A Close Second
The Jersey tradition was stupid and archaic and honestly Castiel wanted no part in it.
Sure, Castiel may have thought it was cute when he first heard about it. The morning of every game day during football season, each player put their jersey (whichever one they wouldn’t be wearing for their game that night) on someone’s desk for them to wear in support. Because this was high school, this turned into a kind of courtship thing for the football players. If you got a jersey, it was so on.
Cute, right? Except, actually, no. There had been nothing more dramatic than when linebacker Gordon Walker put his jersey on Jo Harvelle’s desk instead of his then-long-time girlfriend, Bela Talbot. Especially when everyone knew that Jo Harvelle had been flirting heavily with lacrosse player Benny Lafitte. But he hadn’t been able to lay his claim because he didn’t have a football jersey.
Which turned into all of the other sports participating in Jersey Day. And with sports schedules having crazy inconsistencies, what with some sports having some kind of competition every other day, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to have some kind of garment on their desk several times a week.
Everyone except Castiel, whose desk had remained painfully naked for the past three years of high school.
Not that he particularly cared.
Actually, the one time he did have something waiting on his desk, Castiel thought he would collapse out of sheer embarrassment. The swim teams, both men’s and women’s, also wanted to participate in Jersey Day but, instead of defaulting to Letterman jackets like most other sports, the swim team got creative.
This resulted in Castiel coming into homeroom one day sophomore year to find a string bikini laying on his desk, a note attached telling him it was from Meg Masters.
So no, Castiel did not appreciate the Jersey tradition. He didn’t appreciate anything that had his gut twisted with anxiety every morning until he saw his desk, blessedly free of women’s swim things.
Today, however, Castiel felt he was in the clear. He knew, thanks to the unmanly shriek of Sam Winchester the day before, that yesterday had been the final swim match of the week and therefore he did not have to worry about clothing on his desk today.
Castiel smiled a bit as he made his way down the hall. Poor Sam. He was only a freshman, Castiel knew, and having finding Gabriel Odinson’s backup speedo on his desk must have been a shock. Sam seemed to be taking it in stride, though, as Castiel glimpsed him coming in from the parking lot, trailing his older brother Dean.
Castiel looked hastily away, turning into the nearest hallway that would take him to his locker.
Castiel supposed the Jersey tradition wasn’t as archaic as it could have been. As it used to be. Castiel vaguely remembered the scandal from his freshman year in regards to Jersey day: the JV kicker had just come out of the closet and, in an effort to head off any complaints from the school board, had been told he couldn’t give his jersey to anyone. In response to that, Aaron walked into homeroom on game day with the entire varsity team’s jerseys neatly folded on his desk, the ones that didn’t fit spilling over into a stack on his chair.
After that show of support, and the addition of other sports on the tradition, the rules for the event had gotten lax. Yes, there were always implications in getting a jersey, but there were also understood platonic forms of support. Instead of giving it to Benny Lafitte, Jo Harvelle’s Jo loved her mother and the jersey wouldn’t have fit Benny anyway. Everyone understood.
Similarly, Dean Winchester, captain of the wrestling team after having made varsity his very first year, always left his wrestling Letterman jacket on the desk of Charlie Bradbury. Charlie Bradbury was Dean’s best friend, and though people had had their suspicions about their relationship, it was clear to everyone that Charlie and Dean couldn’t have been more platonic as Charlie was gay as the fourth of July. Castiel suspected Dean always chose Charlie as a way of keeping the peace: Dean was what one would call the school’s “Wonder Boy”. Loved by everyone. Made friends easily. Dated easier. He had that uniquely universal charm and genuine kindness that made everyone feel as if they were his best friend. A sort of magnetism that made everyone want to be made special by him. But even when Dean was seeing someone – even when he was seeing Lisa Braedan for the better part of last year – Dean had always given his jacket to Charlie. By Dean giving Charlie his jacket every match day, it was a way for Dean to announce that yes, Charlie was his favorite, but Charlie had always been his favorite. And everyone else was a very close second.
Or, at least, that’s how it’d been for the first three years. When Dean’s younger brother Sam had started high school this year, Dean had attempted to give Sam the jacket. Sam, of course, didn’t want it.
“He thinks I want to wear his sweaty jacket all day?” Castiel had overheard Sam telling his friend Kevin Tran one morning, when the three of them were seated in their advanced mythology class. “I live with Dean, I know he never cleans the damn thing.”
Castiel was sure that wasn’t the whole of it. While he believed Sam objected to the jacket’s smell (Charlie did always seem to walk around with her nose scrunched when she wore it), being a younger brother himself, Castiel suspected Sam’s reluctance had more to do with not wanting to live in his brother’s shadow. Literally swadled in Dean’s importance. Castiel understood that and respected it.
