~Arcade Fire, “Wasted Hours”
Ten years old
Two of the most significant moments of Dean Winchester’s childhood coincidentally happen on the same day.
That day begins early, as the Winchester family pile into their beloved Impala, Dean and his little brother both still half-asleep, eyes barely cracked open as they crawl into the backseat. The sun hasn’t even made an appearance yet, but Dean knows by the shade of the pre-dawn sky that it won’t be long before they’ll be squinting away at the harsh brightness of the morning’s rays.
He slots himself into place and closes his eyes, wanting to fall back into slumber despite the excitement he feels over what the day promises. He sighs and smiles slightly when he hears his mom reach into the car, tucking Sammy in and covering him with a blanket. When he feels her warm hands tucking his own blanket around his shoulders and soft lips kissing his cheek, he stays awake long enough to murmur, “Thanks, mom,” before drifting into a deep sleep.
When he wakes, it’s to glaring sunshine and a rush of air as his Dad rolls down the driver’s side window. Dean scoots up in his seat to take a peek, and rubs the sleep out of his eyes as he stares at the landscape rushing past. As many different places as he’s lived in his short life, seeing miles upon miles of tall grass swaying in the wind shouldn’t make much of an impression on him, but it does. It’s one thing to move to a new place knowing you probably won’t be there for more than a few months or a year at time – you don’t let yourself get attached to your surroundings.
But this time, this move, is for real. This is the place where Dean and Sammy are meant to grow up. Or at least that’s what Mom and Dad keep saying, and Dean’s pretty sure they must be telling the truth because dad quit the Marines and everything, and that’s something Dean thought he wouldn’t ever do.
He leans his forehead on the window, breathing in the scent of grass and ozone, the air dry and warm with the promise of a sweltering summer. He can hear Mom and Dad murmuring to each other, but the wind and the rumble of the Impala’s engine make their words indecipherable. He feels Sam begin to stir across the seat next to him, and looks up in time to catch Dad staring at him in the rearview mirror.
“Shouldn’t be too long before we’re there,” Dad raises his voice enough for Dean to hear. Mom looks over her shoulder to smile at Dean, mouths morning, honey, as she battles with wisps of her hair flying loose from its ponytail in the current of air flowing between the windows.
“I’m hungry,” Sammy whines, and Dean reaches down to pull a peanut butter and jelly sandwich out of his knapsack before his baby brother is even finished saying the words. Mom stares back at Dean fondly as his dad leans forward to turn up the volume on the stereo.
“Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man,” Dad sings along to the music, loud and off-key, and he stares back at Dean through the rear view with a smile on his face. Dean grins back at him. He always likes it when Dad sings along to music; it means he’s happy. Sometimes Dean worries why he doesn’t do it so much, but he tells himself that maybe it’s just because his dad doesn’t hear a lot of songs that make him feel like singing.
“Pay attention to this moment, Deano,” Dad calls back at him over the music and the roar of the wind. “For men like you and me, sometimes all we need in life is good tunes, a good car, and an open road.”
He winks at Dean in the mirror before turning his attention back to the road ahead. Dean puffs his chest out a little and straightens his back, feeling prouder and happier than he’s felt in a long time because his dad called him a man, a man just like him. He takes another deep breath, looks over the front seat to the asphalt speeding towards them through the windshield, and listens to the fading lyrics of the song…
And when it’s time for leavin’, I hope you’ll understand, I was born a ramblin’ man…
They arrive in Lawrence early that afternoon. Dean and Sam watch the landscape change from fields of swaying wheat and corn crops to boxy strip malls and cookie-cutter houses with square, green lawns that are so bright they look fake. Dad slows the car down as they get closer to their neighborhood, a suburb just outside of Lawrence proper.
“How the hell are we supposed to even be able to remember which house is ours?” Dad grumbles from the front seat. “They all look the same.”
Dean hears his mom sigh. “The homes are fine. Better than anything we had before. And you’ve no place to talk about the houses all looking the same, given the way it is on every base we lived on.”
