“Sammy, quit primping or we won’t have time to get coffee before your flight.”
Sam emerged from the bathroom with a scowl. “It’s Sam. And we have plenty of time, the way you drive.”
Dean rolled his eyes and brought his brother’s bags out to the Impala. By the time he closed the trunk Sam was sliding into the passenger seat. Dean joined him behind the wheel with a heavy heart. The two weeks Sam spent with him over his winter break had flown by, and he wasn’t coming home for spring break because he had planned a trip with his girlfriend Eileen. This was the last they would see of each other until summer. Dean supposed he should be happy Sam hadn’t decided to partake in any of the study abroad opportunities.
Right now they still had some time to kill, so Dean pulled into a diner halfway to the airport and insisted on sharing one last meal.
“You know you’re welcome to visit me at Stanford, right?” Sam asked. This conversation was familiar ground for them. “You haven’t been out since you helped me move in before freshman orientation last year.”
Dean browsed the menu. “Would take me at least four days just to drive there and back.” He shuddered to remember how much that trip had cost him in gas. A kindergarten teacher’s salary only stretched so far.
The waitress came to take their order, eggs for Sam and a loaded bacon waffle for Dean. Sam leveled him with an unimpressed look.
“That stuff will kill you,” he said. And when Dean only shrugged, he got back on topic. “You know it’s only three hours by plane.”
Dean pretended not to hear him and took a long, scalding drink of coffee.
“Dean, you need to get over-”
Thankfully, Dean’s cell let out a loud beep, effectively cutting Sam off. He was grateful for the interruption and pulled up the newest email in his inbox. He wasn’t surprised to see that it was from the school administration since the spring session resumed Monday, it was typical that they would check-in and welcome back the staff. But as he scanned the first few lines his already sour mood worsened.
“What the hell,” he muttered.
“What’s wrong?” Sam asked, leaning over the table to try and get a look at the screen.
Dean turned it toward him. “The school is giving us all a New Year’s resolution whether we wanted one or not.”
Sam’s eyebrows raised as he finished reading the email and then he looked up with a smirk.
“I don’t know Dean, some socialization might be good for you.”
Sam gave him a look. “When’s the last time you had a conversation with someone who wasn’t five years old?”
“Definitely not now, bitch.”
“I’m just saying, it might be nice. Whoever you get paired up with… you’ll both be teachers so that’s already something in common. Could be fun.”
Dean looked at the email again, feeling skeptical. Why admin thought it would be a good idea to “foster a sense of unity” by putting teachers in contact with someone from the other schools in the district was beyond him. Dean was on good terms with many of the teachers at his elementary school; he and Donna were practically inseparable and had been since college, and hell he’d go so far as to call Garth a friend even if they rarely saw each other outside of work. But why should he have to play nice with anyone from the middle or high school? It wasn’t like their paths would ever cross professionally.
He put it out of his mind and tried to enjoy his breakfast. And then, just to brighten his day, he teased Sam about his girlfriend all the way to the airport.
Monday morning came quickly and Dean was glad to get back to work. He had a good group of kids this year.
He was there early, a habit that helped preserve his sanity. He used the quiet time to prep for the day and make sure that every time segment was planned down to the minute. Naturally, the plan would go straight to hell the moment the busses unloaded but it was good to be prepared anyway.
After he finished setting out the craft for their letter of the week, “L”, he went to his desk to indulge in some inspiration of his own and listened to Led Zeppelin while he checked his email.
As promised, his assignment was waiting for him in his inbox. He skimmed it quickly, like that would somehow save him from needing to participate.
Good morning Castiel Novak and Dean Winchester,
You have been randomly paired to participate in District 205’s first annual unity initiative! Please connect with each other via email or the online portal. We will send out a survey at the end of the year to collect your feedback.
Dean fully intended to fill out that feedback form. He could only hope that it would be anonymous so he could really give them a piece of his mind. As if teachers weren’t busy enough doing their actual jobs.
Best to get this over with, he thought. If he sent an email now maybe he could get away with shirking the obligation for a while.
He didn’t bother to look up “Castiel Novak” on the school portal, just clicked on his email address and tried to type out a quick, simple email.
His mind immediately went blank.
Dean sat there and stared at the little blinking line until his alarm went off and reminded him that it was time to unlock the classroom door and welcome back his students.
At lunchtime he joined Donna in the teacher's lounge.
“So, who’d you get?” Dean asked. He unwrapped a salami sandwich from his packed lunch.
“Jody Mills, one of the P. E. teachers at the middle school. She hasn’t replied to my email yet, but I maybe got a little carried away with questions.” Donna stirred her hot chocolate thoughtfully. “What about you?”
Dean shrugged. “Someone named Castiel Novak. I didn’t look them up.”
Donna immediately pulled out her phone. Dean rolled his eyes.
She tapped at the screen for a minute and then said, “Hm, no photo. He teaches World History at the high school. There’s not a lot on his profile… I wonder if he’s new.”
Dean latched onto that. It was a perfectly reasonable and impersonal question. He took out his phone as well and tapped out an email.
Hey, I’m Dean. This is my second year teaching kindergarten. We’re working our way through the alphabet and this week is the letter “L”, which has them excited since we all live in Lebanon.
How long have you been teaching?
Satisfied, he hit send and turned back to his friend and his sandwich.
