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Denouement

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He so desperately wants to complain about the music being too loud, or the lights being too bright, but he knows for a fact that no one will hear him. And even if they did, he’s sure none of them would care. Because everyone here is having a good time. Except for Dean.

Dean is too busy wallowing in his own self-pity to really feel the bump of the bass, or even the writhing bodies in front of, behind, and on either side of him. Dean came out to get high with the full intent of being so far gone that he wouldn’t be able to feel his toes. Or anything. Specifically the god awful bass which now seemed to be a constant thrum.

Dean realizes too late that if he actually wanted to escape he shouldn’t have come to the most popular club in town. He wants to scream, but not as much as he wants to slap himself across the face repeatedly until he loses consciousness.

For the past couple of months, Dean’s been in this… phase where he feels like anything and everything he could ever do is utterly pointless. And it’s not just another ‘existential crisis’ that would normally blow over in about a week, oh no. The reason behind what’s going on in Dean’s life stems from one simple explanation. If simple means totally not simple, so distorted it looks like you’re looking through a smashed window.

Castiel Novak. The same Castiel Novak that Dean met in the third grade. The same Castiel Novak that threw up all over the stage during their middle school production of Bradley Hayward’s “Apostrophe’s”(which was actually pretty lame, so a kid puking all over the front row was the highlight, really). The same Castiel Novak that Dean distinctly remembers not having one ounce of attractiveness going for him and then all of a sudden it’s junior year and Castiel is drop-dead gorgeous (like, seriously fucking sexy, and that might be an understatement).

Coincidentally, it’s also the same Castiel Novak that Dean fell in love with.

---

In love with. Had Dean been able to admit that just a mere three months earlier, he might not be in this situation. He might have still had Cas. Maybe they’d be at this club together, smoking or drinking or grinding on each other, or maybe a combination of all three. Or maybe they wouldn’t need to go out. Maybe they’d be back up at Dean’s cramped (‘cozy’ is what Cas called it) apartment, cuddling and drinking coffee, even though they really don’t need caffeine at this time of night.

Dean glances at the cracked screen of his phone and sees that it reads ‘1:12 am’. Morning, he corrects himself. He’s been at this godforsaken place for well over two hours and he still doesn’t feel any better than he did when he walked in. In fact, he thinks the thick haze of smoke and the smell of sweat and spilled drinks might be what’s giving him the dull ache on the left side of his head.

Dean shuffles his feet along the footrest of the barstool he’s sitting at and taps his long (he should cut them) fingernails against the whiskey-slick counter to no beat in particular. He’s practically vibrating and the bartender gives him a concerned-looking onceover before continuing to ignore him. It’s the same bartender that used to come onto him every five seconds until the one night Dean finally showed up with Cas on his arm. It’s been months since Cas has been here though, and Dean kind of misses having someone to constantly be on top of him, vying for his attention. It’s almost enough for him to call out to the dark-haired girl with the blue eyes; the one who just so happens to resemble Cas so much he can pretend.

He doesn’t, but it isn’t due to lack of want. It’s due to the fact that he passes out. He wakes up to find a thin trickle of blood working its way down his cheek. No one stopped dancing to pick him up off the floor and make sure he was okay, not that he’s surprised.

After Dean somehow manages to navigate himself back to his apartment, he plops down on his bed and wishes that this day and the three months prior to it never existed. He picks up his cell phone and contemplates calling someone, anyone to get his mind off of Cas. Of course, this means that his finger ends up hovering over the green button of infinite distress with Cas’s number in the space above it. He’s not quite sure how he always ends up here, but he knows that it needs to stop.

Dean quickly exits the mistake he was sure to have committed had he thought about it any longer, and tries to call his brother, Sam. He doesn’t really realize what time it is until he hears Sam yawn on the other end of the line.

“Dean, it’s 2 am, and something tells me this phone call isn’t that important,” Sam says, sass still prominent in his sleepy voice.

“Yeah, n-no, you’re right, sorry for waking you up,” Dean says, doing a surprisingly good job of not slurring his speech. Despite the buzz he had going on, he could very clearly hear Sam’s pity sigh. Dean should have known Sam would want to talk it out. It’s basically all he’s been preaching since he broke up with Cas (read as: when Cas broke up with him)

“Do you need to talk about anything? I know I can’t always be there but I told you-”

“Sam, I’m fine, really. I shouldn’t’ve called. You probably got important college things tomorrow, you should go to sleep.” Dean hangs up before he can hear Sam start his ‘its okay if you miss him’ tirade. Because Dean doesn’t miss Cas so much as he misses just having someone. At least, that’s what he tells himself. Since the breakup, Dean’s been trying to convince himself that he doesn’t need to win Cas back or anything like that, he just needs to find a person who will fulfill his needs. But that theory is starting to sound like bullshit to even himself.

Thinking about the situation for probably the millionth time that night finally brought about the sickening twisting feeling Dean had been feeling in his gut since the day he failed to tell Cas he loved him. It tugged in a way that felt mysteriously like guilt, and he’d never been able to find a way to clear his contaminated conscience. So he ate. Every single time he felt that unmistakable twinge, he found himself sluggishly carrying himself to the fridge for something that could be prepared in the microwave in under five minutes.

Dean didn’t really have a problem with this new formed habit. Until one quiet night at the Roadhouse, Jo Harvelle said, “You’re getting kinda chubby.” It’s not like she was malicious about it or anything like that. It was punctuated with a small laugh and a poke to the stomach. The way the tip of her finger just sort of sunk into his flesh left him unsettled. He’d never in his life had any problems with his weight. Not that a couple extra pounds was a weight problem, per se. It’s just that Dean’s body was one of the only things he had ever prided himself on and for it to suddenly be subpar wasn’t the greatest feeling in the world.

Dean laughed along with Jo, just for the sake of it being an innocent little joke, but he couldn’t help what happened when he got home. He couldn’t stop his long, tan fingers from going down his own throat, reaching back until he finally hit his gag reflex, effectively emptying the contents of his stomach. He went back in for a second time, and a third, until finally he was dry heaving, tears falling down his face. He can’t say that made him feel better in any way, but it was enough to put him to sleep until noon the next day.

 ---

 It seems as though Dean relives this one memory every night these days. The one where the doorbell rings, and his hand accidentally slips on the handle as he tries to open the damn door. He remembers it crystal clear for obvious reasons. He’d been home alone, his dad out of town, as usual, and Sammy spending the night at a friend’s house. Since it was a Saturday night, Dean had been lounging around in a thin t-shirt and a pair of boxers, binge watching episodes of Dr. Sexy (hey, there was a marathon on TV), when he decided to order pizza from Dominos, online. He went through all of the first steps, like size and toppings, when he finally got to the ‘special instructions’ section and hesitated. He thought about it for a while, smirking to himself before actually typing. He knew it had been stupid, but he was just messing around and wasn’t really expecting anything when he’d typed “send your cutest delivery boy”. If anything, he just thought he made himself sound like a slumber party full of 12-year-old girls. Little did they know he was just a lonely 18-year-old boy looking for some kind of entertainment, no offense to Dr. Sexy and his cowboy boots.

            So when he opened his door to soft blue eyes and almost aggressively messy hair, Dean sort of freaked out for a bit because oh my fucking god, I didn’t think this would actually happen what do I do now? So what’s the first thing that came out of Dean’s mouth (besides an embarrassingly loud gasp/weird choking sound)?

 “Well, you certainly are cute”. Dean wanted to stab himself, and he still kind of wants to when he thinks about it now. He then proceeded to close his eyes for the next ten seconds until the mysterious pizza delivery boy asked, “Are you alright, sir?” And try as he did, he couldn’t help but think about how the guy’s voice was rough and sexy as hell. Needless to say, he was feeling a little compromised at that moment in time. He had been single at the time, so there were no worries about that. However, Dean didn’t know if this guy had even a slight interest in dudes. Not that that had mattered anyway, considering how completely clueless Cas had ended up being about this stuff.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” he said as he peered down at the nametag pinned to the other boy’s chest, “…Castiel..?” Dean’s brain rattled at the odd name, mostly because he recognized it from somewhere.

“Do we go to school together?” Dean had asked, not quite realizing that Castiel was still awkwardly standing in the threshold, holding a pizza box.

“Um, yeah, we don’t have any classes together but I see you in the library sometimes…” Cas had replied, trailing off toward the end of his statement, probably noticing that it had been the wrong thing to say.

“The library? I’m usually only in there really early in the morning, I didn’t think anyone-”

“I never wanted to bother you, so I just sort of… watched from a distance. I assumed you never noticed me. I guess I was right.” Even after that confession, Castiel remained unfazed, like he was literally incapable of feeling embarrassed.

“Oh… right. Well, um, here’s the money for the pizza,” Dean babbled, handing the crinkly note over to Cas, feeling like a walking cliché when their fingers brushed against each other. Dean just blushed again, which was like the twelfth time that night (seriously, what was wrong with him?).             

“I left my change in the car. I’ll be right back,” Cas said, about to turn around when Dean’s hand unexpectedly caught around his wrist.

“Just keep it.”

“Are you sure, Dean? This is almost a thirty dollar tip.” And Dean must have had a temporary lapse of insanity because he just smiled like an idiot and nodded his head. The smile he got in return was worth way more than thirty bucks. Also, oh my god he knows my name???

Before Dean knew what was happening, Cas was on the tips of his toes, pressing a kiss to his cheek.

“Thank you,” were Cas’s departing words, paired with a cute little wave that Dean couldn’t stop picturing for the whole rest of the night. When asked about the ‘missing’ thirty dollars, from their stash of food money, Dean told Sam that he must have lost it. Sam had given him an incredulous look at that, but he never found out the truth about exactly where that money had gone. Sam didn’t question when it inevitably happened again, nor did he question Dean’s constant pizza ordering.

Dean always gave Cas an outrageously big tip, and he was always rewarded with a sweet kiss on the cheek. The heavy spending had always been worth that half-second moment. And even with his heaps of student debt, Dean still thinks it’s the best way he’s ever spent any of his hard-earned money.

---

            It wasn’t just the eating that soon became a problem. Dean had always been partial to having one too many drinks/getting high and asking questions that nobody had answers to/making stupid mistakes. He’d done all of that dozens of times. The only thing that was different now was the fact that Cas wasn’t there to do any of it with him. It suddenly wasn’t fun anymore, but it didn’t stop Dean from trying to make it fun. He went out every night for two and a half weeks, just hoping to find some normalcy after Cas, but it proved to be easier said than done.

            He didn’t have anyone to lean against when the drinks finally started to kick in. He didn’t have anyone to answer his ridiculous questions with an even more ridiculous response. He didn’t have anyone to drunkenly walk him back to his apartment after a long night at the local bar. He didn’t have anyone to crawl into bed with, a warm, calm body against his own. He no longer had the assurance that Cas had given him in almost every aspect of his life.

            Because Dean was one of those people who needed to be assured of absolutely everything, or else he felt like shit. It’s one of his many flaws, but Cas never made it seem that way. Cas gave him countless compliments and it was like he didn’t even have to try. Dean could look like absolute fucking hell with tears pouring out of his eyes, his face all red and blotchy, and Cas would still tell him how beautiful he was. And it’s because Cas actually thought that, still thinks that. Dean took advantage of all of that stuff Cas would tell him.

            “I’m not beautiful, Cas. Quit lyin’ to me,” Dean would say, sobs breaking through every other word. He said it so many times, almost exactly the same every time with only a few differences in wording every so often.

“Yes, you are. You’re the most beautiful, captivating person I’ve ever met,” Cas would respond, pressing up against Dean, wrapping an arm around him and gently kissing his temple, telling him over and over again. No matter how many times Dean denied his compliments only to receive more, Cas would never give up on trying to make him see his own beauty.

After Cas left, he didn’t have anyone to tell him how cute his soft tummy was, or how sexy his weeks’ worth of stubble was. Those compliments, like most things Cas did, Dean was learning, were things Dean didn’t realize he craved, needed, in his life.

 ---

He kisses her. He gently touches the back of her neck. He does everything with her exactly how he did with Cas, and as suspected, it only proves to make him feel worse about himself. He has to make up some shit about there being a family emergency just so he wouldn’t have to follow through with anything more than kissing. It hurts too much trying to move on. He knows because he’s been trying every night for weeks. He goes out, specifically looking for people, trying too hard, eyeing everyone who bothered strolling into the not-so-fine establishment. Sometimes, he went after people he didn’t even find attractive, women and men alike. Eventually, he realized nobody would look attractive ever again if he was constantly comparing them to Cas in his mind. Even if he could find a perfect clone of Cas, right down to the freckle on his lower back, nobody could ever match Cas’s soul.

Dean groans internally, wondering when he turned into a fucking YA novel. He also wonders what life would be like had he not ordered pizza that night. What if Cas wasn’t at work? What if Dean had never moved into Cas’s small neighborhood, the one he had lived in his entire life?