John snorts. “Yeah, well at least military had an excuse for making carbon-copy houses. Plus, nobody pretended it was better than what it was. We all knew shit was shit.”
“Language, John,” Mary mutters, looking back over her shoulder to see if Dean and Sam are paying attention.
A few minutes later, they pull up to the curb of a yellow house with a moving truck in the driveway, and “Home sweet home!” Mary exclaims.
Sammy bounces in his seat, screams “I have to PEE!” at the top of his lungs, as Dean scrambles out of the backseat and runs to stand in the front yard, stopping to stare at their new home. Dad was right, he thinks. All these houses do look the same. But he stops that train of thought as soon as he sees one of the mover guys pulling his bike out of the back of the van. He runs over to grab it from him, excited at the prospect of riding around the neighborhood, but Dad’s voice makes him stop in his tracks.
“Son, you’re not riding off on your bike until we’ve got everything unpacked, you hear?” John says as he picks up a box and turns to walk into the house.
Dean can't hold back his scowl, but he fires back his, “Yes, sir,” with military precision, and doesn’t hesitate to stoop and pick up a box of his own to carry.
They work diligently for an hour, helping the hired movers finish unloading the last of the boxes so that they can bid them goodbye and get busy unpacking. Mary makes a point to unpack some of Sammy’s toys first so that he’ll be occupied and out of the way. Dean spares a glance at his little brother, resenting the fact that just because he’s six years old and cute he gets out of doing any work.
He sidles over to the open window to get a taste of the late spring breeze. They have no power in the house yet, so with the afternoon sun beating down it makes the air stuffy and stale. He hears his mom sigh behind him.
“Sweetie, would you like to do me a huge favor?”
Dean turns to face her. “Yes, ma’am,” he says reluctantly, expecting another chore to be added to his list of things to do before he can get away.
Mary sets down the box she was unpacking and walks over to Dean. Her eyes are warm and soft as she looks down at him, fingers brushing the hair off his forehead. “Your dad and I forgot to check if that playground two streets over has monkey bars, and you know how much Sammy loves those. I’m sure he’ll be wanting to go out and play tomorrow, so it would be a big help if you could take your bike and check that playground out a bit more thoroughly.”
Freedom so close he can taste it, Dean hesitates, honor-bound to fess up to Dad’s command. “But, uh, Dad said I couldn’t go out until I’d helped unpack everything.”
Mary leans down to place a kiss on his forehead. “You let me worry about Dad. This is official Sammy business, after all.”
Dean wraps his arms around his mom’s waist and buries his head against her stomach, hugging her tightly. He’s always loved his mom fiercely, but ever since that scary morning a year ago when he found her alone in their kitchen, crying over the fact Dad hadn’t been home in weeks, he’s felt a responsibility and protectiveness that would probably be overwhelming for any other ten year old. He’d felt her body shaking with sobs as he hugged her much like today, and whispered It’s gonna be okay, Mom, swearing to himself that he’d do whatever it took to keep his mom from being that sad again.
“Thanks, Mom,” he whispers, glancing up at her before pulling away.
She straightens the sleeves of his t-shirt and rubs his back. “You’re welcome, honey. Just remember to look out for cars, stay on the route we showed you when we drove in, and be home before dark.”
He turns to run out the door, yelling over his shoulder as he pulls open the screen, “Will do!”
Dean’s never admitted this to anyone, at least not after that jerk at the last school he went to made fun of him, but he loves to pretend he’s an explorer. It’s not a hard thing to imagine, especially since they’ve moved probably at least once a year for all of Dean’s life, and every time they find themselves in a new place he has to scope out the surroundings.
He figured out early on that the best way to deal with moving so much is to make it an adventure. Especially since a lot of times the kids he encounters in new places can be mean or not cool, and more often than not he ends up not having many friends. It’s not a big deal being a loner; a lot of times it’s better, because that way he doesn’t really miss anybody when they have to move again. Probably the main thing he doesn’t like about it is he feels he has to lie to his mom when they end up in a place where he doesn’t make friends. She’d worry if she knew he didn’t have anybody, so when he’s off riding his bike and pretending he’s discovering new territory or escaping from bad guys or monsters, Dean just tells her he met up with friends and played on a playground or something.
