Pairing/Characters: Castiel/Dean, Castiel/Crowley, Anna, Sam, others, Dean/Bela (briefly), Sam/Jess
Genre: Highschool AU, first time, angst
Contains: Teenage smoking and drinking [participants are eighteen], mentions of recreational drug use [user is eighteen], brief bullying and homophobia, underage kissing [participants are below sixteen], mention of a student propositioning and being rejected by a teacher.

Returning to school after summer break always brings its surprises, but Castiel is certain that there should not be something fermenting at the back of his locker.

"Gabriel," he sighs. He crouches down to pick up the remains of a candy wrapper, confirming that this is indeed a farewell gift from his older brother. Gabriel's probably halfway across the country by now, tormenting strangers instead of his own flesh and blood. Castiel spares a second to send those souls a heartfelt wish of good luck.

Castiel's busy excavating Gabriel's sticky souvenir when he hears the metallic whine of the next locker being opened, followed by a male voice saying, "Goddamn, when was the last time someone cleaned out this place?"

"This is nuts," a female voice replies.

"Now I've got to lug my stuff halfway across the damn building," the male voice says grumpily. "As if I didn't have enough to do already."

"You can sue, you know," the female voice says. "I'm pretty sure the school's obligated to keep the water system in good condition, so a burst pipe would be—" There's the loud click of a finger snap.

The male half of the conversation makes a dismissive sound. "I'm just glad they gave me a replacement on the spot."

So, Castiel has a new locker neighbor. When he looks down, his neighbor's shoes are visible through the space at the bottom of his locker door. Castiel is, in fact, close enough that he could lean over and tap those toes if he were so inclined.

"You can get a couple of freshmen to move your stuff later," the girl says. "Come on, walk me to class."

The female voice's owner remains elusive, but Castiel's pretty sure he knows to whom that male voice belongs. He shuts his door and sure enough, standing right there is Dean Winchester, adorned in his bright red football jacket and with a gorgeous young woman — Talbot, Castiel recalls — hanging on to his arm.

Talbot turns to Castiel sharply. "What are you looking at?"

"Chill, Bela," Dean says, gaze completely neutral as takes in Castiel in all his frumpy, oversized-clothing glory. "It's Michael Reeves' kid brother."

"Wow, ten points for condescension, Winchester, perfect form," Castiel says, thrilled at the way Dean's eyes widen with surprise. Kid brother? Oh please, like Castiel isn't a senior just like Dean. "You can make a career out of that."

Bela's mouth turns into a shocked O. "Hey, you can't—"

"What, talk to you directly?" Castiel grins lazily, leaning forward just enough that Bela involuntarily backs up against Dean's side. Her eyes are wide with bewilderment, as if it's something new to be unnerved by Castiel when he's made a career out of doing that to just about anyone who crosses his path. Anna calls it his superpower. "You're right. That'd be insouciant."

"Come on, let's go," Dean mumbles, sliding an arm around Bela's waist to guide her away. They leave together, something almost creepy about the perfect choreography of their steps.

Castiel leans back against his locker and shakes his head in disbelief.

Dean Winchester.

Gabriel once said that there wasn't enough space in K. County West High for one Reeves, let alone four. Michael, who wouldn't agree with Gabriel on anything if he could help it, readily concurred on this true fact.

The one epic year all four siblings had to co-exist within a single school building was certainly a year to remember. Michael, then a senior, crafted up an all-rounded super-jock alpha male legend that would haunt these corridors for years to come. (Castiel has it on good authority that the football, baseball, basketball and debate teams still give ritualistic sacrifices to Michael before important competitions.) Gabriel retaliated by upping the ante of his one-man prankster wars, more often than not targeting Michael and his band of merry compatriots.

For Castiel and Anna, it was a very memorable freshman year.

Then Michael graduated. Gabriel turned his focus elsewhere, teaching the entire student body the meaning of the words vigilance and terror until he, too, took his leave of the school.

Now there are only two Reeves remaining. Castiel's certain that after surviving Michael and Gabriel, everyone's going to find this year anti-climactic. No one's going to pay attention to the senior year tracks of Anna and Castiel, as neither have the desire to rock the boat as their older brothers did. Anna is well on her way to becoming their year's valedictorian, which is a perfectly respectable (and quiet) way of making her mark in this little corner of the world, and Castiel... well. Castiel's the top contender for Most Likely To Win The Homeless Person Pageant, and he's made pretty good friends with the hall monitors.

"Tardy again?" Jodie Mills slaps a note in his palm, shaking her head. "You watch yourself, Castiel."

"Will do, Miss Mills," Castiel says, saluting with the note. He stuffs the paper into his pocket as he enters class and drops into his seat, expertly ignoring the evil eye Mr. Bates is giving him from his desk.

Senior year is just like junior year, only with more facial hair. His classmates are the same, his routine the same, his teachers rotated around but mostly the same.

It's even familiar to be startled awake by a kick to his chair. Castiel sits up sharply, unaware that he'd drifted off and expecting Mr. Bates to come bearing down on him. It's only a second later that Castiel realizes that Mr. Bates is still blathering away up front, none the wiser. A glance over his shoulder confirms that the kick came from Anna, who's making a face at him. She mouths: At least try to pretend.

Castiel rolls his eyes but concedes that the advice is sound. He takes a deep breath and stretches, but dear God there is no staving off the brain-numbing bore that is Bates' Social Science class. He's already slouching in his seat but he manages to slouch further, far enough that he has to wind his feet carefully around Pamela Barnes', who's sitting in front of him and would probably take any form of physical contact as encouragement.

Boring boring boring.

Castiel ends up doodling for the rest of the class, sketching meaningless shapes in his notebook while his thoughts drift on things and times and places that are not in this class. He pays attention for four whole minutes while Mr. Bates gives out the reading assignment, and then the lunch bell rings and he's off, sliding like an eel through bodies that neither notice nor care.

The cafeteria has never been Castiel's scene (too loud, too much of a marketplace), but there are plenty of other places a student can go for privacy. One of the good things about being relatively unnoticeable is that it makes it easier to explore every nook and cranny of the school buildings, and Castiel's got a whole list of mostly-safe spaces that he can use.

One of these spaces is a section of sunken wall outside the gym, where the walls permanently smell of mold and there's an (unfortunately) unobstructed view of the cafeteria kitchen. Barely anyone passes by this area save the janitor, which makes it reason enough for Castiel to adopt it as one of his regular haunts.

Only when he gets there, it's already occupied.

"You're alive," Castiel says.

Crowley glances up. "Fancy that." He's sitting on a low partition in the wall that they've never been able to figure out the function of, a stainless steel lunch box and thermos resting next to him. There's a monogrammed handkerchief lain across Crowley's lap like a napkin, which makes it all the more picturesque when Castiel plunks down next to him and starts taking things out from his lunch bag.

"Had a good summer?" Crowley asks, after a while of mutual quiet chewing.

"Tolerable," Castiel says. "You?"

"Fucking awful," Crowley replies. English weather has done wonders for Crowley's non-tan, making him look even paler than usual against his all-black wardrobe. "Not that it's a picnic to be back, either."

Crowley doesn't have friends. Castiel isn't being unkind; it's the simple truth that Crowley regards his peers as potential blackmail material instead of human beings. Since they're not friends, there's not much conversation to be had while they eat. Once they're done, Crowley takes out a pack of cigarettes that they share.

Castiel glances at his watch. "We've got five minutes 'til the bell. Want to make out?"

Crowley shrugs lazily. "Sure."

It's kind of nasty because Crowley tastes of black coffee and nicotine, but he's still a damn good kisser, leaving Castiel buzzed enough that he goes back to class ready to tolerate the rest of the day. There's more walking, more boring, more occasional talking to people when he can't avoid it, and he only has to duck one sharp "Watch it, loser" that he deflects by swerving into the guy's path deliberately — they hate it when Castiel invades their personal space — and then he's gone, home sweet home.

This is the life of Castiel, senior, male, youngest of the Reeves.

This is how he rolls.

Sometimes whole days can pass without Castiel realizing it. Time is made of fluffy blocks of cotton that are occasionally interspersed with moments of clarity. Anna's postulated that this is why Castiel is always surprised when people initiate contact with him. His mind drifts so easily, his body so ingrained to the routine it knows, that it's always a shock to be abruptly dragged back into the now.

"What?" Castiel jumps at the touch of a hand on his shoulder. "What do you want?"

"Just checking that you'll be coming to the meeting later," Jo says. She's armed with a clipboard, pencil and badge. "You do know it's today, right?"

"Right, right," Castiel says, grateful for the reminder. "Thank you, I'll be there."

Jo beams up at him. Before she goes, she turns briefly to the side and says, "Hi, Dean."

"Hey," Dean says distantly.

Castiel starts a little; he hadn't realized Dean was there. Like many things relegated to the back of his mind, Castiel usually forgets that he even has such a prominent persona as a locker neighbor now. Their schedules seem to work out in such a way that more often than not one of them arrives at the site just as the other is leaving.

Castiel doesn't have anything against jocks per se, but he's never had reason to interact with any of them beyond receiving the odd "Get out of my way" or "What the hell are you staring at" (the latter of which will incite Castiel to really stare at them until they sputter and have to look away). Dean's never actually said anything like that to Castiel, but Dean hasn't said much of anything to him in the years they've been in school together, and Castiel considers himself an expert at ignoring everything that isn't important.

Of course, this would be the moment that Dean suddenly says, "I didn't know you knew Jo."

"Are you talking to me?" Castiel asks. Dean glances over, face inscrutable. Castiel shrugs. "Yes, we're in a... thing together."

"The History Club?" Dean asks, surprised. "You're part of that?"

The co-captain, actually, not that many people would believe or care if Castiel told them. "Yes," he says. "Joanna Beth signed up as our secretary at the start of the year, I believe following the behest of Mr. Singer."

Dean smirks a little. "Joanna Beth? Only her mother calls her that."

Oh dear God, this probably means that Dean's dated Jo before. Castiel makes a face at him, like oh how interesting, only not, and turns his attention pointedly away. He doesn't hear Dean close his locker and leave.

More than once, Castiel's had the thought that all Reeves have the ability to almost-magically appear out of nowhere. That would explain some of the hijinks that Gabriel got up to in his time. It would also explain how Anna's able to ambush him in the hallways when he's busy being as unnoticeable as possible.

"Are you high?" she hisses, grabbing the lapels of his shirt.

"Shhh." Castiel bats her fingers away. "You're harshing me. Is that the slang now? I keep losing track."

"We're in school!" Anna's hair is brighter when she's angry, or that may just be the buzz messing up his senses. "You're better than this, Castiel."

"No, not really." Castiel leans forward to peck her on the cheek, and is mildly when surprised when she doesn't pull away.

"Just don't get in trouble, okay," Anna whispers softly. She runs a hand through his hair affectionately, which elicits a soft, "Whoa, incest" from a fellow student standing nearby. Castiel whirls his head round to stare at the kid unblinkingly until he chokes and scurries off. Castiel's superpower is a boon.

"I do not get into trouble," Castiel intones gravely. "I am but a pebble in the eddy of—"

"Yes, very nice, I'm going to class now," Anna says. She pushes at his shoulders just hard enough to get him walking. "I suggest you do, too."

Castiel weaves away from her good-naturedly. He feels dizzy and stupid, which makes it a little challenging to figure out where he's going. Some of the doors seem familiar so he must be heading in the right direction, he only needs to find—

"Hey!" Castiel stumbles to a stop. "I know you!"

A boy, who a second ago had been studying a sheet of paper, looks up in surprise. "Uh, hi?" Recognition clears his face. "Castiel?"

"Yeah, small world, isn't it? I remember when you were, like, this tall," Castiel says, his hand somewhere around his knees. "The hair's the same, though. How've you been, Sam? How's middle school? Are we doing a thing with middle school students now?"

Sam's outright staring, gaze moving up and down. "Actually, I go here now. What... happened to you?"

Castiel latches on to Sam's shoulder — oh boy, this kid is going to be monstrous when he stops growing — and whispers, "Life."

"Life what?" Sam whispers back.

"Life happened, pay attention when your elders tell you something." Castiel backs away abruptly, almost but not quite losing his balance. "You're nice, Sam Winchester. Good to see you again, I'm going now, bye!"

