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Ladder to the Stars

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A few days pass, and somehow nothing major happens with Lucifer.  He’ll jeer at Dean in the hallway or body-check him into a locker, but for the most part, Dean flies under the radar.  He stays out of Lucifer’s way, taking advice from Castiel, and Lucifer doesn’t try to waste his time on Dean.  It works out pretty nicely.

Right now, Dean has a free period, and not knowing really what to do with himself, he walks around aimlessly through the halls.  He’s rounding a corner near the library when he hears the familiar mocking laugh.

Lucifer.

Of course.

He’s coming down the hall towards Dean, flanked by the guys’ Castiel has informed him are named Alastair and Azazel.  Thankfully, they don’t see Dean, and he takes the opportunity to duck through the closest door to his right, stumbling into the library.  He straightens up, looking over his shoulder just in time to see Lucifer walking past the closed door.  With a sigh of relief, Dean walks further into the library, looking around for a quiet place to sit.  That’s when he sees Castiel.

He’s sitting in the back, tucked behind the rows of shelves.  His books are spread out on the table in front of him and he seems to be working intently on something.  Dean wastes no time to interrupt him, chucking his bag to the floor as he slides into the seat across from him.

“Hey, Cas.”

He jumps, then stares at Dean, confused.

“What?”

Cas shakes his head.  “It’s nothing.  It’s just – you called me ‘Cas.’”

“Oh,” Dean says, his smile faltering.  “I’m sorry, is that – do you not want me too?”

“No, no,” Cas says, shaking his head.  “It’s fine.  You just caught me off guard, is all.  Usually my siblings are the only people to call me that.  Though I don’t have a problem with you calling me that at all.  ‘Castiel’ can be a mouthful.”  He chuckles awkwardly, and Dean can’t help but laugh too.

“Okay, cool.  So, what are you working on?” he asks, glancing over the books and paper spread across the table in front of Cas.

Cas sighs, shifting around a few things.  “I’m working on an assignment for my creative writing class.”

Dean raises and impressed eyebrow, pressing his lips together.  “You write?” he asks, though he’s not sure why he’s so surprised.  Castiel looks like the type who would write – stylish, put together, just the right amount of stubble dusting his face.

Cas blushes slightly, looking down.   “Not a lot.  I mean – I’m working on the outline for a novel, but mostly I just write poetry from time to time.  Though I like reading it much more.”

“Poetry?” Dean asks, smirking.

“Yeah,” Cas says, reaching underneath his textbooks.   “Particularly the fantastic works of e. e. Cummings.”  He pulls out a worn, leather-bound book with little slaps of paper stuck between the pages.  The same one he’d been reading the other day.  “My sister, Anna, got it handmade for me for my sixteenth birthday.  Every single one of his poems.”

“What are the little marks for?” Dean ask, eyeing them.

“I’ve bookmarked my favorites,” Castiel explains.

“Can – can I see them?” Dean asks carefully, leaning forward awkwardly and holding his hand out.

Cas nods, setting the book gently in Dean’s hand.  Dean takes it, folding it over in his hands and admiring it.  It’s obvious it’s been read many times, and Dean finds a smile spreading on his lips.  The first page inside includes a note in slanted, loopy handwriting that Dean assumes is Anna’s.  He skips past it, paging to the first bookmarked poem.

“in Just-“ Dean reads aloud.  “Mmm.”  He spreads the book open wide, looking down the page, and he begins to read quietly.

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little lame baloonman 


whistles far and wee 


and eddyandbill come 
running from marbles and 
piracies and it's 
spring 


when the world is puddle-wonderful 


the queer 
old baloonman whistles 
far and wee 
and bettyandisbel come dancing 


from hop-scotch and jump-rope and 


it's 
spring 
and 
the 
goat-footed 


baloonMan whistles 
far 
and 
wee”

“Huh,” Dean says.  “To be honest with you, the ‘queer balloon man’ kind of creeps me out.”

Cas laughs, showing a small amount of his teeth as he smiles. 

Dean turns a few more pages, eyes skimming the words.  He stops abruptly, smiling coyly.  “Oh, this sounds promising,” he says, shifting his weight.  He clears his throat, and begins –

“may i feel said he
(i'll squeal said she
just once said he)
it's fun said she


(may i touch said he
how much said she
a lot said he)
why not said she


(let's go said he
not too far said she
what's too far said he
where you are said she)


may i stay said he
(which way said she
like this said he
if you kiss said she


may i move said he
is it love said she)
if you're willing said he
(but you're killing said she


but it's life said he
but your wife said she
now said he)
ow said she


(tiptop said he
don't stop said she
oh no said he)
go slow said she


(cccome?said he
ummm said she)
you're divine!said he
(you are Mine said she)

“Oh, yes,” Dean says, smoothing his hand down the page.  “Poetry porn.”

