Dean really needs a new computer.
His once-shiny MacBook was a gift from his parents when he started college five years ago. He’s a graduate student now, and the poor thing is practically gasping its dying breath. The battery’s shot and the warranty is over and he’s sick of hearing, “We don’t carry those parts anymore.” If he could restore a ‘67 Impala in 2010, then a laptop from 2012 ought to be reparable, but it’s pointless to yell at the Genius Bar, so he just brings the thing home and calls it a day.
That is, until 9 pm that night when he’s furiously typing and everything freezes.
“Shit,” he curses at the screen, jabbing the keys to no avail. He’s got work to submit by midnight; he truly doesn’t need this hiccup right now. He supposes he could print out the assignment, do it by hand, but thinks of all the problems he’s already done. And then he sees his phone and has a thought, something he’d heard, half-paying attention, during Orientation six months ago.
“Where’d that pen go...” he mumbles to himself, reaching for the mug on the corner of his desk. Wading through a bouquet of pencils and highlighters, he finds what he’s looking for on the side of a ballpoint:
Baker Library I.T. Help Desk
He clicks the pen a couple of times before tapping out the number on his cell. He hears an automated message asking him to wait, and then it rings, once, twice-
“Hello, Baker Library I.T. Help Desk. This is Castiel. How can I help you?”
Dean blinks, unable to speak. Holy hell, is that really his voice?
“Hello?” the guy asks again, and Dean clears his throat. Pull yourself together.
“Uh, yeah,” he’s blushing already. “I’m having some trouble with my, um... the…” Jesus, he wants to hang up and not talk to anyone for at least a year. “My laptop froze while I was doing my p-set.”
“Well, let’s see what we can do,” comes the warm reply, all gravelly and low and pillow talk perfect. Dean wonders what he looks like, with a voice that hot. He’s so consumed by the thought that he misses the question.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that,” he turns even redder. Thank god they’re on the phone and not chatting face to face.
Castiel chuckles and the sound reverberates over the line and down Dean’s spine, tinged with a subtle and easy confidence Dean has always found exceedingly attractive. “I asked when your p-set is due.”
“Oh, um, midnight. Well, eleven-fifty-nine.”
“Were you almost done or just getting started?”
“Count me impressed.”
“Why?” Dean wrinkles his forehead. He’s just a student doing his job.
“People call all the time about frozen computers except most haven’t started their assignments.”
“Oh,” Dean breathes a small laugh. “I’m probably too neurotic to procrastinate.” Why, he rubs at his eyes. Why would you say that. God, he’s hopeless.
“That’s not a bad thing,” Castiel says. “The people in my program could learn from you.” So, he’s a student too. Dean wants to ask which program, but Castiel moves on with another sexy laugh. “Anyway, you’ll have to forgive me for this next thing I say, because it’ll sound dumb but it’s tried and true. You ready?”
“Yeah,” Dean replies.
“Try turning it off then turning it on.”
Dean’s hand hovers aimlessly above his keyboard and he can’t help the snort or the roll of his eyes. “I honestly can’t believe I haven’t tried that yet.”
“You’d be surprised how many call before they do.”
Dean holds the power button down till his screen turns black, then waits ten seconds before pressing it again. When the machine reboots with the telltale sound, he blushes once more. “I wasted your time.”
“Hey, you’re fine. This is what I’m here for. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
Your number would be nice is on the tip of Dean’s tongue, but he’s not that brave; in fact, he feels a bit crazy. So, instead, he settles for, “No, that’s it. Thank you,” and listens to Castiel bid him a good night.
◇ ◇ ◇
Dean would be lying if he says Castiel doesn’t cross his mind the following week, or that he isn’t relieved when his screen blacks out and refuses to cooperate no matter what he does.
Naturally, he turns to the Help Desk, clearly more efficient than driving to Apple. And of course he has to wait until after 5 pm since he’s got that seminar and a trip to Starbucks. And a grocery run and a phone call home.
Definitely not because Castiel clearly works the evening shift.
The second he’s done talking to his mom, Dean scrolls through his history and dials the Help Desk. There’s nothing wrong with hoping Castiel picks up, given how he’d solved Dean’s problem so deftly last time.
“Hello, Baker Library I.T. Help Desk. This is Castiel. How can I help you?”
