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Dean likes to think of it as his way of breaking in a new town. Dad says they might set up camp here for a while because he has a friend who runs a garage downtown, but Dad likes to say things like that. New town, new faces, new douches that enjoy poking at Dean’s worn-down threads when he goes past.

Dean isn’t even sure what set off the fight this time. Maybe it’s because Dean’s twelve years old and buying groceries by himself; he knows that bugs adults sometimes but he’ll never get why morons that are supposed to be his peers seem to have a problem with that, only they do. Maybe they’re after the money Dad had carefully set aside for this milk run.

Whatever the cause, it’s still a fight. Dean’s shoved his paper bag aside, hoping that nothing’ll get spoiled because they can’t afford it, and gives all he’s got to the three punks that won’t know what’ll hit them. Dean’s faster than he looks, meaner, not afraid to bite, and definitely not afraid of what Dad’ll say later because he’ll know what Dean’s fighting for.

Towns are usually quiet, but sometimes people come to gawk. There’s someone coming up now, another kid around Dean’s size. He looks too young to be with the dicks that Dean’s showing who’s boss, but that doesn’t mean anything, he could still easily be with them. When he steps forward, Dean thinks he’s going to join their fun.

But the new kid just marches straight up to the biggest asswipe and kicks them in the nuts.

And that’s how Dean meets Castiel.


Sam freaks out as he always does, but this time he doesn’t yell at Dean because Castiel is there, slipping right behind Dean into the motel room that’s their temporary home until Dad figures out something else (yeah, sure).

“He followed me home,” Dean jokes, though Castiel doesn’t laugh and Sam’s lower lip trembles. Castiel carefully sets the paper bag on the table, unpacking the items and checking what’s ruined (only the bread, thank goodness), while Dean goes to the bathroom to wash his face and pluck the gravel from the skin of his hands.

“I’m going to give you the address of a better grocer,” Dean hears Castiel say outside. Castiel sounds like robot that’s trying to pretend to be an adult, so serious. Sam doesn’t make fun of him, though. “It’s a farther walk but the prices and product range is better. Do you know how to check for concussions?”

“Uh, yeah? I’ll – yes, I’ll check on Dean. I’m Sam, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, Sam. I’m Castiel.”

There’s more rustling, and then the sound of the door being opened and shut. When Dean goes back outside Sam’s sitting at the cleared-up breakfast table, not looking at anything in particular. He seems calmer, but still a little gutted. Dean squeezes Sam’s shoulder as he passes to check that Castiel put the milk away properly.


The next time Dean sees Castiel, it’s at that grocer he’d recommended. Yeah, fine, Castiel was right, the prices are better and the choices cooler. Castiel is hanging around alone outside, leaning against the wall and frowning at a cellphone.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been a good day. Dean’s tense and cranky and the first thought in his head when he sees Castiel is that it doesn’t matter that he never said thank you because it’s not like he asked Castiel to get involved. He doesn’t owe the guy a freaking thing. Castiel probably doesn’t even remember it anyway.

Dean’s planned this run carefully but he’s still a kid, he still wants things. Dad’s confirmed that they’re staying for a couple of months at least, which means they’ve got to deal with school stuff now. It’s not permanent but it’s still more than what Dean’s prepared for, and the fact that Sammy’s actually excited about it sets forth in Dean all sorts of contrary feelings of irritation and guilt.

Sure, it’s guilt that has Dean pulling a couple of extra candy bars into his pockets.

Outside, Castiel’s eyes drop down knowingly to Dean’s jacket. Dean bristles – how does he know – but then Dean sees what he hadn’t earlier: Castiel’s wearing clothes that are too big for him. His shirt is faded and oversized, and the hem of his pants is folded up, probably pinned. Sure, he’s holding a cellphone but that could mean anything.

Dean realizes he’s been staring. Whatever. Castiel is staring, too.

There’s an audible snap when Castiel closes his phone. Dean tenses up when Castiel pushes off the wall and approaches.

But then Castiel does this sweet move, palming an apple from the display box like the magician Dean sometimes thinks he is, neat and clean and turning that apple invisible right up his sleeve.

Dean lets Castiel follow him back to the motel again.

Somehow, it’s not as weird as it should be when, along the way, Cas drops the apple in Dean’s hand and says, “You could try eating healthier.”


Dad doesn’t mind Cas. Dad also doesn’t seem to know what to make of Cas, but that’s fine, it’s not like Dean knows either.

“Where are your parents?” Dad asks the third, fourth or maybe fifth time he comes back from work to find Cas hanging with Dean and Sam. Well, mostly hanging with Dean watching TV; Sam’s curled up in a chair reading books thanks to the brand spanking new library card Cas helped him sign up for.

“I live with an uncle,” Cas replies. “His house is on Burton Way.”

Dad’s face goes funny, and Dean only finds why later.

“Your family’s rich?” Dean gapes. “But—but you are...”

“Don’t ask, Dean.” Cas is a quiet guy, preferring to listen more than he speaks. But he’s also intense and scary in way that Dean likes; no one bothers them anymore when they’re hanging out in town together. Cas makes people uneasy and Dean wants to learn how to do that.

“What if I want to ask?” Dean replies. “Then what?”

“I don’t like my uncle.” Cas gives Dean a look. “I don’t like his money, either.”

Dean tries to imagine not liking someone enough to not like their money. “Okay.”

Cas hunkers down for a while, fiddling with his socks. After a while, he turns to Dean. “Do you want to help me make him angry?”


By the time school opens, they have a freaking rep. It’s the coolest fucking thing in the world, though coming close second is the way Cas has set a space for himself at Dean’s side, and the wide berth people give them turns out to not be a fluke. Once you’ve worked together to take apart someone’s luxury car and decorate their office with the parts, there are some things that come naturally, pretty much. Cas makes no comment of it, falling easily into Dean’s slipstream as though anyhing else is unthinkable.

By the time they hit school, Dean finds that he’s not dreading it. Oh, sure, on the first day some ass tries to jibe that Cas has finally found someone willing to put up with his weirdness, but Dean knows they’re just jealous and quickly sets them right. Cas rolls his eyes, but Dean insists that all it takes is just one show, and then no one will bug them. He’s right.

Classes are nothing more than breaks in between hanging out with Cas and scaring off losers. They’re careful not get into trouble trouble, though, because that would be bad for Dad, but especially bad for Sam who – if things work out the way Sam thinks they might – will have to come through these very same halls someday following the path already tread on by his older brother.

“I don’t get it,” Dean tells Cas one day. “You’ll help me break into people’s lockers but you won’t let me copy your homework?”

“Yes,” Cas replies. “My boundaries are my boundaries. I can help teach you, but that’s it.”

“I don’t need your friggin’...” Dean looks down at his homework, the words blurring in front of his eyes. Then he looks at Cas, who would definitely still hang out with him even if he became a drop-out, but being a drop-out would mean that they wouldn’t have time to hang out together. “Just enough to pass?”


The day they finally move into a house should be a good one. Sam’s bouncing off the walls and Dad’s singing under his breath as they load the meager belongings brought in from storage. The new place is definitely not a dump, and Dean and Sam get their own rooms, but no matter how Dean digs he can’t find the gratitude and excitement that should be there.

Cas comes by to see them in. He pokes around the various nooks and crannies until Dean drags him up to his brand spanking new room. There’s only a sleeping bag among the boxes and junk, but they sit on the floor anyway while Cas paws through Dean’s stuff.

There are books there. Old, ancient books that haven’t seen daylight since—

“Give me that!” Dean grabs the book Cas is browsing. Where the Wild Things Are, the title says, and Cas had opened the jacket to where there’s writing on the top right corner.

“Mary Campbell,” Cas reads aloud. “Is that your mother?”

Dean knows that he doesn’t really want to punch Cas in the face. Dean had a mom for a handful of amazing years. Cas doesn’t even have that.

“She should be here.” Dean doesn’t recognize his own voice when he says that. “We shouldn’t be... It’s weird.”

“Okay.” Cas is quiet, watchful while Dean toys with the soft pages.

The words aren’t even all that faded, which is so wrong. Dean can’t even keep Mom in his head; nowadays he can only remember what she looks like when there’s a photo in front of him. Sam doesn’t understand when Dean tries to tell him what it had been like to have her around.

“I’ve never read that one,” Cas admits. “My uncle has a big library, but I’m not allowed in it.”

“Yeah, like a locked door could ever stop you.” Dean shifts over anyway, making space for Cas to sit so they can read together.


At first some teachers tried to keep them apart in class, gym, whatever, but they caught on after a while and gave up. Cas is a mountain when he wants to be, as stubborn as Dad on a good day, and good luck to the person that tries to squeeze him in the hope of getting something on Dean.

Dean can’t fault their logic, though. If anyone wants to know anything about Cas, the best person to ask is Dean. If it were the other way round, there’s Sam, or Dad (if anyone’s desperate), but there’s an incomparable glossary growing at the back of Dean’s mind with Cas’ name on it. Every memory and facet and fact about Cas stored where it should be. Dad, Mom and Sam are important in the way that gravity and the sun are important, but Cas is different. Cas doesn’t have to be here but he is anyway, which must mean that there’s something about Dean that’s worth sticking around for.

There are gaps, though, naturally. Dean makes it his job to find these gaps and plug them up.

Like when Cas doesn’t come to school one day, Dean skips out during lunch to find out why. He finds Cas easily, because he knows that Cas likes to sneak out into the woods behind his uncle’s house. They’ve camped out there before, messing with sling-shots and rescuing fallen birds (true story), and Dean spots Cas at one of his favorite spots, near the tiny river at the base of a small hill.

“I got angry.” Cas makes space for Dean to sit next to him, and then takes the offered sandwich. “He knows I’m not at school right now, but it doesn’t matter.”

Dean doesn’t understand how other kids – and some adults, even – say that Cas is cold. Emotionless or unfeeling, like a machine. Dean knows that Cas doesn’t care what they say because he’s never figured out to how give a shit about strangers’ opinions. Dean doesn’t care because he knows it’s a lie.

“What did you do?” Dean asks. “You didn’t steal from him again?” He groans when Cas smiles.

