Carrying the laden down boxes was one thing. Even carrying the laden down boxes through all the other people in a crowded hallway, everyone with their arms full and yelling over each other and down the corridor wasn’t any monumental task. It was college: chaotic and busy, and, hell, Dean had been looking forward to this for weeks, truth be told. They all had. He could navigate the river of people and belongings, even with his arms full and Sam following closely behind him with his own boxes to haul.
But if the Hobbit wall scroll sticking out of Charlie’s stuff hit him in the side of the head one more time before he got it to the red head’s new room, then it was not going to make the epic journey in one piece.
Decidedly keeping the Hobbit journey pun to himself, Dean grunted and shifted the box full of collectibles in his arms again, trying to resettle it while scowling at the back of Charlie’s head. She lead their procession through all the noisy people to what was her assigned room, key card already in hand as she read off room numbers. Her comforter and sheets were tucked under one arm, while she dragged her suitcase behind her with the other.
He was debating if it wouldn’t just make more sense for the three of them to get an apartment, both financially and from a hunting stand point, when they made it to her room. He discarded the notion as she let them all in, then held the door open and directed them to put her stuff on the bed by the far wall. Setting down his burden, Dean took a step back to consider it, watching as Sam set down a second box bigger than the first. He knew for a fact all of Charlie’s clothes were crammed into her suitcase and duffel bag.
“You have more collectibles than clothes,” he felt the need to point out.
It seemed valid enough to bring up, but to what end, he wasn’t entirely sure. Both he and Sam had a single duffel bag of clothes and a large box each of their own stuff, filled with things like bedding, books, movies, and Sam’s kit for the care and keeping of his throwing knives. Charlie just seemed to have brought more stuff. It seemed unnecessary, and it was one more thing niggling him with worry now that they were actually there.
He was excited; they had planned extensively for this, but the reality of it actually happening now had him mentally combing over every aspect of this move looking for some flaw in their preparation.
He watched as Sam handed over the unusually shaped case he’d been carrying on his shoulder with her duffel. The duffel was tossed on the end of her bed out of the way, while the case holding her quiver, bow, and various knives was tucked away under her bed.
“Like you are any less of a nerd than I am, Dean Winchester,” she huffed, straightening and dusting off her hands to survey her new domain. “I just brought my collectibles with me.”
The tallest of the three was frowning at the items now hidden under her bed. “Are you sure it’s such a good idea to have brought all of that with you?” Hazel eyes shifted to their adopted sister, clearly worrying the thought in his head. “I mean, what with having a roommate and trying to keep things a secret- you may not actually need them.”
She folded her arms. “Of course, I will need them. A need for our family’s particular calling is why we decided on this school. Monster hot zone, remember?”
“I don’t know,” Dean hedged, though he hated to. He’d never have thought getting out of their comfort zone would unnerve him this much. “How are you gonna explain the clothes changing or carrying your bow and-” He sighed, shaking his head. Maybe they really should have opted for that apartment instead. “Having a roommate complicates things. Puts us at risk. Maybe we should-“
Rolling her eyes, Charlie waved him off. “We’ve already been through this and planned everything. Don’t balk the first day here. I haven’t even unpacked! Your stuff’s not even in your room yet! And before you rationalize why I need to be benched because of my roommate, let me remind you that I am a member of this family, and that means doing what our family does: saving people, hunting things.”
Opening his mouth, probably to put to use the arguing skills all pre-law students were required to have, Sam was interrupted when someone opened the door and they all turned to look. The girl at the door had a messenger bag on her shoulder and box in her arms. She blinked in surprise at the three people already in the room.
“Oh.” Her eyes found Charlie’s as she moved further into the room and set the box down on what would be her desk. She glanced at all three of them, before waving uncertainly at the redhead. “Uh, hi. I’m your new roommate, Gilda. I’ll be studying to be a horticulturist.”
Sighing dreamily, Charlie smiled. “I am so glad we moved away to college.” She stepped forward, offering her hand to the other girl, which she took. “I’m Charlie. I’m going to revolutionize the videogame industry.” The whisp thin girl in pink grinned at that, and as their hands fell away, Charlie motioned to the pair still in the room. “These are my brothers Dean and Sam. Who were just leaving,” she said, turning to flash them both a smile. The angle hid the way her eyes narrowed in threat.
They both rolled their eyes and bit back smiles. Dean reached for her in good-bye first, grabbing the back of her head to place a kiss to her forehead.
