picture his lawn but that, inexplicably, leads him right back to Cas. There’s no real reason for it, no obvious link, but Dean finds himself wondering if Cas has a garden and he’s back to square one.

Okay, so maybe he needs a new strategy. Being angry with Cas only led to guilt. Maybe Cas had been uncomfortable being hit on by a guy when he was eighteen years old, but does Dean really have any proof he’s still like that now? Cas hadn’t exactly been friendly with him yesterday but it might be time for Dean to admit that he hadn’t exactly been friendly to Cas all through High School.

And just like that, all the old guilt comes rushing back. He remembers all the shit he did in the name of making his dad proud and keeping Sammy safe. Benny’s right about what he said back at the station, just because Dean knows why he did it doesn’t mean Cas does. No matter his attempts at diverting attention when he could, he should have said ‘screw you’ to those dicks the minute they asked him to take Cas’s glasses. He should have quit the team. He should have joined astronomy club and sat next to Cas at lunch.

Dean brushes his teeth with a kind of steely determination and, for some reason, he feels a little better than he did before this weirdly profound trip to the bathroom. Because maybe this week isn’t meant as a reminder of his regret and humiliation, maybe it’s the second chance he’s always wanted. Maybe he can ignore Cas’s hang-ups regarding his sexuality if he can just make up for all the shit he pulled before that.

Dean smiles as he comes downstairs for breakfast. He likes having a mission, makes him feel like Indiana Jones. Man, he’d look good in a fedora.

“Stop,” Sam says from where he sits at the kitchen table.

“What?” Dean asks, looking over his shoulder as he pulls some eggs out of the fridge.

“I know that look. That’s your ‘I’d look awesome in cowboy boots’ face.”

Dean snorts and gets out a pan, “Actually I was thinking about a fedora. And good morning to you too.”

Jess laughs from where she’s sitting next to Sam and dipping toast into a boiled egg, “Indiana Jones style?”

“Yep!” Dean grins and starts cracking eggs, “I should totally have been an archaeologist.”

Jess giggles and Sam rolls his eyes, “I’m pretty sure most archaeologists haven’t even seenIndiana Jones’.”

“Plus, we know you look just as sexy in your firefighter uniform,” Jess waggles her eyebrows and Dean laughs.

“Hey!” Sam huffs, affronted, and Dean smirks over at him, “I told you I’m the better looking Winchester, Sammy.”

Sam pouts and Jess slings an arm around his shoulder, “Aw, don’t listen to him, baby. You’d look smoking hot in a pair of suspenders.”

Sam blushes and leans forward to kiss the smirk right off her face and it’s cute for about five seconds before Dean sees some definite tongue action going on.

“Hey!” he throws a tea towel at their faces, “Keep it PG, you’ll put me off my breakfast.”

Sam snorts, “Dean, when I was thirteen I walked in on you having sex with Lisa Braeden. I think you can handle a little kissing.”

Dean huffs and turns back to his eggs, “We weren’t having sex, Sam, we were just – ”

“Naked cuddling?” Sam says and Dean can practically hear the raised eyebrows, “Dean I didn’t believe that then, and I don’t believe it now.”

Jess giggles and Dean lifts his hand behind him to flip them off.

“Hey guys?” he asks after a few minutes of comfortable silence, “Do you think Cas will want some eggs?”

Jess lets out a bark of laughter, “Yeah probably, but he won’t be up for another hour at least, I wouldn’t worry about it.”

Dean tries not to sound like he actually cares at all, “Oh, okay. Not a morning person then?”

Sam chuckles, “Understatement.”

“He can’t function until he’s had at least two cups of coffee,” Jess warns, “He’s a grumpy little shit before that.”

Dean snorts and pours his eggs onto a plate, “Right, because he’s such a charmer the rest of the time?”

Sam sighs and Jess grimaces a little, “Yeah, about that,” she says tentatively, “Look, I know he was acting kind of weird and… cranky yesterday. But he’s not usually like that, honest! He’s a real sweetheart once you get to know him.”

Yeah, and isn’t that the problem. Dean does know him, and that’s exactly why he’s in this mess.

“Besides,” Sam adds as Dean settles down at the table next to Jess, “You weren’t exactly sunshine and daisies yesterday.”

Dean sighs and ignores his brother’s raised eyebrows in favour of his breakfast, “Yeah, I know. Guess that flight didn’t put me in the best of moods.”

“Well you best buck up today, buddy,” Jess pats him on the back, “The bridesmaids are coming over for lunch.”

“Bridesmaids, huh?” Dean waggles his eyebrows. Sam sends another bitchface his way, “Do I know any of them?”

“Nope, don’t think so. You’ll like them though, Madison watches ‘Dr Sexy’.”

Dean grins, “Awesome.” And Sam rolls his eyes over his mug of coffee.

True to Jess’s word, Cas stumbles into the kitchen at 10:35 and heads straight for the coffee pot.

“Morning Sunshine!” Jess says brightly and Cas sends a half-hearted glare over the rim of his mug. Jess giggles and Dean tries not to smile to himself like an idiot. Cas’s hair is all over the place, even more so than usual, and he can’t help but notice he looks kind of like a kitten all bleary eyed and grumpy.

“So,” he says, eager to change his line of thought, “When is everyone else coming down for this thing? I mean, I know Charlie’s gonna be here on Friday but what about the others?”

Sam smiles and pulls Jess even closer to his side, “Not ‘til late Friday. Bobby, Ellen, Jo and Ash are taking some kind of road trip down here, we won’t see them until the wedding.”

Dean sighs wistfully; what he wouldn’t have given for a road trip.

“What about Jody? She’s coming, right?”

“Yep, she’s flying over first thing Saturday with Missouri, Victor and Kevin.”

Dean whistles, “Man, it’s going to be hectic.”

“Yep,” Jess smirks and looks between him and Cas, who’s just slumped into the chair opposite Dean cradling his mug of coffee, “So it’s just as well we have the two best men on the case, huh?”

Dean salutes and stands up with a stretch. Cas doesn’t look at him but that’s okay, it’s better than glaring anyway.

Dean spends the rest of the morning and early afternoon playing video games with Sam on Jess’s old X-Box. You’d think it’d get boring kicking your brother’s ass in as many different virtual ways as possible but Dean finds it really doesn’t. He says as much with a smirk on his face and Sam throws a cushion at his head.

“Whatever, jerk, it just means I have too much of a life to sit around practising ‘Call of Duty’.”

“Practise? Please, this is just natural talent, bitch.”

He’s not sure where Cas is, probably outside injecting caffeine directly into his veins or something, but he definitely hears Jess when the doorbell rings at two o’clock.

Dean will never get over the ability girls seem to have to make a lot more noise than should be possible for people with such tiny bodies.

After a great deal of what Dean considers unnecessary squealing, Jess ushers three girls into the living room where they proceed to throw themselves at Sam in some kind of football tackle/hug hybrid.

Cas appears in the doorway behind Jess and Dean has to smother a smile at the sight of him. He looks just as alarmed as Dean feels.

Sam laughs, “Okay, okay, hi.” He extracts himself from their grip with a grin and fist bumps the one with blonde hair, “You girls sure know how to make an entrance.”

A short girl with dark hair and olive skin scoffs, “Oh please, that’s rich coming from a guy who wanted to arrive at his wedding in a horse and carriage.”

“Ha!” Dean laughs, delighted, “Sammy you old romantic, you.”

Sam glares at the girl and points a finger at her, “Don’t encourage him.”

She smirks and turns to face Dean fully, “You must be Dean?”

“Oh! Yes sorry,” Jess hurries forward, “Everyone, this is Sam’s older brother. Dean this is Tracy, Madison and Becca.”

Introductions don’t really last that long. All three of them have met Cas before and Dean’s never found it hard to remember names. He likes Tracy particularly, she’s snarky and sassy and she’s in Med School with Jess so she must be pretty damn smart. Becca, the blonde, is a law nerd just like Sam and Madison is quiet but Dean likes her on principle of being a ‘Dr Sexy’ fan.

They settle down to lunch pretty soon after they arrive, which Dean is grateful for because apparently running around inside a video game is hungry work. He’s sitting opposite Cas again but he’s got Sam on one side of him and Tracy on the other so he’s in a pretty good mood. Plus, it’s kind of funny to see Cas sitting rather stiffly between the other two girls.

Conversation turns to Cas’s job and Dean is happy the attention is off him for a change. Cas doesn’t seem to like talking about himself much either but he’s polite and answers all their questions with an open sort of earnestness that Dean tries not to find too endearing. He loves his job, it’s obvious despite his quiet way of talking about it, and Dean has no doubt he’s an excellent professor.

“So why History?” Becca asks, twisting spaghetti onto her fork, “Do you not find it a little…” she thinks for a moment, “Depressing? To dwell on the past?”

For a moment, Dean thinks he sees Cas’s eyes flicker to him, but Dean looks back down at his own plate too quickly for him to be sure.

“I suppose it could be,” Cas says after a moment’s careful consideration, “But I don’t like to think of it as dwelling on the past. More… learning from our mistakes.”

When Dean finally summons the courage to look up from his plate, Cas isn’t looking back and Dean can’t decide whether he’s glad or not.

“So what about you, Dean?” Madison smiles, “You’re a firefighter, right?”

Dean smiles and rubs the back of his neck, “Uh, yes Ma’am. I’m not smart like Cas here.”

“That’s not true, Dean,” Cas says with a frown and Dean, along with everyone else at the table, turns to look at him. Dean knows his eyes are wide with surprise right now and he’s sure he’s not imagining the small flush of pink creeping up Cas’s neck.

“I, um,” Cas says, eyes darting everywhere but at Dean, “I just mean that you seem to think yourself unintelligent but I’ve seen your name in the front of most of Sam’s books.” He finally meets Dean’s eyes and there’s something close to determination there, “From what I hear you are very good with both cars and people and you would have been more than capable of going to college.”

Dean ducks his head and hopes his blush isn’t as obvious as it feels because it feels as if he’s in a goddamn burning building and he’s really not sure if it’s a good kind of fire or not.

He clears his throat and concentrates on his spaghetti, “Thanks but uh, I’m not sure that’s true.”

“I wouldn’t have said it if it weren’t true,” Cas says and Dean can’t help but huff a laugh.

“Nah, college just wasn’t in the cards for me.”

Sam sighs, “Dean – ”

“Sammy don’t,” Dean sends him a pleading look. Cas obviously doesn’t get the message.

“It could have been in the cards if you’d just – ”

“No, it couldn’t,” Dean says and he meets Cas’s eyes with a sigh, “You think we had enough money for the both of us to go to college?”

Cas opens his mouth but closes it again and Dean sees Sam’s shoulders slump a little next to him. He drags a hand across the back of his neck again and looks down at his plate.

“Sammy was always the nerd with dreams of college,” he nudges his shoulder against Sam’s and smiles, “I had to get the money somehow.”

When he risks a glance back up, Cas is looking at him in a way he can’t decipher. It’s softer than it has been since he got here and Dean finds he has to look away again.

“So you worked straight after High School?” Becca asks, all three girls leaning forward in their seats.

Dean coughs, “Yeah. Worked with my Uncle Bobby for four years. He’s a mechanic, owns a little shop near where we grew up.” Everyone keeps just staring at him so Dean, feeling more and more awkward by the second just carries on, “He uh, he was kind of like our surrogate Dad after our parents died, so. He offered me a job. We scraped enough together to send Sammy off to college and uh, here he is.”

Dean smiles and claps Sam on the back. He’d much rather talk about how proud he is of Sam and his ridiculously good LSAT score, but no one else seems to get the memo.

“You gave up college for your brother?” Madison asks, and it’s quiet. She’s looking at Dean like he’s some kind of goddamn hero and he hates it. He hates it. He hasn’t done anything worthy of that look in his entire life.

Sam nudges his own shoulder into Dean’s, just a little, and Dean is grateful for it.

“I really did try to convince him to go. But he’s a stubborn jerk, wouldn’t listen to me.”

Dean rolls his eyes and nudges Sam’s shoulder back, “Bitch.”

Sam squeezes his shoulder and Dean feels a little less suffocated. He continues to focus on his plate while he eats and lets Jess pull the girls into a discussion on different dress fabrics. He can feel Cas’s eyes still on him and he tries to wait it out, let his gaze move away before looking up like he’s trying to avoid the Eye of Sauron, but it lingers for too long, burning a mark onto Dean’s forehead.

He looks up, expecting Cas to dart his gaze away but he doesn’t, he catches Dean’s eye and holds it. And it’s barely even noticeable, so small Dean almost misses it, but for the first time in over ten years, Cas smiles at him.

“So Dean,” he says quietly, “What’s your favourite book?”

Dean isn’t sure where this sudden civility is coming from, but he’s glad of it, warmed by it even, so he smiles and leans back in his chair, “Man, you can’t just ask a guy that without giving him some time to think about it.”

Cas smiles a little wider and shrugs in apology. Dean just grins.

“I love most books by Vonnegut,” he says and revels in the way Cas looks almost impressed.

Sam snorts beside him, “Yeah, but don’t pretend you don’t love all those fantasy novels the best.”

Cas raises his eyebrows and Dean just shrugs, unashamed, “Yep, and I’m not even sorry. So I like ‘Harry Potter’, that shit is a classic.”

Sam grins and starts counting on his fingers, “And ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, ‘Game of Thrones’ – ”

Dean laughs, “Alright, alright, we get your point. Still not sorry, Sammy.”

“Nor should you be,” Cas says and Dean thinks he might be getting a little drunk on the tiny smile Cas keeps sending him, “I’m rereading ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ right now.”

Dean smiles, “Oh yeah? Which one’s your favourite?”

“Oh no,” Jess laughs, the girls’ attention back on their conversation, “Dean, you can’t ask him that. He’ll go into some long spiel about the merits of each book and you’ll be here all day.”

Cas rolls his eyes, “Laugh all you want, Jessica, but when you have children you’ll have to read them.”

Jess snorts, “Won’t need to. We have Dean.”

Cas frowns, a little confused and Dean blushes. He knows where this is going.

“Dean volunteers at the library in Lawrence,” Sam explains with a proud grin, “He reads to the kids at story time.”

There’s a short silence and just like that, everyone’s focused on Dean again. Cas is staring at him with no small amount of surprise on his face and Dean squirms in his seat.

Tracy huffs an incredulous laugh from beside him, “You like kids too? Well aren’t you just Mr Perfect.”

Dean goes bright red. It’s not like he does it every week or anything. It was only meant to be one time, a favour for a friend who needed someone to cover for her. It wasn’t his fault that the kids asked for him so much that it ended up being a semi-regular thing (though from what Ann-Marie told him, half the requests were actually from the kids’ mothers).

Sam snorts at him and Dean wonders if punching the groom is acceptable best-man behaviour.

Jess reaches over to pat him on the cheek, “Yep,” she says with a fond smile, “He’s a regular Mary Poppins.”

Dean bats her hand away with an embarrassed grimace as everyone laughs. He rolls his eyes and looks back at his plate, but not before catching another tiny smile on Cas’s face.

Thankfully, conversation stays focused on the wedding after that. After lunch, they move into the living room to go through the wedding binder and check everything’s sorted. Sam is almost more invested than Jess and Dean finds himself roped into more than one debate on colour choices and cake flavours. He starts to regret not bringing a book with him because it seems to be working wonders for Cas, who’s reading on the small armchair in the corner of the room and doesn’t get bothered once.

But it’s a nice afternoon all the same. Becca is funny and playfully flirts with Dean the whole time, until they seem to be in some kind of competition to see who can come up with the most outrageously bad line. Tracy is the best at ganging up on Sam with him and they spend a good forty-five minutes trading stories until they’re breathless with laughter and Madison manages to convince everyone to watch tonight’s episode of ‘Dr Sexy’, which Dean had been sure he was going to have to miss, so she wins big points just for that.

It isn’t until the girls have left and Sam and Jess are saying goodnight that Dean realises Cas isn’t even in the room anymore. No matter how little they’ve managed to bicker today, Dean is still hoping that this means Cas is already asleep. They’ve been civil all day. Managed to exchange a few words and Dean even succeeded, somehow, in pulling a smile out of him at lunch, but he’s not sure how that will carry over to them being alone together. Cas might have been acting or just making an effort for the sake of his friend and Dean’s still not really sure how to talk to him at all.

Cas is not asleep when Dean gets to their room, nor is he asleep when Dean gets back from the bathroom, but he isn’t reading this time and he’s not wearing his glasses. When Dean lies down, he turns the lamp off and the two of them lie in silence.

Dean’s almost asleep when he hears Cas’s soft voice from across the room.

“You were always better than me in English class.”

And Dean feels something weird and twisty in his chest because it’s not true and he wishes Cas hadn’t said that. He wasn’t better than Cas at anything and it hurts that Cas probably knows that perfectly well.

“We both know that’s not true, Cas, you don’t have to patronise me.”

“I’m not, now you’re twisting my words,” Cas snaps and Dean buries his face in his pillow in frustration. He can’t even make it a day without fucking this up.

Cas sighs after a few more minutes of silence and then,

“Maybe I got better marks in my essays, but you had the most interesting ideas in the whole class. When you bothered to share them.”

And it makes Dean mad all over again, because he’s wrong about some of it; his ideas hadn’t been worth shit. But he’s right too. He’d never felt much need to try very hard at school. He’d always known Sammy was the one with a future, not him. So he hadn’t tried, and that’s what’s frustrating. Because Cas wasn’t meant to know that. He wasn’t meant to know that Dean had, just sometimes, wanted to try. That sometimes now, in his darker moments, he wishes he had.

Dean doesn’t know if it’s himself or Cas that he’s mad at, so he just closes his eyes and doesn’t answer.

Thursday, January 24th 2002

“I’m telling you, Castiel,” Gadreel’s sigh crackles over the phone, “He’s a nightmare. The other day he tried to convince us all he was ‘lovable and funny’.”

Cas chuckles. Gadreel’s headmaster has been subject to his friend’s complaints for over a year now and Cas seems to be his favourite outlet.

“And I take it he is neither?” Cas smiles to himself at the indignant huff on the other end of the line.

“If he meant in comparison to the Apocalypse, then maybe.” Gadreel grumbles and Cas rolls his eyes.

“To be fair,” Cas supplies, “If your parents name you ‘Metatron’, you probably don’t stand much chance of being that well adjusted.”

His friend snorts, “My parents named me Gadreel and sent me to a Catholic boarding school.”

Cas grins, “True. But I never said you were well adjusted.”

There is no doubt in Cas’s mind that Gadreel rolls his eyes, “Well that’s rich coming from you.”

Cas frowns, “What do you mean?”

Gadreel sighs and Cas gets the feeling that Gadreel is slipping into concerned, slightly-overbearing-friend mode, “You think I don’t know why you called? Castiel, you hate talking on the phone. What did Winchester do this time?”

Something in Cas’s chest twinges, “Nothing. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“If you didn’t want to talk about it you would have just read a book. But you called me. So what did he do?”

Cas sighs and lies back on his bed. Is he really that transparent? And is he really that pathetic? How did it get to the point where his best friend knows, without even having to look at him, that he’s thinking about Dean? Cas closes his eyes and runs a hand through his hair.

“He didn’t do anything.”

“Then what is it?”

Cas turns his face to the side until the phone is pressed between his cheek and the pillow, “It’s his birthday today.”

He says it quietly, he’s kind of embarrassed about how smitten his friend will probably accuse him of being, and wonders if Gadreel is really raising his eyebrows like he is in Cas’s imagination.

“…And?”

Cas sighs, “And nobody even noticed! He didn’t say anything about it, his friends either didn’t know or didn’t care, and the only reason I know is because I saw him stick a card on the inside of his locker this morning!”

Cas sits up and scrubs a hand over his face. He’d been standing at his own locker, a little too far away to read what the card said, but it had been homemade and colourful and Cas is pretty sure it must have been from his little brother. He’d watched Dean all through English class, and then all through lunch, and then again throughout History but not once did anyone say a word about it. He hadn’t had a cupcake made for his lunch, he hadn’t had any friendly claps on the back or hugs from the football team. He’d just looked sad, and the only time Cas had seen him smile all day is that moment at the lockers when he’d traced a finger across the slightly deformed stick figures on his brother’s card.

“He wasn’t ever alone, the rest of the team were hanging around as usual. But he was lonely, I could tell, and I just wish I’d told him Happy Birthday.”

Gadreel sighs and there’s a slight rustling on his end as, Cas assumes, he sits up, “Castiel,” he says and his voice is frustrated and sad, “Why do you even care about this guy? He’s just some asshole jock –”

“That’s not true,” Cas points out with a frown, “He’s… he does asshole things, but he’s not an asshole.” Cas leans forward to rest his forehead against his bent knees and sighs, exasperated, “He pretends not to be but he’s kind, I know he is. He loves his little brother more than anything and he likes to read, even though he swears he doesn’t, and he smiles at me sometimes when he forgets he isn’t meant to.”

Gadreel groans, “You know I really can’t believe I’m hearing this again. Just because he has a pretty face doesn’t mean that –”

“That’s not what this is about, Gadreel!” Cas snaps and stands up to start pacing restlessly around his small bedroom, “Everyone else in the entire school seems to fall all over him when he smiles and lights up a room, or they stare at him while he stretches out on the football pitch but not one of them cares about when his birthday is. Not one person cares about what he likes to do or what he’s really good at or what makes him smile. He’s worth more than everyone thinks he is. I’d like him whatever he looked like.”

There’s a long silence on the other end of the line and Cas can’t help but lean his forehead on the cool glass of his bedroom window. He swallows.

“Stop it,” he mumbles.

“Stop what?” Gadreel asks.

“That judgemental face you’re doing.”

Gadreel chuckles weakly, “You can’t see my face.”

“No,” Cas agrees, “But I know you well enough to know you’re doing it.”

Gadreel sighs, long-suffering and Cas stares out at the thin layer of snow in the garden, completely unspoilt, and wonders if maybe Michael would help him and Anna build a snowman later. He hasn’t built a snowman in years, not since Gabriel left home, but the untouched snow looks lonely somehow.

He wonders if Dean helps his little brother build snowmen. He bets he does.

“You know,” Gadreel says, probably with a shake of his head, “Just because he doesn’t instigate the bullying doesn’t mean he’s absolved of any blame. You have heard the tale of the Good Samaritan, right?”

Cas huffs a laugh, “Yes, Gadreel. They told it at church enough times.”

“Well then,” he says, “You’ll know that him standing around and letting it happen makes him just as bad.”

Cas bangs his forehead gently against the window in frustration because he knows Gadreel is just concerned for him, but he’s not listening. And Cas really wishes he would.

“He doesn’t just stand by!”

Gadreel huffs.

“He doesn’t!” Cas insists. “I mean, maybe sometimes he does but it’s not like he doesn’t – he cares, I know he does. Only yesterday, Bela Talbot knocked my glasses onto the floor – ”

“Well, that’s original.”

“ –  and she was just about to tread on them when Dean walked straight into her!”

“So maybe he’s just clumsy, Castiel.”

“Except he’s not! It was deliberate, Gadreel, I know it was. I know it.”

Cas hears all the air leave Gadreel in one long exhale and he almost wants to laugh. They’ve been here before and they’ll probably be here again. Gadreel is a loyal and protective friend, he won’t stop on his distrustful tirade against Dean Winchester and a little bit of Cas feels glad of it. However frustrating it is to have to keep defending Dean, he knows he’s powerless to do anything else. It’s nice to know that there’s someone out there who has his back.

“Just,” Gadreel says, and Cas can hear him rub a hand down his face, “Be careful with him. Okay?”

Cas smiles, “I will.”

“Honestly, I just wish I was there with you. To keep an eye on him.” There’s a slight pause in which Castiel can almost hear his smirk, “Although it sounds like you keep an eye on him plenty.”

Cas blushes and huffs a laugh, “Yeah well, just as well. You wouldn’t really want to leave Abner now, would you?”

Gadreel splutters a little and Cas laughs.

“I hate you,” Gadreel grumbles and Cas grins.

“I hate you too, Gad,” he smirks, and hangs up before Gadreel can make any kind of retort.

So maybe Cas shouldn’t have read Gadreel’s emails over his shoulder when he was home for Christmas, but with the absolute certainty in Cas’s mind that somewhere Gadreel is blushing and scowling at his phone, he really can’t find it in himself to regret it.

And despite the arguably ridiculous level of melancholy he’s been feeling all day at the thought of Dean Winchester having even fewer true friends than he does, Cas suddenly feels better than he has all week. He smiles and pulls on his favourite sweater. It’s old, a faded blue with wonkily knitted bumble bees around the hem that falls down to mid-thigh, but it’s warm and soft and makes him think of his Dad.

When he knocks on the study door, there’s a frustrated sigh on the other side that almost makes him turn around again, but then he remembers the blank canvas in the garden and pushes forward. Michael turns around with a frown but something about his face softens when his eyes flicker down to the bees around the bottom of Cas’s sweater.

He smiles, small and tired, “What is it, Castiel?”

Cas swallows and tries not to wring his hands, “I, um. It’s stupid but, I was wondering. Would you… would you like to help me build a snowman?”

Michael sighs again but the wrinkles in his forehead smooth out just a little, “Is Anna not in?”

Cas shrugs and looks down at the polished wooden floor, “She is. I was going to ask her too. I just thought it would be nice if you joined us. If you’d like to, that is. If you’re not too busy.”

Michael doesn’t say anything for a while and Cas doesn’t dare look up. He hears the old chair by the desk creaking as Michael stands and walks towards him and he sees his feet stop directly in front of him.

“I’ll make you a deal,” Michael says, resting a hand on Cas’s shoulder, a little awkward but warm nonetheless, “I’ll come and build a snowman with you if I get to name it.”

Cas looks up to see a teasing smile on his brother’s face and he feels his own mood soar upwards almost immediately. He grins, “Deal.”

“Let’s go then,” Michael squeezes Cas’s shoulder before letting go and the two of them almost barrel into Anna’s room, Cas feeling giddy with the sight of Michael grinning like he hasn’t done in years.

“Hey!” Anna exclaims, startled from where she was flipping through a magazine on her bed, “What the hell?”

“Language, Anna,” Michael admonishes softly, “We’re going to build a snowman.”

Anna’s eyes widen a little as they flick between the two of them and Cas can’t blame her. It’s been years since they’ve done anything so childish, even longer since Michael joined them, and Cas can almost see the moment her determination to be a grown up loses to her longing to regain a piece of her childhood.

“Will there be hot chocolate after?” she asks hopefully and Michael smiles.

“Naturally. It’s a necessary post-snowman beverage.”

Anna grins, “With the little marshmallows?”

“Well, that depends.” Michael says, sternly, “I trust you haven’t forgotten the rules: one marshmallow for every successful snow angel.”

And with that, Anna whoops and jumps off the bed with a grin, following the two of them to the coat closet to bundle up in gloves and hats and scarves. Cas looks at her and sees the nine year old girl she had been, making snow angels with their father six years ago, and Michael smiles as he straightens Cas’s hat like he had done the first year after Dad left. There’s a warmth blossoming somewhere in Cas’s stomach that he doesn’t ever want to lose and he holds onto it greedily for the rest of the day, even after Anna shoves a handful of snow down the collar of his sweater.

When Castiel gets ready for bed that night, full of hot chocolate and mini marshmallows, he looks out at the garden and smiles. There’s a lopsided snowman in the middle of the lawn, a blue tie around his neck, and six perfectly formed angels brushing wings in the snow.

Chapter Text

Monday, June 9th 2014

Cas is frustrated. Yesterday, even after he’d woken up determined not to let himself fall into Dean’s orbit, he’d yet again found that his own mood was bound inexplicably to his. He’s angry, with himself more than anyone, for opening himself up to disappointment all over again just because, what, Dean reads books to children? So do plenty of people. Because he puts his brother before himself? He’d known that before. It shouldn’t change anything.

He simply doesn’t get it. He can’t complete this puzzle. Dean is infuriating and obnoxious and thoughtless in the same universe as he’s kind and selfless and humble. He loves too much or he cares too little, Cas doesn’t know, he doesn’t want to know. He just wants to stop thinking about him.

He stumbles down the stairs, rubbing his eyes blearily, and finds no one else in the house. It’s not early, probably nearing noon already, but Cas yawns and shuffles towards the coffee pot anyway, trying to remember if there had been anything on the wedding agenda for this morning.

He assumes not. He hopes that one of them, Jess at least, would have woken him up if there’d been somewhere important to be. He rolls his shoulders and turns to sit at the table with his mug but blinks, a little taken aback, when he sees something waiting for him.

There’s a note written in Jess’s loopy writing in front of the space he’d sat at yesterday but Cas’s eyes fix on the plate of pancakes. They’re not that warm, he obviously got up later than they expected, but they look fluffy and buttery and Cas’s stomach grumbles just at the sight of them.

‘We went for a walk. Be back soon. Enjoy your breakfast and be ready to leave for dance lessons at 1pm’

He settles down at the table and groans. He’d forgotten about the dance lessons and he really really wishes he hadn’t been reminded. Cas has never had occasion to dance. Aside from the incident-he-does-not-like-to-think-about in senior year he’s never even contemplated having occasion to dance. He’s a hundred percent certain that he’s going to be fairly horrible at it.

And, irritatingly, he’s also equally certain that Dean will most likely be perfectly wonderful. Just like he apparently is with everything else. He can probably dance a flawless waltz whilst also reading Shakespeare and saving an entire forest’s worth of defenceless animals from a fire.

But it doesn’t matter if he can or not. Because Cas isn’t thinking about him.

Luckily, the first bite of pancakes sends all thoughts of Dean flying straight out of his head because he’s pretty sure he just found the doorway to heaven in a sweet, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth disguise. He groans and assumes they must be the work of Sam, as Jess has certainly never made him pancakes like these before.

He’s pretty sure he’d get up willingly before 9am for these pancakes.

When he’s finished he only just resists from licking the plate clean because, alone in the house or not, he knows somewhere in the world Michael would probably know about it and send him a stern email. Cas really wouldn’t put it past him to have some kind of sixth sense about someone breaking the rules.

It’s with the thought of Michael and his reprimanding frowns in mind that Cas empties and reloads the dishwasher. It’s almost half past twelve by the time he’s finished and he has a brief panic that he doesn’t even know where he’s meant to be going for these dance lessons. He hopes someone intends on coming to get him and focuses on rifling through a kitchen drawer in search of a dishwasher tablet.

It’s just as he’s moving a collection of batteries to one side that he stops completely dead in his movements. Because either his brain is more firmly anchored on Dean than he thought and he’s seeing things, or he is in fact looking at a very shirtless, very dirty, very hot Dean Winchester. In a firefighter uniform.

He pulls what turns out to be a calendar out of the drawer and feels, very suddenly, as if he’s in one of the burning buildings Dean looks like he’s just escaped from. He’s hot all over, right to the tip of his ears and he’s pretty sure, no matter how much he’d like to ignore it, that his heart just genuinely skipped a beat.

There are twelve men on the front of the calendar, all in varying states of undress and Dean, by far the most handsome in Cas’s reluctant opinion, is standing right in the middle, completely bare from the waist up except for a pair of suspenders and a gratuitous amount of soot. His chest is shining with sweat and his right arm is straining against the pole he’s holding onto and his hair is sticking up all over the place as if he’s just pulled off the helmet held under the crook of his other arm.

Cas’s mouth is drier than he thinks it’s ever been.

He flicks through the pages as if on autopilot, not even really noticing what he’s doing until the calendar falls on September and his heart does another treacherous leap in his chest. And then it sinks, just a little, because Cas can no longer pretend that another part of his anatomy isn’t showing a very marked interest.

Dean is naked. He has his helmet held strategically over his crotch as he lies nonchalantly against the hood of the fire truck, one arm behind his head and one leg slightly crooked. His eyes are burning holes into the camera lens and there’s a slightly coy smirk painting his lips that doesn’t help Cas’s situation at all.

No matter how many times Cas tries to remind his treacherous dick that Dean is not someone he likes; that he’s an ass, that it’s all an act set up to disappoint; he’s so insanely attractive that Cas doesn’t even hear the front door open or the footsteps rounding the corner into the kitchen. In fact, he only hears the indignant squawk because it coincides with the calendar being ripped from his hands and Cas, mouth still open, is met with the wide green eyes of a real and fully clothed Dean.

His mouth snaps shut.

“What the hell, dude?” Dean asks, almost as red as Cas feels and clutching the calendar to his chest.

Cas really isn’t sure what to say at this point. His brain is still half blinded by the generous expanse of Dean’s naked, freckled skin and half frantically scrambling for something, anything to help him hide the situation in his pants.

Apparently flustered silence and awkward staring was not, in fact, the right option.

“What?” Dean snaps and Cas, met with a scowl, finally remembers how to use his voice.

“I found that in the drawer,” he says, and rather futilely hopes that that will be all the explanation required.

Dean scowls even more fiercely and throws the calendar back into the drawer. “Yeah,” he says, slamming it closed, “Well it shouldn’t even be in there but Sam likes to get it out to embarrass me every time anyone comes over.”

And that’s… weird. The version of Dean that Cas has been solidifying in his mind for the past ten years, and determinedly more so over the last two days, is a natural flirt who doesn’t seem to mind whose heart he breaks or whose attention he attracts along the way. Dean poses naked for calendars because it’s, Cas assumes, good for enticing women into his bed and he does so completely unashamedly. Cas doesn’t understand why he’s pretending to be embarrassed now.

He frowns back. “If you’re so embarrassed about it, why did you do it in the first place? You certainly do not look shy in those photos, Dean.”

If possible, Dean goes even redder, “I – what – I don’t have to explain myself to you!”

Cas snorts, “No. You don’t. I’ve no doubt you did it because it was an easy way to ‘get laid’.”

