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[artwork by mooselephant.tumblr.com; thanks so much! <3]

Welcome to Castiel and Gabriel’s Room. Please leave us a message.

Dean was definitely lost. He’d managed to hook up with a hot girl in his building the very first night of freshman orientation, but now it was the following morning and he had no idea where he was. And so he was wandering the corridors, which were all identical except for the decorations on the doors, looking for his room. He’d really thought he was living on the second floor – room 210, that rang a bell – but that had ended up being a girls’ floor, so he’d gone up to the third and now he was here, standing in the middle of a corridor among all kinds of boxes and suitcases that people had left scattered around, staring at the neat calligraphy on the whiteboard pinned to the door of room 316, a handy blue marker pen waiting on the top.

‘Please leave us a message’? What was this, an answering machine from the 90s?

He drew a dick.

During the second day of orientation, Dean was so overwhelmed by all the information being thrown at him from all sides that he quickly forgot about the board he'd drawn on that morning. By the time he’d finally found his room (120, on the first floor, it had turned out to be) he’d only had fifteen minutes to change his shirt and eat half the food he’d brought with him to school before he was dragged off on a campus tour. There had been info sessions nonstop all day that ended up blending into one in his mind, and when Dean had finally made it back to his own room and was beginning to think about going to sleep, he’d gotten a text from another girl, Lisa, who he’d met that day, asking him to come over.

Well, this was college, and it wasn’t really that late at night, so…

She texted him her address, and he pulled a face when he realized it was also in this building. Things could get awkward if he ended up sleeping with everyone he lived near. Still, orientation week was a free pass, wasn’t it? What happens during orientation stays in orientation? He jumped in the elevator with a couple of other people and hit the button for the fifth floor, getting out with the others when it stopped.

The doors had already closed behind him when he realized that this was only the third floor, and he’d gotten out too soon.

He glanced around the hall as he headed for the stairs, deciding it would just be quicker to walk the rest of the way now, and his eyes fell on a door with a whiteboard stuck to the front; small, neat handwriting covering it. But it didn’t have the same generic greeting message it had displayed that morning. That, along with his own artwork, had been rubbed off and replaced with new words.

To whoever drew genitalia on this board, congratulations, you have managed to fulfill every college male stereotype within my first hour of being here.

Dean smirked to himself. Who were these guys? Forget the nineties, they sounded like they were something from out of the Victorian era. He shook his head to himself and wiped off half their message with his sleeve, not bothering to clean the board neatly, and scribbled:

How did you know I’m a dude?

Then, making sure nobody on the floor had seen him actually do that, he bolted for the stairs and jogged to Lisa’s room on the fifth floor.

You just confirmed it. I hope you’re planning on rushing a fraternity.

Dean hadn’t planned on checking the board again the following morning, he really hadn’t. But he had asked a question, and a question usually led to an answer, and really he just wanted to make sure nobody had seen him respond. And it was early enough that nobody would really be around, and technically it was on the way to his room, so he had decided to take a look, just in case. No big deal.

And there it was. A reply, just for him.

It took Dean a moment to register why these guys had jumped to that conclusion, but then he remembered that he had already been labeled a ‘college stereotype’. He rolled his eyes, pausing to check nobody was around. He wasn’t sure what to do… On the one hand, this kind of seemed like the other guys were ending the conversation, and they didn't seem like the kind of people he wanted to make friends with anyway. On the other hand, he had no interest in fraternities, and it kind of pissed him off that people were making assumptions about him after reading one sentence he’d written.

Fuck it, he thought to himself, and scrawled a response.

Nah, not my style. Might join wrestling team though. Will that do?

Which, of course, he realized too late, was technically another question, causing him to be pretty much obligated to go back around dinnertime to see what they thought of that.

That is sexier.

Dean stared, his eyes wide. Was one of these guys flirting with him? Were they both? Was that what this was about? No, it couldn’t be. They didn’t even know what Dean looked like, or anything about him. Unless they’d been watching, waiting for Dean to reply, and-

Fuck. Dean screwed up his eyes, hoping that when he opened them, the message would have changed.

It hadn’t.

He left without writing anything, and spent half an hour sitting alone in his room, trying to figure out the perfect response. Something that showed he was up for a laugh, but definitely wasn’t seriously flirting, something that didn’t make him look freaked out by the message, but also didn’t encourage it-

He could just not reply at all. Maybe that would be better. But also, that was rude. He didn’t want to leave the guys hanging. He should at least say something. Even if he just drew another dick on the board. It was never the wrong time to draw a dick on a whiteboard. Or he could draw a stupid face. Just to acknowledge that yes, he had seen the message.

But when he arrived outside the door all ready to get creative, the message had changed.

If you read the message earlier, I did not write that! That was my roommate… It seems he fancies himself a comedian.

Dean frowned, trying to figure out what had happened. So all the other messages had been from one person, it seemed. Either Castiel or Gabriel, and he couldn’t figure out which without asking – not that it meant anything. It was just a name, and a pretty weird one at that. And then the other one had jumped into the conversation with the last message; not flirting, just trying to mess with him.

He exhaled in relief, and started to laugh.

It actually was pretty funny.

The next time he checked the board, he didn’t have any excuse. He hadn’t asked a question, it wasn’t on the way to or from anywhere, and there was absolutely no reason for him to be standing outside a room that wasn’t his on a floor he didn’t live on, but here he was; and for no good reason he found himself smiling when he saw the message had changed, his own words neatly erased so as to leave no trace of them, and others in their place, in the kind of cursive that looked like it belonged on a fancy dinner invitation and not a whiteboard on some kid’s dorm room door.

Why am I not surprised? You two do seem to have a lot in common.

Dean frowned. That was kind of unfair. He’d laughed at one joke the other guy had made, and now suddenly they were being thrown into the same category; the same category that seemed to comprise anyone who did anything remotely normal and fun, according to this guy. This guy who clearly couldn’t make any friends here and so had to settle for talking to a random stranger via his whiteboard. No wonder he kept replying to Dean. Probably nobody else would talk to him if he was the sort of person who just looked down on everyone.

Why are you so down on just being a regular college kid?

What do you mean?

The response was there less than half an hour later when Dean next checked, meaning he was still kind of angry about the whole thing, and he jabbed the pen a little too hard into the whiteboard as he tried to explain himself.

You’re acting really superior just cause you don’t like to draw dicks on things. Maybe you should try having some fun.

I am having fun, I’m reading a book. It’s very well written.

Dean groaned to himself. A book. The guy had to be joking. Joking, or he was just playing up to Dean’s expectations on purpose to piss him off. Who came to college to read a book? You could read a book at home. Maybe if he could get the guy to leave his room and let loose a little, he’d stop bothering him with these messages.

No, you should go out. Seriously. I didn’t think I’d like it here, but actually it’s great.

That sounded like something out of a chick flick. He pulled a face and erased the second part, but the first sentence on its own didn’t seem like enough, and he couldn’t think of what else to add, so he rewrote it. He hated to admit it, but it was the truth; he'd been having a great time ever since he'd arrived. And it wasn’t like anybody would ever find out it was him. He’d get this guy to go to a party, get him laid, the messages would stop and they’d both move on with their lives.