“He blames you.” Cas doesn’t sugarcoat it, because that’s not how he rolls. “He says you’re a bad influence. I think in a way he actually likes that we’re friends, because then he can believe that I am the way I am because of you. As though it’s not actually me.”

Dean opens his mouth, stops, tries again. “Do you need help cleaning up?”

“Oh, would you?” Cas sighs in relief, as though Dean just offered to buy him ices or something. Dean helps peel Cas’ shirts off, careful when he lifts the undershirt away from the bright red welts, deeper than usual, that are laid out across his skin. Dean’s got the usual stuff in his backpack, though it would’ve been better if they could do this at the house.

“Don’t do that,” Cas says after a while, “your face will get stuck that way.”

“Nothing could ruin this handsome mug, shut your piehole.” They’re quiet while he dabs the antiseptic, Dean biting his lip as he struggles to concentrate through the white hot anger that always comes with doing this. It bugs him – has always bugged him – that Cas doesn’t think this is a big deal. He only does it because he can’t hurt me where it counts, Cas told Dean once.

Dean still doesn’t know how that’s supposed to make sense.

“I wish you could stay with us over the summer,” Dean says. It’s no-brainer of a statement, of course it’d be awesome if Cas could stay at their place. Still, Cas inhales sharply.

Cas moves, hunching in on himself while Dean finishes up the last near his shoulders. “Thank you,” he says quietly. “I wish I could stay with you, too.” Pink rises in cheeks and neck, and of all the things to make Cas embarrassed, Dean wouldn’t have predicted this.

“You practically are, anyway.” Dean’s seen Cas’ room and doesn’t like it. It’s swanky but filled with dead space, empty and unlived in. Cas only really uses it to sleep in, because he chooses to live everywhere, anywhere else. “You know you’re always welcome at our house, right? Even if I’m not around? For anything?”

Cas closes in on himself even more. “Thank you, Dean.”

 


Old summers on the road with Dad and Sam weren’t good at preparing Dean for new summers with Winchester feet set on firm ground. There’s fun to be had, of course, but now Dean looks out for jobs in between – at the market, at the mall, sometimes even doing runs for Mr. Singer at the library – and Cas is more than happy to join him, both of them careful to arrange the timing with Dad so that there’s always someone to watch Sam.

The (semi, quasi?) permanency of it plucks at Dean’s nerves for like a guitar string for a while; days and weeks rolling into him one after another, pushing away the prospect of a clean exit until he suddenly realizes he’s reached a stage where he’s finished setting his and Sammy’s rooms up, Cas has his own sleeping bag at the house and Sammy has has friends that he wants to invite over.

Familiarity moves in to some hollow space inside Dean he hadn’t realized had been there.

One lazy day, in one of those endless new summers, Cas says, “It feels like forever. I feel like we’ve been coming to sit here on this hill, for forever.” It’s a stupid thing to say because Cas doesn’t usually exaggerate like that. His face is soft, though; the view is awesome but it’s as if he’s somewhere else, some place where exaggeration makes sense. “Doesn’t it feel like that?”

“Maybe,” Dean replies, and he’s surprised to find he means it. Then, “Jesus, I’m bored.”

“We could get another job. I think they’re hiring over at that – that food place you like at the mall.”

Dean rolls over, poking Cas in the side with his elbow. “The place that does that corn thing with the butter? O-hoho, let’s go check it out.”

 


In freshman year, Sloan Rivers shows up. Well, she doesn’t show up, she’s spent her whole life in this town and had a couple of classes with Dean back in middle school, but after a casual brush in study hall one day, followed by an exchange of smiles and a brief, “Hey, there” Dean’s suddenly seeing her.

One thing that’s nice about high school is that the girls are way more nicer about being looked at. It’s even a little disconcerting when they look back, and without doing that really weird tittering thing they do when they’re travelling in packs.

Sloan doesn’t titter. She smiles and meets his gaze directly, and every time Dean looks at her he gets the feeling that there’s some secret tucked away in that raised eyebrow and boy oh boy does he want to have a go at it.

“Why aren’t you?” Cas asks when Dean mentions this to him. They’re at the lockers, Cas rummaging around for something he needs in class. “She’s right there.”

“You gotta pace yourself, dude,” Dean replies. “Play it cool, keep her guessing—what are you doing?”

For a moment, Dean had actually forgotten that Cas doesn’t take that kind of waffling bullshit. Dean’s best friend is a missile, and that missile’s target’s locked on the gorgeous brunette currently talking with her friends on the other side of the hallway, and he will become a very dead ex-best friend once Dean recovers control of his body and kills him until he is dead.

Only after what looks like a handful of sentences, the girls around Sloan peel away amiably, and Sloan is turning around, beaming right at Dean, and nodding.

“I hate you so fucking much,” Dean wheezes later, “you are the biggest asshole on the planet that a fucking moon could get stuffed up your—”

“You’re welcome,” Cas replies.

 


Dating is new and terrifying territory, but Sloan is amazing. She’s funny and gorgeous and great to hang out with. The only thing that makes him feel sorry is that Cas can’t share this with him. Not that he wants to share Sloan with Cas, because would be creepy, but Dean is having all sorts of new kinds of fun now and Cas isn’t.

It’s almost like Cas is lagging behind, which grates under Dean’s skin even as he’s taking Sloan out and making new jokes that Cas doesn’t know about. Cas insists that he’s fine, that he has other things to do, but the non-Dean hours in Cas’ life have got to be dull. It’s unfair.

Dean brings it up with Sloan, because she likes to talk about these things. “Do you know a friend who might be interested in Cas, maybe? I know he’s a little strange sometimes, but he’s a good guy. Wouldn’t be my best friend if he wasn’t. As you know, I have excellent taste.”

Sloan’s tinkling laugh makes Dean grin. “Smooth, Winchester. I can ask around, sure. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard some people say that Cas is cute, but maybe a little unapproachable? But what is he into? I mean, what does he like?”

“Uh… I don’t know.” The answer feels strange in Dean’s mouth because he knows everything about everything there is to know about Cas. Thanks to the topic his mind’s eye goes back to the time he’d snagged a couple of skin-mags from the trash at the back of the drugstore, and how proud he’d been when he’d shown the haul to Cas. Only thing was, Cas flipped through the lot bemusedly, unable to answer Dean’s prodding about which chick he thought was the hottest.

“You don’t know what kind of girl he likes?” Sloan thinks. “What about in movies? Is he, like, into Princess Leia, or Buffy?”

“Aww, yeah, Buffy’s awesome,” Dean says automatically, face heating up with Sloan laughs again. “I don’t know. Never seen him interested in a girl before.” Whenever they’d hung out around town, his only response to girls walking by had been to chide Dean for his catcalling. Dean’s confused by this black hole in his information. “Ever. Geez, how am I even friends with the guy?”

Sloan cocks her head – the gesture reminding him of Cas, strangely enough – and says slowly, “Um, how about boys?”

“How about boys what?”

“Is he into…” She bobs her head, trying to say something without saying something.

Dean’s head almost snaps back. “Oh. Oh.”

 


The disorientation is brief, followed by the determination to drag Cas with him into the scary new world of attraction and hormones. Dean doesn’t know if they’re any gay guys in their town but Sloan has offered to nose around if necessary. First of all, though, Dean has to breach the topic. Which he does.

“What?” Cas boggles at him, and then at the two issues of Playgirl Sloan had willingly contributef to the cause. “Is this going to be like the time you tried to get me to read Busty Asian Beauties?”

“I’m just asking, Cas.” Dean flips the magazine open to a random page of freakishly-shiny man-flesh, hoping to see a spark of interest in Cas’ eyes. “There’s got to be something that gets you hot ‘n bothered—”

Cas slams the magazine shut, ignoring Dean’s exclaim of surprise. “There’s nothing here that interests me.”

“C’mon, you didn’t even look—”

“I don’t care.” Cas’ eyes are furious, shocking Dean into stillness where they’re staring at each other. “You think I haven’t thought about this, Dean? I’m not broken.”

“I didn’t…” Dean stops, rewinds, reassesses. He may not know this specific thing about Cas, but he knows Cas. “Oh. Oh, okay, I thought – sorry.”

Cas blinks, surprised. Surprised, and then pleased and guilty, which is a strange mix on his face. “I have been… asked about this before,” Cas says slowly. “My family has a practice of… not betrothals, precisely, but careful and painstaking encouragements.”

“I’ll run away with you,” Dean says immediately. “One day you won’t have to live with your uncle anymore, and you can stay with me.”

Cas keeps on staring, but Dean doesn’t feel awkward or unwelcome under his gaze. “Thank you.” He smiles faintly, and they both look down at the unfortunate issue of Playgirl, laughing at it together. “You don’t feel to feel sorry for me, Dean. You should spend time with Sloan, it’s fine.”

“But—”

“I’m thinking of starting a new project.” Cas grabs for his bag, pulling out a folder, because of course Cas has a folder. “I want to build a motorcycle.”

Dean sits up sharply. “Dude! You have to let me—”

“I don’t have to let you do anything, Dean.” Cas primly opens the file and Dean maybe hyperventilates a little. “You can provide suggestions, that’s all.” Dean can certainly do that, and suggests that they ask his father for permission to build it in the house.

 


Cas says this isn’t what he wants, but when Dean kisses Sloan, a strange sort of pity churns in his stomach. Sloan is soft and warm under Dean’s hands, and her laugh lights him up like a sugar rush. Cas seems to like her from the couple of times they hang out together, and he definitely agrees that she’s cool, but he still doesn’t understand what Dean’s been trying to explain to him.

It’s not just about trying to make each other laugh, or seeing who can out-gross out each other, or trying to beat each other at air hockey. Dean does that with Cas all the time, but Cas doesn’t know the other parts.

The quieter parts, the secret parts. The parts where Sloan cards her fingers through Dean’s hair and Dean learns the shape of her mouth. Cas would love this, Dean thinks when he kisses her. Dean’s always been right when it comes to pulling Cas into something new. And no matter that most people think Cas is stand-offish, the guy craves touch. Maybe it’s something to do with how Cas’ family doesn’t do hugs so he never figured out how to ask for one, but Dean knows and gives it to him freely. Just as Dean knows that Cas would love to hold someone the way that Dean’s holding Sloan now, legs tangled up together.

