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Castiel's patience is worn thin by the sixth Bob Seger song, floating through the speakers loudly as Chuck hums happily beside him. There's a smile, curved on the older man's face, that reminds Castiel of his last foster parents, a devout Christian couple who was talkative and overly peppy. He leans forward, shutting off the music despite Chuck's protests and leans back in his seat, a satisfied smile on his face as he looks out the window.

Silence fills the car as Chuck drives, fingers twitching in Castiel's peripheral as if he wants to turn the music back on. An occasional tree rolls by underneath the darkening blue sky, a fraction of the forests they were driving through earlier. Chuck had commented on how pretty it was, though Castiel hadn't replied. Secretly, he thought it was rather beautiful, but he's been giving his caseworker the silent treatment for three hours now, and he isn't about to break it.

Chuck is a short, nervous man who had introduced himself as Mr. Shurley when he and Castiel had first met. It didn't take long for Castiel to find out his real name, Charles, provided an evening spent snooping around in the same ugly Toyota Corolla he's sitting in right now, and even less time for him to start referring to him as Chuck. It made the brown-haired man exasperated at first, but eventually he just went along with it. 

He crosses his arms while Chuck makes a right turn off the main road, head bumping against the window when the car dips onto the pavement as they enter their destination. Big wooden posts outline the few acres that make up the property, held together by thick wires. Trees are dotted along the path, joined by shrubs and what looks like blooming flower patches. A sign greets them further along the road, hanging from a metal rod. The handwriting is in all caps, carved into the wood rather inattentively, spelling out "SONNY'S HOME FOR BOYS."

The house, not much farther up ahead, is two stories and painted a light blue, almost like something you'd see in the suburbs. White shutters, and a neat porch that wraps around the side of the house. There's a young, brown-haired kid on the side lawn, hauling around a lawn mower that's probably twice his weight. Castiel's lips turn at that, a hint of a smile, though it disappears as Chuck pulls over.

"Cas, I know you're angry," Chuck begins, nearly pleading with Castiel, who scoffs. "Please, just listen. I think this place will be good for you. Sonny's a nice guy, and the kids here are—"

"Are what, Chuck?" he says, voice almost rough from disuse. Chuck looks surprised at being interrupted. "Troubled? Damaged goods? Do you think I'll fit right in?"

His caseworker falls quiet, nervously playing with the hem of his overcoat. Instead of replying, he just looks numbly out the windshield, lips pressed tightly together as Castiel watches him, anger pooling in his gut. Chuck has never liked confrontations, always holding himself up as the peacemaker between any and all arguments that Castiel's gotten into with whoever he's living with at the time. It's comforting at best, incredibly frustrating at worst.

Right now, it's the latter.

Castiel huffs, unlocking the car on the passenger's side and stepping out, making sure to slam the door shut. It's petty, sure, but it makes him feel a little bit better. Chuck has always tried to do the right thing for Castiel, even if their idea of what is "right" clashes heavily. Castiel wants freedom, and Chuck wants safety. The Corolla's trunk pops open after a few tries (the thing is so damn old he's surprised it hasn't fallen completely apart yet), which only adds to his irritation.

Chuck cuts the Corolla's ignition after a few moments, getting out of the car and shutting the door with a gentle click. His dress shoes click against the pavement as he joins the teenager. Castiel ignores him and grabs the one, big black garbage bag that contains all of his clothes, and is reaching for the satchel that holds a couple books and hygiene supplies, provided by his last foster parents, when Chuck grabs it for him, along with a stack of papers. He gives the man a questioning look, but doesn't say anything as he closes the trunk and begins up to the house.

For a moment, Castiel hesitates, heart stuttering in his chest. Most homes last a couple weeks, and if he's lucky, a couple months. It's a whole new house, with whole new rules. A whole new environment. He wonders if it'll be as strict as the last one, and how long he'll manage to stay.

"If you behave," Chuck had said before they'd begun driving, passing over a bag of Skittles he'd bought at a Gas-N-Sip farther in town. "You could live here until you're a legal adult, which is coming up pretty soon, Cas. You have to start thinking about the future."

That was the moment Castiel had decided to remain silent for as long as he could.

