Dean Winchester knew there was a saying somewhere, by someone, that heralded high school as the hallmark of everyone's existence.
Dean also knew that person was full of shit.
He slumped further into the driver's seat of his car. The first gen Dodge Challenger was an eighteenth birthday present from his parents. Or more precisely his Mom; for John it was more of a 'sorry for dragging you all over the country on contracting jobs and leaving you to fend for yourself for months at a time' pity present. Which was a pretty damn good apology, even if it wasn't his muscle car of choice. It also served as a haven while he avoided going to class.
Like right now.
Admittedly, he hadn't just skipped gym and headed out to the parking lot. He had been called to the counselor's office to work out some issues. At first he figured it was some transfer difficulties, since he and Dad had only moved into Carlisle, Pennsylvania in time for the second half of his junior year. But when he actually got into the office, the whole 'situation', as it was now deemed, turned out to be a lot, well, worse.
The first quarter of the school year had come to a close, and that meant that twenty percent of his grade was accounted for. And he was failing about half his classes. Dean was kind of used to the whole failing thing, and the problem didn't become obvious until his principal – also there to address the whole situation – had helpfully said that for him to graduate from Carlisle High School that June, he would have to get passing marks in every subject he was taking.
And just like that, the whole teenage dream crumbled into a million little pieces.
The subjects in question were History, Senior English, and a Supplemental Writing course he was forced to take since he also hadn't exactly passed Junior English, either. And due to his less than stellar grades for that term, it was explained to him that he'd have to keep an eighty-or-above average for the rest of his year, including the mid-term and final exams.
So, he was screwed. To put it hilariously lightly. Unsurprisingly the meeting got worse from there. Before he could leave to miss the rest of gym and brood in his car, he had been coerced into signing up for the 'Students Teach Students' program that the high school ran. As far as Dean understood, it was how the school's AP level kids reached out a helping hand to the lower masses. They got more bragging rights and class credit or whatever it was that AP kids wanted, and their fellow students, say, learned how to breathe through their nose. Something like that.
The last thing the counselor told him before he went to the safety of his car was apparently meant to be taken as good news. All three of his classes could be handled by just one student, one of their best students, who was in the top eight percent of their graduating class.
His name was Castiel Novak, and the moment Dean's counselor said that Dean was about ready to drop his backpack and declare himself a drop-out.
Okay, it wasn't like he had some weird, personal vendetta against Castiel specifically. He just knew who he was because some of his friends described him as that kid, the one who just stared way too long at things. Or people. Or him. Dean tended to remember him because, well, who named a kid Castiel? He had heard weird names before, like Crystal or Kale or Apple, but Castiel was definitely a new one. And more importantly, he had noticed that the guy drove a 1967 Chevrolet Impala to school, typically coated in a fine layer of dirt to insinuate that he treated the car like a burden instead of the obvious gift from high heaven that it was.
Really, he could have been set up with any AP student and he wouldn't have been more or less thrilled. He had gone through three different schools from ninth grade till now. And from South Dakota to Texas to where he was currently, he found out that it didn't really matter where he went, since every high school was essentially the same. New people filled old rolls, and every kid enrolled in more than one Advanced Placement class was guaranteed to loathe him, and he was geared to hate them right back. Dean had long ago accepted that he wasn't the smart son of the Winchester family, and he was fine with that. In fact, he might have even been okay with dropping out, if he didn't have to look Sam in the face afterwards. But as it stood, he was going to have to suck it up, stick it out, and pray to whatever deity he could that maybe, somehow, he'd be able to actually graduate along with everybody else.
Across the parking lot, there was a faint ring of the bell that signaled a transition to last period. Groups of kids slowly trickled outside, heading to their jobs or basking in their early dismissal privileges. Dean had work – a car garage off of Main Street that got thirty hours a week from him. It was no Singer's Salvage Yard, which had been left in the dust four years ago, along with his Mom and his brother, but it was good enough, and the pay was a few dollars better, anyway.
A moment later and he was gone, Zeppelin's Friends playing and Carlisle School just a distant blip in his review mirror.
Castiel Novak got his new Students Teach Students, um, student, as it were, the next morning, and immediately everyone had something to say about it.
"Do you think you get extra credit if the kid you tutor doesn't repeat the twelfth grade?" Kevin Tran asked, glancing down at the notice sheet Castiel was skimming.
He glanced up. "Is he that bad?"
"Well he kind of has to be, if he needs help in three courses."
"Plus he's taking that supplemental class," Castiel heard Inias move up in his seat to look over Castiel's shoulder. "Only the people who couldn't pass an English course take supplemental writing."