Later, after he finished herding students to their designated busses, Dean found himself back at his desk to wrap up the day and check on his itinerary for tomorrow. Just as he was about to head home he got a new email notification. A quick glance at his computer told him it was from Castiel Novak, high school history teacher and Dean’s new obligation buddy.
This is my fourth year teaching World History, but my first at LHS since I moved here from Illinois in the summer. It’s nice to hear that your classroom is full of excitement. I believe the last time I saw an excited teenager was when I was one myself. At least next month we will cover the first and second World Wars -- I only wish I could inspire half as much interest in any other point in history.
Though I admit the first Monday after break isn’t cause for much celebration, it is actually nice to be back. I hope you had a pleasant holiday.
Dean found himself smiling. He wouldn’t trade his messy and energetic kindergartners for anything, and especially not for teenagers. He logged off without answering and headed home to his empty apartment.
Dean waved to the last of the kids to leave his classroom before he turned to survey the damage.
The glitter was a mistake.
It had been a mistake last year, too, but he didn’t have the heart to say no when they asked for it. He snapped a photo of the carnage and sent it to Sam, who immediately responded with a laughing emoji. Looking for sympathy, he sent it to the teacher group chat instead and laughed when half of them responded with similar photos.
After a minute of hesitation he attached the image to an email and sent it to Castiel with the caption: “The glorious life of a kindergarten teacher.”
He began the long process of cleaning up. The kids had helped with the worst of it, just like they always did when they sang their clean up song together, but they’d only had so much time left at the end of the day and there was still so much to do.
Still, he smiled to see the large stack of Valentines on his desk, and even a few pieces of candy. He popped a heart shaped peanut butter cup into his mouth and finished wiping down the tables and chairs.
Dean was on his last set of chairs when he got a reply from Castiel.
I am currently grading a paper on the U.S. Revolution by a student who clearly got her information from Hamilton. Trade?
Dean rolled his eyes at the formality. In the month they’d been trading emails, it took Castiel three weeks to drop his last name from his signature.
That didn’t keep Dean from lighting up every time he got an email notification, though. The guy was fun to talk to, he admitted somewhat reluctantly.
He’d made the mistake of mentioning Castiel more than once to Sam, who had suggested that they try to meet up in person since they got along well enough via email. Dean wasn’t sure it was a good idea. It was a school mandated assignment, after all. Castiel was just doing his job by trading emails with Dean. He didn’t want to cross any lines.
Finally finished cleaning, Dean went to pack up his desk.
He grinned at one of his cards that read: “Happy Valtine Day Mr. Dean!!” There was a drawing of a cheeseburger and a big heart around it, and the whole thing was drenched in glitter glue. Always happy for the opportunity to show off how cool his kids were, he took a photo of it and attached that to his response to Castiel.
“Not a chance. It’s definitely worth the mess. Happy Valentine’s Day, Cas.”
He didn’t email Dean back.
Dean tried not to make a big deal out of it. He deliberately tried not to read into why Cas had stopped emailing him, without much success.
Was it really so out of line to wish someone a happy Valentine’s Day?
Two weeks passed. Eventually Donna cornered him in the teacher’s lounge and demanded that he come to her place for drinks and tv, and more importantly to tell her why he’d been walking around with a stick up his butt.
She greeted him at the front door with a bottle of their favorite beer.
“Spill, Dean-o,” she said. “And I sure don’t mean the beer.”
Dean dropped onto her couch and grumbled, “Is it weird to wish your colleague a happy Valentine’s Day?” He felt his cheeks flush.
Donna sat across from him and kicked her feet up onto the table. “It is if you’re doing it in March.”
“I didn’t,” he said. He rubbed at the back of his neck. “It was on the day, and he’s been ignoring me ever since.”
“This about your high school teacher?” she asked, brows furrowed. “Maybe he’s just been busy. When do they start with midterms?”
Dean waved her thoughts away. “Too early for that. No, it’s gotta be something I did.”
“You didn’t do anything. Don’t worry, you’ve still got me. And you can wish me a happy Saint Patrick’s Day if it’ll make you feel any better,” she joked. But when Dean didn’t match her grin she turned serious. “This really bugging you?”
“No,” he said too quickly.
Donna nudged his knee with her foot. “Nothing Dr. Sexy can’t fix.”
They settled in for a marathon that ended with Dean crashing on her couch and feeling very thankful that it was the weekend.
Dean woke to the sound of a familiar beeping notification on his phone. He slowly rearranged his sore limbs from the way he’d contorted them on the couch during the night. He and Donna sure weren’t college students anymore, and that was a grim reality. He turned slightly to crack his back.
The beep sounded again and Dean looked around for his phone. He found it under the coffee table, and by some miracle it was still clinging to fifteen percent battery life.
His stomach flipped when he saw Cas’ name.
I apologize for my late reply. I had to take a sudden leave of absence for a family emergency. All is well, but I had to stay with my brother while he recovered from surgery on his broken leg.
Unfortunately, my brother prefers to live off the grid and I was completely without internet access until I returned home last night. The lack of Netflix was indeed tragic, though I did finally manage to read four books I had purchased last August. Do you enjoy mysteries? I would be more than happy to supply you with a few good recommendations.
I hope you are able to resist the siren call of green glitter for St. Patrick’s Day next week.
Relief swept through Dean’s body and he sagged back into the couch. He read the email a second time. It was Saturday, he realized. Cas hadn’t even waited to be back to work on Monday to respond.
He considered that for a second, and then pressed “reply”.
