A/N Phew okay this story took forever and by forever I mean a couple months. This is basically the first Destiel fic I've ever written and the longest fic I've ever written and one of the only fics I've ever finished! Wow, what an accomplishment. So thank you for reading and thanks to all my friends that kept me writing it and a special thanks to my wonderful beta Summer (mattsmithian on tumblr)

...

The first time Castiel sets his eyes on Dean Winchester, he is eight years old. Castiel, adorned in his favorite tan trench coat, is sitting in a red wagon being pulled around the driveway by his sister, Anna. Though she is a year younger, she views herself as the responsible party of the household. She is quite the controlling seven year-old, but Castiel doesn't know how they would manage without her. He's reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, though Anna doesn't know why when he doesn't even believe in the existence of magic. Every few minutes, Castiel will look up and rant at her about something, recently the obvious fact that Professor Lupin is a werewolf ("How could they not see how blatantly obvious it is? His name is Lupin as in lupine, literally meaning wolf!"), while Anna stares at him blankly. She knows he's secretly pining for his Hogwarts acceptance letter on his eleventh birthday.

Anna abruptly stops turning the wagon in circles around the driveway (their father instructs them not to go off the property) and says, "Who's that?"

Castiel looks up from his book and immediately sees what has caught her eye.

A boy, looks about Castiel's age, is throwing a soccer ball up in the air. He tries to kick it when it falls back down, but his foot misses and the ball drops to the grass with a thump. There's a moving truck in front of the house, Castiel doesn't know when it got there, and the passenger door is hanging ajar. The boy looks up through the door and yells, "Sammy!"

A pair of small legs protrude from the bottom of the door.

"Jump, Sammy!"

Another boy appears, jumping out of the truck and landing on his hands and knees on the sidewalk. The first boy pulls him up by his arm and balances him. Sammy, Castiel assumes, is shorter than the first boy, not by much, and obviously younger; maybe five or six. He keeps tripping over his own feet and a giggle escapes from Anna. Sammy turns around and finally notices Castiel and his sister, still frozen on the sidewalk.

"Hey!" He calls with a smile. The first boy turns around and sees them as well, locking eyes with Castiel.

Sammy runs over to Anna and Castiel, nearly falling face-first into pavement, but catches himself on Castiel's red wagon. Castiel's eyes widen at the peculiar boy.

"Woops, sorry," Sammy mumbles.

"Watch it, Sammy, you're gonna break your face," the first boy says, now closer to them, having followed Sammy.

"Um, hi," Anna says. "Are you the new neighbors?"

"Yep, I'm Dean and this is my brother, Sam. He's not so good on his feet, if you can't tell." Sam sticks out a tongue at his brother.

Anna smiles. "I'm Anna, and this is my brother," she nudges at Castiel.

"Oh, uh, Castiel. I'm Castiel." He's still staring at Dean.

"That's a funny name." Dean says, then breaks their eye contact, shaking his head at the ground. "Sorry, that sounded kinda mean."

Castiel shakes his head back. "No, I take no offense. I'm named after Castiel, the angel of Thursday. My whole family is named after angels, actually."

"Oh," Dean nods, "That's cool. I think I'm named after my grandma."

Castiel smiles slightly.

"Do you want to play soccer with us?" Dean asks, gesturing towards the ball in his yard.

"Um, I don't know how," Castiel replies in a small voice.

"I'll show you," Dean says brightly. Castiel looks up at Anna.

"Sure. I'd like that."

He drapes his legs over the sides of the wagon and heaves himself out, following Dean and Sam into the yard. He looks back at Anna, still standing in place. She shakes her head.

"I'm not one for sports, I don't think. I'll just go tell Father where you'll be."

"Oh, okay." Castiel says as Anna pulls the wagon up the driveway and disappears into the garage.

For the next hour, Dean shows Castiel how to kick and block a soccer ball, though he suspects that Dean isn't actually very good at the sport. He keeps hitting the bushes next to Castiel's garage instead of the makeshift goal made of a fishing net and a broken hula hoop. ("I'm just showing you what not to do.") Sam gets bored after half an hour and goes back inside.

While Dean shows Castiel some exercises that involve jumping around the ball or over the ball or something else Castiel doesn't exactly understand the point of, they start talking about some of their interests.

"So, Cas," Dean stops himself, "can I call you Cas?"

Castiel smiles. "Yes, that's fine. I've never had a nickname before. Or, one that wasn't degrading from my brother, Gabriel."

"Okay, cool, Cas." Dean tests out the name on his tongue. "Yeah, so do you like music?"

"Hm, I can't say that I listen to a lot of music. I listen to my father play piano sometimes," Cas says while sitting on the ground, rolling the ball between his feet. Dean sits down across from him, rolling the ball towards Cas when it gets out of his reach.

"My mom plays piano sometimes. Er, she used to." His eyes fall on a blade of grass.

"What happened?" Castiel asks bluntly.

Dean doesn't expect the question, and stares at Cas for a moment. No one ever asks him, no one wants to hear about it. But Cas' eyes are glowing.

"Umm, she had this disorder. I think it was polar-something-"

"Bipolar." Castiel states.

"Yeah, that. And she took this medicine so she stayed, you know, sane. And she was doing really good, she was happier, so she stopped taking it." Dean pauses for a second, and Castiel waits. "I guess she wasn't doing so good after all. I came home from school and I saw her lying on the ground. My dad was holding her and there were pills everywhere and-"

Dean stops, noticing how short his breath is becoming. Castiel places a hand on Dean's, which is resting on the ball. A comforting gesture.

"She looked so empty." Dean continues, slowly. "My dad saw me and just yelled to get Sammy from his nursery and take him outside. So we waited there and then an ambulance came and took her away. And I guess that's it. I was five, Sam was only two. He doesn't really get it." Dean notices Cas' hand still on his, but Cas is the first to move his. Castiel is quiet when he finally speaks.

"That's awful."

They don't talk for a minute, they just roll the ball back and forth between their legs. At some point, the sun had started to go down. It's dark enough that a street lamp flickers on above the sidewalk, illuminating one side of Dean's face. Castiel takes notice of some of his features; strong bone structure, freckles, light brown-almost-blonde hair, and golden eyes. Or maybe they're green. The harsh yellow light saturates everything a little bit.

"Castiel!" Anna calls from their porch. "Dinner!"

"Okay!" Castiel calls back. He stands himself up, lifting from his knees, and watches Dean do the same. Cas waves in Dean's direction and starts to walk back to his house.

"Wait," Dean says. "Wanna come over tomorrow?"

Castiel smiles. "Yes, I'd like that."

Dean nods and starts towards his own garage when Castiel blurts, "Dean?"

Dean turns around.

"I was six, when my mother..." Cas doesn't finish the sentence, because he knows Dean understands.

"Yeah."

He walks back to the house, finding Anna leaning against the column on the porch.

"So?" She asks, a vague inquiry.

"I think I've made a friend."

That's how the rest of the summer goes.

...

Dean discovers that Cas' bedroom window his right across from his own. Sometimes before they go to sleep, they'll put flashlights under their chins and make faces at each other across the stretch. They try to send paper airplanes to each other, but barely ever make it to the window. The yard beneath them is usually strewn with sad, crumpled paper airplanes.

Cas goes over to Dean's house, or they simply stay in the yard. They don't go to Castiel's house a lot because Dean has more stuff to play with and Castiel's older brothers always poke fun at Dean. Especially Gabriel, but that's just Gabriel. Dean plays Cas some of his dad's favorite music that he likes on his old stereo cassette player. Cas doesn't particularly care for Led Zeppelin or Metallica or whoever but he doesn't tell Dean because he seems to really like listening to it.

Castiel also discovers that Dean likes cars; he wants to be a Nascar pit stop mechanic. Sam laughs when he says this, because last month Dean wanted to be a pro soccer player. ("Shut up, I can totally be both!")

Over the course of two months, Castiel learns a lot of things about Dean. His favorite sports team, favorite food, the color of his future car, and Dean starts to notice this.

"Hey, Cas?" He says one day while looking through Cas' bookshelf.

"Hm?" Cas says, not looking up from skimming the back of a book he'd forgotten that he had.

"Um, when's your birthday?"

"November tenth."

"Oh, okay. You probably know when mine is already," Dean's not even pretending to be interested in the books anymore.

"January twenty-fourth. It was circled on your wall calendar." Cas slides the book back in place on the shelf and looks at Dean curiously. "I'm not very good at deciphering people's feelings, but are you okay?"

Dean slumps into one of Castiel's leather chairs. God, his room is like a fancy study that a grandpa would have. It's oddly comforting.

"I dunno. You know a bunch about me, right? I mean, it's not weird, but I don't know that much about you." He shrugs.

Castiel sits in the leather chair next to Dean, even though Dean is sitting in the one he prefers. "Well, it seems kind of petty, but I understand that you want a balanced relationship."

Dean practically cringes at Cas' vocabulary. "God, Cas, you're eight. How do you know so many big words?"

"Well, I learned to read with a dictionary." Cas says seriously.

Dean laughs softly. "Okay, okay, well, try to make an effort."

Castiel rolls his eyes. "I'll try."

Dean looks around Cas' room, trying to notice something, anything new. He has plain, blue sheets on his obviously well-made, dark oak-framed bed. He has a desk pushed against one wall and a bookshelf adjacent to it almost completely full. No posters or anything, other than a framed print of the ocean above his bed.

"What did you do for fun before you met me?" Dean jests.

"Well, I like reading."

"I hadn't noticed," Dean almost says sarcastically, but he knows Castiel isn't good with sarcasm so he says instead, "Yeah, I see that. I've got to find you a new hobby sometime. So, what's your favorite book?"

"I can't say that I have one favorite," Cas thinks for a moment, "but I really like The Outsiders."

"Oh, I've heard of that movie...with the karate kid in it!"

Castiel frowns slightly. "I've never seen The Karate Kid."

"Seriously?" Dean's eyebrows raise. "You have to come over some time so we can watch it, I have it on tape somewhere. Wait, please tell me you've seen a movie before."

"Of course I have," Cas scoffs. "Anna went through a phase of watching only The Little Mermaid for four months straight."

"I wonder why," Dean jokes, thinking of Anna's bright red hair.

"Yes, she finds the comparison pleasantly amusing." Cas goes on to defend Disney films against Dean, even though they give young girls unobtainable goals to find princes. ("Are there even princes in America?" "No, Dean, I don't believe so.")

...

One day, Cas and Dean are sitting in Dean's room building a castle-or was it supposed to be a barn-out of Legos when Dean hears a familiar laugh coming through the wall from the room next to his, Sam's room.

"Is that your sister?"

Castiel's ears perk up and he listens for a moment, then sighs. "Yes, I'd suppose so. She seems to be around Sam a lot actually. I think they're influencing each other quite a bit."

Dean raises an eyebrow. "How's that?"

"I found Anna listening to Christina Aguilera the other day. And she added something new to the sandwiches she makes." Castiel wrinkles his nose in distaste.

"Christina Aguilera," Dean shudders. "I don't know why Sam likes her, she's not even that pretty. And Sammy's been trying to cook stuff lately, too, but he can barely reach over the top of the counter. Wait, your sister cooks for you?"

Cas narrows his eyes at Dean. "She's a good cook, and she likes doing it, so why not. Father works too much and Gabe and Luke can't make anything more advanced than cereal. Michael is pretty good at waffles."

"How old are they, your brothers?" Dean asks curiously. He's seen them around, played a few games of ball with a couple of them and knows that they're older, but doesn't know much about Cas' family.

"Um, let's see," Cas counts them off on his fingers as he talks. "So, Anna is seven, the youngest, then there's me. Gabe is ten, Luke is fifteen, and Michael is seventeen. I have another brother, Raphael, but he's twenty-two and is 'seeking enlightenment' in Africa or something."

"Wow, big family," Dean replies. "I think Sammy is enough for me."

"Sometimes it's nice to have a big family, they'll look out for you if you need it. But not a day goes by that I don't think of being an only child." Cas sighs, then reaches over Dean to get a blue, rectangular Lego.

"Cas. Personal space." Dean warns.

Cas backs off. "Sorry."

"I have so much to teach you, don't I?" Dean jokes.

"If you say so, Dean."

...

It's the first day of third grade and Dean is, rightly, frightened. He's at a new school in a new town with no friends, except Castiel. He doesn't even know if Cas goes to the same school as him. He couldn't spend the last day of summer with Cas because he had to go shopping for clothes and school supplies with Sam and Uncle Bobby. Bobby is more of a dad than their real dad, who is usually passed out from his graveyard shift at the hospital. Dean is glad that he still lives close enough to Bobby to see him sometimes. It's Sam's first day of kindergarten, too, but Sam is only five and will make friends easily. He could spark a friendship with a bush.

The bell rings and Dean slides into a seat near the back, averting his eyes from anyone else. Mrs. Golden, the teacher, begins to call roll.

"Anthony Alvarez?"

"Here."

"Katherine Baker?"

"Here!"

"Rachel Brown?"

"Here."

Dean zones out for a few names, he doesn't actually care about these people.

"Nicholas McDonald."

"Here."

Except for one name in particular.

"Castiel Milton."

"Present." A soft voice says a few rows away from Dean.

Dean's eyes shoot up in search of Castiel, because even though he doesn't know Cas' last name, who else is named Castiel?

Cas is sitting with two empty desks beside him and a book on his desk. He's rolling his eyes because the teacher completely butchered his name. "It's Castiel, not Castiel," he thinks.

While the teacher isn't looking, Dean moves into the seat next to Cas with a smile.

"Cas!" He whispers.

Cas looks up from his copy of Fahrenheit 451 in shock, his blue eyes widening.

"Dean," he whispers back, then breaks into a grin.

"Dean Winchester." The teacher calls, breaking their gaze.

"Here."

Throughout class, they keep catching each other's glances and smiling a little. Maybe Dean can get through this year alright.

...

Elementary school for Dean is a breeze.

Dean has class with Cas for third grade, and it's great because Cas helps him with the stuff he doesn't get-which is apparently a lot.

In fourth grade, Dean has two different teachers in two different classes, which is new. The school is trying to "prepare students for middle school and beyond." Dean thinks it's stupid because he gets split up with Cas for half the day, but doesn't say anything because that seems clingy. In his other class, Dean meets a weirdish, funny guy named Garth and a bossy brunette named Ruby. He figures they're better friend candidates than Q, the guy who hugs everyone and everything. They remain friends until sixth grade, when Garth moves to Louisiana and Ruby starts spreading rumors about Dean, like he "never washes his socks" and "is in love with Lunchlady Stevens."

In seventh grade, Dean and Cas start middle school, leaving Sam to start fourth grade on his own. With all of his other friends.

...

It's a mystery how he does it, but Sam manages to get the opportunity to skip first grade.

Perhaps the flashcards he and Anna made did cause an impact. In second grade, Sam, having skipped first but remaining a six year-old, is the runt of his class. He finds that he shares recess with Anna, now in third grade. They play jump rope, which Sam does not excel at for obvious reasons, and make up pretend games involving other kids around the playground. Sam meets some of Anna's friends, a girl with a blonde pixie cut named Meg, who seems nice enough at first but turns out to be a bit eccentric; a kid that doesn't really understand jokes and takes gym class too seriously named Uriel (Sam thinks him and Cas could get along); and another blond girl named Jessica. Jessica is sweet and funny, but doesn't talk to Sam much. Sam thinks maybe it's because he's a year younger than her or maybe she noticed the spaghetti sauce stain on his khaki shorts.

Anna's friends become Sam's friends, naturally, and they stay their group of four friends, not including the other people that they hang out with individually, until Uriel moves when Sam is in fourth grade. That leaves three girls to pick on Sam for another year of elementary school, before they go to middle school, but he doesn't really mind until they try to braid his hair or get him play cheerleading with them. The upside about their cheerleading is that he has his own triad of girls cheering him on when he plays football in fifth grade.

Fifth grade is actually when he starts to see girls differently, even his girls. Especially Jessica. He likes the subtle way that she flips her wavy, blonde hair when she talks and how the corners of her eyes crinkle when she smiles and that one chipped tooth she has that can't be seen unless she laughs a certain way.

And he hates it.

He doesn't want to feel this way or notice these things, so he pushes it down. Deep down to where he almost forgets about it.

Until the last day of fifth grade.

Sam sits on a bench with Jess; it's her last day of sixth grade and, also, elementary school.

"I'll miss you, Sammy." She's one of the only people outside of his family that calls him Sammy.

"Yeah, Jess, totally," Sam nods.

She leans over and kisses him on the cheek, then says softly, "See you in eighth grade," and grabs her bag and gets on the bus. She looks out the window to see a blushing Sam and smiles.

And that's the last he sees of her until his first day of seventh grade.

He doesn't say prolonged goodbyes to Meg or Anna because a) he and Meg were never very close and b) Anna lives right next door, he'll still see her all the time.

Sixth grade can't go fast enough. Sam discovers he's pretty good at long division and likes reading about poets. It's not the poetry that interests him-that's kinda dull-but he thinks poets usually lead interesting lives.

He has other friends, but he still hangs out with Anna on the weekends. She tells him about middle school, which apparently isn't much different than elementary school other than lockers and more classes. She admits that it's nice going to the same school as her brother again, though she doesn't see him a lot. She doesn't say that she thinks Cas is acting different, because it doesn't seem important. Neither of them notice that each of their brothers are acting a bit different.

As things grow they also change. Embrace change or you will cease to grow.

...

Elementary school for Castiel is simple enough-elementary even.

He understands most subjects, excels at English, and always completes his summer reading list. Dean comes along and adds a bit more adventure to his life. Before Dean, he'd never eaten a fast food burger or rode a roller coaster. In the summer before fifth grade, Bobby takes Sam, Dean, Castiel, and Anna to Six Flags. They ride each coaster at least twice and Castiel tries funnel cake, which to him is the best thing he's ever tasted. He eats so much of it, actually, that he pukes after the third Magic Mountain ride of the day. Dean assures him that's a part of the theme park experience.

By five o' clock, they're wiped out. On the ride back home, Cas tries to read his book, but is more amused at Dean mouthing the lyrics to a Led Zeppelin song while Sam becomes a one-man air band (guitar, drums, even a keyboard). Anna is slumped against the window, heavy lids drooping with a hint of a smile that she can't seem to brush off. She's watching Sam do a drum solo on his legs, making a determined, funny face as he does so.

Maybe even before she does, Castiel knows that Anna loves Sam, because Castiel does too. Slowly enough to be barely felt, but apparent enough to make him wonder, Castiel has fallen in love with the Winchesters. So that easy smile that Anna wears is more than enough to let Castiel know that she feels the same way. They've become a second family, someone Castiel doesn't want to be apart from.

Love in the mind of a ten year-old is pure and uncomplicated. Simple.

...

Seventh grade changes that.

Castiel has made it out of Woodridge Elementary, now promoted to Ironpointe Middle School. He starts to notice that he is a little different from other students. He reads while other kids chat to each other about various celebrity gossip, he pays attention in class, he raises his hand when he knows the answer. Other students don't seem keen on that, and if it weren't for being friends with the popular Dean Winchester, he would surely be labeled as a nerd.

For his thirteenth birthday, Dean and Sam get him an art set, complete with a sketchbook, watercolor pencils, and some charcoal pencils. Castiel is overjoyed, as he would've loved any gift but he's always wanted to pursue art. It seems to agree with him, because the art teacher praises almost everything he does.

Castiel tries to sketch something new every day. He carries his sketchbook around with him everywhere, his second sketchbook because he already filled up the pages front and back on his first one. He's always waiting to be struck with inspiration.

"Okay, wait, what does this 'x' mean? What are letters doing in math? I'm going to fail. Yep, that's it. I'm going to fail. Cas?"

Cas looks up from his sketchbook guiltily.

Dean narrows his eyes at him. "No drawing until math is done, Cas."

"I know, but-"

Cas is cut off by Dean taking the book out of his hands. "What're you drawing anyways?"

Cas reaches over quickly to grab it, but Dean turns and lifts it over his head. It's a misguided attempt, as Cas is taller than Dean and can just lift his own arms and take it back, but Dean is quicker.

He turns his back to Cas and hides the book from view of Cas as he flips through the pages to the most recent sketch.

"Wow," Dean breathes. He turns toward Cas, who has stopped fighting him for it and is now sitting back down on the foot Dean's bed. His eyes are wider than usual and his lips are a tight line.

Dean glances back down at the sketch. It's him, it's Dean. And, wow, it's really good.

"Seriously, Cas. This is awesome." He hands the book back to Cas.

Castiel looks down at the floor and shrugs. "It's just an outline. I'm working on more details."

"Well, I'm honored to be the subject." Dean climbs back onto his bed, pressing his back against the backboard. "And when you're a famous artist and live in France and forget all about me, I'll look back and think, 'Ah, yes, Castiel Milton. I remember when he was first starting out as a mere thirteen year-old, even then he was talented.'"

Cas does his best to hide the blush on his face. "I won't forget about you, Dean."

"Even when you're a famous French artist?"

"Even then, I don't think I could." Cas says solemnly.

"So is it appropriate for me to ask you to draw me like one of your French girls?" Dean smiles.

Cas cocks his head. "I don't understand that reference."

"Of course you don't, just give me the answer to number four on this math homework."

Castiel also writes some poetry and short stories, not really about anything in particular, but the theme of nature allures him, trees and flowers and deep forests and grassy hills. It's soothing.

He finds that his vocabulary, charming is at may be to English teachers, seems off-putting to other students. Castiel doesn't really care, he's never cared for other people's opinions about himself and he doesn't think he'll start now.

In seventh grade, Cas notices Dean befriending a girl named Jo that moved from Michigan the previous summer. Dean introduces her to Castiel ("This is my best friend, Cas, he reads a lot of books and stuff but he's pretty cool,") and Jo turns out to have a lot in common with Cas. Her favorite book is The Outsiders ("The Greasers are so badass,") and she shares a love of art, though she sketches more animals and people than plants and landscapes and, cough, Dean than Cas. He can see why Dean would like her, too. She plays at least three sports-softball, soccer, and the occasional flag football-and knows as much about cars as Dean, if not more. Castiel really likes Jo and all, but he can't rid an aching feeling that fills his chest sometimes. Like how she can hook her arm around Dean's when they walk in the hallway or just look at him for a while, watching his expressions change while he talks without it being considered weird.

Castiel wants that, whatever that is.

In eighth grade, Castiel realizes that he's in love with Dean.

Not in the ten year-old "we're a happy family" way, not in the "you're a brother to me" way, in the "I want to be with you forever if you'd let me" kind of way. Or at least, he believes so. He's read books about love, hundreds of them surely, but it feels so foreign and, quite frankly, terrifying.

Funny enough, his little sister is the first person he tells. It's been three months since he realized it, and he can't take it. It's overwhelming and he just wants it out.

"Are you coming out to me?" A twelve year-old Anna says when Castiel confesses his feelings one night in October.

"I...I'm not sure. I don't know how this works." Castiel stammers.

"Well, I think you have to say the words." She says it in a condescendingly supportive way.

Castiel knows exactly what "the words" are, but isn't ready to go there yet.

"I'll get back to you on that."

Anna takes a heavy breath. "Alright, Castiel. I'll be here."

He smiles weakly. "I know."

...

"Do I need to drag you out, Cas?" Dean says, clapping a hand on Castiel's bedroom door.

Cas opens it slowly, revealing himself wearing a dark red cardigan, jeans, and black Converse shoes.

"Is this appropriate party attire? I didn't want to be too formal, or maybe it's too casual, I-" Dean stops him.

"You look fine, Cas. Don't be such a girl. Now come on before Ellen drives off!"

Castiel is dragged out of the house, waving goodbyes to Anna and Luke, and into the backseat of Jo's mother's truck. Jo turns around from her seat in the front and smiles brightly at them.

As they are driving, Jo gives her mom directions, talking over the Black Sabbath playing. Her music taste is probably another reason Jo and Dean are friends.

"Okay, yeah, take a right here. It's the third house down the street, with the red truck."

Ellen pulls the car to a stop in front of a big house, but all the houses in the neighborhood are pretty big, and Dean and Cas hop out of the backseat.

"Pick us up at eleven?" Jo leans into the open window of the passenger seat and asks her mom.

"Ten-thirty." Ellen confirms. Jo shrugs and waves as her mom drives away.

"Party!" Dean yells, and Jo punches him lightly in the shoulder because "It's not that type of party."

"What type of party?" Cas asks when they ring the doorbell.

"Well, it's not some raging frat party, I don't know. We're in eighth grade." Jo replies, unsure. The door opens to reveal a blonde girl, who Dean recalls as Meg. She's a seventh grader that Sam used to be friends with, he thinks.

"Meg?" Jo is the first to speak.

"Yeah! And you're...Joanna?" She says, using a high-pitched, wispy voice that is probably supposed to sound cute.

"Jo, yeah." Jo replies as they walk inside, looking around curiously.

"Oh, you're probably expecting my brother, Zaze. He told me to answer doors and stuff. Most people are in the basement." Meg talks quickly, then turns on her heel and walks away.

Dean and Jo step down the stairs, Castiel following closely behind.

"I wasn't aware that Azazel had a sister." Cas states.

"Neither was I. I guess-" Jo pauses once they get to the bottom step. "Woah."

Castiel looks through Dean and Jo's heads to see the basement, full of at least twenty people.

"I thought you said this was a small gathering," Cas says, tugging on Dean's jacket.

Before Dean can respond, Azazel, or Zaze, is walking towards them wearing a lei, which is odd because there doesn't seem to be a Hawaiian theme to this party at all.

"Hey, welcome to chez-Zaze!" He laughs.

"Yeah, sure," Dean says, averting his eyes from him. He's always thought Zaze was kind of a douche, and cringes at the mainstream pop song pumping through the stereo speakers in the corner.

A girl tugs on Zaze's arm and pulls him away to dance, leaving Castiel, Jo, and Dean still standing by the stairs.

"I'm uncomfortable," Castiel half-whispers.

"We just got here," Dean sighs, "We'll find something to do."

A moment later, a girl stands on one of the couches and yells "Karaoke!"

An instrumental version of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" begins, and Jo jumps on the adjacent couch and starts belting the song out with a group of girls. Cas envies how outgoing she can be. Dean sways awkwardly near Cas, then motions toward a long snack table across the room.

"I'm gonna get something to drink."

Cas nods as Dean walks away. He looks around the crowded room, trying to capture it as future inspiration. Though, he doesn't really see anything other than a group of thirteen year-olds, only wanting to fit in. He feels a hand tap on his shoulder. He twists around, his eyes widening at the familiar face.

"Crowley?"

"Ah, you remember me, Castiel." Crowley growls, though that's really just how he talks.

"You're not exactly hard to forget. When did I last see you, second grade?"

"I believe so, yes."

Before Castiel met Dean, Crowley was the closest thing to a best friend that he had. Cas appreciated that he knew the difference between your and you're and had a charming, if not crude, British accent. He still has dark, unkempt hair as Castiel remembers, but a gruffer voice and a darker style. Crowley accents a black pea coat with black pants and dark brown boots.

"So, where did you disappear to in third grade?" Castiel asks.

"My dad got a job downtown, so I was relocated to Greenfield Boys Academy," Crowley admits.

"And do you still reside there?"

"Unfortunately. I get out of the conservative hell hole next year, though. I'll be going to Dennison Prep, if my dad doesn't decide to send me to some military school."

Castiel remembers Crowley as being a bit troublesome, even at age seven. Trying to feed the class goldfish to the class guinea pig is generally frowned upon.

"Public school too civilized for you, Crowley?" Castiel teases. Crowley makes a face of indignation and Castiel continues, "I'll be attending Westmore High School next year, which I'm sure will be fantastic." Even through his dull tones, Castiel manages to convey sarcasm.

"Still having trouble making friends, Cassy?" Crowley pouts, to which Castiel returns a scowl.

Castiel is about to retort with something about Crowley's overall dishevelment, when Dean appears next to him plastic cup in hand, and pokes Cas in the side.

"Who's this?" Dean asks, almost defensively.

"Oh, uh, Crowley-" Cas is cut off by the man himself.

"Crowley McLeod, Cassy and I go way back," he says with an air beyond his years.

"We were friends in second grade." Castiel corrects.

"Oh, okay," Dean says, a smirk plastered on his face from Crowley's "Cassy" comment. "I think Cas has mentioned a Crowley," though Castiel was almost sure that he hadn't.

Zaze appears from the staircase with an empty root beer bottle, exclaiming, "Seven minutes in heaven!"

Half of the party moves to couches or other ends of the room, away from the other half of the party now forming a circle on the floor's shag carpeting.

"Caaas!" Jo yells to him, trying to coax him into sitting in the circle.

Cas glances at Dean, who only says, "This is an integral part of the party experience, Cas."

Castiel only has enough time to be slightly impressed at Dean's use of the word "integral" before spouting excuses.

"Dean- I, I don't really think-"

"Don't think, experience! I, as your friend, am supplying you with life experience here, Castiel Milton."

Cas rolls his eyes and reluctantly sits between Dean and Jo in the circle.

Zaze kneels on his knees on the carpet, projecting out the instructions.

"Okay, this game basically works like Spin the Bottle, but a little more interesting. If the bottle lands on you, you have to go in the closet with the person who spun-" he gestures to the closet door next to them "-and I think you get it. I'll spin to see who spins first."

"This is juvenile-" Cas begins to say, then Zaze calls "Mr. Winchester!"

A few of the girls "ooh" and giggle. Dean blushes a little, but keeps his composure. He's cool Dean Winchester, he does this all the time.

He leans forward and twists the bottle hard. It spins for a good five seconds before stopping.

Right between Jo and Cas' shoes.

That's when Castiel notices that they are both wearing Converse, though that's not the prominent thought in his mind.

"Er, Jo!" Zaze says, before things get too uncomfortable.

Jo and Dean look at each other, eyes wide and desperate, but they know that signing up for seven minutes in heaven is like sealing a deal with a crossroads demon, both of which involve kissing. They both swallow hard, before getting up in sync and walking towards the closet.

There are more scattered ooh's and whispers as they are pushed into the cramped closet by Alastair, one of Zaze's buddies.

Castiel keeps his gaze on the bottle, still inches away from his foot, until he hears the click of a door shutting and the starting beep of a timer.

He's on his feet and walking up the basement stairs before he can think of anything else.

