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Write First Then Read

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Dean slogged through his morning routine. Staying up well past two in the morning to write the end of the fic he’d been working on for months now had probably not been the greatest choice, in retrospect. He’d set his personal draft deadline months ago, though, when he’d landed this new job. It might not have been due for claims in the NealEm Pinefest until the end of September, but he didn’t want to have to deal with the pressure of feeling his way around a new workplace while rushing to finish his fic.

Plus it wasn’t like he could casually explain the obsessive hobby weighing heavily on his mind to his new coworkers. Yeah, in my spare time I write novel-length gay fanfiction about two dudes from a pulpy horror tv show.

Yes, he knew there was nothing inherently wrong with writing slash fanfiction for his favorite show, nor with his particular television genre preferences, but he also knew he’d have a difficult enough time being accepted as a male guidance counselor at an elementary school as it was. There’d apparently already been a few objections to his hiring, but Principal Baker had tried to tell him that it had more to do with parents missing the retiring Missouri Moseley than a specific objection to Dean himself taking over her old position.

“We’re a close-knit school,” Mildred had assured him the week before during his final interview at the Edlund School, after she’d convinced him to call her Mildred instead of Principal Baker. “We’re like a family, and sometimes we find it difficult to let go when someone’s decided it’s time to move on. Everyone will warm up to you once they get a chance to know you, Dean. I have every confidence in you. You’re gonna fit right in.”

Dean had tried to give her his best smile as she continued their tour around the rest of the school, but he’d already been overwhelmed. Fitting in at work had been pretty low on his priority list for the last few months. Higher up the list of things to worry about had been sending out a ream of job applications, moving halfway across the country, uprooting his entire life, and settling in to a town where the only people he’d really known had been Sam and Rowena. And even they were still a half hour away. At least Dean had his online community and the Pinefest to keep him feeling connected. If only his entire fandom crowd actually lived in suburban Maryland, secretly disguised as all his new neighbors he’d barely had a chance to meet yet. Or better yet, as his new coworkers. That was probably hoping for too much.

The only fandom friend he knew was in the area was Charlie. She’d taken him under her wing years ago when he’d first started watching Unnatural. She’d introduced him to fanfiction and the wider community, and had been one of the very few people he’d interacted with in fandom who even knew his real identity, let alone where he lived.

He would’ve been lying if he said that Sam was the only reason he’d left his old life behind in Lawrence. Charlie had even helped him pick out an apartment, recommending neighborhoods that would be convenient, close to his new job, and most importantly, close enough for her to continue her campaign to convince him to come out of his shell and join her at one of the annual Unnatural conventions. He was still working up the nerve for that one. He’d only met Charlie face to face for the first time a few months earlier.

He knew Charlie had a group of friends she got together with for viewing parties, many of whom he recognized by the names they used in fandom. He’d sworn her to secrecy, though, about his move. As far as he knew, she’d kept her word. She understood why he felt the need to keep his real identity separate from his fandom persona, and respected his wishes to keep his private life private.

He downed his morning coffee while reading a text from Sam, Good luck with your first day at school. It had been the annual joke between them since Dean had graduated college and then gone directly back to elementary school. He replied with the traditional, Thanks, mom, and then hurried to get there on time.

School might not have been starting officially for a few more days, but Dean’s work had already begun in earnest. Answering emails from parents concerned about their child’s classroom placements, familiarizing himself with the school’s policies and procedures, and stressing over the speech he’d been asked to give during the orientation assembly scheduled for the end of the week kept him busy for most of the morning. There was also the matter of meeting the rest of the staff, which he was both excited about and nervous for. He’d smiled and waved at a few folks passing by his office throughout the morning, but he must’ve looked too busy to bother. Either that or he was just a mild curiosity as the new guy, and the rest of the returning staff were trying to scope him out from a distance. He’d meet them all soon enough, he figured. Until then, he mostly tried to keep his head down and get through his morning.

Just as Mildred had told him their school was like a family, he’d felt exactly the same way about his old school back in Lawrence. He’d only worked there a few years before Sam called him up with the news that he’d landed a job clear across the country. Dean had considered relocating to California once or twice while his brother had been in college. After Sam had decided to stay out there for law school, it had become a serious consideration, but Sam had never been sure where he wanted to settle down when he graduated. If Dean was gonna pick up his whole life and start over somewhere new, he didn’t want to have to do it twice. He could wait for Sam to figure out his own life first.