"Bye, Castiel," Sam says to Castiel's back.

Sam's a freshman now. Time really does fly when you're not paying attention.

There's no one to blame when Castiel can't find his workbook. He sighs at his locker, wishing that wishing was enough to force it to spit the damn thing out.

"It's not like that," Dean is saying softly. He's alone on the other side of Castiel's locker door, talking on his cellphone. "It's just a thing I've got to do, I don't... Now that's not fair. Bela, you can't... Baby, come on, give me a break here."

Castiel rolls his eyes at the scintillating conversation. He slams his locker shut a little louder than necessary, making Dean jump and curve his hand protectively over his cell.

Girl trouble, Dean mouths at him.

Castiel delicately covers his own mouth with his fingers, like gosh, how scandalous. For some reason this makes Dean's lips curve upwards.

"Your life must be so hard," Castiel says, which makes the almost-smile disappear. He turns away, snorting softly.

"And this is — Castiel!"

Castiel jerks up sharply. Anna is standing in front of him, arms crossed and eyebrows furrowed together. Behind her, Pamela is snickering.

"I wasn't asleep," Castiel says defensively. He sits up, wincing at the mild ache in his lower back. "I was ruminating. It has been a very taxing day."

"This is Castiel Reeves," Anna says, sliding back into the formal speech of her introductory spiel. There's a small group of students behind her, most of them wide-eyed and bushy-tailed enough that they have to be freshmen. "Yes, that means he's my brother, so I hope you'll believe me when I tell you he's harmless."

Victor snorts. "I don't know about harmless."

"I love you, too, Victor," Castiel says.

"Like Victor, Pamela and myself, Castiel is one founding members of our school's Gay-Straight Alliance," Anna says. "We're the only ones left of the original eight that started our branch, though as you can see, our roster is significantly larger than that of our premier year."

Victor stands up with a stack of handouts that he starts passing around. "We have a charter," he says, "Please note that GSA membership is open to individuals of any sexual identity."

Castiel's heard this part. He's starting to drift off again when one of the new arrivals breaks off from the group to approach him. It takes a few blinks to realize that it's Sam.

"Why isn't your boyfriend here?" Sam asks.

"Oh, sweetie," Pamela says, appearing at Sam's side and putting a copy of the charter in his hands. "Castiel doesn't have a boyfriend. He's a free spirit."

"No, I'm sure that he..." Sam's eyes widen with alarm when Pamela's hand drifts somewhere intimate.

"Pamela, give the kid a break," Castiel says, tossing a balled-up piece of paper at her. "Sam? Easy answer: Crowley's an arrogant, self-centered bastard. Accurate answer: He's too busy running his underground black market to have any free time. Don't ask. No, really, don't ask. If anyone ever comes up to you and asks you in a creepy way if there's anything you need, run like hell."

"You know you can't talk about that stuff in front of me, Castiel!" Victor says loudly.

"Sorry!" Castiel calls back, sparing a wink Victor's way.

"Hey," Pamela says suddenly, glancing between Castiel and Sam, "How do you guys even know each other?"

"Sam keeps falling prey to Gabriel's traps," Castiel says, chuckling under his breath. "Yet he's ever the optimist and keeps coming round every Halloween."

"Hey!" Sam protests. To Pamela, he says, "We're practically neighbors."

"Oh my, you never mentioned that, Castiel." Pamela slinks into the chair next to Castiel's, a dangerous glint in her eye. "You live near Captain Hot Stuff himself? Close enough to have seen something delicious, maybe? Does he wash his car shirtless like they say?"

"I'm not suicidal," Castiel says, a little sharper than he intends. He catches Sam's gaze apologetically. "Sorry, I'm not impugning your brother's character."

"It's okay," Sam says softly. "I get what you mean."

An air freshener would not go amiss, Castiel thinks. His locker just hasn't been the same since the start of the school year. Anna probably has a couple that she bought for their car, and he can hang one of them from the ceiling.

A shadow passes behind him. "Hi, Dean," someone says.

"Hey," Dean says, voice slightly muffled through the metal barrier. "Practice is going to run late today, you don't mind walking back?"

"Nah, not a problem," Sam says. After a second, his face appears around the edge. "Hi, Cas."

"Sam," Castiel acknowledges.

"The network meet-up is on Thursday," Sam says, "I was just wondering if you're going to put your name down for the talk."

"Yeah," Castiel says, though he doesn't actually remember any of the details. "If it's important, Anna will let me know."

Sam nods and wanders off while Castiel focuses on getting the books he needs to bring home. When Castiel closes the door, Dean is still standing there, frowning a little. "You hangin' with Sam?"

"Don't need to be so worried," Castiel says. "Just because I like dick that doesn't mean I'm attracted to everyone that has one."

Dean reels, eyebrows almost up to his hairline. Pleased to have rendered him mute, Castiel spins and makes his exit.

Castiel is sitting on the floor of the Reeves den slash basement. The area used to belong to Gabriel, but after he left Castiel took the liberty of filling up the space with his own things. Gabriel's retro posters still line the wall, but now there's an incense bowl at Diana Rigg's feet, filling the air with sweet smoke.

Castiel doubts that Gabriel got much studying done down here. The den has certainly never looked the way it does now, with books and papers strewn on the table and floor in a pattern only Castiel understands. Down here, it's easy. Castiel is focused and alert, free of the distractions of the real world.

His cell rings while he's thumbing through a printed journal. "Yes."

"Castiel," Uriel says. "I managed to obtain the titles you requested."

"Thank you," he says. "Send it to my email, will you?"

"It's only because I owe you a favor that I'm doing this," Uriel says, his voice just a little louder than the sound of his typing. "Do you understand?"

"Of course." Castiel can practically hear Uriel's unhappy scowl. "There's no need to be dramatic. It's not as if you're giving my club an unfair advantage. Your library's already far better stocked than ours."

"See," Uriel says with a familiar smugness, "If you'd only stopped being stubborn and joined us as you should have done to begin with, you'd have our entire back catalogue at your disposal."

"But I didn't, so I don't," Castiel says, by now immune to Uriel's reminders of how he could've been part of a much better club. "You do realize that I have a hacker genius on my team, and we could've obtained the texts on our own? This way is positively legitimate."

"I shouldn't be surprised," Uriel mutters. "Such are the ways of a public school."

Castiel smiles; there are some things that can always be counted on, and among them is cousin Uriel's steadfast self-righteousness. He's the type who'd hide his blazer so that his school crest wouldn't be witness to this scandalous helping of a rival, no matter that they're family and no Reeves would deny another an owed favor. "I do appreciate this, thank you."

"You'd better," Uriel says. "Tell Anna that I hope to see her debate team at Regionals, should they be lucky enough to make it through."

"It won't be luck, Uriel," Castiel reminds him. "With Anna it shall be skill."

Uriel grunts noncommittally. "We shall see."

Something has the school in an excited uproar. The immediate consequence of this is that Castiel is having trouble navigating the hallways for the bodies swarming in it.

Castiel's used to being completely out of the loop, so he's not surprised that he is surprised by the energy pervading the halls on this particular morning that should be just like any other morning. It's possible that someone may have mentioned what it is to him, and it's also possible that there are posters and flyers declaring its importance all over the school, but Castiel has spent a couple of years polishing his selective memory, which is now telling him that whatever it is that has the student body excited isn't worth his own personal attention.

"Let me guess," Pamela says, suddenly appearing at his side, "You didn't go to the game yesterday?"

"There was a game?" Castiel isn't offended by Pamela's sudden bark of laughter. She squeezes his shoulder and melts into the excited crowd that now at least has some context.

The cacophony becomes near deafening when a sea of red arrives. It's filled to the brim with jackets, skirts and ecstatic faces contorted in celebration as they make their victory march. High-fives and cat calls are exchanged freely between the scarlet nucleus and its joyous followers.

Castiel carefully pushes himself against the wall so he doesn't get crushed.

His intention is to wait it out. He doesn't mean to look at the crowd, and he certainly doesn't mean to spot Dean in the middle of all that cheering.

Of course Dean would be there, what with his being their captain and all.

Yet, there is something odd about his expression. There shouldn't be, because he's exactly where he belongs, surrounded by an immediate circle of friends and admirers that tell him over and over that he can do no wrong. Even so, there is something strangely cracked about Dean's smile, as if he's dragging it out because he has to.

Dean shifts, eyes wandering, and suddenly they're looking at each other. Castiel freezes guiltily, but Dean doesn't appear upset, or even surprised. He doesn't look too much of anything.

His teammates and friends are all around him, but it's as if he's standing just outside their celebration, untouched by it — but, no, that makes no sense, it has to be all in Castiel's head.

It's not like Castiel knows Dean, or anything.

Then Dean turns away, and the moment is gone.

Castiel hunches down, trying to shrink inside his oversized sweater. He's not supposed to be here.

"Can you call back later?" Crowley says into his cell phone. "This isn't a good... I see." He sighs.

Castiel is stretched out on Crowley's bed, scratching his stomach and studying the ceiling. Crowley's room is like the rest of his house: picturesque and perfect, with every surface gleaming unnaturally. Castiel's never actually seen a maid around the place, but he never sees Crowley's parents either, so for all he knows Crowley really is the English mafia prince the rumors persist he is.

"Don't close the deal yet," Crowley says. "Hey, you're the one who called me. Don't close the deal until we know more, moron." He snaps his phone shut and turns to Castiel. "Where were we?"

"Here." Castiel reaches up, hooking a hand around Crowley's neck and pulling him down.

Crowley's mouth opens against his instantly. It's one hungry kiss after another, Castiel taking from Crowley's mouth and pulling at his body until they're wrapped around each other, arms and legs pressed in tight. The need to breathe draws Crowley's mouth away, and then he's trailing wet kisses along Castiel's chin and neck. Castiel undulates his hips, searching for friction and moaning when he finds it.

"What?" Crowley pulls away sharply.

"Don't stop," Castiel gasps. He tries to tug Crowley back down but he's holding himself at a distance, eyes sharp and focused. "What?"

"You said Dean," Crowley says.

Castiel stares. "I did not."

"Yes, you did." Crowley's mouth twitches. "You called me Dean."

"Quit it, Crowley." Castiel tries to wriggle away but Crowley's hands are like manacles around his wrists.

"Well, well, well, Castiel, and here I thought you were an open book." Crowley's delighted, because his forte is in finding the weakness of others and pressing. "You've got your panties in a twist for the straightest straight man who's ever straight-walked their way through our hallowed halls. Frankly speaking, I thought you were better than that."

"I may have bad taste, Crowley," Castiel says with a calm he isn't sure he feels, "But not that bad."

"I'm not judging you," Crowley says, which is a total lie. "How long?"

"This is stupid," Castiel says, pulling away from him, "If you're not going to put out—"

"Oh, this is better than I thought." Crowley's enraptured now. "You've been thinking about him so long that you've sublimated it. Come on, Mr. Reeves, indulge me a little. How long have you been thinking these naughty thoughts about the elusive Dean Winchester?"

Castiel shoves hard at Crowley, watching his eyes go wide with shock when he falls over. "Drop. It."

Crowley's smile is gone. "That long."

"You mention this to anyone else and I will destroy you." Castiel stares at Crowley, calling on an old, angry part of himself that's been dormant for so long he'd almost forgotten that it exists at all. "Do you hear me, John Matthew Crowley? I will hurt you. Just because I haven't doesn't mean I can't."

"You've had that card on me for some time," Crowley observes, "And this is how you choose to use it. Interesting."

Castiel leaves immediately, content to let Crowley have the last word.

It's not difficult to steer clear of Crowley for a while. Anna would be relieved if she knew, but Castiel's not going to tell her because she might get it into her head to be superior about it, or worse yet, ask why.

Castiel knew that this would be a risk. Crowley's never been dishonest about who he is or what he does, and that brutal honesty is one of the reasons Castiel could be around him at all. Their vices ran similar enough, and there was no expectation for anything more between them; neither wanted that, nor cared to offer it.

Crowley had the good cigarettes, though. The unfortunate side effect of cutting himself off from Crowley is that Castiel now has to buy his own. He has to smoke alone, too, this time retreating to a private nook at the far end of the student parking lot, near the recycling bins.

