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Matt's Mile

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Prequel

I leaned over the toilet, stomach heaving.  Shit.  I didn’t even have to stick my finger down my throat anymore.  After years of abuse, my body was to the point where I could throw up just by thinking about it.

Flushing the disgusting mess away, I moved to the sink.  There I rinsed my mouth and splashed cold water on my face.  Looking up revealed my own face in the mirror.  It was not a pretty picture.  Bad enough the water dripping off my chin and the flushed skin.  My cheeks were so hollow I could see the clear outline of my own skull.  My shoulder bones jutted up beneath my shirt.  Beneath it was even worse.  I knew my ribs were clearly visible.  My hips were sharp and protruding.  My arms and legs were like twigs.  Except for my full head of hair, I looked like a cancer patient.

Maybe I was, in a way.  I was dying from a cancer of my own creation.  And here I’d been doing so well.  I’d honestly believed I was in recovery.  But now, the first major stressor had triggered a massive relapse.  Now I was almost back to where I’d been when I’d been hospitalized.

“You threw up again.”

I grimaced and clutched at the sink.  “Yes, yes I did.  Thank you so much for pointing that out.”

“You’re still mad at me.”

He was coming into the bathroom, stepping just inside the door.  Normally he’d be running around in sweats.  He didn’t have to get into his police uniform until after noon, and generally didn’t take the time to get dressed just for a few hours in the morning.  But today was different.  He was wearing a carefully ironed shirt and pants with a belt.  He looked like he was going on a job interview.  The only thing that was missing was a tie.  And here I was, in my best tee-shirt and jeans.  Of course, I was expected to go out into the field, while he’d be primarily indoors.

“I’m not mad at you,” I said.  I mopped my face with a towel.  “You’re right.  You’re all right.  This is important.  It’s something I have to do.  I only wish you’d discussed it with me first.”

I was staring into the sink now, but I could hear him.  His footsteps came closer until he was right behind me.  Then a pair of strong arms went around my waist.  He held me close, resting his head against the back of my bony shoulder.  “I love you,” he said simply.  “I hate seeing you like this.  And I hate that there’s this tension between us.  I know it’s not helping you now, but I really believe, in my heart, that it’s for the best.  You’re sick because you’re trapped in the past.  Until you face it?  You can’t ever go forward.  And you’ll be back here again and again until…”

“Until it finally kills me,” I whispered.  “I know.”

The arms tightened around me.  “The day they had to take you to the hospital?  When I saw you there and the doctors told us about your heart?”  He took a deep breath.  “I knew this could kill you.  I knew the danger was there.  But that brought it all home.  You passed out!  No one could wake you up.  You could have died, and I can’t let that happen.”

“Why is it up to you to save me?” I snapped, showing a flash of temper.  “You know the therapist says that the trigger for me is a loss of control.  So your big solution is to put me into a situation where I have no control at all?!”

“You need this.”

“Do I, Dr. Phil?”  Irritated, I squirmed out of his grip and turned to face him.  “Ok, maybe I am still mad.  I wasn’t given any choice in this or any warning.  You just sprang it on me!  Now what the hell am I supposed to say to them, huh?  After the shit I pulled, I’m amazed they even want to talk to me!”

“Well, they do.”  That stubborn set was back in his jaw.  “They want to talk to you, and you need to hear whatever they have to say.  You owe them that much.  But no matter what happens today, you need to use it as a starting point to move forward.”

I didn’t respond.  He came forward again and pulled me into a hug.  “I love you.  You know that.”

“I love you, too,” I told him, hugging him back.  “And you’re right.  You were right all along.  And I want you to know, I’m glad you’ll be here with me for this.”

He smiled at me as though I’d just said something stupid.  But I kind of had.  Of course he’d be there with me.  He’d always been there for me when I needed him most.

I thought about what he said.  I was sick because I was trapped in the past.  I’d never be able to go forward until I faced it.  I wiped at my mouth, ashamed at my own weakness.  I’d been doing so well, but the first major stressor sent me right back to old habits.  This couldn’t continue.

I followed him outside, climbed into the car.  I knew where we’d be meeting them.  Already my heart was pounding.  Relax.  Breathe.  Whatever was coming, I wasn’t alone.  I reached over and gave his arm a squeeze as he drove.  He made a small sound of approval.  I let my hands fall into my lap, and my mind wandered back into the past.

Ch 1 First Day of School

Sophomore year.  Helluva time.  One year better than being a freshman, but still on the receiving end of all the high school bullshit.  Sam was very much aware of this as he ducked and weaved his way through the hallowed halls.  He realized with dismay that pretty much every other guy towered over him now.  Shit.

“Hey, Sammy!”

“Hi, Sam!”

“What’s up, Sammy?”

“Sammy, you cheering Friday?”

“Hey, hi, not much, and yes,” Sam called, finally finding his locker and frowning at the combination of his new lock.

“You didn’t learn a damned thing, did you?”  It was his friend Inias, who fortunately had the locker next to his.  “Seriously, Sammy, it’s like you’re asking to get your ass kicked!”

“Really?” Sam asked, irritated.  “This, from the guy who, when I told him I was going to try out last year, said he wanted to join the cheerleading squad with me?”

“I didn’t actually want to join.  I just thought you were making a statement about gender inequality!”

“God, you’re a nerd.”  He managed to get his locker open and started arranging his things.  “I went and tried out and was the only guy who did.  Might be why they took me.”

“That, or you can dance your ass off.”

“Or that.  At any rate, I’m on the squad.”

Inias leaned against his locker to inspect his friend.  “Do you get to wear the sweater and the mini skirt?”

“The sweater, yes.  The mini skirt?  I’m reasonably certain they have one in my size, but don’t be a dumbass.”  Sam got his belongings arranged to his liking and picked up his backpack.  “Most of the time, I’ll be wearing the dog anyway.  I’m the mascot, remember?”

Inias moved closer and lowered his voice.  “Do you get to change with the rest of the squad?”

“I change in the male locker room with the teams, you pervert!”  Sam shook his head, disgusted.  “You’re as bad as Lisa Braeden.”

“Whoa, Lisa Braeden wanted you to change in the women’s locker room?!”

“No, she threatened to pick me up and snap me over her knee if I so much as peeked in there.”

Inias considered this, his eyes moving over the other boy’s slight frame.  “She probably could.  Did you stop eating over the summer, Sam?  I think you actually shrank a bit!”

“Eat me.”  Sam slammed his locker shut.

He’d barely turned to head to his first class when a pair of arms wrapped around him, lifting him off of his feet.  He sighed.  “Hello, Dean,” he told his brother.

“Sammy!”  Dean hefted Sam up like a sack of potatoes and turned, bringing the smaller boy with him to look down the hall.  “Did you see the new kid?”

“Hmm?”  Sam looked, spotting a head of dark, somewhat messy hair bent down as its owner walked, eyes fixed on the floor.  “Oh, yeah, what was his name?  Castiel?  That’s it, Castiel Novak.  Seems nice enough, pretty shy.”

“He’s the hottest piece of ass this school has ever seen,” Dean announced.  “I’m tapping that before I graduate, I swear it!”

Sam groaned.  “Dean, what the hell makes you think he’s gay?”

“I can tell.  It’s like a sixth sense.”

Another groan, louder this time.  “Not your gaydar again!”

“When have I ever been wrong?”

“Last summer when we went to Disneyland and that Goth kid punched you?”

Dean shrugged, undeterred.  “His makeup threw me off.”

“How about the time you tried to kiss Uriel at the homecoming game?”

“Uriel’s a closet case.  He doesn’t count.  Besides, I was drunk.”  Dean still hadn’t made any move towards putting Sam down, ignoring the way the smaller boy was squirming and looking pointedly towards the floor.  “Ok, I need my wingman.”

“Oh for...!”

“He’s new, and...  How do you know his name anyway?”

“We were in homeroom together.”

“Perfect!”

“Come on, Dean!  The guy’s new, at least give him a chance to get his bearings before you go putting the moves on him?”

“An ass that fine is too good to wait.  Ok, make friends with him, get to know him, find out what he likes.  Tell me everything when I get home after school.”

“You have to drive me home.  I have cheer practice after school today.”

“You spent half the summer at cheer camp!  What the hell else do you need to practice?”

“Do you practice for football, Dean?  Cheerleading is a sport, too!”

Dean looked unconvinced.  “Fine, call me.”

“Whatever, put me down.”

Dean carefully set Sam back on his feet.  “Remember, details!  I want details!”

“I know the routine, Dean.  This is not the first time I have played wingman for you, against my better judgement.”

Dean looked fondly at him.  “You’re sooooo good at it!”

Sam glared at him.  “Don’t you have some poor new teacher to terrorize?”

Dean made kissy faces at him.  Then he jogged off, ignoring the rules about no running in the hall.

Inias dared to approach.  “Are you sure one of you isn’t adopted?”

“Mom and dad swear we’re both natural children,” Sam sighed.

“Maybe there was a mix-up in the hospital?” Inias suggested hopefully.

“I could only wish.  See you at lunch?”

“You got it!”

***

Castiel had made a long study of floor tiles.  The ones he was currently watching were largely unremarkable.  He watched them as he walked, keeping aware enough through his peripheral vision to avoid running into people, but making certain not to make eye contact with anyone.

Unfortunately, this kid’s height put him precisely at eye level when he stepped into Castiel’s path.  “Hi!” he called cheerfully.  “I’m Sam Winchester.  You’re Castiel, right?”

Castiel looked around, making sure the kid wasn’t talking to anyone else.  Then he looked back at the other boy.  “Yes, that’s right.  I’m Castiel Novak.”

“Yeah, I saw you in homeroom.  Welcome to Lawrence High!”  Sam was pumping his hand.

“Pleased to meet you, Sam.”

“Likewise.  Ok if I call you Cas?”

Castiel blinked.  “Um, I suppose so?”

“Great!  So Cas, where’s your next class?”

Castiel’s class schedule vanished from his hand.  Sam was narrowing his eyes at it, his lips moving slightly as he read.  The other boy was short, but handsome, with hazel eyes, short brown hair, and apparently limitless energy.  No, Castiel told himself.  Don’t even think that way.  This school was going to be different.

Sam had apparently seen what he’d wanted to see and was handing the schedule back.  “You got Spitzler for algebra, too!  Great, we’re together.  C’mon, let’s head over.  Spitzler’s boring as hell, but she grades easy.  Let’s get in there quick, get seats together so we can at least talk to each other.”

Castiel had no idea what to say to Sam, but the smaller boy had him by the arm and was basically dragging him forward now.  Castiel stumbled after him.

Sam was apparently very popular.  People were calling out greetings left and right as he moved through the hall, dodging other students until he reached a classroom.  The only thing he stopped for was a couple of girls.  Sam flirted with them brazenly.  Castiel watched them giggle and bat their eyes at Sam, feeling the familiar twist in his gut.  But even they didn’t hold Sam’s attention for long.  Pulling Castiel into the classroom, he made a beeline for a couple of seats near the middle of the room.  Surprised, Castiel took a seat, raising an eyebrow at Sam.

“Teacher psychology,” Sam explained.  “If you sit in the front, you’re either a smartass with all the answers or a kiss-up looking for teacher’s pet.  Either one gets you called on.  If you sit in the back, you’re a screw-off trying to hide something, so you’ll get called on to make sure you’re actually paying attention.  So we sit right in the middle, where we blend in and attract minimal attention to ourselves.”

“Does this actually work?” Castiel asked, confused.

“Got me through middle school and freshman year easy enough,” Sam boasted.  “Do you have plans for Friday?”

“Well, I...”

“Cancel them.”

Castiel blinked.  “Excuse me?”

“Whatever you’re planning, cancel it,” Sam repeated.  “The first football game of the season is Friday.  You’re coming with.  I’m cheering and my brother’s playing.  He’s a tight end, in pretty much every sense of the word.”

Castiel shifted.  Sam seemed to be watching him closely, waiting for a reaction.  “I, um, don’t really know anything about football,” he admitted.  “We didn’t really have sports teams at my old school.”

“Don’t tell me you’re from a Bible belt church school?”

Castiel went silent.

Sam gave him a look of pity.  “Oh, dude!  That sucks!  Well, don’t worry, I’m here to help you.”  He was watching Castiel again.  “You got someone special, Cas?”

“Someone...?  Oh!  No, there’s no one.”

“Maybe we’ll change that, too.”

For one terrifying moment, Castiel froze, sure that Sam was hitting on him.  But the other boy had already moved on.  “Don’t worry about admission.  My parents still haven’t figured out yet that cheerleaders get into the games for free.  I’ll be in my outfit Friday, rousing the school spirit and all that.  Mom will be at work so she’ll just leave me money in my lunch.  Dad won’t be up until after I catch the bus.  So I’ll have some extra money to buy you a ticket to the game.”

“Oh!  You don’t have to do that.”

“Why not?  I get in for free!  She’ll leave me money for the dance, too.  Do you think you can cover that, or do you need me to help?”

“Um, I have my own money,” Castiel managed.  His mind was in a whirl.  “Wait, dance?  What dance?  I’m not going to any dance!”

“Cas, it’s the after-game dance!  You’ve got to go, especially if Dean’s team wins!  I’ll introduce you to the big ape.”

“Dean is, um, your boyfriend?”  Just saying it made Castiel feel dirty.

Sam made gagging noises.  “I wouldn’t date that gorilla even if my life depended on it!  Not only is he butt-ass fugly, but I don’t do incest.”

“Oh,” Castiel said, understanding.  “Dean is your brother!  The two of you don’t get along?”

“Nah, I love that overgrown idiot.  I just think that eventually, an anthropologist will come out here to study him and learn about early human behavior.”

“Oh.”  Castiel didn’t know what else to say.

Sam waved a hand.  “Doesn’t matter.  You’re coming to the game to watch me cheer and Dean be an alpha male.  Then you’re coming to the dance.  You don’t even have to dance if you’re not comfortable.  I’ll dance my ass off for both of us.  I’ll even teach you some moves if you want.”

“I, um, that is, I don’t know if...”

“Ok, here’s the plan.”  Sam was turned in his seat to face Castiel, his expression serious.  “On Friday, bring along whatever you want to wear to the dance, and wear what you’ll be wearing to the game.  It’s pretty early in the season so it shouldn’t be too cold.  I recommend a hoodie under a jacket just in case.  It can get a little windy in the stands.  Meet me after school.  We’ll have Dean drive us to get something to eat.  Don’t worry about money.  He’ll cover it ‘cause it’s the first game of his senior year.”

“But I...”

“After we eat, we can all hang out for a little while,” Sam continued as though Castiel hadn’t interrupted.  “Talk, tell each other about our boring lives, get to know each other.  Then you can come with us to the game, stay for the dance, and we’ll take you home afterwards.  Where do you live?”

Castiel found himself reciting his address.

“Dude, you’re only two blocks down from us!” Sam exclaimed happily.  “Great, we can drop you off easily.  We can even come visit you on the weekends or something!  Our parents own an outdoor sporting goods store.  My mom does some accounting on the side, she and dad work the store, and my brother and I work there sometimes.  I’ve also got a job doing some light housework at the motel and Dean does odd jobs.  So between work, school, and sporting events, our schedules can get a bit crowded.  But we should still have some time.  Let’s hang out!  What time do your parents work?”

“Why are you doing this?!” Castiel exclaimed.  “You seem popular.  Why are you hanging out with me, trying to take me to a game and dances?”

“Why not?” Sam asked, looking somewhat confused.  “I like you!  Don’t you want to be friends?”

“I...  I don’t...”  Castiel swallowed his pride.  “Yes!  Yes, more than anything, I’d like a friend.  I don’t know anyone here.  My last school, things got kind of bad.”

Sam frowned.  “You got bullied?”

“Mmm, it’s complicated,” Castiel replied carefully.  “It doesn’t matter.  I never had friends before.  I’d really like to be friends with you.”

“Great!”  Sam quickly turned in his seat.  “Uh oh, here’s Spitzler.  Act like you’re paying attention!”

Castiel tried, but failed miserably.  His mind was filled with thoughts of his new friend.  He had no idea what had just happened, why a popular cheerleader like Sam would possibly want to be friends with someone like him.  But it didn’t matter.  He had a friend now, possibly two if Sam’s brother Dean would be his friend as well.  Friends were something that had always been in short supply.  All he had to do was keep calm and not do anything that might give himself away.

Things would be different here.  He just had to be careful.

Mrs. Spitzler was in the front of the room now.  “Welcome back to your first day!” she began.  “We have a new student here with us today, Castiel Novak.  Why don’t...?”

“You’re not going to do that thing where you traumatize the poor guy by making him stand up and introduce himself, are you?” Sam called.  “Hey, everyone, this is Cas!  He’s here from a Bible school, so play nice or God will smite your ass!”

“Winchester!” Spitzler snapped amid the laughter.  Castiel’s cheeks burned.

“Sorry.  Seriously, he’s pretty cool, a little shy, but I like the guy.  Everyone say, ‘Welcome, Cas!’”

A chorus of “Welcome, Cas!” rose, and Castiel smiled.  Even Mrs. Spitzler seemed satisfied, turning away from him to start the lesson.  He gave Sam a grateful look, received a smile and a nod in return.  Yes, things would be different here.  Maybe this move wouldn’t turn out to be the disaster it was supposed to be after all.

Chapter Text

Dean pounced on Sammy the instant his brother appeared in the hall.  He clamped a hand over Sammy’s startled mouth, wrapped his other arm around him, quickly dragged his squirming brother into the janitor’s closet and kicked the door shut.  Then he pushed Sammy into a corner, still keeping a hand over his mouth.  “You have just been kidnapped,” Dean told him in a low voice.  “If you value your life and your precious organs, you will immediately tell me everything about that blue-eyed babe in your homeroom.  Otherwise, I start cutting out parts to sell on the black market.”

“Damn it, Dean!” Sammy exclaimed once Dean’s hand was off of his mouth.  “Let me out!  I’ve got chemistry next and it’s clear on the other side of the building!”

Dean held him firmly into the corner.  “Talk fast, or you’re late on your first day.”

Sammy struggled to no avail.  “Ugh!  Alright, his name’s Castiel Novak, he came here from a Bible school, he lives a few blocks down from us, and he’s coming to the game and the dance with us on Friday.  Now let me out!”

Dean sniffed.  “I’m so proud of you.  You’ve done well, young padawan.”

“I’m about to pad-a-nut with my knee if you don’t let me out so I can get to my class!”

“You’re free to go once you answer the most important question.”

Sammy sighed.  “I don’t know, Dean.  I gave him the tight end line, he didn’t really respond.  But he got funny when I talked about you.  He actually thought you and I were dating.”

“Gross!”

“Agreed.  Thing is, he didn’t seem upset about it, so at least he’s not a homophobe.  But I don’t think he’s gay, Dean.  I also don’t think he left his old school under ideal conditions.  He wouldn’t say if he was bullied, but he also doesn’t have any friends.  Something’s up.”

“Find out what it is.”

Sammy was struggling again.  “Come on, Dean!  I hate this wingman spy shit!  Just wait until Friday and talk to him, but meanwhile, let me go!”

Dean let him go.  He barely registered Sammy darting out the door and breaking into a jog to avoid being late.  His mind was on Castiel.  He’d be coming with them to the game, and afterwards to the dance.  It would be the perfect time to get to know him, right after Cas got to see him strut his stuff on the field.

Perfect.

Dean headed out, making a face when the bell rang.  He slunk into his class, quickly making his way to the back where his friends from the football team had saved him a seat.  “Hello, animals.”

Grunts in various pitches responded.

“Mr. Winchester, I see we’re starting out your senior year right,” the teacher called irritably.  “At least try to be here on time.”

“Yes, sir,” Dean called, sinking into his seat.

Dean’s eyes were immediately attracted to two unfamiliar faces.  Both were sitting in the back, a few seats away from Dean, next to each other.  The first was a pretty girl.  She had wavy brunette hair, blue eyes, an oval face and pale skin.  She looked somewhat put out, but not nearly as much as the boy.  He was a good-looking blonde, blue eyes, strong features.  He looked like he’d be perfectly at home in the exercise yard of a prison.  From where he was sitting, Dean was sure he could smell fresh cigarette smoke.  Someone had been smoking on school property.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a couple of new students with us.”  Mr. Green indicated two kids with a smile.  He did not receive answering smiles in return, but that didn’t seem to bother him.  “Why don’t the two of you introduce yourselves?”

“Seriously?” groaned the blonde boy.  “We’ve been introducing ourselves all day!”

“We really have,” the brunette agreed.  “I’m Hannah Novak.  This is my delinquent brother Lucifer.  We just moved in a couple of weeks ago from Topeka, and not by choice.  We do not want to be here.  The only reason we’re here is because my other delinquent brother got into so much delinquency that he got booted out of our old school.  So our father, in his ultimate wisdom, decided to pull the rest of us who did not get booted out for delinquency and send us here for a so-called ‘fresh start.’  So now, instead of being able to finish my senior year in my old school with all my friends, I have to spend it here.  With the delinquents.”  She smiled sweetly.  “Any questions?”

Mr. Green cleared his throat.  “Just your names and where you were from would have been sufficient.”

“Ah, but this way was so much more fun,” Lucifer sighed.  “Thank God this is the last class of the day.  Can we move on now?”

Mr. Green wisely chose to move on.

Everything went well until Mr. Green got called out of the room.  Almost immediately, kids were out of their seats, chatting away and visiting with friends.  Lucifer and Hannah were largely ignored.  Apparently, Lucifer took issue with that.  When Derek, one of the smaller boys, walked by him, Lucifer stuck out his foot and tripped him.  He chuckled when Derek fell and cried out in pain.

Dean was up fast, helping his friend to his feet.  Then he turned to Lucifer.  “What’s your problem?”

“I don’t have one,” Lucifer told him.

“Why’d you trip Derek?”

“Oh, did he trip?”  Lucifer looked up in mock surprise.  “What a pity.  Gravity’s a real bitch, isn’t it?  Say, does this school give classes in walking?  He should sign up.”

“Look, I get you’re new and you’re not happy about moving out here,” Dean tried.  “But you’re not starting out here well.  Whatever your problem is, join a team and take it out on the field.  Don’t take it out on smaller kids.”

“Wow,” Lucifer marveled.  “Words of advice from the school jock!  Did you come up with that all by yourself?  Or was it advice from the coach in the locker room?”

“What was your major in your old school?” Dean asked, irritated.  “Douche bag?”

Laughter rose.

Lucifer didn’t move, simply looking up to study Dean.  “No, actually my major was beating the shit out of stupid jock assholes who thought they were smart.”

“Told you he was a delinquent,” Hannah called.  “He got suspended for fighting practically every other month.  Why do you think he got held back a grade?”

“Any time you think you can take me, I’m ready,” Dean offered.

Lucifer rolled his eyes.  “Relax, Superman.  What, was that your boyfriend that just tripped?”

“No,” Dean told him.  “I’d date him, but he only likes girls.  Doesn’t matter.  Derek’s my friend, and I take offense that you tripped him for no reason.”

That got Lucifer’s attention.  He looked at Dean now with something like horror.  “You’re...  gay?!”

“Yeah, Winchester’s our flaming tight end,” Benny, the quarterback, explained.  “In every sense of the word.”  Hoots and cheers rose from the other football players.

Now Lucifer actually looked sick.  “Get away from me, you sick freak!”

The room went silent.  Every eye was on Dean and Lucifer.

“Oh, you and I are just going to be best friends, aren’t we?”  Dean shook his head in disgust.  “Listen, dickwad, I don’t really care what you think of me.  But the next time you decide to bully someone?  Come and see me.  Let’s see how tough you are with someone your own size.”

Lucifer got to his feet.  He stood eye to eye with Dean.  “I have my standards,” he announced.  “I don’t fight women, children, or faggots.”

Dean looked back without flinching.  “Then I strongly suggest you change your ways.  Otherwise this faggot is going to mop the floor with you.”

That earned him a laugh.  “What are you going to do?  Cry at me?  Write bad poetry?”

“Put your hands on someone smaller than you again,” Dean offered.  “Maybe you’ll find out?”

Mr. Green chose that moment to return to the room.  He paused at the door, taking in the unnaturally silent class and the two figures facing off at the rear of it.  He cleared his throat.  “Winchester and Novak?  Kindly take your seats and stow whatever differences you’ve managed to discover in the five minutes I was gone.  It’s the first day of school on your senior year, boys.  Let’s not start it with a suspension for fighting.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Lucifer announced.  He returned to his seat.

Dean patted Derek on the shoulder and leaned down.  “He touches you again, say the word,” he whispered.

“Thanks, Dean,” Derek whispered back.

“Mr. Winchester, are you having difficulty finding your seat?”

“No, Mr. Green, heading there now!”  Dean quickly got in his seat.  The rest of the class was uneventful.  But Lucifer shot him a look as the other boy headed out the door at the end of the day.  Dean scratched at his face with his middle finger, saw Lucifer’s eyes narrow, and watched in satisfaction as he hurried out the door.

“That guy?” Benny said.  “Grade A douchebag.  Better watch out for him.”

“Don’t you mean he better watch out for me?”

“Just be careful, Dean,” Derek called.  “His sister said he was a delinquent.  Plus he’s older because he got held back a year.  And what if he brings in this other brother of his, the one that got kicked out of school?”

“I don’t care,” Dean announced.  “He tripped you for no damned reason and I’m not going to put up with it.  I won’t start shit with him unless he starts with me.  But the instant he does, I will kick his homophobic ass!”

***

Castiel’s thoughts were a blur as he joined his siblings to wait for their driver.  As usual, Lucifer and Balthazar ignored him, talking quietly to each other.  Hannah nodded at him.  “How was your day?”

“Better than I expected,” Castiel reported.  “I made a friend.  He invited me to come to the football game this Friday.”

Hannah brightened.  “That’s great, Cas!  See?  I told you this school would be better.  And football, that’s a positive step!”

“I’ll say,” Balthazar added.  “First manly thing you may have ever done, Cas!  Did you finally grow some hair down there?”  Castiel glared at his brother.  Balthazar laughed.

“Just watch out at that game,” Lucifer cautioned.  “Apparently, this school is way homo friendly.”

Balthazar’s eyes bulged.  Castiel sucked in his breath.  But Hannah only rolled her eyes.  “It’s just the one guy.  Doesn’t mean the whole school is crawling with them!”

“One guy?” Castiel asked.

Lucifer snapped his fingers.  “Yeah, you better know this.  Cas, you be real careful, especially if you go to that game!  There’s a fag there, some asshole named Winchester.”  He shook his head.  “You should have seen him, Balth!  Trying to be all tough with me, pretending he could kick my ass?  Tonight he’ll probably write about me in his diary.”

“Lucifer!” Hannah scolded as Balthazar laughed.

“Oh come on, Hannah, you gotta admit, that’s funny,” Balthazar defended.  “Can you imagine, some fairy trying to fight Luci?  He’d be like...”  He swatted at Lucifer and squealed in a high-pitched voice.  “Oh, you bad bad man!  You made me break my nail!”

Castiel wasn’t really listening.  His heart was pounding.  “Winchester?  You said his name is Winchester, and he’ll be at the game?”

“Yeah, so watch your ass, literally,” Lucifer growled.

“Wait, he’s the one who invited you?!”  Balthazar suddenly grew serious.  “Maybe you shouldn’t go, Cas?  I mean, if he started to hit on you or something, that would be bad, right?”

“I’m fine!” Castiel snapped.  “Now I know, right?  So if he tries anything, I’ll be on my guard.  That doesn’t mean I still can’t go to the game, maybe meet other people.  I want a fresh start at this school.  I won’t hide away just because the first person I made friends with is gay!”

“That is a good attitude,” Hannah encouraged, smiling at him.  “Do you need to talk to the doctor?”

“No, I’m fine.”  Castiel found a fascinating spot on the sidewalk.  He stared at it until the car arrived.  Then he rode home in silence.

Sam Winchester was gay.  Of course he was gay.  He was a perky male cheerleader who enjoyed dancing.  Castiel felt stupid for not suspecting the truth immediately.  But he’d wanted a friend so badly!  He should have known it was too good to be true.  So much for having a friend.  But at least he knew.  He’d watch Sam, make sure the other boy didn’t try anything funny.  If he did, well, Castiel was fairly certain he could handle the likes of Sam Winchester.  Still, he had to admire Sam’s courage.  The kid couldn’t have been any taller than Hannah.  At six feet tall, Lucifer would have dwarfed him.  And he’d actually stood up to him, even threatened to fight Lucifer?  Sam was either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.  Either way, it still didn’t really mean anything.  So Sam was gay.  That didn’t mean Castiel couldn’t get to know Sam’s brother.  Who knew?  Maybe he could salvage something from this disaster after all.

Chapter Text

Castiel bowed his head reverently while his father said the blessing, saying “Amen” when he was finished.  He waited patiently while his father sampled each dish.  Then Zachariah Novak nodded to the maid, Juanita.  She began serving with Lucifer, moving around the table from eldest to youngest.  Naturally, that meant Castiel would be served last.  He waited, was served his meal, and began to eat in silence.  No one spoke before Zachariah did.  That was the rule.

“Lucifer?” Zachariah began.  “Anything to report?”

Lucifer recited his class schedule.  He claimed nothing to add.  On her turn, Hannah recited her own class schedule.  Then she narrowed her eyes at Lucifer.  “We need to add Lucifer to family prayers again,” she announced.

Lucifer’s eyes were full of venom as he glowered at his sister.

Zachariah sighed deeply.  “Lucifer, you said you had nothing to report.”

“And I don’t!”

“He almost got into a fight today,” Hannah said.

Lucifer glanced at his father, saw Zachariah’s expression darkening, and swallowed.  “There’s this guy.  His name’s Winchester.  He got on my sh-  He got mad at me over some other kid,” he quickly corrected.  “Turns out, Winchester’s a homo.”

Zachariah’s eyebrows shot up.  “He’s homosexual?  Did you report him to your teacher?”

“Apparently everyone knows it!” Lucifer exclaimed.  “That school, they’re a bunch of sinners and faggot lovers, dad!  I hate it there!”

Castiel saw Balthazar raise his hand and winced, knowing what was coming.  As soon as his father nodded to him, Balthazar announced, “Castiel is friends with Winchester now.”

Disapproving eyes turned to Castiel.  “Castiel?  Is this true?”

Castiel forced himself to meet his father’s eyes.  “I didn’t know,” he explained.  “He talked to me.  He seemed nice.  I didn’t know he was...”

“Now you do.  I expect that you won’t be seeing any more of him.”

“He’ll see him,” Lucifer called, looking smug.  “Our little Cassie is going to the football game on Friday.  Winchester’s going to be there!”

Zachariah pounded a fist on the table, making everyone jump.  “Surely everyone in that school isn’t gay?!”

“No, father,” Hannah said quietly.  She was the only one who dared to reply.  “I’m sure they’re not all gay.  The way his friends talked, Winchester is the only one.”

Castiel felt sorry for Sam.  He must be so lonely, the only homosexual in his school.  At least he was popular.

Zachariah was rubbing his chin, thinking.  “Football is a healthy sport for a young man to take an interest in,” he announced.  “It’s high time Castiel started looking into things like sports anyway.  This Winchester.  If you went to this game, would he be with you?”

“No, father,” Castiel said.  “I’ll be alone in the stands.”  He swallowed hard and plunged ahead.  “There’s a dance afterwards.”

Now everyone was staring at him.  “A dance?” Zachariah asked.  “Winchester asked you to a dance?!”

“N-not exactly.  He just said that there’s a dance after the home games and all the kids go.  He, um, he didn’t say he wanted to, you know, dance with me.  When I told him I can’t dance he offered to teach me...”

“Out of the question!”

“Of course, father, but he also said if I wasn’t comfortable, he’d just dance for us both,” Castiel said quickly.  “I don’t think it was, you know, a date.  He never, I mean, I didn’t even know he was gay!”

“It’s kind of hard to tell,” Hannah admitted.  “I was surprised.  Winchester’s a good-looking guy.  I don’t know why he couldn’t get a girlfriend.”

“He’s popular with the girls,” Castiel agreed.  “A lot of them stopped to talk to him.  I never would have thought he wasn’t straight!”

Balthazar rolled his eyes.  “That’s high school girls for you.  They all want a gay BFF.  It’s like the new fad.  Castiel should go with this guy and use him to meet girls!”

“That’s actually not a bad idea,” Hannah said, brightening.  “I can teach him to dance, and when the girls come to talk to Winchester, Cassie can ask them to dance with him!”

Castiel shrunk down a bit in his seat.  “I could skip the dance, and just have the car come after the game?”

“How are you planning to get to this game?” Zachariah wanted to know.  “And what will you do about supper?”

Castiel shrunk more, and his brothers started laughing.  “Oh, that’s not a date at all!” Balthazar laughed.  “Winchester’s taking him to dinner, a game, and a dance, nope, no date there!”

“It’s not like that!” Castiel yelled.  “He’s got a brother, and they’re both taking me, ok?  If he tries anything funny, I’ll ask his brother to take me home or I’ll call for the car.  But this is just friendly.  I’m alright.  I won’t be led into temptation.”

His choice of words was a good one.  His father was looking speculatively at Castiel, who forced himself to look back.  Zachariah seemed to study him for a moment.  Then he nodded.  “I want you to call your doctor tomorrow, Castiel,” he ordered.  “Make sure you’re ready for this.  But we knew coming here was going to be a challenge, especially for you.  A strong, masculine game like football is an excellent choice for one of your new interests you’re supposed to find.”

“Yes, sir,” Castiel agreed.  “I thought of that, too.”

“Good!  Stay strong, remember what you learned, and enjoy the game.  And who knows?”  A smile spread over Zachariah’s face.  “Maybe this will be the year you meet the girl you’ll marry!  At the very least, you should start dating.”

“God willing, father,” Castiel replied, forcing himself to smile.  Then he returned to his meal, hoping no one could sense his excitement.  He could go!  He was going to go to his first football game, and even his first dance.  But more than that, he was going to spend time with a friend.  So what if Sam was gay?  Castiel would make him understand he wasn’t interested in anything but friendship.  Even gay people had friends, right?

***

It’s not that big of a deal.  It’s a football game.  It’s not like it was a date.  People went to football games all the time.  There was no reason for concern.  Of course, Castiel admitted to himself, it wasn’t the game he was actually worried about.  No, the big concern was THE DANCE.  What if Sam wanted to slow dance with him?  Worse, what if Sam tried to kiss him goodnight at the end of it?  Did Sam think this was a date?  Surely not, not with his brother being so involved.  Just to be sure, he set aside his usual ironed white shirt, dress pants and tie.  He picked out his least flattering outfit, consisting of old jeans, a plain blue tee-shirt, and his battered old shoes.  He combed his hair, thought it over, and mussed it back up again.  There.  Nothing about his appearance would stand out now.  His hair never did lend itself to being combed down anyway.

The football players and cheerleaders were easy to pick out on Friday.  All the players wore their red and black jerseys, while the cheerleaders wore their uniforms.  Sam’s pants matched the skirts and knee high socks that the female cheerleaders wore.  Castiel worried about him, afraid that he’d be bullied for being a cheerleader.  But from what he could see, that wasn’t the case.  The other boy was as popular as ever.  Good.  Bad enough his brothers thought so poorly of Sam because of his sexual orientation.  If the other boys bullied Sam for being a cheerleader as well, that would just be an awful situation.

That wasn’t to say Sam didn’t attract attention.  The football players were apparently brimming with testosterone before their first game.  Castiel found himself frequently dodging them in the hall, as they kept yelling and slamming their chests into each other in some sort of bizarre male bonding ritual that only confused Castiel.  Sam was apparently included in the rituals.  Over and over, when a player would spot the cheerleader in the hall, Sam would be scooped off his feet and hoisted into the air.  The smaller boy would then be held up in the air above the heads of the other students to the shout of “MASCOT!” followed by cheering and pounding of chests.  The first time Castiel saw this, he froze, afraid Sam would be hurt.  But although Sam was kicking and yelling at the larger boys to put him down, he was also laughing.  None of the teachers seemed alarmed, and the other students would only cheer.  Apparently, this was accepted behavior, at least at this school.  The private Christian school Castiel and his siblings had been in before had sports teams, but they’d never had anything like this.  He’d heard about school spirit.  This school seemed to have an excessive amount of it.

Castiel had finally gotten to meet Sam’s brother.  The sight of Dean Winchester had made him nearly trip and fall.  He was, to be honest, the most gorgeous boy Castiel had ever seen.  He also seemed very nice.  Dean was big and handsome and strong and confident and apparently not at all concerned with the fact that his brother was a gay cheerleader.  Castiel supposed that was to be expected.  This was a secular school in a secular world.  The sin of homosexuality was everywhere he looked.  Lucifer had already said this school was very accepting of this sort of alternative lifestyle.  Why wouldn’t Dean accept his brother’s deviancy?  That must be nice.  To have someone who accepted you, no matter how bad your decisions were or how…

No.  That was dangerous thinking.  Breathe.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, Matthew 6 verse 13.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God, Matthew 5 verse 8.  But Dean Winchester made remaining pure difficult.  The first time he’d seen Dean, Castiel had to hastily make an excuse to leave, get into the boy’s room, and hide into a stall to recite his prayers against temptation.  It wasn’t fair.  Bad enough Sam was handsome, but to throw Dean into the mix?!  At least Dean wasn’t gay.  But he was always around, waiting for Sam between classes.  And without fail, he’d talk to Castiel.  He would flash that perfect smile at Castiel.  The edges of his green eyes would crinkle.  And he’d laugh, throwing back his head in mirth any time Sam cracked one of his frequent jokes.  Beautiful.

Castiel had talked for two hours with his doctor about Dean.  His doctor had reminded him that Dean wasn’t gay, meaning Castiel’s sin was his own.  But Castiel had the strength and the skills to handle this.  He was passing through a time of temptation, but it would be brief.  Castiel could come out the other side and be stronger for it.  As he prayed for the strength to stay pure, he should also give thanks that he’d been given this test.

Life was a series of tests.  Castiel would not, could not, fail the test of the Winchester brothers.  But it was becoming harder and harder.  Sam was always around, actively seeking him out.  It was impossible not to like Sam Winchester.  And, wonder of wonders, being around the popular cheerleader meant that Castiel himself was becoming more and more popular.  Now he frequently heard his name called in the hall.

Girls were also starting to notice him.  And this was the one area where Sam offered absolutely no help.  The other boy simply stood back and watched with a smirk as Castiel fumbled through the intricacies of speaking coherently with the opposite sex.  The girls confused him greatly.  They never seemed to approach him singularly, instead choosing to come at him in groups.  They’d smile, giggle, and give him looks through their lashes.  Castiel had no idea what to make of it.  And oddly enough, this seemed to encourage them.  By Friday, they were touching him, taking his arm or touching his shoulder, giggling almost constantly as they talked about the dance.  Somehow, word had gotten out that Castiel had never been to a dance before and had no idea how to dance.  Now he had half a dozen different offers from various groups of girls.

When the student body filed into the gymnasium for something called a “pep rally,” Castiel found himself abandoned by Sam and surrounded by girls.  He had a girl on each arm, leading him into the bleachers where more girls clustered around him despite there being plenty of room.  All of them seemed to be trying to talk to him at once.  Trying to be polite, he’d mostly listened.  At least they were eager to explain what was happening.  Apparently, this was some sort of marketing scheme for tonight’s football game that the cheerleaders were putting on.  That explained Sam’s absence.  It didn’t make much sense to Castiel, but he was resolved to put up with it.  After all, he was already committed to buying tickets for this game.  And now he had multiple offers from his new friends to sit with him in the stands and explain the game to him.  That was helpful.

Oh, here was the cheer squad now.  They’d run out, doing various feats of acrobatics and waving pompoms as the band played loudly and somewhat out of tune.  Cheers and feet stomping on the wooden bleachers echoed in the gymnasium.  Out front, someone in a bulldog costume was running, hands outstretched above the dog’s head in a V.  Ah.  The school mascot.  This must be Sam.  That brought a smile to Cas’s face.  Sam certainly seemed to be enjoying himself, running and jumping and pumping his fist, shaking his rear to make the Bulldog’s stubby tail wag.  The dog’s head seemed to fit poorly.  It was bouncing slightly as Sam ran.

“Ladies and gentlemen!”  It was a man, standing on the gymnasium floor with a microphone in hand.  “The Lawrence High Bulldogs!”

Down on the floor, two cheerleaders had been holding a large sheet of paper with “Lawrence Bulldogs” printed around a picture of a bulldog’s head.  Now a figure was charging through the paper, holding up one finger and yelling loudly as cheers exploded.  Castiel barely noticed him.  His eyes were on the figure that charged out behind him.  Dean Winchester’s face was flushed with excitement.  His green eyes were shining, visible even from up in the stands.  Dean jogged with the other players in a lap of the gym.  Then he snatched up the prancing bulldog, put him up on one shoulder, and cheered.  Castiel stared, fixed on the flex of Dean’s bicep as he’d lifted the smaller boy.  He suddenly couldn’t breathe.

The girl on his left nudged him.  “They’re called tits, Castiel,” she told him.  “And they’re not that special.  Breathe, and stop staring.”

Castiel blinked.  Then he realized that, standing directly in front of Dean, a leggy brunette cheerleader was doing high kicks and bouncing on her toes, making certain parts of her anatomy jiggle and shake.  His face blushed crimson.  That had been too close!  He’d obviously been staring.  If that girl hadn’t been standing in front of Dean?

The girl on his right snorted.  “She probably stuffs anyway.  So Lisa Braeden grew a rack over the summer.  Big deal.”

“You know, green doesn’t look good on you, Stella.”

“Oh, bite me, Heather!  Lisa shows up with tits in that stupid uniform and it’s all the guys can talk about today.  If I have to listen to this all year?”

“It’s more than her tits anyway.  She seriously filled out.  I’d kill for legs like that!”

“You should feel them wrapped around your shoulders.”

Castiel looked sharply at the girl who had spoken.  The redhead grinned back.  “What?  You know she’s bi!”

“Yeah, but since when are you into girls?”

“Since she offered at the Fourth of July party this summer!” the redhead announced.  “You should try it.”

“Ew!”

“No way!”

“What was it like?”

Castiel was having trouble breathing again.  Fortunately, the redhead noticed his discomfort and laughed.  “Oh, look what we’re doing to the poor boy!  I’m Charlie.”

“C-Castiel,” Castiel managed.  “Um, I’m sorry, but could you please not talk about, um, things like that?”

“Sure.”  Charlie had a warm smile.

Castiel looked away.  Once more, his eyes were drawn to Dean.  Dean had moved back with the other players.  He found a seat at the back of the gymnasium, facing the bleachers.  The cheerleaders were starting a dance.  Loud dance music pounded Castiel’s ears as it echoed through the gym.  But Dean didn’t seem to be paying much attention.  His eyes seemed to be looking past them.  Were they looking up at the bleachers?  They almost seemed to be looking at Castiel as he sat, frozen, staring back at him.  But giggling erupted around him.  One of the girls, Stella, was clinging to Castiel’s arm, burying her face in his shoulder, laughing at whatever the joke was among them.  Of course.  He was surrounded by girls.  That’s why Dean was looking towards him.

Movement on the floor caught his eye.  The cheerleaders were surrounding the bulldog, taking turns dancing with him.  The dances were, in Castiel’s opinion, slightly over the top.  Right now, the bulldog had a cheerleader’s leg, holding it high on his hip while their hips swayed in tandem with the music.  The students seemed to appreciate it.  Cheers and screams and wolf whistles rang out.

“Oh, the cheer squad is going to get protests again this year, I see!”

“Wow, they’re seriously pushing it, aren’t they?”

“That should win them something at the competitions.  You know those horny judges eat up the sexy stuff.”

“They’ve got a guy, so why not take full advantage of it?”

“Wow, Sammy is flexible!”

“Did Janelle seriously just grab his ass?  She did!”

Castiel chuckled.  Too bad for Janelle.  Sammy wouldn’t be interested.  Ah well.  It was art, right?

Ignoring the dancing, Castiel looked again at Dean.  Dean looked somewhat troubled as he looked up at the stands.  Whatever he was looking at, he wasn’t happy about it.  Castiel belatedly realized that Stella was still clinging to his arm.  She appeared quite pleased with herself and showed no sign of letting go.  Castiel wasn’t sure what to do.  Dean seemed to be looking right at her.  Was he interested in her?  Should he pull his arm free?

“Nice work, baby bro.”

Castiel startled, looking up to see his brother Balthazar moving past him.  The older boy looked back and gave him a wink.  Castiel quickly looked away.  Nope.  No way he could pull away from the girl now.  But what if that upset Dean?  A glance at Dean showed that he was now talking to his friend.  His eyes still glanced up in Castiel’s direction.  Castiel sighed.  Oh well.  He’d just have to talk to Dean later, find out if he was interested in Stella, and explain that Castiel was not a rival.  Hopefully that would clear up any confusion.  Hopefully.

***

Dean sat in his chair and forced himself to breathe.  Ok.  Stella was clinging to Cas, but Stella had been talking about him all day.  She’d obviously decided to make a move on the new guy.  Whatever.  It didn’t mean Cas was going for her.  In fact, he wasn’t really responding to her at all.  She had her arms wrapped around his arm, pressing herself against him and resting her head on his shoulder like she belonged there.  But Cas hadn’t done anything more than just look at her.  It didn’t mean anything.  Dean still had a shot.

“Oh, daddy,” Benny moaned next to him.  “I’d almost forgotten how nice the tits look in those uniforms on the cheer squad!”

“I’ll tell Sammy you noticed,” Dean grumbled.  He was in no mood for Benny’s antics today.

The quarterback blinked at him.  “Who pissed in your Wheaties today, Winchester?  You…  Oh.”  Benny followed Dean’s gaze and smiled.  “Yeah, I saw how fine the new kid’s looking in those jeans.  The way they hug his ass?  You’re an idiot if you don’t want to hit that.”

“Shut up, Benny.”

“And his shirt really brings out his eyes,” Benny continued, grinning.  “Throw in the sex hair and the bedroom voice?  The girls are all going gaga over him!  Looks like Stella Green is already staking a claim.”

“She can stake all she wants,” Dean growled.  “He look all that interested to you?”

Benny considered.  “Can’t say he does.  You really think you have a chance?”

“I think I intend to try!”

Benny laughed and gave him a good-natured slap on the leg.  “Starting off the senior year right.  Chasing man meat!”

Dean finally looked at him.  “You seriously going to sit there and tell me he doesn’t do anything for you?”

“I’m going to sit here and tell you that he’s probably the best-looking guy I’ve seen in this school since the first time you blew me in the equipment room,” Benny said cheerfully.  “And I’m going to tell you that if things keep going the way they’re going between me and Andrea, I may just come crawling back to you.”

“I love how you’re only gay when your relationship’s on the rocks,” Dean sighed.  “And only in secret.”

“And only with you, Winchester.  You’re the only one I go short-term gay for.”

Dean shook his head.  “I don’t know what’s worse.  That Andrea’s ok with it, or that I am!”

Benny leaned closer to whisper into Dean’s ear.  “If I take you back in there, you going to let me fuck you again?”

“Next time you take me into that equipment room, I’m fucking you.”

“Deal.”  Benny dared to slide his hand up Dean’s thigh.  “You busy tonight after the game?”

“Yeah.  With him!”  Dean’s eyes returned to Cas as he shoved Benny’s hand away.  “Sammy’s my wingman tonight.  Got him to come to the game and the dance.”

“Then I guess you better not fuck up.  That gorgeous thing needs to see you at your best if you want any chance at all!  And let me know if I can do anything to help.”

“Just get me the ball tonight.”

“Can do!”

That was what Dean loved about Benny.  Benny had been his best friend since they were both freshmen.  They’d been intimate about half a dozen times, always when one or the other of them was having relationship troubles.  But neither he nor Benny had ever expected anything more.  They were friends with benefits, and strictly friends when either of them was with someone else.  With Benny, it was all about comfort.

***

Castiel felt cold when he saw the other boy’s hand move on Dean’s thigh.  Dean immediately pushed it away.  That brought him mixed feelings.  On one hand, he was glad Dean wasn’t about to let the other boy touch him like that.  But on the other, if Dean had allowed it…?  No.  Couldn’t go there.  Bad enough that Sam was gay.  Somehow, someway, Castiel needed to get through tonight without encouraging Sam or driving off Dean.  He could do this.  He could.

“Are you going to the dance tonight, Castiel?”

“Huh?”  Castiel looked over at Stella, who was looking hopefully up at him.  “Um, yes.”

“Great!”  Her arms tightened around his arm, one hand moving down to lace her fingers between his.  “Then I’ll see you there.”

“Um, yes.  Of course, you’ll see me.  Because I’ll be there.”  She was holding his hand.  Why was she holding his hand?

“I’m going, too!” Charlie offered.  “Save me a dance!”

That earned her a sour look from Stella.

Castiel stopped listening.  His eyes searched the stands, looking for his sister.  He finally found her, sitting up behind the crowd of girls around Castiel.  She caught his eye and nodded.  Apparently, she believed he was ready.  Castiel wasn’t so sure.  Bad enough to go with the Winchesters.  Now he would actually be expected to dance?

Castiel had no idea how he was going to survive this year.

Chapter Text

Somehow Sam unerringly found Castiel among a crowd of students filing out of the auditorium.  “Come on,” he called cheerfully.  “Dean’s bringing the car around.”  Then he caught Castiel by the wrist, not the hand, so it was ok, and started pulling him through the other students in a seemingly random direction.

Suddenly Balthazar was there, directly in front of Sam.  When Sam stopped and looked up at him in confusion, Balthazar hoisted him into the air.  Sam yelped in surprise.  “Hey!  Put me down!”

“I just wanted to see what the big deal was,” Balthazar explained.  He was frowning up at Sam, still holding the smaller boy in the air.  “Those football guys have been doing this all day.  Every time they do it, everyone cheers.”  He looked pointedly around.  “No one's cheering now.”

“That’s because it only works when the cool people do it, Novak,” grunted a strange voice.  Suddenly Sam was jerked out Balthazar’s hands and put back on his feet.  Then a football player was very much in Balthazar’s personal space.  “Word of advice.  Your asshole brother already already pissed Dean Winchester off at the beginning of the week.  Don’t round things out by you pissing him, or me, off at the end of the week.  Keep your hands off of Sammy.”

Castiel forgot to breathe.  Balthazar’s eyes were wide in surprise.  Then they narrowed in anger.  “You think I’m afraid of you?”

“You probably should be,” Sam sighed.  “Benny’s bigger than you, and unfortunately, he’s got more temper than brains.  Benny, thanks, but I don’t need your help, ok?  He wasn’t hurting me.  Leave him alone.”

Benny’s eyes flicked once towards Sam before returning to Balthazar.  “If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.  Thanks, Benny.”  Sam grabbed Castiel by the wrist again.  “See you at the diner!”

Benny patted him on the back and walked away.

Sam started off again, not bothering to look back at Balthazar, but Castiel did.  Balthazar was flushed, staring angrily after Sam.  Castiel cringed.  Sammy had just made a bad enemy, and didn’t seem aware of it.  “Um, Sam?” he called.

“Dean’s right there,” Sam said, pointing.  “See?  There’s his baby!  Whatever you do, don’t say anything bad about it.  Dean loves that damned car!”

Castiel looked and forgot about his brother.  Sammy was pointing at a gleaming black car.  Castiel wasn’t really a car man, but Dean’s baby was impressive even to him.  Every inch of it glistened the way only a car that was loved by its owner could.  Even the tires were spotless.  But it was the driver who had drawn Castiel’s attention.  Dean’s cheeks were flushed with excitement.  His eyes were sparkling.  And he was smiling.  At that moment, Castiel was sure that there was nothing else in the world more beautiful than Dean Winchester.

Dean was hanging out the driver’s side window, waving as he waited at the curb.  “Guys!  The seniors are driving the rest of the team through the town to rally support right before the game.  I’ve got my baby shining inside and out!  Listen to this engine, Cas!”  The Impala revved.  “Huh?  What do you think?”

“Um…”  Castiel was at a loss for more reasons than he was willing to admit.  “It’s, um, very loud?”

“That’s power you’re hearing, Cas!”  Dean revved the engine twice more.  “Get in here!  Sammy, I swear to god, if you get in the front seat I’m throwing your ass in the trunk.  Get in the back!  Cas, up front!”

Both of the younger boys froze, staring at Dean in the act of reaching for car doors.  Sammy sputtered.  “You’re regulating me to the back?!  No way, Dean!”

“Castiel is a guest, Sammy.”  Dean was giving Sam an odd look.  “I’m not going to ask a guest to sit in the back between a couple of overly excited football players he doesn’t even know!”

“But Dean, if you put me back there, they won’t leave me alone!  I swear, if they try to put me on the roof in the dog suit again?”

“And scratch my baby?!  Not a chance!”

Sam sighed dramatically.  “You see this, Cas?  Not worried about his only brother being held on the roof of a moving car by a couple of asshole football players.  Just doesn’t want scratches on his car!”

“And now that Cas has seen his car, he understands why.”  Dean flashed another smile and waved.  “Come on, Cas, get in!  Sammy, go in the back and don’t bitch too much and I’ll let you drink tonight at the pond.”

Castiel gaped at him, but Sammy brightened.  He quickly moved past Castiel and climbed into the back seat.  Castiel warily climbed into the front.

Then Dean was back in the car, smiling that smile at him, and Castiel forgot pretty much everything else.

To his surprise, Dean stopped at a house.  “I gotta go in for a moment,” he confessed.  “Just need to tend to a minor emergency.”

“He has to take a shit,” Sam announced.  “He comes home and shits before every game.  It’s like a ritual.”

Dean swatted him.  He looked apologetically at Castiel.  “Sorry.  I don’t know about you, but I never could shit in public places.  Just let me go in and do my business and we’re good the rest of the night.  Promise I’ll be quick!”

“Dumbass,” Sam called.

Dean gave him the finger.

“Come inside, Cas,” Sam urged, returning the rude gesture at Dean’s back.  “You can meet our mom.  Dad’s out on a hunt, but he should be back in time to go to the game tonight.”

Castiel followed the other boy.  In the kitchen was a lovely blonde woman.  Her eyes brightened when they fell on Castiel.  “Oh, you must be Cas!  I’ve heard a lot about you.  I’m Mary.”

“It’s a pleasure, ma’am,” Castiel said politely as he shook hands.

“The pleasure is all mine!  I imagine you’ll be spending a lot of time with my idiot sons, so don’t be a stranger.  You’re welcome to come over any time.  Study, join us for dinner, spend the night, whatever!”

Spend the night?  Castiel forced himself to thank her, hoping his face wasn’t flaming.

The sound of a sputtering engine caught her attention.  “Oh, good timing!  Looks like John just got back.  You can meet him.  Sam, go help your father with his gear.”

Sam quickly ran out.  A moment later, the door banged open.  In walked a man who appeared to be fresh from the scene of a murder.  His hands and clothing were covered with blood and grime.  Blood decorated his face like grisly face paint.  He carried a rifle in one hand and a backpack in the other.  Both were shoved into a corner as the man turned to face Castiel and Mary.  “I hate yuppies!” he announced.

Mary seemed inhumanly calm when faced with a deranged murderer.  “Tell me you didn’t drag the elk?”

“No, I didn’t drag the elk, and those cheap bastards refused to tip me because of it!  It’s right there, in the contract.  I specifically point it out.  I do not provide transport for game from the scene of the hunt to the vehicles.  The client is responsible for transporting any game to the vehicles.  Contractor does not drag nor carry game.  And those dumb mother…!”  He broke off, finally noticing Castiel, who was staring at him with wide, frightened eyes.  “Oh, hi!  You must be Cas!  I’m John.  I’d shake your hand, but…”  He held up his bloody hands.  “I field dressed an elk.  Sorry.  If you’ll excuse me, I’m getting a shower.”  Off he went, leaving a trail of muddy footprints on the floor towards the bathroom.

“Dean’s taking his usual pre-game shit, dad,” Sam announced.  He’d just come in, his arms full of outdoors equipment.

“Typical.”  John pounded on the bathroom door.  “Dean!  I’m covered in elk guts and yuppie bullshit!  Pinch it off!”

“Yeah, already done, dad!  I’m just washing my hands.  Might want to spray the Lysol, though.”

“Holy hell, boy!  What crawled up your ass and died?!”

“Come on, dad!  Cas is right outside in the car!”

“Actually, he’s with your mother in the kitchen.”

“He’s what?!  SAMMY!  I’m gonna kick your ass!”

Sam fled.

Dean came storming out of the bathroom, red-faced and jaw clenched.  He saw Castiel and wilted.  “Cas, I am so sorry.”

“Oh calm down, Dean,” Mary soothed.  “Everyone shits.”  She was headed past, aerosol can in her hand to where John cursed from the bathroom.  “See you boys at the game!  Cas, lovely to meet you, please come back soon!”

Castiel was in a state of shock.  Nothing in his life had prepared him for the Winchesters.  But now Dean had an arm around him and was shooing him out of the house, still apologizing.

That lasted until he spotted Sam, standing by the car.  Then he let go of Castiel and immediately started wrestling with the smaller boy.  “Stop!” Castiel cried, trying to drag Dean off.  “Don’t hurt him, please!  He didn’t do anything wrong!”

Both brothers froze and were staring at him.  “Cas, I know that,” Dean said slowly.  “I have no intention of hurting him.”

“Cas, he wouldn’t ever hurt me,” Sam agreed, squirming free and moving to Castiel.  “We’re just playing around, ok?  Now breathe, dude!”

Castiel focused on his breathing.

Dean watched anxiously.  “Dude, you ok?  You need me to take you home!”

“No!” Cas said quickly.  “No, I’m fine.  I’m sorry.  It won’t happen again.  I just thought, the way you threw him down?”

“Dean’s a jerk who is way too fond of reminding me that he’s bigger than I am,” Sam soothed.  “But he’d never hurt me.”

“I understand.  And it’s ok.  When people get angry, sometimes…”

“Cas, I wasn’t angry!” Dean protested.  “You thought I was angry enough to hurt Sammy?  It wouldn’t matter how angry I got.  I would never hurt my brother, ok?  And just so it’s out there, I cannot imagine a scenerio where I’d hurt you, either.  I’m not the kind of guy who blows my top and hurts other people.”

“True story,” Sam agreed.  “Dean’s not afraid to fight, but he’s not someone who would hurt someone smaller than he is just because I embarrassed him.”

Dean was watching Cas closely.  The other boy’s breathing was still fast, his eyes still wide and scared.  For a moment there, he’d been sure Cas was about to have a full fledged panic attack.  He thought again about Hannah and what she’d said about her delinquent brothers.  Yeah, he could see Balthazar getting kicked out of school.  Dean had already been hearing that Cas’s brother was doing little to make himself popular.  But what was going on in the Novak home that returning there was the only thing that seemed to spook Cas more than the idea Dean was about to beat up his brother?

But now Cas was smiling.  “I get it,” he said with obviously-forced cheerfulness.  “I overreacted.  Let’s just go, try to forget about it.  In return, I won’t mention Dean’s bowel habits?”

That brought a cackle of laughter from Sammy.  Dean’s cheeks flamed.  He firmly reminded himself that he’d already freaked Cas out once.  It was the only thing keeping Dean from tossing the bitch in the trunk.  “Ok, deal,” Dean said.  “Now how about we go eat?  The team usually heads out to the diner.  They have the most awesome cheeseburgers!”

Cas was quiet on the ride to the diner.  But by the time they piled into a booth, he seemed back to normal.  His eyes were everywhere, curious and alert.  Dean made sure to sit next to him in the booth.  So what if he’d slid a little closer to the other boy than he needed to?  Cas wasn’t complaining.

“So Cas!” Dean began after they’d ordered.  “You know anything about football?”

“The ball is a funny shape.”

Sammy nodded.  His expression was perfectly blank.  “You’re off to a great start.”

Dean shook his head.  “You’ll catch on.  Basically, the idea is to move the ball to the other end of the field.  I’m part of the offense, which means we’re the ones who are trying to get the ball down the field when our team has it.  When the other team has the ball, then the defense goes out and tries to keep them from doing it.”

“That sounds fairly simple.”

“It is,” Sammy said before Dean could respond.  “There’s a bunch of rules, but basically that’s the game in a nutshell.”

“When we have the ball, we have four chances to try to move it ten yards towards the other side of the field.  That’s a down.  You either run with the ball or you throw it and catch it to get those ten yards, and keep going until you get to the end zone.  That’s how you score.  It’s a touchdown, worth six points.  Or, if you don’t think you can get to the end zone, you can try to kick the ball through the goal posts at the end.  That’s a field goal, worth three points.  If you get a touchdown, you have a chance to kick like that for an extra point.  Or you can try to run it into the end zone again for two extra points.”

“This game is more complicated than I thought,” Cas complained.  He looked adorably confused again.

“You’ll get it,” Sammy encouraged.  “It’s a lot of fun.”  Catching the look Dean was giving him, Sammy continued.  “When we get to the stadium, I’ll show you where to sit so you have the best view.  You can watch Dean play.  Or you could watch something far more interesting and let me know what you think of our cheer routines.  We’re still working on them, but I think they’re pretty good.”

“They better be pretty good, after all the money it cost to send you to cheer camp!” Dean complained.

“They’re good,” Sammy insisted.  “We’re going to kick ass at competition this year.  I unfortunately cannot say the same about the money spent on Dean for football camp.”

“Cas can decide for himself tonight if it was money well spent.  Ah!”  Dean brightened as their order arrived.  “Food at last!  Thank you, I’m saved!”

The cheeseburger was, as always, delicious.  Cas finished and quietly excused himself to use the bathroom.  As soon as he was gone, Dean leaned towards Sammy.  “Is he not adorable?”

“I like him,” Sammy announced.  “He’s a little weird, but I think it’s just because he’s isolated.  I don’t think he’s had friends before, Dean.”

“He does now.”  Dean’s eyes were locked on the bathroom door.  “First, I get to be friends with him.  Then I move on to bigger and better things.”

