Dean Winchester may have only been twelve-years-old, but he was dead certain of two things:
1. There were a lot of things to be scared of in this world.
2. You couldn't let being scared stop you from doing what you had to do.
From the moment Dean stood in his burning house and Dad entrusted him to save Sammy, Dean understood the importance of doing what you had to do no matter how scared you were. Dean knew a lot about scary things. The world was full of them. They festered in the dank and decay of abandoned buildings or tortured souls. They lurked in the darkness and shadows; they snuck in open doors or unlocked windows in the middle of the night. They all scared Dean.
But Dean would never be afraid of anything that walked around the town in broad daylight. He'd never be afraid of anything as mundane as a human teenager. And he'd never, ever be afraid of someone named 'George Grefe'.
Yet here he was waiting until everyone else had exited the bus, crouched in the back row and pretending to look for some non-existent school supply that could have rolled under the seats. He was half-hoping that the driver didn't even notice him and would return to the bus yard where Dean could make an easy escape. He could fake a sick day; they never did anything important in school on Mondays, anyhow.
"Come on, kid," the driver's voice echoed through the bus. "I ain't got all day, here. Find it or go without."
Dean sighed and stood up, readjusting the pack on his shoulder. So much for the easy way. "I just want to check the other side." He stood and made a show of moving to the seats across the aisle, when the tall, lanky form of George Grefe climbed up the steps.
"Hey, Dave," George smiled at the driver for a second before he turned a wolfish grin on Dean. "This little guy givin' you some problems?"
"Naw, just looking for sumthin', I guess."
Dean had frozen at George's entrance. The thought of trying to make it out the back emergency exit flitted through his mind but he squashed the traitorous idea and stood his ground.
"I can help you look, Deanie," George said, moving down the aisle.
Dean's stomach churned at the thought of being trapped with George in the confining seats in the back of the bus. He forced himself to walk toward the towering figure. "I got it."
George's eyes narrowed but he stopped. The driver muttered "about time", shifted the bus into gear and slid a pair of earphones onto his head. Dean slowed, hoping that George would give up and head out, but instead the teenager sidestepped between two seats on the left side. "After you." The wolfish grin returned.
Dean screwed up his courage and walked past George, swinging his backpack to his left shoulder just as he passed the older boy. George moved back so not to get hit by the pack, but then slid out of the seat into the aisle behind Dean, grabbing the back of Dean's neck and jerking him to a stop. He squeezed so hard Dean had to bite his cheek to keep from crying out.
"Think I wouldn't find you?" George asked. "Hiding in the back of the bus like a girl? I knew from the moment I saw your pretty face you weren't nothin' but a pussy." George leaned forward and spoke directly into Dean's ear. "Don't think you can stick your nose where it don't belong and just walk away, Pretty Boy." Dean's skin crawled at the touch of George's breath. "I did some checking up on you. Mommy dead, daddy gone all the time, just you and your little brother all alone in this big ol' town. Bet you think you're some kind of hero, don't you? Rushing in; saving the girl. You didn't save her from anything. And you? You don't get to walk away from this. This is my game and you gotta be part of the team." He continued to grind his fingers into Dean's neck as he pushed him forward all the way to the front of the bus. George pulled him to another painful stop at the top of the steps, next to the oblivious driver, the strains of a country song clearly audible under the headphones. "You either play ball or you are the ball, got that?"
Dean struggled to keep his balance as George suddenly released his hold on his neck. He reached out for the thin metal rail along the stairs, when he felt a sharp push on his back and he was falling, grabbing uselessly for a handhold. Something tangled in his feet and he was halfway out the door, hard blacktop and curb rushing toward him. Dean twisted, fighting to land on his shoulder, hoping the pack would absorb some of the impact. He was only partially successful, his wrist twisted agonizingly under him but his head hit the pack instead of the curb.
Pain, anger and humiliation burned hotly at the back of Dean's mind. He shrugged out of the pack and pushed to his feet, ignoring the flare of pain from his wrist when he did so. George swung down from the bus, landing in front of Dean with a bounce. Dean's hands involuntarily curled into fists as he looked up to meet George's smirk. Even with the added four inches of height the curb gave him, George still towered over him.
