Part 1 of my Dean/Castiel Big Bang. Return here to the masterpost for full header
All of his problems, he decided, got worse thanks to one perfectly rising spinach soufflé.
Years of teasing about his hair, his glasses, and his penchant for choosing books over sports was one thing, but the moment he showed a talent for delicate French dishes, life at Flour Bluff High became even harder.
"Hey, faggot," said a voice behind him before he was slammed nose-first into his locker.
He recognized who it was by the laughter that echoed down the hallway, and didn't bother turning around. Sighing, he adjusted his glasses where they had been knocked askew and headed to homeroom.
Realistically, being able to cook didn't automatically equal gay; anyone with a little common sense knew that. If he were an athlete or a member of the right social group, that soufflé wouldn't have been a big deal. They'd laugh about the cool guy who could cook and then forget about it by lunch.
As it was, he was a nobody and a weirdo, the type of kid whose shyness and reserved nature forever labeled him as different. When he finally entered public school in eighth grade, his teachers found him intelligent, artistic, and quick-witted, yet that never carried over into relationships with kids his own age. The years he spent being homeschooled by his English professor mother didn't help, either. He had an extensive vocabulary as a result, and students would tilt their heads in confusion whenever he spoke.
Being picked on meant he expected to be judged and ridiculed. He became suspicious around others and retreated into insular pursuits like drawing and reading, which made things worse.
So when Castiel Agnus, the nerdy loser kid with the funny name pulled his soufflé from the oven, Mrs. Carrigan gave him an A, the girls sniggered, and the boys added homosexual epithets to their repertoire.
He didn't expect things to get better anytime soon, thanks to the school district's new forward-thinking "Preparation for Tomorrow" plan. Every junior, male and female, was required to take a special elective course that gave them hands-on training for the real world. At Flour Bluff, that meant half a semester spent in Home Economics -- where Castiel had already unfortunately excelled -- and the latter half to be spent in Castiel's nightmare come to life.
He flinched at the thought of even more taunting while he learned how to fix a flat or change oil. All his tormentors from the first half of the semester in home ec were on the same track as him and were sure to be in auto shop this afternoon. Maybe if he was lucky, Alastair and all his hulking Neanderthals from the baseball team would forget home ec had ever happened. He thought about it, and then sighed again. Based on the encounter earlier at his locker, that was doubtful. Alastair had it out for him.
He entered homeroom as the first bell rang, sending up a silent prayer in the hopes that whoever was up there would get him through the rest of junior year in one piece.
"All right, people, all right. Shut up already. Raise your hand when I call your name."
Castiel's homeroom teacher, who he'd known since freshman year, had a naturally gruff way about him. Mr. Zachariah taught metal shop and was probably in the wrong profession because he couldn't stand teenagers.
"Okay, so, announcements. Right. Let's see, the weight room was supposed to be open, but now it's closed because of extra football practice. Quit parking your cars in the designated visitors' spots or get ticketed. The school store has the new hooded Hornets sweatshirts if you're interested. Um...oh, new student. New student, people. People? Are you listening?"
Thirty heads finally turned in his direction.
"Thank you. We've got someone new joining our little homeroom party." He looked down at his clipboard. "Dean Winchester."
Everyone shifted in their seats to stare toward the back of the room at the tall, serious-looking boy with close-cropped hair and a brown, weathered leather jacket. He stood there silently as the class appraised his appearance, taking in everything from his scuffed work boots to his green eyes. He was handsome and well built, exuding an air of confidence Castiel wished he himself had.
Predictably there was tittering from a few of the girls in the class; Dean had obviously met their approval. Not that he had to try very hard, as far as Castiel could see. He was the type of guy who would be instantly accepted at Flour Bluff.
"Where you from, Winchester?"
Dean shrugged. "Somewhere else."
The class laughed and Mr. Zachariah rolled his eyes. "Another sixteen-year-old too cool for me, huh? You're not taking metal shop by any chance, are you?"
Dean shook his head.
"Thank God. Now where are you from, Winchester? Enlighten your classmates."
"There you go, Kansas. Now that didn't hurt, did it? Dean from Kansas, people. Okay, Dean from Kansas, take a seat. Welcome to Texas."
Dean sat down toward the front of the class, two seats in front of Castiel.
"Play any sports?"
"Some baseball, I guess."
"Talk to Coach Zazel. He lost four of his starting lineup when they graduated. I'm sure he'll be looking for people."
