Dean was trying not to make it awkward. It hadn't been a week since he visited Castiel and started to see the other guy in a whole other light.
Well, okay, to be honest he had started to like the guy before his little exposition party. But still. What they had was a tangible thing. It was affinity for old TV and movies from the sixties. It was the Car. It was the freedom to just say "fuck it" and hang out; the conscious decision to put the metaphorical guns away. It was being, underneath confidence and apathy, totally, paralyzingly scared about the future - about life after high school.
Dean thought that if he heard such admissions from another A-push lackey, he'd be thrilled. But hearing Castiel voice such things in the privacy of his bedroom to Dean, who might have been the first person to hear such things in detail, was one of the most reassuring feelings he'd had in a long time. Neither of them had all the answers, but just knowing someone who was suffering in a similar way to you made it a little more bearable.
So Dean refused to lose what they had.
Whatever that was.
This was the last Thursday they would be together before mid-terms started, and then it was Winter break. Their session was just a flurry of Dean breezing through three quarters of all the review material and the two of them slowly growing sidetracked. Around them other students were quietly cramming in groups; all walks of teenage life sharing the limited space to study – or just freak out for a few hours. Once one a trio of girls dressed in thin-knits and layered skirts told them to shut the fuck up, and they both moved to quietly looking over their own notes. It was amazing how quick Dean had gone from never being able to study to… well, having a decent chance of passing every subject with flying colors.
So maybe things had gotten a little close and personal over the weekend, but neither of them seemed to let it weigh on them now. Personal space was so overrated, anyway.
The session was over way too soon. They stumbled outside, the sky going gray and street lights already casting a small ring of light on everything. Most of the dedicated students – Castiel's crowd, it seemed – had streamed out with them, everyone catching rosy cheeks and being thoroughly buried in layers of clothes. Dean walked Castiel to his car, which kind of seemed to be another 'thing' he had started to do, ever since they talked about the Impala the first time. He'd stare fondly at it, Castiel would roll his eyes, say something smart, and they'd be on their way.
Today they stood in peace for a bit; watching lines of cars slowly drive down the parking lot.
"I hate when it gets crowded like this," Castiel muttered.
"You would be anti-social."
"It's like this when they have after-school games."
"You must be thrilled football's over then, huh?"
"Mm." there was a light dust of snowflakes coming down; it was too cold to have them turn into shapes. They waited in silence for another minute. "Did you ever do sports?"
"Trying to fit in a dumb jock stereotype, Cas?" he saw Castiel's lips twinge upwards a little bit; there was something rather dignified about the way the other smiled – a delicate way his lips turned. It made Dean feel happy he had that effect on the other, as if the smile was a rare thing when in all honesty, it seemed like they had been laughing together for… well, ever – their distrust and animosity towards one another as fleeting and unmentionable as the snow melting into the pavement. "I did some baseball in middle school. I joined a team in the first high school I went to but," he shrugged. "My grades, my Dad moving us so soon, I figured I shouldn't really bother after that, so I didn't."
"It's funny how life gets in the way of the things we enjoy." Castiel commented after an instant. Dean turned his head.
"You know, if it's not too late for me, it's definitely not too late for you." Castiel stared at him – or rather, they stared at each other. The revelation was as new to Dean as it was to Castiel. As scary as the world around them was shaping up to be, every new generation stepping up to plate was made to seize it. Whatever it was; a degree, a career, maybe just a cool car and a great friend.
The same three wannabe H&M poster girls strolled by and suddenly the two of them realized that they were leaning against the trunk of a car looking at each other for absolutely no reason.
"I still have some studying –"
" – Work's gonna be hell if I don't –"
They paused, sighing into the frigid air. "So, I guess this is goodbye," Castiel said. "We probably won't see much of each other until next year." He stuck his hand out; it was the only thing besides his face that wasn't totally obscured by boiled wool and denim and down. "So…"
Dean wrapped his arms around Castiel without a second thought; right across his shoulders, cheek pressed into the warmth of his neck and the scratchy material of his scarf. "None of that you-done-well-kid bullshit, okay, Cas?" he murmured. He felt Castiel's arms go around him not a second later, and their arms wrapped even tighter around each other.