The kid who'd been mowing the lawn earlier has stopped, Castiel doesn't know how long ago, and has instead opted to watch as he and Chuck make their way up to the porch, wet grass squelching underneath Castiel's ratty old tennis shoes. He inhales deeply as they step onto the porch, catching the faint smell of something good in the oven, though he can't exactly name it. He can hear yelling in the house, groaning and cheering at the same time. 

Chuck knocks on the door once, and shuffles nervously beside Castiel. At first the teenager thinks the knock went unheard, but as Chuck goes to knock again it falls open, revealing a boy much shorter than either of them. He gives Chuck a brief glance before looking Castiel up and down, as if analyzing him. A few agonizing seconds pass and the boy turns his head, yelling into the busy house, "Sonny, we have guests!"

The previous chatter instantly dies, followed by hushed whispering. Castiel's gut twists, wondering how much the others have heard about him, and if they'd approve of him or not. It's a stupid thought, because Castiel knows he shouldn't be giving less of a damn about what some punk kids think, but he can't help it. The kid at the door leaves as footsteps thud behind him, happy to go back to whatever game he'd been playing before.

A man suddenly appears in the doorway, tall and gangling and absolutely not what Castiel was expecting. He's wearing a blue plaid shirt and worn jeans, a stained white apron tied loosely around his waist. His brown hair is pulled back in a ponytail, highlighting his reading glasses and handlebar mustache that reminds Castiel of an old Western film. He smiles gruffly when he sees the pair, eyes flickering from Chuck to Castiel and back again.

"Hey, brother," the man says in a scratchy voice. He pulls Chuck into a hug, even though the caseworker looks immensely uncomfortable. Castiel smiles at this, watching silently as they pull away from each other. "It's good to see you again."

Chuck echoes him, voice tight and nasally as he says, "Nice to see you too, Sonny. This is, uh, this is Castiel."

"So I heard," Sonny gives a small smile, holding out his hand for Castiel to shake. Relieved he doesn't have to engage in a hug, Castiel accepts the greeting. "It's good to meet you, boy."

"Likewise," he replies simply.

"Where would you us to put his belongings?" Chuck says.

"Just set it down for now," Sonny says. "We'll haul it up to the rooms later."

The garbage lands with a soft thump as Castiel drops it eagerly, Chuck setting down the satchel with a lot more care than necessary. The entire house smells good, like a bakery. The living room, on his right, is filled with four younger boys crowded around a small coffee table, knees pressed into the soft looking carpet despite there being a ratty couch behind them. They all watch Castiel and Chuck curiously, whispering among themselves in a manner that makes Castiel's nerves twinge.

Sonny leads them away from the area, into a dining room with a big, rectangular table set in the middle. Castiel counts fourteen chairs, squished together with room to spare. All of the chairs are identical, made of dark wood, matching the table. It's all rather homey; a nice change, since the last group home Castiel had been in the chairs were mix-matched and the table was two big, plastic tables shoved together. He wasn't fed very often in the last group home, come to think of it.

Sonny pulls up a chair for himself on the end of the table, gesturing for the other two men to do the same. Chuck goes to the right of Sonny, while Castiel goes to the left. The stack of papers Chuck had grabbed earlier is being slid in front of Sonny, along with a pen pulled out of Chuck's cheap suit. It's the one he always wears when introducing Castiel to a new family, an unbuttoned black two piece with a white undershirt and a red tie. Castiel looks the opposite of nice, with holes in the knees of his jeans, a stained blue hoodie and gray tennis shoes that are only held together by a few threads and reluctant optimism.

Castiel doesn't listen very intently as Chuck and Sonny go through terms and agreements and paperwork. It's all words he's heard before, the same routine. Chuck always insists that Castiel be present for this part of the process, so he's quit trying to butt heads with him. Unfortunate for Castiel that he ended up with a caseworker as stubborn as Chuck. The sound of dice clattering begins again as the boys in the living room continue whatever game they'd been playing before. Someone yells something, and one boy says something that sounds an awful lot like, "Shove it up your ass!"

"—and educational matters?" Castiel zones back in as Chuck finishes his sentence.

"There's three high schools in town," Sonny says, filling out something on the paperwork. "All my older boys go to Liberty High. Teachers there treat them good. It's always nice to hear their behavior improving at conferences."

