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Homeward Bound

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Once, math made sense.

Maybe he was never one of the nerdy-genius types (not like Sam), but with listening to most of his classes and doing some of his homework, it used to slide into place fairly easily. Math was always easier than English, say, where Dean would wade through some decades old book and maybe enjoy it, but certainly wouldn’t have enough to say about it at the end that he could write a decent essay. English always felt like he was squeezing his thoughts and ideas through a straw before he could get them down on paper; it took effort. It took reading the damn thing fourteen times and trying to remember what the hell the teacher had said about metaphors to come up with something passable. Maths though, was okay. He got the same sense of satisfaction that he used to get out of Sam’s puzzle books on long car journeys across state lines. It was logical. It made sense.

Now, though, his brain feels like it’s been removed, liquidised and then pumped back into his head. He can’t focus. The numbers just won’t work. He’s having an existential crisis where he doesn’t know what numbers even are anymore. Fuck algebra, he can’t even figure out basic integration.

He didn’t fail his last test by about two marks, and those were pity marks for scrawled feigned workings out, so apparently Dean has a problem. If maths no longer makes sense, he might as well flush his solid C in world history down the fucking toilet. He’d anticipated a slight mark drop, but he’s actually going to fail everything. Even math.

And, the way things are looking right now, not flunking out of high school would have a lot strategic advantages over flunking out of high school. Three hours in the library and he’s not getting anywhere near close to an answer, just getting more tired. He’s hungry. He really wants to go home.

Dean Winchester needs a tutor.

Sonuvabitch.

*

The tutor thing is a side problem, though, as his grades usually are. World keeps on turning, shit keeps on coming and, anyway, none of Dean’s friends are tutor material. Not that they’re not smart , but they’re the kind of smart that just happens by accident.

Case and point, Gabriel Milton, who gets near enough to straight As whilst spending most of his time putting itching powder in douchebag’s gym shorts, or somehow putting small livestock in people’s lockers. When Dean was keeping his thing with Aaron on the down low (and thus fucking the whole relationship-esque thing sideways), Gabe threatened to put several chickens, the none-fried variety, in his locker. Dean fully believed he would, too. So, yeah, not tutor material, even if he usually has other uses.

“No, can do, Dean,” Gabriel replies, sucking icing sugar off his index finger, “the cousin’s moving in, remember?”

It’s not the first time the cousin has been mentioned, but Dean’s had a lot on his mind. He hadn’t really registered that it was this week, or the implications of what that meant about monopolising Gabriel’s time. Shit, that’s a pain.

“Right,” Dean says, watching with a familiar feeling of horror as his best friend polishes off a fourth doughnut. For a short guy, he sure as hell can pack a lot of sugar down his throat. “You got a sofa, though. I’m pretty easy.”

“That, most people in the school can vouch for,” Gabriel returns, through half a mouth of doughnut. “You can stay over as long as you promise not to traumatise my cousin.”

“Yeah, like I’m gonna screw him up worse than being your blood relation will,” Dean says, snatching the last doughnut, for the sake of Gabriel’s blood sugar (he’s diabetes waiting to happen, that one), and eating it before Gabriel can protest.

“Well, no screwing him in any capacity,” Gabriel returns, scrunching the paper bag between his fingers without commenting on his illicit doughnut stealing, which is a surprise as much as it’s a relief. He’s frigging starving. He probably could have polished off four doughnuts, too. “Castiel is a delicate flower,”

“Castiel?” Dean questions, because he’s not touching the first part of that comment with a barge pole. “Dude, were all of your relatives high when they named you all? Cause, I gotta tell you, it would explain a lot.”

“Man, screw you,” Gabriel shoots back, “Just, go easy on the Cuz,”

“I get it, he’s a special snowflake and I’m not to upset him or flirt with him,” Dean says, “You going to class or what?” Dean asks, because at this point they’re already a few minutes late. The corridors have thinned out and the doughnuts are gone, so there’s not much reason to stick around. And Dean’s near-failing. Attending classes would probably help. Probably.

“I select option b, what,” Gabriel says, “I’m thinking stereotypical student rebellion and smoking under the bleachers. You in, Deano?”

“Nah,” Dean returns, shoving his hands in his pocket, “I’ve got me a date with some Algebra,”

“Huh,”

“Keeping my nose clean and crap,” Dean says, because he’s not about to give Gabriel the full explanation. Maybe Gabe is his best friend, but some shit doesn’t need talking about it and, also, Gabriel once shoved eighteen marshmallows into his mouth to win a bet, then sneezed. He doesn’t need to know about Dean’s grade problem. “Meet you at yours later?”

Gabriel salutes him in agreement.

*

Theoretically, Charlie is his best option. She’s off the scale clever and spends the weekend hacking into things with partner in crime, Ash. Problem is, last time Dean asked her for help with something – that had been a totally none academic related, possibly woman related trouble – she got side tracked to the point that Dean wound up attending her Dungeons and Dragons club for over a month. He watched all of Firefly, Game of Thrones and re-watched the extended version of Lord of the Rings on Charlie's sofa which, whilst a lot of fun, did not help him with his romantic troubles.

Plus, Charlie has a new girlfriend. New enough that she’s still in the metaphorical packaging and shit, and Dean’s not going to encroach on her girlfriend time. Not after they, intrepid explorers together, were the first in the damn school to come out together. It hadn’t been awful, or anything, but Charlie’s dating options were severely limited at present. Dean, at least, had the bisexual advantage.

“Dude,” Charlie says, nodding at his empty page of notes. “What gives?”

“A classic case of cba,” Dean shoots back, scrunching the empty piece of paper into his pocket and kicking his feet back. He can’t frigging concentrate. God knows what Miss Masters is talking about at the front of the classroom.

“You okay, Winchester?” Charlie asks and, yeah, that’s the other problem. Charlie won’t just teach him math and chemistry, she’ll dig and push till she knows why and how Dean’s slipped behind, after years of solid Bs and Cs, like that’s some great mystery.

“Peachy,” Dean says, and gets his cell out to text Sam under the table.

*

“Dude bro, go home if you’re gonna study,” Gabriel says, nudging him with his foot. Dean grimaces at him, because Gabriel’s feet are fucking gross and not the kind of thing you want near your bare skin, and because Gabriel is a fucking loser who uses phrases like ‘dude bro’ un-ironically. In fact, Gabriel would make a hell of a lot more sense, most of the time, if his actions were ironic. Plus, he spent another two hours freezing his ass off in the public library before heading to the Miltons' house, and he still doesn’t know a damn thing about anything. He thinks his brain ability has decreased in the past few hours.

“I ain’t your dude bro, asshat,” Dean shoots back, shutting the chemistry book anyway, because he’s fucking doomed. He needs a tutor. He needs a lot of stuff. “When I’m stuck working at the checkout in Walmart for the rest of my life, I’m gonna blame you.”

“Tough words from a tough guy,” Gabriel says.

“I thought you had a cousin moving in or something, anyway.”

“He’s filing his notes,” Gabriel says, quirking up an eyebrow.

“Okaaay,” Dean says, as Gabriel sets up the xbox. It’s the usual routine they fall into whenever Dean’s here (which is a lot), even though Gabriel actually basically sucks at all computer games, because it’s easy and passes the time. “He play Grand Theft Auto?”

“I doubt he’s heard of it,” Gabriel says, “Home schooled.”

“All the more reason to have a working knowledge of Xbox,” Dean says, “You never said why he’s moving here, anyway.”

“My father left,” A deep rumbling voice says, and then Dean’s dropped the Xbox remote and jumped out of his fucking skin. It gets his attention, though, and then he’s staring at Gabriel’s cousin – Castiel – who, yeah, is visibly a home-school-kid, with blue eyes and a posture like his spine’s made out of a ruler. He’s also staring at Dean like he's the first human he's ever seen, or something.

“Jesus,” Dean says, “Need to get you a bell,”

“I was unaware we had guests,” Castiel says, blue stare not moving away from Dean. Frankly, Dean’s not used to being looked at so intently. It’s sort of weirding him out. He doesn’t much like people to notice him. Not properly, anyway. Being checked out isn’t a problem, being indecently penetrated by someone’s eyes is.

“Dean, Cassie,” Gabriel says, gesturing vaguely between them. “Dean’s my dude bro, he’s crashing here tonight,”

“Hello, Dean,” Castiel says, still all stiff and awkward.

“I’m not his dude bro,” Dean says, to which Cas just nods, like he has no idea what Dean's talking about but is going to agree and file it away for future reference. “You wanna play, Castiel?”

“We could watch a movie?” Castiel suggests, “Gabriel is correct, I haven’t heard of Grand Theft Auto and doubt I would be very adept at it.”

“You eavesdropping or something?”

“You were talking quite loudly,” Castiel says, “I’d also like to state I have no problem with you studying in our house,”

“Thanks,” Dean says, and he’s not sure if he’s amused or confused, but certainly something about Cas has captured his attention. Dean’s not really feeling at the top of his game at the moment, but he’s still teenage boy enough to note that he could take great pleasure in removing the stick out of Castiel’s ass, and maybe debauch him up a little on the way.

“Popcorn,” Gabriel declares, “You in, Deano?”

“Yes, sir,” Dean grins, and then Gabriel’s up and in the kitchen, whilst Castiel sits down on the arm of the sofa gingerly. Dean’s not the best conversationalist, but he’s had years of new schools and he supposes by some standards he’s fairly popular, and he’s clearly got more conversational skills than home-schooled-Castiel. So it’s probably up to Dean to make awkward small talk. “So, you coming to school with Gabe next week?”

“Yes,” Castiel says, “Popular culture has led me to believe I’ll probably be bullied,”

That’s probably more upfront than he was expecting, but would almost definitely been true of Gabriel wasn’t the king of just desserts and Dean didn’t have a tentative liking of the weird guy already.

“So, you don’t know Grand Theft Auto, but you’re well versed in Afterschool Special’s? It’ll be fine. Me and Gabe’ll have your back.”

“Are you and Gabriel… popular?”

“I guess,” Dean shrugs, as Gabriel yells ‘hells yeah, motherfucker’ from the kitchen. Dean can smell popcorn and his stomach’s turning over. Shit, he’s hungry. “I mean, high school ain’t glee. We’re mostly just average.”

“I have seen glee,”

“Dude, I’m so sorry,”

“I enjoyed the music,”

“You’re killing me,” Dean says, shaking his head, “First Gabe likes High School fucking Musical, and now you watch glee. My little brother’s doing tech for frigging Mamma Mia, for fuck’s sake. When does it end?”

“Cassie, put on Hannah Montana,” Gabriel says, coming back into the sitting room with a bowl full of popcorn. “See how long till he implodes.”

“S’good job you bought popcorn,” Dean says, waving an accusatory finger in Gabriel’s direction before diving into the popcorn. It’s hot and sugary and tastes fucking delicious. It’s the shitty microwave stuff, but Dean is so far from caring its ridiculous.

“Do you own Hannah Montana?”

“No,” Gabriel says, eyeing Dean’s speed-eating act. “Dude, eat faster.”

“Game on,” Dean throws back, shoving another handful of popcorn into his gob.

“Did you forget to eat or something?”

“I’m a growing boy, dude bro,” Dean says, through the popcorn. Cas is watching him too intently, Gabriel has narrowed his eyes slightly, but neither of them question him further. He eats most of the popcorn before either of them get a look in, but they don’t seem to care particularly.

Gabriel puts on Star Wars because Castiel has never watched it, which is a fucking travesty, really, and Castiel may be stiff and awkward but he’s also sort of hilarious, and Dean’s worries mostly dissipate over the course of the evening. He’s defrosted from the library and he has popcorn. His grades and everything else can wait until after the weekend, when he’ll get the tutor shit sorted.

By the time Gabriel’s parents are back from work, offering all three of them a ‘hi’ without further comment, Dean’s almost relaxed.

*

As a matter of judgement, it probably wasn’t the best idea he’s ever had to try and scope out a tutor at one of Balthazar’s parties. For one, it’s not even like it’s great for his street cred to be talking about Algebra at a party, particularly one of Balthazar’s, who’s equal parts a fucking loser for hanging around and doing nothing after graduation accept throw parties for the high school kids who used to be a few years below him, and a genius. He probably worked out ages ago that he’d never be as popular as he was at this point, where his rich and largely absentee parents didn’t give a fuck if he invited a hundred kids over to his house and drank all their expensive alcohol. So, Balthazar stuck around, and kept throwing the parties. Dean’s pretty sure he’s got at least a couple more years before it becomes creepy and the fact that’s there’s a hedonistic no-expenses-spared party every weekend is damned convenient for his purposes.

Even if his purposes happen, this week, to be finding a damn tutor.

“Balthazar,” Dean grins, clapping a hand on the guy’s shoulder. He’s already kind of drunk from the shots of something clear and foul he was handed on his way in. He probably should have eaten more so it didn’t go straight to his head but, whatever, everyone got wasted at these parties anyway. “How did you do in school?”

“I graduated,” Balthazar drawls, and pours him a scotch.

“Top tips?” Dean suggests, fingers closing round the glass. This is easier than worrying about everything. Alcohol makes him feel warm and loose and okay. Alcohol makes it easier not to think about the damn argument with Sam and his Dad and all the other shit that’s going on.

“Don’t flunk anything,” Balthazar says, and Dean drinks to that, because it is a good plan. His current plan is not to flunk anything.

Crashing at Balthazar’s tonight Dean sends Sam, except his fingers take a couple of times to get the words straight. have a gd night Sammy .

*

“From your drunken ramblings,” Balthazar says, as Dean emerges from the spare room he passed out in the following morning, having just thrown up everything in his body into one of Balthazar’s fancy fucking toilets, “I take it you’re struggling to keep your grades up.”

“You do, huh?” Dean asks, sending him his best 'you keep talking about this and I'll break you' look.

Balthazar offers him breakfast before he leaves for work.

*

Bela is an absolute awful fucking choice for a tutor. Whip smart she may be, she’s also the nearest thing Dean knows to an instrument of torture. If Dean ever wants to be reminded about what a fucked up waste of space he is, Bela is the answer. She is superior, brutal, shallow and a total fucking bitch.

She’s also his ex-girlfriend and seemed to think his slurred suggestion of ‘wanna teach my dumb ass how to do long division?’ was euphemism for sex, if the way she’s stripped off her t-shirt and is shimmying towards him in just her bra is anything to go by.

“Did I make up that whole part where you dumped me?” Dean asks.

“Do I look like I want to be in a relationship with you?” Bela demands, all harsh edges and sex appeal. She’s one of the worst people Dean’s ever met, but she’s hot. “Please, apparently you’re even failing school now.”

“I’m not failing,”

“Yet,” Bela says, piercing smile, “My parents are out of town.”

Dean’s gonna say no, he honestly is, because he’s been pulled into Bela’s bullshit so many times it’s difficult to count. But she’s one of those people whose parents are always away on business or minibreaks, and it’s damned convenient, and he’s a fucking teenage boy with hormones and Bela is hot and manipulative.

Bela unhooks her bra.

Dean figures the tutor thing can probably wait.

*

Dean, Sam said, puppy eyes and pissed off expression. You promised me you’d find a tutor.

Dean rubs sleep out of his eyes in the parking lot, trying to stay focused. It’s been a goddamn long weekend and a longer week, he still hasn’t managed to go over his stuff for his chemistry test, maths is still a frigging mystery and Sam’s pissed at him for at least six different reasons. Rightly so, probably, and the kids right. He needs to get his grades up, big time.

He’s been a fucked up douchebag all weekend, stressing about it, and it’s not even that big of a deal. So, he needs a tutor. Who cares? It’s not like anyone ever accused Dean of being especially smart. It’s probably in line with expectations.

He needs to stop fucking around with Bela, Balthazar is probably poisonous, and he needs to sort his life out.

Dean’s just thinking about sneaking into the staff room to sweet-talk himself into some coffee (he’s early), when there’s a rap on his car door. If he wasn’t so exhausted, he’d probably have fallen out of his seat in surprise, but as it is all he manages to dredge up is some mild shock.

Dean opens the door.

“Dude, the fuck?”

“Hello Dean,” Castiel says, the words falling off his tongue deep and smooth, like he’s said them a hundred or so times. Dean would have loved to have been around when his voice was breaking. Must have been a goddamn comedy show.

“What are you doing here?” Dean asks, pulling on his leather jacket and stepping out of the impala, “Dunno what line Gabriel sold you, but you are way early.”

“I was advised to be early on my first day to get my schedule,” Castiel says, “You’re also here very early.”

“Yeah, well, dropped my kid brother off at this pre-school club,” Dean says, “Frigging geek. You drive?”

Castiel gestures to one of the few cars in the lot, the kind of car that Dean doesn’t like because it’s expensive but soulless, but that Castiel almost definitely didn’t pick out for himself. It’s a well-off housewife car. It’s a piece of crap.

“I arrived several minutes ago,” Castiel say, “I think you were asleep,”

“Sonuvabitch,” Dean mutters, rubbing the back of his neck, “Didn’t sleep well last night. Figures.”

“My first tutor used to say that was a symptom of worrying about something,”

“Well, she was a smart lady,” Dean says, then has a thought, “Hey, dude, are you religious-nut home-schooled or genius home-schooled?” Castiel tilts his head at him like he’s an actual insane person, and Dean should have known that Castiel wasn’t all that much a better option than Gabriel, Charlie, Balthazar or Bela. He barely knows the guy. “I’m just… I’m kinda behind with school, at the moment,” Dean hedges.

“Oh,” Castiel says, “I believe I’m in largely advanced placement classes, if that answers your question?”

“Yeah, just about,” Dean says, “You, uh, wanna help your cousin’s dude bro out?”

“I thought you weren’t Gabriel’s dude bro,” Castiel says, lips tilting upwards slightly. “Of course, Dean. I’ll help in any way I can.”

Chapter Text

Monday is not getting any better.

"I leave you alone with my cousin for five minutes, and now he's your damn tutor?" Gabriel asks, "Dude bro, tricks before dicks."

"I have no idea what that means," Dean says, shovelling his crappy cafeteria food into his mouth as quickly as possible, because he wants seconds and he doesn't want to people today. He couldn't sleep for crap last night and the weekend is still weighing on him. It’s Monday and he’s already completely done with this week.

"Trickster before dicks, sir."

"Gabe, speak plain,"

"I'm the trickster," Gabriel says, pointing at his chest.

"I'm gathering I'm the dick," Castiel says, sitting down next to Gabriel, stiff angles and awkwardness. "Hello."

"You're not a dick," Gabriel says, "You just have one."

"Subtle difference," Ash nods.

"So, let me get this right, I am supposed to put you before Castiel's dick," Dean says, "We're doing algebra, dude, not porn studies."

"Everyone knows tutoring is a sham for nerd dating."

"True fact," Charlie nods. Dean sends her a look, because Charlie is supposed to have his back with these things.

"Well I aint a nerd, so, I reckon we're safe."

"Do you solemnly promise to put our friendship before your cocklust for now until the end of the time?"

"No," Dean says, because Gabe is being a massive douchebag and Dean doesn't want to have to deal with it. Like, what if Dean didn't want him to make insinuations about illicit intentions that he doesn't have in front of the person in question? What a fucking revelation.

"I do have an excellent dick," Castiel says, which really throws Dean off his game completely, just because he's not expecting it from so called delicate-flower-Castiel. "Was that socially inappropriate? I was aiming for amusing,"

"Oh you're damn hysterical," Dean mutters. Castiel blinks at him.

"Ignore Dean," Charlie says, slapping him on the shoulder, because apparently Castiel became everyone's best friend at some point between this morning and lunch. "He's a grumpy Dean today."

"Poor grumpy Dean."

"I hate you all," Dean says, dropping his cutlery and pushing away his empty plate.

"Even your new tutor? Wink face."

"Back off, Gabriel."

"What crawled into your ass and died?"

"Your sense of humour, looks like."

"You've been full of man pain for weeks."

"I said back off," Dean snaps, standing up and, fuck seconds, he can't stay around here much longer. He needs some space to get his head in the game and focus, and Gabriel never got the memo about when to leave him the hell alone. It’s probably why they argue so much.

"Where are you going?"

"Library," Dean mutters, throwing his bag over his shoulder.

"You failing or something?"

"Getting there," Dean says, "And you assholes are all fucking useless, so there."

"Yeah, good luck captain man pain," Gabriel calls after him, because Gabe never got a grasp on the line you don't cross, and always pushes him too damn far. Dean turns around and flips him off, because he deserves it and because the cafeteria staff like him enough to turn a blind eye. The main survival skills Dean has is charming middle aged women into letting him get away with crap.

Maybe Gabriel is the guy Dean spends the most amount of time with, but that's cause he's kinda simple: he likes fun and being a prankster and hates douchebags. He believes in just deserts and the power of humiliation, and he doesn't dig into Dean's crap when Dean’s being a dick, he just digs into Dean. And that's easy. Damned annoying, makes him wanna punch him in the face twice a month, but it's easy.

*

He does get out his books when he gets to the library, but he winds up face planting on it rather than reading the damn thing. He needs to sleep, big time.

"I've heard it helps to open them," A deep voice says behind him, and Dean nearly has a goddamn heart attack, and he has got to stop meeting Castiel like this.

"What?" Dean asks, turning blearily to Castiel who, inexplicably, followed him to the damn library.

"Books," Castiel says.

"You're here,"

"Yes," Castiel agrees, tilting his head at him.

"Uh,"

"The red haired girl advised me to bring fries," Castiel continues, pulling out a damn paper cone of cafeteria fries from under his coat and holding them out. Dean gapes for a few minutes before remembering to use his words.

"Charlie," Dean says, staring, dumbfounded at the fries, "Not that I'm complaining but, dude, why are you here? It's your first day. Go... I dunno, make some waves or something."

"There were a lot of people," Castiel says, "I don't like crowds. It reminds me of family Christmases, which are largely unpleasant."

"Christmas with Gabe," Dean snorts, "Yeah, I'll bet."

"One year Christmas fell on a Thursday and he attempted to put me on the top of the tree."

"You lost me,"

"My name," Castiel says, "The Angel of Thursday."

"Right," Dean says, "Like he can talk."

"Oh, he is more than happy to deliver the good news of Christmas. Generally, much earlier than any of us would like."

"You can sit down, dude," Dean says, taking a French fry. "I aint gonna yell at you."

"Gabriel can be... irritating." Castiel says and, yeah, that’s a polite way of putting it. Dean’s only known Gabriel for a few years and, by and large, that was after his awkward stage. He can’t imagine dealing with Gabriel when he was thirteen and angry (angrier, anyway). Probably wasn’t fun.

"Yeah, well, he's got a point. I'm being an ass," Dean says, taking another French Fry. "How'd you steal the illicit food from the cafeteria, anyway?"

"I explained to one of the servers that you were having a stressful day and I believed French fries would improve."

"You're something else, Cas," Dean says, smiling slightly. The nickname is a bit of an accident, but the guy's lips twist upwards into something like a smile, so Dean's gonna assume he doesn't mind.

Dean rubs a hand over his face in attempt to chase away the exhaustion, but it doesn't help much.

"Sorry," Dean says, "You're catching me on a bad day."

"What do you want me to tutor you for?"

"Everything?" Dean suggests, "Fuck. You don't have to, dude, you're new and I aint exactly making a dazzling first impression."

"Why are you struggling?"

"I'm not... I'm not a smart guy, you know? I do okay. Like, a solid B or C student. I just... I can't concentrate anymore. Can't focus. Then suddenly I'm weeks behind and I'm flunking tests and I dunno what the hell's going on in class.” Castiel just nods, like he doesn't need to know why and doesn't think any less of Dean for struggling. "But what about you, Cas? You came all the way here cause your Dad left, that's gotta be pretty rough, and I'm just whining."

"It was very sudden," Castiel says, "I'm not sure it's sunk in particular yet. I feel... flat."

"He the kind of guy that just takes off?"

"No, he is very loyal. He wants what's best with us,"

"Present tense, huh." Dean says, lips twisting slightly, because if he just fucked off for long enough that Cas got relocated to his aunt and uncle, Dean doesn't think he's loyal or wants what's best for Cas. He think he’s a classic deadbeat father who couldn’t handle his shit, but Dean’s not about to pop Cas’ bubble. He’ll get there eventually on his own. "You thinking he's coming back?"

"I'm choosing to believe so," Castiel says, looking at his hands. Dean doesn't know why the hell he's pushing. He's not sure he even wants to know. He just knows that if he was Cas, he wouldn't want to talk to Gabriel about this.

"Fair enough," Dean says, shrugging his shoulders back and taking another fry from Cas' outstretched arm. They could use some more salt, but the offer is more than appreciated.

And then, they have company. Of the adult variety.

"Are those fries?" One of the school library assistants demands, suddenly right behind them, eyes slits, mouth thin. Dean's always thought she was kind of hot, but right now she's terrifying and they are really really fucked. Dean shoves his books under his arm, stands up, and is about to rattle out an apology and a Dean Winchester trade mark smile, but to his horror Cas cuts in.

"Would you like one?" Castiel asks, holding out the cone with an expression Dean knows is of actual confused innocence, but that to the librarian is high grade level sass.

She starts to turn purple.

"Dude," Dean says, dragging him upwards, "Run."

Which is how, on his first day, Castiel ends up sprinting down the corridor with Dean's hand closed over his elbow, running from a near-homicidal librarian.

"Shit," Dean says, when they're far enough away that she's not going to bother following them (ever since the librarians gained the power to give detentions they've been on a mad power trip, and Dean's really trying to fly below the radar right now). Then he's laughing, half breathless, doubled over, hand clasp on Cas' shoulder, and laughing.

"She seemed distressed,"

"Haven't laughed like that in years," Dean says, still through chuckles, when he's got some of his breath back. “Shit,”

“Will she report us?”

“Probably,” Dean says, “But they’ll have a hard time tracing it back to us. Leather jacket, overly smart shirt thing; we’re fairly generic. Knew you were a bad ass, Cas, getting run out of a library on your first day. You’re awesome.”

Cas smiles, actually smiles, and lets Dean walk him towards his next class, still laughing like that’s something Dean Winchester actually does, ever.

*

Castiel isn’t in any of his classes, being an AP genius and all that shit, and Dean’s mostly been avoiding the cafeteria and Gabriel (because Gabriel has a point and Dean is being a shit, but his temper’s running too close to the surface and he doesn’t want to lose his rag completely), choosing instead to eat outside with Gordon’s crew. It’s not ideal, but Gordon’s okay. He mostly gets left to stew and be quiet.

But, Sam’s been nagging, he has tests and he needs to sort this crap out before he does anything else stupid. So, now he’s stood outside the Milton’s front door working up the nerve to freaking knock.

It’s Gabriel that answers, which isn’t ideal.

“Deano,” Gabriel says, armed with a can of soda and a candy bar. His expression isn’t exactly welcoming, but then Dean’s pulled the elusive act and basically told him to fuck off, so that’s probably fair. That’s not uncommon in the bounds of their friendship, though. “Does this model come with or without mangst?”

“Dude, I understand like a fifth of what you say,”

“Man angst,” Gabriel says, still hovering in the doorway.

“Two for the price of one, you get me and my many issues,”

“Can’t resist a special offer,” Gabriel says, stepping aside to let him in, and clapping him in a shoulder in a way that Dean’s taking to be a mixture of forgiveness and an apology. “Foods in ten, Castiel’s set up in Anna’s old room if you’re looking for your new boy toy,”

“Jealous, Gabe?” Dean asks, “I promise you’ll always be my Valentine.”

“Damn fucking straight,” Gabriel returns, “Go study, see if I care.”

“Yeah, well, depends on whether I can squeeze past your melodrama,”

“Screw you and your textbooks,” Gabriel says, flopping down on the sofa, “The rents are around somewhere and they miss you. God knows why.”

“Please, I’m adorable,” Dean throws back, glancing up towards the stairs. He wonders how Anna’s taking the news that her room has well and truly been stripped away from her. Dean doesn’t know her particularly, having only met her on her brief returns home from college, but he can’t imagine she’s pleased about being demoted to the sofa.

“He’s finding school a bitch,” Gabriel comments, back to channel flicking, “If you can fit him in between all your tantrums, I’d appreciate it.”

“Course, Gabe,” Dean nods, because behind all his front, Gabriel is mad-protective over his family. Even the semi-estranged, oddball cousins. And he has plenty of those.

*

“Hey Cas,” Dean says, after he’s knocked and pushed open the door to Anna’s old bedroom. Dean’s been there plenty when he’s slept over, and Cas hasn’t exactly changed it much. There’s a photo of him and, presumably, his family tacked on one wall. The desk is the most different, with a stack of books and folders. Gabriel probably wasn’t joking when he said Cas was filing his notes. “Like what you’ve done with the place,”

“Hello, Dean,” Castiel says, from where he’s sat on the edge of his bed. His body language is far too formal for his own room, but then again he’s only been living there for about a week. He doesn’t even look comfortable in his own skin. He looks like a teenage kid who’s been plucked from one life and air dropped into another, and Dean feels like a fully-fledged asshole for not thinking about any of that and just focusing on his variety of Dean problems.

“How’s it going?”

“How’s what going?”

“Life,” Dean says, “School. Shacking up with the Miltons. You’re burgeoning career as a library defacing rebel.”

“I haven’t yet had to flee from any other angry authority figures.”

“Shame,” Dean says, “It was a good look on you.”

He didn’t exactly mean for that to come out quite so flirtatious, but Cas catches his eye looking amused, which is a win. He wears it well, but Dean’s pretty sure Cas has been dragged through several layers of hell before getting here. Dragging out a smile from a guy who’s Dad’s fucked off is no small feat.

Cas is still looking at him, though, so Dean clears his throat and begins wondering around his bedroom.

“Uh, anyway,” Dean says, picking up a weird-ass glass paperweight before putting it back down again, running a finger along the spine of his books. “If you still wanna help a guy out…”

“Yes,” Cas says, “I would have talked to you before, but I didn’t have your number and was under the impression you were avoiding everyone.”

“Huh,” Dean says, “You wanted my number, could’ve just asked Cas.” Apparently, he cannot turn off his sleaze mode today, which is so fucking inappropriate considering Cas knows next to no one in this area, and Dean might actually be the closest thing to a friend he has. That’s a tragic state of affairs for anyone. “And, you know, Gabriel has it.”

“Can I have your number?”

“Should think so,” Dean grins, and hands him his phone, “And I’ll quid pro quo that. Think foods in a few. Could start after though, ‘less you’ve got plans?”

“No pressing engagements,” Cas says, and he’s definitely making fun of himself.

“I can’t pay you or nothing,”

“Dean, its fine. I assumed we were… friends.”

“Yeah, man, friends,” Dean agrees, and manages to force on a smile until Mrs Milton calls them both for food.

*

"Where would you like to start?" Castiel asks, now sat on the swivel chair in front of his desk, whilst Dean’s sprawled over Cas’ bed, probably more comfortable there than Cas has ever been in this room. Dean’s more used to the Milton’s house, though, having spent a lot of the past few years here, and Cas is still a stranger here. Plus, Dean’s full of good Milton food, warm and almost relaxed for the first time this week. He would more than happily fall asleep right now, except Cas has got his blue gaze fixed on him and wants to teach him how to school.

"Got a chem text on Friday," Dean suggests.

"You are aware Friday is two days from now,"

"Yep, I had noticed," Dean says, "Was gonna do some last weekend, but uh... got kinda messy and I've been trying but, nah, don't make a lick of sense. Working out entropy, or some shit, I dunno."

"Can I look at the material?"

"Sure," Dean says, pulling a book out of his backpack and chucking it in Cas' direction. "Man, with this set up kinda feels like you're my therapist."

"I assure you, therapy is nothing like this."

"You in therapy?"

"My father upped and left, Dean, it's practically mandatory," Castiel says, eyes fixed on the textbook. "It's a matter of talking aimlessly about things in order to avoid being psychoanalysed. Last week I spent half an hour talking about my preoccupation with bees."

"Bees like bee movie bees?"

"There's a bee movie?" Cas asks, frowning at him.

"You didn't get that from me," Dean mutters, "but bees, awesome."

"Do you know the principles of thermodynamics?"

"Huh?"

"Chemistry."

"Thermodynamics is chemistry? Sounds kinda physics-y."

"It is," Cas says, "the sciences usually overlap."

"So I'm tripley behind? Great."

"The second law of thermodynamics is, to put it simply, that things tend towards disorder."

"That's put simply?"

"For example, think of your bedroom. When you tidy it, it's ordered. But, naturally, it tends towards becoming more and more of a mess. It doesn't get tidier by itself, only messier. It tends towards disorder. The same is true of any system left to its own devices. That's entropy."

"That... okay," Dean says, sitting up, "that, makes some kind of sense I guess. You read thermodynamics for dummy's or something?"

"I had one to one tuition for years," Cas says, "It's very different to sitting in a class of students."

"Harder to grab a quick nap, I bet," Dean says, "So how does this relate to these calculations?"

"I'll show you," Cas says, swivelling in his chair and pulling out a notepad. "You're over complicating it, its simple mathematics."

"Maybe I'm simple,"

"Don't be obtuse," Castiel says, "You're far more intelligent than you think you are. You're just distracted."

"No offence, dude, but you've known me for like five minutes. What the hell do you know about it?"

Cas doesn't answer that, but instead continues to lay out entropy calculations with careful annotations next to them. He has stupidly pretty handwriting. For all that Dean could say about the guy, he's definitely a good tutor.

*

Bela approaches him in the cafeteria on Thursday, which is unusual and usually about nothing good. He hasn't spoken to her since he left her place Sunday morning, without even being offers a cursory cup of coffee, and he doesn't really intend to. But, now she's here which, on par with past experiences, tends to indicate she wants something.

"Dean," She says, hand on her hip, "My parents are hosting a formal dinner tonight to impress an important client. I need a date."

"What kind of dinner?"

"Black tie," Bela says, rolling her eyes, like what else could she possibly have meant. She’s looking especially rich and stuck up today, and it makes Dean’s skin crawl slightly.

"You want me all dressed up, you're gonna have to sort that yourself."

"Please, like I can trust you to dress yourself," Bela says. "Shall I mark you down for the steak?"

"Not parting with a single dollar, Talbot. And you owe me."

"Your food, drinks and accommodation will be provided for. I expect you at my house for half six."

"Whatever,"

She turns away and is half gone before she changes her mind, pausing to fix her soulless gaze back at him. Bitch.

"Ground rules: don't talk to the client, don't talk to my parents, don't talk to me. In fact, don't talk at all. You’re prettier when you don't open your mouth."

"Finally, something we have in common," Dean says offering one of his best fake smiles, to which Bela narrows her eyes like Dean’s proving her exact point. Dean thinks he might actually hate the bitch, attractive as she may be. And what, exactly, does that say about Dean? Nothing good. Certainly doesn’t give much credence to the theory that he’s a good person.

"Don't be late."

"Dude," Gabriel says, the second she's gone, flicking a potato chip in his direction. "What the hell?"

"Seconded," Charlie says, frowning at him. "Bela Talbot? Did we just time travel back to four months ago?"

Dean’s not entirely sure what he saw in her when they were actually dating (nor, actually, why she thought it was a good idea in the first place; it wasn’t like Bela ever kept her feelings about most Dean’s opinions and actions particularly quiet), but whatever it was certainly didn’t stick around afterwards.

"Thought Balthazar was fucking joking when he said you were with her Saturday,” Gabriel says, taking an aggressive bite of his apple (the Milton’s are trying to turn his sugar intake into primarily natural sugar intake, or something, they told him about it over dinner but Dean was distracted watching Castiel demolish his sixth taco).

"You talk to Balthazar now?"

"He's related to us, jackass."

"Distantly," Castiel adds, and Dean had almost forgotten that Cas was there, and it doesn’t make him feel good. It makes him feel about fifty times worse about the whole situation, because Charlie and Gabriel and Ash already have years of experience of Dean being basically kind of a dick, but for Cas this is almost brand new.

"Also said you were knocking back the Tequila like a pro," Gabriel says, "And that you're a depressing drunk."

Dean’s pretty sure that the main reasons his irritation rises to the surface is because Cas, who’s actually a pretty cool, and a decent tutor, and actually his friend, probably looks down on teen drinking and fucking horrible women who happen to be attractive for various reasons that are probably worse than the fact that he’s just shallow. Also, he may have slept better last night, but he’s still several kinds of exhausted, and Gabe is supposed to be his chilled out, anything goes friend. He doesn’t need this sort of crap from all directions.

"What, so now you're checking up on me?"

"Only when you give me reason to, Deano."

"Wanna ride my ass any harder?"

"Not without a significant amount of lube," Gabriel shoots back, a mixture of self-satisfied, amused and deadly seriously. It takes a lot to push Gabriel into dropping the humour act, but then Dean’s been counting on that.

"This is bullshit," Dean says, "I can do whatever the fuck I want."

"Oh, screw you Winchester," Gabriel says, "You got some crap going on, fine, just don't expect us to make allowances for it if you're not gonna tell us anything. Screw Bela again, get arrested for drinking underage, lose your job for turning up hungover, stand up your study date with Cassie, drop out of school. Whatever, Dean Winchester can do whatever the fuck he wants. See if I give a shit," Gabriel says, standing up and pulling on his backpack. "Just don't come crawling to me when you need someone to bail you out."

"Dude, where are you even going?" Dean asks. The anger’s gone as quickly as it surged up, and now it’s just exhaustion. He’s tired of getting pissed off with Gabriel, and pissing him off in turn, just like he’s tired of having the same age old argument with Sam. Just like he was tired of Sam and his Dad arguing all the time.

"To smoke," Gabriel says, "you want one?"

"Quit," Dean says, "but thanks, man, I appreciate it."

"Least I expect is an invitation to join your bad ideas," Gabriel says, "And a chance to laugh at your dumb ass."

"Noted," Dean says, "you gonna eat the rest of your food?"

He gets an eye roll and a head shake, which Dean's taking to mean that it's all fair game.

"Not saying I agree with his methods," Charlie says, once Gabriel’s headed for the exist, "but, Dean, we know there's something up with you.”

"Cas," Dean says, ignoring Charlie completely, "You okay to do slightly earlier? I need to pick Sam up, take him home and stuff, but if I came over then?"

“I have therapy at four,” Castiel says, which doesn’t even get a raised eyebrow from anyone else at the table, but has Dean glancing round at everyone else to gauge the reactions. Cas doesn’t notice him noticing, which is good. “After is fine,”

Then again, he’s probably still focused on the more pertinent information that Dean’s a shallow, law-breaking, binge drinking asshole.

Dean’s not even sure why he cares so much.

“Awesome,” Dean mutters, then begins to methodically work his way through the rest of Gabriel’s lunch.

*

14:42 Dean Winchester

Hey look I have my reasons for the whole Bela thing

14:46 Castiel

I assumed you did

14:46 Dean Winchester

Not just trying to get some

14:47 Dean Winchester

And Gabe’s only pissed cause I didn’t invite him to the party

15:02 Castiel

Dean you don’t need to explain yourself to me

15:05 Dean Winchester

You run out of bee material, I suggest Impalas for therapy

15:06 Castiel

I’m almost completely sure I’m missing a joke

15:11 Dean Winchester

School okay today?

15:12 Castiel

An improvement on yesterday. I think I remember at least five people’s names.

15:14 Dean Winchester

Impressive. Remember me when you’re rich, famous & hanging with the cool kids

15:15 Castiel

How could I forget?

15:23 Dean Winchester

Retrograde amnesia

15:24 Castiel

That would probably be outside my control

15:28 Dean Winchester

So are a lot of things. Try not to enjoy therapy too much.

15:55 Castiel

I don’t know enough about impalas to maintain an extended conversation

15:57 Dean Winchester

Gd luck!! :)

Chapter Text

“So, his name is Castiel?” Sam asks, over breakfast in the crappy dinner where Dean works. The food is greasy and cheap, but he gets it free for both of them on the days he’s working, and Dean ain’t turning down free breakfast on principle. “How can any relative of Gabriel’s be upright?”

“You should meet Gabe's older brothers,” Dean says through a mouthful of rubbery scrambled eggs. Sam bitchfaces at him. Dean just lifts up his middle finger.

“But you think you’ll have aced the chem test?”

“I probably passed,” Dean hedges because, whilst he remembered everything Cas said about the something law of thermodynamics, and the calculations made a degree of sense, he didn’t exactly give the guy long enough to have worked miracles. Aced is a vast overestimation of his abilities.

“Dean,”

“I’ve got stuff going on,” Dean says, taking another bite of eggs, “As long as a pass, its fine, Sammy.”

“Sam,”

“Fine,” Dean says, rolling his eyes. “It’ll be fine, Sam.

Sam doesn’t particularly look like he believes him, but he drops the subject nonetheless. Dean’s grateful. He’s got enough on his mind as it is.

*

Wednesday morning, Dean's halfway down a corridor when he hears raised voices. He's just decided he's gonna keep his head down and pretend not to notice (he needs to stay off Principle Singer's radar, big time, because he's the kind of person who looks carefully at people and Dean really doesn’t need anyone looking at him right now), when it registers that he knows both of the people yelling, squared up to each other and angry. He doesn’t know the freshman onlooker, but he definitely knows the two shouting.

And that's when Gordon Walker punches Castiel in the face.

Then, course, he's stood between them before Cas has the chance to throw a return punch (even though, by the anger radiating from Castiel's very posture, Dean's pretty sure he could take care of himself), facing down Gordon on automatic. Apparently his subconscious is on team Cas.

Gordon can be a bit of a dick, so it figures. There’s palpable righteousness is rolling off Castiel and Gordon probably deserves it, but it’s still a strange knee-jerk reaction given Gordon’s been his mate for a good couple of years, when he’s known Castiel for about a fortnight.

Gordon, by the look of his surprised rage, is thinking along the same lines.

"Woah there, buddy," Dean says, meeting Gordon’s gaze head on. Gordon isn’t exactly forgiving, and Cas might have just doomed them both to being on his hit-list till kingdom come, but Dean’s not entirely sure he gives a crap.

"We’re not finished," Gordon says, taking half a step forward before terminating the action. Dean would like to think that has something to do with his death glare, but he’s probably just realised how much shit he’ll be in if he gets caught beating up a new kid. That, or he’s realised how fucking terrifying Cas is. Or how terrifying Gabriel can be. One of the three.

"Go find some other new kid to punch," Dean says, "this one's spoken for,"

"And bleeding," Castiel says. Dean turns to catch a glimpse of Cas wiping away a steak of blood from his split lip. It bubbles up again. It’s slightly transfixing, actually.

Gordon mutters something about how Castiel started it, glares at Dean for about half a minute, before sighing audibly and making an attempt at a dramatic exit. The timid looking freshman who's been standing, back to the lockers, though the whole thing squeaks out a 'thanks' before he's headed for the exits. Dean’s still caught up on watching Cas’ lip bleed, which isn’t especially helpful, and it takes a too long period of time before Dean realises that they’re now alone in the corridor.

And Dean’s staring.

"Let's get your faced fixed up,” Dean says, coughing and snapping himself the fuck out of it. Castiel is bleeding, angry and apparently starting fights in the school corridors. Dean had been joking about the rebel thing, but apparently it’s not that far off the mark.

"It’s not broken."

"Here's hoping," Dean says, steering him to the boys toilets, "Though I doubt Gordon's capable of that much damage."

Cas allows Dean to heard him into the toilet and takes the wad of toilet paper to mop up the blood without comment. Dean’s pretty sure he’s still angry and probably would have felt better if he’d gotten to throw a fist back, but… well, it wouldn’t have helped any. Not really.

Dean pulls out a flannel from his backpack and runs it under the cold water, before boxing Cas in against the sinks and holding the cold flannel against his left cheek.

"Why do you carry around a flannel?"

"Boy scout," Dean says, "always be prepared."

"Dean,"

"Got an overnight gaming marathon with Charlie, so I'm crashing at hers. You gonna tell me why you're starting fights now?"

“Gordon Walker is insolent,”

“Not disagreeing with you,” Dean says, tilting up Castiel’s chin to get a better look at the damage. Cas just lets him which is… well, the gesture feels a lot more intimate that it necessarily needs to be. Dean probably could have just handed him the compress. “Could do with some ice to minimise the bruising,”

“I don’t care,”

“Yeah, well,” Dean says, “The Miltons and your therapist might have something to say about it. And your friends, actually. So what’s up, dude?”

“You didn’t have to step in. Gordon’s your friend.”

“How d’you work that out?”

“You called him ‘buddy’” Castiel says, tight, emotionless expression still in place, “And you spent a large proportion of last week hanging out with him.”

Cas says the words ‘hanging out’ like he’s just learnt them, and it’s unnervingly endearing.

“Gordon’s a shmuck,”

“He accused the freshman of acting ‘gay’ and I was merely pointing out that gay wasn’t an insult.”

“He got angry at that?”

“Only when I suggested he was overcompensating,”

“Riight,” Dean says, smirking slightly, “Yeah, that’d do it. This school’s not that bad for, uh, that kinda stuff… better than a lot of schools. Still, arseholes in every town. But, no offence Cas… that seems pretty light to set you off.”

“I am having a bad day,”

“Yeah?” Dean asks, dropping the hand with the cold compress in and not moving away. His lips’ stopped bleeding. “Tell me about it,”

“Gabriel put salt in my cereal,”

“Tell me something real,”

Cas meets his gaze and considers.

“Only if you do,”

“You drive a hard bargain, Cas,” Dean says, but he’s smiling slightly, and his chest sort of hurts. He should have known that anyone who stared as much as Cas did would want to get inside his head, too. Danger territory. “So, this is my fifth high school. First one, I was at for six months and I made exactly two friends, one of which kept trying to sell me drugs. Second, three months... the third, they tried to chuck me out before the end of the week. I punched this guy in the face, but that took me till the end of freshman year. Number four, two months. Been at this one since then, but… well, didn’t think it would stick so I didn’t exactly make that much effort. Hung out with Gordon in the beginning cause it was easy, then I got pulled in by Gabe and Charlie. Lost count of how many middle schools I attended, but I guess you could say I’m kind of an expert at being a new kid.”

“Today I discovered that my father had another family before,” Castiel says, “He walked out on them two years before he met my mother.”

“So, he’s got a precedent,” Dean says, swallowing. He can fully understand why that would shake the guy up, especially considering Castiel was convinced that he didn’t choose to abandon them. “That sucks.”

“Yes,” Castiel agrees, “It sucks.”

“How d’you find out?”

“I read my CPS file,” Cas says, “Hester left it in the study. And then Gabriel put salt in my cereal.”

“I could talk to Gabe, try and get him to back off…”

“Dean,” Cas says, lips quirking slightly, “Although I wouldn’t wish to offend you, your previous negations with Gabriel do not inspire a great deal of confidence,”

“No, that’s fair,” Dean smiles, “We uh, grate on each other I guess.”

“Gabriel has that effect,”

“So I guess shacking up with your aunt and uncle is kinda weird.”

“Before, there was order and sense, now…it’s chaos. I’m doubting my father. His decisions. There are lots of people. Options. I was asked what I would like to study. I… I am having a bad day.”

“Don’t wanna step out of line here, Cas,” Dean says, throat tight, “But your Dad sounds like an over controlling a-hole. You’re supposed to have options. Chaos is good. Overwhelming, maybe, but there’s good stuff too.”

“I see that,” Cas says, “I don’t know where to start.”

“You ever been to a party?” Dean asks, looking at Cas, stood miserable between two sinks, his left cheek red from Gordon’s punch, and Dean actually gets it. It’s not like he has a whole host of stellar Dad experiences under his belt. He gets the need to obey orders and please. Maybe he hasn’t lived under a rock like Cas has, but he reckons he gets it better than everyone else in this joint. “A regular, teenage, parents-out-of-town house party?”

“No,”

“Keep Friday night free, Cas, we’re gonna teach you a couple of things about free will.”

*

Gabriel won’t stop sighing from the back seat of Dean’s car, because he was a hundred per cent convinced that Dean wouldn’t be able to swing it with his parents that they could all go to Balthazar’s party, especially after Castiel’s mysterious swollen lip. The Milton’s really like Dean, though, for reasons undetermined, so after a bit of sweet talk about getting Cas settled in, new experiences and fitting in, they a-okayed the plan happily enough.

He didn’t play on the fact that Balthazar is, apparently, distantly related to both of them. He suspects the more they thought about Balthazar’s antics the more negatively that would impact on the chances of Cas and Gabe being allowed to attend.

“Quit whining back there,” Dean says, making a point to send a glare in his direction.

“Why? My parents love you more than me and I’ve been relegated to the backseat. I’m being stabbed in the back from all directions. There’s too many poisoned daggers to dodge.”

“A thank you would’ve sufficed,” Dean says, lips tilting upwards.

“For what?”

“Driving you to the party, getting you parents to let you come, increasing your socials standing, to name a few.”

“Will there be alcohol?” Castiel asks, and he’s doing that thing where he watches Dean like a hawk again. Dean gets pulled in for a few seconds before he drags his gaze back to the road. An hour ago, he had Cas forcing him through his math related problems to the point where Dean wanted to throw his textbook at the guy, but Cas is a different creature in tutor mode.

“Uh, yeah,” Dean says, “Don’t worry, I’ll look after you.”

“If you knock him up, you’re friendship dumped,” Gabriel calls from the back.

“That doesn’t even make sense, dude.”

“I said don’t flirt with my cousin, asshat.”

Dean turns Metallica up and pretends that he can’t hear him, which is incredibly amusing if admittedly quite childish, and Cas smiles like he doesn’t care that they’re both being completely fucking ridiculous.

He’s not flirting with Cas, anyway, and it would be just perfect if everyone stopped suggesting that he was.

*

“Introducing, beer,” Dean says, pulling a couple of an abandoned six pack and passing one to Cas. Gabriel disappeared outside to smoke away his tantrum and go find Balthazar, so it’s just them and the other twenty or so people squashed into Balthazar’s kitchen. “You don’t like it, you keep drinking. It gets better.”

“It’s… okay,” Castiel says, taking a tentative sip, before taking another longer one.

“Good start,” Dean says, uncapping his own before taking a swig.

“I assume you’re not driving,”

“Don’t worry, Castiel,” Balthazar says, appearing with a bottle of vintage whiskey in hand, Gabriel just behind him. “Dean here usually just passes out in one of the spare rooms." He inclines his head in Dean's direction and smiles. "I heard we were corrupting my third cousin, possibly several times removed, and didn’t want to miss the party.”

“Charming, as always,” Dean says, narrowing his eyes at him.

“I see what you mean,” Balthazar says, turning to meet Gabriel’s gaze and raise an eyebrow.

“Both of you can shove it, whatever it is,”

“Calm down, Dean,” Balthazar says, clapping a hand on his shoulder, “I’m only here to assist. If we are subjecting young Castiel to a corrupting influence, it should at least be done with class.”

Whiskey reminds him with Christmases with his Dad. John Winchester pouring him a tiny portion and teaching him how to appreciate it, and this stuff wasn’t nearly as high grade as the bottle in Balthazar’s right hand. Dean is not exactly going to turn down the opportunity for a taste test.

“You’ll like Whiskey, Cas,” Dean says, “Pull up a seat, Balth, Gabe. Let’s do this.”

“Yes, Cas,” Balthazar says, smirking round the word ‘Cas’ like it’s some kind of joke, which makes Dean want to down his beer and punch the guy in his face, but that probably wouldn’t help any, so he settles on pretending that it’s not grating on his nerves. Like he doesn’t know what the two clowns are trying to insinuate.

“Hello, Balthazar,” Castiel says, sitting down and eyeing the generous measure of whiskey that Balthazar pours him. He pours Gabriel’s next, then Dean’s, then one for himself.

“Next, gin,” Balthazar says, raising his glass and clinking it against Castiel’s.

“Go easy on him,” Dean says, even though that’s not going to help, and Cas’ liver is probably already screwed. In retrospect, inviting Gabriel was a terrible mistake. Balthazar is the nail in the coffin.

“Don’t worry,” Gabriel says, taking a sip of whiskey, “Cassie can take care of himself just fine.”

*

Usually when he drinks at Balthazar’s parties, his spends a minimal amount of time socialising before stumbling up to one of the spare rooms to sleep it off. Balthazar doesn’t particularly seem to care. It’s not like he’s the only person who can’t drive back the wrong of several shots of vodka, so he’s hardy the only one.

This time, they have a goddamn audience. Apparently everyone at the damn school is interested in watching a Milton-and-relations alcohol education lesson and they’re all squeezed into the kitchen and clamouring for a front row ticket. It’s frigging weird, is what it is, and Dean doesn’t especially like people watching his dissent into proper drunkenness.

Because, yeah, Dean is officially shitfaced.

“Did we do rum yet?”

“Pretty sure,” Gabriel says, “Not a hundred percent. Maybe we should have a retry.”

“We did,” Castiel says, surprisingly composed for a guy who’s been peer pressured into drinking an awful but expensive collection of alcohol. Especially one who hasn’t had all that much experience in the alcohol department.

“He’s right,” One of the bystanders says, “You had the bacardi,”

“That was white rum,” Balthazar says.

“Hell no,” Dean says, “If the rum is done, the rum is done. We’re all… squared up.”

“You want out, Deano?” Gabriel asks, but he’s significantly drunker than Dean is. He’s short enough that each centimetre square of Gabriel probably has way more alcohol than each square centimetre of Dean, or Balthazar, or Castiel, actually. It’s surprising he’s still vertical.

“Just worried about you, dude bro,” Dean says, narrowing his eyes at him.

“I need a cigarette,” Gabriel says, slamming his hands on the breakfast bar. Dean manages not to jump out of his skin and fall out of his bar stool only because he’s more or less immune to Gabriel’s regular loud dramatics. And because his reactions are slowed down by the layer of spirits.

“A break, then,” Balthazar puts in, who seems more or less utterly unaffected. They may have swapped to quarter shot measures after the whiskey, but it’s still enough alcohol combined that Balthazar’s tolerance is probably something to be concerned about.

Gabriel stands up.

“Scratch the above,” He says, “I need to vomit.”

“And that’s time out,” Dean says, standing up to heard Gabriel towards the bathroom. Balthazar can and will make them take responsibility for their own mess, and the original plan had been to get Cas to try beer and socialise with people, but they got way off track. It’s definitely Balthazar’s fault but, well, he probably should have known that this was a possibility.

“Didn’t know you cared, Deano,” Gabriel says, dropping to his knees in front of the toilet, “You gonna hold back my hair?”

“Dude, what am I gonna hold?”

Gabriel throws up rather than responding.

“This is why I don’t invite you to parties,”

“Nope,” Gabriel says, then he’s throwing up again, “Factually incorrect.”

“Hello Dean,” Castiel says, his perception of personal space even further off than normal. His expressions are softer, too, and Dean’s taking that as confirmation that he’s not the only one who’s pretty frigging drunk. “Gabriel.”

“What up, Cuz,” Gabriel says, lifting up a thumbs up, “Enjoying your first party?”

“Sorry, man,” Dean says, turning towards him and, yep, the guy’s way close. “This, uh, wasn’t part of the plan.”

“There was a plan?”

“Plan to get in your pants,” Gabriel says.

“Gabe, shut your mouth or keep vomiting,” Dean snaps, “Cas, I’m not…”

“I know, Dean,”

“Okay, uh, good… that’s good,”

“You guys are making me nauseous,” Gabriel calls, then laughs loudly, “See what I did there?”

“You’re fucking hilarious,” Dean says, watching as the guy fumbles for the flush, turning around and offering the pair of them a drunken smile. “Need some water?”

“How come you chuckleheads are all, you know, standing straight? You, I get,” Gabriel says, pointing at Dean’s direction. “Budding alcoholic, and all that. But, Cas where’s that straight laced virgin innocence when I need it?”

“We used to drink wine with dinner,” Castiel says.

“The wild life, huh?”

“I’m good,” Gabriel says, standing, swaying and nearly smashing into the mirror.

“Right, bedtime for Gabe. No objections.”

“Love it when you get all authoritative, Deano.”

“God, you’re annoying,” Dean mutters, steering him towards the bottom of the stairs. With Castiel helping too, they get up three steps before they’re waylaid (it doesn’t exactly help that neither of them are exactly sober), by fucking Bela of all people.

The only good thing he can say about her right now is that she looks less stuck up than she did at the dinner last week, which was only bearable because the food was good and he got two free glasses of champagne. Now, she’s wearing a leather jacket that probably costs more than every item of clothes Dean owns and a slight smirk.

“Winchester,” She says, surveying the three of them, lip curling slightly. “Quite a show you’ve been putting on.”

“You need something?”

“Text me on Wednesday.”

“Now, why would I wanna do that?” Dean asks, one hand still propping Gabriel up.

“Because I owe you,” Bela says, then she’s pushing past them and down the stairs.

“Should’ve thrown up on the bitch,” Gabriel says, when they’re back in motion, “Seriously, Dean, you were several kinds of messed up when she dumped your ass –”

“– that wasn’t about Bela,” Dean interjects, because the alcohol has messed with his filters.

“Bingo,” Gabriel says, “That’s why you don’t invite me to parties. Regular chatty Cathy when you’ve got a couple of shots down you.”

“Whatever, man, just…” Dean kicks open the door to one of the spare bedrooms and pushes Gabriel towards the bed. “She’s not that bad. She’s just soulless ‘cause her parents love money more than they love her.”

“I get those vibes,” Gabriel says, face planting onto her bed, “I just don’t get why you’re still sleeping with her.”

“Who says I am?” Dean asks, mainly because Cas is there and because he, for reasons he’s not going to look into, really cares about Cas’ opinion of him. That, and he’s not really sleeping with Bela. Not really.

Dean sets himself down next to Gabriel because he cannot be bothered to talk to any more people today, and Cas follows suit. It’s a king sized bed, so it’s not like they’re tight for space.

“We should play truth or dare till 4AM,”

“Dude, I’ve got work in the morning,”

“Pull a sickie,”

“If you wanna pay for my phone bill, gas and Sammy’s school trip, sure,”

Gabriel rolls over to narrow his eyes at him, and Gabriel probably has a point about why Dean doesn’t usually inform him when he’s coming to parties like this. He’s hit at least one nail on the head, anyway.

“And you’re paying for your brother’s school trip because…?” Dean looks up at the ceiling. Everything is swimming slightly. “Dude, are you helping your Dad out with money again?”

“What does your father do?” Castiel asks, close enough that Dean can feel the vibrations of his freaking voice. No one should talk that deeply. It should be some kind of illegal.

“Security,” Dean says, “Works nights. Just been a tight month.”

“Your father’s a fucking…” Gabriel never finishes that thought, and Dean’s almost entirely sure that he fell asleep part way through it. He’s too lazy and drunk to turn and look, though, so he just continues looking at the ceiling and listening to them breathe.

“Dean,” Castiel says, and Dean turns to look at him to find that Cas is already turned in his direction, so they’re facing each other and far too close. “I enjoyed the party and I like beer.”

“Awesome.”

"I dislike Bela,” Castiel continues, voice still gravelly and fucking awesome, “She treats you as though you only have instrumental value and minimal worth.”

“Got a D on that chemistry test,” Dean says, by way of distraction, because he doesn’t much want to discuss his ‘minimal worth’ or his ‘instrumental value’. Mostly, he just wants to go the fuck to sleep, even though it’s relatively early and there’s still technically a party raging on downstairs.

Cas frowns at him.

“Do you find it difficult to work at home?” Castiel asks. They’re still lying face to face on the bed, with Gabriel now snoring on their left side, and Dean’s drunk and not able to stop his breath from catching at the question. “You’ve often tried to do work at Gabriel’s,” Cas prompts.

Dean exhales.

“It’s your place too,” Dean says, “But, yeah, it’s just, like I said, my Dad works stupid hours and it’s a small set up. Difficult to find space to study.”

“You can work in my room whenever you wish,” Castiel says, simple as, and Dean wants to make some sort of lewd joke about that but his brain isn’t working properly.

He settles on a slightly slurred “thanks, Castiel” and then they must fall asleep at some point, because the three of them are still sprawled on top of the covers come the next morning.

Balthazar takes a great deal of pleasure in waking them all up.

Chapter Text

For the first time in months, Dean actually feels pretty good. He’s sleeping slightly better, this week school has felt almost manageable (he wrote actual honest to god notes in Spanish, and when he read them back in his free period they still made sense), Sam has gotten off his back, he got paid from work and he’s hasn’t had a verbal sparring match with Gabe since the weekend. Life is okay. Dean might actually be doing okay.

“Your hair’s wet,” Castiel says, narrowing his eyes at him as he approaches the impala, where Castiel and Gabriel are apparently waiting for him. The amount of attention paid to his whereabouts is slightly worrying, but…if he doesn’t think about it too much, it’s okay. It’s kind of nice.

“Yeah, uh, I run before school. They gym teacher gave me the key for the locker rooms so I could shower.”

“You run,” Cas says.

“I don’t believe it,”

“I don’t believe your face, Gabe,” Dean throws back, because he’s in that kind of mood. He feels kinda light. He could use a coffee and some food, but otherwise he’s good to go.

“Witty, Deano,” Gabriel says, “The folks wanna know when you’re coming over next.”

“Why?”

“Man, hell if I know,” Gabe says, “Ask Cas, he seems pretty attached.”

“Maybe they’re worried about my World History grade,” Dean adds, before Gabriel can say anything else about anything, because honestly the fact that Gabriel’s managed seventeen years without anyone deciding it’s illegal for him to open his mouth is a goddamn miracle. “I sure as hell am I.”

“Dean, it will be fine,”

“That a promise?” Dean asks, turning to catch Cas’ eye. Dean’s not sure how he’s not freezing in his frigging trench coat in November, but he looks plenty unaffected. Mostly he just looks solid. More real now Dean knows some of the crap that’s going on in his head. They have a lot of unexpected common ground, considering the guy’s home schooled and basically socially inept.

“Spare me,” Gabriel mutters.

“Winchester,”

“Her British accent actually gives me a migraine,” Gabriel says, loudly, turning around to face Bela in slow motion. “Talbot, just what my day needed.”

“Gabriel, charmed,” Bela says, narrowing her eyes at him. “And your cousin with the name I don’t remember. Lovely. Dean, its Wednesday.”

“Yeah, that tends to happen after Tuesday,” Dean says, offering her up a sarcastic smile. He actually likes himself too much this morning to deal with her bullshit, even if he’ll probably regret it at a later date. Like, tomorrow, when everything’s gone to crap again like it always does. “Got any other fascinating titbits of information you wanna offer me?”

“Let me make this simple, you’re supposed to text me.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “I wouldn’t wait up for it.”

“Don’t piss me off, Winchester,”

“He’s very busy,” Castiel says, cutting across their conversation. Dean would be pissed about the intrusion (Dean is not, and will never be, a damsel in distress) if it wasn’t so damn hilarious to see Bela’s expression. Plus, there's something uncomfortable and foreign going on in his stomach with Cas' attempt at the knight in shinning armour act, and it's weird.“And I’m Castiel.”

“The cousin,” Gabriel adds, punching Cas on the arm affectionately. Dean would punch them both, unaffectionately, if he wasn’t in such a good mood, for sticking their noses in his business.

“So I see,” Bela says, lip twisting upwards. “Just don’t come running to me next time you need my help.”

That does permeate his good mood, and she fucking knows it will, because Bela Talbot knows far too much about his life for his personal comfort. The amount of crap she has on him has kept him awake far too many nights and the fact that she’s keeping his secrets due to a mixture of disinterest about whatever happens to him, anyway, and her own goodwill isn’t exactly very reassuring.

“Still owe me, by my book,” Dean says, because he has very few cards to play when it comes to Bela. One is that she thoroughly dislikes being in people’s debt. The other is that she’s still vaguely trying to hide how soulless she is. They’re not exactly fool proof moves. He steps past her, even though it involves leaving Cas and Gabriel trailing behind, probably with questions, because he doesn’t want to hear her retort or see her self-satisfied expression.

“Dude, what was that?” Charlie asks, falling into step with him from the other side of the parking lot, Dorothy in tow. “Are you two, like, gold smugglers or something?”

“Charlie, real life, YA fantasy. Difference.”

“Just saying, that was way intense,”

“Dean,”

“What?” Dean snaps, turning around to find himself practically chest to chest with Castiel, who’s looking at him like he’s one of those killer Sudoku he can’t quite work out, or something, and Dean’s good mood is quickly evaporating, because every single one of his friends is a nosy shit who needs to back off .

“Is everything okay?” Castiel’s voice is deep, solid and pretty lacking in judgement, actually, given Dean’s half freaked out and the fact that he probably makes zero sense to any of them right now.

“Yes,”

“Can you handle it by yourself?”

“Yes,”

“Should we avoid commenting or intervening in regards to Bela?”

“That would be fucking A,” Dean says and then, because he’s a frigging moron with no control over his own mouth, “And I’m not sleeping with her,” Which is, by and large, completely true. With very occasional exceptions. “So just… all of you quit defending my honour.”

“What honour?” Gabriel asks, pulling out a bag of doughnuts from his backpack, “I thought you lost your honour back in junior year.”

God bless Gabriel Milton and his inability to have a serious conversation, ever, but particularly before their first classes on a Wednesday morning, or when Dean has indicated that he’s not interested in having one right now.

“That was my dignity,” Dean throws back, “And my taste in friends, apparently.”

“Come on, Deano,” Gabe says, offering out the bag of doughnuts and, holy crap, Dean takes back everything bad he ever said about him, Gabriel is and always will be his best friend. He’s giving him a goddamn doughnut. “You know we complete you.” Dean takes a doughnut rather than responding, because Gabriel giving away sugar is quite miraculous and he’s half expecting him to snatch the bag away before he actually gets to eat. “That’s to eat off the running,” Gabriel says, with a wink.

“Gabe, we’ve got Calculus, which is… pretty much in the other direction.” Charlie says, nudging him with her shoulder.

Gabriel says something through a mouth full of doughnut that Dean assumes is a derogative comment about calculus because, well, calculus. They make a U-turn before Gabriel has managed to finish chewing, which is both impressive and possibly disgusting, which leaves him alone with Cas.

Dean’s not sure, exactly, how he feels about that. He’s spent plenty of time alone with Cas, sure, but the change in atmosphere is more pronounced when other people happen to leave, rather than Dean knocking on the door of the guy’s bedroom with a stack of books and a notepad of Dean’s failed attempts to understand anything. It just is.

“I wouldn’t recommend antagonising someone to the point where they punch you in the face,” Cas says, after a good thirty seconds of walking down the corridor in silence. Not particularly an awkward silence, but just a heavy one.

“Sorry?”

“With your bad day,” Cas says, turning an almost smile at him, “I have been reliably informed that it causes people to worry about you.”

“Noted,” Dean says, and shoves his hands in his pockets, because it at least stops him from doing something stupid with them.

*

He doesn’t even have a good excuse about why he can’t focus today, he just can’t. Castiel is sat at his desk with a smudge of ink just above his lip (God knows how) and he’s talking about European history, and Dean’s been watching him talk rather than listening for a good few minutes. Well, he’s hearing his voice, Cas’ stupidly deep, velvet voice, but the words are going way over his head. He could be talking in Old English or sixteenth century Spanish or frigging Latin and it wouldn’t have shown up on his radar.

“Dean,” That pulls him out of his lack of thoughts, anyway.

“I cannot explain how little I care about the Spanish Armada, Cas.”

“Would your opinion change if I pointed out that we’re currently studying the Renaissance period.”

“Take a wild guess,”

“I’m guessing not,”

“Bingo,” Dean says, “Can we just, I don’t know, take a night off? Or at least a break. I’m so done with school, dude. It wasn’t fun all day, and it ain’t fun now.”

“What would you prefer to do?”

“Anything else on your teen rebellion list?” Dean asks, pulling himself up on Cas’ bed, and passing his phone from hand to hand. Sam has text him three times in the past hour asking him what he’s doing tonight. He’s got nothing from Bela, which is either a good thing or disaster, but he doesn’t know that he wants to think about that. “We covered library misdemeanours, getting into fights, alcohol, parties… anything we missed?”

“You’re the expert.”

“Thanks, I think,” Dean says, dropping his phone on the bed to run a hand over the back of his neck. “How d’you feel… about smoking.”

“Smoking,” Castiel repeats.

“Aint recommending it… just, y’know, to try.”

“Okay,” Castiel says, which really takes him by surprise, because he’d have figured Cas was too… proper to try a cigarette, just because.

“Huh,” Dean says, caught up in trying to read his expression, “Well, we’re gonna need Gabe. ‘Cause I don’t have any.”

“You quit,” Castiel says, and it's the most efficient way Dean's ever experienced of someone asking why did you smoke in the first place, why did you quit and how do you feel about that now?

“Yeah,” Dean says, “Cause I’m poor and Sammy nags and, well, it’s not exactly a good habit. Come on, man, let’s round up the troops.”

*

“This is becoming somewhat of an expedition,” Castiel comments, as Dean parks up at a place far enough away that the Milton’s probably aren’t going to catch them smoking, not that their due home from work for hours. Dean’s entirely sure that their feigning ignorance about Gabriel’s habit, anyway, because the cigarette-smell lingers bigtime and Gabriel isn’t best known for being subtle about anything. Still, it’s better to be safe than have the Milton’s ban him their house ever again for corrupting them both and, in particular, Cas. Dean’s not naïve enough to believe that they wouldn’t think it’s entirely his fault.

v“Welcome to the secret life of the teenage smoker,” Gabriel says, pulling out a packet of cigarettes from his pocket.

“Dude, not near my baby.”

Gabriel rolls his eyes hard enough that Dean hopes it hurt.

“Deano here has an unhealthy relationship with his car, Cassie,” Gabe says, pushing open the car down and swinging his feet out. “This is not indicative of most people.”

“Hey, shut up,” Dean says, following him out, “She’s fucking gorgeous.”

“I see,” Castiel says, as Dean heads for a bench. If they’re doing the teenage hooligan thing, they might as well do it right.

“Just give us a cig, Gabriel.”

“I didn’t sign up as an enabler, dude bro,” Gabriel says, “And, fuck you, because I paid for these.”

“Man, we did not drive out here for you to have a crisis of conscious,”

“You can share one,” Gabriel says, holding out the pack.

Dean still has his lighter in his pocket, quitting aside, and he pulls it out and holds it out to Cas.

“You wanna light it?”

“Not particularly,” Cas says.

“This is some weird ass foreplay,” Gabriel comments. Cas is watching him light the damn thing like he’s going to be tested on it later, but as usual where Gabriel is concerned his contribution to the conversation isn’t exactly wanted. Dean kicks him in the shins and inhales and, shit, he’s missed nicotine big time.

This was probably a bad idea.

“It’s your moment, Cas,” Dean says, handing it to him. He looks fucking ridiculous taking it between his two fingers like it’s some kind of grenade, and even more ridiculous when he takes a drag. And then promptly starts coughing.

“You’re laughing at me,” Castiel accuses, when he’s stopped coughing. Cigarette still slowly burning between his fingers, unhappy pinched frown levelled at Dean.

“No, just… the trench coat and the debauchery together. Quite the combination, Cas.”

“I’m laughing at you,” Gabriel adds, and they both ignore him.

“Just, you gotta breathe in and then… like, breathe in again.”

Cas nods, still doing the staring thing, as he brings it back up to his lips. Dean looks at the floor because, seriously, he needs to get a fucking grip. At least with Gabriel smirking right next to him.

The second time, Cas gets it. No coughing.

“It’s better than expected,”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “That’s how it gets you.”

“Heaven wrapped up in tar and rat poison,” Gabriel comments, kicking back his feet, “Man, why do all the best things in life have to slowly kill you?”

Dean has literally no answer to that, so he just stays quiet, breathes in the second hand smoke and watches Cas’ awkward, fumbling attempts to smoke. It’s still pretty early, but it’s beginning to get kinda dark, and it’s definitely too cold to be sat outside for a long time. It hasn’t been an awful day though. Not by a long way.

“Do you want the rest?” Castiel asks, after a few more moments of quiet.

“Best not,” Dean says, because the temptation to bum cigarettes off Gabe and lie to Sam about it is all too real, and it’s just another thing that won’t help any of it. Gabriel mutters something about them smoking away his money and wasting perfectly good nicotine, but they sit and watch it burn out between Cas’ fingers instead anyway.

*

Dean’s back to leaning against Cas’ headboard, studying the photo of Cas’ family tacted up on the wall, only this time Cas is sat next to him rather than at the desk. Dean’s pretty sure that the fact Cas’ father looks cold and uncaring in the photo is just because he has all the extraneous information and nothing to do with the photo itself, but he still can’t help himself from glaring at the man. He’s a right fucking asshole for walking out on Cas, even if it was probably one of the best things he could have done for him. From what he’s heard, his upbringing wasn’t exactly very conducive for ever having a life, or free thought, or frigging independence. Cas adored him though. Dean can see that from the picture, easy.

"You never told me about your family," Castiel says from next to him, and Dean freezes for a moment before he forces himself to relax. It figures that Cas would ask as some point.

"Not much to tell," Dean says, scrunching his hands into fists.

"Gabriel said all he knows is that you live with your father, who is 'a bit of a douchenozzle'."

It was fair to say that Gabriel meeting John Winchester hadn’t exactly been a comfortable affair, that it had come at a bad time, and that his father’s behaviour hadn’t exactly leant itself to a charitable opinion. Dean’s often wondered whether Gabriel had mentioned some of that to the Miltons and whether that was why they were so accommodating of him.

"You been digging, huh?" Dean asks, rolling his eyes. "You know Sammy, obviously. Otherwise it's just us and Dad. Works nights, not around much, takes off sometimes." Dean says, and as near to the truth as he can comfortably get, so he'll just roll with it. "Mum died when I was four, when Sam was just a baby. House fire. Moved around a lot after that. Dad couldn't stay settled. Sam and Dad argued about that a lot and, Sam was right, so I uh... sided with Sam, which was rare. Not that Sammy wasn't right, just didn't think whining about it would change things. But we've been here bout two years, longest we've stayed anywhere, so I guess we got through to him. And that's it, the whole Winchester history."

It comes out fairly flat and monotone, but Cas seems to appreciate the fact that it came out of his mouth at all is a goddamn miracle.

"Do you get on better with your father now?"

"We were never the problem,"

"Sam?"

"Well like I said, he works nights. Don't see him enough to properly argue."

"I'm sorry about your mother, Dean."

"Yeah, me too," Dean mutters, and then he turns around to look at Cas and finds him much too close.

Dean could count his goddamn eyelashes, and they're on Cas' bed, talking about his fucking feelings.

It's bad timing, given Dean's raw enough from lying through his teeth, but Cas is sort of magnetic.

"What about your mom?" Dean asks. Cas has previously told him that the women in the picture was one of Castiel’s tutors and Dean hadn’t pressed any further, given he’d already gotten the lowdown about all the crap with his Dad. But, hey, if Cas is pushing, then so can Dean.

"I don't remember her. Cancer. I hadn't learned to talk yet."

"That sucks," Dean breathes, "Sam doesn't remember Mom and she was the best, Cas. She used to cut off the crusts on my sandwiches and she dotted on Sammy, but never left me room to get jealous. Sam doesn't know what he's missing. How Dad used to be."

"You love Sam a lot,"

"Bought him up in a lot of ways," Dean says, and the memories are bittersweet, but they’re all he’s got.

"Tell me about that,"

"Dude, this is already more honest than I've been with anyone, ever."

"Why don't you believe that people want to listen to you?" Cas asks, looking at him all deep and serious and like he actually believes the stuff that’s coming out his mouth. That’s a hell of a lot of pressure put on him, the fact that Cas thinks so highly of Dean Winchester, even if he knows some of the surface stuff about Bela, and drinking, and his crappy grades.

Also, Dean’s hyper aware of his hands and the lack of distance between them.

He doesn’t need Gabriel here to make a joke to realise that they’re unnecessarily close.

"Cause, they don't," Dean says, "You need your eyes tested cause..." then Cas has reached out a thumb to still his mouth, and Dean just stops talking. Cas runs his thumb over the curve of his bottom lip, curious and earnest, and Dean turns slightly to follow the motion, because… well. Well. "You, uh, done this in your stint as teenage rebel?"

"No," Cas breathes, so Dean takes the opportunity to reach forward and press their lips together. He still tastes a little of cigarette smoke, and Dean probably does too, but the arch of Cas’ lips is every bit as soft as he thought it would be. And, okay, Gabriel may have had a point or seven, but…he wasn’t trying, or anything, it’s just… Cas. He understands Cas. Cas has never judged him.

Dean pulls away.

"Okay?"

"I would like to make out with you," Cas says, in that serious, deep way of his. Dean should be thinking about consequences, but he's thinking about the dull ache he gets when he thinks about Cas making him laugh, and when he thinks about how much better Cas is than him. He's thinking about Cas, warm and intense and hilarious and teaching him chemistry, and Cas vulnerable and angry and his confused expression when presented with Tequila, and he's thinking that he probably wouldn't begrudge Cas anything that he asked for.

So he kisses Cas again, and this time Cas curls his hand around Dean's neck, and pulls him close.

*

“We aint doing any more work tonight,” Dean says, kissing Cas one final time, “And I’m hungry.”

“We could order pizza,”

“I’ll cook you something up,” Dean says, pulling himself to his feet. He feels good. Nervous, but good. Lighter. Less heavy than he’s felt for months and months, and Cas is smiling slightly, and Dean’s not entirely sure, but he thinks he might be smiling right back.

“You cook?”

“Like I said, I bought Sammy up,” Dean says, “What time are the folks back?”

“Around seven,”

“Cool,” Dean says, “You like burgers?”

“You’re going to make burgers?” Cas asks, frowning at him, so Dean just has to step forward and kiss him again. Kissing Cas is awesome. Cas is awesome. He is way into Cas and probably would have been a lot more keyed into that fact earlier if his life wasn’t fully in the crapper.

“You complaining?”

“I’d prefer to make out some more,”

“Later,” Dean says, “Come on, dude, burgers.”

Cas follows him into the kitchen, bemused, and it’s sort of weird that Cas lives here but Dean’s more familiar with his kitchen. He’s cooked in the Milton’s kitchen plenty of times, but not for a while. He’s been too exhausted, too stressed out, too caught up in everything else.

“Hark, he’s cooking,” Gabriel says, emerging from his room in sweats and a t-shirt, “You trying to sweet talk my parents after corrupting their new responsibility?”

“Aint no corrupting he didn’t consent to,” Dean says, grabbing a knife and a couple of onions. Damn, he’s missed cooking. He doesn’t get much opportunity to really. Castiel passes him a chopping board.

“Thanks,” Dean grins. Cas smiles at him, hanging close behind him.

“You fucked, didn’t you?” Gabriel asks.

Trust Gabriel to jump six steps ahead of the truth but, whatever, it's not like he can get the guy's nose out of this. Of course he's gonna be keeping an eye on things.

“What? Your delicate flower Castiel?”

“Don’t fuck with me, Deano.”

“Well, no, that could get awkward,” Dean says, flashing him a grin. Gabriel meets his eye like he’s about to chew him out for ignoring the not-my-cousin-rule, but something must have changed his mind, because he changes tact.

“You’re disgustingly chirper,” Gabriel frowns, opening the fridge and grabbing himself a can of soda. “And also, fucking called it. Like, day one, called it. Whatever, along as it keeps you cooking.”

“Just call me Gordon Ramsey,”

“You need me to get anything from the shop?”

“Sweet potatoes,” Dean throws back, “Cheers, dude bro.”

Gabriel mutters something about how he wasn’t serious, but rolls his eyes and grabs his jacket anyway.

“You used to cook here before,” Cas says, half statement and half question.

“Yeah,” Dean says, “Was here enough, figured I could do my bit. Part of why Gabriel’s rents like me. Keep ‘em fed and watered.”

“I would like to try your burgers,”

“Coming up,” Dean grins, and then he stops to kiss Cas again, because there’s no one here to call him out on it, and he might just really enjoy kissing Cas.

*

The food is good, even if the sweet potato chips take longer than the burgers (he’s way out of practice with timing). He gets a good reception from Gabriel’s parents, a lot of inappropriate noises of pleasure from Gabriel, and Cas smiles at him like he did something praiseworthy. Dean feels good. The world feels kind of manageable. A better kind of good than this morning. The kind of good that feels like it might stick around.

“You taking the sofa tonight, Dean?” Hester Milton asks him, popping another sweet potato chip in her mouth. The Miltons have always been good people, and Dean’s always appreciated the unwavering hospitality. Dean’s there a lot, and plans to be here a lot more in the future, and they’ve never made him feel anything but welcome.

“If that’s okay, Mam,” Dean grins.

“You’re too good to us to turn you down, Dean,”

“And, uh, if it’s not too much trouble… Dad’s on shift tomorrow night, and Sam’s sleeping over at Kevin’s.” Dean lies, and it comes all too fucking easily. “And Dad doesn’t like the idea of me in alone…”

“Of course, Dean,” Hester smiles, “Your Dad needs to quit working nights, actually see you boys.”

“He’s looking,” Dean says, another lie. Lie, lie, lie. Dean just can't stop fucking lying today, apparently. It’s just so easy when he’s full and warm and happy, and has somewhere to sleep for the next two nights, where he’s actually welcome.

Cas helps, too, which is kind of immensely fucked up if he thinks about it too much.

*

“You lied to Gabriel’s parents,” Cas says, when Dean sneaks into his bedroom in the middle of the night, after the Miltons have probably fallen asleep, gracelessly tripping over Cas’ school bag on route to Cas’ bed. He’d text Cas to warn him. He got a smiley face in return.

“Guilty as charged,” Dean mutters, as Cas cups his face and kisses him in the dark. It’s clumsy and a little hapless, but it’s also fucking awesome.

“You say you get along with your father,” Cas says, “But you never want to go home,”

“You blame me?” Dean says, kissing him deeper. Cas’ breath hitches. “When I got a better option right here.”

“You’re impossible,” Cas says, but pulls Dean onto the bed.

“Just, to be clear,” Dean mutters into the space between their lips, “I gotta go back downstairs in like, half an hour. I just… wanted to say hey.”

Boundaries and not getting too far into this, whatever this is, when at least some part of his brain has twigged that this is all a terrible idea. Not a part that he's really listening to, maybe, but a significant part.

“Hello Dean,” Cas smiles. It’s dark, but he can just about make it out at this distance, and he really frigging likes that smile. It’s just… a damned nice smile.

Chapter Text

“You sleep okay at Ava’s?” Dean asks, popping open the trunk of the Impala and turning to take in his little brother. He’s still an awkward thirteen year old, could use a growth spurt (but God knows how Dean’s gonna pay for that), but he looks well rested enough. Sam looks like he’s doing okay, which is both strategically helpful and one of the only things that’s getting Dean through this fucking mess.

“Fine,” Sam says, digging his laundry out of his backpack. They need to go to the laundrette soon, because the trunk is mostly full of their dirty crap, along with the rest of their worldly belongings. “You’re in a good mood,”

“You’re not,” Dean throws back, handing Sam a clean change of clothes which he shoves into his backpack. “You with Kevin tonight?”

“Mrs Tran is getting suspicious,”

“Mrs Tran is fucking terrifying,” Dean says, glancing around to check there’s no one looking, before changing his t-shirt and shoving the old one in with the dirties. “It’ll be okay, Sammy, I can feel it.”

“Where are you staying tonight?”

“With Cas,”

“With Cas,” Sam deadpans, then rolls his eyes, “Smart, Dean,”

Of course he can read him like a book, because it’s Sam, but he had thought that he could go at least a morning without being called out on his crap, not least because that part of his brain that knows he should be running from this at high speed sounds an awful lot like Sam. The smart part of his brain, evidentially.

“The Milton’s love me,”

“Think they’ll let you stay over so often if they know you’re sleeping with their nephew?”

“I aint,” Dean says, finding a hoody that’s mostly clean and pulling it on. He hadn’t really thought about the Milton’s potentially reaction to his… whatever it is with Cas, but, yeah, this is just one of the reasons why he should have thought about the damn consequences of his actions before he kissed the guy. Whatever.

“I’m glad you’re happy,” Sam says, but his expression says otherwise. Sam’s never particularly cheerful, these days, especially when he's with Dean. Dean figures it’s one of the only points of the day where he gets to quit pretending, but it still feels like a kick to the teeth.

“You need anything else for tonight? Towels? Money?”

“We have money?”

“Don’t be an asshole, Sam,” Dean snaps.

“Sorry,” Sam deflates. He probably means it, too.

“It’s fine, whatever,” Dean says, “I wanna shower before school, so get your ass in gear. I’ll pick you up after school, okay? We can hit the laundrette. Hang out for a while.”

“Sure,” Sam says, but he doesn’t sound too thrilled about it. Dean wishes that they could at least stop bickering, because it would make it so much easier, but then things haven’t been easy for a long ass time. It figures that Sam’s angry.

Dean rolls his eyes and plays Metallica, loudly, on route to school.

*

After he’s showered in the boy’s changing room, he heads back out to the parking lot to shove his crap in the back seat. Cas and Gabriel are parked right next to his car, which makes him kinda nervous, but he’s used to that. He’s just glad he remembered to bring his fake running gear with him to the showers.

“You left early this morning,” Cas says, frowning at him as he walks over.

“Yeah, well, Sam had his breakfast club thing,” Dean says, chest feeling tight. He’s not quite sure how he’s supposed to behave around Cas right now. It’s not like they talked about it or anything.

“Have you been running?” Cas asks, focusing in on his wet hair and the towel under his arm.

“Yeah,” Dean says, opening his car door and chucking his towel in, swapping his duffle bag for his backpack. Second lie of the day, but two by this point isn’t that bad going. And none of them were to Sam, so he gets extra honesty points for that. The worst lies are always the ones he tells Sam.

“This mythical running,” Gabriel says, “I’ve never seen it.”

“You calling a conspiracy theory, dude?” Dean asks, pulling on his leather jacket.

“Just saying,”

“I’ll run for you anytime,” Dean winks, “Hey, Cas,”

“Hello Dean,”

“Is this gonna be a thing now?” Gabriel asks, “Third wheeling it with my own best friend and favourite cousin,”

“Yes,” Cas says, and falls into step with Dean, and smiles. And, yeah okay, Dean can definitely work with this as a starting point.

*

“Dude, are you just going to look at that last doughnut, or what?” Dean asks, nudging Gabriel in the middle of Chemistry. He left the Milton’s before breakfast this morning, and he’s starving. He ate with the Milton’s last night, so it’s not like he has any real reason to be hungry, not compared to how bad it has been, but his stomach’s churning and, anyway, Gabriel definitely does not need a mid-morning snack of five doughnuts. He just doesn’t.

“You’re a vulture, Deano,” Gabriel hisses back, pushing over the final doughnut. “Always circling after my leftovers.”

“You are, and always will be, my dude bro,” Dean whispers back and, shit, he gets his free school lunch in a couple of hours, then another meal with the Miltons and a doughnut right now. He might actually be able to concentrate on this shitty chemistry stuff if he’s eaten a full three meals, again, for a second day in a row.

“You’re only saying that because you wanna bang my favourite cuz,” Gabriel says, “And that hurts, Deano.”

“Cas is hot,” Dean shrugs.

“My brain is burning,” Gabriel says, then he leans forward, “For the record, Deano, you screw with him, I’ll be shoving my last doughnut somewhere very unpleasant.”

“Graphic,” Dean nods, “Dude, I’m not…”

He doesn’t get to finish, because they both get snapped at for talking in class by Crowley (and he really really needs to fly under the radar for as long as possible), but he thinks Gabriel probably gets what he meant.

He doesn’t make any more threats, anyway.

*

“Can we reschedule our slumber party?” Charlie asks over lunch, thankfully before either Gabriel or Castiel have returned to their table with food. He doesn’t need the extra questions. “Dorothy’s parents are out Friday night…”

“Say no more, sister,” Dean says, offering her a grin, “I’m no cockblock.”

“Dude, there will be no cocks involved,” Charlie says, mock affronted, before she launches into a tirade about how great Dorothy is, anyway.

Dean likes Dorothy, bigtime, and figures he’ll just have to head to Balthazar’s party on Friday night after all. He’d wanted to avoid it after last week (and try to avoid Bela, too), but he doesn’t have a whole other lot of options. Gordon’s hardly gonna let him stay over after Dean got involved with that fight with Cas. The Miltons aren’t going to let him stay a third night without getting suspicious. Bela isn’t even an option right now.

So, Balthazar’s it is. Fine.

*

“How was school?” Dean asks, as he shoves the rest of their washing into the machine.

“Fine,” Sam says, sat on the floor of the laundrette with a book propped up on his knees. His notes are resting next to his feet, pen poised to make notes. It’s not exactly what Dean had in mind for them hanging out, but having somewhere quiet to study is more or less a luxury these days. The laundrette’s not even quiet, but it’s probably quieter than Ava Wilson’s house.

To be honest, Dean should probably do some fucking work too. Cas has helped, maybe, but he still can’t concentrate for shit and he’s still seriously behind. If they pull him up on his waning grades, they’re gonna start noticing the other stuff too. Below the radar and all that.

“Alright, Mr Chatterbox,” Dean returns, putting in a couple of quarters before taking a seat next to his brother on the floor. “Homework it is,”

Except, the Milton’s sofa isn’t exactly comfortable. Before Cas moved in, Dean used to take Anna’s bed and it was a goddamn revelation to have a bed again, but the sofa hurts his neck and isn’t exactly the rest bite for occasional nights in his car that it used to be. He’s tried. He doesn’t care about World History. Maths is still confusing when his brains this full up with where the fuck he’s going to sleep Saturday night, and what’s going to happen to Sam, and how long he can keep lying about all of this before someone calls him out on it.

“Dean,” Sam says, fifteen minutes later according to the timer on the washing machine, although it doesn’t feel nearly that long. “You’re not even trying.”

“I can’t concentrate, man,” Dean says, pressing a thumb into his forehead and closing his eyes.

“Have you eaten?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, and it’s actually the truth today, which is good. “Hey, you remember in that laundrette in Montgomery where you turned all our laundry lilac?”

“I’m trying to do my homework,” Sam says, but he’s smiling slightly.

“And it turns out it’s this purple pair of panties that someone left in the machine,” Dean grins, “Either that or they were Dad’s.”

“Gross, Dean,” Sam says and, anyway, the mood turns significantly more sour at the mention of their father. He hadn’t exactly meant to bring him up, he’s just too tried to apply a filter to conversations with Sam. The rest of the world, sure.

Dean stares at the first line in the paragraph about the Renaissance period again but, no dice, he can’t even focus on the individual words. They’re just a messy blur of letters and shit he can’t find it within himself to care about.

He pulls out his phone and answers his text from Cas about when he’s coming over instead. Sam sights deliberately next to him, but Sam can suck it. He’s doing his best. He got a tutor and everything. He's trying.

*

Knocking on Cas’ bedroom door seems like a lot bigger deal today than it did yesterday. Never mind that he’s been texting the guy for the whole hour their clothes were drying, much to Sam’s displeasure, but that’s different. Seeing him in person when not at school is totally different.

Cas calls for him to enter.

“Hey,” Dean says, awkwardly standing just beyond the door and possibly smiling at the guy, but he’s not completely sure about that. His face could be doing absolutely anything right now, he just has no idea.

“Hello Dean,” Cas says, sat at his desk “How are you?”

“Pretty damn good,” Dean says, “Been a good day. Got to have some quality time with Sam. Now I’m here.”

“You’re in a good mood,”

“Hey, that happens,” Dean says, properly stepping into the room, and sitting down on his usual spot at the end of the bed. He has his backpack with him and drops it next to him. Considering his backpack has all their important crap with him (like, their passports, all the money they own and the photos of their Mom), he doesn’t especially let it out of his sight often.

“Sometimes.”

“I like it,” Cas says, swivelling his seat round to face him. Cas looks good today. He’s in a good mood, too. Less tortured teen with Daddy issues, more just your average seventeen year old not quite smiling at his make-out partner.

“Yeah, well, I like you. So fucking there.”

Cas stands up to kiss him.

*

“We still have to study,” Cas says, frowning as Dean sets up the Xbox. He’s going to teach Cas how to play, so help him, and Gabriel is more than behind the mission. There’s lasagne in the oven, it’s warm and Cas is going to learn how to game. He gets to hang out with two of his favourite people like a normal teenager, then he gets good food and a study session with Cas (and possibly another make out session).

It’s just a shame that Charlie isn’t here, because she’d get a kick out of Cas’ gazelle-feet when it comes to gaming. Watching that unfold is gonna be frigging awesome. He’ll probably tell her far too much about it tomorrow, and then she’ll read into things too. If Gabriel hasn’t already spread the news far and wide. Whatever.

“Dude bro, your cell’s ringing,” Gabriel says, nodding to where it’s on charge on near the TV. Dean’s stomach drops, because phone calls are rarely good news, and especially not when Dean’s this happy.

“It’s Sam,” Dean says, heart in his throat, taking a deep breath before he answers. Sam never calls him unscheduled unless it’s an emergency. They don’t have a lot of phone credit between them as it is. “Hey, man,”

“Dean,” Sam says, down the other end of the phone. Dean can feel his brother’s panic in his bones. Swallows. “Kevin’s sick. Mrs Tran says it’s best if I don’t sleepover tonight,”

“Fuck,” Dean says, “Okay. I’ll come pick you up.”

“Dean, where are we gonna stay?” Sam says, voice dropping to a near whisper. Dean’s chest hurts because he doesn’t know and he can’t let Sam know that he’s panicking, slightly. Also, Gabriel and Castiel are right here watching him freak, and this is going to be a difficult one to explain away.

“I… we can work it out when I get there, okay? It’ll be fine.”

“Dean –”

“– I can’t talk about this right now, Sam, I’m with Gabe and Cas,” Dean says, and he can feel them all looking at him, and he’s shaking slightly. He got paid last week. He can swing a night at the motel, but they’ve been looking at him suspiciously lately, so they’ll probably have to switch motels again. They’re running out of cheap ones. “Look, tell Mrs Tran I’ll be there in half an hour, okay?”

“She thinks you’re at work,”

“Make something up,” Dean says, “Thirty minutes, Sam. Give or take.”

“Don’t speed,”

“Yeah, okay, Mr Responsible,” Dean says, unplugging his phone. Sam sighs and hangs up. “Change of plan,” Dean says, swallowing, “Kevin’s sick, I gotta go pick Sam up. Tell your parents thanks, Gabe, I’ll um… see you guys tomorrow.”

“That sounded serious,” Cas says, frowning at him.

“Nah, just annoying,” Dean says, pocketing his phone. His hands are shaking slightly. It’s no big deal, because he has the cash. It’s just shit like this reminds him how fragile all this stuff is for Sam and it’s… well, it’s fucking terrifying is what it is.

“Dude, you’re like, Edward Cullen white,” Gabriel says, “No way is that just a cancelled sleepover.”

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again Gabe, fuck off.”

“Touchy,” Gabriel says, but he’s already closing himself off and retreating. He won’t dig any further. He’ll just let Dean wrap himself up in his man pain and his secrets, because that’s just the kind of guy that Gabriel is. Dean appreciates that big time.

“Oh, screw you,” Dean mutters, “Enjoy my lasagne.”

“Dean –“ Castiel says. Cas is resolutely not that kind of guy. Cas cares too much. Cas sees him, and that’s a huge great big problem. He’s also reaching out to touch his arm, probably to coax him into giving up something real.

“– I gotta dash, Cas,” Dean interrupts, shrugging off Cas’ touch and not meeting his eye because, yeah, Cas is such a terrible idea. Dean doesn’t get good things.

He can feel two pairs of eyes on his back as he throws his backpack over his shoulders and heads for the exits. It does not help with his inner panic.

*

He gets to Mrs Tran’s place in twenty minutes. She talks to Dean about how she doesn’t like the idea of their Dad working nights, and has a go at Dean for working late shifts too (the lie they told her to get Sam three nights’ accommodation a week), to which Dean fobs her off with the usual line that it’s a short term problem, and they’re moving him to early shifts really soon. He’s grateful she can put Sam up, a real weight off their minds, and he understands how much of a burden he’s placing on her.

Sam is quiet through the whole charade and doesn’t talk much till Dean’s driven them to a motel.

“You eaten?” Dean asks.

“Yeah,”

“Me too,” Dean lies, because he can’t pay for a room and food without crippling his budget. There’s a deal on which makes it almost the same price to book for two nights rather than one, though, so he does just that. He doesn’t really wanna deal with Balthazar or alcohol tomorrow night, and he’s pretty sure Sam hadn’t figured anything out for Friday night either. Weekend nights are easier, but it’ll do them both good to have a day when they don’t think about it.