Please. College is made for guys like you.

Dean rolled his eyes. Again with the assumptions.

Whatever. I only gave it a try to make my uncle happy. I thought I’d want to drop out after the first semester.

You should. Then you can stop writing your life story on my fucking door.

Dean scowled. What the hell? It wasn’t like he’d exactly wanted to tell his life story on the door; he’d clearly been provoked into it.

But there was already a second message written underneath, the first one appearing to have been left there only so that the conversation would still make some kind of sense.

No! That was my roommate again. Please disregard everything he says.

Dean squinted, but he couldn’t see any noticeable differences between the handwritings of the two messages. He’d definitely have believed it was the same person if he hadn’t been told otherwise.

He’s really good at mimicking your handwriting. You sure it’s not you?

He is annoyingly good. You’ll have to take it on faith until I can figure out how to tell us apart.

On Monday, Dean jogged back to the dorms as soon as he was out of math class, detoured to the third floor before he’d even realized what he was doing, and found himself confronted with this new message on the whiteboard. It almost scared him how quickly this had become a part of his daily routine. He'd been here, what, a week? What was he, a middle schooler passing notes in class? He couldn’t communicate with someone like this. Talking to people on the Internet was one thing, because that was instant, you could still have a real conversation. But here, he was getting messages maybe two or three times a day and he couldn’t even guarantee he’d always remember what he’d said earlier.

This time he remembered, though, and for some reason he couldn’t explain, he actually did believe the dude. Still, he didn’t want to say that unless he was wrong and he was just being messed with here, so instead he changed the subject and asked the question everybody else was bound to ask tonight.

How was your first day of classes? As predicted. I never expected to be fascinated by my gen eds. How was yours?

Pretty fun. Math sucks but my film history class is awesome. I’m literally getting college credit for watching movies.

Math does indeed ‘suck’ as you put it; although I find it more tedious than difficult.

Dean found himself laughing at the quotation marks around the word ‘suck’, imagining the guy – not that he knew what he looked like – saying the whole line in a disdainful voice, adding extra sarcasm to that word (which he’d probably never used before in his life) along with the air quotes.

Same. I did great in math in high school, but they’re still making me take it here cause I didn’t do AP.

You didn’t do AP? What did you do with all your time?

Slept, mostly.

Dean wrote the flippant response automatically and was halfway down the hall before he regretted it. He didn’t want to seem like the kind of person who didn’t try at all, who just wasted his own time. He wasn’t that kind of person, for a start, even if he sometimes acted like it. This guy had a low enough opinion of him anyway. And this guy, this Castiel or Gabriel, clearly took studying seriously… he was someone who took AP classes and used long words and read books in his free time, not because they’d been assigned. No, Dean wanted to explain himself further.

No, I’m kidding. I had a job. Made money. Probably the only reason I got in here since I don’t have a good GPA or extracurriculars or anything.

I’m sure you wrote a good application. You don’t get into college just based on a part time job.

That almost looked like a compliment to Dean. That couldn’t possibly be right. He changed the subject quickly, asking the question he’d wondered ever since a guy who spoke like Shakespeare had turned up at the local state party school.

Speaking of, why are you here? You seem smarter than this place.

I applied to several other schools, but I get very nervous during interviews, which I think hurt my chances.

Dean pulled a face. That didn’t seem fair. If someone was smart enough to get into an actual good school, why should admissions offices let a little stage fright stop them from achieving that? This guy could probably be at Harvard right now if it wasn’t for that.

That sucks. I’m sorry. You could transfer later?

That was my original plan, but much like you, I am enjoying my time here more than I thought.

Dean raised his eyebrows in surprise. Didn’t that contradict pretty much everything the other guy had said to him? Bored by gen eds, frustrated by his roommate, never going out anywhere…

So you finally left your room?

I joined some student societies, yes. But I have not yet attended a party.

Student societies. Of course. As if five different classes and reading for fun weren’t enough, no, this guy was going to go talk about smart stuff with other nerds in his free time. Dean smiled fondly but quickly caught himself – he could not condone this behavior. He needed to help the poor dude out.

Sigma Pi, tonight, pregame starts at 8.30. I can get you in then.

Philosophy club does not finish until nine, and then I have an English paper to work on.

Dean was definitely not disappointed.

Your loss. Another time?

Don’t count on it.

Dude, that was kinda rude. You’ll scare him away.

For the first time, the second message was written in completely different handwriting, large and scrawling, as though the writer was trying to take over the whole board. Was this the mysterious roommate? Giving the first guy social advice? That was pretty cute, Dean had to admit. He imagined Castiel or Gabriel asking the other for help with what they should say in response to one of his messages, and the other one helping out, and chuckled to himself.

No, that was stupid. That would never happen, and even if it did, it would be weird, not cute, he insisted to himself.

Don’t worry about it. We all have bad moments.

I’m sorry. I wasn’t intending to be short with you.

It suddenly struck Dean how strange that message, out of context with none of the previous ones next to it, would look to somebody who was just passing by. This was by no means the only whiteboard he’d seen on somebody’s door, but the other ones had messages from friends like ‘Hey, it’s Garth, TEXT ME’, doodles of dinosaurs, or funny quotes from TV shows. Discussions like these weren't exactly the norm.

I wonder what anyone else reading this board thinks? They must be super confused by these messages.

I hardly think anyone else has the time to read our conversations in depth.

Dean rolled his eyes. Spoilsport. That could have been the start of a fun hypothetical.

Only, there was one person who was definitely following their conversation at least somewhat.

Except your roommate.

When Dean next saw the board, the message said Except your stupid roommate and underneath was written Hey! No need to be so insulting.

Great. Now he’s mimicking my handwriting too.

He claims to be practicing for a reason. Should I be worried?

Yes.

Yes, but it also sounds like you should stay on his good side.

An excellent point. Also, stop encouraging him.

Sorry. I won’t mention him again.

Dean was already back in his room before he realized that the implications of this message seemed to be that he was planning on continuing this strange sort of communication. Hell, he felt like since getting to college, he’d spent more time with this guy from the whiteboard than he had with his goddamn roommate (Benny was cool, but seemed to spend almost all of his time out who knew where.) He had people he talked to in his classes and who he'd hung out with a couple of times at parties, but there wasn't the same... consistency.

Film history still interesting?

On the other hand, this guy he talked to every day, and not only that, but he remembered details about Dean's life.

It’s the best class I’ve ever taken. I actually look forward to going. And I’m only admitting that cause you don’t know who I am.

Maybe I do.

The message wasn’t accompanied by a winky face, but Dean’s brain helpfully supplied one.

Maybe you’re a creepy stalker.

I was kidding. I actually have no idea who you are. You do have the upper hand here.

Actually I have no idea which one of you is Cas and which is Gabe.

And yet you still consider us friendly enough to shorten both our names.