It couldn't have lasted for more than five seconds, Dean thought, taking a step back, watching Castiel unlock the Impala door and give a final wave to Dean before starting the engine – on the first try, of course.
Five seconds or five hours, Dean swore he could feel Castiel's arms the entire drive to work, clenching around him, tighter, tighter.
And he wasn't even bothered by it.
Vacation wasn't the best time for philosophy, but Dean figured that Castiel's over-achieving tendencies had somehow transferred over to him. He spent Christmas back home, Mom, Dad, Sam, Bobby, the whole family. In past years he had counted down to the hour until he would see his Dad pull up to their house, and they would scarcely spend an hour inside their excuse for a home before they were back on the road, trying to see if they could cover a thousand miles in twenty-four hours. He would spend as much time as he could with old friends, with his brother, with everything he had abandoned.
This year, it was a little different.
Naturally it was Sam who pointed it out. "Who have you been texting all day?" was the question that kind of threw him for a loop. Dean made friends wherever he went. It was hard not to, unless he never talked, and even then some girl would probably chat him up at some point; but he never really kept such a close contact with them. School, fine, some odd weekend party, sure. But when he found himself more willing to send Castiel pictures of what his childhood home looked like, room by room, instead of checking to see if the neighborhood had changed since the last time he visited? That was a new development.
So he told Sam about Castiel. Then he told his Mom, and Dad, and Bobby of course, about the total dick of tutor he had that ended up saving his ass and becoming one of his best friends; about the reason why he was actually doing well in school; about how he managed to get his hands on a 1967 Chevrolet Impala. And it was all a real heart-warming story, if you were willing to be a girl about it – for evident reasons, Sam was pretty thrilled.
Days went on; he woke up at seven in the morning because his pillow was buzzing. Castiel texted him a simple 'Merry Christmas, Dean.' Which was about as generic as you could get, but made him kind of smile anyway. He promptly sent back a 'Right back at you. Thanks for waking me up, freak.' There might have been a smiley-face added at the end, but you'd have to break both of Dean's arms before he told anyone that.
It was little exchanges like that, all through the seven days he was home, that made him slowly realize something. How Castiel was different; how their friendship was different; how… well senior year was probably an ideal time for things to get crazy, right?
He spent the entire car ride back to Pennsylvania mulling over that line of thought.
The day he got back and John was already bound back for Utah, he sent Castiel another out-of-the-blue message. 'Hey,' he wrote. His fingers were trembling. 'Can I come over around twelve?'
The doorbell rang five minutes past noon, and Castiel was the first to answer it, holding his breath as if he expected Dean to have somehow irreversibly changed over the past two weeks they hadn't talked face to face. But it was still Dean Winchester standing at the door; the same old sandy hair, green eyes, and freckled complexion waiting for him, wearing an outfit that looked made for urban kids shooting for a mountain man style – something that didn't look pretentious or superfluous on Dean. "Hey," He shut the door and took a step forward, onto the front porch. "How was vacation?"
Dean smiled. "Great. Yours?" And just like that, they were back to normal.
At some point Dean admitted that he had more or less gushed about Castiel to his entire hometown before he left.
"Well, I hope your family likes me."
"Apparently they're trying to put you up for sainthood."
"Maybe it helps that I'm named after an angel," Castiel said idly, hands in his pockets. He sniffed.
"I'm fine. So, what else?"
"Oh!" his eyes grew wide, as if he suddenly remembered why he had stopped by in the first place. "Uh, I was curious about how I did on the mid-terms, and I shot an e-mail to the counselor's office…" he took out his phone and moved his thumb along the screen.
"They sent you your scores?"
"…Just on the bubble-in parts." His fingers stopped moving, presumably having found whatever evidence he had been looking for. "I kind of made a persuasive essay out of it, how it would improve my morale and I would pass on the news to you, my ever benevolent tutor, since you were supposed to get your college acceptance letters and it would be nice to know if I would help your chances."
"And you said writing wouldn't be a useful skill."
"Thanks smartass, do you want the grades or not?"
"Sure, sure. I want to see if all that hard work paid off."