"Out with it," Dean says, throwing his bag onto the bed, because Sam has that look on his face and it's going to happen eventually. Of course it is. He’d known they were going to have this argument the second Sam climbed into shotgun. “Go on, Sam, whatever it is – say it.”

"Who are you trying to protect, Dean?" Sam asks, voice skipping from calm to full argumentative mode instantaneously. "Dad? Because let's face it Dean, Dad's not here and he's not coming back."

"You think I don't know that Sam?" Dean demands, and he's surprised by how aggressive his own voice is. He'd meant to gloss over the augment with a bit of damage control but Dean's pissed, he's pissed off, he’s pissed off at the whole fucking world, and it's not Sam’s fault, but Sam’s the only one here to hear about it.

"You don't have any money, Dean, and you don't have any more money than you did when we got evicted. That was four months ago."

"They're gonna give me some more shifts,"

"You turn up hungover and exhausted every week and they don't have any more shifts. You know that. Don't lie to me about it."

"What do you want me to say, Sam?"

"The truth. I want you to say that Dad walked out on us, that we're homeless and we can't cope."

"We're coping fine."

"You sleep in the car," Sam says and now, fuck, his brother’s eyes are welling up. "You sleep in the car and you lie to me about it, Dean, and it's not getting any better and it's not going to get any better."

Sam isn’t supposed to know about that. It figures that his brother’s too smart to believe half the lies that Dean spews at him, even if he's grateful that Sam pretends to except for moments like this.

"God damnit Sam, what do you want me to do?"

"Tell someone."

"We make it a few more months, I'll be eighteen and they might let me look after you,"

"But you can't," Sam says, "you can't look after me because we don't have any money or an income or anywhere to live,"

"If you just let me drop out of high school -"

"No," Sam says, and he's actually full on crying now, "You're my brother. You can't do that for me. You're my brother."

"And I'm doing my fucking best," Dean practically yells, and he never used to yell at Sam. Not ever. Not even when he was making things difficult and being a little shit and causing needless arguments with their Dad. Never. He does it all the goddamn time now. “A few more months."

"Its winter before then," Sam says, "Dean, what are we going to do about Christmas?"

Christmas hadn't even crossed his mind yet. Fuck. Fucking dammnit.

He doesn't exactly mean to punch the wall, but it helps. The pain helps. It's a release, or at least something to focus on which isn't how mad he is at John fucking Winchester. God, he hates him some days. He never thought he’d think that, let alone dwell on it, stay awake in the back of his car thinking about it. He hates him. Hates him, hates him, hates him.

Sam is still crying and Dean doesn't have the ways or the means to make any of this better.

"This is destroying you," Sam says, voice breaking.

The back of Dean's knees hits the bed, he sits and holds his aching fist in his other hand. He's hungry. He hasn't eaten since lunch and now he's not going to until tomorrow lunchtime. Hunger isn't unfamiliar, but he's never quite got used to it.

"I'm fine, Sammy," Dean says.

"I don't live with you anyway." Sam says, and he's still crying and that makes it so much worse, "this is the first night we've spent under the same roof for weeks. Why is care so much worse, Dean?"

Dean isn't going to cry, because he can't. He hasn't shed a single fucking tear since he rang his Dad and found out the number had been cut off. Since he realised that John didn't intend to come back this time. He didn’t so much as blink when the emergency credit card stopped working. Not when they were evicted, not when he realised he didn't have a hope in hell of getting them an apartment.

"I'm going for a walk," Dean says, eventually. Sam just shakes his head at him, one of his textbooks now open on his knees. Dean’s not sure how much time elapsed between Sam’s last words and his own. That happens, sometimes, when he’s hungry and exhausted and lost in his own thoughts.

Sam has been struggling with school, too, but at least his friends are the kind of nerds that study when they hang out. And Sam gets three square meals a day and a bed every night, no question, so he doesn't have the hunger and the exhaustion to contend with.

"I'll be back before you clock off," Dean says, pulling on his leather jacket. It's a relic of his Dad's. He'd burn the fucking thing if he had anything else to wear.

He finds a bench and sits till he's numb with cold, and the only thing he can feel is his churning stomach. Yesterday, he'd been so fucking happy. Hell, a couple of hours ago he’d been damn near blissful. Now it’s all shot to hell. Figures he only gets to pretend everything's a-okay for so much of the day.

Both Cas and Gabe have sent him texts. Gabriel’s says he hopes Dean's managed to dismount his high horse and a, fuck you too, by the way. There's a ps that the lasagne was incredible. Cas just asks if he's okay, then reminds him that Dean can talk to him about anything. That's a downright lie, so Dean deletes all three texts and heads back to the motel.

At least he gets his own bed for the next two nights. There is, on this occasion, a silver lining. Except, to be accurate, it's probably more the same murky grey colour as the motel sheets.

Chapter Text

It's typical that the first night Dean has an actual bed to sleep in all week, he can't sleep for shit. He spends the whole night tossing and turning, red hot rage coursing through his veins, rehearsing all the stuff he's gonna scream at John Winchester if he ever shows up again. Then it shifts over to resignation, because he wouldn't say a single word of it. He'd fall back into line with a yes sir, because that's always been who Dean is. Then Sam would get pissed at him, rightfully so, and Dean would try to sweep it all under the carpet just so they could all try get along.

Plus, he’s hungry. He’s really frigging hungry. If he'd known he wasn't gonna get dinner, he'd have eaten more at lunch.

He reckons he gets to sleep a couple of hours before Sam's alarm goes off, and he listens to Sam get up and shower with his face half buried in the motel pillow. The pillow isn’t exactly a great source of comfort, but his brain is objecting to consciousness, big time, and he is definitely not ready to deal with today. Castiel and Gabriel are going to have questions.

Sam throws his pillow at him to get him up twenty minutes later. He's already dressed and packing stuff into his backpack, and Dean feels kinda bad for not mentioning the extra night yesterday. Sam was waiting in the car. A seventeen year old kid booking a room gets much less attention than a thirteen year old. Dean can pass off as almost an adult, but Sam is a hundred per cent a minor.

"No need, Sam," Dean says, pulling himself up. "Checkouts' 11 am on Saturday morning. Think I'm gonna play hooky and catch up on some zs."

"School is important."

"So's sleep," Dean says, "I'll go in at lunch, okay? Just, could use completing some REM cycles.”

"I can walk to school from here,"

"Nah, I'll drop you off," Dean says, grabbing a pair of jeans to swap into.

"There's some cereal bars in the front of my backpack. You want anything else we can stop on the way."

Sam doesn't answer, but he pauses at Dean's bag to pull them out. He chucks one in Dean's direction as well as unwrapping one himself. He can't exactly claim he's not hungry, and a cereal bar aint gonna make much difference to how utterly fucked they are, so he might as well eat it.

It's gone in two bites, and he's hungrier for it.

"So," Sam says as they're headed to the car, "Tell me more about Cas."

That's a peace offering of sorts, and Dean's gonna roll with it even if he's not feeling all that great about the Cas situation this side of the morning. Honestly, he feels like the worst kind of asshole for getting involved when he can’t, really. He can’t be honest with Cas, and that's supposed to be important and shit. Still, Sam is making an effort and Dean isn’t about to kick a gift horse in the mouth.

"Total nerd," Dean says, "Barely met another teenage before he crash landed here. Could be an alien for all he knows about pop culture."

"Huh,"

"What?"

"Just, not as unexpected as it should be."

"Drives a shitty car. Big on cheeseburgers. Doesn't know who James Dean is."

"Wow,"

"With the Miltons cause his Mom's ten feet under and his Dad did a bunk. Totally out of character, according to Cas, but then he found out he did the same to his secret other family up near Chicago like two decades back." Sam doesn’t say anything whatsoever to that. Doesn’t even breathe loudly, and Dean’s sure as hell not looking away from the road to gauge his reaction. “He’s good people.”

“He sounds great,” Sam says, but then Sam had never contested the fact that Cas was a good person, only that Dean is the type of teenager who can be interested in people right now. “You will go into school at lunch, Dean, won’t you?”

“Scouts honour,” Dean says, and that’s the truth, too, because at least at school he gets some goddamn food. “Have a good day, Sammy.”

“Yeah,” Sam says, frowning as he readjusts his backpack on his back. “Right.”

He calls the school receptionist to tell her he’s sick, but that he’s going to try and make it into school later, from the parking lot. Mostly, his plan is to miss gym class. The last time he attended when he hadn’t eaten since the previous lunch, he’d nearly passed out, which was both fucking embarrassing and not exactly flying under the radar.

Sleep is a little easier when he gets back to the motel.

*

Lunch is awkward. Neither Gabriel nor Cas bring up his abrupt exit the night before, and mostly the conversation is just Charlie gushing about her planned sleepover with Dorothy. Ash keeps chipping in with wholly inappropriate remarks, Charlie chews him out about it, then Gabriel makes some wisecrack that usually at least one person finds funny. Cas is, of course, watching him like a hawk. Dean’s just quiet, mostly because he’s frigging starving and concentrating on pacing his lunch consumption.

“What did you do to your hand?” Cas asks him, reaching forward and brushing a thumb over his knuckles. Frankly, Dean hadn’t even realised the skin was tender and inflamed until Cas specifically drew his attention there, and now he can’t believe he hadn’t registered the dull ache in his right hand. Probably, he was too hungry and distracted to notice it.

“I, uh, punched a wall,” Dean says, gaze dropping to his hand. His knuckles are slightly purple, but Dean’s mostly transfixed because of the frigging fondness in Cas’ hand-touch. Which is still lingering, by the way.

“Why?” Gabriel asks, honing in on their conversation immediately.

“Was pretending it was your face, Gabe.” Dean throws back, stretching out his hand.

"Wow, dick," Gabe says, turning back to his chicken sandwich with a raise of an eyebrow.

"You bunk off human biology Winchester?" Ash asks, because of course he's in his own world enough to only just have noticed Dean's appearance, even though they're fifteen minutes into Dean’s awkward, silent lunch eating routine.

"Yeah," Dean says, "Just came in."

"That would explain why we couldn't find your car this morning," Cas says, sending Gabriel a look. Gabe deflates slightly. Figures they went to look for him and thought he was being an asshole and avoiding them both, when all he was avoiding was frigging gym class.

"Dude, what gives?" Charlie asks.

Dean's not sure why he was cursed with friends who actually give a crap, but they tend to make it worse than better. He gets a bucket load of pertinent questions like 'what gives?' or "the hell?" and a side order of guilt for lying about all of it. It’s not like he has a choice.

"My Dad's being a total fucking bastard," Dean says, and those words feel amazing. John Winchester, wherever he is, is being a total fucking bastard. Admitting that out loud is goddamn amazing. It's not even a lie.

"Woah there, Nelly," Gabriel says, narrowing his eyes at him, "Dean Winchester, saying something derogative about his father? Call the fucking presses."

"Eat shit, Gabe."

"What did he do?"

"Doesn't even matter," Dean says, curling his hands into a fist and then stretching his fingers back out again. "Had an argument with Sam about him and, uh, then I punched the wall."

“Not that I’m not interested in you talking about your Dad issues,” Charlie says, “But I was meaning that.” Charlie continues, nodding towards where Cas’ thumb is still just not quite touching Dean’s knuckle anymore, but is far across over the table to count as… coupleish. Definitely something.

He can feel a flush creeping up his neck. Dean retracts his hands from the table; he kinda feels like a shithead for it, but today is not a good day. He resolutely does not look at Cas.

“Awkward,” Charlie comments, “So, uh, back to your Dad.”

“There’s nothing to say about my Dad,” Dean snaps, “I’m gonna go get the work I missed.”

“Dean,” Cas calls after him when he’s stood up and thrown his backpack over his shoulder and, well, that’s just fucking great. “I’ll come with you,”

“Awesome,” Dean says, shoving his hands in his pockets. He doesn’t think he comes across as particularly convincing, but his dick moves apparently aren’t putting Castiel off. The worst bit is how pleased he is about it. If he were smart, he’d fob Cas off with an asshole line and stop this tight rope walk routine already - this is dangerous territory, and he’s not gonna be able to keep his balance for long.

Because Dean is a total fucking asshat, he kicks off their one to one conversation with “Sorry.” He’s sure as hell fed up of hearing himself apologise for fucking up, so God only knows how Cas feels about it.

“I don’t think that punching a wall is any less worrying than getting punched, and I imagine a wall is a lot more damaging than one of Gordon Walker’s fists,”

“Yeah,” Dean agrees, “But, at least I lost my shit away from nosy teachers. And not in my second week of school.”

“So location is an important factor?”

"Look, Cas," Dean says, pausing in the corridor to look at him. "My life's kinda in the crapper right now."

"That doesn't entail you shutting out your friends and not allowing yourself to have things you want."

"Hate to screw up this fairy-tale you're living in, but sometimes it does."

"Your grades have improved," Cas says. Dean just looks at him, because as statements go it's a pretty confusing one. First, he didn't think they had. Now he's forcing himself to think back over the last papers he turned in... and, yeah, they were a little better - Cs instead of Ds, and the only thing he's near to failing failing is World History. The second thing to get stuck on is how. He hasn't exactly had a stellar few weeks on the eating or sleeping front, which he gets is largely the problem. Of course he's math ability dips if he's too hungry to think and too exhausted to function. Especially when he has nowhere to study, anyway. Obviously, Cas is a good tutor, but Dean figured his help was just keeping him from getting further behind, rather than an actual improvement. Huh. But, anyway, what difference do his grades make? They're like the tip of the iceberg of the Arctic wasteland that is his life. They only matter to keep Sam happy and principle Singer for looking at him too closely.

"Think about it," Cas says, then he makes like he's gonna head back to the cafeteria, and Dean doesn't want him too. Not even just because Gabriel will give him hell for it, but partially just cause he wants Cas to say.

"Cas, wait." He can't say anything that'll make it better though, so he just takes hold of Cas' wrist, steps forward and kisses him. Everyone's at lunch or in class, so they don't have any witnesses to gossip about crap. Anyway, Dean's not entirely sure he'd care when he gets Cas grabbing a handful of Dean's t-shirt to manoeuvre him against the lockers behind them. Damn. It's probably sort of messed up that this is more heated than any time they've made out at the Miltons house, and then Dean's getting distinct vibes that Cas is pretty irritated about the whole situation, even if he hasn't said anything about it explicitly.

"Winchester," a voice calls and, fucking busted. At least this time Cas has the sense of mind to drop his hold on Dean's shirt and look sheepish. It's Henriksen, which isn't good news, exactly. "I take it you're feeling better,"

"Much better, thanks."

"That's the second human biology class you've missed this month," Henriksen says. "And if I catch you engaging in unnecessary displays of public affection again, you're both in detention."

"Yes, sir," Dean says, straightening his t-shirt as Henriksen carries on walking. Dean exhales and looks at Cas, who's watching him with the kind of blue gaze that Dean can't work out. Except, Cas said his grades had improved, and maybe Cas just meant that if one part of the shit storm of his life could get better, then maybe so could another.

"You, uh, wanna maybe study someplace else this weekend. You could meet me at the Diner where I work once my shift is over, or something."

Apparently Dean does have the ability to say something that makes things better, if Cas' smile is anything to go by.

"I would like that,"

"I'll, uh, text you the address."

"Would you like to come over later?"

"Gotta do some damage control with Sam," Dean says, even if it's pretty reluctant. He doesn't want to look too closely at his reluctance though, cause spending time with Sam is always and forever supposed to be his top priority. They have an actual space for the whole evening, so he should probably take the opportunity to hang out and try to rebuild some of their relationship. Things have been shitty lately.

"Tomorrow?"

"I think I can fit you in," Cas says, so Dean leads forwards to kiss him again, briefly this time, because their lunch period is nearly over and people will be spilling out into the corridors soon.

Still nice, though.

*

Honestly, Dean would have thought that a good few months of effectively being homeless and a life on the road before would have cured Sam of his tendency to spread. Given that Dean's currently stood in the doorway, hollering at Sam to fucking pack, already, that's apparently not the case.

"Two nights, Sam. Two."

"I'm coming."

"I'm gonna be late for work."

"I'm done," Sam says, throwing his backpack over his shoulder and bitch facing at him.

"Go wait in the car," Dean says, scanning the room one final time.

"You're just acting like a jerk because you're nervous about your date."

"It’s not a date." Dean bites back through gritted teeth, because Sam doesn't know when to let things go either. Why is everyone such a frigging jerk, anyway?

"You like each other, and you're going someplace alone together; it's a date."

“The hell would you know about it, asshole?” Dean asks, “Come on, Sammy, car so I can check out before they charge us for another night.”

“What are you gonna wear?”

“Fuck you,” Dean says, stepping out into the corridor. Sam is actually smiling though. They ordered in the cheapest pizza on the menu and watched crappy TV, and it was almost like they were just regular teenagers last night. Plus, they gets his free pre-work breakfast, which is a huge help. Paying for food that fills an endless bucket like Sam, without a kitchen, has always been the crappiest part of the weekend. And he’s not hungover this Saturday, which means better tips. It’s a good start to the weekend.

“You’ve got a sleepover with Gadreel tonight, right?” Dean asks, when they’re sat down and eating breakfast. He is running late, so he needs to speed eat big time, but still. Sam nods and takes an extra piece of toast from their communal toast plate.

“Where are you staying?”

“Milton’s, maybe.”

“Guess it depends on how your date goes,” Sam says, smirking into his breakfast.

“That’s it,” Dean says, shovelling a last mouthful of bacon into his mouth, “We’re done here.”

He can hear Sam laughing at him all the way to the staff room, which would be more irritating if Dean wasn’t so frigging awed that his brother was actually laughing about something.

*

In the end, he does change out of his work clothes in the staff toilet. Cas has already seen him in his shitty uniform with his name tag given he arrived early (way early, then set himself up in a booth with a cup of coffee and watched Dean wait tables like an adorable creeper), but he can't get Sam's voice out of his head. It's not like Dean even owns nice clothes, but he looks slightly better when he's not dressed to wait tables. Even if now it looks like he made an effort, which is enough to nearly send him back into the toilet to change back. He doesn’t.

"Hey," Dean says, sitting down opposite him in the booth. He's not sure why being in a place that serves food and drink which isn't the school cafeteria seems to entail more pressure, but he's feeling the awkwardness big time.

"Hello Dean," Cas says, "That looked... busy."

"Saturdays for you," Dean says. He bought himself over a coffee, cause it feels weird to rely on the guys on a later shift to serve him stuff, and this way it’s the crappy stuff from the staff room and therefore free. "Not too bad today. Guess you never worked anywhere with living with your Dad.”

“It wouldn’t have classified as productive structured activity.”

“Productive structured activity,” Dean repeats, “What did classify?”

“Basic quantum mechanics,” Cas says, “Translating texts.”

“Wow,” Dean says.

“Apparently, my mother used to be a strong believer in intellectual stimulation for infants, and my father continued the tradition,”

“Think the closest thing we got to intellectual stimulation was those shitty cartoon magazines. Used to try read them to Sam in the back of the car when we were on the road, ‘cept most of the time I made up the jokes, cause Sam found my jokes funnier.”

“Is that what you meant when you said you bought your brother up in a lot of ways?”

“Kinda,” Dean says, “Used to cook for him too. Make sure he was up, washed and dressed for school and shit. Hell, still do sometimes.”

“You were very cynical about my father,”

“Yeah, well.”

“You were right,”

“Cas…”Dean says, “I didn’t want to be right. I’m just jaded and full of mangst, or whatever other shit Gabe chats. Look, maybe we should talk about something… lighter.”

“Gabriel has informed me I am unable to lighten up,”

“Gabe’s a dick. Sure, you’re kinda serious…”

“I could attempt to be more… light,”

“Cas, you’re good,” Dean says, smiling slightly. “Just, maybe we should talk like normal teenagers for five minutes.”

“How do you do that?”

“Uh, beats me,” Dean says, hand going up to the back of his neck, “Maybe… music.”

“Classical and orchestras and choral,”

“Dude, no,” Dean says, shaking his head. “Classic rock.”

“Books?”

“Wrong tree, man,” Dean says, “Haven’t read for fun since I was a kid.”

“That’s a shame,”

“Films?”

“My experience of films is very limited,” Cas says, “Although I have watched a number with Gabriel over the past few weeks. I think my favourite is Pitch Perfect.”

“Not touching that with a barge pole,” Dean says, “Can’t believe Gabriel showed you that crap. Just, please tell me your car choice was dictated to you?”

“What’s wrong with my car?”

“Okay, clearly, you need me,” Dean says, “Man, you’re lucky you got me around to give a proper education. You teach me math, I’ll teach you about freedom.”

Cas’ lips twist upwards and, huh, they’ve both gravitated so they’re leaning forward against the table edge and Dean hadn’t even noticed. He’s about to make some kind of comment about it, but he gets caught on the fact that Sam’s just entered the diner. Dean's phones still switched off in his jacket, so Sam could have been trying to touch base for hours, and Sam was supposed to be Gadreel’s right now.

"Sam," Dean says, halfway to standing before he’s registered Cas’ confusion.

"Hey, look, sorry for crashing, but I, uh, left the textbook I need for my study sleepover with Gadreel."

“Your textbook?” Dean asks, because that’s a bullshit excuse. He probably left something important like his clean clothes or his toothbrush, but at least Sam got the memo about lying in front of Cas.

“Castiel, I’m assuming?” Sam asks, offering Cas a smile. “I can just get it out the car.”

“I thought Gadreel’s Mom was giving you a lift from town?”

“She can’t anymore, so I was just gonna walk,”

“Sam,” Dean sighs.

“Hello, Sam,” Cas puts in, clearly only just managing to find a gap in the conversation.

“Nice to meet you,” Sam says, warm, then he’s back to bitchfacing at Dean, “Dean, it’s not that far. I can walk.”

“It’s getting cold, Sammy. You think maybe you should have just text me?”

“You’re busy,”

“Yeah well, when you get lost and frigging freeze to death, I’m sure as hell not going to be busy then.”

“Stop being such a drama queen,”

“Stop acting like such a kid teenager,” Dean says, and he can tell that Sam is trying to resist the urge to fold his arms over his chest in protest. “Look, I’m driving you over there. Either we go now, or you hang out here for a bit and I’ll drive you over later.”

“Sorry my brother’s such a jerk, Cas,” Sam says, throwing his jacket into the booth forcefully. “Can I at least get my book?”

“Knock yourself out,” Dean says, pulling out the keys and tossing them over to him.

Sam takes two steps before he turns and asks “Hey, Dean, how come you changed your shirt?” Dean resists the urge to throw a paper napkin at his head only because he knows the people who’ll have to pick it up.

“Sorry,” Dean says, a-fucking-gain, “He’s kinda my responsibility.”

“I would like to hang out with Sam,” Cas says, which might actually be one of the most extraordinary things anyone his age has ever said to him. Sure, they all kind of like Sam, but none of them are exactly tripping over themselves to include his four years younger kid brother.

“You don’t have to say that, Cas,”

“Sam is important to you,” Cas says, “Therefore I would like to meet him properly.”

Dean swallows than sort of nods, because he’s in way over his head here. There’s no way that this is ending pretty. Doesn’t mean he’s not partially psyched about hanging out with both Cas and Sam for a little while, though.

Chapter Text

Dean's pretty sure the moment of doom for this study session was when Cas came over to the bed where Dean was sitting to direct a pinched expression at Dean's calculations. He was apparently making a basic error that sounded like a total mind fuck the first time Castiel explained it, but made so much sense the second time. Then Cas plucked the books out of his hand and kissed him, and Dean knotted a hand in Cas' shirt and made him stay there. However long later, and Dean's not sure he's ever been so thoroughly kissed before in his life. He's definitely never made out with someone this much.

"May I?" Cas asks, hand pushing at the corner of Dean's plaid shirt. It's easy to let him push it off his shoulders like this is no biggie even if, maybe, he should be thinking pretty carefully about this sort of thing. They've been keeping it pretty PG-13, given Cas knows like four humans and Dean's still got a boy band full of skeletons in his closet, but after a few weeks it figures that Dean's finally managing to pull out Castiel's inner teenage boy. Specifically, the inner teenage boy that wants more skin available to him than Dean's attire currently allows. "Why do you wear so many layers?" Castiel asks, frowning at him.

"Trying to get me naked or something, Cas."

"I want more skin."

"Okay, okay," Dean grins, pulling his t-shirt and vest off so he's actually topless. Cas' scrutiny makes him feel more exposed than he actually is, especially when the guy decides to look with his hands. He does have nice hands though, so there are compensations.

"You're skinny," Castiel frowns, leaning forward to press a kiss against his collar bone.

"Didn't sign up for a formal assessment," Dean says, as Cas traces out his shoulders, arms, wrists then settles on squeezes his hands.

"I'm just surprised," Cas says, meeting his eyes for a solid few seconds before returning to his mission on acquainting himself with Dean's skin; back to his shoulders, palm down, before dipping down his ribs, abs, hips.

"Surprise," Dean repeats, "What every guy's aiming for."

"Why would they aim for surprise?"

"Sarcasm, dude," Dean says. He should feel uncomfortable under the scrutiny, but it's difficult when Cas has ink smudged on his cheek and looks so enthralled by Dean's body. Cas is also wholly right, though, because Dean is skinny and it’s a testament to irregular meals and stress and all the rest of it. He doesn’t particularly like it. He wasn’t necessarily a fan of his body before, not that he wasted too much thought on it, but… yeah, he misses the muscles he had from John Winchester’s marine exercise regime and the extra weight that came from eating whatever and whenever he wanted.

"Oh,"

"Pretty sure men's health is selling six packs and muscles, not skinny, Cas."

"Nevertheless, you look very attractive," Cas says, and it's so formal and matter of fact and weird that Dean just smiles at him.

"Wanna carry on making out?" Dean asks, because he's a smooth fucking criminal, and because if Cas remembers they're supposed to be doing maths he'll make Dean put on his shirt and relegate himself back to the desk. His grades have kinda plateaued out at the C/D mark, which is fine and fit for purpose, but he accidentally told Cas that he used to get solid Bs and now the guy is belligerent in trying to get Dean to focus. Frankly, Dean would rather shoot the shit, hangout and engage in some big time necking, but then again he did ask Cas to be his tutor. He bought this on himself.

"Yes," Cas says, leaning forward to catch his lip with his own again.

It’s a little more intense now Dean’s topless, but not enough that he feels the need to hit the brakes and have the talk about boundaries and lines, and not enough that Dean feels like he should be guilty for keeping Cas at arm’s length. Not that guilty anyway. He has good reasons, after all.

*

The knock on the door before it opens gives him enough time to get his hands off Cas' hips (they’ve slipped under his jeans, which is a little less innocent than he’d meant to, but otherwise everything it totally above board and acceptable), and stop actually kissing him, but that's about it. He's still topless, backed up against Cas' headboard with Cas' knee wedged between his thighs. Right now, he’s glad that Cas is usually the pushy one who moulds whether Dean ends up flat against his bed or being kissed against the headboard, because it means the majority of his bare skin is hidden by Cas (who’s still fully dressed if a little rumpled, because Dean really needs them to do this slow thing). It’s still probably more than Hester Milton needed to see of him, though.

It's also not exactly a position they can explain away easily.

Hester Milton panics and shuts the door again.

Dean swears. Quietly.

"Castiel," Hester says, voice strained, "downstairs, five minutes." Then he hears the footsteps on the stairs, and Dean's freaking out. Cas, apparently, isn't which makes no fucking sense as far as Dean is concerned because the handful of times John had ever walked in on him with another person – admittedly in marginally more compromising positions, and definitely with girls – he definitely didn’t feel calm about it. For a start, he was frigging mortified, and that’s without the guy factor thrown in there. Dean was never stupid enough to let any of that anywhere near his Dad, but…

"Awkward question," Dean says, because Cas still hasn't moved. He's just unnervingly still. "The Miltons know you go for dudes?"

"It hadn't come up in conversation."

That probably figures why they'd gotten away with it up until this point. Cas isn't exactly subtle. Gabriel had called it within last than five minutes and all of their friends know something’s going on, even if Charlie’s the only one who asked him about it since that awkward lunch.

"Congratulations on just coming out," Dean grimaces, pushing Cas away so he can get to his t-shirt. "They, uh, seemed pretty cool when Gabe's bought up my lack of preferences so... they'll probably be fine."

Dean pulls on his plaid shirt, standing up and heading for his jacket.

"You're leaving,"

"Yeah," Dean says, "Your aunt’s probably not my biggest fan right now."

"I don't understand."

"Cas, you touched down here like two months ago, man, fresh from your Dad walking out of you. You were home schooled, and now I'm taking advantage of their emotionally vulnerable nephew -"

"I'm not emotionally vulnerable."

"Not even going there," Dean says, pulling on his jacket. "They're parents, dude, Hester's gonna give you the sex talk and she's gonna wanna talk about your feelings which is hilarious, by the way, because it's not like we've done that. Just, I'm not welcome in this house right now. So, I'm gonna take off and I'll see you at school."

"Was your father cool with your... so called lack of preference?"

"He don't know a damn thing about it," Dean says, "And that's not changing this side of the apocalypse."

"Dean,"

"Think your five minutes is up, Cas." Dean says, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"I have a significant number of feelings for you."

Dean is definitely and a hundred per cent deer caught in the headlights. Cas is stood up, staring, looking vulnerable and earnest and totally wide open. He’s being honest and Dean can’t do that. Especially right this second.

“I’ll text you, okay,” Dean says, then he’s headed for the exits.

Gabriel is sprawled across the sofa watching TV when Dean gets to the bottom of the stairs. He lifts his head up to look at him in a way that’s pretty much a confirmation that Gabriel knows exactly what just happened.

“Busted,”

“Put in a good word for me, dude,”

“You made an honest man of him and made it official yet?” Gabe asks, lifting an eyebrow. Dean frowns at him because, frankly, he doesn’t really think he can do that. Not without Cas legitimately expecting a little more honesty than Dean has available. “Then you’re on your own.”

“That’s it?” Dean asks. It makes sense, because Gabriel’s probably equating this with the stuff that happened with Aaron and coming up with the conclusion that Dean’s an ass who can’t deal with his feelings. Or else, he just thinks he’s messing Cas around and messing around with Cas for the sake of it.

“Warned you, Deano,” Gabriel says, from the sofa.

“Fine,” Dean says.

“Night!” Gabriel calls.

Dean bites back the urge to swear at him, only because Gabe might still remind Hester why they like him, and because pissing off his friends isn’t exactly a stellar life decision right now. Not that that usually stops him from managing it.

It’s also not the pressing issue right now, which just happens to be the fact that the Miltons said he could crash on their couch before all of this went down, and now he’s up shit creek without a paddle. It’s pretty late to catch a sofa surfing wave, even if he had more options available to him.

He pulls his phone out the second he gets in the impala.

hey Charlie any chance I can come over tonight? Big argument with Dad

Gordon, wanna hang out tonight?

Charlie replies with a ‘ sorry, no can do Winchester! Request rejected by the matriarchal powers of the household on study grounds :( ’ which is at least better than the one word homophobic slur he gets from Gordon. He fucking knew he should have tried building bridges with the guy, because it’s not like he has a whole load of options. Balthazar is too related to the Miltons and would never let him crash unless there was a party. Ash disappears into his hacker’s paradise (which, to other people, is just his bedroom) the second he gets home and is impossible to contact. He doesn’t have any other friends.

He basically hates himself for it, but he pulls up Bela’s number anyway. God, but he hates her much more than he hates himself for sending the message. She replies with a solid No in less than a minute, but he and Sam spent another night in a motel last week so Dean’s basically skint, and he’s spent two nights this week in his car and it’s getting frigging cold. He’s not doing that right now, so fuck Bela’s no. Fuck it.

*

Bela half runs out to the drive when Dean pulls up towards her house, and she looks livid. He’s also never seen her move so ungracefully in the whole time he’s known her, which is one bonus of this whole shitty evening. It’s minimal, though. He’d be able to enjoy it a little more if he didn’t have to rely on her for crap every so often.

“What are you doing here?” Bela snaps.

“Cashing in my favour,”

“My parents are here,” Bela says, gesturing up to the house. “You need to leave.”

“Unfortunately for you, I’ve got nowhere else to go,” Dean says, putting the impala into park and making to take the keys out the ignition.

“You absolutely cannot leave your car in view of the window.”

“So I can stay? Perfect.”

Winchester .”

“I aint leaving, so either I march in there and tell your parents I’m your boyfriend here for a sleepover,” Bela makes a cat-like noise of disgust at the back of her throat. “Or you tell me where to park incognito.”

“I’ll direct you,” Bela says, climbing into the passenger seat of the Impala. If he wasn’t genuinely desperate, he’d refuse to start the car whilst she was sat in it…. But he is desperate, and Bela has enough spare bedrooms that he can disappear into the confines of her house. “Turn right,” Bela says.

“Surprised you’re not paying me off again, Talbot.” Dean says, conversationally, as he falls into following her instructions.

“It didn’t keep you away from me last time,” Bela hisses, “Round here,”

“You’re the one asking for favours,”

“Into the staff parking, here,”

“Staff parking,” Dean repeats and, God, he really dislikes everything about Bela Talbot and her awful family with their mansion and their fucking staff. She’s vile, but she’s rich and privileged and she owes him.

“Not that any of them would drive something like this.”

“You like my car,” Bela doesn’t respond to that at all. Probably because saying something nice about anyone would probably give her an aneurysm. “So, am I sufficiently hidden from your folks?”

“This is the last time you’re staying here, Winchester,” Bela says, “The deal was –”

“ – that I turn up at your house with my little brother cause I’ve been evicted, and you give me two hundred bucks not to bother you ever again and, oh yeah, you’re dumped by the way. Yeah, I remember,” Dean says, “And believe me, if I had another fucking choice I would not be sharing your oxygen. Luckily for me, some days you’re not as heartless as you make out.”

“Please,” Bela says, “I’d just rather the general public not find out my ex-boyfriend is homeless.”

“You keep telling yourself that, sweetheart,” Dean says, “I gotta put on some camouflage before I enter your abode or something?”

“Get your stuff,” Bela says, getting out of the car and slamming the car door a little too loudly. “And don’t talk.”

Bela sneaks him in via the back entrance, up the stairs that her parents don’t usually use and leads him to one of the smaller guest bedrooms. It’s still bigger than any room Dean’s ever had, but is significantly less nice than some of the rooms he’s been put up in previously.

“We’ve already eaten dinner,” Bela say, “So unless you’re going to collapse, you’ll have to deal.”

“Anyone ever told you you should go into hospitality?”

“There’s an en suite attached. If you leave this room I will report you to the police for vagrancy.”

“Peachy,”

“And we are beyond even.”

“Yeah, that’s fair,” Dean says, stepping into the bedroom. There’s no TV, which sucks and is unusuall for Bela’s digs, but he gets an actual bed so it’s not like he’s going to complain any. “Thanks.”

“I will come and get you after my parents have left for work tomorrow,” Bela says, then she shuts the door in his face and leaves him the hell alone. Good.

*

When he’s crawled into one of Bela’s guest beds, he thinks of Cas saying "I have a significant number of feelings for you" and wonders what the hell he said to the Miltons about any of it when they had their talk.

Cas hasn’t text him, but that’s not all that surprising given that Dean had said he’d text before his hasty exit. Cas is probably pissed off, which isn’t entirely surprising. He just hopes that he hasn’t relayed that anger to Gabriel, because he doesn’t need that.

He should have listened to Sammy. He’s just pissed off all of the Miltons and Milton-extensions, who happen to be the people that provide most of his accommodation and meals. Fuck.

He texts Cas me too then switches off his phone so he doesn’t have to deal with the reply.

Chapter Text

He wakes up hungry and disorientated. It takes him a few minutes of blinking at offensively white and soulless walls before he remembers that he’s at Bela’s, which isn’t exactly the best start to his morning. Gabriel basically hates him. Cas is probably confused and irritated after the stunt he pulled yesterday. He has to deal with Bela for at least a few minutes this morning, and she gets kinda vicious when her parent’s perception of her is threatened. Dean’s ninety per cent sure that’s to do with her inheritance, but either way it means he's almost certainly irritated her to dangerous levels.

The only reason he gets up and showers is because Bela’s bathroom facilities are usually better digs that most other places, and cause they’ll be fresh towels that he won’t have to shove in the back of the impala until he gets a chance to go to the laundrette this weekend.

Bela knocks on the door just after he’s pulled a fresh t-shirt over his head. She thrusts a cup of coffee at him the second he opens the door and steps into the room. He tries not to be too disappointed that he doesn't get breakfast thrown in with the deal, but then Bela' generosity and goodwill has already been stretched beyond thin. If he'd have been thinking a little straighter last night he'd have just parked up somewhere for the night and dealt, as he needs the last of Bela’s patience for emergencies. Like, if Mrs Tran said Sam couldn't say and Dean didn't have enough money for a motel kind of emergency.

"You remember my coffee order," Dean comments, throwing his backpack over his shoulder, "Didn't know you cared. Guess my times up."

"You're driving me to school," Bela says.

"Why the hell would I do that?"

"Because I pick pocketed your keys and because you're in no position to negotiate," Bela says, raising her left hand and spinning the keys around her fingers. She probably thought he’d have noticed before this point, given how generally anal he is when it comes to his car, but he’s been distracted. Still, the whole stunt is no doubt elaborate insurance that he didn’t just leave whenever the hell he woke up, whether or not her parents were there to see him. "Chop chop, Dean, we're going to be late."

Dean makes a swipe for his keys and Bela just folds her hands over them. It’s barely worth arguing with her.

"How could that possibly benefit you in any way?" Dean asks, stepping out the room and heading back down the corridor the way he came up. Bela's parents won't have stuck around till this point in the morning. They were probably both off sacrificing children to the God of money at the ass crack of dawn, or some other self-absorbed self-serving shit. He's not saying he would be quite as heartless as Bela if his parents loved everything about money more than him, but Bela isn't exactly a surprise when you meet her family.

"Payback," Bela says, leather satchel hanging off her shoulder.

"Is this about that Wednesday a few weeks back?" Dean asks as they reach the car. He's rather do just about anything than have to endure a whole car journey of Bela, but he's more concerned that he doesn't know her motives this time. Usually it's just money and her appearance to the outside world to consider, but this.... more difficult to trace.

"You embarrassed me," Bela says, cold as ever.

"Well, sorry about that," Dean says, popping open the trunk of the impala so he can change his stuff over. Bela doesn't even wrinkle her nose at the duffle bags of laundry, just keeps standing there. She's even beyond silently judging him now. She just knows too much to bother. "But, you know, not exactly my fault. You treat me like shit in front of my friends they're going to retaliate."

"Are they really your friends considering I know all about this and they don't?" Bela asks, gesturing towards the car.

"Low moment," Dean shrugs, "And you have a big house and your parents don't give a fuck about you either. Maybe I thought you could relate."

That's an inadvisable comment, especially when Bela's already fuming, but he really does hate her. Whatever.

Dean gets in the car after Bela’s opened it for him, and sits there and waits till she puts the keys in the goddamn ignition. She waits till they're on their road before she speak again.

"So, your new boy toy. Castiel."

It’s not great news that Bela knows about that, but it’s not exactly a surprise either. The lives of the average high school student aren’t particularly exciting, so gossip tends to spread pretty fast. Plus, Bela likes being in the know, particularly when it comes to people she has by the short and curlys, which happens to include Dean.

"What's Cas got to do with anything?"

"Given he's already not my biggest fan," Bela says, smiling, "I wonder how he's going to feel knowing you stayed at your ex-girlfriend's house last night."

That's when Dean swerves, swears and then hits the brake.

"Get out of my car,"

"No," Bela says, leaning back against her seat. "Really, I'm doing you a favour. How you expected to conduct a relationship when -"

“– I ain’t in a relationship and I sure as hell ain’t driving you to school."

"You're very upset about it considering it isn't a relationship."

Dean hasn't turned his phone on this morning, because he's too cowardly to know if and what Cas replied to his ill-advised confession text last night. Even if that means potentially ignoring Sam until he'd gotten things worked out, but... He doesn't have a clue where Cas' head's at right now, but he knows enough to guess he's going to be livid and upset. After what they both admitted to, he pretty much as a right to.

"How do you sleep at night?"

"On satin sheets," Bela says, "You don't have a choice, Dean. You made sure of that when you turned up at my house without my permission."

He gives himself a few moments before he grits his teeth and pulls back out into the road.

They're late enough already and, recently, Cas and Gabe have taken to waiting for him in the parking lot. There's no way this is staying under the radar. He can’t believe this shit didn’t occur to him until Bela explicitly pointed it out.

By the time they're at school, he feels like a worthless, washed up, shitty failure, and he's fucking terrified of facing Cas. He hasn't even done anything, but there's no way Cas is going to believe that, especially when it’s key to Bela’s agenda that he doesn’t. Gabriel is going to skin him alive. Hell, Dean might actually deserve it. Whatever. He’s basically doomed now anyway.

Bela makes a point to get out of the car after him for maximum fucking impact, then she pauses to actually frigging kiss him on the cheek. Dean doesn't even react, largely because hitting women is considered unacceptable in every state and because he doesn't trust himself to open his mouth without screaming at her. It’s easier to cross over into steely robotics mode and try not to think or feel too much. Definitely, it’s safer.

"Bye, Dean," Bela says, acidic voice coated in honey, eyes narrowed. Then, at least, she fucks off. Lesson learned. Don't stand up to Bela Talbot. Roll over and let her have whatever the hell she wants.

There are people staring. Bela-and-Dean had kind of been an it couple, and he's pretty sure a significant number of people got the memo that there was something going on between him and Cas. No wonder people are interested. Goddamnit.

Dean locks his car (at least he’s got his keys back, which might be the one good thing to say about the entirety of today) and walks straight to class. He's pretty sure his friends are wearing shocked angry looks in his peripheries, but he's too chicken to read a text message from Cas, let alone have a conversation with them about his complicated ties to Bela.

So he just walks straight past. Teeth gritted, head down, hands balled up into fists.

*

It’s probably detrimental to his cause to skip the one class he has with Gabriel, but he does it anyway. Gabriel might not punch him in the face, but that’s not entirely guaranteed, so it feels much safer to stay the hell away. It’s not like he has the capacity to concentrate on anything right now, anyway. Hopefully, Gabe will use the hour to calm down rather than to plan his social death by embarrassment.

He’s not exactly thrilled that his class skipping spot is already being occupied by Gordon Walker.

“Dean,” Gordon says by way of acknowledgement, “Guessing you got a better offer,”

“What?” Dean asks. It’s not the insult he was expecting, which means he might not necessarily need to leave and find somewhere else to whittle away the next hour.

“Last night,”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Walker.”

“Your phone not working or something?” Gordon asks.

“Worked enough to get your friendly message, asshole,”

“Yeah,” Gordon says, “Figured I’d let you stew for a while, after that stunt you pulled with Castiel, but I text you later. Said you could come over.”

“Fuck,” Dean says, “I turned off my cell.”

“Well, probably worked out better for you,” Gordon says, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and tilting them in his direction. Given that, apparently, if he’d waited Gordon out a little longer he might have been able to circumvent this whole disaster, he’s not going to turn down a fucking cigarette. Even if right now he wants to blame this whole mess on Gordon and the stick up his ass.

“Yeah,” Dean says, “How d’you figure that?”

“Talbot showing up in yesterday’s clothes,”

“Yesterday’s… fuck, that manipulative bitch . Goddamnit.” Dean mutters, furiously flicking his lighter. Obviously, Dean didn’t have a goddamn clue what Bela was wearing yesterday. Why would he? Why would anyone, more to the point. “How the hell do you even know that?”

“The grapevine, Dean,”

Fuck the grapevine. Fuck all of it.

“The grapevine is contrived bullshit.” Dean says, taking a drag of his cigarette. “You know what, I ain’t explaining myself to you.”

“Gotta say I’m relieved,” Gordon says, “Was beginning to think you weren’t the kind of guy I thought you were.” Dean doesn’t even respond to that. Just carries on smoking and staring out across the staff parking lot, which happens to be the view from this particular skiving hot-spot. Hidden in plain sight and all that shit. “When I heard you were mixed up with that Castiel –“

“– shut the fuck up Gordon,” Dean snaps, “And stay out of crap that’s got nothing to do with you.”

“I ain’t gonna move on and forget about it twice, Winchester.”

“Move on and forget about what?”

“Disrespecting me,”

“Well, I think we’ve got some differing views about what respect entails,” Dean says, dropping his half smoked cigarette and stamping it out with his food. “I’m out of here.”

Of course, the second he turns around to head back into the school building he walks straight into Gabriel. Dean’s not even surprised because following Dean around to eavesdrop on his conversations seems pretty par for course. That, or he was about to dump something unpleasant and possibly dangerous on him when he headed back through this door.

“Deano,” Gabriel says. His voice sounds relatively friendly, but that’s never meant much where Gabriel’s concerned. “Avoiding me?”

“Following me?” Dean asks back, pushing past him to get through the doorway.

“What’s the deal?” Gabriel asks, falling into step behind him, “And none of this tortured soul bullshit.”

“Cut the crap. Why don’t you just crucify me already?”

“Because you’re my best fucking friend, Dean,” Gabriel says, eyes narrowed, “And maybe I’m not jumping to make unfounded assumptions about your life choices.”

“That’s crap,” Dean says, “You’ve been waiting me to fuck this up since day one.”

“Slow down there, bucko, we don’t all have such manly strides,” Gabriel says, “And listen the fuck up. The only part of your behaviour that’s pissing people off is the pointless secrecy and the assumption that we’re all so willing to think you’re such a dick.”

“Really.” Dean deadpans, turning round near his locker to square up to him. “That’s all anyone is pissed about.”

“That and not answering your goddamn phone,” Gabriel says, “I mean, maybe Cassie’s a little prickly today -“

“ – whatever,” Dean says, falling back into walking again. Of course Cas is frigging pissed. Why the hell wouldn’t he be?

“Charlie already said you text her looking for somewhere to crash,” Gabriel calls after him, not bothering to try and follow him this time, “You told us weeks ago you weren’t sleeping with Talbot. Instead of avoiding everyone and acting as suspicious as fuck you could just explain .”

Dean elects for continuing to storm off down the corridor, because he’s an idiot and because today isn’t exactly going to plan.

*

Cas finds him at his locker right before lunch and ‘prickly’ is the world’s biggest understatement. Dean still hasn’t turned on his phone even though that means Sam could have been trying to contact him for a full twelve hours with no response, but actually went to his remaining lessons for the sake of having something to do that wasn’t overthink and stress.

He could fob Cas off with a shammed explanation. He could say that he had an argument with his Dad and couldn’t stand being at home, or he could say that his Dad chucked him out, and that Bela was his last option. He could easily say that she was trying antagonise him on purpose and Castiel would probably believe it because, for some unknown reason, Cas actually thinks that Dean is a decent person.

Or, he could do them both a favour, leave Cas to his assumptions and back out of this before he gets in any deep. Bela and Sam are right. He can’t get involved right now. He doesn’t have that luxury.

“Hey,” Dean says, because Castiel is just suddenly silently behind him. Dean doesn’t jump out of his fucking skin this time, at least.

“Gabriel said you refused to explain,” Cas says, voice full of barely controlled thunder, “Despite the fact that we are all aware you contacted both Charlie and Gordon to attempt to find somewhere to stay.”

“Yep,” Dean says, dumping another of his books in his locker before locking it.

“Why?”

“What do you want me to say?” Dean asks, chest tight. “Tell me what you want to hear, man, and I’ll say it.”

“That’s not how this works, Dean.”

“I tried to tell you,” Dean says, “My life’s in the crapper. Should’ve jumped off the bus then.”

“Are you insinuating the gossip mill is correct ,” Castiel says. He sounds even more on edge than he did a few minutes ago and, yeah, Dean doesn’t want him to believe that he’s capable of that kind of shit. More than that, though, he can’t afford to let Cas believe those things… he’s half dependent on the Milton’s hospitality, and that’s so royally screwed up.

“No,” Dean says, even though that’s wholly selfish of him. Castiel visibly relaxes slightly. “But you should know what kind of asshole I am before you get involved.”

“I am involved.”

“Well maybe you fucking shouldn’t be,” Dean says, and it comes out a lot more aggressive than he necessarily intends it to. “You don’t know a damn thing about me, Cas.”

“Then tell me,”

“No,” Dean says, then he’s turning away. He’s fully intending to make another quick exit, but Cas reaches out to pull his shoulder back towards him. Cas is all pent up aggression and frustration right now, but the movement shouldn’t be enough to make him stumble; it’s just, Dean hasn’t frigging eaten today, or anything more than a couple of snacks at the Milton’s night before, and he’s more or less still standing out of willpower alone. It is enough, though, and fuck but Dean feels weak and exhausted and goddamn furious about the whole world.

Dean steadies himself against the locker and his vision rights itself again just in time to see Cas’ eyes widen.

“Dean –”

“– just stay out of my business, Cas.” Dean snaps. It’s an inflammatory comment purely intended to distract Cas from the thing that just happened, but it does the trick. Cas’ concerned looked virtually evaporates. Actually, no, Cas is still concerned, it’s just he’s channelling it straight into aggression.

“You owe me an explanation for last night,” Cas says, voice rising exponentially.

“Yeah, and when did I start owing you anything?”

“When we became friends,” Cas half yells back.

Dean’s almost glad for the coughed interruption, because it at least it stops anything else he’ll regret falling out of his mouth. He’s less glad when he turns around from where he’s squared up to Cas, inches apart (and when did that happen?) when he realises the source of the cough is Mr Henriksen.

“Dean, Castiel, it’s been a while,” Henriksen says, lips twisting into something like a little smile. It’s bad news that Henriksen has taken the time to learn Cas’ name at some point between now and the last time he ran into them and told them off in this same corridor, and his expression smacks of them being seriously fucking busted. “We’ve got a problem,”

“Yeah?” Dean asks which, admittedly, is ill-advised.

“Other than the yelling in the corridors, Castiel here pushing you –”

“– he didn’t push me,” Dean interjects, “I tripped.”

“– we got the fact that Castiel is supposed to be in AP Physics right now, that you didn’t show up to human biology this morning, a freshman report about fisticuffs involving two mysterious guys that I’m beginning to think match your description and a pissed off librarian calling for blood who reckons a guy in a trench coat and a guy in a leather jacket threw fries all over the damn library then did a runner last month.”

Dean takes a side look at Cas, who’s blinking owlishly in Henriksen’s direction.

“Word is, you’re a bad influence on each other,” Henriksen says, “You got an ass tonne of detentions ahead of you, boys, and we’re calling your guardians.”

It's possible that his 'flying under the radar' plan has totally fucking tanked.

Chapter Text

The classroom Henriksen leads them to is one set up for small classes and individual tutoring, and it isn't nearly big enough for him not to have to sit awkwardly close to Castiel, but that's probably not the problem he should be focusing on. There’s been sense of dread unfurling in his gut the second Henriksen said he was going to call both of their guardians, but it hasn’t quite hit him in full force yet. His head’s still swimming from the not-push from before. He’s hungry. His mindset was already pretty messed up before Henriksen waltzed in to screw it up a little more.

"Dean's father is unaware of his sexual preferences," Cas says, the second they’re in the room and it looks like Henriksen's going to leave to make the phonecalls. "And would probably prefer it if you didn't disclose that information."

Dean can't look at him, because of course Castiel internalised a throwaway comment he made yesterday enough to come to his defence at a moment’s notice. Of course he frigging did, because it’s Cas. Of course he can’t be mad enough at Dean not to be thinking about his best fucking interests.

"And you?"

"I came out to my aunt and uncle yesterday," Cas says.

"Well, that ain't my business to talk about," Henriksen says. "So quit looking so damn panicked, Dean. You two gonna refrain from yelling if I leave you here alone whilst I talk to the secretary?"

Neither of them answer, but Henriksen must take that as a yes because then he’s headed back out the exit. Then they’re alone again, only it’s sixteen times more awkward that it was a few minutes ago, because Dean’s on the cusp of full-fledged panic.

Dean gets out his phone and finally turns it on, mostly because he's vaguely aware he should say something about what’s going to Sam, but his brain's going deliciously and completely blank. His throat feels exceptionally dry. Cas' gaze has never felt so heavy on the side of his cheek.

At least his phone is somewhere he can direct his gaze that isn’t Cas.

"Apparently we are not as generic as you thought," Cas says. He doesn't sound as mad right now, but that's probably only because even Cas knows starting another shouting match is only going to make things worse. "This seems like a lot of fuss over several fries and a fight I didn't even get to participate in."

Dean's phone bleeps several times in quick succession, having finally loaded and caught up with the last fifteen or so hours.

"You didn't read my texts," Cas says, both of them watching his phone. It tells him he's got eleven new messages, but a quick scroll through his inbox tells him none of them are from Sam. Four from Cas, one from Gordon, three from Gabriel, two from Charlie and one from the Queen Bitch herself. Dean locks his phone again without reading any of them. "If you are going to ignore me -"

“- sorry, not ignoring you," Dean says, only his voice comes out mangled. "Just, I don't wanna talk right now."

"Will you talk to me?"

"Yeah," Dean says, shutting his eyes for a long moment. "Yeah I will. Don’t know that I have a lot of choice,”

“What –?”

“– Winchester, the number we have for your father’s out of service,” Henriksen says, re-entering the room with a frown. Dean’s stomach clenches, but he does his best to seem vaguely surprised. He knows full fucking well that his father’s number is out of service. He knows that because he’s left him countless voicemails, all of them an embarrassing cocktail of begging, fury and bitter resignation. Dean’s often wondered whether John Winchester listened to any of them, or just deleted them straight off. Sometimes he wonders whether John meant to leave for good, or if one of those voicemails was the tipping point – if Dean’s the reason that he didn’t’ come back.

“Well, he got a new number phone a couple of months back… guess he forgot to update the school,” Dean says, but his voice is beginning to sound hollow.

“You got this new number on you?”

Dean shakes his head. Henriksen huffs out the room, door slamming shut behind him.

“Are you… okay?” Castiel asks. Dean would have thought he’d be slightly more bothered about the prospect of Hester Milton getting a phone call about bad behaviour, but then again Cas has the emotionally damaged trump card. He’ll just wind up having to talk about it in therapy. “Before, I thought…”

“Fine,” Dean interrupts, still not looking at him.

“Winchester, you want to explain why your Landlord’s just informed me you ain’t been living at your address for close to four months?” Henriksen demands, stepping back into the room, “Another form your Dad forgot to fill in?”

“Must be,” Dean says, staring at the floor.

“Well, you can fill them in now,” He says, handing him the updated contact information forms. He used to fill them in for Sam all the time when they were jumping motels but managing to stay at the same school, so the layout is roughly familiar. Doesn’t mean he has a damn clue what he’s supposed to write, though. “Castiel, your Aunt’s coming in after school to discuss your behaviour.”

“I thought she was working until six,” Cas says, somewhere beyond the roaring in Dean’s ears.

He can’t think. His hands shaking as he picks up the pen because, shit, what’s he supposed to write? He can’t concentrate hard enough to come up with some lie. He’s spent. Absolutely fucking done. Today has just been too hard and he doesn’t have anything left to give.

“That’s the consequence of screwing around,” Henriksen says, “People worry about you,”

Sometimes, when he’s this hungry, it’s difficult to focus on the words written on the page.

“Winchester,” Henriksen snaps, because Dean’s still staring down the updated contact information form, because he still can’t think of a damn thing to write and, anyway, he’s not entirely sure he could write it down. He’s shaking.

“I don’t…” Dean begins, “Sir, it’s complicated.”

“Complicated,” Henriksen repeats, “Let me lay make this simple, Winchester, where did you sleep last night?”

“My ex-girlfriends,” Dean says, mostly just to be obtuse which just happens to be his automatic reaction. Even if it doesn’t help with the Cas situation, but then again Cas knew that anyway. Thanks to Bela, everyone frigging knows that.

“The night before,” Henriksen says, with an eye roll.

“At mine,” Castiel says, looking up. There’s something a little like realisation in his voice, so Dean stays staring straight ahead. Cas remains looking at him, but then Cas looks at him a lot. It’s a wonder he didn’t see through him months ago.

Dean’s heart’s thudding, legs shaking, he can’t concentrate. There’s something he can say that will make all of this go away, but he can’t work it out. He can’t remember the lies. Henriksen hasn’t got there, yet. He’s just pissed off and waiting for Dean to speak.

“We’re living at a motel,” Dean says, because that’s believable. They stay there sometimes. They’ve written motel addresses down for schools before. It’s not like five star accommodation, but it’s passable. They’ve never had the CPS on their asses because of a motel before, even if it did raise a few eyebrows. His Dad always used to say it was just until they got somewhere more permanent, rest a hand on Dean’s shoulder and smile at the receptionist or the school principle. The second they were convinced they were a tight-knit, supportive little family unit who had been dealt a few crap hands, the hand on the shoulder would disappear. It used to piss him off how much he craved the touch. Dean hands are shaking. Fuck. He can probably remember the address of one of the motels, but at this point he’ll probably call up and check. He didn’t use his real name. He paid in cash. There’s no one there who could vouch for them being there at all, and definitely no one who can vouch for it being a permanent set up.

“We?”

“Me and my little brother,” Dean says, and then he realises and, oh god, he’s fucked up, he’s fucked it up and it’s all his fault but his hungry and his head’s spinning and Cas is right next to him and he’s fucked it all up. “And my Dad,” He adds, but it’s too late, it’s too late, because they’re both looking at him, and Dean is absolutely not going to cry. “He’s on a trip for work right now,” Dean says, and he needs to stop talking, because he’s just making it worse. He’s talking himself into a hole, and Castiel and Mr Henriksen are watching him, and he needs to stop talking. “He’s coming back. In a couple of days. He’s… he’s coming back.”

“Dean,”

“That’s why you can’t contact him,” Dean says, “Because he’s at work.”

“Your brother’s enrolled at the Middle School, I take it?” Henriksen asks, and his whole voice has changed, his anger’s gone, and Dean absolutely cannot deal with that, because that means he’s no longer irritated that Dean hasn’t kept the info kept on him up to date, but that he’s realised something is wrong. “Samuel Winchester?”

“Don’t,” Dean says, and he’s definitely shaking now, “We’re fine, we’re okay. The motel’s all right. Sammy’s okay you don’t… my Dad will come in and talk to you when he’s back. I know he shouldn’t have left us, but if the CPS get involved then…”

“Dean,” Henriksen says, “You realise I gotta flag this up,”

Why? ” Dean demands, “Because Cas didn’t know the rules about bringing food into the library and pissed some jerk off enough to get punched in the face? This is my life. What gives you the right?”

“Aint a right, Dean, it’s a responsibility,” Henriksen says, deliberately not raising his voice in a way that makes Dean want to start turning over tables and breaking shit. Months he’s been dealing and keeping out of the spotlight, and it turns out the thing that finally screws him over isn’t even within his control.

“Heard you were having trouble contacting Winchester’s old man,” Principle Singer says, pushing open the classroom door and taking in the scene. Dean’s angry and tense and nearly yelling. He’s screwed up the corner of the updated contact information form in his fist without realising. Principle Singer looks right at him and frowns, and Singer has always been too interested in Dean’s life. He didn’t buy his Dad’s happy-family routine. Took him into his office and said that he was doing really well and that he was proud of his progress when they’d stayed in town longer than he’d managed in the rest of the schools. Dean fucking knew that amount of attention spelt trouble. He knew it.

Henriksen pulls him over to have a quiet conversation in the corridor, as Cas’ gaze continues to burn steadily against his right hand cheek.

Principle Singer steps back into the room a few minutes later looking grim, which brings about another wave of realising how royally fucked he is, but he’s still calm. It’s too late now, to take any of it back. The cats out the bag. The levy’s broken. Everything else is just inevitable.

“They’re pulling that snot nosed brother of yours out of class and there’s someone headed over to talk to both of y’idjits,” Mr Singer says, and Dean nods because, fuck, that’s what he’d do if he was Bobby Singer.

The person sent to talk to him arrives a good half an hour later.

She’s a blonde, fierce looking woman and completely not what Dean was expecting.

"Dean," She says, pulling up a chair and sitting opposite him, leaving just enough space that Dean would bet his last twenty dollars that she was trained in it, "I'm Ellen Harvelle, youth services coordinator, which is a just a posh name for social worker." Dean's still looking at his hands. "Dean, let me tell you where we're at. We got a 17 year old and a 13 year old minor with no known address and no working contact details for their sole guardian. We've got your word that he's on a work trip and he'll be back in a couple of days. Now, if that's the case, we ain't necessarily got a problem. You're old enough to take care of your brother for a few days. You pass on your old man's new number and we can get this sorted real quick."

Dean doesn't speak. It’s silent. There’s too many pairs of eyes on him.

"We've missed our lunch period," Castiel says, which is bizarre enough to have Dean looking at him for the first time since they entered the room. The fact that he’s still here is strange, anyway, but it seems that the adults figured Dean would be more talkative with a friend on hand, despite the whole earlier argument. As far as Dean’s concerned, that’s dumb logic.

"You got somewhere else you need to be, boy?" Principle Singer asks.

"I am just concerned that... I'm not sure if Dean has eaten today."

Cas got the memo. Cas got the fucking memo all right.

Not only that, but he’s dropped Dean in it big time. Dean’s not even pissed off about it, because there’s no way it’s not coming out now… Cas is just helping it along.

"When's the last time you ate, Kid?" Ellen asks.

"Yesterday lunch," Dean says, which is more honest than he probably needed to be, but he’s too busy looking at Cas. He feels sort of winded. He hadn’t been sure how it would feel if people knew about all of this crap, but he thought they’d be more shame. Cas doesn’t sound like he’s judging though. There’s not even pity in his voice exactly. It’s just… it’s just that Cas is concerned that Dean hasn’t eaten today.

"I could go get..." Cas say, half rising out of his chair.

"Stay," Dean says, too quickly, then coughs. "I mean, if you want."

"Bobby Singer," Ellen snaps, turning towards their principle with a hand on her hip, "This some new damned fool policy where you starve your pupils?" It's definitely not Bobby’s fault that Henriksen kept them here throughout lunch, but he doesn't seem keen to argue the point. "Get him some damn lunch. And I'll take a coffee. Dean, you want any coffee? Your friend here?"

Dean's the kind of tired that coffee can't touch, but he nods anyway. He wishes he was feeling alive enough to appreciate Mr Singer getting his ass handed to him, but everyone in this room knows too much. It’ll be funny, one day.

"Dean," Ellen says, "When we've got someone whose sofa surfing and not getting fed, we got start asking some questions about how that happened. Where's your father?"

Dean doesn't answer.

"Your little brother, Sam," Ellen says, "Has he eaten today?"

"Breakfast and lunch," Dean says, almost too exhausted to be defensive about it. "He been pulled out of class and asked a bunch of bullshit questions too?"

"We've got someone escorting him over here so we can all talk," Ellen says, "You take care of your brother, Dean?"

"What kind of question is that?" Dean snaps, finally looking at her. She’s got too many hard edges to count as motherly, but if she wasn’t a social worker trying to dig into his life he’d been inclined to say that she probably cares.

"How about I do you a deal, Dean," Ellen says, "You're straight with me, give me all the information I need, and I'll do everything in my power to keep you and your brother together, whatever the situation."

"You can do that?" Dean asks, and he’s probably inadvertently said too much with those few words, but he feels like he's being winded and, holy shit, he's going to cry. Cas is here and a social worker is here and his damned principle is coming back any minute, and Dean is ninety per cent sure that he’s going to actually fucking cry.

"I can try my damnest."

And that's it, the wall’s fucking broken, and the tears are bubbling up for his gut. He's choking on them before he’s properly understood that they’re going to happen. He hasn't cried since his fucking father walked out without so much as a notice of resignation, and he's crying now. His worst nightmare since everything started to unravel was having Sam slip through his fingers… and he’s in the prologue of that nightmare now, except it might not happen. The rest of the world is burning around him, but he might get to keep Sam. He can deal with any of the rest of it if they’re not separated. He gets his little brother. He gets Sammy. And it’s too much, and he’s choking on his sobs, and it’d be fucking embarrassing if he had room left to care.

Mr Singer is back in with a burger on a cafeteria tray and three cups of coffee and now Dean gets more witnesses for his compete catatonic breakdown, but he gets to stay with Sam and the smell of burger and chips is turning his stomach over, because he’s so fucking hungry. Fuck.

“Dean, eat, take your time. I’ll be back in fifteen minutes and we’ll talk, okay?”

He doesn’t answer, but the tears are getting easier to hold back, and Ellen must get the message anyway, because next thing he knows it’s just his and Cas left in the room. Cas doesn’t say anything, which is relief, even if there’s just silence and his waning sobs. Dean’s not entirely sure how long it is before the scent of food is enough to cut off his tear supply, but it’s probably longer than he’d be willing to admit to anyone at any point.

He eats his burger in silence, wipes his face clean of tears, takes a couple of deep breaths. By the time he’s sipped his way through half his cup of coffee, he’s a little more in control.

Cas pulls a packet of potato chips from his bag.

“You moonlighting as a vending machine, or something,” Dean mutters, voice thick from all the embarrassing fucking crying, but takes them anyway. He still feels hungry. He won’t when his stomach’s caught up with him and then he’ll probably wind up feeling sick, but it’s a peace offering. It’s Cas actually responding to the shit storm that’s raging around them. “Thanks.”

“Dean,” Cas says, low and deep and far too fucking gentle.

“Good choice of chips,” Dean says, because he’s not talking about this. Not when he’s virtually agreed to talk to Ellen Harvelle about frigging everything already. He can’t go through it all twice, even if Cas has already guessed most of it. Hell, they practically share the same damn story. Cas just has the luxury of relatives and snooty tutors who noticed when their charges’ remaining parental figure did a bunk.

Cas, because he’s a socially awkward guy who’s just seen Dean sob his heart out, recedes back into himself a little and says. “I know you prefer Paprika,”

“Never said you were perfect,” Dean says, swallows. Takes another chip. “How quickly did they set you up with the Milton’s?”

“I was in Foster care for several nights,” Castiel says, deliberately neutral, “Hester flew out and stayed in a hotel whilst they arranged the paperwork.”

“Right,” Dean says, and takes another chip. He’s got a headache pushing in from all the tears, and he tries to chase it away with the rest of his coffee. He doesn’t know what the fuck he’s supposed to say to Cas, let alone to Ellen. Today is a bad fucking day, but he might get to stay with Sam. “Guessing some things are making a little more sense right about now.”

“Dean…” Cas begins, eyes wide and imploring, hand reaching out for Dean’s arm. Of course, that’s when Ellen and Bobby re-enter the room. Dean’s actually pretty relieved, because it’s one thing talking to someone who’s trained to listen to sob stories every day of the week, and it’s another thing entirely to talk to his… well, Cas.

“I take it we have a deal?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, wiping his hands on his jeans and then curling them into fists.

“You want any of these chumps out the room at any point, you just let me know, kid,” Ellen says.

“Uh, yeah,” Dean says, meeting her eyes, “Can we… Could do without the audience.” He mutters it because he’s a fucking coward and he doesn’t want to look in Cas’ direction, but… yeah, he can’t talk about this with Cas here.

“You heard him, Singer,” Ellen says, shooing him towards the exit. Bobby rolls his eyes and abides. Cas stands up too, slowly and deliberately, and Dean purposefully does not watch him leave. “Okay, Dean,” Ellen says, turning her fierce eyes on him, “Let’s get this show in the road.”

Chapter Text

The file comprised by Ellen Harvelle on Dean Winchester says that he’s been sofa surfing for three and a half months, that his sole guardian walked out just over four months ago and hasn’t been in contact since two weeks after that, that he has spent occasional nights sleeping in his car, is potentially slightly malnourished, has no living relatives that he’s aware of, has one mark on his criminal record for stealing peanut butter and should preferably be housed in the local area. It says that he’s a decent student who was initially slightly disruptive but settled in well, with flags raised about his behaviour more recently. He knows that because he wrangled a deal that he could read the damn thing in return for sending Sam a message that meant he’d actually talk to his social worker (“tell him not-funkytown… it’s uh, code”). It doesn’t sound that much better written down. In fact, it sounds pretty fucking shitty, but it only took two hours of painfully reciting the last few months in explicit detail and now it’s done. He’s got the whole shitty story out and now his accommodation and his next meal isn’t his responsibility anymore, and that’s… actually such a goddamn relief. He thought it would more feel like he’d completely given up, but there’s relief mixed in with the shame and the rawness too. He should be stressing about Sam, and if he’s okay, and if Ellen’s gonna make good on his promise, but he actually believes her. Unadvisable as that is.

Ellen comes back from talking to the other social worker, who’s apparently had an hour solid of Sam’s silent treatment. He feels stupidly affectionate towards the thought of his thirteen year old kid brother who wanted them to go to the authority’s months ago refusing to speak until he had Dean’s conformation that it was okay to talk.

“He talking now?” Ellen nods. “Told you,” Dean grins, before he remembers what’s happening again, and goes back to looking at the table. Ellen wrote down exactly what he said, and that helps. She wrote down that his father had never physically harmed either him or Sam, like he said, and she wrote down his ascertain that John Winchester never dealt with Mary’s death. He didn’t think she’d bother, but she did.

“He seems like a good kid, Dean.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, because Sam is the best, “Still got good grades and good friends after everything. Kid’s a frigging genius.”

“You’ve gone a good job, Dean, but it was never your job in the first place,” Ellen says. That’s an invitation for him to breakdown and cry again, which he’s not going to do. He got through the past couple of hours mostly by being as detached as possible. “We’re gonna put out an APB on your father, and think about filing a missing persons.”

He’d never really thought about John Winchester as missing so much as just gone. Ellen must take in his expression, because she sets her pen down and just looks at him for a moment before dropping that topic completely.

“But, my first priority is getting you somewhere safe to stay tonight. Chances are, we won’t be able to find someone who can accommodate you and your brother on short notice, but this is one night, okay? Now, you’ve both been sofa surfing, and I can do a couple of checks and a-okay for someone who knows about the situation to let you stay there again for one night. Give you both some continuity.”

“Sam stays most at the Trans,” Dean says, mouth slightly dry. Mrs Tran wouldn’t mind. She’d probably be relieved to know that the situation was gonna change, rather than continue on with Sam sleeping there several times a week, even if he doesn’t trust her not to have his ass for lying to her all these months.

“And you, Dean?”

“Uh, with the Miltons,” Dean says, “I’ve, uh, been staying there quite a lot. They don’t know about the situation, obviously. Neither does Mrs Tran, but…”

“I can ring them up, explain and do a couple of checks, Dean, or else I can start ringing some of our emergency night stop hosts. It’s up to you.”

“Cas was here for half it anyway,” Dean says, looking down, “I guess… they’re gonna find out anyway. I just, I didn’t mean to take advantage of their kindness. I don’t want them to think…”

“They don’t understand, I’ll set you up with a night stop host, okay?” Ellen says, “But that ain’t gonna happen.”

“I guess you have to tell them about the shop lifting thing.”

“In my book, we don’t punish people for being hungry,” Ellen says, “Can’t imagine most sane people seeing it any different.”

“I think Hester Milton’s already here,” Dean mutters, “Could, you, uh… let Castiel and Gabriel listen in or something. I don’t… I don’t really want to have to explain again. And they’ll have pretty much worked it out, anyway.”

“Okay,” Ellen says, “I’ll just get the numbers from Singer, get him in here, and then we’ll be done soon, Dean, I promise.” Dean nods slightly and continues looking down at the desk. “You’ve done good, kid.”

He doesn’t really believe that, but he’s not about to argue the point.

Principle Singer returns to the room a few minutes later.

“You landed with babysitting duty?” Dean asks, mostly just to fill up the silence.

“Hell, boy, my whole career is babysitting duty,” Singer says, leaning against one of the desks at the front of the room looking grumpy but slightly affectionate, if it were possible for someone as surly as Principle Singer to be affectionate. “Knew there was something up, Winchester.”

“Was trying to keep my grades up, keep your nose out,” Dean admits, because he gets the impression the Bobby Singer is going to go home and blame himself for not intervening sooner, when he gave more of a damn than any of the other principles he’s ran into.

“Well, you’re a damned fool,” Mr Singer returns, but he sounds caring enough about it that it doesn’t really feel like an insult. “You think you’ve been doing yourself any favours, hiding it?”

“Had to,”

“I know, boy,” Mr Singer sighs, leaning back against the desk. “Ain’t no shame in needing help.”

Dean spends the rest of the next twenty minutes staring out the window and try to blink away the real possibility that he might actually start crying again. He manages it, at least.

*

Schools finished by the time everything is sorted out, which at least means that he doesn’t get witnesses for being escorted through the corridors with the principle and a social worker. It also means the reception’s quiet. It’s pretty much empty but for Hester, Gabriel, Castiel and Kevin Tran.

Gabriel is completely still, which is completely fucking unnerving and totally uncharacteristic. Cas just looks pale and stiff. Hester is the only one who looks in control and stands up as she sees them approach.

He doesn’t know what to say to Hester Milton, who’s probably just realised the extent to which he’s been mooching off her and relying on her hospitality. She knows he’s homeless, near enough orphaned, broke and screwed up. It doesn’t help that he betrayed her by gratuitously making out with her nephew in her house and he does not deserve her to try to be understanding. Cas and Gabe are different. They know him. It's not their house he's been invading.

Hester steps forward and gives him a hug. Dean nearly breaks down again.

She steps back, hands steady on her arms, and smiles at him.

“Sorry,” Dean mutters, throat tight again. Hester just shakes her head and releases him.

He’s about to turn to face Gabe and Cas, but then he turns to see Sam emerging from Bobby Singer’s office, and then he has his kid brother launching himself at him. It’s easier to breathe when he has Sam clinging to him, because it’s proof that he’s actually there, and beyond tonight, they should be finally back together again. He actually trusts Ellen in that.

Dean returns the hug.

“Hey Sammy,” Dean says, balling his fists in the back of Sam’s shirt. Sam is skinny, actually, skinner than he’d like, even though Dean’s been breaking his back trying to make sure he gets fed. He’s known that Sam was right for a while; he can’t look after them both, he just can’t do it, it’s just not possible. It’s a great big black mark on his character, and apparently something John Winchester didn’t anticipate, because he’d never have left if he thought Sam would wind up in care… but, he’s not going down that rabbit hole. Not right now. Not today.

Just because everyone knows about this crap now, doesn’t mean he gets to indulge in thinking about how he feels about all of it. He’s allowed to be angry, but that’s the sum of it.

“Dean,” Sam says, and nothing else. He doesn’t let go of him for a long time, but eventually his brother steps back and looks up at him with those fucking puppy eyes, and Dean feels so hopelessly free and light. He’s still terrified , but… God, he’s free. They’re gonna be okay.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,”

“They explained they’re gonna try and keep us together?”

“Yes, Dean,” Sam says, rolling his eyes, and it’s such a normal expression that it might just have broken his heart.

“All right, smart ass,” Dean says.

“Hate to cut the reunion short,” Ellen says, “But, I understand Sam’s stuff is in your car,”

“Uh, yeah,” Dean says, then pauses, “Hey, Principle Singer, are me and Cas still in trouble?” Bobby Singer rolls his eyes so hard it looks almost painful, then stumps past the lot of them muttering about ‘idjits’ and losing the right over his own damn office. “See, nothing to worry about Cas,” Dean says, and offers him a wink.

Cas looks at him like he’s utterly bat-shit crazy, but that makes him feel a little better actually.

“Glad to know you’re feeling better, kid,” Ellen snorts, “Neither me or Hester like the thought of you driving after the day you’ve had, so you best get your stuff too.” Dean’s genuinely considering objecting, but Ellen catches his eye before he really has a chance to.

The whole parade of them following him to the car is uncomfortable, especially because it goes against his instincts to allow any of them to see all their worldly possessions shoved in the trunk. He gets a chance to attempt to apologies to Mrs Tran, at least, who cuts him off with a glare before he has a chance to get through it. He settles on ‘thank you’ instead, then shoves his hands in his pockets and doesn’t say much else. Ellen is exchanging small talk with Hester. The other social worker and all the minors are just quiet.

“Like what you’ve done with the place,” Gabe comments as Dean opens the trunk and pulls out the bag of Sam’s spare clothes.

“Yeah, fuck you, Gabe.”

“The Feng Shui vibes –”

“– shut up, Gabriel,” Castiel cuts across. He’s still pale, but he’s making an attempt to sound good natured about the bickering.

“Man, what happened to the validity of humour as a coping mechanism?” Gabriel asks.

“Dean, can you take it from here?” Ellen says, “I’ve gotta head back to the office and file this paperwork. We’ll meet tomorrow and talk about your options, you and your brother. And you’ve got my number,”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “Uh, thanks.”

“Dean,” Sam says, “We’ve got to head back, too. Kevin’s got this computing class –”

“ – you got everything? Toothbrush, clothes, text books.”

“Yes, Dean,” Sam says, rolling his eyes, then he hugs him so tightly that he knows the frustration is just a front. Sam is terrified. Dean swallows and watches him leave, and it feels all wrong.

Everything was a little more okay when Sam was there but… one night, maybe a couple. Ellen said she’d do her best. He doesn’t know why he believes her. Probably because it’s the only way he has to deal with this.

“Alright, bitch,” Dean says, trying for a smile, “I’ll call you later.”

“I’ll be fine,”

“And you’ll pick up the damn phone,”

“And I’ll pick up the phone,” Sam says, offers him his own valiant attempt at a smile, then he’s falling into step with Kevin. He doesn’t talk much to him, though.

“Shotgun,” Gabriel says.

“I was under the impression you had to be able to see the car,” Cas says, tilting his head at his cousin.

“I got that x-ray vision shit,”

“Language, Gabriel,” Hester says.

He hadn’t transferred his stuff over at Bela’s this morning (and, God, how the fuck was that this morning?), so his backpack still has yesterday’s clothes squashed under his textbooks. It takes a little while for him to find his clean crap, and he’s fumbling slightly with the frigging audience, but he gets there eventually.

“I’m good,” Dean says, throwing the duffle over his shoulder with his backpack. It’s more stuff than he usually carries round with him, but then he no longer has to keep up the pretence that he has a house to store all of his shit in.

“Okay,” Hester says, and then, “Castiel, I still want to know why I was initially called into school about your behaviour.”

“Busted,” Gabriel says, but it’s lacking the usual lustre. Dean’s eternally grateful that they’re all shamming that this is just a normal Thursday afternoon, or whatever, because without Gabe’s forced bad jokes, Cas’ deliberate attempts to humour him and Hester smoothly changing the subject, he’s not sure what the hell he’d do. At least, right now, he’s able to just listen to the easy back and forth and not talk.

“I wasn’t aware that you’re not supposed to bring food into the library or, indeed, take food out of the cafeteria,” Cas says, as they walk through the parking lot, following Hester’s lead. Gabriel buts in with an entirely fabricated story about Cas starting a food fight which none of them call him out on, because Gabriel is much better at acting that all of this is normal than Cas is.

Cas barely manages normal when things are normal.

Dean nudges him when the car comes into view.

“Now’s your moment, dude,” He says, as Cas turns to look at him. Dean’s glad he’s been avoiding meeting his eye, because they are perilously blue and serious. “You calling shotgun, or what?”

“Cheating and collaboration!” Gabriel exclaims, as Cas continues to look at him. “Scandalous. I’m telling my mom.”

“Gabriel, you’re not pubescent,” Hester says.

“They’re working together towards my undoing.”

“Gabe, neither of us even called it,” Dean says, pulling his gaze away. He’d like to wind up a little bit closer to Cas, so their arms brushed together or whatever. He thinks that might make him feel a little better. He keeps his distance anyway.

“Shotgun!”

“Huh, he beat us to it,” Dean says, as Hester shakes her head and pulls out her car keys. Dean hasn’t been in the back of a car with an actual adult for ages, and it feels weird. Foreign.

He rest his forehead against the window for the whole journey and doesn’t speak.

*

It’s dinner when it gets awkward.

He doesn’t know Inias Milton as well he knows Hester, although he’s always considered him to be genuinely a good guy, but he arrived just as Hester was serving up tacos and she had to pull him into his study to explain what the hell was going on so he didn’t have to put his foot in it by accident. It’s not like he’s in any way unwelcoming when he re-enters, it’s just the slight surprise that Dean can’t deal with. At least the others had time to process before they saw him.

They’re good tacos, but everything tasteless and making him feel vaguely sick. Ellen wasn’t exactly clear about what kind of set up they could expect, but she did indicate that there weren’t many places or people that took on two teenage boys. Dean said to prioritise staying together over staying local, even though it would really frigging suck to leave here when they’re both settled and have friends, or whatever, but it would still be better than being split up.

It’s even more difficult to find some place that doesn’t mind Dean hanging around when he turns eighteen, rather than giving him the boot. That would only give him a couple of months before he was fucked all over again.

“Any more, Dean?”

“No, thanks,” Dean says, because he just can’t face any more of it.

“Sure? There’s plenty,”

“They tell you I’m slightly malnourished, or something?” Dean asks, narrowing his eyes at his plate. He glances up when he feels several pairs of eyes on him. “Guess not.”

“I’ll have seconds,” Cas says, thank God for Castiel, and reaches for another taco. Inias Milton drags his eyes away from Dean and back to his wife, whilst Gabriel just eats wordlessly.

“Can I, uh, be excused?” Dean asks, looking up at Hester. “The foods good I just… I wanna call my brother.”

“Take my room, dude bro,” Gabriel says, through a mouthful of mangled beef, lettuce and taco. “Social Worker lady said you needed a room to yourself, and I’m the only one who’s Dad’s still hanging round, so I guess I get the sofa tonight. Always with the short straw.”

“You washed your sheets this side of summer?”

“Ooh, that’s some serious shade you’re throwing, Winchester,”

“What the hell shadeand how am I throwing it at you?”

“Don’t ask me,” Castiel says, “I’ve been reliably informed I’m socially challenged.”

“And I’m middle aged,” Hester says, “The sheets have been changed, Dean. There’s towels at the end of the bed. If you need anything else, just let us know.”

“Thanks,” Dean says, nodding at her, before he grabs both his bags and lugs them up the stairs. He feels bad for not sticking it out till the end, or offering to wash up or cook or something, but he doubts Hester would let him anyway.

*

He talks to Sam on the phone for an hour and a half, then stares at the ceiling of Gabriel’s bedroom for another hour. His gut hurts. His head hurts. He could sleep for a week if he had the time and, hey, come the Christmas holidays he actually might. Sam’s okay. He’s clearly been freaking out, but he’s got it under control. This is probably a good thing all things considered. It just doesn’t feel good right now.

Dean’s not even sure how long’s passed when there’s a knock on the door.

“May I come in?” Castiel asks and as much as he thought he just wanted to be alone, there’s this really good chance that that’s not the slightest bit true.

“Yeah,” Dean says, and leaves it at that. Cas steps into Gabriel’s room and lies next to him on the bed. The door’s been left open, slightly, and Dean wonders if that was part of the Hester-Inias-Castiel sex-talk. He never did find out how that went.

“Dean,” Cas says, in the way that pulls at his chest. “I didn’t know,”

“Was kind of the idea there, buddy,” Dean throws back, turning a little so he can look at Cas. He doesn’t look pale anymore. Just solid. “I’m a motherfucking magician,” Dean says, “Slight of hands and distraction tactics.”

“Dean,”

“I didn’t want you to, okay?”

“You could have told me,”

“Like hell I could, Cas,” Dean snaps, “What are you gonna do? Shrug your shoulders and say, man, sucks that you’re homeless. Nothing I can do. Hope you don’t freeze to death in your car tonight. You’d have had to tell someone, and I ain’t putting that kind of shit on you. That was my call.”

“Yes,” Cas says, “but I could have given you advice.”

Dean makes a noise of disagreement at back of this throat then returns to looking at the ceiling. Cas might have been better placed to advise him than anyone else in the damn school, but that’s not saying all that much.

“Earlier,” Dean says, after a long period of silence, throat tight, “I didn’t mean to throw it in your face that you don’t know about this stuff. It was never anything about you.”

“I know, Dean,”

“Room for a little one?” Gabriel asks, rapping on the open door with his knuckles.

“Only cause you’re short,”

“Not your best line,” Gabriel says, stepping into his bedroom and sitting, back against the headboard, on Dean’s other side. “But, whatever, I’m crashing this pity party.”

“Welcome,” Cas says, from his right. He’s settled much closer than Gabe has, which just about figures, but it’s kind of nice having both of them here. Even if he’s not used to Gabriel actually being quiet and still for once in his goddamn life.

It’s at least five minutes before any of them talk again, and Dean’s not expecting it to be him who breaks the silence.

“I didn’t think he was gonna do it,” Dean tells the ceiling. “I mean, he’s always been kind of an asshole, I guess. But, he used to say all this stuff about family. How it was the only thing we got. How important it was.” Neither Cas or Gabe move, or even so much as breathe loudly. “So, he left and I figured he’d be back in a couple of weeks like usual. And then he just… didn’t come back. Cut off his phone. Emptied his bank account. Cancelled the credit cards. Man, I just… I did not see this coming.”

There’s just one tear, this time, which is significantly better than the complete breakdown he had earlier. It still means he’s now cried about this bullshit twice, which is possibly more than John Winchester deserves.

“Sucks,” Dean finishes, closing his eyes for a minute. Gabe and Cas are still quiet, in a sort of comfortable, there’s nothing to be said way, and the company is good. Honestly, he’d rather be wherever the hell Sam is right now, but two of his best friends is an okay alternative.

After a while, he pulls out his phone – and he has a lot more goddamn messages than he had earlier – and finally reads the texts from Cas. Mostly, it’s just something to do with his hands.

20:38 Castiel

As predicted, neither Hester nor Inias have any problem with my interest in men. You were also correct about the sex talk

20:39 Castiel

Hester says that you are a ‘very nice boy’ and ‘very charming’, although she expresses that I should have told her and advises that we discuss our relationship. I told her we weren’t in one and she suggested that’s what we might want to discuss. I could be amenable to that.

9:35 Castiel

Dean, what’s going on?

11:28

Dean?

He can feel Cas watch him read them, because he’s somehow wound up even closer till their shoulders are pressed together. Gabe’s close, too, and not as sitting up as much as he was before. They might have moved whilst he was talking, but he didn’t notice at the time.

Dean swallows and reaches for Castiel’s hand, threading their fingers together. Cas squeezes back.

They must fall asleep at some point, because next thing he knows he’s half awake and half conscious of Hester waking both Cas and Gabe up next to him, hushed and motherly, and the whispered conversation about whether he’s doing okay. He keeps his eyes shut and listens to Gabriel telling his mother that he talked about it a little… and then someone’s pulling a blanket over him, and he’s still fully dressed on top of the covers, but he’s been exhausted for months, and he feels safe .

He dreams of Mary Winchester.

Chapter Text

The meeting with Ellen the following morning is comparatively short.

Hester waits outside even though she really doesn’t have to.

Apparently, he picked a bad day of the week to come out as homeless because – from what Ellen’s saying – most homelessness services stop taking calls at 4pm on Friday. It wasn’t so much a problem yesterday given they wound up just staying with friends, but now Ellen’s got until 4pm to find out where the fuck they’re supposed to sleep for the whole weekend.

She takes three phone calls whilst he’s there, all of them running over their details and all of them requiring that they call someone else and then get back to her, and he doesn't know how the hell she can stick this job.

“We’re trying to get you into night stop,” Ellen says, after another mystery person tells her they’ll check their database, make some calls, and get back to her. “Gets busy round the weekend this time of year."

“We’re gonna be staying together?”

“Don't think I can swing it at this point, kid. Usual night stop host only take sixteen to twenty-fives year olds." Ellen says, “I can get your brother into foster care over the weekend whilst I'm sorting out somewhere permanent but, short notice, this is easiest. You're considered low priority cause of your age, so Night Stop." He got a brief description of this night stop crap – staying in some strangers home, they’ll provide a meal, a bedroom and some breakfast – and it sounds kinda terrifying. He wants to ask whether he can’t just stay with the Milton’s another few nights, but Ellen must catch sight of his expression. “Sofa surfing can only be a temporary measure, Dean, and you’ve already been at it too long.”

The next phone call pans out better. She runs off all their details again (up to and included the stupid fucking criminal record thing with the shoplifting), but she seems pleased when she finally hangs up.

“Bullseye,” Ellen says “We got a couple about a fifty minute drive from your school and close to your brother's the foster care. Just gotta confirm. They’re good people. Couple of ground rules…”

Then he’s given a damn handbook to read and sign (the rules are pretty basic; no drinking, drugs, smoking outside or preferably not at all, no going our late at night, no friends over). He won’t be able to go there till about 7pm because the couple will both be at work till then and he'll have to be elsewhere during the day, but he's quite used to killing time in the day. It’ll be fine.

She explains everything to Hester, who’s not happy and would rather Dean stay with the Miltons, but agrees when Dean says it okay. He’s not exactly keen on the idea of spending a weekend with a couple of strangers, but he’d put up with a lot worse if he it means he was closer to Sam.

The whole thing takes a couple of hours and is absolutely and completely surreal.

*

He gets into school just before lunch but he doesn't really like facing anyone. Now that Cas, Gabe know and the authorities know, it seems kinda redundant to keep lying, but he doesn't much feel like talking about any of it. He doesn’t even want to think about. He wants to continue pretending that none of this shit is happening. Failing that, he’d rather just go find some corner of the school to sit and be quiet in and he’d probably get with it away, too (although, Principal Singer is unlikely to go that easy on him), but it’s not going to get any easier if he puts it off. He’s also not about to turn down a free lunch, either, just in case this night stop thing falls through. He’s out of the habit of trusting the next meal.

"What's up, dude bro?" Gabe asks, as he sits down heavily. "Saved you a doughnut."

"You hitting on me?" Dean asks, raising an eyebrow at his shithead of a best friend, who’d be more cemented in his good books if he continued bitching at him for being in a bad mood. He doesn’t need this special treatment.

"You aint my type, Deano.”

"Then quit being so nice," Dean says, but he takes the doughnut anyway, mostly because he’s a big doughnut fan. "It's creepy."

"You in human biology earlier?” Ash asks, cocking his head at him in deep thought. Always, with the questions. If he’d stuck with hanging out with Gordon and his crew no one would be asking him about when and why he wasn’t around.

"I had a thing," Dean says, skewering a fork full of spaghetti.

"Cool," Ash says, "Hope you enjoyed it."

"Thanks, Ash," Dean says, "I appreciate it.”

"You didn't answer my text, Dean," Charlie says, nudging him over the table.

"About?"

"Hanging out on Sunday evening."

"Yeah," Dean says, “Probably not gonna work out.”

“You got another thing?” Charlie asks, raising an eyebrow at him.

“That just about sums it up,” Dean says, not looking at her. “Things are kind of weird right now, sorry.”

“I’ll say,” Charlie says, “Dude, what happened yesterday?”

“Can I just eat?” Dean asks, even though he’s still not really feeling hungry. He feels sort of empty, but not particularly in a way that he could fill with food. “Got a few hours to kill after school, maybe.”

Charlie seems pacified by that and the conversation manages to continue without him for a few minutes. Cas is watching him, obviously, but that’s like a Cas staple. It’d be weirder if the guy looked away.

He’s swear he can feel the air temperature drop when Bela shows up, hovering behind Charlie and Gabe with a hand on her hip, and Dean absolutely does not want to deal with her today. Or ever, actually, which might be one of the few good things to come out of this whole disaster; she doesn’t own him anymore.

“Not in the mood for your bullshit, Bela,” Dean says, setting down his cutlery.

“Rough night?” She asks and, god damn her, she’s smiling at him. Plus, the whole Bela aspect of the whole situation hadn’t really come up on conversation with Gabe and Cas (not that he really had a great deal of the conversation with either of them as much as he let Ellen take care of it), and he can feel them both trying to piece the last few jigsaw pieces.

“Just, fuck off,” Dean says.

“I heard some interesting things on the grapevine this morning, Dean,”

“What is this goddamn grapevine and how do I kill it?”

“I’m very friendly with one of the receptionists,”

“Bela, leave me the hell alone,” Dean says, picking up his cutlery again, even though he’s not hungry. He’s always hungry. Even before he was legitimately and actually hungry, he’d never leave a meal unfinished. Now, though, he doesn’t know where this appetite is supposed to come from. “If you know half as much as you think you know, you know we’re done here.”

“Weren’t you done ages ago?” Ash asks, looking up at them in usual half-out-of-it Ash way.

“Different kind of done,”

“We get it, Talbot,” Gabe says, “You’re influential, you’re smart, you’re rocking a serious superiority complex. So why don’t you ride that power trip all the way to hell and leave us to eat in peace.”

“What he said,” Dean says, jerking a thumb towards Gabe.

“Does your boyfriend not have anything to say?”

“I’m not in the mood to engage in this shit,” Dean says, “Just leave, Bela.”

“Bad night’s sleep in the hostel?”

He nearly upturns his plate of crappy cafeteria spaghetti all over her self-satisfied expression, but he just about manages to resist. He does stand up on automatic though, itching to punch something (not Bela per say, but definitely something), and then he’s almost squaring up to her on the other side of the table.

“Touchy, Dean,” Bela smiles and that is fucking it and then he’s walking out of the cafeteria and storming down the school corridors in an attempt to lose himself, because now she’s pretty much confirmed that she has no qualms about spreading his crap everywhere. There’s probably already rumours.

It’s not like he cares what a bunch of strangers think about him, really, but there’s Ash and Charlie and Gordon and a bunch of people’s sofa’s he’s utilised but never got to explain to. He doesn’t need everyone in his business, either. He’s spent years perfecting the art of being the new kid, but being the homeless kid probably doesn’t have the same kind of benefits. That’s not exotic, exciting enigma so much as pretty fucking pathetic and kinda gross.

In the end, it’s Charlie who finds him. It’s probably just a matter of luck, because he doesn’t know how the hell she’d have known he decide to hide in the library, but she finds him anyway. And suddenly he just feels so frigging guilty about everything , because he’s lied to her for months and then just ran away from her.

“So,” Charlie says, sitting down opposite him at one of the desk. “You don’t have to talk. Totally get it if you don’t want to. Totally.”

“Charlie,”

“Hundred percent respecting your right to remain silent.”

“Charlie,”

“Completely –“

“– hit the mute button a sec, Bradbury,” Dean says, “Not giving me much choice but to remain silent.”

“Sorry,” Charlie says, “But just because Bela said something that doesn’t mean that you have to –”

“– she say anything else?”

“She may have mentioned, uh, the h word,” Charlie says, “But then Cas like, laser evil eyed at her, and Gabriel said some stuff. Well… said, yelled. Same difference. Nothing about you, I mean… nothing about that. If it helps, I think she’s in serious trouble.”

“And my knights in shining armour?”

“… In slightly less serious trouble?”

“Fucks sake,” Dean mutters, “What kind of geniuses thinks the right response to someone spouting your secret crap is to turn that little expose into a big scene and get more people to listen?”

“The kind of geniuses who love you very much?” Charlie suggests.

“I’m gonna kill ‘em,”

Is Cas your boyf?

“Seriously?” Dean asks, “That’s the question you’re asking me.”

“Well I figured maybe you didn’t wanna talk about the other stuff,”

“So we’re having a different kind of chick flick moment? Great,” Dean says. He’s also not a hundred percent of the answer, because technically Cas had that conversation with him via text and Dean just didn’t reply because his world imploded. “Man, I don’t even know. We’re something.”

“So… you like him?”

“Charlie,” Dean says, shaking his head at her.

“Sorry, sorry, no girl talk. Fine,” Charlie says, “But only if you promise me we can have a slumber party soon.”

“Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on with the whole accommodation thing.”

“Yeah?”

“All right, let’s talk this out,” Dean says, swallowing, “Not that you don’t have enough info to work it out but… Dad, uh, took off. A while back. Yesterday they tried to call him to tell him Cas bought fries to the library, or whatever, and, well, if it were that goddamn simple Sam would have tracked him down and murdered him by now. So, yeah, now we’re in the hands of the authorities.”

“I love you,” Charlie says.

“I know,” Dean says, then glances at his hands, “Sorry for abusing your sofa. I just… was hopping between you all. Lying.”

“Dude,” Charlie says, “Sorry your dad is such a douchenozzle.”

“You’re not mad,”

“Where would I get mad from?”

“Yeah sorry I just… this whole thing is messed up, Charlie. Sam’s just a kid.”

“You’re not exactly an adult either, Dean.”

“Beside the point,” Dean says, glancing towards the ceiling of the library. His head hurts. He doesn’t want to make this hour long drive to stay with the Fitzgerald’s (who, yeah, have triply confirmed and who’s address he now has). Not that it’s that long it’s just… this sucks. "I'm staying at some weird-ass couples house tonight and Sam's in foster care. At least until Monday.”