There he takes slow drags of his cigarette, relishing the curl of smoke over his tongue. He's having sandwiches today, the taste of tuna and mayo barely cutting into the flavor of nicotine. The ritual of it is soothing, and soon enough Castiel feels his anxieties mellow into inconsequential things, sloshing like honey at the far back of his mind.

It's all for nothing, though, when Castiel makes the trek back to the main building and happens upon a sea of red jackets and broad shoulders having lunch on the quad. Right there smack dab in the middle of it is Dean, laughing and reaching over to punch one of his friends in the arm.

Castiel walks faster, head ducked down.

The world was so much easier to deal with when Dean Winchester didn't exist. Or, at least, when Castiel could get away with pretending that Dean didn't exist.

So focused is Castiel on this thought that he doesn't notice when his route brings him directly into the path of one Victor Henriksen, who slams a hand on his shoulder and brings him to a stuttering halt. When Castiel looks up, he spots Victor's Hall Monitor arm band and sighs.

Victor leans in to sniff, and then sighs heavily. "Smoking again, Castiel?"

"Slander!" Castiel puts a hand over his heart but does not protest when Victor starts patting him down. "You know, Victor, I've always admired your unflappable moral compass, but I'm going to be late for class if you do not unhand me this instant and — oh, where did that come from?"

Victor disappointedly shakes his head while holding the roll of unlit evil paper at a delicate distance. Castiel's giggling amiably when Victor grabs his arm and starts pulling him down the hall. Various students gape and point, which is no surprise. On the way they even pass by Anna, who looks horrified until Castiel winks at her, after which she merely looks irritated.

It's been a while since he's been to the Principal's office. He might as well say hello.

Afterward, Castiel's still drifting, though he only gets lost once on the way to his locker.

When he reaches his destination he's annoyed to find that Dean's already there, rummaging through his things. Castiel roughly pulls his locker door open and ducks his head inside, wishing for all sorts of things the world can't give him.

"I heard you got called to Moseley's office," Dean says, voice far too casual.

Castiel grunts.

"You got in trouble for something?" Dean asks.

Castiel slams his door shut. "What is this, Dean?" These gestures suspiciously suggest friendship, which isn't possible. Dean isn't being kind; he is being cruel and toxic, and the more Castiel thinks about it the harder it is to breathe because he's now close enough to see Dean's eyelashes sweep up and down when he blinks. "Is this a dare? Did you lose a bet? You can tell me, it won't hurt my feelings."

Dean's eyes dart around quickly — it cannot be nerves, Dean fucking Winchester does not do nervous, "Hey, I'm just trying to—"

"I don't exist," Castiel says. "You know it, I know it. You live over there, and I live over here, and never shall the twain meet. So what's happening here, Dean?"

"Is there a problem, cap?"

Castiel looks over Dean's shoulder. There's a guy there; the red jacket means he's on the football team and he looks large enough to be a senior but damn if Castiel can remember seeing him in any of his classes.

"No problem," Dean says gruffly. He drops the act — Castiel knew it was an act — and stands up straight, expression gone blank and dismissive. Now this is the Dean Winchester that Castiel knows. "Relax, Roy, what the hell," Dean says flippantly. "Does this guy look like a problem I can't handle?"

Castiel smiles broadly at Roy. "Hi! I'm just having a conversation with your fearless captain here."

Roy makes that face people get when confronted with Castiel's personal brand of weird. "Who the hell are—"

"Gabriel Reeves' brother," Castiel says. "You might remember him. He locked your whole team in your changing rooms that one time."

"He's also," Dean says, putting a hand on Roy's chest before he narrows the last few feet needed for a pummeling, "Michael Reeves' brother."

Roy looks at Dean in surprise. "Seriously? Michael and that nutcase were related? I thought the name was coincidence."

"That's what they wanted everyone to think," Castiel says, sighing dramatically. "Anyway, Dean? Yeah, it's no problem, I'll tell Michael you said hi." He beams at the pair before bounding away.

That was a much cleaner exit than he expected.

"Moseley pulled you in for smoking and all you got was two weeks?" Ash raises a fist. "Rock on."

"Indeed." Castiel solemnly bumps Ash's fist with his own. "The rock, it is on."

Tamara is far less impressed, going as far as to slap Castiel upside the head when he gives her a wide-eyed flash of his baby blues. "You're impossible, Castiel. How are you going to get anything done when you're busy having detention?"

"It's not like I have a life, or anything," Castiel points out. "It'll be fine. I can even work my magic in detention, as long as they allow me to bring my books. It's not anything we haven't done before. Relax."

"See, and this is another reason why Castiel cannot be our rep," Jo says. "No offense, Castiel."

"Jo," Castiel says, "I would be offended if you did nominate me to be our representative. I hereby nominate Tamara."

"Seconded," Jo says immediately.

"All in favor say aye?" Castiel looks around the room that passes for the History Club headquarters and loudly counts out the three raised arms. "Tamara, not voting for yourself? Oh well, never mind, the people have spoken. Done! Now there's the matter of the paperwork, of which Tamara shall nominate anyone but me to fill in and submit to Mr. Singer."

"I'll handle that, but as your captain," Tamara says, her hand firm on Castiel's shoulder, "I also order you to not mess this up for us. We can't do this without you, Castiel."

Castiel knows that Tamara's talking in the capacity of a teammate, but the worry in her eyes is personal. He nods and says, "I apologize. That was selfish of me." He glances around to where Jo's jotting down the minutes and trying not to look like she knows exactly what Tamara is on about, and Ash is poking idly at his Styrofoam cup. "I will try my best not to do that again."

"I should hope so," Tamara says. She claps her hands. "All right, let's call it day since Castiel has detention and our research assignments are out. I expect everyone to have made some headway for next week's meeting, and that means you, too, Castiel."

"Yes, Captain," Castiel says cheerfully. All in all, he got out of that one pretty clean.

He's in the middle of gathering his things when Jo draws in close. She glances over her shoulder to where Tamara and Ash are talking on the other side of the room, and then says softly, "Hey, um. This may sound a little weird, but do you know Dean?'

Castiel's fingers fumble only a little. "Everyone knows Dean."

"Well, yes," Jo says, laughing a little, "But I mean personally."

"My father knows his parents, but that's normal," Castiel says. "It's not exactly a large town."

"It's just..." Jo's studying him closely, curious. "He was asking about you."

"What?" Castiel looks at her sharply. "About what?"

"Just random stuff," Jo says, shrugging. "About the club, what you do, if we hang out outside our meetings. It was kind of out of the blue, so I was wondering."

"I can tell you with absolute honesty," Castiel says as he struggles to school his features, "That I have no idea why Dean would ask you any of that. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm already late for detention."

The thing is, Castiel was perfectly serious when he told Tamara that he would try his best. He isn't a troublemaker. He may be hapless and hopeless, coasting through each school year with very little oscillation, but he's definitely not a troublemaker. If he were, then he'd be like Gabriel, and Castiel knows better than to follow the paths set by his elder brothers. That's not who he wants to be.

So it's really dumb luck that has Castiel passing by the start of what looks like a fight behind the gym. He pockets his unlit cigarette and approaches. "Hey," Castiel says. "Gallagher, right? Andy?"

All three of them turn to Castiel, but it's the one in the middle who nods an acknowledgement. He's a freshman, quiet, and briefly attended one GSA meeting because he got lost on the way to the men's room.

"And Roy," Castiel says, cocking his head to the other familiar face in the trio. "What a coincidence seeing you here."

"None of your business, Reeves," Roy says, shoving a little at Andy's shoulder. "We're just having a chat."

"I love chats," Castiel says eagerly, swaying towards them. "Conversations, too. Conversations are like chats, only super-sized. At least, when you spell them out... So many letters!"

"Dude, this guy's nuts," the other guy mutters.

"Hold it, Walt," Roy mutters. To Castiel he says, "Hey, mind your damn business."

Castiel avoids the hand that's trying to push him aside, hopping on his feet excitedly towards Andy. "How are you doing? You doing okay? You enjoying your conversations?"

"It's not a big deal," Andy says softly. Castiel knows that it probably isn't. From their body language he can tell that these guys are aggressive but not dangerous, and Castiel knows that to interfere here would open a shitload of worms that'd do Andy no good in the long run.

"Fair enough," Castiel says with a nod. "Don't mind me."

"Get this guy out of here," Roy says. He shoves at Castiel's shoulder, sending him stumbling back a little. "Go stalk our captain, or something."

Castiel straightens up. "Excuse me?"

"You got a thing for Dean, yeah?" Roy says, exchanging an amused look with Walt. They don't mean it, they're just trying to provoke him, they don't actually know, no one actually knows (except Crowley, but he would never use it for something as boring as this). "You write his name in a notebook with little hearts around it and everything."

"Now that was uncalled for," Castiel says. Andy is thankfully backing away, having seen the offered exit. Castiel leans forward, calling Roy's bluff and winning when the other boy takes an uncertain step back. "But you're right, actually... There is someone I've been harboring deep, emotional feelings for. I admit it. You've caught me. It's you." Castiel bats his eyelashes. "Please say you like me, too."

"What the hell?" Roy roars, shoving hard at Castiel.

Castiel bursts with laughter, relishing the shocked look on Roy's face and perplexity on Walt's.

There are so many things Castiel can blame for what happens next. Adrenaline, recreational substances, the presence of a thrumming wire-tight nerve in his body that's been twisting tighter and tighter of lately, and Castiel is just plain weird (thank you, everyone, he knows, you can quit repeatedly telling him this); indeed, there are so many options, but none of them exactly true.

There is very little rhyme or reason to why Castiel's fist goes flying. He does it simply because he wants to.

"What's wrong with you, what's wrong with you, what's wrong with you?" Anna's teetering in that in-between place where she can't decide whether to hug or throttle him, so she's settling for clutching on to her arms to keep her fingers occupied. "Castiel!"

"Look, my thoughts are very complex, I can't be expected to know everything that's going on up there," Castiel says. "Ow."

"Hold still." The nurse grips his chin, dabbing at his cut lip with cotton.

"Where are the others?" Anna's fingers curl into fists. "The boys who did this."

"With Moseley, I think." Castiel tilts his head, allowing the nurse to place butterfly bandages around his eye. "They're too tough to need the school nurse." He chuckles.

"This isn't like you," Anna says quietly. "Your MO is discombobulation, not fists."

Castiel makes a dismissive noise. "Seemed like a good—"

"If you finish that sentence, so help me God, I will punch you in your remaining good eye," Anna snaps. She stares at him for a good long moment, this time studying him with the kind of understanding twins often have of each other. "What's happening with you? And I'm not just talking about this. You've been... spiraling, or something, for weeks now. What is it?"

It must be bad if Anna's pointing it out. All families have their issues, and for the Reeves, theirs stem from Father's choice to stay at a distance. Father says that he does it on purpose, preferring to let them make their own decisions and deal with the consequences themselves, but it has unfortunately lead to things like Michael and Gabriel having a psychological turf war on the legacy of the family name within context of the school — which, what.

In Castiel's eyes, Anna's the only one of them who's sensible and smart. It terrifies him that she's here at this moment, armed with the ability to see right through him if he's not careful.

"I was jonesing for a fix," Castiel says, shrugging. "It felt good."

"Castiel, you can't keep doing this," Anna says. "If you mess up now you could lose everything, and then—"

"It's just a little rumble," Castiel groans, like Anna is the most unreasonable person on the planet. "What's the big deal?"

"This isn't—"

"You do this every time, you know," Castiel points out. "With the smoking, and the drinking, and the getting into Crowley's pants—"


"—so you'll get over this one, too."

"I didn't get over any of that!" Anna screams at him. Her eyes are bright, but Castiel's had plenty of practice keeping his expression blithe and disaffected. "There's no getting over any of that! I care about you — people care about you, Castiel, and you keep pretending that nothing matters but your own self-centered angst! I'll tell you something: you are such a teenage cliché!"

Castiel gapes at her. "Your face is such a teenage cliché."

"What?" Anna sputters. "That makes no sense!"

"I am literally having trouble following this conversation."

"I'm finished!" Anna gasps. "You find your own way home, you figure out what to tell Father, I am done!"

She storms off, leaving the room quiet until the nurse says softly, "Well done."

Castiel smiles at her. "I try."

"Mr. Reeves," Principal Moseley says when he enters her office. Roy and Walt are already seated, Coach Gordon standing behind them. Castiel keeps his eyes on Principal Moseley as he approaches the only free chair and drops into it. "I've heard their story," she says. "How about yours?"

