It started a long time ago.
[4. LookingForGroup] [The_Michaelsword]: LF Healer for Kara 2nd boss ours dropped out
[AngelofThursday] whispers: Healadin here, I'm in if you still need one
[The_Michaelsword] whispers: got gear? dont care if your not fully specced but we already got a couple of n00bs
[AngelofThursday] whispers: I'm good, and I've run Kara as primary healer a lot before
[The_Michaelsword] whispers: awesome lemme get you an inv
Dean met his best friend in WoW. TBC, specifically. Dean stopped playing a while ago when he opened Slice of Pi, not enough time to dedicate to raiding and if you're not raiding, what's the point? But they still hook up online for gaming, and they talk nearly every day.
Nine years of friendship makes AngelofThursday Dean's oldest friend, because Sam totally doesn't count, and that's pretty awesome. He's put down roots here in Pennsylvania, for the first time since Mom died really, but none of his earlier friendships survived the repeated moves and occasional flits in the night that required leaving everything behind.
But he's doing pretty well for himself now, got a shop with a tiny apartment above it where Dean can sleep, and enough money coming in to pay for anything Sam's scholarships can't cover. The shop was mostly paid for with the life insurance money from Dad, and while Dean misses his father sometimes he prefers his business. He's only admitted that to Sam and Thurs though.
Right now he's waiting on Thurs coming online. His hours are unpredictable and strange, so waiting on him is always a gamble. The guy never uses mobiles to talk, either; he's got a real bug up his ass about security for some reason.
Thurs is worth it though; dry humour, knows stuff about everything, cares passionately about things, and Dean's completely in love with him. Which is why he's currently drunk. Meg has the early start tomorrow which means Dean can pine in peace.
Turns out it's really hard to be in love with a man you've never seen or even heard before.
AngelofThursday is online.
The_Michaelsword: dude, finally, thought i was gonna be saleep before you canme on line
AngelofThursday: Hello, Michael. How are you?
The_Michaelsword: not bad, upu?
AngelofThursday: I got a good day's work done. Not playing anything this evening?
The_Michaelsword: had somewhicksey
AngelofThursday: You shouldn't drink so much >:(
The_Michaelsword: mornig off tomorrow
The_Michaelsword: nice to know you care though
AngelofThursday: Of course I care, Michael.
AngelofThursday: Actually I was hoping to ask you something but if this isn't a good time I'll ask you again later.
The_Michaelsword: nah man now's fine
The_Michaelsword: refelxed are shot but im not too faer gone for spekaing
The_Michaelsword: heh *reflexes *far *speaking
The_Michaelsword: see? still moticing things
AngelofThursday: Not tonight, Michael.
The_Michaelsword: aw, man, i'm soryy I fucked up
AngelofThursday: You didn't. I overthought things and now I need some time.
AngelofThursday: There's a tournament on in Battlefield 4 we could watch if you want?
The_Michaelsword: sold. linky?
Dean watches the match, and the next one, and the next one, until he can't stay awake any longer and he pours himself into bed with a large glass of water and a couple of acetaminophen by his bed. Thurs's commentary was on point as always. And funny, and witty, and full of annoying smileys that Dean now finds cute.
One of these days, he's going to work up the nerve to speak to him about maybe having an online relationship with him. One of these days.
James has almost given up on The Beautiful Man and left the café when he comes staggering in through the back door, unshaven and red-eyed, and makes himself an enormous cup of coffee at the machine. Kevin is glaring at him.
“What time do you call this?” he hisses.
The Beautiful Man rests his head on the counter. “Did you shrink to pint-size, Sammy? Could swear your annoying ass used to be taller.”
“I have a paper!” Kevin is a student, James has gathered. An angry, over-achieving one.
“Dude, I wasn't supposed to be on 'til later, so blame Meg for having lady problems. If you dare.” Coffee finished dripping into the mug, The Beautiful Man brings it to his lips, blows a little, and sips it with pleasure. It takes everything in James's power not to whimper.
Kevin shudders. “God no. I don't need another lecture on the tyranny of uteruses. Uteri? Whatever.”
“No-one does, kid.” The coffee does its work quickly because The Beautiful Man is straightening up and looking more alert. “Go on, get gone, I can cover here til Sammy comes back from the library.”
“You sure? Both counters?”
“Yeah, it's cool.” Kevin flashes him a huge grin and is out before anyone can stop him. The Beautiful Man disappears into the kitchen, and James sighs, and settles back in to work.
He writes a thousand words on the latest tech injustice, as pithy as he can manage, for one of the big outlets and settles in for a long review of one of the big Triple-A games he managed to get an advance copy of last week. He'd love to know what his comrade-in-arms thinks of it, but his friend can't keep up with all the new releases and only splurges on things he already cares about these days, so he has to imagine what he would say.
It's not difficult. He knows the man very well, even though they'll never meet. He enjoys fast gameplay elements but quickly becomes critical of clichéd plot devices, referring to them in dismissive short-hand that James finds himself borrowing from time to time without realising. He also has a keen understanding of the morality of games that even James struggles to keep up with sometimes, preferring the artistic and technical aesthetics as he does.
Sometimes James wishes he could really talk to him and watch him play games, but – no. He can't.
The timer on his laptop pings and he closes down with a sigh and stretches his back and hands. He has to pay and move on, that's the rule. He stuffs his things into his various pockets and bag, and shuffles to the counter to pay, hitting the tiny bell to call for service.
The Beautiful Man comes out, flour smeared down one freckled cheek, and James bites back a happy sigh at the sight of him.
“Hey, man, you paying up?” The Beautiful Man's voice is warm and has a touch of the Midwest, and James could listen to it for hours.
“Yes, thank you,” he says, his own voice a flat monotone by comparison.
The Beautiful Man squints at Kevin's notes. “So... two coffees and a pastry, right?”
“Yes. The pastry was delicious as always.” James hands over a twenty dollar bill and his loyalty card, marked with the initials of his servers over the last weeks.
The Beautiful Man's fingers are broad and slightly calloused, with carefully trimmed nails. The pen looks small in his hand as he writes DMW in a practised scrawl. He returns the card and the change to James with a grin. “Free pastry or cake next time you visit!”
James smiles back, small and hesitant, but The Beautiful Man must see something he likes in it because his smile grows more genuine and less customer service. “I look forward to it,” James replies, and he deposits his change into the tip jar and leaves with another small smile.
<12/24/2011 19.11> <Angel_of_Thursday> says: Thank you for the Winterfair box, TMS
<12/24/2011 19.15> <the_michaelsword> says: yw thurs
<12/24/2011 19.16> <the_michaelsword> says: doing anything fun tomorrowq?
<12/24/2011 19.20> <Angel_of_Thursday> says: Playing something old and thanking Baby Jesus I don't need to patch anything
<12/24/2011 19.21> <the_michaelsword> says: lol
<12/24/2011 19.23> <the_michaelsword> says: gotta love the xmas server crash
<12/24/2011 19.25> <Angel_of_Thursday> says: For a value of “love” that includes “wild and uncontrollable hatred”, yes
<12/24/2011 19.27> <the_michaelsword> says: sounfs like my lil bro and my dad so i can see that yeh
<12/24/2011 19.30> <Angel_of_Thursday> says: What about you? Plans?
<12/24/2011 19.32> <the_michaelsword> says: doiuble time on xmas day, plus loads of tips, im gonna be workin all fday
<12/24/2011 19.30> <the_michaelsword> says: gotta log now sry really early start tomorrow
<12/24/2011 19.35> <Angel_of_Thursday> says: Have a great day, Michael
<12/24/2011 19.36> <Angel_of_Thursday> says: Happy Christmas!
<12/24/2011 19.38> <the_michaelsword> says: you too! have a great day laughing at noobs
<12/24/2011 19.38> <the_michaelsword> has logged off.
Dean can barely move right now, he's so stiff from the double he pulled that his lower back is screaming and has a hot water bottle (left here by Meg) against it, and his feet are in a basin of cold water to try to soothe the burning in them. But his hands still work, so he can still game, or at least still talk to AngelofThursday.
He's got three chat windows open on his laptop and he keeps an eye on them as he grinds his way round the desert in Diablo for the nth time. Killing hordes of cultists is almost as soothing as the heat/cold combo he's got going on.
Queen_of_Moons: srsly dude you need to pre-order this so we can play it together
The_Michaelsword: cmon charlie I dont have the time for that shit anymroe
Queen_of_Moons: ): )': D':
Queen_of_Moons: i'll buy it for you and pay the subscription
The_Michaelsword: well if its your money fine
Charlie might be funding his addictions, but Sam is on his case about Slice of Pi.
shw74936: I mean it Dean
shw74936: You have to find another member of staff, you can't keep doing this to yourself
shw74936: I know loads of people who want part-time jobs
The_Michaelsword: yeah man thats the priblem
The_Michaelsword: all of you students want the sam,e times off and i need s/o who can commit year round
The_Michaelsword: but if i empluy a full time person i gotta fire one of you
shw74936: ...ok, that is a fair point and one I will consider
Dean rolls his eyes. At least all of this expensive education has meant that Sam actually listens to well-reasoned arguments now. Well, when his job's at risk, anyway. He already gives Sam more leeway than he should regarding shifts and days off, and Kev, Eileen and Kate are much better servers than he is; Kev's a terminal over-achiever, Eileen's amazing in the bakery, and Kate is so grateful for the second chance he gave her that she doesn't put a foot wrong. Sam though, he cuts corners sometimes and isn't that great if he has to manage both counters, he trips over things in the kitchen when he passes through. So if anyone's gonna be given the chop, it'll be him.
In Sam's defence, Dean hasn't exactly put the fear of God in him the way most bosses would, but that was part of the point of moving up here: giving Sam a chance to earn some extra cash without it affecting his scholarships, and giving him a safe place to study and relax when he needs it. So Dean only has himself to blame for that one.
AngelofThursday is online
The_Michaelsword: hey man
The_Michaelsword: sorry about last night, ive learned my lesson
AngelofThursday: :) It's fine, you did nothing wrong
The_Michaelsword: so what was it you watned to ask me?
AngelofThursday: I need some advice.
The_Michaelsword: sure, hit me up
It takes Thursday a long time, by his standards, to type out his question.
AngelofThursday: How does one approach a member of the same sex in order to ascertain whether they would be amenable to pursuing a romantic relationship? I have of course successfully approached men before, but only in queer-friendly establishments, and it's been enough time that I am not sure of the “rules of the game”, as it were.
Dean grins fondly at the formal phrasing, a sure sign that Thursday's feeling awkward and out of his depth, before the meaning of the question hits him.
Thursday wants to chat someone up. In meatspace. Eg, not Dean. Shit.
He's not a dick, though, not to anyone who doesn't deserve it, and he can't bring himself to give Thurs bad advice, however much it hurts.
The_Michaelsword: well theres basic flirting, like eye contact and touching your lips and stuff
The_Michaelsword: but if you wanna be more subtle then you probbly want to play the pronoun game nad talk about gay and queer-friendly spaces and stuff like that
AngelofThursday: The pronoun game? :S
The_Michaelsword: yeah you know
The_Michaelsword: wehre you only say they and them about ppl
AngelofThursday: Oh, I see
The_Michaelsword: you can try talking about queer characters and stuff too, or the big gay ships
The_Michaelsword: you know, stucky, stony, k/s, achilles and patroclus if you wanna go old skool
Thursday is the only person alive who knows that Dean even knows who Achilles and Patroclus are, and he's going to use that line to hook up with someone boring and not worthy of him. Not that Dean is either, to be fair. Not by a long shot. Dean sighs into his lukewarm decaff and tries not to feel heartbroken.
This might be for the best, actually. This way Dean can get over his obsession and move on to someone else. Lot of fine ass in Pennsylvania that Dean hasn't tapped. Or he could try New York, like he promised himself he would, get to Greenwich Village and see the Stonewall stuff, or the East Village maybe.
The hollow feeling in his chest where his heart used to be suggests this might be a longer-term plan than he would like it to be.
AngelofThursday: I had to Google everything you said except Achilles and Patroclus
AngelofThursday: I had no idea this was so popular :S O.o
The_Michaelsword: yeah, fandom is wierd
The_Michaelsword: i got a friend who's convinced that logan thackery and rytlock brimstone from guild wars 2 are in love with each other
The_Michaelsword: she writes furry porn for it
The_Michaelsword: she made me read it one time
The_Michaelsword: DO NOT GOOGLE IT THURS I MEAN IT
AngelofThursday: ...too late :O
AngelofThursday: I cannot unread what I have just read :O
The_Michaelsword: if u drink enough tequila the memorioes dissolve but it takes a *lot*
The_Michaelsword: trust me
Dean gives Thursday a few more tips about keeping himself safe if someone takes his advances the wrong way.
Worst part of this whole thing is that he already knows Thurs's position on meeting up: he's emphatically against it, and Dean's learned not to bring it up. Thurs likes keeping meat-space and online-space separate, and he won't cross that boundary even for Dean. In fact, he made it pretty damn clear a few years back that he didn't even want to know Dean's real name, for his safety apparently.
So Dean's little crush has remained silent and unrequited for a long time now. They might know everything about each other in the philosophical meeting of the minds sense, but in the Biblical sense? Not a chance.
Dean teaches his best friend - whom he's pretty sure is the love of his life - how to pursue other men, and his heart breaks into tiny pieces.
James has a mathematically-proven chaotic schedule of cafés, bars, libraries and hotel lobbies that he spends his daytime in, sticking to the strict timetabling his program gives him, and most of those places employ shift-workers who are not always on at regular times. That was part of the point, of course. He's been doing this for months – nearly two years, actually – and he needs to remain as anonymous as possible.
Still, he has favourite locations. The library two blocks from Gabe's house is one. The huge and popular student bar, which has excellent coverage and surprisingly quiet corners. A diner on 5th Street.
Study/Break is fast becoming one of them; not just because of The Beautiful Man, but because the pastries and cakes there are excellent, the atmosphere is quirky and friendly, and the wi-fi is not only secure but incredibly fast. When its name pops up on his program he always knows that he is going to have a good meal with an acceptable cup of coffee, and that he can sync with the Cloud easily and quickly.
And now he has Michael's advice in hand, ready to put to use, if only Study/Break would actually appear on his damnable program. He has to stick to it; switching something out for a preferred venue is exactly the kind of behaviour that turns raw chaos into unconscious patterns which could be (might be, possibly be, not the same as will be, but he still suppresses a shiver of fear at the thought) used by Persons Unnamed to predict his movements or track him down. That's why his program includes every location in the city which is suitable to his needs, and why his commute can be very, very long.
It's worth it though, or so James has to believe. He cannot take all of the steps he would like to maintain his security, not until Agent Henrickson tells him he can return to his life and that his assets are safe to unfreeze, but he can at least make himself a harder target.
His day started badly today. He dreamt old dreams last night, filled with people he used to know chasing him and calling him by the wrong name, and it made him itchy and worried when he woke up. His morning routine is the only thing comforting him right now; the repetitions of his name in the mirror didn't help, and nor did the yoga.
Finally, his ancient and entirely unhackable (because completely offline) laptop boots up; time to see what today's route is. And finally, Fate has given him an easy day, all within walking distance of his lodgings, all pleasant places to spend his day. He'll even be able to fit in an hour in the gym tonight, which is good, because the last place on the list – for 4.83 hours at that – is Study/Break.