Dean slides his lips over Sloan’s, pressing them in one way before turning to another. She sighs softly, and Dean pulls away to look at her.

For a moment, her eyes are blue, not hazel.

“Are you okay?” Sloan frowns and sits up. “What happened?”

“Nothing.” Dean shakes his head in an attempt to dispel the strange shadows from Sloan’s face. She looks nothing like Cas; she doesn’t have Cas’ cheekbones, or that dip at the end of his nose, or the soft bow of his mouth. “Nothing,” Dean says again. He darts forward to resume kissing her, and she’s definitely into it, but he can’t shake the feeling he’s popped the lid off something that can’t be closed again.

 


Really, the best thing would be for Cas to get someone of his own. That way they can double-date. They can go out and do stuff together, and Dean won’t have to only check in on Cas’ bike project every other day. Dean could give Cas tips, like the place that have special meals for couples, the most comfy seats in the cinema to make out in, that sort of thing.

Except that the more Dean thinks about it, the more that that picture in his head goes fuzzy. Like there’s bad reception – Cas’ face and smile showing up where it shouldn’t.

Sloan’s right, Cas isn’t an ugly guy, and the more Dean looks the more he realizes that the girls (and boys, maybe) in this town are crazy. None of them have made the move on Cas, and Dean can’t figure out why. Sure, Cas doesn’t blink that much, and reads obscure things, and occasionally makes people cry when he’s blunt about their faults, but Cas listens, and remembers, and does shit like show up at Dean’s house to cook dinner and hang for Sam when Dad’s held back at the garage and Dean’s working at the library.

It’s fine if Cas doesn’t want anybody, though. It’s obvious there’s no one in this town who gets him the way Dean does.

From there, it’s one short step to looking at Cas and seeing that there’s no one in this town who could possibly make him as happy as Dean does.

 


“You’re angry at me,” Cas says.

Dean freezes, and then slowly puts the sandwich he’d been eating down. “No… Why’d you say that?”

Cas is scowling. He’s also got his hands in his lap, which is what he does whenever he’s nervous. Cas rarely gets nervous. Nervous is what happens to other people, not Cas.

“You’ve been very quiet lately.” Cas’ facial expression barely changes, but Dean can see the subtle droop around his mouth, his shoulders. “I’ve tried to figure out why, but I can’t. And I can’t fix it if I don’t know what I did wrong.”

Well, shit. “You didn’t do anything wrong. I swear, really.”

“Is it school?” Cas hedges.

“Dude, you keep better track of my grades than I do.”

“Is it your father? Sam?” Cas is practically fidgeting now, and Dean is an asshole. “Is it Sloan?”

“Yes,” Dean says quickly. “Yeah, I just don’t want to talk about it. You know?”

“Okay.” Cas relaxes a little, smiling when Dean smiles. “Shall we do something to take your mind off it, then?”

Right there and then Dean’s hit with the gut-punch want to crawl over the table and kiss that look off Cas’ face.

Well, that confirms that.

 


Dean should feel worse when Sloan breaks up with him, but there’s only relief. If she suspects anything, she makes no mention of it, and Dean takes that as extra confirmation that she’s too good for him anyway.

“There will be others,” Cas says, turning to the natural reaction of trying to cheer Dean up.

Dean doesn’t know whether to be thrilled that Cas has no clue or to be hurt that Cas, who is his best friend, has no clue. He settles for somewhere in between, no man’s land, glad to have more time to spend with Cas again and terrified that one day he’ll slip up and Cas will be gone.

Not that Dean thinks Cas would be a dick about it. Dean knows him better than that. And yet.

“How mad would you have to be to leave me?” Dean asks. If it were anyone else they’d poke at the question with a stick before even considering it, but not Cas. Every question out of Dean’s mouth is a real question, and deserving of a real answer.

“Pretty mad,” Cas answers. “It’s hard to say. We change. One day you might get bored of me.”

Dean snorts. “I’d never get bored of you.”

Cas makes a face, part-indulgent, part-unimpressed. “You might. Or vice versa.”

You won’t,” Dean says, uncaring that he sounds like he’s freaking five years old. “I know you.”

“Dean.” Cas says his name quietly, like he’s parting a secret, and Dean’s heart jumps into his throat. “You know I don’t make promises I don’t think I can keep.”

A vision of Mom pops up in Dean’s head, bright and unexpected. There should be a trail of happiness and warm feelings following that thought, but instead there’s guilt. How long has it been since the last time he thought of her? How long has it been since Dean looked around their house and thought it still empty without that final piece?

“Dean.” Cas has come in close, intense and quietly worried. “I’m starting to think we’re talking about two different things.”

Dean nods rapidly. “Yeah.” This house is as much Cas’ as it is Dean’s. “Maybe we should drop it?”

“Of course. Yes.”


 

There are other girls. Dean doesn’t mean for there to be, but every time Dean’s hands twitch with the urge to touch Cas, he figures it’s better to channel that energy somewhere less destructive. Dean is never less than honest with them, though – he promises each and every one of them a fun time that he delivers and they reciprocate, and everyone’s happy.

They’re not interchangeable, no matter what Sam tries to snarkily insinuate. Dean’s just careful about who he picks. Or who he lets pick him.

Cas never says anything.

 


There’s a party. Dean isn’t even sure whose house it is, but there’s music and beer, and some chick he doesn’t recognize is coming on to him. She might be new around here, or she might have had a makeover that’s given her a boost of confidence, because she’s on him like she’s shipping out tomorrow and this is her one last bang.

Over her shoulder, Dean can see Cas leaning against the wall, a sore thumb that doesn’t give a fuck. He came along with Dean because he does that sometimes; he’s alert, watching people come and go as though this is a park and everyone else are pigeons behaving badly and squabbling for crumbs. He’s fascinated, and he isn’t even looking at Dean.

Dean has a hand in this girl’s hair, the other on her ass, and she’s practically riding his lap where they’re squeezed against the stairs. Cas is right there, and Dean is struck by the knowledge that Cas never seen Dean when he’s like this. He’s never seen this side of Dean, has no idea what Dean can do.

The girl giggles when Dean tips her head back, a dramatic gesture that bares her neck for Dean’s mouth. He runs his tongue up the length of it, and then swallows her pleased sigh. Dean opens his eyes, lets them flicker to the crowd beyond. Cas has seen them, but he’s politely looking elsewhere.

It’s stupid to expect Cas to be jealous. Cas doesn’t get jealous.

Dean wants him to be anyway.

Later, without fail, Cas plucks Dean out from the mess and drags him to the Impala outside. (On loan from Dad, because Cas’ solemn oath to behave actually means something in their house.) Dean only stirs awake when he finds himself being tucked into bed, Cas a dark shadow hovering over him.

Dean catches Cas’ arms, holds him there. He squints up at Cas, who is watching him, patient as a statue.

“Always you,” Dean says stupidly.

“Of course, Dean,” Cas replies, though he can’t have any idea what Dean’s talking about.

 


When the blow-out between Cas and Uncle Zach finally happens – as Dean always knew it would – it’s not over the bike. Cas has been careful in watching his tracks, keeping his funds separate, following the advice Dad gave him when he’d started.

Dean is on a date with Mandy – yes, like the song – when his cell goes off. Cas never calls when Dean’s out unless it’s something important.

Dean.” Cas’ voice is shaky, even over the phone. “Dean, I need—”

“I’ll be right there.”

Cas is already inside the house when Dean gets there, having let himself in with the spare key. But Cas didn’t call Dean for a shoulder to cry on, because Cas is more practical than that.

“You can press charges!” Dean yells. “Dad will vouch for you! We can tell them everything, all the other times you’ve been—”

“It’s my choice,” Cas replies, and Dean has half the mind to leave Cas as he is, it’d serve him right. “I don’t want to. Dean, I just need your help fixing this, it’s just my arm, it’s not even broken, it just—”

“Yeah, well, my choice!” Dean shouts back. “No! I don’t want to help you!”

The hurt that flashes over Cas’ face almost makes Dean falter. “Okay,” Cas says, rising to his feet. “I’ll go to the hospital myself—”

Dean blocks him. “I’ve never said anything bad about your family, Cas. Ever. But this? This isn’t right. You gotta let me help you.”

“That’s why I’m here!” Cas exclaims. “Dean, it’s just a little while more. This wasn’t even really him, I fought back and fell—”

“Don’t defend him!” Dean shouts. “What the hell is wrong with you? Your family is psycho and you’re an idiot for putting up with them!”

Cas freezes. “Don’t you dare—”

“Oh, I dare. You know what I think?”

It’s a good thing that Dad and Sam get back home when they do, right in the nick of time to stop Dean and Cas from shoving more knives under each other’s skin. The worst of it are little more than matching black eyes, a bruise at Dean’s solar plexus where Cas kneed him, plus more strain on Cas’ funky elbow (not broken, he didn’t lie about that).

Dad doesn’t say anything to Cas about it after the first growled, Quit it, both of you, when he’d dragged them apart. He doesn’t complain about having to drive Cas to the hospital even after the long shift at the garage, and sits with Dean while they wait outside.

“You been workin’ him for years,” Dad says. “If he hasn’t changed his mind by now, he won’t ever.”

“He’s holding out for his eighteenth birthday.” Dean sneers. “Say even Uncle Zach won’t be able to stop him then.”

Dad gives Dean a solemn look. “Then you gotta stick with him until then.”

“I know.” Dean sinks into the uncomfortable plastic chair, arms crossed. “I know.”


 

The next morning Dean makes himself ask, “Why’d you fight back this time?”

Cas blinks sleepily from where he’s still buried inside his sleeping bag. Normally he’d be in Dean’s room, but by unspoken agreement, Dad had helped set him up in Sam’s the night before. Sam’s already having breakfast outside, both him and Dean already dressed up for school. Cas won’t be going today. Dean’ll go, even if only to make sure Cas won’t lag too much behind their homework, because Cas cares about that.

“You gonna tell me or what?”

“Choice of college.” Cas shifts uncomfortably, his patched-up arm propped up on a pillow. “He was talking to me about meeting people to make sure that my applications would be seen by the right eyes. I told him I had my own ideas.”