Dean thinks he would never have elected to apply to college. He never thought he was cut out for college, assumed he would drop out after a couple months, give or take. And yeah, it was just KSU, but he didn’t need to go to some big, hot-shot university to succeed. Cas taught him that too.

Come to think of it, there’s not much information – important information – that he hasn’t learned from Cas. He thinks about the little things in his life that were made so much better by the way Cas instructed him, his words tumbling slowly, waiting to make sure Dean was following. Nobody else in the world would ever get away with placing their hands over Dean’s, guiding his fingers over the ivory keys of Cas’s piano, the one he got from his grandfather. The intimacy was peerless as Cas gently pressed the pads of his fingers down onto Dean’s, a single melodic note ringing out into his spacious living room. Dean was never even into piano pieces, but nothing could match the feeling of creating something with the man he loved. He can still hear Cas’s voice rumbling quietly into his ear, cut off by the kisses he would press right below his earlobe, along his jaw, down his neck, until Dean was giggling (which he would never admit out loud), angling his face to kiss his lips. He could feel Cas’s smile against his mouth, and in those moments, Dean had never felt more light. Like nothing else in the world held any importance. Nothing but the soft skin of his lips, the silky movements of his tongue.

The girl he was with didn’t smile. She had a smirk like she knew exactly what Dean wanted, beckoning him closer. She asked him questions he didn’t know the answers to, and despite the fact that Dean probably sounded like the least interesting person in history, she leaned in, capturing his lips in an uncoordinated drag. He stood stock-still for a few moments, his eyes wide open, shocked at her impulse. Cautiously, he closed his eyes, bringing his left hand up to cradle the back of her neck, his fingers tangling in her long, dark hair. Hair he wasn’t expecting to be there. Her soft movements were foreign. It was about six years since Dean had even thought about a girl, let alone been with one physically.

He soon found himself missing the smooth, flat planes of Cas’s toned body. He remembers the way his shoulders would roll beneath his hands. Dean was mesmerized by the way Cas’s muscles moved, how perfect his skin felt when it rubbed against his own. Suddenly, he’s thinking about the way Cas’s face looks when he comes. Cas’s face would contort beautifully after hours of getting as close to the edge as possible before stopping, just to start building up to that point again.

Dean quickly pulls himself away from the woman (he hadn’t even bothered asking for her name). He can’t do it. Fuck, he can’t do anything anymore, and he’s seriously starting to hate himself for it. He checks his phone under the pretense that he received a message, being careful as to not allow her to see him scrolling through week-old texts.

“Damn, my mom’s in the hospital. I’ve gotta go.” He doesn’t sound concerned enough for his mother to actually be in the hospital, not in the slightest, but the woman doesn’t question his reason for bailing. She quickly scribbles her phone number on a slightly damp napkin, handing it to him, telling him to call her anytime. Oh, and that she hopes his mom is okay. Dean can feel her insincerity. It wraps around him until he’s actually disgusted by her. Dean fully understands how hypocritical that is, but right now, he doesn’t care. He’s hurting. He’s in pain and nothing is going to change that. He hates that it’s taken this long to realize it.

---

            “I can’t just do that, you know I can’t,” Dean says, defeat evident in his voice. He wasn’t really being fair to Jo. She’s been offering him some pretty sound advice for the better part of an hour. He’s denied it all.

            They’re sitting in a small coffee shop, far away from alcohol, staring at the dregs of dark liquid in the bottom of their mugs. Dean kinda hates it. The place reminds him of something Cas would be into, and really, what’s new? What doesn’t remind of Cas these days. The hair in his shower drain could remind him of Cas at this point.

            “But you can, Dean,” Jo argues, her tone dripping with condescending annoyance. “Literally all you have to do is talk to him. He’s not even hard to find. Plus he’s got plenty of free time now that you guys aren’t breathing the same air.” Dean thinks about that for a second and he wonders if Cas is suffering as much as he is. He hopes he’s not. Cas doesn’t deserve that. Dean quickly looks away from Jo. Eye contact makes him feel guilty.

            “You do love him, right?” Jo asks him. And she knows the answer. It would just mean so much more for Dean to say it. Out loud, to somebody. Dean knows this, and he thinks it over.

            “Of course I do,” he admits, letting out a deep breath that burns his lungs. Like he’s kept it in for months.

            “Nuh-uh, say the words. You have to.”

            “Fine, I love him. A lot. More than anyone in this world. I will never find someone as perfect for me as him. I love Castiel Novak. Are you happy?” Despite the bitterness in his voice, he feels good. He feels great, actually.

            “So tell him. Go find Cas and tell him how much you love him. I can’t handle you moping around anymore. You know, I never thought I’d see the day you and Cas got into a fight you couldn’t resolve with dinner and sex. And now that I have, I never want to deal with it again. You’re both miserable. Fix it, Dean.”

            That’s the last thing of import she tells him before standing up to leave. Dean sits there for a few minutes longer. He knows she’s right. That doesn’t make it any easier in Dean’s mind to get up and actually do something about it. He orders another coffee and sits down for longer than he should, but that’s okay. He has nothing better to do.

--- 

“I just don’t get it,” Dean remembers Cas saying. They had been curled up on Dean’s tiny twin-size bed, Cas’s arms wrapped around Dean, his face buried in Dean’s neck as he whispered. Dean attempted to look at him, but the position they were in made it nearly impossible.

“What are you talking about?” Dean had asked him, slightly thrown by the question considering they hadn’t spoken for almost an hour. That was another one of those things that was so great about Cas. They didn’t necessarily need to talk, the other’s presence was usually enough. Sometimes gentle, even breaths said more than words ever could.

“You’re like, the cutest guy in the world. You’re kind and selfless and I can’t believe you’re here with me right now. I’m planning to become an English major and I can’t even find the words to explain how much you mean to me.” Dean smiled at the admission, understanding the difficulty of describing the feeling of the two of them being together.

“So what don’t you understand?” Dean asked, rubbing circles into the small of Cas’s back.

“I don’t understand why you picked me. There’s nothing special about me, you could have literally anyone you want. I really want to know why you’re so fascinated by me.” Dean began to think about what Cas was asking, rolling his eyes at Cas’s inability to see his own beauty. But to be fair, Dean was constantly beating himself up, sometimes questioning Cas’s sanity for even talking to him. Dean was, after all, the guy who requested a cute pizza delivery boy. Instead of being extremely weirded out, Cas blushed and kissed him. KISSED HIM! There was nothing that could have stopped Dean from falling then and there, but as he got to know Cas, it only got worse.

Cas had asked him out first, which Dean was grateful for because it might not have ever happened if it weren’t for Cas’s initiative. To top it all off, Cas set up a picnic at the local park, with a basket and a checkered blanket and everything. Nobody had ever gone to such lengths to make sure Dean was having a good time in his 18 years at the time. At the slightest breeze, Cas would ramble about how he should’ve checked the weather forecast beforehand. Dean reassured him every time, placing his hand over Cas’s, gently squeezing his fingers. In the end, Dean got stung by a wasp (which Cas also tried to blame himself for) but Dean didn’t even care about the pain in his leg when Cas kissed him at the end of their date, their lips coming together for the first time.

Thinking about the amount of confidence it took for Cas to make all of the first moves, it was jarring to see this side of Cas, full of uncertainty.

“You have no idea how perfect you are for me, Cas. I feel like you understand everything I say, and even if you don’t, you listen. I can’t say I’ve had that before. Most people can’t handle me for more than a week at a time. You always say the right thing at the right time. You make me happy. I think that’s the most important thing. When I’m with you, I feel like you want me there, and nothing makes me happier than that.” Dean can’t believe how much of his heart he had poured out, but he also can’t believe how much he had failed to say in that moment.

“I love you, Dean,” Cas said, sounding calm as ever, still breathing steadily against his neck.

“I… I-” Dean started, interrupted by Cas shushing him immediately after hearing his hesitation.

“It’s okay, Dean. I understand that it’s probably still too soon for you to say it back. It’s only been a month and a half. You don’t need to feel obligated to say something you’re not sure of. I just really wanted you to know how I feel.” Thinking on the memory now, Dean can’t help but feel like he really fucked up, like he abused Cas’s patience. They were together for six years, and not once did Dean say three words that most four-year-olds could accomplish.

“We should go to sleep,” Cas said sleepily, yawning and stretching up to press a kiss to Dean’s temple before cuddling back into the crook of his neck. Dean didn’t sleep at all.

            It’s a day after his conversation with Jo, and Dean is still sulking, scrolling through Facebook and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. He habitually checks out Cas’s account for anything new, biting his lower lip and feeling like scum. How can he stalk Cas virtually while being incapable of meeting up with him and just apologizing? Part of him is saying that Cas would refuse to speak to him, that he’s ruined their relationship beyond repair. The other part is saying Cas would run right back into his arms the second he admitted his mistakes. Dean doesn’t think he deserves that, especially from someone as good as Cas.

            Cas could be healing from the wounds Dean has no doubt left behind. He might be getting over it. What if he’s met someone else? They’ve probably already gone on a first date. Someone else is getting to see Cas’s precious smile, the one he gives when he’s just smitten. Or maybe the one he has after a couple glasses of wine, obliterating his filter so that nothing but unadulterated adoration comes through. Dean is jealous of whoever that is, and he isn’t even sure this person actually exists. Cas has been pretty off-the-grid since the breakup, nothing but event posts and birthday messages littering his timeline. Dean was considering contacting him, perhaps just to tell him happy birthday, something to signify that he was still thinking of Cas, despite the fact they were no longer intricately woven into each other’s lives.

            It’s three days later and Dean is still considering a belated message. He’s had the messaging window open for nearly ten minutes now, absently watching the cursor blink over and over. He finally begins typing, but only because he can see that Cas isn’t currently online.

            I know I’m a little late, but, Dean types. He stops for a second before deleting it. It seems too casual for the situation. He knows he can’t be casual about any of this, it would be insulting. Dean goes to the kitchen and cracks open a new bottle of whiskey, pouring some into a glass of ice before sitting back down at his laptop, taking a large swig. The burn, ironically, helps soothe his anxiety about sending the message and he starts again.

            We really should’ve spent your birthday together. It’s my fault that we didn’t. I’m really sorry about everything.

            Without thinking, Dean hits send, throwing back the remainder of his drink. A ‘Seen 11:57 pm’ is the only response he gets, if you can even call that a response. At least he knows that Cas saw the message. He’s not sure he was expecting a reply anyway. Two more drinks later, he figures it wouldn’t hurt to send another message.

            I miss you.

            That’s all it says. Another ‘seen’ pops up at the bottom of the window, but what surprises Dean is the dots that appear, indicating that Cas is typing back. In his excitement, Dean knocks his glass over. It rolls off the edge of the table and shatters on the linoleum. Dean lets out a litany of curses as he goes to grab a broom, picking up some of the bigger pieces of glass first. When he sees his computer screen again, there are four words that Dean wishes he could unread.

            Please leave me alone.

            They shouldn’t hurt as much as they do. Dean shouldn’t have expected anything more as response. His hand clenches around one of the shards of glass. As it digs into his flesh, Dean feels his warm blood begin to trail off his palm and onto the floor, swirling into the dark liquid. After a few seconds of just staring at the mess, he trudges over to the sink to rinse his hand off, wrapping it tightly in a towel. A white one that’ll stain terribly, but he can’t bring himself to care about that. He neglects the rest of the glass and opts to go to bed. The day’s been too long and Dean wants it to be over. One glance at the clock tells him the day is only beginning.

            He shuts his eyes forcefully, waiting for sleep to take him. He dreams of Cas and palm kisses.

---

            When Dean wakes up, it’s to the sight of blood stains on his sheets. He’s aware of the ache in his right hand, and as he moves it, his skin sticks to itself, caked with red-brown dryness. Everything about Dean feels disgusting and going to work doesn’t feel like an option. He tests out his voice and it’s nothing but a rasp, his throat stinging with every syllable he tries to articulate. Paired with the tight feeling of his face, Dean soon remembers crying himself to sleep. He rolls his eyes at himself, running his clean hand through his hair.

            “When did I become such a pussy?” Dean asks himself, cringing at the sound of his voice. After showering and getting dressed, Dean finally gets around to assessing the damage of his hand. Only now does he realize how deep the cut is. He might actually need stitches. The gash suddenly hurts ten times more and Dean dials his boss’s number, telling her of his predicament. The salt in the wound: Dean’s boss doesn’t sound like she could care any less.

            Dean dreads going to the hospital, and avoids it whenever he can. Unfortunately, he doesn’t think he can give himself sutures with only one hand. And even if he can, it sounds like a miserable time.

            He drives to the local hospital, and soon he’s sitting in the cold, clinical waiting room, full of coughing kids and admonishing mothers. The fluorescent lights are making Dean’s headache worse, and he’s seconds away from leaving when his name is finally called. Dean doesn’t like the doctor. He’s got this snarky, condescending voice that grates on Dean’s nerves, like he thinks Dean’s a fucking idiot for accidentally hurting himself.

