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one // mis-shapes

"I've told you. Sam and me are fine. Sam's top in everything he does at school, and me, I'm... I'm getting by. You don't need to worry about us."

Bobby rolled his eyes and patted Dean on the shoulder, quite clearly not putting up with any of his shit. "Son, I don't do things just because I need to do them. This is gonna help you and Sam."

"You sound like a fucking therapist," Dean grumbled.

"I know you don't love the idea, but think about Sam. He's top in everything now, but things'll get harder for him over the next few years, with his exams coming up. What did you say his goal was? Getting into Cambridge?"

Dean nodded. "Yeah, we stayed near there for a case with Dad and Sam fell in love with the place. Don't understand it myself. Me, I'm getting out of school after next year."

Bobby nodded. "I don't blame you, son. But this way, at least you'll have some decent qualifications. You know, in case you ever decide to do anything other than hunting."

Dean scoffed. He didn't think that was very likely, and he knew that Bobby didn't really believe it either, but for some reason the guy was trying to sell him on this plan. Dean had spent the past eleven years of his life, ever since his mother's death, being dragged around to different towns all over the UK by his father in hot pursuit of his mother's killer. They'd even gone to Europe for a couple of years, getting as far south as Venice, where Sam had learned passable Italian at the age of around eight, before realizing that they'd been led completely astray and heading back to London. And the whole thing meant that Sam and Dean had never stayed longer than half a term in a single school. Which Dean was fine with, really. It suited him, showing up and being the cool new kid who wore a leather jacket instead of whatever crappy blazer the school required, picking up a few of the good girls and turning them into rebels for a few weeks, leaving them to explain the situation to their parents after he was gone. And his grades weren't bad, not really. He passed most of his tests. He'd show up to take the GCSEs next year. Save him getting into any unnecessary trouble later. But he certainly wasn't in any rush to stick around.

Sam, though... Sam was a different matter. Sam was his weak spot, and Bobby knew that by appealing to this, he could convince Dean to do pretty much anything.

"Look, how about Sam goes? I'll stay with Dad and keep doing what I'm doing, and Sam can go get his own life."

Bobby raised an eyebrow, not having any of this. "The kid's eleven years old, and you're gonna send him off to boarding school on his own when he's never lived in one place for more than a couple months before? Dean, he's gonna need you. You'll be the only reminder he has of what things used to be like for him. I know Sam likes to act like he's all independent, but... he needs you. Don't you give me any crap telling me he doesn't."

Dean got up from the couch and loped over to Bobby's fridge, grabbing a beer and opening the lid with the edge of the counter, before flopping back down where he'd been before. Bobby didn't protest.

"He'll be better off without me, even if he doesn't think so. Do better at his fancy school without me dragging him down."

"Then stay out of his business. And at least he'll know you're there for if he ever needs you. Think about it, boy. Would you ever forgive yourself if he needed you while he was there, and he had no way of getting in contact?"

"Stop guilt tripping me, man," Dean scowled, turning up the volume on the football and pretending he gave a shit about what was happening on the screen.

Bobby had the audacity to laugh at him. "You know I'll do whatever it takes to get you to agree."

Dean snorted and shook his head. "Boarding school, though? Can you actually imagine me at a boarding school? Be honest with me here, cause I've thought about it and I've tried to see it and I can't. Those kids care about doing work and they have ponies and when their families go to Italy it's on a first class flight and they stay in a fancy ass hotel. And that's not me. You know it's not."

Bobby stood up, grabbing a beer for himself, too. "It's one year of your life. Soon as you finish your GCSEs, you're out of there. I'm tired of arguing with you, kid, so do this for me?"

Dean didn't respond. He stared blankly at the television, where twenty-two tiny men in brightly colored shirts were kicking around an even tinier ball across a wide expanse of green field. Fucking boarding school. He wasn't sure how or why Bobby had got it into his head that it was a good idea to send off applications in Sam and Dean's names. And as much as he liked the idea of getting away from his father for a year (not that he'd ever admit it) there was no way in hell that the prospect of boarding school was worth it.

"You mentioned this to Sam yet?" If Sam was already excited about the idea, then Dean wouldn't have a choice. He couldn't take that away from his little brother. But if this was still just between him and Bobby, he might still have a chance of getting out of it.

"Nope. Not your dad, either. Just between you and me right now."

"So if you don't manage to convince me, this stays between the two of us? Nobody else ever finds out?"

"That's right." Bobby sounded far less concerned than Dean liked.

Dean thought back to his first day in Year Seven. One of the older kids had cornered him behind the science labs and told him that the headteacher had ordered that every new kid should get punched in the nose, and that it was Dean's turn today. Dean had grabbed his arm and had the kid, who was at least twice his size, in a headlock before the other kid even knew what was happening to him, and he hadn't been bothered again. Least, not until his first day at another new school. Or the first day after that, or after that, or after that...

And it wasn't like Dean was under any illusions that kids at a private school would be any better. Sam could easily get laughed at for his Cockney accent, or the shabby uniform that he was bound to have, or the fact that his family didn't even own one house let alone two, or, hell, even the fact that he was tiny for an eleven year old. But if Sam got to stay in the same place, then that would all only happen to him once. And if he figured out how to get the other kids to leave him alone, then once he managed to earn that respect, he wouldn't have to deal with any of that crap again.

Dean pictured Sam's face when he found out he'd get to do things like piano lessons and weekend sports matches and maybe even field trips. He could see in his mind the exact smile Sam would make, a kind of nervous grin that twitched at the corners, betraying his childish excitement. It was the kind of grin Sam usually only got when he talked about things that were a long way in the future, like getting away and going to university, but this? This would be happening in a couple of months.

Dean chugged the second half of his beer.

"Fine. It ain't like my life is all that great, I guess it can't get much worse even if I am surrounded by a bunch of posh twats all the time. You talk to Sam, and if he wants to go, and if he wants me to go with him, then I'll do it. Probably gonna fucking live to regret it, but I'll do it."

Bobby grinned and fetched him another beer from the fridge. "I knew I could count on you, son."

Dean took a swig and savored the taste, knowing that his chances of sneaking alcohol into some kind of dorm room were pretty low, completely dreading the next year of his life. "You owe me."

"Yeah, we'll see about that."

Bobby still sounded way too cheerful for his own damn good.

--

Sam physically bounced on the train down to Sussex, and Dean wasn't entirely sure how he kept up the energy for as long as he did, but somehow the kid just didn't seem to get tired. He stared out of the window with a relentless grin on his face, and every so often he turned to Dean with a new idea of something he was going to do while he was at school - everything from "I'm going to read every single book in the whole library!" to "I'm going to find a friend to go exploring with in the woods on weekends!" Each statement was punctuated with a nervous giggle and an adjustment of his tattered tie, which was grey and purple striped, worn with the required white school shirt, purple blazer and grey school trousers.. Dean had his too, except his grey school trousers were grey skinny jeans, and his white school shirt was actually just a plain white T-shirt. But still, he was wearing a blazer for the first time in his life, so nobody out there could say that he wasn't making an effort.

"That's awesome, Sammy," Dean replied to everything Sam told him, trying his best to smile and act like he was excited for his brother. Because he was. He thought it was great that Sam was going to go off and have such a good time at school, but the closer the two of them got to what Dean saw as essentially a prison, the more terrified he became. He hated life with his dad, but at least he knew what he was doing. Here, he was going to be so far outside of his comfort zone with no real hope of escaping the place, and he was genuinely scared of what he was walking into.

Sam slumped, looking upset. "You're not excited."

Dean turned to look at him and scoffed. "I don't know what you're talking about. Course I'm excited. You're gonna have all your adventures, and make your friends, so I'm excited for you."

"Yeah, but what about you? Don't you have plans for what you're gonna do at school? You're finally away from Dad, you get to make your own decisions!"

Sam looked so hopeful. He wanted to hear about what Dean was doing just as much as he wanted to talk about himself, and it hurt Dean's heart to think about how damn good his brother was. Much better than Dean had ever been at that age.

"Well, since you mention it. I've got plenty of plans. I'm gonna get a date for the dance, for one thing. I'm gonna have sleepovers in my room after dark, and midnight feasts when I'm not really allowed. You can't do that, though, I don't want you getting into trouble. I'm gonna join a club, too, gonna be good at something so that everyone knows who I am. Then you can tell everyone in your year that I'm your brother and nobody will ever give you any shit. How's that sound, Sammy?"

Sam smiled and nodded, taken in by the lies Dean had spouted from vague memories of a television show he'd seen years ago. "Yeah. Yeah, that sounds good."

He kept quiet for the rest of the journey, apparently tired out from all his babbling earlier on. Dean pulled out his phone and started playing a bunch of dumb games to pass the time better, glancing up to check on Sammy every few seconds, making sure he was okay. Sam's eyes drifted shut and he snoozed against the wall of the train, and Dean got his ticket out for him when the ticket collector came round, so that nobody would have to wake him up.

And then, just as the sun started to draw in in the early evening, the two of them arrived in Sussex.

Dean shook his little brother's shoulder. "Sammy, wake up."

Sam opened his eyes and blinked a few times, frowning out of the window. "Is it morning?"

"Nope, not morning. It's, uh, seven thirty. And we're in Sussex, we gotta grab our stuff and go to school." Dean was getting better at stopping his mouth from curling around the word 'school'.

"Oh!" Sam jumped to his feet, bouncing. Dean wished there was anything in the world that could get that kind of reaction out of him. Sam grabbed his suitcase from the rack, stumbling a little under its weight, and followed Dean off the train.

There was nobody there to meet them, and Dean didn't have the money for a taxi, so they had to walk the half mile stretch up to the school. After just a couple of streets, Sam began to struggle under the weight of his suitcase in his small hands, so Dean took it from him, swinging one case in each hand as they climbed the hill towards the school. They didn't speak. Just kept walking.

--

"Hi, I'm Dean Winchester, this is Sam Winchester?" Dean asked at the front desk of the school. He definitely wasn't shaking, and he definitely wasn't intimidated by all the fancy architecture around him. This main building was made of old, crumbling red bricks and pillars carved into elaborate shapes. They'd had to walk through a huge wooden archway to get to the building, and along some of those little stone things that covered fancy driveways. To either side were huge, sloping bright green fields that shone in the sunset.

Overall? The place was too perfect. According to Bobby, there were about two thousand kids in the whole school. This didn't look like it was home to two thousand kids, it looked like it was some kind of historic site, where people just came to visit for a day, tiptoeing across the fields, making sure not to disturb the flowers.

The man glanced down his registers, frowning, and for a moment Dean thought he was going to get turned away. That would surely be the only thing in the world worse then being let in.

"You're both late," he scowled.

"Sorry. We've been on a train all day, it just got in."

"No excuse. Many pupils took the train here, and still managed to be here half an hour ago. What have the two of you been doing, stocking up on sweets?"

Dean shook his head. "Look, I ain't got time for this. Can you just let us in?"

The man's eyebrows shot up into his forehead, and Dean flushed bright red. He had to work on how he spoke or else he was probably going to get that kind of reaction from everyone he came across.

"Very well. Dean, you're going to be residing in Doyle house, Samuel, you'll be in Carroll. The houses are located out of this door. Follow the stone path round to the left, and you'll come to the boys' buildings. Go straight there, please, as the housemasters have better things to do than sign people in all night, as I'm sure you can imagine."

Dean shrugged. He couldn't really imagine what else a housemaster did. But he wasn't stupid enough to actually say that out loud. "Yeah, alright. I mean, thanks. I mean, thankyou, sir. Sir?"

The man didn't even deign to respond to him, so Dean just picked up his two suitcases and headed out of the indicated door, pulling a face once his back was turned.

"Wow," Sam breathed, the moment they got outside.

Dean had to admit that it was kind of wow .

The two of them stood on some sort of balcony, a mid height stone wall at chest height stopping them from tumbling over the edge. Far below, rolling fields stretched for miles, some of them covered in late summer flowers and trees, some of them plain and green and lush, looking like nobody had walked on them for years. Over the wall, the bright pinks and oranges of the evening sky painted the whole scene, and it seemed like the colours here were so much more intense than they were anywhere else in the world. Dean wasn't one for beauty, but even he had to admit that this was one of the most beautiful sights he'd ever sen.

"I live here?" Sam asked, looking around in reverence.

"You look like Harry Potter," Dean snorted. "You know. When he gets to Hogwarts for the first time, and he can't believe all the magic is real, all that shit."

"It does feel magic here," Sam nodded, beaming, his smile even brighter than the sun as it dipped down over the horizon.

Dean rolled his eyes and shook his head, moving in the direction he'd been told by the man behind the desk to go. He'd already been told not to be late, and he really didn't want to get into any more trouble. He just wanted to keep his head down and get out of here as soon as he possibly can.

He liked the fact that Sam saw magic in the place, but personally, he couldn't really see any. It was all surface. Yeah, there was a pretty view out here, and it was way nicer to look at than any of the old concrete buildings he'd been to school in, but in the end, what did any of that matter if he was fucking miserable?

Sam followed him, looking a little dejected. The path led them round the back of the main building and slightly downhill, into an area where eight or so large houses stood around a central courtyard. A few boys around Dean's age were kicking a football around, a few more perched on walls and shared headphones, chatting and listening to music. From a distance, they looked pretty normal, the same kinds of kids that Dean was used to hanging out with. He doubted that was actually true, but it was nice to pretend.

As they got closer, they saw that each of the houses looked a little different - they hadn't been built identically, they were made of old stone and they were all unique. More to the point, they all had names over the door, and Dean scanned them, looking for the ones that he and Sam had been put in.

They found Sam's first; one of the first two they came to, and he tried to push open the door. It didn't move. Dean pushed harder, assuming the door was just stuck, ramming his whole body into it.

A man came dashing through the hallway to the door, where he swung it open. Dean collapsed, having been halfway through a really good shove, crumpling on the floor in the entryway.

"Excuse me, young man, but what exactly do you think you're doing here?"

Dean scrambled to his feet. "I've got Sammy, uh, Samuel Winchester, he's s'posed to be living here, I came to drop him off and show him around and get him settled in his room and everything, but the door was stuck, and-"

"The door wasn't stuck. The door requires a passcode to enter, one which we will be giving to your brother, but not to you. We don't tend to permit the older boys to visit the younger boys' houses. We feel that it would be inappropriate to encourage friendships between the different years. Therefore, I will be taking Samuel from here, and you should head to your own house. You should be getting to bed soon, ready for your lessons in the morning."

The mysterious man, who Dean assumed was the housemaster, took Sam by the shoulder and guided him into the building.

"Bye, S-" Dean tried to say, but the door banged shut behind him before he had a chance. Sam glanced over his shoulder and gave Dean a small wave, his eyes wide and a little scared for the first time. More than anything in the world, Dean wanted to chase after him and make him feel better. But he couldn't do that, he couldn't risk getting yelled at again.

He turned and ducked his head, shuffling out of the house and along the pathway, looking for his own.

"Oi!" came a whistle

Dean turned. That sounded like a girl's voice, that did - the first one he'd heard since he got here. He knew it was a co-ed school, knew there would be girls in his lessons and everything, but he'd assumed it was just going to be the boys down here.

But, no, that was definitely a girl. She wore a tight black skirt that showed off her long legs and a soft grey sweater that did nothing to hide her cleavage, knotted at her waist so that it showed off a small strip of stomach, and her soft brown hair cascaded around her shoulders. Dean couldn't stop the smile that spread over his face, or his appreciative nod. "Hi there."

The girl sashayed over, holding out a hand to shake. "Bela Talbot. Year Twelve. Are you new this year?"

Dean nodded and took her hand. "Uh, yeah, I'm Dean. Winchester. Year Eleven. Just got here bout a half hour ago."

She drew her hand back in surprise, before he'd even finished shaking, and it didn't take a huge leap to guess that it was his accent that had shocked her that way. "It's, uh, nice to meet you, Dean," she said, in the same way that other people would say, 'I truly hope I never see you again in my life.'.

"You too," he nodded awkwardly. "Well, I should-"

"Hey, Luke!" she called over her shoulder, and a boy broke apart from the crowd playing football. He was blond and looked a little bit smug, though Dean supposed that pretty much everyone round here looked kind of like that.

"What's up, Bela?" he asked as he jogged over to the two of them.

"We've got a new student here. He's from - where are you from, Dean?" she asked, all fake polite.

"Uh." Dean didn't actually have a decent answer prepared for that question. "Kind of all over, really. My dad travelled round a lot. Just recently we were up in Coventry. That's kind of near Manchester."

Luke laughed. "The north? You're from the north? I don't think we've ever had one of those before, have we, sweetie?"

Bela shook her head and took his hand, swinging it between them and giving him a sickly sweet smile. "He's in Year Eleven, so a little below us, but I'm sure it'd still be worth the two of us keeping an eye on him, wouldn't it?"

Luke nodded. "Of course. You know me, always keeping an eye out for the younger students, aren't I?"

Dean was pretty certain he'd never heard anything sound quite so ominous in all his life, but he revised that opinion fairly quickly when Luke kept speaking. "Luke Novak here. Year Thirteen, Head Boy. And it appears that you've already met my girlfriend, Bela."

Dean nodded.

"He's a legacy," Bela smiled proudly. "His brother Michael was Head Boy here two years ago, and he's got two other brothers and a sister here. All going to take the position as well, of course."

Luke chuckled, pretending to be modest. "I'm sure you yourself are well placed to take the Head Girl position next year, love."

Bela smirked proudly, but otherwise continued as though she hadn't heard him. "Actually, one of his brothers is in your year. Isn't that right, Luke? You should have a word with Castiel. Tell him to look out for Dean here, especially if they're in some of the same classes. Wouldn't that be nice?"

More of them. More guys like this to deal with. That felt like the absolute last thing that Dean needed right now. He rubbed the side of his head. He just wanted to go to bed right now, he didn't want to have to deal with any of this nightmarish shit any longer. "Well, thanks for your help, guys, that all sounds great. But you've probably got a lot to do right now, what with your A levels coming up and everything, and I should really head off. Gotta sign into my house before it gets too late."

"Oh, of course," Luke nodded, clutching a hand to his chest, pretending to be innocent. "I didn't mean to keep you. Wouldn't want you to get into trouble on my behalf. I'll speak to Castiel tonight, and best of luck in your first day of classes. You'll need it."

Dean wanted to retaliate, but based on everything he'd seen so far, Luke was probably right. So he turned, heading further down the rows of houses until he reached the one right at the end, and of course his house was the furthest possible from Sam's. It wasn't like it was the first time he'd ever spent time away from Sam. Sometimes one of them would stay with Bobby for a bit while the other went off with John, and they'd be on opposite sides of the country for a few days. Still, Sam had never felt further away than he did right now.

Dean didn't make the mistake this time of trying to get through the door. Instead, he looked around for a buzzer and waited to be let in. The man who came to the door was decidedly nicer seeming than the one who'd come to Sam's, but that could have just been because this one didn't think that his house was currently getting broken into - stuff like that did tend to make a difference.

"Hi, I'm sorry I'm late, my name's Dean Winchester, I just started here, I'm supposed to be living in this house, I was told to come here, you can yell at me or give me the cane if you want to, but please, I've been on a train all day so make it quick because I really want to get some sleep at some point, alright?"

Dean waited for the tirade, but none came. Instead, the man chuckled.

"So you're Dean Winchester, are you? I'm glad. I was worried that you'd decided not to show up in the end. It's very nice to meet you, son."

He stretched out his hand and smiled at Dean, and this guy seemed like he was actually genuine, nothing like the false niceness of Luke and Bela.

Dean shook the hand tentatively. It was big and warm in his.

"Let me take your case, we'll head up to your room and we'll get you settled in. Your roommate's already there, and the two of you should have some time to get to know each other before an early night. How does that sound?"

Dean nodded, dumbfounded, sure that there had to be some kind of a catch here. The guy couldn't actually be nice , could he?

Fortunately, the housemaster didn't seem put off by the fact that Dean wasn't really saying anything. "And we don't use the cane here at Woodcreek. In fact, the cane and any kind of corporal punishment were outlawed in England in 1998. The worst thing that's going to happen to you for being out too late is that you'll be confined to the house for a couple of days, not allowed to go outside and socialize aside from your lessons. So you have absolutely nothing to worry about, and even less if you stick to the rules."

Dean nodded again. He hadn't really been serious about the cane, but it wouldn't have surprised him entirely. It was still a relief to find out that it wouldn't happen.

They made their way up two flights of stairs and walked halfway down the corridor to a room with a simple wooden door and two nameplates stuck to the front. Dean's was the lower down one, and the higher up one said FERGUS CROWLEY.

The housemaster rapped on the door, and then pushed it open.

"Good evening, Fergus. This is your new roommate, Dean Winchester."

The boy stood up to shake Dean's hand, as though he were on a spring. Dean was fast learning that this seemed to be some kind of instinctive reaction for people here. They shook each other's hands whether they wanted to or not. Dean could probably be covered in literal garbage and people would still shake his hand, because it was the polite thing to do.

"It's nice to meet you, Dean," the boy said with a fake smile, nodding to the housemaster too. "Thanks for showing him up."

"Well, Dean, I hope you get settled in. I'll leave your suitcase by your wardrobe, no rush to unpack tonight if you're tired and want a rest."

"Thanks," Dean nodded, far too tired to think about anything else. As soon as the door shut behind him, he collapsed onto his bare mattress, letting out a long breath.

"God, I can't believe you showed up. Had a bet going with a couple of friends of mine that you wouldn't bother to come. Was hoping I'd get my room to myself this year. You know, I still could... that's actually not a bad idea, is it?"

"What?" Dean frowned, only half listening to what the other boy was saying in his Scottish accent.

"This is my room. I was here first. I've lived in this room for a year already. And if I don't want you in it, I don't have to."

Dean sat up and stared at him. "What the hell you talking about, man? This is our room. There's two beds and my name's on the door."

Fergus opened the door and grabbed at Dean's name plate, ripping it off. "Not any more it's not."

Dean stared at him. "What the fuck, dude?"

He was way too tired to deal with this. He was even too tired to think about opening his suitcase and getting out some kind of sheet for his bed. He grabbed the uncovered bedding and lay down on the mattress, closing his eyes and feeling his muscles relax. He didn't even notice Fergus leave the room, or the soft click of the door behind him - or at least, not until the guy reappeared.

"Alright, come with me. I'll show you where you'll be living for the next year."

"Do we have to do this now?" Dean mumbled. Yeah, the tour would be good, but it could easily wait til morning. On second thoughts, he did have to take a piss, and it would probably be a better idea to do that now than to wake up at three in the morning desperate for the toilet but with no idea where it was. So he stood up and followed Fergus out of the room.

Fergus led him down the hall and then pointed to another door. "There you go."

Dean stared at it. He'd stuck Dean's name plate onto a door that had previously been bare. Had there been a spare room in the corridor? Was he allowed to just do that, move people around like that? Dean didn't really care, so long as he got to go to sleep.

He pushed open the door. Inside was the bathroom - a long row of four or five toilet cubicles on one side, four or five shower stalls on the other side, with the sinks and the mirrors in the center. Not a bed in sight. And, of course, his name on the door.

"Yeah, very funny," Dean said as he turned back around, unable to put any emotion into his tone because of how goddamn tired he was. "Great joke, I have to sleep in the bathroom, excuse me while I don't laugh."

Fergus wasn't there.

Dean walked back down the hall to his room and tugged on the door handle. It didn't budge. Clearly the door had been locked from the inside.

He rapped sharply on the door, waiting for some kind of response. None came.

He glanced down. His duvet, still uncovered, had been left on the floor outside, along with a pillow. Nothing else. Dean kept banging for several minutes, until his knuckles turned bright red and raw, but it seemed like there wasn't going to be any kind of an answer from Fergus.

Finally, a head stuck out of another door across the hall. "Sorry, but could you keep the noise down? I'm taking fourteen GCSEs, I really need to sleep before lessons start tomorrow."

Dean turned and came face to face with a tiny Asian kid. "Oh, fuck, I'm so sorry. Wait, fourteen? You've got to be mental. Does everyone here do that?"

The kid smiled. "No, most people do ten or eleven, but my parents are insisting that I do fourteen. Then I have to do my A levels in one year so that I can start medical school at sixteen. I'm already a year ahead."

Dean blinked. "You're messing with me. Please, tell me you're messing with me."

"I'm not messing with you," the boy frowned. "Kevin Tran. You must be new here."

This time, Dean figured out that he was supposed to shake the boy's hand before it was even offered. They shook, and the boy seemed nice enough even though he was clearly a little unstable if he was voluntarily doing that much work, so Dean tried to ask him for help. "Uh, yeah, I'm new, and my roommate's locked me out of the room, that's why I was making noise, cause I was trying to get him to let me back in. And he won't, so is there any chance I could stay with you tonight?"

Kevin pulled a face. "Sorry, no can do. The place is already full, Garth's got so many stuffed animals that they pretty much take over the whole room, there's no space. Sides, we all have to go through it at some point. At least your roommate left you with your bedding. I started here two years ago and I was rooming with Alastair back then, I'm sure you'll meet him soon enough. He made me sleep on the floor in the toilets without any blankets. And he let off a stinkbomb."

"Fuck, man, I'm so sorry." Dean didn't really know what else to say. "Kinda thought it was just me that had to put up with this crap. You're telling me it's everyone?"

Kevin raised an eyebrow. "Everyone who's different."

Their eyes met, and neither of them smiled, but there was a kind of mutual understanding there all the same, and it made Dean feel a tiny bit better about his situation. Just a tiny bit, but still. It was something.

"Alright. Thanks. Sorry to bother you, I guess I'll go lie down. Corridor's gotta be better than bathroom, right?"

"Hate to say it, but bathroom really is your best bet. Corridors you'll get yelled at if someone patrols, and the stairway's not heated so you'll freeze to death in the night. Bathroom, at least it's warm and nobody's gonna disturb you there."

Dean laughed hollowly, and he wondered what his life had come to that he was discussing the relative merits of the bathroom over the stairwell for sleep purposes. "Thanks. I probably don't sound all that sincere right now, but thanks."

"It'll just be for tonight. He'll get bored by tomorrow," Kevin promised by way of a parting thought, and then disappeared back into his room in a flash of blue dressing gown. Dean wasn't sure if he should believe him or if Kevin was just trying to make him feel better about the situation, but he appreciated the thought all the same. He grabbed his bedding and hauled it down the corridor to the bathroom, where he rolled himself into a burrito and curled up on the hard floor, trying to block his eyes against the bright harsh lights of overhead (he hadn't been able to find any kind of lightswitch) and attempting to get some kind of sleep before the morning.

--

Chapter Text

two // something changed

Dean woke four, five, six times through the night, each time because he heard some kind of footsteps passing close by. Half of the times he opened his eyes only to find out he was imagining things. The other half, there really was someone passing through on their way to relieve themselves, but they all but ignored Dean, lying on the floor. Perhaps they were so used to this kind of thing on the first night that they didn't even notice it at all.

At around six thirty by Dean's cheap, shitty watch, the bathroom began to fill up with people, and Dean guessed that it was about time to start getting ready for the day. He got up and ran his hands through his hand a few times. It was a little greasy and kind of flat on one side from sleeping on it funny all night, but he wasn't sure he should risk the shower when he couldn't guarantee someone wouldn't steal his clothes or some shit while he was in there. He walked back down the hallway, his heart heavy in his chest, and attempted another knock on his own door. Mercifully, this time, Fergus opened it.

"Good morning. Did you sleep well?" Fergus grinned at him.

"Best night's sleep I've had in ages," Dean shot back automatically, before realizing that that might not have been the best response, since Fergus could easily use that as ammunition to make him repeat the experience all over again. Luckily, he didn't say anything more, just stepped aside to let Dean into the room.

Dean turned to the mirror and stared at his school uniform, creased from being slept in. It was secondhand, all of it. The purple blazer fit him just about right, though the elbow patches were a little faded, but the dark grey school trousers were a little short and showed off his ankles when he walked. The shirt had an odd stain on it that Dean didn't want to think too hard about. The tie was frayed and had holes pokes all the way through it, as though someone had used it to display all their honor badges and taken them off once they no longer needed it. Dean didn't have any honor badges and he probably never would, so he had to wear the tie just as it was.

Dean knew he looked like a total mess. Especially next to Fergus, who looked as though his uniform had just been bought brand new and pressed yesterday. Even his shoes were shiny and black and brand new, as opposed to Dean's, which were scuffed, and one of them was all worn through in the bottom so that his toe could feel the rough carpet of the room.

He grabbed a couple of pens and a packet of gum and shoved them into his blazer pocket. He couldn't really imagine needing anything more than that for his first day; he usually didn't. Then, he headed downstairs to see if he could figure out some breakfast.

There was a steady stream of kids heading down the ground floor hallway, so he followed them, and he reached a large, sunlit common room with big windows that backed onto a grassy bank behind the building. The room was lined with sofas and armchairs, most of them already filled with students clutching paper plates. At the back of the room was a large table spread out with toast, cereal, croissants, bagels, pastries, and a range of fillings such as jam and Marmite, as well as orange and blackcurrant squash, and water. Dean had really been hoping for some kind of bacon sandwich, but he supposed this was good too. He grabbed a couple of chocolate pastries and some orange squash and sat himself on the edge of a sofa, shifting up to make himself as small as possible as he chewed on his food.

"You're in my seat."

Dean glanced up and locked eyes with a tall boy who looked as though he'd never smiled in his life. His plate had maybe eight of nine slices of toast on it, as well as five mini packets of jam. Dean hadn't seen anyone else with anywhere near as much food. "I'm sorry?"

"I said, you're in my seat. This sofa is my sofa, I claimed it two years ago, and nobody else is allowed to sit here. Move."

Dean glanced down the length of the sofa. The whole thing was empty. "You know, the great thing about sofas is that more than one person can sit on them. There's room for that, you know. In case nobody had mentioned that to you before."

The boy's face tightened even further, until he looked like a particularly menacing rat. "You don't want to backchat me like that."

"Actually, yeah I do," Dean shrugged. He had food and a comfortable seat for the first time in a while, and he didn't really give a shit. "Who are you, anyway?"

"Alastair. I'm the head of this house. Maybe not officially, but everyone looks to me for me to tell them how to do things. So, you'd do well to get out of my seat."

Alastair. That name sounded familiar. Dean remembered his conversation with Kevin last night, and he realized that food aside, Alastair definitely wasn't someone who he wanted to get on the wrong side of. He stood up. "Sorry, man," he mumbled.

"Good decision, Dean," Alastair smiled, swinging his legs onto the sofa and taking up its entire length. Dean didn't ask Alastair how he knew his name, he just tried to get as far away from him as possible.

There were no seats left, so he ended up curling crosslegged on the floor pinned against a sharp corner in the wall, because it was the only spare space he could find. The pastries didn't taste quite so good there.

--

Dean's first morning passed in a blur. Mr Shurley came in not long after Dean sat down, and delivered announcements for the day as well as the timetables for all the students. Dean went up to him to ask for directions to his first class, but he still managed to get lost while following them. He had English, followed by biology, followed by geography, all punctuated with walks through the corridors where people gave him odd looks and anyone who overheard his accent made not at all subtle comments behind his back, and then it was time for lunch.

Lunch wasn't in the boarding house like breakfast had been. For all the younger students, it took place in the huge dining hall on one side of campus. Sixth formers were allowed to go back to their boarding houses and make their own lunch in their rooms, but that, apparently, was not something the younger students were trusted to do. Dean had been cooking for himself and Sammy since he was old enough to reach the stove, but he didn't have any food in his room apart from one box of Mr Kipling's jam tarts that Bobby had snuck into his suitcase, so maybe it was for the best. Besides, if everyone in the school shared the same dining hall, perhaps Dean would run into Sam.

He grabbed a tray and let the lunch lady fill it with whatever was on the menu today - looked like macaroni cheese with a side of cauliflower and vanilla mousse for dessert. It was an odd sort of pale yellow meal, and even though the food itself didn't look bad, the fact that it was all one colour was kind of offputting. Dean took it to a table at the back of the room, sat down alone in the corner and took out his phone, planning to text Sam, but there was no signal.

A chair scraped out opposite him.

Dean glanced up, and his eyes met - the bluest eyes he had ever seen in his life.

"Um," Dean gulped. He hadn't been expecting that.

"Good afternoon to you too," the boy replied, in a voice much deeper than anyone else his age. Holy shit. Dean had never heard a voice like that in his life. And that combined with the eyes... he actually wanted to know who this kid was, and that was something he definitely hadn't been able to say about anyone else he'd met so far here.

"Uh, good afternoon," Dean nodded, swallowing hard. His throat was dry. He forced himself to focus and look at this boy as a whole. He had dark, neat hair that was combed to one side, but that looked long and soft and was just begging to be messed up by somebody's hand tugging on it. His skin was golden and his lips were plump and pale pink, and Dean couldn't see a single flaw in the kid. He even managed to make the stupid purple blazer look decent, and that was something Dean had yet to believe was possible.

"My name is Castiel Novak. My brother Luke mentioned to me that you were new in my year, and that I should introduce myself to you. How are you faring today, Dean Winchester?"

Dean's heart sank. This was Luke's brother? Clearly they looked nothing alike. But if this was the guy sent to be an asshole to him, then it didn't matter how attractive he was, Dean was going to want to stay a very long way away from him. Though he could hopefully still admire him from afar. It would be nice to have something interesting to look at once in a while. Sam could have the view from the bridge, and he, Dean, could have Castiel Novak. The corner of his mouth twitched at the possibility.

"I'm, uh, I'm doing alright, thanks."

"Are you really?" Castiel raised one eyebrow. "In that case, you are the first person I have ever known to say that on their first day here."

Dean snorted. "Oh, c'mon, man, you expect me to believe that? Bet your first day was perfect. With Luke as a brother, nobody'd dare mess with you, would they?"

"On the contrary. It becomes a challenge. If someone can effectively upset a legacy pupil, they gain automatic respect among their peers. I was, perhaps, one of the first targets for pranks and jokes when I joined the school. Of course, by now I am largely left alone. But once upon a time I did have to deal with that, as did Luke in his own day."

Castiel didn't talk quite like the other students. Everyone else Dean had met so far talked posh. Castiel talked posh too, but it was the old fashioned kind of posh, the sort you might find in some sort of history book. Dean wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. Regardless, Castiel didn't seem to be being mean to him, which was an improvement on most other people, so he decided he could ignore the weirdness for now. He was still going to be careful, though. This was probably some kind of act, lulling him into a false sense of security before the attack.

"I know what you're thinking, Dean," Castiel smiled sadly, and Dean noticed for the first time that the guy didn't have any food. He was just - here. "You see that I am Luke's brother, and you expect me to treat you badly. I'm not naive, I know what he's like, I know he doesn't exactly live up to what a Head Boy is supposed to be. But I promise you, he and I get along just as well as he does with everyone else he dislikes. You have nothing to worry about, I promise you that I am not going to turn on you."

Dean nodded, smirking. "Yeah. Right. I'll just believe your heartfelt speech and you and me can ride off into the sunset together, sound good?"

"I don't expect you to believe me right away, but I thought it may still be worth saying. Perhaps you would be willing to let me prove it to you?"

Prove it to him? Dean had to admit that he was intrigued. Castiel widened his eyes at Dean so they were even bigger than they had been a moment ago, and fluttered his eyelashes, and if Dean didn't know better he would say that Castiel was flirting with him. "What exactly do you mean?"

"I simply mean that I would like to spend some time with you, to show you around the school and get to know you."

Dean was a little disappointed. Not a date. Of course it wouldn't be a date, they'd just met five minutes ago and that would be completely ridiculous. He wasn't fucking Carly Rae Jepsen or whatever.

"I, uh, are you sure about that? I mean, Luke's your brother. I wouldn't want anyone to see you and me hanging out, that sounds like it'd start a few fights."

Castiel shrugged, quirking one eyebrow. "I give little thought to what Luke may think of my choice of companions. If he doesn't like it, he has no obligation to speak to me. It's not as though the two of us are forced to spend large amounts of time together. And besides, he eventually managed to survive learning that I was gay, so after that, who I choose to be friends with should be far simpler for him to come to terms with."