And the strange thing was, he did consider them friends. Maybe not the prankster roommate one, but the one he’d been talking to every day for three weeks now, sure. Getting these messages had become just a part of his day. He took the stairs, and sure, they smelled, and hurt his legs when he was tired, but then he got to room 316 and there was that reward, that message that made him smile even when it was kind of mean. He’d never once been up there and not seen a reply. It was a comfort, when everything else about college was still so new and confusing.

But he wasn’t going to say that.

Come on. It’s not easy to write with this pen, and the board is so low down.

The next time he arrived outside the door, the board was a foot higher up.

This better for you?

Dean picked up the pen and found that he was no longer awkwardly bending his arm downwards to reach the board. It was much easier to write without screwing up his handwriting and making it illegible.

Yeah, that’s exactly my height actually.

I can’t reach now.

Bonus.

Sorry, I forgot to ask about your classes.

I can’t complain. I get on well with all of my professors.

Wait, you’ve spoken to your professors? Not just kinda half listened from the back of the room?

Really, he shouldn't have been surprised. It fit in perfectly with everything he already knew about the guy.

Of course. They have office hours for a reason, you know.

I figured they were just told to do that. People actually go to those?

Of course. It can’t hurt your grade, and it’s a good idea to get to know the faculty, particularly in your major.

And even though ‘caring about his education’ wasn’t something Dean did, ever, or at least not something he outwardly showed he did, this guy almost made him want to.

I guess. I don’t want to look stupid, though.

Should’ve thought about that before you cut your hair that way.

Dean couldn’t explain it, but he knew, even before he kept reading, that that was written by the roommate. The handwriting was still perfectly copied, but even so, it clearly wasn’t something Dean’s guy would say.

STOP. You’re getting worse. I would never say “should’ve”, or comment on somebody’s hair for that matter.

Dean smirked; he’d been absolutely right.

Aw. You guys are adorable. And I have great hair.

I’m sure you do. And your professors will be pleased that you’re showing an interest.

Suddenly, standing in front of the door twirling the marker pen, Dean had an idea. If he really was going to do this; actually do some work outside of class time, that is, he really should do something else to counteract that and keep his ‘cool slacker’ points from going into the negative. Something like forcing a nerd to stop studying for a while.

Alright. I’ll go see my film studies professor. If you come to a party.

I have to study.

Dude, midterms are still weeks away.

Fine. When and where?

Dean cheered under his breath. Success.

Epsilon Zeta, 10pm, bring some money to chip in for alcohol.

Okay.

At the party that night, Dean kept looking around the room for anyone who looked out of place. He was sure he'd know his whiteboard guy the second he saw him. They'd lock eyes across the room and he'd just... he'd just know. And then Dean would walk over to him, slow motion steps getting closer and closer, and finally they'd meet, and they'd smile. Not like in a romantic way, of course. Just like, it would be his first party and Dean wanted to at least keep an eye on him, make sure he was okay.

By midnight, though, he hadn't seen anybody who looked like they didn't fit in with the rest of the crowd. Clearly, Castiel or Gabriel had just been humoring Dean. He'd had no intention of actually turning up tonight.

Trying not to admit his disappointment, even to himself, Dean walked to the kitchen and sank four shots in a row.

How come you didn’t show?

I did. How was I supposed to know who you were?

Dean cursed aloud. He'd missed him? His one chance to actually see this guy in person, to get him somewhere close to Dean's social circle, and he'd blown it by not being observant enough.

I dunno. Okay, let’s say I believe you. What did you think?

What was to think? A large quantity of people stood in a cramped space ingesting questionable substances. I don’t see the appeal.

You didn’t see the girls?

…I saw that there were girls, yes.

Well that’s your answer, right there. That’s why we all go.

To take advantage of girls? In that case I’m glad I left after only twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes? He hadn't even given Dean a fair chance to find him. What the hell?

No way. I’d never sleep with a girl who was drunk. I’m so good I can make a girl fall in love with me before she’s even had time to get drunk.

You’re cocky tonight.

Less so this morning. I actually got shot down like an hour after I wrote that.

Better luck next time.

Yeah, it’s no big deal.

He knew he should just cap the pen and leave, but he just couldn't make himself move. He wanted to say more. Yesterday night, he'd just tried to forget about everything that was worrying him, but he'd woken up this morning with a bad hangover and still no clue what to do about his problems. He wanted to tell someone. He hated that he wanted to tell someone, but inexplicably, he just couldn't make himself walk away until he did.

I just could have used a fun night after the day I’d been having.

Cas or Gabe replied quickly, his writing hurried, almost as though he was concerned about Dean, and Dean felt a strange warm feeling in his chest.

What happened? If you’re okay writing it on this board where anyone could see.

Like you said, I’m sure nobody’s reading this. I’m just worried about my brother is all.

You have a brother?

Dean smiled at the thought of Sammy despite his worries. They talked on the phone a lot, but it had been weeks since he'd actually seen the kid, far longer than the two of them had ever been apart before, and Dean missed him a lot.

Yeah, he’s a freshman in high school. He likes this guy who’s older and kind of a dick tbh.

When you say ‘likes’, do you mean romantically?

Wow. For a guy who only spoke to his roommate and a complete stranger, as far as Dean knew, Cas or Gabe was pretty quick off the mark. And didn't seem judgmental of Sammy, which was a pleasant surprise.

Yeah. The guy’s alright once you get to know him, actually, but I'm worried Sammy doesn't know what he’s getting himself into.

Have you told him that you’re concerned?

I’ve tried, but he’s a stubborn kid, he doesn’t really listen to me. Little brothers, you know?

I’m sure he listens to you more than you think. And I wouldn’t know, I’m the youngest.

Dean leaned against the door, tired for reasons he couldn't explain. He did feel kind of better about the whole situation, even as he still had no clue what to do about it. Maybe it was the time that had passed, or maybe it was just having someone who seemed genuinely willing to listen to him.

What are the older ones like?

Many and varied. They all have big personalities, and I tend to fade into the background in comparison.

Dean shook his head, smiling. He couldn't imagine that.

Well, you’re my favorite if it counts for anything.

Are you serious? I can’t deal with any more of this sappiness on my board.

GABRIEL. I AM SERIOUS ABOUT THIS. STOP INFILTRATING OUR CONVERSATION.

You gave the game away! You’re Cas, and your roommate is Gabe!

Dean scrawled this message in a hurry, bouncing on his feet, excited with the answer to the puzzle that had been bothering him for weeks.

I was never trying to keep that a secret. Yes, I am Castiel.

Cas. Castiel. At last Dean had a definite name to put with the... well, not the face, but the handwriting at least. Castiel.

It suited him.

Dean murmured it to himself as he wrote.

It’s a cool name. Very unique.

It’s a little fancy. Sometimes I wish I had a more normal name. Like Steve.

Well, I can call you Steve if you want.

Yes, that would turn me on. (You know I’m just doing this to piss you off now, right?)

It’s working.

I know.

This exchange made Dean grin to himself, but as he contemplated what to write next, a nearby door clicked open, and he was forced to duck into the stairwell to make sure nobody saw him writing on the board. He sank down onto the top stair to wait until the coast was clear.

