“Hey, Mrs. Novak. Is Cas in?” Dean said when his best friend’s mother answered the door.
“Isn’t he always? The boy never leaves his room,” she said, stepping aside to let him in the door. “Go on up, you know the way.”
Dean thanked her and headed up the familiar staircase to Cas’ bedroom. He had practically grown up in this house; he lived next door. The wall beside the stairs was filled with pictures of Cas growing up with his mom, and quite a few included Dean as well. He and Cas had been best friends since first grade, when some kid had dared Cas to eat a worm on the playground at school. Cas had refused, the other kid had called him a sissy, and Dean overheard the whole thing. He had taken up for Cas. Dean felt himself smile at the memory of their first conversation.
“Why did he want you to eat that stupid thing anyway?” Dean asked.
“I don’t know. Probably because he’s jealous of its bigger brain. I have better plans for it,” Cas answered.
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“I’m gonna wear it as a worm-stache.”
Dean reached the landing of the second floor and turned right to walk down the short hallway to Cas’ room. The door was cracked, and Dean peeked in to see Cas sprawled out on his stomach on the bed, his feet leaning against the wall, and a thick, dusty book in one hand.
“What are you reading, birthday boy?” Dean asked, opening the door and startling Cas so that he nearly fell off the bed.
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” Cas replied.
“About hunting?” Dean asked.
“No. We were supposed to read this for English last semester. How do you not know the plot?” Cas asked.
“I may or may not have asked Jo to lend me the movie.”
“You know the book is always better. What grade did you get in that class?” Cas asked.
“Hey, I graduated high school too,” Dean reminded him. “I must have done enough to pass.”
“You’re lucky it’s too hot in here to argue,” Cas sighed, glancing longingly at the broken air conditioner in his bedroom window.
“That’s why you should be outside. Come on, Cas, it’s summer vacation. We finally finished high school, and you turn eighteen tomorrow. Live a little,” Dean joked, plucking the book from Cas’ hands and plopping onto the bed next to him.
“Yeah…eighteenth birthday,” Cas said nervously.
“Aw, don’t be like that. Everyone has to go through it. I get my soulmate day next month, so you’re the guinea pig to show me how it feels.”
“I know how it will feel. Awkward. I’m going to fall asleep and wake up in a stranger’s house, knowing the person that lives there is the person my soul is bonded with for all eternity,” Cas groaned, face planting the mattress.
“Maybe she’ll be hot,” Dean said, but Cas gave an exasperated sigh. “Or maybe she’ll have a sister, and my soul will be bonded with her. Then we can deal with it together. It’s not the end of the world, man. It’s just a soulmate.”
Cas rolled over onto his back to stare at his ceiling. Everyone he knew was excited when their soulmate day came, but he just felt nervous and empty. He could barely make friends. How could he be expected to accept a soulmate, who could very well be a stranger, and get to know them? What if they found him as awkward as everyone else at school had?
“It wouldn’t be so bad if I had any idea who it was,” Cas said.
“Me and Sammy have a bet going. He says it’s Anna. I say Meg,” Dean said.
“Meg? Why would you think that?”
“You kissed her behind the lockers in sixth grade,” Dean reminded him.
“Yes, and she tasted like cigarettes and regret.”
"I can tell you're a poet, because literally no one speaks like that, Cas.”
“I do,” Cas said, and Dean nodded.
“Yeah, you do. Poetic little shit that you are. Get up and pack a bag. My mom said you can stay tonight and we’re having pizza. Maybe a Harry Potter marathon too,” Dean said, standing and pulling Cas up.
“I’m not really in the mood for a party,” Cas said.
“Who said it’s a party? It’s you and me. We do that at least three times a week. Come on. If you hurry, we can make a run down to Patterson’s Grocery Store for some snacks and pie.”
Cas packed a bag, Dean jabbering on about how every person in the world except Cas had seen the Harry Potter movies. Cas tried to point out he’d read the books, but Dean said he hadn’t experienced life until he’d seen the characters with his own eyes. He and Cas made their way noisily downstairs, and were met by Cas’ mother, a small box in her hands.
“Cassie, take this with you, and keep it in your pocket. Don’t you dare open it until you wake up in the morning,” Mrs. Novak said, and she kissed Cas goodbye. “And don’t be nervous, dear. Everything will be fine. I’m positive of that.”
Mrs. Novak waved the boys out the door and into the summer sunshine. Dean stopped at his house long enough to throw Cas’ bag onto the porch swing, then the pair set off for the grocery store one block over. They managed to make it twenty minutes before closing, and packed a basket full of chips, root beer, and apple pie, then placed the basket at the checkout.
“Big day tomorrow, eh Castiel?” Mr. Patterson peered good-naturedly over his glasses as he tallied up the total on his antique cash register.
“Yes, sir,” Cas replied nervously.
“Ah, son, relax. I’d never met Nora before she woke up in my house when I was seventeen. Biggest shock of my life. I tried to scare her too when it was my turn a few months later, but she was expecting it. She set up a trap of canned tomatoes by her bedroom door so I couldn’t sneak in. Clever little woman,” he said, smiling rather sadly at a framed picture on the wall. “I miss her every day. You just enjoy every second with that soulmate of yours, Castiel. Time flies. Total is 8.17.”