            “So, Mr. Winchester, how exactly did this happen?” Dr. Anderson asks him, eyeing Dean over the top of his glasses. Dean barely avoids rolling his eyes, and that’s a habit he’s really been meaning to break.

            “I dropped a glass last night; I picked up a broken piece, accidentally cut myself. No big deal,” Dean stated, more standoffish than he needs to be, but he can’t help it. He’s fucking irritated and this dude isn’t making it any better.

            “So, this happened last night?” the doctor asks, his voice droning. Dean rolls his eyes this time, because ‘didn’t I literally just say that?’

            “Yes, last night,” Dean says slowly, annunciating his words to make it clear how annoyed he is. Dr. Anderson looks at him skeptically.

            “Well, Mr. Winchester, you’re lucky the wound isn’t infected, considering you waited until now to get treated,” he says, and honestly, Dean’s had it with the judgmental bullshit. He just wants to get his hand fixed and leave.

            “I wasn’t gonna come to the hospital at midnight. I’m alive, it’s not that big of a deal, now can you just sew me up and take my damn money?” The aggression is evident in Dean’s tone now, and he hopes the doctor will just take a hint and treat him, which is what he’s being paid for.

            “Were you intoxicated when the injury occurred?”

            “What the hell does that have to do with anything?” Dean’s starting to wonder if he mistakenly asked for a therapy session instead of stitches. Was this standard protocol, or was this doctor just fucking nosy?

            “You seem rather irritable. I’m simply concerned about your mental state. This sounds like it could be a self-harm injury.” Dean’s eyes widen at that and he is livid. He stands up and heads for the door. He can ask his brother for stitches. He didn’t want to get him involved but it seems he has no choice.

            “Mr. Winchester-” He’s punctuated by the sound of the door closing. Dean’s still probably going to be charged for that. 

---

“Where’d you get that scar from?” Cas asked him one morning. They were both 22. They had been together for 4 years and that was the first time the question had come up. Dean was surprised it had taken that long, after all, the scar was clear as day, travelling from his left temple, just above his eyebrow to the center of his forehead. For the first couple years, Dean was extremely self-conscious about it. It was harsh and red, nothing like one of those ‘sexy’ scars. It gave Dean character, just not the kind he was looking for.

“Got into a fight at the high school before Lawrence,” Dean said nonchalantly. He didn’t want to get into it, but he knew that if Cas asked more questions he would answer them anyway.

“A fight?” Cas questioned, like he couldn’t believe that Dean would ever engage in violence with anyone. “What was the fight about?” Dean took in a deep breath.

“Some dude called me, and I quote, ‘a fat homosexual’,” Dean said bitterly, his laughter lacking real humor. Before Cas could ask anything else, the dam broke, and Dean was explaining everything, even the minor, unimportant details.

“I was 16, and at that age, gay was apparently the worst thing anyone could ever call me. I was pretty fucked up, started yelling about how I wasn’t a faggot. I tried pinning it on him, shouting as loud as I could so that the crowd that had gathered could hear me clearly calling him a faggot. We were in North Carolina, like, the fucking south where that shit just doesn’t fly. Before I knew it, he was throwing the first punch. Caught me so off guard that fighting back was practically impossible, I got one, maybe two good hits in, but other than that I was being pummeled. He hit me so hard I finally fell over, cracked my head open on the edge of the sidewalk. Everyone ran at the sight of blood. Nobody bothered to help me at all, not even the teachers. That’s how bad it was. Like, you see a kid bleeding on the ground, but you don’t help him just because he might be gay. And yeah, they might have been like, half right, but still, the south is fucked up. And do you know the saddest part in all of this? I had literally been checking the guy out. I know what I did, but when he accused me of being gay, I tried convincing myself it hadn’t actually happened. It took me two years of fighting myself, hating myself, to realize and accept that I’m bi. God, why did I even care, Cas?”

Dean rubs his eyes angrily, regretting that he spent so much time worrying about his sexuality. Leave it to him to somehow like guys and be homophobic at the same time.

“It makes sense to want to fit in, Dean. You were just doing what any 16-year-old would do in the situation. Besides, that’s in the past. Look at how far you’ve come. You’re so confident now. I didn’t know you back then, but I’m proud of you now,” Cas said lovingly, grabbing Dean’s hand with both of his, bringing it up to his mouth and kissing it.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t have lied about liking dudes. Hell, I bet you didn’t even question the fact,” Dean said, unable to look Cas in the eye.

“That’s where you’re wrong. I think everyone questions their sexuality, however, the way they choose to address the realization is completely unique to the person.” And that answer is just so Cas that he almost can’t handle it. Everything he said made an immense amount of sense, like he’d been thinking about it for years.

“Yeah, and I addressed it in the most wrong way I possibly could,” Dean mumbled under his breath, starting to loathe himself all over again.

“No, you didn’t, Dean. You didn’t know what to do, and you had no support where you were. What were you supposed to do?”

Dean thought about that. There were tons of things he could have done, but he didn’t say that. He knew Cas was just trying to comfort him, even if it was something he hadn’t thought about in what felt like ages. Cas just wanted him to be happy with himself.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Dean conceded, bowing his head slightly, still ashamed of his past-self.

“I think we all go through similar situations at some point in our lives, but we shouldn’t let those moments define us. We’re only people,” Cas said as a final statement on the matter, moving to cradle Dean’s head to his chest. Dean relished in both the sound and the feeling of Cas’s steady heartbeat, before chuckling to himself once again.

“At least the guy was right about one thing,” Dean started good-naturedly, “I was a fat ass.” Dean could almost hear the disapproval on Cas’s face, how his eyebrows pulled together and his mouth dropped into a sad, confused frown.

“I’m sure you were fine, Dean. There’s no need to be so critical of yourself,” Cas said, holding Dean ever so closer to his chest, resting his chin on top of Dean’s head.

“No, it was terrible. The constant moving around was really taking its toll on my body. I couldn’t exactly eat a well-balanced meal while on the road, and surprisingly enough, sitting in a car for hours at a time doesn’t qualify as exercise,” Dean said, remembering the first time he looked down and actually noticed his stomach. It was just kind of there, seeming to mock him and his inability to do anything right. It was then that Dean became aware of how vulnerable and fragile he truly was. A stupid jock was able to completely destroy his self-esteem with one poorly constructed sentence. Imagine what damage he could do himself.

“Again, none of that was your fault. You need to learn to give yourself more credit. You certainly deserve it.” Dean seemed to tune out everything Cas was saying to him, starting up once more.

“Not like I’m doing any better now. I mean, look at me. I should really start hitting the gym, I have no excuses now,” Dean said, tears welling up in his eyes, his voice fluctuation beginning to show just how much this affected him.

“If going to the gym will make you happy, then by all means, go. I’ll be happy to accompany you. But I think you’re perfect just the way you are.”

Dean grabbed ahold of his stomach area, upset by the amount of fat that filled his hand.

“This,” he began, clearing his throat, “This is not perfect. This is gross.”

“I love your stomach, Dean, especially the little freckle on the left side of your bellybutton,” Cas said, pushing Dean softly into a position that allowed the two to make eye contact. They were both fully clothed in t-shirts and pajama pants, neither of which fit very well. Cas placed his hands right above Dean’s hips and began to rub circles with his thumbs. He did that a lot. He slowly pulled Dean’s shirt up, inch by inch, not wanting to make Dean uncomfortable by moving too hastily. He rubbed up and down Dean’s stomach, going higher with every pass until he was almost brushing his nipples. When Dean released a small sigh of content, Cas knew it was okay to pull his shirt up over his head.

He laid Dean down again, guiding his body into the sheets of the bed, moving to straddle his thighs. Cas leant down to kiss the aforementioned freckles, letting his tongue graze Dean’s smooth skin.

“Such an amazing, beautiful man, and you’re all mine,” Cas whispered into Deans’ stomach, continuing the brief kisses. He travelled up Dean’s torso, worshipping every inch of skin Dean had to offer. When he reached his collarbone, Cas suckled lightly for what could’ve been five minutes or five years for all Dean knew. He was in a state of absolute bliss. Dean couldn’t help the quiet giggle when Cas brushed his lips over the side of his neck, squirming and grabbing onto whatever parts of Cas that he could.

“Why are you so adorable?” Cas asked, obviously not expecting a serious answer, because he dived in, devouring Dean’s neck, leaving red bite marks everywhere. Before he knew it, Dean was a moaning mess, with Cas alternating kisses between his jaw and his lips, running his palms over Dean’s sides, occasionally dipping below the waistband of his pants.

            “I love you,” Cas said, his voice breathy with the rapid rise and fall of his chest. He tried his hardest to make Dean realize he was gorgeous, on the outside, but also in. The reason Cas was so drawn to Dean was because of who he was, not what he looked like. But, looking at him, Cas really couldn’t ask for a cuter, sexier boyfriend than Dean. When Dean tensed up, it lasted a split second, not long enough for Cas to notice that it was at his ‘I love you.’

            Dean grabbed Cas’s arms, urging him to look at his face, “Fuck me.” It wasn’t what Cas was expecting him to say, they’d been together for years, why hadn’t Dean said it back yet? Cas had only said it a handful of times himself, but Dean hadn’t responded once. It probably wasn’t wise for Cas to ignore the fact again. Had they addressed it then they might not have had the two years of tension and miscommunication that followed. Instead, Cas kissed him once, removing the rest of his clothes.

 --- 

            “Why didn’t you just do it?” Sam asked Dean. He didn’t mean to be insensitive about the subject, he was genuinely curious as to why Dean couldn’t tell Cas that he loved him. He could see how much Dean cared about him, he’d never seen his brother more enamored. More in love.

            “If I could answer that do you think I’d be sitting here with you right now?” Dean snapped, his faced still red and raw from tears. He knew his brother was just trying to help him, but he wasn’t ready to talk about any of it yet. It had been eight days since he had his shouting match with Cas, resulting in Cas’s request for a ‘fucking break.’ He said that they needed time to ‘expand their horizons,’ that they’d ‘been together for too long’ and ‘didn’t know anything else.’ Dean knew they were just excuses to get away from him, that he’d already been hurt too much and was trying to escape before it could get any worse. He had given Dean one last opportunity to redeem himself, and he fucked that up too.

            “Please, Dean, just say it. Tell me you love me,” Cas pleaded, tears streaming down his cheeks. Dean didn’t look any better. Dean was silent, unable to look at Cas when he was in so much pain. Cas closed his eyes, trying to will the tears to stop, choking out a sob.

            “I think I understand. I just don’t get why you would stay with me for so long if you don’t love me. Why would you lead me on?” Cas’s voice quivered slightly, but he mostly sounded resigned, like he was accepting that what they had was ending. And Dean couldn’t say anything. He had so much to say, yet none of it was coming out. Cas turned around and left without another word. Dean hasn’t heard his voice since.

            “I mean, probably not. You were spending every waking moment with Cas. You barely had time for anyone else,” Sam said. He didn’t need to remind Dean of how involved Cas was in his life. They were practically one person and Dean was quickly realizing that without Cas, he had way too much free time. The first couple of days found Dean searching for Cas, almost calling him before it hit him that he couldn’t do that. He didn’t want to talk to anybody about what happened because normally, if he was having a problem of any kind, he would turn to Cas.

            “Yeah, well, that’s obviously gonna change,” Dean said, making his way to the door, wanting nothing more than to drink away his sorrows.

            “Where are you going?” Sam asked, though Dean was pretty sure he already knew the answer to that.

 ---

            “Is it… 1781? No, wait, its 1789, right?” Cas inquired, his tone signifying how unsure he was.

            “Yep, 1789, can we take a break now?” Dean asked, whining and lying down across Cas’s lap. He even pouted for extra effect. Cas shook his head, his eyes ignoring Dean in favor of his textbook.

            “Don’t have time. This test is tomorrow.” Cas had been saying the company line for over an hour, expecting Dean to just be okay with it. He wasn’t okay with it. It was only the first semester of their freshman year in college, but Dean already saw the vast difference between him and Cas when it came to homework and studying. Where Cas was never seen without his laptop and a book, Dean was more carefree, electing to join clubs and even the lacrosse team – though that didn’t last long. Dean really enjoyed his time in college, but he couldn’t imagine the same for Cas. The guy worked himself to the bone, studying until 3 a.m., all while trying to maintain his work study course. Cas chose to take nothing but difficult classes.

            Though he couldn’t quite understand where Cas was coming from, Dean supposed that was what made them click, all that ‘opposites attract’ bullshit.

            “You’ve been studying for two days straight. C’mon, let’s go to the deli and get some sandwiches. I bet you haven’t eaten all day, and I know I’m starving,” Dean said, standing up, grabbing Cas’s hands. Getting Cas to stand up was more difficult than he would have expected.