This place they’ve moved to in Lawrence looks better than most places they’ve lived, he’s relieved to discover. It’s not hard to be better than military bases, but Dean had still been worried, since it’s Kansas and the middle of freaking nowhere, or so he’d heard his dad say to his mom late one night. But the trees are tall and worthy of climbing, the streets are wide and amenable to a good game of hockey, and the birds are singing, so it’s looking to be a good start to his new life here.
He only loses his way for a moment before he finds the playground Mom and Dad had shown them on the way to their new home. It’s a cool looking playground too, with at least four different kinds of slides and five swing sets. Sammy will probably pee his pants from excitement when he sees the kick-ass monkey bars hidden behind the slides, and Dean is about to throw his bike down to run over and climb them, but he spots a kid about his size heading over from across the street to the swings.
There are no other kids on the playground, and Dean would feel kind of funny just approaching out of the blue without scoping the guy out first, so he changes his path to look in the windows of the stores across the street. He pauses in front of the window of the drug store, pretends to read over the ads for aspirin and bandaids as he watches the kid in the reflection of the window.
The dude’s probably around Dean’s age, he’s guessing, since he’s about the same size. He’s got dark, messy hair, and his shirt is actually tucked into his shorts, which is kind of nerdy, but who is Dean to judge. The kid keeps glancing across the street in Dean’s direction, swinging slowly and kicking his feet in the dirt on each downswing. Dean chews on his lip, wondering if he should cross the street and see if the guy seems friendly enough to hang out, but his thoughts get interrupted by a man in a dark suit approaching the book shop two doors down. Dean wouldn’t think anything of him, except the man has the biggest dog he’s ever seen. Dean half-wonders if it’s even a dog, thinking maybe it’s a wolf or even a horse or something. Its head is at least twice the size of Dean’s own, and its back comes up to Dean’s shoulders.
The man ties the dog’s chain to a bike stand, and strolls inside the book shop, whistling to himself. Dean can’t take his eyes off the dog, and the messy-headed kid across the street is completely forgotten. The beast’s hair is thick and black, with tan around his face and feet. He doesn’t seem to have a tail, but Dean isn’t sure because the dog is sitting down, staring into the window of the store, drool hanging off his jowls in thick, wet strings. Dean’s feet seem to have a mind of their own, shuffling towards the dog, one slow step at a time.
The scuffling movement grabs the dog’s attention, and it turns its head towards him. Dean freezes, waiting to see if the dog will bark or growl at him, but all it does is lick its lips and whine, a curious look in its eyes. Dean thinks that maybe that’s a sign the dog is nice. Surely a man wouldn’t leave a mean dog tied up outside in public where just anyone could walk up to it, right? It doesn’t occur to Dean until later that maybe the owner figured most sane people had a healthy sense of self -preservation and would keep away from the hound.
He continues his slow trek towards the dog, hypnotized by its dark, beady eyes and rapid panting. When he gets within a couple feet of it he stops, and both he and the dog seem to hold their breath, waiting to see what happens next. Emboldened by the dog’s seeming lack of aggression, Dean slowly lifts his hand, reaching towards the dog and whispering, “Good doggie, good boy, good—”
He yelps when he feels a hand grab his upper arm, pulling him back and throwing him on the ground and away, just as the dog barks and lunges forward, jaws clapping shut as it tries and fails to reach Dean. Dean cries out when the back of his skull bounces against the sidewalk, and everything turns to black.
When Dean opens his eyes, he’s forgotten for a moment where he is or why he’s there. He stares up at the deep blue sky, blinking a few times as he watches fluffy, fat clouds skid across his view. He hears birdsong, and the rustle of leaves in a tree somewhere close by. At the same time he becomes aware of how much his head hurts, a face leans over him, blocking out the sky.