One day, probably soon, someone - maybe even Castiel himself - was sure to see Dean writing on the board, and then his secret would be out. Already, Dean felt kind of uncomfortable knowing that the roommate, Gabriel, knew so many details about his life - and the only thing that made him feel better about it was the knowledge that Gabriel (and anyone else who might happen to be following the conversation) didn't have a clue who he was. But if that were to get out...

He wondered if he should write his phone number on the door for Cas, like a 'Let's continue this conversation somewhere more private' kind of thing.

He pulled a face. That was too much like a come-on, their equivalent of 'How about we go back to my place?'. And besides, he didn't want to be leaving his number where anyone could see it.

He checked that the corridor was empty again, and walked back to Cas' door, deciding to take a different tack entirely. Cas had been trying to help him last week when he was worried about Sammy, and now Dean wanted to do something nice in return.

What’s your favorite candy?

Unlike my roommate, I don’t eat sugary foods a great deal. I prefer sandwiches, especially peanut butter and jelly.

Dean bounded down the stairs to his own room, and a couple of minutes later he was back outside the door. He didn't write a message, but simply drew an arrow pointing downwards to where he'd left a small package wrapped in aluminum foil containing a sandwich, thick with peanut butter and jelly all the way to the edges of the bread, the crusts cut off in the same way Dean's mother had done for him back in elementary school.

What was that for?

Everyone likes surprise food. Opening your fridge and finding food you didn’t know you had is pretty much the best feeling in the world.

Thankyou. It was a very good sandwich, and I was hungry after my classes.

It’ll be better next time when you’re not expecting it.

Well now you've said that, I will be expecting it.

Dean couldn't resist. Even though he was already running late for class as it was, he dashed back to his room and took out his sandwich making things, quickly preparing one for Cas and one for himself (although he put a little more effort into Cas', now that he had a standard to live up to.) Then, he dropped one off outside the door of room 316 with a hastily scrawled note.

Were you?

Well played.

I try my best. ;)

Speaking of, did you ever go out for the wrestling team?

Dean bit his lip. That wasn't a subject he really wanted to get into. So he deflected.

You’re just trying to figure out who I am.

No, I’m genuinely interested. Why else would I keep making conversation with you?

Dean shouldn't have been surprised that Cas wouldn't stand for that. Cas had seemed to genuinely be interested in his life from the start, for some reason Dean couldn't place considering he wasn't really anything to Cas. But this wasn't something he wanted to own up to, at all. He didn't want to reinforce Cas' initial opinion of him, the one he'd worked so hard to dispel.

I slept through tryouts. I was really hungover.

For the first time, he delayed going to check the whiteboard, not running upstairs immediately after class. He was scared that Cas was going to judge him. But that night before he went to bed, he finally dragged himself up the stairs, knowing that it would look suspicious if he hadn't replied by morning.

That’s a shame. It seemed like you were excited about that.

Dean sighed with relief. That was an unexpected - but welcome - change in attitude.

Yeah, I actually was. It’s the one really stupid thing I’ve done since I got here.

With his other friends, he'd brushed off missing the opportunity, but it felt good to finally admit that he was upset with himself over the whole incident.

Well that’s a pretty good ratio. Especially considering it’s something you can fix.

Fix it how?

There will be other opportunities to try out.

I don’t even know if they have tryouts in the spring semester.

So? They will next fall. That could still give you three years on the team.

Dean sighed to himself. He wished it were that simple.

That’s if I even stay.

You’re not considering dropping out again, are you?

Dean threw the pen against the door. This was something he wanted to talk to Cas about, but not here, not in public. This was his personal business. Nobody at school even knew about this; broadcasting it to a whole corridor was the last thing he wanted. But then again, even Gabriel hadn't replied to anything he'd written for a while.

Maybe Cas had talked to him about it, about giving Dean his privacy.

That thought was enough for Dean to pick up the pen from where it fell and write his next message.

Not really. I just don’t think my dad is getting on so great without me.

He’s not your responsibility.

No but sometimes I feel like I fucked everything up by leaving.

And you think going back will help?

…I don’t even know.

Dean felt useless as he walked away from the board. Would going back actually make things better? Probably not. He'd spent enough time around his dad to know that once something had happened to mess a person up, there wasn't a magical solution. But he felt terrible just staying here at college, keeping out of the way, not even trying to help. He'd never forgive himself if something happened while he was away.

The response he got the next morning didn't exactly make him feel better.

I may not write messages for the next few days. Midterms are more stressful than I was imagining.

That’s okay. Just make sure you take care of yourself. Don’t work too hard.

Dean was glad he was writing these messages down and not reading them out loud, because he knew he wouldn't be able to hide the disappointment in his voice.

Partly out of habit, partly out of hope, Dean found himself making the familiar trek to Cas' room several times during the next week. Each time, nothing had changed. There was no new message, and Dean's most recent words still shone brightly from the board. He wasn't sure how to feel about that. He worried that Cas was working himself so hard that he didn't even have enough time to clean his whiteboard. He certainly seemed like the kind of guy who stressed way too much over midterms.

Dean preferred to think that Cas had left it up purposefully, so that he could see the words whenever he arrived back to his room and remember all the words they'd exchanged.

Dean missed the excitement of wondering what Cas might have said to him today. He missed being able to drift off in boring classes and picture the mysterious board waiting for him back at the dorms, sure to be holding new secrets he could discover as soon as he was done for the day. He missed the adrenaline that came with being scared of getting caught writing, and he missed learning little details about someone who he was sure he'd never have interacted with if it wasn't for this odd friendship that had developed.

He missed Cas.

On Friday afternoon, as soon as he was done with his math midterm, he immediately scraped his own words away and replaced them with a new, impatient question.

Did you finish yet?

I have more exams next week. I am taking the night off, though.

Doing anything fun to celebrate?

I have a book I’ve wanted to read for a while. You’re going to a party, I assume?

Actually no, I have a friend coming over to play video games. Get this – she’s a girl and I’m not going to try and sleep with her.

Dean woke early Saturday afternoon with no hangover, no missing memories from the previous night and no unknown stranger next to him in his bed, and his first thought was what a great night he'd had. Maybe it wasn't so hard to understand why Cas preferred quiet nights in. Dean couldn't imagine that he himself would ever stop going to parties, but maybe he didn't have to go every single weekend. It was nice to have options.

I find that difficult to believe.

I seriously didn’t! She’s gay anyway, but mostly it was because I just wanted to hang out with her. Like as a person.

Look at you getting all mature.

I guess you underestimated me at first.

I guess I did.

Dean wasn't sure what to say to that. He'd never really expected Cas to admit to it; though he'd have known it was true either way. Why would Cas have carried on this conversation for so long otherwise? But seeing the proof of it right there in front of him... it changed things. It shouldn't, but it did.

And Dean wasn't sure what he wanted to continue where that was heading, so he did the thing that came most naturally to him.

He drew a dick.

The next time he checked the board, all that was there was a much bigger, more artistically drawn dick.

Gabe, was that you?