His eyes are stinging, the back of his neck is too warm, and he doesn't know why. He also has the urge to storm out and start singing about his feelings while jumping on furniture, stuff they do in musicals.

But this is reality.

And right now his two best friends, one of whom he may have romantic feelings for, are making out in a closet.

He searches the ground floor and finds a door that leads to the backyard-garden area. He doesn't know where he's going but he likes the brisk, late-winter air and wants to keep moving. The dry air keeps his tears back, so he doesn't go completely over the edge.

"Forgot your hat." A voice says behind him.

Castiel turns around and says harshly, "I wasn't wearing a hat."

Crowley looks down at his feet. "I know, but I thought it was a good enough excuse to follow you out here."

Castiel continues walking away, but hears feet padding behind him as he does.

"Uh, you okay?" Castiel finds this sentiment out of character for Crowley.

"Great, brilliant, marvelous, superb, just chuffed," Castiel spits.

"So, your vocabulary is still as vast as ever," Crowley says after a moment.

Castiel rolls his eyes, though Crowley can't see that. He slows his pace to let Crowley catch up to him. They keep walking for a few yards, then Castiel says to no one, "I don't know. I don't know if I'm okay."

"I'm sure you could be worse." Crowley replies.

"Shut up." Castiel huffs, trying to keep his tone sounding more amused than bitter.

They don't talk for a minute, then Castiel abruptly comes to a stop in front of a pile of dead leaves and turns to face Crowley.

"Being a teenager is just...just- it's so deranged, you know! All these hormones and feelings and it's just- fuck! Fucking fuck, right?"

Castiel stands looking at a bewildered Crowley, then leans in and kisses him hard and off-center.

It only lasts for a moment, then Castiel falls back onto the pile of leaves. The stars are almost visible, but the neighborhood's bright light conceals most of them. The moon is still there, it always will be when it's supposed to. It's something stable in everyone's lives. It deserves more praise than it's given.

"Sorry," Castiel mumbles.

Crowley sits on the ground next to the pile and is quiet.

"It's okay. I know it...it didn't really mean anything." Castiel turns his head to look at Crowley. "It wasn't for me," Crowley adds, "but I think that was the first time I'd ever heard you not speak like you're from the nineteenth century."

Castiel snorts a little at that and looks at Crowley gratefully. "That's the first time I've ever cussed."

Crowley raises his eyebrows. "How's it feel?"

Castiel looks back up at the barely-stars. "It feels fucking fantastic."

...

About fifteen minutes later, Dean finds Cas sitting in a pile of leaves next to Crowley, both of them laughing and talking animatedly.

"No, I swear, he just looked at it, and it burst into flames-"

"That's completely implausible!"

"It completely happened, Cassy,"

"That doesn't happen!"

"Aren't you a Potter fan?"

"Sure, but-"

"Cas?" Dean says curiously, waving at him, but feeling as though he's intruding on something.

Castiel looks up with a smile. "Hello, Dean."

"What're you doing out here?"

"Oh, I was getting some fresh air,"

Crowley cuts him off, adding, "And then I came out here and we did a bit of catching up."

Dean stuffs his hands in his pockets, sucking air through his teeth.

"It's kinda cold."

"I suppose it is."

Dean extends his hand for Cas as he tries to stand up. Castiel takes the hand, trying not to look at whatever wicked expression Crowley is wearing.

"Nice talking to you, Castiel." Crowley says.

"Yes," Cas says with a smirk, then mouths "thank you."

Dean and Cas walk back towards the house, but Dean senses something is up.

"You alright?"

"I think I will be."

...

Jo and Dean are both panicked when the bottle stops on her, even though Dean is sure that it was leaning more towards Cas. But that would have been awkward. Probably not much more awkward than the silence that fills the closet when the door clicks closed.

They stare at each other before saying, at almost the same time, "I don't want to kiss you."

Dean cracks a thankful smile. "Well, thank God."

Jo looks around the closet, running her fingers over the jackets hung next to them.

"So, what are we supposed to do for seven minutes?" Dean says, breaking the tension.

Jo arches her back against the wall behind her, putting her arms over her head.

"Ravish me, Dean Winchester!" She says a little too loudly.

Dean rolls his eyes and laughs softly, "Shut up."

Jo laughs with him, then starts to go through the garments on the hangers. She pulls a blazer with big shoulder pads off a hanger and slides her arms through it.

"Hey, you don't know who's that is-" Dean objects.

"Who cares, I'm making the most of this time." She pulls another jacket off a hanger and shoves it towards Dean. "Put it on."

Dean has learned not to argue with Jo, because she always wins and will go to lengths to prove that she's right. He puts it on reluctantly, but is surprised by how well it fits.

"Leather suits you." Jo smirks.

As she's slipping a tie over her neck, she says quietly, "Is it Cas?"

Dean furrows his eyebrows and looks at her curiously, "What?"

She looks up at him with a slack expression. "Is it Cas." She says again firmly.

Dean purses his lips and looks down at his sneakers. It's unfair, she can't just ask that in a situation where he can't stalk off. He doesn't even have anywhere to look.

"It's okay," Jo says, "if it is. It would be okay."

Before Dean can say anything, or give Jo anything more than a fleeting glimpse of sorrowful eyes, the door flies open with a yell of "Seven minutes!"

The group cat-calls as Jo and Dean step out of the closet.

Dean looks around the room, then asks "Where's Cas?"

"Oh, uh, he left a few minutes ago," Zaze replies.

Dean is already on his way upstairs when Jo slaps him on the ass tauntingly. He turns around and sticks his tongue out, not noticing the group of girls giggling in the corner.

"He's in the backyard, I think," Dean hears someone say when he's walking past the kitchen.

He pauses to see Meg sitting on a counter frowning and holding a bag of goldfish.

"Thanks." Dean says.

"Tell your brother I said 'hey!'" He hears her say as he leaves.

...

Sam walks down the hall of Ironpointe Middle School, schedule in hand, barely glancing up to look at classroom numbers.

That is his fault, he realizes, when he accidentally bumps into someone, knocking over their books.

"Oh, I'm sorry, so sorry," Sam stammers, picking up the books. He looks up to hand them to the owner and doubles back in surprise.

"Jess?"

She blinks twice then smiles. "Sam! Hey! Welcome to middle school, I guess." She takes the books from his hands.

"Yeah, first day. It's, uh, good to see you."

"You too. What's your schedule?" She shifts her books into one arm and takes Sam's schedule from his offering hand. "Pre-algebra already?"

"What can I say, I'm an overachiever." Sam shrugs.

"Oh, you have Garcia! Looks like we'll share that class." She hands his schedule back. "See you later," and she leaves with a wink.

What a misleading wink.

Sam later catches up with Anna in the cafeteria. She tells him which teachers are hard, which are pushovers, what tables not to sit at, and what kids not to piss off.

"Okay, so, that kid with the wrestling shirt and the buzzcut? He pushed some kid down the stairs for spilling his drink."

Sam's eyes widen. "Woah."

"Yeah," Anna says, between bites of french fries.

"Look, it's Jess," Sam waves at her as she walks through the cafeteria, but quickly pulls his arm down when a guy comes striding behind her and slips a hand around her waist. "Who's that?"

"Her boyfriend," Anna states. "Matt-something."

Sam glares at her. "You didn't think that would be a piece of information I should know?"

Anna raises an eyebrow. "Sam, c'mon. You're a seventh grader, and you're eleven."

"Only for three more months!"

Anna waves him away. "Whatever."

Sam forces himself to focus on eating, not Jessica, but it's difficult.

"So, you guys aren't friends anymore?" He asks Anna.

She shrugs. "We had a falling out, I suppose. She's, you know, pretty and popular and well-liked, and I didn't want to be like that."

"Pretty, popular, well-liked?" Sam half-mocks.

"Shut up, you know what I mean. Conformist." She'd heard Luke talk about being "non-conformist" and "against the mainstream society" a lot but only had a vague idea of what he was talking about. "I want to be original."

"Like Cas?"

"No, Sam. Not like Castiel. That goes completely against the term 'original.'"

Sam puts his hands up in front of him. "Oh, sor-ry, you're right. You're nothing like Cas. He's actually nice."

That gets him a french fry thrown at his nose.

...

High school is pretty awesome-for Dean Winchester, that is.

At his eighth grade graduation, which he sees as the participation award as far as graduations go, Sam and Bobby are there to shout "That's my boy!" and other embarrassing things that families should say. Ellen is there for Jo, Anna, Luke, and Gabriel are there for Cas. Dean's not that disappointed that his dad isn't there, because it's just middle school. When he gets to high school he hangs up the picture in his locker of him, Cas, and Jo making silly faces from the graduation.

In ninth grade, Jo convinces him to try out for the football team, though she adds that she should be on the team because she's "better than half of those morons on that team." So, he does. He's confident in his abilities after practicing during the summer and getting a little more into shape. Less pudge, more muscles. It works for him and his ego.

Jo and Cas come to watch him at try outs, which he appreciates because he knows that Cas still doesn't fully understand football after all these years.

Dean is a pretty fast runner and though he's not as big as some of the other guys, he still manages to score a spot on the junior varsity team as running back.

Within the first two months of freshman year, Dean becomes a part of the "popular crowd." He even starts dating a cheerleader named Lisa, but he never strays from Jo or Cas.

"You're such a cliché." Castiel says when he's replacing books from his locker standing next to Jo and Dean.

"Should I be insulted?" Dean raises an eyebrow.

Jo rolls her eyes. "You're the epitome of high school royalty. On the football team, dating a cheerleader, lots of friends, doing only the minimum amount of work to keep your grades high enough to stay in football."

"It's great, right?" Dean grins. "Oh, come on. It's not like I meant this to happen. It all just fell into place. And I'm going to savor it."

A pair of hands come from behind Dean and place themselves on his hips. He twists around and smiles at Lisa. She leans for a kiss, but he turns his face and glances at Jo and Cas. "Uh, see you later guys."

Lisa and Dean walk down the hall, her in a short, navy cheerleading skirt and him in his matching navy Letterman jacket.

Cas makes a gagging sound after they leave, and Jo looks at him seriously before bursting a laugh and repeating the gagging noise.

"I give it two weeks." Jo says, leaning next to Cas' open locker.

Cas shuts the locker and shrugs. "I'll be more liberal and say a month."

"Or until he gets in her pants." Jo follows next to him as they walk through the hallway to P.E.

"Gross." Cas scoffs.

Jo smiles and hooks her arm through Cas'. "Good thing we don't bother with silly high school relationships."

Cas sighs but keeps his arm around Jo's until they get to the gym.

...

Christmas with the Winchesters is always a small affair. Uncle Bobby comes over, Dean and Sam wake up early, they exchange a few gifts, eat until they are so stuffed with pig it should be a sin, and they are allowed one glass of wine each, though Dean knows where the key to the liquor cabinet is.

The best part of it all is that John, their dad, is home all day. No pages from the hospital, no emergency calls, and it's one of the reasons that it's the boys' favorite day of the year. They've even got a winter wonderland outside, or more like a freak snow storm of epic proportion.

Even with the heater running on full-blast, they wear beanies and jackets over their pajamas. (Sam got Powerpuff Girls pajama pants and Dean got the same, but with Dora the Explorer. A little Winchester tradition to give each other an embarrassing gift.)

"Oh my God, Sammy. You didn't. Tell me you didn't." Dean exclaims when he opens a small box.

"Well, it was my idea, but Dad and Bobby helped," Sam admits.

Dean looks up from the box and smiles brightly at his family. "Thanks, guys. It's great, it's...wow."

John claps a hand on Dean's shoulder. "I know you love the old cassettes, but I think that with fifteen-plus years of use, they're getting tired."

Dean nods. "An iPod touch, though. It's great, really. Thank you. And I'm sure I can find all the old music on iTunes."

"No Lady Gaga or Ke$ha or any of that shit, though." John warns.

Dean laughs. "Yeah, I think I got it."

John is flipping through the instruction manual for his new GPS and Dean and Sam are sorting through their Christmas candy haul and trading the ones they don't like with each other when the doorbell rings.

They all look at the door for a moment until Bobby is the one to get up. "Who's dumb enough to be outside in this weather?"

He opens the door and the rest of them crane their neck to see who's there. Maybe a really devout Jehovah's Witness, Dean thinks.

"Cas?" Dean asks when he sees who's there. Him and Sam get up to go greet him, and find that it's actually the whole Milton clan. Well, it's Cas, Anna, Gabriel, Luke, and Michael. Dean hasn't seen Michael since he moved out and went to college when Dean was nine. There's also another man standing behind them that Dean hasn't seen before.

"Uh, hey." Cas replies. "Happy Christmas."

Bobby lets Dean handle it and goes back to nurse his eggnog in the living room.

"You too. What's up?" Dean looks back at Sam leaning against the stairs to see that he looks as confused as himself.

"Luke killed the electricity." Anna snaps.

"I didn't mean to!" Luke hisses.

"I'm pretty sure you did."

Cas glares at them and they shut up. "Anyways, I know it's Christmas, and you're with your family and all, but it's pretty cold and-"

As much as it's amusing Dean to watch him squirm, he stops Cas. "Do you guys want to stay over here for dinner?"

Cas smiles. "We'd appreciate that very much, yes."

"The repairman said he'd be over in a few hours, so just until he's done." Michael adds.

Dean looks over at his dad, "Is that okay?"

John nods and gestures for them to come in. Dean opens the door the rest of the way for them, thinking, wow, that's a lot of Miltons.

"Dad, these are the Miltons, our neighbors."

They go down the line and name themselves-

"Raphael." So that's who the mystery Milton is.

"Lucifer, call me Luke."

"Michael."

"Gabriel, or Gabe."

"Anna."

"Castiel."

"A regular Brady Bunch," John snorts. "Wait, Castiel? Are you the Cas that Dean's been telling me about?"

"I'd assume so, Mr. Winchester." Cas holds out a hand.

"Nah, call me John." He shakes Cas' hand a bit awkwardly.

Anna looks around the living room, then asks, "So, need any help with anything?"

"Well, I'm making ham in the kitchen." Sam says.

"Did you use that recipe I showed you?"

"Yep, I think it'll be good."

"Oh! I found this awesome recipe for homemade chocolate pudding..." and Anna and Sam disappear into the kitchen.

Cas looks down at Dean's pajama pants and holds back a laugh.

Dean nudges Cas with his elbow. "Oh, shut up."

"Well, uh, make yourselves at home." John says.

Within the hour, everyone finds their niche.

Gabriel gravitates towards the desserts, Luke finds interest in the car manuals in the bookshelf, most likely to learn how to take them apart or break in without setting off the alarm. Cas and Dean play with their new technology (in addition to Dean's iPod, Cas got a cell phone). Michael talks to Bobby about the car garage Bobby owns, and as a law major, probably trying to get Bobby to insure his RV. Anna and Sam talk to Raphael about his work in Africa because Anna hasn't seen or really talked with him since she was four, and Sam is generally interested in learning about other cultures.

"So, are you like a missionary?" Sam asks, completely enthralled with everything that Raphael says.

"One could say that. I don't seek to 'spread God's truth' as others may, because how am I to know the exact truth of the Gods?" Raphael talks like he's memorized everything he says from a holy book of morals.

"Wow. Were the people in Africa open to your ideas?"

"Yes, actually. One tribe that I stayed with believed in reincarnation as well, and we shared stories of what we believed we were in our past lives."

"And what do you think you were?" Sam's eyes widen.

"Perhaps a jaguar."

"Wow."

Raphael's phone jingles in his pocket and he fishes it out and looks at the screen. "Apologies, I must take this."

Sam is still in a daze when he leaves.

Anna slaps his arm lightly. "Dude, stop crushing on my brother."

Sam breaks his hazy gaze and makes a fantastic bitchface at her."What? I am not!"

"You're practically drooling." Anna teases.

Sam rolls his eyes."He's just...deep. I want to be that wise."

"You need a lot more drugs..." She mumbles under her breath.

Dean has to show Cas how to use the cell phone because he's never had one before.

"You slide it down like this, then you press the message button, then you press this button to choose a contact." Dean points at the keyboard on the phone.

"I don't have any contacts."

Dean presses a few buttons and hands the phone back to Cas. "There, I put my number in. Now you have a contact. Now try to send a text."

Cas looks intently at the screen and presses down on the keyboard a few times. "Which one is the send button?"

"Here."

"Okay, sent."

Dean's phone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out and reads "Text from unknown number: Hello."

After he teaches Cas how to do smiley faces and a few acronyms (LOL, ROFL, OMG), Cas wants to keep practicing, so they communicate with each other in text message for a while.

(4:16) sam wants to no if ur vegetarian this week

(4:17) Does texting make all people seem like neanderthals?

(4:17) :P seriously do you want some ham

(4:18) :P I would, yes.

(4:20) and vegetarianism is a hard lifestyle.

(4:22) and u love burgers

(4:23) It's a weakness.

During dinner, Dean makes a note of how many Miltons there are in the house.

(4:57) oh hey, wheres ur dad?

(4:58) He, uh, just didn't come.

(4:58) oh, ok

Dean doesn't ask him any more about it, because Cas never talks about his father anyways.

They're sitting next to each other watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, empty plates that used to be filled with ham and mashed potatoes laying on their laps. It's almost time for dessert when Cas remembers something.

(5:16) Oh! I got you something for Christmas,

(5:16) I was going to give it to you later...I hope you don't mind

Dean looks over at Cas with surprise, then types out a message on his phone.

(5:17) i kind of got u something too? its upstairs follow me

Dean hops up the stairs, Cas following close behind until they get to Dean's room. He flips on the light in the dark room, even darker because of the olive green that it's painted. It's a small room that is appropriate for a messy teenage boy; clothes on the floor, crumpled sheets on the bed, a nightstand with empty cans, a small TV atop a dresser with open drawers.

"It's a little, uh, untidy." Dean says, kicking a football under his bed and shoving some clothes into the corner.

"No more texting?" Cas says, ignoring the mess because Dean's room has always been as such.

"I think you're skilled enough."

Dean rummages through his nightstand and finds a small box that he holds behind his back. He turns around and Cas is already holding out both of his closed fists. "Right or left?"

Dean notices a string hanging out of Cas' left hand and tugs at it. Cas frowns a little and opens up his hand.

It's a small gold charm reminiscent of a tribal mask hanging off a thin, leather rope. Dean takes it in his hand and studies it, flipping it over in his palm.

"No fucking way."

Cas' face drops. "You don't like it?"

Dean opens the box in his right hand and holds it out to Castiel.

Cas lets out a loud laugh, then covers his mouth.

He takes the gift out of the box, a necklace exactly like the got for Dean.

"Seriously!" Dean says with a smile, putting the necklace Cas gave him around his neck.

Cas does the same with his necklace and looks down at it. "It's the one from the shop-"

"Yeah! That shop we passed after school. You said-"

Cas finishes the sentence. "I've seen the amulet in a book I read, it supposedly 'burns hot in the presence of God.'"

"That's why I got it, you really liked it," Dean smirks.

"You did, too, I think."

Dean looks down for a moment, then chuckles softly. "The shopkeeper told me it was one of a kind."

Cas nods. "He told me the same. I'm thinking he wasn't being entirely truthful."

"No, I don't think so, Cas."

Cas runs the amulet over his fingers, then looks up at Dean. Dean does that thing where he licks his lips and bats his eyelashes and it makes Cas feel entirely warm on such a cold night. Then he pushes himself forward and hugs Dean tight. He's gotten bigger, muscular, and he's taller than Cas now by a few inches. As Cas' stomach is pressed on Dean's, he can feel how firm it is and it makes Cas second guess his looks for a minute. He's of average build and a little scrawny, but he's content with it. As he's about to pull away, Cas feels Dean's muscles contract and his arms wrap themselves around Cas' back.

"Personal space?" Cas mumbles.

Cas can hear Dean's smile in his inflection,"It's okay."

A call of "Dessert!" from Sam has them both letting go and leaving the room. When they're walking down the stairs, Dean stops and looks back at Cas.

"Thank you."

"You too, Dean."

...

Jessica goes through boyfriends like they're going out of style. But, unfortunate for him, Sam is never one of them. He's kind of grateful, though. It means she has some respect for him, he's not just a guy she can dump in the trash when he gets bored. And he's content with their friendship, just their friendship. She's not exactly...girlfriend material. To be fair, she's smart and funny and gorgeous, but that's it. She could show you exactly how to find the area of a trapezoid, but she couldn't tell you why. She can memorize a speech from Abraham Lincoln, but she can't explain what he's really talking about. Sam just doesn't see any spark in her anymore. But she's a great Pre-Algebra tutor, so he's grateful to share Mr. Garcia's class with her.

"Sam," Jessica pokes Sam's limp hand hanging over his desk with a pencil. "Sam!" She hisses.

His head shoots up from his desk and he looks around the room. Jessica is looking at him with a worried expression when he rubs his eyes and finally remembers where he is.

"What's up? You never sleep in class." She whispers.

Sam shrugs. "I have this big history test later, so Anna and I stayed up late studying for it. I didn't sleep much. I just kept repeating 'Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen-hundred-ninety-two.' I'm not even sure that's what the test is on." He buries his face in his hands dejectedly.

Jessica leans in closer. "Anna, eh?"

He turns his face to look at her peculiarly. "Yeah..."

She looks at him for a few more seconds expectantly before laughing quietly and turning her face away.

"What?" Sam says, still confounded.

She looks back at him with a smile. "You don't see it?"

"What are you talking about?" He almost whines.

"Anna."

"She's my best friend." He states.

"And that's all?" She asks.

"Of course. God, can't a guy and girl just be friends?" Sam sighs.

"Well, alright." Jess says and backs off, but keeps wearing that taunting smile.

I mean, Anna is pretty, Sam thinks. But she's not just pretty. She's my best friend, the girl with bright has-to-be-unnaturally red hair and eyes too green. She's taught me a lot in the seven years that I've known her. I probably know more about her than anyone else. Like her fascination with Shakespeare or the insane amount of shoes she has. Seriously, her closet is like a shrine to footwear. She has stacks of magazines in a pile in her bedroom, and she keeps saying she'll do a collage of all the pictures in them but she's been saying that for three years. I don't think anyone knows that she plays piano, other than her family. She showed me on her last birthday. She's really good, I don't think she even knows it. Her fingers just glide over the keys perfectly, and it's beautiful. She's beautiful.

Sam's own thoughts snap him back into consciousness. The realization creeps over him, filling every inch of him.

Damn it.

...

A couple months go by and nothing really changes for Dean, Cas, and Jo. She is on the softball team, Cas gets good grades and excels in Art, and Dean somehow maintains a stable relationship with Lisa, though they never get past second base.

In February, flyers start to show up around school, stapled on bulletin boards and taped on walls, advertising the Valentine's Day dance. (Freshman and sophomores petitioned for it, since they can't go to the upperclassmen Prom.)

"Are you going with Lisa?" Castiel asks as they're eating lunch, a week before the dance.

"Yeah, I guess so." Dean shrugs.

"What do you mean 'you guess so'? Did you ask her?" Jo questions, putting down her turkey sandwich.

"No, but I mean, we're dating, so."

Jo glares at him. "Girls want a grand gesture, you have to ask her properly. Make a spectacle."

Dean waves her off, taking a bite of his burger. "I'll talk to her later. Anyways, when did you become the expert on fancy-gesture etiquette?"

"Well," Jo smirks, "I've got a date."

Dean pauses mid-bite of his burger and raises his eyebrows. "With who?"

"Ash." She says.

"The techie sophomore guy?"

"With the mullet?" Cas adds.

"Yeah." She says with an air of finality.

Dean eats some of his burger, but doesn't let the subject drop.

"Why?"

"What! He's a nice guy, and he's really funny." She says defensively.

Dean lets out a snort.

Jo takes the burger from his greasy hand, what's left of it, and licks a stripe across the bun.

"You really think that will stop me from eating it?" Dean takes the burger back and bites into it.

"You're such an ass." Jo scoffs.

Cas smiles, content just watching them, rarely contributing. They're more entertaining than television, so he watches. And he's happy doing so.

...

"Castiel Dmitri Milton!" Jo sings through the wooden front door. "You get your ass out here and

compliment me on how gorgeous I look!"

Castiel opens the door with a warm smile to see Jo swirling her skirt around her legs cheerfully.

It's a coral-colored, knee-length dress, hugging her waist before sprouting out a rhinestone-studded skirt full of tulle and shiny fabric. With that she's wearing, appropriately enough, cowboy boots.

"Well?" She says expectantly, hands on her hips and batting her eyelashes.

"A vision if I ever saw one," Castiel replies, pulling her into a hug.

She puts a hand across her chest and sighs, "You flatter me, Cas."

Cas rolls his eyes and leans against the door frame. Behind Jo, he can see Ellen's truck. Dean's leaning his arm out of the open window and Ash sits in the seat next to him.

"Well, we were just picking up Dean and thought I'd stop by to say hey..." Jo says.

Cas clicks his tongue to the roof of his mouth. "I'm not going, Jo."

Jo frowns slightly. "Well, next year. You have to come next year. You can be my date if you really find that no one lives up to your standards."

Cas laughs quietly at her pertinence. "Sure."

Jo takes his hand. "Promise you'll go next year."

He raises a hand solemnly. "I promise."

She smiles and says a short goodbye before running back to the truck, still spinning in her dress. Cas waves at Dean as the truck drives away, turns the corner, and disappears out of sight. He shuts the door and goes back to reading The Hitchhiker's Guide on the couch. He barely notices that Luke and Anna are staring at him intently until Luke clears his throat.

"Couldn't find a date, Cas?" Luke says, putting emphasis on Cas like it's scandalous.

"C'est pas mon truc." Castiel knows that Luke hates it when he starts speaking French.

"So what if it isn't your thing," Cas always forgets that Anna knows almost as much French as him. "It's Valentine's Day."

"And? It's just a day glorifying prostitution." Cas says bitterly.

Luke props his feet up on the coffee table. "Huh?"

Castiel thinks for a moment. "Well, you know, men give women chocolates, and in exchange the women usually offer sex."

Anna sighs and presses her face to her palm. "That's not the point of Valentine's Day at all, Castiel. It's about love, and expressing one's true feelings for someone."

"Like a certain pig-headed neighbor boy," Luke snickers.

If looks could kill, Cas would be a murderer. "Anna!"

"I didn't say anything!" Anna protests.

Luke interjects. "She didn't have to. It's so damn obvious. Between the both of you, all the time. It's like, God, get a room for all that eye-fucking."

Cas feels his face get warmer, but tries to ignore it. He narrows his eyes at his brother. "I kind of hate you sometimes."

Luke lets out a laugh. "Join the club."

...

It's a week until his birthday when Sam knocks on the Miltons' door.

A tall, blonde guy, sleep still in his eyes, answers the door with a yawn. "Winchester?" Luke asks, as if he's not sure which one.

"Yeah, uh, Sam."

Luke snaps his fingers. "Right, uh-Sam. What do you want?"

"Lucifer," Anna says in an annoyed tone. She pushes the door out of his grip and shoves him aside.

He goes back inside and sprawls across the couch. "Why are there always so many people around?" He groans.

Anna rolls her eyes. "Why do you still live here?"

Luke scowls and mumbles something Sam can't hear. Anna scoffs, "Luke, you're twenty-one, get a job at least!"

"I have a job!" He yells back.

"Operating a meth lab in the shed is not a job!" She snaps.

In the spaces between Anna, Sam can see Luke hold up his middle finger. Sam holds back a grin when Anna turns her attention back to him.

"Are all the Miltons so, uh, bold?" He manages to say.

"Hey, without me they would have set the house on fire or killed each other years ago." She sighs. "So, what's up?"

Sam fishes two cards out of his pocket and holds one up for Anna.

"You are formally invited to Sam Winchester's twelfth birthday party." He says, handing her a card.

"Oh, sweet. Thanks. I'll be there. Who drew this moose?" She replies, pointing at the illustration on the front.

"Cas did, actually. Where is he? I gotta show him the finished product."

Anna points at the staircase. "In his room."

"Thanks." Sam heads upstairs, running his fingers along the wooden banister.

His hand stops on Cas' door knob, then remembers, knock. He's not good at remembering to do that usually. He raps his knuckles on the door three times. No answer.

"Cas?" Sam calls. No answer.

Oh, whatever. He opens the door cautiously to find Castiel, earbuds in his ears blocking out anything else, sitting in his desk chair facing towards the window. He's leaning back, resting his feet against the window sill, humming along softly to something playing on his MP3 player that Sam can see hanging off the side of the chair.

Sam leans in close to Cas' ear and pulls out one of the earbuds, whispering, "Caaaas." Cas almost flips backward in the chair, but Sam catches it, still laughing.

Cas grimaces, rotating his chair around to face Sam. "Hey, Moose."

Sam rolls his eyes. "C'mon, man, I thought you dropped the nickname."

"Well, you almost dropped me."

"Touché." Sam looks down at the sketchbook resting in Cas' lap. "What're you drawing?"

Cas turns the sketchbook towards Sam. "It's that tree across the street."

Sam looks at the tree in the Grey's yard across the street, then back at the sketch. (The Greys have a four year-old that Anna babysits sometimes.) "Wow, that's really good. And I know I say that every time, so I think I need to learn some more adjectives."

Cas smiles. "Perhaps I'll get you a thesaurus for your birthday."

"Oh! Look, I finished the invites," He hands Cas a blue card. In big letters, next to an illustration of a smiling moose, it says "You're invited!" Sam coaxes him to open it and look at the calligraphy that he did by hand, after Cas taught him how.

"It looks great." Cas observes.

"Thanks! So, the party is next Friday, can you come?"

Cas isn't one for parties, most people know that. But Sam's pout is convincing enough, and Dean keeps telling Cas to be more social. "You can probably count me in."

"Awesome! I've got to go hand these out, so see you later."

"Mhm." The door shuts and Cas puts his earbuds back in.

...

Sam's party is definitely not sparse. How does a kid even know this many people? Dean thinks. Seriously, this many seventh graders in a confined area must be lethal. John isn't home, but he trusts his boys. He's kept Dean in charge to supervise, but he's still calling the neighbors every hour to check up on them. He would have called Bobby to chaperone, but Dean convinced him that it's a party full of middle schoolers, seriously, Dad.

Cas and Anna are, predictably, the first to show up. Sam is tying balloons to the mailbox and Anna offers to help. Dean and Cas arrange food on platters, then Jo arrives with a stack of CD's. She hands them to Sam on her way inside. "Happy birthday, Sammy."