"It was my fault," Castiel says. "I provoked them."

"Two against one?" Moseley asks.

Castiel shrugs a little. "I'm not very smart."

"There, you see?" Gordon says. "My boys—"

"What was the cause?" Moseley says. "Roy and Walt here were not very clear about that."

Castiel doesn't dare chance a look at them. "It was something petty, I don't even remember anymore. I wasn't thinking straight."

Gordon makes a derisive noise. Moseley ignores it, and instead gives Castiel a long, penetrative look — the kind that started the persistent myth that she can read minds — and says, "If that's all you have to say on the matter, I can't force you."

"May my boys be excused now, ma'am?" Gordon asks. "I'd still like them to be checked out. You know, make sure there's no serious damage."

Castiel barely stops himself from rolling his eyes. Roy and Walt are football players, they can take it. It's only because Castiel fights dirty that he got in any hits at all. He doesn't say any of that out loud, though, opting to remain quiet while Moseley excuses the others and they leave.

"It's unusual indeed that I'll see you twice in one month," Moseley says. "Especially considering your promise the last time we spoke that you'd stay out of trouble."

"I know, I'm sorry." Castiel tries to look contrite, though he's not sure if his swollen eye makes it less or more effective. "It'll never happen again."

"I'd say it's more interesting that it's never happened before," Moseley says. "The only trouble you've ever caused has been towards yourself."

Castiel looks up sharply. Tamara's going to kill him. "Principal... What about the History Club?"

"It'd do you more credit to have thought of that before," Moseley says, kind and stern in equal measure. "Your actions affect people, Castiel. I know you think you're unimportant, but we touch the people around us in all sorts of ways, many of them unnoticeable."

He doubts that, but this isn't something the Principal hasn't told him before.

"You're intelligent, Mr. Reeves, and I'm not just talking about the fact that you could easily rival your sister for the honor roll if it weren't for your behavior." Principal Moseley taps her desk, forcing Castiel to meet her gaze and the warning in them. "I suggest you use that intelligence for something more than sleep-walking your way through school."

Castiel keeps his mouth shut, perfectly docile.

"Detention for a month," Moseley says reluctantly. "I hope you're well aware that it's because of your academic track record and the fact that the History Club doesn't deserve to have its reputation marred because of the behavior of one of their members. Mr. Singer will be informed, and it'll be up to him to decide whether there will be any consequences for you within the club itself."

Castiel accepts the punishment with a nod. A cynical voice reminds him that the club's National successes help with the school budget so his position was never entirely in danger, but that doesn't make the threat any less frightening.

"This is your last warning, Mr. Reeves," Moseley says. "I've been lenient with you, but the next time you do something like this there will be a suspension in your immediate future."

"Thank you," Castiel says. "I honestly don't know what happened today. That's not me."

Moseley's expression softens slightly. "Then I suggest you figure yourself out, Mr. Reeves."

He's dismissed with little more than instructions to go to the school counselor (again), which is enough for Castiel to breathe a sigh of relief.

Castiel walks home, which he doesn't mind. It's a reasonable trade-off from having to ride with Anna, since she likely has more choice words to share with him.

There'll still be a talk with Father, though. It's only because he's away on business that he wasn't called to the Principal's office to talk to her in person. That's one of the many things that have remained constant from Michael to Gabriel, to Castiel. That's something to look forward to, but for now, Castiel has the peace and quiet of a leisurely stroll. He'd like to have a cigarette for company, but rummaging through his jacket only unearths an old piece of gum.


That draws his attention up.

"Oh my god," Sam gasps, rushing forward to gape at his face. "Are you okay? What happened?"

"I ran into a tree," Castiel says. "Two trees, actually. They were most displeased."

There's a girl standing just behind Sam. She's fair-haired and pretty, but not familiar, though that doesn't mean much as Castiel rarely notices anyone he doesn't have to interact with.

"Did it have to do with..." Sam has a look that promises a swift hand of vengeance. "You know that we can bring this to Principal Moseley and—"

"It had nothing to do with my orientation," Castiel says, too exhausted to argue. "And I've talked to the Principal. It's been dealt with."

Sam turns back to the girl, "I'm sorry, Jess, but I've got to—"

"Yeah, it's okay," the girl says kindly. "You better stay with your friend."

"I'm not—" Castiel politely cuts himself off when Jess goes up on tiptoes to peck Sam on the cheek.

"See you at school tomorrow," she says. Sam watches her leave with a vague doe-eyed look on his face.

Despite everything that's happened today — Castiel's irritation, guilt and general distaste of having to talk to people about something he's still unclear about — he finds himself unexpectedly amused by the sight. He's just an old softie, apparently.

"Come on," Sam says, inclining his head in invitation. "It's not a big deal. I'll still see Jess tomorrow."

Sam's smile is so honest that Castiel can't reply with anything more caustic than, "That must be nice."

"Yeah, it is," Sam says. They quickly gain an easy pace together, neither in any particular rush to get home.

It's novel to do this with someone who isn't a family member. More novel, indeed, is that it's Sam Winchester who's trudging along next to him. Their previous interactions came only from the reality of living on the same street together, but now they're peers, with Sam inexplicably comfortable with their new situation.

"Isn't this strange?" Sam says, proving his thoughts aren't dissimilar from Castiel's. "I mean, it's cool, but strange?"

"In what way?" Castiel asks.

"I still have the mental image of you being so much taller than me," Sam says, laughing under his breath. "I mean, I used to think Dean would always be taller than me, but then I started catching up. Somehow it didn't cross my mind that I'd catch up with you, as well."

Castiel doesn't have anything to say to that.

Sam says softly, "You can come over to our house any time you like, you know. I mean... we're friends, right? Friends do that."

"I apologize if I offend by saying this, Sam," Castiel says carefully, "But I'd really rather not."

Sam drops it, but his anxiety doesn't ease up. In fact, it seems to worsen each step closer they get to the Reeves home, culminating with Sam suddenly saying, "Hey, can you wait right here? Just for five minutes?"

"I guess." Castiel watches as Sam runs down the street to his own house, where Dean's car is already parked out front. Castiel's mind drifts away to the dread of his upcoming conversation with Father, only jerking back to reality only when he hears raised voices.

Dean's with Sam outside their house now. They appear to be arguing, though Castiel only assumes so from their body language, and not because he can actually make out anything of what they're saying. Castiel watches, confusion growing as he sees Sam wave his arms and then point at — Castiel.

This does not bode well.

Castiel takes tentative steps towards his front door (and safety). Sam is still pointing frantically, and Dean runs a hand through his hair and points a finger back at Sam, and then Dean is walking towards him.

Front door, front door, front door.

"Hey, hey, wait," Dean says, voice getting louder as his steps speed up.

Castiel fumbles with his key, panic rising when it refuses to go in. He jumps at the touch of a hand on his shoulder, spinning round and bringing his hands up defensively.

There's a moment of awkward silence, and then Castiel tentatively opens his eyes.

"Pie," Dean says, expression tense and strange. He's holding Tupperware. "Mom. Cherry."

"Oh." Castiel lowers his hands. "Sam made you send that over."

Dean nods, a frown creeping over his brow. Castiel ignores it, turning around to get the damn key in the damn lock and open the damn door. He sighs with relief when it finally opens, though when he tries to make his exit Dean's hand lands on the edge, stopping it from closing.

"My teammates did this to you," Dean says.

Oh dear God, no. "It's been cleared," Castiel says, quickly backing away from Dean. "I have no vendetta against Roy or Walt. It was a simple misunderstanding."

"It would be those two idiots," Dean growls, shaking his head. "Unbelievable. I'm going to have to talk to them—"

"Please don't," Castiel says to his feet. He takes the container from Dean's hand. "Give Sam my thanks."

That's the hint that Dean should leave, but he doesn't.

When Castiel dares look up, Dean is staring at his mouth. For a brief moment Castiel thinks that Dean is going to kiss him, but that's impossible because Dean is handsome and straight and can have anyone in the whole town he could want.

"Your lip's bleeding," Dean says.

"Oh." Castiel wipes his mouth with his free hand.

That doesn't stop Dean's staring, though. If anything, he seems to be swaying closer. "I'm sorry," Dean says.

"For what?" Castiel asks, putting on one of his trademark guileless smiles for Dean's benefit. "It's not your fault." He doesn't add: that I am personally incapable of getting my act together like a rational human being.

Dean looks at him sharply, his mouth a hard line. There's something angry and complicated warring in his eyes, as though there are a million things he wants to say but can't (or won't), and he's a hair's breath away from venting that frustration.

Then Dean does the impossible and presses his mouth to Castiel's.

The world does not make sense.

The reality of it is this: Castiel is not allowed to have Dean in any capacity. Not in friendship, and definitely not in the something more that Castiel occasionally allows in the most secret parts of his thoughts. Dean has a life of friends and football and success that Castiel can never be a part of.

Now Castiel is frozen in shock, only able to process distantly how Dean's lips are a solid pressure against his own.

When Dean pulls away, he looks disgusted — at himself or Castiel's lack of response, Castiel doesn't know. "Sorry, that was..."

"You," Castiel whispers, "Do not get to do that."

"I know." He's still close enough that his nose brushes Castiel's. Every time Dean exhales Castiel can feel it on his lips.

"You're not allowed," Castiel breathes. The hairs at the back of Dean's neck are soft and a little prickly; when had Castiel's hands moved there? "You don't have permission."

Dean nods, shifting closer. "I know."

"You don't..." If Castiel moves forward a little, every word he says will land directly on Dean's skin. "You can't..."

Weakness or madness or both has Castiel tugging Dean's neck to close that last inch between them. This time there's more than just the blunt pressure of Dean's mouth; this time his lips part and there's the slow slide of a tongue against Castiel's own. Castiel cants his head up to accept it, making a needy sound low in his throat when he does.

Dean groans his approval, fingers dragging demanding lines down Castiel's back. Dean's body is a solid wall of heat and muscle, the scent and taste of him intoxicating. Castiel's dizzy with it, barely able to keep up with the relentless glide of Dean's lips and tongue against his. He whimpers his pleasure, getting the push of a thigh between his legs for his trouble.

Then it ends abruptly, Dean backing away with a shocked gasp.

There are words — denials, accusations, whatever they may be — struggling to find purchase behind Dean's wild eyes. Castiel turns away, unwilling to hear any of them. "Go. Please," he says.

Dean's clearly conflicted, and for a moment Castiel's uncertain what his response will be, but then Dean proves true to form and wordlessly stumbles away, practically running back to his house.

Castiel closes the door with surprisingly steady hands. He retrieves the Tupperware he'd dropped, opening the lid to inhale the pleasant aroma.

"Castiel?" Anna's head tilts into view from the lee of one of their living room chairs. "What was that?"

Castiel shrugs. "You tell me."

The plan is to talk to Father, and then get spectacularly high and/or drunk. The talk does go exactly as planned, Father's voice never rising above a steady rumble through the phone, but Anna thwarts the next part of Castiel's plan by confiscating his whole stash. He briefly considers calling Crowley for a fix, but then remembers how fucking exhausted he is about everything and discards the notion. Castiel is, in fact, tired enough of all this bullshit to humor Anna when she asks.

"I knew you had a crush on him before," Anna confesses. She's lying on top of his covers while Castiel's tucked under them, and they're curled face-to-face the way they used to do sometimes when they were small. "You used to go over to their house every free chance you had."

"To watch him, yes." The memory is distant enough that Castiel can laugh about it now. "I know. Pathetic, isn't it? Castiel the creepy stalker."

Anna threads her fingers through his hair. "Gabriel used to make fun of you for that."

"For good reason," Castiel mutters, burying deeper into the covers to hide his embarrassment. Even at twelve years of age Dean had been strong and enigmatic and as bright as the sun; Castiel couldn't help but be drawn to him. But that was so long ago, an ancient childhood crush that Castiel had genuinely thought had burned out. "At least I learned my lesson and stopped."

"Why did you?" Anna adds quickly, "You don't have to answer if you don't—"

"He told me to," Castiel says. If he concentrates hard enough he can remember how Dean's face had flushed red from shouting, calling out Castiel's unwanted behavior and giving it names that had never crossed his mind. It was only after the fact that Castiel started to understand what Dean meant that day; they were part and parcel of the rules Castiel's always had trouble figuring out — things like personal boundaries and small talk and understanding jokes without having them explained — which can't be learned in school.