“How do you know they’re weird-ass?”

“Dude, they’re letting a strange homeless teenager stay in their house. That ain’t normal.”

“Or they’re just nice,”

“Nice,” Dean repeats.

“Some people just… know that bad things happen to good people,” Charlie says, “And then they, you know, think about what Hermione would do, and kick some ass.” Dean just blinks at her. “And it’s not like you’re not among good company. We know how it goes.”

“Yeah, but Cas still has all these people,”

“I wasn’t talking about Cas,” Charlie says, then looks down at her nails. “I spent a couple of weeks in care after the crash, before my grandma stepped up. It basically sucked.”

“Your grandma?” Dean swallows, because… well, he entered the scene a couple of years after the car crash, but he has no knowledge about Charlie’s grandma. He just assumed her Aunt started looking after her straight afterward.

“Well, she took loosing her daughter pretty hard,” Charlie says, “And at first looking after me helped, but then it didn’t so much. So I picked up some of the slack…” Charlie says, “Then I was kinda looking after her instead, till it blew up. Big mess. I, uh, was pretty angry preteen for a while, but, yeah. We got a new set up worked out.”

“I… didn’t know that,”

“Yeah, well, I don’t talk about it much. She’s in a care home these days. I do the rounds. Mom in the coma unit, Dad in the graveyard, grandma in the care home. It’s… yeah, it sucks.”

“Yeah,” Dean agrees, glancing down, “Man I’m sorry, Charlie.”

“This is a total buzz kill,” Charlie says, blinking herself back into a smile, “You sure you won’t girl talk with me?”

“Hundred percent.”

“I have questions!”

“Yeah, well, life sucks,”

“But,” Charlie says, “how did Bela get all this info anyway?”

“She raises a good point,” Gabriel says, suddenly appearing out of nowhere, and pulling a seat up next to him. “I second the question.”

“Hello, Dean,”

“Someone install a tracking device on me or something?”

“Charlie text your location,” Castiel says hovering a little too long before taking a seat on his other side.

“When?” Dean asks, and shakes his head.

“I have my ways,” Charlie says, “Dude, Bela.”

“You gonna kill her if I tell you?”

“Am I gonna want to?”

“All right, Gabe, weapons away. I’m already pissed you’re turning my life into a damn soap opera. I… asked her for help.”

“Ew, why?”

“Because I was desperate?” Dean suggests, “Anyway, whatever… we, uh, got evicted. I mean, obviously,” The words taste wrong on his lips, and he’d rather just stop talking and be left the hell along again, but he probably owes them this. “So I showed up at Bela’s thinking she could put us up for the night but she, well… she dumped my ass then gave me some money to piss off.”

“Cassie, you should have thrown the spaghetti at her after all.”

“So, yesterday?”

“Right,” Dean says, throat tight, “I thought I could, well, that I was gonna sleep on your sofa,” Dean says, levelling his gaze with Cas and then Gabe in turn.

“And then you got busted by my folks?”

“Right,” Dean says, “Gordon was still pissed about that fight, thing. You said your aunt ruled no on the slumber party, thing. Ash won’t answer his phone after he’s entered his man cave. I, well, slept in my car couple of nights that week and its getting cold, man, so I just showed up at Bela’s. She was pissed cause her rents were in, so she got her own back with that routine yesterday. I guess now I’m free from her talons.”

“Goddamn,” Gabe says, “Talk about filling the psycho bitch trope.”

“She saved my ass a bunch of times too,” Dean says, even though he has no idea why he’s sticking up for her. “Whatever. Can we quit talking about Bela? It makes me want to punch something.”

“Actually, class started several minutes ago,” Castiel say.

“You in trouble again, dude?”

“We should go,” Cas says. Dean decides the whole question-dodging thing probably means that he definitely is, but figures that Hester will probably let him off. Anyway, Dean can probably rock the wilful ignorance for now, then he doesn't have to feel guilty.

*

The best thing he can say about the rest of the school day is that he survives it. There are a bunch of people looking at him and a few people he suspects are being unnecessarily nice, but no one outrights asks him about anything. The teachers clearly all know and at least don’t ask him any questions or about why he hasn’t written any notes, but he’d rather they were ignorant and on his case than the deal he's got. It's just uncomfortable that they all feel so well informed about his personal deal.

He gets Cas, Gabe and Charlie waiting for him afterschool and goes over the whole Night Stop thing again, like he knew what the hell it even was before Ellen first briefly mentioned it yesterday, and they both invite him and Sam over during the period of time he’s not at the Fitzgerald’s or at work. It’s a long ass drive from work till the Fitzgerald though, so that’ll take up most of the time. He just fobs them off with a ‘maybe’ and tells them he’s gonna take Sam for a movie and some ice cream near the Fitzgerald’s and Sam's foster care place before seven. It’s nice to have them on side in theory. He’d rather they’d stop looking at him like that.

(Except, Charlie’s parents got mowed down by a drunk driver and Cas’ dad pulled the same disappearing act a few months previously; he gets that they’re just concerned and actually being really unobtrusive and reasonable about it, he’s just not in a great head space right now. He wants to just disappear and spent the whole weekend with Sam).

“Cas,” Dean calls, as they’re walking to their respective cars in the parking lot. He hasn’t really had a minute to talk to him and, well, he needs to.

The word feels too familiar and too meaningful and he hasn’t got enough room in his head for this on top of everything else, particularly when this is getting dangerously close (as in, far already surpassed if he’s being honest with himself) to the most he’s ever been into anyone ever. The timing is just all wrong. Already, he’s lied to the guy, used him to get accessed to his sofa and food and thrown how little he shared with him in his face. It’s just… not a good time.

“Dean,” Cas throws back, pausing at his car. Beyond them, Gabe rolls his eyes and keeps walking towards Cas’ shitty car, a couple of car parking spaces down.

“So, uh… what you were saying in your texts. Before all of this shit went down.”

“You’re uncomfortable,”

“I’m not… it’s just everything’s such a mess,” Dean says. His chest feels heavy, but Cas at least doesn’t seem particularly surprised. The level blue stare isn’t exactly an encouragement to keep talking, though. “Aint saying that’s not what I want just… not right now. I can’t.”

“I told you before that your life being complicated doesn’t mean you can’t have good things,”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “It’s not that. Cas, we might have to move schools. Move cities. Either way, I might wind up out on my ass again come January and then I’ll have to drop out, Sammy’s wishes be damned. I don’t have the luxury of promising you shit right now. And I gotta process all this and be there for Sam and I just…”

“What do you want, Dean?”

“Want?”

“From me.”

“Just… this. As is. For now,” Dean says, through his tight throat. “If that’s okay.”

“And by this you mean?”

“Unofficial exclusive make out partners and besties?” Dean suggests, “I know I’m being a dick but I –”

“– if that’s what you need,” Cas interrupts. What Dean isn’t really expecting is for him to take another step into his personal space, crowd him against the Impala and kiss him quite so publically. Not that there’s a lot of people in the parking lot right now, but there’s still quite a lot, and it’s also a fucking incredible kiss. He doesn’t mean to cling onto him either. “I’ll see you after the weekend, Dean.” Cas says, pulling away and offering him a Cas-version-of-a-smile, then turning away.

He also definitely doesn’t mean to reflectively grab hold of the sleeve of his trench coat.

“You free Saturday?” Dean asks, before his brain has really made contact with his mouth. “After I finish work.”

Dean knows full well he’s free. Dean also knows that less than a minute ago he was fobbing off all their weekend invitations, meaning that he looks like a brainless dumbass. He gets a nod and Gabriel laughing at him where he’s leaning against Cas’ car for his troubles and that might just be the worst attempt at putting the brakes on a thing ever, but he did try.

Well, sort of.

*

(He's right. Garth and Bess Fitzgerald are well meaning but completely nutty.)

Chapter Text

He feels more exhausted after the weekend than he does after a couple of nights spent in his car.

He doesn't find out till he drops Sam at the foster care place that they have rules about who can pick up kids in the day, and that his case for them both making an hour and a half drive just to drop Sam off at the mall whilst he works so they can hang out after doesn't fly, and that he's allowed to visit for a morning or an afternoon on Sunday but not for a meal time. It's complete bullshit and not what he was expecting (Ellen probably said something, but she gave him a fuck ton of information and Dean's pretty sure he tuned out after the memo that they were both gonna be safe and near to each other), so he nearly gets in a massive argument with the foster woman, even though he gets where these shitty rules are coming from. He really does.

Still, he's ready to snap by the time he gets to the Fitzgerald’s place, and then it turns out that Garth has a fucking puppet and is the most obscenely positive person he's ever met. They let him lock himself in their spare room pretty much, and offer to let him do his laundry, which he declines because it feels too much like intruding and he's getting enough of that already right now.

He doesn't sleep well.

Saturday he has to get up stupidly early to drive to work, which seems extra pointless when most of the money he gets waiting tables is going to pay for the gas for the commute, but whatever. He meets Cas after, who tries to chew him out for not eating lunch (even though it's none of his goddamn business, and he got a decent breakfast and Garth is cooking a 'Garth special' later, and he splashed out on a movie and ice cream for him and Sam yesterday so he's not wasting money now they've got a chance to replenish their funds), and gets an earful for it. Dean's not in a good mood because he's fucking miles away from Sam and wouldn't get back in time for 'visiting hours' and he's got nothing to do until both Garth and Bess finish their Saturday volunteering at the children's hospital. In the end, Cas manages to talk him into a movie (that Cas pays for, which is another argument waiting to happen) which Dean barely watches. He eats plenty of popcorn though, which was probably Cas' plan. They don't touch but for their pressed together arms. And their knees, actually. It's a crap, well, date (maybe?) because Dean's grouchy and pissed off and not dealing very well, and about the time he shrugs off Cas' attempt to kiss him goodbye he realises he should have cancelled instead of making Cas miserable too.

Sam calls him after dinner and they talk for two hours, after which he texts Cas to apologise and to say how a Garth Special is the weirdest thing he's ever eaten. He does three loads of his and Sam's laundry because he's got nothing else to do except join Bess and Garth watching cartoons, which he does not want to do.

Sunday is slightly better, cause he gets to pick Sam up in the morning (after a long conversation with the foster carer, a phone call from Ellen, a couple of forms he had to sign and after checking Sam out) and because Garth and Bess said they'll be in all day so he’s welcome to come and go as he pleases. Dean doesn't know jack about this area, so they wind up sitting in some random park for the whole morning because it's free and nearby. Sam tells him about one of the kids who's terrified of lego (which apparently there's a lot of at this place) and about the cling film prank one of the kids played on his nemesis, and it'd be funny if Dean didn't feel like such a failure about Sam being in foster care. In the end the late November chill gets the better of them, then they sit in the impala for another half an hour before Sam makes a comment about his homework. Dean's pretty sure he did all of it Friday night to block out lego-kids screaming, but them sitting here with nothing to do and nothing to say isn't helping anyone. He drops Sam off then heads back to the Fitzgerald’s. He winds up accepting their offer of lunch even though that's not part of the deal and is given a whole frigging table for the afternoon to do some of his school work on.

They're both dentists. Garth compliments him on his teeth. Dean asks them a little about how often they have people here and why they offer up their home and Bess says that when she was a teenager she became homeless because she refused to join her family in this religious cult, whilst Garth ran away and slept on the streets once because he couldn’t deal with her parent’s divorce and being bullied at school. She says this without blinking, smiling all the way, and Dean wishes he hadn't asked.

Ellen calls him just before food and says that he and Sam need to come in and see her at 2pm tomorrow and that their schools will be informed about their absence. She tells him not to worry, which doesn't help with the worrying in the slightest.

He watches cartoons with Bess and Garth and finishes off his laundry, just because he hasn't got a damn clue where he'll be tomorrow night.

He doesn't text Cas the whole day, which shouldn't be a big deal but certainly frigging feels like it. He's been itching too, but he doesn't. He really did mean it about the not being able to give Cas much right now. It’s just easier to say a bunch of words than transfer that into action.

Monday morning he has to leave for school a good hour and a half before he usually would (more, given he insisted on picking Sam up from foster care and driving him to school first), which means getting up before he's really gotten to sleep.

Garth tires to give him a hug when he leaves. Dean nearly lets him.

School is worse than it was on Friday. He's so goddamn relieved when he gets to leave to pick up Sam the period after lunch, even if it means they’re headed to Ellen’s office to talk about the massive uncertainty that is there future a little more.

He nearly cries again in the meeting because Ellen’s found somewhere they can stay together, at least for the next week, but he can’t because Sam’s there and if Sam knew how much all of this was getting to him he’s entirely sure his whole world would fall apart.

*

Sonny has a moustache and, on first glance, doesn't appear as strange as Garth. As first impressions go Dean's cautiously optimistic, even if he'd rather have a little more time to consider the guy before following his pick-up truck back to Sonny's boys home, which turns out to be some kind of well-intentioned hippie farm stroke correctional facility. Sam seems less keen, but then Dean figures this place has to be a huge step up from all-ages-welcome-foster care. Sonny generally takes on kids who've gotten in trouble, so them being out of dippers and physical able to break the law is kind of a prerequisite.

Dean's still by far the oldest there.

They’re here for a week to see how it goes.

Sonny's swung it so that they have their own room and explains that they're welcome here more permanently if they like it, whilst the other kids are largely more temporary residents, and that he hopes they don't have a problem with helping out on the farm. Dean actually kind of likes the guy, even if he'd rather run over his own foot than make house with three other wayward kids. Still, beggars can't be chooses, and it means they’ve got a whole week of accommodation pretty much guaranteed, which hasn’t happened for such a long time at this point.

He’s tired, he’s emotionally wrung out, he’s mildly uncomfortable about several aspects of this whole deal, but they’re safe, there’s food downstairs and they’re both sleeping under the same roof. He’d like to be a bit more appreciative than he really feels (where the relief it’s mixed up with fear, distrust and a deep sense of injustice), but he’s doing a good job of shamming being frigging delighted about the new set up to his kid brother.

Think the Brady Bunch without the chicks and with criminal records. And on a farm Dean texts Cas, laying on the bed in their new dorm style bedroom, as Sam sits and works on his Literature homework. Apparently, Sam deals with things largely by being extra focused on his homework, whilst Dean's barely picked up a book and is instead just trying to process everything.

He's not sure what he was expecting, really, but it certainly wasn't this.

You're living on a farm? Castiel texts back, almost instantly. Not surprising given they’ve been texting pretty much back and forth since Dean left school (Cas got told off twice, apparently, but by this point he must be so used to getting into trouble that it barely even permeates his layer of cool indifference), even though Dean only just felt ready to actually talk about the meeting about Sonny’s after they’ve had dinner, been shown round and unpacked a little.

Dean hasn’t unpacked anywhere for a long ass time.

For real, dude, Sonny's all living off the fatta the lan’ American dreaming it. With pseudo sons who used to be in gangs. Surreal.

Nearby?

Thirty minute drive from school. Maybe fourth five from yours. Not too bad.

They’re in the same state and can feasibly continue going to the same school, so Dean’s not going to complain about that. He’d half expected to be shipped off to the middle of frigging nowhere due to his insistence that they stay together, but Ellen is a goddamn saint who’s very good at persuading do-gooders that Dean and Sam Winchester are worth doing good for.

Have you met any of the other delinquents yet?

Not unless you count Sam. Dean texts him back, Joined them for food but didn’t really talk much

Gabriel wants to know whether you're going to start raising chickens.

“Dean,” Sam says, looking up from his literature book, “Take your phone off vibrate or something, seriously.”

“Nope,”

“Dean,”

He’s feeling petulant and childish and Sam threw over hanging out with him in order to bury his head in the sand via his Literature homework, so Dean is more than happy to hit ‘call’ on Castiel’s number just to make a point. The point being that Sam is being ungrateful and shitty for the one who wanted them to wind up in care in the first place; the only change from Sam’s ideal to the actual reality is that they’re in it together.

He shouldn't be surprised that Cas picks up the phone almost immediately, given he knows full well the guy's been sat with his phone in his hand waiting for a reply to his text, but it still manages to throw him for a few seconds.

"Hello, Dean,"

"Huh."

"You called,"

"Uh, yeah, I just... dude, your phone voice."

"Yes..."

"Should come with a health warning or something," Dean says, "Hello, Castiel."

Sam, from his bed, sighs.

"You called me,"

"Yeah, Sam was getting kinda prissy about the texting, so I figured I'd annoy him some more." Dean says, looking up at the ceiling. He didn’t get much chance to talk to Cas today (other than lunch, by which point he was so anxious about the meeting with Ellen that he sat in silence and didn’t eat much), and hearing his voice is kinda nice. Even if they’re absolutely and definitely not doing the whole relationship thing right now. Even though Dean’s not moving states for at least another week.

"I see," Cas says, "Is sharing a room going to be a problem?"

"We've shared forever, basically. I mean except the past couple of months. Just there's not usually a bunch of other kids running around raising hell. Kinda weird."

"I'm still not used to Gabriel," Cas says, "And there's only one of him."

"Yeah but, come on, Gabe's got be worth at least three eleven year olds in terms of annoyance."

"He's here," Cas says, "He wishes to know what you're saying."

"It’s not like he doesn’t know I think he's annoying. Don't know anyone who doesn't."

"What are you doing?" Castiel asks, but because of his deep, kick ass phone voice (which, yeah, Dean is definitely a fan of), it kinda sounds like he should have his own phone sex line. The question ‘what are you doing’ shouldn’t in the least have Dean’s brain at places it definitely shouldn’t be – especially with Sam in the room – but, well. Damn.

"Dude, I've been texting you for the past hour. That's what I've been doing. That and watching Sam's choreographed symphony of sighs and bitch faces whenever I make a noise."

"Perhaps you should stop purposefully antagonising him?"

"Why would I do that?" Dean asks, doodling on the front of one of his notebooks, phone wedged under his ear.

"A goodwill gesture?" Castiel suggest.

"You think I have a good will? Shucks, Cas."

"Dean, quit flirting so damn loudly." Sam says, looking up from his book to glare at him.

"I aint flirting, Sam," Dean says, ripping a corner of a page out of his notebook, screwing it up and flicking it in Sam's direction just to have something to do with his hands. Sam looks stressed and Dean’s probably not helping, but he’s used to Sam insisting they talk crap out rather than blocking him out. He doesn’t like it.

"You are," Cas says, "According to Gabriel. I'm not entirely sure what flirting entails."

"Dude,"

"Dean, come on." Sam says, with a pained expression.

"Sam, you're in middle school. How the hell do you always have so much work to do? And if you tell me extra credit then -"

"- can't you go outside to whisper sweet nothings to Cas?"

"Well can't you go outside to write your sonnets bout how much you love algebra?"

“I’m doing my lit homework, Dean.”

“Sonnets is literature,” Dean says.

Are literature.”

“Screw you, Sammy,” Dean says, “Lit isn’t exactly my jam.”

“I don’t know,” Castiel says, from the other end of the phone and, shit yeah, they’re doing the phone call thing. “You quoted Of Mice and Men earlier.”

“Yeah, well, I like that book,” Dean says, returning to doodling, “The whole thing ‘bout your dreams tanking not necessarily being your fault and prejudice and the crappy narrative you get from politicians.” Dean says, pausing when he can feel Sam’s gaze on him, “And it’s short.”

“You regularly underestimate your intelligence,” Cas says, “It’s infuriating.”

“We should go back to talk about how you don’t know how to flirt,” Dean says, “That was fun.”

“Dean,”

“Fine, what are you doing then?”

“Talking to you,”

“It’s your dumb question, dude,” Dean says, but he’s talking quieter now, with the aim of not necessarily pissing Sam off as much as possible. He’d actually just quite like to talk to Cas. Maybe hang out with him properly in a way that didn’t suck because of Dean’s crappy mood.

“I was rewriting my admission essay before you started texting me.”

“Huh,”

“I had written all my college applications before my father left,” Castiel says, “But that was when I was under the impression he was going to dictate which college I went to. Although it would have still been more freedom than I was ever permitted at home, it wasn’t exactly the same decision. Besides, as Gabriel pointed out, I now have a great deal more to write in my admission essay.”

“Seriously?” Dean asks, “You’re writing about… that.”

“I haven’t decided yet,” Castiel says.

“Isn’t the deadline, like, months away?” Dean asks, because he’s mouth feels dry and he feels vaguely sick, and he doesn’t really want to think about why. Gabriel hadn’t mentioned college to him since Dean made his feelings on the conversation topic abundantly clear. He must have also spread word to Charlie because he’s been existing in his college-free zone and it’s been working well for him.

“Dean, have you considered –?”

Of course Castiel is going to college. Of course he is. He’s in advanced placement classes and he translates things into different languages for fun (or at least, he used to before he stopped living under a dictatorship). He’s only lived here for a couple of months so it’s not like he has any deep sentimental ties to keep him here. He’s smart. He’s never had an inch of freedom until recently. Of course he’s going to want to go jetting off to college, probably somewhere far away and expensive to get to.

“- Nope,” Dean cuts across him, “Anyway, Sam looks like he’s trying to incinerate me with his eyes, so…” Sam looks up from where he’d returned to reading his book, looking confused. “I’ll see you at lunch tomorrow.”

“Are you free after school?”

“We broached a deal that we’re back at Sonny’s from five PM every evening this week to settle in, so… before five? But then with the drive…I’ll work on it.”

“Sleep well, Dean.” Cas says, and then he has the dial tone.

“I’m not trying to incinerate you with my eyes,” Sam says, still looking up from his book.

“Not anymore, maybe.”

“Dean, what was that?” Sam says. Dean’s still uncomfortable because he feels like his stomach dropped from a sky rise building and because he might possibly be freaking out even though he has absolutely no reason to. He just… damn.

He’d forgotten everyone was going to leave.

“That was me being frigging exhausted from getting up as the crack of dawn to drive you to school,” Dean says, plugging his phone back into charge and thinking about the mountain of work that he hasn’t done and that he barely touched at the weekend, because although Garth and Bess gave him a table he couldn’t concentrate , even with having eaten and slept and an actual place to work. His brain just kept running over the possibilities of what might happen and where they might end up and the million and one ways everything could screw up, so in three hours of ‘studying’ all he wrote was the date, the title and a line of notes. So, he’s more than a little bit behind. He’s probably more behind than he was when they were actually homeless, because now he can’t remember what his motivation for keeping up was.

Bobby Singer already knows there’s something wrong, so why bother?

“I had to get up too,”

“You slept the whole drive,” Dean shoots back, “Whilst that wasn’t exactly an option for me.”

“If you want to sleep I can turn the light off, Dean,”

“Thought you were working,”

“Trying, yeah,” Sam says, before lowering his gaze again, “If you’re not okay, you can just say you know.”

“Hey, I’m awesome,” Dean says, folding his arms, “You’re the one angsting into your homework over there.”

“I’m just getting on with it,” Sam says.

“And I ain’t?”

“You’re wallowing,”

“I’m processing,” Dean says, narrowing his eyes at his little brother.

“You’re distracting yourself with Cas,” Sam says, frowning, “I don’t mind but when you want to actually deal with this…”

I’m distracting myself?” Dean asks, “Dude, you’re like, Mr Distraction.”

“Fine,” Sam says, rolling his eyes, “We’re both getting on with it, we’re both fine and no one’s distracting themselves from anything.”

“I’m gonna go get a glass of water,” Dean says, standing up and unplugging his phone again. Dean’s semi aware that he hasn’t turned the page of his lit book for a very long time as Sam watches him wordlessly as he heads for the exit of their bedroom. The door creaks shut behind him and he's not expecting it. The whole house is so new and unfamiliar.

He spends a little while wandering round the house before falling into a rhythm of pacing across the downstairs corridor, over and over. He’s incredibly surprised when he checks his phone to discover that well over an hour has passed.

*

Cas tries to talk to him when they’re parked outside his house after school on Tuesday, so Dean cuts him off by initiating a make out session which winds up making him late for picking up Sam but is nevertheless a very successful distraction technique.

Chapter Text

He’s tense at school because he knows full well that virtually everyone is now well-versed in the Winchester Chronicles thanks to Bela’s outburst and the frigging grapevine. It feels like everyone’s watching him for some sign that he’s been sleeping rough or hasn’t showered or some dumb crap, even though they must all know that if the authorities know about his figurative and actual dirty laundry then neither of those things are happening (and anyway, neither of those things really happened ever ). He had to give the gym teacher the key to the showers back and he felt so fucking guilty even though he knows he didn’t have much choice but to lie to him about running to get the key and even though he knew Mr Lafitte didn’t mean to make him guilty about it. The teachers are all being lenient, too, which only makes him more nervous. Principal Singer keeps catching his eye. Even Henriksen is being vaguely nice.

He’s tense when he’s at Sonny’s because, their week settling in period be damned, he doesn’t trust the permanence of any of it. Sonny could chuck them out whenever he wanted. Sam isn’t settling in that well and that makes Dean nervous, because he’d come to think that Sammy might be the most adaptable teenager on the planet. Turns out even Sam has limits and those include living with a couple of unruly, trouble kids. Sam’s unforgiving over their transgressions in a way that Dean doesn’t get, but reckons has a little to do with age and a lot to do with their father.

That means there’s a couple of hours every day when he’s hanging out with Cas or Gabe or Charlie or some variation with two or all of them when he’s not on edge and waiting for something to go wrong. Even then, that’s a push. Cas has taken his not-relationship stance fairly well, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. Gabriel had made it clear on a number of occasions that if Dean fucks it up he’ll be held to account. All three of them are going to be going to college come the fall. At some point, when the applications start being sent and the acceptances and rejections start coming, his no-college-talk rule is going to be discarded. That’s only reasonable, too. Still, the few hours between school and dinner at Sonny’s is the most relaxation he gets, so he’ll take it. He’ll take it with gusto and enthusiasm and all the denial that he’s permitted.

“Cas, what the hell are you even doing?”

“I’m shooting the alien,”

“You’re shooting up the wrong damn alien,” Dean says, leaning into his side on the Milton’s couch and trying to make a grab for the console. It’s almost definitely an excuse to get all up in Cas’ personal space even though they’re not really alone, which both Charlie and Gabriel probably know anyway. “Look, if you just…”

“ – Dean,” Cas interjects, frowning at him, “If you stopped interfering with my strategy.”

“Since when have you had a strategy?”

“You’re giving me tooth decay with all the bickering,” Gabriel comments, running towards where Castiel’s on-screen character is currently running round in circles, then turning round to shoot screen-Cas in the ass just because.

“We’re on the same team, jackass,” Dean says, “And you’re not making any sense.”

“He’s saying you’re sweet,” Charlie says, from the other arm of the sofa, “Which, fyi, is a total understatement.”

“And I rarely play for your team,” Gabriel says, grabbing a handful of chips from the bowl on Charlie’s lap, because screen-Cas is still running round in circles and they’re both needed for the next bit. Dean’s still trying to grab the console, mostly just to be obtuse, but then stops because… huh.

“Rarely,” Dean repeats, “So you play for our team sometimes . Not that I have a team. I don’t discriminate. I play for the highest bidder.”

“Everyone’s got to have a few exceptions,” Gabriel says, as on-screen Gabriel jumps on and off the corpse of an alien he killed before Cas started screwing up the whole mission, which was a long time ago at this point.

“Huh,” Dean says, releasing his hold of Cas’ console. Cas isn’t expecting it so immediately accidentally blows himself up. Game over.

“Dean,” Cas sighs, turning to glare at him. There’s something undeniably cute about Cas getting worked up about something which, a few weeks previously, he’d declared he didn’t understand the point of (‘it’s fun, Cas, it doesn’t need to have point’). Plus, when Cas is pissed off his blue stare turns downright electric and it’s difficult to pull himself away from it.

“Hate the player, not the game,” Gabriel says, setting down his own console and getting up, “I vote a food break. Who wants soda?”

Charlie follows him into the kitchen to help him bring back supplies (like they haven’t already snacked on enough food in the past couple of hours), which means Dean has an opportunity to pluck the game console out of Cas’ hands in order to kiss him. Cas curls a hand up under his jaw and deepens the kiss slightly.

It’s good. He doesn’t get enough of this. Since Cas’ big sex talk there’s a new door-open rule which Dean is definitely not a fann of, because it means he has an even more limited amount of time in which he’s actually able to make out with his not-boyfriend. Not that he would argue with Hester Milton after everything that she’s done, but it’s still not exactly ideal.

“You haven’t eaten much,” Cas says, pulling away.

“What?” Dean asks, because that’s just not what he was expecting. Or what he really wanted to be hearing.

Cas seems to rethink the words that just came out of his mouth and settles on staring at him earnestly instead, but it’s just… it’s not good enough . He just wants a few hours of peace. He gets that Cas cares it’s just…

“Dean,” Cas says, frowning at him.

“Leave it alone, man,” Dean says, withdrawing and picking up the game console.

He’s got enough people babying him right now. He knows full well that Sonny’s sending reports to Ellen every other day. They’ve had another few meetings with Ellen to talk about how they’re settling in. He’s got a whole host of adults suddenly giving a shit, which is a real plot twist. Most of his life no one’s given a damn, or at least not given a damn beyond Dean being capable of looking after Sam.

“Dean,”

“Cas, drop it,” Dean snaps, just as Gabe and Charlie return with a couple of cans of soda and more doughnuts.

“Awkward,” Charlie comments, then Dean’s suddenly got a bag of doughnuts in his hand which he definitely never said he wanted. Gabriel is eyeing him a little too carefully.

“Actually, do me a favour and all of you back off. I’m doing fine.”

“Few weeks ago you were malnourished and sleeping in your car,” Gabriel says, “Excuse us for giving a shit, Deano.”

“I don’t wanna think about this crap when I don’t have to,” Dean complains, rejecting the doughnuts and letting Cas scoot a little closer to his side against his better judgement.

“You ever think that’s difficult for us to facilitate?” Gabriel asks, “Especially when you’re such a frigging drama queen. You’re the one bringing the angst to the party, dude bro, now quit whining and eat your doughnuts.”

“I don’t want a doughnut,”

“Okay,” Gabriel says, taking one himself and eating it in an obscenely few number of bites. Cas has one too and Dean gets caught up on the sugar crystals caught on his lips and his tongue reaching out to catch them. Dean’s just thinking of some reasonable excuse (or at least one that won’t piss Charlie or Gabriel off too much) for why they both have to immediately go upstairs, or to the kitchen, or anywhere where Dean can get access to that tongue and those lips. He’s thinking maybe something to do with his algebra homework or needing Cas to show him where something is in the kitchen, but then the alarm on his cell phone is going off.

“Fuck,” Dean mutters, still centred in on Cas’ lips, because that alarm marks the time he needs to leave to pick Sam up so they’re not late for dinner at Sonny’s. He’s been late a few times already just because he’s not used to having such a strict schedule (it is, apparently, very good for troubled teens to have a solid schedule) and because he got caught up in hanging out with his friends, hence the alarm in the first place. At least now they no longer have to be back for five, which just sucked outright, but… god damnit. He doesn’t really want to go. He wants to carry on playing video games and maybe cook food for the Milton’s just because. He wants to stop snapping at the lot of them and try to understand a little of their perspective.

“Time to go?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, trying not to look as disappointed as he feels. This curfew thing is bullshit. Eating dinner with Sonny and Sam and the other kids is bullshit. The forty five minute drive which seemed pretty manageable last week is bullshit. “Well, better not keep Samantha waiting.”

“Dean,” Cas says, hand closing over his arm as he makes to stand up, “I have your… human biology textbook in my room.”

“Right,” Dean says, because that might be the worst line of all time and nobody in the room buys it at all, but he’s nevertheless impressed with the audacity. “Better head up and get it then.”

“Remember to leave the door open,” Gabriel says with a snort, passing Cas’ console over to Charlie and rebooting the game.

He does, at least, get a few minutes of Cas-time before his second alarm goes off and he has to drag himself away.

*

Dean can’t sleep.

Sam’s breathing’s always worked to soothe over his anxiety, but now it just sounds loud. Sam is here. They’re both here at Sonny’s. Their Dad is not coming back. Even if he does, there’s no chance the authorities are gonna let him have custody. That whole part of their life is done. They’re probably going to be at Sonny’s until at least January. When Dean turns eighteen…. Well, who knows? Dean gets up and heads downstairs under the pretence of getting a glass of water, but mostly he just needs to move.

He’s not expecting to run into Sonny.

“Sorry,” Dean says, throat thick, ready to head back up the stairs without the water, “I just…”

“It’s okay, kid,” Sonny says, then Dean registers that Sonny’s got a goddamn Christmas tree under his arm. “You good to lend me a hand?”

He’d forgotten December started tomorrow and even if he hadn’t he wouldn’t have expected Sonny to be manhandling a Christmas tree into the front room of the boy’s home. He’d have expected some tinsel and a couple of Christmas cards, maybe, but nothing on this scale. Not that Sonny hasn’t clearly put his lifeblood into this place, it’s just… he didn’t realise people bothered sneaking Christmas trees into homes for troubled kids.

“Yeah,” Dean says, stepping forward and grabbing a handful of Christmas tree. It’s pretty tall. He’d hazard a guess that it’s been cut down pretty recently, even though he doesn’t have a damn clue when Sonny might have gotten a Christmas tree.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

“No,” Dean says, swallowing.

“Just here,” Sonny says, then they’re propping the tree upright in the front room. “Wanna help decorate?”

There’s two boxes of decorations sitting on the sofa, lit up by the dim glow of half the lights. The boxes are pretty beat up with a faded ‘x-mas decorations’ scrawled on the side on what he recognises to be Sonny’s handwriting. He gets the vague impression that this crap gets pulled out of hiding on the last day of November every single year. It’s sort of… unexpected. It’s too happy-families, hallmark card, Christmas movies crap.

“You’re not getting the kids to do it?”

“I’m leaving them some ornaments,” Sonny says, “Years of experience has taught me not to let them handle the lights or the tinsel,”

“How do you get into this gig, anyway?”

“I’m ex-con,” Sonny says and that… yeah, that Dean’s not expecting. Not even a little bit. “Place like this straightened me out. Gave me a second chance. Figured I’d carry on the legacy.” Sonny passes him a string of lights to untangle.

“How’d that go down?” Dean asks, taking them without further comment. He’s no closer to getting to sleep than he was an hour ago. He might as well help put up a frigging Christmas tree.

“I was part of this gang, right? They were my family. I loved, breathed, would have even died for them. Got me 15 years in a correctional facility. And for what? Being loyal? To who? I should have been loyal to myself.”

“You trying to make some point about my Dad?”

“You get one shot at this game, Dean, and when you look in the mirror, you want the guy looking back at you to be his own man,” Sonny says, turning to him. The conversation topic’s too serious with him separating strings of tinsel.

“Well Dad’s gone,” Dean says, working on a particularly complicated knot of wire and light bulbs, his hands shaking a little too much to be effective. He’s pretty sure he likes Sonny but that doesn’t mean he wants to be having this conversation with him. He wants everyone to take a step back and not try and talk about any of it. Mostly he wants for it not to happening in the first place. “My feelings about it don’t make a damn bit of difference.”

“Tell me about you, Dean.”

“Not much to say,” Dean says, handing him the untangled lights, “Most of it’s in my file I’d imagine,”

“Not that stuff,” Sonny says, “About you.”

“What do you wanna know?”

“About your friends, likes, hobbies,” Sonny says, “How you’re finding the place.”

“We moved around a lot,” Dean says, “Didn’t really have much by way of friends till couple of years back. Now I do okay. Good job, too, cause otherwise I’d have been kinda screwed. Place is good. Appreciate what you’re doing here. For us.”

“Hobbies?”

“I work, I go to school and I look after Sam.”

“You seem pretty attached to that car?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, as they drape the lights round the tree. Sonny’s expression is open and unreadable. Dean doesn’t have a damn clue why Sonny gives a shit about any of this. Instinctively, he wants to close himself off and not tell him anything, but then Sonny’s putting him up and feeding him and he can’t jeopardise that. He doesn’t have that kind of luxury. “Dad taught me to work on her when I was a kid.”

“You able to take a look at my drive some time?”

“Sure,” Dean says, swallowing, “Could probably get that tractor running too if you wanna fork out for a couple new parts.” Sonny nods and offers him a smile. “What’s with the Christmas wonderland, anyway?”

“Most of the kids heading home for break,” Sonny says, “Except those with no home worth going to. Don’t want this place to be another hub of crappy memories. So we start Christmas early.”

“Huh,” Dean says. They haven’t really had a proper Christmas for a damn long time and he hadn’t been expecting this one to be any different. Any time he had thought about it was just with fear, because it’s not like they could expect anyone to put them up for Christmas without having a bucket load of questions. As it turns out, they’re here, which is probably a step up from spending the day in the impala or managing to budget for a motel room. Not that having a Christmas tree up in their front room makes up for the fact that they’re here without their Dad. That this is their first Christmas being orphans of sorts.

“Know this isn’t an ideal situation for you, Dean,” Sonny says, plugging in the lights and flicking the switch on. They’re green and red. A couple of bulbs are missing. It still looks good. “But you just let me know if there’s anything I can do to make this easier on you both.”

“If… I mean, if we could both miss dinner every so often to hang with our friends or whatever...” Dean says, “Got kinda used to hanging out after school every day.”

“We’ll work something out,” Sonny says, then nods towards the tree, “What do you think?”

“Festive,” Dean nods, “Like Santa won’t skip this place out.”

“Good,” Sonny says, “Try and get some sleep, Dean.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, drinking in one last look of the tree with the lights and the couple of pieces of tinsel, before turning back up towards the stairs. In the morning, they’ve each got an advent calendar waiting for them with breakfast. One of the kids is yelling about the Christmas tree and trying to persuade Sonny to let them hang the rest of the decorations up now, whilst another has his arms folded and is trying not to look impressed. Sam doesn’t comment on any of it, but he takes his advent calendar upstairs and carefully puts it on his bedside table before they drive to school.

*

“Where’s Sam?”

“At Sonny’s,” Dean says, his gut twisting slightly. He really wishes he hadn’t had to abandon him for the whole day, but Sam expressed a distinct lack of desire for milling about whilst Dean worked his shift at the diner and there wouldn’t have been much time to pick him up and drop him off anywhere after. So, Sam’s been alone at the farm all day (but then again, he probably has to socialise with some of the other kids or at least Sonny at some point ), whilst Dean’s been working and then hanging out with Cas.

“Does he like it?”

“No,” Dean exhales, turning to face Cas and frowning at him. “Not that he’d tell me that. Whatever. The situation is just kinda shitty all round. You like it here with the Miltons?”

“Hester and Inias are very kind,” Castiel says, “Gabriel is tolerable.”

“Tolerable,” Dean repeats, grinning despite himself.

“I’m not accustomed to family dinners and being allowed to have free time to do whatever I please.”

“As long as the door’s open,” Dean says, nodding towards the door of Castiel’s bedroom which has resolutely been left as close to two inches open as Cas could probably manage. Dean doesn’t doubt that he asked for specifics about how open was open because they’re talking about Castiel. Of course he asked. It’s also been wholly successful in keeping everything PG. Cas doesn’t seem to care that much (and has tried to get him topless at least twice since the rule was introduced), but Dean really does. He just does.

“I don’t understand how a single restriction can be more wholly frustrating than having my whole life dictated by my father.”

“It’s cause I’m hot,”

“Yes,” Cas says, leaning forward to kiss him. The Milton’s are in because it’s a Saturday which means Dean’s achingly aware of those two inches of open door. Not that he thinks there’s any chance in hell that any of the Miltons are hovering outside waiting for them to get remotely physical before bursting in on them, but it could happen. “Dean,” Cas says, pulling away when Dean’s just barely responding. “Your math score has dropped again.”

“Huh?”

“Your grades,”

“Right,” Dean says because, yeah, they’ve totalled tanked. He’s not even trying anymore. Principal Singer knows why he’s failing and none of the teachers are going to call him out on his shitty grades, so what’s the point? He’s eighteen next month and then, well, Ellen implied that Sonny might put him for a little longer than the state required, but he doesn’t see it happening. He’ll just have to deal.

“I’m your tutor,”

“Cas,” Dean says, “The whole point of having a tutor was making sure Singer didn’t start digging into my crap. That ship sailed.”

“Why does that entail giving up on academics?”

“Because,” Dean counters and then stops. Cas, for reasons unbeknownst to Dean, still thinks he’s actually not a total waste of space. Dean’s managed to dodge the whole conversation pretty successfully, but he gets the distinct impression that Cas thinks he’s the kind of person who could go to college if he wants to. He sees a future for Dean beyond getting a full time minimum wage job to try and put Sam through college. He doesn’t think Dean’s a total fucking idiot for letting him and Sam sofa surf for months instead of going to the authorities. Dean’s not entirely sure he wants to ruin that illusion. “It just… slipped down the list of priorities.”

“Given you no longer have to worry about accommodation of food, I would have thought now was an excellent opportunity to improve your grades,” Cas says, looking at him with that serious blue gaze that’s impossible not to get stuck in.

“That’s because you’re a total geek,” Dean says, “Dude, I’ve just crash landed into the care system. Can’t you cut me a little slack? At least for a couple of weeks.”

“Either we are allowed to acknowledge that your life is currently difficult and you do not snap at us for doing so, or you don’t ask for ‘a little slack.’ You can’t have both, Dean.”

“I like both,”

“Dean,”

“Okay, okay,” Dean says, sitting up, gut twisting. “You promise to quit busting my ass if I get my grades back up?”

“The reason you were struggling in the first instance is because you neither had a place to work or sufficient sustenance and sleep to be able to concentrate.”

“Your point?”

“You can exceed your previous grades,” Cas says, and Dean’s pretty sure Cas isn’t going to let this one slide. Apparently, Dean’s academic success is a more important point of contention than their relationship status. Well, he’s always known Cas is kind of a weird dude.

“So, what, now we can’t make out until I’ve got straight As?”

“Did I mention revoking making out privileges?” Cas asks, leaning back into his space and kissing him again. Dean’s pretty sure his kissing-Cas-tally now far outstrips that of any other person he’s locked lips with, which is good because kissing Cas is awesome. Possibly the only reason why he’s sane right now. “We’re merely going to study too.”

“Awesome,” Dean comments, rolling his eyes as Cas pulls away to fetch his notes on the more complicated version of integration that Dean definitely does not understand. “Lucky me.”

*

He wakes up six AM on Sunday feeling so restless and frustrated that he just has to get up. He winds up getting dressed and walking two laps of the farm before he thinks fuck it and runs circuit after circuit till he’s sweating and exhausted. He never really got the point of running before, even when their Dad made it part of their regime, but it suddenly feels like goddamn benediction.

He manages to push another lap out of his anger at everything.

He even makes it to communal breakfast on time.

Chapter Text

On Sunday, Sam gets picked up in some shitty car to hang out with some chick called Ruby that Dean’s never heard about before. Her psycho sister Lilith was driving and apparently Dean was supposed to be okay with that, because Sonny a-okayed the plan whilst Dean was with Cas. He’s like ninety percent sure that Sam engineered the whole thing purely so that he didn’t have to get Dean’s approval (which, yeah, he definitely would not have got without meeting Lilith in advance and hearing about this Ruby at least a few times and maybe having some information about her interests, likes, dislikes and potentially her grades), because apparently Dean has no fucking power over Sam’s life anymore. Whatever.

Principal Singer calls him into his office on Monday morning to talk about his grades and to ask how he’s settling in at Sonny’s. He’s at least able to tell him that he’s made him a deal to fix up Sonny’s busted up tractor and that Cas has got his grade-situation under control. He clams up completely when he mentions college and when Singer seems to twig he’s not going to get anywhere (and when Dean’s made a sarcastic comment about whether pulling him out of classes is going to improve his grades) he all but chucks him out of his office with a now almost familiar ‘idjit.’ He gets a paper back with an ‘E’ and a ‘see me after class’ scrawled on Lit, so apparently his homelessness-grace-period is up. He got a fortnight. He doesn’t know whether he’s relieved or not.

Cas takes the E-paper off him at Lunch and spends the whole period reading it with an unduly serious expression. He hands it back after school with an A4 page of extra notes on how to rewrite it which, yeah, Dean had no intention of doing until Cas wasted so much energy on the damn thing. Cas’ general goodness incurs obligations Dean’s pretty sure he didn’t want to sign up for.

He tries to write it Tuesday night but then he gets dragged into playing this dumb game with the youngest kid on the place (who’s there for reasons closer to Dean and Sam’s than the rest of the lot), which somehow takes up the whole evening thanks to a my-parents-don’t-love-me-meltdown from the kid. It doesn’t exactly positively contribute to Dean’s messed up headspace.

Dean manages half of it on Wednesday night, but by then he’s managed to screw up three other different assignments. He abandons it to go running again because it just seems to help some of his frustration and the trapped feeling.

Thursday is just not a good day and as much as he’s aware that it’s slightly crazy, he just has to get out.

He can’t frigging stand to be stuck within those four walls and he sure as hell can’t stand all the frigging kids and the fact that they think they know crap about him just because they all wound up in a goddamn boy’s home together. He can’t stand the fact that he’s never felt less in control of Sam’s life and his relationship with Sam. He can’t stand the curfew and the rules and the shared bedroom. He can’t stand the fact that he gets told off for shit. Sonny’s not his Dad. He’s nothing, really, except a bleeding heart – and a good guy, one of the best he’s met actually – but that doesn’t mean Sonny has a right to be on his case about frigging anything.

And he couldn’t sleep.

So, he snuck out. Drove. He didn’t exactly know where he was driving to until he wound up outside the Milton’s house at two AM, but by that point he was parked outside feeling slightly calmer. His breathing had evened out. He probably should have gone running instead, cause at least that would have probably left him closer to his goddamn bed (although, maybe not, right now he feels like he’s got enough pent up restlessness to run forever). It’s take him another forty five minutes to drive back to Sonny’s and the fights mostly left him. He still doesn’t want to go back right now.

He calls Cas on a whim more than anything else. He knows the guy usually turns his phone onto vibrate past eleven PM (which, yeah, maybe he knows because sometimes he stays up late texting Cas; so sue him), so it probably wouldn’t wake him up if he is asleep, and it definitely wouldn’t wake up the Miltons.

“Dean?” He gets, voice roughed with sleep and tinted with confusion. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Dean says, “Couldn’t sleep.”

“So you decided to call me?” Cas asks, his confusion audible.

“Well, uh, actually I’m outside your house.”

“You’re…” Cas is adorably confused when he’s just woken up (which, oops), and he gets the distinct impression the guy’s getting out of bed and standing up, which was probably an inevitable consequence of calling the guy. Crap. “You’re outside.”

“Yep,” Dean says, “Look, this was stupid, go back to sleep I’ll just –“

“– I’m coming to the front door,” Cas says, and a rush of air leaves Dean’s lungs all in a rush. Shit, but he wants to see Cas. Wants to properly see him so bad. Wants everything to just be normal and okay, instead of this goddamn mess.

“Thanks,” Dean says, stepping out the car. “The Miltons gonna wake up?”

“Hester takes sleeping medication,” Cas says, voice still a rough whisper, “And Inias is a very heavy sleeper.”

“Gabe?” Dean asks, dropping his own voice to a whisper as he walks up to the door.

“Have you ever tried to wake Gabriel?” Cas asks, and then there’s a key in the lock, then he’s pushing the door open, and then they’re face to face. Cas looks confused and very much like he’s just been woken up and told that someone’s at the front door in the middle of the goddamn night. His hair's even more ridiculous than it usually is.

“Hey,”

“Hello, Dean.”

“I’m going to hang up now,” Dean says, and then Cas drops the phone and tilts his head at them. He still looks slightly baffled, but then it’s well past 2am and Dean just showed up on his doorstep. That kind of figures.

"Is everything okay?" Cas asks. Then concern is understandable, even if it's kind of frustrating. It’s not what he wants to deal with right now. He just… man, he doesn’t even know. If his head was engaged he probably wouldn’t have ditched out on his new digs in the middle of the goddamn night. If he’d been thinking straight.

"Fine," Dean says, shoving his hands in his pockets.

"You should come upstairs," Cas says, locking the door behind him. At least he doesn’t challenge Dean’s ‘fine’ which, yeah, clearly is a complete lie. Fine doesn’t entail sneaking out of the care system at the middle of the night and turning up on someone’s doorstep. It just doesn’t.

He doesn't really want to talk about where his head's at right now, because he just wants to be out of his head. Out of his life. In some alternate world where Mary never died and John never walked out and they never wound up living in some boy’s home.

He elects for kissing Cas the second they're both in his bedroom instead, pulling him flush against him till he's got Cas' body heat defrosting his bones. It stops Cas from asking questions at any rate.

"You're cold,"

"Wasn't sure whether to call," Dean says, as Cas slides Dean's jacket over his shoulders. Yeah, admittedly sitting in the car outside for the better part of forty minutes wasn’t a great idea, especially given how goddamn cold it’s gotten lately. He needed to think, though, and he was pretty sure Cas wouldn’t want to see him anyway. He hasn’t been a particularly great not-boyfriend. He’s not even a decent friend right now.

"Dean,"

"Shush," Dean says, pressing a finger to the guy’s lips then guiding them both backwards till Cas' knees hit the back of his bed. "You'll blow my cover."

Cas curls a hand up to his jaw and that's about all the encouragement he needs, then he's kicking off his shoes and clambering into Cas' personal space. Cas was sleeping in boxers and didn't bother putting on further clothing to answer the door, and Dean is so so down with that. He's never really seen Cas shirtless. Last time he snuck into his room at night he'd been wearing a worn out dorky t-shirt which was kind of cute and all, but no match for this.

The extra skin is awesome.

Also, previously Dean pretty much let Cas initiate things. Partially cause he was feeling kinda crappy about pushing for stuff when he was being such an ass in other areas, partially cause he was hungry and exhausted, but also because he liked Cas being pushy and in charge.

Apparently tonight that's not gonna be the case, because as soon as he kissed him it was like all his frustration and desire to get away and the feeling of being out of control and helpless was being surged into the kiss, and they're suddenly gone from naught to a hundred miles an hour, with Cas pressed underneath him and holding on tight.

It’s so good not to think. It’s like a goddamn miracle.

He has Cas’ lips trying to get at his shoulders under his shirt, hands scrabbling at his hips, however much bare flesh to get his hands on, and Cas is kinda breathless and definitely properly awake, now, and Dean –

Dean needs to slow the fuck down.

“Shit,” Dean mutters, drawing back to swallow a breath of air. The drawing back movement only serves to draw attention to the fact that they’re both seriously into it just because Dean’s pretty much straddling the guy to the bed, which isn’t helpful. Decidedly not helpful. Definitely not. “Just, give me a minute.”

“Can I help?”

“Well don’t talk with that goddamn voice, for a start.”

“This is just how my voice sounds,”

“Yeah, well, it’s sexy as fuck so just, shut up.” Dean says, still hovering over him and trying to think of un-sexy things (like Principal Singer, Gabe’s gross feet, world suffering). He’s achingly aware of Cas’ body right now and it is not conducive to taking a breather. Cas, still watching him with those blue eyes in the dark, smiles at his words. One of those smiles that makes his eyes crinkle. Dean groans because, god damnit, Cas should not be allowed to smile like that. Then he frigging laughs, and that’s just… well, not helping any. Dean rolls off the guy and slumps down next to him on the bed instead, looking at the ceiling. His head’s all over the place. He should have just stayed at Sonny’s, instead of bringing this crap to Cas.

“I don’t understand the problem,” Cas says (well, whispers, because it’s the middle of the night and not waking Hester or Inias up will probably serve them a lot better than waking them up).“You’re sexually active.”

Dean’s not sure whether that’s supposed to be a statement or a question, cause they hadn’t exactly talked about that at any point, but then it was probably obvious from conversations about Bela. And Gabe with his big mouth.

“You just said the words ‘sexually active’,” Dean says, “There’s our problem.”

“Well, I wasn’t intending to suggest penetrative sex, but other sexual activity….”

“Cas, that’s really not why I showed up here,”

“I wasn’t suggesting it was,” Cas says, propping himself up and looking at him. “However, now you are here…”

“Cas you…” Dean stops, swallows, because obviously he’d love to just agree to whatever it is that apparently Cas is offering him up, but that’s a terrible frigging idea. “Goddamn you for being so hot, but we can’t.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re a total fucking virgin and we haven’t talked about this.”

“We’re talking now,”

“Yeah, when you’re horny and your brain functioning is compromised,” Dean says, “Dude, I just showed up at your house at 2am with no explanation.”

“You should give me an explanation and then let me suck you off.”

“Jesus Christ,” Dean mutters, swallowing, “Right, I’m retracting your talking privileges.”

“Dean –”

“ – I said no talking,” Dean interrupts.

“Make me,”

“You’re a smart ass when you’re turned on,” Dean says, “We’re not even …together and crap.”

“Due to a contrived technicality,” Cas says, “Purely for the purpose of preventing you from overthinking.”

“Huh,” Dean says, glancing over at him again. He’s a little more in control now, even though Cas’ deep whispers aren’t helping particularly, but… he’s got this. Probably. “And how do you work that out?”

“You already stated that we’re exclusive,” Cas says, “We go on what are, for all intents and purposes, dates. We have a physical relationship. We’ve both established we have feelings for one another. I see you almost every day. I am, apparently, your go to at 2am. As far as I’m in concerned, we are together. I’m just not allowed to call you my boyfriend.”

“You wanna call me your boyfriend?”

“Yes,”

“Okay,” Dean says, throat tight, “Go ahead.”

“Is your brain functioning compromised?” Cas asks, looming over him, lips curved into a small frown.

“Yeah,” Dean says, “So I’m not overthinking, like you said. Don’t know why you’d want to tie yourself to this hot mess but…”

“It’s a relationship, not a marriage contract,” Cas says, rolling his eyes, but he’s smiling again. “I will need you to reconfirm in the morning.”

“Sure,”

“Dean, why are you here? Did something happen with Sonny?”

“No, Sonny’s great, really. I just, fucking hate all this shit. I’ve got a goddamn curfew. I live with a bunch of screwed up orphan kids. I don’t have control over my own life anymore. I know it’s dumb, considering how well it was working out, but I just… at least before I was free. If I wanted to go someplace it’s not like there was anyone still around to stop me. Even before Dad left he wasn’t exactly a hands on parent.”

“My father used to delegate.”

“Yeah, mine too. It’s just I was the one who he delegate too,” Dean says, “Whilst you had all the tutors and the cleaners and crap. Just… one of Sonny’s conditions for us staying is that we help out with the chores and the farm, but I frigging ran our household. I’m getting told to fucking vacuum again and it’s so patronising and I just, I was going crazy. I never got to be a kid and now everyone’s expecting me to be one.”

“What was your plan if I didn’t pick up?”

“It’s not like it’s my first night sleeping in my car,” Dean says, “You ever get mad at Hester and Inias for telling you what to do?”

“Initially, a great deal,” Cas says, “Charlie told me she experienced the same when she moved in with her aunt. I believe they have my best interests at heart, it’s just the matter of legitimate authority. I’m working on it.”

“We’re a right pair,”

“If we’re not going to fool around, I think we should sleep,” Cas says, and ‘fool around’ sounds hilarious enough in Cas’ deep, whispered deadpan that Dean winds up huffing a laugh and reaching forward to kiss him (chastely, mind). “And I think your cover will be severely compromised if you sleep on the sofa.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Dean says, “Just, put on a shirt or something.”

Cas sighs like Dean’s asking for something unreasonable, but reaches for a t-shirt anyway.

“I hope you’re aware you’ve wasted our one chance of being alone with the door shut,” Cas says, as he pulls his shirt on. “Given that Hester has made her rules clear and you share a room in a boy’s home with your thirteen year old brother.”

“Believe me, dude, I’m not usually one to cockblock myself,” Dean says, watching Cas for a moment and deciding that, on balance, they’re in safe enough territory for him to take off his jeans. He doesn’t really want to sleep in them. “And my car has a back seat, we’ll be fine.”

“Your chivalry isn’t appreciated,” Cas says climbing under the covers.

“Message received loud and clear,” Dean says, joining Cas under the covers. He pretty much instantaneously has Cas curled up behind him, arms wrapped around his waist. Apparently he’s the little spoon which, fine, he can deal with. “I’m not gonna change my mind just cause you press your semi against my ass, dude.”

“I wasn’t expecting you to.”

“This some instrument of torture?” Dean asks, then catches the possible innuendo, “You know what, never mind. Night, Cas.”

“Goodnight, Dean.”

“And… thanks,” Dean says, into the quiet. He does feel more level headed having talked some of the stuff out (and driven some thoughts out with about a hundred new fantasies of stuff he wants to do with Cas, preferably as soon as humanely possible), and he certainly feels calmer just from spending a few hours away from it all. Cas is a levelling presence. Plus, he makes him feel wanted and cherished and not like a total failure, which is good. Nice.

Cas just finds his hand under the covers and threads their fingers together in response.

He doesn’t think about the fact that Sam (and probably Sonny, Hester and maybe even Ellen) are going to be royally pissed and worried until the next morning, which might actually be completely reasonable.

Chapter Text

For all that he’s no doubt a lot more experienced in these areas than Castiel, he’s still not exactly used to sharing a bed with someone who isn’t his brother (and even then, it’s been a while). He wakes too hot and slightly disorientated before he remembers that he drove all the way to the Milton’s in the middle of the goddamn night, without telling anyone he was taking off and, by the look of how light it is, he’s already too late to sneak out before the Milton’s realise he’s here or Sam realises he’s missing. He’s pretty sure his car is parked right outside their house too.

The day they moved into Sonny’s he had to sign a frigging contracting saying he’d stick to curfew and be there every single night unless organised and approved well in advance. Sam too. Dean can’t remember what the consequences for breaking the damn contract was, but he’s aware enough to know that’s he’s royally fucked up.

“Shit,” Dean mutters, detangling himself from Cas and sitting up. He’s halfway out of the bed before Cas has stirred and looked at him blearily, looking marginally less confused than he had the previous night but not by all that much. He’s about to try and explain that is panic isn’t about waking up in a bed with Cas so much as it’s about the fact that no one knows he’s here and, apparently, these days he’s supposed to notify people about where he’s sleeping.

He didn’t even tell Sam .

There’s a knock on the door before he can speak and shit that’s got to be Hester or Inias (he’s not going to be lucky enough that it would be Gabriel and even then he’s pretty sure Gabe would rat him out for not buying Cas a promise ring before staying over or some shit) and there’s not really anywhere he can hide. He’s totally fucking busted, if he wasn’t already.

“Dean, Castiel,” Hester calls, from the other side of his bedroom door, “Please be downstairs for waffles in five minutes. We need to have a conversation about several things before school.”

Holy shit.

“It seems Hester knows you’re here,” Cas says, voice still rough from sleep, “Perhaps we should have left the door open.”

“Cas, I showed up here at like 2am without asking, that’s probably not what she’s pissed about,” Dean says, “Although yeah. Not gonna help. Fuck, Sammy…” Dean trails off, because the fact that his brother might have woken up in the middle of the night or this morning and found that Dean just wasn’t there is beginning to really hit him. Sam wouldn’t have covered for him for Sonny. He’d have been too pissed and too worried. That and he’s always been a fucking goody two shoes when it came to sticking to any rules that weren’t their fathers.

“You didn’t tell your brother you were sneaking out?”

“I… I was kinda crazy, last night, dude.”

“How crazy?” Cas asks, frowning at him.

“Pretty crazy,” Dean says, and then catches up at where Cas’ head is levelled, “Good job my kick ass boyfriend was so understanding.”

Cas surges forward and kisses him.

“Shit, I didn’t bring a toothbrush or anything.” Dean mutters, pulling away, “I gotta call Sam. He’s probably gonna kill me. Sonny, shit, shit, shit. This is a total contract violation. Fuck, Hester’s probably called, if Sonny didn’t call her first I –”

“Dean, calm,”

“Cas, he could kick me out,” Dean says, “Or leave it until January then chuck me out and stop me from seeing Sam and - ”

“Dean,” Cas says, solid, hand on his arm. “Call Sam. I’ll find you a toothbrush.”

Sam doesn’t pick up and his cell’s nearly flat, but he’s got three missed calls from his brother (all timed just after he called Cas, if his calculations are right) and another two from Sonny. He is so so fucking screwed. God, he’s fucked up big time , and the second phone call goes straight to voice mail. Sam has a right to be mad. Dean would be tearing the whole frigging city apart if

Sam pulled something like that on him.

What if he woke up and figured Dean had done a bunk too?

He’s still panicking when he gets down to the Milton’s kitchen, Cas just behind him. His stomach’s twisted into a ball of knots and stress and he can’t second guess how Sonny’s going to react to all of this. He seems like a pretty decent guy, sure, but then he doesn’t exactly need Dean throwing everything he’s done back in his face like this.

“Morning, Deano,” Gabe says, cheerfully chewing through a mouthful of waffles with enough syrup to drown himself in. “Look guiltier, I dare you.”

“Dean,” Hester says, and puts down a plate off waffles at the places he usually sits at the table. He’s not used to this kind of trouble, actually, that comes with waffles and a cup of coffee and a tight smile. It’s disconcerting. He thinks he might feel better if she just yelled at him. “Castiel, sit down.”

“Thanks,” Dean says, throat thick. His phone is still clutched in his right hand and open on Sam’s contact details, but he hasn’t gotten anything from his little brother since. He should have left his phone on charge, but he didn’t want to be far away just in case Sam did call him.

“Sonny and your brother know you’re here,” Hester says, “He called shortly after 3am, but we decided it was more pertinent to deal with everything in the morning.”

Relief hits him like a freight train. Sam wasn’t up all night thinking Dean had fucked off or was sleeping in his car or doing something stupid somewhere. He’ll just have figured he snuck out to spend the night with Cas. That’s not really how it went down, but he’d rather Sam thought he was just horny and kind of an asshole than really frigging messed up about everything that’s going on in their life right now. He needs Sam thinking he’s dealing. Sonny at least knew where he was. He’s probably still going to chew Dean out about breaking the contract and pissing all over his good will, but at least he wasn’t up all night worrying or on the phone to Ellen (although he must have got Hester’s cell number from somewhere and it probably was Ellen) or the damn police. No one was up all night worrying. It’s fine. It’s okay. Everyone knows where he is.

A strangled noise dislodges from the back of the throat with the relief and then he just can’t speak.

“I am glad that you feel like you can come here, Dean, and you are of course welcome, but I cannot condone disappearing in the middle of the night without leaving a note.”

“Yeah, I…” Dean says, swallowing back the rest of his panic. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t exactly thinking straight.”

“I’ll say,” Gabriel adds, wiggling his eyebrows at the pair of them.

“Well, yes, in regards to the sleeping arrangements –”

“– Dean was intending to sneak out before you were aware he was here.”

“I don’t think you’re helping there, Cas,” Dean says, not looking at him.

“Top tip,” Gabriel says, “Abandoning your ‘baby’ outside isn’t all that subtle.”

“What I mean ,” Castiel says, “Is that there was nothing salacious about the sleeping arrangements.”

“TMI, cuz,” Gabriel says.

“Do you even know what that means, Gabriel?” Cas asks, turning his eyes on him.

“Sure thing, Mr SAT. It means that when you dirty talk you sound like the dictionary,” Gabe says, “And that Dean gets off on your dirty thesaurus shit.”

“There has been no getting off .”

“That why you’re panties are in such a twist?” Gabe asks, “Come on, Cas, a little getting off never hurt anyone.”

“I’m not the one saying no,”

“You lost your game, Winchester?” Gabriel asks, turning to him with his eyebrows raised. As much as this whole conversation veered into the realm of mortifying very quickly, it at least pulls him out of his dazed stupor enough to actually get him talking. It’s okay. Hester probably would have mentioned that Sonny wanted him to pack his bags if that was the case, or she at least wouldn’t be playing the hostess act. Sam’s just mad. Sonny’s probably pissed too. Gabriel and Castiel are discussing the fact that he’s not sleeping with his, well, boyfriend in front of Hester Milton. It’s a weird kind of morning.

“Dude, you have syrup running down your chin,” Dean says, “And back off. And, Cas, with all due respect, shut up.”

“Well said, Dean,” Hester says, and tops off his coffee. She looks slightly softer and happier now she has confirmation that they’re not going at it, at any rate, even if it’s probably not worth the embarrassment of this whole conversation. It figures there had to be some downsides to dating someone who learnt his social skills from watching Glee. “Ah,” Hester says, glancing at the front door, “I think that’s the doorbell.”

“You ordered a delivery of self-respect or something, Gabe?” Dean asks, as Hester goes to answer it. He still feels shaky, but a little more like he can sham through the rest of this breakfast and the school day before facing the inevitable shit storm. He at least doesn’t have to let Gabe know how deep rooted his panic was. Cas already saw a glimpse of it, so there’s no chance there, but Gabe… Gabe he can still fool.

“Might be your street cred finally showing up,” Gabriel says, then pauses when he hears the voices and, crap, “Or not.”

It’s Sam and Sonny. Dean’s stomach sinks and clenches at the same time because this he certainly was not expecting. It’s uncomfortable enough that Hester has as much insight into his life as he does, without bringing his crap to their front door. Now he’s going to get his ass kicked in front of his best friend, his… boyfriend and their legal guardian.

They better stop talking about frigging sex.

“It’s nice to finally meet you properly, Sam,” Hester is saying, as they walk back through the kitchen. “Would you like some waffles?”

“I knew these were too good to be true,” Gabe says, looking at his half eat waffle with a morose expression. “They’re just awkward conversation waffles. Any chance you can keep this angst fest up, Deano?”

“This is Gabriel, Dean’s friend,” Sam says, gesturing towards Gabe, “And Castiel, Cas, Dean’s…”

“Boyfriend,” Cas supplies.

“Boyfriend, apparently,” Sam says, glancing towards Dean with a raise of an eyebrow. “Cas, Gabriel, this is Sonny. He runs the home we’re staying at. Well, where we’re supposed to be staying at.”

Dean doesn’t much look like he’s sorry with his plate of waffles and his coffee, but he really frigging is. If he didn’t feel like he was being suffocated or pushed into acting like some dumb kid he never got to be, or bulldozed into obeying arbitrary rules of someone without legitimate authority, or trapped, or like his whole goddamn life is spinning out of control, then he wouldn’t have needed to get out. He just needed space. He needed to think. He didn’t know where else to go. He didn’t mean to leave and he sure as hell didn’t mean not to come back.

“Waffles?”

“Sure,” Sam says, taking the seat Hester gestures to with a too-polite smile. He’s too pissed off to be concerned about how frigging awkward this situation is. Sam tends to be that way. He doesn’t care who witnesses the Winchester family showdowns when his head’s that way inclined.

“Nice to meet you all,” Sonny says, accepting his own plate of waffles and sitting down opposite Hester’s own empty place at the table. She comes back with a glass of orange juice for Sam and another mug for Sonny, before finally sitting down and offering them all a slightly forced smile. “So, Gabriel, how long you known Dean?”

“Too long,” Gabriel says, raising a questioning eyebrow in Dean’s direction as if he’s got some kind of answer about what’s going on right now. Dean doesn’t have a damned clue. “Few years.”

“And you two are related…?”

“Cousins,” Cas supplies, his usual fixated-blue stare currently on Sonny rather than Dean.

“How long you two been dating?” Sonny asks, turning his gaze on Dean. It’s pretty clear he’s trying to work out why Dean didn’t mention him during their cosy heart-to-heart over the Christmas tree. He’s probably thinking that it’s something to do with Cas being a dude, even though he’s pretty sure he wrote bisexual on one of those shitty forms at some point. He doesn’t really give a crap what Sonny thinks about his dating preferences. He’s not his Dad. What does it matter?

“Approximately five hours,” Cas says, finally looking away. Gabe snorts into his waffles on the other side of the table and Dean can feel his face flushing slightly.

“They’ve been dancing around it for a while,” Sam supplies, “Dean’s pig-headed and Castiel lets him get away with it.”

“Everyone has a limit, Sam.”

“Awesome,” Dean says, glaring at his waffles, “This is awesome. We should do this again sometime.”

“Well, you’re both welcome down the farm anytime,” Sonny says, “Any friend, boyfriend, of Dean’s is welcome in our house.”

Dean’s got no idea when the hell it became ‘our’ house or why Sonny’s being so goddamn nice and it’s uncomfortable. He’d feel a lot more at ease if he just got on with it and yelled at him or kicked him out. The waffle-foreplay is disconcerting. Anyway, he doesn’t want Cas or Gabe wondering round the boy’s home that’s apparently now their home too; it’s not a bad place, but it’s not exactly a traditional home, and he’s not sure he wants to know what they’d think about it. Probably nothing, but that’s not the point.

“Cheers, Sonny,” Gabriel says, offering him a salute, “You too, if it means Mom makes waffles.”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full, Gabriel,” Hester interjects, before returning to dissecting her own waffles into delicate chunks. She’s clearly not as comfortable with this whole showdown as she’s pretending to be, but Dean can hardly blame her. His shitty actions meant she was getting phone calls from care home owners in the middle of the damn night.

“Dean,” Sonny says, “Was thinking we’d go into town this morning and could pick out some tools for you to work on my tractor with. Called your Principle. He’s expecting you in after lunch. I’ll drop you off.” He’s not exactly in a position to argue, even if the prospect of not dealing with school this morning wasn’t wholly appealing. “We can drop Sam off on the way,”

“What about my car?”

“Well,” Hester says, “We thought Castiel could give you a lift here and you could stay for dinner.”

“What about Sam?”

“I’m getting a lift back with Ruby’s sister.”

“Ruby,” Dean repeats, “You’re sure seeing a lot of this Ruby chick lately, Sammy.”

“And?”

“I don’t like it,” Dean says, “Don’t trust her.”

“You don’t know anything about Ruby, Dean,” Sam snaps, posture suddenly defensive. He knows Sam is already pissed and that this probably isn’t going to help any, but he can’t seem to help himself. Besides, he knows he’s right about this.

“You think I’m dumb, Sam?” Dean snaps back, “You’re keeping this Mom because there’s something you don’t want me to know about. Now either this chick’s your girlfriend and you’ve come over all demure and shy, or she’s bad news and you know it. Or both. Either way, you want me off your back all you gotta do is bring her round for Sunday Dinner.”

“You’re not my Dad, Dean, and I don’t follow your orders either,” Sam says, which is enough to have his anger flaring up instantaneously. It’s a mixture of the mention of their father, Sam throwing his constant arguing with John Winchester into the mix and the fact that, damnit, Sam has always followed his orders. Dean didn’t exactly frame them as orders and Sam didn’t always agree with him, but he more or less fell in line and went with Dean’s plan of action. Even if he thought it was stupid. Now Sam’s teaming up with fucking Sonny and is using him to get approval to go see Ruby or whoever the hell else, because Sonny doesn’t know Sam so of course it’s just gonna let him make bad choices. He can’t exactly stop him.

Apparently Dean can’t either anymore.

“Well guess fucking what, Sam? I’m all you’ve got.”

“Then where the hell are you?” Sam demands. “You’re just coasting through this without dealing with any of it, Dean. Dad left and you’ve been pretending nothing happened for months.”

“Back off, Sam,” Dean snaps, holding his gaze. He’s waiting for Sam to look away but Sam’s a stubborn kid on a good day, so instead they wind up just staring at each other over the Milton’s dining table.

“Dean’s right,” Gabriel pipes up, “We should do this again sometime. Anyone else for seconds?”

*

“I ain’t gonna lecture you on your Houdini act,” Sonny says, when they’re walking through the hardware store. The trip to drop Sam off at school was tense. He’s not really looking forward to returning to school and facing Cas and Gabe either, even if this right here isn’t exactly a walk in the damn park. Dean can’t catch a frigging break. “You know that wasn’t smart, Dean. Sometimes we just act crazy when we’re hurting.”

“You’re gonna need a pretty heavy duty tools for that tractor,” Dean says, “Dunno what you’ve got, but this is pretty decent.”

“I’m trusting you on this one, Dean,” Sonny says, which Dean takes as an invitation to pick it up and add it to the basket. “Singer says your grades have taken a nose dive.”

“Still gonna need to look for spare parts online, depending on what the problem is,” Dean continues, not turning to look at the guy. He’s had enough lectures this morning without adding more to the collection. So long as Sonny isn’t planning on chucking him out, he’s not intending to engage in the conversation about his goddamn feeling. He likes Sonny. He does. That doesn’t mean he’s going to engage in the Dr Phil act.

“You got a real chance here, kid,” Sonny continues, “Try not to waste it arguing with your brother.”

“I’ll start with the tune up Sunday. Working most of tomorrow.”

“You really think this Ruby is bad news?” Sonny says. It’s a new tact and Dean should be wary of the fact that it probably says in his file ‘use brother to get him to talk’ because it’s the same tactic that Ellen used on him. Looking after Sam has been his job for so long that it’s part of his chemical make-up. He can’t help rising to the bait. Besides, it’s talking about himself which is the problem.

“Yeah, I do,” Dean says, shoving his spare hand in his leather jacket. “He’s my brother. I’ve been looking after him my whole damn life. I know what is and isn’t good for him.”

“You think he will introduce her to you?”

“If he knows what’s good for him,” Dean says, “Look, I get it. I’m an overprotective and annoying big brother, but for Sam to choose my nagging over a couple of introductions, he’s gotta know I’d give him more hell after. He’s asked you if he could see her, not me. You… you’re a good guy, Sonny, but Sam’s been my responsibility for a hell of a lot longer. He’s diverting to your authority for a reason I just… These have been a crappy few months for both of us and Sam’s been a little too well adjusted. He’s angry and at some point that’s gonna come out, and it’s not gonna be pretty.”

“He’s a teenager, Dean, my experience… keeping secrets, being angry, rebelling against authority… that’s par for the course.”

“Sam’s always done all of those things,” Dean says, “To Dad. Not to me.”

“I’ll keep an eye on the situation,” Sonny says, “Try and limit when he can see this Ruby. Encourage him to invite her over.”

“Fine,”

“So, your Dad was an orders type?”

“When he was around,” Dean says, “Him and Sam never got on.”

“You two did?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “We got on fine. Guess I believed him when he said family was the most important thing, so I’d put up with more of his bullshit if it kept the peace. Didn’t care that we kept skipping states, cause we were together. Three Musketeers. That was never enough for Sam. He wanted stability. To actually finish up a whole year in the same school. Thanksgivings with actual turkey. Christmas presents. The apple pie life,” Dean says, pausing to look at a wrench which claims superior adjustment features. “I was so sick of them butting heads all the damn time, I made a case to Dad that we just stay put. Me… I like the road. Grew up with it. Fit better when we’re flitting all over the country. I like that we’ve seen more of America than anyone else our age. I’d have been happy with the three of us on the wide open road forever but… it wasn’t good for Sammy. Even Dad could see that and he was always convinced he was right.”

“So you settled?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “‘til Dad couldn’t stick it any longer, I guess. Godamnit but I wish I could take that whole conversation with Dad back now, but if there was a chance Sammy was gonna take off one day… I didn’t have a choice.”

“You think it was Sam’s fault?” Sonny asks. It’s a genuine question and he almost gets where Sonny’s getting it from, even though that’s completely not what he’s saying. Academically, he knows the answer is that he’s supposed to blaming John Winchester. He’s the adult. He’s the one who packed his bags and left. He’s the one who made them homeless.

“It was my job to keep the family together,” Dean says, “Has been since Sam learnt how to talk and learnt how to argue back on the same damn day. Before, even. Since Mom died.”

“And what about you, Dean,” Sonny says, “The open road still calling you?”

“If Sam didn’t need to be here I’d have tracked him down,” Dean says, mouth slightly dry. He doesn’t know what he’d have said to him when he found him. He’s pretty sure most of the things he’s been running through in his head would die on his lips the second they were face to face but, goddamnit, he wants him back anyway. He misses him. He misses the guy after everything that he’s done. After burdening him with an adult’s responsibilities, constantly undermining him, only treating him like he was worth jack if he was looking after Sam… he still wishes he was here so goddamn bad. Deferring to John’s responsibility after weeks of playing parent was always such a relief. Just accepting his law as word because he was their father . Getting to admit that he doesn’t have a damn clue what’s right and wrong about any of this anymore. Sam always had it out with about blind faith in the man, but the rest of the time Dean was juggling all these fucking responsibilities – look after Sam, make sure grief wasn’t eating his Dad alive, keep the peace, mediate between them both, talk to Dad about Sam, talk to Sam about Dad, make sure Sam eats, make sure he sleeps, his homework’s done, there’s enough money for tomorrow’s food, that Sam’s as happy as he can be given everything – that the mindless obedience kept him sane. That’s what Sam never understood. Never could understand. “This is his old leather jacket. Gave it to me last year cause he missed my birthday. It’s weird.”

“You wanna take a detour to the mall and get a new jacket?”

He’d been thinking for weeks that the first thing he’d do if he had the money was burn the damn thing and buy a replacement, but now that the options’ there it’s making his stomach twist. Never mind that he wouldn’t accept that kind of gift from Sonny anyway (they’re more than indebted to him as it is; Dean’s not about to add to that tally), suddenly he just can’t do it. Maybe things weren’t exactly perfect when Dad was around, but it was a damn sight better than this. Now their father is just some distant ghost and Dean doesn’t have all that much to remember him by. They never took any photos. He didn’t know his Dad was going to turn everything bitter by walking out and not coming back.

“Nah,” Dean says, burying his right hand further in his pocket. He can barely believe he just willingly talked about his father with Sonny, but he caught him at a weak moment. He didn’t sleep much, but he’s full of waffles and the knowledge that Castiel actually wants to be his frigging boyfriend. Sam is pissed at him and Dean’s not exactly enamoured with his behaviour right now either, but the set up at Sonny’s is pretty good. Sam thinks he’s not dealing. He needs to change the goddamn topic before everything that he’s not dealing with comes rushing up from where it’s buried in his gut, but he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to deal. He’s just gotta keep his game face on. Keep cruising on. Keep forcing a smile. “Look, sorry for ditching out last night. Didn’t mean to cause any trouble. Not exactly used to people having tabs on me. Or having a curfew.”

“How’s about we forge a deal, Dean?” Sonny says, offering him Sonny’s version of a smile, which reminds him a little of his fathers, but kinder. “You try not to give an old man a heart attack, I’ll try to treat you like an adult.”

“Yeah, okay,” Dean nods, “You got car lubricant in your workshop, old man?”

*

A few days later, Dean gets back from Charlie’s to find a black leather jacket folded on his bed. It’s clearly second hand but in pretty decent condition, all things considered, with a note in Sonny’s now familiar scrawl on top.

It’s good to have options (consider this an early Christmas present)– Sonny .

Chapter Text

Dean spends the weekend before winter break in a blind panic, because it’s nearly Christmas which means it’s a month before he ages out of the care system, even though he’s only just wound up in it. He doesn’t know what the hell that means for his position at Sonny’s and he’s too damn scared to ask. Ellen might have mentioned it, but at that point anything other than the next few days was a total white out. He just didn’t have the capacity to think of a long term plan. It’s only just occurring to him now because everything is a little more settled.

Sonny might not be willing to let him stay after he turns eighteen. Hell, he might not be allowed to let him stay, which means Dean’s back up shit creek, only now everyone knows about it.

There’s a little money in his bank account now he’s not paying for all their food and motel bills, but the gas money from the driving between Sonny’s, his work, school and Gabe’s house is cutting a fair way into his pay package from the diner. If he worked full time, he might be able to manage to find some crappy flat and try and scrub together some kind of savings for Sam if they didn’t eat, but it’s unlikely. The only reason they managed to have electricity and gas before they were evicted was because they hadn’t gotten round to cutting them off before that point. It’s not because he was managing to fucking pay them . Even if he somehow got some kind of job that could pay all the bills, there’s no one with a damn brain who’d let Dean take care of Sam… and, shit, Dean can’t handle that. He can’t handle the thought of Sam being stuck at Sonny’s without him.

He can deal with dropping out of school. He can deal with Gabriel, Charlie and Ash spending the next few months talking about college applications and inevitably moving somewhere exciting and forgetting he ever existed until they come home during the summer vacation. He can deal with Cas doing the same, even though it will hurt. It’s all going to suck, but it’s not going to kill him the way being separate from Sam is going to kill him.

In the end, he doesn’t bother with any of his homework, even if Cas has been bending over backwards to try and stop him from failing everything, because there’s no point. Graduating high school is an unsurmountable distance away from right this second and a couple of extra pass marks aren’t going to help him much. He goes running after work on Saturday then spends of Sunday in bed feeling shitty about the fact that Sam’s off somewhere with this Ruby chick, even though Dean still hasn’t met her.

The rest of the week doesn’t go any better.

*

The fact that the winter break arrives still somehow comes as a surprise. Dean spends the whole week dragging himself through the motions and promising to catch up during the holiday, even though it’s only a week and he offered to work most of it (not that he got as many hours as he really wanted, but there’s a fair number of students with the Christmas holidays off readily and willing for the extra money). Then, suddenly, it’s Friday and they’re all headed back to Gabriel and Castiel’s house to ‘celebrate their week of freedom.’ Gabe insisted on mulled wine that Dean isn’t drinking because it’s completely ridiculous, even if watching Cas cradle his mug to his chest sparks an upsurge of affection that has Dean almost cheerful for the first time in weeks. Charlie bought Christmas hats. Ash actually turned up for once. They have a bowl of Christmas tree shaped pretzels and Gabriel keeps offering everyone hot chocolate. It is festive in a scrubbed together, make shift way.

“If you were one of Santa’s reindeer,” Gabriel says, taking another sip of his damn mulled wine – which smells good, even if it was made in the microwave and probably taste crap – and straightening his Christmas hat. “Which would you be?”

“That question might be the dumbest thing that’s ever come out of your mouth,” Dean says, scooting a little closer to Cas. He’s barely seen him all week just because he’s been feeling so damn apathetic about everything, but the warmth of this crappy Christmas celebration is seeping through him a little, so now he wants Cas.

“That’s a bold statement,” Castiel frowns, “I thought you’d heard Gabriel on sugar high before?”

“That isn’t always?”

“He has an increased tolerance,”

“I’d be Prancer,” Gabriel declares, speering another pretzel on his finger.

“Of course you would,” Castiel says, as if that makes any damn sense. Dean edges a bit closer. He’s not entirely sure he could name any damn reindeer but Rudolph, or if he even knew they had names. He didn’t exactly have anyone rushing to read him bedtime stories about any of it.

Last Christmas, John Winchester bought their presents from a gas station, wrapped them up in plastic bag stuck shut with duct tape. They had eggnog, Sam not included, and watched the game together. Dean had strung up tinsel over the TV, which Sam had been prissy about right until the day. They’d shared an advent calendar and rock-paper-scissored every morning to work out who got the chocolate (Sammy won, twenty days out of twenty four). It was a pretty good Christmas, all things considered.

“Can we quit the Christmas talk?” Dean asks, stomach twisting to the point where he feels kind of sick. There’s some funky Christmas flavouring on the pretzels, but he hasn’t eaten many. He hasn’t really eaten a lot since he started getting meals regularly, like his body is have trouble adjusting to the new status quo.

“Dude bro, this our Christmas gathering. We’re celebrating the birth of Christ all up in here.”

“It’s my first Christmas without my father too,” Cas says, straight up, because no one was ever there enough in his childhood to teach him a little tact. Dean had almost forgotten though, which makes him possibly the worst boyfriend on the planet (although, he had pretty much warned Cas that that would be the case). He’s been so caught up in his own shit since everything came up that he’s barely thought about Cas and his problems. “Not that our shared Christmases were particularly festive or joyful occasions,”

“But they were yours, right?” Dean asks and then he just has to throw caution to the wind and throw an arm over Cas’ shoulders, like he’s wanted to do since they got here and Cas sat next to him on the sofa.

“Right,” Cas agrees, shifting to make himself comfortable under Dean’s arm, hands still curled around his mulled wine. “It’s a marker for loss.”

“The second one is better,” Charlie puts in, “And I, personally, would be Rudolph.”

“Duh,” Gabriel says, and throws a pretzel at her head.

“Are you sure you don’t want any mulled wine, Dean? It’s very pleasing.”

“It’s wine,”

“It’s alcohol,” Gabriel counters, throwing another Christmas pretzel, this time in Dean’s direction. It his him just above the eyebrow, at the angel-on-top-of-the-tree-end. “Lighten up, Deano. Sorry your lives all suck, bros, but you’re really killing the Christmas buzz.”v “Stop being an assbutt, Gabriel,” Cas says, voice sharp. “There’s using humour to diffuse tension and there’s being insensitive. If you can’t handle the nature of the conversation, you could always leave.”

“Bite me, Chuckles,” Gabriel throws back, a slight edge to his voice. Dean’s entirely sure that Castiel and Gabriel living together is a recipe for disaster most days of the week, because they’re both wholly different. Cas is serious. Gabriel probably doesn’t know the definition of the word. From what he can work out, they get along a little better when other people are there, but it’s been growingly strained in the run up to the holiday.

Castiel’s expressions tilts over into a full blown, squinty glare cranked up to full volume, shoulders tensed. Dean’s expecting him to yell or storm out, or something, because the tension is stressing Dean the fuck out, and he’s barely involved. Instead, Cas very deliberately plucks the Christmas pretzel that bounced of Dean’s head off Dean’s lap, examines it with a deep frown, then launches it in Gabriel’s direction.

Gabriel’s too surprised to duck, so the damn thing hits him square in his nose.

Ash ends up being the one who breaks the silence, after everyone just stares at Gabriel’s expression for a few long seconds.

“Damn,”

“Holy crap on a cracker,” Charlie adds in, eyes wide.

“Atta boy, Cas,” Dean grins, shifting his arm to pull Cas closer to him, which earns him a truly lovely smile.

“Nice shot, Cuz,” Gabriel says, then launches the whole bowl of pretzels in their direction. Cas winds up attempting to hide in Dean’s chest just as Dean tries to stand up to avoid the crossfire, Charlie chucks a handful back and the whole damn room descends into chaos until someone wayward foot kicks over a mug of mulled wine, which is voted to be Gabriel’s fault by three votes to one (Ash abstains because he hasn’t decided whether he believes in democracy), and it ends up being a really great evening.

*

“I’m kind of surprised you haven’t bought it up again,” Dean says, when they’re on a date(ish) in the dinner where Dean works, a good half an hour after he’s finished his shift. He gets a pretty discount and it means they don’t have to face the actual mall, which was taken over my Christmas a good month ago. Dean would rather pull his own ears off than listen to another damn Christmas song, but driving to either of their homes is too far and would probably negate any chance of privacy, especially if Gabriel’s in a clingy mood. Cas is the one who pushed for meeting Dean after his shift in the first place. Dean was fully intending on hiding at Sonny’s and ignoring most of Cas’ messages, because he’s sixty percent sure he’s having another mental breakdown and he has absolutely no idea why Cas wants to be involved in any of this.

Dean’s spent most of their acquaintance sleeping in his car and lying to Castiel about everything, so it makes absolutely no sense to him that Cas wants frigging date him. Dean’s been fobbing off Cas’ tutoring efforts, he’s already sent him a snappy-text saying that he couldn’t afford Christmas presents and he’s been in this bleak, grey mood for weeks. And Cas still wants to meet Dean after work to hang out and shoot the breeze. Cas is a damn miracle and Dean hates how much he’s constantly letting the guy down.

“Bought what up again?”

“Sex,” Dean, taking a sip of his coffee. Cas insisted on getting the crappy Christmas special coffees, even though they’re too sweet, overpriced (before Dean’s discount) and only marginally different to the flavoured coffee’s they have all year round; Dean’s had five customers in total ask him the difference between a caramel latte and a salted caramel latte, which in Dean’s view is far too few considering the number of people have ordered them. They’re too sweet and pretty awful and there’s a Starbucks down the street, but he’d let Cas order them anyway.

Castiel’s expression is an exquisite mix of deer-in-the-headlines and embarrassment and, yeah, Dean probably should have waited for him to bring it up. Cas is such a frigging virgin Dean’s not really sure what to do with it. It’s so obvious but at the same time it’s been so far off Dean’s radar. He knew but he hadn’t… he hadn’t really thought about it.

“You wish to talk about sex…here?”

“Where else you wanna talk about it? Your front room, with Gabe butting in every five minutes? School?”

“My room?”

“Clear heads, remember,” Dean says, “I’m not… this ain’t me pushing. I got bigger problems than blue balls. Just trying to avoid you blind sighting me again like last time.”

“Blind sighting?”

“You being half frigging naked and offering me oral sex when I’m like, honour bound to turn you down. Not cool,”

“You didn’t have to,” Cas says, holding his gaze as he takes another sip of his coffee. He’s still a little pink, though, which is cute as it makes his gut churn with guilt. He shouldn’t be inflicting himself on Castiel. Cas is too good and, fuck, all of this is going to crumble and it’s going to crumble soon. Another reason why Dean should never have bought any of this stuff up.

“Really,” Dean says, “I did. You… uh, wanna talk about it?”

“Talk about sex,” Cas says, voice too gravely and too deep for him be talking about sex like that, especially in the middle of the day in a diner. Maybe Dean should have saved this conversation for elsewhere. “What’s there to discuss?”

“On a scale of catholic priest to pornstar, how much of a virgin are you?”

“Three,” Castiel says.

“Three,” Dean says, staring at him, “And before you met me?”

“One,”

“So, catholic priest.”

“I assumed catholic priest was zero.”

“Awesome,” Dean says, swallowing.

“You?”

“Okay, the scale thing is dumb,” Dean says, rubbing a hand over his face, “Two girls and a guy. Fooled around with a couple of other people.”

“I’d call that a seven point five,”

“Great,” Dean says, rolling his eyes, “Seven point five. I’ve completely forgotten the point of this whole conversation, damnit.”

“I propositioned you,” Cas says, “You indicated we should speak about it first in a less charged environment. You are now starting that conversation, so that next time I proposition you, you can acquiesce without guilt.”

“Okay, my SAT,” Dean says, “Yes that, but without the sleazy factor. Do you wanna ‘proposition’ me again? Cause you seemed pretty keen and then… nada,”

“I don’t wish this to sound like a criticism,” Castiel says, “But you have been… somewhat distant.”

“Yeah,” Dean exhales, “There’s a lot of stuff on my plate.”

“I know, Dean,” Cas says, smiling. “I understand,”

“Why?” Dean asks, which has Cas just looking at him for a long few minutes, lips just slightly parted. That’s a pretty loaded question and way off point, and not one he feels like he should really sandwich between Christmas coffee on Christmas Eve Eve and a conversation about sex. “Sorry,”

“You don’t have to apologise,”

“So you took a break from trying to get in my pants for my sake?” Dean asks, taking another sip of his coffee. “That’s… unexpected.”

“We’re all concerned about you,”

“I wish you weren’t,” Dean mutters, “And, just saying, sex is a pretty good distraction. Not that you’re… just a distraction. I mean, you are a distraction. You’re the best distraction I’ve ever had, but that’s probably not what you’re looking to hear.”

“Is that a… good thing?”

“Probably the only reason I’m sane,” Dean says, “Just keep getting in my head that I can’t afford a distraction right now,”

“Why?” Cas asks, head tilted, that poised confusion written all of his face. For a second, Dean actually wants to talk about the tense weight of panic that’s been sitting on his chest since John Winchester didn’t come for a day longer than usual. He wants to tell Cas about how terrified he is about how everything’s about to slip through his fingers, that in a month’s time his whole world’s going to back in upheaval and how there’s this black pit of worthlessness stuffed down underneath the panic and the must protect Sammy mantra; buried underneath pretending like he’s got everything under control, somewhere between that desire to just drop everything and run away from all of it, and that whole feeling of hurt and betrayal that he hasn’t even touched. He wants to talk. He wants to slice open his chest and bleed all over Castiel, because it sounds so inviting. He thinks that Cas might just understand all of it. But he can’t. He’ll open his mouth and it won’t stop. He’ll be choking out all these words and feelings and all this stuff stirring up in his gut that he can’t acknowledge because if he acknowledges it, it will become real and then he won’t be able to handle it. Dean Winchester is surviving. He’s alive. He’s getting up every damn day and going to school, or to work; he’s hanging out with Sam, Castiel, Gabriel, Charlie; he’s turning up to meetings with Sonny and Ellen and listening and nodding.

“Cas,” Dean exhales, “Can we take these coffees to go? These same four walls are driving me stir crazy.”

“Is that an indication this conversation is over or an indication you would rather continue this conversation elsewhere?”

“Okay, we really need to teach you to read social cues,” Dean says, standing up and pausing to give Cas time to stand up too. “It’s Christmas, give me a break.”

“I thought you didn’t want to talk about Christmas,”

“Cas,” Dean says, as Cas falls into step with him, reaching out to brush their hands together. It’s too affectionate, but given Dean’s put half of the topics in the world on the ‘no talking’ list, Dean doesn’t really feel he can write off public displays of affectionate. He doesn’t really think he wants to, either. “Bare with me,”

“Of course,” Cas says, leaning forward to drop a kiss on the corner of his lips.

Chapter Text

Christmas is strange, but then Dean’s pretty sure it was always going to be. It’s the first time Christmas is just the Sam and Dean show. It’s pretty much always been the three of them before. He’s got some vague, nostalgia tinted memory of one Christmas with his Mom, but that’s it. It’s not like John Winchester was there every year, anyway. He made an effort, but it wasn’t exactly a guarantee, so maybe it shouldn’t be so damn different. It is, though.

It feels real. It actually feels like they’re alone, in this. It was the same at Thanksgiving. They got a motel room because there wasn’t a chance in hell they could stay with anyone else. He got a room with a microwave, but it was bust so they wound up getting a take-out. It was a damn waste of money, but they didn’t exactly have a choice. Dean’s been dreading Christmas since then.

It’s not so bad, as it turns out.

“Here,” Sam says, following him into the kitchen after they’ve finished watching the other kids – the ones that don’t have somewhere decent to go for Christmas – have opened up the presents Sonny bought for them all. They’re all pretty basic. Sam got talked into helping Sonny buy them (and Dean reckons Sam got treated to a round of Sonny goading him to talk, although he’s not so sure that Sonny will have managed it; Sam’s tough to crack when he doesn’t feel like playing ball) and his brother’s influence is all over the magic tricks set and a couple of nerdy books Sam used to own a couple of moves back. “Merry Christmas,”

Sam’s in a bad mood, but it’s…well, last year Sam’s request for money to buy Dean a Christmas present was deferred to Dean, who refused as a matter of principle. He wasn’t being a martyr, as much as Sam bitched at him for it, he just figured that they’d need the money next time Dad fucked off. Sam must have gone to Sonny for the money and Dean’s not sure he’s comfortable with that, but still. This year he’s gotten four Christmas presents; the leather jacket from Sonny, a box of chocolates from Gabe, a mostly broken star wars figurine that one of the younger kids badly wrapped up for him and a gift from Sam.

“Thanks, Sam,” Dean grins, unable to shake the feeling of lightness that crept up on him at some point this morning. He thought Christmas would suck, but its okay. It might just be better than the Christmas they had the year previously, which is difficult to swallow. Dean’s wanted to flat out deny that anything about this could be better that what came before, but maybe it can. Maybe alone is good. Maybe the Sam and Dean show’s worth watching.

“It sucks,” Sam says, arms crossed over his chest, “Although I guess it’s better than stuff you nicked from the gas station last year,”

“Dude, that was Santa,” Dean says, nodding obviously to one of the kids and quirking his eyebrows up, “An AC/DC album, sweet.”

“It’s second hand,”

“It’s great, Sammy,” Dean says, “We can listen to it on the way to school,”

“Great,” Sam deadpans, but there’s a smile pulling at the corner of his lips, “You get anything from Cas?”

“Told him not to,” Dean says, picking up the cup of coffee he’d made before Sam had cornered him with a present, “Gabe gave me a crapload of sugar,”

“Figures,” Sam says, “How’s that?”

“How’s what?”

“You and Cas. Now you’re all official,”

“Fine,” Dean says, adding sugar to his coffee. He started when he wasn’t sure of the next meal and it’s stuck, even though he used to prefer it without. Mostly, he’s looking for something to do with his hands. He’s not really sure how he and Cas are, except that by some miracle they are. Cas is so damn straightforward in some ways and it’s easy and good and simple. But Dean gets in ruts where he can’t face answering his texts or finds reasons not to see him, because he’s halfway to being suffocated by panic at any given moment and he’s got no idea how to fix anything. Dean has no idea why the hell Cas would want to date him, but at this point he definitely believes that he does.

“I wanted you to come out to Dad,” Sam says, without any preamble or any goddamn warning that he’s going to suddenly bring up their Dad. They haven’t exactly talked about it. Dean’s pretty sure he’s given zero indication that he wants to talk about their father, particularly on a day like today. In fact, it’s more the opposite.