Dean swallowed hard again. There was no way Castiel had just dropped that into conversation by accident, no matter how innocent he might appear to be right now.

"Anyway," Castiel smiled. "I should perhaps give you my telephone number, nothing implied of course, but that way you can contact me if you ever do wish for someone to show you around the school, or if you just desire company." He pulled out his phone and handed it to Dean.

Dean handed over his own phone too. There was still no signal. "So, is it possible to get a connection somewhere round here, then?"

"Yes, usually in the strangest of locations. For example, I find that the laundry room in my buuilding, standing right between washers two and three, gives excellent service. It is also very pleasantly warm in there, I've been known to spend hours at a time just standing there."

Dean laughed. Castiel was a character, for sure. He took the phone and punched in his own number and his name, and then they exchanged phones once more.

Castiel hadn't put his name into the phone, so Dean hit the field to enter a name and began to type. But at that moment, a bell rang out across the lunch hall and the students everywhere began to stand up and clear their things away. Dean had barely touched his food.

"Well, I wish you a pleasant afternoon of lessons, Dean. I very much hope that it is an improvement upon your morning, and I shall hope to hear from you soon."

"Yeah, you too," Dean called after Castiel's retreating back, standing up himself and getting swept away in the tide of students hurrying to put their trays away and get to their afternoon classes on time. He had absolutely no idea where he was supposed to go before his religious studies class, so he shoved his phone into his pocket and didn't think anything more of it until he'd ran through five or six different corridors, taken several wrong turns, and finally found himself in a dingy attic classroom with an impossibly old professor and the largest collection of crosses on the wall that Dean had ever seen. Then, he pulled his phone out of his pocket again.

He'd only managed to type the first three letters - Cas.

He was about to press the screen so that he could finish typing the name, but then he stared for a little longer. Cas. That looked pretty good just as it was. If he was going to be friends with the guy, then he'd far rather call him Cas than Castiel.

"Cas," he whispered to himself under his breath. "Cas. Caaaas." He liked the feel of the name on his tongue, and he tried to draw it out. He didn't ever want to stop saying it.

He smiled to himself, a small, private smile as he put his phone away and focused on the whiteboard, waiting for his class to begin.

--

Chapter Text

three // the only way is down

The rest of the afternoon passed in much the same fashion as the morning. It didn't help that every class he went to was full of new people experiencing his voice and his thoughts for the first time, that every time a teacher called on him to answer a question about Year Ten material, it was apparently wrong. He'd thought GCSEs covered the same material everywhere, but maybe there were special different GCSEs for posh people, who the fuck knew. Anyway, that wasn't important. He reminded himself that he didn't actually care what happened to him, he really just needed to pass maths and English and maybe a couple of other subjects, to keep his head down and get out of here as quickly as possible, and to ignore everyone who was making fun of him and not lash out at them, no matter how much he might want to, so that he could get back out into the world and actually get a life. One year of this crap, and sure, maybe the insults were different, but they weren't actually any worse than the kind of shit he had to endure from his dad every day of his life.

At the end of the school day he shoved his pen (he'd lost the second one) and the half a pack of gum remaining into his pocket and headed back to his building. When he got there, Mr Shurley gave him a key to his room, one that overrode the lock on the door. Things were looking up, at least a little bit.

In the end, it was several days before Dean even caught a glimpse of Sam, caught up as he was in adjusting to life at school. On the first night, he didn't do any homework at all. On the second night, he reluctantly sat down to do a sheet of maths problems, before giving up halfway through. On the third night, he realized that he was going to have to start knuckling down and actually working unless he wanted to get into trouble, so he took out his books ready to get started on a history essay... and the fire alarm promptly rang for a drill. The whole of the house was ushered outside and forced to line up and be counted, while the kids from the other houses playing outside looked on and laughed.

It was clearly a sign, so once they were all told they were allowed to go back inside, Dean decided to take a walk. He strolled between the houses, but it was too busy there for his liking, and he was worried about getting accosted by somebody else. He walked up the path to the main building, where there were a few kids hanging around outside, but far less than there were nearer the houses. He ignored most of them, since lots of them were just couples making out in more secluded spots or something boring like that... and then he saw two young boys, smaller than most of the kids hanging out around here, wrestling on the grass. One of them, a kid with golden hair and a cheeky, lopsided grin, was on top of the other one, pinning him down.

Dean frowned and went over to take a closer look, and he was horrified to see that it was his brother. He broke into a run and yanked the kid off Sammy, pinning his wrists together so that he couldn't escape Dean's hold.

"What the hell are you doing? Don't mess with my brother, pal, okay?"

The kid tried to squirm out of Dean's grip. "I'm not doing anything to him, I swear!"

Sam stood up and brushed the grass off his clothes. He'd changed out of his school clothes, and that in itself surprised Dean. Usually, when Sam had been at primary school, he'd never taken his clothes off after school, just stayed in his logo polo shirts and pressed trousers for the entire night. But now, he was in jeans and a soft blue plaid shirt, looking far more casual than usual.

"Dean, go away! He's not doing anything wrong, we're just playing," Sam insisted, folding his arms and scowling at Dean, his cheeks bright red with embarrassment.

"Since when do you play fight? I know you, Sammy, it's fine. I've got him, I'll teach him a lesson."

"No, stop it!" Sam grabbed at Dean's shirt and tried to tug him away. "You're embarrassing me."

"Embarrassing you, am I? I'm trying to help you out here. Look, I can fight, I'll make sure nobody messes with my brother." If Dean couldn't stop people from being an asshole to him, he could sure as hell make sure they weren't like that to Sam.

The golden haired boy finally managed to wriggle out of his grip, and he returned to Sam's side. Now that they weren't fighting anymore, Dean could see that he was even smaller than Sam.

"I'm really sorry about him, Gabe," Sam mumbled, looking down at the ground. "He's not usually like this."

"No, you're the one who's not usually like this!" Dean burst out. "I mean, what's next for you, blowing off homework? Kissing girls behind the bike sheds? Smoking cigarettes?"

Sam's face turned an even brighter shade of red. "Look, can you just go away! I don't need you to take care of me or anything, I just wanna hang out with my friend, I don't need you babying me!"

He glanced towards Gabriel nervously. Dean looked between the two of them. Gabriel didn't look like he was actually trying to hurt Sam. Maybe Dean really had misread the whole situation. He felt kind of bad about it, if he was honest with himself.

"I'm sorry," he apologized in a small voice. "I'll go if you want me to. Just, if you ever need me, you know you can come find me, right? You know where I live?"

Sam rolled his eyes at Dean for the first time in his life. "Yeah, I know where you live, it's fine, I'll tell you I'll come find you if it'd make you feel better. Now can you please just go because I don't need my big brother hanging round me all the time."

Dean nodded. "Yeah. Course. If that's what you want."

He turned and left, heading back the way he came, and a moment later he heard both Sam and Gabriel burst into gales of laughter. He supposed they were probably laughing at him, at the stupid big brother who couldn't go five minutes without babying Sam, who clearly had nothing better to do than go round chasing away his kid brother's friends.

He walked through the archway that led into the main building and headed towards the sports fields, which were empty at this time of night now that the team practices were over. He flopped down onto the ground and just lay there for a while, hating himself.

He was a fucking dumbass, wasn't he? He couldn't let his little brother have a life, he had to just follow him around all the time and try to ruin things for him, because he hated the idea of Sam not needing him. Sam didn't need Dean, but Dean needed Sam. It wasn't supposed to be that way round, and it made him feel like shit. Sam was four years younger than him and yet he was smarter and had more friends and adjusted better to new things and was all around a better human being than Dean was. And Dean was so proud of him, but a tiny part of him resented Sam for it at the same time.

"Dean?"

Dean opened his eyes. Castiel Novak was standing over him in tight running gear that showed off his athletic figure, sweat beading on his forehead.

Dean was dreaming, or hallucinating. Clearly he'd crashed to the ground and hit his head without realizing it, because Castiel looked even better dressed like this than he did in his school uniform.

"Cas," he said in a hoarse whisper.

"Excuse me?"

Dean flushed, realizing he hadn't actually mentioned the nickname to Cas, even though he'd been calling him that in his head for several days now. "Uh, sorry. I kind of shortened your name, if you don't like it I don't gotta use it, I just thought-"

"No, it's no problem at all. I must say, the longer name always did feel a little clunky. Do you mind if I sit with you for a minute?"

Dean couldn't stop himself from smiling. Him, Dean Winchester, the guy who always stayed cool and aloof and kept a straight face - he was smiling because of Cas Novak. "Yeah, sure, go ahead."

Cas sat down and spread his legs, leaning down over each one of them in turn and stretching. Dean's eyes dropped to the bulge in Cas' running trousers before he forced himself to stare at some trees on the horizon or literally anything else to stop him from creepily ogling the boy in front of him.

After a moment, Cas sat up normally, gathering his legs to his chest. "Apologies. I usually go for a run in the evenings after finishing all my homework for the night. Keeps me in shape, and it's good to move around after sitting in one place for a long time."

Dean nodded as though he had any idea what Cas was talking about, when in actual fact he didn't run and he also didn't do homework, so this was hardly his area of expertise. "Right, yes, of course."

"What about you, Dean? Do you play any sports?"

Dean realized that he actually hadn't really contributed anything to the conversation thus far, and he attempted to change that. "You know, I've tried out a few things, dabbled in a few different sports at my last school, but I'm not really about being competitive..." He wasn't even impressing himself with this shit. "No, I'm totally lying. I actually suck at sports. I usually skive off PE and go hang out in town somewhere, to be honest."

He expected Cas to judge him, but his blue eyes looked as soft and kind as ever. "Understandable. That is still a form of exercise, though. I imagine you're walking into town, and walking is an excellent way to keep fit. In fact, it can be better than running, since running often actually damages the body."

Dean chuckled. "I didn't know that."

Cas nodded. "It's true. Still, I find the practice therapeutic, and as I am also on the athletics team, it is something of a prerequisite. I just make sure to stretch plenty afterwards to minimize any sort of damages."

"Yeah, that makes sense," Dean agreed. He still wasn't contributing anything. This was a total mess, Cas was far more interesting than him and would clearly see that any moment, and run sprinting off in the opposite direction. He had to say something. "So, uh, how's school going for you so far?"

Cas shrugged with one shoulder. "It's going. I'm very much looking forward to finishing up GCSEs so that I can specialize my subjects a little more. I don't have a huge amount of interest in some of the things I am forced to devote my time to these days."

"Oh yeah, like what? Come on, rant at me, Cas. Tell me what you hate," Dean grinned, leaning forward.

Cas raised an eyebrow. "Hate is a strong word, Dean." But his eyes glittered, betraying the truth behind his calm exterior. "That said, I do regularly clash with my physics teacher. He seems determined to convince us all that science is the only true way to live a life, and that it is far superior to any other areas of study. Personally, while I believe that science is a noble cause, I do not see it as better than the humanities, or the arts, or anything else that a human may choose to focus their life on. Therefore, I am constantly telling him how narrow minded he is, and how boring a place the world would be if it were composed of only physicists. It is our differences, after all, that enable us to stand out and forge relationships where we can learn from and improve each other."

Dean stared at him, his mouth open. When he got mad about someone, he usually just called them names. He wasn't usually able to come up with the kind of rational argument that Castiel had just presented there.

"Plus, his first name is Dick, and it is rather difficult to take that seriously."

Now that was more Dean's style. "Sounds like a pretty damn appropriate first name for him. You know, thinks he should be able to make the decisions on everything, and, uh, 'hard' to convince that he's wrong."

"Was that a pun, Dean Winchester?"

"It might have been."

Castiel began to laugh, actually laugh, not the controlled chuckles that Dean had seen from him in the past. This was a full on belly laugh, and even though it hadn't been one of Dean's best jokes, he joined in, because seeing Cas laugh like this was such an amazing sight. It filled him with warmth, too.

They both came back to themselves, shaking their heads and smiling. Cas checked his watch. "Well, the two of us should probably head back to our houses. We wouldn't want to be late for night time curfew. But could I perhaps see you tomorrow? We could study together after lessons, if you would like."

Dean couldn't think of many things worse than studying, but right at this moment in time, he couldn't think of many things better than spending more time with Cas. So he thought that the two might balance each other out, and he nodded. "Yeah, that actually sounds awesome. You wanna meet somewhere? The library?" He didn't actually know where the library was, but he was sure he could figure it out.

Cas thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. "I tend to avoid the library for studying, I prefer things to be quiet, the talking in there usually distracts me. Perhaps you could come to my room? I live in Wilde, and I'm allowed to sign you in so long as you leave before evening curfew. How does that sound?"

Dean nodded, his heart already beating faster at the thought of being in Cas' room. "Yeah, that sounds great! So I'll just... meet you outside the main door after class?"

"Yes, exactly," Cas nodded, smiling. "Hopefully the weather will be good, I would hate to think of you having to stand outside in the rain in order to wait for me."

Dean grinned, and he held back his thought, which was that he would happily wait outside in a literal tornado if it meant that he got to see Cas. God, he'd met this kid twice and he was still half convinced that Cas was spying on him and reporting back to his brother, and yet he was already so far gone for him that it was kind of embarrassing.

Cas stood up. "Well, I have a little excess energy, so I think I may run a final lap or two. But I am very much looking forward to seeing you tomorrow."

"Yeah, me too!" Dean sounded a little too excited by the prospect, and he quickly tried to make his voice sound more nonchalant. "I'll head back, gotta get plenty of sleep now so that I can buckle down and study hard tomorrow!"

Holy shit, that was the nerdiest thing he'd ever said. Clearly he was doing a far better job of fitting in here than he'd expected to.

Cas laughed and took off around the field once more, flying, blurring into the darkened sky, and Dean stood and watched him for a moment before turning and heading back to his house, his footsteps light, thoughts of Sam gone from his head.

The following day he waited outside Cas' house after last period, tapping his foot, anxious to see the boy again. Plenty of people gave him strange looks as they went past into the house. Luckily, Luke wasn't among them - he lived in one of the special houses for sixth formers, one with the private bedrooms and, so it was rumored, the secret stash of alcohol. Dean hadn't had a drink in almost a week now, and he was beginning to miss it, though he found that thinking of the way Cas smiled at him had almost the same effect.

Dean had ignored a particularly loud bout of whispers from a group of kids walking past him into the house when Cas showed up, alone. "Hello, Dean."

Dean jumped down from the fence. "Hey, mate!"

He cringed internally. Cas wasn't his mate. He called a lot of people 'mate', but that seemed like way too casual a term for Cas. He would have to keep thinking of something good to call him.

Cas didn't call him out on it. He just smiled and tapped in a keycode, so that he could let Dean in. He hid the keypad while he was doing it, but when he was done, he turned to Dean.

"Actually, this may be a little unorthodox, and I would prefer if you didn't tell anyone you know this. But the code to get into the building is four three eight one. Just in case you would ever like to let yourself in and come visit me when I am not around to let you in."

Dean nodded. "Uh, is it OK if I write that down? Cause otherwise I'm going to forget."

"By all means. I would hate to think of you out here trying every possible code combination you can think of and not remembering quite the right one."

Dean laughed, because honestly, that was something he could pretty easily picture happening. Apparently Cas already knew him that well.

He tapped down the number in his phone for future reference as Cas made a note in a book right inside the door that Dean had come to visit, and then led him up the stairs to his bedroom. Dean looked around the building. It looked much the same as his - similar wooden doors, similar nameplates, similar bulletin boards with anti drinking propaganda and such things. The only difference was that the color scheme here seemed to be green, rather than the blue that was common in Dean's building.

Cas knocked on his own door before letting himself in, and was met with a "Come in!"

Cas turned the key in the door. There was a boy already lying on one of the beds, wearing nothing but deep red silk boxer shorts, and he smirked at Dean with no shame whatsoever when he saw him.

Cas looked a little more awkward. "Dean, this is Balthazar, a friend of mine from the athletics team. Balthazar, this is Dean Winchester, he just started here this year."

Balthazar nodded. "Oh, yeah, I've heard all about you, Dean. You're the talk of the whole school. Came here from a state school, didn't you?"

Dean nodded, already sick of this, trying to stay polite because he should probably make an effort to get on with Cas' roommate if he wanted to be invited over here more often. "Yeah, I did. Lots of 'em, actually. Moved around a lot, probably not gonna be here long either."

He was so busy staring at Balthazar that he missed Cas' look of disappointment.

Balthazar stood up and pulled on a pair of baggy black jogging trousers and a tight, V-neck light blue T-shirt. He headed towards the door, brushing Castiel's shoulder and giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. "See you later, gorgeous," he called behind him as he swished out of the room.

Dean blinked. He hadn't been expecting that at all, and he re-adjusted the pieces in his mind, coming to a conclusion that was both sensible and horrifying all at once. "Wait, is he your boyfriend? Is that why you two-" He gestured between the two beds.

Cas blinked for a moment, trying to puzzle through what Dean meant, and then he laughed. "Oh! No, not at all. No, Balthazar just enjoys flirting with people, and is perhaps not the biggest fan of clothes. He's quirky, and I enjoy his company, but the two of us are nothing more than friends."

"Think he'd like to be more," Dean suggested, unable to hide all the bitterness in his voice.

Cas shrugged. "Perhaps. But I think he feels that way about a great many people, and I do not imagine that I am anything special to him."

That made Dean feel slightly better, especially when Cas turned the lock on the door so that the two of them were alone and pulled out a chair for Dean. "Anyway, people with no sense of boundaries aside. You and I will do some work and can reward ourselves with the occasional conversation. And if you have any questions about any of the work, feel free to disturb me, and I will do my best to help you."

Dean nodded in agreement, and started pulling his books out of his bag. It took him a few minutes to actually get into the rhythm of things, during which time he tapped his pen, fiddled with some keys on his laptop, turned off the internet so that he wouldn't get too tempted to constantly check his social media, turned his internet back on once he realized that he actually did need it for researching stuff for school, glanced around him to see what Cas was doing, stared out the window, and tapped his pen once more. But eventually, he actually did manage to settle down and do some work.

It was the strangest date he'd ever been on. Not that it was a date per se, but he didn't really have another word for it, so for the sake of argument he would call it that. Castiel seemed to have the attention span of an international chess player, and he barely moved or even twitched while he was staring down at his work. But at twenty minute intervals precisely, he would spin his chair around and engage Dean in some new topic of conversation, which could be anything from, "What is your opinion on whether policemen should be allowed to carry guns?" to "I noticed that you have a Pokemon keychain on your bag. What is your typical starter Pokemon?" Dean would answer the questions, whatever they were and no matter how much they threw him off, and then, after ten minutes precisely of discussion, Cas would call a halt - sometimes in the middle of one of their sentences - spin back round, and get right back to work, in complete silence. It was a little disorienting to Dean, who found it difficult to focus on anything for that length of time, but if it worked for Cas then he certainly wasn't going to disrupt the routine. And besides, he felt like he was really getting to know him.

After six cycles of this, Cas finally closed his laptop and stood up, stretching and loosening his tie. "Well, I do believe that is all the homework I have for now. How are you doing with yours, Dean?"

Dean had made some progress at least, but he was nowhere near done. He knew that with the amount he got distracted by the smallest things, such as the urgent need to draw a cake on Microsoft Paint, he could be here all night and still probably not be completely done. "Uh, yeah, I'm doing good too. Pretty much done, can totally finish up now." He shut his laptop too.

Cas nodded, though he looked a little skeptical. "In that case, I believe I may take my evening run. I will of course have to sign you out of the building at this point, but you are welcome to join me, if you would care to."

Dean frowned. "I don't think me running is a good idea. I'll only slow you down, and I'll, like, complain non stop and tell you I can't do it and basically be the shittiest running partner you could possibly imagine."

Cas waved a hand. "Up to you."

"I mean, I could watch you," Dean backtracked quickly. "I dunno if that'd be too weird for you or anything, but I could sit by the side, get some fresh air, you could come see me if you wanted a break... I dunno, just a thought."

Cas paused, and then smiled. "Of course, Dean. That would be lovely."

"Great!" Dean grinned, turning to gather up the rest of his things and put them away in his bag. When he turned back around, Castiel was completely shirtless.

Dean blinked and stared as Cas reached into his closet for one of his tight Lycra running tops, and pulled it over his head. The muscles in Cas' shoulders rippled as he moved, and Dean couldn't take his eyes off of them. Holy shit, even Cas' back was that beautiful tanned golden color, and that put a lot of interesting questions in Dean's mind. Was his skin naturally that color, or had he just been outside a lot without a shirt on this past summer? And if so, would he maybe be willing to do that next summer, and perhaps invite Dean to spend some time with him while he did so?

Dean put the thoughts out of his mind and turned away when he saw Cas reaching for his trousers. He was a gentleman, after all.

Well, no he wasn't, not usually, but it was different when it came to Cas. He wasn't going to take advantage of him if he could help it, wasn't going to do anything to mess up this friendship, or whatever it was.

"Ready when you are, Dean," Cas announced a moment later, and Dean turned to see him now fully decked out in his running gear, this time with out of those headbands uses to pull his hair off his face, giving him a little bit of a quiff, which was kind of adorable.

Dean stood up and swung his rucksack over his shoulder. "Let's go."

--

Chapter Text

four // i spy

For the first few weeks that he was at school, Dean decided which of his classes he hated least based on how many people in them made his life a living hell. It was a good and effective system, he found - if the teacher hated him just as much as the kids did, it was an especially bad time, but if the teacher didn't treat him like complete shit, then the kids would have to keep their voices down as well, and that made things a little easier for him.

Just a little.

But it was a while before he actually started to figure out which lessons he liked . In the other schools he'd been to, he typically liked PE, because he was good at it and it was an excuse to throw other people around and show off. Here, PE was a completely different ball game - no pun intended. And he couldn't get to grips with all the weird, fancy sports he was forced to deal with, so he didn't bother trying.

But some of the classes maybe weren't as bad as he'd originally been expecting, as much as he hated to admit that. For example, maths - that was usually the thing it was least cool to like, and while Dean wasn't saying he woke up every morning excited to do maths, he also didn't find himself completely dreading it. Then there was English, which depending on what they were studying, wasn't so bad either. Poetry was still dull, but some of the other stuff they talked about was pretty interesting.

But the class he found himself doing best of all in was chemistry. He'd liked the teacher from the very first day, when she'd began class by scooping up a heap of bubbles from a bucket into her hands and then setting them on fire. In their second lesson, they'd set fire to gummy bears in test tubes. At the start of the third week of classes, they'd created a rocket and shot it across the hallway into another classroom where a group of Year Sevens were patiently being taught about the structure of plant cells, possibly permanently traumatizing some of them.

And there was the added bonus that when everyone was having so much fun in the class, they didn't fuck with him as much as they would otherwise. Or rather, everyone fucked with everyone, so it didn't matter. People would always go around cutting holes in each other's lab coat pockets so that test tubes casually placed into them would fall out and shatter on the ground, or surreptitiously add extra chemicals to whatever somebody was working on so that a reaction went in a completely unexpected direction, and it felt like the kind of place where you were never quite sure what was going to happen next. Sure, at any moment the classroom could probably blow up, but Dean tried not to think too hard about that. Besides, he trusted Mrs Mills.

And Dean found himself gravitating towards his Chemistry homework before he started on any other kind of homework, purely because he had better feelings and memories from that class than any other, so he didn't dread it as much even if he had a long worksheet to get done. So he always finished the work for that class on time, and he was getting it handed back with As in the corner.

And then one day, Mrs Mills called him back after class, asking him to stay behind and talk to her.

Dean was terrified that the bubble had burst, that he'd clearly fucked something up and made her realize for the first time that he actually wasn't part of the crowd. Of course. It had been guaranteed to happen sooner or later.

He sighed and stuffed his goggles into the pocket of his lab coat, hanging them up on the rack at the side, and then made his way over to her desk. "Yeah?"

She raised an eyebrow. "Everything alright, Dean?"

Dean nodded. "Yeah, it's fine, what d'ya wanna talk about?"

For a moment she didn't speak, just rummaged in the drawer below her test. Then, she fished out an old paper and dropped it on her desk.

Dean stared at it. "What is this, remedial work? I know I'm kinds stupid, but I didn't think I was doing that badly."

She looked up at him in surprise. "Remedial work? No, quite the opposite. It's an old past paper for the Chemistry Olympiad. It's a challenge for students that excel in Chemistry, a paper that goes beyond the work required in the classroom. If you do well, you'll get a medal, which looks excellent on your university applications in the future. We also have a team who do group events together, so even if you don't do so well - since these are high level problems, far beyond the usual requirements - you'll still get to know some new people."

"What?" Dean scoffed. Stuff like this existed? People voluntarily did this? In their free time?

"Do you need me to explain further?" she frowned.

"No - I just - you've got the wrong guy. I don't know who you meant to talk to about this, but it definitely wasn't me, cause I'm not, I'm not who you're looking for for something like this, I don't know anything about this kind of shit."

"That doesn't matter, Dean. You don't have to know anything about it, nobody does at the start. Just take the paper, have a look through it, get a feel for the kind of questions that are asked. You can come to me if you're not sure about anything."

"No, you need to keep this for... for whoever it's meant for. Cause I'm not the smartest kid in that class, and I'm not who you want."

She sighed, steepling her hands together under her chin. "Dean, I assure you I know exactly who I am talking to. I have a couple of other students I'm planning to talk to about this, yes. But I have very high hopes for you. You're very creative, which is a skill that comes in useful a surprising amount in the sciences."

He shook his head, confused. "They don't wanna get to know me, anyway. They'll be pissed if I suddenly start showing up to their meetings or whatever."

She picked up the paper and shoved it into his chest. "Just have a look. You're not committing to doing chemistry for the rest of your life. I just want you to read it."

Dean thought it would be kind of rude to throw the paper back in her face right now, especially after everything nice that she'd said to him, so he just nodded and stumbled out of the classroom, not really thinking straight. His head spun as he walked back to his dorm, and he clutched the paper in one fist, crumpling it without really meaning to, trying to ground himself. He didn't remember or even really experience the walk back, and the first concrete thing he felt was when he was just walking up to the door of his house, and a voice called, "Dean!"

That was a voice that Dean had gotten to know pretty damn well over the past few weeks. He turned and saw Castiel Novak, dressed for the weekend already in a soft looking blue sweater and jeans. "Hey, Cas," he grinned, the confusion leaving him, because Cas was someone who could make him feel immediately better just by being around.

Cas grinned back. "Hey, sorry for showing up without letting you know earlier, but I wanted to ask you if... if you'd be interested in coming to see me tomorrow. There's an athletics event, the last one of the season this year, I'll be doing a few races, and it's happening right here. And if you'd rather stay inside and take a day in be then I understand, but-"

Dean was already nodding. "Don't be dumb, Cas, of course I wanna see you, you're... you're... you're Cas." It was as good an explanation as any. Cas was Cas, and Dean couldn't imagine choosing 'not Cas' over 'Cas' ever.

"Excellent," Cas nodded. "In that case, I shall meet you here outside your building at seven forty-five precisely. Don't be late, I need to get over to the field in enough time to do my stretches."

"Seven forty-" Dean choked, almost revising his earlier opinion, but not quite.

"Yes indeed, Dean. In fact, you're lucky. This is one of the later ones, many of them begin at seven or even earlier."

"You're messing with me," Dean mumbled.

"I am not. There will be free hot dogs for lunch tomorrow."

The combination of free hot dogs and Cas was good enough to strengthen Dean's resolve, so he agreed. "Fine, fine, I'll be there, I'll meet you here tomorrow morning."

"I look forward to seeing you then." Cas gave him a quick salute and turned to walk away.

"Wait!" Dean called him back before he even had a chance to think about it, as though every part of him wanted Cas to stick around so badly that they didn't have time to tell his brain.

Cas turned back, and Dean held out the paper to him.

"My chemistry teacher gave me this."

Castiel took it, frowning, reading over the cover sheet. Then, understanding dawned. "Dean, this is wonderful, I had no idea you were doing so well. I will help you practice, if you'd like, and of course support you."

"No, you don't understand." Dean ran his fingers through his hair and started pacing back and forth on the path. "You read that page and you - you knew exactly what it was, right away. Me, I had no idea, I'd never heard of anything like that, she had to explain it for ages before I finally figured out what she was on about. I'm not supposed to do stuff like this, I'm doing the minimum possible to get by. She said it was good for getting into university. I ain't going to university, not ever, I'm getting the hell out of here and going back to work with my dad and I definitely won't have any use for anything like this! If I did it and he found out, he'd probably punch me into next Sunday!"

"Shhh," Cas tried to calm him, grabbing Dean's arm and stopping him from pacing. He ran his thumb gently over Dean's wrist, refusing to let go of him. "Dean, it's okay, it's okay, I didn't realize."

Dean sighed and shook his head. "Yeah, well, you're the only one. Cause everyone else can see that I don't belong here, that I'd just be trying to be something I'm not if I even gave the past paper a go. It's a really bad idea, Cas."

"Are you interested in it, though?" Cas asked. "The material, that is. If it was just for you and nobody else was ever going to know about it, and you didn't have to see their reactions, and there was no purpose for it - would you want to learn more of the material? Are you interested in that kind of challenge?"

Dean frowned. "I don't know?"

Cas gave him a patient smile. "You should at least try to figure that out. What... what do you like to do? If you didn't have to do anything, what would you spend your time doing?"

Dean frowned harder. His headache was already way too bad to think about this. "I don't fucking know, Cas, I really don't. Watch movies, probably. Hang out with you. Eat lots of food. Try to get Sammy over once in a while if he wasn't too busy. That kinda stuff, you know?"

Cas nodded. He looked disappointed in Dean, somehow, appraising him.

Dean felt anger rise up in his chest. "Well, what the hell did you expect me to say? That I'd be... I dunno, developing a new kind of rocket fuel or something? You think I've got secret big dreams like that hidden away that I just never had a chance to try until now? Cause I don't. People are right. This stupid kid from a council estate who's going nowhere, that's all there is. What you see is what you get. Understood?"

"I'm sorry." Cas cast his eyes down to the ground. "I'll see you tomorrow, Dean."

He turned and walked away, and Dean didn't call him back this time, because he didn't have anything else to say. He wanted to tell Cas that it was alright, but he knew it wasn't alright, because clearly Cas had been expecting more from him than Dean was able to give him. It wasn't like it was Dean's fault for giving him those expectations, but still. Still.

Instead, he just watched Cas until he was back inside his own house safely, and then Dean turned and let himself in. He didn't go back to his bedroom, because that wasn't a place where he could be alone, and instead he went to the laundry room. Using the advice Kevin had given him, he curled up in the space between washers two and three and pulled out his cell phone. The reception was impeccable, and a warm breeze from the central heating system blew over his head. His back hurt, pressed up against a pipe, but it was nothing he couldn't live with.

He tossed his phone hand to hand a few times, contemplating calling his brother, but in the end he just shot off a quick text. Hey Sammy. Hope you're had a good week. There's an athletics event happening tomorrow that I'm going to if you wanted to come hang out. No sweat if you've got plans. Miss you. -D

Then he rested his head against one of the washers and started playing cell phone games, not stopping even though he was bored out of his mind, because going back up to his room felt like too shitty of a prospect right now.

--

The following morning, Cas met him bright and early outside the building. The weather was starting to get cold, and consequently Dean was wrapped up warm in several layers of plaid. Cas was dressed in his running clothes the same as ever, and shivering a little bit, though clearly trying not to show it.

"You cold?" Dean raised an eyebrow.

Cas shook his head. "Just a little. As soon as I have begun my warm up stretches I will be fine. They are appropriately named, after all."

Dean chuckled, and it didn't feel awkward. It felt like their conversation yesterday hadn't even happened. Dean still kind of felt like he was lying to Cas about something - he wasn't even sure what - but at the same time, the fact that Cas had shown up today was definitely a positive sign.

"Alright, fine," Dean grumbled, feeling oddly protective of Cas. "But you shoulda brought a coat or something. Always make Sammy wear a coat whenever he goes out anywhere and it's cold, even if he says he won't need it. Just in case."

Cas chuckled. "Of course you do, and you are an excellent brother for doing so. However, I assure you that I am old enough and sensible enough to suffer through a few minutes of the cold."

Dean wrinkled his nose, but let it go, and the two of them headed over to the field together. There weren't really any spectators yet besides Dean, who sat down close to the running track start line and watched Cas do his stretches. Just as he'd promised, by the time he was done he was a little flushed and no longer shivering.

The closest thing to this Dean had ever experienced was a school sports day - a few hundred kids running around in brightly colored T-shirts, badly organized, cheap medals made out of tin lids given to the kids who won prizes, nobody where they were supposed to be, usually rained off by lunchtime and relocated to a party in the school hall where people got sick from too much orange juice.

But this was clearly more professional, everyone here knew what they were doing, like at the Olympics on TV. Except longer and slower, because Dean was watching everything, not just the highlights. He watched Cas get ready for his races for a while, and then drifted off into a daydream of Cas himself at the Olympics, Dean in the front row, cheering him on, Cas winning the gold and then stepping up to give an acceptance speech during which he pointed towards Dean and thanked him for his hard work, the whole audience's eyes on both of them...

The daydream was a good distraction, and before Dean knew it Cas was being called for his race. He jumped to his feet and started yelling and cheering, getting a jump start on the role he'd just assigned himself of Cas' biggest supporter. When Cas turned to look at him, his cheeks were bright red and he looked a little unfocused.

The referee blew the whistle and Cas took off round the track for the eight hundred meters. Dean put in one headphone and closed his eyes for a moment, letting Metallica drift through his ears and smiling, so that he could listen to some music while he watched Cas kick some serious running ass. Dean opened his eyes just in time for Castiel to come back into view, zipping round the running track, keeping pace with everybody else. Dean crossed his fingers on the ground where he sat, hoping against hope that Cas was going to pull ahead.

He didn't close his eyes in the second lap, keeping note of Cas' position and watching closely. It seemed like Cas had a strategy here, running at the same speed as everyone else, making them think that he was good, but not too good, storing up enough energy for the last minute. Because Cas looked determined, not quite as tired as everyone else who was running.

And, true to form, in the last hundred metres, everybody sped up, but Cas sped up most of all, propelling himself forward and becoming almost a blur. He tumbled over the finish line at what looked like exactly the same moment as the guy who had been in first place throughout the whole race, and Dean leapt to his feet and cheered.

The two referees conferred for a moment, and then nodded. One of them picked up the megaphone and stepped forwards.

"In first place, Alfie Godson! In second place, Castiel Novak! In third..."

Cas jogged back over to Dean, somehow still having enough energy in him for that, and flopped on the grass next to him, red in the face.

"You were robbed," Dean told him. "You totally won that."

Cas shrugged, tired. "They know what they're talking about. I am sure he won fair and square. I put in my best performance, and that is all I can ever do."

"You're not even a little bit mad?"

"Disappointed in myself, yes. Mad at the referees, no."

Dean shook his head, wondering if there was anything in the world that genuinely made Cas angry, and held out the other headphone. "Here. This'll make you feel better."

The music had changed now, and You Shook Me All Night Long was playing, one of Dean's all time favorite songs.

Cas took the headphone and frowned at it for a moment, as though he wasn't quite sure what to do with it, and then he placed it inside his ear. He tilted his head to one side, squinting. "What is this?"

"This is AC/DC! You don't know it?"

Cas shook his head. "I have never heard of them."

"Never heard of... then what the hell do you listen to?"

"I'm not sure I should tell you," Cas bit his lip. "You would most likely dismiss it as too pretentious and never want to speak to me again."

Dean snorted. "Oh my God, you're a prog rock guy, aren't you?"

Cas blushed, but didn't deny it.

"You are! I bet all the songs on your iPod are twenty minutes long with weird lyrics about fairy tales from medieval times or some shit, and-"

Dean was cut off when another person half-sat, half-fell on the ground next to them, draping himself all over Castiel. It was Balthazar. "Hey there, gorgeous. You're looking good today," he grinned at Cas, licking his lips.

Dean glared at Balthazar, but apparently Balthazar was far too busy staring at Cas to even notice.

"I just got done running, Balthazar, I highly doubt I look good right now."

Dean chuckled under his breath.

