"Alright, fill me in." Dean says as he sits down on the couch next to Jack.
The second time he'd been in the room when Jack's favourite teen show Raise Your Voice had been on, Jack had turned to him and excitedly asked if he wanted a recap on what he'd missed. He'd looked so innocently thrilled at the prospect that Dean had said yes before he could stop himself. It's a tradition now: whenever Dean happens to be around for an episode, Jack fills him in on all the latest goings on in his favourite fictional high school debate club (seriously). He likes talking about it. No harm in Dean indulging him.
"Ivy and Chris made up after what happened at the beach, but Ivy is still keeping the text messages a secret. Except for Juliana, she saw them on her phone and so now she knows about the money."
"And what's happening with Zach's dad?"
"He told Mrs Pine what was happening and they kissed."
"Mrs Pine and Zach's dad? Gross."
"I know." Jack smiles that pure, excited smile again and Dean sips his beer. He seems to enjoy the company, even if Dean's just reading his book or checking his phone while Jack watches.
If Dean looks up sometimes for a couple of minutes when the show gets loud, so what? His body reacts to loud noises. That's just science.
"Oh yeah, and it was prom last week. Freddy took the new girl Sophie and they kissed and Jake saw them and then he left upset."
"Huh. Well, it sucks sometimes when your best bud finds someone new."
"Sam thinks Jake's in love with him."
"Yeah, well. Sam likes drama. They're buddies, right?"
Dean would never tell him to his face, but in the last episode he'd been around for he could see where Sam was coming from. He's not intending to give him the satisfaction any time soon, though. Nor Cas, who Dean never asked for his opinion on the matter but also never spoke up to take Dean's side, rather looking at him with a judgemental flicker in his eyes.
They're doing research tonight, somewhere in the annals of the bunker. So is Dean, he reminds himself as he opens his book to the opening credits.
"C'mon, Freddy, man.." Dean finds himself saying under his breath as he watches the boy stare at Jake through a windowpane, new girl hanging on his arm.
"I don't understand why he doesn't ask Jake why he's upset." Dean can hear the frown in Jack's voice as he muses out loud.
"'Cus he's a coward. Can't bring himself to ask."
Freddy is Jack's favourite character, though Dean doesn't get why. The guy's prickly and a jackass half the time, never saying what he really feels. Jake can do better, actually. He's home-schooled and sheltered, though, so Dean guesses rebellion must taste good.
A scene at debate club follows which is painfully awkward, Jake and Freddy on opposing sides but both of them refusing to do anything to engage the other. Dean’s getting more frustrated now watching the two of them stare at each other, and in his head he’s questioning how anyone can stand watching them dance around each other like this talking in code.
The episode continues in much the same vein until Jake gets home from school. Dean looks up at the sound of crying to see Jake stood inside his front door with his bag dumped at his feet, tears courtesy of an over-enthusiastic makeup artist already staining his face. Something in Dean’s chest constricts watching him sob, the desperation and fear evident in his face.
His mom’s voice calls out to him and Jake picks up his bag and disappears up the stairs before she can reach him but soon she’s knocking on the door and Dean can feel a panic rise in his throat as he watches Jake pace around his room.
He lets her in eventually and she begins to ask questions that have Dean zoning out, Jake skirting around the topic. Tension gives way to frustration again but then Jake's mom is asking him about his date to the prom and Dean's ears prick up at a silence that follows. When he does finally look up at the screen, it's just in time to hear Jake say the words "I don't think I like girls at all".
Dean’s heart is in his mouth. Jack is quietly watching next to him and Dean knows he doesn't give a crap what he's thinking but he feels on display. He always feels weird watching people talk about their feelings - like people are expecting him to have a reaction. When Jake starts crying and his mom wraps arms around him he focuses studiously on his book, tuning out her reassurances. He can feel his heart thumping in his chest. He hears Freddy's name and squints his eyes harder, until the words start to blur.
The show ends soon after, and Jack doesn't turn the TV off straight away. The switch to commercials is jarring.
