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The Academy of Absent Fathers

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Misha

He really shouldn't be surprised that the place has Pillars. Capital P. Of course it has fucking pillars. Why wouldn't it?

Misha slumps back in the leather cushioning of the back seat dejectedly as the Lincoln glides up the mile-long alley of trees and arcs into the circular drive. 

The building is old, snow-white stonework and gabled roofing. Balconies with wrought-iron railings skirt the first and second floors and darker green shutters enclose large, soulful windows. Vaguely, he heard the Peterson's solemnizing about plantation house histories and that slavery business (dreadful), but that was hours ago, before they got onto the important topic of Mrs Finnegan's newest art acquisition (also dreadful), and he was more interested in the scenery passing by the windows than actually listening. It's not like he was expected to participate in the conversation anyway.

He'd also learned, much earlier, that nervousness and trepidation didn't suit him. Instead he clad himself in an air of resignation when embarking on new journeys. New families, new siblings, new houses. New problems. Still, being abandoned to a boarding school, no faux-parents to have to charm or avoid, is a new one on him. He can't help the slightly squirmy feeling of fear lacing around his guts.

If he'd been in the mood, he'd have laughed at himself. Told himself to grow a fucking pair and deal. He's been through worse. Oh, so much worse. And going somewhere where his own interests are, however misguided, actually at the forefront of the relocation; could only be a good thing, right? An opportunity to get himself out of the shit life he's been thrown into. It's nearly over, anyway; he's eighteen in three months and, if he wants to, he can get the fuck out of Dodge and do whatever he wants to do. 

Not that he has any idea what that is. And as it stands, being given a free ride to an elite school and the opportunity to actually go to college if he so desires is one of the better things that's happened to him in the last seventeen years. He may actually enjoy it. There's a reason he does well in school... in the many schools he's frequented. It gives him a way out of reality.

So he should really toughen the fuck up and take this for the golden opportunity on a platter that it could be.

Problem is, he just keeps coming back to the fact that it has pillars

He used to sleep in a room with four other kids and a mattress on the floor. It had smelled like stale coffee and every other night, when the youngest one had nightmares, urine. 

Now, his home away from home - an oxymoron, because he's never had a home to be away from - has mother fucking pillars out the front. Four of them. Huge stone monoliths built before Sherman even got his boots on and designed solely to brag of wealth and status.

Misha hates them immediately.

The car pulls to a stop in a silent glide of gears and the crunch of gravel, and a pair of Stepford faces look back at him from over the front seats.

He's expected to be something now. Happy? Excited? Gushing with gratitude? He manages a small, forced smile and reaches for the door handle.

Outside the air is sweet, perfumed in azaleas and warm against his skin. He's not used to the cloying humidity, the scent of earth in every breath. It reminds him of something, somewhere, in his childhood. Something he’d rather not dredge up. The malodorous mix of smells, of hot asphalt and exhaust fumes, Chinese takeout and grease, is missing. It's unsettling. 

The Petersons fuss with their clothes, Mrs P. straightening Mr P.'s tie, brushing imaginary lint from his navy-blue suit jacket. Misha wants to roll his eyes and make sarcastic comments about just what century it is, but he bites his tongue. They don't have their own children; it's clearly a big deal for them, taking their 'child' off to the big, important school. Even if the child isn't 'theirs' in any sense of the word, save strictly legal.

So he holds in his ire, for the sake of propriety. But he remains adamant, if Mrs P. spits on a hanky and tries to clean his face? There's gonna be blood.

Thankfully, she doesn't, just helps her husband unload Misha's brand- new and entirely too posh suitcase set from the trunk of the car. He hadn't even known suitcases came in sets until last week. Why suitcases needed to match he had no earthly idea, but Mrs Peterson had seemed quite taken by them, and so he'd nodded and made note to draw penises and obscenities on them as soon as she was out of the picture.

It was ridiculous, anyway - he didn't have enough personal items to fill a plastic bag, let alone a herd of suitcases. Especially seeing as he's now wearing the scratchy, starched uniform that had been shipped up to Manhattan solely for him to wear straight back down to South Carolina.