Dean huffed. "Okay, so… Supplemental Writing; the multiple choice was only half of my grade, but out of eighty questions, I got sixty-seven right. So that's an eighty-three, eighty-four,"
"And if you don't get at least a ninety on the essay portion I think I might have to sue the school." Dean chuckled. "And History?"
"Two hundred questions, plus a few short response questions, so the grade won't change much, and I only got nineteen wrong."
"So that's a ninety."
"Okay, last one."
"A hundred and forty-five questions, two essays… I got a hundred and twenty-five right. But," Dean said, a smile coming through as he scrolled through the message. "Apparently the proctor for the test had started grading these the second school got out, and I was some shining star of the batch she had gone through, writing-wise."
"And you know this because…?"
"She got drunk and loud during the staff Christmas party, allegedly, of course. According to the counselor."
"So, you're passing – that's what I'm hearing."
"I am," Dean said. "More than that – I'm awesome."
"You are," Castiel said sincerely, watching how Dean seemed to practically glow at the concept. Castiel couldn't help but warmly smile back at him. "Dean, I can't tell you how happy I am for you."
"Be happy for yourself, too. I wouldn't have been able to do this without your help, Cas. Give yourself some credit." Castiel looked down at his feet, scarcely believing that Dean had come to his house just to pour out the news to him. It was probably the highlight of his vacation, just having Dean around him again – and maybe that was a little pathetic, that during one of the happiest seasons of the year he just wanted to see Dean for five minutes while he slowly froze on the front of his porch, but it didn't change the fact that he felt touched just because Dean couldn't wait to confide in him over the news.
"Thanks for telling me." Castiel said.
"No problem. I know it's kind of weird to say, but I missed talking to you, you know? Texting isn't the same."
"Trust me, I know. It's not like we see each other around much during school, anyway." He bit his lip.
"Like, I'm actually… well, okay, I'm not looking forward to going back to school, but I don't want to chew my own arm off to avoid going, so that's an improvement." He slipped his phone back into his pocket. "And get this; the counselor even said that I might not even need a tutor anymore."
Castiel felt his mood crumple a bit. "Oh," he said, unable to properly respond. "Good – good for you."
"Mm-hm. I mean, obviously I'm not…" he made some gesture that Castiel got the impression he should have understood. "So, what about you, college boy? How many acceptance letters did you get?"
Castiel forced himself to focus. "I got most of them…" he started. He had been meaning to tell Dean later, once the break ended, show him exactly how much of a impact he had made in only a handful of months – but then again, tutoring sessions might be ending too soon for that, and he wouldn't get another chance. Maybe this was how Dean wanted to say goodbye. Twisting his fingers together in the pocket of his jacket, he opened his mouth and said the six words that once would have ended his life.
"I didn't get accepted to Amherst." He stated calmly, feeling a strange sense of detachment to what he was saying, as if a long term personal failure was no more devastating than saying his car was low on gas.
Dean didn't take the news nearly as well. He took a step forward, eyes wide, mouth propped open a bit as if he had been about to congratulate Castiel before stopping dead in his tracks at the news. "Oh my God, Cas," he whispered, like he had lost the will to speak. "I am so sorry."
"Were you about to say 'it's okay'? Really? I call bullshit on that," a stab of indignant anger fueling his voice this time. "You've had your entire life focused on that school for years - since you were a kid; that's what you told me. And everything you've worked for, everything you've sacrificed – all for nothing? There's no way that's just okay. That's not," he huffed. "It's not fair."
"Life's not fair," he replied.
"You earned it," Dean grumbled.
Castiel looked up at the white expanse of sky. He had gotten the news four days ago, and he had spent a good amount of time just feeling numb. It wasn't quite disappointment, or sadness, or the rage that Dean felt on his behalf. It was more like emptiness – it was the absence of… everything. He had sort of expected that the approval from Amherst would have suddenly validated everything he'd done since Gabriel had left, and he didn't even get that. He didn't get a thing.
But he wasn't exactly bitter, not anymore – well fine, maybe a little, if he was being honest with himself. But when his parents consoled him and expected him to start sobbing and need a few therapy sessions in lieu of the fallout, he realized that he hadn't crashed and burned. Not like he would have, if Dean hadn't been around to put a perspective on things.