Oh god. "Yeah, buddy?"
"Can I ask you a question?"
Dean fiddles with the edge of the book before closing it on his lap. "Shoot."
"Why was Jake upset when he talked to his mom?"
Dean hates that he can feel his skin prickle with heat almost instantly. Of all the people for Jack to end up watching this episode with, it really had to be him.
"It's because Jake is gay." He levels his voice carefully, thankful for the briefest of seconds that having an angel as a dad means Jack isn't always entirely in tune with human emotions.
"Oh. OK. And that means he wants to court men, right?"
"I- yeah. Or just, y'know. Dating. All of that. Like Claire and Kaia, right? They're gay. Or lesbian, I guess."
"Right. Is it upsetting to be gay? Or was Jake still upset about what happened at the prom?"
There’s a frown of confusion on his face and in his voice that makes Dean feel a little guilty and he just about manages to push aside a little of his fuckery to respond. "No. Y'know - hey, kid, there's nothing wrong with it. Alright? Nobody should feel bad about it. It's just.. it's a big deal when you tell someone something like that. Jake probably was thinking a lot about how he'd tell his mom and what she'd say, so he was feeling a little emotional. People sometimes get upset when they come out."
"Why is it such a big deal? It's rare, right? Is it like special?"
"It's- yeah, it's not as common. You don't meet as many people who are.." Dean doesn't know all the words and god where's Sam when you need him? Or hell, Google? "-Who aren't straight. So it can be a big deal when you tell someone. Especially because you don't know how they're gonna react."
"How do people react? Is it like how Jake's mom reacted? I wouldn't be worried about that."
"Well. I mean.. y'know Jake's folks go to church."
"Right. The one where the wolf was hiding."
"The hell did that happen?-" Dean murmurs, "-Jake's worried that they might not accept him."
"Right.." There's learned uncertainty in Jack's voice as though he's trying not to ask more questions even if he's still unsure. Dean squirms a little further.
Grow up. Grow the fuck up. He's a kid. Kids ask questions.
"Some people, they think that.. their God, the God that people pray to, they think he says it's a sin."
Jack is silent at this for a moment, and when he does speak again his voice is quieter. A little sad. "Castiel told me that the human God is loving and cares about people. That it's OK to let them believe that. Why would humans want to believe in a God that says things like that?"
"Honestly, Jack, I don't know. 's a good point."
"So Jake kept it a secret because he was worried he wouldn't be accepted. That's sad."
"Yeah. Yeah, it is. Or maybe he just.. I don't know, maybe Jake didn't know for sure himself. Sometimes it takes a while to figure it out."
"Do you think Freddy's figuring it out?"
"Maybe. Yeah, could be."
Jack nods thoughtfully. "I hope so. I'd like for them to be happy."
“Yeah. I’ll bet.” Dean smiles in what he hopes seems supportive and not at all pathetic or guarded. It seems to satisfy Jack either way.
"I'll tell you what happens next episode."
"Sure. Thanks, kid."
"Hear you owe me ten dollars."
"Huh?" Dean looks up from the fridge as Sam walks in with a smirk. "Oh, c'mon. That doesn't count."
"Jake said he's gay, I win."
"Freddy might not-" Sam just raises his eyebrows and Dean scowls. He doesn't know how he let Sam make such a dumb bet in the first place - he'd only agreed so Sam would stop trying to talk about it. It's TV. What does Dean care who they want to PG-13 make-out with?
He fumbles in his back pocket and hands over a note.
"So, Jake and Freddy, huh?"
"Anything to say about that?" Sam looks at him like he's expecting something and Dean frowns.
"Huh? Dude, I'm not a homophobe."
"Didn’t say you were.”
"Uh. Good for Jake, I guess." Dean leaves the room feeling irritated and confused, and more than a little swirled in his stomach.
"I'm not straight."
Dean just about managed to avoid choking on his burger, patting the centre of his chest all the same as he looks across the table at Jack. He doesn't look at Cas' face, sat next to him, but he feels his leg shift.