He has a sinking feeling there are clothes in the suitcases anyway, things that have mysteriously appeared and been folded and packed while he wasn't looking. He also has a feeling he won't be wearing them. 

Suitcases out, car parked and tie straightened, the Petersons make their way up to the imposing columned building, shoes crunching on the pristine white drive. Even the gravel sounds pretentious. Stately oaks, dripping Spanish Moss and charm from every pore, surround the main building. He wonders if everyone will sound like they stepped out of Gone with the Wind

Unsurprisingly, the inside is just as intimidating. The floor is gleaming marble, the walls polished oak. A giant staircase slopes up the side of the entrance-way and curls around to a second floor.

There are Busts. Capital B. And not the kind Misha is good at admiring aesthetically.

A young, nervous-looking boy comes up to greet them, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he speaks politely to Mr Peterson. There's a curious, sideways glance at Misha, but Misha ignores it in favor of taking in his surroundings. He's here. He doesn't need friends just yet. That can wait.

"You must be Mr and Mrs Peterson?" the boy asks, and the slight gravel in the squeaky timbre of his voice indicates he is older than Misha put him on first glance. The boy holds out his hand to shake Mr Peterson's. "Robert Benedict. I'm on greeting duty today. You made good time...The freeways were, um... free?"

Mr Peterson nods and takes Robert's hand as if addressing an equal. "Yes. We had a good run."

Robert nods enthusiastically, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet. He isn't wearing strict uniform, but is still in ironed khakis and a blue dress shirt. "Well, Dean Morgan is expecting you, if you'll follow me?"

Misha nearly snorts at the way the kid sounds like he thinks there's a possibility they might not be willing to follow him. Apparently money doesn't buy confidence.

Robert leads the way across the hall and into a small room off the side. An empty desk with neatly stacked piles of paper and silent computer takes up the majority of it. Robert nods at it. "Normally that's where you can find Julie. She's the Dean's PA." He looks at Misha quickly, "She's the one who'll help you with any administrative things, she's really nice."

Misha nods, good to know he supposes.

Robert approaches the heavy oak door at the side of the room and knocks hesitantly. 

"Come," comes the muffled voice from within.

Robert glances back at them, checking they are still with him, and then opens the door. "Er, the Petersons?" he manages to turn their announcement into a squeaked question.

"Thanks, Rob," comes the hearty laugh from inside. "Stick around, please? You can settle- ” there is a pause as papers rustle, " -Misha... in."

Robert... Rob, apparently... nods again enthusiastically and then steps aside. 

Here we go.

Mr and Mrs P. turn to look at him, Mrs P. beaming and Mr P. arching his eyebrow in a way Misha thinks is meant to say, "Well, come on now, son." He narrowly avoids rolling his eyes and slips between them to be first into the headmaster's office.

The room is dark, just as heavily wood-paneled as the rest of the building. But it's somehow less oppressive. The large picture windows stand open along the side, leading out onto the balcony and letting the late-summer air into the room.

A warm breeze rustles precarious mounds of paper that cover the large desk and a good portion of the side tables. 

The Dean himself stands up from his chair and grins at Misha in a way that has Misha wanting to smile involuntarily. He seems young, maybe early forties, with a scruffy beard and amused brown eyes. He's out of his chair and around the desk before the Petersons even get fully through the door. He shakes Misha's hand first. His grip is firm, but his hands are large and warm. Comforting. It reminds Misha of his dad with a sad pang. Not that he’d remember.

"You must be Misha," Morgan says, eyes glittering and holding his gaze before they flicker up to the Peterson's. "And Mr and Mrs Peterson, I presume."

Mrs Peterson blushes as Morgan shakes her hand before her husband’s. And Mr P. looks equally as charmed at the hearty handshake he receives.

"Ted," Mr Peterson says quickly, imparting friendship and equality right off the bat. "And this is Maureen."

Morgan nods, smile large. "Dean Jeffrey Morgan. Call me Jeff." He looks at Misha with a slightly wicked grin, "Well except you of course, Mr Peterson. Dean Morgan will do fine."

"Collins," Misha adds quickly, wishing it didn't sound defensive. "It's Misha Collins."

Morgan nods, sagely, as if it happens every day. "Mr Collins it is. Right, please, have a seat, have a seat."