Cas bites his lip to keep from letting out a barking laugh.  He shakes his head, eyes grazing over the laugh lines around Dean’s mouth and the crinkle of his eyes.  He rolls his lips together, looking down and trying to quell the racing of his heart.

Dean takes a heavy breath, but continues on, looking through book and reading a few words here and there from each poem.  “Man,” he says, expression showing disbelief.  “Was this guy just high all the time or something?”  He scoffs, continuing on.

Castiel smiles, shrugging.  “A good question.”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong,” Dean says.  “I’m actually really liking this stuff, but where do you get the ideas?  How did he come up with this stuff?”

Cas shrugs again.  “Creativity.”

Dean nods.  “Hmm.  I suppose.”  He closes the book and hands it back to Cas.  “Pretty good taste, you’ve got.  Though I can’t pretend I’m an expert on poetry.  I think this is the first time I’ve really read it, so.”

Cas shakes his head, playfully disapproving.  “I’m disappointed in you, Dean Winchester.  Poetry is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.”

Dean snorts, leaning back in his seat.  “If you say so.”

“You’re just too much of moron to understand,” Cas says, sticking his chin up and crossing his legs under the table.

Dean opens his mouth to retort, but stops when it turns into a smile.  “You’re a dick, you know that?”

“Is that really your comeback?” Cas asks, his eyes sparkling.

“That’s me telling the truth,” Dean replies.

Cas chuckles, shaking his head.  “You’re terrible at this.”

“You’re . . . terrible.”

Cas nearly doubles over, laughing harder.  “Okay, you really should stop now.  Not while you’re ahead per se, but before you’re completely backtracked.”

“How about pretentious?” Dean asks.  “You’re utterly pretentious.”

Cas nods, pressing his lips together.  “That’s a big word.  I’m impressed.”

Dean bites his lip, hanging his head for a second as he tries not to laugh.  Castiel cocks his head, eyes clearly saying, “I win.” 

“So,” Cas says.  “What are you doing in here?  I didn’t even think you knew what a library was.”

Dean stares at Castiel for a second, disbelieving.  “I’m not a complete idiot, you know.  Just because I started a fight with Lucifer doesn’t mean I’m a big dumbass like he is.  I get good grades.”

Castiel just smirks, shaking his head slightly.  “I’m only giving you a hard time, Dean.  I’m sure you’re very smart.”

Dean nods, eyeing him suspiciously.  “I’m in here because first of all, I’m avoiding Lucifer like usual.  And second, I really do need to study and do some homework.”

“Well,” Cas says.  “I’ve got room.”

Dean grabs his bag off the floor, lifting it up onto the table.  “Then don’t mind if I join you.”

.

.

After spending his free period and lunch hour with Cas, Dean’s in a pretty good mood, but on his way out to his car after school, it completely shatters.

“Hey, Winchester!”

He stops, closing his eyes and holding in a groan.

“Hey, bud.  How’s it going?”

He turns around, putting on his best scowl as he faces Lucifer, Alastair, and Azazel. “What do you want?” he asks angrily.

“I’m curious,” Lucifer says with a shrug.  “I gotta ask you a question, Dean.”

Dean narrows his eyes, shifting his weight.  “What?”

“Well,” Lucifer says, raising an eyebrow and cocking his head slightly for a second.  “Are you bisexual?  Or what?”  Alastair and Azazel snicker.

Dean blinks, taken slightly aback.  He looks around blankly for a second.  “Um – no?”

“Oh, really?” Lucifer asks, smiling.  He chuckles a little, taking a step forward.  “Because – I don’t know – the first day you get here, you hit on my girlfriend.  And today, I see you cozying up with that fag, Castiel.”

Dean tenses, his fists clenched at his sides.  “He’s a friend.”  The word sticks in his throat, stumbling its way out of his mouth.

“More than that, I’m guessing,” Lucifer says, crossing his arms but staying relaxed.  “You can’t hide it from me, Dean.  I know a couple of fags when I see ‘em.”

Dean’s fists clench tighter, and he can feel his nails digging into his palm.  “Don’t call him that,” he hisses.