The boy that had been across the street just moments ago now stares down at Dean. “We need to talk,” he announces.
Dean’s head hurts so much, and the fall must have knocked the breath out of him because he can’t seem to catch it or focus on anything other than how blue this kid’s eyes are, so blue that he thinks absurdly that the sky must be jealous. But he finally manages to squeeze out, “Who are you?”
The boy gazes back for a long moment. “I’m Castiel,” he offers then.
When Dean replies, what he means to say is, what do we need to talk about? but what he ends up saying instead is, “You’ve got the sky in your eyes.”
Dean hears himself say the words, and he feels those words hang between the two of them, and he knows this could be a make-or-break moment for his life in this new town. For all Dean knows, this Castiel guy could be the king of the kids in this neighborhood, and if he thinks Dean is weird and goes off and blabs what he just said to everyone, then Dean can kiss away any chance of having a decent reputation around here.
Castiel leans back on his haunches and chews on his lip. “Why did you say that?” he asks, head tilted as he studies Dean.
Dean can feel himself blushing, and silently berates himself for letting this get to him. “Uh, because your eyes are really blue like the sky. Why else would I say it, dummy?”
The boy smiles slightly and nods to himself, taking a deep breath in what seems to be relief. “I thought you might have a concussion, since you hit your head so bad,” he says solemnly.
“What are you, a doctor?” Dean knows he’s sounding like a jerk, but he’s been thrown for a loop here, both figuratively and literally, and he needs to save some face.
The boy huffs, shaking his head as he brushes gravel off his palm. “No, but my dad is. And sometimes my cousins can be jerks, so I know about getting concussions when you hit your head.”
“Your cousins sound like assholes.”
The boy’s head snaps up, his eyes going wide at Dean's cussing, and Dean silently congratulates himself on getting the upper hand again.
“Do you think you can stand?” Castiel asks, straightening up and reaching a hand out to Dean.
Before he even thinks about it, Dean grabs the hand and allows himself to be pulled to his feet. His head is still kinda woozy, so he leans into the boy, and is a little surprised when the kid doesn’t step back. Instead, he grips Dean’s shoulder, brows slanted with concern as he stares deeply into his eyes. “You really should be more cautious when you're approaching strange dogs.”
Dean rolls his eyes, and ow, head still hurts, but he shakes it off and steps back. “Dude, he didn’t seem all that bad when I was walkin’ up to him.”
“That’s how Furdition pulls you in. He gets you to trust him, then he attacks.”
Dean squints at the boy, wondering if he does have a concussion after all. “Wait, what did you call him? Furdition? What the heck kinda name is that?”
The boy sneaks a glance at the dog, and Dean’s gaze follows. The beast is sitting in the same position as it was before it tried to rip Dean a new one, eyes darting between Dean and the boy, a deceptively innocent look upon its face.
Castiel leans towards Dean, voice lowered. “His full name is Furdition’s King of Hell. His owner, Mr. Crowley, calls him Lucifer for short.”
Dean scrunches his face up, confused. “If his name’s Lucifer then why don’t you call him that? Makes more sense than that other name, at least.”
The boy shakes his head, eyes wide and so blue it makes Dean think of when they lived in California one brief glorious summer. They’d gone to the beach almost every day, and the water glimmered like jewels in the sun. “Missouri says it’s bad luck to say the devil’s name too often.”
“Who’s Missouri?” Dean says, intrigued.
Castiel stares at the pavement in thought for a moment before answering. “She…she helps take care of me.”
“So what's your last name? And are you from around here?” Dean can’t help but ask, wondering how they had talked this long without finding out more about the guy. Asking lots of questions is usually one of the first things he does when meeting new people, having learned a long time ago that the best way to break the ice and make friends is to get people talking about themselves.
The boy straightens his back and meets Dean’s gaze. “My full name is Castiel Novak. And yes, I've lived here all my life.”