He looked back at Dean. "Yeah. I did." he replied. "I did earn it. I slaved over that school for, what, six years? Because I didn't know what else to do with myself. I gave up my friends, I gave up doing the things I liked, I became some obsessive asshole – and for what? One little rejection letter, saying I'm not good enough." He closed his eyes for a moment, felt the winter chill scald his vision when he opened them again. "So, it's okay. I found out, and I refused to be bothered by it because I think I've given them too much already. You're right - I gave them everything. I don't owe them this. I guess I never really owe anybody anything, but I especially don't owe them spending the rest of my life agonizing over a stupid piece of paper." He swallowed. "Dean, do you remember, back up in my room? I said that I wasn't too sure about anything anymore – what I wanted, what I'm going to do after I graduate." he sighed. "And now I really don't know – all my plans have pretty much been shot to hell."
Dean looked heartbroken. "Cas…"
Castiel smiled, slowly. "But I think… I think I'm going to be alright."
"…Alright?" Dean said, sounding doubtful.
"Yeah, we're going to be just fine, the two of us, you know? I kind of realized… a bit late, I guess, that I'm going to be taking a shot in the dark no matter where I go, or what I do. The sooner I accept that," he shrugged.
"I didn't think you'd go all Zen on me while I was away," Dean said. "So… you are okay? With this?"
"As okay as I can be, I guess."
"Really, Dean. In a way I guess I should be thanking you. Because honestly, if you didn't bother yelling some sense into me," Dean gave a sheepish look at the mention. "I'd probably be in bed right now, thinking my life was over." Castiel took a breath. "So, even though you don't want me to tutor you anymore, you should still come by – you know, for the sake of my sanity, and everything."
Dean seemed lost. "Who said you weren't going to be my tutor?"
"You said you might not need one anymore," Castiel said. Dean rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, like I'm letting you go. I don't care if I become the next Shakespeare or whatever – you're the only thing that makes English bearable. You're the only thing that makes school bearable pretty much. So don't think for a second I don't want you around, 'cause that's not… true." he hesitated. "Unless you're trying to get rid of me?"
"Not for a second," Castiel replied automatically.
"Good – then yeah, you're definitely stuck with me." Dean paused for a long moment, as if trying to edge over into another topic. "And, uh, actually, you're not the only one who's been doing the whole Philosophy 101 thing," he said. "I wanted to ask you: how good are you at taking SATs?"
Castiel recalled the 790 he had gotten in Critical Reading and the 720 he had scored in Math. "…Pretty decent, I'd say. Why?"
"Remember how I said college wasn't an option for me?" Castiel had an idea where this was going.
"Well, maybe I might want to change my mind. And since I have fuck all to go on, I'm going to need some help. Well, a lot of help. Like a lot."
"Well…" Castiel tilted his head, looking as if he was deeply considering whether or not to help Dean. "I suppose that's what I'm here for." In a more serious tone he went, "But you know you won't be getting in for the fall, right?"
"I know. I thought that I'd stick around for a bit, work full time, finish what I need to, write some killer essay and start in the spring semester, or even the year after. I mean, my uncle – friend of the family – Bobby, he runs his own garage. I mentioned him before." Castiel shook his head, faintly recalling him. "I'm thinking that maybe all I want to do is just work on cars until I'm dead, because that's, well, that's my Language and Comp, right? But even he took some accounting courses to keep better track of his books. And if I got an associate's in engineering, I could get hired for more, work my way up, maybe get my own place if I wanted. Hell, I could just be a technical writer and make manuals for Chevrolet if I wanted to. Once I started thinking like that, there were literally a hundred options I could come up with. So, like you said, I'm playing it by ear and hoping for the best."
"I bet it'll save you a lot more trouble than going my way," Castiel said. "But I'm happy for you, Dean. I really am. And I'll help you as much as I can."
"Thanks. That – that means a lot to me, to hear that coming from you."
There was a pregnant pause, Dean shuffled his feet, Castiel wished for another jacket. "So, was that all?" he asked, going back towards the door.
"…Yeah. That's it." But it didn't sound over, Castiel heard the tone. The wistful trailing off of words that sounded more expected on the lips of a romance novel heroine than Dean's. He turned back from the door, took a step forward.
