"So, Dean, it's nice to actually have you in my office for once. Does this mean I should expect to give up the extra half hour coffee break you gave me last year by failing to attend any of our sessions?"
"No ma'am, I don't think that'll be a problem. I just thought if I turned up today it would get you off my back for the next few weeks at least," replied the boy sat across the desk from the counsellor.
She huffed, the corners of her mouth turning upwards involuntarily, folding her hands on the desk. "How was your summer, Dean?"
Dean barked a derisive laugh, lounging back in his seat, fingers picking at a loose thread on the arm of the chair. "Well, it wasn't exactly summer, was it? I was here the whole time."
"Through your own choice, though." The end of her sentence rose slightly, statement almost becoming a question, her head cocked slightly on one side as she appraised the teenager.
"Yeah, well, I hardly had many options, did I? And no way in hell was I going for the other one."
The counsellor nodded. "Your other option; why don't we talk about that?"
"No." Dean said firmly, fixing her with a glare. Understanding that that topic was still a big no-go, the counsellor sighed and changed the subject. "So, your new dorm-mate arrives today - excited?"
"Thrilled," Dean replied flatly.
"And how do you feel about not rooming with Sam anymore?"
"I think it's stupid."
"He's my brother, why do we have to be split up?"
"We think it would help if you two spent slightly less time together. But you don't have a problem with his new roommate?"
"Victor? Nah, he's an okay guy."
"But you're a better guy?"
"No." The answer came quickly, automatically. The counsellor scribbled something down.
"Okay," she said, setting her pen back down on the table and looking at Dean, "Your new roommate's name is Castiel. He'll be arriving at three." She noted the face Dean pulled at the boy's name, but he said nothing, only nodded. "Okay Dean, I'm going to end this session here. I won't assume that you'll be here next week, but I'll put the idea out there anyway - a girl can dream."
"See you around, Miss Mills."
This Castiel kid stared too much. He stood in the doorway to Dean's room, his suitcase set down at his feet, tan coat thrown over the top, looking as though he and his Sunday best had been fed through a blender. He had dark shadows beneath his eyes, and Dean was sure Sam would want to investigate how exactly the boy's hair seemed to defy gravity, sticking up from his head at all angles, as though he'd just gotten out of bed. Judging by the similarly rumpled state of his suit, maybe he had. His eyebrows were pulled together in an expression somewhere between a scowl and a concentrated glare as he studied Dean, who was lounging back on his bed, flipping a coin between his fingers.
Sensing the kid wasn't going to do or say anything anytime soon, Dean took the wheel, "Castiel, right?"
"Yes," the boy responded, nodding his head almost imperceptibly. He sounded like he'd smoked twenty a day for forty years, not like a scruffy, scrawny seventeen year old. Then again, Dean had stopped being surprised when his expectations weren't met at this place.
"Well, I'm Dean, and welcome to the Solomon Institute for Troubled Teens, where we use positive peer pressure to help young adults reach their full potential!" He said brightly, mimicking the school's inappropriately optimistic motto with an overly enthusiastic grin. Castiel merely nodded again, scowl still firmly in place. He picked up his case and moved into the room, throwing it down onto the spare bed and tugging off his tie as though it had caused him a personal offence.
"So why're you here then? Break into daddy's liquor cabinet?" Dean asked, tossing the coin onto his bedside table and swinging his legs over the side of the bed, sitting up to watch as Castiel moved mechanically around the room, unpacking his meagre belongings.
"Drugs," he stated plainly, shrugging off his suit jacket and hanging it up in their shared wardrobe; a rather futile act, Dean thought, considering its already crumpled state. "You?"
Dean huffed a laugh, leaning forward and folding his hands on his knees. "I'm here because my brother's here. That's all you need to know."
Castiel nodded and continued moving about the room. No questions, good. Maybe Dean could manage with this guy after all.
Silence fell again, only slightly tinted by awkwardness. Dean lay back down the bed and watched as Castiel carried himself with a surety that Dean didn't usually associate with the druggies that got sent here, his shoulders set and his movements unhurried and steady.
It didn't take long, and when his case was stowed at the bottom of the wardrobe, he stood at the window between their two beds, hands deep in his pockets, shirt untucked and top buttons undone.
"So," he began, gaze fixed on something on the horizon, "you have a brother here?"
"Yup," Dean said shortly.
"What's his name?"
"How old is he?"
There was a pause.
"What about you? Got any family?" he enquired eventually.