"Hey, only family calls me that." He looks down at the CD's in his hands in confusion.

She twirls around and lands on the couch. "I'm practically family."

"Well, uh, thanks, I guess." Even though Sam is using Dean's iPod for all the music, and he doesn't know who most of these bands are on the CD's. "Did Dean invite you?"

"Yep, the Holy Trinity is having their own side-party, if you don't mind." Jo says, referring to the name that she came up with for her, Dean, and Cas.

Sam sets the albums down on the desk in the living room. "Go right ahead, at least that might keep Dean from embarrassing me."

"I'm not the embarrassing one in this family." Dean snorts, exiting the kitchen with Cas.

Sam throws him an exceptional bitchface and continues blowing up balloons.

Jessica arrives a few minutes later with a gift bag in hand. Sam tells her to just put it on the dining room table, which becomes the designated gift-area. That kid raked in a lot of gifts, actually. In all, Dean thinks there's about fifteen people, but damn, that's enough.

Sam's friends are a little weird, but that matches his own personality, Dean thinks. He already knows Jess, Sam wouldn't shut up about her in fifth grade, and Anna and, surprisingly, Meg. There's this one guy named Chuck, and all he does is talk about ghosts and werewolves and the apocalypse, and while at first it's amusing, Dean realizes he's serious and tries to stay away from that kid. Chuck has a sister named Charlie, and she seems nice if not nerdy and awkward. She has a strange fascination with Hermione Granger, though. Maybe Cas would like her. There's some guys that are debating which superhero is the best (Batman, duh,) and Dean finally realizes how much of a nerd his little brother is.

There's little things that he takes note of during the party.

For one, how happy Sam looks. He's always been a happy kid and Dean can't help but love that goofy smile.

"Picture with the birthday boy?" Anna says to Sam with a smile. He agrees and Anna hands the closest person, Jessica, her camera.

"1, 2," Jess counts. Sam wraps his arm around Anna's shoulders and Anna leans and places a kiss on his cheek when Jess says "Cheese!" Even though the flash is overbearing, there's still a hint of a blush on Sam's face in the picture.

Dean gets bored of sitting on the couch watching over the party after about an hour. Him and the "Holy Trinity" go upstairs to the rec room, empty of any other people, and play pool. When they bought this house, they didn't know what to do with the room. Who needs a rec room? When Dean was riding his bike around the neighborhood one day, he noticed a pool table sitting in someone's lawn with a sign marked "fifty dollars." The wood finishing was worn off and the felt was torn but nonetheless, his dad bought it. Dean is really the only one that uses it, because he's the only one that's good at it.

"Drink, anyone?" Jo says when she follows them up the stairs a few minutes later, a beer in her hand. "I could only score one from my mom, but whatever."

"Oh, yes. Bring alcohol to our three-person party. That will make it so much less pathetic." Cas says sarcastically.

"Oh, shut up. Have you ever even tried it?" She takes a her keys out of her pocket and uses the edge of her house key-Cas doesn't know how-to open the bottle.

"Peer pressure, great." Cas deadpans.

Jo takes a swig and winces, then hands it to Dean. He takes a long gulp before handing it to Cas.

Cas stares at the bottle, then Dean nudges him with his foot saying, "Life experience."

Cas sighs and reluctantly takes a sip. He wrinkles his nose a little. "That is not pleasant."

They pass it around until it's almost empty, and Cas keeps drinking it because it "makes him feel warm."

They stand like that for a while, passing it around. Cas tries to make small talk, but is not good at small talk. "How are you and Lisa?"

Jo snorts. "Oh, right. You weren't at the dance. Do you want to tell the story?" She looks over at Dean. He rolls his eyes but makes a gesture that says go ahead.

"Okay, so, it was towards the end of the night, and a slow dance was playing. I was dancing with Ash and I look over and see Lisa, like, yelling at Dean. Remember, Dean? How'd that go?"

He takes a tired breath. "She wanted to dance, and, you know, I don't dance."

"You didn't dance with her the whole night!"

Dean throws his arms out and says a sarcastic, "Sorry!"

"Boys." She breathes. "So, she just broke up with you? Right there?"

"Basically." Dean nods. "but we weren't doing so well anyways. I guess that was just the end of that."

"Ouch." Cas says, and hands the beer to Dean.

"Ouch is right." Jo agrees.

Dean is already feeling a little blurry when they finally decide to play pool. He sets the bottle on the ground when Jo asks, "So, what are we playing?"

"Cutthroat" Dean claims. "First."

"Second." Jo says.

"Third." Cas sighs.

Dean crosses to the end of the room and picks one up from the four leaned against the corner. It's his favorite; fifty-eight inches of glossy hardwood with brass joints, perfectly straight and fitted to his hand like it was meant to be. And the best part, maybe the only reason Dean bought it, is the image of a wolf painted on the end of the stick.

He chalks the tip of it while Cas lines up the billiards. Dean always gets to break, he loves that part.

The way he lines up his cue is like an art style.

His right hand has a firm grip on the end of the stick, while his left hand rests on the felt, the tip between his pointer and middle finger. He makes a few practice strokes before striking the cue ball with a loud tap. The rest of the balls spread out across the felt, and Dean even gets the sixth ball in. He lifts the stick above his head like a championship belt and takes a lap around the pool table.

Jo narrows her eyes at him. "Oh, now you're in deep." She goes next and hits one of Dean's balls, the third, into a pocket.

"Ouch," Dean scoffs. "You're up, Cas."

Cas steps up and mimics Dean's technique, hitting the second ball into another pocket.

"What, are you guys ganging up on me?" Dean says.

Cas purses his lips and shrugs. "It's a cutthroat game, Dean."

Cas ends up winning with three balls left. Jo has one and Dean is all out, so maybe they were ganging up on him a little.

"I'll be right back," Dean announces and goes downstairs to check on the party.

Jo looks like she's about to pass out. She's slumped into the rec room's loveseat, the only other piece of furniture in the room.

"It's only nine, Jo."

"I slept for like four hours last night, okay. And my mom made me help her push her car up the driveway earlier because it stalled. Cars are heavy, you know?" And that's the last thing she says before she drifts to sleep.

Cas stands there awkwardly for a few minutes, leaning against the pool table, until Dean comes back.

"I want a rematch," he announces upon entering.

"Shh." Cas hisses, pointing at Jo.

"Seriously?" He rolls his eyes. What a lightweight. Well, it's not the first time she's passed out at his house. "So, no rematch."

"I don't think so." Cas replies.

"Oh well, we can go listen to some of those CD's Jo brought. God knows Sam ain't gonna pay them any attention."

"Sure." Cas puts the cue stick back against the wall. He gestures over to Jo. "Are you just going to leave her there?"

Dean shrugs. "I'll get her a blanket or something later."

He flips off one of the lights, leaving only a dim glow on Jo.

They go downstairs and see Sam laughing and smiling on the couch, listening to one of his nerdy friends talk about something animatedly. Dean just hears the words "Iron Man" and "Batmobile."

Sam doesn't even notice as Dean grabs the stack of CD's and trudges upstairs to his room with Cas.

He opens the door to his room and leaps forward, landing on his bed with a bounce. He moves out of the way and Cas does the same jump, but with a twist mid-air.

"And he sticks the landing!" Dean laughs. He rolls off the bed and puts one of the discs into his stereo.

Cas turns sideways on the bed so half of him is dangling off the side, his head hanging above the floor.

Dean sits back on the bed and peers over the edge. "You're kinda weird."

"I've heard." Cas smiles. He closes his eyes and listens to the piano playing softly from the stereo speakers. "What is this?"

Dean leans over and looks at the cover on his nightstand. "Uh, it's called Without A Word. By someone named Birdy."

"Mm," is all Cas mumbles.

Dean listens for a moment then decides, "This sucks."

"I think it feels nice."

Dean quirks an eyebrow. "What are you talking about now?" He moves so he's in the same position as Cas, dangling off the edge, but his waist is angled towards Cas a little more. He can already feel the blood rushing to his head.

"The way it feels, you know. It's smooth. How do you feel when you listen to Led Zeppelin or whoever?" Cas says, eyes still closed.

Dean thinks for a moment. "Nostalgic."

"Good word." Cas smirks. "Well, this song feels nice."

"Okay, I get what you mean."

They listen to the song in silence for a minute.

The blood is definitely rushing to Dean's head. He keeps looking at Cas, whose eyes remain closed and the shadow of a smile falling on his lips. He's cast in an orange glow from the lamp on Dean's nightstand.

"It's beautiful." Cas says, confusing Dean before he realizes that Cas is talking about the song.

"Beautiful." Dean repeats.

Something, somewhere in his mind, tells him this is it.

Dean turns his head and leans towards Cas. His lips find Cas' in a subtle movement. It takes a second for Cas to realize what's happening, and Dean can feel the exact moment when he does. Cas freezes. His breath hitches, his eyes fly open. He doesn't know what to do, he's petrified. Dean unlocks his lips from Cas' and just looks at him. Cas doesn't know what compels him, but he angles his head towards Dean and kisses him again. This time his lips are actually doing something, following Dean's pattern of pursing his lips and parting his mouth. Everything about Dean contrasts to Cas. Cas' own soft lips against Dean's, which are dry, somewhat rough. The kiss only lasts for about ten seconds, but, God, it feels like eternity. What's even longer is the pause afterward, where they stare at each other. Deep in their eyes, under the cover of the initial shock and relative elation, is the fear. The constricting, paralyzing fear. The realization that I just kissed my best friend. Who is male.

Both of their faces are red, but they can blame it on being upside down for a few minutes.

Dean is first to break the gaze. He sits up on his bed. You know, the bed where he just kissed his best friend. God, he can never look at this bed the same way.

Cas sits up next, looking at anything but Dean.

All Dean wants is for Sam to come barging in the room, breaking the air thick as glass, just saying anything. There's no more pizza rolls, the house is on fire, one of the kids is bleeding profusely. Anything.

It doesn't happen though.

Cas finally looks up at Dean, his eyes searching. Searching for anything but the blank gaze that Dean is supplying. "I think I'm gonna go home." He says monotonously.

Dean nods, still silent.

Cas slides off the bed and closes the door behind him.

Then Dean breaks. He lies back on his pillow on the bed where he just kissed his best friend and shuts off the lamp next to him. He feels his eyes sting and fill until they're over the edge and he ignores it. He doesn't sob melodramatically or bang his fists on the walls, he just lays there silently while tears dribble across his temples and fall into the hair behind his ears. He drifts to sleep from the sound of a piano.

Dean wakes up the next morning with a pounding headache, but he doesn't know whether to blame the crying or the booze. The events of the previous night don't come rushing back to him, they never left. He's replayed the moment over and over again in his head, in his dreams. He doesn't know if he wants to try to block it out.

The thing that he does want to block out is Cas leaving. Dean letting him leave. God, he shouldn't have left him leave. He knows exactly what he should have done, the oldest scene in the chick flicks. He should have run after Cas. He should have waited a minute, then ran down the stairs, nearly tripping, swung open the door, and saw Cas. He should have grabbed Cas and kissed him, deeper, and just not let him go.

But instead he ran, metaphorically. He ran from his feelings and he ran from Cas.

He doesn't regret the kiss, he could never. He only regrets what he didn't do.

...

Anna gets home a half an hour after Castiel leaves. She hangs up her jacket and slips off her shoes. She ignores the lights on outside in the shed and sneaks up the stairs quietly, she doesn't want to wake anyone up. She didn't even notice when Cas bailed, she only knows that he wasn't there when she left. She peers into his room to make sure he's there, but it's dark and she can barely see anything.

"Castiel?" She whispers.

"Mhm." He murmurs.

Her eyes are more adapted to the dark now and she can see his silhouette on the bed, faced away from her. She slides onto the bed and lays next to him. It makes her feel like she's six again. Whenever she was young and had bad dreams, which was frequently, she would push open his door and sneak into bed with him. Sometimes he would wake up and sing to her, she's always loved his voice, though he merely sings for comfort.

"When'd you leave?" She asks in hushed tones.

"Not that long ago." He mumbles, his voice heavy and coarse.

Something is wrong. Anna pushes his shoulder a little to make him face her. His cheeks are a little damp and his eyes are rimmed red. He squints his eyes and tries to shove her away, but she persists.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing, Anna." He states, unconvincing.

"What's wrong?" She repeats.

He purses his lips. "It's nothing, just go to sleep."

Anna gives him one more doe-eyed, sad look, but he ignores it and rolls back over.

"Fine. But I just want you to be alright." She huffs.

"I will be."

"Will you?" A car passes by the window and the red headlights shine on both of them, but he doesn't see.

He's quiet for a minute. "Goodnight, Anna."

She decides to give up, it's too late for this melodrama. "Love you." She kisses him on the forehead and moves off the bed.

"Love you, too."

...

Dean and Cas don't really talk for a week. They'll talk politely around Jo, though she's suspicious. But they don't look each other in the eyes or talk about more than schoolwork. Even Sam notices.

"Hey, what's up with Cas?" He asks when they're loading the dishwasher on Thursday.

"What do you mean?" Dean rinses off a plate and hands it to Sam.

Sam shrugs. "He hasn't been here since, like, Friday."

"And?"

"Dude, Cas has been coming over at least three times a week since third grade."

Dean doesn't have anything to say to that, because Sam is totally right.

"What did you do." Sam asks, though it's more of a statement, suddenly serious.

Dean knits his eyebrows. "Why do you think I did something?"

Sam makes bitchface numero six, the one that says, are you kidding me?

"Whatever. It's just. Nothing." Dean sputters.

Sam sighs. "Well, whatever nothing is, you should fix it. Because I need Cas to tutor me in French and I don't want it to be awkward."

Dean ignores his brother's advice."French is a useless language."

"You...you're...you're a useless language." Sam retorts.

"Bitch." Dean chuckles. "Pardon my French."

Sam smiles. "Jerk."

...

"Should we talk about it?" Dean asks.

It takes him a week to confront Cas, that long just to build up the courage. Now he's here, the only place he could think of, standing by Cas' locker while Cas takes out some of his textbooks.

Cas freezes a little, but resumes replacing books and focusing very hard on that. "Do you want to?"

"I don't know." Dean says without emotion.

Cas finally looks at Dean firmly. "So what do you want?"

"I...I don't know."

Cas holds Dean's gaze. "Well, until you know, things can just go back to normal."

Dean looks at him, a bit confused. Is it really so simple?

"Okay?" Cas says, making sure he understands.

"Okay." Dean nods.

Cas shuts his locker closed with a click and walks away to Biology, waving back at Dean. Dean waves back, but is still thoroughly confused.

"Things can just go back to normal." Can they? Can they really? Dean waves the thought away and stalks off to P.E. in a haze.

...

Between homework and midterms and class projects, everyone is glad that the school year is over. A little downtime is good, and everyone at least tries to make plans. Cas' summer reading goal is fifteen books, it's two less than last year but the books he has in mind for this summer are longer.

Dean offers to help Bobby fix up an old Impala he has at his shop, and Bobby agrees as long as he doesn't "wreck up nothin'." Sometimes Jo comes along, but all she does is tell him everything he's doing wrong. ("I don't see you sweatin' underneath a car!" "Girls don't sweat, Dean.") Whenever Cas goes with him, he just observes quietly or sits inside the Impala on the torn, leather interior.

Things between Dean and Cas are, oddly, unchanged. Dean is the only one who's being awkward about it, but after a few weeks he tries to forget about the incident and makes things go "back to normal."

They make those two months for themselves. Dean makes a list of things to do by the end of the summer, and he intends to succeed. Or do at least half.

One. Fix up the Impala.

"That car is messed up pretty bad, boy." Bobby says when Dean approaches him with the goal.

"How long d'you think it's gonna take?"

"It's not really a matter of how long, but how much money you got."

"How much?" Dean tries to keep his hope intact.

Bobby scratches down a few numbers on paper. "I'd say about six thousand just for the parts and the refurbishin'."

Dean sucks air in through his teeth. Tough. That makes goal number two.

Save up money to fix up the Impala.

Jo outright laughs when he tells her the cost. She lowers her sunglasses and props herself up on her elbows on the towel where she's laying poolside.

"Where are you going to get six thousand dollars?"

Dean is sitting on the edge of her pool, feet skimming through the water, thinking the same thing, "Hell if I know. Who hires fifteen year-olds?"

"I think Splashwave does." Cas adds. He's floating in the middle of the pool on one of Jo's tube floats, leaning his head back so some of his hair drags along the water. He needs a haircut. Dean can already see Cas' pale chest getting burnt and wonders if he himself is getting any color from the sun beating on his back.

"That water park down by Oak Creek?" Dean wonders.

"The very same." Cas replies.

"Why would they put a water park by another body of water?" Dean asks to no one.

Jo bites off the plastic end of an ice pop, grape is her favorite, and mocks, "Because the posh people don't want to touch unfiltered water."

Dean leans back with a smile, his head is perpendicular to Jo's on her towel. "Do we even have 'posh' people in Kansas?"

"Somewhere, I'm sure." She says.

Cas floats over to the edge of the pool and twists around so his elbows rest on the frame. Jo points her ice pop towards Cas, who opens his mouth and takes a bite through the plastic with a crunch. Jo scrunches her nose and laughs a little bit. She has to roll it up to get to the non-plastic part before she takes a bite herself. The syrupy grape ice only minimally reduces the burn of the ungodly heat.

It's sweltering hot and none of them are actually submerged in the pool. Cas decides that that's ridiculous and flips backward off the tube and somersaults into the pool. The water is cold at first but feels good on his hot, and oh, burnt, skin. He knows at he should have worn sunscreen. He shakes his head around like a dog, successfully spraying Dean and Jo with water. Jo screams playfully and sticks her tongue out at him. Dean kicks water at Cas, who, in turn, does a backflip in the pool and spashes him again.

Dean narrows his eyes at the daunting smile on Cas' face. "It's on, Castiel." He jumps off the edge and dives into the pool after Cas. The pool is only about twelve feet in diameter and five feet deep, so it wouldn't be hard to catch him, if the pool wasn't filled with tubes and foam noodles and disregarded floaties and sunken goggles. Cas grabs a noodle and hits Dean on the shoulder, but Dean just grabs another noodle and that begins a noodle-fencing tournament of sorts.

"En garde!" Dean shouts.

"Coupé!" Cas says, and slices across and collides with Dean's "sword."

"I don't know any more fencing words!"

Cas shrugs. "Then just say French words!

"Baguette!" Dean improvises.

"Cheville!"

Dean receives a poke in the chest. "Uh, forté?"

"Italian?" Cas laughs.

Dean falters a step and slips on a pair of goggles at the bottom of the pool. He dips underwater and drops his noodle. When he comes back up Cas bops him on the head before letting go of his noodle as well.

Dean bows to Cas. "Touché."

"Boys." Jo sighs from the other side of the pool.

...

Sam makes his own list of summer goals as well, though it's smaller and more legal than Dean's. One of his goals is to help Dean with his second goal, saving up money for the Impala, because it's the only thing he's ever seen Dean so adamant about. He usually sticks to a hobby or goal for a couple months until he gets bored or decides it's too much work. Like football. Dean doesn't really even like football anymore, but it keeps him in shape and it gives him some sense of pride. He has to go to training a few times a week during August, the last month of summer, but it doesn't intervene with his work schedule.

Cas was right about Spashwave Water Park hiring at fifteen, and Dean was accepted on the spot. He had no previous experience, lifeguard training, or work ethic, but they accepted him nonetheless. Jo says it's because "You're hot and they always need more shirtless hot guys to bring in the shirtless hot girls to bring in the shirtless hot guys and/or horny nerds. It's a whole cycle." Dean just smirks at the "you're hot" part.

It's possibly the easy job in the world, Dean thinks. All he has to do is sit at the top of the water slides and tell kids when it's their turn to go. "Stop, wait, go, stop, wait, go," is literally his mantra. And he makes ten bucks an hour for that! Sometimes he has to work at the concession stand, but all that is is pouring cheese from a dispenser and filling up cups of ice. The only thing he has to worry about is remembering to drink a lot of water and wear a lot of sunscreen.

By the end of the summer, Sam has ten of fourteen goals crossed off. He has all of them scribbled down on a page in one of his notebooks. Some of his notable accomplishments are as follows:

One. Help Dean with Impala money.

By September, Dean has about 2300 dollars saved up. Sam only contributed about a hundred to that, but he's only twelve, it's not like he can get a job. It's lucky that he even got that much saved from their yard sale and some lemonade stands.

Two. Break Dean's goal of eating nine saltines in a minute.

Maybe it's not a huge accomplishment, but it took him three sleeves of crackers, six tries, and a whole lot of water after the fact to do that one.

Five. Read eight books.

He actually reads ten.

Thirteen. Buy Anna the best birthday present ever.

Okay, this one is a matter of opinion, but he's the one writing it so he thinks that he definitely accomplished this one. For her June birthday, he gets her three books full of sheet music for the piano and cheap music note earrings.

Anna unwraps the flimsy stack from it's (Christmas-themed?) wrapping paper and almost squeals when she realizes what it is.

"Sam!" She finally says after holding her hand over her mouth for a moment.

"Oh," Sam searches in his pockets and finds the earrings dangling from a thin cardboard square. He hands it to Anna and she smiles brightly.

"Sam!" She repeats. She tries to put the earrings on with the books in her hand, but that proves difficult so Sam takes the stack from her for a moment. She finishes taking out her previous studs and hooks in the silver music notes. She turns around to look at herself in her vanity mirror. She smiles brightly before spinning around and hugging Sam tight, who is trying not to drop the books.

"You like it?" He says, struggling to breathe because of her tight grip around his neck.

"I love it! I love everything." She lets go and takes the books from Sam's arm. She starts to flip through it, looking at all the scores, a smile still haunting her features.

"You're the best, really. IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou." And she hugs him again.

"Yeah, love you too, Anna." He says. He knows that she's saying it in the "you're my best friend and you got me an awesome present and oh my God I love you" way and he's trying to return it in the same way, but the sentiment still warms his heart for a few days.

...

"Open."

Cas follows Dean's order and opens his mouth with an "aah."

Dean tosses a piece of caramel corn and it lands on Cas' tongue. Cas bites down on the popcorn and tries to throw a piece back at Dean, but it hits his chin instead.

"Your focus needs more focus." Dean says wisely. Cas throws another piece at Dean, this time purposely hitting him on the forehead.

It's the dreaded last week of summer. It's like a Sunday during the school year; just trying to savor the little downtime that's left. They're sitting on Dean's living room couch half-watching a documentary about hoarders with a quarter of a bag of caramel corn left from the fair two nights ago.

"So, Cas, on a scale of summer school to European vacation, how do you think your summer's been?"

Cas finishes chewing a handful of sticky popcorn and says, "Well, on such a decisive scale, I'd say 'trip to Disneyland.'"

"Have you ever been to Disneyland?" Dean asks.

"I've never even left Kansas." Cas replies, a bit sadly.

"Me neither." Dean picks up his root beer from the table and takes a drink. "You know, when I finally leave this state, I've always wanted to say 'I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.'"

Cas laughs, mainly because he understands the reference. "So where do you want to go? When you leave Kansas?"

Dean thinks. "I don't really know. Everywhere. And California."

Cas stretches his arms up and folds them behind his head. "Everywhere and California. That sounds nice."

Dean smiles and throws another piece of popcorn at Cas. "So how many books did you read this summer?"

"I'm just finishing The Hunger Games, so that's seventeen." Cas replies casually.

Dean quirks an eyebrow. "How the hell do you do that?"

"Read so much?" Dean nods. "I'm good at it. I like reading and visualizing the characters and the action. It's like watching movies in your head. How many movies have you watched this summer?"

"Hell, I don't know. A bunch."

Cas makes a gesture with his wrist, as if to say exactly. "Reading is like watching movies for me, only it takes longer."

Dean had never thought of it that way. He has nothing against reading, he just can't find a lot of books that interest him or that he can relate to. If anyone ever writes a book about a professional racing car driver that triples as an international spy, a bartender, and masters in archery as a hobby, he'll read it. That's actually a really cool idea, he thinks.

"Do you still have that summer goal list?" Cas asks after a few minutes of watching the hoarder woman cry over losing a stack of twenty year-old newspapers.

"Yep," Dean reaches over to the coffee table and picks up a notebook. He flips through the pages until he finds his list. Cas takes it from Dean's hands and looks it over. He reads a few of them out loud.

"'Three, get a job.' Crossed off. 'Five. Sneak out after curfew.' Done." Cas remembers doing that one with him and Jo. Cas doesn't really have a curfew, because he doesn't really have anywhere to go after dark, so he goes along with Jo and Dean's curfews of eleven thirty. They all stay over at Dean's house for the night, and at midnight they sneak out the back door. Sam already knows and whines about it to go out with them, but Winchesters aren't snitches so Dean doesn't worry. "Next time, Sammy," he says, but he doesn't even know when "next time" is. They end up simply walking to the McDonalds-slash-gas station a few blocks away, ordering ice cream cones and playing in the ball pit. An employee reprimands them because they're taller than four-foot-nine, so they grab their shoes out of the cubby holes and walk back home. Cas specifically remembers running through a few people's yard sprinklers at around one. They get back to the house, soaking wet, and John is laying asleep on the couch with a blender infomercial running on the TV. They creep past him and up the stairs. Dean makes a stop in Sam's room to chuck a cheeseburger at him. Jo, Dean, and Cas retire to the rec room to play pool, which is a hard game to play quietly.

"'Eighteen. Beer.'" Cas reads. He looks up at Dean, frowning but with a smirk. "That is literally one word. Just one word. Beer."

"Beer." Dean repeats with finality. What goal number eighteen actually means is "Get Cas drunk so I can make out with him" but he wasn't going to write that down. And he's not supposed to talk about it until he figures out what he wants, and he doesn't think Cas would accept the answer of just wanting to make out with him. Cas has pretty nice lips, though.

Number two on Dean's summer goal list, fixing up the Impala, becomes more than a summer goal. Actually, it transfers over onto a new list, titled "Life Goals." But that one's still ongoing.

...

"...O-R-E! What's that spell? Westmore!" The cheerleaders chant.

The crowd claps and whoops excitedly. Cas has to hand it to the student body, Westmore High School does have spirit, and the pep rallies show that. He's sitting in the back of the bleachers with his backpack sitting at his feet and the book Catching Fire in his lap. He likes to sit at the top where he can look down on everyone else, as conceited as that seems. He's been waiting for Jo for about ten minutes, but he can't seem to find her. Or she can't find him. Either way, he's sitting alone secluded from the rest of his class. He'd feel better if Dean were here, no doubt trying to get him to stand up and yell with the crowd, but he's currently waiting outside of the gym with the rest of the football players. He made junior varsity again this year. Now the class is chanting the year they graduate, "Twen-ty-twelve! Twen-ty-twelve!" Two-more-years! Two-more-years! Castiel mocks the chant in his head. He has nothing against middle-of-nowhere, Kansas, other than the fact that it's in the middle of nowhere. He just knows that he's not meant to stay constricted in one place for the rest of his life. He needs to live.

After about twenty minutes of listening to the mix of screaming teenagers and thick, droning bass pumps from the loudspeaker, Cas tunes out the assembly and goes back to reading Catching Fire.

He's twenty pages further in the book when a hand taps on his knee. He looks up, rejoining the sounds of the assembly, and sees a guy with styled-yet-messy, what he can only describe as dark sandy-blonde hair sitting next to him, staring him down evasively. God, is this what it feels like whenever I stare at people? Cas thinks.

He, the other guy, looks down at the book in Cas' lap. "That's such an overrated series." He has a British accent.

Cas is almost caught off guard, but always has a come back. "There's only two books right now, though."

The guy smirks. "An overrated sequence, then."

"I resent that. I think it's coming-of-age." Cas defends.

"Did you read that in The New Yorker?" He quips.

"You're hardly making a good first impression." Cas scoffs.

"Apologies, I like someone I can debate with. Balthazar." He holds out his hand.

"Interesting name." Cas shakes the hand oddly, not many people are so formal these days. "Perhaps even stranger than mine. I'm Castiel."

"The angel of Thursday." Cas quirks an eyebrow and Balthazar makes an apologetic gesture. "Both my parents teach Theology, they pass on a lot of it to me."

"Impressive. Balthazar is in the New Testament, correct?"

Balthazar nods. "Impressive yourself, Castiel."

"My mom had a degree in Theology as well." I've never even told Dean this, Castiel thinks distressingly. When Balthazar doesn't respond, Cas continues. "Are you new?"

"Yes, a fresh start." He says it like he's a million miles away.

"Are you coming from the UK?" Cas asks curiously.

"Oh, I haven't been there since I was a boy. I've lived most recently in New York."

"Wow." Cas manages to say. He notices that Balthazar's accent has a twinge of different cultures in it, and he's completely captivated by it. Cas has met people with British accents before, like Crowley, but not someone so traveled. They talk for longer than Cas knows about everywhere Balthazar has lived or visited or traveled to. England and Ireland and France and Belgium and Brazil and a dozen other countries. Cas is completely envious of him, but he wants to keep listening to Balthazar talk about it all in enough detail to make Cas feel like he's there.

Only when Cas hears Dean's name being announced over the speaker does he pause and stand up to cheer for Dean. The pep rallies always have the reigning football players join in some ridiculous game of three-legged racing or pie-throwing. Cas laughs whenever Dean gets struck with a cream pie on the side of his face.

"Friend of yours?" Balthazar asks.

"Best friend, I'd say." Cas replies.

"Cas!" Someone calls. Cas looks through a few people and sees Jo finally.

He smiles and waves as she stumbles up a few stairs and sits herself down by Cas. "I looked for you for like ten minutes, but then I gave up."

"Me too." Cas says. Jo leans forward to look at Balthazar on Cas' other side. She makes a gesture to say "Who's this?"

"Balthazar." Cas says and leans back for Balthazar to shake her hand as well.

"Wow, cool name." Jo says. "I'm Jo. Glad to see you're keeping my Cassy company."

"Cassy?" Balthazar mouths.

Cas rolls his eyes. "Possibly the most asinine nickname I have."

"Worse than Asstiel?" Jo teases.

"God, seriously, don't remind me." Cas says, remembering the immature denomination a meat-head named Alistair gave him.

Balthazar smirks, then asks, "Your girlfriend?" pointing towards Jo.