It’s good to hear from you. I’m glad your brother is alright. I’ve got a little brother, so I get how sometimes you’ve gotta drop everything to be there.
Hit me with a recommendation as long as you’re up for some Contemporary fiction recs from yours truly. Though most of what I read nowadays are picture books and story stories for my classroom story hour. Most of them aren’t half bad, so I can’t complain.
Donna emerged from her bedroom still in pajamas and clearly in need of coffee. She took one look at Dean and narrowed her eyes.
“What’s got you so chipper at this hour?” she asked before she spotted the phone in his hand. “Ah. Heard from a special someone, hm?”
Dean rolled his eyes. “Cas is just-”
“Oh, Cas now, is it?” Donna grinned.
“Shut up,” he said. But he found himself fighting a smile, too.
The next few weeks passed quickly and hardly a day went by that Dean and Cas didn’t exchange emails.
Dean enjoyed Cas’ dry humor and the fond way he complained about his students when he didn’t understand the latest slang or joke. They traded book recommendations like they were in their own book club.
Then it was time for parent-teacher conferences followed immediately by spring break.
Sam went camping with Eileen, Donna retreated to a spa for a long weekend, and Cas’ emails didn’t stop.
As Dean sat around the apartment that week he toyed with the idea of asking Cas to meet in person, but he couldn’t seem to work up the nerve. There was something about crossing the line from virtual to real life that set off alarms in his head. Things were going well as they were. Besides, Cas never mentioned wanting to meet up either.
So he stayed home, busied himself with chores and gave his baby a thorough tune up, and continued to trade emails with Cas about everything from the weather to books to the stress of coming up with a week-long lesson plan for the letter “Q”.
One Thursday near the end of April, Dean finished his morning prep and turned on his computer to find an email from Cas already waiting for him.
Fortune has not been kind to me this week. I know I mentioned the teacher’s lounge microwave incident, but did I tell you I broke my favorite mug yesterday morning? The saga continues, and today I must have my car towed from the school parking lot. I have no idea what happened between home and work, but my tire was flat by the time I arrived.
Tell me something good. How will your students be celebrating Arbor Day?
Dean checked the time, but thankfully he still had a few minutes before it was time to open the door, so he replied immediately.
Towing is expensive Cas. Don’t you have a spare? If you don’t, I could bring one over this afternoon.
He hit send without really thinking, and only realized after the message was gone that he’d suggested the exact thing he had been so carefully avoiding.
Before panic had a chance to set in, Cas’ reply hit his inbox.
Hello Dean - Dean rolled his eyes -
I do own a spare, but I admit I never learned how to change a tire. I feel that this situation is best left to the professionals.
That simply wasn’t true.
Anyone can change a tire, no expertise required. I could even walk you through it over the phone. Would take 15 minutes tops.
Coward, Dean cursed himself as he backtracked out of his offer to meet Cas at the high school to help him.
I suppose that’s worth a try, if it wouldn’t be too much to ask of you. Call me when school is over?
Dean stared at the number- Cas’ personal cell number- that followed his brief message. His stomach did a familiar somersault, and continued the performance throughout the day until he found himself in an empty classroom once more.
He settled in front of his computer with his cell in hand until he thought better of it and grabbed the landline instead.
Like a coward.
Cas answered after the first ring.
Dean’s breath caught for a moment at the deep, gravelly voice that rumbled across the line.
“Uh.” He cleared his throat. “Hey Cas. How’d you know it was me?”
“I’m omniscient,” Cas said dryly. After Dean’s sarcastic ha, he said, “I recognized the school’s number.”
Oh, right. Dean rubbed at the back of his neck, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “So… I got time to walk you through the tire change if you’re ready?”
“I am. I was just removing the spare and the jack from my trunk when you called.”
“Okay, good.” This, Dean could do. He knew cars like he knew the alphabet, there wasn’t any reason to be nervous. He kept up a steady stream of instructions, listening for each of Cas’ quiet acknowledgements as they went along.
When at last the tire was changed, a full twenty minutes later, Cas breathed a sigh of relief into the phone.
“Sounds like a job well done, man.” Dean grinned.
“Thank you, Dean. This was a very valuable learning experience.”
The sincerity in his voice made Dean flush. “It was nothing. I’m… I enjoy working on cars. Just make sure you send me a picture of the spare now before you start driving on it so I can double check that it looks safe.” Maybe he should have driven over to help after all.
Cas chuckled. The deep sound raised goosebumps on Dean’s arms.
“Of course. But your instructions were very thorough, I don’t think I have anything to worry about.”
“Oh, good, um. Drive safe,” he said, feeling tongue tied. Drive safe? he mouthed into the empty classroom. What an idiot. “Bye Cas.”
When the photo reached his inbox a few moments later, Dean opened it and was surprised to see a shiny gold Cadillac and not the eco-friendly compact he’d imagined. It was bad form to insult a man’s car so he focused instead on the spare tire, pleased to see that it looked straight and secure. He sent the all clear to Cas before something in the photo caught his eye.
In the driver’s side window he could just barely make out the reflection of a man with dark hair wearing a white collared shirt. Curiosity got the better of him and he tried to zoom in without any luck. The image became too pixelated to make out any details.
Swallowing disappointment, Dean powered off his computer.
In the middle of May, Dean got another email from the administration.
Thank you for helping to make our community stronger by participating in our first annual email exchange! We hope you enjoyed getting to know your fellow colleague and the opportunity to expand your network beyond your own school...
