The nondescript white envelope, less than an ounce, feels like a metric ton in Dean Winchester’s hand as he drags his feet back into the Arts and Crafts-style house he shares with his roommate/best friend, Cas Novak. Cas isn’t home yet, of course, so Dean suffers alone through the angst he feels at the unsolicited intrusion into his life. He’s still staring at the accursed fiend when Cas arrives home, dropping his things by the door and groaning as he finally loosens the tie that feels like a noose.
“Sweet freedom,” he mutters as he shoves his shoes aside. Cas hates Mondays. His usual Mondays mean multiple meetings with passionless bureaucrats, a hiatus from his beloved research, and suits and ties. Ugh, the suits and ties are so stifling and mean nothing, considering he thinks and does the same things whether he’s wearing a suit or jeans or just his underwear. But he promised his boss he’d play nice, and he likes his boss. He doesn’t actually mind the suits all that much, although they’re ridiculous attire for the summer, but he’s convinced the damn ties will kill him someday. He hated this Monday even more than most because of the asinine annual meeting he sat through for hours upon pointless hours with people blathering on instead of getting to the damn point. He hangs his suit jacket onto a hook in the entryway and meanders from the foyer into the living room and to a sullen Dean, who’s holding a piece of mail in his left hand and a glass of vodka in the other. Cas moves to their liquor cabinet, pulls out the Kahlua, and pours an ounce into the glass Dean’s clutching. “What are we looking at and who do we have to kill?” he intones deeply as he sits in his usual spot next to his friend and pulls the rocks glass away from Dean, swirling it around and taking a sip before he reaches across Dean’s body to return it to his chilled hand.
“The vodka wasn’t enough?” Dean asks, turning to face his friend with a hint of a smile ghosting on his lips. Dean notices that the tips of his hair are orange and yellow today. He often dyes the tips, but probably chose the obnoxiously bright, flame-like colors just to piss off the stodgier administrators at their annual meeting today. Cas was texting him throughout, bitching about it, and Dean was helpfully sending him dirty jokes.
Cas shrugs and replies, “Given your thousand yard stare, I figured we needed more. Besides,” Cas says, slipping into a Russian accent that never fails to make Dean smile, “Black Russian is better, no?”
Dean does, indeed, smile and closes his eyes as he leans back against Cas’ outstretched arm and tosses the envelope into Cas’ lap. He thinks, as he often does, that Cas is a gift from Heaven, a gift he’s never quite convinced himself he deserves but, like Linus and his blanket, will never give up. Cas never asks whether he can help; after all their time together, he knows better than Dean when Dean needs support and when he needs space. Tonight, Cas’ message is clear – with the shared beverage, with his body a little closer, with his use of the word “we” instead of “you” – this is a problem they will tackle together.
“You’re invited!” Cas reads the front of the envelope, the phrase inked in red and gold, with the fake enthusiasm of an infomercial host. He slides his index finger under the envelope flap; it rips raggedly as he takes little care to open it. He pulls out the card and reads silently, muttering “Oh, dear God” as he tosses it to the coffee table.
“Is it what I think it is?” Dean asks, eyes still closed but face now turned into Cas’ shoulder, muffling his words.
Cas turns his head and speaks into Dean’s sandy brown hair. “Do you think it’s the date for your execution or an invitation to your high school reunion?”
“Same thing,” Dean mutters, and Cas chuckles as he grabs the wet glass and takes another sip. Dean sits up and copies his movements, although his sip is more like a gulp. They sit quietly for a while, trading the glass back and forth and kicking their feet onto the coffee table.
“Are you going?” Cas asks finally.
Dean rolls his head to the side again and looks at his friend. “Seriously?”
“It’s been ten years, Dean,” Cas says. “A lot can change in ten years.”
“Not with those people,” Dean replies. He knows he’s pouting and he can’t be bothered to school his face to something more contrived. “I haven’t changed.”
Cas clinks the ice around in their glass before standing to refill it. “You didn’t need to change, not in the ways that matter,” Cas points out sincerely, “although you have.” He stirs the drink with a swizzle stick and places it on a coaster on the table before settling back on the couch. Dean doesn’t say anything, because he knows Cas isn’t finished speaking. “You moved away, you experienced new people, places, and things, you have developed yourself into a very talented engineer, and, most importantly, you feel confident about yourself and your worth. You were never the worthless person they tried to make you feel like you were, Dean. You just didn’t believe that then.”
Dean’s face flushes. He does this a lot around Cas. “You know, you can get pretty damn sappy for such a serious guy.”
“Well, I have this weakness. I like you,” he smiles.
“Yeah, yeah,” Dean says, face running even hotter, “although I have no idea why.”