Maybe today James can finally put into practice the things he has learned.
His hope doesn't have enough time to sour into fear of failure over the course of the day, as he is kept very busy by last-minute editing to his piece on the successes and failures of independent games studios for The Guardian, a rapid email interview with an industry contact about 3D gaming, and a pitch for the Washington Post. By the time he steps into Study/Break he is hungry and wired from too many cups of free-refill coffee, but not uncomfortable with nerves.
The inside of the shop is split into two halves: a small but well-stocked library of donated coursework textbooks at the right of the shop, with a handful of quiet tables in front of it, and a larger area full of comfortable chairs and tables of various sizes, with comics and a couple of board games and decks of cards piled haphazardly on the shelves at the left of the door.
Usually James prefers the right of the shop, as it is quieter and more conducive to working, but the tables are all full of students hard at work. The other side is emptier though, and he sets his bag and jacket at one of the empty tables – a low one, with a single armchair and a footstool gathered around it – and steps to the counter.
The dark-haired girl with the lovely face and knowing, world-weary eyes appears from the kitchen.
“Long time no see,” she purrs, and James realises she's right; it's been weeks since their paths crossed. “How are you, handsome?”
“Well. Yourself?” He casts a quick smile at her. He doesn't know why, exactly, but he likes her. They're very different people as far as he can tell, but he can see something of himself in her carefully constructed walls and affectations.
“Can't complain. Bossman keeps me well looked-after here. What'll it be today? Unseasonable latte?”
“No, I'll take a pot of rooibos please, and do you have anything savoury available?”
“I'll check.” She sticks her head back into the kitchen and murmurs to another member of staff before reappearing with a frown. “Not right now I'm afraid, we had a rush on earlier, but Dean always makes a bunch of savouries when he gets in so if you can hold on for an hour you'll be able to get as many cheese pastries as you can eat.”
“I'm happy to wait for that,” James decides. “Can I have a tab?”
“Anything for you.” She winks at him and makes his tea. The pots are generously sized and the leaves smell perfect, and James carries it back to his table happily.
He sets in to work his interview into the skeleton of the article he had already drafted. He had never intended on this itinerant second career, but he always knew he had skill with words, and he was fortunate enough to already have some paid articles under his belt when his first life was stolen from him. It was a hard few months at the start, but he managed to make something of it even with the strict security measures he'd had to put in place to protect himself from further attack.
James is deep in the writing zone when someone approaches the table and clears their throat.
“Hey man, Meg said you were looking for savouries? Just wanted to let you know the first lot are out of the oven.”
James looks up into the clear green eyes of The Beautiful Man. He briefly forgets how to speak. “Thank you,” he manages to croak out. “I was just starting to need a break.”
“You working there? Aw, man, you gotta pay a fine for working on the Break side,” The Beautiful Man smiles at him. “It's the rules, sorry.” He points at a jar on the shelf next to the comics and, sure enough, there is a note there about paying a dollar if you use the fun side of the shop for working, next to a plaque that says “We don't speak Pig Latin, Klingon, or Starbucks. Please, order a small, medium or large.”. Underneath, somone has added what seems to be something written in what James tentatively identifies as tengwar.
He bites his lip and looks at The Beautiful Man apologetically. “I'm sorry, I didn't realise. There were no seats on the correct side.”
The Beautiful Man laughs, eyes crinkling in amusement, and the sound is like music to James's ears. “It's okay, it's just a way to try to get people to separate out so no-one gets disturbed. We spend the money on extra games or books or whatever. You don't have to pay if you don't want to.”
“No, I broke your rules, I should make amends for it,” James says firmly. “Now, you said something about hot pastry?”
He follows The Beautiful Man – Dean, perhaps? - to the counter and picks out two filled pastries and one small savoury pie, which smell delicious. They're added to his tab and he returns to his seat, detouring to slip a $10 bill into the fine jar. His arrangement with Gabriel means that he has considerably more spending money than most free-lancers do, because he doesn't have to worry about rent, although sleeping on a single bed in what had been his brother's study is not ideal.
Still, it means he can afford to spend all day out of the house, and he can afford to spend another $10 to try to make his crush think that he was a nice man. The prices here are very reasonable and the service is always pleasant as well, and James is currently using a lot of bandwidth as he downloads some work-related files, so he owes them another few comics.
The pastries are delicious, although James adds in more time at the gym tomorrow to burn off the extra calories, and he returns to work feeling warm and full. He resurfaces to request another pot of tea, this time a herbal blend, and receives another blinding smile from The Beautiful Man.
“You planning on staying 'til we close? No problem if you're going to, just curious.”
“Yes, I still have more work to complete. So long as it won't interfere with you shutting the shop, that is,” James replies awkwardly.
“Nah, it's fine,” The Beautiful Man smiles. James tries not to blush but isn't sure how successful he is. He returns to his table and settles back in, but his work is slowed by thoughts of how he could successfully initiate a meaningful conversation.
Eventually James gives up. His data has finished syncing, and his articles are as written as they are going to be this evening. The Beautiful Man is cleaning behind the counter when James approaches with his cards out.
“I'm afraid I don't have enough cash on me,” he says apologetically.
“No problem,” The Beautiful Man says, fiddling with the machine until it prints out a receipt for James to sign. “James C. Novak, huh? What's the C for?” He scrawls his initials on James's loyalty card.
“I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you,” James replies seriously.
The Beautiful Man blinks at him and then laughs at James's small smile. “Shit, you really got me there,” he grins. “Is it Cody?”
“No.” James raises an eyebrow. “Are you going to keep guessing every time I come here?”
The Beautiful Man flushes and rubs the back of his neck in embarrassment. “Not if you don't want me to,” he replies sheepishly.
“By all means, feel free to try,” James replies. ”I doubt you'll succeed.”
“You're on. Hey, what do I get if I win?”
James purses his lips and gives The Beautiful Man his best mysterious smoulder, which in fairness is probably not that mysterious or that smouldering. “I'm sure I'll think of something,” he replies vaguely. He puts the last of his change in the tip jar and hoists his bag, giving a small wave. “Goodnight. Thank you for a lovely dinner.”
“Yeah, you're welcome,” The Beautiful Man replies. “Have a great night, Cornelius.”
The Beautiful Man's laughter follows James out of the coffee shop and gets him home with a smile.
I feel it should go without saying that the methods used by Cas to keep himself safe online are not, in fact, best practice. There are a lot of good resources out there containing information about what to do if you get hacked or doxxed, and how to protect yourself and your pseuds/identites. Try Crash Override Network if you have concerns, for a start.
[Party] [Michael Sword] : so ok, if you could have anything as a minipet irl what would it be
[Party] [Michael Sword] : ?
[Party] [Angelo di Giovedi] : Good question
[Party] [Michael Sword] : well?
[Party] [Angelo di Giovedi] : I'm thinking! Don't rush me :P
[Party] [Angelo di Giovedi] : I suppose the pet would be purely decorative?
[Party] [Michael Sword] : minipets are useless that way yeah
[Party] [Angelo di Giovedi] : They're not useless, they're decorative. Decoration is a valid use. >:(
[Party] [Michael Sword] : o no, not the frowny face :P
[Party] [Michael Sword] : fair point though, guess i was always brought up to see function as more valid than form
[Party] [Angelo di Giovedi] : I can tell that from your outfit.
[Party] [Michael Sword] : oh! burn! you#re feelin sassy tonight
[Party] [Angelo di Giovedi] : I think I would like a dragonhawk hatchling. It might scare people. And I like the flying ones better.
[Party] [Angelo di Giovedi] : What about you?
[Party] [Michael Sword] : dude, you spent years on that collection, and your favourtie is the dragonhawk? wow.
[Party] [Michael Sword] : uh... i'd want a tiny version of my baby.
[Party] [Angelo di Giovedi] : You know they make remote control cars, Michael.
[Party] [Michael Sword] : not the same, man. it;s just not the same.
Split-shifts are the worst, especially when it's a triple: 4am – 8am, 11am – 3pm, 7pm – close, which basically means midnight once he gets through all of the prep for the morning. Unfortunately Dean has to turn a profit, and that means pulling ridiculous hours sometimes, covering for staff who're off because their wife went into labour, thanks Benny, and making thousands of croissants for various hotels, B&Bs, and even restaurants round town.
He's been doing this for nearly a week now though and it's starting to take its toll. A proper, interfering with his job toll. He nearly took a tray out of the oven bare-handed today, which would've put him out of commission for at least a week, maybe more. As it is, his arms are covered in lines of reddened skin where he's not been careful enough with the ovens, and he has a burn across the backs of his fingers on his left hand where he was spattered by a flick of oil from the shallow-fryer – oil is sneaky and he hadn't noticed until the damage was done.
His exhaustion is starting to show in other ways too. He nearly made Kev cry today when he bawled him out over the shitty job he'd done cleaning up the coffee machine, and Meg had relinquished her “Bitchin' in the Kitchen” crown to him ceremonially yesterday after his epic rant about, well, everything.
That one he can't blame entirely on being overworked though. Dean is man enough to admit that he's pining. Obviously he won't be telling anyone else that, but he can admit it to himself.
Well, okay, he can admit it to himself now. You kinda have to admit that sort of thing after you spend your precious two hours off (Sam was late and someone had to cover the tills) fighting tears instead of sleeping. Even Dean's not so repressed that he can't work out that there's something else going on in his head, and five hours of kitchen prep, close-down, and cashing-up gave him plenty of time to admit it.
So here he is, just after midnight, logging on instead of going to sleep. He's barely spoken to Thursday over the past fortnight, with the combination of shifts and pining, but he's gotta say something now. He has to. Dean needs to move forward or he'll be stuck like this forever.
Immediately after he connects there's a message.
AngelofThursday: Michael! Are you OK?
The_Michaelsword: yea man just tired
The_Michaelsword: work is kickjing my aass
AngelofThursday: :( I hope you're looking after yourself properly.
Dean snorts so hard he makes his nose itch. Yeah, he's definitely doing that. He looks around at his tiny bombsite of a flat, covered in trash and desperately needing his attention, and sighs in disgust at the sight.
The_Michaelsword: yeah ill get right on htat after I have enough time to sleep properky
AngelofThursday: That bad? :(
The_Michaelsword: you have no idea
The_Michaelsword: not had a fday off for three motnhs i think
AngelofThursday: Is that legal?
The_Michaelsword: yeah dude
The_Michaelsword: youve only ever hafd those cushy jobs with holifay pay and dental, havent you
The curser stays blinking for a while, and Dean is suddenly afraid he's pushed Thursday past his comfort zone. His faceless friend is nervous about passing any personal information on at all; he used to be easier about it, back when they first started talking, but the personal stuff dried up a couple of years back and they mostly talk about games now.
AngelofThursday: I used to only have those kinds of jobs, but I changed careers. So I do understand having to work all the time, and not being able to take time off, believe me.
AngelofThursday: I apologise if I made you uncomfortable. I think I'll have to “check my privilege”, as they say.
The_Michaelsword: well if you want to sure
The_Michaelsword: blue collar is a lot less glamorous tthan it looks, you gotta do long hours and unpaid overtime even if you#re the boss
AngelofThursday: I'll try to remember that in future, Michael.
AngelofThursday: Shouldn't you be sleeping right now though? :S I don't want you wasting your valuable time talking with me
The_Michaelsword: dude its never a wast of time to talk to you
The_Michaelsword: actually i stayed up to talk to you
Dean takes a deep calming breath and a swig of beer. He's gotta do it. No more backing out.
AngelofThursday: :) That's very flattering.
The_Michaelsword: youre my best friend man
The_Michaelsword: ofc I want to speak to you
The little blinking dots show that Thursday is writing something, but Dean forges on.
The_Michaelsword: actually yyou;re more than my best friend
The_Michaelsword: i;d really like to meet you but i know that isnt happening
The_Michaelsword: but i#d really like to actually talk to you because im really into you
AngelofThursday is offline
Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck he's ruined it, and Dean's gasping for breath as his heart jumps in his chest. Shitshitshit he should never have said anything, oh god, what has he done? He rubs a shaking hand over his face.
AngelofThursday is online
AngelofThursday: Sorry Michael, my internet crashed out completely. What was it you wanted to tell me?
Tears spring to Dean's eyes in relief, goddamn sleep-dep kicking his ass again, and he can't repeat the conversation for anything. Just can't. But he can maybe talk around it a little? Maybe?
The_Michaelsword: lil bro's been taking a sociology class and he keeps talking to me about online dating
The_Michaelsword: you know the end of it wheer people never meet but they still have a relationship
The_Michaelsword: hwat are your thoughts on that?
AngelofThursday: Online relationships? I've never had one.
AngelofThursday: I don't think I could, actually. Call me shallow if you will but I don't like the idea of not being able to touch and feel my partner.
Third time in one conversation that Dean's had the rug pulled out from under him, but this one at least he'd been able to predict and prepare for. This is it, then. Thursday will never meet him and he'll never consider an online thing.
He types carefully with fingers gone numb and clumsy.
The_Michaelsword: ok cool ill pass that on to him
The_Michaelsword: hes supposed to take some poll or something, i dunno
Always risky passing more information on than the lie needed, but there was no way Thursday wouldn't ask about it, and no way he would be able to tell that Dean was lying to cover his heartbroken ass, so it's fine.
AngelofThursday: I presumed it was something like that, I did some of those courses myself when I was at college.
The_Michaelsword: anyway man I really got to go to bed
The_Michaelsword: gotta be up in three hours
The_Michaelsword: ttyl thurs
AngelofThursday: Goodnight, Michael. I hope you get a good night's rest.
Dean's pretty sure that's never going to happen ever again, but he's got an emergency spliff in his tin from the last time Ash was over, so he lights it, hands still shaking, and smokes it all, and pretends that the stinging in his eyes is from the smoke.
The Beautiful Man has been distant and tired the last few times that James has been in Study/Break, the green of his irises standing out sharply against his bloodshot and shadowed eyes. He still smiles and laughs with the customers, but it seems to James that it is a purely mechanical thing, something he does by rote rather than feeling any joy or happiness.
Today he has managed to claim a small sheltered table in the Study side, and he is hard at work editing his latest Triple-A piece, another mindless shooter. He remembers Michael's commentary from two nights ago when he'd finally had enough time off to watch some Twitch streaming; he had been much more acidic than usual, dismissing the weapons as unrealistic penis extensions, the characters as boring white manly men, and what plot could be determined as “a tired excuse for a shitty story in between the gun pron, jfc thurs i am getting too old for this shit”.
Michael's comments had made James laugh out loud at the time, but he is a little concerned in retrospect; Michael hasn't seemed like his normal self for a few weeks now. Hopefully it's just because of the overwork and not a sign of more of the soul-crushing depression that Michael had displayed three years previously after the death of his father, in the days when they still shared personal information.
James bitterly regrets the necessity of reining in his confidences in the other man, but he has no choice, even now. Agent Henrickson has promised that the FBI are getting closer to a resolution, but James is still in limbo, and even if he thought it was safe to reveal certain aspects of his recent past to Michael he cannot stand the thought of the man's anger and hurt on his behalf.