Castiel nodded stiffly. "Yes, but I can hardly say they consider me family." He didn't say it, but Dean could hear the 'anymore' at the end of his sentence.
Silence fell again. Dean reached under his bed and pulled out a vintage car magazine, thinking it was too early in his acquaintance with Castiel for skin mags.
"How long have you been here?" Castiel asked, eyes still transfixed on the world beyond their dormitory window.
"About a year. But as soon as I'm eighteen I'm taking Sammy and getting as far away from here as possible."
"Sam too? How?" He turned to Dean, head cocked on one side.
"Too many questions, Castiel."
Somewhere down the corridor a bell rang. Castiel looked at Dean curiously.
"Dinner, then group therapy," Dean sighed, tossing his magazine to the floor and getting up. "Come on, we'll find Sam and Victor before we show you the rest of Solomon and watch as your last hopes crumble and burn." Castiel said nothing as he followed Dean out the door.
Sam had the kind of long, scrawny limbs that indicated he still had a lot of growing to do, and he was already only slightly shorter than Castiel, he noted. Victor was a broad guy with a penchant for sarcasm and an intelligent gleam in his eye. They found themselves a table in the corner of the large, open room, away from the borderline psychotics and the withdrawals who were busy bending their cutlery and chucking scrunched up napkins at the back of each other's heads.
Victor seemed perfectly at ease, even surrounded by the noise and worrying displays of testosterone that verged on violence but hadn't quite reached it yet. Castiel studied his actions with interest, how he moved through the crowd with confidence, and how those in his way moved aside as if they hadn't even noticed his passing.
Most fascinating, however, was how Dean's behaviour changed around his brother.
Where his body language in the dorm had been relaxed but his demeanour defensive, here, in the in white-walled cafeteria of the Solomon Institute, his behaviour was the exact opposite. He laughed openly as he bantered back and forth with Victor but he sat almost stiffly, his body half curved towards Sam in what could only be described as a protective stance. Castiel noted the way his back straightened subtly and his shoulder shifted whenever someone walked by their table. He recognised the behaviour instantly, but Sam continued eating, seemingly unaware; whether because he was oblivious or accustomed to his brother's actions, Castiel couldn't tell.
He watched the three boys' interaction intently, not joining in himself. A few times Dean's eyes slid to him to give him a look like he was trying to figure him out, like he was unnerved by him, but Castiel ignored it. Sam threw him a sympathetic smile after Victor clapped him hard on the back in greeting, causing Castiel to finch and send him a glare before he could stop himself.
The food tasted bland and unappetising, and Castiel was sure if he hadn't smoked off half his taste buds, it wouldn't have been much better.
"Where are you from originally, Castiel?"
Castiel swallowed his mouthful and looked up into the warm eyes of Sam, who was watching him with genuine interest.
"Pontiac, Illinois. Yourself?"
Sam threw a sidelong glance at Dean, who shrugged slightly in answer to his silent question. "Lawrence, Kansas originally, but our father-" To Sam's left, Dean stiffened almost imperceptibly, eyes dropping downwards, and Sam paused, eyes flicking to his brother. Interesting. "Our father was a military engineer. We moved around a lot. And Victor's from Wisconsin." Victor nodded, not looking up from his plate as he continued to shovel his food down.
A bell rang out, cutting the conversation short. Castiel looked towards the door, where boys were moving out of the room in clumps, jostling each other to try and get out of the room first. Victor groaned, sounding strangely satisfied considering the quality of the meal, and pushed his plate away. "Show and tell time, boys. See you later, Sam."
Sam nodded, wincing as he cracked his knee against the underside of table.
Dean snorted. "Don't worry, Sasquatch, you'll get used to those overgrown limbs of yours soon enough."
Sam threw Dean a dirty look, waved briefly at Castiel and jogged to catch up with a dark haired kid who was already halfway to the door.
"Right," Dean turned to Castiel as too headed out of the cafeteria at a more leisurely pace, "group therapy. You'll need a few things to get you through these things fine, okay? Firstly, don't say anything you're not comfortable with people knowing about. In fact, better not to tell them anything at all. These sessions are meant to be about getting crap off your chest, chick flick moments and feelings. My advice? Don't divulge. Personal information is ammunition; bare minimum, always. This'll be an introductory session, so your name, why you're here, etcetera. Stick to that, and make stuff up if you have to."
"You'll scare the kid, Dean," Victor chuckled.
