Alright, folks. This is it. The last chapter for... well, a while.
I've got, like, three other fanfic projects going- the serial killer AU, the shipwrecked AU, and a '50s AU- and I'll be posting those at some point, too.
But this story is, as I said, temporarily on hold for an indeterminate amount of time.
Please review if you enjoy this chapter, and please feel free to give me suggestions for how I can continue this story in the future! And even if you don't enjoy it, please review anyway so I can understand how I need to improve.
"I think- I told you about how my brothers taught me how to fight, yes?" Not waiting for confirmation, Castiel continued. "They did. So I could defend myself in high school. Um, the two eldest in the family were semi-athletic types, so they knew how to keep themselves in shape and stuff and I guess I went along for the ride. Plus, Gabe watched a lot of awful action movies as a teenager, and I learned some stuff from those. And when the time came- freshman year, y'know, very first day of high school- I was ready." Cas made a face and paused his narrative. "Apologies in advance for how horrifically cheesy all of this will doubtlessly sound." He took a deep breath and continued, simultaneously dabbing antiseptic to Dean's forehead. "I was quiet in high school and I'm still quiet, I guess. But back then I was a complete wallflower. No one really expected me to stand up for myself the way I ended up doing. The football jocks thought it'd be a really great idea to throw me around a bit- I was an easy mark, obviously. Stupid name, stupid hair, not into sports. I was a walking stereotype of the average bullying victim. And then-" Cas shrugged. "It's a bit of a blur. There were, like, three guys- football players, like I said, so they were pretty huge- and one me. And I wasn't popular at all, so no one was going to come help me. So they surround me, right? And I just- I stopped thinking. And went a little crazy, I guess. Sent one to the nurse with a mild concussion and gave one a broken nose. The other ran away before I could get to him. I was suspended for a week and on probation for a month. Um. So no one really messed with me too much after that, like I said." Castiel paused, swallowed, reached over and grabbed another package of disinfecting wipes and resumed his story. "People stayed away from me for the rest of high school. Don't know why. I mean, yeah, that whole thing was in my first week of school, and I didn't exactly make any efforts to reach out to anyone, but..." Cas trailed off, shrugging, and Dean made a commiserative sound.
"You- you didn't have any close friends in high school, then?" Dean asked, raising an eyebrow and with an odd mixture of pity and awe on his face.
Cas shook his head. "A couple over the years. But they all moved on. I wasn't too much fun at parties, so they found people that were." He waved his free hand in the air as if to brush the question away. "It's fine. That's not the problem here. Or- I don't know. Maybe you've discovered something and all my issues stem from that." He half-smiled. "Anyway. I didn't have any more incidents like that in high school. Though I probably did become the valiant bystander or whatever the kids call it these days a couple times. Saving damsels in distress if the situation demanded it, that kinda thing." Cas placed a hand on Dean's jaw, turning his head to the right so he could assess the cut running in front of Dean's ear. "I was no hero, though, don't get me wrong. Most of the time I was too lazy or too buried in a book to care." He smiled bitterly. "You'd probably have hated me in high school." Cas ignored Dean's hiss of pain as he mopped the drying blood away from the cut, and continued talking. "But that wasn't a major time in my life. It was college when everything really went to hell."
"You told me-"
"No, I didn't," Cas interrupted, sliding off Dean's lap and standing over the sink, his back intentionally turned to Dean, washing his hands and moistening some new paper towels. "I barely told you anything. And if I did, it was highly edited."
"So... does that mean I'm about to get the director's cut now?" Dean asked, mouth twitching up in an encouraging smile.