The events of August before last showed that; Michael had watched the unfolding of the nascent “gamer's rights” movement with horror, and he had been vocal and graphic with his condemnation of it when it had come up in group or map chat, and that was just what James had seen. He was tired of outrage on his behalf, though; everyone was sorry about it, but few people really understood how much his own experiences of doxxing had changed his life.
James shakes his head at himself. From worry about his best friend to thinking about himself, all in the space of two minutes; not one of his finest trains of thought, frankly. He contemplates getting more coffee before deciding against it. He only has another half an hour here before he has to move on.
In his heart of hearts, James recognises his rigidly chaotic ritual for what it is: the actions of a man desperate to take back some control, clinging to an arcane and largely useless series of routines superstitiously and needlessly. But he's found that he enjoys moving between venues to work in; he can interact with people, and he has some tentative friendships with other regulars in various places, which is more than he had ever had when he was working at Sandover.
He still has a small amount of lukewarm tea left to drink, and he sits back with a sigh. This piece is mostly finished and he has another day before its deadline is reached; he can afford to take a break for the rest of his stay here.
“I'm just saying, Dean, you need to get out there,” a voice says, cutting across his musing. The tall barista, James thinks; the one with the hair and the boyish grin.
“Jesus, Sam, you have to stop this,” The Beautiful Man growls in reply, and there, now James definitely has a name for him. Dean. He never imagined him as a Dean, but it suits him.
Sam snorted in response. “Dude, how long has it been since you went on, like, one date?”
“You bitched when I was sleeping around, now you're bitching that I'm not. Make up your damn mind.” The Beautiful Dean sounds irritated and exhausted, the fatigue evident in his voice now he's not speaking to a customer.
The coffee machine makes a loud hiss, silencing Tall Sam for a short while. “I'm just worried, that's all. You've been working too hard, and you're not sleeping properly - ”
“Not that I can, seeing as I have to cover for all of you assholes,” Dean interjects, but it sounds fond rather than angry.
“...Right, and we're all sorry that you've been run ragged by it and we all want you to be able to have some time off. So why don't you use it to date?”
“Because I don't want to, Sam! I'm not – I'm not in a dating place right now.”
“You're still hung up on him, aren't you.” It's not a question. James experiences the exquisite delight of finding out that his crush may in fact be available to him, and the exquisite disappointment of finding out that his crush is currently unavailable to him, at precisely the same time. It's an uncomfortable feeling.
“No. Maybe. Yes. Shut up, Sammy.” Dean's voice is low and hurting, and James spares a curse for the thoughtless assbutt who hurt him, whoever the assbutt is.
“Okay. Okay, I won't push, and I'll make sure Meg doesn't try setting you up with anyone either. But man, you gotta try getting over him, even if it means one night stands for a few months. I won't even lecture you. Just make sure you use condoms.”
“Dude, I don't need the condom lecture from you,” and there's fond amusement creeping in now, which lightens the fatigue. “I was the one who taught you, remember?”
“Painfully clearly,” Sam agrees, and the sounds of good-natured scuffling float over the counter.
James is starting to feel guilty at eavesdropping into their conversation. Time for him to move on. And in another month or two, perhaps make a move?
AngelOfThursday says: So? How far are you along with it? Are you enjoying it?
TheMichaelSword says: nearly got fired over this dude, I slept in this morning
TheMichaelSword says: I rea;;y am though yeah
TheMichaelSword says: you/
AngelOfThursday says: Definitely. This is the first time I've been torn over whom to romance in a Bioware game.
TheMichaelSword says: isabela first playthrough for me for sure
TheMichaelSword says: love me a limber brunette
TheMichaelSword says: but im torn between anders and fenris for my next playthrough and i#m trying to work out if it'll be hotter as brohowke or femhawke
TheMichaelSword says: you still there thurs?
AngelOfThursday says: Yes I am, sorry, I was distracted by something. I've decided on Anders, myself. I'll almost certainly romance Fenris on my next game.
AngelOfThursday says: I personally prefer the male Hawke, myself. :)
TheMichaelSword says: cool :)
Work's calmed down now that Benny's back and the new baby's settled, but Dean's still pulling long hours, because the holiday season is coming up and this is the best time of the year to be a baker. So right now he's dozing lightly on a chair in the kitchen, waiting for his first batch of the morning to come out of the oven. All of the rest of the prep is done; even with the elongated kitchen, he still only has so much space to put things, and he hit the limit.
The heat from the ovens makes always makes him sleepy when he's running on empty. It's hard enough being a baker and staying in shape without the extra pressure to drink his coffee and eat his tiny pies to get enough energy to stay awake, and he's definitely softened and thickened around his middle in the years since opening.
Fortunately for his vanity, he's doing too much exercise to get seriously out of shape. His arms and shoulders are well-built with muscle from lifting and kneading, and his ass is tight and round from all of the standing, If he's got some extra padding on there too, so what?
In the quiet of his own thoughts, though, Dean knows that he's pulled in two conflicting directions over food. The first is the perpetual hunger of the starved child; his fat reserves represent wealth, and plenty, and not being hungry because he gave Sam the last of the food. At the same time though, he'd heard over and over again through his childhood that he was lucky he was pretty, cause his brains weren't up to much, and in this fatphobic, size-obsessed society, that meant staying thin.
So Dean worked out a little too, and swam when he had enough energy, and didn't tell Sam any of it, because his brother would be all over it. At least he was sticking with the vet thing; it had been a rough couple of semesters when he'd been taking psychology classes.
His mobile phone pings and shatters his slowly drifting thoughts.
AngelofThursday: Why are you still awake, Michael?
The_Michaelsword: im not still awake, im awake again
The_Michaelsword: startd work an hour ago
AngelofThursday: I haven't even been to bed yet and your day has already started? That's a little horrifying
What's horrifying is Dean's inability to move on, frankly. He's stuck in perpetual limbo over Thursday, unable to stop talking to him but unable to say what he really wanted, and it's wearing him down.
Meg had won the “Bitchin' in the Kitchen” crown back two weeks ago after a particularly nasty customer, but Dean is now the proud owner of a little paper raincloud that sits on his head when he's being particularly morose. Sam keeps on trying to jolly him along, kid's nothing if not persistent, but it always comes back to Dean wanting what he can't have. Can't have a normal life. Can't speak to anyone about the pressure in his head. Can't have Thursday.
AngelofThursday: How are you, Michael? Really? You've seemed more down than usual lately.
The_Michaelsword: im okay
The_Michaelsword: just tired
AngelofThursday: I'm not your brother. You don't need to lie to protect me.
Dean laughs bitterly at that, because he does, of course he does. He has to lie to Thurs most of all.
The_Michaelsword: you really wanna know the truth?
AngelofThursday: I asked, didn't I? Of course I want to know what's bothering you. You're my friend.
The_Michaelsword: just your standard unrequited love here, nbd
The_Michaelsword: I just got my head in my ass about it
The_Michaelsword: itll pass evenetualyl
AngelofThursday: Oh, Michael, I am sorry. It's always awful.
AngelofThursday: The only advice I can give you is what my brother told me once: if they can't see how great you are, they don't deserve you.
Dean is not going to sit in his own damn kitchen and cry like a lovesick puppy, but he kind of wants to. He settles for a faintly hysterical laugh instead and pulls himself to his feet, checking the ovens. Time to start working again.
The_Michaelsword: thanks man, menas a lot
The_Michaelsword: i gtg work now. you get some rest. sleep well.
AngelofThursday: :) <3 Good Night/Morning, Michael.
Dean throws himself into work for the next few hours as Meg arrives to spot him in the kitchen and he takes point on the deliveries. By the time he arrives back at Slice of Pi and adds another number to the wall, a private ritual marking how many days he's been here and also a nerdy piece of interior decoration, the morning crowd are in full swing. Eileen's at the bakery counter, taking Thanksgiving orders and selling baguettes and sourdough loaves to a steady stream of people; Kev's in Study/Break, with Meg helping him when he needs an extra pair of hands, and managing the kitchen the rest of the time.
Meg is a lifesaver, frankly, even if she is sometimes an evil bitch who threatens him with knives. Benny, too. They're both good bakers, and are happy to take shifts on both counters as well when they need to, in return for a share of the tips. Dean's got a spreadsheet working out a scrupulously fair percentage of the week's tips, which are split between the staff based on how many hours they covered on the tills. Last month he accrued enough time in the coffee-shop to be able to buy a new (to him) single-player game. Not that he's really had a chance to play the thing.
The kids in the coffee shop are going to start clamouring for time off for their exams though, which'll fall just before the Christmas rush. Maybe he should consider taking on seasonal staff this year? He makes a note in his phone about it before he heads upstairs for a few more hours' rest.
Day's not over yet though, and he staggers back downstairs for the evening shift after he wakes back up. He knows he's working too hard and can't keep going like this. He does. But it helps ease the loneliness of his heart, being so busy and wiped out all of the time. Besides, he does actually have a long-term plan, and the first step is getting another baker in. But that means he has to expand his contracts first, in order to be able to afford the new staff member, which means he's run ragged and Meg and Benny are both working their asses off all day too.
Benny takes one look at him when he gets back into the kitchen and puts the little rain-cloud hat on Dean's head over his work bandanna.
“You wanna talk about it yet, brother?” he asks amiably.
“Nope,” Dean yawns. “But I know where you are when I do.” He gives Benny a small smile and they start piling in on more orders – they sell a lot of part-baked pies in the run-up to Thanksgiving, so people can just put them in the oven on the day itself. It's one of the few things Dean's happy to sell frozen, really, and that's only because it makes him so much money. They cater for all tastes, budgets, and quantities, and for an extra $5 Dean'll take personal pie tins and cook with them, as long as they meet his safety standards and the customer signs a waiver.
“Got another order in from that big new motel on the highway,” Benny says. “Looks like another conference.”
“Might be time to hit them up with a contract, then,” Dean muses.
“'S what I thought. Head of Physics came in today to ask about our Christmas offers, too. Looks like another Department party.” That would make five so far, none of them small.
“We're gonna have to keep an eye on kitchen turnover. I'm thinking about hiring a seasonal guy,” he confesses. “Maybe someone from that program they run in the shelter, if there's anyone who doesn't need much training.”
“Good idea. Meg won't like it.”
“Come on, Benny, Meg doesn't like anything,” Dean grins, and he rolls his eyes at the raincloud hat, but it's done the job again and he's started to cheer up. Or maybe it was just Benny being awesome.
Either way, Dean makes it through to the end of the shift before his mood starts crashing, along with his blood sugar. He barely has enough energy to microwave himself some soup for dinner before he falls asleep. So it goes, he thinks blurrily as the fatigue catches up with him.
James has taken a rare day off, and is sitting in front of his gaming rig, which takes up most of the wall of Gabriel's living-room. His Alienware PC is still up to spec for all of the recent games; it was the last thing be bought before his accounts were frozen, and it missed the purge of his possessions by dint of not being in his house. He managed to scrape together enough money since then to afford a PS4; the other two consoles are Gabriel's though, and it's Gabriel's AV gear that everything runs through.
As a games journalist, he has to spend a lot of time playing games. Fortunately, Gabriel approves of this pastime and is happy to watch, and even happier to play two-player. Right now, though, James is playing The Witcher 3, and Gabe is bored. So he's pretending to be the voice of the horse. “Roach are hungry! Get Roach food! Oh, no, stoopid witcher Geralt, why are Roach in a hole? Now Roach will have to magically teleport! Close your eyes, I can't do it if you're watching.” He wiggles his eyebrows at James and grins maniacally.
Sometimes, James wonders how the pair of them can be related. He also wonders how he's managed not to kill his brother. Or how anyone else hasn't, either.
His chat server flashes redly at him from the corner of the screen, and even the words “The_Michaelsword is online” are enough to calm him down slightly. Ah. That's why Gabriel is still alive to torment him; the calming presence of his friend. He doesn't like talking to Michael much when Gabe's around, his brother has a distressing tendency to want to become involved, or to read things into the situation, but right now he'll take anything that isn't being said by a horse.
The_Michaelsword: hey man
AngelofThursday: Please save me from my brothe
James shakes his head at himself and deletes the last word. It's so easy to share information with Michael, and James's guard constantly drops during their chats.
AngelofThursday: Please save me from my roommate. He's being Roach again.
The_Michaelsword: teleporitng asshole
AngelofThursday: He keeps making jokes about not being able to do anything if I'm looking and then being frankly obscene.
The_Michaelsword: sounds a lot like me tbh
The_Michaelsword: i do shit like that to lil bro all the time
Gabe cackles at that and shouts in triumph, “See! It's my divine right as your elder brother to be annoying! Suck it, Jimmy!”
James levels his best glare at him. “Stop calling me that.”
AngelofThursday: That was not suitable discouragement.
The_Michaelsword: if hes not pretending to be the squire from the holy grail hes missing a trick
AngelofThursday: If he starts saying “ni” I'm going to stab him.
“Wait, what?” Gabe says, a look of comical bafflement on his face. “You got that? How the fuck did you get that?” They'd been banned from watching most films and television as children, as well as reading most secular books, and James had taken their parents' word as law as a child. Gabe was more free-thinking, though, and found ways to watch and read the forbidden things. Eventually he'd dragged James along with him, which was how James had discovered Mariokart and the course of his life was set.
“Michael made me watch them a few years ago,” James admits. “He said I needed to be better educated in popular culture and then he gave me a list of thing to watch, read, and listen to.”
“I've been trying to get you to do that for years!” Gabriel flounces to the kitchen, bringing back some more soda and snacks.
“Yes, but you didn't refuse to give me the one item I needed to complete my collection of minipets until I watched them,” James points out. “And then, when I started, I found I liked them. And it made me a better reviewer.”
“You like him more than you like me,” his brother sniffs.
“I like practically everyone more than I like you, Gabriel, you're terrible,” James sighs.
“Pff, I'm awesome.” Gabe settles back in to voicing Roach's terrible innuendos and grammatically incorrect one-liners.
The_Michaelsword: wow, you must really be pissed at him not to correct your typo
The_Michaelsword: aw I dint mean to make you blush
The_Michaelsword: that ones pretty cyute though
AngelofThursday: I much prefer the Japanese emoticons but they're not as well known. And they're slower to type, of course.
AngelofThursday: You love it.
The_Michaelsword: yea youre not worng
“Oh God, this is painful to watch,” Gabe groans. “Please stop flirting in front of me.” He flops dramatically backwards on the sofa.
“We're not flirting,” James says irritably. Gabriel snorts his disbelief but doesn't argue.
He's wrong, of course. James has never felt the slightest romantic attraction to his faceless friend, probably because he is so faceless, and of course they can't meet until and unless James has control of his life back. They had begun to talk occasionally about meeting up at Blizzcon or PAX, but after James had had to move in with Gabriel all such talk had been shelved by him.
He can admit that it might be nice to see Michael, to learn more about him, but he can't let himself think about it. The FBI move slowly at the best of times, and the investigation his case is a part of is taking a long time to put together. Better not to waste time on might-have-beens or on maybe-some-days.
>> srry I;ve not been around for a while (22.10)
<< No problem. Everything okay? (22.11)
>> nope (22.20)
<< Is there anything I can do to help? (22.21)
>> not unless you have a time machine (22.22)
<< Sorry, no. Do you want to talk about it? (22.23)
>> no (22.24)
>> my dad died (22.35)
Two weeks from T-Day and the bakery is swamped. Dean's showing the solution to the quagmire the ropes. He's an older guy, striking blue eyes that remind Dean of one of the regulars in the coffee shop, and he has a hairnet on his hair and over his beard.