"Yes, but you all sweaty like that does conjure up certain other ideas." Balthazar smirked, and Dean felt anger rise up inside him. He knew that Balthazar was completely within his rights to flirt with Cas, especially as Cas didn't seem to be bothered by it. But still, he didn't want to watch it happen. So he sat there quietly and seethed.

Cas raised an eyebrow. "Shouldn't you be getting ready for the pole vault instead of thinking about such things?"

"Such things are far more interesting, though, wouldn't you say?" Balthazar shifted so that he was even closer to Cas, if that were even possible.

"Perhaps those thoughts should be a reward for if you win."

"Perhaps the reality would be a better reward."

Castiel smiled and fluttered his eyelashes at Balthazar. "Come back if you win and we'll see."

Balthazar waggled his eyebrows at Cas, then got up and walked away to do his stretches. As soon as he was out of earshot, Cas turned to Dean and said, confidently, "He won't win. He's good, but there are a couple of national level champions here today, and Balthazar doesn't have a chance against them."

Dean didn't know what to make of that.

--

Chapter Text

five // glory days

Every morning on his way to and from class, Dean glanced over at Sam's boarding house, hoping against hope that he'd just happen to run into Sam as he came out of it. He missed the kid more than breathing. But it took a few weeks before he actually did spot him, and when he did, he jogged over, pretending it was just a casual encounter.

"Sam! I feel like we haven't even talked since school started, I never see you anymore."

He reached to wrap Sam up in a hug, but Sam smartly ducked away from him and fell into step by Dean's side. "Yeah, that's cause I'm busy. I have homework and clubs and stuff."

"Homework? You're eleven. I swear I didn't get homework when I was eleven."

"Well, that's cause you never paid attention in class," Sam pointed out, sounding very superior. "Maybe there was homework but you just didn't hear the teacher telling you about it."

Dean wanted to protest, but he knew Sam was right. "What are you up to now? You wanna go hang out somewhere?"

"I have to go to the music rooms to practice my violin. You can come if you like."

Dean frowned. Since when did Sam even play the violin? Apparently he'd missed even more than he thought. He was sure that his brother was amazing, though, so he nodded and followed him to the music rooms.

Sam seemed to know exactly what he was doing, of course. He stood on tiptoes to reach a locker and punched in a code, opening it up and pulling out a violin case and a practice book. He led Dean into a small, closet-sized room with nothing but a couple of chairs and stand in it, adjusted the stand to his height - and it might have been Dean's imagination, but Sam definitely seemed to be getting taller - before opening the book to his page of choice and opening up the case.

"So. Tell me about your lessons, how's stuff going?"

"They're really good! We're doing a big project in Geography on the water cycle so my friends and I are making this big model of a mountain with a river flowing down it, and we're gonna try to make it so that it uses real water, and it's gonna show the different parts of the river and erosion and how oxbow lakes are formed and the different wildlife that use the river so I have to go work with them on that as soon as I'm done with this," Sam babbled as he polished his bow and took his stance.

Dean was still hovering awkwardly, not sure if he was allowed to sit down, despite there being chairs there for spectators. He hadn't even understood half of those things Sam had said. Which was no change to usual, really, but even so... it was kind of disheartening, and as much as he was proud of Sam, he couldn't help but feel that he'd been kind of left behind.

"So what about you? You doing any cool projects in your lessons?"

Dean wasn't doing any cool projects, just GCSE practice papers, and he was sure that if he had been assigned cool projects, he would have nobody to work on them with and no ideas on how to make them any good. And he didn't want to tell Sam about how his lessons were actually going, so he decided to talk about the one good thing in his life.

"Nah, I don't have any cool projects, just boring stuff, don't wanna talk about it. But I've made a friend. He's your friend's brother, Cas Novak, you know him?"

"Yeah, Gabe says he talks about you."

Dean's heart fluttered in his chest and he straightened up, smiling. "Really?"

Sam frowned. "Yes, really. You guys are friends, why wouldn't he talk about you?"

Dean shrugged. "I dunno. Just asking. Anyway, we hang out lots, I study in his room cause my roommate's kind of a cunt - I mean, sorry, he's kind of a... not very nice... person..."

"Dean, I know swear words, you don't need to hide them from me. Gabriel swears all the time."

"Oh, does he?" Dean made up his mind to get Cas to give Gabriel a stern talking to. He was supposed to be the one to teach Sam all the bad words, not Gabriel.

"Yeah, and you can stop being all protective, it's not like you're any better. Tell me more about Cas."

Dean scowled. "Fine. Yeah. We study together, well, he studies and I just play video games or read books but he thinks I'm studying cause I want him to think I'm smart, you know? And he's on the athletics team and I've gone to watch him practice and run in his competitions and he's really really good, he could do it professionally if he wanted to, but he doesn't, he wants to be a social worker and help people and he's going to be amazing at it and he works so hard and he's good at everything and he's nice to me and he actually likes me and I've never had a friend like him before, you know? And I just wanna hang out with him all the time and I wish I could spent the holidays with him and stuff even though I know Dad would be weird about that, but he's just, he's great, he's the best person I've ever known, and even though I don't know why he'd wanna hang out with me when he has all these fancy posh friends too, he does and..."

"You like him," Sam smirked.

"Yeah, course I like him. He's my best friend, I guess. Never had a best friend before, it's kind of girly, but he's definitely the person I hang out with most."

"No, you like like him," Sam explained, his voice painfully slow. "As in, you have a crush on him. You wanna kiss him. You wanna marry him..."

Dean scoffed, shaking his head. "Don't be stupid, Sammy. I don't wanna marry him, he's just, he's good company is all."

"Dean and Cas, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!" Sam sang.

"Shut the fuck up. Practice your violin."

"First comes love, then comes marriage-"

"Sam, I'm warning you-"

"Then comes a baby in a golden carriage!"

Sam picked up his bow and started to play, drowning out Dean's protests.

Dean sank down onto the closest chair, shaking his head. Sam was talking out of his ass. Of course he didn't like Cas in that way, not at all. It was just that he was the only person to really be nice to Dean since he'd arrived there, and the one thing in this whole stupid school that really made Dean happy. So of course Dean was going to want to spend time with him. And there was nothing more to it than that. And if Dean maybe caught himself staring at Cas' lips a little bit longer than he was supposed to, or admired the way those runner's shorts clung to Dean's ass, well, that didn't really mean anything. It was just an aesthetic appreciation of someone who was objectively attractive. Everyone thought Cas was attractive, after all, it wasn't as though Dean hadn't seen the stares the guy got.

Sam continued to play, and it wasn't Led Zeppelin or anything Dean usually liked, but he supposed the kid was good, especially for someone who had not long started playing. He gave Sam the thumbs up at the end of each piece, along with his own special brand of compliments that were usually something along the lines of, "Congratulations, you've been accepted into the next round of Britain's Got Talent!" Every time, Sam smiled and tried to hide his blush, moving quickly onto the next piece instead of replying to Dean.

It was nice, and Dean had forgotten quite how much he'd missed his brother.

At the end of the hour, Sam packed up his things and headed back towards the boarding houses to meet up with his friends. He turned to Dean. "You know, maybe you should actually talk to Cas about stuff other than how smart he is or how fluffy his hair is or whatever. Cause Gabriel reckons he likes you too. So one of you is gonna have to pull your head out of your arse and actually say something."

Sam skipped away before Dean even had a chance to reply, and Dean scowled. He took back everything he'd just said about missing Sam. That kid was a menace, plain and simple.

--

"Dean, would you like to borrow my coat?"

The weather was getting colder. Dean was shivering as he walked between classes each day, his blazer nowhere near enough to keep out the December chill. Usually it wasn't too bad, because most of the classrooms were now updated enough to have central heating, which meant that he only had to spend five minutes or so in the cold at any one time. But when it came to watching Castiel practice, that was a solid couple of hours outside, and Dean usually felt like a block of ice by the end of the time.

Dean looked at the trench coat that Castiel was bundled up in as they walked over to the fields. It didn't exactly look very warm, but Cas wasn't shivering and he didn't have the same goosebumps that Dean had, so maybe it was more effective than it looked. "I, I'm not that cold, it's fine."

Cas rolled his eyes and rubbed Dean's arm with one hand. The touch made Dean shiver again, but in an entirely different way. "If you say so, Dean. Either way, I won't be wearing my coat while I run, so I will leave it next to you, and you are welcome to put it on if you would like to."

Dean blushed. He definitely liked the idea of wearing Cas' coat, not that he was going to admit it. He waited until Cas was halfway round the running track, as far away from Dean as he was possibly going to get, before putting on the coat. It was slightly too big on Cas, which meant it fit Dean perfectly, and he was surprised to find himself warming up unexpectedly fast. There were blue mittens and a scarf in the pocket, hand knitted, which Dean put on too - not that he'd usually be caught dead in mittens, but there was nobody around but him and Cas. Most of the kids on the sports teams only practiced when they had to once the weather got this cold, but not Cas. Cas was far too motivated and hardworking and all around perfect for that.

Dean let himself sink into the soft material of Cas' clothes and closed his eyes for a moment. As much as he hated to admit it, he supposed Sam was right. The idea of kissing Cas and cuddling up to him and taking him out to dinner, that wasn't the most repulsive thing Dean has ever experienced. Not that it mattered, because he certainly wasn't going to say anything about it. But in his own mind, he could admit that Cas was attractive and nice and that this trench coat was very much made of boyfriend material.

Dean snorted to himself at his terrible pickup line, and it was at that exact moment that Cas jogged over to him, wiping his own forehead and collapsing down on the ground, having just finished up his run. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing," Dean insisted, eyes widening as he turned to look at Cas. "I was just, uh, thinking about, uh, something I saw on TV last night."

It was a lame excuse and they both knew it, but Cas let him have it. He stretched and then jumped up, holding out a hand to pull Dean to his feet. "Come on. They're serving Christmas hot chocolate in the dining hall tonight to celebrate decorating the school for the holidays. It's a tradition, it happens on the first of December every year. The choir sings, the teachers sit with the students, everyone gets to hang out together and have a good time."

Sitting with his teachers definitely wasn't Dean's idea of a good time. Sitting with Cas and drinking hot chocolate, however? That sounded a whole lot better. He completely forgot that he was still bundled up in Cas' clothes as the two of them walked side by side to the dining hall, their arms occasionally brushing against one another, sending sparks of warmth through Dean's body.

"Peppermint stick?" Dean asked, holding one out to Cas as they made their way along the hot chocolate station. Cas opened his mouth to answer, and Dean shoved it in his mouth. Cas sputtered and pulled it out, and then dunked it straight in Dean's cup of hot chocolate, laughing.

"Did you just- that was too far, man, too far!" Dean burst out laughing, but left the peppermint stick in.

"That'll teach you to violate my mouth," Castiel laughed back, dipping his fingers in hot chocolate and flicking them at Dean. A few drops landed on the trench coat he was wearing.

They were both still laughing as they filled their cups with marshmallows and then found seats in the dining hall, squishing close together to have enough room. The place was loud and full of energy, and Dean supposed that it did feel Christmassy, if you liked that sort of thing. Huge trees had been set up all around the hall, decorated with purple and silver tinsel and baubles - school colors - as well as twinkling white lights and angels on the top. More tinsel and holly had been strung up around the room, and the student artwork that usually adorned the walls had been replaced with season specific paintings - the school covered in snow, kids exchanging presents in the common room, the yearly carol concert, and other equally cheesy stuff. Dean took the opportunity to lean against Cas as he sipped his hot chocolate and looked around the room.

"Hey, Cas!"

Dean recognized that voice. He turned to his left and saw that Balthazar had snuck in on their other side, forcing his way onto the bench and making room for himself too. Dean scowled. Of all the people he wasn't happy to see, Balthazar took first place. Well, second after Luke. Maybe third after Bela... But still. He didn't like the way Balthazar treated Cas like he was his property, or something stupid like that.

"Hello, Balthazar." Cas gave him a polite smile.

"So. I was wondering. I'm heading up to London this weekend to do some Christmas shopping. Gonna be a good time, I'll go to Harrods and buy everything I need to get, then sneak into a bar somewhere for cocktails... won't be as much fun on my own, though, so I've been looking for you, hoping you'll come with me. How bout it, gorgeous?"

Castiel's eyes widened at the nickname and he blinked, trying to find his voice. Dean's face fell. He'd been having such a good day until Balthazar had just walked in like that and ruined it by asking Cas on what Dean could only assume was a date. And now he was going to have to pretend to be all happy and excited for Cas, while...

"Thankyou for the offer, Balthazar, but Dean and I already have plans to go Christmas shopping in Brighton this weekend."

Dean blinked. "We do?"

"Yes, we discussed it the other night while we were studying for your biology test, remember?"

Dean remembered the biology test. He remembered letting Castiel explain plant genetics to him, and actually understanding some of it, but also spending a fairly inappropriate amount of time just gazing into Castiel's eyes, watching him get completely involved in his explanation. He didn't at all remember any discussions of Christmas shopping trips in Brighton.

"Oh, well. I'm sure you and I would have a far better time, but it's fine if you don't want to disappoint him," Balthazar shrugged, sounding like he was trying far too hard to remain unaffected. "Your loss, I guess."

He stood up and walked away back towards where the hot chocolate was being served, his head held high.

"Sorry about that," Cas apologized. "I know we didn't actually have plans, but I don't particularly want to spend the whole day with Balthazar. I apologize for using you in my deception."

"It's, no, it's fine," Dean replied, surprised. Did Cas really not want to go out with Balthazar? He'd always just assumed... "I, uh, did you actually want to go shopping with me this weekend, or did you just want to get rid of him?"

"Well, Christmas shopping is necessary. I have a large family and a lot of presents that I need to buy. So if you were free, and interested... I cannot think of anyone I would rather go shopping with."

Dean nodded. He wanted to go shopping with Cas, too. Not that he was the biggest fan of shopping, but he felt like he'd do anything Cas invited him to. Except... "Dude, I'd like to, but I don't have any money. Like, I gotta buy for Sam and my dad and Bobby but they're just gonna be little things from a Tesco's or something, I can't splash out on them like you're probably going to, I don't want things to get weird..." He wanted to buy for Cas too, though he couldn't imagine what he could possibly get Cas that the kid didn't already have.

Cas placed his hand on top of where Dean's was on the table. Dean stiffened, not expecting the touch, and stared down at their joined hands.

"Dean, if you'd rather not come shopping, then I don't mind at all. However, if you would like to go, then I promise you that I will not think any less of you for buying small things for your family. I am also happy to help you out if you would like to get them something more elaborate, however, I understand if you do not want to accept that help."

Dean looked up at Cas and gave him a shy nod. "Yeah. Alright then. It'd be good to get away from school for a bit. I'll come shopping."

--

Cas was outside Dean's dorm building early on Saturday morning, insisting that the trains to Brighton were going to get busy quickly. Dean managed to drag himself out of bed and run his fingers through his hair, giving the finger to a still sleeping Crowley. He pulled on a shirt and a sweater over his jeans - he still didn't have a coat, but hopefully they'd be inside shops most of the time - and found his wallet, which contained eighteen pounds and forty-six pence, which was all he had to buy Christmas presents for the four important people in his life. Then, he ran downstairs, signed out of the building for the day, and headed outside into the chilly breeze to meet Cas.

Cas was wearing the same trench coat he usually had on, but instead of his school clothes he wore jeans and a striped red and white rugby shirt. It was a color Dean hadn't seen on him before, but it definitely suited him. "Hey. You, uh, you look nice."

Cas smiled in surprise. "Thankyou, Dean. You look lovely too, as usual. Won't you be cold?"

"Probably," Dean shrugged. "Don't have a coat, though. Used to wear my dad's leather jacket when it got cold, but he wouldn't let me bring it with me, so now it's just me and a few jumpers.

"You can wear mine, if you'd like."

"Well, then you'd be cold, and I'm not having that," Dean insisted.

It felt strange walking out of the gates of the school, after being cooped up there for such a long time - like they were doing something they weren't supposed to be doing. Dean had expected that they'd walk to the station, since it was only a couple of miles, but there was a taxi waiting for them outside the gates, idling on the curb. Cas held the car door open for Dean and greeted the taxi driver by name as they climbed inside, paying as soon as they got to the station, before Dean had a chance to even offer to help out.

On the train down to Brighton, the two of them ate the pastries that Cas had brought with him for breakfast and played games as they watched the scenery go by. Cas explained that I Spy and word association were games he used to play on long car journeys with his family. Dean had experienced his fair share of long car journeys, but the only game he remembered playing was 'how long can I bite my tongue and not tell Dad that I'm hungry or need the toilet or feel sick because I don't want him to get mad', so this was a refreshing change.

"Alright. I spy with my little eye, something beginning with T."

Cas narrowed his eyes, studying Dean. "Is it inside or outside the train?"

"Inside."

Cas glanced around the train. "Hmm. This is a tricky one."

"Well, it ain't supposed to be easy," Dean laughed.

Cas rolled his eyes and pointed to a man sitting across from them, sipping from a hot cup. "Tea."

"Pretty damn sure that's coffee at this hour of the morning. Nope."

The man set his tea down on the pull out tray on the back of the seat, and Cas' eyes lit up. "Tray!"

"Nope."

Cas glanced around again, and spotted a woman sitting nearby, texting. "Telephone."

"What the hell do you think this is, 1930? I've never used the word telephone in my life."

"Hmm..." Cas was silent for a few moments, completely stumped, before finally looking down at himself. "Trench coat!"

"We have a winner!" Dean laughed, holding up his hand for a high five. Cas accepted, grinning. "Nice one."

Cas leaned back in the seat and glanced out of the window, smiling happily. "Alright, my turn. I spy with my little eye, something beginning with... S."

"Is it inside or outside the train?" Cas always opened with that question, so Dean had taken to doing the same.

"Outside."

Dean had to lean over Cas to get a good look out of the window; not that he was complaining about that. They were mostly moving through countryside. "Um. I dunno. Soil?"

Cas shook his head. "Nope. Look further away."

Dean gazed off into the distance, and he was about to sarcastically suggest 'sky', when he saw it. "Sea!"

"Correct!"

"Fuck, I've never been by the sea before." Dean couldn't take his eyes off it, and that was a pretty big deal considering Cas was sitting right next to him.

"I thought you travelled around a lot with your dad?"

"Yeah, but we always stayed central," Deal shrugged. "I dunno why. Guess he hates the idea of us having any fun." He tried to sound like he was joking, even though he really wasn't.

Cas smiled and leant his head on Dean's shoulder. "Well, we can head down to the beach and see it properly later if you'd like."

"Yeah. Yeah, I'd like that."

--

They wandered around the shopping center all day, Cas heading into a clothes shop and picking out a pair of shoes for his sister and a fancy jacket for his oldest brother, an entertainment store where he found a T-shirt and a couple of DVDs for Gabriel, a home furniture store where he chose some cookware for his mother, more and more places until Dean lost count of everything he was getting and Cas looked like he was struggling under the weight of all the bags. Then, he announced that he had one more place to go, but that Dean wasn't allowed to come with him.

"Dude, why not? Are you buying underwear or something? I promise I won't judge you if you wear tighty whities."

Cas frowned and shook his head. "No, Dean, I'm not buying underwear. I'm buying your Christmas present."

Dean understood, opening his mouth in surprise. "Cas, you don't have to get me anything, I swear."

"Don't be ridiculous, Dean. I don't expect anything in return, but there's something I want to get you, I saw it earlier. Meet me back here in twenty minutes, okay?"

He was off through the crowds before Dean could protest, and the center was busy enough by this point that Dean lost track of him within a few seconds. He sighed, looking around. He supposed he should make the most of the time he had, and maybe think about buying something for Cas too.

His eyes fell on the entertainment store they'd been in earlier. The prices hadn't been too crazy in there, and after their discussion about music, Dean felt like he had to make good on his promise to show Cas some of his favorite bands. He sorted through the racks and found a copy of ACDC's Back In Black, which was selling for a tenner. It was far more than Dean had been planning to spend on anyone, but it was also far less than Cas was probably going to end up spending on him. And Dean wanted Cas to have it. He liked the idea of Cas having something in his room that Dean had got for him, especially during the holidays while Dean went away.

He took it up to the counter and once he'd got the bag, he shoved it up his jumper and out of sight so that Cas wouldn't suspect anything.

Cas met him as planned twenty minutes later, holding a suspiciously large bag with a logo on it that Dean didn't recognize, smiling innocently. "Well, I'm completely finished. What would you like to do now? What would you usually do on a day out with friends?"

"Get drunk in the park," Dean replied immediately.

Cas laughed, as though he thought Dean was joking.

"I'm not kidding. That's what kids do where I come from. Find an off license that looks a little bit shady like they don't care about asking for ID, buy some cheap booze and drink it somewhere where people probably won't interrupt us. Done it every Saturday night since I was about twelve."

Cas tilted his head. "I suppose we could..."

"Nah, you don't have to. I know it's nothing like the champagne cocktails Balthazar was promising you. Not your scene at all."

"I want to," Cas replied. "I want to do the things you like doing, especially since you always come to my games and watch me run. And you did want to see the sea up close, after all, so I suggest you be in charge of purchasing the alcohol - I'll lend you money - and then I'll take you down there."

Dean narrowed his eyes, giving it a moment, waiting for Cas to back out. He didn't, and so Dean nodded. "Yeah, alright then."

An hour later after two failed attempts, they had successfully acquired a bottle of cheap whiskey and the sun had completely gone down, meaning it was dark and cold out. Cas led Dean downhill until the road didn't go any further, and then down a flight of stone steps - and before they knew it, Dean had sand between his toes, filtering in through the hole in his trainers.

He was on the beach, for the first time in his life. It was the middle of December, the strains of Slade's 'Merry Christmas Everybody' could be heard from a passing car, it was dark and cold and he was alone on the beach with his first ever best friend.

It was kind of surreal.

"Alright, I don't know if you've ever even had straight whiskey before, but you can do the honors and have the first sip if you like," Dean offered, cracking the top open and holding out the bottle.

"Wait." Cas dug around in one of his many, many shopping bags. "I came prepared." After a moment he pulled out a large, fluffy dark green blanket. Grinning with pride, he sat down in the sand and spread the blanket out over his legs, folding one half back and patting the ground beside him.

Dean sat down, and Cas placed the blanket over his legs too.

"Did you just buy this today?" Dean checked.

"Well, yeah. You wanted to see the sea and it's cold and I didn't want you to be shivering or anything."

Dean couldn't remember anyone ever doing anything that thoughtful for him before. He turned to Cas, and he knew he was on the point of saying something far sappier than he wanted to say, something that would embarrass him later. So instead he just held out the bottle again and said, "Stop being nice to me and have a fucking drink."

"Perhaps I would like to do both," Cas countered, taking the bottle and swigging from it. He pulled a face as he swallowed, but Dean was actually impressed with how well he handled the alcohol.

"Fair enough. Guess I can't stop you," Dean mumbled, taking a drag himself.

They passed the bottle back and forth, sitting in comfortable silence for a while, staring out at the sea. They weren't close enough for the waves to hit their feet, but some of the biggest waves rolled close to them, and Dean was mesmerized by the way the ocean moved and the way the stars reflected off of it. He could imagine himself living by the ocean, maybe, if he didn't have to go back and travel with his dad again once this year was over. He could imagine Cas living by the ocean in future. They suited each other. Especially considering the entire ocean was in Castiel's eyes.

"So, what do you think?" Cas asked eventually, slurring his words a little.

"What, of the whiskey? Terrible. Give me some more," Dean replied, his voice very loud in the still night air. He hadn't realized quite how drunk he was getting until he tried to speak. He supposed it only made sense that sharing a bottle with one person would affect him a lot more than sharing with a whole group.

"No, about the osh-the ocean," Cas corrected, laughing with his whole body and leaning against Dean.

"Oh, that! It's, it's pretty. Very pretty. Jus' like you."

Cas stilled against Dean. "You think I'm pretty?"

"Yeah. An' lots of people say boys can't be pretty. Like, a couple years back, there was this boy Ash who I met when I was in Sheffield for a bit, and he was cool, he was old and he had a motorbike an' he showed me how to ride it. An' he said that if boys could be pretty, then I would be. But they couldn't. An' I was gonna get mad cause I don't wanna be pretty, but then he kissed me, so I didn't get a chance."

"He was right," Cas replied after listening intently to the whole story, resting his whole body weight against Dean.

"Bout what? Sayin' boys can't be pretty?"

"No, about you being pretty."

Dean was too drunk to come up with a witty response to that. He just sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, leaning back against Cas. "Naaaaaaaaah," he protested vaguely, drawing out the sound.

Cas wiggled his toes under the blanket and burst into giggles. "My legs are all floppy."

"Yeah, that's cause you're drunk," Dean laughed.

"'M not drunk, you're drunk."

"We're both drunk."

"Yeah, but you're better drunk. More drunk. Which is it?"

Dean frowned, thinking over the problem. "...I dunno," he finally realized, eyes widening in horror. "I just don't know."

There was a pause, and then the both of them burst out into giggles again, clutching onto each other.

"Gimme some more," Cas replied, picking up the bottle. He tilted it upside down and tried to drink, but nothing came out.

"It's empty!" he gasped in horror, dropping it on the ground. "We drank it all! All of it, I say! What an outrage, that's just, it's not supposed to be empty! I don't want to stop drinking the whiskey!"

Dean wasn't even making a noise any more, doubled over with laughter, wheezing at how genuinely upset Castiel seemed by the lack of whiskey in their general vicinity.

"It's not funny, Dean, this is a very serious problem!"

Dean finally managed to control himself and turned to Cas. He had definitely been planning to say something, but he forgot it, because Cas' face was so much closer to his than Dean had been anticipating. He parted his lips slightly in surprise, blinking at Cas. He didn't feel like laughing anymore. Cas' eyes were bigger, bluer, closer than Dean had ever seen them. He still had a drop of whiskey clinging to the corner of his wet lips, and he was gazing right back at Dean.

And Dean knew he was completely done for. There was nothing he could do to stop himself from kissing Cas in that moment. He didn't give a fuck if it started pouring with rain or if the police came running onto the beach after them or if a shark suddenly popped up out of the waves and came onto the beach, none of that would have mattered. The second they locked eyes, the kiss was inevitable. Dean only paused for a second longer before he leaned in and pressed his lips against Castiel's, letting out a soft gasp when they connected, tangling his fingers in Cas' hair to hold them together.

Neither of them was particularly steady, and within a few seconds they were tumbling backwards, both of them lying in the sand as they pulled each other closer and kept kissing. Cas kept making these tiny little impatient noises as he fisted his hands in Dean's jumper, and Dean nibbled on Cas' lower lip, hoping to leave a mark there and make it look even more soft and plump than it usually did.

Their heads spun from a combination of the alcohol and the kissing, and somehow Dean managed to get his leg tangled between Cas' and Cas wriggled his hands up the back of Dean's shirt, but they didn't go any further than that. The kisses, which had started off intense and desperate, got lazier and lazier as time passed by, until the two of them were just lying next to each other with their lips pressed together. And then, Dean flopped backwards onto the sand, letting out a soft snore, dead asleep.

--

Chapter Text

six // happy endings

Cas knew he could easily fall asleep right then and there too, but he had just enough common sense left in him to stop himself. He shook Dean awake. "Dean. We need to get back to the train station so we can catch the last train back to school and get there before curfew."

Dean checked the time on his phone. It was almost eleven. "Shit, you're right," he mumbled, and the two of them grabbed shopping bags and each other's hands, racing back up the hill. They made it to the station just in time to hop on the train, and grabbed the first taxi they could find at the other end. Dean crossed his fingers that he wouldn't run into any teachers as he scrawled his name on the sign in sheet, because he knew he was obviously drunk, but luck turned out to be on his side, because he didn't see anyone as he hurried up the stairs back to his room. Crowley was still awake, and he gave Dean a suspicious look when he announced he was going straight to sleep. But he didn't have any proof that Dean had been drinking, so it wasn't like he could get him into any trouble.

Dean passed out, fully dressed and on top of the covers, within seconds of his head hitting the pillow. He woke up at five o'clock in the morning, his throat dry and his stomach rolling. He stumbled out of bed, simultaneously drunk and hungover, and ran down the hall to the bathroom, worried he wasn't going to make it in time. Luckily, he just about managed to wait until he was bent over the toilet before he threw up all the whiskey they'd drunk the previous night, retching and shivering as he pressed his forehead against the cold porcelain toilet bowl.

Once he was sure he was done, he stood up and walked shakily to the kitchen, where he poured himself a glass of water before returning to his bed, curling up and feeling sorry for himself. He sipped slowly, not wanting to get sick again, just because moving seemed like the worst thing in the world right now. He felt absolutely terrible, but he also wasn't tired any more, despite only getting five hours of sleep. Instead, he thought back on what had happened last night.

He'd kissed Cas. No, he'd done more than kiss Cas. He'd made out with Cas. Full on, heavy petting and groping style made out with him. And Cas had enjoyed it - Dean thought he might actually have a bruise on his leg from where Cas' cock had been pressing against him all night. That couldn't possibly have just been because Cas was drunk, could it?

But at the same time, even if Cas did somehow feel the same way, Dean couldn't put Cas through that. He couldn't let Cas turn himself into a social outcast, or let him date someone who was so clearly below him in every way. Cas deserved so much better.

Dean groaned as the first rays of sunlight filtered through the window, pressing a pillow over his eyes. Thinking about this wasn't helping his headache. He needed to think about better things or he was going to drive himself insane.

He must have dropped off to sleep again eventually while playing Shaun of the Dead in his mind, because the next thing he knew, his phone was buzzing, still inside his jeans pocket. He fished it out and saw that it was Cas calling him.

"Hello?" he croaked, having no idea what time it is.

"Hello, Dean. Did I wake you?" Cas' voice sounded strange, even more stilted than normal, and kind of uncomfortable.

"Uh, sort of. I was awake earlier. Whatever. You alright?"

Cas did not answer the question. "I was wondering if you, if you'd be able to bring my shopping bags over. I know you still have some of them from yesterday, and I was hoping to get my Christmas wrapping done today. Would that be alright? I understand if you can't..."

Dean looked to the end of his bed, and saw that there were indeed a stack of shopping bags there. He still hated the idea of moving and he also didn't want to deal with seeing Cas yet, not when seeing Cas meant talking about what had happened yesterday, and Dean didn't think he was up to talking just yet. But he would have felt like an arsehole saying no, so it wasn't like he really had a choice.

"Uh, yeah. Give me half an hour to shower and change? Reckon my breath would probably kill you right now."

Cas didn't laugh, and Dean realized too late that that comment had implied that they were going to be kissing again.

"Of course. Text me when you are outside my dorm."

Dean agreed and hung up, groaning as he forced himself out of bed. His stomach rolled again when he started walking, and he had to stop and rest against the wall on the way to the bathroom to stop himself from throwing up again, but he managed it. And the hot water and steam in the shower actually helped a lot more than he expected. By the time he was trudging through the cold over to Cas' dorm, he still felt like he would far rather be hiding out under the covers all day, but at least he felt like he was able to move without collapsing.

Cas didn't speak as he signed Dean into the house and led him upstairs to his dorm.

"I don't actually need to come upstairs, you know," Dean pointed out. "I could just give you the clothes and go..."

"I think you should come up at least for a few minutes. For me, Dean."

Shit. Cas had pulled the 'for me' card. Dean didn't even know if Cas knew that he'd do anything for him, but he would, so Dean followed him up the stairs and into the bedroom.

"Dean, I didn't ask you here today to get my Christmas shopping back from you. That could have waited. Honestly, I am not feeling particularly good after last night, and I'm not sure I will be able to do any wrapping today. But I wanted to talk to you about last night."

Dean sighed. Dammit, of course Cas wasn't going to let him get away with avoiding this. "Why didn't you just tell me that over the phone?"

"Because I knew you would hang up on me and try to get out of having the conversation."

"Well, fuck." They'd only known each other a few months and Cas already knew him inside out.

"Not so fast, Dean. We need to discuss what happened first."

Had Cas just made a sex joke? Dean was pretty sure Cas had just made a sex joke, and he was so surprised by it that he replied, "Okay."

"Good," Cas nodded, and then fell silent.

Dean stayed silent too, waiting.

After a tense couple of minutes during which they both just stood in the middle of Castiel's room, staring at each other, Dean finally said, "Well, what did you want to talk about?"

"You kissed me," Cas pointed out, fairly unnecessarily. "Last night, on the beach, you kissed me, even though you had given me no indication before then that you may be interested in kissing me. So I wanted to know if you only kissed me because of the alcohol, or if you would be interested in kissing me again while sober."

Dean sighed, walking up and down the room, trying to figure out how he wanted to answer that question.

"All I want is for you to be honest with me, Dean," Cas added.

Dean scowled at the window while facing away from Cas. That made it sound so simple, when really, it was the opposite of simple.

He turned around. "You want me to be honest? Fine, I'll be honest. Yeah, I wanna kiss you while sober. I wanna kiss you all the damn time. While we're studying. While we're eating lunch in the dining hall in front of everyone. While you're all sweaty from running and your hair sticks to your face. Fuck, Cas, sometimes I wanna kiss you so much it hurts. But I know that's dumb as shit because I know that even if you think you like me, you'd be making a bloody stupid decision by actually being with me, cause I'm not, I'm not the kind of guy your parents would want you to date, I'm only gonna be here for this year so I'm not somebody you could have any kind of future with. I'm just some idiot who's probably gonna fail his GCSEs and doesn't even know how to tie a tie properly let alone go to fancy events and who had about five quid to his name and so I wasn't gonna say anything, cause you're too good for me, and it's obvious Balthazar likes you so you should go be with him. Cause he's right for you, and I'm not."

Cas waited until Dean was done with his rant, frowning angrily. "Dean. What the fuck," was his simple and to the point reply.

"Well, you've been spending far too much time with me if that's all you have to say in response."

"Perhaps I have. But, Dean, I believe I should get a say in this decision. I see you and I as equals, and I'm not interested in you telling me what's best for me or what I should do or who I should date. I would like to be able to decide that for myself. Do you think that's fair?"

"Well-" Dean sighed. He couldn't exactly say no. "Sure, I guess."

"Thankyou for at least giving me that much basic human respect, Dean. Now that we've established that, let me talk for a moment. I know you don't expect to be here past the end of Year Eleven. I know that my parents would likely not approve of you. However, I find myself drawn to you in ways I cannot even describe nor put into words, and in ways I am certainly not drawn to Balthazar or anybody else for that matter. I am not naive, I am not expecting that you and I are going to end up married. However, if you'll let me, I would like to be with you, for now. Just while you're here. Because now that I know what kissing you feels like... I feel that not kissing you would be too much for me to bear."

Dean stared at him, and by the time Cas had finished talking, he wanted to cry. He hated Cas for being so honest, for pouring his heart out to Dean and being every amazing thing that Dean never knew he wanted, and it was overwhelming and it was too much to bear and Dean only had two options for what to do with all his pent up emotions - he could either cry, or he could kiss Cas. And he didn't cry in front of other people, not ever, so it looked like he didn't have a choice in the matter.

He took two steps across the room and grabbed Cas' face roughly in his hands, forcing their lips together, kissing him hard and rough.

After a few seconds, he pulled away. "There," he announced, as if he'd just proved a point. "Are you fucking happy?"

Cas took a moment to collect himself. "Actually, I have a headache and I am not enjoying standing up. I propose we both get into my bed and watch a movie together. Would that be okay with you?"

"God, that sounds perfect right now," Dean breathed. He would probably try to argue with Cas about this whole dating thing again at a later date, but for now, he was going to curl up around him under the covers and just melt.

"I like Christmas movies, and this is my room so you're going to watch what I tell you to and not any of that horror crap that you like," Cas informed him, opening up the laptop. He put on Arthur Christmas, which Dean was pretty sure had been Sam's favorite movie when he was about six years old, but he didn't protest. He'd already made Cas mad today, and he really did want to cuddle him and maybe kiss him a bit and if that meant he had to put up with a cheesy kids' movie, then he would do it. He wouldn't smile or laugh at it, but he would do it.

Of course, this turned out to be completely futile, because the movie was actually damn good. Plus, whenever Dean laughed, Cas turned and gave him a kiss, so that definitely inspired him to be more open with his reactions. Damn Cas for being so.... so Cas.