The Petersons sit primly on the settee in front of the desk and Misha finds himself perching on the single chair to the side. Morgan settles himself back into the worn leather of his own chair behind the desk.

"So, Misha," Morgan says, and three sets of eyes settle on him. "I understand you're coming to us from a bit of an unusual background."

He can't help the soft snort he makes, but thankfully no one seems to notice. "Er, yeah. You could say that," he grins wryly. The Petersons look appropriately sad for the poor not-really-an-orphan orphan boy. 

"But I hear you've kept up a high GPA in spite of all the... drama." Morgan smiles comfortingly. Misha decides to give him a pass on referring to his fucked-up life as a 'drama.' Just this once.

Misha shrugs, the restricting navy wool of the blazer pulling tight across his shoulder blades. "I like to learn."

Morgan nods somewhat sternly. "Good to hear. We have fun here, but in the end, every boy needs to pull his own weight. It's your future, after all."

No shit.

"Well, how about we let you get on with becoming acquainted with the place? I have some business to talk about with your parents here, but why don't you go get unpacked and we'll catch up in a little while?"

Misha nods, relieved he's being given a pass from the awkward farce of a meeting; talking about 'his future' with people who don't even know him.

"I'm afraid most of the boys are away home for the holidays, but there're still enough around that you shouldn't be lonely. You'll be sharing with Jensen Ackles. He's here for the holidays, too, so you'll at least have someone to get to know before the semester begins in earnest."

Morgan calls out to the outer office, "Rob?"

Rob appears in the doorway, every inch as nervous as he appeared minutes earlier.

"Take Misha up to his room and let him get settled? You can go after that."

Rob nods eagerly. "Yes, Dean Morgan. Sure thing."

Misha gets back up again and makes his way over to Rob. The Petersons look up expectantly at him as he passes, though what exactly they're expecting escapes him. ‘Goodbye, and thanks for the incarceration?’, ‘Thanks for doing what my drop-kick parents should have?’, ‘Spare Franklin for the cafeteria?’

Rob closes the door behind them and actually allows a small grin at Misha. "You got out of that much quicker than I did. Nice work on the last name thing."

Misha isn't sure what he means, but laughs hesitantly. Maybe he could do with a friend, if he's honest. "Yeah."

"C'mon, I'll take you up to your new quarters. You're bunking with Jensen."

Rob looks a little wide-eyed at that as he turns and leads them out of the office and back into the main hall. Misha grabs his bags, slings one over his shoulder and pulls the case behind him. 

As they leave, a willowy red head, not much older than Misha if he guesses, approaches them and Rob blushes to the tips of his ears when she says, “Hi Robert,” to him with a smile full of teeth.

"Uh," says Rob. "Julie, this is Misha, Misha, this is Julie... who I mentioned?"

Misha grins his most roguish smile, the one he knows tends to get him into girls’ pants, if not their good graces. "Hi," he says. "Rob says you're quite nice, and I have to say I can see where he’s coming from.”

From somewhere beside him Rob makes a sound like a choking cat.

Julie takes Misha in stride and simply grins in return. “I promise you, I can be mean, too,” she says with a wink and sashays into the Dean’s office. Misha decides he’s in love.

Rob has already started rushing out of the hallway, probably trying to outrun his embarrassment, and he hurries to keep up. 

"So what's Jensen like, then?" Misha says, attempting to regain a connection with the other boy.

Rob glances back at him before his gaze skitters away. "Jensen's cool. One of the popular guys. Everyone likes him."

Great. A do-gooder.

Rob must see something in his face when he glances back, "No, really. You'll like him. He's not, like... teacher's pet or anything."

Misha just nods, tries hard to reserve judgment before he's even met the guy. It goes against all his instincts. Rash judgement has kept him alive up until now, after all. 

Rob leads them past the staircase they passed on the way in. Instead they head through a side door and short corridor and back out into the muggy air. It smells like jasmine and magnolias and Misha is reminded of his mother, the flowers she'd wear pinned to her dresses. Rob starts babbling on about music and the local bands around the area, but Misha doesn't really get a word in edgewise when he tries, and so he tunes out. 