“So, we've covered safety stuff, and recipes, and how to use the ovens... Guess we better cover the tills, if you're okay with being on them?”
Cain glowers at him. He seems to have Resting Glower Face, though, so Dean doesn't let it bother him. “You said I'd get a share of the tips for covering the tills? Then sure, I could use the money,” he replies frankly. Cain is one of the regulars at one of the homeless shelters Dean bakes for. Guy seems solid enough, and he came with sparkling references from Pastor Jim and Garth Fitzwilliam IV, plus he already knew how to bake, so Dean's happy to give him a shot.
“Yeah, man, I got a spreadsheet for the percentages. And this is the time of year for tips, so you should pick up a lot.” Dean worries at his lip. Cain seems pretty proud, which is standard amongst the poor and destitute, Dean knows that one personally, but he's shown a sense of wry humour and he clearly wants to make this work. “Look, I offer my couch to everyone who's pulling split-shifts, I just live upstairs and the splits are pretty brutal if you can't get to take a nap. You're welcome to do the same thing. Or, you know, if you don't wanna go back to the shelter.”
Cain looks at him steadily. Those piercing blue eyes make it seem like he's staring into Dean's soul. “It is very busy there at this time of year, with the cold,” he says slowly. “You do this for the rest of the staff too?”
“I usually try to take the brunt of it myself,” Dean admits, “but it's killing me right now, I can't keep it up. So whenever I get Meg or Benny to do a close-open or one of the daytime splits I let them crash or chill, yeah. No sense in letting anyone get ill by working them too hard, right?”
Cain nods, slowly. “You're a good man, Dean Winchester,” he says. “I expect to be pulling a lot of the shit shifts, though.”
Dean claps him on the back. “No worries there, all of the shifts will be shit until the New Year,” he grins. “Plus I get good water pressure and it's really warm in the flat, 'cause of the ovens.” He gets a small smile in return.
Cain's fast with money, which makes sense, he'd've picked that up real quick on the streets, and he's just about capable of toning down the glower; Dean's got no worries about him on the bakery counter. He makes a passable black coffee too, but Dean's met with a confused and worried stare when he asks him for a cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso, soy milk instead of regular, and the seasonally ubiquitous pumpkin spiced syrup – gotta hit him up with a harder request to break him in.
“I have no idea what that is,” Cain mutters. Kevin's cleaning tables – he's scared shitless of Cain right now – and Dean's on the customer side of the counter, that being the best way to tell how someone will look to one of the actual customers.
The door opens behind him, bringing some cold air in with it. Cain's eyes widen in consternation and he looks to Dean for help. “It's okay, man, I'll tell you whatever you need to know,” Dean hurries to reassure him. The customer claims a table and heads to the counter, peering at the pastries. It's the mysterious James C, which is great, actually, the guy's pretty laid back about service for all he seems wound tighter than a drum about everything else.
“How can I help you,” Cain manages to get out, and James C looks up in consternation at him. He startles comically when he realises Dean is waiting beside him, which is kind of cute, those wide blue eyes blinking at him in puzzlement.
“Uh, hello Dean,” James C says at his friendly nod. “I would like a chilli hot chocolate and a Gruyère pastry, please. Hot. And an open tab.”
Cain nods solemnly, writing everything down on his pad in a rapid but legible scrawl – he's had restaurant experience as well, then, Dean notes with approval – and then glowers at Dean. “Help me.”
James C sits at his usual table and starts working as Dean talks Cain through the processes involved. It takes longer than usual to get the food and drink out to him, but that's par for the course with noobs, and James C doesn't seem to notice anything when he's deep in the writing zone. By the time Cain gets the order to him, Kev's started passing tips along too, which is good to see.
“Here is your hot chocolate, and your pastry,” Cain says gravely to James C. “I hope you enjoy them both.”
“Thank you,” he responds equally gravely, and Dean rolls his eyes at Kev, who stifles a giggle. It's good to see Cain getting along with one of the regulars, at least; the customers expect more personal attention than the bakery customers do, for all that the place barely turns a profit. Dean mainly keeps it open because he has nothing else to do with the space, and because he and Sam had both been those kids that had needed a place to sit in out of the cold to do their schoolwork, and he wants to pay it back.
Dean and Kev together manage to teach Cain enough of the basics of the coffee-shop for Dean to be confident in leaving them by themselves for the rest of the afternoon, and he returns to the kitchen to help Benny out. The more they can get done now, the easier the evening shift will be, and Dean's always in favour of an easy ride.
The new staff member is strikingly handsome, James muses, but he's also very intimidating. Over-Achieving Kevin is much less patient as a teacher than The Beautiful Dean, but his nature means that he doesn't stint on either the details or on making sure that the new guy is remembering the details. Kevin drills him extensively in how to make various different types of drink and various other minutiae of the shop that James has never considered.
He has another 57 minutes to get proper work in, after his brief break for lunch, and he settles in to a blog post for Rock Paper Shotgun about the games he's been playing – he likes to compare the week's releases. Most of the work he does is spent playing games, in fact, a fact that Gabriel never fails to complain about. In order to engage with his blog and his journalism he has to leave the house, though. Anyone who is monitoring Gabriel's internet usage will just see a gamer; it's only James's words that make him identifiable, and he takes care to keep uploading those in public places.
He could have set up his brother's place with the technology required to keep himself safe and anonymous online, but it would have been expensive and time-consuming at a time when he had no money and even less energy to learn the abilities required to do so. Instead, he opted for anonymity in public places; hiding in plain sight. He had been lucky to keep two online identities secret during the doxxing incident, although he still had no idea how that had happened.
The new staff member makes an excellent cup of oolong tea, and James savours it as he uploads the final draft of his blog post. He stretches thoroughly and packs up before going to pay his tab, taking his plates and cups with him.
Over Achieving Kevin is on a break, and The Beautiful Dean gives him a brilliant smile when he hands over his crockery. “Thanks, man. You didn't have to do that.”
James blushes and curses himself for it. “You're welcome.” He clears his throat and looks at the new staff member. “The food and drinks were excellent, thank you.”
“Good work, Cain,” Dean grins. “See? Coffee-shop ain't so hard.”
Cain grimaces doubtfully, but nods his thanks at James and musters up a small smile. It makes him look much more approachable, although he's no less intense.
“So, $3 for the hot chocolate, $3.75 for the pastry, and $2 for the cup of tea,” Cain mutters to the till. “That's $8.75 please. Oh, wait. Are you a student, a veteran, or a member of the emergency services?” James shakes his head. “$8.75 please.”
James hands over a $10 bill and his loyalty card as Dean hides a grin. “Are you enjoying your first week here?” he asks politely.
“It's much better than my last job was,” Cain answers with a wry twist to his mouth. “Here's your change. Have a pleasant day and come back soon. Please consider us for your Thanksgiving pastry requirements.”
“Remember to initial the loyalty card,” Dean prompts.
Cain starts to do so when James blurts out, “You'd be better off with a stamp. Or a cutter. Initialising is a privacy vulnerability.” He can feel himself flushing under their twin scrutiny. “It's a concern of mine.” He puts the change in the tip jar and fumbles in his pocket for another couple of dollars to put in.
“Makes sense, I'll get one sorted out tomorrow,” Dean nods, smiling at him.“Is it Cain?” Cain blinks in surprise, but James shakes his head with a smile of his own. “Damn.”
“Have a good night, Cain, Dean,” James says. He leaves Study/Break to a chorus of goodbyes, and moves onwards to the next venue.
The_Michaelsword has just earned the achievement [The Lie]
AngelofThursday joined the game.
<The_Michaelsword> hey man, long time no see
<AngelofThursday> Hello, Michael. It's good to see you again.
<The_Michaelsword> how you been?
<AngelofThursday> It's been a bad few weeks. I had to move across country. But I've settled into a new place now.
<The_Michaelsword> man I hate moving
<The_Michaelsword> all that packing and unpacking
<AngelofThursday> That is usually the case, yes
The_Michaelsword has just earned the achievement [Return to Sender]
<The_Michaelsword> ha! take that ghast
<The_Michaelsword> I hate those things
<The_Michaelsword> you ok thurs? you;er very quite
<The_Michaelsword> quiet goddamn tiny keyboard >.<
<AngelofThursday> Yes, I'm fine. How have you been? Is your shop open?
Thanksgiving is finally over, and Dean's sitting in his house with some Chinese takeaway and a pumpkin pie in the oven, Die Hard on TV. He closed the shop early today, giving everyone time off to spend with their families, and he and Cain have their feet up and are enjoying not needing to speak to anyone.
Cain's been a surprisingly easy roommate, keeping to himself and doing a respectable number of chores. He's quiet, and he's pretty closed off about his past, but Dean's slowly been getting to know him. Guy's got a dark sense of humour, an eye for the ridiculous, and he's fiercely loyal. He's also a pain in Dean's ass half the time, which makes him more annoying than Benny but a lot less annoying than Meg.
And he's a genius with profiteroles and éclairs. Dean's good at savouries, any and all kinds, and he's awesome with pie, but he relies on Benny for the rest of the sweet stuff – Meg can curdle cream with the raise of one immaculate eyebrow, so she's not allowed near desserts – which makes their output a little more limited than Dean would like.
Long term though, Cain could make a good addition to the team. So Dean's been working the numbers over to try to find the money for a proper contract. Or, well, he's been using Charlie's spreadsheets, which do all of the math for him.
If they can get another couple of hotel contracts, or expand into the fancy French patisserie market thanks to Cain's expertise, they could afford it. Or if the coffee shop actually turned a decent profit. Or if he got rid of one of the part-timers.
AngelofThursday is online
Oh thank god for Thursday and his distractions.
The_Michaelsword: hey man haopy turkey day
AngelofThursday: And to you :)
AngelofThursday: How is your turkey?
The_Michaelsword: no turkey but this chicken chow main is prety good
AngelofThursday: We'll be having turkey for the next fortnight, my roommate bought too much. But he is an excellent cook.
The_Michaelsword: what about the important part?
AngelofThursday: Oh, the pie, of course. Normally he cooks it too but this year he bought one.
AngelofThursday: It's delicious. Best pie I've ever had. He agrees.
AngelofThursday: Toffee apple, apparently.
Dean replies without thinking.
The_Michaelsword: hey, we sell one like that
The_Michaelsword: it's a good seller too, very popular this time of year
“Shit,” he hisses, as the blinking lights appear and disappear repeatedly. Thurs must be weirded out by the personal info. Cain raises an eyebrow at him.
“Just... might have said the wrong thing to Thu – to my friend, is all.”
AngelofThursday: Well, if your pies are half as good as this one, I can see why. My roommate had to go on a waiting list for it.
Dean slumps back in relief, laughing a little at the thought of the Thanksgiving waiting list. He'd had to pull a couple of all-nighters last year to fill all of the orders; this year they've managed to time things better, so he's merely very tired instead of dangerously exhausted.
The_Michaelsword: yea we had one of those too
The_Michaelsword: think its prettu standarf in bakeries this time of year tbh
The_Michaelsword: the good ones, anyway ;)
Cain clears his throat. “Everything fine, then?”
“Yeah, it's all good. Got worked up over nothing. Always happens when I'm tired.”
Cain nods, dishing out the pie – when had he gotten up to get it from the oven? – and passing a steaming slice to Dean, along with the double cream. “You're really hung up on this friend, aren't you.”
Dean manages not to slosh cream on himself, just. Good to see Cain's been included in the kitchen gossip, at least. He buys time by eating his first mouthful: perfect as ever. “You been listening to Sammy?”
“I don't need to,” Cain replies calmly, giving a small smile of approval to the pie. “I live with you. You wear your heart on your sleeve.” Well, shit, that's a complication Dean hadn't anticipated. “Your secret is safe with me.”
Dean looks bleakly at the screen while John McClane walks on bloody feet. “Ain't much of a secret, these days. Talk about it as much as you want, everyone else does. Leastways they're all keen to let me know what they think about it.”
Cain catches his eye. “You'll get none of that from me.” His eyes bore through Dean, and the terrible compassion in them is enough to make Dean abruptly need to blink back tears. He ducks his head and stares into his bowl.
“Thanks, man,” he replies quietly. He loves everyone he works with, they're like family, but they keep on nagging him, or trying to set him up on dates, or making pointed comments about catfishing or online-dating tragedies, and it's getting real old. If he had enough time to meet new people, maybe he'd manage to get over Thurs. But he doesn't, so he's got limited options, and most of those revolve around giving up his friendship.
And that's a thing he just can't stomach the thought of doing.
Winter has well and truly begun, and with all of the college students acting as plague vectors by going home for Thanksgiving, there are a lot of viruses flying around. There's a big notice on the door of Study/Break that says “Our staff won't sneeze on your food unless you sneeze on us. WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS.”, which makes James laugh a little and help himself to the alcohol gel hanging beside the notice.
Behind the counter, The Beautiful Dean is sitting on a stool looking slightly ill, but infinitely better than the wheezing Over Achieving Kevin who's hunched over a bowl of steaming menthol in the Study section, a large book propped up in front of him. James gives him a sympathetic grimace as he claims a table nearby.
“No rest for the wicked?” he murmurs, and Kevin shakes his head sadly.
“Got a paper due tomorrow,” he croaks.
“This is him better, if you can believe it,” Dean says from the other side of the counter. “Should've seen him two days ago when he tried to come in to work. Thought he was Patient Zero or something.”
Kevin flips him off and James grins. “He's a little sarcastic to be a zombie,” he replies. “Can I have the Indian chai and a chocolate chilli muffin please?”
“Yeah, sure. You want a tab?” Dean stands carefully and shouts into the kitchen for the chai; they boil it over heat instead of cobbling it together with the coffee machine, which makes it taste much richer.
“Not today, thanks.” James only has half an hour here which isn't enough time to really write, but he has folders to sync. His laptop should already have started the process. He accepts the muffin and hands over the correct amount, dropping the rest of his pocket change in the tip jar. He's going home after this. There are too many ill people around, and James doesn't want to get sick.
Dean looks at him, biting his lip. “You mind coming up to the counter when your chai's ready? I don't want to spill it.” He's holding on to the counter and he seems unsteady on his feet.
James frowns at him. “Of course. But you shouldn't be working if you're that sick.”
“Everyone else is off sick,” Dean sighs. “Kitchen staff are fine, it's hot in there and we don't deal much with customers, but all of the shop staff are ill.” Kevin coughs violently and painfully, and Dean rolls his eyes. “See? Whole of Philly's ill right now.”
The coffee shop does seem remarkably quiet, especially for mid-afternoon, as has everywhere else James has been today. “I'm recovering from a cold myself,” he admits. “My brother works at UPenn and picked it up almost immediately, then gave it to me.” He wouldn't put it past Gabe to have deliberately sneezed in his food, to be frank. His idea of a prank was not funny.
“Yeah, Sammy picked it up too,” Dean replies vaguely. “I'm mostly getting better but I'm still pretty wiped from it.”