“What? Why?”

“I guess I thought it would be good for you,” Sam says, “Like, a rite of passage,”

“A rite of passage,” Dean repeats, “Sam, my sexuality ain’t after school special fodder.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Sam says, “You… when you told me you told me not to tell Dad, because you didn’t know how he’d react and I… I wanted him to prove you wrong. That he wouldn’t care. That you could introduce him to Cas,”

“Guess you’re still right, huh?” Dean asks, grip on his coffee tightening, “He doesn’t give a damn that I’m into dudes. In fact, he doesn’t give a damn at all. Bullseye for Sam Winchester.”

“Dean,”

“Forget it, Sam,” Dean snaps, taking his coffee and heading for the stairs.

“Dean,” Sam says, following him, “You… I just meant I’m so mad at him for cheating you out of that by taking off,”

“Screw you, Sam, you’ve got no idea,” Dean says.

“Right,” Sam snaps back, “How would I? It’s not like we’re talking about our Dad, here,”

“You wanna ask about Cas, fine, but don’t go turning this into some big journey to find yourself. I’m not playing ball.”

“Dean,” Sam says, voice raised at the bottom of the stairs, “I’m asking how you feel,”

“You know what, Sam? This isn’t a chapter in some story. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not about character development. It’s just shit,” Dean says, storming up the stairs with his voice rising. He hasn’t lost it for a long time. He hasn’t got angry. “It’s just a fucking pile of shit. It doesn’t matter how I feel about it, because this is what we’ve got. This is our lot and there’s not a damn thing that my feelings about it are going to do.”

“You could talk to me,” Sam demands, all earnest and well-meaning and fucking impossible.

“Boys,” Sonny says, because they’ve got a damn audience now.

“Got it, Sonny,” Dean says, before he can tell them the shut up because it’s goddamn Christmas and they live with a bunch of kids who’ve gone through enough shit without having the Winchester family bullshit being aired out in front of them. They don’t need this. Dean doesn’t fucking need this.

“Dean,”

“Can it, Sam,” Dean snaps, storming up the rest of the stairs and slamming their bedroom door shut behind him. “And Merry fucking Christmas,” Dean mutters into the silence, throwing himself onto his bed before furiously grabbing for his cell. He can’t call Cas, because it’s Christmas frigging Day, but he kinda feels like he has the right to intrude enough to send a text.

Dean types out i frigging hate Christmas and sends it before he has the chance to over think. His pulse is still racing. He wants to shake Sam for bringing everything up today of all days, when it was going okay. Dean was okay and Dean has been pretty far from okay for a long damn time.

Cas texts back a Merry Christmas, Dean about thirty seconds later, which somehow punches the air out of his lungs. You should come over tomorrow.

Dean calls a royal fuck it and hits call.

“Hello, Dean,”

“Hey,” Dean says, “Hey, Cas. Having a good day?”

“Technically, yes,”

“I haven’t got a damn clue what that means, Cas,”

“We exchanged gifts and had waffles. Hester is cooking dinner. Gabriel has been less irritating that usual. Anna is home. Later, we are going to Balthazar’s parents later. It is all… good, but I…”

“Feel crappy?”

“Yes,” Cas says, “Are you okay?”

“You… you regret not coming out to your Dad before he disappeared?” Dean asks, throat tight, “I mean, you know,”

“No,” Cas says, “We weren’t close, Dean.”

“Yeah, no, I know,” Dean says, shutting his eyes and letting Cas’ voice roll over him, “I know. I just… Sam said something. Dragging crap up that I don’t wanna talk about. I mean, shit, Cas, I don’t wanna talk about fucking any of it. It’s not… I can’t.”

“Why?”

“Dunno,” Dean says, wedging the cell tighter under his ear, “Cas,”

“Come over tomorrow,”

“I’ll try clear it with Sonny,” Dean says, “Or I’ll break out in the middle of the night again. Whatever.”

“Dean,”

“Yeah yeah, gotta be a good boy,”

“Dean,”

“Like how you say my name,”

“Dean,” Cas says again, which makes Dean smile despite himself, “Are you going to be okay?”

“Always am, babe,”

“Gabriel needs entertainment,” Cas says, “I need to… Dean, are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, throat dry, “Absolutely.”

He allows himself five minutes before heading back downstairs like the whole conversation with Sam didn’t happen.

*

He’d been looking forward to Christmas Dinner all day, but suddenly he can’t eat; his insides feels too full, alongside his head. His stomach rolls after the first bite, so he winds up pushing it round his plate until Sam, who’s definitely in the middle a growth spurt, commandeers his plate without question. His good humour has dissipated. He just feels… fucking sad. He’s not even angry like Sam seems to be, he’s just sad. It looks a hell of a lot like they’ll never have Christmas with another member of their family again. That’s it. It’s the last nail in the coffin of his childhood, if that hadn’t been dead and buried a long time ago. Damnit.

“Dude,” Dean says, when Sam reaches for thirds, “Don’t hold back. Really. No need to be polite on our account, Sammy, take as much food as you want,”

Sam flips him off, which gets him a raised eyebrow from Sonny. It’s fucking weird, because Sonny isn’t there Dad, isn’t anything to them really, but Sam still looks sheepish, swallows a mouthful of food and says ‘sorry’ in a way that he never would have for Dad. Not that their Dad would have told them off for swearing at each other, but still.

“Just cause you’re barely eating,”

Sonny looks up at that and, damnit, Dean doesn’t know Sonny think there’s problems where there aren’t any. He’s got enough crap to deal with it. He’s just not hungry right now.

“Can I go to Cas’ tomorrow?” Dean asks, before Sonny can hone in on Sam’s dumb comment, “To study and stuff,”

“Right,” Sam scoffs, “To study.” Dean kicks him under the table. “What?”

“You’ve met Cas,” Dean says, “Like he’s gonna let me off my frigging homework. He pretty much rewrote one of papers couple of weeks back cause I got an E,”

“You got an E?”

“Not the point, Sam,”

“Did you rewrite it?”

“It’s on my to do list,”

“Dean,”

“Sonny,” Dean says, “Cas. Can I go?”

“You bringing him round here at some point?”

“Not tomorrow,” Dean says, “But, yeah. Sure. Cas hanging out with the kids. It’ll be a blast,”

“Dean,” Timmy says, action figure held aloft and, yeah, Dean agreed to play with him last night, when the kid was upset last night about missing his mom. It’s a good of an excuse as any to get up from the table and leave the whole conversation and the whole crappy Christmas dinner without dragging it out any further. He’s still pissed at Sam and he feels hollowed out. He’s vaguely aware that a few hours ago he was genuinely happy, but now that feels like a long time ago now.

“Okay, kiddo, I’m up,” Dean says, scraping back his chair and standing up.

“Dean,” Sonny says, “We’ll talk later.”

Timmy’s a good kid. Dean’s read between the lines to figure that he’s pretty traumatised and his life was a helluva lot different before the car crash that killed his mom, but that’s about all Dean knows.

“Having a good Christmas, Timmy?”

“I guess,” Timmy says, frowning at his action figure, crossing his legs, “I miss my Mom,”

“Me too, buddy,”

*

19:05 Dean Winchester

Sonny wants me to help him out with some stuff tomorrow. Can come in the evening?

19:06 Castiel

Can you stay over?

19:10 Dean Winchester.

Dunno, can i? What’s Hester say?

19:11 Dean Winchester

Sonny say’s its fine

19:20 Dean Winchester

how do you feel about sleeping on the sofa?

19:21 Dean Winchester

u could say I’m an expert

***

Dean winds up having an awkward breakfast with Hester before she heads off to work, which is frigging weird but means that he gets made coffee and fussed over in a totally different way than Sonny does. It’s kind of nice, even if he can feel out the little way she’s changed the way she acts around him since she found out about everything. He gets that. He does.

Still, it’s a relief when she pulls on her scarf and coat and heads to the door, leaving Dean alone in the kitchen, giving him the chance to head upstairs to bug Cas.

“Hester’s gone to work,” Dean says, by way of explanation, then crosses the room to Castiel’s bed. Cas doesn’t tell him to piss off, so Dean takes that as permission enough to slip under the covers and stare up at the ceiling. Cas shifts into his personal space like Dean asked him too (which he kind of did, by coming in here) and resting his head on Dean’s shoulder. It’s a little uncomfortable and Dean’s pretty sure that Cas is only wearing boxers again, which is distracting, but it helps to regulate his thoughts.

“How are you, Dean?” Cas asks, all muffled and sleepy.

“Yeah,”

“That’s not a real answer,”

“Only one I’ve got,” Dean says, which has Cas shuffle a little closer, “Wanna run away from everything,” Dean exhales, “but that’s been my norm for a while,”

“Where would you go?” Cas asks, which means that he’s not taking Dean’s comment seriously. Dean’s pretty sure that’s what he wanted. If he wanted Cas to really understand he wouldn’t have said it so flippantly whilst Cas was half unconscious and half naked. It’s more like he was testing how the words tasted before saying them again: I can’t cope, I need to get out, I need to run away, I need this not to be my life .

“Mexico,”

“Mexico,” Cas repeats, “Why?”

“Get a decent tan, for one,”

“You tan?”

“I freckle,” Dean exhales.

“I like you,”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “I got that,”

“We don’t talk about it often,”

“Cause I dunno why the hell you would,” Dean says, “I mean, I’m a hot mess, Cas.”

“No,”

“Cas,” Dean says, throat thick.

“Yes?”

“Just,” Dean says, “Morning. Like you too,”

“Good,” Cas mutters, then promptly falls back to sleep on Dean’s shoulder.

*

“What’s up, my butt munching dude-bro and my favourite Cuz,” Gabriel says, effectively running what was probably the most restful sleep Dean’s managed in a long time. When he got used to the idea that Sonny’s might be semi-permanent, he got to sleep a little better. It helped that Sam was right there. It helped that he wasn’t balled up in the back of his car. Then the insecurity and the shitty anxiety started pressing in and now he hasn’t slept properly for a couple of weeks. Cas using him as a damn security blanket was surprisingly helpful.

Dean blinks a few times until his brain catches up with the fact that Gabriel is sat at the end of Cas’ bed.

“This is an invasion of privacy. Please leave.”

“All in good time, Cassie,” Gabriel says, “Morning Dean-o, my bestie,”

“Piss off,”

“Now now, Dean, you want me to tell everyone ‘bout your little cuddleathon?” Gabriel grins, then throws his cell phone in the air before catching it again and Dean is going to frigging kill him because he’s almost definitely gotten a goddamn picture. Fuck Gabriel. “Anyway, I’m doing you both a favour,”

“Leaving?”

“Yes actually, Bucko,” Gabriel says, “I’m going to see a man about some cigarettes,”

“Balthazar,”

“Bingo,” Gabriel confirms, “Then I’ve got some of my own stuff to deal with. Reckon in total I’ll be gone about four hours.”

“Thanks for the update, asshat,” Dean comments, sitting up feeling groggy.

“Mother dearest and Father are at work until five or six,” Gabriel says lightly, “Okay, from your blank looks of confusion I’m guessing you’re not hearing me here. Let’s spell it out. You will be alone in the house until at least lunch time. Capisce?”

“Dude,”

“No need to thank me. Just call me great cockunblock. Unblockacock?”

“Butt the hell out of my sex life, asshole,” Dean says, standing up, “You want coffee, Cas? Breakfast?”

“Four hours,” Cas repeats, squinty in that just-woke-up way he has.

“Can do five if you do my chores,”

“Done,”

“Cas,” Dean hisses.

“Have fun, kiddos,” Gabriel says, offering them a salute before exiting the room.

“I would appreciate a coffee,”

“Awesome,” Dean mutters, heading for the kitchen with his head buzzing with white noise because… holy shit, Cas has plans, and Dean’s got no clue where his mind’s at, because everything’s a complete frigging mess. His eighteenth birthday feels a hell of a lot closer this side of Christmas. He’s suddenly on the cusp of failing all his dumb classes. Everyone leaving for college feels is coming at him like a freight train.

Gabriel is still there when Dean gets to the kitchen and flicks on the coffee machine. He hangs around for just long enough to throw a goddamn condom at him. And, yeah, Dean probably should have seen this coming as a predictable side effect of dating his best friend’s cousin.

*

Approximately two minutes after Dean’s snapped that he doesn’t want to spend one of the few days off from school rewriting some shitty assignment, Cas fixes him with one of his familiar frowns till Dean thinks he’s just earned himself a lecture.

“Okay,” Castiel says.

“Really?”

“Really,” Cas says, “You need a break,”

“Hell yeah I do,” Dean says, “It’s been a lot,”

“I know,” Cas says, voice low, “I want to help you,”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “But, Cas, you’re trying so damn hard to help me and I don’t want that. I didn’t sign up to be your charity case. I don’t wanna be your project. I just want one normal thing,”

“Can I hug you?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, letting Cas pull him into a hug, tipping them horizontal. They’ve spent pretty much the whole morning being tactile and a little disgusting but there’s no one here to see them and, anyway, it’s seeping through a little of Dean’s panic and making him feel a little better. Or maybe just distracted, not entirely sure. “I know what you’re trying to do for me, Cas,”

“You give me entirely too much credit,” Cas says, “You’re enthralling,”

“Right,” Dean says, “I don’t do a whole lot, Cas, I just mope about and freak out,”

“You are excellent at silently brooding,”

“Screw you,”

“You are also loyal and strong and humorous,”

“Humorous,” Dean repeats, but he’s almost smiling anyway, “Cas, you are the best damn thing. I’m so… I don’t even know,”

“I’m going to the bathroom,” Cas says, smiling.

“Yeah, okay,” Dean says, releasing him to grab his cell and shoot off a text to Sam (Yes, me and Cas are doing our homework, asshole), rolling onto his front. Gabriel has text him, but Dean just deletes it straight off without reading it.

When Cas re-enters the room, he steps forward, cups Dean’s face and kisses him with intention.

“You shut the door,” Dean says, pulling back a little.

“Yes,” Cas agrees, eyes serious in the same way that leaning over a cliff edge is serious, 'I renegotiated with Hester following our conversation before Christmas.”

“I see where this is going,”

“I pointed out that it was somewhat illogical to hold the stance that they had no problem with us engaging in sexual activity provided we were responsible and safe whilst also maintaining an open door rule. I may have highlighted that them essentially saying 'fine, but not in our house' really was a complete restriction, unless they expected us to get creative.”

“Man, I'm not gonna be able to look Hester straight in the face for a week,” Dean says, face flushing hot even though he doesn’t want it to. Cas smiles slightly, the little shit, and he’s not blushing like the bumbling virgin he is.

“You should take off your shirt,”

“I can see you've got this all planned out,” Dean says, pulling off his shirt as per Cas' request. He's not entirely sure that he's in the mood, but he's pretty sure he'll catch up. Cas is lethal with his hair and that voice.

“I've been thinking about it, yes.”

“Damnit,” Dean says. Cas quirks up an eyebrow. “You intending to be this hot?”

“What do you..?” Dean swings a leg over Cas' hips and pins him to the bed with his knees. “Oh,” Cas says, blue eyes wide, “I don’t know what I’m doing,”

“Hey, you okay?”

“Yes,” Cas blinks, “I… yes,”

“You trust me?”

“Of course, Dean,” Cas says, sincere enough that it’s a little hard not to believe him. Still, Cas is a home schooled-break-out, Dean’s his first romantic thing ever and there’s no way in hell that Dean’s about to let Gabriel’s smart ass goad them into anything that isn’t painfully slow. It’s not just Dean who’s dealt with stuff lately. Cas’ whole world was upturned. He’s dealing with enough crap and for some reason he wants Dean, so Dean’s gonna be the best damn boyfriend he can be.

“Awesome,” Dean exhales, pulling Cas in for another kiss.

Chapter Text

On the first day back, he gets pulled out of class before he's even sat down to a meeting with Ellen, Principle Singer and Sonny. Dean can feel his anxiety levels spike before anyone's spoken, because he knew this was coming. He's a few weeks away from eighteen. He's gonna be kicked out on his ass with minimal savings and nowhere to go and no plan and no hope in hell of graduating high school, because he can't concentrate and he's so frigging behind that there's no way he can catch up. He’s got nothing and nowhere to go and no one to run to.

"Quit looking so damn scared, boy," Principle Singer says, which earns him an affronted look from Ellen. Sonny just sits, mellow and moustached. Ellen is tight lipped and stern, but in a kind of motherly way. It doesn’t help right now, when Dean is uncomfortable and terrified and all he can taste is uncertainty.

"What's with the three musketeers crap?"

"Dean," Ellen says, "We're here to talk about your options. You're turning eighteen in a few weeks and, officially, that ages you out of the care system and you'll be emancipated. So, we can provide you a couple of months support - help with finding housing, setting up to pay bills, then I can pass on your details to a local charity that specialises in helping young adults who've been in the care system. Or, Sonny says he's happy for you to stay there and I'm happy to recommend that as a course of action and that we keep offering funding in order to prevent you being separated from your brother, on the basis of a couple of conditions,"

"Yeah,"

"To clarify, this ain't to satisfy me or Sonny, it's to convince the people holding the purse strings," Ellen says, "We've been discussing with Principle Singer and looked over your past grades, and we reckon you've got a decent chance of good grades, Dean. Yeah, they've slipped, but you gotta pick ‘em up. Important part of the deal is you gotta finish high school,"

Dean swallows and doesn't say anything.

"Second thing, you gotta apply for college,"

"I'm not... I'm not going to college,"

"We're saying applying, boy, not going," Singer says, “We ain't dictating your life,"

"Pretty much,"

"Aint no harm in applying," Sonny says mildly, "That's not a commitment. It's an option,"

"Right," Dean snaps, "Like my options of going back to sleeping in my car or being blackmailed into applying to college."

"We're doing our best, kid," Ellen says.

“I get that,” Dean says, “I get it. But, I dunno if I… my grades are kinda fucked, right now,”

“Watch your mouth, Dean,”

“Look, sorry, whatever, but I got a lot on right now and I’m trying, but –”

“ – these are the options we’ve got, Dean,” Ellen says, “Wish I could give you more, kid, but that’s it. We can get you some more help. We can get you another tutor –”

“ – Cas,”

“Dean,” Sonny says, “You don’t think your boyfriend might be the wrong guy to help you with your classes?”

“I… maybe,” Dean says, lump in his throat, “But, Cas…. Cas has been trying to help,”

“He’s a good kid,” Principle Singer says, “Smart,”

“Exactly,” Dean says, panic sitting in his gut, because he is royally fucked. He doesn’t even remember exactly how fucked his is, because he’s not even sure how bad he’s failing right now. He lost track. He knows it’s bad. He’s got a bunch of crappy test scores shoved in a draw in his bedroom at Sonny’s, but he hasn’t looked at any of them since the holidays started. “I just… I gotta stay with Sam. That’s…. that’s the only option I have here,”

“Figured you’d say that,” Ellen nods, then Principle Singer pulls out a folder of all his shitty grades and they spend the next fucking hour dissecting every single damn thing he’s done wrong in the past three months. Then he gets a full on dose of lists of colleges he might think about applying for, before he gets shipped off to the nurse for another fucking check-up.

She tells him he’s still underweight and tries to ask about his feelings.

By the time he gets released to go to actual classes, its lunch time and he’s just about ready to lose his shit.

“Where the hell have you been, bucko?” Gabriel asks.

“Yeah, you would be the last damn person I wanna talk to about that,” Dean says, throwing himself down on the seat next to Cas and resting his face on his elbows. He’s fucked. Dean is absolutely fucked, because he’s failing and he’s failing everything despite Cas trying his damn best to bail him out. Cas has been trying to help, but Dean’s heads a drain. He can’t concentrate. None of it makes any sense. “Cas,” Dean whines into the table, “Please save me from this hellhole,”

“What’s wrong, Dean?”

“Fucking everything,” Dean says, “I hate this place,”

“Amen to that,” Gabriel agrees, as Cas combs a hand through Dean’s hair, which is way more affectionate and up and close than Dean was expecting but, whatever, it’s nice. It doesn’t calm any of the mountain of crap that’s whirling through Dean’s head right now, but he’s pretty sure it was never going to. His head’s about to fall out of his skull and that’s not a damn thing he can do to take it better, because he’s too fucking stupid to pass high school.

All of this is out of his control except his grades and that feels unsurmountable. That’s the crutch of all of it and he can’t do it. He’s gonna wind up abandoning Sam because he can’t get history or math to stay in his goddamn skull and Sam’s never gonna forgive him for it. He’s just not good enough.

“Dean,”

“Don’t,” Dean croaks, turning his head to face Cas, “I can’t do this.”

“Do what?”

“Any of it,”

“Okay, Mr Drama Queen,”

“Gabriel,” Cas says, voice more severe warning than snapping, “Dean, you should eat.”

“M’ not hungry,” Dean says.

“You need to –“

“ – what I need is to frigging study,” Dean snaps, because apparently he’s an A-grade asshole (so, hey, at least he has a passing grade at something). Castiel looks at him with pinched confusion, which makes a lot of sense given Dean’s spent the last few weeks consistently dodging any conversation about how badly he’s doing in class. Cas has got to have picked up on the fact that Dean still hasn’t rewritten that essay that Cas basically did for him. It’s not exactly a secret that Dean had given up on it.

“We can do that,” Cas says, expression still pulled into a frown, “The library, perhaps.”

“Yeah,” Dean exhales, standing up. He’s still wearing his Dad’s jacket even though he has a new one in his room at Sonny’s, but it’s… complicated. Sonny hasn’t mentioned anything about it.

People at school are still looking at him more than they used to, so Bella’s work seems to still be in effect. They’re still all talking and he can feel their eyes on him as he stands up. He’s a mess today. Gabriel and Cas aren’t the only ones who are gonna have noticed him missing class.

Castiel carefully folds napkins around Dean’s food on their way out, even though Dean feels too sick to eat a damn thing. He lets Cas do it anyway, because it’ll probably make him feel better.

They don’t really get anything done and Dean hates himself even more by the time their lunch period ends and he has to sit through an hour of World History.

*

“Dean,” Sonny says, when Dean gets back to Sonny’s an hour after he was supposed to be (Sam’s studying with Ruby; apparently this was all cleared with Sonny, which is the last damn thing Dean needs right now). He’s late because he spent an hour sat in the impala freaking out about everything and didn’t think it was safe to drive and the last thing he needs is a lecture on top of everything else. “You doing okay?”

“Peachy,” Dean says, dropping his maths book on the kitchen counter and heading for the fridge to get some food.

“You missed dinner,”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “I’m gonna study,”

“Ruby’s here,”

“Huh,” Dean exhales, “I… okay. You behind that?”

“You wanted to meet her,”

“She… okay?”

“A little prickly,”

“Awesome,” Dean mutters, “Okay, well guess I’ll hit the books down here,” Dean says, because he absolutely cannot deal with meeting demon-chick-Ruby right this second, because he’s got enough things to deal with right now. There’s no way he’s going up to their shared bedroom lest he walks in on his kid brother fooling around with some girl he’s pretending he isn’t dating. Whatever.

“I’ll clear the deck,” Sonny says, grabbing a dish cloth and heading into the main room. “Know it ain’t easy trying to study here, all these kids runnin’ around,”

“It’s cool, Sonny,”

“We can try work you out some more space,”

“It’s fine,”

“Maybe you can use my study –”

“ – Sonny, I got it, okay?” Dean snaps, voice raising, even though he’s being a complete asshole and Sonny does not deserve Dean losing his shit.

“Make sure you eat, Dean,” Sonny says, dropping his voice lower and quirking his eyebrows before Dean’s left alone for the first time in a while.

First, he digs out that essay Cas pretty much rewrote for him and starts it over. It shouldn’t be hard, cause Cas has done the hard work. Dean just needs to actually get his brain to think, but he can’t get his head to reboot. He can’t focus on the words on the paper. It’s like he no longer knows what they mean, or he’s trying to translate everything through a foreign language.

Gabriel texts him about some TV show just after he’s rewritten the title. Cas even reworded the goddamn title, because apparently the one Dean wrote sucked. He never used to be this dumb, but now his brain’s broken.

He texts Gabriel back before placing his phone face down on the table and staring at his essay some more. The first sentence passed Cas’ review, so he writes that out again. The second sentence has an arrow pointing to a whole paragraph of Cas’ cursive scribbled into the margin about how Dean needs to bring out the key themes of the essay in the introduction, rather than just as he was going along. Guy’s even written out what his key themes are, obviously figuring Dean’s too frigging stupid to know what they are himself, and maybe that’s fair, because he’d have spent way too long rereading it to remember what the hell he even wrote.

This essay is the tip of the iceberg. He’s drowning in so many assignments it’s almost funny.

He is hungry. Maybe he might be able to think if he eats something.

By the time he’s back from the kitchen with a sandwich Gabriel has text him back and he’s got a message from Cas. Gabriel’s still blithely chatting on about the TV show, but Cas wants to know about his feelings. It takes a lot of erasing and retyping before he settles on a decent enough reply for Cas, because the guy deserves a little more than the current Winchester shit show.

Maybe, if he finishes rewriting this essay tonight it’ll feel a little bit less like he’s got someone sat on his chest. The pressure is just –

“ – hey, Sonny,” Carl calls, stopping short when he spots Dean, before bursting through the house. Two minutes later, he’s yelling up the stairs. “Sam! Your girlfriend’s sister’s here. Saaammm,”

“Hey, shut your pie hole and walk up the damn stairs,”

“What if they’re kissing.”

“They’re not freaking kissing,” Dean snaps, even though they might be, because it’s not like Sam tells him crap like that anymore.

“Saaam!”

“Can it, Carl, I swear –“

“Dean,” Sam says, from the top of the stairs, “He’s nine,”

“And he’s loud,” Dean grips back, glancing up to get his first glimpse of the infamous Ruby. She’s blonde and she looks sarcastic and kinda mean and hella confident.

“The infamous Dean,” Ruby says, pulling on her leather jacket, “Nice.”

“Whatever,” Dean mutters, dragging his book across the table and glaring at it, even though he wants to drink in the way Sam and Ruby interact to decide whether or not they’re into each other and whether Dean needs to stage an intervention, or force Sam through another version of the sex talk. He can’t exactly imagine Sonny conducting that talk.

“Dean, this is Ruby,”

“Okay,” Dean says, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Didn’t know you were back,”

“Yeah, well, got a lot to do,”

“You missed food,”

“I know, Sam, I am me. I remember,”

“You said you wanted to meet Ruby,” Sam says and, for fuck’s sake, now he’s pissed off. Sam’s pissed at him, which means there’s no way in hell he’s gonna be able to do any work till this whole conflict bullcrap is dealt with. “And now you’re just…”

“I got a lot on,”

“You don’t get to act like Dad half the time and drop it as soon as it’s not convenient,” Sam says, voice raising slightly. “You can’t mad about not meeting my friends then skip out on the introductions because –”

“ – we’ve been introduced,” Dean snaps back, “We’ve met. We’re best friends. Next time, we’ll braid each other’s hair and share secrets, but right now, I’ve got this cap to do and Lilith is outside, so.”

Sam wrenches the door open with enough force that Dean’s almost surprised that it’s still intact. Sonny did not know what he was getting into when he took on the Winchesters.

“Pleasure,” Ruby says, raising her eyebrows.

“Likewise,” Dean says and, yeah, he definitely hates her. Damnit.

Their goodbye takes a few minutes on the front doorstep, so they’re probably dating. Sam leaves the front door open, too, which means it’s cold as balls by the time he’s slammed the front door shut and stormed his way back to Dean to yell at him some more.

“You’re so full of crap,”

“Sam,” Dean says, except it comes out as a little more of a croak than anything else.

“No,” Sam says, “You’ve been going on about meeting her for weeks, like you have a right to demand to vet all my friends –”

“ – because you got all buddy buddy with her behind my back, Sam, and I know what that means. Why aren’t you hanging out with Kevin?”

“Because it’s awkward, Dean. I slept on the Trans couch for months – ”

“ – Mrs Tran – ”

“ – Dean, the way they look at me,”

“So you decided to jump ship and make some new friends instead? Friends like Ruby?”

“There’s nothing wrong with Ruby,” Sam snaps.

“Then why the secrecy? Why go to Sonny?”

“Because you weren’t here. I wasn’t being secretive about anything, you just weren’t paying attention. You were so wrapped up in keeping everything hidden and now you’re just wrapped up in Cas and trying to fix everything and working. I’ve barely seen you, Dean. I invited Ruby over like you asked and you didn’t even come say hi to see if she passes your little test. Screw you, Dean.”

“That’s great, Sammy,” Dean says, “But I really gotta study,”

“You don’t even care about your grades,” Sam accuses, “That’s just an excuse –”

“ – Sam,” Dean hisses, “If I flunk out of high school, I’m out on my ass. I’m three weeks away from being a fucking adult. They don’t think I’m trying, I’m done. I am out.”

Sam sits down.

“They can’t just chuck you out,” Sam says, suddenly sounding a lot more like the scared, chubby kid he once was, before he grew all that fucking attitude. Well, he’s always had attitude, but it used to be cuter. Now Sam’s got so many opinions about everything Dean can’t keep track.

“They’re not gonna,” Dean says, “Because I’m gonna get my grades up, then I can stay here till I finish school,”

“Then what?”

“We’ll work it out,” Dean says, swallowing, “I swear, Sammy, we’ll work it out.”

Sam is too damn cynical for his own good, though.

“You should go to college,”

“No,”

“Dean,”

“No, look, Sam, if I get a job and an apartment then maybe they’ll let you stay with me,” Dean says, “I’ll find something near here. Reckon I can save up the deposit for somewhere before the summer rolls around and then…”

“How could he do this?”

Dean shuts his eyes.

“I don’t know,” Dean says, low.

“How could he not care?” Sam asks. His eyes are shining and his fists are clenched and Dean’s gonna be thinking about how broken he looks all night. It’s stirring up the anger he’s been trying not to think about for months, because how could he do that to Sam? Maybe Dean was supposed to take better care of him, not have them sofa surfing and homeless and broke, maybe he could’ve dropped out of high school like he wanted, but it seems like they were always going to be screwed.

“Don’t think like that, Sammy,” Dean says, “It won’t help. It’s done.”

“But it’s killing you,”

“I’m fine. Get over here,” Dean grunts, then he’s got an armful of his little brother, who’s started shooting up all of a sudden (it’s almost like he’s finally getting enough food), pressing his forehead against Dean’s arm and almost-shaking. More like he’s vibrating with anger and whatever else. It’s the most emotional response Dean’s got out of him since they got re-homed and it’s good. Dean feels less suspicious that it’s all gonna crumble, at least.

“I’m so angry, Dean. All the time.”

“Lucky you got me to yell at whenever you want then,”

“Dean,” Sam mutters, not letting go of him, “You’ve got enough to deal with,”

“Well, sorry buddy, but you’re permanently stuck as my priority,” Dean says, shutting his eyes and swallowing back the panic and how on edge he feels and how much he wants to bolt so he doesn’t have to deal with how badly he’s failing. He’s going to screw this up. There’s too much weighing on it. He can’t see any way he’s going to do it, but he has to, because Sam needs him to.

In the end, he doesn’t get to finish his essay.

Chapter Text

He just needs to get a C to keep passing math. He’s not trying for full marks, or even a good mark, or even a good C; he just needs to get a goddamn C. In fact, he might just swing it with a good D given he was doing okay for the first part of the year, but he’s not sure Ellen or Singer would count that as bringing his grades up and he can’t take that kind of risk. He needs this stupid fucking grade so damn bad but he can’t get the numbers to work in his head.

He used to be able to do this. He used to be okay at this, but at some point over the past few months his brain turned into this dumb mush and he has no concept of how to fix it.

“Perhaps we should take a break,” Cas says, voice even.

“The test is tomorrow,”

“And this isn’t helping,”

“I don’t have time for this not to be helping. Goddamnit,” Dean mutters, massaging his forehead, “Cas I don’t get it. I don’t get this stupid frigging -”

“ - a break. Now.”

“All work and no play makes a dull Dean,” Gabriel comments from the sofa, not looking up from his TV show that’s been buzzing in the background since he rocked up home after whatever the hell Gabriel was doing after school. They set up downstairs because apparently studying in Cas’ bedroom has the potential for way too many distractions, but that tanked the second Gabe got home. It’s not really Gabriel’s fault, in fairness. Dean would find watching paint dry distracting at this point. He's just done.

“Okay, let’s take a break,” Dean concedes, flicking his book shut and burying his face in his hands. “I’m fucked anyway.”

“What have you eaten today?”

“You’re not my minder,”

“Dean, if you want to get this you need to eat, you need to sleep and you need to take regular breaks.”

“I don’t -”

“You’re running yourself to the ground.”

“I’m doing the best I can, here, I am trying so goddamn hard and none of it’s helping. And I just -” He gets cut off when Cas pulls him into a hug. He’s not expecting it. He’s also not expecting it to actually help, but the tension leaks out of his shoulders and it’s the first time in the past week he’s actually relaxed. He winds up balling his hands up in the material of Cas’ shirt and slamming his eyes shut. “Uh,” Dean says, after the hug’s gone on for way too long and he’s forced himself away, “Where’s Hester?”

“You’re only noticing the rents are gone now?” Gabe voices, “Visiting Anna. All week. We talked about it over lunch. Any bells?”

“Huh,” Dean says.

“There’s burgers in the fridge. If I cook them, will you eat one?”

“If it makes you happy,” Dean says, pushing the book away, “I can cook, Cas. You’re the one giving up your whole frigging evening to help me cram,”

“I am your tutor and boyfriend, Dean,”

“Yeah, okay,” Dean says, dragging out his cell and sending a message to Sam. It’s mostly a lie about how well his study session is going, but Sam’s worrying enough. He should never have told him his status at Sonny’s was at risk. He shouldn’t have put that on Sam. He’s making the same crappy mistakes that Dad made and it’s been keeping him up on all night.

“Do I get a burger too, cuz?” Gabriel puts in, muting the TV over to walk over and sit opposite Dean and throw scraps of paper at him, “Or is that a boyfriend benefit?”

“Not in the mood, Gabe,” Dean says, locking his cell phone to glare at him.

“Don’t use that line up too soon, Deano, or you’ll be all out for later,”

And that’s irritating as hell because it means, in all probability, they’ve been talking about him. He doesn’t know why that’s surprising, either, because they’re kind of friends. It’s good that Cas is talking about crap with Gabriel. It’s just… they haven’t exactly had a chance to spend a whole lot of time together over since that one time over Christmas, and it hasn’t got a damn thing to do with what kind of mood he’s in. He’s just swamped.

Dean stands up and crosses the kitchen to where Cas is turning on the grill.

“Hey, Cas,” Dean says, pulling him in by his belt hooks and kissing him, hard, till Cas has caught up enough to wrap his arms around his neck and hold him there.

“You sicken me,” Gabriel sighs, then the TV restarts, loudly.

“Thanks,” Dean says, pulling back just a little.

“For what?”

“My boyfriend benefit burger. I’m gonna read over these dumb notes,” Dean sighs, “Let me know if you need a hand,”

The numbers do make more sense now he’s had a few minutes of not staring at the damn page, but it’s even harder to concentrate now he can smell the burger’s cooking and he knows that Cas is right there.

He probably should have picked a tutor he didn’t want to fool around with.

He eats, though, and he even enjoys it. It’s the mix of hanging out with Cas and Gabe without Hester or anyone else and the fact that he watched Cas put the food together for him, but it’s good.

*

“Can I stay?” Dean asks, after they’ve been slogging at the damn math for long enough that Dean at least feels like he’s gonna be able to answer the first damn question. Cas stares at him without blinking. “I’m so damn tired I can’t face the drive. Could do some more work tonight. Get up early tomorrow morning, maybe.”

“I’ll call Hester,” Cas says, standing up to reach for his phone.

“Sonny, right,” Dean says, “Damnit, being answerable to someone is a pain in the ass. Okay. I’ll call and ask. See what Hester says, first. If you don’t mind, I mean.”

“Why would I mind?”

“I don’t know, Cas, cause I’m your boyfriend and I’m asking to stay over because I wanna revise. Should be asking to stay cause I’m trying to get a leg over. Damnit, this whole thing is so…”

“I would like you to try and get a leg over at some point,” Cas says, thumb hovering over Hester on his phone, “But I’m sure there will be other opportunities.”

Cas gives him a nod halfway through the call, which is Dean’s cue to call Sonny and pass him over to Sam. It all works out fine. He’s apparently a tragic enough teen figure that they all believe he wants to stay over in the name of math, which says he doesn’t know what about the state of his life.

“Let’s do that break thing you were suggesting earlier,” Dean says, after he’s got off the phone with Sam - he’s fine, been doing his homework, asked way too many questions about his math - “Half an hour. Let’s make out.”

“Okay,” Cas agrees with a slight frown, because he’s damn cute like that, “I’ll set an alarm,”

“Such a dork. Sofa. Get over here,”

“The sofa,” Cas frowns.

“Dude, if we go to your room, no alarm is gonna save us and I really, really need to pass this fucking test,”

“I think you will,”

“Whatever,” Dean says, as Cas sits on the edge of the sofa, and Dean pulls him in, sliding his palms over Cas chest, shoulders, arms. He really wishes he could destress enough to actually enjoy this, but there’s too much going on in his head. He’s got two weeks to pull his grades around or he’s as good as homeless again. He needs to save money and study and pass goddamn math. He needs to work out how the hell he’s gonna get Sam through college in four years time. He needs to work out how he’s gonna stay afloat when Cas and Gabriel and Charlie ditch him for college. “So you want me to get a leg over, huh?” Dean says, cocking an eyebrow at him. “Let’s talk about that.”

“Last time was enjoyable. I’d be amenable to a repeat.”

“Exactly that?”

“I have… ideas,”

“Really,” Dean asks, as Cas runs a thumb over his jaw and pulls him into a kiss.

As it turns out, the alarm is god send.

*

He wakes up just before five in a panic about the stupid goddamn math test. He slept pretty well, considering, but now he’s too hot, too awake, too anxious to stay there for another second. He didn’t get a chance to run yesterday, which has been one of the only things helping him calm down recently, and the test is in six hours. Six hours.

Dean extracts himself from Cas’ bed (whether Hester sanctioned that part about him staying over he has no idea) and makes his way back downstairs. His books are still spread out over the table and he’s got a sheet of Cas’ exquisite cursive re-explaining the textbook.

Coffee and revision. He can do this. He has to do this.

Gabriel showing up thirty minutes later nearly makes him jump out of his skin.

“So you’re really stressed about this exam, huh,” Gabriel says, blinking at him blearily and slumping down in the chair opposite him.

“Yeah,” Dean says, “Hey.”

“Making it hard to be pissed at you for living in your own ass, Deano.”

“Sorry,” Dean exhales, “Know I’ve been pretty useless, lately. Lot going on.”

“I hear you,” Gabriel says, “So, is Cassie making you happy as well as making you smart?”

“What?”

“Nerdy guy. The one you’re dating. You feeling good about that?” Gabriel asks, standing up and heading for one of the cupboards, “Because, gotta say, he seems pretty committed.”

“Gabe, is now really the time to deliver this speech?”

“Just don’t let there be so much going on you screw it up,” Gabriel says, pulling out a bag of cookies from the cupboard and beginning to eat. “You want help?”

“Help?”

“With the revision, jackass,” Gabriel says, “You’re up, I’m up, I passed this class.”

“You’re eating cookies at five AM,”

“Problem?”

“Nope,” Dean says, “Thanks, man.”

“Anything for my dude bro,” Gabriel says, rubbing sleep out of his eyes, “You’re overcomplicating it,”

“Huh?”

“Your notes,” Gabriel says, “What’s your endgame here?”

“I just need to get a frigigng C. That’s it.”

“Okay, then,” Gabriel says, pulling Cas’ carefully put together syllabus over to his side of his table and attacking it with red pen, “Forget this, this and this. If you haven’t got it now, you’re not getting it. This you get points for working out, so those are easy marks. Go over that.”

“Right,” Dean says, frowning at his notes, “But Cas…”

“Cas is a straight A student who works way too damn hard,” Gabriel says through a mouthful of cookie, “Study smart, Dean, it’s easier than being smart,”

“I need more coffee,” Dean mutters, standing up and heading for the Milton’s coffee machine.

“You need seventy percent,” Gabriel says, propping himself up on his elbow, eyes half shut, as he pushes the book at him, “So screw the other thirty.”

For a guy who is such a colossal dumbass most of the time, he’s making a lot of sense.

*

Castiel finds him bunking off from Chemistry with Gordon and a pack of cigarettes. It’s not exactly his finest moment but, then, Cas hasn’t exactly gotten a rose-tinted view of Dean so far, so Dean’s not too worried that Cas is about to suddenly be done with him. He’d have taken the exits a while back if he wasn’t willing to accept Dean being an idiot sometimes.

“You weren’t answering your phone,” Cas says, stepping into the knook in the staff car park, nose wrinkling slightly at the smell of cigarettes. It answers the question about why he’s here, at least. He should’ve known not answering his questions about the frigging math test would make him worry.

“Guess I’ll leave you two love birds in peace,” Gordon says, with a sneer in Cas’ general direction.

“And fuck you Gordon,” Dean comments, not turning to look at Cas. Gordon, at least, seems to have gotten over himself enough to leave half the pack of cigarettes before he makes his exit, which is convenient. As much of a dick as Gordon’s always been, his friendship has always been convenient.

“It was just a test, Dean,” Cas says, when they’re alone, “And I know what we went over yesterday sunk in. I’m sure it went better than you thought,”

Of course he’d assume that all of this was about that stupid test, given it’s the only thing Dean’s talked about for the past week.

“The math test was fine,” Dean mutters, lighting another cigarette, “It was the Human Biology pop quiz right after it that screwed me over. I wasn’t failing Human Biology yet, damnit, but I didn’t know a damn thing and now I….”

“I’m sure it wasn’t worth much,”

“And I was passing by the skin of my teeth, Cas. I am so fucked. I can’t do this. I’m screwing everything up. I’m broke and failing and I’m so goddamn stupid,” Dean says, hands clenching into fists. He’s so close to punching the wall. He’s so close to just giving up, but he doesn't get to do that. He has to think about Sam. He has to think about how he'll regret it for the rest of his life if they get separated.

“Dean, you are not stupid,” Cas says, voice firm, “You fell behind because your life was in extreme turmoil. You were homeless and trying to look after your brother,”

“And I can’t catch up,” Dean says, leaning against the wall, “I’m spinning plates. I can do all of this crap individually, but when it’s all at once, it’s just…”

“Can you retake?”

“The pop quiz?”

“The year, Dea,”

“So you don’t think I can do this?”

“That’s not even close to what I said,” Cas says, “I think you’re very stressed. You’re not eating or sleeping. You haven’t given yourself the chance to deal with what’s happened this year, Dean. You need some time and perhaps -”

“ - not an option,” Dean cuts across, “Time ain’t something I have the luxury of.”

“What do you want to do?” Cas asks, leaning next to him as Dean fumbles with another cigarette.

“Drop out,” Dean says, “Can’t, though.”

“Why?”

“Why?” Dean counters, “You think I should drop out?”

“I think the current status quo is not sustainable,” Cas says, voice very level, “I think what you’re trying to do currently is destructive and bad for you, personally. I think you are more than capable of doing well in all your classes and going to a good college and that battling through this now, rather than giving yourself time, might not be the best thing for you.”

“If I’m out I’m not coming back,” Dean says, running a hand over his face. Even Cas doesn’t think he’s going to be able to pull this off. “I gotta talk to Henriksen about that pop quiz.”

“Dean, can I help?”

“You’re helping plenty,” Dean says, pushing himself off the wall and offering him a forced smile, “You wanna come over to Sonny’s friday? About time you saw it.”

“I could be free on Friday,”

“Good,” Dean says, chest tight, head spinning,“I’m gonna go plead my case with the higher ups.”

*

The last thing he needs first thing on Friday morning is to be called back into Principle Singer’s office to ‘talk’. He’d kind of expected it after his pleading match with Henriksen over whether he could do some kind of extra assignment instead of that that dumb pop quiz being taken into account, but it still churns up the sea of unease he’s been carrying in his gut for months.

He’s getting to the point where knowing he’s out on his ass would almost be a relief, because the uncertainty about all of it is killing him. At least if he knew he wouldn’t have to manage this almost hope.

“Sit, boy,” Principle Singer says, nodding at the seat.

“Woof,”

“So now you’re a comedian,” Singer says, “That where you were on Tuesday morning where you should have been in chemistry? Practicing your jokes?”

“Smoking, actually.”

“Mmhm,” Singer says, “You remember the conversation we had last time you were in my office?”

“Yeah, okay,” Dean says, “Cutting class was dumb, but I swear I’m... I’m trying to get back on top of my grades. Tuesday felt like I was running at a brick wall and I just - ”

“ - had a pop quiz,”

“I said I’d make up the marks, but Henriksen -”

“ - I heard the story from Henriksen.”

“I had a bad day,” Dean says, “But Sam is -”

“You got a B,” Singer says, pulling out his math test and sliding it across the table.

He got a B. Just barely - he got there by a mark, looks like - but he got a motherfucking B in the math test. He owes Cas and Gabriel so hard.

“Huh,”

“You did fail the pop quiz,” Principle Singer says, pulling that out too, “And a D in your history essay,”

“One before that I got an F, so that’s technically an improvement,” Dean says, blinking at his test.

Technically, your score improved by twenty marks,” Principle Singer says, quirking an eyebrow at him. “It was a good D,”

“It was a bad F.”

“You’re making progress, Dean,” Singer says, assessing him, “How’s Sonny’s?”

“Better than sleeping in my car,” Dean throws back, “I get breakfast and everything.”

“You still working weekends?”

“Yeah,”

“And your brother?”

“Good,” Dean says, “He’s… good. Lying to me about his new girlfriend.”

“Mhm,”

“He needs me there,” Dean says, shifting in his seat, “I know it seems like I’m the screwed up one and I’m not saying that ain’t true, but Sammy needs me here. With him. Looking out for him. He’s angry and he’s… he’s just a kid.”

“You know that ain’t my decision,”

“You’ve got influence, though,” Dean counters, “You can tell them I’m trying.”

“I can,” He agrees, “Could also tell them you’re cutting classes to smoke,”

“Please,” Dean says, jaw clenched.

“Make it easy for me, y’idjit,” Principle Singer says, “Here’s your assignment for Henriksen. You have two weeks. Let me know if you need an extension.”

“Thanks,” Dean says, picking all of it up and standing up, shaking slightly.

“And keep it up, son.”

*

Considering he hasn’t been there very long, he feels weirdly self conscious and over protective over Sonny’s hippy farm stroke boy’s home as he shows Cas around. He knows full well that Cas isn’t about to turn his nose up and the new set-up, but he still winds up defending the slightly run down barn and the pokey room he shares with Sam.

“Sam’s out,” Dean says, “At Ruby’s, I think, but it’s uh… doors open kind of deal cause of the kids,”

“That would make sense,”

“We could… wanna watch a movie?”

“Sounds good,” Cas says, unflappable and not at all acknowledging the fact that Dean’s acting self-conscious and awkward, which Dean appreciates a lot. “Do you need to study?”

“Yeah,” Dean exhales, heading back for the stairs, “Later, though. We can take a break. Don’t think we have a whole lot of selection, movie wise. Mostly kiddy stuff but uh… “

“It’s fine, Dean,” Cas says, resting a hand on his arm and smiling.

“Okay,” Dean says, pausing at the shelf in the sitting room with the collection of communal books and DVDs. He’s pretty sure most of them were abandoned here over the years. “The Goonies or the first Harry Potter,”

“I’ve seen neither,”

“Man, everytime I forget the home schooled thing…”

“I have read Harry Potter,”

“Course you have,” Dean says, “Let’s watch that. You can bitch about the differences and I’ll watch you be all cute,”

“Okay,”

“You want a drink? Soda?”

“I’m fine,” Cas says, smiling slightly, “Let’s sit,”

They do a helluva lot more talking than actually watching the damn movie, but Dean’s pretty sure that’s allowed given everything. The concept of a whole two hours off is nothing short of revolutionary. The fact that he gets to spend his Friday night with Cas nestled under his arm and a hand on his knee is awesome. He’s still marinating in the fact that he got a B and Principle Singer thinks he should ‘keep it up’.

“The pronunciation of these spells is not as I imagined,”

“Really,” Dean says, and kisses him. It’s not exactly platonic (he's not sure if he's ever managed anything platonic with Cas), but it’s definitely all PG-13 and it’s just nice, really, to bask in the closeness and the physical content. He’s pretty tactile and Cas seems to revel in ittoo. At least, he is doing, until they get interrupted by Carl.

“But you’re kissing,” Carl damn near shrieks.

He just wanted one normal Friday night with his frigging boyfriend. One.

“Carl,”

“You’re boys,” Carl says, “Boys shouldn’t kiss. It’s wrong and you’re going to be punished.”

“Hey, can it,” Dean snaps, flushing, but Carl’s already headed for the exits, “Cas, I’m so sorry. I’m so…”

“Dean, it’s fine, he’s a kid,”

“It’s not fine,” Dean says, hitting pause on the TV. “The crap people project on their kids. He’s nine, damnit.”

“In which case he has plenty of time to be educated,”

“Hey boys,” Sonny says, stepping into the room and frowning at them both, “Castiel, Dean. Carl said something -”

“ - we were just kissing,” Dean says, “Not my problem if the kid had some wacko religious parents,”

The tilt of Sonny’s moustache indicates he gets it.

“I’ll talk to him,” Sonny says, “But keep it family friendly, Dean.”

“Roger that,” Dean says, face still flushed. He’s mortified about the whole frigging thing, even though he has no idea why. He was kissing his goddamn boyfriend. That’s nothing for him to feel remotely ashamed about it’s just… he doesn’t remember getting caught by Dad being this embarrassing. He doesn't remember Dad ever giving a damn, though he'd no doubt have something to say if he caught him and Cas.

“Have you told Sonny your good news?” Cas asks, “Dean got a B in his math test.”

“Good job, Dean,” Sonny beams, “Your choice for dinner. Anything you want.”

“Whatever’s easy, Sonny,” Dean says.

“Mexican?”

“Sure,” Dean agrees with a forced smile.

“And sorry about the kid,” Sonny says, nodding at them both. He means it too. Sonny is good people and Dean doesn't envy him preaching tolerance to a frigging nine year old who's probably never seen two guys kiss before.

Sam is their next interruption.

“Harry Potter,” Sam says, sitting on the arm of the sofa, “Nice choice, Dean,”

“Our options were limited, jackass,” Dean says, “Good evening?”

“Yeah,” Sam says, “Sonny says we’re having tacos. And that you have news,”

“I passed my math test,”

“He got a B,”

“Just,” Dean grimaces.

“Hey, that’s great,” Sam says, smiling.

“Right,” Dean says, “Thanks.”

“What, Dean?”

“I used to get B’s all the time, before all of this,” Dean says, “You watching the movie with us, Sammy?”

“Sure,” Sam says, “Seriously, good job on the B, Dean.”

“Thanks,” Dean says, the air rushing out of his lungs, head dropping onto Cas’ shoulder.

It’s a good Friday.

*

Sam wakes him up at the ass crack of dawn with a list a stack of college applications he printed off at school.

“That was the other condition for you saying here, right,” Sam says, eyes anxious, and he’s been up half the night too, looks like. “Staying in school and applying to college,”

“Right,” Dean croaks, rubbing his eyes and sitting up, “Sam, I’m working today. I don’t have time,”

“Your birthday is in a week and a half,” Sam says, “Just… promise you’ll start the application today.”

“Sam, I can’t today,”

“Dean,”

“Okay,” Dean exhales, dropping his head onto the pillow and trying to regulate his damn breathing, “Okay.”

Chapter Text

His eighteenth birthday is in one week, he’s had two further follow up meetings with Bobby, he tanked another assignment and improved a grade on one of his make-up assignments and he still doesn’t know what the hell is gonna happen to him. He’s pretty sure that his trio of do gooders are pitching the concept of him staying at Sonny’s, hard, but no one’s given him a fucking answer yet. Given how invested they all seem to be, he gets that they probably haven’t told him because they don’t know, but it’s… it’s crap. Its crap and he can barely breathe without suffocating on the thought of it.

The only damn thing he knows is that he won’t be out on ass straight away. Ellen indicated it might take another month of his every fucking move being dissected and picked apart before they decide, which only really means the pressure isn’t going to be off for a long damn time. He’s got to keep on keeping on. He’s got to keep on his game face on, study until his brain’s numb and apply for whatever frigging college courses Sam finds for him.

He at least thought he’d get to struggle through without acknowledging any of it was happening, at least, but -

“You’re applying to college,” Cas says, fixing his blue eyed stare on him over lunch hour. He’d forgotten he’d stuffed the dumb application under the stack of essay-redos he still had to slug through in order to be sure he was officially passing high school. He’d been trying to forget about the crappy application altogether, even more so than the shitty history assignment and that he’s been emotionally done with this whole fucking week since the concept of it occurred to him on Sunday night. Last week was a battle he hasn’t recovered from yet. This week is going to be exactly the same.

“Maybe,” Dean says, sliding the damnable thing back under the rest of his school work and cursing his instincts for not kicking in when Cas started absently sifting through the work he still had to do.

“Hey,” Charlie says, “So we’re not allowed to use the C word and you’re applying on the sly. Not cool, Winchester,”

“You talk about whatever you want,” Dean says, and that’s guilt, because his steeliness about avoiding the topic hasn’t exactly been fair, It’s a big deal. He shouldn’t be dictating what his friends can and can’t talk about, when it’s something as important as college. “Just don’t expect me to talk back.”

“I don’t understand you,” Castiel says, still staring at him.

“It’s cause I’m a man of complexities and mystery,”

“It’s because you don’t talk to me,”

“It’s a dumb college application, Cas.”

“Last week you said you wanted to drop out of school,”

“I do,”

“And now you’re applying to college,”

“What’s the big frigging deal?” Dean asks, shifting in his seat. Charlie and Ash are looking at them, he’s got a twenty minutes of his lunch break left and there’s a lot of people in the lunch hall. He doesn’t want to talk about this here, or ever actually.

“Ignoring the fact that we’re referring to potentially four years of your life -”

“- it’s community college. Even my golden fucking B aint exactly getting me to the Ivy leagues - ”

“ - You have no interest in talking to me about your life,”

“That’s a load of crap,”

“No, it isn’t,” Cas says, frown deepening, “I understand why you didn’t discuss your situation with me before - ”

“ - you mean before I got outed as living in my fucking car? How gracious of you to understand that, Cas. Have a medal.”

“ - but you still won’t talk to me,” Cas says - accuses, actually - voice gaining heat and emotion.

“I have no idea where your sudden determination about your grades come from or that you were even considering applications to college because you constantly side step any serious conversation I try to begin.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of in the resume,” Dean snaps and, goddamn, he didn’t want to have a fight and he especially didn’t want to have a fight in front of everyone.

“Damnit, Dean.”

“Back off, Cas.”

“No,” Cas says, eyes sharp, “I can’t keep second guessing what’s going on in your head because you won’t tell me about it.”

“Then don’t,” Dean says, grabbing his stupid bag of books off the floor and abandoning his lunch, “Just forget the whole damn thing.”

He nearly throws the damn thing out the window, but he spends the rest of lunch working out what he needs to do to apply instead.

*

Any dream he had of concentrating in chemistry is shot to hell by the time he gets there, because he’s checked his cell six times and Cas hasn’t messaged him and Dean’s not even really sure why he thought he would. It’s not like Cas doesn’t have a damn point. Dean’s the crappiest boyfriend on the planet, but he warned Cas it would be like that. He told him. He told him he was fucked up and in the process of screwing up and Cas just waved that way. There’s no space in his head for it. There’s no space in his head for Chemistry, or history, or any of the other crappy subjects he’s still technically failing, when his mind is so full of Sam and pressure and trying to keep himself afloat so he can prove he’s worth saving. There’s no space for arguing with Cas.

His messed up head seems to think that’s the priority though. Heart, maybe. Some crappy part of him that he doesn’t have the time for.

Ignore that crap I said Dean sends fifteen minutes into the lesson, when he hasn’t taken in a single word. It doesn’t help that half of it’s stemming from the class he skipped last week (and he had these intentions to catch up to prove to Principle Singer that he’s committed to doing a good job, but he hasn’t got a clue where he’s supposed to find the time), but it could be fifth grade science and he’d be totally lost. Fucking Cas and his self-righteous assumption that Dean should tell him everything in his life; it’s more annoying that he’s probably right, when he’s supposed to be the one who doesn’t know a thing about relationships. But he can’t. He can’t.

You mean you don’t want me to ‘forget the whole damn thing’?.

Fuck. He’s really, really messed up. Gabriel is probably going to kill him, too, because he warned him. And Cas had always been too damn good for him but that one, good slice of normality has been keeping him sane.

Just the part where you’re pissed at me.

Cas doesn’t reply for another ten minutes. He’s a total stickler for the rules, so it’s a minor miracle that he’s on his phone in class anyway, but his first reply rolled in after about thirty seconds.

Why are you applying to college?

He can’t talk about this. Especially right now. Especially by text.

Dean pockets his phone and swallows past the lump of angry guilt in the back of his throat. He’s too late to stop himself from being told off for texting in class, though, which is the exact opposite of what he needs.

By the time the class ends, he’s written three words in his notes and he doesn’t have a clue what the lesson was supposed to be about.

*

Cas tries to corner him in the parking lot after school and three hours of Dean ignoring his last message. He’s late enough emerging out of his final class that Dean’s already getting in the impala to pick up Sam from school. Cas catches his eye from across the damn yard and starts heading in his direction with a fierce purpose.

Because he’s a total asshole, he hits the gas and leaves before Cas has a chance to catch up with him.

Sam knows something’s up the second Dean turns up the radio in answer to his question about school, but he doesn’t mention it.

They drive to Sonny’s in silence and it’s the best thirty minutes of the day.

*

He was just looking for a sock.

Sonny let one of the older kids do the laundry in exchange for pocket money, or something, and the whole damn week his and Sam’s crap has been mixed up. He was gonna change into his running gear and sweat away the bullcrap that’s been this whole damn day, but he could only find one frigging sock. He didn’t exactly mean to stumble across Sam’s secret stash of private stuff, it was just stuff in the bottom of his drawer.

Mostly, it was sentimental things. A picture of their Mom holding Sam outside their old house. Another of Dad and the two of them (which Dean has no idea how he got, why he’s kept or how he managed to keep is safe whilst they were living out the impala). Some note from girl Dean thinks might have been from a school-change ago that Sam used to flush bright red whenever Dean teased him about.

Then there’s a test paper dated two weeks ago with a C scrawled across the top.

Sam’s such a freaking geek that Dean checks the name at the top of the paper before he really believes that it belongs to Sam. As far as Dean’s aware, and he’s been consistently aware since Sam’s first day of school, his little brother’s never got anything lower than a B+ on his test in his life and he was in a snit about that for two weeks before he whored himself out for extra credit to keep up his GPA. It’s some compare and contrast essay crap that Sam’s usually ace at, but… he got a C. He got a C and he lied about it.

Worse, Dean didn’t even know the damn assignment existed, let alone that he needed to ask how Sam did. He just didn’t mention it at all. It’s like it never even happened. The absolute last thing Dean needs today is another thing to feel guilty about and somehow that means he skips straight over to anger instead.

Sam is lying hto him.

“The hell is this, Sam?” Dean demands, storming into Sonny’s dining room, brandishing the test.

His face turns from confused to pissed so damn fast Dean almost misses it. He’d been helping Tommy with his homework which means Dean’s probably a dick, but today sucks so much he doesn’t even care. Tommy can fucking deal with the interruption, because they need to talk about this.

“Why are you going through my stuff?”

“Better question is why you didn’t tell me you got a C?”

“What the hell, Dean,” Sam says, “You invaded my privacy - ”

“First, you throw me some line about Ruby and now you’re hiding crap from me -”

“ - I’m not hiding anything from you,” Sam says, standing up to snatch the paper out of his hand, “It’s one stupid C, Dean, it doesn’t matter - ”

“If it doesn’t matter then why are you keeping it in your sock drawer?”

“Why are you going through my stuff, Dean?” Sam demands again and, apparently, they’ve been loud enough to attract Sonny’s attention. He’s in the doorway to the kitchen glancing at both of them, looking concerned rather than angry about the yelling, because Sonny’s like that.

“Boys,”

“You’re lying to me, Sam. What else are you lying about, huh?”

“I didn’t think you’d give a damn about the C,” Sam half yells, “Given how little interest you’ve been showing in my life, guess I just figured you didn’t care.”

“Fuck you, Sam.”

“That’s enough,” Sonny says. Dean’s never heard him be authoritative before, but it has the ability to cut through the room and shut them both up immediately. He’s a damn sight more effective with Sam than John Winchester ever was. “Both of you, take a seat. Tommy. We’ll take a rain check on your homework. I’ll help you myself after food.”

He shouldn’t have sworn in front of one of the kids. That was in his frigging contract too.

“Now,” Sonny says, voice back to mild, “Either of you wanna elaborate,”

“He went through my stuff,”

“I was looking for a socks,” Dean snaps back, “It’s your fault if that’s where you put your personal crap. And you know I goddamn care, Sam.”

“You had enough on your mind,”

“Man, I don’t give a damn if I’m drowning, you tell me when something’s up with you. You know that’s the deal.”

“Okay,” Sam says, but the word’s still inflated with irritation. It’s not surprising. Sam can frame it like he’s worried about Dean all he likes, but that doesn’t mean that Sam hasn’t been angry at him for how he’s handled everything since Dad left. That might not be his fault, but everything Dean put him through since then was. Sam knows he was being selfish. He just… he needed them to be together, even if Sam didn’t.

“What happened?”

“What happened with what?”

“With the C Mr perfect GPA.”

“Nothing,” Sam says, “I just… I just got a C, Dean, it happened.”

“Never happened before,”

“And you’ve never been failing school before,” Sam says, eyes narrowing, “I didn’t tell you because you’ve been up late every night trying to get Cs and I just… I can fix the C. I’m doing extra credit.”

“Okay,” Dean says, “Fine. I’m going to bed.”

“Dean,” Sonny says, “Anything else bothering you?”

“No,” Dean says through gritted teeth.

“Right,” Sam scoffs, “You’ve been a real pleasure to be around,”

“Did something happen at school?”

“No,” Dean says, a little aggressively, because now Sam is more alert. School is a tense subject. School is the thing keeping him with a roof over his head, maybe. “Not like that. I just..I had this dumb fight with Cas at lunch.”

He doesn’t mention the fact that it’s his birthday in a week because they all know that. It’s been invading on them all.

“Your first fight?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “I was kind of an asshole. Middle of the cafeteria at lunch. Then everyone was talking about it all frigging day.”

“What was it about?”

“Didn't tell him about the college application thing then he found it in my stuff and he got all weird about it,” Dean says, even though he doesn’t know why. He’s crawling out of his damn skin just thinking about talking about it, but Sonny’s got this way of honing straight in on the point and getting Dean to spill his guts by framing it just right. He’s not asking how he’s feeling about the fight, just the content.

“Why didn't you tell him? I thought Cas was helping you with school stuff. He could help with the admissions essay,” Sam asks, traces of anger shadowing his voice still. He hates pissing Sam off. He really hates it when the fight. He hates that all he’s done for months is let Sam down.

“Yeah, he is, but that got dragged up too. I blew him off with the school stuff for a while. Said he didn't understand why I was suddenly gung-ho on the studying.”

“You didn't tell him about...about that at all ?” Sam asks, glancing at Sonny. “But you're dating.”

“Sam -”

“- did you tell him about any of it. About dad?”

“I mean it came up in conversation when his guardian got called up to put me up for a night -”

“- But since then?” Sam asks and, damnit, maybe he doesn’t sound pissed anymore, but he sure as hell looks worried. That’s worse.

“- If talking fixed anything I'd have passed school by now. It doesn't matter, Sam, he's just pissed cause last week I said I wanted to drop out and this week I'm applying for freaking college.”

“- You said you… Dean, what do you mean you want to drop out?”

“Can't exactly be a surprise to you that I'm done with this whole shit storm. I'm not gonna do it. Don't exactly have a choice,” Dean says, not looking at Sonny this time. Sonny was in that meeting. Sonny knows he’s feeling the pressure of trying to pull it all around with a limited amount of time. It’s not Sonny’s fault. He doesn’t want him feeling guilty about it.

“But you talked about that,” Sam says, leaning towards him across the table, gaze flicking between Dean and Sonny like he’s looking for support.

“No,”

“Dean,” Sam says, eyes wide. “I just... I thought you were talking to Cas. You won't talk to me because you don't want worry me, but I just...just assumed that you were talking to Cas about all of this.”

“You been talking to Ruby about this?”

“It's not, Ruby isn't... but yes, Dean, I talked to my friends.”

“Huh,”

“Why do you have to deal with this alone?”

That’s an accusation about how he dealt with things right after Dad left.

“Sammy, I was just trying -”

“- I know,” Sam says, “But that's done. It didn't work. This is better.”

“I know that,”

“Do you? Dean,” Sam says, “We're together and you... you get to date Cas and have somewhere to do your school work and I just…”

“I know,” Dean says, “It's not like I ain't grateful,” he says, glancing at Sonny. “I know this a sweet deal compared to before. I just -”

“Not after your gratitude,”

“I know,” Dean says, “Cas doesn't need to know about this crap.”

“If he's worrying anyway, why not just tell him?”

“Because I don't wanna talk about it. Any of it. I don't…”

“You just keep acting like none of this happened, Dean,” Sam says.

“I'm fine,” Dean says, stomach tight. “I’m okay. Sonny. I’m fine.”

“Sam,” Sonny says, “Reckon that’s enough for now. Can you let Carl know I need him on stirring duty for food.”

“Sure,” Sam says, glancing between both of them before heading for the exits.

Sonny waits him out.

“You said a had a chance here,” Dean says, voice rising slightly, emotions he wasn’t really expecting flooding in. This is why he isn’t talking. If he opens his mouth, he doesn’t know what’s going to come out. “Two months and an ultimatum isn’t a chance, it’s a fucking presure cooker.”

Sonny sits down opposite.

“Maybe you’re looking for the wrong chance,”

“I need more time,”

“I’m trying my damndest so you can stay, Dean, but we all gotta work within the system. I reckon I can buy you some time, but you’ve got to make a choice about what to do with it.”

“A choice implies there’s more than one option,” Dean says, voice on a knife edge, standing up, because he doesn’t know how to do this, Not with Sam, not with Sonny and definitely not with Cas. “I’ve got nothing.”

He leaves before Sonny can respond and runs for long enough that he misses dinner.

*

Some-fucking-how, he manages to wade his way through half of his make-up assignment for Henriksen before he has to give up and write the day off. It’s late, anyway, and he has Cas’ lecturing him about missing lunch and dinner and not taking regular breaks running through his head

. Sonny left a plate of food in the fridge for him. It comes with a note about options not being as obvious as you might think that Dean throws out before reading, but he puts the food in microwave and pull out his phone to text Cas.

He won’t sleep if he doesn’t and he should eat. He doesn’t mean to keep skipping meals. He doesn’t mean to keep fucking everything up.

Can we talk before school? Dropping Sam off early.

Cas’ reply of ’okay’ comes seconds before the ding of the microwave.

He sleeps badly.

*

“Hello, Dean,” Cas says, opening the passenger side of the impala and slipping into the seat. His expression is deliberately neutral but he’s not fooling anyone. He looks tired and that’s a hundred percent all Dean’s fault. Damnit.

“Hey,” Dean croaks out, tightening his grip on the steering wheel like he hasn’t been stationary for the past thirty minutes.

“You wanted to talk,”

“Yeah,” Dean agrees, chest constricting. He tries a start a sentence a few times before the words get cut off by his throat closing up. He’s not sure if he was going to say ‘I miss my dad too much to be angry at him, and how fucked up is that?’ or ‘every time I think about getting split up from Sam I can’t breathe’ or ‘I just never want to be homeless again in my fucking life’ but it never comes out. He’s just sat there with the silence and Cas right next to him. “I… damnit,”

“Dean,”

“This isn’t how this was supposed to go,” Dean manages, after they’ve sat in the damn car in silence for long enough that the January cold has started setting into his bones. He reaches forward to turn the engine back on. “I thought, maybe, I’d actually say something.”

“You can’t,” Cas says, and all Dean can do is shake his head, because he can’t. He can’t do it. It shouldn’t be this fucking hard and the words are in his head, but if he talks… if he talks then it’s real and he can’t push it away again. “Okay, Dean,”

“I feel like… like if I open my mouth there’s gonna be an avalanche and I just … I can’t.”

“Would that be so bad?”

“I think I’d,” Dean begins, swallows, closes his eyes, “I’d break, Cas. And I can’t. If I was gonna talk to anyone it’d be you.”

“I’d rather you were talking to someone, regardless whether it was me,” Cas says, mouth an unhappy line as he just watches him. The rest of school is starting to arrive, now, and they haven’t fixed anything. They haven’t even started to fix anything. “When you asked me to help you with school, you were here early and you were asleep. You said you’d dropped Sam off for a before school club. You’d slept in your car that night,”

“Yeah, That was dumb. I shouldn’t’ve… not at school.”

“And running,” Cas says, “You were using the school showers,”

“Yep,”

“You’re very good at lying,”

“Awesome boyfriend trait, huh?” Dean asks, “Cas, I’m sorry. I’m really fucking sorry.”

“I know,” Cas says, then leans across the car to kiss him.

It’s a good approximation of forgiveness.

*

On Friday, the Ellen, Principle Singer and Sonny tag team call him out of class to tell him that he can stay at Sonny’s. It’s entirely contingent on him continuing to pass all his classes, which he’s barely managing, but he’s still so fucking relieved that he nearly has a breakdown in Principle Singer’s office. He doesn’t cry and manages to keep his shit together through the meeting and through his following appointment with the school nurse, who’s unhappy with the fact that he hasn’t put on any weight since he’s had access to food again and keeps trying to refer him to therapy. Then he’s released back to actual school in time for a double period of chemistry that he doesn’t understand.

He spends the whole day texting Sam and it almost feels like they’re back to normal. He wants to see his little brother and give him a hug so damn bad he nearly passes on Cas’ would-be-casual comment on the fact that Hester, Inias and Gabriel are all guaranteed to be out on Friday evening until late. He doesn’t much feel like handing in his teenage boy badge though, especially when he and Cas aren’t exactly on the greatest terms.

It’s a damn good evening, even if they don’t talk about anything.

He works a double shift Saturday and Sunday, then submits two college applications he has zero intention of following through on.

On Monday, Sam comes home with another duff grade and a detention.

And on Tuesday, it’s his eighteenth birthday.

*

In the history of his birthdays, his seventeenth birthday was actually pretty good. John Winchester was actually there and gave him some cash. Sam bought him a pie and made him another road trip cassette for the impala. Gabriel, Charlie and Ash all made about the amount of fus he could deal with, in that he got some low-keys gifts and no one sang happy birthday. It was significantly better than the few birthdays before that, which had only really been acknowledged by Sam.

Considering how much he’s been dreading the day, his eighteenth birthday starts off okay, even if Sam wakes him up way too early by sitting on the edge of his bed.

“Hey,” Dean mutters, peeling his eyes open. They had a fight about Ruby last night because, as far as Dean’s concerned, she’s the one that landed him with the detention, so he’s almost expecting Sam to start talking about that.

“Happy birthday, Dean,” Sam says.

“Right,” Dean says, sitting up and blinking at him.

“Here,” Sam says, passing over a wrapped up something,

“Awesome, presents,”

“That’s how it works, jerk,”

“Bitch,” Dean says, taking it and turning it over in his hands. He’s really not expecting the brown leather journal he unwraps and it takes him a moment for his emotional reflex to pass. It’s not Dad’s journal. It’s just… a journal.

“We lost Dad’s when we were… we were evicted,” Sam says, voice small, “You always said you wanted one just like it and eighteenth birthdays are supposed to be special, so I thought… it’s dumb. If you hate it I can take it back.”

“No, Sammy, it’s great,” Dean swallows. He feels like he’s swallowing glass. “Really.”

“If it reminds you too much of Dad then…”

“You shouldn’t’ve spent this much money, Sam,”

“It’s your birthday,”

“Get over here,” Dean says, and pulls him into a hug.

Sonny makes pancakes and bacon for breakfasts and gives him a new pair of running shoes. It’s probably more thoughtful than anything his Dad ever got him and that’s enough to make him quiet and a little emotional even before the other kids present him with home made frigging cards. Sonny says that he’s invited Cas, Gabriel and Charlie around for dinner if that’s okay by Dean. He ends up agreeing despite the fact that he’s had a no parties rule invoked since Sam’s efforts of his thirteenth birthday.

They listen to the cassette Sam made him for his last birthday on the way to school and Sam actually joins in belting out Asia with the windows rolled half down, January weather be damned.

*

“Happy birthday, Dean,” Cas says, approaching his car in the parking lot with a smile, “Are you having a good day?”

“Got a feeling you’re about to make it better,” Dean smiles, as Cas closes the gap to kiss him hello. “Hey there, Cas.”

“Want a birthday kiss from me too, dude bro?”

“Pass,” Dean says, as Cas hovers close by his side.

“Rejecting my birthday present? Cold, Deano. Guess you’re getting nothing from me,” Gabriel says, pulling out a bag of doughnuts and offering it in his direction. Dean takes one because, hey, it’s his fucking birthday. Cas smiles like Dean’s done something praiseworthy which twists something uncomfortable in his gut. He’s going to ignore it, though.

“You mean you forgot?”

“You conveniently forgot my birthday,”

“I was homeless, asshat,”

“Always with the excuses,” Gabriel says, nudging him with his arm, “Anyway, salutations on your birthday, bro,”

“Sonny said you’re coming over tonight,”

“Affirmative,” Charlie says, joining them and offering a salute, “Par-tay,”

“Preach, sister,”

“It’s not a party,” Dean says, “The kids will be there. It’s just… a thing.”

“And I’m gonna shake my thang,”

“Got an idea for a birthday present you could give me, Gabriel,” Dean says, leaning against Cas, “Shut the hell up.”

Cas smiles and kisses him again.

*

Sam told Sonny to get birthday-pie for his not-party and it’s such a great moment that Dean almost forgets that he’s actually still mad at Sam about the Ruby-fight they had last night. It’s a frigging huge apple pie with ‘eighteen’ written in pastry and Sonny might be one of the greatest guys on the damn planet.

“You remembered the pie!”

“Dean, I always remember the pie,”

“Past eighteen years begs to differ,” Dean counters, “Is there ice cream?”

“It’s January,” Cas says, which Dean is probably going to forgive him for, only because he’s cute.

“Yes, there’s ice cream,” Sam says.

“Deano, confession,” Gabriel says, “We may have got your a present after all,”

“Hold fire on the presents, folks,” Sonny says, “I’ll just check on the pizza,”

“Yum, pizza,” Charlie says, taking a seat in Sonny’s front room, “Sweet digs, Dean.”

“Right,” Dean says, frowning as his phone starts ringing in his back pocket.

He doesn’t really think about it before picking it up, he just picks it up. He’s in too much of a good mood with Sam and Cas and Gabe and Charlie sitting in Sonny’s front room with a frigging birthday pie. He might never have had a birthday this good.

“Hello,”

“Hey, Dean,” A familiar voice says, and then Dean’s stomach drops.

“Dad?” Dean says down the phone, the word sticking in his throat. Silence drops.

“Yeah, it’s me,” John Winchester says, “Happy birthday, son. Eighteen.” Dean stands up. His legs are shaking. “You and Sam doing okay, kid?”

“Yeah, we’re both fine. We’re good.” Dean says, “Are you… you okay Dad?”

“Don’t worry about me,”

“Dean,” Sam says, “Dean.”

“You celebrating your birthday?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “Yeah we are. Sam got me a pie.”

“How’s school?”

“Dean,” Sam says, voice thrumming with tension now, standing up too. “Ask him where he’s been.”

“All right,” Dean says, and he doesn’t know why he’s still answering these inane questions, but he is. “Sam’s kicking ass. Straight As.”

“Dean, ask him where he’s been?”

“He there?”

“Yeah,” Dean says.

“At the apartment?” John Winchester asks, and he might as well have shoved a knife in his gut. His Dad may have never thought all that much of him, but he certainly thought Dean could look after Sam a damn site better than he’s managed to. He’d probably been expecting Dean to put his foot down and drop out of high school to keep them afloat.

“Well,” Dean says, “There were a couple of issues with…rent. But we’re okay.”

“Dean, what are you saying?” John asks, voice tilting into stern.

“I sorted it,” Dean says, “Nothing to worry about, sir.”

“Dean give me the phone,” Sam says, making a grab for it. Sam’s still shorter and skinnier, even if it’s in the middle of a growth spurt, so he twists his arm back around his brother’s back. His chest hurts. Everyone else is still. Fuck.

“You looking after your brother?” John asks.

“Yeah,” Dean says, twisting Sam’s arm further up his back so he can’t wrestle the phone out of his hands. “Course I’m looking after him,”

Sam stomps on his toe with his other foot and uses his free arm to grab the phone before Dean can stop him.

“Dad, where are you?” Sam demands. “Why did you leave?”

“– Sammy, damnit,” Dean says, but Sam’s already skipping out of his way, slipping between Charlie and Gabriel so Dean can’t get to him.

“Dad. Dad ,” Sam drops the phone from his ear, furious, “He hung up.”

“No shit,” Dean says, snatching the cell back at redialling. No one picks up. He calls again. Nothing. “Chicago area code, I think. If he’s calling from a motel then… what Sam?”

“What the hell was that, Dean?” Sam asks, facing him down in the front room. “What was that?”

“Other than you screaming our Dad off the phone, you mean?”

Nothing to worry about, Sir. ” Sam demands, “Sir? Nothing to worry about? Dean, he abandoned us and it takes a thirty second phone call and you’re prepared to forget all about it.”

“Did I say that?” Dean asks, his hands are shaking. “If he’s in Chicago then –”

“– did he say he was coming back, huh?”

“No, he just –”

“– then why does it matter where he is?” Sam demands.

“Well, we could get some goddamn answers, for a start.”

“You just proved you don’t care about answers,” Sam says, “You didn’t ask him a damn thing. You told him we were fine .”

“Well how did kicking off with a question work out for you?” Dean asks, “We have a phone number and a phone call, Sam. We’ve had jack shit for months.”

“You’re not going after him,” Sam says, “Dean, we’ve just picked up the pieces of our life. We don’t need him.”

“He’s our father, Sam. He’s family.”

“No, he’s not,” Sam says, staring him down, “And if you go off looking for him, I’m sure as hell not looking for you.”

Then his little brother is slamming out of the front room, through the corridor and what sounds like straight out the front door, and Dean is too shocked and numb to do anything except look at the place where he just walked out.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t hit dial again.

There’s no point, because he knows his Dad isn’t going to pick up. He’s spent enough time calling his different numbers and leaving messages to know when it’s not going to happen. If he wants to talk again, he’ll call back. If he wants to, which -

“Dean,” Cas says, voice deep and gentle, but Dean can barely hear him.

- It’s not like Sam isn’t right, because John Winchester owes him a helluva lot more than a two minute conversation to commemorate his birthday, but Dean wasn’t saying it was all water under the bridge he just -

“Shall I get Sonny?” Charlie asks, hovering at the edge of the room.

- he just thought, maybe, he could say something that might change things. For this fleeting second, there was this possibility that he might not have to deal with all of this, that he could just fall back into following shitty orders and, just -

“Yes, tell him that…”

“Got it,”

- Maybe he wouldn’t have to be an adult all at once.

“Sam,” Dean says, blinking himself back into the moment, just barely managing to speak past the lump in his throat.

“I’ll go check on the Samsquatch,” Gabriel offers, voice unnaturally serious, standing in the corner of the room looking less uncomfortable than Dean would have expected. He underestimates Gabriel, sometimes.

“Thanks,”

“Dean,” Cas says, and then they’re alone and Dean’s still got a death grip on his cell phone.

“So my Dad’s fine,” Dean says. He forces as much jovality into as he can, but it tanks. He sounds angry and broken and all the things he’s been denying he is since everything went down, which is just perfect. He’d been having such a good day and now he’s seconds away from having a complete breakdown on his frigging birthday. “He’s just ace.”

“You’re old man called, huh?” Sonny says, stepping back into the room, calmly composed and not-quite sympathetic. There’s understanding buried there, instead, rolling off him in waves.

“Yep,” Dean says through gritted teeth, “Called to wish me a happy birthday. Lucky me.”

Charlie would have told him what happened with Sam. He doesn’t have to relay that shitstorm.

“What d’you wanna do?”

“Eat pizza,” Dean says, uncurling his fist from around his phone finger by finger, then dropping it on the sofa. John Winchester isn’t going to call again. Even if he calls, he’s not coming back. Even if he comes back, this time he’s screwed up enough that it won’t change anything. He’s not going to be allowed to be their - Sam’s - guardian again. That’s it. It’s done. It’s done and pretending it isn’t is going to cost him Sam and it’s been made clear his whole life that Sam is the priority. He and Sam will stow their crap for today and tomorrow they’ll talk and he’ll apologise and he’ll try and explain why his knee jerk reaction is to fall into compliance and yessirs in a way that doesn’t make him sound like a spineless piece of crap, if he can think of a way to do that by tomorrow. “And pie.”

He can get Sam to understand. They’ll hash it out, like they always do, and then when everything is out in the open they’ll stop having dumb arguments about Ruby and grades and they can get back to enjoying each other’s company. At least, they could if Dean could actually talk about any of this, instead of feeling like he’s about to suffocate on his own unspoken words every time he tries.

“I’m in,” Charlie says, voice too bright, “And we have presents.”

“Right,” Dean says, attempting a smile, “The hell we’re skipping the present.”

Gabriel arrives back in the room without his little brother and then Dean just knows.

“Sam’s gone,” Gabriel says, “Pretty sure he got in someone’s car.”

“He’s a pissed off teenager, right?” Charlie says, “No biggie,”

“I’ll call him,” Sonny says, gaze tilting into concern, “Your brother’s a smart kid, Dean, he’ll just be blowing off some steam.”

What the hell was that, Dean?

“I screwed up,” Dean says, staring at his hands. Sonny’s out the room. Calling Sam, probably. Somewhere.

“You are not the person who screwed up in this situation,” Cas says. There’s a hint of thunder in his voice that Dean would be interested in thinking about some more, normally.

“There’s pizza,” Charlie says, helplessly.

Nothing to worry about, Sir. Sir? Nothing to worry about? Dean, he abandoned us and it takes a thirty second phone call and you’re prepared to forget all about it.

“He didn’t pick up?” Dean prompts, when Sonny reenters. Sonny shakes his head. Sam’s never done that before. He’s never done this before. “Ruby,”

“I’ll dig out some contact details.”

“Buck up, Winchester, it’s your birthday,” Gabriel says, nudging his arm. “There’s pie, remember?”

You just proved you don’t care about answers.You didn’t ask him a damn thing. You told him we were fine. .

Sonny’s back.

“Anything?” Gabriel asks through a mouthful of pizza. He eats when he’s nervous, apparently. Sonny shakes his head.

“Voicemail. Ruby’s parents work late, Sam says. It’s looking like he’s turned his phone off.”

“He wouldn’t… he wouldn’t do that. Sam knows not to - ”

“ - this isn’t your fault,”

“Cas,”

“I’ll try again in half an hour.”

You’re not going after him. Dean, we’ve just picked up the pieces of our life. We don’t need him.

“Hey, uh, my curfew’s creeping up on me so I gotta…”

“No dice, Dean,” Sonny says, “It’s getting late.”

“Dean,”

“Got no choice, Dean, I gotta call Ellen.”

“Dean,”

And if you go off looking for him, I’m sure as hell not looking for you.

*

Dean gets a closed-mouth kiss from Castiel at the front door whilst Sonny calls Ellen to report Sam missing. Charlie already left and Gabriel is being sensitive and well meaning enough to give them space, which Cas uses to just barely encroach on his personal space and ask him exactly nothing about what’s going on his head. He's learnt his lesson since last time, it seems.

“Happy birthday, Dean,” Cas says, after he’s pulled away. He’s frowning as he walks back to his car, like he knows that Dean’s about to do something stupid.

*

Jack, one of Sonny’s lackeys who usually helps out at weekends, pulls into the parking lot just after one when Sam still isn’t home. They have a muffled conversation Dean can’t quite hear before Sonny gets his jeep out of the garage and drives away.

Dean sits with his back against the wall and waits.

*

He's still staring at the opposite wall when Sonny slips into his room at around half two. He's spent the last few hours not thinking anything at all. Just staring at the fucking wall with a whole lot of nothing going round his head.

“Dean,” Sonny says, sitting on the edge of Sam’s bed so they’re on a level, “Sam’s here. I’m setting him up in one of the other rooms for tonight to give you two some space.”

“What happened?” Dean says. Sonny doesn’t answer right away. “Sonny. Please.”

“He’s getting charged for being in possession of alcohol. Him and Ruby. Seems like Lilth provided them the goods them left them to go to some party.”

“Damnit, Sammy,” Dean croaks out, shaking.

“He’s got me and Ellen pleading his case and we’re gonna sort all this out in the morning. He’s safe, Dean, and he knows he’s done wrong. Right now, important thing is we all get some sleep. I’m taking you both out of school tomorrow and we’re gonna sit down and talk about what happens next.”

“You won’t chuck him out,”

“Not in the business of punishing people for having emotions about things, Dean.”

“He can stay here,” Dean says, “Whatever happens with me, Sam can…. He can stay here.”

“He can stay here,” Sonny repeats, clapping a hand on his shoulder before he leaves the room.

Dean sits there for another half an hour before his fingers close around his car keys.

And then he stands up, walks out the front door and drives.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t check his phone until the exhaustion hits him like a brick wall and it occurs to him that he really, really shouldn’t be driving right now. Should have stopped driving when the sun started rising, probably, or maybe he shouldn’t have gotten behind the fucking wheel in the first place. He really can’t drive now. It’s been over twenty four hours since he slept. Hasn’t eaten since lunch, except the two mouthfuls of pie he managed whilst he was trying to act like he was okay last night. He’s been running on coffee and this dull-panic since the last gas station.

He has thirty one missed calls. Thirteen text messages.

Staying pulled over at the side of the road whilst he tries to deal with any of them is a terrible idea, though, so he gives himself a minute before he puts the impala back into gear and follows the road signs to the nearest motel.

It only occurs to him after he’s paid how much money he’s spent and that he doesn’t have a clue how much is left in his account. Not a lot, he expects.

Cas calls him whilst he’s staring at his home screen, sat on the edge of the motel bed and trying to summon up the energy to deal with everything. He answers half an auto-pilot. He's not thinking about it. He'd have answered Bella if she happened to be the one calling.

“Hey,”

“Dean,” Cas say, voice raw and rough, “Where are you? What happened?”

He sounds… emotional. He sounds like he was up half the night calling him. He sounds like he really wasn’t expecting Dean to answer.

“I don’t know,” Dean says. He’s been in this trance since his Dad called. He feels like he’s experiencing everything from far away. He’s going to break and maybe his fucked up brain was just trying to take him as far away as possible from any collateral damage for when that happened. “I don’t know, Cas. I was at Sonny’s and then I was in my car and I just started drivin’. Like when I showed up at your place, except all night. I just...drove.”

“To Chicago?”

“Other direction,” Dean says, shutting his eyes, “West out of town and hit route 70.”

“Okay,” Cas says, “Where?”

“No idea,” Dean says, throat closing up. “Haven’t slept yet.”

“Dean,”

“Cas, I dunno if I’ve got enough money for gas for the two hundred miles back and I don’t know how I… I didn’t pack anything and my cell phone’s nearly flat and I’ve got thirty one missed calls,”

“Dean, text me your address. We can fix everything if we know where you are.”

“Sam got arrested,”

“I know,” Cas says, “Do you have the money to buy a charger?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “Pretty sure. Cas, Sam.”

“Right now, Sam is safe in school, he is going to be pulled out this afternoon to sit down with Ellen and Sonny. They will make sure he gets community service and his record will be wiped when he's eighteen. He is a good student who's highly liked by his teachers. It's under control. You are the one that's missing.”

He’s missing. Dean is missing. He walked out in the middle of the fucking night without leaving a note. He didn’t take anything and he didn’t answer his phone. He just left. He walked out.

He walked out on Sam.

“I'm... shit, Sam's gonna be, my cells dying. I'll... the address. And the charger.”

“Dean,” Cas says, voice gravel and deep and commanding him to stay checked into this conversation. “You answered your phone. That’s a good thing. You just need to give me your address and buy a phone charger. Then you stay where you are and sleep.”

“Yes sir,” Dean says, head spinning as he picks up the motel’s card from the bedside table, “Okay,” Dean says, fumbling to keep Cas on the line has he texts him the address with his heart hammering and he’s just… untethered. It’s like he’s going to drift off the edge of the universe.

“Room number?”

“Sixteen,” Dean returns, “Cas, I'm so fucking tired.”

“Charger, then sleep,” Cas says. The school bell is ringing in the distance, which means Dean should be in Geography right now.

“Got it,” Dean says, hanging up.

He doesn't buy the charger. He just falls asleep on the outside of the covers, boots still on.

*

He sleeps until there's a knock on the door. He spends the first thirty seconds ignoring it in favour of staring at the ceiling, till it sinks in that he gave Cas his address, so he probably called Sonny and Ellen and Sam and someone's here to haul his ass back home, which is a good thing in theory.

He hasn’t answered any of the rest of his calls. He hasn’t looked at his cell phone. He fell asleep with it still clutched in his right hand. It’s a good thing that someone is here because, if the last few hours are anything to go by, he’s not doing very well right now.

He's not expecting Cas himself.

“Dean,” Cas says, emphatically, then he's pulled him into a hug.

“School,” Dean mutters, with Cas’ arms still wrapped around him. He doesn’t really understand what’s happening. His brain hasn’t slotted back into place since the drive yet.

“I skipped,”

“You were at school when I called you,”

“I left,”

“Hester's gonna kill you,” Dean says, moving back to let Cas enter the room, blinking. “Did you...Sam?”

“I called him,”

“What did he,” Dean begins, then it feels like his knees are gonna give way, and he sits on the edge of the bed instead.

Castiel sits next to him and peels open the grip on his cell phone. It looks a helluva lot like Cas stopped at a gas station and picked up a new phone charger at some point on the two hundred mile plus drive to the middle bumfuck, nowhere, Kansas. He walked out of school to drive across the state and pick up a freaking phone charger because Dean’s a complete mindless idiot who can’t handle his feelings.

And he still can’t talk.

The familiar, clogged up feeling starts putting pressure on his windpipe. He can't find the words he was going to say. He doesn't remember how to find them. He just knows that he can't because then everything would break and crumble and he'd fall apart and...

Sam got arrested for underage drinking and Dean got in his damn car and drove two hundred miles in the opposite direction.

“Did your father call again?” Cas asks, sat right next to him again.

“No,” Dean says, the word scraping on the back of his throat on the way out.

“Did you call him?”

“No, Cas he... he won't. I know that. And even if he does I...I get that he's not coming back.”

“But you want him to?”

Dean's lungs feel like a vacuum.

“Yeah,” he breathes, “I don't, not because of him. Because…I could've paid the rent if he hadn't left. I could've dropped out of school. The diner would've let me pick up extra shifts, at that point. But then I couldn't, cause Singer would call him in to talk about it and he'd... he'd have worked it out. Cas, I didn't even need him to fucking do anything, cause I'd have handled it. Even when he checked in once a week, it was okay. I could look after Sam. Cook, clean, make the money last. Top it up with diner shifts. If he'd told me I was leaving I could've dropped out beforehand and it wouldn't have… I could have planned so we didn’t run out. I could’ve made the rent and then no one had to know. Sam’s a good kid, like you said, he could’ve kept his nose clean way better than I ever… no one would have tried to call his parents. If he’d just told me he was going, really going, I could have made it work. Instead he just took off.”

“Dean, none of that’s your fault,”

“It felt different. Sam said it and I knew it. Usually, he’d call a couple of days after he took off and he didn’t. Sam kept asking me and he never… Sam was usually so pissed he wouldn’t acknowledge he existed for a couple of days after he took off, but he did that time. He asked me if he’s called and I said everything was fine, but I knew.. It was the summer, then, so I could’ve… I’d still have had time. Then it was two weeks and one of his numbers got cut off, but he had a couple that kept rolling to voicemail and we were back at school so I… I just didn’t tell Sam. And then the credit cards got cut off and I got a call from the landlord about rent and I couldn’t drop out, then, because it was too late and I tried but -”

“There was no way you could have maintained rent while you were at school,”

“And that was on him,” Dean says, voice gaining heat. He hasn’t let himself get angry about this, not really, but now it feels like the storm is about to break. He stands up. “The only goddamn thing I wanted was to look after Sam and he took that away from me. He made it impossible. He made it so the only fucking thing I could do was fail and then, then, he calls out of the blue and suggests like I should’ve been able to do it. Like I shouldn’t have screwed up. Like he dumped all this responsibility on me, like that’s okay, and then doesn’t consider the fact that there is not a damn thing I could have done to stop this happening. The second he left. He did this. He did this. And the only way it gets fixed is if he can walk back in and take over again.”

“You shouldn’t have been looking after Sam,”

“So what, Cas? I was. Doesn’t matter if I shouldn’t’ve been. That’s what I was doing. That was the whole point of me,” Dean says, pausing in his pacing to look directly at Cas, before he has to keep moving again.

“No,”

“Make sure Sammy’s okay, Dean, look out for Sammy. And I did it, Cas. I never wanted to be stuck in fucking Kansas, two years in one school, forced to stick around for long enough for people to ask questions, but Sam needed some stability so I fought for it. I knew that meant Dad wouldn’t be around as much but it… it stopped the goddamn arguing, for one, so I figured it was worth it. He sold me this line about family first, blood is the only thing that matters, gotta stick together as a goddamn unit my whole life and I did everything he asked me to. I kept everyone out ‘case they pushed in too far. Trained Sam up in bullshitting to adults of authority. Never let anyone in, like he said to. Went to four high schools before this one and walked out with a grand total of two cell phone numbers, which I deleted the second we were on the road. Sure as hell never had a freaking boyfriend. Kept out of the spotlight. Kept ticking along so I could keep watching out for Sam. I am so good at lying about everything, I can’t even tell you the truth without feeling like I’m gonna have an aneurysm and the only thing I wanted from him, for all it, was for him to let me look after my dumbass kid brother and I can’t. So, yeah, I want him to call back and, no, I’m gonna chew him out for taking off, because him coming back and proving he can be a father is the only way I’m ever gonna be able to take care of my brother. But he won’t. Happy fucking birthday.”

“Dean,”

“I didn’t mean to take off,” Dean says, sitting back down again, voice cracking. “Didn’t mean to do it. I just screwed everything up even worse, but I just… my head, Cas.

” “I’ve spoken to your brother and Sonny. They both know where you are and neither of them are angry at you.”

“They know where you are?”

“Ah, yes.”

“And they didn’t talk you out of this fucking ridiculous plan of driving after me, like some jumped up lunatic, when clearly I’ve lost my goddamn mind?”

“I didn’t give them an opportunity to. I didn’t tell anyone I was intending to follow you until I was at that gas station an hour into the journey, although I assume Gabriel noticed me leaving school. I left Hester a voicemail.”

“Holy hell am I a bad influence on you,”

“I am a fan of the way you influence me,”

“You left Hester a voicemail saying you were ditching school,” Dean repeats, “She’s gonna kill me and she’s gonna kill you and neither of us are ever getting laid again.”

“Sonny called at 3AM when you went missing, Dean, asking whether you were with me. She spent a large proportion of the night waiting for a call to say that you were safe. I am sure her primary emotion is going to be relief,”

That sobers him up.

“Didn’t mean to make anyone worry,” Dean says, jaw clenched, “Not you or Sam or Sonny or Hester. Or anyone.”

“I know,” Cas says, “But your behaviour is worrying,”

“I cracked, alright,”

“I don’t mean now or last night. I mean in general, Dean. This is the most you’ve talked about any of this since it happened. You haven’t been looking after yourself and you’ve been working yourself to the bone -”

“ -I didn’t have a choice about that,”

“What do you mean?”

“You said Sam ain’t angry, huh,” Dean says, standing up again, resuming his pacing, “Calling bullshit on that.”