It came to the same thing, though: Sam wouldn’t accept the jacket. So, while Charlie continued to wear it, this caused a bit of a stir. When Charlie was the concrete recipient, no one could complain, but if Dean was willing to leave Charlie bare for his brother, who’s to say someone else couldn’t change his mind?
The school was shook. The draw to be Dean’s new favorite was pulling at everyone.
It was a draw Castiel was willing himself to be immune to.
Dean and Castiel weren’t friends. They barely associated, only speaking in their shared free period where they’d both volunteered to build sets.
Castiel chided himself, now with his appropriate books from his locker and once again making his way down the hall: Dean had been very clear. Sam was Dean’s favorite and, seeing as Sam didn’t want the jacket, Charlie got it because she was his second favorite. And everyone else, including Castiel, were tied for a very close third!
Castiel raised his voice inside his head to drown out the recent memories of shared smiles across a work bench. Tied for a very close third! Memories of Dean’s rumbling laugh in response to a comment Castiel had made about the wood clamp. Tied for a very close third! The memory of Dean’s hand on his waist when he’d helped him off the ladder after Castiel measured the awning. Tied for a very close third! The gleam in Dean’s eye when he offered Castiel a ride home from set building. Tied for a very close third!
Castiel made his way down the hallway, taking notice of the spots of purple and white that were the chosen few wearing their bequested wrestling jackets. Invariably, people who knew they were getting jerseys went to fetch their jerseys (or jackets, whatever) from their homeroom desks before going back out into the halls to visit their lockers or talk with their friends. This was to notify the rest of the congregation of their importance. The chosen versus the rest.
Castiel made his way to homeroom in a snit, getting through the door to the classroom and over to his desk without his eyes ever leaving his shoes. He may have been able to make it through the entirety of the fifteen minute homeroom period without looking up if not for the absence of the customary thump that was usually the various books in Castiel’s bag landing on his wooden desk. There was a thump when Castiel slammed his bag down, but it was muffled. The bag didn’t hit desk because it hit–
There was a jacket on Castiel’s desk.
There was a jacket on Castiel’s desk?
It was definitely a sports jacket: purple and white in their school colors and made of that same leather and wool combo of varsity jackets around the world. So it was a sports jacket. On Jersey Day. On Castiel’s desk?
It was just the wrestlers today, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it just the wrestlers that had a match today? So wouldn’t this have to be a wrestler’s jacket?
Castiel wasn’t sure of the wrestlers’ numbers, as he didn’t follow any of the school sports, but he was very afraid to ask any of his classmates as they were already glaring at him with envy and confusion.
Castiel tried to think of the wrestlers he even knew. There was Michael, who he knew from church, but they hadn’t spoken since they’d both been confirmed four years ago. There was Becky from the girl’s team that always loved to titter away at him when they shared a table in biology but this jacket seemed too large for her. There was Balthazar from French, there was Raphael from P.E. there was Alistair, there was Crowley, and there was–
Tied for a very close third!
Not knowing who this jacket belonged to and very much not feeling welcome to ask, Castiel put the jacket on, and hunched into it, not meeting anyone’s eyes as the morning announcements began.
Unfortunately for Castiel, he had no way of finding out whose jacket he was wearing before he saw Dean in his free period. Castiel had volunteered for set building as a college resume booster and to spend more time painting, a passion which he had been continually neglecting due to his scramble to apply to universities. Dean had volunteered to spend more time with Sam, who had auditioned for the play and was cast in the ensemble. And also because Dean liked woodworking and ‘working with his hands,’ a statement that did not make Castiel blush when Dean had told it to him with a wink.
Dean would probably ask about the jacket. They were friendly, even if they weren’t friends, and the jacket belonged to one of Dean’s fellow wrestlers so he probably knew them. It would be really awkward for Castiel to admit he didn’t know which of Dean’s friend’s jacked he was wearing.
Castiel firmly believed this was not Dean’s jacket. He was certain. Sam had said Dean’s jacket was sweaty and smelly and Castiel could not catch any unpleasant scents when he inhaled the collar deeply.
He wasn’t being creepy and sniffing the jacket. He wasn’t! Castiel just had a smaller build than the wrestlers - wiry from biking while they were broad and muscled - so he was very much enveloped in the varsity jacket he was wearing. It was very warm. And smelled nice. Not nice like cologne or laundry detergent but not bad like B.O. and sweaty gym mats. That’s what Castiel would have expected from Dean’s jacket based on what Sam had said. This jacket smelled nice like boy. And woodshavings. And apple pie filling.