Meg brings out James's chai, her put-upon look fading when she sees who it is. “Clarence! If I'd known this was for you, I wouldn't have spit in it.” She had called him Clarence every since she had overheard Dean guessing it one day, making her laugh so hard she'd had to sit down. James still isn't sure why she found it quite as funny as she did, but her easy renaming of him makes him feel oddly comfortable. Very similar to his own attitude towards his name, he supposes.
Dean's eyes widen and he forces a laugh, exclaiming, “A joke! A funny, funny joke. Tell the nice customers how you're joking, Meg.” The green in his eyes stands out against his pallor, and James is struck once again by their beauty.
“Don't get your panties in a twist, Dean-o, they all know I'm joking. Besides, I'm not ill,” she says smugly. Dean sticks his tongue out at her. “Cain and I will cover tonight, okay? You're off as soon as he gets down here.”
James's thanks for the drink are largely ignored over the bickering that unfolds, which doesn't stop until Kevin threatens to cough all over the till. James shares amused looks with the other regulars before settling in to eat his muffin and read a few blogs.
He's scrolling through someone's Tumblr when he sees it: a well-reasoned and eloquent take-down of the reasons why coffee-shop AUs aren't appealing to a coffee-shop worker. He's not really one for fanfiction or shipping generally, preferring his entertainment to be more interactive, but he knows the tropes well enough because Michael has educated him about them.
And it's... a compelling argument. Not only that, but it throws into sharp relief his own behaviour and desires. Reading meaning into casual glances, attempting to get to know The Beautiful Man better, even his habit of generous tipping all suddenly seem like the actions of a privileged fantasist who has more in common with predatory red-pillers than the hard worker he is crushing on.
James feels disgusted with himself, and the rich food swirls uncomfortably in his stomach. He's spent so long defining himself as better than the people who think it's acceptable to prey on others that this comparison has him reeling.
His laptop has finished stealing bandwidth and he is free to go home. James pushes himself to his feet and takes his cup and plate to the counter.
Dean's clearly not improved over the last half hour, and James feels worried even though he hates himself for the impulse to protect this man. “Are you alright?” he asks carefully.
“I'll be fine,” Dean mutters. “Hey! Is it Cristiano?”
James can't muster up a smile, and Dean's face falls a little. “No. I hope you feel better soon. Don't make yourself more ill by trying to do shifts you're not well enough for.”
“That's what I keep trying to tell him,” Cain says dourly, appearing in the doorway. “Get to bed, Dean.”
“Hey, who's the boss here?” Dean complains, as James gathers his bag up and prepares to leave. Kevin sniggers beside him, and Cain and Meg shout something from inside the kitchen.
And then there's a crash as Dean stands and collapses as he tries to walk. Kevin's up on his feet and behind the counter in a flash, and James joins the rest of the customers peering worriedly at the unfolding drama – it takes all three staff members to help Dean to his feet, and he can't walk without nearly falling over, his eyes flickering wildly as he tries to find his balance.
“Inner ear infection,” Cain scowls as he manhandles Dean onto one of the couches, where he slumps down. He looks around the shop. “It's not infectious. Probably.”
“If any of you get sick you get free pie,” Dean jokes, but it's a weak thing. Cain and Meg have a whispered conversation and announce that they're closing the coffee-shop until they can get Dean to Urgent Care, and James allows himself to be chased out.
The wind is bitingly cold, and he feels very alone.
AngelofThursday whispers: I don't see the similarity
The_Michaelsword whispers: come on, arthas falls to the dark side just like anakin
AngelofThursday whispers: okay, he doesn't do it for his wife, but there's totally similariteis
AngelofThursday whispers: I have no idea who “Anakin” is. But it's a class story-telling device, the downfall of the noble hero. It usually ends in a last final redemption and absolution.
The_Michaelsword whispers: YOUVE NEVER SEEN STAR WARS WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU
AngelofThursday whispers: just so youre clear that caps lock was delibraate
AngelofThursday whispers: Oh, is that where it's from? I've heard of it at least.
The_Michaelsword whispers: I literally just hurt my eyes from rolling them so hard
The_Michaelsword whispers: you need to watch those fiulms, due, I;m not kidding
The_Michaelsword whispers: they're great and there's so many references to them all over the place.
The_Michaelsword whispers: god it's no wonder you never find any of the quests funny
AngelofThursday whispers: Well, I suppose when you put it like that, I could stand to “broaden my horizons”
Whatever plague had set itself up in Dean's inner ear has so far proved remarkably hard to shift. Three days in and he's only barely able to sit upright, and while he can get to the toilet and back without puking or passing out (now, anyway), he has to hold on to the wall the entire time.
It's really fucking embarrassing.
Fortunately, Cain doesn't give him any of the shit that Sam would, no lectures about overwork or anything. In fact, when Sam visited and had started into one, Cain had interrupted him almost immediately to defend Dean's decisions and point out that he was actually covering for Sam when he got ill in the shop. So Cain is officially Dean's favourite person right now.
Benny's on top of the Christmas orders, keeping track of all of the details admirably, and Meg has managed to nail all of shop workers into a rigid schedule over the rest of the year and into the start of the next one, which Dean is going to make her job from now on. Meg's also apparently managed to grab another three hotel contracts starting in the new year, which is... surprising, because normally she hates people, but Dean supposes that being faced with a determined Meg would make even the most experienced negotiator crumble.
So not only does he not have to worry about Slice of Pi right now, he doesn't seem to need to worry about it for the immediate future, either. It's starting to make Dean feel a little useless. If they can all cope so well without him, what use is he?
He maybe, possibly, slightly mentioned that to Benny when he came up to give Dean dinner. And now, the shop's been shut down, and he has Benny and Cain and Meg in his living-room, all staring at him with their weird intense eyes.
Dean shrinks down into his blanket some more.
“We know you have self-esteem issues, brother, but even for you this is a new low,” Benny says, full of concern. Traitor.
“You know I hate you all,” Meg drawls, “but I'd kill for any of you. Even if you are a moron.”
Dean blinks at her. That was unexpected. And a little worrying, she looked pretty keen to kill people for them. They're not finished yet, though. “I know how easy it is to tell yourself that you're not worth anything, but you need to believe that you are,” Cain says earnestly. “You haven't just given me a chance to start again, you did it for all of us.”
“Only reason I can use a computer at all is because you taught me,” Benny says. “You know I ain't good with technology, I never learned any of it at school, and I could barely switch the damn thing on before you showed me how.”
Meg grimaces and looks embarrassed. “The only reason I chased those contracts so hard is because you wanted them, and I pulled out all the stops. I got Charlie to internet stalk the people doing the deals, and then I played them, because that's what I'm good at. But you would've charmed them. I only know how to manipulate people. You get them to believe in you.”
Cain's nodding. “You rehired Kate, you hired me, you support Eileen all the time when someone's being a dick to her, you're always happy to work around the needs of your staff. None of us could do this without you.”
Dean's getting a little teary now, which he'll swear is only because of the low fever he's been running for most of a week. “Thanks, guys,” he manages to get out.
They chat more generally about kitchen stuff for a while, before Meg and Benny head home. Cain's there to steady him as he stands carefully to go to bed, and he holds Dean's gaze for an extra moment.
“Don't let your unhappiness over this unrequited love business tarnish the rest of your life,” he says, quiet but intense. “I did, and I lost everything. I know it's hard, I know it hurts, but one thing being bad doesn't have to spoil everything else.”
Dean can't nod, or shake his head, or roll his eyes, because he'll fall over if he tries, so he has to speak. “I'll try,” he says finally.
“Good. Remember to take your night-time dose of antibiotics.”
Cain's surprised laughter follows him as he makes his way to bed, and yeah, okay, he'd needed to hear this tonight, even if it was a little too chick-flick to make him comfortable.
Four days since James's revelation and he still hasn't had a chance to talk to Michael about it, because his friend hasn't been online at all. James is beginning to get worried, frankly; usually Michael warns him in advance of any offline period longer than two days, but he's heard nothing so far.
James is playing his way through an indy side-scroller when the notification finally pops up at the bottom of his screen.
The_Michaelsword is online
AngelofThursday: Are you okay? Where have you been?
AngelofThursday: (> ^_^ )>
The_Michaelsword: been sikc but im etting better
AngelofThursday: :O :( I hope you're looking after yourself properly.
The_Michaelsword: no need, I got lots of people doing that for me apparently
The_Michaelsword: wasnt able to gt online though sorry
The_Michaelsword: couldnt read w/o getting pukey
AngelofThursday: Inner ear infection?
The_Michaelsword: how dud you jnwo?
The_Michaelsword: *know sry still havin some pronblems with typing
James pauses to think through his response. He doesn't like sharing details about other people online any more than he likes sharing his own; he wants to protect The Beautiful Dean's privacy. At the same time, he desperately needs to talk his revelation through with someone, and Gabriel is, well, usually less than helpful with moral dilemmas.
AngelofThursday: I know someone who came down with one recently. It seemed very unpleasant.
The_Michaelsword: ha youre not wrong there i needed to be jelped to the jhon for two days
The_Michaelsword: plus the puking and fainting was not fun
AngelofThursday: :O (> ^_^ )>
AngelofThursday: It sounds awful. But you're feeling better now?
The_Michaelsword: still dizzy ad hell and im really tired most of the time but im not throwing up any more and i can move under my own steam
James wishes he could be three to help his friend through this, until a cold rush of fear washes over him and his anxiety starts to spike. He breathes through it, following the instructions of his therapist to the letter, until he's in control of it again.
The_Michaelsword: cant even play games rn, makes me too dizxy and then i starty gettingf sick ahain
The_Michaelsword: so i;ve been listening to the radio and being really bored mostly
The_Michaelsword: how ar eyou though? not sicj I hope?
AngelofThursday: I'm fine, yes.
AngelofThursday: Although I need your guidance, if you are well enough to give it.
The_Michaelsword: sure man. w/e you need.
Michael was always so generous. James genuinely didn't know what he would do without him.
AngelofThursday: I ran into this post on Tumblr recently. (dear-fellow-guysstop-hitting-on-women-at-work)
AngelofThursday: And now I feel like a terrible person.
The_Michaelsword: gimme a sec to read it
The_Michaelsword: this about your coffee-shop guy
Michael starts and stops a few times, clearly looking for the right turn of phrase.
The_Michaelsword: ok, I;ve done a lot of service industry jobs ove the years and i#ve seen a lot of crap like this
The_Michaelsword: been on the receieving end of it more than once too from men and women
The_Michaelsword: but this is talking about a specigfic type of behaviuor
The_Michaelsword: not jonesing afrter a hot waiter. There; a difference
AngelofThursday: There's still an abuse of power.
The_Michaelsword: no, theres an imbalance of power
The_Michaelsword: its only abuse if you force any action
The_Michaelsword: thats a different thing
This is a good point, and one which James has briefly considered but rejected because of his own actions. He says this to Michael.
The_Michaelsword: okay, so you over tipped, smiled at the guy a fe wtimes, and you;ve been tryin to flirt with him
The_Michaelsword: I mean the poeple who wrote these posts are right, but you gotta give yourslef some credit here
The_Michaelsword: have ou made this guy uncomfortable? is he avoiding you or getting help to deal with you?
AngelofThursday: Honestly, i'm not even sure he's noticed that I'm trying to flirt with him. I'm very bad at it.
The_Michaelsword: howd you know he was even into men if you didnt put the moves on a little?
AngelofThursday: I overheard him talking to his co-worker about a man he's hung up on. So I knew I would have a chance, but I thought I would try to give him some time to get over this man before asking him out.
The_Michaelsword: none of that says abuse of power to me tbh. litle vreepy maybe
The_Michaelsword: gotta say though sometimes it takes more than a few months to get over someone
The_Michaelsword: ive been tryna get over someone for years and it aint worked yet
AngelofThursday: Your unrequited thing? Years? You should have told me sooner.
There's another long silence from Michael, but this time there's no starting and stopping, just no words.
The_Michaelsword: dude you dont get to criticise me for havin secrets
The_Michaelsword: ivet old you stuff ive mever told another person b4
The_Michaelsword: im not the one in this freindship who keeps all the fuckin secrets
AngelofThursday: Michael, I'm sorry
The_Michaelsword: thats not my name
The_Michaelsword: look whatever im tired and ill and im prolly takin it out on you
The_Michaelsword is offline
James is sitting in stunned silence when Gabe comes crashing in to the house. He's been out drinking, and he's loud and unco-ordinated.
“Cassie!” he cries joyously at his brother. “Cassie Cassie Cassie you should've come out this evening it was great. We drank all of the liquor,” he stage-whispers, swaying a little. “But I saved you some! Look!”
A half-empty bottle of something called yellow chartreuse is thrust at him and Gabe throws himself onto the couch beside him.
“Drink, Cassie! It's good! It's the holidays!”
“Please don't call me that, Gabriel,” James says with a sigh and a careful sniff at the liquor. “And it's not the holidays for at least another two weeks.”
“It's the pre-holidays! And I miss your name. Cas. Cassie. Cass tee ell. It's so pretty. Like you, you're very pretty, you have such pretty eyes.”
James drinks, and sighs, and gives his brother a hug. “I miss it too,” he whispers.
Ugh, I was going to link to the Tumblr post I saw on my dash a few times about a coffee shop worker explaining how the coffee shop AU trope was one that they hated because of the entitlement and frankly serious stalking shown by some customers, but I can't find it. If anyone knows where it is please send me a link! It was a really good argument and I wrote this with it specifically in mind.
Edit (7 March '17): A lovely reader found it! Thank you time a million to flyingcatstiel! Link is embedded in the text, or follow it here.
AngelofThursday: So where do you stand on the ending controversy?
The_Michaelsword: it felt kind of cheap but i;m not screaming at bw over it
AngelofThursday: I thought it was poorly sign-posted. But I am annoyed that they followed the tropes so closely.
AngelofThursday: I mean, on the one hand, yes of course, any soldier – and hero – would sacrifice themselves to save the galaxy. On the other hand, why are we still telling those stories? Does war in the future really need to mean death? Wasn't Anderson's sacrifice enough?
AngelofThursday: 9.9 Yes, I too feel sorry for Kaidan's hot ass.
Holidays are finally over and the students are back, and Dean's feeling pretty positive about the New Year, all told. The bakery's doing well, the shop's starting to pick up again, Cain's got a full-time contract and is saving up for a deposit on a flat, and the only downer is that Dean's relationship with Thurs is still going nowhere.
They're playing Halo together right now, chatting to each other in their private server whilst attempting to escape New Mombasa in LASO, and Dean's trying not to let it get to him that Thurs just shot down another approach at meeting up this year.
AngelofThursday: I'm sorry, I just... I can't right now.
AngelofThursday: I swear I have good reasons, and it's not that I don't trust you personally, but I can't drop my anonymity.
AngelofThursday: :( I promise I will tell you as soon as my circumstances change.
The_Michaelsword: guess that;s fair
Fair, yes, but not fun. Dean's tired of this; he's been pining after this guy for months, years really, and it's starting to feel like his life's on hold.
But if he pulls back from his friendship with Thursday, Thursday won't have anyone. Dean knows how to read between the lines; the guy basically has Dean, and a roommate, and some professional contacts. He doesn't talk about going out, even in generalities; he doesn't talk about workmates, or parties, or anything like that.
