There was no single moment when Dean Winchester realised he was in love with Castiel Novak, just a million memories and feelings that bubbled to the surface whenever he was asked if there was anyone at school he was interested in. Castiel had always been there, had always been a sure thing in Dean's life since the death of his mother. Dean's first memory of the dark haired boy was already warm and sepia-toned with familiarity- just the heady smell of autumn, and the drowsy feel of the ground against Dean's back the first time they had laid out underneath the stars together, pointing out constellations from within the darkness. Friends became best friends as quickly as Castiel became Cas.
Their differing interests should have pulled them apart- Dean preferred history and science while Cas was never seen without his sketchbook, his fingers smudged a charcoal black that matched the makeup swirled around his eyes. Cas had gotten piercings in both his ears, his septum and through his left eyebrow, and because of them and his makeup he was constantly picked on by other parents, teachers and students. Dean was the other one who knew that each piercing represented someone Cas had lost. In return, Cas hadn't made fun of Dean's new glasses. He called them "cute". Whatever that meant. Dean thought they made him look dorky.
So what should have pushed them apart actually drew them together. They had each other, and their bond was as sure as the love Dean felt for the older boy.
But it never occurred to him that some day that might not be the case.
"I'm going on a date."
The two of them were sitting in Dean's small bedroom on a Tuesday night, surrounded by textbooks and study guides. Dean was sprawled out on the floor besides his best friend, green highlighter in hand, and he stabbed at his worksheet with it before looking up. Cas had his back against the side of the bed, his books balanced precariously on his bent legs.
A strip of exposed, tan skin peeked out from where Cas's grey and black ACDC shirt had rucked up. Dean pretended not to notice.
Cas huffed in mock annoyance. "I said, I'm going on a date." He twirled a pencil around on his long fingers idly. "It's on Friday, so I won't be able to make Movie Night. Sorry, dude."
Dean tried and failed to let the disappointment show on his face. He nodded once, eager to let the subject drop, before rethinking and clearing his throat. He met Cas's intense stare (made stronger and the blue of his eyes impossibly bluer by the rings of heavy eyeliner), could feel the blush warm the tops of his ears, dropped his gaze.
"Is is Bartholomew again?" Dean stared at his hands as Castiel gave a soft yes. "You must really like him, huh? I mean, you've gone out with him twice already- it's not like him to keep guys around if it wasn't serious."
Cas hummed, the tone low in his throat. When Dean chanced a glance at him through his glasses, Cas had already gone back to scribbling in his notebook. The noise was loud in the silence that followed.
Dean's heart ached. When Cas had come out as gay in junior year, Dean had been supportive of his best friend. He had watched him go out on dates, testing out his new status for months while on the inside Dean was secretly hopeful; it seemed much more likely that Cas might return his feelings if he liked guys. But as the years passed that got less and less likely- Cas just wasn't into HIM.
When Friday came, Dean was a mess. He wasn't stupid- he knew what happened after a third date, and he couldn't even imagine Cas and Bartholomew kissing without feeling sick. Most of the time, he didn't need to; Cas's dark figure was easy to spot in the crowded cafeteria, and more often than not these days he and Barth were locked at the lips. Dean just took his lunch someplace else, until he saw Cas again in fifth period and his smile erased any lingering bad feelings Dean had as easily as sunshine through shadow.
A month passed, and suddenly midterms were upon them.
Cas and Bartholomew were still dating, as far as Dean knew. He didn't see Cas very often anymore and that made him hurt in a way he didn't think possible- but the worst thing was that it was all Dean's fault, and he knew it. It wasn't like Cas hadn't tried to patch up their friendship when he had seen Dean drifting away, but Dean was stubborn. He couldn't be around Cas without it hurting anymore, and the looks of concern and worry Cas sent his way weren't helping matters either. If anything, they clearly indicated that Cas cared. Dean's grades were slipping. He wasn't sleeping. But the main thing was that Cas was happy- and that was all Bartholomew's doing. Dean couldn't fault the guy that.
Everything changed pretty soon after midterms had come to an end.