"God no." Cas says with a laugh.

"Hey!" Jo hits Cas' shoulder.

"Kidding."

"Sure."

Cas spots Dean running up the steps. "Hey guys, um, other guy."

Other guy waves. "Balthazar."

Dean sits backwards on the row below them to be included with them, "Oo, British?"

"A bit." Balthazar smiles.

Cas notices some left over whipped cream on Dean's jaw. He trails his finger across the line of his bone structure, wipes the cream off of his finger and onto Dean's nose. Dean scrunches up his nose and tries to lick it off with his tongue. Balthazar watches as the corners of Cas' mouth curl up.

He sees the thing that neither of them do, but everyone else does.

...

Anna starts freshman year with some of her friends and her brother again, but without Sam. She already misses his oddities. The way he always has at least three back up pencils, and he doesn't like writing on the back of papers, or how he triple-knots his shoelaces. They're the small things that she used to tease him about.

She may not realize it, but Anna and Castiel are similar in a lot of ways. They always have at least one book that they're reading, sometimes even sharing books which proves difficult ("It's my turn." "I've only read three chapters!" "Read faster, Anna.") Their interest in the arts, whether musical or traditional, and, of course, their affection for the Winchester boys.

Well, she thought so, until one day in November.

She has to go through the school's plaza and behind the gym to get to Cas' "secret hideout." It's really just a shady notch on the building where he goes to get away from everyone else. He showed it to her on the first day of school, in case she needed to find him. She doesn't go there often, though, because she has her own friends.

She passes the Vans sticker on the west wall, the graffiti of Bugs Bunny past that, and finally finds the water fountain next to Cas' notch.

"So I was in Madame Dalh's, and she said that-" Anna's words stop in her throat when she sees Cas sitting in Balthazar's lap, arms around his neck, making out with him.

Cas twists his head around at her voice, his eyes as wide and expression as blank as hers.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God," She mumbles as she turns on her heel and walks away briskly. He falls back off of Balthazar's lap and gets up to run after her.

"Anna, wait," He says until he catches up with her.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God," She's still muttering.

He grabs her arm and stops her, but doesn't know what to say.

"So that happened." Anna says after a minute of that awkward Milton-brand staring.

"Yeah. Yes." He says.

"Are you two, like, dating?" She asks.

Cas shakes his head. "No, it's not like that. We're just. I don't know."

"You just make out sometimes?"

"Correct." She crosses her arms and looks at the ground for a moment. Cas looks like he wants to say something else, but the tension is too thick and awkward.

"You're still in love with Dean?" She asks.

"Probably, yes." He admits.

"Okay," she waits, "Good talk."

Cas nods and they both part their separate ways.

...

Castiel doesn't really know how it happened, him and Balthazar. He remembers the first time, surely.

It's mid-October, and Cas is sitting in his notch behind the gym, rereading Macbeth for English. He's highlighting his favorite lines now, especially the parts where Macbeth goes off on his crazy ghost rant. He hears heavy footsteps walking towards him and tighten his legs closer to himself. He doesn't even know if he's allowed to be out here. He remains unnoticed when the figure goes walking past him, but Cas recognizes those dark boots.

"Balthazar?" He calls.

Balthazar looks down and does a double take when he sees Cas. "Oh, hey, Castiel. Uh, what are you doing out here?"

"I could ask you the same." Cas replies.

"Touché." He stands there for a moment bracing himself in the chilly weather.

"You can sit if you want." Cas says.

Balthazar sits down next to Cas with his knees bent in front of him. "Truthfully, I was looking for somewhere to smoke."

Cas already knows that he smokes, he can smell it on Balthazar most of the time. "Feel free."

"You don't mind?" He already has a cigarette and a lighter in his palm.

Cas shakes his head. The worst that can happen from secondhand smoke is merely asthma, cardiac disease, lung cancer, leukemia. Nothing drastic. But he likes Balthazar, and he likes having someone sitting next to him, so he brushes it off.

His lighter makes a few clicks, then produces a flame. He covers it with his hand and brings it to the cigarette between his lips. The very end of the stick burns into ashes as he sucks the smoke deep into his lungs.

He offers the cigarette to Cas, but he declines.

Balthazar holds the smoke for a few seconds, then exhales it through his nose. "One of the joys in life, inhaling a stick full of nicotine and household cleaner."

"So why do you do it?" Cas asks, not judging, just curious.

"Well, I prefer more natural highs, but I'll take what I can get. I can't say that cigs are much cheaper, but they're easier to come by."

"'Natural high.'" Cas repeats, confused.

"Meaning, I prefer weed, pot, spliff, marijuana-"

Cas stops him. "I get it."

"You're kind of straight-edge aren't you, Castiel?" He asks.

Cas thinks about it. "One could say. I don't really party or drink or do drugs or make out with random people."

"Am I random people?" Balthazar hints.

"I don't think so." Cas says, not catching on.

Balthazar sighs and decides to be more direct. "Do you want to make out?"

Cas knits his eyebrows. "Under what implications?"

"None. No strings attached." Balthazar assures.

Cas purses his lips. No strings attached. That sounds nice actually. "Why not."

Balthazar rotates his hips towards Cas and leans his lips into Castiel's.

The kiss is deep and kind of rough at first, like Balthazar is trying to learn his way around Cas' mouth. It grows softer and more casual, because it's not like he wants to go to class with a hard-on. Balthazar tastes smoky and, underneath that, like the wintergreen gum he offered a piece of to Cas thinks it's nice to just have someone there, a warm body, and Balthazar is aesthetically appealing and all, but there's not much of a spark other than the one initially.

And that's just how things go for a while. Every other day or so, Balthazar comes around to Cas' notch and they talk about what books they're reading or what Cas is drawing or the latest news, then they make out for the rest of lunch.

Cas doesn't really think much of it. It's strange, obviously. He understands that. But it becomes a pattern, and it's not a bad one, either. They both hate the term "friends with benefits," so they agree upon "unofficially attached."

Then Anna finds out and Castiel is officially mortified for life. Every so often, she'll randomly ask Castiel how he's doing with Balthazar. He keeps replying "um, fine" but wishes she would drop it.

It's become a habit of Cas' to take a few drags of Balthazar's cigarettes whenever he's having a bad day. Naturally, he threw a coughing fit the first time, but he's gotten better about it.

One day, Cas stomps over to his nook for lunch and is grateful to see Balthazar already sitting there, blowing smoke from his lips.

"So, Mr. I-hate-Castiel-that should be his name-is going to fail me." Cas huffs as he throws his bag down and sits next to it.

"No, he's not." Balthazar says.

"Well, he's not, but I'm going to get a C. I don't get C's! You know why?"

"Because you're a kiss-ass."

Cas brushes off the comment. "No, I mean, why I'm getting a C. It's because I got a fifty-nine-point-four on the Biology test, and he won't round the F up to a D."

He takes the smoke from Balthazar's fingers and takes a deep drag. "I swear, I've never done anything to- Oh. Oh wow. That's not a cigarette."

"Oh, shit, sorry. Yeah. That's not." Balthazar takes the joint back and brings it to his lips.

Cas has completely forgotten what he was talking about and keeps repeating "wow."

Balthazar waves a hand in front of Cas. "You alright?"

"Wow. This feels really nice." Cas breathes.

"Yeah, one of the best feelings in the world."

"Can we just sit here forever? Wow. Everything is so blue. Except that tree. That tree is so green. It's beautiful."

Balthazar laughs a little. Cas grabs for the joint again but Balthazar moves it out of Cas' reach. "No, no, I think you're good. You're kind of a lightweight."

"Mm." Cas mumbles. He unzips his backpack and takes his sketchbook out. He flips frantically for a blank page and gets out a pencil.

He starts to make broad lines across the paper, each of different thicknesses.

"What are you drawing?" Balthazar asks, watching him.

"Hm. I don't know." Cas says, focused intently on the paper. "How I feel. How everything feels."

"Damn, what have I done," Balthazar mutters, slightly amused by high!Cas.

Cas puts down the pencil and leans into Balthazar's chest. "Oh, Balth, you're so great, wonderful, marvelous." And Cas kisses him. "Your mouth tastes great."

"You do know that you have two more classes after this, right." Balthazar mumbles as Cas trails his mouth down his neck.

"Mhm."

As much as Balthazar would love to keep Castiel sucking at his neck, he actually cares about Cas' well-being. He hands a water bottle to Cas. "Drink this." Maybe that will make it wear off a little. Cas chugs the water that's left in the bottle, about half, then goes back to sketching in his book.

...

Cas has a new friend. Dean would've thought that that would be good thing. He knows that Cas and Balthazar have a lot in common, most noted is their vocabulary. They both like art and books and different cultures. After a few weeks, it's obvious that Cas emulates Balthazar. He starts learning about more countries and talking about where he wants to go whenever he finally leaves this town. Cas is changing, sure, but not that much. Dean, Cas, and Jo still hang out almost every day, but they have their own niches.

Dean is a football player. That's the role that he's been given, and he plays it well. He sits at the table with all of the other players and cheerleaders during lunch, and the other team members are actually nice guys. They make the dumbest jokes, but that's why they're funny. The cheerleaders aren't as stuck-up or bitchy as their stereotype would suggest. Well, a few of them are, but Dean doesn't pay attention to them. It's kind of awkward, because Lisa is still a cheerleader, but they both get along well and decide to stay friends.

He also gets a job at the grocery store a few blocks from his house; they hire at fifteen. It's minimum wage, but it keeps money coming into his Impala fund.

Cas seems to be the only one of his friends that isn't working or interested in it in the least. Jo helps out at her mom's bar, restocking the liquor shelves and organizing the bottles, menial jobs that she can't be fully paid for. Any work that she does goes into her allowance.

Jo finds her niche in Auto class with Dean and Ash and a few other guys. But she's still a girl, so the fart jokes and testosterone can get a bit sickening after a while. She joins drama club, after some prodding from Castiel. He promises that there are a lot of girls that aren't annoying in the club, and him and Balthazar will be there at least. So Jo starts to go to the meetings and decides that it's not half bad. She doesn't really even have to act; it seems like most of the people are just goofing off half the time anyways, and she scores some free tickets to local plays and improv nights around town.

Drama club is really where she starts to notice Cas and Balthazar. Not either of them singularly, but Cas and Balthazar. They're always touching each other or brushing hands when they think no one's looking. They laugh even when something's not funny, they share food. Cas really looks happy.

Or maybe just heightened.

It's no secret that Balthazar does have some adverse effects on Cas. First it was the cigarettes, Cas reeked of them every few days. Then the weed, it has a certain distinct smell. Jo doesn't confront him about it, she assumes it's none of her business. Dean doesn't share the same ideal.

"What's up with you, Cas?" Dean finally asks when they're walking home from school.

"Hm?" Cas says, looking up at the sky.

Dean stops and grips Cas' shoulder. "Seriously, what are you doing?"

"Well, I was walking, then we stopped." Cas states.

Dean stares at him with narrow eyes for a moment before letting go and walking away. Cas follows along quietly.

"He's a bad influence." Dean mutters.

"I assume you're referring to Balthazar."

"Yeah, Cas."

"Well, I object to that." Cas says calmly. "I think he's the opposite. He's opened me up to all new views and ideas."

"Yeah? Drugs and smoking and whatever the hell else?" Dean snaps.

"Yes, I was skeptical at first, too, but it's fantastic, Dean. You really should try it."

"Fantastic?" Dean throws his arms up. "What's happened to you, man? You've changed."

Cas actually starts to get a little annoyed. "Change is a part of life, Dean."

"I get that, Cas. I do! But you're hurting yourself, and I don't know if you do, but I care."

"I think I know what's best for my well-being. I don't need you, of all people, judging me." Cas blurts.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Dean shouts.

Cas starts walking the other way, opposite of where his house is. "It means you're an assbutt!"

"Cas! Where are you going?" Dean yells.

"Shortcut." Cas calls back.

"Cas, wait. Wait!" But he keeps walking without looking back. "Shit," Dean mutters to himself. He picks up his backpack that he doesn't even remember taking off and starts to walk home alone.

Dean stops at the McGas-station on his way home and buys a large Coke, partly because he's thirsty and partly because he wants to take a long route catch up with Cas. He's halfway done with the soda when he turns the corner onto the street where his house is.

He's almost to his mailbox when he sees Cas walking down the street in front of his own house. With Balthazar.

Dean stops and stands there for a moment, trying not to be creepy but a voice in his head tells him that it totally is.

Cas and Balthazar stop and idle by the street lamp in front of Cas' house. Cas doesn't see Dean, his back is the only thing Dean can see. Him and Balthazar talk there for a moment, not noticing Dean.

Balthazar's eyes finally flick up and definitely see Dean. He smirks slightly, then leans in and kisses Cas.

Even from Dean's angle, he can definitely tell that it's a kiss. Dean's jaw drops. Literally, drops. It's like he's in an old cartoon, he feels as if his chin is scraping against the pavement. Balthazar's face comes back into view, a real smile now. Dean regains his common sense and starts to walk up the path to his house briskly.

But his feet shuffle and make too much noise for him to remain unseen.

"Dean?" He hears Cas say, almost plead.

But he keeps walking up the steps and shuts the door firmly behind himself.

He throws his backpack to the ground and shuts his eyes. His hands run through his hair as he slides down the wooden door to his knees.

"Dean? You okay?"

Dean opens his eyes and sees Sam with his overly-concerned little brother face.

"M'fine." He mutters as he takes his backpack and stomps up the stairs.

You're so stupid. Dean thinks to himself once he's laying in bed staring at the ceiling. You had a chance, and you blew it. You fucking blew it because you are a coward.

And now you've lost him.

...

"Shortcut."

It's not a shortcut, in fact, Cas doesn't even know if he can get home going this way. Maybe he'll just circle the block and come back around after Dean's gone.

Since he doesn't have Dean to listen to, he gets his MP3 player out of his backpack, unravels the earbuds twisted around it, and turns the volume up.

There's something abysmal, even sensual, about drowning out the world with music. Cas' taste in music is just something that makes him feel good. Sounds that could drift him off into oblivion if he let them. But it's even more than that.

It's knowing that someone put themselves into a piece of music. They tried and failed and tried countless times until it worked, and they create something beautiful.

Music transcends the self, Cas thinks, then a hand claps on his shoulder.

He turns around, stumbling on his feet. He nearly falls back onto the pavement, but Balthazar grabs him before he hits the ground.

Once Cas is pulled back up to his feet, he thanks Balthazar before slapping him on the arm. "You gave me a heart attack!"

"Did I actually?" Balthazar rubs his arm, even though Cas barely hit him.

Cas slides his foot back into his worn, checkered Vans, having twisted out of one. "An almost not-metaphorical heart attack!"

"Apologies, I'll pay for your almost not-metaphorical hospital bills." Balthazar smirks.

Cas looks at him with almost-amusement and continues walking on, Balthazar trailing next to him. "What are you doing out here anyways, stalking me?"

"Yes." Balthazar deadpans. "No, but really, I basically wander around town. It's what I do, until dinner."

"Why?" Cas inquires.

"I'm never one to turn down a free family-cooked meal."

"No, you know what I mean. Why do you 'wander'?" Putting air quotes around wander.

Balthazar purses his lips. "Why not? There's so much to see when you don't know where you're going."

Cas lets that philosophy sink into his head.

"So where's your boyfriend?" Balthazar asks, a teasing tone in the back of his voice.

"Not my boyfriend." Cas affirms.

"Where's your man-friend?" He's always one for a clever comeback.

Cas sighs. "He doesn't like you, so I called him an assbutt and walked off dramatically."

Balthazar quirks an eyebrow. "Oh, really? Does that make me a homewrecker of sorts?"

"Of sorts." Cas repeats semi-sarcastically.

"Maybe he's jealous." He nudges Cas with his hip.

Cas snorts. "I don't think Dean Winchester is of the jealous type."

"You must be blind. Every time he sees us together, he has to come prancing over and share some inside joke with you just to make me feel awkward." Balthazar says bitterly.

Cas doesn't really have anything to say to that. "Well, he's my best friend."

"And what am I?" He defends.

Cas stares at him blankly. "I don't know. We're unofficially-attached."

"What if we weren't?" Balthazar replies.

"Do you not want to be friends anymore?" Cas says sadly.

"No, I mean," Balthazar laughs nervously, "what if we weren't unofficially-attached, what if we were just, attached. Officially."

"Oh," is all Cas says.

"I'm asking you out, you know." Balthazar makes sure he understands.

Cas smiles. "I know."

They walk silently for a moment, noticing they're almost to the street in front of Cas' house.

"Castiel," Balthazar mutters hopefully.

"Yes. I'd like that, I think." Cas replies.

"You're sure?"

"Are you trying to convince me otherwise?" Cas says incredulously.

"Alright, then." Balthazar grins.

"Alright."

"Officially attached." Balthazar says reminiscently.

"Is that another term for boyfriends?" Cas asks once they've reached the lamp post in front of his house.

"I'd like to think so." Balthazar says.

Cas glances over to the windows on his house. The blinds are closed.

Balthazar leans down and kisses Cas gently against his smile.

Then Cas hears the muffled sound of shoes on cement and turns around.

Dean. Except he actually says the word out loud.

Dean ignores him and goes inside his own house, closing the door.

"Uh," Balthazar groans.

Dean keeps flicking his eyes from the Winchester house to Balthazar.

"I'll, um, call you later." Cas squeezes Balthazar's hand that he forgot he was holding and places a quick kiss on the side of his mouth.

Cas walks up the porch to his house, waving back at Balthazar already heading down the emotions were separated from one's self and personified, Cas' emotions would be flailing around the house aimlessly. But he keeps his composure. Because he should be happy. He has a boyfriend.

I have a boyfriend, he takes a moment to realize.

And then, I'm gay. Definitely gay.

Anna almost doesn't notice him standing as still as a statue when she walks past him from the living room. She does a double take and stops in the hall.

"Are...you okay?" She asks. Cas is completely pale other than his flushed cheeks.

"I'm gay." He says out loud.

Anna pats him on the shoulder. "Congrats," and she keeps walking to the kitchen.

"Wait, seriously?" He says incredulously, following her.

"Huh?" She says as she takes a Gatorade out of the fridge and unscrews the cap.

"I just came out to you."

"Oh, sorry," Anna swallows some Gatorade, then puts on her best shocked face and gasps. "My, my! It can't be! My own brother, a homosexual! Lord Almighty, how have I sinned to deserve such a cru-el fate?" She's down on her knees now, crossing her heart over and over again.

Cas actually laughs and pulls her back up to her feet. She's a few inches shorter than him, but her proportions make her seem taller. "So, you're okay with it?"

"I've been okay with it since the day I saw you staring at Dean Winchester like he was Harry Potter."

Cas winces a little, remembering his infatuation with Harry Potter. Though, Daniel Radcliffe was one fine twelve year old.

"I have something to tell you, too, Castiel," Anna says softly. She takes one of Cas' hands and takes a deep breath. "I'm straight."

Cas laughs and brushes off her grip. "Nice to know."

She smiles and takes another drink of her Gatorade before putting it back in the fridge. She pauses and leans her elbows on the top of the fridge's door. "A word of advice?"

Cas takes his head out of the pantry and looks at her.

"Don't tell Dad. Or Michael. Or Raph. Gabe or Luke, maybe, but they're bound to tell the whole family. To tell you the truth, I think they all know already."

"But they wouldn't want to face the reality if I told them." Cas nods.

"Exactly. I'm not sure that most of the Milton family would be deemed 'liberal.'"

"Isn't cousin Rachel married to a priest?" Cas asks as he follows Anna into the living room.

"Yep." She slumps into the couch. "When was the last time we even went to church?"

Cas thinks. "Um, Christmas? Three years ago?"

"Maybe we're bad Christians." She says almost sardonically.

"I wouldn't say so. I don't think that you have to publicize your religious views to be a good believer." Cas says wistfully.

"I second that." Anna agrees.

They turn on the TV and watch The Big Bang Theory for a few minutes.

"Oh, right," Cas suddenly remembers. "The reason for my gay epiphany was because Balthazar asked me out and I said yes and we're dating now." He says quickly.

Anna turns her head towards Cas with a kind of frown. She doesn't say anything, just purses her lips.

"What? I thought you would be happy considering you won't shut up about him."

Anna looks up at the ceiling and clicks her tongue to the roof of her mouth a couple times.

Cas remembers something else. "Also, Dean and I had a fight before that and then he saw me kissing Balthazar and he walked away."

"Did you not think that was of import?" Anna says with disbelief.

"Well, I'm sorry! I feel a bit foggy right now." He stretches out his arms over his head until he can feel his vertebrae pop.

"Gross." Anna has always hated when he cracks his back (hands, neck, feet, whatever).

Cas smiles and clenches his fingers together, making a series of cracks loud enough to make Anna flinch.

She shoves him over onto the other side of the couch and tries to look mad, but her cheeks are still tensed in a smile.

He leans over and puts his head on her shoulder and sings, "Love yooou!"

She tries to hide her grin. "Yeah, I know."

...

Dean and Cas go into another period of not talking to each other. Dean doesn't really know why he isn't talking to Cas, he knows that he should be the one to apologize. But he's not like Sam. He "has problems expressing himself," Sam says. "Just because you read a book about psychoanalysis, that doesn't make you Sigmund-fucking-Freud, Sammy." Dean had said, mispronouncing Freud like frood. It doesn't bother Dean that much until Sam starts taking a Psychology course in ninth grade, practically quoting from the books he's assigned.

Sam is still in middle school presently, eighth grade, and loves it. It's like he's at the top (of the middle) of the food chain. Dean has warned him about the Freshman Fridays in high school, but Jo promises him that they'll make sure no one trash-cans him.

"I know karate." Sam says.

Dean snorts and replies, "You saw the karate kid like three times, and you think you know karate?"

An all-out freestyle Winchester brother fighting match usually ensues after comments like that, and Jo always roots for Sam. She likes to believe in the underdog.

And for now, Dean is in tenth grade and is hopelessly confused by everything; Geometry, English, Environmental Chemistry ("Why is that a thing?"), and his best friend, Cas.

Mostly Cas.

Dean sees Balthazar kissing Cas on a Friday. By Tuesday, Cas is "out." When a guy walks down the hallway holding another guy's hand, they're basically deemed as gay for the rest of high school. That's not what bothers Dean. He was raised not to judge others like that. Well, actually, he wasn't really raised at all. But he's always liked to live by such values, and taught Sam the same.

What bothers him is that he tells Jo first. Like, yeah, I saw you kissing another guy, but I'd still like to be informed properly. Jo chats Dean on AIM on Saturday night with the news.

JoHar15: you can't be serious with the new username.

Coolchester: never underestimate the coolness

JoHar15: sure thing coolchester.

JoHar15: sooooo about cas.

Coolchester: yeah

Dean doesn't really know what she's talking about at first, but a lot of things are about Cas lately.

JoHar15: it's not really surprising, i guess.

Coolchester: wait whats surprising

JoHar15: um that cas is gay?

Dean squints at his screen and rereads Jo's message.

JoHar15: idk, he's never dated anyone before and he was never exactly interested in girls, you know?

Coolchester: oh sure

Coolchester: so hes dating balthazar?

JoHar15: right-o, dean-o.

Coolchester: oh okay

JoHar15: do you want to talk about your feelings deanie?

Coolchester: shut up

JoHar15: *sigh

Coolchester: am i supposed to imagine you sighing

JoHar15: dean winchester.

Coolchester: jo harvelle.

JoHar15: i'm about to rant at you.

Coolchester: oh god

JoHar15: I know that you don't like balthazar, and I know that he's not exactly a good influence, but cas is happy.

JoHar15: and you are not going to ruin that!

JoHar15: you are going to be happy for cas and not fight with him anymore because everyone can tell when you two aren't getting along because you act like you're on your periods.

Coolchester: gross

JoHar15: and as long as cas is with balthazar you are to put your personal feelings aside, whether for cas or for balthazar, and be supportive. okay?

Coolchester: whatever you say jo

Coolchester: wait um personal feelings...?

Jo doesn't reply and logs off.

Dean knows she's right, though; he has to suck it up and be happy for Cas.

He's sitting on his bed flipping through channels on Sunday evening, not actually watching anything. He glances over at his window, the blinds pulled up, but glowing from what little light there is left outside. Dean slides off one end of the bed and leans down by the window. He pulls the blinds up and looks across to Cas' window. His blinds are up.

A pebble hits the window with a tap, breaking Dean out of his unfocused state. He unlocks the top of the window and pulls it up. There's no screen covering, so he can peer down at the ground.

"Hello." Cas says when Dean spots him. He's leaning against the side of his own house against the brick. Dean smells the cigarette before he sees it.

"Hey." Dean rests his elbows on his window sill, but he's still leaning out of the window.

Cas looks down at his shoes. "Umm," he mumbles, not quite sure what to say.

"I'm happy for you, you know." The words are hard for Dean to say, but he grits his teeth and lets them out.

Cas looks up at him with wide, blue eyes. That's just the way he looks, Dean supposes. "Thanks."

Dean nods. It's awkward and quiet for a moment.

"Sorry I didn't, uh, tell you." Cas says. It seems like it's hard for him, too. He takes a drag of smoke from between his fingers.

"S'okay." Dean mutters, but it's loud enough for Cas to hear.

"Do you mind?" Cas says, waggling the cigarette in his hand.

The smoke is wafting up towards Dean, making him wrinkle his nose, but he says, "It's fine." He wants to say "smoking is bad for you" or "you'll get cancer," but he feels like that would be pushing it.

"Does Anna know? The smoking, I mean." Dean says.

Cas shrugs. "Surely. My clothes reek of it. But I don't think she'll say anything. I think she'd rather avoid confrontation."

"I understand that." Dean says vaguely.

Sam suddenly pushes his way into Dean's room and Dean has to remind him, "Knocking."

Sam groans and knocks on the door three times after he's already in the room. Dean accepts that with a sigh.

"Who're you talking to?" Sam walks a little closer to Dean and looks around him.

Dean moves to the side and points down at Cas.

"Oh, hey, Cas!" Sam calls a little too loudly.

"Hello, Sam." Cas says. He almost brings the cigarette to his lips, but sees Sam and puts it out against the brick wall behind his back.

Sam looks over at Dean with a smirk. "We're having eggplant lasagne tonight," he leans through the window and says to Cas. "You're welcome to come over. Anna, too," he adds quickly.

"Um," Cas looks at Dean, who is carrying a soft smile. "Sure. Thank you; I think we were going to have take out tonight anyways. I'll go get Anna."

Cas saunters off and disappears into his garage.

"Eggplant lasagne?" Dean mutters with distaste as they're walking downstairs.

Sam shoves his arm. "It's good, I swear."

"Whatever, bitch." He smirks.

"Language." John says, trying some sort of authority. Dean forgot that his dad was home tonight.

"Sorry." Dean says, but shoves Sam a little back once they're at the bottom of the stairs.

Sam laughs, "Jerk."

...

Cas has never been the center of attention.

He's always the quiet kid with the book. He's excelled at blending into his surroundings for years. He'd be surprised if twenty people at school knew his name.

But that's changed.

He's no longer labeled as the quiet kid with the book, but, the quiet gay kid with the book and the British boyfriend.

What's most unsettling is how the people stare at him. Just the fact that they're noticing him, looking at him, is surprising.

But that's what happens when you live in Nowhere, Kansas where residents probably think that homosexuality is a myth. The looks on their faces when Cas and Balthazar walk down the hall holding hands is similar to Sam's face when Dean told him that unicorns weren't real.

Balthazar leans into Cas neck and whispers, "Ignore them."

Cas breathes heavily. Like it's so easy to ignore it. Cas' covers his face with his locker door once he gets it open.

Balthazar's lips curl into a tight smile. "You're kind of hot when you're all embarrassed."

Cas rolls his eyes and smiles back. He does the same thing when Dean says something funny or dumb. He leans the side of his head onto the door of his locker. It's cool on his temple. "I'm not embarrassed. I'm just...not used to it. The attention."

"They'll get used to it," Balthazar promises.

Cas wants to believe him. He really does.

Jo bounds up to them, cowboy boots clicking as she does, and hooks her arm around Cas' with a grin.

"Howdy." Balthazar says, looking at her boots.

Jo tips an imaginary hat. "Good day, chap." She says in an awful British accent.

"Touché." He smiles.

Jo doesn't mention their relationship specifically, but she keeps looking down at their intertwined hands and smiling.

Dean doesn't see them until the fifteen minute break between second and third period. He stops at Jo's locker, after punching a few of his football buddies in the hall, and finds Cas and Balthazar there as well. They seriously have not stopped holding hands all day, have they?

"Hey." He says, addressing no one in particular.

"G'day, mate." Jo tries to say in an Australian accent.

"You're really not giving up on the accents, are you?" Balthazar asks with a laugh.

"Not until you do." Jo replies.

Balthazar thinks about that for a second, confused. "That doesn't even make sense."

"Oookay." Dean says with wide eyes. A couple people in the hall are staring at the four of them, an odd group, perhaps. "What's up?" He says, trying not to point out the obvious.

"Pop quiz in Mr. Miner's." Cas says without hesitation.

"Seriously?" Dean whines.

"As long as you read last night's-" Cas stops himself before he finishes the sentence, because of course Dean didn't read the chapters last night.

Dean scrunches up his nose. How is he supposed to remember who the first president of Argentina was?

"It was pretty easy." Balthazar adds after a moment.

"Yeah?" Dean says.

"No, not really," Balthazar says seriously, "but it's only like ten points, so I don't think it will throw you off."

Dean sighs and listens to Jo talk about the play that they're planning to do in drama club. He takes in the situation.

Balthazar likes Cas. Cas likes Balthazar. They're dating. Dean thinks Balthazar is a prick, but Dean likes Cas. Jo is happy for Cas and Balthazar, so Dean has to be happy for Cas and Balthazar, because Jo and Cas are his best friends in the world. He just has to keep up his happy face for a while until Balthazar moves away or runs out of drugs or gets herpes or something and they break up. Not that he's hoping on it.

Oh, who is he kidding. It's the only hope he's got.

...

"Anna?" Sam inquires. He's sitting on her bed with his back against one of her pillows. Anna says that boys aren't really allowed in her room, but Sam's more of a brother.

"Hm?" She hums, laying down on the bed next to Sam flipping through one of the magazines that she picked up from a stack in the corner.

