Dean had been sort of picking at one of the scrapes on his arm, absentminded as he watched the army recruiter set up the table in the courtyard, when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
He turned around to see that the new kid had come up behind him and was just standing there. Smiling at him. Dean felt a chill run down his spine, goosebumps that prickled at his skin even though the morning was already hot and muggy, but he fought it off with a scowl.
Dean had noticed the new guy around, of course. He had just shown up one day in a couple of Dean's classes. Long stringy black hair, wide eyes, grinning all the time even when there wasn't any reason to be. But Dean hadn't tried to talk to him or anything - Dean made a point of ignoring new kids. He remembered back when he'd been switching schools a lot, how much he hated it when people asked him bunch of shit that wasn't any of their business, like where he had come from or why he had transferred to a new school.
"The fuck do you want?"
Dean blinked back. That wasn't what he had been expecting.
“Hello.” The new kid said again, still smiling. “I am Bo Dallas.”
“Uh.” Dean faltered. He wouldn't have thought that Bo could smile any wider, but he would have been wrong. Finally, he managed “Good for you?”
“Yes.” Bo said. “It is good for me. And you are Dean Ambrose. Is it good for you?”
Dean thought that he probably saw each and every one of Bo's teeth, before he went back to staring silently at Dean. Still smiling. Like he was waiting for something. Fuck that. Dean turned and walked away.
A crowd had clumped up in the hall that ran between the locker rooms and the gym, off to the side, a shifting huddle of backpacks and the backs of heads that had surrounded… something.
Dean knew what it wasn't a fight, even before he saw Xavier elbow his way out of the gathering of onlookers and head for the nearest teachers lounge. There was none of the hollering that happened when guys squared off or the viscous, determined hum when two girls went after each other. The knot of people was quiet, a quiet like like everyone was holding their breath, like all the air has been sucked out of the hall.
This was just something that happened, every once in a while.
Kofi was too smart to be in any of Dean's classes, so Dean usually wasn't around when it he dropped, but Dean had caught it once during lunch the year before. He remembered the same type of silence settling over everything, and watching what happened had left Dean feeling scared in a way that he couldn't put his finger on, cold and panicked. Sometimes he still felt sick when he remembered it. But Dean didn't stop or think about any of that. He just shoved his way into the spot that Xavier had cleared at the edge of the crowd, tried to get closer so that he could watch.
Dean had used to think that seizures were an all over jittery shaking, but what happened to Kofi wasn't like that.
When Dean got closer he could see Big E kneeling on the ground next to Kofi, his hands cupped under Kofi's head to keep it from cracking against the unforgiving linoleum. Kofi didn't shake so much as he jerked between distinct positions, and Dean watched as his arms drew in and his back arched and he stretched out and cycled through again and again and again. The heels of Kofi's shoes kicked against the floor each time that his body arched, low thuds, and now that Dean was closer he could hear Big E's calm voice, telling Kofi that it was alright, that Xavier would get someone, that everything would be okay. Big E kept up the litany of reassurances even though Kofi’s eyes were rolled back, showing white as he convulsed, and Dean was almost certain that Kofi had no idea what E was saying.
Dean wasn't sure how long he stood there. It couldn't have been more than a minute or two, but it felt like forever until Xavier had returned with a couple of teachers in tow, shouting at everyone to break it up and get to class. Kofi was still seizing. Xavier kneeled down next to Big E and when Dean finally managed to look away from the scene he noticed for the first time that Bo Dallas standing across from him in the slowly dispersing circle. Smiling, at Dean.
It was one of those days where Dean didn't feel like having to deal with any bullshit so he ditched right away after homeroom to go get fucked up.
He snuck out to the equipment shed on the far side of the track, a stone's throw from the school's chain link perimeter fence, and sat down in the shaggy grass. Dean rummaged around all the loose papers in his bag until he found the shit that he had swiped from the Eckerd's, his head filled with ceaseless insect humming and the distant noise of the road. It was hot as fuck out, the back side of the shed was in the direct sun, and Dean had started to sweat even before he finished popping the pills out of the clear and grey plastic sheet printed with the Coricidin logo. Dean leaned his sore shoulders gently against the side of the shed and took the pills two at a time, with swigs from the can of Mountain Dew that he had borrowed off of Mojo, who never seemed to realize that he was never going to get anything back when Dean asked to ‘borrow’ stuff.