“Or, you could just be friends with him?” Sammy suggested.  “Don’t hurt him, Dean.  I really like him.”

Dean blinked.  “What, do you have a crush on him now?”

“Don’t be stupid.  I just like him.  He’s really sweet.  And he’s honest.  He doesn’t try to put on airs or act like someone he’s not.  He’s got to be scared to death, out with us, no idea what to expect.  But he’s seeing it through, even after he freaked a bit.”

“Yeah, about that.”  Dean lowered his voice.  “What the hell was that all about?”

Sammy looked troubled.  “He honestly seemed to think that you were about to hurt me.  And it really freaked him out.  Then, him not wanting to go home?”

“Yeah.”  Dean moodily mopped up a drop of ketchup with a finger and sucked on it thoughtfully.  “Something stinks in the Novak household.  His brother Lucifer’s a grade A douche bag.  That other one doesn’t seem much better.  And if he’s as big of a homophobe as Lucifer, then no wonder Cas is so reserved.”

“You really think he’s gay?”

“I think he’s a closet case, but yeah.”  He nodded past Sam.  “He’s had the same view all this time as I did.  But I don’t think he looked once.”

Sammy looked back and looked appreciatively at the sight of the girl in the tight-fitting tank top.  “Ok, I’ll admit that you could have a point.  However, he’s from a Bible belt school.  He might have just been raised to respect women and not stare at them.”

“When they’re that much on display, they’re kind of asking to be stared at, Sammy.”

“Don’t be a misogynist, Dean.”  His eyes were still admiring the view.

Dean snorted.  “Really?”

“Ok, you may have a point.”  Sammy turned around with obvious effort.  “Speaking of hot chicks, Cas’s sister is smoking!”

“Get him to introduce you.”

“I intend to.”  Sammy brightened.  “Hey, welcome back!”

Dean smiled up at Cas as the other boy slid back into the booth.  He checked his watch.  “It’s a little early, but we should still probably get going.  The team wants to parade a bit.  Sammy and I have to be there before the general public.  It means you’ll be waiting around for a while in the bleachers, but can’t really help that.”

“It’s alright,” Cas said.  “I don’t mind.”

“Great!” Dean called, getting up.  “Then let’s go.  Time to rouse the animals.”  He raised his voice.  “Bulldogs!  What do you say we get this party started?”

Yells and cheers.  Benny and Diego, the receiver, trailed after the Winchesters.  They seemed delighted to realize Sam would be in the back with them.  Crowding in on either side of the slender cheerleader, the two players immediately leaned towards each other.  Sam squeaked and slid forward to avoid being crushed.  The larger boys quickly grabbed him, threw him face-down across their laps, and started thumping rhythmically on his back.  “MAAAAASCOOOOOOOT!”

“I ha-ate you s-so m-much, D-Dean!” Sam managed, his voice shaken by the thumping on his back.

Dean didn’t respond.  He was leaning on his horn, yelling out the window at the other players to line them up behind his car.  Cas watched, wide-eyed.  When the impromptu parade started, Dean was still halfway out the window, yelling and waving at anyone passing by.  Horns blared as cars fell in line, adding to the din.  Oddly enough, the traffic was largely giving way, beeping their horns and waving in support.  With the exception of Sam, everyone was smiling.  Even Sam seemed to be enjoying himself.  Benny had pulled the smaller boy into his lap and was holding him dangerously far out the window.  But Sam didn’t seem concerned.  He was waving and yelling out the window at the other cars.  Looking back, Cas could see how firmly Benny’s arms were wrapped around the smaller boy’s body.  Diego was holding on to Sam’s legs.  No, Cas realized, Sam was in no actual danger.

Leaning back in his seat, Cas relaxed.  He watched the antics of the others in the car for a moment.  Then he rolled the window down and started waving out of it.  Cheers rang out in the car.  Cas smiled.  This might just actually be fun!

Chapter Text

Dean charged out onto the field, fist in the air, screaming at the top of his lungs.  Coach Singer’s words from the locker room about sportsmanship and playing a good game went out the window as he caught sight of the other team.  The Vikings were a bunch of cocky motherfuckers.  Over half of the team had their backs turned.  Dean couldn’t wait to get their nice white uniforms all dirty.

As usual, Benny lost the coin toss.  Dean bounced on his toes from the sidelines, wanting but not quite daring to turn around and see if Cas was watching him.  Behind him, he could hear the cheerleaders going through one of their cheers.  Sammy’s masculine voice was easy to pick out.  He was close.  “Sammy!” Dean hissed once the cheer was done.

The Bulldog’s head suddenly appeared.  “You summoned?”

“He back there?”

“Who?”

“You know damned well who!”

“Dad?  Of course he is, Dean, he’s right up there with mom!  Hi, mom and dad!”  Sammy waved.

Dean casually got a fist full of the front of the mascot’s costume.  “Hey Bulldog, you’re not fixed yet, are you?  How about I remedy that with these cleats?”

“Geez, Dean, save it for the field!  Of course he’s here.  I told him where to sit.  He’s right up behind you, three seats back from the front.  Now let go.  Unlike you, I don’t get to just stand around touching myself for half the game.”

Dean let him go and felt warm all over.  From where Cas was sitting, he’d have a perfect view.  Time to make the best of it.  Dean dropped and started doing pushes, making sure the muscles on his biceps were clearly visible.  Some appreciative wolf whistles sounded from the stands, along with some grunts of approval from his teammates.  “Yeah, bitches!” he called.  “Winchester is ripped!”

“Winchester’s about to have my foot up his ass if he doesn’t pay attention to the game!”

Dean quickly got up.  “Sorry, Coach Singer!  Just burning off a little nervous energy.”

Coach Singer didn’t appear impressed.  He returned to yelling orders out at the field.

Finally, the bulldogs had the ball back at their own thirty yard line.  Dean shot out onto the field, nearly plowing the defense over.  Benny jogged out with him.  “Anxious much?”

“You see what I got in the stands?”

“I told you I’ll get you the ball.  As hot as your mom is, we gotta try to impress her.  Otherwise, she might not put out for me tonight.”

“Suck my cock, Benny.”

“Right after your mom sucks mine.  Ok, bulldogs, let’s go!”

Out on the field, ready for his first play of his senior year.  The Vikings safety was eyeing Dean like a hungry dog eyeing a slab of bacon.  Dean blew kisses at him and got a glare in return.  He wouldn’t be receiving on this play.  Coach wanted to run the ball a bit first, get them some more breathing room.  No problem.  The safety didn’t know that.  Dean shot out, looking back expectantly at Benny, and the safety charged after him, intent on spoiling a pass.  The move left a beautiful hole for the Bulldogs to race through with the ball.  First down.

Another running play, this time Benny trying for a hole up the middle.  This should be fun.  Benny managed three yards before he got creamed.  Then another play moved them forward another five yards.

Dean had lost the affection of his safety.  His eyes were on Diego now as they moved back to the line, anticipating a pass.  Fine.  Dean got his attention back fast, slamming into him to free the receiver for Benny’s pass, earning another first down.  The safety was mad as hell, which pleased Dean greatly.  Dean could feel the other boy’s eyes glaring a hole through his helmet as he moved back to the huddle.  He didn’t care.

Dean finally risked looking at the stands.  There was Cas.  He wore a dark blue hoodie, and had apparently had the hood up at one point.  His hair stuck up in all directions.  Total sex hair.  But he wasn’t alone.  Stella Johnson was sitting way too close to him on his right.  Her left arm was wrapped around his.  Both of her hands held onto one of his, the hand that was resting on Cas’s thigh.  Dean froze.  What the hell?

“Bulldogs!”

With a start, Dean realized he’d missed Benny’s play.  The team was breaking huddle, moving back into position.  Fuck fuck fuck, now what?  Dean had no idea what play was coming.  He looked over at Benny, but his friend wouldn’t meet his eye.  Of course not.  Benny never met the eyes of a possible receiver before a play.  It was one of the things that made him a danger on the field.  Dean tried not to panic.  Right now, he envied his teammates.  Most of them had clearly defined roles set by their positions.  But a tight end’s job was either to block or to act as a receiver, depending on the play.  Since he’d managed to miss hearing the play, Dean had no idea what he’d be expected to do!

Too late.  There was the snap, and Dean was in motion.  He tried to look everywhere at once.  It was first down.  Benny most likely had called a running play.  That meant Dean had to figure out who was going to get the ball and block accordingly.  No problem.  He could do that.  He was wide open, ready to run in any direction.  He was prepared.

He was completely unprepared when the ball suddenly smacked him in the numbers.  He scrabbled for it, almost had it.  Then his friend the safety was on him.  Dean went down with a grunt, flat on his ass in the grass.  The ball seemed to float in the air, lazily turning end over end.  Then someone in a white jersey snagged it and hauled ass for the end zone.  Touchdown Vikings.  Dean pounded his fist on the ground.  “Son of a bitch!”

“Winchester, what the actual fuck?!” Benny yelled as Dean picked himself up out of the dirt.  “I thought you were trying to impress the new kid, not show him your comedy routine!”

Dean grimaced and glanced up at the stands.  At least Cas wasn’t looking at him.  He was looking at Stella, who appeared to be deep in conversation with him.  Dean had a moment to hope that Cas hadn’t seen his spectacular blunder.  Then Cas looked back at him and frowned in concern.  Shit.

Meanwhile, the safety was celebrating with the rest of the Vikings.  Dean made the walk of shame back to the sidelines, picking bits of grass from his red jersey and trying not to hear his dad bellowing at him from the stands about what a dumbass he was.

Then a hand had him by the facemask and all he could see was Coach Singer’s furious face.  Coach had been spoken to multiple times about his use of profanity with his players.  It clearly had no lasting effect.  “Winchester, you idjit!  What the everlasting fuck do you think you’re doing?!” Coach roared into Dean’s face.

“I missed hearing the play, Coach.”

“You what?!”

“I missed hearing the play!  I was distracted and I wasn’t paying attention, Coach.”

“Boy, the best part of you ran down your daddy’s leg!  You seriously telling me you just let those bastards score because you were too busy gawking at the cheerleaders to listen to the play?!”

Close enough.  “Sorry, Coach!”

“You better be sorry!  Watch Lisa Braeden’s titties bounce on your own time.  Right now, get your head out of your ass and in this game or I swear to all the saints above, I will bench you for the rest of your senior year!”

Spittle flew in Dean’s face as Coach Singer screamed at him.  Then his facemask was released with a shove.  Dean came perilously close to falling on his ass yet again.

He watched in silence with the rest of the team as the extra point was scored.  By the time the first quarter was over, the score remained 7-0.

The fucking safety smirked at Dean when he jogged back out on the field.  Dean winked at him.  This time, he’d been paying attention.  Dean was ready when the ball came sailing at him.  But unfortunately, so was the safety.  Once again, Dean was on his ass.  At least this time, the ball bounced out of bounds, rolling to a stop at the Bulldog’s feet.  Sammy hung his head and screwed at the Bulldog’s eyes with his clenched fists, pantomiming crying.  Asshole.  

Dean shoved at the safety.  “Get off me, dickhead!  You don’t get to feel me up unless you buy me dinner, first.”

The safety got to his feet.  “I heard you’re not quite so tight an end, Winchester.  That so?”

Dean got up and faced him.  “Why, you looking for a date?”

“If I say no, are you gonna cry?”

“If I knock your teeth down your throat, are you gonna blow me?”

“Hey, easy!”  Coach, moving between the two of them.  “You two hotheads need to save that energy for the game, before you’re both ejected from it.  Winchester?”

“Sorry, coach.”  Exchanging another glare with the safety, Dean trotted back into the huddle.  The safety was grinning at him.  Dean moved closer to Benny.  “Fucking safety is a homophobic dickhead.  Give me a reason, buddy.”

“You got it.”

The pass to the receiver was as smooth as silk.  The safety had been two feet away and ready to pounce when Dean plowed into him.  The grunt of surprise from the other boy as they both hit the grass was music to Dean’s ears.  “Hey, stud, we must stop meeting like this!”

“Get the fuck off of me!”

“Gladly.”  Dean blew a kiss at the red-faced safety and got up.  First down.

The Bulldogs managed to get in field goal range, finally getting themselves on the board with three points just before half time.  Dean waved to the crowd as he jogged out with his team.  Cas was watching him.  He was sure the other boy’s eyes were following him as he ran off the field.

Coach Singer was a man of mixed emotions.  One moment he was praising the team for at least getting on the board.  The next he was bellowing at them in a manner that would rival any drill sergeant.  Dean caught a withering glare from the coach more than once.  Great.  Coach would have him running laps all week for his spectacular fuck-up.  He just hoped his mistake wouldn’t cost them the game.

Finally, Dean was back on the field.  “Winchester, you paying attention this time?” Benny wanted to know.

“I see nothing but your fugly face, Lafitte!  What’s the play?”

Another running pass, this time on the other end of the line of scrimmage.  Yup, Coach was pissed.  Dean had little to do except play mind games with the Vikings safety.  They didn’t get far and wound up having to punt.  Then the Vikings somehow managed to get through the Bulldogs defense and get in field goal range.  Dean watched the ball sail through the posts with a sinking heart.  Fuck.  He moved closer to Coach Singer.  “Come on, Coach!  We’re going to lose this game if you don’t let me have the ball!”

“Your mind is not on this game, Winchester,” Coach growled.

“It is, I swear!  Just let me in, give me another chance!”

“I’ll think about it.”

Coach was still thinking about it when the third quarter ended.  Bulldogs on defense.  Dean paced around on the sidelines, frustrated.  He glanced at the stands.  Cas was still there.  Stella was still clinging to him, although she was looking across him with obvious annoyance at Charlie.  Charlie clearly had engaged him in conversation.  Both of their eyes were on the cheerleaders.  Sammy was out of the Bulldog costume now, lifting one of the girls for a stunt.  It went off without a hitch.  Then the band started playing “Push It” and Sammy went racing over.  He got up into the stands in front of the band and started dancing.  Some of the moves he was doing made Dean’s eyebrows go up.  He shook his head.  Some dried up old prude would protest that for sure.

“Baby brother’s got the moves,” Coach said quietly, moving up next to Dean.  “Think you can move that ball?”

“You know I can,” Dean assured.  “Get me that ball, and I’ll get it in.”

Coach gave a grunt.  Dean had no idea if that was a yes or a no.

Back on the field.  Two running plays, followed by another pass.  Dean had a chance to show off a little, blocking to get the ball down field a bit more.  But now they were sitting at fourth and five on the Viking twenty.  “We’re not kicking, so they’re going to be looking for us run this,” Benny said.  “So Coach wants to pass it.”  His eyes met Dean’s.  “You fuck this up, I’m going to tear that goalpost out of the ground and shove it up your ass, Winchester!”

“I fuck this up, I’ll climb that goalpost and slide right down,” Dean vowed.  “Just get me the ball!”

Adrenaline pumped through Dean’s veins, causing his foot to jiggle nervously as he moved into position.  Snap.  Dean ran out, keeping an eye on the Vikings safety.  He was dividing his attention between Dean and Diego.  Shit.  Didn’t matter.  That son of a bitch was going down.

Benny’s pass sailed clean.  Dean moved to grab it, seeing the safety running towards him.  Oh, bitch, bring it on, Dean thought.  He caught the ball and charged forward.

Almost immediately the safety was on him.  Dean tried to dodge.  No good.  Arms wrapped around him, the other boy using his momentum to try to bring Dean down.  Fuck him.  Dean kept going, twisting as he ran.  He felt the safety’s arms slide down, moving past his hips as the other boy fell.  He was going to try to trip Dean up.  Not happening.  Dean shifted his hips, throwing his weight sideways to break the grip.  It worked.  He slipped free from the safety and started hauling ass.

Dean dodged one Viking, jumped over a fallen Bulldog trying to block, and got grabbed by another Viking.  He ignored it, using his size and strength to drag the other player.  The end zone was so close Dean could taste it when a second Viking grabbed him.  Where the hell were his fucking blockers?  Didn’t matter.  Dean kept going, dragging the two Vikings along with him until he was close enough to fall over the goal line.  Touchdown Bulldogs.

The crowd went berserk.  Now they were almost literally screaming for blood.  With only a few minutes left in the game, they had a decision to make.  The extra kick would tie the game.  A two point conversion would potentially win it.  Coach Singer chose the win.  Dean was snarling as he blocked, shoving his way into an opening to clear the path.  Success.

There was still time on the clock, but it was obvious to everyone on the field that the spirit was out of the Vikings.  They made a few token plays, gave the defense a chance to show off a little.  Then the horn sounded, and the first game of Dean’s senior year was over.

Complete chaos on the field.  Dean joined in, but his eyes were once again searching the stands.  There was Cas.  Stella was still clinging to his arm and appeared to be trying to pull him away, but Cas wasn’t going.  He was smiling.  His cheeks were flushed from excitement.  And those gorgeous eyes were fixed on…

…Sammy?

Sammy was going apeshit on the sidelines.  He’d pulled off his top and was whipping it wildly over his head, screaming and cheering.  He was looking straight at Dean, pointing with his other hand in his direction.  Obviously, Sammy was excited for Dean.  Dean managed to smile at him before he got pounced on by Benny.  He couldn’t see anything but the quarterback’s shoulder pads as he got yanked into a hug.  Dean returned it, wishing his heart was in the Bulldog’s celebration.

Didn’t matter.  The dance was coming.

Dean showered and changed in record time and was in the gymnasium for the dance even before Sammy.  Cas was in here somewhere.  Where was he?

“Geez, Dean, where’s the fire?” Sammy grumbled, finally making an appearance.

“Where’s Cas?  I don’t see him.”

“Relax, he’s in here somewhere.  Hello, they’re playing my song, excuse me!”

Sammy generally had a different song every dance, usually more than one.  Tonight it was apparently “Hey Baby.”  Dean trailed behind Sammy a bit, still keeping his eyes open for Cas.  Sam, naturally, ignored everyone, dancing energetically.  The floor opened a bit for him, and suddenly, there was Cas.  He was surrounded by girls.  No wonder Dean hadn’t seen him.  Stella was still on his arm.  Cas didn’t look any more comfortable about that now than he had in the stands.  Ah, here came Charlie, taking Cas’s other arm and pulling him away from an irritated Stella.  Good.  Dean started dancing, casually making his way over until he could talk to the other boy.  “Hey, Cas!” he called.  “How’d you like the game?”

“I liked it!” Cas shouted over the music.  “But I don’t know about this.  Isn’t the music a little loud?  It’s making my breastbone vibrate!”

“That’s a good thing!  Just dance, Cas.”

Seeing Cas’s uncomfortable expression, Dean quickly moved forward, only to find himself blocked by Heather Morgan.  “Come on, Cas, let me show you!”

Heather’s hands were on Cas’s hips, forcing his body to move to the music.  She was laughing, encouraging him as he took his first tentative dance steps.  Dean couldn’t recall ever wanting so much to slap a girl he barely knew.  He cleared his throat loudly.  “Hands off the merchandise!  You’re teaching him to dance like a girl, Heather.  Here, Cas, let me show you how it’s done.”

Finally, Dean got his hands on Cas.  He guided the other boy through some basic steps.  Cas was obviously flustered.  He tried, though.  “There, you’re getting it!” Dean encouraged.

The music changed, going into the first slow song of the night.  Perfect.  Dean already had a hand on Cas’s shoulder.  He was reaching to pull him in when Stella fucking Johnson appeared out of nowhere, sliding neatly between Dean and Cas.  Her arms were around Cas’s neck.  She was leading him away.  Dean was left alone in the cold.

Ok, now he really wanted to slap a girl.

Dean’s next chance happened when Cas paused to watch Sammy grinding with Janelle.  The two cheerleaders were earning stern frowns from the chaperones and lusty cheers from the crowd.  Cas mostly just looked shocked.  Dean took advantage of the opportunity to move up and put an arm around Cas.  “I guess you don’t see this at your old Bible school, huh?”

Cas shook his head.  Dean stayed with him, willing a slow song to come on next.  It did, but suddenly there was Charlie.  “Cas!  You promised me a dance, remember?”

Dean had no choice but to let him go.

The next slow dance Dean was too far away to get to Cas before another girl claimed him.  Then it was Stella Johnson, beating him to the prize one last time.  This time the song was “Hero.”  The lyrics seemed fitting to Dean.  He watched, frustrated as hell, while the man of his dreams slow danced with someone else.

“Mighty Casey has struck out,” Benny announced.

“Fuck you,” Dean growled.  “Ok, I missed this dance.  Night’s not over.  See you down Matt’s Mile?”

“Wouldn’t miss it!”

Chapter Text

Castiel’s head was still spinning when Sam had him by the arm again.  The entire dance had been a blur.  Song after song, dancing in groups, interspaced with girls throwing their arms around his neck for slow dances.  He’d been surprised at how much fun he’d had.  Once he no longer felt like everyone was staring at him, the dance had been enjoyable.  The music had just finished playing when Sam grabbed his arm and started moving him through the crowd.  It took him a moment to realize that they were going with a small group of other students through the parking lot, away from the car.  Sam had grabbed both of their jackets and was shoving Castiel’s at him.  Castiel frowned as he pulled it on.  “Where are we going?”

“Walking Matt’s Mile,” Sam informed him.  “About a mile up the road is a path leading to the pond.  And every Friday, after the home games, a bunch of us gather there for a little party.  Some guys from the football team host it.  It’s sort of invitation only, in that it’s not something the whole school knows about.  But they don’t generally turn anyone away.  It’s usually the same crowd every week.”

“Oh.”  Castiel wasn’t sure what to think of this.  “Why’s it called Matt’s Mile?”

“Some guy saved his best friend, carried him down it to get help,” Sam explained.  “It’s an old local legend.  Someone measured it once and it’s actually closer to a mile and a quarter, but that doesn’t have the same ring to it.”

“I guess not.”  Castiel was looking around.  The Kansas farmlands that surrounded the town stretched out to the horizon, giving the illusion that the town was the only bit of civilization left.  Above them, the sky was full of stars and brightly lit by the moon.  He could safely walk the road even without the aid of a flashlight.  The air felt a bit cool, but Castiel soon removed his jacket.  Seeing what Sam was doing, he carefully tied the arms of the garment around his waist.  It worked surprisingly well.

“So how’d you like the game?” Sam was asking.

“It was a bit complicated,” Castiel admitted.  “The girls who were sitting with me were trying to explain it.  By the end, I could follow along a bit, but not really.  Your brother did something big after the band played, right?”

“He caught a pass and ran it in for a touchdown,” Sam said proudly.  “His position, he’s kind of a hybrid for the offense.  He helps protect the receivers, but he can also act like a receiver himself.  And he’s big enough that once he gets going, he’s hard to stop.”

“I saw that!  He had that guy hanging on him and he still made it to the end of the field.”

“Make sure you tell him that you saw that.  He’s sure to ask about it.”

“Dean will be there?”

“Yup!”

Of course Dean would be there.  Sam had already said that it was the football players hosting the party at the pond.  If Sam had been invited, then there was no doubt Dean would be part of it.  Castiel suddenly had a thought.  “Am I allowed to be here?  You said it was invitation only.  I never received an invitation.”

“You just did!”  Sam threw an arm around his shoulders.  “You’re with us, so you’re invited.”

Castiel had to force himself to keep walking.  The other boy was pressed against his side, his arm around Castiel’s shoulders as he smiled up at him.  Could Sam feel how this made his heart pound?  The sudden close physical presence of Sam Winchester was driving out every other sensation.  It was just Sam.  The lean body pressing against his.  The way his hips moved as he walked.  The smell of sweat and faint aftershave and the styling product he used in his hair.  The arm across Castiel’s shoulders almost seemed to burn as he somehow managed to keep walking.  Castiel’s hand twitched, wanting to reach over and slip his arm around the smaller boy’s waist.  It would be so easy.  He could pull Sam even tighter against him, and...

Sam let his arm drop and the moment was over.  Castiel immediately stumbled and nearly fell.  “Whoa!” Sam called, catching his arm.  “Careful.  The road’s usually pretty clear, but every so often some asshole throws some shit out on the side of the road.”

“I’m fine,” Castiel said quickly.  “Sorry.”

“No problem.  Just don’t want you to fall or twist an ankle.  That’d be a hell of a way to end tonight!”  And then Sam was walking next to him again, not touching him at all, comfortably chatting away about nothing as usual.  He seemed oblivious to Castiel’s discomfort.  Good.  Castiel could feel his cheeks flaming in the darkness.  He hoped that the light of the moon wasn’t enough to show it.

Sam and the others turned onto a path Castiel would have never found on his own.  With the confidence of the blind, they walked through the dim light, following the twisted path through some scrubby brush towards a small cooking fire.  Castiel could hear music.  Someone had a radio.  A group of kids was milling around the fire.  And there was Dean.

Dean brightened when he noticed them.  Castiel’s lips were curling in an answering smile when Dean suddenly charged forward.  He hoisted his brother in the air like a TV wrestling star about to do a body slam and roared “MASCOT!”  The resulting cheer helped Castiel feel like he was hidden in his embarrassment.  Of course Dean was happy to see his brother.  He was an idiot to think that smile might be for him.

Sam was yelling to be put down.  Instead, four boys each took hold of one of his arms or legs and started swinging him back and forth between them, their eyes on the pond and evil grins on their faces.  “One!” they chanted.  “Two!”

Alarmed, Castiel started forward and ran right into Dean.  Dean was smiling again, looking at him.  “Hey, glad you could make it!”

“Dean, your brother!  They’re...”  Castiel trailed off.  The four boys didn’t hurl Sam into the water as they’d been threatening to do.  Instead, on three, they’d tossed him high into the air, only to catch him again.  The cheerleader was swearing and squirming, even as he laughed along with his tormentors.

Dean looked back and snorted.  “You thought the animals were going to throw him into the pond?  Not at night, and not when it’s this cold.  You can bet your ass he’s going in tomorrow, though!  I’ll pick you up about noon, noon-thirty.  Wear your swim trunks with a tee-shirt and bring a towel.  We got sunscreen.”

“I...  What?”  Castiel blinked, confused.  “You want me to come back out here tomorrow?”

“Yeah, why not?  It’s supposed to be hot as hell, so come help me throw Sammy in and we’ll go swimming.  Here.”

Castiel looked down and discovered a can of beer had been placed in his hand.  He stared at it in horror.  “I’m underage!”

Dean grimaced.  Cas was from the church school.  While he’d heard plenty about wild parties even there, obviously Cas was sheltered.  “Sorry,” he apologized.  “But don’t worry, ok?  It’s a high school party.  We’re all underage!”  When Cas still looked upset, Dean gently took the beer from his hand.  “You want some pop instead?”

“Yes, please.”  The relief on Cas’s face made Dean feel like a complete ass.  He covered it up by jogging to the cooler for a can of Coke.

Cas accepted the new offering and stared at it.  “Um, you did good at the game tonight.  Even when that guy was clinging to you, you still made it to the end.”

“You saw my touchdown?”  Dean grinned.  “That asshole safety on the other team thought he was hot shit when he took me down that first time.  Guess I showed him!”

“I’m glad you didn’t get hurt.”

Dean scoffed.  “Bigger, better guys than him have put me down.”

“You seemed very upset.”  Now Cas was looking at Dean.  “At one point, I thought you were going to get into a fight.”

“Nah.”  Dean took a drink of his beer to avoid having to explain himself.  Cas was just starting to relax a bit.  The fact that he’d come close to getting himself ejected from the game for fighting with a homophobic asshole was not something he needed to know.

For a long time, the two just sat there, enjoying each other’s company and chatting about school.  Cas seemed happy.  He was calm, constantly smiling as he talked.  Dean found himself wishing the night would go on forever.

“I was wondering something,” Cas was saying.  “What do the cheerleaders do?  It mostly seemed like they just did a lot of yelling and jumping around.  When you dropped the ball, it rolled right up to Sam’s foot and he didn’t even try to pick it up.”

Now Dean laughed.  “Cheerleaders aren’t part of the team, Cas.  They’re not supposed to touch the ball.  It’s right in their name.  They lead cheers, get the crowd going.”

“Oh.”  Cas was wearing that adorably confused expression again.  Dean took another drink, this time to keep from trying to kiss him.  But now Cas was looking towards the fire.  A few kids were roasting hot dogs on sticks.  Someone had turned up the radio.  Sam had one of the other cheerleaders and was dirty dancing with her to whistles and cheers.  Dean took advantage of Cas’s distraction to study him.  In the light of the fire, his eyes looked violet.  Beautiful.

Cas gave him a shy smile.  “Your brother is a very good dancer.”

“That he is.  At least the little shit’s good for something, right?”  He dared to put a hand on Cas’s shoulder.  “Come on.  Let’s walk a bit.”

He led Cas out onto the wooden dock.  The wood creaked in protest beneath their feet.  Dean ignored it, moving out to sit cross-legged at the end of the dock.  He patted the boards next to him.  “Come on.  Have a seat.”

Cas lowered himself next to Dean.  He sipped at his pop, looking out over the water.  The two were quiet for a moment, watching the reflection of the moon and stars in the still water of the pond.  “I’m really glad you came today,” Dean offered.

“I am, too.  I wasn’t sure about the dance,” Cas admitted.  “A lot of girls wanted to dance with me, but Stella kept dragging me away.  I didn’t know what to do.”

“I saw that.”  Oh, how he’d seen that.  Dean had been ready to scream with frustration.  One dance, and he’d know for sure if Cas was open to dating a guy.  But it hadn’t happened.  Didn’t matter.  Cool it, Winchester.  There would be other dances, but now Cas was here, finally alone.  Now was his chance to get to know this beautiful boy.  Dean cleared his throat.  “You, ah, looking at dating anyone?”

Cas suddenly went still.  “I guess?”

“Oh.”  Shit.  “Anyone I know?”

“Not Stella,” Cas said quickly.  “If you’re interested in her, that’s fine.  I saw you looking at her at the pep rally.”

Dean eyed him.  “She’s not my type.”

“Oh!”  Cas seemed surprised.  “I thought, the way you were looking up at us, you seemed kind of upset?”

“I was.  I didn’t care for the way she was hanging on you, and I could tell you didn’t, either.”

Cas stared at his pop again.  “No, I didn’t.  She was hanging on my arm, holding my hand.  It made me uncomfortable.  But she wouldn’t let me go.  Then at the dance I kept trying to move away from her, and she just kept following me!  I didn’t want to dance with her.  I just didn’t know what to do.”

“You tell her to take her god damn hands off of you, that’s what you do!  If someone is touching you and you don’t want them to?  Then you have every right to tell her to stop!”

Cas didn’t answer.  He was turning the can a bit in his hands, staring down at it.

Dean sipped his beer, eyeing the other boy.  “She had her hands on you the whole game in the stands.  Then she monopolized you at the dance.  She barely let you go at all!”

“I know,” Cas mumbled miserably.  “I had a lot of girls who’d asked me to dance with them and I would have.  But Stella kept grabbing me!  I don’t understand.”

“What’s to understand?  Stella seems to think she’s got a claim on you, Cas.  If you’re not interested, you need to say something.”

Cas finally looked up.  “What do I say?”

“That you’re flattered, but you’re not interested in a relationship with her right now,” Dean explained.  “Then you ask her to please stop hanging on you.  She doesn’t own you, Cas.  You’re not dating her just because she’s telling everyone you are.”

Cas looked startled.  “She is?”

“Damn right she is!  Every time someone else got to dance with you, she was shooting off her mouth about how whoever it was was a slut for dancing with her boyfriend.  I heard it from three different guys while we were setting up out here.  But obviously, you didn’t know that.  Did she even ask if you were interested?”

He seemed to shrink.  “No.  She just wouldn’t leave me alone.  I didn’t know she was telling anyone we were dating.”

“Yeah, that sounds like her.  She’s such a bitch!  I can’t stand her!”

Cas’s head shot up.  “Dean, you shouldn’t talk about a lady like that!”

“Then she needs to start acting more like a lady.  You’re new here, Cas.  And right now, you’re a real contender for the hottest guy in school.”

Cas’s eyes went wide.  “Wh-what?!  But I’m nothing special!”

Dean couldn’t help but laugh.  “Cas, have you looked in the mirror?  Especially today!  Those jeans, the way your shirt brings out your eyes, your hair?  You’re sex on legs, Cas!  Or did you somehow fail to notice how every available girl has been making excuses to talk to you all day?”

Cas looked uncomfortable.  “I just thought they were friendly because of Sam.  He’s popular.”

“Yeah, he is.  Sam’s a good-looking guy.  Not as sexy as his older brother, naturally, but passible.”

That made Cas smile a bit.  “He is handsome.  And he dances really well.  And he’s nice, and he talks to me, and shows me around...”

“Whoa!” Dean laughed.  “Cas, buddy, you’re starting to sound like you have a crush on him!”

Dean was not prepared for the sudden look of horror that appeared on Cas’s face.  “What?  I wouldn’t, I mean, I don’t!” he sputtered.  “Dean, that’s a sin, a filthy sin, and...”  Cas’s mouth dropped into a wide O.  “Oh!  I’m sorry, I mean, there’s nothing wrong, well there is, but it’s not, I mean...”

“There’s nothing wrong with loving someone, Cas,” Dean said quietly.  He was struggling to keep the hurt out of his expression and voice.  “Love is love, no matter what gender you happen to be.  But I respect your beliefs.”

“I respect you too!”  Suddenly, Cas was clinging to his arm.  “Dean, I’m so sorry!  You and Sam, you’re my first friends since I moved here.  I didn’t mean to disrespect you.”

“I get it.  It’s how you were raised.”

“Yeah, well, the way I was raised doesn’t necessarily reflect what I believe, even if that’s the stupid shit that falls out of my mouth!”

Dean looked at the other boy.  Cas had an odd expression on his face Dean couldn’t quite decipher.  “Cas, it’s fine.  Hardly the first time I’ve heard that, ok?  First time I’ve heard you swear, though.”

“Sorry.”  Cas seemed to wilt.  “I’m just sorry, Dean.  I said a stupid, thoughtless, hurtful thing and right now I’m hating myself for it.”

“Don’t.”  Dean dared to reach out and put a hand on Cas’s shoulder.

To Dean’s surprise, Cas grabbed at his hand.  His eyes seemed to plead with him.  “I don’t want you and Sam to hate me.  I don’t care that it’s a sin, ok?  You two, you’re good people!  Isn’t that what matters?”

“That’s all that matters.”  Dean tightened his grip on the other boy’s hand.  “As to what you believe?  Only you can decide that, Cas.  Not your family, not your preacher or whatever anyone taught you.  If you’re not comfortable hanging out with us, I get it.  But I’d like you to come swimming with us tomorrow.”

Dean’s hand was suddenly in danger of being squeezed off.  “Noon, noon-thirty, right?”

“I’ll pick you up.”

The smile this earned him made Dean’s heart skip a beat.  Closet case, he decided.  Deeply closeted, behind a door sealed with a lifetime of indoctrination.  Worse, once again Dean’s clever plan to use his brother as his wingman had backfired.  Cas had a crush on Sammy, of all people.  Shit.  Well, Dean decided, he could work with that.  If he could get Cas to admit he was interested in Sammy, that might just be the thing to crack that closet door.  Then, once he found out Sammy wasn’t into guys, Dean would be there to pick up the pieces.

Perfect plan.

Suddenly, Cas gasped.  “Wait!  What time is it?”

“Huh?”  Dean blinked in surprise, and then checked his watch.  “It’s just after midnight.”

“No,” Cas moaned.  “No!  I’m out after curfew!  I have to get home!”

He scrambled to his feet so fast he lost his balance and nearly fell into the pond.  “Whoa, where’s the fire?” Dean asked, steadying him.  “It’s ok, we’ll just tell your folks that I kept you out too late.  My fault for not asking if you had a curfew.”

“That’s not true, Dean.  Going out with you tonight was a privilege.  I just abused it!  Please, just take me home?”

“Alright, calm down.”  Dean was puzzled.  Cas looked like he was on the verge of panic.  He retrieved his brother, who was still dirty dancing by the fire, and the three of them headed to the car.  Thankfully, this time Sammy didn’t bitch about going in the back.  The younger Winchester seemed to pick up on the mood.  He was frowning, looking from Cas to Dean and back.  Dean shrugged.

No one said a word on the ride to Cas’s house.  But when they got in sight of it, Dean whistled.  “Wow, you live there?  In that big fancy estate?  Holy crap, dude, do your parents have money or what?”

“We’re well off, yes.”  Cas’s face was pale, his voice trembling.  “Thank you for tonight.  I did enjoy it.  I’m sorry it ended so abruptly. “

“Well, now that I know you’ve got a curfew, next time I’ll get you home on time.”  Dean was climbing out of the car.  “Come on, I’ll go in with you and…”

“No!”  The sharpness in Cas’s tone froze Dean in place.  “No, Dean, it’s alright.  This isn’t your responsibility, it’s mine.  Thank you all the same.  But I would prefer that you let me speak with my father alone.”

“Sure, Cas.”  Dean was mystified as he watched Cas trudge, head down, towards his house.  His eyebrows shot up when Cas tried the door, found it was locked, and rang the doorbell.  A man appeared at the door a moment later, large and balding, red-faced and furious as he admitted his son.  The man looked out, his eyes taking in the sight of the Winchesters and their car.  Then the door closed.  Even from the street, Dean could hear the yelling.  He frowned.

“Come on, Dean,” Sammy called quietly.  “I don’t think Cas wants us to hear him getting the riot act.”

“Yeah, I guess not.”  Troubled, Dean climbed back into the car and headed out.

Chapter Text

“Maybe they won’t come?” I suggested.

“They’ll come.”  How could he be so calm?  He was just sitting there, calmly sipping coffee while my whole world was about to change.  But then again, why wouldn’t he?  He had nothing really at stake here.  He’d kept in touch all these years, after all.  I was the one who’d missed out.  As much as I loved him, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of anger.  He’d played his own part in the events that had finally brought us here.  He’d made this meeting possible.  But he’d also kept his secrets for too long.  He bore his own share of the blame for what I’d missed all these years.

I’d missed out on so much.  My heart was pounding again.  I tried to slow my breathing, wondering what this would be like.  I hadn’t seen her since the wedding.  And I’d certainly done very little to ingratiate myself then.  I’d put my nose in, butted in where I probably wasn’t welcomed.  She was a saint to humor me then.  She was more of a saint that she was willing to meet with me now.

“That’s their car.”

His voice was still maddeningly calm.  My world spun.  Part of me, the bigger part, wanted nothing more than to bolt for the door.  There was still time.  I could run, leave him here to try to explain himself, and separate myself once and for all from this whole mess.  Why not?  He was the reason I was here in the first place!

“Stop looking at the door.”

I glared at him.  “It would serve you right if I ran!”

“No it wouldn’t.  You’re the one who offered.”

“I never thought the answer would be yes!”

“So you’re taking back your offer now?”

I couldn’t meet that clear gaze.  His eyes seemed to look right through me.  I slumped.  “No.”

“Then nut up, ok?  This is bigger than you or her now.”

“I know!” I hissed.  “I’m here, aren’t I?”

Then the door was opening.  She was coming in.  Already, her eyes had found me, and my chance was gone.

***

“Come on, Cas!” Dean yelled, leaning on the horn.  “The day’s wasting!”

“I’m coming!”  Cas came running out of the house.  He was wearing a floppy tee-shirt, light blue swimming trunks, and sandals.  Zinc oxide covered his nose.  A diving mask and snorkel decorated his head.  He carried a beach bag in one hand and waved a beach towel in the other.

“I can totally see why you have such a crush on this guy,” Sammy remarked.  “Sexy.”

Dean ignored him except to drag him out of the passenger seat.  “Just throw your stuff in the back with the rest of the junk,” he called as he shoved his indignant brother into the back seat.

“Oh, now I’m junk?!”

Ignoring his brother, Dean indicated the items on Cas’s head.  “You won’t need the snorkeling gear, though.”

“I’ve got swim fins in the bag,” Cas offered.

“Yeah, you won’t really need them, either.”  Dean pulled the items off of Cas’s head and tossed them at his brother.  “The pond’s only about six feet deep at its deepest point, and way too murky to see.”

“Who’d want to see what’s in there anyway?” Sam grumbled, accepting Cas’s items.  “Probably a dead body or something down there.”

Castiel blinked.  “What?”

Dean’s response was to push Cas into the Impala.  “Come on, man, let’s go!  I’m sweating my balls off here.  This weather won’t last for long.  Let’s enjoy it!”

“I’m glad to see you could still go,” Sam offered.  “We were afraid you’d get grounded after we broke your curfew last night.”

“It was my first offense,” Cas explained cheerfully.  His smile didn’t reach his eyes.  “I got punished, but I’ll only be grounded if I do it again.”

“Well, it won’t happen again,” Dean declared.  “Now that I know you have a midnight curfew, I have the alarm set on my watch.”

“Actually, it’s ten on a school night.”

Dean took a moment to reset the alarm on his watch.  Then he produced a cell phone and set another alarm.  “Done.  Now I have an alarm for nine-thirty on my watch, and eleven-thirty on my phone.  On the weekends, we’ll ignore the first one.  But this way, we don’t have to worry about resetting them.”

“You have a cell phone?”  Cas openly admired.  “Father says we don’t need them because they’re only a temptation to spend too much time in idle chatter.”

Sammy’s eyebrows shot up.  Dean only smiled, pocketing his phone.  “Sammy and I have them because of the work we do.  We’re outdoors a lot.  And our dad’s a hunting guide.  They’re mostly in case someone gets lost or hurt, so we can call for help.”

“That’s smart!”

“Yeah, our mom’s not just a pretty face.”

“I enjoyed meeting your mom,” Cas announced.  “Your dad scared me a bit, though.”

“Dad’s a big softy,” Sammy said.  “He’s mostly all bark and no bite.  Mom’s the one you really don’t want to piss off.  Wow, can she yell!”

The Impala made short work of the trip.  Dean parked his baby in the parking lot of the school.  Then the three gathered their belongings and set off on foot down Matt’s Mile.  Fortunately, the local kids who frequented the pond came often, especially those who couldn’t afford to go often to the city pool.  As a result, the final 1/3 or so of the Mile had been worn down enough that it wasn’t hard to travel, even wearing sandals.

The pond was already somewhat crowded.  Most of the same crowd from the night before was there again.  Cas deposited his belongings next to Sam and Dean and pulled off his shoes.  But he made no move to remove his own shirt when the brothers peeled off theirs.  Dean looked up, disappointed.  “What’s wrong, Cas?”

“I just don’t want to get a sunburn.”

“We’ve got sunscreen!”  Dean held up a bottle.  “Happy to help you put it on?”  Oh, would he be happy to help Cas put it on.  “Come on, get that shirt off, and I’ll…”

“This was a mistake.”  To Dean’s surprise, Cas was shoving his feet back into his sandals.  His face was flushed.  “I’m sorry you wasted your time.  I’ll just walk home.  Thank you for inviting me.”

Dean was too surprised to react.  He sat like a lump, watching as his brother jumped up and caught Cas’s arm.  “Hey, it’s ok!” Sammy said quickly.  “If you’re not comfortable taking your shirt off, no one’s going to care.  Joe’s got his on, see?  Granted, it’s mostly to try to keep people from making fun of his tits, but the precedent’s there.  If you want to leave your shirt on, you can leave it on.”

Dean could see Cas thinking it over.  Sammy smiled and gave Cas’s arm a little shake.  “Come on, man!  It’s hot as hell and the pond’s right there.  Get some sunscreen on and jump in!”

And now Cas smiled.  “You’re awfully insistent on sunscreen.”

“Cas, healthy skin is important.  Now are you going to help me out or do I have to make that jerk do it?”

“You do the bitch, Cas,” Dean offered quickly.  “He can do me, and I’ll do you.”  He ignored the way Sammy rolled his eyes and sat down in front of his brother.

Sammy made quick work of applying sunscreen to Dean’s back.  Cas took his time.  His face was set into an adorable frown of concentration.  Looking at him, one would think that making certain to cover every inch of Sammy’s skin was a job of utmost importance.  Dean was content to wait and watch.  But Sammy was already starting to squirm impatiently.  “Ok, good enough!” he called, getting up.  “Get greased up, Cas, and let’s get wet!”

“On it!” Dean sang.

“No need,” Cas said.  “I put it on before I left the house, along with this.”  He indicated his zinc covered nose.

All the wind went out of Dean’s sails.  “Oh.  Well, at any rate?”  He picked up his towel and used the corner of it to scrub the zinc oxide off of Cas’s nose.  Then he carefully applied sunscreen.  “There.  Much better!”

“Thanks,” Cas said quietly.  “I was kind of embarrassed about that, but Lucifer said everyone would have it.  He’s the one who put it on me.”

“Your brother’s full of shit.  Doesn’t matter.  Grab Sammy’s legs, he’s about to learn to fly!”

Sam looked up in alarm.  He immediately started running, but Benny was there.  The quarterback quickly caught the squirming cheerleader and held him up.  “MASCOT!”

“In!  In!  In!”  Rhythmic claps or stomps accompanied the chant.

Dean looked at Cas, who looked back at him with wide eyes.  Dean pointed to Sammy.  Cas shook his head.  Ah well.  Dean ran up and grabbed his brother’s kicking feet.  Benny let Sammy down on the dock and snagged his wrists.  Then he helped Dean carry their struggling, protesting captive to the end of the dock.  “Ok, Benny!  One!  Two!  THREE!”

There was a bit of a contest to see who could throw someone the farthest into the pond.  So far, Dean and Benny held the world record with Sammy.  Today looked like a winner.  Sam sailed out over the surface of the pond.  He tucked his body in mid-air and hit the surface with a splash to cheers and applause.  Then a red and white blur shot past as Joe, the linebacker, charged off of the dock.  “CANNONBALL!”

Sammy swam for his life.  Joe hit the water, knocking a significant portion of it out to splash over Benny and Dean on the dock.  The two were quick to join him.  And then everyone was jumping in.

Dean surfaced, wiped the water out of his eyes, and looked around for Cas.  He finally spotted him still standing up on the dock, looking down at everyone with a small smile.  “Cas!” he called.  “Come on, man, get wet!”

Cas smiled.  Then he took a flying leap into the water.

Dean snagged him underwater.  He got his arms around Cas and leaned back, floating with the other boy resting face-up on his chest.  Cas winced and shifted, frowning back at Dean.  “I got you,” Dean called softly.

“Thank you, but I can swim, Dean.”  Cas’s voice sounded a little odd, as though he were somehow pained.

“You sure?  This is the deepest part of the pond, right off the dock.”

Cas felt so good in Dean’s arms.  He could feel the other boy’s quick heartbeat.  Feel his chest expand with each panting breath.  But Cas was squirming, pushing at Dean’s arms.  “I’m fine.  I can swim pretty well.  That’s why I had my snorkeling stuff, remember?  Let go.”

Dean reluctantly let him go.  Sure enough, Cas started swimming, moving away from the main group of rowdy, yelling, splashing teens.  He stopped once his feet could touch bottom.  Standing up, he finger combed his hair back and looked around.  He seemed startled at how close Dean was.  “Oh!  I didn’t realize you’d followed me.”

“I invited you out here, didn’t I?  Why wouldn’t I follow you?”

Cas didn’t seem to have an answer to that.  He shifted slightly, eyeing Dean as the other boy moved even closer.  “Don’t you want to swim with your friends?”

“Sure do!  That’s why I’m here.”  He smiled.  “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing!  Nothing.”  Cas was chewing on his lip.  He looked nervous.  “Um, why are you so close to me?”

“I wanted to talk to you,” Dean began.  “What you said, about homosexuals?”

The color drained out of Cas’s face.  “Dean, I said I was sorry, and I’ll say it again,” he began.  “Sammy’s a great guy.  I’d like to continue to be friends with him, no matter what.  I really, really enjoy being around him.”

“Yeah, I kind of noticed that.”

Cas’s eyes suddenly widened.  “Oh!  I’m not, I mean, I wouldn’t, you know, do anything, well, not proper.  It’s not like that at all!  It’s just that Sam’s the first friend I’ve had in a long time.  I don’t want to lose him.  Especially not for something like, you know, that.”

Cas was looking down at the surface of the water.  Having none of it, Dean caught his shoulder, turning Cas slightly until he looked up.  “Like what?”

“I’m not looking for anything but a friend!” Cas protested.  He looked absolutely miserable.  “I would never do anything to encourage anything with your brother.  I’m not, that is, I wouldn’t!  I just want a friend!  Can’t I just have a friend?  Why does it have to be complicated?  I didn’t even know he was gay when I met him!”

Dean chuckled.  He put an arm around Cas’s shoulders and turned him to look at the dock.  “Cas, look.  What do you see?”

More kids had arrived at the pond.  Lisa Braeden was standing on the end of the dock, wearing the tiniest shoestring bikini imaginable.  Her assets were very much on display, and the males waiting in the water were obviously appreciative.  They were waving and calling, encouraging her to jump in and offering to catch her.  In response, Lisa rolled her eyes, gave a slight jump, and entered the water several feet from the boys.  A groan of dismay went up.  It was immediately followed by splashing as they swam closer, all competing for her attention to the irritation of the other girls already in the water.

“Well?” Dean prompted.

Cas frowned.  “The girls were talking about her at the pep rally,” he reported.  “I think they were wrong.”

“About what?”

“They said she stuffs, but now that the top of her bathing suit is wet, everything looks pretty, well, natural?”

Dean laughed.  “Ok, we’ve established that Lisa doesn’t stuff.  And it’s fairly obvious why she’s attracting so much attention.  But Cas?  Who’s that right in front of her with the best view?”

Dean watched as Cas finally noted Sammy among the group.  Sammy’s pleas for Lisa to swim into his arms could be heard above the din.  Dean watched Cas’s mouth drop open in surprise and smiled.  So much for his plan to let Cas chase after Sammy.  It never would have worked anyway.  Besides, Cas had looked so miserable, trying to deny having any feelings other than friendship for Sammy.  “Sam’s bisexual?” Cas asked.

Dean couldn’t help laughing.  “No, Cas.  He’s not gay at all.  Sammy’s straight!”

Now Cas looked relieved.  “Oh, thank god,” he breathed.  “And really, I should have known.  He flirts with girls all the time, but my brother said he was gay and girls just all want a gay BFF!”

“Wait, what?  Which brother?”

“Lucifer.  He said Sam tried to pick a fight with him the first day of school.”  Cas shook his head, missing the look on Dean’s face.  “I still admire Sam for that.  Luci’s a lot bigger than he is.”

“Speak of the devil,” Dean growled.

Sure enough, Lucifer himself was approaching the dock, followed by Balthazar and Hannah.  Cas saw them and groaned.  “What are they doing here?  I told them it was invitation only!”

“Looks like they invited themselves.”  Dean started towards the dock.  Cas followed.

By now the newcomers had been noticed.  A couple of the girls had gone to meet with Hannah, welcoming her.  She was smiling as she put down her belongings.  Lucifer and Balthazar were putting down their things as well.  Sam was already climbing the ladder, nodding in greeting.  “Hey, nice to see you,” he called.  “That big blue cooler is full of pop.  You want some?  Or you could just jump in.  Water’s a little cold, but it’s ok once you get used to it.”

“That water doesn’t look very clean,” Balthazar noted.  “Are there fish in there?”

“Nah, nothing alive is in there,” Sam assured.  “Too many pesticides and fertilizer wash-off from the fields.”

That earned him a look.

“Is he serious?” Cas asked Dean in a small voice.  “Is the water even safe to swim in?!”

Dean shrugged.  “Hasn’t killed anyone yet.”

Cas stared at him.

Meanwhile, the Novaks were helping themselves to the drinks Sammy was handing out.  Hannah took hers and went to sit with her friends.  Lucifer dug into his beach bag, produced a couple of cigarettes, and handed one to his brother.  Both lit their smokes off of the same lighter.  “So this is it?” Lucifer complained.  “Just swimming in filthy water, a radio, and some Coke?  What kind of lame-ass party is this?”

“It’s just a bunch of us going swimming,” Charlie said politely.  She was sitting over with Hannah.  “You’re welcome to stay, but this is pretty much it.”

“And what are you?” Balthazar asked, frowning at Sammy.  “The welcoming committee?”

“I came up to try to make you feel welcome, yes,” Sammy said.  “If that’s a problem, I’ll leave you alone.”  He turned, but then paused, frowning.  “Those cigarettes smell weird.”

Lucifer and Balthazar looked at him in surprise.  Then they started laughing.  “You really are a hick from the sticks, aren’t you?” Lucifer laughed.

“Hey!” Dean warned.  He’d finally reached the dock through the crowd in the water and was climbing up onto it.  “No one asked you to come.  No one is telling you to leave yet, but this is your only warning.  You want to be here, you’re welcome to stay.  But only if you stop being a douche bag and you put that shit out.  No one cares too much if we drink out here sometimes because we don’t cut up.  But drugs are a whole other story!”

“Ooo, what’s the matter?” Lucifer mocked.  “Does the smell of it upset your delicate constitution, princess?”

“I’m about to upset your face in a moment!”

That earned him more laughter.  Lucifer got up, took a puff of his joint, and blew the smoke in Dean’s face.

Half a second later, Lucifer was sprawling on the dock.  Dean picked up his joint, grabbed Balthazar’s as well, snubbed them both out into a puddle of water and tossed them into the trash bag.

Balthazar was up, but so were most of the males at the pond, climbing out of the water onto the deck to form a loose semi-circle behind Dean.  The younger Novak found himself facing down multiple hostile faces.  “Leave,” Benny ordered.  “You two just wore out your welcome.”

Lucifer was staring up at Dean with wide, shocked eyes.  A large mark was already forming on his chin.  He managed his feet with assistance from his scowling brother.  “Come on, Hannah, Cas!” Balthazar ordered.  “Let’s go.”

“Cas and Hannah can stay,” Sammy announced.  “You two can’t.”

Balthazar’s furious eyes immediately sought him out.  “I’ll get you for this,” he threatened.

“Try it,” Dean offered.  “If I don’t kick your ass for it, one of these guys will.”

“You’re mighty tough surrounded by your buddies, aren’t you, Winchester?” Lucifer growled, gathering his belongings.

Sammy scoffed.  “Yeah, like your brother wasn’t going to jump on Dean!”

“And where was our other brother?”  Lucifer’s eyes landed on Cas and grew hard.

Joe was suddenly in Lucifer’s space.  “Go.  Now.”

Lucifer and Balthazar walked way, shooting glares behind them.

Charlie nudged Hannah.  “Cas is cool, but your other two brothers?  Are dicks!”

“I’m aware.”  Hannah leaned over and spoke quietly to Charlie, whose eyebrows shot up in surprise.

Dean had climbed back into the water and was swimming towards Cas, hoping to pick up where they’d left off.  But to his surprise, Cas swam past him.  He was climbing out onto the dock, looking upset as he picked up his things.  “Come on, Hannah,” he called.  “Luci’s got the car, so we’d better go with them.”

“I can drive you both back,” Dean quickly offered.  “Why would you want to go with those two douchebags?”

Cas avoided looking at him, focusing instead on his sister.  “Let’s just go, ok?”

Hannah made a face.  But she nodded.  Then she too gathered her things.

Dean climbed back out of the water and stared after them as they jogged away to catch up to their brothers.  “What the hell just happened?” he wondered.  “We told them they could stay!”

“Maybe it’s best they didn’t,” Charlie mumbled.  “Or at least that Castiel didn’t.”  She looked apologetically at Dean.  “Dean, I know you think he’s cute, but Hannah just told me something.  You know how she said that they had to come out here because her brother got kicked out of school?  Well, she wasn’t talking about Balthazar.  She was talking about Cas!”

Chapter Text

“Cas!  Come on, man, slow down!”

Castiel didn’t want to slow down.  But he’d already glanced back at Sammy.  The other boy knew he’d heard him.  That meant he couldn’t just keep walking and pretend he hadn’t heard Sammy like he’d done earlier.  So far today, his tactic had been to avoid both of the Winchester brothers.  Until now he’d been able to dodge them in the hall.  He’d avoided having Sammy sit next to him at homeroom by the process of waiting until just before bell to come in, ignoring the obvious open seat next to Sam and sitting anywhere else.  But now Sammy was jogging up to him and taking his arm.

“Cas, what’s wrong?” Sammy demanded.  “You’ve been avoiding me all day!”

“No I haven’t,” Castiel lied.

“Bullshit.  You sat clear back in the corner rather than sitting by me in homeroom.  Now you’re trying to dodge me again!  Come on, spill.  What gives?  What did I do to piss you off?”

“You didn’t do anything!”  Castiel shook his head.  “Look, I’m sorry, but I really just need you to stay away from me for a while, ok?”

“No.”

Castiel blinked in surprise.  “No?”

“No, I’m not staying away from you.  You’re my friend.  I care about you.  Something’s wrong.  I’m not leaving you alone until you tell me what it is.”

Castiel glanced meaningfully at the clock.  “We’re about to be late for class.”

“Good.  We’ll have plenty of time to talk to each other in detention.”

“Why are you doing this?!”

“Because you’re my friend and something’s wrong, just like I said.”  Sammy reached out and caught Castiel’s arm.  “Now talk to me.”

Castiel looked away.  “I can’t be friends with you and Dean anymore,” he blurted.

He heard the other boy’s quick intake of breath.  “What?  Why?”

“It doesn’t matter, alright?  Let’s just get to…  Hey!”

Sammy wasn’t very big, but he was determined.  And he was dragging Castiel into the boy’s room.  Once inside, Sammy turned to him, ignoring the bell that marked them late.  “Alright.  Talk to me, Cas.  What the hell is going on?”

Castiel grimaced.  “It’s my brothers.  I knew they’d be mad, after the pond, and they were.  Lucifer’s really upset at Dean, Sam, and Balthazar’s got it out for you.”

“Me?”  Sammy’s eyebrows went up in surprise.  “I guess I understand Luci being upset at Dean, although he totally brought that on himself.  But why’s Balth after me?”

“He kind of has been for a while.  I don’t know or care why.  The point is, if I keep hanging out with you, they’ll be mad.”

“At you?”

“No, Sam, at you and Dean!  I mean, yeah, they’ll be mad at me, too, but they already hate you two.  If you keep hanging around me, they’ll only get worse.”

Sam rolled his eyes.  “Oh boo hoo.  Listen, Cas, your brothers do not get to dictate who gets to be friends with you, and they sure as hell aren’t the bosses of me and Dean.  You saw what happened at the pond when Luci tried to push Dean too far.  How’d that work out for him?  The whole school’s talking about that nice bruise he’s got on his chin.”

“Yeah, he’s really pissed about that,” Castiel warned.  “He’s going to get him back for it, Sam.”

“Better than him have tried.  Dean’s not afraid of Lucifer and I’m not afraid of Balthazar.  The only one I care about is you.”  His eyes crinkled as he frowned.  “Cas, your brothers.  Are they the reason you’re always so quiet and withdrawn?  The only time you seem to perk up is when you’re with us!”

“I…  I don’t…”

Sam moved closer, looking him in the eye.  “Why do you let them dictate your life?”

“I don’t!  But Sammy, I have to live with them.  They can make my life a living Hell, so I try not to give them a reason.  But if it wasn’t about this, it would be about something else.  That’s not really why I’m concerned, ok?  Mostly I’m just worried about you and Dean.”

“Well, don’t.”  Sammy was still looking hard at him.  “Did you really get kicked out of your old school?”

Castiel felt cold.  “How did you hear that?!”

“So you did.  I don’t get that, Cas.  I could see either one of your brothers cutting up to the point where they’d get booted out, but you?  What the hell did you do?”

Castiel quickly looked away.  “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Sammy raised his hands.  “Backing off.  If you want to talk about it, I’m here.  Otherwise I won’t bring it up again.  Meanwhile, what about you and me?  We square?”

Castiel sighed.  “Yeah, Sammy, we’re square.”

“Good.  Because we want to take you to the movies tomorrow night.  Dad doesn’t need me or Dean at the store so we’ve got the night off.  It’s a little cheaper because it’s a school night, and less crowded.  The three of us can eat the overpriced food at the concession stand and enjoy ourselves and forget all about your brothers.  Because this time you don’t tell them where we’re going.  Sound like a date?”

Not tell his brothers where he was going?  That wasn’t possible.  He’d have to tell his father all the details, and of course Lucifer and Balthazar would be all ears.  But then Castiel forgot everything else.  “What?  Date?”

Sam playfully punched his arm.  “Friends can go on dates too, Cas!  Come on, three guys, hanging out?  It’ll be fun!  Say you’ll go!”

The sight of Sam’s smile felt like the rising of the sun.  Castiel pushed all of his concerns aside, smiled back, and said yes.

***

Sam thanked whatever gods were watching that he and Cas only got a warning for how late they got into class.  He paid minimal attention, far more concerned with getting to Dean and telling him the news.  As soon as the bell rang, Sam gave Cas a quick hug and then was darting through the halls, looking for Dean.

Apparently, Dean was looking for Sam as well.  A set of strong arms wrapped around him, dragging him into the music room.  Sam squirmed until his feet were back on the ground.  “Dean, listen, I asked Cas if…”

It wasn’t Dean.  Sam realized that a moment before he was gripped roughly by the arms and slammed into the wall.  “Hey!  What’s your damage?!  Let go of me!”

“Did you really think you were better than me?” Balthazar hissed.  “Did you think you could humiliate me and get away with it?!”

“Dude, what are you talking about?  I didn’t…”

Whatever Sam had been about to say was literally knocked out of him by a hard fist right to his gut.  Suddenly, he couldn’t breathe.  No matter how hard he gasped for air, there just didn’t seem to be any going into his lungs.

Balthazar had him by the upper arms again and was slamming him once more into the wall.  Sam felt himself held upright despite his body’s attempts to double over.  Balthazar was scowling into his face.  “You a faggot, too?  You are, aren’t you?”

“What’s it to you?” Sam managed to wheeze out.  His heart was pounding.  Nothing like this had ever happened to him before.  At least he was finally starting to be able to breathe.  Now he was getting angry.  He shoved at the larger boy.  “Take your god damn hands off of me!”

Balthazar scoffed.  Then he lifted Sam completely up off of his feet, holding the smaller boy above his head.  “Mascot, right?”