"Uh-huh," Dean said.
Castiel inwardly cringed over possibly having a member of the baseball team in homeroom with him.
"Or you might run into the team captain Alastair in the halls. He's easy to spot. Wears that stupid varsity jacket everywhere."
Castiel smiled a little at that.
"All right, people. You have fifteen minutes before the bell. Make yourselves useful and shut up while you do it."
Most students used homeroom as a last-minute reprieve to catch up on homework they neglected from the night before. Castiel liked to use the time to draw in his sketchbook, which he carried around with him everywhere. It was a large, hardcover black book that contained a mishmash of drawings and clippings and pieces of ads or articles that inspired him. He used pencils most often, but the book was also covered in pen and ink illustrations that popped into his head while he was killing time. This morning he decided to sketch the back of Dean's head and neck where it disappeared into the upturned collar of his leather jacket.
The bell rang for first period and Mr. Zachariah held up a hand. "Have a good day everyone. Good luck, Winchester. Don't get lost."
The class filed out of homeroom and they all dispersed in different directions.
Castiel watched the new kid grab his schedule from Mr. Zachariah and bolt from the room. He really hoped he was bad at baseball.
Castiel's first period class was English, in which they were reading Hamlet. English and history were his favorite subjects, along with art. Unlike his classmates, he never had any trouble with the reading assignments and looked forward to completing an entire novel rather than reading the Cliff's Notes.
He'd already read all of Hamlet, skipping ahead of what was assigned just because he was enjoying it so much. His favorite scene was the wordplay between Hamlet and Polonius in Act II; he'd actually laughed out loud in class during the "you are a fishmonger" and "words, words, words" conversation, which earned him confused stares.
The only thing wrong with his favorite class was that it was located on the second floor. Castiel passed the first floor bathrooms and paused in the hallway. The stairs were only a short distance away. He took a deep breath and continued on.
"What's up, Asstiel?"
"Cook anything good for your boyfriend last night?"
Castiel lowered his head and tried to ignore them. It was the same every morning: Alastair, Tom, and Brady, all lined up and waiting for him to pass by. They were impossible to avoid -- their lockers stood in a row directly opposite the stairwell. He'd already tried taking the other stairs near the east entrance but it made him late every time.
"Please leave me alone," Castiel said.
Alastair came up behind Castiel and yanked on his backpack hard enough to spin him around and send him crashing into the lockers.
"What was that, gay boy?"
"I asked you to please leave me alone. I don't wish to be late for class."
"I don't wish to be late for class," Alastair mimicked. "Why are you such a fucking weirdo?"
Alastair poked a finger at Castiel's forehead, and Brady and Tom snickered.
Both Alastair and Castiel turned their heads. Someone was calling for Alastair from one of the classrooms down the hall.
"Leave that kid alone and c'mere. I think we might've found our third baseman."
It was Coach Zazel, who had his arm around Dean Winchester's shoulders. Castiel locked eyes with Dean, who then turned away.
"See you later, you little queer," Alastair whispered into Castiel's ear, before grabbing him in a headlock and mussing his hair, knocking his glasses from his face in the process. Castiel squirmed and fought uselessly against him until Alastair let go, purposefully smacking him against the locker as he did so.
The three boys went laughing down the hall toward Coach Zazel's classroom. Castiel stood up and slid his glasses back on his nose, watching as Dean shook hands with his tormentors.
His English teacher, Ms. Milton, knew him better than his guidance counselor. She encouraged his interests in literature and art, and had a knack for intuiting when he was having problems. She frowned at him slightly when he took his seat.
"I trust everyone did their reading assignments from last night, right? That means you won't mind a little quiz."
A chorus of groans erupted as Ms. Milton handed out sheets of papers to the first person at the head of every row. The quizzes were passed back from student to student. Castiel had just written his name down when the door rattled and Dean stumbled through.
"Sorry," he mumbled, all eyes on him. "I was...I couldn't find...I got lost."
A few of the students laughed and Dean ran a hand through his hair in obvious discomfort.
"I guess we can take this opportunity to introduce you. Mr. Winchester, I presume?"
"Please welcome Dean Winchester to the class. Dean, take a seat while everyone suffers through a pop quiz."
The only open desk was next to Castiel, who sat at the back of the class in the second row from the door.
Castiel tried to duck his head to make himself less conspicuous. He hunched over his paper and tried to concentrate on answering if he thought Hamlet truly loved Ophelia.