Dean wiped the sweat off his forehead. Took a the rest of the pills in a rush to get numb. Slapped at a mosquito on his forearm, missed. Tilted his head back to watch an airplane flying far overhead and the puffy white line that unfurled behind it. Dean knew that it was going fast up there, but from where he was sitting it looked so slow. He tracked it until he had to turn his head to follow its path towards the sun, and when he turned he saw that Bo Dallas was standing at the corner of the shed and staring at him, not even five feet away.
The pills must've already been kicking in, because Dean didn't startle when he saw Bo. Instead, he just took a slow breath and felt the nauseous dread that seeped into his blood as he thought about how he hadn't heard Bo coming at all, about how the two of them were alone. Bo's face split with a wide grin when Dean saw him, and he took two easy steps so that he could stand next to, over, Dean.
“How long've you been standing there?” Dean looked up at Bo and blinked a bead of sweat away from his eye.
“A while.” Bo replied, which was not what Dean wanted to hear.
Dean had his legs pulled up, forearms braced on his knees so that his hands hung down between them. His fingers felt heavy, thick with blood like they did after he had to walk a long way. Dean let his head thump back against the side of the shed, didn't flinch at the bright flicker of pain or the way that Bo was just standing there, looking serene in the beating sun. Smiling. Dean waited for the other shoe to drop, but he wasn't expecting it when Bo asked
“Do you want to hang out after school?”
Dean stared at him, for a long silent moment where the buzz of the bugs seemed to grow louder and louder and Bo did not blink. Dean was pretty sure that he had heard right, but that didn't make any damn sense.
“My aunt's house has many interesting cat figurines that I could show you.” Bo said, smiling down at Dean. “You would enjoy them!”
“What the fuck.”
Bo continued on, undeterred. “My aunt's house also has television! Have you seen television before? I could show you the television instead, if you have already seen my aunt's cat figurines.”
Dean knew he wasn't hallucinating, but the fact that the situation was actually happening made even less sense. “Why would I have seen your aunt's cat figurines?”
“Why wouldn't you have seen my aunt's cat figurines?”
The words 'cat figurines’ had started to meld together in Dean's head, into a single word, catfigurines, that was senseless and inescapable in it's lack of meaning in a way that was really starting to fuck with him.
“I don't give a fuck about your aunt's cat figurines.” Dean snapped. “And I don't want to hang out with you. Fuck off.”
“No thank you!”
Dean grit his teeth and tried to stand up, braced himself against the side of the shed as he leaned. He worried for a second that Bo would try to. To grab him. To help him. But he didn't. All Bo did was stand there and watch Dean struggle until Dean finally got his shit together enough to start walking back towards the main building. Then, Bo followed.
A week or so later Bo sat down across from Dean during lunch, grinning from ear to ear as he set a brown paper bag on the scarred surface of the table between them and announced “I brought this for you!”
Dean looked to one side, then the other. He was the only person sitting at that cafeteria table. Or, he had been until Bo had invited himself over.
“Has anyone ever told you that you're fuckin annoying?”
Bo kept on smiling, bright and unbothered “Yes!”
Then Bo reached out and unfolded the top of the paper bag. But instead of opening it like a normal person, Bo ripped the sides of the bag apart from each other. The sound of the paper tearing shouldn't have been anything in the chaos of the cafeteria, but it was the only thing that Dean could hear as he watched Bo methodically rip, rip, rip the creases at each corner of the bag about half way, then fold the sides down to reveal a bunch of tomatoes that were all no bigger than the plastic capsules that came out of quarter machines.
“What the fuck.” Dean said, finally, when Bo had finished mutilating the paper bag and had pushed it across the table to Dean with a satisfied grin. “Are those tiny little tomatoes?”
