“So fucking psyched to be out of the damn dorms,” Dean Winchester says to his roommate and best friend, Cas Novak, as they pull into a parking space. “When we’re done unpacking shit, we should see if Charlie and Jo are home and drag them out to grab food. Think we’ll be too beat to cook. We’ll make ‘em go to Target with us, too.”
“Target? For what?
“Food, TP, knick-knacks, that shit. Gotta eyeball furniture, too, obviously.”
“Knick-knacks?” Cas raises an imperious brow. “Why do we need knick-knacks?”
Dean rolls his eyes at his too-practical friend. “To make it homey, homie.”
“Please don’t call me that.”
“What’s the matter, my biffle?”
A growl rumbles in Cas’ throat.
Dean chuckles at his friend. He enjoys riling him up, but knows when to stop. “Okay, sorry.”
“It’s bad enough you call me ‘buddy.’”
“Sorry, sorry.” He knows Cas isn’t fond of that term, though he’s not sure why. Still, Dean has to call him something, and he sure as hell can’t jump into dangerous territory like sweetheart. Much as he’d like to.
“Don’t be mad, dawg.”
Cas heaves a long-suffering sigh as Dean tries to look sorry (and fails, given Cas’ arched brow). “Why am I living with you again?” he asks.
“‘Cause you only find me mildly repulsive?”
“Hey. Don’t say that about yourself.”
Dean rolls his eyes. For as much as Cas gives him shit, he won’t give him shit about the important things, nor will he let Dean give himself shit about the same. Dean pretends to be annoyed about it, but secretly he’s grateful.
They each take a large breath and smile at each other. This is what they’ve both wanted since they started rooming together sophomore year—a place of their own, away from the noise and the beehive of communal living. Finally, they’ll have someplace where they don’t have to wear flip-flops into the shower to prevent athlete’s foot or listen to people screaming down the hall at all hours. “Best year of our lives, Cas,” Dean says, resting a hand on his thigh, which is also dangerous territory, but he can’t seem to help himself. “Let’s get it.”
He jumps out of his beater car and waits for his best friend, his hand still tingling with the warmth of the illicit touch. Not that the touch was against Dean’s rules. Nor, he supposes, was the touch against Cas’ rules. Rather, what Dean would like the touch to mean is against Cas’ rules. Or rule. There’s only one, really, but it’s a doozy: Cas doesn’t date friends.
He didn’t always have this rule. He only made it last year, in fact. But he had the shittiest timing Dean could ever imagine.
They’ve been roommates since sophomore year, meeting in their freshman year and becoming the best of friends almost immediately. Dean was instantly smitten by the blue-eyed shy guy—in a totally bromantic way at first, but later, not so much. He wishes he hadn’t been such a chicken shit and at least tried to tell him that he was interested, but by the time they both got their shit together and Dean felt ready to take a chance (a big leap, considering his own shit and his own little rule he’s struggled with since knowing Cas), the Grayson thing happened, which made him swear off dating friends. He’s been harboring a major crush ever since. Probably more than a crush, but he tries not to dwell on that. Dwelling makes it significant, and real, and more painful.
Not that being his roommate will be a walk in the park. In fact, sharing a living space that feels so much like a real home, not just a semi-permanent sleepover, will probably make things even harder. But at least he doesn’t have to worry about Cas dating. Well, dating a friend. There’s a chance he could find a random stranger and start dating them, or start using a dating app, or turn a hookup into something more…
Nope, not dwelling on that, either.
Dean notices that Cas is still in the car. He knocks on the window. “Hey, McDreamy, you comin’ or what?”
Cas rolls down his window. “Sorry,” he smiles, chagrined. Dean smiles back softly. He gets lost in thought sometimes. It’s fucking cute, though he’s sure as hell not going to be telling him that any time soon.
They make their way into the office to collect their keys. Dean’s eyes roam the space, catching on the various signs and notices on a peeling, sun-faded corkboard, while they wait for someone to come around.
A woman emerges from a door behind the desk and greets them with a smile. “Hey there! Can I help you? You boys look like students, so before you ask, I’ll tell you that all of our apartments are rented out. Gotta act fast if you want an apartment near the university.”
“And right on the bus route, too,” Dean smiles, pouring on the charm. If other people feel at ease, he feels more comfortable, too. “But, luckily for us, we already have a place here. Just comin’ to pick up keys.”
“Oh,” she says, squinting. “I don’t remember you.”
“That’s because we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you yet. Dean Winchester.” He holds a hand out to shake, which she takes. “And this is my very quiet, very neat, not-at-all-a-dog-in-disguise best friend.”
“Castiel Novak. Nice to meet you,” his friend says, offering his hand as he shoots Dean a puzzled glance. Dean points to the sign on the corkboard, proclaiming No Pets Allowed in Appartments for Any Reason, and smirks. He knows Cas will notice the spelling error immediately and it’ll bug the shit out of him. Cas rolls his eyes at him, which is acknowledgement enough. He laughs.