"Hey, man -- "
Castiel ignored him.
"Mr. Winchester, you'll get a chance to introduce yourself after the quiz."
"That's okay, I'm good." He slouched down in his seat and remained quiet.
Castiel finished his quiz quickly and laid it face-down on his desk, and then took out his sketchbook. He went back to coloring the brown and gray feathers on the kestrel he'd sketched after seeing the bird on a split-rail fence not far from his apartment. He could feel Dean's eyes on him the entire time.
"That shouldn't have been too hard if you did your reading. Pass your papers to the front."
The class groaned again, but a flurry of papers was sent into Ms. Milton's waiting hands. She grabbed a book from her desk and made her way over to Dean.
"We're starting Act III this morning," she announced to the class. "This is where we get to hear Hamlet's famous 'To be or not to be' soliloquy, so pay attention as we go over the lines." She handed the book to Dean and said, "I don't expect you to know what's going on right now, but by next week you'll need to have read enough to catch up to us in class."
Dean took the book from her. "I'll manage."
"Great. Don't hesitate to ask if you need help."
Ms. Milton began by assigning different members of the class to read the speaking parts to the short scene before Hamlet's soliloquy. Castiel took notes on whatever Ms. Milton drew attention to, because he knew it would show up on quizzes. Dean sat quietly next to him, paging through the book but not bothering to take notes. Then Ms. Milton took over during Hamlet's speech.
"Let's do a few lines at a time, okay?" she said, addressing everyone. "To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them. What do you think Hamlet is talking about and feeling here?"
Thirty blank faces stared back at her, until Castiel raised his hand.
"Does anyone else have an opinion?" She looked around. "No? Anyone else? Okay, Castiel?"
"Hamlet's life has been torn apart. His mother has married his uncle, which he considers despicable, and he has learned that his father was murdered. He's inconsolable and distraught. Here he is looking at the moral implications of suicide -- to be or not to be, or, to live or to die. He is asking whether it's braver to suffer, or to do something within his own power to make the pain stop."
Dean stopped flipping through his book and raised his head to pay attention after Castiel spoke.
"You bring up moral implications," Ms. Milton said. "Don't you think he's already made up his mind?"
"No," Castiel said, "because of the next lines in which he says, To die -- to sleep. To sleep -- perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub! For in that sleep of death what dreams may come... He's debating with himself over what may happen in the afterlife; that dying is more than merely sleeping."
"Is he afraid?"
"I believe so. I also believe that Hamlet, based on previous scenes, is a spiritual man. That may influence his decision more than the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, as he says. He is uncertain that what may come after death is worse than what he must endure here."
"Interesting. You believe he fears death because of his spirituality?"
"Or religious beliefs, yes. The text is rife with spiritual overtones, such as the mentions of Heaven during Hamlet's conversation with his father's ghost, and especially during the scene in which Hamlet hesitates to kill Claudius while he's praying, because Hamlet fears he will send Claudius to Heaven."
"Mm-hmm," Ms. Milton agreed, "which happens in an act we haven't covered yet."
Castiel heard Dean snicker under his breath. He looked over and frowned, but Dean answered that with a grin. Castiel turned his attention back to Ms. Milton.
"Perhaps I've read ahead," he sheepishly admitted.
"Perhaps," she said, in a tone Castiel knew meant she was more impressed than annoyed.
The rest of the class passed with a line-by-line dissection of the rest of Hamlet's soliloquy. Castiel would steal glances at Dean every now and then, wondering why he found Castiel's enthusiasm for skipping ahead in the text amusing.
Finally the bell rang. Over the clamor, Ms. Milton told the class to read the rest of Scene I for homework. She waved her hand in Castiel's direction.
"Castiel? May I see you for a moment?"
Castiel grabbed his backpack and waited expectantly in front of her desk.
"We've been so busy with Hamlet that I haven't had the chance to talk to you much. I wanted to check in and see how your semester's been going. How were your holidays? Okay, I hope?"
"Yes, thank you," he lied, leaving out the part where he had been almost constantly harassed over the past few weeks. He wasn't ready to share that with her yet, despite their relatively close relationship.
"That's good to hear. You keeping up with your studies?"
Castiel faked a grin. "I find time in between my myriad social engagements."
"Still having difficulty meeting people?"