“Yeah? Like what?”

“I’m staying here, of course.” Cas yawns. “Aren’t we going to college together?”

“What? I…” Dean stares. “I wouldn’t make you – if you have a chance to get out—”

“Don’t talk to me like my uncle.” Cas closes his eyes. “I’ll do what I want.”

“That’s why I worry, Cas. You do what you want, but you won’t do this.”

“Just a little longer, Dean.” Cas’ eyes drift open again. It’s probably only because he’s sleepy, but the morning blue of his eyes are soft and tender. “Then I’ll never have to go back.”

 


Cas keeps his word. Two years later and there’s a shouting match of the ages, complete with Cas’ aunt crying on the porch and his uncle blasting uncreative swears while Dean waits in the Impala for Cas to come back. They could have just driven off with all of Cas’ things when no one was around, but Cas wants “closure”.

Dean looks up when the door opens and Cas gets in.

“That closure enough for you?” Dean asks wryly.

Cas just gives Dean a small, pleased smile, and gestures for him to drive. It takes ten, maybe fifteen minutes for Dean to relax, glancing over at Cas every so often. He’s mesmerized by the way each new mile from the house snaps some string from Cas’ shoulders; he looks high, his eyes half-lidded and his smile soft and kissable.

Dean clears his throat. “You still have your trust fund, though? Uncle Douchebag didn’t mess that up for you?”

“I’ll have to see our family lawyer again later, but it’s in order the last I checked.” Cas turns to the window and makes a surprised sound. “Dean, this isn’t the way back home.”

“We’re not going back home. We’re going out to celebrate.”

 


It doesn’t go away. There are new girls in college, quite a few of them willing to go for a ride on the Winchester Express, but that old want keeps pulling Dean back. Keeps pulling Dean’s eyes to Cas’ mouth, his shoulders, his hands, that little dip underneath his chin that’s just perfect for a finger to run across.

Cas grew up good, what are you gonna do? Okay, both of them grew up really fucking good, but between them, Dean’s the only one who’s noticed. Or knows what to do with it.

For Dean’s nineteenth, a couple of friends throw a small party, Victor taking the organizational reins in herding them to the Roadhouse for a night of festivities. Even Sam and Dad make it, which is a surprise, though even more of a surprise is when Dad gives him the fucking keys to the fucking Impala.

“But.” Dean stops when Dad starts to smirk, and quickly takes the offering. “I’ll take good care of her.”

“I know you will,” Dad says.

That makes Dean puff up just a little bit more, but who can blame him. Cas snaps a picture of the moment with his phone.

Dean has the perfect excuse to take his baby out the following weekend, because Cas apparently had additional plans involving taking him to a cabaret-style gentleman’s club. To repeat: Cas takes him to a fancy-pants strip joint, because Cas likes watching Dean crack up so hard he can barely breathe.

“You’ve mentioned before that this was on your bucket list.” Cas tries to be dismissive but is clearly pleased at Dean’s reaction. “So… here we are.”

This is Dean’s scene, not Cas’, but Cas has no idea the real birthday present is Dean’s being able to watch Cas’ reaction to everything. When Dean asks for his opinion on the fun, Cas’ honest reply is, “These women are very talented. And athletic.”

It seems like a good idea, so Dean cajoles Cas into getting a lapdance. His responding face is classic, Dean’s going to remember it forever, Cas absolutely terrified as the girl approaches, his hands clenching the armrests. He's not enjoying it very much, but—

But the girl gets to touch him. The girl gets to put her hands on his chest, twisting her fingers around the tie Cas had chosen to wear for fun (oh, Cas) and tug. Dean’s wanted to pull that tie, wanted to yank it so Cas has to stay still and take what Dean wants to give him.

Sharp, envious teeth sink into Dean’s jugular.

“Yeah, yeah, let up, give the guy some breathing room.” Dean apologizes as he drags Cas out of there, good humor suddenly sour in Dean’s mouth.

Cas thinks he did something wrong but Dean assures him it’s not true. He just wants to drive, he says, how about they drive somewhere else, nowhere else in particular really, how about they just use up the weekend driving his baby because she is his baby now, how cool is that?

Cas nods and buckles up. “All right, Dean.”

 


The day that Dad dies is a colorless blur in Dean’s head.

Dean gets the phone call from Bobby between classes – an accident, ICU, you might want to come quickly – and is out of there before he can blink. Sam is already at the hospital when he gets there, a complete mess and babbling frantically at Dean though fuck if Dean can hear a single word of it.

Dad lasts a little under 48 hours. Tough son of a bitch, is John Winchester. Tough enough to fight the fucking tubes in his face to order that Dean take care of Sam – of course he will, of course he will – and then he’s gone, taken, ripped away because sometimes life is a bitch who is out to collect.

Dean vaguely registers Bobby there, along with Pastor Jim, Ellen and Cas. Someone manages Dad’s body – he’d wanted to be cremated, which Dean tries not to think about in terms of how it links back to Mom. There are matters of Dad’s insurance and the house, and it’s only something like two, three weeks, maybe, before the world stops quaking beneath Dean’s feet and his eyes are able to focus on the piece of paper saying that he’s Sam’s legal guardian now.

“You’re not dropping out of school,” Cas says firmly. They might have been in the middle of argument, though the words keep slipping from Dean’s mind. “Dean, did you hear me?”

Dean swallows. “I can’t—”

“You can.” Cas became an adult when Dean wasn’t looking. “I’m with you. You have people who want to help you, and you need to be focused.”

“On what?” Dean might be shaking with something that feels like anger but thinner, colder. “On what?”

“On Sam.” Cas nods with satisfaction at whatever look is on Dean’s face. “He’s tough, but he needs you to hold on. Can you do that for him, Dean?”

Dean knows that Cas is just trying to be kind but a part of him insists on reading the worst. He shoves at Cas, yells something about Sam being a person and not fucking ammunition. Cas walks away quietly, leaving Dean to it, and Dean knows he’s right.

 


Dean takes Sam out to Lawrence to scatter Dad’s ashes. They haven’t been back there in years, not since the last time Dad wanted to see the old house (now restored). Sam doesn’t even remember the old house, doesn’t even flinch at the sight of it. Dean tries to think of that as a good thing.

They don’t say much while they deal with the ashes. No ceremony, just silence and the bridge as their witness. “Just you and me now, eh, Sammy?” Dean says.

“It’ll be okay.” Sam is getting too tall for his own good, Dean’s got to stretch his arm farther and farther up his shoulder these days. “You’ve still got me?”

Dean squeezes tighter and flicks at Sam’s hair. “Yeah, I got you, you little bitch.”

“Oh my god, Dean, you’re such a jerk.” Sam protests, but there’s at least the start of a smile there.

They sit there for an hour. Maybe longer than that, not saying anything, just letting the trickle of the stream underneath them suck out all the bad, ugly, angry feelings. Some of them, anyway.

“We’ve got to clear out the house,” Sam says quietly.

 


They set aside a weekend to deal with the house before the bank comes rolling in. Bobby offers to help but Dean makes him promise to only come with the truck after they’ve sorted everything out.

Cas has a list with columns: things to take, things to throw out, things to sell/give away, things to go into storage. He and Sam go around meticulously, deciding on everything (and checking with Dean every so often) because they’re accumulated a lot of shit in the past almost-decade, who knew.

Dean wanders around, touching framed photographs and cheap furniture, letting Sam and Cas talk business elsewhere. He remembers helping Dad unpack some of these things. He remembers not enjoying it very much then, either. “I’m going outside,” he announces at large, not looking back as he goes.

He spends a couple of minutes sitting on the front porch, trying to remember that it wasn’t Dad’s fault and that it’s a bad idea to hate Dad.

Life happened. Life happens.

Dean eventually goes back inside, but Sam and Cas are not in the living room. They’re in the kitchen, talking softly enough that Dean creeps up to the doorway, staying just out of sight as he listens in.

“I could stay with Bobby,” Sam’s saying softly. “I only have a couple of months to go.”

“You have Stanford all wrapped up, then?” Cas sounds impressed. He should be, the kid’s super smart.

“I… I’m hoping,” Sam says carefully.

“I think you should spend time with your brother,” Cas says. “If you are going to Stanford, or any other school that’s far away, it’s all the more important that you be together now. Dean needs you, too.”

“Yeah.” There’s soft noise, probably Sam scuffing his shoes. “You gotta take care of him, too, though.”

“Of course, Sam.”

When Dean finally turns the corner, Sam has got Cas in a hug. Sam sees Dean first, nose is a little red and eyes too bright, and reaches a hand out. Dean lets himself be pulled in, wraps himself around his brother and Cas.

“It’ll be okay,” Cas says.

 


Dean actually finishes school. As far as he’s interested in going, anyway, for the job he’s going to take and the life that’s going to be his. Sam’s the one with the faraway goals and the cojones to make it; Dean’s okay with that.

Cas is pretty much the reason it happens. Cas won’t say that, of course, ‘cause he keeps insisting it’s all Dean’s smarts and hard work, but the fact remains that Cas is the harsh mistress Dean needs. Cas takes no bullshit and keeps Dean afloat through classes and part-time jobs and Sam’s going away for greener pastures.

Dean also knows that Cas is as smart as Sam, is meant for better things the way Sam is. Dean’s known that forever, from maybe the moment Cas came into his life and was clearly too good for any of it. But it’s a thought that Cas has thrown back in Dean’s face repeatedly, staying through all the bullshit and rooting himself quietly but firmly at Dean’s side. Cas is there through their mutual graduation, and Dean’s staking a technician job that Bobby has kept open for him, and finding an apartment of his own in the town that won’t leave him alone.

So it’s no one’s fault but Dean’s when he’s taken by surprise by Cas', “I’m going away for a while.”

Going away means – what? A while means – what? Dean tries to smile and laugh it off, making a joke about Cas’ inevitable changing the world.

“I want to find my father,” Cas says. Dean snaps out of his funk and registers that Cas is restlessly toying with the beer bottle he’s holding as part of their celebratory breaking-in of Dean’s new apartment. “I think I know where he might be.”

“How long have you known?”

Cas goes shifty. “A while.”