Okay, Dean's got no social life either, but a lot of that is the anti-social hours he pulls. Now that the bakery's better staffed and the business is doing well, he doesn't have to keep working himself so hard. And he has plenty of friends, although admittedly he works with most of them. They do go out drinking sometimes, though. And he hangs with Charlie whenever she's in town, and they talk online all the time.
Point is, Dean could survive without Thursday's friendship, although he's miss it. But he's not sure about the other way around, and he can't outright ask. Well, he could, but he'd probably just offend the guy or something.
The_Michaelsword: watch out for the hunters
AngelofThursday: One coming up on your left. Other one's stuck in the door trying to reach me.
AngelofThursday: I'm out of grenades though, you got any?
Dean keeps his nerve and pops the Hunter sneaking up on him in the back with his pistol, dropping it, before lobbing a couple of stickies at the one pinning Thurs down.
The_Michaelsword: who#s yuour hero?
AngelofThursday: (9_9) You are.
AngelofThursday: Not in any way. :P
The_Michaelsword: lol. inc brutes
And it's fun, and relaxing, and it's almost like they're sitting the same room, and it's only once they've finished for the night and Dean's lying in bed that the pain and emptiness really hits him.
He rarely cries, but if a single tear slips out to dampen his pillow, he's the only one who will ever know.
Study/Break is bustling with students chattering away about their new classes, but they're all on the Break side of the room, so there's plenty of space for James to sit in Study. He's doing a Halo retrospective this week, inspired by his recent play-through with Michaelsword, for his own gaming blog rather than one of the sites he freelances for.
He works steadily at it for an hour until the lure of more coffee becomes too strong, and he joins the small queue, waiting patiently in line until the counter is clear.
It’s Over Achieving Kevin again today. “Hello, how can I help you,” he says unenthusiastically.
Dean sticks his head round the door. “Jesus, Kev, put a little pep into it,” he hisses.
“It’s Clarence! He’s a regular! I don’t need to be polite!” Kevin hisses back, before turning to James with a mildly embarrassed look. “I don’t have to, right?”
James surprises himself by laughing aloud, wrinkling his nose and grinning widely and fondly at the two of them. “No, being rude is fine. I’ll still tip you.”
“Awesome. See?” Kevin sticks his tongue out at Dean, who ducks back in to the kitchen with a scowl. He reappears while Kevin is making James’s Kenyan roast, and carefully and silently sprinkles a small amount of flour over the younger man’s hair, winking at James as he does so.
It’s hard to keep a straight face, but James manages it; he was well-trained by Gabriel in their youth in keeping quiet when mischief was afoot. He returns to his seat with Kevin none the wiser.
It takes another half hour before Kevin realises, to the hilarity of Dean and the amusement of the patrons. When James goes up to pay Kevin's still swearing vengeance, holding his head upside down and trying to shake as much flour out as he can. It’s not really working. Dean, meanwhile, is taking photos and sniggering, eyes bright and gleeful; it’s a welcome change to see genuine good humour on him, instead of his friendly-but-superficial customer face.
Dean turns his thousand-watt grin to James, who tries not to melt like a school-girl – he can actually hear several of the college girls behind him sigh in unison, a Greek Chorus of desire to his loveless hero. “Cashing up? That’s $10.37.”
James hands his card over and Dean swipes it through the reader, handing the receipt over to sign. Dean’s looking at the card with a hint of melancholy, his good mood evaporated. “Is it Cassiel?”
James stills. “No,” he replies, as neutrally as he can. This is bad. This is... very bad.
“Weird name,” Kevin comments. “You run out of all of the other Cs?”
“Just… thinking about a guy I know.” Dean’s eyes are desolate. James can’t imagine why.
Kevin puts it together for him, though. “Oh, your guy,” he says knowingly. “What’s it mean?”
“Angel of Thursday,” Dean sighs. “Oh, wait, there's a variation on it too. Uh... Castiel? Is that it?”
James is frozen in place as fear grips him tightly. “That's not my middle name,” he manages choke out. “I have to go. Thank you for the service.” He walks stiffly out of the shop, and he pretends to himself that he didn't hear the little, broken whisper behind him as he goes.
Sent: 01/17/17 23.59
Subject: Hey man
weirdest thing happened today at work, I think one of the regulars has one of the names of the real angel of thursday. Not sure though, the guy seemed pretty werided out by it all. You;re not online but I thought i#d email you to let you know/
it;d be wild if we already knew each other , rihgt? Crazy small world stuff right there. Anyway, hope you;re okay, ttyl.
Sent: 01/24/17 20.16
Subject: you okay?
So it;s been a week and no sign of you online, I guess you#re ill or something? Just wanted to let you know I was thinking about you and I hope you're doing okay.
And just so you know, if I did accidentally meet you last week or whatever, I'd never tell anyone anything about you. I know you're worried about keeping your privacy and i'd never want to breach it. I mean probably not, right? Chances are really small. But, you know, thought i'd say it anyway.
Sent: 01/29/17 03.20
im tryin real hard not to spam you with messages but I miss you and I don't understand why you won't speak to me and god, just talk to me.
Sent: 02/05/17 05.48
Subject: seriously dude?
I know you were online the other night, I was on xbox live too, and you just ignore me? You're just stopping speaking to me because I guessed your big secret by complete accident?
Fuck you. Seriously. I spent three weeks terrified you were dead, i've not seen you anywhere, and you don't even have the decency to tell me anything about it?
Not even a goodbye, man? Am I really not even worth that much to you?
Sent: 02/14/17 22.31
Subject: I'll stop bothering you after this, I swear.
Okay, you've made your point, you clearly want nothing to do with me in whatever capacity, I'll leave you alone.
Probably for the best, I guess. Just wish it hurt less. I miss you, but I ain't gonna keep doing this to myself any more. I'm wiping my hard drive and getting rid of my x-box so I can't drunk email you again (sorry about those again btw). I guess you know where I work, anyway, assuming you ever want to get in touch with me again.
Dean's wearing his chef's hat today. The original paper raincloud hat withered under constant usage, so Benny (the dick) sewed him up a more permanent replacement, and now his head is accompanied by three clouds, in varying shades of dark and brooding.
He'd laugh at it, but, well, he doesn't do that any more. Sam and Cain are talking about doctors and medication and therapy; Kev, Eileen, and Kate all keep him well-supplied with chocolates and Dr Sexy marathons, and Charlie keeps trying to talk him into larping with her again.
Dean gave his X-Box to Sam last month and wiped his laptop clean of everything, the way Charlie showed him how. It's sitting in the tiny cupboard that doubles as an office, replacing the old desktop admirably.
He knows he's been a little... dramatic in his cutting off all ties, but he's honestly got to do it. He doesn't have the willpower to stay away. He's said everything he wants to, and he has to stop himself from saying any more. He's devastated about how it ended, how could he not be? But he's starting to move on, a little. Sure, he's still wearing the hat, and he doesn't deal with customers any more, and he cries when Dr Sexy gets back together with Dr Piccolo, but he's doing a lot better.
Eileen throws a napkin at him. “Going to the toilet,” she signs. “Cover for me.” Dean rolls his eyes but signs his assent. Nothing to do in the kitchen, anyway; Benny and Cain were on this morning, and they make a terrifyingly efficient team.
Cas wants to go in, but he can't. He keeps trying. This is the third time this week he's wandered casually past Study/Break, and each time Dean hasn't been on the counter, and he's too afraid to go in and ask after him. Sooner or later he'll manage it, but today is not this day; the tall and intimidating Sam is on instead, and Cas is pretty sure he's Dean's brother, and he just... can't face him. Not after all of those heart-rending messages, not after the overheard conversations, not after everything.
He turns the corner to see Meg strolling down the street towards him, and ducks into the bakery he's always walked past but never entered before. The smell of bread and pastry makes him feel welcome and warm, and he browses the counter carefully.
One wall is covered in numbers written in an even hand, and it takes him a while to realise that it's all the number pi, hundreds of numbers long. Each of the short-crust pies has a tiny π carved in it and he's charmed with the conceit.
Then he sees the boxes of Pride Macarons and gasps out loud. Every Pride flag he can identify, and several he can't, is represented there. There's a little note beside them: “Each flavour is unique! 10% of all proceeds from these macarons goes to the Rainbow Road home for LGBTQIA youth! Choose your own flag, or pick your favourite flavour combination, we won't judge!”
He's bowed down over the boxes of the tiny treats, trying to work out which ones he should get, when he hears someone come in. “I like the blue, red and purple one best, but the rainbow flag is our best-seller.” He'd recognise that voice anywhere.
Cas is afraid to stand up, but he does, meeting Dean's eyes. “Hello, Dean,” he says gravely.
Dean's turned sheet-white and the – are those clouds? - around his hat are trembling slightly. “James. You came back.” His voice is a terrible thing, fear and longing tangled into one.
“Yes. Well, no. But I wanted to. I – I didn't know this was yours too,” he confesses. Dean's face shutters closed at that, and Cas hastens to add, “But I wanted to! I've been trying to work up the nerve for a week. Well, six weeks, really, but I've been out of town, so I couldn't do it in person.”
“Oh,” Dean says softly.
“And my name isn't James. Well, uh, James is my middle name. The credit card I paid with got the names the wrong way round, so it was the only one that I managed to keep after I... got hacked, a couple of years ago,” Cas blurts out in a rush. “I can't really – I still don't like talking about it but I owe you an explanation and I don't want you to think – I mean, if I'd known, if I'd suspected anything I would never have – but I'm terrible at social cues and I was so afraid Lucifer would find me again and – anyway, I – I would like a pie. And a box of Pride macarons.”
Dean's looking slightly bewildered now, and he doesn't move, but a dark-haired woman Cas has never seen before elbows him out of the way. “Sorry, what was that?” she asks. Cas repeats his order and she draws out which type of pie, any special requests, and if he wants it gift-boxed or not, before efficiently moving around Dean and collecting his order.
She pokes Dean once she's finished and her hands flash in what must be ASL, making Dean scowl at her and blush faintly as he moves to the till. “That's $35, please,” he says mechanically. Cas hands over one of his cards – his real cards, finally available for his use again.
“So, Castiel James Novak,” Dean says finally.
“Yes. It's the name of the Angel of Thursday, tears, and solitude,” Cas says. “I prefer Cas.”
“Yeah, I can, uh, I can see that.” Dean contines staring at him as Eileen hands over the bag of treats. Cas scribbles hurriedly on the back of his receipt and hands it back to Dean.
“I'll be in Study/Break tomorrow,” he says, suddenly shy again. “If you would – I would like it if you would read the article on that website. You'll know the one. And then, if you would like to speak to me, I'll be in. Well. I'll be in your coffee-shop.”
Dean still looks confused, but he nods slowly, and gives Cas a tiny smile, and suddenly Cas has hope again.
TROJAN HORDE CONVICTED OF THEFT, IDENTITY FRAUD
The gang of doxxers known as the Trojan Horde has been convicted of theft and sentenced to over a hundred years in jail collectively. Led by the charismatic alt-right figurehead known online as Lucifer, the Trojan Horde first achieved notoriety in gaming circles when they began doxxing various well-known LGBTA games commentators over two years ago. However, an FBI investigation has revealed that the gang also stole from various LGBTA charities and activists, committed identify fraud, and were part of a wider network of cyberterrorists who funnelled money around the world to various criminal and terrorist organisations...
POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL: OUTED GAMERS SPEAK
...Castiel Novak, who has waived his anonymity, shares a similar story of the fall-out of being doxxed. “I was fired the day after it started,” he says. “The company I worked for didn't want anything to do with me. I lost my job, my house, my bank accounts, my pension, my credit rating... it was a nightmare. I had no way to prove my identity and recover my assets.”
Novak continued to blog about gaming, and has managed to turn it into a career. “I already had a small blog that I had made sure to keep totally separate from my birth name so that it wouldn't impact on any search-engine results of my name. That survived Lucifer's attack. I was lucky enough to have sold some pieces to a few industry sites, and moved on from there. So I actually wrote more about the gaming industry after being doxxed than before, ironically.”
...For Castiel Novak, the answer is obvious. “Online space is inextricably linked to what people like to call the “real world”,” he says. “Our various identities are interwoven through our lives, and what we do online reflects on us as people. There are already laws against stalking, identity theft, theft, and so on; the judicial system needs to apply those better, and to stop viewing online harassment as something that can be walked away from. Targeted online attacks are criminal violence, and they should be treated as such.”
He's lucky to have had the support of an FBI agent who is very up-to-date with the digital age. “Crime is crime, regardless of where it takes place,” says Agent Henrickson. “My task force is working hard to protect US citizens online, and to prosecute criminals. The successful prosecution of Nick Morgenstern is another step towards better protections for all Americans...”
Dean's sitting at the work desk looking at the articles again when Meg sticks her head through the door. “He's here, Deano. Offer to kill him still stands.”
He shakes his head, a little afraid she's not joking. “I gotta at least talk to him, Meg,” he responds tiredly. “I owe him that much.”
“You don't owe him shit,” she snaps back, scowling. “I don't care what his reasons are, he made a lot of choices which hurt you, and you get to be angry about that. Put yourself first, for once.”
Meg is prickly, and angry, and her compliments are always kind of insulting at the same time, but Dean's eternally grateful for her support through all of this mess. He pushes himself up and out of the office, kissing her cheek on the way past. “Thanks, Meg. I'll let you know how it goes.”
James-Thurs-Castiel is sitting nervously at a table in the Break side, twisting his fingers together and shooting nervous glances at Kev, who's glaring at him and banging the coffee machine a lot. Dean shoots him a quelling look. “You'll make the other customers uncomfortable,” he murmurs. He makes himself a macchiato and puts it on a tray with Castiel's hot chocolate, taking a mini-pie to eat for a late lunch.
“Fine, but if you need me to spill anything on him just say the codeword,” Kev mutters back. “I got your back.” He gives Dean a quick and surprising hug, and Dean wonders what he's done to deserve such great friends and co-workers.
The walk to the table is short but feels like it takes forever, one leaden foot in front of the other. Dean puts the tray down carefully, not spilling a drop. “Your hot chocolate.” He takes a seat, and cradles his macchiato.
The man in front of him, this stranger/friend, reaches for his much larger mug with trembling hands before pulling them back and rubbing them together again. “Hello, Dean,” he says softly. “I'm – I'm very glad you're here. Thank you for coming.”
Dean nods acknowledgement, but stays silent. Castiel clears his throat and bites his lips. It's a lot more endearing than Dean would like it to be.
“Did you read the articles? It's not an explanation but it helps with the background, and I – honestly, I really...” he trails off and sighs deeply. “I still find it hard to talk about.”
As much as Dean's trying to cling to anger to get him through this without some kind of messy public breakdown, he feels bad for the guy. Castiel's clearly trying really hard to control his nerves, and Dean's sure that Kev and Meg both made it clear that he was disliked here. “Yeah, I did,” he replies. “Sorry you had to go through all of that crap, it must have been awful. And I'm glad you got your stuff back.” He really is, too. He's been robbed before, and he's had to abandon stuff in countless temporary homes; Dean knows what it feels like to be rootless against his will.
Castiel swallows hard. “Thank you,” he whispers, and he clears his throat and finally takes a drink. Good thing Kev was on today, he has too much professional pride to add salt or too much chilli or whatever. “You must have questions.”