Cas turns back to the woman. “I’m sorry about him. He thinks he’s amusing.”
Dean punches him lightly on the shoulder.
The woman laughs at the banter between the friends. “I’m Jilly McIntyre. What apartment are you in?”
“Apartment 93,” they say together. Her friendly smile droops.
“Harry is expecting us, if that helps,” Cas adds.
“Give me a minute.” She grabs a walkie-talkie from its station and steps outside.
“Well, that’s not ominous at all,” Dean mutters, feeling both his charm and his good mood slowly slipping away.
“It’ll be okay. It’s probably just a miscommunication,” Cas assures him, clasping his shoulder. Dean smiles, his mood and his heart both lighter. Cas is always there to rescue him when his thoughts take a nosedive. He’s saved him from his own personal hell more than once. Dean’s rescued him a few times, too. They’re good for each other, Dean thinks to himself for the millionth time.
He wishes Cas could see it, too.
As they wait for Harry, Cas’ mind wanders to Dean, as it often does.
Dean is, by a mile, his best friend, and there’s no one he’d rather be sharing an apartment with. He hadn’t made friends easily in childhood, preferring to stand back and watch from the sidelines rather than throw himself into a bunch of people and hope for the best. He’d vowed to make college different, but the first few weeks he fell into the same patterns, not having enough support or experience to make any meaningful movement. That all changed when he had to interview someone from the LGBTQIA Alliance on campus for his Gender and Sexuality class. There he met Charlie, his interviewee, and that rocked his world in all the best ways. They became fast friends and she pulled him out of his shell, convincing him not only to join the Alliance but also to join the Peer Education program. They specialized in Sexuality, and the two of them went to dorms and gave talks about whatever the Resident Advisors wanted—usually about safer sex, STIs, or the sexuality spectrum. They met Dean at one of their particularly rowdy talks. He was fun, and nice, and definitely cute, and Cas was proud that he managed not to freeze up completely when Dean spoke to them afterwards. He attributes this to both the fact that he’d been hanging out with Charlie enough to have a smidgen of confidence and the fact that he’d just started dating his (now former) friend Jordan, so there was no pressure to think of Dean as potential for anything more. Dean, gregarious as he was, took care of the rest, and invited himself to go with them for pizza. That was the beginning of a friendship that grows stronger every day. Of course, other things have since grown stronger, too, but Cas has to ignore those. He’s tried the whole friendship-to-relationship thing, and he sure as hell isn’t going to ruin what he has like he ruined those.
Sometimes it’s tempting, though. Like earlier, when Dean’s hand landed on his thigh. Or now, when Dean looks so worried. It would be nice to hold Dean and comfort him, or kiss the nervous pout off his face, or simply hold his hand and worry along with him.
But he can’t. So they wait, together but alone.
A guy who looks about their age comes in and swings the door closed behind him unceremoniously. “Hey,” he greets them with a tilt of his chin. He’s dressed in pressed olive khakis and a cream button-down shirt. His hair is neat, his eyes alert—from caffeine or energy drinks, probably. Dean gives the same sort of casual greeting, but Cas stares and scrutinizes him. The guy gives off a vibe that has Cas’ hackles up. Dean elbows him, a silent rebuke to behave and stop scaring people (as is a habit of his, Dean tells him) and Cas averts his eyes, giving only a short, tight wave.
Jilly walks back in, accompanied by the landlord, Harry, with whom they’d signed the lease. Cas feels Dean relax next to him, and he relaxes, too. They have that effect on each other. His ease is short-lived, however, when he sees they’re arguing. Dean tenses up and leans toward Cas; Cas steps closer to him, allowing their shoulders to bump.
“Well, these are the things I keep telling you to tell me!” Jilly gripes.
“Interesting, because you never told me you offered the apartment to Vaughn. That’s a conversation I would’ve remembered having.”
They bicker as the three men watch the goings-on. The guy next to them crosses his arms and flicks his eyes at the ceiling.
As Dean squirms uncomfortably (poor guy’s always had a tough time with conflict), Cas speaks up. “Excuse me, is there a problem? We have a copy of the lease we signed in the truck if you need it…” He heads for the door, but Harry’s voice stops him.
“No, son, I know you signed a lease. Seems me and the wife had our wires crossed.” He scowls at her, and she returns it. “I rented to you boys, and she rented to our nephew and his friend.”
Cas’ gut sinks. Dean’s face falls.
“These boys signed back in February, Jill.”
“You don’t kick out family, Harry. He’s our nephew.”
They have a silent argument with their eyes. Dean looks at Cas, Cas looks back, and they make a silent agreement with theirs. No way we’re giving this up without a fight.
“Well, I’m not budging. Wouldn’t be fair, you know it wouldn’t. I’m not getting a reputation for goin’ back on my word. These kids got the place fair and square.”