            “Not hungry. You can go without me. Bring me a coffee: two sugars,” Cas said, his voice an emotionless monotone as he switched to his laptop, typing furiously.

            “I know how you take your coffee, Cas, I’m your boyfriend. And as your boyfriend, I’m requesting your accompaniment to the deli. It’s far away; I might fall down or get hit by a car. Just come with me, please,” Dean pleaded, tilting Cas’s chin up so that he was finally focused on Dean and nothing else.

            “I can’t,” Cas said strongly, a definitive, almost annoyed tone running through the statement. Dean knew he wasn’t winning this.

            “Fine, but I’m not getting your damn coffee. If you want to continue ruining your sleep schedule get up and do it yourself.”

            It was like that for the entire first year, and it only seemed to get worse when they got back from winter break. Cas had almost no time for Dean during the second semester as he immersed himself in his work even more. Dean didn’t think that was physically or mentally possible. The only time they seemed to see each other was at midnight, when Dean was getting ready to go to sleep and Cas was getting ready to start chapter 26 of America in the 18th Century. Dean was wary of the bloodshot eyes surrounded by dark circles, the same ones Dean used to think were the most alluring he’d ever seen. He noticed the shaky hands. Whether they were induced by a ‘B’ on a report, lack of sleep or both, Dean never really knew. All of this plus the pacing, the seemingly endless pacing, were what caused Dean to break, which only God knows why. Cas was the one stressed as hell, so why was it Dean who broke down sobbing one morning in March?

            Dean woke up and glanced at the clock. It was 3:46 a.m. and Cas was awake, the small lamp atop his desk in the corner of the room leaving his hunched form in shadows, creating haunting silhouettes on the wall behind him. Dean blinked his eyes, squinting to focus in the semi-lit room.

            “Cas, come to bed, it’s almost 4,” Dean said, groggy and confused. Dean surprised himself with the request, considering they hadn’t shared a bed in months. Cas’s habits of getting up and sitting back down several times throughout the course of the night made it difficult for Dean to get his much needed rest. But Dean had had a pretty weird dream, not scary, just one of those dreams that left you feeling slightly unsettled for the rest of the night. He wanted cuddles, and more than anything, just the warmth he would feel from having Cas by his side.

            “Can’t,” was all Cas responded as he carried on with his pacing. Dean sat up slowly, his back cracking in all the wrong places.

            “What are you even doing? You need to come to sleep.” Dean wasn’t going to let up. Seeing Cas’s face terrified him, he looked so dead.

            “I’m thinking, stop interrupting me. Fuck…” Dean frowned at that, his eyes beginning to water but he refused to let the tears fall.

            “Please, Cas. Come lie down. You don’t need to worry about the classes you’re having tomorrow. That’s what tomorrow’s for,” Dean tried, one last time, wringing his hands together.

            “You don’t fucking get it! Just because you don’t care about having a future doesn’t mean you can bring me down with you! I’m trying to think, so can you shut up for one second!” Cas screamed, probably waking up the people in the rooms adjacent to theirs. And if that didn’t, then Dean’s cries definitely did. The tears seemed to never end and with every sob that wracked his body, Dean hated himself more. Why was he crying, because of a few words? Cas reacted faster than Dean ever expected him to, especially considering how out of it he was. His face fell, looking confused and guilty all at once.

            “Hey, hey no, don’t cry. Please don’t cry,” Cas whispered, like if he spoke any louder Dean would disintegrate. He rushed to Dean’s side, wrapping one arm around his waist and placing the other on his cheek. He tried to wipe away some of the tears, only for more to spill out. Cas drew Dean’s head to his chest, rocking him back and forth, trying to placate him.

            “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Dean,” Cas repeated over and over until Dean was just sniffling, having made a big spot of tears on Cas’s shirt, but he wasn’t about to complain.

            “You yelled at me. I was just worried about you, and you yelled at me,” Dean said, his voice small, sounding like he could break again at the drop of a pin.

            “I know I shouldn’t have done that. I’m just tired and I just needed… I shouldn’t have yelled at you. Fuck, why did I do that?” Dean winced at Cas’s profanity, not used to hearing him use it in such a bitter way.

            “You’ve never yelled at me before,” Dean cried, unable to stop repeating himself. He was in shock. Cas was such a delicate person. Dean didn’t think he was capable of being that loud.

            “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I didn’t want to hurt you, Dean. I didn’t mean any of it. I’m so sorry.” Dean didn’t know what to say to that. So when he started, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop.

            “But you did, and you have been for months. All I’ve wanted is to go out with you, watch some movies maybe, kiss you every once and a while. Those aren’t outrageous things to ask for, Cas. You’re my boyfriend, but lately I’m feeling more like a light fixture or this disgusting, ugly green wallpaper with how much you pay attention to me. I never thought school would take over your life like this. It’s scary, Cas. Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been? You’ve been running on coffee and two hours of sleep for too long. What if you passed out while walking down the stairs, or in the middle of the street? I don’t want you to get hurt, Cas; I care about you so much. Please let me back into your life. I miss you so much.” Dean finally understood what people meant when they said they missed people they saw every day.

            “Okay, okay, how about we go to the park tomorrow? I can run down to the convenience store, pick up some pizza. We can have a picnic, just like the first time. You can talk to me about whatever you want. I’ll listen and kiss you at any given opportunity. I’ll even watch the talking animal movies I hate because I know how much they make you smile. Anything it takes for you to feel loved again. You’re so important, Dean. I’m sorry for not making that clear lately. Please, forgive me,” Cas ranted, letting everything out in the span of 20 seconds. Dean thought about his apology, but one thing still bothered him, perhaps more than anything else.

            “I care about the future, Cas. I mean, sure, I don’t know what my major is yet and I’m not taking three math courses, but I still care about what I’ll be doing in a few years,” Dean said, upset by Cas’s assumption, even if it might have only been said because of the heat of the moment.

            “I know you care. I had no right to judge you like that. We haven’t even known each other for that long; I don’t know what your plans are. I just… my education is so important to me. I didn’t think you understood that.”

            “Of course I understand. If education wasn’t important to me I wouldn’t be here struggling to pay tuition. I think you need to find a balance somewhere in the middle. College isn’t just about lectures and textbooks. You should be able to have fun, too. You’re allowed to have fun, Cas. Don’t let school run your life.” Dean thought that was probably the best advice he’d ever given, and no one was more deserving of it than Cas.

            “I never want to undermine you or your way of living ever again. I had no right to do that. God, I feel like such a dick. I don’t deserve you,” Cas sighed, beginning to rake his fingers through Dean’s hair, which had grown out a bit longer than usual in the past month or so. Cas hadn’t noticed until then.

            “I wouldn’t go that far,” Dean said, finally cracking a small smile, the brilliance of which contrasted his flushed red face so beautifully that Cas couldn’t comprehend how he’d gone so long missing out on lunch dates and goodnight kisses. “Besides, I have been thinking about the future, and I can’t picture any of it without you.” Cas smiled, yawning shortly after.

            “I’m exhausted,” Cas said, stretching out his arms before tackling Dean into the mattress. “Let’s go to bed.”

            “The light’s still on,” Dean laughed, wrapping his arms around Cas tightly, making it clear he wasn’t letting him get up to turn of the lamp anyway.

            “I don’t have time to turn it off. I have a lot of sleep to catch up on,” Cas said, closing his eyes and pecking Dean’s lips before drifting off.

            Cas slept through his first two classes, but it was worth the eight hours he finally got.

--- 

            “We don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want. I can wait until you’re ready,” Cas said, placing his hand reassuringly over Dean’s shoulder. It had been a considerable amount of time since their first date, but Cas was doing a good job of not pressuring Dean into doing anything he didn’t want to do. After all, they were both getting ready to graduate. Dean had enough on his plate without Cas nagging him to come out to his family. When the time was right, he would do it.

            That time came quicker than either of them had expected. That night, Dean invited Cas over for dinner, as he had been doing ever since they became friends. It was nothing out of the ordinary. Cas complimented his mother’s cooking; she blushed and said it was nothing, while Dean’s father said few words, choosing to focus on his food. Sammy on the other hand…

            “Are you going to college, Castiel? Dean says he doesn’t want to, but I keep telling him that he’s smart and he should just take a risk. College seems so fun,” Sam said, all in one breath, looking like he still had so much more to say.

            “I’m not sure what I could do to change his mind, Sam. Post-secondary education is a very personal choice and I think we should respect Dean’s,” Cas said calmly, placing his hand on Dean’s thigh, lightly squeezing. He could see Dean’s smile out of the corner of his eye.

            “You’re like his best friend; of course you can change his mind. He probably values your opinion more than mine. I’m almost positive that you could convince him to give it a chance, even if it’s an in-state university, or even community college.” Cas blushed at the thought of all the ways he could ‘convince’ Dean, and judging by the look on Dean’s face, he was likely thinking the same.

            “Well, Sam, I’ll try my hardest, just for you. Maybe he can join me at KSU this fall,” Cas said, pretending as though he didn’t just casually reveal a life-changing decision. He had been considering all of his options for months, weighing the pros and cons of each university he applied to. He hadn’t even told Dean of his choice to attend college in state.

            “What? You’re going to KSU? When were you gonna tell me?” Dean asked, turning to face Cas completely. He had refrained from swaying Cas’s decision, one way or the other, wanting him to choose a school of his own volition. Dean didn’t want to make Cas feel like he had to stay close to him. Dean thought that would’ve been a ridiculous request anyway. They had known each other for less than a year, and dated for even less time than that. How selfish would it have been for Dean even to suggest Cas go to Kansas State when he was given offers from places like Columbia and Stanford? Cas was on a completely different level than Dean when it came to education and he didn’t want to hold him back from following his dreams, whatever they may be.

            “Now, actually. I wanted to tell everyone at once,” Cas said. He was smiling at Dean, tuning out the other three pairs of eyes trained on him. Dean knew he looked elated, and that’s because he was. He wouldn’t need to worry about maintaining a long distance relationship, only seeing each other during holiday breaks, or worse, breaking up because neither of them could handle being that far away from their boyfriend.

            Dean shook off those worries of the past and lunged at Cas, burying his face in Cas’s neck in a way that could be construed as a little more than friendly.

            “You have no idea how happy I am right now,” Dean whispered, willing himself not to kiss Cas’s face in front of his family. That didn’t stop a knowing smirk from making its way onto Sam’s lips.

            “You must be a really great friend if Dean was that concerned about losing you,” Sam said, his voice smug, too smug for the then-15-year-old.

            “I’m really excited for you, Castiel. I know you’ll do amazing things,” Mary congratulated him, placing her hand over his on top of the table. Dean began feeling stifled by all of the emotions happening, so he stood up.

            “I think celebratory pie is in order,” Dean declared, pulling Cas up from his chair and gesturing for him to follow to the kitchen. Once they were hidden from the eyes of his parents, Dean tugged on Cas’s necktie, pulling him into a kiss, cut off quickly by Dean’s huge grin.

            “You could’ve had any school you wanted, why’d you choose to stay here? I know I wouldn’t,” Dean said, happy but still conflicted about the situation.

            “I thought about it long and hard before I realized; anywhere I go, I want you to be close to me. I know it sounds crazy, but I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I can get a good education here. I don’t need a big, fancy name to be okay.” Dean hadn’t ever thought about it that way, but he was willing to change his mindset if it meant he got to keep Cas with him. Dean kissed him again, somehow forgetting about the pie they were supposed to be retrieving. Cas’s lips were way sweeter anyway. Just as Cas began nibbling on Dean’s bottom lip, Sam walked in.

            “Uhhh…” was all Sam said as he awkwardly stood near the fridge. He watched as Cas accidentally bit down too hard, making Dean jump back, bringing his hand up to his bleeding lip.

            “Sammy! What’re you doing in here? Go back to the table!” Dean shouted, flustered more than he had ever been in his life. He didn’t realize that yelling would only draw more attention, and sure enough, John and Mary walked in, Mary moving at a more urgent pace.

            “What happened?” she asked, looking from Sam, to Cas, and finally to Dean, trying to connect the dots of the scene. Dean saw the exact moment she knew what was going on, and he was mortified, looking down at the cracked, stained kitchen tiles.

            “Is there something you would like to tell us, Dean?” she asked. She sounded calm, but Dean was still scared. He didn’t think either of his parents had any problems with gay people – not that he was gay – but he just didn’t know what to expect. Some people react differently when it’s their own kid. Dean turned to face John, trying to assess whether or not he was as keen as his mother was. His blank expression gave nothing away. So Dean tried to play dumb.

            “What’s there to tell? Let’s get that pie,” he said, his voice breaking multiple times. Mary looked at him disapprovingly and he knew there was no way of getting out of it. She would interrogate Sam if she had to. He took in one deep breath.

            “Cas and I are dating. We’re boyfriends.” There was a beat, more than one actually, where everyone just seemed to look back and forth between Dean and Cas. Dean shuffled his feet in place, looking anywhere but his parents’ faces.