"I'm sure it is," Chuck replies conversationally. He leans forward to point at a long line at the bottom of the page, saying, "If you sign right there, that'll be all and we'll be good to go."

"Great." Sonny scribbles out his signature, nearly illegible as Castiel cocks his head to try and read it. He passes the papers and pen over to Chuck, who signs his name next to it. Small font lines the pages, most likely describing in great detail how much compensation Sonny will be receiving for taking in another rugrat. Castiel frowns at this, because it wouldn't be the first time someone's fostered him for money.

He must have missed something, surprised with Chuck says, "I'll be back in a week, check on how he's settling in, drop off his binder."

"We'll have to invite Pam over then," Sonny says in agreement. Then to Castiel, "She helps with managing you boys, comes by for dinner sometimes. I think you'd like her."

Castiel just nods, not trusting himself to not say anything impolite or rude. Chuck and Sonny hug one last time, Chuck wishing him well and giving Castiel a firm handshake and a silent message written in his features.

Don't mess this up.

His jaw clenches as Castiel watches Chuck leave him in this foreign environment, the loud clang of the Corolla's front door audible from inside the house. The engine sputters once, twice, and finally gets up and running. Castiel wants to watch, he wants to see the battered white tail of the Corolla blur into the trees until he can't see it anymore, but Sonny wastes no time in handing him his belongings and ushering him through the house. 

"I'll give you the full introduction to all the boys when dinner is ready," Sonny explains as they stop at a big wooden door. Castiel wonders, for a fleeting moment, if he'll have his own room, but he shakes it away almost instantly. Fourteen chairs and a two-story house means no privacy in the foreseeable future, as much as he can infer.

Fantastic.

Sonny opens the door when Castiel doesn't answer, revealing a modest room with four twin beds, two each pushed against opposite walls. They're all covered in different blankets, crudely sewn pillows lying neatly on top. There's a closet door on the left wall, a few feet away from a big window with plastic white shutters, drawn closed. There's another, closed door on Castiel's right, which he automatically assumes is a shared bathroom. On the right side of every bed is a small nightstand, with only one drawer and a lamp. A few boys have trinkets and figurines on their nightstand. Only one is empty, so it's easy to guess that bed is his.

Castiel shoulders the satchel hanging from his shoulder, eyeing the tape plastered on the end of each bed. On every piece there's a name written in sharpie, slapped over what looks like a whole bunch of other pieces of old, peeling tape. 

"One of our boys moved out two months before you arrived, he turned eighteen," Sonny says, gesturing for Castiel to follow him in the room. Floorboards creak underneath his feet as he moves, although Sonny's footsteps are silent. He leads Castiel over to the bed with the empty nightstand on the left wall, an ugly brown blanket folded over a thin gray comforter. "It's good luck, I guess. We have cots in the attic but I doubt you'd want to sleep on those."

Castiel nods, setting his satchel on the bed and the garbage bag on the floor, filling up the space between his bed and the bed next to his. Sonny watches him for a moment, like he's trying to figure the teenager out, and shakes his head.

"I get the feeling you don't talk very much," he says.

I talk plenty, Castiel almost replies. He bites down on his tongue and shrugs instead, fingers toying with the hem of his jeans.

"Chores start in two days, gets you some time to get used to how things work," continues Sonny. "Wake up at seven, breakfast at eight, chores are throughout the day, but you usually share 'em with the other boys. Dinner is usually at—"

A beeping noise interrupts him, and Sonny laughs when Castiel flinches. "Speak of the devil. That'd be the casserole I threw in earlier. Start unpacking while it's coolin' off and I'll send someone up when dinner is ready."

Sonny is out the door before Castiel can react, tails of his apron swinging behind him. He sighs, falling back on the bed that's supposed to be his. The bed frame screeches as he does so, making him wince. The mattress is stiff, a hard slab of rock, though it's not the worst thing he's had to sleep on. After a particularly bad night with one of his previous foster parents, he'd once ended up sleeping in a pantry, a box of Ramen digging into his hip. So no, a stiff bed isn't the worst thing at all.