"I just don't want him thrown into the lions' den unprepared. There's no point lying to him; they'll tear him apart."
"I think I can handle it, Dean." Castiel said coolly. He was not a fan of being patronised.
Victor barked a laugh, "We'll see, kid."
They were sat in alphabetical order in a circle. There were about forty of them in the room, both juniors and seniors, and it was obvious that none of them wanted to be there. The atmosphere was simultaneous painfully awkward and incredibly hostile, and if eye contact were made with one of the other boys, it became a battle of wills to see who would back down and look away first. Castiel briefly considered trying not to make enemies so early in the semester, then decided that it would be better to have enemies than to come across as weak, as prey. A man sat roughly opposite him, obviously a counsellor. He was wiry and looked as though he had never quite finished going through puberty, though he sported a goatee. He had an overly enthusiastic expression, which Castiel deemed to be totally out of place in the room full of scowls and glares and the desire to be anywhere but there. Victor was sat a few chairs to the right of Castiel, Dean on the other side of the circle, only a couple of spaces away from the counsellor.
After a moment, the man cleared his throat, beaming around at the assembled teenagers.
"Afternoon, boys! Hello to those of you who have just joined us this semester, and welcome back to those who have been here a little longer." It was easy to tell the new boys from the old. The new ones either looked terrified and twitchy or as if they were overdoing the aggression. "My name is Garth," the man continued. "So, to get us started, why don't we go around the circle and say our names, where we're from, and why we're here." Castiel could see Dean try to suppress a groan, and couldn't help but empathise with him. The guy was like every bad cliché of a counsellor at this kind of place.
Castiel had no interest in finding out the names and backgrounds of all the no good teenagers with violence issues, drugs habits and imbalanced testosterone levels, so quickly found something else to occupy his mind; with Dean being in plain sight, and apparently also unconcerned by the activities of the group, Castiel chose to study him, watching the slight changes in his expression as each boy introduced themselves. He remained relatively pokerfaced, picking at a loose thread on the hem of his tshirt, until one person said their name, and then his eyebrows twitched together into a scowl that was gone almost as quickly as it had arrived. By the time he noticed, however, the boy, who had a slick, drawling voice, had said his name and was telling the group that he was from Carthage, Missouri, and was here on probation from Juvie for good behaviour. Castiel got the feeling that good behaviour had nothing to do with it. The boy looked around the room, a predatory smile splitting his face in two. Castiel allowed his eyes to drop to the floor before the cold gaze reached him, and didn't look up again until Victor introduced himself as "Victor Henricksen, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Kicked out of school." Short, to the point, nothing personal; sticking to the rules, then.
The room went quiet when the time to speak fell on Castiel. He looked around warily. "Castiel Novak. Pontiac, Illinois. Drug use."
Garth beamed at him, "Great to have you here, Castiel! It's a shame to hear about the drugs, but we'll have you cleaned up and an upstanding member of society again in no time, you'll see!"
"I look forward to it," he responded dryly. He caught Dean covering a chuckle with a cough out of the corner of his eye. At least someone was enjoying this.
The focus moved away from him, and the introductions continued. Meaningless names of boys from various towns, various states, but all here for the same kind of reason, like waste washed up on the banks of a river mouth, discarded and useless.
"Dean Winchester. Lawrence, Kansas."
Castiel looked up, engaged again.
"And why are you here, Dean?"
"Because his brother's here; we all know his story. But it's not quite true, is it, Dean-o?" it was the boy from earlier, the one on Juvie probation. Dean's head jerked up, looking straight at him, something like a threat flashing in his eyes.
"Oh do you, Bechtel? Tell me, why am I here then?"
"I heard you killed someone." Another voice came from across the room.
"Of course I did, Zeddmore," Dean bit back, turning to the short, nervous looking boy with a bad haircut, "I murdered someone in cold blood, but one look at this adorable face and they merely let me off with a stay at Behavioural Mod." The kid named Zeddmore blushed fuchsia and looked down at his feet. "You chuckleheads got any more dumbass theories or are we done for the day?" No one said anything. "Good, well, I think that's enough of this bullshit for tonight." Dean got up and moved towards the door.
"Dean, I really think you should stay here-" Garth was cut short as the door banged shut in Dean's wake.
Sam had been waiting outside the room when Castiel and Victor filed out. "Where's Dean?"
"Bailed again," Victor replied, heading in the direction of the dormitories; Castiel and Sam followed.
"Again? He does it a lot, then?" Castiel asked.