Dean skimmed the email as it went on to refer to their school district’s strategic plan and how they wanted to initiate more change and collaboration in the future. The end of the email included a link to the survey where he could give his feedback on the experience. There was a note of finality to the whole message that grated on Dean’s nerves.
Every day that passed brought him closer to summer break, and Cas would have no reason to talk to him anymore. It felt like this email was cutting their time together short by two weeks, a reminder that it was time to sever their connection.
Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, Dean thought bitterly, a reminder that he should start distancing himself.
There was still an email from Cas in his inbox that he hadn’t had time to respond to that morning before class. He had intended to reply after class let out, but now he thought better of it.
Dean left for home without responding. Tomorrow would be fine.
“My flight gets in at two thirty on the ninth,” Sam said. After a long pause he asked, “Dean, are you listening?”
Dean was not listening. He was focused on the email he needed to write.
Tomorrow was the last day of school, and he needed to say bye to Cas. They’d been emailing less the last couple of weeks, but Dean couldn’t stand to just let their conversation fizzle without any kind of closure. He read over what little he’d managed to write:
For an assignment from admin, this has been fun. Have a good summer vacation.
It didn’t seem like nearly enough. He typed out and deleted his cell number a dozen times. He didn’t want to make it awkward or make Cas feel like he had an obligation to keep talking to him outside of school.
He hit send.
“Yeah, Sam. Two thirty, I got it.”
“Are you… is everything okay?” Sam asked.
“Peachy,” Dean said. He picked up his phone and took his brother off speaker. “You bringin’ Eileen home with you? I keep expecting her to show up and ask for my blessing.”
Sam groaned. “This is exactly why you haven’t been allowed to meet her.”
Dean grabbed his keys and locked the classroom door on his way out.
“Aw, c’mon Sammy. You should invite her for the Fourth of July. You know they always put on a show in the square.”
The roof of Dean’s apartment building had the best view in town. It became a sort of tradition the past four years to gather up there with the other tenants for a casual party and cook out.
Sam made a noise like he was considering it and Dean knew he had him. He grinned, but it fell away almost immediately when his phone beeped to notify him of a new email. He ignored it.
“So, how many finals you got left?” he asked, thankful for the distraction as Sam went on and on about his criminal justice course.
This has indeed been fun. I have enjoyed getting to know you, even though my reading list and Netflix queue have grown a truly terrifying amount these past months.
I plan to visit my brother before school resumes, but otherwise I am looking forward to a quiet summer. I hope you continue to practice your alphabet to keep your skills sharp for the next set of young minds that fall to your care.
Keep in touch.
Dean wasn’t moping, despite what Sam and Donna claimed.
Sure, not exchanging emails with Cas for the past month was an adjustment, but he’d get over it. Eventually. He hoped.
“Just text him,” Sam said from where he sat next to Dean in the Impala. “I don’t get why you’re making such a big deal out of it.”
And maybe after a couple weeks had passed in silence Dean had realized he was kind of being an idiot. Cas had told him to keep in touch, knowing full well he’d given Dean his number.
Dean had wanted to text him countless times. Yesterday at the store he saw a back-to-school display- outrageous for July 2nd- and snapped a photo. He only sent it to Donna, though.
It felt too late. He’d waited too long.
“Which terminal?” he asked instead of responding to Sam’s needling. He turned onto the road that would lead them in a loop around the airport.
Sam sighed. “Three.” His phone beeped. “Oh, she just got through baggage claim! Should be perfect timing.” The excitement was clear in his voice.
Dean grinned, happy that Sam was happy, and excited to finally meet Eileen. He carefully navigated through the swarm of ubers and cabs until Sam waved enthusiastically through the open window.
“There she is!” he said. “In the green shirt, just behind that United sign.”
Dean recognized her from the lockscreen on Sam’s phone. He pulled over to the curb and barely had a chance to put his baby in park before Sam leapt out of the car.
“Eileen!” Sam called out, energetically signing a greeting on his way over to meet her.
Dean got out to open the trunk and waited for them to disengage from what looked like a rib cracking hug. He ignored the stink eye he was getting from one of the security officers for being parked in a loading zone and leaned against the Impala to wait.
“Dean,” Sam said, leading her by the hand, “this is Eileen.”
“Nice to finally meet you,” Dean said.
She ginned at him. “You, too. Sam has told me so much about you.”
“Yeah, I have that effect on people. They just can’t stop talking about me.”
Sam groaned like he was starting to regret the decision to move home for summer break.
There was a good turn out for the Fourth of July that year. The weather was perfect for grilling burgers and enjoying an ice cold beer or four.
Dean sat on a folding chair a little ways away from his group as the sky turned black. Sam and Eileen were cozied up on a blanket near the fire escape, not far from where Donna was entertaining middle school P. E. teacher Jody Mills’ daughter, Alex. Dean watched with amusement as the toddler took a few stumbling steps before Donna lifted her into a spin.
He twisted the cap off another beer and directed his gaze upward as the first fireworks lit the sky. It may have been one beer too many, because Dean found his thoughts drifting to Cas again for the first time in… well, hours. It made no sense how much he missed him. They’d never even met- not really.
Today was a holiday, though, he reasoned. Even people who only speak once or twice a year find it acceptable to reach out on a holiday.
Suddenly he had his phone in hand and Cas’ contact profile open on the screen. The photo was blank, just a generic blue “C”, but the number was there exactly as it had been since April.