"OK." Cas responds, and though he's clearly trying to hide it he sounds confused at the sudden conversation.
"I mean.. I don't think I'll only like women. I'm not a human, right? I don't really think about who I like in that way, like there's a difference. Or about being a man or a woman myself."
"Not all humans are male or female, either." Castiel's surprise is masked again now, his voice a little soft in the way he reserves for Jack (and Dean, he barely thinks to himself). "There's no binary for gender identity in the same way as there isn't for sexuality."
Jack looks at Dean in accusation.
"Yeah, I.. uh. We were talking. I just covered the basics. Sorry." How the hell does an angel know more about humans than he does?
"There are people who identify as bisexual or pansexual who may feel what you describe. And non-binary people are those who don't identify as male or female." Jack nods like Cas is teaching him a lesson. Dean pays attention a little, too. "What made you tell me? Is there someone you like?"
"Jake told his mom he's gay."
"I see. Good for Jake."
"Dean told me that for humans it's an important moment when you share your attraction with people you care about."
"I don't think I said it like that." He’s self-conscious and a little petulant and he’s expecting Cas’ eyes on him before he feels him actually turn. Dean doesn’t meet him halfway and so he looks back again at Jack.
"Thank you for telling me, Jack. I’m flattered that you see me that way."
"Do you like men too?"
The question is inquisitive but utterly blunt and for a blood-curdling second Dean thinks it was directed at him, until he realises Cas’ eyes are burning a hole into the side of his face for a different reason. He turns to meet them briefly, and Cas’ gaze is shifty. Dean looks away first, turning back to Jack.
"You're not, um.. you're not supposed to ask people that, Jack."
"Oh. Why not?"
"’s personal. Unless they wanna talk about it, that’s on them.”
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"No, Jack, it's OK.” Cas finally looks away from Dean. “You can ask me. I do like men, yes."
And that.. that throws Dean for a loop. Jack goes back to eating his burger, apparently satisfied, and Dean feels like he's frozen in time for a second. Like he's the only one who heard it.
"You- alright." Dean eventually responds in lieu of any follow-up from Jack, and Cas turns to look at him again with his eyes a little squinted.
"Yes, I do."
"It's just.. you never said."
"You never asked." Cas holds Dean's gaze for a moment and he can feel his cheeks burning when he eventually turns back to Jack. "Gender and sexual identity work differently in angels than they do humans, but I've found the longer I've spent on earth the more I identify with the way humans categorise their world. I think I would place myself closer to 'gay' on the spectrum, though I've explored the idea of being with women before. You may see the word differently as a nephilim born on earth but angels aren’t built to naturally experience gender. The human concept of being a male is something I've come to associate myself with over time. Whether you think human labels apply to you too is something only you can decide."
Jack is nodding along with his typical studious frown as Cas talks but Dean is barely paying attention, the words rolling over him.
He knows that, logically, about angels. He remembers Cas' friend Benjamin in the female vessel. He remembers Cas himself mentioning having a female vessel before. But Dean hasn't ever... I mean, they've gone 12 years without speaking about it.
But Cas has said it now and it - god, it's not like Dean's never thought about it but there's always a hundred excuses prepared in his head about angels and that time with Meg and he's just a little weird but now he's looking at him like he's trying to gauge his reaction and Dean doesn't know what to do with his hands.
Because.. he hasn’t been imagining it, right? He can’t excuse it anymore. Not now that fact is out in the open. And maybe there is a reason Cas treats him differently, just as he knows deep down there’s a reason he treats Cas differently too.
“Sounds complicated.” He isn’t aware he’s even spoken until Cas smiles a little.
“It’s not. But I could understand feeling that way, when all you’ve known is the way these things are treated on earth.” Dean feels like there’s something subliminal underneath what Cas is saying, but he isn’t quite sure if he’s able to dig into it.
"What about you, Dean?"