Dean’s face goes slack almost instantly, frozen as if slapped. And Cas isn’t really sure why he looks so shocked, or why there seems to be a glimmer of hurt underneath his anger, but Cas tamps down the level of guilt it inspires in his own chest and holds his ground.

When Dean speaks it’s quiet and Cas can’t work out if it’s low in hurt or in anger, or perhaps a little bit of both. “Right, of course,” he says, looking away to shake his head at the kitchen counter with a bitter twist to his lips, “I forgot. I’m just a shallow asshole who sleeps around and doesn’t give a shit about anyone, right?”

He meets Cas’s eyes again and there are so many emotions in them, all failing to be concealed by the careful shield of indifference Dean is trying to hide behind, that Cas feels a little like he’s been slapped. It shakes him, confuses him and makes him feel more than a little bit guilty.

But there’s anger there too, simmering in his own chest, spitting and hissing over the flames of old memories he can’t seem to shake. The ghost of Dean, ten years ago, asking him to prom while the football team tittered behind him. He hadn’t given a shit about him then, it hadn’t bothered him to make fun of Cas’s feelings like they were something to be played with. And it was a long time ago, Cas knows that, but some things burn even after you’ve pulled a blanket over the flames.

Dean steps back, taking in a shaky breath. “You know what?” Dean says, lifting a hand in defeat, “You can make your own damn way to these fucking dance lessons.”

And he storms out of the room, gone just as abruptly as he arrived and Cas hears the front door slam only minutes before he hears Sam’s car start up and drive away down the road.

And Cas thinks he’s angry about that too. He’s pretty sure he’s angry about a lot of different things that all revolve around Dean. But mostly, for some inexplicable reason, he suddenly just feels sad.

By the time Dean gets to the dance studio he’s very determinedly not thinking about the weird twisty feeling in his stomach. It’s not guilt, okay, why would it be? It’s probably just hunger. It’s one o’clock and he hasn’t eaten anything since ten so really that’s the only explanation.

He’s said it before and he’ll say it again, he never overreacts to anything, ever. He was completely justified in his decision to leave Cas stranded back at the house. Son of a bitch shouldn’t be so damn quick to judge him every five seconds.

Oh, and furthermore, what gives Cas the right to decide that the only possible motive behind any of Dean’s actions is that he’s trying to get laid? Does he really think he’s that vain? That he can only think with his dick and has no care for anything other than meaningless hook-ups who only want to sleep with him because of what he looks like with his clothes off?

Well fuck that. Fuck Castiel Novak.

And no, Dean does not mean that in the literal sense. Because Castiel clearly has something up his ass already, the narrow-minded, judgemental little –

Dean breathes, just like Sammy taught him. It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. Cas can jump to all the conclusions he likes. No biggie.

The real biggie here is that as soon as Dean rounds the corner into the correct studio, Jess and Sam are looking confused and Dean has absolutely no excuse for why Cas isn’t with him.

“Uh,” he says, intelligently.

“Forgot something there, Dean?” Jess says with a raised eyebrow and Dean tries to look as confident as possible when he strides fully into the room.

“What? Oh no, Cas wasn’t quite ready so I just gave him directions.”

Sam looks at him like he knows full well just how full of shit Dean is. “And you didn’t just wait for him because…”

Dean shrugs, “He’d already called for a cab.”

Jess frowns and narrows her eyes, “Cas hates cabs.”

“Yeah well I guess he changed his mind or something, I dunno, geez, what’s with the third degree, Eliot Ness?”

Dean pointedly ignores the raised eyebrows of both his brother and his brother’s meddling girlfriend and turns to the dark-haired dance instructor.

“Hey, I’m Dean,” he says, reaching out to shake her hand, “I’m the moose’s big brother.”

He jerks his head vaguely in Sam’s direction and the woman smirks, “Ruby,” she says, managing to sound amused and bored at the same time, “And I’d like to keep the ‘Untouchables’ references to a minimum while we’re dancing, thanks.”

Dean scoffs and lets go of her hand, “Actually I have a whole lot of ‘Dirty Dancing’ jokes ready to go.”

Ruby raises an unimpressed eyebrow, “Really? ‘Dirty Dancing’?”

Dean folds his arms, indignant. “It’s a Swayze movie! Swayze movies – ”

“Always get a pass,” Sam and Jess chorus from behind him and he turns around to scowl at them. Fine. If everyone wants to hate on him today, whatever. They’re probably all just jealous that he’s gonna blow them out of the water with his dance skills.

Ruby snorts at him in a way that makes him dislike her intensely and moves away to stand by the wall of mirrors, facing them.

“Okay, well whatever the reason, I give your guy another five minutes to arrive before we start without him,” she says and Dean feels another pang of definitely-not-guilt.

Luckily (or maybe unluckily, Dean hasn’t made up his mind yet) Cas makes it through the door looking flustered just as Ruby is moving forward to start the lesson. And Dean, who had originally only intended to spare Cas a glance, does a double take.

It’s the middle of June and it’s 76 degrees outside so Dean would have probably been a little taken aback by Cas choosing to wear a coat, whatever the style. But it’s not a pea coat or a leather jacket or a professor-y tweed blazer; it’s the same slightly-oversized trenchcoat he wore in high school.

One side of the collar is flipped up like he put it on in a hurry and despite the fact that Cas has bulked up since senior year, the coat still hangs off him in a way that used to make Dean ache with the desire to wrap his arms around him and protect him from the world. Dean remembers seeing him put it on after school every day, whatever the weather, and something twinges between his ribs.

Cas meets his gaze with a stony expression, and Dean can’t even find it in himself to glare back. He just ducks his head.

“Cas!” Jess sighs in relief, “Where the hell were you? Dean says you called a cab.”

Dean can feel Cas’s gaze on the side of his face, but he stays determinedly nonchalant in his refusal to meet his eyes.

“Yes,” Cas says eventually, “I apologise for being late.”

And as much as Dean already dislikes Ruby, he’s incredibly grateful to her in that moment for clapping her hands together and telling them all to pay attention.

She sends Cas and Jess over to one side of the room (and Dean smirks at Cas over the top of Ruby’s head when she tells him he can learn the women’s steps for now because he’s slightly shorter than Dean) and he and Sam to the other, facing them. Dean tries to focus on the fact that he will at least get to lead, rather than the fact that he’ll also have to dance with Cas for the next two hours.

Except they don’t actually dance together at all for the first hour. Ruby spends the time running through the basics of the waltz, making them all practise individually both without and then with music, first alone and then with her as a partner.

And Dean really can’t help but enjoy himself. He’s always loved dancing and he’d say he’s man enough to admit it except it’s not even like it’s that much of a girly sport. He’d thought so of course, back when he was still in fire training, and Victor from the police department had had to practically force him into coming with him to ballroom dance lessons.

But it was Dean who had stuck with it, in the end. Victor’s plans to impress Jo with his dance skills turned out to be unnecessary and he’d suddenly been too busy doing things with Dean’s surrogate sister that he’d rather not think about, to continue their dancing adventures. But Dean had kept it up, for a while, and found he liked it for more than just the awesome friends he made there (he hasn’t danced in a few years now, but Donna still calls him every couple of weeks to give him the latest in her usually unfortunate romantic endeavours).

But, despite the years of not getting any practice, he’s still pretty good. He remembers the steps, just like riding a bike, and he definitely looks a lot less like a drunk giraffe than Sam does. He’s not as stiff or unsure as Cas and either Jess isn’t very good at executing the footwork properly or Ruby just doesn’t like her. And by the way she’s been looking at Sam ever since they arrived, Dean kind of suspects it’s the latter.

“Sam, Sam, Sam,” she says with a sickly sweet smile, “You’ve really gotta loosen those hips. Let me show you.”

She steps right up into Sam’s space, for what must be the eighth or ninth time in the last half hour alone, and pulls his hips far too close to hers to be completely comfortable for anyone else in the room. Over the top of Ruby’s head, which would be nose to nose with Sam’s if she weren’t a good couple of heads shorter, Jess looks less than amused and Dean has to bite his lip to keep from laughing.

Sam looks visibly flustered, he keeps sending pleading looks to Dean and apologetic ones to Jess, and Dean, because it’s part of the big brother rule book to embarrass Sam whenever possible, makes a point not to let him catch his eye.

Instead he looks straight ahead to find Cas already looking right at him. They’ve both stopped dancing to wait for Ruby’s next instructions and there’s a moment, after a particularly amusing choked off squeak of discomfort from Sam, when Cas’s shoulders start to shake just a little in an effort not to laugh, and Dean can feel his own laughter trying valiantly to bubble up from his own throat. Dean bites his lip even harder to stifle his giggles and Cas, still holding his gaze, presses his own lips together and his eyes crinkle ever so slightly at the corners.

Dean looks away before they both completely lose it.

At just after two o’clock they’re allowed a break. Jess drags Sam away from Ruby to the corner of the room where she then makes a point of huddling up against Sam’s side while they drink their water and share a bag of chips.

Dean and Cas hover nervously for a moment in the middle of the room before Dean makes the executive decision to grab a drink for himself and go sit up against the mirrored wall. He’s tired, waltzing is actually harder work than it looks, but he’s kind of happy too. Dancing is fun and he’s missed it, and he kind of enjoys feeling good about himself in Cas’s presence for once. Plus, inappropriately flirty dance instructor aside, Jess and Sam look positively glow-y with pre-wedding happiness and Cas… well, Cas never looks that overjoyed about anything much. But he had almost smiled at Dean again and Dean feels maybe a little bit better than he had earlier.

Cas sits down next to him eventually. Not too close, far enough away that sitting in silence isn’t awkward, but close enough that Dean feels his presence warming his right side somehow. It’s a weird kind of prickly feeling, not quite nervousness, not quite excitement, not quite annoyance. But Dean’s also feeling too relaxed to look too closely into it, so he just sips at his water and leans his head back against the cool mirror behind him.

Sadly, things get a little bit less harmonious after that.

“Alright, that’s enough sitting around,” Ruby orders with another clap of her hands, “We got just over half an hour left to try dancing with a partner before I release you into the wild.”

And that’s when Dean’s heart sinks. Because for the majority of this lesson, Dean has somehow managed to ignore the fact that he and Cas are going to have to dance together. Like… together. Like holding hands and… touching.

So, you know, just kind of exactly what he’d asked Cas for ten years ago, resulting in a spectacularly embarrassing and painful rejection. No big deal. Not awkward at all.

Cas looks like he’s being led to the gallows as Ruby shoves him in Dean’s direction and wow, okay, rude. It’s not like he’s the one who has to dance with the guy he used to have a ridiculously pathetic crush on for four years before being humiliated in front of the entire football team for it. Oh no, he just has to suffer the trauma of dancing with the bisexual flirt with no morals. Sure, Cas’s life is so hard.

Still, Dean closes his eyes and pictures the way Jo scowls at him when he’s being an ‘immature jerk’ and rolls his shoulders. He’s going to be a delight to dance with. He’s going to be calm and polite and – woah okay, that’s Cas’s hand on his shoulder.

Dean flinches more out of surprise than anything. “Little warning next time?” he snaps, and something closes down in Cas’s face.

“Was me walking across the room towards you while being instructed to get into ballroom hold not warning enough?” Cas asks with narrowed eyes and Dean wonders why he ever used to find that look endearing.

“Dean!” Ruby snaps from over Cas’s shoulder, “Ballroom hold!”

Cas sends a smug smile at him from where he stands (far too close to Dean’s face if you ask him) and Dean pointedly ignores him. He does however place a tentative hand on Cas’s waist and take his right hand with his own left one.

It’s awkward. It feels like it must be obvious to everyone in the room that they are trying to look everywhere but at each other and Dean is pretty sure he sees Ruby smirking at him when she comes over to adjust their hold. She moves them closer together, until Cas’s chest is almost touching his and their hips are far too close for comfort. She places Cas’s palm higher up on Dean’s shoulder and moves Dean’s hand further around Cas’s waist until Dean is all too aware that if he were to move his face even a little to the right, his and Cas’s noses would probably be brushing.

It’s all a little bit too close to the silly daydreams he used to entertain as a teenager and he finds himself clinging desperately to the memory of Cas’s haughtily raised eyebrows this morning just to keep his heart rate in check.

“Well,” Ruby drawls from somewhere out of Dean’s line of sight, “Don’t you two make a hot couple.”

Dean splutters indignantly at the same time that Cas’s hand tightens involuntarily in his own, “Dean and I are not in any kind of romantic relationship.”

And Dean can’t quite decipher the odd, sharp emotion lacing the words but he hazards a guess at disdain and feels his own embarrassment shift into something uglier. He turns his head, careful not to accidentally head-butt Cas, and glares at Ruby.

She just keeps smirking, “No? You sure?”

Dean scowls harder, “Positive.”

She shrugs, “Pity,” and saunters off.

What the fuck.

Also fan-friggin-tastic because the whole bizarre and embarrassing encounter somehow managed to turn what was already an uncomfortable situation into what is probably one of the most awkward moments of Dean’s life. Although, judging by the way Cas’s palm is beginning to get a little clammy in his own, at least they finally seem to be agreeing about something.

“Okay,” Ruby calls with a satisfied smirk, standing in between both couples, “I’m going to count like I did before when you practised without the music, and I want you to do the basic box step until you both feel comfortable enough to do otherwise, okay?”

Cas nods stiltedly and there’s a mumbling of agreement from Jess before Ruby is off, “And men, starting right foot forward on: ONE, two, three…”

It really is fairly simple. The box step only involves stepping forward, back and to the sides in a series of repetitive and structured movements but somehow Cas manages to stand on Dean’s feet three times in quick succession.

“Son of a bitch, are you doing this on purpose?” Dean grumbles under his breath after the third time and he’s met with a glare and pink cheeks.

“Oh yes, I really enjoy making a fool out of myself.”

Dean snorts, “Clearly.”

He widens his steps a little, trying to lead them into a turn because it really isn’t that hard and he’s kind of enjoying how riled up Cas is getting. He isn’t disappointed when Cas stumbles and clutches onto his shoulder even tighter.

“Dean!” He snaps and Dean just turns innocent eyes in his direction.

“What?”

Cas looks like he’d very much like to murder him in his sleep, “You know damn well what.”

And one point goes to Dean Winchester for getting Cas to curse already.

“Just trying to have a little fun,” he shrugs with a syrupy smirk.

“Well don’t,” Cas growls, “Ruby said to stick to the box step until we can both do it.”

“Yeah well, she also chose me to lead, didn’t she?”

“She was most likely under the mistaken impression that you would be mature about your greater level of skill and help me.” Cas steps on Dean’s toes again and this time Dean is 99% sure he did it on purpose.

“Or,” he says, pulling them into another turn which Cas anticipates and manages to follow without stumbling, “It’s because I’m the best man. And you’re the maid of honour.”

Cas’s eyes flash dangerously but just as he’s opening his mouth to retort Ruby is barking at them from across the room, “Children, stop bickering and concentrate. You’re here to dance, not to have a domestic in my studio.”

Dean feels his cheeks flare red and he’s not sure whether it’s anger or embarrassment. Probably both as he hears Sam snickering from where he awkwardly tries to lead Jess into a turn. He lifts his hand off Cas’s back for a second to flip Sam off and then goes back to dancing in stilted silence.

But Dean does slow down a bit. He waits until Cas hasn’t stepped on his feet for a whole minute or so before pressing a little more firmly into his back and leading him into a natural and then a reverse turn, both relaxing a little as they get through both without incident. Cas’s grip on Dean’s shoulder loosens slightly, the hold of their joined hands feels a little less uncomfortable and though Dean still carries tension in his shoulders and somewhere in his lower belly, he starts to almost enjoy himself again.

After a while Cas clears his throat, “Where did you learn to dance?”

It’s stiffly asked, like he’s asking out of some kind of obligation, but if there’s one thing Dean knows about Castiel it’s that he doesn’t understand the concept of small talk. He only asks questions when he’s genuinely interested in the answer and it’s this that prompts Dean into meeting his eyes briefly.

“Took some dance lessons a few years back,” he says, looking back over Cas’s shoulder, “My friend wanted to impress someone, I tagged along for moral support,” Dean chuckles and shakes his head, feeling Cas’s curious gaze on him, “I ended up enjoying it way more than he did.”

Cas considers his words for a few seconds, “Did it work?” He asks eventually.

Dean frowns, “Did what work?”

Cas raises his eyebrows, “Was that someone impressed?”

Dean laughs and leads them into a gentle turn, “She must’ve been, they’re still together now.”

Cas nods, a small jerky movement and turns his head back to stare over Dean’s right shoulder, “I’m glad.”

There’s another few moments of silence in which Dean leads them through another couple of turns before he caves. “So,” he says, quietly and with a twitch of his lips, “I have a greater level of skill, huh?”

Cas sighs and turns to meet his eyes. “You are insufferable,” he says, but it doesn’t quite have the same bite as before and Dean takes his victories where he can get them.

Eventually Ruby tells them to stop. They’ve managed to get through most of the moves she taught them and she seems confident they can manage it with the music by now. They have fifteen minutes left and Dean is actually half sorry that it’s almost over.

Although it being over also means he can stop standing quite so close to Cas which will be a good thing for both his sanity and his incredibly confused libido.

Ruby positions Dean and Cas on the opposite corner of the room to Sam and Jess.

“Okay, when I turn the music on I’m gonna count you in, just like when you did it alone, and I want you to dance a circuit of the room like I taught you. Once you’ve done a circuit you can start adding some of the more exciting moves if you feel up to it. Ready?”

“Ready!” Calls Sam and Dean snorts at him over the top of Cas’s head. What a nerd.

Surprisingly, they make it once around the room without Cas stumbling over anything and with only one minor toe-stepping incident. Ruby admonishes Cas for staring at his feet a couple of times but otherwise he’s doing just fine and Dean really wants to try out some of the more interesting stuff.

Except perhaps trying to lead Cas into a spin turn without warning wasn’t such a great idea. Cas stumbles back and then overcompensates by throwing himself forward, his chest crashing into Dean’s with an ‘oof’ and Dean’s hand slipping further up Cas’s back.

Cas huffs and pulls away with pink cheeks.

“I thought you were reprimanding me about appropriate warnings earlier, Dean.”

Dean shrugs, “Sorry. Wanna try a whisk and chasse instead?”

Cas frowns, “I don’t remember what that is.”

Dean sighs, “Just follow me, okay?”

Sadly, Cas does not just follow him. He manages the whisk, Dean holding his gaze to stop him watching his feet instead, but something apparently distracts Cas because he completely forgets to chasse and Dean ends up stumbling over his feet.

He sighs and Cas looks frustrated, “I told you I couldn’t remember it, Dean.”

“Chill out, man, we’ll just try again.”

Or we can just wait until I’m ready.”

“Oh for God’s sake, quit being such a baby!” Dean snaps and Cas narrows his eyes.

He doesn’t say anything, just clenches his jaw and turns his head away and Dean growls.

“Fine,” he says and with absolutely no warning, he lets go of Cas’s hand and bends down to scoop his left arm under Cas’s knees and lift him up, bridal style.

Cas yelps the moment his feet leave the floor and both his arms come flying around Dean’s neck.

“Dean!” He flails his legs frantically and Dean just hangs on tighter, “Put me down!”

Jess is giggling on the other side of the room and Sam is outright laughing and Dean can’t help but spin Cas around. “Nope!” he grins and carries on spinning until he feels dizzy and his arms start to ache with the effort of holding Cas up.

As soon Cas lands back on the floor, he pulls completely out of Dean’s arms and stands with his hands on his hips like an angry, flustered bird which is actually ten kinds of adorable and Dean can’t help but laugh as Sam and Jess chasse past them, giggling at them like they’re just two friends having fun at a dance class.

Cas, however, does not join in. Instead he gets a weird, determined look in his eyes that makes Dean, for unknown and ridiculous reasons, think of some kind of avenging angel getting ready to smite him where he stands and turn him to ash. He steps forward, right back into Dean’s space and his voice is the lowest Dean has ever heard it.

“Two can play at that game, Winchester,” he says, too quietly for anyone else to hear, and before Dean can do anything other than blink confusedly, Cas has switched their hold, wrapping an arm around Dean’s waist and taking his right hand. He’s clumsily spinning Dean outwards before Dean can even process what’s happening and his laughter completely dies in his throat from the shock of it. Cas has a firm, almost painful grip on his hand as he spins him all the way out until only their hands are touching.

And then, with a sharp yank, he’s being pulled all the way back in, spinning around until he’s pressed right back up against Cas’s firm chest and just as he’s worried he has far too much momentum not to topple them both over, Cas is somehow managing to manoeuvre him into a low and frankly terrifying dip.

Dean yelps in a way that is completely humiliating and he’s sure for a second that he’s going to smack his head into the floor. But Cas, it seems, is surprisingly strong and with one arm around Dean’s back and his other still grasping Dean’s hand, he holds him steady; looming over him where Dean’s back is arched towards the floor, their faces so close together that Dean can’t really look anywhere but at the tempest in his eyes.

Dean is breathing hard, out of surprise more than anything, and his left arm is wrapped tightly around Cas’s neck to keep himself from falling. The triumphant look that had been on Cas’s face as he dipped him is gone, and it leaves Dean feeling shaken and confused. He doesn’t know this expression, the way Cas is looking at him now. His eyes are dark with something Dean doesn’t recognise, something that might be desire in someone who had any interest in him. But Cas doesn’t, that’s something Dean knows for certain, so whatever this storm is, brewing in Cas’s face and in the way Dean can feel Cas’s fluttering pulse in his neck, Dean can’t for the life of him figure out what it means.

There’s a cough from somewhere behind them and it serves as a sharp reminder of where he is. All traces of confusion and reluctant arousal (shut up, it’s not Dean’s fault that his dick’s apparently decided that communication with his brain is overrated) are swept aside in the wave of embarrassment that follows.

He flushes and frowns up at Cas.

“Wanna let go of me, Novak?” He grumbles through gritted teeth and for a split second, the dark look in Cas’s eyes makes Dean think he’ll take him literally, that he’ll drop him to the floor right there.

But he doesn’t. Instead, Cas’s face is gone just as fast as it appeared and Dean is being hauled up into a standing position. Cas lets go of Dean before Dean can properly process the change in altitude and, with a slam of the door, stalks out of the dance studio, his coat hanging forgotten on the stand.

Well, Dean thinks, that probably could have gone better.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, June 10th 2014

Emotions are tiring. Over the past ten years, Cas managed to forget that sometimes feeling something for five minutes can be more exhausting than running for miles. The years he’s had away from Lawrence have been fine, good even, but three days back in the company of Dean Winchester has thrown his palette of monochrome emotions back into vivid colour.

And he’s tired. He’s tired of having his heart flutter and paint the inside of his chest in cheerful yellows and greens every time Dean smiles at him only to have it plummet seconds later at the slightest provocation, bursting with angry reds and velvety, mysterious purples.

It’s a confusing sort of emotional whiplash that Cas isn’t accustomed to with his quiet, predictable life and sweet, happy friends. There’s an icy chill he’s not used to and a fire he doesn’t understand.

What he does understand, however, is that all this sounds rather melodramatic. He’s had ten years of quiet, sensible living with no drama whatsoever and a selection of rather muted feelings. Dean Winchester makes him feel melodramatic, he always did. He’s a city of noise interrupting the suburbia of Cas’s emotions; a maelstrom, dangerous and so magnetic that Cas almost wants to be sucked in. But he’s been drowned by Dean once before and he simply can’t let it happen again.

But he’s so tired of treading the water. He feels guilt, navy blue, twisting in his gut as he remembers yesterday. When they got home from dancing, Cas had explained away his sudden exit with a fake headache and elected to stay at home to ‘recover’ while the three of them went out to dinner. He wouldn’t have been much fun and he’s not a good enough actor to pretend Dean can’t send him reeling with the slightest look. It’s too much, and Sam and Jess deserve at least one meal where they’re not caught in the crossfire of some ridiculous argument or heated staring competition.

He’d called Gadreel, failed in his attempts not to talk about Dean at all, and his friend had laughed and said he was suffering from déjà vu. Cas had rolled his eyes and called Balthazar instead.

Although in hindsight he really rather wishes he hadn’t. He could have lived a long and happy life never knowing about his brother’s ‘ménage à douze’. Cas sighs, only Balthazar would use a pretentious French label to try and make an orgy sound classy.

The point is, Cas had spent the evening alone in an attempt to pull himself together and in a terrible fit of burying his head in the sand, he’d pretended to be asleep when Dean finally came up to bed.

By the way Dean sighed in his general direction, Cas is pretty sure he hadn’t fooled him.

This morning when he comes downstairs, Sam is sitting at the kitchen table with a slice of toast and the newspaper spread out in front of him. He offers Cas a warm smile and kicks out the chair next to him. Cas falls into it the minute he has his hands on a mug of coffee.

“You feeling better?” He asks, concerned expression making Cas feel worse.

“Much better, thank you.”

“Jess and Dean went for a run,” Sam explains and Cas frowns.

“But it’s morning time,” he says, and Sam snorts.

“Some people are capable of functioning before ten, you know,” he smiles, nudging Cas with his foot and Cas rolls his eyes.

“Doesn’t Jess normally go jogging with you?”

In fact, Cas distinctly remembers hearing all about their first jogging date, back when their relationship had still been young and Cas was subject to all of Jess’s blissful young love monologues.

“I know, in the early days at least, Jess was a huge fan of your jogging shorts.”

Sam barks a laugh, a healthy pink tinge to his cheeks, “She said that?”

Cas sighs, “Yes, after your first time jogging together. She said they made your ass look like you could bounce a quarter off it. Though I’m not really sure why one would want to.”

Sam’s blush deepens and he shakes his head with silent laughter, “Oh man, Cas. I’m totally gonna ask her about that when she gets home, thank you. And in answer to your question, yes, but Dean has to keep in shape while he’s not working and Jess offered to show him the best jogging route.”

Cas nods as he sips his coffee and thanks whoever’s listening that he has not seen Dean in running shorts.

It’s not until he’s getting up to pour himself a second mug of coffee and to take his slices of bread out of the toaster that he remembers.

“Oh,” he says, sitting back at the table with his breakfast, “I forgot to thank you for leaving me breakfast yesterday. They were probably the best pancakes I’ve ever had.”

Sam sighs wistfully, “I know, they’re amazing, right? Don’t tell him I said this but Dean’s some sort of wizard in the kitchen, I swear.”

Cas blinks.

“Dean made them?” He asks, baffled.

Sam smiles and leans back in his chair, “Yeah. What, you think I did them? Cas, you know I can’t cook for shit.”

True, Sam is a complete fire hazard in the kitchen but somehow it had still seemed more likely than Dean making him pancakes.

“Oh,” he says, rather unintelligently, “Well. Thank you anyway, I guess. For leaving me some.”

Sam hums and takes his plate over to the sink, “That was Dean as well, actually. He insisted on making you some even though we told him they’d probably be cold by the time you were up.”

And that’s kind of exactly what Cas had been afraid of. He swallows, trying to stop his throat feeling quite so dry, because he’s so annoyed. It’s yet another reason why Cas should love Dean rather than hate him and he’s finding it harder and harder to remember which Dean is the real one.

Or… no. It’s not even that. It’s that he’s actually pretty sure he knows which Dean is the real one. But he’s scared of letting himself believe it again, because too many things still don’t match up.

Sam sighs when Cas doesn’t say anything and sits back down at the table, leaning close towards Cas and resting his arms on the table. He has a strange look in his eye, assessing and curious.

“Cas,” he says, linking his own fingers together in front of him, “Is there something going on with you and Dean?”

Cas suddenly feels wide awake and he only just keeps from choking on his toast, “What?” he says, wide eyed, “No! Why would you think that?”

Cas tries to look confused rather than panicked but it’s hard, and he suspects his expression is just coming off as slightly constipated. Sam just shakes his head to himself like he can’t quite work him out.

“I don’t know,” he shrugs, “You just seem pretty… short with him. And he seemed kind of upset about something yesterday, even though he was pretending not to be.” He sighs again, “I just get the feeling you guys don’t really like each other all that much and honestly, I’m having a tough time trying to figure out why.”

And once again Cas reprimands himself for being such an appalling actor that he’s made his friends feel uncomfortable through osmosis of his own discomfort. He can do better than this, he knows he can. He can, as Dean would say, ‘stow his crap’ and try a bit harder.

He sighs and looks down at his mug, “I don’t dislike your brother, Sam,” he says, and he’s annoyed that it isn’t even a lie. Sam nods but doesn’t say anything, so Cas shrugs, “I just don’t know what to make of him, I suppose.”

And that just makes Sam look confused. “Look, you can’t tell him I said this, Cas, but Dean is the best person I know. Sure, he can seem kind of sarcastic and immature sometimes,” he rolls his eyes with a smile so fond it makes Cas’s own lips twitch upwards, “but he’s really not like that. He’s the most selfless person I’ve ever met, and he takes care of everyone around him, and he’s loyal like you wouldn’t believe and I know he cracks a lot of jokes but I promise he has just as many emotions as the next guy and I totally pretend not to know this but he can be really affectionate when he wants to be.”

He takes a breath and lets out a chuckle, apparently amused at his own ability to talk so passionately about Dean, and Cas can’t help but feel even more of his animosity slip away. Sam is smiling to himself and Cas can see how much he loves his big brother.

Sam shrugs, “Guy’s really just a big old softie inside, you know,” he says and then slumps back in his chair like he doesn’t know what else to say.

Cas ducks his head and can’t help but chuckle weakly, “I thought you said he slept with the entire cheerleading squad.”

Sam looks at him like he’s said something particularly stupid, so ridiculous that he can’t quite believe he’s heard him right and it’s scarily reminiscent of the way Gadreel looks at him sometimes.

“Uh, yeah,” Sam says, as if talking to a child, “In high school. That was like… ten years ago! We all do dumb shit in high school, man.” He laughs a little incredulously and pushes his hair out of his face, “Truth be told I don’t remember the last time Dean even went on a date.” He leans forward and claps a hand on Cas’s shoulder, “Look, I’m not saying you have to be besties or anything, although I admit we kind of thought you’d get on like a house on fire, but just give him a chance, okay?”

Cas sighs and realises that even without Sam’s ridiculously persuasive puppy-dog eyes, he’d probably have agreed anyway. Sam talks about Dean the way Cas used to, he’s confirming everything his teenage self had been certain of. And whatever he had done, Sam’s right. After ten years he really should give him more of a chance. After all, he’s been expecting Dean to give him a chance ever since he arrived.

He tries to ignore the feeling he gets in his stomach when he thinks about Dean not sleeping around so much. It’s stupid, irrelevant, and Cas really doesn’t want to think about it.

“I’m sorry, Sam,” Cas says and tries to look contrite, “It was no slight against him. I just… I guess I just assumed when you said he’d been on the football team – ”

“What, that he was a jerk?” Sam smiles, “Yeah, he can be. But that’s usually only when he’s trying to pretend he doesn’t have feelings. Loser thinks he’s allergic to them.” Sam rolls his eyes fondly and Cas can’t help but laugh. Yes, that sounds like the Dean Cas used to know.

“Just try not to judge him too quickly, okay?” Sam gives him a friendly slap on the back and Cas nods, feeling paradoxically both heavier and lighter than he had before.

“Cool,” Sam says, standing up, “Now I totally have to show you the charity calendar he did at work once because we’ve spent enough time being nice about him.”

And oh. Oh shit.

“Oh man it was so funny the day he called me about it,” Sam says, rummaging through the drawer behind them, “He was so embarrassed and uncomfortable but of course the minute he heard ‘dying children with cancer’ he hadn’t been able to say no. Idiot has some kind of hero complex, I’m telling you.”

Cas closes his eyes while Sam talks because now he feels like the biggest ass on the planet. Dean had done those pictures for charity, of course he had. Cas suddenly feels about two inches tall, no wonder Dean had stormed out the house.

“Aha!” Sam pulls it out and starts giggling just at the cover, “You should have heard him, Cas! ‘Why do the kids need me to be naked, Sammy?’” He imitates in a high pitched voice that is frankly ridiculous considering the fact Dean has a lower voice that Sam, “’Why don’t the kids like sensible layers, Sammy?’”

Sam shows him the pictures with a vindictive sort of glee that doesn’t really manage to cover up his pride at all and Cas laughs weakly to avoid arousing any suspicion.

And oh dear, perhaps he really shouldn’t have mentioned arousing anything at this particular moment in time because Sam is literally right there and this really isn’t the time or place. Cas tries very hard to keep smiling and pointedly keeps his eyes on the empty space above Dean’s gloriously bare shoulder.

By the time Dean and Jess get back the calendar, thankfully, is safely tucked back in its drawer and Cas and Sam are reading on opposite ends of the couch. Cas only gets a glimpse of the both of them before they head upstairs to shower and he probably would have done better not to look up at all. The smile he offers to Dean, hoping to settle into some kind of truce, freezes on his face abruptly.

Cas suddenly feels completely and utterly committed to joining Jess in the ‘Winchesters in running shorts’ fan club.

Fortunately for Cas’s dick, which has had quite the unexpectedly busy morning, when Dean comes back down the stairs he is fully clothed in jeans and a grey Henley. Which… actually he really does look unfairly good in. Cas’s dick might not be out of the woods after all.

It’s all getting a little ridiculous, in Cas’s opinion. Like some kind of flood gate has been opened and now he can’t help noticing how attractive Dean is in every little thing he does. When Cas smiles tentatively at him again, it takes Dean a while to smile back but he does eventually, looking almost pleasantly surprised and even that sends a flush of appreciation across Cas’s cheeks like he’s a teenage boy all over again.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas says shyly as Dean flops down on the armchair opposite him and Dean’s brow furrows in confusion. He flicks his gaze at Sam just briefly before meeting Cas’s eyes.