“Yes. They are cherry tomatoes. They grow behind my aunt's house.”
“I've told you I don't give a fuck about your aunt's house” Dean said, but he picked one up and looked at it for a second before he put it back down and pushed the bag back towards Bo.
Bo smiled, and shook his head, and moved the bag back towards Dean.
“I brought them for you to eat.” Bo said “Because you never have anything.”
Dean usually would have decked anyone else who had said some shit like that to him, but he held back from hitting Bo because Dean was already one strike away from getting stuck with an out of school suspension and. Because he just didn't feel like it. Dean should have been itching for a fight at the words, but instead he just felt tired.
He stared down at the little tomatoes. Dean just wanted Bo to stop fucking with him. Except. Dean had a finely tuned sense of when people were fucking with him and Bo never seemed like he actually meant to be and Dean didn't know what to do about that. He didn't want to be the type of guy who flipped out on people who didn't deserve it. He didn't like it when it happened to him, and - . He didn't know what the fuck to do with those tiny tomatoes.
Dean picked one up again, bright red and firm between his fingertips, and looked back up at Bo. Bo was sitting very still, with his hands clasped together in front of him on the table. When Dean caught his eyes to try and get some clarification, Bo cocked his head to the side and said
“Leighton showed me a book that he had colored about how vegetables love the Lord.”
Dean did a double take at that. The only Leighton that he had ever heard of of was one of Heath's brothers.
“So you should eat the tomatoes,” Bo went on, as he picked up one of the tomatoes and popped it into his mouth, whole, and chewed with the red seeping between his teeth as he said “and send them home to their God.”
Dean hung around for a while after school, until the only people left in the pick-up loop were the kids who rode the bus that went out towards the Bone Valley. The Slater family always seemed to make up at least half of that bus group, since it was Heath all the way on down to the little kindergarten kids on account of there only being the one bus for that part of the county. Dean had used to ride it for a couple of months, back when he'd been living in that one place, so he knew that the bus was always late and that Heath would be waiting for it.
It was so hot that the ground was almost steaming from the afternoon rain, the air humid and thick. Heath sat on one of the few benches, keeping a watchful eye on his brothers from under the brim of the same tattered Dale Earnhardt memorial ballcap that he'd had for as long as Dean had known him, and Dean clocked the blood-dark mark at the base of Heath's throat that would have been hidden if the neckline of his shirt wasn't so stretched out. Then Heath spotted Dean heading his way he seemed to brighten up - Heath had used to be a pretty good friend, up until Dean had stopped talking to him and Heath had finally given up.
“Dean! How's it goin’, man?”
“Not too bad.” Dean took a seat beside Heath. Zeke had his nose in a book and Donny apparently thought that he was too cool now that he was thirteen, but Dean still had to stop and say say ‘Hi’ to all the littler Slaters before he got a chance to ask Heath “Say, what's the deal with that new guy?”
“You mean Bo?”
Heath and Dean both turned to look at where Bo was at the far end of the bus loop. Bo has crouched down on the curb and had one hand reached out, mouth moving even though there was no one around for him to be talking to. It took Dean another second to notice the little brown birds, the type that were always flitting in and out from under cars in parking lots, hopping around out on the asphalt a few feet away from Bo.
“Yeah.” Dean said again, looking back to Heath. “Bo.”
“What's your problem with Bo?”
“He's always trying to talk to me and shit.”
“Wow.” Heath drawled “Almost like he's friendly or somethin’.”
“I just wanna know what's up with him.”
Heath turned to watch Sherman and Levi, who had tied their shoes together and were shuffling from side to side, giggling. Once he seemed satisfied that they weren't going to fall over and bust themselves open he said “He’s just Bo, man, I dunno what you want me to say. He’s real religious? He rides my bus?”
“Yeah, no shit Slater. Why else would he be sittin' around in the bus loop waiting for the fuckin’ gompus bus.”