Sam kicked at him.  “Fucking put me down!”

“You got it.”

Sam dropped.  His temple hit the tile floor hard enough that stars flashed in front of his eyes for a moment.  He stayed as he was, too dizzy to move.  But hands were on him again, digging in his hair to raise his battered head.  “You still think you’re better than me?”

Sam didn’t answer.  His head was still spinning as he blinked open his eyes.

Balthazar scoffed.  “Pathetic!  You got the hots for my brother?  You do, don’t you?  Tell you what, Winchester.  I’ll make a deal with you.  You stay away from Cas, and I’ll leave you alone.”

“Fuck you!”

“Fuck me?  Fuck me.”  Balthazar let go of his hair.  He kicked Sam hard in the side.  “What do you think you’re going to do, huh?  Tell your brother on me?  Go ahead!  He doesn’t scare me, and he sure as hell doesn’t scare Luci.”

“He should!” Sam moaned.  “Lucifer found out the error of underestimating Dean, didn’t he?”

“Tell your brother, then,” Balthazar offered.  “And here’s what’s going to happen.”

To Sam’s horror, a knife blade suddenly appeared next to his eye.  “First thing we’ll do is cut your brother’s pretty face all up,” Balthazar explained with alarming calm.  “Then we’ll come find you and work you over.  After that?  How about our brother dearest?  Since Cas was so eager to join up with you, we’ll throw him in the mix, too!”

The knife disappeared, but Balthazar was still talking.  “Or, you and I can have the occasional bit of fun, just like we’re having right now.  Because I gotta tell you, I have some serious frustration to burn off now and then.  Knocking your scrawny ass around has made me feel better than I’ve felt all week!  So what’s it going to be, you little queer?  Just you, or all three of you?”

Sam tried to think.  His body was shaking in pain and anger.  The entire time he’d been speaking, Balthazar had remained terrifyingly calm.  Now the larger boy was actually petting him, stroking his hair, down the back of his neck and rubbing at his back.  Sam knew Dean could handle Lucifer or Balthazar individually, but together?  And armed?  They wouldn’t really cut Dean and Cas, would they?

Then he looked up at the other boy, saw him smiling down at him with no sign of humanity in his eyes, and knew they would.

***

Dean looked up and frowned when his brother finally came in.  “What happened to you?”

Sammy gingerly touched the bruise on his temple.  “I slipped and fell in the bathroom,” he explained.

“Well, did you knock yourself out?  I waited for you to take you home, but you didn’t show!”

“I just took the bus.  Hey, Cas is going to go to the movies with us tomorrow.”

Dean largely forgot about his brother’s bruise and odd behavior.  “Really?  Awesome!  So you got to talk to him?”

“Yeah.”  Sammy climbed into a chair with a wince.  “His brothers are giving him some shit about hanging out with us, Dean.  Might want to stay out of their faces.”

“Or I can break their faces?”  Dean thought this was a much better idea.

But when normally he’d expect Sammy to agree, Dean was surprised to see his brother shaking his head, looking alarmed.  “Dean, Cas has to live with those two!  And Luci and Balth are a couple of real assholes.  I think it’s better if you just stayed out of their faces, ok?  Don’t stir things up.”

“Alright, whatever you say.”  Dean was eyeing Sammy, but Sam wouldn’t meet his eyes.  “You ok?  You’re acting weird.”

“I’m fine.”  Sam was frowning at their mother, who was grimacing as she rubbed at her stomach.  “Mom, are you still sick?”

“Yes,” Mary admitted.  “Yesterday, I thought it was something I ate, but I just keep feeling worse and worse.  Must be a flu bug.”

“Unclean!  Unclean!” the brothers chanted, pretending to hide behind their arms.

“Such compassionate sons I’ve raised.  Just for that, you two clowns can finish supper.”

“Sit down, mom,” Dean called.  He pulled out a chair.  “You shouldn’t have been cooking anyway.”

“I didn’t breathe on any of the food, Dean!”

“Not what I’m worried about and you know it.”

“Do you want some soup, mom?” Sammy asked, already getting in the cupboard.  “I can make you some soup and crackers?  It might be easier on your stomach.”

Mary smiled.  “I’d like that, thank you.”

Sammy quickly put the soup on.  Dean got his mother a glass of ice water, then moved to finish supper.  By the time everything was ready, their father had come home.  He triumphantly held up a small container.  “Fresh mealworms!”

“Oh my god, John, do not do this now!” Mary pleaded as the boys cheered.  “I’m way too sick to deal with you three eating bugs today.”

“Still?”  John moved to kiss his wife’s cheek.  Then he went to the fridge, put the mealworms inside, and got himself a beer.  “I thought you said you felt better last night.”

“I did, but it’s back.”

“Well, take it easy.  Ah good job, boys!”

Sam was putting a bowl of hot soup in front of his mother, adding a package of crackers.  Meanwhile, Dean had started plating for the rest of the family.

Dinner was the usual noisy affair.  Both parents had raised an eyebrow at Sammy’s bruise and looked at Dean.  But Dean shook his head, indicating nothing to worry about so no one had said anything.  The result was a cheerful mood at the table.  There was a great deal of chatter and laughter, along with warnings not to talk with full mouths.  Even Mary recovered a bit to join in the fun.  But her hand frequently moved down, rubbing gingerly at the right side of her stomach.

***

“Oh my god, Sammy, I think I’m in love!”

“I think you’re in lust.”

“That works, too.  Those eyes, did you see those eyes?  Those eyes are so fucking blue!”  Dean had finally gotten a chance to talk to Cas at school, making arrangements for the movies tonight.  He’d talked about nothing else on the ride home after they’d both finished practice.

Sammy sighed.  “Yes, Dean, I noticed he has eyes.  I would have noticed more if they were missing.”

“And that ass?”

“I don’t really make a habit of looking there on another guy, but since his legs were attached, I assumed he had one of those, too.  Frankly, I’m way more interested in his sister.”

“Dude, bad form!  You don’t go after your best friend’s sister.”

“Yeah, I guess he is my best friend, isn’t he?”  Sammy smiled at the thought as Dean pulled into the driveway.  It was getting dark, but no lights were on in the house.  Odd.  Their dad wasn’t home yet, but he knew their mom was.  She’d still felt sick that morning and had called off work.  Maybe she was asleep?  That was probably it.  Sam got out of the car and grimaced as the heat hit him again.  “I need a shower,” Sam grumbled.  “Why is it so freaking hot in the beginning of September?  I feel gross!”

“He’s just starting to fill out,” Dean mused, obviously still thinking of Cas.  His arms were full of football equipment, so he shook the keys at his brother.  “Did you see how the buttons on those fancy dress shirts he wears are starting to strain?  By this time next year, he’s going to be a total stud!”

“Stud, right, move over so I can open the door.  Mom, we’re home!”

Dean moved over slightly, his eyes still miles away.  “I’m asking him to the prom.”

“Why not just cut to the chase and ask him to marry you?” Sam grumbled.  “Maybe it’ll be legal by the time you get out of the Marines.”

Dean smiled a dopey grin.  “Don’t tempt me.  Mom!  You still sick?”

The house was dark, silent and still as Sam opened the door, grimacing when more heat hit him.  “It’s hotter than hell in here!  She didn’t open any windows?  Maybe she’s in bed with a fever?” he suggested, flipping on the lights.  “She was pretty sick when we left.  And last night she even threw up the soup!  If she still isn’t keeping anything down, you going to back me up on her going to the hospital?”

“If she’s still not keeping anything down, I’m carrying her to the car.  It’s been two days now, and…”  He paused when he saw his brother suddenly stiffen.  “What?”

“Dean, what’s that smell?”

Dean stepped forward.  As soon as his head got near the opened door he could smell it.  In the unexpected heat, the closed-up house had become uncomfortably warm.  The smell hit like a wave.  Sickness, and something else.

Dropping his football equipment on the floor, Dean pushed his brother aside and ran into the house.  “Mom?  Mom!  You ok?”

No answer.  Sammy shot past him, heading towards the kitchen.  Dean moved to check their parent’s bedroom, but Sammy suddenly started yelling.  “Dean!  DEAN!”

Dean turned, looked into the kitchen, and the bottom fell out of his world.

***

Castiel sat on his front porch with his chin propped up in his hands.  He’d watched the sun go down, watched the moon rise and the lights on the street flicker to life.  Now it was very clearly late, too late for the movie.  He’d long ago realized that Sam and Dean weren’t coming.  He just hadn’t been able to force himself to go back inside.

“Castiel!  Where the hell is that boy?”

“He went out to the movies with his friends, father,” he heard Hannah tell his father.

“He should have been back by now!  It’s almost curfew.  If he’s late again, he’s grounded!  And why the hell didn’t he clean up that mess before he left?  I swear, that boy gets more out of control every day!”

“Father, it’s ok.  I got it cleaned up.”

“It’s not ok!  Do not talk back to me, young lady!  Your brother needs to get his ass home!”

Castiel let his head drop and closed his eyes.  A moment later, he heard the door open and Hannah came out.  “Cassie?”

“I heard.”

Footsteps coming closer.  Then his sister was sinking onto the step next to Castiel.  “I’m sorry you got stood up.  I didn’t think they’d do that to you.”

“Why not?  They’re popular, right?  And the popular kids always did enjoy playing games with me.”  He looked up at her.  “How’d you even know I got stood up?”

“Because I was watching.  I saw you sitting out here for the past four hours.  That’s why I cleaned up the living room.”  Her hand went to his shoulder.  “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” he replied, miserable.  “Like I said, they’re popular.  I was stupid to think they’d really want to hang out with me.  Now they’ll have a good laugh and everything will go back to normal.  Honestly, it’s almost a relief.”

“Don’t start that.  This is a different school, Cas.  They don’t know about, you know.  And it doesn’t even matter here!  Besides, I’ve had a lot of girls ask me about you.  Apparently, you’re cute.  What happened to that one that came to the house?”

“Stella?”  Castiel shifted uncomfortably.  “She wanted me to agree to only do things with her, but I told her no.”

“What about the other girls who were talking to you?”

“I don’t want to go out with them, Hannah.”

“You should at least try!” she urged.  “Isn’t there anyone you have your eye on?”

Castiel suddenly went quiet.  Hannah sucked in her breath.  “Oh no.  Winchester?”

Castiel didn’t reply.

Hannah shook her head.  “You can’t, Castiel!  Not again!  Listen, I want you to promise me something.  The next time a girl asks you out, go out with her, ok?  Even if it’s just once!  You don’t want to get sent back to that place again, do you?”

“No,” Castiel whispered.

“Then will you try it?”  When her brother didn’t answer, she sighed.  “Come on, Cassie!  It’s a natural thing.  Just try something small.  Holding hands in the hall, maybe a little kiss on the cheek?”

“Alright,” Castiel agreed, miserable.

Hannah patted his shoulder.  “Good!  Now come in and let father yell at you and get it out of his system.”

Castiel wearily got to his feet.  Even more than his father’s inevitable rant, he dreaded going out with a girl.  Natural or not, he simply couldn’t feel for girls what he’d always seemed to feel for boys.  It wasn’t natural.  It was a sin.  Sin always felt good.  He knew that.  But it didn’t change how he felt.

It didn’t matter.  If tonight had proven anything, it had proven that what he wanted didn’t matter.

Chapter Text

Sam and Dean weren’t in school that day.  But Castiel wasn’t the only one who’d noticed.  Over and over, he heard their names mentioned in whispers.  But no one was talking to him.  If anything, it felt like the other kids were avoiding him.  Even Stella Johnson seemed to be avoiding him, but that wasn’t so unusual since he’d told her he didn’t want to be her boyfriend.  Still, he was surprised about Charlie.  She wouldn’t even meet his eyes.  She’d asked if he’d talked to the brothers?  When he said he hadn’t, she’d nodded, mumbled some excuse, and quickly walked away.  Lunch was even worse.  No one at his usual table would talk to him or look at him.  Most of them finished their lunch and left the cafeteria early.  By the end of that day, Castiel was feeling miserable.  Whatever he’d said or done to upset the Winchesters?  Apparently, the whole school knew about it except for Castiel.

That evening at dinner, Castiel moodily picked at his food.  He offered nothing to report on his turn just as his siblings had.  But Balthazar scoffed.  “He’s lying,” he announced.  “Cas has something to report!  Ask him about his friends, the Winchesters?”

Immediately his father’s eyes locked on Castiel.  “Castiel?  Did something happen?  One of those queers made a pass at you?”

“What?  No!”

“Oh, come on!” Lucifer exclaimed.  “Give us some details, Cas!”

“Details on what?”

“Don’t lie,” Balth warned.  “I heard that Dean won’t let anyone near them.  But you and Sam are thick as thieves!  So if anyone knows anything, you do!”

Castiel sputtered.  “I’m not lying!”

“Cas?”  Hannah was looking hard at him now.  “Do you even know?”

“Know what?!” Castiel exclaimed.  “I haven’t seen them and everyone seems to know something except for me!”

Lucifer suddenly laughed.  “He doesn’t even know!  Oh, that’s rich.”

“Lucifer, if you have something to report?  I suggest you stop laughing and start talking.”

Their father’s tone took all the amusement off of Lucifer’s face.  “It’s all over the school,” he explained.  “Their mom died last night.”

Castiel sat up in shock.  “What?!”

Balthazar was nodding.  “Yeah!  Apparently, they were too stupid to know what an appendix is.  Hers burst sometime during the day and killed her.  Remember how hot it was?  Well, I heard she was lying in that closed-up house all day in that heat!  So by the time they found her, she was…”

Castiel didn’t hear anything more.  Ignoring the shout from his father, he raced for the door and his shoes.

“Castiel!”  His father’s hand landed hard on his shoulder, jerking him around.  “You did not ask to be excused from the table, nor have I given you permission to leave.  So what, exactly, do you think you’re doing?!”

“Forgive me father,” Castiel explained hastily.  “But they’re my friends, and they just lost their mom!  I didn’t even know about it.  Balth says Dean won’t let anyone else near them, but he’s right.  I’m Sammy’s best friend!  He needs me now.  Please, let me go to them?”

His father’s hand moved to his arm, pulling him back.  “I think you’ve spent enough time with those people.”

“Please let me go!”  Castiel dared to pull back.  “Remember Jesus said, ‘I was sick, and you visited me?’  I was a stranger and they took me in!”

“I was naked and ye clothed me.  I was in prison, and ye came unto me,” Zachariah recited.  “Matthew chapter 25.  But do you think those people even know of it?”

“Then let me show them,” Castiel urged.  “Sam and Dean just lost their mother.  I just want to do my Christian duty and try to offer what comfort I can as their friend.  Please let me go?”

Castiel waited, watching as his father considered it.  “Alright,” he said at last.  “But don’t let them use their grief as an excuse to push you into sin, Castiel.  Your brothers are convinced they’re both gay.”

“That isn’t true!  But it doesn’t matter.  Gay or not, they’re children of God.  And they’re hurting now.  If Dean’s keeping everyone else away, then they need help now more than ever!  I know them.  I knew their mom.  I need to go to them and do what I can to help.  But I’ll be careful.”

“Be back by curfew,” his father warned letting him go.  “And tell Martin to drop you off and come straight back.  I need driven out for a late meeting.”

“I will!”

A short time later, the groundskeeper and driver, Martin, was stopping in front of the Winchesters’ home.  John’s truck was there, but Dean’s Impala was missing.  Castiel frowned.  “Can you drive me through town a bit?  Just for a minute or two, before you have to go back and take dad to his meeting?”

“Of course.”

It was good that Dean drove such a recognizable car.  Castiel spotted it in the paring lot of a shopping center, thanked the driver, dismissed him, and got out to wait by the Impala.

He was shocked when Dean finally emerged from one of the stores with his arms loaded with what could only be alcohol.  Castiel spotted multiple cases of beer, along with at least two bottles of Jack Daniels.  But he knew Dean couldn’t be any older than eighteen.  Dean himself looked awful.  His face was pale, with deep, dark circles under his eyes.  His hair was a mess.  He hadn’t shaved.  His clothing appeared to be identical to what he’d been wearing yesterday in school when they’d talked about going to the movies.  He didn’t appear to see Castiel as he made his way to his car.  Dean looked utterly exhausted.

“Dean?” Castiel called.

Dean blinked, finally noticing him.  He nodded, looking away.  “Hey.  Not a good time, buddy, sorry.”

“Dean, I heard what happened,” Castiel began.  “I’m sorry.  And I’m here to help you.  Here.  Where are your keys?”

Dean blinked at him again.  Then he turned slightly, giving Castiel access to his hip.  “Jeans pocket.”

Castiel didn’t hesitate to reach into his pocket and grab the keys.  He fumbled through them and got the car unlocked.  “Here.  I’ll help you load up.”

“Thanks.”

Castiel carefully loaded the beer and whiskey.  He didn’t ask the obvious question, but Dean answered anyway.  “It’s for my dad,” he said quietly.  “He’s home, but he’s in no shape to drive right now.  The clerk’s a family friend.  He knows me, knows what happened and that this isn’t for me.  Dad needs it.”

Castiel didn’t answer.  He loaded the last of the cans and bottles into the car.  Then he climbed into the passenger seat.

That seemed to surprise Dean.  “Cas, you’re coming with me?”

“I told you, I’m here to help.”

Dean looked uncertain.  “It’s not good at my house right now, Cas.  This really isn’t a good time.  Dad and Sammy, they’re not good.  I appreciate you wanting to help, but…”

“Are you kicking me out?” Castiel asked, making his voice hard.  “Are you going to tell me now that I can’t try to help my best friend when he needs me most?”

Dean blinked.  “No?”

“Then get in the car and drive.”

It wasn’t fair.  It hurt Castiel to do it, put Dean in this position.  But it worked.  Dean got in without another word.  He put his key into the ignition, but didn’t turn it.  Instead, he froze where he was.  “We found her.  Me and Sammy.  We found our mom.”

“I heard.  I’m sorry.”

“It was…  She was in the house all day.  All day!  We knew she was sick.  She threw up the night before and all she had was soup, but she insisted it was just the flu.  Money’s a bit tight right now.  We have insurance, but the deductible for the hospital?  I know why she wouldn’t go.  I know why she hid it, tried to pretend it wasn’t as bad as it was.  If I had only…!”  Dean’s eyes seemed a million miles away.  “I should have done something.  I should have made her go to the hospital.”

Castiel didn’t answer.  He stayed quiet, letting Dean say what he needed to say.

“Sammy saw her first,” Dean was saying.  It wasn’t clear if he realized Cas was still there.  “He just screamed and screamed.  Then when he stopped, he wouldn’t say anything.  He still hasn’t said anything.  He won’t talk to me at all.  He wouldn’t talk to the ambulance people or dad.  He just sits there.  He won’t move.  He won’t eat.  I’ve tried everything to get him to eat, but he won’t.  Last night, I carried him to bed because he wouldn’t stand up.  I got him ready for bed as best as I could.  Put him down to sleep.  But I don’t know if he slept.  When I went to check him this morning, he was still in the same position.  And he was wet.  I should have taken him to the bathroom before I laid him down.  I had to clean him up, change his bed.  Now I’m taking him to the bathroom every few hours or so.  He’ll sit and go so long as I take him.  But I have to clean him up afterwards because he won’t move.  I’m scared because I don’t know what to do.  I can’t make him eat.  I even tried to feed him.  I can get a spoon into his mouth, but he doesn’t swallow.  It just runs back out.  Then he choked.  I had to grab a paper towel, clean his mouth out.  Since then, I’ve been afraid to try to feed him again.”

“Then there’s dad,” Dean went on.  “I called 911 first and then I called him.  He was screaming over the phone before he hung up, and Sammy was still screaming.  By the time dad got home, Sammy wasn’t screaming anymore, but he wouldn’t move or talk.  He just stared off into space.  I thought when dad got home he would help.  But he didn’t go to Sammy.  He pushed past me, went right to mom and just fell to pieces.  He was sobbing, cradling her even though she was stiff when the ambulance came.  Why the hell did they send an ambulance?  She was gone!  There was nothing they could do.  She was dead.  But dad saw them and started yelling that they had to do something to help her.  They had to give him something to calm him down.  I told them how she’d been last night.  They think she died of appendicitis.  Who the fuck dies of appendicitis?!  Why the hell didn’t I take her to the hospital?!”

Dean sat still for a moment.  He took several deep breaths before he continued.  “She’d been dead for a while, inside that hot house with all the windows closed.  The smell is what first really told us something was wrong.  Now that smell is everywhere.  It was all over dad’s clothes, it filled up the house.  Last night, Dad changed into his sleeping clothes and just started drinking and didn’t talk to us.  I couldn’t get him to help me with Sammy.  So I tried to get rid of the smell.  I opened up all the windows and doors, put fans up, but it wouldn’t go away.  I washed the laundry.  I scrubbed the floor.  I did the dishes.  I wiped down everything in the kitchen, but the smell won’t go away.  I was up all night last night, cleaning and scrubbing everything in the house, trying to make the smell go away.  This morning I tried to vacuum, but dad had a hangover and yelled so I stopped.  I just kept cleaning and taking care of him and Sammy until we ran out of beer.  Then I saw dad going out in his tee-shirt and sleeping shorts and hunting boots, getting into his truck to go get beer.  I stopped him.  I had to tell him that I would get the beer if he went back into the house.  So that’s why I’m here.  I’m getting him beer and Jack.  I don’t know what else to do.  I don’t know how to fix my family.”

“Dean.”

Dean had always seemed so strong.  Seeing him broken was killing Castiel.  Somehow, the way he passively allowed Castiel to pull him across the seats and into his arms made it worse.  When the first sobs shook Dean’s body, Castiel thought his heart would shatter.  “I’m here, Dean,” he soothed, holding tightly to his friend.  “You’re not alone.  I’m here.”

Dean didn’t cry for long.  When he regained control, he wiped quickly at his face and avoided Castiel’s eyes.  “Sorry.”

“It’s alright.  You don’t have to be strong with me.  But I’m coming with you.  I’m not leaving.”

Grateful green eyes turned to him.  “Thank you.”

At that moment, Castiel might have walked into Hell for Dean Winchester.  Instead, he tightly gripped Dean’s arm.  “Let’s go back.  I’ll help you.”

Dean nodded and finally started the car.

The Winchester home was neat as a pin and smelled strongly of cleaning products.  Castiel’s stomach churned, waiting for a distinctive unpleasant, lingering odor.  But there was none.  The house smelled fresh and clean and well-aired.  He watched Dean as the two of them carried Dean’s purchases into the kitchen.  Even here, the only smell was cleaning products.  His hand moved of its own volition, reaching out to catch a finger in the belt loop of Dean’s jeans.  Dean paused.  “The house smells good,” Cas said.

Dean looked at him.  “You can’t smell it?”

“It’s not there, Dean,” Castiel insisted.  “You did a good job.  The house smells clean.”

He could see some of the tension melt from Dean’s shoulders.  Placing his bags on the counter, Castiel quickly pulled Dean’s bags from his hands and hugged him tightly.  Dean seemed to melt into him.  For a moment, he simply held Dean, wishing such a simple act could remove the horror of the last few days.

“Dean?  That you?”  John, calling from somewhere in the house.  “You’d better have that beer, Marine!”

Dean immediately pulled free.  “I have it, dad!  Did Sammy get up?”

“He’s still in bed far as I know.  Just bring me a beer.”

“It’ll be warm.”

“Don’t give a shit.  Bring me a beer and some Jack!”

Dean moved to one of the cases and pulled out a can.  “I’ll bring him this and check on Sammy.  Cas, can you try to fit the rest of this case into the fridge?”

“Alright.”

“Thanks.  Leave the rest on the counter here.  I’ll get it later.”  He picked up one of the bottles of Jack and headed into the house.

Castiel tried hard not to look at the floor and imagine what the Winchester brothers had seen there.  He pushed aside some milk and an odd plastic container and carefully loaded beer into the fridge.  It now contained more alcohol than food.  They needed groceries badly.  Maybe that was something Castiel could do?  He could go to the bank, get some money out of his account, and get groceries.  That was a good idea.  He’d already come to understand that the Winchesters didn’t have much money.  Now, with funeral expenses to deal with, they could likely use all the help they could get.

Castiel finished and looked up to see Dean carrying Sammy into the bathroom.  Whatever Castiel might have said was immediately smothered in the silence that surrounded his best friend.  Sammy looked even worse than Dean.  His head rested on his brother’s shoulder.  He was limp, arms and legs dangling as Dean carried him bridal style.  There was no life in those hazel eyes.  They stared off at something only Sammy could see.

As the silence spun on, Castiel realized that Dean had stopped.  He was standing as he was, holding his brother, refusing to meet Castiel’s eyes.  “I tried to warn you,” Dean mumbled.  “You don’t have to stay.”

“I’m not leaving.”  Castiel moved forward, forced himself to touch Sam’s arm.  “Sam?  It’s Castiel.”

No response.  Sam seemed more like a doll than a person.  Castiel squeezed Sam’s arm, searching his eyes for any sign.  But there was nothing.

Dean shifted.  “I need to take him to the bathroom,” he said.  Then he was pushing past Castiel, going into the bathroom and closing the door.

Castiel turned and gripped the counter tightly.  He couldn’t stop seeing Sam’s eyes, the complete lack of anything behind them.  This wasn’t Sam Winchester.  There was nothing left of the vibrant, chatty, pushy cheerleader that had bullied Castiel into being his friend.  And somewhere in the house, the terrifying hunter Castiel had met was lounging in his underwear, drinking away the loss of his wife while his oldest son brought him alcohol and tried helplessly to keep the entire family from collapsing.  Dear god.   No wonder Dean wouldn’t let anyone help them.

Castiel waited until the toilet flushed and water finished running.  Then he moved and met Dean at the bathroom door.  “Dean?  Why don’t you give him to me?”

“Cas, he’s messed up,” Dean warned.  “He won’t talk to you or anything, ok?  I put him to bed when I went out, but I have to watch him.  He’s…”

“I’ve got him.”  Castiel carefully took Sam from Dean’s arms.  Sam was like a rag doll, and dead weight.  Castiel held on, trying not to show how much he was straining to support the smaller boy.  “You’re exhausted, ok?  You need to shower and change, and take a nap.”

“I can’t take a nap!  I need to make supper!”

“I’ll make soup and sandwiches.”  The house didn’t have much else to offer anyway.  Castiel carried his burden to the kitchen table.  “Will he sit up if I put him in a chair?”

“Yeah, but he won’t eat, Cas.  I have to…”

“Good.”  He sat Sammy down in one of the chairs.  He had to bring Sam’s arms up, position them so Sam was leaning on the table.  But Sam didn’t fall out of the chair.  Good.  Castiel turned to frown at Dean.  “Get some clean clothes and get cleaned up.  You can’t help anyone if you fall over.  Your family needs you now, Dean.  You have to take care of yourself.”

That got through where nothing else might have.  Dean nodded and went to his room for clean clothes.  A moment later, he came back down and entered the bathroom.  Then the shower was running.

Castiel made some soup and several sandwiches.  He spooned a bit of soup into Sammy’s mouth.  No good.  Sam’s head was tilted forward, letting it run out.  Castiel cleaned it with a towel, lifted Sam’s head, tried again.  This time Sam choked.  Castiel quickly tilted his head down, let it run back out so he could mop it up.  This wasn’t going to work.  Alright.  Castiel carefully cleaned his friend’s mouth.  “It’s alright, Sam,” he said.  “You don’t have to eat yet.  You don’t have to do anything you’re not ready to do yet.  If you need to stay there, wherever you are?  That’s alright.  But don’t stay there forever.  Your family needs you, Sam.  Come back to us, alright?”

No response.  Castiel slid his chair closer.  He pulled his friend against his side, held him there with one arm and started eating, talking softly to Sammy about nothing.  School.  The weather.  What Sam was wearing.  Anything.  It didn’t matter.  All that mattered was that he was touching his friend, talking to him.  Wherever Sam was, those were what he might recognize first.

Castiel handed some food to Dean when he came out of the shower.  Dean ate barely enough to qualify as a meal.  Then he cut a small bite off of a sandwich and tried again to feed Sammy.  Castiel caught his wrist.  “I’ll try later,” he vowed.  “Go take some of this to your dad and then rest, Dean.  I’ve got Sam.”

Dean’s eyes were bloodshot.  He was beyond tired.  With a silent nod, he got up and trudged up the stairs.

Castiel carried Sam into the living room and put him down on the couch.  Then he went back and brought Sam’s sandwich out to the living room, intending to make good on his promise.  He climbed onto the couch, pulling his friend into his arms.  “Sam?” he said quietly.  “It’s Castiel again.  I don’t know if you’re hearing me, or if I can even say anything that matters.  But I’m here, ok?”

He pulled on Sam, sliding around until Sam’s head was resting on a throw pillow in his lap.  He pulled the folded afghan down from the back of the couch, spreading it over Sam.  Then he relaxed and switched on the TV.  He kept one hand resting on Sammy’s chest.  The other gently stroked the smaller boy’s hair.  Sam had a fading bruise on his temple.  Maybe he’d fallen?  Castiel was careful not to brush against it.  He started talking to Sam again, telling him what was on the TV.  Complaining about the commercials.  Anything.  It didn’t matter.

After a time, Castiel looked down and was surprised to see Sam looking back up at him.  For the first time, Sam seemed to be seeing him.  Castiel smiled.  “Hey, Sam.  It’s alright.  I’m right here.”

No response.  But Sammy was still looking at him.  Castiel kept up what he was doing.  And when Dean finally woke up hours later, it was to see Sammy’s hand had reached up to lace his fingers with Castiel’s hand on his chest.

This time, when Dean tried pressing the small piece of sandwich to his brother’s lips, Sam took a bite.

Chapter Text

Cas spent most of the week with the Winchesters.  Dean would take him home at night before his curfew.  Cas would spend the night at home, go to school, pick up work for Dean and Sammy and take a bus to the Winchesters’ home.  There, he’d stay for the rest of the day, doing whatever he could think of to help Dean care for his family.  Dean didn’t know what he would have done without him.  Cas had even borrowed Dean’s baby and gone grocery shopping, something Dean had been worrying about.  Cas was the one bright spot in Dean’s life.

The rest of his life was a nightmare.  Sammy was slowly improving, but still wouldn’t talk.  Dean, seeing how Sammy had responded to Cas holding him, had taken his brother to sleep in his own bed with him at night.  It had helped.  He hadn’t had to carry Sammy after that.  He’d picked his brother up and Sammy had struggled to get down.  All Dean had to do was guide him.  Sammy would stand up and move where directed.  Eventually, he was tending to his own personal needs and hygiene, even taking a shower of his own volition.  But he wouldn’t talk, and barely ate.  Getting food into Sammy was the hardest thing.  He’d tried feeding Sammy again after watching his brother pick at his food for half an hour without taking a bite, but Sammy had irritably swatted him away.  Cas could sometimes persuade him, but even he had trouble.  Alright.  Give him time.  Sammy had been through an awful ordeal.

While Sammy was getting better, John was getting worse.  Dean never saw his father sober now.  They’d had a nasty argument after Dean caught John once again about to drive himself into town after more alcohol.  Dean had made another trip to the liquor store, earning himself a look of sympathy that made his hackles rise and his face burn.  The clerk this time was a huge gossip.  No doubt the whole town would be talking about what a drunk John Winchester had become.  Dean quickly paid for his purchases and got home as soon as he could.  The first thing he did was hide his father’s keys.

Outside of his family, Dean had to deal with the rest of the world.  The autopsy revealed that his mother had, indeed, suffered from appendicitis.  She’d passed out when it burst, fallen, suffocated and died on the kitchen floor.  Dean’s only consolation was that she hadn’t suffered.  But the bill to determine that made Dean wince.  Then there was the funeral.  Never in his life had Dean ever considered the cost of a funeral.  Now the entire affair rested squarely on his shoulders.  Between the different options and the price tag assigned to each one, Dean’s head was spinning.  His mother hadn’t had any life insurance.  The family had very little in savings.  With no one working and the store closed, there was no money coming in.  And now that he’d spent so much money on alcohol, Dean had no idea how he was going to get groceries next week.  He’d have to get the store back open as soon as he could.  But how could he make payroll for their few employees?  Maybe he could find something else to do on the side for money after school?  He could probably pick up hours at the motel where Sammy worked.  Surely he could find some odd jobs somewhere.  There had to be something he could do.

Meanwhile, there was an endless parade of visitors and condolences and decisions and paperwork and bills, bills, bills.

Hang on, Winchester.  You can do this.  Your family needs you to at least get them through the funeral.  After that, it will be easier.

Meanwhile, it was anything but easy.  Dean had opted for a short funeral on Sunday with visitation on Saturday.  He wasn’t sure his family could handle more than that.  The day of the visitation, he managed to get his father and brother into the second nicest set of clothing they owned, saving the best for the funeral.  Sammy managed himself, but Dean had to help his father shave.  The reality of the visitation and funeral were hitting John hard.  His hands were shaking too much to shave himself.  He constantly had a drink in his hand.  For the first time, Dean realized just how much his father had been drinking.  John always drank, for as long as Dean had been alive.  Before the death of his wife, John typically drank around eight beers a day, spread out with two or three tumblers of Jack on the side.  But now his drinking was so much worse.  Dean’s father reeked of alcohol.  He seemed to almost sweat it out.  Already, he’d gone through most of what Dean had purchased with Cas and made a significant dent in what Dean had picked up later.  Dean would have to talk to him.  Right now, he really couldn’t afford to go out and buy more.

Sammy still wasn’t speaking.  Their uncle had flown in from another state for his sister’s viewing and funeral.  He’d been stunned when he’d seen the state Sammy and John were in.  That had led to Dean being pulled aside for some uncomfortable questions he couldn’t really answer.  The man was grieving, shocked, and lost.  Dean was grateful he’d decided to stay in a motel and was leaving right after the funeral.  His uncle meant well, but Dean just couldn’t give him what he needed.

But the best and worst part had been when the Novak family had come through.

No one else had been able to get through to his brother like Castiel Novak.  Sammy had actually smiled at Cas when he saw him come in.  Dean was smiling as well.  Just the sight of the other boy made Dean’s heart lighter.  But unfortunately, Cas wasn’t alone.  For some reason, all his siblings and his father were there, too.

Zachariah Novak went straight for John.  “My condolences on the loss of your wife,” he’d begun.  “I lost three myself.  Divorce, of course, not what happened to your Mary.  Still, you have my sympathies.”

“Thank you,” John said, shaking hands.  “You’re Castiel’s dad?  He’s a good kid.  Been a real help.”

“I do hope so.  His discipline is sometimes lacking, so I do hope he hasn’t been any problem.”

“Not at all,” John told him.  “Just the opposite, in fact.  He’s been a huge help for Dean.”

“Dean?”  Zach’s beady eyes fell on Dean.  Dean was hovering near in case something went wrong.  “Ah.  Your boys, they’re, um, different, aren’t they?”

“Sam and Dean?  Nah, they’re pretty typical for kids their age.  Better than most, actually.  Dean’s been my rock recently.  He does a lot around the house, too.”

“Housework.”  Zach’s face forced itself into a smile.  “Yes, I’d imagine he’s good with that.”

“He does all the cooking now,” John agreed, largely oblivious.

“I’ve got three boys and a girl myself.  When Castiel’s mother left, he was quite young.  I doubt he even remembers much of her.  But she caused a bit of drama over custody.  It was troubling.  The older boys went through a spell where they were fairly rebellious.  That’s something you should be aware of, Mr. Winchester.  When there’s a crisis in the family, children tend to seek out attention any way they can.  It’s important to keep a firm hand.  Remember, the Bible says, ‘Spare the rod, and spoil the child.’”

“That so?”  John was frowning at Zach now.  “And what verse is that?”

“Why, that’s Proverbs 13 verse 24,” Zach recited proudly.  “‘He that spareth his rod hateth his son, but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.’  Words for any parent to live by.”

“Funny.  I didn’t hear anything in there about spoiling a child?”

“Not directly, but of course that is the implication.”  Zach’s fake smile had faded a bit.  But it returned when he saw John reach into his pocket for his flask.  “Ah, I see,” he said.  “And I don’t judge you at all.  I heard that your wife was in a bad way when you found her.”

“My boys found her,” John grunted, taking a drink from the flask.  “She was in bad shape.  My youngest still isn’t talking.”

“Don’t worry.  Children are far stronger than we give them credit for, and yours, like my own, are practically men.  Just do be careful, Mr. Winchester.  Remember, 1 Corinthians 6 verse 10 says, ‘Not thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God.’  All things in moderation, my friend.”

John gave him a look.  “You trying to say something to me, sir?”

“Just a bit of friendly advice,” Zach soothed.  “There’s talk around the town.  It’s natural for a man mourning his wife to drown his sorrows a bit, so long as he keeps it under control.  And it seems you have.  But your older boy, Dean?  I heard from a very reliable source that he’s been seen in town, buying large amounts of alcohol.  Now, far be it for me to tell a man how to raise his own son, especially given Dean’s, well, interests?  But as one father to another, I felt the need to warn you as to what your boy has been doing.”

“Dean isn’t drinking,” John said.  “He was buying for me.  The clerks know that, and need to mind their own business.”

Zach raised his hands.  “Just trying to watch out for my neighbors.  If that wasn’t for your son’s own use, I suppose that’s better.  But Mr. Winchester, from what I heard, it was quite a large amount.  Remember Romans 13 verse 13?  ‘Let us walk honestly, as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.’  Remember, the example we leave behind is the one our children will follow!”

To Dean’s irritation, Luci and Balth had moved behind their father.  They were smirking as they listened to the conversation.  Dean wanted to punch them.

Fortunately, John noticed them, too.  “Doesn’t the Bible say something about taking the log out of your own eye before you worry about the splinter in someone else’s?”

Zach’s smile vanished.  “Are you referring to Matthew 7 verses 3 through 5?”

John shrugged.  “You’re obviously a man who knows his Bible verses.  You’re worried about Dean drinking, or about me drinking, and you’re here to let me know there’s rumors flying around.  Appreciated.  But Mr. Novak, you’re not the only one who hears things.  See, I heard that your boys were out smoking joints at the pond last weekend.  What’s the Bible got to say about getting stoned?”

Dean took great pleasure in seeing Luci and Balth flinch when their father suddenly whirled to glare at them.  But Zach quickly regained control.  His eyes fell on Dean before returning to John.  “My sons obviously are in need of more discipline, but at least they’re normal,” he said.  “Leviticus 18 verse 22.  ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.  They shall surely be put to death.  Their blood shall be upon them.’  Sin has a way of revealing itself, Mr. Winchester.”  His eyes went back to Dean, and then moved to the coffin.

John moved before Dean could react.  His fist caught the side of Zachariah Novak’s jaw and sent him staggering.  Luci and Balth immediately yelled and moved forward.  Dean jumped in front of his father, ready for a fight.  But suddenly they were surrounded by shouting people, pushing the two families apart.

“He struck me!” Zach yelled.  “Everyone saw it.  That crazy drunk punched me in the face!”

“About a minute before I would have!”  Coach Singer was in Novak’s face, bellowing at the surprised other man just like he did his team on the field.  “You’ve got a hell of a lot of nerve, coming in here, getting into the face of a man who just lost his wife and spouting Bible verses about god only knows what!  Who the hell do you think you are?!”

Zach was red-faced and furious.  Dean braced.  If the bastard took a swing at Coach Singer, Dean had every intention of taking on him and both of his sons.  But Zach took the measure of the room, and quickly realized that no one was on his side.  He pulled it together.  His face took on an air of indifference.  “I apologize,” he announced.  “I was trying to offer what help I could, but it’s a difficult time.  I should use a bit more Christian understanding.  I’m sorry, Mr. Winchester.  I let your comments get to me when you’re clearly in a lot of pain.  It seems we both could do with some prayers.  Know that you and your family will be in mine.”

John grunted at this.  “Just get out.”

“Of course.  Boys, Hannah?  We’re leaving.”

Cas had been over with his sister and Charlie, gathered with a still-silent Sam.  Now Cas looked up with a frown.  “Just a moment, father.  I’ll be right there.”

“Now, Castiel!”

“Father, please!” Cas pleaded, glancing at Sammy.  “I just…”

Zach’s calm facade vanished in an instant.  He stalked forward, grabbed his cringing youngest son’s arm, and brutally jerked him away.  “I said now!  Get in the car!”

Dead silence fell as the Novaks hurried out to the car.  Dean’s mind played over and over the way Zachariah Novak had just jerked on Cas’s arm and dragged him out.  The way Cas had raised his arms as if to ward the man off.  The way Cas grimaced in pain, but hadn’t made a sound.  Most of all, he thought about the resigned look he’d seen on the other boy’s face.  Combined with some of the other behavior he’d seen concerning Cas’s father, a terrible thought was starting to form.

Whispers turned to murmuring.  Finally the noise level was back to normal.  Dean pulled his father aside.  “Dad?” he began.  “I think something’s going on.  The way that bastard jerked on Cas?”

“I saw it.”  John took another pull from his flask.  When he spoke again, the scent of Jack Daniels was strong on his breath.  “Nothing I can do about it.”

“What do you mean?!  Dad, I think he’s hurting Cas!”

“There’s nothing I can do, Dean!” John insisted.  “Especially after what I said to him about minding his own family.  I got no right to stick my nose into anything so far as Castiel is concerned.  Now if he’s getting beat or something, we can call the cops.  But we need to be damned sure what’s going on.  Now, are you sure?”

“No,” Dean mumbled.

John patted his arm.  “I know you like him.  I do, too.  Cas is a good kid.  I honestly wanted to take another swing at Novak for dragging him out the way he did.  But Dean, unless he’s actually being abused?  What goes on in the Novak house is none of my business or yours.  Besides, we got enough on our plate right now with our own family, don’t you think?”

Dean reluctantly nodded.  But he couldn’t stop thinking of the look on Cas’s face.

***

The day of the funeral, Dean handled everything.  He accepted gifts of food and occasionally money.  He thanked everyone.  He got his grieving father and his silent brother cleaned and dressed and to the service.  He did most of the talking, sparing John and Sammy as much as he could.  Dean’s friends filed in, mumbled condolences, occasionally hugged him.  No one knew what to say.  Dean couldn’t hold it against them.

Once again, the only bright spot was Cas.  The other boy had come with Hannah, bringing food and a surprisingly large roll of cash.  “It’s mine,” Cas had explained at Dean’s look.  “From my savings account.  I can do what I want with it.”

“I brought some, too,” Hannah added, shyly handing Dean her own roll.  Her eyes moved to Sammy and then went back.  “And I want to help.  Why don’t you do what you have to do, Dean?  Cassie can help you, and I will stay with Sammy.”

Dean had accepted gratefully.  Cas didn’t say much.  But he stayed steadfast by Dean’s side the entire time.  Just the knowledge that he was there helped.

Somehow Dean made it through the service.  Then came the trip to the cemetery, where his mother’s casket waited in front of a group of folding chairs under a plastic awning.

Dean sat up front with his arms around the shoulders of his brother on one side and his father on the other.  He listened without hearing the droning of the preacher.  But a gentle touch on his shoulder made him turn.  He looked back and saw Cas.  Cas was seated with Hannah, directly behind Dean.  Now he was reaching up and gently holding Dean’s shoulder.  He didn’t say a word, but he was there when no one else dared.  Not even Benny had managed to get the courage to do this.  Dean was overwhelmed with gratitude.  He managed a smile and nodded.  Then he turned back to the service.

Cas’s hand stayed where it was until the service was over.  Afterwards, Dean stood at his mother’s grave.  He held his brother with one arm in front of him.  His right arm was around his father.  Both of them were leaning heavily on Dean in more ways than one.  But Cas was still there, standing at Dean’s side with his arm around Dean.  Cas was supporting Dean even as Dean supported his family.

“I have to go,” Cas said apologetically.  “Hannah’s waving at me.”

“Tell your sister thank you,” John called.  “She was really good about staying with Sammy today.  And thank you, too.  For everything.”

Cas nodded.  “I’ll bring your work from school tomorrow, Dean.”

“I want to go back to school.”

Surprised, everyone turned to look at Sammy.  Sammy was still standing as he was, gripping Dean’s arm with both hands as he stared at his mother’s grave.  But he was talking.  “I can’t go on like this.  I need to go back to normal.  I want to go back to school tomorrow.”

“Ok, Sammy,” Dean soothed.  “Ok.  We’ll go back tomorrow.”

Cas smiled.  “I guess I’ll see you there, then.”

“Yeah.”  Sammy tugged at Dean’s arm, pulling it away.  Then he walked away, heading back towards the waiting vehicle.

“I’ll go with him,” John offered.  “Say goodbye to Cas and come join us.”

Dean only nodded.

Then it was just him and Cas.

“Cas?” Dean began.  “I couldn’t have done this without you.”

“I didn’t do much, Dean,” Cas said.  “Mostly I was just there.”

“That was precisely what I needed.”  Dean pulled him into a tight hug.  “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry about your brother.”

“Huh?”  I blinked, confused, and returned my attention to the woman seated caddy corner from me at the table.

“Your brother,” she repeated.  “I never got to tell you, I was sorry to hear about what happened to him.”  She looked down.  “I heard he was hurt bad.”

“Yeah.”  I poked at my meal.  “I guess nothing really turns out the way you plan it, does it?”

“He gets by,” came from my right.  “He wanted to be here.  When he finishes tonight, he’ll come straight to the house to visit.”

She reached across the table and squeezed his arm.  “I just wanted to thank you for this.  You made all of this possible!  I never thought it would happen.”

“It needed to happen,” he insisted, looking over at me.  “We’ve all been living in the past in one way or another.  The only way we can move on is if we face it.”

“Agreed,” I said.  My eyes had once again drifted to the shy figure seated across from me.  “I know there’s a lot to discuss.  But I’m glad we’re finally talking.”

He finally looked up, meeting my eyes.  Then he smiled, and for the first time, I knew for sure that I’d made the right decision.

***

Dean refused to let Sammy ride the bus to school.  He’d anxiously watched as his brother picked at his breakfast without really eating it and spread some extra peanut butter on Sammy’s sandwich.  Sammy seemed fine.  He didn’t initiate any conversations, or answer much beyond what was required, but he smiled and went through the motions of getting ready for school.  Still, his lack of appetite was disturbing.  Not even Cas had been able to get Sammy to eat much, despite Sammy’s willingness to do anything else his friend asked.  Maybe getting back into a normal routine would help.

The younger Winchester did perk up a bit more on the ride to school in Dean’s baby.  He’d even joined Dean singing along with Dean’s cassette tapes.  By the time they reached the school, Dean was feeling much more optimistic.  Sammy vanished into the building with a backwards wave.  Dean followed along at a much more leisurely pace.

At least no one was stupid enough to ask him how he was doing.  Dean was sure the fight at the viewing had already made the gossip rounds and was ready to give anyone who brought it up one hell of a tongue lashing.  But no one did.  Everything was normal.  Even Lucifer and Balthazar kept their own council, largely ignoring Dean.  But Hannah made a point to pause next to him at his locker and smile at him.  Dean smiled back.  Hannah, at least, seemed cut at least partially from the same cloth as her youngest brother.

Of course, it was her youngest brother that Dean most wanted to see.

Dean finally got his chance at lunch.  Cutting Cas out of the crowd surging towards the cafeteria, he pulled the younger boy into the locker room.  Cas frowned at him in concern while Dean switched off the lights and did a quick check to make sure no one had lingered.  Coast clear.  Perfect.

“Dean, is something wrong?” Cas was saying as Dean returned.

The way Cas was standing, near the lockers, the light from the frosted window was shining down on him from behind.  It almost made it seem like Castiel was haloed.  “No.  Everything’s perfect.”  He put his hands on Cas’s shoulders, sliding them down to grip his arms.  His biceps certainly didn’t bulge like some of his fellow football players.  But Castiel Novak was developing nicely.  The muscles under Dean’s hands were small, but firm.  Dean tightened his grip slightly.  “Cas?” he began.  “I want you to know that what you did, helping me and my family?  That just confirmed something I already knew.  That you are an incredible person.”

“I really didn’t do much, Dean.”

“Just let me finish, ok?” Dean pleaded.  “I’ve never told this to anyone before.  I was up half the night trying to put the words together.  So please just let me say what I have to say before you answer?”

“Alright,” Cas agreed, mystified.

His head was cocked in an adorable fashion as he squinted at Dean.  It was obvious that Cas had no idea what he was about to say.  Dean wasn’t sure if that was better or worse.  Nut up, Winchester.  Stick to the script.  Except now, looking into the deep oceans of Cas’s eyes, it was getting harder and harder to remember the script he’d carefully worked out last night.  “You…  You’re amazing,” he managed.  “The moment I saw you, I knew that.  And I’ll admit, it was your looks that initially attracted me…”

Cas grew stiff.  “What?!”

“Let me finish, please!  Yes, you’re gorgeous, and that’s why I was originally interested.  But it’s so much more than your looks.”  Dean took a step closer, smiling as he saw Cas’s eyes grow wide.  “It’s your heart, Cas.  You’re kind, and you’re generous, and you just give without expecting anything in return!”

“Hannah and I wanted you to have that money,” Cas said quickly.  “It’s ours to give, and no real hardship.”

“I’m not talking about the money.  Dad noticed it, too.  You were there for us in a way no one else dared!  Right from the moment you found me, you were there.  And you were exactly what I needed, when I needed you most.  No one else could reach my brother.  You did!  And what you did for me?”  Dean’s hand gently stroked Cas’s face, sliding back to card into the dark hair.  “Do you have any idea how amazing you really are?”

“D-Dean?”  Cas was backing away.  Fortunately, there wasn’t really anywhere to go.  Dean didn’t hold him in place, but Cas was already against the lockers.  He was breathing fast, looking at Dean with wide eyes.  “Dean, what are you doing?”

“Something I have never done before,” Dean admitted.  “Because this is something I’ve never experienced before.”  He licked his lips, took a deep breath, and plunged ahead.  “I have never felt for anyone else what I feel for you, Cas.  I can’t stop thinking about you.  Dreaming about you.  Imagining how it would feel to touch you.  Hold you.  Kiss you.  Shhh,” he soothed, hearing Cas gasp.  “I know it’s kind of sudden.  But I really think, I mean, I believe…  Oh fuck it, I’m screwing this all up.  I love you, Cas.  There it is.  I’m in love with you.”  The more he said it, the easier it became.  “I love you,” he whispered.  Closing his eyes, he leaned forward for a kiss.

“Get off of me!”

Dean’s lips had barely touched the other boy’s, but Cas was twisting his head away.  He was struggling, raising his arms even as he ducked down.  Confused, Dean let him go.  “Cas, what’s wrong?  I love you!”

“You can’t!” Cas exclaimed.  “You can’t, Dean!  You can’t be gay!  You’re the jock, the football star!  They said ‘Winchester,’ I assumed it was Sammy, but he’s not gay so they had to be wrong because you can’t be…!”

“I’m gay,” Dean said.  “I have been with girls, but that’s not really what I’m interested in.  I want guys, not girls.  And it’s ok.  Whatever stupid bullshit you’ve been taught, it’s alright to feel this way for someone.  Love is love, no matter if it’s a guy or a girl.  I’m in love with you.  And I know that you feel something for me.”

“No,” Cas moaned.  He’d dropped to the floor into a ball, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.  “No, no, no!”

“Yes.”  Dean sat down on the floor next to the other boy, pulling the resisting body into his arms.  “It’s ok.  There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way!  We don’t have to tell anyone if you’re not ready to come out.  I love you.  I’m willing to wait, to take whatever you’re willing to give me.”

“No, let me go, I can’t!  I’m not gay!  I’m not gay!”

Cas was thrashing now, shoving at Dean.  All of Dean’s instincts were crying out to let him go.  But somehow, Dean knew that if he let Cas go now, he might never have another chance.  “Castiel, please listen to me!” he pleaded.  “I have had a lot of crushes in my time.  I had one on you from day one.  But you’re the first person I have ever fallen in love with.”

“This isn’t love, it’s sin!”

“There is no sin in loving someone,” Dean insisted.  “And I love you.  I wish I could take you somewhere far away, somewhere you wouldn’t be afraid like this and can just let yourself feel what I know you’re feeling!  But this is the best I can do.  Here.  This locker room.  Just you and me, no one to judge us.”

Cas moaned.  His hands shoved against Dean’s chest.  “Please let me go?”

“Kiss me.”

“No!”

“One kiss,” Dean insisted.  “A real kiss, not just a peck on the cheek.  Kiss me just one time.  Let yourself feel it.  Then, if you can still look me in the eye and tell me that you don’t feel anything for me?  I’ll let you go.  I’ll let you walk out of here.  I won’t follow you.  And I’ll never come after you again.  But only if you can kiss me, really kiss me, and not feel anything.  Or, if you can’t let yourself try, then let me kiss you?”  He hesitated.  “Will you let me, Cas?  Can I kiss you, just this once?”

Cas froze.  He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no either.  That was enough.  Dean’s heart pounded.  He gently turned Cas’s head, forcing the other boy to look at him him.  Then he leaned forward and pressed his lips to Cas’s.

Cas let out a small cry, but he didn’t pull away.  Dean deepened the kiss, moving his hand to the back of Cas’s neck.  His other arm went around Cas’s waist, pulling the trembling body against his.  This is happening.  You’re not dreaming, Dean.  It’s Cas, your Cas, finally in your arms.  Hold him.  Kiss him.  Show him how you feel.  He’s responding now.  He’s kissing you back.  His body is relaxing in your arms now.  He feels something.  You were right.  Now he knows you love him.  You can make this work.  You can have Cas.  Keep him.  Finally show him just how incredible he really is.

You really need to breathe now.

Dean forced himself to break the kiss.  He heard Cas gasp for air just as he himself did.  Cas’s hands, caught in the act of trying to push Dean away, were curled against Dean’s chest, gripping at his shirt.  His head was bowed as he tried to catch his breath.  The dark hair tickled Dean’s nose.  Dean breathed him in.  He slid the hand on the back of Cas’s neck down, feeling the muscles in Cas’s back.  His arm tightened around Cas’s waist.  Still panting, Cas raised his head.  His eyes were still closed, dark lashes resting against flushed cheeks.  “Gorgeous,” Dean whispered.  “My god, you look like an angel, Castiel!”

Those eyes.  They would never cease to take Dean’s breath away.  They did so now as they opened and met Dean’s eyes, blue and wide and moist over trembling lips still wet and swollen from being kissed.  His lips parted.  Cas was about to say something.  Dean leaned forward, anxious to hear what he said.

He was completely shocked when Cas abruptly turned his head and vomited all over the floor of the boys’ locker room.

“Cas!”  Dean held him as the other boy’s stomach heaved violently again and again.  “Come on, baby, breathe!”

“Let me go,” Cas groaned.  “Just let go of me, please!”

Confused, Dean let him go.  Cas struggled to get up, moving quickly away from Dean.  He doubled over as his stomach heaved once more.  “Cas?” Dean called.  “What’s wrong?”

“I’m sick.”

“I see that, but why?”

“Sin, Dean!”  Those beautiful eyes were hard now as they glared back at Dean.  “Because homosexuality is a sin!  Because the wages of sin is death!  Romans 6 verse 23!”

Dean rocked back on his heels, stung.  “Cas?”

“Just leave me alone, Dean!”  Cas was wiping his mouth with his sleeve.  He was leaving.  He was stumbling out the door.

Suddenly Dean was alone, kneeling on a floor surrounded by puke.  No, this was not how he’d thought this might go.

***

Castiel slid into his usual seat next to Sam Winchester, his eyes on the other boy.  Sam looked up and gave him a smile of welcome that quickly faded.  “What’s wrong?”

“I got a little sick in my stomach,” Castiel admitted, “but I’m alright now.”  He eyed Sam.  “What about you?  You seemed a little quiet this morning.  I was worried.”

“I’m better.”  Sammy smiled at him again.  “Thanks in a large part to you.  I can’t thank you enough for helping us.  You were an amazing friend to me, Cas.  I don’t know that anyone else could have done what you did.  And my brother?  Just being there for Dean was huge.  You really helped him!”

Dean.  The last thing Castiel wanted to do was think about Dean.  Just the memory of the pain in Dean’s voice as he’d called his name that last time was enough to make his stomach rumble again.

Unfortunately, Sam heard it.  He frowned.  “You said you were sick.  Did you eat lunch?”

“No,” Castiel admitted.

“Oh.”  Sam looked up, made sure the teacher wasn’t paying attention, and quickly dug something out of his pack.  “Here,” he said, handing it to Castiel.  “It’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a pear, and a sandwich bag with corn chips.”

“Is this your lunch?”  Castiel frowned down at the bag.  “What about you?”

“Not hungry.  I just haven’t had much of an appetite lately.  Besides, based on the way your stomach just growled?  It kind of seems like you need it more than I do.”

Castiel accepted the bag warily.  He couldn’t deny his own hunger.  Still, looking at his friend, Castiel couldn’t help but wonder at the truth of Sam’s words.

***

“Dean!  Bring me a beer?”

“Coming, dad!”  Dean gave the food another stir, put the lid on the pot.  He grabbed a can out of the fridge, replaced it with another, and brought the cold one to his father.

John Winchester was still in his shirt and pants from work.  He hadn’t shaved this morning.  Dean was probably going to have to help him again tomorrow morning.  But at least he’d gone back to work.  Still, Dean wasn’t sure how well his father had done at the store.  Right now, the man was bleary-eyed as he blinked down at his account books.  “Damn it,” he swore.  “Mary was always so good at this.  Made it look easy.  I try to do it and nothing adds up!”

“You’re tired, dad,” Dean soothed.  “Supper’s ready.  Why don’t you eat and then go watch TV?  I’ll take a look after dinner.”

John nodded.  He reached for the beer Dean offered and was already taking a drink by the time he got up from his desk.  Dean looked at the book he was working on in dismay.  His father’s handwriting would never qualify as fine calligraphy.  Now, though, Dean could barely make out a single number.  He’d have to blot it all out and start over.  A job for later.  First he had to check on his brother.

Sammy, to his relief, was hard at work on his homework.  Dean watched him for a moment from the doorway.  “Hey, Dean,” Sammy called without turning around.  “You need some help with dinner?”

“Nah, I actually came to get you to eat.”  Dean stepped into the room and moved to peer over Sammy’s shoulder.  “Look at you, almost caught up already!  I’m not even halfway through the work I missed.”

“How could you be?  You’ve done nothing but look after everyone else.”  Sammy put down his pen and turned to look up at his brother.  “Dean, you’ve been working yourself into the ground.  Cas being here helped.  This morning you seemed good, but now you’re worse again.  You didn’t say a single word on the ride home.  What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Dean lied.  He mussed his brother’s hair.  “Just come and eat.”

Sammy’s eyes narrowed.  “Don’t lie to me.  Something happened, didn’t it?”

“Nothing to worry yourself about.”

“Was it Cas’s brothers?  Are they giving you shit?”

Dean frowned.  “Cas’s brothers?  Why would they give me any shit?”

Sammy smiled.  “Just making sure there wasn’t any fallout from that day at the pond.”

Dean scoffed.  “They want a piece of me, they’re welcome to try.”

Immediately, Sam’s smile was gone.  “Dean, be careful with them,” he warned.  “They’re bad news, like, really bad news!  I’ve been hearing things.  Those joints they had?  That’s only the tip of the iceberg with them.  They’ve got connections from out of state.  The rumor is that they’re selling and using some seriously hard stuff.  They’re dangerous, Dean!”

“Dangerous?”  Dean frowned at his brother.  “Sam, if those two assholes want to come after me, they’d better be dangerous.  Otherwise, I’ll mop the floor with either one of them that wants to try.”

“Just be careful, ok?”  Sam was pleading now.  “Please, Dean?  Right now especially, you’re all we’ve got.”

That hit harder than Sammy probably intended.  Upset, Dean moved to his brother and wrapped his arms around him.  He frowned.  “Sammy, you’re losing weight.  You gotta start eating better, ok?”

“Alright.”  Sammy patted the arms around his shoulders.  “Dean, thanks for making dinner.  I’ll do dishes tonight and you can get caught up on your homework.”

“Deal.”  Dean mussed the shaggy hair, earning himself a grumble of protest.  “Now come eat.  And this time, do me a favor and actually eat?  Getting tired of you not appreciating my fine cooking.”

Something crossed over Sammy’s face for a moment.  Then it was gone, the shadow washed out in the light of his smile.  “Learn to spice properly and maybe I’ll eat more.  You’re way too fond of pepper!”

“Then you’re in luck.  No pepper in the meal tonight.”

“Then I guess I’ll be cleaning my plate!”

Dean smiled back, watching as his brother went to wash his hands.  Sammy, he vowed, would clean his plate tonight.  If he didn’t there was going to be a fight.  Dean had enough to deal with.  The last thing he needed was his brother being picky.

***

“I threw up again,” Castiel admitted.  “I can’t seem to keep anything down.  I don’t know what to do.”

“Have you done your devotions?”

“Yes.”

“Then all you need to do is lie down, stop fighting, and let the spirit of God move you.”  The voice of his doctor sounded sure over the phone, reassuring as always.  Of course he did.  The man was a true believer in what he taught those under his care.  “Your body is purging itself just as your immortal soul needs to do.  You need to let it happen, Castiel.  Now this boy, this Dean.  Have you told your father about him?”

“No,” Castiel admitted.  “Dad and Dean’s father, they’ve had words, even gotten physical.  I’m afraid that if I tell him what happened, things will get worse.  This isn’t my father’s sin.  It’s my own.”

“That’s a very healthy and mature attitude!” the doctor praised.  “I know that if you hold true to your beliefs and your teachings?  That if you don’t allow this other boy to pull you into another secluded area?  You’re strong enough to get through this.  Calling me tonight was the best thing you could have done.”

“Thank you for calling me back so quickly.”

“Of course.  I already told your father that I would make myself or one of my counselors available any time you needed.  If I can’t answer your call, then someone else will.  But for you, I will do my best to answer in person.”

“Thank you.”