"I like you." Sam says quietly.

"Well, I'd hope so." She giggles.

Sam groans and falls back on her bed. She'll never get it. He's hanging out with Anna on a Sunday, helping her organize magazines. He feels so stupid. She must not be so bright if she doesn't get it either, but he doesn't want to think that because it seems mean.

He's tried telling her, but what would she care? He's still in middle school. Only five more months.

Even after that, he'll be kicked off the middle school food chain and thrown into high school as a freshman. Even the word sounds intimidating. Freshman, with a frighteningly close-sounding likeness to fresh meat.

Anna promises it's not so bad, not very different from middle school. Except that the kids are bigger and hairier. Sam is barely five-foot-four and doesn't shave, he can't handle anyone bigger or hairier.

"Of course you'd say that." He replies. "Look at you, who would throw you into a trash can?"

Anna simply smiles. "I'm flattered."

"What's with the accent?" Lately her speech has been fading into an Americanized British accent, reminiscent of Madonna's.

"You've noticed." She states. She tosses the magazine to the foot of the bed and picks up another one from her nightstand. Sam notices that a lot of them have ads and pictures circled in purple pen. "I think it's Balthazar. I guess the accent is rubbing off on me." She says it with a tone of pride.

"Sure." Sam says. He may be the only person he knows who shares Dean's thoughts on Cas' new boyfriend. Balthazar hasn't talked to Sam much, but he always hears their conversations. He's always talking about weird stuff like organic gardening and knitting hats for Ugandan infants and stuff.

"I think he tries too hard to be different or unique or whatever." When Sam had told Dean this, Dean actually hugged him. That's a thing only reserved for holidays and sad deaths and when Aunt Shelby wants to take a nice picture.

"How is your organizing going?" Sam asks sarcastically, looking at the pile of read and reread magazines at the end of the bed.

"It's exhausting." Anna says wearily.

"Mhm."

She lays the open magazine on her face, over her eyes, and rolls her shoulders back and forth to release some tension of lying down in the same position for about an hour.

"Do the thing, Sammy." She says as she's stretching her arms above her.

Sam sighs. "Magic word?"

"Love yooouu." She chimes.

"That's actually two, but I'll accept it."

She sits up and scooches closer to Sam, with her back right up to his propped-up knees.

Sam moves her fiery red hair out of the way, hanging down her chest on one side. He runs his fingers down her spine, it's not necessary but she laughs whenever he does. He presses two fingers between her shoulder blades on each sides of her spine and she exhales slowly. He keeps moving down her back, pressing with two fingers, until he finds the point where it starts to tickle and her whole body shakes with her laughter. He pokes her in the side and she folds over, rolling to the other side of the bed. She lays back down on her back, twisting and stretching out her sides.

"That's never not great." She says, uncertain by the amount of negatives in the sentence.

"It's all in the pressure points." He says, shrugging. "My mom knew how to do that stuff, I guess, so Dean showed me."

"I bet Dean's better." She jokes.

"But who can help you with your Algebra homework?" He reminds her.

She points a finger like she's just had a eureka moment. "I knew there was some reason that I kept you around."

"It's kind of sad that you need help from an eighth grader, right?" He teases.

She grabs one of her decorative pillows and hits him in the chest.

He takes the one that's behind his back and throws it in the air, landing on her face.

She pulls it off and narrows her eyes. "Bring it, Winchester."

By the end of the pillow fight, which was later referred to as The Great Pillow War of 2009, everyone was exhausted and laying on a bare couch that was probably not their own. Two teams had been formed; the Cowboys and the Indians, as named by Dean. Sam, Dean, and even Gabriel as the Cowboys. Anna, Castiel, and Balthazar as the Indians. Luke led as pillow fight commissioner, but he wasn't very good at it and would have been thought to hold bias over the Indians. Except he doesn't like Balthazar much and he likes to torment his little sister, so the Cowboys eventually won. It took three hours, all of the pillows in both of their houses, two damaged lamps, one broken ceramic frog, and two giant blanket forts, but, hell, if it wasn't the best time that any of them had had in a while.

...

"Surprise!"

Dean nearly falls out of his bed when he opens his eyes and sees his friends and family standing around him. Through his drowsy vision, he can make out Dad, Uncle Bobby, Sam, Cas and Anna.

"Wha-?" He groans, squinting at the morning light. He looks over at the clock on his nightstand. 8:30 AM. On a Sunday.

"Happy birthday!" Sam says. Dean notices that he's carrying a plate full of breakfast food.

"Sweet sixteen." Cas adds.

Sam sets the plate down on his bed and John hands him a glass of orange juice. Dean sits up in bed and runs his hands through his hair. He manages a smile.

"Thanks, guys."

"Come downstairs when you're done, we've got another surprise." John promises.

Bobby lingers in the doorway for a moment after John's left. "And put some clothes on, boy."

Dean is suddenly aware that the only clothing he has on is a pair of boxers. He grabs a shirt hanging off the top of the headboard, God knows how long it's been there, and pulls it over his head. He tugs his sheets closer to him and takes the plate from the end of the bed. Sam, Cas, and Anna run downstairs to fill their own plates, then join Dean in his room. They all sit on his bed talking and laughing about some of the other birthday experience's they've had.

Dean only wants a small party this year with the people he's closest to, meaning everyone in his room plus Jo.

They finish eating, so Dean puts on a pair of sweatpants with "WHS FOOTBALL" running down the side. They bring their plates downstairs to the kitchen, where Dean sees Bobby and John drinking coffee and skimming through newspapers.

Dean sits in a chair across from them and clears his throat. "Sooo,"

Bobby smirks and throws something at Dean, not even looking up.

Dean catches it first, then looks at what's in his palm.

His keys. His keys plus one new key.

Dean grins. "Is this what I think it is?"

"Why don't you go look outside?" John suggests.

Dean bolts to the door and practically falls on his knees when he sees the rusted Impala sitting in the driveway.

He catches himself on the scratched window. He runs a hand along the door before finding the handle and pulling it open. The interior is scratched and patched and faded and it smells like motor oil but Dean couldn't be happier.

He sees Bobby and John and the rest out of the corner of his eye and asks, "She's mine?" to Bobby or John, he doesn't know.

"Well, if you don't like it I could take it back..." Bobby taunts.

"No! No, I...Thanks. Thank you." He gets out of the car and holds out a hand for Bobby to shake. Bobby mumbles "idjit" and tugs him forward into a hug.

Dean moves back to the car after the embrace. He slides into the driver's seat and adjusts the mirrors to his liking. "Does she run?"

"Barely." Bobby scoffs. "I tried to fix her up as much as I could, but I just don't have some of the parts."

"I've still got all that money saved up, I'm sure that I could find them." Dean says surely. He slips the key into the ignition and twists it forward.

"Woah, woah," John steps towards the car. He puts a hand on the roof and leans in to talk to Dean. "I think you're missing something. A driver's license?"

Dean nods, having forgotten that part. He has a permit, but he's been practicing with his dad since he could still sit on his lap. "Can we go now?" John glances over at Cas, Anna, and Sam.

"Go ahead." Cas encourages.

John gives in and gestures his head towards the house. "Go take a shower first."

Dean grins and almost hugs his dad, but they haven't done that in years. Just thinking about it feels unnatural. He twists the key out and hops out of the car.

"Thanks for the breakfast, guys." He says to his three friends standing by the porch. He knows that Anna and Sam must have cooked it.

"No problem." Anna smiles. "Good luck, Dean."

"See you later." Dean says a final thanks and runs up the house's stairs to the bathroom.

Dean breezes through the driving test.

"Did I pass?" He says eagerly to the prematurely-graying man sitting in the passenger's seat. The man clears his throat and looks at his clipboard, checking things off with finality.

"Yes, Mr. Winchester, I can say that you did."

Dean wants to blast Eye of the Tiger from the speakers and dance around the parking lot right here and now, but he contains himself. "Thank you, sir."

"If I may say so myself, you're a great driver, Mr. Winchester. I think you'll be a safe addition to the road." The man almost smiles.

Dean takes his driver's license picture, going for a blue steel expression. He knows that in five years it will still look cool.

After convincing his dad, he gets to drive home in John's old Chevelle.

For twenty minutes, Dean roams around the house singing "We Are The Champions," much to Sam's annoyance. He's happy that he won't have to ask his dad for rides anymore, not that he'll look like less of a loser if his brother drives him to any dates.

"What's her name?" Sam asks while they're sitting in the Impala listening to old tapes. The tape player is one of the additions that Bobby added himself.

"The Impala?" Dean asks.

Sam nods.

"Baby." It's a simple name, but it seems to fit. The Impala is the closest thing he has to a baby, and he cares about it the same, too.

"Baby, oh baby, my sweet baby," Sam sings.

Dean makes some motions with his hands like he's playing air guitar. "You're the one."

"And nobody puts Baby in the corner, right?" Sam teases.

"Damn straight."

...

Cas and Balthazar. Balthazar and Cas. They're practically inseparable. They buy each other clothes and write each other poems or songs and draw each other like one of their French girls. Cas understands that reference now, but never mentions it around Balthazar because he hates Titanic. Who hates Titanic?

Jo loves them. Anna does at first, too, but after a month of walking in on them making out on the couch it gets kind of sick. It takes Jo two months to be over it. She wonders how they can still be in the honeymoon stage three months later.

"If I got you flowers would that be too cheesy?" Balthazar asks on their first Valentine's Day. It's brisk outside; Cas is wearing a faded red sweater with hearts on it and Balthazar is wearing a cardigan over his V-neck. Cas shifts back and forth in his boots as they stand secluded outside the school's gate.

Cas smiles. "A little bit, yeah."

"Good, because I only got you one." Balthazar reveals a plastic rose covered in red foil around the petals from behind his back. "And it's chocolate."

Cas grins and brings it to his nose, smelling it ironically. It definitely is chocolate. "I love it."

"I love you."

Cas freezes at Balthazar's words. No one's ever said that to him, other than, like, Anna and Jo.

As Balthazar's caring expression starts to drop, Cas leans up and kisses him neatly.

"Love you too."

He tries to sound as confident as possible, but it comes out more like he's trying to convince himself that yes, I do love my boyfriend.

I should.

I will someday.

Probably.

Cas takes a box of Sweethearts out of his backpack, the one sitting behind his half-empty pack of cigarettes. He motions for Balthazar to open his hands and Cas pours some into his palm.

Balthazar pops one into his mouth and sticks out his tongue.

"Be mine," Cas reads from the candy stuck to his tongue.

Balthazar closes his mouth and says, "Surely."

The first bell buzzes harshly from the speakers above the gate.

Cas wraps his arm around Balthazar's waist and starts to walk to class with him, their steps not completely in sync.

All day he feels kind of queasy, uncertain. He keeps replaying the moment Balthazar said those three words. It hits Cas that he replied with three words. Only three. Not even right three. He missed an important subject; I.

What "loves you too?" Who "loves you too?" It could be anyone, anything.

Cas wonders if Balthazar realizes this as well.

...

"More." Cas moans against Balthazar's skin.

They're on the small couch in his room; he's redecorated his room three times since he was eight. Now it's adorned with a bigger oak-framed bed, a desk with colored pencils and pens decorated across it, and an entire wall that functions as a giant bookshelf. Wood is latticed across the wall from floor to ceiling, like a beehive, and three-quarters of it is filled with books. Another of his walls has a dark orchard painted on it that he did himself. The names Cas, Dean, Jo, Anna, and Sam are inscribed at the bottom of the tree towards the floor in a barely-lighter brown color, but no one knows about it other than the people themselves.

Cas is sitting on Balthazar's lap faced towards him. He bucks his hips every time Balthazar finds that one sensitive spot behind his ear, or by his collar bone. Cas' already-tight jeans feel even more constricting now, and he can feel that Balthazar's are, too.

Now would be the time that they would usually stop and take an awkward break, and Cas would draw the outline of a pencil on his desk or the shoes that Balthazar is wearing. But he keeps moving against Balthazar's hips, hungry for any friction he can find.

Balthazar looks taken aback. He turns his eyes towards Cas'. "More?"

Cas' eyes are desperate. His brain feels fuzzy and intoxicated, but his high faded an hour ago. "Yes."

"You're sure?" Balthazar says, wrapping his arms around Cas' waist.

Gabriel is off "studying" somewhere tonight. Anna is at a football game with Sam and Jo, Dean is apparently starting tonight, whatever that means. Lucifer is rarely ever home, thankfully. Father is where Father usually is on a Friday.

So, Cas lets out a final plead. "Yes."

...

April showers bring May flowers.

There better be a lot of flowers next month, Dean thinks. For the past three days, all it has done is rained. Dean notices the pattern of sprinkling, pouring, stopping for ten minutes, then repeating the cycle. It's dreary and dark and about ten degrees colder than usual.

Cas loves it. He loves the way the clouds cast gray shadows over the town and how the rain washes away the kids' chalk drawings on the sidewalk. It sounds depressing, but Cas thinks that everyone needs a little darkness to appreciate the light.

Michael is visiting this weekend from Canada; Cas doesn't know what he's actually doing there, but Canada's always seemed like a nice place. Cas has never been really close with Michael, but Michael is known to be Father's favorite.

Cas prefers to be secluded for the weekend. He finds all the dark or gray watercolor pencils that he has and draws outside in the rain on a single piece of paper. He likes the effect that it give his sketches, but he doesn't want his whole book to be soaked. Anna complains that he's going to get sick, so he goes back inside and watches while she makes some Pecan Tassies; Michael's favorite.

Dean knows that he needs to study for his History test (and his Math test and his English test). He'll read a few pages, then get bored and turn on some lame soap opera. He repeats that so many times that he can't remember if it was Napoleon or one of Dr. Sexy's patients that died from gastric cancer.

He hears it, even from where he is.

Shouting, coming from the neighbor's house. Cas' house.

The Miltons have always been quiet neighbors. They read and play piano and listen to classical music softly, but they don't shout. Unless it's Anna yelling at Luke about the weird smell coming from the shed.

First it's a deep, authoritative voice yelling. Dean doesn't recognize it. He pushes the notes off of his lap and moves towards his window, it's definitely coming from Cas' room if he can hear it so well.

With Cas' blinds up, Dean can see clear into the window.

First he sees Cas with his arms overlapped and a cross look on his face. His mouth his slightly open, like he's ready to shout back any second. Michael steps into view, a finger pointed at Cas while he keeps slipping from talking to yelling. Cas throws his arms out and yells back, his voice not much higher than Michael's. Cas has always had kind of a gruff voice. A flash of red walks by the two of them, then walks into Dean's view. Anna. She's standing between the two of them pushing Michael back. Cas flips Michael is middle finger and walks out of the room. Anna turns and Dean can distinctly see her mouth "wait." She stays in the room, though, shouting at her brother. He's at least two feet taller than her. Dean can still hear her shrill voice when he's hurrying down the stairs towards the door. Sam apparently heard it, too, because he's sitting on the bottom of the stairs. Like he's waiting for Dean to do something.

"I'll be back, Sammy." He says before he closes the door and jogs down the driveway.

"Cas!" He says when he spots him walking down the street.

Cas turns around, arms crossed.

"Where are you going?" Dean calls.

"Away." Cas replies and continues walking.

"Wait," Dean says.

Cas sighs and pauses to wait for Dean to trail after him. Dean sees that Cas' red-rimmed eyes contrast against his pale skin. His dark hair peeks out under a beanie covering the tips of his ears.

Dean pauses to try to think of what to say. "Is, uh, what's..."

Dean is thankful that Cas interrupts whatever he was trying to say. "Michael found out."

"What did he find out?" There seems to be a lot of quirks about Cas to "find out."

"Everything. Everything, Dean. He found pictures, of Balthazar and I, I mean. And the cigarettes. And the stash." Cas looks up at the dark gray sky as he feels his eyes water again. He laughs to himself softly. "God, why did I put it in an Altoid tin?"

Dean puts his hands in his pockets uncomfortably.

"He's going to tell Father." Cas rubs his eyes with his palms and wipes them on his jeans. "He's gonna kick me out."

Dean does something that he's rarely done before. He steps forward and wraps his arms around Cas. Cas sinks into Dean like he's done it a thousand times, attaching his own arms around Dean's waist.

"Let's go." Dean decides.

"What?" Cas says, tugging himself away from the hug to look at Dean. His voice is still thick from shouting, or crying.

"I mean, you can stay at my house tonight, if you want." Dean says. "But let's just go somewhere else for right now. To get away from-" Dean looks over at Cas' house, there's still shouting, "-that."

Cas smiles weakly. "Okay."

Dean pulls his hood over his head and they walk down the street next to each other, talking about easy things. Like summer and sports and the Impala.

"I painted and waxed her last month; she looks great, runs like shit." Dean sighs.

Cas likes the distraction of the conversation. "How long until you can drive her properly, do you think?"

Dean shrugs. "I've got five thousand dollars saved up and I've figured that I need nineteen new parts, but they're pretty small. It's not like the whole engine or anything. I think I'll have her driving like a dream by this summer."

Cas smiles to himself.

Cas' smile is contagious, Dean finds himself doing it, too. "What?"

"Nothing," Cas says. Dean pokes him in the side. "I just think it's amusing that you refer to your car as a 'her.'"

"Well, I don't know if I want to be riding around inside a guy all the time." Dean jokes.

Cas holds in a laugh."Okay, okay."

He looks down at his dirty Vans as he walks. A strip of blue duct tape is wrapped around the right shoe. Mostly because the tread of the shoe started pulling apart, but he also doesn't mind the way it looks.

"How long have you had those God-forsaken shoes?"

"Good use of 'God-forsaken.'" Dean finds it kind of endearing, if not insulting, when Cas praises him like that. "But, the shoes. Years, I think. And, no, I don't want a new pair. Why? Because these have something special about them."

Cas says it like he has it memorized, though he's not at all bothered by the inquiry. That basically answers all of Dean's questions.

Cas' confidence in the dirty shoes remind Dean of the same confidence that Cas held in a certain tan trench coat.

"Why do you wear that trench coat every day, Cas?" An eight year old Dean had asked Cas one day during the end of their first summer. "It's like a billion degrees outside."

"I don't mind." Cas answers simply.

"Don't mind?" Dean scoffs. "I must be a billion and forty degrees inside there."

Cas, even with his pink face and rouging neck, says, "It's comfortable."

"Lemme see." Dean says with grabby hands.

Cas' marbled expression goes uncertain. "I'm not sure..."

"I'll give it right back." Dean promises.

Cas wrinkles up his nose, but reluctantly slips off the coat and hands it to Dean, leaving him in only a pair of baggy black shorts, Captain America tee shirt, and, one of the other oddities Dean finds about Cas, an oversized blue tie hanging loosely around his neck. It looks like Cas just tried to knot it around instead of tying it properly, and part of it is backwards, revealing the label.

Dean tests the weight in his hand, it's lighter that he would have thought. The fabric is soft and comforting, like a security blanket, Dean thinks. He slips his arms through and hunches his shoulders to fit the collar around his neck, Cas watching him carefully all the while.

Dean shrugs his shoulders a few times before the coat feels on right, though the sleeves jut out onto his knuckles. On Cas, the bottom hem falls at his ankles. On Dean, it sinks onto his tennis shoes. Cas can't be more than three inches taller. Dean keeps waiting for a growth spurt.

Cas' residual body heat still lingers in the coat, Dean's warmth now adding to it. It's not...unbearable. He wouldn't want to wear it all the time. He notices some stitching at the collar, obviously done by an amateur hand. It's small print, but up close Dean can read the intricate sewing. "Castiel," it reads.

Dean takes it off, feeling too warm and like he's crossed some sort of line. Cas takes it back and puts it on, popping the collar out and refolding it down.

"My mom did my name on the collar." Cas says quietly.

Dean smiles at the sentiment. "My mom used to sew, too."

It's the one thing that they share the most. A tragedy, though Dean's never heard anything of Cas' mom, or his dad for that matter. It must be harder for Cas, Dean thinks, because his mom died a year after Dean's.

But Dean finds comfort in the fact that he knows someone who can relate.

Castiel's trench coat days are some of Dean's fondest memories; just a quirky, introverted kid that didn't understand pop culture references but could recite a Robert Frost poem by heart.

"Don't ever change." Dean hears himself saying out loud.

Cas cocks his head, a bit confused, but smiles anyways.

They've been walking for maybe ten minutes, and Cas asks vaguely, "Dean, how do you look at the trees?"

Dean only finds the question slightly surprising, but it's definitely something Cas would say. "Uh, like big hunks of wood with leaves. And the leaves are like hair that they shave off in the fall, and then it grows back in the spring."

That seems to humor Cas. "I guess you could think of it that way." Cas pauses. "How long do you think trees have been here?"

"Well, forever. Or after the Earth stopped being all molten." Dean supposes.

"After all the people are gone, I think trees will still be here. Maybe mocking us for being so stupid." Cas ponders. "Unless we kill them all, of course. They'd be a little bitter about that."

"You're like a really profound two year-old, you know." Dean laughs. "In a good way, I mean.. You always look at the world like you're discovering it for the first time. That's something special."

Cas smiles faintly.

They reach the town square—well, the old town square. The new town square has the modern stores that Cas doesn't bother with, like Starbucks and Cinnabon and even an American Eagle.

The old town square has an essence. Vintage dresses hang in the windows and candy-cane striped barber poles stand outside of the old shops, some of them closed and dark and dusty. The whole square is fragile and aged, though it still feels alive as ever. Though edges of buildings are covered with crumbling brick and neon signs are half-burnt out, there's an ice cream shop, it must have been here for at least forty years, and it still has customers.

Cas stops when they're about to turn a corner, and takes Dean's arm and makes a beeline for the ice cream shop. "Come on."

Dean doesn't even question it, he just follows close behind Cas and into the nearly empty shop. There's an older man with a paper and a cup of what looks like coffee ice cream sitting in one of the booths on the wall. It's refreshingly cold and it smells like whipped cream and a sterile doctor's office, but it's nice. They sit down on a couple of red leather bar stools in front of a counter. There's a bell sitting by Cas that would seem obnoxious to ring, so he just cranes his neck until someone sees him.

Cas has met the owners once before, an old couple, when he was six. It was just after his mother's death, and no one knew what to do. Father wouldn't talk to anyone and Anna had just barely grasped the idea of death. Michael was fed up with everyone walking around the house aimlessly, not touching or looking at anything that would remind them of Mama. So, he took Father's car keys and took them all, Anna, Cas, and Gabriel—Lucifer locked himself in his room and refused to leave—to the ice cream shop.

It was a small, desperate gesture, but it was enough for Cas. They shared happy memories and stories of her; it was the first time that they'd talked about her since her death. Michael said that she'd taken him to this place, just the two of them, on his fifth birthday. He'd had a double scoop of dark chocolate and cherry, with extra gummy bears. He ordered the same thing whenever he brought the rest of them here.

An old, graying woman in a red checkered smock came out to the front to greet them. He didn't recognize Michael, but her husband did. "You're the kid with the shaggy hair and missing front teeth, I remember you laughed so hard that chocolate ice cream came flying out of the gaping hole in your teeth." The old man laughed haughtily as he said it, and Michael smiled as well. He admitted that he was grateful that the teeth filled in and he grew out of the nineties grunge phase, and he couldn't even remember what he was laughing so hard about.

Cas was glad to see Michael smiling, breaking out of his strong, marbled facade. Like he always had to be a role model, show no weakness and all that.

The person that Cas sees behind the counter isn't one of the old owners, but he does recognize her after a second.

"Lilith, right?"

She looks stunned for a moment. "Yes, do I know you?"

"I'm Castiel. I was your counselor once, at summer camp?" He says.

Something clicks in Lilith's eyes. "Oh, yeah. That arts academy thing." She says it blankly, like she's suppressing something. "I went through a three year tie-dye phase after you taught me how, thanks for that." She says sarcastically.

"Yeah, you're the one who liked to throw stuff in the bonfire—other people's stuff." Cas mentions.

Lilith looks down at her shoes. She still has a gap between her two front teeth that Cas sees when she parts her mouth to speak. Her hair is as blonde and long as ever, Cas thinks she can't be older than thirteen.

Cas orders a chocolate malt shake and Dean, a mint chocolate chip scoop. Dean pays, much to Cas' disdain. He hates feeling like he owes someone, but Dean convinces him that they're friends and Cas doesn't owe him anything.

"There used to be an old couple that owned this place..." Cas says while Lilith's lingering at the counter after they get their orders. He spins the straw around the glass while drinks his shake.

"Oh, um, yeah. Those were my grandparents." She struggles to say the word were.

"What...what happened?" Cas asks. He may be intruding, but he's too curious to not ask.

"Oh, it was a few years ago. They were old, they just passed on. First it was my grandmother, and my grandfather a couple months later, naturally. It's kind of lovely, though, passing away at around the same time." A sad smile graces her face. "Like a love story."

Dean thinks it's kind of creepy, but Cas urges on. "What were they like? I only met them one time. They seemed happy."

"They were wonderful, a real classic couple." Lilith leans in closer to them and props her elbows on the counter. "My grandmother, Ella, she was a singer. She was real good, and my grandfather thought so, too. His name was Fitz—well, his middle name—that's what he went by. They hit it right off, and they got married later. They had a son, my dad, and they named him Gerald. It's funny, see?"

"Ella, Fitz, and Gerald." Cas smiles.

"Yeah, that's why I liked them. They liked to find irony in things. They had a daughter, too, so they named her Jane, because that was Ella Fitzgerald's middle name. Thus the name of the shop: Manhattan's."

Cas hadn't really noticed the name before, but there it is on the chalk board menu.

"Like the song." Dean adds, looking proud. Lilith nods.

"They sound great." Cas says fondly. He's nearly finished his shake.

"A real classic couple." Lilith repeats.

"Lilith!" A deep voice calls from the back.

"Coming!" She calls back. She reties her smock into a bow at the front, like she's striving for perfection. "It was nice seeing you again, and your boyfriend, too." She mutters to them.

They both immediately begin to correct her, stumbling over their words.

"No, we're-"

"We're not-"

"-not, um, just friends."

"Just friends."

Lilith giggles peculiarly and strides off, disappearing in the back.

Cas breaks the awkward tension she's left by slurping the rest of his shake crudely.

Dean counters his action by balancing his plastic spoon on his nose, it's still kind of sticky so it's easier to place.

They both break into laughter at the same time, dropping their straw and spoon.

It's pitch black—the lamp posts must have burnt out—once they leave the square, having visited the ice cream shop, the used book store, and a creepy doll store just for kicks.

Cas' phone rings when they're trailing along the side of the road under the cover of trees, still dripping from the rain.

"Hey, Anna."

"Where are you?" She doesn't sound exactly worried, just interested.

"With Dean. I think I'm gonna stay at his house for tonight." Cas glances over at Dean.

"Alright. Are you okay?"

"Better, at least. How's Michael?" Is he still being a dick? He thinks.

"Mm, cooling off, I guess." She pauses. "He didn't tell Father."

"How'd you manage that?" Cas says, astonished. Surely Michael would've ratted him out on something. The drugs, being gay, wearing white after Labor Day; yes, he can be that irrational.

"I'm persuasive. Also, blackmail. Remember that time that he got Luke to help him hack into the school system to change his GPA? I kept evidence, in case I ever needed to use it. God bless. We wouldn't want a certain law school to hear about that, would we?"

"God bless is right. I have quite the devilish sister." Cas says like he's just heard the most scandalous gossip.

Cas can practically hear Anna smiling over the phone. "Anyways, he's leaving tomorrow, so you can come back then. I just don't know how far the blackmail can go, so tread lightly."

"You're the best."

"I know. Love you."

"Love you too." He hangs up and puts the phone back in his pocket.

Out of the corner of his eye he can see Dean watching him. They're almost to Dean's house, near a lamp, illuminating his features only slightly.

"I think it's gonna be fine." Cas says before Dean can ask.

"That's good." Dean says.

When they get inside, after taking off their wet shoes, Dean can already hear John and Sam bickering about something. They're complete opposites, Dean doesn't know how they can even stand to be around each other. I guess that's family, though, Dean thinks.

He clears his throat as he goes into the living room. The two go silent and turn their heads.

"Where've you been?" John asks.

"Um, Cas. With Cas." Dean says, motioning for Cas to step into view. "Is it okay if he stays the night?" He tries to add some worry to his inflection.

"Sure." John shrugs, then goes back to his beer and TV.

"Hey, Cas." Sam waves.

And the same greeting that Cas always give him, "Hello, Sam."

"Wanna go play pool?" Dean asks.

Cas agrees and they start to bounce up the stairs. Dean leans his head over the railing and calls, "You coming, Sammy?"

Sam smiles and bounds after them, happy to be included.

"I'm not sure that I'm very good at this." Cas says with the hint of a smile while Dean is arranging the billiards.

Dean rolls his eyes, remembering the last five times that he played against Cas and lost. "Oh, shut up."

It's times like this that he wants to remember whenever he's older. Playing pool—losing at pool—with his goofball of a brother and quirky best friend. He hopes that in twenty years he still has moments like this with them.

...

Ever since Balthazar stepped into the picture, Dean has felt a strain on his friendship with Cas, Jo as well. It's like he's being tugged away right under their noses.

But that night, when Michael found out, Dean was there. Dean was the one Cas could count on, like old times. To be honest, Balthazar barely crossed Cas' mind that whole night.

Dean has tried to lessen that strain. He brings the Holy Trinity—him, Jo, and Cas—together more often; going to movies, cheap concerts, art shows. He actually hates the art shows ("That piece uses unique symbolism, don't you think?" "That is literally a piece of dried lettuce, Cas.") but he begrudgingly goes to a couple for Cas' sake.

There's an unspoken agreement that Cas understands between the Holy Trinity—when the three of them hang out, it's just the three of them. No Balthazar. Cas gets it, they don't like Balthazar much, and it's nice to be just with his two best friends. He's missed their inside jokes and conversation quirks and memories made.

Balthazar paints on a happy face for Cas. Sure, you can go hang out with those two without me. You can totally bail out on our date because you have to help Dean study for his math test, why not? Our plans? No, it's okay that you forgot. Jo and Dean's free tickets are more important anyways. It's infuriating, but he knows he can't say anything. It would risk ruining everything.

Dean is slouching back in his desk in History, teetering on the edge of zoning out completely. Has there always been a pencil jammed between those two ceiling tiles? He's drifting off, falling slowly and slowly and slowly...