Dean wasn't small for his age. In fact, he was an inch taller than the average twelve-year-old, according to the statistics that hung on the gym teacher's wall. He wasn't a wimp, either. He was always at the top of the class when they did the President's Physical Fitness test - hell, he'd have tons of those frickin' patches, if they'd ever stayed at one school long enough to get them. And he knew how to fight. The Marine Corps had efficient and creative ways of permanently disabling or eliminating opponents and his dad had taught him every one. From the time he was six, Dean knew exactly what to do if an adult attacked him or Sam. "Do what you have, too," Dad had told Dean. "Make them hurt and put them down." The problem was, he wasn't six anymore. And Dad would be seriously pissed off if Dean 'put down' the 17-year-old son of a cop in front of a school.
Right now, though, staring up into George's smug, mean face Dean was willing to risk some of his father's anger for a chance to break this bastard's knee.
George laughed and reached out to run his hand through Dean's hair. Dean bristled at the touch, using all his will power not to jerk away or attack. "Ain't that cute. Pretty boy thinks he's tough."
Blood pounded in Dean's ears. He'd show this SOB what tough was.
"Something wrong, gentlemen?" The woman's voice came from behind Dean.
George's hand dropped to Dean's shoulder, his long fingers digging a warning through Dean's shirt. "Why no, Mrs. Mitchell." He smiled brightly over Dean's head.
Dean fought to rein his emotions in. A bell rang and the last of the buses pulled away from the curb. Dean noticed for the first time that most of the kids were already in the school.
"You're not supposed to be here, George. Senior Privileges may mean you don't have to be in class, but high school students are not to be on Middle School property during school hours without an academic reason. You know the rules."
George finally released Dean's shoulder, spreading his hands wide in what Dean assumed was meant to be a declaration of innocence. "I was dropping my sister off, Mrs. Mitchell, and then I just wanted to talk to my buddy, Dean, here. He-"
Mrs. Mitchell cut him off. "This isn't a discussion, George. You're leaving, now. Student drop off is in front. The next time I see you back here, you will be talking to Principal Skinner. Senior Privileges can be revoked. Understood?"
"Absolutely," George smiled through his agreement.
Dean snorted and reached down for his pack. That was an empty threat. Principal Skinner wouldn't revoke a hall pass much less Senior Privileges. Besides, teachers only had bus duty once a quarter. In a week, no one would care if George was there or not.
George didn't move and Dean knew that he was waiting to see if Mrs. Mitchell would leave so that he could get one more shot in. To Dean's relief, Mrs. Mitchell stood her ground.
George shrugged, giving in as another bell rang in the background. "I'm going." He pointed a finger at Dean. "See you after school, slugger."
Dean met George's eyes defiantly, anger again burning hot in his blood. Warring desires of fighting and running made it difficult to think.
"I'm afraid that's not going to happen," Mrs. Mitchell said. "That bell means young Mr. Winchester is tardy. That makes it five times. He owes me a week's worth of detention." She looked down at Dean. "I think we should start today, don't you?"
It took a second for Dean to process that she was talking to him and another one to realize that she was wrong. He hadn't been late to school at all. Being tardy meant calls home and calls home led to questions about where Dad was. He was just about to protest when he looked at her and realized that she wasn't wrong, she was lying. She was giving him a way out. He slung the pack on his shoulder. "Whatever." He hoped he sounded convincingly bored.
"Perfect." She waved Dean toward the school. "I will see you at three, sharp, in the library." She then turned to George, who was still standing in the parking lot. "I mean it, George. The rules apply to everyone. I don't expect to see you here without an academic reason."
Dean trudged into school, wrist still throbbing. He could hear Mrs. Mitchell following him, muttering under her breath. He could have sworn that she called George a jerk.
It wasn't the word that Dean would have used. If George would just be a jerk, Dean could handle him. Dean could throw a punch and take a hit when he had to, and a combination of those usually satisfied the jerks enough to leave him alone. No. George was a different animal altogether and Dean had no idea what he'd have to do to get rid of him.
And that really scared Dean.