Dean paid the bill, and he and Cas set out for Dean’s house again. They walked the block back to Dean’s house, taking their time and enjoying the fading light of the summer evening. The trees were in full bloom on their street, Bradford pears blossoming on the greenery, with bees buzzing around the bright white flowers. Occasionally, a car would pass by, honking at the familiar boys. Dean and Cas had lived in Chesterfield their entire lives; in a town so small, there were no strangers. They soon made it back to Dean’s house, but sat down on the porch swing instead of going inside. Dean’s mother poked her head out the door.
“Hello, Cas, dear,” Mary said. “I’m going to go ahead and order the pizza. Veggie for me and Sam, and half pineapple, half pepperoni for you two, the usual.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Winchester.”
“Anything for the birthday boy. You two come in soon or you’ll get eaten alive by the mosquitos.”
“Okay, mom,” Dean said, and Mary disappeared back into the house to order the pizza.
Another car drove by, and Jo stopped. She leaned out the window to whistle.
“Looking good, Winchester!” she yelled. “I’m free tonight you know!”
“Still not gonna happen, Jo!” Dean yelled back. “It’s Cas’ eighteenth birthday tomorrow, he comes first!”
“As always! Good luck, Cas!”
She ducked back in her car and drove off, honking as she rounded the end of the street.
“She’ll never give up, will she?” Dean laughed.
“Maybe you’ll wake up in her house next month,” Cas teased.
“Don’t even joke about that. God knows she’s been trying since we were kids, but Jo’s not my type.”
“At least you’ll know her if she’s your soulmate. Better than a stranger,” Cas pointed out.
“Yeah, I guess. Man, I hope you get someone you know. What kind of person are you hoping for?” Dean asked.
“Someone with a big heart,” Cas said, a slight frown on his mouth. “Preferably someone I know, like you said.”
Dean shuffled a bit.
“No, Cas, I mean…do you want a boy or a girl?” Dean asked.
“I hadn’t really thought about it. I mean, it doesn’t make that much of a difference to me. Why?”
“You’re the only friend I’ve got who’s bisexual, dude. I’m just curious about how the whole soulmate thing goes when you don’t care whether it’s a boy or girl.”
“It’s not that I don’t care, Dean, it’s just that it isn’t a big deal. I’m much more interested in the type of person I get to share my eternity with. I want a kind person, not some…,” Cas said, struggling to find the words.
“Some colossal douche. Yeah, I get that. You’ll do great, Cas, I know it. Whoever you get, they’ll be damned lucky to have you.”
The front door opened and Dean’s younger brother came out.
“Mom says you’re going to catch malaria from the mosquitos and she’s going to say she told you so,” Sam said.
“And what did you tell her?” Dean asked.
“That it’s statistically unlikely, but I’d come get you anyway. Hey, Cas, happy birthday,” Sam added.
“Thank you. We better go in, then,” Cas said, and he and Dean rose from their swing to go inside with Sam.
They walked up the stairs to Dean’s room, and Mary yelled after them.
“Don’t get too comfortable! The pizza will be here soon!”
“Okay, mom! We’re just going to play some video games. Call us when you need us!”
All three boys sat down in front of Dean’s television, and Dean turned on Mario Kart. Within minutes, Dean and Sam were too busy lobbing shells and bananas at each other to worry about winning, and Cas took advantage of their distraction to take the lead.
“Dammit, Sam, that’s cheating!” Dean yelled as Sam swerved in front of him and dropped a banana in his path.
“How is that cheating? It’s in the game, it’s allowed!” Sam countered, but gave a disgruntled sigh as Dean hit him from behind with a red shell.
“Suck on that! Yeah, baby, third place! Wait, Cas, you won?” Dean said.
“I do every time we play with Sam. You get distracted easily,” Cas said.
“I have the concentration of a professional golfer,” Dean said, and Sam’s character hobbled over the finish line in ninth place. “I just like to piss off Sammy.”
“Boys!” Mary yelled from downstairs. “Pizza is here!”
They descended the stairs and made their way to the dining room. Mary had the pizza boxes open already, and a handmade cake sitting on the table for dessert.
“I knew you wouldn’t want a party, but it’s not much of a birthday without cake. I hope you don’t mind,” Mary said, and Cas smiled.
“Thank you, this is perfect,” Cas replied, and they all sat at the wooden table to eat together.
Dean and Cas laughed and joked with each other through dinner, and Mary was pleased to watch them together. She loved Cas like a son, and always appreciated the way he made Dean relax. He’d had a hard time doing that since John had been killed. Mary easily remembered the day it had happened. She was making lunch, waiting for John to get home from a hunting trip, when she got the call from the hospital. John had been hit by a drunk driver. He had been killed instantly.
That day had been a blur. She had pulled the boys out of school, and made the final preparations for John’s funeral. They hadn’t gotten home until after ten that night, exhausted and starving, but no one was willing to cook. Not even five minutes after arriving, there was a knock on the door. When Mary answered, Cas was standing there, a big casserole still steaming in his gloved hands, and bags packed with enough food to keep Mary from having to cook for a week.