--

Dean put off packing for the Christmas holidays until the absolute last minute. It wasn't that he was happy here, he reminded himself, not in the slightest. It was just that however not happy he was here, at least here he knew he could hide out in his room at the end of the day, put in headphones and completely ignore Crowley, and also go curl up with his boyfriend almost any time he wanted. When he was with his dad, all bets were off, and there was a fair chance that John would come barging into his room at three in the morning when he was trying to sleep and insist that he go out and buy him more beer. So, on balance, Dean thought that he'd sooner stay here for Christmas. Not that that was an option the school actually offered.

But finally, it was the night before he and Sam were due to leave, and they did have a train to catch in the morning. So he shoved a few pairs of jeans and a few jumpers into his rucksack, before looking around for his laptop charger, which was probably buried somewhere under the piles of holiday homework his teachers had given him. The chances of his dad giving him enough peace and quiet was slim to none, so Dean wasn't sure he was even going to take the work with him, but he did want his laptop.

And then there was a knock on his door.

"Dean! Open up, I'm not supposed to be here!"

It was Castiel. That voice couldn't possibly have belonged to anyone else.

Dean darted across the room and pulled the door open, wrapping Cas up in a hug and tugging him inside. "Cas! What are you doing here?"

"I had to come say goodbye. My parents are coming to pick my siblings and I up in an hour or two, but I couldn't possibly leave without seeing you."

"Well, that's dumb. And gay. And you're a nerd," Dean grumbled, and then promptly pinned Cas against the door and kissed him senseless.

Halfway through the kiss, Dean became vaguely aware that there was something pressed in between himself and Cas. He didn't think too much of it, far too preoccupied with running his tongue over Cas' lower lip and then slipping it inside when Cas parted his lips for him, but when the two of them broke apart, Dean looked down and saw that it was a neatly wrapped package with his name written in beautiful cursive on the top.

He scowled. "Cas, what's that?"

"Your Christmas present, of course. If you'd like to wait until Christmas Day to open it, I understand. But I would also quite like for you to open it now."

"Are you kidding? Course I'll open it. Just so I can yell at you afterwards."

Dean ripped off the paper and held up a thick leather jacket - the kind that looked old and worn, but was actually brand new and well made, with a decent zip that would actually keep him as warm as a coat would yet look badass at the same time. It was big enough that Dean could wear it over his school clothes, which would hopefully serve the dual purpose of keeping him warm on cold days and seriously pissing off his teachers even more than usual. Dean fell in love with it instantly, and he couldn't possibly accept it.

"Cas, this... this feels like real leather."

Cas shrugged. "It most likely is, but I couldn't say for sure."

Dean shook his head. "Cas, you have to take this back, I can't take this, my dad will ask questions and I can't tell him about you, he doesn't even know that I'm... you know. It's too much, you gotta give it to someone who deserves it."

"Shhh," Cas whispered, stepping closer to Dean and kissing the corner of his mouth. "You can leave it here for the holidays if you don't want your father to see. But you deserve it more than anyone else. You, Dean Winchester, have made me so happy this past year, and this is my way of saying thankyou. Understand?"

Dean knew there was probably no way Cas was going to let him give it back. "At least make it a joint Christmas and birthday present, yeah? Since my birthday's in January?"

"If that would make you happy, then yes."

Dean nodded, leaning his forehead against Castiel's. "Thankyou, Cas."

"Any time, Dean."

Dean suddenly remembered something and jumped back, dashing over to his closet. "Oh! I got something for you too."

"You didn't have to get me anything. Just being with you is enough for me, Dean."

"Yeah, well, tough shit," Dean mumbled as he dug through his piles of clothes. "Forgot to wrap it, so you're gonna have to just close your eyes and hold out your hands, but I tried my best."

Dean found the CD and dumped it in Cas' hands unceremoniously. "Alright, open your eyes."

Cas did so, and his face split into a huge, genuine smile as he saw what he was now holding. "AC/DC! You were telling me about them!"

"Yeah, the first band I can ever remember discovering for myself. They're good shit. And you're good shit too. So hopefully it'll be a good combination. But it's alright if you don't like it. I just want you to hear it, you know, so that you get what I'm talking about."

Cas gave Dean yet another kiss. "I am sure that I will love it, Dean, because it's from you."

Dean wrinkled his nose and scowled. "Hey, uh, how long do you have again?"

"An hour or so," Cas replied.

Dean looked longingly at his bed. In the couple of weeks they'd been together, they still hadn't done anything more than lying on top of each other and making out. Dean would have been more than happy to, but he wasn't sure how much experience Cas had with anything, and he didn't want to push him. And as much as he didn't like to admit it, he knew that he'd want to hold Cas afterwards, so he figured an hour probably wasn't long enough.

"If by looking at your bed you are inviting me to make out with you until I have to leave, then yes, I would very much like to."

Dean thought that was a very fair compromise. He would enjoy making out with Cas one final time before they had to part ways for the holidays, and then when they saw each other again, he would hopefully find the courage to broach the subject of going further.

He tugged Cas down onto the bed so that Cas was straddling him and pulled on Cas' hair, kissing slowly along his cheek until he reached his lips. He lost himself in the feel of Cas all around him and didn't think about how much he was dreading going back to his family, or how much he was going to miss this. He just pretended it wasn't real, and did his absolute best to make this moment between him and Cas last forever.

--

It did not last forever, and all too soon, Dean was dragging his sorry ass out of bed the following morning and casting his new leather jacket a longing look as he headed out into the cold and the rain, ready for a long walk to the train station with Sam. Sam's face might have been even more miserable than his own when the two of them met up in the middle of the courtyard. The kid's hair was plastered to his face as he'd clearly been waiting outside for a while already, and he had his arms wrapped tight around his bag like he was hugging it.

"Hey, Sammy," Dean said, doing his best to sound cheerful.

"Hi, Dean," Sam replied, sounding exactly how Dean felt. The two of them trudged through the rain and the sludge on the ground and waited for their train, and the warmth of the train carriage was kind of a relief, but also not, because the more time they spent on the train, the closer they got to seeing their father again.

"So, how was the end of your term?" Dean asked, trying to cheer Sam up.

"It was good. Gabriel won the Christmas decorating contest that our dorm had. He won a bunch of candy and he usually doesn't share candy with everyone but he shared it with me. And I got an A star on the rivers project, and I'm doing really good in history too. We had a debate in the last class of the term and my teacher says I should be a lawyer," he smiled, eyes wide and innocent.

"Hey, that's awesome, kid!" Dean tried his best to sound excited for Sam, because he was, he really was. He just hated thinking about everything he was going towards right now.

"And how's Cas?" Sam smirked, sounding like he knew far too much for an eleven year old.

"He's good," Dean nodded, trying to sound casual. "You know. Same as ever. Just being his usual self. No developments."

"Dean," Sam rolled his eyes. "I'm not gonna tell Dad, I promise. But you can tell me if there's, like, something going on between you and Cas."

"Alright, fine," Dean scowled. "There might be some kissing. And I guess we're dating or something but I dunno because it's not official but we're spending lots of time together and I guess he might be my boyfriend which is kinda weird, but good weird. But don't tell anyone. Not Dad and especially not Gabriel, that mouthy little shit."

"But I tell Gabriel every--" Sam shut up at the look Dean gave him. "Alright, fine."

"Good."

Sam pulled a stupid face at Dean, and Dean chuckled.

"Hey, so, uh, Cas taught me some games that he used to play with his family while traveling. They're kinda dumb, but they pass the time, so, you wanna give them a go?"

"Sure," Sam nodded, looking surprised.

"Alright. I'm gonna think of something that I can see from where we are right now, and I'm gonna tell you what letter it begins with, and you're gonna try to figure out what it is..."

--

cas baby [00:01] Merry Christmas, Dean.

Dean <3 [00:02] u nerd. merry christmas cas.

cas baby [00:03] How are things going with your father?

Dean <3 [00:06] not good. he gets mad at sam whenever sam says anything good about school, hes even angrier than usual and taking it out on us, he keeps saying we need to have 'family time' that ends with him shouting that he wishes wed never been born

Dean <3 [00:07] sorry u shouldn't have to deal with this

Dean <3 [00:07] get some sleep cas

cas baby [00:09] I'm sorry, Dean. I wish there was something I could do to help. Nobody deserves to have a Christmas like that, least of all you, and it saddens me to think about you feeling this way. Just know that I know you are stronger than this and better than him, and that you will get through it.

Dean <3 [00:11] ...thanks, cas.

Dean <3 [00:12] miss you.

cas baby [00:13] I miss you too, Dean. If I could bring you here for Christmas, I would.

Dean <3 [00:15] nah, you'll have a great time without me. but yeah. wish i could kiss you right now.

cas baby [00:16] That feeling is mutual. Just ten more days and then we can.

Dean <3 [00:17] can't wait. thanks for being here. means a lot.

cas baby [00:18] Of course, I am happy to be here. Sleep now, Dean.

Dean <3 [00:19} alright, night cas. x

cas baby [00:20] Goodnight, Dean. xxxx

--

Chapter Text

seven // acrylic afternoons

"You're excited to go back."

"Am not." Dean tried to tone down his smile as he put his feet up on the seat next to him, stretching out on the surprisingly empty train. "Just happy to not be with Dad anymore, there's a difference."

"Whatever. You keep telling yourself that," Sam scoffed. "But I know it's more than that."

"Oh, please. I've got my fucking mock exams next week, that's not exactly something to be excited about. And I didn't get a chance to revise so I'm dreading them. I'm gonna fail and they'll put me on academic probation or some other fancy thing I've never heard of before."

Sam waggled his eyebrows, a move he'd surely picked up from Gabriel, since Dean didn't remember him ever doing that before.  "I'm sure your boyfriend will help you study."

Dean wanted to get mad, but he couldn't hide his smile at the thought of Cas. "Dude, shut up."

"Not shutting up. Dean's in looooooooove," Sam cackled, loudly enough that a few heads turned to stare at the both of them. Dean hid his face, but he couldn't quite bring himself to care.

Dean had absolutely no idea what to expect while standing outside of the mock exam hall the following Monday. Everyone else in his year was just standing there, looking through their notes and asking each other frantic last minute questions, yes, but still looking like they'd done all this a thousand times before. And there was Dean, confused as to what exactly was going on, why they were standing in front of the gym of all places to take exams, what these strange little numbers he'd been given meant - they looked like identification numbers for prisoners - and what exactly was the meaning of acronyms like AQA and OCR.

It was a foreign process, being lines up in alphabetical order and sat at their desks in dead silence, being handed out different papers for questions and for answers, and having teachers patrol up and down the lines between chairs as everybody wrote, rounding on anyone who dared so much as lift their head from their paper. It made Dean panic a hundred times more than he needed to, convinced as he was that he was half a second away from getting thrown out of school for cheating, even though he was doing nothing wrong.

It wasn't like getting thrown out of school would actually bother him, but even so, it didn't make for the calmest exam taking environment.

Each paper he sat, he walked out of the hall feeling like he'd done worse and worse, like he hadn't been able to remember anything beyond 'the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell' and had just written down a bunch of bullshit - or, in the case of his ICT exam, absolutely nothing at all. And every paper he sat, he had to watch everyone else in his year leave the room and share how well that had gone, trade answers to all the different questions, using long words that Dean was fairly sure he'd never heard in his life.

He felt like a failure. More than ever, he felt like the school was going to regret letting him in just as soon as they saw how much he'd fucked up all these papers.

Dean didn't join in the celebrations along with everybody else when they were finally let out of Classics on Friday afternoon. He ducked his head and walked around the huge group of people laughing and talking loudly about the party they were going to tonight to celebrate getting their fucking full set of A stars that they were sure to all have. His feet felt heavy as he walked in the vague direction of his dorm, kicking at the stones beneath his feet and not much caring about whether or not he got there.

And then, Castiel appeared by his side, tapping him on the shoulder, bouncing on his toes and looking genuinely excited to see Dean.

"Hey, Cas." Dean couldn't even begin to describe how good it was to see him right now.

"I'm proud of you, Dean," Cas smiled up at him with wide, earnest eyes.

"That's dumb. You should at least wait til I get my results before you decide whether to be proud of me or not."

Castiel frowned. "No, I'm proud of you either way. You went to all your exams and you tried your best and I know that wasn't easy for you, especially considering you didn't get a chance to study. I'd be proud of you even if you failed everything, which you didn't."

Dean wrinkled his nose. "Whatever. You promised me I could pick the movie tonight, so you wanna grab food and go back to your room and watch something?"

Cas blushed and hid his face, which seemed like a surprising reaction. "Actually, I, uh, I wanted to take you somewhere."

Well, now Dean was officially curious. He and Cas didn't usually go anywhere that wasn't their dorm rooms, the dining hall or the athletics field. Not that Dean minded in the slightest, but this new announcement coupled with Cas' obvious embarrassment was intriguing to say the least. "Alright. In that case, I guess, lead the way."

Cas took Dean's hand and lowered his eyes to the ground, still blushing. He started walking, away from the school buildings, away from the athletic fields or the bridge or from anything Dean knew - but not towards the gate, either. He started walking towards the woods.

There was an archway between the trees, and a scratched wooden sign on top of it that read 'Woodland Classroom'. It opened onto a pathway through the woods that was easy to walk down, even as it was littered with logs and tree roots. A short way down, they passed a small stream that would have been easy enough to jump, except it already had a neat wooden bridge over it. And after around five minutes of walking, they found a clearing where a wooden structure had been set up - a short flight of steps leading to a flat floor with several logs and tree stumps positioned on it to act as chairs. The area was completely empty, but the logs were clear and not covered in tree leaves, so it seemed like it had been used recently.

"I had no idea this was here," Dean murmured, gazing around the area.

"No. The older students don't often use it, but the Year Sevens and Eights have class here occasionally. Science or geography classes, to study the wildlife. I used to, when I was first starting at the school. We always used to look forward to them."

Dean grinned, imagining a young Castiel bouncing when he heard that he got to have class outside. "This is awesome."

Cas nodded. "Yes. And my older brothers talk about it sometimes. They used to come here, too."

Dean wasn't entirely sure why Cas felt the need to mention that, but he went with it. "Yeah, so it's been here ever since they were kids?"

"That's not what I meant, Dean."

Cas' voice was very close all of a sudden, his breath hot against Dean's ear. "N-no?"

"My brothers used to come here... at night. After classes finished. When nobody else was around. They would bring girls here..."

Dean's breath caught in his throat as he finally understood what Cas was implying. "You mean...?"

"Yes, Dean. Nobody will disturb us here. I thought about this a lot over the holidays, when we weren't together... I thought about you. I imagined bringing you here. The things you and I might be able to do, without worrying about anybody walking in on us. I imagined the look on your face, the noises you might make... I understand if you would rather not do anything, but I thought that I would let you know that I was interested."

Dean grabbed Cas roughly by the shoulders and crashed their lips together, groaning into Cas' mouth. "Fuck, Cas. Fuck. Of course I wanna do that stuff, wanted to pretty much ever since I saw you, but I didn't know if you'd ever..."

Cas kissed back just as hard, pushing Dean over to the side of the classroom and forcing him back into the wooden railings. They dug into Dean's back, but he didn't care in the slightest, because he finally had Cas here, finally knew that things were going to go further between them.

"I haven't," Cas panted into Dean's mouth between kisses. "But I want to, with you. Please, Dean."

Dean groaned loudly again, squeezing his eyes shut, already feeling himself getting hard in his trousers. Somehow that made him want Cas even more badly. And, damn, Cas was a natural at that whole dirty talking thing. Which Dean had definitely known he would be. And definitely imagined more times than he cared to admit, late at night while Crowley was asleep in the bed opposite him, trying to keep his movements subtle and his noises inside so that nobody would be able to tell what he was doing under the covers.

Cas gasped as Dean rocked his hips forward and pressed his cock against Cas' thigh, and their kiss grew messier and more intense. Dean bit down on Cas' lip and ran his tongue over the mark he'd just left there, his nails scratching down Cas' back through his school clothes until they reached his ass. He held Cas tight and pulled him against him so that their cocks lined up and rubbed against one another, and with every thrust, both of them moaned out loud.

Dean knew that it wouldn't take him any more than a couple minutes to come just like this. It had been such a long time since he'd got off with anyone other than himself, and this was Cas, probably, definitely the hottest person Dean had ever been with, and he was the first person to ever see Cas like this, and he wanted it, more than anything else in the world. But he also wanted more than just this, than the two of them grinding together through their clothes. He pushed Cas away, panting, his chest heaving, his hips jerking of their own accord as he tried to get himself under control.

"Cas, I, I wanna make your first time good, wanna give you more than just that..." he tried to explain, even as he had to dig his own nails into his palm to bring himself back from the edge. "If it's okay with you, I... I wanna suck you off."

Cas seemed to be having a similar problem to Dean. His hands were balled into fists and he was twitching, clearly trying to stop himself from pushing his hand down his pants and grabbing his cock, giving himself that last bit of friction he needed to come, and Dean's words definitely hadn't helped matters. "Fuck, Dean, I don't know if I'll be able to survive that..."

Dean pulled a face and groaned. This was Cas' first time, which meant that he had to be the one to take control and make sure everything went well, as desperate as he was himself.

He stepped over to Cas and cupped his face in his hands, pressing their lips ever so gently together. "It's okay. Just, take a couple minutes to cool off, we both will, and then I'll do... what I just said, yeah?"

Cas nodded, unable to speak, but he gave Dean's hand a quick squeeze. The two of them stood there for a few minutes, their foreheads pressed together and their eyes tight shut, until Cas finally drew in a shuddering breath and said, "Okay, I think I'm ready."

Dean's cock was still aching, but he was no longer in any immediate danger, so he nodded too. "Alright, I'm gonna go slow, so just tell me to stop if you decide you don't wanna do this. Or if you just want me to hold back for a minute so you can last longer."

"I definitely want you to do this, Dean," Cas promised, closing his eyes all over again and leaning back against the railings.

"Good. Me too," Dean whispered, getting down on his knees and unbuttoning Cas' trousers. Just the quick brush of his fingers against Cas' hard cock was enough to have Cas jerking his hips forward into Dean's hand all over again.

Dean pulled down Cas' trousers and then his blue boxers, ever so slowly, watching as he uncovered Castiel's cock for the first time. He moaned aloud when he saw it - he'd pictured it so many times before, even felt it against him, which was pretty much the biggest tease imaginable, but he'd never actually seen it for himself. It was pretty, that was the only possible description - pretty like the rest of Cas, soft and pink and slightly curved with precome leaking out of the tip and dripping down all over it.

Cas whined above Dean, gripping tight onto the railings. "Dean, please, I need you..."

Dean was still breathing heavily, and he wanted nothing more than to lean forwards and rut against Cas' leg and get himself off like that, but this wasn't about him. This was about making sure Cas had the absolute best first time possible. This was about the fact that when he left in six months' time and Cas never got to see him again, he wanted to make sure Cas would remember this night and look back on it thinking it had been as good as it could possibly be.

With that in mind, Dean wrapped one hand loosely around Cas' cock and leaned forward, licking his lips so that they slid smoothly over the head.

He was prepared for Cas' reaction, and not at all surprised when Cas immediately whimpered and thrust his hips forward, burying his cock in Dean's mouth. Dean spluttered, but managed to pull his head back quickly before he could gag.

"Sorry... I'm sorry," Cas panted, his face bright red, looking mortified.

"It's fine, I did the same thing the first time someone sucked me off," Dean promised, and he couldn't stop himself from giggling. Cas looked down at him like he was absolutely insane.

"Dean, are you going to stop laughing at me and get back to what you were doing or am I going to have to do it myself?" he asked, sounding very put out.

Dean snorted all over again. "Fuck, I'm sorry, I don't even know what's so funny. Yeah. I'm gonna keep going, I promise."

He took a deep breath to calm himself down and slid his lips over Castiel's cock again, moving slowly until he was taking him in as deep as he could possibly go. Once he was about three quarters of the way down and Cas' cock was pressing against the back of his throat, he gently sucked and glanced upwards. Cas had his eyes screwed so tightly shut it looked like it must hurt, and was biting down hard on his own lip.

Dean pulled off most of the way and ran his tongue in circles around the head of Cas' cock. He could already feel Cas pulsing inside his mouth, leaking more and more precome over Dean's tongue, and he knew he was getting close. Still, that was fine. At least Cas knew what it felt like to have his dick sucked now, at least Dean had given that to him and done the best job he possibly could.

He hollowed out his cheeks and bobbed up and down on Cas' cock a few times, running his tongue over the vein on the underside, he felt Cas start to swell and-

A bright light illuminated the woods around them, dancing between the trees. Dean pulled off immediately, jumping to his feet and staring around in horror. "What the hell-"

"Someone's there!" Cas shouted, panicking. He grabbed Dean's hand and tugged him towards the steps, looking pretty ridiculous with his trousers around his ankles. The two of them half ran and half tumbled to the ground, huddling together as out of sight as they could possibly manage. Dean shrugged off his own blazer and spread it over Cas' legs, so that at least he'd be a little bit covered up if they were caught.

The light got closer and closer, and the two of them could hear footsteps crunching through the frosty leaves. Dean turned round and he saw a silhouette moving through the trees, patrolling. Clearly a teacher who'd been told that this was a prime spot for people to hook up.

Cas' eyes were wide and terrified and he was clutching onto Dean's arm, frozen and silent. "Shh," Dean whispered in his ear. "It's gonna be okay, they're not gonna see us..."

Cas shook his head rapidly and buried his face in Dean's shoulder so that he wouldn't be able to see anything. Dean's heart was pounding. It wasn't like he gave a shit about the teachers knowing he was getting laid. But he didn't want Cas to get into any trouble. He didn't know what the punishment would be, and if Cas got kicked out because of him, he'd never forgive himself...

The footsteps grew fainter and the light dimmed as whoever it was moved away from them, and after a couple of minutes, the woods were dark and silent again. They'd made it.

Cas peered up at Dean, daring to open his eyes. "Are they gone?"

Dean nodded. "Yeah. It's just us now. Fuck, I'm so sorry about that, I should have seen them coming sooner..."

"It's not your fault. I didn't know they knew about this place, but I guess it makes sense..."

Dean could still feel something insistently nudging against his thigh. "Cas, are you still hard?"

Cas frowned. "Should I not be?"

"I just thought, cause you were worried about getting kicked out of school or whatever... what the fuck, who cares." Dean grabbed Cas and pushed him down onto the floor of the woods, shoving his own trousers and boxers down and out of the way so that their cocks were pressed together for the first time without anything in between them. Both of them were still full of adrenaline and Dean couldn't be bothered to wait even a second longer to do anything fancy, he just needed to come, right here and right now. He pressed his lips to Cas' sliding his tongue into his mouth right away, and rocked his hips back and forth as fast as he possibly could. The friction between the two of them was more amazing than he could possibly have imagined, and he was almost embarrassed about how loud he was moaning, hoping against hope that whoever has almost interrupted them wasn't going to come back - because he was sure that they were going to overhear everything if they did.

But he couldn't even make himself care. Not right now, when Cas' cock was rubbing so perfectly against his over and over again, when Cas was making these little broken noises underneath him into his mouth, when Cas' nails were digging into his wait deep enough to leave a mark. It didn't matter that the ground was covered in twigs and leaves that were definitely going to hurt tomorrow, it didn't matter that they'd been stopped or that this wasn't what they'd planned, nothing mattered except the fact that they stayed as close together as possible and that their cocks kept coming into contact, sending sparks coursing through their entire bodies.

"I'm gonna- I'm gonna-" Cas panted into Dean's mouth, unable to even make a complete sentence, his hips desperately moving, not even in any kind of rhythm, just seeking as much friction as they possibly could.

"Fuck yeah, Cas, me too, wanna feel you," Dean moaned back, moving even faster, if that was even possible.

"Dean, fuck, Dean, yes, Dean!" Cas groaned loudly, his body tensing up underneath Dean's as he slammed his hips upwards one final time, arching his back as he came, making a huge, sticky mess between the two of them. Dean's cock slid through Cas' come a few more times as he moaned, trying to wait, to appreciate this moment for a tiny bit longer, but the way it had felt to have Cas come apart underneath him was playing on repeat in his mind, and it was only a few more seconds before Dean was coming too, spurting all over Castiel's crisp white school shirt, biting down on Cas' lip.

"Fuuuuuuuck," he sighed, long and low, once he was done, rolling off Cas and collapsing on the leaves next to him.

Cas didn't even respond, still trying to catch his breath. Dean looked over and saw that his shirt was basically destroyed, the back of it covered in dirt and the front covered in come, and yet Cas was just lying there on the hard ground, smiling dopily and looking completely blissed out.

Dean lay there for a few moments, catching his breath, and then he reached over to where Cas was lying next to him and combed his fingers through his hair. Cas' hair was sticking to his forehead, clumped together with sweat, so Dean ran his fingers through it until it was neatly out of the way. "You alright?" he whispered.

"Yeah. God, that was amazing," Cas whispered back, shuffling closer to Dean on the ground.

"That's an understatement," Dean chuckled shakily, turning his head to kiss Cas on the cheek.

Cas checked his watch. "We missed dinner."

"Worth it. Fucking worth it. And you know I wouldn't say that for just anyone."

It was a few more minutes before they found the energy to stand up and stretch, and that was when Cas looked down at his shirt in horror. "Dean, how am I going to walk back to my dorm looking like this? They're all going to know!"

"Take your shirt off," Dean replied right away, inspiration occurring to him.

"I don't think that's going to help."

"Just do it, okay?"

Cas frowned, but unbuttoned his shirt, holding it out between two fingers. Dean did the same thing. His wasn't perfect, but it was in nowhere near the same state that Cas' was, and probably wouldn't be so conspicuous, especially under a blazer. "Here, you take this."

"And, what, you're going to walk around shirtless?"

Dean snorted and shook his head. "Nah. I'm gonna wash this and wear it."

He grabbed Cas' hand and jogged back through the trees to the stream. Cas stared at him in disbelief as he crouched down and dunked the shirt under the slightly murky water, pulling it out a second later with a splash of water and a grin of triumph. "There."

He put the shirt on, shivering in the January air with the cold water against his skin, and then looped his blazer over his arm. "There was a minor incident with a sink and a dumb prank some year sevens were playing, and I got caught in the crossfire. This kind of shit always happens to me."

Cas gasped out a laugh, looking at Dean with his eyes wide with wonder. "I love you," he replied, as though he couldn't quite believe it himself.

Dean froze, and not in the cold kind of way. "You what?"

"I love you," Cas repeated, sounding more sure of himself this time. "Dean Winchester, I love you."

Dean nodded, ever so slowly, his brain feeling like it had completely stopped working. "Uh. Right."

Cas' face fell. "It's fine, you don't have to say it, I wasn't even planning to, it was an accident..."

"No, it's fine," Dean rushed to apologize. "I'm not mad or anything. I, uh, thanks. You're way too good for me, and you love me. That's a pretty big compliment."

It was only after they'd parted ways for the night and Dean had spent several hours lying awake in his own bed, tossing and turning and thinking things over, that he picked up his phone.

Dean <3 [01:56] i love you too.

--

Chapter Text

eight // feeling called love

In the third week of January, it snowed. The school woke up one Tuesday morning to find that a cold white blanket had fallen in the middle of the night, and that when they tried to open the doors to the boarding houses, fluffy white powder cascaded inside, covering the doormats. The first few teachers who were brave enough to step out of the houses found themselves slipping and sliding over the ground, and they all knew that as more and more people walked the same trails throughout the day, the snow would compact and become dangerous to walk on.

They cancelled classes for the day.

Castiel Novak heard the news, smiled to himself, rolled over in his bed where he was cuddled up under four blankets wearing one of Dean's old flannel shirts, and went straight back to sleep.

He was woken up a couple of hours later by a loud thump right outside his window.

He climbed out of bed and peered at the window. Nothing appeared to be out of place.

Thump.

A huge lump of snow hit the window, right in front of his face. If there hadn't been a pane of glass in the way, it would have soaked him. The aim was perfect, and there was no way that had been an accident.

Thump.

Cas opened the window and yelled down. "What do you think you're doing? I'm trying to sleep!"

"And I'm trying to be romantic!" Dean yelled back, staring up at Cas with an armful of snow.

Cas banged his head against the window, laughing. "You could have called me if you wanted to come over!"

"I don't want you to come over! I want you to come downstairs and have a snowball fight with me! Come on, everyone's at it!"

Cas had a very strong suspicion that 'everyone' meant only the younger kids. He himself remembered having one or two snowball fights when he was very new, but nothing since then. But Dean was smiling and actually getting into something that other people at school were doing, and no way was Cas going to deny him that.

"Give me ten minutes, okay?" he yelled down.

"I'll be waiting, and you better watch your back when you get outside!"

Cas shook his head and shut the window. He yawned, stretched and pulled on a pair of jogging trousers and a thick coat, as well as his scarf and gloves, before heading outside, already fairly sure he was going to live to regret this.

"Dean? Dean?" he called out. "Dean, are you sure you wouldn't rather go inside and I'll make us some hot-"

Thump.

Another snowball hit the back of Cas' coat, sending him stumbling forwards.

"Nope!" Dean whooped, running out in front of Cas, waving his arms around. "Catch me if you can!"

Cas glared. That little fucker...

"Oh, it's on!" he shouted at the top of his voice, gathering snow into his arms before taking off. He knew damn well that he was faster than Dean, especially over long distances, and it was time to put those skills to the test. It took him a couple of minutes to catch up, but when he did, he pelted Dean with snowballs until Dean collapsed face first into the snow, shaking with laughter.

Cas stretched out a hand to help him up and Dean pretended to take it gratefully, but then he tugged Cas down into the snow too, climbing on top of him and rubbing it into his hair. Cas squealed like he was being tickled and tried to throw Dean off him, which he eventually managed after he shoved a cold handful of snow down Dean's shirt, causing Dean to scream and reel backwards. Cas sat aside Dean's stomach and raised his arms in triumph. "Victory is mine!"

Thump.

There was no possible way that could have been Dean, not when he was currently pinned beneath Cas and unable to move. But then he saw Dean giving a thumbs up, and he turned in outrage to see that Dean had recruited Sam and Gabriel for his team.

"You're my brother! You're not allowed to turn against me like that!" Cas squeaked, horrified, changing his target and windmilling off into the distance after Gabriel, picking the kid up by his collar and tossing him easily into a snowdrift.

"Dean bribed me with candy!" Gabriel replied, trying to pick himself up and completely failing, and at that exact moment, Dean appeared behind Cas, completely recovered, and pressed a solid block of snow to the back of his neck.

It turned into a free for all, the four of them pelting each other with as much snow as they could find. Nobody was safe and nobody could be trusted. All any of them could do was run as fast as they could, arm themselves with as many snowballs as possible, and desperately hope that the others would all be preoccupied, because it was every man for himself.

An hour later, the four of them all straggled back towards the boarding houses, soaked to their skin and shivering, far more exhausted than they would have been if they'd gone to their lessons, but happy about it.

"Castiel?"

They all turned to see Luke strolling among the snowball fighters, holding Bela's hand, both of them completely unharmed as nobody dared to throw any snowballs at the Head Boy and Girl.

"Luke. What are you doing outside? I thought you belonged somewhere much warmer, if you know what I'm saying," Dean snorted. "Come on, guys."

Cas grimaced at Dean and shook his head. As much as he loved that Dean was standing up for himself, Luke was still his brother, and there was no way he could just turn and walk away from him. "Hi, Luke," he said in a small voice.

"Castiel, what are you doing hanging round with the Winchesters? Is this really the company you're keeping these days?" He pretended to lower his voice, but Sam and Dean could still hear him easily. "You know they don't even pay full tuition?"

"Do you really think that's the most important thing about a person?"

Luke frowned and blinked slowly. He hadn't been expecting Castiel to argue with him. "Certainly. What would our parents say if they knew you were spending time with scholarship kids?"

"I don't see any reason to tell our parents that Sam and Dean are here on scholarship. I'd rather focus on the fact that they are kind and intelligent people," Cas replied, his face colder than the snow, stepping forward to confront Luke.

"Then perhaps I'll have to tell them. It won't be long before you're getting a phone call."

"And what do you expect them to do about it? They have no control over my actions while I'm at school. And neither, it seems, do you, as evidenced by the fact that the only way you can find to threaten me is by telling our parents what is happening."

Dean, Sam and Gabriel were quiet, watching what was happening with bated breath. Sam and Gabriel moved to hide behind Dean as best they could.

"Oh, I could very easily find other ways to make things difficult for you here, but it seems that you're doing a wonderful job of what on your own, considering your choice of company." Luke said 'choice of company' as though he was describing the contents of a toilet bowl in great detail.

"Nobody's ever said anything to me about the fact that I spend time with Dean," Cas lied. "Perhaps you're the only person who cares."

"Perhaps I'm the only one brave enough to challenge you to your face. As your big brother, it's my role to guide you and ensure that you don't make mistakes such as these ones. You need to start making connections so that you can have a good future after you leave school."

"And what do you mean by a good future exactly? You want to be like our parents and take over a company and then cut everyone's wages so that you get all the money they can't have?"

"That's exactly what I intend to do," Luke smirked. "If they wanted to make more money, they should be trying harder. I'll be the CEO for a reason."

"Luke, are you hearing yourself? You're not making any-"

"Castiel," Luke cut in, holding up a hand to silence his brother. "I didn't come here to debate my future plans with you. I came here to deliver a message from a Balthazar Milton in the Lower Sixth."

Cas turned around for the first time since the exchange had started and shot Dean an apologetic look, before turning back to Luke. "What does he have to say and why isn't he telling me himself?"

"He wants to know if you know about the Valentine's Day Ball that's happening next month."

Cas shrugged. "I've seen the posters up around school. Why?"

"Balthazar would very much like to accompany you. He came to talk to me first to find out if he had my blessing to go to the dance together, which I very much appreciated. He comes from a good family, and would be a good person to have on your side. He is also attractive, and what one might call witty. I believe he is just your type."

Cas took a deep breath. He didn't have a lot of options here. But one of those options was hurting Dean, and that was something he would never stand for.

"No."

Luke took a step back, surprised. "No, you wouldn't describe that as your type, or..."

"No, I don't want to go to the ball with Balthazar."

"And why is that?"

Castiel shrugged again, casually, loosening his stance and mimicking the way Dean liked to stand. "Maybe because I don't actually like him all that much. I don't know what we'd talk about if we spent an evening together. I don't feel comfortable around him, I can't be myself. I know it's just one dance, but I feel like if I went with him, our families would expect things to go further. And I'm not interested in that happening. So you can tell Balthazar that I appreciate the invitation, but that I'd rather he didn't ask me out again."

He turned back to the other three. "Now, we're all very cold and I think we all want to go inside now instead of having this pointless conversation. Wouldn't you agree, Dean?"

Dean nodded, dumbstruck, and followed Cas as he swept away through the snow with his nose in the air. He would have looked graceful and elegant if it wasn't for the snow that was still slowly dripping from the back of his trench coat.

Cas signed the three of them in and they all curled up in a mound of blankets on Cas' bed. "Dean, I'm so sorry about that," were the first words out of Cas' mouth.

"It's alright. Wasn't your fault. We both already knew that Luke was an arse, so it's not like it's much of a surprise."

"I'll give you that one," Cas replied with a small smile. "But even so. I feel bad that you had to witness that. The things he said... there's no excuse, none at all."

"Forget it," Dean shook his head. "Let's talk about something else.

--

But Dean couldn't get Luke's words out of his head for the next few days. They were exactly the things he'd been telling himself for months now, about himself, about his place at the school, about his relationship with Cas. And as much as he didn't give a fuck who was a legacy here or who was the Head Boy, that was his boyfriend's brother, someone who was kind of relevant in his life. And he thought that Dean was going to fuck up Cas' future. And considering Dean had almost got Cas kicked out of school once already, he thought that Luke was probably right.

He knew he should talk to Cas about all this, but things were so good between them. When they were alone, curled up together in Cas' room feeding each other bites of the pie they'd made together down in the kitchen... that was the only real thing that made being at school good for Dean. And the thought of giving that up and having to exist here, alone in his room with Crowley under his one thin blanket for the rest of the year... he wasn't sure he was strong enough for that.