“You’re the one that asked what I know 'bout him.” Heath shrugged. “Oh, yeah, you remember that pink house off the south side of the road before the turn off for the phos mine?"
"The one with all them old lawn statues."
“Welp.” Heath shrugged “That's his aunt's place I guess. Bo told me that's where he's livin’ now on account of the state gettin’ into it with his people down south.”
Dean didn't get a chance to press on that or to ask if Heath had been invited over to see Bo's aunt's cat figurines because Heath got roped into settling a dispute between Toby and Leighton and Eli. By the time the crayons had been distributed to everyone's satisfaction, Dean had remembered something else that he'd been meaning to talk to Heath about.
“So are they excited?”
“Your brothers. They're gonna be uncles soon, right?”
Heath looked at Dean for a long moment, puzzled expression until he finally put it together.
“You really must'a slept through biology.” Heath said, the back of his neck going pink. “‘Cause that ain't how it works.”
“Uh-huh. And you must have slept through whatever class it was where they’re supposed to teach about the statutory laws in the state of Florida.”
Dean had meant for it to sound like he was just teasing or something, but the words had come out of his mouth wrong, too harsh, and there was no way for him to snatch them back and pretend he actually didn't care. Sure enough, something in Heath's face shuttered and he looked away from Dean, pitched his voice lower so the kids wouldn't be able to hear him.
“Why're you startin’ this shit with me today, huh? Since when do you care about the law.”
“I don't.” Dean crossed his arms over his chest, stared at mark on Heath's collarbone until Heath caught his gaze and tugged at the shirt to cover it up. “If you were messing around with him to get him to buy you booze that'd be one thing, but -”
“It ain't like that.”
“Yeah, I know it ain't like that. That's the fuckin’ problem. I saw you two in the back parking lot at the Winn-Dixie. Now I know why you've been mooning around in class all day looking like you wish you could be out carving hearts into trees and shit. He is way too old for you.”
“You really wanna -” Heath snapped, voice hard. Dean didn't move back or anything, but. “At least I don't fuck for rides to the Dollar Tree. You don't hardly talk to me no more and now you're gonna tell me my business? What d'you even know about it, huh?”
Dean didn't say anything to that.
“Oh, look.” Heath said, suddenly mild, anger hidden again as he stares at the road out past the fence. “The bus is here.”
“Fine, fuck you too.” Dean grabbed his bag off the ground. “Just tell your buddy Bo to leave me alone.”
“Why don't you tell him?”
Dean didn't have an answer for that. He looked over at where Bo had sat down cross-legged on the concrete at the edge of the bus loop, then back to Heath.
“Cause he's fuckin’ weird and I don't wanna have to deal with anymore shit. Look at him. Talking to parking lot birds. What the fuck even.”
“Bo was tellin’ Levi ‘bout ‘em the other day.” Heath said, still not looking at Dean. “Said they're called grasshopper sparrows.”
Bo had been saying hello to each person who passed him as he stood in the dead center of the hallway, between the double doors. Dean watched as Bo gave out a couple of high fives as people flowed around him. Then Dean turned and walked away.
He didn't need to go to math class anyway. It wasn't raining so hard outside that Dean couldn't hide out under the bleachers for an hour, especially since he was probably already going to fail that class. Yeah. Fuck it. But Dean didn't make it more than ten feet before Bo caught up to him, sidestepping around Dean so smoothly that Dean still wasn't sure how he did it. Then Bo smiled at him and said
“Hello, Dean! Heath said that you don't want to hang out with me anymore!”
Bo sounded more amused than anything, seemed completely fine that Dean didn't want anything to do with him and that was, whatever, it was great because that was exactly what Dean had wanted.
Dean turned around, and took a step, and then Bo was there again.
“Fuck off, Bo. I have to get to class.”
“Heath said that,” Bo stopped and shifted the way that he was standing, then went on in a slow drawl that was a pitch perfect imitation of Heath “it’s on account of you bein’ 'From Circumstances’.”
God damn Heath. Dean should have known better, he really should have. After all, Heath was the guy who had apparently thought that the grocery store parking lot was the height of secrecy, instead of any of the places out there where things could happen and no one would know about them.
