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Ready to Fall

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When Dean finishes his final exam for the semester, he heads straight for Espresso Self, the on-campus coffee shop, and slumps into his usual booth. There's sunlight streaming in through the big window next to him, the warmth from it sending goose bumps rippling across his skin when it collides with the cool air of the shop. He shivers slightly, but it feels nice once his body adjusts. 

He's only there a few minutes before Castiel, his best friend and one of the baristas at Espresso Self, joins him at the booth, black coffee for Dean already in hand. He slides the cardboard cup across the table and asks, "How was your exam?"

Dean accepts the cup graciously, putting it to his lips and sipping at the scalding liquid inside before pulling it away with a scowl. "Okay, I guess," he says with a swipe of his hand across his mouth. Castiel smiles warmly at him, and Dean can see a chiding in his features before he even speaks.

"You know it's hot, Dean. Why don't you ever wait for it to cool?"

Dean shrugs his shoulders and puts the cup back on the table, pulling off the lid to allow some of the steam to escape.

"I'm going to start putting ice cubes in your coffee," Castiel mutters as he watches Dean from across the table.  

Dean offers Castiel a cheeky grin. "Always looking out for me, huh Cas?" he teases. 

"Someone must," Castiel mutters with a shake of his head. Dean catches the slight blush that now tints Castiel's cheeks and his grin fades into a soft, fond smile. He slides a leg in-between Castiel's under the table, nudging at one of Castiel's knees with his own. 

He and Cas have been friends for about five months now, first meeting when Dean ducked into Espresso Self one unfortunate rainy day;  they haven’t run out of things to talk about since. Now Castiel knows Dean better than almost anyone, and it feels like they've known each other for a lifetime rather than just a few short months.

And Dean's about to be separated from the guy for the entire summer.

Dean stares down at his coffee cup and trails his thumbnail along the lip of it asking quietly, "When do you leave again?"

He knows the answer - he and Castiel have discussed this very topic several times in the past few weeks - but the thought of not seeing Cas every day for the next three months always sends an emptiness radiating through him. Acting like it's not deeply affecting him is the only way Dean knows how to deal with what he's desperately trying not to think of as abandonment.

When Castiel brings his gaze to meet Dean's, it's void of the usual quiet excitement Castiel gets when he talks about the summer anthropological dig he was accepted to be a part of. Instead his eyes are laden with a disappointment Dean can tell the other teen is trying to hide, igniting a spark of worry inside of Dean.

"What's wrong?" he asks.

"I won't be going on the dig this summer."

Dean's brain sputters to a halt. This is all Cas has talked about for close to six weeks - the only thing Dean has seen him actually get excited about. "What?...Why!?" Dean practically shouts.

Castiel sighs dejectedly. "The main sponsor for the dig pulled their funding last night," he explains. "Everything has been placed on hold until they can generate enough money to continue. All interns accepted into the program were dismissed this morning due to lack of funds and interest in the project."

"Shit, Cas," Dean says, his fingers twitching around his coffee cup as he fights the urge to reach across the table and squeeze Castiel's hands. "I'm sorry."

Castiel raises a shoulder and lets it fall, his face a mask of apathy that Dean can see right through.

"What are you going to do instead?" Dean asks, raising his coffee cup to his lips. Castiel is treating the whole situation very casually, so Dean tries to do the same to avoid making Castiel feel uncomfortable.

"I'm not sure yet," Castiel admits as he reaches across the table and toys with Dean’s discarded lid. "Stay here, I suppose, if they'll let me keep my job for the summer -  and my room."

"Why don't you come home with me?" Dean blurts without thinking, because the idea of Castiel staying here while Dean runs off to Kansas for the summer hurts worse than Cas being away for three months doing something he loves.

The look Castiel gives him is one he can't exactly decipher, but the fact that the other teen doesn't say "no" right away is definitely a plus.

"I wouldn't want to encroach," Castiel finally says, his words coming out unsure and quiet.

"You wouldn't be 'encroaching', Cas," Dean says using air quotes around Castiel's word choice. He never used air quotes until he met Castiel, but now they're just one of many habits Dean has picked up from the other teen. "You're my best friend. My family would love to have you."

Castiel worries his bottom lip between his teeth and Dean can practically see the wheels in his brain turning, working things out, compartmentalizing in the endearing way Castiel does. Finally his eyes meet Dean's, bright and hopeful. "Do you really think that'd be alright, Dean?" he asks. "I wouldn't be in the way?"

Dean scoffs at him. "Of course you wouldn't be in the way, Cas," he says. "There's plenty of room, as long as you don't mind sleeping on a bunk bed all summer."

"I don't mind."

Dean's face breaks out into a broad grin. "Great!" he says, "I'll let my mom know you're coming."

The smile Castiel offers him from across the table sets loose butterflies in Dean's stomach. It's small and grateful, and Dean's pretty sure that from this day forward, he's going to do whatever it takes to get Cas to smile at him like that all the time.

On his way home Dean texts his mother while idling at a red light. Mom, he types, bringing someone home with me for the summer. Hope that's alright.

Her response is a simple, Can't wait to meet them! and it causes Dean to smile the whole rest of the way home.