"There's something else, isn't there?" He asked. Dean smiled self consciously.
"Can't get anything by you, Cas." Castiel shrugged, hands firmly clenched in his pocket. Dean had a flush across his nose and his ears, though that might not have been from the cold. Not completely anyway, considering how Dean kept shifting back and forth on the balls of his feet for a few silent, freezing seconds before he worked up the ability to look Castiel in the eyes and speak.
"Okay, this is gonna sound really dumb, but..."
"I'm used to it," Castiel breezily offered. "I mean sounding stupid. You don't sound as dumb as you think, really."
"Yeah, you'd be the first to say that." He wiped his mouth. "Actually, you would be. Cas, I showed up because I wanted to show you... let you know about my grades, let you know that I'm really – that I'm glad you decided to... to give me a chance because I'm kind of used to... not getting one, I guess. And I mean, your family's one thing, your family has to care, you know? But since high school I can't say I've seen my family all that much either. And I didn't know that I... that I missed that, until you showed up and forced the both of us to start caring about me." Castiel listened patiently to the word vomit Dean was splattering everywhere, looking at him with big blue eyes like this was the most important thing he could be doing at the moment. The guy who could grow up to cure cancer and be the next supreme court justice and publish a thousand novels on fucking anything; who was probably just working on some thesis paper right when Dean came by, and was standing in jeans and a jacket and freaking moccasins, listening to him with a patient turn to his lips that told Dean a whole lot of things he couldn't decipher as he was too busy stuttering out his feelings.
"What I'm trying to say..." he concluded lamely, "Is that I realized – and you don't have to do anything about this, I just thought you should know because you're all rational and shit about emotions and you won't punch me in jaw, I mean you could, if you want, but I don't think you will – is that I might, maybe, uhm..."
Castiel never said he was well versed in the esoteric, maddeningly intricate ways of teenagers, but Dean had started to help him understand it. And as he watched Dean sputter himself silly, his mind suddenly snapped to the conclusion. Dean was trying to overcome his macho, no chick flick moments persona, because he might have maybe liked Castiel a bit more than the typical bromance. And the realization was so easily paired with those moments of awkward staring; the way they acted a few weeks ago in Castiel's bedroom… it was all pretty obvious on both sides, actually. So Castiel did the sensible thing with his newfound knowledge, and the burst of confidence he got from learning that he wasn't in some horrible spiral of unrequited love.
He took the few steps needed to get back to the pillar. He stood in front of Dean, who was still trying to spit it out, and Castiel murmured a quick "Stop talking," before leaning into Dean, hand on his shoulder to keep him still as he kissed him.
Castiel must have been right because it wasn't even a second before he felt Dean kissing back, experimentally holding the back of Castiel's neck as if to ask, is this okay? Am I kissing one of my best friends all right? But even the tentative behavior didn't last much longer, because another part of the teenage experience was having little to no finesse, no matter what one's GPA was, it didn't take long for Dean to realize that Castiel had absolutely no qualms kissing him, and vice versa, and at that point neither wasted any time being chaste.
Castiel leaned into Dean like he wished he could have weeks ago. Dean was set against the white pillar of the porch, and Castiel twined his fingers into the short strands of his hair before slipping down to his jaw. They were ice against his flushed cheeks, and they pressed themselves impossibly close, faces warm, mouths hotter, and all of the sudden Castiel couldn't bear to be anywhere else.
For the past few months he had been floating from one uncertainty to the next, and this, right here, with Dean's lips sliding against his and his hands worming their way under his jacket and holding his hips tight and the way his eyelashes brushed his face every time they forced themselves closer – this was something he was going to hold onto; until he got his diploma, until he officially became an Adult and left behind his long dead childhood; until Dean moved back home, or maybe he'd be able to hold onto this for much longer than that. But no matter what, he wasn't ready to let this one piece of certainty go. Because he loved Dean Winchester. Against everything else, he loved him, and feeling Dean shudder against his lips, not kissing anymore but still letting his cold hands brush just under Castiel's clothes, cursory and eager and wonderful, he thought that Dean probably loved him back.
Castiel rested his forehead against Dean's. "About damn time," he said, lips brushing against the other's mouth. Dean chuckled, his warm breath and flushed face making the frigid hands holding Castiel's bare skin even colder in comparison. "So," he said. "What now?"