"I took supplemental writing," Castiel grumbled.
"Yeah, freshman year." Castiel worried his lip a moment. He had probably seen Dean around and just couldn't put a face to the name, but either way, he wasn't exactly looking forward to his new assignment. Most of the time kids would sign on to the program for review work, or before mid-terms, or for SATs. But they never actually needed months of tutelage. And never in more than one class. He was obviously picked because he was the most capable person for the job, but if Dean was one of those kids who might actually be failing his senior year, Castiel honestly didn't know if he could help him.
And worst of all, if he couldn't, he would have wasted all his extra credit opportunities on a lost cause; no college, especially a reach school like Amherst, was going to take him if the student he was helping didn't actually get help.
It was all or nothing, and Castiel was anything but ecstatic. Kevin looked like he was going to say something encouraging, until their Psychology teacher stepped to the front of the classroom and started asking for the five-page paper on cognitive processes that was due that day, and he turned back around in his seat without a word.
The first tutoring session between Castiel Novak and Dean Winchester occurred the next Tuesday, after school in the library. Dean was still bitter that he was forced to cut down his hours for ninety minutes every Tuesday and Thursday, forcing him to sit on his ass in his Dodge for the last period of school, idly working away at the only homework he actually understood; Algebra and Physics. He was passable at Math if he bothered to do the work, and mathy sciences were probably the one thing you could say he excelled in. Most of the stuff he read about in Physics could easily relate back to how to make an engine run, or how car parts functioned together, or how things crashed and burned. If everything else had real-world applications like that, maybe he wouldn't be where he was now, sitting at one of the rickety tables stuffed in a secluded corner of the room, waiting for Castiel to show up.
He checked his phone for the third time; when it flashed to 2:21, he heard a binder clap on the top of the table. He glanced up and saw a hand thrust under his nose. "You're Dean Winchester."
"Yeah," Dean said at length, grasping the hand before actually looking into Castiel's face. He looked as he did when Dean spotted him in the hallways: Big, blue, soul-staring eyes and black hair that was either not brushed or was made to look not-brushed, a popular look for most teenagers but admittedly one Castiel pulled off pretty well. He wore a button up shirt and dark jeans, which was about as casual as he got, as far as Dean had noticed.
While Dean had known who Castiel was and what he looked like, Castiel inspected the other boy closely, staring down at him while his fingertips tapped against the desk. He had expected the other student to look different, somehow. Perhaps bigger, or more obviously into sports, or grungy. Something to meet the usual fit and form of the types of people that came to him. Dean's sandy-colored hair was done better than his, his jeans were just this side of scuffed, and the black shirt he wore didn't reveal anything else; no obnoxious brand logo or thrash metal band. He was very much a blank slate, and as he stared down at him, trying to figure out why the other man was so pathetically bad in school, green eyes stared back, scrunched in a way that meant he had probably been looking too long.
Castiel slowly sank into the seat opposite Dean. "So," he said, opening the inconspicuous binder.
"So," Dean said back, immediately slouching in his chair. "Is that a lesson plan or something?" Castiel looked down at the papers in front of him, noticing that Dean didn't have so much as a pencil on him.
Castiel ignored the other's question. "You do realize you'll have to write at some point," he ventured.
"I thought we were going to play twenty questions," Dean said back. "You know, get to know one another a bit, since we'll probably be seeing each other for a while." Castiel had an inkling that Dean was being sarcastic, or more likely just rude.
"Not if I can help it," he replied, the implication of his words leaving the two locked in a tense silence as Castiel flipped through a few pages. Since Dean was a special case, the principal had given him a copy of his record, grades, a few remarks from the teachers, and past assignments that he had handed in. Technically there was some ethical dilemma about sharing confidential information between classmates, but if there was a person who would be arguing for Dean Winchester's student rights, they certainly weren't in the educational system. "Since your reports say that you struggle the most with essays, I thought we should start there."
"Well, it's the only way to pass, so," Castiel quickly became disgruntled. He leant Dean paper and a pencil and got out a passage discussing some current environmentalist affairs that he had covered in class a few weeks ago. It was only a few paragraphs, and he decided to just have Dean answer some questions about the use of rhetoric and literary devices – of course that meant that he had to explain to Dean was rhetoric actually was, and their session was halfway over by the time Dean actually started to read.
Not long after silence descended over the table, Dean's phone went off. He quickly took it out of his pocket and checked his screen, chuckling a bit before he thumbed out a response.
"Dean," Castiel warned.
"Relax, it's just my brother," he said.
"You can see your brother any time," he watched Dean eventually put the phone down – not out of sight, merely a few inches away from his hand. His eyes roved over the screen for a while.