            “You didn’t think this would be valuable information for your mother and I to know?” John asked, the most he said the whole night. Dean was surprised. The first thing out of his dad’s mouth wasn’t shouting, or even remotely angry sounding.

            “I mean, I was scared,” Dean admitted, finally looking up. He would’ve had no problem telling his parents if he was 100% sure he would be accepted. He was still scared, and Cas took his hand, tightening his fingers reassuringly.

            “Oh Dean, there’s nothing for you to be afraid of,” Mary said, walking over to him and embracing him just a tad too enthusiastically.

            “We’ll love you no matter what,” she said, kissing his cheek. She looked at John expectantly.

            “Yeah, what you’re mother said,” he mumbled in a monotone, looking awkward and uncomfortable. Mary was obviously disappointed in the response, but Dean couldn’t be happier. The experience was a lot more positive than he could ever imagine.

            “Okay. I-I’m sorry I never said anything.” That was the last thing said on the subject, John suggesting they get the pie Dean and Cas were ‘too distracted’ to bring before. Both Dean and Cas blushed at that, but nodded along, grabbing plates.

            “I knew something was up with you. Have you seen your face when you look at Cas?” Sam asked, the smirk back on his face. He just narrowly dodged Dean’s swing at him.

            Later that night found Dean curled up close to Cas, his arm draped lazily over his waist. He had never felt more relaxed in his own home.

            “So, all of this happened a lot sooner than you were expecting. How does it feel?” Cas asked him. They were watching a movie, but at that point they were paying more attention to each other than they were to the screen.

            “It feels like the most amazing thing ever. I didn’t think it would be that easy. I mean, I

felt like I was having a heart attack in the beginning there, but it went pretty smoothly,” Dean said, letting out another sigh of relief.

            “We won’t have to sneak around anymore. Although, that was kinda hot,” Cas whispered, grazing his lips on Dean’s jaw.

            “Yeah, maybe for you. I was more terrified than anything,” Dean said, his breath hitching as Cas’s mouth travelled lower, his hands gripping the hem of his shirt.

            “Hey, just because my family knows we’re together doesn’t mean they’ll be particularly pleased to walk in on us fucking,” Dean laughed, pulling himself away. Cas looked back at him with mischief in his eyes, the kind that said he knew exactly what he was doing.

            “Who said anything about fucking? I’m just kissing you,” Cas responded, diving back into the crook of Dean’s neck.

            “Yeah, you’re kissing my neck. You know what that does to me.” At that point, Dean was all but whimpering, clawing at Cas’s back, urging him closer.

            “Actually, I don’t. What does it do, Dean?” Dean could hear the teasing in his voice, his lips hovering over his skin. He answered with nothing but a moan, his hands moving up to Cas’s face, kissing him forcefully.

            “Maybe this can work out. Only if we’re really, really quiet,” Dean conceded, completely breathless. He knew he was taking a risk, especially since his parents literally just found out about their relationship, but he wanted Cas so much.

            “You, quiet?” Dean hit Cas. He could be quiet if he needed to.

            “Shut up. Besides, I know how much you love it when I’m loud,” Dean bit back, pushing Cas back and straddling his hips. It was the only way for Dean to take control of the situation, and he liked how it felt when Cas would move underneath him. Every motion one made, the other mirrored.

            “I do like hearing you. Let’s me know I’m making you feel good,” Cas mumbled as he began undulating his hips, placing his hands on Dean’s waist to keep him steady. That was one of the most reassuring things Cas had ever said to him. That he liked hearing him, not for his own pleasure, but to make sure Dean was enjoying himself just as much, if not more. It was then Dean realized he was starting to fall in love with Cas, but he couldn’t say it. He didn’t know what he was so afraid of. Cas  had said he loved Dean months ago, flawless and confident in a way Dean couldn’t understand. They hadn’t even been around each other for very long, but already they were coming involved in the other’s life. More than either of them could’ve bargained for. And that scared Dean. What would happen when they eventually broke up? Who actually went on to marry and stay with the person they met when they were 18?

            This doubt showed as a minute expression on Dean’s face, one that Cas didn’t notice. Dean didn’t want to stop just because they might eventually break up. He wanted to focus on the present moment and enjoy every second he had with Cas.

            So lost in his thoughts, Dean didn’t even notice that Cas had removed both of their shirts. Cas started kissing down his chest, the way he always liked, deftly unbuttoning his jeans.

            “Stand up so you can take them off,” Cas ordered, falling into the slightly dominant role he developed in their time together. Dean couldn’t deny that it really turned him on, so he did as he was told, standing up and shucking his pants in two swift movements. Cas did the same, and they got back into their previous positions, Cas leaning back against the headboard and a pillow, Dean in his lap, attacking him with kisses and bites. Cas pushed one of his fingers into Dean’s mouth, loving it when Dean started to suck on it, his tongue laving seductively. Cas took his finger out of Dean’s mouth, immediately teasing Dean’s hole, pressing only his fingertip in before removing it.

            “Please hurry. We don’t have much time. My mom’ll be knocking on the door any minute telling you it’s time for to go home,” Dean sighed, genuinely wishing they had more time. Dean loved Cas’s teasing. But he got the memo and quickly pushed his finger into Dean, pumping in and out, no grace or agility whatsoever. Not that Dean minded.

            “More, come on,” Dean begged, shifting his hips desperately. Cas reached as far as he could, trying to open Dean’s nightstand drawer.

            “Could use a little help, Dean,” Cas said, having given up on trying to reach the lube. Dean groaned, moving to grab the bottle, throwing it onto the bed.

            “No need to be so aggressive. Come here,” Cas said, bringing Dean back onto his lap. After thoroughly coating his fingers, Cas pushes two in, gauging Dean’s reaction. Dean’s face screwed up, half in pain, half in pleasure.

            “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that,” Dean admitted, grinding down and throwing his head back.

            “I’ll never get used to how unbelievably sexy you look when I finger you,” Cas breathed, beginning to scissor Dean open.

            “Give me another one. And keep talking,” Dean commanded. Nothing got Dean off quite like dirty talk, and Cas with his beautiful, sexy voice, really did it best. Cas obeyed Dean’s wish, thrusting three fingers into him.

            “Do you like that, Dean? Getting stretched out for my cock. God, Dean you’re so-” Cas never finished that thought, getting lost in the way Dean’s thighs quivered uncontrollably.

            “Cas, I’m ready. Hurry up and fuck me already,” Dean whispered, remembering that he was in a house with his family. He slid up and off Cas’s fingers, taking the lube and coating Cas’s dick as fast as he could.

            “No playing around, huh?” Cas asked, his breath knocked out of him when Dean slammed down, fully seating himself in one fluid motion.

            ‘I love your cock, Cas,’ and variations of the phrase were the only things that came out of Dean’s mouth as he slowly moved up and down, his legs doing all of the work.

            “Fucking move,” Dean demanded, slapping his hands onto Cas’s chest, using him for leverage to push himself up higher, falling harder. Cas finally canted his hips up, unable to stop once he’d begun.

            “Yes, yes,” Dean said, just slightly too loud when added to the thump of the headboard against the wall every few seconds. Cas gripped Dean’s hips, trying to get him to stop for just a moment.

            “Dean, we’re not being very inconspicuous,” Cas said, concerned that the commotion they were making would garner the attention of Sam who was down the hall, or worse, his parents downstairs. They had to be a lot more quiet, but Dean was having a difficult time managing that.

            “You’re right, sorry. I’ll shut up,” Dean gasped, still rocking his hips as he bent down to capture Cas’s mouth. That was one method for staying quiet. Instead of being able to hear every one of Dean moans, Cas could feel the vibrations emanate from deep in Dean’s throat. The feeling was almost as good as hearing Dean’s wanton cries. Almost. Cas pulled his face away from Dean’s.

            “No. I don’t want you to shut up. Just… lower the volume a bit.” Dean smirked at that, taking Cas’s earlobe between his teeth, “Okay.” He rolled his hips again, deliberately, looking for a reaction. He wasn’t disappointed.

            “Fuck, Dean. I love- I love when you ride me like that, you’re so tight and hot around my cock. You feel so good,” Cas moaned, and Dean wanted to criticize him for being a hypocrite. As it turned out, volume was no problem at all, Dean closer than he thought, was unable to stop from coming right then. His continued thrusts pulled Cas over the edge with him just seconds later, Dean finally collapsing on top of Cas’s sweaty torso.

            “I really thought I would’ve held out longer than that,” Dean sighed, sounding almost disappointed beneath his blissed out exterior. Cas pulled out of Dean, pushing him to his side so they could cuddle more comfortably. As comfortably as they could with come and sweat drying to both of them.

            “That doesn’t matter, Dean. We both got off, didn’t we?” Cas asked, dragging his fingers through Dean’s damp hair.

            “I mean, yeah. I just thought we could’ve taken our time for once. Every time we have sex it feels like we’re rushing,” Dean explained, pouting minutely, not intending for Cas to see. But he did, of course, and he thought it was adorable.

            “That’s because we are rushing. We don’t exactly have the time or place to make love for five hours straight,” Cas laughed, but it was important to Dean. Maybe he wanted to make love to Cas for five hours straight…

            “Well, no, but that would be nice, wouldn’t it?” Dean asked, hope finding its way into his voice. He had never felt more vulnerable, but he knew how important communication was in a relationship. He’d seen enough Lifetime movies to see how miscommunication would ultimately lead up to bad things, usually untimely death. Maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but it was still important.

            “It would be,” Cas responded dreamily, gazing at a spot on the wall for a long while, so long, Dean thought he had fallen asleep.

            “You know, prom’s coming up soon,” Cas mentioned out of the blue, startling Dean out of the silence they had been basking in. Dean’s eyebrows furrowed as he angled his head to look at Cas, trying to understand his thought process.

            “Yeah, but I thought we said we weren’t going. Prom’s lame, remember?” That was kind of a lie. Dean thought about prom a lot, fantasizing about what it would be like to walk into the room with Cas at his side. He imagined what it would be like to slow dance with Cas in lowlight, uncaring of all the people around them. None of them mattered. Dean hated himself for thinking like that, especially when he told Cas the exact opposite. So much for communication and honesty and whatever else went into the foundation of a good relationship.

            “I know you hate it, but going to prom would give us an excuse to get a hotel room…” And it’s not like Dean needed any convincing anyway, but the hotel room was just the cherry on top of the dream sundae. Dean tried putting on his best unaffected façade, but he couldn’t help how the ends of his mouth curved upward.

            “We could make love for five hours,” Dean suggested cheekily, elbowing Cas in the ribs, making him laugh. Dean loved that laugh.

            “Multiple times,” Cas said, so much going through his mind in that particular moment. Even in his state of dishevelment, Dean blushed at all the possibilities, everything Cas could do to him.

            “Well, sign me up for prom,” Dean said, kissing Cas’s cheek sweetly.

            “Can’t wait to see you in a tux… Can’t wait to tear it off of you the second we’re alone.” Dean thought that was a great idea.

 ---           

            “Do you think you have some time to sit down and talk for a while,” Dean says to no one. He wants to punch himself. It shouldn't be this hard. But he supposes that it makes sense when you love someone this much. He's been planning what to say for the past week, set on winning Cas back. Maybe he's overthinking it... but on the other hand, he can't just go up to Cas with no idea of what to say. He flops down onto his bed, contemplating his options. Nothing seems like the right thing. 

            “I hate myself for not-” Dean stops, giving up on the ideas for a while. None of it seems genuine enough when he thinks about the role Cas played in his life. He wasn’t just Dean’s boyfriend. He was his friend first, and that’s what hurts the most. While Cas maintained relationships with all of the friends he had before meeting Dean, Dean dropped nearly everything to give his time to Cas, losing touch with the few acquaintances he had made at his sixth high school. So when they broke up, Cas had people to turn to, people who still cared about him a lot. Dean had no one. Even Sam was hundreds of miles away.

            Dean thinks about telling Cas all of that in his potential apology, but there’s no way to phrase it without making it seem like a huge guilt trip. ‘You left me alone with no one to go to and that’s partially your fault,’ just doesn’t sound like a winner. The more he thinks about the perfect thing to say, the more he thinks he’s going about it all wrong. He picks up his phone from his bedside table and dials Cas’s number, the muscle memory still there even after months of not doing so. He doesn’t hesitate when he hits the call button. He doesn’t know what he’s expecting, but it certainly isn’t Cas picking up the phone after only two rings.

            “Hello,” Cas answers casually, as if he didn’t see Dean’s name before deciding to accept the call.

            “Hey, Cas,” Dean says timidly. Not thinking he’d even make it to this point, Dean finds himself at a loss for words.

            “Dean?” Cas asks, sounding confused. Dean’s forehead crinkles, equally perplexed, but also disproportionately happy hearing Cas say his name.