Freshman year there was a boy on his bus he had started to become friendly with. Castiel often sat to him and they talked about their favorite books, but in the middle of the school year the boy moved. Since then he'd run into nothing but problems trying to get to know people.
"I've never been given the chance. No one's willing to befriend the class weirdo, Ms. Milton. My mere presence causes either dislike or outright hate. I've given up."
Ms. Milton put her hand on his shoulder. "You shouldn't. It'll get better. You simply need a little more confidence in yourself."
"It's been three years of bullying and name-calling, and lately...well, I sincerely doubt I can expect to forge any friendships if I haven't already."
"But -- "
"Your concern is always appreciated, Ms. Milton. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to be late for my next class."
"All right, Castiel. See you tomorrow. Let's allow the rest of the class to keep up with you, shall we?"
The remainder of the morning went by quickly. He suffered through trigonometry by secretly adding the finishing touches to the kestrel in his sketchbook. When it was time for art class, Mr. Darrow nodded and clapped Castiel on the shoulder.
"You've captured the male of the species quite well, Castiel. Very nicely done."
"Thank you, Mr. Darrow."
"The shading on the wings is very subtle. But watch your shadowing. Make sure you keep the shadows consistent with the sun's placement."
Castiel looked closer at his sketch, noticing that although the wings were highlighted in the sun's rays, there wasn't a cast shadow. "Oh," he said, sounding disappointed at his obvious mistake. "You're right."
"I'm impressed with your sketchbook as a whole so far. Keep it up and you'll definitely get a good grade at the end of the year when you turn it in. Don't get discouraged yet. Just be aware of it for next time."
"I will, Mr. Darrow."
Mr. Darrow returned to the front of the room to address the class as a whole.
"Ladies and gentlemen, put your sketches aside for a moment so we can discuss this year's art show."
At the end of every school year Flour Bluff High held an art show in the auditorium. Ceramics, watercolors, pen and ink, oil paintings -- the teachers chose the best pieces of work from all the art classes, and they were put on display for everyone to see, including the public. In freshman year Castiel had a ceramic pot chosen, and last year his seascape made it. He never knew until the day of the art show if any of his pieces of art were picked.
"Once again Flour Bluff will be holding its annual art show. Obviously I can't choose every single piece of work that's completed over the course of the semester. I'll be looking for only the most impressive artwork to submit. Keep this in mind as we move forward. I don't want to see any poor compositions or half-finished work in class. I want all of it good enough to be considered for the show."
Castiel was looking forward to the show, and he paid strict attention through Mr. Darrow's instruction on negative space. They'd already covered realism, pointillism, and surrealism in class, but he wasn't sure if the work he completed for those styles was good enough. He didn't know what Mr. Darrow had planned for the rest of the semester, but Castiel hoped whatever styles they were going to be learning about allowed him to produce art worthy of the show.
And on top of all that, he also had to keep working in his sketchbook. Mr. Darrow expected at least two sketches a week, and if he fell behind there was no way he'd receive a passing grade when he turned it in.
Luckily his next period was lunch. Rather than dealing with the social uncertainties of a crowded cafeteria, he always chose to eat outside. On rainy days or when it was too cold, he retreated to a conference room in the library. He retrieved his insulated lunch bag from his locker, and since it was crisp but sunny, so Castiel pulled his wool hat over his ears, buttoned his coat, and snuck out a side door.
He followed the path around the football field and across the track to the fence that surrounded the far baseball field. He took a quick look around, and then hopped over. They weren't supposed to go off campus during school hours -- and the woods circling the fields certainly were -- but it was the one place he felt completely safe during the day.
Castiel was munching on a bologna sandwich and chips when he caught sight of a figure walking along the edge of the baseball field. He instantly got nervous, thinking someone had followed him, but the figure stopped and walked down into the dugout. Castiel squinted, and could make out a very familiar thigh-length leather jacket. He recognized Dean easily.
Dean walked out of the dugout and onto the infield. He kicked at the clay and walked around where the bases would be, until he got to third base. Castiel watched him hunch down into position and pretend to throw an imaginary ball. Finally he sat down on the bleachers.
Castiel popped the remainder of his sandwich into his mouth and grabbed his sketchbook from his backpack. He studied Dean closely: the way he sat bent over, how his hair stuck out a bit at the front, the way he kept nudging the toe of his boot into the dirt. Castiel thought he looked lonely. He scoffed at the idea. He wondered why he wasn't eating lunch with the baseball team, or at least sitting in the cafeteria with the popular kids. He shouldn't have to work hard at Flour Bluff to be accepted, even as the new guy.