Dean opens his mouth, but there’s no fire behind the argument he wants to have. Cas is bracing for it – Dean can see it in the way his body’s gone all tight and defensive – but Dean is just tired. He has a job and rent to pay and a brother to check in with every other week. Adulthood, whoop-de-fucking-doo.

“Fine.” Dean won’t ask if Cas delayed his leaving because of Dean. They can both pretend together, since they clearly want to. “When are you going?”

Cas doesn’t quite relax. “Soon. Will you… will you check my bike for me? To make sure she’s in good shape for the journey?”

Dean runs a hand across his face, buying time to erase the expression he doesn’t want Cas to see. “No problem, buddy. We can take her down to the garage whenever you’re ready.”

 


Cas goes.

It takes Dean a week before he sends the message: Thanks for everything, Cas. I hope you find your father.

It’s not much, but it’s what Dean can manage right now.

Cas replies: Much appreciated, Dean.  Then: There’s a great deal I have to thank you for, too.

Dean answers: Yeah, right.

Don’t make me go back there, Dean.

Dean stares at that last one for a while, then deletes it and changes the topic.

 


It’s not that Dean is lonely. This is his fucking town, too, and even if life persists in playing its running joke of having people leave him, not everyone has. There are still the guys at the garage, Pastor Jim invites him over for dinner with his family every other Friday, and the Roadhouse is great for weekends and catching the company of people passing through. Then there’s library, which is its own kind of kingdom under Bobby’s wise and benevolent rule, and into which Dean has officially stepped up to grease the gears and change the filters.

So, yes, there’s plenty keep him busy, and if he’s ever in need of different scenery, Sam’s a phone call away and there’s always the Impala.

It’s fine.

 


Dean’s new place is on the other side of town, deliberately picked for being as far as he could manage from the house that’s no longer Dad’s. Understandably it’s a while before he sees some of their old haunts again. Even then it only happens because he’s struck by random inspiration one weekend, and goes past the old places, the bridge and the woods and streets that seem so much smaller. That grocery store is still there, too, though there’s new paint on the door and better shelves set at the window.

Dean finds himself walking in there before he’d even made the conscious decision to.

Missouri herself is the cash register, and she pauses her knitting when she sees him approach.

“Hello, ma’am.” Dean falters a little under Missouri’s hairy eyeball, but rallies himself. “I don’t know if you remember me, but some years ago I used to be… I used to hang around this street a lot. I used to take stuff from your store, too, which I apologize for. I was young and stupid – that’s not an excuse, I know, but I want to fix it.”

“I remember you.” Missouri’s smile is genuine, thought maybe a little sharp at the edges. “John’s kid. You grew up good.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Dean starts for his wallet. “So—”

“It’s all right.” Missouri turns a page of her magazine and takes up her needles again. “A couple of candy bars, some fruit, toothpaste, bread. It’s all been settled.”

“Settled?”

“It’s been paid for,” Missouri says. “No need to worry about it.”

Dean stares, horrified. “Dad? Dad – my father knew?”

“No, the other one.” The clicking needles are loud in the store. “That boy that used to hang around you. The one who didn’t blink.”

Dean barks a startled laugh. Of course he did.

Of course he did. 

 


Cas gives regular updates over the long months of his absence. He doesn’t like calling because he finds it even more difficult to talk when he can’t see the other person’s face, so they mostly keep it to messages. Dean could be at work stocking the shelves when his cell will buzz – sometimes it’s a report on what Cas is doing, sometimes it’s a picture of something random: a tree, a broken sign, an animal, any number of other things.

Dean usually replies with a picture of something stupid and mundane: his latest experiment in the kitchen, Bobby’s face, Jo’s face, his own face. Cas says he loves it all and wish I could be there, which is hilarious.

Cas doesn’t report on actual progress, because he’s touchy about the topic. Dean doesn’t have a clue how far he’s on, or even why it’s taking so damn long when Cas said he had a lead. Maybe it was a lead along a trail of leads, and Cas is having a roadtrip of epic proportions (without Dean).

Then, one cold February morning, Cas sends: I’m coming home in a few days. See you soon.

Dean only panics a little bit, because he needs to clean up the apartment and make sure there’s food in the fridge.

But as it turns out he’s panicked for the wrong reasons, because when Cas finally does show up at Dean’s door, he looks awful. His clothes are only a little disheveled, which is excellent considering he’s been on the road for how long, but his face, his eyes—

“Hello, Dean.” Cas steps into the apartment and looks around while Dean stares at him. “Ah, it all looks the same. Better, definitely, but the same. Yes. Are you well?”

“What the hell happened?” Dean barks.

That’s Cas’ cue for completely losing it.

 


Somehow they end up on the floor surrounded with what was supposed to celebration booze. Dean pulls as much sense as he can from what’s a near incomprehensible story from Cas – he talks in spurts, starting and stopping and whipping across tangents in what is definitely the first time Dean has ever seen Cas freak out.

“I don’t think I was wrong, was I wrong?” Cas doesn’t usually babble, either. He talks about how he’d found the old family home, which lead to cousins he hadn’t heard from in ages, which (before or after the cousins, it isn’t clear) pointed him towards his father’s former businesses out west, then eventually ending up in Maine hunting down his father’s lawyer.

“I thought that if I was strong,” Cas chokes, “that if I was brave, that if I endured, it would all – it would make sense.”

“Is that what you’ve wanted all this time? You thought your father was, what, waiting for you?”

“He had to be!” Cas grabs the front of Dean’s shirt, eyes wild with pleading for an answer Dean can’t give. “His lawyer said he didn’t want to be found. That I should go home and forget everything. Who does that, Dean? Who does that?”

Dean’s shit at this but Cas doesn’t seem to care, folding like a deck of cards when Dean pulls him into his arms. Cas clutches at Dean and curses, sobs, and mutters fuck repeatedly with a tongue that isn’t used to it. Dean wonders how Cas managed to find his way back here in this state, if he just slapped a band-aid on top of all of this before racing (limping) back home.

Tears streak down Cas’ face, but he just keeps on glaring through the sheen as though they offend him.

If this were something else, something lighter, Dean would be cursing right there with Cas. Dean would be saying stuff like how it wasn’t so bad, that Cas’ father is an idiot, that Dean will find some way to fix it. But this is an old wound Cas barely ever let Dean see even back then, and Dean thinks that all Cas wants right now is for someone to just listen.

They end up in Dean’s bed, Cas’ face buried in the crook of Dean’s neck as he hiccups angrily. Dean strokes his hands up and down Cas’ back, steady and calming until Cas’ furious muttering slowly subsides. The smell of Cas this close has Dean vaguely recalling Cas doing something like this for him when Dad died, but the actual memory is hazy, soaked with too much anger and sadness.

Cas falls asleep for a while, understandably drained from all the excitement. He only stirs when Dean gets up – nature calls – and opens his eyes groggily.

“I’ll be right back,” Dean whispers.

Cas blinks at him sleepily. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Dean stares while Cas’ eyes droop closed again. It’s hilarious – he’d finally gotten Cas into his bed and Dean hadn’t had one untoward thought, not one, because not even Dean is asshole enough to look Cas in this state and think about that.

But Cas’ quiet declaration strikes him like hot metal, the echo of it trembling through Dean’s hands and catching in his lungs. Dean stands there for a moment to recover his center of gravity, then goes off to deal with his bladder. After that, he crawls back into bed, tucking himself around Cas’ and humming under his breath until Cas goes back to sleep. No wrong thoughts, no wandering hands. Dean can do that, at least.

 


Though Dean does go to the Roadhouse the next day to pick up the first chick willing to give him a quick fuck.

 


Dad’s death isn’t so far away that Dean doesn’t remember the gnawing, hollowed-out feeling that came after. Dean watches Cas closely the days after his implosion, a mirror of Dean’s past grief in the way Cas slows down and goes quiet, unwilling to engage with anything immediate. Dean cuts Cas’ hair and helps him shave, then takes him out shopping for new clothes, new toiletries, new junk to fill up the part of Dean’s apartment that now belongs to Cas.

Cas takes all of it without complaint, the fury in his eyes worn down to uninterested grey, but every so often he’ll stop and smile gratefully at Dean, and that’s all Dean needs. Dean tells Cas that he has work to get back to but Cas is welcome to stay in his apartment for as long as he needs, and that’s the honest truth.

If anyone’s entitled to downtime, it’s Cas, definitely.

Cas comes to visit the library sometimes, bringing lunch that they share together in the back. Dean enjoys every minute of it, but the more the days drag on, the more he comes to realize that the failed search has permanently changed something in Cas. Something’s gotten wedged in the gears, and now he and Dean are out of sync.

Which isn’t a fair thought to have, because none of them are the same person they were three, four years ago.

Dean still wants to return the favor and become Cas’ anchor, but he’s not sure how to do it.

 


Daphne’s a nice chick. Not Dean’s type, but nice.

Cas meets her before Dean does, over in the historical section on the first floor. Dean’s pushing the cart around when he sees Cas’ dark hair between the shelves, and when he comes closer, he makes out Daphne’s smaller form in the lee of Cas’ body. She is smiling, which is good, because people should always smile when they talk to Cas.

“Aww, look at you, making a friend,” Dean teases later. He even means it because Cas needs more friends who talk his language. “She got any hot friends she can introduce me to?”

“It’s not like that.” Cas rolls his eyes. “Sometimes a conversation is just a conversation. You know me, Dean.”

Dean relaxes.

 


“I’m thinking of going back to school,” Cas announces. He probably got the idea from Daphne, graduate office admin extraordinaire.

“Cool. What’re you taking?”

“I don’t know yet.” Unsurprising, because Cas’ entire existence at the moment is a huge I don’t know. “I was thinking of taking a short course and then maybe… maybe I’ll be inspired along the way. How about we go together?”

Dean snorts. “What?”

“You could take a finishing course.” Cas’ eyes are alight with hope and new excitement. “Bobby will want to retire one day.”

“But not any time soon.” Dean tries to ignore the flash of disappointment on Cas’ face. “I think it’s a great idea for you, Cas, but I’m not – that’s not for me. Not yet, anyway. Rain check?”

Cas nods, and Dean has the sudden, selfish thought that Cas should have tried harder to convince him.