“He passed angry at half three when we’d confirmed that no one had any idea where you were,” Cas says, “By six, he had firmly established camp in ‘worried’. He nearly cried when I said you’d given me your location and were intending to come back.” It feels a little like someone’s ripped apart his tonsils with a pair of tweezers. The idea of Sam even thinking that he wouldn’t come back is just… unfathomable. Unmanagable. He did that to Sam. “If you had an accurate view of your self-worth, you’d know that.”

“You gonna give me a self esteem lecture now, huh?”

“You’re already trying to defer away from the question,” Cas says, standing up to follow him, effectively cutting off where he’d been wearing a hole in the carpet “Dean, for what seems like the first time in your life, you have many people who are committed to helping you. You need to talk to someone.”

“You mean you,”

“I mean someone, Dean,”

“What the hell are you getting out of this, Cas?” Dean demands, turning to face him, “Why do you care whether I’m dumping this crap on you or someone else?”

“Because I love you, Dean.”

That he’s not expecting.

“No you don’t,”

“You do not get to decide that for me,” Cas says, eyes flashing. “You do not get to decided that because I am inexperienced and socially inept. I didn’t drive two hundred miles because I find you attractive or because I have enjoyed teaching you chemistry. I did it because I care about you too much to have done anything else and, although I am lacking in reference material, I am confident in my label. If you can’t talk to me, that’s fine, but you need to talk to someone about this or it will destroy you.”

“You say that like it hasn’t already happened,” Dean says, with his traitorous, shitty heart bleeding everywhere, with his lungs constricting and his guts spilling over the floor. Cas abandons any hold he had on his righteous anger and crosses the room to hug him again. This time, Dean’s present enough to fall into it and let himself be absorbed into it. He lets himself fucking drown in it till he’s managed to stop shaking.

*

“Think I’m gonna shower,” Dean says after a while of sitting in abject silence. It was the pressureless kind of silence that Dean really needed just to catch up with today, but he’s been slowly coming back to himself for the past half an hour and now he needs to wash all of it away. He needs to not be in the middle of nowhere in Kansas. He needs to be back at Sonny’s right this second, but he’s not sure he can deal with it.

His Dad called, Sam got arrested and he drove two hundred miles in the wrong direction instead of dealing with it. Cas followed him. Cas says he loves him. He’s almost definitely screwed up any chance of being allowed to stay at Sonny’s and Sam is never going to forgive him for it.

“You should… call Hester and Sonny and tell them you’re safe. I’ve already… shouldn’t fuck this up more than I already have.”

“Okay,” Cas agrees, his gaze still steady and solidly on Dean’s skin.

“You bring any non gross towels, by any chance?”

“No.”

“Worth a shot,” Dean says, hovering in the doorway to the bathroom, “Thanks, Cas.”

After his shower, he isn’t even allowed the walk back across the room before Cas addresses him again.

“I have a message to pass on.”

“You spoken to Sam?”

“Sonny,” Cas says, “He's with Sam. He told me to tell you that this isn't going to affect the decision they made last week.”

Dean sits down heavily.

“How?” Dean says, blinking.

“That's difficult for me to answer, given I don't understand what it's referencing. Dean, I know there's been... discussion with Principal Singer and Sonny. I assumed it was about your grades.”

“Kinda,” Dean says, “He... Sonny said that? That it wouldn't change things? Even though I... ”

“He said that he's been in discussion with Ellen and Singer since I called him earlier and that their opinion on the matter has not changed.”

“They give you a time frame?”

“Dean.”

“Not trying to keep you out,”

“I'm aware of that,”

“Okay, let's try this,” Dean says, swallowing hard. He's already broken. He's already... he's already come so fucking close to ruining everything that maybe it won't make it worse. “Ask me a question.”

“What was the decision made last week?” Cas asks, serious and frowning, but he’s somehow managed to lose one sock when he kicked off his shoes. Cas is enigmatic and ridiculous like that, in a way that makes him want so spill his soul. It’s still hard though. It still feels like he needs a crowbar to the chest to start talking.

“I can stay at Sonny’s on the basis of a couple of conditions.”

“What conditions?”

“His contract, mostly. Curfew, permission to spend the night elsewhere, not cutting class. The exact opposite of everything I did today, basically. And then, I,” Dean swallows and gives himself a moment, because he wants his voice to hold steady. He doesn’t want to have another emotional meltdown. “I have to pass high school. Every class, pass high school. And I gotta apply for college.”

“Why?” Cas asks, “I don't understand. You've been at Sonny’s for months and I thought it was working well. Why were they discussing this again?”

“Too old,”

“You're at high school,”

“But I'm eighteen,” Dean says, smiling humorlessly, “I’m an adult, Cas.”

“And if you don't abide by these conditions?”

“Well, then I’m just not worth helping and whatever happens is my own fault,” Dean says, “They can help me for a couple of months setting up a flat. They weren’t sure they could even swing what I’ve got cause my grades were in the crapper, so I’ve been -”

“ - working very hard,” Cas supplies, “You can't blackmail a minor into academic success. That is an insane notion.”

“Thing is, Cas, they can kind of do whatever the hell the want,” Dean says, shutting his eyes, “It’s not Sonny and Ellen. It’s, policy. That’s how they could get funding for me to stay. Needed a solid case, or something. I don’t know. I just know that… that the only thing I’ve got is pulling some more passing grades out my ass and doing whatever the hell they want me to do. I’m the state’s bitch up until the point where I’m homeless again, so I gotta… gotta pass school.”

“That’s… a bag of crap,” Cas says, frowning at him, sincere enough about his utterly flat expletive that Dean has to smile at him. “Dean, if you complained -”

“Who to?” Dean asks, “Cas, I got nothing else, okay? I get that me and you have a lot of common in this, but me and Sam didn’t get a Hester and the buck stops a helluva lot earlier if your shelter’s state provided. I didn’t talk about it ‘cause I was stressed out of my mind trying to… just, keep passing. Keep fighting.”

“The system is broken,”

“Maybe,” Dean exhales, “Do you miss your Dad, Cas?”

“Yes,” Cas says, “But I'm unsure whether I ever had what I'm missing. It would have been better for me to be with Hester and Inias a long time ago.”

“Should’ve learnt that one earlier. Would’ve stopped Sam being so pissed at me. Maybe he’s relieved right now, too, but he is bone deep angry at me.”

“He reacted badly to your phone call,” Cas concedes, tilting his head at him just slightly. “Why?”

“It's my fault we spent three fucking months homeless. I made him lie to his friends. I made him... made him do his school work in the laundrette. Thanksgiving in a crap motel. He skipped meals, Cas. I was telling myself that he wasn't, but ever since we got to Sonny’s he's been shooting up like a weed so I did the math. Sam's the most well adjusted kid, Cas, but I made it so I was the only damn person he could talk to about this, then I disappeared. I haven't been there. I've been trying so hard to make sure I can stay with Sam, with school, that I haven't... haven't been with Sam. He's angry. He's angry at Dad and me and the whole world and he got done for underage drinking and I didall of that because I couldn't stand the thought of them separating us, and then I drive hundreds of miles on my eighteenth birthday, the first day I’m bein’ put up out of the goodness of someone’s heart rather than the state responsibility.”

“Sam knows what you were trying to do,”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “And he knows how selfish it was.”

“You have an interesting definition of selfish,”

“None of that was good for Sam. Only one benefiting from me and Sam being kept together is me.”

“That’s not true,” Cas says, “I have spoken to your brother today, Dean, I know how he feels about this.”

“All due respect Cas, but you don’t know how Sam feels.”

“You must be hungry,” Cas says, expression suddenly shifting, “You didn’t eat last night.”

“Yeah, guess so,” Dean agrees, “Are we… what did you tell Sonny and Hester?”

“That we’re driving back tomorrow,” Cas says, standing up and reaching for his trench coat, “You shouldn’t drive again today, Dean, and you’ve already paid for the room.”

“And they were cool with that?”

“Sonny, yes,” Cas says “Hester has grounded me indefinitely.”

“I called it, dude,”

“She is predominantly relieved that you’re okay, however, so I remain correct.”

“Whatever you say,” Dean says, standing up carefully. Cas probably has a point about the food thing. Last proper meal he head was yesterday lunch and it’s pretty much lunchtime now which is… not good. He gets that his behaviour in all this has been worrying. He gets that. “There’s a diner down the street. You, uh, got money?”

“Yes,” Cas says, reaching for his shoes and his run away sock.

“Date night it is,” Dean says, pocketing his hands and forcing an attempt at a smile. He feels like crap. He has no idea what he’s going to say to anyone when he has to face them. He hasn’t looked at his phone since he answered that call from Cas and he’s pretty he only did that because he happened to be looking at it when Cas called.

If he hadn’t, he’d probably still be staring at the wall of the motel room with a flat cell phone and Sam worrying himself into a black hole somewhere else; missing and with no idea how to get back and not quite able to pick up the phone. Castiel driving after him might just have saved him.

“You know I, uh,” Dean begins, as Cas follows him out of the motel room, “I appreciate what you’re doing for me, here, and the… what you said. Before.”

“You have a lot going on. I shouldn’t have -”

“ - you should,” Dean says, swallowing, “That was… good.”

“Dean,”

“I mean, really good,” Dean says, pausing to turn to him and catching hold of his arm, swaying forward to kiss him for a second, “Thanks.”

They don’t get as many looks as they probably should in the diner, given they both look like they should be in school right now. The waitress certainly doesn’t give a damn as she sits him them by the window and offers them two menus without a word.

He’s still staring at the menu and not really seeing it when the waitress turns up again and raises an eyebrow at them.

“Uh,” Dean says, gaze swimming a little as he tries to focus.

“Two cheeseburgers,” Cas interjects, “A side of french fries and a side of onion rings. Two cokes.”

“Thanks,” Dean says, dropping the menu again and trying to massage his forehead, “My head.”

“You need to eat,”

“I need to do a lot of things,” Dean says, settling on pinching the bridge of his nose, “Guess eating can make this list.”

“Why haven’t you been eating?”

“No secret reason,” Dean says, “Just got used to being hungry.”

“Dean,”

“Can we talk about something else? Just whilst we eat. Need to…not think about this for ten minutes.”

“What do you want to talk about?”

“Anything else,” Dean says, “What sanctions is Hester putting on you and how are we’re getting round them?”

“My curfew is now nine. Half nine on weekend nights,” Cas says, “I’m allowed ‘friends’ over a maximum of twice a week. No sleepovers.”

“There’s a lot of hours between school finishing and nine PM. We can work like with that.”

“Two evenings a week,”

“She’ll come round,” Dean says, reaching over to run a thumb over the back of Cas’ hand, “She just freaked out.”

“I understand the feeling,”

There food arrives before Dean has a chance to come back from that.

“Should be in freaking chemistry right now,”

“Literature,” Cas counters, “The respite is welcome,”

“You’re just sayin’ that cause you already read every single book,”

“In the world?” Cas asks, smiling at him.

“Yep, in the whole damn world, you frigging nerd.”

“Eat your burger,”

“You eat your damn burger,” Dean throws back, pulling his food towards him with a quirk of the eyebrow.

His appetite holds out much better than he was expecting it to.

*

“This program is ridiculous,” Cas says, curled up against him on the scratchy motel sheets, one of Cas’ hands resting on his lower back. Cas is back to wearing one sock and Dean actually got as far as kicking off his boots, this time. He’s comfortable enough that the exhaustion is hitting him hard. He drove all night and only managed to sleep for three and a half hours before Cas showed up.

“Don’t diss Doctor Sexy,” Dean mutters.

“I have never experienced daytime television before,” Cas says, running a thumb over the hem of Dean’s t-shirt, “It’s absurd,”

“It’s awesome, Cas,”

“No one would wear those boots whilst working a twelve hour shift,”

“Shut up,” Dean says, curling a hand round the back of Cas’ neck to coax him close enough to kiss him. He’s warm and comfortable and feeling surprisingly okay considering how utterly shitty everything about the past twenty fours have been. He hasn’t spoken to Sam, Sonny or Ellen yet. He hasn’t touched his phone since Cas plugged it in. The only thing he has stopping him have a breakdown is the knowledge that Sonny has guaranteed that he has a little more time. There’s no reason he should feel almost-okay, curled up with Cas in a crappy motel room hundreds of miles from home, but he does.

Cowboy boots,” Cas says, before he surges into the kiss, rolling into his space and trapping Dean in between his knees.

“It’s a good show, Cas,” Dean says, hands settling on Castiel’s hips and letting himself stop thinking for a minute. Two minutes. Through the whole fucking add break and five minutes into the next segment of Doctor Sexy. “Just think, could be in world history right now,”

“Doctor Sexy is almost a substitute for human biology, I’m sure,” Cas says, sitting up and shifting away from him. “I need a minute,”

“Huh?”

“To cool down,”

“Right,” Dean says, shutting his eyes, “Cool away. Or not. You could… not cool down.”

“Do you have… precautions?”

“Damnit,” Dean says, “If I’d hung around long enough to pack, would’ve picked up some spare freaking underwear over condoms. A toothbrush. Phone charger. You bring anything?”

“None of the above,” Cas says, “I bought the charger on the way. A toothbrush would have been… practical.”

“The store,” Dean says, reaching for his jacket and pulling out his wallet. He has his car keys, twenty dollars in cash and a debit card with who knows what on it. He could use a cashpoint to work out how badly he’s fucked himself with this little trip, but he could use a shop some more. “We’re gonna need some crap. Toothbrush, underwear, socks, food. Next time we pull the missing act,we’re thinking ahead.”

“Condoms,”

“Condoms,” Dean agrees, “You had enough cooling time to head to the store?”

“Dean,” Cas says, looking at him very seriously, “We have all night,”

“Huh,” Dean says, pausing in the doorway, “Guess we do.”

He picks up his cell phone before they head out the front door.

His missed call rate has increased by three. He has six more text messages.

Sam tries to call him whilst Cas is spending an age picking out which of the stores’ crappy microwavable meal he wants for later (he seems kind of fascinated by the whole concept). He probably just finished school. Dean declines the call because he can’t do this conversation right now, but he thumbs out a message to Sam as Cas shamelessly asks where the fucking lube is.

With Cas. Am okay. Should be back at Sonny’s for lunch tomorrow. Will call in the morning. Sorry about everything.

Chapter Text

Sam sounds a little like he did half an hour after he didn't get the magic book he wanted for his eleventh birthday: like he's upset and disappointed and a little betrayed, but he knows he shouldn't be, and with enough time to throw logic at the situation and decide not to give into the urge to make a big deal out of it. Dean's glad he didn't call him yesterday, because this kind of Sam he can mostly handle, even if last time he ended up using the food money to buy him the damn magic book in the end. Right now, he feels okay. That feeling of ‘okay’ is just barely functioning as a damn for his whole frigging life, but he feels okay this exact second.

“Just getting me and Cas breakfast before we hit the road,” Dean says, phone wedged under his ear, leaning on the edge of the impala whilst he adjusts their coffees, “Should be back at Sonny’s before lunch. You headed to school?”

“Will be,” Sam says, “Jack's driving me in.”

“Uhuh,”

“Dean, I didn't mean what I said,” Sam says, voice tipping over into emotion that Dean doesn’t want to deal with, because that means he has to think about how Sam must have felt when the hours rolled by and no one had a damn clue where he was. He put Sam through the kind of hellish crap that he always swore he wouldn’t and there’s not a damn thing he can do about it. It’s done. He can’t take it back, now.

“Don’t worry about it, Sammy.”

“Dean, it was your birthday and I -”

“ - you were upset and pissed. The whole thing was just -”

“I can’t believe he did that,”

“Can’t you?” Dean asks, leaning against the hood of the impala, “Sam, the guy walked out with no freaking word.”

“Calling you on your birthday like everything is fine is worse than leaving,”

“Nope,” Dean counters, “Look, we’ll talk when I’m back. You’ve gotta go to school and I’ve gotta… drive.”

“But you’re okay?”

“Yeah,” Dean breathes, and he’s only half lying, “You okay, Sammy?”

“Dean, I shouldn’t’ve talked to you like that - “

“ - I’m not mad about that,”

“What are you mad about?”

“I’d say running away, but I lost the high ground there,” Dean says, closing his eyes for second, “We’ll talk tonight. I’m just a couple of hours away, Sam, I’ll be there when you get back from school. At Sonny’s.”

“Okay,” Sam says, but Dean can hear the threat of tears and he’s not going to be able to forget that. He could be on his deathbed, decades from now, still regretting the fact that he did this to Sam even after all the promises he made him. Goddamnit.

“Later, Sam,” Dean says, hangs up, and tries to set himself back into neutral before he rearranges their coffees.

“Morning Sunshine,” Dean says, opening the door with his elbow and knee, a coffee in each hand. Cas is still as asleep as when Dean left him, now with the covers wrapped around him like he was just waiting for Dean to leave so he could take them the whole time. He blinks an eye open at the noise, though, and sits up on his elbows.

“You left,” Cas says, bleary and sleep rough and so fucking cute.

“Breakfast and coffee,” Dean says, “You’re welcome.”

“I wanted to wake up together,” Cas damn near pouts and Dean would say it’s because his filters are down given he just woke up, but Dean’s pretty sure Cas never has any filters when it comes to being sincere and sentimental. Yesterday’s I love you was a clear demonstration of that.

“Can still do that,” Dean says, dumping the coffee on the bedside table and depositing himself on the bed, offering him one of the first real smirks he’s had in his arsenal for a while, “You go back to sleep, I’ll wake you up in five. We’ll redo the whole shebang.”

“The coffee will go cold,”

“True,” Dean says, leaning forward to kiss him, just for a moment.

He can do this. He can drive back to Sonny’s and be there for Sam and be realistic about his future and be a good boyfriend. He can talk to Sam, finish school, hash out this whole thing with Sonny. He can do it, just because he has to. Just because the other alternative is unthinkable.

First, he can probably give himself a few minutes to enjoy the kinda fucked up novelty of having gotten a whole night and this morning alone with Cas, with no school or guardian’s or brothers or cousins busting in on them. It’s not gonna happen again (Hester is gonna be pissed as it is and Dean can’t exactly blame her) so maybe they just fuck the circumstances for another five minutes. Maybe he can have that.

“You got up early,” Cas says, stretching to check the time on his phone before frowning in Dean’s direction.

“Dude, I conked out at like nine last night. There’s only so long a guy can sleep.”

“You were very tired yesterday,”

“That’s the great escape for you. Exhausting. Think of how Steve McQueen must've felt."

“How are you?”

“You mean on a scale of ‘driving two hundred and fifty miles for no fucking reason’ to ‘ready to go back to school tomorrow?’ About a three point five.”

“Which is the lower end of the scale?”

“This one,” Dean says, nodding at the room, “Minus point five for these crappy motel sheets, and plus three for the company. You ready to face Hester?”

“No,” Cas says, straight off the bat, “Gabriel informed me last night that she did a spontaneous raid of the contraband in his room and now I owe him three skin mags and a packet of cigarettes, because it’s all my fault. Also, he passes on his well wishes.”

“Yeah, but if Gabe wasn’t such a total dickbag, you probably wouldn’t have ever had a curfew. You gotta argue your case, Cas. Stand your ground,” Dean says, head against the headboard, taking a swig of coffee. He spent long enough overthinking calling Sam that it’s a little on the cold side, but Cas doesn’t seem to be complaining.

“I can handle myself with Gabriel. It’s mother’s I don’t understand.”

“Man, I’m sorry,” Dean says, turning back to look at him, “You deserve to remember your Mom.”

“You remember a lot considering your age,”

“She’s kinda ingrained in my memory,” Dean says, “Except sometimes I think too hard and get damn near convinced I made up all of it. That she wasn’t like I remember at all. That she’s this story I told myself when crap was hard.”

“She loved you,”

“Yeah,” Dean breathes, “I don’t… don’t even wanna think about what she would have thought of this.”

“She would be proud of you.”

“For what?” Dean asks, standing up to busy himself by collecting all of their crap. They didn’t exactly pack anything, so it’s mostly a futile effort to keep his hands busy enough that he doesn’t have to look at Cas in the eye while he deals with this sudden upsurge of emotions. He’s not even sure where it came from, except yesterday he came out of a daze of shock and his inability to deal, and now he thinks he might hate himself for this forever. Right now, though, Cas deserves for Dean not to be a total waste of space. They talked and they had an actually good day yesterday; hanging out and screwing around despite the circumstances. Cas is happy this morning and Dean’s not sure he wants to be the one to ruin that.

“Dean,”

“Seriously, Cas, I’m barely fucking functioning. I get that you’re a Dean Winchester fan and everything, but even you can’t make an argument that I’m not screwing everything up. Whatever. We can cancel the pity party. I just… I gotta have a lot of crap conversations today.”

“With your brother,”

“Sonny, Ellen, Principle Singer. Take your pick. A load of reprises of the same conversation about how I'm screwing the pooch."

“There’s an argument to be made that, as you were obviously not coping, there should have been an intervention.”

“I don’t wanna talk about this right now,” Dean says, forcing himself back into neutral. He’s fine. This running away for twenty four hours thing has cured him. A little small talk with Cas about he’s feelings and he’s back onto the straight and narrow. It was a turning a point. It had to be one, because he doesn’t have the luxury of time enough that how he feels about this matters. It has to be a turning point, because he can only push people so far. It has to be a turning point, because he nearly just left and he can’t risk that ever happening again. “Lets just drive, okay? You go ahead and if you need to a break, or get gas, I’ll follow. We can convoy-it all the way back home.”

“What makes you think that I’m the one who’ll need a break?”

“Please,” Dean says, “I was bought up on the road, buddy,”

“I prefer ‘Sunshine’ to ‘Buddy’,” Cas says, “You will talk about this at some point with me?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, pocketing his phone and his new charger, “Scouts honour. Or something. Whatever. Get dressed, Cas, we need you to click your heels together and vamoush us back home.”

“You know I don’t understand that reference,” Cas deadpans, but he does get up and head for the world’s smallest motel bathroom and Dean gets to watch him go. Despite it all, playing hooky with Cas from real life is definitely not the worst. He could really, really go for getting whole days when they just hang out and do nothing, with no one else there to interrupt them.

Five minutes later, they’re in the motel parking lot and Dean winds up kissing the guy against his crappy car. He accidentally calls him ‘Sweetheart’ and Cas’ lips curl upwards into such an awesome smile that he can’t even feel embarrassed about it. It takes them another solid five minutes of making quips and eyeing each other before they actually get in the car and start driving.

There’s something about keeping Cas’ in his front view mirror, knowing that Cas only made this whole trip because he cared, that lodges itself as a solid memory in his ribcage. He’s going to keep this and he’s going to remember how much easier itwas to drive back knowing he was following someone to somewhere.

*

Cas pulls into the dinner before him and that should be enough to get him suspicious (they stopped for snacks and gas about an hour back and it's a little early for actual lunch), but Cas has been so keen to get him eating for long enough that he accepts Cas admission that he’s hungry without further thought and follows suit, up until he walks into the roadside diner and finds Sonny sat at one of the booths.

“You duped me,” Dean says, turning to face Cas, who doesn’t even attempt to look sheepish. He hadn’t even bothered pocketing his keys and Dean should have twigged, really, if he wasn’t so wired on the thought of the conversation he needs to have with Sam and Sonny and Ellen and Cas, eventually. “When d’you even call him?”

“Gas station,”

“Figures,” Dean says.

“I’m intending to try to make my geometry class,” Cas says, “I’ll see you at school, Dean.”

“Yeah, okay,” Dean says, offering a sort of smile and not pulling him into a hug, or anything else, because it all feels very public suddenly. Sonny is right there, obviously, but there’s other people too and he feels weirdly conscious of how obvious it is that they’re together and that Castiel cares about him. Loves him, maybe. “Just, let me know when you get back.”

“Of course,”

Sitting down opposite Sonny at the booth feels weirdly like sitting down opposite John Winchester and he can’t put his finger on why that it is. It shouldn’t be the same. It shouldn’t be anything near the same, but there’s a certain vague nostalgia that he can’t quite put a name to.

“Hey, Dean,” Sonny says, gesturing at the menu.

“You didn’t have to make the drive,” Dean says, not picking up the menu. They're about an hour away from Sonny's. Its far enough a way that it means Sonny has to be sacrificing something from his packed schedule to be here. “It was… this was my mess. You didn’t have to… this.”

“Tommy’s off school sick, so I got Jack looking after him so we can talk.”

“Talk,” Dean says, mouth dry. “Right.”

“We gotta talk, Dean,”

“Yeah I… I know,” Dean says, shifting in his seat as the waitress comes over to offer them both drinks. He manages to fumble through a request for coffee whilst Sonny orders a soda, then he’s back to sitting opposite the guy who’s fought to make sure he can stay, despite having no frigging obligation, and despite the fact that Dean’s made it difficult for him. He threw all of that back in Sonny’s face the second he got behind the wheel and drove away. He disrespected him in a way he’d never dream of disrespecting his father, even though Sonny’s the one who’s put their best interests at heart and Sonny’s the one who bought him running shoes for his birthday and a new leather jacket for Christmas. Those things were thoughtful. He cares. He cares about Dean, and he just…. Fucked it up. Made it hard. He has made it so damn hard for people to care about him, but apparently they just keep trying.

He just doesn’t get why.

“Now, hope you don’t mind me springing this talk on you. Was hoping it would stop you overthinkin’ it.”

“I’m sorry,”

The words spill out of his mouth before he’s had a chance to regulate them, but he is sorry. He’s sorry and he’s scared of slipping back into that place in his head where it could happen again, where he could just get in a car and drive away. Scared of what might have happened if Cas hadn’t driven after him. Of what he’d be doing right now if Cas hadn’t followed. Of what happens next time. Of what happens if he pushes them all too far.

“Okay, then,”

“That’s it?” Dean asks, mouth dry, “I ran away. You’ve spent the last month trying to figure a way I can stay and fighting my corner and then the second you have it sorted I just… drove. Disappeared. I let Sammy think I wasn’t coming back for hours and…”

“And you’re sorry about those thing?”

“Yeah, I’m fucking sorry,”

“Okay then,” Sonny says, “Dean, not in the business of making anyone beg for a bed for the night. You know what you risked and you’re sorry, that’s enough for me.” Dean stares at the menu to avoid looking Sonny in the eye. “I’m more interested in making sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“It won’t,”

“Dean,” Sonny says, “You said that when you drove to Cas’ in the middle of the night.”

“It won’t,” Dean says, through gritted teeth, even though he hardly believes it himself. “I, Sam.”

“Your brother’s doing okay,” Sonny says, “He said you called this morning.”

“Couldn’t yesterday. Yesterday was… bad.”

“Hester is concerned.”

Yeah,” Dean says.

“She’s called a few times,”

“You don’t… I’ll apologise to Hester. Cas shouldn’t’ve come after me. He just…”

“Would've driven after you myself if I could,” Sonny says, and that’s an honest declaration. Even though Dean’s been the crappiest resident of Sonny’s Boy’s Home ever, Sonny would have wanted to drive after him if he didn’t have the responsibility of all the other kids and all the farm and isn’t that half the problem. Sonny cares, sure, but there’s only so much of his time and effort he can give. It’s amazing he managed to drive an hour out of town to sit down and have this conversation with him in the first place, let alone him trying to carve out the time to follow him properly. “We were all glad someone did,”

“Except Hester,”

“He put himself out of reach of her rules, Dean. You two were so far away there was nothing any of us could do if something went wrong.”

“It's not like he's a kid,” Dean says, “He’s pretty damn close to adulthood too. A few months.”

“Are you sleeping together?”

“We’re talking about that?” Dean baulks, “Of everything you could bring up on this bonding lunch, you gotta go with that?”

“Hester asked me to talk to you, guardian to guardian,” Sonny says, “If that’s still what you want me to be. That’s your choice, now.”

“Yeah,” Dean, blurts out, “Yeah. Driving off, it didn’t mean I don’t want, need, your help. I do. But the sex talk? Even my Dad skipped that whole thing and he was kind of obligated, so we can really skip this. Really.”

“Dean,”

“Cas basically told her that we’re, that. Sleeping together,”

“And yesterday?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “But we were -”

“Safe,” Sonny supplies, thank fuck, and he’s already working out the best way to tell Cas that he got subjected to the talk - because, seriously, Cas would find it damned funny - without letting Gabriel get wind of it.

“Right,” Dean says, and he's probably freaking purple right now. “Seriously, this whole thing, not needed. Not my first rodeo.”

“You're Castiel’s first boyfriend,” Sonny counters. Dean exhales. “And he was homeschooled.”

“Look, I get why Hester isn't a fan of this whole thing, I do, but teenagers have sex sometimes. It's not like Gabriel's a freaking monk. Forget that. Definitely don't feed that back to Hester. Crap. Sonny, it's all good, okay? Me and Cas will be responsible and I’ll catch up with the school I missed and I’ll talk Hester round and I’ll talk to Sam and fix everything. I can fix this and we definitely do not have to have the sex talk anymore.”

“Let’s talk about fixing everything,”

“I know Sam thought I was driving to Chicago, but I can talk to him and -”

“Dean, when people take risks, or act like they wouldn’t rationally, it’s usually for a reason. They steal peanut butter because they’re hungry. They go to a party and underage drink because they’re angry and insecure and worried about the future, and they drive off in the middle of the night because they’re not coping too well.”

Dean swallows.

“I’ve been speaking to Bobby, Principle Singer, and we both think you should take the rest of the week off school. No make up assignments, either. Bobby’s got it worked out. I’d prefer it if you didn’t work this weekend either, but that’s not my decision.”

“You’re my guardian. We just decided that,”

“And you’re eighteen,” Sonny says, “And have been been making you’re own decisions for a while. This is a unique situation. We can talk more about the boundaries another time, but now I want to talk about you. I think the time off will be good for you, Dean."

“So you want me to, what?” Dean asks. Sonny gestures that the floors open and glances away to accept his soda from the waitress. There’s a sharp pain beginning to form at the back of his throat, full of piercing words and thoughts he’s been squashing down. The last thing he wants from Sonny right now is silence. He thinks he wants him to be mad, actually, because that would be easier; he deserves to be yelled at, rather than being treated with this caring bullshit from everyone, even if he gets that it probably won’t help. He doesn’t want space. As much as working himself to the bone and the pressure has been suffocating him, the idea of space is…he’s just not sure he can deal with it.

“It’s difficult to process when you’re in survival mode."

“So you want me to process,” Dean says, “You’ve got some afterschool special conclusion you want from this and a couple of days off school is supposed to be the magic cure? I get that you’ve been waiting for me to figure it out, but I got it. I got what you meant. I just think you’re wrong.” Sonny raises one of his dark eyebrows to prompt him to carry on talking. “You said I was looking for the wrong chance. You think instead of me trying to figure I way I can look after Sam, you mean I should use this to not look after Sam, but he’s my brother, Sonny.” Sonny acknowledges his comment with a slight raise of one of his thick eyebrows. “And that means he comes first. He’s my family.”

“That’s not a claim I can make. I'm not your dad, and I'm never gonna be your dad, but I'd say what we want is pretty aligned here: I want what's best for Sam and I want what's best for you. Only thing is, I don't think those things are self conflicting, and you sure seem to.”

“You think it's betterfor Sam if I just abandon him? You think it's better for me to walk away?”

“It's not an all or nothing situation,” Sonny counters, sitting back against the opposite booth, calm, unaffected and absolutely invested. Sonny is a good guy. Dean get’s that he’s lucky to have wound up with Sonny, of all the people he could’ve ended up with. It just, it’s not enough to make up for all the rest of the shitty luck.

“So I could be like Dad. Half in, half out, leaving us guessing when he's gonna show up or call or show up with the rent money.”

“I'm talking about you being his brother, rather than his parent,”

“Sam said it himself. I'm not his dad,” Dean says, “Points it out every damn time he doesn’t wanna do what I ask him to.”

“And I sure think it's interesting he had to clarify that. I'm not begrudging you for looking out for your brother. I think it says a lot about your heart and your character - “

“- I let him be homeless for months,” Dean interjects, the words cutting on the way out of his throat, sharp and bloody.

“ - you were taking on an adult’s responsibilities and choices." Sonny interrupts, his voice firm.

“I am an adult."

“Not the kind of adult the state is gonna deem as suitable to look after a then fourteen year old."

“There's nothing you can do when I finish school, is there?” Dean asks. Really, he’s known that. He knew that from the beginning, when Ellen was offering him an out and promising them she’d do her damndest to keep them together. He knew that meant till you’re eighteen or till you finish school. He knew it didn’t mean permanently. He knew, when Sonny’s slipped into permanence, that he would be leaving without Sam. He knew that. He’s known and he’s buried it under denial and bargaining and silencing every treacherous thought in his head about the future. The present has been profoundly shitty enough that not thinking has been easy enough. He needed to focus on the next few weeks, without falling of the precipice into the unknown.

Sonny can’t help him once high school is over. It’s evident in the silence as Sonny readies himself to answer. It’s so fucking obvious.

“There no point sugar coating it,” Sonny says, “I can get you into supported accommodation or there’s a couple of local charities that help with rental deposits. We can access some extra living cost grants for college -”

“- I’m not going to college,” Dean says, voice flat, “I’m getting a job and saving so Sam can go to college.”

“Dean, I know this isn’t what you wanted. I know this is going to feel unnatural for you, but you’ve got an opportunity here to spend your last few months as a dependent having someone looking after you rather than the other way round. To give you time to figure out where you wanna go next.”

“That's my chance. A couple of crappy months before I gotta go back to sleeping in my car, only without my brother,” Dean says, something ugly rising up in his stomach. There might be tears. It could be yelling. He doesn’t know what happens with the crappy emotions worm their way out, he just knows he’d rather be on it’s own when it happens.

“Now I can't guarantee this, Dean, but the plan that Ellen is behind is Sam staying at mine. We've got a high school picked out that's closer, without the history. He's older than most of my long term residents, so we're gonna carve out that space to be his room. I've got no intention of stopping you seeing your brother. Got no intention of not allowing him to stay with you sometimes if you got a suitable place. You're always welcome for dinner. This isn't all or nothing.”

“You talked to Sam about this?”

“Not yet,” Sonny says, “You trust me, kid?”

“I trust you. I just don't know if I trust you with Sam, but it's not like I have options here,” Dean says, “Hell, only reason you’re treating this like I’ve got a say in any of this is cause you’re trying to make sure I don’t make things difficult. This whole time you’ve been acting like my opinion about this is important, but -”

“ - you’re opinion is important to me. I’ve got a tough skin, Dean. If you think it's bad for Sam to stay, you go right on and tell me and I can call Ellen to work something else out.”

“No, I don't, I just... look, I knew there was a time limit on this thing, but I've been pretending there wasn't cause I... I gotta be the one to look after Sam.”

“I think you've been loyal to someone's wishes who wasn't loyal to you for an awfully long time.”

“Me looking out for Sam isn’t about Dad,” Dean says, “He, yeah, he left and he did this to us, but I want to look after Sam. He’s… he’s my brother. He’s my responsibility.”

“There’s a subtle difference between looking out for and looking after.”

“I know it wasn’t fair for that to be on me. I know that, okay, I get it. We can skip the Dr Phil crap about how I was too young to be cooking Sam meals and babysitting for days at a time, but it happened and now that’s my job. I don’t… I gotta look after Sam. I got to. What else am I supposed to do?”

“That’s the part I want you to start figure out,” Sonny says, “Because in a few months time, there’s not a thing I could say to convince the state to let you look after your brother,”

“And you wouldn’t, anyway,” Dean says, “You don’t think I can do it. You don’t think I can.”

“That’s not a reflection on you.”

“So you care about my opinion, it just doesn’t make a fucking difference to anything, because the world has it’s mind made up,” Dean says, “This whole thing has just been some project to drop this on me at the moment I’m least likely to have a breakdown about it. You’re just… managing how I feel about this. This whole time.”

“No one’s been keeping this from you, Dean,” Sonny says, still absolutely calm, “We were waiting for your cue,”

“Great,” Dean says, standing up and nearly spilling over his coffee in his haste, “You, Ellen and Singer tag teaming how best to put off my emotional crisis till it’s convenient. Fucking awesome. And, yeah, I’ll cancel my shifts this weekend if that’s what you want. Forget the food. I’ll see you at my stop gap.”

*

He gets back half an hour before Sonny, because Sonny wasn’t taught to drive by John Winchester, and by the time Sonny’s pick up is pulling into the driveway Dean'a taken a crowbar to the impala’s hood and is leaning against the wheel willing himself not to cry.

Sonny accepts that without pushing him into talking again. Cas has text him saying he’s back in school, but he ignores that in favour of trying to remember how to breathe. None of the kids are here, so it's quiet for once.

After a little while, he gets changed because he’s been wearing the same clothes for three days. Sonny knocks on his bedroom door half an hour before Sam’s due home to let me know he’s cleared the garage, less Dean wants to park the impala out of sight. The conversation he’s gotta half with Sam is going to be utterly shit without it starting with Sam giving him hell for going ten rounds with his car, so it’s good of Sonny to be so accommodating. It isn’t his fault. None of this is Sonny's fault./p>

It’s just, it’s not Dean’s fault, either, and it sure as hell seems like he’s the one left picking up the cheque for damages.

Chapter Text

Sam gets home late enough that he must've had some nerdy after school thing (how he could concentrate on anything, Dean’s got no idea because his head's a mess and he didn't even go to school today ), and it doesn’t occur to Dean that he must’ve been stuck getting the late version of the school bus home until he can see him walking up Sonny’s drive. If his head was a little more in the game, he’d have driven to pick him up after school and take him out for a burger to apologise for being such a shitty brother.

Instead, his baby’s smashed up in Sonny’s garage and he’s spent the last couple of hours staring at the wall and trying to ‘process.’

He can hear Sonny and Sam exchange some muffled, short words before Sam’s footsteps are on the stairs. They’re supposed to be at dinner right now with the other kids, but Sonny didn’t push it with Dean and apparently Sam has a free pass too. That’s good. Not good that he hasn’t really eaten (Cas would be pissed), but good that neither of them are going to get sucked into Tommy’s cute help-me-with-my-homework routine when they really need some family time.

Sam opens the door without hesitating.

“Hey,” Dean says, and he doesn't even get a chance to half stand up before Sam has crossed the room and wrapped his arm around him. They hug like they've been apart for weeks, not one and half freaking nights, then Sam nudges him with his elbow till Dean makes room from them both. They’re squashed onto his single bed like they used to when Sam couldn't sleep and their Dad was who knows where, and it makes him feel better and worse at the same time. He doesn’t get to take care of Sam.

“You okay?” Dean asks, voice thick, “How was maximum security?”

“Hilarious, Dean,” Sam says, but there's no heat in his voice. He's got a shaky smile and that guilty look that's going to be haunting them for a few weeks./

“How'd your prison break go down anyway?”

“Ellen and Sonny,” Sam says, “They called Ellen, cause Sonny’s still down on our records as temporary. Then she read them my whole file and called Sonny to pick me up. They’re dropping it, I think.”

“Good,” Dean says, “Could've used someone in my corner for that peanut butter thing. How was Sonny?”

“Understanding,”

“And Ruby?”

“Her parents didn't even care, Dean,” Sam says, “Think they were just pissed they'd been dragged out of bed.”

“That's not an excuse, Sam,”

“Like you've never drank -”

“- difference is in getting caught. And you're thirteen, Sammy. It's way too early for that crap.”

“I know, Dean, it was just... with Dad.”

“Yeah I know,” Dean says, “And I know you didn't mean for me to take off. I get that that was the exact opposite of what you wanted.”

“I would. I'd follow you.”

“Sammy, it's okay. You wouldn't have to. You'd have no obligation to,” Dean says, “And that’s a good thing.”

“Dean, you’ve done everything for me, and I, I don’t…”

“Sam,” Dean says, voice carrying all the bolshy authority he’s picked up from playing-parent with a four year age gap, “I didn’t bring you up to follow my dumb ass around if I’m messing up. I bought you up to go on at me to ‘talk about it’ until you’re damn nagging makes it easier to do it your way. You’re too smart and independent to follow me or Dad around and that’s a damn good thing.”

“I do follow you,” Sam counters, “I do look up to you. Dean. You’re smart too. You’re smart , you just…”

“Had better things to do?”

“Other things.”

“Better,” Dean corrects, stretching out his legs. There’s not room for the two of them on one of Sonny’s battered single beds, but there’s something about having Sam so close which is taking the curb of his anger from before.

Sonny wouldn't agree that looking after Sam was a better thing to do with his time. At least, not at the detriment to himself. Not when it cost him, even if Dean's never thought about it in those terms.

“School’s lent me a laptop,” Sam says, “I was at a meeting after school about it; with someone in this student hardship fund. Sonny suggested it might make homework easier.”

“Huh, awesome,” Dean says, lips pulling into a smile, “They see that the only reason you got that C was cause you don’t have internet access at home?”

“Sonny suggested we watch a movie and get some pizza,”

“Anywhere even deliver this far out in the sticks?”

“He gave me a flyer,” Sam says, leaning over the edge of the bed to get his backpack to dig it out. “And the cash.”

“Sam,” Dean says, his smile fading a little, “We shouldn’t be taking money from Sonny.”

“Yes, we should,” Sam counters, thrusting the flyer in Dean’s direction. “He’s our, at least my, temporary guardian and he wants to buy us a pizza.”

“Pretty damn sure the money Sonny get’s from the state for fostering us don’t stretch to pizza,”

“You think he’s doing it for the money?” Sam challenges, as Dean turns the flyer over in his hands and starts scanning over the menu for the cheapest pizza. “And he said to keep the change, so just get the meat feast like you want to.”

“No, I don’t think he’s doing it for the money,” Dean throws back, flipping it back at him, “And why give me the menu if you know what I want?”

Sam bitchfaces at him before turning it over to get the number.

“Half and half with that lame-o veg fest you always want?” Dean suggests, unplugging his cell phone, ignoring the four unanswered texts he’s got from Cas, before passing it over to Sam. “Save on your credit.”

“Sonny topped it up,” Sam says, looking a little sheepish now, or more like he’s expecting Dean to have some visible emotional reaction about it. Sam knows. He already caught on. “Dean, I -”

“Course he did,” Dean mutters, jaw clenching for a moment. “Whatever you want, Sam. Order soon. I’m starving,”

He takes the moment whilst Sam rings up and orders their old regular pizza order, before they never had the cash to order pizza and certainly not one with stuffed crusts and extra bacon, to text Cas back. He got back to school safe. He wants to know if Dean’s talk with Sonny went okay. He wants to know if Dean’s okay. As Sam adds a litre of soda to their order, he thumbs out a message to Cas that should take the edge off his worry. Plus, it gives him something beyond this room to think about, which is stabilising. Good.

Pizza & movie night for me and Sammy. Won’t be in school tomorrow but all fine. Will explain later.

Cas replies instantly, advising him that his birthday gift from all of them might help with movie night.

“Sweet,” Dean says, standing up and poking through his drawers. “You know where my birthday stuff got stashed?” He only has four drawers of his own in this whole space, so it doesn’t take long to find the wrapped up gift from Cas, Gabriel and Charlie, and it takes him a few seconds to rip the paper open.

They’ve replenished every single movie he lost when they were evicted. He’s so floored for a few seconds that he doesn’t know what to do.

“You help with this Sam?”

“Kind of,” Sam says, pocketing his phone again, “I mean, you’re kind of predictable when it comes to movies.”

“Jackass,” Dean throws back, grabbing his phone to send a message to the three of them because, damnit, his fucking friends. What the hell has he done to deserve them being so goddamn good to him?

Cas texts him back with a smiley face and a ‘have a good evening with your brother’ which shouldn’t make him feel as sappy as it does. Dammnit.

“You and Cas. Are you having sex?” Sam asks, which nearly floors him for a totally different reason.

“Second time I've had this question today, huh. Yeah. We haven't for long though. This is all new territory for Cas. Why?”

“Guess I just want to know what's going on with you,” Sam says.

“You never asked about my frigging sex life before. I gotta worry now the whole thing isn't gross to you anymore?” Dean asks, waggling his eyebrows at him and leaning back against the wall behind the bed, the stack of movies in his hands.

“No,” Sam says, rolling his eyes slightly.

“Good. Just don't go talking like that around Sonny. He'll pin you down and give you the talk before you know you're being violated,” Dean says, discarding Star Wars, not because they’re not his favourites, but because he watched them relatively recently with Cas and Gabriel.

“Sonny gave you the talk? Wow.”

“Yep.”

“Did Dad even give you the talk?”

Apparently, he’s okay with Sam bringing Dad up now. It’s like the biggest gotcha of the surprise phone call shook that jerk of painful surprise every time he heard the word. Maybe he has turned a corner.

“Nah,” Dean says, “He bought me a book on puberty once. Pity I ditched it first chance and can’t pass it on now the time’s ripe, huh little brother?”

“Whatever, Dean, I was just asking because this thing with Cas is new territory for you. The whole taking it slow, boyfriends thing. You're serious.”

“Guess we are. Cas said he loved me yesterday and this was before our condom run,”

“Cas loves you?”

“That's what he said,” Dean says, pausing in sorting through his films to attempt to appear nonchalant about the whole damn thing, rather than like the words cut deep and very close to the nerve. He’s not had a whole lot of people in his life say they love him. Just Sam, really.

“Do you, uh, love him back?”

He should have seen that coming.

“Aw, come on Sammy, you know I don't talk about things like that.”

“But if he said it, that usually means they're waiting for you to say it back.”

“Okay, Gilmore Girls,”

“Dean, I'm serious,”

“Cas knows my brains scrambled and fried right now. It's a regular freaking breakfast up there. He's not expecting anything.”

“And he's okay with that?” Sam asks, eyebrows raised in concern.

“Hasn't complained so far,” Dean says, “then again, we've only managed to fool around three times, so maybe he just can't think past sex.”

“Dean,” Sam says, in that I need you to take this conversation seriously way that Dean usually tries his best to fend off. They haven’t managed to hang out like this for a long time though. Not since Sonny’s, definitely, when Dean’s been so caught up in school work and drowning in his own head. Not for a long time before, because they both spent the whole time sleeping wherever they could find, with laundrette trips as an excuse for bonding time. Even when they were together, they argued.

“I don't know, Sam,” Dean says, “I can't think past this, okay? I know that’s not what you wanna hear, but that’s the way it is.”

“Okay,”

“So I uh, Sonny's arranged the rest of the week as my own siesta. I'm housebound till Monday, which is awesome, because I'm pretty sure me and Sonny had a fight.”

“You had a fight?”

“I mean, I had a fight. Sonny sat calm and took it until I walked out this dinner and drove back here. We haven't talked. I haven't talked. Sonny talked. What?”

“It's just, you never argued with Dad, who was like the most inflammatory guy ever. And you're fighting with Sonny who's so inoffensive and patient -”

“- save the poetry for Valentine's Day,” Dean cuts across, “Don't like the way some things have been handled. I wanna, uh, process before we talk about that though.”

“Are you okay, Dean?”

“No. I'm not okay. Not really expecting to be,” Dean says, “Are you okay?”

“I think… I could be, soon,”

“Well that’s something,” Dean exhales, shutting his eyes for a second, “You ever gonna tell me the deal with Ruby? You dating, or what?”

“No, we’re not… dating,”

“But you like her?”

“Yeah,” Sam admits, which is more than Dean’s gotten so far, “She’s not, it’s not like I trust her. I know she’s gotten me in trouble. I just think she’s misunderstood,”

“I’ve played that card, Sammy. I’ve been ‘misunderstood’ and I gotta tell you, it’s a damn good cover for being bad news and wanting to get in your pants.”

“Ruby doesn’t want to get in my pants,” Sam bitchfaces.

“Why? Cause she’s a girl? Cause if that’s your reasoning, maybe we should have the talk.”

“You gave me the talk,” Sam says, “Three times. I got it.”

“Good,” Dean says, “Okay, Sam, pick any movie you want, as long as it’s Batman or The Matrix and no bitching.”

“It’s my borrowed laptop,” Sam says, “Surely I get dibs on the movie,”

“It’s interesting to me that you’d think that,” Dean says, “Batman or the Matrix.”

“Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole,” Sam says, in a twist parody of Dean’s voice. “Same thing. My pick.”

“Well I’m eldest, so screw that,”

“Jerk,”

“Bitch,” Dean grins, “Fine, Back to the Future is also up for grabs, but only cause you helped them pick out the movies.” Sam plucks Back to the Future out of Dean’s hand and leans down to pick up the laptop and balance it on top of his ever-growing legs. “And cause you’re gonna let me borrow this laptop, right?”

“No way, Dean. I’m not explaining your google history to my teachers,”

“I’m offended.”

“Just, only school work, okay?”

“Cross my heart, Sammy.”

“You’re the worst,”

“Aw, you don’t mean that,” Dean says, nudging him with his elbow, stomach grumbling.

“We will talk about your fight with Sonny, right?”

“Yeah,” Dean nods, “Hundred percent.”

“And this is good, right? Tonight.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “Course, Sam. Movie night. This is awesome.”

“Hanging out without having to worry about the other things,”

“Yeah,”

“Getting to just be brothers. Without you always worrying about looking after me.”

“Sam,” Dean says, throat closing in, chest constricting.

“I miss this,” Sam says, “We haven’t hung out like this for a long time.”

The sound of a motorbike pulling into Sonny’s driveway gives him an escape route.

“I’ll go get the pizza,” Dean says, holding a hand out for the cash and disappearing from the room before Sam can waylay him into talking any more about his damn feelings.

He just about manages to avoid running into Sonny on the way back upstairs.

Sam doesn’t bring it up again.

They have a good evening.

Chapter Text

He stays in bed until half twelve, when he can’t ignore how hungry he is anymore, partially just for the novelty. The other part is because he’s been exhausted to the bone for six months and because he wants to continue avoiding Sonny altogether, but it’s the novelty too; he’s not really sure the last time he had an actual lie in. He’s had a part time job that meant working weekends since he was fifteen and he generally tried to pick up extra shifts during the holidays, too. Even the days he skipped school, he gave Sam a lift in. It’s kind of awesome just to sleep, processing be damned. He’s eighteen and he’s been forced to take time off school, it’s like his right to sleep as long as he freaking wants to.

Sam left a note with the password for his school laptop on top of his bedside table, because as much as Sam is a melodramatic whiny thirteen year old brat, he’s a good kid who’d do just about anything for him. Even when Dean’s been doing a fantastic job of being a truly shitty brother, Sam always comes through for him.

He sets the laptop up on the kitchen table as he refills the coffee pot and helps himself to breakfast, slightly stuck on the fact that it’s so damn quiet. He’s not used to it. At his last count, there was eight kids here, with a little variation from week to week depending on how shitty Carl’s parents are being at any given minute. It’s loud and busy and stuffed full of kids so desperate for some good kind of attention from anyone they’ve developed dead on strategies for monopolising time. With no one here (but Sonny and Jack, most likely), the place is almost silent.

It’s been awhile since he’s had a laptop at his disposal, too. They did have one. He petitioned John Winchester for it in the name of homework and was more successful than it expected. It was one of the things they grabbed when they realised they had to leave quick - their clothes, phones, the laptop, the emergency cash in the drawer, then anything they could get their hands on in ten minutes. Sam was just about not-crying and Dean was yelling at him to hurry the fuck up Sammy because they needed to be out of the place before the guy turned up to change the locks, or he might call the authorities and they might get split up and if they could just make it till he was eighteen then… maybe, maybe, things could be different. At that point he almost believed John Winchester was coming back. Fuck knows why, because it had taken a month and a half of no rent before the letters started coming through the door and that should have been more than enough for him to work it out. Looking back on it, he’s pretty sure they must have been behind on rent before he left, or it probably wouldn’t have been so damn quick.

He’s got no fucking idea what happened to that laptop in the interim. He just doesn’t remember.

He does remember the rising panic as he hit the accelerator and drove away from the one place that their dad would check for them if he came back, with no idea what the hell happened next. Sam was panicking in the passenger’s seat. He was actually crying by then. Loud sobs as he clutched hold of the backpack of Dean’s stuff Sam packed whilst Dean shoved all their bedding into a trash bag, because they didn’t have anything else to put anything else in.

Sam was asking all these goddamn questions between his tears. Where were they going. What would happened. Why this had happened. Would they be separated. What were they going to do when they had no money and nowhere to go.

He pulled over to the side of the road, trying not to let his panic spill out of his mouth, setting his jaw into a fixed line. I need you to shut up whilst I think, Sammy. Just give me a minute.

Sam looked at him, teary and red faced and still a chubby thirteen year old kid, and said ‘Dean you’re the only family I have’ and it tore him to fucking pieces, because how could Dad have done that to Sam and because he was right. They didn’t have anyone, or money, or anything but the crap they panic-packed in the ten minutes after Dean getting the letter through the door and shaking Sam awake to move.

So he drove to Bella’s house and she paid him to piss off, and he got back in the car and he turned to Sam and said ‘hey, at least we have money now’ like everything was a-okay. And Sam gave him a watery smile that Dean didn’t buy for a damn minute, but he was silent all the way to the motel and that was better than the tears.

If they ask why you’re late at school, Dean said, turning the car back around, the car broke down. If they ask anything else, lie.

Are you going to school?

You bet, Sammy. We’ve both gotta keep a low profile for a while. No trouble. No attention in any way, you hear me? You keep kicking ass, you big geek. This is your moment. I’m eighteen in January and I’m your brother and family counts in these things, Sam. So you’re gonna go to school and you’re gonna act like nothing happened, okay? Nothing happened this morning except car trouble. You’ll go to your freaky extra curricular activities and you’ll keep running tech and I’ll work out a plan. You hear me?

I hear you, Sam said, and he had faith in him, and he blinked back his damn tears and rearranged his face. I’ll see you later, Dean.

Sam actually trusted him to look after him then.

Dean forces himself to eat a few slices of toast for breakfast before setting himself up on the sofa with the laptop and his stack of movies, because the fuck does processing even look like if it’s not marathon watching action movies to try and get all of this crap out of his head.

Sonny keeps out of his way, which probably helps.

*

Around lunchtime, he texts Sam to ask him what happened to their laptop, because it’s been bugging him so much he can barely concentrate on Star Wars. Sam replies in what must be the last ten minutes of his lunch hour to say that they didn’t pack the charger and had no address to mail a new charger to, so it was flat at the bottom of the wardrobe. Apparently, he told the person from the hardship fund this and they said that they had laptops-for-loan but couldn’t give him the money for the new charger because that fell outside of their remit. That sounds just fucking typical of the whole system that he only just believes that Sam isn’t taking this piss. Googling tells him a new charger would cost him four times the amount currently in his bank account. He figures that, on balance, saving to be able to make rent might be more of a priority.

*

A wave of crippling panic hits him when he’s halfway through his run round the perimeter of Sonny’s farm. He’s got nowhere to go. He’s got no money in the bank. He’s not qualified to do anything. He’s barely passing high school with no plan or backup or family. He’s got Sam Winchester and his car and that’s it. He’s not good at anything except looking out for his brother and he’s done a pretty shitty job of that, anyway. He can’t even sofa surf because every single one of his friend’s is skipping town and going to college. In total, he only spent a dozen or so nights in the back of his car, but he can’t do that because Sam would know for sure this time. He needs money and somewhere to live and a job and he’s so far from ready to do any fucking one of those things for himself.

It was different when it was for Sam.

He winds up sat on the steps of one of Sonny’s out-buildings until he can think pass his panic again.

Sonny said they could help. He needs to ask what the hell that help even looks like and he doesn’t want to accept it for a hot second, but this is another of those shitty things that he doesn’t have a choice about. It’s not up to him, because John Winchester made the decision for him. He decided. He made that choice in the same way he’s been making choices about their lives for years while acting like there were no consequences.

And maybe Sam has always been right about all of it.

He only went on a run in the first place because that antsy, restless need to run away from all of it start creeping up on him halfway through the Empire Strikes Back and running seems to be the only thing to take the edge of it which hasn’t lead him to driving across the damn state. He hadn’t counted on it leaving enough space in his head for real things to creep in uninvited.

He doesn’t want to process shit, because he doesn’t want any of this to have actually happened.

It’s still frigging cold and Dean only begins to register that when his fingers are too numb to move. He’s been sat out in the January air for long enough that he can just see Cas’ pinched frown declaring his behaviour as worrying. He’s not wrong. Cas is a hundred percent accurate and dead on the money, it’s just he can’t seem to stop it. If anyone else were pulling the crap he was pulling, he knows exactly what he’d say to them. Stop. Take care of yourself. Deal.

The run back to Sonny’s defrosts his limbs but does nothing for the frustration pumping through his bloodstream that slipped in after the panic dulled.

“Hey,” Dean offers to Sonny, bumping into him on the way to get a glass of water, trying his best not to look at him. He’s angry and he’s just about smart enough to know that Sonny isn’t really the person he’s angry at, but it sure as hell feels like it is. He doesn’t know what else to do about that except offer stilted greetings and keep on keeping on his stellar program of repressing everything.

“Hey Dean,” Sonny offers back, stepping round the kitchen, “You lost your claim on the TV, looks like.”

“Is Sam back?”

“Chess club.”

“Right,” Dean says, swallowing. He used to know that crap. “Think I’m gonna go see Cas. If that’s okay,” Dean says, turning to meet his eye. Sonny’s assessing him; eyes scanning over his facial expression the fact that he’s been out in freaking January in a t-shirt and a thin jacket for nearly two hours. “Just feel like talkin’ to him. Won’t be late.”

“Sure,” Sonny says, “I’ll let your brother know.”

“Thanks.” Dean mutters, not entirely sure that he doesn’t still sound pissed at him, even when he’s asking for a damn favour.

After he’s changed out of his running gear, he pauses as he’s pulling on his leather jacket then immediately resents himself for it. It’s pathetic as shit that he’s been wearing John Winchester’s discarded leather jacket for months, anyway, but it’s worse if he’s gonna have some kind of emotional breakdown about it. It’s a jacket. It’s a goddamn jacket that he kept because it was the warmest thing he owned and because he didn’t have the luxury of being picky about things at the time.

Still, he shoves the fucking thing under the bed and pulls out the jacket Sonny bought him for Christmas instead. It’s not as warm, but he’s an expert on layers, and right this second he hates his other jacket with every atom in his body and he doesn’t want anything to do with it.

He’s pulls the label Sonny tied round the coat hook off and throws it in the bin with relish. He wrote it’s good to have options which is hilarious, actually, because right now he doesn’t have a single one.

*

It doesn’t occur to him that he’s basically barred from the premises till he’s already outside the front door of the Milton Residence. He can’t quite remember what the hell Hester’s rules even were, but he’s almost entirely sure that he’s breaking them by just turning up out of the blue with no prior warning. He hasn’t prewarned Cas of his arrival; hasn’t actually spoken to Cas at all today. He got a few text messages that he read without answering by accident, because the whole of today has been one weird clusterfuck of emotions and bullcrap. Processing, or whatever the hell Sonny wants to call it, hasn’t been a whole lot of fun so far.

In fact, it’s sucked. Everything about today sucks and he needs out of Sonny’s farm and his general, inoffensive presence, because right now he wants a good reason to be offended. He wants to get in a fight and scream and call up his Dad’s voicemail just to call him a fucking asshole, but he can’t do any of those things without opening up another emotional can of worms.

Gabriel is the one who answers the front door.

“Hey,” Dean says, “I know I’m banned for life, or whatever - ”

“ - Moooom,” Gabriel calls, “Enemy number one is here. Come on in, Deano,”

“I don’t, Gabe - ”

“ - you know he’s not here, right? He’s got his therapy thing on Thursdays now, which he definitely told you. He’s due back soon.” Gabriel says, as Dean steps through the door, “So, Mom, does it count if Cassie isn’t here?”

Damnit. He knew that.

“Dean,” Hester says, an expression which is half smile and half concern crossing over her face as she steps towards the door, but he’s got no idea whether that’s concern for him or concern for Cas. “Happy late Birthday,”

“Thanks,” Dean says, voice constricting slightly, “I didn’t mean to -”

“ - you okay, Dean?” Gabriel asks, eyes narrowing, uncharacteristically serious.

“Not even close,” Dean exhales, and the next thing he knows he’s sat at the Milton’s kitchen table with a freaking hot chocolate.

“What’s up?” Gabriel says, as Hester bustles about fixing him something to eat which currently just looks to be sugar and sugar (if Gabriel’s eating habits ever needed further explanation; he’s got one provided right here).

“I just, I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do,” Dean says, staring at his hot chocolate, eyes glazing over. “Sam’s staying at Sonny’s after I finish school. Probably could have figured that out. And I’m just… on my own. They can’t help me. They can’t do anything. I’m just… I’ve got nowhere to go.”

It sounds worse when he says it out loud.

For once, Gabriel doesn’t have anything to say.

“What support can Sonny and Ellen get for you?” Hester asks, sitting down in the seat opposite him.

“Supported accommodation, maybe. Help with a rent deposit, which ain’t exactly gonna help considering I can’t pay actual rent. I don’t know what to do. I can’t… when I think about it I -”

Castiel makes his entrance with a panicked ’Dean’ that instantly knocks him out of emotion mode.

“Dean,” Cas says again, crossing the room, “What happened to you car? Did you have an accident? Is that why you’re not in school - ?”

“What? No, I… that was me,” Dean says, jaw clenching. There’s nothing he can say that won’t make his behaviour fall under any other category than ‘worrying’ and he really, really wanted Cas to stop spending so much of his goddamn time worrying about him. The only move he’s got in his arsenal is aiming for levity and he knows that’s going to tank, but he doesn’t know where else to go except crying and he’s already done that in front of Cas before. He doesn’t need to add into his ‘total catatonic breakdown in front of boyfriend’ tally. “I beat up my car with a crowbar. You could say it’s been a bad week.”

“You,” Cas begins, eyes flickering over his face, “Dean. What’s -?”

“ - it’s fine. I can fix her easy. It wasn’t…”

“But you’re okay?”

It then strikes him that Cas hasn’t so much as looked at anyone else in the room since he walked in and he’s not the only one who’s picked up on the fact. Hester’s expression has arranged into something a little more conflicted and damnit, she isn’t okay with this. She might want to help him, but she is not okay with their relationship right now. He knew that, like he knew Sam was in chess club and he knew Cas had his counselling appointment, but his head is just -

Cas loves him. It’s written all over his fucking face.

“Yeah,” Dean says, standing up. “I gotta… I shouldn’t be here. Hester’s rules and all that new regime stuff. I gotta talk to Sam and he’ll be back from chess club soon, so I… yeah. Gabe, Hester, thanks. I’m gonna, gonna go,” Dean says, hands closing over his car keys in his pocket, painfully aware that nothing he’s done today has made any fucking sense.

He drove all the way out there because he wanted to see Cas, not because he wanted to have a five minute chat about his future with his best friend and his best friend’s mother, then ditch out the second his boyfriend actually showed. He’s mad at Sonny but he’s wearing his freaking jacket. He nearly started crying over his goddamn breakfast this morning. All he’s done is watch too much TV and nearly had a fucking panic attack in the middle of an empty field. He’s not okay and he needs to, just, stop acting like he’s losing his goddamn mind.

“Dean,” Cas says, following him out the door and clicking it shut behind him. Of course he followed him.

“We’ve gotta cool it in front of your aunt,” Dean snaps, “She was already freaked out before you ditched school for me."

“Hester’s fine, Dean, she just -”

“ - if she’s so fine then why did I get a fucking sex talk from Sonny?”

“Sonny gave you the talk,” Cas says, the corner of his lips twisting up a little.

“Hey, that’s you’re fault,” Dean counters, giving up on trying to get the impala open and instead turning to face Cas.

“Come back inside, Dean.”

“No,” Dean says, “I shouldn’t be here right now. I gotta… Sam, but I, I just… I wanted to see you. I’m fine. Sonny pulled me out of school to feel my feelings but it’s all a-okay,”

Cas steps forward and cups his hands around his jaw. All the air rushes out of his lungs in relief, like that was the cue he was waiting for, as Castiel runs a thumb over his cheekbone painfully seriously.

“How was therapy?” Dean asks, his treacherous fucking hands finding the bottom of Cas’ shirt and bundling themselves up in it.

“We talked about you,” Cas says, “And how difficult it must be for you realign yourself after believing your worth was found in looking after Sam.”

“We’re gonna be split up when I finish school,”

“I assumed as much,” Cas says, his frown deepening,“I am so sorry Dean.”

“You not gonna tell me how it’s good for me not to have to look after my little brother, like that’s some burden I’ve been trying to shake?” Dean asks, his voice a little rough, the cold seeping past his skin again.

“This is difficult,”

“Yeah,” Dean exhales, blinking, “Cas.”

Cas leans forward and kisses him, slow and serious, with his hands still cupping his face. “Your hands must be getting cold,” Dean says, close enough that their noses are touching.

“Hmm,” Cas agrees, slipping his hands under Dean’s jacket instead, giving Dean the opportunity to wrap his arms around Cas’ back and get him a little further into his orbit. It’s warmer, too, being chest to chest. “School is very sub-par without you,”

“Monday,” Dean says, “Got a whole weekend free, too. Can do whatever you want, as long as it’s free and falls under Hester’s rules.”

Cas presses their forehead together.

“Will you come inside next time if I invite you here?”

“Maybe,” Dean says, “Spewed a couple of emotions in there. Was planning on avoiding the joint for at least a month. Come to Sonny’s.”

“Okay,” Cas says, and kisses him again and it’s just way to easy to lose himself in kissing Castiel. He’s just so good. He’s this deep well of loyalty and care and determination to mean something. And he loves him. Cas loves him. He doesn’t have a whole lot of people that he can say that about and pretty much the whole list has let him down. Castiel, though. Cas.

“I really should go,” Dean sighs, not moving, “Not least cause it’s really fucking cold out here.”

“You could come inside instead,”

“No,” Dean says, shutting his eyes, “Okay. I’m good. I’m going.”

“You said that half an hour ago,”

“Get your ass back inside, Castiel,”

“Goodnight, Dean. Drive safely.”

“Rodger that,” Dean says, forcing distance between them to pull out his car keys. His toes are numb, but he kind of wants to hide outside the Milton’s front door for a bit longer. Hester deserves better for him than flaunting her rules, though, especially when it’s hard to be mad at him with everything that’s been going on. It’s not fair to her to put her in this crappy position. “I’ll call you later.”

Cas smiles at him from the front door and doesn’t go back inside until he’s put the impala into gear and driven away.

*

Sam comes barreling out the front door onto the driveway the second he pulls into Sonny’s because, obviously, Sam hasn’t seen the damage he did to the car either. He managed to park her out of his eyeline last night thanks to Sonny being a little more on it than Dean and then he goes and fucks up the whole thing by dashing off on a mad Castiel-haunt.

Right now he reminds him a lot of the Sam on the morning they wound up homeless and the Sam in the first week after, as he deferred to Dean’s plan with a wild-eyed look of panic shadowing his gaze. You got Mrs Tran’s number? Dean said, his stomach turning over, heart pumping so damn loudly he was surprised Sam was buying his calm and collected routine. I’ll call her, okay? The story is Dad’s working nights. I’m working late and we don’t want you to be alone. She’ll eat up the concerned brother thing, okay? Sam nodded and didn’t ask whether he was actually working late, because that was a little too connected to the money issue they were doing a good effort of avoiding talking about.

“Dean,” Sam says, looking younger than he has for weeks, running out to meet him.

“I didn’t crash,” Dean says, locking the car behind him. “I did it yesterday when I was pissed at Sonny. I’m fine.”

“ - fine?” Sam asks, voice gaining heat, now, “Dean, you’re not fine. You - ”

Sonny is following Sam out the front door. He probably figured it out before Dean did. He figured he’d see the damn car and panic. Sonny gets Sam, which -

“ - Sam,” Dean cuts across, “When school finishes, I have to go,” Dean says, forcing his voice into calm, solid. Sam already knows this. He's a smart enough kid that he'd have worked it out. Sam would have worked it out the first day he caught on that John Winchester wasn't coming back. It’s obvious he knows from the ways he’s let Sonny take over paying for his phone and the way he asks Sonny for permission to see Ruby. It was obvious from the just-being-brothers speech he got last night. Sam wants this. He wants Dean to want to walk out and leave and do something for himself, for Dean’s sake but that doesn’t mean he isn’t also the kid who damn near begged him for a solution that would keep them together. He got stronger, but he’s still Sammy. “And they’re not going to let me take you with me.”

Sam freezes.

“Do you want to stay here?” Dean asks, pocketing his hands, and thinking of Cas’s apology. This is difficult. I am so sorry Dean. He doesn’t get to stay with Sam. He doesn’t get the one fucking thing he’s ever wanted, but Cas is sorry about it and Sonny wants to help him. He can’t help him the way Dean wants him to, but he’s going to try and do something.

“What are you going to do?” Sam asks, voice smaller.

“Get a job. Get some place to live.”

“Near here?”

“As near as wherever you are I can be,” Dean says, voice level. He’s put on a show for Sam before, he can do it now; he can’t make Sam thinks he’s okay with this until he’s okay with this. “That okay by you?”

“When I'm sixteen. I can get emancipated,” Sam says, eyes defiant, meeting his dead on. Sam is a helluvalot stronger than him. His little kid brother is something else and Dean’s not quite sure how he turned out so good. “I've been looking into it. I just have to file a petition and then prove it's better for me not to be Sonny's responsibility. I haven't worked out how it works if you're in the care of the state - ”

“Sam I'm not saying I don't wanna do that, but right now, I can't look after you. I can't do it.”

“I know,” Sam says.

“ - so we gotta, we gotta act like that's not gonna happen, because I can't. If I think that you're gonna come live with me and then you can't then... I can’t live with that. This isn’t what I want and I took it out on baby, but I promise you that I will get there. I will get there. I’m not running out on you, Sammy, I’m not doing that again. I’m not gonna let you down, I swear to God Sam you -”

Sam cuts him off by throwing his arms around his neck and hugging him so tightly he can’t breathe. He hugs him for a fraction too long, before he goes back inside without saying anything. There’s a lot he could say, but none of it seems to encapsulate everything there is to say.

Dean’s shaking a little when he comes back into the house. The shock of it carries him into following Sonny into the kitchen and sitting at the table heavily.

“For what it’s worth,” Sonny says, quiet, “I’m real proud of you, Dean.”

Dean blinks at the table. He’s for the fourth person to say that to him. His Kindergarten teacher after this crappy circle-time where everyone had to talk about their family and Dean had to tell the whole first grade that his Mom died. He’s pretty sure she’d have skipped the damn thing if she had the family history available, but John Winchester tended to fill forms in with the minimal amount of words possible. John Winchester himself, once, after he got back from a two week trip and Dean cooked them all chilli and told him about all the good grades Sam got whilst he was away. Principle Singer a few months after they moved here, to say he was impressed with how well Dean had settled and that he hoped they’d stay permanently. And now Sonny, too. Proud of him.

“Not many adults I know could handle the ringer you’ve been put through these past six months.”

“You think this looks like handling?”

“I think you’re getting there,” Sonny says, hand resting on his shoulder for a moment. Their Dad used to do that too, when he agreed, obeyed, smoothed things over with Sam. When he made John Winchester’s life easier. He’s probably making Sonny’s life easier right now too but it feels diffrent. “There anything I can get you?”

“A drink?” Dean suggests, “I’m guessing that’s against your code,”

“The law, actually,” Sonny says, sitting opposite him, “That wasn’t an easy conversation.”

“Can Cas come over on Saturday?" Dean asks, because it’s a good as a diversion as any.

“Sure,” Sonny says, evenly.

“Can I cook?”

“For you and Cas?”

“For everyone,” Dean says, “Was thinking burgers. Used to do them for me and Sam.”

“Sounds good,” Sonny says, “I could come with you to get the groceries. Unless you want me to butt out and leave you to it.

He’s wanted Sonny to butt out all day, but he feels that less keenly right now. Sonny wants to help him. He wants to help Sam more out of obligation and a little bit of necessary, if the push came to shove, but they have that in common. “Whatever,” Dean says, “Why not. You can come if you want.”

Sonny gives him a nod that reeks of proud of him.

The next morning he parks the impala in one of Sonny’s out buildings and fixes the damage he did to the hood.

Then he starts work on the tractor he promised Sonny he could get up and running months ago.

Chapter Text

The tractor engine is just different enough from the cars that he’s worked on that he winds up testing out the power of Sonny’s wifi by using Sam’s borrowed- laptop to watch youtube videos about how the hell the damn thing is supposed to work, anyway, in the garage he’s commandeered for the foreseeable future. He’s still confident enough that he can get it to work that he draws up a list of new parts they’re going to need to get it working for Sonny, who takes it with an easy smile that twists his moustache upwards and says they can get right on it.

In the end, they take a detour from walmart to get the groceries for the burgers to get the parts too, even though Dean said it would be cheaper to get them online, probably because Sonny’s got it in his head that fixing up the tractor might be some key part in Dean’s emotional healing. He might not be wrong, either. Spending the whole of Friday morning trying to heat Sonny’s garage up with a half busted heater while he dented the impala back into shape, without sparing one fucking thought for school or his Dad or how freaking hopeless his future is had been a sort of other-worldly experience. He came in for lunch hungry. Honest to god freaking starving and in a good enough mood that he started up conversation of his own accord. Even when he’s not kinda-mad at Sonny, he’s always let him do the conversational leg work.

Their Walmart-garage trip is almost enjoyable.

Sam blows off Ruby on Friday evening for them to play fucking kids monopoly with Tommy and Carl, which is good news as far as Dean’s concerned. He plays too and it’s so dumb and meaningless and the least stressed he’s felt for about four years, even though he’s got plenty of things to be worrying about.

On Saturday, Sam spends the morning sat in the garage handing him the right spanner and complaining that it’s too cold, till Dean orders him back inside to warm up, do some homework and stop whining, with the promise that he’ll warn him when Cas is supposed to arrive.

Course, he doesn’t.

“Hello Dean,” Cas says, stepping into the garage as Dean’s singing along to the radio tuned into a station that played the closed approximation of classic rock he could fine. He nearly drops the wrench he’s holding on the floor and does an awkward, trip-fumble as he turns round to face him. “Sonny said I would find you in here.”

“Hey,” Dean manages, flushing slightly.

“You’re fixing a tractor,” Cas says, eyes blue, blue, blue, and staring at him intently. “You really do understands cars.”

“I, yeah,” Dean says, as Cas steps forward to kiss him hello, while Dean’s still trying to wipe the engine grease onto his jeans before he gets it all over Cas’ freaking coat. “Hey,”

“You’re flustered.”

“Yeah, well, you’re all hot and intense and then you talk,” Dean says, still fumbling around like a total jackass for somewhere to put his wrench and to know what to do with his hands, when Cas is so close and Dean smells of engine oil and had, five seconds previously, been pretending his wrench was an air guitar. He wasn’t expecting company from Cas, this exact second.

“I didn’t know I made you flustered.”

“Usually have some prep time, ‘stead of you just showing up.” Cas’ smile broadens. “Just cause you’re Mr Cool all the damn time, don’t mean the rest of us mortals are unaffected.”

“I affect you,”

“Yeah, well, no need to go to the presses about it,”

“You’re embarrassed. Don’t be. I like learning new things about you,” Cas declares, which of course floors him, goddamnit, and nothing in this exchange is going remotely to plan. Cas takes pity on him and kisses him again and this time Dean’s hands are free to settle on his hips, which is much better.. “Also, you’re fixing a tractor.”

“Tryin’ too, anyway,” Dean says, using the purchase on his hips to pull him a little closer, “Keep finding more rust.”

“This is a very attractive look on you,”

“Manly mechanic or bumbling idiot?”

“Both,” Cas says, smiling, “I like you a great deal,”

“Well that’s a downgrade from last I heard,” Dean says, “What’d I do in the past four days?”

“Dean,” Cas says, then wraps his arms around his neck and pulls him in again and, yeah okay, this Saturday sure as hell beats spending the whole day forcing a smile to diner customers even if he’s stone cold broke.

Obviously, because Dean’s life is conspired against him, Sam shows up the exact second Cas’ tucks a hand in the back pocket of Dean’s jeans which tips them over from it being a vaguely uncomfortable moment to it being awkward as hell.

“Hey, Dean, Cas is probably… oh, hey,” Sam says, as Dean pulls away and puts enough distance between them that it’s okay for his brother to be in the same room. “So Cas should be arriving soon.”

“Thanks, Sam,” Dean rolls his eyes, not edging any further away, because Sam would only make a big deal and accuse him of being uncomfortable, or something, which he’s pretty sure he’s not. He doesn’t have a lot of experience of having an actual boyfriend, but Sam already knows a little of how Dean feels about this. Most of it has been read between the lines, because Dean’s only prepared to skim the top of how he feels in conversation, especially about romance, but Sam still knows.

“Guess I’m relieved of spanner duty,” Sam says, gaze flicking between the two of them.

“Spanner duty?” Cas asks.

“I fix tractors, Sam passes me things. It’s the family business,” Dean says, “Guess you’re up, Cas.”

“I don’t know anything about cars,”

“You own a car. A crap one, sure, but you have a car.”

“What’s wrong with my car?”

“That’s like the first thing I knew about you,” Sam says, smirking, “That you were smart and had a shitty car.”

“Clearly, this never made it past your filter,”

“Oh, you two are gonna gang up on me now, huh?”

“What else did he say?”

“That you don’t know who James Dean is,” Sam says, “I’m pretty sure the word ’dreamy’ was used,”

“He’s making that up,” Dean says, throwing Sam a dark look he doesn’t really mean, because having Sam and Cas in the same room does something strange to his gut that he can’t quite explain. He likes it though. “Go back to your chemistry homework, Sam.”

“Sorry, Dean, I finished it,” Sam says, taking a seat on the upturned trunk of whatever he’d been using earlier. “And this is more fun,”

He’d hoped that Sam’s questioning about their relationship would be the end of it, but it’s not surprising that Sam wants to spy on them to get some more information. He probably should have seen that coming when he invited Cas over here and, hell, it’s not like Dean wouldn’t fully do the same if Sam had some girlfriend over. He’d have totally disrupted Sam and Ruby’s study date if he hadn’t been so distracted about everything else and he’s not even remotely sorry about that fact.

“Probably about time you two got to know each other,” Dean concedes, narrowing his eyes slightly at Sam to convey that he’s so onto him, “But I’m teaching you how your car works at the same time.”

“Dean, I’m not -”

“ - you wanna get screwed by mechanics your whole life?”

Cas drags his gaze over him and says, completely deadpan, “Depends on the mechanic.”

Sam laughs out loud, the traitor.

“Don’t fight it, Cas,” Sam advises, “You won’t win.”

“Kid’s right. You’re not leaving till you know something about what goes on under the hood of your shitmobile. I’ll pull the impala out, give you room to park in here.”

“Dean,”

“Nope, sorry sweetheart, we’re doing this. It’s about time I got to teach you something, anyway,” Dean says, “It’ll be fun, trust me.”

“Okay,” Cas says, “But I hope you’re aware I’m going to be hopeless.”

“If you can teach me entropy,” Dean says, heading towards the front seat of the impala, “I can teach you how to tune up your car.”

“He’s a good a teacher,” Sam vouches.

“That I don’t doubt,” Cas says, which is a little too nice for Dean to swallow easily. He gets to hide behind the wheel of his baby though, which is a good thing. Cas is intense and far too fucking good to him, even when Sam isn’t there to bare witness.

He parks round the back of Sonny’s instead in an attempt to shelter her from the crappy weather, then trudges back towards the garage feeling oddly light. This is a good day. This is a really awesome day and he doesn’t get too many of those, but Sam and Cas hanging out is just… it’s good.

“If you’re smart and intense, what are my cliff notes?” Sam is asking as Dean steps back into the garage and, damnit, he shouldn’t’ve left them alone together.

“Also smart,” Cas says, “Intelligent, independent, strong willed and adaptable. Your brother is very proud of you.”

Scratch that, maybe he should leave them alone together more often, because he’s got a bad track record of vocalising to Sam how incredible he thinks he is. Cas is so fucking honest all the time and Dean’s just crap at being vulnerable like that. It scares him that Cas is so open though. He’s got this naivety that comes with having not been fully screwed over, yet, that kick starts an instinct to protect the guy from every bad thing that could happen. His Dad already left. He’s already marooned in Kansas with an Aunt and Uncle he only knows from family Christmases, Cas should be spared from anything else.

“Yeah,” Sam says, “Yeah, I, I know that. He’s… he’s the best brother. Alway done more than he should’ve done, you know?”

“With your father?”

“Yeah, that,” Sam says, “But brother stuff too. I got in a fight in our last school - we used to move around a lot before we wound up here - and Dean turns up after school and does the whole big brother in high-school thing to the other guy. And it was… I won the fight, anyway, because Dad used to do his marine drills with us, but Dean was all ‘it’s my duty as your big brother’. Then I got a massive lecture about getting in trouble at school, like he could talk.”

“That sounds like Dean,”

“That’s why he told Dad we had to stay in the next place for good,” Sam says, “Because I got in trouble. This stupid fight,”

“You’re missing out the part where you only got in a fight in the first place because you were defending some other kid,” Dean interjects, “Sam here’s a regular vigilante. Beat up the school bully for taking the other guy’s glasses.”

“He was a jerk,” Sam concedes.

“And unoriginal,” Cas adds, “Popular culture leads me to believe that taking someone’s glasses is very cliche.”

“So’s the threatening big brother routine,” Dean says, “The old ones are the classics,”

“I’ll move my car,” Cas says, digging the keys out of his pocket, “If this is really necessary,”

“Hey, if you’re really against it, we can do somethin’ else,” Dean says, “I’ve got a stack full of movies, these days. Sonny’s got a monopoly set with most of the pieces. We successfully ditch Sam we can just stay in here and make out.”

“I’ll move my car,” Cas says, pausing to kiss him on the way out, just for a second.

“Quit grilling my boyfriend,” Dean says, the second Cas is out of earshot.

“Sweetheart, Dean, really?” Sam grins.

“Shut up,” Dean says, “Least I’m not just pining over misunderstood-Ruby,”

“You’re adorable,”

“Fuck you,”

“Sweetheart,” Sam repeats.

“You’re gonna get it, Sammy -”

“ - it’ll be fun, Cas, trust me - ” Sam says, in his dumb mock-Dean voice that’s not even accurate, anyway.

“ - you’re such a piece of -”

They both cut themselves off as Cas pulls into the garage.

“Hey,” Dean says, as Cas steps out of his car and frowns at the pair of the them. “Sam here’s got loads of homework to do, so -”

“ - I told you, I finished it,”

“You’re such a pain in my ass,” Dean says, but he’s smiling, “Fine, stay, bitch.”

“Jerk,” Sam throws back.

Cas frowns at them both some more.

“It’s a thing,” Dean says, “Let’s start from the basics. What do you know?”

“That it’s a petrol engine and the number of a local garage,”

“Dude, at least know how to posture and open up the hood so you bargain with whoever’s doing the grunt work,”

“Alternatively, I can get you to do my grunt work.”

“Hey, you know what they say about teaching a man to fish,”

“I don’t,”

“Way too fucking cute, Cas,”

“It’s unintentional, I promise,”

“Not doubting that for a second,” Dean says, running a hand over the hood of Cas’ car, “But you can get her open, right?”

“Yes,” Cas says, popping up the hood with a distinct lack of grace, “I just avoid it at all costs.”

“Well, it can cost, a lot, if you ignore a problem till you’re stuck on the side of the road calling that mechanic. And at that point he knows he’s got you by the short and curlys,”

“Can my mechanic not be female?”

“Statistical average, here,” Dean says, “But yeah, they can be whoever, so long as they know a damn sight more about cars than you do.”

“I’m simply less cynical about the general public than you.”

“You’ve just met less of the general public,” Dean says, close and smiling at him, “Okay, let’s start basic. Where’s your spark plug?”

Cas stares at him in a way that probably means it’s gonna be a long ass time before he’s going to understand the concept of a tune up.

*

They take a lunch break of leftover tacos during which Sam and Cas spend the whole time talking about their favourite books. Dean just watches them feeling like he’s just won the freaking lottery. It might be the quietest he’s been during a meal, ever, and he only pipes up at the end to invite Sam to watch a movie with them, even if it means he probably has to keep his hands to himself through the whole thing.

Sam follows them up to their joint bedroom to set up the laptop (as Tommy booked out the TV like, a week ago, to watch cartoons with his friend. It’s the first time he’s ever had a kid over since he moved here and it’s a big deal for him, so none of them were planning to contest it), but decides he’s going to leave them to it as they’re trying to negotiate the best way to balance the laptop so they can all see it without sitting on the floor.

“You sure, Sam?” Dean asks, as he props the laptop up at the foot of his bed with The Godfather ready to play, with him and Cas just about fitting on Dean’s bed. “Place is pretty cramped today. You need to hide out from the other kids…”

“It’s cool,” Sam says, “The dining room’s free. Think I’m just gonna read. Enjoy Al Pacino.”

“It was nice to speak to you, Sam,”

“Yeah, you too,” Sam agrees, pausing for a moment to smile at them both before shutting the door with a decisive click.

“In that case,” Dean says, flipping the laptop shut with his foot and turning into Cas’ presence instead, drawing him into a kiss that Cas falls into. There’s not nearly enough space, but tangling themselves together helps, and shifting till their both splayed out on their sides, facing each other, makes the angle easier. He’s got no reasoning for untucking Cas’ shirt and getting his hands over his hips, waist, back other than he wants to.

“The laptop could fall off,” Cas mutters into the kiss.

“Point,” Dean says, sitting up, with Cas half attempting to follow the movement. “Sam would kill me,” Dean continues, stretching to deposit the laptop on Sam’s bed instead, before he’s back to pulling Cas towards him. He’s warm and solid and so goddamn hot with those frowns and the way he touches him like he’s in awe.

Dean probably should have figured that making out on his freaking bed was going to lead to places, but that would have involved consulting his upstairs brain in the first place.

“Damnit,” Dean says, dropping his hand from Cas’ hip and turning to create a little space between them.

“Dean,”

“Nope,” Dean says, “What did we say about you talking at times like this?”

“I don’t remember right this moment,”

“We’re doomed,” Dean concludes, stretching to kiss him again, settling a hair breadths away but not quite touching. “You never said, before, what she said,”

“What?”

“Your therapist chick,” Dean says, “You said you spoke to her about me. What did she say?”

“About you?”

“About you and me,” Dean says, “And my alignment issues.”

“She said that I was deferring the conversation away from myself,” Cas says, narrowing his eyes slightly, “We were discussing identity and how that’s affected by your parents and your parents opinion of you. I said that,” Cas pauses to stretch out his legs, and they’re tangled up enough that Dean has to shift his to accommodate them, “I said it was more difficult for you because you idolised your father and because of Sam and she said that pain isn’t generally comparable and that I was belittling my own experience."

“And deferring the conversation away from yourself,” Dean finishes, “Yep, that was exactly the boner kill I was looking for. Not that I wasn’t gonna ask anyway. She’s not wrong, you know. And you… didn’t have Sam. You were on your own.”

“I don’t disagree with her,” Cas says, “But I think comparisons in our situations are natural and being grateful for the things I’ve been given isn’t inherently unhelpful, as she seems to think.”

“So you argue with her,”

“Just because she has a degree in psychology doesn’t mean she’s right,” Cas says, serious enough that Dean has to crack a smile, “Dean, I’m serious. I am not lacking in self esteem because I think putting other people’s concerns before my own is valid, I just believe that it’s right to do so. You do the same thing.”

“Yeah, because I’m the poster boy for mental health,” Dean exhales.

“Do you think I have low self esteem?”

“Fuck, Cas, I don’t know. I know you don’t talk about you a whole lot. Figure my stinking pile of unresolved issues pretty much eclipsed a lot of other conversation topics. I know if you viewed yourself how I viewed you you’d probably take out a freaking add in the paper to boast about how fucking great you are. Sure as hell know that I wish I wasn’t such a nut job so I could do all this a little better, ‘stead of relying on you and offering up just about nothing back.”

“Dean, that’s not true,” Cas frowns, “You have taught me a great deal and you offer me a great deal. I wish you wouldn’t persistently believe so little about yourself,”

“And this without a psych degree, ladies and gentleman.”

“They should have gotten you into counselling before you were eighteen.”

“Gee, thanks,”

“Dean,” Cas says, “On balance, it helps.”

“Dude, I don’t need help rationalising my pain, or whatever else. I know why it hurts. I get it.”

“My ‘therapist chick’ thinks rationalising pain is very unhelpful. What you’re supposed to do is feel it, not explain it.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously,” Cas confirms, “Not to belittle it by assigning it meaning, or joking about it, or adding some sarcastic quip, just… pointing at it and acknowledging that it exists.”

“And how is that supposed to help?”

“I have no idea. As you said, we argue.”

“Okay, well, I’m gonna label this feeling right here,” Dean says, “As really, really wanting to kiss you again.”

“If you’re waiting for permission, then...”

Dean cuts him off before he finishes because, damnit, his mouth . Cas curls his hands up in the back of Dean’s hair to deepen the kiss and that’s probably about when things start to derail again but, really, it’s difficult to give a crap when Cas is so profoundly good and Dean’s feeling a little like his chest is about to cave in than he has done for a really long time. He’s seen Cas less than normal this week too. Except the day of Dean’s loony tunes trip across the state, they’ve only had that half an hour on Thursday night of just them. For all that not going to school has been a freaking benediction, he didn’t get to see Cas.

He doesn’t put the brakes on again till Cas rolls them over and pins him to his goddamn bed.

“I’m calling uncle,”

“What?”

“We gotta cool it,” Dean says, hand on Cas’ chest to gently push him off so he can regain some control of his personal space. “I share this room with Sam, there’s no lock and there’s eight kids running around at any given moment. We can’t...”

“Okay,”

“How’s, uh, school?”

“People have been asking after you,”

“People?”

“Charlie,” Cas says, “Gordon. Bela.”

“Bela? Freakin’ wonderful,” Dean says, brow furrowing, “If people would just quit talking.”

“You’re very interesting, clearly,” Cas says, hand settling on the back of Dean’s neck to bring him in for another kiss. A slow one, this time, that lulls Dean into a false sense of believing that they can keep this above board for all of two minutes.

They’re doomed the second Cas runs his hands over Dean’s shoulders and then down over his chest, pausing just long enough to drop a kiss on his collarbone.

“We need to get out of this fucking room,” Dean sighs.

“We should watch the movie,”

“You gonna keep your hands to yourself if we do?”

“Mostly,” Cas says, with a distinctly unconvincing smile, which is good enough for Dean.

*

Obviously, Sam barges into the room to remind them it’s time to cook food for dinner when Cas is tucked under his arm and they’re making out again, with the home menu of the DVD playing the same damn tune in the background on a loop. Dean hadn’t really realised the movie had finished and Sam smirks at him so hard that he makes a point to flip him off on their way downstairs.

*

“You can fix cars and cook,” Cas says, leaning against Sonny’s kitchen work surface and smiling at him as he goes through the fridge.

“Dude, you know I can cook. Some things, anyway,” Dean says, getting all the crap they need out the fridge and putting it on the side of Sonny’s kitchen. “And I said I could fix cars, too.”

“You’re very accomplished,”

“What is this, an Austen novel?”

“I can see you as an Elizabeth Bennett figure.”

“Shut up,” Dean says, pulling him in by his shirt to kiss him, “And get chopping. Take an onion.”

“How would you like it chopped?”

“Finely,” Dean says, “I’ll get on the breadcrumbs,”

“Hey boys,” Sonny says, pausing at the kitchen table, “Only eleven for dinner. Carl’s with his grandparents for a roast and Tommy’s buddy invited him over for dinner.”

“If Carl’s got Roast cooking grandparents, why isn’t he living with them rather than here and his crappy parents?"

“You leave that for me to worry about, Dean,” Sonny says, clapping him on the shoulder, “You two need any assistance?”

“Nah, Cas has got us covered,” Dean says, “Just look at the guy chop,”

“You mock, but I pride myself on the ability to chop finely,”

“Cas, Tommy cuts onions better than this and he’s nine.”

“I have other talents.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean says, “You’re a regular genius. We’re all good here, Sonny.”

“Okay,” Sonny says, “Looking forward to these burgers, Dean,”

“And tell Sam I need him in here to show Cas how to handle an onion,”

“Got it,”

“I can chop, Dean,”

“I know,” Dean grins, dragging him in for a kiss and beaming at him.

Sam does come down and join them making burgers and yeah, cooking was a awesome idea that his gonna wrangle for more permanently (if he's here, least he can do is help out some). He puts Cas in charge of salad and Sam in charge of chips and he shapes out eleven burger patties. They mess around the kitchen and joke and Cas threatens to throw finely chopped onion at him. Dean serves up Sam’s dinner with salad and bread and no burger while Sam sets the table for eleven, which shouldn’t be as funny as it is. It's a really good time.

The burgers are a hit with everyone and he’s something bordering on content, even if there’s the voice in the back of his head reminding him that he has to deal with school and his future and all the rest come monday. Still, he’s astoundingly relaxed.

Until Sam asks Cas about college half way through his burger and his insides freeze in one second flat.

Of everyone, Castiel had stuck most to Dean’s expressed wish that none of them talk about their college plans, largely because it was an instant way to get him to shut down and leave the conversation as soon as possible. He knows that Cas had put his applications in and figured that he’d probably have picked out some top ivy league schools because he’s Cas and he’s smart enough to do whatever the hell he wants to do, but he hadn’t really been thinking about it in great detail.

Up until a week ago, he’d been steadfastly ignoring the fact that there was a period of time after they finished school all together.

He hadn’t asked yet.

“None of the letters have come back yet,” Cas says, eyes boring into the side of Dean’s face, “My current favourites are Yale, Harvard and Stanford.”

“So you’re super smart, then,” Sam says, “Did you look round them?”

“With my father last year, before he disappeared,” Cas says, “He would have picked Harvard.”

“And that’s still on the list?” Dean asks.

“Currently,” Cas says, “I’m half hoping they’ll reject my application so I don’t have to make the decision as to whether to purposeful rebel against his wishes even though it’s an excellent school.”

“Stanford’s on my list,” Sam says, “I know it’s pretty early to think about that.”

“It’s good to have ambition. From what Dean says, you’d do very well there.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “Personally, I’m looking forward to the bit where you go all revenge of the nerds on me then accidentally wind up getting a life,” Dean says, then launches into a retelling of all of his favourite embarrassing Sam stories to carry them through the rest of the meal.

He tries not to think any more about Cas going to college until after he’s left - after he insists on helping with the dishes and Dean insists on doing a pop quiz of all the car stuff he taught him, and after they’ve spent half an hour being way too freaky sappy out in the cold - and then Sonny’s the one who brings it up.

“Hester called after you made a sharp exit on Thursday. She said you were pretty het up and insisted on leaving right after you got there.” Sonny says, heating up some milk in the microwave for a hot chocolate, because that’s just the kind of thing that Sonny does.

“It wasn’t right away,” Dean counters, “And she’s the one that set down all those rules,”

“Yeah, we talked about that,” Sonny says, “And that you weren’t breaking them. It was before nine PM.”

“You’re talking a hell of a lot about my relationship.”

“Figured I’d try and help you smooth things over with Hester, make your life easier, given she’s come to me about her concerns.” Sonny says, “But it’s up to you, Dean. You get to set the boundaries on this one.”

“You said that before. That’s she’s freaked about us sleeping together,” Dean says, “Unless that’s not it.”

“You two are pretty serious,”

“Who says?” Dean says, mostly because he’s being petulant but, damnit, everyone has been accusing him of that lately. First Sam, now Sonny.

“Hey, if I’m getting the wrong impression, then -”

“ - I’m not saying that,” Dean cuts across.

“Cas, he doesn’t seem like the type to willingly get in trouble,” Sonny says, watching his expression, “Who cares about school, his grades, college.”

“Yeah, he’s a regular do gooder all right.”

“And he drove straight out of school, without even blinking, to drive across the state. That’s an unauthorised absence from school. First time he’d ever done something that would upset his Aunt and Uncle on purpose.”

“Look, I didn’t ask him to do shit -”

“ - not saying you did, Dean,” Sonny says, “And like I said, I’m grateful that he did, but it sure scared Hester.”

“Yeah, I get that, but I’m gonna apologise, properly.”

“You know, he flat out refused to apologise for it,” Sonny says, eyes gentle, “Told Hester he’d do it again if you needed him, regardless of the consequences.”

“Sounds like Cas.” Dean says, expression flat.

“That’s pretty committed for two teenagers about to finish school,”

“So now it’s a problem that my boyfriend cares about me?”

“No,” Sonny says, “You’ve both got decisions coming up. Hester’s worried Castiel might let that dedication to you affect those choices.”

“You mean, college,” Dean says, heart rate speeding up. “He just said he’s applied for freaking Harvard and Yale. Stanford. Does that sound like he’s being affected by anything but his freaking brainbox head?”