Castiel subtly took another sniff just to commit it to memory.
Because surely, whoever’s jacket this was didn’t really mean to leave it on Castiel’s desk. Surely not! This was all a mistake, or some kind of prank, and after the incident had been corrected or laughed about, Castiel would never get to wear the warm and homey-smelling jacket again.
Castiel supposed that if this were some kind of prank – which seemed more and more likely the longer the day went – he would probably do better to not be wearing the jacket when its owner came to call.
And not just that: fellow students were looking at him. In every way imaginable. There were unfriendly glares and cautious confusion and angry surprise and, maybe in the most confusing place, excited happiness? Maybe that was so confusing because that reaction came from three people: Meg, Sam Winchester, and Charlie.
Castiel had not expected Meg to be excited because he had so adamantly rejected her jersey-like offering. But she just grinned, laughed loudly, and clapped him on the shoulder in congratulations. Castiel suspected the good humor was due less to him receiving a jacket and had more to do with who the jacket belonged to. She was gone so quickly he did not get the opportunity to ask.
Sam Winchester was perhaps easier to understand as he, Kevin, and Castiel had become something like work partners in their shared mythology class and it would make sense that Sam would be happy for him. The sheer joy in Sam’s face, however, was confusing to Castiel as friends they may be, surely they weren’t close enough to warrant that level of enthusiasm?
It only began to come together when the third jubilant cry met him followed by a flying tackle hug from behind. Castiel was stunned momentarily at the contact, not used to being touched, so it took him several more moments to react than it probably should have. By the time he turned around, Charlie had pulled away and run back up the hall, her red hair flying wildly behind her and her shoulders bare but for a long-sleeved t-shirt.
Charlie wasn’t wearing a jacket today.
Castiel was wearing a jacket today.
Castiel could see the conclusion but it didn’t make sense.
And then it was his free period. Time to go work on sets in the auditorium. With Dean.
He had a logical answer to the puzzle of the jacket’s owner. And worse, he had hope. He wanted to delay confirming or denying his hopes and suspicions for as long as possible.
Castiel figured he had some time as Dean always showed up right as the late bell was sounding, smiling winningly at the teacher and taking his seat across the table from Castiel before they were cleared to start working. This being the case, Castiel figured he would get to the room early and get himself settled before he had to face Dean.
Unfortunately, on this day, Dean was there even earlier than Castiel. Earlier than everyone as the room was completely empty, excepting him, sitting at a desk and sketching prop pieces.
Castiel toyed with the idea of going to the bathroom or back to his locker, anything to delay having to talk to Dean. Just as he was reaching a decision however, Dean looked up and saw him standing there, and the usual smile he greeted Castiel with froze on his face.
Castiel stilled, staring back at Dean.
Neither of them moved until a loud locker slam jolted them back to reality, Dean blushing and quickly looking back to his sketches and Castiel taking several deep breaths as he finally completed his walk to the table.
“Hello Dean,” Castiel greeted as he sat, hoping to ease the tension. Dean relaxed his shoulders but blushed even harder.
“H-hey, Cas.” Dean cleared his throat. “What’s up?”
Castiel shrugged as if to say there was nothing particularly noteworthy about the day. The movement of his shoulders, however, jostled the jacket and made it slip slightly on his frame, compelling Castiel to reach up and correct it. Dean noticed and his eyes tracked Castiel’s hands handle the jacket.
Dean cleared his throat again.
“I, uh, I wasn’t sure if you’d wear it.”
Castiel tilted his head in confusion, looking back down at the jacket.
There are several reasons Dean could be acting so nervously and be so considering of whether or not he’d be wearing this jacket. He could be asking in favor of a friend and be uncomfortable being involved in romantic matters. He could be knowledgeable of Castiel’s past reception of Jersey Day gifts and surprised Castiel had received this one well. He could be making a note about how impractical heavy jackets are when working with tools. He could be commenting on the temperature in the school.
He could be happy you’re wearing his jacket.
Tied for a very… close…. third?
“I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be on my desk,“ Castiel admitted. "Far more likely it was an accident. Or a prank.”
Dean’s mouth dropped open for a moment before he shut it again with a clenched-jawed frown. “Why do you think it would be a prank?”
Castiel shrugged again, hugging the jacket on his frame so it wouldn’t fall. “Why would a wrestler want me to wear their jacket? I don’t follow the sport. I’m not particularly close with any of the team members. I thought it far more likely that someone would think it’s particularly funny if I made a fool of myself thinking someone liked me only for them to snatch the jacket back and laugh about it later.” Castiel picked at the sleeve of the jacket, looking at it instead of Dean. “I’m not popular, Dean. Not particularly well known or well liked. Some of the only wrestlers I know personally are assholes I went to bible study with. They’d certainly find this an entertaining prank.”