            “I didn’t recognize your number,” Cas sighs, sounding like he’s been unwillingly placed in an uncomfortable position, trying to figure out what to do. He hasn’t hung up yet. That has to be a good sign.

            “Uh, yeah. Lost my phone. Had to get a new number,” Dean stutters, seemingly incapable of forming complete sentences. Not to mention it’s a lie. However, throwing said phone into a wall and shattering it beyond repair doesn’t sound quite as stable.

            “Oh, that sounds inconveniencing,” Cas responds. Dean knows he probably wants to end the conversation. He also knows he’s totally blowing the one shot he’s had this entire time and he needs to get his ass in gear if he wants to make Cas see how much he loves him.

            “Not really. Speaking of inconveniencing,” Dean cringes to himself, thinking it definitely wasn’t the smoothest segue he’s ever come up with, but it’ll have to do.

            “These past few months have been. Very much.” Dean has never wanted to slap himself more than he does right now, save for maybe the moment Cas walked out the door. He can hear Cas rolling his eyes at him. This would be one of those instances where if they were still together, Cas would smile at him affectionately and kiss the corner of his mouth. Dean’s never been very good with words, he wasn’t the English major, after all. He’d give anything to have Cas in front of him, correcting his grammar.

            “I would hope that they haven’t been easy,” Cas says, and Dean can hear the venom in his words, subtly edging through his phone’s speaker. Dean can’t blame him. If he were in Cas’s place he’d want him to suffer too.

            “Well, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve been having a terrible life. Even lost my job.” He’s been avoiding telling anyone that little bit of information since it happened, considering it was the lowest point in his life. But with Cas the words can’t stop flowing, tumbling clumsily from Dean’s mouth.

            “That sucks. I’m sorry.” And Dean can tell that he’s telling the truth. Cas is sorry, even though he doesn’t need to be. Even in his monosyllabic responses, Dean can hear oceans of feeling that he doesn’t deserve.

            “Things happen,” is all Dean can think to say. His mind is racing, trying to think about what to say next.

            “Yeah,” Cas says, and then there’s the dreaded awkward silence. Dean knows if he doesn’t say something soon he’ll have fucked himself over, so he says the first thing that comes to mind. That seems to be the theme of their entire relationship.

            “So, do you maybe wanna meet up tomorrow?” Dean asks in one breath, his stomach turning as he awaits Cas’s response. He can only hear his breathing, ever so slightly uneven.

            “I can’t.” And Dean thinks that’s bad enough, a firm ‘no’ right now, but maybe given more time would become a ‘sure’ or even a ‘yes’. But then Cas plows on, and Dean can feel his chances diminishing.         

            “I have a date tomorrow and we’re going to this new place in Topeka. It’s kind of an all-day thing,” Cas says, and he at least sounds a little regretful in telling Dean the one thing that crumbled his heart beyond recognition. There are tears in Dean’s eyes and he needs to stop himself from sniffling but he’s surprised by his own speedy recovery.

            “Oh, yeah, of course. I don’t know what I was thinking. Have a great time,” Dean says, and he can’t help the way his voice breaks on the last word, his tears falling . He doesn’t bother listening to whatever Cas has to say in response. He throws himself back onto his bed, allowing himself to sob into his pillow. He feels like a loser for thinking that Cas would just be waiting for him to call. He doesn’t know how he fell so far into delusion in such a short amount of time. Just minutes ago, he was turning over dozens of ideas, none of them good enough to make Cas come back to him. Cas has moved on, and nothing stings more than that. Dean manages to shock himself when he yells out, a real pain blooming in his chest at the thought of Cas sitting across from another guy at a nice, candlelit restaurant, the fancy French kind that Dean always felt extremely out-of-place in.

            He remembers one instance where he struggled to pronounce the names of the expensive dishes on the menu, thoroughly embarrassing himself in front of the rude, elitist waiter. When he scoffed at Dean’s attempt at ordering, Cas frowned, standing up and taking Dean’s hand.

            “I don’t appreciate you insulting my boyfriend. We will be taking our business elsewhere. Thanks for nothing, douchebag,” Cas had said, no qualms about the volume of his voice or the eyes that gravitated to the three of them. He walked out of the building with such confidence, Dean in tow, his eyes as wide as the porcelain saucers they left behind.

            “You didn’t have to do that. I was fine,” Dean said, defeated. Cas stopped him in the parking lot, steps away from the Impala.

            “Yes, I did. I can’t handle people like that. He was way out of line, and I’m sure he would’ve tried to complain when we inevitably didn’t leave a tip,” Cas said. Dean knew for a fact that Cas had grown up around ‘people like that’ his entire life. The worldly, high-up kind, not assholes. Although Dean was sure a lot of them were assholes too. Cas probably knew how to say every word off that menu, and he could probably tell you the exact origin of each name and its significance in French history. Meanwhile, Dean was carted around the highlight reel of the American deep south. Instead of getting to live in places like New York and Los Angeles, he was forced into dusty small towns with obscure names he can barely remember. And yeah, Cas lived in Kansas his entire life, but he also went to a different country every year for summer vacation.

            He really hated when Cas pretended like there was no difference between the two of them. Like he wasn’t fluent in three languages where Dean had a hard enough time with English alone. There was a definite cultural divide, and there was no hiding that.

            “That’s my fault. I ruined our date,” Dean said solemnly, his head hanging with disappointment. It hadn’t been the first time either. When Dean was still fighting the college financial aid office, they went out and it wasn’t until they were comfortably seated that Dean realized he didn’t have enough money to pay for his meal. Cas offered to cover him, even telling him he could pay him back if that made him happy, but Dean wasn’t having it. He couldn’t bear the thought of being provided for, even if it was just thirty dollars for a nice dinner. His stubbornness is what made them leave before they could even order drinks. They headed for the nearest fast food joint.

            “I’m sorry. I should’ve checked that I had enough money,” Dean apologized, picking at the soggy fries on his tray, his appetite long gone.

            “It’s fine. I like burgers,” Cas said happily, taking a big bite, ketchup dripping down his chin. With anyone else, Dean would’ve been disgusted, but he found it endearing when it was Cas. He noticed that about a lot of things. He smiled at Cas despite his bad mood.

            “Yeah, but you would’ve liked your foie gras or whatever a lot more,” Dean mumbled under his breath, picking the tomatoes out of his own burger. Cas smirked at him, taking the tomatoes from him and stuffing them into his mouth.

            “Okay, first of all,” Cas said, taking time to swallow his mouthful of food. “Your French accent is tres magnifique.” Dean rolled his eyes at that, sensing sarcasm that he wasn’t really feeling at the moment.

            “And secondly, foie gras is inhumane. Those poor ducks suffer before they’re killed for their livers. It’s disgusting and overpriced and I won’t have it.” Dean didn’t bother telling him of his hypocrisy considering they were in a place notorious for animal cruelty. He knew Cas was just trying to cheer him up and make it seem like he didn’t want to go to the restaurant anyway. It worked.

            “Whatever you say,” Dean said, leaning forward with a napkin to wipe the red smudge off Cas’s face.

            “You need to stop thinking you messed up our date. It doesn’t matter where we go, so long as I get to spend time with you.” And just like that, a grin broke out on Dean’s face.

            “That face is the cutest face in the world,” Cas said, leaning toward Dean and kissing him chastely, loving when Dean blushed and hid behind his hands.

            Thinking back on the memory now is bittersweet for Dean. He can’t help but think the guy Cas is with now will fit in perfectly with the classy, debonair atmosphere of French restaurants. Cas won’t have to pretend he’s okay with fast food anymore because this new guy is on a first-name basis with the owner of the place with accent marks in its name. He won’t trip over his own words, he won’t even glance at the menu. He’ll have perfectly styled hair and flawlessly sculpted muscles. Cas will finally have someone on his level, inside and out, and that’s all thanks to Dean. He can’t help but wonder if Cas ever truly loved him at all if he’s already looking for someone else. The thought only makes him scream louder.

--- 

            They went to the wedding two weeks before the split, and Dean would be lying if he said he didn’t think it acted as a catalyst for Cas’s emotions. It definitely made Dean think a lot. It was one of Cas’s close friends, Meg, who invited Cas, and by extension, Dean. He had never seen Cas more excited in the six years they’d known each other when they went shopping for new suits.

            “It’s a special occasion, Dean,” Cas said when he tried convincing him they didn’t need brand new suits. Ever since senior prom, Cas jumped at every opportunity to get Dean dressed up, living for that moment toward the end of the night where he would take off his jacket and roll his sleeves up to his elbows. Dean was sure Cas’s obsession with his arms wasn’t healthy, and to be honest, he just didn’t get it.

            “They’re just arms,” Dean said when Cas rubbed his hands over them lovingly, nearly moaning at the skin-on-skin contact.

            “Yes, but they’re your arms and therefore, they’re sexy,” Cas said, smiling up at Dean while biting his lip. Speaking of sexy, Dean thought to himself. But he had to stop that train of thought before things got inappropriate for the very public setting they were in. Cas continued caressing Dean’s forearms, dragging his nails gently across his skin, watching goosebumps appear like magic.

            “You know, you say that about a lot of things and I’m starting to get a little skeptical,” Dean teased, though he knew he shouldn’t have. He’s talked down on his appearance enough to know that it only upsets Cas, whether it’s a joke or not. When Cas frowned at Dean he knew what was coming next.

            “You shouldn’t. You’re a handsome, beautiful, outstanding man and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. You’re perfect to me, and you always will be,” Cas said forcefully, his thumb unconsciously stroking the scar on Dean’s left arm, right above his wrist. He still didn’t know if that was comforting or not.

            Dean hated that he needed constant validation from his boyfriend, someone who obviously loved him. Why would he have stayed around so long if he didn’t? He couldn’t help but think it must be draining to have to tell someone they’re beautiful every day, especially if that someone is Dean Winchester. Dean knew he had a pretty average looking face, cute enough to charm single women in bars, but other than that he didn’t see much going on for himself. He had never had a very muscular body, but at least he had stayed in shape for a the first nineteen years of his life. As soon as he got comfortable with Cas, Dean could feel how he started to let himself go. He figured he had nothing to worry about. He knew Cas would never leave him because he gained some weight, that’s not the kind of person Cas is. That wasn’t the problem, obviously.

            When Cas first heard Dean call himself ugly, he cried, and it wasn’t the only time tears were shed because of some self-insulting thing Dean said. Once he saw how much his words affected Cas, Dean tried his best to not voice his opinions out loud. He tried making it easier on himself by dieting and going to the gym, but he never seemed to have enough time in the day to make it all work. He saw no difference when he looked into the mirror after months of being the cause of his own misery. And that was probably because of the fact that he picked up the bad habit of stress eating. The constant job search weighed down on Dean, and even after he found a steady job, he found he couldn’t juggle all of the aspects of his life.

            Soon enough, Dean found himself unable to fit into his jeans, needing to buy a whole new wardrobe a size or two bigger. Cas never said anything about it, negative or otherwise, and Dean had never been more grateful.

            In the twinkly lights of the event hall Cas’s skin seemed to glow, and he still couldn’t believe how lucky he was. It should’ve been the perfect opportunity for Dean to finally tell Cas how he felt, he deserved that and more. But when he thought about it, Dean just managed to make himself nervous. What if Cas thought he was being too serious? They were at a wedding, after all. The implications behind his words would’ve been clear. With the soft music playing and both Dean and Cas curled up into each other, he felt the words forming on his lips. They just couldn’t come out.

            “Do you wanna dance?” Cas asked, stirring Dean out of his thoughts. He couldn’t help the blush that spread on his face. He had just been thinking about what it would be like to be in the center of the dance floor together, having their first dance together as a married couple, and he had never felt more idiotic. As if Cas would ever want to marry him. He nodded his head, taking Cas’s hand to walk with him.

            “Something on your mind?” Cas asked, tilting his head to get a better look at Dean’s face as they started to sway back and forth to the beat of the song. I love you. I want to marry you one day and wake up to your gorgeous face and your beautiful voice every single morning for the rest of my life.

            “Nah, it’s nothing.”

 --- 

            “I was stupid to think you could ever love me,” Cas said, barely intelligible with the constant sobs that wracked his body. His chest heaved with every disappointed breath he took, desperately trying to meet Dean’s eye. Dean tried his hardest to keep his gaze glued to the floor. He was angry with himself, but everything seemed to be falling apart so fast that there was nothing he could do to save himself or his relationship with Cas.

            When Dean thinks back on it now, he feels incredibly dense because he could’ve said it right there. That’s not true, he could’ve said. I love you more than you could ever possibly know. Instead he stood there, listening to Cas’s pained cries.

            “Why? Why didn’t you just tell me from the beginning? Why would you let me fall in love with you knowing you couldn’t do the same for me? I feel like an idiot. I’ve been going around telling people that we’re serious, that I was probably going to marry you and raise children with you one day. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” And even though Cas was hitting all the marks that should’ve made him feel guilty, Dean said nothing. Save for…

            “You shouldn’t have had so much faith in me. You know how I let everyone down,” Dean said, maintaining stoicism even through the breaks in Cas’s voice.