Dean shrugs. “I did, sure. But I figured I was never gonna get any answers, so I tried to forget them. Look, I – I don't know what you want, here. I really thought you hated me. I've had, like, the worst seven weeks of my entire life, and then you turn up yesterday and throw everything back up in the air again, and now I don't really know what to think.”
Castiel – no, he said he preferred Cas – looks at him with eyes full of guilt and pain. “I'm so sorry,” he says. “For everything I put you through. I should have told you the whole story years ago, but I was too afraid that Lucifer would find me again, and I needed to feel in control of my life, so I kept my identity secret. It never occurred to me that that would hurt you, at the time. I was selfish, and wrong, and I deeply, truly regret it.”
Dean's turn to bite his lips and look away. “I get why you didn't tell me, I was just some guy off the internet,” he replies gruffly. “I wouldn't have trusted me either.”
“But I did! Honestly. I did trust you. I do trust you. I was more afraid that Lucifer would do the same to you, at the start, and you'd only just opened your own bakery. Which I now realise is round the corner.” He gives a small quirk of his lips.
It's the obvious cop-out answer, but Dean reads sincerity in Cas's eyes and voice, and eight years of talking means that he knows that Cas is blunt and honest and cares about other people. He nods slowly. “I get that. Although seriously, man, how did you not know about Slice of Pi? We have signs up and everything.”
Cas blushes, and it's so disgustingly cute that the ice around Dean's heart thaws a little. “I'm not very observant. You might have noticed.”
He manages to pull a snort of laughter from Dean, which makes it the first in, well, a while. “Once or twice, yeah,” he grins, and Cas smiles back at him, and shit, Dean's a goner. RIP Dean Michael Winchester, died March 2017 of too many goddamn feelings.
Cas looks away again before Dean can get too moon-eyed. “As far as my most recent appalling lapse in communication goes, I spent a month wrapped up in the court case and all the business of reclaiming my possessions. Although – that's not quite true. The first few days, I spent terrified out of my mind that you were going to publish my information and that Lucifer would find me again.” He swallows and stared at the table. “I'm not exactly well-balanced,” he admits. “I have some mental health issues which were exacerbated by this whole business, and I couldn't control them. I'm doing... better, now, I think, but it's going to take some time before I'm more, well, functional.”
“I always knew you were crazy, Thurs, it's one of the things I lo – like about you,” Dean says without thinking. Stupid mouth, always running off, but it's worth it for the minute relaxation in Cas's shoulders.
“By the time I read your emails you were completely out of contact, except by coming here, and I was still stuck in Chicago dealing with my accountant and attorney,” Cas continues. “And then by the time I got here, I was too afraid again for another week,” with a sigh. “I'm not sure I can forgive myself for the extra misery my cowardice added to your already considerable burden.”
Dean's spent a long time working with highly-strung people, and he knows how his own self-hatred works pretty well by this point, too. “I'm not gonna lie to you and say that it was a fun experience for me, because that's bullshit,” he says carefully. “But it's over now. And don't call your mental health stuff cowardice, either. The only reason why it hurt so bad was because of how much your friendship means to me.”
Really, Dean had already forgiven Thursday three weeks ago when he closed his laptop after that last email and settled in for some serious moping. The great thing about blaming yourself, in Dean's opinion, is that it makes forgiving other people much easier. But he'd spent all night reading and re-reading all of the articles he could find on Lucifer and the Trojan Horde, going over past conversations in his mind, and trying to work out how he was feeling. He'd even voluntarily spilled his guts to Sam, who's only not spying on this because he's in a lab this afternoon.
Meg'll kick his ass for this, but she's out of earshot. “I forgive you, Cas, it's okay.”
Dean's words ease the pain in Cas's soul caused by his own thoughtless, selfish actions, but Cas knows that he has more to make up for than just these past seven weeks. The deep bags under Dean's eyes attest to long hours and little good sleep, and the pallor of his skin shows that he's not being going out. He's lost some weight, as well, his clothes hanging badly over his frame.
He's still the most beautiful man Cas has ever actually spoken to, though, and his smile is almost supernaturally brilliant. “I don't think I deserve it, but I do value your forgiveness,” Cas says. “As you said, your friendship means a great deal to me. I would like to continue it, if that's amenable to you.” He's speaking like a dictionary again, but he can't rein it in.
Dean looks uncertain, rubbing the back of his neck and biting his lip. “I'm not sure it can be like it was before, Cas,” he says softly, regretfully. “I've been miserable these past few weeks but, uh, I guess, I sort of... I don't know, man. Just the way it was before feels like a step backwards.”
Cas sucks in a breath, but he can't deny the truth of it. “It can't be the same, after all this,” he agrees. “We both need to redefine our relationship with each other, in light of all this. And I certainly need to learn who I am again.”
“Yeah, what's that like? Going back to your real name?” Dean seems more concerned than nosy. He nibbles some of the pie in front of him.
“Strange,” admits Cas. “Like wearing an old coat that doesn't quite fit any more. It's comfortable and I like it, but...”
“Yeah, I get that,” Dean nods. “You were always Thurs to me, it's strange enough putting that together with your actual name.”
Cas laughs quietly. “I still call you Michael in my head. Where did your handle come from? I don't think you ever told me.”
“No, we kept that off the table, huh. Well, Michael's my middle name, and Sam got super into this series of books by some hack writer when he was a kid, and “the Michaelsword” was a title given to one of them who got possessed by the Archangel Michael Or, well, was supposed to. But I loved the sound of the name, so I started using it in emails and chat rooms, and once I moved into MMOs I stuck with it.”
Cas blinks, taken aback by the coincidence. “I did something similar with Angel of Thursday, although of course it's taken from my first name.”
“Didn't know anything about that, but it was enough similarity for me to, I dunno, get a good feeling about you. Plus you were a hell of a healer. And then that one time the tank lagged out and you stepped in, man that was awesome.”
The memory is enough to make Cas smile again, and Dean brightens visibly from it. Cas's heart aches, but he can't bring himself to talk about the other thing, not yet, not now, not while everything is so fragile. “It was your friendliness towards other players that made me want to keep talking to you. You always helped the new players, even when they were annoying, and you were kind to the obvious kids.”
“Well, we were all noobs and kids once,” Dean says, dismissing the compliment in his usual fashion. Watching his face while he's doing it is much more revealing than just waiting for a written response, though; he's uncomfortable with the praise, and he doesn't seem to believe it. “Man, I wish I hadn't given the X-Box to Sammy, we could've gone upstairs to dick around on Diablo or something. Make it like old times again.”
“We could meet up at mine some time instead? If you wanted?” Cas asks cautiously. “I'm still living with Gabriel until my finances are locked down, but I have an excellent gaming set-up there. And he adores your pies, so I'm sure he'd hardly torment you at all.”
“I know a Gabe who gets pies a lot,” Dean muses. “Short guy, blondish hair? Always eating something? Likes the sound of his own voice?” He finishes eating his pie, licking crumbs off his lips. Cas tries not to follow the movement with his eyes, but it's hard.
“The very same,” Cas sighs. “He's my brother. I didn't tell you that part, I think. I was paranoid about giving away any information that could be used to identify me.”
“Huh. Small world. He taught Sam a couple years back.” Dean drains the last of his tiny cup of coffee, looking thoughtful. “Yeah, I'd like that,” he says slowly. “It'd be good to hang in person. Let me give you my cell number, it'll take me a while to get back online properly.” He shoots a rueful smile at Cas. “Plus it means you won't be glared at by anyone here. Sorry about Meg and Kev.”
“They're just being protective of you,” Cas shrugs. “I would do the same in their position.” He catches Over Achieving Kevin's eyes and offers him a small smile. Kevin purses his lips and looks away, but there's no outright hostility any more, which Cas supposes is progress. He wonders what he did to deserve it.
Dean pulls a face, and checks the time. “I gotta get to work,” he says, scribbling a phone number on his napkin. “Text me when you're ready for company, okay? It's okay if you take your time, I get that things must be real hard for you right now.” He gives Cas a brief but sympathetic smile, gathering his crockery together.
Cas stands as well, slightly awkward. Should he shake Dean's hand, or..? Dean solves his dilemma by giving him a genial pat on the back as he moves back to the counter. “I will,” Cas promises. “As soon as I can. It's been – thank you for being so understanding. It's far more than I deserve.”
Dean starts to say something and cuts himself off, running a hand over his face. “Let me be the judge of that, huh? Take care of yourself, Cas.” He disappears into the kitchen. Cas watches him go.
Kevin is staring at him oddly. “You don't have to pay, Dean said it was on the house,” he says to Cas, a little grumpily. He glances back through the kitchen door and turns back with a fierce look. “You hurt him again and we're all coming after you. Even Charlie, and she's not even here. Just so you know. We'll get you good.”
Cas is so startled he actually takes a step back. “That's... perfectly fair and reasonable,” he replies after a moment. “I'm glad he has such good friends in his life. I'll do my best not to do anything that will end my life prematurely.”
The glare fades slightly. “Fine. Just don't forget it. He's been a nightmare to work with for ages. I'd quite like there not to be drama this semester, I have a lot of papers due. Plus it would be great not to wonder if he's flavoured the bread with his own tears or find him in a heap at the bottom of the stairs again.” Kevin takes a deep, calming breath. “You fucked him up hugely, and he might have forgiven you for it, because he's a lo- an idiot, but we won't forget. Got it?”
Cas just nods in return, eyes wide. Kevin clearly reads sincerity in his face, because he waves him off, still muttering about Dean.
Hello Dean, this is Cas. I was wondering if you'd like to meet this week for a few hours' gaming?
Hey cas thursday evening okay? Working most of the rest of the time
Of course. I'll see you then.
Oh, you'll need the address, of course. 2703 Brandywine Street, Flat 5.
lol see you then
got time for more gaming this week? I have friday off completely
Sure. Gabriel says if you bring more pie he'll have your babies and also buy some good beer.
Sweet deal, see you fri
so how was your show
Amazing! :D :D :D I can't stop singing!
People are complaining. Subways are boring.
Dude r u drunk?
High on HAMILTON! Also sparkling wine.
There's a late showing of Doom, would you like to go? It starts at 10.
sure, meet at the cinema or study break?
Study/Break, it's in walking distance.
See you then
Dean's nearly at the end of his shift when the office phone rings. It's a little late in the day for it to be a supplier, so he figures it's probably a customer ringing in a special order; some people prefer to use the phone rather than the internet, even in 2017.
He answers with a cheery “Slice of Pi, Dean speaking, how can I help you?” He scrambles for the notepad, which is underneath today's mail, and grabs a pen.
No need, though. “Dean! It's Andrea. I need Benny, please, right now!” She sounds frantic and Dean's yelling for Benny before she even finishes asking.
Benny takes the phone with a smile that drops almost instantly. “Andrea – what? Where? I'll be there. See you soon.” He's pale and tense when he looks at Dean next. “My little girl's sick,” he whispers, and Dean's never seen him afraid like this before, not even when they got mugged and the guy pulled a gun. “Andrea's taking her to the ER.”
“Go. I got it here,” Dean says, and pulls Benny in for a hug. “She'll be fine, you'll see. Let me know when she is, okay?”
Benny clings back briefly, but when he pulls away he has his business face on. He doesn't bother getting changed, just pulls on his jacket and pulls off his bandanna. “I will, brother, as soon as I know anything. Thank you. I mean it.” And he's out the back door in a flash and running for his car.
Well, that's Dean's plans for the night ruined. He's about to text Cas to let him know when the bell and flasher for Slice of Pi goes off, and he has to cover the till this evening as well.
It's a busy night, and the counters are almost empty by the time Slice of Pi closes. Kate's still working the counter in Study/Break, so Dean has plenty of time to get the rest of the morning prep done, starting the dough rising and letting the batter settle overnight, cleaning all of the counters and restocking and organising the shelves for Meg and Cain on the morning shift.
Cain's well into his groove, now, churning out macarons like they're going out of style (fortunately for their bottom line they're not) and expanding their repertoire into delicate choux pastry confections that are getting a loyal crowd. Another year of this, and Dean's going to start thinking seriously about opening another venue, so that the patisserie part of the business can really take off.
Cain's promised to fill Dean's honey requirements for this summer's LARP events, too, through an old friend in the bee-keeping scene he's back in contact with (that little snippet raised a lot more questions than were answered). Dean's really looking forward to enhancing Charlie's court by making her loyal subjects real, stone-baked flat cakes. Should help with the politics as well, and he's bound to get a couple of assassination or kidnapping attempts himself, which are always fun to fight through. He has some surprises up his sleeve, he's been practising. Maybe he should see if Cas wants to come along? It seems like the sort of thing he might like.
Dean's stabbing an imaginary enemy through the heart with a wooden spoon when Kate pokes her head in through the doorway. “Your guy's here to see you,” she says. “Are you air drumming? I thought we agreed no more air drumming after the skewer incident.” She looks pointedly at the hole in the wall with a frame around it.
“What? No, I was, uh, I was pretending to kill someone,” Dean admits sheepishly.
“Right. That's better. Much more grown-up.” Kate rolls her eyes and ducks back out.
“Shut up, I'm a successful business owner, I'm totally an adult,” Dean begins, following after her. Cas is standing by the counter, looking pretty sharp and - “Oh, shit, I totally forgot to text you,” Dean groans.
“Really great adulting there, boss. Ten out of ten.” Kate's dry remark takes the sting of disappointment out of Cas's face when he realises Dean's still in work clothes.
Dean pulls a face at Kate and takes Cas off to the side. “I'm really sorry, Cas, Benny's kid's been taken to hospital so I agreed to cover for him, and I was gonna text you but I forgot.”
“Oh, dear, I hope she's okay,” Cas says, eyes wide and worried.
Feeling really guilty that he'd managed to put Benny's problems out of his mind earlier and was dicking about in the kitchen like nothing was wrong, Dean holds one finger up and goes to the office to grab his phone, heading back through to the coffee shop and reading through the terse messages from Benny. “Looks like she's doing better now, the fever's coming down,” he reports with relief. “Andrea was worried it was meningitis but apparently there's some bug going around, docs think it's probably just that. They're gonna send her home after her blood work comes back.”
Cas looks relieved. “That's good. Don't you close soon though? We might be able to make the film, even if we can't get food.”
Dean hates to burst his hopeful bubble, but he's got to. “I'm really sorry man, I got a couple of deliveries to make after I close up here,” he says reluctantly. “Usually wrap up some time round eleven.” Cas looks really bummed, and Dean's kicking himself over not letting him know earlier, so he thinks quickly. “If you wanted to hang, though, there's no reason why you can't come with. It's not exactly the same as Karl Urban killing demons, but...”
“I won't get in the way?” Cas looks torn between hopeful and concerned.
“Nah, not at all. I won't even make you work. I wouldn't have asked if I hadn't wanted you to come, don't worry,” he adds at Cas's obvious lingering doubts.
Cas gives him a shy smile at that, a faint blush staining his cheeks. Dean's stomach flips over at the sight; does it mean something? Maybe Cas is finally over the hot barista he was jonesing after.
Dean works out that they've just been staring at each other when Kate kicks him in the ankle. “Ow! Uh, coffee while you wait? I'm gonna be a little while yet but I should be able to wrap up soon.”