Stepping away and toward the door, he told Gilda, “She’s adopted. Forgive any and all weirdness.” She giggled when he winked playfully, and then watched as Sam ruffled their sister’s hair.
When the door shut behind them and they began making their way back down the hall, Sam stuffed his hands into the pocket of his hoodie asking, “How long before Charlie really starts flirting?”
“Oh dude,” exclaimed the blond with a snort. “Five minutes. If that girl had looked any more like a fairy princess, she’d have been wearing glitter.”
It was easier to navigate through all the people now that their hands were empty. They still had to find their room on the first floor and unlock it so they could haul in all of their things before daylight bled away. Getting on the road and leaving home for good that morning had taken longer than they planned for, and despite their excitement, had been harder than expected.
There was a lot of planning typically involved in moving away to college, but for their family it had been doubly so, what with comparing desired course studies, college location, plus the supernatural activity in that area, followed by cross-referencing to see if the area had been claimed by any other hunters- monster hunters, that was- in the business, yet not working with the Men of Letters. Then there was the ordeal of getting the college approved by both the Men of Letters and their mother. Mary wanted them close enough back-up could be sent should her children get into a fix they couldn’t handle alone.
Their mother had argued against this college and town, relatively small though they both were. It was flagged as a hot zone for monster activity with no explanation the MoL could make sense of other than it just was- like any number of natural hot beds across the world. Like Lawrence, Kansas had been before Mary moved in and made it her territory.
It was those reasons that made the Letters particularly interested in the town, the Board all casting their vote toward it. While it was Dean’s decision where they went, they had been none too subtly reminded that The Men of Letters was an old and powerful organization specializing solely in the study and documentation of every aspect of the supernatural world in order to help hunters fight the monsters and protect humanity. They were a very powerful ally and resource. Invaluable even. If a person or group wanted their backing and support, which could include incentives such as three full-ride scholarships… well then, you jumped when they said jump. And would then subsequently fill out paperwork about it.
Even once the area and college had been approved, there was still hacking into the school’s systems to be done so that all three of their schedules were time synchronized as best as they could be, so that classes didn’t interfere with training or patrolling as a team and they were able to keep much the same routines as they always had.
On the ground floor and across the hall from their room, was a guy struggling to manage the move on his own, half-obscured by the boxes he was failing to keep stable as he attempted to open the door to his dorm room. Dean shot forward just as the top box began to slide. The guy tried to compensate by bending at the knees, but only dislodged the bag on his shoulder, causing all of it to begin falling to the floor.
“Whoa!” Dean exclaimed, moving too late to stop the fumble. He knelt and grabbed one of the boxes. “Here, let me help,” he offered.
The poor guy reached for the same one, their hands tangling and making them both look up in surprise.
The smile on Dean’s face faded in an instant, melting into slack-jawed awe as his gaze locked with the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. Box-guy was gorgeous and, somehow, androgynous, what with hair that was thoroughly messy and completely hot, plus Disney-patented blue eyes, seemingly handcrafted features, and the faint stubble adding a bit of scruff to the whole look that was just- unf.
Behind him, Sam coughed lightly, jolting Dean back to reality and ending the staring both he and the other guy had been doing.
Blue Eyes flushed and apologized, “I’m sorry. I wrongfully believed I could manage the simple task of moving my own…” His words trailed off as a grin stretched across the blond’s features and he was struck dumb all over again.
Dean was grinning not only at the other guy’s unusual choice of words, but the gravelly way they were said.
“Lucky for you, I’m here to lend a hand.”
Utterly forgotten, Sam smirked in amusement and shook his head, stepping in to open the door for them.
Clearing his throat and trying to recompose himself, the dark haired man rose with the heavier box in his hands, before ducking into his small single room.
He sat down the box on the stripped bed, letting the bag slide from his shoulder to land beside it, before turning to watch the man who had come to his aid.
“Thank you for your assistance,” he said, once Dean had set the other box down.
And oh yeah, that voice was something Dean was growing fonder of by the syllable.
He offered out his hand to the other man. “I’m Dean. Dean Winchester.”
Blue-Eyes slipped his hand into Dean’s, grip solid and slightly calloused. “Castiel.” He faltered, tongue darting out across his bottom lip. “Castiel, uh, Collins.”
Their hands reluctantly fell apart, Dean nodding to the door. “This is my little brother Sam.” When they nodded to each other, Dean indicated the door to their room right across the hall. “And that’s our room in case you ever need more than two hands again,” he said, flashing a grin and removing himself from the room before Sam had to drag him away.