He rolls over, leaning off the bed to get a good look at the tape that holds the name of the boy before him. "Balthazar" is scrawled across the yellow material, offering no other initial or last name. Castiel slumps, still hanging off the side of the bed with his fingers scratching against the wooden floor. He stays there, letting the pressure of the footboard cut into his chest. He's tired, after a long drive filled with Bob Seger and a new house with fourteen chairs. Fourteen. He sits back up, swinging his legs over the bed until he's sitting on the edge, mattress not even budging from his weight. He slips off the bed, crouching on the floor with his satchel in hand.

There must be other rooms, if there's only four beds in this one, he thinks as he begins to unpack. I wonder if I'll ever get to see them.

He grabs a Stephen King novel from his satchel, placing it upright on the nightstand so he can see the title. The other three books (The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Catcher in the Rye) join it soon. He dumps all his hygiene supplies into the drawer and lies them neatly in the back, his stick of deodorant taking up the most space, and hangs the ugly beige satchel on the bedpost near the headboard. He leans back on his knees, reaching for his garbage bag.

"Those are a lot of books," a small voice startles him from the doorway. The same boy who'd opened to door for him and Chuck stands nervously at the entrance of the room, gaze flickering from Castiel to his nightstand. "You must like reading a lot."

Castiel shrugs, and the boy walks into the room cautiously, stopping at the opposite side of Castiel's bed to look at his books. It's not really a lot, not what Castiel would enjoy having, but they're his favorites. They're all battered, dog-eared and broken in from being read several times over.

"I'm Samandriel," he says, giving Castiel a small smile. "My mama named me after an angel. Sonny says she's one, too. I like being called Alfie, though, which Pam says is not the name of an angel. Do you think I could read one of your books?"

"My name is Castiel," he replies softly. He grunts as he stands up, rising to his full height, which is far taller than Alfie. "I was named after an angel, as well."

"You're big," Alfie notes, squinting as he looks up at Castiel. "I'm only eight, so I've got lots of room to be growing. Pam tries to get me to eat more veggies because they'll make me big like you, but they taste like bleh. Especially cauliflower. Do you like cauliflower? I think we can't be friends if you do."

He shakes his head and Alfie sighs in relief. "That's good. Sonny says you don't like talking so we have to be nice 'round you, but you just talked so I must be pretty nice. Dinner is ready, by the way. That's why I came up here. You never said if I could read your books, too. My school makes me read dumb books, but yours don't look dumb."

Castiel breaks a smile at the way the boy talks, fast enough for you to get whiplash, changing topics every other word. Anna used to talk like that. "My books are a bit too advanced for you. Perhaps when you're older, I'll let you borrow one."

The eight-year-old just shrugs, like it couldn't bother him less, and rounds the corner of the bed so he can grab Castiel's hand. His fingers are soft and unburdened, wrapping around Castiel's much bigger, rougher ones to pull him out of the bedroom. Castiel doesn't complain, letting the kid drag him through the hallway.

The dining room is much more lively than it was minutes ago, sitting with Chuck and Sonny, many more boys than just four crowding the place. Most of them are seated, some dance in and out of the room and into the kitchen as Sonny gives them orders in his loud, hoarse voice. A boy nearly as tall as Castiel walks in, balancing four plates full of steaming food in his arms, blowing shaggy blond hair out of his eyes as he bumbles along. Boys are chattering, not giving him nearly as much attention as they are the food. Alfie pulls Castiel into a chair near one of the ends of the table.

"This is where Balthazar used to sit," he says, nearly inaudible underneath the clamor. Castiel nods in understanding as Alfie slides into a chair to his right.

Another boy with dark skin and a surly demeanor sets a plate in front of Castiel, rolling his eyes when Castiel murmurs his thanks. It's a casserole, loaded with cheese. Boiled vegetables sit on the side of the plate, too, steaming. Eventually there are plates at every place at the table, save the spot to the left of Castiel and on the opposite end of where he assumes Sonny sits.

"All right, out!" Sonny shouts from the kitchen. "Go, sit down before you give me a heart attack, you hear?"

Three more boys begin to flood into the room, laughing and shoving each other around. The table shakes as they take their places, even more so as they sit. A glance under the table confirms the game of footsie going on between the three, which Alfie whines about. His complaint is swallowed by the clamor. Two chairs to his left a teenager looking about Castiel's age takes a sip from his glass of water. His mullet reaches the nape of his neck, wild and untamed. The chair between them is empty, almost desolate looking. No one seems to notice.