Dean stretched out, draped his arms over the sides of the bleachers and let his head rest on the step above him. He didn't move at all, which made him perfect for Castiel to sketch.
The surreptitious artist and his unwitting model remained like that until they both heard the far-off bell letting them know lunch was over.
Castiel hovered near the doorway, trying not to seem anxious and failing.
"C'mon in, son. The cars ain't gonna fix themselves out there."
The teacher beckoned him into the classroom with a nod of his trucker cap. He was dressed in coveralls, and he wiped his grease-covered hands on his thighs before heading over to his desk. Castiel found a stool around a workbench where the rest of the class was sitting.
When Dean walked in with Alastair, Tom, and Brady, Castiel wasn't surprised. He tried to shrink a little behind Meg Masters, hoping her blonde bob of a haircut would shield him from being noticed.
"My name's Mr. Singer. Welcome to Auto Shop, part two to the school district's stupid idea to force you kids to take a class most of you are gonna hate. But since I ain't the one makin' the rules, I'm gonna make this as painless as possible as long as you follow my instructions and don't act like idjits while you're here. Got that?"
"Are we going to have to, like, get dirty and stuff?" asked a girl Castiel didn't know.
"If you, like, wanna pass this course, then yeah," Mr. Singer answered with a scoff. "You'll learn how to change a tire, fix a flat, check your fluids, and other basics of car maintenance. We won't be doin' any heavy-duty auto repair work in this class, though."
"Yeah, we all have a lot to be thankful for," Mr. Singer mumbled. "All right, let's take attendance."
The class broke out into quiet conversation while Mr. Singer readied his attendance book.
"Okay, uh, Ag...uh, Ag...nu..."
"It's actually pronounced 'Ahn-yoos,' Mr. Singer," Castiel offered helpfully. "My last name, 'Agnus,' is Latin you see, and -- "
"Great, kid. Good to know. Your first name's Castiel? Did I get that right?"
Alastair cleared his throat loudly, and then fake-coughed a softer "Fag!" under his breath.
Sniggers erupted around him and he shrunk down behind Meg again.
Mr. Singer didn't hear the insult tossed at Castiel, but even if he had, chances were he would be like Coach Zazel and other teachers and simply ignore it. Ms. Milton might have stuck up for him, if she witnessed something blatant. Alastair, however, had developed a subtle way of terrorizing him every day and had never been reprimanded. Castiel couldn't tell anyone, either, because that would only cause more problems.
He'd thought about standing up for himself, imagining a moment in which he lashed out and lost control. He had dreams about it -- feeling the satisfying crunch when his fist met Alastair's nose, or slamming Alastair's face into the lockers, or a dozen other terrible things. Even if Castiel did try and fight back, it would be short-lived. Alastair was taller than him and had the muscled body of an athlete. Castiel wasn't afraid, exactly, but he was cautious and aware of his limits. Taking on Alastair, he knew, was one of them.
"Did y'hear me, son? I asked if I got the 'Castiel' part right."
"You did, Mr. Singer," Castiel responded, barely audible.
"Fine. Everyone answer when I call out your first name."
There were a few more giggles and some talking as Mr. Singer made his way around the room. Alastair, Tom, and Brady were deep in conversation with Dean, and Castiel noticed him glance his way a few times. He tried to ignore them and pulled Hamlet from his bag until Mr. Singer called them all to attention.
"Today we're gonna go over one of the most important basics: tires. Okay? Let's get started."
The students moved in a group to the wide garage bay that held an ancient Chevelle. Mr. Singer bent down next to the driver's side front tire, and patted its side.
"This part's the sidewall. Up here, where all the grooves are, is the tread. It's cut in a pattern to provide traction on the road. We're gonna check to see if we need new tires first. What I wanna do is turn the steering wheel and look over the whole tire. Turn to the right and left as far as she'll go, and get a good look across the surface of the tire. Got that? Anybody got any ideas what to look for?"
Dean was the first one to raise his hand.
"What's your name again, son?"
"Dean. Dean Winchester."
"All right Dean, what's one of the most common ways to know if your tires are wearin'?"
"You should look for cracks in the rubber, bubbling, and tread wear," he answered.
"Good. One of the most important things is called 'tread depth.' It measures how much your tires are wearing down by the grooves in the tire, here, see?"