“And what happens then?”

“What?” Dean asks, lungs constricting slightly.

“When Cas goes to college,” Sonny says, “Now, you tell me to butt out if you want, Dean, but I’m pretty confident that’s what Hester’s worried about.”

He feels a little like he’s been slapped in the face.

“That he won’t go?” Dean asks, only his throat sounds like it’s a vacuum, “Cas knows I ain’t going anywhere. It won’t… it won’t change anything.”

“Lot of teenagers don’t do so well being far away from people they care about. Spend too many weekends coming home to settle in. That they get homesick.”

“You think,” Dean says, through gritted teeth, “That Cas, would -”

“Not making predictions, Dean, I’m just asking.”

“And this conversation is supposed to help me?”

“Five hundred miles is a long way, Dean,”

“Then I guess we break up,” Dean says, slamming his fist against the table without really meaning to. His veins are suddenly full of a white hot something because, fuck, five hundred miles is a long way and that’s the best case scenario. Yale and Stanford are further away. None of them are exactly driveable. They’re not, they can’t make that work. They can’t. It’s not possible. It’s not even plausible.

And the hits just keep on coming.

v “Damnit, Sonny, can’t I have one good thing? After everything, don’t I get something?”

Sonny makes him a hot chocolate and they sit in silence until they finish them.

*

He’s been lying in bed for thirty minutes, wide awake, fully aware that Sam is awake too when his little brother decides to strike up a conversation.

“I like him,” Sam says, into the dark, “Cas.”

“Yeah, me too,” Dean returns, although his chest feels a little hollow. He’s got two unanswered texts from Cas on his phone; one advising he was home safe and the other saying he had a good day. He read them whilst brushing his teeth on automatic but couldn’t face responding.

“I think he’s good for you,”

“Well, you think salad is good for you,” Dean says, rolling onto his other side to glance at his phone again before placing it screen down on the bedside table. He can’t talk to Cas right now. He’s already talking about Cas and that’s bad enough. “Your judgement clearly can’t be trusted.”

“I’m serious,”

“I know,” Dean says, “You should be asleep. You’re less annoying then.”

“Ha ha,” Sam mutters back, shifting in his bed, then he’s quiet again. “I think you do, you know, even if you don’t want to talk about it. Love him.” Dean keeps his mouth shut. “The way you kept staring each other and, just, the way you gravitate around each other. I’ve never seen you like that before. Dean?”

Dean stays silent and resolutely pretends to be asleep because he’s not touching that for a hot second.

Chapter Text

Cas knows something’s up the second he kisses him hello in the parking lot before school. He keeps hold of the t-shirt he’d used to pull him in close and drags his gaze across Dean’s features, eyes narrowed, drinking him in before he delivers his judgment.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Dean says, shaking Cas’ grip loose and looking away, which only makes Cas’ gaze more freaking deliberate. He should have predicted that. He should have known that Cas had the unique ability to see right through him. Should've come pre-prepared with an excuse for the fact that he looks like crap. It wouldn't've been hard given how many bad things he has in his arsenal currently.

“Dean,”

“Just not throwing a party about being back in school,” Dean says, pocketing his hands.

“You don’t have to catch up,”

“In theory,” Dean says, “Singer called Sonny yesterday. Got some meeting before school when I guess we’re gonna talk about, which sounds just fucking awesome. Either way, even if I’ve got no extra homework, I probably ought to know what happened in the classes I missed.”

“But you had a good weekend?”

“Yeah, sure,” Dean says, not meeting his eyes, “Just a pity about my crappy life.”

“Can we break this little love fest up?” Gabriel asks, butting into the conversation and the perfect moment to knock the attention off Dean and onto himself. “See your bail’s over, Deano. Good to have you back behind the metaphorical bars.”

“Good for you, maybe,”

“Been waiting all week for you to knock that lonely, pining expression off Cassie’s face,” Gabriel says, “Doughnut?”

“You heard of cholesterol, dude?” Dean asks, taking one of his mini- doughnuts to save Gabriel’s clogged up arteries and shoving it in his face, “Anything happen while I was gone?”

“Sorry, bucko, I don’t speak doughnut,”

“You speak doughnut ninety percent of your life,” Dean throws back.

“True and, not really, hell is surprisingly consistent.”

“Gabriel, school is not hell.”

“Adjacent, maybe,” Dean adds.

“Dean,”

“Sorry, Cas,” Dean says, and that’s almost a smile, as he threads their fingers together even though that’s the kind of sappy, emotional crap that he has a general policy against. He’s made exceptions for Cas in most regards, anyway.

“You should at least start the day with a positive attitude,”

“Whatever you say, Sunshine,”

Dean,” Cas says, imploring enough that he has to pause to look at him, “I hope your meeting with Principal Singer goes well. I’ll see you at lunch.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, leaning forward to kiss him, a quick, almost-nothing thing, because it’s the middle of the corridor and because he’s not sure he can look at him without feeling guilty now he knows they’ve gotta have that conversation.

“And I guess I’m back to being a spare part,” Gabe comments, “Yay.”

“See you at lunch too, buddy,” Dean says, making a point to ruffle up Gabriel’s hair and steal another doughnut, which is apparently the right thing to do because it makes Cas light up like a fucking beacon.Turns out all it takes is eating to keep the guy happy.

“Hey, you wanna take the whole bag, breakfast-thief?”

“Must’ve stole your good lines too, huh jackass?”

“Take all my doughnuts if you’re that desperate,” Gabriel says, thrusting the rest of the bag on him before he has a chance to object, then Gabriel has thrown an arm around Cas - impressive, given the height difference - and has dragged him down the corridor towards their first class, leaving him stood outside the Principal’s office with a bag of doughnuts in his left hand.

“You’re late, y’idjit,” Singer says, opening the door and nodding him in.

“Maybe, but I bought snacks,” Dean says, gesturing at the doughnuts. Principal Singer rolls his eyes so hard it looks like it should cause some kind of injury. “First day back, so.”

“So you forgot what time your classes start?”

“Hit traffic,”

“You know I’ve got a front row ticket to the parking lot from this seat, boy,” Principal Singer continues, nodding to the door, “So don’t bullshit me about why you’re late.”

“Doughnut?” Dean offers.

“How are you?”

“Awesome,” Dean says, “I have doughnuts.”

“Dean,”

“I’m okay. The time off helped.”

“Hmm,” Principal Singer says, eyeing him carefully. “And your brother? He still in trouble?”

“No. Ellen and Sonny pretty much tidied that up, looks like. He’s real sorry. He’s a good kid.”

“And you and your boyfriend seem fine,”

“Just peachy,”

“You got a plan?”

“Make some damn money,” Dean says, shifting in the seat slightly, “Then it’s beer, bikinis and good times all round.”

“And Sonny?”

“Needs to quit trying to care about my welfare, but other than that.”

“Believe we said they’d be no make up assignments,” Principal Singer says, “Now, I’m genuinely a man of my word, but… this time I’m making an exception.”

“Awesome,” Dean mutters because, fucking really, that is the last thing he needs.

“You know what I used to teach before I ran the joint?”

“Musical theatre?”

“Oh, you’re a real comedian,” Singer says, “Autoshop.”

“Good to know,”

“Used to run a business, buying up busted up cars for scrap value and fixing them up. Still live on the edge of a scrapyard.”

“Well, I gotta say, I’m loving the sharing and caring here, Sir, but -”

“ - you this mouthy all the damn time?” Singer asks, “Sonny says you’re handy. That you know your way round a car.”

“I guess,”

“I got a bust up ford in my backyard that I reckon might be worth the effort of fixing up and no time to do it." Singer says, “You put in the muscle work, I’m marking you down as up to date.”

“I’m fixing a car for extra credit?”

“Autoshop,” Singer says, “Alternatively, I can set you a math test.”

“Okay, well, I’ll take the car.”

“That’s what I thought,” Sonny says, digging into his drawer to fetch a business card. “You come by the scrapyard when you’re free, let me know when you’re done, then we’ll regroup.”

“This is some weird ass extra credit.”

“You wanna complain or you wanna take the easy win and get the hell out of my office?”

“Sure,” Dean says, standing up.

“And quit being late ‘cause you’re yapping with your damn boyfriend.”

“Yessir,”

“And take your goddamn doughnuts. You’re to report to the School nurse before you head to class. Do whatever she says.”

“Aye aye Captain,”

“Get out,” Singer says, waving him out his office, and Dean might just respect Bobby Singer almost as much as he respects Sonny.

The nurse is marginally less unimpressed with him than the last time she saw him. He’s told he’s still underweight and she still tries to refer him to therapy, but she’s less aggressive about it than last time. When he gives her some half-assed charming comment she just sighs and sends him back to class with a note.

His first class is fine because it’s English and they’ve just moved onto a new text, but the second is chemistry which he was completely behind on in the first place. Math is a minor joke and by the time he’s had a shitty world history class he feels just about ready to start breaking things.

“Gabriel, you did this history class last year, right?” Dean says, sitting down at lunch with his books already in his arms.”You can catch me up.”

“I can help,” Cas offers.

“No offence, Cas, but now ain’t the time for over achieving. I’m talking the minimum to get by, here. Just so today’s crap makes some sense.”

“I am a true expert in doing the bare minimum,” Gabriel says, “Line up, Bucko, let’s get you up to the standard of mediocrity.”

“Amen,” Dean says, resting a hand on Cas’ knee under table because it doesn’t especially want Cas to think he’s mad at him, because it’s not. He’s the opposite of mad at Cas, he just… he’s also not entirely sure he wants to talk to him either. He’s not sure he can when he spent the whole of last night thinking about how the conversation’s gonna go when Dean tells them they have to break up come the summer. He’s not sure he can look him in the eye and act like everything’s exactly the same as it was a couple of days ago, even if it is exactly the same , he’s just more self aware now.

“I can help, Dean.”

“You do,” Dean says, as Gabriel starts running over the A-Z of history for the rest of lunch. After school he fobs Cas off - they only get two weeknights anyway, and the fact that he’s got a crap load of school content to catch up on even if he has no exact assignments is a good enough excuse - and calls work to arrange some shifts for the weekend, because he really needs some freaking money.

He arranges with Sonny to cook twice this week and then spends the evening working on his homework. By the end of the evening, he said done all the homework that was set today, so he’s sort of up to date, depending on how you look at it.

*

Tuesday feels a lot less like he’s fighting a battle than Monday does. He splits lunch between eating while Gabriel gives him the briefest cliff notes about what he missed in chemistry and hanging out with Cas by his locker as he swaps over his books, until they get a lecture from Henriksen about making out in the corridor (and, screw him, he just happened to take a walk at the wrong moment).

He picks Sam up after school and takes him bowling as per Sonny’s suggestion and Sam’s nagging that it’s okay for them to use Sonny’s money for stuff like that. They talk a little bit about what the future’s going to look like over the refillable sodas in the crappy tag-on burger joint at the bowling alley. Nothing intense, just a hint of talking about what it’s going to look like.

Sam wants them to do something like this every week. Bowling, a movie, food, some kind of hanging out together. He wants Dean to bitch at him about his homework and his love life, but not break his back working to put credit on his cell phone. He wants Dean to tease him about his friends and his height and not do all his laundry. Sam’s thought about it all a lot and gets one of those sad expressions when Dean says that all he fucking wants is to look after him and he doesn't know how to just want this, instead.

“Is that Cas?” Sam asks, over his supersized coke as Dean pulls his phone out his pocket. Dean’s been trying to avoid talking about Cas to Sam, lest he brings him his ‘you’re in love with him’ theory again, but apparently Cas is too involved in his life for that to be easy these days.

Cas hasn’t messaged him in any way today, though. He seems to have followed Dean’s lead on that, so Dean probably shouldn’t be disappointed as he is. It’s his own fault.

“Gabriel,” Dean says, resisting the urge to pull up yesterday's conversation with Cas and messaging him. He sets the phone down and concentrates on his brother instead. “Party friday night.”

“You should go,” Sam says, puppy-dog-eyes turned on again.

“Sam,” Dean says.

“Is it at Balthazar’s?”

“Yeah,”

“You used to go all the time,”

“Because it was somewhere to sleep,” Dean says, “Sam, come on, I’ve got other priorities right now.”

“Doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.”

“You got some wild night planned for Friday? No Ruby.” Dean says, and Sam’s committed enough to project Dean-having-a-life that there’s not even a hint of bitch-face at the mention of Ruby.

“If I text Kevin to make plans for Friday, will you ask Sonny if you can go?”

“Kevin,” Dean says, scanning Sam’s face for some indication about what’s going on in his head, “Haven’t heard his name for a while.”

“It was awkward, after -”

“- after the big reveal,” Dean puts in, “Know that feeling.”

“But I apologised to him after… after the whole alcohol thing. I shouldn’t have cut him out. He said it was fine and that Mrs Tran had been asking after me.”

“A fun evening in with Mrs Tran, huh? Okay, I’ll ask about the party,” Dean says, thumbing out a response to Gabriel before pocketing it again and drinking some more of his stupidly big soda that they spent too much money on. “Drink up, Sam, you need sunlight and sugar to grow.”

“That’s not how it works,”

“And maybe if you were a bit taller you might not suck so hard at bowling.”

Sam flicks the paper packet from the straw in his plate and it escalates into a full napkin war before they get chucked out the joint.

He has to admit that it’s a good couple of hours.

*

By the time he’s helped cook food and they’ve all eaten, his enthusiasm to ask to go to the dumb party has waned slightly. A party involves expanding his social circle outside of Cas, Gabe, Charlie and Ash, which doesn’t feel particularly appealing right now. He’d have a better time just hanging out with Cas given Gabriel would be out (even if he’s been trying to avoid that, kind of, just until they talk). He’d probably have a better time staying at Sonny’s and doing his homework than having to do the awkward catch up with Balthazar. Plus, for the two days of being back at school, he’s felt a prominent sense of otherness that he hasn’t felt for a long time.

It’s dumb. He’s never exactly fit in with his wider peers, given he spent most of school years skipping states every few month and looking after his little brother, he was just good at pretending. He didn't fit in. He just… hasn't feel it so acutely for a while. Even when he was sleeping in the back of his car and lying to every single one of his friends, he didn’t feel so fucking alien. Now he knows that he doesn’t get to keep Sam and that his future looks widely different from all his peers, not by his choice, not really, he feels different again. Like he's got no way to relate to anyone, except the couple of people he's already let into his orbit.

Going to a fucking party is just going to highlight that.

“Dean,” Sam says, turning his pointed eyebrows on him as he brings in the last of the dishes and adds them to the pile next to the sink.

“You volunteering to join the clean-up brigade?” Dean asks, “Can write your name right next to mine on the clean up crew rota, Sammy?”

“Kevin’s invited me over on Friday night. That okay, Sonny?”

“Sure,” Sonny says, “You able to sort lifts?”

“You need me to come pick you up?”

“Don’t you have plans, Dean?”

“Dean?” Sonny asks, raising an eyebrow at him.

“There’s a party on Friday night,” Dean says, “And shut your mouth, Samantha. I can arrange my own freaking social calendar.”

“You wanna go?”

“Maybe,” Dean says.

“Dean,”’

“Sam sure wants me to go,” Dean says, as Sam rolls his eyes and leaves them to it. “Think I’ll be up to date on school work by then. It’s at Balthazar’s. Cas and Gabe’s second cousin, or something. There’ll be alcohol, but I know I signed that contract thing, so I figured I could drive instead.”

“Reckon you’ve earned the right to make your own decision.” Sonny says, evenly.

“This isn’t one of those things where you say that, but there’s a wrong decision, is it? When you wait for this to blow up in my face and then give me a moustached look of disapproval.”

“You expecting it to blow up in your face?”

“No,” Dean says, “But, Sam’s drinking his pain thing was definitely following from my example. Well, Dad probably gets some credit for that too. And Ruby.”

“You’re saying you generally drink at these things,” Sonny asks, which Dean nods at. “You already told me you’re not going to, this time.”

“Yeah,”

“What you looking for here, Dean? Cause I’ve already given you my permission.”

“Your opinion, I guess,” Dean says, “Do you think it’s a good idea?”

“Your friends going?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “Gabe and Charlie. Cas, probably. He’ll go if I’m going.”

“What are you worried about?”

“Dunno,” Dean says, throat thick, “Getting there and wanting to leave straight away. Wanting to get drunk and steal all of Gabriel’s cigarettes. Running into Bela. Feeling like I don’t fit anymore, now everyone’s talking about college and their parents and their plans. Keeping on acting like I’m losing my mind. You and Cas and everyone worrying about me. A lot of stuff.”

“You’ve got no obligation to stay, if you go.”

“If I’m driving them, I’d be dragging the other’s away.”

“How does Gabriel usually get home?”

“He sleeps over,” Dean says, “Balthazar, I used to crash at his, a lot. Most Fridays. Haven’t… haven’t actually seen the guy since it all came out. Guessing someone filled him in, though.”

“And you say Cas isn’t too bothered about going’?”

“No,” Dean says, “So I guess I could just leave.” Sonny makes a ‘there you go’ hand gesture. It does make sense. There's no legitimate reason why he shouldn't want to go. They used to be fun. Seeing Charlie and Gabriel outside of school, where he's stressed as hell trying to get his brain to be a sponge all hours of the day, could be fun.

“Okay. I guess I should talk to Balthazar. Go. Not drink. Cas… he wouldn’t mind if we left early."

Sonny nods at him.

Dean pauses on the way out the door.

“And if I screw up. Drink, then…”

“Then you call me, you stay over and we talk about it the next day.”

“Okay,” Dean says, and heads back to his room to work on his damn homework.

*

Cas manages to swing them actual alone time on Wednesday, because Gabriel’s got a date with Kali some-fucking-how and Hester has a dinner thing with work. They have from the end of school to seven PM and it's too good an opportunity to miss to fool around, really, yet Dean still finds himself fobbing Cas off and saying he's not in the mood when Cas can clearly fucking see that he's exactly in the mood.

Cas doesn't say anything to challenge him while he fumbles around for a lame excuse to leave, because he just... they have a few months. Six or seven, maybe. That's longer than he's ever dated anyone so, hell, maybe Cas will get sick of him before then anyway, but it feels dishonest to mess around with the guy when they haven't talked about it. He can't do it. The Dean Winchester denial routine just isn't working this time. He cares about Cas too damn much to be disingenuous in this.

"You don't have to leave just because you don't want to have sex," Cas tells him, honest and shameless, in a way that makes him want to express that sex isn't the problem exactly, although it doesn't help that it's so new (they have like a tally of one on each of the ways they could potentially get off together; it's a tragically small sample). It's hanging out and knowing he's falling deeper into this chasm of feelings-for-Cas and every second they don't talk about it is gonna make it harder in the long run.

“That's not what I meant,” Dean says, shutting his eyes. “Obviously that ain't the only thing I'm interested in here. I just - ”

“ - What did Principal Singer want?” Cas asks, to save him from whatever bullcrap he was going to spout about why it is he’s antsy and can’t sit still in Cas’ presence because he feels an intense and crappy need to get out of there.

So Dean tells him and they dissect that for another half an hour till Dean decides he really needs to drive, run, break something; do something with his hands.

He ditches out on the guy and feels terrible about it the whole freaking evening.

He calls after Castiel's therapy session on Thursday and offers up an ear for the guy to rant about how wrong she is about everything. Somehow they end up on Dean again, till it winds up being about Sam and how he's doing in school and his emotional state and Dean's not really sure how they got there.

He feels even shittier afterwards and resists the urge to send him a bunch of madalin and angsty texts about how he’s a terrible boyfriend/person until approximately three AM, when he turns his damn phone off and swears that he’s going to talk to the guy about it, soon, before he accidentally screws the whole thing up again.

*

It works out easier to head straight to the Milton’s after school rather than go back to Sonny’s to drive to the Milton’s to drive to Balthazar’s place, which means that he winds up having a family sit-down meal with Hester and Innias while Cas is debating his frigging curfew like a champ.

“As I've been in significantly before nine every day this week,” Cas says, over his chilli, “I think the surplus time should be carried across over to tonight and added onto my half nine curfew.”

“Castiel, that’s not how a curfew works.”

“That depends on what the point of having a curfew is.”

“I believe, the point on this occasion, was a punishment for you breaking the rules.”

“I wasn’t aware there was ‘a rule’ against leaving school and driving across the state.”

“Some rules are implicit,” Hester says, giving him the kind of strict-Mom-eyes that Dean would not have the guts to argue with. Hell, if Hester tells Dean he’s grounded for life, then he wouldn't argue about jurisdiction. He'd accept it, go back to Sonny's and sit in his room as requested.

“What say you, Dean?” Gabe asks, because he’s a total shit.

“Well this is uncomfortable,” Dean mutters, pushing away his plate.

“Gabriel’s curfew is twelve. Dean’s is half eleven.”

“Hey, keep me out of it,” Dean says, “I’m just driving you and picking you up at the prescribed time.”

“Half eleven,”

“This is not a negotiation.”

“Hester,” Cas says, frowning at her over the table, "I’m nearly eighteen. I’m asking to go to a party with your son and my boyfriend.”

“Technically,” Gabriel says, “You’re allowed to go to the party. You just have to be home by half nine.”

“Gabriel,”

“Cas, give it up,” Dean says, “I’ll get you back for half nine then loop back round and pick up Gabriel. I didn’t want to stay late, anyway. Come on, man, Hester’s got a point and she’s the one setting the rules. It’s cool.”

Cas glances towards him, that intense gaze dragging over his expression and dissecting him. It at least knocks out the tension between Hester and Cas out of the room, which is a relief. Dean’s not the best at dealing with family conflicts at the best of times and right now he feels like his internal organs have been liquidised. He’s anxious in a way that he really freaking shouldn’t be about a stupid party. He doesn't even know why he cares; apparently, he does, and it's making it hard to say level headed.

“Okay, Dean,” Cas says, eyes still fixed on his.

“Good,” Hester says, setting down her knife and fork, “Does anyone want dessert?”

Gabriel is the only one who raises his hand.

Dean’s resting on Cas’ bed after dinner, watching him put all his school books on the right place on his desk (because Cas), when Hester knocks on the door and pauses in the doorway.

“Half ten,” Hester says, “Do not make me regret this decision, Castiel.”

And that’s that.

*

The party itself is fine.

There’s too many people all clogged up in Balthazar’s kitchen for him to feel comfortable, but Cas is pretty much staying plastered to his side in the best way which makes it easier to stay calm and level. Cas probably picked up on his half-anxiety, because he doesn’t normally stand tucked against chest, so that Dean can rest a palm on his lower back and feel the solid weight of him so close. It’s probably the most explicitly-coupley they’ve ever been in public but it happens to be exactly what Dean needs right now. He never thought he could need that, but here they are.

He’s at a party with a whole host of people from school who know far too much crap about his life, who he has so little in common with. Everyone’s thinking about college and pushing boundaries with their parents and excited about finishing high school, while Dean’s worried about how the hell he’s going to pay the electricity bill and stay sane for his little brother. Having Castiel so close is the most stabilising force he can think of and he’s saving how terrifying a thought that is for a later date.

“That’s where you two chuckleheads are,” Gabriel says, turning up in the kitchen with a bottle of vodka in his left hand. “Shots, Cassie?”

“No,”

“You can drink if you want,” Dean says, tracing circles with his thumb on Cas’ back, “No need to stay sober on my account.”

“Ah, my blood relatives,” Balthazar says, turning up in the kitchen, “Gabriel, enjoying my vodka?”

“Yes,” Gabriel says, offering a bright smile, “Would you like some?”

“And look what my second, third, fifth or something cousin dragged in,” Balthazar says, “Hello, Dean.”

“Hey, Balthazar,” Dean says, something in his lung sharp and shameful, which just leads to Cas pressing closer. “Look, I’m -”

“Hear you’ve been screwing my cousin,” Balthazar says, quirking an eyebrow at him, “Mazel Tov, Winchester.”

“Awesome,” Dean says, pulling Cas a little closer.

“Long time, no see,”

“Yep,” Dean says, “Things have… changed a lot, recently.”

“Heard about that,” Balthazar says.

“Look, I’m -”

“- vodka,” Gabriel says, barging back into the conversation with three shot glasses in his hands, “Bottoms up, relations.”

Cas makes a face as he tips the stuff down his throat.

“Not drinking, Dean?” Balthazar asks, downing his own shot.

“Driving,”

“I could get you a beer,”

“Told Sonny, my, uh, guardian I wouldn’t,” Dean says, as Gabriel gathers up the shot glasses again.

“Bet I can tempt you to a smoke though, Deano,”

That sounds exactly like what he wants right now. Technically, that’s against Sonny’s rules too, but it feels like a different thing. He didn't make any promises about that and, hell, the only person that loses is himself.

“Ah, fuck it,” Dean says, detangling his hand from Cas and stepping away. “Back in five, Cas.”

“You two are all, together and junk.” Gabriel says, once they’ve left the kitchen and are heading to the back door. He’s already a little drunk, looks like, and they’ve only been here half an hour. Dean is not looking forward to depositing him back at the Milton’s and watching his feigned-sobriety.

“Good observation, Gabe,” Dean says, weaving his way through a drunk couple kissing in the corridor, “Although, gotta say, you’re like a month late on the uptake here.”

“Okay, smartass. I mean you’re PDAing all over the joint. All that cute crap. You like him.”

“You thought I didn’t?”

“Real talk, I didn’t think you liked him, liked him. Like, a lot like liked him, rather than just like liked him, ” Gabriel says, “You know.”

“Not a clue,” Dean says, as he pushes the back door open and Gabriel digs his cigarettes out his pocket and fumbles with the packet.

“Ah hah,” Gabriel says, “Kali. I need to… rain check,” Gabriel says, handing him a single cigarette and then dashing back inside.

“Piece of advice: don’t act like a dick,” Dean calls after him, sitting down heavily on the back steps and digging his lighter out his pocket. He’s just lit his cigarette when the back door opens again behind him and, goddamn, freaking Bela is right there.

“Still carrying around your Dad’s lighter, Winchester,” Bela says, “Sweet.”

“Go screw yourself,” Dean says, without looking up from his cigarette.

“Traded in the jacket, though. Maybe you have changed.”

“And yet you’re still a bitch,” Dean says, “What do you want, Bela?”

“Nothing you could possibly give me,” Bela says, sitting down next to him. “And yet, you got out, Dean.”

“Save me the pity party,” Dean says, “Your exit route opens up in a few months, anyway. College somewhere sunny and expensive and, finally, you’re free from the Talbots, until you want a new car.”

“Not quite free,” Bela says, “They’re paying, remember?”

“If you were brave enough to give up your satin sheets, you might just have a chance to get out properly,” Dean says, taking another drag from his cigarette. “You’re smart enough. Soulless, but smart. Get a scholarship, Bela. Get a part time job. Do something for yourself for a change.”

“This way, I get there faster,” Bela says, offering him another cigarette that he’s not inclined to turn down.

“As long as you know you’re selling out your dream,” Dean says, lighting the second. He shouldn’t really be smoking, let alone smoking cigarettes back-to-back, but he still hasn’t quite worked out of it wants to be here. Being here feels more stress inducing than being at school or the Milton’s, which seem to be the only places he’s spent time in recently. He never used to get this... socially anxiety and he fucking hates it.

“Says you,” Bela says, “I know you, Dean. You’d have done anything to get out of this place. If you could’ve talked Sam into hitting the road, you’d have been in the wind six months ago.”

“Things change,”

“You mean Castiel.”

“Don’t talk about Castiel,” Dean says, voice sharp, “He’s none of your business.”

“Your not relationship sure seems to have changed things,”

“It’s a damn relationship now, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Bela agrees, raising a carefully plucked eyebrow, “It’d be hard to deny, given how much of the time you spend plastered all over each other these days.”

“With all due respect Bela, which is none, eat shit,” Dean says, stubbing out his mostly done cigarette and standing up, to find that Cas himself is standing in the open doorway. “Cas, hey.”

It doesn’t occur to him until he sees his expression that the whole invading-personal-space- thing might have been for Cas’ benefit, rather than his own.

Cas turns around and heads back inside.

“Goddamnit,” Dean says, pocketing his lighter, heading back inside and weaving through all the freaking people till he finds Cas in the section of corridor between the kitchen and the front froom. “Cas,” Dean says, “What the hell?”

“Nothing,”

“Cas, you know Bela is just -”

“ - you’ve been avoiding me all week,” Cas says, brow furrowed, frowning. “You asked Gabriel to help you catch up. You’ve been blowing me off whenever you can, and I -”

“ - no,” Dean says, leaning back into space, “Cas, no.”

“I thought we’d made progress. I thought you were going to talk to me.”

“Castiel,” Dean says, staring at him for a few long seconds before he realises he doesn’t have the right fucking words, but he can grab a hold of the guy’s shirt and kiss him like he means it.

Cas knots his arms around his back and holds him there for much longer than is generally okay in public.

“Wowza, not a visual I needed." A voice says, close enough that Cas pulls back to frown at their interrupter. “Gabriel, I found them,” Charlie calls up the stairs, “And they defo found each other.”

“Hey Charlie,”

“You taste like cigarettes,” Cas frowns, which shouldn’t make him smile.

“Gabriel found twister.”

“Fucking hell,” Dean says.

“And yes, Winchester, you have to play.”

“Cas, you sure your curfew isn’t half nine?” Dean asks, half-consciously straightening Cas’ shirt and trying to make him a little less like they haven’t just been making out in the corridor, thoroughly.

“Get your ass in here, Dean, we’re officially having a twister party.”

His argument against joining is declared lacking by Charlie, who diagnoses him as needing a significant dose of fun. She’s not necessarily wrong and, as it turns out, watching Gabriel try to simultaneously flirt with Kali, play twister and drink a lot is pretty entertaining.

To exactly no one’s surprise, Gabriel crawls up to one of Balthazar’s spare rooms and passes out significantly before anyone’s curfew.

*

The drive back from Balthazar’s house to the Milton’s is almost silent and Dean thinks they’re going to get away with not having a talk. As far as Dean’s aware, Cas’ only drink of the night was the vodka half-forced upon him by Gabriel, so he couldn’t even use that as an excuse not to have a goddamn talk and he couldn't think of another reason, as they've still fifteen minutes but off his revised curfew. They pull up and he thinks he's gotten away with it, lack of excuse he damned, before he finds himself in the spotlight of Cas’ trademark stare.

“What’s wrong, Dean?” Cas asks, voice gentle and deep and totally lacking in compromise. Dean's either going to have to bare his soul or provide a strong resistance against baring his soul, because Cas isn't messing around here.

“Nothing,” Dean says, turning the engine off.

“Dean, even Gabriel asked me whether something else happened with your father because you’ve been...”

“There's nothing wrong,” Dean says, jaw squared.

“Did I do something?”

“No, Cas, no, I just... I can't lean on you for everything.”

“Why?”

“Because,”

"Because isn't a reason, it's a conjunction indicating the beginning of a reason."

"Damnit, Cas, I told you from the off that this is what you got. That I was a freaking mess and this is all I could give you. Why do you have to keep pushing?” Dean asks, finally turning to face him, blood hot in his veins. He doesn’t want to have this shitty conversation. He especially doesn’t want to have it right now, when he’s been tense and on edge about this stupid party and his stress levels have been steadily increasing since Monday. He just wants everything to be fine without him having to act like it's fine.

“You want me to stop pushing you,” Cas says and, fucking damnit, he would. He would and that’s not fair and it’s not what he wants. He doesn’t want Cas to quit asking about this crap, he just wishes he could’ve convinced him that this was just residue from how shitty last week was this time.

He doesn’t want them to have this conversation, because he doesn’t want what they wind up with after it’s happened.

“There's nothing up, okay? Nothing more than usual. Just Sam and school and Sonny giving me a hard time.”

“Sonny’s been giving you a hard time?” Cas repeats, expression twisting into genuine concern and, damnit.

“Not, not like that. Not in a bad way. Sonny's good people, but he's been calling me out on stuff. Challenging me.”

“About?” Cas asks because, fuck, he is way too invested in Dean’s welfare to leave it alone. Especially now Dean’s given him a bone. Maybe he should have just shut down the whole conversation and told Cas to butt out. It would probably hurt less, in the long run.

“The future. Sam. You.”

“Me?”

Dean stares out the front window and doesn't meet his gaze.

“Dean, why would he challenge you about me?”

Well, fuck it, ignoring it has only forced Cas into being insecure because Dean sucks, apparently. He’s not going to get another easy opening and he… he owes it to the guy that they talk about it, even if it’s the last thing he wants to do. Even if he'd rather rip his own ear off this exact second.

“Because , I can't... can't keep acting like you're gonna be here forever.”

“Why?”

“Because you're leaving, goddamnit. You're leaving. I mean, crap, not like that. You're going to college and I'm, I'm happy you're going to college. You should. You have to, but I gotta face the facts about how that'll be.” Dean says, hands reaching for the steering wheel and gripping hold of it, tight.

“And what are ‘the facts’?” Cas asks, voice dangerous, on the edge of something.

“That that means we're done.”

“You don’t even want to try,” Cas says and, shit, that’s not a question.

“How?” Dean asks, “I’ve got no money, Cas. I have twenty fucking dollars in my bank account and I’m nearly out of gas. I’m barely passing school and I’ve got no goddamn idea how I’m gonna make rent, but I’m pretty fucking sure that I’m not gonna have the spare cash to fly across the damn country once a month to come visit you. Hell, I barely got the money to make long distance calls. Don't even have a laptop to skype. That might be a reality in your cushy world with access to your shitty father’s bank account, but in the real world that’s not gonna happen.”

“And your proposed solution to this is to admit defeat without even telling me you’ve given up?”

“Come on, Cas, you think you’re gonna rock up at the big ivy leagues and tell your stuck up roommate about your boyfriend that barely passed high school and works as a waiter half way across that country? You think that’s gonna win you points?” Dean asks, voice heated, emotional, angry because he’s a total jackass who doesn’t know how to handle his own emotions. Goddamnit.

“I don't care about that,” Cas says, blue eyes narrowed. He’s staring at him like Dean acting like a total jerk is a sudden surprise which just makes him more pissed off. This is just typical Dean Winchester bullshit and if Cas didn’t have such an inflated view of him, then maybe this wouldn’t be so hard to have this conversation.

“Maybe not now. I give it six months after you crash down in Harvard.”

“You’re better than this,” Cas says, his own voice picking up heat now, posture straightening up. “I don’t care if you think so little of yourself, you don’t get to insult me because of it.”

“Just trying to give you a reality check, Sweetheart.”

“Do not frame this as though you are doing me a favour,” Castiel says, eyes flashing, “Breaking up with me by yelling at me about things that are not my fault is not a favour.”

Fuck.

“I’m not, I’m not trying to break up with you, damnit.”

“You’re doing a very good impression of it.”

“Fuck, this… that all came out wrong. I’m not saying it’s your fault. Obviously, it’s not your fault, I’m just a -”

“ - so this is just a friendly reminder that you intend to break up with me in six months,” Cas interjects, reaching for the door. “Thank you.”

“Cas, no, damnit,” Dean says, his anger dropping out of his stomach, leaving panic in it’s wake. “Fuck. Cas. I just wanted to -”

“ - what?” Cas demands, “What were you intending to achieve here?”

“Not yell at you,” Dean says, “Not act like an asshole. I… it would be worse, in six months, if we hadn’t talked about it.”

“You’re attempting to manage my feelings for you,” Cas says, eyes still sharp, “That if you put a time limit on our relationship, I might not be in love with you anymore.”

“Cas, I didn’t invent the fact that you’re going to college at least five hundred miles away and that I’m dirt poor. I don’t want this. I want, for fuck’s sake, I want you to, I want you to be in love with me. That’s shitty and selfish, but I do, I want that, I want you I just -”

“Damnit, Dean.”

“I can’t act like it’s not gonna happen if it’s gonna fucking happen.”

“Then you are breaking up with me,” Cas says, then he’s slamming out of the impala and towards his front door before Dean has a chance to stop him.

Dean stumbles out the driver’s side and manages to yell “Cas” after him before the front door of the Milton residence shuts too.

Cas doesn’t answer any of the seven messages he sends him and Dean doesn't sleep for shit.

Chapter Text

Sam has started sleeping in on weekend mornings. It's a status quo Deans been trying to enforce since Dean turned thirteen to no avail, but it finally seems to be happening, because when he gets up on Saturday morning after spending the whole damn night tossing and turning Sam is still asleep.

The rest of Sonny's motley crew, not so much. The kitchen’s already packed out with Sonny and three kids when he gets there to get some coffee and some toast, so much so that he almost manages to get out of there without having to talk to anyone in any detail. Tommy is making the argument that he's old enough for coffee (and, whatever, he started drinking coffee when he was in middle school and Sam drinks the stuff; he didn't really known not being old enough was a thing) and one of the new kids is sticking to Tommy like glue. Dean just wants some fucking coffee and some quiet, but that seems unlikely.

Sonny passes him some without looking up, but for some reason unknown reason Dean doesn't take that as the cue to make his retreat. He just stands there until Sonny looks up at him.

'Hey, Dean,"

"So it blew up in my face," Dean says, staring at his coffee. Sonny sends him a searching look; like he’s trying to work out whether he means he got wasted and drove home like a fucking idiot, or whatever else dumb-as-fuck thing he could have done. Sonny doesn’t push him though. Just waits. "Had a massive fight with Cas. Think he's done."

And then, to his surprise even if Sonny seems to expect it, he’s stepping forward for an actual hug. From Sonny.

As hugs go, it’s not as awkward as he thought he would be. He’s seen some of the other kids hug Sonny before, but they’re the actual kid kids, not Dean. He’s an adult. He shouldn’t be clinging onto his scrubbed together sort of guardian at half eight on a Saturday morning cause he probably got dumped. He shouldn’t be such a mess, but the hug helps.

Until Sam interrupts with a bleary “Dean,” that has him springing away from Sonny like he’s on fire.

“Sammy,” Dean says, a little strangled.

“What’s wrong?” Sam asks, bleary eyed and headed for the coffee pot.

“Nothing,” Dean says, “Cas. Fight with Cas, but I’m gonna go fix it.”

“What did you fight about?” Sam yawns, his ability to worry clearly seriously inhibited by his sleepiness, because the Sam-of-the-conscious-world would have slipped over into panic mode by now.

“Your dumb face,” Dean says.

“I’m going back to bed,” Sam says, “You can be a jerk about this later.”

“Bitch,” Dean throws back, draining his coffee and glancing at Sonny.

“Whatever,” Sam says, pausing, “You were up half of last night.”

“Go back to bed, Sam,” Dean says, massaging his forehead, “We can talk about it later.”

“Kay,” Sam nods, cradling his coffee as he has back towards the stairs.

“Dean,” Sonny says, “Make sure you get breakfast before you go talk to Cas.”

“Will do,” Dean says.

He does, even though he can’t taste anything and he doesn’t really have an appetite, because Sonny wanted him to.

*

Turning up at the Milton’s doorstep at nine thirty on a Saturday morning doesn’t fit with the sane-person rhetoric he’s been trying to project, but right now he doesn’t give a shit because he’s going to talk to Cas. They’re going to have an actual conversation in which no one yells and Cas actually listens to what he was trying to say rather than his crappy word choice. They are not breaking up. At least, not like that. Not like that.

“Dean,” Gabriel says, opening the front door and fixing him with this look that reeks of the fact that he knows. “I am way too hungover for this.”

“Gabe,” Dean says, as Gabriel positions himself firmly in the way, “I wanna talk to him.”

“No can do, bucko,” Gabriel says, bringing a hand up to his forehead and pinching his brow, “He’s upset and asleep.”

“Well I’m upset and awake, so wake him the hell up and let me in.”

“I’m pretty sure we had this talk,” Gabriel says, “Way back when. That ol’ you break his heart, I break your face shindig.”

“Who says anything is breaking?”

“Cassie did. This morning. Came down for breakfast looking like crap, said you’d dumped his ass and then crawled back to his room.”

“That’s not what happened,” Dean snaps, “That’s bullcrap.”

“Well, okay.”

“He doesn’t get to decide that I dumped him.”

“Yeah, that’s usually a pretty black and white issue,” Gabriel says, yawning in the doorway, “Okay, your side of the story; shoot.”

“I, damnit, all I was trying to do was point out that we’re probably gonna… gonna have to break up - in the future - when Cas goes to the goddamn ivy leagues.”

“Soo… it’s a delayed dumping?” Gabriel asks.

“You think it would have been better not to talk about it until the summer?”

“No,” Gabriel says, raising an eyebrow, “Sounds like quite the problem. Would love to help you out here, Deano, but as I said - ”

“ - Dean,” Hester says, behind Gabriel’s shoulder, “Come in.”

“Hey,” Dean says, eyeing her from the doorway, “I honestly thought I was doing the right thing, talking about it. I, I wasn’t -”

“She said come in,” Gabriel says, stepping away from the doorway and heading back to the sofa, “He’s in his room. Enter at your own peril.”

“Awesome,” Dean says, gritting his teeth before heading towards the stairs.

It’s never been so terrifying to knock on Cas’ door.

“Gabriel, I'm not in the mood for your inadmissible attempts at using humor to diffuse situations you find uncomfortable right now.”

“Guess it's a good thing I'm not your cousin,” Dean says. It feels a little like someone is using his heart as a stress ball in the seconds it takes Cas to cross the room and open the door to stare at him. “Hey,” Dean says, croaks, “Can we talk?”

Cas steps aside to let him into the room.

“You look terrible,” Cas says, eyes scanning his features as he shuts the door behind him.

“Uh, yeah.”

“Is it perverse that I'm both glad you look terrible and have an unsaleable urge to tell you everything will be fine?”

“Welcome to the human condition,” Dean says, not knowing quite what to do with his hands, or his face, or where he should stand. He's spent most of the time in Cas' room sat on the bed. There's not a whole lot of room aside from the bed and the desk and the wardrobe, anyway, and with Cas stood there staring at him - "Cas," Dean says, eventually, "I didn't... I didn’t break up with you. I'm not saying I worded anything how I meant to fucking word it, but I didn't. This isn't what I meant to happen so will you, please, let me talk to you about this. You want me out after, fine, but -"

"Do you want a drink?"

"What?"

" I want some coffee. Do you want anything?"

"No, I'm... coffee, yeah. Actually."

"Sit, Dean, I'll be back in a minute."

It's a long fucking minute until he's back.

“I drank more than you thought I had last night,” Cas says, when he's back in the room. “There were more shots while you were smoking with Bela.”

“I wasn't doing anything with Bela, she just showed up,” Dean says, running a hand over his face. “I never gave a crap about Bela.”

“I don't think that's true,” Cas says, “But it's also irrelevant now.”

“Because you decided I dumped you?”

“Because it's not the current topic of this conversation.”

“I don’t give a crap about Bela,”

“You don’t now,” Cas says, “If you didn’t care, before, you wouldn’t have gone to her when your Dad left. I vehemently wish you’d gone to Gabriel instead because I think half the reason you find discussing this difficult is because of that betrayal, but it doesn’t matter. Bela is irrelevant.”

“So you're saying you were drunk, yesterday,” Dean says, frustrated and sat on the edge of Cas bed, shoulders set.

“That's a strong word. Volatile, perhaps.”

“I really didn't know that, man,” Dean says, looking at his knees.

“I know,” Cas says, “You look…”

“Cas, I feel about as crappy right now as I did on my birthday, so just, please, tell me what’s going on in your head so I can fix this or fuck off and deal.”

Cas’ face scans over his features, drinking him in, frowning.

“You care,”

“I really fucking care, Castiel.”

Cas is completely still. He’s dissecting him and evaluating and processing and Dean doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in his head, but then Cas is suddenly in movement, wrapping his arms around his neck and pulling him into a hug. Dean sinks into it. Closes his eyes. Let’s Cas splay his fingers over his back.

“I didn’t mean to -”

“- it’s okay, Dean.”

“Damnit, Cas, it’s not okay.”

“Fine, Dean, everything is crap,” Cas snaps, not letting go of him, “It’s all bullshit. It’s all -”

Dean kisses him. Cas tightens his arms round his neck and pulls him closer, till they both tip backwards onto Cas’ bed. “You’re mad at me,” Dean says, pulling back and shutting his eyes again, “We should talk about it. We should… we have to talk about this. It wasn't like you said, Cas. I wasn't checking out, okay? I was always gonna have the conversation with you, I just... I didn't get a chance.”

“You’ve been avoiding me, Dean, you should be honest about that.”

“Okay, damnit, I was, but not because… it wasn’t like you were saying. You were twistin’ it wrong because you were upset because I was a raging dickbag because I was upset and… I don’t want us to be done.”

“Are you talking about now or in six months?”

“Both, I just don’t see that there’s a lot of choice in six months. I don’t see another way round that and I’ve been thinkin’ about it and… if you can’t do this, because of that, then I get that. I get it.”

“Our coffee is going cold,” Cas says, distancing himself to pick up both of their coffees and bringing them back to his bed. Dean sits back up against the headboard and accepts his coffee, head beginning to hurt. “I assumed you were trying to preserve my feelings, rather than your own.”

“Oh, there’s sure as hell some self-preservation in there somewhere, Sweetheart.”

Cas takes a sip of his coffee.

“Do you… what do you want?” Dean asks.

“I don’t want to break up now,” Cas says, forehead furrowing, “But I need to think about what I need, in the future.”

“Okay,” Dean says, lump in his throat, “Okay. That’s… okay.”

“Do you have any time today?”

“I got work at twelve till five, then I’m going over to Principal Singer’s to fix that car and then I’m cooking at Sonny’s so, not… not really. And I’m working tomorrow, but I could… tomorrow night.”

“You must have school work,” Cas frowns, “Come over on Monday night.”

“Kay,” Dean says, eyes shut.

“Did you sleep?”

“No,” Dean says, “Cause you wouldn’t answer your damn phone.”

“It’s turned off,” Cas says, “I’m sorry. You should… sleep, before your shift.”

“You want me to go?”

“No, you can stay,” Cas says, “Rest, Dean.”

“You look pretty crappy yourself,” Dean says, finally drinking in the bag’s under Castiel’s eyes. He looks pale. Miserable. “D’you sleep any?”

“Minimal amounts,” Cas says, as he takes the coffee out of Dean’s hand again. Dean shuffles down Cas’ bed and stares up at the ceiling, swallowing. Cas settles next him.

“Didn’t mean to fuck everything up,”

“You didn’t,” Cas says, invading his personal space till Dean virtually has no choice but to wrap his arms around him. Cas presses a kiss to his cheek, which is nice, and it’s really really nice to close his eyes with Cas’ warm weight tucked into his side.

He sleeps until half eleven and wakes up in panic, alone.

As it turns out, Castiel is downstairs doing his homework. Hester and Inias aren’t here, thank fuck, but Gabriel is a solid lump on the sofa switching between channels with a bag of cookies in his hand.

“I gotta get to work,” Dean says.

“I was about to come and wake you,” Cas says, “Do you have your uniform?”

“Car,” Dean says, “You want me to… I could call later. Or raincheck ‘til Monday?”

“Just kiss and make up already,” Gabriel mutters from the coach “Or at least take this awkward angst fest out of my hangover zone.”

“I’ll walk you to the car,” Cas says, standing up and reaching for his shoes.

“I really have to go,” Dean says, once they’re outside. “By the time I’ve parked up…”

Cas kisses him, just once, before he turns his back and walks back to the house without another word.

*

Work is okay. He manages to turn on the charm enough to get some decent tips. Showing up at Principal Singer’s on a Saturday is weird as hell, with Singer trudging out to meet him and bringing him cold sodas without words.

He doesn't get a single text from Cas the whole time.

*

“How’s Cas?” Sam asks, sat on his bed in Sonny’s with his laptop balanced on his knees.

“Thinking,” Dean throws back, stripping off his shirt because it’s smeared with engine oil and generally gross, “So that’s just peachy.”

“Thinking about what?”

“I don’t know, philosophy, politics,” Dean says, grabbing another t-shirt and pulling it over his head, “You got any laundry you need for this week?”

“Uh, yeah,” Sam says, “Bottom of the wardrobe.”

“I ain’t your slave,” Dean says, grabbing Sam’s laundry anyway, “Homework done?”

“Most of it,”

“Slacker,” Dean says, “Gonna shower before we start cooking,”

“Good,” Sam says.

“Screw you, asshat,” Dean says, mouth fixed. Today’s a bad day and it seems like Sam didn’t get the memo. That’s usually the way he wants it to be, but right now he kind of wants some support. He wants Sam to fix something. Make something right, but it's all just -

“Enjoy your shower,” Sam says, not looking up from the laptop.

Dean slams the door on the way out only half by accident and has to remind himself that his snot nosed brother is only thirteen and he is not the person Dean's really angry at.

This time, it’s probably himself.

*

Sunday is fine.

*

The agreement with Singer was that he has to report in every in Monday morning in the guise of talking about the car project, which he's more or less is certain is a smokescreen for him bugging him about his feelings, like he hasn't got enough people doing that.

And after a really crappy weekend, even acknowledging the fact that he has feelings is way too much for a Monday morning.

“No doe eyes in the parking lot this morning?” Singer asks, narrowing his eyes at him. “You listenin’ to me about being on time or you two knuckleheads arguing?”

Dean folds his arms on the chair and doesn't say anything.

“Okay then,” Singer says, “You got a pop quiz in world history tomorrow. I recommend studying.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Dean asks, “Pretty sure giving me a head’s up is against the rules.”

“You worried about equality, go ahead and forget about it. Way I see it, we had that, you wouldn’t’ve spent four months of your senior year of high school sleeping in your car. I'm just leveling the playing field.”

“Thanks,” Dean mutters, staring at the spot over his shoulder, expressionless.

“You get much done on the car this weekend?”

“Need a couple more hours to fix it,” Dean says, “Was thinking I'd come by on Sunday.”

“Go ahead. And the rest of your homework?”

“Done. Mostly. I've got this pop quiz to study for.”

And that's mostly true. He’s got a few things due on Friday to do, but generally the whole factory-reset-crap with the entirety of his school work seems to have helped. He’s not drowning, even if he’s still fighting to stay on top. There’s still a couple of things he needs to go over with Gabriel that he missed, but… whatever, school does not feel like his top priority right now.

He knows that’s dangerous, but that’s where his head’s at.

“Alright,” Singer says, “Go, get to class. Y’idjit.”

*

Gabriel has another date with Kali, who's clearly lost her mind, and he wastes no time telling him that he won't be able to butt into their talk later the second he sits down at lunch, even if that leads to Charlie eyeing him strangely. At least Ash doesn't pay enough attention, generally, to pick up on that kind of thing.

He winds up staying at school late to try and stuff some world history crap in his head, but gives up half an hour in because there's no goddamn point. All he can think about is this weird state of flux with Cas, where they’re not-not talking, but they’re purposefully not gravitating towards each other. All he can think is he doesn’t know what the damn hell is going on with them and there’s this part of him that wants to put off going over all together, unless he… he doesn’t want to do this anymore.

He sends him a message to let him know he’s leaving school (their first of the day) and waits unti he gets a returned ‘okay’ before he actually pulls out of the carpark.

Cas answers the door by dragging him in by the belt hooks on his jeans and kissing him, hard, which takes him so utterly by surprise that he only really tunes in and participates right before Cas let’s go.

“Hey,”

“Hello Dean,” Cas says.

“Guessing your aunt and uncle aren't here,” Dean says, because fucking no one kisses someone like that if their parental figures are anywhere near.

“Not until seven,” Cas returns, tilting his head slightly and fixing him with a look.

Fooling around is definitely a better use of their time than talking and it’s much better at taking the edge off his overthinking.

At least, for awhile.

“Cas,” Dean exhales, shirt back on, sat with his back against the headboard. “What’s going on in your head, man?”

“I wish you’d never mentioned it,” Cas says, frowning at him, his own shirt wonky and his hair and mess and goddamnit that was a bad idea. “I don’t want to think about this.”

“But,” Dean says, mouth dry, then the rest of his sentence dies in his throat.

“I understand why you bought this up in conversation and I understand that becoming more invested in this is ultimately going to make it more difficult, but… I think that neither of us actually want to break up, then all we achieve is prolonged misery. I don’t know where that leaves us.”

“Yeah,” Dean sighs, rubs a hand over his face, “You know I … I really care about you Cas. So much it scares me.”

“I’m beginning to see that,”

“Maybe we… we just hit the brakes. Things have been pretty… intense. Not in a bad way, I just. Not sure this hot and heavy thing is gonna make anything easier.”

“I don’t know that I have brakes,” Cas says, not looking at him, “Be explicit. Tell me what you want me to do differently.”

“Nothing, I don’t mean like that. There’s not a damn thing wrong with what you do. I just mean, maybe we text each other less. Less evenings hanging out. Maybe, next time, if I lose my fucking mind and drive all night, you don’t follow me, you just ship a phone charger to my address and tell Sonny and your aunt where I am.”

“Okay,”

“Just for a while,” Dean says, “Till one of us can work out where this leaves us.”

“I want to keep you,” Cas says, withdrawing in on himself, “And my stance on that isn’t going to change,”

“So long as your stance on Harvard, or whatever, doesn’t change either, then we’re at a stalemate.”

“It won’t,” Cas says, voice hard.

“There’s a bright side, Cas. This is pretty much exactly what your Aunt wanted. She thinks we’re taking this a little more casual, she might loosen the reigns a little. Hester might stop hating me if she’s sure you’re not backing out of college.”

“What were you studying after school?” Cas asks, gaze sweeping back to him, “That math for Friday?”

“World History pop quiz,” Dean says, “Singer gave me a head’s up.”

“I could quiz you.”

“No, it’s…” Dean says, sighs, “I should do it on my own. Sonny’s expecting me for food, cause I forgot to say I was coming over. Should hit the road before Hester gets back, anyway, keep her sweet.”

Cas agrees wordlessly, expression impenetrable enough that Dean has no idea what he’s thinking. He kisses him goodbye at the door rather than walking him to his car, though, and shuts the door firmly behind him before Dean’s fumbled with the impala keys.

Dean doesn’t call him before he calls it a night and goes to bed, which he’d sort of fallen into the habit of last week, but he does send him a text right before he goes to sleep.

Cas replies with an impossible to read ‘goodnight, Dean’.

Chapter Text

Friday comes around very quickly, in a blur of school and sitting with Cas at lunch but focusing on Gabriel and Charlie too; in eleven text messages and no weekend plans, with Cas still meeting him by his car every morning to check in, but without them winding up late to class cause they’ve spent too long looking at each other.

‘It's Friday,” Sam says, frowning at where Dean’s sat at the main table staring at his homework without really seeing it. He’s not quite behind again, but most of his good intentions have slipped under the waves of work that keeps piling in. The fact that, without seeing Cas, he should have a lot more time doesn’t seem to have actually made a difference to the dent he’s made on this workload. School sucks and he sucks at school and if half-ignoring Cas isn’t helping him stay on top of things, the weekly meetings with Principal Singer to gossip about his GPA isn’t going to change that.

The one good thing is that no one’s asked him about college this side of his birthday. They’re probably all too damn scared of him running away again to bring it up, or else they’ve collectively decided to give up the mission. If he’s barely passing high school, more school is not the answer.

Right this second, he’d just like to be able to focus on his goddamn math homework without his brain straying to a whole host of crappy, more pressing worries, like his father, or whether he’s gonna be homeless, or Cas, or how he’s going to deal with not looking after Sam.

“Wow, Sam, can see why you're a straight A student.”

“I'm not right now, so shut up. Why aren't you with Cas?”

“We're taking a cooling off period,” Dean says, clicking his pen shut and open again, feigning deep interest in his textbook. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but Sam doesn’t need to know that.

“Why?”

“Reasons,”

“Because you're emotionally repressed and scared of your feelings? This is so typically you.”

“Whatever,”

“So you're, what, on a break?”

“No,” Dean says, grimaces, “Just having some space.”

“With which you're pretending to do your homework,” Sam says, nodding at the blank page in his notepad. “Whatever, Dean, if you need to be less serious, go watch a movie rather than making out through one. Order a pizza rather than cooking together and teaching him about his car. Do something that isn't sit here pinning all weekend because, seriously - ”

“ - okay, I got it, Mr Popular. What are you doing tonight?”

“Going to see a movie with Ruby,”

Dean snaps his mouth shut.

“Sonny okayed it”.

“Well if Sonny said - ”

“ - You're not my mom, Dean,” Sam says then leaves him to it, because Sam has been a total teenage stereotype all week with a smartass mouth and a shitty attitude. Them being hauled up in the same room every evening to avoid the rest of the kids probably isn’t helping them get along any, but pushing at that thought causes guilt to blossom up like a bruise so he’s ignoring it.

Anyway, he might have a point. Not about Sonny or his Mom, but definitely about not having a life.

He didn’t exactly mean ‘self-imposed isolation’ when he mentioned this cool down, thing, it just turns out the only other person he’s spent time with lately is Gabriel. Fuck it.

Can we do something tonight? Dean types out to Castiel, staring at the damn thing until the message sends successfully, then staring until a reply comes in six whole minutes later.

Can't. I have plans.

Sonuvabitch.

He should’ve seen that coming. It’s not like he doesn’t deserve it. He deserves to spend the rest of his crappy Friday evening trying to conjure up the motivation to do his freaking homework.

There's another message, three minutes after that, that saves his Friday from a crappy pit of self loathing.

I'm at Charlie’s. She says you can come over.

He is just about in the habit of asking Sonny before he disappears into the ether and negotiating his goddamn curfew like he's ever had one of those before. Sonny claps him on the shoulder before he goes and tells him to drive safe.

*

Crashing the Charlie-and-Cas show is a little less awkward than it should be, but he still feels like a fumbling jackass when Charlie disappears into the kitchen to get popcorn and leaves him sat at the other end of the couch to his boyfriend.

“Hey,” Charlie says when she reenters, “I’m being your third wheel, not your leave-room-for-Jesus chaperone, scootch over.”

She has a point. Charlie sitting in the middle of them would be weird and it would mean something that’s a little overblown for their current status; it’s not like they’re fighting, they’re just… hitting the brakes. They can still interact with each other like goddamn humans. They’ve managed at school just fine.

Dean dutifully shuffles up and drapes an arm over the back of his sofa behind him. Cas gets the hint enough to angle himself inwards, so that he’s leaning against him and their knees are touching.

“We’re going old school,” Charlie declares, “Because Cas needs to learn and if he’s learning, we need to go back to the beginning, unlike you heathens.”

“Gonna hazard a guess that you’re talking x-box.”

“It’s mario kart time, bitches.”

Cas, as it turns out, is damn good at mario kart.

*

“Cas,” Dean says, after Charlie’s let them out and conspicuously made herself absent so they can have a moment. “So, uh, Tuesday.”

Cas frowns at him because, obviously, Cas is completely oblivious.

“Valentine’s Day. You wanna do something?”

“Gabriel is taking Kali somewhere if you wanted to come over, although I have no idea whether Hester and Inias have plans.”

“You want me to?”

Cas shrugs.

“I can't take you out, or anything. Still trying to work enough to pay my phone bill.”

“Dean, my expectation for Valentine's Day were low at best, largely because it’s a ridiculous concept. I am aware you don't have any money. I also don't know how we precluded that I wasn't taking you out instead.”

“Do you wanna take me out?”

“Come over,” Cas says, “Bring one of your movies. And next time, rather than pinning at your phone I suggest you contact me earlier about weekend plans if you want to make them.”

“Fair criticism,” Dean says, running a hand over his face, thinking. “Look, I know this is crappy. Ain’t like I don’t miss you, I just... “

“I’m glad you came over,” Cas says, “You were right, as it happens, about Hester. My curfew is back to matching Gabriel’s and she asked about you. She suggested you could come over on Tuesday.”

“Good,” Dean says, pocketing his hands, “Sam’s being a pain in the ass jerk and Sonny gave me a hug last week.”

“Hester does that,” Cas says, and it’s cold enough that his words are visible in the air, “I don’t remember if my father ever hugged me. I had a very huggy tutor when I was around seven, but she wasn’t around for very long. It still surprises me whenever Hester attempts it.”

“That’s the saddest fucking thing I ever heard,”

“I wasn’t deprived, Dean. The rest of the family would hug me, although we only saw each other on special occasions I’ll admit.”

“Cas,” Dean exhales, stepping forward to grip his forearms, running a thumb over his flesh through the sweater and his trench coat.

“I don’t imagine your father was much of a hugger,”

“No, but I had Sam,” Dean says, “Dumb kid used to crawl into my bed nine nights out of ten when Dad left us. He’d be all cute about nightmares and wanting a hug, then I’d wake up with no pillows or blankets.”

Cas smiles.

“I’d have liked brothers,” Cas says, “Now I have Gabriel, who is highly infuriating, but would probably let me wake him up if I had a nightmare.”

“That counts,” Dean says and pulls him into a hug, a proper one, that he kind of hopes has the power to wipe away years of crappy, impersonal parenting.

They stay like that for quite a while before Cas remembers about the curfew and they both collectively decide not to push Hester so soon after she’s loosened the reigns.

*

The Monday morning routine of sidling up to Singer office is now pretty ingrained in his psyche: he's more or less a zombie as he shows up at the door and only wakes up when Singer fixes him with a look and barks ‘what?’ like these meetcutes were Dean’s idea.

“I finished fixing up the car on Sunday.”

“Good.”

“So, I'm good now? No more catch ups?”

“You thinking fixing up the car was the whole exercise?” Singer says, narrowing his eyes at him slightly. “Sell her.”

“Sell her,” Dean says, “You want me to sell your car?”

“This is a business lesson, boy, I already know you could fix the damn thing up. I ain’t wasting your time preaching to the choir. You put the word out and let me know when you’ve got a price, then we’ll talk.”

“I’m fixing a car for business credits,” Dean says, “What the hell is this?”

“You sure you want to run your mouth at me, Winchester?” Singer asks, narrowing his eyes at him slightly, “I’m taking it you’ve been working shifts that past two weekends.”

“You been stalking me or something?”

“Your pop quiz,” Singer says, dropping it down between them and fixing him with some kind of look, that’s equal parts surly and care.

“I didn’t ignore your tip off,” Dean says, not looking at the damn thing, because he knows he sucked at the stupid pop quiz. “I studied. I stayed after school and I blew Cas off to go back to Sonny’s to study, but there was this new kid who kept screaming about missing his parents so I wound up trying to revise in my car to get some goddamn peace.”

“You failed by one mark.”

Goddamnit.

“You can save the tough love routine,” Dean says, jaw squared, staring out the window of Singer’s office, “I get it. You helped me and I still screwed up, if I carry on like this I’m not gonna pass high school.”

“Kid, you know the statistics for teenagers leaving care winding up homeless at some point? Thirty percent.. I aint trying to scare you, just trying to show you what you’re up against. I get that you’ve got other stuff going on and that it’s damn near impossible to study at home. I aint begrudging your decision that you don’t wanna go to college. That’s your choice, Dean. I’m just trying to make sure you’ve got some options open to you. If I had it my way, we’d take the pressure off and let you work this out on your own time; unfortunately, life hasn’t dealt you that luxury. You’ve got until the summer to work out a plan or life’s gonna screw you. What I want you to do to is tell us what we can do to help you until then. You need somewhere to study? I can sort that. You need a laptop like your brother? I can sort that out too. I got contacts I can signpost you to for housing advice and places that can hook you up with furniture. You just need to be straight with us how we can help.”

“I get that I'm you're little project, but -”

“-goddamnit, boy, you ain't a project. You're a person and that's exactly how I'm trying to treat you.”

“Why do you even care?”

“Been watching you since you started at this school, Dean, turning up here with your Daddy and your little brother with him having no idea what grade your brother was supposed to be in. You think I didn't see right through him? First thing I did was get on the phone with your kid brother’s school and run over your lists of previous schools and grades trying to work out what kind of problem we had, but you stuck at it kid. You made friends. You pulled up your grades to what you're actually capable. Your teachers like you. You had me so damn convinced things had turned around I took my eye off the ball.”

“So this is spurred on by a guilt trip?”

“I got your notes your teachers were gonna say at your parent's evening that no one showed to. You know what they were gonna say? That you're a smart kid, loyal, fresh ideas. That you include your peers. That you play the clown but generally know when to shut up. That you put in the work and do well. That you're liked and respected. These are folks that have got no idea you've been fighting to bring up your kid brother and pick up the slack when your Daddy forgot to pay the bills. With all of that aside, you're a good student and a good kid. And me? I'm just trying to stop all of that going to rot. This is your chance, Winchester, let us help you.”

Dean swallows back the bile rising at the back of his throat. It’s panic and fear and the policy of not letting anyone into his business.

Singer isn’t anyone to him. He doesn’t have the right to push his nose into his business. He doesn’t get to butt in.

“I don't need your help.”

Bobby Singer fixes him with a long, hard look before he speaks.

“You need to talk to Crowley about quiz. Do it at lunch.”

And that's that.

*

He doesn't mention the homelessness statistic that's been buzzing round his head non stop when he hangs out with Cas on Tuesday. They just watch the movie vaguely huddled up on the sofa and it’s nice enough.

Friday night sees Cas coming over to Sonny’s and helping him with his make- up assignment, which is dull but necessary, and less dull than doing it without Cas.

Gabriel meets him after work on Saturday for their old tradition of sitting around outside the mall to pass the time. He lets Dean bum a cigarette and tease him about Kali until Gabriel decides that their whole existence is currently tragic and insists on buying Dean a movie ticket, then talks the whole goddamn way through it. Still, it's good, and he has neglected Gabriel as of late.

He gets back right before his curfew and steals Sam's laptop from the floor of their bedroom, smuggling it downstairs to look up that local charity that Sonny and Hester both mentioned to him.

After fifteen minutes of clicking around, he finds the ‘apply for financial support’ and the ‘apply for help with your housing needs’ and downloads both applications. He doesn't start them, but he reads over them until he's too tired to see straight.

*

In his weekly Monday chat with Singer, he asks for somewhere to study and Singer gives him the key to one of the classrooms and tells him to clean up after himself. He doesn’t pull any more of that encouraging proud-of-you-bullshit, but he claps him on the shoulder on the way out the door and calls him an idjit in a way that Dean’s pretty sure is affectionate.

*

How was your meeting with Singer Castiel texts him late on Monday night, after Dean’s filled in the ‘personal information’ section of the two funding/help with housing applications he printed during lunch and spent thirty minutes clicking his pen lid and staring at the damn thing. Given he spent lunch in the library, he saw Cas for all of thirty seconds today while he wolfed down lunch and snuck some extra food into his book bag before disappearing.

didn’t have much to say cause i havent sold his damn car yet Dean types back, working on it.

“Dean,” Sam says, rapping on the door of the bedroom like it isn’t their shared space, then leaning in the doorway. Dean shoves the applications under his textbook before glancing up at him. “You said you were good for a movie in half an hour.”

“Yep,”

“It’s been forty five minutes,” Sam says, which means it’s taken him forty five minutes to write down his name and his brithday. Goddamnit. “You good?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, shoving all his crap on the floor, making sure the charity applications are still hidden (he wants to wait till he’s had a decent go at filling the damn thing in before talking to Sam about it), before grabbing his hoodie and his cell phone. “Not getting anywhere anyway.”

“You spent all sunday doing homework,”

“Senior year, Sammy, not dossing about like you,” Dean says, following him down to Sonny’s front room where Sam’s already got the movie set up. The kid’s bought popcorn and everything. “Always got time for you, though, little brother.”

“Sure,” Sam says, rolling his eyes.

How do you even sell a car? Cas texts him, thirty minutes into the movie, when Sam’s giving him the usual running commentary about how historically inaccurate his choice of western is. He’s so damn used to Sam’s whining he barely hears it anymore.

there’s this thing called the internet Dean texts back, even though it risks getting him a lecture about how their ‘quality time’ is supposed to work. He might be safe, given how determined Sam is to make sure he cancels the whole cooling-off thing. u use it for porn & selling things.

Your view of the world is astounding Cas returns, a little quicker this time.

You dig it.

“How is Cas?”

“Hmm,” Dean says, “Dunno, ask him yourself.”

“You’re an idiot.”

Can you help me write this thing?

What kind of thing?

“This really is a terrible film,” Sam says, through a mouthful of popcorn.

“Get your feet off my side of the sofa,” Dean counters, nudging him with his knee, “And shut your mouth, twerp.”

“Good comeback,”

“Shutup,” Dean says, stretching out his shoulders before looking at his phone and Cas’ message again.

It’s this dumb charity thing. Pretty sure they’re the ones funding me to be at Sonny’s now cause i’m over 18.

Inias says I am ‘not allowed to text whilst at the table’, although where this new rule has come from I have no idea.

dude you’re guardians are super square. It’s cool. You can reply after. I’m not that needy.

That’s not entirely true, though, because by the time Cas has finished his dinner he’s sent a message explaining that one application is funding for his ‘transition to adulthood’ and the other is application to help with his ‘housing costs’ and apparently he has to persuade them he’s worthy of their help by explaining all the things he’s done to pull himself up for his bootstraps (it’s the same crap that they needed him to do for him to stay at Sonny’s; pass high school, ideally having a job and a plan and an emotionally touching story about why he deserves money more than the next guy with absentee parents and no fucking options). Then he followed the messages up with three messages asking about his day and a final text asking if they can do something this weekend.

The movie credits are rolling by the time Cas replies with a ‘yes of course I’ll help Dean.’

Sam’s channel flicking and settles on an a TV channel showing a crappy action movie that’s exactly the kind of mindless, explosions and bad dialogue movie he goes for. They have rights to the television for the rest of the evening, so they might as well take advantage of him.

Hester, Inias and Gabriel are visiting Anna this weekend. They're picking Gabriel up directly from school on Friday night and will be back midday on Sunday. Do you want to stay over?

Oh, he wants to stay over so damn bad.

Am I allowed to?

A) your notion that our recent status quo would improve Hester's opinion of our relationships was correct. B) She apparently feels better about the idea of you being there than me being alone, despite that being the way for most of my life. You have, I quote, a proven ability to look after yourself.

If you don't want to, that's fine. I can invite Charlie.

Dean nearly falls off the sofa in his hurry to stand up, which has Sam laugh in his face.

“I’m gonna get laid, so shut your face,” Dean says, typing out a message to Castiel and side stepping the sofa at the same time.

Asking Sonny -- two mins. Do NOT invite Charlie.

“You’re a pig,” Sam calls out after him.

He finds Sonny in the kitchen.

“Can I say at Cas’ this weekend?” He blurts out, with no prelude, which has Sonny arch an eyebrow at him. “The Milton’s are away and they don’t want Cas alone, yada yada.” Sonny pauses. “I’m applying for help from that charity place you suggested and I’m only working on shift on Saturday.” Dean says, “And you know Cas’ll make me do my homework.”

“Fine by me,” Sonny says, “But you won’t take it as a lack of trust if I call Hester to confirm.”

“No, that’s like, totally reasonable guardian behavior,” Dean says, “Awesome. Thanks. I’m gonna text Cas.”

“And Dean,” Sonny says, “We’ll talk about that application properly one night this week.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, offering a grin before flopping back down on the sofa next to Sam. “Getting a whole weekend with Cas.”

"Good, I guess," Sam says.

He wants it confirmed by Hester that it’s okay, then it's a goer.

If Sonny is calling her now, then she's in a very good mood and will likely agree to anything.

Dean strains his neck to look out to the corridor, where Sonny is leant against the wall on the phone.

Yess!! Can do Fri & sat night if you want me.

The length of time I have wanted you stretches approximately the length of time I've known you.

Approx? You thought I was hot immediately, am I right?

You were loud and drew all the attention in the room.Then you demolished the popcorn Gabriel made.Your hands were covered in sugar and I wanted to lick it off your fingers.

Christ, Dean texts back, face flushed, feeling shocked enough about the goddamn text message that he looks up to make sure Sam hasn’t noticed. He’s still slacked faced and staring at the TV, so he’s fine.

“Going up to the room,” Dean says, phone hot in his hand.

“Dean, we're half way through the movie,”

“I'm out,” Dean says, “Homework. All that Jazz.”

He shuts the door firmly before looking at his phone again. Holy shit.

I wanted to corrupt your home schooled uptight thing so bad.

How?

What are you doing right now?

Guess.

Holy shit, Dean texts back, slamming his eyes shut and taking a breath. Goddamnit. Seriously.

Does that bother you?

Bother me? No. Just had no idea you were a freaking don with dirty talk. I just had to vacate family viewing time to be alone. Hot damn, Castiel.

I do like the way you say my name.

Dean does not have enough privacy in the whole world for this conversation. No freaking lock. A bathroom he shares with a bunch of kids. He is so screwed. Instead, he lies face down on his mattress and tries to keep his thinking at least vaguely PG, even if Cas is making it damned difficult.

What do you wanna do on Friday night?

I have an idea, Cas texts back, ten whole minutes later, and his stupid fucking brain is only too happy to fill in the gap. He gets a ‘I miss you’ next, which makes his chest ache.

They wind up texting until the second movie’s finished and Sam comes upstairs to find him glued to his phone.

The ‘cooling down period’ is pretty much shot to hell after that, because he can't get Cas out of his head.

*

He waits for Cas in the parking lot the next morning. He’s early from dropping Sam off at some nerd group (running tech for a show, apparently) and has spent the last forty five minutes reading the assigned part of the textbook from Human Biology. He gives up on the damn thing when other people start to arrive, though, leaning on the hood of the car until Cas pulls up and parks a few spaces away.

Gabriel sees him there, rolls his eyes, claps Cas on the shoulder and walks in the opposite direction, which is good, because it means when Cas walks over to him he feels absolutely zero levels of awkward about dragging him in for a proper kiss.

“Are we still ‘being casual’?” Cas asks, pulling back enough to drill into him with that fucking stare.

“We can talk about that at the weekend,” Dean says, because he doesn't really want to acknowledge that as a real thing right now. They get told off for ‘inappropriate school behavior’ by Henriksen, but it's basically worth it.

Anyway, he studied for the damn Human Biology test before Cas showed up, so Henriksen can go screw himself.

Chapter Text

Dean feels nervous on Friday night in a way that he wasn't expecting when he was shoving his crap into a bag this morning, frantically grabbing his books and his toothbrush. He'd been in a good mood all day, but now he's actually driving to the Miltons this low grade, non-crippling (but still crappy) anxiety has seeped into his bloodstream.

Spending pretty much a whole weekend with Cas should not be a big deal. Except, they haven't had that much time since their jaunt across Kansas where Cas said he was in love with him, Dean spilt his soul and they had sex, which was about as intense as their relationship has ever been, and he thinks he still probably needs them to steer clear of that. He’s self aware enough to admit that how deep his feelings for Cas scares the crap out of him, he just doesn’t know who he’d admit that too.

There’s only three people he’d put in the same realm as caring as Cas: one of them’s dead; the other walked out and he’s being slowly and painfully detangled from the third.

Cas is going to college. He's going to leave right when Dean’s going to lose Sam and there's a high chance that he's gonna lose his mind. He’ll get in his car and drive, but this time Cas will be wherever and Sam will be at Sonny's, unable to leave, and John Winchester won't ever know anything about it.

It's going to be so goddamn hard and he's got no choice but to fucking deal with it when the storm breaks. Cas has a point, though, in that cutting each other off now is only going to mean he’ll be pinning in the same damn city. There’s no winning here, which is the story of his whole goddamn existence; just losing, over and over, sometimes gradually.

The first thing Cas does when he gets through the door is ask him about his charity application. He's already researched the damn charity, found a forum of people who've got experience of them and found and read over the application form, because he's Castiel and of course he has. And this, right here, is why it's gonna be so fucking hard; because Cas is awesome and he’s got his back in a way that no one’s ever seemed to have done.

Sam doesn’t count, because he’s a kid and he can’t do anything, however hard he tries. Sonny and Ellen and even Singer are looking out for him as a mixture of duty and giving a damn, but it’s the kind of giving-a-damn that’s a blanket policy. They’d care if it were anyone. They just care. Cas cares about him in particular.

“From what I've read, they want to give you money and they respond positively to ninety percent of applications that meet their minimum suitability requirements - that you've been emancipated from care and don't have joint finances with a partner. It's more for them to gauge the correct holistic approach to help you most,” Cas says, frowning at the notes he wrote, because apparently Dean spent long enough trying to do his World History make up assignment in Henriksen’s empty classroom that Cas had enough time to write notes. “Dean.”

“What I'm getting from that, is if they reject me I really screwed up the damn form,” Dean says, propping his feet up on one of the Milton’s other dining room chairs.

“Sometimes they give one off grants and sometimes they provide income for a period of a certain number of months,” Cas says, “They seem excellent and I'm currently in the process of getting Hester to donate money to them.”

“Save the excellence until they haven't rejected me,”

“The other 10% they signpost or refer to more appropriate organisations,” Cas says, “Although there’s no statistics for how successful their referrals are.”

“Great news,” Dean says, “What the hell am I supposed to write under ‘tells us about your story’?”

“Tell them about your story,” Cas says, frowning at him.

“Yeah but where do I start? With Ellen getting dragged in and being funnelled out to Sonny's -?”

“With your mother,”

“What the hell has my mom got to do with this?”

Cas looks at him for a long moment.

“Dean, the way some charities access charitable donations from grants and funds is buying quoting figures about them about the demographic of people they help, and there are certain grants that specifically pay into certain kinds of situations -”

“You mean I get points cause my mom’s dead?”

“They'll also have pots of money for care leavers whose parents were in prison, who have previous convictions themselves, who were removed from their parents by the state -”

“Better write down that I've got a conviction for stealing peanut butter then,” Dean says, “Could hit the jackpot.”

“You don't have to tell them how any of it made you feel, you just have to relay the facts.”

“‘How I feel’ is question three, smart ass,”

“How you feel about leaving care not about your mother. Dean, you told me this story, surely that's more difficult than writing this down.” Cas says, sounding so goddamn reasonable, it’s difficult to argue with him.

It’s different, though. It’s different because he was just telling Cas (and even then he skimped the details) and this is him writing it down and asking some nameless, faceless person to feel sorry for him enough that they’ll give him money. He’s asking for pity and help and, okay, he asks for those things from Cas all the damn time, but that’s different. Totally fucking different.

“Yeah but you're cute and I wanted to fool around with you and you helped me with my homework; totally different.”

“Stop trying to distract me from the point,” Cas says, narrowing his eyes slightly, “We’re at least starting on this form.”

“Wasn't trying to,”, Dean says, running a hand over my face. “So I say, my mom died when I was four and after that we moved around a lot. My dad started leaving us on our own when I was twelve and Sam was eight.”

“You were twelve,” Cas says, eyebrows drawing together.

“It wasn't for weeks then; it was just a couple of nights. A weekend, maybe, and he used to make sure there was enough food before he took off. Mostly.”

“He used to.”

Cas’ voice is dangerous.

“That kind of wound up being my job after I hit fourteen. It was easier when I started working when I was fifteen and then it would be a week; two. They don't need to know that crap, though,” Dean says, writing ‘I often took care of my brother’ and leaving it at that. “Mom died; moved around a lot; took care of my brother; Dad disappeared for longer than normal. Figure he wasn't coming back when we got evicted. Homeless and sofa surfing till I slipped up. Then I wound up at Sonny’s. Fine, done.”

“Dean,”

“This form is bullshit,” Dean says, pushing it away from him, “I don’t need this crap.”

“You do,” Cas says, taking the form from him gently, “I understand you don’t want to need this, but you do, which is why this organisation exists,” Cas says, before looking at the form again, “Do you have any known family members?”

“Just Dad and Sammy. I might have a grandfather still kicking, but if he hasn’t sought us out in the last fourteen years I’m pretty sure he don’t count.” Dean says, as Cas writes that down.

“I’m putting that you’re in full time education and have a job,” Cas says, “How much is your wage?”

“It’s tipped pay, so it’s whatever. They’re supposed to make it up to something. A percentage of minimum wage, cause I’m still at school. I just take the money and pay for gas for my baby.”

“It wants an average for the past few months,” Cas says, “Do you have access to your bank statements?”

“Online,” Dean says, as Cas pushes the laptop in his direction, “You’re gonna judge how broke I am.”

“Dean, I don’t pay for my own gas, because I don’t have an income at all and never have. I am not in a position to judge you. I’m just lucky.”

“Fine,” Dean says, logging in, swallowing at the figure, then pushing it back in his direction. Given his expenses no longer include the odd night in a motel room, he should be doing better than he is right now. He pretty much cleaned himself out by driving halfway across the state and hasn’t recovered it yet. It doesn’t help that it’s a long ass drive to and from school. “Three months statements. Now excuse me while I hit my head off the desk.”

“They want to know your current bank balance too,” Cas says, writing down a bunch of numbers on the corner of his note pad. “Do you expect to stay in your current employment?”

“Well, what the fuck else am I going to do?” Dean asks, voice coming out a little rawer than either of them were expecting. “If they even wanna keep when they have to pay me more, or if they want me to do more hours. Haven’t exactly been a stellar employee, with the whole sleeping in my car thing. I’ve worked since I was fifteen, but that don’t count for jackshit, cause it was all people hiring me cause I was cheap. Don’t have references for the rest cause we moved so damn often, but…” Dean trails off, swallows, “Just put maybe. I’ll talk to my boss next week.”

“How do you feel about leaving care?”

“Like they’re ripping my heart out of my fucking eye and then beating me round the head with it.”

“Dean,”

“I’m failing Sam, Cas.”

“The only person who’s failed your brother is your father,”

“Well he deferred responsibility onto me,” Dean says, “Look, I know it’s not my goddamn fault, but if you wanna know how I feel; there it is.” Dean takes a breath and meets Cas’ gaze again. He’s still got a pen hovering over that part of the application, gaze lasered in his direction. “This probably isn’t the goodtime you were expecting when you invited me over, huh?”

“I anticipated filling this in to be a battle,” Cas says, “We can take a food break.”

“No,” Dean says, “I wanna put this thing to rest and have a good evening with my freaking boyfriend. Let’s just, do as much as we can now, then get rid of it.”

“You need two references.”

“Sonny and Principal Singer. Done. I’ll ask them both next week.”

“Then there’s just the final question. Why are you applying for this grant?”

“Okay, I can do that one,” Dean says, taking it back off Cas and clenching his jaw.

“I’ll put the burgers on,”

“We’re having burgers? You flirt,” Dean says, twisting the pen through his fingers for a few times, then beginning to write. I’ve got this little brother who I’ve been looking out for since our Mom died. “Let me know if you need help.”

“They’re not handmade,” Cas says, “Which is probably for the best.”

He looks up to me because I was the one to cook him dinner and drive him to school and that’s how it works. He’s smart, stubborn and resilient and he wants to go to college and do something awesome with his life. .

“Hey, we got there with the chopping in the end,” Dean says, without looking up from the sheet.

I’m not gonna go to college or do anything else important, but I’m the only family he’s got now, so I need to be there for Sam. I need to do something for myself to stop him worrying about me so much he messes up school. .

“You’re impossible.”

He got in trouble for the first time ever a few weeks ago and I’m worried all the crap from his childhood is catching up with him. I need my life stable so I can carry on supporting him.

Dean doesn’t answer, grip tightening on his pen, heart rate picking up a bit. It shouldn’t be. All he’s writing is a damn application, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference to his internal organs.

Right now, I’m trying to pass high school and work and be there for Sam and work out what’s gonna happen next and it’s too much. I’ve been doing this on my own for a long time and I haven’t done all of it right. My choices meant me and my brother were sofa surfing rather than getting help. I don’t like asking for help, but my brother deserves better than my pride getting in the way of what’s best for him again.

“I’m done,” Dean says, standing up, putting distance between himself and the stupid piece of paper. “I’m gonna take a leak.”

“Can I read it?”

“Knock yourself out,” Dean says, “Just don’t set fire to the place in the next two minutes.”

Cas sends him a look that would probably make him smile, if he hadn’t just poured his heart out to a static piece of paper in a desperate plea to not end up sleeping in his car.

He’s a little less shaky when he comes back into the room, until Cas fixes him with this intense look of something that’s like a mix of furious empathy and frustration.

“You,” Cas exhales, back straight, gaze paralysing, “Are the most self deprecating most infuriating, wonderful, most ridiculous individual I have ever - Dean. You deserve to catch a break because you deserve to catch a break, not because, damnit,” Cas says, then Dean’s being pulled into an angry hug, Cas’ hands grappling to clutch on to him. Dean’t not complaining, really, because all he’s wanted since he walked in was a fucking hug.

It seems like the natural progression for Cas to kiss him (freaking finally), which seems to take the heat off his frustration, because by the time he has to step away to deal with the smoke alarm he looks a little less het up.

“Damnit,” Cas mutters, and goes to deal with the burnt burgers.

*

Everything is fine on the taking-is-slow, semi-casual thing (as casual as you can be when you’re getting someone to smear your heart all over an application that’s going to potentially stop you from sleeping on the street, anyway), throughout dinner and the first episode of the dumb cop show Dean insisted they watch. And then Cas looked at him when Dean was halfway through one of his jerky-wisecracks and smiled, and then he curled a hand under his jaw and kissed him, and then it all went to hell.

Dean hit pause on the damn show at the point where Cas crawled into his lap, because he already had to explain half the popular culture references and he’s so not explaining the plot, too. Anyway, he doesn’t care about the dumb show right now, and the background dialogue was distracting him from the wonder that is Cas’ bottom lip, and his eyes, and his everything.

“I've decided,” Cas says, still kissing him into the sofa, so that Dean's jammed against the armrest in a way that would probably suck if he wasn't so distracted by his goddamn boyfriend. “That, generally, it's considered good etiquette to put off breaking up with someone until after their birthday, or exams, or a marked special occasion. So. It would be more polite if we didn't consider it until after we've finished our finals.”

His brain is just about in gear enough to register that Cas is scheduling the talk that Dean said they’d have this weekend, right now.

“Cas, it's February.”

“Valentine's Day.”

“Was last week. We had our low key thing.”

“Yes, well, some holiday’s have lasting effects. And then it's nearly my birthday. Then finals. Really, it would be more prudent to ignore the fact it might ever happen,” Cas says, chasing down his lips again.

Dean creates as much personal space as he can in this current position, when he’s squashed up against the arm of the Milton’s sofa, with Cas pretty much straddling him.

“That's… that's what you wanna do?”

“Yes. I want to pretend it's not happening until high school finished. And then it would be a shame to ruin the last high school vacation, so perhaps … I think I'll leave in September. We can review the situation in August.”

“August.”

“Late August,” Cas says, kissing him again, pressing his lips to Dean’s neck, “Which is six months away, and,” Cas kisses him again, “That's long enough away that psychology suggests it might be better not to concern ourselves with -”

“Hold on a sec,” Dean says, as Cas backs away slightly to look at him. “Let me just get this clear. You wanna… just, you want us not to talk about this till late August.”

“Yes.”

“So we just, pretend it’s not gonna happen till right before you go, then we call time. We just accept that it’s gonna happen, then, and ignore it.”

“Do you have a better solution?”

“No,” Dean says, swallowing, “But, you’re sure? You don’t wanna talk about it until then?”

“I don’t want to talk about it then either,” Cas says, voice turning sharper, “If it’s this unchangeable inevitability like you’re suggesting, I don’t see why discussing it is necessary.”

“So one day we’re gonna be done, just like that.”

“I’ve heard the conversation part of breaking up is unpleasant for both parties,” Cas says, voice full of dark humour, unfamiliar, “Let’s skip it.”

“Cas,”

“You can help me pack for college and then tell me to drive safe and I will take my cue to leave. I do not intend to be another destructive force in your life, Dean. I can bow at graciously at the right time without causing you further pain, I just ask that you won’t make me dissect it in detail before then.”

“You know it’s gonna be killing me too, right? All of it.”

“Yes,” Cas says, “Which is why I’m not going to make you spell it out.”

“Okay,” Dean says, through the lump in the back of his throat, “Just let me know if you change your mind.”

“Of course,” Cas says, then, humorlessly, “I won’t hold out hope for you to change yours.”

Dean clenches his jaw.

“There’s nothing to change,” He says, reaching for the remote and hitting play again. It takes another three episodes for the tension in the air to evaporate enough for Cas to kiss him again, slowly, dragging it out.

Dean turns off the damn TV altogether and gives himself up to it.

*

On Saturday, he calls Sam after his shift at the dinner to check in and he’s just as fine as expected. He’s helping Sonny with some farm-work, whatever that means, and he’s going round to Kevin’s house later for them to work on some project for school. He tells Dean to have a good time with an audible smirk, which means Sam’s happy enough that he’s spending time with Cas properly again that it eclipses his knee jerk grossed out reaction that usually comes with any hint of Dean’s sex life (not that there has been a sex life since their talk; last night they made out for like, hours, and then went to bed to freaking cuddle. They talked about tonight, though, so there’s that). He sits in the car for a little while before putting his baby into gear and setting off back to the Milton’s.

When he gets there, Cas is cooking. Three pans on the stove, laptop playing youtube instructional videos propped up on the windowsill, muttering very mild profanities at the block of cheese he’s grating, cooking.

“Dude,” Dean says, standing in the front door and staring at him, eyes wide.

“I’m… making dinner,”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Dean says, walking towards him, glancing at the pans, “Whatcha cooking, good looking?”

“Lasagne,”

“Seriously?”

“I,” Cas says, looking flustered, “Theoretically. I underestimated the complexity.”

“I can help,”

“No,” Cas says, “I’m doing a nice thing for you.”

“You mean you’re my stepford wife,”

“Sit down and be quiet,” Cas says, shooting him a look. He’s not really angry, though, and his expression softens a little when Dean grins at him, relenting enough to let Dean kiss him.

“Okay,”

“Did you want to check in with your brother?” Cas asks, because he’s a fucking wonder like that.

“Called him after my shift. He’s fine.”

“Good,” Cas says, “How was work?”

“I survived,” Dean says, “Dude, you don’t have to cook me a freaking lasagne and I can definitely help.”

“I am aware that there is no obligation or anything coercing me into cooking for you,” Cas says, squinting at the youtube video of some vaguely attractive dude layering up sauce and frowning, “Now, stop distracting me.”

“How many times have you watched this video?”

“This one, seven,” Cas says, his ever intense glare still directed at his laptop. There’s a shopping list in Castiel’s neat, deliberate handwriting stuck to the fridge and he’s halfway through unpacking the groceries. “He made it look easiest.”

It looks a helluva lot like Cas, who’s cooked about three meals in his lifetime, spent most of the day planning out this whole dinner thing. For Dean. He’s got no idea what to do with that.

“Might take a shower,” Dean says, swallowing, “I smell like diner food.”

Cas pauses the video to turn to look at him, tilting his head in Dean’s direction.

“What we discussed yesterday,” Cas says, eyeing him seriously, even though he’s got tomato sauce smeared above his eyebrow, “Do you…?”

“So that’s your game, huh?” Dean says, smirking at him, even though he’s not sure he feels quite as confident as he’s projecting. They got intense again, fast, and he’s not sure he even regrets it. “Seduce me with pasta dishes.”

“You look after people,” Cas says, helplessly.

“Don’t do much by way of looking after you,” Dean counters, drinking him in, with his dumb commitment to Dean self-worth issues and this hopelessly lovely gesture. He hasn’t done enough good in Cas’ life for him to be cooking him fucking dinner, after everything else he’s already done, but Cas looks at him like there’s nothing Dean could say to convince him of that fact. “Wish I had more to give you. You deserve it. You deserve all kinds of nice shit that I just…”

Cas cuts him off by kissing him, which is good. Really good.

“Dean,”

“Yes, about yesterday. Message received,” Dean says, kissing him again and pausing to taste one of the sauces on the way out, sending him a grin that’s much cockier than he’s feeling, “Thanks for dinner, Cas.”

Cas smiles like his thanks, too late in the conversation with his appreciation badly communicated, makes the whole fucking thing worth it. That causes a violent wave of something that starts in his chest and settles in the back of this throat, painful but good and unnameable. There’s some kind of conflict, too, between that voice in the back of his head screaming that it’s not worth this kind of effort and that desire to rearrange everything so he can hang onto this exact moment. He feels like even if he doesn’t deserve it, not for a hot second, that isn’t going to stop him from clinging onto it as long as possible.

Food smelt good before his shower, but afterwards it smells amazing and he’s suddenly starving.

“Holy crap,” Dean says, “Cas, you’re a freaking culinary genius. I take back all my comments about chopping. You’re Gordon Ramsey with a bed head.”

“You haven’t eaten anything yet,” Cas says, “Five minutes.”

“Pretty sure that the chef doesn’t do the dishes, too,” Dean says, “So sit your ass down and let me.”

“No,”

“Cas, come on, this is already the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me,”

“It’s dinner,”

“You watched like a million youtube videos and drove to walmart,” Dean counters, sitting down at the table, which Cas has already set.

“Do you want a beer?”

“Uh,” Dean says, “Feel kinda weird about stealing alcohol from your aunt, given how many times she’s saved my ass.”

“I stole them from Gabriel, who stole them from Balthazar.”

“In that case,” Dean shrugs, “This is an awesome Saturday.”

“I don’t think we should do any homework this evening,”

“I’m sold,” Dean says, watching Cas, in Hester’s apron and washing up gloves, balance the saucepan on the draining rack before heading for the fridge.

“We both deserve a break,”

“No justification needed here, Sweetheart,” Dean says, chest tight because, goddamn. Cas. It’s apparently the right thing to say, because Cas pauses to kiss him, hard, before delivering his beer.

The food is great.

Getting Cas to watch Final Destination is better, because his pinched confusion and mixed disapproval and amusement is fucking adorable, and his impassioned pleas with the characters on screen are hilarious.

*

Cas professes not to feel left out by not accompanying Hester, Innias and Gabriel to visit Anna (they asked if he wanted to go, apparently), but Dean’s not entirely sure he buys it. He’s pretty sure being an outsider in the only family he’s got has got to feel pretty lonely, but that conversation somehow segways into Dean’s extended family and the plausibility of tracking down a grandfather he barely remembers if he’s even alive. Cas thinks he doesn’t want to meet his father’s other family, period, and say’s more about his homeschooling than he’s ever done before.

As Dean is a dumbass, that somehow gets on to sex-ed, because apparently Cas had the birds and bees explained to him by ex-nun who didn’t take to well to Castiel asking deadpan questions for forty five minutes after the subject was broached.

“Don’t ever change, Cas,” Dean says, grinning, turning his head to look at them. They’ve been lying side-by-side on Cas’ bed talking for long enough, in an empty house, having already discussed their plans for this evening in the vaguest terms, that something had to be the catalyst. Cas turning to meet his gaze head on with such open affection, as relaxed as Dean’s ever seen him, drinking in the compliment with a smile is enough for Dean.

They’re not touching, at all, and then he’s pulled the guy flush against him, seeking out skin. Cas is still pushy in that hapless way where he kind of has no idea what’s he’s doing, but is still comfortable enough at pushing boundaries to take over. That’s how it works; Dean sets the pace, Cas meets it enthusiastically enough that Dean wants to forget about the whole freaking pace in the first place.

His head is being louder than it usually is when he has Cas pulling Dean’s shirt up and over his head, or at least louder than it has been for a while. Before, it used to be a stream of Cas doesn't know you've got nowhere to sleep you can’t do this and slow it down and you’re letting him too close, but now his brain is screaming that Cas loves him. That Cas really fucking loves him. That he pencilled in time for him to call Sam and cooked him food and schedule in an evening off after battling with that application yesterday. He feels like if he can get close enough his brain might shut up, but everything feels intense and serious in a way that he can process. He can’t deal with how easy it is to fall into how much he cares about Cas.

“Cas,” Dean exhales, “you know I, that I -”

“That this particular act is new for you,”

He's pretty sure that's not what he was going to say, but that's safer. Better. True.

“Yeah,” Dean says, “I have no idea what I'm doing,”

Cas shifts, so that he's more or less settled on Dean’s thighs, hands stilling on his hips. They've both still got their jeans on and Cas his top, so it’s early doors really. There’s no reason for his heart to be hammering and for him to feel so much, this exact second.

“This is one of the things I asked the nun about,” Cas says, with the kind of expression that means he knows that's hilarious.

“You're fucking kidding me.”

“She was quite horrified,” Cas says, smirking a little, “but it seemed the logical next question after she affirmed two men could also have sex.”

“Jesus Christ,” Dean says, but the intense wedge of feeling has dissipated slightly, with a soft amusement taking its place.

“I've always been quite literal,” Cas says, “So there were a number of follow up questions on that topic. In the end we covered it quite thoroughly.”

“So I should trust you ‘cause a nun told you how it works?” Dean scoffs, smirking, seeking out Cas’ shirt to pull him in for a kiss, “Cause that's reassuring,”

“But you're relaxed now,” Cas says, close and in his ear, “So it worked.”