Finally, Sonny enters the dining room. The noise quiets as he sits, looking over the boys with a soft, stern gaze. Alfie gives him a characteristically big smile. Castiel would've never guessed that the quiet, almost judgmental boy who'd answered the door earlier was this big of a ball of sunshine.

"You all know we got a new boy with us today," Sonny begins. Ten heads turn toward him. Some of the boys look sympathetic, some cold, and a few neutral faces watch him, too. Castiel fidgets under the table nervously, picking at the holes in his jeans. "This is Castiel."

He gives a smile as a greeting, not sure of what else to say. Hello seems to preppy and he's sure as hell not going with hey. 

"I'm Alfie," the brown-haired boy speaks up after a few beats of silence, a sheepish grin on his chubby face. "Cas already knew that, but I felt like saying it again. We're best friends, too. He's gonna let me read his books when I'm older, he said so. He also says he was named after an angel, like me."

"I'm Andrew," the next boy who speaks has unruly dark hair, a wooden bead necklace hanging from his neck, and a silver ear cuff. "I go by Andy."

"I'm Aaron," another one chimes in. His ears are big, and he has a long, crooked nose. They both look around the same age, probably preteens. Castiel wonders if they're twins. Fraternal, most likely.

The rest of the boys go around, introducing themselves, some more eager than others. The blond, who'd presented himself as "Gabriel The Trickster", has to coax the boy who'd given Castiel dinner into speaking after everyone else.

"My name is Raphael," he says quietly, deep brown eyes refusing to look at Castiel. That's all he says before scooping up a big bite of chicken casserole and shoveling it into his mouth, chewing aggressively as he stares at his plate. It would be funny if Castiel doesn't feel like he'd done something wrong, like he'd violated someone the day he arrived. He bites his lip, glancing down to take a bite of his own food.

Conversations picks up after that, slowly but surely, until Aaron and two boys named Gordon and Jesse are arguing over the ending to a movie while Gabriel occasionally adds his opinion, usually filled with innuendo. There are side conversations, mostly going on between Ash, who's mullet shakes when he speaks, and Benny, who's words are tinted with a Southern drawl. Sonny rubs his temples, looking exasperated yet somewhat fond of the boys in front of him. Castiel keeps quiet and gulps down the rest of his water, feeling unsure of what to do with his empty dishes. 

"Are you okay?" Alfie asks quietly. His big blue eyes are focused on Castiel, who shivers. For an eight-year-old, the kid is strangely sympathetic.

"Yes," Castiel whispers in return. "It's just been a long while since I've had a dinner like this."

Alfie nods and goes back to pushing his broccoli around his plate with a fork, lips curled slightly. Castiel doesn't really like the vegetables, either, but he had eaten them out of politeness as to not offend Sonny. Most of the boys have their plates cleaned off completely, scraped clean with forks. 

"Is everyone finished up?" Sonny's voice rises above everyone else's, cutting off all the conversations. A chorus of "yes!" rings out. Alfie doesn't answer, staring at his vegetables with unrestrained disgust. Sonny doesn't seem to notice. 

"Raph, would you take up on dishes? If you don't mind, Castiel, could you help?" Sonny asks, gently. Castiel narrows his eyes, knowing exactly what the old man is trying to do. Raphael seems to pick up on this too, scoffing as he goes around his side of the table, picking up plates and such. Castiel stands and does the same, making sure to put Alfie's plateful of vegetables on top. The younger boy leads Castiel into the kitchen, which has granite counters and a small island in the middle of it all.

Raphael nearly drops the dishes in the sink, turning on the tap and rummaging through a cabinet. He pulls out a small plastic container, holding it out as he says, "Alfie's leftovers. Put the rest in the sink and I'll take care of it."

"I can help," Castiel says, taking the Tupperware regardless. He sets his stack on the island, emptying the vegetables into the container with a fork. Raphael takes the plates for him when he's finished.

"I don't need your help," Raphael says, setting Castiel's stack in the near-overflowing sink. "I know how Sonny likes the dishes done, you don't. Go sulk in your room or something. Read one of your books. I'm sure you'll be out of here in no time."