Lucifer raises an eyebrow, his smirk growing.  “Oh, we’re sticking up for him now, are we?  That’s something a boyfriend would do.”

Dean shakes his head, looking away and letting out a noise between a laugh and scoff.  “You know you’re a dumbass, right?”

“Come again?” Lucifer asks, his smile disappearing and his voice taking on a dangerous tone.

“You’re fucking stupid,” Dean says, taking a step up to him.  “Cas is my friend.  Only my friend, and if you’re too much if an ignorant ass to realize that, then that’s your own fault.”

“Oh, Dean,” Lucifer says sweetly, smiling condescendingly at him.  “You’re so naïve.”

“Why?” Dean asks, challenging him.  “Why am I naïve?”

“Castiel is gay – “

“Actually, he’s pansexual,” Dean corrects.  “Which to your tiny brain means he’s not attracted to men or women.  He’s attracted to just people.  And me?” he says.  “I’m straight, which if you didn’t know, means I like women.  And it’s perfectly possible for Cas and I to be friends, because I’m not some idiotic douchebag who thinks it’s okay to torment someone over something so trivial as their sexuality.  But if you want to be a complete and utter jackass, that’s fine with me – it’ll all come back to you one day – just leave Cas alone.”  He stands barely three inches apart from Lucifer now, breathing heavily into his face with his fists ready at his side.

It takes awhile for Lucifer to reply.  He stares at Dean for a long moment, eyes scanning over his face.  Slowly, he begins to smile again until he starts to laugh, taking a step back from Dean.  When he’s finished, he lets out a sigh that leads into a serious, deadly tone.

“Boy, you really have no clue how it works around here.”

“Oh, but I do,” Deans says.  “I know that you’re the stupid, brain-dead bully and I’m just supposed to bow down to you.  But I won’t.”

“You really think so?” Lucifer asks, closing the distance between them.  Dean braces himself, standing firm.  His heart gives a lurch, his veins flooding with adrenaline, only to be interrupted by –

“Lucifer!  Is there a problem here?”

It’s Mr. Wyatt, briefcase in hand and folders tucked under his armpit. 

Lucifer deflates, sighing in annoyance.  “No, sir,” he says without turning around.  He motions for Alastair and Azazel to follow him as he walks past Dean, crashing shoulders as he does so.

Mr. Wyatt approaches Dean, looking at him carefully.  “Are you alright, Dean?”

Dean gives himself a shake, trying to calm the anger inside of him.  “Yeah – yeah, I’m fine.”

Dean looks at him, heaving a deep breath.  “I’m fine, Mr. Wyatt.  And anyway, Lucifer’s the least of my worries.”

“Well,” Mr. Wyatt sighs, “if he does become a big problem, feel free to come talk to me.”

“Thank you,” Dean says, pressing his lips together in a failed attempt at a smile.  “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Mr. Wyatt gives a curt nod.  “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Dean.”  He leaves without another word, slowly making his way to his car.

Dean closes his eyes for a second, allowing himself to calm down.  He isn’t sure what made him get so angry with Lucifer in the first place, but when he thinks back, Lucifer’s voice ringing in his head – “that fag, Castiel” – his blood seems to boil.  Dean punches his open palm, letting out a noise of frustration.  He punches his hand again, turning around towards his car.  And that’s when he sees Castiel standing with his hands in his pockets, looking small and vulnerable.

“You didn’t have to do that, you know,” he says quietly.

“Cas,” he says a little breathlessly.  “I didn’t – I didn’t see you there.”

“Lucifer calls me a fag all the time,” Cas continues.  “It’s fine.  It doesn’t bother me anymore.”

“Well, it should,” Dean replies with more force than he intended.  “Cas, that’s not – you shouldn’t – “ he sighs, leaning his head back for a moment and then snapping it forward.  “Lucifer’s an asshole, and you shouldn’t have to deal with that.”

Cas shrugs.  “But I do.  I choose not to react, because I find that it tires Lucifer more quickly that way.”

“You shouldn’t do that,” Dean says, stepping forward.  “Let Lucifer control you.”

Cas smiles sadly.  “Oh, I’ve tried fighting, believe me, but I know when to give up.”  Dean opens his mouth to retort, but Cas cuts him off.  “Haven’t you ever felt like that, Dean?  When you’ve fought and fought but nothing ever changes, and all you can do is back down, let everything take its course?  When it just seems like the best thing to do is just give up, because you know you can’t do anything to change it?”