Instead of answering Dean's question properly, Cas just began to explain. "I did tell you that my family was really oppressive. Understatement. And then, when I got out of high school- guess I went a little crazy. Experimenting with literally everything about myself. I made sure that I applied only to colleges that were nice and really far away from home, 'cause that meant no supervision. And- yeah. I went crazy. Dyed my hair. Considered getting at least five tattoos, but backed out at the last minute in a sober moment. Drank enough for a whole bar at a time. And- okay, yeah, drugs." He rolled his eyes, even though he knew Dean couldn't see his face. "Like, a lot of drugs. Of various sorts. I wasn't high as much as I was drunk, but- I was very rarely not under some type of influence. I was failing half my classes- kind of a big deal, what with there not being all too many Journalism majors at my school. Everyone knew about it, pretty much, and I won't say I was a joke amongst my peers, but-" Cas shrugged. "I was a joke. A trainwreck. Every time report cards started getting mailed out, I'd sneak into the back room of the post office and steal mine out so my family wouldn't have any idea. And they didn't question that they never heard from my school, 'cause all my older siblings went to completely different colleges from each other and my parents never knew what to expect from a school. So I was happy in my drunken web of lies and half-truths. I tried to sober up for when my mom would call- she called every Saturday morning- but usually we'd just end up having a screaming match and I'd need to drink myself senseless afterwards anyway." Cas sighed, slumping forwards onto the counter, supporting himself firmly on his hands, palms flat on the surface of the sink area. "I had friends, yeah- burnouts, like me. Can barely remember what any of them looked like, now. We were high or drunk or whatever combination of the two, like, 80 percent of the time we were together." He turned and leaned back onto the counter, crossing his arms over his chest and staring down at the ground, trying to keep his voice steady. "It got to the point where most of the time I wouldn't even bother showing up for classes. I'd pay someone to take notes for me, though most of the time I had to borrow money from my friends 'cause I'd spent all of mine on booze or whatever. And I'd laze around in bed all day in various stages of intoxication. Women came and went. Like, way more women than I even like to think about. It was- it was awful. I was awful." Castiel drew circles on the ground with his toe, following his foot's movement with his eyes so he wouldn't have to look at Dean and see the loathing that was surely written on his face. "So... it had to end sometime, right? No one can live that way forever. You either burn out for good, overdose, drink yourself to death- or it stops. And at the time, I seriously thought I was going for the first option, but I didn't mind. To be honest, I was having the time of my life. I thought that was what life was all about. Instant gratification, free love, drinking, drugs, party all the time. I'd never known anything else, so that seemed right to me. All my morals were completely gone."
"So if you were having such a good time," Dean began softly, "why'd you stop?"
Cas almost looked up at him at those words- Dean's tone seemed to be exactly the opposite of what Cas had figured Dean's reaction would be. However, he decided that would be too distracting, and just shook his head. "I broke. It was- it was an average day. That's the way it always starts. And I was just going to a bar with a couple friends, same way we always did every night. And-" Cas uncrossed his arms to run a hand through his hair and sighed. "I don't know. I got drunk. I got in- I got in a bar fight. A stupid, stereotypical bar fight. Except-" He swallowed, and waited a few seconds before continuing. "It didn't end well. For anyone. The bartender kicked us out after punches started being thrown, so we took it to the alley behind the bar." Cas stopped, taking a shaky breath and raising his head to look up at the ceiling, voice becoming monotone in order to keep himself from tears. "I broke two of his ribs, bruised his liver, and fractured both his wrists. Messed up his legs, too. I ended up with a black eye and a split lip. And- and he got sent to the ER and was in critical condition for a few days, because he was asthmatic and I triggered an attack." A tingling behind Castiel's eye, and a tear broke free. He swiped at it angrily, continuing. "Only reason I didn't kill him was because I saw a cat crossing the street a few yards away and thought that'd be more interesting." He slouched even further, dropping his gaze to the floor again. "I got arrested, of course. Spent a few days in a county jail. Gabriel had to leave a literary conference to come bail me out. And my mom basically told him to tell me that she was done with me. Like, disowning me or whatever. Which was-" Cas huffed out a bitter laugh. "Unsurprising. I guess. I should have seen it coming. So Gabe bailed me out and the cops handed me a whole bunch of fliers as we were walking out- rehab centers. They said they were keeping an eye on me, now. I had a criminal record. And in a college town, that isn't taken lightly, apparently. So they said they were expecting me to go to one of the centers and get all fixed up." Castiel allowed a melancholy smile to tug up at his mouth. "I wanted to end it all, of course. Just kill myself then and there. If anyone but Gabe had come to get me, I would have. But- he talked to me. Said he knew what I was going through. 'Cause he really did. And after that, after our talk- I, um, I knew I couldn't. I needed to pull myself out of this hell I was living. And I needed to face up to what I'd done and what I'd become. Fix everything I'd broken in my and others' lives." He shrugged. "And- rehab happened. The AA happened. I visited the guy in the hospital once, a few weeks after the fight. He spat in my face and cursed my name, but I just kept on apologising and walked out of there feeling like a more acceptable excuse for a human being. Knowing I was changing for the better. So I gave up drinking and I gave up drugs and I washed the dye out of my hair and broke up with all my girlfriends and threw out all my clothes and bought new ones. And I went back to college, and re-took all the classes I'd failed, and graduated top of my class. Applied to every major paper in the county, and the surrounding counties, and most of the state, but none of them would really take me 'cause of my record. But then I got a lucky break- I met Balthazar, my boss, by complete accident when an elevator in a hotel broke down. We got to talking, and he liked the sound of me, I guess, and gave me a second chance at being a journalist. And the rest, as they say, is history. I was five years sober. Hadn't even been in the same room as any of the drugs I'd taken in college since I gave it all up. And I was better. No- I am better. This- I can get over this. The getting drunk with you thing. And what just happened. Two incidents. Those are hurdles I can jump and ignore. It's fine. I'm fine. And-" Castiel sighed, rubbing his eyes. "Now- now you know. Now you know what I am."