School was out, and the first weekend passed in a heated blur of homework and a trip to the library with Sam that almost ended with them getting kicked out. But Dean was looking up; he had thought his exams had gone alright, and while the pain over losing Cas was still there it no longer stung like before. Dean wondered whether it would ever leave him entirely, or whether he would be the victim of unrequited love forever- cut off from reality and unable to love another. He wondered about Cas a lot. He tried not to.
On Sunday, Dean was home alone. Sam had gone to a friend's, and his father had picked up this shift at the Salvage Yard ever since Mary had died- and he had just settled on the couch for the latest episode of Doctor Sexy when the doorbell rang. Dean grumbled under his breath while he got to his feet, wondering if the neighbour's cat had gone missing again, but no-
It was Castiel.
The older boy's shoulders were slumped, and his arms were wrapped protectively around his stomach. He looked miserable. Dean's heart lurched in his chest at the sight of him on his porch. Any doubts about Dean still loving the boy were dashed at the sight- of course he still did. Maybe he always would.
"Cas?" Dean breathed, eyes wide. "What are you doing here?"
Several things happened at once, then. Cas turned, revealing the left side of his face. His eye was swollen and blackened- not by makeup but by what was undoubtedly the imprint of a fist. His nose had been bleeding. It was obvious that he was in pain; he grimaced as he moved and Dean suspected several of his ribs were broken. His normally blue eyes were full of tears.
"Hello Dean." Cas's voice cracked. "I know you don't want to see me…but-" He hiccuped, winced. "I didn't know wh-where else to g-go."
"Oh holy shit." Dean rushed forward and grabbed a hold of Cas as he crumpled to his knees.
The next few minutes were a rush of movement as Dean gingerly helped Cas onto one of the dining room chairs. Every step caused Cas to hiss in pain and Dean's couldn't help but run what he hoped was a soothing hand through his best friend's mop of unruly brown hair. When he was seated, Dean retrieved two ice packs from the cupboard under the sink and handed them over. Cas pressed one to his swollen eye and the other to his side underneath his shirt, grimacing. Dean winced in sympathy.
"What the hell happened, buddy?" Dean tried to keep his voice gentle but he knew he failed when Cas's shoulders drooped even further. He ran his thumb in soothing motions against the other boy's shoulder to soften the blow.
Dean was expecting the answer, but it still came as a shock.
Castiel whispered the name through lips pulled down at the corners. He removed the ice packs from his bruises and held them between his hands, and Dean noticed with a sinking stomach that the usual spark of defiance in Cas's eyes was gone.
"What did he do to you?"
At first, Castiel didn't answer. He swallowed, and Dean watched his adams apple bob. But eventually the words came. Cas told Dean about how Bartholomew had refused to let Cas wear his makeup if they were together out in public, and how when they had gone out for dinner Bartholomew had insisted that everything about Cas was controlled. The last straw had been when Cas had refused to "put out". Barth called him frigid and a freak and that had been when the violence had really gotten going. It hadn't been the first time he had gotten physical, though.
Dean sat opposite with Cas's hands clasped tightly in his own, rage slowly building at how his best friend had been treated. By him, as well- if Dean had been around this may not have gone on as long as it did. He opened his mouth to say as much when Cas beat him to it.
"I can't go back. I've been so stupid. I never even liked Barth in that way- I just went out with him because that was what everyone expected me to do, and I thought it might help me get over-" Here Cas broke off, took a deep shaking breath and wiped at his face. He glanced at Dean, his face twisted in misery. "I almost didn't come here. You've been avoiding me at school, you won't text me back, I know you must hate me- but I'm sorry. I'm so so sorry for whatever I did to make you leave."
Dean's heart shattered. "Oh, Cas. No. No no no no no. I didn't mean it like that, not at all. I'm the one who should apologise." His hands came to rest on Cas's neck and uninjured side of his face. His fingertips traced circles in the skin there, while his eyes found those of the boy he loved. "It wasn't your fault. Dammit. You've got to believe me. This wasn't your fault, I promise."