Dean says nothing, simply turns his eyes away from Castiel.  He knows that darkness, and how it swallows you whole, never letting go.  He knows how the exhaustion grips you like a vice, holding you down while everything within you just wants to move forward.  He knows the false sense of relief when you finally do back down.  He knows that exact feeling.

“So you’re just going to give up?”         

“I’m just too tired.  I can’t fight anymore.”

“I understand,” he says at last.  “But still.  I’m not going to take anything from Lucifer, and if I can help it, I won’t let you either.”

Cas laughs, though the sound is insincere and emotionless.  “Thank you, Dean, but I couldn’t allow you to get yourself hurt on account of me.”

“It’s not your decision,” Dean says with the smallest smirk.

Cas rolls his eyes, shaking his head and looking away shyly.

“So, uh,” Dean starts, shifting his weight and dropping the emotion, “do you need a ride home or something?”

“No,” Cas says quickly.  “I just – I was wondering – “  He breaks off, stumbling over his words.  “We have that World History test on Tuesday, and I was wondering whether or not you might want to study together?”

Dean blinks, a little surprised.  He feels like things are moving too fast.  It hasn’t even been a week and he’s already got a rivalry going on with the resident jock, he’s stuck up for someone in front of said jock, and now he’s making study plans with the person he stood up for – who he should really start honestly considering his friend.  But no matter how much he enjoys Cas’s company, he’s still nervous because he promised himself he wouldn’t make friends here.  He won’t be able to stand it when they leave him.

And yet, despite everything, he says, “Yeah, does Sunday work for you?”

“Sunday would be wonderful,” Cas replies, and then he hesitates again.  “Can I ask for your number?”

Dean nods, pulling his cell phone from his pocket.  They exchange numbers, say goodbye, and Dean’s left standing by the driver’s door of his Impala, a mix of regret and anticipation bubbling in his stomach.  He bites his lip, watching as Cas gets behind the wheel of his station wagon, deciding that maybe, he can give this whole friend thing a chance again – for Cas.

.

.

“Castiel?”

He jumps a little as he looks up, seeing Anna in the doorway. 

“Come help me with dinner,” she says, beckoning him to follow her.

With an irritated sigh, he shoves his textbook off his lap and hops down from his bed.  He glances into the living room as he and Anna emerge downstairs.  Raphael’s sitting with his mother as they look through magazines, smiling and laughing.  It makes Cas’s stomach turn.

“A month into their marriage, and I’m still not used to it,” he says once the kitchen door is shut behind them.  He goes over to the sink to wash his hands.  “And why are we making them dinner?  They’re perfectly capable, are they not?  I have assignments to do.”

“Oh, come on, now,” Anna says, grabbing ingredients from the refrigerator.  “You’ve been happier lately.  Don’t stop now.”

Cas blinks, his eyebrows creasing together.  “I sincerely doubt that.  Raphael’s still here, isn’t he?”

“Well,” Anna says, pulling out a knife and beginning to chop lettuce.  “I’ll admit I don’t know what it is, but you have been happier, Cas.  Something happen at school?  Did Lucifer get expelled?”

Cas laughs, shaking his head.  “No, though I do have to admit, that’d be something wonderful.”

“So?” Anna asks, giving his shoulder a nudge.  “Then, what’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Cas says, feeling his neck begin to flush.  “Well, I mean – there’s this new guy.”

“Ooooh,” Ann says knowingly.  “And does he, you know, bat for a similar team?”

“No, no,” Cas says quickly, rubbing the back of his neck.  “He’s straight, and we’re – we’re just friends.  But it’s nice.  I mean, you know I don’t really have any.”

Anna nods, smiling.  “I suppose that is nice.  Better than nice, actually.”  It’s quiet for a moment, and then Anna glances over at him, still looking a little smug.  “So, tell me about him, Cas?  What’s this guy like?”

“He just moved here from Kansas,” Cas says.  “He seems like a badass at first glance, but he’s actually really sweet.”  He pauses, hesitating.  “He, um – he stuck up for me today – in front of Lucifer.  Lucifer called me a fag, and Dean – he got in Lucifer’s face.”

“Dean,” Anna repeats, nodding.  “That’s a nice name.  And he – “ she breaks off, really realizing what Cas had said.  “He really did that for you?”  She dumps the lettuce into a huge bowl, reaching now for the carrots.

Cas nods, biting his lip.  “He had a rivalry with Lucifer from the first day.  It’s not really big deal.”

Anna’s grin widens.  “It’s a huge deal, Cas,” she disagrees.  “Has anyone else stuck up for you in front of Lucifer?”