Castiel's eyebrows raise at the implications of that sentence, feeling his face heat up as something bitter coils in his stomach. He opens his mouth to reply, but thinks better of it. Instead he turns around, leaving the kitchen without another word. The dining room is empty, Castiel can hear voices coming from further inside the house. He wonders if he should join them, if they'd welcome him. He listens for a little longer, mouth forming a thin line as he decides against it. 

The floorboards scream underneath his feet as he walks down the dark hallway, only illuminated by the dim light coming from his supposed bedroom. The door opens silently and Castiel sighs.  He toes off his tennis shoes and sets them neatly by the foot of the bed, grabbing his stupid garbage bag and dragging it over to the closet.

It opens with a loud creak, and the first thing Castiel notices is that it's divided into four portions with planks of wood, one for each occupant of the room. There's a rack that runs through each of the boards, wire hangers clipped on, and a shelf built under that. The portions on the left are full, while the two on the right are bare and sad-looking.

Fourteen chairs, Castiel thinks, hand gripping the neck of his trash bag tightly. One of them was empty. Did another kid leave before Balthazar?

"Raph said you didn't want to do the dishes," Sonny's voice jolts Castiel out of his thoughts. The man is leaning against the door frame, watching Castiel with a soft gaze.

Castiel shrugs in return. If the asshole wants to pin this on him, he can deal with that. It's a hell of a lot better than some of his past foster siblings. He begins to unpack, pulling out clothes and hanging them up in the portion on the far right. He waits on the jeans, planning to fold them and set them on the shelf like the other boys had done.

"It's fine if you don't want to talk," Sonny continues. Castiel hangs up another shirt, plain black with a three white stripes on each short sleeve. "Garth didn't talk for the first seven months he was here, and you've seen him now, when we were eating."

Castiel bites his lip, remembering the tall, skinny teenager roughly his own age who'd greeted Castiel with a soft smile and a cheerful hello during dinner. He seems nice, with a gentle demeanor that brought a sense of peace over the chaotic, rowdy table full of boys. He begins folding his pants, wincing at the eight other shirts he's rotated between since he was fourteen. He only has one sweatshirt, the blue hoodie with stains and holes in the sleeves that he's wearing right now.

He's aware of Sonny moving behind him, heaving feet thudding against the floor. His mattress squeaks, and he turns around to see the older man sitting on his bed with The Catcher in the Rye in his hands. Sonny holds it gently, like it's a precious thing, and flips it open to the first page with a smile on his face. 

"I have a few books in my study I think you might like," he says. He sets the book back on the nightstand carefully, making sure to slide it between the other books in the order Castiel had put them in. "I could show you tomorrow, if you want."

Castiel pauses, half-folded jeans sitting in his hands as he considers this. With his last fosters, the only book he'd been allowed was the Holy Bible. He had to hide his own books in a crack between the headboard and the mattress, so they wouldn't be deemed the "work of the devil" and thrown out. That had happened, once, when he was only twelve.

"I'd like that," Castiel says quietly. He turns to set the last pair of jeans on the shelf and pulls the closet doors shut, and looks back to Sonny. There's a smile on the old man's face that makes something in Castiel's chest twist. His throat constricts, and he finds it just a little harder to breath right.

"I have something for you, by the way," he reaches into his coat pocket as Castiel prepares to deny whatever Sonny had gotten him. He doesn't need gifts, never has. It'd be stupid to start accepting them now, since he'll most likely be on his way in a few weeks, back on the road with Chuck and his irritating Bob Seger obsession. The words seem to die in his mouth as Sonny stands up, a roll of tape and a black Sharpie in his hand.

"Oh," he says, intelligently. Oh. "You—you want me to..."

"You don't have to today," Sonny says as Castiel falls silent. "Whenever you're ready."

He smiles, setting the items on Castiel's nightstand before turning to pat the teenager on the shoulder gently. Castiel gapes slightly, mouth barely able to form a sentence before Sonny's big figure is already lumbering out of the room, closing the door behind him.

Castiel glances at the tape and marker, feeling slightly intimidated by the everyday objects. Putting his name on the bed should be easy, like writing his name on a school assignment so the teacher knows it's his, but it feels like so much more. It feels like he's making himself stationary, as if this is his and no one else's. Something to keep.

And that scares the hell out of him.