It took a full year after Sam and Rowena moved to Maryland for Dean to begin thinking the time was right to consider following them. Dean casually put in a few job applications before Principal Baker had called him back to offer him an interview. One flight out, and one meeting with an overly-enthusiastic Charlie later, and Dean’s entire life began to change.

Unfortunately since school had let out in June, it had all been changing in fast forward. In less than two and a half months, he’d packed up and then unpacked his entire life again. It had barely left him enough time to maintain his self-imposed writing schedule, let alone have much time left over for keeping up with his fandom friends. At least the show itself had been on hiatus through the entire ordeal, so it wasn’t like he’d been missing out on the week to week drama of new episodes. He still had six weeks left to settle in before his Thursday nights would once again be dedicated to multiple rewatches and intense blogging about the latest adventures of his favorite monster hunters.

Now that he’d finished moving in and unpacking his life, and finished his draft for the Neal/Emmanuel Pinefest-- probably the biggest and most well known writing challenge in the entire fandom-- he was really looking forward to having a chance to get caught up with his online friends. Sure, he’d been peeking his head in every once in a while, and keeping in touch with a few of the people he’d grown close with, but he hadn’t realized just how much he’d missed them all anyway. As he sat at his new desk sending the last email of the morning, he thought maybe he could get away with scrolling through the Pinefest Discord chat for just a few minutes, and hopefully catching up with a few people. He pulled out his phone, unsure if Discord was even something he’d risk installing on his official work computer, and sighed.

“How sad is it that all my friends are in my pocket?” he muttered under his breath, but then smiled as their words filled the screen.

He scrolled up through the most recent messages-- random writing check-ins, a few discussions about procrastination, a meme he didn’t have any context for that apparently had something to do with something one of the actors had said at a con the previous weekend that he was only learning about now. He kept scrolling, looking for a few specific names until he spotted the one he’d most been hoping to see. FicFeathers had checked in late the night before for the regular evening word count update with a respectable 800 words written, and a lament about having to get up early for work in the morning. Dean himself had missed the evening update, too busy writing the last few thousand words of his own story to stop and report in on his progress.

“Never too late to report a win,” he said to himself as he typed out a progress update.

Impala67: Delayed reporting in, but I pulled a late one last night finishing this draft. Bring on the beta readers, this fic is a go.

He grinned at the message for a second before several people popped in to reply.

QueenOfMoons: DUDE. KUDOS.

Impala67: Maybe wait until after you read it before handing out kudos. It’s probably one big typo still.

QueenOfMoons: You know what I mean, Imp. Take the congrats like a big boy.

A few other people congratulated him, and he’d been about to log out when Feathers finally poked his head in and left a :tada: reaction on Dean’s announcement post.

FicFeathers: So are you soliciting for a beta reader? Congratulations are in order, but I admit I could use a mental break from writing if you’re interested.

Interested was a vast understatement. Dean was always interested in anything that would give him an excuse to spend more time chatting with Feathers. They’d been friends online for several years now, bouncing writing ideas off each other and frequently discussing their favorite show, but unlike with Charlie, Feathers had steadfastly maintained his anonymity, by his own choice. Dean understood completely, and had never pushed against his self-imposed boundaries. Hell, he had plenty of his own in place, too. But of everyone he talked to online, Feathers was the one he wished he could get to know for real.

A voluntary offer to beta read such a rough draft for him felt like one of those boundaries beginning to crack. Of course Dean would jump at the chance.

Impala67: Feathers, if you’re up for it, I’ll send you a link when I get home tonight. I was gonna take another pass over it myself first, but if you’re that hard up for reading material I wouldn’t say no.

Dean watched the bottom of the screen, telling him that Feathers was typing a message before it appeared.

FicFeathers: I eagerly look forward to it, then.

Impala67: :thumbsup: I’ll DM you as soon as I get home. Back to work for me now. See you later.

The second he set his phone down in his lap, Dean ran through a gauntlet of emotions. Anticipation for his chat with Feathers took center stage for a minute before giving way to abject terror at the thought of Feathers actually reading his unedited fic. Sure, they’d beta read for each other numerous times over the years, but never for such a rough draft. Maybe Feathers would understand if Dean wanted another few days to at least give the whole thing a once-over before submitting to the mortifying ordeal of having his draft picked apart. Not that Feathers was a harsh editor, but that’s always how first drafts felt to Dean anyway. Like walking out the front door naked.