Dean was heading out to the laundry room to do the laundry he'd been putting off for far too long when he ran into his boyfriend, dressed in his running clothes and sweating. "Dean! Hey, I was just about to call you."

Dean smiled, all the thoughts of talking to Cas about their relationship gona from his head. He led Cas inside the laundry room and dumped his sheets on the floor so that he could pin Cas to the top of the washing machine and kiss him senseless.

"What was that for?" Cas gasped when they broke apart.

Dean shrugged. "I love the way you look when you've just finished running. And I wanted to."

"Well, I'm not complaining," Cas replied, picking up Dean's laundry and putting it into the machine for him. "Anyway, the reason I was going to call you was to ask you out."

"Cas, we're already dating."

Cas swatted at Dean, chuckling. "Yes, I know that. I mean out, with me, tonight. The school is having a ceremony for the new observatory they're opening, there's going to be a speaker about space and a chance for everyone to look through the telescope. I know school events aren't typically your thing, but I was hoping to go, and I was hoping I could persuade you to come with me."

Dean pulled Cas tight to him again, kissing a line along his cheek until he could whisper in his ear. "How exactly do you think you're going to persuade me?"

Cas tilted his head back, his eyes darkening and his voice already going a little breathless. "Dean, we don't have long, I was just going to head back to the dorms and change before we had to leave..."

"Oh, but do you really have to change? I can think of some far more interesting things we could be doing with those few minutes."

Cas moaned. "You're s-such-" He broke off when Dean tugged on his earlobe with his teeth. "-a bad influence."

"Yeah, and you knew that when you started going out with me. So are we going to do this or not?"

Dean grabbed Cas' ass and lifted him up until he was sitting on top of the washing machine. Cas gasped and wrapped his arms around Dean, spreading his legs so that there was room for Dean to stand between them. "Y-yes, fine, I suppose going dressed like this wouldn't be the worst thing..."

Dean smirked in triumph and leaned in for another kiss.

--

Half an hour later, the two of them were walking hand in hand towards the observatory on the other side of campus, both of them with smiles on their faces that were entirely too big for two boys about to go to a school event, but they didn't particularly care. Dean still couldn't quite believe that he'd been tricked into actually, voluntarily doing something school related outside of class time when he could have been eating cake and watching movies, and he knew he was getting a few strange looks when he walked into the room. Nobody had ever seen him at a school social, an extracurricular activity, and definitely not an academic presentation before now, and yet here he was, and looking happy to be here too.

He zoned out during the talk about space - it was interesting, sure, and space was kind of cool and he liked looking at the pictures on the PowerPoint and reading the quick facts there, but it was just difficult to pay attention to the guy who was droning on about everything. Dean opened his phone underneath his blazer and played games on it to pass the time. When that got boring too, he slipped off one of his shoes and ran his foot up Castiel's leg. Cas halfheartedly swatted him away, trying to concentrate on the presentation, and smiled while he was doing it.

Finally, the speaker reached the 'Any questions' slide of his presentation, and while there were a couple of quick ones from the nerds sitting in the front row, it wasn't long after that before everyone was invited to form a line to take a look for themselves through the telescope. This, Dean was secretly a tiny bit excited about. The stars were cool, and he'd never seen them up close before.

"Dammit, this line is slow," Dean complained, tapping his foot.

"It'll be worth it when we get to the front," Cas promised with a secret smile on his face. Dean frowned. That was the kind of smile that very clearly said that Cas was plotting something.

Finally, they made it. Cas was technically in front of Dean in the line, but he insisted on Dean being the one to take the first look, so Dean stepped up to the podium, bent down and squinted through the eyepiece.

It took a moment for everything to come into focus, but when it finally did, Dean gasped. There were so many more colors than he expected...  it wasn't just magnified dots of light, it was a sky filled with swirling patterns. It looked like somebody talented had painted it, not like the actual sky, right in front of his eyes.

He didn't let himself stand there for too long, but he wished he could take a picture to preserve the moment. There had never been much beauty in any of the placed he'd lived, but the universe as a whole looked pretty damn cool.

When he turned back around, the room was oddly silent. A few minutes ago everyone in the line had been talking as they waited, but now everyone's eyes were on him. Dean panicked, glancing around, scared. What the hell had happened while he'd been preoccupied with stars that were millions of miles away?

"Alright, everyone, listen up." Castiel stepped onto the podium next to him and called out to the crowd.

"What are you doing?" Dean hissed.

"I just waited in line for almost an hour to spend a few seconds looking at some stars, and now I'm the first person in line, and... I've changed my mind. I'm not going to look in that telescope. And I'd ask you all if you want to know why, but I know you're probably not at all interested. But I'm going to tell you anyway, because this is important to me. I'm not going to look at the stars because the biggest star in my life is standing right by my side. So, Dean, I'm here to ask in front of everyone... will you go to the Valentine's Day dance with me?"

Cas pulled a flower out of his insider blazer pocket. It was a white rose, slightly squished from when the two of them had been pressed together on top of the laundry machine, but still definitely recognizable.

Dean's eyes widened. "You're serious? You wanna go? With me?"

Cas tutted. "Who the hell else do you think I'd want to go with? You know full well I've already turned one date down."

Dean pressed a hand to his forehead, grinning. Why was Cas like this? "Yeah, of course I'll go to the fucking dance with you, you sap. Now look at the damn stars because that speech was cute and all but I'm not letting you miss out on this for me." He took the flower and gave Cas a shove in the direction of the telescope, beaming as he stepped down.

The room was silent. Nobody clapped for them. Everyone just stared at Dean, and Dean shared back, shrugging and grinning, silently asking them 'what are you gonna do about it?'

--

For the next few days after that, Dean felt like he was floating. Cas had straight up told half the school that he wanted to be with Dean and nobody else. He wasn't ashamed of being with a poor, no-good loser like him. He wanted to be with Dean and didn't give a shit what anyone thought,and that made Dean feel pretty good about himself. And, of course, there had been a few snide comments thrown his way about how Cas was far too good for him and was sure to ditch him before too long when somebody better came along, but Dean would rather people were attacking Cas than him. And he was used to those kinds of comments anyway.

So he was able to ignore everything that was happening pretty well for quite a while. The end of January came and went, all the snow melted, and the first few rays of sunlight peeked into the Sussex Downs. The ball was approaching, and after it came half term - a whole week off classes during which school was still open, and Dean could stay in his dorm, doing whatever he wanted, living his own life with nobody to disturb him. Things could be a hell of a lot worse.

And then he ran into Luke.

He was walking between two classes, taking a shortcut he'd found by himself that he thought he probably, technically wasn't allowed to take, since it went up a flight of stairs behind a door marked 'No Entry' and through a corridor that smelled funny as though nobody but him had used it for years, and he'd just come out of the door at the other end when Luke ambushed him. It was the first time Dean had ever seen him without Bela right by his side.

"Dean Winchester. Do I have to give you detention?"

"Uh. No?" Dean tried, not sure what the right answer was here.

"You were in a part of the school that is supposed to be off limits to students. What were you doing up there? Smoking? Drinking? Cheating on my brother? I have no idea, and I'm not sure I want to know, but the teachers will believe anything I tell them."

Dean walked away, not having time for any of this bullshit right now. He didn't want to be late to class. "Seriously, I just wanted to get to class a bit faster. Sometimes when I walk through the corridors people push me around or block me and then I'm late and I get yelled at. Least this way I get a bit of peace and quiet."

Luke grabbed Dean by the arm. He had a surprisingly strong grip. He opened the 'No Entry' door once again and shoved Dean inside, fire blazing in his eyes.

"Well, now I should give you detention, seeing as you're in here too," Dean made a lame attempt at a joke.

"Listen to me. I know that my brother asked you to go to the Valentine's Day ball with him. And I'm not sure that's a very good idea."

Dean tried to squirm out of his grip. "Well, of course you don't. But I ain't old fashioned like Balthazar is. I don't need your permission. I just really like Cas and I wanna take him to the dance, so I'm gonna." He was half tempted to tell Luke all the other things he and Cas had been getting up to, just to see the look on his face, but he decided against it.

"Dean. How are you going to go to the dance, anyway? For example, what are you going to wear?"

Dean hadn't thought about that until now. He didn't have a lot in his closet - just a few plaid shirts and jumpers, a couple of pairs of jeans, his tattered school uniform and his leather jacket. "I mean, Cas probably has something in mind..."

"And once you get there, how are you going to act? What do you know about dinner party etiquette? Are you supposed to stand up when the headmaster walks into the room? What do you say to the waiters? How do you dance at a ball?"

Luke was getting closer and closer to Dean's face the whole time, until he was practically spitting right in his eye. "Do you know these things, Dean? Do you?"

There was no way Dean could lie. It was a fucking rhetorical question, and had been right from the start. "No, can't say I do."

"I didn't think so. My brother may like the idea of going to the ball with you because he knows it's going to shock people, but I'm not so sure he's going to enjoy the reality of it as much as he expects. Do you want to embarrass him in front of everyone? Do you want to let him down?"

"There's still a week and a half to go, I can practice, I can figure stuff out-"

"No you can't. Do you really think that's enough time to turn yourself into someone who deserves to go to a formal event on the arm of a boy from one of the richest families in England?"

"One of the..." Dean's throat went dry. He knew Cas' family was fucking rich, but he'd never quite appreciated just how far it went.

"That's right. Now, I'm not going to stop you from doing anything. I just thought I should give you a word of warning, since you seem so intent on this plan without having thought it through properly."

He turned and walked out of the door, letting it bang in Dean's face without holding it open for him.

Dean sank down on the steps. Well, he definitely wasn't going to history now. First of all, he didn't want to get yelled at for being late and have even more attention on him than there usually was, second of all, there was no way he could concentrate after all of that. "Fuck," he said to himself, out loud, matter of factly.

He guessed he had no choice but to talk to Cas.

They already had plans to hang out that night, as they so often did. Cas came over to Dean's boarding house and the two of them went through to the common room, claiming the pool table. Pool was something that Dean had learned how to play when he was a kid and his dad used to take him to bars. By the time he was seven or eight he was pretty confident about beating any grown man in the place, and he used to win them money that way, since nobody really believed that a kid could win against them. Cas had grown up with a family that took him to fancy holiday resorts outfitted with sports equipment, and for him, playing a game of pool against his brothers had been his idea of a relaxing evening after a long day of sunbathing by a pool eating all inclusive ice cream. They had different backstories, but when they played against each other, they tended to be pretty easily matched.

Dean scored the first point of the game and was one ball ahead of Cas pretty much all the way. He just needed to pot the black in order to win, but fucked up his last shot, giving Cas the opportunity to clean up the table, raising his arms in victory. "Did you see that?" he crowed, throwing his head back in delight, in a rare show of completely uncontrolled emotion that always made Dean smile, even though he'd just lost.

"Course I saw that. That was a great shot." Dean patted his boyfriend on the back. They didn't play for money, just for bragging rights for the next few days, and Dean felt kind of bad that he knew what he was going to say next would take Cas' mind off any bragging he planned to do.

"Can I, uh, can I talk to you for a few minutes?"

Cas nodded. "Of course. Should we go to your room, or..."

"Crowley's probably in there. Here is fine." Dean figured that everyone else was so busy with their own conversations that they wouldn't even be listening to his. And even if they did, well, they were all bound to find out about this some way or another.

Cas sat down on the closest sofa and took Dean's hand in both of his, looking him right in the eye. Dean couldn't deal with the eye contact, though, so he turned away and stared at a scratch in the leather as he spoke.

"So, uh, I know you asked me to the dance. And I was really excited about going and everything. And I do want to, I swear I do. But I'm not sure I can."

"Why? Does your dad want you to go home for half term or something?" Cas' voice was completely level, understanding. He didn't sound like he was going to get mad in the slightest, he was just sympathetic. Dean was hit, yet again, with the realization that he didn't at all deserve Castiel.

"It's not that. I'm still staying here. It's just... I've never been to a ball before. Or anything like it. I've been to house parties where people mostly just drink and grind on each other, and... yeah, that's about it. I don't have anything to wear to a ball, I have no idea how to act, in the slightest, I'd end up doing something stupid and I don't give a fuck what people would think of me but I'm scared it would make you look bad too. So. I can't go. There's no way I'd get through the night without screwing things up."

Cas sighed, and Dean dared to meet his eyes. He looked disappointed, but in a sort of resigned way. "Okay. It sounds like you've made up your mind, but I won't try to convince you otherwise. If you're completely sure about this, then I suggest that we do something else that night. Perhaps we should cook for ourselves instead, have a dinner date to celebrate Valentine's Day alone?"

Dean blinked. "You'd do that for me? You're not mad or anything?"

"Of course I'd do that for you. I'd do anything for you, Dean. All I want is to spend that night with you, and whether that's at the ball in front of everyone else, or just in our room alone together, doesn't matter to be. So long as it's you and me."

All the worry that Dean had been feeling all day faded away. "Fuck, I love you," he laughed, wrapping Cas up in his arms.

Cas stiffened. "You've never said that out loud before."

"Haven't I?"

"No. You text it or say it to me through messages, but I've never heard those words come out of your mouth."

Dean pulled back to look in Cas' eyes. "But you knew I meant it, right?"

"Yes, of course. It just makes me happy to hear you say it."

Dean leaned in to give Cas a quick peck on the lips. "I'll try to say it more often. Love you, Cas."

Cas giggled and blushed, and it was all worth it.

--

Chapter Text

nine // the fear

Of course Dean's luck couldn't last. He'd never been the type of person to get out of bad situations so easily, and he really should have been suspicious that everything was getting sorted just like that. At the beginning of the following week, Cas texted him to tell him he was waiting outside his door.

"I have bad news, Dean," was Cas' opening line, which didn't exactly make Dean feel particularly positive about the conversation they were about to have.

"Oh, yeah? What's going on?"

"My parents. They want me to come home a couple of days early. They've decided last minute that we're all going skiing in Switzerland for the half term holiday."

"Switzerland, huh?" Dean chuckled, relieved. This was far better than whatever bad news he'd been expecting. Sure, he'd miss Cas for those extra couple of days, but they had plenty of time left after that. "Can't say I've ever been, but I hope you guys have a great time."

"Yes, we have a chalet over there, and we hadn't been planning to use it this year, but my father has had a stressful few weeks at work so he decided he could use the time off. I am very sorry about Valentine's Day, Dean."

"Oh..." Dean breathed, suddenly realizing what Cas was getting at. "Right. We were gonna have our dinner. Well, uh, can't we do it another night? I know it won't be on the day itself, but you can't have too much work this week, right? We could do it tomorrow or Wednesday?"

Cas looked a little uneasy for a moment, but then he smiled. "Of course we can. Either day works for me, so I'll leave the decision up to you."

"Uh, then we'll say Wednesday," Dean shrugged, frowning at Cas' reaction. "Wednesday at eight in the kitchen of your house. It's a date."

Cas acted kind of off for the next couple of days, too. It seemed like he was avoiding Dean more than usual, and he frequently went several hours without answering Dean's texts. But he was waiting outside his house right on time when Dean showed up for the dinner, dressed in a sharp suit and holding out a bouquet of flowers to Dean, smiling. He'd set up a table in his room, too, complete with a white tablecloth and a few candles.

"I don't expect anything special, Dean, there's no dinner etiquette required. I just wanted to do something nice," he announced the second Dean opened his mouth, before Dean even had a chance to speak, and there was a touch of bitterness in his tone.

"I was just gonna say that this all looks amazing. And it means a lot to me that you did all this," Dean tried to defend himself.

"Oh." Cas stopped in his tracks, and his face fell. "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."

He did look genuinely apologetic, so Dean stepped towards him and kissed him on the nose to make him smile. "It's alright. I know I say shit like that sometimes. Let's go cook and then have a great night, yeah?"

Cas nodded, and they really did end up having a great night, despite the strange start. There weren't any more awkward moments, conversation and jokes came easily to both of them as they talked about their plans for the break, and Cas had somehow managed to pick up a bottle of sparkling wine, so by the end of the night both of them were all giggly, having shifted their chairs around so they were sitting side by side rather than across from each other.

Cas trailed his hand up Dean's thigh and looked at him with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "Wouldn't be able to do this if we were at the ball, now, would I?"

"I dunno," Dean shrugged. "I don't think I'd complain about you doing this anywhere, if I'm hon-aah!" He cried out when Cas' hand cupped his cock and squeezed gently.

Cas chuckled. "I'm sure you wouldn't, but I plan on following through, right here and right now, which I would not be able to do if we were currently sharing a table with a dozen other people."

"Then what are you waiting for?" Dean grinned.

--

It was the perfect way to spend their last night together. Cas left the following evening, stopping by to give Dean a kiss goodbye and a completely unnecessarily cute Valentine's Day card that definitely didn't make a tear prickle at the corner of Dean's eye when he read it. Dean assumed that Gabriel would be leaving early too, and that Sam wouldn't have anything on once the holiday had officially started, so he invited Sam over the following night instead, and the two of them had a great time playing video games in the common room that they had almost to themselves.

In fact, the two of them ended up spending a fair bit of time together over the holidays, and as much as Dean missed Cas, it was pretty great to have the chance to catch up with his brother.

Sam was so full of stories about everything he was getting up to at school, all the projects he was doing, how well he was doing on every test, the clubs he was a part of, the things the teachers had said to him, the people he was hanging out with, and it seemed like he was doing incredibly well. Gabriel's name definitely came up more often than anybody else's - Dean once entertained himself trying to count how many times Sam said it in an hour, but lost count after about ten minutes - but it seemed like Sam was friends with most of the kids in his year, and some of the Year Eights too.

"And some of them say that Jessica has a crush on me, but that's probably not true, is it?" Sam looked up at his brother with wide, innocent eyes.

"Jessica? Remind me which one she is?" Dean was genuinely trying to keep track of all Sam's friends' names, but there were so many of them and Sam talked so fast.

"She plays flute in the orchestra! But she's in Year Eight, and Year Eight girls never date Year Seven boys!"

"Oh..." Dean nodded in understanding. "Well, I dunno. I'm sure people wouldn't say she has a crush on you for no reason. So maybe you should see how she acts around you and try to figure it out before saying anything. But, I mean, do you have a crush on her?"

Sam looked surprised, like he'd never really thought about that before. "I don't know. What do crushes feel like?"

"Crushes are like..." Dean gestured vaguely, thinking back to the first couple of months he'd spent getting to know Cas, and trying to decide how to explain this to Sam without sounding like a girl. "The person you always wanna spend time with, and it feels good being around them, but you're also kind of nervous. Like, you feel like you have to impress them. And when you're just friends with someone you'd be okay shoving food into your face and farting and stuff, but if you have a crush, you always wanna look nice and act sensible and make them laugh. And maybe your stomach feels kind of weird for no reason, and you'd do stuff that they asked you to do, like go out in the rain or go to a boring talk, if they wanted you to, when you wouldn't for other people."

Sam nodded slowly. "Right."

"So, does Jess make you feel like that?"

This time, Sam shook his head. "Jess doesn't..."

There was a strange emphasis on the Jess part of that statement. "You saying that someone else does?"

"Never mind," Sam said quickly, pushing Dean's computer towards him. "Come on, let's play games."

"Come on, Sam, I won't tell anyone!"

"I don't want you to make fun of me, and I know you will," Sam pouted. Dean wished he could protest that, but he'd spent almost twelve years now making fun of Sam, so he could see why it was something Sam was worried about.

"Alright, fine, you're off the hook for now," Dean chuckled, loading up the computer. The first thing that he saw was that he had a Facebook message from Cas. He opened it.

cas baby [09:22] Hello Dean. Skiing is a lot of fun. Nobody has broken any bones yet. (This may sound like a joke, but Gabriel did in fact break his leg last year.) It would be even more fun if you were here with us, though, I think you would enjoy it. I have put some pictures on my page this morning in case you want to laugh at how I look in my ski clothes. I hope you and Sam are having a lovely holiday, and I am already excited to see you on Sunday.

Dean grinned at the message, burying his face in his hand for a moment before remembering that Sam was right next to him and that acting like a dork in love just wouldn't do. "Uh, you okay if I look at those pictures before we play?"

"Knock yourself out," Sam said, disinterested, pulling out his own phone.

Dean clicked on Cas' page, and, just as promised, Cas had posted a new album full of pictures of himself and his family in their ski gear. There were a few posed ones of the whole group of them staring at the camera with forced smiles on their faces, but they weren't the ones Dean liked best. There was a selfie of Cas on a ski lift with the mountains in the background behind him, and another of Cas, Gabriel and their sister Anna pulling silly faces at the camera. There was a candid shot of a Cas who had just fallen on his arse in the snow, and one of him whizzing down the hill at top speed, poles out and a flurry of snow behind him. Yes, Cas looked ridiculous in his bright blue ski gear, but he also looked adorable, and Dean really wanted to hug him.

"Alright, you done staring at your boyfriend?" Sam rolled his eyes after a few minutes.

"Yeah, fine, fine," Dean mumbled, scrolling further down the page just to make sure that was the end of it. There was a status update letting everyone know that the family had arrived safely at the chalet, Cas had checked in to Heathrow Airport, and...

Dean stopped.

There was another set of photos, taken on Friday night. Friday night, when Cas had texted Dean telling him that they were unwinding in their living room in front of the fire after their first busy day skiing. And yet, these pictures were definitely not of a family huddled up in front of a fire. They weren't of the Swiss mountains, either, or even Cas on the aeroplane.

There pictures were of Castiel and Balthazar, dressed up in formal suits, standing in front of an ice sculpture in the dining hall of their school.

There was a whole set of them, too. It was Balthazar's album, and Dean wasn't facebook friends with him, so he wasn't even sure he'd be able to see it - but of course that bragging arsehole had set the album to public. Dean stared, his mouth falling open, as he forced himself to stare at Balthazar leaning down to kiss Cas' hand, Cas pinning a flower to Balthazar's buttonhole, the two of them holding hands and laughing while being served a rich chocolate dessert, the two of them slow dancing together, clinking glasses, posing on a long red carpet outside, watching fireworks...

There was no way these were real. Balthazar must have photoshopped them, or that was just somebody who looked like Cas, this was a prank, this was horrible, it couldn't possibly be true...

And then he clicked out of the album and saw the comment.

Luke Novak: So glad you saw sense. Looks like the two of you are having a wonderful time. I look forward to Balthazar coming to spend the Easter holidays with the family.

And, underneath: Castiel Novak likes this .

Dean couldn't breathe. His chest hurt, and without even realizing it he'd been gripping the sheets on his bed tight enough to rip through them. Sam was staring, too, looking up from his phone, eyes fixed on the screen, clearly no idea how to react to this.

"That- he-" Dean had to say something, or this was going to destroy him from the inside out, but he'd suddenly forgotten every word he knew.

"Sam, tell me I'm dreaming. Please, Sam. Tell me this isn't real, wake me up, Sam, please!"

Sam shook his head, looking scared and horrified at the same time. "Dean, I can't-"

"How fucking dare he?" Dean was shaking now, a combination of angry and close to tears. "He was the one good thing- he said he was in Switzerland- he lied to me!"

"Dean, it's okay, I'm sure there's a misunderstanding-"

"How can there be a fucking misunderstanding, Sam? He said he was going to Switzerland, that his flight was Thursday night, but here are pictures of him, at the ball, with Balthazar!" He knew he sounded hysterical, his voice cracking every few words, rising and lowering in pitch. "You were there, you saw him turn him down, and now he's on a date with him, he's giving him a flower, he got that flower for me!"

"I don't know!" Sam squeaked, terrified. "I don't know what's happening, Dean!"

"I know you don't know what's happening! I know it's not your fucking fault and I don't blame you!" Dean screamed at the top of his lungs, flinging his fist into the wall. Nothing happened into the wall, but Dean's knuckles throbbed in agony, which just had the effect of making him more angry.

"I'm going for a fucking walk," he growled, because he was scared that if he stayed there, he'd end up doing something to Sam. And he refused to do that. He wouldn't let himself be like their dad. "You can stay or go, I don't care. I'll text you when I've calmed down."

He didn't wait for Sam to reply, just turned and strode out of the room. He was only wearing a T-shirt and a thin pair of pajama trousers, but he barely even noticed the cold when he got outside. He ran. He ran like Cas ran, like it was the only important thing he was doing at that moment, like he was doing it just for the sake of running rather than because he was actually going anywhere. He ran out of the school gates and down the road, in the opposite direction of the train station, and he had no idea what he was heading towards, but he knew that the further he ran, the more his heart pounded, the more the air stung the back of his throat and made his eyes water. He tripped over a few things on the road and had a few near misses when cars passed, but mostly the street was deserted. He ran uphill and the street turned into woodlands, so he crashed downhill through the undergrowth, ripping tree branches off of trunks and feeling powerful. He ran until he reached a fenced off lake, hopped the fence in a single bound and threw himself inside the freezing water without a second thought.

He sank down to the bottom, his surroundings hazy through the green water, and then bobbed back up to the surface. The sudden, cold bath had cleared his head, and he suddenly realized that his legs were in agony, that he'd probably never run that far in his life. He looked back the way he'd come, doing his best to make out the school in the distance, but he couldn't see anything. He couldn't even see the road. He had no idea where he was.

He pulled himself out of the pond and wrapped his arms around his knees, curling up and shivering. Part of him wanted to just stay out here. He was used to towns, to people, and it had never quite hit him before that here in the countryside, it was possible nobody would find him for days. Maybe not until it was too late...

He shook his head, throwing that thought aside. He could never do that to Sammy.

And yet, facing Cas in this state was more than he could bear.

He could go find his dad, that was a better option. Sure, Bobby would probably be pissed, but at least Dean wouldn't have to go back to school. He could make his way to the train station, beg for enough money to get a ticket to wherever his dad happened to be, call Sam and explain. Sam would be upset, but he'd know Dean was safe, and he'd see him at Easter. Sam could stay at school, be happy, be successful, no stupid older brother dragging him down and ruining everything for him.

Yeah, that made sense.

Having a plan made Dean feel better. He got shakily to his feet, and his legs still hurt, but he figured he had enough energy to walk at least. He wished he had some food with him, that would have been smart, but of course he hadn't exactly been thinking straight when he'd left. But he managed to stagger along for a few minutes before taking a rest, and when he sank down for his second rest break, he saw what he thought was the road between the trees.

Perhaps if he could make it to the road, he could get a car to stop for him. He could explain the situation, and then he could get a lift to the station from somebody who felt sorry for him. If he was really, really lucky, they'd give him money for the train too. He could get their number and find a way to pay them back someday. That wasn't important right now. He just needed to get away from here.

Dean pulled himself upright. His legs were on fire by this point and he shook with every step, tired and weak, and the cold definitely wasn't helping. But somehow he made it, using trees to support him as he made his way over to the road. He couldn't stand, couldn't even sit, all he could do was lie down by the roadside while he waited for a car to come by.

It was a long time before anybody did. He wasn't sure how long, he just knew that the cold had sank all the way into his bones. He was past the point of even shivering, he felt like his body had shut down. And then the lights appeared, overhead, in the distance. That was just about enough motivation for Dean to drag himself into a kneeling position and stick out his thumb.

Somehow, amazingly, luck was on his side. The car slowed down and came to a stop, right beside him, and the driver leaned over and opened the car door.

"...Dean?"

Dean's eyes widened. How did this person know his name? Fuck, maybe this hadn't been such a good idea after all, he was probably going to get stabbed by a creepy serial killer, he was-

"Dean, is everything alright? Oh, gosh, it's clearly not. Come on, get in the car. No, I'll help you, you wait there, I'm getting out."

Dean recognized that voice. He looked up when he felt a pair of small but strong arms wrap around his chest and tug him into the passenger seat of the car, and he saw Mrs Mills, his chemistry teacher, looming over him, her brow furrowed and a concerned expression on her face.

"Mrs Mills..." he croaked.

"None of that crap, I just picked you up as a hitchhiker and probably saved you from hypothermia, you can call me Jody," she tutted, walking back round to her side of the car and climbing in. "Now. You need a lift back to school?"

Dean shook his head. "Station."

Jody reached over again and opened the glove compartment, digging inside. There was an unopened bottle of orange Fruit Shoot in there, as well as a half empty packet of Jaffa Cakes. "Eat. Drink. Sorry it's all I've got, I have a nine year old son."

Dean shrugged and took them gratefully. He didn't much care what the food was. He actually kind of liked it, it reminded him of school lunches in primary school, of trading food with the other kids at his table, of a simpler time when the worst thing that could happen to him was opening a pack of Six Mini Jaffa Cakes that he'd traded something good for and realizing that the factory had messed up and that there were only five inside.

"So, why are you going to the station? Going anywhere nice?" Jody asked sarcastically.

"See my dad," Dean explained through a mouthful of food. "That a crime? 'S half term, after all. 'M allowed to do what I want."

Jody rolled her eyes, not putting up with any of Dean's bullshit. "You were in the middle of the woods and you'd been going in the opposite direction to the station. I know you know where it is. If everything was normal and you were going on a nice family holiday, you'd have gone to the station in the first place. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that something's not right, Dean."

Dean pulled a face at her. "I fucking hate it when teachers are right."

"Everyone does, Dean."

"No they don't," Dean frowned. "Not the kids at school. They just, they expect teachers to be right, they listen to everything you guys say and they do as they're told and they're like these super-kids that are every adult's dream. Must have been a really fucking easy job for you until I came along, right?"

To his surprise, Jody laughed. "You really haven't spent much time with the kids at school, have you?"

Dean shrugged. "Not really. Just with-" He couldn't even say Cas' name right now, but luckily, Jody pressed on without question.

"Well, if you did get to know them, you'd see that they're actually pretty similar to you. I'm the housemistress for one of the girls' houses, and let me tell you, not a day goes by that I don't have to tell one of them off for being out after lights out, for not doing their homework, for having a sleepover on a week night, for cheating on a test, for drinking alcohol on school property, for having a boy in their room with the door shut. Everything you can possibly imagine. Small things that I have to shout at them for. Big things that I have to suspend them for. And they backchat, they talk about me when they think I don't know about it, they roll their eyes and they can't wait to get out of here and live their own lives. They're just the same as any other kid. Only difference between them and you is that they have a lot more money."

Dean shook his head. "You're messing with me."

"I am not. Not that I don't frequently mess with everyone from my students to my own wife, but it would be a little cruel to mess with you when you're in this state, don't you think?"

Dean just shrugged. "Used to people not being nice to me."

"Yes, I can see that. Is now a good time for you to tell me why you were shivering by the side of the road in the middle of February?"

Dean groaned and pressed his head back into the seat. "Nope."

"I'm a teacher and a mother. I can be patient. And I don't have to let you out of this car until you've told me."

"That's kidnapping."

"You'd better watch your mouth, I just saved your life."

"Fine," Dean grumbled, taking a long swig from the Fruit Shoot. "You know I've been dating Cas, right?"

Jody nodded. "Oh, yes. The two of you are the talk of the staff room."

Dean straightened up and frowned. "Really?"

"Yes. Teachers gossip just like everybody else. We like to stay up to date with who's dating who. Sometimes we place bets on it. I had money from the two of you from way back in September."

"What the fuck?" Dean let out a weak giggle, the first he'd managed since he learned the news about Cas, and Jody looked proud of herself.

"Right, so, we were supposed to go to the ball together, but then I told him I didn't want to cause I don't know anything about balls or fancy shit like that. And then he told me it was fine cause he was going skiing with his parents. So we had a valentine's dinner on Wednesday instead, on Thursday he said goodbye to me and showed me his suitcase like he was leaving, on Friday he told me he'd arrived in Switzerland, there's no way I made a mistake. And then today I saw his pictures on Facebook, and he, he went to the ball with somebody else."

Jody nodded, her face not betraying any emotion. "Yes, I saw him at the ball and was very surprised to see him not with you. I assumed he had your permission, though. If I'd known he was lying to you, I would have confronted him."

"Why?" Dean asked, confused.

"Because you deserve better than somebody who's going to lie to you and go out with somebody else behind your back."

"No I don't," Dean replied immediately. "It's him who deserves better than me. I'm a piece of shit. Surprised I managed to hold onto him this long."

Jody sighed and turned to glare at him in a stern manner. "Dean, nobody deserves somebody who's going to lie to them. Doesn't matter what they've done or how their grades are or how popular they are or how much money their family makes. You deserve somebody who's going to treat you with basic respect. I had thought Cas was that person. And if it turns out that he's not, then you might have to wait to find somebody who will. But you will find them. And they'll be worth waiting for."

Dean tilted his head to one side in what he would later realize was actually a very Cas-like move. He'd been so busy thinking about everything he'd done wrong that had meant Cas had been forced to run into Balthazar's arms, that he'd never stopped to think that actually, he might not be the one in the wrong here.

"I always figured I'd be the one to fuck things up. Never crossed my mind that it would turn out to be him."

Jody smiled and put an arm round him. "At least you'll always know that you did everything you could to treat him well and make the relationship work."

Dean nodded, though he couldn't manage a smile to match hers.

"Now. Here we are. The station. Are you still going to visit your dad?"

Dean shrugged. "I dunno. I got no idea where he is. And I don't actually wanna see him. But I don't wanna see Cas either. I got nowhere to go, Jody. I'd just run away by myself if it weren't for Sam. He's gotta know I'm safe."

Jody hummed, considering for a moment. "Well. It's your decision in the end, of course, Dean. But if you leave school and go find your dad, you won't get a chance to come back. I don't think it'll surprise you to know that you're on thin ice with the school board. They've been looking for an excuse to kick you out for a fair while. And don't think we don't know more about what you've been getting up to than you realize. We just let a lot of it slide because we know you're getting older and you need to figure the world out for yourselves."

"But if I come back, I might get kicked out anyway," Dean rationalized.

"Only if you do something to warrant getting kicked out. And even if you do, I'll fight your corner. But there are other things you could do with your time instead of running around breaking rules and corrupting legacy pupils, you know."

"Like what?"

Jody gave him a quiet chuckle. "Remember at the beginning of the year when I told you about the Chemistry Olympiad? There's still a couple of months until students sit the papers. I'd be happy to work with you one on one, get you ready for it, help you with the skills you'll need. You'd have to work hard if you wanted to do well in such a short time, but I think you could handle it. You clearly have a natural ability."

"So, you want to turn me into a nerd?"

"I'd still let you break a few rules on occasion."

Dean thought about it for a long while, staring out of the car window up at the moon, which was just creeping out of the sky for the first time after last night's new moon.

"Okay."

--

Chapter Text

ten // like a friend

"Dean? You haven't replied to my texts, you've been ignoring me, I've been so worried-"

Dean lived up to his reputation and continued to ignore Cas, walking as fast as he could, weighed down as he was by the massive Chemistry textbook he was carrying.

"Dean, please! Just talk to me, tell me what's going on!"

"You know damn well what's going on," Dean mumbled under his breath.

He hadn't expected Cas to hear him, but apparently he'd been wrong about that, because Cas replied, "No, I have no idea what's going on! Tell me, Dean, just explain and then I promise I'll leave you alone if you want me to."

Dean whirled around. Maybe it would be cathartic to yell at Cas. "What's going on is you went to the dance with Balthazar! And now everyone in the school is talking about you and about how you're the best couple to ever happen to this place and I heard a couple of Year Nine kids planning your fucking wedding the other day and it's like, it's like you and I never existed, cause everyone's acting like we weren't even together! And it's not like I care. I just wish you'd been honest with me about this, you know?"

Cas shook his head. "It's not like that."

"Really? Then what is it like? You've got twenty fucking seconds to explain cause I've got a meeting with Mrs Mills and I really don't want to be late for it."

"At least come inside with me for a moment?"

Dean let out a huge, exaggerated sigh. "Fine."

Cas led him into the chapel and sat down on one of the long stone pews, leaving plenty of room for Dean to sit next to him and still have a gap between them. Dean did so, though he debated staying standing. "Alright. Talk to me."