“Castiel Novak, huh? You mind if I call you Cas instead? Castiel is kinda…long,” Dean smirks. What he’d wanted to say was the kid’s name is weird, but that’s not the kind of thing you say to someone when you first meet, especially if you wanna be friends with them, and Dean does wanna be friends with Cas, he can tell that almost immediately.
Cas shuffles a shoe against the sidewalk, staring down at his foot. “No, if you’ll tell me your name.”
“That’s easy. I’m Dean Winchester.”
A small smile dances along Cas’s face as he reaches out to shake Dean’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Dean Winchester.”
After the introductions are made and Dean decides his head doesn’t hurt too much anymore, they run across the street and jump on the swings in the playground. They alternate between competing to see who can go the highest on the swings (it’s always Cas, mostly because Dean is scared of going too high, though he’d never admit that), and who can climb the monkey bars the fastest. Dean decides to test Castiel to see what this kid is made of, daring him to jump from his swing into the sand in front of them, but his plan backfires when Cas says he'll do it if Dean does, too. Not wanting to show his fear of heights, Dean shrugs as they push higher and higher on their swings. “Sure, you jump, I jump, okay?”
Castiel looks over at Dean, their swinging almost synced up. “Did you just quote Titanic?”
Dean can feel his face going red, embarrassed to be called out on watching a chick flick. “Shut up, the boat scenes are cool. Besides,” he calls out, gulping air as they go higher and higher, “if you know where the saying comes from, that means you've seen it, too.”
Castiel shoots him a small smile. “I jump, you jump?” he yells, letting go of the chains of his swing and launching himself into the air.
Dean curses to himself as he watches the boy fly through the air and land on the sand below, laughing and rolling to a stop. Dean had been hoping he'd chicken out, but since he didn't, Dean grits his teeth, closes his eyes, and jumps.
Castiel earns a lot of extra points with Dean when he doesn't make fun of him for screaming like a little girl as he goes sailing through the air.
Before long, Dean’s thirst and renewed headache get the better of him, and he decides it’s time to go home.
“My house is back that way,” Dean points north along the wide street. “You wanna come with, so you’ll know where to find me?”
Cas hesitates, contemplating the invitation. Dean’s not sure what the big deal is, and begins to wonder if it’s because Cas doesn’t want to be friends. He’s about to brush him off and turn away, not wanting Cas to see how desperate he is to hold onto a new friend, when Cas answers.
“Yeah, but I won’t be able to stay long. My house is back that way.” He points down the street, the opposite direction where Dean pointed. “I’m supposed to be home before dark.”
“Okay, that’s cool,” Dean replies, relieved. “Hey, you’ll get to meet my weirdo kid brother, and I can show you this cool slinky I won at Plucky Pennywhistle’s, and maybe you can help me unpack my room. If you want, I mean.”
“I’d like that,” Cas says, leaning down to pick up his bike by the handlebars.
Dean grins and climbs over his own bike, taking a moment to yell over his shoulder, “Race you to the stop sign!” before lurching forward and pedaling fast down the sidewalk.
They continue on through the streets, riding side by side, relishing the breeze that picks up as they pedal faster. Dean tries to show off, sitting back and letting go of the handlebars, and he laughs with delight when he sees that Cas can do the same thing. He doesn’t even get jealous much when Cas goes longer without holding on.
When they make it to Dean’s new house, they pull up the driveway, and Cas follows Dean’s lead when he drops his bike into the front yard and runs up the steps, swinging the screen door open.
Dean yells into the house, announcing their arrival. “Mom! I’m back!”
Dean waves a hand to Castiel, signaling him to follow him through the living room into the kitchen, where they find his mom kneeling and placing pots into a bottom cabinet.
“Hi, honey, did you have fun?” Mary calls out, before standing up and turning around. Her eyes widen a bit when she sees Castiel, and her mouth softens into a welcoming smile. “I’m guessing you did, if you came home with a new friend.”
“Mom, this is Castiel. He grabbed me and saved me from Furdition!” Dean stumbles over his words, excited to introduce his mom to Cas. It’s the first time in a long time that he’s wanted to be friends enough with someone to bring them home.