"Well he attends the group meetings more regularly. They're hard to skive off, what with everyone being there. Individual sessions, however," behind them, Castiel heard Sam chuckle, "are very easy to miss. I don't think he saw Miss Mills more than once in the whole of his Junior year here." He changed the subject, "So, who'd you have for your meet today, Sam?"
Victor laughed, "Ah, Mr. Shurley. I wonder if the school's picked up on the irony of having a guy with a drink problem as a counsellor."
"I doubt it. Garth's not much better though, in terms of counselling expertise."
"Oh I don't know, he grows on you," Victor responded as they turned off the top of the stairs onto their dormitories' corridor. Castiel thought the idea of Garth growing on him to be unlikely.
Castiel found Dean once more lounged back on his bed, flipping through a car magazine, but not looking like he was taking in any of it. He kicked his shoes off and sat down on the opposite bed, contemplating his roommate. After a moment, Dean looked up.
"Problem? Or do you just stare at people for kicks?"
Dean looked up in alarm, then caught the expression on Castiel's face and smiled wryly. He looked away again, back down at his magazine, and Castiel leant back against the wall, sighing. The silence was surprisingly comfortable, the clock above their dormitory door ticking softly, the setting sun bathing their room in fire. Castiel would have admired it, but he'd long ago given up on marvelling at the wonders of the world. There was too much shit in it to make the little things worthwhile.
The silence shattered around them like glass, and Castiel could almost feel the warm safety of the quiet stillness escaping, replaced by the chilly tension of standing on the knife's edge of what he was allowed to ask his new roommate, and what he wasn't. He was burning with questions, like why was Victor here, why was Sam here, and most importantly, why was Dean really here, but he could tell already that all of those would be far overstepping the mark. He settled for the easiest one.
"Who was the guy in group? Bechtel?"
Dean set the magazine down and ran a hand over his face, suddenly looking fifteen years older than he was. "Alistair Bechtel. Trust me; you do not want to be getting messed up with him. You heard he's out on probation, right?" Castiel nodded. "Yeah, well the reason he was in there in the first place was for some kind of knife crime. Supposedly he cut up a guy pretty bad. This is common knowledge, too. The guy's proud of his achievements, practically shouts them to the high heavens. So yeah, he cut this guy up - didn't kill 'im, though. It was like some creepy science experiment. Bechtel cut the guy in places where it would hurt like fuck, but wouldn't kill him."
"God knows. Supposedly, Bechtel was linked up in some kind of drug dealing gig. Some guy got himself addicted, in debt, He was handed to Alistair to be sorted out. How in hell he got out of Juvie on probation I have no clue. The guy's a psycho. Really knows how to screw with your head, too, on top of being worryingly good at human biology."
"How long was he in Juvie for?"
"Sentenced when he was fourteen. Got two and a half years before coming here."
Castiel was shocked. Bechtel was fourteen, maybe even younger when he did that, and still managed to get probation after only two and a half years. That was fucked up.
"Do you know him then? Bechtel?" Dean's expression went blank, and he stared at the door flatly.
"No, not really. Got in a bit of a scrape with him last year, but most people do at some point." Dean stopped talking and Castiel understood that that was the last Dean was saying on the topic. He got up, stretching, feeling the vertebrae down his spine pop and crack as he reached his arms behind him. He pulled his shirt off over his head and threw it down onto the bed, reaching for the old t-shirt and pyjama bottoms under his pillow.
Castiel turned around to see Dean looking at him with interest, indicating towards his back. Cas looked over his shoulder at the black wings that spread from the join of his shoulder blades down to his elbows, as if he had forgotten they were there.
"They mean anything?"
Castiel paused. "My name. It's the name of an angel. They seemed fitting."
Castiel looked at Dean curiously. Dean shook his head slightly, "When'd you get them?"
"About a year ago."
"Drug related mistake?"
"Drug related, but not a mistake."
Castiel paused, then pulled his t-shirt on, shucking his slacks too and replacing them with the worn plaid pyjama bottoms. Dean had switched his bedside lamp on as the sun sunk low beneath the horizon; he crawled into bed, facing the wall.
Castiel didn't respond, but something flickered in his mind at the nickname. The sheet was pulled tight across his back, and as he let his mind shut down into oblivion, he imagined he could feel the inked wings bursting out of his shoulders, arching upwards and outwards, smashing through the walls of this room, this prison, and letting him soar through the night, invisible chains obliterated and heart at last cut free.