Castiel still wasn’t looking at Dean so he wasn’t expecting the angry coolness that inflicted his words when he spoke. “You think I’d prank you?”
Castiel looked back at him, sadly. “No, Dean. I don’t think you’d be so cruel.” Dean deflated some, looking confused and Castiel sighed. “I admit, however, that I don’t know any of the wrestler’s player numbers so I have no idea whose jacket this is. For all I know, it could still be a prank and I shouldn’t be wearing it when the prank is revealed.”
Dean looked surprised again. Even more confused. “Why are you, then?”
Castiel flushed. Choosing to be brave, he admitted, “It smells heavenly.”
Dean grinned and punched out a startled laugh. Then a longer and louder one.
“Cas, man, that’s my jacket. I picked you for Jersey Day.” And Dean continued laughing even as he blushed. “I didn’t even think about you not knowing it was mine. I was so caught up in building up the courage to even give it to you I didn’t–”
Castiel smiled, small and happy, before he reached over for Dean’s hand, cutting him off. “I guessed it might have been your jacket when Charlie came at me in a flying hug and she wasn’t wearing it. I didn’t dare dream, though. Didn’t dare hope.”
Dean smiled shyly and Castiel’s smile broadened, his hand still grasping the top of Dean’s even as fellow crew workers finally started filtering into the room.
Dean started to pull away, ready to get to work, but Castiel held fast to his hand, needing to know–
“Why me?” he asked, desperately. “You’re notorious for jacket hoarding, only offering it to your very best friend in the world or your brother. Why do I get it today? I’m just tied with the rest of the school for your third favorite.”
Dean swore under his breath, laughing and shaking his head. “I knew saving the jacket would just build everything up.” His laugh trailed off and he looked Castiel dead in the eye, a smile still at the corner of his lips. “This isn’t, like, a marriage proposal or anything. It’s just like every other guy or girl on Jersey Day: I like you. I want you to come to the match and see me wrestle and then after maybe we can get some dinner and pie.” Castiel’s mouth twitched, understanding now why the jacket smelled like apple filling. “I wanna take you on a date and Jersey Day is the best and easiest and,” Dean grinned sheepishly. “the most public way for me to ask.”
Castiel didn’t smile, determined as he was. “But you never gave your jacket to Lisa. Or Cassie or Donnie or–”
“Yes, Cas, thank you.” Dean rolled his eyes, embarassed, turning a frown to Cas’s hand still clutching his. “Yeah, I dated them, but not seriously.” Dean paused, picking at Castiel’s thumb with his other hand and not looking up. “Not like how I wanna date you.”
Castiel let out a shuddering breath, watching Dean play with his fingers. “You don’t even know me.”
“I know enough.” He looked up at Cas, eyes soft. “And I’m serious about being serious if you are.” He tried for a smile. “I mean you’re wearing the jacket so I’m pretty sure that means you’re contractually obligated–”
“Yes, I’m serious, of course.” Dean’ smile spread slowly and Castiel was helpless not to follow him into a grin. “Now tell me how to get to that place where you wrestle or whatever and I’ll be glad to come.”
Dean beamed and brought Castiel’s hand up to his lips to kiss it, making Castiel laugh softly and blush pinkly.
They spent the rest of the free period actually working but not without small touches and soft glances and shy smiles. Castiel also mentioned how he wasn’t sure it was Dean’s jacket because Sam said it would smell bad because Dean never washed it.
“Oh, well I haven’t.” He smiled. “Sammy and Charlie can’t stand it but when I knew I was gonna give it to you, I tried to let it air out or whatever. Google says to stick it in the freezer because cold gets rid of smells but my mom yelled at me when I tried to do that so I just let it hang outside my window.”
“Well it didn’t kill all the smells.” Castiel said, subtly turning his head to sniff at the collar. “It still smells like woodshavings, apple pie filling and–” in a daring move, Castiel pulled Dean where Dean was measuring a 2 by 4 and buried his face in Dean’s neck, inhaling deeply. He let out a loud sigh when he pulled back, grinning at Dean’s embarrassment that didn’t entirely eclipse his pleasure. “Yup, just like a suspected: you.”
Dean coughed, smiling slightly. “Well, you said, you liked the smell, so I’m gonna take that as a good thing.”
“The best thing.” Castiel stood back again as Dean returned to the footstool where he was measuring the archway, his back-side deliciously on view. “Well… a close second.”