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Master of Reality

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There’s no point in hustling when you’re not betting anything, and especially when it’s freaking foosball, but Dean doesn’t care much. It’s still funny to watch Gordon’s growing frustration as his lead vanishes, an easy win turned to a desperate struggle for manhood.

“Yippie-ki-yay." Dean sinks the ball with one final twirl of his plastic soccer players. “Motherfucker.”

“This game is shit,” Gordon says. “My entire back row is missing its feet.”

“Dean’s entire front row is missing feet,” Victor says, ever-helpful. “And the two in the middle.” He's hardly looking at the table as he says it: sprawled across the couch, in a contortion that the human body was probably not made for, Victor is either the picture of ease or the picture of yoga gone wrong. It's hard to tell which.

“Life’s a bitch.” Dean grins. “Pay up.”

Gordon throws some pocket lint at him. And, because Dean just has to needle him— “Aw, c’mon. You don’t at least got any bud or something?”

Apparently that’s the magic word, because Bobby’s gruff voice is now aimed at them, clear across the Roadhouse’s main room. “You clouts better not have drugs on my prem’sis!”

Dean matches his tone. “Ain't against the law!”

“Not for you!”

And Dean would love to keep needling him, but drugs— even freaking harmless leaves that can now be smoked legally, for fuck’s sake, if only by people over twenty one— are a rather touchy subject at the Roadhouse, and he knows better than to push it. At least for now.

“C’mon, Gord. I’ll play you.” Benny steps up, but they’re interrupted by the crowd coming in through the front door.

It’s Jo, followed by a group of kids that are deformed by large backpacks with sleeping mats sticking out the top. They’re trying to be quiet as they come in, as they survey this new world— step lightly, stick close together, don’t make eye contact.

Dean hopes that they at least appreciate the floor, because he and Tamara had spent at least ten whole minutes sweeping it. Not that anyone could tell. Stained, fake wood floors will always be stained, fake wood floors, whether or not there’s a thin layer of dirt on top. (Ellen had not accepted this reasoning, but she’d given Dean four points for doing it— and then an extra point for ‘recognizing sarcasm.’)

Gordon curses. Twirls his plastic men in what might be considered a threatening manner. “They didn’t tell us it was a Plunge day.”

“Yeah, man. It’s on the calendar,” Victor says, twisting around again so that he can point to it.

“…They didn’t tell me what day it was.”

Dean grins again. Today’s pretty okay. “It’s on the newspaper thingies on the corner.”

A hand gesture is used to illustrate Gordon’s feelings, and then he strikes a ninja post on his half of the table. “Ready, Cracker?”

“Bring it.”

Behind them, Dean can hear Jo giving the group the summary of the day shelter— “Close down at five, then open up again at seven for nights…” an outline of how many teenagers end up homeless and the usual stats and all the wonderful things the Roadhouse does that Dean could practically recite in his sleep at this point. She’s almost at Dean’s favorite part (about how nobody is in these circumstances by choice) and he’s about to witness the greatest upset in the history of foosball when they’re all interrupted by a loud ”JOANNA BETH!”.

He doesn't need to look at Jo to know she's mouthing a significant number of swear words, then— “Dean! Get over here and take over!”

A sigh. Dean turns, eyeing the Plungers. They look-- odd. Out of place. A matched set of polo shirts, matching expressions. “How come I always have to go talk to them?” he mutters.

“It’s ‘cause you’re our local pretty white boy,” says Benny, who is even whiter.

“Oh please. I’m blacker than you. Fuck, I’m blacker than Victor.”

Victor laughs. Which takes a lot of intimidation out of the following, “Suck my dick.”

"Like you can afford it.”

“Joanna Beth, what did you do to those sign-in sheets?” And there’s the lady of the hour. Dean knows that the Plungers stress her out— hell, she’s stressed enough as it is, Dean’s not an idiot— but that doesn’t mean he’s not allowed to be annoyed.

“Dean!”

He hurries over, expertly parcouring over their second crumbling sofa, never mind that Tamara and Isaac are sitting on it.

“Where are we?”

“Still gotta do kitchen loop and points system.”

Jo takes off. He’s pretty sure that being left with these people is a sign of trust— although, hell, he’s been coming here so long that he could probably pass as a volunteer. Ellen and Bobby even seem to think that he’s dependable, and he’s never worked up the nerve to correct them. Or maybe they just think he's reasonably charismatic, for a street kid, and are hoping he can charm out massive donations. It all comes down to the same thing, really.