The darker, sinister side of Castiel wondered about this.  Dr. Crowley nearly always answered Castiel’s calls himself.  The doctor had taken extra time out of his schedule to personally speak to Castiel while he’d been under his care.  And when he’d asked around, Castiel had learned that few others had received this type of personalized treatment.  It had confused Castiel, right until he’d learned that the other boys who’d been singled out for special treatment had also come from wealthy families.  His father had insisted that money had nothing to do with it.  But sometimes, especially when his heart was bitter, Castiel wasn’t so sure.

“Dr. Crowley, I have a question,” Castiel said aloud.  “The treatments that I got in the camp.  That’s what’s making me sick now, isn’t it?”

“No.  The sin itself is making you sick.”

“But you made me watch those movies,” Castiel recalled.  “I got so sick, and you and the counselors kept telling me it was my sin.  But why did I get so sick?  You gave me lots of pills while I was there.  Were you giving me something that made me sick before you made me watch those movies?”

“Of course not!  You were sick because your spirit was cleansing itself of the wickedness of your sin!  If it was anything else, you would have been sick all the time, not just when you watched the movies.  Castiel, this is dangerous thinking,” Dr. Crowley warned.  “I’m very concerned.  This boy Dean has affected you far more than Bill did.  Perhaps you should come back to the camp?”

“No!”  Castiel’s grip on the phone grew white-knuckled.  “No, please, I don’t need to go back.  Please don’t tell my father to send me back!  I can handle this.  I just needed you to remind me that I’m strong enough to resist temptation.”

“And you are.”  Once again, Dr. Crowley’s voice was strong and sure.  “But you mustn’t think of the camp as punishment.  We saved you from your sin once.  And if you should fall again, then we are there, waiting in love, to save you once again.  God’s capacity to forgive is infinite.  And so is ours.”

Of course.  Castiel forced himself to relax, to let some of the tension out of his muscles.  “Thank you, doctor.  You’ve helped.”

“Call again, any time you need to talk.”

“I will.”

Castiel hung up, feeling much better.  What had happened with Dean wouldn’t happen again.  Castiel just had to make sure that Dean couldn’t get him alone, couldn’t corner him and tempt his weak heart to sin.  He could do this.

***

Sam finished brushing his teeth and rinsed out his mouth.  Drying his face with a towel, he paused, staring at his reflection.  He glanced over at the bathroom door.  Locked.  Good.

Reaching down, he lifted up his shirt.  There weren’t many bruises, but they were dark, obvious.  The bruises on his stomach made him wince when he gingerly poked at them.  Of course those were the obvious injuries.  Balth had other interests other than just beating him.  He was fond of holding Sam down, twisting his wrist or arm, even holding a hand over Sam’s mouth and nose until he was desperate and pleading for him to stop.  Then he would laugh and beat Sam.  Balthazar had caught Sam in the hall and carried him back into the music room at lunch.  Sam had seen him coming.  He’d barely struggled.  The music room was down the hall from the noisy cafeteria.  The larger boy had told him that no one would hear him if he cried.  He had.  The bullying had brought tears to Sam’s eyes, tears of pain he had no control over.  Balth had mocked him for them anyway.

“What’s the matter, little fairy?” Balth had said as he’d twisted Sam’s wrist, driving the smaller boy to his knees.  “Did you really think you were going to get a break just because mommy died?  Oh no, I’ve been waiting for my little toy to come back so I could play with him.  And after the shit your dad pulled, well, I’ve got a lot of frustration to burn off.”

Suspecting something like this would happen, Sam had worn long sleeves despite the warmth of the day.  They’d served to hide the marks of Balthazar’s fingers on his arms, the bruises on his ribs and stomach.  Good.  Now all he had to do was keep them hidden from his brother.

“Dean!”

“Coming, dad!”

Sam let his shirt drop and clutched angrily at the sink.  Dean had so much on his shoulders now.  It wasn’t fair.  Sam couldn’t blame their father, but at the same time, John’s decision to let himself fall apart infuriated him.  Couldn’t the man see the way Dean’s eyes had dark hollows under them?  How he was brushing aside his homework or his own needs, taking over the cooking and most of the housework?  Sam jumped in wherever he could, but it seemed like the lion’s share always went to Dean.  And now here was their father, calling for the son he’d left to act as father in his stead to bring him another drink.

Their father always drank.  But he’d never drank like this.

With a sigh, Sam pulled his shirt back into place, covering all the marks.  He couldn’t do anything for his father.  The best he could do for his brother was try to help him.  Sam would take over as much of the housework as he could.  And he’d talk to Castiel.  Something had happened at school today that had taken what little light there was left out of his brother’s eyes.  And something told Sam that Castiel Novak was involved.

Chapter Text

Dean, it seemed, was content to let things stand.  Castiel seemed to encounter him constantly in the halls.  The popular football player was always surrounded by people who all seemed to be vying for his attention.  Dean was always smiling and pleasant.  But every time their eyes would meet, the sadness in those emerald depths would make Castiel’s stomach churn.  At least Dean didn’t say anything.  The elder Winchester had clearly decided to give Castiel his space.

The younger Winchester was a very different story.  “What happened between you and Dean?” was the first thing Sam said to Castiel during homeroom.

“Hello to you, too,” Castiel grumbled.  “Why, what did Dean say?”

“Nothing.  But he’s too quiet and you both look like your pet dog just got hit by a car.  That’s why I know something happened.  So tell me what it is.”  Sam leaned closer.  “Talk to me at lunch, ok?”

Castiel immediately decided to skip lunch.  When the time came, he ducked away from the crowd, trying to simultaneously watch for both Winchesters and any nosey teachers that might want to know why he wasn’t going into the cafeteria.  Reaching the boys’ room, he quickly ducked inside.

Mistake.  Lucifer and Balthazar were here with a few other boys.  Small plastic pouches were being exchanged for money.  Luci looked up and frowned.  “Beat it, Cassie!”

“Sorry!”  Castiel quickly ducked out, trying to keep calm.  He’d heard the rumors about his brothers selling drugs, but hadn’t believed it.  Now that he’d seen proof, what was he supposed to do?  Call the cops and report his own brothers?  While the idea had merit, especially if it resulted in help with his brothers’ growing addictions, all Castiel had to do was imagine the look on their father’s face to realize what an exceptionally bad idea it was.  Things at their home were already tense enough.  They’d already had to move because of him.  Now he was finally in a place he liked, finally had friends he still wanted to keep if it was at all possible.  No.  He couldn’t say anything.  He’d just have to keep his opinions to himself and his mouth shut.  Best advice all around.

Looking around, Castiel assessed his options.  The locker room he initially dismissed.  He couldn’t bring himself to go and hide in there.  But as his eyes lingered, he remembered that the locker room had a door leading out to the outdoor sporting areas.  That was an idea.  It was risky, of course.  If he was spotted out there, he’d get detention for sure.  Still, as the hallway cleared, the fact that he wasn’t going into the cafeteria was becoming more and more obvious.  Alright.

Castiel quickly darted into the locker room.  He intentionally didn’t look at the row of lockers where he’d shared that fatal kiss with Dean Winchester.  Instead he hurried through to the other set of doors.  Reaching them, he headed outside, quickly ducking around the side of the building and into an alcove.

Dean Winchester was standing in the alcove.  “Ope!” Dean exclaimed as Castiel charged into him.  “Careful!”

Castiel froze, staring in surprise at Dean.  Dean looked every bit as surprised.  But his lips curled into a welcoming smile.  “Hey, Cas!  You needed a little fresh air?”

“I um…”  Castiel was at a loss for words.  “Sorry.  I didn’t realize anyone was out here.  I thought I was alone.”

“Yeah, that’s usually the point of coming out here.”  Dean waved a hand, gesturing for Castiel to join him in the alcove.  “Come on, Cas.  I don’t want things to be weird between us.  We had a good thing before I fucked it all up, right?  Can we at least talk about what happened?”

The last thing Castiel wanted to do was talk about what had happened.  But he found he couldn’t look away from Dean’s eyes.  The sadness there, the quiet resignation, tugged at him.  Before he knew it, Castiel found himself nodding, moving to join Dean.

Dean gave him a shy smile.  “You don’t have a lunch.  You’re not eating today?”

“Not really hungry,” Castiel lied.  “What about you?  You don’t seem to have a lunch either.  Aren’t you hungry?”

“I’m hungry, actually,” Dean admitted.  “But we’re running a bit low on groceries, so I’m making do with this.”  He held up a pear.  “You want half?”

“Dean, you’re out of groceries again?!”  That upset Castiel.

Dean shrugged.  “Times are tough all around.  Now, are we sharing this pear?  I can hear your stomach growling, Cas.  Come on, I promise I don’t have a cold.”

“If you do, it’s a little late to worry about it now, isn’t it?”

Castiel couldn’t believe the words had just left his mouth.  He looked up in dismay, but Dean was laughing.  “Yeah, I guess you’re right, aren’t you?  And I suppose that’s as good a place as any to start.”  Dean bit into the pear and handed it to Castiel.  He chewed, watching as Castiel reluctantly bit into the pear.  “Cas, I’m sorry.  Losing mom the way we did?  That sent all of us right back on our heels.  I really don’t think I could have gotten through it if you hadn’t been there.  What you did, especially for Sammy?  I think we both fell in love with you.”

Castiel’s head snapped up.  “You said Sammy isn’t gay!”

“He’s not.  But he loves you all the same.  Listen, after what you did for us?  Sammy pretty much looks at you as another brother.  We both fell in love with you, just not in the same way.  Although I’d be proud to have you as a brother, too.”

Why did that feel so good?  Why did it make Castiel feel so warm inside?  Why did it make him search Dean’s eyes, searching for any hint of deception?  And why did it feel even better when he saw nothing but warm honesty there?  “Thank you,” he said, shyly handing the pear back to Dean.

Dean took another bite, handing it back to Castiel.  “Anyway,” he said after he finished with his mouthful, “I’m glad I got to see you.  I’ve been trying to figure out a tactful way to pull you aside and talk to you.  I owe you a huge apology.”

Castiel bit into the pear, grateful for an excuse not to answer.

“Sammy makes fun of me,” Dean admitted.  “I like to believe that I can tell when another guy’s interested.  Sammy calls it ‘Gaydar’ and enjoys pointing out all the times I was dead wrong.  So I imagine he’d have a field day over this one.”  Dean stared at the ground, rubbing at the back of his neck.  “I really thought that you and I, that we, I mean, well, I’m sorry.  I let myself believe something was there that wasn’t.  Now, I can’t help how I feel about you, Cas.  I won’t lie and say things aren’t going to be awkward for a while.  But I wasn’t lying, or just trying to talk my way into your pants or anything in that locker room.  I honestly fell in love with you.”

Suddenly the sweet pear Castiel was eating tasted like ashes.  He swallowed hard, trying to control his churning stomach.  “Dean…”

“I know.”  Dean’s voice was soft.  He was staring at the ground.  “I understand, believe me.  I’ve had guys punch me before for making a pass at them.  But that was the first time I kissed a guy and had him throw up all over the place!  That was, um, memorable?  And a pretty damned clear indication of where we stand on things.  That’s ok.  I can live with that.  But I want you in my life.  Can we still be friends?”

“Ok.”

Castiel was surprised at how quickly the word had left his mouth.  Before his eyes, he saw the tension drain out of Dean’s body.  “Thank you!” Dean exclaimed.  “Thank you so much!”

“It’s ok.  I want our friendship, too.  If you’re willing to move on, then so am I.”

Dean accepted the pear, took another bite, and returned the remainder to Castiel.  “I just have one favor to ask of you.  Well, two.  Two favors, and it’s totally up to you if you’ll do them or not.  I won’t pressure you.”

Castiel had taken the last bite of fruit.  He looked up, chewing, and cocked an eyebrow at Dean.

Dean took the remains of the pear from his hand and expertly tossed it into a waste can.  He licked his lips.  His tongue gathered up a tiny piece of fruit stuck to the tip of his upper lip, flicking it into his mouth.  Castiel watched, mesmerized, and nearly missed what Dean was saying.

“First, I want us to both promise, right here and now, that we won’t hold what happened against each other,” Dean began.  “I want what we had, the three of us, you and me and Sammy.  I want you to keep being a part of our family, without fear that I’ll get jealous of you being with someone else or you’ll feel awkward being alone with me.  If you can’t promise me that, then at least Sammy…?”

“Dean, all I want is for things to go back to the way they were!” Castiel exclaimed.  “I never really had friends before you and Sammy.  I think if we can stand here now and talk about this like adults, share a pear together, then we can just be friends again!”

Dean’s face broke into a beautiful smile.  The effect was dazzling.  Castiel smiled back but frowned when Dean refused to meet his eyes.  “Dean?  What’s the second favor?”

Dean shifted his weight.  “Yeah, I don’t know how you’ll react to this one, especially after I just told you I didn’t want you to feel awkward around me.”

“What is it?”

Dean seemed to brace.  His chest rose as he took a deep breath.  “I’m in love with you.  That’s not something that’s going to change overnight.  I swear that I won’t act on it, won’t pressure you or try to make you feel guilty.  But I need one thing from you.  Just a little closure so I can get used to the idea that this is never going to happen and I need to move on.”

Now Castiel was bracing.  “Alright?”

“I want to hold you,” Dean blurted.  “Just once.  I promise I won’t try to kiss you again, or, you know, cop a feel or anything.  I just want to hold you, just one more time.  After that, I promise I’ll try to move on and won’t press you for anything more.”

“H-hold me?!”

Dean’s shoulders drooped.  “I get it if you’re too uncomfortable.  I know I have no right to ask it of you.  It’s just that I have never felt this way about anyone.  I don’t want my last memory of being with you to be you puking all over the floor, ok?  So I thought, if I could have just one good memory?  Then maybe I could move on easier?”  He shook his head.  “Forget it.”

“Ok.”

Dean looked up in surprise.  “Ok?”

Castiel had wrapped his arms around himself.  He unwrapped them, clasped his hands behind his back, let them fall to his sides, and finally shoved them into his pockets.  “If I let you hold me, you think you could move on?”

“I think it would help?”

The hopeful look on Dean’s face was doing things to him.  Castiel scratched at his own cheek anxiously.  “I don’t want things to be weird between us.  I want us to be friends again.  If this will help us to go back to the way it was before?  Then yeah.  You can hold me.”

Dean’s entire being seemed to light up.  “Cas, thank you!  Thank you so much!”

Castiel smiled.  But it quickly faded as Dean eagerly stepped closer, reaching for him.  Dean noticed and stilled.  “Are you sure about this?  I don’t want you doing something you’re not really comfortable with just for the sake of keeping the peace.”

“I’m ok.”  To prove it, he forced himself to take a tentative step towards Dean.

Dean was quick to close the gap between them.  A moment later, strong arms were around Castiel.  He was pulled close, held tightly against a firm, muscular chest.  One arm held him around his waist.  The other moved up to his hair.  Dean’s fingers carded into it, gently pushing Castiel’s head forward until his face was nestled against Dean’s neck beneath his chin.

Dean was all he could see, all he could feel.  At some point when Dean was pulling him in, Castiel had instinctively raised both of his hands.  Now they were caught between their bodies.  His palms rested flat against Dean’s abdomen.  Dean’s arms were so strong.  They held him tight, pulling him against Dean.  Castiel had no idea if he could get away if he tried.

For his part, Dean seemed to be trying to hold Castiel as close as he possibly could, to the point where his grip was just shy of being uncomfortable.  Dean’s head dipped down.  His face lowered into Castiel’s neck.  There, he breathed deeply.  He’s breathing me in, Castiel thought.  He’s taking me in as much as he can.  That’s what he really wants.  To take me in.  To keep me in his memories as much as he can.  Why?  What could he possibly see in me?  I’m nothing special, but he acts like he’s about to lose forever something that’s infinitely precious!

“Thank you,” Dean was whispering.  “Thank you, Cas.  You’re an angel.”

An angel?  An angel was the last thing Castiel was.  His hands curled, his fingers clutching at Dean’s shirt.

“Ah, shit, sorry.”  Dean must have felt Castiel’s hands move, believed he wanted freed.  He was letting go.  His fingers were untangling from Castiel’s hair.  The pressure around him suddenly eased.  Then cool air like a shock as Dean stepped back, removing the heat of his body.

Castiel took a deep breath.  He looked at Dean and saw Dean looking anxiously back at him.  “You ok?  That wasn’t too much, was it?”

“No, it’s ok.  I’m alright.”  He wasn’t alright.  He was anything but alright.

But Dean wasn’t alright either.  Before his eyes, Dean’s facade was crumbling.  What was underneath was broken and desperately lonely.  But Dean refused to give in.  He forced a smile that never came close to looking real.  “It’s an away game this Friday,” he said.  Even his voice seemed about to break.  “No dance.  I don’t imagine you’ll be able to come to that.  Saturday, Sammy and I are both working because dad’s got a hunt to guide.  But you’re welcome to stop by the store, say hello?  I know Sammy would appreciate it.”

And you, Dean?  Would you appreciate it, if I stopped by your store to say hello?  Not trusting himself to speak, Castiel only nodded.

Dean nodded back.  “See you later, Cas,” he called.  Then he was leaving, moving quickly past Castiel.  His hands were shoved in his pockets.  His head was down.  Were his shoulders shaking?  Was Dean Winchester actually crying?  Why?

Castiel didn’t understand.  He couldn’t understand.  It didn’t make sense.  Why did Dean feel so strongly for a nobody like him?  Worse, how could he, Castiel, go on, continue like this, after he’d seen exactly what it was he’d done to this incredible boy?

Castiel moved as if in a daze.  He only snapped out of it when he became aware of a pair of hurt hazel eyes looking hard at him.  “Sammy?”

“You skipped out on me at lunch,” Sammy accused.  “I don’t appreciate you giving me the runaround, ok?”

Castiel winced.  “I did,” he admitted.  “But it’s because I was talking to Dean.”

Now he had the other boy’s attention.  Sam’s ears seemed to prick up.  “And?  Did you two work out whatever it was that happened between you?”

“I think so.”  Castiel smiled.  “It’s an away game this Friday.  No dance.  And you two have to work at your dad’s store all weekend, right?  So I wondered, would you mind if I stopped by, maybe on Saturday, and said hello?”

Sam wasn’t Dean.  But that didn’t mean he wasn’t still beautiful when his face lit up.  “Yeah, Cas!  Yeah, that would be great!  I’d love to show you the store!”

After that, things were better.  Castiel even dared to take up the Winchesters on their offer to drive him home, rather than joining his siblings to wait for their father’s car.  He caught a look from Lucifer as he climbed into the Impala, but pretended not to notice.  The Winchesters seemed oblivious.  Dean was smiling and laughing as usual.  Sammy was grumbling about being once again regulated to the back seat.  And Castiel dared to hope that the worst was over.  He could do this.  He could be friends with the Winchesters.  Now that he and Dean had moved past that awful awkward moment, he could pretend that he didn’t even know about Dean’s perversion.  Friends.  That was all.  Castiel could be content like that.

At least he could while he was awake.  At night, Dean haunted his dreams with the memory of strong arms, warm breaths, and passionate kisses.

Chapter Text

The away game wasn’t memorable, but Dean’s knee ached.  He rubbed it, frowning.  He’d injured the knee his sophomore year and ended up benched for half the season.  Tonight he’d fallen on it.  Now it was swollen.  Not good.  He’d have to ice it when he got home.

Dean rubbed it impatiently as he waited.  Sammy had told him just before they’d boarded the buses that he was going with another cheerleader tonight for some reason or another.  She’d be taking him home.  Dean, mindful of gas money, had left his baby at home, enduring the school bus with Sammy to get them to school, going with the animals to eat, and then getting on the team bus for the away game.  Dean had planned some excuse about a stomach bug to explain why he wasn’t eating, but no one asked.  Instead, Uriel had wordlessly plopped a burger in front of Dean with a side of fries and a large pop.  He hadn’t even stuck around for a thank you.  Instead, the safety had immediately gone back to his table with his friends in the defensive line.  Dean had wisely kept his mouth shut.

Sammy had money, of course.  Dean made sure of that.  But to his dismay, his brother hadn’t ordered anything but a small chocolate milkshake.  He was a ball of energy, holding court among the cheerleaders, talking nonstop.  The girls seemed to appreciate it.  Oh well.  At least Sammy was eating something.

Dean let himself enjoy his dinner and tried hard not to think about the conversation he was going to have with his father.  Dean had taken the money he’d been given for beer and instead brought a few grocery items.  He’d given the rest to Sam for dinner tonight.  He’d already tried to explain the grocery situation.  John had waved his concerns aside, announced they’d “manage,” and shoved the money at Dean, telling him to get more beer.  Dean wasn’t sure exactly where the money had even come from.  Didn’t matter.  The old man’s drinking was out of hand.  Now was as good of a time as any to have that out.

Unfortunately, it seemed the conversation was going to be delayed.  John was supposed to pick him up.  Dean had expected his father’s battered pick-up to be waiting in the school parking lot when the team bus pulled in.  But that wasn’t the case.  Troubled, Dean had watched as his teammates departed, leaving him standing alone with his equipment.  He pulled out his cell phone and called his father.  He tried both the home number and his father’s cell phone.  No answer.  Not good.  John would have come home from work tonight and discovered Dean hadn’t brought any beer.  That was the only reason Dean felt safe to let his father drive them.  But what had happened when John realized what he’d done?  Was John upset?  Was this how he was punishing Dean, by making him walk a few miles in the dark to get home?

Dean looked up, grimacing as the first drops of rain splashed into his face.  Perfect.  The rain had been falling off and on during the game, resulting in the wet patch of mud Dean had slipped in.  If he had to walk home on his already-swollen knee it was going to be bad enough.  Rain was just adding insult to injury.  “Son of a bitch!”

“What’s the matter, Winchester?”  Benny, pulling up in his rust bucket of a Civic.  “You get stood up?”

“Yeah, I think my dad’s pissed off at me,” Dean admitted.  “Can I hitch a ride?”

“Sure, if you don’t mind a side trip.”  Benny was already pushing the passenger door open.  “I gotta stop and check on one of dad’s buildings.  Druggies took out one of the cameras.  That ok?”

“Sure!”

Benny’s father owned a security company that looked after various properties, mostly storage facilities, business interests and construction sites.  Most of the storage facilities were owned by the Lafittes, who took pride in the fact they hadn’t been successfully burglarized in five years.  “Say, any chance your dad might need an extra guy?” Dean ventured.  “I could use some extra income.”

“Actually, yes.  Dad just canned a guy for showing up to work drunk, so we’ve got hours if you want ‘em.  It’ll keep you out late on school nights, but it’s usually pretty easy and the pay’s decent.  You interested?”

“Hell yes!”

“Great!  Uniforms will come out of your first pay, though, so you know.  Hope that’s not a problem?”

“That’s ok.”  That was a problem, but Dean would manage.

Benny, it seemed, had something on his mind.  “Dean, the animals have been talking,” he began.  “We’re all worried about you and Sammy.  Every day this week, you’ve skipped lunch.  Hell, half the time you don’t even bring anything!  Sammy’s always got something, but he usually gives it away.”

“He does?!”  That was news to Dean.

“Yeah, brother, he does.  You’re both losing weight.  Everyone’s seeing it.  Of course, if tonight’s any indication, that’s not affecting Sam’s game so much.”

“What do you mean?”

Benny looked over and laughed.  “Dean, baby brother’s getting lucky tonight!  And it’s the second time this week, two different girls from the cheer squad.  What did you think he was doing tonight?”

“Oh.”  Dean felt stupid.  With a pang, he realized that he still thought of Sammy as a kid.  He hadn’t even considered what, exactly, his brother might be doing going home with a cheerleader after an away game.  In hindsight it was obvious.  Well, good for Sammy.  Maybe that would help him get back to normalcy.  Dean made a mental note to make sure to ask his brother if he needed condoms.

Benny was pulling into the parking lot of what was clearly a storage facility.  His headlights illuminated a couple of startled teens.  Swearing, he slammed his car into park and was out and yelling after the fleeing pair.  “Fucking druggies!” he cursed.  “This shit is getting worse and worse.  Drugs are coming out here from the city like you wouldn’t believe!  In a few years, if this keeps up, this town will be a hellhole.  You got a concealed carry, Dean?”

“Dude, I’m only 18!” Dean reminded.  “You can’t have a concealed carry until you’re 21.”

“That’s bullshit.  You’re going into the Marines!  They’re giving you an automatic rifle, and they won’t let you carry a pistol to defend yourself against these fuckers?  Ah, whatever, just bring a shotgun.  A little rock salt will put paid to most of these pricks.  But you gotta be careful, though.  Dad said someone pulled a knife on him earlier this week.”

“No shit?!”

“Yeah.  Don’t worry, we can handle ourselves, especially around stoned-ass motherfuckers who think having a knife makes them men.  Dad beat the shit out of the guy and the cops hauled off what was left of him, but it was still scary.  We were actually talking about getting permits.  Didn’t know about the 21 thing.  Shit.”  Benny irritably slammed the door.  “Bring a shotgun, then.  Guess I’ll be coming around your store and getting myself a shotgun of my own.  Dad’s going to need his.  Be careful when you start, Dean.  This is the worst it’s been in years and it’s only getting worse.”

That was concerning.  Dean followed his friend, watching as Benny cursed and stomped angrily on the barrel of a syringe and a spoon with scorch marks.  Benny gingerly gathered the bits, being extra careful with the needle, and tossed them into a dumpster.  Then he moved to unlock the door.  “C’mon, Dean.  Just need to do a quick walk-through, make sure those druggie assholes didn’t get inside or do any damage.

Dean followed.  He kept close to his friend, his senses alert as Benny made his rounds of the building.  Dean had, for some reason, been picturing Benny moving through a scary dark warehouse with a flashlight.  Instead, his friend simply turned on the lights, checked each area, and moved on.  Well, what did he expect? Dean told himself.  This was a security job, not a spy thriller!

“You still thinking about becoming a cop when you get out of the service?” Benny was asking.

“Yeah,” Dean agreed.  “That’s the plan, police academy right out of the Marines.  Figure if I play my cards right?  I can make detective by the time I’m in my 30’s.”

“Oh, aren’t you ambitious?  And here all I want to do is take over the family business!”  Benny seemed to have completed his sweep of the building, but for some reason he was heading towards one of the areas they’d already checked rather than the door.  “Then you get some handcuffs, right?”

Dean rolled his eyes.  “So not into that, Benny.”

“Not even with Novak?”  Benny grinned, nodding back at Dean.  “Yeah, that went straight to your dick, didn’t it?”

“I’m not into bondage,” Dean protested.  “That’s you, you kinky bastard.”

“Only with you,” Benny argued.  “Andrea’s not into it either.  I keep hoping she’ll change her mind.”

“I won’t.  I hated it when you tied me up.  I told you that.”

“Bullshit.  You said you’d try it.”

“Yeah, I tried it.  I let you tie my hands to your bedposts, didn’t I?”

Benny gave a little moan.  “Damn, that was hot!  The way you squirmed around, and the noises you made?  That was one of the best fucks I have ever had in my life!  Don’t know why you won’t do it again.”

“Because you wouldn’t let me go, you cock!”

“You didn’t give it a chance, Dean.  You wanted loose before we even started!  Soon as I had your hands tied, you were all, ‘Ok, enough, let me go,’ and I hadn’t even touched you yet!”

“Because I didn’t like it!  If I hadn’t been so damned horny I would have kicked your ass as soon as I was loose.”

“Eh, you enjoyed it in the end.  We both came like champs.  Just took a bit to warm you up.”

“Yeah, that’s because I wasn’t into it!”  Dean moodily followed his friend as Benny headed into a room they’d already checked.  “But I’m definitely into Cas.  Too bad he doesn’t bat for my team.”

“You serious?!  Aw, sorry!  You really liked that one.”

“More than liked.”

Benny looked hard at him.  “Holy shit, Winchester, did you fall in love?!”

“Head over heels,” Dean admitted.  “I fucking told him that, Benny, and kissed him in the locker room.”

“He didn’t take it well?”

“He puked all over the floor.”

“Damn, brother!  I would have pegged him as a closet case.”

“Apparently not.  You know he actually quoted a Bible verse at me?”

“Like father like son, huh?”  Benny shook his head sadly.  “But even so, I can’t say shit about the guy.  After your mom?  I had no idea what to say or how to act around you, so I just kept my head low.  Novak’s the only one who was there for you.  That puts him pretty damned high in my book.  A lot higher than I am.”  He made a disgusted sound.  “I’m a pretty shitty best friend."

“I got it then, and I get it now,” Dean sighed.  “You lost her, too.  I know how important my mom was to you, Benny.”

“She was,” Benny agreed.  “At least Novak had the balls I didn’t.  I’m glad someone was there for you.”

“Me, too.  Too bad I got confused and thought he was offering me more.”  He shrugged.  “Wishful thinking, I suppose.”

They’d entered a room containing multiple large crates stacked up.  Benny paused next to a lone crate and spread his arms.  “Bring it in, man, that really sucks.”

Dean stepped in, accepting the hug from his friend.  He was completely surprised when Benny suddenly pushed him back against the crate and latched onto his mouth.  “Benny, what the fuck?!” he exclaimed, shoving the other boy away.  “Get off me!”

“Need you, brother.”  Benny’s hands seized Dean’s letter jacket, pulling it partway down his arms.  He turned Dean around until he was facing the crate and pushed him forward.  Now Dean’s arms were caught in the sleeves of his jacket.  “Come on, we both got thrown over by the ones we really want, so let’s get together.”

Dean struggled.  The bastard had twisted his jacket, pulling the sleeves tight.  He couldn’t free his arms.  “Oh for…!  What the hell did you do to Andrea this time?!”

“Forgot her birthday,” Benny admitted.  “I remembered at the last minute, ran to the store and grabbed a card and flowers.  Then I took her out to eat.  I would have gotten away with it if I hadn’t accidentally grabbed her a birthday card that said ‘To a wonderful mom.’  She threw her drink in my face and stormed out.”

“Benny, you colossal fuck-up!”  Dean struggled to get free from his jacket.  Benny’s hand was under Dean’s shirt, pawing at him despite Dean’s efforts to squirm away.  “Come on, get off of me before you add to it.  I want to go home.”

“You don’t stop struggling, you’re looking at a long, wet walk on that bum knee.”

“Really, Benny?  Really?  Are you seriously giving me the ‘put out or get out’ line now?”

“That gonna get you to shut up and bend over?”

“That’s going to get you punched in the face!”

“Then no.”  Benny leaned into Dean, pressing him down so Dean’s upper body was against the crate.  He pinned Dean’s jacket and his trapped arms between their bodies.  Then Benny’s hands slid down Dean’s abdomen to undo his pants and slip inside.  “My god, you’re so hot, Dean!”

Dean sighed in irritation.  “Benny, get the hell off of me!  As you may have just noticed, I am so not in the mood for this right now.”

“Don’t care.”

“What, are you raping me now?!”

“Maybe?”

Dean groaned.  “You’re such an asshole, Lafitte!  Besides, it’s my turn to be on top.  Let me loose.”

“Yeah, you can top the next two times.  Right now, I’m too turned on feeling you squirm under me.  You’re bottom tonight.”

“Fuck you!”

“Planning on it.”

Benny’s hand was wrapped around Dean.  His other hand caught Dean’s chin, turning his face for a hard kiss as he squeezed just so.  Dean moaned.  “On my god, I fucking hate you so much right now!”

“Why should Sammy be the only one getting laid tonight?”

“Benny, you…  Oh fuck…  Come on, I don’t wanna do this!  Get off of me and let me loose!”

Benny’s hand continued to work.  His efforts were having the desired effect.  Dean pushed against the crate, hoping for some room to squirm free.  But Benny was using his weight to keep him pinned.  Dean’s arms were still caught.  His head was held by the hand on his chin.  Benny’s mouth was moving on Dean’s neck just the way Dean liked.  The hand on Dean’s cock stroked, and Dean whimpered.

“What if I promise to get you off first?” Benny mumbled against his neck.  “Can I have you then?”  A lick, making Dean shiver.  “Come on, brother, we both need this.”

Dean moaned again.  “Oh, you son of a bitch!  Let my arms out of this jacket.  I’m not letting you fuck me with my hands trapped.  And you better have lube and condoms!”

“In my pocket.”  He finally let Dean up.

Dean shot him a glare as he pulled his arms free.  “Did you plan this?!”

“No, dumbass, how the hell could I have known your daddy would get pissed off at you and leave you to walk home in the rain on your bad knee?  I had ‘em for Andrea.  For reasons that are probably clear now, I didn’t get to use them.  Now am I getting to use them on you, or not?”

Dean threw his jacket in Benny’s face.  “Yeah, yeah, you knew I wasn’t going to say no forever.”

Benny was already pulling off his own letter jacket.  “Yup.  We both need this.  Now stop your bitching, get that fucking shirt off so I can see how sexy you are, and lie back down like you were.  I’ma fuck your brains out right into this crate!”

“Why the hell do I put up with this?” Dean complained, pulling off his shirt and relaxing against the crate.

“Because you know I’ll make you feel so good you forget all the rest of the shit in your life right now.  Because you need it.  And because I love you.”  Benny was already pulling down Dean’s pants.  “Yeah, that’s it.  That’s why I love you, Winchester.  You’re a great friend and a great fuck all in one convenient package!”

“Just shut up and get inside me.  And I swear if you don’t get me off first, I’m punching you.”

Benny was skilled.  Dean didn’t punch him.  And it did help.  Dean’s mind had already gone to his friend as a way to ease the pain of Castiel’s rejection.  The two of them never were intimate when either was in a relationship.  But now that both of them were hurt and alone, at least they could turn to each other.

***

By the time Benny dropped him off at his house, Dean’s spirits were greatly improved.  Despite his protests, Benny had forced an uncomfortably large wad of cash into his pocket.  “Consider it payment for services rendered if you want, but you’re taking this money or I’m shoving it up your ass.  We both know you need it.”

Dean accepted the money, trying not to show his emotions.  “You calling me a whore?” he called with false irritation.

“I’m calling you the best god damned friend I have ever had and likely ever will have in my life,” Benny announced.  “I would take a bullet for you in a hot minute.  Now, you’re going through some real shit here.  I know what’s going on with your dad.  I’m worried about how it’s affecting Sammy, and I see the strain it’s taking on you.  I’m telling you right now.  Call me, anytime, day or night.  I don’t care if you need money, a good lay, or just someone to talk to, call me.  I’m fucking serious, Dean.  You need help burying a body?  I’m there.”

Dean looked hard at his friend, trying to speak around the lump in his throat.  Finally he settled for lunging forward and grabbing Benny’s head, kissing him roughly.  “I love you.  I fucking love you, Benny.”

“I love you too, you sexy bitch.  If Kansas ever legalizes gay marriage and we’re both still alone?  I’m going gay and marrying you.”

“Is that a proposal?”

“Yes?”

“I accept.  Congratulations, now we’re engaged.”

“You ain’t getting a ring,” Benny warned, frowning.

“How about a cock ring?”

“Now you’re talking!”  Benny playfully shoved him away.  “Now you better find yourself a boyfriend so you’re not stuck with my sorry ass.”

“I’ll do my best.”  Dean chuckled.  “You are going to have to seriously work at making amends with Andrea this time, Benny.  I suggest groveling, gifts, maybe some cunnilingus?”

“Already planning all of the above.”  Benny nodded towards the street.  “Looks like baby bro’s home.  Go kick his ass for not eating.”

“I intend to,” Dean growled.  He gave his friend’s arm a parting squeeze, received a smile in return, and headed out to intercept his brother.

Sammy was smiling and humming to himself as he waved to the departing car he’d just exited.  His smile broadened when he turned and saw Dean, becoming a wide grin.  “Hey, Dean!”

“Hey, nothing!  What the hell are you doing with the lunches I pack you, Sammy?!”

Sammy’s grin faded quickly.  His eyes shifted away.  “I’m sorry.  I just don’t have much of an appetite.  I told you to just let me make my own.”

“I tried that.  And you didn’t make one!  I had to throw something together as we were running out the door!  Why the hell aren’t you eating?!”

“Dean, would you get off of my shit?!” Sammy suddenly snapped.  “You think I haven’t noticed that you’re not even packing a lunch for yourself?  How the hell do you think that makes me feel?  If Uriel hadn’t gotten you that burger tonight, there’s no way I would have bought anything.  Do you honestly expect me to eat knowing that my brother is hungry?!”

It hit Dean like a kick in the nuts.  He grimaced.  “Ok.  Ok, Sammy.  I got some groceries today, mostly lunch stuff.  If I make lunch for us both, will you eat yours?”

Sammy seemed to slump.  “Yeah.  Sorry, Dean.  I know how hard you’re trying.”

Dean pulled him into a tight hug.  Then the two started towards the house.

Right away, Dean knew something was wrong.  “Where’s dad’s truck?” he wondered, seeing only his baby parked in the driveway.

“Ok, that is weird.  He didn’t pick you up tonight?”

“No, Benny drove me home.”

“Oh, is that why you’re walking funny?”

“Shut up.”  Dean was frowning as he approached the house.  No lights were on, but he could hear the faint beep of the answering machine, signifying a message.  “Sammy, why don’t you wait here?”

“Like hell!”  Now Sammy had caught on to Dean’s worry.  His eyes were huge as he looked up at Dean.  “Dean, where’s dad?  What’s going on?”

Dean didn’t answer.  He unlocked the door, pushing Sammy behind him as he went inside and flicked on the light.  “Dad?”

No answer.  Sammy shoved past him and bolted ahead, yelling for their father.  Dean chased after him.  His knee hindered his speed, but he managed to catch Sammy coming back down the stairs.  “He’s not home,” Sammy informed him.  “Where is he?”

Dean threw his brother over one shoulder, carried him down the stairs despite his knee, and threw him onto the couch.  “Stay put.  I mean it!  Sit back down before I hog tie you!  I’m going to check this message and call him.  If something is wrong, I need to know exactly where you are.  Do you hear me?!”

Something in Dean’s tone or face must have killed whatever protest Sammy had been about to voice.  The younger boy nodded and meekly sat on the couch.  But wide scared eyes tracked Dean as he turned and headed into his father’s office, where the answering machine waited.

The blinking red indicator seemed like some sort of portent of doom.  Dean stared at it mutely for a long moment.  He reached out a shaking hand to press the play button.

“This is Officer Jody Miller of the Lawrence Police,” a woman’s voice began.  “I’m calling for the family of John Winchester, asking that you please call us right away.  I’m afraid Mr. Winchester has been involved in a motor vehicle accident.”

Chapter Text

“I seriously fucked up,” John announced.  “I am so fucking sorry, boys.”

Dean didn’t respond.  He held tight to his brother, his eyes roaming over the figure in the hospital bed.  Sammy was still and silent in his arms.  Too silent.  Once again, that glazed, distant look that he’d gotten when they’d found their mother’s body was back.  Sammy wasn’t completely catatonic this time, but it was obvious he’d gone back into his shell.  Dean knew exactly what had caused it.  It hadn’t been the stitched-up cut on their father’s forehead, the cuts or bruises, or even the bits of broken glass that a doctor was busy plucking out of his skin.  It was the shining silver handcuff that attached John’s wrist to the bed.  Sammy had taken one look at it, realized that their father had been arrested, and immediately lapsed back.  Dean had watched it happen.  And as he’d seen the light go out of his brother’s eyes, for one brief moment of time, Dean Winchester had hated his father.

But now wasn’t the time for his anger.  Dean would do what he could for Sammy later.  He’d call Cas, see if he could help again.  But it all had to wait right now.  “Dad, just tell me what happened,” Dean said instead.  “Tell me the truth, all of it.”

“The truth is that I fucked up,” John repeated.  “I ran out of beer.  I was pissed off about you not getting any, so I went to get it myself.”

“You drove drunk.”  Dean didn’t let his anger through to his voice.  The accusation was as flat as though they were discussing one of his football games.  “You drove drunk, and you got into an accident.”

“That’s what the cops tell me,” John sighed.  “I knew I had to pick you boys up, so I was being careful.  I wasn’t even buzzing.  That’s why I went out, because I needed a god damned beer!  But I missed the light turning and plowed into a minivan.”

“Did anyone get hurt?”

“Just me.  Thank God for that.  I was stupid, careless.  Lucky I didn’t kill someone.  I should have been paying more attention.”

“You shouldn’t have gone out for more beer!”  Now a touch of anger rose in Dean’s voice.  In his arms, he felt Sammy stir.

“The beer had nothing to do with it!  I wasn’t paying attention and I ran a red light.  Problem was, the cop gave me a breathalizer and I blew a .10.  Limit’s .08.  I wasn’t even feeling it, Dean, don’t try to make this into worse than it is.”

“Worse than it is?  Dad, how the hell can it get any worse?!  You’re under arrest for driving under the influence!  What the hell am I supposed to tell the hunting groups you were supposed to take out this weekend?!”

“Tell them you dad is a stupid motherfucker who ran a red light and got into an accident!” John declared.  “And don’t bother raising your voice at me, Dean.  I’m pissed enough at myself for us both.”  He grimaced.  “Ugh, god damn it, John, you could not have done this at a worse time!  Still, I would like to know why, exactly, it is that you didn’t get that beer.  What the hell did you do with that money?”

Dean struggled to control his temper.  “Dad?” he began.  “Have you noticed that the kitchen cupboards and fridge that were pretty much empty yesterday now have a little food in them?  I took your money and I got us some groceries!”

“Oh.”  John grimaced.  “Shit.  I have been letting things go, haven’t I?  Dean, if you needed money for groceries, all you had to do was say something!”  He sighed.  “I’m not mad at you, Marine.  I understand you were just taking care of things and I love you for that.  But I’d have given you money if you’d just asked for it.”

“From where?!” Dean exclaimed.  “Dad, I’ve been doing the books and we can barely make ends meet!  Now with hospital bills and fines and lawyer’s fees?  I don’t know what we’re going to do!”

“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do.  We are not going to do anything.  You and Sammy are going to concentrate on your schooling, and your father is going to get this all straightened out.  Then I’m coming home.  I’ll talk to the bank, pick up some extra work.  We’ll get through this.”

“Dad, didn’t the police talk to you?!” Dean exclaimed.  “You’re handcuffed to this bed because you’re under arrest!  You’re not going home, you’re going to jail!”

John blinked.  “Jail?”

“Yes!  You could have killed someone!  You know the DA’s big on drunk driving?  Now they’re throwing the book at you!  I asked the cops, and they said they’re locking you up until your hearing.  That isn’t until sometime next week!  I can’t get you out of this, dad!  They’re taking you to jail!”

“Well, shit.”  John laid back against his pillow, ignoring the irritated look of the doctor who was trying to smear something on his wounds.  “Well, that certainly is a hell of a mess.  Gonna have to think about this one.  Aw, Sammy, come here.  Shhh, don’t cry.”

Dean looked down in alarm, saw the tears rolling down his brother’s face, and felt like his heart would break.  He reluctantly pushed Sammy towards his father.  John reached out with his free hand to pull his youngest son in.  “It’s ok, baby boy,” he soothed, kissing Sammy’s temple.  “It’s ok.  Dean’s gonna take care of you, and I’ll get out of this and come home as soon as I can.  You just hang in there, keep your grades up.  And keep your damned room clean!  I hear from your brother that you gave him any shit and I will ground your ass, you hear me?”

Sammy didn’t respond.  Except for the tears, he barely seemed to register what was happening.  John carefully wiped at the tears and kissed him again.  “Go back to your brother, baby boy.  It’s gonna be alright.”

Dean hurried to pull Sam back.  Sam didn’t make a sound.

At least that seemed to have gotten through to John.  His father’s eyes were filled with pain as he looked at Dean.  “I’m sorry this is all falling on you,” he said quietly.  “Never should have happened.  And I swear to you, I will make this right.”

“I know,” Dean replied quietly.  “Just stay safe, ok?  I’ll take care of Sammy.”

“You take care of yourself, too, Marine!”

“Yes, sir.”  Dean watched numbly as the doctor finished and waved for the waiting police officer.

John didn’t say a word.  The handcuff was unlocked from the rail.  John’s hands were pulled back and fastened behind his back.  “You were already informed of your rights,” the officer said.

“Yeah.”  John’s eyes were on his sons.  “Can I have a moment alone with my boys?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I need to get you to the station.”

John’s jaw worked.  His eyes moved again to the silent pair.  “Dean, you take care of your brother.  And you mind him, baby boy!  I’m getting out, and when I do, I will make this up to you both!  You just look after each other.”

“Yes, sir,” Dean whispered.  He held tight to his brother, watching as his father was led away.  Then the door closed behind John Winchester, and he was gone.

***

At least this time, Sammy bounced back quickly.  Dean held him tightly in his own bed the rest of that night, and once again, it worked to bring Sammy out of his funk.  But both brothers were quiet at breakfast that morning.  As usual, Sammy only picked at his food.

Dean made a display out of packing two lunches.  “Ok,” he called.  “Deal’s a deal.  Two lunches, which means we are both going to eat at work today.”

Sammy scowled at him.  “You know, just because dad left you in charge doesn’t mean you get to control everything I do!”

“I know that,” Dean replied, confused.  “Sammy, I’m not trying to control everything you do.  I just want you to eat!  People have noticed you’re losing weight and asked me about it.”

“You’ve lost weight too!”

“And I’m doing something about it.”

“So glad you’re preserving your image, Dean.”

“Sammy, what the hell?!” Dean exclaimed.  “I’m doing my best, ok?  What the hell do you want from me?!”

“What I want is for you to get off my shit!” Sammy yelled.  “I get that it’s hard right now.  I’m trying to help you.  But lately, every time I come near you, you ride my ass about something or another.  The only time we’re friendly anymore with each other is when Cas is with us.  It’s like he’s a control rod in a nuclear reactor!  The instant he’s out of the picture, you are right back on my ass again!”

“I’m just trying to look after you!”

“I’m not a child!”

“Then stop acting like one!  Look, I’m sorry I can’t get you the brand name stuff or cook as well as mom, ok?  You need to quit with this picky eating shit because what I’ve got is all we can afford!”

Sammy scoffed.  “You honestly believe this is because I don’t like the food?”

“What the hell else is it if it’s not that?”

“I just don’t want to eat!”

“Well, nut up, because you’re eating!”

“Fuck you!”

“No, fuck you!”  Dean threw the knife he’d just used to spread mayo on their sandwiches into the sink with enough force to make it bounce back out and into the other side.  “Sammy, I get that you’re hurting.  You think I’m not?!  We didn’t do anything to deserve any of this shit!  But it happened.  Now it’s just you and me.  All I want is to make sure that you are taken care of.”

“I can take care of myself!”

“Then do it!”

“Then get off my ass about it!”

“Fine!”  Dean grabbed his keys and both lunches.  He stormed towards the door.  “Do whatever the fuck you want, Sammy.  I don’t give a shit anymore.”

“Finally!”  Sammy trailed after Dean, slamming the door so hard behind them that the sound of it echoed up and down the block.

“You slam the door of my baby like that, I will bust your ass, Sam!”

“Whatever, Dean, you close it, then.”

Dean did.  He glared for a moment through the window at his brother, thinking about what he’d said.  Maybe he had been riding the kid a bit too much.  Maybe all Sammy really needed was a bit of space.  But surely Dean couldn’t be faulted for wanting to make sure his brother was eating, right?

Dean had called the hunting groups his father had contracted to take out late last night.  Now they were waiting at the store.  Dean apologized over and over as he returned their money.  At least they were understanding.  They inquired about John, said they were sorry to hear about his accident.  Obviously, the truth hadn’t gotten out yet.  When it did, Dean expected his father’s client list to take a serious hit.  No hunter wanted to hire a drunk as a guide.

A drunk.  That’s what his father was.  Dean had to admit that now.  He was quiet as he worked, his mind roaming over the recent past.  John Winchester had always been a drinker.  Dean supposed he may have qualified as a functional alcoholic, but he’d rarely seen his father drunk.  Lately, though, it seemed like John was always drunk.  And of course it was Dean who’d supplied John’s poison of choice.  Dean had rationalized it with the knowledge that he was helping his father battle the demons of losing his wife.  When they’d finally taken their mother away, John had been inconsolable.  He’d gone straight into his office and started drinking, sobbing and saying over and over that he should have made her go to the hospital.  It had been echoing through Dean’s head as well.  John had been out working.  He, Dean, should have realized just how sick his mother truly was.  And afterwards, it was guilt, and the sound of his father’s broken sobs, that had driven Dean to provide alcohol for his father.  Anything to drown the demons, both his father’s and Dean’s own.  In a way, John had been drinking for two of them.

But where did that leave Sammy?

Dean’s eyes moved to track his brother.  Sammy was pricing the new inventory.  His foot tapped in time with the music playing overhead.  As Dean watched, a customer came in and Sammy immediately smiled in welcome.  Looking at his brother, no one would know anything was wrong.  But Dean could see the gauntness in his cheeks.  It was worrisome.

Dean continued to watch his brother as Sammy assisted the customer.  Had he been riding the kid?  Dean had tried to be the responsible adult.  He’d tried to make sure Sam got his homework done, got to his practices and games, cleaned up after himself.  Again and again he’d asked Sam if there was anything he needed.  What more could he do?  But then again, now that Dean thought about it, he could recall the hardness that had come to Sammy’s eyes when he’d talked to him, the set of his brother’s jaw.  He knew, and was grateful, that Sammy had been making a real effort to help around the house.  Just the other night, he’d gone to their father’s office to balance the books and had realized it was already done.  Sammy’s handwriting filled neat rows of figures.  It had been a huge relief, saving Dean hours of time.  Maybe Sammy should be in charge of the books?  No.  Sammy needed to focus on his schoolwork.  Dean could handle the books.

The door opened and Dean looked up to a welcome sight.  “Cas!  Hey!”

“Hello, Dean.”  Cas wouldn’t meet Dean’s eyes, looking mostly at the floor.  But he was here.  And he was smiling.  Dean’s heart immediately felt lighter.

“Hey, Cas!”

Suddenly Sammy was hugging Cas.  Dean fought back the pang of jealousy that flared up when he saw Cas’s eyes soften, saw his arms go around Sammy to return the hug.  “Wow, I can’t believe you’re here!  Let me show you around.”

“I’d like that.  This is your dad’s store?”

“Yeah!  He bought it shortly after he married mom and they had Dean.  It’s been in the family my entire life.  Check it out, we offer damned near everything you could need for outdoor sports.  We’ve got hunting gear, camping gear, survival gear, military surplus, even fishing supplies.”

“Wow!”

“Yeah, but the real appeal is the services we offer.  Our dad’s a professional hunting guide.  He can take you after the big game.  Dean and I aren’t licensed, but we still know every inch of the land for miles around.  We can take you out after gobblers or geese or ducks, show you the best places to find them, or we can show you where to fish during the season.  We have agreements with all the farmers.  Most of them post their land, and don’t trust outsiders.  They trust us, though.  So if you want to hunt or fish there, you pretty much need to go with us because the farmers know we won’t tolerate any bullshit.  No drinking or drugs or wildly firing weapons, shit like that.”

Cas seemed impressed.  Dean smiled.  Naturally, Sammy left out the part about how he mostly stuck to the fishermen or the archery hunters, John not wanting his youngest son out with strangers with loaded weapons until he turned 18.  But Castiel was smiling, listening as Sammy cheerfully showed him around the store.

“We just got these in.  Really nice reels!  These’ll sell fast.  Oh, and this is our fresh bait.”

“I wondered why you had fish tanks.  So you sell live minnows?”

“Among other things.  We also have nightcrawlers, redworms, waxworms, and my personal favorite, mealworms.”

“You have a favorite worm?  Do I want to know why?”

“Come have dinner at our place tonight and you’ll find out!  We’d be happy to tell you all about it.”

Those beautiful blue eyes looked uncertainly back at Dean.  Dean smiled.  “Come join us, Cas.  It’d be simple for me to make an extra serving.  We’re having stir fry and fried rice.”

“Dean makes amazing fried rice,” Sam urged.  “Come to dinner, Cas!”

Cas looked back at Sammy and smiled.  “Alright.”

Dean took note of his brother’s smiling face and breathed a sigh of relief.  Sammy was right.  Castiel really was like a control rod in a nuclear reactor.  When he was around, the two of them got along fine.  It was a huge difference from where they were this morning.

Cas hung around the store all day, chatting with the brothers and watching them work.  It came as no surprise to Dean that Cas’s experience with the outdoors was limited.  He talked about camping in terms of summer camp.  Summer camp.  The closest the Winchesters had ever come to summer camp was football and cheer camp during the day at the school.  This was some kind of fancy summer camp for rich kids where they did everything from arts and crafts and sailing to actual fucking lifeguard training, but never learned how to pitch a tent.  Typical.

When their evening staff came in, Dean was only slightly surprised Sammy elected to ride home with Cas.  Dean didn’t mind.  It gave him some time alone with his thoughts.  By the time the two rowdy younger boys were spilling into the house, laughing over some shared joke, Dean felt he was composed.  Leaving the two alone to happily wrestle together in the living room, he went to the kitchen to start dinner.

Of course, the real fun came at dinner.  Dean managed to keep a straight face as he served, even with Sammy hiding his grin behind his hand.  They both bowed their heads when Cas did, which made their friend smile.  Then they started eating without a word, waiting.

It took longer than it usually did.  Castiel had just complimented Dean on the tastiness of the meal and was bringing another spoonful of fried rice to his mouth when he froze.  His eyes grew wide, his jaw dropping in disbelief as he finally registered what he was seeing.  Dean had to clench his jaw tightly to keep from laughing.  Sammy managed to repress all but a single snort.  Both pretended not to notice while simultaneously watching Castiel from the corner of their eyes.  Cas simply stared at his spoon, not saying a word.  At least, not until he saw Dean move to take another bite of his own rice.  Then he was moving quickly, grabbing Dean’s hand and forcing his spoon down.  “Dean?” he said quietly.  “Your food is delicious, but you really shouldn’t eat any more of the rice.”

“Oh?” Dean asked, somehow still managing to keep a straight face.  “Why’s that?”

It was better than anything Dean could have hoped for.  Castiel Novak looked like he about to tell someone he was dying of cancer.  He opened his mouth to speak.  Closed it.  Considered, his eyes shifting rapidly around as he thought it over.  By now, Sammy had intentionally dropped his napkin on the floor as an excuse to duck under the table.  From where Dean was sitting, he could see his brother’s shoulders shaking in silent laughter.

Finally, Cas cleared his throat.  “Well, Dean, I’m not sure how to tell you this,” he began, “but it appears that, um, your rice is, well, it’s infested.”

“Infested?”  Dean made his eyebrows raise, trying to look surprised while simultaneously fighting to keep from laughing.  “Infested with what?”

“Well…  That is…  Dean, you’re an excellent cook and I’m sure I don’t know how it happened.  But, um, the rice?  Well, somehow…  Um…  Well…”  Cas swallowed, took a breath, and plunged in.  “Somehow some of those worms Sam showed me at your store that you sell for fishing bait got into the rice, Dean.  So please don’t eat anymore of it?”

“Really?”  Dean poked at his rice with a spoon.  Sure enough, he uncovered what could only be a cooked mealworm.  Dean carefully gathered it on his spoon and held it up for inspection.  “Huh!  Sammy, would you look at that?”

“Yeah, look, I’ve got some in mine, too,” Sammy reported, holding up a mealworm of his own on a spoon.

“Looks like they’re cooked right into the rice.”

“I’d say so.”

“What do you think we should do with them?”

Sammy sighed.  “I hate to waste food, Dean.”

“Me, too.”

“Guess there’s only one thing to do?”

“Guess so.”

In unison, the brothers popped the mealworms into their mouths, making a show of chewing.  Cas let out an honest to god shriek.  His face had such an expression of shock and horror that Dean couldn’t help laughing.  He and Sammy were both laughing, leaning on the table for support.

Castiel blinked.  Then he frowned.  “I see.  They’re fake.”

“No, they’re real,” Dean managed.  “It’s ok, Cas.  Mealworms are edible.  We chow down on them all the time when we get a fresh batch.  I either roast them or fry them.”

“They make the best fried rice in the world, as you noticed before you saw one of them,” Sammy hiccuped.  “Seriously, Cas, it’s ok.  It’s perfectly safe.”

“I actually set aside a bowl for you that’s mealworm free,” Dean apologized, seeing Castiel’s face flush.  “Sorry if we upset you.  We do this to everyone.  It’s not personal.”

“It’s really not,” Sammy agreed.  “We only do this to people we like.”

That made Cas blink.  “Really?  You like me?”

“Cas, move in,” Sam urged.  “I love you like a brother, man!  Normally we don’t pull the mealworms out until someone’s been around us at least a couple of months.”

“Recent events accelerated the process,” Dean explained.  “Now, do you want the other fried rice?”

Cas looked down, poking tentatively at a mealworm with his spoon.  “I’m certainly not used to eating food that’s looking back at me,” he confessed.  “Can I try both?”

Dean brought over the bowl of mealworm-free fried rice.  Castiel took a bite and chewed thoughtfully.  Then he got another spoonful of what he’d been served.  He raised the spoon towards his mouth.  Frowned.  Pinched a mealworm between his fingers and turned it so it was facing away from him.  Then he took a bite and chewed.

“Oh my god, I am so proud of you right now,” Sammy announced.

“Seriously,” Dean agreed.  “No one but Benny has ever knowingly eaten the mealworms.  Even our mom wouldn’t eat them!”

“I was eating them before when I didn’t know,” Cas pointed out.  “And honestly?  They add something to the rice.  Gives it a nutty flavor.”

“Right?”  Dean beamed at him.

In the end, the plain rice was mixed in with the other, and all three boys finished it off.  Dean was delighted to see how much Sammy ate.  A glance at Cas caught his smile.  He’d noticed, too.

Chapter Text

When Castiel got back to his home, it was well ahead of curfew.  But even when he stepped into the door, he knew something was wrong.  The entire house seemed steeped in tension.  Hannah pounced on him as soon as she saw him.  “It's Balth!” she told him.  “He got caught cutting class.  The school called father at the office.  He’s coming back tonight!”

Castiel froze.  “He’s got an important meeting.  He wasn’t supposed to be back until tomorrow evening!”

“I know!”

Her hand slipped into his and he gripped it tightly.  Castiel’s heart was pounding.  “I have to clean my room,” he told her.  “How’s yours?”

“I already cleaned mine, and yours.  I didn’t know what time you’d come in.  Luci and I both helped Balth clean his.”

“What about the living room?”

“Clean, dusted, and vacuumed.  Luci went out and raked up the grass clippings.  Balth cleaned up the bathroom.  I swept the porch.  Juanita and Martin won’t have to lift a finger except to cook and drive.  I don’t know what else we can do!”  She clung to his hand.  “I’m glad you’re home early.  I actually called the Winchesters’ to ask you to come back.  You’d already left.  I’m so glad!”  Her grip grew painful on his hand.  “Cassie, you have to greet father when he comes home!”

“Alright.”  Castiel hugged his sister.  “You did everything you can, Hannah.  Thanks for cleaning my room.”

“Of course.”  She hugged him tightly.

He hugged her back.  “Where’s Balth now?”

“In his room.  Luci’s out back.”

“Then you should go to him.  I’m going to see Balth.”  Castiel headed up to his brother’s room and knocked on the door.  “Balth?”

Balthazar opened the door.  His face was pale.  His hand shook as he wiped a bit of moisture off of his upper lip.  “I got detention.  Father’s going to flip out!”

“Don’t fight.”

“I’m not an idiot, ok, Cas?!  Just look around and make sure I didn’t miss anything.”

Castiel took a quick look around.  He slid the desk chair further into the desk, straightened some of Balth’s clothes on hangers in his closet.  Then he nodded.  “Looks good.”

“Good.”  Balthazar impulsively hugged him.  “You’ll greet father, right?  You have to!  He’s better if you do.”

That wasn’t always the case, but Castiel didn’t argue.  “Of course I will.”

“Thanks.”  Balth he pushed his brother away, seemingly embarrassed.  “Tell Hannah to go out back with Luci before…”

Balth’s voice trailed off.  Both brothers froze, listening to the sound of the car going into the garage.  Balth’s pale face grew even paler.

Castiel tentatively reached out a hand to take his brother’s arm.  “Balthazar…”

“Get out!”  Balthazar angrily jerked his arm away.  He shoved hard at Castiel with both hands against the younger boy’s chest, sending him sprawling backwards.  “Just get out, Cas!  Go greet father and make Hannah go out with Luci.  I don’t want any of you here!”

Castiel carefully picked himself up.  He avoided looking his brother in the eye.  “Do you want someone to come up after?”

“No.  Tell Luci to leave me the hell alone.  Now get out!”

Castiel went.  He saw Hannah still standing in the hall.  She had both fists pressed against her mouth.  Her wide eyes were fixed on the door leading out to the garage.  “Go out back with Luci,” Castiel called, grabbing her arm.  “I’ll greet father and come out, ok?”

Hannah’s eyes were filling with tears.  She nodded.  Then she darted back through the house, headed towards the back porch.

Castiel stood as he was, hands held clasped in front of him, eyes respectfully down.  “Welcome home, father,” he said quietly.

“Welcome home,” Zachariah growled.  “Welcome home, he says.  I just had to leave a very important meeting with some clients and come home because my children are not capable of following rules when I’m not around, and all you have to say is welcome home?!”

Castiel didn’t answer.  He knew there was nothing he could say at this point.

Zachariah swore and slammed his briefcase angrily down.  “Where is Balthazar?” he asked, taking off his coat and hat.

“He’s in his room.”

“It had better be clean!”

“The house is clean.”

“Are you mouthing off to me, boy?!”

“No, father,” Castiel said quietly.

He could feel his father staring at him.  Castiel kept his eyes on the spot of carpet in front of him.  Zachariah Novak stepped closer.  “Look at me.”

Castiel looked up.  His father’s face was flushed, sweaty, and furious.  “Have you been cutting classes, Castiel?”

“No, father.”

“If I find out you are…?!”

“I’m not.”

“What about Luci and Hannah?”

“As far as I know, they’re not,” Castiel answered truthfully.  He hadn’t known that Balthazar was cutting classes, either.