Dean actually laughs at that.

“When did you get so confident with this crap?”

“You asked me to trust you,”

“And that was that,” Dean says, chest aching, “Cas I…’”

“Hmm?”

“i really think you should lose your shirt.”

“Happily,” Cas says, pulling it over his head and kissing him again.

*

He leaves the Milton’s after a morning of homework and staring dopily at his boyfriend for minutes on end, with the intention of getting back to Sonny’s for Sunday dinner.

He’s greeted by Sam giving him hell for being in a better mood than he has for years, following him around Sonny’s like he’s got nothing else to do with his damn time and immediately wishes he’d stayed until the Milton’s got home instead.

“You love him,” Sam says, trailing after him as he enters the kitchen.

“We’re not talking about this,” Dean says, which is obviously a mistake, because now he’s given Sam some material to work with.

“Dean, come on,” Sam says.

“Sonny,” Dean says, reaching past the guy to get himself a glass, “Tell Sam to butt out of my business,”

“Sorry, kiddo, that’s outside my remit,” Sonny says, clapping him on the shoulder, “Although your brother might note that, generally, following someone around when they don’t wanna talk isn’t a successful interrogation technique.”

“Thank you,” Dean says, glaring at his brother and getting himself a glass of water.

“You have a good weekend?”

“Cas cooked him a romantic dinner,” Sam says.

“Shut your face,” Dean says, “You need help with food, Sonny?”

“All covered,” Sonny says, “Sam, you mind bringing Tommy in here? He wanted to help stir when the time was right.”

“Sure,” Sam says, glancing between them for a second, before deciding that whatever it is that Sonny wants to talk to him about alone, he’s not going to make a point of it.

“Got some post for you. On the desk in my office. Go ahead.”

“Post,” Dean says, frowning, “No one knows I live here.”

“Take your time,” Sonny says, in a way that implies he might need time.

Dean nods, even though Sonny could be talking about anything and takes his glass of water to Sonny’s office.

He’s never been in there before, but his post is easy enough to find: face up on the middle of the desk, an A4 envelope addressed in his name.

He hasn’t got anywhere in working out what the hell it could be when he opens it, but he’s certainly not expecting a letter telling him he got into college.

There’s no real reason why that should make him furious, either.

*

Sonny comes to find him outside thirty minutes later, sat on the hood of the impala, letter clutched in his right hand in only a t-shirt. He’s bought him a jacket out and leans next to him when Dean accepts it and pulls it over his shoulders.

“I’m still not going,” Dean says, glaring out across Sonny’s land, empty hand clenched into a fist.

“Hey, Dean, it’s your choice,”

“Wish people would stop saying crap like that. It’s not my choice. I didn’t get full funding. I don’t have the money. And I can’t. I can’t do it. I can’t fucking do it. I used to be keeping my shit together, but right now I’m a heading towards a freaking cliff at two hundred miles an hour. I need brakes not to jump from struggling through school every freaking day into another classroom, while Sam’s drifting further away. I can’t do it and I wish none of you had clubbed together to force me into filling in the shitty application in the first place because I can’t deal with this.”

He doesn’t know where the threat of angry-tears are coming from, but they’re coming, and he’s fed up of this emotional crap. He’s fed up of feeling all the damn time. Right now, he wishes he could extinguish all of it: Cas, the future, his Dad, Sam.

“We didn’t want you to miss your slot ‘cause you weren’t ready to make a decision at the time,” Sonny says, after a few long moments of silence, “We just wanted you to have options.”

“This,” Dean says, brandishing the letter at him, grip on it tightening, “Is not an option.”

“Okay,” Sonny says, and the car shifts a little as he stands up, pockets his stand, looks at him like he’s actually listened. “I’m serving food in ten.”

He joins them for food after he’s had enough time to calm down, but not before he rips up the damn letter and bins it in Sonny’s office so Sam definitely won’t see it.

*

He’s early to his weekly meeting with Principal Singer on Monday because Sam’s just rejoined the pre-school calculus club and Dean dropped him off. He's there when Singer arrives, even if he's leant against the wall texting Cas about his math homework and barely notices when he actually shows.

“You coming in or what?” Singer asks, opening the door and raising an eyebrow at him.

“There's a guy online offering five hundred for the car. Said he'd do an extra fifty if I can drive it out to him. It's about a thirty minute drive,” Dean says, not sitting down like he normally does. He’s not in the mood right now and is determined to get out of his office as soon as possible, just in case he asks about college.

“And can you?”

“Drive it out to him?” Dean asks, “Yeah. Probably. I'll need a recruit. Could try and do it some point this week.”

Singer opens his top drawer and pulls out the keys.

“Pick her up whenever you want,” Singer says, “And bring by the money the next morning.”

“Okay,” Dean says, pocketing the keys and folding his arms, “Can I go now?”

“Does it look like I’m holding you hostage?” Principal Singer asks, rolling his eyes.

He spends the rest of the half an hour before school starts listening to Metallica in his car.

*

On Wednesday evening, his bad mood’s shifted enough that he talks Cas into helping him go sell the car. The guy’s apprehensive enough about driving a car he’s never driven before that Dean has a minor internal crisis about the only practical option.. In the end, he has to push past his reservation and get over his anxiety and every fibre of his being that’s protesting against it, and they spend half an hour in the empty parking lot with Dean talking Cas through driving the Impala. It’s one of the most tense and nerve wracking thirty minutes of his life, but after Cas kisses him and doesn’t immediately crash into a wall, Dean’s convinced enough that he can white-knuckle his way through thirty more minutes of Cas driving his baby in order to get Singer off his back.

The second they’ve dropped the car off and Dean’s pocketed the five fifty in cash, he kicks Cas out of the driver’s seat and spends a couple of minutes apologising to his baby for letting her out of his sight.

“I find it strange that you trusted me to fuck you, but not to drive your car,” Cas says, after they’re back on the road and heading back to the Milton’s. Hester has invited him over for dinner, which will probably be still awkward even if she’s happier now she knows they’ve got a prearranged breakup coming up.

“Shut your face,” Dean says and turns the radio up, but he spends half the journey with a hand resting on his knee.

*

On Thursday he goes in early and walks straight into the Principal’s office.

“Five fifty,” Dean says, pulling the cash out of his wallet and setting it on the table.

“Okay,” Principal Singer says, pulling out a battered old journal and sliding it across to him. “Balance the books. Here's a clue, paid a hundred dollars for her. Work it out. I’m getting coffee.”

“You heard of a freaking computer?” Dean asks Singer’s retreating back, staring at his paper spreadsheet. There's a invoice for spare parts stapled to the page. It's not hard math. Much easier than the bullcrap in his homework, anyway. It's mostly self explanatory.

By the time Singer has come back with two cups of coffee, he's filled in the sheet and attached the makeshift receipt he gave the guy to make the whole thing feel more legit.

"Two fifty dollars profit," Dean says, as Singer passes him the second coffee.

"Mhm," Singer says, pulling out another page of his journal and writing an invoice. An invoice payable to Dean.

“This is some funny looking business extra credit, Sir,”

“Call it a practical example. You just made two hundred dollars. Congratulations. I’ll give you a clue for the take away: you got a skill that pays cold hard cash, you use it.” Singer says, eyeing him. “I hear you’ve made your mind up about college. Fine. You still ought to be seriously thinkin’ about how to put food on the table and I still think you should go, at some point. Doesn’t have to be now.”

“What happens to the other fifty dollars?”

“I run a school and a business, not a damn charity,” Singer says, “And it ain’t really a business lesson if the guy at the top doesn’t screw you a little.”

Dean stares at him for a few long seconds.

“Could fix that shitty Piraeus up in a couple of hours.”

“Good answer,” Singer says, expression tilting into approval, “I can’t employ you. There’s two pieces of junk in that place worth fixin’ and this ain’t exactly kosher. Got a man still in the business who I can give your name to.”

“So this is a job interview?” Dean asks, staring at him, not touching his coffee.

“Call it whatever you damn well please, boy. You want me to make the call to Rufus?” Singer says, “He’s a rude bastard with no manners and he won’t put up with any of your bullcrap lip, but he takes on people with potential and I’ve got his ear.”

“I, yeah,” Dean says, swallowing, “That’d be good.”

“You need a high school diploma or GED, mind,” Singer says, writing a note for himself down, “And the Piras is yours for a hundred if you think you can make money on it. You wanna take your money and run out my office like you did on Monday, now’s your moment, but I’ve got the next half an hour free if you wanna talk about it.”

Dean’s still for a minute, thinking, processing. He’s not entirely sure what just happened in the last fifteen minutes of his life.

“I got accepted to college,” He says, pulling his coffee towards him and squaring his shoulders, “And I need you as a reference for the application to that charity.”

*

Castiel point blank refuses to accept his share of the fifty extra dollars he got because Cas helped him drop the car off, even though it’s obviously rightfully his, so Dean insists on using the twenty five dollars on the promise of an actual date where they go somewhere at the weekend.

He buys a charger for their old laptop when he gets back to Sonny’s and puts the rest in the bank.

He submits his application to the charity on Saturday morning, after Cas, Sonny and Principal Singer have read over it.

He thinks he might just about have hope.

Chapter Text

Castiel hears back from Yale halfway the second week in March, two days after Charlie found out she got into her second choice (and not her first) and about a week after the whole freaking senior year slipped into a college-fuelled-stress-haze.

Dean’s past the point where thinking about college makes his blood pressure spike, but he’s still selfish enough not to want everyone to be talking about it all the fucking time, and apparently he’s been projecting that enough that Cas doesn’t even tell him when the letter arrives. He only finds out because Hester, who usually takes Dean’s car parked outside and the Cas’ bedroom door being shut to leave them alone, actually goes through the effort of knocking on the door the second she gets home from work.

They’re just doing homework (well, they’re both just doing Dean’s homework, but whatever), which is thankfully obvious when Cas invites her in immediately. She’s beaming when she opens the door and has crossed the room and pulled Cas into a hug before either of them have realised it’s going to happen. Cas is the kind of comically-confused you’d expect someone who was basically never hugged as a child to be and Dean is just downright lost for all of two seconds.

“Yale!” Hester says, beaming, then trying to smooth out his hair, “Our Castiel. Yale. We always said you were bright. I’ve booked a restaurant to celebrate. Your uncle will meet us there. Dean, you’re very welcome, of course. Our treat. Yale.”

She dithers around for a few minutes, straightening out his bed sheets, smiling, every inch a proud parent even if she’s not exactly, before declaring that she’s going to leave them to their homework.

“Yale, huh,” Dean says, raising his eyebrows. There’s a part of him that wants to say closer than Stanford, at least, but he doesn’t want to give the wrong impression and because it still doesn’t make a difference. There’s a good reason Cas didn’t mention Yale. They’ve successfully managed to navigate around any potential conversation about the future for weeks. Talking about college is a hair breadth away from talking about the scheduled break-up and it's not like he's been open about getting a reply to his application, either (that's different, as far as Dean's concerned, because he's said that it was pointless the whole time; these letters actually affect Cas' future, Dean's was just a hoop-jumping exercise designed to give him an aneurysm. “And you get to go out to some fancy place for food. Good day all round.”

“You’re coming for the meal too,” Cas says, eyes narrowing slightly, “You already told Sonny you wouldn’t be around for dinner.”

“Cas, your Aunt’s already done way too much for me. She's not buying me dinner.”

“If it hurts your sensibilities, order something cheap,” Cas says, “Although it’s unnecessary and absurd. Anyway, I want you to come.”

“You knew about this whole thing,” Dean says, massaging his forehead, “Dude, you duped me.”

“Needs must,” Cas says, sagely.

“Evil freaking genius,” Dean mutters, “No wonder you just got into one of the best colleges in the goddamn world.”

“Dean,” Cas says, sounding slightly pleased, as that's cue enough for Dean to kiss him and mutter a soft ‘congratulations’ into his ear.

He goes for the cutesy family meal, because Cas asked him too and for that reason only, and orders something he actually wants and manage to dodge the whole college question being turned onto him, probably because Hester briefed Inias and everyone else knows better.

*

Sam’s out, which means their shared bedroom is almost a private space. Enough, at least, that he ends up initiating the kind of make out session with Cas that he wouldn't want anyone to witness, ever, and especially not his little brother. He throws the covers over both of them, pulling Cas close to him with the covers over their heads, breath hot as they kiss. And, fuck, do they kiss: Cas pressing his lips to his forehead, neck, lips.

Dean wraps his arms around Cas’ back and pulls him in, close, closer than he's ever been to fucking anyone, warm and hot and close, with the sheets twisted around them. Cas grabs a handful of his ass, with force, and Dean has to suck in a breath and put a hand on his chest to keep him at a distance. Damnit.

“There are way too many kids in this building,” Dean says, with both of Cas’ hands still on his ass, with his head spinning, and Cas curled up around him.

“Your brother's not here,”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “But my freaking guardian is,”

“Mine are around often and it doesn't seem to bother you,” Cas says which, as logic goes, is perfectly reasonable. Dean’s not all that sure why it’s different in his head, but it’s different enough that he needs to get significant distance between them immediately to cool the fuck down.

“Let's go for a drive,” Dean says throwing the covers off him and swinging his legs round off the bed. “Right now. Let's drive.”

“This feels like a euphemism,” Cas says, standing up.

“Bingo,” Dean says, “This is a giant ass farm, Cas, and I’m pretty damn sure Sonny’s land has a helluva lot more privacy than this room. If you want me to suck you off, get it my goddamn car.”

“Okay,” Cas says, dragging him into another kiss. The kind that has him pulling Cas into the space between his legs until he remembers he has a goddamn plan and that plan does not involve them staying here.

He gives Sonny a deliberately ambiguous going out, because he’s not all that comfortable lying to him, and he sure as hell isn’t going to tell him straight, which Sonny doesn’t push at, then he pulls baby out of Sonny’s farm. He has to loop back into the grounds half a mile down the road, pulling up not to far from one of his running routes.

“Okay,” Dean says, “This is about as private as my living situation can offer.”

He’s going to go into the fact that the nearest barn is empty but for some ancient ass farm equipment and they’re far enough off the road that no one’s coming, but then he's got a lap full of Castiel. A full on lap of Castiel and he has to make a point to turn off the engine and twist in the seat, so he has enough room to make out with him.

“Backseat,”

“Why do you have so many stipulations?”

“Fuck, Cas, I could look at you forever, but the hell am I knocking myself out on my goddamn steering wheel.”

Cas concedes and strips off his shirt before getting in the back and, fucking damn. They could be any couple of teenagers now, as Cas runs a thumb under the waistband of his jeans, cool as anything, except for the fact that his eyes give him away.

“Were there other options?” Cas asks, a knee wedged at the either side of Dean’s thigh, shifting back onto his knees to look at him. “Or is only oral sex available?”

“Whatever you want,” Dean says, surging up to kiss him again, an arm around his back pulling him in. There is not enough room for this. Cas isn't the biggest guy, but his baby is definitely not built for two dudes negotiating the backseat. At least when he's chucked out of Sonny's, if he gets an apartment he'll have some privacy.

Cas digs his thumbs into the corner of his jeans and Dean has to stop kissing him to work out the best way to kick them off his legs.

“Wait,” Dean says, before Cas can kiss him again. He has to push Cas off him, fully, to lean over and get the crap out the glove compartment.

“Have you done this before?” Cas asks, eyeing the condom, then the car.

“Never really had the parental supervision that meant it was needed,” Dean says, “Dad was always just… gone.”

“While this was obviously a bad thing, I can see how it would be more convenient than this,”

Dean barks a laugh, pulling at the belt hooks of Cas’ jeans to get him close again.

“Does Sonny know we're doing this?”

“Almost definitely,” Dean says, voice breaking slightly as Cas’ hands land on his ass again. “We can loop into town afterwards and pick up some sodas so it looks like we actually went somewhere if you want.” It's surprising how coherent he is, considering Cas has his hands in his boxers, now. “Or just, uh, rock the awkward.”

“Shush now, Dean,” Cas says, kissing him again, and that’s fine too.

*

“I’m hungry,” Cas declares, after they’re just driving needlessly under the guise of having something he can look in the eye and tell Sonny they were doing when he got back.

“Course you are,” Dean says, rolling his eyes, “There’s a okay-looking food joint three miles up the road. Can get you fed.”

“Good,” Cas says, settling most of the way over Dean’s side of the front seat, relaxed and freaking gorgeous. “You used to sleep in this car,”

“Sometimes,” Dean says, eyes fixed on the road.

“That must have been uncomfortable,”

“I mean, yeah,” Dean says, “But this car’s the closest thing I’ve had to a home, so it… yeah, it sucked, but it…”

“You love this car,”

“Damn right I do,” Dean says, “Grew up in this car. It's not like that was the first time I've slept in her, either. We used to pack up in the middle of the night and drive across state lines. There was this one night where Dad had been driving all day, all day, and we were in the middle of nowhere. Least another hour away from any motel, so he just parked up on the side of the road. Sam was asleep in the back, anyway, and Dad just turns to me and says goodnight, end of discussion. Sam woke up at two AM and decided he was scared of the dark and we, Dad was still asleep, so we sat on the hood and I started talking crap about the stars. Honestly, I made most of it up, but Sam ate it up, you know. We stayed up till the sun rose. Dad was pissed we hadn’t slept when he woke up, but…”

“Your childhood was very unusual,”

“You’re not exactly a member of the Bradys, Cas,” Dean says, “It wasn’t perfect, but it was ours, and I… I hate that this whole thing means I can’t say that without sounding fucked in the head.”

“You can say it to me,” Cas says, as earnest as ever, “I know you respected your father a great deal, before. It’s good to acknowledge that.”

“You pulling that shrink, point at my feelings and name them thing again?”

“Perhaps,” Cas says, corners of his lips softening as Dean pulls into the parking lot of the only fast food place remotely near Sonny’s farm, “Where did you park?”

They’ve been going out more often, recently. For food and movies and whatever the hell else, which has definitely been helping with the vaguely suffocating feeling that comes from sharing a room with his kid brother and the rest of his living space with a bunch of troubled boys with parental issues. He’s not sure what shifted, except maybe his willingness to let Cas pick up his bill on occasions. He's getting used to accepting help, right before it's all due to dry out.

“Uh,” Dean says, “Had a couple of places. Parked couple of streets away from the Milton’s a few times. Parked outside work, once, but that was fucking stupid. Near wherever Sam was, usually. I’m thinking we should get nachos and talk about something else.”

Cas fixes him with one of those looks for a moment before his gaze softens.

“Okay,” Cas agrees, “But we should revisit this.”

“Let’s see how the nachos are before we plan a return trip,” Dean says, which wins him an affectionate look he doesn’t really know how to deal with. Cas looking at him like his dumb comments are praise-worthy makes his gut ache, so he compromises by making them get the largest portion of nachos they sell and eating till he’s not thinking about it anymore.

*

They get back later than they really should do, with half a tray of pretty shitty nachos left and two cokes they've barely touched, because mostly they've been talking.

Dean puts both down on the hood of Cas’ car so he can pull him into a hug, which Cas settles in despite the fact that it's a forty five minute drive and fifteen minutes to his curfew. They kiss, long and slow, and then Cas makes him laugh with some dumb comment about his literature homework they never did.

“Hester's gonna be pissed at you,” Dean says, as Cas tucks his hands into Dean's pockets to warm them up.

“I'm a rebel now Dean,” Cas says, deadpan as anything, “Except I have a cause.”

Dean smiles at him and has to kiss him and it's another few minutes before he manages to talk Cas into his goddamn car, five minutes before his curfew, and tell him to tell Hester he's late before he sets off and not to drive like a freaking idiot.

“Goodnight, Dean,” Cas says, smiling, then Dean watches him pull out of Sonny’s holding the damn nachos and the soda he never really wanted in the first place.

“Hey,” Sonny says, sat in the kitchen, serious and piercing. He's been waiting up to talk to him. Dean can read him well enough to know that from the line of his shoulders, at this point.

"Hey," Dean returns, paused in the doorway.

“You know what you’re doing here, Dean?” He looks at him a little like he did when he told him he couldn’t stay after graduation. He’s worried about Dean. About Dean and Cas.

“Yeah,” Dean says, mouth slightly dry, because he did. He knew what he was doing. It just… got diluted by how much he freaking adores Cas. He had a plan. He had a plan.

He throws the nachos away rather than eating the rest of them and doesn’t really sleep.

*

“Gabe,” Dean says, sitting down a little too-close to Cas at lunch on Monday morning (the first he’s seen of the guy since Friday night, thanks to traffic and Sam oversleeping for the first time ever). Spending lunch invading Cas’ personal space seems to have been his staple for the past five months, which officially makes this the longest relationship he’s ever had by a long, long way. It’s definitely the only one to really count. “Can you tell your cousin it’s goddamn Monday and he has no right to look so freaking cheerful?”

“You know I like school,” Cas says, “Hello, Dean.”

“There’s liking school,” Dean says, “Which is dingo ate my baby crazy, by the way, and then there’s this freak show,” Dean says, gesturing, “Not even gonna talk about the last time I saw you this happy,”

“Please don’t,” Gabriel puts in, “You don’t even know what he’s so happy about yet. Dude’s an alien.”

“Cas?” Dean asks, tangling their hands together under the table, because why the hell not (there are reasons why the hell not, but he's been pushing most of them down and ignoring the crap out of them; yes, he doesn't get to keep Cas and, yes, he should probably listen to Sonny's unvoiced warning that he's getting in to deep but it all almost feels a little too late in the game. Holding his goddamn hand, as pathetic and cutsey as it is, isn't gonna change anything).

“I didn’t get into Harvard.”

“You,” Dean says, eyes narrowing, then his brain catches up. That’s where Castiel’s shitty father thought he should go; where Cas felt an obligation to go to, even though he didn’t want to out of spite. “Hey, congratulations.”

“Yes,” Gabriel says, rolling his eyes, “Well done, cuz, for celebrating rejection.”

“Hey, you managed to convince someone you aren’t totally awesome, I’m impressed.”

“Save me,” Gabriel says, “From this sap fest.”

“That was cute,” Charlie agrees, which has Dean flushing and Cas tightening his grip on his hand under the table.

“We should celebrate,” Dean says, running a thumb over his palm, “You free tonight?”

“The celebration window is already eaten up, bucko,” Gabriel says, “We’re getting pancakes.”

“Gabriel got into KU,” Cas supplies, “Which he could stand to be more cheerful about.”

“Dean’s right, school sucks,” Gabriel says, “Maybe you have the right idea about celebrating not getting in. Should’ve stuck with my original plan of the history of underage smoking for my admissions essay and using the form as an asswipe.”

“Also, he and Kali are ‘off’ again,” Castiel adds, “If you wanted, I’m sure you could take her seat at tonight’s festivities.”

“Fuck you,” Gabriel says, “I can get my own date. I’m gonna find a date right now.”

“To dinner with your parents?” Dean asks, “Okay, dude, good luck.”

“And fuck you,” Gabriel says, “Worst dude bro ever. You aint getting your hands on my pancakes.”

“Why’s Kali pissed at you?”

“Why’s Kali pissed at you?” Gabriel mimics back.

“Why’s Kali pissed at him?” Dean asks, turning to ask Cas.

“He invited her to dinner with her parents,” Cas says, “Which is ‘too serious’, apparently.”

“Huh,” Dean says, “Well fuck her. If you wanna celebrate with freaking pancakes cause you got into your first choice college, she should be asking you to pass her the maple syrup.”

Gabriel throws a bread rolls as his head, which Dean’s taking as affectionate because there’s no more swear words and he doesn’t insult him for the rest of the lunch hour.

*

The official celebration of Cas not getting into Harvard turns out to be after school coffee on Wednesday, because Dean’s managed to pick up some evening diner shifts which are going to help his bank balance if not his grades (he’s still not failing, though, even if he’s a long way away from doing well) and has sub-zero levels of time. Gabriel comes, too, on Dean’s promise that he’ll buy him a chocolate muffin if he stops moping about Kali and because Cas is the one with the transport back to the Miltons.

They hung out as a three a lot more at the beginning, anyway. It’s only recently that he’s been spending pretty much all of his time at the Milton’s in Cas’ room, studying, or watching movies, or making out. Gabriel was probably joking, but he has been a pretty shitty friend recently. Not just since Cas, either, but ever since John Winchester went awol. Ever since he started losing his head.

“Your fucktard ex got into Brown,” Gabriel tells him, when Dean brings over their coffees.

“Bela?” Dean says, “The level to which I don’t care, Gabe.”

“Just sayin’,” Gabriel says, “You and the smart ones.”

“I’ll have you know my boyfriend got rejected by Harvard,” Dean says, offering Cas a grin as he slides into the booth next to him with Gabriel’s muffin and the final coffee.

“Oh yeah, he’s a total dumbass,” Gabriel says, rolling his eyes, “What were Yale and Stanford thinking?”

Dean swallows back the desire to turn to Cas and say Stanford, huh? because he doubts the conversation would end in good things. In fact, he’s pretty sure if he pokes it at all it’s going to bloom into a full-blown argument and he doesn’t have time to argue with Cas right now. He’s got too many shifts, too much homework, too much to work out to have to fight through how crappy he feels all the goddamn time when they’re fighting. Anyway, he knows why Cas isn’t talking to him about college. He knows that.

“Thank you, universe, for providing the easiest fuck you to your piece of crap father,” Dean says, holding his coffee aloft.

“Here here,” Gabriel says, raising his own, “Here’s to sticking a finger up to Uncle Novak and finally being done with school.”

“Two months,” Castiel says, “I can’t relate to that sentiment, given I’ve only been in the education system for six months, but…”

“We still have finals,” Dean says.

“And spring break,”

“Working through it,” Dean says, grimacing at his coffee.

“Dean,” Cas says, “You need to make sure you have time to study.”

“Preaching to the choir,” Dean says, “Just, money.”

Money and the fact that, in his last Monday morning meeting with Singer, the Principal told him he'd passed on his information to his friend and had requested. The next day he had a call from an angry sounding guy called Rufus, asking if there was any chance he could come to the garage for a trial run because 'how do I know Bobby's bleeding heart aint getting in the way of his mouth' and it had to be a weekday because 'weekends existed for a damn good reason, which ain't working'. He's managed to schedule it so he'll be doing three days with Rufus and two days at the diner, leaving him with two full empty days to cram like crazy and try and do something with Sam. He's not working all day at any point, so it's theoretically doable. It's just not the ideal scenario when his redo history paper had him passing by one mark and they've gone past the part of chemistry he actually understands into the great unknown.

“Hey, didn’t you apply?” Gabriel asks, narrowing his eyes slightly, “Thought you two had some domestic over it. Where’s your college rejection stroke acceptance celebration? I’m thinking waffles, booze and women. The woman being for my benefit.”

“I’m not going,” Dean says, gaze remaining purposefully levelled at Gabriel. He’s managed to dodge this whole conversation turning back on him for a long time (the coming out as homeless thing helped with that, a lot) and he does not need this right now. Especially when he's pretty certain how Cas is going to react to the whole thing which, incidentally, is part of the reason he hadn't told him about it in the first place.

“But you got in?”

“Yeah.”

“Mazel tov,” Gabriel says, then shoves half the muffin in his mouth in one go.

“What does Sonny think about that?” Cas asks, voice level.

Not telling Cas hadn't been his initial intention. He'd been a shitty mood about it and therefore didn't want to talk about it, at all, up until the point that he got over it. Then it just hadn't really come up. He didn't want to talk about it. Going through it with Sonny and Singer had been enough and they turned out to actually listen to him when he put his foot down. Singer said he thought Dean should go, at some point, and Sonny had been remarkably willing to let Dean make the decision himself without weighing in at all. He just told him to make sure he was sure and to do whatever he thought was going to be best.

“That it’s my choice and it’s none of his business,” Dean says, turning to meet his gaze head on.

“He’s fine with you not taking the opportunity - ”

“ - I ripped up the acceptance letter like three weeks ago, Cas, you’re wasting your breath.”

Three weeks,” Cas says, voice dangerous, “And you didn’t think to mention it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry dude. Great news about Stanford, by the way. It was a real special moment for me when your Aunt told me about Yale, too.”

“Those things happened last week,” Castiel says, eyes narrowed, “Dean, you need to -”

“ - I have a plan, Cas, and it doesn’t involve college so will you quit trying to save me and you did the same freaking thing.”

“FYI,” Gabriel interjects, “This is the worst celebration coffee, ever, and you two have a communication problem. Now, excuse me while I make myself scarce by hitting on Kali’s nemesis over there. No one touch the rest of my muffin.”

“No one’s interested in your muffin,” Cas snap, “You have a plan, which you also did not mention.”

“Don't give me that passive aggressive bullcrap, Cas, you select stuff to tell me all the damn time.”

“Yes,” Cas agrees, “because if I push you over the limit of your emotional capacity, you run away and refuse to engage me in conversation.It's preemptive and entirely different to what you're doing, which is slowly writing me out of your plans altogether. Dean, you said you wouldn't do this. You said you wouldn't withdraw.”

“You're freaking withdrawing,” Dean counters, “You ever think that I just don't wanna talk about it? You’re not my goddamn shrink.”

“Well maybe someone should be,” Cas retorts, flushed and irritated, “Not talking about it isn't helping, Dean.”

“Because you're the expert on exactly what's best for me, huh? You ever asked me why I don't want to go to college? No. But you've gotta be right about this, because college is best for you and I'm too dumb to make my own decisions.”

“You didn't decide you didn't want to go, you decided you can't, which is fundamentally untrue -”

“ - and how the hell would you know that?”

“Which bit?” Cas asks, voice icy.

“Either,” Dean says.

“The fact that you got into college shows that you can go to college.”

“There’s a few extra puzzle pieces there, Cas, and I'm not exactly working from a full set. And, you know what, I'm not going. Conversation done. We’re not talking about this again.”

“Grow up, Dean,” Cas retorts, voice hot, twisting in his seat to glare at him. It’s a damn good thing that Gabriel’s good enough at reading social skills to disappear, at least, because the last thing he wants right now is an audience for their freaking domestic.

“Grow up? I've been paying the bills since I was fifteen and am two minutes away from being financially independent. I take objection by being told to grow up by someone who's never had a freaking job,” Dean snaps back, “You don't know a damn thing about going it on your own, so save your preaching for someone else. I'm out. In going to work. Screw this whole thing.”

“You're leaving,” Cas says, eyes narrowing.

“I'm not in the mood to dissect your crappy double standards right now,” Dean says, shoving his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket and standing up. “It's great about Stanford, by the way. Seriously. Great fucking job.”

Cas doesn't say anything as he watches him stalk to his car.

*

He gets his response from the charity before he and Cas have managed to achieve anything but vaguely passive aggressive messages and half ignoring each other at school, even if they’re not exactly not talking. They’re just… not making out in the corridors and sending copious amounts of texts the whole day.

They're going to match whatever he can save before he moves out of Sonny’s, dollar for dollar. They’re going to help him with a percentage of his housing costs for the first three months. They’ve offered to pay for him to have six months of counselling, with the recommendation that he takes them up on it.

He texts Cas a ’you’re not the only one who thinks I need a shrink' and sends him a picture of the letter.

Half an hour later, Cas calls him full of warmth and platitudes and the kind of grossly sentimental shit that he’d never, ever let his brother hear, but that make him feel like he’s fucking batman. He implores him to have an evening off to celebrate and they spend the next forty minutes on the phone watching the same crappy show on TV before he gets dragged away for celebratory pie with Sonny and Sam, so apparently they’re not fighting anymore.

At this point, he’s taking the easy wins for what they are and running with it.

*

He’s been hovering in the kitchen watching Sonny cook for the better part of five minutes before he finally manages to goad himself into talking.

“I was thinking,” Dean says, through the lump in the back of his throat and through this nauseating panic that will not go away, no matter what he does to distract himself. Ever since he made the decision halfway through a run yesterday evening, his head is ready to blow with anxiety. “Might take a while for me to find an apartment and, uh, I get that I pretty much have to leave as soon as a I finish school so…”

“Mmhm,”

“I figured I’d start looking during spring break, between shifts and that work experience for Rufus and then, uh, maybe move out before school finishes, if I find somewhere. With the charity money and what I’ve saved I think… that I could do it. I’m gonna talk to Sam, obviously, but - I guess I was wondering if you could come with me to scope some places out. If you’ve got time.”

“Sure,” Sonny says, like it’s no big deal, “Whatever you need me to do, Dean.”

Dean doesn’t really have any words to answer that, so he just nods and disappears up to his room and stares up at the ceiling for twenty five minutes before he makes another decision.

He’d put his phone on charge after he got back from school, but he leans over to take it off the bedside table and pulls up Cas’ number.

One of Principal Singer’s friends owns this garage & he gave him my name after i fixed up that car - guess that was the point of that bullshit project (other than the $$$). He’s asked me to come work a couple of days over spring break in view of MAYBE taking me on after school. That’s the plan.

Cas doesn’t mention a damn thing about his college plans in his reply, but then Dean wasn’t really expecting him too.

Chapter Text

If he’s honest, part of him had hoped that it would taken him longer to find an apartment. The idea of moving out of Sonny’s earlier than necessary was an okay idea in theory and he’d worked out the practical side of things, but standing in the decent enough studio that is almost definitely the best he could have hoped for, it suddenly all sounds way too fucking soon.

At Sonny’s, he and Sam have no space. They’re in each other’s laps all the time, they have no privacy and they have no chance for a time out from each other. They’ve been bickering needlessly over pretty much everything for weeks and it’s not going to get any better the closer he gets to finals. Currently, neither of them have anywhere to do any work. If he moves out, Sonny’s talked about replacing Dean’s bed with a desk so his kid brother is actually going to have his own study space. At Sonny’s, he’s a signficant drive away from school, work and Cas and he spends so much money on gas because of it.

The apartment is convenient, furnished and ready in two weeks.

He could save more, first, given that the charity are going to match him dollar for dollar, but there’s only so much he can do in the midst of trying not to flunk out of fucking school this close to the end. Anyway, he managed to pick up a lot of shifts over spring break, Rufus insisted on paying for his work experience and Cas pimped him out to fix Charlie’s car for an okay price. He has some money. He has more money than felt possible a few months ago. He’s worked flat out for every cent of it, but he does now have some money.

“What do you think?” Dean asks, clearing his throat and turning to look at Sonny.

In an ideal world, he wanted somewhere where Sam could stay over semi-regularly (in his head, he’s been telling himself they could spend every weekend together as a way of making all of this feel a little bit less like ripping each of his fingernails off and putting the bloodied stumps in salt; he always knew that wasn’t really going to happen), but there’s not a lot of scope for that. The sofa looks fine but it’s not the kind of set-up he can see anyone from social realistically agreeing too, even with Dean taking the sofa. It can be a stop gap. It can do until he’s saved up enough money to move into some place with two bedrooms, or when he has a guaranteed income. He can live with it. He’s not guaranteeing he’ll be anything near happy, but he could survive.

On the flip side, in an ideal world he wouldn’t have to deal with this in the fucking first place.

“These go quickly,” The realtor puts in, the keys in her hand, “If you and your Dad need some time…”

“That’s not,” Dean says, cutting himself off, because it’s hardly important that some random woman thinks that Sonny’s his Dad. That doesn’t make a damn difference to the situation at hand. People could assume worse things. “There’s a parking space?”

“Yep,” She says, “Do you want to see it?”

Dean nods, because he doesn’t have anything else to say.

There’s an uneasy part of him that’s hoping that the parking lot’s going to be the kind of place he’d never dream of leaving his baby so he’s got an excuse not to take it, but it’s fine. Decent. He’s pretty sure his baby would be just fine.

In the end, he asks her to put it on hold (he gets three days) and walks out feeling numb.

Sonny takes him out for fucking ice cream.

“You think you can manage school and running an apartment?” Sonny asks, watching him not-eat the goddamn sundae that Sonny definitely didn’t need to buy for him. He’d intended to eat it, but the second it arrived his appetite vanished. The shocked, hollow feeling eclipsed any semblance of desire for food.

“Yeah,” Dean says, dumbly, “Been kind of doing that for years, anyway.”

“I think you can too,” Sonny says, eyeing him carefully, “It’s up to you, Dean.”

“I’ve got a month of school left,” Dean says, “Sam probably expects me to be looking into this crap already. He won’t. He… you don’t think he’ll take it personally? If I move out early.”

“I doubt it, Dean, but the only way you can know that for certain is to talk to him.”

“Yeah, I’m, yeah,” Dean says, exhaling, “Yeah, I’ll talk to him this week.”

“You’re doing good, kid,” Sonny says, every inch of him sincere, and Dean doesn’t know quite what the hell to do with that.

*

One of the problems with his living situation at Sonny’s, is that he has to sit in his car to have a private phone conversation with his goddamn boyfriend. Otherwise, he’s either got one of the wayward kids making kisses noises or throwing crap at him, or he’s got his brother sat with his headphones on trying not to be grossed out if they flirt or whatever. It freaking sucks when Cas has turned into a social-hermit due to finals starting in two weeks (dating a nerd totally sucks sometimes) and when Dean’s been working more shifts, to the point that they basically haven’t seen each other properly since they had that stupid fight. They didn’t see each other at all during spring break and not much the week following it, so Dean’s gotten into the habit of standing outside or sitting in his car in order to call Castiel to have a fucking conversation.

Especially when it’s about stuff he hasn’t spoken to Sam about yet.

“Did you have a good day with Sonny?”

“Uh, yeah,” Dean says, shutting his eyes and resting his spare hand on the steering wheel.

“What did you do?”

“We, uh… we looked round some more apartments.”

He really wishes he’d clued Cas in on that before, because now it feels like this conversation is on the wrong foot before they’ve even started it. Dean just figured that apartment hunting fell under the same bracket as ‘college’ and ‘Yale vs Stanford’ and ‘their upcoming break up’ in that it was better for all of them that they skirted round conversations about it to avoid having another argument.

“Found anything?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, throat dry. He feels vaguely sick just thinking about it. Leaving Sam. Leaving Sonny’s. Even leaving school, even though he’s wanted to the whole fucking year (longer, really, but it’s this year in particular that it’s hit him hardest). The reality of it is a little different.

“Oh,” Cas says, off balance, “What’s it like?”

“Cheap,” Dean huffs with an attempt of humour that falls flat on it’s face. “Okay. Furnished. Nicer than a lot of the motels I’ve lived in. Closer to school and the diner. Closer to you.”

“I don’t know why that would be a consideration, given I won’t be there.”

“You will be for the next few months,” Dean bites out, “Here’s an idea, Cas, how about you don’t be an asshole right now?”

Cas inhales and there’s a few long seconds of silence.

“Sorry,” Cas says, “I, finals. I’m stressed, but that’s no excuse,”

“Whatever,” Dean says, the heat dropping away from his voice. He’s not in the mood to fight, especially not when Cas isn’t even freaking here. “It’s ready in two weeks.”

“You could move in right after finals,”

“Yep,” Dean says, chest tight, closing his eyes. “You think… you think I should go for it?”

“How much earlier than necessary would you be leaving Sonny’s?”

“They never put an exact date on it,” Dean says, “But we’ve got a month of school left, which is…”

“Terrifying,” Cas voices.

“I was gonna go with ‘soon’, but, yeah, terrifying works,” Dean says, “I gotta go for it, don’t I?”

“I’d say it was sensible,”

“Sonuvabitch,”

“You are still coming over tomorrow?” Cas asks, “After your shift?”

“Dude, it’s your birthday,” Dean counters, “Of freaking course I’m coming over, I’m just sorry you talked Gabriel down from a full scale party and that I’m gonna smell like diner food.”

“If it really bothers you, you can always shower here,”

“You say that,” Dean says, “But then Hester’s gonna be thinking things about what I’m doing in the goddamn shower at your house.”

“I have no idea what you’re referring to,”

“Think about it, Cas,” Dean says, “Then get back to me.”

“Oh,” Cas says, “Perhaps you should do that. Getting to fuck you again would be an excellent birthday gift.”

“Well, that might be all you’re getting,” Dean says, “I’m kind of crappy when it comes to gifts and I figured I’d get you something after the whole double-your-money thing.”

“Truly, Dean, that would be all I want anyway,”

“Hah, really did a number on you,” Dean says, “Guess it’s been a while.”

“I miss you,”

“You too, Sweetheart. Final’s can go fuck themselves.”

“I’m glad you found an apartment,” Cas says, voice low and velvety, “Dean you’re handling this very well. I can’t imagine how -”

“ - I already got the proud-parent talk from Sonny, okay? So we can skip it. I’m just dealing with the shit that’s falling on me. I aint doing it with grace or dignity or anything worth being proud of. I’m just dealing cause I don’t have a choice so, stop. I don’t wanna talk about that.”

“Okay,” Cas says, “Have you done any studying today?”

“So hanging the hell up now,” Dean declares, “Right now.”

“Dean, finals are -”

“ - I’ll send you a picture of my freaking revision notes if it’ll make you shut your mouth.I’m studyin’, promise. Not as much as you, maybe.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Dean,”

“Thank fuck for that,” Dean says, smiling into the confines of his empty car.

“I love you.”

“Night, Cas,” Dean says, only hating himself a little bit, which is an improvement on where things have been.

*

As it turns out, ‘stressed about finals’ turns out to be code for having a complete mental breakdown about freaking everything. Cas looks like crap. He looks like he hasn't slept since Dean said a brief goodbye to him after school on Friday. He looks like he's seconds away from yelling at inanimate objects and he definitely does not look like someone who’s appropriately enjoying his eighteenth birthday.

“Dean,” Hester says, all smiles as she beckons him through the Milton’s front door and offers him a drink. Pretty much every single time he’s been at the Milton’s lately he’s been pierced by a not-quite-jealousy about how fucking awesome Hester Milton is to Gabriel and Castiel. Not that Sonny and Principle Singer and Ellen and everyone who’s been involved in his life haven’t been good to him, it’s just... he doesn’t get to keep any of them long term. They have other priorities. Other charity cases. If Cas had screwed up his college applications and needed to stay with them, or if he hadn’t got any financial aid for college, or whatever else Dean’s completely sure that Hester and Inias would have come through for him. He gets an ugly frustration rise up, every so often, when Cas doesn’t seem to get where he’s coming from him on something where he wants to yell you don’t get it because you have some freaking security even though it’s not fair. That’s not Castiel’s fault. It’s not anyone’s fault, in particular. It's just, the nearer he gets to d-day, the more he realizes just how few guarantees he gets for anything.

“Finally,” Gabriel says, through a mouthful of cake, “Deano, will you please sort whatever the fuck is wrong with my cousin out?”

“Language,” Hester says, without heat.

“There’s nothing wrong with me,”

“Okaaay,” Gabriel says, “You two competing for shittiest birthdays?”

“Gabriel,” Hester interjects, “Get Dean some cake.”

Gabriel makes a big deal about standing up and getting Dean a slice of birthday cake he doesn’t really want, during which Dean pulls up a seat and scans Castiel’s expression for some indication of what, exactly, could have him snapping at Gabriel more than normal.

“How you doing, Cas?” Dean asks.

“Fine,” Castiel says.

“Uh huh,” Dean says, “Wanna watch a movie upstairs?”

“Yes.”

“Take your cake, Whinechester,” Gabriel says, as Cas heads towards the stairs. Dean pauses to take the plate of freaking birthday cake, which turns out to be a ploy for Gabriel to drop his voice back to serious. “He’s been like this for days. All smitey and even prissier than normal. Nearly threw a textbook at me when I asked if you had another fight.”

“We didn’t,”

“Yeah, he made me aware of that, bucko,” Gabriel says, “Go work your magic, cause he aint listening to me or Mom.”

“Roger that,” Dean says, taking his goddamn cake and heading for the stairs. Hester smiles at him as he reaches the foot of the stairs, too, in a way that makes him pretty sure that Hester’s hoping she can cheer him up too.

“Gabriel is infuriating,” Cas says, when Dean creaks open the door and shuts it behind him.

“You want this cake?”

“No,” Cas says, “He’s loud and inappropriate.”

“You know, I’m kind of loud and inappropriate,” Dean says, placing the cake on Cas’ desk and taking his usual seat on the other side of Cas’ bed. “You seem to like me okay.”

“Do you have pictures of your apartment?”

“Not mine yet,” Dean says, “But forget that. Happy Birthday, Cas.”

“Thanks,” Cas says, voice harsh and unyielding.

“Did, uh, you any your Dad have some birthday thing you used to do?”

“No,”

“Just wondering whether that’s what’s crawled up your ass,”

“Gabriel needs to butt out,” Cas hisses.

“Dude, you look like crap and Gabriel’s just worried about you. What’s your damage?”

“It’s not of import,”

“I’m not gonna pin you down and make you talk to me,” Dean says, “If you want to drop it cause you don’t wanna talk about it, fine, but if you’ve convinced yourself I don’t wanna hear about it then you’re wrong.”

“You don’t, Dean,” Cas says.

“Talk to me,” Dean exhales, meeting his gaze head on.

Castiel’s resolve crumbles.

“I can’t decide,”

It takes him a moment to catch on, then his gaze drags across to his desk, where the guy’s had a pile of college prospectus piled up since before Christmas. Right. College. The showdown between Yale and Stanford that Dean’s been purposefully putting out of his head.

“If you don’t want -”

“ - no,” Dean says, throat tight, “No, we can… we can talk about this. This is a big thing in your life, so if you wanna talk then… then we talk about it.”

“Dean,”

“Don’t know anything about either ‘cept geography, so you’re gonna have to fill me in.”

“I have a pros and cons list,”

“Awesome,” Dean says, holding out his hands and shoving down the very large part of his everything that would like to change the subject and for them to continue pretending like college isn’t right around the corner. He can’t, because Cas needs him. Cas needs him and it’s his freaking birthday, so Dean is just going to have to deal.

Castiel’s pros and cons list is two pages of meticulously written out cursive. It takes a good few minutes of reading before he gets the end, struck once again by how freaking ridiculous Cas is, with his well thought out critiques of lectures and course structures and shit Dean wouldn’t have even thought to think about. Cas is intelligent and brilliant and going somewhere, and Dean is just…

“I think we need a weighting system,” Dean says, “Cause I’m pretty sure ‘weather’ aint as important to you as ‘lectures’.”

“Okay,” Cas agrees, as Dean stands up and grabs a page off Cas’ notepad and a pan.

“So, okay, out of five, how important to you is course structure?”

*

It takes a good thirty five minutes of weighing up numbers and Cas trying to work out whether he thinks postgraduate prospects is more important to him than a variety of credit options until Dean adds up the numbers he’s been jotting down (and it’s a mark of how into Castiel he is that he’s spending his freaking break from studying doing math) and clicks the pen down in triumph.

“And the winner is, drum roll please, Yale.”

Given that they’ve spent so long going through this, Dean had been hoping for a bit more of a reaction. Instead, Cas sits with a frown that’s as stoic as ever, shoulders bunched, indecision creased into his features.

“My father was supposed to make this decision for me,”

Of course, there was something more in this, and if Dean was a little smarter he probably would have picked up on that sooner. Or if he had a little less of his own personal bullcrap buzzing round his head, all the damn time, he might have sussed it out early.

“Cas,” Dean exhales, setting down the stupid checklist to settle next to him and rest a hand on his knee mostly to get his freaking attention. “Not saying it’s easy, but it’s a good thing you’re making this decision yourself. That’s how life works, man, you have to wrestle with this stuff.”

“How am I supposed to know if I’m making the right decision?”

“You don’t,” Dean says, thumb running over Cas’ knee, “Castiel. When I said Yale, how did you feel? Happy? Disappointed?”

“Conflicted,”

“Okay, why?”

“Perhaps I should have rated the postgraduate opportunities higher,” Cas says, frowning, “Dean, what should I do?”

“I ain’t telling you,” Dean says, “This has gotta be your call.”

“It’s too big for me decide,”

Dean exhales and rests his head against Cas’ headboard and just waits for Cas to talk.

“Yale is more convenient to come home to visit.”

“Just,” Dean says, mouth dry.

“And I do like the credit choices, if they don't change.”

“Uh uhuh,”

Perhaps Yale is... is the better option."

“And, dude, if the postgrad thing is your main sticking point and it’s still a big deal in four years, I’m pretty sure you’re allowed to move schools,”

Cas considers this for a few moments, then there’s a barest hint of a smile.

“That’s… true,”

“Not just a pretty face,” Dean throws back.

“Yale,” Cas says,gaze fixed at a point on the wall, “Yale. I'm going to Yale,” Cas says, testing out the words. “That sounds good.”

“You bet it does,” Dean says, “Castiel, going to freaking Yale.”

“It sounds even better when you say it,”

“Damn right,”

Cas kisses him square on the mouth before standing up. “I'm going to tell Hester.”

“I’m gonna eat your freaking cake,” Dean says.

He doesn’t really taste it, though, because everything tastes a little ashy.

Castiel is going to Yale.

It sure as shit doesn’t sound good in his head.

“You good?” Dean asks, when Cas steps back into the room, some of the tension dropped out of his shoulders.

“Yes,” Cas says, crossing the room to rest his hands on the slope of Dean’s shoulders and almost-smile.”Thank you.”

“Cas, I didn’t do anything.”

“You listened,”

“No problem,” Dean says, mouth dry.

“I love you,”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “You’ve, uh, you’ve mentioned that.”

Cas’ expression stills, then settles.

“Your apartment,” Cas prompts, after a few moments of silence, till Dean pulls out his phones and shows him the crudely taking cellphone pictures he took after Sonny told him it might be a good idea.

They never get round to Castiel’s half-planned birthday-sex.

*

Over the course of their childhood, they’ve spent a lot of time sharing a bedroom, to the point where Dean can pretty much recognise what stage of sleep Sam is from his breathing at any given moment. He’d fallen out of the habit of it before Sonny’s, but now it’s back. Its irritating as hell currently, coupled with that gnawing feeling of loss that he can’t quite shake, even if it was almost comforting in the beginning. The past few nights the guilt and the unease about the fact that he’s got to talk to Sam about leaving has been making it damn impossible to sleep, which means his little brother probably knows something’s up. He’s not ignorant to Dean’s sleeping habits, either, which might explain why two hours after they turned off the light and called it a night they’re both still awake, not talking.

It’s not like this is going to be a surprise to Sam. Sam know’s he’s leaving. Sam know’s he’s leaving soon. It’s just…two weeks. Two weeks is way freaking sooner than he imagined it would be. It feels like he’s only been at Sonny’s for two damn minutes, not months, and the idea that he’s got to go back to fending himself is just -

Plaster. Rip it off. Get it done before he drives himself crazy over thinking.

Dean leans over and turns on the light.

“What the hell, Dean?” Sam asks, pulling his pillow over his face.

“Need to talk,”

“It’s, like, two AM.”

“You weren’t sleepin’,”

“ But now it’s bright.”

Dean throws a pillow at him.

“Dean, piss off.”

“I found an apartment, Sammy,” Dean says, turning onto his side to look at him.

Sam swallows and sits up. He’s got a bedhead that would be comical in any other circumstance and he looks a little like someone shoved a lemon down his throat, but he’s trying to be polite about it.

“You,” Sam begins, then stops, “That’s… big.”

“Yeah,” Dean breathes, into the quiet.

“When?”

“Two weeks.”

“I,” Sam says, then slams his mouth shut, “Is it nice?”

“Budge over,” Dean says, unplugging his phone and stepping over the gap, forcing space for himself on the left hand side of Sam’s bed. Sam half grumbles but budges up and doesn’t bitch at him when he climbs under Sam’s covers in order to show him the pictures. “This is the place.”

“A studio,”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “They work out, like, crazy cheaper. It’s kind of… small, but uh,”

“No, it looks good,” Sam says, “Nearer Cas.”

“He’s leaving,” Dean says.

“Parking?”

“Yeah, got my own designated spot for my baby. If I ever get homesick I can go sleep in her down there.”

“Not funny,”

“Little bit,” Dean says, “You okay with this?”

“Are you?”

“I,” Dean begins, swallows, “I’m slowly making peace with the fact that me being okay with it is totally freaking irrelevant to what’s gonna happen.”

“I’m not,” Sam exhales, blinking, “I’m not okay with this.”

“Sam,”

“No,” Sam says, “I know you, Dean. I don’t want you to use this as an excuse to feel bad about yourself, like it’s better like this, because it’s not. I know that… I know that this is logical, but I don’t want... I didn’t want any of this to happen. With Dad. With you.”

“I know, Sammy,” Dean says. There’s a creak outside in the corridor, which means Sonny’s probably up looking to see who he needs to tell off for having their lights on. Dean leans over to flick their bedside light off to save Sonny the awkwardness of having to treat them like they’re freaking children. “This is gonna be better for you.”

“It’s not,” Sam says, dropping his voice “But that’s not your fault.”

“Not really in the mood to play the blame game,”

“You should,” Sam says, “You should get angry, Dean, because this -this sucks.”

“Not arguing with you there,” Dean says, thumb hovering over the picture of the studio flat. “I’ve got give them an answer tomorrow. About the apartment.”

“Take it,” Sam says, voice quiet.

“And you… that’s okay by you?”

“Yeah,” Sam exhales, “What’s going on with you and Cas?” Sam asks, voice quiet and, some fucking how, they wind up talking for long enough that they fall asleep both squashed together on Sam’s bed like the old days.

*

On Monday morning, he calls the realtor before his weekly meeting with Principal Singer. He tells her he’ll take the apartment in two weeks time and that he’ll get the deposit to her by close tomorrow.

And that’s that.

Chapter Text

Apparently, the fact that he’s been working his fucking ass all hours of the day for months hasn’t made him any smarter or any more likely to actually pass high school. If the hours of studying and make-up assignments had made a damn bit of difference, he wouldn’t be sat in Principal Singer’s office staring over a sea of his test papers and essays and all the rest of that crap the Monday before final weeks so Singer could deliver the verdict: his improved grades in Math and Chem didn’t quite make up for his screw-up of three separate make up assignments in World History. He’s averaging at passing by his fingertips, but he needs to get a decent grade in every single one of his finals in order to walk out of the place with his high school diploma.

“Can’t I fix another car or something?” Dean asks, through the lump in his throat. Singer raises an eyebrow at him pointedly. “Cause with all due respect, sir, but this is a pile of crap. If none of this shit had happened I’d have done fine.”

“Mmhm,” Singer agrees, sorting through his stack of Literature papers, placing two on the passing pile and one on the Dean’s-fuck-up piles. “And that’s why we’re doing these soirees, Winchester. You can do this.”

“Henriksen’s human biology begs to freaking differ.”

“You just said you could do this, boy.”

“Before,” Dean says, taking a sip of the coffee Singer had ready for him when he arrived, in a weirdly domestic way too familiar gesture from his principal. This much attention from a teacher, ever, is supposed to be a bad thing. It's not supposed to be because some surly principal actually freaking believed in you. “Too much has happened.”

“You found an apartment. You’ve got financial assistance for the next few months."

“You’ve been talking to Sonny,” Dean says, trying not to let it sound like an accusation. They’re supposed to freaking talk to each other, it’s just uncomfortable to think about. He doesn’t really need the image of Singer, Sonny and Ellen dissecting his welfare in details every other day in his head. It’s just… it fucking sucks. He doesn’t want to be a project. He wants them all to give a damn about him, personally. It’s not that they don’t, exactly, it’s just… he’s their job. That’s a helluva lot different to being someone’s priority and, this time next year, they’re all gonna have someone else to sweat over. Some other kid with a sob story and no hope, and Dean will just be alone. “Awesome.”

“Now, I aint sayin’ you haven’t had a rough time, Dean. I aint saying you don’t need to take some time to feel your feelings, but now ain’t the time to throw your pity party, boy. Right now, you need to keep on grinding. You’ve got seven days till your first exam. You wanna waste those feelings sorry for yourself or you wanna make a plan about how you’re gonna do this thing?”

“Second option,” Dean says.

“Good choice,” Singer says with a gruff nod and a look that completely screams pride in way that Dean's chemical makeup out and out rejects.

They spend the next forty five minutes making a freaking strategy.

In the end, he has to cancel all his shifts at the diner that week, alongside cancelling the single plan he made with Castiel and the movie-date he has pencilled in with Sam. They’re both nerdy enough that both of them are freaking pleased about Dean bailing on them (freaking weirdos). He backs out on helping Sonny out, too, until he’s inhaling revision and exhaling potential exam questions with only one responsibility in the whole world to think about. Seven days to prepare. Fourteen days until it’s over.

He just has to get this done, no other alternatives.

*

“Hey, kid,” Sonny says, knocking on his own study door, because Sonny is a freaking saint who gave up his office-space for the week so that Dean could escape the rest of the inhabitants of Sonny’s madhouse. “Dinner’s up in ten, if you’re breaking for food.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, forehead creasing as he looks up.

“How’s it coming?”

“Uh, human biology is a total douchebag,” Dean says, “Got no recollection of any of this being mentioned in class. ‘Parently I missed a few, so it could be that, or the fact that my brain stopped retaining new information like six months ago. What’s for food?”

“Burgers. Your brother cooked.”

“Huh,” Dean says, something like a smile pulling at the corner of his mouth for the first time today, “He’s a good kid, Sam.”

“No arguments there,” Sonny says, “You’re doing well, Dean.”

“We’ll see,” Dean exhales, staring back down at his notes and blinking at his words, before clicking his pen shut and heading for the door. His fucking revision schedule had a break penciled in half an hour ago that he skipped, anyway, because it feels a lot like he’s still not getting anywhere. He can take a few minutes before food to do something that isn’t try to stuff his head full of crap he honestly couldn’t care less about. Like text his freaking boyfriend. Not that Cas isn’t in a finals-fuelled mania too, but whatever.

He doesn’t get a reply from his ’dude, is it possible for your brain to start shrinking. I wouldn’t know cause im failing human biology message before he sits down to food, which isn’t completely surprising.

After dinner, Sam volunteers to quiz him on his human biology, which he accepts just to have a change of freaking pace. It’s crap, though, because he can’t remember anything even though he just spent the whole evening going over and over again. Sam offers him a couple of shitty platitudes about how he’ll get there, but the upshot of the whole thing is that Sam winds up way more worried about Dean failing high school than he was previously which is freaking exactly what Dean needed. Fucking peachy.

And then he just can’t face going back to his crappy notes, so he walks out front of Sonny’s with his cell phone and hits dial.

He’s not expecting Cas to answer.

“Hello Dean,”

“Hey,” Dean says, “Man am I glad to hear your voice, I’m going fucking crazy over here.”

“Yes,” Cas says, “We should go on vacation.”

“What?”

“Humour me,” Cas says, “I am exhausted and I can’t close my eyes without seeing quadratic equations. I am fully aware that it’s unfeasible and impractical. Let me have this.”

“Well, okay,” Dean says, walking down Sonny’s drive. It’s a warm evening. Still light. “Where d’you wanna go?”

“Somewhere on the coast,”

“Just, FYI, we’re driving. No chance in hell I’m getting on a plane.”

“You don’t like flying?”

“Understatement,” Dean says, “If it were up to me, I’d never get on a plane again, but at the very least it aint happening until I’m allowed to buy enough bourbon on the flight to get me through the damn thing.”

“We’re quite landlocked,”

“Road tripping is half the fun,” Dean says, “You haven’t lived till you’ve gone on a proper, honest to god road trip.”

“Does this mean you’re going to let me do some of the driving?”

“Yeah, probably not,”

“You let me drive your car before,”

“And let that be confirmation of how much I trust you from here until the end of time, no repeats necessary.”

“Martha’s Vineyard. I went when I was a child and it was exquisite.”

“That’s a pretty long drive,” Dean hedges, finally pausing at the foot of the impala and leaning against her hood to look up at the sky. It’s good to talk to Cas. They haven’t really had a chance to for a while.

“Not from Yale,”

Dean stills and feels his chest constrict. Neither of them speak for entirely too long because Dean’s got no freaking idea what he’s even supposed to say, other than go back in time and cut this whole fantasy-vacation off before it even got started. It was only ever going to run them into a ditch.

“I gotta get back to human biology,” Dean says, voice low, “But I’m really glad you picked up, Cas.”

“Okay, Dean,” Cas says, his voice matching Dean’s tone,, “I’m glad I picked up, too.”

“Goodnight, Cas.”

“Goodnight,” Cas echos, right at the spot Dean’s become accustomed to his ‘I love you’ being.

*

Castiel throws him completely by bringing up freaking prom in the middle of his lunch break on Thursday. Honestly, the damn thing hasn't even shown up on his radar. He knew that Gabriel had a whole will they won't they thing with Kali being his prom date and, now that he's thinking about it, Charlie definitely said she and Dorothy were going to represent the LGBT cause. It didn't even occur to him that he would attend, less still that Cas might actually want to.

“Prom,” Dean says, blinking at him, “Dude, prom?”

“What?”

“It's just,” Dean says, gesturing, “Prom is kinda lame.”

“I understand that's part of the point,” Cas says.

“Really lame,”

“You've been before,”

“Yeah,” Dean acknowledges, “Cause my cheerleader girlfriend wanted to be freaking prom queen. Don’t mean I enjoyed it any.”

“But you went,”

“She wanted me to,”

“What if I want you to?”

“You want to go to prom?” Dean asks, not quite believing that they’re having this damn conversation. Prom is so, so far down the list of crap he’s had in his head at any point in the last year he didn’t even think about Cas wanting to go. He didn't consider it as a plausibility. Not even for a second.

“I've never been to a school dance,”

Well, damn.

“I,” Dean blinks again, “I've got no money for freaking prom.”

“I could get your ticket,” Cas says.

“Cas, we’ve talked about you buying shit for me,”

“But you don’t want to go; my paying is a fair trade for your time,”

“No, man, you're not paying for me to go to freaking prom with you. Anyway, you need a freaking tux and all that crap. It's - it's not gonna happen,” Dean says, even though his throat is tightening slightly. He’s an asshole and a shitty boyfriend and he should take Cas to fucking prom if Cas wants to go to prom, but he… he just can’t. Last time he spent a lot of concentrate social time with the rest of his peers was that damnable party at Balthazar and it sucked. He felt like a freak for being the only goddamn person in the building worrying about how to make rent rather than which college had the best writing program, or whatever.

Prom is sure to be crammed full of teen-drama he’s got no time for and everyone talking about the plans to get the hell out of dodge and start living. It will still cost money, too, and he doesn't have a whole lot of that to spare.

“Everyone else is going. Gabriel, Charlie, Ash,”

“Look, Cas, I'm not feeling particularly prom-y right now,” Dean says, dropping his cutlery and pushing away his lunch plate. They’ve got ten minutes till class, anyway, but he’s not sure how he’s gonna concentrate now. Fucking prom.

“So you won't come,”

“No,” Dean says, “No.”

“I'll go on my own then,” Cas says, without blinking. He’s not even trying to be aggressive, or make a point, it’s just deadpan. Fact. Castiel’s just gonna go to prom on his own.

“I, okay,” Dean says, “You do that.”

God, he’s a fucking asshole sometimes.

*

He’s still thinking about goddamn prom three hours into his after school revision session, which is a frigging joke. Sometimes the fact that he cares so much about Castiel is goddamn annoying, because Dean’s pretty sure he’s the only person who could make him feel bad about bailing on prom.

“Cramming fuel,” Sam says, wrapping on the door of Sonny’s office to bring him a blessed offering of energy drink and potato chips.

“Thanks, bitch,”

“How’s it going, jerk?”

“Oh, this is awesome,” Dean mutters, pushing away his notes and shutting his eyes in case that will help with the fact that he’s exhausted, wrung out and pretty sure he’s totally fucking lost it, if the fact that he’s been listening to the same stxy song on repeat for two hours is anything to go by. “Hey, Sam, want a good laugh?” Dean says, which prompts Sam to pull up the seat on the the other side of Sonny’s desk and quirk up an eyebrow at him. They haven’t managed to spend a whole lot of time together this past week, which sucks. “Castiel wants to go to prom. With me.”

“Huh,” Sam says, half smiling, “You could fulfil your lifelong dream of being voted homecoming queen,”

“Dick,” Dean says, throwing one of his screwed up pages of notes at him, “Prom.”

“Didn’t have him pinned down as the prom type,”

“Right!”

“Guess the homeschooling thing mean it never came up before,”

“Am I an asshole for saying I’m not going?”

“Uh, definitely,” Sam says, “He’s your boyfriend of like, months. A really long time. If he wants to go, I’m pretty sure it’s in the relationship code that you have to go.”

“Sam, I got so many bigger fish to fry right now, you could not believe.”

“Whatever, Dean, they’ll have sold all the tickets month ago anyway.”

“What?”

“Yeah,” Sam says, “Seriously, they’ll have sorted it all ages ago. People go pretty crazy for prom.”

“But he said he’d buy me a ticket,” Dean says, distractedly stabbing his notepad with his pen, “So maybe all those afterschool specials you’ve been watching were bull.”

“Sure,” Sam says, but he’s not buying it for a damn second.

“What, Sammy?”

“Or he bought you a ticket months ago and figured he’d have some time to talk you into it.”

“Sonuvabitch.”

“Good luck with that,” Sam says, standing up, “Let me know if you need a hand with the revision.”

“Rodger that,” Dean says, then makes a face, “Dude, you got the stuff that takes like ass.”

“Blame Sonny,”

“Sure,” Dean says, “Blame the guy who’s put a roof over our heads.”

“Make sure you get some sleep.”

“Okay, Mom,” Dean says, popping the lid of the energy drink anyway, because there’s still a good four concentrated hours of revision time before he’s gotta sleep.

*

He takes half a day off on Sunday due to Principal Singer’s instructions (something about actually being conscious during the finals, which Singer seems to think will be beneficial; at this point, Dean’s not convinced) and he spends the entirety of his half day talking Sam through giving baby a tune up while they both pretend he’s not moving out in less than a week. He calls Cas in the evening and they distance watch an episode of a TV show neither of them really like and it’s pretty fucking good, especially as they managed to stay clear of any of their current hot topics (Yale, college, school, the future, his apartment and now freaking prom added to the mix). It’s a damn good evening, but that doesn’t mean he feels anything like rested when we peels himself out of bed on Monday morning.

“You’ll do great,” Sam says, as Dean drops him off as his school. He goes as far as leaning over the front seat and giving him a hug, which is sort of nice and sort of makes him feel like he’s falling apart.

Cas is waiting in the parking lot to tell him the same. He delivers his version with a brief kiss and an edge of panic behind his eyes that’s probably to do with his own finals. It’s difficult to tell at this point.

His first final is math which is surprisingly okay. The second is Literature, which is significantly less okay.

It goes downhill from Wednesday’s Human Biology onwards; by the time Friday rolls around he’s a goddamn wreck and definitely not in a good head space to leave school straight after his last exam to pick up the keys for his brand freaking new appartment.

As normal with the shit that goes on his life, how he feels about it doesn’t fucking matter because it’s going to happen regardless.

*

Dean’s never had a lot of stuff. Years of living out the back of the car has forced him into minimalism; they were never anywhere long to finish unpacking, anyway, and they never really had enough time to settle into a place and start accumulating. He’d picked up some more stuff after they moved to Lawrence. He’d gone as far as sticking his pictures up in the walls. He had posters and DVDS and even a couple of books, but they lost pretty much all of that in the eviction. Since moving in with Sonny, he’s started building it up again: he’s got his new leather jacket, the DVDS he got for his birthday, his running sneakers, the laptop that sort of ended up as his. Even with all that, it still takes him less than half an hour to pack it in the back of the impala. His apartment is gonna be completely empty with only a trunk full of stuff, but he really does not want to think about that right now.

Sonny is in the kitchen sorting through the fridge.

“Hey,” Dean says, throat dry, “Think I’m gonna… drive out there. Are you, uh, you and Sam still heading over for dinner?”

“I’ll drive him over as soon as school finishes,” Sonny says, turning him to look at him with his serious gaze, his freaking moustache, every inch of him a better father figure than he’s ever had. Sonny does care. He does. Dean can’t let himself start believing he doesn’t because… Sonny has consistently and always gone above the call of duty. He doesn’t have to call one of the other guys into the home so he can make sure Dean’s not alone for his first meal living on his own. He didn’t have to look round apartments with him. He sure as shit didn’t need to pick him up a drying wrack for his dishes and some bedsheets, because he knew Dean wouldn’t have any. “Help you unpack,”

“Don’t think it’s gonna take long,” Dean mutters, “Turns out I don’t really have anything.”

“Your last exam go okay?”

“Guess we’ll find out next week,” Dean says, voice a little unsteady. “I… in a bit, Sonny.”

Sonny claps him on the shoulder before Dean heads out, climbs into the impala and drives away.

*

By the time Sam and Sonny arrive at the apartment, his apartment, he’s already found three extra things that Sonny must have gone out and bought for him on the sly, because Dean sure as shit didn’t own a mattress protector himself. He’s managed to put sheets on the bed and kick the duffle bag with the rest of his stuff under his bed, which doesn’t so much make it look tidy as completely desolate. It’s just empty and clinical in a way that none of the crappy motels they’ve stayed at over the years were.

The apartment is decked out in neutrals with spaces in the walls where someone’s pictures used to hang. The motel-decor was usually pretty freaking bad, but generally there was at least some colour, or a cheap print on the wall, or decorative bedsheets from hell. It was something. Character, even in a bad way. Even if it was hellish grey and peeling walls, there was something.

Sonny enters first with a dish of something in his arm, which he sets down on the table to give him a hug like that’s something they do all the freaking time. Sam hugs him too. He throws his arms around his shoulders and holds onto him like they haven’t seen each other for months, not like Dean was the one to drop him off at school this morning.

“Figured we’d try out your oven,” Sonny says, nodding at the casserole dish.

“Sounds good,” Dean says. His voice sounds okay. He wasn’t really expecting it too. He kind of thought he’d try to speak and nothing would could out but a wave of anxiousness and fear and all that stuff he’s shoved down under his gut and his okay-facade and everything else. He sounds fine though. He sounds okay. “Save’s ordering pizza,”

“We’ll try out your local pizza joint next time,” Sam says, wandering around the fringes of his apartment with a complicated expression. He sounds fine too, though, so it looks like that’s going to be the name of the game. They’re all going to be okay. It’s a perfectly freaking normal evening

. “Deal,” Dean says, flicking the oven onto on. “How was school, Sammy?”

“Okay,” Sam shrugs, “My finals start next week.”

“Right,” Dean says, “But you’re gonna ace them, you freaking nerd.”

“Hopefully,” Sam says, taking a seat and launching into an explanation of which finals he is and isn’t worried about, which carries them through another fifteen minutes of all them pretending like everything is absolutely a-oh-fucking-kay.

He’s not expecting Castiel to show up with Hester in tow five minutes before he’s due to take Sonny’s casserole out the oven.

“Hey,” Dean says, the breath rushing out of his lungs as he glances between the two of them.

“Apologies,” Cas says, looking sheepish and fucking adorable and like everything Dean’s been missing over the last two weeks of finals-mania, “Hester felt strongly compelled to fill your freezer.”

“What?” Dean asks, then he’s got Hester stepping into his apartment and giving him a hug for what must be the second time in his life. She’s armed with two of the largest shopping bags Dean’s seen in his fucking life that she has to put down first and it’s only when she releases him that he realises that Cas’ arms are full of groceries bags, too.

He does not know what to do with that.

Hester did him a food shop. She went to freaking walmart, off her own back, to buy him some goddamn groceries. Groceries.

“I, thanks,” Dean blinks, as Hester drags in the bags, “You really didn’t have to, uh - “

“Nonsense,” Hester says, “You’ve been cooking for us for at least a year and the first big food shop is always the most expensive. Apologies for intruding on your evening.”

“No, this is - wow,” Dean says, as Hester starts unloading crap onto his counters. Sam jumps up and starts helping her put it away and Dean is suddenly struck, hard, with the fact that these people really care about him.

They care. Doing a food shop to make sure he has condiments and freaking herbs and spices, care. Hester cares. Maybe he doesn’t have the same security that Gabriel and Cas has, but he has got some people watching his back. He has people. He might not have enough stuff to fill the wardrobe in his apartment, but he’s got people.

“Hello,” Cas says, setting down his bags to kiss him. “I hope this is okay.”

There’s a very small part of him that wants to reject being treated like a charity case, but the larger part of him knows that’s dumb; he is a charity case. Without freaking charity he’d be out on his ass, sleeping in the parking lot with a broken head. And maybe it’s okay to accept help on this stuff.

“It’s great,” Dean says, soft, “You and Hester wanna stay for food?”

“No,” Cas says, “It’s important for you to spend this evening with your brother and Sonny. Call me later.”

“Gotcha,” Dean says, stepping forward to help Sam shove boxes and boxes of pasta into one of his cupboards.

“We’ll let you enjoy the rest of your evening,” Hester says, pausing to nod in Sonny’s direction and smile at Sam (Dean’s pretty sure they must have only met once, but there’s affection there anyway). “Will you be coming over sometime next week?”

“I, yeah,” Dean says, “Sure, Hester.”

She actually kisses him on the forehead before she leaves which is the most mom-like gesture he’s been subjected to for at least a decade. It’s nicer than he wants it to be.

“Hester’s great,” Sam says, into the quiet.

“Yeah,”

“Cas is lucky,”

“Yeah,” Dean agrees, eyes fixed on the closed front door, “He sure is.”

“Reckon food’s ready,” Sonny says, offering him a smile.

Dean nods and stands up to get the food and serve.

*

Food is good and having Sonny and Sam around is good, too, till it kind of feels like a regular post-finals meal. He’s had warmed up leftovers with Sam in too many places to count, so it could almost be normal up until the point that the foods gone and they’ve finished talking about whether Dean should go to prom (both say yes) and what he’s going to do during senior skip day, like he hasn’t been skipping school for years without an excuse needed. Then Sonny glances at his watch and Dean’s stomach sinks.

“It’s getting late,” Sonny says, fixing him with the eyes, “Early start on the farm tomorrow.”

“You let me know if you need me to check up on your tractor,” Dean says, standing up. Sam stands up first to take the plates to the sink, piling them up next to the drying wrack that Sonny bought him. “Leaving me with the dishes, Sammy? Thought I taught you better manners than that.”

“Shutup,” Sam says.

“You think you’re gonna get another invite back, this rate?”

“You didn’t cook,” Sam says, “So this works out.”

“You didn’t cook either,” Dean says, making a point to mess up his hair.

“You’re welcome for Sunday Dinner, Dean,”

“Maybe next weekend,” Dean says, mouth slightly dry. “Need to settle in.”

“Sounds good,” Sonny says, clapping him on the shoulders, “There anything you need, you give us a call, you hear me?”

“I hear you, Sonny,” Dean says, “I’m good.”

“Tuesday?” Sam says, puppy eyes on, just about still looking up at him. He’s half a growth spurt off that changing.

“Tuesday,” Dean says and pulls him into a hug that he clings onto for way longer than he’d admit to anyone. After a few more goodbyes and half-quips, they’re gone.

Dean turns on the TV to block out the quiet.

He runs the sink full to do the dishes. He washes, dries and puts all of it away piece by piece. He turns the TV off because the tinny whining is getting to him. He reorganises his food cupboard and remakes the bed and puts his limited DVD collection on his bookcase. He folds his clothes then hangs them up, then sorts his jeans from his shirts and throws John Winchester’s leather jacket to the back of the wardrobe and considers setting it on fire.

He gets himself a soda and sits on the edge of his crappy sofa.

He’s okay.

He’s sat, staring at the black screen of his TV, and then it suddenly feels like he’s been turned inside out: his lungs are constricting, heart beating double time, head spinning. He can’t, can’t breathe, because Sam -- Sam’s not here. Isn’t going to be here. Is only going to be here, sometimes, for meals and Saturdays and, and, then he’ll go to college and Dean will still be stuck in this apartment, alone. Cas is going to leave. Sam is… he’s a twenty minute drive away. That’s nothing. It’s nothing, really, but he’s gonna come home from school to Sonny and Sonny’s gonna know about his girlfriends and his grades and no one’s gonna ask Dean what he thinks anymore, because it doesn’t matter. He’s slipped through his fingers and Sam was the one thing that he had -that was his - that he was clinging onto and without his little brother he doesn’t, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do -

Mom died and Dad left and Cas is leaving and Sam isn’t his responsibility anymore and he can’t breathe. He can’t breathe because if he doesn’t get the job with Rufus or he can’t pick up diner shifts then he won’t be able to pay his rent and he’ll be out on his ass with nowhere to go and no matter how much Hester and Sonny and Singer care they won’t be able to help, can’t help and he’ll…

And he doesn’t even know if he passed high school but he tried and he’s been trying and it’s all going to hell because what the hell does it matter if he doesn’t get to keep his little brother?

He’s shaking as he picks up his phone and hits dial. Castiel picks up with a rough “Dean?” that Dean doesn’t deserve for a fucking minute, because he’s failed over and over, all the time. He’s failing now because of prom and because he can’t - he can’t - and Sam is depending on him to be okay and he’s not, he’s not, he’s not. It’s late and he shouldn’t be calling. Cas must be tired after finals and it’s late, but he’s… he’s not okay.

“Dean?” Cas says again, because Dean hasn’t said anything. He’s sat on his sofa shaking and he can’t breathe and the words aren’t coming out. He needs… needs help, need something, needs not to be on his own in this place right now.

“Cas,” He manages to grate out, with the last air in his lungs, “Can you - I need you.”

“Give me twenty minutes,” Castiel says in the seconds before hanging up.

The phone slips between his fingers onto the floor and he sits with his head in his hands until Castiel knocks at the door.

He has to stand up to unlock the door. It shouldn’t be this fucking hard to stand up, force his legs into motion, walk the three paces, but every atom is screaming in protest. Cas is knocking for almost a whole minute before he manages it. Three paces. Twist of the lock. Open.

Castiel launches himself at him the second the doors open, till Dean’s got Cas’ death grip bunched up in the material of his shirt, his arms thrown around his neck and clutching at him. It helps. Not enough that he’s bordering the realm of okay, but it helps, and Dean’s dry sobbing into his shoulder and it’s fucking embarrassing but there’s nothing left in him to give a damn. There’s nothing left.

“Hey,” Dean manages, taking a step back which is a mistake, because his lungs start to contract again. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas says, steering him towards his bed with a hand to the lower back, coaxing him into sitting on the edge.

“Sam… Sam left,”

“You’re going to see him on Tuesday evening,”

“I,” Dean begins, taking in a breath, “But, he’s not here.”

Cas has got his arms around him. He’s close and solid and there and that’s… that’s something. He cares. Cas cares. He’s leaving, but he’s here right now, and he cares. He doesn’t give a shit that Dean’s an asshole who won’t go to prom and the weak, crappy kind of person that can’t handle his crap on his own.

“Will you, uh,” Dean begins, “Stay. Tonight.”

“Whatever you need,” Cas says, the words hot in his air, low and reassuring, and he doesn’t let go.

Chapter Text

Castiel is still holding him when consciousness slaps him in the face the following morning. They're both fully dressed, with Cas in his fucking trench coat, but somehow wound up under the covers. He doesn't remember everything slowly or any of that romanticised crap and he doesn't feel safe or secure with Cas’ arm wrapped around him, either, he just feels shitty immediately. He’s stewing in leftover embarrassment and fear and the knowledge that he's a fucking mess.

By Dean’s estimations, it's the fourth whole night they've spent together. It's the first one where Dean’s woken up with Cas’ arms locked tight around him, but then it's also the first time Dean's had that level of emotional breakdown in front of anyone, ever. If he were Castiel, he’d probably have held on too, out of fear that if not he might fall apart right there (as if he hadn’t already). He’d kind of thought that one of the goods of this whole thing might be being able to have Cas to stay, he just hadn’t imagined it like this.

Sam is not here. He has support for his rent payments for three months. If he passes high school, he might have a job with Rufus. There’s about two months of summer before Castiel is due to leave. Right now, Castiel is here.

“Think your aunt bought some breakfast stuff,” Dean says, voice flat as he pulls himself out of bed and heads to the kitchen cabinets. He can't look him in the eye. Can't think. Can't push at his goddamn thoughts too hard.

Hester bought bagels and either Sonny bought him a toaster or one came with the apartment. He doesn’t know anymore. He lost track in the same way that he’s lost track of a lot of the ways that a lot of people have put themselves out in order to help him. It’s easier to push that out of his head and make some goddamn breakfast.

“Dean,” Cas says, shedding his trench coat. He’s eyes are tracking Dean’s movement round the apartment as he crosses half the distance before pausing, watching, as if he were some kind of wounded animal; vulnerable and hurting but dangerous to approach.

Dean wordlessly passes him his bagel, expressionless, and takes a seat on his crappy sofa. He puts the TV on after a while, shoulders bunched, to block out the crap going on in his head.

Castiel doesn't push him again. He just eats breakfast next to him on the sofa and watches TV like this whole thing is fucking normal, while Dean feels like his internal organs are being shredded.

He turns it off again when the news headlines come on. He just needs some quiet, but then the quiet is closing in on him; oppressive, empty, lonely.

Then his head’s in his hand and he's sobbing. He hates crying. He hates it most when it bubbles up from somewhere deep and hidden under his rib cage, then keeps coming and coming till he’s choking on them on the way out. He hates that Cas is right there and probably isn’t even surprised by the freakshow that is Dean Winchester. He just sits there, offering all the occasional, comforting touches that Dean would allow, otherwise sitting silent and still.

At some point Cas tries to talk him into eating again, but he can’t. He gives up after a while and Dean turns the TV back on. The whole fucking day slips down the drain and he only realises after the evening news headlines come on and it hits him that Cas has spent the whole fucking day sat on the other side of his couch while he has a helluva breakdown.

It takes another three ad breaks rolling by before he manages to pluck some words out of his head.

“You should go,” Dean says, voice rough from not talking and from crying and whatever the hell yesterday was. “I’m good.” It doesn’t sound convincing even to his own ears, so he stands up dumps the plate with his half eaten bagel next to the sink before coming back for Cas’ collection of kitchenware (two plates, a mug and a glass; Dean didn’t even drink so much a single goddamn coffee all day). “I’m gonna check in with Sam then have an early night. Hester’s gonna freak if you’re back any later.”

“Dean,” Cas says, brow hued with concern, “If you need me to stay -”

“I’m okay,” Dean interjects, “I’m just gonna sleep. I appreciate you coming over like that, last night.”

“You need to eat,”

“Yeah, I’m pretty hungry,” Dean says, even though he’s not, not in the slightest, “I’m gonna warm up the leftovers from yesterday.”

“Okay,” Cas agrees, eyes dragging over the features of his face, hovering. “Call me tomorrow.”

Dean kisses him goodbye then returns to the couch.

He doesn’t check in with Sam; it still feels too raw. Too much like sticking something sharp into a bleeding wound.

He was intending to sleep, but instead he falls into watching nine episodes of a TV show about truckers instead.

Hunger creeps up on him at around 2AM, when he toasts himself another bagel and forces a glass of water down his throat to battle the dehydration-headache that’s started to throb behind his left eye.

In the end, he finally gives up and goes to bed just after dawn on Sunday morning. He gets up at 5PM on Sunday purely to fend off the worried enquires from everyone he’s ever known with a couple of laborious lies about unpacking and crawls back into bed at 9. He eats a proper meal - consisting of frozen pizza and chips, maybe, but it was something - so he still counts the day as a win.

On Monday, he drags himself out of bed in time for school, has another goddamn bagel, showers and puts on his game face.

*

He gets to school a fraction earlier than Cas usually does, timing his arrival so that he runs into Charlie first. She’s the most out of the loop about how freaking nuts he is right now, so he’s able to pull her into a loud conversation, passionate conversation by saying something controversial about Lord of the Rings. By the time Gabriel and Cas roll up, Charlie is lamenting the fact that the hobbit is a valid and integral part of the series as a whole and Dean’s got a smile plastered across his face as he listens to her.

He used to do this pretending shit all the time, so it’s not difficult. It’s just a matter of timings.

“I dunno Charlie,” Dean says, raising a hand to Gabriel and Cas in greeting, “The films are still always gonna be better than the books.”

“Dude,” Charlie says, “I can’t even take you seriously right now. I know you don’t mean that. Not cool, Dean.”

“Fine,” Dean counters, “But the extended additions - total waste of time. Am I right?”

“Dick move, sir,” Charlie counters, “Control your boyfriend, Cas. He’s being a total dickweed.

” “Okaaay,” Dean says, “I’ll make it up to you. Lord of the Rings Marathon at mine this week. Pick your evening. You seen Lord of the Rings, Cas?”

“No,” Cas says, blue gaze boring into his skin. Dean allows his own eyeline to brush over his gaze before skimming back to Charlie.

“Okay, this has to happen,” Charlie says, “Slumber party. The weekend?”

“Whenever,” Dean says, “School’s pretty redundant right now, anyway. Bring popcorn. Bring Dorothy. Bring the extended editions.”

“So, other than the shitty implications on your life, I kind of dig you having your own place now,” Charlie says, “How is it?”

“Fine,” Dean shrugs, skipping over meeting Cas’ eye to land on Gabriel, “You in for Lord of the Rings?”

Gabriel makes a face.

“How much popcorn are we talking?”

“How ever much you bring, asshat, you aint scrounging off my dime,” Dean says, “Right, I’ve got my standing appointment with Singer,” Dean says, glancing at his watch before finally turning to Cas and offer him a smile that he probably won’t buy for a hot second.

“Okay,”

“See you at lunch,” Dean says, clapping him on the shoulder and leaving him with the usual brief kiss, which means he’s diffused the first potential opening for a conversation about his feelings.

Only seven more hours to survive.

*

It doesn’t occur to him that Singer might already have his final grades until he’s walked into office and sat down for what he figured would be a largely pointless exercise in sitting around talking. Then he walks in and finds his Principle sat with another stack of test scores, a serious expression that turns Dean’s stomach over and the folder with all the rest of the crap about his general welfare scribbled in.

His finals have been fast tracked through marking. His papers have been sorted to the top, along with all the other’s borderline kids for who they don’t know whether to print their diplomas or not yet.

His finals have already been marked.

Dean sits down heavily and tries to summon up some of his give-em-hell, not a care in the world attitude he’d been channeling with Charlie but comes up short. He’s got nothing but anxiety seeping through his bloodstream and sticking at the back of his throat.

If he screwed up one shitty test, it’ll have tipped him over to failing. One measly fucking test and most of these last few months will have been for nothing. He won’t graduate.

“So?” Dean asks, hands folded into fists in his pockets, after neither of them have said anything for long enough for it to be thick and stifling.

“You failed human biology,”

Dean almost stands up and walks out of the building, because he's so so beyond done he can't explain it. The only reason he doesn't is because Singer’s gaze locks him into his seat. He’s wasted enough of his time on Dean’s pity case that he feels obligated to sit this conversation out. To not just give up like every part of his head is screaming at him to do.

He tried so goddamn hard.

“Told you I couldn't do it,” Dean says. His fists are still balled up. Every single muscle in his shoulders is tense with the fight to just fucking leave. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t. He… there’s nothing else he could have done. He’s been working flat out. He’s been trying so, so goddamn fucking hard, but it just -

“I'm not intending to write you off, boy, no matter how you try and convince me I should. You've got another shot at a make up assignment and, if not, we start on your GED next month.”

“Haven’t you given me enough fucking chances?”

“You’ve had enough chances when I say you have another chances, Winchester,” Singer says, “Believe it or not, I’m in the business of giving every damn kid every as many chances as they’ll take. I didn’t go into this profession to give up on people. Mind, people giving up on themselves is another matter entirely,” Singer says, fixing him with a steady look, “It’s up to you.”

“I need to graduate,” Dean says, jaw set, “Sam. He - I need to pass.”

“Okay then,” Singer says, “We’ve not got a lot of time and there’s not a lot we can do about that, but we can try and work the other factors to get you over the line.”

“What do I need to do?”

Singer pulls out the shitty make-up assignment he spent an age battling with and sets it on the desk.

“It’s re-do time,”

“I passed that assignment,” Dean says, forehead creased, “He - decent ideas, crappy structure, lack of depth in some areas, but I passed.”

“You did,” Singer acknowledges, “You were five marks off passing in total and it don’t make a damn bit of difference where those mark comes from. Way Henriksen sees it, you gotta better chance of scrubbing this assignment up five marks than you do starting afresh, given the time frame we got right now. You bring this up from a C to a B, that’s gonna do the job the same as redoing that exam.”

“How long?”

“Not gonna lie to you, boy, it’s tight. You’ve got till close of shop tomorrow till we have to process the grades. I’ve got a spot of the library booked out for you and your teacher’s aren’t expecting you in class. You get this to me before four tomorrow, Henriksen says he’ll mark it that night. That sound doable?”

“I don’t have a choice,” Dean says, throat tight. “So, yeah, it’s doable.”

“You recognise this?” Singer asks, pulling out another fucking Human Biology essay, from way back in September. He just barely remembers scrubbing it together in their old place, a week or two before they were evicted. He didn’t pay a lot of attention to it at the time because there was too much going on but there’s an ‘A -’ scrawled on the top of the paper. Back then, he’d somehow managed to pull decent grades out of his ass even though his world was imploding. He hadn’t fallen apart, at that point. “Should be a similar style essay, so Henriksen figured it could help to have a reference point. You’ve got a reading list and an example essay plan.”

Dean just nods.

“Henriksen is gonna be available for any questions you’ve got at lunch today and tomorrow and for an hour after school today. You got any questions or problems you come straight here and I’ll make time for you - you hear me?”

“I hear you, Singer,” Dean says, “And, uh…”

“And if it all goes south, we give it some time, we get a damn compass and we re-navigate. I aint getting done with this until we’re done with this, so let’s get to it.”

He nods again, accepts the coffee Singer talks him into and lets him accompany him to his temporary spot in the library with the orneriest pep talk he’s ever gotten.

*

He spends the first hour in the library staring at the essay without seeing it, before the panic sets into his bones: he needs to do this. He needs to fucking do this. He needs to just, get it done. Crawl back five marks. Five goddamn marks.

The next hour he spends reading the two essays and the feedback for each, trying to work out the common thread of the crap he does wrong and cross referencing it with the things Cas always told him he should do more of. Structure. Introducing the theme of the essay in the first paragraph. Beginning each paragraph with a new point summed up in a sentence. More depth, less breadth. He tries to make it the equivalent of fixing a car in his head: he needs to get all the right parts and fit them together, just right, till it all moves together. It's a crappy metaphor and he hasn't even touched on the goddamn content of the essay, but he's written two pages of notes to himself of crap he's bad at.

He gets that the paper he wrote back in September reads better. It's smooth and it kind of follows, point by point. He doesn't remember trying that goddamn hard on it, but apparently he did okay.

Henriksen said he had ‘good ideas’ so he writes down every single idea he had in the original make up assignment. He jots down everything that Henriksen put a tick next to it too, like he's stripping down an engine and preserving the good, solid parts.

He has to do this.

He breaks for lunch and spends it joking loudly with Ash about music and rock and roll, because it's a good excuse not to let Cas ask him about the cluster fuck that was this weekend (he really, really can't deal with that right now), before retreating back to his spot in the library to start digging out the books he read in the goddamn first place to try and work out where these ‘ideas’ came from anyway. He remembers doing the damn essay, but most of what he remembers is being stressed out of his mind even thinking about it.

He thought he was gonna be homeless, so it figures his structure is a pile of shit.

He checks out three books and writes a page of careful notes on all of it, because he has to fucking do this. He has to do this for Sam. He doesn't have a goddamn choice.

The end of the day comes before he's expecting it and before he’s written a single word.

*

“What do you want to do tonight?” Cas asks, appearing out of nowhere next to Dean’s locker, in the way he does sometimes that makes his chest constrict uncomfortably. It worse today because he’d forgotten they had plans in the first place and because his shitty facade of ‘okayness’ isn’t gonna hold up if Cas puts any pressure on it.

“Yeah, about that,” Dean says, shutting his locker with a decisive click and turning to face him head on. He’s been a douchebag in not-quite-avoiding the guy all day (especially after how freaking incredible Cas was this weekend), but he just doesn’t have the emotional capacity that Cas’ being demands of him. He just hasn’t got it in him right now to be vulnerable and honest or any of the rest. If he wasn’t pretending like he was doing absolutely fine, he’d be flat out on the floor, done. Cas never seems to quite get that. “Think I'm gonna need to bail.”

“We had plans,”

“I, yeah,” Dean says, “Sorry. I'm still pretty beat after finals last week; rain check? Could do tomorrow?”

“You're seeing your brother,”

“After,” Dean says,” I mean, you're eighteen and I've got no guardian, so I'm pretty sure we should be free from curfews now.”

“Dean,”

“Tomorrow,” Dean says, pocketing his hands and throwing his bag over his shoulder.

Cas stops him with a hand to the shoulder and an expression like thunder.

“Dean, on Saturday I sat and watched you in silence for six hours, during which you ate virtually nothing, reacted to nothing, following an evening when you called out for my help and had a panic attack. Do not insult me by pretending there is nothing wrong and by attempting to blow me off.”

“I failed school,” Dean snaps, voice sharp, hackles raised. “I fucked up human biology and I am so far up shit creek I’m goddamn drowning in it and I have tonight to play catch up or I - I’m finished. So back the hell off and let me deal with this the only way I know how to deal with it.”

Cas’ expression is raw and vulnerable and Dean is such a goddamn bastard.

“I can help,”

“No, not this time Cas,” Dean says, pulling his bag further up his shoulder. “I gotta do this on my own. I’ll call you tomorrow. Wednesday.”

“Fine,” Cas says, mouth hard, eyes flat before he turns to leave. “I hope it goes well.”

He wants to scream an apology at him down the corridor, but he doesn't. Some freshman kid is staring openly at him and Dean so, so nearly yells at him, too, but fucking Sonny and Ellen and Singer have done way too much for him for him to start fucking it up now. He has to be better. He has to do better.

*

The fact that he doesn’t have to pick Sam up from school and drive back to Sonny’s means that he has more time in his evening, which he decides to use by calling his little brother to ask about his first finals because there’s no chance in hell he’s going to be able to concentrate on the freaking essay if he’s thinking about Sam’s finals. Sam is on the school bus and seems happy enough about how his first couple of exams went and distracted enough by his finals not to ask too much about Dean, which is probably helpful for them both.

Dean sends Cas the apology he’s been itching to deliver after Sam hangs up, then turns off his phone all together so he can’t second guess Cas’ response in any way.

If there’s one thing he’s learnt from all this bullshit, is that he can’t pull good grades out of his ass when he’s not looking after himself, or when the world isn’t looking after him. It feels a little counterintuitive and wrong to waste the time, but he’s pretty convinced that if his essay’s fuelled by bagels and dehydration it’s not gonna have the best milage.

And he has to do this, for Sam.

He cooks.

Hester bought him some fresh stuff, anyway, and he doesn’t want it to go to waste just because he’s heads a mess. It seems like it would be insulting her in some way. He cooks the kind of good, decent meal that even Sam would approve of and eats at his tiny table and his studio flat with his favourite Led Zeppelin song playing from his laptop. He washes the plates up, clears his table and gets himself a glass of water.

And then he sits down and writes and rewrites his goddamn essay until he’s a hundred percent sure that he’s got nothing else to give and that there’s no way in hell that he can do any better.

Cas doesn’t answer at all, but he parks that as a problem for the future.

Chapter Text

After reading over the essay solidly for an hour on Tuesday Morning, he’s pretty sure he could recite the damn thing by heart and that any sudden flash of genius that could improve his essay would have already happened by now if they were gonna happen.

He drops it off at Principle Singer’s desk at the end of would have been his first class, before heading across the school building to intercept Castiel before he gets to one of his super-smart AP classes.

“Hey,” Dean says, pushing himself off the corridor wall where he was leaning to fall into step with him as he comes out of class, “Can we talk?”

“I have class,” Cas says, not meeting his eye.

“And you’ve finished finals of senior year, us being here at all is kind of a joke,” Dean says, “No one’s gonna care if you’re a couple of minutes late so will you just, damnit Cas, let me apologise to you for being a dick, okay?”

“Did you get your essay done?”

“Handed it in just now,” Dean says, “All that crap you told me about structure before really saved my ass.”

“Good,” Castiel says, evenly.

“Cas,”

“I really should go to class,”

“You still wanna go to prom?” Dean blurts out, which is enough to have Cas finally stop in his tracks to stare at him.

“Prom.”

“If you want me to go, then I’ll…”

“I don’t want you to go to prom with me as a misguided attempt at an apology,”

“That’s not what I meant,” Dean counters, “Me harassing you in the freaking corridors is my misguided attempt at apologising, but you’re not listening to that so I… Cas, please, I’m really not doing well right now but I gotta… if I let myself think about this crap too hard I’m gonna disintegrate and I really, really need to pass school, so I don’t get to fall apart until we’re done here but you… you see right through me, man, and that makes it so much freaking harder to fake it till I make it.”