Anyway, he likes talking to people. Outside of here, they don’t talk back much.

“Hi,” he says, giving his best smile to the awkward-looking high school students. “I’m Dean.”

“A high-end prostitute?” asks a smirking boy with a bad haircut and a face like a weasel.

Dean just winks, and makes a clicking sound with his tongue.

“Gabe!” The adult of their group is using the man-version of Ellen’s voice. Dean tries not to be amused. He also tries not to be amused by the man’s face, which seems too large for his tightly buttoned shirt. Also, he looks like the guy from that Ghotsbusters sequel.

“Anyway. Um, yeah. So this is the Roadhouse.” They’ve probably already gotten this bit, but, whatever. “It’s run by Bobby and Ellen— Jo’s mom—” he stops and frowns as one boy doesn’t even try and hide the fact that he’s checking out Jo’s retreating figure. He’s pretty sure he’s not allowed to deck a Plunger. “Don’t even think about it. She could mess you up.

Wandering-Eyes grins and offers a hand. Dean wonders if he’ll catch Douchebag if he shakes it, because he’s nothing if not quick to judge. “I’m Uriel. I like you. And this is—” he gestures to the group behind him. “Balthazar, Gabe, Rachel, Hester and Castiel.”

Dean tries really, really hard not to laugh. Five bucks, religious school.

“And I’m Mr. Zachariah,” says their Adult. “We’re from Garrison High.”

Ha. Religious school. Ten points to Gryffindor.

“Garrison?” Dean waves them all down the hallway, past the lockers and writing-group flyers. “No way. My parents met there.”

Cue the awkward silence, and faces of polite interest. And of course they don’t believe him, except— “They did. First year they went co-ed. John Winchester and Mary Campbell.”

Mr. Zachariah’s eyes spark in recognition, and then his face twists into something that Dean doesn't want to interpret. Probably something like ‘what the hell is the kid of two Garrison grads doing in a homeless youth day center?’ And Dean isn’t going to get into that, so he just smiles and continues showing them around. “These are the showers, I hope I don’t have to explain that to you, hi Garth, get your— stuff out of the sink, that’s disgusting— this is the dining room. But they fold the tables back at night, and Ellen and Bobby put the mattresses down.” Then, the kitchen, where they’ll soon be making lunch, (because service,) the upstairs with the these-are-the-offices-and-conference-rooms-where-they-ask-people-for-money-or-when-we-need-to-Talk-About-Our-Feelings, and then back to the main room.

He’s pretty sure that that tour was supposed to take longer, and he knows the ins and outs of the Roadhouse like the back of his hand and could probably drag it out, but he’s hungry. So sue him. Also, he’s getting massively unfriendly vibes from Mr. Zachariah. Even his name reeks of dickishness.

Benny and Gordon are still going at it, adding increasingly creative insults to the normal noisy hum.

Jo is playing commentator, the traitor.

Dean sighs and turns his back on them. “Okay so then there’s the chore chart. We get points for doing stuff like, um, cleaning up, passing drugs tests, doing the dishes, you know, stuff like that. Then there’s different things you can buy with them— choose the movie for movie day, that type of thing. People always go for that one. M’little brother Sammy loves it. Although his taste is enough to get him admitted to Anthony’s Shelter for GLBT—”

“Winchester!” And then Ellen’s beside him in a flash, despite being too busy to lead this tour herself. Dean’s pretty sure the walls here have ears.

“C’mon, Ellen, I was only kidding.” He didn’t mean to violate the sanctity of the Safe Space. He couldn't possibly have forgotten about the Safe Space, what with all the signs.

She scowls. “You know the rules— hell, you’ve copied over the poster enough time. Now, how about you go help these nice volunteer make lunch out of the goodness of your heart—and don’t think I can’t see that one-liner about to pop out. I ain’t listening to your sass, kiddo.”

Dean huffs a laugh, only to hear—

“Scratch that, Winchester. Ellen is so blacker than you.”

He flips Victor off. Then, to Ellen, “Wait, he can make racist jokes but I can’t make gay—”

Her mouth twitches, like it does when she’s trying not to smile. “I know you, Dean. You’re allowed to offer.”

Dean laughs again, then turns to the slightly alarmed looking tour group. “C’mon. It’s pasta day.”

II.

He ends up balanced on a stool, stirring a large vat of tubular noodles with the dark haired kid whose name he can’t actually remember.