But Cas shook his head sadly. "It is. Bartholomew said that I wasn't good enough to be with him- he was right. I just mess things up. I'm cursed. I'm not good enough. I don't deserve to be loved."
Dean let his eyes slip shut before a sudden wave of anger at Cas's words made him throw up his hands. "Sonofabitch! That guys is nothing but a great big bag of dicks, Cas. He was wrong, do you hear me? Whatever he said to make you believe you aren't the most brilliant, funny and kind person I know-" Dean faltered for a second at the intense look Cas was giving him. "Listen to me, buddy. You know how I know? Because I'm the one who KNOWS you. I'm the one who you grew up with and the one who spent countless weekends at your house playing Mario Kart and stealing candy from your brother. I'm the one who went with you to your stupid art galleries and art shows out of state and because I'm the one who SEES you."
He looked away.
"You're the guy who could have aced his exams last semester but spent every single night watching over your sister to make sure she didn't have any more nightmares instead. You're the guy who wanted to adopt thirty dogs just so they didn't get put down. You make amazing art- art that could and will be showcased around the world. You're the guy who prefers peanut butter and jelly to Nutella and cares about bees and I always know when you're having a bad day when you don't complain about my music tastes. When you're having a good day you like to wear that sweater with the green stitching around the hem. You surprise me every day, Cas, you do. And if Bartholomew can't see that, then I'm sorry but he doesn't deserve to be with you- because, Cas, don't you see? You deserve better. You deserve EVERYTHING."
Dean thought: fuck it. He brushed away a few tears that had escaped from underneath the rim of his glasses and just went for it because, goddammit, Cas deserved to know. He pushed a heavy hand through his hair.
"I need you, OK? Whether you're cursed or not. I need you to listen to me right now, because that stuff about being unworthy of love? That's utter bullshit. You're surrounded by people who love you. Your parents. Anna. Gabe. Hell, you know my father adores you. But so do I." His voice wavered. God. "Cas, I have been in love with you since the first time I saw you, so don't try to tell me that you're not loved because…I love you."
Dean didn't look up. He couldn't. Not when he knew that there would be a look of utter disgust on Cas's face. Instead of listening to the painful silence that followed, Dean busied himself with trying to calm his pounding heart.
He sighed heavily. What had he done? He need to leave, right now, before Cas started shouting at him. Dean wouldn't blame him if he did.
He picked up his jacket from where it lay over the back of the couch and shrugged it on. "I'm going out for a while. Dad should be home soon- he'll take you home and tell your parents what happened. You'll be OK, Cas. Just take care of yourself."
Dean moved towards the door and opened it. His throat was raw. His eyes prickled. He knew the inevitable drop would come once the shock of what happened set in, and after that…
Dean froze when a hand reached out and grabbed his own, stopping him in his efforts to escape. When he looked back, the breath caught in his throat.
Cas looked utterly DEVASTATED.
There was a beat of silence as their eyes met and then: "Did you mean it?"
Dean's heart leapt. He could have asked what Cas meant, could have asked what bit of that unplanned speech he wanted clarification on, but he knew. The answer was the same anyway. "Of course I did."
And then suddenly Dean's arms were full of Cas as he slammed their lips together in a bruising kiss. There was too much teeth and tongue and breath but neither of them cared enough to pull apart. Dean gasped into it, and Cas swallowed it up greedily as he brought his hand around to the back of Dean's neck and burrowed it into the short hairs there. They kissed for a few more seconds before Dean reluctantly pulled away, gasping for breath. He rested their foreheads together, heart hammering against his chest, and wondered at the chances of Cas returning his feelings after all this time. It didn't seem real. He stared and stared and stared at his best friend's kiss-bitten lips.
Cas looked up at Dean. His eyes were unusually bright and his smile was gummy and wide. "I love you too, Dean. I love you. I always have, I just didn't think you'd ever- If I'd known…"
Dean kissed him then, a chaste brush of lips just because he could. "It doesn't matter, angel. But I've got you now, and I don't intend to let you go."
Cas clenched a hand in Dean's Star Wars sweater at the endearment and chuckled, the sound rumbling through them both. "Deal."
Neither of them had wanted it any other way.