"I did it because of my family, they were pressuring me, telling me that I had to start thinking about my future. I start sixth form in a few months and then I have to start thinking about university and this is the time when everything changes, Dean, I don't have the time to sit about with someone who things are never going anywhere with! And if I thought you and I had even a chance of a future together, then I never would have gone out with Balthazar. But you spend all your time talking about how you can't wait to get out of here once you've finished your GCSEs, and you're just going to leave me behind and I'll have wasted a year of my life on someone who's just going to walk away and forget about me. And Balthazar's actually really nice when you get to know him and he treats me well and he takes me to nice places and he comes from a good family and... I'm sorry, Dean, I know I handled it badly, I know I did. But I never meant to hurt you with this. I was just under so much pressure, everyone in my family called me to tell me to go to the ball with him and I... I gave in."

Dean screwed his eyes shut, his vision spotting, and he felt like he was going to pass out. He supposed that Cas had a point. Who the fuck did he think he was, expecting Cas to just invest an entire year of his time and energy into Dean when Dean had mde it abundantly clear from the outset that he was never going to make the same kind of sacrifice for Cas?

"You still should have told me," he muttered.

"Yes. I should. I fucked up there."

He didn't try to defend himself or justify his actions, and for some reason that pissed Dean off even more.

"Alright. Well. Now you know why I'm mad. I hope you and Balthazar are happy. For the record, I ear you're getting married on a boat on the Seine in Paris. Apparently Balthazar has family there or something. I'm sure it'll be beautiful. I'm sure you'll have a perfect life. And for what it's worth, I'm gonna miss the shit out of you."

Dean got up and walked out of the chapel, and pretended he didn't hear Cas' lost, broken sounding "I'll miss you too," that echoed throughout the stone room.

--

"Hey. You wanna be my study buddy?"

Sam looked up at him in disbelief. "You want me to be your study buddy."

"Well, yeah. I need to study. And for that I need a buddy. And you're someone else who needs to study, and so I thought, who better to be my buddy?"

Sam scoffed. "That was the most ridiculous sentence I've ever heard you say, and I was there the first time you got drunk."

"Alright, smartarse. So is that a yes or a no?"

"It's a yes. So long as you actually study. But we're going to the library and I'm taking your computer away and if you try to be a distraction, I'm kicking you out," Sam announced, sounding far too superior for an eleven year old.

"I accept those terms," Dean nodded, but Sam was already strolling towards the library with his shoulders back.

Dean followed him and the two of them sat down at a table. He pulled out his stack of practice papers. He'd long since lost the old ones that Jody had given him, left them buried somewhere in the deep dark confines of his room, but she hadn't been at all surprised when he'd told her that, just printed off a new set for him without any complaints. So now he had a mountain of paper dating way back to whenever the Chemistry Olympiad had been started, and Jody expected him to work through all of them.

Dean thought this might well be more work than he had ever done in his life. Put together.

"You wanna help me get started?" Dean asked hopefully.

Sam plucked the top paper off the pile and opened it. His eyes widened when he saw the first question. "I have no idea how to do this!"

"No? But you're, like, a child genius or something."

Sam rolled his eyes. "I am not a child genius, Dean. I just work hard and do all my homework and try to learn more than what I have to for my lessons, but I can't do things like this. Not yet, anyway. Maybe when I'm in Year Nine or so." He flipped the paper back over to the front. "Look, it says this is a high level challenge for Year Thirteen students!"

Dean had never read the fine print on the front before. This was for the top Year Thirteen students? This was stuff that Sam couldn't even begin to manage just yet? And Jody thought that he'd be able to do well in this?

He opened the paper again and read question one. Just like Sam, he had absolutely no idea where to begin with it.

Then he turned another page and read question two. He read it again, and again.

He pushed it back over to Sam. "What about this one?"

Sam read it and then shook his head. "Nope."

"...I think I know how to do it."

He wasn't sure, but he had an idea. He pulled out a pencil and got to work, scrawling all over the paper. After a few failed attempts, mistakes and crossed out workings, he came up with something which might not have been the right answer, but which at least made sense to him.

Something to work on, at least.

He smiled to himself, and looked up at Sam, who was bent over a pad of paper furiously scrawling an essay. Dean didn't want to disturb him when he was in the flow of things, so he just smiled to himself, his chest swelling with pride.

He flipped the page to look at the other questions in the paper, skipping lots of them, attempting a few of them, even finding one or two that he was fairly confident on. Before he knew it, the librarian was coming round announcing to everyone that there were only fifteen minutes until closing time, and that everybody should be packing up and heading back to their dorms for the night.

Sam smiled up at Dean as he put his things away into his schoolbag. Only he didn't seem to be looking up as much as he usually did. In the time that Dean hadn't been seeing a whole lot of him, Sam had shot up, and all of a sudden he was only a few inches shorter than Dean himself.

"I'm proud of you, Dean."

Luckily, he was still short enough for Dean to lean down a ruffle his hair. "You're four years younger than me, you're not supposed to say shit like that. Bitch."

Sam bumped his schoolbag against Dean's side. "Jerk."

--

Now that it was after February half term, all of the Year Eleven teachers were impressing on their students just how soon the GCSE exams were. 'This is your last chance to really get to grips with any material you struggle with,' they insisted, over and over again. 'If you need tutoring, the Easter holidays are the time to do it. There's no point putting this off until after you get back from the break. That only gives you a few weeks. Study now, and you'll be glad you did.'

Dean was finding the chemistry interesting, and a couple of his other classes too. Maths was actually pretty cool once you got past the fact that liking maths was the nerdiest thing ever, because it made sense. Once you sorted through all the numbers and the letters, you had a definite answer, and it came out the same way every time. That was pretty cool. English was good too, but for a different reason. Dean still groaned every time he thought about writing an essay, but he was finally getting round to reading all the books his class had been assigned. Pride and Prejudice, An Inspector Calls, Of Mice and Men... they were all actually pretty good.

Even when it came to the classes Dean couldn't give the furthest resemblance of a shit about, like Religious Studies, he was still trying his best. It wasn't so much that he wanted to do well in his exams. It was more that he needed a distraction, and he didn't have anything else to do with his time. TV on its own wasn't really enough for him any more, his mind still wandered. But if he had a TV show on in the background as he worked through GCSE practice papers and threw things at Crowley to piss him off every few minutes... that kept him pretty busy, and he often found himself up late into the night, studying under the covers by the light of his laptop, until he was so tired that he could barely manage to shut off the computer and put the lid on his pen before passing out for a few hours.

"I never thought I'd say this to you, but do you think you might be working yourself too hard?" Jody suggested during one of their meetings.

Dean shook his head. "I swear I'm not. I'm taking breaks."

"Yes, to go to class. You've got dark circles round your eyes, they're bloodshot, you look like you're barely sleeping and I'm fairly sure you've lost weight."

Dean looked down at himself. His school clothes had always been a little baggy, so it had been difficult to really tell, but thinking about it, he realized that Jody might well be right. "You think?"

"Yes, I think. Which is why I ordered us pizza."

Dean's face lit up. "What?"

Jody pushed two steaming Domino's boxes across the table. "Here. I got two kinds, and I like both of them, so the choice is yours."

Dean opened both of the boxes, and saw one meat feast and one vegetable supreme. It only took him a second to decide on the meat feast, pulling a slice dripping with cheese out of the box and shoving half of it in his mouth in one go.

Jody chuckled and pulled the other box towards herself, taking a far more sensibly sized bite. "What are you eating these days?"

Dean shrugged. "Not really thinking about it. Just bread and butter mostly. Whatever I can grab from the dining hall when I'm in a hurry."

Jody sighed, but smiled. "Listen, I'm not your mother, but I'm probably the closest thing you've got to one while you're here, so I'm telling you that you need to eat better and sleep more. Because this happens with some of my students every year. They work hard and then they burn out before the exams."

"I'm not gonna burn out!" Dean insisted. "Cause I'm not gonna be able to do any work over the Easter holidays, so if I want to do well in this stupid Olympiad thingy then I have to have everything figured out before then, since it's, like, a few days after I get back!"

Jody frowned. "Why won't you be able to get any work done over the holidays?"

"Cause of my dad. Me and Sammy are going to stay with him and he'll keep us too busy, he won't give us a chance to get anything done and he won't listen if we try to tell him we have school shit to do. He doesn't even want us to be here, let alone actually work on homework while we could be doing stuff he finds useful."

Jody pushed a new practice paper over to him. "Here. You eat and work through what you can do on this. I'm going to do some research for you. See if I can come up with anything."

Dean did as he was told, chomping through the entire pizza without struggling in the slightest. He was finding the papers a lot easier, now, too. He felt like he could at least make a start on all of the questions, even if he still totally lost his way on some of them. At least he had an idea. It was an improvement.

Just over two hours later, he closed the booklet and sent it spinning back across the table towards Jody. "Done."

"You're timing's improving, too," she nodded approvingly. "You stand a good chance of getting everything done in the two hours you're allowed when you sit the real paper."

"Thanks," Dean grunted.

"Well, credit where credit's due. Now. I've been looking into some things, and there are volunteer programs in the area for teenagers during the Easter holidays. There are some different options for what you could do - there's one where you work on a community garden, one where you work at a cat rescue shelter, an old people's home, an activity camp for underprivileged kids... they don't give you accommodation, but I'd be happy to let you stay with me for the three week break, and to drive you to and from where you want to volunteer every day. Sam too, if he was interested. And then you'd have the evenings free, to work and to take some time for yourselves as well, without your dad slave driving you."

She turned her computer around so that Dean could read the details of the programs she'd found, and he stared at them in longing. "My dad would never agree to it. He'd laugh and say it was stupid and why do we want to help out random people when we could be helping him, cause he's our family."

"Well, your dad's not around, and there's nothing he can do about it," Jody pointed out. "What's he going to do if you don't show up to meet him? He won't know where you are if you don't tell him."

Dean stared at her in silence.

"I told you I'd let you break the occasional rule."

"Yeah, but I figured you meant, like, staying up half an hour after curfew. Not..." Dean shook his head, scanning the list of volunteer opportunities again. This was way too good to be true, that was the real problem here. Jody made it sound so simple, but there had to be some kind of hidden catch here. "Not anything like this."

"This is a far better rule to break than staying up a half hour past curfew. Who would that benefit? This kind of rule breaking is going to help more people than it hurts, that's the way I look at it."

"I guess," Dean mumbled.

"Think about it for a while. You have a couple of weeks before you need to make a decision. For now, let's go through this paper. I've got the mark scheme right here."

--

Dean didn't have a whole lot of time to think about it, between meetings with all his teachers to catch up on work he'd missed at the beginning of the year, spending time studying with Sam (with occasional appearances from Gabriel - Dean was a bit put out to learn that Sam laughed and played along when Gabriel tried to be a distraction from studying, yet when Dean tried the same sort of tactics, Sam just stared him down until he turned back to his work) eating, sleeping, attending class and doing his regular homework. But eventually, he decided to bring it up to Sam on one of their late night walks back from the library.

He hadn't been planning on it, so he blamed the vegetable he'd eaten for lunch for messing with his head. Clearly his body wasn't used to that amount of green leaves and didn't quite know how to process it.

"Sam, how would you feel about staying here for the Easter holidays?"

Sam's face lit up immediately. "You mean we wouldn't have to see Dad?"

Dean didn't even have to finish the conversation. By that point, he already knew that he was sold. Anything that made Sam quite that happy was worth doing in his book.

By the time they got back to the boarding houses, they'd officially decided that they wanted to volunteer at the activity camp, and Dean promised to tell Jody about it first thing in the morning before his lessons. Every step felt light and floaty, and Dean's mood was somehow a hundred times improved now that he knew he didn't have to deal with his father for another few months. Which didn't make any sense, because he was going to be spending the time here, in a place he hated. But he tried not to think too hard about that, focusing on his excitement and the fact that this was quite clearly going to make Sam happy.

He dropped Sam off outside his dorm and then half skipped across the courtyard over to his own building. He didn't feel like going inside quite yet, so he decided to take a short detour around the basketball courts, almost dancing as he did so, quite sure that nothing could destroy his mood right now.

He turned out to be wrong about that.

He saw a basketball lying on the ground, half deflated, but still looking vaguely functional. He picked it up and tossed it towards the net, where it danced on the edge of the hoop for a moment before falling through.

"He scores!" Dean shouted in triumph, and then a large clump of bushes rustled behind him.

He turned and saw two figures locked together, breaking apart from a kiss.

"Shit," he apologized, calling over to them. "Didn't mean to interrupt you. I'll leave you to it."

The figures stepped out of the shadows and came into focus, and that was when Dean recognized them as Castiel and Balthazar.

The three of them all stood there in the middle of the basketball court, staring awkwardly between one another at the same time.

Finally, Balthazar coughed. "Well, this is an awkward situation that I don't particularly care to be in. I'll text ya later, Cassie. Thanks for the good time, as always."

He strode away, picking up the ball as he went and bouncing it obnoxiously loudly against the ground a few times.

"I'm sorry you had to see that," Cas apologized, looking down at the ground. "I have been trying to make sure the two of us stay away from you so that you wouldn't have to watch us together."

"'S fine. You had no reason to think I'd come here," Dean muttered, still reeling. He knew that Cas and Balthazar were together, but it was one thing seeing posed photos and knowing that Cas' family was basically ordering it, and quite another actually seeing them locked in a passionate embrace out of everyone's sight. "How are things going between you two, anyway?"

Cas shrugged and gave him a sad smile. "They could be worse."

"Pardon me for saying so, but that's not exactly the kind of thing I expect someone to say about their boyfriend." Dean was well aware that he sounded rude, but right now he was past caring.

"I know. There are a lot of good things about Balthazar. He makes me laugh, he's a good kisser, he comes from a good family... he's just difficult to talk to about more serious things. I don't know if I'd find it easy to discuss my future with him, or my feelings, or have any kind of deeper conversation. Things tend to stay on the surface." Cas shrugged, forcing another smile onto his face that didn't meet his eyes. "But we're young. I'm sure he'll grow up."

Dean nodded. "Right. Of course. Totally worth being miserable now in the vague hope that he'll turn into a half decent person in the future."

"You're exaggerating, Dean. I'm not miserable and he is a decent person."

"Sorry." Dean shook his head. "Fuck, it seems like every time we see each other we just spend half the conversation apologizing back and forth. Are we ever gonna treat each other like decent human beings?"

Cas laughed. "We certainly used to. I guess we lost that somewhere along the way."

"Yeah, I guess we did."

They both looked at each other for a few long seconds, not quite meeting each other's eyes, but instead staring somewhere close by. Dean focused his attention on the small strand of hair that was falling down over Cas' forehead, while Cas stared at the most prominent freckle on Dean's left cheek.

Eventually, Cas cleared his throat. "I should probably go. Wouldn't want Balthazar to think that you and I had started making out now. That would certainly make the Easter holidays tense."

"He's really going to stay with you?"

"Yes, my family invited him almost as soon as they heard the good news about us being together. And I'm going on a cruise with his family over the summer, which is exciting."

He didn't sound particularly excited, and Dean also didn't sound particularly sincere when he replied, "Wow. Have a great time."

"And you, too. I hope things go well with your father over the holidays."

"Actually, I'm, uh, I'm sticking around here. Gonna volunteer at an activity camp nearby."

That got the first smile out of Cas that had actually seemed genuine during this whole conversation. "Are you really?"

"I sure am. Can't quite believe it either. Think it'll be pretty cool, though."

Cas nodded. "I hope so. Well, good luck with everything, Dean."

"Yeah. You too. Don't let Balthazar bring you down too much."

Cas opened his mouth like he wanted to say something else, but then closed it again, and just gave Dean a little wave before he turned and walked away.

Dean stood alone in the middle of the basketball court until Cas was out of sight, and then he walked on autopilot back to his dorm, letting himself in, changing into his pajamas, brushing his teeth and getting into bed. In the morning, he couldn't quite remember doing any of those things. His only clear memory from the night was of the sadness that had been in Castiel's eyes right before they parted ways.

--

Chapter Text

eleven // weeds

On the morning of the first day of the Easter holidays, Dean woke up in a strange bed, and it took him a moment to figure out where he was. When he was younger, he'd had a different bed pretty much every week, but recently he'd got used to his hard, lumpy mattress in his dorm room with Crowley. This was softer, though, the sheets more floral.

He sat up and looked around the room. The bed turned out to be a pull out sofa bed, and Sam was curled up and snoring on the other side of it. The room was far more homey than what Dean was used to, and he remembered - he was in Jody's living room, where he was going to be staying for the next three weeks.

He glanced around, taking in the surroundings, and checked his watch. He still had a half hour or so to sleep, but he wasn't sure he'd be able to. He was too nervous about his first day.

Dean pulled out his phone and idly tapped away on it for a few minutes, scrolling down his Facebook feed, reading a couple of Buzzfeed articles, and then he opened up his texts and, completely on a whim, sent one to Bobby.

Dean [06:42] Hey, man. I just kinda realized I never properly thanked you for setting all this up, or talked to you at all really since we came here. Sam's doing awesome. He's the happiest I've ever seen him. We're gonna volunteer at an activity camp over the holidays and he's really excited about it. You kinda changed his life, and you didn't have to do that.

Dean [06:43] And I'm sorry if that text woke you up. I know you'll be pissed about that.

Dean [06:44] But seriously. Thanks.

Fifteen minutes later, their alarm clock went off and Sam sat up, rubbing his eyes with his fists as he tried to adjust to the light.

"Morning, sunshine," Dean smirked.

"Gabe?" Sam asked blearily.

"I'm not Gabe, I'm Dean. You know, your brother? The one you've pretty much replaced with some smart mouthed kid who's going to need false teeth by the time he turns twenty?"

"Sorry," Sam mumbled, tumbling out of bed and shuffling across the room to his bag. "Gabe and I have lotsa sleepovers at the weekends, thought you were him."

"Sleepovers? What are you, a girl? Do you braid each other's hair or something?"

"Yep," Sam nodded, retrieving his towel and a clean set of clothes. "While you laugh at me I'm gonna get first shower."

Dean scowled at the door as it closed behind Sam. Damn that kid for figuring out exactly how to play him.

The morning went surprisingly well, and Dean realized pretty quickly that he didn't have any reason to be nervous. He understood these kids, because they were just like him in a lot of ways. A lot of them had spent their lives moving around too, or had parents who didn't really pay much attention to them, or didn't have a lot of money to do things in the school holidays. And Dean would have loved something like this when he was in primary school, so it wasn't hard for him to think back on the playground games he'd liked when he was their age and teach them how to play.

"Alright, so you know when you're in the bath, and when you get in it's full of bubbles, but after you've been in there for a long time they all pop?" he asked the group of six year olds gathered around him, and they all nodded and laughed.

"So this game is called Bubble, and one person's going to be in the bath, and everyone else is the bubbles. And if you're the one in the bath, then you have to run around and tap people on the shoulder. Just the shoulder, I don't want anyone getting hurt! If you get tapped, you have to stay still and put your hands above your head and move them down slowly. If your hands touch the floor, you pop, and then you're the one in the bath! But if someone else touches you on the shoulder before you pop, you're back in the game and you're a bubble again. Everyone got it?"

They all nodded enthusiastically.

"Alright, who wants to be in the bath first?"

Most of the kids raised their hands in the air and shouted, "Me! Me!"

Dean closed his eyes and spun round in a circle, pointing at random. "You."

One of the girls squealed in delight, and Dean held her gently by the arm. "Alright, you all get ten seconds to run away, and then I'm going to let her loose! One... two... three..."

Dean hit ten and then let her go, and the girl screamed at the top of her voice as she took off after everyone else. Dean heard a burst of laughter from behind him.

"You just took stuck in the mud and changed it so they think it's a new game, didn't you?" a voice asked.

Dean stood up and turned around, coming face to face with a girl with long red hair wearing the same volunteer T-shirt that he was wearing. "I swear that's a game I played in primary school!"

"Whatever. I can see right through you."

"Yeah, well, I didn't ask you!"

The girl smirked and jerked her head towards some picnic tables at the edge of the field. "Well, either way, we're eating lunch if you wanna join us. The people who run the camp got us sandwiches and if you don't hurry up, all the cheese ones will be gone and you'll be left with egg mayonnaise."

"Well, that's an incentive if ever I heard one," Dean grinned, and followed her over to the lunch table.

"I'm Charlie, by the way. I'm in Year Ten at Woodcreek." She pointed at the table. "That's Jo, she's in my year too, and Aaron, he's in the year above, but he's alright for a Year Eleven. Between you and me, most of them are pretty stuck up."

"Oi! I'm in Year Eleven," Dean replied.

"I know," Charlie giggled. "Seen you around."

Dean scowled at her, but then he realized. If she'd seen him around, that meant she must have some idea who he was. And yet she was still voluntarily talking to him when she didn't have to be. He almost asked her about it, but he didn't want to push his luck. Better just to go with it, cross his fingers behind his back, and hope it lasted.

"Hey guys!" Charlie greeted her friends, swinging her legs over the picnic bench and grabbing a sandwich. "Found another kid crazy enough to give up his holidays."

"Hey, I'm Dean," he introduced himself, sitting down on the edge of the bench tentatively, just waiting for one of them to yell at him and tell him to get away as fast as possible.

"Hi, Dean, good to meet you," both Jo and Aaron replied.

Dean blinked. "Really?"

Jo gave him a funny look and shoved the plate of sandwiches towards him. "Yes of course really. Now have some food, you weirdo."

Dean certainly wasn't going to complain about being offered food, so he took a cheese sandwich and bit into it, grinning happily around it.

"So, uh, what jobs are you guys all doing here?" Dean asked once he'd swallowed his first bite.

"Arts and crafts," Jo replied. "I'm probably going to end up covered in glitter by the end of the day. Small miracle I'm not already. So warning in advance, you might not want to hug me."

"Who says he'd want to hug you anyway, you ugly fuck?" Aaron cut in, and then turned to Dean. "I'm doing storytelling. Basically reading to the younger kids, putting out books and games for the older ones. Making snacks, too. I can save you the good biscuits if you've got a favorite."

"There any Bourbons?"

"Controversial. They're my favorite too. But I guess I might let you have one or two if you're nice to me."

Charlie snorted. "He's hitting on you if you couldn't figure it out." She cut off Aaron's protests and continued. "I'm doing singing and drama. Cause all these kids seem to be convinced that they have the X factor."

"Yeah, and even though they're objectively terrible, next to Charlie they really do sound like they should all get record deals!" Jo laughed.

Dean couldn't help himself. He laughed, too.

--

It took Dean some time to get used to the idea that people actually wanted him around. It surprised him every time his phone chimed with a text from Charlie or Jo or Aaron, and he had to take a moment to remind himself that they hadn't accidentally sent it to a wrong number, that they did, for some reason, actually want to hang out with him. Maybe Jody hadn't been completely lying when she'd told him that the kids at school weren't that different to him after all. Because the three of them all wore designer clothes and had been in private schools pretty much since they were born, but they insulted each other in much the same way that Dean had always done with his friends, and they made the same kind of jokes, and they didn't seem to give a flying fuck that Dean wasn't in the same position as the rest of them.

He kept up the volunteering during the days, and as tiring as it was spending all his time running around after little kids with infinite amounts of energy, he was having a pretty great time. Sam, too, was smiling every day when Jody picked the both of them up and took them back to her place for dinner, studying and a badass DVD collection that Dean was excited to make use of.

But he couldn't do that every night, because he started hanging out with his friends in the evenings, too - the first time Jo invited them all over to her house, he was kind of overwhelmed by the gates at the foot of the driveway, by the number of cars parked there and the water feature in front of the house. Jo told them all to take their shoes off when they got inside, and everyone else behaved like this was completely normal, which was confusing, but Dean went with it. Jo's mother had baked them all a pie, and when they went up to Jo's bedroom - which was approximately the size of most of the flats that Dean's family had lived in over the years, despite the fact that Jo was away at school most of the time - and Dean looked out of the window, he saw a swimming pool in the garden.

But by the second, third, fourth times he visited them all, he started to get used to it all. He took his shoes off without being prompted and enjoyed the feeling of the soft carpet between his toes, and he managed not to look awestruck when he went outside and couldn't even see the garden fence from where he stood.

Dean thought, at first, that the friendships would be temporary, that they'd hang out while they were all volunteering together, but once they got back to school, they'd drift apart again. He turned out to be wrong about that, too.

"No offence, but what the fuck are you doing?" Aaron asked, appearing behind him on Monday lunchtime on their first day back at school. Dean was sitting in the dining hall, eating his sausages and mashed potatoes while bent over his Chemistry textbook, frantically studying for the Olympiad that was now only four days away.

"Um, eating lunch?" Dean guessed, looking up at him, confused.

"You're ditching us for your homework! Not cool, Dean, I thought we had something there!"

Aaron was gesturing over to a table on the other side of the dining hall. "Our usual table's over there, so you better get your arse there five minutes ago or I am going to be personally offended."

"You want me to sit with you?" Dean confirmed.

"This is fucking news to you? What do you think we've been doing for the past three weeks?"

"Right," Dean said absentmindedly, scooping up all his things at once and stumbling across the room. Aaron rolled his eyes and snatched the textbook and lunch tray out of Dean's hands, striding over there and dumping them down on the table, pulling out the spare chair for Dean.

"God, the man can't do anything for himself, can he?" Charlie giggled, watching them approach.

"Shut up," Dean grumbled, sitting down and flicking a bit of mashed potato at Charlie, which only made her laugh harder.

And when Dean went back to studying his textbook once lunch was over, he had to admit that the break from work had probably done him some good, too.

--

On Friday morning, Dean woke up before his alarm, absolutely terrified. He'd never sat an exam in his life that he'd actually cared about before, and so these kinds of nerves were an unfamiliar feeling to him. He'd finally done well enough on a practice paper the other day to get through to the second round, but he was pretty sure it had just been a fluke, a surprisingly easy paper that played to his strengths.

He'd promised Jody he was going to get something to eat before the exam that morning, so even though he usually waited until the last possible minute to roll out of bed and made his way downstairs just in time for class without bothering with breakfast, today he was dressed in his uniform and downstairs just as they were putting the food out.

He made himself a bacon roll and a cup of coffee. The bacon roll turned out to be a good idea, but the coffee was a bad one, because it only made him more anxious about what was about to happen than he already had been. He paced up and down the common room, glancing over the notes he'd spent the whole week making one final time, and at a quarter to nine, shouldered his bag and walked outside.

"Surprise!"

A shower of confetti rained over his head and Dean had to blink a few sequins out of his eyes, jumping about a foot in the air. He had most definitely been surprised.

"What the hell are you doing?" he shouted, turning to the four grinning figures who'd been waiting outside to ambush him - Charlie, Jo, Aaron and Sam.

"We came to wish you luck cause you have some big fancy exam for smart people today," Charlie told him, looping her arm through his and pulling him in the direction of the science building. "We are going to walk over there with you and distract you so that you don't get too scared. Because getting scared would be dumb, because you're going to get everything right and get the best score in the history of the world, so there's no point worrying about anything."

"You've got a much higher opinion of me than I've got of myself," Dean informed her, making a token effort at tugging his arm free. It completely failed.

"That's literally the job description of a friend," Jo pointed out, hurrying along beside them.

If Dean was the kind to show a lot of emotion, he might have told them all how much he loved them at that point. As it was, he was more the type to give everyone a friendly punch on the shoulder and an odd kind of one armed half-hug on his way into the building. They all saluted him and Charlie gave him a wolf whistle, and then Dean was on his own.

Classes hadn't started yet, and the building was quieter than Dean had ever seen it before. He took the stairs two at a time to Jody's lab on the second floor, where there were a handful of sixth form kids already inside sitting at the benches. They all looked up in surprise when they saw him, and Dean felt that familiar sense of not at all belonging here, stronger than he'd felt it for months.

Dean could feel all their eyes on him as he took a seat near the front of the room, but he kept his head down and didn't make eye contact, waiting. After a few minutes, Jody came in and distributed the papers, wishing them luck. She set a timer and placed it on her own bench at the front, and then announced that they could all begin.

Dean opened his paper to the first page and read the question.

Radiocarbon dating relies on the existence of three isotopes of carbon, 12C, 13C and 14C. The two lighter isotopes are stable, but 14C is radioactive with a half-life of 5568 years. The standard abundances of these isotopes in a sample at the time of death may be taken to be:

98.93 % : 1.07 % : 1.215×10-10 %.

In a 2.0 mg sample analysed at the time of death, how many 14C atoms on average would be expected to decay in one day?

He took a deep breath. He could do this, he could do this, he remembered going over this in his textbook just last night. All he had to do was focus and he was sure it would come back to him. He couldn't let himself panic. He knew this. If this was a practice paper, he was sure he'd be absolutely fine.

He glanced around him. Everybody else was already scribbling away, and there he was, staring cluelessly at the paper with no idea what he was supposed to be doing. All that practice had been for nothing, he supposed. He should never have even tried to actually be decent at something. Should have known he'd only get his hopes up and have them crushed when it actually came down to it.

He looked up again and locked eyes with Jody, who gave him a tiny, encouraging nod.

Dean was used to disappointing himself, but he didn't want to disappoint her, not when she'd believed in him like she had.

He picked up his pencil and started to write on his scratch paper, jotting down any relevant equations and information that he could remember, hoping that inspiration would strike him. He crossed off what he knew he wasn't going to use and his list got shorter, until he was left with a small, manageable handful of formulae that he could work with.

It took him longer to get through the question than he would have liked, but when he finally finished working through it, he was pretty confident he'd found the right answer.

Question two was easier. Question three was easier still. Before long he stopped even looking at the timer or thinking about what everyone else might be doing. He actually started to kind of enjoy himself. It was challenging, but he could do it, most of it, anyway. He had just turned over the booklet to look at the final page of questions when the door burst open.

"Dean!"

Dean jerked in shock, sitting up in his chair. He father barged through the doorway, storming across the room towards him, picking up his test booklet and pen and throwing them on the floor.

"Excuse me, this is an examination, nobody is allowed in this room while the students are taking the test," Jody shouted, keeping her cool even though her eyes were wide and scared, striding over to John and taking him by the arm. "Please leave the room."

"That's my son, you can't make me do anything-"

"I don't care in the slightest if you're the King of England, you're going to leave this room until the test is over and then you can talk to Dean Winchester!"

John's strength wasn't what it once was. Years of drinking, smoking and terrible eating meant he couldn't hold his own in a fight like he used to be able to, and here was Jody, who coached some of the sports teams and was known to be good at breaking up fights between students, and he was no match for her. She dragged him bodily out of the room, slamming the door behind him and leaning her whole weight against it.

"I am so sorry about the interruption. Nothing like that has ever happened before here, there is a sign on the door telling everybody not to come in, I can only apologize for the interruption. You have twenty minutes left to complete the paper."

But there was no way Dean was going to be able to concentrate on work now. What the hell was his dad doing here? He didn't even know that John knew where he was even going to school - he'd always just referred to it as 'that fancy place of Bobby's' and dismissed it. He definitely had never expected John to give enough of a shit about him or Sam to voluntarily show up here.

He barely managed to hold himself together for the rest of the twenty minute period, but the best he could do was concentrate on his breathing and avoid passing out or having a panic attack or both - there was no way he'd be able to finish the questions. The second Jody collected their papers, he was off, running for the door, needing to see whether John was still standing outside or not.

He wasn't sure which possibility scared him more.

John was downstairs, pacing angry circles around the lobby. All the students who passed through were trying to stay as far away as possible, clearly frightened of him. Dean watched as a Year Seven passed too close to John, and John sent her flying, careering into her without a care for anything that he was doing.

Dean leapt down the stairs three at a time. "Dad, what are you doing?"

John grabbed Dean by the shoulder and dragged him out of the room. "Come on. We're going to find your brother."

"But why? Why are you here?"

He knew he was in danger of getting yelled at for asking questions, but he needed answers. It would be worth getting slapped around if he could at least get some kind of an explanation here.

"We're going to America. I've had news, couple of tip-offs, one of the cops up in Newcastle told me he's heard word that the guy who killed your mother is over there now. Place called Kansas. Been waiting for you two scumbags to show up for weeks. Thought you were supposed to be coming back for a visit, was going to take you then. Then I call Bobby last night and he tells me that he thought you were coming a month ago. So he gives me the name of this place, I give them a call, and they tell me you've been here staying with one of the teachers doing some prissy volunteer program. Who do you think you are, boy? You think you can just take a holiday, decide for yourself what's worth your time? I'm supposed to be your father! After everything I've done for you, you won't even give me a visit, help me out for a while? This is for your mother, Dean! Or do you not care about her any more?"

John was barking questions into his face, and they were questions Dean didn't have answers for. Of course he cared about his mother, he couldn't imagine caring about anything more. But finding the guy who killed her wasn't going to bring her back. It was just going to put at least one of them in prison.

He almost said it. If it were anyone else but his father standing in front of him right now, he would have said it. But as he was, he didn't much feel like getting his face slammed into a brick wall.

"You're taking me to Sammy. Right now. Come on, boy, what are you waiting for?"

Dean froze in the middle of the courtyard. Maybe...

"What if I say no?"

--

Chapter Text

twelve // common people

John stopped in his tracks. "What?"

"What if just you and I go? I'll go with you to America like you want, I'll do it, I don't care, I was gonna leave here in a few months anyway so it ain't like it makes a difference to me. Sammy stays behind, he's not gonna be able to do much to help us anyway. I'll tell you I'm sorry and I won't ever run off again and I'll do anything I can to make it up to you and to help find the guy that killed Mum. It'll be just you and me, yeah?"

John glared at him with fire burning in his eyes. "You want to break up our family?"

"Because we've been so together these past few years."

For a moment Dean swore that John was going to throw him over that balcony and send him tumbling down into the fields, the raw fury in his eyes was that intense. But then he let out a breath that was more of a growl and said, "Fine. If you're so determined to keep me away from him, I'll let you be the one to explain to him that you didn't want him around."

"It's not that-" Dean shut his mouth. Apparently he'd forgotten how to do that over these past few months. "Fine. Let's go."

Dean cast one final look around him as his father marched him towards his car that was parked right outside of the school gates. This was the last time he was ever going to see the place. Not that he cared, of course. But he'd lived here for a few months, so he guessed it was only natural that he'd feel kind of weird about leaving.

"Dad?"

Sam's small, terrified voice came out of nowhere, a tiny figure hurtling towards them through the grass. "Dean? What's going on?"

Dean groaned. He'd been so close to getting away, to not making Sam have to deal with any of this. He'd tried, but in the end it hadn't been good enough. It never was. He never managed to be good enough for Sam.

"See?" John barked at Dean. "He does want to come! Least one of my sons knows what family means." He rounded on Sam. "Get in the damn car. We're going to America."

Sam's eyes filled with tears. "What?"

"We're all going," John replied, putting emphasis on the 'all.' "All three of us, the guy who killed your mother is there, and I'm going to find him, once and for all. So get in the damn car before I have to throw you in there."

"Can you wait for a little bit? Dad, I need to go say goodbye to Gabriel, I can't just leave him, he's not going to know where I am-"

"Is Gabriel your brother?"

Sam frowned and shook his head.

"Then he's not important, is he? Get in the car and get your stupid posh ideals out of your head. I'm sure you've had a nice little holiday these past few months, but now you're coming back to the real world, with me. Got it?"

Sam stared at Dean, begging him with his eyes to do something, but Dean had no idea what he could do. They could run, but it wasn't a huge campus, and John was still their dad. He'd be able to find them, the teachers would have to tell him where they were. There was no getting away from him, not while he was blocking off the gate.

So Dean just gave Sam a tiny shrug and then climbed into the passenger seat of the car. And after that, Sam didn't have much choice but to climb in the back, to curl up on the seat and press his face into his knees. Dean assumed that he was crying, but he didn't mention it. The last thing they needed was for John to have a go at Sam for it.

John didn't speak as he drove towards the airport, his foot heavy on the accelerator, driving at twice the legal speed limit and spinning on the wheels every time he took a corner, skidding into the next lane. Dean crossed his fingers and hoped that they were going to get stopped by a cop, since that felt like it might be his one vague hope for getting out of here, but somehow, nothing happened to them except for a minor brush with a railing against the side of the road and a near miss with another car driving in the opposite direction. It was barely twenty minutes before John was slamming on the brakes and pulling them into the airport car park.