"He lives in Kansas," he argued. "So I really can't."
"Just do your work," Castiel huffed, running out of patience to form rational arguments with the other student. He waited until Dean very sluggishly went back to reading, occasionally jotting down a few sparse answers on the blank sheet of lined paper.
Time was at a crawl. Forty minutes left, then thirty-five; twenty, fifteen… It was harder to say who was more desperate to leave once four o' clock rolled around. "Same time Thursday!" Castiel shouted as Dean practically sprinted away, getting up mid-sentence to go. Castiel sighed, rubbed his face, and chanced a look at what Dean had been working on.
Taking in the messy penmanship, simple words and brief answers, Castiel held back a desperate groan; he really had his work cut out for him this time.
If he didn't get accepted to Amherst College, he was definitely blaming Dean Winchester.
"And he scores hardly a three out of nine on the free response essays. Last week I had him read the inaugural address by John F. Kennedy and analyze the literary devices he used."
"Right." Rachel muttered, twisting in the combination for her locker.
"And he actually said 'J.F.K. is very smart because of his tone and diction.'" Rachel, oblivious to Castiel's meltdown, picked up her sketchbook and Calculus textbook, both a ridiculous thickness.
"Okay, so he's got the analytical prowess of a freshman. Sucks for you, I guess."
"It's worse than that, though – it's like he trying to be an idiot."
"He could just be bad at English. Or maybe he's bored to death with whatever you're getting him to read."
"Kennedy isn't boring." Rachel just shrugged, slamming her locker shut.
"Who was this guy, again?"
"Dean Winchester." Castiel felt like banging his head against the lockers just by saying the other's name out loud. Rachel, who had been ambling down the halls next to Castiel, stopped in her tracks for a moment.
"…Did you say Dean Winchester?"
Rachel shook her head and quickly caught up with him. "Is there a way you can drop his ass? Because let me tell you something – that guy is not trying to be an idiot." Castiel gave her a worried look, waiting for her to elaborate. "Remember junior year I was in Tech Ed?" Rachel's dexterity seemed to shift more towards architecture, and she split most of her time between art and math because of it. In fact, he and Rachel didn't even have any overlapping classes that year; they only talked because, well, they had known each other so long that it just seemed impolite not to. "He was in my class when he came here last year."
"And?" Castiel nearly slammed into a gaggle of tenth graders as he pressed Rachel for more information.
"And he's got stuffing for brains. Seriously. He was good in that class, but all he knows and cares about is cars, girls, and mullet rock. He was the worst – didn't help that I was one of the only girls in that class. Oh, and his pickup lines were terrible." She shook her head of the memory. "Bottom line; do yourself and your résumé a favor and don't help him anymore." A moment later she vanished into one of the science rooms with a vague 'see you' directed at Castiel. Looking around, he realized he was pretty much on the opposite side of where his next class was.
The bell rung, covering up his frustrated growl. Even when griping with his friend, Dean took up most of his attention.
"…That, and he just keeps on staring at me, it's creepy." Dean muttered, crossing his arms. Garth traveled next to him, the both of them finding one another in the hallways by coincidence. Garth tended to take long bathroom breaks when he got bored, and Dean tended to just not show up to class. Whatever worked. The bell had rung a moment ago and already the halls were deserted, most of the class doors shut to them as the teachers went on with their lectures.
"Maybe he likes you," Garth mused, fiddling with his hall pass. Dean made a disgusted face at the thought, more because it was hard to tell if Garth was kidding or not. "What class are you skipping, anyway?"
"Yeah. Don't show up to the class you're actively failing. Next valedictorian over here." Garth got a shove for that. "But seriously, has he helped at all?"
"No. He just… gives me these boring papers and has me write narrative crap on them. Explain how the metaphor illustrates the author's intention to… whatever. That kind of shit. And then he marks it all up and tells me I'm an idiot and to do better next time, and that's it."
"Do you ever look at the corrected papers he gives you?" Dean ran a hand along the lockers, feeling his fingers go numb after they clanged against the metal for a while.
"No." he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Why would I –"
He and Garth rounded the corner. Castiel was walking towards them, staring right through Dean. He didn't say anything, didn't even nod his head in acknowledgement, only looked at the other student as if he had heard every moment of his conversation with Garth, even though the two of them hadn't been that loud. It made Dean's skin itch, but he refused to even start up his pace again until he heard Castiel's shoes – dress shoes, Jesus – clatter in the distance, and fade away.
Garth, beside him, let out a heaving breath. "That was uncomfortable."
"Yeah," Dean started walking again, his steps a bit more rushed than before. "I feel so sorry for you."