"Dean Winchester." Mr. Bayne, the teacher, snaps. Dean takes in a sharp breath and opens his eyes, guessing drowsily, "Argentina?"

A few people around him giggle.

"Your enthusiasm is charming, Mr. Winchester, but this is US History, and you're only being called down to the office."

"Which office?" Dean asks nervously.

"Nurse's." Mr. Bayne slaps a slip down on his desk and motions for him to go immediately.

Dean takes his backpack, just in case, and saunters down the corridor to the front office. He can't think of why he would be called down to the nurse's office, he already had an eye test and his shots are all up to date to his knowledge. He's glad to get out of class, though.

He's a few paces into the building when he hears the wailing. A guttural, frantic sound that shocks Dean into alertness. He walks a little faster forward, the sound getting closer, until he's sprinting to the nurse's office.

He catches himself on the edge of the door frame and skids to a stop before collapsing back onto the open door.

"Dean." Jo breathes, like she's been holding her breath waiting for him. Her face is red and blotchy, how she looks when she's been crying. Dean only knows that look from when she fell off of his skateboard and landed face first on the pavement. She was crying and laughing hysterically, a red angry scrape across her cheek. She looked like she belonged in a mental hospital, but Dean couldn't help but laugh with her as he dabbed alcohol on her face. She winced every time the cotton brushed her cheek, the only times she stopped laugh-crying for twenty minutes.

But this isn't I'm hurt crying, it's my best friend is hurt crying. She's sitting on her knees on the ground beside a sterile bed, the kind that's in doctor's offices and covered with crinkly paper. Cas is sitting with his head faced up towards the ceiling in the fetal position on that bed, one hand tugging through his hair and the other holding so tightly onto Jo's that his knuckles are white. The nurse sits in a rolling chair on the other side of Jo, examining Cas carefully and writing things on a pad of paper.

A whimper escapes Cas' throat, Dean can see that he's biting down on his bottom lip to keep the cries in. He keeps mumbling something through his teeth.

Dean staggers over to the bed and sits down by Cas.

Closer now, he can hear what Cas has been muttering.

Muffled apologies to no one. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

Dean looks towards Jo, equal panic in her eyes. "What's wrong with him?" He asks quietly. Cas' Adam's apple keeps bobbing up and down as noises tear through his throat. He doesn't know if he should try to comfort Cas, he doesn't know what he should do.

"Um, I think it's a bad trip." Jo sniffs. She sounds drained. Dean wonders how long she's been here. "He kept mumbling your name a few minutes ago, so I called you down here. Just, 'Dean, Dean, Dean' and and then the sorry's started. I-I don't know what he's sorry about."

Dean shakes his head, lost without an explanation as well. He turns his head back towards Cas and puts a hand on his shoulder tentatively.

Cas glances over at Dean. Even in that quick look, Dean can see how terrified Cas is. Cas does a double take and looks back at Dean with pure wonder. His pupils overtake his vision, his eyes are rimmed with red and bloodshot. The grip on his hair loosens, he moves his arm to mimic Dean's hand'splacement, falling on Dean's shoulder.

"Cas?" Dean says faintly.

"Dean." Cas' rigid muscles yield slightly at the word, like a weight has been lifted. His grip on Jo's hand remains the same. Jo looks between the two of them curiously.

"Cas, what did you take?" Dean says in a soothing, yet firm tone. Their eye contact doesn't break. Cas cocks his head slightly before erupting into a fit of giggles. He barks with laughter, throwing his head back again.

Footsteps trail quickly down the hall until Balthazar appears in the doorway. He looks at a maniacal Cas with a mix of panic and puzzlement.

Anger bubbles up in Dean. He steps off the cot and stands too close to Balthazar for comfort. He wants to look intimidating, but Balthazar is—disappointingly—taller than him.

"What did you give him?" Dean says tightly.

Balthazar's panicked expression remains. He steps back a few paces, shaking his head after a brief look at the nurse and two other adults standing outside the door.

Dean knits his eyebrows and grabs Balthazar by the shirt, pushing him back against the wall. There's less than a foot between their faces. "What did you give him?" He repeats, sounding more frenzied than he'd expected.

Dean sees a similar terror swelling in Balthazar's eyes. Balthazar stays silent, petrified.

"I can't," he says in a desperate whimper after Dean pushes Balthazar again, now flattening him completely.

"Boys, boys," the nurse says blankly.

Cas' laughter has subsided, now he's rocking in that same fetal position, staring at Dean intently.

"I'm going to have to call home about this incident." The nurse says.

Dean lets go of a pathetic Balthazar and sits back down by Cas. "Please, don't. I'll just...I'll take him home."

His eyes do all the begging, and the nurse gives in. "Fine, fine. If it happens again-"

"It won't." Dean assures.

He turns towards Cas, cautiously talking to him like a four year-old, "I'm going to take you home, okay?"

Cas frowns, but nods.

Jo offers to come, but Dean would rather not deal with her emotional instability as well. "I'll be okay."

Jo gives Cas a hug before they leave, like that will help. Dean shoves past Balthazar on their way out.

"This isn't supposed to happen!" Balthazar calls after them. "I don't...I don't know what..."

His voice trails off as Dean walk out the front door with Cas clinging to him. Dean is carrying both of their backpacks and supporting some of Cas' weight.

He stops and realizes that he doesn't have any way to get home, and he doesn't want to walk all the way home with a drugged up basket case hanging off him. Cas could trip out and start chasing around small children or something.

He devises a quick plan. "Cas, where's your phone?"

Cas takes it out of his back pocket and hands it to Dean.

Dean presses a few buttons and gets to Cas' contact list.

The phone drones a few noises—Dean mumbling "Pick up, pick up," the whole time—before Gabriel answers. "Hellooo?"

"Hey Gabe, um, it's Dean. Cas isn't feeling well and I need your keys to drive him home." A thought dawns on him. "Shouldn't you be in class?"

Gabriel makes a disgruntled noise. "Senior ditch day."

Dean is pretty sure that it's not, but he goes on. "Listen, are you on campus? Can I just borrow your car?"

Gabriel sighs. "Yeah, but I still need my car, so I'll just drop you guys off. You're not ditching are you?" Dean can sense a smile in his tone.

"Whatever. We'll be by the car," and he hangs up.

Dean spots Gabriel's truck in the senior parking lot. After dragging Cas with him halfway there, he stops and turns to Cas. "I know you're all druggy and trippy, but you do still have the use of your feet, correct?"

Cas smiles, all teeth and too big. He starts supporting himself a little more, but his balance is still off and his arm remains around Dean.

They linger at Gabriel's car for a few minutes—Cas keeps looking in the side mirror and making faces, way too amused—until he shows up. His keys are hung on a lanyard that he keeps swinging around. He presses a button and the car unlocks with a beep; Dean is surprised that the car has automatic locks like that.

He opens the door and sits in the back with Cas, in case he tries to open the door or go all David at the Dentist on him.

Gabriel drives out of the lot, looking back at them curiously. "What's up with him?"

"Sick." Cas says, at least he's talking now. Dean hopes whatever he's on is starting to wear off.

"Pukey sick or coughy sick?" Gabriel says cautiously, like he doesn't want either of that in his car really.

Cas looks at Dean, then back at Gabriel. "Just sick."

"Sure." Gabriel says blankly, though who couldn't notice that Cas' eyes are like fucking saucers.

The drive isn't very long, though it's awkward enough. He pulls up between Cas' and Dean's driveways. Dean opens to door and pushes himself out with their backpacks, and takes Cas' arm and helps him get out next.

"Use protection!" Gabe calls before snickering and closing the door with a thud.

Yes, the comments on Dean and Cas' relationship never seem to stop, though they're always kidding. At least, Dean hopes they're kidding.

Dean uses Cas' house key to open the Miltons' door and pushes him onto the couch. He's happy to be free of at least half of Cas' weight pulling on one side.

"Is anyone home?" Dean says after he puts down the bags. He looks around—the amount of books that the Miltons have will never cease to amaze him.

Cas bounces on the couch a few times. "What day is it?"

"Tuesday." Dean says, though it's a bit off topic.

"Um, Tuesday...Tuesday..." Cas thinks. He looks at the grandfather clock to his left. 1:30 PM. "Luke's probably in his room. He claims to be doing online classes, but I know that he's usually torrenting movies or robbing people of their money on eBay." He's starting to sound like himself again. "Father is...not here, I don't think."

The house is so eerily silent.

Cas becomes suddenly serious and takes Dean's arm. "Stay with me."

Dean sighs. Fuck it, I'm only missing one class. "Sure, Cas."

"I want to watch Aladdin." Cas decides. He gets up from the couch and opens a cabinet to scroll through a bunch of old VCR tapes.

Dean droops onto the couch and waits until Cas has the movie in, making sure it was rewound, and presses play.

"This was one of my favorites." Dean admits while the movie starts.

"Me too." Cas says. His expressions are still a bit odd, but he doesn't seem moody as hell anymore.

"You still doped up?" Dean half-jokes.

Cas smiles, head faced towards the TV. "I'm just kind of...drifting."

"Mhm." Dean says. He watches Cas for a few beats before turning back towards the movie and moving his muscles around until he finds a relaxing position with his feet propped against Cas' coffee table.

Dean doesn't even realize he's that tired until he gets to the Prince Ali musical sequence and feels his lids drooping and completely eclipsing his vision.

Anna bustles through the door a couple hours later and drops a rolled up poster board by her shoes and backpack, thinking that she'll pick it up later.

The TV screen is glowing blue and a tape is hanging out of the slot in the VCR. They haven't used that in a while. She almost picks it up to read the label, but pauses when she sees Dean and Cas sleeping on the couch. Dean has one arm behind his neck and the other hanging off the couch while Cas lays on Dean's chest in an uncomfortable-looking position, like he'd just slipped that way while he was dozing off.

Anna would think it was cute—if Dean wasn't making grunting-snoring sounds and Cas' tongue wasn't lolling out of his mouth like a dog. She supposes it is actually pretty cute, like they're an old married couple. She's always wanted to see them together, if—thinking ironically of something Dean would say—they both got their heads out of their asses.

She moves Cas' feet carefully out of the way so she can sit on the edge of the couch, though she doesn't think he'll wake up. She reaches for the remote and changes the TV back to cable to start flipping through the channels.

Cas remains still and asleep. Dean, on the other hand, stirs from the sound and winces at the light, though it's really not that bright in the living room.

He licks his lips—a habit—and squints at Anna. "Hey."

"Hey." She says back with a sly smile. Her eyes flicker down towards Cas pressing down on his stomach.

"Oh." Dean looks down, momentarily surprised that he hadn't noticed the weight. Anna catches a hint of a fond smile before he unfolds the arm that was just around his neck and brings it towards Cas. He knows Cas hates this. He trails a finger behind Cas' head along the notches of his spine. Cas wrinkles his nose and swats at Dean's pestering hand. He scratches the back of his neck before opening his eyes and frowning at the unfamiliar angle that he finds himself in. He hears a few beats of Dean's heart and realizes where he is, sitting up straight immediately.

"Sorry," Cas says. It's an open apology, like, "Sorry I tripped out and you had to take me home and babysit me for a couple hours."

"S'fine." Dean mutters, still not completely awake.

"You didn't ride the bus home..." Anna looks pointedly at Cas.

Cas turns around, noticing that Anna's sitting there for the first time. "I, uh..."

"Cas was tripping balls." Gabriel barks, entering from the kitchen. "Seriously, he was looking at Dean like he was newly-risen Jesus Christ. Right, Dean?" He flashes bright, taunting teeth towards Dean.

"Dude." Dean says, thinking you really think I'm gonna back you up on this?

Cas glowers at him. "Gabe."

"Castiel?" Anna looks at Cas for the truth, and his sheepish expression gives away his hand. "Castiel!" She raises her voice, appalled.

"Anna," Cas pleads.

"Castiel!" She throws her arms out brazenly.

"Dean?" Dean adds with an uncomfortable smile. They stare at him. Obviously not a good way to break the tension. "I, uh, just wanted to join."

Anna rolls her eyes and turns back to Cas. "What's wrong with you?"

"Anna," Cas repeats, "It wasn't supposed to, you know, react so violently."

"'It wasn't supposed to.'" Anna mocks. "You could have died!"

"You're being melodramatic." In a situation where one is being yelled at, a normal person would avert their guilty eyes, but in true Milton fashion, Cas is staring straight into Anna's eyes. They're begging and searching for some way to make her understand, but he's not even sure what he wants her to understand.

"I'm worried about you, Cas. I mean, I already knew about the cigarettes and the weed—speaking of which, wash your clothes in a separate load, I don't want to go around smelling like a pothead—and God knows what else, and it was slightly worrying, but it's your life, you know? But you need to take care of yourself—what happened anyways?" She stops as quickly as she talks, like she's trying to get several thoughts out all at once.

Her stare is intimidating for Dean, even with the training Cas has prepared him with over the years. "Well, um, Jo was there, too. I just got there at the end. There was sort of, er, screaming? Like wailing and it was awful, and you looked terrified out of your mind," He talks directly to Cas, "Sorry, Cas. Your sister is scary."

Cas sighs towards Anna. He knows how intimidating Anna can be, even for a fourteen year old. "I messed up."

"Damn right." It's odd for Cas to hear Anna use such language, though she's not exactly the most prim-and-proper young lady. (Cas always tsk-tsks at the way she rips pieces of steak apart with her fingers.)

"I messed up and I'm sorry." Cas says.

"And?"

"Um, I love you?"

"No, I mean, sure, but—you're going to stop?"

Cas hesitates, but it's enough for Anna to start the shrill, judging name-repeating again, "Castiel!"

"Anna." He groans, running his fingers through his hair.

"Seriously, Cas?" Dean pipes up. Anna and him have similar criticizing looks of disbelief.

Cas frowns. "Not you, too."

Dean rubs a hand behind his own neck. "I'm just—we're just—worried about you..."

Cas lets out an exasperated ugh and bolts up from the couch. "Don't be! I'm my own person, I can worry about myself. I don't need your pity."

"Fine. Don't expect me to come bail you out next time you have a fucking mental breakdown!" Dean calls as Cas stomps up the stairs and out of view.

A door slams from upstairs. Dean takes a few calming breaths before getting up from the couch and walking toward the front door. "Sorry, Anna."

"No, nothing is your fault." She assures.

I could have helped, I could have stopped it, Dean thinks, but he can't even convince himself of that. Cas is too strong-willed, a quality that Dean bitterly admires in him.

"Thanks for being there." He hears Anna say before he closes the door.

"I always will." Dean says it mostly to himself. He knows that whatever Cas becomes, wherever he is—mentally or location-wise—he'll always be there.

...

Dean allows Cas time to "cool off." Or, really, realize his mistakes and stop being a prick. Dean doesn't know how to help Cas, but he knows that he should. He can't just sit idly by while his best friend keeps hurting himself. It's like he's barely even Cas anymore. He can't stand the thought that Cas—his Cas—is withering away.

He blames Balthazar, obviously. He needs someone to blame and Balthazar is right there, an open target. He's the one with the most influence over Cas right now, so it must be his fault. That's what Dean would like to think.

He knows that that can't be entirely true. Cas, as he'd said himself, is his own person. He stands up for himself and doesn't deviate to the molds that are already set. In fourth grade, Dean remembers distinctly, Cas pushed Alistair into the rough mulch on the playground because he wouldn't let anyone else get a turn on the tire swing. Cas was the playground hero for at least a week.

Cas is stubborn and odd and, at times, inappropriate, as Dean has always known his Cas to be.

He's different, he's changing, Dean thinks. And the same name always illuminates through his mind, the same stupidly cool-sounding of-course-Cas-would-date-him name, Balthazar.

Though when Dean is looking at himself in the D-building's bathroom mirror one day, that name is not who he is thinking about.

His thoughts are more like: My hair looks pretty good today. Well, maybe there's too much mousse...maybe I should try that new Axe hair stuff. How does Cas get his hair to look so messy-yet-styled all the time? I wonder if he uses the Axe hair stuff. Red is a good color on me.

Such thoughts are still rambling through his mind when a scruffy V-neck-wearing guy walks in.

"Hey, Balth." Dean knows he hates the shortening, so of course he uses it regularly.

"Dean." He says simply, stepping closer to Dean.

"Stalker much?" Dean says with a strained laugh. Balthazar keeps looking at him through the mirror with narrowed eyes. Dean turns to face him, though he's too close for comfort.

Dean raises his eyebrows and scoots away from the sink towards the outer wall of a stall. Balthazar still remains in breath-smelling distance.

"What's your deal?" Balthazar asks, curious yet daunting.

"I'm not the one that seems to have an agenda here, man." Dean chews on the inside of his lip awkwardly. He just wants to get out of here before the tension builds higher and his hand accidentally slips and punches Balthazar in the nose.

"Quite the contrary, I'd think. What about Cas?" Balthazar's eyebrow twitches, but Dean can't tell if it's intentional or not.

"What?" Dean's casual tone drops.

"Really?" Balthazar rolls his eyes and leans back against the sink. "God, it's obvious Dean. The way you look at each other."

Dean's main defense mechanism switches on: sarcastic taunting. "You know, you'd sound really smart, with the British accent and good grammar and all, if I didn't actually listen to the dumb shit that was coming out of your mouth."

Balthazar catches Dean off guard and shoves a hand at him, pushing Dean closer to the wall. Dean shoves Balthazar back, though there's no where to go, since he's pressed right against the counter.

"Listen, I don't know what problems you're having with your relationship" he spits the word, "But it's got nothing to do with me."

"When you are the one ruining said relationship, of course it's got something to do with you." Balthazar flares. "It has everything to do with you, you moron."

"What are you talking about?" Dean swells in a low voice.

"Seriously? Jesus..." Balthazar rubs his face with his palms. "You know, my boyfriend, the one in the dirty Vans who's in love with you?"

Dean swallows hard. "Listen, you're-"

"No, shut up, you listen." Balthazar pauses, probably for dramatic effect. "Just stay away."

"Stay away?" Dean smiles fiercely with skepticism. "What is this, like X-Men?"

Balthazar cocks his head before brushing off the comment. "Seriously, cut all ties. I don't want you to talk to him anymore, I don't want to see you two together."

"You're off your rocker." Dean says, almost a snarl. "And if I don't?" He bemuses.

Balthazar smiles darkly. "Maybe a teacher, or, I don't know, a coach will find some cryptic substance in your locker?"

It's all a game, Dean realizes. Each of them hold a hand of cards. Dean adds another card to the deck. "What do I care? I don't even like football all that much, and what's another suspension."

"What about your brother? He's got a lot going for him, right? Good grades, bright future..." Balthazar teases.

It's a bluff. It must be.

But Dean can't take that risk.

"Whatever." Dean says, trying to wave it off. "You're a psychopath, anyways."

"I just know what I want." Balthazar says smoothly.

Before Dean leaves the bathroom, realizing that he's been missing from class for fifteen minutes, he adds one more card. "Jealousy isn't a good look on you, Balthy."

It's not a game of cards, Dean thinks when he's going back to class. It's a house of cards. Dean's last words are hanging precariously over the edge of the tower, and Balthazar is waiting to see which way it will fall. Dean, admittedly, is just as oblivious, because neither of them control the outcome.

The cards all fall at Castiel's hands.

...

"Sine equals opposite over..."

"Hypotenuse" Anna concludes.

Sam trails a finger down Anna's math notes. "Right. Tangent equals opposite over..."

Anna sighs. "Adjacent. I know this, okay. Can we take a break?"

"Finally." Sam says, pushing the notes away from him.

Anna picks up the remote from Sam's bedside table and starts surfing through channels. Nothing good is on at six o' clock on Sundays.

There's a knock on Sam's door and he replies with a call of, "It's open."

Dean peeks his head out of the door , then pushes it the rest of the way open with his shoulder.

"Hey." Sam says inattentively. Anna waves.

"What's up?" Dean says, leaning against the wall.

Dean's presence finally strikes Sam as odd. "I don't have any money, Dean."

"What? No, I was just..." Dean pauses. "I'm bored."

"So, go do something."

"Wow, what a great idea, Sammy. I don't know what to do."

"Go hang out with Jo." Sam advises.

"She has to cover a shift at the bar." Dean says.

"What about Cas?"

Dean groans.

"Oh yeah, you guys are doing that annoying not-talking-to-each-other thing again." Sam mocks.

"Shut up." Dean retorts lamely.

"What about your football buddies?" Sam suggests.

Dean makes a noise of indifference.

"You need more friends."

"Says the kid who only ever seems to hang out with the neighbor girl who's two years older than him." Dean jests, smirking towards Anna.

"What can I say, the older ladies love me." Sam winks jokingly at Anna.

Anna rolls her eyes. "I guess you just can't shake me off."

Dean can't help but feel like he's intruding on something when they all laugh.

Anna speaks up. "You can hang out with us, if you want...?" She looks towards Sam, who shrugs.

Dean shakes his head. "I'll be fine. I think I'll go watch a movie or-" he gasps "-Study!"

Anna and Sam gasp, too, looking extra scandalized.

"But thanks." Dean waves and clicks the door closed behind him.

"My brother is weird." Sam says after he's left.

"So I wasn't the only one thinking that?" Anna smiles.

Dean grabs the remote from her—wrestles it out of her hand, really—but Anna still somehow convinces him to watch Toddlers and Tiaras.

"This is an awful show." He says.

"I know, completely immoral." She agrees.

They watch a four hour marathon of it.

...

It's not hard for Dean to stay away from Cas, especially since Cas is trying to ignore him. But weeks go by and the time passes where they would have usually stopped being so petty and hung out again like nothing even happened.

The feeling itches at Cas, he knows that he should do something. It takes him long enough for the itch to overcome and possess him to be the first one to step up.

Cas catches up to Dean after baseball practice—Dean is pretty good at baseball, and it's one sport that he actually really enjoys doing—one Thursday. "Are you still mad at me?"

Dean turns his head, briefly taken aback, before licking his lips naturally and tightening his bag to his shoulder. "I was under the impression that you were the one mad at me."

"Yeah, well, I was just stressed. I'm sorry." Cas falls into step with Dean.

"Sure." Dean says, looking away.

Cas frowns. "Wait, really, are you mad at me?"

"No, Cas, it's just..." Dean exhales deeply.

"What?"

"I can't hang out with you." Dean's words shoot through Cas like a bullet.

"What?" Cas repeats.

Dean quickens his pace, but Cas keeps following.

"What are you talking about?" Cas grabs onto the back of Dean's bag.

Dean stops abruptly and looks at Cas. "Why don't you ask your boyfriend."

Cas only gets a fleeting look at Dean before he walks off to get on the late activity bus, but it's enough. The expression that Dean held hurt more than his words—brooding eyes, tightened lips, a woeful intensity; a beautiful sorrow.

Why don't you ask your boyfriend. Cas repeats the words in his head while he walks. Not a question, just a statement. Cas intends to do just that, and before he knows it he's walked to Balthazar's house.

"How the hell should I know what he's talking about?"

"He sounded pretty positive that you'd know."

"That's pathetic."

"Balthazar..."

"Why are you so protective of him? God, the both of you are so defensive."

"He's my best friend, I can't push him away."

"Then what am I?"

"Please, you're being childish."

"Wrong answer."

"Is there a right answer? You're my boyfriend, what else do you want?"

"Everything. I want to be your everything."

"You can't say things like that."

"Could Dean?"

...

The fighting escalates from there. The tension builds and crumbles the foundation that everything is built on, until it all falls. It all falls at Castiel's hands.

It's all harsh words and assumptions that finally break them down, leaving nothing to build on.

Dean bustles into his room after baseball practice, the last practice of the year—thank God—with his equipment bag in his arms and a bat obscuring his vision. He throws it all down on the ground, even though he knows that he'll have to take most of it back to the garage later. He just wants to eat. And sleep. Eat first, sleep later.

But he sees a messy-haired guy wearing a knitted cardigan with a bumblebee design sitting on his bed, looking through a stack of old tapes.

"Cas?" Dean says, wiping a hand across his forehead. It's the end of May and it's already too damn hot.

Cas looks up, apparently not having noticed Dean, even with the clanking noises he was making. "Oh, hello. Sorry for intruding, Sam let me in."

"Um, it's fine." Dean says with slight confusion.

Cas gets up and sets a tape back down. "You have a lot of classic rock." He states.

"And the sky is blue." Dean jokes, though he knows that Cas could make a counterargument that the blue sky, in fact, is an illusion of scattered white light particles from the Sun. "You've known me for, what, 8 years, and you're just now noticing?"

Cas smiles sheepishly. "I didn't actually come here to talk about the extent of your music selection."

"I didn't think so." Dean says.

"Well, uh, Balthazar and I broke up." Cas admits, running a hand through his hair.

"Oh," Dean raises his eyebrows. "Sorry, I guess."

"No you're not." Cas replies flatly.

Dean cracks a smirk. "Not on his part, really. But I just want you to be happy, you know."

"Thank you." Cas strains a smile back.

"So, what happened?" Dean asks after a moment.

Cas straightens his sweater before answering. "I suppose we just drifted apart. We want different things." He wants me. I want you.

"Oh. Well, sorry, Cas. " Dean puffs up his cheeks and lets out all the air, like it's difficult for him to continue. "For everything, I mean. I shouldn't have...blocked you out."

"I understand why you did, though. Balthazar was being senseless, I'm sorry he ever blackmailed you like that." Cas says sadly.

Dean catches Cas' gaze. The corners of his lips curve upward instinctively. "Can we stop with the sorry's now?"

"Yes please." Cas returns his smile warmly. "You know, honestly? I know that Balthazar was a bad influence, everyone thinks so, but I liked that. I don't want to be cookie-cutter, and Balthazar allowed me that for a while."

Dean nods. "Are you okay?"

Cas shrugs. "I think I will be."

Dean chuckles softly. "You said the same thing two years ago, after I found you in a pile of leaves with Crowley."

"Oh, yeah."Cas smiles, remembering that night. "Speaking of that, did you actually kiss Jo?"

"No, no," Dean shakes his head. "That was too weird. We just tried on other people's clothes in the closet. I think I actually stole a leather jacket that night..."

Cas laughs. "They do suit you."

Dean rolls his shoulders back, relieving some of the extra tension in his pitching arm from practice. "I've missed this—hanging out, being us."

Dean first entered the room tired and kind of pissed because his teammate Tony was picking out the mistakes that Dean makes when he bats. Now he's too awake and too aware of everything that's happening, and at the same time, he feels light and disjointed.

"So," Dean says, trying to cut through the tension.

"So." Cas repeats, taking a step forward. There's a worn shirt laying on the floor in a crumpled pile next to his shoes that he tries not to focus on.

The next thing Dean knows, he's plunging closer and crashing his lips into Cas'. This feeling, this burst of energy and desperation and need, completely overtakes him. He's a shell of possessed emotions, cupping Cas' face and stepping forward every time Cas loses his balance and stumbles backwards until they're pressed against the wall. Cas' hands are searching all over Dean—raking over his back, pressing at his hips. The smacking and sucking sounds of their mouths pulling apart and pressing together resonate through the quiet room, blocking out everything else. Dean can taste the stale cigarettes on Cas' tongue, contrasting with the leftover taste of fruity gum he'd spit out ten minutes ago.

Dean presses his palms against the wall behind Cas to get better leverage as he trails his kisses down Cas' jaw, the stretch of his neck, under his ear. Cas moans at the pressure of Dean's mouth suctioning around his neck.

"Dean?" Sam calls up the stairs impatiently. "Hello?"

Sam groans and stomps up the stairs to the hall. It's the fourth time this week that Dean has left his gross sneakers on the kitchen table. Really, Dean, that's where we eat, he thinks bitterly.

He pushes open Dean's door carelessly and is about to start one of his rants about common hygiene, but the words die in his throat. They're replaced with the mutter of, "Oh God."

Which is, ironically, what Cas was just moaning as Dean's face attached itself to his neck.

Cas' eyes fly open and Dean twists his head around.

They all stay there for a moment, frozen without an idea of what to do.

Sam finally lets out a voice-cracking "Sorry," turning on his heel and hurrying out of the room. He would have ran if his nerves were working properly.

Dean throws a desperate glance towards Cas, whose mouth is parted open neighboring a blank stare, before rushing out to catch up with Sam downstairs.

"Sam, wait-"

Sam is already turning in circles around the living room with his fingers at his temples. He best bitchface is already ready when he looks up at Dean.

"Excuse me, I'm in shock." He says a little too calmly.

Dean narrows his eyes just as Cas brushes past him, saying, "I think I'm gonna go home."

I think I'm gonna go home. Those same words that rang through Dean's ears for nights and filled him with regret. The words that he pushed down deep enough so he could pretend like he didn't care.

The door shuts firmly behind Cas.

Dean leans against the door with his arms and forehead pressed against the cool wood. He catches his breath, trying to sort out his priorities.

"Dean?" Sam says, almost a whisper.

Dean pulls open the door and skids across the sidewalk. "Cas!"

Cas turns around wordlessly with his arms crossed, waiting for some explanation.

Dean doesn't give him one, he just stands across from Cas looking confused as ever.

"You can't do that." Cas grates.

"I know, God, I know..." Dean says in a strained voice.

"You can't just...just kiss me like that and then run away like a coward!" The words slice right through Dean.

"I know." Dean repeats.

Cas makes a wide gesture with his arms. "Do you have it all figured out?"

"Cas, I—I don't know." Dean's bright eyes are shadowed under his lids, looking down at a crack on the sidewalk. "I'm sorry."

"I thought we were done with sorry's." Cas spits before turning around and strutting to his porch. Dean stumbles along from a distance.

"You're a coward." Cas swells once more at Dean before shutting the door in his face.

I know. But it isn't who I want to be. Dean doesn't even realize that he hasn't said the words out loud until it's too late.

He picks himself up off the Miltons' porch and makes the short trip back to his house warily.

Sam is already waiting there inside at the bottom of the stairs.

"Dean-"

"Fuck off, Sam." The words come out sounding harsher that he'd intended, but maybe that will keep Sam away for at least a few hours.

...

The Winchester house is uncharacteristically quiet, at least for a few days. There's no shouts of "It's your night to do the dishes!" or "Put the beer back, son." There's no back-handed remarks or sarcastic quips between the brothers, no games of bitch-jerk; just a quiet, awkward pressure filling the house. Sam can't take it anymore.