His brain was helpfully pointing out that what he’d meant as an innocent offer to help had come out sounding a lot more suggestive instead. Sam clearly caught it, because he was shaking his head and trying not to laugh at his brother’s expense. Meanwhile, Dean cast a worried glance at Castiel to gauge his reaction and apologize if need be.
Castiel inclined his head, smiling faintly. “In that case, thank you again, though this is all of my things.”
Throwing him a wink, Dean clapped his brother on the shoulder. “C’mon, Sammy. We have our own stuff to unpack.”
The taller of the two sighed in exasperation. “That comes after we actually unload the car. And say what you want about Charlie’s stuff, but you brought plenty of your own,” Sam insisted as they passed through the double-doors and out into the waning sunlight.
Sucking in a deep breath, Dean couldn’t stop the grin that spread across his features. His dream was happening. They were venturing out and claiming their own territory as a team. They would fight monsters, and maybe even some crime, but they would be able to have normal lives and pursuits as well- for as long as they were allowed it at least. Eventually, they had roles they would have to step into, positions to take over, and responsibilities to accept, but for now… for now they could pretend to be normal, or relatively normal, at least, as free as any of them would ever be, for as long as life allowed it.
Even while somewhat intimidating, moving would be their start to something great.
The sun had fully set by the time they made it to the vast park beside the college, Sam with an actual map of the area and studying it like a lost tourist as they strode across the grounds familiarizing themselves with their new home.
Dean, on the other hand, was casually walking along, hands in the pockets of his jacket as he studied the area directly beside the college. “Oh yeah. I can already tell we are gonna spend a lot of time here and in those woods,” he said, indicating the forest that spread out far and wide behind the university. Using a map, if they placed a pin on the school as the center of what would be theirs to look after and protect, easily a third of it was forest.
The lid to a marker in his mouth, Sam grunted, nodding as he drew circles and X’s on the paper.
Clicking his tongue, Dean pivoted, surveying the receding college as he walked backward.
“Granted, we knew this place was a monster hot zone when we decided to move away from home and both the Campbell’s and Mom’s territories, but I wonder how bad it will actually be.” The Men of Letters database entry hadn’t explained more than that the town was an unassigned location with high supernatural activity of indeterminate cause, to exercise extreme caution while in the area. Spinning on his heel, Dean gave his brother a side-long glance. “And we double-checked this area isn’t claimed by non-MOL hunters, right?”
Not all hunters were willing to fall into line under the Men of Letters protocol and procedure, separating the two groups by an unspoken ‘them and us’ mentality, both sides seeming to resent the other. The last thing Dean wanted was to get into a turf war with some backwoods hunter more concerned about his territory and dominance than he was about protecting the people that lived there.
Sam’s face was pensive and distracted as he spoke. “Monster infested, hunter free. We triple-checked both the Men of Letters and hunter networks.” His lips were pursed, gaze distant and unfocused. Knowing the look, Dean folded his arms and waited. Eventually his brother sighed and shook his head. “As the eldest, and therefore next Ordained descendant of Mom’s line, you’re supposed to go out and find your own territory, but how do we know if you found the right one?”
“Mom said it just feels right. That that was how she knew to stay in Lawrence.”
His brother regarded him seriously. “Okay. How does it feel? We can move if-“
The elder of the two held up a hand. “Dude, no. We just got here and went through too much paperwork and red tape just to get the Men of Letters to sign off on the very town they voted for. It’s fine.”
“But does it feel right?”
Exasperated, Dean threw up his hands, looking around as if expecting a sign telling him the answer. “I don’t know? I guess? It doesn’t feel wrong, and I’m much better attuned to sensing when things are wrong rather than right.” He shrugged. “And it checks all my boxes: monsters, unclaimed, and more than a few hot students.”
Sam had no idea how, as the middle child, he was the most reasonable and focused one of the lot. Wasn’t it supposed to be Dean?
“Yes, Dean, because as the first born to this generation of our family, the one born with the Mark and blessed by the archangel Michael-“
“Oh geez, here we go. Stop, really.”
“-cute students and easy hook-ups are what really matter.”
“God, our family sounds pretentious,” Dean muttered in distaste, kicking idly at the ground. “And, I never said I was looking for easy,” he added, before glaring at his brother. “Also don’t give me that spiel about duty, honor, and destiny. Grandpa Henry made sure I got the point drilled into my head growing up.” They both glowered at each other until Dean’s face split into a grin and he swatted gamely at his brother’s arm. “C’mon, man, you can’t say you aren’t excited to meet new people, though.”