Believe it or not, that really was me.

Dean laughed to himself as he imagined uptight Cas standing in front of his door, frowning, painstakingly drawing an elaborate picture of a dick, carefully making sure it was completely anatomically correct even while he was terrified someone would catch him in the act.

You drew a dick? That’s adorable.

It was my first time.

That’s what she said.

Who is ‘she’, and what did she say?

It’s a joke. It’s from a TV show. What happened to ‘no messages during midterms’?

You were right; I do need to take breaks occasionally. How did your exams go?

Dean punched the air in triumph. His work here was done. If he could just make sure Cas took some time off work occasionally, made some friends, had some fun, he'd consider his first year of college a success.

I totally messed up English, but apart from that they were OK. You?

Good, I got some grades back already and I’m happy with them.

Be more specific. What’s a good grade, to you?

What do you mean?

Well, to me a C is good enough, but my brother cries over anything less than an A.

I fear I would identify more with your brother.

That, Dean hadn't needed to be told.

Figures. Alright, it’s Friday, what are you doing? Reading a book, again?

He knew he was jumping to conclusions again, the way he always got pissed about when Cas did it, but to be fair, this particular conclusion had never been proved wrong before.

I love books. You don’t?

That was as good as a confession.

I prefer movies. You should watch a movie. It’s more relaxing.

I don’t know many movies. What would you suggest?

Well, shit. That was a lot of pressure to put on one guy, especially a guy who was tired after a long week of school. If he made a bad pick, Cas would continue not watching movies, and that could not be allowed to happen.

Dean frowned, trying to compile everything he knew about Cas and conduct a search through his mental movie database. He wanted something well known that Cas would already have heard of and could maybe talk to his friends about afterwards; something engaging that could completely take his mind off work; something intelligent enough to hold his attention. With all of that, picking just one was a big ask, and it took him a long time to settle.

Watch Forrest Gump.

Alright. I’ll see if I can find it at the library.

Dean rolled his eyes. The library? That defeated the whole point of staying curled up in bed watching movies. Plus, Cas would probably end up finding a book and deciding to just read that instead or something.

Don’t be an idiot. I’m posting my Netflix login under your door.

He wasn't sure why, but it felt like a big step. He'd left things for Cas before - the sandwiches - but only outside the room. Actually putting something under his door felt like he was invading Cas' personal space in a way he never had up to now.

Thankyou. I’m going to start the movie now.

Grinning in anticipation, Dean left a preemptive message for Cas to see as soon as he was done.

What did you think?

I enjoyed it, but I didn’t find it as fulfilling as a book.

Dean rolled his eyes. There was no hope for this kid. Still, he wouldn't give up. He'd just have to keep trying.

How? Movies are amazing, because they hit all your senses, and they pull you into the story. Books are just words on a page, you know?

Books are more creative; you can imagine rather than just see. And you know what else is just words on a page?

What?

This.

This is different.

It was true, never mind the fact that Dean spent a lot of his time trying to stop his brain from analyzing exactly why it was different. He didn't want Cas to come back with a 'Different how?' so he added a line.

I haven’t seen Gabriel for a while. How is he?

I’m fine, I just have more interesting things to do than watch you two flirt.

We’re not flirting, we’re talking. Just because for you it’s the same thing…

Dean forced himself to laugh at the unexpected jibe against Gabriel, and it was good - almost a privilege - to see Cas joking around; but he was oddly hurt by Cas' flat dismissal. Which was ridiculous, because he wasn't interested in Cas at all - there couldn't possibly be anything between them, considering Cas was both a guy and someone he'd never actually met.

Nice one, Cas. That’s a new side to you.

I save it for special occasions.

I’m honored to even witness it.

Yeah, you should be. Did you get your English results back yet?

I got a D. It could be worse, but I’m gonna have to actually work hard in class now if I want to pass the class decently.

And he would work hard, if only because he couldn't face having to tell Cas he'd failed one of his classes.

Is there anything in particular you need help with?

Was Cas offering to help him with his English work? It was a tempting offer, and he actually could use some advice, but... that wasn't the kind of thing you could do over a whiteboard. It would, surely, involve meeting in person. And that scared him. He might have wanted to meet Cas earlier, but that was before this exchange between them had become so important to him. Right now, he was the mysterious guy who wrote on Cas' whiteboard. He was someone interesting. If they met, he'd just become the dumb kid Cas tutored in English, and that wouldn't be the same.

No, it’s just a lot different to what I was used to in high school. Thanks, though.

No problem. Let me know if you think of anything.

I will. And by the way, feel free to keep using my Netflix. Watch anything, I don’t care.

Is that allowed? Shouldn’t I be paying separately?

It’s totally fine. I’m paying for four screens on the account and there’s only three in my family.

Dean would have wanted Cas to use it anyway, if only so he could be nosy; looking at the list of recently watched movies to figure out what Cas was trying out and where his tastes were heading. And maybe try to subtly guide him in the right direction.

If you’re sure, then thankyou. I will explore the world of cinema further.

You won’t be disappointed.

You should explore the worlds of sobriety and platonic female friends further.

Actually I’m going home this weekend. I should have mentioned that before. I’ll be back Monday morning.

Dean felt bad. There was no reason for him to feel bad - Cas had blown him off for a whole week once - but he did. He didn't like to imagine Cas opening his door on the weekend to go to the bathroom or something, and seeing no new message. And he felt bad for himself too. Getting through a whole weekend with his father would be difficult, and he could use something small to help him through it.

The thought of leaving his phone number crossed his mind again, but that was pathetic. He could survive a weekend without Cas.

Before he could change his mind, he shouldered his duffle bag and headed towards the bus stop.

I hope you have a good weekend.

It was alright. It was cool to catch up with my brother and my uncle.

Did anything happen between your brother and the boy he was interested in?

Dean couldn't believe Cas had remembered that stupid story about Sammy, or that he cared enough to follow up on it. He'd never known someone to show that sort of interest in him before.

They insult each other in the halls a lot, apparently. Sammy seems to be holding his own. I’m surprised.

He probably learned it from you.

Dean shook his head to himself, smiling. Sammy hadn't learned anything from him. He just did his own thing, not caring if it was the last thing anyone expected. Dean actually kind of admired him for that. But if he had wanted to teach Sam anything, it probably wouldn't have been how to be mean to people.

Was that a compliment or an insult?

Your choice. How's your dad?

I actually didn't see him the whole time. Probably out looking for work. Or drinking.

I'm sorry. I hope he gets back soon.

Dean did too, and also he didn't. When John wasn't at home, Dean worried about him and what he might be doing; whether he would ever come back at all. But when John was at home, Dean worried about everyone, because he was scared of the things John might do to the people around him. So it wasn't exactly a great tradeoff.

It's actually kind of better when he's not around. For everyone.

In that case I hope he stays far away.

He's unpredictable, he'll do what he'll do. (But thanks.)

It meant a lot to him that Cas was trying to make him feel better. Most of his friends, once he'd mentioned that he and his dad had issues, just tried to skirt around the subject.

