Chapter Twenty-Three

Day -30

Dean shares his Tuesday afternoon math class with Victor, and they are comfortably settled into their seats, ready to be left alone at the back of the class and probably fuck around rather than actually doing any algebra, except that without warning, the seats directly in front of them are taken by none other than Lisa, plus one of her friends who Dean knows from middle school, one Cassie Robinson. Lisa looks good, dark hair pulled back in a neat braid, and is wearing jeans that make her butt look great.

They've been back at school for just over two weeks, and Dean's seen her a couple times around already – even spoken to her once or twice, in the hallways – but truth be told, he might have maybe been avoiding her. However, it seems that contact is inevitable now, as she twists around in her seat, levels an accusatory finger at Dean, and says, "You, Dean Winchester, didn't come to my pizza night. What gives?"

"Sorry," Dean whispers back. "I was busy – uh, hanging out… with – my mom." He can feel his face flush hot – of all the excuses available to him, why the hell did he go with that one? – but he tries to shrug it off. "You know."

Lisa's mouth twists sympathetically. "Oh, yeah, tell me about it. My mom's like that too."

A sharp pang of guilt spikes through Dean's stomach at indirectly badmouthing his mom, but he changes the conversation quickly by asking about her and Cassie's summer.

"Went to stay with grandparents in Michigan," Cassie says, and pulls a face. "It was… alright. As far as staying with grandparents for three months goes, at least."

"The usual for me – family, friends, trying to get a job, that kind of stuff," Lisa adds, and then, thankfully, Mr. Turner calls upon the class to settle down and look towards the whiteboard for his introductory explanations before either of the girls have the chance to ask Dean what his summer was like.

Lisa lingers a second longer, half-twisted in her chair, and surreptitiously tilts her chin back towards Dean and Victor to say, "Are you guys free Friday night? I'm getting some people together to go and see a movie. You up for it?"

"What movie?" Victor whispers, before Dean has a chance to come up with a reason not to go.

Cassie glances at Lisa. "Weren't you saying you hadn't seen The Desolation of Smaug yet?"

"Aw, man, that looked really good," Victor starts.

"Yeah, but I was meant to watch it with my sister, so—"

Dean looks between them, worrying his lower lip with his teeth. Last school year, aside from one English project, he doesn't think he said more than three sentences to Lisa at any given point, let alone actually hanging out with her. There is a substantial part of him that is so excited he could pee – I mean, it's only like he's been waiting his whole life for Lisa to notice him – but mostly, all he feels is a slight sense of disappointment. Here is Lisa, the beautiful and impossible, and she's just… kind of ordinary.

"What about American Hustle?" Victor asked. "I saw the trailer for that, it seemed really cool."

From the front of the class, Mr. Turner clears his throat. "I'm sorry, am I boring you?" he calls from his position by the whiteboard, pen frozen in his hand. "Maybe I can get a little more involved, and that'll keep your attention. Victor, I want you to talk me through 2A."

Victor lets out a low groan, and reluctantly peers across at the board to see the equation written out. As he struggles through the algebra, Dean sees Lisa push a folded piece of paper onto his next. While pretending to be flipping through his textbook, Dean unfolds the note, which simply says: don't worry – we'll sort it out at lunch? tell Jo!

However, he has no more time to speak to her, as the instant Victor has correctly worked out 2A, Dean is directed towards 2B, and from then on, Mr. Turner plays close attention to their corner of the class, but Lisa flashes him a smile over her shoulder.

Day -33

Since she's rapidly turning out to be greatest, Lisa offers to give Dean a ride to the movies, and even offers to pick Jo and Victor up on the way, since he was originally going to cycle up with them. She learnt to drive over the summer, and so sometimes gets to borrow her older sister's rickety old car, which increased her general coolness by approximately six-hundred per cent, Dean thinks, even though there is a hubcap missing and all she ever plays is One Direction.

"Are you sure you guys don't mind?" he asks as they pull up at the kerb outside Dean's house, and he holds up his backpack and his binder of notes to show them that he only has a couple of things from school to drop off. "I'll only be like five seconds!"

"Yeah, yeah, it's fine! Go!" Lisa says as Dean climbs out of the backseat. "Run!"

Dean sets off at a jog across the lawn, keys already out of his pocket to let himself in, and he heads up the stairs three steps at a time. As he passes Sam's room he catches a glimpse of him sitting in his swivel-chair, who spins to follow him as he goes and says, "What's the hurry?"