"Right. Tickets," he said, muttering to himself, dragging his hands through his hair over and over again, his eyes roaming all around. His eyes were terrifying, Dean tried not to look at them too closely. He didn't have anything with him except a small rucksack which was slung over one shoulder and the wallet in his back pocket, and he didn't even look behind him as he cut a path through the airport crowds, just assuming that Sam and Dean were going to be following along behind him.

He cut into the line at the information desk, walking right up without a thought for all the other people who'd been waiting. "How do I get to Kansas? I need three tickets," he snarled at the flight attendant on duty.

Dean thought that in other circumstances she might have protested, but she looked just as scared as Dean felt, and started tapping away on her computer instead. The other people in the line seemed to be in much the same position.

"Y-you're going to have at least one layover. Would you rather change in Minneapolis or in Atlanta? Or I can look into other-"

"I don't care, just give us the quickest flight!"

"O-okay. There's one that leaves at ten to two, stops in Minneapolis, then you'll transfer and get to Wichita around eleven PM local time. May I see your passports?"

John grumbled like he'd been expecting to be let through the airport and directly onto the plane without showing any kind of proof of identification, but heaved his rucksack onto the counter and started filtering through it. He pulled out a journal, a flask, a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, a couple of rolled up shirts, a broken, matted comb and a bloody bandage before finally retrieving three tattered passports and handing them over.

The women inspected them and then looked terrified as she read off the screen, "That'll be... three thousand, seven hundred and twenty-two pounds and forty-nine pence. Will that be debit or credit?"

John pushed one of his stolen credit cards across the counter. "Credit," he grunted.

The woman swiped the card, the computer beeped, and Dean was hit with a sudden rush of hope that the card was going to get rejected and that they wouldn't be able to go. At the very least it would buy them a bit more time. But then she forced a smile and handed over three boarding passes. "You're all set. If you have no bags to check in, you can go straight through security. Security south is significantly less busy, I'd suggest you head down there."

John didn't thank the woman. He just pushed back through the line, shoving people out of the way, leaving Sam and Dean to apologize to everyone else who was getting knocked off course by Hurricane John. They dashed across the airport, not sure why he was even in such a hurry, heading for security after him. In a couple of minutes, with only a handful of casualties when it came to the surrounding crowds, they were in the line.

Sam and Dean each only had a couple of things in their pockets, but John heaved his entire backpack onto the tray, and the three of them walked through the metal detectors. They were waved forward without a question, but then the X-ray machine stopped and bleeped, going into overdrive, a red light circling on the top.

"Sir? Is this your bag?" A security officer held up John's rucksack.

"Yeah, what's wrong with it?"

The officer unzipped it and started pulling out its contents.

"Get your filthy hands off my stuff!" John lunged for it, and a couple of security officers stepped forwards.

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to let the man do his job-"

"That's my personal property and I didn't give you permission to touch it-"

"This is a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, this is not an allowed item to take in your hand luggage-"

"I'll take what I damn well want in my hand luggage, thanks very much-"

"If you're not going to cooperate, we're going to need to detain you-"

"I'm sure as hell not going to cooperate with you, I'll punch your fucking lights out-"

"Assaulting an airport officer is a serious crime and is punishable with up to-"

"Dean! Sam!"

That last cry came not from John or from any of the people holding him back, but from far behind them, behind the gate that led to security. It was urgent, and more than that, it was achingly familiar to Dean.

He turned around.

"Cas?"

Cas was as far forward as he was allowed to go without a boarding pass, standing right behind the barrier where security officers were checking the cards, and he had his hands cupped over his mouth, yelling at the top of his voice. "Dean, come here!"

John was still preoccupied with the security officers, doing his best to escape their grip. Seeing his opportunity to run, Dean grabbed Sam by the arm and pulled him back towards the barriers.

"Cas, what are you doing here? How did you know I was-"

"Mrs Mills called me. She told me what happened during your Olympiad. She said that I should watch out for you and Sam, that I was the only person she knew to call. So I ran after you guys, but you drove off before I could say anything, so I got a taxi to follow you. But you were driving so fast... I didn't think I was going to make it in time. Dean, I have to talk to you. Please. Don't go with him, come back to school, come back home."

Sam tugged on Dean's arm. "Come on, Dean, let's go back, please, I don't want to go with Dad, he's scaring me."

Dean looked between his brother and his ex boyfriend. Then he turned round to look at his father.

The moment's hesitation gave John a chance to notice that his sons were no longer behind him. He roared and charged forwards, heading for them as fast as he could. "What do you think you're doing, trying to get away? I paid for these tickets, you're coming with me, we're all going to Kansas-"

"Sir, lower your voice!" The security officers were following. John raised a fist, aiming it at Dean, but before he could manage to make contact, one of them wrapped an arm around him, grabbing him in a chokehold.

John beat his fists against the arm holding him, trying to break free. "Those are my sons-"

"And you were going to assault one of them! We're going to have to detain you until a policeman can come to talk to you. I'm very sorry to tell you this, but I think we'll be pressing charges."

Two of them carted John away, still kicking and screaming, through the crowds. The third stayed standing with Sam and Dean, placing a comforting hand on each of their shoulders.

"You're here with your father? It's just the three of you?"

Sam and Dean both nodded, but Cas cut in. "I'm here, too. I'm not related to them. I'm a... a friend of theirs, from school."

The security officer narrowed her eyes. "Are you here with a parent or guardian?"

"No. It's kind of a long story. But I'm here in a taxi. I can take them back to school. If you'd like me to call one of their teachers and talk to them..."

She still looked a little suspicious as she turned to Dean. "How old are you?"

"I'm sixteen," Dean replied, too shaken to even think about lying.

"Sixteen. In that case I'm not legally allowed to keep you here if you want to go back to school. I'm supposed to recommend to you that you stay with your father until a decision has been made on pressing charges, and then arrangements will be made for you either way... but when it comes down to it, the decision is up to you."

Cas reached across the barrier and took Dean's hand in his, squeezing it.

Dean didn't squeeze back. He kept his hand completely limp, but he also didn't pull away.

Cas stared into Dean's eyes. "Dean. I understand if you never want to talk to me again. But please, come back to Woodcreek. Because I know you're not talking to me and I know I gave everything that we had up, but this is so much more important than that. From what I hear, you're doing amazing. And Mrs Mills is so proud of you. And I've seen you with friends, and studying in the library, and... Dean, you have a future here. You could be someone so amazing. And you're not going to be that person if you follow your dad to America and give up on school. So don't think I'm asking you to come back to be with me. Come back for yourselves. Both of you."

Dean stared into Cas' eyes, and he remembered every moment that the two of them had shared. He remembered long walks through the grounds holding hands, late nights cuddled up under the blankets until the very last moment possible when Dean had to run back to his own dorm before curfew, dinner dates in the dining hall with the two of them feeding each other mouthfuls of food off of their forks. And he remembered other things, too. He remembered the first time he'd got an A on his GCSE Maths paper. He remembered watching Sam play games with his friends out in the courtyard from his window. He remembered evenings with Jody and her wide during the Easter holidays, watching TV and eating home cooked meals of the kind he'd never had before in his life.

He turned around, staring in the direction that'd taken John. He could just about catch a glimpse of his silhouette through the window of the room they'd taken him for questioning, and that brought other memories back too. Starting a new school every couple of months, always being the new kid, having to prove himself by pulling some crazy stunt by the end of his first day there. Coming home each night to find an empty house with no heating, no food and no money, and having to scrape together something for Sam with the change in his pocket and whatever he could sneak under his shirt back from the corner store. His dad coming home drunk because another lead he'd been chasing had turned out to be a dead end, slamming his fist into a wall or into Dean or Sam, whichever was nearest.

He looked back at Castiel.

"Yeah. Alright. I'll come back with you."

"Really?" Sam gasped from beside him.

Dean gave his little brother a small smile. "Yeah, really. You alright with that?"

"Are you kidding? Of course I'm alright with it!"

"In that case, we should probably be going. Don't want to keep Cas' taxi waiting outside for too much longer."

They followed Cas back through the airport and out of the main doors. Sam sat in the middle seat of the taxi, Dean and Cas on either side of him, and the driver swung onto the road back to school, driving at a far more sedate pace than John had. As they drove, Sam talked about all the things he was going to do when he got back to school, acting as though he'd been away for months and months rather than just a few hours.

"-and I'm going to talk to Gabriel and see if we can meet up over the summer holidays cause he told me all about this theme park that he loves and I really want to go even though I've never been on a rollercoaster before and I think it might be scary, and I want to talk to the librarian and see if I can work in the library next year, and usually it's only Year Nine and older who get to do that but I go in there a lot and I know her quite well so I think she might let me if I talk to her about it and tell her it's important to me, and I have to do a portrait for art class but I'm not very good at portraits but my friend Andy is really good at art so I think I might ask him if I can paint him and then he can help me and tell me where I'm messing up, and then-"

Dean turned to give Cas an indulgent smile over the top of Sam's head, and Cas returned it.

Dean knew that he and Cas were going to have to talk at some point. He still wasn't entirely sure that he was ready to have that conversation, but at the same time, Cas had just followed him all the way to the airport and braved possibly getting attacked by his father as well as getting into trouble with the school for being off campus without permission, just to tell Dean that he should come back to school. Dean supposed that deserved at least a polite conversation.

Still, here didn't seem like quite the right place, with an overly excitable almost twelve year old boy sitting between them in the taxi talking at a million miles an hour.

So they sat in a slightly tense silence, turning and making eye contact every few minutes, neither of them having any clue what the other might be thinking right now, waiting to get back home.

--

Dean wasn't entirely sure what he expected was going to happen when they turned into the school gates. A welcoming committee? A crowd of worried Year Sevens who were terrified as to where Sam had disappeared off to? The headmaster with his hands on his hips, red in the face and yelling that they were all three getting kicked out of school for daring to leave campus?

None of those things ended up happening. School was just as quiet when they arrived back as it had been when they'd left. Everybody was just going about their daily business - making their way to classes, sitting on the grass and studying so that they could enjoy one of the first sunny days of the year, eating their lunch, talking to their friends, living their lives. It was almost anticlimactic, in a way, after all the excitement and adventure that had already happened today.

"Welcome back," Castiel grinned, gesturing around to where the sun was shining down onto the school, making every window sparkle with light. The flowers were starting to grow, the sky was finally blue, everyone around them seemed happier and lighter.

Sam checked his watch. "If I run I can make it to English on time!"

Dean chuckled. "Sam, you know you can take the rest of the day off, right? You've had a crazy morning, and nobody's going to blame you, you can call it family emergency..."

"But Gabriel's in my English class!"

Castiel gave him a knowing smirk. "Go on, then. Have a good rest of your day, Sam."

"I will!" Sam called after him, already halfway to the nearest building.

Cas turned to look at Dean, clearing his throat. "So, I take it that means you don't intend to go to your lessons for the rest of the day?"

Dean shook his head and shrugged. "Nah, not feeling it. Guess Jody was right when she said I was gonna burn out someday."

"I really should go back to class myself. I don't have the same excuse that the two of you have," Cas said, but he showed no sign of moving.

"Well, uh, that's up to you. Considering my past, it'd be a bit hypocritical of me to tell you to follow the rules."

Cas chuckled. "You know, there's a spot by the lake where I like to spend time in the summer. I've never taken anybody else there, but, perhaps it would be a good place for us to talk. Neutral ground."

Dean nodded, and the two of them set off across the grounds, heading for the lake where the rowers practiced. Dean almost grabbed Cas' hand as they walked, but thought better of it. They weren't at that point just yet. Maybe they'd get there, maybe they wouldn't.

The spot by the lake was beautiful - a tiny patch of ground that stuck out slightly into the water, with an amazing view of the rolling fields beyond. Dean could see why Cas liked to come here. It was calm and peaceful, just like him. A few rowing boats bobbed on the lake, but nobody was in them - it was just Cas and Dean, sitting on the edge of the grass, kicking off their shoes and socks and dangling their feet into the cold lake.

"I'm not in love with Balthazar," Castiel blurted out.

Dean's heart gave a tiny twitch in his chest, but the news didn't surprise him. Maybe because he'd already experienced so many emotions today that he wasn't even able to feel any more. "I know."

"Yes. I suppose I was very much the last person to realize this."

Dean just nodded. There wasn't much else he could do.

"He's the person my family wants me to be with. He came to stay with us, and they loved him, I don't think those girls in Year Nine are the only people planning our wedding any longer. And I do enjoy spending time with him. I am sure if I were to stay with him, I would not be unhappy. And yet... I'm not in love with him."

Dean sighed. "Nice as this philosophical discussion is, Cas, are you gonna do anything about it?"

"Yes. I plan on breaking up with him the next time I see him. I know that people are going to be upset... particularly Luke and my parents... but I've experienced a good relationship. I know what it feels like to really love someone, to want to spend every day with them and to do things for them that I would not be willing to do for anybody else. Having that, and then putting myself in a position where I can't have that ever again... that's not something I'm prepared to do."

Dean's heart started beating faster as he stared at Cas, the sunlight falling on his profile and making him sparkle. "You're talking about me?"

Cas gave him a small but genuine smile. "Of course I'm talking about you. And if you ever wanted to be with me again, I would say yes in an instant. But if not, I would settle for just spending time with you as a friend, but, I would very much like to keep you in my life. Even if you still plan on leaving school at the end of the term, I would still like that time with you, because any time I spend with you is worth it. Even if it's not leading to anything. Time spent with you is worthwhile for its own sake."

Dean didn't respond for a while. He just pulled a face and offered up a pained smile. "Cas..."

"Yes, Dean?"

"I want to say yes, I want to take you back, but it's just... nobody's ever said shit like this to me before. And I don't want it to be like, I'm just turning around and falling into the arms of the first person to say some fancy words that sound like they're in a Jane Austen novel and give me that blue steel kind of stare. Like, I love you, that's not gonna change, but I don't know... I'm not sure. About anything much right now. So I wanna be friends with you, we can study and we can watch movies and we can eat dinner together, but, I don't want us to date again. Not yet."

Cas looked disappointed, but he nodded.

"You made a Jane Austen reference."

Dean frowned. "Yeah. So?"

"That certainly would never have happened back when we first met."

Dean groaned. "Shit, you're right. I'm becoming a nerd..."

"A posh nerd, to be more specific."

Dean gasped and put his hand to his heart. "How dare you. Never. I'll push you in the lake."

Cas' eyes glittered. "Not if I push you first."

--

Chapter Text

thirteen // david's last summer

As much as Dean wanted to celebrate being friends with Cas again and spend as much time with him as possible, GCSE exams were fast approaching, and they had to devote most of their time to studying. They formed a study group - Dean, Cas and Aaron had all their exams, and Jo and Charlie were sitting a couple of papers early, the smart fuckers. Cas had another couple of friends that he invited too, kids came up to them in the library and asked if they could sit and go over topics in a group, and their study sessions grew and grew. There were still people in the school who stayed as far away from them as they possibly could, and Dean blamed his own presence in the group for that, but everyone who sat down with the lot of them seemed fine with talking to him, treating him just the same as they did everyone else.

At the same time, the rest of Year Eleven was making their final decisions on the subjects they wanted to keep studying the following year. Cas had decided on Philosophy, History and English Literature for definite, but he was still undecided on the fourth class he wanted to take, so he spent an evening curled up in his bed combing through the catalog, while Dean sat in his desk chair and spun around the room, re-reading Of Mice and Men to make sure he had all the important plot points down.

"So, what about you, Dean?" Cas asked, slightly nervously.

"Me?"

"Yes. What are your plans for next year? Are you still intending to..."

Dean shrugged. "I mean, I'm still waiting to hear what's gonna happen to my dad, if he's going to have to go to prison or not. And it's like, if he doesn't, then he'll probably go over to America like he planned. But I could still leave. Could get a job somewhere, maybe do something like what I did over the holidays, work with kids in a camp. Dunno where I'd live or anything, but I'm sure I'd figure something out. Bobby'd probably put me up until I made enough money to get somewhere of my own."

Cas tossed the catalog at him. "But in an alternate universe where you were staying here, what subjects would you choose?"

"Chemistry and Maths, of course," Dean replied, without even thinking about it. It wasn't like this was the first time they'd played those kinds of alternate universe games. "And then, uh, maybe Economics. That sounds interesting. Figure out how this whole money thing that you have actually works. And then. I dunno. Maybe Biology? Maybe Spanish?"

"Yes, those are good options. They'd work well together. They'd give you a lot of potential options for your future."

"And I didn't even go to the A level subjects presentation," Dean smirked, proud of himself.

"So..." Cas was trying a little too hard to sound casual. "Why don't you? You clearly have a fair idea of what you're interested in. You know your brother is going to be staying here. Assuming you do well in your GCSEs, your bursary will still be eligible for the sixth form, too. You should stay here. With me. And all your other friends."

Dean snorted. "You can't be serious."

"Why not?"

"It's just like... staying here for another two years? When I don't even have to be in school? It's not me, Cas. And if you'd told the five years ago version of me - or even the one year ago version of me - that that was a situation I could even be considering, I'd have laughed you out of the fucking room. Like, I'm glad I'm here and I'm gonna get my exams and everything. And I know you'll do awesome in sixth form. But, me staying? That doesn't even make sense."

"People change, Dean," Cas shrugged. "Just because you wouldn't have done it then doesn't mean you shouldn't now. In fact, it makes it all the more important that you should."

"Shut up, Cas. Pick your own subject." Dean threw the catalog back at him.

--

Cas was the first person to mention the possibility of Dean staying, but he definitely wasn't the last. Just a couple of days later, Jody called him back after class on Friday just before lunchtime while she was dismissing them.

"Catch you later," Dean called to Tessa, who he was walking with. She waved to him and he walked over to Jody's desk. "What's up?"

"The Olympiad results came back this morning. There's going to be a formal presentation in assembly on Monday morning, and most people are going to find out then, but I thought I should let you know in person."

Dean's heart sank. He'd completely forgotten that he'd even taken part in that, what with all the drama over his dad and Cas that had happened the rest of that day. It was kind of surreal to him that he'd actually sat an exam that morning, too. "It's alright. I wasn't expecting anything."

"I know. You never were."

Dean nodded. He had to give that one to her.

"You got a bronze medal."

Dean's eyebrows knotted together, and he stared at Jody, sure that she had to be messing with him. "I... what?"

"You could have done even better than that, had you been able to finish the paper. You didn't answer any of the questions on the last page, and I understand why, but if you'd answered them, you'd have been in with a good shot at a silver. And I know that if you took the subject to A level, kept practicing, you could do even better. Next year or the year after, you could easily win a gold medal and qualify for the second round. That would be a very impressive thing to put on your CV. Or just to brag about to your friends, whichever you'd rather."

"I, wow. Thanks. Like, I couldn't have got that medal without you, if you hadn't worked with me." Fuck, he really was becoming a nerd, especially if the giddy smile on his face was anything to go by. He was happy about doing well at school? When this was extra work that he wasn't even required to do? "But, I'm not gonna be here next year. I'm leaving after the exams, I'm not gonna be doing A levels. Being able to tell people I got bronze is still pretty cool, though, right?"

Jody nodded. "Yes, of course, especially considering you're only in Year Eleven. You did well and you should be proud of yourself. But you could do even better. And you really should consider staying. I'm sure it's not too late, and it would be an honor to invite you into my AS level class."

Dean sighed, his cheeks reddening. "Come on, that's an exaggeration."

"It's not." Jody opened her desk drawer and pulled out a box of fancy chocolates, which she handed to Dean. "Here. I got you chocolates to celebrate how well you did in the challenge. Do you think I do that for all of my students? On a teacher's salary?"

"I guess not," Dean shrugged, taking the box and opening it. "But thanks. These look amazing. Want one?"

Jody picked out a strawberry cream and popped it into her mouth. "You're right, these are actually damn good. Good job, me," she laughed.

Dean chuckled and shifted from one foot to the other, awkwardly.

Jody pointed towards the door. "Get out of here. Go have fun with your friends. But the offer is always open for if you change your mind."

--

That was the second time, and the last time happened while Dean was eating lunch on one of the very last days before his exams started. Their lunch group had grown, and sometimes they struggled to fit everyone at a single table, and had to pull over extra chairs or spill over to the next one. Dean watched Bela walk past with her head held high in the air, giving them all a disgusted look as she headed for the upper sixth tables at the back of the room. Dean wasn't affected by it in the slightest.

"So, I know it's pretty early to talk about this, but my parents just told me that they're going on holiday in October. Some new resort that's opening in the Maldives," Hannah, one of Castiel's friends, piped up, right across the table from Dean. "They're going for a month. I'm going to join them for half term, but they're going to stay out there for a while after. So their house will be empty, and you know what that means..."

Charlie gasped in delight. "You're going to have a party?"

"A Halloween party! Maybe even a party weekend if you guys want."

"Fuck yes," her friend Tessa piped up. "We can dress up and go out trick or treating one night, watch scary movies and paint pumpkins during the day, and then we can get pissed. It'll be awesome."

Everyone around the table started nodding and getting excited, throwing in their own suggestions for how they could spend the weekend. Dean was the only one who kept quiet.

Aaron turned to him. "Dean, you okay?"

"Yeah. I just never did anything for Halloween as a kid. Last couple years I knew people who just used it as an excuse to get drunk, but I never went trick or treating or did any of that shit."

"Then this is your chance," Aaron replied, as though it were obvious. "Come on, man, you know there's gotta be a reason why everyone goes so crazy over Halloween. You're not even interested to find out what all the fuss is about?"

"Yeah, but I'm not gonna be here next year. And if I go back up north to live with my uncle, which I'm probably gonna do, then I won't even be nearby, so it's not gonna happen." Dean looked wistfully around at his friends. All of them looked so excited about the idea. He wanted to go - he'd never even had a chance to do anything like that before.

Aaron slapped a hand to his forehead. "Dammit, you're right, I keep forgetting you're walking out on us all. Well, invitation's there if you are in the area. And we're gonna miss you."

"That's gay, dude," Dean replied, to hide the fact that he was actually getting kind of emotional.

"Yeah, well, I am gay."

"Me too."

--

That night, the whole of Year Eleven had a movie night in one of the common rooms. The teachers put on a couple of stupid comedy movies to lighten the mood and give everyone a chance to relax before GCSEs started, and they loaded up the tables with ice cream, fizzy drinks, bags of crisps and other junk food. Dean and a few of his friends grabbed a sofa close to the television and all sat on top of one another, nicking crisps out of each others bags and trying not to spill each other's drinks.

Between the two planned movies, Mr Shurley put two of his fingers in his mouth and gave a loud whistle. The room shut up, and Mr Shurley pulled a face at his own fingers.

"Won't be trying that again. Anyway, everybody listen up. I got an announcement, and this is against my better judgement, but some of the staff members here have decided this would be a good idea, so I suppose I don't have a choice."

There were muffled titters from the crowd.

"Apparently, even though these exams are required by law and essential for your future, you guys should be rewarded for finishing them. Which I agree with, but I feel like a better reward would just be to stick a tenner under each of your doors and leave it at that. But I was outvoted in the meeting, so we've decided that there's going to be an end of term dinner for all Year Elevens. Formal dress, good food, there might even be wine if you guys behave. It'll be on the last night before the end of year assembly. It's not compulsory, but you all probably have nothing better to do that night, so if you're not sleeping off the exams then you might want to come to that. Oh, and you can bring dates if you like that sort of thing."

Mr Shurley hit play on the second movie and went to sit back down with the other teachers, grumbling, but the rest of the room weren't even paying attention to what was happening on the screen. They were far too caught up with the idea of the dinner.

"Are you going to go to this one?" Castiel asked quietly in Dean's ear.

Dean nodded slowly. "Yeah. Don't think I'll actually go with anybody, but I'll show up. Like, I still don't know fucking dinner party etiquette or whatever it is, I'm still probably gonna make a fool of myself, but it's like a last chance thing, you know? So if I do screw up, I guess it doesn't even matter. Cause nobody's ever gonna see me again."

"That is one way of looking at it, certainly," Castiel chuckled. "Well, I don't intend on taking anybody either. So I will be there if you'd like to spend some time together, share a drink to celebrate our last night."

For a moment there, Dean almost cut in with a 'why don't we just go together?' But that seemed far too similar to asking Cas out on a date, and Dean still wasn't sure how he felt about that. And the closer and closer they got to separating, the more it seemed like there was no point putting themselves through that only to disappear out of each other's lives shortly.

So he just nodded. "Yeah, that'd be great. Course we should hang out."

--

Dean didn't expect that he'd have a huge amount of time to think about the dinner once exams started. For the first couple of weeks he was absolutely right, running from exam to exam with hardly any time in between each one, grabbing every few extra minutes he could to study. Even though he was only doing eleven subjects, there seemed to be about half a million different papers to take, because everything was split into all these different units, and Dean was playing catch up with the Year Tens, since they usually took a few papers to lighten the load the following year, and Dean hadn't had the chance to do that.

Towards the end of the second week of exams, though, things started to let up a bit. Dean finished his statistics paper on Thursday afternoon and came out of the exam smiling, pretty confident that he'd done well. Everyone in his year was taking the exam, and in the flood of students leaving the hall, Dean didn't run into any of his friends. He decided to make a quick stop by the tuck shop and pick up some lollipops for him and Cas to eat tonight as they studied for their history paper, scheduled for the following morning.

He jogged over there, still riding the post-exam high, fumbling around in his pockets for change. He had a pound, which was enough for five lollies. He'd give Cas three if he was nice to him, and if not, he'd steal the last one for himself.

When he got there, there was already a boy standing over the display, picking out all the strawberry ones.

"Dammit, leave some for everyone else too!" Dean burst out.

The boy turned around, not looking at all ashamed of himself.

"Believe I was here first, brother."

Dean's mouth fell open. "That's not cool, man. Not the way to behave in a sweet shop. You gotta leave some of the strawberries for everyone else, I don't wanna be left with apple and cola and that shit."

The boy rifled through the rest of the lollipops. "There's a couple of cherries here. Consolation prize."

Dean had to laugh at how completely smug and unapologetic the guy looked. "Come on. Just one strawberry. What do you want for it?" Never mind the fact that he didn't have any money.

"No amount of money you could give me could compare to the taste of a strawberry lollipop on my tongue. I'm sure you understand." Was it Dean's imagination or was the guy looking at him a little too intently, putting a little more innuendo into that phrase than was really necessary?

Dean swallowed hard and held out his hand for the guy to shake. "Hey, I'm Dean."

"I know that. Everyone knows who you are round here, Dean Winchester."

Dean blushed. He already knew it was true, and usually when people reminded him of this fact, they were trying to insult him. And yet, right now, he didn't mind it quite as much. "Uh, I didn't get your name, though."

"I'm Benny. Don't blame you for not seeing me around, I hide out in the art rooms most of the time. But I've been looking for an excuse to get to know you ever since I heard about you and Cas splitting up."

For the first time, the mention of Cas didn't send a rush of longing through Dean - just a twinge of nostalgia. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Think I might consider giving you one of these strawberry lollipops if you say you'll go to the end of term dinner with me, sugar."

Dean was hit with a sudden rush of bravery. What the hell did he have to lose? One night, one date with a guy who was cute and who seemed to like him - what harm could there be? "Two."

Benny raised an eyebrow, looking down at the sweets in his hands. "You think you're worth two lollipops?"

"I think it's a better offer than I'd give to anyone else. Someone who wasn't as cute as you, I'd ask them to give me three."

Benny's cheeks tinged pink and he looked at Dean in surprise. He hadn't been expecting that response. "Two it is. I'll pick you up outside your dorm at a quarter to seven next Friday."

"It's a date." Dean plucked the two lollipops out of Benny's hand. He took the two cherry ones as well, and an orange one to finish off, and sashayed over to the counter in front of Benny, smiling and winking at the girl who was working there today.

--

Clack.

There was a noise from outside Dean's window. It sounded kind of like a hailstone, but hailstones didn't usually come one at a time, and certainly not in the middle of summer. He frowned, and did his best not to think anything of it, turning the page in his Religious Studies textbook. This was definitely one of the exams he was most terrified about doing well in.

Thud.

There was another noise, a different kind of noise, from near the window. Dean groaned and did his best to keep his concentration on memorizing the different colors that people decorated churches according to the time of year. Probably some Year Sevens playing a prank.

Ping.

That was yet another noise, and somehow they all seemed to be concentrated by Dean's window. Maybe if he shouted at them he could convince them to move on to somebody else, somebody who didn't have to be up for a nine o'clock exam tomorrow.

He opened the window and called down, "Go throw shit at somebody else's window!"

"But it's you I want to talk to, Dean!"

Dean looked down. There was Cas, standing on the grass below the window, carrying a large bag over one arm and a handful of stones in the other hand.

"Are you throwing stones at my window?" Dean frowned.

"I'm certainly attempting to!"

"Yeah, well, your aim's fucking terrible. Don't you know the codes to all the buildings? Couldn't you just have come upstairs?"

Cas rolled his eyes. "I could have done, but I wanted there to be some sense of ceremony here. I have something for you." He held up the bag, which didn't actually answer any questions.

"Alright, alright, come up," Dean gave in. "You know where I live."

He closed the window and sat back down on the bed, stretching out, enjoying the fact that for once, Crowley wasn't in the room. He seemed to be there all the time, sitting in bed with a smirk on his face playing on his laptop, and Dean wouldn't have minded, except for the fact that he was ninety nine per cent sure that Crowley was doing it just to piss him off. He didn't seem to be studying for his exams at all, just playing video games and taking a lot of naps, and every so often he made some kind of sarcastic comment about Dean's study habits. So it was nice to have him temporarily vanished.

Dean glanced around the room, surprisingly nervous to see Cas. Even though they hung out plenty often these days, Cas hadn't actually been up here since the day he'd come to say goodbye before going off on his fake skip trip, and the idea of having him back here was a little odd, even though it shouldn't have been.

He opened the door, decided that was far too forward, closed it again, sat down on the bed, picked up his textbook, decided that was too uninvolved, and was just in the process of undoing the top button on his plaid shirt to give himself a casual air when the door opened.

"Dean, are you taking your shirt off? This isn't intended to be a - what was that word you taught me?"

Dean snorted. "Booty call?"

"Yes. That. In fact, this is quite the opposite. I heard that you and Benny have made plans to go to the end of term dinner together."

Dean nodded, getting hit with a sudden rush of guilt. Fuck, he'd kind of, sort of made plans to hang out with Cas that night, and he probably should have said something to him about going with Benny. "Uh. Yeah. I'm sorry, man, I promise I'm still gonna make time for you and me to see each other. Like, you're my best friend, you're always gonna be more important than a first date."

"I know, Dean," Cas reassured him. "I was not worried about that, and even if you did ditch me completely, it would be no more than I deserved. Besides, Benny is a good guy and the two of you will have a lovely night together. Which is why I wanted to give you this." He held out the bag.

Dean took it. There was a zip on the side which he opened slowly, staring suspiciously at Cas the whole time. "You know I don't like it when you buy me things."

"I know. But this is important."

Dean finished opening the zipper and pulled out a black suit, neatly pressed and already on its own hanger, a pair of black trousers, a white shirt and a green tie hung over the middle.

He stared at Cas. "You bought me a suit?"

"Yes. You'll need something to wear to the end of term dinner, since I know you were worried about that when it came to the ball. And when you leave and start applying for jobs, you're going to need to look smart for interviews, too. As much as I believe in you to get any job you're interested in, first impressions are everything."

Dean looked from Cas to the suit, then back to Cas, and back to the suit.

"If you're worried about fitting, I know your sizes, and there is enough time left before the dinner that if it requires tailoring I can ask the man I know in town to rush it."

"I wasn't worried about tailoring or whatever. I didn't even know people got suits tailored." Dean shook his head, smiling. He couldn't believe Cas had done this for him, and he wanted to get mad, but he knew there was no way Cas was going to let him give it back, so he didn't bother. "I just kind of can't believe you'd do that for me. Come here."

He wrapped his arms around Cas, squeezing him as tight as he could, almost crushing him, not really caring, just wanting to show Cas how much he appreciated him.

"Dean, you're going to crease the suit, it needs to be kept nice," Cas gasped into Dean's ear.

"Then I'll fucking iron it. Let me hug you, you asshole."

--

Chapter Text

fourteen // dishes

During the first few days of GCSEs, the whole of Year Eleven felt like the exam season would never end. Every day dragged on for longer than the last, and it seemed like each exam only brought more stress and more tiredness with very little hope of any reprieve. And yet, they kept working, they kept surviving, and even though there were a few breakdowns in the middle of the lunch hall, everyone had people with them to help them through it. And before too long, they'd made it, almost to the end of exams.

Dean got the phone call on a Wednesday evening, two days before the end of term dinner. He had one exam left - his Spanish reading exam, the following afternoon. He was reading over his vocab lists, but he was too tired to do any serious studying, and already thinking that he might want to get an early night, when his phone rang.

Assuming it was Cas or Aaron or one of his other friends, he picked it up, and frowned when he saw that it was coming from an unknown number. He almost didn't answer, thinking that it was probably some kind of spam call. But he was bored enough and in need of a break that he hit the green button.

"Hello?"

"Dean? It's me, it's your father."

John didn't even have to clarify that. Dean would have known his voice anywhere, even as raspy and pained sounding as it was.

"Dad? What's going on?"

Dean almost asked if he was alright, but then it occurred to him that he didn't particularly care one way or the other.

"Judge let me off. Gave me a bunch of community service hours, so I'm not gonna get to go to America for a while yet. Recommended I go to AA meetings too. Probably not going to. Waste of my fucking time."

"Okay," Dean replied, keeping his voice neutral.

"Okay? You're not gonna try to convince me to go or whatever?"

Dean shrugged. "Doesn't affect me. You can go or not go, your call."

"So when are you coming home?" John asked, bluntly changing the subject.

Dean hesitated. "I, uh, I got one exam left. Saturday's the last day of term. Just assemblies and stuff like that. Then Sam and I are free for the summer."

"Great. I'm in Preston right now, I'll send some money to your account, you guys can get the train up here Saturday night. I'll text you the address. You can help me out with this community service and we'll see if we can get any new information on this guy in America, maybe one of my buddies over there will be able to help us out."

Dean couldn't think of anything that sounded worse than helping his dad with community service while making plans to head over to America. And Jody had already told him and Sam that they were free to stay with her again for the summer if they wanted, so it wasn't like Dean had any need to go back in the first place...

"I don't want to see you."

"You what?" John's voice was already rising in volume, ready to get angry. "What, are you doing some more volunteering bullshit over the summer, is that what's going on here?"

"No. No volunteering bullshit. I just don't want to see you. You can go to America if you want, or you can stick around here, I don't care. But Sam and I are staying in school."

"But you're getting your exams. You're leaving, you promised me you'd be able to help me out full time. You don't break promises you made to your family, boy-"

"I'm gonna try to get my A levels. I dunno if it'll work out, might turn out it's not for me, and if that happens then I'll leave and get a job. But I want to at least try. Everyone I know's doing it, I got friends here who I'll be with, my teachers think I can do it, and it's a chance I'm only gonna get once and even that's more than I expected. So I'm giving it a go. And I'll get to be with Sam, look after him, make sure that he's alright. Not that he needs it right now, but just in case he ever does. And then... after that, I dunno what. But hey, I got a couple of years to figure that out, right?"

The words were coming out in a rush. He hadn't even planned on saying them. He'd have thought that exams would make him even more dead set against coming back to school in September, since he wanted to stay as far away from things like that as possible. And it was true, if he never saw another one of those forms asking for his student identification number again in his life, he'd be happy. But staying here was about way more than just taking exams. It was about having opportunities and experiences he'd never have otherwise. It was about waking up every morning and looking out over beautiful surroundings. It was about having people around him who thought he was worth something. It was about the fact that there were a hundred interesting things to do, right here, on his doorstep, whether or not he chose to actually make use of them. It was about the present and the future, both of those two things intersecting at the same time, the fact that he could have a great time today and at the same time knowing that he was working towards his life being even better a few years down the line.

And, more than anything else, it was about one thing.

"I don't wanna end up like you."

For a moment Dean was pretty sure John was going to scream at him, ask him what exactly he meant by that, and say how dare he say something like that to his own father. But he didn't. He didn't say anything for a long moment, and then finally, in a small voice, he said,

"Yeah, I wouldn't wanna end up like me either."