But Castiel could learn, and he had, following exactly Dean's instruction to stop being a goddamn stalker and go away.

"Haven't talked to him since," Castiel says. "Until now, of course."

Anna's hand stills. "But you were kissing." She pulls at the covers, forcing him to look her in the eye. "How long has this been going on between the two of you?"

"What? No!" Castiel stares at her, horrified. "There hasn't been anything. We barely talk to each other, you know that. You saw how he couldn't wait to get out of here."

"That didn't come out of nowhere, Castiel."

"He's straight." Castiel doesn't understand why Anna isn't placated by this truth that has years of evidence to its favor.

"This is bullshit," Anna says fiercely. "You're my brother and I love you, but you can't let him do this to you. You're acting as though there's never been anyone in the history of the universe who's had unrequited feelings for someone else."

"I wouldn't be a Reeves if I didn't have a major malfunction," Castiel says, rolling his eyes. "I'll get over it. I did before. Can we just pretend that it never happened?"

Anna sighs unhappily. "For you, Castiel. Only for you."

By the next morning, Castiel has convinced himself that he'd hallucinated the whole thing — the taste of Dean's mouth, the scent of him up close — until he sees the look on Anna's face that unequivocally informs him that yes, Dean Winchester mauled his mouth yesterday. (In a moment of temporary madness, perhaps. One-too-many footballs to the head, that sort of thing.)

The logical thing is not to linger on it.

Understandably, Castiel is taken completely by surprise when, later in the day, he receives a call from an unknown number that opens with a gruff, "Cas."

The book Castiel had been reading drops to the floor. He's alone in the den, so there's no Anna to intervene where intervention is needed. "Yes?"

"I need to see you."

It's such a bad idea. Castiel can immediately think of a half-dozen ways it could go horribly wrong, the least of which is that his knuckles haven't fully healed up yet.

On the other hand, this is Dean calling.

Castiel takes a deep breath. "When?"

This is why Castiel ends up sneaking out of the house while Anna is busy elsewhere. He crosses the road to the agreed spot, and sure enough, Dean is there idling in his car.

Dean doesn't look at him when Castiel enters the passenger side. He merely nods in acknowledgement, his body a hard line of tension as he puts the car into gear and starts driving.

Oddly, this makes Castiel feel a little better. If Dean's as worked up about this as he looks, then perhaps Castiel need not be.

It's quiet for a while, Dean staring intently at the road as he brings them to some unknown destination, the engine a steady lulling hum in the background. Castiel keeps himself as small as possible, pressing against the door and watching the scenery pass. He's never been in Dean's car before, but he's seen it around often enough. It's much cleaner than he expected, with only a hint of the sweat that must follow Dean from football practice.

With Dean watching the road, Castiel reflects on the absurdity of the situation. "Where are we going?" he asks quietly.

"I was thinking near the bridge," Dean says. "You know, for privacy."

"You're not going to hit me on the head with a shovel and bury me out there so no one will find the body, are you?" Castiel asks. That finally gets Dean to look at him, lips curled upward in what almost counts as smile. There's tension there, yes, but no malice.

Perhaps these signs point to something else entirely. Emboldened, Castiel carefully touches Dean's arm.

Dean inhales sharply. "Cas, wait." He's breathing through his mouth, his fingers are twitching on the steering wheel, and when he glances at Castiel, there's open hunger in his gaze.

This is something Castiel is familiar with. He's turned away a couple of curious straight boys in his time, deciding early on that the ease of the hook-up wasn't worth the effort of secrecy.

In this case, though, Castiel may want Dean enough not to care.

"Dean, do you want this?" Castiel asks, touching Dean's knee. When he gets a tight nod for an answer, Castiel inches in closer to admit, "So do I. Only between us, right?"

"Wait," Dean says. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about."

"Oh, yes, because you love to talk," Castiel says, palm moving up Dean's thigh. "A veritable Oprah Winfrey, you are."

"Cas, there are things — shit, wait!" Dean pulls the car over and sharply tugs the handbrake. "You do not do that on someone who's driving!"

"Sorry," Castiel says, already unhinged from the mere proximity of Dean. He slides a hand up Dean's bare arm, surprised when he outright shivers at the touch. It's a small taste of power, but Castiel's already drunk on it.

It's no surprise when Dean's mouth lands on his, his kisses painful on Castiel's still not-fully-healed lower lip. Castiel gasp-laughs when Dean's arms awkwardly circle his body in the cramped space, possessive strength pulling their bodies tight together.

"Backseat," Dean growls.

The backseat is not nearly large enough as Dean optimistically thought it would be, elbows and knees getting in the way as they attempt to arrange themselves. Castiel only gets as far as unbuttoning his pants before he's succumbing to his need to grab on to Dean's shoulders and pull him down. Dean goes with it eagerly, pressing his weight down on to Castiel and grinding.

It's hot and desperate and Castiel's jaw aches from how hard Dean kisses him, but he can barely think for how much he wants this.

It's almost everything he ever thought it could be.

Afterward, Dean considerately moves over so he isn't resting all his weight on Castiel. They settle down mostly side-by-side in the cramped space, quietly getting their breath back. When Castiel turns his head round, Dean's eyes are shut, expression unreadable. The moment is precious enough as it is, and Castiel refuses to spoil it by thinking about the consequences.

He closes his eyes, unintentionally falling asleep between one breath and the next.

When awake, the memory is a faraway thing, muted by time and the accumulation of history. When asleep, the memory is clear and almost as pristine as the day it happened.

Castiel is asleep, and he is dreaming. In this dream he is twelve years old, and he is watching Dean wave a water-gun while making soft pew pew noises under his breath. Castiel doesn't yet know that this boy's name is Dean because they've never met before, but they are about to.

There's nothing tentative about Castiel's approach. He wishes to meet Dean, so he walks forward, only blinking with surprise when Dean suddenly whirls around and splashes him in the chest with the water-gun. Castiel looks down. His shirt is ruined, but not irreversibly so.

"You're supposed to die," Dean says, lowering the toy gun's muzzle. "When people shoot you in the chest, you die."

Castiel does not follow this logic. The water did not harm him, so he cannot be obligated to die. "Why?"

"What do you mean, why?" Dean asks, irritated. "You just do. Don't you know anything?"

"I know lots of things," Castiel says crossly, because Dean isn't being nice and Castiel hasn't done anything wrong. It hasn't been a good morning; Michael and Gabriel are fighting, Anna is missing, Father has holed up in his study, and Castiel has just wandered down the street from their new house to see what this town has to offer. Right now all it has is Dean, and Castiel is, despite his better judgment, curious. "I'm very smart and you should show me some respect."

Sometimes the dream tilts away and Dean starts immediately yelling at Castiel, calling him a creep and ordering him to get the hell out of there.

This time the dream moves this way, Dean's eyes turning speculative as he measures Castiel up.

"You're so weird." When Dean says it, it doesn't sound like a bad thing as much as it is a Castiel thing. "I've got a tree-house. Want to see? It's bad-ass."

"Yes," Castiel replies, and then he's following Dean down the clearing, through the leaves, up into a tree-house that's warm and filled with a million games and even more possibilities. Dean's green eyes are bright and his laughter is like all the songs of joy ever written, and Castiel is happy.

Castiel wakes up. He's eighteen years old, tired, sore and surrounded by the smell of semen. His head is resting on something firm but yielding, and there are fingers in his hair—

He sits up sharply. "I've got to get back," Castiel says, avoiding Dean's eyes. "Anna's going to be worried about me." Now's not the time to think about the fact that his head was in Dean's lap.

Dean doesn't protest.

In fact, he's quiet the whole drive back. Castiel supposes that sexual milestones do require contemplation, so he doesn't offer any platitudes or unwanted pieces of advice. As long as Dean doesn't hit him, he's all right.

"Cas," Dean says as they approach their street. "Do you think we could..."

"Don't worry," Castiel says quickly, "I'm very discreet." He winks at Dean and then practically leaps out of the car.

When Castiel brushes his teeth on Monday, he fancies that he can still taste Dean in his mouth. It's only a phantom touch, Castiel's body clinging to the memory should the likely outcome come to pass that it was a fluke that'll never happen again. Dean's probably scrubbed his body clean of Castiel now that he's gotten that out of his system.

The best way to approach things is to treat the day as just any other day, so he does exactly that. Castiel pops the last of his painkillers to help him ignore the pointed glances he gets when he arrives at school and makes his way through his classes.

The routine is familiar and safe. Castiel returns to it easily, nodding off in class, ducking around the hall monitors and ignoring the looks some of the jocks give him when he passes. Dean is theoretically around somewhere, but Castiel doesn't see him. It's for the best, really.

"You have seriously got to stop ignoring me," Crowley says, materializing just as Castiel's making his lunch escape to one of his regular hiding spots. "Did you block my phone number, you pillock?"

"Maybe I just didn't feel like talking to you," Castiel says.

"Here, let's have a look at you," Crowley says, stopping him so he can peer at his bad eye. "Not that I have any interest in protecting your non-existent virtue, but I could offer some dirt on the responsible parties, if you like. For a fee, of course."

"Don't be foolish," Castiel says.

Crowley grins. "Someone's touchy today."

Castiel's about to tell Crowley to knock it off, but he makes the mistake of looking up and seeing Dean approaching down the hallway. He can't hide because Crowley's with him, so he forces his expression into uninterested disdain and walks on straight, Crowley close to his side.

Dean passes them. "Hey, Cas."

Castiel trips a little on his feet, but keeps walking.

A safe couple of steps later, Crowley says, "What the hell was that? Did the mighty Winchester just acknowledge you in public?"

"Quit it," Castiel hisses.

"You're blushing." Crowley leans inward, one hand snaking around Castiel's waist. "Nope, I'm just fucking with you to see your reaction."

"Get a room, assholes," someone mutters.

"Hey!" Crowley whirls on the offender. "I could set on you on fire!" He snickers when the kid flees. "Wanker."

"Crowley," Castiel says, grabbing his collar, "Stop it."

Crowley looks down at Castiel's hand dubiously. "Don't you fucking tell me what I can or can't do."

"I understand why you're doing what you're doing," Castiel says, feeling light-headed from Crowley's too-close-for-comfort comments. "You miss him."

Crowley stiffens. "You did not just—"

"You miss him, and you're taking it out on others who don't know better than to steer clear of you," Castiel releases his grip. "Gabriel is gone."

"I..." Crowley raises his chin haughtily. "I think you've mistaken me for someone who cares."

"Tell yourself that, if it makes you feel better." Castiel keeps walking, snorting when Crowley keeps up. "Gabriel used to talk about you all the time. He'd go on at length about how much of a bastard you were for thwarting so many of his schemes, but you were the only one who could."

"Oh, shut up," Crowley says, though he sounds more irritated than hurt at having a personality flaw pointed out. "You're the one who's got a fucking hard-on for—"

"Finish that sentence at your own peril," Castiel warns.

Crowley obliges on the silence at least. They cross the back of the school building into the gym without a word until they reach the landing just under the roof. It's a narrow space up there with very little elbow room, but the view of the quad is amazing on a good day.

"Give it," Castiel says. Crowley takes out a pack of cigarettes, which they share between their lunches.

After a while, Crowley says, "You knew I only came on to you to get to Gabriel."

"Of course," Castiel says. "Just because I'm flaky doesn't mean I'm stupid."

Crowley appears impressed, albeit reluctantly. "You're just full of surprises, aren't you? Between this and your pulling the blackmail card on me, I don't know what to think."

Castiel grins around his cigarette. "Thank you."

There's no one in the immediate area, but Crowley still leans in to whisper softly, "How'd you get that recording of my propositioning Singer, anyway?"

"I'll never tell," Castiel says smugly. "Serves you right for trying to trade a blowjob for an A."

"How could I have known that Singer had morals?" Crowley says with a sigh. "Ah, well, lesson learned."

"All right everyone, our agenda today is to discuss the upcoming Awareness Week," Anna announces as Pamela gets up to pass the handouts around. "We haven't had any luck with our requests to the Principal's office, so fundraising will have to be our priority at the moment."