“Hey, Cas,” he nods and Cas can see Sam smiling indulgently at them out of the corner of his eye.

“I’d like to thank you for the pancakes you left for me yesterday,” Cas says earnestly, “Sam told me you made them yourself and that you took care to leave me some.”

“Uh,” Dean says, cheeks turning pink and hand coming up to rub at the back of his neck, “It was no big deal, man, I was making them anyway so – ”

“Dean just accept the gratitude like a normal person, would you?” Sam sighs and Cas can’t help but huff a laugh.

Dean rolls his eyes and ducks his head, “Okay, okay. You’re welcome then, I guess.”

Cas goes back to his book with a slight smile on his face. He’s not sure what he’s feeling anymore and he knows he hasn’t managed to let go of all of his anger, but Sam’s right. He doesn’t have to be Dean’s friend, he probably never will be, but maybe with a little bit of time, they’ll be okay.

After lunch they all pile into Cas’s car because he and Dean need to try on their tuxes and apparently this is worthy of a group trip.

“Oh stop grumbling about it, Sour Puss,” Jess leans over from the front passenger seat to ruffle Cas’s hair, “You got to see me try on wedding dresses, now I get to see you try on your tux.”

Cas glares at her out of the corner of his eye, “You make it sound like I enjoyed all your dress fittings.”

Jess grins, “You got all teary-eyed and you know it.”

Someone from the back seat, and Cas is pretty sure it’s Dean, snorts and Cas huffs, “I did not.”

“You diiiiid,” Jess singsongs, “Now stop trying to show off in front of Dean.”

Cas flushes bright red and glares angrily at the road ahead as Dean makes a bad show of stifling his laughter.

“I don’t know what you’re laughing about so smugly,” Sam says, grin clear in his voice, “You cried during ‘Frozen’.”

Dean lets out an affronted squawk and Cas has never seen ‘Frozen’ but he chuckles all the same.

“Her parents died and her sister wouldn’t build a snowman with her, Sam, it was sad as fuck!”

Jess turns around to laugh at the both of them and Cas thinks maybe he’d like to watch this movie one day. He thinks of Michael and Anna building snowmen and making angels next to him and feels all the warmer for Dean’s outburst. He also remembers wondering, in his pathetic, Dean-centric teenage mind, whether or not Dean built snowmen with Sam. It feels weird to be finally getting an answer.

“I haven’t seen ‘Frozen’,” Cas admits, “Why is it so amusing for Dean to have cried?”

“I didn’t cry!” Dean insists, “I just got a little misty-eyed!”

Sam snorts, “Yeah whatever, dude. It’s funny because it’s a cartoon.”

Cas frowns, “I don’t understand. Cartoons are designed to be just as compelling and emotionally resonant as live action films and often have greater impact as they explore the more basic and relatable problems of humanity.”

Sam and Jess seem briefly stunned into silence but Dean lets out a triumphant laugh, “Aha!” he reaches forward to clap Cas on the shoulder, “Thank you!”

Cas can’t see Dean, but he can feel the lingering imprint of warmth his hand leaves on his shoulder. He doesn’t listen as Sam and Dean continue to bicker good-naturedly in the back seat, just concentrates on the road, but he does share amused looks with Jess every so often and the pair of them smile indulgently at the Winchesters like a couple of long-suffering parents.

Everything gets distinctly more uncomfortable the minute they walk into the tailor’s.

“Well hello there,” drawls an excessively flirtatious female voice from behind the counter, “Is it my birthday?”

The woman has a head of dark curls and a pair of twinkly eyes which are currently sweeping down the length of Dean’s body in a way that is entirely inappropriate.

“Down, girl,” Jess rolls her eyes, “These boys are mine, sorry.”

The woman laughs, “What, all of them?” She moves her gaze towards Cas and Cas feels himself wondering if it’s possible for her to have some kind of x-ray vision, “Greedy.”

Sam snorts and folds his arms.

“Oh relax, Sam, I know you’re off limits,” the woman says and Sam grins as he bounds forward to kiss her on the cheek.

“Glad to know you have some boundaries, Pamela,” he says and she shrugs with a smile.

“I can afford to when you bring me new toys like these,” she winks and Cas watches the back of Dean’s neck turn pink, “You two the best men, I take it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Dean says, stepping forward to shake her hand, “Name’s Dean.”

“Ah!” She grins, holding on to his hand for longer than strictly necessary, “Then that must make you Castiel?”

She turns to Cas and he nods politely, “Yes.”

“Alright then, let’s get started!”

She disappears for a second to rummage around in a back room as Sam and Jess make themselves comfortable on the large loveseat in the corner. Cas swallows nervously. There’s no one else in the shop but trying on a tux for Jess alone would be bad enough, he really doesn’t need to be paraded around in front of everyone else as well, especially when he’ll be paraded around with Dean who will probably look distinctly better in a tux than him.

“Alright Dean, you’re up first,” Pamela winks as she comes out the back room with a tape measure, “I just wanna check your measurements before I put the tux on you, Jess did tell me the ones you gave her last week but I just wanna make sure.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean says, smirking down at her while she runs the tape measure around his chest, “You just want an excuse to feel me up.”

He winks and Pamela laughs, delighted.

“You caught me,” she says, kneeling down to run the tape up Dean’s leg.

It’s effortless, the way Dean continues to flirt back and forth with Pamela while she finishes up his measurements and Cas finds something about it irritating. And he doesn’t even think he’s annoyed with Dean, it’s obvious now after his chat with Sam this morning that Dean is not quite as comfortable as he lets on. There’s a redness still about his neck and ears and his fingers tap a staccato melody against his thigh. It’s an act, another shield to hide the real Dean Winchester, and Cas is pretty sure that’s what irks him.

Cas stands in stilted silence while Pamela takes his measurements and stares steadfastly out of the window. Sam and Jess are murmuring lowly to themselves about whatever couples whisper about and Pamela hums something cheerful under her breath.

“Who’s Jesse?” Dean asks into the silence and when Cas looks over at him he can see that Dean is staring at Pamela’s back while she crouches down to take Cas’s inseam.

Pamela laughs and stands up, “Well it wasn’t forever,” she says with a smirk and turns her back to Cas. There’s a tattoo in sweeping cursive along the small of her back: Jesse forever.

“His loss,” Dean shrugs with a smile and Cas can’t see Pamela’s face but he can see how obscenely close to Dean she gets.

“Might be your gain,” she purrs and the pink of Dean’s ears creeps all the way onto his cheeks. He’s clearly uncomfortable and apparently momentarily too flustered to make a retort and it just makes Cas scowl harder.

When Pamela turns back to Cas with a satisfied smirk and catches him glaring at her she grins even wider. She walks over to Cas and winks, “You’re invited too, grumpy.”

Jess and Sam erupt into quiet giggles at the whole exchange and Dean, if possible, goes even redder. Cas just frowns, unsure of what to say, and turns around to watch Pamela saunter back into the room behind him.

Eventually, with a shared look of apprehension with Dean, the two of them are ushered into the dressing rooms where Pamela stands outside the cubicles and tells them to come out when they’re ready so that she can make any necessary adjustments.

They change in silence, except for the sounds of Dean cursing under his breath every few moments as he bangs his elbow on the wall or struggles with a button. It makes Cas feel a little better somehow, that he’s not the only one who feels strangely uncomfortable in this setting.

The tux itself seems to fit just fine, better than the old suits he wears to lecture at the university. He looks at himself briefly in the mirror before exiting the cubicle and sighs. He looks fine, good even, and it’s not even as uncomfortable as he thought it would be, but his new resolve falls flat the second he steps out of the changing room.

Dean is pulling back his curtain at exactly the same moment and as they step out, almost in unison, Cas has to work very hard not to let his jaw drop. They’re standing completely facing each other and Dean looks somewhat bewildered by something. Perhaps it’s the fact that Cas is staring rather openly, wide-eyed and finding it difficult to breath, with pants that don’t fit quite as comfortably as they did a second ago.

Dean looks… he looks stunning. There’s no other way to describe him, or if there is Cas’s scrambled brain is finding it hard to articulate it. The black waistcoat fits him perfectly, showing off the firmness of his chest and the jacket hugs his shoulders and highlights the slim line of his waist.

Cas finds himself wishing Dean would turn around, before he snaps his eyes back up to his face in a flustered flash of guilt. Dean meets his eyes and Cas has no idea what to make of the emotion swirling in them.

It’s only then, rather belatedly, that Cas realises Pamela’s been talking. He only notices now because one second he’s trying to work out what Dean’s eyes are saying and the next he’s being spun around to face Pamela while she fiddles with his tie.

“Honestly,” she rolls her eyes, “Do you not know how to dress yourself?”

She’s teasing but Cas’s mouth is still dry and he doesn’t even attempt to think of a response.

She herds them out into the main room where Jess and Sam immediately break into wolf whistles and cheers. Cas blushes and rolls his eyes at them as they make him turn around to show them the whole look and stares very pointedly at the floor while Dean completes his own self-conscious spin. He absolutely refuses to look at Dean’s ass. If it looks half as good as he expects it to in those pants he won’t be able to look away and he certainly won’t be able to hide his interest and he’s had enough ridiculous and unnecessary moments of reluctant sexual arousal today.

Cas almost runs back to the dressing room as soon as they’re given leave to go. Pamela doesn’t follow them this time, she’s too busy ringing up the purchases and discussing the rest of the wedding with the two lovebirds, so Cas expects to change into his own clothes in silence.

Except, just as he’s pulling on his pants there’s a nervous cough from the other side of the partition.

“Man,” Dean says and Cas stops moving in order to tilt his head towards the sound, “Is it just me or was that really awkward?”

Cas chuckles and leans his head against the wall, “It definitely wasn’t just you.”

Dean laughs, “Good to know. I felt like a goddamn dress-up doll.”

Cas pulls on his socks and starts to tie up his shoes with a smile. They exit the changing rooms at the same moment for the second time that day and make their way out to the main room side by side.

Pamela boxes up their tuxes while Sam tries to wrangle information about Jess’s wedding dress and Cas takes the opportunity while no one’s paying attention.

“If it’s any consolation to you,” he says quietly, voice carefully blank and eyes watching Pamela, “A tux suits you.”

Cas sees Dean turn his head out of the corner of his eye and feels his gaze warming his temple.

“Yeah?” Dean asks, and it’s not teasing like Cas had feared.

“Yes,” he turns to meet Dean’s eyes, “You make a good dress-up doll.”

Dean snorts and rolls his eyes, “And you’re gonna be the best dressed maid of honour I’ve ever seen.”

Cas sends a glare Dean’s way and turns back to the others, but there’s no heat in it and he’s pretty sure Dean’s still smiling when they make their way out to the car.

Dean smiles pretty much all the way home. Jess has turned on the radio and is singing loudly along to an eighties power ballad that Dean pretends he doesn’t know all the words to. Sam is rolling his eyes at his fiancée and Dean can’t see Cas’s face from where he sits but occasionally he accidentally catches his eye in the rear view mirror and Cas doesn’t glare at him once. Jess is happy, his brother is happy and Cas thinks Dean looked good in his tux.

In fact, he’s still smiling softly to himself as he and Cas are sent upstairs to hang their tuxes up in their wardrobe. It’s quiet in the room as they take their suits out of their boxes and fit them onto hangers, but it isn’t as awkward as it has been before and Dean thinks that maybe, with some luck, he and Cas might just become friends yet.

He reaches into the wardrobe to make sure his own tux is hanging straight and then very nearly bangs his head on the door on the way out as Cas breaks the silence.

“Do you still have the Impala?” he asks and Dean, surprised, turns to face him.

“Dude, you remember my Baby?”

Cas smiles and hands him his own tux, “Dean, I think our whole year remembers your Baby.”

Dean turns to hang Cas’s suit up next to his own and hopes that it also serves to hide his pleased flush as he grins, “Then you’ll remember that there’s no way I’d ever give her up.”

Cas laughs and it’s the first real laugh Dean has heard since he arrived. It’s only quiet and it doesn’t last that long, but it’s warm and Dean finds himself in awe of it like molten gold.

“My apologies,” Cas inclines his head with a smile and Dean closes the closet door.

“Your car’s new though,” Dean says, moving to lean against the window where he can see Cas’s car in the driveway, “I’d have remembered that Pimp-mobile.”

Cas narrows his eyes but the smile’s still there and Dean just grins charmingly back.

“My brother gave it to me when I moved out to California,” he says with a shrug and Dean suddenly realises he hasn’t heard Cas talk about his family once since he’s been here.

“Which one?” he asks, “I’m guessing Gabriel, right?”

Cas looks surprised, “Yes actually. How did you know?”

Dean shrugs and looks back out the window, “I met him a couple of times, he used to visit the Roadhouse when he was in Lawrence. This seems like his kind of car.”

He grins over at Cas and Cas nods with a chuckle. “Well, it does the job, I see no reason to exchange it,” he raises an eyebrow at Dean, “We don’t all have unhealthy attachments to our vehicles, you know.”

“Pfft,” Dean waves a hand at him, “Whatever dude, your car’s just jealous it doesn’t look like my car. Your car probably cries itself to sleep at night. Your car would probably crush on my car from afar.”

Cas rolls his eyes, “What a tragedy. I will have to inform it that your car is already in a committed and frankly disturbing relationship with you.”

Dean laughs, can’t help but throw his head back as he does, and feels happier than he has done in Cas’s presence since he arrived on Saturday. This is the Cas he remembers: ridiculous, dry and quick-witted. He’s looking at Dean strangely when Dean looks back at him with a shake of his head and there’s a strange moment where they just stand there, looking at each other, and Dean forgets what he’d been about to say or whether he’d even been about to say anything at all.

To be honest, he’s probably creeping Cas out with the prolonged eye contact, although Cas hasn’t looked away either, and it’s kind of a relief when Sammy shouts up the stairs.

“Hey guys, Jess says it’s imperative that Cas watches ‘Frozen’ right now before dinner, get your asses down here!”

Cas huffs a laugh and shakes his head to himself and the affection in his eyes makes Dean even happier. Whatever Cas’s flaws, he’s clearly fond of Sam and Dean is grateful for it.

“Oh and Cas?” Sam calls, “Bring down some tissues for Dean, would you?”

Dean pretends to look affronted and folds his arms as Cas bites his lip to hold back his chuckles. When Cas turns to leave he stops when he gets to the bedroom door.

“Are you coming?” he asks, and it sounds almost friendly.

“In a second,” Dean confirms, “Go ahead,” and with a nod Cas is gone.

Dean smiles to himself, standing against the window and pulls out his phone. He sends off a quick text to Benny and Charlie before putting it back in his pocket and following Cas down to the living room.

‘okay. so maybe he isn’t Joffrey.’

Dean admits that Cas definitely isn’t Joffrey when he backs him up as they sit down to dinner.

“I’m sorry, Sam,” he says, more sincerely than the situation probably dictates, “But I find it perfectly natural to exhibit an emotional reaction to that movie.”

Sam rolls his eyes as he pulls out Jess’s chair with a kiss to her cheek, “Honestly, they’re both as bad as each other,” he groans and Jess just laughs.

Dean sits down in his usual seat opposite Cas and tries not to catch his eye. Fortunately for the confusing emotions that have been running rampant in Dean’s chest all day, Cas had not been sitting in his line of vision in the living room and so Dean had been able to focus most of his attention onto the movie because he doesn’t care what Sammy says, it’s awesome. He doesn’t know what Cas’s reaction to any of it was because he’d made a point of not looking at him once but he’s smug in the knowledge that Cas at least isn’t judging him for his own feelings for once.

Dinner starts off relatively quiet compared to all the other meals they’ve had. Dean is tired from being dressed up and fawned over and they all seem to be perfectly content to enjoy their food in silence. It’s curry sauce from a packet with chunks of chicken breast that had come already pre-cooked but they’d all agreed they were too hungry to wait for anything more sophisticated and it’s good anyway. Dean’s just glad Jess doesn’t feel like she has to impress them with fancy cooking.

Dean’s nearly finished by the time Sam clears his throat, a little awkwardly. “So,” he says, and his voice sounds a little bit forced in its nonchalance, “How’s Benny?”

Dean levels Sam with a look. “He’s good,” he answers, a slight challenge in his voice, and hopes that Sam doesn’t start another argument. They’ve had enough variations of this fight over the past couple of years and neither of them ever back down. He’d really rather it didn’t happen again now with Jess shooting Sam warning looks and Cas beginning to look mildly confused.

Thankfully, Sam’s fiancée is a saint. “Do you still bake for him every week?” she asks with a sly smile and Dean rolls his eyes with a relieved smile.

Cas just frowns, “What?”

“Dean bakes cupcakes for Benny’s AA group every week,” she says, smiling over at Dean like a proud parent and Dean’s ears go pink.

“Who’s Benny?” Cas asks, looking between Jess and Dean with a tilt of the head.

“He’s my best friend,” Dean answers, shooting a defiant look at Sam, who sighs.

“I’m not trying to pick a fight about Benny, Dean. Honestly, I was just asking how he was.”

Dean scoffs, “You were asking if he’s still sober.”

“Dean,” Sam snaps and Dean sees Jess shoot an apologetic look at Cas, “If he shows up to work drunk he could put you in danger, so sue me if I’m a little concerned.”

“Well don’t be!” Dean’s tired of this whole conversation, “He hasn’t had a drink for two years, Sam, and I know you don’t like him but I’m really getting sick of you giving him shit about something he did in the past. He runs a fucking AA group now, what more do you want?”

Sam lifts his hands in a defensive gesture and Jess rests a hand on Dean’s arm. It helps, and Dean shovels another forkful of rice and chicken into his mouth to calm down.

“Okay, sorry,” Sam sighs, running a hand through his hair, “Dean, seriously, I don’t have a problem with Benny as a person, okay? He’s a good guy, I just worry about you, is all.”

Dean sighs and scrubs a hand down his face, “Okay, well stop.”

There’s an awkward silence where Sam looks like he wants to say something else and Dean stares steadfastly at his plate while he eats. He can’t see what Cas is doing but he can see Jess’s hands fiddling nervously with her cutlery and it makes Dean feel guilty. In fact, he’s just opening his mouth in an attempt to change the subject when Cas beats him to it.

“So,” he says, and when Dean looks up, Cas is looking at him, “You bake?”

Dean, for the first time in a very long time, kind of, maybe, wants to kiss him.

“Yeah,” he says and when Cas smiles at him with his eyes, there’s no mockery there and Dean feels scarily like he’s teetering on the edge of something dangerous.

Jess, thankfully, is totally oblivious to Dean’s slowly decaying defensive walls. “Dean’s the one who talked Benny into getting sober in the first place!” She says, and Dean wishes she wouldn’t make it sound quite so heroic, “Helped him leave his alcoholic girlfriend, kept him busy, helped him set up the group…”

“Jess, shut up,” Dean mumbles into his bottle of beer.

“Aw, Dean-o. You embarrassed?” she grins and Dean lets out a whine.

“Jeeeeeeeess,” he pleads and Jess pats his hand.

She leans over to Cas and whispers loud enough for the whole table to hear, “He’s just embarrassed that we know he has a heart underneath all that sarcasm.”

Dean pouts and Cas chuckles at him. Honestly, Dean’s family is the worst.

“What are you, the Wizard of Oz?” Dean asks with a roll of the eyes and Jess laughs.

“Stop deflecting from the fact that you’re a closet baker.”

“Hey!” Dean points his fork in Jess’s general direction, “I ain’t ashamed of it, my cakes are fucking delicious and you know my pies are the best.”

“Good,” Jess smirks like this is what she wanted all along, “Because you and Cas are baking the cakes for my bachelorette party tomorrow.”

“What?” Dean and Cas say in unison, casting equally wide-eyed expressions at her across the table. Cas looks positively terrified, “I can’t bake.”

Jess shrugs and takes a triumphant sip of her juice, “You can be Dean’s assistant. I gotta get my dress and Sam needs his hair cut.”

Sam pouts as she reaches over to smooth a strand of hair behind his ear and Dean barks a laugh.

“I will gladly do anything that gets Sam near a pair of clippers,” he agrees, and when Sam kicks him under the table the whole conversation about Benny is forgotten.

It’s not until they’re lying in their respective beds with the light off that Cas brings it up again.

“Benny means a lot to you,” he says and it isn’t a question. It isn’t a judgement and it isn’t a demand for more information, just a simple statement of fact and Dean, who had been on the verge of sleep turns his face in the direction he knows Cas to be.

“Well, yeah,” he shrugs, even though he knows Cas can’t see him, “He’s my best friend. He got led down a bad road but he’s a good guy. And he’s always been there for me.”

“But Sam doesn’t like him?” There’s a rustling from the other side of the room and Dean can just about make out Cas’s figure in the darkness, turned onto his side to face him.

Dean sighs and looks at the ceiling. “When I realised Benny had a drinking problem it was because he ran into a collapsing building that Rufus – that’s our supervisor – had ordered us to stay out of. There was no one inside, but he saw a curtain waving in an upstairs window and thought it was a person.” Dean swallows at the memory. It had been scary, one of the most terrifying moments of his life actually, and sometimes he still sees it when he closes his eyes.

“I ran in after him, only just got him out, and I ended up in hospital because of it,” Cas’s breath hitches and Dean hurries to clarify, “It was nothing too serious, just smoke inhalation and some minor burns but it could have been worse, for both of us. It scared the shit out of him, seeing me in the hospital. He’s been sober ever since, but Sam’s never forgiven him.”

There’s a long moment where Cas is quiet and Dean wonders if he said too much, or if maybe Cas thinks he should ditch Benny too.

“You’re a very loyal friend, Dean,” he says instead and Dean feels a swell of gratitude. His cheeks heat up at the unexpected praise and is glad for the darkness covering it up.

“Yeah well, it wasn’t his fault,” he answers, and it wasn’t, “Sometimes people make mistakes, you know?”

Another silence, this time longer; thick with connotations they’re both all too aware of.

“His mistake could have killed you,” Cas says, but it’s quiet, curious, not reprimanding.

“Maybe,” Dean says, “But I don’t see it like that.”

“What do you mean?”

Dean smiles and turns back to look at Cas’s faint outline, “Everyone always focuses on the fact that there was no one in the house, that he ran into a burning building because he was drunk. But whether there was a person there or not, surely what matters is that he risked his life to save them.”

The room is so quiet now that you could hear a pin drop, and when Cas speaks again it’s soft and laced with understanding,

“Mistakes can be made with good intentions.”

Dean smiles and turns back to the ceiling, “Yeah,” he whispers back, “I think so.”

Saturday, August 23rd 2003

The moment Cas really lost all hope had been in March. It was stupid really, there was never really any hope in the first place, but Cas had liked to hang on to ridiculous theories and wild notions. On days where Dean would smile at him, go out of his way to subtly shield him from the football team, Cas had liked to pretend that maybe he was secretly crushing on Cas right back. Dean would catch his eye over the length of a classroom and Cas would imagine a world in which Dean was just as gone as he was and only did what he did out of fear of rejection.

But then, on a cold day in March, Cas had walked towards his locker and felt his fantasy world slip out of his grasp completely. He doesn’t remember the exact date (he does – it was the 10th) but he does remember Dean with his back up against his locker, hands linked with a pretty dark-haired girl from Cas’s music class. Cas had known who she was, her name was Robin and she’d always been kind to him on the rare occasions they had been paired together for an assignment, but he hadn’t been able to remember at the time. All he’d been able to do was to watch as Dean kissed her, a smile on his face, and try not to hate her for doing what he wished he could.

Dean and Robin had lasted three weeks, and when they broke up Cas had had hardly any time to feel glad. Rhonda Hurley was next and with her came rumours of extravagant sexual adventures that the football team liked to talk about loudly while patting Dean on the back, and Cas liked to pretend couldn’t possibly have any truth to them.

Two weeks later it was Amanda Heckerling, a week after that it was Jamie Paulson. April and May passed in a blur of Tessa, Carmen and Layla, followed by two other cheerleaders that Cas didn’t even bother to learn the names of.

Cassie Robinson lasted the whole of June and Cas wasn’t sure if it was better or worse that Dean seemed to like her so much more than the others, and when they broke it off Dean was quiet for nearly two weeks.

Early in July, senior Lisa Braeden, captain of the cheerleading team, kissed Dean after the last football match of the season and by the time they finished for the summer, Dean and Lisa were still together.

And now it’s August and Cas hasn’t seen him for a month. He wavers from wanting Dean to be happy, to have someone who will love him for who he really is and not who he pretends to be at school, and wanting he and Lisa to not work out after all. Because he’d lost all hope for himself that day in March, his increasingly far-fetched theories shattering with the sound of breaking glass, but it had also been the start of the dreams.

They’re stupid and inconvenient and Cas hates how unfair they are. Before March and Dean’s long string of girlfriends Cas had known how he felt, had known what he’d wanted, but he’d never let himself truly imagine it. He’d stopped himself at fantasies of impossible love confessions, never letting himself think of what being with Dean would actually be like. But now, with the real life images of what Dean looks like when he kisses someone, with everything he’s been hopelessly wanting since freshman year being mocked by Dean’s arms around someone else, Cas can’t keep the dreams at bay.

Sometimes they come while he’s awake, unbidden and impossible to ignore. He’ll slip into daydreams as he watches games from the back of the bleachers, wondering what it would be like to be the one Dean kisses at the end. He thinks about kissing Dean against his locker, at his front door as Dean walks him home from a date, on the couch, in Dean’s Impala, in the moonlight under the stars.

He thinks about kissing Dean good morning, he thinks about kissing Dean goodnight and he thinks about kissing Dean when he’s smiling, when he’s sad, when he’s bundled up in blankets against the cold.

And sometimes his dreams have him waking in the morning with his breath coming too fast and his dick so hard he could cry. He wakes with sweat pooling in the small of his back and lingering images of Dean’s skin under his hands; or with his bed feeling cold and the sweet dreams of Dean huddled against him on the porch swing slipping out of his grasp.

At least the silver lining of junior year and Cas’s painfully unrequited feelings had been that the football team, seemingly impressed by Dean’s romantic endeavours, had temporarily forgotten their torment of Cas. Dean has actually barely looked at Cas at all since April and Cas tries to hold on to the knowledge that this is a good thing. That Dean isn’t being compelled to hurt people anymore, that he isn’t being hurt in turn. It’s good. Cas is glad.

Cas sighs and puts his book down. He’s been reading on the porch swing all day, sipping on lemonade that Gabriel keeps bringing him. He’s back from New York for a few weeks and Balthazar still has another month before he needs to go back to England for University and Gadreel has been around whenever his parents give him time off from studying. It’s nice, spending days in the park with his three older brothers all there. Gabriel and Anna like to play on the swings like children while Michael and Gadreel try to organise a picnic. Balthazar and Cas usually watch the clouds, Balthazar coming up with the most obscene shapes he can while Cas pretends not to find him amusing.

It’s nice, spending days like this, without worrying about school and feeling the ache of Dean’s tongue in someone else’s mouth like a fresh wound every day. Some days Cas manages to forget about him, as best he can, and having his family around him is more than enough to make him happy.

Today is not one of those days. Gadreel hasn’t been allowed away from his studies today and Garth, who sometimes turns up unannounced has not made an appearance either. Michael is working and his other two brothers are having an unnecessarily violent chess tournament in the living room which, when Cas wandered past a few times, seemed to have a lot of made up rules.

Anna has been rather too hungover to leave her room much at all.

“Hnnngh,” she garbles from the doorway, just as Cas is wondering whether he should bring her some dinner, “Why is the sun so bright?”

Cas laughs. It’s nearly eight o’clock and even though it’s the middle of August, the sun is definitely beginning to dim. He pats the space next to him on the porch swing and Anna snuggles against his side, sighing and burying her face into his shoulder.

“This is what you get for underage drinking, you know,” Cas says, small smile betraying his stern words, “You really have no one to blame but yourself.”

Anna scoffs and swats half-heartedly at his stomach without lifting her head, “Oh whatever, Mr Perfect, I’m almost seventeen, not a child. Just because you’re no fun.”

Cas rolls his eyes and opens his book again, letting his left hand come up to rest fondly on Anna’s head. She sighs.

“You know pretty much everyone else in senior and junior year was there, right?”

Cas stares blankly at the open page in front of him, “Yes, I am aware.”

“So why didn’t you go?” Anna asks, lifting her head to squint up at him.

Cas shrugs and doesn’t look up.

“Ugh,” Anna groans, apparently despairing of her older brother, “You’re so like Michael sometimes, you know that?”

Cas smiles, “And you’re like Gabriel.”

Anna gasps and pulls back from Cas to hit him on the arm, “How could you, Castiel? You cut me deep.”

Cas laughs and Anna reluctantly cracks a smile and leans back into Cas’s side with a huff, “Still,” she continues, “I guess I’m kind of glad you weren’t there. Didn’t need my big brother cramping my style.”

Cas snorts, “What style?” he asks and Anna pinches him on the arm.

“Shut up, Cas, turns out I have plenty of style.”

She turns and wiggles her eyebrows and she has a grin on her face that Cas knows means that she wants him to ask what happened.

“Fine,” he sighs, and closes his book again, “Please Anna, do tell me what you’re so happy about.”

She sits up, smile turning shy, and twists her hands on her lap. She leans forward into Cas’s space and lowers her voice, “I made out with Dean Winchester.”

Cas’s heart twists like a Chinese burn and then falls all the way to his toes.

“What?” he croaks and tries not to resent Anna the happy spark in her eyes.

“I know, right?” she says, twisting a strand of hair around her finger, “I’ve barely thought about him since last year but, I dunno! Somehow we ended up dancing last night and then before I knew it we were totally making out!”

She sighs happily and Cas tries to remember how to work his voice in a way that doesn’t sound as miserable as he feels.

“I thought he was dating Lisa Braeden,” he says, eventually, and hopes it sounds like he doesn’t much care about the answer.

Anna shrugs, “Not anymore. They split a couple of weeks ago apparently.”

Cas nods and looks back down at the cover of his book, “Right.”

Anna touches his arm, “You okay, Cas?”

Cas plasters a shaky smile onto his face and looks up to meet her gaze, “Of course. I’m just worried. About you that is. Dean has been with a lot of girls.”

And it’s not like it’s a total lie, he is worried about his little sister getting hurt. He knows the pain of falling for Dean Winchester when he’s never going to fall for you back. Anna looks at him shrewdly, like she can tell it’s not the whole story, but she squeezes his arm and answers him anyway.

“I know,” she says, “It’s Dean Winchester, I know nothing’s gonna come of it. I made out with him, Cas, it’s not like we’re engaged!”

She smiles cheekily at him and Cas rolls his eyes despite himself.

He swallows, “So,” he asks, forcing his expression into one of nonchalance, “Are you going out with him now?”

Anna scoffs and leans back against the porch swing, “Sigh, no. It was the weirdest thing actually, after we made out we got to talking a little bit. When I mentioned I was your sister he got all apologetic and left.”

Cas’s heart does a flip that he doesn’t really understand. “What?” he asks, and hopes Anna doesn’t wonder why his voice sounds so much like sandpaper.

“Yeah,” Anna shrugs with a snort, “Maybe he thought he was breaking some kind of bro code or something.” She turns to smirk at Cas, “Or do you have something going on with him, Cas?”

She laughs out loud after she says it, particularly pleased with her own joke, but Cas can’t quite bring himself to laugh along. It feels like his face is burning.

“No,” he answers, and then kicks himself straight afterwards. She hadn’t actually been asking, she hadn’t required an answer and there’s no way she’s going to have missed the bitterness in his voice.

Anna stops laughing to stare at him and Cas tries to keep his gaze firmly fixed on the tree in front of them.

“Oh my God,” Anna says, quiet and completely stunned, “Do you?”

No,” Cas says firmly, turning to look at her with fire in his eyes, “I really don’t.”

He doesn’t even try to keep the bitterness out of his voice this time and Anna, with wide eyes and a pitying look of dawning realisation, rests her hand over Cas’s.

“But you want to, don’t you?”

Cas looks down at their joined hands, “No.”

“Cas, are you – ”

“Anna, I really don’t want to talk about Dean anymore, okay?” Cas snaps and Anna’s mouth closes immediately. Her eyes are sad and Cas can’t bear to look at her. He slips his hand out from underneath hers and opens his book again, barely able to take in any of the words.

After a moment Anna sighs and without saying a word, snuggles back into his side, winding her arms around one of his and leaning her head against his shoulder.

Cas doesn’t say anything either, but he does rest his own head on top of hers as he reads.

Chapter Text

Wednesday, June 11th 2014

“What the fuck, Cas?!” Dean laughs, leaning against the kitchen counter with shaking shoulders and trying not to let Cas’s confused frown send him into further fits of (very manly) giggles, “You trying to break everyone’s teeth?”

Dean gestures at the bowl of cracked eggs, full of rogue pieces of shell, and keeps chuckling. Cas was not wrong yesterday, he really is the worst baker Dean has ever met in his life. Except maybe Sam, but at least he has the excuse of never having lived alone. Cas is apparently just desperately hopeless.

When they’d first tied the aprons around their waists, at the absolute insistence of Cas who had glared Dean into submission, Cas had stood completely nonplussed in the middle of the kitchen and just… stared at Dean. Like he was ready to follow every one of his orders to the minutest detail, so much trust in his eyes that Dean hadn’t been able to help but think of a duckling. He’d looked ridiculously cute, awaiting instruction with an open expression and a wonky apron and Dean had had to clench his fists in an effort not to reach out and straighten it for him.

Dean had tried to be mindful of his baking virginity and set him what he had assumed was the easy task of cracking eggs into a bowl. Yeah, apparently not the way to go. Dean was in the middle of measuring flour when Cas had turned to look proudly at him.

“Done,” he’d said, an expectant smile on his face, and that’s when Dean had started laughing.

Cas’s smile drops as he looks into the bowl and Dean shakes his head.