Chuckling, Sam gave him a playful shove. “Just hang a sock on the door or something.”
The sound of running made them both turn, regarding Charlie as she came chasing after them.
“Seriously?” she demanded before even catching up. “First patrol and you left me behind?”
“What are you doing coming out here on your own?” Dean asked with a scowl. “We’re blind as to what’s out here, Charlie.”
Without looking up from where she was doubled-over trying to catch her breath, Charlie had the tip of a blade that had been hidden in her sleeve to his throat in an instant, making Sam bite back a smirk, and Dean fall still and silent.
A blink and then the blade was gone again, tucked back away as the red head straightened and sucked in a deep breath. “Don’t be melodramatic. Not every student out after dark runs into trouble. We aren’t even out of the park, plus I am armed. Like always. You left without me! Dude, do not make me call Mom.”
Shaking his head, Sam raised his palms to their sister. “Relax, Charlie. This isn’t a proper patrol, we were just antsy after unpacking and decided to go for a walk to get a visual of the areas right around the college is all. The real work starts tomorrow.”
Lips pursed, Dean let his gaze drift around the park. “Not that there’s much we can see right now.” He hooked his thumb back toward the college. “C’mon. Let’s go check out where all the businesses and stuff are. We’ll scope out the- probably cursed- forest when there’s proper lighting.”
They all pivoted, backtracking the way they’d come. Sam leaned to peer around his brother.
“Speaking of, Charlie: what do you think about our contacting local PD about a group of LARPers that have regular events and stuff around town?” They both considered him, brows raised. “That way if people happen to see us in costume and call the cops, they already know to disregard it.”
“That’s actually not a bad idea,” conceded Dean, Charlie nodding before she added, “That should work and help a lot actually. I got a call from Josie earlier, and she said that while the Sheriff is in the know and will help with cover-up, she’s not in the business; that the MoL has stationed a contact for us here. A guy named Garth who was a regular hunter before he took an arrow to the knee. No, seriously. Crossbow misfire or something. Uncle Bobby told Mom, Mom got him in contact with Grandpa Henry, and now he works for the Letters. He’ll be our contact and main cover person with local PD.”
The blond shook his head. “This is all happening so much easier than I expected.”
Nodding her agreement, Charlie wiggled her fingers out in front of her. “It’s like the Men In Black of the real world: all memory wipes, cover-ups, and special agents, the whole nine.” She spun to walk backward and regard them. “How is your room, btw’s? It’s near an exit and has a window we can sneak out of, need be.”
Sam waved her off. “I really don’t think we’re gonna have anything to worry about. What’s the situation with your roommate, because I may be sleeping on the floor in your room a lot,” he questioned as they passed from grass to sidewalks, before hooking a thumb at Dean. “He’s commented on that front desk girl, Lisa, and even Professor Barnes, and then the guy in the single across the hall totally knocked him speechless. I’ve never seen Dean unable to break out some quick one-liner before.”
Mock gasping, Charlie raised thin fingers to her lips. She grinned widely as her brother blushed and waved her off.
“Yeah, yeah,” he snapped gruffly, “bluest eyes to ever blue. I’m more worried about you having an actual roommate, though she seems nice.”
To which, the next thirty minutes of their walk was filled with Charlie waxing poetic about the fairy princess/artist/dancer/and horticulturist she was rooming with, and how utterly amazing their children would be once Charlie asked her out and they eventually married.
Sam snorted. “You can’t marry someone you just met, Charlie.”
She cut him a flat look, head rolling around to regard him. “Not to quote Frozen, but you can if it’s true love,” she said, before bumping her shoulder against Dean’s with a wink and a grin.
Getting settled and use to a sudden life change is always easier if you apply old habits to it, which turned out to not be as hard as they thought it would be. They created a new routine, one that allowed them to train and have morning workouts together, same as they had since Charlie’s became a part of their family.
Tiny though the red head may have been at her adoption, she had demanded to learn alongside Dean and Sam how to fight the monsters that had killed her original family; that if her new brothers were learning, then so would she.
Their morning jogs helped them keep in shape and to better learn the town that was now theirs to protect. Their main route took them around campus, past the park and to the large bridge crossing the river out of what was considered their town. They went from there in a half circle until their feet brought them back to the school.