"Just dumping my stuff and then going out to the movies – can you tell mom?" Dean calls back to him as he ditches his backpack onto his bed and rummages through the clutter on his desk for some money.

"Sure thing!"

Dean finds eight dollars tucked under an old candy wrapper, and crams them into his pocket – alongside his phone, which he pulls out to check. He texted Jo and Victor a couple minutes ago, in the car, to check that they're still coming to the movies, but there's no response yet. He shoves it back into his pants and heads down the stairs, yelling "See you later!" to Sam as he goes, and double-times it across the lawn to Lisa's car.

"Alright, let's go!" he says as he yanks the door open. He swings in and drums his hands eagerly on the shoulders of Lisa's seat, and chants "Drive, drive, drive," as though they're in some high speed car-chase – and, good-naturedly, she laughs as she pulls away from the kerb.

"Are we heading to Jo's or Victor's first?" she asks, and looks back at him in the rear view mirror.

"They're both at Jo's," Dean says. "4410 Sparrow Close, just the other side of the boulevard. Head down the one-way system towards Costco and I'll tell you when to turn off."

Cassie swivels in her seat to look at Dean. "Are they definitely coming?"

"Last I checked, yeah." Dean wriggles his hand into the pocket of his pants to check his phone again. Still no answer. "I'll text them again, but they should be good for it."

Cassie twists up the volume on the radio as they rumble out onto the main road and head left towards the traffic-heavy boulevard that cuts through the centre of town, and she and Lisa both start to sing – quite nicely, and it's not One Direction, which Dean takes as a bonus.

It's a great day out, the sky hazy overhead with heat, and thin fingers of wispy cloud cut up the blue into strips so it's not too bright. Everywhere you look, there are dogs out for walks, kids playing on scooters, moms chatting on benches. It almost seems a shame to spend the day cooped up in a movie theatre.

Lisa meets Dean's eyes in the rear-view mirror and shouts over the radio. "Any word back?"

"No – I'll try again. Oh – take a left here."

Cassie turns the radio down as they turn off the main road in a small cul-de-sac of neat, white-fronted houses, weaving slowly through children out in the road on their bikes.

They pull up by the curb once Dean directs Lisa to the right house, and she idles patiently for a good thirty seconds or so before turning in her seat to raise her eyebrows at Dean.

"I don't know, sorry – hang on. I'll call them," Dean says, fumbling again for his phone.

Lisa pulls the car keys out of the ignition as Dean dials.

"It's ringing," Dean says, and it continues to do just that – ring, and ring, and ring. No-one picks up, and when he apologetically grimaces at Lisa and Cassie and tries again, it goes straight to voicemail.

"Should I just go knock?" Cassie asks, glancing back at Dean.

Dean pulls the phone from his face. "It's cool, I'll go." He tucks his cell back into pocket and ducks out through the side door. "I'll be right back," he calls, and takes off at a jog up the Harvelles' garden path.

He has not even lifted a hand to knock when the door swings open to reveal Ellen, her hair in a ponytail and her gardening overalls covered in grass stains. "Saw you through the window," she says, by way of explanation and also greeting, and she holds the door open for him. "They should be upstairs. I'm gonna be out back, so you let yourself out when you go."

"Thanks, Mrs. Harvelle," Dean says, regardless of all the times she's told him to call her Ellen – because, frankly, she scares him – and he wipes his sneakers on the mat before he heads up the stairs to Jo's bedroom.

He pushes her door open. "Can someone tell me why neither of you are capable of answering your goddamn—"

Dean stops.

Inside Jo's bedroom, Victor is sprawled out across Jo's bed, and Jo is neatly perched on her desk chair with her knees pulled up to her chest, and there, standing awkwardly by the open window, is Castiel.

Dean pulls himself up to full height, chin lifted, and closes his mouth where it fell slightly open. He swallows.

Castiel had looked up, startled, when Dean first came in, but has since then been very quick to look anywhere else in the room; his eyes settle on Jo, but Dean can't take his eyes off him. Castiel is in a crumpled sweater, greasy hair plastered to the sides of his head, an outbreak of spots along one cheek. He looks grubby, and tired, and somehow smaller than he is in Dean's memory. He looks a little ragged.

Jo sucks in a deep breath. "Uh – Cas is here!" she says brightly, stands up, and throws an arm out sideways to awkwardly indicate him.

Dean nods, still trying to adjust so as not to do or say anything stupid. "I can see that."