 


Cas may have come back, but Dean’s losing him anyway. It’s nothing outward; they still hit the Roadhouse together and make the occasional trip out to meet Sam, but Dean can see it happening gradually like a time-lapsed photograph. Maybe the other way would’ve been better, with Cas riding off and neatly ripped out from the book that Dean’s life. This way is slow, drawn out. Inevitable as a glacier.

The language course takes half of Cas’ week and some of his weekends. Cas finds friends that aren’t of Dean’s circle. Dean tries hanging out with them, and although Daphne is accommodating and Inias is sometimes funny, they speak at a frequency only Cas is tuned into. And the less said about Rachel the better.

Was it like this back in school, when Dean was slutting it up and Cas trailed along after him? It can’t be; Cas would’ve said something if he were unhappy because Cas is brutally honest in the way Dean doesn’t know how to be.

The thought nags enough that Dean eventually blurts out, “Were you happy when we were kids?” He shrugs when Cas’ eyebrows go up in surprise. “Just feeling nostalgic.”

“Yes, I was happy.” Cas says this slowly, as though he can’t understand why Dean is asking. A thought occurs and he turns to Dean sharply. “For the most of it, it was because I’d had you in my life. I don’t know how I would’ve made it otherwise.”

“You would’ve.” Dean smiles. “You’re tough that way.”

Cas starts, bewildered by the statement. “No, I’m not. You’re the tough one.”

“Me?” Dean laughs, Cas is perplexed, and in this moment, at least, everything is okay.

 


Some things are constant, like Dean’s ability to know when Cas is anxious about something. Cas doesn’t do anxious unless it’s something big, and whatever it is that has him slower to react for a week (and counting) has to be huge.

Alarms blare an additional warning when Cas announces that he’s making them dinner. Cas doesn’t have the patience for the kitchen unless it’s a tragedy or a special occasion, and Dean’s pretty sure he doesn’t want to know which one this is.

Other than that hanging over Dean’s thoughts, it’s a good dinner, a great dinner. Cas even suggests they eat in front of the TV while Die Hard is showing, and gamely plays along when Dean parrots the best lines.

After dessert (pie, motherfucker), Cas gets down to it. “I’m going to propose to Daphne.”

There’s a sharp rattle when Dean puts his fork down. What. “What?”

“Daphne.” Cas takes a shaky breath, like he hasn’t just sent the earth crumbling beneath Dean’s feet. “I think – I’m going to propose.”

Dean’s brain starts and stops, clanking like an engine missing a part. Cas is definitely worried now, biting his lower lip and watching Dean so closely as though the next thing out of Dean’s mouth will decide the fate of the world.

“You don’t even love her,” Dean says.

“That’s not…” Cas stops, recovers. “I may not love her in the conventional manner—”

“You’re not even dating!” Some part of Dean’s brain is working enough to make him push his plate aside before it can cause damage. More damage. “You told me you’re not dating!”

“Well. I thought we weren’t,” Cas says, wincing a little, “but we’ve been spending time together – studying, reading, meals – and she mentioned that that counts. If the intention is there, it counts. So we talked about that, and other things, like what we want out of life, and… I think it’s a good idea.”

“It’s a terrible idea!” Dean can’t even feel bad when Cas’ face crumples. “She barely even knows you! You’ve been friends, what, a couple of months?” Dean’s known Cas for years. “People don’t get married after a couple of months!”

Familiar stubbornness flickers in Cas’ eyes. “We’ll have time to learn each other. And I do care for her, Dean.”

“Then be friends!” Somewhere in the middle of it Dean’s risen to his feet and started pacing the room. Cas has followed suit, awkwardly standing near the couch and watching while Dean spits, “Marriage? Jesus, fuck, Cas, are you stupid? Are you brain-damaged?”

“Stop that,” Cas says quietly, dangerously. “Don’t insult me.”

“Why? Just tell me why you want this.”

Cas raises his hand into a half-formed circle that he hovers over his heart. “There is a… a space here. Maybe I didn’t notice it before, but now I do, and it wants. I want.” Dean thinks about Cas’ father, and how Cas had come back less than when he’d left. “I want a family.”

“A family?” Dean stares. “Then what the hell am I?”

Cas’ jerks back as though he’d been slapped. Dean is glad to see that, though Cas rallies quickly and schools his expression. “You know that’s not the same thing, Dean. You, Sam and your father, you’re—you know that’s different.”

“Is it?”

“It’s not your place to judge why some people want to get married,” Cas says angrily. “I may not – I’m not like you, Dean, it’s hard for me to – to find—”

“That don’t mean you should throw it all on the first person who likes you!” Because that would be Dean. “You deserve someone who’s crazy about you, Cas! You deserve someone who’d get sick to the fucking stomach at the thought of losing you. You deserve… you…”

Dean doesn’t mean to kiss Cas. He really doesn’t, it’s just that Cas is standing right there, ruthlessly unconvinced despite everything Dean’s said. Dean’s always been crap with words so despite the little voice screaming in his head that this is a bad idea in a world of bad ideas, Dean Winchester, he swoops in, cups Cas’ face with both hands, and kisses the hell out of him.

He doesn’t even register what he’s doing until the first white shock of terror (of losing Cas) in his head ebbs away, and a different kind of terror seeps in. Dean eases back, lips tingling, and is momentarily lost in the dazed blue of Cas’ eyes. One more kiss, he thinks, just one more – a peck, even, stolen quickly in the brief press of their mouths.

And that should be it, except when Dean pulls away Cas follows him, chasing his mouth, finding it again and taking it. (What?)

Dean definitely savors the next kisses. He tastes them and swallows them whole, guides Cas’ hands up to his shoulders where his fingers dig in painfully. Choose me, Dean tries to say. Choose me, choose me.

Dean is an asshole.

His body resists but he pulls away, far enough that he can see Cas’ eyes and wait for clarity to return to them.

“What.” Cas licks his lips. “What is this?”

What’s it look like, Dean wants to quip. He shrugs helplessly, and Cas looks so offended that Dean laughs. He’s imagined this so many times, and he’d actually got the angry bemusement on Cas’ face right.

“Explain yourself.”

“What can I say,” Dean says with a careless shrug, “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

Cas chokes on air. “Always? Since when?” He grabs Dean’s shirt and yanks. “Since when, Dean?”

“I don’t know.” Dean can’t lie, not about this. “High school? Somewhere there.”

Cas blinks, once, and his expression just… blanks out. Dean’s been able to read Cas since forever but he can’t read this; all those years of accumulated knowledge shoved down the drain because of one stupid choice. Or maybe that’s just Dean’s brain unable to process whatever’s happening between them right now, in this precipice between the peace of Before and the oncoming train of After.

Dean looks down at the floor. Seems like a good idea, floors are safe and don’t punch you in the face unless you’re drunk. Dean doesn’t look up when he hears Cas’ slow footsteps going away and the jingling of keys when Cas grabs them. He definitely doesn’t look up when the door opens and closes, leaving Dean alone.

 


“I fucked up.” Dean clutches the phone to his ear. “Ask me how much I fucked up, Sam.”

How much did you fuck up, Dean?

“Majorly.”

Okay,” Sam says slowly, “so what can you do to fix it?

“Can I? Can I?” Dean bleats. He might be a little drunk. “He sent me a message – no, he got someone else to send me a message – that he’s staying at a friend’s house and oh, I don’t need to worry about sending his stuff over. How do you fix that, Sam?”

Are we talking about Cas?”

“Yes!”

Then he just needs time and, by sound of it, space. C’mon, Dean, you know how Cas is. He never stays mad at you for long.

“What, really?”

Yes, really.

 


Sam’s statement has to be an exaggeration, if not an outright lie, because the next time Dean sees Cas, Cas is definitely still mad. Dean didn’t even mean to see him again so soon, it’s just that towns can be fucking tiny enough that two people who don’t want to see each other are forced to anyway because there are only so many number of grocery stores around and Dean really does need restock his fridge.

Dean sees him in the dry foods/cereal aisle, where Cas is frowning at a box of muesli. He must’ve made a sound, because Cas looks up.

There’s probably something halfway decent in Dean’s head that he could say to fill this moment, but it’s drowned out by white noise. Dean can feel himself panicking at the same time that he’s internally yelling at himself for panicking in the first place.

The best choice is to make a swift, clean exit.

Dean turns and marches away, one stiff step after another, until he finds himself in another aisle. Looks like baking and canned goods, he could find something here.

Except Cas has chased him down and now appears at Dean’s elbow, the fucking ninja. “Dean.”

Dean jumps, stares, and keeps his mouth shut because he doesn’t trust it not to say something stupid.

“Dean.” Cas says it quietly, but there’s some strange urgency in his voice and the way he’s frowning at Dean. “Dean, I… Are you well?” He pauses, perhaps in expectation of a response Dean doesn’t give. “I hope you’re well.”

Cas is fidgeting, the way he always does when he’s figuring out how to tell someone something. If he wants to tell Dean about Daphne, then he’s just going to be disappointed, because Dean won’t hear it. Can’t, won’t, same difference. Dean finds the fortitude to offer a smile of the shaky – good on you, I’m out of here, cya – kind.

Cas starts to open his mouth so Dean shoves his basket into Cas’ arms, the few seconds of surprised flailing enough for Dean to make his escape. He goes, doesn’t look back, doesn’t stop to breathe until he’s in the Impala and safely round the block.

 


The Roadhouse is a good, safe place to drown his woes. Dean only planned to have a couple of drinks, maybe take out his frustration on some hapless tourist at a pool game, but Cas has to ruin his night by sending him a text.

Are we still friends, Dean? I hope we are.

Dean reads the message a couple of times. His thumb slips a little when he composes a reply. o course. is ok u need time to b mad w me

Cas usually replies promptly, but the next one takes some time. Yes, I need to be angry with you for a while. What you did wasn’t fair. He leaves it at that, though, and doesn’t point out that Dean hasn’t apologized.

Dean isn’t sure why he’s putting it off. He will, because he has to, but deep down, he doesn’t feel sorry that he did it. He regrets how it went down, and that he chose the worst fucking moment to do it, but kissing Cas? Even if only for a couple of seconds? He’ll keep that.