"No, seriously, you could cut the tension with a knife. Not even a knife. A toothpick. When do you meet with that guy, anyway?"
"Every Tuesday and Thursday."
"So tomorrow, then?"
"Congratulations, Garth, you know your days of the week." Dean absently rubbed a hand over his eyes. Wednesdays were usually bad, but knowing that he had to see that self-righteous look on Castiel's face the next day somehow made it ten times worse.
Dean hated Castiel. He really did. And at this point, he thought he had collected a pretty long list of reasons. He hated how his head bowed when he was reading out of some massive, ten pound book while he gave Dean something to do. He always looked as if he was staring at a slide under a microscope or some entire brilliant world that no one had ever seen the likes of before, instead of some letter some guy sent to his Mother forty years ago. It was almost as bad as when Castiel decided to forgo that and look at him instead – he had a hawk stare that could freeze blood and melt any and all self confidence. Dean detested how he was always digging for some significant meaning to everything. If he gave Dean a story about a baby being born, he'd ask him why he didn't connect the curtains to foreshadowing the tragic death of the family's grandmother. There was always something Dean was missing, and Castiel was ruthless about pointing it out.
The idea of going to the library after school had grown physically exhausting. It was making him sick. Every day he spent with his tutor was akin to being slammed for being a useless handicap to the world at large, and maybe he wasn't smart, but he knew he was capable of doing a few decent things in his life. At least teachers had stopped giving him shit for not caring; Castiel didn't give him that luxury, and he just couldn't take it anymore.
He eyed Castiel like the other was about to bite off his head on sight. They were in a far off corner like usual, as if Castiel was ashamed to be seen with him. The other student didn't spare a hello at this point, just a gruff, "We have a lot to cover today," and he quickly set Dean up with some archaic passage he couldn't even understand, much less analyze.
This time it was Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Dean had to work on not passing out as he dragged his brain through sentence after sentence of useless, flowery words. Wasn't brevity the soul of wit, or something? He mentally re-wrote a few paragraphs before realizing he had slim to no idea what was even being said.
"What is this?" he posed the question angrily, but Castiel ignored him.
"Castiel," he said again, temper flaring. "Seriously, what is this shit?"
Castiel sniffed, leveled him that Look. The 'I'm better than you' glare; the 'I will be a successful millionaire one day and you will be working in food service for the rest of your life.' It was, quite simply, the private stating of the existing scale of humanity, and Castiel clearly thought Dean belonged on the lowest rung that existed. "It's a work by Emerson that I'm trying to have you evaluate." He stated impatiently. He was always impatient.
"Yeah, kind of hard to do that if I can't even fucking understand this guy. 'The useful acts are reproductions or new combinations by the wit of man, of the same natural benefactors. He no longer waits for favoring gales, but by means of steam, he realizes the fable of –' what the fuck does this even mean."
"It's not my fault you can't read what I give you."
Dean's hands clenched. "Fuck you," there was an uncovered vehemence there, as if he couldn't bother with the polite insults and just-this-side of allowed displays of distaste. The two of them couldn't fucking stand each other – there was no point in trying to make it subtle. Still, Castiel immediately drew himself up at the words.
"You should show me some respect," Castiel ground out, leaning forward, over the desk. "I'm only trying to help you."
Dean had already shoved his book back to Castiel and let his pen drop to the floor in a show of childishness. He was done, and far past caring what Castiel wanted him to do.
Instead, he laughed. It was a brief, cruel, one-note laugh that suddenly made Castiel feel very, very small in comparison, as if Dean had everything figured out.
"You're not trying to help me," he said, almost amused but mostly accusatory. "You're just trying to help yourself. You don't care whether I pass my classes – all that matters is what that says about you, and whether or not you'll get something for it." He glanced down to his hands briefly, as if wondering if he went too far with that statement – already Castiel couldn't help but grow pale in the face of the rather blunt truth. But then Dean took a breath and continued.
"This is the third high school I've been to – not for whatever insane shit people say, either;" he said, pointedly. "And it doesn't take long for people to realize that I'm not all that bright. And then they just stop trying with me. Teachers give up, the counselors give up – or they'll push it on students like you who are addicted to being so fucking impressive with whatever they do. And you think I'm bad?" He stood up, pulling the shoulder strap of his backpack towards him before leaning over the table, zeroing in on Castiel, so close he could see his glare being reflected in Castiel's irises. "At least I don't get my kicks by telling other kids they're shit, okay? That's how all of you are – and I know that you all look down your noses at people like me." His eyes were dark, cutting deep, and Castiel couldn't look away, feeling frozen to the spot. "You think you're better than me because you had a college-reading level since fifth grade, and all of you are going to fucking MIT and becoming billionaires, aren't you? You don't have time to care about anything else." Castiel felt himself gape at the words, and Dean must have taken that as an attempt to interrupt, because he went right in for another verbal jab. "And don't for a second pretend that you care about me. Because you don't, and no one else does, either." He swung his backpack on his shoulders. "You just want to see what I can do for you. And maybe that's why I don't think I owe you anything – much less actual respect. Not when you look at me like I'm some sort of fucking disease." He straightened up and made a hasty retreat out of the library. Castiel watched his back, too shocked to notice the few people that were splitting glances between him and Dean.