Dean clicked on the message icon, and then on the little picture of a camera and aimed his phone at the fireworks.
They never looked as impressive when photographed.
[Sent 21:36] Hey Cas, it’s Dean. Happy 4th.
Dean tried to watch the show even as his heart tried to pound its way out of his chest.
He nearly jumped out of his seat when his phone vibrated in his clenched fist.
[Received 21:57] Happy Fourth of July, Dean. I envy your view.
The accompanying image showed one little white firework and a handful of red streaks crossing behind it.
Dean saved the photo to his phone. He’d trade his front row view to be wherever Cas was right now.
The grand finale illuminated the sky, but Dean didn’t look up from where he was tapping out a reply to Cas.
After the Fourth it was like Dean had opened the floodgates; they hardly went a day without texting now.
Sam wisely didn’t comment on his improved mood, thankfully he was too busy missing Eileen after her week-long stay to be too concerned with Dean’s mood swings.
Before Dean knew it, August arrived and he started to gear up for a new school year. Cas was entertaining him with updates on his brother Gabriel’s antics in between creating lesson plans. The guy sounded like a real piece of work and Dean had no idea how Cas put up with him. But that was family, they agreed.
Dean drove Sam to the airport a week before his classes started. He snapped a photo of the terminal he’d just watched Sam walk through and sent it to Cas.
[Sent 07:22] I really hate this place.
Cas called him, clearly grumpy at being awake so early on a Saturday, but he talked to Dean the whole way home.
“Only four months until Christmas,” Cas reminded him.
“That’s a long time, Cas.”
“I could always ask Gabriel to move in with you, if it’ll fill the brotherly void in your life.”
Dean laughed, grateful when Cas continued to distract him.
Cas couldn’t cook for shit. Dean learned that on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of September when he sent Dean a picture of meat sauce in a pan.
[Received 18:05] It’s terrible. Completely bland, but I thought I followed the instructions perfectly.
Dean thought he had sent him a beginner friendly recipe, but he should have known better. Cas mostly lived off take out and frozen pizzas, so maybe this required some hand-holding.
Dean swiped Cas’ name on his phone.
“Hello Dean,” Cas said morosely.
Dean chuckled. “Don’t worry, you didn’t burn anything, it’s gonna be easy to salvage. Did you add the garlic?”
“Yes, the two cloves the recipe called for.”
“Alright,” Dean said, tucking the phone between his ear and shoulder so he could flip his grilled cheese without it completely falling apart. “You’re gonna add two more cloves and half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. You got those?”
“Yes, but Dean, that is going to be way too much garlic-”
“No such thing, trust me.” Dean watched his grilled cheese sizzle and enjoyed the scent of bacon that wafted throughout the kitchen. “Now, do what I said and let it simmer another five minutes before you give it another taste.”
“Oh no,” Cas said. There was a series of muffled curses and clanging pots.
Dean tried not to laugh. “You okay?”
Cas sighed into the phone. “My pasta boiled over. I’m not sure cooking is worth the mess, it’s going to take at least an hour to clean all of this up.”
“It’ll be worth it,” Dean promised. “Hey, you got time to catch up on more Dr. Sexy tonight?”
“Of course,” Cas said. Dean thought he could hear the smile in his voice. “I find the second season unexpectedly compelling.”
Dean nodded despite the fact that Cas couldn’t see him. “Stick with me, Cas, and I’ll have you eating right and understanding pop culture by New Year’s.”
“I’m sure you’ll- oh no.” Some true frustration bled into Cas’ voice. “I think you need to see this, Dean.”
A moment later Dean’s phone buzzed as a request to accept a video call popped up on the screen. His heart raced as he pressed “answer”.
He expected to see Cas’ face fill the screen, but his camera was already directed at the stove.
“Oh,” Dean said, feeling a little dazed, “that’s no big deal, just drain out the excess liquid and it should firm up after a couple more minutes…” He trailed off when the video shifted suddenly, and the pixels cleared to reveal Cas.
The first thing Dean noticed was his piercing blue eyes. Dean blinked twice, words caught in his throat. There was too much to process: the arrow straight nose, full lips, five o’clock shadow, and what Dean’s frazzled brain could only describe as sex hair.
“Um, hi,” Dean said. He wasn’t flustered, really.
Cas smiled, a wide gummy smile. “Hello Dean.”
Okay, maybe a little flustered.
He cleared his throat. “So, go ahead and drain some of the water out of that sauce and give it a taste.”
He caught a few glimpses of Cas doing just that as he juggled the saucepan and his phone.
“Mm,” Cas mumbled with a wooden spoon still in his mouth, effectively turning Dean’s brain offline. “Much better.”
“Yeah, yeah good,” Dean said. He suddenly remembered his grilled cheese and quickly took it off the heat. The bread was somewhat burned, but still edible.
“Are you making dinner, too?” Cas asked, cocking his head like that would help him see more of Dean’s kitchen.
Dean turned his phone to show the plate piled high with shoestring fries and the ultimate grilled cheese. “Three kinds of cheese, tomato, and extra bacon,” he bragged. “I perfected it during finals week my junior year of college.”
“It looks delicious. Have you always enjoyed cooking?”
“Um, kind of?” Dena grabbed his plate and went to settle in front of the television. “I used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom when I was a kid. Guess it stuck.” He shrugged, aiming for nonchalant and missing it by a mile.
He watched Cas dip in and out of frame as he presumably plated his own dinner.