As a general rule Castiel can get away with not paying attention during the GSA meetings. He likes to think of himself as the club mascot, and Pamela likes to joke that he helps solicit donations by staring at people until they give him money to go away. (That isn't even completely an exaggeration.)

So Castiel leans back lazily, eyes going unfocused as Victor writes up a list on the board. It's only when the door swings open and Sam enters with a breathless, "Sorry, we're late" that Castiel snaps to attention, because right behind Sam is Dean.

"It's all right," Anna says, though there's no masking her confusion at Dean's presence. "You're joining us today?"

"Yeah," Dean says, trying and failing not to sound completely awkward.

"No obligation, I told him," Sam says, openly thrilled to have his brother with him. "You can sit anywhere, I have to be up front and help Victor with the minutes."

There are no recreational substances Castiel can immediately think of to blame this possible hallucination on, and repeated blinks do not render the initial sight invalid. Dean Winchester is still here in their GSA meeting, and he's, oh shit, sitting down next to Castiel. This begs the question: why? First the very public nod in the hallways earlier and now this? Dean is, for all intents and purpose, still completely straight and mainstream and beloved by all those who matter, and part of that presentation means that he should not be in this room.

"Hey," Dean says.

Castiel glances around quickly, but there's no one else Dean could've been talking to. "Uh..."

He relaxes when Pamela comes to the rescue, sitting on Dean's other side and immediately engaging him in better conversation. Meanwhile, Castiel finds himself studiously paying attention to Anna's speech for the first time in a long time.

Castiel has plenty of experience compartmentalizing. It's a defense mechanism that's worked well for him over the years, so of course Dean would be the one to shoot it all to hell.

He's not even sure why he's still thinking about Dean at all. They hadn't said another word to each other over the rest of the GSA meeting — which, incidentally, was the way things were supposed to be — and Castiel had fled for home as soon as Pamela and Victor started handing out their traditional meeting-closing cupcakes.

Castiel's in the safest place he could possibly be, i.e. his room. Except it turns out to not be safe after all, because there's a knock at the door, Anna's voice on the other side, and when the door opens Dean's standing right behind her.

"What?" Castiel says stupidly.

Anna doesn't look happy, but she points a thumb over her shoulder. "He dropped by to see you."

"Oh." Castiel gives his sister what he hopes is a reassuring smile. "Thanks."

She leaves, though her expression is one of hope that Castiel isn't going to do something stupid (or something else stupid, really).

Castiel locks the door behind her and then turns to glare at Dean. "Discreet! Am I the only one who understands the meaning of the word?"

"Cas," Dean says, rubbing the back of his neck, "About what happened..."

"All right, here we go," Castiel says, rolling his eyes. "It was a mistake? You didn't mean it? You were just curious? Fine. You have every right to think whatever you want, but did you really have to come all the way here to tell me?"

"Hey!" Dean protests. "I wasn't going to say any of that!"

"No?" Castiel studies Dean's face for signs of lying. "So you don't regret it?"

Dean barks a laugh. "Hell, no."

"Oh." Castiel deflates. He feels a little lost; Dean's following a different script from the one Castiel had been expecting. "So... do you still want it?"

Dean looks at him sharply. His voice is a low growl when he says, "Yeah."

It's pathetic how that one syllable goes straight to Castiel's lower stomach. He blinks, and it suddenly hits him with full clarity that Dean is in his bedroom, and oh, the possibilities of that.

From the responding heat in Dean's gaze, he's thinking the exact same thing.

"Then shut up and take it," Castiel whispers. He steps forward, shoving hard at Dean's chest. Dean falls back on the bed, bouncing a little but not getting far because Castiel's quickly crawling on top of him.

The meet of their mouths is slow and exploratory, Dean every inch as intoxicating as the last time they were together.

When they're done, Castiel gives them two minutes to bask in post-coital glory before getting up and dragging Dean with him to the bathroom. Dean's not much help once they get there, blinking dazedly while Castiel hoses him down in the shower. Then it's back to bed, Dean collapsing on the sheets while Castiel opts to sit up against the headboard.

More rummaging in the side drawer uproots a half-empty pack, enabling Castiel to light up a much-needed cigarette. "Sorry, do you want one?" he asks, noticing the way Dean's watching him. Dean shakes his head, but doesn't look away. Castiel takes a couple of drags while stroking Dean's calf with his foot.

"There's a game in two weeks," Dean says suddenly. "Home. You won't have to travel."

"What?" Castiel says. "Home? Travel?"

"You should come." Dean's hand lands on Castiel's thigh, squeezing gently. "It'd be great if you could."

"I have absolutely no interest in football, Dean." Castiel raises his arms above his head to stretch, quietly thrilled at the way Dean's gaze slides down his body. "You can come by after, if you like."

Dean's eyes dart back up to Castiel's. "Is that how it is with Crowley?"

Castiel jolts at the flatness of Dean's tone. "I suppose."

"But you're not friends."

"No," Castiel says. "It's a mutual agreement."

"Well," Dean says, a touch of sarcasm entering his voice, "Are you still mutually agreeing with each other?"

Castiel's about to respond that it's absolutely none of Dean's business, but there is something — a wariness in Dean's eyes, maybe — that causes that answer to die abortively. Instead, Castiel says, "No."

"I broke up with Bela weeks ago," Dean says.

Castiel sighs. He puts the cigarette to the side table where it'll be safe and then starts gathering up Dean's clothes from where they're strewn around. "This is very simple, so don't make it complicated." He puts the clothes in Dean's lap, and then kisses him gently at the corner of his mouth. "This is perfect just the way it is."

"You'd do that?" Dean asks. "You'd be my... thing on the side?"

"If you'll let me," Castiel says, brushing teasing fingers over Dean's nipples. "I'll even let you fuck me if you ask nicely. I've never done that before, but it's our last year together, so why not ring a few gongs before the lights go out?"

This doesn't get the desired reaction. Instead, Dean's face goes hard and he grabs Castiel's shoulders in a painful grip.

"Dean!" Castiel gasps. "What—?"

"You're better than that, Cas!" Dean says.

"Dean!" Castiel wrenches away from him, shocked and staring. He's never seen Dean furious like this before.

No, that's a lie. He has seen Dean furious before, a lifetime ago, when Dean had shouted him to go away. What little Castiel has seen of him since is a Dean that's happy and carefree, so maybe this is a side of him that only Castiel can bring out.

That would just be his luck.

"You shouldn't let anyone treat you like that," Dean says angrily.

Castiel's face flushes hot. "Get out."

"Look..." That can't be pain in Dean's voice, so Castiel must be projecting. "I'm trying, I swear. Just, please, let me take small steps, okay? I went to your GSA meeting—"

"Oh, I'm supposed to reward you for that?"

"No!" Dean sighs, frustrated. "You're not making this easy..."

"It is easy!" Castiel snarls. "You're the one who's ruining it! What? Did you think we could be friends?"

Dean goes still. "Can't we?"

"No, we can't," Castiel says. "You are Dean Winchester, alpha male, skirt-chaser, as wholesome as the crumbly apple pie you enjoy so much. I do not want your friendship."

Dean's jaw snaps shut with a click.

"Get out of my room." Castiel is trembling, but if he's lucky Dean won't notice. "Just go."

There's a moment of silence, and then Dean starts getting dressed. He keeps muttering under his breath and shaking his head, but Castiel doesn't care about any of that. Instead, he keeps alert, watchful and guard up until Dean finally leaves, closing the door behind him without another word.

Castiel retrieves the cigarette and inhales.

There's less chance for avoidance when they're back in school.

Castiel takes a deep breath. If he leans far enough into his locker, he can almost believe in the illusion of privacy.

Unfortunately, Dean's still barely an arm's length away, the only barrier between them a few inches of metal. It's almost as if Dean's presence is wired to a raw part of Castiel's brain that screams an alarm whenever he's within a ten-foot radius.

They aren't talking to each other. Well, neither has made any attempt to talk or acknowledge the other since Dean walked out of Castiel's house, so he assumes that this must be the case.

This isn't actually all that different from how things used to be. In fact, it's a return to something familiar. Locker condition aside, it could be just like any of the other years where Castiel floated through life absent of Dean Winchester.

Except where it really isn't.

"Hey, Dean," someone says, which makes Castiel want to shrink further inside his safe space, "Are we still on for—"

Dean growls something too fast for Castiel to catch, and then there's the sound of a body slamming against the lockers. The whole row shudders, and Castiel just barely stops his locker door from hitting him in the head.

A shocked silence falls, followed by a terse, "What the hell ever, man."

So, Dean is still angry. Maybe at Castiel, maybe at himself, who knows? Whatever the case, it's perfectly clear that it would be prudent if Castiel exert extra effort in staying the hell out of his way.

He tucks his books close to his chest and makes his escape, not daring to look back.

"You look like shit," Crowley says. He's in an improved mood, which makes one of them, at least. "Can't leave you for a couple of days before you crash, eh? Have a smoke."

Castiel only gets as far as lighting the cigarette before his fingers fumble and it falls to the floor. He doesn't protest when Crowley takes it instead. "I don't think my vices can distract me this time," Castiel says.

Crowley makes a sympathetic sound. "Escalation."

"No, it's just..." Castiel feels restless and jittery, barely contained in his own skin. Even the offer of a shot of malt whiskey from Crowley's thermos bears no temptation. "It's like herpes."

There's a careful pause as Crowley shifts a few inches away. "Ah."

"I do not have herpes," Castiel snaps. "This is like herpes. Something I thought long gone has suddenly decided to flare up and there's nothing I can do to get rid of it." What is it about Dean Winchester that he's able to upheave Castiel's life by barely lifting a finger? Anna was right, this is bullshit, but damn if Castiel knows how to get him out of his system.

"I can't decide if you're more or less pathetic than you were before," Crowley says thoughtfully. "It's tough — oh, pardon me." He searches his pockets for his ringing cell, leaving Castiel to his own thoughts.

The thing is, Dean's a faraway figure, barely comprehensible from the distance Castiel has kept himself. Castiel is hardly alone in his desire to have a piece of Dean, but he's spent so long secretly mocking the sycophants that make up Dean's immediate circle that it's downright pathetic that he's now showing the exact same kind of hunger for Dean's attention.

Even so, Dean is not a bad person. Being popular is hardly a sin, and Castiel hasn't heard of him being intentionally cruel or unkind to anyone. Jo would not call herself his friend if he did, and Sam would not be so affectionately embarrassed of him if he were. If Dean is guilty of anything it would be passion and stubbornness, but that is all.

"You are one creepy motherfucker when you laugh to yourself like that," Crowley says.

"It's funny," Castiel giggles.

"Well," Crowley pauses to snap his cell shut, "It might be in your interest to know that the light of your life just found himself in the middle of an altercation on the quad."

Castiel starts. "What?"

"Dean," Crowley says slowly, "Got into a fight with some of his... you know, those people he associates with. Friends, is the word, maybe?"


"The hell if I know," Crowley says. "Give me a few hours and I can find out what — hey, where are you going?"

Dean isn't in the nurse's room. There are a couple of other boys there, all of whom look more annoyed than hurt, and the nurse has her hands full keeping them calm. Castiel stays there only long enough to ascertain from their dialogue that Dean has been sent to the Principal's office, and then he's off.

Castiel's panting softly when he makes it to Moseley's office. Dean is in the waiting area, sitting on the couch with his back ramrod-straight and his eyes directed to the wall. Moseley's secretary looks up from her cubicle when Castiel approaches, and then silently goes back to typing.

"What are you doing?" Castiel says softly, sitting on the couch a safe distance away. "Dean?"

Dean spares Castiel a glance. There's a cut above his eyebrow and the right side of his jaw looks swollen, but all of that's incidental to the reined-in anger etched all over his face. "I'm not sure I like football all that much," he says. "It's fun to play, yeah, but it's not like I wanted my life to revolve around it. Did you know I got a scholarship? I can keep playing in college but... I don't know if I want to. No one thought to ask me."

Castiel isn't sure he understands. "If it upsets you that much, then don't play."

"It's not that easy!" Dean's hands curl into fists in his lap. "People expect me to be something big and important, like my father, like your brother, Michael, and I'm not. I'm just a guy who likes to throw a football around and shove at people sometimes. And, damn it, it follows you off the field... It's not just what you do when you play, it's everything you do around that, too. Every part of your life has to be within the freaking lines or you're just..."