The town was small and broken up into distinct districts. There was the college; everything behind it: West-Northwest to East was dense forest for miles. Then, on their side of the river to the West were a few small residential neighborhoods, plus the police and fire stations. South of the college was the entertainment district where the restaurants, theatre, and nightclub were, all in former warehouses that had been renovated and remodeled. And then to the east, were stores convenient to students, blocks of brick buildings with either balconies or awnings, making everything quaint and peaceful-looking, deceptively so. There was a single coffee shop near the campus, and a 24-hour diner. There was an old white church on a hill, built in the time before central air-conditioning on one of the town’s original roads. There was also a cemetery, which was massive and sprawling, with monuments, statues, and various family mausoleums all closed in with a low, black-iron fence.
Some days, though, they just ran the paths and trails all through the woods and park behind the college, keeping an eye on the activity going on there as much as the rest of the town. That particular morning, the fog off the river was heavy. The mist that had fallen all through the night still hadn’t stopped or turned into a proper rain.
The three of them were thoroughly damp and cold with rain and sweat as they made it back to the boys’ dorm room, their squishing shoes faltering at the sight of Castiel sitting against the wall outside his room, arms across his knees and head back, face toward the ceiling.
“What’s wrong?” Dean questioned, green eyes flicking to the door and back.
From his position, Castiel jerked violently in surprise, eyes flying open and head snapping to regard the man that had spoken. Sam frowned with a suppressed shiver. They shouldn't have been able to sneak up on him, they were practically squelching their way down the hall. Unless he’d been caught off guard because of all the people that had passed him, they were the first to inquire.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” the eldest apologized as the other man hurried to his feet, shaking his head.
“No. I just wasn’t expecting you.”
Sam eyed the door. “Problem?” His eyes flicked to Charlie as her teeth started to chatter.
Releasing a snort of annoyance, the shorter man scowled over his shoulder at the door. “I am not use to having to worry with key cards and such, and unfortunately locked myself out. I asked for help thirty minutes ago…”
His voice trailed off as all three of them made “ah” sounds. Sam clapped Dean on the shoulder before turning to go in their room, while the blond held out his hand to the woman bedside him and she wordlessly pulled two bobby pins from her wet hair and surrendered them.
Dropping to kneel in front of the door, Dean jerked his head toward Charlie as he began working on the original key lock from before it had gone electronic. “Castiel, this is my sister, by the way. Charlie, this is Castiel.”
They shook in greeting, hands falling away just as Sam ducked back out the door and handed off a movie to the red head. Castiel was regarding Dean’s hands as the blond worked.
“Do you know-“
The blond made a triumphant noise and opened the door, pushing it inward while distractedly waving to Charlie as he pushed to his feet and she hurried off to a hot shower and a change of clothes.
“And you’re in,” he said, pocketing the bobby pins.
“Impressive,” praised Castiel, their eyes meeting. Licking his lips, he ventured, “I wished to thank you again for your earlier assistance as well, but being that you are rarely alone, it made it… difficult to approach you.”
There he went again with the odd formality of speech, standing in clothes that while comfortable, looked too new and unbroken-in, carefully unassuming. Like he was putting a lot of effort into trying to fit in.
Dean arched a brow at the other man. “You’re not so great with social skills, are you?” He almost felt bad for calling him out on it, but despite his apparent effort, he rather stood out like a beacon. To Dean, at least.
Blinking rapidly, the other man dropped his gaze, tongue darting out across his mouth. “Ah, no. I’ve been… far removed for a while,” he admitted finally and without embarrassment, his word choice making Dean think of monasteries and Sheppard Book from Firefly. Castiel lifted his head, but didn’t meet Dean’s eye, instead gestured to their surroundings. “I had to fight to be allowed to come here, and now that I am…. It has been a new, albeit, a bit overwhelming task.” He huffed a small embarrassed laugh, before focusing his gaze on the toes of his shoes.
A smile tugged its way onto the corner of Dean’s mouth, the blond feeling warmth and affection spread through him as he regarded his neighbor. He wanted to keep him and corrupt him, to learn what it was that made him so different and intriguing to Dean.
Sam came back out of their room with a change of clothes and a toiletry bag tucked under his arm then, shooting a pointed glance at Dean to remind him of the time and classes. When the brunette’s gaze met Castiel’s, the two exchanged polite smiles and nods.
“Hey, look,” began Dean, “I desperately need a shower and have a class to get ready for, but the best cure for rusty social skills is being social,” he insisted, backing toward his own room. “How about I come find you this evening and we go for burgers? We can hang out.”
Castiel looked at him in surprise. A shy grin spread across his features, looking very pleased by the sudden invitation.
“I’d really like that,” he said, voice warm and sincere.
Dean grinned widely. “Awesome. See you later, Cas. Lemme know if you get locked out again.”