In lieu of talking he follows silently down another white gravel path, the wheels from Misha's new suitcases stuttering over it awkwardly. A hundred yards in the shade of moss-dripped oaks and lawn cut so crisp it would make an eighteen-hole weep, they come upon another building. It's not as old as the main house, but clearly built to look like it's supposed to be. It's a poor imitation, Misha thinks.

Rob continues to chatter as they enter the air-conditioned silence of the new building. Inside it's still wood and marble, but the wood is too light and the marble too like stone pavers in its consistency. The carpet runners are brand new and the brass fixtures are too coppery-orange to be more than five years old. Misha can practically hear the wi-fi in the air. Rob leads him up a staircase that's similar to but smaller than the one in the main hall. Numerous identical hotel corners are rounded, and Misha knows he should probably be paying attention to them if he wants to find his way out again. Instead he's reading the names as they pass rows of closed doors and their plastic-covered nameplates. Richard, Mark, Jake, Matt, Travis, Aaron John (crossed out, and A.J. written over the top in black felt-tip chicken-scratch), Tom, Chad, Mike. Some are doubled up, some are single.

There are a lot of them.

Misha is used to being surrounded by chaos; a series of foster homes will do that to you. You get used to going with the flow, shutting up and being careful when you need to be. But four or five kids, or a never-ending line of singular but different faces? Not the same as constantly being surrounded by hoards at once. 

Right now, the place is quiet as a tomb. The Petersons hadn't wanted him around the apartment any longer. Anxious, they said, to get him started on the right track. And so here he is, three weeks before semester even starts.

Rob leads them around another corner, still talking about the newest thing in indie rock, and comes to an abrupt halt outside the last room in the hall. 'Jensen' is printed in neat handwriting on the nameplate beside the door. The second plate is empty.

"Um, well. Here we are," Rob says, and shifts from foot to foot.

"Shall we go in?" Misha asks, amused despite himself.

"Er, sure." Rob raises his hand and knocks tentatively on the door.

There's silence from inside the room. Silence from without. 

Rob clears his throat apologetically, as if he's failed in his duties by there being no answering call. He reaches up and knocks again, louder. This time a voice floats through the timber at them. 

"S'open."

Rob gives him one last small smile, and seriously, could the guy be making him more nervous that he's about to room with the world's largest dick, and turns the knob, swinging the door open.

At first glance Misha thinks the room is empty, which would be disturbing given the previous audio cue, but it’s large; a single bed on each side, desks pushed up against the wall closest to the door. Just enough clearance for a chair and room to sit before being bookended by two tall wardrobes. It's spartan, but warm. The walls are cream, golden evening-sunlight flickering leafy patterns over them from the trees surrounding the building. The floor is carpeted cream, it looks new, like no one has ever wet their mattress and had it seep through.

The desk on the left has piles of neatly stacked books and paper laid out on the blotter. The pens are neatly set in an Ellis Academy coffee cup. A picture of a smiling family - mom, dad and toddler hanging on mom's legs - is set carefully in a frame to the right of the pens. It looks old. Mom's hair is long and straight, middle-parted, her dress cheerfully floral. Dad has a full, unkempt beard. Misha would guess it was taken in the 70s. 

A lacrosse stick rests in the corner against the wardrobe. Shin pads on the floor next to it. A sports bag hangs off the back of the chair.

Misha's trying to work out if the guy is a jock or a goody two-shoes when he realises the guy in question is actually in the room. 

Which means there isn't a ghost, so that's a relief. 

It's the little things.

The boy is sitting on the sill of the giant picture window situated between the bed heads and leading out into what looks like a small porch. He's tall and lanky and apparently a rebel. He has one leg inside the room, one out, and he's regarding Misha with a cool, detached air, cigarette dangling from long fingers held outside the room.

Rob looks from one to the other of them. "Uh...hey, Jen...sen. Um. This is Misha."

Jensen keeps his eyes on Misha, and Misha gets the distinct impression he's being evaluated. Which probably makes Jensen a bit of a dick. But Jensen's voice is warm and friendly when he speaks. "Cool. Thanks, Rob."