“Seriously, Cas, have you never baked anything in your entire life?”

Cas’s shoulders slump, “No.”

“Have you never made eggs?”

“No,” Cas sighs, a little bit of an edge to his voice as he starts fiddling with the ends of his apron ties.

Dean shakes his head with an incredulous smile, “What the hell do you eat, man?”

Cas shrugs and stares at the bowl sadly, “Pasta?” he supplies, “And sandwiches. Sometimes pizza.”

Dean smiles fondly while Cas isn’t looking and comes forward. He hands Cas a teaspoon and urges him to start scooping out bits of shell.

“Well, when this is all over, I’m teaching you how to cook.”

Cas whips his head around so fast it looks kind of painful and Dean blushes immediately. Crap. He really needs to start thinking before he speaks.

“Uh,” Dean says, rubbing the back of his neck and darting his gaze away from Cas’s wide eyes, “Or not. Whatever. I’m sure you have someone else to teach you.”

Cas blinks and returns to his task and Dean, ignoring the pink tinge to Cas’s neck, continues measuring flour.

“Actually, I don’t,” Cas says, carefully, “Gadreel lives in Kansas, Balthazar lives in England, Anna lives in New York and Gabriel lives on candy.”

Dean laughs out loud, tipping his head back for a second, thankful for the dissolved tension.

“Oh man,” he says, shaking his head, “Good old Gabe. How is he?”

Cas shrugs, “He’s good. Might be opening up a new store around here.”

“Yeah?” Dean says, pulling the sieve out of the cupboard above him, “Good for him! You’d get to see more of him too, right?”

Cas smiles, “Yes, I suppose so. Still wouldn’t trust him to teach me how to cook though.”

Dean chuckles, “Fair enough.”

There’s a moment of comfortable silence while Cas fishes out the last bit of shell and rinses off the spoon before Dean decides to make the most of Cas’s apparent good mood and keep going.

“So,” he says, beckoning Cas over to hold the sieve over the mixing bowl while he pours flour gently through it, “Balthazar stayed in England, huh?”

“Yes,” Cas answers, “He owns an art gallery in London.”

“Woah,” Dean says, and wonders if he’ll ever stop being intimidated by the entire Novak family, “That’s cool. Does he have good taste?”

Cas snorts, “Judging purely by his fashion sense, I’d have to say no.”

Dean frowns and turns to look at him, “You mean you haven’t been to visit?”

Cas shrugs, “He’s taken me on a skype tour. But I’m not really sure what constitutes as good art.”

Dean hums and reaches over to touch Cas’s wrist absent-mindedly, gentling his movements with the sieve to stop it powdering the kitchen with white. He barely even notices what he’s doing, failing to register that this is not a common occurrence for them until he hears Cas’s breath hitch, so quietly he thinks he may have imagined it, but he lets go all the same.

He tries not to miss the warmth from beneath his fingertips.

He coughs and lets Cas finish up with the flour on his own while he sets the oven to preheat, “And uh,” he says, trying to change the subject, “What’s Anna doing in New York?”

“She’s a journalist. Works for a travel magazine there.”

Dean smiles. He’s glad, he’d always liked Anna. Not that he’d known her all that well, in fact he always feels a flash of irrational guilt whenever he remembers his brief encounter with her, but he’d liked her all the same.

“That’s great,” he says, leaning back against the oven, “I met her at a party once. She was cool.”

Cas doesn’t say anything but Dean suddenly gets the distinct impression that that was the wrong thing to say. Cas’s hands seem to be gripping the sieve a little tighter than before and the line of his shoulders looks tense.

Dean’s half way to opening his mouth to apologise before he realises he has no idea what he should be apologising for. There’s absolutely nothing about what he’d just said that should instil any form of guilt in him and he’s not quite sure what Cas is looking so uptight about. Although, it’s entirely possible that Dean didn’t say anything wrong at all. Uptight is kind of Cas’s signature look.

Dean shrugs and puts the whole odd moment down to Cas’s inherent weirdness.

They bake in silence for a while, Dean occasionally taking the time to explain something to Cas and Cas following orders with a grave seriousness that really shouldn’t be necessary for making cupcakes. It’s really quite endearing and Dean finds the silence more relaxing than he’d expected. It doesn’t feel awkward or strained, it somehow just feels normal and before long they have twenty-four filled cupcake cases going into the oven.

“Now on to the best bit!” Dean exclaims, grinning as he grabs up the mixing bowl, “We get to lick out the bowl!”

Cas frowns, “What?”

Dean freezes, wooden spoon half way to his mouth.

“Dude,” he says, eyes wide, “You’ve never had leftover cake mix?”

Cas tilts his head like Dean’s the one being ridiculous right now, “No,” he says, “I’ve never baked anything myself and Michael always said it would make me ill.”

Dean sighs and looks down at the bowl. Goodbye, sweet deliciousness, you answer to a higher calling.

He thrusts the bowl into Cas’s hands and lifts the spoon up to Cas lips, “Here,” he says firmly and doesn’t move.

Cas flutters his gaze warily between Dean and the spoon before slowly flicking out his tongue to taste the mixture. Dean swallows. Holy shit. He’s pretty sure he couldn’t drag his gaze away from Cas’s mouth right now if you paid him.

After the first few tentative licks, Cas closes his eyes and, god fucking dammit, moans. His tongue paints broad stripes across the head of the wooden spoon until it’s completely clean and Dean can’t fucking breathe.

He watches, heat pooling in his groin, as Cas swipes two fingers along the bottom of the bowl and wraps his lips around them like he’s trying to give Dean some sort of stroke. He sighs happily around his fingers and Dean, wondering when it got hot enough to rival the fucking gates of hell, lets out a strangled whine before he can even stop himself.

Cas’s eyes fly open and Dean snaps his mouth shut.

There’s heat flaring up in Cas’s cheeks and Dean tries to cover up the burgeoning problem in his jeans with a smirk, “So,” he says, voice impressively even, “You like it then?”

Cas bites his lip and ducks his head, embarrassed, “Yes, very much, I apologise. Here.”

He holds the bowl, which still has a few mouthfuls of mixture left, out towards Dean with a sheepish smile and Dean shakes his head with a breathy laugh.

“No man, you finish it. You two look pretty cosy, wouldn’t want to come between you.”

Cas huffs and narrows his eyes as he scoops more mixture into his mouth, “Is that what people say about you and your car?”

Dean rolls his eyes and when Cas liberates the last traces of mixture from the bowl, Dean rips it from his hands with a playful glare.

“Hey!” Cas frowns and Dean is in no doubt that the stupid dork was probably about ready to start literally licking out the bowl.

“What, did you want to cuddle after?” Dean asks and Cas pretends to look disgruntled as he stalks over to the array of baking supplies.

There’s a quiet few minutes while Dean rinses out the mixing bowl and Cas arranges icing sugar and food colouring along the counter, and Dean spends the time determinedly thinking about the most supremely unsexy things possible. It’s in the midst of remembering the time he’d accidentally walked in on Bobby kissing Ellen underneath some mistletoe that he, thank god, gets distracted by something from their earlier conversation.

“So, who’s Gadreel?” Dean asks, drying the bowl, “He’s not one of your brothers, is he?”

He knows he’s not one of Cas’s brothers, he remembers Cas telling him all their names back in freshman year, but he’s pretty sure sounding too confident in his knowledge might sound creepy. Or, you know, like he’d harboured a secret crush on him for four years.

“No,” Cas leans against the counter while he waits for Dean to finish drying the bowl, “He’s a childhood friend.”

Dean scrunches up his nose, “What is it with you lot and the weird names?”

Cas huffs a laugh and takes the bowl from Dean’s hands, “We met at church. Our mothers both had a penchant for angelic names.”

“Still, Gadreel,” Dean says with a shake of his head, “Poor bastard.”

Cas sighs and nods his head, “Yes. Michael and Anna are really the only ones who escaped humiliation.”

“Nah,” Dean says, focusing on measuring out the icing sugar, “Castiel suits you.”

Cas doesn’t say anything but he’s standing close enough to Dean that their shoulders are almost touching and Dean is pretty sure, somehow, he can feel him smiling.

“So why can’t Michael teach you how to cook?” Dean asks as they finish sieving the sugar into the bowl, “He home schooled you, right? You said he was pretty good at cooking.”

Cas turns to look at him, surprise colouring his features and Dean shrugs, rubbing the back of his neck. Cas’s gaze follows the movement, the corners of his lips twitching upwards slightly, and Dean realises with a flush that there was icing sugar on his hand.

He clears his throat, “You told me about him, freshman year,” he mumbles, “Before…”

He trails off and there’s an awkward silence, both of them turning back to look at the bowl.

“Before you made the football team,” Cas supplies, tone carefully neutral.

“Yeah,” Dean says, and picks up the red food colouring at random.

“Yes, well,” Cas sighs, “Michael would most likely not have time to teach me. He would expect me to learn for myself.”

Dean places the colouring into Cas’s palm, just to watch him smile, and smirks, “But on the plus side, if you cooked back in Kansas with him, I’d be around to put out any inevitable fires.”

Levelling him with an exasperated look, Cas chuckles, “I’m pretty sure they have fire fighters in Palo Alto, Dean.”

Dean plasters on his most confident grin and wiggles his eyebrows, “Yeah, but they’re not as awesome as me.”

He nudges Cas’s shoulder and Cas rolls his eyes.

Cas pours a bit too much food colouring into the icing but it’s okay. The girls will just have to deal with hot magenta rather than the pastel pink Dean had been imagining.

There’s a slight debate over which flavouring to use (“Mint is refreshing and delicious, Dean.” “Cas, it’s pink icing, it’s got to be strawberry.”) which ends in Dean wrestling the mint flavouring out of Cas’s hands and pouring strawberry in before he can do anything about it.

Cas pouting, it transpires, is equal parts hilarious and criminally adorable.

Dean sighs, “Fine. Cas, do you want to use the electric whisk?”

Cas’s whole face lights up and Dean swears it’s like working with a damn child. And no, he didn’t offer just to see the proud look in Cas’s eyes at being offered an important job, he didn’t. He just didn’t want Cas to throw a tantrum.

When Dean lifts his hand in a thumbs up – the icing is well and truly whisked by now – Cas smiles triumphantly and lifts the whisk out of the bowl with a flourish.

Without turning it off.

Dean feels the huge spattering of pink icing hit him in the face and, after a frantic scrabble on Cas’s part to turn the whisk off, there’s a moment of stunned silence.

And then Cas, the little shit, laughs.

It starts off quiet, Cas staring at Dean with shaking shoulders and lips pressed together and then, with what should be a highly unattractive snort, he’s giggling into his hand like a drunk teenager. To be honest, Dean’s a bit too taken aback to even be pissed. Cas’s eyes are crinkled up in laughter, so much so that Dean can hardly see the blue of them, and the sound of Cas laughing, really truly laughing, is so foreign that Dean has to work hard to keep up his ‘I’m actually really annoyed at you’ façade.

He wrenches the whisk out of Cas’s hand with the best glare he can manage but it just serves to make Cas laugh even harder.

“Dean,” he breathes, grinning even as he tries to reign in his mirth, “I know you mean to look menacing right now but you have pink frosting all over your face.”

Dean does not smile back. “I hope you know what this means,” he says, glare firmly in place.

“What?” Cas tilts his head, smile beginning to fade to make way for confusion.

Dean smirks, “War.”

And without any warning he’s lunging forward to wipe his face against Cas’s.

“Dean, no!” Cas yelps, his hands scrabbling to push Dean away and now it’s Dean’s turn to laugh as he pulls back to see Cas’s face equally covered in pink splotches.

“Oh, it’s on,” Cas grins and launches himself at Dean like a man possessed. Dean manages to keep Cas’s flailing, icing covered hands away from his face and after a scuffle that lasts a good few minutes, succeeds in wiping his face against Cas’s bare arm.

Cas lets out an indignant squawk and wrenches his arms away from Dean’s grip to make a break for the bowl of icing. Dean makes a grab for his waist, spinning him away from the bowl and seizes it himself, lifting it triumphantly over Cas’s head.

“No!” Cas admonishes but Dean only smirks and slowly starts to tip the bowl. Cas reaches up and just about manages to get his hands on the bowl and the two of them grapple over it, trying to pour it over the other with breathless laughter, until a very loud and pointed cough interrupts them.

As if in slow motion, they both turn their heads to see Sam, tall and unimpressed, leaning with folded arms against the doorway.

“What are you, twelve?” he says, incredulous and approximately three thousand percent done, and Dean suddenly notices just how close he and Cas are standing.

Their hands are almost tangled together on the bowl above their heads and the slight height difference between them means that in an attempt to reach it, Cas had pressed his whole front against Dean to stop himself from toppling over while on the tips of his toes. They turn to look at each other and Dean thinks he could probably count every single different shade of blue in Cas’s eyes from this position.

They spring apart, almost in unison, and Dean rubs at the back of his neck sheepishly.

Sam snorts, “I can’t believe you let this dork corrupt you, Cas. You used to be so grown up.”

“Hey!” Dean cries, indignant, “He started it!”

Cas huffs, “I most certainly did not!”

“Oh my God,” Sam groans, drawing both their attention back to him, “You know what? I really don’t want to know. Just clean this up before Jess comes home or she’ll kick your asses.”

Sam leaves with a roll of the eyes and muttering something under his breath about working with children that Dean thinks is completely unfounded.

Dean sets the bowl down on the counter and Cas fetches a cloth from the sink and starts dabbing at any stray smatterings of icing around the kitchen.

They don’t say anything again and neither of them starts up any further brawl over their produce but when it’s time to take the cakes out of the oven they tidy up in amicable silence and ice the cupcakes side by side, their shoulders brushing.

Sunday, May 2nd 2004

When Dean turned 18 back in January no one but Sam had been there. Bobby had been in Sioux Falls since December, unable to leave the South Dakota garage in the post-Christmas boom of business and Ellen hadn’t been able to afford closing the Roadhouse on a Saturday night. Dean hadn’t wanted to ask Sherriff Mills or Rufus to skip work just for him so he hadn’t mentioned it to them and he didn’t know anyone from school he wanted to invite.

Well. Not anyone he could invite anyway.

So it had just been him and Sammy in the little house they usually shared with Bobby, and Dean had been more than happy with that. Sam had bought him a cake from the shop down the street and grinned while singing a very off-key version of ‘happy birthday’. Dean had rolled his eyes before blowing out the candles, homemade party hat on his head, and wished for everyone to be here for Sam’s birthday.

Turns out birthday wishes can come true and even though a little piece of Dean wishes he’d asked for something else (something with blue eyes and messy hair and lips made for kissing), when he looks at his brother’s smiling face, he can’t find it in himself to regret his birthday wish.

Dean and Sam have spent the day playing video games and watching reruns of ‘Star Trek’ on their old, beat up TV. Sam hasn’t asked for anything else, hasn’t begged for anyone other than Dean to be there, and Dean lets Sam spend his afternoon with the assumption that Dean would end the day with a cake and a solo singing performance.

But he hadn’t. Instead, at a quarter to six Dean had herded Sam into the Impala and refused to answer a single question until Sam was getting dragged through the door of the Roadhouse and into the arms of Ellen.

“Happy Birthday, sweet pea,” Ellen murmurs into his ear as she hugs him and Sam, seemingly overcome with emotion, answers only in the tightening of his own skinny arms around her waist.

Dean leans against the door frame and smiles. He’s pretty sure there are tears in Sammy’s eyes by the time Ellen lets go and Bobby comes forward to clap him on the back. Jody Mills kisses Sam on the cheek and Rufus lifts his beer in salute from where he sits at the table in the middle of the room. There are no customers in today and Ash has apparently spent the day decorating, although Dean suspects he forgot that Sam was fourteen now, not four, judging by how many multi-coloured streamers there are.

Jo and Kevin are the last to greet Sam and the both of them end up fighting over whose party hat he gets to wear. Dean laughs. He’s only met Kevin a couple of times, he’s in Sam and Jo’s year at school and he doesn’t get a lot of time off studying to come visit, but Dean likes the kid already. Anyone who dares to fight with Jo Harvelle with so much conviction deserves instant respect.

Dean doesn’t say much throughout the present opening, he gave Sam his gift earlier (an Encyclopaedia of Greek Mythology which had made Sam’s face light up like the little nerd he is) and he’s happy that Sam gets to bask in all the attention. He looks thrilled, insanely grateful for every gift he’s given, and Dean loves everyone here for putting that look on his face.

“Alright, alright,” laughs Ellen as Sam is gushing over his last present (some boring-ass science-y book from Kevin), “I vote we have dinner before Sam here turns into even more of a spoiled brat.”

There are various whoops of agreement and Dean laughs as Sam plasters the most dramatic pout he’s ever seen onto his face.

“Hey, Dean,” Ellen beckons as she stands up, “Come help bring the plates out, would you?”

“Sure,” Dean grins and goes to follow. He’s only a few steps behind Ellen on his way to the kitchen but before he can catch up he hears footsteps behind him, footsteps he recognises, and then there’s a pair of arms squeezing tightly around his waist.

He stops and turns around within their grip, surprised but ruffling Sam’s hair affectionately all the same, “Sammy?”

Sam lifts his head to smile up at him with earnest eyes, “You organised all this, right?” he asks, but it doesn’t really sound like a question.

Dean ducks his head and shrugs, “It’s no big deal.”

“Yeah,” Sam replies, hugging him tighter, “Yeah it is. Thanks, Dean.”

Dean swallows and rubs his hand between Sam’s shoulder blades, “No problem, Sammy,” he smiles, “Now get back there before Jo steals all your presents. I saw her eyeing up your goods.”

He smirks and wiggles his eyebrows and Sam lets him go with a scrunched up face, “Gross, Dean.”

Dean laughs as Sam scampers off, probably to wrestle his new penknife away from Jo, and makes his way after Ellen.

Dinner is a noisy affair that fills Dean with warmth. Kevin looks almost scandalised by most of Ash’s stories and Rufus watches everyone like he’d rather be anywhere else, even though they all know he’s right where he wants to be. Bobby and Ellen try to pretend they’re not flirting in a way that’s totally and embarrassingly obvious and Jody looks about ready to adopt Jo. Dean, for the most part, just watches.

“So, Dean,” Jody says from the other side of the table, bursting Dean’s happy little bubble of quiet contentment, “High School’s nearly over for you, huh?”

Dean’s heart sinks. He knows where this is going.

“Yeah,” sighs Bobby, gruff and exasperated, “And the stubborn idjit still refuses to apply to college.”

Yep, there it is. Dean groans.

“Bobby – ”

“Don’t you ‘Bobby’ me, boy, you ain’t gonna change my mind.”

“And you’re not going to change mine!” Dean snaps and Bobby shakes his head in exasperation.

“Wait,” Kevin pipes up from where he sits next to Sam, “You don’t want to go to college?”

Dean opens his mouth to reply but Sam butts in before he can answer, “Of course he does,” Sam says, sad and long-suffering like he’s long since stopped trying to convince Dean to listen, “He just thinks it’s on him to make sure I get to go.”

There’s an incredibly awkward few seconds where everyone turns to stare at Dean with varying amounts of pity and incredulity while Sam glares challengingly at Dean’s flushed cheeks.

Dean shifts uncomfortably in his chair and looks down at his plate.

“Dean,” Ellen says, soft and kind, “It isn’t too late, you know. You could still put in some late applications.”

It isn’t fair. Dean doesn’t need to hear this right now. Of course it isn’t too late, Dean knows that. He knows exactly what he could do, which colleges would still take an application, which courses he could do with his grades. He’s looked it up. He knows. He could get in to KU if he wanted. Hell, he could have probably got in to Stanford like Sammy wants to if he’d let himself.

He could do it. But he couldn’t. How could he ask Bobby to pay for that? He’s not smart enough to get a scholarship and he hasn’t been able to work through High School like he’d wanted to. He couldn’t have left Sammy alone at home.

And he can’t leave Sammy now, either. He can’t leave Bobby or Ellen to take Sam in, even though they would in a heartbeat, and he can’t let them pay for him to go to college when he doesn’t need to go. He can get work without it, he already has a job lined up with Bobby at his garage here in Lawrence. Sammy needs to get to college, that’s what matters, Sammy and his dreams of being a lawyer. Dean has four years to earn the money, it’s possible, it’s more than possible and Dean’s happy about it, he really is. He can work with cars and Sam can go to college, everybody wins.

“I know,” Dean says, forcing a smile onto his face, “But honestly, it’s no big deal. Bobby’s given me a job at the garage, I’m all set.”

He’s pretty sure no one at the table really believes him, but they drop the subject so Dean counts it as a victory.

Dean volunteers for clearing up duty after dinner; Sam’s seen enough of him today after all and would probably rather Ellen didn’t disappear off to the kitchen to clean up. So Dean stacks the plates with a smile and sets to washing them all by hand. He likes cleaning, he always has. It’s methodical and relaxing, with a clear goal that brings a satisfied sense of accomplishment once you reach it.

“You’ll make someone a darlin’ little housewife one day, boy,” huffs an amused voice from behind him, and Dean turns to roll his eyes at Rufus where he leans against the doorway.

Rufus Turner has been best friends with Bobby since before Dean can remember. They’re always very vague about how they met, though Dean suspects it’s actually a lot more mundane than either of them like to make out, and they bicker like an old married couple most of the time. Rufus pretends not to like anyone, a little like Bobby himself now Dean thinks about it, but it’s never even crossed any of their minds that he might actually mean it. He’s still here after all, at Sam’s fourteenth birthday party, and Dean knows he wouldn’t be here if he didn’t want to be.

Dean likes Rufus, liked him even when they were little and Sam had been shy and nervous around ‘Bobby’s scary friend who never smiles’. He works down at the fire station, on his way to being supervisor if the rumours are true, and Dean has always thought he’s kind of awesome.

“Either make yourself useful or stop loitering, old man.”

Rufus makes an indignant sound in the back of his throat as he picks up a towel, “You watch yourself, boy, I could still kick your ass.”

Dean grins innocently back and starts handing him plates to dry. Fact is, he probably could kick Dean’s ass and Dean isn’t even ashamed. Rufus is badass.

“So, uh,” Rufus coughs and Dean gets the sinking feeling that he didn’t just come in here to make fun of him, “I actually had something I wanted to ask you, son.”

For a second, Dean feels his hands freeze on the plate he’s washing. Rufus has never called him ‘son’ before and he’s certainly never instigated any conversation which didn’t include jovial insults or petty grumblings.

Dean stares at him for only a moment before he looks steadily back at his hands, “Okay,” he says, drawing it out to signal his confusion, “Shoot.”

Rufus sighs and turns to face him fully, “Bobby told me he found some books under your bed a few weeks back. Books about the fire training entrance exams.”

Dean flushes and shrugs to cover it up, “So?”

So,” Rufus stresses, reaching out to pull Dean around to face him with a gentle hand on his shoulder, “You thinking about being a firefighter?”

Dean refuses to meet his eyes, “I was just looking… I couldn’t really… I know I can’t really do it. It was nothing. I don’t know why I even looked.”

Rufus sighs and jostles Dean’s shoulder until he looks up, sheepish.

“I didn’t ask if you think you can do it or not,” Rufus says, stern, “I asked if you wanted to.”

Dean swallows.

He’s never told anyone about this, not even Sam. He didn’t know Bobby had found the books and it floods him with embarrassment. What’s the point of people knowing what he wants? What’s the point of even wanting what he wants? He can’t start fire training just like he can’t go to college. Sam wants to go to Stanford and Dean needs to get him there. Dean needs to earn money with a stable job until Sammy’s taken care of, what’s the point of talking about things that can’t happen?

But Rufus is holding his gaze, eyebrows raised, and Dean knows he can’t lie.

He nods jerkily and darts his eyes away.

Rufus squeezes his shoulder and drops his hand, “Then what’s stopping you?”

“I have to take care of Sam.”

“Bullshit,” Rufus says, folding his arms, “Sam’s got enough people looking out for him, or haven’t you noticed how many people are out there with him right now?”

Dean stays silent, staring at his feet.

“Dean, your brother will be fine. No one’s gonna let him miss out on college, you know that. You gotta start thinking about what you want, kid, and if what you want is to run your dumb ass into burning buildings then that’s what you should do.”

Dean wants to agree so badly. He knows that if he just says the word, Rufus could get him into fire training, no problem. Dean knows he could pass the entrance exams, he’s read the books cover to cover, he knows his stuff. He thinks about his mom, exactly thirteen and a half years ago today, surrounded by fire and he wants to save her. He wants to run right into the flames, every day for the rest of his life, and save his mother over and over again through every other person he pulls out. He wants to save as many children as he can from growing up without a parent.

But right now, while Sammy is still young and Dean’s pockets are still empty, none of that matters.

“Maybe,” Dean mumbles, knowing full well he’ll be working at the garage the minute he finishes school, “I’ll think about it. Thanks, Rufus.”

Rufus sighs and takes the cloth from Dean’s hands, “Go on, get back out there,” he says, jerking his head towards the kitchen door, “I’ll finish up in here.”

Dean opens his mouth to argue but Rufus just lifts a hand to stop him, “I don’t want to hear it, get out.”

Dean chuckles and nods his thanks, making his way back towards the main room.

“Kid,” Rufus calls after him, just before he disappears through the door and Dean turns back to look at him, “When you decide to finally do something for yourself, you give me a call. I think you’d make a damn good firefighter.”

Dean nods again, too flustered to say anything and trying to swallow down the lump in his throat. Rufus turns back towards the sink, continuing the washing up like he didn’t just give Dean some hope for his future at last, and Dean leaves before he can let himself be tempted.

When he gets back to the main room, he laughs. Everyone is slumped in various states of contentment, the good kind of food coma where you feel warm and satisfied and unwilling to move ever again. Ash is lying across the pool table where Jo pokes him half-heartedly with a cue and Ellen is nestled so close to Bobby’s side that Dean would make fun of them if it weren’t so damn cute.

Dean throws himself onto a bar stool, ruffling Sam’s hair as he walks past, and grins as he watches Sam scrabble to smooth it down again, glaring in Dean’s direction.

“Honestly,” Dean smirks, “I leave for five minutes and the party dies without me.”

“You’re right,” Bobby snorts, his baseball cap perched at a jauntier angle than usual, “Maybe you should entertain us then.”

“There’s a jukebox right there,” Jody grins, “Sing us a tune, Winchester.”

Ellen laughs while Sam and Jo groan in unison, “Oh, don’t say that!” She says, rolling her eyes, “He’ll actually do it.”

Dean pretends to look affronted, “Oh please, you love my singing.”

Jody rolls her head to the side where she’s sitting on the floor leaning against the bar and looks interestedly at Dean, “You can sing?”

Sam sighs, “Whether he can or not doesn’t matter, he does it anyway.”

“Yep,” Dean laughs and leans his elbows back on the bar top, “Maybe I’ll show you all later if you ask nicely.”

Jo snorts, “I think we’ll pass.”

“Whatever, Harvelle, you’re just worried you won’t be able to resist me once you hear how sexy my voice is.”

She scrunches up her nose, “Ew, Dean. I feel sorry for whoever you’re banging right now.”

“Joanna Beth!” Ellen admonishes from across the room and Jo flushes bright red like she’d completely forgotten her mother was there. Dean just laughs.

“Sorry,” Jo smiles sheepishly in Ellen’s direction before turning back to Dean, “I mean whoever you are currently courting.”

Dean rolls his eyes, “I’m not ‘courting’ anyone.”

“No?” Jo rolls over to lie on her stomach and props herself up on her elbows, “A dry spell for the great Dean Winchester?”

“He hasn’t had a girlfriend since November,” Sam pipes up from where he’s huddled over a book with Kevin, and Dean glares at him.

“Well stop the presses,” Bobby rolls his eyes and Kevin smirks up at Dean from the floor.

“What happened, Dean?” he asks, “Are you in looooooove?”

Dean throws the rag used for wiping down the bar top at Kevin’s head but he’s pretty sure it isn’t enough to hide the way he’s blushing.

Everyone’s laughing and despite the fact there’s no way any of them could know a thing, Dean feels as though it’s obvious. It feels like he has Cas’s name tattooed on his forehead, like they can see literal hearts in his eyes like a cartoon whenever he thinks about him. He tells them all to shut up, but they don’t and it’s all hitting a little too close to home.

“I bet it’s that Cassie chick,” Ash grins and Dean tries to ignore the way his heart jumped to his throat at the first syllable, sure for one horrifying second that Ash had worked it out.

Kevin shakes his head, “Nah, I thought Lisa was his favourite?”

“Isn’t Tessa the one who taught him to play guitar?” Jo asks and Sam scrunches up his nose,

“No, that was Robin.”

Dean splutters, “Guys! I’m right here! I’m not in love with any of them, okay?”

Jo smirks in a way that reminds Dean of a shark looking at its prey and he is very, very concerned, “Oh, so you are in love with someone then?”

Dean wants to die. “Of course not!” he snaps, “Geez, can’t a guy just focus on his work rather than girls without arousing frankly patronising suspicion?”

Jo raises her hands in surrender, “Okay, okay. Someone’s a little defensive.”

Dean’s just opening his mouth to snap at her when Ellen interrupts, “Alright, that’s enough. Leave the poor boy alone, Jo.”

And that’s the end of it. The conversation moves on from there and however much Dean wants to sulk about it, it’s pretty damn hard when Ellen and Bobby are trying so hard to pretend they’re not interested in each other and Sam and Jo are teasing Kevin about some girl in their class. Rufus has come back from the kitchen and he and Jody are bickering about whether the police or the fire department would do better in a zombie apocalypse and Ash is building a castle out of empty beer bottles.

It’s awesome, being here, having all these people care about Sam so much and even, he thinks, care about him a little bit too. They’re weird, all of them, weird and dorky and annoying and stubborn. But they’re family and Dean’s just happy to see them all smiling.

It’s late by the time Dean bundles Sam into the passenger seat and starts the short drive home. He’s feeling kind of guilty, Sam has school in the morning and he should have made sure they were home by 11, but he’s happy too. Sam is smiling softly to himself and it puts a smile on Dean’s face in turn.

About five minutes away from home, Sam rolls his head to look at Dean, “You do like someone, don’t you?” he says quietly and it doesn’t sound much like a question. Sam’s looking at him with something like concern in his eyes and Dean keeps his eyes fixedly on the road ahead.

“Sam – ”

“I know you were never that into most of the girls you dated and I think it’s because there’s one you really like.”

Dean sighs and turns to look at him as they wait at a red light. For a second, Dean wonders what it would be like to spill everything to Sam, here and now. To just tell him about the dicks at school and what they make him do, to finally get his feelings for Cas off his chest. He finds himself desperate for one fleeting moment, to tell his little brother how Cas’s eyes are the colour of forget-me-nots in the sun and how in his dreams, Cas’s lips press kisses onto his forehead when he’s sad and onto his smiling mouth when he’s happy.

But it wouldn’t do any good, in the end. There’s nothing Sam could do to help and it’d just upset him. Today has been nice, great even. Dean isn’t going to ruin it with his own pathetic problems. He turns back to look at the road and keeps driving.

“When did you become the relationship guru, huh?” he mumbles and he sees Sam shake his head out of the corner of his eye.

“Why don’t you just ask her to prom, Dean?”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

Dean grips the steering wheel a little too hard, “It’s complicated.”

“No. It isn’t,” Sam says, firm and so strong in his convictions that it stops Dean in his tracks, “These things are only ever as complicated as you choose to make them. If you love this girl then it seems pretty simple to me.”

Dean loves his little brother so much in that moment that he almost feels tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. There’s hope sparking in Dean that hasn’t been there since freshman year and Dean lets himself think, for the first time in nearly four years, that maybe he could do this. Maybe he could ask Cas to prom and whatever his answer, know that at least he gave it a shot. He’d most likely say no, of course, there’s no way Cas could like him like that after everything he’s done, even if he were into guys. But at least he’d know he was lo– that someone cared about him.

He’s not sure if he’ll ever actually go through with it, but it’s nice to know that someone will have his back if he does, and Dean feels happier just having Sam smiling encouragingly at him.

He smiles back and reaches over to punch Sam in the arm, “Thanks, Dr Phil,” he says, and thinks that if he only gets to save one person from a burning building in his entire life, he’s glad it was Sammy.

Wednesday, June 11th 2014

On a list of things that are fair, Dean getting to go out with Sam and his friends for the bachelor party while Cas is left at home with several drunk girls is really abysmally low down. In fact, it probably doesn’t even make the list. It’s on its own list entitled ‘Things That Are Not Fair At All’.

Dean is probably having a perfectly wonderful time at the bar down the street, most likely with a line of women determinedly trying to win his affections. Maybe some of them succeeding.

Not that that matters to Cas because it really doesn’t. Maybe Dean is drunk and kissing a beautiful woman up against a wall somewhere right now, his hands on her waist or cupping her jaw in gentle palms in a way that would make her weak at the knees… but that’s fine, Cas doesn’t care one bit. He’s just annoyed that while Dean is out having fun, he is surrounded by Jess and six of her friends, all of whom become frighteningly high-pitched when drunk.

The three girls Cas has never met before – Hester, Rachel and Hannah – seem to have taken a particular interest in him and it’s really rather unnerving. Rachel’s fifth cocktail apparently caused an alarming problem with her space-depth perception as she is currently plastered against Cas’s arm.

“You know, as the best man it’s kind of tradition that you have sex with one of us,” she says with a giggle, too close to Cas’s ear, and Cas startles with a blush.

Jess laughs. They’re all sitting in a circle on the living room floor, the coffee table littered with various cocktails and empty cupcake wrappers. Cas tries to think about how much of a success they were, rather than the way Rachel’s hands are touching his leg in a way that Cas isn’t entirely comfortable with.