He knocks three times on Dean's door cautiously before Dean replies with "It's open."

"Didn't want to...intrude." Sam says, wavering by the door.

"What's up?" Dean barely looks up from scribbling in an almost-filled notebook on his bed. It's a rare time that he's actually studying, because he has a D in Math and cannot bomb his finals.

"Just, uh," Sam chews on the inside of his lip before sitting down across from Dean. "Are we gonna talk about it? I feel like we should talk about it. Because this whole tension is weird."

Dean puts down his pen and rubs a hand across his face. "Yeah, I know it's weird."

"Um," Sam pauses, not sure what to say. "I wouldn't care, you know, if you were gay or whatever."

"Jeez, Sam, I'm not gay." The words strain in Dean's throat.

"Well, you're not straight." Sam says, cracking a smile.

Dean's expression remains stony. "I don't know what I am, okay?"

"Yeah, Dean." Sam's smile fades into a caring shade. "Are you and Cas, like, a thing?"

"I don't think we're anything anymore. I ruined it." He sounds like he's trying to come to terms with the words himself.

"You're good at that." Sam jokes uncomfortably.

"Oh, shut up." Dean says, almost curving into a smile. "I should be thinking 'it was a mistake,' shouldn't I? But it's not. I don't regret anything."

"I think that's a good sign," Sam says, trying to remember something from his Psychology books. "Do you like Cas? I mean, really like him?"

"I think I do." Dean admits.

"That's not good enough. You have to know, not think." Sam says brazenly. "You have to be so sure that it's all you ever think about."

"How would you know?" But Dean already knows the answer. He can see it in Sam's eyes every time he looks at her, talks about her. "Anna."

Sam looks down sadly. "She doesn't even see it."

"Everyone sees it." Dean says. "But you're in eighth grade, Sam. You're twelve. You shouldn't even have to worry about that."

Sam rolls his eyes. "Age shouldn't matter."

Dean sits up on his knees. "Okay, I'm going to give you some advice here. I know I'm not an expert—no comments needed—but I think you should wait a while to do anything about it."

"I know." Sam agrees simply. "Maybe you should, too. Until you have it all figured out."

Do you have it all figured out? Cas' words echo through Dean's mind. "Yeah."

Sam smirks and gets up to make towards the door. "And, just for the record, I think you and Cas are good for each other. Don't ruin it any more."

Dean waves Sam away, but he can't brush off his words.

He knows that he's messed up and Cas probably hates him, but he'll find some way to make it up. It may not be soon, but he'll fix it. He'll fix everything.

"And it's your night to do the dishes!" Sam calls from downstairs.

Dean smirks, thinking, for an annoying kid, his brother is actually pretty smart.

...

There's something comforting about the smell of stale beer and buffalo wings in Harvelle's Roadhouse. Dean was grateful to have scored a job with Ellen, Jo's mom. He mainly works in the kitchen frying up frozen chicken wings and refilling bowls of peanuts, but he gets to work the bar on slow nights when Ellen says it's okay. It doesn't pay much, but he actually likes the job. He gets to work (goof off) with one of his best friends, and Ellen gives him community service credit to make up for the below-minimum wage and long nights.

Technically it's not legal to work at the bar when it's "open for the consumption of alcohol" when under twenty-one, says the state, but in this small town, who is going to snitch? Jo has been helping out there since they first opened; cleaning tables, restocking the liquor shelf, conning grown men out of their money playing pool.

She's wiping down the bar that Dean helped refinish last week with a rag reeking so heavily of alcohol that she's pretty sure it could have the same effect as chloroform if she wrapped it around someone's face.

"Do you think that this is actually cleaning anything, or just spreading the spilled vodka around?" Jo asks, setting herself down on the bar stool across from Dean.

"I think it's working like bleach on that nicely varnished wood." Dean says, raising an eyebrow.

Jo wrinkles her nose and slides the rag away from her to the end of the bar. She props her elbows up on the bar with her chin in her hands, looking at Dean.

"What?" He says with a smirk, drying out one of the shot glasses.

"What's up with you and Cas?" She answers with another question.

"Not you, too." He groans, setting the glass down with a clink. He hunches his shoulders and mimics her position.

"You guys just usually get over what ever petty argument you're in by now." She says with an allusion of concern.

"I can't talk to you about this." He says, turning away from her.

"Then who can you talk to?"

Dean thinks about it for a second and faces her again. "I already had to explain this to Sam."

"So it will be easy to explain again." She might be more headstrong than Dean.

He sighs and lets out the words quickly. "I kissed Cas. Well, kiss wouldn't really be the word..."

Jo lets out a squeal and covers her mouth before gathering her thoughts and trying to speak again. "Finally!"

Dean gives her a confused look.

"Oh please," She says, "I know more about you—the both of you—than you do yourself."

"It's not the first time." The truth keeps spilling out of Dean's mouth.

Jo relieves her grin long enough to make a shocked face. "When?"

"After you passed out at Sam's birthday last year?" He says quietly.

"How was I not aware of this!" She says shrilly.

Dean rubs his hand on the back of his neck. "Well, it's not something you go around telling people, you know?"

Jo frowns suddenly. "Wait, so what happened this time?"

"I fucked up."

Jo rolls her eyes. "That's life."

Dean lets out a burst of laughter. "'That's life?' That's your big advice?"

"I'm not exactly the best person to give relationship advice. But I hope it works out, eventually."

The corners of Dean's mouth curve upward involuntarily. "That's why I love you."

"Because I give such good guidance?"

"Because you don't care. Or, you do care, but in an unobtrusive way."

"Unobtrusive, wow." She says, admiring his vocabulary.

"You've gotta give me some credit." Dean smirks wider. He doesn't mention the fact that he learned that word from Cas.

An older guy with a graying beard sits down at the bar a few stools away from Jo, ending their conversation. Jo gives Dean a sly smile whenever she turns the corner to the back room.

...

"No longer a middle school kid, now a piece of fresh meat." Dean smiles, clapping a hand on Sam's shoulder.

Sam shrugs Dean's hand off and readjusts his tassled cap. "Why do they even have a graduation for eighth graders?"

"I guess in case you drop out of high school, at least you had one graduation." Dean says.

Sam smirks up at Dean. "And congrats to you for not flunking sophomore year."

"An upperclassman at last!" Dean says, raising an imaginary gauntlet.

"Huzzah!" Sam joins. "After summer, at least."

"What time is it?" A voice calls from behind Sam.

He turns around to see a bright-smiling Anna in a long sundress. "Are you trying to get me to quote High School Musical?" He asks.

She pokes Sam in the side until he replies with "Summer time!"

"It's our vacation!" She sings.

"What time is it?" Jo calls, hopping towards them.

"Time of our lives!" Anna laughs.

"School's out, scream and shout!" The girls chorus.

"Oh, God..." Dean grumbles.

Jo wraps an arm around Dean's shoulder. "Have some summer spirit, Winchester."

Dean waves around his hands like they're imaginary pom-poms.

Jo nods and turns to Sam, who has a red-headed girl hanging off of him as well. "Congratulations, Sammy-boy. Where to now?"

"Disneyland." Sam says, receiving an eye roll from Dean. "Or IHOP. IHOP is good too."

"IHOP ahoy!" Dean says dramatically, raising an arm and pointing towards Jo's truck.

Jo lets go of Dean and runs ahead, yelling, "Last one to the car has to pay for gas!"

Anna shares a glance with Sam and links her arm with his as they go rushing off to the car.

"Unfair!" Dean says, pushing himself to catch up. Anna and Sam reach the car after Jo, who already has the car started by the time Dean catches up.

"C'mon, you can have shotgun." Jo says. Dean pouts and she adds, "It's not that long a drive."

Dean scoots into the passenger seat and can't help but smile as he sees Anna and Sam sitting in the back seat taking silly pictures with her phone.

Anna turns the camera around on Dean, and gets a picture of him flipping her off before he turns back around.

"Charming, Dean." Anna says with a smile in her voice.

Dean quirks an eyebrow, looking at her through the vanity mirror. "Am I ever anything but?"

"Pancakes!" Jo cheers before anyone can comment.

And the rest in unison, "Pancakes!"

...

"Castiel, you need to get a life," Anna says in the most comforting way possible.

"It's summer, Anna." He groans, his feet propped up on the living room's coffee table.

"Exactly! Go do something. Ride a bike, go swimming, get inspiration from nature. Outside."

"It's hot."

Anna rolls her eyes at his excuse. "It's like eighty-five."

Cas ignores her and keeps staring into his book, but he can't concentrate on reading.

"Why don't you hang out with someone?" She wants to say Dean, because that's who he's always with, but she knows about what happened and doesn't want to cross that line.

"I'm hanging out with you." Cas says with a faux smile. "Look, I'm not exactly the most popular person, especially now."

Anna shifts into one of her hips.

Cas continues with, "I haven't heard of Balthazar since school ended—I think he went to live with his grandma in Sao Paulo or something. Dean is being, well, indecisive. And I don't want Jo to feel like she has to choose which one of us to be friends with." A small, doubtful part of his brain tells him that she would choose Dean.

Anna tsks with her tongue."Just because you and Dean broke up-" Cas scowls at her, "-you're going to block out everyone else?"

Cas puts the book down across his chest. "I just don't want to be here anymore. Here, in Kansas."

"No one does."

Cas looks at her solemnly. "Really, Anna."

Anna's sad eyes fall down to the floor as she sits next to Cas on the couch. "Well, you know, Raphael is in Europe right now."

"And?"

"I'm sure it wouldn't be too much of a burden for you to trail along with him..." Anna catches his glance.

"Do you think?" He says with a hint of hope.

"Well, not forever, of course. For the summer."

Cas pauses. "What about you?"

Anna lays her hand on Castiel's. "Please, God knows what Luke and Gabe would do with the house to themselves—Father is barely ever here."

Cas is quiet for a moment. "Where's Raphael's number?"

Anna smiles weakly and leads him into the kitchen where he uses the house phone to call Raphael.

"Raphael?"

"Correct."

"It's Cas. Castiel."

"Oh, hello, brother."

"Where are you right now?"

"A little, crowded hostel in Belgium."

"Oh, fun. Listen, would it be to much of a bother if I...if I stayed with you for the summer?"

A few beats pass. "Hm. This isn't ideal, lavish traveling, you know? It's cheap and corrupt at times. You can't bring a lot of material possessions."

"I'm fine with that. All I need is a sketchpad and a camera. And maybe a few garments."

"Well, if Father approves. And Anna, of course."

"Of course."

"Then I'd be fine with you following along."

"Good! Great. We've got some extra money saved up, so I think airfare will be fine. I'll call you about the details. And thank you, really."

"I understand. Everyone needs to get away just once."

Cas smiles and hangs up the phone. He turns to Anna.

"I'm going to Belgium."

..

"Oh my God." Dean mutters to himself. "Sam!"

There's no answer. "Sam!" He shouts again.

"What?" Sam says as he steps into the garage with a cherry Popsicle in his hand.

"She's done." Dean says proudly, gesturing towards the Impala.

Sam raises his eyebrows. "Done? Really done?"

"Really. Done." Dean's mouth curves into a smile. "And I want you to be here when I first start her up, all ready."

Sam nods and stands next to the car, where Dean is sitting in the driver's seat.

Dean puts the key in the ignition and twists it hard. It takes two tries, but the engine finally revs up to a purr. Dean grins brighter and wraps his hands around the steering wheel tightly.

"So can you take me to the mall?" Sam asks half-sarcastically.

"Sorry, Sammy. I've got to go show off my ride." Dean replies, slapping his hand on the smooth, hard exterior of the Impala.

"To Jo?"

"Who else?"

Cas, they both think, but don't say anything.

"Tell Dad I'm out, okay?" Dean calls as he's backing out of the driveway.

"Sure thing." Sam says, and goes back inside.

Dean knows exactly where he's going to go first. Jo's.

He keeps the window rolled down and his arm hanging out, even though the sun is beating down extra hot today and the rush of warm air doesn't relieve any of the heat.

But it feels natural, just sitting his car all by his lonesome, one hand on the steering wheel and the other with its fingers tapping on the chrome to the beat of a Zeppelin song.

"Jo!" He calls while he's still in the car. The car tires crunch against the gravel outside Harvelle's Roadhouse. He steps out of the car and calls again, louder, "Joanna!"

"Nice car."

Dean hadn't even noticed the sleek Mercedes parked next to his Impala, or the hot girl standing next to it.

"Oh, uh, thanks." Dean smirks. "Not a bad ride yourself."

She smiles back and steps closer to him with an unmistakable sway in her hips. "I'm Bela. Bela Talbot." Dean notices that she speaks in a teasing, drawn out British accent.

"Dean Winchester." Dean says, nodding his head. "I haven't seen you around before."

"I just rolled in last night—new to Kansas." She says.

"I don't know why you'd want to be here, but welcome to Kansas." Dean shrugs.

She leans her waist against the Impala, angling herself closer to Dean. "I just wanted to get away."

"So does everyone here," Dean deadpans. She doesn't reply for a moment, so Dean continues with, "Are you staying for a while?"

"Probably not, I generally don't. Actually, I was going to see if I could get a job here-" Bela gestures towards the roadhouse, "-just for the time being."

Dean raises an eyebrow. "Oh, yeah? My friend's mom owns this place actually; I'm working here for the summer."

"Do you think you could swing me a job?" She smirks.

"Well, I'll have to use extra charm and charisma, but I probably could. Are you eighteen?"

"I can be." She winks.

"It's alright, Ellen's pretty lenient with 'age restrictions.'" He puts air quotes around the words.

She trails behind Dean and into the roadhouse. It's pretty sparse; Drunk Dan sitting in his regular spot, a bearded man chewing tobacco, some guy with an intimidating-looking tattoo that Dean doesn't want to ask about.

Dean spots Gwen, the red-haired bartender in her late twenties that's too dumb for her own good. He wonders how she doesn't mix up the twenty-year old Russian vodka and her homemade moonshine half the time.

He presses against the counter and asks, "Where's Ellen? Or Jo?"

She puts down a lager glass that she was wiping down and shouts, "Ellen! Jo!"

Dean sighs. "Thanks for your help, Gwen."

Gwen smiles sincerely. "Anythin' for you, sweet cheeks."

Dean can't help but smile a little. She may be daft and dim, but Gwen might be the nicest lady that Dean's ever met. Maybe ignorance is bliss.

Ellen emerges out of her office with her reading glasses on her head, lifting her hair out of her face. "What? Did Dan pass out already?"

"Uh. Ellen, this is Bela." Dean says, gesturing towards the brunette.

"Bela Talbot." Bela cuts in, holding out her hand to Ellen. Ellen raises an eyebrow at her too-bright smile, but shakes the hand anyway. "So, I was actually wondering if there were any positions open at this fine establishment."

"Sure are, but you've got to cut that shit out." Ellen says.

"I have no idea what you're referring to, ma'am." Bela replies with a hint of a sly smirk.

Ellen sighs, surrendering. "How old are you?"

"Eighteen."

As Ellen scoffs, Bela already has her ID out. Ellen slides her glasses back on her nose and looks at the ID carefully.

Low and behold, there it is. Bela Talbot, age eighteen, from Denver, Colorado. It looks kind of sketchy, but Ellen isn't one to question official-enough looking identification.

"Colorado?" Ellen asks.

"Most recently." Bela shrugs and leans closer, talking softer, though Dean can hear exactly what she's saying. "I've lived a lot of places, best not to ask."

Ellen hands the ID back and runs a hand through her hair. "I'd need you to help Gwen out some with the bar, and wait a few tables, though not a lot of people sit at the tables. Basically just keep the people happy."

"I think I can use my feminine charm in that area." Bela flips her hair dramatically.

Ellen rolls her eyes with a smile and says, "Welcome to the Roadhouse family."

"I'm thrilled." The words roll off Bela's tongue.

Ellen glances at Dean, like she's finally noticing his presence. "What are you doing here, hon? You're not on duty today."

Dean nods. "Oh! Right. I got my baby all fixed up, I wanted to show Jo."

At that moment, the girl herself walks through the front door. "Did I hear my name?"

"Yeah, where have you been?" Dean asks.

"The basement. God, that place is a dump." Jo holds up her palms covered in a gray powder and coughs hoarsely. "I'm pretty sure my lungs are coated with a good layer of dust right now."

"At least that will cover up the smoker's cough." Dean says, winking toward an unamused Ellen. "Anyway, we gained a new employee and you weren't even here to witness it."

"And I didn't get a say?" Jo scoffs, throwing her arms out. She stands across from Bela with her hand on her hip, surveying the new girl. "Name?"

"Bela. Are you done checking me out?" Bela deadpans.

Jo smirks. "Favorite band?"

"The Beatles." Bela answers.

"Cop out, everyone likes The Beatles. Favorite food?"

"You've probably never heard of it."

Jo brushes off the almost-rude comment. "Favorite movie?"

"Uh, Lord of the Rings?"

Jo smiles. "A bit pretentious, but I think you'll fit in with the Roadhouse crew."

"Thanks for your approval," Bela says, her words covered with sarcasm.

Dean cuts in. "If we're done with the third degree, I'd like to show off my car now...?"

"That shiny black thing that I saw sitting outside?" Jo asks, cocking her head.

"Yeah, that thing." Dean laughs, already leading her outside to properly brag about the Impala.

His shoes crunch against the dusty gravel, reminding him of the way his car tires do the same. He stands by the car and smiles, like "Ta-da!"

"She looks great, Dean." Jo says honestly.

Dean's whole body frowns. "'Great?' That's it? What about beautiful, fantastic, impressive?"

"Go ask Cas if you want some better adjectives."

Dean rolls his eyes.

Jo sits next to him on the hood. "Seriously, though. She is a fantastically impressive beauty, this car."

Dean cracks a smile. "Thanks."

...

"I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride," Dean sings along as he stacks chairs on some empty tables at the Roadhouse. The Bon Jovi song plays out of the crackly juke box behind him. "I'm wanted-"

"Wanted!" Jo joins.

"Dead or alive." The two of them chorus.

Dean stacks one final chair and leans against the pool table. He sees Jo with a brown leather jacket and tight jeans on, but the three inch heels are what make him look twice. "Wow, got a hot date?"

"Something like that." Jo smiles, making a pose and nearly falling over in the shoes.

"And Ellen is letting you leave like that?"

"Please, I don't need another mom." Jo flips her blond hair down and back up, giving it a little more volume. She wiggles her red-nailed fingers through a few strands of her wavy hair before she feels satisfied enough with her appearance.

"See you tomorrow, Dean." She says, smooching him on the cheek wetly with a "Mwah!"

Dean wrinkles his nose and wipes some red lipstick off his face with the back of his hand. "Later, Jo."

She waves as she swings open the wooden front door and leaves.

Dean rolls his shoulders back and forth for a minute, only temporarily relieving some of the tension that they hold. Either he's losing some of his muscle strength, or he's just working too hard. He chooses the latter and decides to take a break As he sits on one of the stools in front of the bar, he looks up at the retro clock hanging on the wall above him. Only an hour left of his shift, but there's barely anyone here and he thinks that he can get away with leaving any minute now.

Dean hears someone make a sound kind of like a sneering laugh as he puts his head down on the counter. He looks up and sees Bela with a leer on her face looking down at him.

"What?" He pries.

She purses her lips and shrugs silently.

"What?" He repeats.

She finally licks her thumb and wipes it across Dean's cheek. "Lipstick." She holds out her thumb, now smudged with red, to show Dean before wiping it on her smock.

"Oh," Dean says, self consciously brushing his hand across his face. "Thanks."

Bela makes an indecisive noise and pours some liquid into a shot glass for Drunk Dan. She had the idea to keep one bottle filled with tap water next to the one filled with vodka to give to some of the drunker customers that can't tell the difference anyways. It saves some stock and keeps some alcoholics from puking on themselves late at night. Dean doesn't object, because he was the one that had to clean it up before.

"So," she says after a moment, "What's with you and Jo?"

"What do you mean?" Dean can feel the fatigue already washing over him.

"Are you two, like..."

Dean finally catches on. "Oh! Dating? No. God no. People always think that, but she's just very, uh, touchy."

"Yeah, I can tell." Bela teases.

"Yeah, it's just...not like that."

"Why not?" Bela asks, leaning closer to him across the counter.

That catches Dean off guard. "She's one of my best friends, it would be weird."

"And?"

"What do you mean 'and?'"

"Is there someone else?"

"No-I mean, not...not really, no." Dean sputters.

Bela's eyes narrow only slightly. "Okay, fine."

Dean drops the conversation and buries his face in his arms laid on the counter. The wood counter top smells varnishy, he notices, but ignores it as he feels a weight lift on his eyelids and force them to shut.

"I'm not paying you to sleep, boy," Ellen says, snapping him awake. He doesn't know how long he slept, but it couldn't have been more than a few minutes because he doesn't feel much different than before.

"I'm closing up and don't think you want to sleep here all night." Ellen adds.

He hears her keys jingling and heaves himself out of the bar stool. His foot has fallen asleep, so he doesn't exactly make a graceful exit as he drags it beneath him.

He's surprised to see Bela outside and leaning against his car. "I need a ride."

"And I guess you're expecting one from me?"

"If I have to hitchhike home and get kidnapped by a band of traveling circus clowns or something, that blood would be on your hands." She remarks.

"Okay, okay, get in." Dean gestures for her to slide off the car door.

"Shotgun!" She says, getting into the passenger side.

"No shit." He smiles.

She's already going through his stack of music by the time they're out of the makeshift parking lot.

"What happened to your car?"

She sighs "I was just looking after that car...for a friend. I'm still waiting for my new one, if Mike ever fucking calls me back."

"You know," Dean says, "There's something about you that's really mysterious and frightening."

"Do you find it alluring?" She jeers, batting her eyelashes.

"Oh, yes. The way you strike fear and suspicion into people is the sexiest thing about you, other than the way you pour whiskey like a champ."

Bela laughs. "Thanks, I think."

Dean smiles and keeps driving down the dark road, only illuminated by his bright header lights.

Bela directs him where to go. "Down this road, to the right, past the pawn shop, into this parking lot."

Dean screeches to a stop in front of a run-down motel, reminding him that he needs to oil his brakes. "Here?"

"It's temporary." She defends.

"Uh, okay. Be safe." He says cautiously.

She leans over the console and kisses Dean on the cheek. It's different than Jo, he thinks as his face flushes a little. "I know how to take care of myself." Bela assures in a whisper.

She pushes the door open and has one foot out when Dean says, "Wait, Bela-"

She turns around, and they nearly bump noses as their lips verge towards each other. Her hands find his shoulders and move up his neck into his hair. She climbs over the seat so she's sitting in his lap, making his lips buzz against hers as he groans into her mouth. His arms tug at her waist, pulling her closer.

"Dean," she moans.

"Mm," he mumbles, leaning to nip at her earlobes. It's not really satisfying, what with the metal dangling from them. It tastes kind of like pennies.

"Do you want to come inside?" She breathes.

Dean pauses, opening his eyes wide. She untangles her hands to cup his face, studying his expression with soft eyes. She looks almost coy, and the most vulnerable that Dean's ever seen her.

"Yeah." He says finally.

Bela kisses him once more and opens the driver's side door, climbing out. She takes his hand and pulls on it, gesturing for him to follow. Dean barely has time to pull the key out of the car before he's trailing behind her to her room.

She digs into her pocket and finds an old key, twisting it quickly and opening the door. Then Dean is being pushed onto the bed, scrambling to sit up by the headboard. Right about now he's wishing that he would have taken a few swigs of something cheap at the bar, though he knows that Ellen would have found out some how. For some reason he just doesn't want to be entirely sober for this.

Bela kicks off her shoes and pulls his off as well, tossing them both to the other side of the small room. If Dean could describe this motel room in one word, it would be cheap. The bedspread feels kind of itchy and starchy, and the pillows behind him are flat and stiff. He can see the wallpaper curling and ripping at the ends, and tries to ignore the discolored splotches on some parts of the wall and curtains. He can't believe that he's thinking about anything other Bela, when she's right there, now clambering on top of him. He straddles her in his lap as she spreads her knees to either side of his thighs.

She pulls her tank top above her head and shimmies it out of her arms, revealing a black lacy bra with a little bow between the cups. Dean's shirt is lifted off too, and they pull off the rest of the cloying fabric one by one, quickly between sloppy kisses.

Then all Dean feels is moist skin pressing together, pulling apart, pressing together. God, he wishes he'd had a beer or two or six.

"You ready?" He barely hears her words. He nods automatically. His mind is a blur-even sober, he feels like he's drunk-and he doesn't exactly know what he's agreeing to until her warm, sticky chest pulls from his. Dean's hands search for the warmth again and then-oh.

Her hands are there, and then not, and then oh.

Dean's mind goes blank for a second as the sensation washes over him. He feels Bela's back arch and her muscles contract. They relax beneath his hands and she leans back down, pressing a kiss to Dean's chest.

"Let me do all the work." Bela says, almost a growl. "You just relax." She presses a wet kiss to his mouth, her tongue curling under his lips, and sits back up on his hips.

No words pass between their lips after that, just hasty pants and moans. Her hands find his short hair to tug on as she moves up and down, and he doesn't mind.

She makes one last moan of "Dean," and melts, falling against his shoulder.

Not a moment after her, he lets go of what pleasure he was trying to hold in. Shivers wave through his muscles, he feels like he's flying high. He groans something too, a name.

"What?"

Then he crashes back down to Earth.

"What did you just say?" Bela repeats.

"Huh?" He asks groggily.

"Who's Cas?"

Shit.

"Who. Is. Cas?" Bela sits up, her nostrils flaring. "An ex-girlfriend? Did you just moan your ex's name after we fucked?"

Dean is at a complete loss of words. "No-I, um-"

"Get out." Bela says, her words harsh.

He doesn't need to be told again. She rolls off the bed and slams the door to the bathroom. It's a little less awkward to put all his clothes back on when she's not there watching him, but only a little.

A thousand thoughts are screaming at Dean inside his head, but he can't hear any of them. He can't hear anything, and he doesn't want to right now.

He puts his shoes on finally and leaves the sleazy motel room, shutting the door behind him with a thud.

...

"You ass."

"I know, Christ, I know." Dean runs his fingers through his hair for about the thousandth time.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Jo says, resisting the urge to smack him upside the head. Again.

"Why did I even tell you?"

"Because Bela keeps giving you the dirtiest looks and I had to know why." Jo glances over at Bela again, now with her back completely turned to them, pretending to be busy.

Jo starts with another fit of laughs, turning a couple heads from the almost-empty tables near them.

"Shut up!" Dean hisses.

She takes a few deep breaths, centering herself. "No, seriously, tell it again."

"I hate you."

"Just that one part, where you said Cas' name after you came." And Jo laughs some more.

Dean buries his face in his hands. He can feel the heat emanating off of his cheeks, which are no doubt rouged like a burlesque girl's. "I hope you fall over in your chair."

Jo almost does, but she catches herself on Dean's wrist. Dean pulls away, which just causes her to wrap her thin arms around his shoulders in something of a hug.

"Oh, Dean-o."

Dean groans.

"You've got it bad." She sighs.

"I don't have anything." He replies weakly.

"Especially your virginity."

God help me, Dean thinks, and sinks lower into his chair.

Jo loses it again, throwing her head back in senseless laughter.

She actually does fall backwards in her chair, causing more people to look when it hits the ground. That makes Dean smile a little.

...

The summer passes too quickly. The only thing Dean has left of those warm months is a bundle of extra cash that he'll probably put into Sam's college fund, though he won't tell him, and the memory of the day a couple weeks back when Bela suddenly decided to quit and no one heard of her after it. Before they know it, it's Dean's first day of being an upperclassman and Sam's first day of freshman year. They're both looking forward to it, for different yet similar reasons.

Dean didn't see Cas once this summer, other than the occasional awkward hello when they both got the mail. But then Cas went to Europe or whatever, and Dean didn't see him at all. Cas didn't even tell him that he was leaving. Sam had to tell him, because Anna had told Sam. It's like playing a game of telephone whenever Dean wants to know something about Cas. How's Belgium? Anna says he's in France now. Oh, by the way, how's Cas doing? Anna says Cas says he's doing fine.

Dean did talk to Cas directly once. He caved and called Cas' cell phone, not even thinking that he'd pick up. He thought that American phones didn't even work in Europe, like they spontaneously combusted once they crossed international waters.

"Hello?"

Dean doesn't say anything for a second, he can't believe that it's actually Cas' voice.

"Uh, hello? Who's there?"

"Oh, uh, sorry. It's Dean. Is it late there-wherever you are? Sorry if it's late. Or early."

"Oh." Pause. "No it's fine. It's only ten PM here in Portugal. How...how have you been?"

Portugal? Dean thinks. "Fine. Good. Bored, you know. There's not a lot to do here."

"Yeah, I get that. It's kinda why I left."

"Yeah..." Pause. "How's, uh, all of Europe apparently?"

A forced laugh. "Not all of Europe, but some of it. It's been really great, actually. Expanding my horizons and all that."

"That's good. I always thought you'd be the one to get out of here first, Cas."

"Hm."

"Hm?"

"No one's called me Cas in a while. All of Raph's friends call me by my full name."

"Oh."

"I've missed it, kind of."

Dean doesn't even realize he's smiling. "I'm probably using up your minutes."

"Only a few."

"I'll see you at school, right?"

"Yes. I'm not leaving for good yet." His "yet" sounds regretful.

"Okay, Cas. See you in a week."

"Goodbye, Dean."

The phone cuts off.

Dean tries to ignore the warm feeling he has in the pit of his stomach, but it doesn't go away for a few hours.

...

Sam had some sort of miraculous growth spurt during the summer. Whatever he's eating, it's made him grow a good five inches in three months. He's almost as tall as Dean now, and a couple inches taller than Anna. Going to high school won't be so bad now, Sam thinks, now that he's at least as tall if not taller than most. Getting to go to the same school as now-sophomore Anna is just a perk of being a freshman.

"Get your own damn bag," Dean says, throwing Sam's canvas backpack to the passenger side of the Impala.

Sam slings the bag over his shoulder and shuts the heavy door at the same time Dean does.

"You know where your classes are?" Dean asks for the hundredth time.

"Most of them." Sam says.

"Don't get lost."

Sam rolls his eyes. "Please don't tell me the story of little Stevie Jenkins who wandered into the F-building and was never found again."