Castiel smiles, though he knows this isn't funny at all. "I didn't think you were the kind of person who'd do what other people told you to do."

"It's what all guys want, right?" Dean snorts, shaking his head. "I'd be stupid not to... So I told myself I did until... Cas, it's so fake, you have no idea."

"No," Castiel says quietly. "I really don't."

"I get so angry sometimes, and I don't have..." Dean chuckles mirthlessly. "I've got people hanging on to my every word and not one of them wants to really listen."

Castiel reels, the realization making him dizzy. Dean is lonely, which makes no sense and all the sense in the world. "You have Sam."

"It's different with Sam," Dean says, finally cracking a small smile. "He thinks the best of people. But everyone else... they're all fake, Cas. Everyone except you. You are perfectly honest. Always have been."

This isn't what Castiel came for. To be true, he has no idea what he was thinking by coming here, only that he needed to, because it's Dean. Then Castiel makes things worse by saying something he shouldn't: "That's inaccurate. I pretend as well, Dean."

Dean's eyes harden, intense when he looks at Castiel. "Yeah, I do, too. I've been pretending for so long when I could've just—"

"Moseley," Castiel says hoarsely.

It's the perfect distraction. Dean turns away and Castiel's able to jump off the couch to safety. He only catches a glimpse of the betrayed look on Dean's face before he gets the hell out of there, cursing himself for being careless yet again.

Castiel decides that there's no shame in having a good freak-out.

He is hiding under the covers, breathing slowly into his pillow. If Anna were around she'd beat him on the head for being such a drama queen, but if one were to think about it, he is entitled. Nothing interesting has ever happened to Castiel throughout his high school life, so it's possible that fate has finally decided to act on this oversight.

There is very little that scares Castiel. He has no fear of the uncertain future, or Gabriel's pranks, or anyone anywhere thinking ill of him, because they are not important. What is important, and completely terrifying, is the look that had been on Dean's face when he'd been about to say something there'd be no coming back from.

He's so preoccupied with this line of thought that it takes him a while to notice that his phone is ringing. He fumbles for it blindly, relieved to see that it's only Crowley. "What do you want?"

"No need to thank me," Crowley says, "Though I have just done you a huge favor. I did suspect that something was going on between you and Dean, but I didn't expect it to be like that. He fucked around with you, the bi-curious bastard, and dumped you when it got too hot to handle, isn't it?"

The slow terror creeping over Castiel bypasses the need to correct his assumption. "Crowley..."

"I knew it," Crowley says, self-satisfied. "The arsehole used you and left you a wreck. No worries, I've had it dealt with."

"What did you do?"

"Followed you to Moseley's office and took a recording of your conversation earlier today," Crowley says cheerfully. "Posted the whole thing, complete with my personal commentary on the sordid affair that must've happened to result in such confessions, online. Facebook, Twitter, you name it. Anonymous, of course. Now all we've got to do is sit back and watch the shit fly."

"No!" Castiel screams. "Crowley!"

"It'll bring him down in no time," Crowley says smugly. "Put that on top of the trouble he's already in for picking a fight with his own teammates, and it's perfect comeuppance."

"When?" Castiel's out of bed and pulling his shoes on. "When did you do this?"

"About an hour ago."

"Crowley, that is not what happened," Castiel says, hands shaking so hard he can barely hold on to the phone. "You are a presumptuous, dangerous bastard who should not have done anything like this, and I swear on my mother's grave that I'll never forgive you for it."

Crowley makes a surprised noise. "What—" The tirade is cut off when Castiel throws the cell at the bed.

Dean needs to be warned. That's the mantra that's pulsing in Castiel's head as he hurries out of his room, down the stairs, past a surprised Anna, and out into the street. It's almost dark and the evening air's biting cold, but this isn't the time to notice such petty details.

The Winchesters live just a few houses down, but the short distance is a galaxy away for all that it's been relevant to Castiel before. He knocks frantically at the door, straightening up when Mrs. Winchester opens it.

"Hello," she says, surprised.

"Good evening, Mrs. Winchester," Castiel says, barely able to stand still for the thrumming in his veins, "I'm an acquaintance of your son. Well, I'm an acquaintance of both your sons, but at this moment I'm referring to Dean. May I see him, please?"

Mrs. Winchester's expression turns subdued, but she nods and opens the door wider. "Dean's grounded, but you can come in if you want."

"Thank you," Castiel says, stepping into the house. "I apologize, you must be busy."

"You're Castiel, aren't you?" she says, recognition warming her smile into something more personal. "The Reeves boy, from down the street."

"Oh." Castiel starts in surprise. "Yes, ma'am."

Mrs. Winchester nods. "It's nice to see you again." Castiel flushes with embarrassment that she remembers him, but luckily the conversation doesn't get any more awkward because she's immediately turning away and calling Dean down.

"Dean!" Castiel says when he appears at the top of the stairs. He ignores Dean's look of surprise, grabbing his arm and dragging him back up to where they can have some privacy. "This is important. Somewhere quiet, now."

Dean rolls with it, letting Castiel into his room — it's neater than he imagined, with only a few pieces of laundry and magazines littered around the place — and then turning to him warily. "What?"

Castiel takes a deep breath and lets it all out, describing everything Crowley just told him.

Dean's face grows paler with every new released piece of information. When Castiel's done, Dean stares into space for a long, terse moment, and then whips out his cell.

"I'm sorry, Dean," Castiel says, sinking down shakily on to the edge of his bed. "I didn't know Crowley would do that, I promise you."

"Not your fault," Dean says harshly. Then in a more normal tone of voice, "Hi! Yeah, it's me. Just wondering, did you hear anything about..."

Dean's conversation blurs away into the background. Castiel covers his face with his hands and sends a million wishes out into the air: that he wasn't so weak, that he wasn't so careless, that he had never met Dean. He doesn't know how long he stays like that, breathing into his palms, but he jumps at the sudden pressure of a hand on his shoulder.

"Hey." Castiel looks up to see Dean, misplaced concern in his eyes. "Cas."

"I'm so sorry," Castiel says. "I really didn't mean to—"

"There's nothing," Dean says. "I called something like a dozen people, but no one's heard anything. Checked my Facebook, too, but there's no sign of whatever you think Crowley did. Here, look." He passes his cell over, allowing Castiel to browse. "Are you sure...?"

"I know what he said," Castiel says, scrolling down the screen and finding nothing. He drops the phone dazedly. "He said... He did it because..."

Dean inhales sharply. "You were worried about me."

"I..." Castiel's throat feels oddly thick. "It would've ruined everything."

"Since when do you care what people think?"

"I don't," Castiel says, "But this is you! If this had gotten out, you would've lost everything!"

"You care what happens to me," Dean says.

"Do you not understand?" Castiel gasps, wondering when Dean got so stupid. "Your entire reputation is at stake!"

"Fuck my reputation!" Dean says. "And here I thought you were just—"

"You're impossible!" Castiel shoves at Dean, overwhelmed with the need to get away from him and his unpredictable reactions.

"Cas, wait—"

He doesn't. Castiel races past him, making it as far as the landing before a hand clamps around his bicep and spins him around.

"Cas, stop," Dean says, something wild in his eyes, "I think this has gone far enough. You don't want to listen and, okay, I get that. Believe me, I get that, but this is important."

"Dean, I..." Castiel trails off.

The hand that had been on his arm is suddenly pressing along the side of his face, and Castiel is being kissed. He's firmly, unabashedly, in the fucking Winchester home, being kissed.

Castiel yanks his mouth away, gasping air in an attempt to stave off what feels like a genuine panic attack. His eyesight starts to blur, but before he can fumble blindly away Dean catches him again.

"Cas." Dean's hands are firm around his wrists, bringing him to a swaying halt. "Remember when we were younger?"


"It was the summer your family first moved here," he says, the words gaining speed the more he talks, "Remember, you came by my house that first time and I shot you in the chest with my water-gun. You were so confused and stubborn and the strangest kid I'd ever met."

"Dean, please," Castiel whispers.

"I called you weird but you came back anyway. You kept coming back, day after day, as though you knew I was too proud to ask you to stay. We'd hang, and I'd tell you stuff about me and Sam and my parents and everything. You listened and didn't judge me, not once, not even when I said I was just letting you stay because you wanted to."

Castiel impotently tries to pull away, but Dean holds on fast.

"I assumed you'd always keep coming, so when you said you got into some fancy prep school with your cousins I was a selfish dick and told you not to go, and Jesus, Cas, you didn't. You stayed, you son of a bitch, because I asked you to. I didn't know what to make of that, no one had ever done anything like that for me, and why would they? I knew then that it was huge, so huge I couldn't wrap my head around it. And then—"

"Dean!" Castiel gasps.

"And then you kissed me," Dean says. "I knew it was coming, maybe not consciously, but there was the way you used to look at me, so, yeah, I knew it was coming. Yet I still didn't — I didn't know how to react, because — fuck, Cas, I was a kid and stupid and I said horrible things to you because I was afraid."

It happened a lifetime ago and yesterday. The memory is buried so deep it almost never was, except now that Dean has acknowledged it aloud it's become more real than the day it happened. Castiel takes a shaky breath and—

—he is twelve years old and a little in love with a boy he's practically just met. How can he not be, because Dean is snide and smart and shares his mom's pie with Castiel freely.

Uriel is disappointed when Castiel foregoes his chance to go to the prep school but Gabriel is proud and Anna supportive, though none of them know of his true reasons. Castiel is staying because of Dean, who calls Castiel weird but doesn't mean it like the others, and laughs with Castiel instead of at him, and their friendship is the first thing that Castiel's ever wanted for himself.

It's good while it lasts, though of course the day comes when he messes it up.

They are sitting close, and Dean's talking about a tv show he's just started watching, explaining the characters one by one in case Castiel can't keep up. But Castiel isn't making any effort to keep up at all because he's watching the shape Dean's mouth makes around the words. Castiel hasn't put much thought into his need to be around Dean, but with each passing second of his current study of Dean's mouth, that want takes new form.

He's never been impulsive, but some hidden instinct has him leaning across the space and pressing his mouth to Dean's.

It goes bad. Dean pushes him and he falls, wind knocked out of him by the hard ground at his back. Dean looms over him and shouts, what the hell are you doing, followed by epithets of stupid and fag and goddamn stalker. Castiel, who's been mocked by others before and never cared, now knows what it's like to be ashamed. He's sorry, Dean, so sorry, he knows now that what he did was wrong, but he has no excuses. He was presumptuous and didn't ask for permission, so now he's ruined the best thing he's ever had.

Castiel obeys the letter of the law: go away and don't come back, but the want didn't go away; it stayed and festered and became poison—

—and Castiel is eighteen years old and Dean is saying, "You just stood there and took it, hell, you took every nasty thing I said to you without a word, and then you left and didn't come back. I pretended it didn't happen, and like a little chicken shit I was relieved when you did, too. We've spent so long pretending that we were never anything to each other, but we were. I fucked up, Cas. I fucked up real bad and, yeah, I know it took me forever to get here, but I'm sorry."

Castiel looks at him. "Excuse me?"

"I was an asshole to you," Dean says. "And I'm sorry."

Dean fucked up. Dean fucked up? Such a thing had never occurred to Castiel, because Dean is kind and good and has smarts that can't be learned out of a book, so all the things he'd said at Castiel must have had due cause. Surely Castiel was the one who'd messed up and lost Dean before he ever had him.


"Cas?" Dean says anxiously.

A stillness falls over Castiel. There's no buzzing in his skull, no nameless under-the-skin itches that beg for distractions. There's just Castiel, calm and free to breathe.

The world's shifted — or, maybe, the world itself is exactly the same, but something inside Castiel has shifted, a groove or gear popping back into place.

It's not at all difficult to figure out what to say next.

"Thank you, Dean," he says. "I appreciate it."

Dean seems to be waiting for something more. Perhaps he expects Castiel to return volley, but there's nothing else, no rage to tap into. It's not gone entirely; Castiel can still feel it pressing on the edges of his thoughts, but it feels distant, like an old burn scarred over.

"I'm going now," Castiel says, starting down the stairs.

"Cas..." Dean says, following. "I can—"

They both stop in their tracks.