"I thought I'd just be able to say that I like you," Dean admitted sheepishly, "And then I was going to ask if we could go see that movie you promised me."
"You haven't passed senior year yet." Castiel coolly reminded, though Dean seemed more interested in pushing his nose along Castiel's throat and collar.
"I will." He promised, voice low and intimate enough to make Castiel shiver. Moreover, he believed him. He ran a hand back through Dean's hair, patted a few stands down, messed him up a bit.
"What did you have in mind?"
"Well," Dean straightened back up again, but they hadn't parted an inch. Dean was leaning against the pillar, and the considering look he had on tempted Castiel to just say 'fuck it' to the whole dating process and just go back to kissing him out in the cold, in the front of his house where his parents, his neighbors, everyone from Rachel to Inias to even Mrs. Tran might see them. "They did an adoption of Kerouac's On the Road. How 'bout that?"
"I'm more a fan of Steinbeck…" he slowly, reluctantly, stepping back from Dean. "But I guess that'll do. I'll be right back."
He vanished inside for a minute, yelled to his parents about a visit from a friend with a vague promise to be home before it got too late. He found better shoes, and another coat. He wondered for a moment if he ought to put on a proper shirt, but decided all of a sudden it wasn't worth it.
"No suit?" Dean asked when Castiel stepped back outside. Dean's hair was a little messed up, and Castiel couldn't stop a stupid grin from getting plastered on his face.
"Nope." They stepped off the porch together.
"Still playing that crappy symphony station?"
Dean hesitated a moment before venturing, "Could you play anything like that?" and Castiel once again felt like he was twelve, getting all humble and embarrassed about his skills. It was an alien feeling, nowadays, but he almost missed it, sort of like he missed actually being able to play some of the pieces he heard while driving down the road. All in all he supposed he missed a lot of things.
"…I could," he concluded simply, and the implication was that while he most certainly had the ability years ago, it might not have been a lost cause, either. Castiel let it hang there between them, an insinuation, a promise, before carrying on. "And," he went pointedly, "Since the Impala will still be my car for the next few months, I get to listen to whatever I want, whether you like it or not."
"Next few months?" Dean stopped in his tracks, looking worried. "You didn't… you aren't getting rid of it, are you?"
Castiel smiled again – it had just slipped out – but who could blame him if his mind was going a little haywire at the moment? "It was meant to be more of a graduation surprise, but yes: chances are, whichever college I pick doesn't want me to have a car on site, at least not as a freshman. Most of my other picks were in the city or had enough transit anyway. My parents aren't going to keep the car if I didn't use it, so…" he, still mobile, walked over and punched in the entry code to the garage, watching as the doors rolled up, revealing the Impala in all her sparkling clean, retro glory. He gave a sidelong glance to Dean. "Think of this as another incentive. You know, for passing."
Dean looked like he was about to pass out. He was dumbly standing a few feet away, where he had stopped in fear that Castiel was planning to sell the car.
"You…" he pointed weakly at the Impala. "You mean I can…"
"Have it? Yeah. I figure she deserves someone who would take care of her. More than I could."
"You called her a she." Castiel shrugged helplessly.
"Are you coming or what? The movies were your idea, after all." As a quick impulsive thought, he reached in his back pocket and threw Dean his keys. "Oh, and you can drive." He said, before getting inside and buckling up.
"…No way," Dean whispered, still standing a comically large distance away, but Castiel beckoned him in and Dean actually ran over to the driver's side, yanking the door open and sidling up right next to Castiel on the bench. He turned the key into the ignition and a roar ripped through the garage. "Listen to her – God, Cas, I could kiss you." Castiel remembered Dean saying the same thing a while ago and trying to avoid it. But this time, he just leaned a little closer, putting his arm around Dean's neck.
"You can," he said slyly, and Dean leaned over and did just that.
A/N: Yay! It's finished! My first attempt at a high school AU - good, bad? I've heard a few people say that they wanted sequel or a continuations in this 'verse, and I have more than a handful of ideas that would act as oneshots or other, smaller stories, and I would be willing to do that if there's adequate support for it. Thanks for reading!