“So,” he says, after the silence has gotten slightly awkward. Dean doesn’t like silence. He doesn’t like sob moments, either, but laughing and joking goes over just fine. “What’s your favorite movie?”

The kid looks up, surprised. “Um…” he chews his lip. “I don’t know. I saw Skyfall a few weeks ago.”

“Ugh, lucky.” Dean sighs. “I don’t think that Bobby’s got anything from this millennium.”

Pause. Water hissing, bubbles racing to the top. “Can’t you— do you, um, hang out anywhere else?”

Shrug. “Here, hold this end.”

They do a great acrobatic feet involving taking a giant-ass pot of pasta and boiling water and managing to strain said boiling water out into the sink. Any second, Dean’s sure, he’s going to be covered in third degree burns.

“I mostly chill here,” he says when they straighten it back up and begin to refill it. Behind them, there’s a crash, and then a curse, and then a Dammit, Gabe. Dean doesn’t look. If he doesn’t see it, it’s not his responsibility. “Sammy goes to school pretty nearby, so it seems like as good a place to meet him as any. Or bring him, when I go pick him up. And I like Ellen’n Bobby’n Jo’n everyone.” At this point, Dean knows most of the people that come in. Can joke with them, play foosball and ping-pong, sometimes hit them up for favors. Or, on bad days, weed or alcohol. Or whatever they have. Dean’s an equal-opportunity mind-addeler.

Maybe he’s just hiding here.

“Sammy’s— your brother, right?”

Do not say, ‘he goes to school?’

“Yeah.” They pour in another bag of pasta, and Gabe comes and takes the strained stuff away to get drowned in sauce. Also, this conversation is veering into the personal category, and he searches for the nearest exit. “So, who’s your favorite Bond?”

“Castiel! Do I need one bag of sauce or two?”

The kid next to Dean— Castiel, yeah, that’s a weird name— turns and shrugs. Gabe looks at Dean, who is just as helpful, and then takes his question elsewhere.

“I liked Craig,” Castiel admits. “I thought he was better than Moore.”

Dean lets his mouth fall open in shock. “And here I thought we could be friends.”

He gets an eyebrow in response, and man, Castiel doesn’t move his face much but he manages to get his message across. “We can’t, actually. It’s one of the rules.”

Everything seems to have gone silent in that moment, despite the voices of the plungers around them and the industrial-strength dishwasher increasing the humidity of the room by at least three hundred percent. “They give you rules when you come in?”

“Oh, yeah.” Castiel turns the heat down a little before climbing back onto his own stool, bringing them back to eye level.

“Like?”

“Don’t ask you how you got to be here, or ask any potential upsetting-and-or-triggering questions, don’t accept anything you offer us, don’t offer you anything, don’t promise to come back, whatever. Stay above your bad influences.” He recites this list with the air of one who has heard it far more times than he thinks is necessary, and Dean lets out a slow whistle.

“Man, and I felt oppressed by not being able to smoke pot and question my brother’s sexuality.”

Apparently as well as Eyebrow, Castiel can smirk. “What did Ellen mean, you offering?”

Another shrug. Truth is, he likes chances to work in the kitchen— he can’t volunteer for it, because that’d be too— too something, but if he’s told to, well, then they can only laugh at him for getting in trouble. And he doesn’t actually like cooking, but he likes being able to help— because he knows how much he owes Ellen, but there’s no way he can admit that to her, and he can’t think of any other way to pay them back.

It’d be nice, though, if the volunteers would actually donate instead of just cooking. They’d been spoiled, really, those few weeks after Ronnie died— nerdy, homeless teenager found dead. And then people started to Never Again, to ask How This Could Happen, how they could protect their children. Money rolled in. And then, just as quickly as it started, it stopped, because the media moved on.

“Just wanted to bump elbows with you Plungers.” He goes for a smile, but then gives up. “So, you having fun roughin’ it?”

Castiel sighs a little. His hair is sticking up more and more from the steam— it’s actually pretty funny, but Dean hasn’t decided if he’s going to point it out yet. “It’s supposed to be an eye-opening experience. Solidarity and all that. My school is big on solidarity. We wore green and white for Sandy Hook and everything.” There’s a muted sort of disdain in his voice.

“That was all them kids got shot, right?”

“Yeah.”

They’re quiet for a second. “So, do you feel more in solidarity now that we’re making noodles together?” It takes a moment to realize how much that sounds like a euphemism.