“Well, good news for you ladies,” Jess says, eyes sparkling, “There are two best men this year and they’re both crazy hot.”

All six of them cheer and lift their glasses in triumph and Cas feels his face get even warmer. He most certainly won’t be having sex with any of them, as nice as they all are, and he tries not to think about the fact that Dean might.

“Isn’t it tradition that the best man sleeps with the maid of honour?” Rebecca grins, “Because that’s totally me.”

Tracy snorts, “Um, excuse you, bitch, Jess totally likes me the best.”

Jess laughs again and reaches over to pat Cas clumsily on the shoulder, “Actually, technically that title goes to Cas, sorry girls!”

They all break down into giggles again, some of them whooping and waggling their eyebrows. Cas would very much like to sink through the floor. They all seem too drunk to realise what Jess implied and Cas is grateful for it. It’s bad enough having the images in his own head, unbidden and dangerous; Dean on top of him, underneath him, inside of him; without having to hear them speculate about it. The images burn at the insides of his eyelids and set his cheeks ablaze.

Rachel runs a finger across Cas’s cheekbone and it makes him jump. He shuffles a little to the left, managing to regain some distance between them but can’t help but feel a little grateful to her for startling him out of his thoughts.

“You’re cute when you blush,” she says, smiling at him like he’s some kind of furry animal.

Cas frowns. He’s pretty sure that was a flirtation and he’s just wondering how best to respond when thankfully, thankfully, his phone buzzes in his pocket. He makes a show of wiggling it free and to his relief, Rachel tires of waiting for a response.

“Oh, oh, I know!” She exclaims, eagerly bouncing up and down, “We should all guess how many people each of us has slept with! That’s a bachelorette party game right?”

The girls seem uncharacteristically excited by the prospect of this suggestion and Cas, who really isn’t interested in the slightest, opens up the text message.

dude the jewellers just called me. we gotta go pick up the rings tomorrow.’

It’s an unknown number but Cas has no problem working out who it is. His heart does an odd little flip in his chest and Cas attributes it to the fact that he’s just, through no fault of his own, imagined himself and Dean in some very inappropriate and compromising positions. Which, granted, isn’t an entirely new phenomenon in Cas’s life, it’s not like he hasn’t had the same thoughts before about Dean Winchester (and actually now he thinks about it – only Dean Winchester) but they haven’t been quite so vivid since senior year.

His phone buzzes again in his palm before he can answer.

oh sorry, this is dean btw,’ it reads and Cas can’t help but smile.

Yes I gathered as much. Personally I think we should collect them right now,’ he replies and Dean, to his surprise, answers right away.

haha not having fun with the girls?’

‘I think Rachel is flirting with me.’ He sends with a sigh and glances up from his phone to see everyone cooing over Jess for ‘only ever sleeping with one man’. Cas doesn’t understand why that garners so much attention.

It takes Dean a few minutes to reply and Cas begins to suspect that he isn’t going to. Perhaps he’s gone back to his faceless woman, or has grown tired of Cas’s conversation already. He’s just about to slip the phone back into his pocket when it vibrates again and Cas, relieved for reasons he doesn’t want to think about, opens it.

so flirt back’ it says simply and Cas wonders why it took so long to reply.

That would be rather cruel considering I have no intention of pursuing romance with her.’

‘aaaw what a respectable maid of honor you are :)’ Dean replies and Cas feels his face heat up again.  He wonders if Dean knows about this supposed best man/maid of honour tradition. Is he teasing Cas all over again? Does he know what such innocent words make Cas think about? Maybe. But Cas feels less convinced of it than perhaps experience should dictate.

There’s something about Dean, about how they spent their afternoon, that makes it hard for Cas to think of him as malicious, whatever happened years ago. He looks at the odd use of punctuation at the end of the text and turns his head to see a crude depiction of a smiling face and it, ridiculously, makes him smile back. He can see Dean in his head, clear as day, typing out the text with a relaxed grin on his face and he knows he can’t even be annoyed with him about the jibe.

Shut up, assbutt.’ he grins and Dean replies within a few seconds.

assbutt?????’

‘I’d ignore you,’ Cas types, even though it’s a lie, ‘except they are about to try and guess how many people I have had sexual relations with and it’s rather uncomfortable.’

And it really is. Cas hasn’t been listening to their conversation up until now but he knows enough to realise that Tracy is the last of the girls to ‘reveal her number’. Cas does not hold out much hope for being left out of this game.

man you don’t have to tell them anything if you don’t want to’

Cas sighs, ‘There’s nothing to tell them anyway.’ He replies and then feels, instantly, like that might have been a mistake.

WHAT? dude no WAY are you a virgin’ comes the reply and Cas feels his shoulders tense up.

Don’t mock me, Dean.’ He sends, his thumb jabbing a little harder than necessary and hoping that Dean will drop the subject.

He isn’t ashamed of his lack of experience, in fact he’s glad of it. He looks at Sam and Jess, who have only ever slept with the person they love, and it fills him with longing. That’s what he wants, one day, even though it’s beginning to look less and less likely. He doesn’t want his first time to be with some random person from a bar who won’t care about him, he doesn’t want any time to be with someone he doesn’t love. And it isn’t about morals or religion, he understands that sex is apparently very enjoyable and he is utterly indifferent to how many sexual partners anyone else chooses to have, but he’s personally never seen the appeal of it when all the emotion is stripped away. He’s not ashamed of his convictions, he’s happy in his choices and he won’t let Dean make him feel inadequate.

i’m not mocking you man! i swear! i just don’t get it’

Cas feels himself relax a little as the words sink in and he exhales. He’s just about to formulate a reply when a second text comes through, right underneath the first one.

‘you’re hot’ it reads and Cas blushes all the way to the tips of his ears.

Unfortunately, it’s then that the girls decide to take notice of him again.

“Oooooooh!” Hester coos, Hannah tittering into her hand, “Castiel, who are you texting?”

If it were possible, Cas would probably have flushed even darker, “No one,” he mumbles and Madison snorts.

“Yeah, right,” she smirks, “You’re blushing like a teenage girl!”

“You’ve been glued to that phone for the past ten minutes, Cas!” Rachel says, leaning back into Cas to try and peer over his shoulder and Cas hides the screen with a huff.

“You’d look pretty as a girl,” Rebecca grins and everyone collapses into giggles again, “Can I put make up on you?”

“Oh yes, let us!” Jess laughs, smirking at Cas like she knows just what she’s doing.

“Please don’t,” Cas says feebly, and when Rachel tries to take a peek at his phone for a second time, he stands up abruptly, shaking her off, “Excuse me.”

And he practically runs to the bathroom.

He thinks it’s probably the two cocktails he’s consumed that prompt him to hit the call button without really thinking about it.

“Cas!” Dean cries after three rings, and Cas can hear the faint sounds of music in the background. He sounds happy and relaxed, a bit tipsy maybe, but not drunk and Cas leans his head against the bathroom door.

“Dean, help me,” he says, without preamble, “They’re all very inebriated and Rebecca wants to put make up on me.”

Dean laughs, loud and carefree, “Oh man, I’m sorry. Are you hiding in the bathroom right now?”

Cas bites his lip, “Um… yes.”

Dean chuckles again, “Me too, actually. Sam called me ‘bossy and short’ and then clung onto me like a limpet. He’s an odd mixture of grumpy and affectionate when he’s drunk.”

Cas giggles and it’s a sound he’s not used to coming from his own mouth. He thinks he must be tipsier than he thought, he feels almost giddy all of a sudden, better than he has done all night.

“So, seriously,” Dean says, curious and disbelieving, “You’ve really never…”

Cas sighs, “I don’t understand why this is such a big deal.”

“It’s not!” Dean insists, “I’m just curious, is all.”

Cas shrugs, even though Dean can’t see him. “I’ve just… never had occasion.”

“Bullshit,” Dean snorts, “I bet you’ve had plenty of offers.”

Cas feels his annoyance creeping up the back of his neck, “Well, maybe we’re not all content to sleep with whoever is willing, Dean,” he snaps.

There’s a tense silence and Cas, after he hears the words replayed in his head, feels incredibly guilty. Dean doesn’t say anything for what feels like a long time and Cas closes his eyes, hoping that maybe he can take it back somehow.

“Right,” Dean says, before Cas can figure out how to make amends and his voice is clipped and forced, “Good luck with the girls, I’ll see you later.”

“Dean – ” Cas starts, but he’s cut off by a click that seems to echo in the empty bathroom and a dial tone that sounds like a flat line.

Cas sighs and rests his forehead against his phone. Shit.

It’s not Dean’s fault that Cas used to ache at the sight of him with his girlfriends, nor is it his fault that Cas can’t help but feel… something about it now. It doesn’t make sense, this gnarled and ugly feeling in his chest when he thinks about it. It can’t be jealousy, not again and surely not still. He shouldn’t care what Dean does or who he does it with and he certainly shouldn’t take his own confusion out on him.

He feels even worse when he realises that he was so scared of Dean judging him on his sex life that he ended up doing exactly the same to Dean.

He doesn’t stay downstairs for long after that. He lets Jess ply him with another cocktail and sits reluctantly amused while Rebecca applies eyeliner and mascara to his eyelashes. He smiles indulgently at the lot of them while they break into a second round of cupcakes and slips away while they’re immersed in some sort of drinking game, kissing Jess on the forehead as he mumbles his goodnight.

It’s not really that late, sometime around midnight and Cas stands in the middle of his room for a while, trying to work out what to say. He types out three different texts:

I apologise. I didn’t mean –

Dean I didn’t mean to imply –

I’m sorry I thought you were mocking me

Before sighing and erasing every single one. In the end he selects the camera option and snaps a photo of his own face, complete with make up.

The girls win this round.’ He writes underneath and sends before he can change his mind. He leaves the phone on the bedside table while he gets ready for bed in the bathroom, washing the make up from his face and tries to tell himself not to check for a reply when he gets back to the room.

It’s not until he’s lying in the dark that his phone lights up on the bedside table and Cas, unable to stop himself, grabs it.

‘Prettiest maid of honor ever’ it says and Cas smiles so wide it hurts his cheeks. It warms him and sends his insides souring through the clouds, the ease at which Dean forgives. Just like it did when he heard about Benny, Cas’s heart thumps in wonder.

And maybe it was a joke, he’s pretty sure that’s exactly what it was, but Dean had called him pretty all the same, and Cas can’t help the boldness that comes from alcohol and confusing compliments.

‘Your friends always used to say my eyes were creepy.’ he sends and when Dean replies, Cas’s heart feels too big for his chest.

‘they were dicks.’ It says, ‘your eyes are awesome’

Friday, May 21st 2004

Senior prom is three weeks away and Sam’s words repeat themselves over and over in Dean’s head like a scene from ‘The Shining’. It’s constant and impossible to ignore, a typewriter stuck on the same words, pinging obnoxiously at the end of every line, making it impossible for Dean to block them out.

‘Why don’t you just ask her to prom? If you love this girl then it seems pretty simple to me.’

Ignoring the incorrect pronouns, Dean can’t help but wonder whether Sam is right. Or maybe it’s that he knows he’s right, he just doesn’t know what to do about it.

Not that Dean’s in love with Cas. It feels like it sometimes, when his eyes meet Dean’s and Dean’s heart stops in his chest, or at night when all Dean can think about is the way Cas smiled at him when they first met. It feels like love when their fingers brush; when Cas pulls on his trenchcoat at the end of every day; when he looks at Dean like he sees him. Dean knows it can’t really be love, not yet. He doesn’t know Cas as well as he likes to think, they’ve barely exchanged more than a few words since sophomore year and Dean knows that it’s not quite enough.

But it feels just as inevitable – unavoidable, powerful – when Dean thinks about how he has tried to refocus the energy onto others and failed; held girl after girl up against his body and tried not to think about blue eyes and lean muscles that would feel so different under his hands.

Dean is not in love, but he’s getting there. He’s dangerously close, hanging off the precipice by his fingertips and unsure whether he even wants to keep holding on. Would Cas catch him? Probably not. But maybe there’s something to be said for giving it a shot anyway.

Of course, the fact that Dean doesn’t yet have a date for prom hasn’t gone unnoticed by the rest of the school. It’s not exactly a surprise to anyone, there are still three weeks to go after all and he hasn’t had a girlfriend in months.

It should be gratifying, how many girls seem to be vying for his attention, but instead it just makes him uncomfortable. He feels objectified, argued over like a piece of meat. He’s overheard girls bickering amongst themselves, fighting for the right to be asked by him like he gets no say in the matter. He’s heard of bets and challenges, like he’s some kind of prize and it’s painfully obvious that none of them really give a shit about him. They don’t care what he wants, who he likes, what his favourite book is.

He could ask any one of them, he knows Lydia from the cheerleading team expects him to ask her before the month is out, but he can’t quite bring himself to. And really, it’s all Sam’s fault.

As far as the rest of the team are concerned, things have actually been pretty quiet recently. The football season is over and although Dean still ends up sitting with them at lunch more often than not, he’s a senior now and it’s really only Gordon and Bartholomew who have any kind of leverage over him. None of the others would dare threaten Sam and it’s been a long time since anyone has forced Dean into anything.

They don’t seem to be trying to include Dean now, but from where he sits, finishing his lunch on the field, Dean has an excellent view of Gordon and Bart a few feet away and his heart sinks. They’re making a beeline for Cas.

Cas isn’t even doing anything and it fills Dean with rage. He has a book in his hands as he makes his way innocently past the muddy edges of the field and Dean has had enough. He gets up and marches over to them without a second thought.

The resident dicks have already got to Cas, who’s stopped in his tracks with wide eyes, clutching his book to his chest and Dean gets to them just in time to catch Bart trying to get him to hand it over.

“Come on, Novak, I just want to see it,” he says as Dean comes to stand next to them and he’s smirking in a way that makes Dean’s blood boil.

Cas’s eyes flick to Dean’s, somewhere between hopeful and hopeless, and then turn back to Bart, chin raised defiantly.

“No,” he says, glare in place and arms hugging the book tighter against him.

“No?” Bart asks, face growing dark, “Do you know who the fuck you’re talking to?”

Cas’s jaw sets in a hard line and he opens his mouth to reply just as Dean himself does, but they’re both beaten to it.

“Don’t worry about it, Bart,” Gordon says, voice quiet and infinitely more dangerous, “Winchester will take it from him.”

No, Dean wants to scream, I won’t. Cas is staring at him with pleading eyes and he won’t do it. He wants to shout and curse and laugh into the sky because he’s not going to do what they say anymore. He can’t get his mouth to work, can’t even get himself to look away from Cas’s eyes, and he doesn’t move a muscle. Just stands there, staring, and hopes Gordon will get the fucking message.

Cas looks away before Dean can work out how best to tell Gordon to go fuck himself and ducks his head. He moves to skirt around them, trying to walk away, and Dean doesn’t even think about reaching his hand out towards him. He doesn’t want him to leave without knowing Dean isn’t going to be an asshole anymore, he doesn’t want him to go now just as Dean is starting to feel brave, so his hand lifts in an automatic move towards Cas’s arm as he tries to shuffle right past him.

Cas flinches away from Dean’s outstretched hand, turning his back towards him to shield his book and Dean feels it like a stab to the heart before Gordon is shoving a shoulder into Dean’s, jostling him sideways until he’s colliding with Cas’s back.

Cas, unprepared and arms against his own chest, falls straight into the mud.

Dean stands frozen, staring with wide eyes at where Cas is sprawled on the ground and he can barely hear the obnoxious laughter of the other two behind him. Cas’s glasses are unbroken but caked in mud a few feet from Cas’s left hand and his book, whatever it is, has gone flying. It lies open and face down in the dirt and Dean wishes with everything he has that it had been him that had hit the ground.

“Way to go, Winchester!” Gordon cheers from behind him, clapping him on the back in an exaggerated show of pride and Bart starts to clap his hands like it’s a damn football game, “Good one, Dean!”

Cas reaches a shaking hand out to hook his glasses back over his ears and stands up, book held miserably against his chest once again. He turns around and Dean feels his throat close up. There are tears in his eyes now like there never have been before and Dean feels his own start to prickle their way up the back of his throat. He looks so hurt and Dean feels trapped in his own head like he’s dreaming; like those nightmares where you try to scream but no sound comes out. Cas looks defeated and small and like Dean’s just broken his heart.

And then he’s gone, back into the building before Dean can even blink.

“Oh man, that was awesome!” Laughs Gordon, “Did you see his face?”

And that’s when Dean snaps. He spins around.

“Shut the fuck up, Walker.”

Three other members of the team have appeared behind Gordon and Bart and all five of them start ‘oooo’-ing at him like they’re nothing but amused by his outburst.

“Well, someone’s got his panties in a twist,” Gordon smirks and the others snicker behind their hands.

Dean clenches his fists, “You know, I don’t know what that kid ever did to you, but I’m done. Count me out.”

Seeing Cas so lost made him feel like shit, smaller than he ever has, but saying these words now, finally, brings him hope that he could feel better than he has done in years. He’s caught scent of what it could be like, to feel tall and brave and free, and he wants to sing the words again from the rooftops.

He also wants to beat himself bloody for not doing this four years ago.

He steps forward and fists a hand into Gordon’s shirt, “And if I see any of you giving him shit again,” he growls, low and more dangerous than he thought himself capable of, “I swear to God, and anyone else who might be listening, that you’ll regret it.”

He lets go of Gordon with a jerk, sending him stumbling back a little in surprise, and glares darkly at the rest, faces all frozen in shock and nervous amusement.

Dean turns to leave but Gordon calls after him,

“Why don’t you just ask him to prom if you like him so much?”

And Dean laughs. He turns back to face them, grin wide and real on his face and he can’t help but throw his head back as he laughs because he knows, right there, that that’s exactly what he’s going to do. He’s going to find Cas and he’s going to apologise, get down on his knees if he has to, and he’s going to ask him to prom.

And even if Cas doesn’t say yes, maybe they can at least be friends. Maybe they can hang out over the summer and Dean will finally get to ask all the questions he’s wanted to ask since freshman year. Maybe July and August will pass in a blur of movie marathons and trips to the park and Dean can finally talk about books and the stars he never got to learn about because astronomy club wasn’t ‘cool’.

Or maybe Cas will say yes and they can dance to some cheesy pop song while Dean whispers apologies and promises into his hair. Maybe Dean will drive him home after and kiss him by his front door.

Dean looks back at the five boys, staring at him like he’s gone mad.

“You know what?” he grins, backing away just as the bell sounds for class, “That’s exactly what I’m gonna do.”

Chapter Text

Thursday, June 12th 2014

“Oh good God, Dean,” Benny groans through the phone pressed to Dean’s ear, “Please tell me you’re not fallin’ for this guy again. You know he doesn’t swing your way!”

Dean sighs and taps the fingers of his free hand against his coffee mug. He’s sitting outside, enjoying the peace and quiet while Sam and Jess are out jogging (which they don’t even have to do for their jobs, so what the hell?) and Cas is still in bed.

“I know,” he snaps, frustrated, but Benny continues as if he hasn’t really heard him.

“And what’s more, accordin’ to a drunken phone call last night, he also called you a ‘gay slut’!”

“Um,” Dean winces, “Well, I might have been reading between the lines there.”

There’s a few seconds of silence, during which Dean imagines Benny closing his eyes and praying for strength, before he speaks again.

“Dean,” he says, sounding more than a little bit done with this entire conversation, “He didn’t say that at all, did he?”

Dean grimaces, “…No.”

Benny groans again, “For God’s sake, Dean, you know that just ‘cause I run a support group, that don’t make me a counsellor, right?”

“I know, I know, I just…” Dean leans his head back against the chair and sighs, shrugging even though Benny can’t see him, “I don’t know what to do, okay? He’s so fucking nice to everyone else! And he’s smart and sweet and he does this head tilt thing when he doesn’t get something and –”

“Dean, please stop.”

“Just tell me what to do, man!” Dean puts his mug down and rubs his hand agitatedly on the leg of his jeans, “One minute he’s smiling at me and sending me selfies and the next he’s snapping at me and judging me for every little thing!”

“Why does it even matter what he thinks of you, Dean?” Benny asks, soft but insistent, “Look, I know you feel bad about some of the shit you pulled at school but that was ten years ago. You’re a good person; best one I’ve ever known,” Dean flushes, “So if this guy is giving you shit, screw ‘im, he’s missin’ out.”

Dean smiles weakly and folds forward to rest his head against his knees.

“Plus,” Benny says, a smirk audible in his voice, “You’re kind of easy on the eyes too, y’know. Hell, if I played for your team I’d be all over that ass like a house fire.”

Dean snorts and sits back up, “Well I can certainly see how you’d charm me with your sweet talking,” he deadpans.

“You better believe it,” Benny chuckles, “I’d woo those pants right off you.”

Dean scrunches up his nose, “That’s… really kind of gross, dude.”

“What?” Benny drawls, obviously raising an eyebrow, “Like blue eyes and stubble ain’t your thing?”

Dean groans, “Screw you.”

“Ha!” Benny barks a laugh, “You do realise what a poor choice of words that was given our topic of conversation, right?”

Dean offers another weak smile to the ground as he leans his elbows against his knees but he doesn’t respond, has nothing to say anyway, and Benny’s chuckles taper off into a sigh.

“Seriously, Bub,” he says after a moment, soft and comforting in his ear, “What the hell is it about this guy, huh?”

And that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? What is it about Castiel that makes him feel so unsure about everything?

“I don’t even know,” he says and it absolutely isn’t in any way a whine, “He’s just. I dunno. I guess I just never really got over him. And I know he was a dick about the whole prom thing, but you said yourself, it’s been ten years! Maybe he’s changed, too.”

And surely he has. Surely. Not once in all the times Cas has looked at him these past few days has Dean seen disgust in his eyes. He’s seen anger, disappointment, dislike and even disdain, but not disgust and Dean can’t help the feeling that something doesn’t add up.

Benny sighs, “Look, just be careful, okay? I don’t want to see you back here on Monday mornin’ with another broken heart because of him.”

Dean rolls his eyes, “You’re making me sound like a high school movie chick.”

“No, Brother,” Benny snorts, “You’re makin’ yourself sound like a high school movie chick.”

If they were actually sitting side by side right now, Dean would punch his friend in the shoulder and show his indignation with a very manly and intimidating glare. But they’re not, so Dean settles for a disgruntled huff and a mumbled, “I am not.”

Benny laughs, “Dean, you just called your best friend because your dreamy high school crush doesn’t like you back.”

“Well, that’s where you’re wrong,” Dean argues, “You are no longer my best friend.”

Benny just laughs again, “You’re a filthy liar, Dean Winchester,” he says, fondness unmistakable in his voice despite the laughter lacing through it, “Now stop whinin’ to me and go charm that boy right off his feet.”

“I hate you,” Dean smiles reluctantly, not meaning it for a second.

“Love you too, Sugar,” Benny croons before ending the call and Dean can’t help but chuckle.

After a quick lunch of omelettes which Dean brings out to the garden for all four of them to enjoy, Dean stands up and stretches.

“Okay,” he says, clapping Sam on the back, “I’m gonna head out to get those rings.”

Cas stands abruptly and Dean waves a hand in his direction, “You don’t have to come, man.”

Cas frowns, “I want to,” he says, staring at Dean with those big, earnest eyes and Dean doesn’t know if he’s relieved or annoyed.

He sighs, “Fine. But we’re taking Sam’s car. I ain’t driving in Gabe’s Pimp-mobile.”

Cas rolls his eyes but follows Dean back into the house without comment. In fact, they stay in surprisingly comfortable silence throughout the drive to the jewellers, only interrupted every few minutes by Cas patiently giving directions. It’s only after Dean shuts off the engine outside the shop that Cas breaks the silence with something else.

He clears his throat nervously, “Dean, I think I should apologise for last night.”

It’s quiet and he’s staring at his hands, but it’s almost painfully sincere.

“Don’t worry about it, man,” Dean waves a dismissive hand in Cas’s direction, trying to let Cas know that it’s fine, it’s forgotten, but Cas just sighs.

“Dean, just let me apologise,” he says pleadingly and Dean can’t help but snort quietly to himself. Kind of rich coming from Cas.

He turns his head, ready to make some snappish comment about how letting people apologise has never exactly been Cas’s forte, but he can’t quite get the words out. Cas is looking at him, so earnest and desperate to be heard, his body twisted to face him, that Dean can’t do anything but nod his permission.

“I was worried that you would mock me for my choices,” Cas says quietly and Dean turns to stare out the front window with a shake of his head.

“Look, man,” he shrugs, “It really isn’t any of my business if you wanna wait until marriage or whatever your reason is. It’s cool. I was just curious.”

“Okay,” Cas nods and Dean sneaks a look at him out the corner of his eye, “Well, I would just rather wait until I have someone who really means something to me. I have no desire for meaningless sex.”

Dean considers him for a moment, shoulders slumped and expression open where he looks at his hands, and he feels an overwhelming sense of protectiveness. He’s wearing the trenchcoat again and it covers up how broad and strong Cas really is in a way that makes him look small and vulnerable. He swivels around to mirror Cas’s position, facing him as much as he can and clears his throat.

“You know, you might be onto something there,” he says and Cas looks up, confused. Dean just shrugs, “Like you so sweetly pointed out last night, I’ve had my fair share of casual hook-ups. Mostly all through high school and my years as a mechanic, to be honest. Last few years… I don’t know. It kind of lost its appeal.”

Cas smiles and tilts his head, “You want to settle down?”

Dean shrugs, embarrassed and looks back out the window, “If I find the right one to settle down with, maybe.”

There’s a few seconds of silence and when Dean looks at Cas again he can’t read the expression on his face. It’s considering, fond even, but with an emotion almost like sadness hovering in his eyes that doesn’t make sense.

“You grew up,” he says eventually, smiling, and it doesn’t feel like a continuation of the conversation they were having. It sounds like an observation and Dean can’t help but smile back.

“So did you,” he says and he reaches over to tap Cas’s cheek with a finger, “You got peach fuzz.”

Cas’s cheeks bloom into a soft pink where his fingers brush and his smile begins to widen.

“You got a new jacket.”

Dean laughs, “Yeah, well you didn’t.” He gestures at Cas’s coat, “I can’t believe you still have that thing.”

Cas looks down at it, “It was my dad’s,” he mumbles and Dean grins at the top of his head.

“Yeah, I remember.”

Cas looks surprised and Dean doesn’t blame him. He’d said it, not really thinking, but he’s glad it’s out there anyway. Cas is looking at him like he can’t quite believe he’s heard right and maybe Dean should be embarrassed, he did just admit to remembering some random, tiny detail about Cas that Cas probably doesn’t even remember telling him in the first place. It was in freshman year, before it all went to shit, when Dean had blushed his way through walking Cas to his locker one rainy afternoon.

But he can’t quite manage to feel embarrassed at all with Cas smiling softly at him like that.

“You got contacts,” Dean says, thankful for the excuse to keep watching the way Cas’s eyes are shining, but Cas ducks his head again before he can catalogue every shade.

“Yes, well,” Cas says nervously, “I hated those glasses.”

Dean’s heart thumps. “I didn’t.”

Cas lifts his head again with a frown but it’s confused rather than judgemental and Dean figures it’s now or never.

“Look, man,” he says, staring down at his own hands where they twitch nervously against his thighs, “I never… at high school. I never wanted –”

“I know, Dean.”

“My brother –”

“Yes, I know.” Cas’s tone is final, weary and the air around them feels thicker than it ever has, “You were trying to protect him, I figured as much.” He swallows and looks away, “Doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt.”

“I know,” Dean says, probably too fast, “And I know it probably means nothing now but,” he shrugs and looks up to catch Cas’s eyes, “I’m sorry.”

The corners of Cas’s eyes crinkle first, and then, ever so slowly, a smile starts to pull at his lips.

“I wouldn’t say ‘nothing’,” Cas says eventually and Dean lets out a relieved huff of shaky laughter.

He tears his gaze away, rubbing the back of his neck and turning away. “Okay then,” he says, opening his car door with a lopsided grin in Cas’s direction, “Let’s go get these rings.”

The minute they walk through the doors to the jewellers, Dean feels instantly uncomfortable. It’s the most ridiculously extravagant room he’s ever been in: cream walls with gold paint along the cornices, ornate mirrors and a freaking crystal chandelier. Dean feels completely out of place, nervous about even breathing in case he breaks something, and he’s grateful for the warmth of Cas by his side.

There’s a scarily serious looking woman in a grey pant suit behind the counter who looks them up and down like she’d really rather they weren’t there and Dean feels his fists clench.

“Uh,” he coughs, “Hey.”

The woman raises an eyebrow and Dean shuffles closer. The tag on her jacket says her name is Naomi, but Dean gets the distinct impression that using that information to flirt with her will not help this situation.

“We’re here to pick up some rings for my brother?”

“Name?” She asks, turning back to her computer with a pinched expression.

“Um… Sam?”

She levels him with another condescending look before pointedly fixing her gaze on Cas instead, who’s standing a little behind Dean.

“What name is the order under?” she asks him and Dean feels his hackles rise.

“Sam Winchester,” Cas supplies, “You called Dean last night.”

He gestures towards Dean but Naomi barely looks at him. Instead she sighs, types something into her computer and then nods.

“You’re Dean Winchester?” she asks, still not looking at him.

Dean clenches his jaw, “Yes, Ma’am.”

“I’m going to need some ID.”

Dean smiles sarcastically in her direction when she deigns to glance up at him and pulls his ID out of his jeans pocket. She surveys it, somehow managing to look displeased when she realises he checks out, and nods stiffly.

“Very well. If you could both please have a seat, we weren’t expecting you for another thirty or so minutes and I believe they may still need to be polished.” She gestures towards the red velvet couch on the far side of the room, “I would please ask that you try not to touch anything,” she looks pointedly at Dean before disappearing through the door behind the counter.

What a bitch.

“Wow,” Dean mutters to himself, still standing stiffly by the counter, “Are we even allowed to breathe?”

Cas chuckles behind him and Dean turns to see him making his way over to the couch. It looks incredibly uncomfortable but Dean sits down next to him all the same.

They sit stiffly for five minutes, too uncomfortable in the oppressive atmosphere to speak, despite how Dean had kind of been joking about the whole ‘not being allowed to breathe’ thing. Dean feels the discomfort itching in his fingers, tapping them against his jiggling legs and sighing.

He sighs again, pursing his lips and letting the air whistle out in a noise too loud for the silence. He coughs. He pulls at a loose thread in one of the cushions. He exhales hard enough for his lips to vibrate like a horse.

It’s just as Dean starts to make absentminded clicking sounds with his tongue against the roof his mouth that Cas sighs exasperatedly and turns to Dean with a worryingly Sam-like glare.

“I take it back,” he says, and the words sound loud enough to startle him a little in the empty room, “You haven’t grown up at all.”

Dean rolls his eyes at the way Cas’s lips twitch treacherously upwards at the corners and flips him off with a grin. Cas just chuckles in response and Dean lets it relax his shoulders.

His gaze falls on the grand piano in the corner of the room and he’s struck by a ridiculous idea.

“I bet you can play that, right?” he asks, gesturing towards it and Cas, surprised, nods.

“Yes, I can. How did you know that?”

“I dunno,” Dean shrugs, “You’re smart.”

Cas sighs and looks sternly at him, “So are you, Dean.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean waves a hand as if to bat the comment away, “Will you play something?”

Cas’s eyes go wide. They dart uncertainly between Dean and the piano and Dean looks steadily back at him.

“Now?” Cas asks, glancing at the door Naomi disappeared through, “Dean, we’re not allowed to touch anything.”

Dean levels him with a challenging look, “Now who hasn’t grown up.”

“Rules are not just for children, Dean,” Cas huffs indignantly and Dean whines.

“Come on, Cas! Just play one thing. We can tell the scary lady I made you do it.” He lowers his head and looks up at Cas through his lashes with his absolute best puppy dog eyes. He even flutters his eyelids a few times for good measure, “I’ll be the Lucifer to your Eve.”

Cas laughs and shakes his head at him. He looks at his hands for a quiet few seconds, half opening his mouth a couple of times like he’s trying to decide whether or not to say something. Then he looks up.

“You know,” he says, low and secretive, “I do actually have a brother called Lucifer.”

Dean’s smile freezes on his face. Cas has told him about his siblings before, both at school and since they’ve been here in California and never once has he heard of any Lucifer.

“What?”

“Yes,” Cas nods, “He left home before my father did. He was the second son after Michael.”

Dean has the sudden urge to wrap his hands around Cas’s. He wiggles them under his own thighs instead.

“Do you remember him?”

Cas shrugs, “Only very little. I was seven when he left and Michael and Gabriel never liked to talk about him much after that. I don’t even know why he left.”

It’s awful really, especially when Dean knows this must have happened only a few years after Cas’s mom died; followed shortly by their dad running out on them. It makes Dean want to gather the entire Novak family under his wing in a weird moment of protectiveness. He’s never even met Michael or Balthazar, never been close with the other two either, but he finds himself wanting them all to be happy anyway. Cas doesn’t look sad now, more like he’s remembering a time when he was, and so Dean leans over to knock their shoulders together.

“Maybe it’s because he was called Lucifer,” he smiles, “I mean, no offence, but that’s just cruel.”

Cas exhales with a reluctant grin and shakes his head, “As I’ve said before, ‘Castiel’ wasn’t particularly kind either.”

Dean smiles at the side of his face, “And just like before I’m going to have to disagree. Castiel has kind of grown on me.”

Cas rolls his eyes as if he can hide the fact that he’s grinning right back and stands up.

“Okay,” he sighs exaggeratedly, “One song.”

Dean fist-pumps the air in victory, just to see Cas roll his eyes again, and jumps up to squeeze himself next to Cas on the piano stool. They’re sitting too close really, their sides pressed together from hip to toe but Cas doesn’t seem to mind, so Dean doesn’t bother to feel embarrassed.