“You yelled at me. That wasn’t my fault.”

“Damn right it wasn’t, that was all me. I’m sorry. About Friday night and Saturday and yesterday. I’m really freaking… I’m just sorry, Cas, about all of this.” Cas doesn’t say anything but he doesn’t actively leave, either, so Dean’s going to take that as an invitation to keep talking. “But I mean it about the goddamn prom. Sonny and Sam gave me hell for letting you down and I guess they have a point. If you want to go to prom, then I…”

“To quote you, I am not feeling particularly prom-y right now.”

“Okay,” Dean says, “Can, uh, can we talk later?”

Cas looks at him, deep and long and piercing.

“Are you okay, Dean?”

It’s a loaded question. It’s a big question and he’s got a distinct impression that Castiel isn’t in the mood to be fucked around. He wants honesty.

“Of course I’m not fucking okay,” Dean says, his chest creaking open, shoulders slumping in the corridor. This is really not where he wants to have this goddamn conversation, but if Cas wants to have this out then Dean doesn’t have a leg to stand on. “I’m the exact opposite of okay. You know that. Cas. You know...I, damnit, I just don’t wanna talk about it at freaking school, okay?”

“I have class,” Cas says, mouth pulled tight. “We can talk later,”

“Awesome,” Dean mutters, grinding his teeth together before setting off to his own bullshit class.

*

He takes Sam bowling after school, but he's so freaking distracted that his little kid brother is decimating him.

“Dean,” Sam says, after his third gutter ball, “What the hell?”

“What the hell your face,” Dean counters, digging out his cell phone again to find an unsurprising zero messages from Castiel. Zero messages from anyone, actually.

“You're arguing with Cas again,” Sam says, sitting down next to him and fixing him with one of those stares. Dean’s got no idea where Sam picked up the ability to see right through him and communicate that fact with one tilt of the eyebrow but it’s damned annoying. He should never have told Sam anything about it, anyway. He only did in the first place because talking about Cas felt a lot less serious than talking about the future.

“Looks like.”

“You've been arguing a lot lately,”

“Yep,” Dean says, pocketing his phone again and staring at his knees. Sam's just trying to goad him into talking, but it's not like the kid doesn't have a point. They've been arguing all the goddamn time. They've argued about everything there is to argue about, so it's not like it's going well. Maybe it's a good thing they already put a time limit on everything. At least then he doesn't have to watch it disintegrate because he just doesn't have the ability to make it work. It sure as hell doesn’t feel like a good thing right now, obviously. Then again, this doesn’t feel great either. It’s all just shitty.

“Dean,”

“It's your bowl, Sam.”

“Are you arguing because you're both freaking out about Cas going to college?”

“No. We already talked about that. That's… dealt with.”

“Dealt with,”

“It's done, Sam. Take your bowl.”

“What's done?”

“We're done. We're done when he leaves.”

“Just like that, huh?” Sam asks and, nope, Dean does not like the way that his mouth is angled at him right now. He does not want to talk about this with Sam, or at all. Or ever. Not with Cas, not with anyone else. There’s nothing to talk about. It’s just...over.

“Exactly like that.”

“What's the point?”

“The pointis that he's moving to freaking Yale, Sam. Connecticut is a little further than a quick jaunt into town.”

“I get that. What's the point of you being together now if you've both already given up.”

“Gotta fulfil all my prom dreams somehow, Sammy.”

“Dean, I'm serious. I don't get it. How can you be in a relationship if you know it's ending. Like, how can you sleep together with it in the back of your head that there's a time limit? Doesn’t that… mess with your head?”

“Sam, between finals and sharing a bedroom with you, we've barely been in a room alone together since freaking April. That hasn't been an issue.”

“Sure, like you didn't have him over this weekend.”

“Not like that,” Dean mutters.

“You’re missing the point anyway, Dean,” Sam says, “I’m not talking about sex.”

“You bought sleeping together up, not me.”

“It was an example. Dean, I just meant, why are you putting yourself through this if you’ve already decided you’re not fighting it out? I don’t get it. I don’t get you giving up on Cas, period, but I really don’t get why you’re making yourself miserable with all these dumb fights if it’s a battle you already lost.”

He is not wrong.

“I just… we worked that out back in goddamn February, Sam. Cas wanted to do this bullshit thing where we don't talk about it and he just leaves so we don't have to do the shifty break up talk, but then I yelled in his face and we got a whole list of off limits conversation topics and we haven't fooled around in a month. Cas is freaking miserable and too goddamn stubborn to talk to me about it and what's the damn point, anyway, so now it's all screwed up. I said we could go to prom, but no dice, so now I'm just waiting for him to call me like a preteen girl. It's all peachy, now take your goddamn bowl before they chuck us out.”

Sam takes his shot and knocks down six pins before turning back to him.

“You yelled at him?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, squaring his jaw. “Full Winchester Special.”

“You're not dad.”

“You sure about that?”

“Yes,” Sam says, vehemently, “You don't abandon the people you love, Dean.”

“Feels like all I'm goddamn doing is abandoning the people I love, emotionally anyway.” Dean says, then regrets the hell out of it, because that has some definite implications for things he doesn’t mean to imply to anyone. Especially not his kid brother.

“You, Dean,” Sam says, puppy eyes out in force, “Everyone knows how much pressure you're under right now. Cas knows that. I - I know that.”

“Right,” Dean says, standing up to take his shot. He manages to not get another gutter ball, but only just. He still only knocks down three freaking pins.

“The prom thing was a bad move though.” Sam says, watching him take his bowl.

“What? You said I should go.”

“I didn't say you should agree to go because you were in the middle of a fight. You heard of romance, Dean?”

“Fuck you,” Dean says, taking his second bowl before slumping down onto the seat.

“Cas will call,” Sam says, “And you will be prom queen.”

Dean flips him off as Sam starts selecting his next bowling ball.

“I wouldn't freaking blame him if he didn't call.”

“He will,” Sam says, and then Dean’s cell starts ringing.

Unknown number with a Kansas area code. Dean stares at it for a few moments before his head kicks in and he hits answer. Sam gives him a smug look and grabs a bowling ball, quirking up his eyebrows at him as if to say ‘there you go’. It’s not Cas, though, unless Cas is calling him on a different number than either his cell or the Milton’s house phone, which seems unlikely.

It's Singer.

“Hope I ain't disturbing you, boy,” Singer says, “But I just gotta head’s up from Henriksen, figured I'd give you the update.”

Dean’s chest stutters to a stop.

“I - no, sir. Just bowling with Sam.”

“Good. He can celebrate with you.”

“What?” Dean asks, standing up, pressing his phone so close to his ear that it almost hurts. celebrate. Celebrate sounds like… celebrate sounds a helluva lot like… like good news. Like he might have actually…

“You got an A, son,” Singer says, “Fresh off the presses; you pulled it up thirteen marks. Henriksen says it's the best damn essay you've ever written.”

Holy shit.

“So, I -?”

“You passed. You're graduating next week.”

“Holy - are you serious?”

“Cold dead serious, Dean. Processing your final grade right this second.”

“Holy fuck,” Dean says, air rushing out of his lungs, “Thank you. Thank you, I will not let you down.”

“You earnt it, Kid. That was all you. Now go tell your brother and relax, y’idjit.”

His ears are ringing. He has to sit down again because his legs feel a little weak and there’s this rushing noise in his head because, because… he actually did it He actually…. He actually fucking did it. With marks to spare.

“Dean,” Sam says, eyes large and worried, stood way too tall in front of him.

“I passed,” Dean says, “Goddamn, Sammy, I passed high school. I'm done.”

“That's -” “I got a fucking A in my re-do re-do, last chance saloon essay, Sammy. I'm not flunking out. I passed. I…”

“Dean, that's awesome,”

“Jesus freaking - I feel like I can breathe again, goddamn,” Dean exhales, looking at the crappy ceiling of the bowling alley, closing his eyes for a moment. He did it. For the first time in goddamn months, something good has happened… and he… he’s done with exams and pop-quizzes and trying to get his messed up, full up head to focus on human biology and maths. He didn’t let Sonny down. He didn’t let Singer down. Not Sam or Castiel. He did it.

“You got an A,” Sam says, beaming at him.

“Yeah, Sam, I got a mother fucking A.”

“Dude, that’s -”

His phone rings again before he can finish processing it and it’s still not Castiel. Sam probably assumes it is because he’s headed back to pick up another ball and take a shot even though it’s definitely not his turn under the rouse of giving him some space.

“Dean,” Rufus says, straight off the mark, “Bobby tells me you're graduating high school next week.”

“Looks like,” Dean says, chest pounding.

“How's the Monday after sound for a start date?”

“I, yes sir.”

“Swing by after work tomorrow to pick up your contract,” Rufus says, “And you're working the early shift - half seven till four - and no complainin’ about it.”

“Okay,” Dean says.

“Monday to Friday, one Saturday a month.”

“Got it,” Dean says, “I - see you tomorrow.”

“And for the record, I'm no bleeding heart like Bobby. You don't deliver you won't be getting any second chances from my direction.”

It feels like someone’s taken a crowbar to his chest and finally cracked open some slither of hope he had stored deep in his chest. He’s happy in a way that he hasn’t felt for a long ass time because… maybe, maybe things are going to be okay. Not amazing. Not brilliant. But maybe, just maybe, it’ll be okay.

“Dean,” Sam says, “Was that Singer again? What did he say? Are you… Dean, you look like you're going to cry. What just happened?”

“I got a job,” Dean says, blinking, “I got a job Sam. A real freaking Monday to Friday contract job. It's - it's gonna be okay. It's all gonna be okay.”

Sam hugs him so tight he can barely breathe.

He loses at bowling against Sam for the first time ever.

He’s never cared less about anything in his life.

*

Sam insists he should come in and tell Sonny the good news and Dean feels too light and free to argue with him. Anyway, Sonny beaming at him from ear to ear is an image he wants to keep and store away forever. It’s good, so good, and Sam is happy and they’re all proud of him like he really achieved something big, rather than just scraping by.

And then he has to leave. It sucks, but it doesn’t hollow him out as much as he would have expected. It’s good that the first time he had to drop Sam home somewhere else he’s got enough good things to cling onto not to fall down the rabbit hole.

“Don’t think I didn’t notice you didn’t tell me about the redo redo,” Sam says, stood outside of Sonny’s, smiling.

“Go study for your freaking finals, slacker,” Dean returns, ruffling up his hair before pulling him into a hug goodbye. It feels wrong to leave but right now it’s okay. It’s manageable with this lining of good news in his gut.

“Saturday?” Sam says, voice growing smaller.

“Saturday,” Dean agrees, swallowing back whatever it is that’s trying to seep into his good mood and snatch it away.

He won’t let it right now. Not tonight. Not this time.

*

It's late by the time he's driven halfway back to his apartment in the opposite direction of his little kid brother. It's too late to call Cas, really, especially given Cas has made it kind of clear that he doesn't really want to speak to him, at least until Dean can waltz into school with heart on his sleeve and tell Gabriel about his inner most feelings.

He wants to call him though. He wants to call him so goddamn bad that he pulls over to the side of the road and dislodges his phone from his pocket before the side of his head that's calling him an asshole for putting them both through this, still, can win out.

There's a large part of him that thought Cas wouldn't answer, anyway.

“Hello Dean,”

“Hey,” Dean breathes.

“I don't think I want to talk to you right now,”

“I, okay. I get that,” Dean says, chest tightening, “Can I just - I wanna tell you something. Then you can hang up on my ass.”

Cas is quiet for a few long, thick seconds.

“Okay.”

“I - I passed school, Cas. I'm graduating and then Rufus called and I've got a job now. A real freaking job. I got an A on the dumbass essay from yesterday, so I wound up eight marks in the clear. I did it, Cas.”

“That's - Dean, congratulations. That’s incredible.”

“I know I did kind of crappy really, but it was enough. I - I just wanted to tell you. I really wanted to tell you.”

“Don't undermine your achievement. You are remarkable, Dean, really.”

“I could've done it without your help, Cas. Castiel. You have saved my ass more times that I can count. Every damn thing you've done for me I -”

“ - are you at home?”

“Uh, no I pulled over at the side of the road. I just really wanted to talk to you.”

“When will you be home?”

“Fifteen minutes,” Dean says, voice catching in the back of this throat.

“Okay,” Castiel says and then he hangs up like that’s a normal way to end a goddamn conversation.

*

Castiel shows up at his apartment five minutes after he gets through the door with two bottles of beer and an almost smile. Dean’s not sure if he was expecting him or whether he’d talked that side of his head into submission and convinced himself that was optimistic at best, but Cas is here. He’s here.

“You nick those from Hester?”

“She granted permission,” Cas says, stepping into the room, “Or I would have taken more than two.”

“You're a unique kind of rebel, man.”

“It was strategic. I wanted her to allow me to stay here.”

Dean has got absolutely no idea how his freaking boyfriend’s head works sometimes and he has no idea if he’s supposed to feel guilty about somehow getting Cas to shift from not wanting to talk to him at all, to showing up at his door with beers and an overnight bag.

“And did she?”

“She has very little grounds on which to stop me.”

“So you’re, uh, staying over,” Dean says, watching Cas walk over to his kitchen drawers and beginning to search for a bottle opener. “You done being pissed at me?”

“‘Pissed’ was not my prevailing emotion,” Cas says, “Was your brother pleased?”

“I, yeah. His brother’s not a worthless drop out and he beat me at bowling; it’s like Christmas come early.”

“You have no capacity for worthlessness,” Castiel says, “Hester wanted to pass on her sincere congratulations and Gabriel…”

“ - said something crude?” Dean suggests, to which Cas inclines his head and passes him his celebratory beer with a smile.

“Well done, Dean.”

He wants to knock back the praise with an acknowledgement that ninety five percent of the school population would be devastated with his crappy grade point average and his status as just-about-passed; he wouldn’t have celebrated his kind of results last year, even. He kind of wants to tell Cas that his capacity for worthlessness grows every freaking day and that he’s a screwup who doesn’t deserve congratulatory beers. There’s a prevailing thought in his head that he’s just too relieved that he can stop fighting this particular battle to allow any of the rest of it through.

Dean’s just too goddamn pleased that he’s done with high school to let any of those other thoughts take route.

“Thanks,” Dean manages, before he has to clear his throat and force the conversation onto something lighter. “Slumber party, huh?” Dean says, quirking up his eyebrows, “What do you wanna do?”

“Read your essay.”

“Seriously?” Dean asks, making a face before jerking a thumb towards his laptop and taking a swig of his beer. “Knock yourself out, you freaking nerd.”

“Password?”

“Impala67,” Dean says. Cas smiles. “Shut up,”

“Is it the document entitled ‘human blah blah blah fuck this’ or the one without the profanity?”

“Uh, profanity. Pretty sure. Here's your beer.”

Cas reads, face pinched in concentration and Dean finds himself just watching him like a goddamn creep. It’s just… there’s something indescribably cute about Castiel’s expression of concentration which Dean’s never quite been able to put his finger on. There’s just something about Cas that draws him in inexplicably. It doesn’t hurt that Cas is fucking amazing: whip smart yet freaking hopeless, with so, so much goddamn heart. It’s probably not a good thing, really, that Cas spends so much time shoving down how he feels in order to show up whenever Dean needs him, but it’s a mark of how awesome he is.

“This is a very good essay,” Castiel says, when he’s finished, turning to look at him with one of his rare soft expression. “You should be very proud of this, Dean.”

“I, thanks,” Dean says, face flushed.

“Your ideas are original, your argument persuasive and your conclusion is very compelling; you are smart, Dean, as you always have been. I hope you remember that.”

“It’s just a dumb essay,” Dean says, clearing his throat. “And Singer basically told me exactly what to do.”

“And you did take my advice about structure,”

“I told you I did,” Dean says, squaring his shoulders against all the freaking compliments. Cas doesn’t respond. “What, did you think I was making that up?”

“Yes,”

Sometimes, Cas’ bluntness is not what he needs.

“Nice, Cas.”

“With good intentions,”

“We all knows where they lead,” Dean mutters, “I don’t lie to you. I don’t tell you how I’m feeling, there’s a difference, and it’s not like you’re an open book.”

“Sometimes, you tell me things I want to hear,” Cas says, shutting his laptop shut with a click.

“No I don’t.”

“On Saturday you told me you were going to heat up leftovers and eat after I left. Did you?”

“That’s different,” Dean says, “You knew I was saying that to make you feel better about leaving when I said it. That wasn’t… ” Cas looks at him in that you're a neanderthalway and says nothing further. “Saturday was a really bad day,Cas, I mean I have never -”

“- I know,”

“Wasn't trying to put shit on you. Wasn't trying to make it so you have to deal with this I… my internal organs were bleeding out and I couldn't breathe and I needed help.”

“I know that.”

“Yeah, okay, you know that, but I don't think you get it. You don't get that you're the only damn person that I'd ever let -- there's not another person in the fucking universe that I'd let see me like that. I haven't… not Sam, not Gabe, not Sonny, not my father. No one. I need you. I- ”

“I love you,” Cas say. It’s the first time he’s said it in a long time. He sort of just gave up saying it, which Dean didn’t exactly blame him for. He doesn’t imagine it to feel great to say it and say it and say it and get Dean’s crappy emotionally constipated routine every time. It still feels like another wave of relief to hear it again, even though it’s beyond selfish of him. He hasn’t chased Cas away yet. Castiel still love him. He hasn’t screwed it up yet.

Except, he hasn’t got a goddamn reply. He can’t. He just… can’t.

Dean exhales painfully.

“Cas,”

“It doesn't matter.” Cas says, leaning forward to kiss him over the table.

“It matters. I, I should explain-”

“I don't need an explanation,” Cas cuts across him, voice firm, deep, fierce. It’s solid, but not the least bit convincing.

“You need a helluva lot from me, Castiel, I just don't know if I've got it to give.”

Castiel stands up and crosses the room, pausing in front of Dean's chair. His normal idea of personal space is pretty minimal anyway, but he stops near enough that Dean can feel the heat radiating from his chest. If he were able to think straight when Cas looked at him like that he'd stop him so they could have a proper conversion about this, but he's caught up glancing between Cas’s blue blue gaze and his top lip. Goddamnit.

“I want to try something,” Cas says, voice rough gravel and promise. Dean swallows. Cas is deflecting again. He spends half the damn time deflecting, it's just Dean doesn't push at it; there's no point. He doesn't know what it would achieve. Cas doesn't want to tell him what's going on in his head, so why the hell should he push? “You should take off your shirt.”

They haven't so much as kissed yet, but Dean obliges and pulls it over his head. It's hot in his apartment anyway. He opened the window as soon as he got in to chase some air into the place, but it's still hot.

“Socks,”

It's easier to just oblige and it's not exactly unexpected that Cas has sex on his mind. They screwed around in the back of his car in the back end of Sonny’s farm because they couldn't freaking cool it. Now he lives alone and the guy already said he wanted to stay over. It's not a surprise.

“Jeans,”

“The hell am I stripping down to my boxers when you're still over there,” Dean throws into the air, more confident than he’s really feeling. Cas looking at him like that makes him feel vulnerable and he has no goddamn idea why.

Cas crawls into his lap and kisses the spot under his earlobe, then his collarbone, the corner of his mouth.

“That was a very good essay,”

“You get this hot over a goddamn essay you're gonna need to watch yourself at college.”

Cas kisses him properly, this time, probably to stop him from running his dumbass mouth about college and ruining their whole truce. Dean tangles his fingers up in the rough of Cas hair and they kiss and kiss until the chair gets in the way until they move to the sofa, and then they keep on making out until they've made up for however long it's been of them not doing this enough.

“Missed you,” Dean mutters into his neck and it's adjacent enough to how he really feels that it eases the feeling of his organs trying to ingest themselves, a little. Cas makes a pleased noise at the back of throat and that’s good, that’s awesome, and as long as Cas is okay then -

“You sure you wanna do this?” Dean asks, when they've given up on the damn sofa and Dean has his brand freaking new bedsheets tangled around his feet, one of Cas’ knees wedged either sides of Dean’s hips as he leans down to kiss him. “Last I checked you didn't want to talk to me.”

Cas kisses him, hard, rather than answering.

It turns out what Cas wants to try is eating him out and it's the single hottest moment of his life

*

The fifth time they spend the whole night together is much better than the preceding four and better still when they wind up nearly late to school because they’re making out, till they fall into bickering over breakfast and transport.

In the end, Dean drives them both into a school with a hand on his knee, definitely because it guarantees that Castiel has to come back after school (and not because of his ‘illogical to drive two cars to the same place’ reasoning that he pitched to Cas). Cas puts up a show of being irritated about it for all of four minutes at the end of the school day, but then he suggests a dinner and a movie after they pick up his contract, which bleeds into a second movie and dessert.

Night five segways into night six after a lengthy phone call with Hester in which Castiel invokes the ‘I’m eighteen’ line three times, before she gives up on the promise that Cas will return home the following evening for dinner.

Castiel insists on driving on Thursday morning with the assurance that Dean was invited for dinner and that Cas can drive him home afterwards in the name of ‘savings the environment’, so Dean’s ninety percent sure that they’re not arguing anymore. It’s their last real day at school ever, too, which means that Hester has no real argument for stopping Cas packing another change of underwear and some clothes to head back to Dean's for whatever senior skip day bollocks that Gabriel has organised for the Friday.

As a first week of living alone go, it definitely could have been worse.

Chapter Text

The whole concept of senior skip day is freaking glorious. He goddamn deserves it after the battle he’s been fighting for the past year and the small amount of space he’s had since the phone call from Singer has made him realise he’s had a tension headache since fucking Christmas. Now, he gets a whole day cleared of school, work and worrying incessantly about every single thing that could go wrong in his life (hopefully). Gabriel has made plans for them all, so there’s that, but none of that kicks off until after midday because ‘the hell are we getting up on senior freaking skip day’, which means he gets to ignore the alarm he forgot to turn off and roll into Castiel’s side of the bed.

“This bedsharing crap works a helluva lot better with a double,” Dean mutters, half into the pillow and half in Cas’ direction.

“You’re just registering this now?”

“No,” Dean says, eyes shut, “Was just thinking about us squashed up in your bed at Casa Milton that night I snuck out of Sonny’s.” He hadn’t slept well the first couple of nights in the apartment, at all, but Cas being here for the past three nights (which is one of the worst ideas he’s ever had, really, but he’s been doing a really good fucking job of not thinking about that) has helped a lot. He’s stupidly comfortable now, with Cas a line of heat on his left hand side and the covers thrown around both of them. Their feet are touching.

“Still a better fit than your car,”

Dean huffs a laugh at that and rolls over to face him. He’s folded his arms over his pillow and is resting on them instead, which looks like it can’t possible be comfortable. It gives Dean the opportunity to graze his knuckles over the dip of his back, though, and actually look at him in the eye.

“Cas,” He exhales, frowning, “Where did that stuff on Tuesday night come from?” Cas’ frown deepens. “Don’t get me wrong, dude, it was freaking awesome, but last I checked you were more virgin Mary than Mary Magdalene and I just... “

“You’re making a biblical reference,” Cas says, mouth poised just so.

“I’m just sayin’ it was unexpected, from you. Where did you even get that from?”

“Oh,” Cas says, not blinking, “I told you I questioned the nun quite thoroughly.”

“Holy shit,” Dean says, “ Seriously? You are… wow, Cas. You are something else.”

“A good something else?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, swallowing, “The best something else.”

“I wanted you to be all my firsts,” Castiel says, achingly sincere, that knocks all the wisecracks straight out of his head. “That… that is what I wanted.”

Dean stares at him for a long few moments. Maybe Castiel hasn’t directly referenced their breakup, but it’s explicit enough in what he’s saying: I wanted you to be all my first because we’re a two months off being done.

“Cas, you know… you know a lot of that stuff people say about virginity is just crap.”

“That’s not the issue,” Castiel says, “It’s… you are very important to me, Dean, and I - I wanted to ensure our relationship’s profound nature was preserved in my personal history.”

“That’s not an issue of firsts, either,” Dean says, quiet, “I’ve got a bunch of relationships under my belt, but none of them really matter. It’s just you.” Cas just looks at him. “Cas, listen, at some point someone else is gonna get a first. First vacation, first bowling date, first fancy meal out date, whatever, and that’s not gonna make what we had any less. It doesn’t mean that this wasn’t real and serious and it doesn’t override that and it doesn’t change anything about us, that’s just… how it is.”

“I don’t want to do those things without you,”

“Maybe not right now,” Dean says, “But, you will.”

“I don’t see how you can possibly know that,” Cas says, voice sleep rough but fierce and, damnit, he’s got a point. Right now it sure as hell doesn’t feel like he’s going to wanna let anyone else in the way he’s let Castiel muscle into his life and his personal bullcrap. It feels a helluva lot like Castiel is it for him, but that’s different because he’s messed up and screwed up and has a tendency to push people away until they just fucking leave. Cas is different. Cas isn’t broken. He’ll be fine, it’s just… goddamnit. “I think we should go bowling.” Cas says, after a long enough pause of Dean’s head tearing itself into pieces. He’s twisted into Dean’s personal space and has him fixed with those eyes.

“Okay,” Dean agrees, because there’s nothing else in his freaking head, then sits up to check his cell phone and the time. “Next weekend. We can go bowling.”

“Tomorrow night,”

“Pretty sure you’re busy tomorrow night,” Dean says, throat constricting. He has a sudden desire to move and settles on digging his laptop out from wherever it was so he can continue abusing Gabriel’s netflix account (Cas gave him the password, so he figures it’s a boyfriend-benefit). “‘Less you’ve had a change of mind about prom in the past week.”

“I haven’t,”

“Okay then,” Dean says, but the movement to get his damn laptop wasn’t enough, so he heads over to the cupboard to get a mug for some damn coffee. “So we’ll go next weekend.”

“Okay,” Cas parrots back, sitting up.

“You want coffee?” Dean asks, snatching a shirt off the floor and pulling it over his head. He’s on the cusp of saying I meant it about going to the damn prom with you but the words don’t quite make it out of his mouth. He offered. They might have been in the middle of a damn fight, but he said he’d do it. Cas turned him down. If Cas actually wants him there, then Cas should be the one to bring it up again, at least that’s how it seems in his messed up head.

“Yes,” Cas agrees and they wind up watching a couple of episodes of some bullcrap program about building houses that Cas likes in bed with coffee and breakfast like they’ve been freaking married for years, not dating for less than a year.

Like they’re actual adults in a real damn relationship, rather than constantly trying to work round curfews and no-privacy and not being allowed to sleep in the same damn bed.

“I’ve gotta run some errands before we catch up with Gabriel later,” Dean says, pausing the third episodes before it starts rolling.

“I wanted to make you lunch,”

“You were gonna cook?”

“I can cook,” Castiel says, frowning at him, “I’ve done it before.”

“Yeah, I know,” Dean says, “I, uh, I guess you could stay here. I’m not gonna be out long.”

“Okay,” Castiel agrees, hitting play as Dean gets dressed like they do this kind of domestic shit all the damn time.

*

In order to get the kiosk that cuts keys (it doesn't matter that his little brother’s only way of getting to his apartment is Dean driving him, the kid should have his own goddamn key) in the middle of the freaking mall, he has to walk past a whole bunch of shops and it’s that fact that completely screws him over. It’s just… there’s an okay-looking button down shirt that doesn’t make him feel totally uncomfortable and it’s on sale and, theoretically, he could just wear that to the goddamn prom with the pair of black jeans he owns that doesn’t have holes in and he might just pass as smart-enough. It’s no fucking penguin suit, sure, but it would be enough that he wouldn’t look like a total fucking idiot and it would be more than sufficient for Cas.

He backtracks to an ATM to check how much is in his bank, before stalling a little more and pulling out his cell phone to text Charlie. He only has it on Sam’s superior knowledge about the goddamn prom that Cas probably already got him a ticket, but there’s no freaking point buying clothes he’s never gonna wear again if Cas didn’t buy him a ticket. Charlie sends him a cagey message back that doesn’t commit to freaking anything, probably out of loyalty to Cas.

Dean sends her a picture of the damn shirt in the window and types out do i need to buy? which gets him a yess!!!!! Omg i love you back because of who Charlie is as a person.

He could go to the fucking prom, for Cas. Not because he wants to for a hot minute, but Castiel has put up with a myriad of bullshit over their relationship. He missed school and followed him halfway across the state and he showed up when Dean sent him a distress call in the middle of the night. He’s solemnly declared that he’s in love with him and not once asked Dean why he’s such a fucking asshole that he can’t even acknowledge that he’s said it conversation, and the one thing he’s ever asked for is a date for prom. It’s a dumb ass wish, obviously, and he’ll hate it, but he can suck it up and attend. For Cas.

And if Charlie and Gabriel are there, too, then he’ll at least have decent company. Dorothy. Ash. Maybe Kali, depending on wherever the hell Gabriel is at with that.

If Cas even still wants to go with him.

He could just call him and ask the goddamn question, but then he has Sam’s voice in the back of his head prattling on about romance and there’s a large part of him that nudging him that Cas really doesn’t have any gauge of how much Dean cares about him. Dean’s never said. He’s tried, a couple of times, to say shit approximating to how he feels, but it never comes out right and Castiel never seems to get what he’s trying to say. The one time he tried to spill his guts, Cas gave him an out and he took it.

The damn thing is, he’s got Castiel declaring sincerely that he doesn’t want anyone else, with three days of cohabitation in the back of his head, with Cas buzzing round his brain, Cas in his bloodstream, Cas in his damn apartment where he has been for freaking days, until suddenly it sounds like a good idea.

It’s not. It’s the worst idea he’s ever fucking had, but that doesn’t hit him until way after he’s left the shop.

*

“Hey,” Dean says, wedging his flat door up with his hip and dragging in the bag of crap of all the adult stuff he wound up missing in this past week through the door. “You’re up.”

“I said I would cook food,”

“True,” Dean says, swallowing, “You made no promises of punctuality though.”

“It was implicit,” Cas says, turning to face him in his boxers and shirt, frowning into the frying pan.

“Cas, I,” Dean begins, then swallows, stops, “I like the get up. Real smart.”

“Thank you,” Cas says, “Did you get everything done?”

“Yeah,” Dean exhales, “Smells good.”

“It’s bacon,” Cas says, “It always smells good.”

“True,” Dean says and throws himself the sofa. “Thanks.”

“Are you working tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “Eight till three tomorrow, ten to two Sunday. Afternoons all next week, then I’m gonna talk to my boss about dropping down to weekends.”

“You have a job,”

“Monday to Friday.” Dean says.

“Dean,” Cas says, frowning, “Your income will be sufficient.”

“I got capacity,” Dean says, “Same as what I do now, right? Except I won’t have homework.”

“You could have a break, Dean.”

“Or I could have some savings, send Sam to college.”

“You deserve to have a break, Dean. After everything that’s happened this year, you deserve to have a break.”

“Hm,”

“I’m serious,” Cas says, coming at him with his frown, “Dean, you must -”

“Here,” Dean says, digging out the chain from his jean pocket, chest pounding, before he slips off the second key he really, really shouldn’t have got and slipping it into Cas’ hands. Partially it’s because he needs them to not have this conversation where tries to talk him into having a break, missing the whole part of his life that’s going to be fucking empty anyway. More time is the last goddamn thing he wants.

It’s more than that, though. It’s because he was stood there at the dumb kiosk to get Sam a freaking key and he just… we found himself asking for two keys with the image of Cas showing up at his front door in the middle of the night, because Dean called him when he was losing his mind, and Cas had to wait until Dean had the capacity to get up and unlock the door himself.

Obviously, Castiel should have a key. He just should.

“What’s this?” Castiel asks, his tirade about Dean taking care of himself forgotten. Instead, he’s just very still.

And that’s about when Dean’s regret starts seeping in.

“Not for nothing, Cas, but I’d’ve thought a Yale student would recognise a key.” Dean says, voice forcefully light, as if none of this is a big fucking deal, as if he can still somehow blow this off as some throw-away airy gesture.

“Dean.”

“I was getting one for Sam,” Dean says, mouth dry, “And I… you’ve been here pretty much the whole time. So I…”

“Dean,” Cas says, “What does this mean?”

“It means I spent five dollars getting you a key,” Dean says, heart rating picking up, “It means you can open and lock my door. That’s it. That’s the whole thing.”

“This is a key, Dean.”

“Yeah,” Dean says, standing up to make a point of checking on the bacon, because Cas is just standing there and Dean feels like his chest is caving in.

“Socially challenged although I may be, I am not ignorant to the fact that a key is something.”

“Not this key,” Dean snaps, “This key is a key, it’s not anything.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m not saying fucking anything,” Dean says. His voice comes out too loud, too harsh and not in the least bit convincing and Castiel is resolutely not-blinking at him in the middle of his kitchen/bedroom/living space. He’s just there making completely reasonable demands of answers that Dean doesn’t have anything to say for. “It doesn’t mean jackshit, so quit reading stuff into every damn thing.”

“Okay, Dean, you’ve effectively made your point,” Cas says, fingers closing around the key as he turns away, shoulders bunched up and unhappy. Goddamnit, but Dean is bad this crap. Bad at this everything.

“We’re gonna be late,” Dean says, with his voice still tainted with frustration that he definitely does not want to direct at his boyfriend, who has definitely done nothing wrong.

“Food will be ready shortly,”

“Awesome,” Dean mutters.

He spends the rest of the damn morning acting like a total asshole, except he can’t quite knock himself out if it. He just can’t quit it, which only severs to increase his annoyance levels.

He doesn’t bring up prom or the new shirt in the trunk of his baby, which is probably a good idea.

*

Charlie asks him about it the second they’re alone at the Milton’s. Castiel and Gabriel are arguing about some aspect of Gabriel’s crazy senior skip day plan (apparently, it involves a TV marathon, very sugary popcorn, a pop quiz and stripping; Dean’s got no idea which of those things were a joke, if any, or which of those things Cas has taken objection to), which means that Charlie has the opportunity to budge up next to him on the sofa and look at him.

“So,” Charlie says, all wide eyes and red hair, “You coming?”

“No,” Dean says, not because he’s not intending to just freaking ask Cas if he still wants him to go to prom, but because this way cuts all the expectation off at source. He’s gonna bring it up. He was going to do it earlier but then he fucked up that whole thing. Still, he’s almost a hundred percent sure that Cas does want him to go and, hell, Sonny and Sam are right; he owes him that much. He is going to go to the damn prom, he just doesn’t want Charlie counting on it just yet.

“What? Why?”

“Because,” Dean grunts, then leaves the room on the pretense of going to split up whatever it they’re fighting about.

It turns out to be salt versus sweet popcorn.

Dean doesn’t manage to shake his bad mood off until the fifth bad alien movie that Gabriel makes them watch and even then he still somehow manages to act like dick to Cas whenever they talk, so it’s not exactly a surprise when Cas elects to stay at the Milton’s rather than spend another night in his apartment.

It’s damned lonely without him there and he nearly texts him about prom four times.

*

He’s absolutely, no doubt about it, a hundred freaking percent going to talk to Cas about the goddam prom on Saturday morning, except then he doesn’t. He gets up late for his shift and then he works through his first break and then something sour starts sitting in his gut about how he’s already way too damn late.

If he was going to go to do it, he should have done it yesterday, or when they finished that last stupid fight, or when Cas mentioned it in the first place. Now it’s gonna come across like he’s apologising for acting like a total dickbag yesterday (which he already sent an apology text to Cas about last night) and it won’t come across like a sincere gesture because he doesn’t want to go, really, so he can’t really claim otherwise.

When he clocks off his shift at three, he’s sent Cas a total of nine messages throughout the day and he hasn’t mentioned prom in a single message. He just hasn’t done it and then he’s back home, staring at the dumb shirt he bought, and he nearly hits ‘dial’ before he turns his cell phone off and puts the crappy show about truckers on.

He can’t stop thinking about how it felt like he was falling and falling and falling and he called Castiel and he came over, yet Dean can’t even send him a dumb message about a high school dance he barely cared about in the first place. He can’t stop thinking about Cas driving after him after he lost his fucking mind and half ran away. He can’t get Cas holding the damn key in his hand out of head, with an audio of Sam asking ”why are you putting yourself through this if you’ve already decided you’re not fighting it out” screaming behind him.

Dean should go to prom with Castiel. He should. It would be the right thing to do. As much as it would suck, he’d probably have a good time. He’d be with Cas and Gabriel and Charlie. Someone would sneak in some alcohol. One teacher playing chaperone would probably drink it. There’s a chance that, between it all, it could almost be fun. Even if it wasn’t, it would probably beat him sitting in his empty apartment thinking about the fact that he’s not there and there’s an outside chance it would make Castiel happy.

He should go.

Except, then it’s seven PM and he’s really too late. He can’t just show up because it’s pretty damn unlikely that Cas would have picked up the ticket he never even admitted buying for him and what if he doesn’t want Dean to be there after all?

Castiel doesn’t sound pissed from the sporadic text updates he’s getting about prom night, but he’s not exactly candid about how he’s feeling; a lot of the time Dean’s pretty sure the guy is pissed at him about something and just decided it wasn’t worth bringing it up. He’s got texts from Gabriel and Charlie too. Charlie’s pissed off at his no-show routine but has assured him she hasn’t mentioned anything to Cas and Gabriel’s possibly drunk or just high on sugar. Cas hasn’t even made a reference that they even talked about prom, at any point.

Dean turns up the TV and forces himself to answer every other text message.

He gets a ‘everyone has gone to to fulfil their prom night traditions. Can I come over? at half eleven, which is earlier than he was expecting. He types out an affirmative and makes an attempt to tidy up the evidence of his pity party before Cas gets there.

“How was it?” Dean asks, opening the door and taking in Cas in his nice duds. He looks good and Dean gets another stab of something painful in his stomach as he loosens his tie and strips off his jacket. Dean should have been there.

“As you described,”

“You have fun?”

“Yes,” Cas says, with an almost smile.

“You look hot,” Dean says, because he can't think of a damn other thing he can say. He's not sure they can make it through the whole damn night without acknowledging the fact that Cas wanted him there and he's not even sure he wants to try. He wants to apologise. Go back in time and just go to the damn thing. Just to actually call him.

Cas does smile at that and undoes the buttons near his wrists so he can roll up his sleeves.

“Bela was very upset to lose her campaign for prom queen.”

“Yeah?”

“She left her date after the vote,” Cas says, “Charlie said it was very dramatic.”

“I should’ve come with you,” Dean blurts out, because he is a smooth freaking criminal, and because he can’t sit here and listen to Cas talk about his evening without acknowledging the fact that he deserved better. He deserved better from Dean and Cas has reliably let him get away with far too much crap.

“You explained you couldn’t,” Cas says, voice level, “And you explained why you couldn’t. I know I’m privileged that Hester ensured we both had appropriate clothing and -”

“- I bought a shirt,” Dean interjects, “I bought one.”

Cas stills.

“You bought a shirt?”

“To wear to prom, with you. I bought it yesterday. It was dumb, but I… “ Dean trails off, because Cas’ expression is not good and not what he was aiming at. He’s frowning at him, three shades more pointed than his usual frowns. “I was gonna come with you, but then I didn't say anything.”

“Why?”

“I didn't know if you wanted me to,”

“I told you I wanted you to come with me,” Cas says, eyes sharp, and piercing enough that Dean can’t look away even though that sounds great right about now.

“But then I said you'd go and you said you didn't.”

“No, I said I didn't want to go because of a misguided apology. I did not say I had changed my mind.”

Castiel’s voice is full of unbroken thunder. He hasn’t moved since Dean first mentioned the shirt.

“Well, okay, but I asked you wrong the first time -”

“ - I am not a caricature teenage girl on an after school special program, I didn't need you to ask me, I needed you to tell me you were going to come,” Castiel cuts across.

“You didn't mention it again, Cas, I didn't know.”

“You bought the damn shirt, Dean, clearly you knew,” The damn thing is, Cas is right. He is. He did know. He knew and it just… “I am very angry at you right now.”

“I didn't know how to bring it up,”

“You have cost me because of your -”

“ - Look, I'm sorry, okay? That’s what I’m trying to do here, man, apologise.”

“If you were too cowardly to buck up and tell me you'd go, why would you tell me about the damn shirt afterwards? What good was that supposed to achieve?”

“I don't know, Cas, how about honesty?”

“That is not the basis of our relationship, Dean,” Cas spits out, stood in his damn tux, pissed as hell. “We don't talk about how we feel if it's going to complicate things; why start now?”

“Well that's fucking great,” Dean says, his own voice rising to match, “That’s a goddam great way to have a relationship.”

“Are you forgetting that you have already broken up with me Dean?” Cas says, eyes flashing, “You made that decision. You can't start getting keys cut and almost coming to prom then apologising for something I didn’t even know to be angry about and expect me to understand that's going on In your head. You don't make sense, Dean.”

“Damnit, Cas, I got the damn key because you were here for three days and I figured it would be more convenient. It was, I was being practical,” Dean says, except he knows that Cas knows it all bullcrap, because he’s right. They don’t talk about their feelings if it’s going to complicate things. It’s how they diffused their last three arguments. It’s the policy they’ve been taking towards their upcoming breakup and Yale and prom, before Dean’s idiocy. They’re not gonna talk about the fact that Dean’s in crazy stupid deep feelings, because that’s the epitome of complicated. He’s just so freaking stupid.

“How am I supposed to know if you've changed your mind about us and are just too repressed to bring it up in conversation? I don't want you to regret something I want nothing to do with in the first instance.”

“I haven't,” Dean says, squaring his jaw, “There's nothing to change. I got the key because I was being practical and I didn't wanna go to fucking prom,” Dean says, voice hot. “I just wanted to give you what you wanted.”

“You didn't,” Castiel says, “Or you would have actuallygone.”

“I should’ve,” Dean says, “I should’ve - I fucked up, okay, and that’s what I’m trying to say to you. You should get more than what I’ve given you but, you can't sit on all this crap about how you're feeling and then blindside me with it, Castiel. I, next time I'll just fucking call you.”

“There isn't going to be a next time,” Cas says, “You've already decided that.”

They have not talked about this. They haven’t even remotely talked about this. The nearest they’ve got to talking about this was the conversation about firsts yesterday, because that was way too close to lasts to not be about their breakup. This is explicit. This is in-your-face explicit.

“Cas,”

“I need to leave,” Cas says, grabbing his jacket off the back of his chair. “I don't want to be here right now.”

“Damnit,” Dean says, “Come on. It's late. We should… we should fucking talk about this.”

“Goodbye, Dean,” Cas says, pulling on his damn jacket, and that’s that. Dean hasn’t been able to convince him to change his mind when he’s made a decision, ever. When Cas has decided they’re done talking about something, they’re done talking about it. Every single time he’s pushed about how Cas feels, or what he wants, or why he’s angry, Cas shuts him down so goddamn thoroughly and there’s not a damn thing he can do to shift that.

Cas doesn’t considered their relationship to be based on honesty.

“Drive safe,” Dean spits out, throwing himself on the couch as Cas slams the front door behind him.

The second night on his own is worst than the first.

*

“What's up with you?” Sam asks, after Dean's picked him up for their Sunday date of helping out on Sonny’s farm like either of them have a damn clue about freaking farming. He's got them cutting back hedges that are spreading to his crops, which is doable, and decent stress relief. After a crappy shift at work and a morning of zero contact from his boyfriend, hacking down a hedge is a pretty decent distraction.

“Nothing.”

“Did you and Cas have another fight?”

Dean drops his damn sheers on the floor to face his little brother.

“You know what, we're done talking about Cas. I'm done rehashing this crap. Don't bring him up again.”

“Did you, uh, split up?” Sam asks, all wide eyes and trying to help.

“No,” Dean says,” but we're gonna in about six weeks. You're right. The whole thing was fucking stupid. We should’ve called it in January, you happy now?”

“Dean,”

“Whatever, Sam, I'm over it. I am done. Done talking about it. Done with this whole shit show, so fucking forget it. You ask me about it again I'm ignoring you.”

“Okay,” Sam exhales, turning back to his section of the hedge, “Sonny wants to come to your graduation on Tuesday. He said something about Ellen coming too. You should talk to him about it before you head off.”

Dean makes a noncommittal noise of the back of throat before he returns to hacking at the stupid hedge like it’s to blame for all the dumb crap he pulled in the past couple of days. He will talk to Sonny, though, because… hell, it’s something that he’s graduated, let alone that someone wants to attend the ceremony.

“I’m coming too,” Sam says, “And we’re going to celebrate properly, with pie, because you deserve to be happy, Dean.”

Even if everything else is going to shit, his little brother is still awesome.

Chapter Text

Apparently, he was supposed to get tickets for his ‘guests’ for his freaking high school graduation, which passed him by largely because he wasn’t all that convinced that he would be graduating at the time they were talking about it. Sam bugs him about it sufficiently on Sunday (after he’s nagged him into inviting Sonny like it wasn’t obvious that the guy could show up if he wanted to), that he ends up being forced into calling Principle Singer to ask him if there were still tickets.

Sam makes him call his home number that his damn cell remembered, because Sam insisted that it couldn’t possibly wait (“it’s tomorrow, Dean. I’m not missing your graduation because you were too stubborn to call).

Singer saved him four tickets.

Sonny leaves Ellen a message to ask if she wants to come, on Sam’s insistence, which is how he somehow winds up with three whole guests for his graduation. Gabriel texts him about this after-graduation thing that Hester has planned (so Cas is really pissed) that apparently all his goddamn guests are invited to, until suddenly he has fully fledged graduation plans.

He’s graduating high school, though.

He’s actually freaking doing it.

*

Dean wakes up in the middle of the night, fresh out of a nightmare where he’s driving like a bat out of hell, white knuckling it with his hands on the wheel of the impala down route 67. Sam is sat in the passenger seat yelling and if you go off looking for him, I’m sure as hell not looking for you over and over, but Dean’s not even sure who he is looking for. It feels a lot more like his trying to run away than look for someone and the road goes on and on and on. He wants to call Cas, because Cas always wants to know what to do when he’s losing his mind, but Sam won’t give him his phone.

“You can’t call him,” Sam says, the hate in his gaze fucking crucifying him, “You deleted his number.”

“I didn’t,” Dean protests, tightening his grip on the wheel, his whole body shaking. He wouldn’t have deleted Cas’ number. He wouldn’t have done that and he needs to talk to Cas, because he’d know what was going on. He’d -

“Cas has got better things to do than answer your calls,” Sam says and his foots still to the floor, and they’re picking up more and more speed. “He won’t look for you.”

”Sam,” Dean pleads, turning to look at him, “Give me my phone so he can tell me myself.”

Then Sam’s eyes widen into horror and he’s yelling Dean and his gaze snaps back to the road and Mary Winchester is stood in the middle of the road, beckoning to them, but they’re going way too fucking fast and he’s swerving but it’s no good and, and --

He wakes up alone in his fucking apartment with his heart racing.

He’s a little shaky as he fumbles for the light and walks across the room to get himself a glass of water just for something to do that isn’t sit and think about the clusterfuck that is his subconscious, anyway. He hasn’t tidied or cleaned or done a whole lot of anything but watch shitty TV like a goddamn zombie since Cas walked out on Saturday night, so the place is a freaking trip hazard in the middle of the night.

Dean gets back into bed with his glass of water and thumbs on his phone. No new messages, or emails, or freaking anything and after five minutes of scrolling through the last conversation he had with Castiel - about the damn prom - it hits him that the angry, bitter Sam of his subconscious has a point: he can’t call Cas, just because his shitty dream has him feeling like he’s leaking crappy emotion all over the place, because Cas has got better things to do than answer his calls. He could call him right now, probably, and there’s a high chance he’d pick up the call and turn up at his apartment thirty minutes later… but he can’t, because Castiel is leaving. All that crap about Cas deserving better is there, too, because Cas deserves a helluva lot better than then bullcrap Dean’s been serving, but also he won’t be able to call him.

And he’s just going to have be okay on his own.

And he’s just going to have internalise that, if he loses himself, there’s no one available to look for him.

*

All students graduating were told to get to the school a good hour before the ceremony actually starts, apparently for the sole purpose of standing round and chattering excitedly about college and summer and whole bunch of things that Dean isn’t going to get to get. He’s got a robe that he’s supposed to put on at least fifteen minutes before they start and someone has explained to him the concept of standing in alphabetical order, twice, and the vague buzz of excitement is getting to him.

If one more person asks what he’s doing next or why he wasn’t at prom with his boyfriend, he’s going to flip out. He could really use not being chucked out of school before forty five minutes before he graduates, if only because Sam is really happy about today and would probably get upset and pouty if Dean screws it up in another example of his ability to self-sabotage. Plus, Sonny and Ellen have come and between them and Principal Singer, he owes them a lot. He’s not throwing that back in their face.

Castiel arrived with Gabriel ten minutes ago and has been ushered over to the woman handing out robes and running over how the alphabet works and Dean doesn’t know what happens after that conversation is done. Cas hasn’t actually spoken to him since Saturday night. Not that Dean had tried to talk to him, either, because he figured the guy could use some space or something. Instead, he spent a lot of time staring at his cell phone feeling like warmed up shit and trying to work out why he ever thought that they could work, even for a little while.

The only conclusion he managed to get to is that he just really, really fucking wanted it to work, but apparently that just isn’t enough.

He calls an internal ‘fuck this’ right after Castiel gets his robes and makes a beeline for Charlie, his steadfast gaze sweeping past him without pausing, then heads back out into the school corridors.

He winds up walking in the general direction of his locker on automatic. He cleaned it out last week and handed back his key, but he pauses there anyway with his head pounding.

Goddamnit. He’s felt weird since last night and has had way too much time to marinate in the crappy thoughts stuck spinning round his head to feel great about being here, which officially sucks. He worked so fucking hard to not enjoy the ceremonial crap.

In the end, he lets himself into the room that Henriksen pulled him into after they got busted that sparked off everything with Ellen and Sonny, shutting the classroom door behind him and taking a seat. There’s no one around and he can’t see why anyone would give a damn that he’s here and it’s a helluva lot better than standing in the cafeteria with all those people.

He pulls out his cell phone with the intention of seeing if he can get Cas to meet him before the ceremony, but he's pretty sure the only thing left for them to do is break up and that definitely does not sound like a good time to him. He doesn't wanna have that talk right before they have to go and have their pictures taken. He doesn't want that to be what he remembers this day for, even if that's selfish and shitty. He worked hard for this. He worked damn hard to get to this point.

Instead, he scrolls to the the numbers he has saved for John Winchester and hits ‘dial’ on the last one to stop connecting.

To his numb surprise, it doesn't tell him the number has been disconnected anymore. He doesn't get an answer, but it rolls him to the voicemail without a personalised message. It's too late to hang up now because, unless his Dad’s deleted his number, he'll know it was Dean calling. If this is even his number anymore. If he'll even care.

He’s angry. Anger at John Winchester has been bubbling under the surface every since he realised he wouldn’t get to stay with Sam. Since this domino of events started spinning out of control. Since the Wednesday he realised that Dad wasn’t coming back with the weight of everything he was so, so unqualified to deal with beginning to descend onto his shoulders. He was angry at John Winchester when he was telling Sam that everything was going to be okay; angry when he was lying to Castiel about getting to school earlier to go for a run; angry when Hester, finally knowing why he’d been haunting her house so much, stepped forward to hug him in the school corridors. He’s been angry for a very long time, with stress and fear and the barbed hope layered on top, but he’s never had anywhere to put it.

He’s snapped at Sam and Cas and smashed up his car and thrown away college acceptance letters and folded his hands into fists and tried to remember to keep breathing.

Last time he’d had an opportunity to ask his father what the fuck he was thinking, he’d slipped back into the role of his former self. He was the Dean Winchester that idolised his father to the point of self-loathing. The Dean Winchester who accepted barked orders and went along with shit that was bad for Sam, bad for him, because they were orders. The Dean who called his absentee, crappy father ‘sir’ like he deserved his respect, and smoothed over Sam’s angry edges and the school dinners and the enrolling in new schools and the trying to spruce up motel rooms. He was still angry then, but it felt like there was a chance he could snatch his old life back from the brink. He was angry and struck with the sudden terrible blow that his father might just care enough to call on his birthday, even if he didn’t care enough to stick around.

He could leave a silent message. The chances are that he’s swapped phones altogether and he’s never going to get this message, but the longer he hangs on the line the louder he can hear Sam’s demanding ‘what the hell was that?

Sam’s right.

He abandoned them. John Winchester is the reason he had to drag himself through the end of high school by his fingernails and John Winchester is the reason he has to live in his crappy, impersonal studio apartment that feels like it’s suffocating him whenever Castiel leaves. It’s John Winchester that lumped on pressure after pressure and left him alone, tetherless, with nothing but a give-em-hell attitude to keep him float.

“Dad,” Dean says, chest pounding. “I'm graduating today. In a couple of hours. Maybe you know that. Maybe you weren’t keeping track or you figured I wouldn’t do it, but it’s today. I’ve got a spare ticket, so I guess if you showed up and said you were my Dad they’d let you in, but I - I don’t want you to come. I wanted you to come back, before. I was waiting for you to show up. I figured if we held out long enough… but that ends here.”

Dean’s view of the desk he’s been staring at blurs, till he blinks it clear again. This was the room he had to tell everything to Ellen in. This was the room that Castiel found out about all his secrets. In this classroom, he lost his little brother to Sonny.

“Sam needed you. I needed you. We were kids. I was too young for you to put that on me, so I’m done. I’m graduating high school and I’ve got a job, and the first damn thing I’m gonna do when I get my first pay check is to get a new phone so if you wake up one day and I decide you wanna play at being a parent again, you’re gonna have to find someone else to call. I’m not talkin’ for Sam; he’s not got a damn thing to do with this call, so if you want to call him go ahead, I guess. If you even listen to these goddamn messages,” Dean pauses, grip way to tight on his damn phone.

He never, not once, complained about any of it. Every single thing that was asked of him he did, no questions asked. He took on all of it. He was a good son. He made every single bit of John Winchester’s life as easy as he could, through talking Sam down from arguments and fixing the dinner and freaking shoplifting peanut butter when there was no money left.

“You haven’t got a clue what you cost me, Dad. You don’t know what it did to me. Looking after Sam, always, like I didn’t matter. You don’t know how hard it is for me to do something for me. There’s been so much going on in my head, I barely passed. I barely survived. It’s breaking my relationship. I never got to be a kid. That’s on you. It’s on you.”

He shouldn’t be doing this. He shouldn’t have called, but it feels… it feels overdue.

“I don’t need you anymore,” Dean says, dredging the words up from his gut, “And, for the first damn time, I don’t want you.”

His hands are shaking when he hangs up, but he feels okay. Solid. He blinks a few times to clear his vision but doesn’t loosen the grip on his phone or the desk beneath him.

At some point, Castiel followed him into the classroom.

“Hello, Dean,” Cas says, frozen in the doorway.

“Hey,” Dean exhales, pocketing his phone and staring at the ceiling for a few long seconds to try and think away the vague threat of tears. He has cried in front of Cas way too fucking often for him to be comfortable with it happening again, especially if… if they’re done. Really done.

“I followed you from the cafeteria. I didn’t mean to…”

“It’s okay,” Dean says, swallowing, “If anyone was gonna eavesdrop, at least it was you.”

“That wasn’t my intention,” Cas says, “I - I called my father last week, too. Well, left a voicemail.”

“Yeah?” Dean breathes, “You didn’t say.”

“I’ve called him a number of times,” Castiel says, crossing the classroom to sit next to him, “I had a call back from a woman named Rebecca apologising that she wasn’t my father and could not pass on the message about the time and date of my high school graduation. I’m unsure whether she received all of my messages, or just the later.”

“You wanted him to be here?”

“I have wanted him to be here since he left,” Castiel says, sincere and sharp enough that it serves to gut Dean in an instant. He can’t do anything to help, either, so he just reaches out to thread their hands together and continues staring at the ceiling. “I told him about you. Or I told Rebecca, I suppose.”

“Cas, I’m so fucking sorry he did that to you,” Dean says, “You’re so… you didn’t deserve that. You deserved for him to get your goddamn messages and show up at your graduation and let you pick whatever ivy league college you wanted to go to, or let you drop out and join the freaking circus if it made you happy. Cas. You deserve good things.”

“Dean,”

“And I,” Dean begins, still staring at the stupid ceiling, now because it’s easier than facing him directly, “It’s killing me that I don’t get to be one of those good things.”

“We agreed we were not going to talk about this.”

“Cas, we need to talk. You didn’t follow me here because we’ve got our shit together.”

“I wanted to see you before the ceremony started.”

“You didn’t. You were gonna avoid me and then I walked out and your saving Dean’s ass instinct kicked in. I get it. I’m a mess and you’ve worked it some way in your head that I’m your responsibility, but… we can’t carry on like this.”

“This is fine.”

“Castiel, what part of any of this makes you think this is working? Forget you moving to freaking New Haven,” Dean says, “What about you yelling at me in my apartment? You… you were still pissed about me cutting you out with that assignment and you were pissed at me before that about college and I… we don’t talk about our crap, Cas, because we can’t deal with any of it so we just keep actin’ like it’s not happening.”

“Dean,” Cas says, voice on the edge of something.

They’re still holding hands. If anything, Castiel’s grip on his fingers has tightened.

“It’s not, it’s not because of you, it’s -”

“ - do not finish that sentence, Dean,” Cas says, “You do not get to use this as another thing dislike yourself for.”

“When we started this, I was homeless, Cas. That’s a lot. And I’m not saying this because I need a goddamn pity party. I feel like you’ve been throwing me a pity party for months, but… we had too much going on, individually, to make this work. That’s it.”

“It is not it,” Castiel says, “There was nothing wrong with the previous plan, Dean. I don’t want to have this conversation and I definitely do not want to have this conversation ten minutes before my Aunt will be taking incessant photographs of me walking across the school gym.”

“Cas,”

“Today is a big deal for me too, Dean. I was homeschooled. I never thought I’d get a ceremony, or anyone celebrating my achievement.”

“You’re right,” Dean says, the guilt rising up his stomach like nausea, “M’not trying to screw up your day. We can talk about this later. Tomorrow.”

“I don’t want to talk about this at all,” Castiel says, voice sharp.

“Fine,” Dean snaps, “Then just, listen. Hear me out for two minutes because… if we’re going back to plan A and you don’t wanna talk this out, that’s fine, but this is important because I don’t want you carrying shit. You, Cas, you have done a lot for me. You have been there and I appreciate that more than I know how to tell you, but --” He wants to say it was never your job and he wants to say that wasn’t the point of you, even when it looked like it but then Dean meets his eyes, head on and impossibly sincere and all the crap that he’s meant to say for months just disappears right out of it. Cas loves him and that’s… that was a bad idea, from the start. Dean let him down. Dean let Cas detract the conversation away from everything he was pissed about, so the guy could continue to hone in on Dean’s emotional well-being like fixing Dean was his freaking mission in life. It’s why they argued about Dean not going to college. It’s why Cas is determined that he shouldn’t work both jobs. It’s why Cas committed himself so thoroughly to Dean’s crappy grades, because Cas made all of that all important than himself.

And it has to end right now.

“I will be okay without you,” Dean says, deliberately, solid, almost like he believes.

“I’m glad we cleared that up,” Cas says, expression impassive, shoulders tense.

“That’s not to say I’m not gonna miss the hell out of you,”

“We need to go back to the others,” Cas says, standing up and putting some distance between them that they probably both need, even if Dean doesn’t really want it.

“Good talk,” Dean mutters, pocketing his phone and his building frustration because, damnit, he has tried to get Cas to freaking talk to him over and over. He’s tried and he’s pushed and every single time he comes up against a brick wall and, damnit, Cas doesn’t get to just opt out of conversations if he doesn’t want to have them. That’s not how it works.

“Hester bought you a graduation card,”

“Hester’s too damn sweet for her own good,” Dean returns, as they walk back down to the school corridors and rejoin the rest of the students just as the woman begins explaining the concept of alphabetical order all over again.

The graduation ceremony is long and uncomfortable with his too-hot robes and a valedictorian speaker he’s pretty sure he’s spoken to once the whole time he’s been at this school, but he can’t quite bring himself to not enjoy it, the rest of it be damned. Principal Singer’s speech is gloriously short and gruff, as per, and then he’s watching Charlie going up to collect her diploma, then Ash, Castiel, Gabriel.

When Singer calls out his name and shakes his hand, he can see Sam standing up in his peripheries to take a picture on his phone and Sonny’s right there with a proper camera. They’ve wound up sat next to the Miltons, somehow, and Hester is smiling widely as she claps and claps. Ellen actually showed up too, even though he’s sure she must have dozens of messed up kids on his books, but she’s there. They’re all right there and even though Dean’s searching out for his father’s face on automatic - voicemail he just left be damned - he’s pretty sure he’s got everyone he needs right here.

*

Hester apparently booked out half a restaurant for everyone, because she is overwhelmingly good. There’s sandwiches and french fries and everyone’s freaking guardians bunched around talking about colleges and their own high school graduations. Charlie’s Aunt is telling a loud star trek joke that he’s pretty sure none of the others get (but, incidentally, Charlie makes a helluva lot more sense now) and his little brother has somehow wound up talking to Castiel, like Dean didn’t ask him to butt out of the whole thing two minutes ago. It’s weird watching everyone interact with their guardians and their guardians interact with each other but it’s sort of nice, too. It feels very apple-pie-life, even if half their families are broken and scattered and clubbed-together.

“Dude, your Dad is talking to Sonny about farming,” Dean says to Gabriel, “This is crazy.”

“And that’s my cue to sneak out for a smoke,” Gabriel says, gaze flicking between both of his parents, “You in, dude bro?”

“I aint your dude bro, asshat,” Dean says, “And no freaking way. There’s no way they’re not gonna notice you sneaking out.”

“I have doughnuts - my cover story’s all set up.”

“You’re gonna tell them you snuck out for a doughnut?”

“No sweets before you finished the eats,” Gabriel nods sagely, “Anyway, what’s it matter to you? No one here can ground your ass. You’re free.”

“Sure,” Dean says, rolling his eyes, “Other than the fact that I gotta pay my rent and six million different bills, I’m as free as a bird.”

“Special offer: buy nothing get a cigarette and my company for free.”

“Call me when my little brother ain’t interrogating my boyfriend, then I’m all yours. Right now, I gotta stay as lead witness for this bullcrap,” Dean says.

“Suit yourself, bucko,” Gabriel says, “Personally, I need all the stress relief I can get, before the ‘rents start on and ooooon about getting myself a car.”

“Oh yeah,” Dean snorts, “Your life is Shakespearean tragedy.”

“Hey, Winchester,” Gabriel says, “They’re forcing me into this purchase. They’re paying for it and everything. My days of bumming lifts of my unwilling parents, cousins and friends are over. I’m doomed to a life of sobriety and paying for gas.”

“My heart bleeds for you,” Dean throws back, getting himself another soda, “Piss off and smoke. Gabe. And eat shit, too.”

“You’re a terrible friend,” Gabriel says, offering him a salute before disappearing out the backdoor.

“Where’d Gabriel go?” Castiel asks, him and Sam joining him by the sandwiches.

“Doughnut break,” Dean mutters. Sam raises an eyebrow, but this is apparently a reasonable excuse for Castiel to accept without anything further. “You two done swapping secrets about me?”

“Other than the story about your first day of school, no secrets have been swapped,” Castiel says, settling near his side. “Sam was telling me about his finals.”

“Which are finally done,” Dean puts in, “Now you can quit neglecting me. In fact, both of you can quit neglectin’ me now we’re done with school.”

“Dean, I still have two weeks,” Sam says, making a face, “And then I’m helping Sonny on the farm.”

“Well, whatever, I start work next week anyway.”

“Sam doesn’t think you should work both jobs, either,” Castiel says, which is just peachy. Sam probably also overestimated Cas’ social skills and figured he wouldn’t just come out and say that to Dean’s face, because he at least has the decency to look sheepish about it.

“Drop it,” Dean advises, grabbing another sandwich for something to do with his hands.

“Maybe Sam should come with us on our bowling date next Saturday,” Castiel says, as if they haven’t had three freaking arguments since they had that conversation.

Dean’s too goddamn exhausted of their whole thing right now to make an issue of it and, anyway, there’s a time limit on their half-pretend relationship that’s slowly ticking away. Even if spending more time together is just going to make it all worse, it’s already going to feel like ripping out his own gut. It’s easier and so, so good to just give up fighting it and let Cas have his way. It all ends the same, regardless.

“Why the hell not?” Dean says, as Cas leans into his personal space like he owns it.

There’s a significant list that could answer that question, but none of them delve into it.

Their trio bowling trip does wind up happening and, all the background stuff be damned, it’s actually kind of fun.

*

His first day of work with Rufus goes well. He doesn’t sleep for shit the night before (he’s been having nightmares, generally, and waking up in a cold sweat with the realisation that he’s gotta do this alone hitting him all over again), but Rufus fixes him with a blunt stare when he arrives and points him in the direction of a car that needs an oil change and a tune up. It’s easy and physical in a way that school never was. He gets a couple of vague introductions and signposted to another car when he’s done, till the day slips by and it’s suddenly lunch time.

By some stroke of luck, it syncs up with Sam’s lunch break at school, so Dean calls him from the front seat of the impala while stuffing his face with his lunch. Sam’s in that pointless week of winding-down where none of the teacher’s can be bothered and everyone’s too busy talking about summer plans and what high school will be like to listen and it’s damned good to hear his whining like Dean doesn’t know that it must be weird that he’ll be headed to a completely different high school that’s nearer to Sonny’s to most of his peers . It kind of sucks, considering the whole point of staying stationary was Sam got to be normal (the upside is that hopefully now Ruby will be ancient freaking history). Sam pushes for more details about how his first day is going than Dean has, because it just is going, and has to hang up to get class a few minutes before his own break is up. He has a few minutes to reply to Cas that it’s all as expected before he heads back into the garage.

“You know we’ve got a break room, kid,” One of the other guys, Walt something, says as he steps back inside. The way he says ‘kid’ makes it clear that they think he’s a child, but he couldn’t care less. He’s here to pay his rent, not to make friends.

“Yep,” Dean says, “Got the tour this morning.”

“That your girlfriend?”

“My brother,” Dean says, twirling the keys round to his fingers before pocketing them.

“Hey, kid,” Roy chimes in, stepping back into the room, “That impala there your ride?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, “67 Impala. Handed down from my Dad.”

“Well she’s a beauty,” Roy says, with a low whistle, “You calling your girl just?”

“Brother,” Dean says, for a second time, then halts for a second while he makes a decision. There’s no reason why he should bother telling them anything further about his life (especially when it’s all about to change, anyway) except that the tacit assumption that he has a girlfriend is vaguely annoying. Contradicting them is only going to make his life more difficult but… dammit, the only person whose opinion he gave a crap about checked out a long time ago. Plus, he said nice things about his baby. “And I’ve got a boyfriend. I’m, uh, an equal opportunities kind of guy.”

“Noted,” Roy says, then chucks him the keys to a volvo and tells him to work out why it won’t turn on.

Castiel comes over to cook him a first day of work dinner which they eat bunched up together on the sofa with some new Marvel series from netflix playing as background noise. Dean’s been trying to put some distance between them in the vaguest sense, but he winds up asking the guy to stay over just so they can make out some and fall asleep talking crap about the best burger they’ve eaten.

He sleeps better than he has in days.

*

By Friday, it’s clear that Walt thinks he’s some spoiled, entitled kid who’s playing at fixing car as a rebellion to parents who wanted him to go to college, and Dean can’t be fucked to correct him. The guy’s a raging asshole and Dean’s glad he gets to block him out in order to lose himself in car-diagnostics most of the time. Roy is a little better. He likes Rufus, who spends a lot of the time complaining about having to do paperwork and some of the time actually doing the paperwork, so tends not to be around so much. Tara is great but only works a couple of days a week. The day’s she’s been there she overrules Roy’s crappy music decisions and calls them out on their crap whenever they cross over the line and occasionally does things like companionably asking him things like ‘you got any plans this weekend, Dean?’ when they’re working on cars next to each other.

“Party at your pre-school, maybe?” Walt chimes in, because he’s a royal asshat.

“Not a lot,” Dean says, through gritted teeth.

“Aw, come on Dean. First week at work, you ought to celebrate with your friends,” Tara says, “Treat yourself.”

“I, uh, work at a diner,” Dean returns, “Working eight till three Saturday, then I’m gonna try and see my brother.”

“Damn, kid,” Roy chimes in, “More work.”

“Saving up to replace Daddy’s car?”

“Shut your mouth, Lennarson,” Tara cuts in, “Where’s your brother?”

“Boy’s home,” Dean says, still half under the hood of the Honda Civic. “It’s a giant ass farm, so I reckon Sonny, the guy who runs the place, will probably put us to work at some point. He cooks a mean Sunday Dinner though and, to answer your question, Walt I’m saving up to put my kid brother through college.”

“Just kidding around, Dean,” Walt says, but he sounds suitably off kilter.

“Well freaking drop it,” Dean cuts back, before going to grab the forms he needs to write up the Honda Civic woman’s receipt.

He’s less of an asshole after that.

*

The plan is that he’s going to wean himself off depending on Cas for emotional support. He should never have gotten into the habit of doing it in the first place. He could have worked out where the trajectory was headed from the beginning, but Dean’s a fucking idiot when he cares about people. Caring in itself isn’t the freaking issue, it’s dependence. It’s expecting that, because someone came through for you once, that they’re going to do it permanently, which has happened exactly zero times in his life. He has to be okay on his own, because alone is what he gets. There’s Sam, of course, but Sam’s a kid and there are significant limits to what he can do. He can't drive after him if he hits the road and nearly crosses state lines. He can’t drop everything and come if Dean calls. He can’t bail him out if he screws up and can’t pay the rent. His dependence on Sam is based entirely on his kid brother being happy being directly related to his ability to be happy and nothing on anything Sam actually does for him.

It’s a good plan, in theory.

The reality is that Cas is at his apartment half the damn time and Dean’s too happy not to be staring at the crappy paint job on his own to fight it. The reality is that Dean’s already doomed when it comes to Cas. The reality is that, logic be damned, he wants Cas sat at the other end of his rickety table as they debate whether something can or cannot be considered breakfast food (Castiel is draconian and ridiculous; Dean blames his father).

“Cas,” Dean says, after the second night in a row that Cas shows up with an overnight bag and Hester’s leftovers (meatloaf, this time), “Is Hester cool with you rocking up here every other night?”

“I’m eighteen,” Castiel says, perfectly seriously.

“Yeah,” Dean says, stepping aside to let him in, “And you’re not paying you rent and she’s helping you through college. You didn’t break free from the yolk of your teenage years yet, buddy.”

“Don’t call me buddy,”

“Whatever you say, Sweetheart,”

“How was your day?” Cas says, “Did Walt say anything else objectionable?”

“Nope,” Dean says, “He’s been pretty quiet. I fixed a car. I spoke to someone about fixing their car. It was pretty standard. How was your day?”

“Kali,” Cas says, eyes narrowed as he heads for Dean’s fridge to deposit the meatloaf. “Dean, she is at the house all the time.”

“So her and Gabriel are back on, huh?”

“That remains to be seen,” Cas says, “They bicker, Dean, or they make out in the kitchen when I’m trying to cook lunch.”

“Dude, we do that.”

“I am unfathomably bored and I am going to kill Gabriel with my bedside lamp if he enters my room before ten AM ever again. If one more person suggests a ‘TV marathon’ as a way to pass the time, I will possibly combust. The length of this summer holiday is hateful.”

“You are such a dork,” Dean says, “No one has missed school this much in the history of everything, Cas. Read a book. Pre-order your course materials for Yale. Get a job. Join a criminal gang.”

“These are all very helpful suggestions.”

“And if you need to get away from Gabriel’s love fest which, okay, does sound pretty disturbing, you have a key Cas. There’s not a damn thing to do here, either, but at least no one gets killed with any lamps.”

“You wouldn’t mind?” Cas asks, eyebrows furrowed and he fixes Dean with one of those ‘stares’.

It’s not in fitting with the plan to smile at him, let his fingers curl up in the material of his shirt and say “sure thing, Cas” but he does it anyway.

*

He has another crappy nightmare about nothing discernible or logical when Cas is there for the first time one stuff Thursday night in the middle of the hottest spell of the year. The aircon is on (and crappy, as it turns out) and sounds like it’s about to try and kill someone, and they did everything they could to cool the place down before they got into bed but he still wakes up sweaty, uncomfortable and hot.

“Dean?” Cas asks, voice sleep rough as he blinks at him, “You’re awake,”

He could tell him about the shitty nightmares and the fear of going it alone. He could tell him about the Sam in his dreams who keeps saying he doesn’t need him or the fact that John Winchester has appeared once or twice, oscillating between telling him he’s not looking after the car properly and saying he’s proud of him in Principal Singer’s voice. He could tell him, but he shouldn’t.

You can’t call Cas. Cas has got better things to do than answer your calls.

Not true now, but it will be.

“Just the heat,” Dean mutters, turning away from him in his bed so that their feet are no longer touching. “Go back to sleep.”

He stays awake for another hour before sleep creeps up on him.

*

Showing up at Principal Singer’s house three weeks before Cas is due to leave is a not strictly part of the plan, a bad idea generally and a bad excuse for why he can’t see Cas this Saturday (there’ve been so few shifts available at the diner it’s a damn lucky he did get another job, because he would have been beyond fucked), but he needed to do something. He needed some kind of distraction. He needed something to do that wasn’t let his brain run itself into a ditch again.

Singer raises an eyebrow at him, wordless, as he answers the door. He doesn’t look exactly surprised which is damned annoying and makes Dean feel like he doesn’t fit in his own skin, because what the hell is he doing? What kind of person shows up at their ex-principals house to ask them a damn favour?

“That crappy Piras still need fixing up?” Dean asks, words thick in his throat, “Gabriel needs a car.”

“Uhuh,” Singer says, stood in the doorway.

“I don’t have a hundred dollars right now, but, uh. Next week,” Dean says, as Bobby just stares at him, assessing. “If that’s …. Uh, okay, sir.”

“Ain't your principle anymore, boy, so you can drop your damn niceties,” Singer says, “It's Bobby.”

“Okay, Bobby,” Dean says, like that isn't weird as hell, shifting on his feet.

“You work on cars five days a week and you wanna keep working on a Saturday. Rufus ain’t bored you yet?”

“Nope,”

“And that’s working out so far?”

“Yep.”

“Rufus seems to think you’re doing well. Didn’t phrase it that way, course, orney old idjit, but I reckon he’s impressed.”

“Good,”

“And a real chatty cathy this morning,” Singer says, rolling his eyes, “Help yourself to the damned car. In fact, none of this junk is moving any, so you help yourself to whatever you like, Dean.”

“Thanks,” Dean says, shoulders bunched up.

“You coming in for a drink or somethin’ before you start?”

“No, I- need to start work.”

Singer - Bobby - just nods at him before heading back inside to do whatever the hell he was doing before Dean showed up to interrupt his peace. He shows up again the following Sunday and he gets the same offer of a drink and a gruff nodd to prompt him to go ahead, but this time Bobby leaves him with “my doors open if you want that soda, y’idjit.”

Dean’s pretty damn sure he’s not going to take him up on that offer, but he appreciates it all the same.

Chapter Text

It’s the damndest thing that Sonny’s almost felt like home.

He’s been not-quite-avoiding-it since he moved out because it makes his chest feel tight whenever Sonny fixes him with that goddamn moustached-look, because he’s pretty damn sure that if he’d wound up at Sonny’s a couple of years earlier things might be a little different. As it is, he doesn’t have time for those kind of possibilities, so he’s made excuses every other time that Sam has passed on an invitation. He’s stayed in the car, or met Sam at various parts of the grounds, or had some pre-packaged excuse for why he couldn’t stay too long.

He draws the line at avoiding Sam when he really, really wants to see him, because seeing Sam can make pretty much anything life could throw at him bearable.

Sam lives at Sonny’s. He lives there, so Dean’s just gonna have to get over the ache he gets whenever he thinks too long on having a taste of having the crushing weight of responsibility lifted, just a little. It’s a different kind of heaviness now. He just has to look out for himself these days, but there’s still consequences on Sam if he messes it up. He’s back to being alone in all of it and that fucking sucks, but it’s… its fine. It’s going to have to be fine, because he doesn’t want to push Sonny out of his life just because he’s not the shield from everything he used to be, for awhile.

Plus, he’s wasted half his Saturday already and he’s not wasting any more of it not seeing his little brother when it’s the one damn thing he’s wanted since he woke up.

Sonny comes out of the front door and offers him a wave. Dean’s been sat in the driveway for long enough that Sonny is probably beginning to debate whether he’s actually going to get out of his car. Sonny ain't dumb; he’ll have noticed that Dean’s presence inside has been scarce and he’ll be patiently waiting him out. Him making the first move in offering a unobtrusive wave is enough of a cue for him to force himself out of the driver’s seat.

“Hey,” Dean says, pocketing his car keys.

“Were we expecting you?”

“Uh, no,” Dean says, hand on the back of his neck, glancing back towards the car. “Just dropping some stuff off for Sam.”

“He’s out in one of the fields,” Sonny says, “Reckon he’ll be back in in ten.”

“I can wait,” Dean says, glancing out towards the land behind Sonny’s place and up to the sky. It’s gotten hot these past couple of weeks and the few minutes in his baby after he killed the engine already has his shirt sticking to his back. He could wait out here in the heat, or in the impala, or he could suck up and deal with the invite that he knows is about to come.

“You want coffee?” Sonny says, fixing him with that particular look.

“Yeah,” Dean exhales, following him inside, through and into the kitchen. “Is he… Sam’s doing okay.”

It comes out as a statement, because he knows Sam is doing okay. The only reason Dean’s doing okay is because Sam is doing okay. He knows that Sam is okay, because he tells himself that sixteen times a day.

“Uhuh,” Sonny agrees, pulling out two mugs, “Did well in his exams,”

“That’s Sam for you,”

“Had Kevin over here last night,” Sonny says, which Dean didn’t know about. He’s so used to knowing every single freaking thing about Sam’s existence that it cuts a little bit, but… he knew how that was going to be. He knew his kid brother wasn’t going to report every inane detail of his life for the sake of Dean’s piece of mind. He knew this would hurt and he knew there would be days like this where he feels like he’s been steam rollered by Sam’s absence. “They taught Timmy how to play chess,”

“That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard,” Dean smirks, “Freakin’ dork.”

“How are you doing, Dean?”

Sonny takes the seat opposite him and sets the coffee down, bringing the pot with him.

That is a loaded question and one that he’s almost inclined to answer honestly, because it’s Sonny asking.

It’s just, he’s not entirely sure what the answer even is anymore.

“Hey Sonny, is - ? Oh, hey, Dean,” Sam says, throwing the door of the kitchen open like he owns the place. He looks the kind of sweaty that Dean would expect from someone farming in this kind of heat and grabs a glass of water and drains it before anything else. He looks good. He looks as okay as Dean knew he'd be. “How come you’re here?”

“Good to see you too, bitch,” Dean says.

“I mean,” Sam begins, bitchfacing hard and, fuck, Dean is glad to see his brat of a little brother. Holy crap is he glad to see him. He should have showed up here hours ago. “You didn’t say you were coming, jerk, and there’s a no slurs or swearing rule.”

“Ah, but I don’t live here,”

“Rule still stands, both of you.” Sonny says, inclining his head, “And, goes without saying Dean, you’re welcome here without notice whenever you want.”

“As long as you don’t swear,” Sam says, grabbing a second glass of water before sitting down at the table opposite them both and taking another drink. He’s grown, again, and Dean’s gonna have to lay down the law and forbid it if he keeps it up.

“Noted.”

“So,” Sam says, prompting him.

“I’m dropping off some stuff,”

“What stuff?” Sam asks. He can hear the silent ‘we don’t have any stuff’ that his brother probably probably would have said a few months ago, but they’re getting along better at the moment. It’s the upside of not cohabitating a too-small room and in part because they’re both still too freaked out about the separation to actually argue. It’s all too… new. It feels fragile, even if it’s not.

“New clothes,” Dean says, digging out the car keys and adding a “think fast” before throwing them in his brother’s direction. Sam snatches them out of the air on reflex, expression fixed. “Back seat.”

“Dean,” Sam frowns, his fingers closing over the car keys, “You bought me clothes? Why?”

“Cause you’ve grown about three foot since you last got new clothes and your last lot of new clothes were my old clothes, which were from goodwill in the first place, so I’m pretty sure we’re stretching the definition of ‘new’, a lot.”

“You don’t have to buy me clothes, Dean,” Sam says, adjacent to ‘pissed off’ but without the full commitment. He already knew that his visit was going to go down about as well as one of their Dad’s old pep talks about sticking together but, damnit, this wasn’t for Sam. Not really. His whole little shopping trip was entirely selfish, even if he’s got his work cut out to make Sam believe it.

“Thanks for the memo, Sammy, I’ll put that on a notecard.” He gets a ‘you’re-a-dumbass’ look for that. “I wanted to buy you some clothes, Sam, so I did it.” Sam keeps staring at him.

“Look, man, you got a book and an IOU for your birthday. I said I was gonna top you up when I got paid, so - go. Get to it.”

Sam decides to save his next protest, apparently, and bitch faces his way out of the room instead.

“Your brother has a point,” Sonny says, soft, “You know I had it covered.”

“I got no problem with Sam being covered twice,” Dean says, glancing down at his coffee. He’s been clothing Sam since he was twelve and one day he just didn’t fit into any of his crap anymore and Dean had to go through all of his stuff to try and find something that almost-fit. Sam wound up going to school drowning in one of Dean’s t-shirts. Dean ripped into him because he was a big brother and an angry preteen who shouldn’t have been dealing with any of it, but he threatened to knock the kid who teased him about it’s teeth out and used the rest of their food money to buy him something that fit. He never threw out any of his old crap again. He just… picking out new things for Sam made him feel like he still meant something. Like he was still needed.

He really needed that today.

“You enjoying your job, Dean?”

“Yeah,” Dean says, which is true. Working for Rufus is six hundred times better than battling through school, especially knowing he’s got a paycheck coming his way every month. He’s good at fixing cars and charming customers with mostly-fake smiles. He doesn’t feel like he’s fighting to get through the day, most of the time. It feels like there’s been a puncture in his lungs for fucking months and now there’s tape holding it together he can breathe again, and that's good, even if everything else sucks.

“Dean,” Sam says, loudly as he comes back into the room (and Dean doesn’t know how he feels about Sam making too much noise and owning Sonny’s space like he belongs there, because it causes a drop in his stomach like he’s missed a step but it’s also, logically, what he wants).“This is too much stuff. It’s expensive.”

“You mean it’s actually new, Sam, there’s a difference.”

“I don’t need -”

“ - look, Sam, for once in your goddamn life, you can go to a new school without being the poor kid.”

“I don’t care about that.”

“Well I do. I care about that, so deal with it.”

“You should be using your money for food, or…”

“Damnit, Sam, I’m all set. I’m still living off all that food Hester bought round and she sends Cas round with leftovers every other night, like I can’t feed myself. That freaking charity is paying quarter of my rent for the next three months and I’m put every last dime of the diner money into my savings. The only goddamn way I’m taking any of that stuff back is if you hate it or it doesn’t fit.”

Sam deflates.

“You could have bought yourself something,” Sam says, voice smaller, one hand balled up in the material of one of his new t-shirts. It’s all basic stuff. Plain t-shirts and plaid and a freaking hoody. It’s not anything special, but it’s probably the first time Sam’s had something new-new since they got to freaking Lawrence. There might have been the odd birthday present here and there and, okay, Dean’s pretty sure that Sonny bought up a couple of shirts and a new pair of jeans at some point, but this is different.

Their life is going to be better than it was. It’s not exactly that way he wanted it to be, but Dean will be damned if this isn’t going to turn out as a good thing for Sam Winchester. He’s going to have all that crap that they haven’t had for years: stability, good food on the table, books and stationery, clothes and sneakers, money to go to the movies with his friends. Dean’s going to get him a car when he’s old enough to drive. Sam’s going to college, wherever the hell he wants to go. He is going to make that happen and Sam’s just going to have to suck it up, because that’s not changing any time soon. This time, his little brother’s got Dean plus the shitty state allowance for care propping him up.

“Damnit, Sam,” Dean exhales, “I did. I got a couple of shirts and a movie, so I’m covered.”

It’s true, even if one of his was from Goodwill and the movie was just because Cas had never watched it and insisted on taking some weird moral high ground about watching television illegally.

“Okay,” Sam says, his self-righteous indignation settling out, “Its… thanks, Dean.”

“No problem,”

There’s a beat of pleasant silence before Sam fixes him with one of those stares.

“So Cas is at your apartment every other night?”

“Aannd we’re back,” Dean comments, rolling his eyes, “Drop it, Samantha.”

“When’s Castiel leave for college?” Sonny asks, eyes fixed on him.

“Uh, next weekend,” Dean says, deliberately not catching Sam’s eye, because he’s been pretty militant about them not discussing Castiel. “Maybe Friday.”

“Maybe?”

“That’s still up for debate,” Dean says, “Hester’s got some scheme that Cas and Gabel are gonna split the drive up to New Haven, then Gabe’s gonna fly back on his own, as some bonding ritual and getting Gabe to actually drive, which he hasn’t done since he got his license, but I’m pretty sure she’s having second thoughts about them not killing each other for a thousand miles.”

“So, five days time.”

“Oh, come on Sam, I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“If Sonny -”

“ - I didn’t tell Sonny not to bring it up and it didn’t have to remind Sonny about that request fifteen goddamn times,” Dean says.

“You’ve been seeing a lot of each other recently?” Sonny asks him, meeting his gaze across the table. The words ‘probably too much’ get stuck in his throat, because with the growing knowledge that Cas is about to leave has been sitting on him heavily the past few days. It doesn’t feel like he’s been seeing Castiel too much. It feels like he’s been wasting precious hours doing crap like work and sleep, to the point that he forced himself to the goddamn mall (on a Saturday morning, which is akin to hell on earth) to make himself stop thinking about it and to refocus on Sam.

The initial idea was to return the unworn shirt that he’s now never going to wear to prom, which he did not do. It’s currently still screwed up at the bottom of his trunk.

“Some,” Dean settles on, after a too-long pause. He’s not sure if he has the capacity to get into it. It’s… it’s just a pile of crap to add to the mountain of crap he’s been wading through his whole fucking life. It sucks in that way that his life just indiscriminately sucks, with nothing protected or sacred. He can’t change it. All his strategies for making it hurt less have just screwed up the present and have probably messed with Castiel’s head, not that Cas seems inclined to talk about fucking anything. He doesn’t want to explain the fact that they’re in the middle of a drawn-out breakup again, either, and he’s pretty sure Sonny can’t say anything about it that’s going to help. He does what he always does instead: distraction tactics and diversion. “I’m fixin’ up a car for Gabe. One of, uh, Bobby’s old scrap cars. Charlie’s throwing some nerd-fest party on Wednesday before everyone heads off. It’s all… it’s all going good,” Dean says, eyes trained on Sonny’s, swallowing back the lingering whatever that feeling is, but not attempting a smile. He wants Sonny to know that he is okay. He might not be doing great, but he’s gonna survive. He’s gonna battle through it. He does not have a choice, so he’s going to keep on grinding. Keep on faking it till it sticks.

“You want to stay for dinner, Dean?”

“Uh, I’ve got plans with Cas,” Dean says, checking his watch and feeling his chest constrict. Time has been disappearing quickly, lately, “I’ve actually gotta head pretty soon if I’m gonna pick him up in time, but… next week?”

“Cooking a roast on Sunday. Could use you on the potatoes, Dean.”

“I can do that,” Dean says, even though he’s not all that sure how he’s going to feel when Sunday rolls around. It’s better, on the face of it, to be at Sonny’s helping him cook dinner than alone in his goddamn apartment. He’s not dumb enough to not know that’s why Sonny has suggested it. “Just let me know when you need me. I better…”

“What are your plans with Cas?” Sam asks, a note of suspicion in his voice that screams out that Sam has noticed how little time he’s allowed himself to spend in Sonny’s presence since he moved out. He doesn’t buy it. Dean can understand that because he’s not sure he’d buy it either, even if today it’s actually true.

“Dinner and a movie,” Dean says, “The new Marvel film and pizza. I can send you my receipts if you don’t believe me, Sam.”

“No, I… have a good evening,”

“Rodger that,” Dean says, standing up and clapping a hand on his little brother’s shoulder. “I’ll call you tomorrow, Sammy. Sonny.”

Sam follows him outside and looks at him with those damnable puppy eyes that break him every single goddamn time. He’s too tall and he’s much more vulnerable than Dean tend to let himself be around people, but then Sam’s always been a little more into feeling-his-feelings. He’s passionate about stuff. He thinks too deeply about it. He cares about right and wrong, while Dean would roll with whatever if he could just keep his family safe and together. That’s his definition of right and, yet, here they are.

“Dean,” Sam says, eyes glistening a little, “I… thank you.”

“Awh, cut that out, Sammy,” Dean mutters, fumbling with his keys.

“You, just, always have my back.”

“Damn straight,” Dean manages.

“I didn’t mean it. When I said I wouldn’t follow you.”

“Sam, you told me that. I know. We don’t need to talk about it,”

“No,” Sam says, gaze determined, “Dean. You’re not on your own. I know I’m just a kid and I… I wish you’d had someone there for you before, like Sonny or Cas, but I - I need you. I’m so lucky to have you watching out for me and I’d… I’d do all of it for you, if I could.”

“Sammy,”

“If you can’t call Cas, or Dad, you can call me.”

“Got it,” Dean says, swallowing, breathing slowly as his little brother throws his arms around his neck and hugs him, tight. After he releases him he disappears back into Sonny’s house, shoulders tense.

Dean’s not sure he’ll ever get used to the feeling of driving away from his little brother.

*

For all that Castiel is the longest relationship he’s ever had, they’ve been on very few dates. They haven’t really had a lot of time and Dean’s been broke and busy and stressed out of his mind, while Cas has been steadfast and stoic and battling through his own mess. It’s no wonder their whole relationship has been tense and confusing as hell, lately, because both of their lives are a fucking mess; it’s sort of a miracle that they managed this far without imploding. It’s probably only because Castiel resolutely won’t talk about it that they’ve managed to keep it all civil.

Right now, he’s fucking thrilled that Castiel has been determinedly putting all of that on the backburner because it means he gets another evening of pretending that all of this still means something. He gets to sit across from Cas, with him looking freaking gorgeous and accessible and glorious, with so many damn feelings buzzing round in his head he can’t think of a damn thing else to talk about. It’s awesome and, to hell with it, whatever comes next is worth it for this.

He didn’t tell Sam that the pizza was coming from an actual nice italian restaurant where he booked a frigging table (feeling like a bumbling brainless hack the whole damn time) because the deal was that Cas would cover the movie and he’d cover dinner and he wanted them to do something nice for a change. He doesn't have a lot of time to make up for the months and months of him being broke and too broken to be a good boyfriend, but he can pull together one good date.

He’s wearing the shirt he nearly wore to prom - and his worst pair of jeans and his beat up leather jacket (on the back of his seat, currently, because it’s so freakin’ hot) to tone the whole thing way, way down - and Cas has stopped shaving every day during the summer and he looks awesome and he’s dressed up and freshly shower and the whole thing is so goddamn idyllic it doesn’t feel like they’re breaking up in less than a week, at all.

“You didn’t say we were going somewhere nice,”

“Yeah, well,” Dean says, picking up his cutlery and electing not to comment on the fact that Cas ordered the cheapest thing on the damn menu and tap water, like Dean hadn’t spent the whole evening after his paycheck cleared in the bank doing the math to work out what he could and could not afford. Maybe it would have been more sensible to save all of it, but he sat down and worked out a savings plan and worked out what was okay to spend in the near future. He figured that once Cas had left he wouldn’t have any reason to have any kind of leisure budget except Sam, who’ll be at school and occupying himself soon enough. On balance, he worked out that it would be better to spend a little money now and be miserable later, when he was already pretty much guaranteed to be miserable later anyway; he wasn’t having another prom situation so soon. “I heard you were collecting firsts. This is a fancy ass meal, first. Near enough, anyway.”

“And a new shirt,” Cas comments because, obviously, he owns few enough clothes that Cas would notice.

On balance, bringing up that this is the shirt he bought for prom feels like a bad idea, so he swallows the comment and tries to work out some way of shifting his attention somewhere else.

“I got paid.”

“You look…” Cas begins, stopping as the waiter brings over his soda and Cas’ tap water, then leaning further across the table to fix him with that stare. “Unreasonably good.”

“I, uh,” Dean begins, drinking him in and, goddamnit, Castiel is something else. “I’m free this whole week. Cancelled my plans with Sam on Tuesday, so other than Charlie’s thing Wednesday and work I’m all yours, and if you don’t wanna go to Charlie’s then I can cancel that too.”

“Hester has booked the time off work to drive to Connecticut with us.”

“She really doesn’t trust Gabriel to drive that much, huh?” Dean asks, leaning forward enough that their knees bump under the table.

“I think she concluded the drive would be quicker if we split it three ways,”

“Still think your piece of shit car aint worth transporting, but…”

“We are leaving Friday,”

“Okay,” Dean says, lump in the back of his throat, “Well I’ll sweet talk Rufus, see if can switch up my shifts or something. I’ll work it out.”

“It’s a long drive,” Castiel says, brow furrowing, still staring right at him.

“That tends to happen after you breach the thousand mile range,” Dean says, breaking his gaze to look down at his hands. This is the nearest they’ve come to referencing the fact that Cas is leaving for a long time. They’ve broached the topic with light, airy tones with minimal detail and no reference to distance and whatever else, but they haven’t talked about it quite like this. Dean tried to, roughly, but Cas has made it pretty damn clear he doesn’t want to talk about it, so he wasn’t expecting it to be bought up now. Not this evening. “You’re talking about a different time zone here, buddy.”

“One thousand three hundred and forty,”

“Yeah,” Dean says, the word tasting acidic, “Looked it up.”

Their knees brush against each other again. Instead of pulling away, Cas leans into it till their legs are pressed against each other under the table. Above the table, they’re Kansas-non-hetrosexual-couple appropriate level (and that’s another reason they haven’t gone on a whole lot of dates; school had always been fine, he just can’t be fucked to deal with any bullcrap about it), but he can’t shake the feel of Cas’ knee resting against his.

“Yet, if you fly to New York, it’s three hours and a short drive.”

Goddamnit.

He thought that he’d been really, really clear about this shit, but here Cas is with his thinly veiled hint and his blue, blue eyes, all packaged up in a stuffy button down that looks goddamn amazing, trench coat on the back of his chair even though it’s been hot as balls for weeks.

“I don’t do planes,” Dean says, voice a little too rough to be the clinical he was aiming for. “No planes, period, and most of the damn time it’s like three hundred dollars a trip.”

“Dean,”

“I’m just saying, Cas, Sam has gotta go to college. Weekends are for work and hanging out with Sam and that’s all my hours accounted for. I got no other flexibility. I just… long drives and freaking airplanes are out of the damn question.”

“I know that,” Cas says, gaze unrelenting.

“Okay then,” Dean says, wishing they hadn’t taken the menu so he could keep flicking through it. He needs something to do with his hands that isn’t curl them into fists or take Cas’ hand over the table. Redirect. Divert. Move the conversation on.

“You know you’re gonna hate this movie. It’s got all the crap you hate; overindulgent explosions, ‘unsatisfactory’ character arcs, predictable storylines.”

“I didn’t say those things about this movie,”

“Not yet,” Dean says, “Dude, just cause I like them doesn’t mean we had to go see it.”

“You wouldn’t have seen it otherwise,”

“At some point I might’ve,” Dean says, “But I guess I’d have missed out on the post-movie Castiel analysis that I’ve come to know and love.”

His words fall too heavily. He really fucking wishes he’d said ‘come to know and enjoy’ instead because, damnit, it only makes it feel all the more obvious that they’ve never had that conversation. Well, Cas has had that conversation. Dean sure as hell hasn’t.

“You’re mocking me,”

“Uh, ‘endlessly chasing the divine’ from Loony Toons?” Dean says, “You sound like you already did two rounds with Yale and came out on top.”

Cas smiles, wide and earnest, and then they just sit there looking at each other until their food arrives.

*

The movie does suck, as it turns out, but it’s difficult to give a damn when Cas threads their fingers together the second they turn down the lights. They sit, close and too warm, long after the creditors have finished, and it’s glorious and the