Mary’s eyes squint in confusion. “Saved you from… what?”
“It’s this dog that’s the size of a horse, and I was gonna pet it because I thought it was nice, and then Cas came up behind me and grabbed my arm and pulled me away from it, and I fell down and hit my head, and I could have died, Mom, it’s like some kind of hellhound or something, they call him Lucifer for short.”
Dean takes a deep breath, watching his mom process all the information he just spewed. It occurs to him that maybe he shouldn’t have told her everything because it kinda makes him sound like a dummy, trusting a dog that looks that mean, but before he can try to backtrack and defuse the situation, his mom smiles at Cas.
“So, you saved my son from a hellhound? I guess that makes you his guardian angel, especially with a name like Castiel,” she teases, reaching forward to shake Cas’s hand.
Dean snorts. “You mean an angel like the kind that wears diapers?”
He watches as Cas scowls and blushes. “I don’t wear diapers,” Cas murmurs, letting go of Mary’s hand and turning away.
“Actually, Dean, angels are warriors of God,” Mary corrects him. “They are the most fearless weapons that God has.” She turns to the counter behind her and begins to pull out supplies for sandwiches. “And they most certainly don’t wear diapers,” she adds.
Dean gives Cas a speculative look. “Warriors, huh? That’s kind of badass.”
“Dean! Watch your language!” Mary scolds, but Dean is pleased to notice that Cas seems proud of the description, chest puffing up and mouth curled in a smile.
“Are you boys hungry? I could make us some peanut butter sandwiches, and we have bananas and potato chips and soda. Maybe we could have a picnic,” Mary says over her shoulder as she searches through a box marked ‘cutlery.’ “Dean, your father went to the auto shop to talk to your uncle Bobby about when he’ll be starting work, so he might not be back for a while.”
“Okay, cool,” Dean calls back, leading Cas into the living room. “Bobby’s not really my uncle,” he whispers to Cas. “It’s just my dad’s known him since before I was even born, and he’s like our family and stuff.”
He searches through the boxes in the living room until he finds one labeled ‘Blankets,’ and opens it, pulling out a thick red plaid quilt. He’s about to take it outside to spread across the grass in the backyard, but Mary stops him.
“Dean, there’s a storm brewing, so we’re just going to have to have a picnic inside, instead,” she says, as she brings a bag of chips and bunch of bananas into the room. “How about you go get your brother from the backyard?”
Cas stands awkwardly by the window, staring out at the looming storm clouds, as Dean runs to the back of the house to yell out the door for Sam to come inside. They race each other back into the front living room, Dean letting Sam win, as usual, but when Sam spots Cas on the other side of the room, he stops suddenly. He goes to hide behind Dean, shyness getting the better of him, but Dean just pushes him forward.
“Don’t be a baby, Sam. This is Cas. He’s cool. He can even go higher than me on the swings,” Dean says, urging Sam forward towards his new friend.
Sam looks down at the floor, shuffling his foot along a seam in the hardwood. “Everyone can go higher than you on the swings, Dean,” he mumbles.
Cas chuckles, and Dean watches as Sam looks up at him, face flushed with pride over having made the boy laugh. “It’s nice to meet you, Sam,” Cas says quietly, and he sticks out his hand.
Sam studies it for a few seconds before his face brightens and he reaches out, grasps the hand and shakes it.
Dean rolls his eyes. “You guys are weirdos,” he mocks, and then, “Mom,” he yells into the kitchen, “do you need help carrying stuff? I’m hungry.”
“Yes, honey, just grab this plate for me, please,” she calls out. “It’s getting so dark in here I think we’re going to need some candles to find each other.”
Dean notices Cas turning to stare out the window again as the wind begins to pick up. There’s a rumble of thunder in the distance, with the smell of rain in the air. Dean loves storms, especially when it’s dark and spooky like this, but he wonders if maybe Cas doesn’t, because he’s got a worried look on his face, and it seems like he keeps trying to speak but doesn’t know how.