“Well, for starters…”
“Nope, you’ve actually already told me five hundred times, and it’s embarrassing,” Dean gripes as he covers Cas’ mouth. Five hundred times may be an exaggeration, although over the twelve years they’ve known each other, Dean’s not sure whether it really is. Cas does tell him a lot. Tiny crinkles gather around Cas’ eyes, and Dean knows he’s smiling underneath his hand. Dean can’t help but shake his head and smile back. He then realizes he’s still holding his hand over Cas’ mouth, and drops his hand slowly. “Sorry,” he says.
Once Dean has released his mouth, Cas says, “I don’t know if I really believe in closure, but perhaps it would help to see these people again. You’ve grown so much, Dean, and this may help you put those old fears and insecurities and bad memories behind you.” He picks up their drink and sips the liquid around the ice, then allows a partially-melted ice cube to slide into his mouth. He plays with it, maneuvering it around his closed mouth with his tongue, and waits for Dean’s response. When Dean just watches the movements of his mouth and cheeks and says nothing, Cas tucks the ice in a cheek and says, “I’ll go with you.”
The sudden declaration after a moment of aroused fascination at watching Cas suck on the ice in his mouth (which must be melting, as Dean surely would be if he had any part of him in Cas’ mouth) snaps Dean out of his blissed-out, loose-limbed stupor. “You’d go?”
“Of course,” Cas replies, giving Dean the you’re being ridiculous look he’s kind of used to from his best friend. “I want to support you. It would also be a good opportunity to visit your mother and some of our friends, and maybe Sam and Sarah will come down to visit.”
“Maybe,” he says.
“Well, think about it,” Cas shrugs. “Come on, let’s order in. I don’t feel like cooking tonight.”
Dean thinks about it for several days. Their high school was not the friendliest, most tolerant place, and Dean doubts that’s changed a whole lot. But part of him does want to see if things have changed, to see how everyone turned out, and he does have a few friends that he’d like to see, friends he hasn’t seen since he moved out the day after graduation to join Cas, already in college several states away at Stanford. He missed out on all the Project Graduation shit and the parties and whatnot, but by that point he just needed to get away. Cas had a free ride for his post-secondary education because of his gigantic, brilliant brain, and he had a stipend on top of that because the university wanted him so badly, so he rented an apartment just off campus after his first year at the university and made sure it had two bedrooms so Dean could join him. Cas had even encouraged him to apply to Stanford, since he’d probably get a boatload of need-based financial aid because of his dad’s disability and mom’s need to stay home with him, and he did, surprising himself most of all when he not only was accepted, but got enough aid so that between Dean and Cas they could make it work. During Dean’s senior year of high school, even before Dean was accepted and even while Cas was still in the dorms, they talked about getting a place together out in California, and it was honestly one of the few things – sometimes the only thing – that kept Dean going through all the crap of his senior year without Cas by his side.
“Any decision yet?” Cas asks a few days after the invitation arrived. They’re on the deck looking out into the night sky, remnants of pizza in a box at their feet and the smell of citronella floating around them in a weak attempt to avoid being eaten alive by the mosquitos.
“I don’t know,” Dean answers, conflict crossing his chiseled face, softened by sadness. Cas glances at him and wonders, not for the first time, how anyone could ever be so cruel and capricious as to make Dean doubt himself in this way. Yes, he allows, it was high school and no one was fully mature just yet, as humans’ grey matter is still not fully developed until age 25 or so. Still, Dean’s light is so bright, so pure, that Cas struggles to understand how everyone in its path isn’t mesmerized by its goodness, like Cas has been. “I mean, yeah, I’ve done a lot of good things and all, I’m all grown up and I hold down a job and pay my bills, but when I show up I’ll still be that loser who’s someone’s dirty little secret or punching bag, who can’t have anyone really love him, who still doesn’t even have a boyfriend or girlfriend ten years later when half of them are probably married with kids. It’ll be like nothing ever changed, and knowing me, I’m gonna just roll over and allow myself to be kicked.” Dean swigs his beer and Cas wants to kill those stupid little teenagers who made Dean’s life miserable, even if they have grown up and become better people or whatever. But, he decides, he cannot be helpful to Dean if he’s feeling murderous, so he forces himself to calm down.
“There is no shame in being single, Dean,” Cas says in an attempt to reassure him. “You simply haven’t found anyone you want to share your life with.”
Cas feels Dean’s shrug next to him, their shoulders brushing. Dean stays quiet and doesn’t look at Cas.
“You’ve been hurt, and I know it is difficult for you to open up and trust someone. Perhaps seeing and maybe even confronting some of those who have hurt you will help.” Cas links his arm with Dean’s and squeezes his arm in a sort of hug. “You deserve someone who loves you openly, who respects you and defends you and supports you.” His voice, warm with an edge of righteous anger at those who had hurt Dean over the years, strikes Dean’s heart and makes his chest constrict.
“You’ll go with me?” he asks cautiously, hoping his voice will not betray his emotion, or that at least Cas will think the emotion comes from the pain of the past rather than the ache and longing of the present.
“Of course,” Cas answers simply. Because of course he will. He will do anything Dean asks of him, and they both know it.
“Okay,” Dean nods.