“Can anyone tell me the function of the ceruminous glands?”
Dean knows this one, obviously. It’s, in his opinion, the most basic of the glands in the integumentary system and can generally be summed up in one simple word—earwax.
He doesn’t raise his hand though.
“Anyone? Mr. Novak, perhaps?”
Dean looks over at the pupil in question, Castiel Novak, who isn’t paying attention and is coloring his fingernail with a black Sharpie. Castiel looks up at the sound of his name and raises his pierced eyebrow in a silent enquiry.
Mr. Adler inhales deeply and lets it go slowly, clearly exasperated at having to repeat himself to the less-than-interested boy. A few people snicker at the scene in front of them. “The ceruminous glands, Novak. What do they do?”
Castiel shrugs and shakes his head. “I don’t know.”
“Okay,” Adler says, faux-polite. Dean can hear the attack behind his words, though, like a lion getting ready to pounce on a deer. He suddenly has the urge to protect Castiel. “What about the ciliary glands, where are those located?”
Castiel clenches his jaw and looks at Adler with boredom in his eyes. “Don’t know,” he says again.
“Is there anything you do know?” Adler asks snidely as he circles him like a vulture.
“I know the hair on top of your head was grown from a bottle,” Castiel says plainly.
The class erupts into fits of ooh’s and scattered laughter, and Adler’s face goes red with what looks like a mixture of embarrassment and anger as even Dean cracks a smile.
“Out. Now,” Adler gets out through gritted teeth, pointing to the door to the classroom as he stares daggers at Castiel.
Castiel just sighs—he’s used to this, Dean knows—as he picks up his beat up black bag, and Dean gets a glimpse of some of the patches pinned to it—some from movies like Star Wars, some from bands he must listen to, some different varieties of rainbows. He walks out of the classroom in silence, taking something unspoken with him.
“Alright, everyone shut up now,” Adler demands, running his hands over his thinning, apparently-bottle-grown hair. “Winchester. Ceruminous glands.”
Dean swallows reflexively and forces himself to get at least one word out. “Earwax,” he says, and his voice doesn’t even shake.
Castiel makes no indication that he cares about what happened this morning when he’s at lunch. Dean sees him sitting with his friends in a circle underneath a large tree, and his face is as bored and tired as it always seems to be.
Dean wishes he could talk to him. Like, really talk to him. He wants to find out why he seems so withdrawn. He wants to find out what makes him smile, and what makes him cry. He wants to find out if he really doesn’t care about everything as much as he appears to, or if it’s all an act. He would like to know exactly how much of Castiel’s put-on persona is make-believe. Pretend. For show.
“You’re staring again.”
Dean rolls his eyes and fixates them on a point a few feet away from Castiel when they open again, on a patch of flowers in the garden in the center of the courtyard they’re sitting in.
“What can I say?” he shrugs, shielding himself from the onslaught of sunlight as it emerges from behind a cloud. “I love peonies.”
“Are you sure it’s not the forget-me-nots blooming in Castiel’s eyes you love?” Charlie asks, her voice gooey, and Dean flushes at the sound of the name of his pointless crush.
“His eyes are the color of forget-me-nots, aren’t they?” Dean mutters, ashamed he even knows that.
Charlie just laughs at him.
Dean looks back over at Castiel and his friends, and his stare immediately focuses on the girl with dark, curly brown hair draping herself over Castiel. He looks uninterested as she puts her arm around him, but that doesn’t stop the pit from forming in Dean’s gut at the sight. He’s not certain, but he’s pretty sure Meg is Castiel’s girlfriend, which is kind of nausea-inducing for a list of reasons Dean is too tired to list.
Because of course Castiel isn’t single, and not only that, he’s straight.
Dean turns away and focuses on Charlie for the rest of lunch.
The acrid nausea never goes away.
“Dean,” Ms. Mills calls out from the front of the classroom. Dean looks up and she’s holding a little slip of paper that someone dropped off. “You’re wanted by the guidance counselor.”
Dean frowns and feels his heartbeat pick up on its own volition. What did he do? He’s almost 100% sure he didn’t do anything. He never does anything he’s not supposed to, unless you count reading further than Ms. Hanscum says to in his book for English.
He packs up his things slowly, his stomach in his throat, before making his way to the main office. When he tells the receptionist he’s there to see the guidance counselor, she smiles politely at him and points down the hall.
He gets to the door to her office and hesitates. Does he knock? Does he just go in? In most situations, you’re supposed to knock on a door before you open it. So that’s what he decides to do.
“Come in,” Mrs. Moseley calls.
He walks in and almost walks right back out.
Castiel Novak is sitting across from her desk.
“Dean, thanks for coming,” she says. “Sit down, please.”
Cas looks up at him from where he’s slouched in one of the chairs in the room, but there’s no expression or recognition on his face, he just looks bored.
“Dean, we’d like to talk to you about… an opportunity, per se.”
Dean swallows to wet his throat, and he nods, unsure of what else to do, as he sits down.
“How would you feel about becoming a tutor?” she asks, clasping her hands under her chin.
Tutor? Tutor… Castiel? Ha. Yeah. Right.
He’ll totally be doing that.
“I already told you, I don’t need a fucking tutor,” Castiel interjects, sulking in his seat.
“You use that word one more time in front of me, you’re gonna need a lot more than just a tutor, boy.”
Castiel narrows his eyes. “Was that a threat?”
She ignores him and looks back at Dean. “Castiel needs a tutor, Dean. How would you feel about doing that?”
Dean looks at her blankly. He’s already sweating buckets at sitting this close to him, how could he possibly be expected to tutor him? Be alone with him for prolonged periods of time?
“Why me?” he gets out.
“Ah,” she says, pulling something up on her computer. “You’re in the majority of his classes, your grades are excellent, and you just so happen to have zero community service hours out of the twenty you need to graduate. Doing this will complete your hours, of course.”
Dean looks at Castiel out of the corner of his eye and the boy is just slouched in his chair, looking for all intents and purposes like he hates the world.
And, because Dean’s brain-to-mouth filter rarely works properly, he says, “Oh—okay.”