Victor sits up, glancing between the two of them, and tries, "Surprise!"

Dean swallows, his throat tight, and takes a moment to breathe. "What the hell is he doing here?" he asks, once certain he's in control of his own vocal chords.

There is a pregnant pause, in which Jo and Victor look at each other in desperation as though each is willing the other to come up with a good answer.

"There was a minor disruption to my living arrangement in Philadelphia," Castiel says stiffly, and he turns to look at Dean, his chin lifted in a gesture bordering on defiance. "Jo has kindly offered to let me stay here until I figure out what I'm doing."

"A minor disruption," Dean repeats, voice flat. "So – you got kicked out."

Castiel's jaw tightens. He takes a deep breath that is equal parts calm and irritated. "No, I left. In spite of Zachariah's promises to hold his silence on the events transpiring at camp, he decided to inform my brother's at my earliest so-called transgression. They… were not impressed."


Castiel just stares at him, eyes hard. "So what?"

Dean recoils a little, taken aback by Castiel's unexpected hostility. He then throws Jo a look, with which he hopes to clearly express: congratulations! he's still a prick. Thanks a fucking lot.

"Great," he says. "Well. Great. This is great."

Castiel turns away to resume looking through the window; he closes Dean out.

"Dean," Victor starts, mollifying, but there is no time for whatever he was about to say, because through Jo's open bedroom comes the sound of a blaring car horn, and it jolts Dean back to reality.

"Sorry, that's for me. I've gotta go – Lisa's waiting," Dean says, and he doesn't even think how that must sound until he sees Castiel's hand grow still upon the windowsill. With his back turned, the line of his shoulders is stiff. Dean can see him breathing.

Jo nods. "Sure. I'll see you later."

"Let me know how the movie is!" Victor says.

Castiel doesn't say anything, and so Dean, without another word, traces his steps back into the hallway and down the stairs and out the front door.

Lisa has her window rolled down; she calls something to him as he comes down the front path, but he doesn't hear her. He hears himself say, "Sorry," as though from far away, and he gets into the back of the car, falling back against the upholstery with a thud like a cannonball.

Cassie says something about popcorn. Lisa starts up the engine and peels away from the curb. They head back out onto the main road, turn east. Lisa twists the volume up again on the radio. They drive.

Along the sides of the road, tall trees with coppiced lower branches flicker by like the reel of an old movie, blurring together in front of Dean's eyes until he slowly becomes aware that he is no longer looking out the window but staring vacantly at a single smudge on the glass.

"…Dean? Dean."

He gives a start and looks quickly across to Cassie. "What? Sorry, I wasn't listening."

She is half-turned in her seat to look back at him, and her brow is creased with a concerned frown. "Are you okay? You don't look so good."

"If you puke in my car, Dean, I swear to god," Lisa warns.

"I'm not gonna puke. I'm fine."

In the rear-view mirror, Dean sees Lisa raise her eyebrows, but she doesn't push it. She just cranks up the radio and drives. Once at the movie theatre, they get out and meet up with another group of Lisa's friends – a couple seniors that Dean doesn't know, a couple of the popular kids from his year that he does know but who has never spoken to, and all of whom are surprisingly nice to him.

As they queue up for tickets and popcorn, Lisa touches his elbow. "Are Jo and Victor definitely not coming or should we save them some seats?"

Dean jerks back to reality, having realised abruptly that he was staring at an enormous cardboard Pepsi advert mounted on the wall. "Uh, no, they're not coming."

Lisa scrutinises him. "Dean, are you sure you're okay?" she asks, her voice low with concern.

Dean nods, and attempts a grin to reassure her. She seems appeased, and she brings them into the fold with her other friends as they argue over what movie they should see.

They end up watching The Desolation of Smaug after all – Lisa says she can always watch it again with her sister –, and one of Lisa's friends, some guy called Kevin, offers Dean some of his popcorn during the quieter scenes, but Dean has the distinct feeling all through the movie that he is watching it from very far away. There are orcs, and there are elves, and the barrel scene goes on for too long, and Dean doesn't even notice Smaug coming onscreen, choosing instead to stare vacantly towards the fire exit, until Lisa nudges him with her elbow.

All in all it's a good movie, and Dean does feel a little better coming out than he did going in, except that it's dark out, and he has to go home, and Castiel is ten minutes down the road from him in the Harvelles' spare bedroom.

"Hey, Dean – hold up!"