The next time he checked the board, he had to read the message there several times over to be completely sure he'd read it right.

When you picture me, what do you think I look like?

What even...?

Cas, are you drunk?

No, I’m curious, it was just something I was thinking about today.

Cas had been thinking about him today.

That was something that made him feel... unsteady.

Dean hadn't realized it until that moment, but he did have a very clear mental picture of Cas; of course he did. He was obviously attractive, but in the quiet, nerdy way that you didn't notice at first; until you were partway through the conversation, and then suddenly you just looked up, and it hit you. It took you completely by surprise because you hadn't been expecting it, and for a moment you just lost the thread of the conversation, because... wow.

Yeah, Cas was definitely that kind of guy. But hell if Dean was writing that on the board.

I dunno. I guess… dark hair, probably blue eyes, formal clothes even when you’re just going to class, and kind of a high voice.

You’re right about everything except the voice. Apparently I speak in a low register.

Well this changes everything.

Really?

Dean smirked to himself, imagining a confused Cas asking Gabriel - in a low voice, he had to remind himself - if the tone in which someone spoke made a big difference in a relationship.

No, of course not, it’ll just take a bit of adjusting. How’d you picture me?

You said you were a wrestler, so fairly large, light brown hair, brown eyes, casual clothes, maybe a Southern accent.

My eyes are green.

But apart from that?

Dean hesitated before picking up the pen again. If Cas knew what he looked like, he might see him around campus, know it was him, and talk to him. Or worse, Cas might see another guy matching the description around campus, think it was Dean, and talk to him.

He really needed to stop overthinking this.

Apart from that you were right, yes. But you did kinda cheat.

How could I infer your hair color from the fact that you’re a wrestler?

I mean, you’re smarter than I am? You probably know things I don’t.

Dean hadn't realized how stupid the idea was until he read the response and could practically feel the sarcasm dripping off the board.

Yes, a recent statistical study showed a correlation between level of sporting interest and lightness of hair.

Talk nerdy to me.

I don’t understand that reference.

Don’t worry about it. Hey, you picked a good movie last night. One of my favorites.

How do you know what I’ve been watching?

Damn. He hadn't meant to admit that. Now he was going to freak Cas out... He'd just been trying to pay the guy a compliment. Acknowledge the fact that Cas was trying to be interested in the things Dean was interested in. Maybe suggest that he might be open to reading some kind of book...

It comes up in my ‘recently watched’ list.

Oh. If I’d realized, I’d have tried harder to watch things I thought you’d approve of.

You can watch whatever you want. I might laugh at you a bit, but mostly I just want you to enjoy them.

I am enjoying them, more than I thought I would.

He honestly did want Cas to feel free to form his own tastes without Dean judging him, but he still couldn't resist a bit of teasing.

That’s awesome. But seriously, dude, Mean Girls?

I found it to be an interesting and highly accurate depiction of high school cliques.

Please. You were just looking at the hot chicks.

I have no interest in “hot chicks”, to use your words.

Dean didn't believe him. There was antisocial and then there was antisocial. Cas had to at least be noticing girls, even if he wasn't actively trying to date them.

What, none of them? You can’t be serious.

None whatsoever, I’m afraid.

Dean froze, suddenly getting it. Cas couldn't possibly be trying to say... no, Dean had to go sit down for a moment to process this.

It did make sense, though. When he'd gone to the party, Cas blatantly admitted that he hadn't been looking at the girls at all. All he'd said was that he noticed there were girls there; he hadn't actually been interested in them. And he'd never mentioned any girls, the way Dean occasionally referred to his hookups. And he'd been completely unsurprised when Dean mentioned Sam being interested in a guy...

Cas was gay?

Of course, he'd never mentioned any guys either, but maybe he wasn't completely open about himself yet and didn't want the whole floor knowing. Maybe it wasn't something you just told the random guy you exchanged notes with.

He had to check. It was incredibly, vitally important to him that he knew for sure.

Are you saying what I think you’re saying? (I don’t wanna just write it on your door in case you’re not OK with that.)

Yes, he’s gay. I’m gay too. It’s why we chose to room together, we were worried that other guys might not be comfortable with it.

See above message.

That makes sense.

For a while, that was all he could think of to write. His brain was still caught up on 'Cas, gay, Cas, liking dudes, Cas, literal rainbows over his head, Cas.' In their whole conversation, he'd never once considered this possibility. Honestly, the idea of Cas dating anyone seemed a bit ridiculous. He was far too awkward for that; far too shy. And imagine Cas having sex! He'd probably be the worst dirty talker ever. He'd probably stop halfway through to have an academic discussion on his partner's technique and how it could be improved. He'd probably read up on it in advance and draw up a minute-by-minute plan of how it would happen.

Yeah, Cas having sex was a completely crazy thought, he determined, swallowing hard and shifting where he stood.

Finally, thinking back to what had got them on this subject in the first place, he wrote another sentence underneath.

So you watch teen movies for the hot dudes, then?

No, I watch movies for their plot. I really find personality far more interesting than looks, if I’m honest.

Dean rolled his eyes. Cas was such a cliche sometimes.

Of course. Everyone says that.

I mean it. If I like someone as a person, it doesn’t matter at all to me what they look like.

But you still say you’re gay?

It’s only ever happened with men before. I’m not saying it never could with a woman, but in my experience it hasn’t.

That’s interesting. I’ve never met anyone who’s said that and meant it before. The personality thing, I mean.

I know it must be strange to someone like you who's used to the 'one night stand' culture.

It wasn't until he read that message that Dean realized it had been several weeks since he'd slept with anyone; and he hadn't even noticed, or missed it.

I dunno. I haven't actually done that for a while. It's getting kind of boring.

Next thing you know you'll be reading a book for fun.

And even though Dean had actually been considering that, considering asking Cas for a recommendation, suddenly he chickened out. He didn't want to seem too eager, in case it gave Cas the wrong idea.

That's never happening.

Then he remembered the other news he'd heard recently. Cas had seemed interested in this topic before, so maybe he was justified in telling him this...

You’re not gonna believe this.

I certainly won’t if you don’t tell me what ‘this’ is.

Sammy only went and kissed that dude he’s into. Right in the hallway in front of everyone… High school suits that kid.

What did the other guy (you should tell me his name) do?

He (Crowley) pushed Sam away and called him a moose, of course, but then apparently he went round our house later to see him...

Apart from running out of room on the board, Dean couldn't help but leave the story on something of a cliffhanger. Since Cas loved to read so much, Dean was damn well gonna do this properly.

And? What happened then?

They snuck into a bar and then spent the night together. I'm so proud of him.

What did your dad say?

I thought he might freak, but luckily he had no idea they were anything more than friends.

So they’re dating? Tell your brother I said congratulations.

I mean, it’s an unconventional relationship, but yeah, I suppose they are. I’ll tell him the kid from the whiteboard said congratulations.

I assumed you’d just say a friend from college. You’ve told him about me?