“Besides you and Michael?” Cas asks, raising an eyebrow.  “Well, no , but – “

“There’s no ‘buts’,” Anna cuts in.  “Dean’s a keeper, Cas.  Don’t let him go.”

Cas groans.  “Anna he’s straight, and I don’t even feel that way about him.”

“You’re a terrible liar,” Anna says, looking over at him again.  She dumps the carrots into the bowl full of lettuce, then grabs a cucumber to slice.

“But I’m not lying,” he says defensively, holding his hands out in surrender.  “I swear.  I’ve barely known him a week.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Anna replies, throwing a few cucumber slices into the mixture.

“He’s straight.”

“He could be closeted.”

“He doesn’t feel that way about me.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Anna.”

“Castiel.”

“Anna, I’m serious.”

“So am I.”

Castiel sighs, frustrated, and Anna simply laughs, reaching over to punch him playfully on the shoulder.

“Anna, stop,” he says, trying not to laugh.  He grabs a knife from the counter, holding it up in defense.

“I’m not going to let it go, you know,” Anna says matter-of-factly.  “Not until you two are married with five children.”

“Anna,” Cas says warningly, his tone almost reprehensive. 

“I’m just messing with you, Cas,” Anna says, chuckling.  She sets disposes the last of the cucumber into the bowl before making her way back over to the refrigerator.  As she passes Castiel, she kisses him gently on the cheek.  “I’m just really happy for you. It’s just been a long time since I’ve seen you so cheerful.  And it’s been even longer since you smiled so sincerely the way you just were, talking about your new friend.  It’s a nice change, Cas.”

He smiles sadly at her.  He hates to admit that she’s right – about the happy and smiling part, not dating Dean, though there is some part of him that wishes there was some truth there.

.

.

Dean’s doing homework in the living room when the news comes on.  The usual theme song blares obnoxiously before the news reporters start running through their lists of stories for the evening.  The second one makes Dean’s blood run cold.

“We’ll also have some updates on the situation in Afghanistan, following the bombing from last month.”

Dean’s up and leaving the room before he even realizes what his feet are doing.  He picks up pace as he dashes upstairs to his room.  He flings the door open, and desperately trying to stop the sobs ripping from his chest, he collapses to his bed.  He doesn’t know how long he sits there, wrapped up in himself and allowing the painful sobs to tear through his throat, but by the time he’s calmed down enough to look up and wipe his eyes, Sam is standing nervously in the doorway.

Dean sighs, attempting to sniffle.  “Sam,” he says tiredly.  “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“But you need to,” Sam urges, stepping into the room. 

Dean huffs.  “So, what are we just turning the tables now?  Now, I’ve got to listen to you?”

Sam sighs, crossing the room and sitting down gently next to Dean.  “Look, I know I’ve been hard on you, Dean.  I – I was stupid.  I didn’t realize how much you were struggling.  I only focused on how I felt, and how I just wanted you to be the one to tell it me was going to be okay.”

Dean looks down, avoiding Sam’s eyes.

“Now, I see how bad things really are for you,” Sam sighs.

“Do you?” Dean asks, looking up.  “Sam, I – I don’t think you’ll ever understand, and I know you needed me.  I know I wasn’t there for you, and I’m sorry, but I don’t need you.  I know you want to help me, but nothing you say is going to change anything, Sam, and I just – I don’t need your help, alright?”

“Dean – “ Sam starts.

“Sam, just go,” Dean says sharply.

Sam chews on his lip a second before standing up and exiting the room. 

As soon as he’s gone, Dean lays down on his back.  His eyes start to well up with tears again and he blinks them back.  A few manage to leak out, dripping down the side of his face, but he doesn’t wipe them.  Instead he closes his eyes, breathing deep.

He’s been trying to stay strong.  Usually, little things like that on the news shouldn’t bother him.  Hell, he was fine just a few days ago telling Bela about his father.

But maybe that’s the problem.

He can’t sit down and talk about it; it just hurts too much.  So he holds it in, and he tries to ignore it and then everything bursts out of him like it just did now.

Dean sighs, rolling over onto his side.

He knows it isn’t good for him to be doing this – Bobby’s told him a thousand times, but there’s just no one he can talk to who would understand (but it’s not like he’d have the strength to talk about anyway).  He just feels like he’s drowning, struggling to stay on the surface, and once in awhile, he lets go, sinking under. 

It’s exhausting, but it’s the only way he’s surviving.