Dean turns to find Lisa jogging to catch up with him, one hand tight around the long strap of her handbag to keep it from bouncing. "Hey, Lis, what's up?"

"Uh," she says, with a wide smile. She tucks her hair behind one ear. "Nothing, you know, I just wanted to – you want to walk? Back to the car, that is." She gestures after the others, further ahead, and so they head out of the movie theatre together, ambling slowly.

At least it forces him to stop being trapped inside his own head for a while; she asks him what he thought above the movie, and rants excitedly about Tauriel, and bemoans the wait for the next movie, it all almost feels normal. Easy. And of course, it helps that Lisa is cute, and that the last dim lights of evening make her eyes look really pretty – but it's still all hollow somehow, and there it is. Dean is thinking about Cas again. Not necessarily in a good way or in a bad way – just that he probably wouldn't have seen Lord of the Rings and probably hasn't seen the first Hobbit movie either, and that he'd probably prefer to read the books anyway, and that he'd probably really enjoy them if he ever tried.

Dean realises that he has missed the last few sentences that Lisa has been saying, which is all the more crucial now that she's stopped walking and has turned to look at him.

"Sorry, I didn't get that," Dean says, a slight flush of embarrassment coming over his face.

Lisa laughs. "I said, I'm really glad you came tonight," she says. "I had a lot of fun. Obviously the movie was great but, like. I'm glad you were there as well."

For a second Dean just blinks at her. "Uh, sure." He sticks his hands deep in the pockets of his pants. "Thanks. I mean, yeah – me too."

"So…" Lisa takes a deep breath. She reaches up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear again. "I was just wondering whether you'd want to do this again sometime. Not see The Hobbit again – a different movie, duh." She hesitates. "Like, just the two of us. Like a date."

Dean stares at her, unsure he's heard right. Then, as Lisa grows gradually more flustered, Dean thinks to say something, but unfortunately, the first word out of his big dumb mouth is, "Seriously?"

Lisa rolls her eyes, but there is a smile. "Seriously." She glances away towards her friends, when they chat idly by her car or loudly debate going to Pizza Hut. "I don't know, you're cute. I don't know if you remember, we spoke a little in English last year for that Jane Austen project? Not a lot, but – whatever. I wanted to ask you sooner but then you were away over the summer. But yeah, seriously."

"Oh God, sorry, I didn't mean to be rude saying that," Dean bursts out, and Jesus, but he is being a colossal dick right now. "It's just, you know, because you're really cool and I'm an idiot, but—"

A small frown appears between Lisa's eyebrows. "But what?"

Dean doesn't know. His chest is near full to bursting with excitement, because come on, it's Lisa freaking Braeden, and she's liked him all summer – God, he didn't even really need to go to Texas to get the money to go out with her! And she's the nicest, smartest, prettiest, funniest girl in the northern hemisphere, and she's actually into him… and the 'but' is still is there, hanging in the air between them and stoppering up Dean's mouth so that he can't get a single coherent word out. Lisa is great – but she isn't what Dean wants.

Dean could kick himself for being a total waste of oxygen and The Worst Person Ever, but it's true. She's not what Dean wants, even if Dean can't have what he wants. He wants the stupid jokes and the bickering and the weird lingering eye contact and the dorky creased-up squint, and Lisa sure as shit deserves better than some asshole going through the motions because he's still hung up on someone else.

"But I can't, I'm sorry," Dean says, hating himself a little as he gets the words out.

Lisa's face falls. "Oh. Okay."

"It's not you, I swear, you're awesome – it's just. You know earlier, how I was being super weird in the car?" Dean inhales, steeling himself, and then he tells her truth, because he's tired of running away from the facts. "It's just that this guy I was dating over the summer suddenly turned up at Jo's house and—"

Lisa's eyes widen. "Oh my god, I'm so sorry! I didn't realise you were into guys, I thought—"

"No, it's fine – I mean, I'm into girls too, I just—" Dean cuts himself off, takes a second to swallow hard against a sudden thickness tightening at the base of his throat. "This guy, he was just – he was… a big deal, I guess. For me."

Lisa doesn't immediately respond, but when Dean glances up at her, her expression has softened. She offers a sad smile, her own disappointment still heavy in her eyes, but she gently touches his arm and says, "I'm really sorry. I hope it all works out. And I'm sorry to have bugged you, asking you out – I didn't realise—"

"No, I'm sorry that – yeah." Dean grimaces.

"Seriously, don't sweat it." Lisa pushes at his shoulder. "You sort out your own issues first. You still want a ride home, by the way?"