“It’s nice you have a fond way to keep those memories alive,” he said gently, but didn’t linger on the topic for which Dean was grateful. “I wish I had some garlic bread,” Cas sighed, and the despair in his voice made Dean laugh.
“Live and learn, Cas,” he said.
The scene changed as Cas left the kitchen and sat on a light gray couch. Dean looked curiously at what he could see in the small frame, but there wasn’t much to look at except for a white wall that was blank except for a thermostat. That was alright, though, since Dean would much rather study Cas’ face. There was a cleft in his chin. He wished he had a better phone so he could see more clearly. He wondered what details he was missing out on.
“We were on episode seven, were we not?”
Dean mentally shook himself. He really shouldn’t be ogling his friend.
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
Cas nodded. “Enjoy your dinner, Dean.”
“You too. Let me know if you decide it was worth it,” he said, grinning.
Cas ended the call mid-eyeroll.
Dean stared at the blank screen on his phone for a long moment before he remembered that he was supposed to be watching Dr. Sexy.
Cas continued to text him observations and predictions for the next hour, seemingly unaware of the havoc he had wrought on Dean’s mind with their first video call.
It was far from their last.
The week of Halloween was eventful. Cas called him in a panic that Tuesday morning when his car was making a horrible grinding noise.
“Yeah, man,” Dean said, “you better get that timing belt replaced asap. Those suckers can do a lot of damage if they snap.”
Cas’ face came back into frame. Dean wanted to smooth the crease between his eyebrows with his fingers, and also that untamed hair while he was at it. He repressed the feeling along with a sigh.
Halloween was on a Sunday this year, so Dean had his students dress up for a party on Friday. He wore the same costume from last year, and Donna got Garth (who was dressed as the Wolfman) to take a photo of them in the decorated hallway after lunch.
Dean smiled at the photo of Batman and Elsa posed in mid-combat. He sent it to Sam.
And then he sent it to Cas, too.
[Sent 11:41] I’m awesome.
When he checked his phone during recess he had a text from Cas.
[Received 12:32] That costume suits you.
Dean tried not to read too much into that, but then his phone buzzed with another text and he completely forgot about the first. It was a selfie, taken at an awkward angle to show off a purple headband that held two cat ears to the top of Cas' head. Dean grinned at the image, but especially at the perplexed look on Cas’ face.
[Received 13:00] One of my students was handing these out to teachers who didn’t wear a costume today.
[Sent 13:01] It’s a good look.
Dean gleefully saved the photo so he could set it as Cas’ contact image.
It was late on Halloween when Dean’s phone rang twenty minutes into one of his favorite horror flicks.
“I don’t understand,” Cas said. “Why did they think it was a good idea to hide upstairs instead of simply leaving the house?”
Dean chuckled. “Logic has no place in the horror genre, Cas.”
He heard Cas yawn and imagined him cozy on that gray couch he’d glimpsed during their video call. Maybe he was wrapped in a blanket, or in a soft sweater like Dean was.
He imagined, just for a second, their movie nights spent together in Dean’s apartment. Maybe after cooking something together for dinner. It was an appealing thought, even if it was kind of hard to imagine. He didn’t even know the exact shade of Cas’ eyes, or the sound of his laugh without the buzz of a phone connection between them.
Dean could admit to himself that he wanted to know these things. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all to ask Cas to hang out in person.
It was clear that he wasn’t the only one on that train of thought.
“I might end up falling asleep on you,” Cas said through another yawn. “It’s a shame you’re not here to explain things, then you could just kick me when I start to doze off.”
Dean’s defenses slammed back into place.
“If you’re tired,” he said gruffly, “we can finish watching it another time. It is pretty late and we’ve got school tomorrow.”
There was a small pause before Cas said, “Oh. Alright, that would be fine... Goodnight, Dean.”
“Yeah, bye man.” Dean hung up and threw his phone to the other side of the couch.
He scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling like an asshole.
Dean didn’t want to make things weird between them and he was failing spectacularly. After almost a year of talking through email, text, and phone calls, he was less sure than ever that meeting in person was a good idea. Not when he’d started to want more than just Cas’ friendship. He was probably reading too much into their banter, misconstruing it as flirting when Cas was just trying to be friendly.
Dean fell asleep on the couch and tossed and turned until his alarm went off the next morning.
Sam wasn’t coming home for Thanksgiving. Neither of them were surprised, Sam’s internship was very demanding, but Dean still felt his heart sink at the confirmation.
He went to work and pasted on a smile for his kids as he helped them trace their hands and cut out colorful paper feathers to glue on their Thankful Turkeys.
“Mr. Dean, how do you spell pecan pie?” one of his students asked, using a red crayon to scribble out “peekan”.
“Yum, I love pie too,” he told her, and spelled the word slowly so she had time to write out each letter.
Without Sam coming home, he should really revise his dinner menu. He mentally threw out his shopping list. Or, most of it. Nothing was going to keep him from making his grandmother Deanna’s pumpkin pie recipe.
Another kid asked Dean why the feathers on his example turkey were blank.
“Aren’t you grateful for things?” he asked with a big frown.
“Sure I am,” Dean said, and to prove it he grabbed a crayon from the table and began to fill in the seven feathers. In hindsight he wished he had added a few less.
Pie, he wrote.
Sammy, he added. “That’s my baby brother,” he told the class.
“Does he go to school?” someone asked.
“Yeah he goes to college, all the way in California.”