He’d shared that metaphor with Charlie once, and she’d laughed at him.

“At least you look good naked,” she’d joked, long before she’d ever met him in person, or even seen a photo of him. “I’m sure you’re a regular Adonis, if your drafts are anything to go by.”

When they’d finally met face to face two months ago, she’d taken one look at him and gave him an impressed thumbs up. Dean had to ask what the hell she was talking about, but she’d remembered that conversation all those years in careful anticipation of that moment.

“Dude, I am seriously impressed. I was just trying to compliment your writing skills. I swear I had no idea how accurate it was.”

Dean had turned beet red right there in the coffee shop where they’d met. “Yeah, well it worked as a joke back then. Now I’m just feeling kinda awkward about it.”

Charlie shrugged and then patted him reassuringly on the shoulder. “It’s not like you got anything to worry about from me.”

Feathers, on the other hand, was still mostly a mystery. They talked about the show, their writing, and the fandom, but any time their conversations veered toward work or their personal lives beyond a movie they saw or what they had for lunch, Feathers had shut it down and changed the subject. It hardly even seemed to matter anymore, this complete blank spot of the nitty gritty details of their lives. Dean felt he knew Feathers better than some people he’d known his entire life, just from his writing. Anyone who could produce such insightful commentary and analysis of the deeper themes of the show, as well as some of the steamiest smut and most heartfelt romance between the main characters, not to mention his offbeat and often quietly hilarious sense of humor, well… Dean knew the author was someone he needed in his life, in whatever way Feathers would allow him in.

With a resigned sigh he knew right then he’d be forwarding a copy of his draft the moment he got home from work. No matter how rough it was or how naked it might make him feel.

A gentle knock on his door startled him out of his reverie, and only then did he realize he’d just been sitting with his phone in his lap, staring vacantly at his computer monitor like an idiot.

“Is everything all right, Dean?” Mildred asked. “You look a little lost there.”

Dean plastered on a smile and shook his head. “I just realized I’ve got an empty inbox already. Kinda took me by surprise, I guess.”

Mildred smiled at him. “None of the parents are giving you any trouble yet, I hope.”

Dean stood up and stepped around his desk with a laugh. “No, nothing I can’t handle. What can I do for you?”

“I was just checking up on you, seeing how you’re settling in. It sounds like you’re doing just fine.”

“So far, so good,” Dean replied.

“I don’t know if any of the staff have come by to introduce themselves yet, but we’re all taking a scheduled break to have lunch together,” Mildred told him. “Consider this your formal invitation to join us.”

“Well, how can I resist an offer like that?”

Mildred gave him an approving smile and led the way to the cafeteria, where the parents’ association had arranged a potluck lunch spread to welcome the staff back to school. She introduced him to a few other teachers they met up with in the halls on the way there, and by the time they’d filled their plates and found seats, Dean had been introduced to two dozen teachers and administrators.

“It’s a good thing everyone wears ID badges,” he joked with a third grade teacher whose badge read Jody Mills.

“If you think this is bad, wait until Monday when the halls are teeming with kids,” she said with a grin as another teacher sat down beside her. “Most of us make them wear some sort of name tags for at least the first week of school, but even that only helps so much.”

The new teacher grinned at Dean and stuck her hand out for him to shake. “Donna Hanscum, fifth grade.” Dean shook her hand and listened to her talk right over any introduction he was able to make. “You must be Dean. It’s a lot easier on us classroom teachers to get a handle on our own groups of kids. I don’t envy you guys that have to remember every kid in the whole dang school.”

Dean frowned at her and cast a glance at Mildred. “I thought I was the only counselor?”

Donna nodded at him earnestly. “You are, but at least you mostly get ‘em one at a time. Other folks see every kid in the school at least once a week. There’s Garth and Bess Fitzgerald who handle the gym and communications classes, Alicia Banes teaches art and her brother Max is the music man. Plus there’s Cas Novak in the library.”