Dean smiles. "I think you'll do fine."

Sam sees a few of his friends and waves at Dean. "See you later."

"Don't give in to peer pressure! Do your homework! Lock the door if you're going to have sex in one of the bathrooms!" Dean shouts some last minute words of wisdom. "I love you!"

Sam ignores him and stays by his friends. Dean figures that he's successfully embarrassed him, like a good big brother should.

"Winchester!" Someone calls. Dean and Sam turn around at the same time, but it's just Gordon-he's on the football team with Dean. "Uh, older Winchester." Gordon verifies.

Sam goes back to talking with his friends. He'll have to get used to being at school with his brother.

"What's up?" Dean says, slapping Gordon's hand as a greeting.

"Did you make first string?" Gordon asks.

Dean almost forgot about football, and his big achievement. "Yeah, finally. You're looking at the varsity running back for Westmore High School."

He joins Gordon in a high five. "Congrats, man. See you at practice later?"

"Yep." Dean replies.

They go their separate ways, and Dean feels a little proud of himself. Even if he doesn't love playing football, he likes the reputation of being on the team. Especially now, since he's made first string.

He passes a couple of freshmen-they're so small, Dean notices-and a few sophomore girls, who he recognizes as some of the girls that used to ogle at him at football practice last year, and gives them a wink just to tease them. He hears them giggle as he walks past. There definitely are perks of being an upperclassman.

The rest of the day, though he won't admit it to himself, he's looking for Castiel. He doesn't even know what he's going to say to Cas when he finally sees him after about two months. Hey, how was Europe, do you still hate me, sorry for being an ass, are we still friends? Yeah, something like that.

By lunch hour, he still hasn't seen Cas. Not his dark, messy mop of hair or his scuffed-up Vans or his bright blue eyes. He even strolls around to the back of the gym, to Cas' usual notch, and there's nothing there, not even a leftover cigarette butt. Dean wonders for a split second if Cas still smokes. He hopes not.

As he's about to leave school, disappointed, he sees a wave of red hair and stops in his tracks. He bee-lines towards Anna and moves next to her side.

"Hello, Dean." She says after a glance at him.

"Hey, Anna," Dean pauses, "Um, how's your first day of sophomore year?"

"Fine." She says simply. "Castiel isn't here."

"What? Oh. Okay. Where...where is he?" Dean says, trying to act casual.

She sighs. "Still in Portugal, or Italy, or wherever. Europe."

"I thought he would be here for the first day." He tries to sound not so dejected.

Anna stops by a bus-Dean assumes its hers. "He called a couple days ago and said he's going to stay longer."

"But, school."

"He says he's getting educated there somehow, which I doubt, and that the credits will transfer whenever he gets back."

"Well, how long?"

"Until December, maybe?" She looks up at the bus impatiently. "Listen, I-"

Dean nods. "Yeah, okay. See you later, Anna."

"See you, Dean." She steps on the bus, and Dean stays by the curb a few minutes late just to watch it drive away. He thinks it's a little too warm for September.

After all the buses leave, though Dean just sees them as blurry flashes of yellow, he picks himself off the concrete and walks to his car in the junior parking lot.

His is one of the last to leave.

...

Dean waits weeks, months.

Not to say that he has a calender by his bed and he's crossing off the days waiting for his beloved Castiel to return from the depths of some plush European hostel. He's not some girl.

He doesn't miss Cas. He just...likes the way that Cas used to scrutinize his grammar misusages or how Dean would walk home with him sometimes, when it wasn't too hot or too cold. But Dean has his car now, so he wouldn't even do that anymore. Maybe he could give Cas rides home sometimes, just to be friendly. Maybe Cas has a car by now, something cheap, in both cost and appearance. Dean knows he has his license, Cas just never has a use for it. He doesn't seem to think that getting a car right when you're sixteen is a necessary social achievement. Dean always teases him for that, because driving a car, being behind the wheel, having the window down and music blasted all the way up, is one of the best feelings in the world according to Dean Winchester.

Whenever Cas would finish a book, he would summarize it all for Dean, or tell him about his favorite character in agonizing detail, or judge the author for mistreating a character that he liked. Dean really didn't care about any of it usually, but he would sit there and listen to it all because he liked the expressions that Cas made whenever he was describing things. He remembers how Cas makes broad gestures and scrunches up his face whenever he can't think of what to say next or cocks his head whenever Dean says something that confuses him. Dean usually laughs whenever Cas turns his head like that, because sometimes the angle that his neck can make is just ridiculous. One time Dean was sure that he was so puzzled that his head made a ninety-degree angle from his shoulder.

It's amazing that Dean remembers all these things about his odd best friend, especially the little things that he doesn't even know he takes note of.

December finally comes, December sixth to be exact, and Dean is stuck at football practice. Yes, football should have ended before Thanksgiving-Dean wishes it would have because it's so damn cold-but Westmore made it to the playoffs. Coach Rufus is making them stay half an hour later for practice four days a week, like that will make them any better. Half the team has thrown up at least once this week-Dean found that if he abstains from eating two hours before practice, then he should be fine-and the field is full of the sounds of guys hyperventilating. The cheerleaders get to practice inside the gym, why don't the football players? Coach keeps using the excuse that they need to stop being such girls and get their heads out of their asses.

Dean is sick of it, he really is.

He checked his phone an hour into practice when he was taking a water break and saw a text from Sam.

It said plainly, Cas is back.

Also, Chicken Parmesan for dinner, but Dean disregarded that part.

Dean pushes himself through the rest of practice; through running laps and doing lunges and pushing sleds with extra weights on them.

But why?

Dean stops pushing the big metal sled in the middle of the field.

"What are you doing, Winchester?"

Dean doesn't respond to Coach, trying to catch his breath.

"Winchester!"

The coach is standing too close by him now as Dean leans against the handles.

"What's wrong with you, boy? Keep going!"

Dean swallows hard and finally says, "No."

Coach Rufus looks awestruck. "What did you say, Winchester?"

"No, Coach."

"Do you want to lose the playoffs? Is that what you want?" Coach says, poking a finger on Dean's chest, though he doesn't really feel it through the padding.

"Is that what you want?" Coach repeats. "What do you want?"

What do you want? The words whisper through Dean's mind and crawl into every thought running through his head. What do you want? What do you want? What do you want? What do you want?

Dean's feet take over. They're running away from the field, he can barely hear Coach's shouts of "Winchester! Come back here or you're off the team!"

It doesn't even register that Dean is grinning as he's running and running, the wind slapping him in the face and burning his eyes. He gets to his car and he can barely put the key into the lock or the ignition because his hands are shaking so much. He immediately turns on the heater and strips off his cleats and padding with his jersey. He throws them into the back seat and finds a hoodie and some tennis shoes on the ground. He pulls those on, though the shoes are too tight because, he realizes, they're Sam's, and he's still wearing his padded Under Armour shorts. Too bad he doesn't keep extra pants in the Impala.

He keeps driving, not really aware of what he's doing, until he gets to his house. He parks on the street between his house and the Miltons'.

He almost doesn't see Anna sitting in the hanging swing on the porch reading a book that Dean thinks he recognizes.

"Where's Cas?" He sounds too out of breath.

"He said he went to the library." She replies, not looking up.

Dean says a mental Seriously? and steps off the porch again. He keeps his pace at a walk this time.

"Dean?"

He looks up at Anna, still rocking in the swing.

"Don't fuck it up."

Dean smiles a little, amused by her colorful use of words and the caring thought behind them. "Not this time."

He decides not to take his car and sets off on foot, because he knows Cas isn't at the library.

See, when they were younger, about nine or ten, Dean would say that he was going to the library, but he never did. Actually, he's only been to the library maybe twice and wouldn't even know how to get there now. He would sneak between the yards of his neighbors across the street, which would take him to a cul-de-sac with half-built lots all around the circle. It always smelled like saw dust, and that made him sneeze. If he walked down the street and to the right, he'd have to cross the street-after looking both ways-and that would put him in view of a vibrant green park.

He spent a lot of time at that park, on the playground. It was the best playground Dean had ever seen, with double swing sets and a tire swing and a rock wall and monkey bars and a little picnic table next to a plastic castle. Dean didn't care if he looked pathetic climbing on the obstacles by himself, or if he was too old to play on such things. It was a nice place to get away, especially if Dad was drinking or wouldn't take him out somewhere. He never took anyone there, not even Sam, for fear that Sam would tell on him for leaving the neighborhood.

One day, after him and Sam were fighting over something trivial, Dean came out here. He was hanging upside down on the monkey bars when he heard footsteps crunching through the mulch.

Dean flipped over the bars and landed on his feet to see who it was.

And there, next to the swings, stood an odd little kid with scruffy hair and a trench coat.

"Cas?"

"Hello, Dean."

"What are you doing here?" Dean said, sounding a little too bitter.

"I followed you." Castiel replied, unabashed.

"Oh." Dean wasn't expecting that.

"Sorry, I was in my yard and I saw you running off, and I was curious." Cas said, looking down at his feet.

"No, it's fine. I mean, no one ever follows me here, but it's okay." Dean paused, still standing by the monkey bars. "You can stay, if you want."

"I'd like that." Cas said.

Though they never agreed on it, it became a regular thing to meet at the playground. Sometimes they had races to see who could make it to the top of the rock wall first or foot races around the edge of the mulch. Dean usually won, but Cas blamed the weight of his coat, which he never took off.

Dean takes his mind out of his memories and starts taking the same familiar path. Through the yard, down the street, up the crosswalk.

There, on the swing, similar to that first meeting, sits Castiel with his scruffy hair and the same dirty Vans, and he's in need of a shave.

"Cas!" Dean calls, yards away from him.

Cas looks up at stops turning in circles in the swing. Dean starts running closer.

"Cas," Dean says, and drops down in front of Cas with his legs folded underneath him.

Cas' eyes are brighter than ever, and a little red. His eyes are always bothered by the cold. His mouth parts but he doesn't have anything to say, other than, "Hello, Dean."

"Uh, hey." Dean pants, curling into a smile.

"What do you want?" From Cas, the question doesn't sound vicious or accusatory, just honest.

What do you want? What do you want? What do you want? That question has come up a lot for Dean, not just today.

He suddenly notices a pressure building up in his chest, making it harder to breathe. There are a thousand words that he wants to say to Cas, he's thought about them for months. But not until this moment did Dean finally realize what he wants, the only thing he wants. It only calls for one simple word.

"You."

Cas cocks his head slightly to the left, and Dean smiles even bigger at the familiar motion.

"I want you, Cas. You, only you."

Cas' expression softens, and he stares at Dean for a long moment. Then, all in a rush, he grabs a fistful of the fabric of Dean's hoodie and pulls him into a kiss.

Dean is taken aback, only slightly. He relaxes into Cas' mouth and puts his hands on Cas' knees for leverage. Cas lets go of his hoodie and brings his hands to cup Dean's face instead.

Dean likes the way that Cas' stubble feels against his chin and how his tongue brushes Dean's lower lip. It's better than any kiss that they've had before, Dean can barely remember any of the others now. Their lips mesh perfectly; Cas' mint lip balm feels nice on Dean's chapped lips. Soft desperation tingles through their skin, skin that's too thick, Dean thinks, he needs to be closer but there's so much skin.

Barely heard whispers of "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," escape Dean's mouth.

"Don't be," Cas assures. He can feel Dean's eyelashes fluttering against his.

He presses one deep, longing kiss to Dean's mouth, and levels his forehead to Dean's to look at him.

"I'm such an ass." Dean mutters.

"No," Cas says.

"I am, I was. But I don't care anymore, I don't care what anyone else thinks because I want you, Cas. I want to be with you." All his words string together, Dean feels like his throat is going to close up. He takes a deep, shaky breath. "If that's alright with you."

Dean can feel Cas' cheeks rise as he laughs softly.

"I'd like that."

...

Dean wakes up the next morning feeling better than he has in a long time. He feels a fluffy weight on his bare chest and squints as he opens his eyes, momentarily startled. He smirks as the events of the night before come back to him. He remembers kissing Cas at the park, feeling completely embarrassed at his big declaration of his feelings, but he felt better when Cas kissed him so they kept doing that. At the park, in the Impala after they saw some gore-filled horror movie, during the gore-filled horror movie, in Dean's bed-after Dean promised Sam the last slice of pie if he left the house for a few hours-and more.

Cas stirs awake against Dean's chest and groans as he rolls over beside Dean.

Dean twists around a piece of Cas' dark hair absentmindedly, smiling when Cas looks up at him slightly puzzled. His expression relaxes into a smirk.

"You're not going to run off again are you?" Cas says groggily.

Dean chuckles softly. "Never again."

Cas nuzzles against Dean's arm, reminding Dean of a kitten.

"I think we're doing this relationship thing wrong." Dean says after they lay there for a few minutes, taking it all in.

"Not wrong, maybe a little backwards." Cas replies. He flips over on his stomach and places a kiss on Dean's lips.

Dean scrunches up his nose. "I have morning breath."

"I don't care." Cas says, and kisses him again on the nose.

They lay there for a while longer, exchanging kisses back and forth, until Cas pauses and a frown covers his face.

"What day is it?" He asks, curious.

"Um, the seventh?" Dean says.

Cas tenses suddenly and rolls out of bed. "Shit, shit,"

Dean sits up, covering his legs with his sheets. "What's wrong?"

"It's December seventh." Cas says, like that's a descriptive answer.

Dean shrugs. "Yeah, and tomorrow is December eighth, and after that is the ninth-"

"No, I mean...it's December seventh." Cas turns his pant legs back inside out before he pulls them on over his boxers, which might actually be Dean's. He finds his sweater hung on a rolling chair and drags that over his head as well.

"Are you going to tell me the meaning of this day?" Dean says, raising an eyebrow.

Cas sighs. Dean takes his hand and pulls him back on the bed, so Cas is sitting across from him. Cas waits a minute before speaking.

"My mother died ten years ago today. And every year, my family and I go to the graveyard to visit her, with flowers and stories and all that. That's why I came back yesterday, so I could be here. And it's-" Cas checks his phone in the back pocket of his jeans, "-it's already eleven o'clock and Michael and Gabe and Anna are all already there and I have three missed calls from Anna."

"Cas, calm down," Dean says, rubbing his thumb across Cas' palm.

Cas takes a deep breath. "Okay. Okay. But I really have to be there."

"I'll drive you."

"You'd do that for me?"
"I'd do anything for you." Dean scrunches up his nose. "That sounded really sappy."

Cas smiles and kisses Dean quickly. "Thank you. Now get dressed."

"Bossy." Dean grumbles.

Cas sticks out his tongue and goes on in his search for his sweater and shoes.

By the time he finds them and puts them on, Dean is already dressed in jeans and a WHS (Westmore High School) hoodie.

"Hold on," Dean says, and Cas pauses at the top of the stairs.

Dean steps down lightly and peers into the living room, where he sees Sam lounging on the couch watching Law & Order. He knows that Sam has seen this episode probably ten times before, he's obsessed with the show.

Sam looks up at Dean with a smirk.

"Oh, shut up," Dean rolls his eyes. "Is Dad home?"

"Nope." Sam replies. "He went to the hardware store I think-he's going to try to fix the stuck garage door, God help us."

"Okay, thanks." Dean says. "I'm gonna take Cas, uh, somewhere." Once he says it, he realizes that Sam already probably knows about the graveyard visit, seeing as him and Anna are attached at the hip.

Sam still makes an "ooh" and asks, before Dean can leave, "So, are you and Cas, like, you-and-Cas now?"

Dean settles with a grunt of, "Bitch."

"Jerk!" Sam calls.

Cas is at the bottom of stairs now, smirking at Dean.

"C'mon," Dean sighs, taking Cas' hand. Cas' smile widens at the gesture. Even though it's small, he knows it means more.

The car ride is quiet, other than Cas giving out directions like it's second nature. It's a forty minute drive, and Dean can't sit in silence for that long. He has to say something to break the tension that they both feel, because they're driving to a graveyard. That's not an every day car ride.

"You said you were six," Dean says after maybe twenty minutes. "When..."

"Yes." Cas says, looking out the window. "It was a year before I met you."

"Was it hard?"

"You should know." Cas doesn't mean to sound so harsh.

"Yeah, I do know."

A few beats pass. Cas speaks first. "It was harder on Anna. She didn't...she didn't understand what was happening, she was only five. Like, one day Mother is there in the kitchen making blueberry pancakes, and the next she's bedridden in a hospital."

Dean keeps listening as Cas talks. "My mother loved cooking-that's where Anna gets it from. On Sundays, I would wake up to the scent of those same blueberry pancakes and run down to the kitchen, and they would be there, Mother and Anna, with a stack the size of my fist already on my plate at the table. They never missed a Sunday. My father would be there, too, dressed in his Sunday best, drinking a coffee and reading the paper. We would have to go to church after breakfast, but I didn't mind."

"You don't really talk about your father much." Dean says after a moment. Or any of your family, really, he doesn't add.

"Ah, right." Cas says like he's taking a mental note. "He is a very reserved man. We live in the same house, but I barely ever see him. He says he's an undercover police officer, but I'm pretty sure he works as an agent for Witness Protection or something. He's always making excuses that he's going to poker games or he has to take another shift. Like I said, he's barely ever around. There's always money, so that's a perk. God knows where it comes from. My brothers and Anna and I, we've basically raised ourselves."

"I think you turned out pretty well." Dean says, taking his eyes off the road momentarily to shoot Cas a soft smile.

Cas shift in his seat and leans on Dean's shoulder. "What was your mom like?"

"I barely remember her anymore. That's the worst part, you know? Forgetting. But I do remember she was beautiful. I remember watching her put on her makeup sometimes and I would ask her why she does that, and she would say it makes her look pretty. But I always told her that she was already the prettiest girl alive." Dean's grip on the steering wheel tightens. "My dad loved my mom more than anything. Her death-" he chokes out the word, "-was so hard on him. But I was five, and Sam was two, we were just kids and we didn't get what was happening. Like you said about Anna. Sam especially, he kept asking where Mom was and Dad was no help. He would lash out-only with words, he's never been abusive or anything-he would scream to no one, maybe himself, until his throat was raw. He'd break down on the ground with a bottle of rum and I, a fucking kid, would take the bottle out of his hands after he passed out so it didn't spill-if there was anything left in it-and put a pillow under his head. I not only raised myself, but my little brother. I love Sammy more than anything in the world, and I'd do anything for that kid, and I don't know if I can ever forgive my dad."

Dean's voice breaks a little at the end. He doesn't want to cry, he's come so far. He's tried so hard to keep it all in and not think about it and here's Cas, bringing it all out again. A tear escapes from Dean's eye, and he mentally curses himself. It doesn't even make it to his cheek before Cas is wiping it away with his thumb.

"I don't think it's really your dad's fault. I know that he wasn't there for you, that's irresponsible I understand, but everyone grieves differently."

Dean lets out a laugh of relief. "You're probably the only person that has said anything other than 'I'm sorry' or 'Poor baby,' shit like that. I get what you're saying, and I know it was just difficult for him. I wish that he would have been more of a dad for those few years. Luckily, he got himself together, stopped drinking so much, and got a job as a paramedic. It's like saving lives will make up for that one he lost."

"Mm," Cas hums against Dean's hoodie. It's covered with a scent reminiscent of something fresh, like a forest. "Oh, hey, the entrance is right up here." Cas points to a road that splits off to the right.

Dean turns that way and drives down the small road, surrounded with a thick of trees. The car emerges from the view of the trees to a view of a wide, open field, covered with headstones. Dean sees the scattered flower bouquets and feels a pang of guilt because, honestly, he hasn't visited his mom's grave in years.

The road leads to a short parking lot, relatively barren of cars, except a black Sedan and a red Corvair that Cas recognizes.

"Those are my dad and Michael's cars." Cas says, suddenly eager.

He hops out of the car before Dean can take the key out of the ignition. Dean runs down the grass after Cas, who doesn't seem to have any thought of slowing down. He looks back at Dean a few times, though, just to make sure he's there.

Cas stops a few yards from a familiar group standing around a dark and chipped headstone, their backs to Cas.

Dean catches up to him and stares for a moment with Cas. Cas, after taking a deep breath, folds his hand into Dean's and walks carefully down to the small group.

Anna is first to notice Cas when he wraps his hand not held in Dean's around her shoulders.

She smiles immediately buries herself in Cas' neck as she hugs him tightly. She glances down at Cas and Dean's hands when she breaks the embrace, smirking to herself.

No words pass between them, but each of the Miltons look up at Castiel, and in turn Dean, except for one man who keeps his eyes at the ground. Dean immediately understands that that must be their father just by looking at him. He's tall, definitely, with slicked back dark hair and a pronounced jaw. He's wearing a long, black coat, but Dean can still see that he must have a thin build. Cas is the spitting image of his father. Dean glances at the siblings; a thin, red-haired Anna, a tall, blonde Lucifer, a brooding, just as tall Michael, and Gabriel, with his hair combed back and looking more earnest than Dean has ever seen him. They don't make any side-eyed glances at Dean and Cas, not even when Cas wraps an arm around Dean's waist and sinks into him.

"Do you think your mom would have been okay with us?" Cas whispers.

"Definitely. She would have loved you." Dean says confidently, only so Cas can hear. "What about yours?"

"I think so. She was very kind."

"Mine, too." Dean smiles.

Each of the siblings start to tell stories, about recent events, about memories they have with their mother, except their father, who remains silent and stoic.

Gabriel tells fondly about a time when he got the flu and she made him his favorite cookies and let him stay home from school an extra day. Lucifer, who is usually making some snarky comment, talks about how she used to always chastise him for having long, grungy hair ("It was the late nineties, it was cool,") and laughs sadly thinking about her teasing. Michael even chimes in, talking about how she would try to help him with his geometry homework, but he would end up showing her how to do a problem because she'd forgotten some of it. Their father says a single sentence, "Math was never her strong point." Dean thinks he even saw the hint of a smile.

Dean, oddly enough, doesn't feel out of place. He likes listening to the stories, and some of them he can relate with. It's kind of cold, but Dean barely notices as Cas holds onto him the whole time.

He could stay like this forever. Maybe not in a graveyard, but just holding Cas in his arms like this. It doesn't matter where or how or why, it just feels right.

...

It's not hard for Dean and Cas to "come out" to Sam or Anna or Jo or the people close to them. (Jo actually screams and hugs them both so tight it feels like shes cutting off their circulation.) Dean decides to keep it from John, though after a few months of walking in on them lounging on the couch, sprawled across each other, he suspects enough. He doesn't make a big deal out of it, they don't even have "the talk," he just tells Dean, one day out of the blue, "I just want you to be happy, son." Even that is awkward for them, but Dean nods gratefully anyways. Dean does tell Bobby, he's always felt comfortable talking to Bobby about anything, who replies with "Finally," and adds a grunt of "Idjits."

Their family definitely communicates well.

Dean and Cas don't even have a word for what they are. For now, "together" is good enough for them.

School is the hardest part. They agree to try to keep it a secret, but it's clear that some people definitely know. They're always, always together, except when they have different classes. Harsh words are thrown at them, especially since Dean is now officially off the football team. Dean threatens to push one kid's head "so far up his ass that it circles back around up into his neck" if he says something like that again, and that stops a lot of the comments.

...

Dean tries out for baseball in the spring and regains some of his athletic credibility.

At the last game of the season, a scout tells him that he has some real potential, and that he should keep it up.

After that, Dean pushes himself harder during scrimmages. Their school wins the championship because of his home run.

Cas, Dean, Anna, Jo, and Sam celebrate by setting off some of Lucifer's homemade fireworks. Surprisingly, no one sets themselves on fire...only a lawn chair and a patch of grass.

Senior year, the last baseball game of the season. The score is tied three to three. The Westmore baseball team is going against Clearwater High School and, damn, they are good. But Dean is better, and he keeps telling himself that.

He didn't think that he would even go to college, until a few months ago when a scout came up to him after winning a game and said he was on the track to get a scholarship. A scholarship to Fresno State! Dean has always wanted to go to California, or just leave Kansas. There's also the fact that Castiel got accepted into Pomona Liberal Arts College in Claremont, California.

Somewhere inside Dean, he knows that this game is what's riding on the scholarship. He can't focus on his friends and family sitting in the crowd or the scouts watching him or the bright lights beating down on him.

At this minute, he only has to focus on this bat hitting that ball whenever that pitcher throws it.

He takes a deep breath and shifts his cleats on the dusty plate.

The ball is thrown, aimed too low.

He jumps back and lets it pass.

This bat.

That ball.

It becomes his mantra as he steps back on the plate. Focus, Dean. Focus.

The white ball comes hurdling towards him.

When he swings, he feels the satisfying smack that twists him backwards a little. The ball collides with the bat and flies forward.

Dean's feet remember what to do before his mind realizes what's happening. He doesn't look up to see where the ball is going, he just runs. His foot slams on second base and he thinks, he knows, that he can make it to third. He turns and keeps running, he's almost to third when he hears someone yelling "Home run! It's outta the park!"

Dean lifts his arms up and grins as he starts to hear the wolf-whistles and shouts from the crowd. He jogs past third, and then home where he sees his teammates standing there jumping around and fist-pumping. He high-fives a few of them while they all chant, "Westmore, Westmore, we've got the best-more!" It's not exactly a creative chant, but it's not like they have cheerleaders to come up with something better.

Dean passes the the team and skims across the dirt below the crowd. He searches and searches, and finally spots Cas, Jo, her boyfriend Ash-they caught up again last summer and have basically been inseparable since-Sam, and Anna sitting together in the front row. They all have Dean's number, forty-four, painted on their face in the team color, dark green.

Dean climbs up the grate of the fence and, in a haze of victory, leans over and grabs Cas' face and kisses him.

It's brief, but long enough for all of the people around them to gawk. Dean realizes that it's their first public kiss, and Cas must too from the coy smile that he wears. He glances over at Anna and Sam-now at least a foot taller than her-who, to his surprise, are holding hands. What he doesn't know is that at the moment when Dean hit his home run, Sam and Anna jumped up and screamed with pride, then turned to each other and dove into a kiss. It was their first.

Dean couldn't care less about the people staring at him, he just won the championship and a good chance of a scholarship. He couldn't be happier.

"In this moment, I swear we are infinite." Cas says, just so Dean can hear.

"Did you really just quote Perks of Being a Wallflower?"

Cas' mouth parts a little. "You remembered!"

"Of course, it's at the top of the list of pretentious hipster books you own." Dean smiles and kisses Cas again before he can protest.

It wasn't easy to get to this point of being so comfortable with each other. Nothing about their lives have been easy. They have all been plagued with death and sorrow and anger and bitterness, but they have overcome all that. Not completely, they could never get over all that has hurt them. It has made them stronger, it has made them who they are. And, in a way, it brought them all together.

...

It's the fourth of July, the summer before Dean and Cas go off to college. Sam and Anna, now finally a couple-it took long enough-are at home hosting a neighborhood barbeque and probably being sickeningly cute. Dean convinces Cas to go to Wilson Lake, about an hour away. It's Dean's favorite lake, he used to go there with his mom and dad and Sam. It's one of the only memories he has left of his mom. Sam doesn't remember, he was just a baby, but Dean remembers it as the clearest lake he'd ever seen. He hasn't been here in, hell, at least ten years.

Dean rents a motor boat and they stay on the lake all day. Swimming, folding their legs off the side of the boat, maybe a little making out. But it's quite a romantic view, to tell the truth.

The lake is as clear and blue as Dean remembers. He's content with just sitting there and looking at it with Cas.

They dock the boat at around five-thirty and Dean holds Cas' hand and leads him up a hill.

"Just a few more steps, almost to the top, watch your step- rock, yep. Okay, okay, here." Dean stops and lets Cas catch his breath for a few seconds.

"Oh, oh wow," Cas says when he finally looks up, over the edge of the hill. The sky is lit with orange and pink while the sun sets right over the lake. "Beautiful."

Dean sits down cross-legged on the grass and Cas follows the movement.

"Beautiful." Dean repeats. He looks over at Cas and smiles. His finger traces the edge of Cas' jaw before he leans in and kisses him softly. Cas kisses him back deeper and pushes on his chest until Dean's laying on the ground. Cas suddenly breaks away from Dean's mouth and lays his head on Dean's stomach instead. He looks back at a flustered Dean and laughs lightly.

"Tease." Dean snorts.

Dean sits up a little so he can watch the sunset, shifting Cas so he lays in his lap.

They stay like that, quiet, for a while. Dean is making circles with his fingers on Cas chest when he asks the question that they've been avoiding. "What are we?"

Cas cranes his neck to look at Dean. "In what context?"

Dean runs his fingers through Cas' messy hair. "In any context. What is our relationship, you think?"

Cas looks away and far off. The sun is falling farther and farther in the sky and Cas wonders if he could chase it. "I think it's the ocean."

"Hm?" Dean murmurs. He's really no longer surprised by Cas' odd comments.

"Our relationship is the ocean, with all the waves and the storms and the ships always getting in the way."

"Are you sure you're sober?" Dean snorts.

"Of course, and we're the moon."

"Are we?"

Cas nods. "And the clouds. We're the ones that make all the waves and the storms and show the ships where to go."

"And what would the stars be?" Dean asks, actually becoming invested in Cas' ramblings.

"The stars." Cas thinks. "The stars are cliché. The stars are the path that we were always supposed to take."

"So it's written in the stars." Dean says with a hint of amusement.

Cas sighs. "Yes, that's why they're such a cliché."

Dean smiles contently and leans down to kiss Cas on the nose.

"But I think your theory is flawed."

Cas looks almost offended. "How so?"

"I think I'm the moon. I'm kind of the one that caused all the waves and crashed the ships. Wait, I don't know what the ships are supposed to be."

"Ships are just little factors that got in the way of our relationship." Cas assures him.

"Right. So I kinda messed up a lot of stuff."

"No, you're missing the point." Cas takes Dean's hand and begins tracing the lines on his palm. "The moon doesn't crash the ships, well, he might, but that's because they're in the way. Or maybe the stars told him to. But the moon is the one that keeps the waves going, he keeps everything right on track. Without him, there's nothing." Cas interlaces his fingers with Dean's.

Dean places a kiss behind Cas' ear, and says softly, "I'll be your moon."

Cas wraps an arm around Dean's neck and pulls himself up to kiss Dean. Then he mumbles into Dean's skin, "I love you."

And without hesitation, "I love you."