Zach’s eyes were already on the stairs, eyeing his second oldest son’s room.  “I don’t know why he can’t obey!  He and Lucifer are always so willful.  He’s in his room?”

“Yes, father.”

“Good.”  Castiel couldn’t help but flinch when his father’s hand landed on his shoulder.  But it was only a gentle squeeze.  “You’re a good boy, Castiel.  You’ve always tried hard to obey the rules.  Hannah gets the grades, but she’s defiant, too.  It’s just not open like Luci and Balth.  You’re the only one who really tries to obey.  Too bad the others don’t follow your example.”  

“Balthazar tries too, father.”

“Not nearly hard enough.”  Zachariah quickly let go, moving past Castiel to head up the stairs towards Balth’s room.  Castiel saw with a sinking heart that his hands were already undoing his belt.

By the time Castiel reached the back door, the yelling had already started.  The door closed on the first cry of pain.

Lucifer was sitting on the steps, Hannah pressed into to his side with his arm around her.  Castiel joined them, sitting on his brother’s other side.  Luci quickly pulled him in.  Castiel leaned into his brother, reaching over to take his sister’s hand.  “You greeted father?” Luci said.  “He’s better if you do.”

“I did.”

“He give you the usual bullshit about why can’t the rest of us be as perfect as you are?”

Castiel sighed.  “Yeah.  I don’t know why he thinks that!”

“You’re his favorite,” Hannah replied softly.  “That’s not your fault, Cassie.  But it’s the truth.  And if he sees you first, he’s easier on the rest of us.”

None of the three said another word, each lost in thought, trying not to hear the sounds from the house.

***

The moment he felt the arm around his neck, Sam knew he was in trouble.  “Don’t!” he gagged.  “Come on, Balth, let me go.  I’ve still got bruises from last time!”

Balthazar’s face could have been carved from stone.  He dragged Sam into the music room, but didn’t let go.  Sam was light-headed and in a panic before Balth finally let him sprawl on the floor.  Sam coughed.  He had a few seconds to recover before he was roughly dragged back up by one arm.  He’d have marks for sure.  “Please!” Sam tried.  “Don’t hurt me!  Balthazar…”

“Shut up!”

Sammy never saw the blow coming.  The hard backhand slap to his face sent him reeling.  He’d have fallen if Balth hadn’t been holding his arm.  “Not my face!” Sam protested.  “Come on!  You can’t leave marks on me where they can be seen and I have to explain them!”

Balth slammed him roughly against the corner.  “You are nothing but a toy, you little bitch!” he snarled, slamming Sam again and again to punctuate his words.  “You do not make the rules.  You shut up, and you take whatever I give you!  Or are you backing out of our deal?”

Dean.  Cas.  Sam closed his eyes.  “No.  Just please, don’t hurt me too much?”

Sam’s answer was a punch in the gut.  Knocked down.  Forced to the floor and pinned there.  His arms twisted until he was crying in pain.  The beating that followed drove all thought away.  Balth kept a hand over his mouth to quiet him during the beating.  But it was hardly necessary.  All Sam was really capable of was moans or grunts of pain.

It ended as suddenly as it had begun.  The hand on his mouth had been serving to hold him up in the corner.  When it was suddenly gone, Sam collapsed.  He curled up into a ball.  A foot plowed into his side, bringing another cry of pain.  And then Balth was gone, heading out the door without a word.

For a time, all Sam did was lie still and breathe through the pain.  Nothing Balth had put him through had been as bad as this.  Was this how it would be from now on?  The thought made him whimper in fear.  After he regained control, he wiped the tears from his face and got up.  He gingerly reached up to touch his cheek and winced.  Then he pulled up his shirt and groaned at the marks.  Not good.  There was no way he was going to be able to hide this.  Anyone who saw him would know he’d been in some sort of fight.  And if Dean found out who had hurt him, he’d go after Balthazar for sure.  Sam remembered the knife and shuddered.  No.  Dean couldn’t find out.  But now, he was late for class.  No way he’d be able to sneak in.  He’d have to hide, wait for the bell, and head into his next class.  Either way, Dean was going to hear something sooner or later.  Sam preferred it to be as non-dramatic as possible.

Sam managed to sneak from the music room to the boy’s room.  He checked the mirror.  It was just as bad as he thought.  Worse, actually.  His cheek had a cut from the ring Balth wore.  Blood was drying on his face.  Sam quickly washed it off.  That was better.  The cut wasn’t big, little more than a scratch about an inch long running along his cheekbone.  But now that the blood was gone, he could see the telltale swelling and darkening of the skin around the cut.  It would bruise, there was no doubt.  There was a red mark across his throat, fortunately already fading.  Some blood vessels had burst in his eyes, making them look bloodshot.  A check of his arm where Balth had grabbed him revealed red finger-shaped marks.  But those, and even the many marks on his body, he could hide.  The cut on his face?  There was no way to hide that.  Shit.  Shit!

Now the bell rang.  With a sigh, Sam dried his face and headed out to his class.  He ran into a couple of girls, Leslie and Jenna.  The two took a look at his face and gasped.  “Sammy!  What happened?”

“Tripped and fell, landed bad,” Sam lied.  “Dean’s going to kill me, but what can I do?  Can’t cover my face, now, can I?”

The two girls exchanged a look.  Then once again, Sam found himself pulled into the music room.  To his surprise, the two were digging in their purses, holding up bottles of make-up to his face.  “Mine’s a bit too dark,” Leslie noted.

“Mine matches his complexion.  Here.”  Jenna quickly opened the bottle.

“Hurry up!  We’ll be late for class!  Here, let me help.”

Sam frowned, confused.  “What are you…?  Oh.  Oh!  Oh wow, thank you, that’s a great idea!”

The two quickly applied the make-up to Sam’s cheek, covering the darkening bruise.  “Can’t cover the scratch,” Jenna said.

“It’s fine.”  Leslie dug into her purse again, produced a band-aid, and applied it to the cut.  Girls apparently carried everything in their purses.  “Here.  This won’t hide it, but it will detract from the swelling.  Now it just looks like a cut, instead of like someone beat you, Sam.  Think you can think of a logical reason you have a cut here?”

“I think I can come up with something.”

“Good.  Take this.”  Jenna handed him the make-up.  “I’ve got another bottle at home.  You’ll need it when that bruise on your face really starts to get dark.”

Sam smiled brightly.  “Thank you so much!  You ladies are as resourceful as you are lovely!”

That earned him a set of blushes and giggles.  Sam considered.  Leslie, he knew, had a boyfriend, but Jenna was single.  He gave her a wink, keeping with her as they headed out into the hall.  “You just gave me my very first bottle of make-up,” he announced.  “Tell me, do you think maybe there’s anything I might be able to do to repay you?”

Her smile widened.  “What did you have in mind?”

“How about a romantic evening?  I’d take you out on a real date if I wasn’t completely broke.  But I’m thinking we could still have a good time?”  He touched the band-aid.  “I wouldn’t be a gentleman if I didn’t at least try to repay you for saving my life?”

She was blushing again, giving him flirty looks.  Perfect.  Sam was able to set up a date for later in the week and still manage to dart into class before the bell.

Sam encountered another girl heading into his next class.  A bit of flirting and some well-placed compliments, and he had another date set up for tomorrow night.  Then his luck held out when Leslie sought him out.  She’d recently broken up with her boyfriend, she explained.  She was sad, lonely.  She pressed up against Sam, slipped her arms around his waist, and asked if maybe he could help her feel a little less lonely, say, tonight?  Yes, indeed.  There was a spring in Sam’s step as he headed to his last class.  Three dates.  It was going to be a busy week.

Castiel was staring at him in class.  It made him nervous.  He avoided looking at his friend.  Once the bell rang, Sam made a beeline for the door.  But Cas caught his arm, pulled him back into the classroom, and held him until the room emptied.  Sam groaned.  “What, Cas?”

Cas’s expression was stony.  “Sam, what happened?”

“Huh?  Cas, you need to be a bit more specific,” Sam tried, pulling his arm away.

Unfortunately, that caused Cas to grab his other arm, the one Balth had already hurt.  Sam couldn’t keep back a yelp at the unexpected pain.

Cas’s face went blank.  His hand moved to Sam’s elbow, pulling him after him as he quickly marched down the hall.  Sam groaned, finding himself pulled into the boys’ room.  “What, Cas?!  What is it?”

Cas pulled Sam forward, turning them both so that he was between Sam and the door.  Then he let go of Sam and crossed his arms over his chest.  “Lift up your shirt.”

Sam blinked.  “Um, what?”

“Your shirt, Sammy!  Lift it up!  Let me see your skin.  Because I’m thinking the mark on your face, that red mark on your neck, and whatever is wrong with your arm?  Those are not the only injuries you have.”

“Dude, I’m not giving you a strip show, ok?  I gotta go.  I have class.”

Sam tried to move around Cas, but the determined larger boy immediately stepped to block him.  “Sam?  You’ve got make-up on your face, under where that band-aid is.  Your cheek is swelling up.  And your arm is hurt.  Now all I want to know is where else you’re hurt.”

“Come on, Cas, get out of my way.  I’m fine, I just fell.”

“Fine.  Then lift up your shirt.”

Sam scowled.  “Make me!”

To Sam’s surprise, Cas set his jaw and reached for him.  Sam quickly stepped back and raised his hands.  “Whoa, hold it!”

“Your shirt,” Cas insisted.  “Lift it up and show me or I’ll do it for you!”

“Alright, alright, holy shit!”  With a sigh, Sam took hold of the hem of his shirt.  “Don’t freak.  It’s not as bad as it looks.”

Cas went silent.  His eyes moved over Sam’s exposed skin, cataloging the bruises.  Sam was about to pull his shirt back down, but Cas stopped him.  He moved around behind Sam.  Sam groaned.  Cas walked the whole way around him, inspecting every inch.  Then he took Sam’s hand and slid up his sleeve.  “Aw, come on, Cas!”

Cas didn’t answer.  He stared at the marks on Sam’s arm, moved around and slid up his other sleeve.  He walked back to face Sam, looking hard at him.  “Sammy?  Is Dean hurting you?”

Sam sputtered.  “What?  No!  Dean wouldn’t lay a hand on me, Cas, not ever!”

“Your father, then.”

It wasn’t a question.  It was a statement, given in a resigned voice that rendered Sam speechless for a moment.  He shook his head.  “Cas?  First of all, dad’s in jail and couldn’t touch me if he wanted to.  Second, he would never hurt me, ok?  The worst either of my parents has ever done to me has been to give me the occasional spanking when, I assure you, I earned it.  That’s when I was a kid.  Anymore, if I’m punished, I’m grounded, not hit.  No one has raised a hand to me in years.  And Dean and I may talk about kicking each other’s asses, but we’re all talk.  The worst he does is wrestle with me.  Dean would never actually hurt me.  We’ve told you that before!  Now tell me why the hell you would see bruises and immediately assume that someone in my family has hurt me?”

“Because someone is hurting you, Sammy.”  Cas’s face was tense.  “Someone has been hurting you for a while.  You’ve got bruises all over you, in every stage of healing.  I don’t see any scars, but it’s been going on for at least a week or longer.  You’re telling me it’s not someone in your home.  So who is it, Sammy?  I want you to tell me who it is.”

“Cas…”

“Who is hurting you, Sammy?!” Cas yelled.  “Tell me who it is!”

The unexpected outburst made Sammy blink.  “Cas?  Back off, ok?  I can handle this.”

“Handle this?!  Sammy, you’re covered in bruises!  Someone is hurting you, has been hurting you, and hurt you again today.  Who is it?  Does Dean know?”

Sam sucked in his breath.  “No, and you need to keep your god damned mouth shut, do you hear me?!  You can’t say anything to Dean!”

“Why?!”

“Because if Dean finds out I’m being bullied?  Think about what he’ll do!” Sam explained frantically.  “He’ll keep after me until he finds out who it is!  And if he finds out, he’ll try to stop it, and he’ll end up hurt, hurt bad!”

Cas shook his head.  “Sammy, I…”

“Cas!”  Sam grabbed his friend’s shoulders and shook him.  “You don’t understand!  Now I appreciate your concern, ok?  I love you for caring enough to do this.  But if you love me, love Dean?  Then I need you to back off!”

“You’re being beaten!”

“I can handle it!” Sam insisted.  “I can take getting knocked around a little bit once in a while.  But if Dean finds out?  Come on, you know Dean!  He’ll do something colossally stupid.  Then he’ll get hurt, Cas, really hurt!  Is that what you want?!”

“I don’t want either of you getting hurt,” Cas told him.

That pulled Sam’s heart strings.  He quickly embraced his friend.  “I love you, brother.”

Cas’s arms went around him.  “I love you, too.  That’s why…”

“That’s why I need you to keep quiet,” Sam insisted.  He held tight when Cas stiffened and tried to pull away.  “No!  Listen to me.  If you love us?  If you want to keep being friends with us?  Then you need to keep quiet!”

He heard Cas suck in his breath.  “S-Sammy?”

“I mean it, Cas!”  Sammy pulled away, holding his friend’s shoulders so he could look Cas in the eyes.  “You have to keep quiet about this.  I need you to promise me now that you won’t tell Dean, won’t tell anyone!  Promise!”

Cas’s eyes were dull.  His shoulders slumped.  He looked down and nodded.  “Alright,” he whispered.  “I promise.”

Sam hugged him again.  “Thank you.”

Cas didn’t hug him back.  When Sam let him go, he only nodded and walked out, looking like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.  Sam watched him go, frowning in confusion.  What was that about?

***

“If you love us?  If you want to keep being friends with us?  Then you need to keep quiet!”

Castiel fought back tears as he headed out to join his siblings to wait for the car.  Why did everything have to be so hard?  All he wanted was to just have friends.  But now, not only did he have to pretend not to feel anything for Dean?  He had to keep secret that Sammy was being beaten!  Either situation on its own was unbearable.  Together, how could Castiel possibly stay sane and just continue on like everything was fine?

Chapter Text

“How’s your brother?”

“Fine, sir, mostly.”

“Mostly?”  John frowned.  “What’s that mean?”

“Frankly, I’m a little worried about him,” Dean admitted.  “He’s so picky, dad.  I had a hell of a time getting him to eat.  I’d pack him lunches and find out he was giving them away.  And there was no talking to him!  But he’s better now.  Eating.”  Dean frowned.  “Thing is, he still seems to be losing weight.  I don’t get it.”

“Your brother’s not like the two of us, Dean,” John sighed.  “He’s a good boy, sweet, and smarter than both of us put together.  But he isn’t strong.  That’s why I don’t want him in here.  I don’t want my baby boy anywhere near these people!  Bad enough the way these bastards are eyeing you up!”  He paused, glowering at another inmate until the other man looked away from Dean.  Then he turned back to Dean.  “Sammy takes things in deep, buries them inside.  You saw it, when your mom passed.”

“Did you?”  Dean winced, hearing the sharpness of his tone.  “I’m sorry, dad.”

“No.  I got it coming.”  John suddenly looked exhausted.  “I saw what was happening to my baby boy.  How bad he got.  I just didn’t know how to help him.  And I saw how hard you struggled.  You make me proud, Marine.  You kept this family afloat.  Me?  I was part of the problem.”

“You were a mess, dad,” Dean offered.  “She was your wife, the mother of your children!”

“Your mother.  You and Sammy.  You found her like that, and it damned near broke your brother.  But not you.  You stayed strong, for your brother and for me.  And that never should have happened.  I failed you, Dean, and I failed Mary.”

“Dad!”

John suddenly pounded a fist against the table, making Dean jump and prompting a warning from the guard.  Grimacing, John raised his hands.  “I am a failure as a husband and a father.  I’m a failure as a man.  I’m just a damned drunk!”

“So change it!” Dean exclaimed.  He felt like his heart would explode in his chest.  He held tight to the edge of the table for support.  “If it’s that bad, change it, dad!  I love you, dad.  I will always respect and support you no matter how far you fall because I am your son.  But I’m Sammy’s big brother, too.  And it’s the big brother talking to you now.”

“Go ahead,” John urged.  “I reckon it’s something that needs saying.”

“You’re god damned right it does!”  Dean fought to control his breathing.  “You need to get your head out of your ass, dad.  You got into your truck because you were pissed off I hadn’t brought you beer.  As a result, you damned near killed someone, you got thrown in jail, and now we’ve lost both of our parents?  This is horseshit!  Enough!  Stop being sorry and start doing something to fix it!  You need to climb out of that fucking bottle, get over yourself, and be a fucking father!  Dry yourself up.  Go to AA meetings, get therapy, whatever it fucking takes.  Because Sammy needs you, dad!  I fucking need you!  I need you!”

And just like that, all the anger and resentment Dean had been holding inside was gone.  All that was left was an empty husk filled with shame.  The man across from him was a victim just as he was.  What right did Dean have to lash out like this?

But then his father’s hand was taking his, squeezing tight.  When Dean looked up, he was surprised to see the look on John’s face.  “You’re right,” John said.  “Of course you’re right.  When they took me, when I had to leave you two behind?  That was my lowest point.  And I’ve been spending my time in here kicking m own ass ever since.  You haven’t said a damned thing I haven’t already told the dumb motherfucker I see in the mirror, so don’t make that face.  Because you’re right.  You’re 100% right.  I need to stop mourning for Mary, stop beating myself up, and start being a father.”  John smiled.  “I am proud of you, Dean.  You cannot imagine how proud I am of you!  Because you’re only 18, and already, you’re a far better man than I could ever hope to be.”

Dean couldn’t respond.

“Dean?  Look at me, Marine.”

When Dean met his eyes, John nodded.  “I promise to get my head out of my ass.  I’m already attending the AA meetings.  A lot of guys are in here because they’re drunks like your old man.  No, I told you not to make that face.  It’s true!  Your dad’s a drunk, Dean.  I’ve been a drunk for too long, and I let it get the best of me.  No more.  I’ve been sitting in on those meetings.  It’s time I started being an active participant.  I promise you, I’m going to do whatever it takes to get out of here and make things right for you and your brother.  I will support and protect my family.  I will never let you down like this again!”

Dean swallowed around the lump in his throat.  “That’s all I ask.”

“I’ll do it.  But right now?  Right now, I need you to be that man I see sitting here in front of me.  The man who had the balls to look his father in the face and tell him to get his head out of his ass.”  John squeezed his son’s hand.  “You’re strong, Dean.  You’ve always been strong.  And I need you to take care of yourself and your brother, just for a while longer.”

“I will!  I promise!  I’ll take care of Sammy, dad.”

“Good boy.  You know where the checkbook is?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Alright.  Now, me getting denied diversion because I hit someone else is a setback.  Judge is a real hardass, sentencing me to 120 days for my first offense, but I’ll take it.  The lawyer’s going to keep working to get me out sooner.  The real problem is going to be getting that ignition interlock device on my truck.  We’re going to have to find the money to get it installed and the fees for it somewhere, but we’ll worry about that later.  It’s the fines and legal fees and all the rest of this shit we got coming at us now I’m worried about.”

“I know,” Dean said with a sigh.

“There’s a resource person here that’s helping me.  She’s already given me papers to sign to put your name on all the accounts.  That means you can sign checks for whatever you need.  I need you to pay the bills and keep the books up to date.  Can you do that?”

“Yes, sir.  I’ve already been working on the books.  I, um, forged your name on a few checks, so this will help.  And Sammy’s actually been helping.  He’s better at the math than I am.”

“Well, that’s good.”  John beamed.  “You two boys don’t need me, not really.  You’re both strong, capable young men.  I’m damned proud of you both.  But I’m coming back.  Alright?”

“I know you are, dad.”  Dean straightened and squeezed his father’s hand.  “I’ll take care of Sammy.  I’ll take care of everything.  I promise.”

***

“Shit!” Castiel swore, looking in dismay at his buttons.  Too tight.  His shirts were all too tight, and nothing he could do would make them fit.  Even with his tie, he couldn’t hide the way his buttons were strained over his chest.  This was a serious problem.  “Shit!  SHIT!”

“What’s wrong?”

Castiel froze, his eyes moving in alarm to meet his father’s in the mirror.  Zachariah Novak was standing in his door.  He had a shopping bag in his hand.  There was no way he hadn’t heard.  Castiel flushed and quickly looked down.  “I’m sorry, father.  I shouldn’t have said that.  I was just frustrated.  It’s this shirt.”  Castiel indicated his straining buttons.  “It’s too small.  I can’t find a shirt that fits me anymore.”

“I actually noticed that myself.  You’ve really grown and filled out.  You’re becoming a man.”  Zach stepped closer.  He put one hand on Castiel’s shoulder from behind and used the other to bring up the shopping bag.  “Fortunately, I thought to pick these up for you.”

“Oh!  Thank you!”  Castiel happily accepted the bag, seeing it was filled with dress shirts.  He put the bag on the bed.  Pulling off the shirt that didn’t fit, he folded it and placed it on his dresser.  Then he selected one of the new ones.  It was stiff, of course.  It scratched his skin a bit.  But it fit perfectly, and it would lose most of its stiffness during the course of the day.  Castiel breathed a sigh of relief.  He buttoned it up, checking the fit in the mirror.  “It’s perfect!  Thank you so much, father.”

“Of course.”  Zach moved closer.  He smoothed the shirt over his son’s shoulders, lifted the collar, and selected a tie.  “Look at you.  You’re as tall as I am now!  You’re growing up, right in front of my eyes.  Seems like just yesterday you were a baby.”

Castiel stayed silent.  Zach had draped the tie around Castiel’s neck, but now he paused.  His hands moved, resting flat against Castiel’s back.  Castiel froze.  “I know I’m hard on you,” Zach admitted.  “I’m harder on you than any of your siblings.  But we came so close to losing you!  When I learned you were caught with that boy?  I despaired.  I fell to my knees and begged God to spare you the fires of Hell.  To show me where I’d gone wrong raising you.  Where I’d failed my youngest son so badly!”

“You didn’t fail me, father.”  Castiel held rigidly still.  “My sin was my own.”

His father’s hands were still on his back.  Castiel shivered, remembering whistling cracks, the pain, being trapped and the warm, wet, feeling of something running, dripping, down his skin.  Those hands had done that.  Those same hands had applied the bandages.  They’d rubbed soothing balm into his wounds.  Then those hands had turned hard once again.  They’d seized Castiel, dragging him out of the house and into the waiting car.  At the time, Castiel had been screaming, pleading with his father to give him another chance.  But he’d been forced into the vehicle, taken away.  They’d never spoken of that time.  Now it seemed those awful days were very much on Zach’s mind.  “I hurt you the way I did because I was desperate to save you,” Zach was saying.  “It was all to save you!  My angel.  My most beloved son.  All of my children are precious to me, but none more so than you.  That’s why I fought so hard to keep custody of you when I divorced your mother.”

“I don’t remember my mother,” Castiel admitted.

“That’s understandable.  You were only four when she left.  She was driven, focused on her career.  We married with the understanding that she would have no part in raising Luci and Hannah.  She didn’t want the children of my previous marriages.  But she paid little attention to her own children, either.  Balth she largely ignored, and you were constantly left in the care of nannies.  So it was a surprise, really, when she fought me for custody.  Then she offered to let me keep Balthazar if she could keep full custody of you.  As if I would ever give you up!”  The hands moved up to squeeze Castiel’s shoulders.  “She received a settlement that was more than fair, signed over custody, and never looked back.  Good riddance.  All I ever really wanted from her was the two of you anyway.  And look at you now!  Just look at you!”  His father was beaming over his shoulder at him in the mirror.  The hands gripped his shoulders.  “Look at what a fine, strong, handsome young man you’ve grown into.  Matthew 3 verse 17, and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved. Son, in whom I am well pleased.’  And I am!  I am so proud of you!”

Castiel basked in the praise, smiling at his father’s reflection.  “Thank you, father.”

“Do you know why I’m so hard on you?”

“To guide me into the man God wishes me to be,” Castiel recited.

“That’s exactly right!”  Zach began fastening the tie around Castiel’s neck, his fingers moving with practiced ease.  “I have so many plans for you, Castiel.  It is the solemn duty of every man blessed to be a father to guide and correct his son into a true man of God.  Someday, you’ll marry, have a son of your own.  And you’ll remember my words.  You’ll raise your son to be a true man of God, just like you will be.”

Castiel stayed quiet.  His father finished the knot, smoothed down the collar of his shirt.  Then he took his son’s shoulders and turned Castiel to face him.  “I’m hardest on you, Castiel.  Much harder than I am on your siblings.  But it’s because my greatest hope lies in you.  Your brothers are going through a difficult time right now.  Your sister, well, she’s an honor student and never gets into trouble at school.  But she’s so willful!  She smiles to my face, but refuses to act like a proper lady when I introduce her to other families.  She’s driven off every boy I have ever introduced her to.  She doesn’t have many friends.  She trims the skirts I get for her and gets her own clothes that are simply not appropriate.  And she constantly questions everything!”  Zach gave a deep sigh.  “Girls are always difficult, more so without a strong, godly woman in her life.  I was thinking of sending her to live with her aunt.”

“Don’t!” Castiel pleaded.  “Please don’t send Hannah away.  She’s just fitting in here, making friends!”

Zach chuckled.  “You and your brothers are always so quick to shield your sister.  But don’t worry.  I haven’t made any decisions yet.  She should probably finish her senior year, at least.  But it’s not Hannah I’m thinking of right now.  It’s you.  The reason your brothers are acting out is because they’re having difficulty adjusting to a new home and a new school.”

Castiel hung his head.

“No, look up at me!  Castiel, it’s your fault that we had to move.  That much is true.  But I knew I couldn’t leave you there with that boy, let him tempt you to sin again.  I would have taken you out even if the board hadn’t voted to expel you.  Here, far enough away that no one knows your history?  You’ve got a real chance to start again.  And I’ve found a way to make it happen.”

“Huh?”

“Prior to Balthazar’s unfortunate interruption, I was having the most interesting conversation with a client,” Zach began.  “He’s got a daughter about your age, a good Christian girl from a good family.  He’s interested in having you meet her.”

Castiel frowned.  “Does she go to my school?”

“No, she’s in the next town.  Perdition.”

“Perdition?  That’s pretty far away.”

“An hour your car.  She’s a lovely girl.  Her name is Lilith, Lilith Morningstar.  Why don’t you take her out on Saturday?”

Castiel shifted uncomfortably.  This was hardly the first time his father had arranged a date for him.  Without fail, every one had ended in disaster.  “I don’t imagine she’ll like me.”

“Nonsense!  Her father called and sent her your picture.  She’s excited to meet you.  You are a very handsome young man.  This is a good match.”  Zach indicated the remaining shirts on Castiel’s bed.  “You should wear that dark blue shirt with the black tie.  It will bring out your eyes.  She said you have beautiful eyes.”

Castiel sighed.  “Alright.”

“That’s my boy!”

To Castiel’s surprise, his father’s dry lips pressed against his temple.  A kiss from Zachariah Novak was as rare as a double rainbow.  Castiel smiled happily.  “I love you, father.”

“I love you, too.”  His father’s hands were moving again, running a comb through Castiel’s hair.  “Castiel, I swear, your hair is impossible!”

“I know.  I usually just comb it and give up.”

“Ugh, that might be for the best.  Ah well.  Off you go.  Get your breakfast and get to school.  I’ll call Mr. Morningstar and tell him you’ll pick up Lilith on Saturday, hmm, how about 4pm?  You can take her out to eat.  I’ll make reservations.”

“Sounds good.”

“I’ll pass along your private number, too,” Zach added, indicating Castiel’s phone.  “I’m glad I got you all private lines.  You two can talk, get to know each other, without tying up the main line for the house.”  Another squeeze on his shoulder.  “It’s a good match, Castiel.  You’re 16 now.  It’s time to start really thinking about your future.”

“Of course, father.”

A squeeze on his shoulder later, Zach was gone.  Castiel looked back at the mirror and frowned.  His hair really was impossible.  Oh well.  He doubted that his hair would be the root cause of any problems that came up on his date.  Lilith Morningstar.  Well, he’d do his best, try to make sure she enjoyed herself.  Hopefully, it wouldn’t be a total disaster.

***

Dean looked around, trying to think of what he’d missed.  The check to the funeral home was made out, neatly written with his signature.  Ditto the check for the lawyer and the check for his father’s fine.  There were hardly any groceries in the house, meaning they’d have to go shopping.  The mortgage would be coming up next week.  Soon after would come the bills for gas, electric, water, and cable.  Dean had no idea where the money was going to come from.  He’d peeked into the savings account and had winced.  Not having the store open after their mother’s death had been costly.  So was losing her income, and their father’s from his hunting trips.  The accounts for the store were current, but barely in the black.  Dean had already dipped as heavily into them as he could and still make payroll and pay the invoices.  He didn’t dare take more.  No matter what, the store had to survive.  They’d lose everything otherwise.

Dean sat at his father’s desk and looked again at the account books he’d lined neatly up.  No matter what he tried, they were still short by several thousand dollars.  That wasn’t something he could easily make up with odd jobs.  His uncle?  That was a possibility, but his uncle likely didn’t have that kind of money lying around, either.  He rubbed at his temples.  He could sell one of the vehicles?  The idea of selling his baby turned his stomach, but it wasn’t really an option.  They’d already cut down to just the Impala and the truck they used for field work.  Not having either one just wasn’t practical, especially since he’d have to do as much field work as he could get to make ends meet and Sammy would need the Impala for transportation while he was out.  Dean would have to look into getting another job.  He also needed to talk to Sammy about the overtime he’d been picking up.  Sam couldn’t work his usual hours at the store, pick up more hours at the motel and still do well in school.

Sammy’s school.  Dean’s eyes fell on the book with his brother’s name on it.  He felt like throwing up.  Sammy’s college fund had enough in it to cover the bills.  But his brother would graduate in two years!  He’d need that money to buy books and other supplies for school.  How could he justify taking the money, endangering his brother’s future?  But when he looked around, he realized that, at the moment, it was his brother’s present that was in jeopardy.  With their father in jail, he would have to refund the hunting groups that had hired him as their guide.  That was worse than losing customers.  It meant a bad reputation, especially once word got out that John had been arrested for drunk driving.  The loss of John’s income as a hunting guide would cut so deeply into their finances that Dean had no idea how they’d make the mortgage payment.  If Dean couldn’t find a way to cover the bills, they would lose the house.

“Dean?”  Sammy was coming in, notebook and pen in hand.  “I was thinking about the hours at the store.  I know dad likes us to stay open late, especially during hunting seasons.  But I’ve been thinking about it for a while.  Even if it’s you and me running the late hours, the overhead seems like it’s more than what we generally take in.  If we close the store at 9pm instead of midnight?  We might actually make more money.”

“What about the hunters who come in late?” Dean asked.  “If we’re not open, they’re going to Wal-Mart and we lose their business.”

“That’s what dad said the last time I suggested this, but Dean, the numbers just don’t add up,” Sammy insisted.  “Even with the income we get from the late guys, I still think we’re losing money by staying open so late.”

Dean sighed.  “I’ll talk about it the next time I see dad, ok?”

“Alright.  He still doesn’t want me to come?”

“There’s some real sickos in there, Sam,” Dean warned.  “I could feel their eyes on me!  Creeped me right the fuck out.  You stay the hell away!”

“Fine.”  Sammy’s eyes flicked over the papers in front of Dean, lingering on the three checks.  “We’re pretty short, aren’t we?”

“Yeah, buddy,” Dean admitted.  “We really are.  I was just thinking about how we’re going to manage.”

“Use this.”  Sammy’s hand reached for the college fund.

Dean snatched it away.  “Sammy, that’s your college money!  You graduate in two years.  How the hell am I supposed to replace it in two years?”

“You aren’t.  I’m not going to college.”

Dean sputtered.  “The hell you’re not!  Sammy, you’re smart, you’re in the advanced classes, and you’re going to college even if I have to sell this house and live in a cardboard box to make it happen!”

“It’s my choice.”  Sammy looked serious.  “I’ve actually been thinking about this, Dean.  I know everyone wanted me to go and expected me to be a doctor or lawyer or something.  But that isn’t what I want to do.  I love working in the store.  I want to do field work and keep the family business going.  Why do I need a college degree for that?”

“Sammy, that’s cool you want to keep the family business, but this is your whole future!”

“My future,” Sammy stressed.  “Not yours, not dad’s, not even mom’s.  Mine.  And I don’t want to go to college.”

Dean shook his head.  “No.  I’m sorry, but I can’t accept that.  You’d be throwing your whole life away!  If you want to keep working at the store, what about business school?”

“What can I learn in business school that I don’t already know or can’t learn as I go by working in the store?” Sammy challenged.  “Last year I helped dad with the taxes, so I actually know more about that than you do.  I already know how to do inventory and receipts and payroll.  And then there’s what you do.  You already do more of the advertising than dad anyway.  You’ve been helping with the hiring and firing for the past two years.  What’s left to learn?”  He smiled.  “Bottom line is that I’ve got business school right here, and I don’t have to pay student loans to learn.  I don’t need a degree to work in the store or do field work, Dean.  And that means I don’t need a college fund.”  His hand moved, sliding the college fund towards Dean.  “Besides, how much studying do you think I’ll do if we lose the house and live in that cardboard box because we can’t pay the mortgage?”

Dean winced.  He’d been hoping that Sammy hadn’t figured out that they couldn’t pay the mortgage.  But of course he knew.  After all, Sammy had been doing the books.  “You’re too smart for your own good,” Dean complained.

“Then do you really want me to go to school and get smarter?”

Dean looked at Sammy.  “If you change your mind?” he told his brother.  “There’s no going back from this.”

“My mind is made up.  Take the money.  I’ll keep the house and the future I want for myself.”

Before he knew it, Dean was up and embracing his brother.  “I love you,” he told Sammy.  “I’ll make this up to you somehow.”

“There’s nothing to make up.  Now would you please just let me do these bills?  We both know I’m way better with figures than you are.”

The fact that he was right didn’t make it less of a burn.  Dean settled for giving his brother a dirty look.  Then he went to answer the knock on their door.

A smiling woman in a suit with a plastic picture name badge was waiting on the front step.  “Dean Winchester?” she asked.  “I’m Janet Grice.  I’m with Family Services.  I need to talk to you and your brother Samuel.”

Chapter Text

It felt like swallowing a lead brick.  Dean numbly let the woman in, calling to his brother.  He saw the blood drain out of Sammy’s face as she introduced herself and quickly moved to his brother’s side, gently leading Sammy to the table.

There was no need for alarm, they were told.  It was brought to her attention that the recent incarceration of their father left two children of high school age alone without an adult guardian.  Were there any adult relatives nearby?  No.  How old were the children?  Dean loudly announced his eighteen years, followed by Sammy’s near-whispered confession of sixteen.  “It’s fine,” Dean announced.  “I manage the store, and do work on the side so we’ve got extra income.”

“So you are currently in charge of the finances?”

“That’s right.”

“Good.  Can you tell me if you have any large outstanding bills?”

Shit.  Dean reluctantly told her about the three checks.  He had no doubt she would have found out anyway with a quick check.  No point in lying.  Naturally, she wanted to know where the money would come from.  Dean was forced to admit they were planning to break Sammy’s college fund.

The sound of her pen scratching on her tablet seemed very loud.  Then she stood up.  “I need to do a quick inspection of the premises.”

Fine.  Pushing Sammy back down as he tried to rise, Dean gave Grice the grand tour.  She made notes in each room.  Between school, the store, and his new job, Dean had been too busy to spend much time housekeeping.  He’d known that Sammy was picking up extra hours at the motel, as well as doing a big group project for school that he’d apparently been stuck doing most of the work on.  Now their sins were coming back to haunt him.  Mildew in the shower.  Piles of dirty laundry.  Unmade beds.  And worse in the living room.  Grice spent an uncomfortably long time looking at the flies that had made their way through the hole in the screen of the living room window and discovered the empty take-out boxes in the overflowing trash can.  By the time she made it to the kitchen and was eyeing the sinks overflowing with dirty dishes, Dean was mortified.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “It’s just been really busy.  I promise we’ll get this all cleaned up.”

She hummed, not looking in his direction, and moved to the fridge.  She looked inside, frowned, looked in the freezer and frowned again.  Then she began to look through the cupboards.  Dean watched her in silence, rocking back and forth from foot to foot as she continued her inspection.  He did not care for the look on her face when she turned around.  “I believe I’ve seen all I need to see,” she told him.  “I’d like to speak for a bit with the two of you.”

Dean led her into the kitchen, avoiding Sammy’s eyes.  He could see from the corner of his eye that Sammy still looked pale.  His little brother was looking from Dean to Grice, his eyes moving in small trapped circles as he took in their expressions.  “What’s wrong?”

“There’s just some items we need to discuss.  I noticed a few things that have me concerned.”  Her eyes flicked over Sammy’s slender form.  “May I ask how tall you are, how much you weigh?” she asked, drawing out a chart.

“I’m 5’4,” Sammy told her, glancing at Dean.  “I weigh about 110.  Why?”

The woman’s frown deepened as she looked at the chart.  “That’s in the healthy range for a young man your age, but at the low end.  I’m concerned at the lack of healthy food in the house.”

“Sorry,” Dean called quickly.  “We just didn’t go grocery shopping yet.  We’ll be doing that tomorrow.”

Her eyes moved to regard Dean.  “You haven’t gone grocery shopping.  Your finances are in such a state that you’re being forced to dip into funds your parents have been saving for your brother’s college education.  But you’re ordering take-out, by the looks of what I found in the living room, nearly every day?”

“It’s not like that!” Sammy exclaimed as Dean’s heart sank.  “We’ve just been so busy with school and work and all the shit with dad that we didn’t have time to cook!”

“Which will now change,” Dean called loudly.  “I’m going grocery shopping tomorrow and Sammy will get good, healthy, home cooked meals.  He’ll be fine with me.  I can take care of him.”

Grice gave Dean a smile that made him bristle.  “Dean, I’m sure you’re doing your very best to take care of your brother.  But you’re little more than a child yourself.  You’ve got your own school to deal with.  You’re trying to run your father’s business.  By the looks of the gear in the bedroom, you’re into sports.  Surely you’re feeling a little overwhelmed!”

“I’m fine,” Dean insisted.  “I can take care of Sammy.”

“I can help!” Sammy added.  “We both work in the store, plus we have other jobs!  Dean works for a security company, and I have a part-time job at the motel...”

She looked up sharply.  “You’re both actually working two jobs?”

Sammy seemed to shrink in his chair.  “Um, yeah, kind of?  I mean, Dean is.  The job at the motel, I just clean on some evenings, you know, sweep the floors and polish the furniture.  It’s just for a couple of hours for some extra cash.”

“And all I’m doing is security work in the evenings,” Dean said.  He hoped she wouldn’t ask what his hours were.  Dean rarely got back home before midnight on nights he worked, meaning Sammy was home alone.  Those nights, Sammy was on his own for dinner.  Knowing Sammy’s culinary skills, Dean had been leaving him money.  That accounted for the bulk of the empty take-out containers.  “I’m not overwhelmed,” Dean insisted.  “I still have time for Sammy.  Even if dad has to go to jail for a while, we’re ok.  I can get delayed entrance into the military until Sammy turns eighteen...”

“Oh!  You enlisted in the armed forces?”

“Yes, ma’am, Marines,” Dean told her proudly.  “I already talked to my recruiter.  He said I can get family hardship delayed entrance if I need it.”

“But he won’t need it,” Sammy insisted.  “Dad’s lawyer says he doesn’t believe dad will have to serve out his entire sentence.  He’ll get out, come back.  Then Dean will be able to join the Marines, and I’ll be perfectly fine!”

Grice looked at the two brothers.  “Boys?” she began.  “I’m not your enemy.  Honestly, I’m just here to make sure you’re both alright.  I know you’re afraid.  You’re all alone and things must seem overwhelming right now.  But my only job is to make sure that any minor children in this household are properly cared for.  So this is my problem.  Between the flies in the trash, the mess in the shower and the mold I saw growing on some of the dishes in the sink?  This house is not a safe, sanitary environment for a child.”

“I’ll clean it up!” Dean yelled.  “I shouldn’t have let it get this bad, but I’ll clean it all up tonight!”

“Then I have my concerns about the lack of proper nutrition.”

“I already told you I’m going grocery shopping.  I’ll do it tonight!  I’ll go as soon as you leave!  I’ll do whatever I have to do!”  Dean was on his feet now, fists clenched.  He’d unconsciously positioned himself between his brother and Grice.  “You’re not taking Sammy away!  You’re not!”

“Of course not,” Grice soothed.  “The only way I would remove a child from a home is if I saw something that made me feel he was in immediate danger.  Assuming that the sanitation issues are cleaned up immediately and groceries are purchased tonight?  This is not the case.”  Her reassuring smile was back.  “Understand, whenever possible, my job is to maintain family units.  Dean, you’re eighteen years old.  You’re going to school, holding down two jobs and managing the finances.  Clearly, you’re willing to care for your brother.  And Sam is obviously very capable as well.  So if you want to keep him?  All you have to do is prove to me that you are capable of doing so.  He’s sixteen, meaning that as long as it’s a safe option, he’s able to choose where he wants to stay.”

“I want to stay with Dean!” Sammy immediately called.

“Then show me that’s a safe option,” Grice urged.  She got up, collecting her belongings.  “I’ll be back tomorrow morning to check on the two of you.  Assuming all is well, I’ll be conducting periodic wellness checks.  I will also be monitoring Sam’s performance in school, to be sure his education isn’t suffering from any lack of stability at home.”

“My grades are good,” Sammy defended.

“Good.  Keep up the good work, and all is well.  My only concern is that you are in a safe environment.”

“He’s safe with me,” Dean promised.  “I’ll do whatever it takes to prove that.”

“Good.  Then I’ll take my leave, let the two of you get to work.  I’ll look forward to seeing your improvements on my next visit.”  Grice shook hands with both brothers.  Then she headed out.

Dean watched her go.  Then he bolted for the closet for cleaning supplies.

The next few hours were a flurry of activity.  The two brothers scrubbed their house.  They took out bags of trash.  Dragged down dirty laundry to the washing machine for load after load of cleaning.  Leaving Sammy to continue with the laundry, Dean jumped in his baby and headed out for groceries.  When he returned, Sammy was pushing the lawnmower by the streetlight.  Good.  The last thing Dean needed was for Grice to claim he wasn’t fit to care for his brother because his grass was too high.

Dean changed the laundry over and quickly made a late supper.  He’d already put it on the table by the time Sammy finished and washed up.  Sammy didn’t say a word.  Dean watched him for a time, seeing the way his brother’s eyes stared off into space, oblivious to the food in front of him.  Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore.  “Sammy?”

“They’re taking me,” Sammy whispered.  “They’re taking me away, Dean!  She’s going to come in here tomorrow and find something we missed...”

“Sammy!”

His brother seemed to deflate.  His head dropped, his eyes closed as he sank in his chair.  “I lost my mom.  I lost my dad.  Now I’m going to lose you!  They’re going to take me away!”

“No one is taking you away!” Dean snapped.  “We did everything she said.  The only way she can take you is if she finds a clear danger.  There isn’t one!  The house is clean, there’s plenty of food, and you’re fine.  The only thing we need to change is that you need to do less around the store and the house, stop picking up extra hours at the motel, and focus on your schoolwork.  Just stick to your studies.  And eat!  You can’t keep losing weight like this, Sammy.  Stay healthy, keep your grades up, and you’ll be fine.  No one is going to touch you.”

Sammy didn’t move.  His fists were clenched tightly on the table next to his ignored plate.  “She wants to take me, Dean,” he insisted.  “That’s been her goal since she came in and found out I’m only sixteen.  And she’ll do it!  She’ll find an excuse, some reason we didn’t think of.  Or if she doesn’t find something tomorrow, she’ll wait, keep coming back until she does.  One little mistake is all it will take.  Then people will come here take me!  There’s nothing I can do.  They’ll drag me away, put me in the foster system.  I’ll never see you or dad again!”

“Sammy, come on!”

“There’s nothing I can do,” Sammy moaned.  “They’re taking me away, and there’s nothing I can do to stop them!”

Dean got up, grabbed his brother, and held him tightly.  “Listen to me,” he said.  “No one is ever taking you away from me, Sammy.  Do you hear me?  Not now, not tomorrow, not next week, not ever!  I swear, if anyone tries it, I’ll take you and run to Mexico!”

Sammy looked up.  “Mexico?”

“I’ll take you to fucking Siberia if I have to!  Whatever it takes.  Because I promise you this.  No one is ever taking you away from me, Sammy.  No one!”

“Mexico?” Sammy repeated.  To Dean’s surprise, he giggled.  “You barely passed Spanish, and you want to take me to Mexico?!”

Dean made a face.  “I’ll manage.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“You’re a douche nozzle.”

“Jerk!”

“Bitch!”

And then they were both laughing.  Dean looked fondly at his brother.  “Sammy, do you remember Tina?”

“Not really,” Sammy admitted.  “I was only two.”

“Well, Tina was a sweet little brown dog, and my first experience with death,” Dean continued.  “I didn’t really understand.  I was only four.  All I knew was that she got sick and mom and dad said she’d gone to Heaven.  But then a couple days later, you got the flu.”

“And you kidnapped me,” Sammy groaned, remembering the story.  “I was a two-year-old sick little kid, and you dragged me through the neighborhood and hid with me in a garden shed!”

“You’re damned right I did,” Dean agreed.  “Because I was scared to death someone would come and take you to Heaven because you were sick.  You remember what mom and dad liked to tell people when they’d tell that story?”

Sammy smiled.  “That you’d storm the gates of Heaven to save your brother,” he recalled.

“You’d better believe it,” Dean vowed.  “Now, if I’m willing to storm the gates of Heaven to save you?  What makes you think I’m going to stand by and let some dumb Family Services bitch take you away from me?”

Sammy sighed.  “Then I guess I’d better brush up on my Spanish.  As bad as your grades were in that class, if you end up taking me to Mexico, I’m going to need it.”

“Damned right!”

“And I’ll teach you a Mexican hat dance.  You can at least manage that, right?”  Sammy did a little dance around an imaginary Mexican hat that made them both laugh.  Then they were eating dinner and talking about Friday’s game.

Sammy slept well.  Dean knew that because he was up at least four times during the night, looking in, making sure his brother was still there.

Grice came the next morning and complimented them on their hard work.  Sammy breathed a sigh of relief once she’d gone and was back to his usual self.  He clearly believed that the danger was over.  But after supper, Dean went into his parent’s bedroom and simply stood for a time.  “I’ll take care of Sammy,” he promised the empty air.  “I won’t let anyone take him away from me.  I’ll do whatever I have to do to keep him safe.  I swear it.”

Chapter Text

Castiel’s date with Lilith Morningstar went surprisingly well, so well that they made a second date for the following week.  That was now coming to an end.  It had gone just as well as the first one.  Castiel breathed a prayer of thanks.  Lilith stayed close to him, frequently touched him, but she didn’t try to constantly hold on to him the way Stella Green had.  She stayed at his side, but didn’t get jealous if he talked to another girl.  She was sweet, well-mannered.  She thought Castiel was very cute.  She laughed about how shy and quiet he was and gently encouraged him out of his shell.  Eventually, she got him talking about his interests.  That led to him talking about his friends as he was walking her back to her door.

“Sam Winchester?” she asked with a puzzled frown.  “Why is that name familiar?”

“He’s a cheerleader, the only guy in our school,” Castiel explained.  “He’s very popular.”

“Oh, the guy cheerleader!”  Lilith snapped her fingers.  “That’s where I know that name.  I’m a cheerleader at my school, too, but we don’t have any guys.  No one else has one.  So yeah, pretty much every cheerleader in the district knows who Sam Winchester is.”  She pursed her lips.  “He’s cute.  Good dancer, but he’s really short.  That’s your best friend?”

“Yes,” Castiel agreed proudly.  “He’s a great guy!  I spend a lot of time with him and his brother Dean.”

“Dean Winchester?”  Lilith wrinkled her nose.  “I heard he was a faggot.”

Castiel froze.  “Dean prefers guys, yes.”

She eyed him.  “Has he ever hit on you?”

“We’re friends,” Castiel stressed.  “Dean’s preferences have nothing to do with who he is.”

“You’re right,” Lilith said quietly.  “That was, wow.  I’m a real bitch, aren’t I?  And the thing is?  I honestly don’t care one way or another about homosexuals.  What I said?  That’s my parents talking, not me.  I’m sorry, Castiel.”

Castiel felt warm.  “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me.  I was a bitch.”  She gave him a shy smile.  “So what’s he like?”

“Dean?  He’s great.  He’s a nice guy, kind, generous to a fault.  He’d do anything for his family.  They’ve gone through some real hard times lately.  Their mom died, and their dad…  Their dad isn’t around right now.”  She didn’t need to know about John’s arrest.  “Dean’s the one who’s stepped up.  He’s managed the house and the store…”

“Store?”

“Winchester Outdoors,” Castiel explained.  “They have this little outdoor store where they sell hunting and fishing and camping stuff.  It’s nice.  They showed me how to run the register because I asked.  Sometimes when I’m there and the store is busy?  I’ll run the register while they wait on customers.”

“Huh,” Lilith said.  “Small business owners.  That’s cool.  So you work for them?”

“I’m volunteering,” he clarified.  “They never asked me to do it and I never asked them to pay me.  They gave me some looks the first few times I did it.  But now they just say ‘thank you’ and that’s the end of it.”

“Wow,” Lilith declared, “you’re really a cool guy!”

That made him blush.  “They’re my friends.  I like to spend time with them in the store.  No reason I can’t help out while I’m there, right?”

“You need a reward.”  She looked thoughtful.  “We’re playing this Friday at home.  Why don’t you come?  I’ll sit you in the perfect place where you can watch me cheer.  Afterwards, you can take me to the dance!  What do you think?”

“Sure!” Castiel agreed.  Dean’s team, he knew, was away this week.  He’d be free to go to Lilith’s game.  He’d also been to a few dances since the first.  While he still didn’t feel exactly comfortable, at least now he was reasonably sure he wouldn’t step on her toes.

Lilith beamed.  “Great!  Then I’ll see you at the game!”

Castiel smiled back at her.  He was completely unprepared when she suddenly threw her arms around his neck, dragged his head down, and kissed him.  Startled, Castiel gasped and drew back from her.  “Wh-wha…?!”

She laughed and put her arms around his neck again.  “You’re so shy and cute!  Haven’t you ever kissed a girl before?”

“No,” Castiel said honestly.  Lilith was only the third time anyone outside of his family had kissed him at all.

For some reason, this seemed to please Lilith.  She stepped closer and put her arms around his neck.  “Come here,” she said softly.  “You can put your arms around me, angel.  It’s alright.”

Relax, Castiel.  It’s a natural thing.  He put his arms around her waist as though she might shatter with the slightest jostle.  That made her laugh.  She tightened her arms around his neck.  Her hand went to the back of his head, pulling him down.  She was kissing him again.

It was nice enough.  Lilith seemed to have some experience with kissing.  Her lips were firm without being too rough.  She pressed against him, soft and warm.  He leaned into the kiss, returning it as best as he could manage.  But it just didn’t feel right.  She was too soft.  Her face was too smooth.  The arms around his neck had no strength.  He could easily pull them off.  The kiss was mechanical, nothing more.  Natural or not, this wasn’t what he wanted.

Then her tongue was licking into his mouth.

Castiel gasped and drew back, standing back up and immediately letting go of her.  She held on to him.  For a few seconds, she dangled from his neck, toes off the ground, before she let go and dropped.  “I’m…  I’m sorry,” Castiel stammered.  “I don’t…  I’m not…”

She was giggling.  Her hand was still on the back of his neck.  Her other hand covered her mouth.  “You cannot be any more adorable!  It’s ok.  You won’t be in any trouble!”

“But I…”

She cut him off by pulling him down to kiss him again.  He let it happen.  This time, she didn’t try anything more.  She kissed him a bit more and then, thankfully, let him go.  She pressed against his chest, smiling up at him through her lashes.  “I’ll see you Friday.”

“Alright.”  Castiel managed to smile back at her.  Then he was able to walk back to the relative safety of his car and drive off.

A few miles down the road, Castiel pulled over.  He sat for a moment.  Lilith was a lovely girl.  He enjoyed spending time with her.  He’d be happy to have her as a friend.  But he wasn’t interested in anything more.  In his heart, he knew he simply didn’t want her to kiss him again.  And she would.  She’d kiss him on their date, probably more than once.  He didn’t want that.  Thinking of her trying to lick into his mouth only made him feel unhappy and uncomfortable.

The problem was, Castiel wasn’t against kissing, not even deep kisses like she clearly wanted.  But when he thought of what he did want, his mind was filled with green eyes.  Strong arms wrapped tightly around him.  Being held against a hard, solid chest.  Stubbled cheeks that scratched at his skin.  Dean.  Dean Winchester may have ruined Castiel for kissing anyone, male or female.  But Dean wasn’t his date.  Lilith was.  What was he going to do?  He’d already agreed to the date.  He couldn’t back out now.  Somehow, someway he’d have to get through this.  After that, well, he’d have to think.

Troubled, Castiel started driving again.  He was so lost in his thoughts it took him a moment when, about a block from his home, he saw a pair of familiar figures.  In fact, he might have driven right past without noticing them if one hadn’t pushed the other so hard he nearly fell out onto the road in front of Castiel.

Castiel slammed on the brakes and pulled over.  Now he could hear the yelling.  He quickly parked and got out.  Then he ran to the two, dragging one off of the other.  “Stop!  Diego!  What are you doing?!”

The receiver was snarling.  He shoved past Castiel, determined to dive again on the other boy.  Castiel quickly moved to block.  “Stop it!  He’s smaller than you!”

“Get the hell out of my way, Novak!”

“No!”  Castiel braced, making sure to position himself between Sam Winchester and the furious larger boy menacing him.  “I am not going to let you hit him again,” he warned.  “Just tell me what’s wrong?”

“He slept with Leslie!” Diego accused, pointing angrily at Sam over Castiel’s shoulder.  “That son of a bitch slept with my girlfriend!”

“I already told you, she said you broke up!” Sam defended.  He was rubbing at a red mark on the side of his face.

“So you went and fucked her?!”

“Dude, she came onto me, alright?”

“Winchester, I will fucking tear you apart!”

“Stop!”  Castiel had to put his hands on Diego’s chest and physically hold the other boy back.  “Diego, beating up Sammy is not going to bring Leslie back to you, alright?  If anything, it’s going to make whatever is wrong between you worse.  Now, unless Sammy raped her, which I don’t think anyone believes happened?  Leslie did whatever she did on her own.  So how about going and talking to her instead of trying to take it out on Sammy?”

“Because he knew how much I loved her!” Diego roared.  “He fucking knew, and he still screwed her?!  What the hell, Sammy?!  I thought you were my fucking friend!”

“I am your friend, Diego!” Sam yelled back.  “And I’m her friend, too.  That’s why, when Leslie came to me and said you two broke up and she needed some help recovering?”

“You fucked her!”

“I said I was sorry!”

“You’re sorry.  You fucked the woman I thought I was going to marry, and you say you’re fucking sorry?!”

“I am!”  Sam spread his hands to his sides.  “Diego, I wouldn’t have touched her if I had known she’d just dumped you and you were still hurting, ok?  I just assumed it was a mutual thing, I guess.  I don’t know, man.  I didn’t think.  It didn’t mean anything to either one of us.  It was one time, and it was just sex.”

“Just sex.”  Diego’s face was still red, but he wasn’t yelling anymore.  Now his voice sounded more bitter than angry.  “Well, what the hell can I say?  I knew she cheated on me because she told me she’d found someone else when she dumped me.  But now, to find out it was you?”  His hands were still on Castiel’s shoulders, but now he seemed to be gripping for support rather than trying to push through to reach Sam.  “Cas, this has nothing to do with you, and I know you’re his friend.  So would you please just take him home?  I really need for him to stay out of my way for a while.”

Castiel nodded.  “Alright.  Sam, get in the car.”

Sam seemed to wilt.  “Sorry, Diego.  I never meant…”

“Sam!” Castiel snapped, suddenly angry.  “Get in the car!  Now!”

Sam blinked at him in surprise.  Then he obediently turned and got into Castiel’s car.

Castiel turned back to Diego.  “I’m not making excuses for him,” he began, “but Sammy’s been through a lot.”

“He’s been through a lot alright,” Diego growled.  “I found out it was him because I heard she was complaining to another girl that he banged her once and then never called her back.  Leslie’s hardly the only girl he’s screwed and ditched lately.  And I’m not the only guy who’d like to have a serious chat with him about it!”  He shook his head.  “I don’t get him.  Sammy’s always been a player, you know, never stayed in a serious relationship for long.  But he’s never been like this!  Hopping from girl to girl, screwing anything that moves?”

“He’s filling a void.”

“I’ll say!”

“No, I don’t mean that.”  Castiel sighed.  “Sam’s lost so much.  He’s got this huge hole in his life and he’s looking for anything, no matter how fleeting, to try to fill it.  He’s messed up, Diego.”

“You can say that again.”  Diego frowned at Castiel.  “Take him home, but word of advice.  Watch your own back yard, buddy.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your sister, Hannah?”  Diego jerked his head towards the car.  “Word is, she’s had her eye on Sam.  The way he’s been?  She’ll be the next notch he carves on his bedpost!”

“Hannah?”  Castiel snorted.  “Don’t be ridiculous.  Hannah’s saving herself for marriage.  Besides, Sam’s my best friend.  He’d never do that, not with my sister!”

“Had you asked me about a week ago?  I would have said the same thing about Leslie.  Now?”  Diego shook his head.  “Now, I don’t even know who the hell Sam Winchester is anymore.”

Castiel had no idea what to say to that.  He returned to the car and glanced over at Sam.

Sam was visibly sulking in his seat.  “You guys done talking about me?”

“Sam?” Castiel began.  “What you’re doing with these girls…”

“Stop,” Sam warned.  “Just don’t even start, ok?  I don’t ask you about your personal life, do I?  So you don’t get to ask me about mine.”

“I’m not here to preach at you.  It’s just, these empty relationships you keep having?  They can’t possibly be a good thing.  That level of intimacy should be saved and only shared with someone you love.”

“You know Dean and Benny have been fucking, right?  Yeah,” Sam continued, seeing Castiel freeze.  “Dean knows you’ve got some chick you’ve been dating.  That’s where you were today, isn’t it?  Why you’re so dolled up, with lipstick on your mouth?  Well, right now, Dean’s out somewhere with Benny.  They’re friends with benefits.  Did you know that, Cas?”

“Sammy, why are you telling me this?” Castiel asked through numb lips.  He wiped at his mouth, trying to remove the lipstick.

“To prove to you that you are the only one who actually believes that stupid shit!”  Sam sighed, dug into the glove compartment for a tissue, and wiped at Castiel’s mouth.  “Fuck, I’m an asshole.  I don’t want to hurt you, Cas.  But I brought up Dean and Benny for a reason.  What they’re together doing doesn’t mean anything.  They’re friends with benefits, and when they’re both alone, they go to each other for comfort.  That’s what people do, ok?  Because you know what sex is?  It’s a release.  For a little while, you can focus on physical pleasure and forget all the shit in your life.  The only time it becomes bad is when you throw emotions into the mix, like Diego did.”

Castiel took the tissue.  He frowned at the lipstick, tossed it angrily in the trash, and turned to regard his friend.  “Sammy, did you know that he wasn’t over Leslie?”

“Of course not!  I’m not a fucking monster, Cas!  Holy shit, you’re my best friend!  How can you even ask me that?”

“Because you probably lost Diego as a friend tonight.”  Castiel leaned back in his seat.  “Sex without emotion?  It’s empty, cold.  If there’s nothing behind it, you may as well be with a prostitute or a blow-up doll.”

“Yeah, well, that can be fun, too.”

“It won’t fill that void, Sam.”

Now Sam froze.  Without looking, he reached over and took Cas’s wrist.  “Cas?  I love you.  But I cannot talk about this with you right now.  Will you please just take me home?”

“Yeah.”

Castiel started the car and drove Sam home.  In his mind, he was replaying Diego’s warning.  It was still in his thoughts when he pulled into the garage.

Hannah was in her room.  Her headphones were on.  She was bobbing her head in time to her music as she worked on her homework.  As a result, she didn’t realize Castiel had come in until he put his hand on her shoulder.  Startled, she looked up and smiled.  “Hey, Cassie!  How was your date?”

“Fine.  Hannah, is something going on between you and Sam Winchester?”

She blushed, hard.  “I’m sorry if it’s causing any friction between the two of you,” she began, oblivious to how cold Castiel suddenly felt.  “And I know he’s got a reputation.  But don’t worry.  I’m not like these girls at school, alright?  I want a relationship.  A steady boyfriend, not a one-night stand.”

“And you think you can have that with Sam?”  Castiel rubbed at his face.  “Hannah, Sam’s not really in a place where he can have a real relationship right now.  He’s…”

“Ok, Cas, do I have to remind you which of us is legally an adult and which of us is a silly little sophomore?”  She reached out and squeezed his arm.  “Relax, alright?  I’m not going to take your best friend away.  I like Sam.  I’ll admit I have a crush.  He’s cute.  He’s popular.  He dances really well.  He’s funny.  And we’ve been talking a lot.  He’s really sweet.  We’ve got a good thing, Cassie.  But he’s your best friend before he’s my boyfriend.  If my talking to him is going to cause trouble between the two of you?”

“No, it’s ok.  I’m sorry, Hannah.  I should have trusted you.”

“Yes, you should have.  And I probably should have talked to you before, when he first asked me out.”

“You are a legal adult,” Castiel admitted reluctantly.  “You can date whoever you want.”

“Thank you for giving me your blessing to date your best friend.  Now get out of my room.”

Castiel leaned down to kiss her cheek, earning himself a smile.  Then he returned to his own room.  It would be fine.  Hannah wasn’t like these other girls.  And Sammy was his best friend.  He’d never treat Castiel’s sister the way he’d treated Leslie.  Castiel was sure of it.

Chapter Text

“It’s not going to be cheap,” the man warned.  “Exactly how are you planning to pay for this?”