Rob flushes somewhat and makes to beat a hasty retreat, but Jensen snaps himself out of the staring contest he has going on with Misha and focuses back on Rob. "Hey, man, did you see that Louden Swain are back in town next weekend?"

"Oh," Rob says, sounding surprised, "Um, yeah, I did. Should be awesome, yeah?"

Jensen smiles, nods and brings the cigarette back to his mouth. Inhales in a long drag before answering, smoke curling out with his words. "Should be. Might see you there."

Rob nods, and that's apparently about all he's good for because he then does make that escape, pulling the door shut behind him and leaving Misha standing inside the doorway, suitcase set in tow, dressed in a pristine uniform and feeling supremely awkward. Jensen is in tatty ripped jeans and a Metallica t-shirt.

"New dress code?" Misha asks, nods at Jensen's attire.

Jensen just blinks, takes another drag of nicotine and holds the cigarette carefully outside the window. "Got a thing."

"Ah." Misha says, and has no idea whether Jensen means he's got a problem that means he doesn't have to wear a uniform, or he's going somewhere, or something else entirely. "So, mine?" He raises an eyebrow, indicates the bed to the right.

"Seems so," Jensen answers. 

Misha's eyebrow rises even further. Okay then. He flips the bag off his shoulder and onto the bed and sits down next to it. Bounces a little as if to see if it will be comfortable enough. He knows it will. He's slept in cars before.

Jensen is watching him silently. Misha tries not to care, digs his finger into the knot of his tie and yanks it loose, side-to-side. His top button is the next casualty.

"Most people like their cancer-sticks after they've gotten off on the watching," Misha grits, and Jensen laughs, low and rumbling and not entirely amused.

"Where are you from?" Jensen asks. His voice is deep, gravelly from the smoke; there's a slight Southern twang, but it's not pronounced.

"New York," Misha says. Adds, because he feels the need to specify, "Manhattan."

"Big city kid." Jensen's smile is wry. The dappled sun hits the side of his face and bathes it orange. It sparks fire in the murky green of Jensen's eyes, matches the flare of the cigarette between his lips.

"I guess." Misha shrugs noncommittally. He knows better than to give anything away when he doesn't know whom he's playing with.

"So you’re my new roomie. Hope you aren’t a snorer." Jensen stubs the cigarette out on the window sill and drops it into a jar of water tucked in the corner of the frame. His tone is heavily sarcastic.

Misha can play that game.

"I’m not a smoker at least, so I can’t be all bad."

Something that could be amused surprise flickers across Jensen's face and he pauses, almost imperceptibly, before he pulls his limbs inside the room properly. "I only smoke occasionally."

"S'okay."

Jensen sits opposite him on his own bed. "So. 'Misha'. Odd name."

"No odder than 'Jensen'," Misha replies on cue.

"Touché." Jensen's mouth twitches up into a smile and Misha finds it unexpectedly bewitching.

Jensen watches him silently and Misha can't think of anything to do or say, so he just stares back. It's extremely odd, and not entirely comfortable. The feeling of being judged rushes back to him and it raises his hackles. He fidgets so as not to brook an argument for the sake of it, his standard defense.

He's about to remark that the voyeur vibe is getting ridiculous when a sharp whistle comes from outside. Jensen is up in a flash and leaning out the window. Bending back in, he grabs the denim jacket off his bed and looks to Misha. "I'll be back later. If anyone asks I'm in the library."

With that he climbs out the window and onto the balcony. As Jensen swings himself over the railing and onto what Misha hopes is a ladder and not just a twenty foot drop, he glances back into the room. "Don't touch my stuff," he says and grins. It's wide and brilliantly white and just a little bit dangerous. 

And then he's gone.

Misha blinks. That was... well, okay then. He shakes his head and can't help but chuckle a little at the way Jensen totally just threw him for a loop. Going to the window he can see Jensen and another guy in grungy clothes and long hair jogging off into the cover of the thicker trees at the edge of the lawn.

Turning back into the room... his room... he walks over to Jensen's desk and deliberately knocks the biggest pile of books off-center.

It's strangely satisfying.

After a moment he carefully puts them back into their perfect square.

If nothing else, it's is going to be Interesting.

Capital I.