Of course he'd told Sam about Cas. How could he not? Cas was the most interesting thing to happen to him all semester, and with Sam having all this uncharacteristic drama in his life, Dean had to keep up somehow. And there was also the fact that he thought about Cas all the time, and he wanted to tell everyone who'd listen about this amazing guy he'd... never met.

I might have mentioned you. It’s a story. It’s not everyone who makes friends via a dry erase marker.

And yet you made two. Good job, although I still maintain it doesn’t count if we don’t know who you are.

I will steal your candy.

Cas was his friend. Cas was, according to the whiteboard, officially his friend. And it didn't seem at all right to Dean that he knew Cas' name, but Cas had no idea what his was.

I’m gonna give you a letter of my name each day, OK? It won’t take long. First letter’s D.

He wrote it on a whim, and regretted it as soon as he got back to his room. But it was too late to go back and fix it now. For all he knew, Cas had already seen.

D? Interesting. I was expecting a J.

J? Dean pulled a face. If he'd known Cas had been thinking that the whole time, he'd have told him the truth a long time ago. He was glad Cas was playing along with his game.

Seriously? Well I’m sorry to disappoint you. Next letter’s E.

I’m not disappointed, just surprised. Derek? Devon?

You’re not allowed to guess.

Demetrius?

You little rebel. Anyway, none of those are right cause the next letter’s A.

Dean?

Something about seeing his name, written there on the whiteboard below Cas and Gabe's name plaques, made his stomach feel funny. It almost looked like he lived there too.

Not for the first time, he wondered what the room looked like on the inside.

Alright, fine, you got me a day early.

Dean. I like it.

There it was, his name again, doing weird things to his insides.

It could be worse, I guess.

Could be Castiel.

Below, Cas had just drawn a sad face.

GABRIEL I CAN TELL IT’S YOU THIS TIME.

Yeah, he's getting worse. Too much candy has made him lazy.

Sorry. You kids got plans for winter break? Going on honeymoon?

Nah, just going to stay with my family. It’ll be a quiet holiday.

Similar. Most of my family are going skiing. I decided not to go, so the house will be fairly empty.

Cas was spending the break in an empty house? That wasn't okay. The kid had been dealing with a crappy dorm for the past four months; he deserved to go back to a loving family and someone who cooked him hot food and a shower with decent water pressure and a bed with a big squishy mattress. Not that Dean was exactly getting those things himself, but still. Cas should have them.

You’re going to be alone at Christmas? That sounds sad.

No, it sounds peaceful.

Just so long as it’s what you really want to do.

I’ve had invitations from people. Believe it or not, I do have friends. But I could use the quiet time.

Alright, I believe you!

But Dean still couldn't shake the idea that nobody should ever be alone at Christmas. After his mom died, for the first couple of years his dad had been completely absent for the holiday, the traditionally family oriented time just too much for him. And it had made Dean sad, but he'd still had Sam, and Bobby. He'd never had to be completely alone, and he never wanted to.

But it wasn't like he could ask Cas to stay with him, so he just left him another peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

You surprised me again. Well done.

I’m sure you’d do the same if you knew where I lived.

Yes, but there are three Deans in the building and I would hate to be embarrassed by giving food to the wrong one.

Dean's eyes widened. Now Cas was the one stalking him. He knew Cas probably had access to some kind of database where he could see exactly who lived in the building, that it had probably taken him thirty seconds on a computer to search for the name 'Dean', but he still found himself imagining Cas traipsing up and down the stairs reading the names on each door, looking at each different Dean and wondering which one was his Dean.

You looked for me? That’s adorable.

When are you done with finals?

Pretty early. My last one is next Wednesday. You?

I finish Thursday morning, but my flight home is not until Saturday. I had to book it before I saw my schedule.

So Cas was going from an empty dorm room where he had nothing to do, to an empty house where he had nothing to do, and that was going to be his Christmas.

Nothing about this sat right with Dean.

He stood for what felt like hours, his pen hovering over the board, trying to articulate this. But in the end, he couldn't do it.

That sucks, I'm sorry. But guess what?

You added eleven movies to the Netflix queue for me?

No. Well yeah, but also I got a B+ on my English paper today!

That's amazing news, well done!

Underneath, he'd drawn a bright, shining star, with an arrow pointing to it. Next to the arrow, there was a single word.

You.

Dean blushed at the compliment, secretly proud even as he appeared to brush it off.

It's not that huge. I'm just happy I'm on track to get a C now.

I HANDED IN MY FINAL PROJECT TODAY. THEATER MAJOR OUT, BITCHES.

The message was in bold letters taking up most of the board, but Cas had managed to squeeze something of his own in underneath.

So I finally have my room to myself. He’s actually a great guy, but exhausting to be around all the time.

Gabriel was gone. That meant he and Cas were alone on the board now. No third wheel.

Yeah, just from his messages I totally get that. I’m impressed you survived a whole four months with him.

I didn’t think I would, but a lot of things this semester have been surprising.

I couldn’t agree more.

I assume you’re leaving as soon as you finish exams?

I mean, that was the plan, but I’m just getting a bus. I didn’t even book yet.

You should book. Buses go up in price closer to the time too.

There was Cas, looking out for him, just making sure he got home as easily as possible. Cas, who seemed to care about other people and be so interested in Dean despite the fact that Dean had done nothing to earn it. What had he done? He'd drawn a dick. It was the most immature thing he could possibly imagine. It took no skill whatsoever; anyone could have done the same, and yet they hadn't. He had. And look at what it had become.

This odd, fucked up relationship that he couldn't possibly imagine college without.

And yet he'd have to, wouldn't he? Even if he stayed - and he wanted to so badly now; he liked his friends and his classes and even his professors, and Bobby had promised he'd do whatever he could to make sure Dean could continue here - at the end of the year he and Cas would move out of the dorms and they'd have no idea where the other one was. They'd probably live on opposite sides of town. Cas would move on. He'd get his own Netflix, make his own sandwiches and he'd forget all about Dean.

Dean desperately did not want that to happen.

He wanted to come home to Cas' words, to know he had something to keep going for. He wanted to feel safe in the knowledge that there was someone who believed, for whatever reason, that Dean was a good person who could do well here and was something more than just a guy who tried and often failed to keep his family together. He wanted to introduce Cas to music next as well as movies, and in return he wanted to hear more about Cas' own interests. Cas had mentioned joining student societies back at the beginning of term. Why had Dean never asked what they were?

And if he was honest with himself, he didn't want to wait. He wanted to know all these things right now. Not in increments, a tiny tidbit every day, but all at once. He was greedy, impatient, and he wanted Cas sitting next to him and whispering into his ear about his life and his family and his future until he was all Dean could think about, until his mind was even more full of Cas than it already was, and until Cas had run out of things to say about himself and his voice ran dry and Dean turned to him and leaned in and-

No. He wasn't going to go where that sentence led. He'd decided a long time ago that he could never let himself do anything like that.

He opened up the bus company's website, entering in his destination and flicking his eyes down the list of times.

He could get a Thursday bus, but the mornings were cheaper than afternoons and evenings, and leaving Thursday morning would mean he'd be rushing around to pack on Wednesday night. If he left on Friday morning, he'd be able to relax a bit after his last final, and pack Thursday during the day.