            “But you never let me down,” Cas said, seeming to plead with Dean while he still had his patience. Dean still doesn’t know what compelled him to respond the way he did, to rub salt in Cas’s metaphorical wound the way he did. But it happened, and he can’t erase it, or anything that was said after it.

            “Guess there’s a first time for everything,” Dean said, looking into Cas’s eyes for the first time in the conversation. It was then the dam broke, and all of Cas’s words came flowing out, scathing to anyone in their path.

            “I suppose there is,” Cas started, his tone acrid and condescending. Dean had never heard it before, and after the experience, he never wanted to hear it again. “I don’t think I’ve ever truly regretted anything as much as I regret meeting you.” Dean felt as though he’d been shot, pain and fire settling in his belly, fighting to get out. Tears trickled out of his eyes, he was failing to stay strong despite the fact that it was all his fault. He didn’t want Cas to have the ability to hurt him , he wanted to walk out of the fight scoff free, able to move on with his life without Cas. It wasn’t fair.

            “Why don’t you just leave then? If you really regret me and hate me that much, why don’t you just go and never come back? Can’t you see that I don’t need you anymore? It was never gonna work out. You’re too much for me and I can’t handle it,” Dean said, his voice steady even with a constant flow of tears rolling down his cheeks. It was the biggest lie Dean had ever told, even including all the ones he told his dad when he asked why he came home at two in the morning.

            “I will, and I’ll finally find someone who cares about me as much as I care about them. After six years of no reciprocation I’m sure it’ll be refreshing,” Cas said. He went into Dean’s room to take the few things he had there, grateful that they had decided against living together for the time being. It made leaving a lot easier. He left his spare key on the counter.

--- 

            Dean is back at a bar, which is no surprise by now. It’s fairly routine these days, like a cycle of crying at home followed by going out and drinking himself into a stupor. It’s not very effective, but that doesn’t stop Dean from doing it at least once a week. He’s on his third drink of the night, looking for anyone who might be up for a conversation.

            Because he just wants to talk to someone. Of all the things he thought he’d miss about Cas, simply talking to him wasn’t one of them. But here he is, searching for a companion, someone to talk about the clouds with, someone with quick-witted responses and laugh that makes their nose crinkle up the way Cas’s did. He’s had no luck so far. Everyone here either wants to get drunk off their ass or fuck. Or both. And Dean doesn’t really want either of them right now. As he swirls his drink around the glass despondently, a guy sits down beside him. He looks like he isn’t even old enough to get into a bar, but this place is pretty sketchy and it’s only on very rare occasions that someone is carding people at the door. He signals the bartender like he frequents the place often and it makes Dean feel like a child for some reason. The guy looks composed, but he hasn’t said anything yet, and that makes Dean question his motives. The place is pretty empty, he could’ve sat literally anywhere else.

            “Hey,” Dean starts out, nearly choking on the one-syllable word. The guy looks at him and raises one eyebrow. Dean doesn’t think it’s fair that this kid is so comfortable and confident while he’s pushing thirty, and can’t get out a full sentence.

            “’Sup,” is all the guy says in response, bringing his drink up in a sort of ‘cheers’ motion, and it only manages to make Dean more mad.

            “So, how old are you? 18?” Dean asks, shooting for condescending, but he just continues sounding pathetic.

            “19, actually. Not that that ever matters here,” he says, taking a sip and placing the glass on the table. He looks like he’s waiting for Dean to crack, to ask him what he’s doing here. Normally, Dean’s patience wouldn’t be quite this thin and he’d give it a minute or two, analyze the kid for ulterior motives.

            “Okay, what the fuck do you want?” Dean doesn’t mean for it to come out quite so menacingly, but the guy doesn’t even blink at his brusque tone. He raises his eyebrow again, and everything he does is managing to piss Dean off.

            “I don’t want anything. Can’t a guy sit in a mostly-empty bar and enjoy a drink without being questioned?” the guy asks, but there’s a lilt in his voice, something that whispers sarcasm. Dean levels a glare at him and he finally puts his hands up in surrender.

            “Okay, okay, fine. You have that look,” he says simply, before going back to his drink.

            A look? What does that mean? What is he referring to? Like, a gay look? Because Dean was pretty sure that wasn’t a thing for him. Every time he introduced Cas to new people as his boyfriend, he always got wide eyes and gasps and exclamations of “I didn’t know you were gay!” He corrected them in the beginning, made it clear that he was bisexual, not gay. After a while he just stopped caring, would shrug and smile at Cas because he was all that mattered, not some stupid label.

            He doesn’t freak out, despite the fact that he feels very transparent.

            “What look?” Dean asks, going for nonchalant, but he knows he sounds intrigued.

            “That oh-I’m-so-lonely-and-self-loathing-let-me-go-sit-in-a-bar-at-four-in-the-afternoon look. I see it all too often.” Dean hates feeling like he’s being patronized, but it feels so much worse coming from a kid. Especially since he’s right.

            “Are you gonna pretend like you’re some kinda shrink or something? ‘Cause therapy never worked for me.”

            “Just thought I’d try to help you.”

            “No offense, but you’re kinda young-”

            “Ew, no, you’re like 30.” Dean tries not to be offended, and just barely stops himself from pointing out that he only just turned 25. He thinks about how he used to be told he looked young for his age.

            “Look, I didn’t want to sound like a stalker, but I used to see you and this guy here all the time. I’m gonna assume he was your boyfriend.” Dean flinches at the use of the word ‘was’ but nods anyway. He doesn’t know where this guy is going with this, but he’s willing to listen. That’s a pretty good indicator of just how desperate Dean is right now.

            “You’d assume correctly, nothing I can do about it now,” Dean dismisses, shaking his head lightly, going to take another sip before realizing his glass is now empty.

            “That’s where you need help. You looked so happy together. You’re not gonna even try to win him back?” Dean can’t help but roll his eyes.

            “What makes you think I haven’t tried? That I haven’t tried more than once?” Dean scoffs. How dare this dude come in here acting like he knows his whole goddamn life story.

            “I think if you actually tried, you’d be with him right now,” he takes another sip and powers on before Dean can respond. “He loved you, I could tell. He probably still does. You just need to make it up to him, and then you can be together again.” Dean wants to laugh at how naïve the kid sounds, as if it’s actually that easy. If it were that easy, wouldn’t Cas be here right now? Dean has tried apologizing and so far nothing has worked.

            “You have no idea how relationships function. I can’t just go, ‘hey, I’m sorry’ and have him running back into my arms. It doesn’t work like that,” Dean says. He’s tired. It’s only 5:17 and he wants to go back to his apartment and crash for three years, and everything this kid is saying to him is just making the weight in his chest heavier and heavier.

            “Of course not, I’m not an idiot. You need a grand gesture, something that’ll show him you’re serious. Everyone loves shit like that; makes ‘em feel important.” The thought crossed Dean’s mind once or twice. But he has no idea what would actually take Cas by surprise. He’s seen it all, far more than Dean ever has or ever will have to offer. Dean’s known that from the start.

            Dean begins to argue, to explain why that won’t work, but the guy’s standing up and saying, “Hey, you won’t know if you never try. Seeing sad, lonely adults is depressing as fuck, so please, at least try.” Dean looks at him skeptically, then exhales with force, just to make sure he understands how annoyed he is right now.

            “Okay, fine, I’ll think of something and I’ll try.”

            “It’ll work, trust me.” He doesn’t bother saying goodbye, and proceeds out of the bar. Dean isn’t even surprised shit like this happens to him. This is his life now.

--- 

            The banner was huge, and Dean still can’t believe Cas managed to work on it without him finding out. It must’ve taken at least a few weeks to complete. How did Cas manage that with three AP classes and student government?

            The message was pretty clear: Dean, will you go to prom with me? No stupid puns or metaphors or themes, straight to the point, just like Cas. However, beside the words were the  two of them, perfectly painted, dancing in tuxes. Dean was impressed with the shade of green Cas managed to mix for his eyes. Dean personally never thought they were all that pretty, but Cas absolutely loved them.

            Dean still has that banner, rolled up in the corner of his closet. He used to like looking at their intertwined fingers, the way their eyes met. He hasn’t looked at it in a while. One night when he was especially drunk and angry, he considered throwing it out, took it out to the dumpster and everything…

            He just couldn’t do it, even in a mindset that normally entails regretful behavior. He’s come back to it several times since Cas left. Sometimes it makes him feel light, but mostly it brings him down a few notches when he’s being an asshole. Right now, he feels nothing. He almost wants to feel sad, remorseful; it’s just not coming to him. He thinks about that night, how he was sweating uncomfortably, worried about the deposit on his rental tux. He would’ve been absolutely miserable without Cas. It wasn’t an overly spectacular night.

            But seeing Cas smile was reward enough. The more he thinks about it, the more cliché and unoriginal his thoughts become. He’s starting to get detached, and he thinks soon the memories will be impossible to recall. It hasn’t been that long.

            He can still hear the hits of 2009 ringing in his ears and he remembers the bitter taste of cheap vodka-spiked punch, but he’s starting to forget the date. It was sometime in early May. It hasn’t been that long. A little less than six years.

            Six years. Their anniversary passed a couple weeks ago. Dean thinks that if they were to get back together they’d have to start from scratch; that those six years don’t really count. Because as fond as he is of those years, it would be different, without a doubt. He’s not sure if it would ever be the same. He doesn’t think they’d ever be able to achieve that closeness and trust they once had.

            Selfishly, he wants to meet Cas again for the first time. Maybe at the community swimming pool, or the candy aisle of the convenience store down the street. He come right out with a dorky pick-up line, because now he knows how much Cas loves them. He would never wait years to say he loves him. He wouldn’t start a fight by saying ‘words are meaningless anyway, why do you care so much?’ He would never question Cas’s love for words and music and poetry.

            He wants to give himself every opportunity to not completely fuck up for once in his life, and tears roll down his face again and again and again, will they ever fucking stop? Is this what the rest of his life will look like? His absence becomes more obvious as each day passes. The small glimmers of hope are looking too far away to chase after because Dean is getting lazier as he marks days on the prison walls of his apartment. Trying seems so irrelevant when you’re waiting for an eviction notice. He just wants to continue falling so he knows he hasn’t hit rock bottom yet. He likes to think he has miles to go when he’s millimeters away from a collision, black smoke, and then nothing.

            He takes the last sip from his bottle before it slips from his grip and he realizes there’s too much broken glass in his apartment right now. He keeps breaking things but he never throws them out and he thinks that’s he’s so miserable and Cas is fine. It’s not fair that he isn’t okay, he just wants to be okay. He wants balance; he needs to start over somehow. He’s drunk and tired and he’s been drunk and tired for years in his mind. He thinks sleep would be nice if only it could last forever. His thoughts are racing and dragging, it’s making him feel dizzy, or maybe that’s just the copious amount of alcohol in his system. The pounding in his head intensifies as the floor glitters obnoxiously and he picks up a piece of glass as he’s prone to doing when he’s this low.

            It’s been years since he’s actually done anything on purpose, he hasn’t been counting the instance with his hand. That was an accident, he thinks. The more he thinks about things he’s lost, the more enticing the sharp edges look, and he asks himself if he’d rather cut open his left side again, or if he wants his right and left to match, like the plain socks he’s wearing. Will it matter? Who’ll see him in the end? How long will it take for someone to realize something is wrong? Hopefully just long enough.

--- 

            He knew something was off the second he was called to the principal’s office. The hallway was quiet, but he could hear the wind whistling just beyond the walls. It had just snowed the night before, an anomaly considering it was nearing the end of the school year. Cas had stayed over, and instead of making out like Dean wanted, Cas spent hours talking about how ‘climate change was becoming more and more dangerous, and don’t we care about our own planet, why are we killing it?’ Not that he minded, he loved hearing Cas become increasingly more passionate about a subject as he was given time to talk about it. Not to mention Dean learned a lot from him in short spans of time.

            Hearing Cas rant about how snow is a sign of climate change left Dean with an uneasy feeling that morning, like the universe was tilted ever so slightly. The draft coming from one of the doors made Dean shiver, and he tried to shake it off, but then he saw his face. Dean had no strong opinions about the principal, he hadn’t been there long enough. But Dean could recognize a bad news face any day of the week. He took in a deep breath, told Dean to ‘please, have a seat’ while shifting his eyes and wringing his hands. It’s hard not to think the worst in situations like those.