“Hey, um, it’s- I called last week...”
“Hey, you’re back.” It sounds like he’s smiling.
“Yeah, I already tried the, um, turning it off. Well, it turned off by itself, so I didn’t really...”
One of these days, Dean muses in his head. One of these days, he’ll form a complete sentence.
“It shut off on you, huh?” Castiel hums. Dean can hear his fingers drumming. “Has it done that before?”
“No, but it’s pretty old. This is like the twentieth sign that I need a new one.”
“Hmm,” Castiel says softly. “Do you have an external hard drive?”
Dean sighs, “I don’t, actually... God, I don’t deserve to live in this century.”
Castiel laughs, “I’m sure that’s not true. But it’s a good idea to back up your hard drive in case this happens again.” There are a couple of clicks and a rustle of paper. “You could check one out from us. We do long-term rentals.”
“Really?” Dean’s heart jumps a little.
“Sure, are you free right now?”
Dean swallows, clutching his phone. He’s in his sweats, he isn’t prepared-
“I’m leaving in five,” Castiel says, “but I could tell my co-worker you’re coming by.”
“Oh, you won’t be there?” Dean says without thinking, immediately regretting how weird it is to ask that. He and Castiel don’t know each other. Dean couldn’t pick him out from a crowd of students.
“Yeah, it’s a friend’s birthday,” Castiel explains. “My normal shift is from 6pm to midnight.”
“Those are long hours. You don’t get bored?”
“We’re allowed to do work when we’re not helping someone.” There’s a short pause then Castiel adds, “And sometimes I get to talk to people who aren’t boring.”
A rush of heat spreads across Dean’s face. “You probably say that to everyone.”
“Trust me, I don’t,” Castiel replies, and Dean feels a little breathless. They’re flirting, right? A beat passes between them, fluttery and tense – certainly not uncomfortable, but taut like a bow. The kind that awakens butterflies low in Dean’s stomach, which he hasn’t felt in what seems like years.
“I can stop by in about ten minutes,” Dean toys with a loose thread on the hem of his t-shirt.
“I’ll let Garth know,” Castiel says and the tension eases. “Could I get your name?”
“Sure,” Dean can’t help his smile even if Castiel can’t see him. “It’s, um, Dean.”
“Hello, Dean,” says Castiel and Dean wants to hear it again and again.
When he gets to the library shortly afterward, a skinny senior named Garth pulls out a box with a large Post-It attached to the top. On it, in block letter script, is a handwritten note from Castiel:
Dean: To turn on your computer, hold down the shift, control, option, and power buttons altogether. Release all 4 at the same time then press the power button again. Garth can explain how to back up your hard drive if you need. Feel free to call back any time (my shifts are Tues/Thurs). – Cas
Cas, Dean smiles to himself before carefully tucking the note in his pocket.
◇ ◇ ◇
His computer doesn’t quite make it back from its sad, abrupt shut-down, dramatic but expected. It gives him no choice besides buying a new one and thanking the old for its years of service. He gets the replacement configured for school at the Help Desk, incredibly disappointed that it’s during the day. He has no reason to call them now. He contemplates dropping by but chickens out each time.
It’s Jo who brings up the app, some stupid thing called Avocuddle that’s recently taken off in their city. The logo is two avocadoes hugging, which couldn’t be more ‘millennial’ if it tried.
“Stop being a grump,” Jo tells him over lunch. “It’s what all the cool kids are doing these days.”
“If that’s so, then why are you on it?”
That earns him a French fry to the bridge of his nose.
Begrudgingly, and because Jo won’t stop talking about it unless he does, Dean installs the app and makes an account and lets her choose five photos for his profile. His main one is of him and Baby, from when he drove Sam out to college in Palo Alto. He has to admit he doesn’t look half bad, with his casual t-shirt and dark blue jeans.
He saves his settings as ‘interested in men’ and ‘within 5 mile(s)’ and tries not to think of Cas.
◇ ◇ ◇
For the most part, Avocuddle is a bust, mainly because the polite conversations don’t lead anywhere and the impolite ones are just propositions. Dean blocks at least a dozen guys who send lewd messages – mostly about his mouth and the hood of his car – wondering what it is about the fuckboy population that totally obliterates their ability to spell.