That was the question of the day.  October was almost here and the weather variated wildly.  Yesterday, it had been so hot Dean had been standing under a cool shower for relief.  Then last night, the temperature had dropped low enough for the furnace to kick in.  The Winchesters had been awakened by an awful screeching noise that had continued until Dean had managed to turn the furnace off.  Come morning, Dean had immediately called Berger’s Heating and Cooling.

Jim Berger himself had come out.  Dean had called the school, explained the situation, and had sent Sammy alone on the bus while he stayed behind.  Now Berger had the furnace in multiple pieces, spread out on the floor of the hallway.  Dean knew enough about machines to recognize that what he was seeing wasn’t good.  He swallowed.  “So you have to replace the entire furnace?” he asked weakly.  “Any way that I could get, I don’t know, something refurbished, or…?”

“Sorry, kid.  You need a whole new furnace, new filters, and the ducts cleaned.  Your folks could have saved a lot if they’d had yearly maintenance done.”

“Yeah, well, that doesn’t help me now,” Dean groaned.  “Alright.  Can I pay in installments?”

“No can do.  That’s asking me to give you credit.  I do that, all my customers would want it.  I’d be out of business in a month.”

“Then what are my options?”

“Well, you have a few choices here,” Berger began.  “One, you can put this on a credit card.”

“They’re all pretty much maxed out,” Dean admitted.

“Two, you can run to the bank, try to get some money on credit?”

“Don’t think that’s going to happen either,” Dean sighed.  “We’re just stretched too thin, with not enough coming in.  Come on, man!  There’s got to be something we can do here, some kind of arrangement we can make?”

“Sure, we can make an arrangement,” Berger agreed.  He got to his feet.  “You’re Dean Winchester, right?  In that case, I can make some special arrangements just for you.  Assuming, of course, that what I’ve heard about you is true?”

Dean was suddenly cautious.  “What you’ve heard about me?”

Berger frowned.  “I don’t know what the politically correct term is for it anymore.  Shit like that changes every other day.  Used to be, they were called ‘half a bubble off center’ or ‘light in the loafers.’  I know they don’t like to be called ‘fags,’ so…”

“Are you asking me if I’m gay?” Dean asked, confused.  “Yeah, I am.  Is that a problem?”

“No, not a problem at all.  In fact, that’s a good thing, at least in this case.”  Berger took a step closer.  He licked his lips, his eyes roving over Dean in a way that made Dean feel uncomfortable.  “See, I’m not into guys myself, not even pretty boys like you.  But since you are, and you are a pretty boy, that works out all around.  Because I’ve heard there’s one thing that a gay guy can do better than any woman, and that’s give head.  So…”

“What?!”  Dean stumbled back, sliding along the wall to put distance between himself and the man.  “You can’t be serious!”

“Oh come on, now, don’t play hard to get.”  Berger moved closer, smiling at Dean.  “Here’s the deal, kid.  You take care of me, and I’ll take care of you.”

“Get the hell away from me!”

“You haven’t even heard my terms.”

“I don’t give a shit!  I’m not about to do anything with you except boot your sick ass out the door!  Pick up your shit and get the fuck out of my house!”

Dean was about to go hold the door when Berger grabbed his arms, dragged him back, and slammed Dean against the wall.  “Don’t you shoot your mouth off to me, you little shit!  I’m trying to help you here!  It’s pretty damned obvious that you can’t afford the repairs you need.  And I guarantee no one else is going to give you a better deal.”

“You need to take your hands off of me,” Dean warned.  He hoped he sounded more certain than he felt.  Dean was not a small guy, but Berger was older, larger, and built like a truck.  His fingers were digging into Dean’s arms where he held him.  If it came down to a fight, Dean wasn’t sure he could beat him, especially now he’d been pinned against the wall.

Fortunately, Berger let go of him.  He took a step back, raising his hands.  “Relax, kid.  I’m not going to force you.  I just want you to understand what I’m offering before you make up your mind.  We’re at the end of September already.  It’s only going to get colder.  Now, I have everything you need out in my truck.  I can replace this furnace right here and now.  But let’s face it, kid.  You can’t pay for it.  Not without making some arrangements.”

“My body is off the table,” Dean declared.  “I’m not whoring myself out to get my furnace repaired, ok?”

“I’m not asking you to.  I already told you, I’m not into guys.”  Berger licked his lips again, his eyes locked on Dean’s mouth.  “All I’m asking you to do is get down on your knees, take it out, and use your hands and your mouth the way I know you can.  Do that, and I’ll replace this furnace and let you pay on a deferment plan.  You take it down your throat?  I won’t charge you for labor.  And if you’re a real good boy, and you swallow everything I give you?  I’ll even give you a discount on the parts.  All you gotta do is make it good.  You think you can make it good?”

“I think I’ll just bust out the kerosene heaters again until I can get the money to pay someone else who isn’t a sick perverted fuck!”

“Kerosene heaters?”  Berger chuckled and shook his head.  “Don’t you watch the news?  Every day, you hear about people’s houses burning down from those things, or people dying of carbon monoxide poisoning from them.  You’re a big strong kid, but your brother’s just a little runt.  How long do you think he’ll last if his space heater starts pumping out carbon monoxide?”  Berger tilted his head, studying Dean.  “You know, come to think of it?  You barely look legal.  Your brother can’t possibly be.  Does family services know the two of you are in here with no heat?”

Dean grew still.  “I need to think,” he managed.  “I need to think things over, decide what to do.  Can you come back tomorrow after school?”

Berger nodded.  “I can do that.  You going to be alone?”

Dean looked away.  “Yeah.  I’ll be home alone.  Sammy’s got practice.  I’ll skip mine, tell coach I’m not feeling well.”  It certainly wouldn’t be a lie.  Dean’s stomach was churning right now.

“Good boy.”  Berger reached out a hand.  He cupped Dean’s chin, running a grubby thumb over Dean’s lips.  “We’ll have fun, won’t we, kid?”

Dean grimaced, clenching his fists.  “I haven’t decided anything yet, ok?  Leave me alone!”

Berger chuckled.  His thumb traced over Dean’s lips again.  “You think it over, do whatever you have to do.  I’ll come back tomorrow with all I need to replace your furnace.  Then we’ll get to our arrangements.”

Everything in Dean wanted to punch the man in the face, to shove him away and scream at him to take his hands off of him.  But he couldn’t.  Berger’s threat about family services had hit home.  Dean had no heat in his house and winter coming fast.  Would that qualify as unsafe living conditions?  Dean thought it would.  Would that make Grice return, take Sammy away?  No.  No matter what, Dean couldn’t let that happen.  “I said I’ll think about it,” he managed.  “Just take your hands off me and go!”

Still smiling, Berger let go of Dean.  He quickly gathered his tools.  He gave Dean one more promising smile as he passed, handing him his estimate.  Then he was out the door, and Dean was alone.

Dean’s legs seemed to give out.  He slid down to sit on the floor, pulled his knees up to his chest, and buried his head.  For a time, he just sat there, shaking.  It was like he could still feel the man’s hands on him.

After a moment, Dean regained control of himself enough to think.  He went through the phone book, calling other heating repair services and asking their prices to compare to Berger’s invoice.  To his dismay, Berger was right.  What he was offering, even without what the man had suggested to lower the price even more, was the best Dean was going to get.  And even that was more than Dean could afford.  The only way he could afford the repairs was to do what Berger asked.

Dean tried to imagine going through with it, giving Berger what he wanted.  The thought made him want to throw up.  He couldn’t do it.  The man was older than Dean’s father.  The idea of letting that monster touch him again was sickening.  To actually do what he’d asked?  How could Dean possibly get through it?

Sammy.  Sammy needed heat.  Somehow, Dean had to find a way to get these repairs done.  And it had to be soon.  After the threat Berger had made, Dean had no doubt that the terrible man would call family services if Dean refused.  Even if Dean reported Berger and the man was arrested, Dean still would have no heat in his house.  Grice would take Sammy away.  Dean was sure of it.  No.  He had to have heat.  Nothing else mattered.  He had to protect his brother.  For Sammy, Dean would give up anything.

Anything at all.

***

Sammy raised an eyebrow at Dean that evening when Dean finally returned to the house, sweaty and out of breath.  He’d come home to a note from his brother saying he had some things to take care of.  Now here Dean was, looking like he’d just run a marathon.  “What’s up with you?”

“I was out running,” Dean panted.  “Let me get a shower and change and I’ll start supper.”

Sammy waved a hand in front of his face.  “I’ll start supper.  Go get a shower, Dean.  You smell like a used jock strap.”

Dean quickly went for a shower.  When he returned, he kept the conversation light, hoping to avoid any uncomfortable questions.  Of course, Sammy asked about the furnace.  “He’s ordering a part,” Dean lied.  “It’s not bad.  He should be able to come back after school tomorrow and take care of it.”

“So another freezing night?  Wonderful,” Sammy complained.  “I guess we’re busting out the kerosene heaters again.”

“No,” Dean said quickly.  “You’re bunking with me tonight.  We’ll zip two sleeping bags together.  That will keep us warm.”

Sammy wrinkled his nose.  “Dude, do you have any idea how loudly you snore?  Plus it means it’ll be freezing when we get up!”

“Nothing we’re not used to from camping.”

“Come on, Dean, let’s just get the kerosene heaters going!”

“I’m not using those stupid things that are nearly as old as you are and could either catch fire or fill the place up with carbon monoxide!” Dean snapped.

Sammy’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.  He raised his hands.  “Ok, ok, geez, what’s biting you?”

“I’m just not comfortable using them, ok?  Tonight you’re sleeping with me and that’s final.  Get a shower after dinner before it gets too cold.  I’ll get the sleeping bags.”

For a moment, it looked like Sam would protest.  If he did, Dean had every intention of physically forcing his brother.  But Sammy only shook his head.  “I hope Berger’s as good as his word.  Tomorrow night it’s supposed to frost.”

“He’ll get it fixed tomorrow.”  Or else, Dean thought darkly.  After what it was costing Dean to replace the furnace, it had better be flawless.

Fortunately, Sam didn’t argue anymore or press the issue.  He got his shower and came into their father’s office, only to see Dean already there.  “I got the books,” Dean called.  “Just focus on your homework, ok?”

Sammy shrugged.  “Don’t mess it up, jerk.”

“Don’t worry about it, bitch.”  Dean would have to do the books for a few days, at least.  It was the only way he could keep Sammy from seeing the figures surrounding the furnace repair.  Sooner or later, Dean knew, his brother would find the discrepancy.  Sammy was just too smart for his own good.  Oh well.  Dean had a few days to try to think of something.

Sam climbed in with Dean without protest.  He protested plenty the next morning through chattering teeth.  Dean found himself compared to a grizzly bear, a team of lumberjacks, a swarm of angry bees, and a 747 on take-off.  Whatever.

Dean caught the bus with his brother and had an uneventful day at school.  He caught the bus back while Sammy went to cheer practice.  Then he waited.

Berger showed up right on time.  Dean went out without a word and helped him bring the parts for the new furnace into the house.  Then the man was closing the door and in Dean’s space, reaching for the teen.

Immediately Dean pulled away.  “Stay away!  Don’t you fucking touch me!”

“What the hell is this?” Berger complained.  “I came out here with the parts, and I expect to get paid, one way or another.  Now do we have a deal, kid?”

“Yeah.”  Dean dug into his pocket, found a cashier’s check, and shoved it at Berger’s chest.  “That’s the exact amount you quoted me, including parts, labor, and tax.  Thank you for fixing our furnace.  Please do it and get out.  Don’t come near me or my family again!”

Berger blinked in surprise at the check.  Then he frowned.  “You could have paid a hell of a lot less if you’d just given me what I wanted.”

“I know.  But what you wanted is never going to happen.  Just leave me alone, do your job and get out!”

Berger rolled his eyes.  “Don’t get your panties in a twist, princess, I wasn’t going to force you.”

Dean didn’t answer.  He stayed well out of arm’s length and watched everything Berger did.  But the man didn’t do anything except replace and repair the furnace.  Soon, the furnace was running quietly.  Dean checked and smiled when he felt the heat.

Neither said a word as Berger packed up and left.

***

“You’re not fooling anyone, you know.”

“Huh?”  Dean blinked at his brother in confusion.  He’d just driven out to pick up his brother after cheer practice when Sammy had made this announcement.

“This!”  Sam indicated their father’s recently-repaired truck.  “You never drive the truck.  I suspected when your Impala wasn’t in the driveway, but now I’m sure.  It’s in the shop again, isn’t it?  And that’s why you didn’t want me to see the books!  Because between whatever the furnace cost and now car repairs?  You don’t want me to know how bad off we are!”

Dean’s hands tightened on the steering wheel.  “Don’t worry about it, Sammy.”

“I worry!  Holy shit, Dean, we are in this together!  Can’t you see that?”  Sammy was shaking Dean’s arm, looking pleadingly at him.  “Please!  Just tell me how bad it is?”

“It’s not.  I’ve got it covered, ok?”

“Dean, god damn it, stop treating me like a little kid that you have to protect!”

Dean turned and looked his brother sharply in the eye.  “Look at me.  I am telling you, we are fine.  I need you to trust me on this, alright?  I’ve got the money situation worked out.  Just keep your focus on your grades.  That’s the most important thing.  I will handle everything else.”

“Sure, Dean,” Sammy sighed.  “Sure.  Keep taking all of my control away.  Don’t let me help.  Just call me Sam Winchester, mushroom, right?  Keep me in the dark and feed me bullshit?”

“You can look at the fucking books yourself if you want!”

“Forget it, Dean.  Just forget it.  Take me home and don’t bother making me anything for dinner.  I lost my appetite.”

“You’re eating something, Sammy.”

“Fuck you!”

“I said you’re eating something!” Dean yelled, finally losing his temper.  “I don’t care if I have to fucking tie you to the chair and spoon feed you, you are eating supper tonight!”

“Sure, fine, whatever.”

The brothers rode in silence.  Sammy’s eyes were fixed out the window when they arrived, lingering on the spot where Dean’s baby usually was parked.  “How long is she going to be in the shop?”

Dean swallowed around the lump in his throat.  “Could be a while.”

“Great.  Whatever, you got it all sorted out, right?”  Without waiting for an answer, Sammy stormed into the house.

Dean lingered, looking for a time at the spot in the driveway.  There was no indication that the beautiful Impala had ever been there.  Maybe that was better.

At supper, he watched his brother carefully, monitoring every bite Sammy put into his mouth.  He pointed out that Sammy was mostly pushing his food around on his plate, resulting in another screaming match.  But in the end, Sammy finished his plate.  Dean counted it as a victory.  Once again, he’d succeeded in getting his brother to eat.  Anymore, that was becoming harder and harder to do.

Funny thing, though.  Even though Dean was making sure Sammy was eating at least half of every meal, his brother still seemed to be losing weight.

***

Two days later, Dean was getting some looks at practice.  Even Benny was acting weird.  It seemed like half the team was making an excuse to pull Dean aside and ask him if everything was alright, or if Dean needed anything?  Dean sent them on their way with a smile or a chuckle, assuring them that everything was fine.  But Benny kept watching him.

It was no surprise at all when his friend buttonholed him in the locker room.  “You got something you want to tell me?”

“No, Benny,” Dean sighed.  “Everything is fine.  It’s rough, and we’re fighting a lot, but we’re managing.  I appreciate everyone’s concern.”

“Yeah.”  For some reason, Benny’s eyes went to Diego and lingered.  Diego only nodded at them and went on his way.  Benny took a deep breath, and Dean prepared for a lecture.  “I’m going to follow you home,” Benny said instead.  “Drop off your brother and then come with me.”

Dean groaned.  “Not tonight, Benny, ok?  I’m tired and not in the mood.”

“This isn’t about sex.  I’m your best friend and you need to trust me.  Just do what I asked you to do.  Alright?”

“Alright,” Dean agreed, puzzled.  His curiosity was piqued.  The way Benny was acting, especially combined with everyone else, was odd.  It was worth looking into, at least.

Sammy only rolled his eyes when Dean dropped him off and climbed in with Benny.  No doubt the younger Winchester believed he knew exactly what his brother was doing.  But Benny was oddly quiet.

Then Benny pulled into the used car dealership owned by Uriel’s father, and Dean groaned.  “Come on, Benny.  Don’t do this, ok?”

“I think I deserve some kind of explanation.  That is one car I thought I’d never see on this lot again,” Benny began as he parked.  “So you can imagine my surprise when Uriel called me, asking what was going on that you’d just sold your Impala!”

“The furnace in the house went out,” Dean admitted.  “I had to sell her to afford the repairs.  If I didn’t get the heat fixed, family services might have taken Sammy away.”  Dean had no intention of mentioning the arrangements Berger had wanted.  That was a secret he’d take to his grave.

Benny pounded on his steering wheel.  “Fuck you, Dean Winchester!  Fuck you sideways!  If you needed help, all you had to do was ask!”

“You do not have the kind of money it took to repair that furnace, Benny,” Dean argued.  “This way, I had money for that and a little more in case anything else breaks down.”

“And you gave up your pride and joy.  Dean, that car was practically part of your soul!”

“I loved my baby, Benny.  But she was just a car.  Sammy?  He’s part of my soul.”

Something softened in Benny’s face for a moment.  Then he was out of the car, glaring at Dean again.  “Off your ass,” he ordered.  “Follow me.”

Confused and heartsick, Dean followed Benny into the garage.

To his surprise, the animals were waiting.  And there, spotless and gleaming, was his baby.  Uriel was spinning the keys on his finger.  “I will be doing detailing for a solid month to pay my father back for not changing the title and shredding the papers you signed,” he announced.

“Oh my…  Uriel, I can’t afford to buy her back!” Dean protested.  It was all he could do to keep from breaking down.  Selling his baby was hard enough.  Admitting he couldn’t buy her back was all but killing him.

But to his surprise, the animals actually laughed.  “We all chipped in,” Joe announced.  “Benny called us, and we all gave whatever we could.  She’s yours, Dean.”

Dean stopped breathing.

“Least we can do for all the pies your mom baked for us over the years,” Benny said.  “Both your parents helped with the fund raisers and football camp, and put up with us for how long?”

“Just take it and quit crying like a girl, Dean!”

“We love you, man.”

“Next time you need help, ask us!”

Dean was sobbing.  He couldn’t help it.  When he’d sold his baby, he’d been prepared to never see her again or, worse, see her in the hands of someone who wouldn’t take proper care of her.  Never in a million years did he think he’d own her again.  But now Uriel was pressing her keys into his hand and Diego was shoving a handkerchief at him.  Wait, that was wrong.  Dean blinked at Diego.  “Diego, what are you even doing here, man?  Isn’t it Leslie’s birthday?”

“We broke up a while back,” Diego explained gruffly.  “Bitch cheated on me anyway.”

Dean was shocked at that.  But he was being pushed towards his baby.  He climbed behind the wheel and forgot everything else.  After that it was a chorus of thank yous and smiles and pats on the back.  The animals were so much more than his teammates.  In some ways, the ways that really mattered, the team was a band of brothers.

***

Sammy was waiting for him when he got home.  “I see you got your precious baby back from the shop.”

Dean smiled.  He’d driven around for a bit, regained control, and was fairly certain no one could tell he’d been crying.  “Yeah, Sammy, I did.”

“I looked at the books,” Sammy began.  “You want to tell me where the hell all that money came from?”

“Friends,” Dean explained.  “It was a gift from some friends.”

Chapter Text

The Perdition Demons had a stadium that screamed “rich kids.”  Big and well-lit, with a playing field that didn’t have a bare patch to be seen.  Even the concession stands were spotless.  And of course, their equipment was top rate.  But the animals barely noticed it.  Dean and his friends were gathered together on the sidelines before the start of the game, staring at the other team.

“What the hell are they feeding those guys?” Diego wondered.  “Did they put steroids in the water or something?”

“We’ll be able to run circles around them,” Benny predicted.  “Guys that big are slow.”

“Yeah, but first we have to get past them,” Diego pointed out.  “This is going to be a rough game.”

“Says you,” Uriel groaned.  “We gotta hold those big bastards!”

“We are so fucked,” Joe agreed.

“I know you idjits aren’t talking yourselves into a loss before the game’s even started, right?” Coach Singer called.

Oh, no.  Of course not.  They would never do that.

Coach Singer stormed off.  Immediately Joe began moaning again.  “Fucked!  We are so fucked!”

Dean was inclined to agree, but his mind wasn’t on the game.  It, and his eyes, were fixed on the home stands.  They were packed with people, but seated right up front, just behind the fence where the Perdition cheer squad would be, was the last person Dean ever thought he’d see in the opposing stands.  Castiel Novak wore a light grey sweater this time, with a sock monkey hat.  He was hunched over, almost as if he was trying to hide.  Why?  Why would Cas be here, sitting in the Perdition stands?

The Demonesses, Perdition High’s cheer squad, were running out.  Their mascot wore a racy red demoness costume complete with horns, a red sequined eye mask, fishnet stockings and a tail that protruded from her skirt.  In one hand she carried a pitchfork that she waved at the crowd.  The costume was generally admired by the animals, who immediately forgot about the giants on the opposing team and started talking about the Demoness.  But the Demoness paid no attention.  She was standing on a milk crate so she could lean over the fence separating the the fans from the edge of the field where the cheerleaders were.  And Cas, Dean’s lovely angel, was smiling, standing up and leaning forward to share a quick kiss with the Demoness.  Dean’s stomach twisted.  So this was Cas’s girlfriend.

“Oh, hell no!” Benny growled next to Dean’s ear.  “Say the word, brother.  I’ll go over there and kick Novak’s ass!  What the hell does he think he’s doing, kissing that ho right in front of you?!”

“Going on with his life.”  The words were bitter in Dean’s mouth and more so in his heart.  “Cas made it clear he wasn’t interested.  It’s been weeks, Benny.  Now he’s gone on with his life.  I knew he had a girlfriend, ok?  I just didn’t know who she was.  For obvious reasons, I didn’t ask much about it.”

“Still sucks.  I couldn’t imagine if Andrea was making out with some asshole right in front of me.”  Benny hovered close.  “You ok?”

“No.  No, I am very far from ok.  But whatever, right?  Maybe this is what I needed to see, so I can finally convince my stupid heart it’s time to move on.  God knows nothing else has worked.”

Benny thumped a fist on Dean’s shoulder pad.  “Take it out on the field, brother.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Dean growled.  His eyes were finally on the Demons.  “I have every intention of doing that!”

That earned Dean a chest bump that nearly knocked him over.  Dean growled to himself, irritated when his eyes once again drifted to Cas.  Cas was looking at him.  Dean was sure of it.  Dean forced himself to smile and give him a thumbs up.  Don’t be an ass, Dean.  Castiel doesn’t belong to you and he never did.  He’s got a girlfriend now.  He’s happy.  Your broken heart isn’t important.  If you really loved him, you’d find a way to be happy for him.  So be happy for him, Dean.  It’s the least you can do.

***

Castiel’s heart sank when Dean gave him a thumbs-up.  Well, that settled it.  What did he expect?  Dean had poured out his heart to him, and Castiel had turned him down in the worst way possible.  He had gone ahead and broken Dean’s heart.  Now Dean was ready to move on, and even giving Castiel his approval to do the same.  So this was it.  Castiel was on his own, following a path of his own making.  He shivered, pulling his hat down further over his ears.  The Perdition stands were crowded.  He had strangers on either side of him, but he’d never felt so alone.

Castiel looked longingly across at the visitor stands.  He’d had no idea that Lawrence would be the opponents at this game.  The crowd across the field was sporadic, just like it was in their own visitor stands during home games.  The band took up more room than the crowd.  For some reason, it made the Lawrence team seem almost abandoned.  Castiel squirmed, uncomfortable.

“Castiel?”

Castiel forcibly returned his attention to his date.  “Sorry, Lilith.  Did you say something?”

“Yes, your name.  Just now.”  She pursed her lips, narrowing her eyes at him through the Demoness mask.  “You’re feeling guilty, aren’t you?  About sitting over here when your friends are across the field?”

“Yes,” Castiel breathed, feeling relieved.  Thank God she understood.  Now he could go over to the visitors’ side where he belonged.  He smiled gratefully at her.  “I’m really sorry, Lilith, but they’re my friends.  I’m glad you don’t mind.”

“Of course I don’t mind!”  She was back on the milk crate, grabbing Castiel’s sweater to pull him forward for yet another kiss.  “All that matters is that you’re here, with me.  And I’m so glad!  You don’t know how much it means to me, that my boyfriend is willing to put me first, before his idiot friends!  I’m sorry, angel.  I know it’s awkward, but if they’re your friends, they’ll understand that, right?”

“Oh.”  Castiel swallowed his disappointment and somehow kept his smile in place.  “Of course they will.”

She smiled and giggled, pulling off his hat so she could card her fingers through his hair.

Castiel ducked his head, wanting her to stop touching him.  He reached for his hat.  She playfully held it out of his reach for a moment, making him kiss her again before giving it back.  He quickly pulled it back on.  Now he was even colder.  Great.  Somehow, he kept smiling.  It felt as fake and forced as it was.  But Lilith seemed satisfied.  She did a runway walk back to the other cheerleaders, making the pointed tail attached to her costume sway.

Out on the field, the two sides had lined up.  Castiel frowned.  The two sides didn’t seem to be very evenly matched.  The Perdition Demons seemed bigger than the Lawrence Bulldogs.  And when the players started moving, that difference seemed a bit more marked.  By the time the whistle blew, most of the Bulldogs were on the grass.  Across the field, Coach Singer looked on.  Castiel couldn’t hear what he was yelling at his players on the field.  But the man didn’t look happy.

***

“Come on, assholes!” Coach Singer roared.  “So they’re bigger!  Hit ‘em low and they’ll go down same as anyone else!  How the hell did they get a first down on the first play?”  He grew silent, watching the snap.  Then he remained silent as he watched the Demon offensive line plow through the Bulldogs and race straight into the end zone.  Dean winced.  Not good.  Coach Singer having a screaming, clipboard-throwing fit was normal.  Coach Singer silent and red-faced was anything but.

“We’re fucked worse than a hooker at a bachelor party,” Benny grumbled.

“Like hell we are,” Dean growled.  “This game has just started, buddy!”

“Hey Benny!”  Mark, catching the quarterback’s shirt.  “Does Andrea have family out this way?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Because isn’t that her up in the stands behind us?  Why’s she in our stands if her family’s here?”

Benny looked.  Then he sucked in his breath.  Andrea was smiling at him.  She blew him a kiss and Benny brightened.  He blew a kiss back.  Then he turned back to the field, where the Demons were still celebrating, and growled.  “Oh, hell no!  No fucking way I am letting my woman watch me get my face shoved into the dirt.  Gentlemen, it is time for some serious ass kicking.”

“Ours?”

“Fuck you, Mark!  You get in there and you do your fucking job blocking!  We are not losing this game!”

Mark rolled his eyes.  “Sure, Benny.  Soon as you show me how to take down the giant that’s going to be standing across from me.”

“Fuck him, fuck the Demons, and fuck you twice, Mark!  Dean, think you can keep that big motherfucker off of Diego?”

Dean growled in reply.  His eyes were drifting over to the Perdition stands again.  Castiel was smiling, clapping as the Demonesses pranced and danced to celebrate the touchdown.  Naturally, the Demoness herself was back on her milk carton as soon as the cheer was over, kissing Cas again.  Again!  She took every opportunity to stake her claim on Cas.  Why the hell couldn’t she just leave him alone?!

Dean had some frustration to take out.  Fortunately, he had a big-ass safety who was asking for it.

By some miracle, the Demons missed the extra point.  Dean jogged out and locked eyes with his safety.  “Hey dickhead, you ready to dance?”

“It’s not a dance if only one of us is standing.”

“You’re right.  You ready to hit the grass, then?”

The safety laughed.  “Bring it whenever you’re ready, asshole.”

Dean was ready.  The safety started moving when he did.  Dean kept with him, watching for Benny’s pass.  There.  Immediately the safety moved to intercept.  Dean charged, hitting the larger boy just below his center of gravity.  He actually lifted the surprised safety a bit, still moving forward a few steps before slamming him against another Perdition player.  All three of them went down, Dean shoving the safety into the other Demon and putting them both on the ground.  Diego made it thirteen yards before he was brought down.  First down Bulldogs.

Now Coach Singer was screaming again.  “Like that!  Just like that!  If Winchester can take out two of these overgrown bastards, what the hell are the rest of you idjits doing?!  Get your heads out of your asses and fucking block!”

“Winchester, are you trying to make us look bad?” Mark complained.

“Yes.  It working?”

“Hell yes!”  Now Mark was glaring across the line.

The Demons had lost some of their cockiness.   Now they were just as pissed as the Bulldogs.  The Bulldogs made it to the thirty yard line before they were forced to punt.  Coach Singer was swearing at the defensive line as Dean jogged back.  He looked back across the field and saw Castiel smiling in his direction.  That made Dean smile in return.  Maybe he could salvage something from this night after all.

***

Castiel didn’t know much about football beyond the basics, but even he could tell that this was an intense game.  After a Lawrence field goal, the score was locked at 6-3 by halftime.  Back on the field, the teams were battling like they were out to win a war.  The coaches on both sides were yelling and throwing things.  It made Castiel uneasy.  He’d never seen this much aggression out on the field before at the other games he’d gone to.  Someone was bound to get hurt.

Sure enough, another violent clash of bodies later and someone didn’t get back up.  Castiel saw the Lawrence uniform and sucked in his breath.  Dean.  It was Dean, Dean was hurt, he was…  He was fine, standing off to the side, looking with concern at the other player.  Castiel breathed a sigh of relief.  Then he clapped with the rest of the crowd when the medics helped the injured player limp off the field.

The cheer squads, it seemed, had picked up on the competitive nature of this game.  They were actively challenging each other.  The Demonesses were doing flips and stunts that looked dangerous.  But so was the Bulldog cheer squad.  Now the Lawrence High marching band was involved, playing “Push It.”  There went Sam, taking off the Bulldog’s head and jumping on some sort of platform to do an energetic, hip-thrusting dance.  He didn’t seem to be hampered too much from the injuries Castiel suspected he had.  He’d seen enough telltale traces of make-up on his friend to know that whoever was beating Sammy hadn’t stopped.  But if anything, Sam was putting more effort than usual into his dancing.  Even the Perdition fans were paying attention, cheers and wolf whistles coming from the stands around Castiel.  Castiel smiled.

But the Demonesses weren’t smiling.  Sam’s antics had cost them their audience.  Now they were up to something.  Lilith was in a huddle with the rest of her squad, casting dark looks over her shoulder towards the Lawrence cheer squad.  They were digging in a bag, producing various items Castiel couldn’t see.

Now the Demoness had one of their megaphones.  She waited until Sam had finished his dance, run back over to his squad, and replaced the mascot’s headpiece.  Then she was whistling through the megaphone.  “Hey, Bulldog!  Here doggy!  Want a treat?  Come get it!”

Now Castiel could see what she had in her hand.  It was a large rubber dog toy in the shape of a bone.  Across the field, the Bulldog was shaking his hips, making the tail on his costume wag.  He pumped his fist into the air.  Then he was moving, jogging around the field, coming over to the Perdition side.

Castiel frowned.  The Demoness was holding the bone, waving the Bulldog over.  But the rest of her squad was obviously planning something.  They were huddled together, hiding whatever it was they had from view.  Castiel shifted, uneasy, watching the Bulldog coming closer.  Sammy didn’t seem to realize he might be running into trouble.

The Bulldog snagged the bone and pumped his fist again, wagging his tail.  And now, as one cheerleader emerged from the group, Castiel could see what it was they were hiding.  It was a large net.  A small sandwich board reading “Dog Catcher” was hanging from the shoulders of the cheerleader holding it.  Castiel sat up, torn.  Should he warn his friend?

Too late.  The net came down over the Bulldog’s head.  The Bulldog slumped, covered his eyes with his hands, and pantomimed crying.  A chorus of “Awww!” rose from the spectators amid the laughter.  Meanwhile, the Demoness had crooked a finger and was tapping it against her chin, looking deep in thought.  She turned to the crowd and shrugged.  “Should I let him go?”

“Yes!” Castiel called out with most of the crowd.  He hoped to drown out the chorus of “No!” that also sounded around him.

Apparently, the “Yes” group won.  Or maybe it was the way the Bulldog dropped to his knees, holding up his clasped hands towards the Demoness in a pleading motion.  Either way, the Demoness shrugged again and gestured.  The net came off.  The Bulldog jumped up and danced happily around.  Then he displayed his bone, which he’d hidden under an arm, and made shushing motions at the crowd.  Castiel laughed with the crowd.

The Bulldog waved and turned, apparently about to head back to his own side.  But a group of cheerleaders blocked his way.  The Bulldog stopped.  That was when the Demoness moved forward.  Snatching the Bulldog’s head, she quickly pulled it off, revealing the surprised face of Sam Winchester beneath it.

Sam turned around.  His face was flushed from exercise.  His hair was a bit sweaty.  But he was smiling and handsome.  He cocked an eyebrow at her, his smile widening.  The Demoness seemed pleased.  She tucked the Bulldog’s head under one arm, pointed at her lips, and leaned forward, puckering, clearly asking for a kiss.

Sam never hesitated.  Quick as a flash, he dropped the dog toy and grabbed the net from the “dog catcher.”  With one hand he snatched back the Bulldog’s head.  The other brought the net over the surprised Demoness.  Laughter from the crowd.

Castiel saw Lilith straighten in surprise.  But she recovered quickly.  She pouted, pulled off the net and tossed it aside.  Then she was pointing at her lips again, puckering and leaning forward towards Sammy.

Sammy still hadn’t replaced the Bulldog’s head.  But he did now.  Then he took a couple steps, lifted his leg, and pretended to relieve himself on the Demoness.

Screams, laughter, and applause.  The Bulldog had retrieved his toy and was jumping and dancing around again.  His back was to Lilith.  From where Castiel sat, he could see her face.  It was flushed in fury, nearly as red as her costume.  Her eyes glared through her mask at the Bulldog.  She looked ready to physically attack him.

But now another figure had arrived.  Lisa Braeden, armed with a rolled-up newspaper.  “Bad dog!” she called, swatting the cringing Bulldog with the paper.  “Back to your own side!”

Boos, laughter, and applause.  The Bulldog quickly jogged back to his own side, Lisa chasing after him with the newspaper.  Castiel chuckled.  It was a great act.  But the Demoness still looked furious, too furious to be part of the act.  She recovered quickly, though.  She snatched up her pitchfork and shook it menacingly at the retreating Bulldog.  She was smiling again.  But something told Castiel she was still angry.

***

“Way to literally piss off the hot chick, Sammy!” Benny cheered as the Bulldog returned to his own side.

“She is hot,” Diego agreed.  “You’re an idiot.  I’d have totally kissed her.”

“I probably should have, but this was way more fun,” Sam called.  “Besides, she’s dating my best friend.”

“That’s important,” Diego grunted.

For some reason, Sammy stilled.  “Yeah, Diego.  Yeah, it is.”

Diego gave him a small smile and went back to watching the game.

Dean smiled.  It was good to see Diego talking to Sammy again.  He knew there had been some tension between Dean’s friend and his brother, although he hadn’t found out why.  Diego still seemed a bit reserved around Sammy.  But this was definitely an improvement.

“Come on, you motherfuckers, block!  No, god damn it, do not let them get in field goal range, make these bastards punt!”

Coach Singer’s bellow got Dean’s head back in the game.  Then he promptly forgot about the game again as he caught sight of Castiel.  He was leaning over the fence.  The Demoness was back on her milk crate, her arms around Cas’s neck.  This time, he had his arms around her, as well.  Dean clenched his teeth.  “Come on, Bulldogs!” he yelled.  “Stop these bitches!  I need to get back out on that field!”  The safety had already gotten past Dean once to put Diego down.  Now Diego’s ankle was swollen.  He’d be fine, but he was out of the game.  Dean already had a grudge.  Now it was even more personal.

***

“Sam didn’t mean any harm,” Castiel soothed, rubbing Lilith’s back.  “He was just being silly.”

“Oh, I know that!” Lilith replied quickly.  “I just wanted to make sure you knew it didn’t mean anything, me trying to get him to kiss me?  Just part of the whole Demoness act.”  She kissed him again.  “You’re the only one I want, angel.  You know that, right?”

“Of course!”  Castiel hadn’t actually thought to care.  Still, it was touching that she’d thought to reassure him.  If he’d felt anything for her at all, he would have appreciated it.  This relationship wasn’t going to work.  Castiel was sure of it.  But he had to get through tonight.  Then he’d find a tactful way to break up with Lilith.

Lilith returned to her squad and her role as the Demoness.  Meanwhile, Lawrence had the ball on their own 30 yard line.  The play was a pass, Benny aiming for the receiver on the other side.  But for some reason, that did nothing to deter Dean.  Dean slammed hard into the Perdition safety, driving the larger boy back and into the ground.  Whistles sounded.  Flags flew.  The safety was getting back up.  He was in Dean’s face, pointing and shouting.  And Dean was shouting right back.  The safety shoved Dean.  Dean shoved back.  Suddenly, fists were flying on the field.  In moments, the field was full of fighting, yelling, furious players, oblivious to the whistles or their own teammates and coaches trying to drag them apart.  Here came Sam, dropping the Bulldog’s head and charging onto the field, trying to get between his brother and the safety.  It worked.  Dean grabbed his brother, stepping back from his opponent, who’d backed off when the smaller boy stepped between them.  With one arm around Sam, Dean seemed a bit calmer.  From where Castiel was sitting, he could see Sam rapidly talking to Dean, pushing his older brother back.  Both Dean and the safety were ordered off the field.  Castiel frowned.  What had that been about?

***

“Dean, what the hell was that all about?!” Sammy wanted to know.

“He’s a fucking asshole,” Dean growled, making the walk of shame among boos.  He kept his arm around his brother to help keep himself grounded.  “Bitch couldn’t take a hit, boo fucking hoo!”

“Dean, you were already about to get unnecessary roughness for slamming him down the way you did,” Sammy unhelpfully reminded.  “You’ve been a real prick this game.  You know that, right?”

“Yeah, yeah.”  Dean let his brother go in time to get Coach Singer in his face.  He groaned inwardly.  This night had gone straight to Hell in a hand basket.  Dean couldn’t imagine things going any worse.

Chapter Text

Castiel wanted to go home.  He wanted to take a long, hot shower and then curl up into his bed, to sleep and be done with this night.  But he wasn’t going anywhere.  He was sitting on a short flight of stairs behind the gymnasium where the dance was still underway.  The stairway was filled with thick, acrid smoke that made him want to cough.  Four of the Demonesses were gathered around him.  Lilith was sitting directly behind him, one arm draped around his neck, hand gripping his shoulder.  The other brought her cigarette up to her mouth for another drag.  Lilith’s legs were around him, thighs pressed against his ribs, ankles resting against his thighs and her bare foot bopping in time to the music.  Her friend Meg was sitting sideways on the step just beneath Castiel’s feet.  She was also smoking.  Her free hand rubbed at his ankle, her finger frequently rising up beneath his pant leg to stroke his skin above his sock.  All night, she’d been referring to Castiel as either “Clarence,” which made no sense, or “Lilith’s Unicorn,” which made even less sense.  The looks she kept giving him were making him uncomfortable, but the way she kept touching him was worse.  Just above and to either side of Lilith were two more of her friends, Ruby and Abaddon.  They were smoking as well, but at least they weren’t touching him.  Between Meg rubbing his ankle and Lilith constantly holding or kissing him, Castiel just wanted everyone off of him.  But he couldn’t stop them.  What could he do?  He couldn’t tell his date to leave him alone right in front of her friends.  He couldn’t even ask Meg to take her hands off of him, not with her touching him right in front of Lilith with no complaints from Lilith.  All he could do was sit there with his hands folded, his arms resting on his knees, quietly waiting in the smoke-filled stairway while the girls chatted.  He’d been offered a cigarette, but refused.  Now, sitting in the smoke, it almost didn’t matter.

“I still can’t believe that bastard in the dog suit did that,” Abaddon complained.  “I should have tripped him, but I was just too shocked!”

“Same here,” Ruby added.  “He really went too far.  Getting you with the net was funny, but lifting his leg?  That was just gross!”

Lilith’s arm tightened around Castiel.  “He upset Castiel, too,” she announced.  “He was so sweet, trying to tell me that fucker didn’t mean anything by it.  But he’s Cassie’s best friend!”

“Cas has poor taste,” Meg announced.  “Lil, you need to tell him to go kick that guy’s ass!”

“No,” Lilith called.  She had her face in his hair again.  “I’m not putting my boyfriend in a position where he has to fight his best friend!”

Boyfriend.  Castiel tried to force himself not to tense.  The way she was wrapped around him, she’d feel it for sure.  He had to break up with her, but not tonight.  Not when she was still this upset.  He had to talk to her, calm her down.  He wasn’t worried about Sam.  His friend had gone too far and now the cheerleaders in Perdition hated him, but that would hardly affect Sam over in Lawrence.  Castiel was more concerned about Lilith.  She was already upset.  He had no doubt she’d be more upset when he broke up with her.  Right now, she needed him, needed to believe Castiel was here for her as her boyfriend.  Later, when she was calm again, he’d find a way to explain to her that, as much as he liked her, a relationship just wasn’t working out.  Yes.  That was the way to do this.  He didn’t think she’d be broken-hearted or anything.  They’d only been on a few dates.  It wasn’t like they were close.  She’d be fine, move on, and forget all about him.

Abaddon took another drag on her cigarette.  “So which prom are you two going to anyway?  His or yours?”

Prom?

“Mine,” Lilith announced.  “I’m a senior this year.  I’ll probably be Prom Queen, so Cas has to go to mine.  But it’s ok because he’s only a sophomore.  We can go to his junior prom, and then he can get Prom King at his senior prom!”

Ruby looked at Castiel in surprise.  “You’re only a sophomore?”

“Yes,” Castiel replied.

“Wow,” Ruby admired.  “I wouldn’t have guessed that!”

“That’s because he’s so gorgeous,” Lilith announced proudly.  “Isn’t my angel just the total package?  Looks, personality, and a good family!  I’m so glad he’s mine!  Did you see those bitches in the stands eyeing him up?  I had to keep going up there to let them know he’s mine so they didn’t come down and bother him.”

“Who would be stupid enough to touch your boyfriend right in front of you?” Abaddon asked.  “Except for that slut Meg Masters down there.”

Meg wrapped an arm around Castiel’s lower leg, leaned against it, and gave Abaddon the finger.  “Get your own unicorn,” she announced.  “I’m her BFF.  Long as I don’t grab his package, I can do whatever I want with him.”

“Don’t kiss him either.”

“Not even once?”  Meg pouted.  “Come on, I’m your best friend!”

Lilith considered.  “Maybe once?”

“I would prefer you didn’t kiss me,” Castiel called.

Meg swatted at his leg.  “Oh shush, Clarence, no one asked you.”

“I noticed this,” Castiel said, finally showing a bit of irritation.

Lilith laughed.  “You’re so cute!  Don’t worry.  You’re mine, and I don’t share.”

Meg scoffed.  “Bitch.”

“Slut!”

“Tell us something we don’t know,” Ruby grumbled.

“I still say we should go after that bastard in the dog suit,” Abaddon urged.  “Cassie, what’s his name?”

“Sam Winchester,” Lilith supplied when Castiel didn’t answer.  “He’s cute, for a short little shit.  What is he, a freshman?”

Castiel didn’t answer that, either.

“He was cute,” Meg mused.  “I’d do him.”

“You’d do anything with a dick,” Abaddon told her.  “Or at least a decent quality strap-on.”

“I wouldn’t do you, you red-haired skank!”

Abaddon rolled her eyes.  “Get a few drinks in you, Meg, and you’d do the knot on a tree.”

“I’d do Clarence here in a hot minute.  What do you say?  Wanna go make baby unicorns?”

Her fingers were creeping up under Castiel’s pant leg.  Castiel frowned and moved his leg away.  That made Meg laugh.  “Oh, look, Lil!  He’s shy!”

“I know!  Isn’t he adorable?”  She straightened, listening.  “Oh!  Last slow dance of the night!  Ok, get off of my boyfriend, Meg!  Castiel and I are going dancing!”

Castiel allowed himself to be pulled up and out of the smoke-filled stairway.  That was a relief.  He let her lead him back into the dance, where she put her arms around his neck and leaned into him.  He wrapped his arms around her, swaying to the music.  But his thoughts weren’t on the dance.  Prom.  That was still some time away.  She’d have plenty of time to find another date if he broke up with her this week.

Her hand was on the back of his neck, pulling his head down to speak into his ear.  “Homecoming is next week,” she told him.  “You’ll have to bring your outfit to the game.  You’ll be able to run into the school before Homecoming.  We’ll all change to march out on the field so they can declare me Homecoming Queen.  Then Saturday, you’ll have to wear it again and ride in the Homecoming parade.  You’ll make such a handsome king!”

Castiel’s stomach twisted.  Next week?  How could he expect Lilith to find another date in a week?  And she had to have one, especially if she really did become Homecoming Queen!

Wait, next week?  Next week was a home game for Lawrence.  He knew Sam and Dean wanted him to come, especially after tonight.  Even though they’d only lost by three points, Castiel knew Dean had been upset about being ejected from the game.  If Castiel skipped the next game, especially if he came back out here?  Besides, he reasoned, he’d already promised Charlie he’d give her a ride to the game and take her home after the dance.  That settled it.  Resolved, Castiel leaned down to speak.  “Lilith, I wish you’d mentioned Homecoming earlier.  I’m sorry, but I have other plans.”

She hummed.  Her arms were tight around him.  She danced with her cheek pressed against his chest.  “Then you’ll have to cancel them,” she informed him.  “Homecoming Queen is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, Castiel.  I need my boyfriend at my side as my King.  That’s more important than whatever it is you’re doing.”

Castiel couldn’t really argue with that.  If it was that big of a deal, what choice did he have?  “Alright,” he sighed.  “Let me see what I can do.”

She hummed again.

The dance was over.  Lilith had him by the hand, making the rounds, saying goodnight to all of her many friends and admirers.  Castiel smiled, following where he was led, letting her show him off again.  He felt like a prize stallion being ridden around in a show.  An hour.  All it would take was an hour, and he would be home.  He just had get out, get Lilith home, and he could finally leave.  He couldn’t wait.

It was a relief to be in his car.  But Lilith wasn’t ready to go home.  Instead, she directed Castiel to turn off onto a dirt road.  It led to an open area looking over a wide, flat field, where several other cars had parked.  Above them, the stars blazed down in a dome all around.  Immediately, his anxiety spiked.  “It’s beautiful,” he offered.

She hummed.  Reached over.  Switched off the ignition and pulled out the keys.

Castiel frowned.  “Lilith, I have an hour to drive to get home,” he reminded her.  “I really should drop you off and get going.”

“Soon.”  She was getting out of the car.  “Come on.  Back seat.”

“Um, no thanks.  Give me my keys.”

She climbed into the back seat and dropped Castiel’s keys down the front of her dress.  “Why don’t you come back here and get them?”  She smiled.  “Come on, Castiel.  I have wanted you all night!”

Castiel shook his head.  “Lilith?  Please give me back my keys.  I am not coming back there, alright?”

She smiled.  “Still so shy!”

Castiel was about to say something, what he didn’t know, but suddenly there was a lot more of Lilith on display.  She was pulling her dress up over her head, revealing her lacy bra.  Castiel’s keys were nestled in that bra between her breasts.

Nope.  Castiel quickly turned around and grabbed the steering wheel.  “Lilith?  I am sorry, but I do not want to do this.  Give me my keys, get dressed, and let me take you home so I can go home.”

She moved forward.  Her hands were on him, one undoing his tie and the buttons on his shirt, slipping beneath to rub at his chest.  The other caught his chin, turned his head so she could kiss him.  He made a sound of protest, tightening his hands on the wheel.  “Relax, angel,” she whispered against his lips.  “It’s ok.  You’ll love it!  Just relax.”

“Please get off of me?”

“You don’t want me to stop.”

“Yes, actually, I…”

She kissed him again to quiet him.  He groaned.  His hands still gripped the wheel, determined not to make a mistake and touch anything he shouldn’t be touching.  But she was climbing back up over the seat, shimmying her way into the front once more in just her bra and panties.  “Lilith, please!” he called.  “I don’t want to do this, alright?  I…”

Her hand went over his mouth.  “I get it.  This is your first time, isn’t it?”

He nodded, hoping that would dissuade her.

She let go of his mouth and smiled at him.  “It’s ok.  You don’t have to do anything.  You just sit back and relax.  I’ll get you ready, and do all the work.”

Castiel frowned.  “What do you mean?  Hey!”  She’d reached across him and pulled the handle, dumping the back of his seat.  “What are you doing?  I can’t drive like this!”

She shushed him.  Her hands were at the front of his pants, undoing them.

“Stop!” he hissed, pushing her hands away.  “I told you, I don’t want to do this!”

She took his hands, brought them up to her lips.  Kissed them, and then pushed them back down.  “It’s ok,” she urged.  “I won’t hurt you.  It’s a natural thing, Castiel.”  She went back to the front of his pants, still smiling up at him.  “You’ll like this.  I promise!”

It’s a natural thing.  A natural thing.  It was obvious what she was going to do.  When she took him in hand, he jumped and gasped.  He had to grab the sides of his seat to keep from pushing her away.  That made her laugh.  Then her mouth was on him, warm and wet.

A natural thing.  Castiel had never experienced anything like this before.  He had to admit, it felt fantastic.  He let out a moan, clutched at the sides of his seat.  That only encouraged her.  She moaned as well, reaching down to pleasure herself as she worked.  He understood what she planned to do now.  It was working.  She was skilled.  He could feel himself responding, his body reacting naturally to physical stimulation.  But his heart was pounding.  He could hear it, hear the blood pumping in his ears.  Woop.  Woop.  Woop.  Woop.  I.  Don’t.  Want.  This.

He didn’t want this.  It didn’t matter that it was natural.  It didn’t matter that his body was responding.  It didn’t matter that it felt good, and what would follow would likely feel good as well.  All that mattered was that, despite the pleasurable feeling, he felt sick, violated.  “I don’t want this.  Please stop?  I don’t…  Oh!”

She was very skilled, mouth and hands making him thrust forward involuntarily.  But it wasn’t want he wanted.  No.  Lilith wasn’t what he wanted.  “Get off me!”

She laughed, kept going.

“I said get off me!” Castiel yelled.  “Get off!”

His hands seized her shoulders, pulled her roughly up and shoved her away.  She blinked, staring at him in surprise as he rapidly reclothed himself.  Then he was climbing out of the car, leaning against it as he panted, desperate for air.

He could hear her fumbling around in the car.  Then the door opened.  He looked over and saw her, thankfully dressed once more.  “Castiel?  What’s wrong, angel?”

“I don’t want this, Lilith,” he told her.  “I’m sorry.  But this isn’t going to work.  I think we need to stop seeing each other.”

Her eyes went wide, her mouth dropped in surprise.  “You…  You’re breaking up with me?  Now?  Out here, after I was just giving you your first blowjob?!”

He squeezed his eyes shut, leaning on the car.  “I’m sorry, Lilith.  But it’s not fair to either one of us for me to just keep pretending…”

“Pretending?!  Castiel Novak, you are not breaking up with me!  No one breaks up with me!”

“Well, I am!”  Suddenly irritated, he turned to glare at her.  “You keep making all these plans for me, going clear into my senior year!  At what point where you going to actually discuss any of them with me?”

“I shouldn’t have to!  Our fathers were right.  This is a perfect match, Castiel!  We’ve got a good thing, and I’m not letting you go!  You’re not breaking up with me, you’re not!”

“Yes, I am!”  He was yelling now, turning to face her with his fists clenched at his sides.  “Lilith, you don’t own me!”

“You’re my boyfriend!”

“Not anymore!  Not if you can’t respect my wishes!  Not if you keep making plans for me and trying to force me into something I don’t want!”

She laughed, a decidedly unpleasant sound.  “Look at you!  You’re still half mast in your pants!  At least one part of you wanted it!”

“I can’t help what my body does, but I was very clear that I wanted you to stop.  I did not want you to touch me, Lilith.  And I still don’t!”  He sagged, all his energy gone with his anger.  “Give me my keys and get in the car.  I’l take you home and go.  You won’t hear from me again.”

“Fuck you!”  She dug his keys out of her bra and hurled them at him.  “I’m not getting into your fucking car with you.  I’m only a mile or so from my home.”

He sighed.  “Lilith, it’s dark, and…”

“I don’t care!  I’d rather fall and break my neck in the dark than spend one more minute with you!”

“Come on, Lilith,” he tried again.

“Get lost!” she screamed.  “Just get the fuck away from me!  You’ll pay for this!  You’ll pay, now go!”

People in the other cars were starting to notice.  Castiel finally nodded, put the back of his seat back into position and got into the car.  The idea of leaving a teenaged girl all alone in the dark to walk a mile to her home wasn’t appealing.  But there wasn’t much he could do.  He glanced back at her as he drove away and was relieved to see a couple from another car had gotten out and was approaching her.  She appeared to be sobbing.  That made his stomach twist with guilt.  But at least she wouldn’t be alone in the dark.

His drive home was uneventful.  Of course the lights were still on when he arrived.  He had permission to be out past curfew.  His father knew he was out on a date and would be home late.  But Castiel could see the man pacing in the living room.  Not a good sign.  Castiel quickly parked and went in.  “Good evening, father,” he said nervously.

“Good evening?  Castiel, what the hell did you do?!”  Zachariah had the cordless phone in his hand.  His voice sounded angry, but the expression on his face was unreadable.

Castiel grimaced.  “We had a fight and broke up.  Lilith called?”

“Her father called.  Castiel, I cannot believe you!”  Zachariah turned away and made a quick call.  “He’s home.  Terribly sorry about this, Mr. Morningstar.  Give my regrets to your lovely daughter.  I’ll speak with my son.”

Castiel cringed.  He folded his hands in front of him and stared at the floor, waiting for whatever would come.  When his father’s hands took his shoulders he couldn’t help the little gasp and jump he gave.

But his father wasn’t hurting him.  “Castiel, I know that you are new to dating girls.  But you cannot treat a woman that way!  Women are to be respected and cherished, not…!  What were you thinking?!”

“I’m sorry, father.”  Castiel was miserable.  “I’m just glad she’s alright.  I wanted to drive her home, but she got out and screamed at me to get away from her.”

“I imagine she would!  For the love of God, boy, if a girl tells you she doesn’t want to do something, you stop!  You don’t argue, and you certainly don’t put your hands on her!”

Castiel finally looked up, blinking in surprise.  “What?!”

“I know, Castiel!  Lilith went home and told her father all about how you insisted she perform oral sex on you.  What the hell were you thinking?!”  Zach gave him a shake.  “Fortunately, her father called me instead of the police.  I explained things.  How you were confused by that boy at your old school.  How Dr. Crowley helped you.  How you’re just starting to respond to your body’s true nature.  You’ve never been in a serious relationship before.  This is all so new to you!  Mr. Morningstar is obviously upset, but he understands.  And so do I.”

Castiel suddenly found himself pulled into a tight hug.  “You must have been so confused,” Zach said.  “What you felt tonight was perfectly natural, but you can’t let it take you over!  You need to learn to control yourself!”

“I…  I’m sorry?”  Castiel had no idea what to say.

Zach held him for a moment longer before stepping back, holding his son at arm’s length.  “I’m not happy about this,” Zachariah warned.  “Not in the slightest!  You will always, from this point forward, make absolutely certain a girl consents to whatever it is you want.  You scared the shit out of that poor girl tonight!  You have to realize how much larger and stronger you are.  You need to control yourself, even when your hormones are raging and your body is demanding relief.  Do you understand?”

“Yes.”  He didn’t understand at all.  That Lilith had lied about what had happened tonight was clear.  But Castiel’s head was spinning.

Zachariah let go of him.  The man’s face was odd, as though he were trying to smile and frown at the same time.  “Regardless of how bad this went, at least it’s a very positive step in the right direction.  Now I want you to call Dr. Crowley first thing in the morning and tell him what happened.  Let him help you.  But not until after you’ve had a chance to sleep on it.”  He pointed at the stairs.  “Go to bed.  I’m very upset with you right now!”

“I’m sorry, father.”  Castiel started towards the stairs.  He was completely confused.  His father was upset with him with no real consequence?

“Oh, Castiel?  One more thing.”  His father handed him an envelope that had clearly been opened and folded a few times.  “Your brother Lucifer had this.  Apparently, one of the senior girls invited you to her birthday party, and your brother didn’t see fit to give you your invitation.  We already discussed that.  He’s jealous over how popular you are, Castiel.  Don’t make a big deal out of this and make him feel even more left out.”  Zachariah shook his head.  “Imagine, Lucifer being passed over for you by a girl in his class, and being asked to deliver an invitation to you!  Not even Hannah was invited to this, but you were!  You’re quite the ladies’ man, aren’t you?”

“Sorry, father.”

“Don’t be sorry for being popular.  The party is tomorrow.  I want you to talk it over with Dr. Crowley, of course, but this may be good, for you to be around girls in a safe environment, learn how to interact properly with them.”  He paused.  “That other girl, Charlie, that you’re taking to the dance next week.  She’ll be at this party?”

Castiel looked at the name on the invitation.  “Probably?  They’re friends.”

“Good.  That’s good.”  Zach sounded oddly pleased for someone who claimed to be upset.  “You should probably go to the party, then.  Ask the doctor.  Now go to bed.”

“Alright.”  Castiel paused, looking at the invitation without seeing it.  “I’m very sorry about tonight, father.”

His father waved him off.  Zach was turning away now, but not before Castiel was sure he saw a wide grin on his father’s face.

Castiel quickly walked to the safety of his room.  He went straight into his bathroom and looked into the mirror.  The Demoness’s blood red lipstick all over his mouth.  Shirt partially unbuttoned.  Tie undone.  Hair a mess.  He looked down and realized he’d never redone his belt.  No wonder his father was so willing to believe what he’d been told.

Castiel got into the shower and scrubbed until his skin glowed.  But he still felt dirty.

Chapter Text

As far as birthday parties went, this was one of the better ones Dean had attended.  Too bad he was in no mood to party.  The first thing he did when he came in was look for Castiel.  He knew the other boy had been invited, but Cas wasn’t there.  Sammy had been upset, too.  He’d seen his brother calling and frowning at the phone.  Of course, right now, Dean had no idea where Sammy was.  That bothered him more than he cared to admit.  The nature of his conversation now probably played a role.  He and Benny had been talking for a while before Dean finally got his friend to admit what was clearly on his mind.

“Sam’s getting more ass than a toilet seat,” Benny reluctantly told him.  “And he’s not getting any better, brother.  Did you know he screwed Leslie?”

“What?!”  After what she’d done to Diego, Leslie was a pariah among the animals.  That Sammy had slept with her was a shock.

“I know, I couldn’t believe it either when I heard,” Benny continued.  “But Diego found out and started a fight with him.  Word is, Novak got between them.”

“Cas?!”  Dean was in danger of dropping his drink.

Benny was nodding.  HIs expression was too serious to be anything but real.  But Dean just couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  “This has to be some kind of misunderstanding,” Dean insisted.  “Diego’s friends with Sammy, and Sammy knows how much he loved Leslie!  Besides, after the way she treated Diego, why would…”  Dean’s head snapped up.  “Wait, SAMMY is the guy Leslie cheated with?!  I know she cheated on Diego and threw it in his face when she dumped him, but…  Sammy?!”

“Yeah.”  Benny wouldn’t meet Dean’s eyes.  He rubbed at the back of his neck with his hand.  “You don’t seem to understand what I am telling you here, Dean.  Your little brother?  He’s the damned village bicycle!”

Dean stopped and breathed for a moment.  “Sam is…  He’s better than this.  Sleeping around?  That’s not Sammy!  Benny, you know him!”

“I knew him,” Benny corrected.  “But this guy now is not the Sam Winchester I knew.”  He sighed deeply and finally met Dean’s eyes.  “Listen, I didn’t want to tell you because you’ve got enough shit on your shoulders.  But I think you need to know.  Sammy is out of control, Dean.  He was always a bit of a player, but this is crazy!  I’m hearing shit I would have never believed a month ago!”

“What the actual fuck is he doing?!”

Benny spread his hands.

Dean lost all interest in the party.  He dumped his drink in the grass and started searching the crowd for his brother.  The party was well-attended.  The backyard was filled with people.  Tables loaded with food and gifts were surrounded.  But Sammy wasn’t among them.  Dean went inside and started searching the house.  He paid special attention to closets and spare rooms.  Any out-of-the-way place someone might hide to bump uglies.  He encountered a couple in the second floor bathroom, but it wasn’t Sammy.  Dean apologized hastily and kept looking.  Finished with the house, he went back outside.  Dean checked behind every plant, in every car, and in every dark corner.

He didn’t find anything.

Asking around, Dean learned that Sam had left the party not even half an hour after they’d arrived.  While Dean had been talking to Benny, Sammy had been spotted climbing into a BMW no one recognized.  No one had gotten a look at the driver, either.  Dean called his brother’s cell, listened to it ring, and frowned when Sammy didn’t pick up.  Dean hung up and angrily shoved the phone into his pocket.  He picked up a throw pillow, twisting it in his hands as he paced the living room.  Stopping, he threw it against the wall.

“Sexy.”

Dean turned around.  Lisa Braeden was standing in the doorway of the living room, watching him.  “Sorry, Lisa.  I’m just upset.”

“Yeah, I kind of got that.”  She came closer.  “Have you seen Sam?”

“No.  That would be why I’m upset.”

She sighed and came closer.  “Your brother is going to be the death of me.  I swear, every day, there’s a new girl crying in the girls’ room.  He tells her she’s special, sleeps with her, and then doesn’t return her calls.  I’d like to wring his scrawny neck!”

“You can get in line right behind me.”  Dean threw himself onto the sofa on his back.