            Dean doesn’t remember much of the exchange, just key words like ‘car’ and ‘slide’ and ‘hospital’. He thought maybe some slow piano music might suit the scene if he were in a movie. One of those moments where it’s never explicitly stated that the main character’s mother is dead, but there’s enough symbolism and confused, hurt facial expressions to get the point across. He leaves class early, meeting his dad in the school parking lot. His eyes were red-rimmed and glassy, and Dean had almost asked him, ‘what’s wrong?’ He almost asked that question a bunch of times throughout the week. It wasn’t until they lowered her casket into the ground that he realized she was never coming back. He even forgets  now, sometimes. He’ll see something on TV that reminds him of her and think, ‘I should call her and see what she’s up to.’ Losing a parent at 18 is such a weird thing, especially when she doesn’t get to see you graduate from high school.

            Dean would think about how Sam was always considered the smart one, despite being three years younger. He just wanted to prove that he was capable of academic success. He wanted her to see him and Cas off to college. He just wanted to make her proud; he didn’t seem to do that very often. How was he supposed to feel when he wasn’t even given a chance to prove himself? He wanted to see her again.

            Dean had never been particularly religious, and neither was the rest of his family, really. But his mom had a thing about angels. She never talked about a heaven or a god, but the angels were here to protect from harm. He bitterly wondered why they weren’t able to do their job this time around.

            He didn’t really believe he would see his mom again if he died. If there was such thing as a heaven and a hell, he’s positive they wouldn’t end up in the same place. He wanted an excuse to get out.

            He’d been silent for months after her death, and Cas stood by him all the way. Dean wasn’t sure how long he’d be like this. What if it lasted his whole life? He couldn’t make Cas suffer like that. Too much happened all at once. He deserved to be free of Dean’s messy life, but Cas would never leave on his own, not if he thought Dean needed him.

            He has a vague memory of throwing his pocket knife from hand to hand, feeling delirious about life and reality. He thought, no matter the result, the experience would likely never be matched.

            Pressing the blade to the surface of his skin was easy enough, he watched the blood slowly trickle out until it was a steady stream and it wasn’t going to stop until he was dry.

            “Are you going to watch the-,” Dean’s memories seem to blur and sometimes disappear completely at that point whether from the blood loss or the chaos of everyone around him.

            “What are… you need… please!”           

            “I’ll call… bleeding a lot… 3498… drive”

            “It’ll be okay….”

            “Keep pressure… don’t let go”

            He passed out in the ambulance a couple blocks away from the hospital, or so he’s told. He doesn’t remember being in an ambulance at all, or even being taken out of his bedroom. But when he finally woke up, it was to Cas’s wide eyes and a sigh of  relief.

            “He’s awake.”

            Dean had never heard someone sound so grateful in his life. Sam and his dad talked to him, neither one of them asking questions deeper than ‘do you want more water?’ Cas held his hand, rubbing his fingers gently the entire time before eventually departing because his parents wanted him back home. He left reluctantly, kissing his cheek and smiling brokenly before leaving the room.

            “How’d he get in here?” he eventually asked his dad, obviously not expecting his boyfriend to be the first person he saw when he woke up in a hospital room. Honestly, he was kinda surprised that he woke up at all.

            “Told ‘em he was your cousin. It was urgent; they didn’t question it.” Dean nodded. It meant so much to him that Cas stayed at the hospital in the first place. He’d never met anyone outside of his family so willing to stand by him, even when he would spiral out of control. The afternoon came back to him in flashpoints and before he knew it, tears were forming in his eyes. They only increased when he went to wipe them away, only to realize he couldn’t. He struggled against the wrist restraints for a couple seconds. He knew why they were there; he wasn’t gonna pretend otherwise. He stared at the slow drip of the IV hovering above his head, willing himself to stop crying to no avail.

            His father looked around the room awkwardly before mumbling something about coffee and walking out. Then he was left alone with his brother, looking confused and heartbroken. Dean couldn’t meet his eyes no matter how hard he tried.

            “I don’t get it. I thought you were happy,” Sam sniffled out, getting gradually closer to Dean’s hospital bed. Dean didn’t get it either, still doesn’t get it. Emotions are tricky.

            “I don’t know. I just wanted to get away for a while…” Sam’s eyes grew sympathetic at that, and Dean sighed as heavily as his weak lungs would allow him.

            “I just wanna rest. I can talk some other time, Sammy.” Sam nodded, surprisingly enough, and within seconds Dean’s eyes slipped closed again.

---  

            Dean wakes up with a dry mouth, in a setting he’s only been in a handful of times, but it feels uncomfortably familiar. He almost goes to lift his hands,  but he stops just a moment before. The corners of his eyes are crusted over and he tries to rub it off on his shoulder when he sees someone in the corner of the room.

            He’s sitting on a chair that doesn’t look all that comfortable. How long has he been there? How long have they both been here? Dean blinks his eyes quickly; he must be dreaming. Maybe he’s actually dead. It says a lot about Dean’s life that he thinks death is the only logical explanation for the sight before him.

            Cas’s eyes don’t meet his, and the first couple of times Dean tries to speak no words come out. He clears his throat, and the sound makes him feel even more sick. He opens his mouth, but Cas seems to be on the same page as him.

            “Sam’s on his way. Booked the first flight he could,” Cas says. His voice is monotonous and tired and he still hasn’t looked at Dean.

            Dean closes his eyes again, angry with himself for inconveniencing the people he loves with his petty bullshit. He thought he’d be gone by now; didn’t think he’d have to see their disappointed faces.

            How has he managed to survive on his own for this long? He’s been so neglectful in every way imaginable. He doesn’t deserve this many chances.

            “Why am I here?” Dean asks, his voice still trembling. He doesn’t mean ‘why am I in the hospital?’ but at the same time, he does. Why was he not found in his cold apartment, staining the carpet with his open wrist? He can’t help but think, there goes the deposit. He  knows the stains will never completely disappear and he’ll have to look at them every day.

            “Really? You’re seriously-”

            “No,” Dean is interrupted by his own lungs seemingly collapsing on themselves as he chokes for at least a minute straight. Cas brings a plastic cup to Dean’s lips as soon as the worst of his coughs are over, tipping it just enough for him to get a sip to soothe his throat.

            “You sliced open your wrist; don’t know how you could forget that,” Cas says. His voice is sharp and succinct, and Dean would roll his eyes in any other situation.

            “I know what happened. Why am I in the hospital? I thought…” Dean realizes how morbid his thought is before he finishes his sentence, but Cas seems to get the gist.

            “What? You thought you’d be dead?” Cas scoffs, but Dean can hear his voice breaking on some of the syllables, as he turns away from him again.

            “So you don’t remember calling me, crying about how you didn’t want to die.” Dean thinks he’s joking at first, but then Cas doesn’t say anything else and his heart rate increases. He can tell because the machine he’s hooked up to starts beeping faster, and he tries to calm down quickly so a nurse doesn’t burst into the room thinking that he’s dying.

            “I didn’t…” Dean doesn’t know what to say, because now he feels twice as bad as before. He doesn’t think it’s unbelievable considering the  past few months.

            “You know if you were trying to scare the fuck out of me and make me feel guilty, congratulations, it worked.” Cas sniffles once, but tries to cover it up. Dean can tell because he used to do it all the time. Cas didn’t cry about many things, not even when his mom left. Dean is hyperaware of this fact because it always managed to make him feel like an oversensitive baby. The fact that Cas is crying now makes Dean want to wake up from this dream he’s having; it stopped being fun a long time ago.

            “I wasn’t trying to make you worried… or guilty. I don’t know what I was trying to do.” Cas scoffs again, like no matter what Dean says, he won’t believe him, which is fair enough. Dean’s done a lot to lose any credibility he may have had.

            “I just, I think I called you because you’re the most familiar thing in my life. It’s so easy to go back to you. Do you think I was in the best state of mind at the time?” He still has no recollection of what happened, but he imagines he started to panic the second he understood the severity of his decision, the fact that it could be irreversible. He thinks he would’ve probably called Sam, but Cas comes up first in his contacts, still listed as ‘Angel.’ Cas looks at him and his lip is quivering before he goes off.

            “And what if I hadn’t answered? What if you couldn’t get help on time? Then what? Where would I be right now? I’d be asking myself a million fucking questions, and you know what? You wouldn’t be able to answer any of them for me because you’d be gone.” He finally breaks on the last word, his knees hit the floor and Dean cringes at the sound. His hands curl into the thin sheet on the bed  and his knuckles turn white. As much as Dean wants to take those hands in his, he knows that even if he weren’t currently restrained, it would be far from appropriate.

            “I didn’t think you’d care this much.” It sounds like Dean’s just trying to test Cas’s patience, but he’s genuinely surprised at his display of emotions. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen him this upset before. And over him? Cas glares at him, his red-rimmed eyes squinting.

            “I mean, I just thought you were moving on, or whatever. Didn’t think you had time for me?” Dean mumbles. He’ll blame the volume of his voice on the fact that he maybe, almost died.

            “So what, I ‘move on’ and suddenly I can’t be fucked up over the fact that you tried to kill yourself? And that you got pretty damn close?” Cas fluctuates between weakened sadness and vehement anger, and Dean thinks he understands what he’s feeling right now.

            “The first thought that went through my head when you told me what you did was ‘this is because of me.’ It’s selfish, and gross, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. I still think that.”

            “It’s nobody’s fault but mine.” It’s the first thing Dean’s said with confidence, and Cas visibly flinches. Dean inhales shakily then starts again.

            “It’s nobody’s fault but mine. I’ve been in my own head a lot lately, thinking about mom, and sometimes dad. Sam, he’s… it’s like I never see him anymore. I don’t see anyone anymore because I don’t do anything. I’m probably gonna get kicked out of my apartment because I haven’t paid rent because I don’t have a job. There’s just… so many things happening in my head and I guess I couldn’t handle it.” Dean is out of breath and more exhausted than he’s ever been in his life, but he is weightless, like he could float up into the sun if no one stopped him.

            He’s held on to those thoughts for years, and now that they’re out in the open, he has no idea why he waited so long.

            “I wanted to get away for a bit. I obviously went a little overboard,” Dean laughs, but its bitter and mirthless. His chest kind of hurts.

            “Dean, suicide is a permanent-”

            “solution to a temporary problem. You sound like a goddamn pamphlet in the guidance counselor’s office.” Dean had heard the phrase one too many times after the first incident. It’s like any time he was slightly upset about something, they thought he was gonna off himself. It really wasn’t that bad.

            “And what if the problems aren’t temporary anymore? They’re starting to matter more every day and I fucking hate it.”

            Cas has stopped responding, but it’s not because he has nothing to say. He’s listening like he always has because Dean has been prone to ranting about everything and nothing since he started learning ‘big words’ in the fourth grade. He still doesn’t know as many as Cas, and half the time they’re jumbled together, but Cas will listen, and ask him to elaborate when he’s calmed down. And he will.

            “It’s like I’m drowning, and I never wanted to use that simile in my life, but here we are.” Dean keeps laughing, but it’s getting less funny with every word he says.

            “I don’t know what to do.” Cas’s hand finds his slowly and Dean has never squeezed harder. Pressure and a small twinge of pain loosens his grip immediately, but there’s a hint of a closed-mouth smile on Cas’s lips anyway.

            “I’ll help you figure it out,” Cas says and he’s looking down but his thumb is rubbing circles into Dean’s hand and the familiarity brings Dean back to earth. He doesn’t want to die at 26, or any age beginning with a two for that matter.

            “You know you can’t fix me, right? There’ll be days like this for the rest of my life.”

            “And I’ll be there when you need me, or gone when you don’t. I know I can’t fix you, Dean. You don’t need to be fixed. You’re okay.”

            “You can’t just forgive me, that’s not fair.” Dean doesn’t want to pretend like their fight didn’t happen, or like it wasn’t important. Cas’s feelings being invalidated is what started this mess in the first place.

            “Oh, believe me, I haven’t. I think I’m on my way there. I’m like 17%.”

            “17, really? You couldn’t just round up to 20?”

            “Every percentage point will be earned, Dean Winchester.”

            And just like that, despite Dean’s melodramatic worries that ‘things would never be the same’ they are.

            But they aren’t, and the entire thing is confusing, but that’s why they’re getting through it together.

            “I’m really sorry, Cas. I don’t know why I just didn’t say it, it’s not that hard…”

            “I don’t know why I blew it up the way I did.”

            “Because it feels nice to hear someone you love say it back. Why wouldn’t you be worried if someone waited six years and then still couldn’t?”

            “Sometimes actions are more important. I think I should have focused on that a little more. It was more than obvious that you love me, I don’t think I had any right to insinuate otherwise.”

            “I mean, really, I could’ve just said it.”

            “Are we seriously fighting about who was wrong?” Cas laughs and Dean can’t help but join in, and when he looks at Cas’s face, and the way his lower lip is tucked behind his teeth, it feels right.

            “I love you.” Cas’s face looks awed, and Dean thinks that’s a damn travesty on his part. Cas shouldn’t look surprised when someone says ‘I love you.’ He should expect it in exchange every morning, hear it mumbled late at night from the other side of the bed. He’ll have to really overcompensate for all the years he missed.

            “I love you, too.”

            He doesn’t think it’ll be too difficult.