Castiel hissed as he pulled on a shirt. His back stung from the lashes his father had whipped into him last night. Even after washing and bandaging the cuts, it still hurt like all hell.

"Castiel!" Cas flinched at the voice. "Get your lazy ass down here!"

"Yes, Father," Cas hurried down, hoping his hair was decent. He may be able to leave the house without being yelled at again.

"Decent." His father grunted his approval before turning back to a bottle of alcohol; which one, Cas didn't know and didn't want to know.

Grabbing a piece of toast, Cas almost fled out the door and sprinted to the bus stop, where he almost ran headfirst into Gabriel.

"Hi-ya there, Cas," Gabe grinned, flashing his teeth at Cas. "Where you going in such a big hurry."

Gabriel was Cas's best friend. It was an odd combination - the popular class clown and the shy nerd, who was funny once you got to know him. More importantly, Gabe knew what happened behind closed doors and windows at Cas's house. The quirky smile faded from Gabe's face.

"Are you okay? How bad it it?" Gabe seemed indignant. He shook his head. "I'm going to kill him, Cas."

"No," Cas winced as he put a hand on Gabe's shoulder. "I'm fine, really-"

"You are very clearly not fine. Look at you. You're in pain."

"Don't worry about me," Cas said flatly. Mercifully, the bus screeched to a halt right then, and Gabe dropped the subject.

qllp

School was a blur for Cas. Math, Language Arts, History...everything blurred together, and he was barely aware of walking into last period: Science. He set his books down, in his usual seat, next to Gabe, who intermittently glared at Cas's back, which was starting to ache. He tuned out but started paying attention when the teacher mentioned the words "paired project." Cas turned to stare pointedly at Gabe, the sudden movement causing a flare of pain and making him mutter a curse.

"Assigned partners," the teacher added, amid groans and complaints. "Okay...Gabriel with Anna. Zachariah with Uriel. Castiel with Dean…"

Cas was sure the teacher was still talking, but he stole a glance at Dean, who was looking back at him with nonchalance. Cas sighed quietly and slumped in his seat. This was going to be hell.