Lisa came over, taking a seat on the arm of the sofa above Dean’s head.  “What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong is that I’m shit at this!” Dean exploded.  “I promised dad I would look after Sammy.  I promised mom I would look after Sammy!  But I didn’t even know what he was doing!”  Dean pounded a fist against the back of the sofa.

“Dean, he’s sixteen,” Lisa reminded.  “He’s old enough to make his own decisions.”

“Bad ones!”

“Very bad,” Lisa agreed.  “He’s making mistakes that are already costing him friends.  Sooner or later, what he’s doing is going to come back and bite him hard.  He’ll need you then, Dean.  But until then?  You can’t control him.  The more you try, the more he’ll fight you and the worse he’ll get.  All you can do is be there for him, ready to catch him when he inevitably falls.”  She reached down and brushed at his hair.  “Everyone knows you’re doing the best you can.”

Dean closed his eyes.  “Doesn’t feel like enough.”

“I know.  When my mom was gone, I felt like I had to be a mom to my sisters while my dad worked.  I know how it feels, trying to be the parent your younger siblings need.  And I learned fast that it’s not possible.  You can’t be your mom or your dad, Dean.  And you certainly can’t be both of them at once.  You’re Sam’s brother.  So be his brother.  That’s all.”

Dean reached up and grasped at her hand.  “Thanks, Lisa.  I think I needed to hear that.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Hold Sammy while I kick his ass?”

“Glad to!”  She winked at him.  “Can I bribe you to trade places with me, though?  I’ve been practicing my high kicks and I would love to take a shot at his gonads?”

“Remind me not to piss you off!”  Dean shivered.  “So, what, you’re mad because you’re having to mother all these girls?”

“That, and he broke the heart of a girl I had my eyes on,” Lisa grumbled.  “Now she’s practically a nun.  No other girls have shown any interest, not since Charlie hooked up with Dorothy.  And since I, well, developed over the summer?”  She grimaced, crossing her arms over her chest.  “I’m so sick of guys coming on to me and eyeing up my chest I could scream!”

Dean grunted.  “I forgot you were bi.  And I can see how your situation could be, well, annoying.”

“Ugh, you have no idea!  At this point I’m almost ready to give up on guys altogether and just be a lesbian,” she sighed.  “But if I’m honest?  Although I’d like to slap your brother for ruining my chances with that girl?  She’s not the one I’m really interested in.”

“Oh?”  Dean squeezed her hand.  “Can I pry?”

Lisa blushed.  “You’re going to think I’m crazy.”

“Probably.  After all, no guy is going to be able to stand against the one talking to you.  And I don’t go for girls, so you’re out of luck.”

She pulled her hand free and swatted at him.  “Ego, much?”

“What can I say?  I was blessed with looks, charm, and sex appeal!”

“Half the school knows you’ve got the hots for Castiel Novak, but it doesn’t seem like your outstanding sex appeal is working so well with him?”

“No.”  Dean slumped into the cushions of the sofa.  “I’m going to tell you something, Lisa, since we’re having a heart-to-heart here.  Castiel?  I have never been so head-over-heels about anyone!  And I cannot get over him!  Even with him having a girlfriend now?”  He shook his head.  “I’m in love, Lisa.”

“He is hot,” Lisa declared.  “I’d do him.”

“You and me both.”

“Together?”

“Sure, why not?  Seems like there’s as much of a chance of that happening as anything else.”

“So we’re both suffering from a bad case of unrequited love,” Lisa sighed.

“Love?”  Dean folded his hands under his head and grinned up at her.  “Ok, now you have to tell me.  Who is this unknowingly-loved person?  Guy or girl?”

“Guy.”  Lisa smoothed her skirt over her thigh.

“Anyone I know?”

“Yes.”

“You going to tell me?”

“No.”

“Tease.”

“Slut.  You think I don’t know about you and Benny?”

“Not anymore,” Dean sighed.  “Not since he got back together with Andrea.  Benny and I, we’re just friends with benefits.  It’s not like there’s anything there.  But it was nice you know?  I could be close to someone like that.  Helped get my mind off of Cas.”

She looked at him.  Her lips pinched together.  “You need some help getting your mind off of him?  I’m willing.  Think you can get it up for a girl?”

Dean frowned.  “What, a depression fuck?”

“Sure, why not?  We both want someone we can’t have.  I can imagine you’re him.  Might be a little harder for you, but you could always close your eyes?”

Dean looked at her.  He didn’t go for girls, but Lisa was extremely attractive.  She was wearing a white pleated skirt that made her long, tanned legs look fantastic over her white strappy heels.  A white tank top completed her look.  Lisa looked fresh and lovely.  But Dean wasn’t that interested in her looks.  “Tell me who you like,” Dean ordered.

She was up, moving to kneel down next to the sofa.  “I’ll tell you,” she said, undoing his jeans, “if you can get me off.”

“You do know I’ve slept with girls before, right?”

“Did they get off?”

“Far as I know?”

“It’s a good thing you’re gay, Dean Winchester.  Sounds like you’re a terrible lay for a woman!  Whatever, I’ll do the work.  Close your eyes and think of Cas!”  She had him out and was bending down to take him into her mouth.

Dean closed his eyes.  He focused on the sensation, imagining it was Cas.  Cas looking up at him, blue eyes through dark lashes.  The faint smell of his aftershave.  The hands touching him could be Cas’s, soft but with some strength to them.  He moaned.  “Cas.”

The low chuckle this brought certainly wasn’t Cas.  Didn’t matter.  Dean focused on his fantasy.  Cas had him fully erect now, leaking and throbbing with need.  He couldn’t keep himself from thrusting upward.  Hands pushed hard on his hips, almost painful.  “You got protection?”

“Wallet.”

His wallet was pulled from his jeans.  A moment later, the condom was going on.  A leg went over him.  Dean scooted over a bit on the sofa, making room.

What came next wasn’t what he was used to.  But it was warm, and wet.  It wasn’t tight like he wanted, but the muscles inside could still grip him.  Dean moaned, grabbed at the hips on top of him, wanting to flip over and be on top.  But the hands seized his wrists, pushed them down and held them above his head on the arm of the sofa.  “Don’t pin me down!” he complained.

“Shut up.”

Again, not Cas’s voice.  Dean frowned.  “Alright, you can be on top, just let me hold onto you.”

His hands were drawn towards a set of hips.  He clutched at them.  The hips were too wide.  They weren’t Cas’s narrow hips.  The waist was too small to be Cas’s either.  But while the heat he sank into wasn’t what he wanted, he still knew how to take advantage of it.  He pulled down on the hips as he thrust up, sinking in deep.  That drew a cry and made him smile.  Behind his closed eyes, Cas was throwing his head back.  Those beautiful eyes were half-lidded in pleasure.  His cheeks were flushed.  The red spread over his neck.  Dean wanted to cover that neck with kisses.  To bite marks onto it.  Claim Cas.  Yes.  Leave his mark to let the whole world know he belonged to Dean and only Dean.

He had a good rhythm now, hard and fast and rough.  The body above him was giving as much as taking.  Muscular thighs clenched, sliding up and down.  Dean grabbed the thighs, pulled them a bit to adjust the angle.  Now every time he thrust up, it drew a cry, a gasp, or a whispered curse.  Yes.  Oh, Cas.  What I wouldn’t give for this to really be you.  I could make you make these sounds.  I could bring you pleasure.  But more than that, I could love you.  I would cherish you every second of every day.  And I would never miss the chance to tell you.  I love you, Cas.  I love you.

Dean was breathing hard, near climax.  The image of Castiel, sweaty and panting and moaning, was better than any porn.  “Cas!”

“Sam!  Oh, Sammy!”

Sammy?!

The muscles around him clenched, Lisa’s orgasm ripping through her.  Dean’s eyes, open wide, took in the sight of her with her hands under her top, gripping at her own breasts even as she rode him through her climax.  Panting, she fell forward, catching herself with her hands against Dean’s chest.  Dean stared at her.  “Sammy?  My Sammy?  Seriously?!”

She tossed her hair out of her face and glowered at him.  “Fuck you, Dean.”

“Yeah, you kind of just did.  Um, thanks?”

“You’re welcome.”  She was composing herself, adjusting her bra beneath her shirt.  Her hips rocked forward again, drawing a gasp from Dean.  “You want to finish?”

“Y-yeah.”  If he hadn’t been so close, there’s no way he could have finished after hearing his partner call out his brother’s name.  As it was, all it took was a few more minutes of imagining and thrusting before he was spilling into the condom.  “Oh yes!” he moaned.  “Fuck yes!”

She chuckled.  “Good?”

“Best depression fuck I have ever had.”

The floorboard creaked.

Dean looked around and there was Castiel.  Cas was standing in the doorway.  His face was blank as he stared.  Dean gasped.  “Cas!  You came!”

“Apparently, so did you.”  And then Cas was running, racing back through the house and out the front door.

“Shit!”  Lisa was climbing rapidly off of him.  “Go!  Chase after him, Dean!”

Dean was already scrambling up, peeling off the condom and tossing it into the trash, fastening his jeans as he ran.  “Cas?  Cas!”

Chapter Text

He never should have come.

Granted, the hostess was a friend.  She’d been happy to see him, even though he’d only been able to offer a card with cash instead of a birthday gift.  It was all he could do.  Lucifer not giving him the invitation had meant Castiel had only this afternoon to get her anything.  He’d spent hours this morning on the phone with Dr. Crowley.  His father had already called, and Dr. Crowley believed he knew the story.  Castiel had listened patiently to Crowley’s lecture about consent and respecting the rights of women.  He’d listened to the doctor’s advice on how to control his new feelings after having suppressed them for so long.  Lust was a sin, but it was natural.  All Castiel had to do was stay in control, to rise above his body’s baser urges.

After that, Castiel had to call Lilith and apologize, with the phone on speaker and his father listening.  Lilith was still angry.  Castiel could tell by the high pitch of her voice, the way she clipped her words.  But she was gracious.  She thanked him for his apology.  She told him she wished him well.  Castiel had never known just how much venom could be put into those words.  Then his father had taken the phone and spoke privately for a time with her father.  The conversation lasted two hours.  The entire time, Castiel could do nothing except sit in a chair at the kitchen and wait.  He was reasonably certain that the conversation about him and Lilith hadn’t lasted nearly this long.  No doubt, his father and Mr. Morningstar were talking business.  Despite everything, Castiel felt a pang of sympathy for Lilith.  Her father believed his daughter had been sexually assaulted.  Yet here he was, spending far more time talking business with the father of her attacker than he’d spent defending her.

Finally, after a prayer and more advice from his father, Castiel was allowed to go.

His father had taken his car keys as punishment for what had happened with Lilith.  Hannah had to drive him.  He could tell she was irritated.  Hannah never drove, preferring to utilize Martin.  But Martin refused to drive Castiel, knowing Zachariah was angry with him.  He knew better than to ask his brothers.  That left Hannah.  She dutifully drove him through town to the drug store to purchase a card.  Then she had to drive him to the party.  By the time he’d arrived, he was almost twenty minutes late.  Cars were parked up and down the street.  A lot of noise was coming from the back yard.  Hannah pulled up the BMW she’d gotten last year for making honor roll and smiled at her brother.  “Have fun!”

“This is so awkward,” Castiel sighed.  “You, taking me to this party that you weren’t invited to?  Why don’t you wait while I talk to her?  Maybe she just forgot your invitation?”

“Or maybe she’s a bitch who intentionally ignored me because I wouldn’t let her cheat off of my exam?” Hannah replied cheerfully.  “It’s fine.  We don’t get along.  The popular girls in this school?  They’re cruel.  That’s how it is with popular kids everywhere, I guess.  I don’t care for the way they treat other people.  They’ll even turn on their own if anyone steps out of their perfect little line!  No thank you.  I’m glad to miss her stupid party.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy yourself.”  She smiled at him.  “This is what it’s like to be part of the popular crowd, Cassie.  You get invited to the big parties!  Go!  Have a good time!  Just, whatever you do, don’t come home drunk, or high, or whatever else the popular kids at this school do!”

It was good advice.  Castiel smiled, kissed her cheek, and climbed out.

The back yard was full of laughing, dancing, drinking people.  Somehow, Sammy still spotted him right away.  He waited long enough for Castiel to greet the hostess and give her the card.  Then he had Castiel by the arm.  “Where the hell have you been?” he hissed.  “Dean and I have been looking for you, Cas!  Listen, you need to talk to Dean, ok?”

“About what?”

Sam rolled his eyes.  He pulled Castiel away from the crowd and lowered his voice.  “Moment of truth, ok?  It’s just you and me.  I won’t judge you either way.  Do you, or do you not, have feelings for my brother?”

Castiel froze.  “That’s not your business, ok?”

“Actually, it is my business.  Because Dean is all I’ve got left.  And he’s falling apart!  He got his stupid ass ejected from a game for fighting last night.  And that happened because he was watching you making out with your girlfriend right in front of him!”

“That’s not my fault!” Castiel hissed.  “She kept kissing me!  What could I do?  What would you have done?”

“Exactly what you did, with one exception.”  Sam’s eyes were looking hard at Castiel.  “You said ‘she kept kissing me,’ like you weren’t an active participant.  You going to tell me now that you didn’t want to make out with her?”

“No!  I didn’t want anything she did to me last night!  That’s part of why we’re not together anymore.  I didn’t want it, and it’s not my fault that Dean got upset, alright Sam?!  He already knows we can’t have a relationship.”

Sam stepped closer, eyes narrowed.  “Can’t have?  Or don’t want?”

“It doesn’t matter.  It’s not my fault and I won’t apologize!”  Not again.  Castiel had already had his fill of apologizing for things that weren’t his fault.

Sam raised his hands.  “Fine.  It’s your life.  But will you do one thing for me?  Will you please talk to Dean?”  Sam pointed across the yard.  “He’s just around the other corner of the house with Benny.  They’re having some kind of powwow back there.”  Sam turned and looked at Castiel.  “Look, Cas.  I’m not angry at you or anything.  But I think you’re making a mistake, ok?  You and Dean, you’d be real good for each other!  But like I said, it’s your life.  Will you just talk to Dean?”

“I…”  Castiel swallowed.  “I’ll try.  But Sam?  You’re wrong about one thing.”

“What?”

“Dean’s not all you have left,” Castiel told him.  “You’ve got me.  And you always will.”

Sam’s eyes softened.  He tightly hugged Castiel.  “I love you, brother.”

Castiel hugged him back.  “I love you, too.”

Then Sam was gone, jogging back around to the front of the house.

Castiel looked in the direction Sam had told him Dean was.  He was trying to work up his courage when Dean suddenly appeared.  Castiel immediately chickened out.  He ducked behind a bush.  He could see Dean through the leaves and branches.  Dean looked upset.  He was looking around, talking to people.  Then he went into the house.

“What’s our mission, captain?” a voice whispered, inches from Castiel’s ear.

Castiel jumped.  He frowned at Charlie, who had crouched down next to him and was intensely peeking through the bush into the yard.  “I’m just not ready to talk to Dean yet is all.”

“You guys have a fight?”

“You could say that.”  Castiel stood up, feeling foolish.  “I know I need to talk to him.  I just wasn’t quite ready to do it yet when he came around the corner.”

Charlie got up.  She took his arm and led him through the crowd, moving to a corner of the yard.  There, she pulled up on the fence.  “I used to play over here all the time when I was a kid,” she explained as a section of the fence came up.  “We used to sneak out here.  Come on.  We can go by the neighbor’s garden shed, and you can tell me what’s so scary about talking to Dean that it’s worth hiding behind a bush.”

Charlie, it turned out, was a good listener.  Castiel told her about what had happened between him and Dean, carefully avoiding any mention of his own feelings.  He told her about Lilith’s actions at the game, Dean’s reaction, and even what had happened in his car afterwards.  By the time he finished, she was frowning.  “What a bitch!  She did that to you and basically cried rape when you blew her off?!  Want me to go find her and kick her ass?”

“No,” Castiel said with a smile.  “The offer means a lot, though.”

“The offer is open.  Now, about Dean.  So Dean’s interested in you, and he got into that fight because he saw you with your girlfriend?  Ok, that sucks.  But Cas?  You cannot live your life around Dean!”

“I know that,” he groaned, “but I shouldn’t flaunt another relationship in front of him, either!  He said he was in love with me!  I need to talk to him, let him know she didn’t mean anything.”

“And that you’re not interested,” Charlie reminded.  “Unless, of course, you are?”

Castiel looked away.  “He and I already talked about that.”

“Then he has no right to be upset,” Charlie insisted.  “You cannot live your life worried about what he’s going to think.  And if that’s going to be a problem for him, it’s his problem, not yours!  If he wants to continue to be friends with you?  Then he needs to understand that.”

“I don’t want to lose him as a friend!”

“Then you need to tell him that, too.  Because it’s pretty obvious that Dean isn’t able to just be friends with you.  So it seems you’ve both got a decision to make here.”  She squeezed his shoulder.  “Stay here, think it over, decide what you want.  Then go talk to him.  Ok?”

He nodded.  Charlie went back through the fence and returned to the party.  Castiel stayed where he was for a time.  He closed his eyes, leaning back against the shed.  He could do this.  He could talk to Dean and explain that what Dean had observed at the game wasn’t what it looked like.  Castiel would never intentionally hurt Dean like that.  But Dean needed to understand that Castiel couldn’t live his life around him.  Charlie was right.  If Dean wanted to remain friends, then he needed to move on.  After all, that was precisely why Castiel had let Dean hold him that day at school.  So how was it Castiel’s fault that Dean hadn’t been able to move on after all?

Castiel clenched his fists.  It wasn’t fair.  Dean was putting all this pressure on him, and for what?  He didn’t ask for Dean to fall in love with him.  He’d done nothing to encourage Dean.  This wasn’t on Castiel.  It was on Dean.  And Dean needed to acknowledge and deal with the problem.

Resolved, Castiel got up and went back through the fence.

Dean wasn’t at the party in the backyard.  Neither was Sammy.  Apparently, Sammy had left the party shortly after Castiel had arrived.  Castiel was about to go in and search the house when a couple of boys caught his eye.  They were waving towards a third boy, gesturing and pointing around the house.  Then all three jogged around the house, grinning.

Curious, Castiel followed.  There was a group of about half a dozen boys at the front of the house, gathered near the large picture window.  Most had a hand at his crotch.  Frowning, Castiel approached the group.  “What are you doing?”

One of the boys jerked his head towards the picture window.  “Get a load of that, Novak!”

Castiel looked at the window and nearly fell over.  There, in full view from the picture window, was Lisa Braeden.  Her skirt was pulled up, leaving her naked from the hips down.  She was astride a boy Cas couldn’t see, lying on the couch facing away from the window.  Lisa was clearly having sex.  The boy’s hands gripped her thighs.  Her hands were up under her top, groping at her own breasts.  Her eyes were closed.  She didn’t seem to have any idea that what she was doing was completely visible to the group outside the window.

“Stop this!”  Castiel pushed at the boys.  “Get away!  For God’s sake, be decent enough to give them some privacy!”

It didn’t go over well with the boys.  Several of them shoved him back.  And none of them moved from the window.

Castiel went into the house and hurried towards the living room.  He didn’t want to embarrass the pair any more.  If he was careful, maybe he could pull the curtains over the window?  As he got closer, he heard the boy cry out.  “Oh yes!  Fuck yes!”

From his position in the doorway, Castiel was behind Lisa.  He stepped into the living room in time to hear her chuckle.  “Good?”

“Best depression fuck I have ever had.”

Then Castiel took a wrong step, the floorboard creaked, and the couple was aware of his presence.  Lisa gasped, her hand flying up to cover her mouth.  But it was the boy that drew Castiel’s attention.  He’d twisted around on the sofa, craning his neck to look at Castiel.  Green eyes widened in recognition.  “Cas!” Dean cried.  “You came!”

A broken heart was cliched and overused.  But until that moment, Castiel hadn’t known just how accurate it really was.  He could actually feel his heart shatter as he stood there, staring at Dean.  Dean, who’d told him he loved him.  Dean, who had let him believe Castiel had hurt him.  Dean, who had lied about everything.  Dean Winchester, literally caught with his pants down.  And all he could say for himself was “Cas, you came?”  Castiel straightened, hardened his heart, and clenched his fists.  “Apparently, so did you,” he told Dean.

He wasn’t sure what to expect.  But the sudden pain on Dean’s face wasn’t it.  It was more than Castiel could stand.  Nothing made sense.  Everything was a lie.  He had to get away.

Castiel ran out of the house and kept running.  Behind him, he could hear Dean calling his name.  Dean was an athlete, strong and fast.  But Castiel had a head start.  He raced down the street, rounded a corner, ducked behind a bush, and hid.  A moment later, Dean went running by.  “Cas!  Cas, angel, please, just wait!  Talk to me!  Cas, come on!”

Castiel stayed where he was.  He could hear Dean’s voice fading as the other boy kept running.  It wasn’t too late.  He could call out to Dean, let him come back and explain.  There was some explanation.  There had to be.  Something inside of him was screaming for Dean, begging him to come back.  But Castiel didn’t move or make a sound.  And soon, he couldn’t hear Dean anymore.

Castiel gave a little moan.  He managed to get to his feet.  Stumbled his way to the porch.  A section at the bottom was missing.  Castiel crawled inside, lying down on the cold ground.  It seemed fitting.  He curled up and let his tears come.  Stupid.  Why had he come to this party?  Why had he let himself believe someone like Dean Winchester could actually love him?  Hannah was right.  The popular kids were cruel.  They’d only tolerated him because of Sam, but where was Sam now?  Gone right after Castiel had arrived.  That was no coincidence.  Sam knew this was coming.  Knew that the punchline of the cruel prank they’d been playing on Castiel would take place tonight.  Sam and Dean Winchester had pulled off the practical joke of the decade.  Worse, once Sam and Dean spread the word, everyone would know that Castiel had been harboring unnatural feelings.  What if his father found out?

That last thought made him feel even colder than the ground.

***

The sound of footsteps just above his head woke Castiel from a troubled sleep.  Alarmed, he looked around.  Where was he?  The porch.  He’d somehow fallen asleep.  Now it was dark.  Too dark.  He’d been instructed to call his sister if he couldn’t get a ride home, but he certainly couldn’t call from here.  What time was it now?  Castiel checked his watch.  No.  It was too late.  He’d never get home before curfew!  Still, he had a chance.  Zachariah had a business meeting tonight that he’d expected would run late.  If Castiel could get home, maybe his father would never know he’d broken curfew?

Castiel waited until the owner of the house was inside.  Then he crawled out.  His clothes were filthy.  He tried without success to brush the dirt out of his hair.  Then he started jogging.

By the time he reached his home, he was gasping for air.  The lights in the house were still on.  And worst of all, his father was in the living room, pacing back and forth.  Zachariah Novak was home early, waiting for the return of his youngest son.

More movement caught his eye.  Castiel instinctively ducked into the shadows.  Hannah’s bedroom window was opening.  The light from her bedroom silhouetted two embracing figures.  The two kissed amid muffled giggles.  Then one of them was climbing out of the window.  Castiel stared in shock, recognizing Sam Winchester.  Sam had just climbed out of his sister’s bedroom window late at night and was jogging down the street.  What was going on?

Castiel got up and quickly moved towards the house.  He put out a hand, preventing Hannah from closing the window.  She gasped.  “Cassie?!  What are you doing out here?”

“What were you doing in there?!”

Her face flamed.  She opened the window and tugged on his arm.  “Get in here!  You’re filthy!  You’re past curfew and father came home early!  He’s waiting for you!”

“I saw him.”  Castiel climbed inside and frowned at his sister.  “Hannah, what were you doing with Sam Winchester in your room?”

“Nothing!” she said, too quickly.  “He was just hanging out with me.  But we knew father would be upset if he caught him here.”

Castiel looked at his sister, taking in her rumpled clothing, mussed hair.  His eyes moved to the messy bed.  “Oh my god, Hannah, you’re sleeping together?!  You’re sleeping with my best friend!”

“Cassie, you can’t tell!”  Hannah was frantic.  “He hid under the bed when father came home and I went under the covers.  Father doesn’t know he was here.  And if he knew we were sleeping together, he’d send me away!”

“I thought you were saving yourself for marriage?!”

“I’m going to marry Sam,” she insisted.  “I’m in love with him, Castiel.  And he loves me!  I gave him my virginity because we’re getting married once he turns eighteen in a couple of years.  I’m going to be Hannah Winchester!”  She smiled.  “I would have hoped you’d be happy for me!  I…”

The door flew open, revealing the furious face of Zachariah Novak.  His eyes locked on Castiel.  “I thought I heard voices in here.”  He glanced at the open window.  Glared again at Castiel.  Stepping forward, he raised a hand.  A moment later, Castiel was stumbling sideways, cradling his stinging cheek.  “Did you honestly believe you could get away with this?” Zach was yelling.  “That you could sneak in through your sister’s room after curfew and I wouldn’t know?!”

“Father, please!” Hannah cried, stepping forward.  “Castiel didn’t mean to be late!”

Zach turned and slapped her harshly across the face.  “Do not speak back to me!”

“Stop!”  Castiel clung to his father’s arm as it raised for another blow.  “Hannah’s only crime was compassion!  I knew I was late and I begged her to let me in.”

“I should have known!”  Now both hands had Castiel’s arms, giving him a harsh shake.  “Look at you!  You’re filthy!  Where have you been?”

“I fell asleep.”

“In the mud?!”

“Yes!”

The blow made Castiel see stars.  Hannah shrieked and started forward.  “Don’t!” Castiel yelled.  “Hannah, don’t!”  Never fight back.  The fact that he’d grabbed his father’s arm to keep him from striking Hannah again was bad enough.  If Hannah fought now, it would get so much worse.  “Father, it was me,” he said instead.  “Hannah only let me in because I asked her to.  My sin, my punishment.”

“Good boy.”

Castiel’s reward was nothing more than these words.  His father’s hand was like iron.  Dragging Castiel out.  Forcing him up the stairs to his room.  Shoving him towards the bed.  And there it was, the sound of Zachariah’s belt being removed.  “Off!  Now!”

The first of Castiel’s tears were already falling while his hands fumbled to remove his shirt and tie.  He knew what would happen next.  The pain, the humiliation.  Still, he knew he could take it.  If his father learned the real story of what had happened in his sister’s room, Hannah would be sent away.  No.  This was better.

Castiel climbed face-down onto his bed, hands gripping the rails on his headboard.  He knew from experience that there was little point in trying to stay quiet.  But he always tried.  He knew he could hold out for a while.  After that, his pillow served to help muffle his cries.

His father had every intention of being heard.  “I have so many plans for you!” he was yelling.  “You, more than any of your siblings!  Why must you be so willful?  I will have your obedience, Castiel!  Exodus 20 verse 12!  Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee!”

The belt fell again and again.  Harsh cracks punctuating Zachariah’s words.  Stinging, burning stripes across the unprotected skin of Castiel’s back.  It would end.  Even the worst beating he’d ever received had ended.  This would end.  But even as he clung to that knowledge, the pain grew too much.  The first of his cries of pain went into his pillow.  By the time his father finally stopped, Castiel was sobbing openly.

His father’s hand rested on his head, making him jump.  “I’m sorry,” Zach whispered.  “Castiel, my sweet, precious angel.  I don’t know why you do these things.  Why you force me to punish you like this!”  The hand moved, brushing through his hair.  “There, there.  It’s over now.  Father is here.  Don’t cry.”

Castiel’s back stung and ached and burned.  He took deep breaths, forcing himself to stop crying.  He knew his father wouldn’t leave him alone until he did.  Sure enough, once Castiel stopped sobbing, Zachariah got up.  “There’s something I’ve been meaning to do,” he announced.  “Something I thought of doing when I first bought this house.  Tomorrow is Sunday, and I hate to have to do this on a Sunday, but it needs done.  Looks like tomorrow is the day, right after church.”

“What are you doing?” Castiel asked quietly.

“Keeping you safe.  Here.”

Castiel sat up, put on the shirt his father handed him.  He waited until his father had walked out, closing the door behind him.  Castiel sat up, staring at the door with a sense of dread.  Keeping him safe?  What did that mean?

Chapter Text

“Castiel does not wish to speak with you,” Zachariah Novak announced.

“Could you maybe let him tell me that?” Dean asked as politely as he could.  “Please, it will only take a few minutes.”

It was hard to keep calm.  Zach was smiling the most unfriendly smile Dean had ever seen.  He stood in his doorway like a sentry, feet shoulder width apart and arms crossed over his chest.  His eyes were locked on Dean, as though daring the teen to try to push his way into the house.  “I’m not sure you understand, Mr. Winchester,” Zach was saying.  “Even if my son had any desire to speak to you?  You are not welcome in this house.  You are not welcome on this property.  Leave, and take the trouble you bring with you.”

“Doesn’t the Bible say something about loving your neighbors?” Dean asked, finally starting to lose patience.

“Young man, I assure you, you do not want to get into a Biblical discussion with me.”

“I just need to talk to Cas!” Dean exclaimed.  “Something happened at the party that really upset him.  I need to talk to him and make sure he’s ok.”

“Castiel is just fine.”

“Can I please just see that for myself?” Dean pleaded.  “Please!  He looked really hurt.  I have to know that we’re still ok!”

Zach scoffed.  “I believe I can save you some trouble then.  You and my son are not ok.  You and my son were never ok.  The only reason I agreed to let him spend any time with your family was because prior to your mother’s death, I was under the impression that your brother, at least, was normal.  But now Balthazar tells me that is in doubt as well.”

“Normal?  Oh for...!  You’re still going on about me being gay?!”

Zachariah Novak would never qualify as “in shape.”  But he was deceptively fast.  His hands shot out, catching Dean in the chest and shoving him backwards to land in a sprawl on the edge of the porch.  Any harder and Dean would have gone backwards down the steps.

Surprised, Dean looked up to find Zach glaring down at him.  “Look at you!” he snarled.  “You’re filth!  You’re diseased!  The Bible calls your kind an abomination, and you personify everything about it.  Now you want to come into my home and pollute my family?!  I won’t have it!”

Dean rolled fast enough to avoid the kick, but ended up crawling backwards down the steps.  “Hey, take it easy!  I just wanted to talk to him!  Why are you attacking me?!”

Zach caught Dean’s arm, dragged him up with surprising strength.  He took the teen by both shoulders and shook him hard.  “You’re still a boy.  There’s still time!  Go to the church, confess your sin, and pray for forgiveness!  I know your father is a drunk.  You’ve likely had no real parental guidance at all!  God will forgive you!”

“There’s nothing to forgive!  Take your hands off of me!”

“You’re choosing your sin over your immortal soul?”

Dean twisted free.  “I’m not choosing anything!  I believe in God, just like everyone else in my family.  We’re all Christians, ok?  But no church around here would let me in once I came out.  That’s why we don’t attend.  I never chose to be gay.  It’s just who I am!”

“Then you’re a monster, and there is no hope for you.”  Zach shoved him away.  His hand shot out, finger pointing over Dean’s shoulder.  “Go.  Get off my property.  And don’t come back!  I want nothing more to do with any of your family!”

Dean took a couple of steps back, counting to ten.  “My brother, Sammy?” he began.  “He isn’t gay, alright?  He’s straight.  So if he comes over, will you let him talk to Cas?”

Zach scoffed.  “Why would Balthazar lie when he said he was gay?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care.  Who do you think knows my brother better, Balth, or me?  I swear on my mother’s grave, Sammy isn’t gay.  And he’s Cas’s best friend!  Please, can he talk to Cas?”

Zachariah narrowed his eyes.  He was obviously mulling it over, and Dean held his breath.

“Alright,” Zach said after what felt like forever.  “I’ll allow it if Castiel agrees.  But you will never be welcomed.  If I ever see you on my property again, I’ll have you arrested.  You can join your father in prison!”

Dean nodded.  He didn’t trust himself to say anything else.  Cas.  That was all that mattered.  He had to know that Cas was alright.  Of course that meant he’d have to explain a few things to his brother.  Sammy didn’t need to know about Lisa screaming his name, but he did need the basic details of what had happened.  Right now, Sammy was the only hope Dean had of reaching Cas.

***

Sam paused, looking at the side of the house.  There was something new.  Hannah’s bedroom window now had bars on it.  His stomach twisted.  Was that his fault?  Dean hadn’t mentioned anything.  Surely if Zach Novak was upset, he wouldn’t have agreed to let Sam come over, right?  Sam swallowed hard and went up the stairs to the porch.  He pressed the doorbell.

Zachariah Novak himself answered.  “Young Mr. Winchester,” he said, “I trust that your visit will be a short one, and that you will respect my home and its rules?”

Sam nodded, intimidated.  “Yes, sir.”

“Good.  No shoes worn in the house.  Always knock before entering any room, and do not enter unless you are granted permission.  Castiel is grounded for breaking curfew.  He is not permitted to leave his room except for meals and school.  Therefore, you’ll be visiting with him in his room.  I will let you in, and he will call the main phone when you’re ready to leave.”

That didn’t make any sense to Sam, but he nodded again.  “Yes, sir.”

Satisfied, Zach opened the door and allowed Sam inside.  Sam quickly took off his shoes.  Then he followed Zach up the stairs.  Sam took a moment to look around.  He’d never been in a house this fancy before.  It didn’t look like the home of a man with four teenaged children.  It looked more like a model house.  Every surface shone.  A loud grinding noise made Sam jump, but Zach didn’t seem affected.  As he climbed the stairs, he caught sight of an older Hispanic woman in a black uniform walking through.  A maid?  Holy shit, the Novaks had a maid!

Then something rattled and Sam forgot all about the maid.  Zach had a ring of keys in his hand.  He selected a key and put it into the padlock attached to the door.  Sam stared in horror.  “Wait...  Is this Cas’s room?  He’s locked in?!”

“He is,” Zach confirmed.  He either didn’t notice or didn’t care about the gasp of shock Sam gave.  “So far, he is the only one I have had to go to this extreme with.  Tomorrow, the parts will arrive to install a permanent lock on all the bedroom doors.  But for now, this is the only way I have to ensure he doesn’t sneak out.”

“But he’s locked in!  What if there’s a fire?  He can’t get out!”

“Mr. Winchester, you are a guest in my home,” Zach called sharply.  “Do not question how I choose to run my household.”  He knocked on the door, ignoring Sam’s open-mouthed stare.  “Castiel?  You have a visitor.”

“Come in,” Cas called from inside.

Zach opened the door.  “I trust you won’t be too long?  An hour, at most?”

“Um, sure?”  Sam was in too much shock to pay attention as he entered the room.  His head was still spinning over the knowledge that Castiel was locked in his room with no hope of getting out.  Of course, if there was a fire, he could always go out the window...

Oh.  Now he understood what the grinding noise had been.  Outside the window, a man was on a ladder.  He’d just finished installing the last bolt on the set of bars that now covered the window.  No way out there, either.  Cas was really trapped.

Then the door closed behind him.  Sam whirled, froze at the telltale sound of a lock snapping shut, of footsteps moving away.  And finally, what Zach had said about Cas calling the main phone when Sam was ready to leave made sense.  For a moment, Sam just stood there, stunned.  Then he went to the door.  It wouldn’t open.  Stunned, Sam took a few stumbling steps back, nearly falling into Cas.  “Oh my god,” he moaned, clinging to his friend.  “Oh my god, we’re locked in!  Cas, he locked us in, we can’t get out, oh my god, Cas!”

“Sam?”  Cas had come up behind Sam.  Now he wrapped his arms around the smaller boy.  “Calm down.  It’s alright.  All I have to do is call downstairs and he’ll let you out.”

“But what about you?  Cas, what if there’s a fire?”

“Don’t worry about me.”  He was freakishly calm.  “Come on.  Sit down here on the bed and calm down.”

Sam let his friend take him to the bed.  He sat down, trying hard to force himself to calm.  Cas rubbed at his shoulders.  That helped.  “I can’t believe this,” Sam said.  “I cannot believe he’s locked you in, put bars on the windows, just because you broke curfew?!”

Cas didn’t answer.

Sam got up and started pacing the room.  It was a nice room, much bigger than his own.  There was an attached private bathroom with a standing shower.  The Novaks didn’t have to work around sharing a single shower.  A narrow, frosted glass window was on one wall, to the side and above the sink.  Sam climbed up on the sink to examine it and shook his head.  “No good.  It’s too high, too narrow.  You can’t get out of this.”

“That’s why father isn’t putting bars on it,” Cas called quietly.  “He knows I can’t get out.  Sam, it’s alright.  It’s not permanent.”

“Bullshit!”  Sam climbed down from the sink to face his friend.  “Cas, he just said he’s getting a permanent lock installed on your door!”

“But it won’t be permanently locked,” Cas insisted.  “The only reason father locked me in was that I broke curfew again and got grounded.  I won’t be locked in all the time.  Just while I’m grounded.  It’s alright.”

“This?  This is anything but alright!”  Sam scowled at the ladder being moved away outside the windows.  The sight of the bars was making him feel panicky again.  “This is insane!  Cas, we’re in a cage here!”

“A cage that you will be released from the moment you request it,” Cas reminded calmly.  “I have to admit, I’m surprised to see you here.  I never expected you to want to talk to me again.”

“What?  You’re my best friend!  Why wouldn’t I want to talk to you?”

Cas shrugged.  “It doesn’t matter.  Father is only giving you an hour.  So if you actually do want to talk to me, can we maybe talk about what you’re here for?”

Of course.  Sam wasn’t even remotely done talking about the situation in Cas’s bedroom.  The fact that Cas was so calm about being locked in a room from which there was absolutely no escape was sending up its own red flags.  But that wasn’t what he came for.  “Dean wanted me to talk to you,” he began.  “About what you saw.  I guess you walked in on him with Lisa Braeden?”

“Tell him I’m sorry,” Cas said quickly.  “I overreacted.  It was just a shock.  Who Dean chooses to be with is none of my business.”

“You sure about that?”  Now that his initial shock over being locked in was fading, Sam decided he wanted answers.  “Cas, Dean said you looked really upset.  You ran out and he couldn’t find you.  But now you’re grounded for breaking curfew?  That doesn’t make sense!  You ran out of that party in plenty of time to get home, even if you walked and stopped for a snack along the way!”

“You would know,” Cas snapped.  “You were just leaving when I got home.”

Sam froze.  He looked hard at Cas.  “What?”

“I saw you, Sam.  Climbing out of Hannah’s window.  That’s why father is putting bars on them and locking me in.  Because I climbed in through that same window and got caught!”

Now Sam felt cold.  “This...  This is my fault?  You’re locked in a cage now because of me?  Is Hannah in trouble, too?”

“No, Sam, she’s fine,” Cas growled.  “You made a clean getaway.  Father has no idea you were even here.”

“Because Zach was too focused on you,” Sam groaned.  “Fuck me!  I’m so sorry, Cas.  I never meant to get you in trouble.  When your dad came home early, I had to hide fast.  So I was hiding under her bed.  We couldn’t figure how to get me out without him seeing me.  Then I thought about going out the window.  You came in the same way?”

“I saw you leave!”  Cas’s fists were clenched, and Sam’s heart sank.  “What were you doing with my sister, Sam?!”

“Nothing she didn’t want, alright?  Cas, listen...”

He reached for his friend, but Cas pulled away.  “I thought you were my best friend?”

“I am!”

“Then how could you do that with my sister?!”

“You want me to break up with her?  Fine!”

Cas flinched.  “Just like that?  Hannah thinks you love her!”

“I love you!  Cas, after mom died?  Everything’s just kind of a blur.  There’s only two things that I really remember – Dean, and you.  If you hadn’t been there, I don’t know that I ever would have come back from that.  And the way you helped my brother?  That’s worth more to me than any girl!”  Sam was up, spreading his hands.  “Cas, please!  You’re my best friend, my brother!  If me being with Hannah is going to cause tension between the two of us?  It’s over!”

“Bros before hos, right?” Cas said bitterly.  “Isn’t that what they say?”

No, that was not going to stand.  Sam caught Cas’s shoulders, holding his friend at arm’s length.  “I would never say that about your sister,” he said.  “She was a virgin for me, alright, Cas?  And I do like her.  She’s cool.  We get along really well.  And it’s kind of obvious that she cares a lot for me.  Maybe I led her on, made her think something that wasn’t true...”

“Did you tell Hannah that you loved her?”

Sam let his hands drop.  “Maybe?”

“Give me one reason that I shouldn’t punch you in the mouth?!”

“I can’t.  You want to take a swing, Cas, you go ahead and swing.  You mean much more to me than she does.  So if breaking up with her and taking a hit is what it’s going to take to keep you?”  He spread his hands and closed his eyes.

Cas groaned.  Sam opened his eyes to see his friend throw himself face-first onto the bed.  “I don’t have any place to tell the two of you what you should and shouldn’t do,” he mumbled into the pillow.  “Just like I have no place to tell Dean what to do.  We all are capable of making our own decisions.  Just because I don’t like them?  That doesn’t mean I get to give orders.”

“Hey, Cas, come on,” Sam soothed.  He climbed onto the bed and lay on his side, facing his friend.  “I like your sister.  Honestly, I’d like to stick around with her, see where it goes.  But she’s got some ideas about us getting married.”  He huffed.  “Married!  I’m sixteen years old!  Marriage isn’t even on the table for me, alright?  So it’s fairly obvious that we’re going to have a conversation sooner or later and probably end up breaking up anyway.  That’s ok.  Right now, the only thing I care about is you.”

Cas turned his head to look at him.  Sam reached over and put an arm around him.  Cas winced, but made no move to remove it.  “Do you want me to break up with her?” Sam asked.  “I’ll do it today if that’s what you want.”

“No,” Cas said quietly.  “I have no right to ask that of you.”

“Yes, you do.  And I’ll do it, Castiel.  All you have to do is say the word.  If it’s going to be a problem between us, I’m going to choose you over her.  I love you, brother.”

“I love you, too.”

Sam smiled at him.  “Alright, we square between us?”

Cas smiled back.  “I suppose, yes.”

“Then let’s talk about Dean.”  Cas’s smile vanished, but Sam pushed on.  “He asked me to tell you that what happened between him and Lisa was just depression sex.  Yeah, I know,” he continued, seeing the look on Cas’s face.  “Knowing Lisa the way I do, she probably initiated it.  And knowing Dean, it didn’t mean anything more to him than it did to her.  Now tell me why it upset you.”

Cas shifted around, putting his back to Sam.  “I’m confused,” he said.  “Is Dean gay or not?”

“He is.”  Sam moved a bit closer.  “Dean has no interest in girls.  He’s got nothing against them, has been with a few, but they’re not what he wants.  And I think we both know what he does want.”

Cas stayed quiet.

“Cas?”  Sam licked his lips, trying to find the words.  “Your family’s kind of crazy, buddy.  I know, coming from me, that’s saying something.  But it’s not right that your father locked you in here with barred windows and no way out.  It’s wrong, ok?  And it’s wrong that he pushed my brother and said those terrible things to him.  Dean didn’t choose to be what he is, he just is.  And you’re who you are.”

“I’m not gay!”

“Fine.  You know it won’t change anything between the two of us.  But Dean?  Dean can’t get over you until he knows for sure he has no chance!”  Sam sighed.  “Listen.  I don’t know what went down between you two.  All I know is what he told me.  The way you ran out?  It scared Dean.  But at the same time, he can’t help but hope that maybe you ran out, maybe you were hurt, because you do feel something for him after all?”

Once again, Castiel went silent.

Sam wrapped both arms around his friend and hugged him tightly, missing the way Cas winced again.  “Talk to him as soon as you can, alright?  Will you do that?”

“Yes.”

“Alright.  Then I’ll drop the subject.”  He let Cas go and rolled onto his back on the bed, looking over at his friend.  “How long are you grounded?”

“The rest of the week.  Father said I can go to the game and the dance with Charlie because I’m her ride, but then I have to go straight home.  So I won’t be going to the party at the pond.”  He chuckled.  “I think he thinks I’m interested in her.”

Sam snorted.  “He has no idea she’s a lesbian, does he?”

“No.  I take a certain amount of sinful pleasure from that.”

Sam cracked up.  Cas cracked up.  Then they were both laughing.

They wrestled around a bit on Cas’s bed.  Sam had plenty of experience wrestling with guys who were larger than he was.  He squirmed around, twisting to break his friend’s grip, and ended up climbing onto Cas’s back.  For some reason, Cas cried out, leaned too far, and both boys ended up on the floor with a thud.

Immediately the phone rang.  Cas grimaced and raced to answer it.  “Sorry, father.  We were just wrestling.  Yes, horseplay.  Um, yes, I guess that does mean our talk is over.  Alright.  Thank you, father.”

“Shit,” Sam sighed when Cas hung up.  “I’m getting thrown out, aren’t I?  Sorry.  Hey, what’s wrong with your back?”

“It’s just a little sore.  Don’t worry about it.”

Footsteps came up the stairs.  Sam and Cas picked themselves up and were waiting when Zach unlocked the door, ignoring his own rule about knocking to throw it open.  “Castiel, don’t forget that you are grounded.  Mr. Winchester, I think it’s time for you to go.”

“Yes, sir,” Sam said politely.  “Can I just say goodbye to Cas?”

“No.  Leave.  Now.”

Sam cringed.  He looked apologetically at Cas, not wanting to leave him locked alone in his room.  But Cas only smiled.  “I’ll see you at school tomorrow, ok?  And I’ll do what you asked.”

“Thanks.”

Zach was clearing his throat impatiently.  Sam quickly stepped out.  He watched as Zach reapplied the padlock.  “I don’t mean any disrespect,” he began, “but I’m worried about Cas.  If there’s a fire, how can he get out?”

“The Lord will provide.  Now please leave.”

No choice.  Sam trudged down the stairs, got his shoes back on, and headed out.  He could only imagine his brother’s reaction when Dean heard about the padlock and the barred windows.  Glancing back, Sam saw a man climbing down from the ladder.  He could see Lucifer’s face at the window at the top of the ladder, looking out through the newly-installed bars.  For a moment their eyes met.  Then Lucifer quickly turned and disappeared.

All of them.  All four of the Novak siblings were getting bars on their windows.  Sam had no doubt they’d all have locks on their doors soon, as well.

With a sinking heart, Sam turned and started walking home.

Chapter Text

Dean couldn’t remember the last time he felt so tired.  He’d barely gotten any sleep last night after he got back from his security shift.  Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Cas, trapped behind a barred window in a locked room of a burning house.  He’d finally given up.  The rest of the night he’d spent sitting on the couch, watching infomercials on TV until he heard his brother’s alarm sound.  How Sammy could sleep after what he’d seen and heard was beyond Dean.

Sammy was certainly quiet.  Judging by the dark smudges under his eyes, the younger Winchester hadn’t slept much better than Dean.  But at least Sammy ate.  Dean was miles away, staring off into space as he sat at the table.  He barely tasted his own food.  But when Dean looked, he was pleased to see that Sammy had finished off his entire plate of eggs and toast.  At least Dean had that comfort.

Classes seemed to drag on forever.  He’d spotted Cas a couple of times in the hall, but hadn’t been able to talk to him.  Was Cas actively avoiding him?  Maybe.  Didn’t matter.  Dean was going to talk to him one way or another.  Besides, Dean wanted a chance to talk to Cas alone, somewhere they wouldn’t be interrupted.

Finally, it was time for lunch.  Dean waited, snagged Cas as soon as he got within grabbing distance, and pulled the frowning, resisting other boy with him into the equipment room.  Once inside, he dragged one of the racks over in front of the door.  There.  That would ensure they weren’t interrupted.

“Barricading us in?” Cas asked.  He’d backed as far from Dean as he could get and was watching him warily.

“Why are you nervous?  It seems to me like you’re used to being locked in!”

Dean grimaced at the look on Cas’s face.  “Aw hell, I’m sorry, Cas.  It’s just, Sammy didn’t think, by the way you were acting, that this was the first time you were locked in.”

“It’s not,” Cas said quietly.  “Our old house had these old-fashioned locks, with the big iron keys?  It didn’t happen often, Dean.  In fact, it only happened twice before now.  Both times father locked me in, it was because I’d run off, didn’t come home when I was supposed to because I was playing with friends.  This time was kind of more of the same.  I was caught sneaking in after curfew.”  He rubbed at the back of his neck, not meeting Dean’s eyes for some reason.  “It will probably happen more often now, though,” he admitted.  “Father’s saying we’re getting locked in every time we’re grounded for the rest of the school year.  He’s really upset.  But it’s not that bad.”

“Locking a kid up in a room with barred windows is a bit extreme, don’t you think?  No matter what he did!  How can you act like that’s no big deal, then get upset with me when I barricade us in here?”

The sudden look Cas shot him drained Dean’s will to fight.  “I’m not afraid of being locked in.  But that doesn’t mean I enjoy it or want it to happen.”

“I know,” Dean soothed, moving closer.  “I’m sorry.  I’m an asshole!  I have no idea why I would say that.”

Cas shifted.  “Sam said you wanted to talk to me.  So, talk.”

“Right.”  Dean’s sleep-deprived brain struggled for a place to start.  “Cas, about what you saw, with me and Lisa?  That wasn’t anything!  We were both having really bad days and took a little comfort in each other.  That’s all.”

“Alright.”  After a long moment, Cas looked impatiently at Dean.  “Is that all?  Can I go now?”

Dean frowned, puzzled.  “Why did you run away?”

“Because I was embarrassed,” Cas said.  “It was obvious the two of you hadn’t realized you were having sex in front of a picture window and had an audience.”

“Yeah,” Dean grumbled, embarrassed.  “I’d like to kill those assholes watching us!  I heard Lisa made a few of them reconsider peeping, anyway.  I guess that was a bit worse than you and your girlfriend at the game, huh?”

“She’s not my girlfriend, Dean  We broke up after the game.  I, well, I didn’t really want to be there with her,” Cas admitted, not seeing the sudden hope in Dean’s eyes.  “But that’s off subject.  We were talking about you and Lisa.  I want you to know, I wasn’t peeping.  When I saw those boys at the window, I came in to try to warn the couple they were watching.  But I didn’t know it was you.  I saw you and realized I’d just walked in on one of my closest friends in the most intimate moment imaginable.  I thought you’d be angry, so I ran out.”

“Oh.”  Of course.  That made perfect sense.

“That doesn’t make any sense!” Dean declared.  “Cas, I saw your face.  You weren’t embarrassed, ok?  You looked shocked.  You looked angry.  But you didn’t look embarrassed.”

“Alright, Dean, do you really want to get into this?  Fine.  Based on what you’d told me, I made certain assumptions,” Cas began.  “Had I walked in on you with another boy, I would have been embarrassed, probably ran out just like I did.  But I found the fact that you were with a girl confusing.  It made me question if you’d lied to me about your preferences.  And that made me wonder what else you’d lied to me about?”

“What’s that mean?”

“Just...  Other things you’ve told me.”  Cas was looking anywhere but at Dean.

“Cas?”  Dean stepped closer.  “I didn’t lie when I told you that I was in love with you.  I was.”

“Past tense?”

“I still am.  Why is that important to you?  I thought you didn’t want me?”

“I...  It doesn’t matter,” Cas sputtered.  “I reacted poorly when I walked in on a situation that I never expected to encounter.  I apologize.  Now please let me out.”

Dean stood in the way.  “Stop.”

Cas glowered and pushed at Dean.  “Get out of my way!”

“No.  Not until you tell me why it matters to you that I still love you.”

“It doesn’t!”

“It does.  Or you never would have brought it up.”  Dean took Cas’s shoulders.  The other boy was trembling.  Dean could feel it where he touched Cas.  Cas glanced at Dean for a moment and quickly looked away.  “Look at me.  Will you look at me?”

Cas shook his head.  He pushed Dean’s hands away, still avoiding his eyes.  “I think we’ve pretty much reached the limits of this conversation, Dean.  Let go of me and let me out.”

“Not until you look at me.”

Cas narrowed his eyes.  He moved, trying to get past him and get out.  But Dean had been blocking opponents in football for years.  Cas’s fake to one side before moving the other way wouldn’t have fooled Dean on his worst day.  He grabbed Cas’s arms and pushed him back against the wall, firmly yet gently keeping him in place.

Cas snarled and shoved at him.  “Get off me!  Let me out of here, Dean!”

“No.  Look at me.”

Cas squeezed his eyes shut.

“Cas!  Look at me!”

Blue.  Deep, rich blue that took Dean’s breath away.  A storm was raging in those eyes, threatening to boil over and destroy them both.  But Dean wouldn’t, couldn’t, stop now.  “You feel something for me,” he insisted.  “Something more than friendship.  That’s why you were upset when you saw me with Lisa.  That’s why you’re having so much trouble looking at me now.  And I get it.  It’s your father!  He pushed me down and tried to kick me for the crime of being myself.  He’s already padlocked you inside of a room with barred windows for breaking curfew.  So I can only imagine what he’d do to you if he ever found out you have feelings for another guy!”

Castiel seemed to deflate.  He sagged, might have fallen to his knees if Dean hadn’t been holding him.  His head dropped, a low moan passing through his lips.  “Leave me alone, Dean,” he pleaded.  “Please, just let me out and leave me alone?”

Dean let him go, hurt.  “Is that really what you want?”

No answer.  Cas squeezed his eyes shut again.

“Cas!”  Dean gave him a gentle shake, waiting until Cas looked up at him again.  “What do you really want?” he whispered.  “Tell me, and I’ll give it to you.  Anything, even if it’s for me to get out of your life forever!  What do you want, Cas?”

The trembling was worse.  Castiel’s eyes were wide.  His mouth opened, but no sound came out.  In his eyes, the storm broke.  Tears glistened, swelled and ran down his cheeks.  “I...  I want...”

“What?”

Cas lunged forward and kissed him.

Dean froze in shock for maybe three seconds.  Then his arms were around Cas, crushing him to his chest while he kissed back.  “Cas,” he moaned.  “Castiel, oh my god, you do want me!  You do!”

“No!  No no no!  Let go!”

Cas was trying to pull free.  Not happening.  Dean held him tight, refusing to let go even as Cas cried out and shoved against him.  “Cas, stop!  I’m not letting you go, not this time!”

“You’re hurting me!”

“How the fuck am I hurting you?!”

“My back!  Let me go!”

What the hell was wrong with his back?  Didn’t matter.  Dean let go long enough to grab Cas’s arms again.  Then he was pulling him in for another kiss.

Cas thrashed, twisting his arms at the shoulder until Dean finally let go.  But Cas didn’t run.  He threw his arms around Dean’s neck instead.  His kisses were practically full-body, pressing against Dean until Dean found himself shoved roughly backwards into a shelf.  “Yeah, Cas,” Dean moaned between kisses.  “Fuck yeah!”

Once again, Cas twisted free.

Dean was simply unable to process Cas’s rapidly-shifting moods.  All he knew was that Cas was trying to pull the rack away from the door.  He was trying to get out.  No.  Dean grabbed him around the middle, lifting him and turning away from the door.

“No!” Cas cried, clawing at Dean’s hands.  “Let go of me!  I have to get out of here!”

“No way!  You’re...  Oh hell, are you going to throw up again?!  Aw, shit!”

Cas was heaving.  Fortunately, nothing was coming up but some clear fluid.  Dean let him down, but didn’t let go of him.  “Ok.  Just breathe, Cas.  Anything coming up?”

“Nothing to come up,” Cas gagged.  “That’s the only reason I didn’t throw up right away.  I barely ate supper last night, couldn’t eat breakfast, and you brought me in here instead of letting me go to lunch.”

“Shit.  I’m sorry.  Just breathe, ok?”  Dean shook his head.  “One minute you’re kissing the life out of me, the next minute you’re tossing your cookies all over the floor!  I love you, but I have to tell you, when it comes to mixed signals, you take the cake!”

“It’s not personal.”  Cas’s stomach seemed to have settled down a bit.  He was leaning back against Dean.  Dean was all too willing to let him keep doing it.  “It’s just something that happens when I… have feelings… about another guy.”

“You puke?”

Cas nodded.  “I was told it was my body purging itself of sin.”

“Cas, that’s bullshit!”

“I suspected as much,” Cas admitted.  “But that doesn’t keep it from happening every time I…”

Dean held him, patiently waiting as Cas dry heaved a bit more.  Cas panted, leaning back against Dean again.  He put his head back against Dean’s shoulder, breathing hard to settle his stomach.  The position exposed his throat.  Dean took full advantage, sliding a hand up Cas’s throat to cup his chin and nuzzling against the exposed skin.  That drew a moan from Cas.  “Dean!  Please!  Leave me alone?”

“No.”  Dean wrapped both arms tightly around Cas.  “Not unless you can tell me you don’t feel anything for me.”

“You know I do!” Cas cried.  His hands clung to Dean’s arms.  “I can’t help it!  I know it’s a sin.  I know it’s wrong, but ever since the first day I saw you, I couldn’t get you out of my head.  You’re incredible, Dean!  I’ve never met anyone as wonderful, as perfect, as you are.  You’re all I think about, alright?!  And no matter what I try, I can’t change the way I feel!”

“Cas, you don’t have to,” Dean said quickly.  “There’s nothing wrong with having feelings for me!  I love you!”

Cas went quiet.  He sagged in Dean’s arms.  “I can’t do this, Dean.  I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

“That’s ok.”  Dean reached up a hand to catch Cas’s face and bring it up.  He nuzzled against Cas’s cheek.  “It’s ok, angel.”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Alright.  Alright, Cas.  Whatever you want,” Dean whispered.  “I’ll do anything, anything you ask.  You need me to go slow, keep this quiet?  I can do that!  Just please, let me touch you.  Let me have you, even if all you can give me is moments like this!  If you can’t kiss me without throwing up, then we’ll work around it.  And no one has to know about us.”

“So then we both live a lie?”

Dean sighed at the bitterness in Cas’s voice.  “Cas, when I graduate, I’m going into the Marines.  The policy there is ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’  So the idea of living a lie?  That isn’t a new concept for me, alright?  What’s going to get me through that is knowing that when it’s over, I can be who I really am.  And I want to be with you.”  He buried his face against Cas’s shoulder.  “I have never felt for anyone else what I feel for you.  I love you.  I’ll wait for you as long as it takes.  I’ll keep this a secret.  I’ll do whatever I have to do to protect you, Cas, until you’re free to make your own choices.”

Cas gave a little gasp.  “You’d do that for me?”

“Yes!  I’ll go as slow as you need.  And I’ll keep it secret.  No one will know.”  Dean lifted Cas’s chin again, kissing a line up the side of Cas’s neck.  “How’s this?  You seemed ok with it before.  This upsetting your stomach?”

“No, not really, I…”  His body suddenly relaxed, his head resting against Dean’s shoulder.  “I like that, Dean.”

“You like it?”  Dean kept it up, delighting in the little sigh Cas gave.  “We can do things like this.  If you’ll let me?”

“Ok.”  Pause.  “Can we do a little more?  I really like the way you touch me.”

Dean thought his heart would burst right out of his chest like a cartoon character and splatter on the wall.  He turned Cas around and gently pushed him against the wall.  Rubbed hands possessively over Cas’s chest and shoulders.  He practically purred when Cas’s fingers tentatively combed through his hair.  “That’s right.  You can touch me.  I want you to touch me.”

That brought a smile to Cas’s face.  Now his hands were eagerly moving, tracing Dean’s face, down his throat to his chest.  But even as his hands expressed his need, his eyes were filled with fear.  “No one can know,” he pleaded.  “Please, Dean!  If father finds out, he’ll send me away and I can’t!  I can’t go through that again.”

“Go through what again?  Cas, angel…”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Ok, ok, I’m sorry!  Stop!”

It was all Dean could do to hold Castiel as the younger boy pried at his hands, lunging again towards the door.  “Let go of me!  I can’t do this!  He’ll send me away!”

“No, he won’t,” Dean promised.  He overpowered Cas as gently as he could, carefully pressing him back against the wall.  He refused to hurt this beautiful boy.  But Dean was determined to hold him until he finally stilled.  “He won’t, Castiel.  Because he won’t know.  When you’re 18 and you can make decisions for yourself?  Then you can do what you want.  But for now?  You’re safe.  No one has to know.  You’re safe, I swear it!”  He leaned into Cas, crowding him against the wall as Cas squirmed.  “Please.  Stop fighting.  I won’t hurt you.  Shh.  Just relax.  Yeah,” he encouraged as Cas’s struggles eased.  He went back to kissing Cas’s throat again, still whispering encouragement.  “That’s right.  Relax.  You like this, remember?”

Again, that little sigh.  Cas was relaxing again.  Dean was determined not to trigger his friend - boyfriend, Cas was his boyfriend now, even if it was in secret - again.  Boyfriend.  Just the thought was enough to make Dean want to shout with happiness.  He pulled Cas against his chest.  Ghosted his lips across Cas’s skin.  “I’ll take care of you,” he vowed.  “I’ll protect you.  Just let me?”

To Dean’s relief, Cas was wrapping his arms around him.  “Ok.  I’m sorry, Dean.  I want this so much, but I’m just so scared!”

“Don’t be.”  Dean crushed Cas.  “You’ve gone through some shit.  That’s obvious.  And I get it now.  It’s all starting to make sense.”  He was whispering into the shell of Cas’s ear now, one hand rubbing between his shoulders, the other arm tight around him.  “You’ve been taught all your life that you can’t be what you are, haven’t you?  Someday, I hope you can trust me enough to talk to me about it.”

Cas didn’t answer.  He just leaned into Dean.  “I can have this?  I can be with you in secret, and no one will find out?”

“We’ll be real careful.  I’ve got experience, alright?  Believe me, you’re hardly the first boyfriend I’ve had who’s still in the closet!”

At the word “boyfriend” Cas stiffened.  Dean groaned inwardly, prepared for Cas to freak out again.  But he didn’t.  He just looked at Dean.  In his eyes, the storm was still raging.  “This isn’t fair to you.  I have no right to ask you to hide who you are for me.”

“I have no damned intention of hiding who I am.  Not until I go into the Marines and I have to.  But I’ll hide what we are to each other,” Dean said.  “I’ll do that for you.”

“I can’t ask you to!”

“You’re not.  I’m offering.  All I ask is that you give me a chance.  Will you do that?”