It was a long moment before Cas dragged his eyes up to see how Dean had reacted, waiting and ready to be hated and pushed away.
Dean was sitting there, mouth hanging open, eyes bright. He closed his mouth, blinked once, twice, and opened it again, and just shook his head and breathed, "I love you."
Electricity jolted up Castiel's veins, and his eyes widened in total disbelief. "You-"
"I love you," Dean said, a little louder, standing from his chair and taking a slow step towards Cas. "I mean it."
Cas's mind had spun to a halt, and he scrambled desperately for words. "But-"
"But nothing," Dean said firmly, taking another step forward so Castiel could just barely feel his breath on his face. "You- Cas, that's the most incredible story I've ever heard. And- I don't know. I just needed to say it. I need you to know that I'm in love with you. 'Cause I felt it so strong and I couldn't not say it. And it's fine if you don't say it back, but-"
"I love you, too," Cas interrupted, heart pounding in his ears. "Of course I do, Dean. So, so much. I-"
But his next words were cut off by the feel of Dean's mouth on his, Dean's hand in his hair, the warmth of Dean's chest against his own. "Good to know we're on the same page," Dean said hoarsely, pulling away an inch or two to rest his forehead against Castiel's. "Really, really good."
An idiotic grin spread across Cas's face, and he closed his eyes. "And- you're not put off by what I just told you?"
Dean made a noncommittal sound. "Honestly, Cas, I've heard way worse. The music industry is one bad business, y'know. And- yeah, sure, you did some fucked up shit, but we all make mistakes. I'm a good example of that. But look at you now! You're- you're- perfect. You're still hating yourself for it even now, and if that ain't an example of being a really, really pure person, I don't know what is. You got morals, Cas. That's rare these days. And you rose above all your issues and fought through and now everything's great for you." He tilted his jaw forward a bit and caught Cas's mouth with his briefly before leaning back again. "And I love you."
Cas shivered involuntarily, moving closer to Dean and wrapping his arms around his shoulders. "Thank you," he murmured. "So many people run away from me when I tell them that story. Not—not that I've told many people, that is. But the ones that I have told left me soon after. And to have you tell me what you just did—it means everything, Dean."
"Aw, shucks," Dean said into Cas's hair. "Just being honest, Cas. You don't need to thank me for being sincere."
"It's a lot more than most other people are," Cas said doubtfully.
Dean smirked. "Well, I'm not most other people."
Cas sighed. "I guess you're right." They separated, and Castiel was suddenly afraid again. "You—you won't tell anyone, right?"
Dean made a shocked face. "Of course I won't. I'm totally trustworthy. You know that."
Castiel nodded, catching Dean's mouth in another kiss. "Thank you."
The concert ended up being cancelled, despite Dean's protests—but it was for the best in the end, because the two of them got to spend a lot more time together than they usually did. Back to the Future was on TV, so Dean sat Castiel down with a bag of popcorn and made him sit through the whole thing. Neither party involved minded in the slightest.
As they drove away from Jacksonville later that night, they left the negative events of that city behind them in more ways than one.