And then Cas starts to play. It’s a beautiful piece, one of those tunes that feel neither happy nor sad; making you wonder, making you hope. Dean doesn’t recognise it but he feels it carving itself onto his ribs until he knows he’ll always be able to remember it. It takes Dean’s breath away, more than he’d expected, to see Cas’s face in such contentment, to watch him fill the silence with miracles.

He can’t look away from Cas’s hands, gentle and strong, caressing the ivory and making it sing in a way that renders Dean hot and breathless. He thinks, for one torturously glorious moment, of the music Cas could coax out of him; what noises Dean would make under the ministrations of those hands. He thinks of those fingers playing melodies against the knobs of his spine, his chest, his hips; those palms stretched across the octaves of his skin; and he shudders.

When the song is over, a crescendo of hope ending in warm, contented chords, Cas’s hands rest lightly on top of the keys and Dean can’t help but rest his beside them.

“Will you teach me?” he asks and he doesn’t know why. He can actually play a little bit, he taught himself after his first girlfriend taught him to play guitar. He’s not all that good, he only knows a couple of songs and hasn’t played them in years, but he knows enough to get by.

But he thinks it’s worth the lie when Cas rests his hands on top of Dean’s own, sending tiny little shockwaves up from each millimetre of contact to tingle at the roots of his hair. He lets Cas guide him with gentle, patient movements and he pretends not to remember anything just to keep Cas’s fingers against his for longer. He itches to turn his own hands over, to feel their palms slide together in a way he hasn’t thought about for years.

It feels like a very long time, though it’s probably only been minutes, before Cas sighs, amused but exasperated and stills their hands.

“There is no way you are that bad, Winchester,” he says with a smile and Dean, unable to hold himself back, laughs with his head falling backwards and his hands sliding out from underneath Cas’s.

“Nah,” he shrugs, rubbing his hands sheepishly against his thighs, “I’m not anywhere near as good as you, but I learnt a little back at school.” Cas tilts his head in question and Dean adds, “Used to sit in the music rooms at lunch sometimes. Taught myself a bit on the keyboards.”

Cas’s eyes crinkle and it’s fast becoming one of Dean’s favourite things in the world, “Show me.”

Dean smirks, “Prepare to be amazed.”

He waggles his eyebrows and tries to ignore the irony in the fact that the only tune he can remember right now is an REO Speedwagon classic.

He plays it incredibly poorly, it’s slow and jerky with half the notes coming out jumbled and it’s partly because he can’t remember how to play it and partly because he’s concentrating on singing the words along with the notes. Cas is laughing next to him, louder and happier than Dean has ever heard him, and Dean feels so giddy with it he forgets to care about where they are.

You’re a candle in the window on a cold, dark winter’s night! Come on Cas,” he urges with a nudge of their shoulders, “And I’m getting closer than I ever thought I miiiiiiiiight!”

He’s belting it out now, Cas shaking against him and staring at him in a way Dean can’t decipher through his periphery.

“I know you know the words to this one, Cas, come on, And I can’t fight this feeling anymoooore!”

I’ve forgotten what I started fighting foooor!” Cas joins in, his voice low and off key, “It’s time to bring this ship into the shore!”

“And throw away the oars, foreeeeeeeverrrr!”

Dean’s pretty sure he hasn’t played a correct note throughout the chorus, too caught up in Cas and his own breathless laughter, and they’re both too busy grinning so hard their cheeks hurt to notice Naomi storming back into the room.

They scramble out from behind the piano, Dean grabbing a fistful of Cas’s coat to help pull him out and they don’t stay long enough to hear the end of the lecture she gives them. Dean takes the neat little bag out of her hands with a quick thank you and an exaggerated salute before dragging Cas out of the door.

The stumble out onto the street and Dean feels drunker than he did last night, laughing and wiping half-formed tears out of his eyes. He’s bent double, hands resting on his knees while he catches his breath and Cas is right next to him, leaning down to stare at him with his sparkly-eyed smile, coat half hanging off one shoulder where Dean had gripped it.

When Dean finally catches his breath and straightens up, Cas’s eye crinkles are deeper than Dean has ever seen them and he knows, right here on the sidewalk, that this is it, game over. He’s well and truly gone on Castiel Novak.

Monday, May 24th 2004

Cas thought very, very seriously about calling in sick today. It wouldn’t even be that much of a lie, his stomach is tying itself in knots that make him feel like he’s about to throw up.

After what happened on Friday, Cas had been very careful to avoid Dean for the rest of the afternoon. He’d sat through the last classes of the day barely listening to anything the teachers had to say, staring at the clock instead of taking notes. He’d made sure to get to the lockers before Dean and grabbed his coat without even taking the time to pull it on.

He’d spent the weekend trying, and failing, not to think about it.

This morning he’d woken up from a dream where he and Dean had been lying in a field, hands tangled between them on the grass, and it had hurt more than it ever had. He shouldn’t have ever allowed himself to entertain such thoughts, let alone now when Dean has knocked his already shattered hopes into the mud and crushed them to dust.

He makes the walk to school with Anna in silence. They’ve never talked about Dean again, not since last summer and Cas is grateful for that now, especially as he’s pretty sure Anna knows why he’s been so miserable this weekend. Or at least, who he’s been miserable about.

What really makes him angry is how not angry he is with Dean. He should be furious with him, he should hate him, but he doesn’t and it’s not fair. He just feels disappointed. He just feels like he can’t hold on much longer to the image of Dean he’s so desperately hung onto over the years, but he can’t bear to let it go. He can’t bear to have been wrong about this.

When he rounds the corner to get to his locker his heart sinks and he wishes with every fibre of his being that he’d called in sick after all. Dean’s there, leaning against Cas’s locker like he’s been there for a while and Cas would honestly turn around and run if it weren’t for the fact that Dean has quite obviously seen him, and is pushing himself up to meet him halfway.

“Cas!” He calls, wringing his hands, and Cas would believe he was nervous if the entire football team weren’t standing at the end of the row of lockers, some of them sniggering under their breaths.

Determined not to fall for Dean’s distressed face, Cas sets his jaw and continues to walk towards his locker.

“Cas, man,” Dean says, standing right in front of him now, blocking his way, “Look, can we talk?”

Cas stops but keeps his gaze focused on a point over Dean’s shoulder, “Please move, Dean.”

“Cas, c’mon, look at me.”

Cas does. He can’t help it, Dean’s voice sounds so pleading, but he clenches his jaw even harder and turns to face him with a glare. It makes Dean recoil slightly, shoulders hunching up in defence and Cas forces himself to remember that he doesn’t care how desperate Dean looks.

“Look,” Dean says quietly, collecting himself, “I really didn’t mean… I didn’t want… I’m sorry, okay? I really am. For Friday, for… for everything. Ever since freshman year I just. I’m sorry.”

He looks so sincere, so guilty Cas can hardly believe it’s an act. He wants to believe him, he wants to believe him so badly. He’s saying the words Cas has dreamed of hearing for years and they sound even better than they ever did in his head, but there’s something off about this happening now. Gordon and his cronies are sniggering audibly now and Cas tenses up.

“Is this a joke?” he asks, voice as neutral as he can manage, trying not to break just from the exhaustion of it all.

“No!” Dean says, and he sounds almost horrified, “Cas, forget those jerks over there, okay? I’m sorry I listened to them for so long. And I know this is too late but. I was kind of hoping you’d forgive me.” He’s looking at Cas through his eyelashes and breathing a little too hard. Cas’s heart hammers against his sternum until it hurts.

“And, uh,” Dean says, breathy and biting his lip while he looks at his feet, “And maybe I was hoping, you would let me take you to prom?”

It’s so quiet Cas is sure he must have misheard, he can barely hear anything over the sound of his own blood pumping in his ears anyway. Dean looks up at him eventually, shoulders setting in a defensive line and lifting his chin in determination as he meets his eyes and for a second Cas feels his heart leap out of his throat, soaring into space to dance through nebulas.

But then, with a bark of laughter from Bartholomew and a loud wolf whistle, it plummets back to earth.

They know. They all know.

His heart returns to him like an anvil to the chest. He shouldn’t be surprised, he’s sure he hasn’t been that subtle in his affections after all, but he’d always hoped that maybe they didn’t care enough to notice. How long have they known how he feels? Have they just been biding their time before driving the dagger in?

Gordon’s laughing openly now and it’s all a joke, of course it is. How could he have let himself believe it, even for a second. Dean’s still staring at him, presumably waiting for whatever reaction they were hoping for and Cas hates himself for letting this happen. Dean knows how Cas feels about him, he knows and he doesn’t care. He’s shining a light onto Cas’s heart with a magnifying glass and watching it burn.

And Cas finally feels the anger he’s been searching for. He pulls back, shaking and determined, finally, to stand up for himself, and punches Dean square in the jaw.

Dean, caught off guard, falls back into the lockers behind him and Cas, even more angered by the delighted reactions from the spectators, doesn’t even stop to analyse the stricken expression on Dean’s face.

“You disgust me, Dean Winchester,” he says, voice low and dark and trying not to crack.

Before any of them can see him break, he turns around and walks away, not even caring about the books he won’t be able to take to class.

He doesn’t look at Dean Winchester again for a very, very long time.

Thursday, June 12th 2014

Dean’s in the middle of telling Cas how Sam once broke his arm jumping of Bobby’s shed because he thought batman could fly, when he gets a text. He takes his right hand off the steering wheel to fish the phone out of his pocket, where it’s immediately snatched out of his grasp by Cas.

“Hey!” He complains, and Cas raises an unimpressed eyebrow at him before opening the message.

“It’s Sam,” he reads, “He asks that we pick up the flowers while we’re out.”

“Dude!” Dean exclaims in mock outrage, “What if that had been a private message?”

He has his eyes fixed on the road as he navigates a roundabout so he can’t see Cas’s facial expression, but the amusement is audible in his voice anyway.

“Do you get a lot of private messages, Dean?”

Dean huffs, “Maybe. You don’t know. I could be a spy.”

He definitely could be a spy. James Bond eat your heart out.

“Well then you’re a pretty poor one considering you just told me.”

Or I’m a really good one because I totally double bluffed you!” Dean smiles smugly at him, turning to look just in time to catch Cas dragging his gaze up and down Dean’s body. Slowly.

“Well,” Cas says with a sly smile, “You did look good in a tux.”

Holy shit. Cas should not be allowed to say things like that while Dean’s trying to drive a car without wrapping it around a tree. Dean blushes and turns back to the road.

“Shut up,” he mumbles and jerks his head at the phone still in Cas’s hands, “Where are the flowers?”

Cas directs them back the way they came, followed by several side streets which he insists are shortcuts. They aren’t.

After ten minutes of bickering and a triumphant smile on Dean’s face as they pull into a parking space outside the shop, absolutely no thanks to Cas, they get there. Dean thinks it’s kind of ridiculously endearing how epically Cas fails to sulk once he catches sight of all the flowers.

Eden’ is a small shop with a large greenhouse attached at the back. The room they walk into is full to the brim with flowers, every colour Dean’s ever heard of splashed across the walls, spilling onto the floor and over the counter. Dean takes a deep breath and feels every muscle in his body relaxing. It really is hard to be anything but happy in a place like this.

The man behind the counter smiles serenely, “Can I help you?” he asks and Dean steps forward, leaving Cas to gaze wondrously at the vines around the door.

Dean gives their names and shows some ID and the man, who introduces himself as Joshua, leads them through the back door into the greenhouse.

It’s enormous, at least three times the size of Dean’s entire garden and he almost wishes they had time to look around.

“These ones are yours,” Joshua stops in one corner, gesturing to a large number of blue and white bouquets, “They’re all set to be transported to your venue on Saturday but I figured you’d want to take the bridal party bouquets yourselves.”

Dean nods his thanks and Joshua goes back into the front room after Dean assures him they don’t need any help, leaving them with a few tips on how to keep the flowers fresh for the next couple of days.

Dean turns back to the flowers after waving his thanks to Joshua, only to see Cas crouched beside them, running a gentle finger across the petals. He looks so peaceful that Dean can’t help but smile.

“You like flowers?” He asks and Cas turns to look at him with a worried wrinkle in between his eyebrows. It looks for a moment as if he thinks Dean’s going to make fun of him, but something in Dean’s expression must reassure him as his face softens almost immediately.

“Yes,” he answers simply, turning back to cup a flower in a reverent palm, “It’s something I miss about Kansas, actually; not having a garden.”

Dean crouches down beside him with a sigh, “Yeah. I got a huge garden but no flowers. I wouldn’t even know where to start.” He leans to the left, just enough to brush their shoulders together for a split second, “You should tell me about flowers some time.”

Dean sees Cas smile out of the corner of his eye, “Will this be before or after our cooking lessons?”

“Whichever,” Dean turns to grin back, “And while we’re at it you should really learn more about pop culture,” he considers, “And cars.”

Cas chuckles as they look back at the flowers and Dean reaches a hand out to touch a tiny blue petal.

“I know these are forget-me-nots, though,” he smiles, almost whispering. He’s not expecting a reply, the comment was more to himself anyway, but Cas hums softly in response.

“Yes,” he murmurs, “They’re your favourites.”

Completely dumbfounded, Dean’s brain short-circuits as he whips his head around to stare at Cas.

What the hell? He’s never told him that. He’s never told anyone that and he’s pretty sure even Sammy doesn’t know. There’s a prominent blush flaring up on Cas’s cheeks as his words catch up with him and he ducks his head when he catches sight of Dean’s wide eyes.

“One time, in sophomore year,” he confesses, “We had to write short stories in English class and read them out loud.” He looks up to meet Dean’s eyes reluctantly, “You wrote one about your mom sitting in a field of forget-me-nots.”

Dean feels his throat close up and the back of his eyes start to prickle. Maybe he’s developing hay fever in his old age.

He takes a shaky breath. “I can’t believe you remember that,” he says quietly, and holds Cas’s gaze until the other man looks away.

“Yes, well,” he shrugs self-consciously.

Dean coughs and picks up a couple of the bouquets Joshua had pointed out to them. He stands up and shakes out his own shoulders, determined not to dwell on the garden of feelings, already overgrown inside his chest.

“Come on then,” he grins, nudging Cas with his foot until he picks up his own set of bouquets, “Let’s get these to the lovebirds.”

The lovebirds are not as appreciative of all their hard work as they should be, in Dean’s opinion. The minute they get back, Dean’s rewarded with a pat on the cheek by Jess and a shove back towards the door where Sam drags him right back out to help shop for dinner. Cas, the poor bastard, is cornered by Jess into helping her write the place settings for the reception. That’ll teach him to practise fancy-ass calligraphy.

By the time dinner’s actually on the table, Dean is exhausted. He’d had to make it himself due to Jess being busy with the place settings and none of them wanting to suffer food poisoning at Sam’s hands.

It may or may not be all worth it when Cas takes his first bite into one of Dean’s homemade burgers and moans like a fucking pornstar. Dean almost has a heart attack right there at the table.

Near death experiences aside, dinner is a nice affair. It’s the most relaxed Dean’s felt the entire week and the way Jess keeps babbling excitedly about the flowers keeps him grinning into his beer. He can’t help but watch the way Sam stares at her. Jess launches into some enthusiastic ramble about who’s sitting where and Sam looks at her like she hung the stars in the sky. It’s ridiculous, sickening really, but Dean finds that it warms him all the same.

When he flicks his eyes to Cas he wishes he could transfer some of his own warmth into him. Cas is watching them as well, smile fond in a way that probably mirrors Dean’s own, but his eyes tell a different story. It worries Dean a little that he can spot it so easily, that he feels so in tune with Cas’s emotions all of a sudden, but there’s a longing written plainly across his features that almost makes Dean feel sad. Cas is watching the two of them like what they have is all he wants in the world and Dean has to drag his gaze away.

After all their plates are scraped clean, Dean leans back in his chair. He lifts his third beer to his lips with a contented sigh and watches Jess rub her stomach in satisfaction.

“Hey, you know what we should do?” Sam pipes up from where he starts gathering the plates, “When Charlie gets in tomorrow we should all go to the airport to surprise her!”

Dean grins, straightening up in his chair. He’d almost forgotten that tomorrow is Friday.

“Awesome!” he beams, trying not to bounce up and down in his chair like a loser, “What time does her flight get in?”

Sam rolls his eyes as he takes the plates to the kitchen counter, “About three-ish I think?”

“Who’s Charlie?” Cas asks, looking between the two brothers with a confused frown.

“She’s my best friend,” Dean grins proudly and Cas’s confusion grows.

“I thought that was Benny.”

Sam snorts as he sits back down, slipping a hand into Jess’s where it rests on the table top, “Yeah, Benny’s his cool best friend, Charlie’s his dorky best friend.”

“Hey!” Dean turns to Sam with a look of pure indignation, “Benny LARPs with us too now! Why does he get to be the cool one?!”

Cas squints so hard in his confusion that it looks kind of painful. “What is ‘LARPs’?”

“Dude!” Dean’s face lights up as he turns to him, ignoring Sam’s groan, “It’s awesome! Live Action Role-Playing! Charlie’s the Queen and I don’t even know how it happened but I’m her handmaiden and Benny’s a knight. I was totally meant to be a knight too but something went down with the Shadow Orcs two years ago and it was totally unfair but long story short I lost my knighthood in a bet.”

He shakes his head forlornly at the memory but one look at Cas, and then the other two, makes it abundantly clear that none of them are showing the appropriate level of sympathy. In fact, they all seem bordering on bewildered amusement.

Dean huffs, “You’re all just jealous.”

He pointedly ignores Sam’s incredulous snort and downs the rest of his beer instead.

“Basically, Cas,” Jess grins, “Dean spends one weekend every couple of months running around a forest, dressed in chainmail.”

Cas’s eyes flicker down to Dean’s chest, almost too fast to see, and then come back up to meet his with a slow, pleased grin.

“Dean Winchester,” he says, clearly trying not to laugh, “I think this officially makes you a dork.”

Sam and Jess burst into delighted laughter as Dean, unable to contain his own grin, rolls his eyes.

“Whatever, peasants,” he says in his best knightly voice, “LARPing is cool and you’re all missing out.”

“Well,” Cas suggests, his eyes crinkling warmly, “Maybe this can be another thing for you to teach me.”

Dean’s own smile grows even wider, “Yeah,” he agrees, “I guess it can.”

Cas’s eyes sparkle at him across the table, keeping Dean’s own gaze locked immovably on his, and they’re so busy grinning at each other that neither of them notice Sam and Jess exchanging mysterious smiles.

After dinner, Jess opens a bottle of wine and both she and Sam manage to make it to two nights in a row of giggly inebriation. The four of them sit in the living room, Cas feeling a little light-headed himself, and he and Dean watch in fond exasperation as Sam pretends to read his book while playing footsie with Jess, who puts up feeble attempts to concentrate on the chess match she promised to beat Cas in.

If the way they keep giggling secretively is any indication, they both seem to think they’re being incredibly subtle and Cas finds the most amusement in watching Dean try to read his own book. He looks very close to throwing something at Sam’s head on more than one occasion and Cas has to pinch his lips together to keep from laughing every time they meet each other’s eyes and Dean widens his in a way that seems to say ‘what are we gonna do with these two idiots, huh?’.

Eventually Sam stands up. “Okay, well, I’m super tired and I think Jess and I should go to bed now,” he says with an incredibly poor fake yawn and a ridiculous wink that he seems to think Cas and Dean won’t catch.

Jess giggles and stands up too, “Oh, yeah, I completely agree,” she leers at Sam in a frankly alarming manner, “I was all set to win this match anyway.”

She gestures to the chessboard and Cas snorts. She lost her queen a while ago while rubbing her foot up Sam’s leg and failing to notice Cas’s bishop, but he doesn’t correct her. He’ll just leave the chessboard out for Jess to see in the morning. He hopes he’s around to witness her shame.

“Yeah sure, go to bed,” Dean smirks at them, “As long as you realise we know you’re leaving to have sex and not to sleep.”

Blushing, Sam gasps dramatically while Jess just giggles some more and slaps him on the ass. Cas has to press his lips together again to keep from laughing.

“I object!” Sam exclaims in his best authoritative voice, pointing at Dean with a scowl. Dean laughs and raises his hands.

Jess, on the other hand, just smirks, “Oh really?” she raises an eyebrow, “Would you still object if…” and she leans up to start whispering in Sam’s ear.

Cas looks away with a blush. He has no real reason to be embarrassed, only that it feels wrong to watch Sam’s jaw drop open. He feels Dean’s eyes on him and determinedly doesn’t meet his gaze.  He doesn’t need to look at Dean while thinking about how much he wants what Sam and Jess have.

Luckily, Sam’s slightly-higher-than-normal voice breaks through Cas’s reverie, “Night, guys!” he calls over his shoulder while dragging a triumphant Jess out of the room and Cas can’t help but watch them go.

He sighs, smiling wistfully at the doorway, “They love each other very much.”

“Yeah,” Dean agrees with a warm smile and Cas turns back to look at him. He’s stretched out across the couch now that’s Sam’s left, one leg crossed over the other and an arm behind his head. There’s a tiny sliver of skin showing where one side of his shirt has ridden up and Cas is bombarded with thoughts that bring a flush to his neck. He wonders what Dean would do if he leant over right now to kneel by the couch, if he flicked out his tongue to taste the exposed warmth of his skin. He wouldn’t react well, Cas is quite sure of that, but for a moment he lets himself imagine a universe in which Dean would smile at him and pull him up for a kiss.

Dean looks relaxed now, the hand not supporting his head wrapped around a beer bottle and it reminds Cas that though neither of them seem to be as drunk as Sam and Jess, they’re both on their way to pleasantly tipsy and the soft way Dean smiles at him shouldn’t warm him the way it does. Dean’s a happy, affectionate drunk and Cas, apparently, regresses to his teenage years after the slightest drop of alcohol.

He sighs, leans his head back against his chair and smiles back.

“You know,” he says lightly, desperate to fill the silence and avoid any more inappropriate thoughts, “I’m beginning to feel inadequate.”

Dean furrows his brow, “What do you mean?”

“There seems to be a lot more on your list of things to teach me than on my list of things to teach you.”

“Yeah,” Dean chuckles with a smile, “You could always teach me about history. That might come in handy while LARPing.”

Cas scrunches up his nose, “I teach people about history for a living, Dean. You could just come to my classes.”

“Nooo,” Dean shudders dramatically, “School is far behind me, thank God.”

Cas shoots him a hard glare and Dean, looking suddenly like a scolded child, coughs and hurries to change the subject.

“Okay then, not history. What do you love, Cas?”

It’s utterly terrifying that the second Dean asks the question, Cas’s brain supplies several answers that he can’t even pretend aren’t true anymore.

Talking to you, he thinks, cursing himself for sounding so pathetic, if only in his own head. It’s absurd, frustrating and exactly what he’s been trying to avoid.

“The stars,” he says out loud and Dean’s face lights up.

“Oh my God! How could I forget?” He sits up, eyes wide and sparkling.

“What?” Cas asks, and if he sounds a little breathless, he hopes he can blame it on the third glass of wine.

“Oh man,” Dean grins, shaking his head skyward, “I was obsessed with space when I was a kid. Had those little glow in the dark stars on my ceiling that I used to arrange into constellations. I wanted to join the astronomy club in high school but…”

He trails off and his delighted smile starts to fade.

“But that wouldn’t have been cool,” Cas finishes, a hint of bitterness colouring the undercurrent of his voice.

Dean sighs and runs a hand through his hair, “Yeah.” He pauses before biting his bottom lip and turning to look at Cas, “I’d really love to learn about the stars, Cas.”

He looks nervous, hopeful, wary and Cas feels his lips twitch upwards before his brain can even catch up.

Standing up, he sets his glass down on the coffee table and holds out a hand. Dean’s eyes flick between his outstretched palm and his face for all of two seconds before he’s grinning, open and excited, and letting Cas pull him up off the couch.

Cas reluctantly drops Dean’s hand the moment he’s standing, trying not to torture himself any further with the heat of Dean’s wide palm against his, and instead moves his fingers up to grasp Dean’s sleeve.

“Come on,” he says, rather redundantly as he starts to pull Dean along behind him, out through the patio doors and onto the lawn.

He flops down right there on the grass, lying flat on his back and staring up at Dean with a smirk. He pats the space next to him.

“Down,” he instructs and Dean complies with an exaggerated eye roll.

They’re lying close, Cas’s right shoulder against Dean’s left, and when Dean looks up at the stars above them, bright across a cloudless sky and breathes ‘Wow’, Cas can’t help but think yeah. Wow.

Cas points out as many constellations as he can, lifting a hand and moving his head closer to Dean’s in order to show him. Dean knows a few of them, asks about the ones he doesn’t recognise, and listens with rapt attention every time Cas tells him a story he didn’t know. They lie there for more than half an hour, laughing at the increasingly ridiculous stories Dean makes up when Cas can’t remember the official one, before Dean catches Cas staring.

He turns his face to the side before Cas can redirect his gaze, too transfixed by the way Dean’s eyes glow in wonder, and how he blushes when he notices Cas’s eyes sweeping across his face like he wants to catalogue every detail. Which is exactly what Cas would like to do. He wants to map out Dean’s freckles like he’s used to mapping out the stars.

“What?” Dean asks, self-conscious, and Cas, too caught up in the pinkness of Dean’s cheeks to be embarrassed, smiles.

“I can see at least five constellations in your freckles.”

Dean’s cheeks flare even brighter, visible even in the low light of the garden, but he smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners.

“Yeah?”

“Yes,” Cas confirms and then sits up abruptly. “Wait there,” he instructs, pointing a stern finger at Dean before scrambling up and hurrying back into the house. He grabs a pen from the living room desk and smiles triumphantly.

He settles back down next to a bemused looking Dean and lies on his side, propped up on one elbow. He pulls the lid off the pen and frowns in concentration as he moves it towards Dean’s cheek.

“Woah!” Dean laughs, grabbing Cas’s wrist and holding it away from his face, “Whatcha doing there, Picasso?”

Cas raises an eyebrow. He would have thought his intent was evident, “I’m joining up your freckles into constellations.”

Dean stares at him like he’s crazy, which maybe he is, and like he’s all kinds of wonderful, which he definitely isn’t and it makes Cas’s pulse speed up.

“You’re a weirdo, you know that?” he asks, but he lets go of Cas’s wrist and Cas takes it as permission.

They’re both giggling by the end, Cas reprimanding Dean for smiling and skewing the lines and Dean insisting he can’t help it because it tickles. Cas joins the dots on eight freckle constellations, most of them made up before he runs out of room and Dean is laughing too much for him to continue anyway.

Cas huffs and flops back down onto his back before he can do anything stupid like kiss him.

They lie quietly for what feels like hours, Dean asking questions every few minutes and Cas trying to remember every obscure piece of trivia he knows about space. Cas thinks it’s probably quite cold out here by now but he can’t feel anything but the heat of Dean’s arm against his.

Eventually, without taking his eyes off the stars, Dean breaks the silence.

“I can’t believe you remembered about the forget-me-nots.”

“It was a lovely story, Dean. Was it true?”

Dean swallows, “Yeah. One of the only memories I have of my mom.”

Cas wants to turn his face towards Dean’s, wants to watch the way the starlight bounces off his lips as he talks, but he also knows Dean would probably rather he didn’t, that he’ll find it easier to talk about this without Cas observing him.

“You were young when she died, weren’t you?”

“Four.”

“You carried Sam out?”

Dean takes in a shaky breath and Cas worries that maybe he asked one question too many.

“Yeah,” Dean answers, voice very carefully even, “My dad stayed inside trying to save her. Inhaled too much smoke. He died in the hospital a day later.”

Cas feels his heart constrict. He’d known this, of course, Jess told him the full story months ago, but it sounds a thousand times worse coming from Dean himself. Cas knows what it’s like to lose parents, he’s had his own share of heartbreak in that regard, but his own story seems tame compared to Dean’s. Cas was only just one year old when his mother died, he has no recollection of her and no memory of her death to keep him awake at night. She wasn’t killed by flames right in front of his eyes while he was left to save a sibling and he didn’t have to lose his father the very next day. He wasn’t forced to grow up before he was ready, he had older brothers to look after him all his life and thinking about Dean, four years old and surrounded by fire, squeezes painfully inside his chest.

“I’m sorry,” he says, helpless and knowing that the words won’t really do anything.

“Yeah.”

“That’s why you became a firefighter?”

Dean’s shoulder moves in a shrug against his own, “I needed to make up for the people I didn’t save, you know?”

Cas can’t help it, he turns to look at Dean with wide, disbelieving eyes. Does Dean truly think that any of this was his fault?

“You saved your brother when you were four years old, Dean,” Cas points out, horrified that Dean can’t see how amazing that is.

Dean just shrugs again, “But I didn’t save my mom,” he says quietly, sounding guilt-ridden in a way that makes Cas itch to take his hand, “I didn’t save my dad. I didn’t save y– ”

With an audible click, Dean clamps his mouth shut and his lips turn down at the corners.

I didn’t save you. That’s what he was about to say, Cas is sure of it and it prickles at the back of his throat.

“You can’t save everyone, Dean,” he says gently, and when Dean turns his head, Cas meets his eyes with a soft smile, “Though you try.”

Dean regards him for several moments, holding his gaze like he can’t work out how anyone could forgive him for the crimes he’s fabricated in his own head. Then, his lips twitch upwards. It’s weak at first, a little forced, but eventually he’s smiling and looking back up at the sky with a self-conscious huff of laughter.

“Cas?” He says and Cas looks back up at the sky, willing to let Dean change the subject if he wishes.

“Yes?”

“Do you still love bees?”

Cas frowns and turns his head back to Dean in surprise.

“What?”

Dean flushes and doesn’t meet Cas’s eyes. “There was this one time in junior year,” he mumbles, “When a bee got into the classroom and everyone completely freaked out.”

“I remember,” Cas breathes, “Garth and the girls were all screaming.”

“Yeah. And everyone was shouting for someone to kill it but you…” Dean laughs fondly and shakes his head, “You got up, calm as anything, and coaxed it into your hand like freaking Snow White or something!”

Breath coming short, Cas opens his mouth, but Dean keeps going, “You let it out the window, helped it climb from your hand into the flower box outside, and you watched it for the rest of the lesson with this cu – dumb little smile on your face.” He turns to look at Cas, “You didn’t smile very often. It was nice whenever it happened.”

Cas wants to kiss Dean so badly it hurts. So badly he can feel the creak of every bone in his body as they ache under the effort of not leaning in. He feels it as Dean’s smile wraps around the reins of Cas’s heart and pulls, and the grip feels so familiar that Cas wonders if it ever let go at all, or if there’s even any point in digging his heels in anymore.

“Yes, Dean,” he says, voice coming out breathless because he knows, he knows, that there’s no going back now, “I still love bees.”

Friday, June 13th 2014

When Dean wakes up the next morning, Cas is already out of bed and in the shower. He feels momentarily disappointed that he doesn’t get to see Cas curled up in the blankets, before he reminds himself to get it the fuck together.

Even more unnerving than Cas being awake before ten o’clock is the way Jess reacts the second he walks into the kitchen. Sure, Dean’s a funny guy, but he hasn’t said or done anything other than step through the doorway before Jess is erupting into giggles.

Dean looks to his brother for some explanation, who looks up from his breakfast at the sound of Jess’s mirth, takes one look at Dean’s face and promptly bursts into laughter as well.

Well, okay then. Mark Dean down as confused and slightly concerned for their mental health.

“Dude,” Sam gasps, leaning on Jess’s shoulder for support, “You got a little something…” he gestures to his own face.

Dean grabs a spoon off the table and holds it up to his face. Oh.

His face lights up like a beacon. Cas’s little art project is still there, covering his face in shaky, skewed lines. There’s no real reason for Dean to feel embarrassed at this point, Cas hadn’t meant anything by drawing them, but Dean feels like they spell out his own feelings for everyone to see. Cas had drawn them as an olive branch of friendship but Dean had felt each line like a caress.

“What’s going on?” asks a voice behind him and Dean, startled, turns around.

Cas’s hair is damp, a few tendrils curling at the back of his neck, and his cheeks are a little pink from the shower. Dean would probably have spent a few too many seconds watching the drops of water collecting in the dip of his clavicle, if it weren’t for the fact that Cas, after one look at Dean’s face, smiles so wide his gums are showing and his nose crinkles up.

He giggles, stepping forward to survey his work more carefully and suddenly Dean feels young and giddy and ridiculous. He feels every fragment of Cas embed themselves into Dean’s heart like shrapnel and he knows there isn’t an arc reactor strong enough to stop it.

Eventually Dean can’t help but to give in to the general amusement around him and he snorts with a shake of his head. “Alright, alright,” he rolls his eyes and turns back to the table, “Not my fault that Cas here’s an astronomy geek.”

Sam and Jess share a significant look which Dean decides not to touch with a ten foot pole because he really doesn’t want to know what it means. At least Cas doesn’t seem to notice it.

“Oh is that what happened, Dean?” he asks with a raised eyebrow, “I thought you were just LARPing as the night sky.”

There’s a lopsided smile on Cas’s face that Dean has never seen before and wait… is that… is Cas teasing him?

Dean puts on his best superior, I’m-too-good-for-your-teasing face and makes sure to bump his shoulder against Cas’s as he makes his way towards the door.

“Go ahead and laugh, bitches, I’m having a shower!” Dean calls over his shoulder.

“Dean, wait!” Cas urges and Dean spins around with a smirk.

“What?” he asks and Cas, little shit that he is, simply points his phone at Dean and takes a photo with the world’s biggest shit-eating grin on his face.

Sam laughs so loudly that despite how shocked he must look, Dean feels warmer than he would in the summer sun and Jess is leaning heavily against Sam’s side as if she couldn’t stay upright without him.