He didn't blink until the other student was out of the library, only then did he sink in his chair with relief, trying to calm himself with deep breaths.
At first he had thought Dean was just going to punch him, and he had briefly thought that would be the worst thing to happen between them in the little secluded spot they had.
Now he knew that would have been the preferable choice. Because try as he might to ignore Dean's words, write them off as unimportant and over-dramatic, his heart wasn't slowing down, and his insides wouldn't stop churning.
Castiel knew that Dean was, in a frighteningly large way, completely right.
He didn't care about Dean's grades – and he doubted that most of the student tutors did, either. They all signed up for Students Teach Students to get extra credit and volunteer hours and more things to add to their college resumes. Not to actually help people.
In his Advanced Placement and Honors classes, Castiel only saw intelligent teachers teaching equally smart students. And, to be honest, hardly a week went by where they didn't talk about the 'lower level' kids with an eye-roll and a bit of smugness about them, staff included. Even in a school of a thousand kids, there was an entire world that Castiel was in, and Dean definitely wasn't.
Sometimes, though, he got a glimpse. Some of the electives that only had one level, or those gym and health classes that clumped students by grade versus ability. There were always a handful of students that seemed completely hopeless. And those were the ones that most instructors ignored, or shoved into detention. Or swept under the rug in some other, insidious way. Schools shoved people like Dean from place to place: counselor meeting to tutoring session to detention, but it wasn't for the sake of compassion, and it wasn't because they were trying to help him.
So then Castiel was forced to ask himself: If he didn't care, and the teachers didn't care, and the administration and the whole damn educational system didn't fucking care about someone like Dean – anyone like Dean…
Then who did? Why would Dean bother trying if no one else was willing to?
And for the first time since sixth grade, Castiel was beginning to feel something twist in his chest, his throat; sneak into his mind and ask questions he didn't want to find the answers to.
What he felt was, in a word, doubt. Because Dean had been right; he had known he was right, and suddenly all of Castiel's convictions seemed very, very flimsy. He suddenly questioned the blind faith he had placed in his education, and the way he had been conditioned to think that he was better than someone like Dean for the sole reason that he had harder classes. But mostly, he was beginning to doubt himself.
At first Dean seemed difficult because he was so ignorant. Now he seemed difficult because there was no other way to respond to the world he was in. He could become something, if he wanted to be. Anyone could, though Castiel wasn't sure if that conviction held any water, either.
If Dean was still beside him right then, Castiel would have apologized on behalf of everything, and asked for a fresh start. He had been so caught up in his own goals that it took a goddamn cuss-out from a classmate to realize he'd had his head stuck up his ass, for, what, six, seven years? Dean was still a person; and more than that, he was a person that needed help. He could graduate; he could do whatever he wanted to do, if he tried hard enough. If Castiel tried hard enough – if anybody bothered.
Castiel thought that maybe he'd be willing to try, to earn that respect and actually do something decent for once. He used to be such a nice kid, before success entered his mind.
So, he'd do it, sitting alone at a chipped, wooden table in the library, he decided that he would teach Dean Winchester and help and put some actual effort in this time, not for the credit, not even to soothe the doubts that had been planted in his mind just then.
In a perfect world, everyone got a chance. And even if that wasn't possible, he still found himself thinking back on Dean's broken but truthful observations before he stormed out, deciding that maybe, out of everyone Castiel had known, Dean deserved that chance, too.
A/N: This was originally written for a now completed challenge, which is split into three chapters; for my prompt, I received the ever classic 'Castiel is a tutor and Dean needs to pass his classes and they hate each other.' To be honest I'm not a huge fan of the tutor subgenre of high school AUs, but I am in high school, so I rolled with it. As a senior taking some AP classes, I was able to sympathize with both of the characters. Mostly this was just my take on a high school setting - so, it's not that exciting, the problems are, well, mostly about existential teenagers, and AP kids being snobs. Because they kind of are. Uh, ignore the fact that I'm an AP kid.