“That would be lovely. Decaff, though, please.”
“Right, sure. Kate, get Cas whatever he wants, okay? I'll be getting the delivery ready.”
Kate wrinkles her nose at him but gets to work. “Yeah, yeah. Go make bread.”
With a last wave at Cas, Dean sets back to work, and this time he's motivated to go as fast as possible. Not that that's much faster than normal, truth be told, he's always pretty efficient at shutting the place down – he's done it half asleep before now and still been perfect – but he can get Slice of Pi squared away now instead of leaving it until later, as long as he keeps an eye out for the rolls that are currently baking.
He hears occasional laughter coming from Study/Break, both Kate's and Cas's, and it's a little worrying that they're talking because it's probably about him. Still, it's good that Cas is actually getting along with one of the team; the few times Cas has been in over the past few weeks have seen quite a lot of glares coming his way from various people. Meg thawed pretty quickly, she says she's a sucker for a pretty face, and Benny's just glad that Dean's not moping around the place any more. But Cain and Sam can't look at Cas without daggers coming out of their eyes, and Kev's been kind of weird. Like he's watching Cas and Dean together all the time, and judging them.
Eileen's been great, though. She's Employee of the Month for sure. Or she would be if they had one of those. Possibly Employee Getting On Dean's Nerves The Least would work better. He might have to think about that later, it seems like it should be a thing. One that Sam could never, ever win. Yeah, seems an awful lot like a good idea.
Whistling cheerily to himself, Dean finishes the rest of his chores.
This is not how tonight was supposed to go, but Cas is grateful to be able to spend any time at all with Dean, and he's determined to make the most of the evening. He makes polite conversation with Kate about college (she's enjoying it), her romantic entanglements (her ex-boyfriend apparently threw her to the wolves), his work (he's got part-time accountancy work with a small firm, but he's still writing articles), and what Gabriel really did to piss the Head of Department off three years ago (rumours abound at Penn State, and Cas is happy to help clarify, especially after last week's saran wrap on the toilet incident).
Time passes quickly enough, and he helps her with the tables and chairs once the coffee-shop is closed. Dean comes out and gives them a frown. “Hey, I thought I told you I wasn't gonna make you work?” he asks accusingly.
“You did. I didn't,” Kate says with a smug smile. “I'll mop the kitchen if you wanna load the van.”
“Fine,” Dean grumbles back. “C'mon, Cas, leave her to do the work I pay her to do.”
“It's no problem, Dean, I'm nearly done,” Cas replies seriously. He's reassessing everything he knows about service industry staff; he'd never thought about the cleaning aspect of it, for some reason. Every table wiped down with anti-bacterial spray, every crumb swept, the long process of cleaning out the coffee machine; it's all fascinating and a little humbling.
“That's not the – okay, fine, let's get on with this.” Dean disappears back into the kitchen, and Cas settles in to sweep the floor while Kate cashes up. When she's finished, she takes the proceeds back to what Cas presumes is a safe, and returns with a mop and bucket.
“Come on, get into the kitchen,” she urges Cas, making little shooing motions with her hands. “There's a corridor to the left, office is there, you can wait while I mop and Dean does the heavy lifting.”
Cas looks around the kitchen with interest, noting the marks where two shops were joined into one by some previous entrepreneur, and peering at the kitchen implements. It's all very tidy and well laid out. He's not much of a baker or cook himself, but he can see the process quite clearly based on the different workstations.
He's just ducking into the office – a small and cramped former cupboard, by the look of it – when Dean closes the back door and stretches out with a groan. His shirt rides up, exposing a smooth pale stomach, with a tantalising dusting of hair drifting down toward his pants. Cas turns hastily and stares guiltily at a colour-coded delivery schedule tacked to the wall as Dean wanders through.
“Just another couple minutes, I need to get changed,” Dean says. Kate dives past him to grab her stuff and breezes into the toilet. “Make that four minutes,” he scowls, pulling off his t-shirt and throwing it into a laundry basket.
Dean is even more beautiful shirtless than he is normally, and Cas is afraid his heart might stop, or that the blood rushes to more than just his cheeks. He's well-acquainted with Dean's heavily-muscled arms and shoulders, the definition obvious even under well-washed and baggy t-shirts, but he's never noticed the shape of Dean's pectoral muscles, the way his nipples – rosy pink against his fair skin – stand out, pebbled from the cold outside. Cas's eyes are drawn inexorably downwards to complete the picture; Dean's freckles grow sparser and he's nearly hairless except for that dark line beginning on the slight swell of Dean's frankly delicious looking stomach.
“That's... fine,” Cas manages to get out of a mouth gone dry. Dean swings around and starts pulling his pants and shoes off; there's no artistry here, Cas isn't being teased, but it's still being burned into his mind for future self-pleasuring purposes. As Dean bends over to pull his jeans up, Cas has to smother a groan with a cough, and he turns round to hide his flaming face, wandering eyes, and obvious erection.
Dean misses the significance of his actions, thank goodness. “You okay? The flour can get in your nose sometimes.”
“It's – yes. It must be that. I'm fine. Thank you,” Cas stutters, wincing at his inability to form proper sentences.
Kate re-emerges from the toilet and exclaims,” Dean! Put your boobs away! Oh, wow, those could poke out someone's eye.” Oh, gods above and below, Dean's still partially nude. The temptation to turn round again is almost unbearable.
“It's cold out. And they get perky easy. Shuttup,” Dean says defensively, and the rustling suggests he's dressed now. “I gotta take a piss and then we can motor, okay? You want dropped off?”
“Yes please,” she says with a smile. Dean squeezes past her and Cas runs a hand over his eyes, trying to get himself back under control.
Kate's looking at him with amusement in her eyes when he turns to face her. “Enjoy the show?”
Cas is saved from having to answer by the swift reappearance of Dean, still drying his hands. He throws the towel into the laundry basket.
“Three points! And we're out. Come on, I'm gonna set the alarm.” Dean grabs his jacket and shoos Cas and Kate into the alley. The van's pulled up close to the door, and Kate unlocks the front passenger side and lets Cas in first. He sits nervously, waiting Dean's arrival.
It's a tight squeeze with all three of them on the bench of the old van, and Dean's hand brushes Cas's knee more than once when he has to change gear, but Cas doesn't complain. Every touch sends delicious shivers up his spine. Kate chats with Dean about various regulars, and Cas allows the noise to soothe his frayed nerves, although it's hard given that he's very much pressed up against Dean.
When Kate jumps out, Cas reluctantly slides over into the gap she leaves, and there's silence in the car for a short time before Dean turns the radio on. “So, enjoying tonight so far?”
“It's not exactly what I had anticipated, but I always enjoy spending time with you,” Cas replies.
Dean snorts in response. “Very diplomatic. Roads are pretty quiet so we should be done in 45 minutes or so, and then I can drop you home or you can come hang at mine? Cain's moved in to a place of his own so I have my space back.”
“Well, if you're not working too early tomorrow,” Cas begins carefully. Dean cuts him off with a wave.
“Nah, I'm just doing the evening shift tomorrow, it's no biggie. It would be cool to hang. I have Charlie's old X-Box now so we can play something and chill for a bit, sound good?”
Cas smiles widely at him and assents, and Dean grins back. He pulls up outside an older-looking church and parks. “Your choice whether you sit in the car or come inside with me, this is the first stop.”
The doors are open and there's a discrete sign advertising beds still available for the evening. “A homeless shelter?” Cas asks, getting out of the van.
Dean opens up the back of the van, revealing stacked pallets of bread rolls and various pastries. “Yeah, it's an inter-faith movement.” He starts to object when Cas takes the pallets he pulls out, but stops at the glare Cas turns on him. “Okay, okay, fine. But lift from your knees.”
“I didn't lift them, Dean, I'm just holding them,” Cas sighs, and Dean snorts a laugh, bringing out more stacked pallets full of rolls.
They're welcomed into the church by an older looking man who Cas is briefly surprised to see wearing a yarmulke before he realises that inter-faith must mean more here than just branches of Christianity, as it did in rural Illinois when he was young. The pallets are gratefully received and the hot pastries are being dished out before he and Dean are even out of the door.
Dean hums along to the radio when they're back in the car, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and forestalling any conversation. It takes a while to get round the city centre to another building, and Dean points at a low basement door. “We're going in there. All of the par-baked stuff is going here, so if you see anything frozen just haul it in, okay? It'll be a couple of trips.”
It's another homeless shelter, this one more permanent than the church venue. A couple of kids are waiting in the lobby to take the crates of food from them; they're slightly dirty and threadbare, but if Cas had passed them on the street, he would never have realised that they were homeless.
“They're so young,” he whispers to Dean as they go out for the next round.
Dean nods, and there's a look in his eyes that Cas doesn't understand, something old and shadowed. “Yeah, it's easy to fall through the cracks,” he agrees. “But this is a pretty good place, Chuck runs a tight ship and he's keeping an eye on the younger ones. I just wish I could give them work, but they're too young for it to be legal, yet,” he sighs.
A slight, bearded man is waiting for them on their return inside. He hands an envelope to Dean. “Next month's check,” he mutters. “And Becky sends her love to Cain.”
Dean nods and hands over his pallets. “I'll pass it along. He's got a flat, now, did you hear?”
The man brightens considerably. “That's great! Tell him congrats. He still doing okay? Not retreating into himself or anything?”
“Nah, he's great. Thinking about taking on more shop staff soon, so let me know if you got a kid who can work who's good with money and doesn't mind standing all day and dealing with customers. Might be able to train someone up in the kitchen too, an apprenticeship type thing? I need to discuss that with the rest of the kitchen though and see if we can get a grant or something. Pam mentioned it at the last meeting.”
“Yeah, she said you were interested. There are a couple of good kids who might be up for it. Current political climate's not very conducive to grants, though, so I won't spread it around.”
Dean pulls a face in return, and they shake hands before Dean heads out, Cas trailing in his wake. “One more stop,” Dean says. “This one's a bit of a walk, though, sorry.”
“It's okay.” Cas settles back into the van comfortably. “I didn't realise you did all of this, Dean. I haven't noticed any donation jars around Study/Break.”
“Nah, people get weird if they think homeless folks are taking their money, sometimes. Seen it before. The various religious types keep the ingredients flowing in, which is why the check, and I give them food back. I don't charge 'em for the ovens or the man-hours, and I can stretch the money further with wholesale deals. It all works out pretty well. I can't do a lot about giving people jobs, though, we're not big enough to warrant it.”
Dean opens up more about the trials of the business with some prompting, and Cas learns more about doing charitable work as a small business than he ever knew before as an accountant. It gives him one or two ideas for the future; he might be able to persuade some of the small businesses he's doing accounts for to help out like this, too. He'll have to investigate it.
The last delivery seems to be through a poorly-lit park and down towards an underpass. Cas has a sneaking suspicion of what they're here to do, and it's confirmed when a figure steps out of the shadows to collect the last small crate, this one piled full of the day's leftover stock and some filled pastries wrapped in tin foil. “Wait here,” Dean says quietly to Cas as they get closer. He waits under a light, hands by his sides, trying not to look like a cop.
Dean's back in a couple of minutes. “Sorry, they're not big on strangers. That's us done for the night, though.”
Cas is really glad he didn't know about this six months ago when his crush on The Beautiful Man was at its most hopeless and intense. “You really are the best man I know,” he says wonderingly. “How did you get to be so perfect?”
Dean gives him a disbelieving look. “I'm not perfect,” he scoffs. “I'm just – I've been homeless before, a couple times, when my dad was away and we got kicked out of a motel or whatever. Only for a couple days. So I wanna – I want to pay back what was done for me then, you know?”
Afraid to put his foot in his mouth and say something offensive, Cas is silent for a time. “I'm sorry you had to go through that,” he says softly. “But I'm still convinced you're perfect, I'm afraid.”
“Cas you can't – don't say that,” Dean pleads, stopping at the van. “I can't – it's not fair,” he murmurs, so soft Cas barely hears it.
“Why isn't it fair?” Baffled, Cas comes to a halt beside him instead of going round to the passenger side.
“It's just – you've got your hot barista, man, go call him perfect.” Dean runs a hand over his face.
Cas narrows his eyes. “I am telling the hot barista that he's perfect.”
Dean goggles at him. “Wait, what? Me? I'm your hot barista? I'm a baker, not a barista!” Dean exclaims, finally looking at Cas.
“You served me coffee,” Cas begins, but Dean cuts him off.
“Wait, that was you flirting? Oh my god, Cas, you need help.”
“Well, I did ask for help,” Cas points out.
“Yeah, you did.” Dean licks his lips, eyes fixed on Cas. “So you, uh, you think I'm hot?”
It's really fortunate there's no-one else around this time of night, that would be unbearable. “I believe I used the word perfect,” Cas says shyly.
Dean swallows. “Oh. Well, uh, that's, uh, thanks. I guess I should, uh... You know how I said I was hung up on someone?” He looks adorably awkward, twisting his hands together. Far less awkward than Cas feels, of course.
“I know it was me,” Cas rushes out. “I overheard a conversation with Sam that dropped some clues, and then Gabriel explained it all to me. Laboriously. With diagrams. And footnotes. It was... horrifying, if enlightening. Only, well, I'm too... I've been trying to find a way to tell you but I wasn't sure if you still -”
He's cut off by Dean surging forward, taking Cas's head in his hands, and kissing him long and sweet. It's almost gentlemanly.
The next kiss isn't, full of tongue and fire; and the one after that, Cas crowding Dean against the van and running his hands through his hair, gets them a wolf-whistle from across the street. They break apart, panting. “Uh,” Cas says. His eloquence always deserts him at the worst time.
Dean's staring at him in wonder, one hand braced back against the van and the other reaching for Cas's hand. “Would it be moving too fast if I invited you back to mine?”
Cas tilts his head in confusion. “You already invited me back to – oh. I see. I don't think it would be, no. I promise to respect you in the morning. And by respect I mean do it again.”
Dean gives him a slow smile through kiss-swollen lips. “Good.”
[Party] [Queen_of_Moons] : Focus you guys, we only have one more boss
[Party] [Sasquatch] : come on Dean, I finished studying early for this raid
[Party] [Queen_of_Moons] : They're doing it.
[Party] [Sasquatch] : oh god
[Party] [AngelofThursday] : Sorry, I was having a bio break
[Party] [The_Michaelsword] : me too
[Party] [Queen_of_Moons] : Told you.
[Party] [Sasquatch] : Gross Dean, you couldn't even wait five more minutes?
[Party] [AngelofThursday] : No. We couldn't. Now let's kill this guy before Dean falls asleep.
[Party] [Sasquatch] : tmi!!!1
[Party] [Queen_of_Moons] : ew, boy sex. Also, L O L.
[Party] [Sasquatch] : fml.
My first ever writing challenge, I feel so proud. *sniffle* Thanks again to everyone who supported me with this, and to the rest of the Pinefest writers and artists for making something that my goth heart is proud to be a part of.
Obviously as of publication the art links are still to come, so if you want to see that then hit subscribe and you'll get the notification, or hit me up on tumblr at knittedgauntlets. I'll edit the notes when I'm done as well. Probably.
I hope you enjoyed it, please check out the rest of the Pinefest entries if you haven't, free free to let me know what you think, and hopefully I'll see you at the next Pinefest!