Mary had certainly appreciated it, but Dean was downright thankful. He barely gave Cas time to deposit the things on the dining room table before wrapping his arms tightly around the other boy and sobbing into his shoulder. Cas had simply stood there while Mary quietly exited the room. He had slept over that night, and every night for nearly two weeks, helping Mary cook meals and clean house, even though she protested, and slowly bringing Dean back from the edge of depression. He had sat by Dean’s side at the funeral, squeezing his wrist when he felt things were getting too emotional for him, as a gentle reminder that he was not alone.
Naomi, Cas’ mother, came over often as well to speak with Mary and attempt to liven her spirits.
“Are you certain he’s not overstaying his welcome?” Naomi asked.
“Honestly, Naomi, I don’t think we could get through this without him.” Mary replied.
“Mom. Earth to mom,” Sam was saying.
“Sorry, dear, what?” Mary said, bringing her attention back to the present.
“I was just saying we had something for Cas, don’t we?” Sam asked.
“Of course. Here, sweetie, happy birthday,” she said, pulling a small gift from under the table.
“You really didn’t need to do this,” Cas said, his face flushing.
“Shut up, Cas, you’re family,” Dean said, grinning as Cas opened the gift.
Inside the box was a book, dog-eared and used, its colors faded over time. Still, the white and yellow cover was beautiful in its antique look, the red letters spelling out the name across the front.
The Tin Woodman of Oz
Cas opened the book gingerly. He could see the age on the pages, and see the love that some child had taken to carefully scrawl their name under the title. It was perfect.
“Thank you so much,” Cas said, eyes still skimming the pages.
“Well, mom thought you deserved it. It was hers when she was a kid,” Dean said, and Cas looked quickly back at the name.
Upon closer inspection, Ca could make out the name written in crayon. Mary Campbell. He stood up from his seat at the table and crossed over to Mary, wrapping his arms around her for a tight hug.
“It’s beautiful. Thank you,” Cas said, and Mary patted him gently on the back.
“You’re very welcome,” Mary said.
After a piece of chocolate cake each, the boys helped Mary tidy up the kitchen, then went to their own rooms. It was getting late, and Sam went to bed. Cas was beginning to get nervous again, his leg twitching as he and Dean started on the first Harry Potter movie. His palms were sweating, and he continuously rubbed them down his legs, attempting to dry them in vain. He raised his hand to point to something on the screen and his hand shook.
“Dude, calm down,” Dean said, sitting back to look at him. “I told you, everything will be fine.”
“You can’t know that!” Cas said, his nerves getting the best of him. “Who’s to say I won’t be stuck with someone who doesn’t like me? Who hates reading and poetry, and wants to change me?”
“Cas. That isn’t going to happen, man,” Dean said, adjusting himself on the bed so he could look at Cas more clearly. “I told you, you’re freakin’ awesome. Whoever is your soulmate is going to understand that as soon as they meet you. I know it. Look, I was going to wait until tomorrow, but here.”
Dean reached under his pillow and pulled out a leather-bound book. Cas took it, and noticed his name in delicate embroidery at the top. He opened it and found blank, lined pages.
“It’s a journal for your poetry,” Dean said. “I know you write it in that notebook of yours at home, but your stuff…it’s really, really good. It deserves to be written down in something better.”
“Dean,” Cas breathed out. “This is perfect.”
“Yeah, well, who knows you better than me?” Dean said, and he reclined back against the wall again.
Cas felt his heartbeat return to normal, and he lay back against the wall as well, shoulder to shoulder with his best friend. They made it through the first movie and began the second, resuming their positions on the bed. Halfway through that, Dean readjusted himself to lay on his side, face propped up in his hand, squishing Cas into the corner.
“Ah, shit dude, sorry. Just lay down, the movie’s almost over anyway.”
Cas lay down on his stomach beside Dean, head turned to one side to watch the film. He felt at ease now, after hearing the things Dean had told him. Perhaps it would be fine. Slowly, Cas’ eyes began to droop shut, and soon he was breathing deeply, asleep.
Dean noticed that Cas had dozed off, and didn’t dare wake him to turn off the movie. He knew Cas was terrified, far more than he had ever been before. Dean would never admit it, but he was scared too.
Cas deserved someone as perfect as he was. Dean remembered Cas sitting up with him late at night, talking about ridiculous things: girls (and boys, once Cas had come out to Dean in the eighth grade), why the soulmate spell had first been enacted all those years ago, and who they thought would be soulmates in their class. Sometimes they didn’t talk at all. Sometimes, especially after John had died, Cas would hold onto Dean while he cried, agonizing over the fact that he’d argued with his dad before he left. He felt so damn guilty. Cas had pulled him out of that depression, that hell, he was in.
Dean closed his eyes, the movie ending and going back to the title screen. He squinted his eyes open and moved just enough to hit mute on the remote before closing them again. Dean lay in the dark room, listening to Cas’ breathing and hoping, wishing, begging, that whoever was lucky enough to be soulmates with Cas would understand the angel he truly was.