There was a small chorus of wow’s and one kid called out that he went to California last year. Then of course the classroom erupted into chaos as every single student shouted where they traveled to last year and if they had ever gone to California.
Eventually, Dean got them to focus on their turkeys again. There were only twenty minutes left in the day and he wanted his kids to bring them home completed.
He thought some more about his own turkey.
He couldn’t exactly write Dr. Sexy, and had to compromise by adding TV.
Books, he added for good measure.
He nearly wrote My friends, before reasoning that he could wrap up the project by simply writing Donna and Cas on the final feathers.
Dean used a magnet to attach his completed turkey to the whiteboard for all the kids to see, and then wandered from table to table to help them all finish up.
His heart was fit to burst when he saw that three kids had added Mr. Dean to their turkey feathers.
Before Dean left at the end of the day he took a photo of his example turkey, but left it on the whiteboard.
Six days later found Dean ready to make tacos instead of the traditional turkey dinner. He sent Sam a picture of the pumpkin pie fresh out of the oven, though.
[Sent 14:12] More for me, bitch.
[Received 14:17] There are laws against cruel and unusual punishment, jerk.
[Received 14:17] Happy Thanksgiving. Call you later?
[Sent 14:18] Sounds good.
Dean seared his sirloin tip and sent the same photo to Donna. He didn’t expect to hear back anytime soon since she was driving cross state to have dinner with her parents and extended family. He had no doubt that she’d find time to respond eventually, once the Hanscum family drama began and she was looking for an escape.
He sat down with his plate of tacos and before he could take a bite, his phone beeped.
[Received 16:09] Happy Thanksgiving, Dean. Did you roast a turkey for dinner? I would show you the one Gabriel and I made but I think it may horrify you.
Dean sent Cas the photo of his haphazardly made Thankful Turkey.
[Sent 16:11] Nope, this is the only turkey I made this year. It’s taco Thursday, but I’m not complaining. Hey, as long as the turkey tastes alright you did fine.
As the minutes dragged out, Dean remembered that he’d written Cas on one of his turkey’s feathers.
He stared in horror at his phone as the silence stretched.
It wasn’t a big deal, he tried to tell himself. Sam and Donna were on there, too. It wasn't like Cas had to read anything into it.
Dean ate his tacos without tasting them and began to clean up the mess in the kitchen. When his phone rang he jumped and nearly dropped a plate. It was probably just Sam. Maybe Donna.
Cas’ name and that damn adorable photo of him from Halloween filled the screen of Dean’s phone.
“Cas!” he answered, frantically trying to direct the conversation anywhere but that feather. “I hope you’re not calling to say you accidentally burned down your brother’s house.”
Cas ignored him. “I’m very grateful for you, too, Dean.”
The floor seemed to drop out from under him. Dean leaned against the counter when it seemed his legs no longer wanted to support him.
“You know,” Cas continued, “there are only three more weeks until winter break.” Dean had no idea where he was going with this. “Maybe we could find the time to… hang out,” he said the words slowly, like he did when he was sharing something one of his students had said that he didn’t understand.
Dean opened his mouth, but no words came out.
“Dean?” Cas’ voice went quiet. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable or-”
“No,” Dean said quickly, hating the way Cas sounded so hurt. “No, that’d be… that’d be good. We should do that. Sometime.”
The idea loomed over Dean for a week.
They had no set plan; no day or time or location. He wasn't sure he could stand the suspense for another two weeks or more.
Dean was in the kitchen, stirring the chili that simmered on the stove, when he saw some commotion in the town square from his window.
Tomorrow was the first Friday in December, he realized. Of course the town was gearing up for the tree lighting ceremony. Donna always dragged him out to the square to watch the festivities even though Dean argued they could see the lights just fine from the comfort of his living room.
He texted Donna to ask if they were on for tomorrow.
[Received 17:45] Sure thing! Might meet up with Jody and the girls while we’re there. Be to yours at 6-ish.
Dean sent her a thumbs up, and then before he lost his nerve or had a chance to overthink it he texted Cas.
[Sent 17:47] I’m going to the tree lighting downtown tomorrow. It’s kinda lame, but maybe we could meet up if you’re not busy.
He paced the length of his kitchen a dozen times as he waited for a response.
[Received 17:50] I would like that. What time?
Dean’s heart began to race. They were really gonna do this, huh?
[Sent 17:52] Things quiet down after they light the tree, let’s meet in front of it at 8?
Cas responded with a Christmas tree emoji and a smiley. Dean rolled his eyes fondly, and watched as outside it began to snow.
Dean opened the door to greet Donna with a thermos full of hot chocolate. He planned to buy some coffee at one of the vendor booths like he did every year.
“Ooh, thanks. It’s cold out there,” she said, cradling the thermos in her gloved hands. “You’re going to need more than that coat.”
He shrugged off her concern, too nervous about meeting Cas for the first time to care much about anything else.
They walked across the street to join the large crowd gathered in the square.
It was barely controlled chaos as kids threw slushy snowballs and half the crowd sang along to the Christmas carols blasting from the speakers.
"Oh yay, spiced nuts," Donna said. She pushed him in the direction she wanted to go, using his body to part the crowd.
"Sorry, sorry," Dean repeated as he tried to avoid bumping into people.
They reached the booth that was selling the spiced and candied nuts, and Dean's heart stuttered when he caught a flash of dark, messy hair. But then the man turned to greet them and take their order and Dean tried to ignore his disappointment when it wasn't who he wanted it to be.