And that's it – back to normal. She strikes up a new conversation about how intense Legolas' eyeliner was in the movie, and they head back over towards her friends, and they head home. Dean sits in the backseat again, looking out of the window while Lisa talks to Cassie at length about something her friend said to her about some guy Cassie used to date, and Dean thinks that if this were him last year, he'd have been living the dream.

Day -36

Dean gets the first text from Victor on Sunday evening, when he and Sam and their mom are curled up together on the couch watching The Day After Tomorrow, with the comforting clatter of Dean's dad washing dishes in the kitchen behind them. He fishes in his pocket for his cell.

you're not mad, are you? me and jo were gonna tell you as soon as cas was settled

Dean sighs. He doesn't know how he feels; over the weekend so far he's been trying his hardest not to think about it at all. He takes a couple seconds to watch the giant tidal wave flood through New York onscreen, and then keys back a response.

i'm not mad… just surprised

Then he sends another one, as an after-thought: how long is he staying?

It takes Victor a couple minutes to reply – enough time for Jake Gyllenhaal and the chick from Shameless to get upstairs into the New York library, away from the flooding. Sam frowns at Dean as his phone buzzes again.

not sure. he's got some uncle in wichita, from his dad's side. hasn't heard from him in about 10 yrs but that's where he's thinking of going, if he can get in touch. idk how long it'll take though

Dean's mouth twists. Christ. Ten years is a long time – whichever uncle Castiel is hoping to find might not even be in Wichita anymore. He could be here for weeks, just on the other side of the boulevard. He could be doing his homework in a month's time with Castiel lounging around somewhere in Jo's house. And then what if Cas does find him – a two-hour drive away down the I-35?

Victor sends another text before Dean has time to respond.

you okay?

Sam huffs irritably as Dean's cell beeps again, and he reaches out with the remote to pause the movie. "Do you wanna just call them back?" he says.

Dean scowls at him. "Shut up and just play the movie, okay, it's important."

"I can't hear myself think over your stupid text alerts!"

"Jesus, Sammy, just play the goddamn—"

Mary smacks Dean's thigh, hard. "Language," she says warningly. "And it is antisocial. Just call your friends back or put the phone down."

Grumbling to himself under his breath, Dean gets up and heads towards the stairs. He finds Victor's number as he climbs up to his bedroom, and then he flops down heavily onto his bed. Victor picks up on the third ring.

"What's up?"

"Sam and my mom wouldn't let me text and watch a movie at the same time, so I got banished," Dean says, and he rolls onto his stomach. "What's going on with Cas?"

"What do you mean?" Victor says.

"I dunno. Like… what happened with him?"

Victor lets out a long breath. "I'm not entirely sure, to be honest? If you ask Jo, she probably has a better idea. Or – I do have a really radical suggestion here – you could ask Cas in person?"

Dean's head drops down onto the mattress. "No thanks. So what happened, as far as you know?"

"I think they were gonna take him out of classes," Victor says. "Home-school him, so they could – I don't know, keep an eye on him or whatever. He wasn't gonna go to college, he wasn't gonna get friends… he was just gonna finish his education and then go into the family business, for the rest of his life, forever. And understandably, he didn't wanna do that."


"Yeah, it sucks. Can't blame him for bailing." Victor pauses for a beat. "So how are you doing, anyway?"

Dean makes a farting noise between his teeth.

"Good to know," Victor says. "Look, I know it's not of my business, but for the record, I think Cas knows he messed up."

"Yeah, I know, because he seemed so totally apologetic when I saw him on Friday," Dean says sarcastically, rolling over onto his back to stare up at the ceiling. "Oh no, wait – he was an asshole."

"Dean, I hate to mention it, but you were also being an asshole."

"Whose side are you even on?!" Dean demands.

"Chill out, dude, I'm not on anyone's side here. I'm just… saying."

"Well, don't. In fact, don't say anything, ever. I don't need you putting dumb ideas in my head," Dean tells him.

Victor laughs. "I wouldn't dream of it – you do it just fine on your own."

"Look - I'm just counting the days until he leaves, and that's all," Dean says firmly. "I'll probably barely even notice he's here." And as he says the words, he looks up at the ceiling, and his thoughts are stuck on the sharp silhouette of Cas' profile against the light through the window, the hard line of his shoulders, turned away to the window, and the clench of his hand upon the windowsill at Lisa's name. The dirt in his hair. The shape of his mouth.