Dean's father is at the front door. He's taking off his jacket while Mrs. Winchester stands nearby, expression guarded. Castiel doesn't have much of a basis for comparison, but Mr. Winchester looks very unhappy. It's likely that he's just learned what Dean's been up to today, meaning that this moment no longer belongs to Castiel — it belongs to the Winchesters.

Behind Castiel, Dean straightens up almost to attention.

Time to make an exit. "Thank you, ma'am," Castiel whispers to Dean's mother as he passes. She nods at him and he slips outside swiftly, giving Dean and his family their privacy.

The evening air feels cool and clean on Castiel's face.

"You're very quiet," Anna says over dinner.

"I'm a quiet person," Castiel replies. He stiffens when Anna touches his shoulder, squeezing gently before pulling away. He tries to reassure her with a smile. "It's nothing."

"You always say that," Anna says softly.

For so long Castiel hasn't allowed himself to dwell on the memories of that one summer he'd had with Dean. It felt like cheating, because Dean had obviously — no, not longer obviously — been angry with the way things played out that Castiel had lumped those memories with all the other things he doesn't have permission to think about.

Dean's apology fresh in mind, Castiel lets himself think about it now.

His thoughts fall to a day somewhere in late July.

Is it late July? Maybe it's early August. Whatever the date, it's certainly late enough in summer that he's already worked out a system of sneaking out of the house with just the right timing so he won't have to endure another round of Gabriel's teasing. Michael's gone out — with friends, likely — and Anna's busy painting her room, so no one's going to miss him until well close to dinnertime.

Castiel's carrying a book under his jacket because there's the chance that Dean won't feel like doing anything today. Sometimes that happens, especially when Castiel's beaten him at whatever new game Dean's decided to teach him. But lazing around isn't bad or boring; Castiel enjoys those quiet moments of just sitting next to each other, talking about everything and nothing as they watch the slow creep of oncoming autumn.

Only on this day when Castiel approaches, he sees Sam in a second-floor window, waving at him.

He waves back, and Sam makes some of sort of shape with his fingers. Castiel pauses, frowning in his attempt to decipher its meaning, and that's when Dean tackles him in the side, sending both of them falling to the grass in an ungainly heap.

"Dean!" Castiel gasps, choking for air. "What—?"

"You're so skinny, Cas," Dean says, rolling him on to his back and poking him in the ribs. His eyes are bright and wicked. "You don't eat enough, that's what."

"That hurt!" Castiel says, though he's more surprised than upset.

"No, it didn't," Dean says, rolling his eyes. He offers a hand to Castiel, who reluctantly takes it and lets himself be pulled up into a sitting position. "I barely touched you. Don't be such a girl."

"I'm not a girl," Castiel replies, immediately thinking of Anna and how she'd deck Dean if he tried something like that with her. "What was that for?"

"Dad says I'm a natural," Dean says smugly. "Football's in my genes."

"Genes don't work that way, Dean." Castiel brushes the grass and dirt from his pants. "They can be partially responsible for your muscle strength and body type, but it has nothing to do with—"

"Figure of speech, Cas." Dean picks up the book Cas had dropped, eyeing it with distaste. "I'm that boring that you need to bring your own entertainment?"

"You're hardly boring, Dean." Castiel smiles at the way that makes Dean preen. "I suppose you may have some talent, if football requires you to surprise people when they least expect it."

Dean grins at him, no doubt thinking about all the promise the future may hold for him. "My dad was star quarterback in his time, so it'd be awesome if I could... Whatever, most important thing is that it'd be awesome. We could practice together, and stuff. I'd be super at it."

"You can, in theory, be good at anything if you put your mind to it," Castiel says. Receiving a slanted, displeased look from Dean, he adds, "If you had some talent to start with, that may make things easier, but it isn't always a-given, Dean. It's hard work. I've seen what my brother looks like after practice."

"It'd be worth it, though." Dean starts to lean back on his arms, only to frown and suddenly move closer. "Hey, you're hurt. Shit."

"Language, Dean."

"Yeah, yeah," Dean says, catching Castiel's elbow. His hands are very gentle where they prod red skin. The scratches are shallow but Castiel still shivers where Dean fingertips brush the grass flecks away. "That sting?"

"No," Castiel says softly.

There's muted worry in Dean's face when he looks at Castiel, which is such a change from his usual carefree demeanor. Castiel wants to soothe him and let him know that it's okay, but as soon as he opens his mouth Dean drops Castiel's arm and pulls away sharply.

"Geez, Cas, watch the personal space," Dean says, standing up. "We already talked about that."

He blinks, startled. "Yes, but..." Castiel's confused protest trails off because Dean's already walking away, his gait only slow enough to allow Castiel to catch up.

Castiel has so many memories like this: long days interspersed with Dean's laughter and strange moments that didn't mean anything then but mean everything now, when he's able to look back.

I knew it was coming, maybe not consciously, but there was the way you used to look at me, so, yeah, I knew it was coming.

Which is notable, because Castiel didn't know it was coming until he'd gone and kissed Dean.

He isn't sure what he thinks about that.

The next time he and Dean see each other, it's at the lockers. Of course it would be, since that's how it all started in the second place. Years of studiously avoiding each other and a broken pipe's all it takes to bring Dean back on to Castiel's radar, and vice versa.

Castiel can hear Dean moving around behind the metal partition.

He shouldn't look. It's such a bad idea, and yet, Castiel has spent so long not looking at Dean that it really wouldn't cost him much to close his door.

The metal latch clicks softly into place when Castiel pushes the door shut.

Dean is rummaging through his books. He looks tired, the cut above his eyebrow now a dark scar, and there's faint stubble over his chin. The red football jacket is nowhere to be seen, and Dean seems smaller without it. He's just a regular guy in a faded shirt and jeans; someone Castiel could pass by and not think twice about.

"Are we talking to each other?" Dean says.

Castiel shifts uneasily. "I don't know."

There's no going back. Oh, classes will go on, Castiel will kick ass on National History Day, Anna will make him hand out flyers during Awareness Week, Gabriel and Michael will come back for Christmas and talk smack at each other, but this infinitesimally small corner of the world will never be the same.

Dean takes a deep breath. "Have lunch with me?"

"I hate the cafeteria," Castiel says. "It's too noisy."

"Outside, then." Dean's smile is tentative, uncertain. "We don't have to talk, or anything. We can just..."

"Maybe," Castiel says, poised to flee.

Dean must read it because he nods, too quick for Castiel to detect any possible disappointment. "I'll see you around, Cas."

Nodding, Castiel watches him go.

"Hello, sweetheart," Crowley says, appearing out nowhere to drape an arm around Castiel's shoulder. "Did you really swear to me on your mother's grave? Because that is the most pansy-assed thing I have ever heard in my entire life, I had to find an empty space of floor so that I could roll around in it laughing my ass off."

"You are a cruel person, John Crowley," Castiel says, though he can't work up much anger. "What was the point of telling me such a thing if it wasn't true?"

"I wanted to see your reaction. Hey, it's what I do." Crowley sets his hands on Castiel's shoulders, turning him so that they are face to face. "The thing about you, Mr. Reeves, is that all the time I've known you, you've emphatically refused to care about anything. Well, anything except for your little nerd projects, but those don't count. What I'm saying is... that's not the whole deal with you, is it?"

"What do you want?" Castiel asks, tired.

Crowley sighs, rolling his eyes to the high heavens. "Bloody hell, Reeves, I don't want anything." He shoves at Castiel's head, almost affectionately, and then goes off in a dramatic whirl of black.

Dean's sitting on the edge of the quad. He's alone, legs stretched out in front of him. He has an uneaten apple in one hand, and appears to be distracted by the sight of something in the distance. Perhaps he's watching the other students clustered in their usual groups, talking and laughing amongst themselves as is normal.

A boy in a red jacket approaches and says something to Dean, who shakes his head in response. The boy shrugs and walks away.

Castiel's hiding behind a convenient corner, watching this happen.

A part of Castiel still suspects that Dean didn't really mean the invitation, but he knows well enough by now that that cynical part of his brain works on the assumption of who he'd thought Dean was. It's been proven that Dean's not the image he projects himself to be — not completely, anyway — so who is he really?

Castiel wants to know.

He steps forward cautiously. "Hello, Dean."

Dean jumps a little, though when he turns to look at Castiel, there's genuine humor in his smile. "You still know how to sneak up on a guy."

"At least you didn't shoot me this time." Castiel immediately regrets saying it, in case they're not allowed to talk about that yet, but he relaxes when Dean's smile deepens, eyes crinkling.

"Don't have a gun this time," Dean points out.

"That's true." Castiel sits down next to him, mindful of putting a socially acceptable space between their bodies. His paper bag crinkles when he opens it, and Dean follows his lead with his own lunch.

They're just sitting next to each other, eating their food. Like normal people. Like friends, even.

Castiel can do this.

Except, this is nothing like his normal routine. Before them is the view of a sizeable portion of the highschool community in all its raucous joy. It's only a couple of bites into his sandwich before Castiel realizes that some of those people are looking at them, while others are not-so-subtly pointing in their direction.

Castiel may be used to those kinds of reactions, but not like this.

"Dean, I can't do this," he says tersely. "People are looking."

Dean snorts. "Like that's something new."


"Cas." Dean frowns at him. "Seriously. After last night, with my parents, this is nothing. Why are you hung up on that?"

"I'm not—" Castiel stops. He rolls the question over in his head, feeling it settle and poke at other thoughts he otherwise wouldn't have permitted himself to think about.

"Cas?" Dean asks quietly.

"Yesterday you were there," Castiel says, swallowing tightly. "Right there, with them."

"Yeah," Dean says. "But I'm here now."

"For how long?" Castiel blurts out. He tucks his legs closer to his body, staring down at his knees. "How long before you... I can't do that again, Dean."

There's the rustle of cloth as Dean shifts closer. Castiel tenses up, ready to flee, but only jumps at the touch of fingers on his upper arm. Looking down, Castiel watches half-dazed as Dean's fingers wrap gently around his wrist.

Out here, where everyone can see.

"I'll keep saying it, because it's true," Dean says, so softly Castiel can barely hear him. "I'm sorry. For everything."

When Castiel finally dares meet Dean's eyes, he's thrown by the quiet joy he sees there. Dean's smile is small and intimate, then growing when he sees Castiel start to understand that Dean's happy, because Castiel's here, with him, allowing him to do this.

"Oh," Castiel says.

"Yeah." Dean clears his throat and pulls his hand away, but the smile remains. "Better eat up."

"Right," Castiel says.


They return their attention to their food, but Dean doesn't move away. His hip remains subtly pressed against Castiel's, so there's no way to mistake his intent here.

"You know," Castiel says thoughtfully, "I make my own lunches. You may try this, if you wish."

Dean makes a face. "I can't even tell what's inside, dude."

"You aren't supposed to know what's inside by looking at it," Castiel says, waving the sandwich in front of Dean. "You identify the ingredients by taste. I make them while half-asleep, so it's a bit a gamble."

Dean stares. "You're serious." When Castiel's mouth twitches Dean barks a laugh. "Oh, shit, Cas, I missed—" he pauses to clear his throat, "—that. All of that."

Castiel tries to shrug carelessly, but he can't stop the smile from spreading across his face. "Ditto," he says, pushing at Dean's shoulder with his own.

Then it's equal parts awkward and easy, smiles exchanged as they poke at each other's lunches and Dean asks what the hell is up with Castiel's hippie wardrobe and Castiel huffs back that at least he doesn't use a ridiculous amount of hair product.

Castiel's even disappointed when he hears the bell ring. "Okay, that's my cue," he says, folding up his bag.

"Cas," Dean says, stopping him with another casual touch on the arm. "Want to go out some time? For real, I mean."

It would be so easy to kiss Dean now and pick up where they left off. Castiel knows this, just as he knows that this thing between them now isn't the same as what it'd been before. This has the opportunity to be something else, something more, and they need to do it better this time round.

"Ask me again one day," Castiel says, returning the favor and squeezing Dean's wrist. They're in public, and there are people who'll be unhappy about it, but who cares. "I mean it. Not today... but one day."

Dean nods his understanding, proving that there's hope if they can be on the same page for once. "Gotcha." He starts to leave, then turns back to say, "Hey, drive you back later?"

"Sure," Castiel says. "See you."

Dean grins. "You know you will."

It's a start.