Bo straightened up, so that he looked and sounded like himself again when he added “But I told Heath that you and I are friends, so I can't stop hanging out with you.”
Dean didn't say anything, just stepped around Bo and kept walking towards the math classroom. This time, Bo let him go. When Dean checked over his shoulder Bo was still standing there, grinning as he watched him go, and when he saw Dean looking he waved.
The next time that Bo tried to ask him to hang out, smiling as he followed Dean between classes, Dean stopped and stared at him and asked
“Why d’you look like that?” Dean had meant it to be mean, but Bo didn't seem to notice. Dean hadn't had anyone hang out with him this much since when he'd still been friends with Roman and Seth, back before. Before he hadn't been friends with them anymore. It was easy, for Dean not to be friends with people.
“Smiling like a jackass.”
“The Lord loves a glad and cheerful countenance!”
Dean slammed his locker shut and nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw that Bo had been standing there behind it. Apparently just staring at the blue metal and. Waiting.
“Fuckin’-” Dean's hands clenched into fists, but he avoided swinging on Bo only just, because he had just gotten back from ten days out of school for fighting and didn't want to get written up again. “What're you followin’ me around for?”
“Because you are my friend.” Bo said, which was news to Dean. “And I have brought you a present. Look.”
Bo had been standing with his hands behind his back, and as he spoke he brought them around and held them out in front of him, holding a -
“This is one of my aunt's cat figurines. Now it is for you.”
“Uh.” Dean looked down at it. The cat figurine was small and fragile looking, with a dusting of glitter all over it. He made no move to take it. “Did you seriously steal that from your aunt to give to me?”
“I did not! It's like the Prophet says, there’s no such things as personal belongings when all belongs to the Lord!” Bo announced proudly, and that was. It sure was something.
“What the fuck.”
The warning bell rang and Bo took step towards to Dean, pressed the cat figurine forward until their hands were touching and Dean had no choice but to take the damn thing just to get Bo to back off. But Bo stayed where he was, two steps too close into Dean's personal space, even after Dean had folded and taken the little statue. It was heavier than it looked.
“I don't want this shit.” Dean said as he tried to hand it back, but Bo either didn't notice or didn't care. Dean could feel the glitter flaking off the figurine, gritty on his palms.
“And look!” Bo went on “The ball of yarn is shaped like a heart! Now you have a thing that loves you!”
Dean couldn't force Bo to take the cat figurine back or smash it on the floor without probably getting suspended again, so he ended up stashing it in his locker. Not because he wanted the present or anything, just because he wanted Bo to leave him alone. Besides, Dean figured that Bo would ask for it back soon enough, and at least the goddamn thing stood a better chance of not getting broken in the locker than it would have at where Dean was staying. Except that Bo never asked for it back. Dean's locker was too much of a mess for him to have to look at it all the time or anything, but. Dean still knew that the cat figurine was there, hidden behind the stack books that he had stolen out of the English department store room that one time he had found it left unlocked.
Dean startled awake and almost fumbled the book that he had been pretending to read onto the floor. He must have been more tired than he thought, because he hadn't heard Bo at all. He could definitely hear him now, though.
“You weren't in class on Friday. Were you sick?” Bo asked with a smile, and when Dean ignored the questions Bo pressed on. “Why did you have your eyes closed just now? Is that a new way to study?”
“Bo, dude. Fuckin’, inside voice.” Dean closed his eyes and rubbed at his face. It didn't matter that Bo had missed him, Dean didn't give a fuck, but it still lodged in between his ribs where they were already sore enough. “You gotta be quiet in here or they'll kick us out.”
Bo nodded, went solemn for a moment until he smiled again and asked, in the loudest whisper that Dean had ever heard.
“Is it bad to be kicked out?”
“Because you need to study? I don't need to study.” Bo whispered, looking overjoyed. “The Prophet taught us that our good Lord would provide all of the answers that we could need.”