A fierce nod, followed by an embrace so tight it nearly took Dean’s breath away.  “I trust you.  I trust you, Dean.”

“That’s all I ask.”  Dean fought back the urge to kiss Castiel’s mouth, not wanting a repeat dry heaving episode.  He contented himself with kissing just below and behind his ear.  That brought a moan that went straight to Dean’s dick.  “Holy fuck, Cas, you are going to be the death of me!”

Cas was such an odd combination of brazen and shy.  The kiss he planted on Dean’s cheek was chaste.  But the way his eyes smoldered, the way his hand lingered on Dean’s chest, was anything but.  “Call me,” he urged.  “I have a private line.  You can call and talk to me this week while I’m grounded.  And then Friday, at the game, or at least at the dance?”

“You and me,” Dean vowed.  He lifted the hand on his chest to his lips.  Looking into Cas’s eyes, he kissed the tips of them.  Dean’s hormones were screaming to take those delicate fingers into his mouth.  No.  Go slow.  Cas needed time to heal, to accept who he was.  Don’t push it.  Patience.  Time.  Trust.  Those were the things that Cas needed the most.  Dean fully intended to give him all three.

Dean came out of the room first, making sure the coast was clear before waving Cas out.  The smile he got for this made him feel almost dizzy.  He watched as the boy he loved ducked into the cafeteria.  Dean checked his watch.  Good.  Cas was a bit late, but they’d still be serving food.  He’d be able to eat after all.  But unfortunately, Dean couldn’t do the same.  If he went in late after Cas, it might make the wrong people suspicious.  Oh well.  It would hardly be the first time he’d gone without lunch.  Now all he had to do was find a place to lie low and avoid teachers until the next bell rang.  Outside was out, as it was pouring rain.  He’d have to find somewhere inside, and he didn’t want to stay in the equipment room.  Maybe the computer room?  He could surf the net while he waited out lunch.  That was a good idea.

He started down the hall and was walking past the music room when he heard the sound and everything changed.

The halls of a high school were not designed with acoustics in mind.  Sound echoed, carried, and was distorted.  The racket from the noisy cafeteria was bouncing around in the hall, drowning out most other sounds.  But Dean still heard it.  It was faint.  But it immediately sent all of Dean’s protective instincts into overdrive.  He’d know that voice anywhere.  Sammy, crying out in pain, while being somehow muffled.

In an instant Dean was through the door.  There.  Balthazar Novak had his little brother pinned down on the floor, a knee on his back.  A hand was over Sammy’s mouth.  His other hand gripped Sammy’s wrist, pulling his arm up behind his back.  Sammy’s eyes were squeezed tightly shut.  His other hand was fisted, pressing against the floor.  Sammy was clearly in pain.  Balthazar was laughing.  He hadn’t realized anyone had come in and never looked around.  Instead, he pulled on Sam’s arm again, drawing another cry Balth muffled with his hand.  Then all Dean could see was red.

Chapter Text

“What do you want to do first?” I asked.  I was heading towards my vehicle, closely followed by a blonde thirteen-year-old.  “We have the whole day.  I can show you whatever you want to see.”

“The Mile,” he said immediately.  “I want to see the Mile.”

I froze in my tracks.  “The Mile?  How do you know about that?”

“I just do, alright?  And I want to see it.”

“Jack, the Mile doesn’t actually exist anymore,” I warned.  “They filled in the pond and tore down the dock.”

Jack was only 13, but one look at his face told me everything.  His eyes were filled with anger as he looked up at me.  “You said you would show me whatever I wanted to see,” he reminded me.  “And I want to see the Mile.”

I shifted.  Blue eyes seemed to be burning through me.  My mind raced.  “Who told you about it?”

Jack sighed the way only an irritated teen could sigh.  “I’m not stupid, ok?  The walls aren’t exactly soundproof.  I heard mom talking to someone on the phone, explaining why she had to leave Lawrence.”

“Jack, the reason your mom had to leave?  It didn’t have anything to do with what happened at the pond!  Well,” I corrected, “it kind of did, but that happened after she left.”

“And it happened because of me.”

“No.”  My voice was firm, which seemed to surprise him a little.  “What happened that night was not your fault.  Don’t you ever think for one minute that it was!  We all made the choices that led to the Mile well before you were born.  We were kids, stupid kids who did stupid things for stupid reasons that made sense at the time.  It wasn’t until much later that we learned to regret those choices.  Every one of us bears some of that guilt except for you.  Out of all of us, you are the only one who is completely innocent!”

That quieted him for a moment.  I could see him mulling it over.  His brows creased in a familiar frown.  No one could miss the family resemblance.  “I still want to see it,” he said at last.  “Even if the pond isn’t there anymore, the Mile still is, right?  I want to see that.  I want to walk the Mile.”  The eyes looked up, pinning me in their gaze like a deer in headlights.  “And then we’ll talk.”

My heart sank.  But I nodded.  He deserved to know.  We’d already talked about how I would handle whatever he asked.  Jack deserved whatever truth he felt he could handle.  If he wanted to walk the Mile, then we’d walk the Mile.

I parked in the visitor’s lot at the high school and got out.  Soon, we were walking along the side of the road.  I wasn’t prepared for the memories.  Even 14 years later, the view from the road was largely the same.

Jack kept pace with me, taking in the sights as we walked.  The trail was overgrown, but I knew exactly where to turn off the road.  How many times had I traveled this trail, heading to the pond to party or swim?  But I never expected to ever be bringing someone like Jack with me.

I hesitated, glancing back at Jack as he struggled through the brush.  “Do you need some help?”

“No.  I can do this.”  He forced his way through, moving to walk behind me.  Alright.  I plowed ahead, being careful to hold branches for him.  Made sure he had them before I moved ahead.  I stomped down on the underbrush, clearing the path as well as I could.  When we finally emerged into a farmer’s field, he frowned.

“I told you, it’s all gone,” I offered.  “There’s nothing to see here.”

Jack looked back.  “It’s not as far as I thought.”

“It’s about a mile and a quarter.  But even that can feel like a long long way if the conditions are right.”

The teen’s eyes locked on me again.  “Alright.  Let’s talk.”

“Sure.”  I tucked my hands into my pockets, inwardly bracing.  “What would you like to know?”

Now anger flooded his features.  “Why are you doing this?  Why are you acting so stupid?!”

I blinked.  “Excuse me?”

“You’re all doing it!  All of you treat me like I’m just a dumb kid, like I don’t know anything.  But I do!  I know!”

Something twisted inside of me.  But I had to be sure.  “What, Jack?” I asked.  “What do you know?”

He shoved at me.  The attack was so hard and sudden that I stumbled backwards, nearly fell.  I quickly caught myself, looking in surprise at the furious teen.  “I know!” he yelled.  “I found the cards, ok?  Mom had this box in her closet, filled with all these cards.  They’re from since I was a toddler, for my birthday and every holiday, even Halloween!  All those cards, all with letters inside of them?  I found them, and I read them all.  I know!”

I swayed on my feet.  “You know,” I repeated stupidly.

“Yes, I know!  And I want you to tell me right now why no one ever told me?!”

“Because we were just kids,” I whispered.  “Because we didn’t know what to do.  And because a couple of months before everything came to a head here, something happened back at the school.  We didn’t know it then, but that was the point where everything really started to fall apart.”

***

Sam had known from the moment he woke up that morning that today would be bad.  He’d done what he could to prepare.  Jeans.  Long-sleeved turtleneck.  That would hide most of the new marks.  Sam frowned at his reflection. The turtleneck, which used to fit well, now hung from his frame.  His shoulder bones jutted out.  Lifting it revealed the clear shape of his ribs.  That, and the bruises, were something Hannah had been asking about the last time they were together.  Unlike the other girls he’d been with, she hadn’t been satisfied with his explanation that they were from practicing stunts at cheer practice.  Hannah was unusually persistent.  Of course, most of the girls he’d been with had mothered him to some extent.  It was part of how he got with them in the first place, after all.  Except for Hannah, most of them had voiced concern about him losing weight.  She’d fixated on the bruises, even doing exactly what Cas had done and asking him flat-out if Dean was hurting him?  It wasn’t until after he’d made it clear he wasn’t talking about the bruises that she’d started asking about his weight.  He’d blown off her concerns as he had all the others.  But now that he saw proof of how much weight he’d lost, he paused.  He’d known that the weight he’d given Grice hadn’t been accurate.  He’d been aware he was losing weight.  But just how much had he lost?

Sam went into the bathroom, closed the door, and stepped on the scale. 102?  That couldn’t be right.  He’d lost more weight than he’d thought.  He looked down at himself for a moment.  Then he stripped down and stepped on the scale again.  The number alarmed him.  98?!  What the hell?!  Obviously something was wrong with the scale.  Sam quickly dressed, but paused in the act of pulling on his turtleneck.  He looked at himself in the mirror, finally seeing how thin he actually was.  He’d always been skinny, but this?  This was troublesome.  He hadn’t been trying to lose weight.  All he’d wanted was a little control.  It was stupid, but how much he ate was pretty much the only thing in his life now that Sam still had control over.  Maybe he’d been overdoing it.  Alright.  He’d make sure he ate at supper tonight.  But he wasn’t eating breakfast and fully intended to skip lunch.  There was no way around that.  The last time he’d thrown up while Balthazar was beating him, the older boy had shoved his face in it.  Sam had learned his lesson.

Heading out, Sam checked his backpack.  His bottle of make-up was already inside, wrapped in paper towels.  He added the small first aid kit from the camping gear along with a couple of instant ice packs and a travel sized bottle of motrin.  There.  Best he could do.

Dean had frowned at him when Sam told him not to pack him a lunch.  But he’d nodded when Sam displayed the money he was tucking into his pocket.  “I’ll get a hot lunch today,” he’d told his nosey big brother.  “Don’t get your panties in a twist.”

It had been enough to satisfy Dean.  But Sam had no intention of eating lunch.  He’d gotten good at palming food while Dean was distracted, getting nearly all of the toast and eggs Dean had made for breakfast into his napkin to flush.  Lucky for him, Dean had a lot on his mind today.  Good.  If Dean had been paying attention, Sam would have had to stick his finger down his throat again.  That carried its own risks of discovery.  This way, he could pop into the bathroom just before they left for school, flush the food away, and no one was the wiser.

By the time he sat down next to Cas for homeroom, Sam’s stomach was growling as usual.  Didn’t matter.  He’d gotten good at ignoring it.  Worth it, just to know he had even that much control in his life.

Cas smiled at him, but wouldn’t meet his eyes.  That was almost a blessing.  He reached out, squeezed his friend’s arm, and received another smile in return.  Sam knew Cas had spent the night locked in his room and would be locked in again when he returned home.  And that was on Sam.  If they weren’t already, soon all four of the Novak siblings would be caged like animals.  No doubt Balthazar would be waiting, looking to make Sam pay for it.  Sam just hoped Balth wouldn’t hurt him to the point he couldn’t do stunts on Friday.

Sam was lucky enough that he didn’t see the older boy all morning.  But at lunch, his luck ran out.  An arm locked around his neck, dragging him backwards down the hall.  “Glad I found you,” Balth’s voice murmured in his ear.  “I really need my toy today.”

Sam didn’t answer.  He clung to the arm, managing to keep it pulled enough away from his throat to breathe until Balth threw him into the music room.  Sam landed on his hands and knees with a sigh.  Pushing his backpack to safety away from him, Sam got to his feet and turned to face his tormentor.  “For what it’s worth?” he said.  “I’m sorry you’re all locked in.”

Balthazar was at the window, tapping on it.  Outside, Lucifer waved, lit cigarette in hand.  Balth waved back.  Then he turned and glared at Sam.  “Why don’t you shut up about things you don’t know anything about?” he snarled.  “I’ve got my fucking asshole brother to thank for that!  Father’s perfect little angel fucked up and dragged us all down with him, as usual.  The only good thing about moving was that the doors didn’t have locks, and now, thanks to Cassie’s bullshit, they do!”

The first blow was to Sam’s stomach.  He doubled over, retching, glad he had nothing in his stomach.  “Don’t hurt Cas,” he managed.  “We had a deal, remember?  I let you hurt me, and you leave Cas and Dean alone!”

“Oh, believe me, I remember!”

A hard shove to his back, sending him sprawling onto the floor.  Then Balthazar was on top of him, landing with a knee to Sam’s kidney.  Sam hissed through his teeth, trying to keep quiet.  If he made too much noise, Balthazar would cover his mouth.  Then, when he started to cry from the pain, it was hard to breathe.  And Balth always made him cry.  He wouldn’t stop until he did.  No.  Try to keep quiet.  It was all he could do.

Balth’s arm was around Sam’s neck again, pulling Sam’s head painfully back and greatly restricting his breathing.  “Do you have any idea what it’s like?” Balth was saying as Sam gasped and clawed at the arm.  “To be locked in a room with bars on the windows?  To know you’re completely trapped and that no one is coming to let you out?!”

“No!” Sam cried.  “I don’t know what it’s like.  I can’t imagine what it’s like!  It’s abuse, Balth!  You need to call someone, get help…”

It was the wrong thing to say.  Balth got up, lifted him up and physically threw Sam.  Sam hit the brick wall.  His right shoulder throbbed from the impact.  “Please!  Don’t hurt me too much?  I’m sorry you’re locked up, but taking it out on me won’t help you.”

“You think the cops will?  You know what they’ll do?  They’ll ship me and Cas off to some foster family, probably separate us and give us to child molesters, and leave Luci and Hannah there to bear the brunt of it alone!  But we’re not staying.  I’m 17, and Luci’s 19.  Once my birthday hits, we’re taking off, but until then I gotta put up with it.  Lucky me, I have my toy to help me through it.”

Balth pounced on Sam again.  He grabbed his right arm and Sam yelped in pain.  “Please, stop!  You really hurt me!  I have to cheer on Friday.  Don’t hurt my shoulder anymore, ok?”

Balth made a sympathetic face.  “Aw, did the poor widdle boy get a boo boo on his shoulder?  Well, don’t worry.  Dr. Balthazar can fix you right up!”

He seized Sam’s left arm, twisting it behind his back.  When he tugged on it, Sam let out a cry of pain.  “Stop!”

“What?  I’m making this one match your other shoulder!  See?  Now be quiet!”

“Stop, please, you’re gonna pop it out!”

Balth’s answer was to clap a hand over Sam’s mouth.

Sam’s nails dug into his palms.  He cried out into Balth’s hand and shoved his right fist against the floor, desperate to brace back and take some of the pressure off.  It seemed to amuse Balthazar.  He was laughing as he pulled on Sam’s arm once more.  The pain was awful, muscles and tendons straining to hold against the unnatural position.  It was going to dislocate.  Sam cried out again into Balth’s hand.  Stop, please, please stop!

And then suddenly the terrible pressure was gone.  There was a pained yelp of surprise from Balthazar, followed by the unmistakable sound of a fist pounding into a face.  Then there was a crash, the sound of a body falling among folding chairs.

“Sammy!”  Dean gathered up the smaller boy.  “Are you alright?  What the fuck did that piece of shit do to you?!”

Dean was here.  No.  Dean couldn’t be here.  Sam looked and saw Balth.  He’d been knocked into the rows of folding chairs that the band used for practice.  His face was flushed with anger, with one part of his jaw a much darker color.  Already he was back on his feet, but he wasn’t moving towards Dean.  He was moving towards the window, where he knocked once more on the glass.  Sam’s eyes went to the telltale bulge in the pocket of Balth’s jeans.  The knife.  Balth had his knife, Dean was here, and Lucifer was right outside.  No.  Now Balth was turning back towards him, his expression dark and murderous.

“Sammy!  Answer me!  What did he do to you?!”

“N-Nothing!”  Sam started pushing Dean, desperate to get his brother out of the room.  Dean would be safe in the halls.  Balth and Luci couldn’t lock Dean in, couldn’t gang up on him and hurt him in the halls.

Dean, unfortunately, was stubborn and large.  Sam shoved at him.  “I’m fine,” he insisted.  “It’s nothing, Dean, we were just playing around.”

“Just playing around?!  He was hurting you!”  Dean gingerly touched Sam’s shoulder, oblivious of the fact that Balth had just moved to the outside door to let his brother in.  “He had you pinned down with your arm twisted up behind your back!  He was hurting you!”

“No!  I’m fine, see?”  Sammy waved his arm dramatically.  “We were just playing!  Now go, before a teacher sees you!”

“Oh no, stay!” Luci called.  “By all means, Dean, stay.  We’ll have a little chat.”

Dean turned, frowning at Lucifer.  “This has nothing to do with you, Luci.  It’s just me and Balth.  He hurt my brother, and we’re going to have a little discussion about that.”

“Ah, but you see, that’s the problem,” Luci said.  He took Balth’s chin, turning his brother’s face to display the mark Dean had left.  “You hurt my brother, too!  So I guess I’m involved in this discussion.  Because no one fucking touches my brother!”

Dean narrowed his eyes.  “Looks like we got something in common after all.”

Sam shoved hard at his brother, nearly knocking Dean over.  “Come on, Dean, let’s just go!”

“Sammy, go out in the hall,” Dean called.  His eyes were fixed on the Novak brothers.  “I got this.”

“Yeah, scoot out, junior,” Luci called.  “The grown-ups are talking.”

“No!”  Sam ran at Balthazar.  “No, Balth, you have to stop this, we had…”

Balthazar shoved him, and Sam sprawled backwards.  More folding chairs went flying.  Dean let out a bellow of fury and charged Balthazar.  The two went down in a tangle of flying limbs.  Lucifer slammed a shoulder into Dean’s side, knocking him off of Balthazar.  Dean got up, turning to face this new threat.  But Balth was back up.  Moving behind Dean, he grabbed both of Dean’s arms.  “Come on, Luci!  Fuck this fag up!”

“No!”  Sam ran at Lucifer, only to be thrown backwards again.  Sam looked up in horror, seeing his brother struggling against Balth as Luci started beating him.  No.  Sam couldn’t stop this.  Luci and Balth were too big, too strong.  But he couldn’t let them beat Dean!

He ran out into the hall, yelling for help.  The cafeteria.  He could find help there.  Sam started running, turned a corner, and nearly plowed into a couple making out by the water fountain.  The boy was the most welcome sight Sam had ever seen.  “Benny!  Benny, come on!”

The look Benny gave Sam at being interrupted was murderous.  The look Andrea gave him was even worse.  Sam didn’t care.  Desperate, he dragged the larger boy stumbling after him until he’d shoved his way through the music room doors.

By this time, Dean had managed to get free from Balth and was fighting both boys.  Benny looked, saw what was happening and immediately stalked forward.  “Two on one?  Oh, hell no!”

Now the fight was even.  Benny went for Balth, leaving Dean free to dive on Luci.  Dean was panting, blood dripping from his face.  But the Novak brothers were still fighting.  Sam grabbed a folding chair and swung with all his strength.  It worked great on TV, but not so much in real life.  Luci saw the attack and shifted at the last minute, receiving only a glancing blow.  Then he yanked the chair out of Sam’s hands and threw it at Benny.  “Balth!  Cut these bitches!”

The knife.  Sam was in a panic.  Already, Balth’s hand was going for his pocket.  But Benny closed with him, and Balth was too busy to dig around in his pockets.

Suddenly, the room was full of people.  Andrea had brought help.  Shouting teachers and students were dragging the combatants apart.  No one wanted to stop fighting.  Sam couldn’t see around all the bodies.  Cas was there for a second, shoving his way between Dean and Luci.  Sam lost everyone in the crowd.  He ignored the orders of one of the teachers to go into the hall and ran around, yelling for Dean, trying not to get trampled.  Then he caught a glimpse of Cas again and panicked.  Balth had his arm around Cas’s neck, holding his youngest brother close to his side.  Sam grabbed another chair and charged forward.  “No!  Don’t hurt him!  Don’t hurt Cas!”

“Samuel!  Enough!”  A teacher had hold of Sam now, wrenching the chair out of his grip.

“No, you don’t understand!” Sam shrieked.  “Balthazar has a knife!”

Instantly the room went silent.  White-faced teachers ordered everyone back and surrounded Balthazar.  Sam snagged Castiel and dragged him back.  “Cas!  Are you alright?”

“I’m fine.”  Cas had an odd look on his face.  But he didn’t seem hurt.  Sam breathed a sigh of relief.

“Empty your pockets,” Mr. Green ordered Balth.  “Now!”

“Sure.”  Balthazar emptied his pockets, producing a wallet, a cloth hanky, and a plastic comb from the back pockets.  The main pockets of his jeans he turned inside-out.  They were empty.

Sam was still with Cas, keeping him safely out of Balth’s reach.  It took him a moment to realize that Balth didn’t have his knife.  When all eyes turned to him, Sam shook his head.  “No, he has a knife.  He showed it to me!  Lucifer knew!  He told Balth to use it, said ‘Cut these bitches.’  If Balth doesn’t have it, then he must have passed it to Luci!”

“Seriously?” Lucifer complained as all eyes went to him.  “I’d prefer not to empty my pockets.  I’ve got some personal stuff that…”

“Empty them, right now!”

“Alright, alright, geez!”  Lucifer reluctantly emptied his pockets.  He had his wallet, a pack of cigarettes and a lighter that were immediately confiscated.  He hesitated at the last pocket and Sam held his breath.  But at a glare from Mr. Green, Luci sighed dramatically, reached into the pocket, and produced a wrapped condom.  “Happy now?  The whole school’s going to think I’m a pervert, but hey, at least I’m safe!”

Sam blinked in confusion.  “I don’t understand.  Balth had a knife!  I saw it!”

“It was a bad fight,” Ms. Spitzler offered, looking around at the injuries on all four fighters.  “Things get confusing in a fight.  It’s ok that you made a mistake.”

“But I didn’t…!”

No one was listening.  Cas remained by Sam, looking upset.  Sam was still clinging to him protectively.  Now, as the room began to empty, he let go.  “He had a knife,” he said weakly.  “Cas, he had a knife!”

“He doesn’t now,” Cas said quietly.  “But it doesn’t matter.  Luci and Bath are going to get detention for this.  They’ll be grounded.”

That meant they’d be locked in their rooms.  Sam’s stomach sank.  He flinched at the look Balthazar gave him on his way to the principal’s office.

“You too, Samuel,” Ms. Spitzler called.  “You seem to have been involved, so you can come and explain what happened.”

Explain what happened?  Sam didn’t even know where to begin.  All he knew was that he’d somehow managed to make a bad situation far, far worse.

Chapter Text

“I heard Sam cry out,” Dean was explaining.  “That’s how I knew something was wrong.  I went in and there was Balth.  He had my little brother on the floor, had his hand over Sammy’s mouth, and was wrenching his shoulder!”

“Like Sam told you, we were just playing,” Balth called calmly.  “You over-reacted, punched me in the face.  I got worried with two of you there, so I called my brother.  Luci came in to help me.  Then you started to attack both of us!”

“And Lucifer was outside, smoking?”  The principal frowned at Luci.

Luci squirmed in his seat.  “Alright, I was smoking, but it’s a good thing!  Balthazar had a big mark on his face where Dean hit him.  I wasn’t about to let that slide, so I confronted Dean.  It took two of us to try to settle that big dumb jock down.  If Balth had been alone, Dean would have beaten the shit out of him!  I was just protecting my little brother.”

“Who needed his ass kicked because he was attacking Sammy!”

“When I came in, both you assholes…  Er, sorry,” Benny corrected as the principal glowered at him.  “Both of you were ganging up on Dean, so I went after Balth.”

“And at any time, did either of you see a knife?”

Dean and Benny looked at each other.  They shook their heads.

“He had a knife,” Sam insisted weakly.  He was sitting in a chair, staring at his folded hands.  “Balthazar has been bullying me since the start of the school year.  He would drag me into that music room and beat me up on average once or twice a week, after he’d torture me until he made me cry.  And I let him do it because he showed me the knife.  Said if I told anyone, he’d go after Dean and Cas.”

It was the wrong thing to say.  Dean stared at Sam for a moment.  Then he was up and after Balthazar.

A few moments of absolute mayhem later, everyone was back in their seat.  The school nurse was back, sighing at the new cuts she was treating.

“Samuel, that is a very serious accusation,” the principal was saying.  “This school has a zero tolerance policy on weapons here.  You realize that what you’re saying could result in not only a permanent suspension from school for Balthazar, but also potential criminal charges?”

“Yes,” Sam said, glaring at Balthazar.  “I’m aware.  And I’m telling the truth.”

Balthazar and Lucifer were trying to murder Sam with their eyes.  Benny loudly cleared his throat.  “I didn’t see a knife there, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have one,” he pointed out.  “It got pretty crazy.  He might have hidden it somewhere?”

“I thought of that,” the principal said.  “I already had the music room searched.  There’s no knife.  Samuel, do you have any proof of what you’re saying?”

“Just this.”  Sam stood up and raised his shirt, displaying the bruises.  “Like I said, he’s been bullying me for a while,” he continued, ignoring the sounds his brother was making.  “And I think it’s pretty obvious right now that I didn’t tell anyone.  Why?  Because Balth had a knife!  I don’t know what he did with it.  I can’t explain that.  But he had it, he threatened my brother and my best friend, and that’s why I let him hurt me.”

“You got a lot of balls, Winchester,” Balthazar snarled, “but no proof.  The truth is, your fag brother has had a crush on me from day one!  He saw us wrestling and thought we were making out.  That’s the real reason he attacked me.”

Benny was holding Dean back now, trying to keep his friend from getting into any more trouble.  But Balthazar wasn’t finished.  His eyes had gone to the red-faced older Winchester.  “As to the bruises?  Well, we all know what kind of home you two come from, don’t we?  Looks like big brother just picked up where daddy left off!”

“Alright, everyone calm down!” the principal yelled, straining to shout over the angry swearing and threats.  “Samuel.  Does anyone else know about the bullying?  Let’s start there.”

Sam started to shake his head.  Then he brightened.  “Yes!  Yes, I told Cas!  Castiel knows, but he didn’t know who it was.  I couldn’t tell him it was his own brother because Balth threatened him and Dean.  But Cas knew someone was hurting me, and he knew it wasn’t Dean, either!  He asked that question when he saw my bruises.  Cas knew!”

A moment later, Castiel was being ushered in.  The youngest Novak’s face was pale as his eyes flicked between his brothers and the Winchesters.

“Castiel?” the principal asked gently.  “There have been a lot of accusations made here today, but right now it’s just the word of one against another.  We were hoping you could help us.  Will you do that?”

Cas swallowed hard.  “I’ll try?”

“Alright.  First, do you know if your brother Balthazar has a knife?”

Cas’s eyes flicked to Balth’s.  Balth’s face bore a smug smile.  “No,” Cas said.  “Balth doesn’t have anything like that.”

Sam blinked in surprise.  Balthazar always had the knife in his pocket any time Sam had seen him.  How could Cas not know?

“Alright, one more question.  Has Samuel ever told you anything about being bullied?”

Cas froze.  The sound of the clock ticking on the wall seemed like a jackhammer pounding in slow motion, but just as loud.  Cas’s eyes locked on Sam.  Sam stared back at him.  Come on, Cas.  Please.  Be strong enough to tell the truth.

But Cas was shaking his head.  “No.  No, I’m sorry, but he never said anything like that to me.”

Sam’s jaw dropped.  He was peripherally aware of Dean’s gasp of disbelief, Benny’s low grumble of disapproval.  But mostly he was aware of Balthazar’s mocking laughter.  “See?  Told you!  He’s nothing but a little liar!”

“Yeah, but we understand,” Lucifer was saying.  His voice was dripping with mock sympathy.  “It’s been a rough year for both of them.  I think Balth is with me when I say we want to just forget the whole thing, let bygones be bygones, and just let everyone go on with their lives.”

The principal was speaking again.  Something about detention for all five boys involved in the fight.  Whatever she said immediately silenced Balth and Luci.  But Sam was barely listening.  He was staring hard at Castiel.  In his mind’s eye, he was again seeing his friend, standing with Balth.  Balth’s arm had been around Cas’s neck, drawing Cas’s head close to his mouth.  At the time, Sam had been terrified that Balth was about to carry out his threat, hurt Cas to punish Sam.  But now, remembering the scene, he could recall Balth was speaking to Cas.  Balth’s other hand was moving, passing something to his younger brother.  Cas.  So that’s where Balth got rid of the knife.

***

Castiel avoided Dean the rest of the day, unable to bear the look of hurt betrayal he knew was in the other boy’s eyes.  In a way, it was almost a relief.  Now Dean wouldn’t want him anymore.  Castiel wouldn’t have this ongoing war inside.  Fear and shame battling with desire and longing.  It was over.  His friendship with the Winchesters was likely over, too.  That was for the best.  Castiel could go on with his life.  Live the way his father wanted him to live.  Pure.  Godly.  No more laughing at Sammy’s jokes and silly pranks.  No more hot, delicious moments behind closed doors with Dean.  He was alone again.  As it should be.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t avoid Sammy.  He’d seen the younger Winchester in the hall with his brother before the class they shared.  Dean was speaking earnestly to him, and Sam was nodding.  Ashamed, Castiel ducked into class, found a seat at the back.  He was so early no one else was in the room.  But a moment later, Sammy came in.  Naturally, he took the seat right next to Cas, sitting sideways and leaning forward to speak with him.  “We need to talk,” he said quietly.

“Go ahead,” Castiel offered.  “You got into a fight with my brothers, you’ve all got detention now, and you have every right to be angry at me.  So say what you want to say.”

“I get it.”

Castiel blinked at Sam in surprise.  “Huh?”

“Dude, I get it.  We both get it.  If Balth got caught with that knife, he might have gone straight to juvie.  And if he got busted for bullying me, he’d be in trouble, too.  He’s going to be in enough trouble as it is, with him and Luci both getting detention.  You have to live with him.  He’s your brother.  I get why you protected him, Cas.  I would have done the same thing if it was Dean.”  He grimaced.  “In fact, Dean just made me promise that I’ll tell him if anyone ever hurts me again.  The only thing he’s upset about is that I never told him.”

Castiel blinked again.  “You’re not upset?  Neither of you is upset?”

“We’re upset, sure we are, but not at you.”  Sam was reaching out, squeezing Castiel’s shoulder.  “I should have warned you when I had the chance.  Balth threatened me, told me if I said anything, he’d take that knife to you and Dean both.  That’s why I couldn’t tell you.”

Castiel felt his jaw drop.  “What?  What?!”

Sam shook his head.  “You had no idea.  I figured as much.  And that’s the other reason I get it.  At the time, I was too afraid of what he might do to you to do anything except go along with what he wanted.  I love you, Cas.  I could take him beating on me to protect you and Dean.  I couldn’t see a way out of that mess, but it’s ok.  Because now, if anything happens to any of the three of us?  It points the finger right at Balth.  He can’t touch us now!”  Sam scoffed.  “If I’d just been smart enough to figure that out earlier, I could have saved everyone a whole lot of trouble!  This shit is on me and Balth.  I never even thought to be upset with you.  Hell, I wouldn’t have even said anything to you if Dean hadn’t talked to me and asked me to make sure you were alright.”

“Dean asked you to talk to me?”  Even saying his name was making Castiel’s heart flutter.

“He’s not mad.  Why would he be?  And we’re both looking forward to Friday.”  Sam’s eyes were serious as he looked hard at Castiel.  “All I need to know is, what’s going to happen when you guys go home?”

Castiel looked down.  Some students had started to walk in.  He leaned closer to Sammy so he could whisper to him.  “Balth and Luci will be punished, grounded for getting detention.  It’s going to be bad for a while.”

“Fuck them, what about you?  You are the only one I care about, Cas!  Is this going to make things worse for you?”

Castiel shook his head.  “I didn’t get into trouble, so no.  I’ll just have to finish my punishment from before.”

“You’ll still be locked in your room, you mean.”  Sammy’s face twisted in anger.  “That’s bullshit, Cas.  Listen, you don’t have to stay there and let your father lock you up, alright?  You can come home with us!”

Castiel quickly shook his head again.  “Sam, if I run away, it’ll only be worse.”

“I can’t just sit back and let your father lock you up!” Sam hissed.  “There’s this lady, Grice, from Family Services?  She comes by every so often to check on me.  I have her number.  If I call her…”

“If you call her, she’ll take me away and we’ll never see each other again.  Is that really want you want?”

Sam’s shoulder’s slumped.

Castiel sighed.  “Sam, this isn’t something that can be changed.  I know you’re upset, but I won’t be locked in again unless I break the rules.  I broke curfew too many times and got grounded.  Now just let me serve out my punishment.  Then he’ll let me out, alright?”

“For how long?”

Castiel shifted.  “Well, until I screw up and get grounded again.”

“So every time you’re grounded now, you’ll be locked in your room like an animal in a cage?”

Castiel shifted again.  “That’s a bit dramatic, but essentially, yes.”

“So now your brothers will be locked in, too.”  Sammy’s expression was troubled now.  “I can’t even wish that on Balth, not even after what he did.  It’s just wrong, Cas.”

“What he did to you was wrong, Sammy,” Castiel insisted.  “Balthazar should be punished for hurting you.”

They couldn’t say anymore.  The last of the stragglers had wandered into the classroom and Spitzler was up front, ready to begin.  But Castiel couldn’t focus on the lesson.  His thoughts churned like an angry whirlpool, threatening to drag him into an abyss.  Balthazar had been the one beating Sammy.  Castiel had realized that when he’d been asked if he’d known.  In that one moment, he’d been forced to make a choice.  He’d chosen what he’d believed, at the time, to be the right thing.  But had he been wrong?  He’d chosen his brother because he’d known that the worse his punishment at school, the worse it would be for Balthazar when he got home.  He’d done it to try to spare his brother.  Now he couldn’t help but wonder if his loyalty had been misplaced.  Bad enough his brother had been beating his best friend all this time.  The memories of the bruises he’d seen on Sam’s body made him clench his fists until his nails dug into his palms.  But to learn the rest?  Balthazar had threatened Sammy.  Sammy had believed that Balthazar would hurt him and Dean.  Sammy had let this happen, had allowed himself to be beaten, partially to protect Castiel?  No.  Castiel couldn’t, wouldn’t bear that.  And worst of all, he knew that Sammy was wrong.  While they were sober, Balthazar and Lucifer would remember the danger they would be in if they went after the Winchesters.  But they were sober less and less frequently.  Now that Castiel knew for sure his brothers were into drugs, he’d seen the signs.  His brothers were dealing, and using, far more than they’d ever been.  And one day, their anger would get the best of them.  Then they’d go after the Winchesters.  Dean, he knew, could probably hold his own, even against Lucifer.  But Balthazar would hurt Sammy again.

No.  That couldn’t happen.

Somehow, Castiel made it through the rest of the day.  He made sure to catch Dean’s eye in the hall and smile at him.  The smile he’d gotten in return strengthened his determination.  Nothing, nothing could happen to Dean or his brother.  Castiel intended to make sure of that.

***

For once, Castiel was glad to be immediately locked into his room when he’d arrived home from school.  The awful sounds of violence from his brothers’ rooms couldn’t be completely drowned out even with his headphones.  Zachariah was furious.  Castiel wasn’t let out for supper.  Juanita brought Castiel’s supper to him on a tray.  She’d unlocked his door only long enough to give him the tray before locking him back in.  Her face was stern, disapproving.  Of course.  Juanita and Martin were an elderly married couple from Mexico that had worked for his father since before Castiel was born.  They were almost part of the family.  While Castiel and his siblings were expected to keep house, Juanita still cooked, served, maintained the kitchen, and kept the house stocked in groceries, and did some light housekeeping.  Martin served as driver, gardener, and general handyman.  Both were completely loyal to Zachariah.  Both had always supported all of his decisions.  It was plain that their opinion hadn’t changed by the way Juanita slammed Castiel’s door.  Somehow, even the sound of the lock seemed to condemn him.  Juanita and Martin didn’t need to know any details.  The Novak children had broken the rules and were receiving the punishment they’d earned.  They’d never question this, much less stand up to the Novak patriarch.  Castiel knew he couldn’t expect them to help him.  He was on his own.

He ate.  Did his homework.  Listened to his music.  Got ready for bed.  Then he picked up his phone and called Balthazar.

“It’s me,” he said when his brother’s voice answered.  “I want you to stay away from the Winchesters.”

“You do not want to push me tonight, little brother!”  Balth’s voice sounded more weary than angry.  But that could change in an instant.

Castiel didn’t care.  “You hurt my best friend.  You threatened Dean.  And it’s going to stop.”

“Oh really?”  Balth almost sounded amused now.  “You know, just because you finally figured out you’re supposed to like girls doesn’t make you a real man.  You’re still the same little shit you’ve always been.  Cross me and you know I’ll make you pay!”

“I won’t cross you, not as long as you leave the Winchesters alone.  But if you touch them, Balth?  If you ever put your hands on Sam or Dean again?  Then everyone is going to remember what Sammy said today.  And that’s when I’ll step up and tell them all about you and your knife!”

Balth sucked in his breath.  “You’d get in trouble right along with me.  You wouldn’t dare.”

“Try me!”

“You little bastard!”  Balth’s voice was an angry snarl.  “I’m your brother!  Our mom was going to abandon me so she could keep you.  Now you’d seriously turn on me for a couple of fags?!”

Castiel sighed.  “This has nothing to do with mom, alright?”

“Sweet little angel Cassie!” Balth spat.  “You’ve always been the favorite!  Father falls all over himself to help you, doesn’t he?  He fights over custody of you, makes plans for you to join him in the business, sets you up with hot rich girlfriends, sends you to special camps…”

“That camp was hell for me!” Castiel exclaimed in spite of himself.

“Yeah, well, getting moved out here is hell for me, so I guess we’re even, aren’t we?”

Castiel regained control with an effort.  “Balthazar, I am not having this conversation again.  But no, I won’t turn on you.  Not unless you go after Sam and Dean.  Leave them alone.  Let this be over.  Just let it end, Balth, and that will be the end of it.  I’ll never tell a soul about your knife.  Oh, and you’ll be leaving your knife at home, too.  You should probably do that anyway.  Now that the principal’s aware of it, she’s going to be watching for it.”

“You’ll pay,” Balth warned.  “You’ll pay for this, Castiel!”

“I know.  And I don’t care.  Beat the hell out of me, Balthazar.  Do your worst.  I’ll keep your secret.  Unless you hurt my friends again.”

Balth was saying something else, but Castiel hung up.  Almost immediately, his phone rang again.  Castiel didn’t answer.  He listened as his machine picked up, but Balth hung up without leaving a message.  Good.

Castiel set his alarm and climbed into bed.  So much for Monday.  Now all he had to do was get through tomorrow, Wednesday, and Thursday.  Then Friday would come.  His father would finally let him out.  Castiel could go to the game, see his friends.  See Dean.

Dean.  Would Dean pull him aside again?  Touch him some more?  Let Castiel touch him?  Castiel thought maybe he would.

***

The days rolled by.  Balthazar kept his promise, leaving Castiel with a black eye Jaunita helped cover with make-up.  Easy enough to hide.  The beating from his brother was the least of Castiel’s concerns.  Sammy seemed to have come back to his old self again.  He was smiling, laughing, and, unfortunately, flirting.  He was openly dating Hannah now, which drew dark looks from the older Novak brothers even as Hannah seemed ready to burst with happiness.  But best of all, he was eating.  Sam was consuming his entire meal every day at lunch.  It was clear that Dean noticed it, too.  He sat with Castiel and Sam at their crowded, noisy table, eating and smiling as he watched his brother do the same.  And beneath the table, hidden by their bodies, Dean would reach over, take Castiel’s hand, and give it a gentle squeeze.

Dean wasn’t willing to wait until Friday.  Wednesday he pulled Castiel into the equipment room once again.  Hot kisses.  Hands touching, gripping.  Not enough.  Never enough.  Dean’s lips on his throat were enough to drive Castiel insane.  But Dean was so careful.  So patient.  He paid attention, reading Castiel’s body language.  And the moment he saw Castiel start to stiffen as his stomach churned, he backed off.  Dean would hold Castiel, just hold him, usually rocking gently from side to side, until Castiel recovered.  Only then would he start again.

Dean.  Dean and Dean and Dean, filling his senses until there was nothing else in the world but the two of them.  Dean was so strong.  He held Castiel as though he were afraid Castiel might try to bolt at any minute, but every touch was soft.  No matter how rough Castiel got, Dean could take it.  Castiel was rough.  He couldn’t help himself.  Now that he’d given himself permission to want Dean, to put his hands on this beautiful boy?  He simply couldn’t get enough.  It didn’t seem fair, somehow.  Dean was so gentle with him, while Castiel roughly took what he wanted.  But it was what they both needed.  Secret kisses.  Shared embraces.  Castiel felt treasured, valued.  Dean probably felt half beaten up.  But he was smiling.  Encouraging Castiel with his hands and his kisses and the sounds he was making.

It was an effort to let go of each other.  Privately Castiel wondered how the whole school couldn’t tell just by looking at him what he’d been doing.  He couldn’t remember ever feeling happier, more at peace with himself.

Then, at the very end of the school day, he saw his sister in the hall, embracing Sam.  That was fine.  What wasn’t fine was that while Hannah was leaning against her boyfriend, smiling with her eyes closed and her head resting on his shoulder, Sammy’s attention was elsewhere.  Another girl was standing a few feet behind Hannah, flirting with Sam.  And Sam was flirting back, right over his sister’s shoulder.  

Immediately, Castiel’s good feelings were gone.  He waited until Sammy had kissed Hannah and they’d gone their separate ways.  Then he grabbed hold of Sam’s arm and pulled him aside.  Sam went willingly, smiling at his friend.  “What’s up, Cas?”

“I want you to break up with Hannah.”

Sam blinked in surprise.  “Huh?”

“You said you’d do it if I asked?  I’m asking.”

Sam was frowning now.  But he nodded.  “Alright.  Whatever you want, Cas.  But I thought you were alright with us?  Can I ask what changed your mind?”

“You’re treating these girls like this is a game for you!” Castiel accused.  “You’re telling them what they want to hear so they give you what you want, and then you’re moving on to the next.  It’s not right!  You’re toying with their emotions.  This isn’t a game, alright?  My sister isn’t another conquest!  Break up with her, and stop this!”

“What the hell are you trying to say?!”

“I’m saying you need to stop sleeping around!”

Sam’s face went blank.  “You calling me a slut, Cas?”

“No, Sam, I’m calling you someone who is hollowed out inside and is doing anything he can to try to feel whole again.  You need something to complete you, but this isn’t it!  Break up with Hannah.  I don’t care if you flirt, that’s you.  But stop sleeping with every girl who looks your way.  These girls deserve better.  My sister deserves better.  You deserve better, too!”

Sam flinched.  Castiel took his shoulders, looking his friend in the eye.  “Sam, this life you’re leading, all this empty sex with girl after girl?  Can you look at me and tell me you actually want this?”

“I like sex, ok, Cas?”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

Sam looked down.  “No.”

“My sister thinks you love her, Sam.  Have you already cheated on Hannah?”

A nod.

Castiel set himself.  “More than once?”

Sam nodded again, refusing to meet Castiel’s eyes.  “I’ll break up with her.”

“Do more than that,” Castiel urged.  “Have some self respect, Sam!  I’ve never slept with anyone, so take this for what it’s worth.  But it seems to me that, even if you don’t wait for marriage?  Sex is something special that should be shared between two people who genuinely feel something for each other.  And that’s why it’s not working for you,” he continued, seeing something dawn in Sam’s eyes.  “You’re looking for something to fill you up inside.  You’re going after sex because that’s what you understand and can control.  But it’s not helping you, Sam.  It’s taking that emptiness inside of you and it’s making it worse!”

Sam was still and quiet.  His eyes flickered, following the flow of his thoughts.  Castiel knew that what he’d said to his friend was making sense.  Finally, Sammy’s eyes met his.  “I really do like your sister.”

“Sam, you cheated on her!”

“It didn’t mean anything,” Sam protested weakly.  “It never does.”

“And that’s why you need to stop,” Castiel declared, letting go of his friend.

Sam looked up and managed a small smile.  “Not everyone can find what you and Dean have.  Yeah, Cas, I know, but it’s only because I know Dean.  I’ve never seen him so crazy about anyone as he is about you.  And I’m glad.   You two, you deserve each other.  But me?”  He shook his head.  “I don’t have anyone except for you and Dean.  I’ve got lots of friends, but none of them really care about me, not like you two.  And there isn’t anyone who wants me the way Dean wants you.”

“You’ll find someone,” Castiel promised.  “You will.  But if you keep acting like this, jumping from girl to girl?  How will she ever have a chance?”

That hit home.  Sammy reached out an arm and slung it around Castiel’s neck, pulling him into a tight hug and letting his head rest on Castiel’s shoulder.  “I’m sorry.  My god, I don’t deserve you.  I’ve been acting like such an asshole!  I’m so sorry I hurt Hannah.  I’m sorry I hurt all of those girls.  And honesty?  I don’t know why I’m doing it.  I guess I’m just lonely.”

“Find someone who deserves you,” Castiel urged.  “You’re better than this.”

“I’m sorry.  You’re right.  I’ll talk to your sister and break up with her, and then I’ll stop sleeping around.  I promise, ok?  I love you, brother.”

Castiel tightened his grip around his friend.  “I love you, too.”

***

Hannah handled the break-up badly.  In hindsight, Castiel wished he’d asked Sam to wait to break up with his sister until Friday, when Castiel wouldn’t still be locked in his room.  As it was, all he could do was listen to his sister sob into his ear over the phone.  “Why?” she wailed.  “I loved him!”

“He’s a high school guy,” Castiel reminded, feeling guilty.  “He’s still a kid, Hannah.  He’s not ready for a long-term commitment.  But I know it hurts.”

It didn’t help, of course.  There was nothing Castiel could do to help.

Thursday at school, there was a commotion in the hall.  To Castiel’s dismay, Hannah had attacked Sammy, scratching at his face before a couple of girls dragged her off.  Not good.  For the first time in her life, Hannah Novak got detention.  Castiel feared the worst.  He went to his father, explained that Hannah’s boyfriend had broken up with her.  She hadn’t handled it well.  She’d seen him talking to another girl in the hall and had become upset.  And to his relief, his father understood.  Zachariah already knew about the break-up from Hannah’s behavior the night before.  Now he was acting like a supporting father.  He was even comforting his sobbing daughter, assuring her that she’d find someone much better who deserved her.  It was good that the little punk had shown his true colors before things got too serious.  Hannah was better off without him.  Zach would find her a good Christian boy from a good family, and to hell with the trash here in Lawrence.  All this at the dinner table, just before he locked his three sons into their rooms.  And he never knew the name of Hannah’s mysterious boyfriend.  Castiel breathed a sigh of relief.  He hated seeing his sister hurt.  But the alternative could have been so much worse.  Despite Hannah’s broken heart, Castiel felt as though he’d just dodged a bullet.

***

Dean’s team lost the game by an embarrassing amount.  But Dean seemed to be the only one on the team who didn’t care.  Castiel spent most of the dance afterwards hidden away in one place or another with him.  With the exception of one slow dance he’d reserved for Charlie, he’d danced every other with Dean.  They danced, hidden in the darkness of an alcove or storage closet of some sort, to music they could barely hear through the walls.  And it was perfect.  He loved the way Dean held him as they danced.  With a girl, Castiel would hold her around her waist while she put her arms around his neck and leaned into him.  But Dean had his own way to dance with him.  One arm went around Castiel’s shoulders, the other around his waist.  Castiel copied the move and found it very much to his liking.

The best part was that it was taking more before he felt his stomach wanting to heave.  Now he could kiss Dean, a quick peck on the lips.

“You’re getting better,” Dean told him.

I’m getting worse, Castiel thought.  Then he immediately dismissed the thought.  No.  What he had with Dean was just too good to be as wrong as his father and Dr. Crowley insisted it was.  No one else in Castiel’s life had ever been so gentle.  So loving.  Cherished him as much as Dean Winchester.  No.  There was no sin in this.  And the more he came to realize that, the more the guilt eased.

“I love you,” Dean was whispering into his ear.  “I love you so much, Cas.  There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”

Castiel held Dean a little closer.  Dean never seemed to expect him to say anything in return when he made these little confessions.  But more and more, Castiel found himself wanting to say those three words that would mean the end of his life as he’d lived it.  To tell Dean he loved him would be to commit himself.  Once he did that, he knew, he could never go back.

More and more, Castiel wondered why that mattered.

Chapter Text

It was late when the four girls came into the store, and it annoyed Sam.  They’d been standing around in the parking lot near the door smoking before they came in.  The stench of cigarettes wafted in with them.  No doubt they’d thrown their butts all over the parking lot for him to clean up.  “We close in 10, ladies,” he warned.  “Might want to try again tomorrow?”

They didn’t get the hint.  Of course not.  That wasn’t the kind of day Sam had been having.  Now that his social life had been all but non-existent for weeks, Sam had picked up extra hours at the store or the motel.  Today, the store had been busy all day.  After the customers were gone, Sam was still busy cleaning, restocking shelves, taking inventory and balancing the books.  The last part he’d taken extra time with.  But no matter how much he crunched the numbers, they still weren’t adding up.  There was no doubt about it.  Somehow, they were missing money.  With everything else that was going on now, the idea that one of their employees would steal from them made him sick.  Sam would have to somehow find a way to fit in extra hours at the motel in order to replace the money until he and Dean figured out who the thief was.  Through it all, he’d missed his chance to eat.  Now all he wanted to do was eat his sandwich and close the store so he could go home and wait for Dean to finish his own shift.  Then they could finally have the late dinner that was becoming more and more common for them.

But these girls were apparently going to make that difficult.  They were back among the shelves now, giggling and looking back at him.  Sam frowned in annoyance.  He quickly finished his sandwich, his eyes on the clock.  The girls, he knew, wouldn’t be buying anything.  They weren’t here to buy.  Most likely, they were going to cause trouble.  Perfect end to a perfect day.  Sam looked at the girls.  They looked vaguely familiar, especially the one with long blonde hair.  She kept looking back at him.  Her smile was anything but friendly.  Sam pretended to ignore her while keeping an eye on them on the monitor behind the counter.  If they tried to shoplift something, there would be hell to pay.

Finally, the hour turned.  “Store is closing, ladies!” he called.  He moved to switch off the lights, keeping tabs on the girls.  They were still in the same place, still whispering together.  Sam frowned.  He did not like the way they were gathered, back among the display shelves partially out of his sight.  Fine.  Irritated, he started back towards them to tell them to leave.

His jacket was behind the counter.  His cell phone and keys were in the pockets.  It never occurred to him that he might regret that.

***

When Dean came home from his shift at Benny’s dad’s security company, Sammy wasn’t there.  Odd.  It was after midnight on a school night.  When 1 am rolled around, Dean wondered where he was.  When no one answered at the store, he started to worry.  And when Sam didn’t answer his cell phone either, his worry grew to concern.  This was not like Sam.  Dean stepped outside and looked hopefully down the street.  The air was a bit chilly, but warm for this time of year.  Sammy had chosen to walk to work.  At the time, Dean had thought nothing of it.  But now he had cause to regret not driving his brother to work.  He went back inside and called Sammy’s cell phone again.  His heart pounded as he listened to it ring.  No answer.  Dean hung up.  He stared at the phone for a moment longer.  Then he called Cas.

By the sound of his voice, Cas had been asleep.  Thank goodness he had a private line.  “Cas, Sammy didn’t come home,” Dean blurted.  “He’s not answering his phone and I don’t know where he is.”

“What?”  Now Cas sounded considerably more awake.  “What do you mean you don’t know where he is?  He’s not answering at the store?”

“No, and I’m really worried.  It’s 1am!  He’s not a big guy, Cas.  He looks younger than he is.  He was walking home alone late at night.  What if something happened to him?”  Horrible scenarios were flashing through Dean’s mind.

“Ok, calm down.  Let me get dressed, talk to my father, let him know Sammy’s missing.  He’ll let me help search.  Give me five minutes and come pick me up.  We’ll go look for him.”

Great plan.  Dean was out and in his baby and waiting impatiently at the curb when Cas jogged up.  Just the sight of the other boy was enough to help Dean relax a bit.  He’d been afraid Zachariah wouldn’t let him help search for Sammy.  They shared a quick kiss as soon as they were out of sight of the house.  Then Cas was all business.  “Where’s the last place you know he was?”

“The store.”

“Alright, then let’s check there first.”

Of course.  Dean felt stupid.  If Sam hadn’t come home, then obviously he was still at the store.  But when he cruised through the parking area, the lights were off and the “Closed” sign was in the door.  There was no sign of Sam.  Troubled, Dean drove back, following the path that his brother would have taken to return home.  But by the time he and Cas pulled into the Winchester driveway, they still hadn’t seen Sammy.  He looked over at Cas.  Cas was on Dean’s cell phone, calling Sammy again.  But when he met the other boy’s eyes, Cas shook his head.  Wherever Sammy was, he still wasn’t answering.

By now, Dean’s heart was pounding.  “Where the hell could he be?”

“Alright, um, what about the grocery store?  Maybe he went to pick something up?  Or maybe he went to the park for a late night jog if he had a bad night?”

“Worth a shot.  When I find the little shit, I’m putting a bell on him!”

But Sammy wasn’t at the grocery store.  He wasn’t at the park.  He wasn’t at the house of anyone Dean could think of.  By now, they’d made so many calls and knocked on so many doors that half the town was aware Sammy was missing.  Dean was out of ideas.

Cas had gone quiet, his own concern mirroring Dean’s.  But now he spoke.  “Dean?” Cas called as the sky grew lighter with the approach of dawn.  “I think it’s time to call the police.”

Dean didn’t answer.  He simply turned and drove to the police station.

The police were very sympathetic.  It helped that some of the cops had gotten calls from their families and were aware that Sam was missing.  “Samuel, S-A-M-U-E-L, Winchester.  He’s sixteen,” Dean recited.  “Five foot four, one-hundred ten pounds last I knew.  Hazel eyes, brown hair, a little shaggy.  Last thing he was wearing was his work uniform, black jeans, a blue tee-shirt with the store logo printed on it.”  He felt like he was in a dream.  This couldn’t be happening.  He couldn’t be here, in the police station, filling out a missing person’s report on his little brother.  Not Sammy.  Please, God.  There had to be a reason.  It was a prank, a bad one, and he was going to wring his brother’s scrawny neck, but Sam was alright.  Nothing bad could happen to Sam.  Dean had already lost his mother.  His father was drying out in prison.  To lose Sammy now would be too much.

Castiel’s presence was the only thing keeping Dean upright.  Cas was right there, keeping a hand on Dean’s arm or shoulder, not leaving him alone for a second.  Dean’s gratitude couldn’t be expressed in words, so he settled for squeezing his boyfriend’s hand.  Cas seemed to get the message.

“We’re going to do everything we can to find your brother,” the surprisingly-gentle officer was saying.  After the mess with his father, Dean had expected all cops to be hardasses.  But Officer Jody Mills, was doing a great job of keeping Dean from breaking down completely.  “The first thing you need to do, Dean, is stop thinking that Sam’s gone forever.  Most missing persons cases are solved within twenty-four hours.  Things happen, sometimes they need some help, but we get them home.  So I need you to calm down and think clearly, alright?”

Dean nodded.  “Alright.  What do you need from me?”

“Sam’s last known location.”

“Work,” Dean replied.  “He was closing the store tonight.”

“Anyone with him?”

“No, just Sammy.”

“Alright, then we’ll start there.  Let me grab Officer Hanscum.  Donna?  Why don’t we take Dean and Castiel out to the store, see if we can’t get some idea of where little Sammy ran off to?”

“Don’t let him hear you call him that,” Cas warned.

Jody smiled.  “At least one of you hasn’t completely lost his sense of humor.  Keep your spirits up, boys, and your minds sharp.  That’s what Sam needs the most right now.”

Dean made an effort.  He was still shocked that Jody had said precisely what was on his mind, but of course, she was right.  Getting upset and falling apart wouldn’t help Sammy.  His brother needed him.  Somewhere, Sam was in trouble, real trouble.  Dean was sure of it.  He never would have stayed out all night without a word to anyone.  Something had happened.  They needed to find him, and fast.

A few minutes later, Dean was pulling his baby into the employee parking spot in front of the store.  His hands shook as he retrieved his keys.  “We’ll find him,” Cas assured him.

“I should have taken him to work,” Dean moaned.  “I never should have let him walk home.  He’s just a kid, Cas!  He can’t fight.  What if someone grabbed him?  What if someone took him away, and…?”

“We’ll find him.”  Cas reached over, took Dean’s hand.  “We’ll never stop looking until we do.  We will get him back, and if anyone hurt him, we will make them pay.  But to do that, we have to stay calm.  Think.  That’s the only way we can save Sammy.  And we will.  Right?”

Dean looked down at their clasped hands, then back up at Cas.  Those blue eyes looked back at him without flinching.  Cas believed what he was saying.  Dean nodded.  “I know we will.”

“Then go unlock the door, so Jody and Donna can start figuring out where your brother went.”

Dean nodded again.  He got out and walked quickly to the door.  Donna and Jody were already there, frowning as they cupped their hands to block out the light and peered through the windows into the darkened showroom.  “Dean, we need you to unlock the door, and then step away,” Jody ordered.

“Why?”

“Because it looks like signs of a struggle.”  Jody’s voice was calm, soothing despite the words that drove icy daggers of terror into Dean’s heart.  “Whatever is in there, we need to try to preserve the evidence, alright?  Now unlock the door, and you and Castiel step back.”

Cas was already stepping slightly in front of Dean, making eye contact with his boyfriend.  “Dean?  Unlock the door, and then step back and let the ladies do their jobs.”

Dean felt cold.  He squinted, trying to see through the glass into the show room.  He saw little besides his own reflection.  It took him three tries to get the key into the lock.  But when he turned it, nothing happened.  “It’s already unlocked?”

Donna had his arm with one hand.  Her other hand rested on her weapon.  “Stand back, Dean.  Let us do our job.  Castiel?  Can you help us, please?”

Cas took Dean’s elbows from behind, pulling him back.  Dean couldn’t get enough air.  He fought to breathe as the two officers opened the door and went inside.  He saw Jody’s flashlight come on, saw it flash over the ruins of a fallen display shelf.  And then the light stopped on the still figure lying beneath the shelf.

Everything froze.  The universe narrowed to the sight of his brother’s body lying on the floor, to the dark stains on one arm.  Sammy was there, he was lying in a pool of blood, he’d been murdered, and Dean was screaming as he twisted free and shoved his way past the two startled officers.  “Sammy!  Sammy!  No, Sammy, please!”

The overhead lights flicked on.  It wasn’t a pool of blood.  It was only the dark floor tiles.  But that was unmistakably blood on his brother’s arm.  A smear of blood was on Sammy’s cheek as he looked up.  He looked up, exhausted, bloodshot eyes blinking up at Dean.  Alive.  He was alive.  But he was trapped, caught beneath the display shelf.

Dean pushed the shelf with all his might.  Somehow, it had gotten twisted sideways so that when it had fallen, the bottom of it had become wedged beneath the second row of the other shelf while the top was caught on the wall display.  Dean heaved, adrenaline flooding his body.  The metal creaked as it rose.  Sammy cried out in pain.  Somehow, Sammy was rising, being lifted up with the shelf.

“Stop!  Dean, stop, he’s caught!”

Dean blinked, seeing Cas moving up next to him.  “Here, we need to do this smart.  You and I will lift this edge.  Then Jody and Donna can go under and cut him loose.”

“Cut him loose?”  Dean looked down and finally saw the tent cord that fastened his brother’s bleeding, discolored left hand to the shelf.  The cord was cutting cruelly into Sammy’s wrist, causing a trickle of fresh blood to drip down his arm.  Sammy still hadn’t said a word.  He was looking up at Dean as if he couldn’t quite believe he was there.  But he was alive.

“Here, Dean, put your hands here, and push straight up,” Cas instructed, moving into position.  “Ready?  Alright, lift!”

Once again, Sammy cried out in pain.

“Easy, son, we’ll have you loose in a jiffy,” Donna soothed, ducking under the shelf.  She accepted a knife from Jody and quickly sawed through the cord.  And suddenly, Sam was free.  Donna and Jody quickly pulled him out from under the shelf, and Dean and Cas let it go with a crash.

In an instant, Dean was at his brother’s side.  “Sammy!” he called, pulling his brother into his arms.  “Are you alright?  What happened?  Were you attacked?  Who was it?  I’ll fucking kill them!"

“Dean!”  Jody’s tone was sharp, but her hands were gentle as she carefully unwound the last of the cord around Sam’s wrist.  “We need to get him to a hospital.  This could become infected.  Looks like his other wrist is even worse, and there could be other injuries.”

Other injuries?  Dean looked down at his brother.  The normally energetic, smiling Sammy he knew was gone.  His eyes looked shattered, his expression haunted.  A thousand horrible scenarios were going through Dean’s mind.  But Jody was right.  First, Sammy needed to see a doctor.  “Cas, you drive.  I’ll ride with him in the back.”

“Of course.”

“We’ll give you boys an escort,” Donna announced.  “Just follow us.”

“Let me go,” Sammy whispered.

Dean shook his head.  “Sammy, come on, I gotta get you to the hospital!”

“Let me go,” Sammy insisted, his voice a little stronger as he pushed at his brother’s arms.  “I’ve been trapped here all night, Dean!  I have to pee!”

Dean blinked.  Then he started laughing.  He helped his brother back to the employee bathroom behind the counter and was still laughing when Sam pushed him away, stumbling into the bathroom on his own.  Even to his own ears, Dean sounded somewhat hysterical.  The whining sob that caught in his throat startled him somewhat.

Then Jody was there, holding out a collection of kleenex.  Dean took them, rubbed at his streaming eyes and blew his nose.  He nodded his thanks.  By the time Sam emerged from the bathroom, Dean was back in control.  “Come on,” he called, putting his arm around his brother.  “Let’s get you to the hospital.”

Sam only nodded.  He leaned heavily on Dean, letting the older brother hurry him out to the car.

“I’ll call this in on the road, get crime scene down here,” Jody said.

Donna’s eyes were on the security cameras.  “Where’s