And Castiel might have noticed, because he does that eyebrow thing again. “We were at St. Michael’s Men’s Dinner last night and we’re going to sleep in the gymnasium at Mount Sinai. Went to a Real Change orientation and then got thrown out of Starbucks because we didn’t buy anything. So it seems like a lot of effort if we’re not even supposed’ta talk to you.”

Not that that’s entirely a bad thing. “Prob’ly just worried about you pissing people off. I mean, I’m pretty hard to offend. But you go askin’ Gordon about his life story, and he’ll rip’ya a new one.”

“Duly noted.”

They share half a smile.

“Anyway,” Castiel continues. “Avengers was also really good.”

Avengers was awesome.” Dean nods. It's another movie he’d seen here— Ellen had gotten it from Redbox, and yeah, he probably does need to go other places more. But he feels like Castiel wouldn’t appreciate it as much if he talked about the slightly sketchier places he hangs out. “Scarlett, man. Hot.

“Eh.”

“Aw c’mon, Cas. She’s like—” Dean makes a gesture that’s supposed to illustrate how attractive Scarlet Johanssen is, but all he comes out with is “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”

“If that’s from a movie, I haven’t seen it,” Castiel tells him, and then, when Dean groans— “What? There’s no time. La Vie Boheme being dead, and all.”

Dean’s pretty sure that’s a reference, and for some reason the connection in his head is to Madonna. “What—”

Rent.

That one he hasn’t seen, although he’s pretty sure Madonna wasn’t in it. “That was the musical with the trann— with that cross-dresser, right?”

He gets a roll of ridiculously blue eyes for his effort. “There was a little more to it than that. There were also lesbians. And AIDS.” Pause. “Then again, perhaps Anna’s description wasn’t entirely accurate.”

“Who’s Anna? This really doesn’t sound like something that Garrison kids would be allowed to watch.” Dean realizes that he’s forgotten to stir. But nobody should notice that he was too busy talking, because he only has to push with the spoon a little bit to get the noodles off the bottom. He fishes one out to try it. “You think this is done?” He tires to hand one to Castiel, but somehow ends up splattering them both with hot water. “Fuck. Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Castiel frowns down at his damp polo, as though such a thing has never happened to it. Like he doesn’t live in a city known for rain. “Anna’s my sister. She was obsessed with Rent for awhile— she thought it would annoy our parents.”

“Did it?”

“They didn’t notice. Her moving rendition of that song about the cow jumping over the moon did not win her any points in the hallways, though; Mr. Zachariah had to have a conference with her.”

“Jesus.” Dean realizes that blasphemy might not be the best thing around a kid who may or may not be a devotee. Does that even qualify as blasphemy? “Sorry. Um, that’s kind of hilarious. Zach doesn’t look like he goes for a sense of humor.”

They manage to strain the second batch without killing themselves just as Jo comes in. For someone who’s supposed to coordinate volunteers, she seems to be leaving them to their own devices quite a bit. “Winchester,” she says loudly. “Make me a sammich.” Dean flips her off, and she starts corralling some of the Garrison kids towards the counter. “Mom says your servitude is up.”

“Oh, really?” Dean waves his hands in her general direction. “Awesome. So who won the great foosball match of 2013? You seemed to know an awful lot about it.”

“Please. Just letting you schmooze with these lovely folk. Also, Benny. But Gordon has vowed revenge.”

“Well, tell Benny to watch his back.” He checks the clock, and it’s still two hours until Sammy should be there, so he has time to make an ass of himself. Well, he does until Jo kicks him out of the kitchen, and “you Harvelles are never happy, are you.”

“So, you get your ticket out of the life?” Gordon knocks a ping-pong ball at his head, but Dean swats it back. “Get one of them to adopt you?”

“They were pretty cool,” he says honestly. At least Gabe has a sense of humor. And Castiel’s nice. “Anyway. It’s pasta.”

You can’t go wrong with pasta. That’s just an accepted fact. Even if some of it is potentially unstirred.

Dean maybe should feel bad, seeing all those Garrison kids. He could have been one of them, and for a second he tries to imagine it. He might have been friends with Castiel in school, maybe joked around with Gabe and known the others’ names. He’d make fun of Sammy looking all dorky in their uniform sweatshirt and— well. It’s a life that Dean didn’t get, and he doesn’t think about it too hard. His learning has been spotty at best, but his dad taught him most of what’s important and he figured out the rest himself. Where to go if all the shelters are full, how to keep teachers from finding out that Sammy doesn’t have parents or an address, where to stand and how to look at people when he is desperate for cash, how to smile like nothing’s wrong.

He beams.