She pointed out each of the people she named, and Dean followed along as best he could. Garth and Bess sat side by side at a table with several other teachers he’d been introduced to but was now blanking on their names. From what he could tell, they looked like a couple of newlyweds, the way they kept smiling at each other. Alicia was easy to spot, laughing at a joke one of the parents serving their food had told her, while Max rocked along to whatever was playing on his headphones as he grabbed a soda from a large cooler in the corner of the room. Cas was another story. The man Donna indicated was sitting almost directly behind him, his back turned to them as he ate, hunched over a book spread out on the table beside his plate. All Dean had was a really nice view of the back of Cas’s messy head of hair.

Jody took pity on Dean as he twisted back around in his seat, likely exposing the slightly dazed look on his face. “Don’t you worry, Dean. It’s a lot to take in all at once like this.”

“That’s what I tried to tell him this morning,” Mildred replied. “Nobody here’s gonna be mad if it takes you a bit to get acclimated.”

“We’re real glad to have you here,” Donna added with a warm smile that Dean was beginning to realize was Donna’s default personality setting. “Mildred only hires the best people.”

“Well then,” Dean said, clearing his throat and hoping his cheeks weren’t turning pink under the praise from a group of people he’d never even met before, “I hope I can live up to her expectations.”

The rest of the day went a lot more smoothly. He replied to a few more emails, fielded a phone call from a distraught parent who’d lost the packet of registration forms they needed to fill out for their child, and began working on his short speech for orientation day. Dean only needed to stand up in front of the entire incoming student body and their families for a minute or two to introduce himself, but sitting there staring at at a blinking cursor on his computer screen wasn’t helping him get much past, “Hi, I’m Dean Winchester, the new guidance counselor.”

As just one of a dozen or so staff members sharing podium space at the orientation assembly, he was counting on everyone else covering most of the basics. He wouldn’t need to discuss school policies, or remind parents of his contact information. This was just supposed to be about putting a face to his name in the school directory, and reassuring everyone of his qualifications to be there in the first place. All he had to do was not shove his own foot in his mouth. At the rate he was going, that was beginning to sound like a better option than trying to come up with a clever speech.

In a fit of frustration, Dean pushed himself back from his desk and stood up. He snatched up his empty coffee mug and set out to wander the halls under the pretense of looking for a refill. Rather than heading directly to the staff room and it’s surprisingly decent coffee, he took the long route around the halls of the school. Mostly he was hoping inspiration would strike him out of the blue.

The halls were all decked out with Welcome Back To School banners and artwork. Some of the individual classroom doors and billboards lining the halls were decorated as well, and Dean stopped occasionally to admire them. Jody’s third grade classroom door was decorated with colorful pictures of books with her students’ names carefully written in as each title. Donna’s fifth grade door looked like NASA Junior Headquarters, with pictures of the planets and fun messages like “Fifth graders are out of this world!” and “We’re all stars here!” It was oddly comforting in how similar it was to his previous school. He already felt like he was fitting into their little family. The building itself had been transformed since his tour with Mildred just a week ago. It no longer felt eerily empty, and was now filled with life and sound and color, just as a school should be.

As he finally wound back around toward the teachers lounge, he passed by the library. Last time he’d seen it, it had been dark and silent, and Mildred had only given him a quick peek in through the windows on the doors so he could familiarize himself with the layout of the school. Now the big double doors were propped open wide, practically inviting him inside. He had been meaning to browse through the collection, and possibly pick out a few books to keep in his office. He found meetings with parents often went more smoothly if the kids had something to amuse themselves with, and some books were just good to have on hand for helping students work through whatever issues they might be having. Dean checked the clock in the hallway and noted he still had more than an hour to finish writing the speech he’d been procrastinating on all afternoon, and decided that surrounding himself with words might help kick him into gear to just get it done already.

He sighed, stared at his empty mug in his hand, and decided he could procrastinate just a few more minutes. With the lights on and the walls decorated with colorful posters illustrating the Dewey Decimal System hung above the shelves, the huge room felt fun and inviting. Dean was grateful to see the size and scope of the school’s collection, always feeling good about working at a school that was clearly trying to instill a love of reading in the students. He’d half expected to see the librarian sitting at the circulation desk, but there probably wasn’t a lot of circulation happening yet. Several other doors led out of the main library area, and the librarian-- Cas, Jody had told him-- could be behind any one of them, busy with important library work. Dean figured he’d meet the man eventually, but he was already there, and so he decided to at least take a quick look through the stacks for the handful of books he’d kept in his office back in Lawrence. Even if he couldn’t check them out on the spot, he could assemble a list and come back for them later.