There's a sudden sick feeling in the pit of his stomach even if he'd seen it coming. He picks up his beer bottle to delay an answer but Cas' voice cuts through the thrumming in his head.
"Dean's right, Jack. You shouldn't ask people in case they're uncomfortable talking about it. It's not polite."
"That's-" Dean swallows the beer in his mouth, "-that's fine, kid."
He's glad that, because it's Jack, he moves on without a thought, but Dean can feel the weight of Cas trying very hard not to look at him as the conversation diverts to other aspects of the show and Dean tries to temper the humiliation he feels at the way he'd frozen.
He knows Jack doesn't really care about the answer. It's just what Jack does - testing out new information he's learned. And he knows that Cas- well. He knows Cas.
Sam emerges from facetiming Eileen and Jack traipses after him, leaving Dean and Cas still sat in the kitchen on the same side of the table.
He begs that Jack's gone to talk more about Jake and Freddy. Serves Sam right, he's the one who brings it up. Dean chuckles to himself.
"Nothing. Freakin’.. Jake and Freddy."
"Ah. I've never seen Jack invested in a TV show like this before."
"Seems like he's not the only one."
"Did you tell Sam? You owe him money."
"Yeah, I got cornered before he called Eileen."
Cas smiles, but it dies again. There's a touch of awkwardness in the air. "Sometimes I forget how young Jack is to be unfamiliar with so much about humanity that I've started to take for granted. You said he'd asked you before about dating."
"He's a kid. Kids wanna find out about this stuff. He kept asking questions.. I didn't wanna say much in case I fucked it up."
"It sounds like you did a good job."
Dean nods, and he can feel the faintest of blushes threatening to form on his cheeks again. He swallows a big gulp of his beer and it dies quickly, even as Cas refuses to take his eyes off him.
"So you were watching?"
"TV was on, I was there." Dean shrugs but Cas raises his eyebrows. "What? You think I was watching some dorky kids show, you kidding me?"
"I like it."
"Yeah, I'll bet." Cas tilts his head in confusion and Dean shrugs him off, refusing to speculate on what Cas might have thought he meant by that. "You love that cheesy stuff."
"You seem to watch it fairly often. More than I do, actually."
"Light in there's good for reading. Kid follows me around." It's an easy excuse, pathetic and transparent and a little mean actually but it makes Cas duck his head with a smile all the same.
The conversation dies but there's a strange desperation in Dean's stomach to find a way to circle back into it. The weight of Cas' eyes on him as Jack spoke still burning. "Hey. Sorry I... uh. I mean, I guess I assumed stuff. Sorry about that."
"Had it never crossed your mind? I'm an angel."
It's a risky question even with the clarification tacked on the end and Dean is sure Cas must know that. Of course he's... thought about it, but he's never thought about it, and it's one thing to barely allow himself to wonder only for him to come out and say it one day.
"Guess not." Dean manages to offer and if Cas is disappointed at him taking the easy way out his face doesn't betray him. It's the closest they've ever come to talking about it - this abstract thing that causes Dean to always be the one to look away first and to bolt at the first sign of a conversation like this. "Should probably go and warn Sammy that Jack's coming round with questionnaires."
"I'm sorry about that. He didn’t mean anything by it. He still isn't sure about the norms of conversation and what is and isn't acceptable to ask."
'And you are?' Dean nearly jokes but bites his tongue at Cas' sincerity. "Hey, ain't no thing. You're the one who just outed yourself."
Cas laughs, a rare thing, but he's still looking at Dean uncertainly.
"Thanks. For.." Dean says eventually, a strangled noise that makes him clear his throat even if he's sure it only sounds weird in his own head. Cas nods slowly at him.
Sometimes Cas needs context clues but he doesn't now, that much is written on his face. He knows what Dean is referring to and it sends a familiar white hot terror coursing through his veins as he finds himself desperate to somehow walk it back or leave or otherwise dismiss it.
He tries to force himself not to, allowing the mutual knowing to cling between them for a second longer before he leaves the room.