Soon, he thought. He stole some of Donna's snack while she was busy looking at her phone in an attempt to distract himself. It didn't work.
He was antsy all through the ceremony and waved off Donna's concern and her offer to join her and Jody at the other booths. He had somewhere important to be.
Dean felt a little ridiculous just standing there by himself in front of the twenty-five foot pine that was decorated far past gaudy. He very carefully did not check the time. Cas said he would be there, and Dean trusted him to keep his word.
He breathed warm air into his hands in an attempt to fight off the chill.
“You’re in luck,” came a voice from behind him. “It just so happens that I have an extra pair of mittens.”
Dean turned quickly and nearly lost his footing on the thin layer of snow that covered the ground. “Cas!”
Cas grinned and it knocked the breath out of Dean to see it. To see Cas, real and in front of him and without any screens between them.
“Hello Dean,” he said, smiling Dean’s favorite gummy smile.
He was beautiful. And very bundled up against the cold weather, Dean realized, lips twitching in an effort not to laugh. Cas wore a bright yellow hat with a black pom on top, a blue knit scarf, a puffy black coat, and the ugliest pair of rainbow mittens Dean had ever seen.
Cas held out a second pair of mittens that were magenta and equally hideous.
Dean stepped closer to take them anyway. “Thanks.”
"You have freckles," Cas blurted.
Dean felt his face heat. "What?"
"I never noticed. Your camera is very low quality."
"This a compliment or an insult?" Dean asked, eyebrows raised in amusement.
Cas narrowed his eyes. "I would never insult you, Dean."
Dean tried to laugh it off, but that was cut short when Cas took another step into his personal space.
"You're taller than I imagined," Dean said. Their eyes were almost level.
"How often have you imagined me?" Cas asked, and his voice rumbled so deeply that Dean could swear he felt it reverberate in his chest.
They were close now, each leaning in until their white wisps of breath mingled in the air between them.
"Not sure," Dean said. "I teach kindergarten so I only learned to count to one hundred."
Cas rolled his baby blues. "That was terrible, but very flattering."
Dean grinned. "It's not the only thing I imagined." His eyes fell to Cas' mouth and tracked the movement of his tongue when it darted out to wet his lips.
Cas pressed his hand to Dean's cheek, and Dean cursed the fabric that kept him from feeling the warmth of his skin.
"We can be more than your imagination," Cas said. "We can be real. If that's something you want, too."
Dean leaned in to close the space between them. When their lips met all of the apprehension he had been clinging to for months melted away, replaced with joy and a new sense of contentment. This was good, he thought with sudden confidence, this was right.
They parted when the kiss dissolved into matching smiles, but neither moved very far.
“So,” Dean said after he caught his breath, “what do you think of our town’s little tradition?”
Cas looked up at the tree. "It's very… bright," he said.
"It's okay, Cas, you can call it ugly." Dean laughed. "That's always been part of its charm. Besides, the real attraction is the food. Wanna grab a pretzel?"
Dean held out his mittened hand and felt warmth rush through him when Cas took it.
"Lead the way."
Three weeks later; Christmas Eve
Dean loaded the last plate into the dishwasher and leaned against the counter with a sigh. There was nothing more satisfying or exhausting than preparing a holiday meal. He congratulated himself on a job well done when he saw Sam, Eileen, and Cas sprawled on the couch and clearly on their way to a collective food coma.
"Anyone want some coffee?" he asked.
Sam groaned. "No thanks. I think I need to walk this off for a while or I'll never be able to sleep." He stood and stretched. "Let's go check out the square?" he asked Eileen.
"Sounds like fun. Are you two coming?" she asked as they pulled on their coats.
Dean looked at Cas' half-lidded eyes and chuckled. "No, I think we'll watch a movie instead."
"Thanks again for dinner, it was really good." Eileen said.
"You're welcome," Dean said and signed simultaneously, just like he and Cas had been practicing.
Now that they had the apartment to themselves Dean joined Cas on the couch and was happy when Cas immediately leaned in close. Dean wrapped one arm around him and pressed a kiss to the top of his head.
"Dinner really was good," Cas echoed. "I never knew Brussels sprouts could taste like that."
Dean shrugged. "Any food is tasty if you cook it right." He flipped through a few channels until he found A Charlie Brown Christmas playing on one of the stations. "I was thinkin' next year, maybe we could visit Sammy at Stanford. Make a road trip out of it," Dean said, and only realized after the words left his mouth that they implied he expected they would still be together next year.
Before Dean could start to panic, Cas said, "I would like that."
Dean grinned, already plotting the route in his mind. They would take his car, of course. He didn't trust that Cas' gold monstrosity could make the journey.
"Do you think we sound like that to our students?" Cas asked as Charlie Brown's teacher said "wah wah waaah".
"Probably more often than we'd like," Dean said, laughing softly.
Cas turned to look up at him. "Do you think we'll get new penpal assignments in January?"
"I dunno," Dean said. "Probably." He looked down into Cas' blue eyes and grinned. "But you gotta promise me that you won't go falling in love with whoever you get next."
"I promise." Cas stretched up to kiss him briefly and then turned to face the television, snuggling closer to Dean's side.
Dean thought back on the past year, how he was so sure the email exchange was going to be a waste of time. He had no idea how he'd gotten so lucky. He tightened his arms around Cas and hoped this would be the first of many holidays that they would spend together.