Dean had some doubts about that. He had only tried to cheat off of Bo once for a history test, and hadn't bothered again. Because Dean was well aware that he was a dumbass but, even still, he was pretty sure that the Battle of Bunker Hill hadn't happened in 1955.
“Leave me alone, Bo.”
“You are normally alone. I thought you might appreciate a change of pace.”
Bo sat down at the table next to Dean, didn't pretend to be reading or anything, just sat there. Smiling at him. Staring in that way that Dean wasn't sure if Bo was looking at him or through him, hands folded on the table, like he had nothing better to do than sit around with Dean.
The silence that settled between them wasn't really silent. It was mostly empty in the library, sure, but there were a few other people whispering to each other and the rhythmic sounds of the ancient photocopier, the shushing of papers, that lulled and soothed. Dean didn't realize that he had stopped seeing Bo because his eyes had closed or that he had started to drift to sleep again, just that he was suddenly trying to build a machine out of parts of things that didn't make any sense as he watched a dog die. When the bell rang to signal the end of lunch, Dean opened his eyes to find that Bo was closer than he had been before. Much, much closer.
Dean yelped and jerked backwards, almost toppled out of the chair. Bo remained motionless until Dean had his wits back about him, then loudly whispered
“Your mouth looks pretty today.”
“What the fuck - Bo, you can't say shit like that.”
“Shhh, Dean. You're supposed to be quiet.” Bo said. “This is a library.”
Dean saw that he had in fact caught the attention of the teacher at the copy machine, a disapproving stare that he rankled under. He shoved away from the table, chair squeaking too loud. Dean had his eyes down but he still felt Bo staring at him as he stood, and when he looked back he saw that Bo was still smiling.
Bo was still smiling at him, like he didn't understand why Dean had reacted like he had, but was unbothered by it regardless. And, yeah. Dean knew that Bo didn't really know what he was doing due to whatever fucked up upbringing he'd had. Didn't know what he was saying, when he said the things that he did.
“You can't say shit like that.” Dean said again.
“But I did.” Bo replied, beatific, still looking at Dean's bruised mouth when he added “People usually appreciate compliments.”
The halls surged with bodies after the final bell, and the air was charged with excitement as the last class let out before Spring Break. A whole week with no school. Who wouldn't be excited.
“Hello, Dean!” Bo beamed at him “I like your hat!”
Dean had been getting weird looks for the stocking cap all day. It was way too warm, but it was the only thing he had been able to find to cover his head so he was stuck wearing it until he could find some way to fix the patchy, disastrous haircut that he had ended up with the night before. Dean fought the urge to pull the hat down even tighter over his head as he looked at Bo and Bo looked back.
This was, Dean realized, the first time that he has been the one to approach Bo. He had been the one to start this. Now he had to follow through.
Dean's backpack was stuffed, uncomfortably bulky against his back, and his hands fiddled absently with the straps when he asked. “Hey Bo, do you think I could stay with you at your place for a bit? Like a sleepover?”
The word ‘sleepover’ felt wrong coming out of Dean's mouth, clumsy and juvenile, but Bo lit up and seemed genuinely, inexplicably, thrilled by the prospect of Dean's company.
“Of course! When do you want to come over?”
“Wow!” Bo beamed at Dean “This is so exciting!”
If Bo had thought that Dean's mouth looked pretty before, then he probably thought it looked fucking great now, but, but that was alright. If that was what Bo liked then Dean could use that if he needed, just as long as
“...until school gets back in.”
“I swear I -” Dean started, until he realized that Bo had already agreed. Just like that. Dean hadn't even had to come up with some bullshit explanation or offer Bo anything. “Really. You're really cool with me just staying with you for a week?”
“Of course! I can show you my aunt's cat figurines, and we can play card games, and watch the television, and stay up late, and go looking for sinkholes, and -”
“Yeah.” Dean said as he followed Bo out to the bus loop, pointedly avoiding a confused look from Heath. “That sounds. Great.”
“We will have so much fun!” Bo announced, smiling. “I am glad that you are my friend!”