He set his mug down on top of the shelves and was browsing beneath the big 700’s poster proclaiming that section of shelves was dedicated to arts and recreation. Dean had become distracted from his procrastinating by attempting to see the pictures in a Magic Eye book for the thousandth time. Just like the first 999 times he’d tried, the best he could do was unfocus his eyes enough to make the patterns look blurry. He’d completely lost himself in his determination to see the hummingbird the book insisted was hidden in the image.

“You need to hold it close to your face, relax your eyes, and slowly move it away until the image resolves,” a deep and rumbling, and highly amused voice said almost directly behind him.

“Gaaaah!” Dean fumbled the book, spinning on his heel and feeling like an idiot for having been so badly startled. He’d been so intent on the page in front of him he hadn’t heard the man approach. He could blame it on the inherent quiet of libraries, but as he spun around, he got his first view of the man he’d only seen from the back in the cafeteria that afternoon. The view more than made up for the fact the guy had managed to sneak up on him in the first place. It might not have been the suave, or at least dignified introduction Dean would’ve hoped for, but his comical reaction had put a mischievous smile on Cas’s face, so that had to count for something.

Cas took pity on him, his smile widening at whatever Dean’s face was doing. “Don’t worry, I can’t see them either,” he said, pointing to the book in Dean’s hands. “They say almost everyone should be able to, but it just gives me a headache to try. I think it’s good for the students to know that they’re not broken or deficient if they struggle with it themselves. I’m Castiel Novak, by the way. Librarian and sometimes unintentional provider of surprise heart palpitations. My apologies for sneaking up on you.”

Heart palpitations was right, Dean thought as he struggled to compose himself in the face of Castiel’s quiet amusement. And wow, he was having an entirely different sort of palpitations as he took in the fact that Cas was fucking hot. Dean wondered what it was about casually rumpled librarians that totally did it for him, and accepted the fact he hadn’t even spoken an intelligent word to Cas yet and was already half gone on the guy. He shook his head and remembered where he was and what he’d been doing, reminding himself that randomly hitting on coworkers on his first day was the worst of all possible choices, and settled for attempting a coherent sentence first.

“Dean,” he said, clearing his throat and holding out a hand for Cas to shake. “Dean Winchester, guidance counselor and sometimes procrastinator getting lost in a library to avoid writing speeches.”

Cas’s smile bloomed again as he shook Dean’s hand. “Aah, yes. The annual ritual. I remember my first year, I had no idea what to say. Mildred convinced me I just needed to introduce myself, inform the parents their children would have a weekly library lesson, and attempt to recruit parent volunteers to take regular shifts manning the circulation desk. It’s far less traumatic than it sounds on the surface.”

Dean chuckled at Cas’s confidential tone. “Less traumatic to volunteer in the library, or to write the speech?”

“I won’t deny that an elementary school library is filled with potential trauma, such as giving yourself a headache trying to see Magic Eye pictures,” Cas replied with a laugh. “But I was referring to the speech writing. Just introduce yourself, and reassure the attendees that you’re there for them and their children. Maybe share a bit about your previous experience and set them at ease.”

“Uh, yeah, I heard there were a lot of upset families when my predecessor retired,” Dean said. “Sounds like I got some pretty big shoes to fill.”

Cas glanced down at Dean’s feet. “Your shoes look plenty full, Dean. I’m sure everyone still misses Missouri, but no one begrudges her choosing to move on.”

“Well, I hope not.”

Cas let out a little sigh and Dean realized they were just standing there staring at each other. Getting lost in the twinkling shades of deep blue in Cas’s eyes was definitely a vast improvement to staring at the picture he couldn’t see, but he’d already spent enough time avoiding the one thing he really needed to handle.

“Sorry to interrupt whatever you were doing,” he said, waving a hand around the library. “I figured I’d get myself in a writing mood if I was surrounded by books, I guess.”

“I’d be happy to help you compose your speech, if writing’s not really your thing,” Cas offered.

Dean had to laugh at that. He had well over a million words of fanfic posted on AO3. Writing was definitely his thing. Even if it wasn’t a thing he talked about with his coworkers. “Yeah, no, the writing part’s not so bad. It’s more the standing up in front of a few hundred people and reading it that’s got me freaking out about it.”