When Mary walks by to set a lit candle on the fireplace mantle, Cas speaks up. “Mrs. Winchester, I’m sorry, but I think maybe I should go.”
Mary turns to stare down at the boy, brow furrowed. “What? Why? Is everything okay, sweetie?”
Cas clears his throat. “I just…I’m supposed to be home by dark, and I don’t live very close to here, and with the storm and everything…”
He lets his voice drift off without finishing the sentence, and starts to take a few uncertain steps towards the door.
“There is no way I am going to allow you to leave here on your bike when that storm is about to hit,” Mary replies, voice firm. “Thank goodness for everyone our phone lines are working. What’s your phone number, Castiel?”
“Oh, ma’am, I couldn’t ask you to call home for me, really, it’s no problem for me to—”
Mary lays her hand on Castiel’s shoulder and squeezes. “You didn’t ask me, and I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. Now give me your number.” Her words are tempered by a soft smile, and Castiel has no choice but to answer.
“It won’t be my mom that answers, though, it’ll be Missouri,” he rushes to say after Mary dials the number.
Dean watches this whole scene raptly, munching on a banana and wondering what’s the big deal about Cas staying and his mom calling for permission. He’s not surprised when his mom gets everything sorted within a matter of minutes, plotting with this Missouri person on the when and how of Castiel getting home.
“We’ll drive you to your house just as soon as Dean’s father gets back with the car, and the storm has passed, sweetie,” Mary says once she’s hung up the phone. She leads Castiel over to the blanket in the middle of the floor, and motions for him to sit down. She looks around at each of the boys and laughs. “I don’t know about all of you, but a picnic in the middle of the house in the dark during a thunderstorm is kinda fun.”
“We should tell ghost stories!” Dean exclaims.
“NO, MOMMY, PLEASE, DON’T LET DEAN TELL SCARY STORIES!” Sam cries out, scurrying across the blanket to crawl under Mary’s arm.
Dean grins as Mary coos at his little brother. “Sammy can be such a wussy baby,” he mutters. “When you spend the night over here sometime, I’ll tell you all the ghost stories I know,” he assures Castiel. The boy smiles bravely at him as he takes a bite of his sandwich, but Dean notices when, at the first loud clap of thunder, Cas scoots a couple of inches closer.
Dean sighs with exasperation, but can’t help hiding a smile. Just his luck to move to a new town, only to become best friends with another scaredy cat like Sam.
Once they’re finished eating, Mary finds a flashlight for Dean so that he and Cas can go up to his room and do some more unpacking. Cas seems quiet and shy again, so Dean figures this is a good time to get him talking about the neighborhood. He needs to get a lay of the land sooner rather than later, after all, and who better to tell him than someone who lives here?
“So, what’s it like around here?” Dean asks, ripping open the flaps on a box marked “GI Joe.”
Castiel steps away from the window and closer to Dean. “What do you mean?”
Dean shrugs. “I dunno. Just, what are the other kids like, where’s the cool places to hang out, who’s got a pool… y’know, important stuff like that.”
Chewing on his bottom lip, Castiel seems deep in thought for several seconds. “I…I don’t really know.”
“Whaddya mean, you don’t really know? Have you never been let out of your house before?” Dean jokes.
Castiel reaches into another box and grabs a couple of model cars. He turns his back on Dean and places them on a nearby bookcase. “No, I get to go out and do things, if I want.”
Dean scrunches his face in confusion. “Then what gives?” He’s starting to wonder if maybe Castiel doesn’t want to tell him. Maybe he’s decided he doesn’t like Dean, or maybe he thinks he’d be embarrassed to introduce him to his other friends. He’s about to tell Cas to never mind, he’ll find his own way around the neighborhood when the boy answers him.
“I don’t really have any friends,” Castiel mutters.
Dean stares at him in disbelief for several seconds. “…How can you not have any friends if you’ve lived here forever? Don’t you talk to people at school, at least?”