And Cas… Cas is smiling down at the photo with a look in his eyes that Dean can’t decipher, but thinks about all the way through his shower.

His good mood had lasted all the way through breakfast, partly because Cas had looked so affronted when Dean had flicked a lucky charm at his forehead while they washed up, and partly because he’s missed Charlie kind of a lot.

He’d smiled his way through the morning, laughing along with Sam at the look of pure horror on Jess’s face when Cas showed her last night’s chess board, and he’d smiled all the way through lunch as the happy couple practically bounced in their chairs.

“Okay, so, due to Sam and I drinking a little bit too much last night – ”

“No way!” Dean cries sarcastically at the same time as Cas deadpans, “You did?”

“I need to run it off,” Jess finishes, shooting Dean a glare, “And just for that, you’re going to join me.”

Dean splutters, “Me? Why doesn’t he have to?!” Dean jabs a finger in Cas’s direction, who only smiles smugly in return.

“Because he is going with Sam to help lay the place cards out.”

Cas’s face falls and now it’s Dean’s turn to smirk in triumph. Ain’t karma a bitch.

Dean doesn’t really mind running with Jess. Sure, he doesn’t have the same love affair with exercise that Sammy does and he’d certainly never use jogging as a hangover cure but hey, that’s why they’re perfect for each other, he guesses. They can be a pair of healthy weirdos together.

It’s a beautiful day, maybe a little too hot for exercise in Dean’s opinion, but he’s in a good enough mood that he enjoys himself anyway and the run through the park is satisfying, even though it means he’ll need another shower when he gets home.

“So,” Dean says as he starts to feel the burn in his thighs, “Are you gonna go straight to your parents’ house after we pick up Charlie?”

“Yep,” Jess pants, “Cas and I will stay there tonight so he and the girls can help me get ready in the morning. I kinda wanted to just stay home but Sam insisted on doing the whole ‘no sleeping together the night before’ thing.”

Dean chuckles. Typical Sam. “I can’t believe this time tomorrow you’ll be my sister-in-law.”

And he really can’t. Not because she and Sam don’t already act like a married couple, but because Dean still can’t believe that his baby brother isn’t exactly a baby anymore. Sometimes he looks at Sam and sees the toddler who took his first steps towards him or the thirteen year old who was obsessed with magic tricks.

“Yeah,” Jess sighs happily and Dean sends her a wink.

“Last chance to change your mind and go for the better looking Winchester.”

Jess throws her head back and laughs as they stop at the water fountain, “As tempting as that offer is, I think I’ll stick to the moose. I’ve grown kind of fond of him.”

She leans down to take a drink and Dean smiles fondly at the top of her head. “Yeah,” he concedes, “I guess I can understand that.”

Jess straightens with a smirk and Dean bends down to take his own turn.

“Besides,” Jess says, just as he starts to swallow, “I don’t think it’s me you have your eye on.”

Dean chokes.

Laughing, Jess thumps him on the back and waits patiently for Dean to get his breath back.

“What?” he rasps eventually but Jess just waggles her eyebrows and continues jogging down the path.

Son of a bitch. Dean runs to catch up and doesn’t dare question her further.

By the time the four of them get to the airport later that afternoon, Dean’s almost forgotten about the whole exchange, he’s so busy bouncing on the balls of his feet.

Sam laughs, “Dude, you saw Charlie like… three weeks ago. I haven’t seen her in months!”

Dean nods with mock earnestness, “That’s what you get for flying the nest, Sammy.” He flings an arm over his shoulders and ruffles his hair.

Sam yelps and they’re all so busy laughing while Sam tries to smooth down his mane that none of them see the flash of red hair making its way out of the gate.

“WINCHESTER!”

Dean and Sam turn towards the sound to see Charlie bounding towards them. With a whoop, both of them run forwards to sweep her up into a bear hug.

Charlie makes a few choking sounds, “Guys. Me. Breathe. Need to.”

They let go with sheepish grins and Sam beckons the others over. Jess hugs Charlie a little less forcefully and Charlie thanks her by hitting her around the head.

“I can’t believe you had the bachelorette party without me!” She pouts.

“Aw man, it was great,” Jess grins, “Cas let us put make up on him!”

Cas huffs from where he stands next to Dean and when Dean chuckles, Cas hits him playfully on the arm, “I was coerced!” He insists with a hint of a smile as he glares at Dean and when Dean turns back to Charlie, a huge grin on his face, she’s raising a very pointed eyebrow at him.

Dean blushes and shuffles slightly away from Cas.

“So,” Charlie steps forward, “You’re Cas? I’ve heard quite a bit about you.”

There’s no way Cas doesn’t catch the look she shoots at Dean and Dean wonders why he was ever looking forward to her getting here. He hates Charlie. She’s the worst.

Cas takes her hand to shake it but his eyes are trying to catch Dean’s. Dean, instead, focuses on the girl standing slightly behind and to the right of Charlie.

“Uh, Your Majesty?” Dean asks, drawing the redhead’s attention away from Cas, “You get a new handmaiden while I was gone?”

The woman, whose dark hair is tied neatly into a plait on one side of her head, scoffs and steps forward, “Excuse you,” she says, hands on her hips, “I’m a knight.”

Dean likes her already.

“Oh, sorry!” Charlie blushes, reaching out to take the girl’s hand, “Everyone, this is my girlfriend, Dorothy! Dorothy this is everyone,” she gestures vaguely around and Sam, laughing, steps forward to offer his hand.

“Hey! Nice to meet you, I’m – ”

“You’re Sam,” Dorothy finishes, shaking his hand with a polite smile, “Charlie told me you were the freakishly overgrown one.”

Sam splutters and Dean laughs as he offers his own hand, “Ah, the famous Dorothy. I like you already.”

She takes Dean’s hand with a confused frown, “Famous?”

Charlie is making frantic making cutting motions against her throat with pink cheeks when Dorothy whips around to look at her, and Dean laughs.

“I’ll tell you later,” he says, leaning in conspiratorially and Dorothy laughs, kissing Charlie on the cheek when she tells Dean she hates him.

It’s only while Jess is making her own introductions and Dean is leaning over to pick up Charlie’s bag that he catches sight of Cas.

Oh fuck, he totally forgot about Cas.

He’s standing stock still, staring between Dean and Charlie like one or both of them just grew an extra head. Dean feels his hackles start to rise. In the crazy whirlwind of resurfacing feelings and butterflies straight out of a chick flick, Dean managed to forget that there’s actually every chance that Cas will have a problem with this.

“What?” Dean asks, trying not to sound defensive but automatically stepping a little closer to Charlie. Cas’s face is darkening like he’s remembering something he’s been trying not to. Or maybe like he’s reminding himself why he doesn’t want Dean’s friendship after all. Dean’s filled with the sudden dread that something just changed, something just snapped between them, and that the last few days are about to be thrown under the bus.

Everyone’s gone silent now, staring between them in confusion as Dean squares his shoulders, readying for a fight, and Cas narrows his eyes.

But then his eyes flick away from Dean, just enough to see everyone watching him, and he shrugs stiffly, “Nothing.”

Dean wants to let it go. He should let it go. Cas is turning away from him like he’s willing him to, but Dean has never been afraid of jumping into the flames.

“Pretty sure it’s something, Cas.”

Cas sighs and turns back to look at him. There’s a twisted smile on his face that looks as though it wants to be sincere but can’t quite manage it.

“It’s just nice to see that you’ve overcome your homophobia, Dean.”

And there it – wait, what?

“What?” Dean asks dumbly and four voices behind him repeat even louder, “What?"

Cas just tilts his head, “I said it’s nice to – ”

“I heard you,” Dean interrupts, feeling more confused than he’s ever felt in his life, “But I’d like to know what the fuck you meant by that.”

That, for some reason, seems to be the wrong thing to say because Cas’s face hardens immediately.

Sam coughs awkwardly from behind Dean, “Um, Cas, man, I think there must have been some kind of mis– ”

“No, there hasn’t,” Cas growls, throwing Sam a quelling look before turning back to Dean, “Dean, I’m very glad to see you are no longer a homophobic asshole,” Dean’s mouth falls open, “But you can’t expect me to simply forget that you bullied me in high school for my sexuality.”

And what. The actual. Fuck.

Four pairs of shocked eyes turn to stare at him and Dean finds himself leaping from annoyed to fuming within seconds.

“What the fuck?” He bites, gritting his teeth to keep from shouting, “I’m the homophobic asshole? You punched me in the face for asking you out!”

Cas looks more furious than Dean has ever seen him, eyes flashing dangerously, “Yes, because it was fucking cruel!”

Someone’s breath hitches and maybe Dean too would have been sent reeling from hearing Cas swear if he could think about anything other than his own anger right now.

Cas takes a step towards him, fists shaking by his sides, “You found out the weird, loner kid had a crush on you, so you pushed him into the mud and mocked him by pretending to ask him to prom!”

“I wasn’t pretending to ask you to prom, I was asking you to prom!” Dean roars, not believing what he is hearing.

Cas goes still so suddenly it almost gives Dean whiplash.

The silence around them is so thick you wouldn’t be able to cut it with a chainsaw. Dean can’t see the others, he’s pretty sure they’re staring with open mouths, and he doesn’t notice the scattering of passers-by who have stopped to gape at them. His whole being is zeroed in on Cas, face pale and eyes wide, frozen in place even as his expression floods with horror.

“You’re lying,” he croaks, still staring, and Dean laughs coldly.

“Actually, no. I’m really, really not.”

Cas’s face falls, blinking in dawning realisation, and he looks so utterly lost that all the anger drains out of Dean completely in one long, shaky exhale. Cas looks miserable. He’s clutching at the belt of his trenchcoat and flicking his eyes into the middle distance like he’s suddenly re-evaluating hundreds of memories.

“Jesus,” Dean chokes out, running a hand through his hair and trying to breathe through the hurt that grips him, “That’s what you thought? All this time you… that’s what you really thought of me?”

He scrubs a shaking hand down his face. Ten years of thinking Cas hated him for liking guys, when all along Cas was thinking the same thing.

Should it make him feel better? Because right now, it doesn’t. Right now he feels like shit. Cas claims to have had a crush on him once and it doesn’t fill his heart with joy, it just makes him feel sick.

“Screw you, Cas,” he says, clutching onto the handle of Charlie’s bag, “I don’t know what kind of fucked up shit you thought me capable of but I really liked you. And maybe I was an asshole about it but it turns out you were kind of an asshole, too.”

He brushes past him before he can hear what anyone else has to say and doesn’t wait for the others to catch up. He hails a cab before Sam or Charlie can try to convince him to talk about it and heads back to Sam’s on his own.

Maybe he’s overreacting, maybe it shouldn’t hurt so much to know that Cas thinks so little of him, but right now he can’t find it in himself to give a shit. He spends the entire journey home staring out of the window, watching as they drive past rows of blank front lawns, and tries to ignore the voice that reminds him that really, this is all his fault.

Chapter Text

Saturday, June 14th 2014

Cas did not sleep well last night. He missed the sound of Dean’s breathing in the dark next to him and the silence pressing in on him sounded like ten years of wasted time. He lay awake for hours thinking of what could have been, the life he and Dean might have had together if it weren’t for his own stupid mistakes. The images haunted him for hours, ghost versions of them that Cas had killed: Dean joining fire training in California; cooking them dinner while Cas studied for his PhD; cheering louder than anyone at Cas’s graduation. He saw them moving in together, kissing over their coffee every morning, cuddling on the couch while Cas graded papers. Would they have married? Possibly, and the thought kept sleep at bay for most of the night.

After Dean had left the airport, Charlie had broken the silence with a lament for her ‘stolen’ bag, in a weak attempt at levity. Cas hadn’t laughed, he hadn’t even pretended to smile when Jess had squeezed his shoulder.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” She’d asked and Cas, not able to speak, had barely mustered up a shrug.

Sam had swallowed, “That day in May, when he came home with… He told me the football team had done it when he’d refused to bully some kid for them…”

He trailed off and Cas, heart sinking even further, had closed his eyes. The football team. Oh God. They hadn’t been laughing at him at all, they’d been laughing at Dean. And Cas had punched him in the face.

The drive to Jess’s parents had been an oxymoron in its blissful and torturous silence. It had only been Jess in the car with him and Cas was grateful for it. As much as he likes Sam, he can be a little eager in his insistence to talk about things. Jess’s parents are lovely people, they hadn’t tried to force Cas into joining them for dinner, and Jess had given him a few hours before knocking on the spare room door.

“He’s a good guy, Cas,” she’d said tentatively, sitting next to Cas on the bed and resting a hand on his arm.

“I know, Jess.”

“He doesn’t talk much about his high school days, I guess now I know why, but what little he does say is mostly regret about how much of a jerk he was.”

Cas had simply closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall.

“You really liked him,” Jess whispered, and Cas had needed to take several deep breaths before he could respond.

“Yes, I liked him. More than liked him. And I was so adamant when you said he was coming this week that I wasn’t going to fall for him again.”

Jess had smiled and rested her blonde head against his shoulder, “Take it from someone who knows, Cas,” she wrapped both arms around his right, “There’s no shame in falling for a Winchester. They’re annoyingly charming little shits. I don’t think anyone really stands a chance.”

What makes Cas feel even worse, as he stands in the shower on Saturday morning, is the fact that it’s his best friend’s wedding in a few hours and he’s moping around having his own personal disaster. It’s not fair, he knows that, so he makes sure to come down to breakfast with a smile on his face.

“Cas!” Jess stands and comes forward to rest her hands on his shoulders, “Are you okay?”

Rolling his eyes, Cas smiles a little wider, “Of course I am,” he leans down to press a kiss to her cheek, “Today is your wedding day.”

Jess flushes with pleasure but still looks wary, “You’re sure? Cas you don’t have to –”

“Jessica,” he says sternly, taking her hands in his, “I am happy just to see you happy. Now let’s have breakfast before the girls arrive, we’re going to need the energy.”

Jess beams at him and throws her arms around his neck, “I’m getting married today,” she whispers tearfully into his ear and Cas, forcing his own problems to the very back of his mind, laughs.

Breakfast is a rather hurried affair. Jess’s mom keeps nearly bursting into tears and her father insists on making as many wedding related puns as possible. By the time the bridesmaids arrive, loud and frantic and saying everything far too fast, Cas barely has to try to keep Dean out of his thoughts at all.

He isn’t really sure what’s going on. By noon, Jess has her hair in delicate curls, half plaited across the back of her head and the other half flowing around her shoulders and down her back. Madison has taken charge of what she calls the ‘make-up station’ and Rebecca is attempting to weave tiny white flowers into Jess’s hair.

Tracy is tapping her foot impatiently, waiting to help Jess into her dress and Mrs Moore is taking more pictures than Cas thinks is really necessary.

“Cas, time check!” Demands Jess from her seat at the dressing table and Cas startles from where he stands in the middle of the room, thoroughly bewildered.

He looks at his watch, “We have to leave in ninety minutes.”

Judging by the general uproar that follows, that is apparently not enough time. Cas starts to get concerned about how long wedding dresses take to put on. He’s infinitely glad they didn’t go for one with a larger skirt.

When it’s finally time for her to actually put on the dress and the finishing touches are made (whatever they are), Cas is sent from the room, so he wanders downstairs to sit with Jess’s father and check his phone.

He’s not checking it for any reason. It’s not like he expects anyone to call or… text. Or anything. He’s just checking it in case there’s some kind of emergency.

When he finally hears Jess’s bedroom door open, they have ten minutes before they need to leave and both Cas and Mr Moore stand up in anticipation.

Jess looks radiant. She almost takes Cas’s breath away and he feels a surge of sympathy for Sam who’s mostly likely going to faint when he sees her. She’s smiling so wide she’s almost glowing, delicate tendrils of hair framing her face and a simple lace veil falling halfway down her back. The dress fits her perfectly, clinging flatteringly to her torso before flaring out gently at the bottom and the tears prickling at the back of Cas’s eyes are warm and happy.

He hugs her tightly just before they leave, everyone else outside already, and when Jess pulls back she lifts a hand to his cheek.

“Dean likes you too, you know,” she says with an encouraging smile and Cas, not wanting to think about this now, shakes his head.

“No, he doesn’t.”

Jess leans forward, still grinning as if she can’t help herself, “Well, I guess you won’t know until you ask then, huh?”

She winks, kisses him on the cheek, and brushes past him to join everyone outside. Cas watches her from the doorway for a moment and for the first time, after four years of pining and a week of confusion, Cas lets himself think what he knows to be the truth.

He’s in love with Dean Winchester. Dean, who makes Cas pancakes even though he’s angry with him and bakes cupcakes for his best friend who almost got him killed. Dean, who reads books to children and sings 80’s power ballads in stuffy, posh jewellery shops; who smiles when he sees Cas’s glasses and has the reins of Cas’s heart tangled around his fingers in a hold that won’t yield.

Dean is smart and selfless and infuriatingly gorgeous; kind and dorky and ridiculous; and Cas loves him with everything he has.

He gets into the car with a new sense of purpose, determination driving him until he can’t keep his leg from jiggling up and down as they near the church. It’s a distinctly Dean-like gesture, Cas thinks with a thrill, and when Jess smirks at him he wonders whether she thinks so too.

It isn’t until the ceremony itself that Cas sees Dean again, standing by Sam’s side at the front of the church while Cas walks down the aisle just before Jess. He feels his heart spasm in his chest, like he’s sure Sam’s will when Jess walks through the door. Dean looks even better than he remembers in his tux, so good Cas’s mouth goes dry, and Cas can’t help but stare as he makes his way to the front. When the rest of the guests stand to watch Jess walk down the aisle, string quartet playing a traditional tune, Cas forgets to watch for Sam’s reaction altogether. Dean’s eyes are shining at the sight of his soon-to-be sister-in-law and it’s too wonderful to look away from.

Cas forces himself to pay attention as Jess meets Sam by the altar, momentarily struck again by how beautiful she looks with the sunlight bouncing off her blonde hair like a halo, and he smiles when he catches sight of Sam’s face. He had been right before, Sam looks as though he can’t believe his own luck.

The ceremony is lovely and in reality it barely lasts longer than thirty minutes, but Cas keeps meeting Dean’s eyes over the happy couple’s shoulders and every time it makes Cas feel like it’s going on for hours. It’s probably not what he should be thinking while Sam and Jess are in the middle of one of the most important days of their lives, but while they say their vows all Cas can see is Dean’s smile from two nights ago as they lay under the stars; and when both he and Dean lean forward to hand over the rings, all he can think about is Dean singing love songs and laughing against his side.

Eventually the priest reaches the end, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” he announces and Cas watches as Sam beams down at Jess with wet eyes, “You may kiss the bride.”

Jess pulls Sam’s face down to meet hers and the whole church bursts into cheers. Cas laughs as Sam lifts Jess off her feet, grinning against her lips, and when they pull apart to beam at the audience, Cas has to wipe at his eyes. They walk down the aisle, hand in hand, and Dean watches them go with fondness. There’s a tear making its way down Dean’s cheek and Cas falls in love with him all over again.

The bridesmaids start to file down the aisle after the newly-weds, followed eventually by the rest of the congregation, but Cas stays rooted to the spot, desperate for Dean to look at him.

Cas doesn’t know why Dean’s still standing there, he hopes vaguely that maybe he wants to speak to him too, but he seems very focused on not meeting Cas’s eyes and it’s just as likely that he’s merely being a gentleman about letting everyone else leave first. Cas has a moment of panic when eventually Dean starts to move away from the altar, and Cas surges forward without thinking.

“Dean,” he says urgently, grabbing at Dean’s arm with a shaking hand, “Wait, please.”

Freezing, Dean doesn’t immediately turn to face him, and Cas watches as Charlie flashes him a thumbs up before leading Dorothy out of the front doors. Dean relaxes a little under Cas’s palm but doesn’t turn around until the church is almost empty. He waves stiffly at a thin, blonde woman when she raises an eyebrow at them and nods at a few other people who look their way.

Eventually though, he turns and Cas doesn’t know where to start. Which is absurd really, he’s been standing here for forty minutes thinking about what to say, but Dean’s eyes are filled with so much nervous hope that Cas has to take a minute to remember how to form words.

“I’m sorry,” he blurts in the end, and figures it’s as good a place as any to start, “I’m sorry I punched you. I was so caught up in my own feelings that I didn’t think you could ever possibly return them. I jumped to conclusions and I wish, I wish I hadn’t because I would have given anything to go to prom with you, Dean.” His hand slips down Dean’s arm to grip at the back of his hand. “You have no idea.”

Dean swallows and for a horrifying, terrifying second, Cas thinks he’s going to walk away. But then Dean’s hand twists in his own and Cas finally knows what it’s like to feel those fingers weave between his own.

“You don’t need to apologise, Cas,” he says quietly, voice scratchy, “It’s all my fault, I know that.”

“Dean – ”

“No, Cas, I shouldn’t have been such a coward. I should have told those dicks to fuck off the first time they made me take your glasses. And I’m…” he looks pained, “I’m so sorry it took me so long. I wanted to ask you out from the start.”

Cas’s heart thumps erratically and he squeezes Dean’s hand.

“You really think this is all on you?” He asks, knowing that that’s exactly what he thinks, “I’ve been awful to you so many times this week and you didn’t deserve a single second of it.” Cas looks down at their joined hands and squeezes again, “I was so scared of getting hurt again that I became desperate to prove you were some kind of asshole.”

“I never wanted to hurt you in the first place,” Dean murmurs, stepping infinitesimally closer, “I should have apologised to you the minute I arrived here, but I thought you hated me and that if I just showed you I was an okay person first… but I guess I wasn’t too good at that.” He shrugs and ducks his head and Cas doesn’t understand why they’re both still apologising.

He takes a deep breath, “You’re a lot better than ‘okay’, Dean,” he says and Dean looks up at him, hope returning to his eyes, “And, um… I kind of opposite of hate you.”

There’s a moment in which Dean just blinks, stunned and like he hardly dares to believe he’s heard right, but then his entire face lights up and the smile that blossoms on his lips steals Cas’s breath right out of his lungs. It’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen and Cas wants everyone in the world to see it almost as much as he wants to keep it for himself forever. It fills him with joy, takes root in Cas’s heart and blooms across his own lips until Cas is beaming back.

Eventually, Dean coughs, “Hey,” he strokes a thumb across the back of Cas’s hand, “Do you promise not to punch me if I tell you I can’t help but notice that neither of us have dates for this thing?”

Cas’s heart thumps even harder, “I promise.”

“Okay, good,” Dean nods and plasters a serious look onto his face. “So, Cas,” he says, feigning formality, “Do you wanna be my date for my brother’s wedding? It’s kind of short notice – it actually started forty-five minutes ago – but technically your answer is ten years overdue.”

Cas laughs, loud and delighted, not even pretending to think about it before he nods, “I would love to,” he answers, and lifts his free hand to Dean’s cheek.

There’s a second, Cas’s lips tingling with anticipation, when Dean starts to lean forward and Cas is sure that this is finally it, this is the moment where Dean kisses him at last, but then there’s a cough from the doorway and Dean, much to Cas’s irritation, turns around.

“Hey,” smirks an Asian man, about Sam’s age, and Cas doesn’t know who he is but he’s pretty sure he hates him.

Dean jumps back, lets go of Cas’s hand to rub the back of his neck, “Hey, Kev!” he greets awkwardly, “We were just – ”

“Yeah, yeah, Dean, we all know you were just hitting on the maid of honour,” he rolls his eyes and Cas, affronted, huffs.

Dean chuckles and Cas steps forward to stand next to him so he can elbow him playfully in the ribs. ‘Kev’ watches them with an amused raise of the eyebrows and Cas, when he manages to tear his gaze away from Dean, decides that maybe he doesn’t hate him after all.

“You’re both wanted for pictures,” he says with one last smirk and the two of them follow him out into the church garden, Dean threading his fingers back through Cas’s as they walk.

They get separated at some point during the photos and are herded into different cars for the drive to the reception. When he gets there, Cas is ushered to his place at the head table where Dean already sits two chairs away. It’s a long, rectangular table with Sam and Jess seated between them so Cas can’t actually see him at all, but it’s okay. They have time now, he hopes, and for the moment he’s content to sit quietly while they eat, soaking in the atmosphere.

Jess leans over half way through the starter and it’s only then that Cas realises he’s been grinning at his salmon like a fool.

“I take it you talked to Dean then?” she asks and Cas shrugs happily.

He laughs as she squeals and hugs him, hugging her back and congratulating her on a beautiful ceremony and she spends the rest of the meal explaining who everyone is.

The people next to Dean on Sam’s side of the table are Bobby and Ellen, the Winchesters’ surrogate parents who ‘finally pulled their heads out of the sand and tied the knot’ five years ago. The thin, blonde woman from before is Ellen’s daughter Jo and the handsome man next to her is her boyfriend Victor. Cas smiles to himself when he remembers Dean telling him about why he learnt to dance and Jess rolls her eyes when he tells her what he’s grinning about.

“I can already tell you’re going to be a complete sap in love, Castiel Novak.”

Cas just laughs and doesn’t bother to argue.

Mr Moore makes a speech after dinner and it makes both Sam and Jess cry, followed by Dean’s who has everyone else welling up too. Cas feels himself fill with pride at the sight of Dean standing there, so much love for his little brother shining through in every word he says, even while he tells the most embarrassing stories he can think of to get everybody laughing. Dean talks about Sam like it’s his favourite thing to do, like he could talk about him for hours, and when he picks up his glass to wrap it up, Cas feels like his heart is beating loud enough for everyone to hear.

“You know,” Dean says, resting his hand on Sam’s shoulder and squeezing, “As an older brother, it was always my job to look after Sammy here, to teach him everything I could: how to walk, how to ride a bike, which superheroes could definitely not fly,” there are a few titters around the room and Sam laughs through a sniff, “But actually, I don’t think he really realises how much he taught me. So I’d like to dedicate this toast to my amazing new sister and awesome baby brother, for teaching me that however terrifying it can be, love,” he says and meets Cas’s eyes with a smile, “Is worth being brave for. To Sam and Jess!”

The hall erupts into cheers, Sam standing up to pull his brother into what looks like a bone-crushing hug as even Bobby wipes furiously at his eyes. Dean flops back down into his seat almost immediately while Sam is left to thank everyone for coming, so Cas doesn’t get a chance to do anything other than blink his tears away and smile stupidly into his lap while Sam finishes his speech.

Eventually, Sam and Jess are called over to cut the cake and the two spaces between him and Dean are left free. Dean doesn’t turn to look at him, he keeps his gaze on the newly-weds as they stand in front of the cake, but he does slide over into Sam’s seat, leaving only Jess’s between them. Cas bites his lip to try and keep from smiling – his cheeks are hurting with how much he’s been doing it today already – and slides into the empty chair. He keeps his eyes forward as well, watching in amusement as Sam stands behind his wife to help cut the cake, and hopes his heart won’t actually leap out of his chest like a cartoon when Dean takes his hand under the table.

They sit silently like that, shoulder to shoulder, for a long time; throughout the cake cutting and well into the first dance; and it isn’t until they need to clap that they let go of each other’s hands. Before Cas can reach back for it, Jess is bounding over to him with a mischievous glint in her eyes.

“Come on, Cas, it’s time to dance.”

Cas grimaces, “I don’t think – ”

“Ah ah ah!” Jess points a stern finger at him, “I’m the bride, you have to do as I say.”

She holds her hand and jerks her head to the side in a beckoning gesture and Dean pushes at his shoulder with a laugh. Cas gets up, rolling his eyes and pretending to be disgruntled as he allows Jess to drag him onto the floor.

“Don’t worry,” she teases into his ear as they get into hold and start swaying, “I’ll let you get back to your boyfriend later.”

Cas prods her in the side with a retaliatory finger, but feels himself preening a little all the same. Is Dean his boyfriend now? He thinks maybe he is.

It’s all a bit awkward, Cas isn’t the best dancer and he settles for rocking from side to side as Jess leads them wherever she wants, but he’s ridiculously happy anyway. He watches over Jess’s shoulder as Dean twirls Charlie enthusiastically a couple of feet away and Sam dances a ridiculous looking tango with Jo on the other side of them. Jess’s parents are dancing together, Bobby is dancing with a dark haired woman who Jess says is called Jody and Ellen looks rather alarmed as a man with a mullet leads them around the floor.

Jess moves on to dance with Dean after that and Cas is happy to lean against the wall to watch. Every now and then one of them will throw their heads back in laughter and Cas is so busy watching them that he doesn’t even notice Sam coming to stand next to him until he speaks.

“So, you two idiots worked it all out then?” He asks with a grin and Cas, despite the fact Sam doesn’t look angry with him at all, blushes when he realises Dean must have told him everything last night.

He ducks his head with a sheepish smile and Sam, giant puppy that he is, simply flings an arm over his shoulder and pulls him close in a one-armed hug, “Take care of my big brother, alright? It’s about time someone looked after him for a change.”

Cas doesn’t know what to say, so he just hugs him back and grins into his shoulder.

Sam leaves soon after and Cas loses track of him, too busy watching as Dean gets pulled into dance after dance. After Jess it’s Ellen and the two of them float gracefully around the floor to a modern sounding song that doesn’t really fit to their style of dancing at all, but doesn’t seem to phase them. Next it’s Jo, then Jody, then all three of the bridesmaids and by the time Madison gets pulled away to dance with Sam, Dean is breathing hard and grinning from ear to ear.

He makes a beeline for Cas the minute he realises there’s no one else waiting to pounce on him.

“You’re a very good dancer, Dean,” Cas compliments as soon as he gets close enough.

“And so might you be if you ever got out there.”

Keeping his face as blank as possible, Cas shrugs, “Well, maybe no one’s caught my eye yet.”

“Well that is a shame,” Dean nods earnestly, the twinkle in his eyes giving him away, “Because it’s kind of tradition for the best man to dance with the maid of honour.”

Cas blushes as he remembers what other traditions he’s heard about this week and his tux feels suddenly too warm against his skin at the thought that maybe they’ll get to fulfil them after all. He smiles, pushing those thoughts out of his head before an awkward situation arises, and nods.

“Yes, I suppose it is,” he agrees and it’s just as Dean is opening his mouth to say something that the song changes to something slow and melodic.

Everyone on the dance floor starts to pair off into couples and Cas wonders how it is that his life seems to be falling into the structure of one of Anna’s favourite romantic comedies.

Dean snorts like he’s wondering the same thing and, with a theatrical bow, holds out his left hand, covering his nose with his right.

“Will you dance with me, Cas?” he asks with a dazzling smile and Cas takes his hand with a roll of the eyes.

“Are you going to bring up the punching thing for the rest of our lives?” He asks as Dean pulls him onto the dance floor, and then freezes.

Crap. Did he just say that? Oh God, he just accidentally told Dean that he wanted to be with him forever and fuck it’s probably too soon and Dean is going to freak out and every–

“Yep,” Dean answers happily, pulling Cas flush against him and effectively nipping his panic in the bud.

Yes? Yes?

“Oh,” Cas says weakly as Dean places Cas’s hand on his own right shoulder and wraps his arm around Cas’s waist, “Okay.”

Dean holds their entwined hands against his chest and Cas sighs, melting into Dean until they’re pressed impossibly close, their foreheads almost touching and his left hand running through the soft hair at the nape of Dean’s neck.

Dean hums at the feeling, his eyelids drooping, and Cas inches his face up until the tips of their noses are just about brushing.

“I can’t believe we could have done this ten years ago,” Cas whispers, cherishing the feeling of Dean’s arm around his back, hoarding the goosebumps it elicits like they’re precious.

“We’re doing it now,” Dean shrugs simply and Cas is just about to close the remaining distance between them when there’s a loud click from Cas’s right and a brief flash that has both of them whipping their heads around.

Charlie is standing a couple of feet away, holding up her phone and giggling while Dorothy stands behind her, arms around her waist and grinning.

“What the hell, Charlie?!” Dean splutters, while the redhead smirks triumphantly at her phone.

“Benny asked me to keep him informed,” she shrugs innocently and Dean’s face floods with colour so fast that Cas can’t help but giggle too.

“WHAT?!” Dean shouts but Charlie only waves.

“Carry on!” She chirps, shimmying away from them with Dorothy in tow.

Dean turns back to Cas with a groan, “Oh God,” he mumbles, head falling forward to rest against Cas’s shoulder, “I’m so sorry about my friends.”

Smiling, Cas turns to press a kiss onto Dean’s temple, loving the pinkness that blossoms there straight after, “It’s okay, I like them,” he whispers, threading his left hand further into Dean’s hair, “And I like you too.”

Dean lifts his head with a grin, flushed from embarrassment or from happiness, possibly both, and leans his forehead against Cas’s.

Cas’s eyes fall closed.

“Well, that’s good,” Dean murmurs and Cas feels his breath against his lips, making him shiver, “Because I kind of opposite of hate you too.”

And then finally, finally, they’re kissing. Cas has had a total of three kisses in his life before and not one of them had felt like this. This doesn’t feel like fireworks or lightning or anything other than Dean’s lips moving softly against his because nothing, nothing feels better than that.

It’s not a deep kiss, they’re surrounded by Dean’s entire family and most of his friends after all, but Cas still whimpers into it, letting go of Dean’s hand to wind both arms around his neck and pull him impossibly closer, sighing against Dean’s mouth as he feels two strong arms wrap tightly around his back. It’s gentle, passionate without being rushed, and Cas wants to stay here kissing Dean for the rest of his life.

What eventually breaks them apart isn’t Cas’s need to breathe (he’d been perfectly willing to forgo that restricting necessity) nor even the second flash of Charlie’s camera; it’s the opening bars of the next song.

Dean recognises it first, laughing against Cas’s mouth until he has to pull back. He buries his head into the crook of Cas’s neck, shoulders shaking before Cas, still reeling from the kiss, finally catches on and starts laughing along.