Mr. Singer dug a fingernail into the treads of the Chevelle's tires.
"If your tires wear down too much, you can hydroplane on wet roads, or go into skids. Your traction is shot to hell. Now, a mechanic is gonna check your treads with a tread depth gauge." Mr. Singer pulled what looked like a large syringe from the pocket of his coveralls. "In most states, tires are legally worn out when they have worn down to 2/32 of an inch of remaining tread depth." He looked around at the class. "Maybe you wanna write that down?"
There was a flurry of activity while the students grabbed pens and notebooks from their bags.
"Now, to be safe, you need to have more tread depth than that. That's why you should replace tires when it gets down to 6/32. In the rain, replace them when it gets to 4/32."
"Uh, Mr. Singer, what if we don't have one of those measuring thingys?"
"Good question, uh -- "
"Jo. I'm gonna show you what you do, unless someone here already knows."
Castiel looked around, but no one knew or seemed willing to answer, but then Dean stepped forward again.
"You use the change in your pocket."
"Right again, Winchester. Okay, we're gonna use a penny and a quarter."
Mr. Singer pulled out the coins, and handed the quarter to Dean to hold.
"Stick the penny in, upside down, first on the tails side, which shows the Lincoln Memorial. If the top of the Lincoln Memorial is always covered by the tread, you have more than 6/32 of an inch of tread depth remaining. Now, flip 'im over and stick ol' Lincoln's head in there, upside down. If part of Lincoln's head is always covered by the tread, you have more than 2/32. With the quarter, stick Mr. Washington in there upside down too, and if his head is always covered, you got yourself 4/32."
The class dutifully took notes, except Dean. Castiel figured if he was the one telling Mr. Singer the secrets to the coins in his pocket and tire wear, he didn't need to. Still, it seemed odd that one could measure how much a tire was wearing just by using a few coins. Despite writing it down in his notebook, Castiel remained unconvinced.
"The other good reason to check the treads often is 'cause sometimes stuff gets caught in there. A tack or a nail embedded in the treads is hard to see if you ain't lookin'. You'll never notice it until days or weeks later when you're stuck with a flat. That's why it's good practice to check your tires on occasion."
Mr. Singer stood back up and wiped his hands on his thighs. "Over there in the bucket is a bunch of tire treads. Each of you take one and find a benchtop. You can practice testin' the treads with the coins I hand out."
They all returned to their seats with pieces of tread torn from old tires and two coins each. Castiel looked around and was careful to find a stool at the far corner of the benchtop, out of everyone's -- and especially Alastair's -- way. He was struggling to stick Lincoln's head into the rubber when he felt someone sit across from him.
He glanced up to find Dean, who was rolling a quarter over his knuckles in a perfectly balanced wave from pinkie to forefinger. Back and forth, back and forth, and Castiel lost track of what he was doing because he was staring at Dean's fingers.
"I can do this with a baseball, too," Dean said.
"Are you...I'm sorry, were you addressing me?"
"There's no one else sittin' here, is there?"
"No," he answered, pulling his backpack closer.
"You have to make sure you push it into the tread with just enough force, but not so deep it gets stuck."
Castiel gestured at the piece of rubber in front of him. "This makes no sense. Using coins? It hardly seems like an accurate way to test a tire's wear."
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy," Dean said. "Do you want some help?"
Impressed and surprised by Dean's recitation of the Hamlet quote, Castiel could only stare at him.
Dean reached over and grabbed Castiel's coin and the tire tread. He seated Lincoln into the rubber, and then took Castiel's hand and placed it on the penny.
"See? Feel that? Just enough. It doesn't replace checkin' with a gauge, but it'll let you know without havin' any tools around that you need new tires."
Castiel nodded, then frowned at the unrequested help. He took a quick glance to see if Alastair was putting Dean up to this, but surprisingly, he was talking with Brady and not paying Castiel any attention whatsoever.
When Castiel looked back Dean was smiling at him.
"Yes, thank you," Castiel said, still cautious. "I appreciate your assistance."
Dean flicked Castiel's penny back onto the benchtop and went to rejoin Alastair and his crew.
Castiel decided to do his homework in the library and take a later bus home. Auto shop was his last class, and Dean's sudden interest in him -- and Dean's connection to Alastair -- made him nervous. That was all he needed right now. It was bad enough having Alastair harassing him. He didn't need the new guy who shared homeroom, English, and auto shop with him to cause him problems, too. He figured discretion was the better part of valor and made himself scarce when the final bell of the day rang.