He’s completely baffled by this news. Dean has always assumed that if you lived somewhere for longer than just a handful of months, that automatically meant you acquired friends, whether you wanted them or not. Besides, Cas seems cool enough; Dean hasn’t found a reason not to like him yet, even if he is a little weird sometimes.
Embarrassed, Castiel won’t make eye contact as he answers. “I just…it’s not easy for me to talk to people, sometimes. And at school I’m usually too busy to make friends.”
Dean balks at that news. “Is school here that hard? Oh man, if I have to study harder than I had to when we were stationed overseas I will flunk, for sure.”
“Are you in private school?” Castiel asks, a confused look on his face.
Laughing, Dean shakes his head. “No, why would I go to a stuck-up school like that? I only go to public schools.”
“Oh, well then I guess you don’t have to worry. I go to Host Academy,” Castiel replies. “It’s a private school about a half hour away from here.”
Dean wonders if he should feel bad for saying Castiel goes to a stuck-up school, but he finds he’s more disappointed that they won’t be attending school together than anything else. Still he makes an attempt to apologize. “Hey man, sorry I said that about private schools. I didn’t mean you’re stuck up.”
Castiel smiles weakly and sits down on the floor, leaning against the wall. “S’ok, I know you didn’t mean it like that. Besides, I don’t blame you. I hate my school. I wish I could go somewhere else.”
“Maybe you could ask your parents if they’d let you go to public school?” Dean says, sliding down the wall to sit next to Castiel.
The boy shakes his head sadly. “It’s just my dad, and he’d say no. He wants me to be a doctor, like him. And he says going to this school is the best way to prepare me.”
“You don’t wanna be a doctor? That’d be kinda neat, I think.”
Castiel stares down at the floor. “No. I want to be a painter.”
Dean tries to school the look of disbelief on his face. “You mean, like houses?”
Castiel turns his head to stare at Dean, his brow furrowed in confusion. “What?” His eyes go wide as the realization of what Dean meant seems to hit him. “No, not like a house painter! Like an artist. Painting pictures and stuff.”
“Oh! Okay, yeah, that’s pretty cool, I guess.” Dean can’t help the chuckle that escapes his lips when he thinks of his mistake, and when Castiel chuckles in response it begins a chain reaction of laughter that leaves them both clutching their stomachs, curled on the floor, and breathless.
“It’s gonna suck not going to the same school,” Dean rasps, as he tries to regain his breath.
Castiel sits back up against the wall, face suddenly somber. “Maybe you should try to make other friends around the neighborhood instead. People that go to your school.”
Dean scoffs. “Why would I wanna do that? I can make friends with them once school starts.”
“It’s just…most of the kids around here think I’m a freak,” Castiel mumbles, suddenly fascinated with an errant string on the carpet. “And if they know you’re friends with me, they’ll probably think you’re a freak, too.”
Dean stares at the blank wall opposite them. Castiel is right. Dean has moved around enough times to know that if you start out hanging with the wrong person when you move to a new neighborhood, you’ll be seen as a loser and you’ll never be able to shake the label. That didn’t used to bother him so much before; he always knew if people didn’t like him, they’d most likely be moving again soon anyways, so it didn’t really matter. But here, the plan is to stay in Lawrence, to make this a home, and Dean wants to make a go of it, to have it be the kind of life that he’s seen countless other kids take for granted.
But when he glances over at Castiel, he sees someone who he knows could be the best friend he never thought he could have. He’s not sure how he knows it, but deep down, he feels they’re supposed to be important to each other, and in that moment, nothing else seems important at all.
“If people wanna think we’re freaks, let ’em,” Dean says. He watches with satisfaction as Castiel’s head jerks up, eyes wide and disbelieving as he stares back. “I’ve handled assholes like that before, I can do it again.”
Dean nudges Castiel’s shoulder with his own. “Cas, just shut up and help me finish unpacking, okay?”
Castiel’s mouth curls up in a soft smile. “Okay, Dean.”