He doesn’t have much time to spend on it either, with projects and p-sets and friends and Netflix. It’s not until a random Wednesday that he sees something, or rather, someone who catches his attention.
MBA student. Cat video connoisseur.
The description draws a laugh from Dean, especially given that the previous user had literally put, ‘Outstanding gentleman.’ – Washington Post.
Dean also can’t ignore the fact that this guy is honestly beautiful, artfully disheveled hair and deep blue eyes and a shirt that says, ‘Solvem Probler.’ What’s more, the bedhead is a constant in every photo, even the one where he’s in a suit, all neatly pressed.
He’s got to be an asshole, Dean thinks helplessly. No way can a dude who looks like that and likes cats and nerdy t-shirts have a fantastic personality too. That just isn’t fair to anyone.
But when Dean sends him a message – ‘So, which cat videos would you recommend?’ – he gets a reply in a couple of minutes with a link to a video of tiny kittens. It’s obvious that the kittens are rescues, their eyes barely open as they’re bottle-fed. Dean is watching one bury its face in a soft, pink blanket when the app alerts him of a new message in the chat.
‘The whole channel is great. It’s one of my favorites.’
Dean thanks him for the link. ‘Do you have any cats?’ The reply is that tenants aren’t allowed to have pets in his building. Dean responds with a frowny face, to which he writes, ‘Doesn’t stop me from browsing Petfinder.’
Dean grins, reminded of Sam and how determined he is to adopt a dog once he graduates. ‘My brother’s the same way except with dogs.’
‘I don’t blame him.’ Puppy emoji.
They chat back and forth while Dean walks to class and, damn it, the guy is nice and pleasant to talk to. It’s not stilted or awkward at all, as though this isn’t the first time they’re texting each other. There’s also an underlying vibe of playful flirtation, which Dean supposes comes with the territory of a dating app. They’ve seen each other’s profile and pictures, after all. They wouldn’t be talking if there were no interest.
thethinkingcat: Cool username btw
batmobile67: Haha thanks my car deserves it
thethinkingcat: What do you drive?
batmobile67: A ’67 Impala
batmobile67: I restored her when I was 16
There’s a brief pause before the ellipses appear, and Dean thinks it better be because the guy is impressed. One of the ways to Dean Winchester’s heart is through giving Baby the respect she deserves, and no one is exempt from that, not even hot business students with dreamy eyes.
thethinkingcat: I think I’ve seen her
thethinkingcat: Do you park by the med school?
batmobile67: Yeah I do actually
batmobile67: You go to SU?
thethinkingcat: Haha yeah
thethinkingcat: I always see your car when I’m out on my runs
thethinkingcat: She stands out :)
Oh, Dean is just done for.
batmobile67: Thanks :)
batmobile67: And wow small world
thethinkingcat: Tell me about it
thethinkingcat: I was wondering about you too but there are so many schools around here
With the business school and engineering department being in opposite corners of campus, Dean’s never had the occasion to meet any MBA students, nestled away in their fancy building. He’s heard of the golfing trips and champagne dinners and cutthroat battles for internships, but whatever stereotypes he had lodged in his mind are dissipating with each passing minute.
batmobile67: Hey I gotta head into my seminar but we should talk later
thethinkingcat: Ok sounds good
batmobile67: Do you have class?
thethinkingcat: More or less
thethinkingcat: It’s time for our mid-day cocktail party :)
batmobile67: So the rumors are true
thethinkingcat: Oh yeah we’re all insufferable snobs
batmobile67: Well maybe not all of you
thethinkingcat: Talk soon
Dean blushes to the tips of his ears.
◇ ◇ ◇
The more Dean talks to thethinkingcat – which, they should really exchange names at some point – the more he’s charmed and surprised by how well they mesh in conversation. Within a day, the guy is already more interesting than most of the people Dean has met in real life. Ever.
Well, except of course-
Cas falls in the grey area of that spectrum, since Dean’s only interacted with him over the phone. But he was warm and sweet and Dean keeps thinking about him, even though he clearly lacks the nerve to do anything about it.
Because it’s in Cas’ job description to be nice to people, and it’s likely Dean read too much into things. He’s made that mistake before and it was mortifying to learn how much he’d misinterpreted. Plus, how he felt while talking to Cas is how he’s feeling now when chatting on the app, and if thethinkingcat is interested where Cas is not, then why should Dean hesitate about pursuing that?