Thursday night might be kind of boring, though. Benny was leaving Wednesday, and all Dean's friends would be either studying or already home.

Except for one.

And somehow, he ended up back here. Cas would be around on Thursday. Cas would be alone and in need of company and after everything he'd done for Dean, Dean wanted to be the one to give him that. Never mind that he was terrified he might not live up to Cas' expectations of him after spending the whole semester building himself up in Cas' mind. If he didn't try - if they never met - he'd never know for sure. And if they were going to have to stop talking like this at some point anyway, it might be worth just going for it. Neither of them had anything to lose here.

Dean booked a seat on the 10am bus on Friday, and walked up the stairs to room 316.

It was time to take a risk.

Okay, I booked a bus for Friday.

Why Friday? One last party?

Carefully, making sure every letter was perfectly formed and his words couldn't be mistaken for anything else, Dean penned his reply.

No. I thought we could get dinner on Thursday night. If you wanted to, that is. I could come up here and pick you up.

And there it was. The invitation was out there. Whatever Cas decided, there was no going back for the two of them.

For the first time, there was no reply the next time Dean looked at the board.

By the third time he checked, he was sure Cas must have seen it. There was no way he'd gone all day without checking the door of his room.

Was he just ignoring Dean?

But surely if he really was ignoring him, he'd have just wiped the words away...

Maybe he was as nervous about meeting as Dean was.

Finally, the next morning, there was an answer.

You would go an extra day without seeing your brother just to have dinner with me?

And fuck it all, if Dean was going to do this, he was going to do this the way he wanted to. It was time for him to admit what he'd wanted to pretty much since orientation week, despite the fact that it made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Screw his rules. Screw his father and everybody's expectations of him and his expectations of himself. He was taking a page out of Sammy's book.

Yeah, well, it’d be a nice dinner. Like a date.

“Like” a date?

Of course Cas had challenged him on his wording. Of course he was making him wait, one last time.

Okay. A date. An actual date. I mean, if you want.

Dean's heart was hammering in his chest the next time he went to look at the board. This was the moment of truth. The first time he'd ever asked anyone out on a real date, let alone a guy, and he was sure he was about to get rejected. Cas had completely dismissed the idea of the two of them flirting when Gabe had brought it up...

Oh, God, he'd been stupid. He'd gone too far. He should have just stuck to a friendly dinner, that might have been okay, but he'd had to push it, had to go one step further, and he'd fucking ruined everything.

There was a single word waiting for him.

Yes.

Dean stared at the board, unable to tear his eyes away from it. It was better than if Cas had wrote a long paragraph about why exactly he wanted to go out with Dean, complete with hearts and exclamation marks. It was simple and clear and there was nothing to misinterpret here. Cas wanted to go out on a date with him. Cas was going to go out on a date with him.

Dean let out his breath slowly, trying to calm himself down as he wrote his response.

I’ll be here at seven on Thursday.

Good luck on your finals.

You too.

Then he added two very tiny letters, so tiny he could just pretend they were dots if anybody ever commented on them.

xx

After that, there was hardly time for Dean to panic about the date. He had finals to think about, and then he had packing, and then he had to start getting ready. He managed to effectively distract himself right up until 6.55pm on Thursday, when he arrived outside Castiel's door in a button down shirt and khakis, his hair neatly gelled.

The whiteboard on the door had been wiped clean. Clearly, Cas was getting ready to leave. Around them, the hallway was littered with boxes and suitcases, exactly the way things had been the first day he'd been here, and yet everything was different now.

This time, he wasn't lost. He was here for a very specific reason.

Forcing himself not to think about what he was doing, Dean raised his arm and knocked on the door.

There were a heartstopping few seconds where he thought Cas had already left; had panicked and taken off and stood Dean up. But then he heard movement inside, footsteps walking, no, hurrying towards the door, a click as it started to open. It was everything out of Dean's nightmares. This whole semester, his worst fear had been this door opening as he stood in front of it, Cas or Gabe catching him in the act of writing on the board, and Dean momentarily panicked out of habit before he remembered that this time, he was supposed to be here. He wanted to be seen.

The door swung open fully, and Dean fixed his eyes on the boy stood in front of him. He was simultaneously exactly how Dean had pictured him and so much better. His dark hair flopped in front of his face in a way that made Dean want to tuck it behind his ear, and his blue eyes were like looking up at the sky on a clear day. His clothes were perfectly pressed, his stubble was just beginning to show, and he had the tiniest, most adorable smile on his face that Dean had ever seen on anyone.

He was real, and he was beautiful, and he was looking at Dean with exactly the same expression of wonder that Dean was sure he was directing towards Cas.

"Hello, Dean."

"Hey, Cas," Dean replied in fascination. It was all he could manage to say.

"I can't believe it's you," Cas breathed, and shit, he really hadn't been lying about that low voice. "There were days where I wasn't sure you really existed."

Dean shook his head, smiling back. He couldn't tear his eyes away from Cas. Not now, and maybe not ever. He desperately hoped that he would never have to. “You’re honestly telling me that all this time, you had no idea who I was?” He wouldn't have blamed Cas for looking into Dean's identity a little more than he'd admitted to before now.

“None whatsoever. I could have easily found out, cross-referenced film studies majors with people in our building, narrowed it down. Or just looked for your writing somewhere. But I didn’t want to. I liked walking around campus, wondering if I’d passed by you without us even realizing it. I liked knowing that there was somebody out there who was just… a lot more than what they seemed.”

“You weren’t worried you’d be disappointed when we finally met?”

“It never even crossed my mind.”

Cas' lips. They were so pink and soft-looking. He'd never seen a guy, or even a girl, with lips quite like that. He loved to just watch them talk, but he thought maybe he'd love it even more if they were doing something else.

"I guess I have to wait to kiss you until after the date's over, right?" Dean asked, longingly, his nerves suddenly gone now that he knew he wasn't an instant disappointment to Cas. Now that he knew he had all the time he wanted to prove to Cas that he was worth his time.

Cas' eyes twinkled as he replied. "You have to wait til after dinner, yes. But it doesn't necessarily have to mean the date's over."

---

Dean hurtled up the stairs to Cas' room the second he arrived back at the dorm building, only stopping for a moment to drop his suitcase outside his own door. After their date at the end of last semester, Dean had had to wake up early the next morning and extract himself from Cas' arms so that he could make it to the bus station on time, and he really hadn't wanted to leave. He wished he'd given himself another day at school, and he may or may not have cried a little as he leaned his head against the bus window on the highway. But then his phone had buzzed, and he'd received his first ever text from Cas, and suddenly he was crying for a whole other reason. They'd talked on the phone every day over Christmas break, and they'd made plans to go out for dinner again the first day they got back, before their spring semester classes started up. But now Dean was here, a couple of hours early, even as he knew full well that Cas was still sitting on a plane. Dean uncapped the pen ready to leave Cas a message for when he arrived.

Just once more. Just for old time's sake.

Welcome back, angel.