“Well, I’m not budging, either.”
“No surprise there.”
The woman glares at him, and they continue their silent argument. Dean stares at the floor, Cas stares at the spelling error on the sign (it’s so irritating—spell check exists, people), and the other guy stares at his hands and taps his foot.
The couple seems to come to some decision, and Jilly turns to the three of them. “Well, apparently there’s been an error. So, as I see it, you have three options: Option A, you two find someplace else to live.” She points to Cas and Dean. “Option B, you and your roommate find someplace else to live.” The man—Dean figures he must be Vaughn—looks piqued at this suggestion. “Option C, you all live together for the year and make it work. You can share bedrooms. We’ll even lower the rent a little to make it up to you.”
Cas mutters “There’s an option L” under his breath, but Dean speaks over him and drags him outside.
“Don’t start talking about lawyers, Mr. Everyone-In-My-Family-Is-A-Lawyer. That freaks people out. We want to keep this place. We don’t need them finding a reason to kick us to the curb.”
“It’s not right. We clearly signed the lease first, if I understood their argument correctly. We could press them on this. It’s a clear violation of our lease, and nepotism besides.”
“You think they care about that? That guy was treading on thin ice as it was. She looked like she was gonna kick his ass to the couch, and if he’s like most husbands, he’d cave rather than let that happen. The law of ‘happy wife, happy life’ far surpasses contract law or whatever.”
Cas folds his arms and huffs. “‘You have three options,’” he mocks the landlady. “Why do we have to suffer because they don’t communicate?”
“Suffer? Thanks a lot,” Dean teases, nudging Cas’ chin.
“You know what I mean,” he grumbles, fighting a blush at Dean’s touch.
“Yeah, yeah. Look at it this way, though. We’ll still have more space than we had before, and we’re used to sharing a room. We lived with other people before we roomed together, plus all the people in the dorms, and we probably won’t even see the guy and his roommate that much. Hey, maybe we’ll even be friends. That’d be cool, right? It would make a funny story. Plus Charlie and Jo live right below us. Besides, classes are starting soon and the dorms and apartments in the area are filled. I don’t wanna be separated from you.”
Cas sighs. He doesn’t want that, either.
“Come on. Best year of our lives. We can still have it. Okay?”
Dean’s always been good at calming his temper. Cas relents. “Okay, fine.”
“Thanks, my biffle.”
“Stop talking like that.”
Cas can’t help but grin when Dean flashes him his victory smile. Like everyone else, he’s always been susceptible to Dean’s boyish charm.
They head inside. “We’ll accept option C,” Cas says, in his most serious voice. He sees Dean squirm in his periphery. He hopes he isn’t making him too uncomfortable.
“And that is what is called compromise, Vaughn,” Harry says pointedly to his nephew.
“Fine.” He snatches the keys from Jilly, turns on his heel, and storms out the door.
Dean side-eyes Cas. “Maybe not friends,” he mouths. Cas chuckles silently.
“Sorry about that,” Harry says as Jilly disappears through the door she came through earlier. “He’s her sister’s only kid, and we ain’t got any of our own. Unfortunately, that boy’s as entitled as they come. He needs to grow up. We sort of disagree on how to handle him, though. She’s of the ‘give him enough love and chances’ opinion, and I’m of the ‘give him a dose of reality’ opinion. Thought college would help him get himself together, but…Well, anyway, don’t let ‘im push you around.” He dangles two sets of keys in front of them. “Here ya go. The silver one’s for your door, and the gold one’s for the laundry room. Laundry’s in the basement, you remember. Rent’s due the first of the month.”
“Yes, sir,” Cas says. He digs his wallet out and hands the man a pre-written check for next month’s rent, the first from the joint account they recently opened for their living expenses. Dean had seemed happy to see both their names on the blue safety paper of the checks. It made Cas happy, too, for reasons he chose to ignore.
“More than what’s needed now that you’re sharing,” Harry comments. “I’ll credit you for next month, sound good?”
They agree and Harry writes them a receipt.
“Tell Jilly no hard feelings,” Dean says.
Cas still has hard feelings. He sets his jaw. Dean kicks him in the foot, clearly wanting him to play nice. Cas nods and smiles in agreement. The wallet takes the brunt of his feelings instead as he shoves it away.
“She’ll appreciate that. We do feel bad.”
“Shit happens,” Dean grins with a dismissive shrug. Harry relaxes and smiles. Cas admires the way Dean’s always able to put people at ease and get them on his side. It’s easy to like Dean. Too easy, he thinks ruefully. He’d hoped the extra space and separate bedrooms in the apartment would help his feelings dissipate. It won’t be so easy now.
The men walk out of the office and to Dean’s car. They look down the road toward their apartment building, where Cas’ truck is already parked, and exhale at the same time. “So, Option C. Ready?” Dean asks.
“Ready,” Cas answers.