Dean had been prepared to defend himself if he got yelled at, but he hadn't been expecting that, so he had no idea how to respond to it.

"Alright. Well. I gotta get back to studying now," he finally managed. It sounded weak in comparison to everything else that had happened over the course of that conversation.

"Yeah," John grunted. Dean figured he was probably still trying to process the information that neither of his sons were planning on coming back.

"Good luck with your community service."

"Yeah."

"Okay. Bye."

"Bye, son."

Dean put the phone down and found that he was shaking, and kind of cold at the same time. He picked up the blanket from his bed and wrapped himself up in it, but it wasn't enough, so he opened his closet and pulled out the leather jacket that Cas had given him all those months ago. He hadn't worn it for a while. The shock of what Cas had done to him had been too raw, and by the time he was starting to get over that, it had been too warm outside anyway.

Right now, though, it was pretty much exactly what he needed. He bundled himself up in it, tightening the zip at the front all the way up to his throat, rubbing his own arms to keep the warmth in, and within a few moments he had brought himself back to his normal temperature.

He lifted the arm of the jacket to his face and sniffed. It still smelled faintly of new leather, since Dean had done everything he possibly could to keep the jacket nice. But there was another smell mixed in with that, too. It smelled of Cas, that familiar, soft, sweet, honey-like smell that drifted through the room every time Cas was around and wasn't like any cologne Dean had ever smelt.

Dean missed that smell more than he missed anything else in the world. And that didn't even make any sense, considering that he still got to sit next to Castiel every day, still got to be close enough to smell him.

And yet, he missed it. He ached with how much he missed it. And he realized that he didn't want to be wrapped up in his own leather jacket right at that moment, no matter how nice of a jacket it was. He wanted to be wrapped up in Cas' arms.

He wanted to sink into Cas' arms and never leave again, to whisper in his ear how much he'd missed him. And when Cas pointed out that they'd seen each other earlier that same day when they'd shared a piece of chocolate cake at lunch, Dean would say... he'd say...

He'd say that Cas was right, they'd seen each other earlier, but there was still space between them like there hadn't been before. That sitting next to Cas and eating cake with him was great and all, but he wanted to lean forward and lick up that smear of chocolate icing at the side of Cas' lips, before pulling him in for a soft kiss that never had to end. And right now, he wasn't allowed to do that.

He wanted to.

And now that he was going to be coming back next year, there was nothing stopping him. He didn't have to leave Cas. He could have him, see him every single day for the next two years, cuddle up to him after a difficult day of classes, cheer him on at all his athletics matches, go for walks through the snow in the winter so that they had to find effective ways to warm each other up, follow him to every school event he wanted to go to and attempt to distract him during it, kiss him, tell him he loved him, prove to Cas that he'd made the right decision by not giving up on Dean.

And he could wait until September to tell him, surprise him by coming back, but by then it might be too late. Cas might have moved on and found someone else, thinking he was never going to see Dean again, and Dean wouldn't be able to blame him for that.

Dean wasn't tired anymore. He didn't even care about his last exam - he'd show up, of course he would, but the other ones he'd done would be enough to bring up his grade if he dropped a few points here from not studying for it. So he stood up, pulling off his jogging trousers and tugging on a pair of jeans suitable for going outside in. He wanted to give something else to Cas too, some kind of token to show him that he was serious, but he didn't have anything, nothing except the sheets of notes littering his desk and the clothes in his closet.

He tore a sheet of lined paper out of his notebook. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't much, but it would have to do. He'd learned how to do this a really long time ago from some girl he'd had a thing with four, five, six schools ago, and he hoped it had stayed with him. As fast as he could, he creased and folded the paper, and a couple of minutes later, he'd come up with a fair resemblance of an origami flower.

He picked it up and ran out of the room, tearing through the boarding house, out into the sunshine, and stopped dead in the middle of the courtyard. He'd forgotten one thing.

He pulled out his phone and quickly dialled a number.

"Hello?"

"Hi. Benny," Dean replied, his voice shaking, though it was less from nerves and more from the adrenaline of everything he was about to do.

"Everything alright?"

"Yeah. Yeah, better than alright, actually. But I gotta tell you something. I can't go to the dinner with you, because... because I'm still in love with Cas. I figured dating other people might be a good idea, cause I didn't want to just assume it's always gonna be him, but the more I think about it... the more I think that he's it for me. So I wanted to be honest. Cause you seem pretty great. And I'm coming back next year, so if you wanna hang out as friends, then we should. Is... is that okay?"

There was a resigned sigh from the other side of the phone. "Yeah. Course it's okay. No hard feelings, man, I hope you guys are happy."

"Thanks, dude."

And just like that, the last barrier to being with Cas again had been completely taken away. The only thing he had left to face was Cas itself.

Of course, that was the one which terrified him most of all.

He refused to let himself think about it. He was going to think less and do more, because that was the only way he could get through this. He hurtled across the courtyard and somehow, through some unbelievable stroke of luck, the door to Cas' boarding house was open. Dean didn't stop. He kept running, faster and faster until he reached Castiel's door, and he knocked on it urgently, hoping against hope that Cas would be in.

After a pause that felt like it lasted for about five years, the door swung open - and there he was. There was Cas, the most perfect, amazing, wonderful person Dean had ever seen in his live, the one who had turned his life around, the first person to give him a chance here and to see things Dean didn't even see in himself.

"Dean?"

Dean didn't say anything. He surged forwards and kissed Cas full on the mouth, making a broken noise the second their lips met for the first time in months, one hand tangling in Castiel's hair to pull him even closer. He held him as tight as he could, and Cas kissed back, getting just as into it as Dean was, wrapping his arms tight around his waist like he was never, ever going to let him go. The two of them stood in the doorway, not caring who was going to walk past them in the corridor, just completely wrapped up in each other. Nothing was important except for the two of them continuing to kiss.

It was a very, very long time later that they broke apart, and it had something to do with Dean's knees going weak and not being able to hold him up any longer. Then, Castiel took hold of him and half carried him over to his bed, and the two of them lay down, panting.

"I got you a flower," Dean gasped, holding out the piece of paper he'd folded.

Cas took it and stared. "You made this?"

"Yeah. Well. You got me a flower when you asked me to the ball. I figured I needed to do the same to ask you to the dinner. But I didn't have any real ones so I had to improvise. I hope it's alright."

Cas stared at it for a few moments longer, and then murmured, "You made it, how on earth could it not be alright?"

"Oh." Dean blushed.

"So you... you want to ask me to dinner?"

Dean took a deep breath. Kissing had been a good distraction. Kissing was something he could do. Feelings he found a lot more difficult, but right now, he didn't have much of a choice but to confront them. "Yeah. That, and so much more. Cause I realized a whole bunch of stuff. But I guess that I can kind of sum it up by saying... that my dad has spent his whole life talking about how family is the most important thing. And about how you should do anything for them, without a second thought. And I reckon he's right."

"So why did you-" Cas cut in, but Dean couldn't stop, not now. If he stopped he would never start again.

"But I don't think he's my family. Just cause he's my dad and he raised me, that's not enough. I think you're my family, Cas. You, and Sam of course, and Aaron and Charlie and Jo and everyone else who's here with me. And if family's the most important thing, then I can't give them up, or walk away from them. I have to stay. I want to stay. And, maybe even more than that... I want you, Cas."

He reached out and took Castiel's hand, running his thumb over Cas' knuckles, feeling the warmth and the connection between them. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me. You used to be the only good thing I had, and now I've got lots of good things, but there's still something missing, and it's you. It's the fact that being friends with you is never gonna be quite enough. It's the fact that I could never date anyone else, cause I'd always be seeing all the ways you were even better than them. And it's the fact that I love you, Castiel Novak, I have since the day we met, and this crazy new future that I'm only just now starting to realize I can have... I see you in it."

Dean gave Cas' hand a squeeze, then turned and pressed his forehead into the wall, already grimacing in embarrassment. That wasn't something he did, that whole pouring his emotions out to somebody thing. Especially not shit like that. And he wouldn't blame Cas for running away even at the mention of the future and Dean's sudden about turn.

"Dean..."

Cas reached out and took Dean's chin in his hand, turning his head so that Dean was forced to look him in the eye.

"I'm usually the one who has all the words, but right now I feel like you've said them all for me. There's nothing left for me to say. All I can do is..." He leaned in close and pressed his lips against Dean's, a soft, simple gesture, less for the sake of kissing him and more to convey exactly how he felt about him.

"Fuck, I missed this," Dean whispered against his lips.

"I missed this too. I missed you."

By an unspoken agreement, the two of them lay down together and just held each other, trading the occasional kiss or statement of wonder that they were finally here again, being sure to stay as close as possible until the moment Dean was forced to leave to be back at his dorm before curfew.

--

Putting on his suit was one of the strangest feelings Dean had ever had in his young life. Of course, it didn’t compare to kissing Castiel for the first time, or seeing how well his brother was doing at school and smiling with pride, but it was still pretty damn weird. He pulled the clothes on almost reverently, running his fingers over the smooth material, sure that it was worth about the same amount of money as every other item of clothing he owned put together. There was no possible way he could wear this out of the house. Especially not to eat. What if he spilled food on it? Or even a drop of water? Or even sat on it funny? It would be ruined. He would just have to stand stiffly in the corner the whole night, not eating or touching anything.

There was a knock on the door. Dean opened it, and Castiel, dressed in an equally smart suit with a blue tie, gave Dean a small bow before wrapping his arms tight around him and pulling him in for a kiss. Dean melted into it with a small noise, before-

“My suit!”

“What?” Cas frowned in confusion.

“You’re going to crease my suit, and it’s so nice, and-“

Cas burst out laughing. “Dean, you’re allowed to wear it. I mean, don’t roll around in the mud or anything, but you can walk in it and do normal things in it. And kiss in it.”

“Well, pardon me if I don’t trust your judgement,” Dean grumbled. “Cause it sounds like you might have one or two ulterior motives there.”

“Just one or two,” Cas chuckled, diving in to steal another quick kiss. “You look beautiful, by the way.”

Dean flushed bright red – of all the compliments Cas could have given him, he hadn’t been expecting that one. “You, uh. You look hot too, Cas.”

Cas seemed satisfied enough with that, but privately, in his head, Dean completely agreed that Cas looked beautiful, too.

Cas offered his arm, and Dean tentatively put his hand on top of it, pretty sure that was the right thing to do. Cas gave him an encouraging nod, and the two of them stepped out of the room, making their way to the dinner. On their way through the boarding house, they passed other people dressed up in their finest clothes – girls in long, sweeping, sequined dresses with their hair elaborately pinned up, guys in well pressed suits and ties with their hair gelled back, everyone standing a little straighter, walking a little taller, sparkling a little brighter.

And people smiled at him and Cas when they walked past. Even the people Dean had never spoken to before, some of them met his eyes and gave him a nod and a grin. The whole place felt more positive, more upbeat, old rivalries meaning less now that exams were over and nobody had to worry about anything for the whole summer.

Dean and Cas strolled through the courtyard and walked uphill to the balcony, where they took a moment just to stand beside the wall and admire the view. Dean dropped his head onto Castiel’s shoulder and smiled. “Hey, I love you, you know that?”

Castiel chuckled and nodded. “You’ve mentioned it, yes.”

“Aren’t you supposed to tell me you love me too?”

“Do you need me to?”

Dean nuzzled into Cas’ neck and bit down on it, leaving the tiniest mark right above the line of his shirt, just to tease him. “No. But I like hearing it.”

“We really should be going inside, my love.”

They spent a last, long moment staring out at the scenery. It was still warm in the early evening now that summer was here, and the sun was just starting to drift down over the horizon, splattering pinks and oranges all over the sky. Dean had seen plenty of sunsets in his time, but he thought this one, and this moment, might just be his favorite.

They headed inside to the main hall, and were guided to their seats by a Year Ten student wearing a waiter’s uniform. Dean glanced around and he noticed that Jo and Charlie had shown up too. They were pouring small glasses of sparkling wine for the students and sneaking sips when they thought nobody was looking, both of them already a little unsteady on their feet.

Aaron was already sitting at the same table as Cas and Dean, and he had a date with him that Dean didn’t recognize. Aaron grinned when he saw the two of them together, clearly happy, and pushed a bowl of bread rolls towards them. Dean took one and broke off a piece which he fed to Cas, almost as a challenge. Aaron raised an eyebrow and repeated the movement with his date, and Dean thought this might be the start of an interesting sort of competition.

Hannah and Tessa’s names were both on placecards at the table too, though they hadn’t arrived just yet. Mr Shurley was walking around the room in what looked like a dressing gown, looking as though he would rather be anywhere but here. Over at another table, Benny sat with a dark haired girl. He caught Dean’s eye and waved.

Jody and her wife sat at the slightly larger table in the middle, filled with the teachers chaperoning the event. Dean thought this might be the first time he'd ever seen Jody in a dress, and also the first time he'd ever seen her smile this wide, leaning back in her seat and letting the students have a good time as she glanced down the menu.

Dean slipped his placecard into his pocket as a souvenir and smiled. The celebrations had barely begun, and yet he already knew for sure that he wanted to remember this night.

--

Chapter Text

fifteen // i love life

The sparkling wine was supposed to be limited to one glass per person, but of course that rule didn't end up getting enforced. Dean and Castiel ate their way through mozzarella, tomato and basil salad followed by chicken breast stuffed with bacon and cheese served with sauteed potatoes and asparagus, with an apple and blackberry pie and vanilla ice cream for dessert. The food was delicious, a huge improvement on the usual quality of the dining hall, and the company was even better. Between the main course and the dessert, the lights were dimmed and the Year Ten waiters placed candles on every table. The atmosphere in the whole room was calm, yet happy at the same time, and everywhere Dean looked, some kind of decoration or somebody's outfit caught in the candlelight and sparkled.

Once dessert was cleared away, the night was officially over, but nobody seemed to be in any rush to leave. Mr Shurley stood up and made an announcement that they didn't intend to enforce curfew that night, and that if people wanted to stay out later or spent the night in someone else's room, they were free to do that, because he was far too tired to yell at anybody breaking the rules and wouldn't even remember who he'd given a detention to once next term started, so what was even the point? Everybody laughed and cheered, and Cas turned to look at Dean, his eyes smoldering.

"Dean, would you like to stay in my room tonight?"

Dean's breath caught in his throat. It had been such a long time since he'd done anything besides kissing with Cas, and he'd been planning on taking things slow for a while since they hadn't been back together for long, but that look Cas was giving him, and the possibility of curling up around each other and sleeping afterwards... there was no possible way Dean could resist that. And it was their last chance before the summer.

"What the hell kind of question is that, Cas? I wanna stay in your room every night."

Cas raised an eyebrow. "I highly doubt that will be possible. The teachers are aware of our relationship, after all, and I think it would make far more sense for you to share a room with Aaron next year as planned. I am sure that we will find other ways to-"

"Shut up, Cas," Dean laughed, leaning in to kiss him and still tasting pie filling on Cas' lips. "I know we can't actually do that, I was just saying that I'd like to."

"Oh. Yes. Well, I would very much like the same, even though you do tend to steal the blankets."

Dean wrinkled his nose. "Well then, maybe you should get more blankets."

"Perhaps I will. Anything for my princess boyfriend."

Dean wanted to argue with the princess nickname, but he also really wanted to get back to Cas' room as soon as possible, so he took his hand and pulled him to his feet. Getting out of the hall was difficult, since they kept getting stopped by people who wanted to give them a hug and wish them a good night, but finally they made it to the door. Dean broke into what might have been the first voluntary run of his life, still holding hands with Cas, both of them laughing in delight as they danced through the moonlight on the way back to the boarding house.

The door to Wilde House was open, and nobody was there in the lobby to give them knowing looks as they ran to Castiel's room. The moment they were inside, Dean was flipping the lock on the door and then pinning Cas against it, kissing him with everything he had. Cas growled into his mouth and grabbed him tight, forcing him back and then flipping him around, so that Dean was the one pressed up against the wall.

"Holy shit, Cas," Dean groaned, already feeling himself getting hard (and he absolutely had to get undressed before doing anything with Cas, because no way was he going to let either of their fancy suits get ruined) because he knew Cas was strong from all the sports he played, but he'd never experienced it quite like that before.

"Oh, you like that? You want me to push you around more?" Cas arched an eyebrow, his hands planted on the wall either side of Dean so that Dean was completely fenced in. "You want me to take control, make you give me everything that I want?"

Dean moaned again, rocking forward against Cas' thigh to give himself just a little bit of friction. "Fuck yes, Cas, please, whatever you want."

Cas grabbed Dean's wrists and pinned them to the wall above his head, giving Dean another kiss before biting and sucking a line down his collarbone. With his free hand, Cas managed to undo the first few buttons on Dean's shirt so that he could keep going, giving Dean as many marks as possible that he could look at over the summer and remember this night.

Dean couldn't move, couldn't grab Cas and pull him closer like he wanted to, all he could do was stand there and whine and hope that Cas was going to take pity on him before too long and give him what he wanted.

"What am I going to do?" Cas pretended to ask himself once he pulled away. "So many options here... I could make you get down on your knees for me and blow me. Or I could spread you out on the bed and blow you instead, but not stop after you came, just keep going while you were still sensitive until you got hard all over again. Or... I could fuck you, so that tomorrow you'll still be able to feel it, and it'll be like I'm still with you, even after we say goodbye."

Dean was a really big fan of all those plans, but he knew they only had one night, and they were both tired enough from exams that there was no way either of them was going to stay awake long enough to do everything they wanted to do. Besides, they had time. They had all of next year to live out all of Castiel's dirtiest fantasies that he'd always imagined but never been brave enough to actually talk about before now.

"Fuck, Cas, yeah, whatever you want, any of those things, you're gonna be amazing," Dean moaned, his hips squirming against Cas, trying to get him to hurry the fuck up with whatever he wanted to do.

Castiel smiled and led Dean over to the bed, picking him up and dropping him on top of the mattress so that it bounced and squeaked underneath him. The mattresses in dorm rooms had never been particularly comfortable, but right now Dean didn't really care, because Cas was climbing on top of him, straddling him, leaning down to kiss him slow and deep, slipping his tongue into Dean's mouth.

"Yeah, I think I want to fuck you. Spread you open with my fingers nice and slow, have you beg for my cock before I finally decide to take you... how's that sound to you, Dean?"

"Yes," Dean said immediately, his hips bucking, but Cas was too high up for Dean to get any real contact. "Yes, Cas, I want all of that, please, don't make me wait..."

Cas fluttered his eyelashes innocently. "But making you wait is the fun part, Dean."

He tugged at Dean's suit jacket, and Dean sat up to help Cas undress him as quickly as possible. Within a few moments Dean's jacket, shirt and tie were in a heap on the floor, and before too long, Cas' were joining them. They'd be able to sort out whose clothes were who in the morning. Right now it was far more important for Cas to lie down right on top of Dean, their chests pressing together as they kissed again, hot and wet, both of them panting into each other's mouths.

Dean could already feel how hard Cas was even through all the layers of their trousers, and he knew that despite the big talk, Cas wouldn't actually be able to wait long enough to really tease Dean like he might want to. And he knew that neither of them would really complain about it. Dean had forgotten just how good it felt to have Castiel on top of him like this, but the feeling was addicting, and he never wanted to give it up again.

"Cas, please..." Dean's hands drifted down to Cas' trousers, and he palmed Cas' cock over the fabric. Cas threw his head back and jerked his hips into Dean's hand for a moment before he took Dean's hand and moved it away, holding it down on the bed.

"No touching unless I say you can, Dean," he insisted.

"But Cas-"

Dean was effectively cut off when Cas' hands found their way to his zipper, pulling his trousers down. It took them a couple of minutes to get them off completely, since Dean was on the bottom and they were both crammed onto a single bed trying their best not to fall off, but before too long they both managed to dispose of the rest of their clothes, and Cas sat astride Dean, both of them completely naked.

"Dean... you're so beautiful," Cas whispered, his eyes fixed on Dean's, running his hands down his own torso and gripping his own cock, giving himself a few strokes.

Dean looked almost pained, watching Cas touch himself like that, wishing more than anything that he could be the one doing it. His cock started to dribble precome and he wasn't sure whether he wanted to touch Cas or himself more, but he knew that there was basically no chance that Cas would let him do either, so he kept his hands pressed flat to the bed and bit down on his own lip, waiting.

Castiel's hand sped up and he arched his back, putting himself on display for Dean as much as possible, getting close already from the combination of his hand and staring down at Dean, clearly desperate for him. For a moment Dean was sure that Cas was going to keep going and come all over his chest, but then Cas forced himself to pull his hand away, panting, his chest heaving and his cock red and swollen.

Dean let out a shuddering breath. "Nowhere near as beautiful as you, Cas," he gasped, reaching over to the drawer on Cas' nightstand and opening it, pulling out lube and a condom in his best efforts to hurry Cas up. Cas raised an eyebrow but didn't comment, taking them from Dean's hand and squirting lube all over his fingers.

"You ready?" he whispered, holding one finger at Dean's entrance, rubbing gently at the rim just enough to send sparks through Dean's entire body.

"I've been ready for fucking days, Cas," Dean exaggerated, trying to force himself down onto Cas' finger.

Cas didn't even bother calling him out on the obvious flaws in that logic, just pressed his finger inside Dean, as deep as it would possibly go. Dean let out a loud moan that was surely going to travel through the thin dorm walls - neither of them knew what time it was or whether other people were home from the dinner yet, and they didn't really care. They both needed this far too badly.

Cas glanced down, and seeing his finger buried deep inside Dean was almost too much for him. He had to grab his own cock and squeeze the base hard to hold himself back, sucking air through his teeth, before he was able to start moving his finger in and out of Dean, curling it in an attempt to hit Dean's prostate.

It took them a bit of time to find the right spot, Dean trying to angle his hips just right to help Cas out, Cas doing his best to make Dean feel good without hurting him, but after a couple of minutes of feeling around, Cas finally brushed against something that made Dean wail out loud, his entire body turning to jelly as he clenched around Cas' finger.

He wanted to beg Cas for more, but it was hard to speak at that precise moment. Luckily, Cas seemed to know exactly what he needed, slowly sliding in another finger alongside the first one, stretching Dean out and staring hungrily down at him the whole time.

Dean closed his eyes, his vision swirling every time he felt Cas press his fingers against that spot, his cock bobbing against his stomach and leaking more and more, and he finally understood how people could come just from this without even having a hand on their cock. He was sure that once he felt Cas' dick inside him instead of just his fingers, he wouldn't be able to last long at all.

Cas clenched his free hand into a fist, stopping himself from grabbing his own cock and jerking himself off, focusing instead on making sure Dean was completely ready for him. Before long, he managed to fit a third finger inside Dean, pumping them faster and faster, feeling the slick slide of the lube around him, already imagining just how good this was going to feel around his cock.

"Fuck, Cas, I'm ready, please just fuck me already!" Dean burst out all of a sudden, reaching out to grab Cas and dig his fingers into his arm. Cas looked into his eyes and he wanted to protest, to tell Dean that he'd take his time if he damn well wanted to, but he saw the desperation in Dean's eyes and it was actually seriously hot knowing how badly Dean needed him, so he decided to give him what he wanted.

"Okay," he agreed, barely able to make the word because of how turned on he was right now. Cas ripped open the condom and slid it slowly over his dick, doing his very best not to touch himself any more than was absolutely necessary for this, and then positioned himself on top of Dean, ready to guide himself inside.

"I love you, you know that?" he asked, earnestly, because it was suddenly very important to him that Dean knew that for definite.

"Cas, babe, I love you too, but you can be sappy after we've both got off, yeah?" Dean groaned, his hands tightening around Cas' waist enough to leave bruises.

That was good enough for Cas, so he ever so slowly sank inside Dean, shaking with the effort of trying to hold himself back. He wanted so badly to just slam inside Dean and fuck him as hard as he could, every movement feeling like Dean was getting even tighter around him, Cas knowing that he couldn't last through much of this. Dean seemed to be in much the same situation, his cock visibly throbbing against his stomach, his hands so tight around Cas' waist that Cas knew he'd still be able to feel it tomorrow. All Cas could feel was the swirling pleasure clouding his brain, everything so intense and so amazing.

"Dean," he moaned when he was finally as deep inside as he could possibly be. "Fuck, so good, Dean..."

"Cas, don't stop, harder, I wanna feel you," Dean replied, trying to guide Cas out and back in, though he wasn't quite strong enough to move him. Neither of them were well coordinated or able to focus on anything except for how fucking incredible this all felt, so it was difficult for them to move and set up a decent rhythm, but they did their best, Cas trembling as he pulled out of Dean and then sank back in again, Dean lifting his hips to make the angle as easy for Cas as possible. They were a mess and from the outside it would probably have looked like neither of them had any idea what they were doing - which, if they were being completely honest, they didn't - but they were both already so close and only getting closer with every tiny movement that it didn't even matter.

Both of them were panting out each other's names, too busy concentrating on what they were doing to dirty talk any more than that, their chests sliding against each other as they moved, occasionally making a vague attempt at a wet, sloppy kiss. Dean could feel himself getting closer and closer, and his hips started to jerk faster of their own accord, his cock brushing against Castiel's stomach giving it just the tiniest bit of extra friction, Cas occasionally managing to brush his prostate, and the whole thing was so new and so unbelievably good that it was only a few minutes before Dean was clenching tight around Cas, letting out a high pitched squeal that had Cas' name buried within it somewhere, splattering come all over both of their stomachs.

Cas had already been right on the edge, probably only going to survive a few more thrusts, and Dean tightening around him only made everything feel even better. Cas buried himself inside Dean one final time, pressing his forehead into Dean's chest and closing his eyes as he filled the condom, coming hard enough that his head went dizzy and that the world seemed to tilt and spin around him for a while even after he pulled out and sank onto the bed next to Dean.

They were both a hot, sweaty mess, but even so, they both pressed closer to each other, snuggling up and making the occasional soft, contented noise, still unable to remember how to actually speak. At first, Dean had vague thoughts of getting cleaned up, changing the sheets, possibly even taking a shower together, and then wrapping an arm around Cas and spooning him in the soft, cool bedcovers. In the end, there was no way they were going to manage that. Barely five minutes after finishing, their eyes were drooping shut and they were both snoring gently, still tangled up around each other, Cas' leg draped over Dean's, Dean's hand protectively placed on Cas' chest, the covers tangled up in a ball somewhere else in the bed.

--

Somehow, in the middle of the night, the two of them must have moved, because they woke up with their arms tight round each other, Cas' face pressed into Dean's hair and making little snuffling noises. Dean surprised himself by being the first to wake up. He'd always assumed that he'd be the one to beg for five extra minutes in bed while Cas was up at the crack of dawn, bright eyed and ready to go, but apparently that wasn't the case at all.

Dean shifted, reaching for his phone to see what time it was, and the movement startled Cas, who cracked his eyes open. "Whatareyoudoinghere," he croaked, before making a little 'mmpf!' noise and burying his head in Dean's shoulder.

"Morning, sunshine," Dean giggled. "I slept here. Last night of term, remember, teachers said they weren't gonna enforce the rules?"

"Right," Cas mumbled into Dean's skin. "Coffee."

"You want coffee? You want me to make it for you?"

"No," Cas corrected. "I need coffee."

"Oh. That's very serious. And what's going to happen if you don't get coffee?" Dean laughed.

"You don't want to know," Cas replied, very seriously.

Dean had to choke back his laugh, worried that Cas might legitimately kill him if he made light of the situation again. Instead he got up and pulled on a T-shirt of Cas' and his own boxers, and made his way to the kitchen on their floor, coming back a few minutes later with two mugs of coffee.

Cas chugged his own mug in about thirty seconds flat, never mind how hot it was, and the two of them sat together on the bed, trading sips from the other mug as they got ready to face the day. There wasn't much to do - the end of year assembly in the afternoon, and then everyone would be released for the summer.

The celebration assembly went much as everyone expected it to, with only a few special moments of interest. The first came when they were awarding prizes to the students, to be formally presented at a prizegiving ceremony the following year.

"The prize for outstanding hard work and dedication to school life by a lower school student," the headmaster announced in his overblown voice, surveying the room, two thousand pairs of eyes trained on him just waiting to hear who was gong to win, "goes to Sam Winchester!"

There was a round of applause coming mostly from the front section of the room where the Year Sevens sat, and then after a pause, a small boy got shakily to his feet and climbed up onto the stage, his cheeks clearly bright red as he shook the headmaster's hand and was given a book token. Dean leapt to his feet and stuck two fingers in his mouth, whistling loudly and cheering harder than anyone. Damn fucking right Sam was hard working and dedicated.

Dean didn't win any prizes himself, and he didn't expect to. It was true that he did squeeze Cas' hand a little tighter when they announced the upper school Chemistry prize winner, but that almost always went to a sixth former, and true to form it was a Year Thirteen student who'd got a gold medal in the Olympiad who took the prize. Dean wondered if he might be able to win next year. Maybe he could try to work for it. He had nothing to lose by trying, after all, and it would look really good if he ever wanted to get a job in a lab or something.

A couple of Dean's other friends took prizes, though, and the best one of all came towards the end of the prize listing.

"The prize for outstanding athletic achievement from an upper school student," the headmaster recited, sounding a little more tired now, like he was looking forward to getting through the end of this list and heading to his beach house in the South of France, "goes to Castiel Novak!"

Dean gasped quite possibly louder than Castiel had, pulling his boyfriend to him and planting a huge kiss on his lips right there in the middle of the assembly hall. Cas struggled to his feet once the kiss was over, a little unsteady from the surprise of the win and the kiss combined, and staggered to the front of the room to fetch his own book token. When he got back to his seat, he was grinning.

"Couldn't have done it if I hadn't had to show off my skills for you when you came to watch me practice," he whispered. Dean supposed he could accept that victory. It was almost better than winning a prize himself.

After the two most important people in Dean's life had both been so successful, the announcement of the new Head Boy and Girl was almost anticlimactic, especially since most of Dean's friends were in his own year or the year below and wouldn't be eligible just yet. But Dean couldn't fail to notice that Bela missed out on the Head Girl position. He caught a glimpse of her scowling and looking very put out, Luke mysteriously absent from her side.

And then the hall was dismissed, and the students were jumping to their feet, ripping off their blazers and ties and rolling up their shirt sleeves as they ran at top speed out into the sunshine, sprawling across the grass, laughing and soaking up the good weather as they waited for their parents to arrive to collect them.

Dean and Sam, of course, were spending the summer with Jody, so they didn't have far to go. So Dean sat down on the grass with Cas while they waited for the Novak parents to arrive and pick up their many children in what was probably going to be a stretch limo or something along those lines.

"You should come and visit this summer," Cas suggested casually. "You and Sam. Gabe will complain non stop if he doesn't get to see him for over two months. Really, you'll be doing an important service."

"A-are you serious?" Dean asked, nervous just at the thought of it. "Your family's gonna hate me. I'll mess it up. I reckon it's best if I stay a really long way away from them."

"My family will midly disapprove of you at first because of their prejudices, yes. But they will not hate you. With the exception of Luke, I am sure they will all soon see how good and intelligent and wonderful a person you are, and love you just as I do."

Dean blushed, forgetting whatever he'd been planning on saying in response to that, too distracted by the sudden compliment.

"I, yeah, alright then. I'd love to come stay with you."

"Yes, well, you'd better. I gave up the chance to go on a cruise this summer for you. The least you can do is come swim in my pool with me."

"You have a-" Dean shook his head, figuring that he shouldn't even be surprised. "Right, of course. I'm looking forward to swimming in your pool. Just text me. We'll figure something out."

"I will text you for many reasons, and that will be just one of them, Dean."

The Novaks' car pulled up before too long, and it wasn't quite as big and fancy as Dean had been picturing, but it was a close thing. One by one, Luke, Castiel, Anna and Gabriel loaded their things into the boot and got ready to head off.

And then, just as they were all climbing into the car, Sam barrelled out of nowhere, running at top speed towards the group of them, yelling out Gabriel's name.

"Gabriel! You have to say goodbye to me!"

He launched himself into Gabriel's arms, holding the smaller boy as tight as he possibly could. Gabriel clung back as though this was the last time he was ever going to see Sam in his life.

"Calm down!" Dean laughed. "We'll sort stuff out, you guys will get to hang out this summer, and then you've got all of next year too!" Still, it wasn't like he didn't relate.

"Shut up," Sam muttered under his breath as he finally pulled away from Gabriel.

Luke, Cas and Anna climbed into the car, but Gabriel hesitated for a moment, staying behind.

"Come on, Gabe!" Cas called from the car. "We're holding people up!"

Gabe turned around to look at his brother, and for a moment Dean thought he was going to go. But then, at the last minute, he turned back and leaned in and gave Sam a tiny peck on the mouth, before running off as fast as his tiny legs would carry him and leaping in the car, not saying anything.

Dean turned to Sam, barely able to believe his eyes. "What was- did he just-"

"Don't say anything. Let's just go."

Sam stuck his nose in the air and marched off in the direction of the dorms.

"Sammy's got a boyfriend!" Dean called after him, determined to make fun of his brother as much as possible.

"Well, Dean's got a boyfriend too, so he can stop being a bloody hypocrite!" Sam countered when Dean caught up to him.

"Yeah. Yeah, I do," Dean smiled giddily and linked arms with his brother as the two of them walked through the grass, Woodcreek School silhouetted behind them.

--

Chapter Text

sixteen (epilogue) // sunrise

"How was your meeting, sweetheart?"

Castiel opened his arms where he sat on a brand new leather sofa in front of the huge bay windows in the nicest boarding house on campus. Shakespeare Hall housed all the students in their final year in single rooms with en suite bathrooms, just as an incentive for everyone to work hard and make it through school up to that point, and as a way to have everyone together to socialize in their final year, but also to give them private study space with their big exams coming up.

Dean Winchester grinned and sat down in his boyfriend's lap, turning to give him a quick kiss. "It was alright, yeah. Can't believe I'm actually thinking about going to university. Me, of all people."

Cas chuckled. "Well, you know the school has a significant interest in getting you to apply. Otherwise you'd be the first Woodcreek Head Boy to ever not go to university."

"That in itself is a pretty good reason not to. You know, make history and all, make sure I'm gonna be remembered here."

Cas laughed and ran his fingers through Dean's hair. "You've already made sure you're going to be remembered, don't you worry about that."

As much as he hated to admit it, Dean supposed that Cas was right. Last year, he and Cas had set up a pen pal scheme for younger students to email back and forth with state school students and make friends with them. Dean had won a gold medal in the Chemistry Olympiad and coached the team of younger students taking part in a similar group challenge. He'd also started a partnership between Woodcreek and the camp he'd volunteered at over the holidays, which also did after school and weekend activities, meaning that every Saturday a bus full of Woodcreek students were taken over to the camp to help out, and the kids at the camp who usually didn't have things like swimming pools or music rooms or woodland classrooms got to come over to the school a couple of nights a week and make use of some of their facilities. And, of course, he'd saved up for months to send Bobby a thankyou basket of whiskey.

Dean was comforted at least by the fact that some of the stories about things he'd done in his first few months at the school still lived in infamy, passed from student to student in hushed voices. Of course, most of the Year Sevens and Eights didn't really believe that their Head Boy would ever do such things, but Dean liked knowing that his bad reputation hadn't been entirely eliminated.

"What are you thinking about?" Cas whispered, his breath tickling Dean's ear.

Dean could easily have said that he was thinking about how much things had changed since he'd first arrived here a little over two years ago, and Cas would have smiled and agreed with him and they could have reminisced together about some of their best memories.

But he didn't want to think too hard about the past. Not when he had a whole future with Cas ahead of him.

"I'm thinking that it's Friday night and we have almost three hours til curfew, and that's plenty of time for us to go on some kind of adventure."

Cas grinned, wrapping his arms around Dean's waist and pulling them both to their feet. "You are absolutely right. I can't believe I didn't think of it first. What would you like to do?"

Dean's head still reeled just at the thought of all the things there were to do pretty much on his doorstep. "How about stargazing?"

"I'm gazing at a star right now," Cas teased, giving Dean a quick kiss on the nose. "Sounds perfect."

They walked over to the observatory, and Dean learned that there were a lot of stars in the world that he'd never been able to appreciate before.

--