But even that’s fucking depressing to think about, because Dean feels guilty that he doesn’t feel as guilty as he should. He meant every word, as terrible as they’d been. He feels scrubbed raw inside, but also relieved. Cas can do whatever he wants now, and Dean will take it, no matter how little it is, because he’s put it out there. Cas knows.

“Whoa,” Ellen says, frowning down at where he’s almost face-planting into the bar, “someone’s not having a good day.”

“Just hit me with what you got,” Dean says. “And don’t ask for details, okay? Just… just keep ‘em coming.”

The night blurs somewhere after the sixth, seventh drink. Dean ends up happily shitfaced, singing along with the radio and possibly making an ass of himself, but these are all excellent goals and perfect harmless distractions.

Somewhere in the middle of Dean’s eventful night he even drunk-hallucinates Cas, who shows up looking all judgy and annoyed, which is perfectly in-character. The drunk-mirage is so accurate that when it half-drags half-carries Dean out of the Roadhouse, Dean can even smell that unique blend of aftershave and whatever the hell material Cas’ trench is made of when he presses his face into the cloth.

A mirage is harmless, so Dean tells it: “Cas, Cas, Cassssss, I love you so much I could puke.” He probably does puke right then, just to prove his point.

Of course, all that’s only funny at the time, and is significantly less hilarious when he wakes up the next morning feeling worse than the shit he was supposed to have drunk himself out of wallowing in.

Also of import is the fact that he’s woken up in his own bed. He’s set on his side, leg propped up to avoid him possibly drowning on his own vomit. On the side table, there is a glass of water and aspirin. Just how Cas always arranges it.

Cas is mad at him, has every reason to be mad at him, and he still came for Dean. The jury’s in: Dean is the worst person on the planet.

“Fuck,” Dean says.

 


Despite what some people might say, Dean can be an adult sometimes. He can even be adult enough to fucking apologize to his fucking best friend, and do it without being prompted to by his kid brother, seriously.

All Dean needs is a plan of action. He even starts writing it out on a piece of paper – fine, pieces of paper, plural – to get his thoughts in order.

Truth: Dean wants Cas back. In any capacity, under any conditions Cas could care to set. They can pretend the kiss never happened, they can accept that it did and move on, or they can talk about it, though Dean would rather not go for Door Number Three if possible. Cas might want to bring up the fact that he’d kissed back, but Dean gets it – Cas has kissed chicks before, like that Meg-something back in college. Cas is human, Cas tries stuff out sometimes, Dean can be cool with that.

Then Cas himself shows up at Dean’s apartment unannounced, knocking rapidly on the door before Dean could make himself send a message asking for a chance to meet. It’s so much earlier than expected that Dean blanches when he sees Cas through the viewer. On second thought, this way’s good. Better to get it done with before Dean overthinks things.

“Hey,” Dean says when he lets Cas in. “Hi, Cas.”

“Yes.” Cas steps right on in, hands in pockets and eyes darting around wildly before settling on Dean’s face. “Right. Hello, Dean.”

“Um.” Dean scurries over to the table, grabbing his list. “I got a – shall I go first? Or do you want to—”

“No, you go.” Cas nods rapidly. “Yes.”

“Okay, then?” Dean feels good, prepared, steady – better than he’d thought he’d be when he saw Cas again. He holds the page out, skims the first few lines. “Cas, I’m sorry I said what I said to you. You’re right, it wasn’t fair. I was angry and selfish. I was thinking about myself when I should’ve been thinking about you. I’m sorry I tried to tell what you want.”

Cas seems to be vibrating. Dean can’t even tell if he’s listening, but his eyes haven’t moved from Dean’s face.

“I’ll, uh, keep going, right?” Dean clears his throat. “I’m gonna do my best to respect your choices. You were right – people get married for all sorts of reasons that are none of anyone else’s business. I’m the judgmental asshole for trying to shove my views on you. I should’ve known better, and I’m gonna fix that.” He exhales loudly, and then grins. “That good? I miss anything?”

“Yes,” Cas says tersely. “Yes, you missed something very important.”

Dean’s eyes drop back to his list. “Uh, okay. Shoot.”

“You wanted me from high school,” Cas bleats, voice going as shrill as Dean’s ever heard it. “How could you say that to me? What am I supposed to do with that?”

Terror starts to well at the back of Dean’s mind, but he shoves it down, takes calming breaths. “Nothing. You’re not supposed to do anything, because we’re both adults and we can move past it. I’m up for that, how about you?”

“You planted an idea in my head, Dean.” Cas still doesn’t break eye contact with Dean, as though afraid he’ll disappear the moment he turns away. “I can’t get it out.”

“Cas—”

“I can’t stop thinking about it. About you.” Cas drifts forward in jerky steps, eyes wide with panic that Dean recognizes from himself a couple of days ago. “I can’t even stay angry with you when I know I should. I had to see you.”

Dean tells himself that Cas is just freaking out. “Cas, think about Daphne—”

“That’s a dead end,” Cas snaps. “I’ve decided not to pursue that avenue. It wouldn’t have been fair to her, considering I can’t get you out of my goddamned head.” He’s close enough to touch now, though Dean’s being a good boy and keeping his hands behind his back. Cas’ hands come up, instead, touching Dean’s chest in an impossible brand through his shirt right down to his skin. “How, Dean?”

“Uh. I don’t understand the question.”

“When you looked at me the other day, in the grocery store,” Cas says thickly, “you were so scared. I hated that, hated it more than anything else. I hated that you couldn’t look at me.” His hands have moved up, up, up onto Dean’s face, fingers dragging through the stubble there. “I can’t stop thinking about you.”

“Cas.” Dean thinks he might be digging grooves into his palms where he’s clenched his fists. “I think you better back up now.”

“No.” Cas misses Dean’s mouth at first, the kiss landing slightly off-base but still sending a shocked thrill up Dean’s spine.

“What?” Dean says, because he is stupid, and then Cas is leaning in again.

The second kiss is better, firmer, solid. The third is open and wet, Cas’ tongue darting in between Dean’s lips. The fourth happens against the wall where Cas has shoved Dean up against, and after that, Dean just stops thinking. How can be expected to have any sort of coherent thought when he’s got his hands full of Cas like every guilty wet dream he hadn’t let himself have.

Then it’s a blur of hands and teeth and buttons going flying, because when Cas makes a decision, he doesn’t make it half-assed.

 


An hour or something later, Dean still feels like he’s been hit by a truck. When Cas goes for it, he goes for it, and though they’d been clumsy and unprepared, there are parts of Dean’s body that are still happily tingling.

They’re in bed now post-orgasm, having successfully made the trek there between shedding their clothes. Dean has plenty of moves but hadn’t had time to use them in the face of their mutual desperation, not that he feels all that bad about that. Cas has seen him at his worst, so what’s a little helpless babbling when it’s Cas rutting against him, inexperienced but willing to listen to his body’s cues of what feels good. They’d come so quickly, Cas gasping against Dean’s collarbone while Dean clutched Cas as tightly to him as he’d dared.

That was then, this is now. Dean’s breathing is somewhat back to normal, so he turns his head.

Jesus, that’s a lot of skin. Skin and nipples, a belly button, a now-soft cock resting between Cas’ thighs. Dean’s seen most of this before but not like this, had never even dreamed he could have a fraction of this. Dean wants to burn these images in his mind where no one can take them from him.

Cas’ eyes are open. Dean had thought him asleep but it’s obvious now that he wasn’t. When Cas sees him watching he scrunches his eyes shut and presses his hands to his face.

“Hey,” Dean says softly. “Hey, it’s okay.”

“How could I not know?” Cas says, voice muffled behind his palms. “I should’ve known, Dean.”

“I didn’t let you.” Dean touches his shoulder, rubbing gently. “Besides, you didn’t know what it looks like.”

“That’s not an excuse! You were carrying this in you all this time and I couldn’t see it and…” Cas’ voice breaks a little. “I’m so sorry.”

“What?” Dean is startled when Cas rolls over, climbs onto Dean’s lap with such fierceness in his eyes.

“Tell me what you want,” Cas says. “Right now. Be honest. What do you want?”

Dean looks up into Cas’ face, so full of anger and sadness and determination. Cas will listen to anything he has to say, so Dean dares, “I want you to want me back.”

“I could be scared,” Cas says shakily, “by how easy that is for me.”

“Really?” Dean’s still nervous, hands trembling a little where they rest on Cas’ waist. “But you – you never—”

“I know!” Cas laughs self-deprecatingly. “I know. But you’re – you are magnificent, Dean Winchester, the best person I have ever known, and I want you so badly I can’t think.” He kisses Dean then, softer and slower than their earlier kisses. This time Dean is more of sound mind and so is able to guide Cas carefully from one kiss to the next, their mouths slick and warm against each other.

Cas pulls away, but only to whisper, “Show me how to pleasure you.” He makes it a command, and Dean’s cock twitches hopefully. “Teach me, Dean.”

 


They talk plenty the next day. Cas tells Dean about how he’d felt lost and confused, unable to explain even to himself what he’d been looking for. Dean tells Cas about sublimation and denial and fear of losing Cas, which makes Cas a bit angry and leads to his stubborn cuddling of Dean despite Dean’s (admittedly weak) protests.

Every new admission through the open floodgates brings with it new relief. They’ve always been comfortable with each other but this is the upgrade Dean hadn’t realized he’d wanted. He hadn’t realized Cas wanted this either, but that just shows what he knows.

“The funny thing is,” Cas says, tugging at Dean’s hair curiously, “we were almost there anyway. I already love you.”

Dean stares at the ceiling and marvels how he could hear Cas say that and not freak out.

“It’s just that little bit more,” Cas continues. “That same little bit more that I think you’ve been looking for in your companions.”

“Yeah.” Dean cups the back of Cas’ head, bringing him close enough to drop a kiss to Cas’ temple. “I’m pretty predictable that way.”

Cas eventually drags Dean out of bed, insisting that they get a meal that hasn’t come out of a box. Neither of them is in the mood to cook, so they end up going to the Roadhouse. It’s sort of a trial run, Dean thinks, bringing this new thing between them out into the new world, a baby bird trying out its fledging wings and seeing if everyone else is ready to take it.