The late bus let him off on the corner of his street. Castiel lived in a large apartment complex, which consisted of squat, two-storey buildings each surrounding a common parking lot. He lived in a two-bedroom with his mother on the ground floor of Building Ten.
It was a short walk to reach the back of the complex where his apartment was, so he decided to cut through the parking lots. On the way, he stopped every once in a while to test the neighbors' tires with his newly acquired penny skill.
He meandered through the parked cars in their lots until finally popping into the one for his building. The old lady in apartment 122 who drove the Cadillac needed new tires. The guy with the beard from 136 had a Dodge truck with tires that were balding. The new guy who just moved into apartment 162 had a really old, giant, boat of a car. Castiel couldn't even tell what model it was without looking for some sort of identifier. The black four-door with Chevrolet written on its grill had tires that were practically brand new. It wasn't surprising; for an old car it looked to be very well maintained.
He left the parking lot and walked up the sidewalk to his apartment.
"I'm home," he called, closing the front door behind him.
His mother came out of the kitchen into the living room. "Why didn't you call?"
"I remained after school to finish up my homework in the library, and -- "
"Castiel, how many times must we discuss this?" his mother asked, visibly distressed. "If you're going to be late, you call."
"You always say that. You know I worry! I don't want to fear for your safety after I say goodbye in the morning."
Freshman year he had been pushed down the stairs. Castiel always suspected it was the boy who had been bullying him that year, although he could never prove it. His severely sprained arm had to be wrapped up in Ace bandages and was nearly immobile for three weeks. His mother contacted the school, but since Castiel didn't see the boy do it and no one else came forward, the incident was dropped by the administration. Castiel had had run-ins with other bullies besides the one freshman year and Alastair, and his mother had been fighting a losing battle to get someone to do something to protect her son. Castiel was of the opinion that since the administration didn't seem to care, calling the school only made his situation worse every time. He tried to discourage his mother from getting involved, but she was insistent.
"Mama, I can take care of myself."
"If you're being bullied again I want you to tell me, Castiel," she said.
Castiel had been homeschooled because his mother thought he could receive a better education with her instruction. For years she split her time between homeschooling and her other two jobs required to support the family: adjunct English professor at Del Mar College, and data entry on weekends. Beginning a public school education in eighth grade was a huge shock for Castiel, and he knew his mother felt guilty about it, especially after he suffered from bullying.
"If you were being bullied again, would you admit it? Or are you trying to live up to Michael?"
The summer he turned thirteen, his older brother Michael had been killed in a motorcycle accident. He was everything Castiel wasn't: athletic, gregarious, and confident in his abilities. He played football with a social league in the area, he went on dates, he had friends. The moment Michael was old enough to work, he helped support the family enough to allow their mother to go back to school for her doctorate. Michael had been attending college courses and working at a local bookstore when he was struck from behind while waiting at a red light. After that, his mother had to return to work full time and Castiel was at the mercy of the public school system.
Each time he was bullied, Castiel would think about how Michael would react. Michael would've been tough, and aggressive, and fought back. He never would have put up with what Castiel suffered on a daily basis. Michael was too much of a man for that.
"This has nothing to do with Michael," he answered, staring at the floor. He knew he'd been caught in a lie the minute he looked back up at her.
His mother sat down on the couch, and patted the cushion next to her to usher him over. "Sweetheart, you mustn't feel obligated to try and live up to your older brother. You are one of the most artistic, well-read, and emotional young men I've ever had the pleasure of knowing."
"Everything Michael was not."
"That's why you are you, honey, and I love you for exactly who you've become. You have to find your own way. There's nothing wrong with being different."
"Around here there is, Mama."
"I know," she said, putting her arm around him. "I find it distressing that someone who is as sweet and caring as you can earn such contempt."
"It's the nature of high school."
"It is, unfortunately. But listen to me, Castiel. If you are having difficulties in school, I want you to tell me. If those boys are picking on you for...for whatever reason, you come to me. If you need to talk -- even about something you think I wouldn't understand -- I don't want you to be afraid. I'm your mother, and I will never stop loving you, no matter what."
There was a force behind her words Castiel had never heard before. "Yes, ma'am."
"Good." She brushed his hair out of his eyes and away from his glasses. "Go wash for dinner."
He walked away into the bathroom, wondering exactly what it was his mother was talking about.
On to Part 2
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