“Well, I don’t think I can offer you any help with that, then,” Cas said, nodding in sympathy. “Would it help you to think of it as something you’re writing to be printed in a newsletter, or sent as an email? Sometimes approaching a conundrum from a different angle changes everything.”

Dean snorted. “What, like tricking my brain into jumping the hurdle by telling it there’s no hurdle?”

Cas shrugged. “Stranger things have happened.”

Dean considered that for a minute and figured it was worth a try. Hell, it wasn’t that different from the way he’d psyched himself up to plow through the last few thousand words of his fic the previous night.

“You’re a genius, Cas. I think I got it now.”

“I’m just a frustrated writer who’s spent many a long hour teasing stubborn words out of thin air. I’m glad I could help.”

“Speaking of help, I was wondering about your policy on checking books out to staff. I like to keep a rotating selection of books in my office. Never know when I’ll need to keep a fidgety kid occupied.”

Cas’s entire expression brightened. “I have something for you, then,” he said, and motioned for Dean to follow him across the library to another open door into a smaller workroom. “Missouri left me these back in June, with the instruction to offer them to you first before adding them to our general circulation.”

The door had been closed before, so Dean figured the little office had been where Cas was hiding when he’d come in. At least now he knew where to look for Cas next time he came in and was confronted by half a dozen closed doors.

Inside the workroom, the walls were lined with tall shelves packed with books, cases of paper, and other supplies. Cas pulled one of the boxes off a shelf and set it down on the edge of a table covered with stacks of books in front of Dean. He peeked inside and was pleasantly surprised to find a number of the books he’d planned to check out himself, in addition to a few he wasn’t yet familiar with.

“Wow, Cas, this is awesome,” Dean replied, looking from the books into Cas’s pleased face. “You sure you don’t need these? There’s a lot in here.”

Cas shrugged. “I have duplicates of most of them already. You’re free to do with them what you will.” He raised an eyebrow at Dean and leaned in a bit closer. “As long as you promise you won’t use them as an excuse to put off your speech writing.”

“Yeah, well, I think I can be a grownup about it. Write first, then read.” Dean said, and saw a flicker of something he wasn’t sure was amusement or shock on Cas’s face at that offhand comment. “Thanks, man. I’ll let you know if there’s any other books I need, but this should be enough to get started with.”

Dean picked up the box and smiled at Cas. They stared at each other for another few seconds before he finally cleared his throat and juggled the heavy box to get a better grip on it.

“You know where to find me,” Cas said. “That goes for book recommendations as well as any questions you might have about the school in general. I tend to be more available during the first week of school than most of the classroom teachers. Student library visits don’t start until the week after next.”

“I appreciate it, Cas,” Dean replied, heading back out into the library intending to return to his own office. “I guess you know where to find me, too, huh?”

“At your desk writing your speech, I hope,” Cas replied, and Dean nodded with a grin. “Once you’ve written it, if you need a practice audience, I’ll be happy to offer my services for that, as well.”

“Long as you promise not to hurl rotten tomatoes at me, you got a deal,” Dean said, backing toward the door.

“I would never,” Cas replied. “At least, not in the library.”

Cas gave a little wave when he was out in the hall, and Dean turned on his heel and headed toward his office. Even burdened by the heavy box, Dean’s steps were lighter than they’d been all day. He’d already been made to feel welcome by Mildred and the other staff, but for the first time since he’d been hired, he felt his anxiety over his entire move beginning to slip away. Cas had done more than make him feel welcome, he’d made him feel at ease.

Dean sat on the floor happily shelving the books for a few minutes when he returned to his office. The long row of shelves by the door looked a lot better with something on them, and already made him feel more at home. He thought about Sam’s offer to get him an office-warming gift of a houseplant, which he’d dismissed with a snort at the time. His office only had a small window into an interior hallway in the building, and a plant wouldn’t likely live long without direct sunlight. Now he thought a little plant might be just what the shelves needed. He was sure there were plants that could survive entirely indoors. Hell, even a fake plant would brighten the place up a bit.

He was just standing up to stretch the kinks out of his back and admire his handiwork when a knock at his door interrupted him for the second time that afternoon. Cas stood in the doorway, holding Dean’s coffee mug and wearing a contrite expression. He held up the mug, as if he’d needed an excuse to interrupt Dean’s stretching.