The magical thing, though, is that outwardly, nothing has changed. The drive they like they always do, sit in the Impala like they always do, sit at their favorite booth and debate the menus like they always do. But it’s a different kind of always now; Dean is allowed to look at Cas and think about what he tastes like.

Dean rises to his feet. “I’m gonna go check out the bar, say hi to Ellen.” Cas nods, still frowning at the menu, and Dean’s feet don’t want to move.

They’ve been coming to the Roadhouse since forever. (Okay, not forever, but it feels like it sometimes). This place has seen its fair share of awkward times and awesome times, but most importantly, it’s been the site of a great deal of Dean’s vicious man-whoring. That’s gonna change now, though. Dean can be a good guy. Dean can be a great guy, even.

“Hey.” Dean waits until Cas looks up, and then kisses him firmly.

Cas’ eyes are very wide when Dean pulls back. Dean loves that he can make Cas look like that. “Okay,” Cas says. “Um. Thank you.”

That was easy. Dean winks and pulls away, and is still grinning when he gets to the bar. Ellen raises an eyebrow at him and Dean just shrugs carelessly, as though it’s an everyday occurrence for him to be given exactly what he’s wanted.


 

They spruce up the apartment as best they can for when Sam brings his new girlfriend round to visit. Dean had convinced them to stay at the B&B down the street but Cas insists that they come over for a home-cooked dinner, which they do.

Sam’s been back from school a couple of times but this is the first trip since Dean and Cas got together. Also, the first where he’s brought someone back with him.

“Hey, buddy,” is Dean’s greeting, followed by the requisite pulling of Sam (down) into a hug.

Cas shakes Jess’ hand, then guides her into the apartment and takes her jacket. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” he says. Jess is tall, taller than Cas in her heels. Naturally this means that Dean has to comment on Sasquatch mating rituals, which gets an elbow from Cas, an unimpressed face from Sam, and a laugh from Jess.

There’s plenty to talk about, exchanging updates on their lives in their ritualistic syncing up. Sam already knows that Dean’s tentatively going ahead with the part-time degree in information science (“He just says he’s tentative, but he’s definitely enjoying it,” Cas chimes in), Dean already knows that Sam’s got a law school lined up in his immediate future, but now they can fill in the various gaps they’d had to leave out during their once-a-week phone calls.

Then there are the stories of remember when, because Jess is here and as Dean predicted, she appreciates any and all glimpses into Sam’s geekier younger days. Jess laughs at each and every anecdotre, delighted at Sam’s reddening face, though Sam gets his own back by prompting Cas to back him up on stories that are about Dean.

After dessert, Dean drags Sam over to the couch. It’s the same couch from their old house, still in good shape and sometimes smelling like Dad (though that’s just wishful thinking). Sam beams at Dean proudly, a well-educated young gentleman despite all of Dean’s best efforts.

“It’s good to see you so happy,” Dean says.

“You, too, man,” Sam replies, glancing over to where Cas is talking to Jess, explaining the meaning behind the art pieces he’s installed on the wall. Sam had been the easiest to tell about Cas, mostly because Dean hadn’t had to say anything beyond: So, me and Cas. When Sam turns back to Dean, contentment has softened his stupid face. “And I think… I think Dad would be proud of both of us. Where we are now. What we’re doing.”

“Yeah.” Dean feels an unexpected pang at that. Dad should have had the chance to meet to Jess. Though Dean can’t imagine how he would’ve reacted to things changing between him and Cas. He settles on a quiet, “I think so, too.”

 


Dean is totally game for going to their class reunion, but not for the reasons that Cas is. Cas goes because he actually wants to meet people, see what everyone’s up to, and apologize to various teachers for being troublesome back in the day. Dean doesn’t care about meeting, seeing or apologizing, but halfway through the night, once the music’s started and people are starting to get drunk, Dean grabs Cas’ hand and pulls him away and out of the auditorium.

“Dean,” Cas protests. He looks delicious in his tie and button-down, CASTIEL written in black sharpie on the sticker Becky had slapped on his shirt. Dean’s own sticker is on the back of his neck; it had felt like a good idea at the time but it’s starting to itch. “Dean, what are you doing?”

“What I came here to do.” Dean pulls Cas close, kisses him right there in the hallowed hallway. “I’m sure there’s got to be some unlocked rooms around here.”

“You can’t be serious.”

Dean grins, wraps around Cas like the octopus he is, nips the shell of Cas’ ear. “For old time’s sake? That an eraser in your pocket, or are you just happy to—”

“If we get caught I’m going to inflict tremendous pain upon your person.” Cas is totally faking the petulance, though, because he goes along with a glint in his eye.

Dean would’ve preferred the gym lockers but that part of the school’s cordoned off, so they find an unlocked supplies closet and bam, they’re in business. They gets their pants down only far enough to get a hand on each other’s cock, pulling fast and hard as they ride the adrenaline rush. Cas loses his coordination as he nears his orgasm so Dean guides his hands up to cling to Dean’s shoulders. It’s fine, because can Dean align their cocks and jerk them off together, kissing Cas frantically to swallow the gasps he makes.

A bonus of getting off in a supply closer is that there are paper towels in here. Cas is usually prepared but a bonus is a bonus, and Cas cleans them up dutifully.

In the post-orgasmic quiet of the supplies room they look at each other, and then burst out laughing. Well, Dean laughs enough for the both of them, Cas just looks mortified and guilty and thrilled all at once.

To wrap up the perfect scene, the door bursts open and both of them jump to their feet.

You two!” Good ‘ol Jefferson, still the school’s janitor and apparently still holding a grudge after all these years, glares at them. “Get the hell out! Git!”

They run like the wind, Dean clinging on to his belt while Cas calls out an apology behind him as they go.


 

Whenever Dean stops to look at it from the outside, he’s thrown by what a lucky son of a bitch he is. He may not be able to change the world like Sam, or be important to the town like Victor, or be well-travelled like Jo, but Dean doesn’t think he would want any of that even if he could have it. He’s also reasonably certain that Dad wouldn’t mind Dean’s aiming low, as long as he’s happy. Which he is.

Ridiculously happy.

Sure, it’s not perfect. Handling red tape at the library’s a bitch, Sam and Jess are on track for settling down so far away that Dean’ll only be able to see them a couple of times a year, Cas’ job at the mayor’s office casts the occasional strain, and Dean still sometimes gets struck with claustrophobia at the idea of staying in one place for the rest of his life.

It’s still way more than he could’ve hoped for. And so much less than Dean’s willing to put up with for with how good he’s got it.

Dad doesn’t have a grave, but Mom does. Dean takes a day off to go out to Lawrence, cleaning the grass and arranging flowers near the headstone. He tells her how much he still misses her, that he hopes she’s keeping Dad busy wherever they are, that Sam’s doing well, that he wishes she could’ve had had the chance to just meet Cas.

“So,” Dean says, brushing his fingers over the Mary set into the stone, “I thought you’d want to know, he’s definitely it for me. I know that sounds kinda pathetic when you think about it, but it’s still true. Love you, Mom.”

Then it’s off for home, to the apartment that they still haven’t moved out of despite their recent house-hunting and debates over housing loans, but they’re totally going to commit soon if the extra crap they’ve been accumulating over the past couple of years has anything to say about it.

Cas comes back home, tired but grateful for the long weekend, and even more grateful when Dean announces that he’d cooked and Cas should just sit back and relax.

“You’re too good to me,” Cas says. That’s as close to whining as he gets these days. That said, he dutifully indulges Dean in this, obeying Dean’s order to sit tight, and only getting up to pat Dean’s ass as he goes by.

Dean’s planned this one carefully. He’s not arrogant enough to think there’s a 100% chance of good weather so he’s left Cas an exit strategy, but he really, really hopes it won’t come to that. No big events, no dramatic gestures, nothing that could weigh the moment too heavily.

Time does the funny thing where it goes too slow and too fast at the same time. Suddenly dinner’s over, and Cas is picking up their plates and carrying them to the sink. Dean trips out of his seat, because it’s suddenly very important he gets to Cas right this instant.

“Hey, slow down,” Dean says.

Cas huffs under his breath. “You only said I had to sit down before dinner, you didn’t—” He stops when Dean grabs his hand, frowning curiously.

Dean’s hand is clammy, and then Dean’s going down. Not in the fun way, with blowjobs in their imminent future, but in the nerve-wracking, stomach-churning, oh shit what have I done, way. Dean’s fingers only fumble a little when he pops open the box, lifting it up, way above his head.

There are so many things Dean’s rehearsed to say in this moment. Stuff about love and life, like how Dean’s thought for so long that he doesn’t do well with promises when that hasn’t ever really been true. Like how Cas fell into his life and made it so much better just by existing, and how nothing Dean could do could make up for that but he’s willing to try anyway, if Cas’ll just give him the chance.

All of that’s gone out of the window, though. Luckily, Dean expected that to happen, so he just looks Cas right in the eye and smiles hopefully. Cas is smart. He’ll get it.

“Oh, Dean.” Cas’ voice is very quiet, very soft. He looks like he’s barely hanging on, breath coming out in short gasps as he stares at the ring box held aloft. “Dean, this is…” he swallows and smiles, “…this is so sudden. Maybe we should take some time to get to know each other first?”

A startled, relieved laugh explodes out of Dean, and he’s falling forward, head knocking against Cas’ knees and staying there. Cas’ hand comes down to card through Dean’s hair, and then there’s faint tugging at the box, Cas pulling the ring free. Dean knows he’s studying the simple gold band, a tiny Benitoite inlaid on one side.

Cas then joins him on the floor, nuzzling the side of Dean’s face in making him pay attention to the ring he’s twirling on the edge of one finger.

“You have to put it on me,” Cas says. “Yes?”

Dean manages to do exactly that, and then solidifies how they’re going to be telling people this story for years to come by blurting out, “Oh Jesus Christ I’m going to barf.”

Cas smiles widely and hugs him tighter. “You always were better at these things that I am.”

“No, you,” Dean replies petulantly. Nowhere near his best comeback, but it’s not like either one of them cares at this point. There’s too much awesome to be had as they hold on to each other and laugh.