Which brings him to Thursday night, sitting in the library with unfinished homework. He’s staring at a new message from thethinkingcat: ‘Would you like to meet up sometime this weekend?’
Dean chews on his lip. Slowly. Pensive. Then buys himself some time with, ‘Saturday or Sunday?’
‘I’d prefer Saturday but either works.’
God, why does he have to be so accommodating.
Dean taps on the chat box at the bottom to reply, only to tap again when the cursor doesn’t show. He’s tried three more times when the app unfreezes and he sighs in frustration. Technology.
batmobile67: Sorry the app froze up
batmobile67: Saturday’s good for me too
thethinkingcat: Yeah I know the app is being buggy
thethinkingcat: We should text instead
‘I’ll send you my number.’ Dean smiles as he rounds out the message with ten digits and ‘My name is Dean btw. How about you?’ He finishes typing and is about to send when, like some cruel joke, the window freezes.
“Jesus Christ,” he rolls his eyes. Could phones and computers please let him live. He curses again when the app blacks out and he’s back on the Home screen like nothing had happened. He taps on the stupid icon of hugging avocadoes but they just sit there, mocking him. He even tries restarting his phone, tries not to think of Cas while doing so. It’s when that doesn’t work and he looks up with a groan that he sees the bright sign on the other side of the floor.
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY HELP DESK
Dean’s gaze is fixated on the sign, one of his hands clenched tightly around his phone. Maybe- No, maybe it’ll be good to walk over there now. To face Cas in person and try to figure out if he’d been misguided and, if so, move on.
The very short walk to the Help Desk area feels like forever when he’s dragging his feet. He keeps his eyes lowered until he’s close enough that Garth notices him and says, “Oh. Hey, Dean!”
“Hey, Garth,” Dean gives a weak wave. “How are you, man?”
Garth shrugs with a smile. “Same old, same old. Problem with your MacBook?”
Dean shakes his head. “No, my phone, actually.”
“Gotcha. I’m answering emails but wait just a sec and Cas will come help you. Funny, he was just having problems with his phone too. Something about an app-”
“Garth, have you seen my…”
Dean hears the voice before he sees Castiel, the familiar sound and gravel-rough tone tethering every ounce of his attention to its source. It’s all so sudden that everything slows down, from blue eyes to dark hair to a t-shirt with the business school logo.
And when his brain finally catches up, Dean drops his phone with an undignified gasp.
“Dean! You dropped your-”
“You’re Cas?” Dean breathes in disbelief.
“Batmobile,” Cas looks bewildered. “You… You’re Dean.”
“I don’t…” Dean can’t stop staring, because Cas is gorgeous and- Cas is the one- “The app froze again.” His cheeks feel hot.
Castiel chuckles and ducks his head, sort of unbearably adorable. “I was getting worried,” he admits sheepishly. “I wasn’t sure if I’d been too forward or…”
“No, I was literally about to send…” Dean laughs, mesmerized by the crooked smile on Castiel’s lips. “You know, I almost didn’t come by.”
“How come?” Cas tilts his head.
“Because I had a massive crush on your voice and, I dunno, the whole app thing felt like… a love… triangle… or something.” He can’t believe the words coming out of his mouth and hides his eyes in the palm of one hand.
He stays like that, flushed and embarrassed, until a warm hand tugs gently at his wrist.
His mouth feels dry when he sees Cas, now standing inches away with a fond expression. “So, you were crushing on my voice, and you were crushing on my face?” His eyes crinkle endearingly when he grins. “Well, damn, can I take you out?”
Dean is startled by his own laugh, bubbling out past his heart beating wildly in his chest. “Don’t forget your modesty,” he says, wanting to pinch himself to check if this is real.
“I’m relieved,” Cas shrugs one shoulder. “I had two crushes on you too,” he smiles.
“You probably say that to everyone.”
Cas takes his hand. “Trust me, I don’t.” He glances at Dean’s phone with a wry little look. “Do you want me to try and unfreeze that app?”
“Nah, just delete it,” Dean says happily, squeezing Cas’ hand. “I don’t need it anymore.”