“I believe this may be yours?” Cas asked, hesitating for just a moment before stepping into Dean’s office. “You left it in the library. I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of filling it with coffee. I wasn’t sure how you take it, but I assumed you’d been on your way for a refill…” he trailed off as Dean blinked at him.

“Oh, yeah. Huh. I guess I was sidetracked. And however you fixed it is fine. I’m not picky, as long as it’s not decaf.”

Cas smiled, relieved, and handed the mug to Dean. “I added a bit of hazelnut creamer to it. I find it improves the staff room coffee.”

Dean took a sip and sighed. It was sweet and nutty and smooth, with none of the bitterness of the black coffee he’d been drinking all day. “Yeah, it’s great, Cas. Thanks.”

“So you’re a hockey fan?” Cas asked, pointing at the bright red Washington Capitals mug.

Dean looked at the mug and laughed. “My brother gave it to me when I moved here. Said I needed to show a little local team spirit.”

Cas tilted his head ever so slightly to the side as if this was fascinating new information to him. “You moved to the area recently, then?”

Dean shrugged. “About a month ago, now. I’ve lived in Kansas most of my life, so it’s been an adjustment. But Sam and his wife settled here after college, and they’re my only family, so it seemed like a good time to pick up stakes.” He raised the mug again. “And Kansas doesn’t have a hockey team, so Sam figured that would be the easiest local team for me to root for. No conflicting loyalties.”

Cas hummed, considering that logic. “Kansas doesn’t have a basketball team, either,” he eventually replied.

“Yeah, but it’s easy to root for a Stanley Cup winner,” Dean replied with a grin. “Or that’s what my brother keeps saying, anyway.”

“He’s probably right. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about sports to be the judge of that.”

“Well, then, if you ever wanna learn, you let me know.”

Cas nodded. “I might do that. And I’ll extend my previous offer, as well. I’m sure you’re settling in well by now, but since you’re not just new to the Carver Edlund School, but new to the area, if you have questions about anything at all, I’m happy to answer them as best I can. I’ve been here for a few years now, and I’m only just beginning to feel like it’s my home town.”

Dean perked up at that. “So what brought you to the area?”

Cas held up a finger and raised an eyebrow at Dean. “Is this another strategy to avoid writing your speech?”

“Dude, you’re worse than my friend Charlie,” Dean said with a laugh. “She’s a regular taskmaster, at least when she’s not the one trying to distract me.”

Cas nodded his approval. “She sounds like a supportive friend, which I will attempt to be now. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to hear my boring origin story some other time.”

Dean caught a glance at the clock on his wall, just above Cas’s head, and sighed. Somehow he’d managed to kill the better part of an hour since the beginning of his walk around the halls, and for all he knew, his email inbox would be overflowing again, as well.

“Okay, then. If I don’t see you again today, you can start boring me to death over lunch tomorrow. Deal?”

Cas smiled at him and nodded. “You have a deal.”

Dean had been right about his email inbox, but he ignored it entirely until he’d written out his speech. It hadn’t taken nearly as long as he’d dreaded, using Cas’s suggestion that he pretend to write it as regular, friendly correspondence. As soon as Cas had left, Dean looked up his email address in the staff directory, and typed the entire speech out in about ten minutes. He read it over a few times, and when he was satisfied with it, he typed out a little note to Cas at the top of it.

“Thanks for today. Consider this proof of work. I can swing by the library and read it to you tomorrow if you want, but I think this is good enough. I’m still holding you to lunch.--Dean”

He read the whole thing again to make sure he didn’t sound too eager or clingy. He’d just met the guy, after all, and told him he basically doesn’t have any other friends here yet. It’s not like Dean’s desperate for human company or anything, but Cas had really done a number on him in the few minutes they’d talked. He was definitely someone Dean wanted to get to know better, but he could be patient. Dean plugged in Cas’s email address and hit send.

That handled, he printed out a copy of his speech so he wouldn’t have to memorize it or read it off his phone like a dork, and then set to work replying to the rest of his email. By the time he was done, most of the school had closed down for the evening and the staff had gone home. On his way out, he walked past the library and was only a little disappointed to find the lights off and the doors closed. He cheered himself up with the reminder that Feathers would be waiting to talk to him when he got home, and set out determined to enjoy his first free evening in a week.