“What are the chances?” He asks incredulously, peppering the side of Dean’s face with kisses as REO Speedwagon plays from the sound station.

“I don’t know,” Dean lifts his head to grin against Cas’s mouth, “But I think this just became our song.”

At this point, Cas thinks as they sway gently on the dance floor, smiling too wide to kiss properly, he doesn’t care what their song is as long as they have one for a very, very long time.

Sam and Jess leave just after nine o’clock to catch their flight to Paris. Dean hugs them both several times before almost having to push them into the car to stop them missing their check in. He watches them disappear around the corner, standing side by side with Bobby, and exhales, puffing out his cheeks.

“Sammy’s married.”

“Yeah,” Bobby shakes his head, “Boy’s making me feel old.”

Dean snorts, “Well, I hate to break it to you, old man…”

Bobby hits him upside the head.

“That’s enough of your cheek, son, or I’ll start asking about that boy you been fawnin’ over all night.”

He raises his eyebrows and Dean, blushing, shoves at his shoulder.

“I haven’t been fawning over him!”

Bobby snorts, “Boy, I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. You two have been all over each other for the past hour, gigglin’ and blushin’ like high schoolers with a crush.”

Shrugging, Dean smiles happily up at the stars, “He was my high school crush.”

Bobby turns to pin him with a considering look, curious and assessing but not surprised, “Figures,” he says in the end and Dean doesn’t understand that at all, “I knew there must have been someone all those girls were compensating for. So what, he just happen to be a friend of Jess’s?”

Still not believe his own luck, Dean shakes his head, “Yeah. We… never really got on at school. Haven’t seen him for ten years. Then, out of the blue, he just happens to be Jess’s best man and… turns out he’d had a crush on me too the whole time.”

Looking far more amused than Dean thinks is really appropriate, Bobby smirks, “Well, isn’t that just straight out of a Harlequin romance.”

Dean scrunches up his face in embarrassment, “You know, I’d tell you to shut up, but this week really has been like living in a chick flick.” Dean thinks about how crazily, ridiculously accurate that actually is. They’re at a wedding for Christ’s sake. He laughs to himself, “God, we even had the big, public fall-out!”

Bobby chuckles and claps him on the back, “Boy, there will come a day when I insist on hearing about how much of a dumbass you’ve been but right now, I’m not really sure why the hell you’re still standing here.”

With a frown, Dean turns his head to stare at Bobby, “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Bobby sighs with a long-suffering roll of the eyes, “That you can see the rest of us whenever you like, you don’t have to stay here making idle chit-chat now that the lovebirds have flown the nest.”

Dean feels bad for the sudden flare of hope in his chest, “Uh… you sure?” He asks, still not positive that this isn’t some kind of weird test, “Because it’s not like I don’t like spending time with you guys. I’m having fun in there.”

Bobby shoves him towards the door, “I know you are, son, I ain’t doing this for you. I’m doing it because the hearts in your eyes are making everyone feel nauseous.” He grins, “Take that boy home already and stop ruining everyone’s night.”

Dean laughs, loud and relieved and in a sudden fit of emotion, wraps his arms around Bobby’s shoulders.

“Thanks, Bobby,” he whispers as the older man lifts his hands to grip briefly at his back.

“Don’t mention it, kid,” Bobby smiles, giving Dean another shove towards the hall.

Grinning from ear to ear, Dean offers him a jaunty wave and starts to make his way back inside. He loves so many people here, loves spending time with them and seeing them happy. But he can’t deny that right now all he really wants is Cas, finally, to himself. They don’t even have to do anything, Dean doesn’t want to make Cas feel rushed or uncomfortable, but the prospect of having some time to just be with Cas, really be with him for the first time, is filling Dean with an embarrassing level of excitement. All he’s picturing is sitting next to Cas on the couch, maybe cuddling a little while they talk or watch a movie, and yet he’s practically bouncing on the balls of his feet.

“And Dean,” Bobby calls, just as Dean’s about to open the door and Dean turns around, “You bring him round to Sunday dinner soon, you hear?”

Dean salutes cheerfully before hurrying inside. He doesn’t know how easy getting Cas to dinner will be, Kansas and California aren’t exactly close enough for anyone to be popping over for a meal. Dean’s flight home is tomorrow afternoon, he starts work again on Monday, and there’s every chance that he won’t be seeing Cas again for months. Or ever for that matter, if Cas decides they aren’t worth making it long distance.

The moment Dean walks through the door, Cas looks up from where he’s been cornered by Ellen and Dean breathes a sigh of relief. Cas is beaming at him across the room and Dean can’t believe he let himself worry at all. It’s probably not going to be easy, Dean thinks it’s probably too pushy for him to ask Cas to come back to Kansas while the university holidays last, but for now, tonight, that’s okay. Cas’s eyes are crinkling at the corners as Dean draws closer and Dean knows that if they want it enough, they’ll figure something out.

Dean’s pretty sure he wants it enough for the both of them.

“Hey,” he says warmly as he reaches them, standing just behind Ellen.

“Hey,” Cas responds, and Ellen looks between them with pursed lips.

“Well I’ll be damned,” she intones, dragging Dean’s gaze away from Cas’s, “You can no longer mock Bobby and me for how we were when you were kids.”

Dean scoffs, “Oh please, you two danced around each other for years.”

“Well from what your boy here tells me, it’s taken you even longer.”

Dean narrows his eyes at Cas, determined to convey just how betrayed he feels, spilling their secrets to the enemy, but Cas is staring at him with open, earnest eyes and Dean just ends up smiling back.

Those eyes are gonna be trouble in the future, he can tell.

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean rolls his eyes at her, holding out his hand for Cas to take, “Mind if I steal him from you?”

Ellen laughs, “Go ahead, and for the love of Johnnie Walker take him home already. The way you two make eyes at each other is damn near indecent.”

Chuckling, Dean leans over to give her a one armed hug, “See you next week, Ellen.”

It takes nearly half an hour for Dean to get through the rest of his goodbyes but eventually they manage to make it outside, Dean hailing a cab and pulling Cas in by the hand.

He lets out a sigh of relief the minute the cab pulls away from the kerb, leaning back against his seat and squeezing Cas’s hand.

“My family is so tiring.”

Cas chuckles and squeezes back, “You love them very much.”

Closing his eyes, Dean hums happily, “Yeah, I guess I do.”

Dean can’t see anything but he hears Cas lean back in his own seat and feels his gaze on the side of his face.

“I hope I get to know them better,” Cas says softly after a moment and Dean, heart doing a little flip-flop in his chest, opens his eyes to look back at him.

“Yeah,” he agrees, “Me too.”

Cas’s smile is small and happy, “I liked Ellen very much.”

“Yeah?” Dean lifts his head from the back of the seat, “She didn’t interrogate you, did she?”

Cas shrugs, “A little, but it’s nothing compared to what Michael can do.” Dean really, really hopes he gets to be interrogated by Michael. “She actually spent most of the conversation telling me about your cowboy phase.”

With a groan, Dean lets go of Cas’s hand to press both of his against his face, “I am never letting you near my family again.”

“Well that might pose a problem when visiting Jess.”

Dean isn’t drunk, he’s only had two beers and a glass of wine all night, so there’s really no reason for him to be laughing as hard as he is. He’s not drunk, but he feels it, and he wonders if Cas does too, intoxicated simply with proximity.

When they get back to the house, Dean is struck by an odd sense of déjà vu as Cas searches for the keys in his pocket. It’s not a memory of anything that’s actually happened before, more of something he’d fantasised about, and Dean suddenly feels more nervous than he has all night.

Finally Cas finds the keys, moonlight bouncing off his triumphant smile, and opens the door. He turns around once he realises Dean hasn’t followed him across the threshold and frowns.

Dean is staring at him, so overwhelmed by finally being here that his feet are rooted to the spot, and Cas steps back out to join Dean on the doorstep.

“What?” he asks, quizzical smile making Dean blink his way out of his trance.

He swallows, “This is what I would have wanted.”

Cas tilts his head to one side, “What?”

“Ten years ago. After prom. I would have walked you to your door and crossed my fingers for a kiss goodnight.”

Cas’s face softens immediately, going gooey and fluffy around the edges, as he inches forward until he’s completely in Dean’s space. “I think you overestimate my willpower,” he says, lifting a gentle hand to Dean’s cheek, “I would have kissed you long before we reached my door.”

Dean laughs, a little breathless, and Cas tilts his head up to catch the sound with his lips. It’s amazing, ridiculously so really, and Dean lets himself melt into it, wondering if he’ll ever get used to the fact that he’s allowed to do this now.

Cas’s lips are chapped and perfect, a little inexperienced but eager in their movements against his, and Dean takes advantage of their relative seclusion by sucking Cas’s full bottom lip into his mouth. Cas moans, low and quiet, and Dean shudders at the feel of it against him, deepening the kiss through Cas’s readily parting lips and yes, Dean sighs, Cas tastes amazing.

Despite being only an inch shorter than Dean, Cas stands up onto the tips of his toes, winding his arms around his neck like he can’t get close enough, and Dean slips his hands underneath Cas’s waistcoat, loving the way Cas shivers with only his shirt between them.

Eventually Cas pulls away, panting and rosy-cheeked, smiling dazedly up at him like he’s looking at something precious.

“What?” Dean asks, jostling him a little with the arms still wrapped around his back.

Cas’s smile grows shy, “Just thinking.”

“’Bout what?”

Cas sighs, eyes losing their focus like they’re looking at an image inside his own head, “I just wish I could go back,” he murmurs, “Only for a second, and tell eighteen-year-old me that I get to have this,” he looks back at Dean, incredulous and awestruck, and Dean can’t believe it’s him he’s looking at like that, “He wouldn’t believe it, but I wish he’d known.”

Dean strokes his thumb against Cas’s back and tilts his head up to press a kiss to his forehead. He wonders what his own teenage self would have done if he’d been told this would happen. Most likely Cas has it right and he would have called bullshit, but the hope it would have given him…

“Me too,” he kisses Cas’s head again before pulling back, “But then I guess this last week wouldn’t have been quite so interesting.”

Shaking his head, Cas huffs a laugh and Dean can’t help but grin at the pair of them.

“We really are a couple of dumbasses.”

Cas hums and places a barely-there kiss against the corner of Dean’s mouth, “I prefer the word ‘naïve’,” he says, kissing the other corner, “Less dumb, less ass.”

Dean chuckles, “So just a couple then?”

“Mmmm,” Cas nods and sucks Dean’s bottom lip between his own.

When Cas pulls away this time he’s blushing and he steps back until only his hands are resting against Dean’s chest, Dean’s own fingers slipping out from underneath Cas’s waistcoat.

Cas looks up at him through his lashes in a way that Dean thinks is completely unfair. “Would you like to come in?”

It’s asked so nervously, like his tongue hadn’t been wrapped around Dean’s a second ago and Dean can’t help but laugh, “Castiel Novak, are you trying to seduce me?” he asks with a smirk and he’s totally joking until Cas, with his own patented form of frankness, doesn’t even bat an eyelid.

“Yes,” he answers immediately. And he’s completely serious.

Dean’s eyes go wide. “Cas,” he says and he’s not particularly proud of how strangled he sounds, “Cas, I didn’t mean – we don’t have to do anything tonight.”

“I know,” Cas answers, trailing his hands to the lapels of Dean’s jacket, “But I’d like to. If you’d like to.”

And he looks so nervous about it that Dean can’t help but kiss him again.

Cas responds immediately, relaxing against him and pulling Dean in through the door by his jacket, kissing him with a passion that had only been simmering quietly in all their other kisses. They stagger their way into the hallway, Dean kicking the door shut behind them as he shoves his hands underneath Cas’s shirt, skimming his fingers across the goosebumps that run along the small of his back, springing up in every patch of skin he touches.

Cas moans, loudly, and Dean’s back hits the closed front door just as Cas’s hands wind their way into his hair.

“Cas,” he pants, breaking their kiss to lean his head against the door, only to moan low in his throat as Cas fixes his lips against Dean’s neck instead, “Cas… Cas!” He pulls his hands away from Cas’s back to hold him by the shoulders, “Are you sure?”

Looking adorably disgruntled about being prized away from Dean’s neck, Cas nods and tries to move back in. Dean just tightens his hands and holds him in place until Cas meets his eyes steadily.

“I don’t want you to regret this in the morning,” Dean insists and he deserves a goddamn medal for this when Cas’s lips look so sinful, red and swollen from where Dean’s been kissing them, and Dean has to hold eye contact in an effort not to stare at them. “You said you wanted to wait until it was with someone who really means something.”

There’s a moment where Cas, utterly incredulous, levels Dean with such a pointed, oh-my-god-you’re-the-biggest-idiot-on-the-planet, stare that Dean is sure he’s been spending way too much time with Sam. Then absolutely all thoughts of Sam fly out of his head completely because oh. Oh.

And that’s the end of that discussion.

They tumble up the stairs, too reluctant to stop touching each other long enough to get anywhere very fast, and fucking Christ does Cas’s stubble feel good against his neck. Cas is scrabbling at Dean’s tie, growling when it refuses to budge and Dean, laughing breathlessly, removes his own hands from unbuttoning Cas’s waistcoat to help.

Cas’s tie joins Dean’s on the floor moments later, both their jackets having hit the ground half-way up the stairs. Cas loses his waistcoat just outside the bedroom and Dean sheds his while he presses Cas up against the inside of the door.

They stop there for a few moments while Dean sucks a mark onto Cas’s neck, right where his pulse is jumping erratically against Dean’s tongue and Cas whimpers, hands clutching at Dean’s shirt in an effort to keep himself up as his knees start to shake.

Dean spins them around; they need to get horizontal right the fuck now. They barely make it past the pull-out bed, both of them giggling into each other’s mouths as the back of Cas’s legs hit the corner of it and Dean has to throw his own weight back in an effort not to send them both toppling over.

By the time they finally fall onto the queen-sized bed, Dean on top of Cas, they’re both completely breathless and grinning like fools. Cas scrambles up until his head rests against the pillows, dark hair stark against the white sheets and chest heaving, and Dean follows eagerly, claiming Cas’s mouth in a deep, desperate kiss as he presses himself along the length of Cas’s body.

Oh,” Cas moans, throwing his head back the moment their hips press together and Dean drops his head forward to pant wetly into his exposed neck.

It feels insanely good. Dean’s more than a little light-headed and he can’t help but rub himself frantically against Cas, who’s hard and straining in his own pants. “Fuck,” Dean groans as Cas’s shaking hands start to messily undo his shirt buttons, and he flicks his tongue out to taste the salt gathering in the hollow of Cas’s neck.

Dean slows his hips, biting and sucking at the juncture between Cas’s neck and shoulder until the other man is trembling underneath him.

“Dean,” Cas growls, hands still fluttering at his chest, “Off.”

For the record – Cas growling is pretty damn high on the ‘Things That Are Hot As Fuck’ list.

Straddling Cas’s hips, Dean sits up and chuckles when Cas whines at the loss of his mouth. He stops the movement of his hips, concentrating on getting the buttons open, and rips the shirt off the moment he gets the last one undone. He throws it to the side, not caring where it ends up and feels a blush spread all the way down his neck at the look in Cas’s eyes. He’s staring at Dean’s chest with an open hunger, pupils blown wide with just a ring of blue around them, and Dean only has a moment of feeling exposed before Cas is surging upwards to suck at Dean’s right nipple.

“Fuck,” Dean sighs, circling his hips unconsciously, ripping a moan out of Cas that vibrates against his sensitive skin. He makes quick work of Cas’s buttons, despite the awkward angle and Cas’s refusal to remove his mouth from his chest, mumbling something into his skin that sounds suspiciously like ‘freckles’.

When he finally gets Cas’s shirt off, he barely takes the time to throw it to the ground before he’s slamming Cas back into the mattress and kissing him again, long and deep.

He wishes he had more hands; two just isn’t enough. Not when Cas’s skin feels so good against his palms, searingly hot and glistening with sweat. There’s powerful muscle hidden underneath it, strong and lean and gorgeous and Dean can’t keep his hands still in any one place, not when he can sweep them down to Cas’s flat stomach; run his knuckles gently up his sides; rub his fingers against his hardening nipples just to feel him gasp into his mouth.

“Dean,” Cas chokes, bucking up against him, desperate for more friction, “Dean.”

His nails scrabble at Dean’s back, digging into his shoulder blades and Dean is hit with the sudden, awful realisation that they’re missing something essential.

“Shit, Cas,” he pants, resting his forehead against Cas’s shoulder, hands running soothingly up his arms to slow him down, “We don’t have any stuff.”

Groaning in frustration this time, Cas lets his hands relax on Dean’s back, sliding them up to run through his hair.

“Bathroom?” Cas asks between heavy breaths, obviously putting a great deal of concentration into not bucking his hips up into Dean’s, and Dean smiles against his neck.

“I’ll check,” he kisses the patch of skin under his jaw lightly, then moves up to kiss his lips as well.

It takes three more kisses before he finally manages to move away, heaving himself up and trying not to give in to the way Cas’s hands make involuntary grabbing motions in his direction.

“Don’t go anywhere,” he instructs, leaning over to kiss him one last time and Cas barks out a hysterical laugh.

There’s lotion in the bathroom which Dean is pretty sure is Jess’s (though he wouldn’t really put it past Sam) and, after a rather frantic search of the master bedroom, he finally finds some condoms in their bedside drawer.

He’s been gone maybe a minute but somehow in that time Dean has managed to forget just how devastatingly gorgeous Cas is, because the second he steps back into the room he almost has a heart attack.

Cas, ever efficient, has taken the time to remove his pants and though it had been pretty damn obvious before, now there’s no hiding just how aroused Cas is. There’s a damp spot on the front of his boxer briefs and Dean can’t help the moan the sight punches out of him.

The sound snaps Cas’s attention back to him and when he props himself up on his elbows, raking his eyes over Dean’s chest like he wants to do a million filthy things to him, Dean has to scramble to get his own pants and socks off.

There’s barely any relief when he does, he’s so hard that his own underwear tents obscenely, and the way Cas licks his lips only makes it worse.

Cas looks completely debauched, the muscles in his stomach clenching in an effort to keep himself propped up and his hair even more all over the place than usual. His lips are swollen and there are marks starting to form on his neck already and to know that Dean is the only person who’s ever seen him like this is too much. He’s beautiful, and Dean can’t believe he’s allowed to touch.

“Dean,” Cas instructs and the sound goes straight to Dean’s dick, “Come here.”

Dean does not need to be told twice. He’s straddling Cas again in an instant, leaning down to lap teasingly at his left nipple. Cas’s elbows give way with a pleased sigh, hands coming back up to run across Dean’s back.

Dean makes his way across Cas’s chest slowly, wanting to catalogue every single noise Cas makes. Cas likes it when he sucks on his nipples; flicking his tongue against them rips whimpers from his throat. He sighs when Dean bites marks into his collarbone, can’t breathe when he trails his mouth down his stomach, and lets out the most delicious little ‘oh oh oh’s when Dean reaches his hipbones, just above his waistband.

His nails are raking down Dean’s back now, hips bucking hard as Dean sucks a particularly impressive mark into the dip by Cas’s hip, and Dean leans back up to kiss him, keeping it shallow and slow, cupping his cheek with his left hand.

“Hey, hey,” Dean soothes, moving his hips away from Cas’s despite the part of him that really wants to give in, to rut against each other like teenagers until they come, “We’ve got time, okay? I got you.”

Cas nods, relaxing a little and Dean leans back to hold up what he found, “We don’t have to do this,” he says, trying to look earnest and comforting despite the heat he knows is in his eyes, “We can do whatever you want, okay?”

He doesn’t expect the growl that rumbles low in Cas’s chest and before he can really register how ridiculously hot it is, he’s being flipped over, Cas suddenly straddling him and pinning his wrists by the sides of his head and holy shit Dean is officially more turned on that he’s ever been in his life.

“Dean,” he says sternly, holding Dean’s stunned gaze with his own serious one, “I’m a virgin, not a skittish animal. What I want – ” he grinds their hips together and breaks off for a second, moaning and dropping his head to suck a mark of his own onto Dean’s collar bone, “ –what I want is you.”

Dean nods, knowing he’d agree to pretty much anything right now, and wriggles his wrists free to grab handfuls of Cas’s ass, grinding them together even harder, moaning because it’s still not enough. Cas’s breath hitches above him, hips jerking as if he can’t decide whether to push down against Dean’s dick or back into Dean’s hands. His arms are starting to shake where they’re holding him steady above Dean and he rolls them back over, pulling Dean on top of him, “Dean,” he gasps, “Dean, please.

And Dean couldn’t wait any longer if he tried. He kisses his way down Cas’s body, faster than before, sliding down until he’s kneeling between Cas’s legs. He runs his hands up Cas’s strong thighs and pushes them apart, falling forwards to nip and suck at the pale, delicate skin on the inside. Cas’s hands flutter against the sheets by his side, gripping at them when Dean’s eager tongue starts lapping closer and closer to the groove where groin meets thigh.

When Cas starts bucking his hips again, Dean takes it as a sign that they’re definitely not naked enough yet. He hooks his fingers into the waistband of Cas’s underwear and sits up, pulling them off without preamble and relishing the sigh of relief that falls from Cas’s parted lips.

Dean would be lying if he said his mouth didn’t start watering a little at the sight. Cas’s dick is almost flat against his stomach, red and swollen and curving just slightly to the left. He’s a tiny bit shorter than Dean but definitely thicker and there’s a large drop of pre-come rolling down from the head.

Dean, with his hands still spread across Cas’s thighs, leans forward and flattens his tongue against it, moaning at the taste. Cas’s reaction is instantaneous, his hands spasm against the sheets, pulling at them as his whole body tenses up, gasping and throwing his head back with his eyes screwed shut.

Not wasting any time, Dean runs his tongue up to the tip, following the sticky trail until his lips wrap around the head. He sucks, pulling a stream of choked off little whines out of Cas’s throat, and flicks his tongue eagerly into the slit to lap up every trace of salt he can. When he starts to lower his head he goes as slowly as possible; Cas is writhing against the sheets already and Dean is determined not to let him come yet. He takes him in gradually, rubbing his tongue against the vein along the underside and pressing Cas’s hips down onto the bed with strong hands to stop him from bucking into his mouth.

Dean’s never had particularly strong feelings about giving head before, though he knows he’s good at it, but this is unreal. The taste of Cas is intoxicating against his tongue, strong and heady and so utterly Cas that Dean has to thrust gently into the mattress just to get some blessed friction. Cas is easily the most responsive partner he’s ever had, mumbling broken phrases in what Dean thinks might be half a foreign language and thighs quivering against his forearms, and it’s amazing, hotter than anything Dean’s ever experienced before and no one’s even touched his dick yet.

When Cas starts panting ‘please’ under his breath, Dean knows he’s getting too close and returns his attention to his thighs instead, pushing them further apart and coaxing him to bend his knees. He coats his fingers with lotion while Cas huffs insistent little noises that make Dean hum in amusement against his skin.

The moment Dean’s finger meets the puckered rim of Cas’s hole, Cas’s eyes fly open and Dean presses a trail of chaste kisses against his hips as he starts to rub gentle circles around it, massaging the opening with the soft pad of his finger.

“Is this okay?” He whispers, running his free hand soothingly up and down Cas’s shaking thigh.

“Yes,” Cas gasps, “Yes, please keep going.”

So Dean does, sucking hard at Cas’s thighs while he teases his hole and moaning at the sight of Cas flinging his hands suddenly above his head to grip the headboard. When Dean slips the tip of his index finger inside, rubbing gently around the inside, Cas groans and spreads his legs wider.

The sight has Dean’s dick begging for attention. “This might be easier if you turn over,” he says hoarsely, working his finger in to the second knuckle and twisting just to see Cas’s mouth fall open as he shakes his head.

“Want to see you,” he breathes, looking down at Dean’s face with an adoration in his eyes that doesn’t really fit the way his body is trembling.

Dean moves up until his face is directly above Cas’s, slowly starting to move his finger out, and then back in again. He moves his left hand from Cas’s thigh to smooth the sweaty strands of hair from Cas’s forehead.

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t,” Cas assures him, lifting a hand to cup Dean’s cheek, “I trust you.”

Dean swallows. It’s too much, Cas staring up at him with those sweet, blue eyes; Dean’s finger buried inside him where he’s hot and tight and perfect, Cas’s breath hitching with every thrust. It’s so overwhelming that Dean can’t hold eye contact any longer, has to pepper Cas’s body with sweet kisses as he slides back down. Cas simply splays his legs even wider, bending the knees until it’s almost obscene and Dean whimpers softly at the thought of exploring that flexibility more in the future.

For now though, Dean keeps his mouth on Cas; his stomach, his hips, his thighs; and feels him tremor against his tongue when he eventually slips in a second finger. By the time he works in a third, the sight of Cas stretched around his fingers is so tempting that he can’t help but dart his tongue out to taste it. The second Dean’s tongue flicks against his rim, Cas’s eyes blow wide, his whole body jerking off the bed.

“Dean!” he chokes, toes curling where they hang in the air by Dean’s head and Dean can’t stop, the musky, pure taste of Cas so heavy and addictive. He swirls his tongue again, once, twice, three times before suddenly Cas’s hand is flying down to grip his hair, pulling him back up.

“If you do that one more time I’m going to finish a lot sooner than you’d like.”

Dean groans, filing the information away and hoping more than anything that he gets to put it to good use. One day, he’ll unravel Cas just with his mouth, licking and sucking at his hole until he’s begging, opening him up with his tongue until he comes untouched.

But for now, Dean kisses his lips, hard, pretty sure he could come just from listening to the noises Cas makes, soft and needy into his mouth as Dean pumps three fingers into him still. His own dick is rock hard, screaming at him to let it out of his too-tight boxer briefs, and it only gets worse when Dean twists his fingers just so, brushing against Cas’s prostate.

“Fuck!” Cas gasps, his whole body jerking off the bed a second time, his mouth hanging open in a desperate little ‘o’ and Dean almost wants to cry at how painfully he’s throbbing against his cotton confines.

“Dean, please,” Cas whines, thrusting erratically back into Dean’s fingers.

“Cas – ”

“Dean Winchester, if you ask me whether I’m sure again I may have to take matters into my own hands.”

It’s meant to be authoritative and stern, Dean knows, but the way Cas whimpers when Dean removes his fingers dulls the punch of it and Dean, trying not to sob in relief, rips off his own underwear faster than he ever has.

He smirks weakly as he scrabbles for the condom, “I dunno, Cas,” he says, leaning over to kiss him on the forehead while he rolls it on, slicking himself with more lotion, “That sounds kinda hot.”

Cas huffs a laugh and Dean, grinning back, sits up for a second, just to look.

“You’re gorgeous, Cas,” he says honestly, not able to keep it in any longer when Cas is lying so close to undone beneath him. He runs gentle hands down Cas’s thighs, guiding them around his waist as he lines himself up. His left arm is braced by the side of Cas’s head, and Cas is staring up at him in such wonder that for a moment, terrifying and overwhelming, Dean feels like this is it. This is the only place he ever wants to be, that if Cas leaves him now he’ll take all the oxygen with him.

Cas smiles, running his thumb against Dean’s freckled cheekbone, “So are you,” he whispers and Dean turns his head to place a kiss to his palm.

With simultaneous gasps, Dean presses forward, the head of his cock pushing past the ring of muscle and jesus it’s tight. Dean pants, biting his lip to stop from moaning, and leans down to kiss Cas’s furrowed brows.

“Relax for me, Cas,” he grits out, every ounce of willpower going into not thrusting all the way in, not going too fast, “I got you, I got you.”

Cas is breathing fast, clenching the pillows by his head, and Dean moves his own hands up to link with Cas’s as he inches the rest of the way in. When he eventually bottoms out he stops, lets out a shaky breath because it feels so unbelievably good, and licks his way into Cas’s open mouth until he feels him start to relax.

They breathe against each other’s lips for a while, hands squeezed tightly together as Dean trembles with the effort to hold still, before Cas opens his eyes, darker than ever before, and finally, finally growls, “Move.”

Dean drops his head to Cas’s shoulder in relief, slowly starting to rock shallowly back and forth, mouthing at Cas’s neck. Cas tilts his head even further back with a drawn out moan, vibrating through Dean’s lips and all the way down to make his toes curl. His hands tense and relax in Dean’s, before Dean starts to circle his hips a little with every thrust and Cas wrenches them free to run feverishly over as much of Dean’s skin as he can reach; scratching down Dean’s back and gripping at his arms.

“De-ean,” he chokes as Dean’s hips speed up, thrusting deeper and deeper until he’s slamming into him, wild and frantic. It’s too much, too tight, too hot. Cas’s naked skin pressed all along his, Dean driving into him desperately, feeling him clench around him on every outward pull like he can’t bear for him to leave. He’s not going to last long, not with Cas looking and sounding like this beneath him; letting out surprised, breathy little ‘oh’s on every other thrust.

Cas’s hands move lower, grabbing fistfuls of Dean’s ass and pulling him against him even harder and Dean, with sweat pooling in the small of his back, has to lean up to look at Cas’s face. The change in angle suddenly throws everything into focus as he hits Cas’s prostate, and Cas’s face alone drags Dean right to the brink. His eyes are screwed shut, his mouth open in a silent, blissed-out gasp, and his back arches, fingers and toes curling tightly. It only takes three more well-aimed thrusts before Cas is choking out Dean’s name and coming, long and hard against his stomach.

And holy fucking hell Dean didn’t even touch him but there are thick stripes painting Cas’s skin as he whimpers, and even after it’s over he keeps pulling Dean into him by the grip he has on his ass. It’s insane; he feels and looks and sounds too good; and Dean only needs a couple more hard thrusts into his tight, shuddering heat before he’s following him over the edge, hard enough that he sees white spots burst behind his eyelids as he comes.

He collapses on top of Cas, softening cock still buried inside of him while he catches his breath, and Cas’s arms slide up to wind tightly around him. They breathe together for a long time, Dean’s face buried into the crook of Cas’s neck and Cas’s lips ruffling Dean’s damp hair with every exhale.

Eventually Dean pulls out, kissing Cas’s chest in apology when he whimpers at the loss, and throws the tied-off condom onto the floor for later disposal. He rolls onto his back, grinning dopily at the ceiling, and Cas is on him in seconds, his front pressed all along Dean’s left side, peppering kisses onto his shoulder. Dean turns his head to meet Cas’s lips, tilting his head up with a crooked finger under his chin and it’s barely even a kiss, just a smiling press of mouths, but Dean thinks it’s kind of perfect all the same.

“Was that…” Cas asks tentatively, “Was that okay?”

Dean laughs incredulously, “Geez, Cas, was it okay? It was freaking amazing!”

Cas lets out an uneven exhale in visible relief, “Yeah?”

He looks so shy about it that Dean can’t help but kiss him again, not believing that this brilliant, gorgeous man is lying here worrying about his performance after an orgasm like that.

“Yes,” Dean says firmly and Cas beams at him.

“Good.”

Dean kisses him again, because he can and because he never wants to stop.

“What about you, Cas?” he asks once they pull apart to breathe and he lies his head back on the pillows, “Worth waiting for?”

Cas’s face softens and Dean realises that however hard he’d tried to make it sound like a joke, he’s also genuinely nervous about the answer and Cas knows him too well not to see it.

He cups Dean’s cheek with a reverent palm, “Yes, Dean,” he says, his eyes so openly honest that Dean can’t doubt his sincerity, “I would have waited a lot longer for you.”

He leans down to capture Dean’s lips in a kiss and Dean is glad. If it had been anyone else, it would have been cheesy, it would have made him cringe at the corniness, but it isn’t anyone else. It’s Cas. Cas, who never says anything unless he means it, who speaks his mind without inhibition, who says everything with a grave sort of seriousness that Dean can’t help but believe. He closes his eyes against the prickling behind them and melts into the kiss with a sigh.

The stickiness gets too uncomfortable after a while and Dean manages to pry himself away from Cas’s warmth, missing him the moment he gets to the bathroom. He laughs at himself and how absurd that is as he wipes himself off and returns to the bedroom on wobbly legs.

He cleans Cas as gently as he can, running the washcloth over his stomach, his thighs and, when he rolls back against Dean’s side, into the cleft of his ass. Dean can’t help but brush his fingers lightly against his hole, sensitive and flushed, just to feel him buck weakly against him, moaning softly against Dean’s shoulder.

Once they’re both clean, Dean throws the cloth to the floor and lets Cas drag him back down. He buries his dark head under Dean’s chin and Dean grins happily into his hair. He knew Cas was a cuddler.

“One day,” Cas sighs happily, tracing the freckles on Dean’s chest with sleepy fingers, “I’m going to find every constellation on your body.”

Dean’s arms tighten around him, his heart thumping as he holds him as close as he can.

“That might take a while,” Dean says softly, and what he means is ‘stay with me’.

Cas looks up at him, his eyes crinkling at the corners like he heard the unspoken plea, and smiles.

“Good,” he says simply and Dean feels it fill his chest like helium.

Cas lies back down against Dean’s shoulder, resting his palm right above his heart like the joy radiating from it makes that patch of skin warmer, and Dean turns to press a lingering kiss onto his forehead.

“Good,” he repeats and closes his eyes.

It doesn’t take him long to fall asleep, the sound of Cas’s breath evening out against his collarbone the most effective sort of lullaby, and Dean hums contentedly as he feels himself drifting off. As he closes his eyes he expects a kaleidoscope of images, flashes of the future he hopes they have, but they never come. The future is unmapped, still to look forward to, and Dean’s happy just to wait, to see those images for real as their lives unfold.

Instead he thinks of himself, standing at his kitchen window every morning, and he smiles. There’s another colour in his garden of green after all. It’s forget-me-not blue.